Monday, March 29, 2010


(Note: this blog post was started almost a week ago. Please disregard any time continuity issues.)

“Some days you eat the b’ar, and some days the b’ar eats you.”

“Is that some sort of Eastern thing?”

“Far from it.”

-The Big Lebowski

I probably shouldn’t be blogging at work but the internet is down and most weeks the bulk of my time at school has been finding photos on Google Image Search for my PowerPoint presentations. Some guy here in the gyomusil (teacher’s office) is trying to sell socks. I have a pair of sport socks sitting on my desk. (“Big size!” the salesman says.) I’m not sure if they’re a free sample or if I’m supposed to just be looking at them. If I keep them, am I obligated to buy more socks? What exactly is up with these socks, anyway?

The job has been good so far—spectacular, in a lot of ways. The work’s not too difficult, the expectations aren’t too daunting (from the school, at least—my expectations for my personal performance are pretty high), everyone seems to be happy with the job I’m doing so far, and if I were Korean and didn’t have piles of debt to take care of back home I could probably feed a family of eight on my salary. Anything you see here that looks like complaining—it’s not. A little kvetching never hurt anyone, though.

The one thing that’s a little frustrating is that, since I’ve never taught high school kids before, in a lot of ways I’m flying by the seat of my pants every day. All of my lesson plans are basically completely untested material, so sometimes they’re going great and sometimes… not so well. There are some pretty good internet resources out there for borrowing ESL lesson plans from other teachers, but so far I’ve felt compelled to try to develop all my own plans from scratch. After all, it is part of what they’re paying me for, plus I figure it will be best to save the “run to the internet” option for an actual emergency.

The main goals of the native English teaching program are to get the kids using the language and to get them used to hearing it from an actual native speaker. For the most part, as long as I can keep the kids listening, speaking and writing, I’m doing a good job. On the other hand, sometimes it’s tough to know what the kids will understand and when I’m going to get a bunch of blank looks after I’ve discussed an activity. Also, since my course isn’t graded sometimes it’s hard to keep the kids motivated and on task. (I could probably get the school to do it if I asked them to and if I could come up with a grading rubric, but I’m not confident enough in my skills yet to do that.)

I’m definitely starting to learn a few things about my students, though, above and beyond what common mistakes they make using English. (We’re definitely doing a lesson on articles and singular, plural and uncountable nouns at some point soon.) The girls are usually very interested in talking (sometimes too much, to each other, and not about English) but it’s a lot harder to get the boys to do anything. I’ve been told that they tend to be better at writing, but when it comes to getting them be imaginative or creative they seem to be a little resistant. I think they just become resistant to doing anything they don’t want to do at some age. Kind of makes me wish I could just take them out, get them full of soju and introduce them to the wonders of Johnny Cash. (Just to make things perfectly clear—THAT LAST SENTENCE WAS A JOKE. I am not going to ply my students with alcohol.)

This week I’m teaching a lesson about vacations. I figured since I’m teaching a foreign language, maybe it would be good to get some ideas about traveling and the excitement of visiting foreign places into their heads. One of my co-teachers gave me the very excellent suggestion to do a project about vacation islands, since Jeju Island in Korea is a very popular vacation destination here. The in-class project is to create a travel brochure for a destination of the student’s choosing. The place can be real or imaginary, and it can be somewhere they’ve been or some place far away, like space. Some students pick foreign countries or tropical islands, some students pick a country they don’t know and then get stuck because they don’t know anything about it, and some students pick a place that’s close to home, like the town we’re in or the beach in Busan, which is less than an hour away by train. (Every student that's picked the moon says they want to go there to play with the rabbit. Who even knew there was a rabbit up there? Also, one student chose Antarctica and the cover of his brochure was a penguin with another penguin in its pouch, and both penguins had knives. It was AWESOME.) Some students pick their family homes, which can be a little heartbreaking since these kids live at school. I mean that literally—Korean high school students live at school. The school has dorms and the students live in the dorms. Most of them pretty much do nothing but study from sun up to sun down and only get to go home every other weekend (there’s school every alternating Saturday here). In the evenings when the grade school and middle school kids aren’t at school a lot of them are studying at private hagwons, if their families can find a way to afford it. In the summer they go to school camps. In a way, part of me admires the dedication—after all, when I was in film school or working on a film in LA I was working from the moment I woke up to the time I got my precious five hours of sleep. Some kids in the US have similar schedules with after-school activities and other resume builders. Still, it’s a little tough seeing a high school kid whose dream vacation is going home, sleeping and spending time with his or her family.

