Christmas came 11.5 months early.

This is what’s in my fridge right now. That’s right, the flavor of my dreams, bottled in the perfect size, with a foil lid with a picture of whipped cream on it, and a little red straw you poke through.

<3 <3 <3

 

Also, this:

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Bunches and bunches of my favorite kind of ramen, Cheese Bokki.

“But Uncle Diana, how did you acquire this? I thought you couldn’t get it in America!” You may say. You are correct. The reason that I have this is the most special and amazing part of all, but I’m not going to take a photo of him now because he’s sleeping and probably jet-lagged out of his mind. He brought me a suitcase full of them. I thought this would be against the rules, but I guess not.

That’s right, one of my former middle school students is here to visit me! This was my “student informant,” my man on the inside, that you might remember me mentioning in a few posts.

As a foreign teacher, sometimes you are an afterthought to the school. It was kind of a joke among EPIK teachers. My coteacher was frequently busy with extra work and would forget to tell me until the last minute about holidays, days without classes, field trips, and other schedule changes, so I’d be sitting there at 9:15 wondering why I didn’t have a class. Only at the very last minute would someone pop in and tell you that everyone was going home at noon, or that there were no classes that day, or that I didn’t have to come in tomorrow. That is, until I happened to strike up a conversation with Hyun Bum on a class trip to research the Baekje dynasty. All of a sudden, I was his favorite teacher, and he was always in my room talking to me.

Life in Korea got a lot easier once I had him to help me. I could ask him all this stuff I was wondering but didn’t want to bother my coteacher with. He would tell me in advance about schedule changes. He helped me buy something online. He took me to the post office and helped me buy stamps, which was awesome, because the post office people HATED me. They were always asking me questions way outside of my Korean language abilities while I stood there looking stupid. But he showed me how everything worked. He was very eager to help me with anything. When I would talk to my boyfriend about him, I used the nickname “America Boy,” because he was fascinated with America and wanted more than anything to go there.

He was far from my top student as far as English ability goes, but definitely #1 in effort and fluency. I had 100 times more conversations with him than with any other student. If he doesn’t know the right word, he chooses something similar and keeps on chuggin’, so he’s actually much better off than less confident/motivated kids when it comes to English. I have very few problems understanding him.

So anyway, he just tested into a prestigious performing arts high school, and his dad rewarded him with a plane ticket to America. He’s at my place for 10 days. We’re going to Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon. He also really wants to shoot a gun (guns are illegal to own in Korea), so I’ll take him to a shooting range. I think it will be a fun and educational experience for us both. And there will be pictures later, so stay posted!

It never ends.

I’ve been back in the U.S. for more than a year now. I miss Korea a lot – almost everything about it! While it’s awesome to see my boyfriend every day and have access to all the sandwiches and dill pickles I want, I often find myself missing the following things:

-Being able to walk and take public transit everywhere

-Having pals that do fun things together

-Having a job that pays me enough that I’m not always broke

-Those little coffee drinks from convenience stores…mmmmmmmm.

-Cheap ramen, kimbap and bibimbap from Kimbap Nala

-Last but not least, my students and my school.

While the food cravings hit often enough, what really made me want to update this blog after so long was the last thing on the list. I have “teaching flashbacks” almost every day still. This isn’t a bad thing, it’s not some PTSD thing. Teaching was enjoyable for me but very stressful in that I worried that every lesson was going to flop and I was going to crash and burn in front of my class every single day. This never really happened, although once my students refused to speak because one of my co-teachers had beaten them as punishment earlier and they were mad at him. I had no idea what happened but it was definitely a nightmare.

The “flashbacks” I have are that I’m always seeing things and then thinking about the ways I could teach them to my class. I think of how I would explain it to them, and then some games or activities we could do to practice it. Just the other day I thought of the phrase “Excuse me” and how it can mean so many different things: “Can I talk to you?” “I’m sorry,” “Get out of the way,” and more. And then I though of situations I could make my students act out to use all those meanings. I do this for a minute or so before I remember that’s not my job anymore and I don’t have to be thinking about this. More than a year and this hasn’t gotten away.

Do I want to go back? Yeah, kinda. I don’t know if it’s in the cards. I’d definitely love to go back to visit, and mayyyybe work there again. I don’t want to go back without my old man, but we’d have to get married in order to go together, and I still feel to young to make that kind of decision. Also, I’m in school to become a mechanic, and if I’m working as a teacher, I’m not using my training. The ideal thing is being able to get some kind of mechanic-related job overseas. I’ll look into that. 

Also, in case you were wondering, this is the first meal I ate when I got back to Phoenix: a veggie Straw sandwich with a dill pickle and salt-and-pepper chips. It was amazing.

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Hi again!

Hello! Now I’m in Jennifer’s English 108 class teaching them about blogs.

Here’s a photo of them:

English 108

Here’s a video of University of Arizona!

Also, here’s a pug we found on Fanpop.com.

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You’ll never guess where I am!

I’m in Tucson, at University of Arizona, showing Hania’s English 108 class about my blog!

Hania's Class

Hania’s Class

Here’s a video. For kicks.

