Saturday, June 22, 2013, Caffe Bene, Gyeongju, South Korea, 4:34 PM

My wrist got so incredibly painful that I could not use it for about a week two weeks ago, meaning I couldn’t even type. Thus, I created a you tube video of myself talking for my blog post. I am not sure how successful it was, or even if anyone in America can even access it. But thank goodness the inflammation in my wrist has gone away, and I can type again. I don’t even have to wear my wrist brace anymore. Just one less thing for me to worry about.

Despite that, this last week was quite challenging because of quite a few reasons. Reason #1: both because of Korea being in the world cup and because finals are coming up, my host sisters had been awake and watching loud videos at all hours of the night. Ear plugs only help so much.

Reason #2: Rather than teaching my students, this past week I have only been testing them. When I teach I am very active. I walk around and move constantly. When I give these tests, I am sitting in a chair asking the same questions over and over. Under those conditions, it is hard to stay energetic. I have grown very lethargic in my classes, and have fallen asleep at my desk in the teachers office three times in one week.

Reason #3: My schedule this semester is very different than last semester. Last semester I taught all first years, second years, and third years throughout the semester. This semester, however, before midterms I taught half the second years, and after mid terms, I taught the other half. However, during these tests, I have to test them all. Meaning instead of 19 classes, I did 22. Actually 23 because of club class scheduling. Thursdays I usually have four classes. Last Thursday I had 6. It sucked.

Reason 4: The heat. The heat of Korea in summer is about the same as Dallas, but add all the humidity. So it’s kind of like Houston. That usually doesn’t affect how you teach… unless you inexplicably lose your air conditioning. Well guess what? I actually haven’t had my air conditioning all this semester, but it wasn’t a problem until summer started. Now when I go into my classroom I open all the windows, turn on all the fans on full blast, and I’m still sweating bullets. Every class my students come in and say, “Teacher, it’s so hot! Air cone!” Air cone is a Konglish word for air conditioning. In Korean I say “I know you are hot. I am very sorry, but there is no air conditioning.” I doubt the school is trying to give me heat stroke. But I would be lying if I said I hadn’t considered it.

Reason 5: All of the reasons I have listed before were mainly annoying frustrations. But something happened on Thursday that really made me sad, that I still haven’t really gotten past.

So the last time I did performance assessments it didn’t go so well. When they came around this semester, my co teachers gave me a lot of tips. And Mrs. Go was very clear on how I should grade. She told me that Canberra, my high level students should get a score between 90 and 100. London, my high intermediate classes should get between an 80 and a 90. Ottawa, my low intermediate classes should get a score between 70 and 80. Washington, my low level classes, should get a score between 60 and 70.

When I found out about this, I became almost as angry as when all the grades of my students were changed last semester. They gave all the Canberra students a 100, the London students a 90, and Washington a 80. It goes against everything I have learned about education. But, after what happened last semester, I smiled at Mrs. Go and said “Okay.” And I have been grading that way.

On Thursday, I did a 3rd year London class, and one of my students must have caught a glance at my grade book, because after class she came up to me and asked why no one in class had gotten a 100. I thought for a long time, just staring at her, and finally, all I could say was “I can’t tell you.”

And now I am kind of hating myself because I realize that agreeing to grade in this way was a move to protect myself. But I didn’t protect my students. Part of the role of an ETA is honoring your fellow teachers and doing what they tell you, but I did this unquestioningly. And when that student approached me, I had the inclination of explaining it by saying, “Because Mrs. Go told me to.” Which sounds so incredibly weak and cowardly. Because of my position, I know there is no way I could have graded completely the way I have been taught, but maybe if I had explained in a very diplomatic way my problems with what I had been asked, maybe we could have reached a middle ground. I am so ashamed of myself that I didn’t even try. And my students will be paying the price.

Maybe my mind just isn’t on the ball anymore, because school is winding down, and my head is pointed toward home. I return to America in three weeks. For two of those I will be teaching. Yesterday night Hemma and I had a good bye dinner. She is going to be one of the coordinators for the orientation that will train the new ETA’s, and thus she is required to leave Gyeongju two weeks before me. I will see her at the final dinner next weekend, but we will never have a meal just between me and Hemma. I’m really going to miss her. I can’t imagine what my grant year would have been like with out her.

This morning I went to a wedding. My principal’s daughter got married, and he invited me. In Korea “Western” style weddings are popular, so when you hear that, you think it is going to be similar to a wedding in America. And there were a few similarities, but it was very different.

