Monday, April 28, 2014

Back in the Game

I'm back! For those of you who follow me religiously, I'm sure I made you question your resolve. My apologies for not writing for so long. Normally, I would write my blogs on a Sunday night, but those have recently been spent doing other things. I then just didn't really think about writing this for a while. I don't promise to write every week, but I will occasionally update you as things happen here.

As time passes, things start to lose their "wow factor." I see the same things every day, and so it doesn't really seem like anything special is happening, when in reality, I am still living in an awesome place surrounded by awesome and interesting people. And with the right perspective, there is humor and awe to be found in the most simple of things. I will try to elaborate on a few of those things that have happened since my last posting... for your reading entertainment.

As many of you already know from facebook, I am dating now and couldn't be happier. She is really a wonderful girlfriend, and I thank God every day for bringing her into my life. I've finished school, moved into a new house that I can actually stretch in, and even better than that, I have a TV! All of that and more to say that my life has basically gotten much better since the last post.

Since moving, I have taken up learning basic guitar. Looking around, I saw that basically everyone can play guitar. It seems to be the thing to do, and you know that I can't be left out of the "in" crowd. I've realized that playing basic songs is much easier than I thought, but actually playing well is going to take a lot of time. I will probably end up somewhere in the area of "tolerable to listen to" and "hey, that actually sounds like a song." Either way, I'll enjoy having time to pick up hobbies and do things.

Now for some of the comedy. I accidentally stayed out a bit too late and missed public transportation back to my house which left me with 2 options: take an hour and a half cab ride back or pay 8 dollars and stay at a Korean sauna for the night. Surprising as it may be, I chose the sauna. It seems that something interesting always happens to me when I stay at these saunas by myself. Last time, I had a crazed old Korean man jumping around the different hot tubs - keep in mind that everyone is naked - splashing water around. He later settled down directly across from me and picked up the ever common hobby of "stare at Joe."

This time also involved an elderly Korean man. Mental stability unknown. Creepy factor off the charts.

Normally, when I go to these places, I don't sleep much for two reasons. First, it's my only chance to sit in a bath in Korea, so I usually just enjoy switching between the hot and cold tubs. Second, there is only one giant huge bed that everyone shares: the floor.

So, I did what I normally do and stayed in the tubs till about 4 in the morning and decided to catch a few hours of sleep before I caught the bus back to my house. For some reason, the normal sleeping room was closed off, and the men's only sleeping room was filled with a bunch of old, hung-over Koreans. I decided that my best option was to take an open bench in the locker room and doze off there. I put in my headphones so as not to be woken up by people walking by and slowly dozed off... I remember feeling this strange feeling in my dream. A sixth sense telling me that something was wrong. I opened my eyes to find an old Korean man staring at me. He had taken the very little space left on the bench and decided to sit there cross-legged and look down at me. If I could somehow capture that feeling and put it into an alarm clock form, I would be a millionaire. Nothing wakes you up fast than the thought that a stranger has just been staring at you for an indefinite period of time.

Needless to say I wasn't getting any sleep after that. Certainly not on that bench. I looked at my clock and realized with relief that public transportation was back up and running, so I quickly took a bus home. I have a feeling that my dreams will be haunted with images of what happened that night for years to come. "Emotionally scarred" only scratches the surface of how this experience has affected me.

I'm not putting any pictures up on this blog cause I'm just lazy and haven't organized anything yet. If you want to see pictures of what's been going on recently, check facebook.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

For the First Time in a Long Time

Sorry it's been so long since I've written an update. I've been quite busy lately and haven't had much time to write one of these. I'm currently doing school and work both full time, and it's beginning to kill me. As a result, I have basically stopped really studying Korean at the moment. I am now just taking chances to speak to people when I can and watch a Korean TV show every now and then when winding down before bed. At this point, I'm good enough in my Korean to be able to just "chill out" with people. What I say may be awkward/rusty, but I'm understood, and I understand at least the content of what's being discussed enough to participate in the conversation.

