Saturday, September 15, 2007

Happy Problems -1

Turns out our shipment isn't coming until next Friday. (Miscommunication.) What a tease!

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Happy Problem the Seventh

Apparently, kids make you dumber: I've forgotten how to count. (link)

2 Happy Problems!(?)!!

Happy Problem the First: Even this far into September, we keep getting new students at APIS. This is a good thing because new students mean more funds for the school, and also because new students are usually a reflection of the good buzz we've generated so far. APIS has really taken off this year, moreso than a first-year school really ought to, and that's pretty cool. Although now some of the classes are running out of desks and books and stuff (the kindergarten is simply running out of space!), and as the year goes on, it's really tough to catch the new kids up (especially when they're ESL cases, whom we were supposed to stop admitting weeks ago). But, hey! At least this means our prospects look good for next year! And we've got more than enough empty classroom space to expand into.

Happy Problem the Second: Pretty much everything we've been waiting for at school has arrived . . . and it all arrived within about 40 minutes yesterday morning. Seriously. Grading software, admin software, website software, library books, core literature--everything. And when the truck driver with the books arrived, he decided that he wasn't staying any longer than five minutes, at which time he'd leave with whichever of our fifty boxes of books weren't off the truck. So, naturally, my 8th grade English class was suddenly transformed into PE, as our principal enlisted us to schlep all the books up to the library on the third floor. But at least we were rewarded with popsicles. And, of course, our core lit books are finally here!

And speaking of (possible) arrivals . . .

Happy Problem the Third: We think (hope!) that our shipment is arriving on Friday! (Notice: we hope. But we refuse to believe it's actually coming. Every single step of this shipping process has been so opaque and so sketchy--I mean, our stuff was here in Korea for two weeks without anyone on either side of the pacific contacting us!--that we dare not expect our stuff to show up.) But we haven't been able to figure out if we're getting the move-in service (which we paid for), or if a truck will just be showing up with our pallet and telling us to unload it ourselves in ten minutes, or the loot's gone. (See Happy Problem the, er, Previous.) So just in case, we're going to invite a bunch of people over for KBBQ and pick up the tab if they end up having to schlep our stuff for us. (Yes, we will warn them ahead of time. That is, if our shipment is actually coming. You see! I said "if"!)


I had to play Mean Mr. Goff with one of my classes today. I hate that.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Take a Hike!

Nana and I had our first Korean hiking experience last weekend. Shorter than expected--due to a late start and my better half's burgeoning cold--but enough for a brief glimpse into the Korean hiking culture, at least at one of the most popular day-trip destinations on one of the most beautiful days of the year.

So! We arrived at the subway station about five stops north of where we live. The station is actually named for the mountain, Dobongsan, which probably should have been our first tip off that this was going to be a strange day. Our second tipoff should have been the huge clusters of pristinely-equipped Koreans flowing uphill from the station . . . but before any of that, we found this completely inexplicable field full of flowers across from the station exit. So, naturally, we frolicked.

Then and only then did we turn our feet downstream . . . which is to say uphill . . . with the tide of well-dressed trekkers. (Mixed metaphors are an early sign of encroaching bedtime.) At which point we discovered that the trailhead was still a 10-minute walk away, through a not-so-small village of gear shops, knockoff gear shops, and open-air eateries serving grilled stinkfish (that's what I call them, anyway) that you could watch in their aquariums, floating upside down, blissfully dead, near the top of the tank. Needless to say, we pressed on, and quickly--I didn't even get a picture!--figuring that pretty soon the shops and restaurants and stuff would give way to wilderness, and at least a few meters of open trail.

Well . . . in short, we were wrong. Even given the large number of Koreans who seem to get all dressed up (we're talking backpacks, walking sticks, even helmets) to hike all the long way to the restaurant furthest from the bus stop at the head of the trail (to consume stinkfish and soju, of course), the trails were utterly packed.

And we're talking packed, here. Not hippy-whining about seeing eight other people on a seven-mile trail packed. Amusement-park packed. I mean, the real challenge wasn't the hiking itself (we didn't get all the way up to the hard stuff), it was hiking at speed, in time with everyone else. You couldn't take time to find a new foothold before you stepped, because then the person behind you would bump into you. And you had to find a foothold while your foot was in the air, because you couldn't go back--the person behind you already had a foot in the foothold you just left. No wonder they need all that gear! The poles are clearly for whacking slowpokes, and the helmets for withstanding whacks.

And if you think the handful of hikers out there in high-heels (carrying parasols) made anything better . . . well, you'd be wrong.

Now, don't you fear--the day wasn't a total loss. We did see a chipmunk, over which everybody completely freaked out, and we did learn a valuable lesson, which is never to hike on a nice Sunday in September (absolute most crowded it gets, except for maybe a nice Sunday in late October), unless you like to hike like you drive. But on the whole, it was an experience I don't hope to repeat. So next time, it'll be a weekday or a Saturday (most Korean kids are in school on Saturdays), and not an incredibly nice one. Though the stinkfish (ah, the stinkfish!) I don't think we'll have a way to avoid.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

What's cooking?

You would think that when eating in restaurants is cheaper than eating at home, life would be one big going-out-to-dinner party. Well, you'd think wrong. Korean food is good, but if you don't eat spicy food, there's very little variety in your non-spicy options. Also, Korean food is very short on fiber (processed flour noodles and plain rice are the carb staples) and if I've gotten any calcium in a restaurant, it's been accidental.

To clarify, eating in restaurants is SOMETIMES cheaper than eating at home. I'd say that depending on what we get, Justin and I feed ourselves on about 9,000 to 12,000 won, on average. The dumpling shop is a little less, barbecue is more (about 9,000 each). 9,000 won is about $10, so about $5 per person. It might be cheaper to live on sandwiches, but a) we wouldn't eat as well, b) we would have to schlepp groceries, cook, and clean, and c) stuff in the grocery store isn't as cheap as the restaurant prices seem to indicate they should be. Justin wrote about this before; our newest potential explanation for retail food being pricier than prepared food is a tax that hits retail but not wholesale. Could be.

To illustrate, tonight, we decided to spoil ourselves by eating pasta. Yes. Pasta in tomato sauce is now a pampering kind of meal. I had to go to two stores, because the first one only had Korean-style noodles and no pasta. (No pasta?! I twitch at the thought!) At the second store, in the "Foreign Foods" section, I got rotini and Ragu. I don't think I've ever eaten Ragu in the USA, but somehow it felt like a comfort food. All I needed, I thought, was some cheese, and we'd be good to go!


Cheese is exotic in Korea. How exotic, you ask? Well, let's put it this way: I have never before seen anybody shelve Velveeta in the wine section. For real. That, Borden, and an 11,000 won block of parmesan. I've never heard of anybody eating parmesan straight, let alone eating straight parmesan with WINE. What on earth goes with that?

In their defense, there was also some Brie and Camembert, but come on. Velveeta???

We ended up mixing some pretty good Feta into the sauce and accompanying it with monterey jack melted onto French bread slices. Pasta, garlic and tomato Ragu, bread, and two kinds of cheese, and it was the most expensive dinner we've had since we got here! Fortunately, there was tons, so we'll eat it tomorrow and halve the cost.

I apologize if this was completely incoherent. Korean schools are just as much of germ factories as American schools, and I'm coming down with a cold. My new discipline threat to the children will be to breathe on them.