First off, there were a lot of show techniques that belonged at a low budget beauty pagent. We were in a hotel hall. The aisle was raised a foot off the ground, and whenever someone was walking down it, a smoke machine went on. When the bride walked down the aisle, it was smoke and bubbles. And get this, at the end of the ceremony, when the bride and groom were walking back down the aisle, streamers shot over them. Making me yelp in surprise because I am startled very easily and it was loud.

The procession was different. The mothers of the bride and groom walked down first, followed by the groom, and then the bride toted by her father. While the bride and groom are standing at the front of the hall the man who was marrying them talked in Korean for a long time. They exchanged vows, then walked to the bride’s parents to bow to them, and then walked to the other side of the aisle to do the same to the groom’s parents. Then a young boy and girl ran up to give them bouquets of flowers. And then they walked down the aisle to have streamers shot over their heads.

 

The strangest things was the pressence of guests. In American weddings, usually the guest list is very thought out, and everyone is sent fancy invitations. Which is why I was surprised that my principal invited me two days ago when I was walking by his office. When Mrs. Go and I got to the wedding, the entryway area outside the hall was packed with people. Inside, there were tables and I looked at them with doubt, knowing that there would definitely not be enough seats for everyone. When the ceremony started I understood. The first people who came got seats. Ev eryone else squeezed in at the back. And I almost found this humorous: during the ceremony, many people were talking. I mean, I had no problem with it, because I couldn’t understand what was being said anyway, but it is so different than the atmosphere os an American wedding.

Not what I was expecting. Then again, very little in Korea is the way that you expect it.

Saturday, June 8th, 2013, Hyun-dae Apartments, Gyeongju, South Korea, 3:25 PM

 

 

Today has been different…

 

But before I get into that, I would like to write about something that has been giving me grief. Right now, and for the last week or so, I have been suffering from extreme wrist pain in my right arm. Luckily, I know what is causing it. A ganglion cyst.

 

See, this is not my first ganglion cyst. I got one in my left wrist when I was a sophomore in high school. It was painful, but not near as painful as this (probably because I use my right hand so much more than my left). Anyway, I had it surgically removed. It came back three months later, so the doctor sucked the fluid out of it with a giant needle three times. It was utter agony. I can remember reciting the wives of Henry VIII plus their back stories to try to take my mind off the pain. And this was long before HBO created the Tudors. See, I’ve been a nerd from the beginning, and just for the record, I don’t care how hot Jonathan Rhys Meyers is, he doesn’t have red hair. You can’t cast someone as the most visually well known Renaissance monarch without him somewhat looking like him.

 

I digress. While the aspiration was very painful, it shrunk the cyst and stopped the pain it was causing. So everything was hunky dory.

 

Until November of 2012. That was when I started having pains in my right wrist, and found I had a cyst there too. Great. Luckily, after about a week, the pain went away.

 

And now it is back. And it is worse. Much, much worse. Advil does next to nothing. Even if I’m not even moving my wrist, I feel pain. And doing simple tasks like writing with a pen has become close to excruciating. Which is quite alarming when pretty much all I do is write.

 

I bought a wrist brace this morning. It seems to have helped with the pain, but I’m still concerned. Losing the ability of my right hand just before starting graduate school doesn’t seem like a very auspicious omen. Not that I’m superstitious. Wait, is that a black cat?

 

I tried to start using my left hand more. Conclusion: I am definitely not ambidextrous.

 

I went to Anapji today. It is a place in Gyeongju where the Silla royal family use to go to have fun. Write poetry and drink alcohol. Certainly sounds like a good time to me.

 

I’ve actually been to Anapji three times before. Once with Hemma and Megan. Once with the Gyeongju tour during the Fall Fulbright Conference, and once with my school. But that was all in the fall. I have heard Anapji is much more beautiful in the spring, and I guess I liked the idea of taking a walk and looking at nature.

 

I took a taxi there. I am always amazed how a small conversation with a cab driver cheers me up. Even if they are pretty much all the same. Here is my usual conversation with a Korean cab driver translated into English:

 

Allison: Hello (plus bow).

 

Driver: Hello.

 

Allison: Anapji (in this case) please.

 

Driver: Okay. (After a moment) Are you American?

 

Allison: Yes. I am from Texas.

 

Driver: Oh, Texas. Yes, I know Texas.

 

Allison: Have you ever gone to America?

 

Driver: No (in this case)

 

Allison: I like Korea. It is beautiful. And Texas has no mountains. And I like Korean food. Like kimchee, mandu, kimbop, rawmen, cheese toncats. They are very delicious.

 

Driver: (Usually, near this point, the driver says something I cannot understand)

 

Allison: I’m sorry. I don’t know. I don’t know very much Korean. I know a little.

