Unexpected fellowship

Early last week, one of my co-teachers asked if I’d be available for dinner this week. I didn’t think much of it, and later in the week I heard that another co-teacher would be joining us. 

Today finally arrived, and the three of us arranged to leave straight after work. I got to choose the menu, so I opted for shabu-shabu. It’s one of my favourites, but sadly I’ve had only one opportunity to eat it this year – on my very first day, actually! One might say I was proper ‘uitgehonger’. 

We went to a beautiful restaurant just a stone’s throw from my home. I’d walked past a few times but never taken note. The decor was lovely and the food was tasty. But what I really enjoyed was the conversation. 

All three of us are leaving the school at the end of February so we talked a little about our plans and about teaching in general. But pretty soon the conversation turned to our faith. See, all three of us are Christians (yay!) and we’ve often talked about it (double  yay!). So the conversation took a very natural turn.  While we were chatting, I just had to take a moment and praise God for all the ways in  He’s revealed Himself to me this year.

One of my favourite parts of it all has to be the interconnectedness of the themes I’ve dealt with. If I read something in the Bible that stands out to me, you’d better know that I’ll come across a related article on Facebook (I’ve stated following a lot of faith-based pages in an attempt to make my newsfeed more palatable) and it’ll come up in at least one conversation in the near future.  I’m all about patterns and links and I tend to look for them in all aspects of life. So of course during the conversation last night, three things came up – and all  three happened to relate to things I’d read/studied in the last week or so. 

Yesterday morning I woke up to messages from my friend back home containing some stuff she came across in her daily readings. It dealt with trusting God’s perfect timing. The way it was written was exactly what I needed to read for it to make an impact on me. And then later, when I checked Facebook, the very first thing I saw was related to the theme of God’s timing. So I shared it with my friend and reflected on it for the rest of the day. (Side note: I’m currently dealing with some pain issues and it feels like my to-do list is getting away from me. So I need to trust that I’m not missing out on opportunities here.) And then  tonight, my one co-teacher was telling us something and the main point of his story was – you guessed it – to trust God’s process and not to rush it. 

Later in the conversation, he was talking about how popular culture has adapted Biblical definitions, and the example he used was the concept of blessings. And guess what’s been on my mind all week?! Just yesterday I shared an article on Facebook dealing with the Biblical concept of blessings. Short version: earthly possessions aren’t blessings; anything that brings us closer to God (including rough times) are.  I told them a little bit about the article, and then my other co-teacher shared about a new member at her church. This woman joined her cell group. She’s divorced and carries a lot of shame about it. And you know what their pastor said? Dude! (Well he didn’t say ‘dude’. I’m saying ‘dude’ because it’s so cool!) The Pastor told this woman that she was blessed, because her divorce lead her back to church and to joining the cell group. There ya go! What a perfect example! 

But it doesn’t end there. At another point in the conversation, one of my co-teachers mentioned that he has decided to worry less about pushing himself to always get better and to rather enjoy himself with what he has. Once again I got excited, because earlier in the week I’d read a quote by someone who said (and I paraphrase) that our constant striving has become one of our greatest enemies because it prevents us from being truly thankful for what we have, because we’re so busy focusing on what we don’t yet have. We’re so busy seeking out the next great goal or reward for our efforts, that we often forget to stop and give God glory for what we already have.  All three of us had examples of events in our lives where we’d stand to benefit more from appreciating the present rather than chasing the next goal. Deep stuff. 

On the way home, my co-teacher commented that he admired my insight and that even though he’s been a Christian for a long time, he’s only just starting to learn about God’s true will for our lives. I explained that this year has also been a massive learning curve for me. 

This evening’s events just served as such a real reminder that God really is everywhere if we let Him be. 

Here’s to many more fellowship opportunities! 

Shabu-shabu oh yeah!