On to happier things! Last weekend was the long-awaited bullfighting festival in nearby Cheongdo. (The locals who aren’t familiar with the term “bull” sometimes talk about the bullfighting as “cow fights,” which I think makes the event sound even more awesome.) For those of you not familiar with the Korean tradition of bullfighting, let me explain. Korean bullfighting is very different from Spanish or Mexican bullfights, where some guy stands in a ring and slowly tortures a bull to death even though the bull never really did anything to him and never really had a chance. In Korean bullfights, the bulls fight each other. Apparently the inspiration came from the yearly fights between bulls for the best grazing ground for their herds, and some genius came up with the idea of putting a ring around it and making it a spectator sport, These days there’s an entire arena dedicated to it in Cheongdo. The bullfights are the pride of the town—kind of what country music is to Nashville or the Indy 500 is to Indianapolis. There's a bullfighting statue in the park, there's billboards and banners all over town, and there's even cute cartoon bulls on the manhole covers. (One of these days I will have to get into the Korean habit of representing everything with cute cartoon characters, but again that feels like the sort of thing that's been discussed by numerous other commentators over the years.)

I suppose I better address that thorny issue of animal cruelty up front. “Bull Wrestling” or “Bull Sumo” would probably be a better name for the sport than “bullfighting,” since the latter brings to mind all sorts of nasty associations with animal blood sports like dog fighting or cock fighting. The bulls aren’t out to hurt each other, although some of them do end up visibly bloodied after a particularly hard-fought bout. The bulls basically butt heads until one of them gives up and runs away. Apparently there’s also a scoring system for successful pushes and attacks, similar to boxing or taekwondo, but I’m not sure how it works. Sometimes a bout will result in over thirty minutes of the bulls locking horns and pushing each other to the point of exhaustion, and sometimes one bull turns tail and runs before the referee has a chance to blow the whistle. Sometimes the bulls don’t really want to fight all that much and the trainers have to try to lead their heads together with the ropes looped into their nose rings. I'm pretty sure I saw one match called a draw because the bulls just plain didn't want to fight. I found something oddly satisfying about that; it wasn’t nearly as exciting as a good bull-on-bull battle royale but I think it did something to affirm the nobility of the species. So is it cruel to take something that bulls do naturally, put an arena around it and give them some gentle coaxing to do it for our entertainment? Yes and no, I suppose. I wouldn’t consider it that much crueler than horse racing except that the bulls do get a little scraped up from all the friction between their skulls. But is there a moral difference between a test of strength through combat and a test of speed through racing that goes much further than semantics? I’m not so sure. Is it in the same category as dog fights or Spanish bullfighting? Absolutely not. What about rodeo? Well, I was going to write that Korean bullfighting is probably less cruel since heard that they tied ropes around the testicles of rodeo bulls to make them buck, but according to the internet that's just an urban legend propagated by "certain 'animal rights' activists". So I guess I would put Korean bullfighting somewhere on the morality scale between rodeo and hardcore professional wrestling. (I'm not going to explain which end of that scale is which, I'll leave it up to you to decide.)