 

Driver: (Something to the effect of what do you do?)

 

Allison: I am an English teacher at Seondeok Girls Middle School.

 

By then, I have gotten to the extent of my Korean. Some of the cab drivers just keep chattering, and seem completely unconcerned by the fact that I keep telling them “Mulayo.” (I don’t know).

 

Anapji was beautiful. It was much nicer in spring, or early summer I guess. There were white flowers on the lily pads in the pond. I walked around slowly, listening to music. It felt good, allowing me a chance to get out of my mind for the first time in a while. I’ve spent so much of my time lately writing. Writing poetry, writing prose. And when you write, there is no way around it, you burrow down into your own mind. Doing that for long periods of time, non stop, isn’t exactly healthy.

 

I spent about an hour walking around the Anapji pond, and set forth on my way back to my homestay. I was originally going to take a taxi back, but then I had a random whim. I had enjoyed walking so much, why don’t I walk a bit more, and get a cab on the way?

 

So I kept walking. And even though taxis kept passing me, I kept walking. Until suddenly, I was standing in front of my homestay. I had walked all the way home.

 

The distance from Anapji to my homestay is not exactly a stroll. It is quite a few miles. I think I passed 15 bus stops. I think I was walking for over an hour.

 

I think I just loved the feeling of having a clear head. By the time I had made it home I was drenched in sweat. My feet were killing me, and I desperately needed water. But I felt great.

 

I went inside, and I told my host mom and Young joo that I had walked all the way from Anapji. They gave me this bewildered, incredulous look, pretty much asking why and saying you’re stupid at the same time.

 

Now, I am… well, doing what I always do. Writing. If I’m not writing, I’m thinking about writing. If I’m not doing either of those, I’m reading.

 

I finished memorizing my poem. I have two weeks to polish it, and get it to the point in which I start hearing the words constantly. Then I will be confident enough to perform it it for the final dinner.

 

That’s pretty much what has been going on lately. I meet Ashlee Anton tomorrow. Something I have really been looking forward to. She has really been a mentor and someone I felt I could always turn to. 

Wednesday, June 5, 2013, Caffe Bene, Gyeongju, South Korea, 5:33 PM

Wednesday, June 5, 2013, Caffe Bene, Gyeongju, South Korea, 5:33 PM

 

As of right now my mind is in a surprising place. Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. As someone who lives in words and hates math with a passion, I don’t really seem like the type of person to ponder theoretical physics. However, it is pertinent to what is going on right now.

 

It happened earlier today. I was sitting at my desk after lunch, waiting for my next class to start. I was on my smart phone, looking at the calendar ap just to check what was going on for the next few days. Then I noticed something.

 

I have barely over five weeks left in Korea. Next Monday I will start doing performance assessments with my students. I will interview them one at a time, asking them three questions each. Obviously, this takes quite a bit of time. With the big classes, it could take 3 entire class periods. Then one entire week of my teaching will be taken up by final exams.

 

This means that I have one, maybe two weeks left of teaching. One or two more weeks of preparing lessons and presenting them to a class.

 

When I realized that, I just sat silently at my desk for a moment, too stunned to move.

 

When I received my ticket information for my return to Texas, I felt it was my emotional acceptance of the fact I was going home. But then, it was still three months off.

 

Now the days are flying by, time pushing ahead and refusing to slow down. Einstein believed time fluctuates. It can slow down, or speed up, and right now, I feel like I’m on a runaway train that is getting faster and faster.

 

Don’t get me wrong. I am not freaking out, which is new for me. I am usually freaking out about something. And if I’m not freaking out, I’m freaking out about not freaking out. It is a vicious cycle.

 

But, somehow, I am strangely calm. Time rushing by is not scary to me. It is… surreal. I swear, I just got here. I can remember getting on the plane so clearly. My dad and step mom met me for breakfast at a Cracker Barrel (strangely I have not missed that restaurant). I remember my step mom forcing me to eat. I had absolutely no appetite. My dad cried as he hugged me.

 

Then my mom and two sisters took me to the airport. They helped me check in when my hands were shaking. And then came the good byes. And I walked into the security lines by myself, feeling as if I was surrounded by static roaring in my ears. I turned the corner, and they were gone.

 

Einstein also said that one particle cannot exist in two places. And yet, I close my eyes, and I’m back there, getting on my plane as my adventure began. Getting off of it, seeing the Korean mist for the first time.

 

Logically, I know a year has almost passed. Emotionally, I feel I must have learned how to manipulate string theory and jumped time.

 

If we accept Einstein’s theory (as most people do) that time can go slow or fast, what about time going slow and fast at the same time?

