Thursday, September 1, 2011

Littlest Violin

So, I put off writing a blog post for a long time. Half of which is because I've become super lazy, and the other part was because I didn't want to comment on anything that could be an issue with me in the future. At this point, I don't really give a hoot.

This post will be a soju induced rant, so it may not be important. Lets start with Korea in general. Korea is a wonderful country. Safe, clean, and very efficient.  The public transportation and low cost of taxis can't be beat. Plus, I LOVE not having to tip. Tipping is stupid.

On the other hand, I will go with a stereotype that Koreans are the best in the world at copying. Koreans focus so hard on education and information, that their culture greatly lacks in creativity and originality. Yes, the American education system is a joke, and I wish we could find some sort of medium between the American system and the Korean system, but the Korean system's power comes from aggressive parenting, which no tax dollars can immitate. On the other hand, America encourages freedom of expression and speech, which has enabled us to become leaders and pioneers in many areas throughout the last two centuries. Korea, in its current form, can never hope to accomplish that. Their students become zombies who are robbed of any and all ability to discover their own passions or interests.

I think a lot of this stems from the mandatory military service required by Korean citizens. All militaries preach that you don't ask questions, and this philosophy has extended into education, business, and all other aspects of life. "Why" is not an appropriate question. This completely contradicts my education, which encouraged me to ask "why." There is no line of communication to discuss reason, it is a simple matter of right and wrong. People say that is "just Korea," but I think it it is a ridiculous way to run a business. I think Korea is fantastic in many ways, but their approach to business and education is not something I could ever deal with on a long term basis. At Chungdahm (my employer) I am pretty sure they advance students who sign up for extra courses while completely ignoring actual class performance. For my second term in a row, the best student I have had in a class has been held back because it is their first time in a class, while weaker students have advanced because of age or enrollment in intensive classes. It is a joke, and undermines any idea that I'm a teacher.

As for my time teaching, it has been a complete waste. Coming from law school, I chose an academy that encouraged the socratic method and offered mutliple higher level courses. Yet the branch that hired me decided to stick me with 5th graders who had very limited English skills. I had never taught children before, and had no idea how to deal with them, let alone foreign kids. As a result, I made a ton of mistakes my first term. Most of them my fault, but I had no idea what I was doing. Since then, I have never been allowed to teach an upper level course. Why was I hired to teach bullshit English? I have no idea. I don't regret coming to Korea, but I came to Korea to teach, and I have not been given a chance to teach students at the level I would be best at teaching. This does not include my intensive class, but that would require a long rant all its own. I know I am far from the best teacher, but I was also put into a job I was never suited for. So, yeah, teaching in Korea sucks unless you have been here a long time or speak Korean. I can't wait to get home.

Outside of that.... Um.... It rained a lot. For like two months straight. Pretty ridiculous. That's still not excuse for me failing to do half the stuff I wanted to do while living in another country. It's very difficult because a lot of my co-workers have been in Korea a long time. They have seen it all, and have settled into their own lives. I see facebook photos of my friends from my training group out with their coworkers and get jealous, because my experience is nothing like that. We're all kind of on our own. Trying to find people willing to travel and visit historical sites with is very difficult.

Soo... this isn't a funny post. But I'm not in a funny mood. I have about four months left until I go home, and I really can't wait.  I love the country, but for multiple reasons (most of which are entirely my fault), I'm done with the place. Work is not going to provide me with any ounce of enjoyment, so I'll have to find different ways to enjoy this country.... Or start studying for the bar..... Gross....

Go, Kerry Collins.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Episode Two: Peyton Is A Coward Edition

Hola from Korea,

Once again, I failed to make due on my promise to update more often. I'll get the hang of this. Because of that, I'll update my Week 3 tonight, and Week Four tomorrow. Times are tough. Deal with it.

A very big week in the life of Chris. This was the week I received my cell phone, my bank account, and alien registration card. Each moment had its fair share of problems.