Speaking of animal rights, I have noticed that the Eastern perspective on domestic animals seems to draw heavily on the Confucian idea of hierarchies, with animals in a lower echelon than humans. The butcher's shops around here tend to have cute, non-ironic cartoons of smiling farm animals, as if the livestock were thinking, "It is my duty in life to provide you with pleasing meat! Thank you for enjoying my flesh!" I’m not a huge fan of the Confucian tendency to classify everything in rigid hierarchies, but I have to admit that the Western animal rights ideal that animals should be treated like humans goes a little too far at times. For example, before I left LA I noticed that there was a digital billboard popping up around town in off hours with some smiling doofus sitting next to a dog and the text, “Animals are children too!” I had two major semantic problems with this. First, grown animals are not children, they're adults. Second, ANIMALS AREN’T HUMAN! No matter how much you love your dog it is not your child. You didn’t give birth to it, it can’t name any state capitals, you’re not going to send it to college and it’s not going to come home mumbling for a month because it doesn’t want you to see that it got its tongue pierced. Yes, animals deserve to be treated humanely and we should make an effort to see that they don’t suffer, but in the end they’re not sentient and they’ll always be one rung lower on the food chain in the natural order of things. I like cows, but I also like to eat cows because that’s what cows are for. If we all stopped eating meat then all the cows would die because they’ve been domestic animals for thousands of years and they wouldn’t be able to fend for themselves in the wild, and I don’t want to see that happen because I like cows. I also don’t mind seeing them fight, because cow fighting is a bold display of raw cow awesomeness and the sheer mind-blowing audacity of cow power. Is that so wrong??!?!

I kept picturing what would happen if PETA showed up and plastered photos of naked Western women in cow horns all over town. The picture was a lot of Koreans shaking their heads and saying, “Yep, we were right all along.”

The bullfighting festival did have plenty to do for the bullfight-squeamish—inside and outside of the bullfighting facility were food, shopping, traditional and non-traditional entertainment and libations. If you like corn dogs, you’ll love crab stick wrapped in some sort of fish patty on a stick. (With ketchup!) I didn’t get brave enough to try the silk worm pupa, but maybe next year. My favorite thing at Korean festivals is definitely the clowns. I’m sure they’re actually called something else here, but in Western terms they’re clearly clowns. Korean clowning is somewhere between circus clowning, improv comedy, street theater and a drag act. What usually happens is that a small group of performers with traditional instruments will paint their faces, put on ragged, sometimes gender-bending costumes based on traditional clothing, and mime a performance of traditional music and older Korean pop songs. Often they lure some blind-drunk older people from the audience to join them in dancing and singing along. In the clown act that was happening at the bull festival some guy who was half in and half out of a ragged dress was dry-humping a drum and pretending to shit in a pot in front of children and everyone was having a great time. What's really amazing to me is that Koreans have these very strict social standards for not shaming each other--for examaple, you're never going to get an honest assessment of your performance at work because nobody wants to risk making you "lose face"--but at a festival or a bar or a noraebang (a.k.a. a karaoke room) it's perfectly OK for everyone to get falling down drunk and dance with a filthy clown in drag because it's a socially accepted tradition. Personally I love the irony. I mean, I would put up with a little ball-busting now and then if it meant I could get honest answers out of people at work, but imagine what would happen in the States if you put on a dirty Pilgrim dress, sang "Yankee Doodle Dandy" and "Car Wash" back to back and flashed your panties in public where there was a remote chance of a child being there. I know, right?

Also apparently the concept of "gay" isn't even on the cultural radar here. I'm not sure how that one works. Been trying to figure it out for curiosity's sake but I haven't had the chance to talk about it with anyone with first-hand information.

So what you’re probably wondering now is, where are the photos and the video? The photos (shot on crisp, clean, still-superior-to-digital 35mm film) are still at the developer. (It took me a while to find the Korean word for “digital scan”.) I may post some videos once I figure out how to pull them off my old Mini-DV video camera and onto my netbook, but I have to admit it’s not a high priority.

OK, time to log off and get back to that ESL certificate I've been working on...