I’m coming home in 1 day

Oh my gosh oh my gosh oh my gosh. I really am coming home soon. I went on vacation with my mom, taught my last class last Friday, packed up and got everything out of my apartment, and am currently staying with some very kind friends until I leave for Incheon airport tomorrow morning. So I think it’s time to write two more lists: things I will and won’t miss about Korea.

Things I will miss, in no particular order:

9. Kimbap restaurants. There’s a couple of these right across from my apartment. You can get delicious fresh ramen, kimbap, bibimbap, and many other foods for a very reasonable price. As I’ve said before, it’s the exact equivalent of the taco shops in Phoenix. A delicious Korean lunch or dinner for around $2? Yes please. Too bad the Korean restaurants in Phoenix are all a little more upscale. It does look like there are a couple of Korean groceries I can go to and maybe get these things.

8. Stationary stores. I LOVE THIS STUFF. There are all these little stores packed with all this adorable, cheap stuff. Paper, envelopes, school supplies, toys, stickers, and all this bizarro stuff you can’t find in America. I bought a bunch of it to bring home to hoard/sell at Trunk Space/give to people, but going to these stores was always a delight. Don’t get me wrong, America is an OK place to live in many respects, but they have a long way to go to catch up to Korea when it comes to weird-shaped ice cube trays.

7. Convenience store coffee. I’ll let you in on a secret that probably makes my boyfriend feel ashamed to be going out with me: I can’t tell the difference between good coffee and bad coffee. Whatever fancy hand-roasted stuff he makes in his French press doesn’t taste that different from whatever garbage he complains about getting at a diner. In my opinion, the finest coffee I have ever tasted are these plastic cups you can get at Korean convenience stores. They come with a little straw that you poke through the foil lid that has a picture of whipped cream on it. I drink one every day. It doesn’t make me wired, but it’s kind of a tasty thing to drink while I’m getting ready for the work day. It would be nice if I could find these things in America but I’m not sure I will be able to.

6. Convenience store ice cream bars. Every convenience store has a big selection of ice cream bars. Some of them contain beans, but most of them are delicious and amazing, and also very cheap. I would usually eat one after work. Check out my stash:


Oh yeah. This strawberry choco taco was one of my favorites.

5. Hilarious kids. My students are so damn amusing. Every day at least one of them says or does something hilarious, and the fact that they do it in imperfect English is really endearing. For instance, today a kid was talking to me about how he wants to come to America and buy Levi’s jeans and a Foam Dome (you know, those beer hats like Homer Simpson sometimes wears). I told him that he would look very American in that outfit. He replied, “Yes, but in Korea, looking like jerk.” It made me crack up so bad. That was the perfect thing to say. This kid worked really hard on his English so he could have conversations with me, and yes, he did learn the word “jerk” in my class. It warms my heart when students say something that shows that they really do get it.

4. My friends here. When I left America, I brought a ton of books and crafts and stuff because I thought I would have no friends and nothing to do and I could just hole up and get things done. THAT didn’t happen. Fortunately, I made a bunch of awesome friends and it made my year in Korea a million times more enjoyable. Yeah, I didn’t get a bunch of artwork done. But it was worth it. I really hope I get to see these people again even though we are all from different states and countries.

3. The money. In America, I got by. Except for a time in 2010 when my hours at work got cut and I was pretty broke, I always had enough money for things that I needed and wanted. It helps that I don’t have expensive tastes. I could pay rent on my modest apartment, spend as much money as I wanted at the grocery store, order a pizza, and get clothes from Goodwill whenever I wanted. In Korea, and was able to do that while saving about $1000 per month. I didn’t have to pay rent and most things here are very inexpensive. Clothes can be pricey, but  it doesn’t matter – I can’t fit into Korean clothes anyway.

2. Fast internet everywhere. Korea has the fastest internet in the world. I can afford a nice smart phone, something I would have never splurged on in the US, and a wonderful, magical machine called a Wibro Egg that gives me wireless internet anywhere. Seriously, America. Wibro Eggs. Make this happen.

1. Feeling safe walking down the street. When I told people at home I was going to Korea, there was a lot of hand-wringing about whether I was going to be “safe” there. Fortunately, Korea is not a 3rd-world country. There is the looming threat of war from our neighbors to the north, but honestly, if they had their act together enough to successfully endanger South Korea, America is going to be target #2. I’m not going to live my life around what North Korea might or might not do. But you know what? Nuclear threat aside, the crime rate in Korea is very low. Unlike in Phoenix, I can prance down the street at 2 AM feeling confident that I am not going to get stabbed, and that is a huge quality-of-life thing. Even when a guy gets drunk and passes out in the street, if someone steals his wallet, I’ve heard they just take the money and mail the wallet back. How civil!

Now here’s the things I won’t miss:

5. Getting up early for work. Getting up before 11 AM is not my thing. But every work day here, I got up and got to work by 8:40. Maybe when I get back, I will get a job where I have no choice but to do that again. But not for awhile, thank god.

