Saturday, August 11, 2007

Dinner with the board, and bus chiropractors

Last night, we all got varying degrees of gussied up and hopped on our trusty yellow APIS bus for a meet-and-greet dinner with the APIS Board of Directors at the Seoul Club. (Hah! See me vanquish the challenge of inserting hyperlinks!) The Seoul Club is a lot like a country club, with a pool and squash courts and a restaurant with really, really good steak. The view is also quite spectacular. As we've mentioned, it's still monsoon season here, which means low-hanging cloudcover and rather poor distance visibility for most of our stay thus far, but the weather kindly gave us a break last night so we could enjoy a lovely view of the mountains and looking down over the city. It's hard to get a feeling for how big Seoul is when you can't see very far in it (when the clouds aren't obstructing your view, the buildings are) but last night I started to figure it out.

Justin and I were seated with fellow teacher and fellow Yalie Sara at what proved to be a stacked table - everyone was either a former Yale undergrad or grad student. Another table was the Dartmouth table. Dr. Kim is organized like that.

In any case, it was a very interesting evening. We enjoyed talking to the board members about how they got involved in APIS (pretty much the same answer as we gave - Dr. Kim is very, very hard to say no to!) and what they do in their non-APIS lives. The Yalies promised to help us get in touch with the Yale Club here, which is evidently very active in spite of having precisely no Internet presence. So we're looking forward to that.

I would give the evening an A except for the part where I got wretchedly, wretchedly bus-sick on the way home. See, drivers here seem to believe that if you have ten feet between you and the car in front of you, which is at a dead stop, the correct protocol is not to calmly close the gap but rather to attain the maximum possible speed over eight of those feet before slamming on the brakes. Maybe it's because if you don't seize the moment, the ten feet of gap will rapidly turn into somebody's Hyundai, and you'll never get anywhere. But there must be a part on the Korean bus driving exam about this, because everybody does it (cars and taxis do it too, but not with quite so much gusto).

Once the bus gets off the main thoroughfares and onto the little one-way one-lane windy market roads, you'd think that this problem would go away, since nobody can cut in front of you anymore. You would be correct, but in its place, we substitute the new problem of giant speed bumps. Once again, the correct protocol is not to maintain a slow, steady pace, but rather to accelerate as much as possible in the space separating the bumps (usually only about twenty feet), slam on the brakes, and zip away again once you're over the bump. And please note that "you're over the bump" means "the driver," not "the bus." As soon as the front wheels of the bus hit level pavement, it's damn the rear axle and full speed ahead.

Justin and I have this attraction to look forward to every day, twice a day, on our commute to school. Sitting directly over the rear wheels, I've sometimes gotten as much as a full inch between my butt and the chair. I think I get off the bus a half-inch shorter due to spinal compression. We've since given up sitting for standing, which gives us an excellent workout clinging madly and comically to bus poles. I mean, we're so hairy. We looked like monkeys before. Did we really have to add the pole-dangling?

Friday, August 10, 2007

A Quick Guide to Opening the Pod Bay Doors

(Note: pictures may not load if you're using an RSS reader or if you receive updates by e-mail.)

This is Hal. Hal is the air conditioner for my classroom. Hal's job is to make the room nice and cool so the kiddies can learn and so Mr. Goff can save money on dry cleaning bills.

Hal may be an appliance, but like many appliances in Korea, Hal has a personality. You see, Hal is a sensitive fellow, who pays great attention to detail. He won't change settings unless you turn him off first--he's not a butler, he's an expensive piece of machinery, and you can't just order him around. And if you try to use him as a regular old fan, well, Hal doesn't like that very much. He'll huffle. He'll stop and start. And every moment he'll threaten to shut himself off and plunge you and your classroom into the humid abyss of monsoon. So you'd better be nice to Hal, hadn't you? Hal's just trying to do his job, just like you.

In other news, Nana and I have discovered (thanks Paul!) what the mysterious drawer under our sink is for. It's a giant bin for dry rice. If you push the button, one serving of dry rice spurts out the bottom of the bin onto the floor (or into a pot, I suppose, if you know what to expect).

Also, despite knowing our enemy, Nana and I were soundly defeated by the doorbell last night. We were trying to let poor Paul in the building, but we accidentally (I swear!) called the guards. Perhaps the doorbell and the dryer conspiring against me? I didn't mean that bit about pitting you against one another in a fight to the death!

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Happy Anniversary, Mom and Dad!

Sorry we can't be there. Hope you've had fun!

(UPDATED) Tigers and Dragons and Hippos, Oh My!

Haven't posted myself for a while, eh? Guess I've been too busy with the kung fu.