Saturday, March 13, 2010

My God... It's full of stars!

The good news this week is that I finally got my passport back and got my Alien Resident ID, which means that I now have a cell phone and I should have a land line by Monday. Those of you who know who I am can check my Facebook page for the numbers, or just send me an email and I'll send them to you. I wanted to get my iPhone activated here, but apparently even if your phone has been (cough, cough) liberated from AT&T you can't get a foreign iPhone activated in Korea. They have some extra security protocols on the Korean phone networks or something. Either that or they're just using that as an excuse to profligate the current Samsung/LG cell phone oligarchy. Since smart phones cost a small fortune here (something like $450 for a Google Android phone or an iPhone 3Gs, plus if you're a oegugin like me they require a deposit of about $200) and there's no such thing as a QWERTY phone for fairly obvious reasons, the one I ended up with is a fairly standard flip phone. It's got email and some sort of mobile web access (I think there's some sort of mobile TV, too), but those menus are still in Korean even when the phone is set to English so I'm not 100% sure how all of that works. I may eventually have to beg one of my co-teachers or students to show me how to use my phone. So far I've mostly been using it to receive text messages that are probably spam, but I can't really tell since they're all in Korean. Also, apparently, there's no such thing as voicemail here, or at least nobody typically has it, so when someone calls and you don't answer all you get is the callback number. This is especially fun because there's apparently some scam where someone calls you from a foreign number and tries to charge calls to your phone, so if any of you try to call me from a foreign number that I don't recognize, you might want to send a text instead. I think the best thing about the phone, though, is that the front is mirrored and displays a cascade of stars whenever you use it. Oh, and the "Sky" logo on the front and the keypad are in pink, of course. It's probably a girl's phone or something but I don't really care as long as the damn thing works. As I've mentioned before, Koreans don't seem to have the same types of gender squeamishness that we have in the West anyway. It's kind of refreshing, really.

It also didn't come with a charging cable, although it did come with a spare battery and a charging station for that battery. Thankfully charging cables seem to be universal here and Mo had an extra one to loan to me.

The first week of classes went pretty well. Class periods were short this week because it was "home visit week" and the Korean teachers were expected to visit the parents of students at their homes. (Right now I'm imagining my dad, who's a retired high school teacher, reading that and cringing.) There were also no classes on Wednesday because there was some sort of all-day national skills test being administered that day. My lesson this week was basically a PowerPoint presentation about myself and a short quiz. Topics included "What sport does Jim Kelly play?" and "What is the weather like in Los Angeles?" Nobody laughed at the photo montage except when they saw the giant hamburger. I have to wonder if anyone got that it was supposed to be funny.

What it means to be an American, in photos.

Between the two grade levels and all the different classes I'm teaching there's a lot of different skill levels to work with. The classes are theoretically organized by ability level so within each class there's some consistency, but the abilities range from very good to barely able to string together a sentence. I'm not too worried about making my lessons scalable--the idea of bringing in native teachers is to get the kids hearing and using English, so as long as they're not afraid to use what they know it's OK with me if they're starting from different places.

I ended up finding an international ATM at Korea Exchange Bank in Daegu, and I cashed the rest of my travelers checks at KEB on Friday, so my money woes have been alleviated. I also broke down and bought a mini-blender so that I could finally grind some of the 3 lb. bag of coffee I had bought at Costco. (A trip to Costco here is like walking into a three-floor version of America magnified by ten times. I imagine it must be the same feeling Swedes get when they walk into an Ikea in Tokyo.) My only other major purchase has been a composite video cable for my iPod. The netbook I just bought is kind of inconsistent when it comes to video--YouTube works like a charm, but video from iTunes suffers from some stuttering and sound dropout issues. (Sound dropouts are not a good thing when you're watching, say, Lost.) You'll be happy to know that Apple accessories are also horrendously overpriced over here, just like they are in the United States. At least now I have a USB charger with US, Korean and Australian plugs for my iPod and my iPhone with no sim card that only works on WiFi.

