just another day


Gave my lecture about why Americans eat the way they do again today.

There’s an Open Classroom coming up, and the Korean English teacher wanted me to use this lecture for that because she found it so interesting.  I had to veto that though, as we’re also supposed to explain our teaching methods and philosophy, and our purpose here is to get the kids to speak – but this is a straight lecture with video examples, so it really wouldn’t provide much of an example of what I do or much content for discussion on teaching kids to speak.

Anyway, I really enjoy giving this presentation to the kids when Miss 이 is translating.  She’s really excited about the information, and never misses an opportunity to challenge the kids’ or increase their vocabulary or understanding.  Her class is always expectant and for the most part well behaved.

And then I get to the other class with the other teacher and, just like always, she starts the class off swapping pleasantries with the kids as one of the kids and not asserting when (if ever) they should begin to be present for learning.  As they goof off, she jokes along with them and participates in their insubordination.  And then gets frustrated that they don’t do what she asks/pleads/begs them to do when she finally decides she wants to be their teacher.  During the lecture she’s obviously often not present and therefore doesn’t pay attention, misses much of what I’m saying for interpretation, or (which drives me bat shit) assumes she knows what I”m going to say and just gives the lecture herself in Korean, rendering me totally pointless up there;  words stolen.  There’s no teeth behind any expectations to listen respectfully when it’s time to listen and speak when it’s time to speak.  The chaos and din are often so bad I just have to put the whole lesson on hold until the class notices the foreign teacher is silent.   Which I hate doing because it wastes sooo much valuable time.   But the sick thing is, is that half of the time I’m waiting for the co-teacher to stop contributing to or, by her actions, condoning the lack of respect for the teacher.  Lately I have to stop and call out her name to snap her out of her daydreaming and give me a translation.  And then two paragraphs worth of content (which the other teacher things is really valuable) is relayed to her students in about six words…Most of the class is chaos, with pods of conversations going continuously, each almost as loud as my lecture, and the teacher does either nothing about it, or admonishes them and then two minutes later is contributing to their conversations.

Today I watched in horror as the students were playing keep away with her insulated coffee cup, as she just stood limply by and let them and then tried to be cool and ignore it.  I intercepted the cup, took it, put it on the desk in front of me, and continued.   The words that come to mind are apathy and defeat.  And those aren’t to describe the students.  I’d probably steal her coffee cup if I was them, too…

It’s just such a contrast to the other teacher’s classroom, which is controlled yet exciting, and where the students have real respect for their teacher.  Now don’t get me wrong, even the weak teacher here is 1,000 times better than what went on at Baekyoung.  It was clear they wanted to control classroom management from the beginning, and I was happy to let them after last year’s trauma, but if I’d known how irritating it would be with the weak teacher, I would have insisted to take it on myself.  So every day I have this pendulum swing from a great experience to where I’m near hyperventilating out of frustration.  The contrast is so huge.

Today I walked to the cafeteria and got hit with an incredibly rank smell.  It smelled like rotten cheese, or moldy mildewed dirty socks that had been worn for weeks.   Walking past everyone’s lunch trays, it didn’t appear so bad.  Dishing up, I was still wondering where the rank smell was coming from and then, at the end of the line I got ladled into my tray the source – the soup.

I remember sniffing it and making a face and everyone laughing.  Turns out it’s called Chung Gook Jang, and it’s fermented soy bean stew.   I told them it reminded me of natto, and they said it was similar.  I was told this is a Korean specialty and very delicious.  Anyway, I couldn’t eat it.  The smell you can sort of – almost – get used to when you’re surrounded by it, but it was just too thick with flavor, texture, and salt for my tastes.

The lunch ladies get a big kick out of my foreign reactions to their food and I’m always the entertainment for the evening.  But one in particular always worries I won’t eat enough, so if there’s something I don’t like, she’ll show up at my seat with a serving of something extra of what I do like.  The jury wasn’t even out on the Chung Gook Jang, and she was already there with extra meat patties.  So cute.  I love the lunch ladies.  The weird thing is they’re probably my age and so much more matronly than I am.   I guess I’m still in adoptee mode because I often wonder if I would have been them had I stayed here.  They have good humor and are kind.  Worse fates could have happened, for sure.

My head feels like the size of Charlie Brown’s.  Normally I love getting sick because I have no appetite and I love that not being hungry needing food being vapor feeling.  But for some reason I’m buying lots of expensive fruit and filling up on it the entire time I’m home.  Must be vitamin deficiency or something.   I haven’t had any tylenol or vitamins or any medical attention since I’ve gotten here.  It’s so weird how I hit the pharmacy several times in Thailand but never here.  I think the language and the judgement here just feels like a beating, so I avoid it to a stupid degree.

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11 thoughts on “just another day

  1. I did try it. Overly salty, like a lot of Korean food. Too thick. It’s like eating a brick of soy sauce with the soy beans still in it muddled with hot water. It’s an acquired taste that I could grow to like – but I don’t have to, so I won’t! It’s like Australian vegemite. I’m happy to let them love it, but I don’t have to.

    I love Korean food – but the salt is ridiculous. And I’m always happy to find not all Koreans love all Korean food. Like odaeng. Like live octopus. And kimchi. (I actually love kimchi) And now this.

    I love what Korea does with greens and potatoes and bean sprouts and cabbage.

    And I’m still not impressed with rice, even though I eat a little every day now.

    I’m still and always will be a waygook. Every minute of every day I am reminded of that fact here.

