rewards


Mr. Koorng, (?) the doorman, moves the potted plants from the sidewalk and inside for the evening. He mops the marble lobby of the officetel and picks up cigarette butts from around the entry and GS25 with his garden gloves on. Mr. K. was once an English professor, and now retired sort-of, is a doorman at Hanyang Worldbil officetel apartments. (some of my favorite people in the world are doormen. Like Massalu, the Ethiopian restaurant owner in Seattle, who was also the doorman at my 2nd architecture firm and from whom I faithfully would patronize for the most garlic-laden tomato fit-fit in the planet) All the foreigners love him, (as opposed to the other doorman – which actually I love too, especially after I bought two baby pillows and he started cooing and saying something in Korean about babies and smiling) and he is like the officetel good-will ambassador.

Mr. K. always says hello to me and tries to strike up conversations, but it’s always awkward. Tonight must have been more conducive to conversation because he stopped and chatted for a good long time. He told me all about the 14 foreigners who live in the high-rise, and how one of them was from Austria and not an English teacher. He also told me about an adoptee who lived here the year before, and whose white adoptive mother came to visit her three times, and how she went home. He said he knew how hard it was for Korean adoptees because we couldn’t speak our own language but everyone saw us as Korean. I agreed and told him how it was weird to see the white foreigners be treated in a special way, while we were treated like Koreans-yet-not-Koreans. We had a good long talk about the Korean economy and he proudly told me about all the things Korea does well, and rightly so. And then he told me I should search for my family and how I should contact the t.v. stations, even though he saw SBS following me around. I told him about TRACK and how we recognized that in today’s economy there was no reason to send children away and how difficult it was because of Confuscian ideals. I told him how we were working to convince Koreans that ALL children should be valued. He nodded, looked pained, and had nothing to say. We talked about learning Korean and he offered that every foreigner just needed a Korean guide to make it relevant. I talked about waiting for a Korean guide, and about how I was going to save for key money so I could go to Seoul and be free. He thought that was a very good idea.

**************

The weather is getting quite nipply. The last two weeks were a very bizarre pendulum of extremes. Still balmy hot by mid-day, yet med-weight jacket cold at night.

But the tide has turned, and it is now long-sleeved weather all day. I need to purchase sweaters and wonder in amazement how I survived March and April of last year, since I had nothing of that weight to keep me warm in the sometimes sub-zero climate.

So I’m excited to purchase some of the amazing structural and design fashion-forward sweaters in Seoul, but I also need to save for key money…I just need to figure out how the heck I did it last winter with what I have, or figure out how little I can purchase and how versatile I can be with a few layered pieces.

**************

I’ve decided that Koreans are correct that Makkoli puts you to sleep, AND that the thinner it is, the better. So now I barely shake it, and I drink 3 of the 4 dixie-up size cups and leave the thick dregs for the drain.

Perhaps the continuous turn-over at the GS25 has ceased, because now they see me and understand when I say, “cup.” Which is really funny, because I haven’t bought a bottle of mokkoli in about two weeks.

Had a little dong dong ju with my Migook friends in Gyeong Ju, and wasn’t crazy about it. It’s some other kind of rice wine, but more effervescent AND it tasted like bread mold to me, so I couldn’t drink it. However, it is very popular with others.

Mr. K. told me about makkoli being drunk by the peasant farmers during their work break, and how it made them more productive.

**************
It’s midnight after a four hour makkoli-induced nap. Lightly hungry yet not wanting to walk around in the cold to go through the frustration of trying to find something to eat for the limited choices a single person has, I settled on an instant nurungi, which is the rice dessert made from the toasted rice stuck to the bottom of the rice crock.

I’ve come a long way from a year ago, where I could barely tolerate eating rice at all. It happened when I was sick last spring and post fever and not eating for three days, having nothing in much in the apartment to eat but rice. I made a pot of it and suddenly it was the most comforting, satisfying food in the planet. Surprisingly, there are a few dishes which are Korean which have almost zero spice to it and is quite bland. Porridge. Pork stew. Koreans seem to appreciate this as occasional contrast to their diet.

**************
Today Mr. Lee was back to his old worthless self again. The perpetual conundrum of the Korean classroom is the varying level of student ability. The top students actually listen and are engaged and interested in your lessons. The middle students try and then you lose them half the time. The bottom level students don’t even bother. (I’ve seen students not even bother to take exams, that’s how uninvolved in school they are – they just sleep through them on purpose) But in my class, I must make them try. During my powerpoint lecture, sometimes I catch Mr. Lee sounding out words or being fascinated by the lecture. But when activity time rolls around, and their heads are on their desks, and I need his assistance to get the kids participating, where is Mr. Lee? Looking out the window. Or watching me as I wake students up or try and explain the instructions in a new way. So it always takes twice as long as it should.

Today it really pissed me off. The uninterested were unresponsive as the dead and I clearly needed help, but Mr. Lee just stood in his spot in the corner like a catatonic person. I swear most of the rage I feel is Mr. Lee’s fault. I have such great classes with the female co-teacher, who is always ready and assisting.

Mr. Lee is my main reason for hating it here. I have to leave Mr. Lee behind.

**************
My female co-teacher wanted to introduce healthy competition and offered candy as a contest prize halfway through last week. I let her do this but expressed my distaste for such things. I must say, I didn’t think the results were any better. And, it was sad for me to hear the disappointment in the other groups who didn’t win but who thought their work was equally good. Learning or doing a good job really should be its own reward. Competition is healthy if there’s a specific goal and discreet measurable progress that can be charted. But for something subjective? I don’t like it at all, and think it’s counter-productive.

Class 1-1, the infamous class, is well on its way to being orderly. However, dictation (I have to admit) has got to be a drag. They were dropping like flies today but it was okay with me, because most of them got the majority of the message prior to fading away. For the five who made it through to the bitter end, I took them to the snack shop and bought them any treat they wanted. Not one to bribe my students, I think everyone was shocked at this show of appreciation.

Surprisingly, most of the boys bought microwave chicken sandwiches instead of sweets. Maybe school lunch was especially awful today.

**************

Ah, the nurungi’s ready. yummmmm!

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