Office highlights

I have two students who pop into the teachers’ office every day to say hello and make small talk.
The first one has been chatting to me for most of the year. I’ve recently made a breakthrough as he’s finally remembering to greet me before diving into a story about his many interests/obsessions (trains, the FBI, zombies, Home Alone 2…).
I had a slow start with the second one. He comes in at the end of every day to fetch his class’s cellphones. He’d always greet me (in Korean) and I’d greet back (in Korean). He’d then tell me my Korean is very good. Because I’m a total dweeb, I started saying it to him, too. For some reason this became a thing. After several weeks of this mindless exchange, he got a little braver and started making basic small talk. His vocabulary is limited, although he manages to express himself well regardless. He’s been getting increasingly more confident and it’s been fun to hear him practice new expressions. He’d ask my co-teacher for translations when he got stuck.
When he asked me “How’s it going?”, I didn’t think much of it. But then he explained to my co-teacher that he learned it from me, because that’s how I greet him every day. Apparently he picked up on it some time ago and has been anticipating the perfect opportunity to use it. He was very proud of himself, and of course my heart swelled, too!
Now excuse me while I go learn some new informal greetings 🙂

Week 1: An update

Yes! I’m here!

Huge thanks to all my friends who have kept in touch since my departure. I’d love to type out an extensive, personalised reply to each one of you, but I’m unashamedly dedicating pretty much every free moment to keeping in touch with my mom and The Boy.

My mom and I, we’ve done this. It’s not our first rodeo, and thankfully she has waited patiently for email and voice note updates. The time difference makes weekday Skypes a bit impossible, but that’s what weekends are for!

The Boy and I talk every day. He’s a night-owl, thankfully, so he waits up a little later and I get up a little earlier than we usually would to have a chat while I get ready for work. I like that it gets my day going on a positive, homely note. It takes the pressure off weekend chats as we’ve already covered the regular daily things by then.

Instead of getting myself into a dead panic over the unanswered messages and emails I’ve received over the last week, I’ve combined all the questions you’ve asked and I’ll try and answer them all here. Things won’t always be this crazy. For now it’s just difficult as I don’t have a local SIM card/data on my phone yet, and I’m either without internet or busy doing lesson planning at work, and unpacking/faffing/shopping/settling in in the evenings. Soon everything will start feeling like it’s supposed to and then I’ll be a good friend again.

Here we go, in no particular order:

Did you eat?

giphy1Ja, Ma! 🙂 It’s impossible to go hungry in Korea. With restaurants staying open until midnight/2am/all night, convenience stores that never close… It’s all good. I’ve actually eaten more Korean food than Western, which I never would have seen coming.

Did you find your way to school? How far is it from your apartment?

After a bit of a panic over finding my school again, it all turned out okay. My co-teacher took me along a winding back road at 11pm and after spending more than 24 hours travelling, my brain was not in a position to retain information. Thankfully the next day was a public holiday and the foreigner I met showed me an easier way. It’s a ten minute walk between my apartment and the school, a nice flat walk. It’s going to suck in the rainy season though, as there aren’t any buses between the two. I got so lazy in Munsan, where it was sometimes easier to take two connecting buses than to climb the hill to my school.

How is your new apartment? Was it clean? Do you have adequate bedding?

I have a nice apartment, no complaints. It has a nice layout and I actually have a separate bedroom with a door! Not much of a view though so I think cabin fever could become a problem. The previous teacher left it clean, but she also left it completely empty. She moved to Seoul and obviously took everything with her, which meant I had to go out on the first day to buy cutlery, crockery, etc. There was only a fitted sheet and pillowcase, no blanket! My co-teacher told me to bring one with me and I told him I wouldn’t be able to. Who moves to a new country and dedicates several kilograms of their baggage allowance, not to mention space, to a blanket?! I found a cheap comforter at the supermarket, so that’ll have to do for now. Proper bedding will have to wait until after my first paycheck, which is mid April only.

On the upside, the previous teacher managed to get the school to buy her an oven. I became quite masterful at using my oven in Munsan and was planning to buy one here, so this is definitely a win.

As far as cooking is concerned, I’ve been quite lucky in Korea first time around as well as Malaysia, and somehow ended up in places with electric stovetops. My luck has run out though. Despite my initial panic about not being able to get the gas stove to turn on and burning all my food, I’ve become quite good at boiling water without incident. I’m slowly starting to experiment with actual cooking as well, and I’m sure I’ll be a master in no time.

Are you sleeping?