Alien Registration Card
Fun fact: without an Alien Registration Card  ("ARC"), you can't do diddly squat in a foreign country. No bank account, no cell phone. The first few weeks, I survived solely off of friends and pay phones. Seoul has more pay phones than trash cans. True story. You can find a pay phones in any subway station, but if you want to throw your trash out? Good luck. For such a clean city, I still have no idea how trash works.  Either there is some ancient eastern secret on what to do with your trash, or Koreans give it all to Doc Brown to help power his Delorean. I don't get it.

I made my trip back to Anguk to pick up my ARC card. People said the wait was really bad, but the only delays in both of my trips there was my own incompetance. When I went to apply for my ARC card, I had to take a passport photo. Most of the directions are in Korean, so that was no help. The limited instructions in English told me to insert 6,000 won to take a picture, and to adjust the seat. I put in the money, and then was looking down at the chair. You spin it to raise or lower the seat. Naturally, I had to lower the seat to fit my big Irish melon into the picture. As  I was looking down, the camera flashed. Picture number one, and I'm not even looking at the camera.

Luckily, the camera lets you take a second picture. Unfortunately, it told me there would be a second picture in Korean, so I didn't know that was about to happen. I turned my head to read the instructions and "CLICK!" Picture number two. My two terrible photos printed out, and I had no choice but to go to the help desk, show them my pictures, and frown. The women shrugged her head at me, but gave me new money, and I stared at that camera until both photos were taken. Then, I turned in my forms and waited a week.

One Week Later
I returned to pick up my ARC card. The thing that will allow me to walk around without my passport. I grabbed a number from the machine, and patiently waited for my turn. There are about three desks working to help people at the Immigration Office, but if nobody approaches within 5 seconds of your number being called, they click the next button. The two people before me did not approach the desk. I was really excited that the line was moving so fast. Then, out of nowhere, some korean chick swoops in with the number before me, after they had already switched to my number. The other desks automatically kept going up in terms of order. They passed me. So, I got a new number, and waited again.

I was very excited to get my ARC card. However, the immigration people obviously wanted to play a joke on me. I picked up my card, looked at it, and saw that they put a huge printer burn mark (or photo shop) on my cheek. From the picture, it looks like I have a bigger birth mark than Drew Brees,  or I have a large bruise from a fight. It's basically a mug shot. And that's my ID. I'm not doing it again. Awesome.

Bank Account!

I immediately went to the bank across the street from the immigration office. Woori Bank. Represent. Luckily they had a girl that spoke English. It was a smooth process, except she told me nothing about the type of account I was getting, and entered my full name. The korean language takes one english character space to say a whole syllable. So naturally, Christopher Michael Barr is a lot longer than they are used to. So now my bank account is under Christopher Mi. I am still waiting to find out if that actually works.

Myeongdong and MyeongCellPhone
The weekend after I received my ARC card and bank account, it was time to get a phone. I never could have accomplished this task on my own. Luckily, my dear training buddy and original subway sherpa, Doris, came back to Seoul for some sightseeing and Forever 21 shopping. I met her in Myeongdong, which appears to be Seoul's Mecca of Western Consumerism.

Myeongdong. I don't know the other white people. Honest.
The roads were narrow, and stuff was everywhere. Nike stores, Burger Kings, mabye even a Baby Gap. I didn't check. But the stores are stacked one on top of the other, and you can't stop to look because you are constantly getting pushed through the hoard of consumers. Doris and I tried to deposite money in my bank account for the first time. Fun Fact: Korea hates Chris Barr. At the airport, I exchanged a lot of USD into Korean won. Naturally, they give me 50,000 won bills (a little less than $50 bills). And of course, my bank doesn't accept 50,000 bills.  Even still, I got a phone. Nothing fancy. Very cheap. Sadly, it is still an upgrade over my last phone.

I also snagged a Girls Generation poster. It's a very popular pop band in Korea. They have nine members, which seems excessive considering they don't even play instruments. Still, it decorates my place, and it reminds me of the Britney Spears poster a bunch of us won at a minigolf spot back in high school. It works.

