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 🙂

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.

5 days of food

It seems that, these days, all you need to do to call yourself a photographer is to take photos of your food.

Now, I have no problem with taking photos of random and arb things. In fact, I’m more than guilty myself. But fancy frames? Sepia? Special effects at all, really? Maybe if I had the time, I’d be on the bandwagon. For now, I’ll just rant.

I decided to do my own take on this foodography business. (I thought I’d just made up a word. Googled it. It’s already out there. Sigh.)

Back to the food. No, wait, first some background info.

I have certain non-negotiable rules when it comes to all things edible. My mother tried to hit, bribe and threaten these out of me. Didn’t work. Eventually she embraced my dietary quirks. Bless that woman, because I don’t know too many people who could (or would) work around one person’s whims as graciously as she has. If only I had half my mom’s talent…

So. My rules:

1. My food doesn’t touch*. This applies to foods of differing textures, if one or both have any level of stickiness or sauciness, or even just appearance, which is completely subjective. If things are different temperatures, ideally they should be on different plates.

2. If I can’t identify it, I’m not eating it. No explanation necessary.

3. My food doesn’t touch.

4. My food doesn’t touch.

5. My seafood intake is limited to standard deep-fried hake. I’ve tried many other things. Dodgy texture, off-putting smells, and things looking at me are the main reasons for not repeating the exercise. It’s been many years, don’t try to change my mind now. Your powers of persuasion suck. Seriously, if I can smell it, and I’m reminded of that time the giant wave knocked me over and I inhaled seawater, I’m not eating it.

6. I don’t eat pork. (Bacon isn’t pork. It’s bacon. Your mother lied to you.)

7. I’ve never been a fan of spicy foods. I’ll try it, granted there’s some variety.

8. My food doesn’t touch.

(*Exception: certain salads. Don’t ask me to explain, that’s just the way it is. But only certain salads. I won’t touch a green salad the next day. I struggle with 7 layer salad at the best of times. Too much going on in there, even though I love each ingredient in its own right. How will I ever find a husband if I’m this picky? Oh wait, wrong blog post.)

Now you know my rules. If you know anything about Korean food (especially school food), you understand my predicament.

Koreans love seafood. They eat a lot of pork. Everything is spicy. Everything is the same level of spicy. And the same variety. Everything is mixed and/or touching. Too often, it’s in an unidentifiable form.

Let’s have look, shall we? Herewith, a week’s worth of cafeteria lunches, photographed by yours truly, without any fancy lighting, angles or special effects.

Day 1

Clockwise, starting top left:

  • Macaroni and cheese… NOT! No pasta. Just one of the many variations (disguises) of rice
  • Pajeon – seafood pancake
  • Tiny amount of radish kimchi. I don’t eat the radish variety, but needed it for effect
  • Soup. Read: watery liquid with a thin layer of fat drifting on top. Contains anything from meat to vegetables to well, anything. The redder, the spicier
  • Rice. This is half a serving size

Day 2

Clockwise, starting top left:

  • Pork fritters with a yummy sticky sauce
  • Nuts in a spicy peanut sauce, with the unavoidable sesame seeds
  • Kimchi!
  • Soup
  • Rice

Day 3

Clockwise, starting top left:

  • Sweet, chewy, doughy balls. You’re supposed to eat it in one bite, a skill I’ve yet to master
  • Yummy yummy yummy watermelon!!!
  • Radish kimchi
  • Mmmm. Chicken. No seasoning. Still on the bone. Chopsticks only
  • Rice

Day 4

Clockwise, starting top left:

  • I don’t know. Could be nuts. Could be seafood. It was furry. I didn’t touch it
  • Passable sausages. Korean sausage is, well, not what we’re used to back home. So I was sceptical. These were good. The veggies weren’t
  • Surprise!!! Kimchi!!!
  • Don’t get excited. Those aren’t noodles in the soup. It’s cabbage
  • Rice. Unexpected
  • Pictured separately: leaves. One of the ways of eating Korean food is to roll bits of everything up in a leaf, and shove the whole thing in your mouth. I generally don’t – that amount of different tastes and textures don’t belong in the same bite. Teachers get special favours, so our leaves were in a separate bowl. Usually the dish-up ladies put them on top of your rice.

Day 5

Clockwise, starting top left:

  • Cookies! With chocolate chips on top! Delicious, sweet cookies! I don’t know what the catch was, but these were good. Also, other teachers got only 2. Special treatment, heck yeah!
  • Meat. This was either duck or beef. Tiny amount of very spicy sauce
  • Kimchi
  • Warm water! I mean soup…
  • Rice. With giant leaves

Looking back, the whole lunch business doesn’t seem all too traumatic. And then I remember how many of these meals I haven’t photographed. Keep in mind that I’ve had about 14 weeks’ worth of these meals, give or take. I’ve survived apple slices being put on top of my rice, seaweed soup (warm seawater), octopus tentacles, tiny fish looking at me, fruit salad with tomato, spam… OK, I’m going to stop now.

I make it sound like it’s the worst thing in the world. It is. I’m kidding. The government part-subsidises public school lunches, which means I contribute the equivalent of less than R10 a day.  I could opt out at any time, and bring my own food. But school lunches mean no prep work and no dishes. So for now, I’ll suck it up.

Oh, how I miss my mom’s sarmies right now!