Saturday night.

Since I reached my quarter century of age, I decided I was going to be more diligent in my efforts to find a partner. 

I love being single, theres nothing like it.   You can do what you want, where you want, when you want with whoever you want. There’s no one nagging you to do otherwise.  It’s the best life. Many of my friends are also single so we can enjoy this time together.  You have a certain freedom that you give up when you settle down but since I only have three quarters of a century left, I figure I should settle down with a suitable male. 

Now I’m a normal girl.  There’s nothing out of the ordinary about any of my features. I’m regular everything, hair, skin, features, everything.  Being single, you know it’s only a temporary address.  It’s like living in a hostel, eventually you have to move out. Yet the question I get asked the most is why I’m not already married.  In response, I like to tell about my most recent Saturday night.

On a regular Saturday night, I like to take the opportunity to socialise.  How else will you meet someone? So I  put some effort into my appearance and head out, with my friends, to an establishment that allows for suitable socialising to occur.

 As I sit at the bar, I am approached by a male with rather attractive features.  I straighten up, give him a little smile, look him in the eye and he says “You have a very big……..nose”. Not the start I was hoping for.  I find myself unconsciously touching my enormous nose to the point that I can no longer continue the conversation and ever so slowly move away.

I  drift towards the other side of the bar where I hope the normal people are hanging out.  Not too long after approaches.  My drink is almost out and I’m secretely hoping he offers to buy another. Really, it’s not too much to ask.     Instead he says ” Your skin is so…..white” Thanks for that Captain Obvious.  I hadn’t noticed until you pointed it out. But now that you did, I’m going to cover up every available inch of skin to prevent further cencouragement of cimilar comments from your friends.  And did you meet my ” You have a very big nose” friend?  I think you two would get along.

I then change tactics and head for the dance floor.  Shamefully, the only dance skills I have involve throwing my arms in different directions while bending my knees like a puppet in time with the music and hoping it looks semi like dancing.  Not surprisingly the only thing I come off the dancefloor with are sore knees.

Back to the table in the hope of finding regular men with regular chat up lines. Mr. Tall approaches to tell me I am “very long”.    Mr. Rich tells me that my eyes are ” so big and blue” .Yes, indeed, now I am sitting down, wearing sunglasses, covering up my skin and  holding my hand over my nose like I’ve had an accident with the superglue.

Eventually Mr. Random tells me I look very “unusual” and this is the straw that breaks the camels back.  I finish my drink, stand up and return home, alone.   

 The greatest problem with being single is that  although it’s only a temporary address, and until I move out I’ll move from room to room to find the best one.  Then I’ll move out.  But until that time,  as I head back home,  I take me, my big nose, white skin, long body and big eyes home and thank my lucky stars that I’m still single.

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My visit to a Korean emergency room

Many people who are on my Facebook page know that I may have hurt my foot on Saturday.  I was wearing heels and rushing to catch the train but missed the last step on the escalator and twisted my foot. 

For the first few hours I thought I had walked it off.   Later, in Seoul, I realised I hadn’t succeeded at all and headed off to the emergency room.  It was 8pm on the Halloween Saturday night, in a busy part of Seoul. 

I was in such agony that by the time I got out of the taxi, I couldn’t even put my foot to the ground and was leaning on my friend’s shoulder so hard, I thought I would break it!  Magically, the porter saw me and brought me a wheelchair. 

Excellent, in to the emergency room.  I had been with friends to emergency rooms before so I figured I had a short wait ahead.  But I simply went straight up to the desk, gave my details and went straight to the doctor, no waiting.  The doctor sent me to get a xray.  Again, no waiting, in fact not one other person in the area so straight in and out. Straight back to the doctor to get the results.

The doctor spoke pretty good English and enough to get the basics across.i.e. there is no fracture etc. He sent no less than 2 nurses my way to bandage my foot. 

One bandage, a pair of crutches and one pain killing injection later, I was on my way with my prescription.  I was in and out in about 30 minutes.  And how much did this all set me back?????

With my insurance (50/50 with my school) kicking in, I paid 62,000won for all the medical care (44euro) with 2 days worth of medicine costing 2,000won (1.5euro). 