Other Notes
1) Any time a group of Koreans walk  past me and laugh, I assume they are saying things about me. I can't stand it.

2) I don't know why they still make phones without a full keyboard that don't have T9. Texting is dead to me.

3) I really want to buy a swine flu mask. Seems like a bunch of people wear them. Little kids even have ones with decorations on them. Naturally, I want one with decorations.

4) The Colts game.  I have talked to everyone I want to talk to about that game. The Jets didn't win. The Colts lost. Whats worse,  I stayed in on Saturday night and woke up early so I could watch the game and drink. Then, after the game, I was walking around upset kind of drunk in my Garcon jersey, and one of my students walked by me with his dad. It was like 2 pm on Sunday. Awkward.

5) .   Pandora does not work in Korea due to copyright laws. Jango does. I can finally listen to music again!

Ok. That's all for now. Kudos to whoever read all this.

Monday, January 3, 2011

My First Blog Post

Hello from Korea,

So, I said I was going to blog, and haven't gotten around to it yet, so here we go. The last three weeks have been interesting and a struggle. The language barrier drives me crazy. I am too paranoid to handle not knowing what people are saying. Any time people pass me and are talking and laugh, I assume they are laughing about me. I will summarize my three weeks and try to do a better job of posting regularly.

The Trip

When I first arrived in Korea, I was tired and confused. The flight from Seattle to Incheon was hell. Fun fact: Asiana airlines is not equipped to handle people over six feet tall. I was in a middle seat, the guy to my left was Filipinio, the girl on my right was Korean, and opted to wear the ever-popular swine flu mask. That was weird enough, but right after takeoff, she fell asleep, and her head ended up on my shoulder. Then the person in front of me moved their seat back. Let it be known, in the normal position, the tray table did not lower all the way with my legs in the way. So when some jerk moves their chair back, you have no space. And a girl on the mask sleeping on your shoulder. It seemed inappropriate to wake her. So, I took it and watched the inflight movies.

There were several inflight movies: Big, Despicable Me, Toy Story 3, Salt, Prince of Persia, and Inception. I did not watch Prince of Persia, nor Salt, because I have no interest in female leads in action movies. The other movies gave me a good perspective of what to expect in Korea, and what my plane flight was like.

First, Big. Tom Hanks. One of my favorite movies of all time. The scene where he struggles to fit into his little clothes and got used to be a giant was very similar to my experience on the plane. Also, he then goes out to a life in adult hood where he isn't sure about the culture and expectations, which is  totally me in Korea. And there was statutory rape, which I haven't encountered. Yet.

Second: Despicable Me. The story was pretty lame, but a guy with a cold heart learns to love children and teach them things. Since I am teaching young kids, it made sense. Going from law school, where everyone is crazy and worried about the bottom line, the idea of working with kids was terrifying. Steve Carrel's character has a similar situation. Only I'm not adopting any of these little pricks. Sorry, Josh.

Third: Toy Story 3. I love the Toy Story movies, but had yet to see TS3. Once again, a theme of little people in a giant world. The opposite of Big, but I could see myself in the world of Toys as a big person. Plus it is about uncertainy after they thought they had their life figured out in Andy's room. So at least I know if I meet a nice old bear, I'm going to slit his throat immediately. Also, great movie. Four stars. Fun Fact: I saw the original Toy Story with my brother Nolan. The director of the next movie is Christopher Nolan. Transition: check.

Fourth: Inception. I hated Inception the first time around. I love Christopher Nolan, but the first time I saw this movie, I really had to go to the bathroom. When the van went over the bridge, I figured I had to hold it, because the exciting part of the movie was coming up. For the next hour, I was nothing but upset about how slowly that van was falling into the river. So, I appreciated it much more later. However, like I said, there was a girl sleeping on my shoulder. I was terribly uncomfortable and could not fall asleep. The movie is about people that sleep for like 12 hours on a plane and wake up right when they land. I was friggin' jealous. I would rather be in limbo than deal with the agony of sitting in that little seat. You don't think about that at the time, but I resented Leo and all his little cohorts.