 

I think it is feasible. After all, time is a human construct. Doesn’t that mean we can manipulate it the way we want? If that were true I would stop it.

 

I want to go home. I do. I want to be reunited with my family, start graduate school, go partying with my friends. I am so psyched about that.

 

But what I am trying to come to grips with now is the fact than in little over a month, I am going to get on a plane (my eighth plane ride in less than a year) and I may never see Korea again.

 

Let’s say everyone lives 100 years. That would mean my time in Korea would only occupy 1% of my lifespan. Just 1%.

 

But statistics can be extremely deceiving. Yes, 1% is a small amount, but it is enough to change everything.

 

For about the last week, I have been working on a poem that I will perform by memory in a few weeks at the final Fulbright dinner in Seoul on June 29th. It will be the last time all the ETA’s will be together in one room before we all return home.

 

The last poem I prepared for a reading came extremely easy, for whatever reason, which was very fortuitous because I started writing it two days before the conference. The poem I am writing now, however, has proven very difficult. I have rewritten it at least 4 times, completely scrapping the words, and starting again over and over. And even when I found a premise I was happy with, I have been revising diligently for days.

 

My last poem was an account of my experience as I saw the end was coming. This poem is more a goodbye as the end is here.

 

When I first started throwing away drafts and starting again, I was worried at first. As a poet, I do a minimal amount of rewriting or revision. I think many writers would see that as a flaw, but I believe some of the strongest poems happen in the first draft. Sometimes, and not all the time, there are exceptions. If you revise a poem, rewrite it, the emotion becomes diluted, and can completely strip the raw power.

 

Because of this, I am wary of over-revision. But of course, when you are not happy with a poem, you have only two choices: give up entirely, or rewrite/ revise. Each draft of this poem, I just was not happy. I think it eluded me for so long  because the poem I wrote before was great. I loved that poem. And it was so well received.

 

Now I feel like I have to top it… which feels like a tall order. And probably made me less confident in my words. But, after much work, I believe I have a final draft, and it is actually better than the last.

 

Countdown

Allison Lowe

 

412

the number of students

I taught.

 

3

The number of times

I fell asleep at my desk

in the Gongmoshil.

 

3

The number of times

I started a class

without having any knowledge

of what lesson I would teach.

 

0

the number of times

that was fun.

 

54%

The portion of

my salary

that I spent on coffee.

 

5

the number of K pop

albums I bought

without resorting to

illegal tactics.

 

4

number of articles

of clothing I purchased

that I could not try on

only to find out later

they did not fit me

 

4

The number of months

that had gone by

before I discovered the difference

between mashisoyo

and moshisoyo.

 

7

the number

of barristas

I inadvertently

made advances on,

not all of them male.

 

4

the number of times

I went to nurabang

 

1

the number of times

I drank enough

to actually think

I was singing well

 

6

the number of times

I relieved myself

in a public bathroom

and discovered

it had no toilet paper…

 

and I didn’t either.

 

6

The number of times

I emailed my mother

solely to beg her

to send me more Reeses.

 

2

the number of buses

I got lost on.

 

And 2,

the number of times

I was able to find my way home.

 

4

the number of mountains

I climbed.

 

4

the number of times

I was swallowed

by foliage

and would have felt safe

jumping into

those luscious voids

into the arms of the world.

 

8

the number of different

Buddhist temples

I visited.

 

8

The number of places

I felt free enough

to truly breathe,

and discerned a lotus blossom

blooming inside

my chest.

I threw each petal

to the wind

and had no fear.   

 

 

4

the number of

mothers and fathers

I had before.

 

6

the number

I have now.

 

4

the number of brothers

and sisters I had before.

 

6

the number I have now.

 

1

The number of nieces

who I have yet to meet

Waiting for me

in America.

 

124

The number of friends

I have made

and will remember forever.

 

4

The number of Fulbright maxims

that I quoted to myself daily.

Be comfortable

with being uncomfortable.

If you are not learning

you are not living.

Your grant year is what you make it,

and of course,

don’t compare.

 

3

the number of months

before I felt

the first pangs of homesickness.

 

5

the number of months

before

the toughest moment

made me want

to go home.

 

5 and ¼

the number of months

before I realized

I am more resilient

than I ever imagined.

And that I loved

my students

far too much

to ever give up. 

 

360

The number of days

I’ve been here.

 

 

17

The number of days

I have left.

The number of mornings

I will lie awake

just trying to will time

to stop, the number of nights

my arms will stretch,

reaching to grab

at this fleeting fabric

blowing away

in the wind, and

the number of times

my fingers will

close upon air.