Thanks to the magic medicine, my foot feels much better today.  Not that I recommend it, but the Korean emergency room is quick and painful but great value for your money!

My Korean apartment.

My house in Ireland is a regular house by Western standards.  We each have our own room and the sitting room, a kitchen and back kitchen and a hot press, office and music room.Here it is;

                                  

Now don’t take me wrong, when I came to Korea, I knew I was in for a down sizing, I just wasn’t prepared for the size of the down sizing!!!! Apartment here are rent free for the length of our contracts so I knew I was no longer going to live in the lovely Ballybrowne (above).

I will never forget the day I arrived in Korea.  I was tired, hungry, sweaty and all I wanted was to sleep and my former director brings me to my apartment and goes “this is your room”.  And that room became my home for the next two and a half years.  For anyone not living in Korea, I was living in what’s referred to as a “one room”. It’s exactly what it says on the tin, one room and a bathroom.You have a little kitchenette area with a fridge and sink and counter stove.  My bed was my couch and I had a table and a few stools.  This picture gives you an idea. It’s slightly random but it shows the length of the entire room from one end of the wall to the other. 

                                        

At the beginning, I honestly wondered how I was going to fit all my things in there but as time went on, I came to some realisations;

1. I am only 1 person, therefore, I don’t need to live in a big space.

2. The bigger the space, the more difficult  and time-consuming it is to clean.  The best thing about living in my old apartment was that cleaning took no time at all!

3. Less is more.  Ok, so I like to acquire things, but living in a small space taught me to use my space better. 

4. Heats up fast. 

5. Saves time.  Theres only a certain number of places an object can be if you live in a small space.

6. I hardly spend any time in my apartment.  It’s just a place to sleep and leave my stuff, drink tea and play music  so it doesn’t have to be a mansion.

Once I got  used to walking 5 steps from my bed to my kitchen, I actually started to love my apartment.  It was like my little Irish haven.I put pictures and flags up on the wall so it felt really homely.    I lived on a floor with 4 other apartments and in summer when my neighbours had their doors open, I would sneak a look to see how they had theirs laid out. After I moved jobs, I asked to stay in the old apartment because I was so stressed out from the other issues that I couldn’t face throwing an apartment move into the mix. 

In the last 3 months or so, I’ve moved into a two room apartment down the street from my old one.  Honestly, I don’t know what to do with the space! I now have a couch AND a bed. I have a breakfast table and two matching stools.  I have a makeup table and chair.   My piano has an entire wall.  It’s amazing.  I can actually walk from one room to another.  In conversation I can now say things like “it’s in the other room” as opposed to the “it’s there” that I used to say in my old apartment. 

Living in this more expanded space, however, means;

1. I now clean 3 rooms (bathroom) instead of the one and a half in my old place.

2. Having a bigger space means it’s easier to lose stuff and harder to find it. 

                     

 I like to use this blog as a way of sharing how life is as a foreign teacher in Korea and it’s the size of the living space here is probably the thing that shocks new foreign teachers the most. Not everyone has the same size apartment.  Some people get big ones and some people get small ones and some people get middle-sized ones so it depends on every school and situation. 

Anyone reading this that is coming or getting ready to come to Korea should keep this in mind when packing their back and stick to the essentials! And keep it in mind that the foreign teachers in Korea, for the most part do NOT live in mansions!

The “not so positive” things about teaching in Korea

I got a comment on my blog today about a post I did on Paju and teaching in Paju.  The person wrote that “it was the most positive thing I’ve read so far”. Hearing this makes me happy that my experiences are encouraging other, but it also got me to thinking that I should do a blog about the “not so positive” things about teaching in Korea.

I don’t want this to be negative, just things that you should think about.  Because when you come to Korea, it’s not all sunshine and roses, especially at the beginning, so you should think about these things first.

1. You are just “the foreign teacher” to your school;  Many people think that when they get here, they’re going to be a big deal in their school.  In some cases maybe this is true but in most cases it’s not.  Many schools, especially the hagwons only hire foreign teachers because it’s more impressive to the parents.  An English education by a native speaker is seen as better than if taught by a Korean.  And remember, if your school is established enough chances are that you are just one in a whole line of “foreign teachers” that they’ve been through.

