[I am in the process of going through back-ups of back-up files, deep in the digital archives of my writings. Before the Roblog I used to send mass emails to anyone who was interested. This one includes my brother's wedding and the lead-up to the Nepal trip the month before I met Horyon. It was sent in November of 1999.]
To all of you separated from me by time and distance, Hey! Howya doin'?
First of all, I would like to (again) apologize for taking so long to write. Many things have happened since the last time I wrote, most of which I'll be doing really well to remember. So forgive me if I wander off on some Garrison Keilor sounding rant.
To assist in keeping order, I shall work in reverse chronological order, with frequent breaks to go to the bathroom.
I recently heard on the radio (I get NPR here) that letter writing is quickly becoming a forgotten skill; who saves actual hard copies of email? Plus, we all tend to dash off quick, meaningless-out-of-context messages that aren't worth saving. True, I do it myself. But I wouldn't trade it back, no siree. Take it from someone who had to do it all with pen and paper, it's a pain in the tush. (Color me surprised! The spell checker took it!) Anyway, perhaps my handwriting is becoming endangered, but I don't care. I'm trying to keep my idea flow working.
So to start, I will go all the way back to an afternoon not too long ago. A nice, cool day in Pusan. One could almost forget that just a couple of months ago the standard attire was clothing soaked in sweat. Anyway, JP and I were eating lunch together–JP is my coworker and sort of supervisor–when one of our students came into the same restaurant. Tubby is one of those people who is incredibly lacking in social skills, I'm sure he has some sort of learning disability. He studies as much or more than any student I know, but his speech does not get any faster or smoother. One example of his lack of social prowess is that he chose his nickname from the Telle-Tubbies, and he seems quite proud of it. Tubby is in my class this month, and it's my third time to have him. He's a nice guy, but he insists on talking with me at any opportunity, to the extent of ignoring his group or partner. And due to a logistical/sympathetic screw-up, he's in a higher level class than he should be in. His classmates are kind and patient, and I think they're learning that his grammar skills and enthusiasm far outstrip his speaking ability.
When he started class last Monday by asking what I had done that weekend, I told him about the party I went to on Saturday. It was a birthday party for a man I don't know. Sora, a Korean friend of mine, invited her boyfriend Jason and I to her boss' birthday party. As soon as we got there, I was separated from them. I found myself sitting with some nice people who spoke very little English. We muddled along as best as we could, and one man made do with the universal language: sharing booze. Twenty minutes into it, I was relocated closer to Jason and Sora. Where I was seated next to a young woman who spoke a bit of English, highly augmented by that booze language I mentioned earlier.
I would be remiss if I didn't mention the food: Bulgogi is the premier feed-it-to foreigners food in Korea. It starts with a little barbecue grill set up in the middle of the table, and gets even more entertaining. You use the grill to cook strips of marinated beef or pork to perfection, then prepare for eating. Some folks like to just eat it. I like to go all the way: The beef is placed on a lettuce leaf, then a slice of raw garlic, then some red pepper paste, a bit of rice, and some green onion salad. The lettuce leaf is folded up, and the neat little (or big) package is shoved into one's mouth. From this point on, standard chewing and swallowing procedures are followed. To me, this meal is not quite complete without soju, the Korean equivalent of White Lightening, or homemade paint thinner. The first couple of shots are a little rough going down, but then you don't notice so much.
Anyway, knowing my audience the way I do, you all want to know more about the young woman, right? Her nickname was Amy, and she was nice in a drunken sort of way. She was very flirtatious with me, though Sora told me that she's like that with everyone. Just so you understand what I mean by "flirtatious," I mean that she talked directly to me, even touching my arm or knee from time to time. Sora also told me that everyone was jealous that I just sort of showed up and monopolized her like that. Very early into her explanation I laughed, and Sora asked why. I said, "Do you know what it means that she's acting like this?" "No," was her reply. Jason and I then said in unison, "Absolutely nothing," and laughed like loons.
After singing "Happy Birthday", we went to a Norae Bang (singing room, pronounced "no-ray-bahng"). Seems like it would have been a good idea to save the birthday singing for here, but no one asked me. Anyway, at the norae bang, there was beer and fruit (a favorite combination here), and lots of singing and silly behavior. Amy sat nowhere near me and practically ignored me. I've been in Korea long enough to not be surprised by that. Jason and I got up in front of everyone and sang "We are the Champions." Big fun. But some of Sora's coworkers were starting to get to the point where they were having trouble holding their alcohol. Yes, some was dropped on the floor, but that's not what I meant. One guy kept hitting on Jason, which always puts him in a bad mood. When the guy actually touched Jason's . . . private area, we decided it was time to go.