 

40

the number of transcendent

moments when

I was sure I was about to wake up

in Texas

 

 

360

The number of days

when I was happy

that I didn’t.

 

34

the amount of times

I have listed out a number,

a simple statistic,

just squinting

at a blurry outline

of an immense tapestry

stitched by my hands

and the hands of many others.

It is far too vast

to ever be seen

in its entirety

with one pair of eyes. 

 

Note: much of the data here is estimated or exaggerated for comedic effect. Mom, Dad, I promise I did not spend over half of my earnings on coffee.

 

Of course, both poems have similarities and overlap. Both are anecdotal. Both have comedic portions. However, the previous one is largely a collection of snapshots of my year. This poem has elements of that, but goes further, showing how those stories have effected me, and the raw emotions behind them.

 

Of course, I’m only the poet. What do I know?

 

Anyway, I have started memorizing it. Maybe that is why I am so calm at the moment, because I really enjoy memorizing poems. When you memorize a poem you find new layers of meaning (of course, that doesn’t happen as much if you are the one who wrote it). Also, when I memorize a poem I repeat it aloud many times. So much to the extent that sometimes the words lose their meaning in my mouth, or start sounding wrong. Your own words are deconstructed before becoming whole again. It reminds me of the arbitrary nature of language. And makes me want to read Gertrude Stein.

 

And of course, I find memorizing a poem always improves a performance. At least for me. Because of my eyesight, if I read a poem from a paper, I easily lose my place, which is terrible. Also, I feel like looking down a big portion of the time puts a wall between me and my audience.

 

I swear, when I started this post, I did not intend to become Rilke. I apologize. It just shows how much working on my poem has absorbed my consciousness lately.

 

So… seiftly changing gears…

 

I saw my Korean friend Do Won last weekend. There are many different types of friends. There are those who you become close to over many years. There are those you don’t even choose, but are forced to tolerate for whatever reason. There are those that are so different from you you compliment each other. Then, there is a very rare class of friends. These are people who are so similar to yourself that even upon meeting them, you feel as if you have known them for years. You completely understand each other. It’s almost like being friends with yourself.

 

Do Won is one of these latter types. We have met five or six times over this year, and each time, I have discovered something new that we both share.

 

Do Won also writes, and is so fluent in English, she can write poetry in it. So for Christmas, I gave her a copy of my favorite poetry anthology that I brought to Korea. In turn, she gave me a copy of her own poems that she had printed herself. I didn’t know until this weekend when I brought it with me to ask her about it that the illustrations inside it were also done by her.

 

So let’s see… Do Won and I both write, both prose and poetry, we both dabble in art, we both are introverts, we both have lived in foreign countries for a year (she spent time in South Africa), and both had similar childhoods (despite growing up in different countries).

 

Having known Do Won for this short amount of time has been like meeting a slightly older Korean version of myself. Its refreshing to meet someone else who shares your insecurities, who can understand what it is to constantly fear something. It makes you feel less crazy.

 

Do Won and I were discussing her poetry. I said, “I love the Cave. It has a dark, tragic, raw power that I aspire to in my own poetry.”

She smiled and said, “I’m glad I met someone who is as dark as I am.”

 

I’m really going to miss Do Won. I’ll just have to persuade her to come visit me in America.

 

I don’t have school tomorrow. It is the Korean version of Memorial Day. I’m not sure what that entails exactly. I haven’t heard anything about parades…

 

The weird thing is, it falls on a Thursday. Then we have school Friday, and break for the weekend. In America, school would have totally been canceled. Just shows we’re lazy.

 

Okay, one more thing to write about, and then I’m done. If you have been reading this blog from the beginning, you know that back in early December, something happened at Seondeok. I alluded to it in my poem.

 

The moment I am referring to was when I gave my first semester’s performance assessments.

 

I had very little notice. I went to school one Monday morning, and the teachers told me that I would be starting the assessments in my next class. All I was told was I ask each student three question and they get a score out of 10. I had ten minutes before the class started. Which is not much prep time. So every decision I made regarding going about that was very much from the gut.

 

I chose to ask each level of my students (low, intermediate, advanced) different questions. I gave the lower level students easy questions, and the high level students hard questions. I graded the low level students easy. Basically, if they could give me an answer, even if it was only one word, that coherently went with the question, I gave them full marks. I graded the high level students much harder.

 

However, a few weeks later, the school started getting many complaints from parents that their daughters (the high level students) had made lower scores than the low level students. (Which is a gross simplification).

