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:

1 comment:

  1. Oh, poor Bob Ross, being used without permission after his death. I hope this doesn't change the mood of his happy little tree under the happy little cloud.

    "We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars." I don't think it was originally refering to a cell phone.