Thursday, May 28, 2009

Sure, people mistake me all the time for Brad Pitt.

Stereotypes are a funny phenomenon. Students are shocked to know that I'm American because I don't weigh 150 kilograms, yet at the same time, strangers will ask "American?" if I'm approached at a cross walk, grocery store, and of all things, a urinal. Over the past six months, I've been told I resemble certain celebrities. The conversation usually goes as follows.

Korean person: "Hi"
Me: "Hi"
Korean person: "You (insert celebrity name here)" or if the Korean processes advanced English skills it's "You look-a like-a (insert celebrity name here)"
Me: "Really? Thanks."
Korean person: "BYE!"

Here is the list of the ones I can remember. I've heard some Korean's say that all white people look alike. This statement also comes from the same race of people that believe in fan death.

Wentworth Miller (Micheal Scholfield on "Prison Break" - yeah I had to look this up too.)

Matt Daemon - this is a give me.

David Beckham (because of the hair or my mad soccer skills I presume)

Brad Pitt - Seriously, stop laughing!

Mark Wahlberg (Max Payne) - I'm guessing it has something to do with the fact that I'm always look pissed off when I'm at school. That's probably because I am indeed pissed off when I am at school. Here is where things start to get absurd ...

"Kevin" from Home Alone

Kevin from Home Alone? The whole scenario was ridiculous. This 10 year old boy the first day of class in March started pointing at me saying, "Kevin! Kevin!" It was right about then that the Korean teacher (the time she came to class within the last 6 month) said, "He thinks you are Kevin from Home Alone movie." Anyways, If you exclude Macaulay Culkin from the list, I think it's pretty good company.

Here is perhaps the most humorous one of all. Barrack O'bama. Ok, ok, not in the looks department but because a student said that our voices are similar. Having a hard time picturing the similarities? Perhaps this shocking photo will help you.

Barrack and Garrett

See it now?

Ok, if I had to compare myself to another celebrity, it would be Nick Lidstrom. Obviously no one within 5,000 miles of Korea has heard of him but it's an honorable mention. In fact, I like to think of myself as the "poor man's Nicklas Lidstrom"

Nicklas Lidstrom
1. Born in Sweden
2. Has a lot of money
3. Plays hockey really well
4. Had an iron man streak of 228 straight playoff games
5. Has a really hot wife

Garrett Hohn
1. Born in the United States
2. Is broke as a joke on coke
3. Plays hockey about as well as Forrest Gump thinks
5. Had an iron man streak of 526 straight unemployed days
5. Masturbates constantly

So yeah, as you can see about the only thing we share in common are our boyish good looks and mutual love of the winged wheel.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Teacher's Day

While on vacation in February, one of my two vacations in February, I received an e-mail from Yuna. It stammers as follows;

"Hi, I'm yuna. How have you been? I wonder you stayed very well in your house during vacation. Let me know about your time schedule,but it is not sure. Actually I have to tell you the most important things of all my saying. today I got a call from a officer in masan city hall. She told me that they wanted to have a Englilsh coversation from you.They have two hours class every Thuesday, and Thursday. If you want, they will give 30000won per hour and 10000won as a trnasportation fee. Totally you can get 70000won for one week. Is it possible to take a class in Masan city hall? I want to get your e-mail as soon as possbile. I have to answer to a officer tomorrow. See you again."

Obviously, something as well written and precisely conveyed as the aforementioned passage raises more questions than renders answers. I had about a billion questions for Yuna and the only answer she could give me was that she would have Boy Young, the best English speaking student in that class, give me a call to discuss the details. Boy Young did call that day but I was able only to procure interspersed fragments of information via the phone call. This was partly because Boy Young's English was limited and I wasn't doing us any favors while being balls deep into a bottle or two of soju and delicious nagchi chil pan (spicy octopus) with fellow couchsurfer Garrett on my first trip to Seoul.

Through the booze and the convoluted wording, I was able to establish a meeting with Boy Young back in Masan a few days later to pick up a textbook for my soon-to-be new students. The students, according to Boy Young, were "old adults with very limited English" but were very eager to learn. This, of course, was a welcomed departure from the "monkey boys" I have at my city school, whom I'm pretty sure under my tutelage have regressed in terms of English speaking capability.

I met with Boy Young, and after shaking off the rust (I've spoken with someone who has went fifteen years without speaking English. The rust shakes off quicker than one would imagine), was pretty easy to converse with. We went to the book store and after navigating the countless shelves of books dedicated to English education, I found one I felt was worthy. Boi Young called the director and asked for permission to use this book but my choice was vetoed because, get this, there "wasn't any Korean in the book and the students would be intimidated by it." I pressed for the book and the director finally caved.

I was told that there would be 53 students in class. I walked into the first class on March 3rd to 46 well-dressed Korean adults with with the blankest of poker faces and bone chilling silence. I nursed through the first class with a brief introduction of myself, some no-fail, confidence building out loud reading and a ice breaking activity to get them up and talking with one another. All-in-all a very successful first day.