 

It was a fiasco. Many of the students’ gardes were changed. I had to endure the humiliation of my co-teachers apologizing to me, making me feel all the more guilty. (Not only did I screw up, I made all of you lose face.) I had a near emotional melt down.

 

It took a few days, but I did rally. Luckily, I had the weekend to cry it all out and reflect, and through writing (on this blog) I came to the conclusion that despite what had happened, I cared about my students too much to let it shake my responsibility to them.

 

Despite the fact that I overcame that very difficult moment, I can’t help but be a little nervous knowing that I’m starting performance assessments again next week. I’m not freaking out. I’m looking at it warily. I am suspiciously noting the snake slithering by me, not jumping up and down and screaming.

 

At least my co-teachers gave me more notice. And now I know what not to do. But still… If you put your hand on the hot stove and get burned, you never forget it. Even if you know the stove is off and is safe to touch, you don’t put your hand there without at least thinking about when you got burned that first, stupid time.

 

Okay, now I’m done. If you have made it through the entire post without consulting youtube, kudoes to you. 

 

   

Tuesday, May 28th, 2013, Caffe Bene, Gyeongju, South Korea, 2:04 PM

Frustrations. Honestly, many things can be frustrating in the life of an ETA, from the stress of living with a language barrier, to interacting with a completely different culture. It can be frustrating living with a host family. For example, a couple of months ago, my host family finally told me to stop put my toilet paper in the toilet. I was exasperated and mortified. “You waited eight months of me clogging up your toilet to tell me that?” I thought.

Many frustrations come from the placement school. I don’t know if this is true for every ETA, but my co-teachers tend to keep me in the dark on a lot of things. On multiple occasions I have showed up at school at 8:00 AM. I am sitting in my classroom, my lesson (which I relentlessly prepared for five hours the previous day) all ready. The bell rings. And my classroom stays empty. So I call my co-teacher and say, “Mrs. Go, there are no students in my classroom!” And she says, “Oh, yeah, you don’t have class today.”  And in my head I think, “So, I busted my butt yesterday and woke up early today for nothing?”  Okay, those occurrences are annoying, but I can live with them. 

The really frustrating moments of ignorance happen when I am unaware of a very important piece of information and it interferes with a lesson. This happened this morning. I prepared part of a lesson on my classroom computer, saved it on a USB, and finished up on my office computer this morning about an hour before class. I went to save it, and a suspicious icon in Korean with a lock on it popped up. I asked Mrs. Go about it. She said, “Oh yeah. The government made the access to our computers stricter. You need an empty USB approved by the education office.” In my head, “And you didn’t think this was a good idea to tell me before I finished my lesson on this computer?”

It took a head aching forty minute conversation between me, the school’s go to computer guru with Mrs. Go as a translator before the computer guy could pull some technology magic allowing me to save my lesson so I could email it to myself so I could bring it up in my classroom five minutes later. So it all worked out, but in the middle of it, I was almost ready to put my head through the wall of my cubicle. 

The really fun one that happened a few weeks ago was when I prepared a lesson and saved it on the computer in my classroom. The next day, I walked into my classroom five minutes before class only to see a shiny new computer on my desk. It was great that they gave me a new computer, except for the fact that the school had thrown the baby out with the bath water. My lesson was gone. 

Why am I writing about frustrations? Well, mainly because the frustration of this morning made this a pretty hard day for me. After the big deal over the USB, I had an inescapable feeling of loneliness. And it wasn’t just because of the USB thing. I haven’t spoken with either my mother or father on skype for over a month. I use to do many things with Hemma, but she was selected as a coordinator for the orientation of the new ETA’s, and she’s been extremely busy preparing for that. My mood was not helped by today’s rainy weather. So I was pretty down. Until I actually taught my saved lesson. It was a hit. 

Let me explain something. 9 times out of 10, my high level lessons go well if not perfectly. So hit lessons with them are nice, but with my low level students, I always struggle. My low level classes have gotten better this semester now that I actually have experience, but it is still awesome when I teach them something that they actually seem to enjoy. 

The lesson I taught today was on Onomatopoeia (and yes, that is actually how it is spelled, I triple checked). First, I showed my students common examples, like boom, bark, slam, etc. Then I played a song called “Bang” by the Raveonettes. The word “Bang” comes up a lot in the lyrics, thus the name. The students clapped every time they heard the word “Bang.”

And then we played a game. I have a little pink hedgehog named Herbert that I use as a ball. Anyway, I said the name of an animal, and threw someone Herbert. That person had to make that animal sound, say a new animal, and throw Herbert to someone else. So on and so forth. A few times I had to pull students’ teeth, but eventually they seemed to be having fun. And the best moment was when a girl was thrown Herbert after another student had said “Kangaroo!” The girl stood, stuffed Herbert in her jacket, and hopped. I applauded her, because it was total awesomeness. 