I was really proud of myself today. I watched a movie called "Nonstop" with some friends from church: a Korean and two other people. If you've seen the movie, you'll know that a lot of the plot progresses through text messages. Unfortunately for my non-Korean church friends, Korea decided to delete the English text and insert Korean text in its place. Luckily though, I was able to translate for the person I sat next to, and the Korean did the same for the person she was sitting next to. Even though there were a few words I didn't understand, I was able to translate the message relatively quickly because of the context of the movie/how movies like that normally progress.

As far as my job is going, I am really enjoying it! I think that I have been really blessed in this area. My job is really awesome! The environment is one that I haven't seen anywhere else in Korea. All of my coworkers are awesome, and I'm feeling myself really get better at teaching. My students are pretty amazing so far, and I really just enjoy my time spent in the classroom. Before I go there, I'm usually sleep deprived and feeling like I'm under the torrent of a fire hose, but once I take my little nap on the bus ride there, get out and into the classroom, I feel amazing! God has really given me the energy to endure these few weeks. Without His help, these last few weeks would have been unbearable/impossible. I'm averaging an average of 5~6 hours of sleep a night and working mentally all day. I try and get my physical exercise in when I teach by pacing the classroom/using as much energy as I can. If you think about it, please pray for me. I have another 2 weeks of this schedule before school ends.

As far as school goes, I'm keeping my head above the water. I've kind of given up on studying religiously like I've been doing up until this semester. There's a lot of vocabulary and grammar that I'm falling behind on, but because I studied so hard up to this point, I'm still coasting by with that knowledge. I may not be able to discuss the difficult topics using all of the complicated vocab, but I can sure talk about it with a 5th grader's vocab! It's OK though, I'll be able to study all of it afterwards because I've been taking copious notes during class time. After this term, I'm planning on just self studying combined with hanging out with Korean friends and practicing that way. I'm pretty behind as far as my "street smart" Korean goes. I'm learning the classroom Korean "Hello, how are you?" whereas I'm struggling with how everyone talks, "Hey, what's up?"

There's actually a chance that I could get a special visa this year. If I take a Korean standardized test and prove my Korean to a certain level, I'll be able to change my visa to a residency visa which basically allows me to do anything I want in this country besides vote. This is now my new goal for the year along with learning guitar. I'm gonna have to be careful how many things I decide to try and do though. So far, my mornings are going to be booked playing guitar while reading a Korean book while watching Korean TV while prepping for my classes of the day.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Lunar New Year

I don't have much time to blog right now, but I'm trying to get this one out before I pass out. This past week was Lunar New Year, which meant Thursday and Friday, I no Korean classes or English classes to teach! I ENJOYED the time off. Recently, I've been going crazy with all of the work, so I definitely enjoyed sleeping in till 11, 12, and even 1 pm. I went to a traditional Korean performance on the actual day with friends, and it was pretty cool. I've seen these performances before, but this one was a bit different because I can now actually understand most of what they are singing about/saying.

This week, I have to debate about whether plastic surgery is a good thing or not. I say "debate" but in reality, it's just a classroom discussion that's graded. I'm not too worried about it, but then again, I don't care too much about my grades this semester either. However, my classmates are going crazy. They are all trying to memorize their arguments, which I tried to tell them is pointless for debate because you have to listen to what your opponent says and respond to it with research you've done. My classmates are trying to get me to write down all of my arguments and memorize them so that I can just repeat them like a toy monkey. I'm more of the opinion that just knowing your arguments well serves a whole lot better than straight up memorization. I guess it's the difference in learning styles.

I'm actually starting to get tired of learning Korean everyday because of it. I want to be able to talk about these issues without having to memorize a paragraph. Granted, you have to work a lot to be able to talk about something like this, but I think at this point I would rather just do it with Korean natives. I'm kind of glad that this is my last term here. I definitely care about whether I pass or fail, but that "care percentage" is beginning to drop. After all, I'm here to learn the language (vocab and grammar) not necessarily how to hold a formal debate or how to memorize a page of Korean.