  2. You know what my wife is one of those Korean who do not like many types Korean foods like all forms of kimichis as well daenjang. She was not born here but rather immigrated here when she was 16. I for one think Korean food is the best. You are right about the salt and that is why we rarely eat out. We make all our banchans and kimichi with very little salt. Since I am a vegetarian, I do not use any fish sauce or fermented sea food. If you ever need a recipe for vegan kimichi, I will share it with you. It is better than the non vegan style with less odor.

  3. vegan kimchi sounds awesome. yes, please share!

    I tend to not like the fishy ones. And also the ones that are too sweet, though they ARE nice alongside kalbi…

    One thing I am ecstatic about here in Korea is fish. Rarely get to eat fish in the ‘states, as it’s thought of as a luxury item and also I didn’t know what to do with it besides fry it, and poaching was boring. I could always eat fish every day and here in Korea I can!

    Last time I was at a restaurant and I pointed enviously over at another table’s plate of fish and I wondered where it was on the menu. “Oh! Menu no. SERVICE!” my waitress said. So she brought me what would have been an entree’s worth in the states. I tried to pay her extra for it, since she gave me so much and it wasn’t the typical side that went with what I ordered, but she wouldn’t let me. I wanted to wrap her up and take her home with me.

    I wish I had more warm stories like this about Korea. (Sigh)

  4. Oh yeah, and for those of you who are interested, one of the common questions I ask (besides “what do you eat for breakfast?”) is “When do you first start liking kimchi?”

    Children don’t get kimchi until they’re about 3 years old, and then it is either mul kimchi or it is some kind of milder kimchi. Later, the real deal is given to them but it’s watered down until it’s not hot. Most people I’ve talked to thought that they were eating kimchi as we know it by age 5 or 6. But a lot of them said they had to LEARN to like it and didn’t at first.

    A few people never graduated from this process and never learned to like it. A Korean teacher I work with never takes it and picks it out of all her food. She doesn’t like anything fermented…

    I also have another Korean colleague who, like me, isn’t fond of the fish cake. Since there’s nothing horribly objectionable about it, I used to eat it just to be polite and not appear to be a princess. But then I saw him picking it out at the lunch line, so that gave me license to avoid it as well.

    And then there is the live octopus and sushi thing. I tend to think the octopus is ordered just to be sensational. And the sushi is so basic and comparatively bland, I think that it is ordered just for the conspicuous consumption: in a cuisine that is the opposite of subtle and where everyone wolfs down their food, I can’t see how they can possibly appreciate its distinctions.

    Speaking of sensational, puffer fish restaurants are easy to find here and I think I read that the emperor of Japan outlawed the serving of fresh-cut puffer fish (sorry I can’t find my source for this) so if you want to play russian roulette with deadly poison, Korea’s the place to go.

  5. I disagree with you on the rice. All too often, rice served in a restaurant or cafeteria are not properly cook and I believe that is what you are experiencing. To cook rice properly takes right timing, cleaning and pot. Properly cooked rice has a slight sweetness to it and every grain of rice has proper softness and are glossy in appearance and taste great as is.

    And now on to my kimichi recipe.
    This recipe if for 2 heads of cabbage.
    Salting process.
    1)Cut the cabbage length wise into halves then into quarter.
    2)Put enough water in a large bowl to completely submerge all the cabbage and mix in sea salt. Taste to see if it is salty, add more salt if not salty enough.
    3)Take the cut cabbage and submerge one by one in the brine water.
    4)Use something heavy to make sure that all the cabbage stay submerged. (pot with water on top of a cutting board is what i use)
    5)Leave this for about 8 hours. I do this around 9pm and go to sleep and start making my kimichi at 6am next day.
    6)Clean each leaves with cold to mild water twice and ring out excess water. Leave the cleaned cabbage on top of a strainer to further remove water
    Sauce for cabbage, mix these in blender with 1/2 to 1 cup of water.
    1)1 tbsp of fresh ginger
    2)1 apple/pear or juice of 2 medium size freshly squeezed orange.
    3)2 heads of garlic
    4)1 medium size onion
    5) 1 cup of slightly burned cooked rice
    Add 11/2 to 2 cups of gochugaru to the blended sauce and mix well in bowl. Add the desire amount of quality sea salt for taste. I suggest you taste the salted cabbage first and try to predict the right amount of additional salt you may need for the mixture. The finished mixture should be a little watery.
    Cut the cabbage into bite size pieces in put them in a mixing bowl. Add 5 green onion and cut them also into bite size pieces and add them with the cabbage.
    Add 1 bell pepper and cut them into bite size pieces and add them with the cabbage.
    Pour the gochugaru blended sauce to the cabbage and mix well after that put them in a jar to ferment.
    The total working time is about 1-2 hours and will make about 2 gallons of kimichi.
    Enjoy.

  6. I meant to say powder from burned cook rice. Burned cook rice is the left over on the bottom of your pot. You can make this by taking cooked rice and burning it in a frying pan. You can make this ahead of time by drying and grinding it and storing in a container for future use. The burned cooked rice gives a nice aroma and the bell pepper gives your kimichi a cleaner taste. Both ingredients are optional. I prefer orange juice as a sweetner instead of apple or asian pear because it gives a tangy taste and gives your kimichi a more refreshing taste. Of course orange juice is not traditional.

  7. Oh, another simple snack is you take dried burned cook rice and deep fry it then sprinkle some sugar and you have home made rice crispy snack.

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