After the Plane
I arrived in Incheon. I waited for my bus  with my terrible instructions. Luckily, the guy I sat next to on the bus spoke English. When we got into Seoul (about a 30 minute bus ride) he told me how the black "luxury" taxis  are too expensive. He helped me get a cab and told them where I needed to go. Very good man, and a great first impression for Korea. Then I made it to my hotel. I had not showered in like 20 hours, so I decided to pay to use the sauana. I just wanted to relax before showering and going to bed. I paid for the sauna, then walked inside. I could not find towels anywhere. I searched the locker room, but towels were no where to be found. I figured I'd go into the sauna and ask them where the towles were. When I turned the corner, I was met with several korean penises and the naked bodies that accompanied them. Apparenlty, in Korea, they have a Roman bath house mentality. So, yeah, I did not use the sauna. Not as relaxing as I hoped.

Week One

The good times. Shout out to Oliver, Doris, and Nicole  (Random order, Nicole! Figured you could take it). Talking to current CDI co-workers, we had a weird but awesome group. It's a blog, and it's weird, but these three are awesome and you should hope to be their friends. Training was like law school light. They say it is a lot of work, but it's not studying, it's methodology. You also have adults trying to act out as kids, but it isn't even close to the same thing. We were in Gangnam, which is a great place, but not some place you can live in if you make teacher money.

Oh, and because of my terribe plane flight, my knee and anke got all kinds of messed up. My ankle swelled up to the point where you couldn't see the bump. Walking, in general, hurt. I have never twisted my ankle. I am not Dan Skinner (Best friend that twists his ankle a lot. Hi, Dan.). But I was limping around like a gimp. It healed up, but for a few days, I was really worried about it. So, yeah. Long story short: Training was interesting. I got very lucky to have an awesome group of trainees with me who are unfortunately spread out all over Korea. It gives us lots of places to hang out, but sharing the new experience of Korea with them is above and beyond the most exciting experience of my trip. Everyone else is very "been there, done that" where we all were as excited as school girls.

Week Two

My adventure to Eunpyeon. As one  of my friends desribed it,"it's an old part of town." I live right by the subway, which is great, and I'm a short walk from school and from E-Mart, which is  Walmart on steroids. I still do not have a bed, so I sleep on the floor. A mattress is a must buy. The girl here bfore me left a desk, a chair, and two clothing racks,so  those are great, but I still can't sleep for more than  five hours at a time without waking up on the hard wood floor.

Working with kids is very different from law school. We use the socratic method, which helps, but I use a comibination of Richard Freer and a gameshow host. It works most of the time, and it is fun when the kids care. The middle school class is rough. Work in progress. Like Dangerous Minds: Korea.

   Korean Christmas. Not like our Christmas. It's more of our New Years. I went out to Hongdae which was kind of western and a lot of  fun. I went with Alex Shin and a co-worker. Alex showed us a good time, and it was awesome to get out in Seoul for the first time.

Week 3

Getting a hang of the teaching thing. Lots of trial and error. Co-workers are very nice. Still no bed. That's  really the only complaint. Alex came by to help me shop. Donna has helped me order food since the language barrier prevents me from taking care of simple tasks like ordering food. I'm lucky to have awesome friends that are willing to go out of their way to help me. I'd be lost without  them, because the school has been no help at all. My HI (head instructor) has been helpful, but has his hands full right now, so it's up to me. But like I said, I have friends, who have been helping so much.

New Years
  Went to  Itaewon. Just as sketchy as people told me. A bunch of US military scum and other westerners. Felt like a frat party. My co-worker and I stayed out way too late, but it was fun and amusing.

January 1st, I woke up late and went out to Apgujeong with Alex Shin and his friend. Very fun. Very interesting. I'll probably update this later, but I'm exhausted. Blogs are tough.