Anyway, I'm gonna turn in for the night now. I'll be sure to write in a lot more detail next week. I hope everyone is doing great back home!

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Competitiveness and All Its Benefits

I'm always amazed at how efficient I can be when crunched for time, and how incredibly lazy I can get when I have all the time in the world. This week was super busy for me, but I still managed to keep my head above water. I went to school in the mornings from 9-1, ate a quick lunch, left for work, got back around 11:30 pm, did my homework, turned in around 2 am, and woke up the next day and repeated the process. I would get to work with no energy, but surprisingly when the students would walk in, it would come from nowhere. I usually ended up leaving work with more energy than I had before. I only have one more week of it, so please keep praying that I'll have the strength/energy to get through.

One thing that has gotten me through this week is the "free" breakfasts. I say "free" because it's just included in my rent. I go upstairs (I live in the basement) and the landlady is making something delicious. I slap some rice on my plate and enjoy whatever else she's making. She usually has some kind of soup and some other main dish. I also get to pilfer all of the incredibly yummy side dishes she has. Every morning I come up, she says, "Ah, Joe. You're here. You better eat a lot!" as she slops a heaping amount of deliciousness on my plate. However, the best part isn't the incredible food, but the fact that I don't even have to do the dishes. She just takes them after I'm done. It's a dream come true, and once I stop working, I'll be able to enjoy the dinners here too!

Tomorrow, I have to give a report on a newspaper article that I found, and lead a class discussion on it... or I have to debate international marriage... I'm not really sure actually. This level is a huge step up from previous ones. The vocabulary is now coming much much faster than before, and the projects are definitely getting more intense. I don't really have sufficient time to study all of the vocabulary that I would like to, and I'm already at a disadvantage to my Chinese and Japanese classmates (everyone but me and another girl). They have a distinct advantage because 80% of Korean is based off of Chinese. Just like English, the more complicated words are either rooted in Latin or Greek. If you speak these languages or have background in them, you can understand what's going on to some extent, but it's just sound to me. The teacher keeps saying, "Think about the Chinese characters, and it will make sense." I don't know if she got the memo, but my last name doesn't qualify me for Asian citizenship.

It's all OK though. The challenge of it is enough to motivate me. If it weren't challenging, I would probably not try. And whoever said being competitive was a bad trait? It's what has kept me in the race thus far. Teachers generally like me because (even though it's not always as good as my other classmates) I do my homework and participate in class. I'm finding more and more that my Asian classmates are either not used to participation or just a little bit shy when it comes to participating. I view it as an opportunity to speak and be corrected in a 'safe and friendly' environment. Being a teacher myself, I know what makes a teacher happy in the classroom. And being a student, I know how my students feel when I ask them open ended questions and lack the motivating energy in my lectures. It's a learning experience both ways really.

I'm gonna get back to doing homework now. Gotta keep pace with the competition, and I never study better than when I'm under pressure. I'll keep you posted on how things are going. Stayed tuned until next time

Sunday, January 5, 2014

I Am Now an Olypmian

After I landed in Korea on December 19th, it's been one hurdle after another: pretty much like an Olympian running the hurdle track that never seems to end. Just keep jumping those hurdles... Life just doesn't seem to let up. First, I had to deal with my baggage not arriving with me. It decided to mosey on over a day later and then take another day to be shipped to me. Once I got everything, I realized that my guitar key, which I so wisely used to lock my case before I checked it into baggage, dropped in my dad's truck on the way to the airport. So now I have a pretty good looking guitar case with a temporarily unusable guitar.

After my luggage got sorted out, I decided to try and tackle immigration. My visa was set to expire January 4th, which left me little time consider the Christmas and New Year's holidays. On top of this, I also was dealing with a full schedule at work, which meant waking up extra early in order to be the first one at the immigration office. Once I got there, I was informed that I didn't bring the appropriate documents, even though this was not listed on their website (which I checked, double checked, and tripled checked prior to my visit). But there's no arguing with the greasy wheels of bureaucracy.