As far as entertainment goes, I haven't hunted down any of the folks I met in EPIK orientation yet, but now that I have a little money and a cell phone I'm hoping it will be easier. I'm also hoping I can lure a few of them here for the bullfighting festival this week. (More on that as it happens.) I have met up with some of the other foreign teachers working here in my town. (By the way, I hope that my use of "foreign teachers" to refer to English teachers from the West doesn't confuse anyone, since technically we're called "native teachers" here.) Right now there's a couple from America and another American woman working here, and apparently there's also a Canadian guy who I haven't met yet here somewhere. Last Saturday after Costco I attended a very lovely dinner party at the home of Steve and Sandy, the American couple, with Mo and Julie, the other American teacher. I've also been back and forth to the city of Daegu a few times with Mo and Julie. I haven't had the change to explore too much beyond the downtown shopping district. There's a bar near there called the Holy Grill that's run by a pair of Canadians that acts as a de facto hub for Westerners in the area. I had the "Holy Cow" cheeseburger there last night--it was pretty darn tasty. I also finally saw a movie in one of the local theaters here--"From Paris With Love." (It'll probably be a while before I sample any of the local fare, as I don't speak Korean and the only theaters that show Korean movies with English subtitles are apparently all in Seoul.) Much like the cheeseburger at The Holy Grill, it was very satisfying. How is it that Europeans like Luc Besson and Sergio Leone can make American movies better than Americans?

My other big cross-cultural discovery for this week: some of my Korean co-teachers were trying to show me how to use the "magic pen" device in the English classroom, that allows you to write on the projection of the computer screen the way you would write on a whiteboard. I drew a big silly face and one of my co-teachers called me "Bob Ross." Apparently Bob Ross's old PBS painting show was on cable here for a while and it became a big pop culture hit. There's even an ad for Korea Telecom where ol' Bob, God rest his soul, is hawking internet phones:

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Dong Chim

Day 2 of teaching has passed and so far things have been pretty uneventful. I don't actually have to get up in front of a class until next week, so most of what I've been doing is researching ideas for lesson plans and preparing a PowerPoint presentation to use as a personal introduction for next week's class. I think my favorite part so far is the photo montage about what it means to be an American. So far it has: a GTO with a blower doing a wheelie, a monster truck painted like the American flag, a guy riding a bull, a guy eating a giant hamburger, a skinny guy in a wife beater eating barbecue, Richard Nixon bowling and Nixon shaking hands with Elvis. I'm pretty dang proud of it.

I also went to the bank for the first tine today. I brought some Korean currency and mostly travelers checks with me from America, thinking that travelers checks (which I could only get from my bank in USD) would be the easiest and safest thing to carry. I was running a little low on cash and my co-teacher was too busy to accompany me today, so I went to the bank with the phrases for "deposit," "bank account," "cheque" and "convert into cash" in Korean written in a notebook. Things actually went pretty well, all things considered. The only snag was, after the teller worked for about an hour to figure out how to use American travelers checks to buy Korean currency and deposit it into a Korean bank account, he told me that it would take about a month for the money to clear. Fine, I think, I've still got half my travelers checks and I can probably scrape by for a while on what I've got in cash as long as I don't go roaming the countryside looking for bars or something. Of course that's I realized that I might not be able to cash the travelers checks I have for a couple weeks because I had to hand my passport over to the Immigration office in order to apply for an Alien Resident ID. (Yes, I know that sounds a little sketchy, but these things happen over here.) So basically what I'm left with is about $50 worth of won and the ability to take money out of my American bank account via ATM should I need it. I get my first month's pay and the reimbursement for my flight on the 23rd so I'll be fine by then, but it looks like I might have to put off buying that blender/coffee grinder for a little while...

Monday, March 1, 2010

밥 어디에 있어요?