2. We do things differently here; Schools in Korea do things differently to schools back home.  The education system is different.  How the schools treat their teachers is different.  The students are different.  So instead of getting frustrated and angry that things here are not the same as at home, just remember, it’s different.

3. You will never understand what the other teachers are saying, even if you know they are talking about you;  You will go to meetings that are in Korean, go on teacher outings where everyone speaks Korea, listen to a parent complain about something to you…..in Korean.  Even now I don’t understand what the teachers are saying.  It’s just the way it is.  Personally, I usually think it’s a great thing because then I don’t have to worry about giving my opinion or defending myself and my teaching.

4. Parents think their child is the only child you teach; This is technically the same as point 2.  The parents are different.  At my school, we just had a mother, complain to a home room teacher for 11/2 hours about everything.  And I mean everything, like a bit of dirt on the teachers apron and that her child’s chair wasn’t the prettiest and how, even though the mother was complaining, the teachers shouldn’t treat her child differently.  Yes, they are the types of parents in Korea. It’s also worth mentioning here that some parents almost expect you to parent their children for them.  So develop a thick skin and the ability to let things in one ear and out the other.

5. Learn to hate the word “why” and love the word “maybe”; As I said, we do things differently here, so when your co teacher tells you to do something that makes no sense whatsoever, always best to learn to smile and nod instead of saying why.  Because we’re never going to change their way of doing things so just play along with their mad notions and ideas. Otherwise, we are at risk of becoming the “why” parrot.   Also, as I mentioned before, Koreans love the word “maybe”.  You should know that by “maybe” they mostly mean definitely yes.  So maybe you should learn to embrace and love that word.

6. Get used to surprises; You must learn to love surprises, they come at you everyday.  “Surprise, you have no classes until 2pm and yes it is only 9.30am so you can just sit at you’re desk and look foreign”. “Surprise! Today is photo day! Oh you didn’t know?”  Surprise! No one came to school today…..nobody called you? Eh no!” Surprise, surprise, surprise!!!!!!

So folks a few things here to think about. Add more if you can think of some!

Is Korea the most beauty obsessed country?

I remember, about 8 months after arriving in Korea, a friend telling me that one of her students was absent from school because she was being “stretched”.  Having never heard of this term before I asked her what she meant. She explained that the elementary school girl was gone to have a surgery that would make her taller in the future. I’ll spare you the gruesome details but  you can read it yourself at this link, http://indianapublicmedia.org/amomentofscience/a-painful-way-to-grow-taller/. At that time, I remember thinking “what kind of parents would 1) waste that much money and 2) put that young girl through all that pain and suffering for some ridiculous non-essential surgery.  To say I was totally shocked by the story is an understatement. As time went by, however, I started to notice beauty more and now there’s not a day that goes by that I’m not bombarded with beauty related advertising. 

First, let’s look at the most superficial beauty and that’s cosmetics.The cosmetics market in Korea is worth 8.9 trillion won, about 7.9 million dollars. Koreans are obsessed. I was going to type Korean women but stopped because men here wear B.B. cream and use all kinds of cosmetic products. 

 Foreign cosmetics brands, which dominate the ground floor of every department store, are at the highest price in Korea.  Koreans will spend any amount of money on cosmetics.    There are products for everything, the most popular being the “whitening” products.  Koreans are obsessed with white skin.  B.B. creams, hand creams, foundations, moisturizer, everything promises a whiter skin.  In every town , no matter how small, the street is lined with different stores all selling lotions and potions to give you the most beautiful white skin, Etude House, Inisfree, Tony Moly, The Faceshop, the list goes on and on. 

I teach kindergarten and have children at school who have lotion rubbed on their skin twice a day, not for any medicinal purposes but solely for cosmetic reasons. My oldest student is our age 6. 

You can then move to the more dramatic form of beauty, plastic surgery. A short trip on the bus or subway exposes you to a bombardment of advertisements for plastic surgery, anything from breast enhancement to nose jobs to double eyelid surgery. One in every five women in Seoul have undergone plastic surgery. The International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery suggesting that taking population into account, South Korea is the world’s largest market for plastic surgery.  This kind of surgery is now, not only more affordable but more easily accessed. Entire areas of Seoul, like Apgujong, are almost exclusively dedicated to plastic surgery. 