The document I needed was my housing contract, so I went to my landlord to obtain it. (I didn't have one before this because it isn't really needed in Korea. People usually just shake hands and that's that.) My landlord must have been feeling particularly lazy, because he came up with a million excuses of why he didn't want to write me a housing contract. He even tried to get me to move out a few days early so he wouldn't have to do it. After many meetings, text messages, and phone calls, I finally had my contract which I then took to immigration on New Year's Eve.

After arriving, I realized that I was number 24 in line. (Time for those greasy wheels to start spinning.) And then I looked and saw that only one person was working, and the people currently being "served" were arguing about something. (Side note, I think all immigration workers should end with each customer by saying, "You got served." It would make for a more humorous work environment as well as happier immigration workers. And that pretty much makes everyone else there happy as well.) Anyway, I was pretty discouraged because doing the math, I figured that there was no way I was going to make it before I had to go to work.

Needing to cool off, I went outside and took a walk around the area. After getting bored and thinking enough time had passed, I looked at my watch and realized that this was not the case. Only 20 minutes had gone by. I went back in to see my progress, hoping that maybe I had advanced to number 23. To my surprised, I was only 4 away from "being served." This soon changed to 0 because everyone else was waiting outside and didn't respond when their number was called. God really was looking out for me (maybe at the expense of everyone else though).

My next task in the list was moving. Probably the most loathed task of all, which is surprising considering how much I loved dealing with the kind, friendly bureaucrats at immigration. Nothing more depressing than throwing everything you own into bags and carrying them 15 minutes to another place, and then having to take everything out of those bags again. Talk about a symbol for the monotony of life. I'm still in the process of emptying everything from my bags. I think I'll take this one slow. Just take things out as I need them. After all, what's the rush? It's not like I'm moving in 2 months... Oh wait...

Pictures to follow once I have put the room in some semblance of order.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Revolutionized Compliments... Complements

Well, this is officially my last week in Korea before I visit home. I took 2 finals on Friday, and I have 2 more tomorrow. I'm really excited to finish this term, probably mostly because I that just around the corner are all sorts of American goodies waiting for me.

I went to an event last night. A group called "B-LINK" approached me and my classmates at school and invited us to an event a while back. I believe I wrote a blog post about it. (The B stands for bilingual. Don't ask me what the other ones stand for.) They had a "Thanksgiving Potluck" yesterday. I went with a friend dreaming about turkey and apple pie. Instead, I got Turkish food and no pie. But hey, other than the Turks, who can say that they ate Turkish food for Thanksgiving? I consider myself lucky. Even though the entire event was in Korean, I still had Koreans coming up to me acting like I had no idea what was going on. I'm beginning to get more and more annoyed at how astonished Koreans are that I can speak English. Here's a sample of a conversation I had last night:

Korean: WHAT... IS... YOUR... NAME?
[Koreans aren't the only ones who yell and speak slower for foreigners fyi]
Me: Hi, my name is Joe.
Me: Not really, I'm just studying.
Korean: So, I'm curious about something. When you came to Korea, what stood out to you?
[At this point, I was thankful that I had graduated from the yelling/talking slow treatment]
Me: Well, I was really surprised by the-
Korean: WOW!!!! (To another Korean) He really speaks Korean well. His accent and intonation are really good too!

I realize that they are trying to compliment me... complement?... They are trying to say something nice, but it kind of comes across like I'm the student with the dunce cap in the corner who finds picking his nose a bit more interesting than the ABCs. They then started introducing me to other foreigners (who are actually at a lower level of Korean than I am) by saying, "Hey, even though this guy's an American, he can speak Korean really well! Try speaking Korean to him!" Thankfully, the other foreigners don't treat me with the same regard. We're all in the same boat when it comes to Korean, so me speaking Korean isn't really anything special to them since they are going through the same learning process that I am.

