Yes, I am cynical and prone to occasional bouts of - shall we say a dour grumpiness? So really I shouldn't head what I intend to be a mostly upbeat post with something that hints at more of the same. But that annoying vein of combined honesty and literalism and an inability to ignore niggling wrong details stops me from changing it.
So first things first - last week I was pretty busy. As you may have guessed from my whingey Friday grouse, I was busy and tired and then on top of it all, freezing my butt off, so all in all not a happy camper. A pair of wellies, a chilled dinner and drinks after buying an extra super thick (electric purple too!) blanket helped me de-stress a little, just in time for a busy two days of travelling all over to see a lot of fabulous people. Don't get me wrong - I was happy to do it, and really, I did manage quite a lot of snoozes in between. But it was a bit weird finally getting home on Sunday night at 9.30pm and realising that I had another week in front of me of more of the same craziness that I'd just recovered from and then it would be Christmas. Where does the time go?
Nat enjoying her birthday :)
Ok, a quick summary of where mine went: Saturday saw me in Busan to celebrate my lovely and entirely awesome friend Natalie's birthday and help her age noisily if not gracefully. Happy Birthday Nat! We love you, even if you piked early (our fault really for letting her lapse between drinks in favour of beer pong and allowing tiredness to get there before drunkeness). After 5 hours of sleep it was up and off to brunch and then a dash to Busan station, where thanks to three wonderful compassionate people who allowed me to cut in front of them after waiting in line for an unproductive seven minutes got us nowhere, I made my train with literally 1 minute and about 10 seconds to spare. A screaming child (excited screaming not crying screaming) for most of it made it slightly less restful than it could have been, even after asking the mother to keep her kid quiet. (I put up with it for a good 15 minutes. Enough was enough and really, if your four year old child is STILL excited at the prospect of a piece of gum, even after it has chewed and discarded the other nine pieces in the whole packet, I should not be the only one wondering what the hell.)
Me, Hema and Sonali
All of this was worth it though because it meant I got to see Hema!! In fact, one of the things that has made this such a great year so far is all the old friends that I've managed to see again, and Hema makes it doubly-great because I got to see her twice! I was lucky that she had time really, on her whirlwind tour around the world from NY to Korea, to Mongolia, and then back to Korea before going onto Finland and home again. And of course that meant I got to catch up and hang out with her sister Sonali too, so the three of us had a great time chatting in this weird coffee place in Myeongdong. (Seriously, awful drinks, awful service, awful attitude. Between exit 7 at Myeongdong Station and Caffe Bene with the outdoor seating. Don't go there!) It was sad saying goodbye, but Hema had to go home and find a way to stuff all of her shopping into her suitcase! :p
Bus back to Cheongju, home, did some washing and tidying, ate something and crashed. Up again early this morning to another pea-soup fog type day for my health check to extend my contract next year. Doctors and nurses were ok, but am definitely not keen on their methods of taking blood. Not that I am at the best of times, but here they've been so bad I wouldn't even volunteer to do it to give blood, which apparently they have to bribe uni students with extra credits to get sometimes so it mustn't just be me who thinks it's bad. (Actually, it's weird, but everyone has been great at injections!)
And then classes. Was watching the rest of Home Alone 2 in the two of them, one of which I did lesson plans in and the other I played omok (오목, like Korean connect five - also known as gomoku in Japanese apparently) with my co-teacher on a set that she'd confiscated from one of the students so they were good. The other was with one of my worst first year classes - lowest level boys. We were finishing their class Christmas tree (made out of their hand silhouettes) and letters to Santa (paper decorations) and also making Christmas cards with paper snowflakes and paper chains. I wasn't sure how they'd like this since the tree making had met with mixed success the week before, but they LOVED IT! It was weird, but apparently Korean kids don't learn how to make paper snowflakes (or at least none of mine have yet) so they thought it was all new and intriguing. None of them got up to making a cut-out Christmas tree or paper dolls, but they had a brilliant time experimenting with cutting out the snowflakes and sticking them onto paper cards so we had a great lesson. Part of this might have been because I gave them all little Christmas tags and candy at the end though ㅋㅋㅋ
I have to say here - not all of the students in this class are low level. Some of them are really bright, and up until exams I had actually split the class into low and high (about 2/3 to 1/3 respectively) with my co-teacher and the high stream kids had been doing fantastic work, even with just me and no co-teacher to occasionally translate. But until then it had been a struggle trying to find stuff that appealed to everyone and was achieveable for all the students, so it was really great to have a lesson that they all enjoyed and got into. Which brings me to what I think has to be the highlight of my Christmas decorations so far - Hyeong-Nae drew me a special Christmas picture. Here it is on the right... Yes, apparently Alien celebrates Christmas too.