In my circle of Korean friends, I have known fellow teachers to spend summer vacation time “getting a new nose”.  I and I’m sure other foreign girls here in Korea, have had my teachers touch, poke examine and pictures of my nose so they can “tell the doctor the type they want”. 

But, what does this artificial, superficial idea of beauty do to Koreans and especially young Koreans? I recently watched a video http://www.koreanhighschool.com/index.html. It’s interesting how the girl makes the link between stress and the idea of beauty in Korea.   The effects of this on young girls and the consequences is a trend we’re seeing now in South Korea.  What the society here makes of beauty and expects from women is beyond belief.  The idea that beauty comes from within doesn’t particularly exist in Korea and if you’re not aesthetically beautiful here, the notion is, that you’ll never stand out from the crowd.

Two years later, if I were to hear the stretching story now, I wouldn’t be in the slightest bit shocked.  When we connect the pressure of being beautiful with the pressure of study, work, parenting on women here, is it any wonder Korea has one of the highest female suicide rates in the world?

5 top phrases heard in Paju.

I may have lied.  The following may not be phrases so much as just words.  And they maybe heard all over Korea , but on account of the fact that I spend so much time in Paju, I’m giving the credit there.  Also, feel free to add your own in the comments at the end.  For those not in Korea, I’ve added the explanation and my own thoughts after each one.

1. 헐 (Hul)- What exactly does this mean? I have no idea.  Neither does this guy but he has a youtube video so it looks better than anything else.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d4TJL6T5QGs

Anyway, I hear this everywhere, on the street, in the classroom, on the subway, on the bus, on the t.v., everywhere.  I also like to use it myself.  Since I have no idea what it means though, I just randomly throw it out there.  For example, if the religious people corner me on the street, a good 헐 is usually enough to get them to stop talking to me.  Same goes for the shop assistants that like to follow you around.  In fact Hul is a one stop shop to get yourself out of any situation.

2. “Maybe”- I don’t know if this is a Paju thing or a Korea thing, but Koreans like to use the word “maybe” as a definite accumulation of a thought.  “Shauna, maybe we will have no school tomorrow”.  Great, so maybe I should come to school or maybe I should stay at home? Which? And when will you decide? “Teacher, maybe we go home early”. Right so should I stay should I go? So many questions.   Maybe you should just stop using the word maybe.  The incorrect use of the word cause me all kinds of confusion, “maybe we will go to lunch, maybe we finish class early, maybe we meet for coffee????? And the confusion continues…….

3. Hello. How are you? I am fine thank you and you? I don’t know who taught who how to say this but Koreans like to say it as one sentence, not stopping after the “Hello” or the “How are you?” I mean, really, who actually says “I am fine thank you and you?” when someone asks how they are? Not me.  I usually answer, “solid finest” or “grandest” or something normal.  But this whole ” I am fine thank you and you?” makes it seem like the person wants to eat my soul.

4. 우와!!!! 외국 사람!!!!!- (Wow foreigner!) I live in Paju. Though there are a lot of foreigners here, in a population of 350,000 people, 60 of us are still novelties.  So, usually I hear “Wow foreigner!” followed by ‘where you from?” To which I reply, Ireland.  After 5 seconds thinking they usually reply……”ah Iceland” to which I say “HUL” and walk away.  Although, to be honest, I’ll take Iceland over; “미국 사람” (American) or Russian????? What I really want to know is why Koreans seem to know the word Russian but don’t say any other nationality in English?????? I mean really, it’s highly possible that there are a load of Russians working in Seoul but honestly how many Russians are hanging around Geumchon????????
 

5.  “Oppa, Gangnam style.” In case you live under a tree……….http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9bZkp7q19f0

Somebody may tell me how this guy got so famous? He was there before but suddenly he’s everywhere and all anyone says is “oppa, Gangnam style” I hear this on the street, on my ipod (unfortunately), on my phone, it’s my alarm in the morning, my 5-year-olds make up their own words probably because they have no idea what Gangnam is. And people outside of Korea thik it necessary to send it to my Facebook page with the words “Shauna have you heard of this?????” No sorry, I don’t get out much in Korea. HUL…………….