"Compliments" or no, I was still very pleased with myself by the end of the night. I had held down a table conversation with native Koreans for roughly 4 hours. I also revolutionized my view on speaking Korean. Before last night, I was (still kind of am) shaky when it comes to speaking Korean. I'm so worried about making a mistake that I often just find an easier way of saying something or don't say anything at all. The fool who keeps his mouth shut is considered wise kind of a thing. But last night when I told one of the Koreans that speaking was my hardest area when it came to learning the language, he said, "Why? Writing is by far the hardest. If you speak to me, even though you may have some mistakes, pronounce a word wrong, etc. I still know what you're saying. I have your face and gestures to go off of as well as your voice. However, if you're writing, I would have no idea if you misspell a word etc."

It got me to thinking that no matter how stupid I sound, I am definitely proficient enough to get my point across. For example, let's say I don't know the word "compliment." I do know how to say, "Say something good to someone else." Sounds a bit awkward, but there is at no point something a native speaker wouldn't understand. Unfortunately, this strategy doesn't work very well for the speaking test that I'm taking tomorrow. Go figure, but they would rather me use the correct vocabulary word.

I also taught a class of 14 geniuses on Friday. It was purely a listening class for the students, so they can't read the text at all. And the topic was on stem cell research. Keep in mind that these students are 4-6th grade. Not only did they follow along, but they totally got the information too. I was super impressed. Most importantly though, they are all very well behaved and respectful, which makes both of our lives so much easier. Luckily, I will be teaching this class every week when I get back from America. It's classes and students like these that make teaching worth every second.

This week I plan on scouting out a place to live starting in January, buying Christmas presents for the family, singing karaoke, having one last group meal with all of my awesome classmates, and boarding a plane bound for America on Friday at 10 pm Korean time.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Aftermath

I'm not even sure anymore if aftermath is one word or two... But I would think that if I split it into 2, then it would be something like, "after math, you have to go to history." I'm just gonna stick to one word because I'm too lazy to type it into Google and check. This is what my English has become.

This week was fairly eventful. I was the MC for the play contest at my school. Everything turned out fine more or less. Since I basically wrote the whole script by myself, I got to pepper it with a lot of my humor, which was surprisingly appreciated by the audience and teachers. I'll translate part of our dialogue for you as an example of what my humor has degraded to:

Co-MC: Hey Joe, have you ever performed in front of people on a stage?
Me: Of course! Ever since I was a little boy, the crowds loved me. When you look at my face, don't you immediately think "ACTOR!" Brad Pitt has nothing on my looks.
[Insert whatever hand/facial gestures you find make the dialogue funnier, and that's what I did] ;)

My classes play went pretty well. I thought we would win a prize, because (since I also wrote our play) the script was witty, my classmates made some amazing props, and we all acted fairly well. I had a bunch of fun doing it though. I always enjoy events like that. I think it's a great bonding experience for the class unless they take it too seriously and start fighting... which happened. Luckily, things smoothed over, at least on the surface, and we were able to push through it.

After the play contest was over, I was hanging out with some classmates. I decided to drop by the police station to find out if they could fingerprint me there. I went with a German girl and an Indonesian girl. When we walked into the police station, everyone stopped what they were doing and just stared at us. I walked up to the desk, and the officer at the desk panicked and said in Korean,"It's a foreigner. Hey you! Come talk to him." Another nervous officer approached me, but before he said anything, I just started speaking to him in Korean.

"Hi, I need to get fingerprinted because I need to change my visa. Can I do that here?" Needless to say, he was a little bit surprised. All he could get out was, "Why?" Seeing as we haven't studied criminology in my classroom yet, I do not yet know how to say "an FBI criminal background check is required" so I just answered, "I just need it to change my visa." The Indonesian girl chimed in, "He has to send it back to America." Because she was the only one that looked Asian out of us, the police then ignored me and started talking to her. "We don't have the fingerprint cards here, but if you bring your own, then we can do them for you blah blah blah." What's the lesson I learn from this? No matter how proficient I get at this language, they will always prefer speaking to someone they believe is a native speaker.