Wow, what a week. I've been meaning to do an extensive catch-up blog post for a while but I've been way too busy and my internet access has been intermittent at best. I was going to post an update from a Starbucks in Daegu but when I tried to utilize their free internet I found out I couldn't log on without an alien resident ID number, and I don't have my card yet. (Internet security is kind of a big thing here, thanks in no small part to North Korea and an alleged other Asian country which will remain nameless.) The internet at my apartment isn't actually getting hooked up until tomorrow (today was a holiday--Independence Movement Day, I believe) but luckily one of my neighbors has an open wireless connection. (Hopefully my neighbor is not a DPRK spy.) Irregardless, since it's been so long I'll try to keep the post focused and not include too many asides that could be categorized as random bitching or asinine observations about the differences between Korea and the US. (I make no guarantees that some substantial portions of this post will be devoted to those two topics.)

So, where to start... Orientation at Jeonju University ("The Place For Superstars!") was a wonderful experience, although hectic. Our Korean hosts and all the guest lecturers worked incredibly hard to make us aware of what's likely to be in store for us and how we can do the best job possible. I met a lot of fantastic guest teachers from all over the world, had a good time discovering the myserious powers of beer and soju (the Korean national hard liquor), I figured out how to order a proper cup of coffee (happily "Americano" means the same thing in English and Korean) and I had a really fantastically greasy toast sandwich on top of it all. And then of course I ruined everything on the last day by doing a comedy routine at the talent show at the closing ceremony. Well, in actuality the routine went pretty well, considering that the people in the back apparently couldn't hear it because I had the mike too far away from my big mouth. There was one joke I cracked at the expense of one of the Western nationalities represented at the orientation that I wasn't sure was completely fair, though, and for the rest of the night I was paranoid that I had possibly offended a lot of people who probably didn't deserve it. (By the way, if you've stumbled across the blog and you were offended, then I apologize. Unless, of course, what I said was actually on point, and in that case you need to lighten up.) Such are the dangers of the comedian's life, I suppose. Nobody said anything to me, other than "Hey I thought you were funny" or "That took a lot of balls to get up in front of that many people" but usually if you've offended people they don't say anything about it to your face. (That's what the internet is for!) I also failed to get anyone else's direct contact information, which was probably kind of stupid. I've made a few connections on Facebook (hello, whoever's reading this!) and I'll probably make more, but now I'm kind of wishing I had been a little more diligent about it. (Especially now that I'm realizing that I forgot the names of some of the people I should be looking for on Facebook. Whoops.)

We didn't find out exactly where we had been assigned to until the end of the orientation, but I think I lucked out--I'm now in a small farming town south of the city of Daegu. I'm on the main train line from Seoul to Busan, so it should be fairly easy to get around the country and get to international airports. (That said, I'm not sure I'll have any time to travel before the summer break, although there's a couple trips I would like to make before then. Guess I'll have to be extra nice to the administration and my co-teachers.) I met my main co-teacher, whom I'll refer to as Mr. D for the sakes of privacy and brevity, at a parking lot in Gumi on Friday afternoon. Apparently he had Googled me before I showed up (gulp) and found a picture of me from the Coney Island Mermaid Parade from several years ago where I was dressed as a pirate. I'm not sure but I think he may have genuinely been worried that I only had one eye before we met.

My town is a small rural town that's mostly famous for persimmons, peaches and bullfighting. Korean bullfighting, by the way, isn't like Spanish bullfighting, where some dude with swords kills some poor bull with no access to swords and the whole thing just seems kind of like a foregone conclusion. In Korean bullfights, apparently two bulls butt heads until one gives up and walks away, and there's a point system similar to a taekwondo match. I suppose it's cruel to make animals fight each other, but it's probably not that much worse than greyhound racing as I see it. Besides, it's BULL-ON-BULL COMBAT. How cool is that? I think only non-lethal bear-on-bear combat could possibly be more awesome.