4. Wet bathrooms. In Korea, you keep slippers in the bathroom because your entire floor gets wet when you take a shower. It’s always wet. It makes it easy to clean, but the rest of the time it kind of sucks.

3. Having to take off my shoes everywhere. You take off your shoes at home, at work, at restaurants, and wear these little sandals around. I don’t want to wear sandals. I want to wear shoes. And I prefer these sneakers that take forever to lace up and tie, so every time I have to take my shoes on and off, everyone has to stand around waiting for me.

2. Picking tentacles out of my food. As a vegetarian, I had to bend the rules slightly to keep myself fed in Korea. So when I get some salad or rice dish with octopus or whatever nonsense in it, I just pick it out. I can still taste it sometimes. It’s gross. I can’t always ask what’s in something or get it taken out. I can’t read food labels. I’m looking forward to not doing that anymore.

1. People here walk so damn slow! Jesus! I walk 2-3 times faster than everyone else here. And they take up the entire sidewalk. And they don’t move even if they know you are right behind them trying to pass them. Arrrrrgh!

See you soon, Phoenix!

Summer camp and vacation

Hey, guess what. I come home in less than a month. That’s right. It’s actually 26 days now, not that I’m counting. JUST KIDDING, I am totally counting! I have had an awesome time here, but I miss so many things about home. I already have the first 10 things I’m going to eat planned out. Starting tomorrow, I have a week and a half with my mom visiting, then another week of work, then a few days of packing and cleaning up, then I’m out.

But anyway. Today I finished my 2-week summer camp, a day camp thing I have to do for about 25 kids. 2 weeks, 3 hours a day of English fun. Camps are actually the most fun time of the year. You get to do fun projects that are just barely relevant to English. For example, I taught my students how to play Red Rover and Duck Duck Goose. We made ice cream in a bag. We had relay races. Today, on the last day, we had a water balloon fight. I taught them what “cannibalism” and “fire in the hole” mean. They turned a wordless cartoon about robots into a swearing-filled erotic action adventure.

The main project we worked on for the camp was an English newspaper, which we then turned into a news show. You can see the finished product here:

Sorry for the poor audio quality. I know what they are saying, and trust me, it’s awesome.

I also had an Olympics theme for the first week. I had them get into teams, randomly choose a country and design a flag for themselves. From top left to bottom right: Kenya, Egypt, Turkey, Angola, Italy, and South Korea.

 

They also had to design a mascot, with hilarious results:

 

My favorite is definitely Team Korea’s “crapping Dooly” mascot:

 

Here’s Duck Duck Goose time:

Their favorite part was smacking each other on the head as they said “GOOSE!” instead of the taps I showed them. These boys love to hit each other.

Here’s me with all my happy camp graduates:

It was a superb time. Camps remind me how hilarious and good-natured my students can be. I’m going to miss them a lot.

2 weeks of camp is a ton of work – 3 different lessons a day, plus usually lunch with teachers and other nonsense after the kids leave, so I haven’t had a chance to relax in quite awhile. Now my mom is coming and we are going to be doing a lot of running around the country. We’re going to Ulleung-do, which is very difficult for foreigners to get to, but it’s going to be worth it, because it looks like this:

 

These next few weeks are going to fly by. I’ll see you back in America soon!

 

The mysterious rocket ship store

So. About 6 months ago, I took a trip to Seoul. When I got back to the train station in Gwangju, the line for taxis was really long. I was only carrying my backpack, so I decided that I’d walk about a mile to the nearest subway station rather than put my life in the hands of Korea’s finest. A few blocks away from the subway station, I passed an amazing store. It was cluttered and dark and the window display was full of these homemade rocket ships and weird models. There were medals, trophies, microscopes, and some uniforms in there too. There were also two old men playing Go by the light from the window.

I wondered about this store. I kept thinking about it, until one day a couple of weeks ago when I found myself near the train station and decided I would get off the bus and try to find it again, get some pictures, and try to find out what it was.

I soon found it. It looks like this:

 

Close-ups:

I stood gawking for several minutes when some lady who was in the back room noticed me and came into the store. Then some old guy came out. He tried to talk to me through the glass and I took the hint and came around to the door, which was closed and had a two-by-four stuck through the door handles so no one could get in. He opened the door and said something to me in Korean. I tried to ask him what the store was, but I have no idea what he said. It was really awkward. I think he was kind of pissed to be bothered. So I went on my merry way. But not before I got a few pictures.

To solve this mystery of this store, I showed the photos to my student informant, the kid at my school who is always in my classroom talking to me. He’s very handy. He sometimes tells me when the school has holidays or early release days, something my school would never dream of telling me beforehand, helped me buy stamps at the post office, and helped me order a Korean Street Fighter DVD online that one of my friends asked me to try to get for him.

Mystery solved! After he saw this picture:

 

he was able to tell me that it was for the Korean version of scouts. It’s co-ed, kind of like Boys and Girls club. They are supposed to do science projects (hence all the science stuff), service work, and other things, but my informant told me that his brother used to be one of these scouts and they mostly just went to amusement parks and stuff.

It’s nice to finally know the deal with that place, though it was kind of more interesting when I had no clue and my imagination ran wild.