Haha, yes. Jetlag was rough the first few days. I got maybe two hours sleep the first three nights and I was in full zombie mode. Lucky for me, the school hadn’t organised my laptop yet so I had an empty desk and no planning to do, which meant I could nap a bit during work hours. I’m gradually falling asleep earlier so hopefully my body is good to go in no time.

Have you found bedding?

Fotor_145749343784752[1]For now, yes. It’s so terribly mismatched, but it keeps me warm and that’s enough for now. After payday I’ll spoil myself with some nice things I don’t mind looking at every day.

Priorities, though. Paul Frank’s Julius already has a prime spot on my bed!

Did you eat?

🙂

What does your building look like? Where is it located?

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View of my building. Accidentally selected this filter but decided it beats the natural grey of Korean winter. My entrance is down the alley to the left.

It’s a small, newish building similar to the ones most of us lived in in Paju. There’s a beauty salon out front (maybe my nails will finally grow). I’m one floor up from the ground floor (1st floor if you’re from the real world, 2nd floor if you deny that the ground floor exists). I’ve joined the keyless ranks and now gain entry through typing a secret code into a very fancy keypad. In a bizarre twist, I actually have to walk past a supermarket to get to the nearest convenience store. But we’re still talking about only three or four minutes, so it’s hardly a complaint.

I’m a stiff walk from the train station, but the buses and taxis are much closer. There’s a Tom n Toms coffee shop just across the road, and I suspect that avoiding it will be an ongoing challenge.

There’s a lot more shops compared to Munsan. There’s a variety of restaurants just around me, including the usuals like Pizza School, Mr Pizza, Lotteria… And Paris Baguette, Dunkin Donuts and Ediya are all close enough to make me fat.

And then, there’s the worst temptation of all temptation. McDonalds. Five minutes away.

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I don’t even like McDonald’s. I just want it.

Have you met your neighbours?

No, but I’ve heard them. When my bathroom door is open, I can hear my upstairs neighbour do his thing. This usually happens around 11pm so at least he’s predictable. Not living next to my best friend (and not having any other foreigners in the building at all) is going to be an adjustment.

Are you ready for this thing?

Sure, why not.

Did you eat?

What’s the school like? What’s your co-teacher like?

I’m at a public middle school teaching grades 7, 8 and 9. It’s your average school building, though a little older and more worn than the shiny new Jayu Elementary School I taught at in Munsan. The teachers here have been very friendly and welcoming, and they’re a lot more willing to speak English than my previous lot of colleagues. There are a few English teachers and some teachers who have taught English before. The biggest surprise was the Vice-Principal, who is a kind and approachable man with great English. He’s made a point to chat to me every time we’ve been in the same room.

My co-teacher has a sharp and interesting sense of humour. He speaks English confidently and that makes communication less stressful. He seems constantly overwhelmed by the volume of his work – he’s a homeroom teacher as well. We have a good working relationship and that’s all that matters. I haven’t actually got a schedule yet and I don’t know whether I’ll be co-teaching all my classes with him or alone or what. There are other English teachers as well and they are all really nice, so I guess we’ll wait and see what the deal is.

How close is the nearest Daiso and other fun shopping?

Daiso! Oh, how much I love that place! It was, in fact, one of the first questions I asked my co-teacher on the night I arrived: where is the nearest Daiso. He wasn’t sure as he doesn’t live in town, but I was lucky to come across a medium-sized store on my own and another foreigner pointed out a bigger one on the bus route. There’s also Daiso sections inside Lotte Mart. It’s already becoming very difficult not to buy ALL THE THINGS. I haven’t done a whole lot of other shopping and exploring – mostly waiting for that first paycheck. As soon as the weather’s better I’ll be out and about more. This town is so much bigger than Munsan and I’m sure there are little shopping gems to be discovered.

Have you met any expats yet? How is your new social community looking?

One. I’ve met one other person in my town. I found a Facebook group for the area and posted on there that I needed to kit out my apartment. A girl who lives in the same town said I was welcome to join her when she went to the big E-mart in the next town over. She has been exceptionally helpful and generous. Another foreigner who has finished up gave the entire contents of their kitchen to her, which she basically passed right on to me. I now have the world’s most extensive collection of baking tins (no muffin pan though, WTF?!) and glass dishes. But there was some very useful stuff in there and it definitely helped get me started.