I'm teaching at one of the two local high schools (whose name I keep forgetting) and the English lab I'm teaching in makes my old high school look like a cave in Afghanistan. I've met two of my co-teachers, Mr. D and Mr. S--both of whom have been extremely generous and helpful--and I'm sharing the apartment building I'm living in (which is called Happy House, of all things) with one of the other foreign teachers, an extremely nice South African gentleman whom I will call Mo. I'm unbelievably grateful that I'm in the same building as another Westerner because both of the Korean co-teachers I've met live outside of town. It's hard for me to imagine what the last few days might have been like without another native speaker of English around.

So, now that the status update portion of the post is over, it's time for more Interesting Observations About The Differences Between America and Korea:

The Locals: Koreans are 100% totally cool people. Maybe I'm just saying that because I've only been here a couple weeks and I still haven't discovered the cultural differences that might make things a little difficult at times, but I've already observed a lot of things that make me really glad I'm teaching in Korea. For example, all the Koreans I've meet so far are very friendly and open to foreigners, especially compared to what I've heard about Certain Other Asian Countries Which Will Remain Nameless. The Korean attitude towards cultural differences seems to be, "What you're doing isn't the Korean way, but you're a foreigner so it's OK for you." I've definitely seen more than my share of embarrassed looks when I've accidentally walked into my apartment with my shoes on, or made a toast or passed an item using the wrong hand gesture. But overall Koreans seem very tolerant to Westerners and foreign ideas. I mean, the country is apparently trying to become functionally Korean/English bilingual by 2014. Can you imagine trying to even suggest an idea like that in America? People would be throwing tea at bodies of water left and right. (And for Christ's sake, we're already practically English/Spanish bilingual, even though nobody wants to admit it.)

Westerners: Westerners basically seem to roam the country in drunken packs, like benevolent English-teaching Vikings. I haven't witnessed a lot of it yet but I have a feeling I'll be seeing a lot more of it while I'm here.

The Language: The Korean language isn't easy, although some of the locals seems to be really impressed if you know as much as a few phrases. The grammar is extremely dissimilar to English, and some of the vowel and consonant sounds are a bit tricky to get used to, but every day I thank my lucky stars that King Sejong the Great saw that it might be a good idea to establish a phonetic alphabet. If you can read the Korean alphabet you can at least sound out an unfamiliar word even if you don't know what it means. This comes in handy a lot for the "Hanglish" words that are English words phonetically adapted into Korean. It's always a pleasant surprise when you slowly sound out a Korean word and realize that what you're reading is actually something like "sausage & special toast." (If you're even in Jeonju, I highly recommend the sausage & special toast. I haven't found a toast shop in my town yet but there's a lot of unexplored territory left out there to explore.)

Of course, the difficulty also works the other way around. Anyone who's familiar with the offensive "Engrish" stereotype of the way Asians speak English might not be surprised to learn that "R" and "L" are the same letter in Korean. The Korean alphabet also doesn't have equivalents for letters like "F", "V", "Q" or "Z." "F" tends to get replaced with a "P" sound in Korean, thus "coffee", for example, becomes 커피, pronounced "kaw-pi". Some Koreans use this Korean pronunciation when they speak English, which can lead to some awkward moments. For example (and I'm going to leave out a lot of detalis so as not to embarrass any of the parties involved) I was speaking with a group of Koreans and Westerners about the state of the film industry and how the industry needs to learn how to deal with different forms of digital distribution. One of the people I was talking to chimed in, and to me what he said sounded like he was suggesting the future lay in "internet porn." I was more than a little embarrassed that he seemed to be suggesting that I should get involved in pornography. (The only time I was ever offered a job on an adult film in LA I passed it on to an acquaintance without knowing what the exact nature of the gig was. That acquaintance tends to bring this fact up whenever I see him.) Soon after, another member of the conversation said something about "watching movies on your phone", and I realized that my conversational companion was actually saying "internet phone", which is the Korean term for a smart phone. I'm really, really glad that a snappy one-liner about getting into porno hadn't crossed my mind before I realized the nature of the misunderstanding.