Since then my enrollment numbers have trickled from 46 to about 20 in three weeks. I chalked it up to one of those natural trends that accompanies a new, albeit difficult, change. Think of the packed gyms after January 1st, and by the time you reach February 1st, you're likely to hear a pin drop over the blaring Britney Spears. To reaffirm, one need look only as far as the first day of class at any university and then revisit only a month later though some Korean friends have suggested that the withdrawal of students might be age-old Confucianism hard at work against me and my junior status.

Can you spot me in the crowd?

Regardless of my standing, or general lack thereof within the social standing that Confucianism governs, I have a solid core of 18 or so students that attend class week in and week out. Over the past two and a half months, I have been meeting on Tuesdays and Thursdays with city hall employees for two hours each day. We also meet for dinner before class on Tuesday, and every so often, a student says "fuck it, let's go to the bar instead of English class." Well, not exactly but you get the idea. Over these two months, I've had the opportunity to see those old blank faces turn into genuine smiles and excitement to see me as well as to learn English. The Koreans are known for this. At first, it's like looking at a stone wall but after you develop a relationship with them, they will do anything for you and will do so with a hardy smile.

I kind of feel like I look like Alladin.

May 15th was "Teacher's Day" and my students surprised me with Korean traditional garb called Hanbok as well as letters from each student thanking me for all I have done for them.

Masan City Hall - Thank You Letters (PDF)

As we took pictures for album, the men were telling me to give the women "western treatment (hug + kiss)." It's all quite touching. In fact, you might need a tissue. A definite departure from the Day 1 stares :) I think one of my students might have a crush on me. Can you guess who?

Friday, May 1, 2009

Balls Deep: The "what's chapping my ass" post!

They say that everyone has a honeymoon period when they move to another country. I've tried to be as even keel as possible, always waiting for the other shoe to drop. "Little high, little low will you let me go home" to quote the late great, and really ridiculously gay, Freddie Mercury. It's difficult to ride in the middle of the emotion road when living aboard seems to put you through more mood swings than a pregnant lady. I'm not going to lie and say that days 1-60 were easy. Now I'm starting to feel like I'm getting it down (that or I've been systematically desensitized).

I want to be clear that I am indeed enjoying my time out here but the longer you stay in a place that isn't home, the more certain things are bound to chap your ass. This is simply a cumulative diary of things that have pissed over the course of the last 6 months. Drum roll for the bitch-fest please.

1. Fucking post office tries to deliver my package one time while I was at work and they sent it back to the States? WTF? I bet they tried to deliver it at some ridiculous time like 2 p.m. "Rich man gets off work, then buys stereo. Not after fucking brunch!" - Mooj, "40 Year-Old Virgin"

2. Fucking co-teachers are always asking, "You look really tired. You have bags under your eyes. Are you ok?" Shit, I'm fine though I'd probably sleep a hell of a lot better if I didn't have MTV spring break 08 walking under my apartment window at 2 a.m. Also, what the hell is with the 6:15 am construction? On a side note, I'd probably look a little more refreshed if my face was on the business end of a puddy knife and some drywall spackle like these ladies, but as a man, I don't have that option.

3. Fucking dudes pulling there girls in tighter when I walk by. Seriously? Do you really think us "western men" want to have sex with your girlfriend? Assuming I did, with the hours I teach at school, and my refractory period, I couldn't possibly have sex with more than 25% of the girls here in my free time. And if we are being candid, as I think we are, I'd probably start with your dead-ringer for Margaret Cho last.

4. Fucking dudes talking about me in the locker room. It sucks. I want to know what they are saying, but since there isn't a straight across Korean translation for "donkey penis", I gave up trying. But that stopped after the first month.

5. Fucking dudes NOT talking about me in the locker room after the first month. WTF? First I was big shit now I'm old news? I just don't get it. What am I doing wrong?

6. Fucking Christians accosting me! I'm done being nice about this whole thing. Now if someone asks where I am from on the street, I ask them if they are going to try and convert me to a specific religion and, if so, this is the end of our conversation.

7. Fucking no one tells me anything over here when it involves pertinent details! "Hey Garrett, want to play guitar at a festival?" what they failed to mention was there would be well over a thousand people there!

8. Fucking Korea is devoid of Mexican food. Perhaps I should rephrase. Masan is devoid of Mexican food. Anyone want to send me some cilantro and black beans?

9. Fucking pick a side of the sidewalk to walk on. What the fuck? My personal favorite is the complete obliviousness when it comes to space surrounding them that some Koreans have. In Japan, people line up on the left (left hand drive country like the UK) and the people that want to walk up faster simply move to the right to pass. This, and I believe most people would tend to agree with me on this one, is a really efficient method to moving large groups of people in an orderly fashion. In Korea, however, this is a difficult concept to grasp as people are just strewn about the escalators with some facing backwards for whatever reason.