And to finish the lesson, I put them in groups of two or three and assigned simple comic strips. They had to have four panels including three different onomatopoeias. I was quite surprised at some of the creativity my students utilized. One strip that really made me laugh was a stabbing comic in which someone stabbed someone, using the sounds “AAAHHHH!”, “BOOM,” and “Pop!” The strip was quite disturbing and dark, but they worked hard on it. It definitely told me that I do not want to get on those girls’ bad sides. 

So now I am in a much better mood. Possibly also because after teaching that lesson twice and went to lunch, my co-teacher Mr. Lee told me I had no more classes because the first year students were leaving on a camping trip. Which gave me the relaxing free time to come early to Caffe Bene and write this. 

Oh, and I have some exciting news. This semester, I have spent a lot of time writing a manuscript. About two weeks ago I took a hiatus from my writing and started reading up a storm because I kind of hit a block. I don’t want to say writer;’s block exactly. I knew what I wanted to write. I just somehow lost confidence in my words. So I took a break. 

Well, I started writing again last weekend. After writing for seven straight hours on Saturday and a few hours every day since, I am at page 432. I have written more than twice the amount I have written in any other single project in about a fourth of the time. Maybe I will actually finish this one and get it to an agent. 

And should my feelings of loneliness rear their ugly heads, I think it will be okay soon. This weekend I am meeting my Korean friend Do Won, possibly for the last time before I leave. Next week I am going to have dinner with another ETA Ashlee Anton. Ashlee has sort of been my unofficial mentor. She was an OC at orientation. During the grant year, whenever I have had issues come up from time to time, she has been the first person I’ve called. I wanted to spend some time with her before I went back to America and she starts at Orientation as the head OC. And then the following weekend, Jan Min, one of the younger teachers at Seondeok wants to take me clubbing in Pusan. It is making me a little nervous because Jan Min doesn’t have the best English and I have terrible Korean, and she has mentioned nothing about hotels or anything. And what if we get separated in the club?

All sensible worries, but I have the rest of my life to be sensible. I would like a night of spontaneity.  Hopefully we won’t end up sleeping on the beach. But, hey, even if we do, it could be fun. 

Saturday, May 25th, 2013, Caffe Bene, Gyeongju, South Korea, 2:15 PM

For the last two weeks, I have been reading at a voracious rate. I think I have read 8 books in that time, not including all of the other books this year (Comfort Woman, Dracula, Little Women, Dune plus sequels, Man in the High Castle, Nueromancer, Fahrenheit 451, Anthem, A Clockwork Orange, A Super Sad True Love Story, Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, The Time Machine, the first three books of Game of Thrones, and Cat’s Eye). My most recent reading binge was triggered when I saw the trailer of the film Ender’s Game which is based on a very famous sci fi book. 

When I was in middle school, students in the higher level English class read Ender’s Game, so I have known about it for a very long time. After I saw the trailer, I mentioned it when I was skyping with my American friend Diana, and she told me I had to read it. Considering I studied science fiction for a thesis and most of the books I have been reading this year have been science fiction, I read it. It took me two days, because I literally could not put it down. It was a great read. 

And I just couldn’t stop reading. I’m just pouring into book after book, reading for hours on end. Perhaps I am unconciously preparing myself for graduate school, except I am not exactly going to be pleasure reading like this. 

Speaking of reading, I found out last weekend that the third book of Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam’s Trilogy will be released on September 4th. Why is this important? Because my honor’s thesis was an analysis of the first two books, Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood. I have been waiting for this book to come out on pins and needles. And not just because This book could either prove or totally debunk my arguments. Atwood is an incredible writer. If you are reading this blog right now and you have never read the Hand Maid’s Tale, turn off your computer right now and go read it. 

But to talk more about Korea… Teaching has been fun. Last week, I had my high level students do acrostic poems with their names, describing themselves. I didn’t anticipate that the romanization of Korean names have a lot of “O’s” and :U’s”. It was very entertaining seeing how resourceful my students were. One girl used the O in her name to spell out “Oh my god…” To my surprise, only one student used the “S” in her name to spell out “sexy.”  I kneeled  down, batted my eyelashes, and said, “You are completely right. Sexy does begin with an ‘s.’ But could you please think of a different word?” I was so happy when all she said was “Okay teacher,” because I have no idea how that argument would have gone had she challenged me. For “I” many students said “Ice Cream.” I guess they really all like ice cream, or just couldn’t think of anything else. However, one of my students, Young Min, the student body president used the “I” in her name to say “I am what I am.”