In direct contrast, this past Saturday I had some students come to my home. It was partly a gesture of friendship, partly the urge to do something different, and partly self-motivation to clean my house. It worked, to some extent. It was a unique event in that it was an evening, weekend meeting at which no one drank any alcoholic beverages. I'm sure that some of you are thinking, "So, what's the big deal?" Trust me. With a group of twenty-somethings, getting together almost always means drinking. Instead, we ate some food, drank some juice, and talked. We shared our past screwed-up love stories (everybody's got one). It was really interesting to hear some of the reasons they break up. They have an interesting combination of traditional Eastern and Western values. Unlike previous generations, they believe that love is important. Some of them think it is *most* important. But class still figures in
I met four of them in Nampodong, the "downtown" of Pusan, with the highest concentration of movie theaters, restaurants, bars, stores, hotels, fish markets, and weird people. We saw the movie "Cube." About half of them liked it, the other half were annoyed with it. I was annoyed at first, but then decided that I wasn't being fair. What I was really feeling was the need for the movie to continue, when continuing would have been a mistake. It was a bit disgusting in a couple of places, perhaps excessively so, but it seemed necessary to give the feeling that the director wanted.
The six students who ended up at my house were actually my students in October. The class was one of my all time favorites, even though we only had 3/4 of the usual amount of class time. I was only working a 6 hour schedule (six teaching hours per day), but I had to miss five of the 20 teaching days because of a minor trip to America. I was really in the mood for some barbecue, and my brother was getting married. So I started my stopwatch and left my home at about 8:30 a.m. on Wednesday, October 20. Twenty-six hours later I had no idea what time it was, was only slightly more sure of the day, and having incoherent conversation with my parents. I tell you, no matter how many times I come home from overseas, I will never get over the leap my heart makes when I see them waiting for me.
I spent the next afternoon and evening with Chris and Allison. Chris and I finished it off with a late night tailgate chat that was exactly the sort of thing you should avoid if you want to minimize jet lag. I'm pretty good at this when I make the effort, but this time I decided it wasn't worth it. Four days and four nights is enough time to get mostly over jet lag, which means adjusted to the time zone you're in. Which means that you've got another set of jet lag upon return to your origin. So I didn't even try. As a result, my four days and five nights in America felt like a bizarre blend of time, something between 36 hours and a month and a half. The return trip was even longer, as my arrival in Seoul was after the last flight for Pusan. I had to work the next day, so I took the night train. I got home at about 3:30 a.m., with nothing to do until my class at 8:00. So I unpacked, ate some food, and went to the public bath near my home. In the next three days I taught classes, made student evaluations, and tried to go on as though nothing had happened.
I was a week and a half getting over the worst double jet lag I hope to ever have. But it was worth it. I had personal contact with most of my family, and a fair amount of contact with friends. Not enough time, not by a long shot, but I made the most of it.
Still, all in all October was a relaxing follow-up to July, August and September. My apologies to any fans of these months, but they weren't pleasant for me this year. As you may recall, my parents visited me here in June. It was my first time to have a place of my own that my parents visited. It was, of course, hell. But much more pleasant than I expected hell to be. But I covered that in some previous letter, I'm sure, so back to the more immediate past.
In July, I took on an 8 hour schedule, partly to make up for lost time and money, partly to pick up some slack at the office. July and August are busy months at ELS, and although June isn't, with one teacher gone it is. So I wanted to make things a bit easier on the other teachers. It was also my turn to teach the middle school students for four hours on Saturdays. I was working 34 teaching hour weeks, but I had just come off of a (for lack of a better word) vacation, so I was ready for it. Oh, by the way, my classes were all level one. Low levels. My English was becomed more and more worser. I also teached middle school students in the Saturday. They not so much good. Verbs wrong using.
Shudder. Yikes. Fortunately, I gotted over it.
In August, I cut back to 7 hours, and volunteered to share the Saturday classes with another teacher. I had a mix of levels, and I still had a pretty good energy reserve. I also had one of the most interesting classes of my ELS career: the "Tank and Bon-Bon class." Tank is a guy whose nick-name comes from his soccer playing ability, and Bon-Bon is his girl-friend who puts the cutest little pauses and head-tilts in her speech. Fun people. Tank's sense of humor is sarcastic and very dry, and Bon-Bon is the Gracie to his George. They changed class times the following month, and so they were with me again.
In September my teaching prowess with the middle-schoolers was acknowledged and duly rewarded. In other words, they made me teach all the Saturdays in September. Along with another 7 hour schedule, making for 39 hours a week. Again. This is when I started to run out of energy. By the end of September, I was ready for a break.
October and November were six-hour schedules, very nice. Now December's schedule has started, and I am again teaching eight hours. Being most senior at ELS, I have the best schedule with the fewest breaks. I start at 7:00 a.m., finish at 10:00 p.m., and have off from noon to six. I can't complain, as four of the teachers have to teach at three in the afternoon. Yikes.
But the end is in sight. By the end of December, my contract will be finished. January 6, I am going back to Nepal! I will stay for three weeks. Not enough, I know, but I plan to be back working in February. Hopefully only part time. Details will be sent as they become available. Again, sorry about the long delay. I hope that this letter finds all of you in good health and happy spirits. Don't let Christmas get you down!