I also went to a language exchange event this week. Some guy came up to me and my classmates in our school and asked us if we wanted to participate. It sounded pretty lame to me, but I figured that if I went with my classmates, it would at least be a little bit fun. Normally these events just turn into Koreans trying to practice their English. And if you want to practice your Korean, the conversation usually doesn't progress past "What did you eat yesterday? Was it good? What is your favorite food? WOW YOU SPEAK KOREAN SO WELL!" However, this event was all in Korean. It was really nice. I made some friends there, and I hope to back and do it again sometime soon. They had us doing some weird activities though...

(Forgive me if my English breaks down in this section. What was said doesn't translate very well.)

 They asked us to pick a paper color that represented our spirit/mood/heart that day. Me, being the artistically minded person that I am looked at the colors very carefully. I saw blue and thought, "Hey, I like blue" and picked it. We then sat at a table where they told us to "draw anything we want, but it has to represent our what we were feeling." Although artistically minded, I seemed to be struggling in this area for a while. What is representative of anger? Draw a picture of someone punching another person? What is representative of happy-go-lucky? A smiley face? What is representative of depression? One guy standing alone while everyone else has a date? I guess I should have paid more attention to my feelings growing up. After staring at my blank blue sheet of paper for a while, I had an idea. "Hey, I like music!" (My mind usually only speaks to me in 4 word sentences that consist of "Hey, I like [insert noun]") So I drew music... sheet music.

After this exercise was done, they evaluated our artwork. My Indonesian classmate had drawn a tree with all different colors of leaves next to a park bench on a sunny day. They told her, "Oh, this is a beautiful picture! You have a very bright personality because you used all these different colors blah blah blah. Normally, people who only pick one color are a little bit dull. They are usually under a lot of stress, especially if they choose black." It was then that I looked at mine; I had drawn the whole thing in black. When they asked for my paper, I lifted it up like a 5 year old boy holding up the cookie that he was caught stealing. I disguised my apparent stressful/dull personality with my award winning copy-written Joseph Lee signature smile.

The next activity we did involved looking at different pictures of objects, picking 2, and making a story involving those 2 pictures. A pretty good language practicing exercise I guess. Involves creating and presentation in a different language. I was determined to do better this time. I would show them just how creative I was. There were 2 animals among the pictures we could select: a cat and a snake. I chose them thinking that I could come up with a decent fable. Unfortunately, we were then supposed to draw the 2 items we chose. Drawing animals: my worst nightmare. I thought the story I came up with was decent though. I created a fable of a cat and snake playing together one day when they saw a mouse. The then started fighting each other because both of them wanted to eat the mouse. In the end, the mouse got away because they worked against each other. Moral of the story: it is better to work together to achieve your goals.

After I told this to the person inspecting our work, I was rather proud of myself. Not only did I say it in Korean, I also made it up on the spot. After I patted myself on the back for a job well done, the Korean "inspector" followed up with "Joe, are you under a lot of stress right now? Normally stories involving fighting are caused by people under stress. You should probably go back home and rest a little bit blah blah blah." I guess I just come off as a stressed dude. Maybe next time, I'll write a story about a stressed guy that came to a language event, was told too many times he was stressed out, snapped, and wreaked havoc on the event. I can only imagine what they would say to that.
On a final note, I went over to my cousin's house last night and made real American brownies. Like from the Betty Crocker box mix kind of brownies. (Not sure what brand it was, but I remember seeing the box and recognizing it as an American brand name.) I currently am in possession of these brownies cause my cousin happens to be awesome and sent most of them home with me. This is literally the first American dessert I've had in almost a year! I'm so excited, so I'm gonna stop writing now and start enjoying this delicious chocolaty goodness with some ice cold milk! You now have permission to be jealous. If you want to, also feel free to grab a piece of blue paper and draw in only black to let your subconscious express itself.