For my lower level students last week, I taught commands using the Cha Cha Slide. In The Cha Cha Slide, you hear an MC giving the dancer directions, like “To the left, take it back now, right foot two stomps,” which are all commands. Almost all the jocks are in my low level classes (some stereotypes can be true) so they most enjoy the lessons where they can get out of their chair, so they actually ended up having a lot of fun. It was one of my best low level lessons. 

Which brings me to this past week. I was inspired by Cinco de Mayo to teach my students a few Spanish words, using the justification that because there are so many Spanish speakers in America, many Spanish words have become a part of English. So I taught them words like “Hola,” and “Gracias,” When I had classes right before lunch and I showed them a photo of a so papilla, they looked at me like they wanted to kill me.

Right before one class I saw one student with a shell in her hand. I walked up to her saying, “Oh, you brought a seas shell,” and looked very closely at it until claws sprang out of it. I jumped and screamed. I probably should have known better, but who brings hermit crabs to school, really?  

I was teaching one of my high level classes about Cinco de Mayo, and was really into it, talking about how it celebrates Mexican independence from Spain, and in America May 5th is a day we celebrate Mexican culture, yadda yadda yadda, when suddenly, out of nowhere one of students raised her hand and asked very sweetly, “Teacher, may I please go to the bathroom?” I was stunned. This question is not uncommon, but none of my students have ever interrupted class before to ask me about it. They have always done it on the sly. 

“Well, you used such perfect English, go ahead,” I answered. Now that I am reading what I am writing here, it doesn’t sounds funny, but at the time it was. 

Yesterday, I had a special club class. Ever since the start of this semester, Mrs. Go and I have been teaching a “Western Culture” club which meets for three periods (two and a half hours) once every month, so yesterday was only our second class. I used part of the class to explain what I think is the biggest difference between Korea and America. In Korea, for the most part, people’s heritage and nationality is the same, while in America, for the most part, it is different. Because America is a country of immigrants and the children of immigrants, we encourage and are poud of our diversity. In Korea, maybe not so much today, but definitely in the reccent past, diversity in both a personal and widespread level is discouraged. I asked my students in the club to think of what made them different. One really small, cute first year raised her hand high and cried, “I have self-respect!” which was awesome. I laughed really hard. 

I know I said in my last post I don’t want to be too preoccupied with counting down until I come home, but it is so hard not to. My flight is officially on July 16th. So I go home in 52 days. I am very curious about what re-entry is going to feel like. I wonder if I’ve missed fashion trends. I bet I will turn on the TV and every commercial will be new. Then again, with Tivo, Netflix and Hulu, who watches commercials anymore? I am sure new pop starlets have found their way in the lime light, pushing out others. The end of Ke$ha’s fame is probably too much for me to ask for. In my  town, I wonder what buildings have been knocked down, and which ones have been built. I pray my favorite restaurant has not gone out of business.

However, I look forward to this biggest change I am aware of. In my absence, I have gained a new member of my family, my niece Vivianne. I keep seeing photos of her on Facebook. I can’t wait to meet her.

Onto what what I came here to do: updating my resume and writing a general cover letter so I can hopefully get a job so I can pay for rent. What fun. .  

Saturday, May 18, 2013, Caffe Bene, South Korea, 4:19 PM

Buddha’s Birthday

Allison Lowe

Floating pink lotus lanterns

dangling from string

like oversized, florescent

Christmas ornaments

 

The doorway

is a minefield

of empty shoes

that visitors are forced

to amble over

like a gauntlet.

 

Shining scraps of confetti

scattered on the floor,

metallic pink, silver, and gold,

crinkling underfoot

like glittery, crunchy snow

 

Little girls dressed

in small, swirling hanboks,

their shining hair adorned with

strings of jewels

they dance in an innocent game,

their feet are not even touching

the floor

they glide on wings

and their cute Korean smiles

 

Shaven monks chant

to a metronome woodblock

as the laymen prostrate

in front of the

golden Buddha

adorned in flowers

 

For my meager

donation of 2,000 won

I received two

paper lotus flowers,

a gift I can take home with me,

evidence to show,

to say “See where I have been.”

 

And I was offered

an indecipherable

songbook filled

with geometric lines,

Korean hieroglyphs

so I could follow in the song

I did not understand

at least in words

But I could hear the

seriousness, the meaning,

and the fellowship

that even I could take part in

to the point

that I even forgot

their stares,

and their wonder at

why an American Aryan girl

was among them. 

 

PhotoPhotoPhotoPhoto: Happy Buddhas Birthday!Photo

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