Anyway. As you may have guessed, Nana and I have been making our first furtive forays into the Korean language, and so far we like what we see. That is, the alphabet (hangeul) is really cool, and some of the idioms are downright hilarious. For example:

Water-eating hippo: This guy is a little open-topped plastic box filled with some kind of salt designed to keep your stuff dry and mold-free during the monsoon (which is now--more on that later). He in no way resembles a hippo. At all.

Room tiger: This is the alarm setting on our doorbell, which is about 10x smarter than we are. (Being outsmarted by technology has been a common theme so far.) Unfortunately, the room does not, in fact, growl at unwanted visitors, let alone release a hungry tiger into the hallway, though if it did we'd have the option of witnessing the carnage on our doorbell's little video screen. Instead, the room tiger just shrieks. Loudly. And summons the super, I think.

Ironing steam dragon: This is one of the settings on the dryer (which refuses to bend to our will). The term is singularly unhelpful in indicating what in the heck the setting is for. My best guess is that it's a "damp dry" setting . . . but as far as I can tell, every setting is "damp dry" (except for river, which seems to be "sopping wet dry," which totally shouldn't even be a kind of dry . . .).

Now if only there were some way to set the room tiger against the ironing steam dragon in a fight to the death.

UPDATE: I totally forgot something! It's not quite as goofy as those posted above, but in the interests of encyclopedic pedantry, I feel like I should include the . . .

Pig's nose: The Korean term for the adapter that connects American plugs to Korean electrical outlets (which are of the circular, two-prong kind). Apparently, the female American plug looks like a pig's nose, and I suppose it sort of does. Though I don't quite know what they make of that third hole . . . a piercing maybe?

Korean Technology Update #2: You win some, you lose some

With the help of the ever-intrepid Esther, we have mastered the stove! Evidently there is a master gas pipe at the back of the stove, and if you don't turn the little green knob, no gas will flow out of the pipe and into your burners. Upon turning this knob, we were able to light the stove, and now can look forward to many pan-fried dumplings. Also, our school-issued microwave should be arriving soon. A culinary bonanza!

We did, however, have to admit defeat on the dryer, which is even now chuckling smugly and indolently to itself as the washer beavers away. More accurately, I suppose, if I did not explain this already, the dryer SETTING is laughing while the washer SETTING works - the laundry machine is a combination washer-dryer. We cannot revenge ourselves on the dryer setting without taking out the innocent (and actually rather hard-working) washer as well, which explains the failure of our plan to intimidate the dryer by showing it the scene from Office Space where they take the recalcitrant fax machine out into the woods and beat it with baseball bats. So we bought a drying rack, which is now stationed under the air conditioner, and plan to move on to bigger battles, like figuring out what the weird drawer under the sink is.

Two further updates: intrepid reader Erin ("intrepid" seems to be my word of the day) writes to ask what the "ROK" in "School of ROK" stands for. The answer is Republic of Korea, the official name of South Korea. This makes it really fun to look for South Korea in computer drop-down menus and the like: sometimes it's under "S", for "South Korea," sometimes under "R," for "Republic of Korea," and sometimes just "Korea," on the grounds that nobody needs an international calling card extension in North Korea because they don't have any phones.

And update #2, after a very firm poke by Justin, the freight forwarder reports that our worldly belongings are on a ship and en route for South/Republic of/ Korea. This is awesome, and entirely due, I believe, to the staunch support of our readers. So thank you for your good vibes. Now we need to pull for a safe, timely arrival and good delivery. I have faith in you.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

In other news...

We're getting some not-so-humorous silence out of our shipping company. Jim, if you got a reply when you sent them the check scan, would you let us know? And everyone else, please send good shipping and honesty vibes our way...

Everybody was Kung-fu fighting (or at least Justin was...)

Yesterday the school very kindly sent us all out to see a show. We were told beforehand that it was, alternately, a martial arts demonstration, dance, a play, and a comedy. Translation error? Not really, no:

The show is called JUMP. I don't know if it debuted at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival (perhaps my cousin Xela has seen it?) but it was certainly a huge hit there. It is basically a slapstick comedy, virtually without any dialogue, performed by a cast of not only gifted comedians but stellar martial artists and acrobats/tumblers. The plot follows a family of martial artists through the arrival of a guest, the courtship of daughter and future son-in-law, and a really bad idea of a burglary attempt.

Halfway through the first act, the grandfather character comes up the aisle making jokes as he looks for the master martial artist he knows is visiting, sitting in the audience. Esther, another teacher, is Korean and fluent in English, and gave us some translations as he came along - jokes like, "You! So good to see you! When did you get out of jail?" etc., as he looks for the master.

And then, halfway up the aisle, he found the master.

And it was Justin.

He has Justin stand up, in the middle of the auditorium, and asks in English, "Where are you from?" Justin tells him, "America," and he says, "Whoaaa! U-S-A! U-S-A!" The audience is going crazy at this point, especially all the APIS teachers. He's speaking half-Korean and then every now and then in English, too fast for Esther to translate, and there's the noise from the laughter, so basically we have no idea what's going on. At some point, he manages to express to Justin that he wants Justin to follow him.