Letter to Santa (from one of the girls)
So another bright spot in my day is also the Christmas letters that my kids have been writing to Santa. I've done a post about this on Facebook, but I've definitely noticed a bit of a gender divide in terms of material, although they all pretty much come down to the same bottom line - give me a present. Here's one from one of the girls. If you can't read it, it says "Dear Santa. Hello Santa. My name is Ye-Jin. I love you. You are children's Rome (?). Every one hopes your prasent! Others: Santa doesn't exist. But I believe your exist. So you will give a present to me! Love you Santa. To Ye-Jin." Other letters from the girls have included "Dear Santa. Please bring me a dog for Christmas. Because I want a friend. I love you! Hannah.", "Dear Santa, please bring me new cloths and i-pot.", "Dear Santa, please bring me MBlaq for Christmas!" (a K-pop group. I think she meant their album.. but then and again maybe not)
In the meantime, the boys have been much more.. shall we say, direct? Here's one I particularly liked. It says:
Hellow, Nice Christmas,
How old are you? I want to know your age.
It is mystery to all the people. Why didn't you die?
Please, tell me about your secret.
Bye bye, Hun-Min
Others have been "Dear Santa. I hate you. Just give me a present. Jeong-Bin.", "Dear Santa, show me the money! Give me lots of money. Then give me more money. Love Tae-Hee." and today "Dear Mr Ha. You is so foolish."
Lol, great stuff ^_^
But onto the final part of the day, which is what made me hesistate before claiming today was a great day. Dinner. I was meeting Lara for dinner and I felt like haejang-guk (해장국), a kind of yummy savoury Korean soup that you usually add your rice to and mix up to eat, so we decided to check out a haejang-guk hole in the wall type place in our area we'd seen but never been to and grab some kong-namul haejang-guk (콩나물해장국) made with bean sprouts. We walked into the restaurant, sat down and ordered from the slightly deaf old lady running the place. There were only two other people in there (it would have only fit about ten people in the whole place), two ajosshis (old men) drinking and talking loudly, so we continued our conversation in our corner until our food arrived, at which point the one closest (and drunkest) decided to get chatty, saying that they'd been listening to us talking English. Which was fine, and we chatted for a bit, me translating as best I could for Lara, and then turned back to our food. A few seconds later, ajosshi #1 started telling me how pretty I was. Seeing that he'd embarrassed me and I wasn't translating this to Lara, he turned to her, pointed at me and said loudly in English "Miss Korea, eh?" We all laughed and seeing that we were trying to eat, his friend told him (in Korean) to shut up, stop bothering us and let us eat. Which we managed for a good five minutes or so, before ajosshi #1 began yelling at the ajumma to order something else and started getting a wee bit rude, (with his friend telling him to shut up and stop swearing). And then since he was pointed that way moved on to trying to talk to us again, asking us where we were from and trying to explain that he wasn't being rude, it was just that the ajumma was deaf and Koreans were naturally noisy and energetic but very sincere (all the while insisting periodically that I translate for Lara). His friend once again tried to get him to leave us alone, but then the lady brought out their food (a plate of meat) and they decided to give us half, saying they couldn't eat it all themselves. We thanked them and tried to get back to eating it. Five minutes later Mr Drunk was back . His friend left, muttering about how the other guy was drunk and telling me that he gets so drunk he "falls out of his room" (meaning he must live alone, and unmarried ajosshi's living alone are invariably drunk, angry and usually have some sort of social problems) and the old lady retreated into her kitchen. By this point I had very little or no idea what the guy was talking about, but trying to translate as best as possible for Lara, and trying with very little success to occasionally actually eat. It was obvious we weren't going to be left alone by now, and Lara took out her phone to check the time. Mr Drunk did not appreciate this and started saying how rude she was to talk on her phone (which she wasn't). I then said to Lara that it was probably time to escape in as cheery a fake tone as I could muster, and then apologised to him and said we had to go, as we had another appointment. I don't know if he'd understood what I said to Lara, but man was he pissed! By the time he'd started yelling at us to get out ("그냥 가!") amidst a variety of other abuse, we were wrapped up and jumping into our shoes. A torrent of abuse continued as we paid and left (the old lady was very apologetic) and we thought we'd escaped. Since we hadn't finished dinner, we headed for some ice-cream to cool off. This proved a great comic relief as we were highly amused to discover that the cookie ice-cream sandwich I'd bought was literally a sandwich made out of bread and cookie ice-cream. Standing on the street laughing over this and various other things before parting ways however proved to be a mistake, as Lara noticed drunk ajosshi coming down the street who had unfortunately noticed us and was glancing over his shoulder to glare at us angrily. Solution: we jumped behind a huge blowup balloon advertisement pillar and hid until he'd turned the corner.
What a weirdo. But now that I'm (presumably) safe and warm, hidden in my apartment that I'm 98% sure he didn't see me go into, and hopefully Lara is the same, it's kind of funny. lol, I guess I'm weird too... but not as weird as he was! ^_^