There aren’t a lot of foreigners around I’m told. It doesn’t sound like there are a lot of schools, and so many schools have lost their funding so teachers are finishing off but not being replaced. It’s only been a week though and I’m tired and broke so it hasn’t been top of my list to go out and find people. All in good time.

Arriving here has definitely once again reminded how extremely lucky we were in Munsan/Paju to have had the community that we did. I don’t think any experience will ever quite match up.

How are you feeling?

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Tired, mostly. Even though I’m a stranger in this town, I’m no stranger to Korea which means at least that I’m not completely overwhelmed by my environment. I also know to just wait it out and see what happens in my job. No use getting worked up. The culture is different and thankfully I know that by now. I’m also still just avoiding really sinking in emotionally, if that makes sense. I’m dwelling on the surface a bit as I fear that there might be a massive implosion if I really dig in deep. All in good time.

And dry. Travelling, stressing and all the internal heating have really done a number on my skin. I’m trying to up my water intake, but that never goes as well as planned.

Did you get pizza yet? Is it still as good?

I have not! There are a few of the old dependable pizza places around me, but I’ve resisted the temptation (and the price – the conversion to Rand is just awful!). I’m sure it’s still as corn-y and potato-y amazing. I’ll spoil myself soon enough.

Did you make the right decision?

I didn’t make the wrong decision.

 

A new start, or something like it

Hi kids,

Yup, it’s been a while. I was all kinds of ready to move on from Korea and have this mind-blowing experience as an expat teacher working my way around the globe. Well, mind-blowing it was, but not the good kind. However, we live and we learn, and I have learnt a great deal from my mistakes. So let’s pretend the last year and a bit didn’t happen, and move on to more positive things.

For a whole list of reasons that I may or may not go into in the future (probably not), I decided to return to Korea once again. I’m still in the ‘holy cow I hope my documents are in order and I get my visa in time’ stage of it all. I am starting to feel the excitement trickle in.

I do enjoy the experience of fitting my life in a suitcase, arriving somewhere unfamiliar and starting with a clean slate each time, and I most definitely like making big money, but this time I also kinda wanted to stick around my hometown for a little while longer. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a job (I had ONE INTERVIEW in six months!). And, well, I’m not all that ready to properly repatriate and kiss expat life goodbye. Korea is a good place to make some dough while living a pretty good life, so it felt like the right place to start.

So in a month’s time, I start my new job. I’ll be in a new city far from the one I previously lived in, but close enough to Seoul to keep this city girl happy.

I’m hoping to use my blog as a bit of an online journal (cos I know you really want to read my innermost thoughts 😛 ), as I spend great deals of time just talking to myself anyway, and I might as well use that time constructively.

Well I’m off to go make lists and sort and pack and freak out and all that stuff.

get

We got this, Sheldon!

The dentist.

A good friend of mine (and far better blogger) recently wrote about her visit to the dentist in Korea and her post prompted me to write about my own (singular) experience. I’m even using the same title as her, because, well, it says it all!

I’ve never particularly hated the dentist, though it took a long time for me to find one that I felt completely comfortable with and I’ve been going to her since 2001. I was really fortunate and didn’t need to go to the dentist during my first year in Korea. When I visited home between contracts, I went for a check-up and everything was in good, working order.

You know how the dentist always tells you to floss? Well, I never do. And the one time I did, I chipped a filling. Talk about failing at dental self-care! I was perfectly adamant that I’d deal with it when I went home in May. This was at the beginning of March – not the best logic.

But I had my reasons!

My teeth are really special, and I trust my own dentist implicitly to do what’s best in my mouth. I would sooner not eat than be unfaithful to her.

I am so over the communication frustration when seeking health/medical care in Korea. The novelty of being a foreigner apparently never wears off, and after almost two years of regular interactions (yes, regular – remember my back injury) with medical professionals giggling away because I’m in the room, I just wasn’t in the mood for any more of it.