Food: There are certain things that one expects to be difficult when one is wandering around a place as a functional illiterate, but food isn't typically one of them. At most shops and restaurants I can usually get away with pointing or plopping things down on the counter. If I'm feeling really conversant I might manage to stammer out something like "Americano hana juseyo." ("One Americano, please.") But I never expected what sort of trouble I would run into at the grocery store. Namely, I couldn't find rice. Nothing makes you feel like you're completely out of your depth like the realization that you can't find rice in East Asia. As it turns out, the problem was that I didn't realize the rice was rice. In America, rice is typically of the long-grain variety, so to me the short-grain white rice they have here looked more like a bag of kosher salt. I only figured it out when I went to a different grocery store and found short-grain brown rice. Even though I brought Korean and Chinese cookbooks with me, anticipating that it might be hard to find Western food, it's still going to be tough figuring out exactly what to eat on a regular basis. Most of my LA staples (bean burritos, spaghetti sauce, Chunky soup, hot dogs, franks and beans... did I mention California's economy sucks?) aren't as readily available here. Even stir-fry is a little tougher to manage when the label on the soy sauce is in Korean, the cuts of meat are different, there's no bags of ready-mixed frozen vegetables and you're too much of a stupid greenhorn to find fucking rice.

By the way... it's true, people eat kimchi for breakfast here. I actually picked up the habit during orientation, although I'm back to cold cereal and milk now.

The good news is, there is pizza. Koreans don't seem to share our affection for the combination of mozzarella and tomato sauce, though. It's more likely the pizza here will have a teriyaki or sweet mustard sauce, or maybe a thin layer of sweet potato paste. The last one I ordered came with a side of pickles. All in all, though, I haven't had a slice I really didn't like. (That might say more about me than the pizza.)

Pink: Pink is a really prevalent color in Korea and there's not nearly as much of the gender bias against it as there is in the west. Hey, remember the 2006 World Cup, when Korea's kit was officially listed as red and white but their jerseys were hot pink? We kept adjusting our TV because we couldn't believe it. Turns out that shade of hot pink is actually very traditional in Korea. Who knew?

Electronics: Appliances in Korea are fun because they all seem to be programmed to play a little song when you turn them on or off. Also the elevators are programmed to use the absolute most formal form of the Korean language when they address you, so I always felt like a big shot whenever I got to my floor. On the other hand, Koreans don't seem to believe in hot air clothes dryers. There were dryers in the laundry rooms at the Jeonju University dorm, but for the most part they just seemed to spin the clothes for a long time, and on the hot settings they basically gave your wet clothes a sauna. I have to admire the dedication to energy efficiency, but I kind of miss the phenomenon of getting an unwrinkled shirt out of the laundry. (I asked one of our group leaders how to set the dryers to the permanent press setting and he had no idea what I was talking about.) Mo was nice enough to loan me his steamer for my shirts for tomorrow. Now I'm only wishing I had paid more attention to what the costume designers and wardrobe assistants did with their steamers on the films I worked on in LA. (Most of the time I didn't have to deal with them until they blew a circuit. "A steamer and three curling irons pull as much power as two of those big lights? Really?!?")

There's more I could touch on--T-shirts lauding strange combinations of locations in America, Starcraft on two cable channels simultaneously, Olympic curling on TV instead of ice hockey, the obsession with this Kim Yu-Na person--but it's getting late and I need to work tomorrow. In summary, I'm happy to be here, I'm looking forward to the upcoming semester, and I hope to do the kids of Korea right by my English teaching. And I need to buy a steamer and a coffee grinder as soon as possible.

PS Pics as soon as I figure out how to get them developed. (Film still kicks digital's ass, people...)