On stage.

So now we have my husband, the light-haired, bearded, dress-shirt-and-slacks-clad American, up on stage with this cast of martial artists, whom he, as the master, is supposed to mentor. The uncle character does a high kick and challenges Justin to respond (I do remember recognizing the Korean word, ap-cha-gi, from high school Taekwondo). Justin kicks, as best a man in slacks with no intact knee ligaments can. I have to say, he got pretty good extension.

They all fling themselves backward in terror. Crowd goes wild.

Then the uncle character does a somersault, which he turns into a handstand. Justin holds up his hands, but with some encouragement from the cast, he gives it a go. He hands his glasses to the grandfather (this gets a big laugh), bends down, and somersaults across the stage, strategically omitting the handstand.

Tumultuous applause.

And now, as I'm starting to wonder when exactly my husband turned into Buster Keaton, the grandfather informs the audience that because Justin is a master, he must be carrying hidden weapons, and the family ought to search him. They come around him and manage to pull various items - a knife from his pocket, nunchuks from his sleeve, and a two-foot long sword out his shirt collar. I wondered why it always felt so pokey when I gave him a hug.

So in the end, they thanked him, returned his glasses, and sent him back to his seat with a very nice printed program and much cheering from the peanut gallery. His moment in the sun is over but now we all know his secret: his stealth moment, as ninja-by-night, is just beginning...

Monday, August 6, 2007

Korean Technology Update, or I Love My Shower But I Fear My Toilet


Still no Internet at home yet, and yesterday's attempt to go to the public internet cafe ("PC Bang," or "PC Room") failed in the face of the entire middle school age population of Korea taking up all-day residence in the bang to play World of Warcraft. We also don't have internet at the school, because some quirk of the wireless routers means they won't talk to our foreign computers. Until they get a software patch, we're limping along on vintage laptops (still about three operating systems more advanced than my Navy desktop) with an entirely Korean-language interface. You know those little "Y/N" popups you get all the time as you log in and out of things? I think I just gave Gmail my firstborn child.


A partial victory here, inasmuch as our laundry is washed but not even bordering on dry. The dryer cycle here consists of a few limp clockwise turns, a complete halt, a few limp counterclockwise turns, halt, and repeat. We have tried about every combination of buttons we can think of but it always seems to end the same way, tumbling impotently along. I think it knows that if it performs poorly enough, we'll just give up and buy a drying rack and it will never have to work again.


We have a set of gas burners, but no idea how to operate them. There is no obvious pilot light, and when you twist the dials, you get an ominous hissing sound which does not lead you to want to experiment with finding it. Fortunately, as Justin has noted, we live upstairs from about fifty restaurants in which we can eat for little to no money, so we haven't had to force the issue. And as long as Justin doesn't get tired of cold spicy fruit noodle soup, we'll be able to muddle along.

Air Conditioner

"Air Con" in Korean. Justin has mastered it. I just push buttons until the air sounds and feels like it's doing what I hoped for. My primary role is to do the math to translate the Celcius temperatures into Fahrenheit. It's a great air conditioner - a long, rectangular wall unit that can transform the room in under ten minutes. When we lived in Washington, it was cheaper to leave the AC on at a low level all day than to try to run it just at night when we were home. We may end up programming the AC here to maintain the temperature instead of to run constantly (a feature way beyond the capacity of our early-1990s era DC unit) but since the low level will cool the place off pretty well and the insulation is good, we may just leave it off all day. No idea what utilities will cost here.

The Bathroom
a haiku

Eight shower nozzles
should spray me, but I think that
the toilet should not.

We have two fantastic full bathrooms. The one off the master bedroom (ah, the luxury of multiple rooms!) has a great shower head, a hand unit, and a set of six water jets that look kind of like udders. And the controls are very self-explanatory: hot is red, cold is blue, the picture of the hand unit controls how much water goes to the hand unit, same with the shower head and udders. All in all, it provides a very intuitive and relaxing hygiene experience.

And then there's the toilet.

We have a Samsung toilet seat that PLUGS IN because it has all sort of electronically controlled water jet functions, which I cannot describe here because I can't begin to determine what they are. They really need to be seen to be believed, and I promise that of all the things we could photograph here in Korea, we will prioritize sharing this toilet with you. The warning labels alone have led me to just leave it unplugged and hope I never make it mad.

Justin may write a post on the temple and museums that we visited or the trip to Itaewon (kind of the foreigners' district) or the many significant and profound experiences we have been having, but you can get cultural information a lot of places. When it comes to techno-toilets and dryers practicing game theory, remember, you heard it here first.