Several sources have described dentistry in Korea as a money-making endeavour. From what I’ve heard from friends and blogs, dentists will insist on the most extreme treatment. A friend was once told that she had eight cavities that required fillings and when she returned home a few weeks later, her dentist told her they’re nothing more than stains and promptly polished them away. Many people that I’ve spoken to who went to the dentist here, had root canal treatments done. Now I know it’s a real thing, but in all my years of problem teeth, I’d never needed one. A friend of mine who lost a filling had a root canal done – and it cost her half a million won (R5,000)!

Another Korean oddity is that dentists cover the patient’s face with one of those surgical cloths with an opening for the area they’re working on (in this case, the mouth). I’m all for being treated as more than a set of teeth, so having my eyes covered during any procedure I was conscious and awake for didn’t exactly appeal to me.

A few days after my filling chipped, the rest of it broke off, too. I envisioned making the trek to Seoul that weekend to see a dentist who specialises in treating foreigners (read: charges astronomical rates for speaking English). But after a day of painful eating efforts, I headed to a dentist in Munsan and hoped for the best.

It felt like walking into an upmarket spa. The decor was very modern and after reporting to reception (read: handing her my ARC and not ever speaking to each other), I had a seat in one of the most comfortable sofas imaginable. If I wasn’t so hungry, I’d have had a nap for sure! There was a sink with disposable toothbrushes and toothpaste for some pre-visit freshening up, as well as a water dispenser and tea and coffee facilities. After waiting less time than it took to watch an infomercial on the giant TV in the waiting room, I was escorted to the next room, which had a row of dentist’s chairs separated by glass dividers. Each of the five chairs had it’s own TV (!!!) and I could finish watching the infomercial. 😛

After a bit of a wait, the dentist came over. His English was more than adequate for us to communicate, so at least I wasn’t anxious about that anymore. After taking an x-ray and showing me that the tooth wasn’t damaged by the filling coming out, he squirted ice water on my tooth and knocked at it with his little hammer to test the sensitivity. I explained that I only experienced discomfort when chewing, and no, there was no temperature sensitivity. His assessment? “You will need root canal treatment.” I kindly turned him down, and said that a regular filling would do just fine. After some back and forth, and me promising to get a root canal in South Africa, he surrendered and 15 minutes and 10,000 won (R100) later, I had a brand new temporary filling. And even better – he didn’t cover my face with the little cloth! I left, mentally preparing for three months of soft foods…

I’m pleased to report that six weeks and plenty of popcorn later, said temporary filling is still going strong (touch wood!).

 

And if you’re curious, you can read all about Shauna’s experience at the dentist here.

3rd grade introductions

New year, new students! This year there are four 3rd grade classes, which means a good 100 students who’re in my class for the first time. Although I remember quite a few of them from daycare and camp, it’s the first time they’re doing syllabus English, so of course there’s a lot of introductory work to be done.

For their second lesson, each student had to prepare a three-sentence introduction: “My name is ~. I like ~. I don’t like ~.” Many students attend English Academies (extra classes at private institutions), so it’s not like they’ve never spoken English before. This is just to get them to be like “Oh, right, I have to transfer this knowledge to a different setting.”

Listening to 100 repititions of the same three sentences can be… enough. Most students stuck to the obvious things like spaghetti, pizza, ice-cream, oranges, kimchi, and other Korean/Konglish terms. Surprisingly, things they don’t like included carrots, onions, brocolli, spinach as well as ‘vegetables’ as a whole. Thankfully, a few were more original in their approach.

Here are my favourites:

My name is ~. I like watermelon. I don’t like speaking Korean here . [‘Here’ being English class.]

My name is ~. I like pizza. I don’t like spinach, no… onions, no… carrots! I don’t like carrots.

My name is ~. I like ice-cream. I don’t like 시금치 [spinach]. [Looks innocently at my co-teacher] I don’t know English.

My name is ~. I like food. I don’t like my mother.

New beginnings

Well, it’s official: I won’t be renewing my contract in Korea. It’s time for a new start. To celebrate this, and to get over my publishing inertia, I’m relaunching my blog under a new name.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll review and publish the more than 10 blog entries sitting in my drafts folder. Promise!

And with a little bit of luck, I’ll change my ways and publish as I type. Ha.