Friday, April 30, 2010

Sobering work arrival and the "flaming shit"

"Dak-Galbi" Spicy Korean chicken with Cabbage

I've never been one to lament over days I "could have worked." This comes from the guy who was intentionally-unintentionally unemployed for 18 months. What I mean by that is, after my Hawaii teaching stint I wasn't super eager to jump back into the employment saddle, but at the same time, I had no intention of being unemployed for a year and a half . That, folks, was just a pleasant surprise!

So there Alla and I were: in Montana without jobs and itching to travel yet again. We accepted jobs in Daejeon thus officially starting Alla's second and a half and my second stints. A two week rendevouz in Thailand renewed our wanderlust for foreign lands and made the planning of our next vacation quite a bit easier. In addition, Thailand was the perfect way to cut down the nasty 'morning after bitch,' known as jet-lag.

After Thailand, we departed on a 14 hour trip to Korea. Typically these flights only take 6 hours but we were unwilling to spend this type of money so we ended up on a flight that routed through Kuala Lumpur. "Where?" you are asking. I understand your sentiment completely.

We arrived in Daejeon after our 14 hour trip, followed by an hour through immigration and baggage claim and one upped by a 3 hour bus ride to arrive at 10 a.m. By saving 500 USD each taking the Malaysia route, we ran into the jet-lag we were aiming to avoid. Just so happens we arrived smack dab in the middle of the school's lunch outing --Fantastic!

At the lunch buffet, we met our manager, other teachers and our boss. Alla and I weren't exactly in tip top shape for a meet and greet and I'm sure their first impression of us was likely the first impression of anyone who has ever met me; suspicious and hopelessly pessimistic. Because this was a company lunch, it was thankfully -- on-the-house. Unfortunately for me, I had to pass on the delicious raw fish, steak and other exotic foods. I was able to muscle down modest amounts of plain corn flakes though I'm sure I was nowhere near consuming 15 USD worth. A scruffy looking corn fed foreigner. I'm sure the brass was delighted.

Let's fast forward a couple of days to our first day at work. Our manager told us to make a lesson plan for our first day. I've heard things are pretty scattered in Hagwon land (Korean private school) but making a "lesson plan" for a month without a book, knowledge of the students' abilities or number of classes, seems to me to be the definition of wasting time. But like a good little foreigner, I obliged. With as much effort as I sink into anything, I produced some chicken scratch on a 6 x 8 inch piece of notebook paper. A Rembrandt it wasn't, but Korea isn't exactly The Louvre, either. Delighted at the fact that this took me about 2 minutes and included no references to scope, standards, knowledge or student centered learning, I gazed away in amusement over the fact I get paid a decent wage to speak my native tongue. To best summarize what exactly I do, imagine this: "pick up a book off the shelf and "teach". Those were the official instructions relayed to us from our boss. He also added other poignant advice like "finish the book" and "make sure the kids are happy". I suppose I shouldn't complain as that beats the hell out of "make sure there aren't any fry chunks when you clean the deep friers"

I can't speak on behalf of anyone else in the same Korean-made rickety boat we call an 'ESL career', but "teacher" is a moniker I can't don whole heartedly or even half ass-edly. Out here , well, I refer to myself as a "book guide". I help students complete textbooks. That's what I do. No more, and on occasion, less.

Well, the educational deity that apparently monitors the thoughts of underachieving book guides must of caught wind of my negative thinking and summoned the power of Montezuma and his revenge, who apparently thought nothing of a trans-Pacific flight to attack an unsuspecting traveler. It hit me like a freight train and off to the toilet, or hwa-jung-sil as I now know, I went.

There isn't a hard and fast rule about international toilets, supplies and etiquette that one can hang their hat on and it's prudent to scout out these facilities before you encounter an emergency. For instance, some toilets in England cost money. Did you know it's illegal to flush a toilet loudly in Switzerland? In Korea, bathrooms don't have hot water nor do they supply their own toilet paper. So there I was atop the porcelain thrown purging the contents of my lower intestine from the night's previous dinner of "dak galbi". I surveyed my options and when "Yo chief, can you spare some TP" met the echoes of an empty bathroom, I had to improvise. As it turns out, for once a lesson plan that I wrote came of some use :)