Thursday, April 29, 2010

Spring, where art thou?

Spring is sort of in the air. It's almost May; the cherry blossoms are blooming, the temperature is rising ever so slightly, yet it's been more wet, windy, and cold the majority of the week. Global warming hasn't made its appearance yet, but when it does, I'll welcome it with open arms and a kiss.

I'm already 2 months into my second year in Korea, and I find myself enjoying this year even more than I did at this point last year. Though things have been considerably busy with a bigger workload, and working with an almost completely new staff, I find myself having a more balanced approach in how I teach and manage my classroom. The first month of the semester was wildly inconsistent; I had been getting sloppy on my time-management skills. I started turning into Atilla the Hun, as I became more aggravated and less patient with some of my other classes. I had a short fuse; the sparks were beginning to light up, I was one wire snap from turning my classroom into a fiery mess.

My Korean head co-teacher talked to me privately, and felt that I was beginning to scare more of my students. Admittedly, I became a pretty intimidating, and even an unlikeable teacher. She suggested that instead of getting very aggravated with them, I start being more silent when the boys are talking, and allow the Korean teachers to start disciplining certain students who are misbehaving. Luckily, the results have been working. Plus, my teachers have been placing a lot of focus on classroom management which allowed me to teach and stop at certain points. I find that my patience has led to more students policing themselves and each other, and with me finally ending any threats of a classroom nuclear holocaust.

I do enjoy my new teaching arrangement very much. I have my own classroom that I use; no running around from class to class, and getting mobbed by my students during break time, or worrying whether or not the computer connection will work in the classroom TV. The classes that I'm teaching are divided into levels, and I don't have to worry about teaching the beginner level which was a major challenge for me last year.

Though several of my friends have left Korea, and with a different outlook into this year, I have been more than content with my new situation. I don't miss the craziness and claustrophobic nature of my last apartment. My current apartment, though slightly bigger than my last shoebox, has given me more comfort in ways that I had been yearning for. Gone are the cacophony of orgasmic sounds emanating from a group of sexually-hungry felines. Gone are the loud stiletto footsteps of my Korean neighbor frantically running up the stairs in the middle of the night. Gone are the 5 minute hot water running when I take a shower. Gone are the sounds of that fruit truck giving me my premature wake-up call on an early Saturday/Sunday morning reminding me that there are fresh grapes, strawberries, and other fruits necessary for purchase and consumption. Lastly, Gone are the days when I could reach my kitchen from my bed with my legs.

I was pleased to have my friend, Rebecca come and visit me recently. She is currently from Austin, TX, but I knew her back when we were in Chicago. She was the first person to visit me from back home, and I can't tell you how grateful I am to play host to my first visitor. Given that most of my friends and family members can't visit me because of how bad the economy is, I am incredibly thankful to have Rebecca make that effort. Luckily, she had a great time. I took her to Spaland, which is an amazing spa/sauna bathhouse, and for only $6. Describing that place wouldn't do me justice, so take my word for it. I introduced her to some of my good friends and some old-fashioned Korean-style barbecue, as well as some good ole' Korean karaoke/Wii room that we rented out. I also took her to my school, and once my students saw me and her walking together, we were harassed with students' claims that we are a couple. This is nothing new to me. Anytime, I bring out a female friend of mine in my neighborhood, my boys get really nosy, and insist that it's not a friendship. I'm like the “pimp daddy” to them, which makes it even more grossly exaggerating.

We went to Seoul that weekend, and the weather was beautiful. We visited Seoul Tower and Namsan Park. The cherry blossoms were in full bloom. People were hiking up the long path along Namsan Park. I actually had a cartoon portrait done on me, but hours later, I ended up losing it somewhere in Dongdaemun. Sadly, and not surprisingly so, I lost track of my own senses and instinct that weekend. However, the cartoon portrait was quite disturbing as the artist drew some wickedly huge cheeks. Think of it as two giant pimples resembling a rocket ready for takeoff. I also had specks of hair below my chin drawn in, and I'm wearing a Superman outfit, but my head is so big that it makes the head of Bobby from the old cartoon show, “Bobby's World” look like Ratatouille in comparison. Yes, it is a satire, but sometimes you wonder, if those physical shortcomings are truly meant in good gesture, or if it's an ominous sign that people nitpick on.

We had some amazing ice cream there in Myeongdong which is a huge shopping area. Rebecca was on an ice-cream binge on her entire trip. I was kindly reminded of Baskin Robbins several times a day, and much to her delight, there were no shortages of Baskin Robbins in Korea. We went to Dongdaemun, and we were harassed by the store clerks who yelled out “Hey...where are you from? We have big size for you.” Not exactly the kind of beckoning call that Westerners would welcome when entering a store. Korean store owners are generally very nice and extremely helpful, but then there are those, some in good gesture, who are seemingly unaware of proper customer service etiquette.

Of course, Rebecca didn't leave Korea without any difficulties on her trip. I was a loud snorer, especially since I had a bit of a cold. It kept her up through the majority of her trip. I would wake up to her iPod blaring through her headphone, only to have her reveal to me that even the loudest volume couldn't drown out the soundtrack I was playing for her. Nevertheless, we had a great time and I couldn't be more thankful to be able to give her that kind of awesome experience, and to get an idea of what I've been living for the past year.

I could only hope that some of my friends and brothers would be able to do this, and be given the opportunity to travel to a new world. I'm telling you; it's an experience of a lifetime. It's an inexplicable feeling once you step outside of your own backyard. You get to see how the world really function, and how little we really know about our world (both from our perspective and the people we come encounter).

On a sad note, my old friend Joe Marsillo recently passed away from complications of testicular cancer. He had been fighting cancer for the last few years. I knew him back when we were working together at the UIC Writing Center. All I can say is what a truly fantastic person to be around. Before Korea, the UIC Writing Center was one of the more memorable events, not only during my time as an undergrad, but in my life. I made many wonderful friends there, and took on several initiatives there. Having Joe around made things at the center all the more fun and interesting. His passing comes with great sorrow and loss, but his time in the world, though rather brief, was a monumental one as he touched so many lives with his kindness, humor, and love. I will truly miss the guy, and I hope that he's in a far better place now.

Who knows what the next 10 months will be like? I know much has been said about how long I'll stay in Korea. To be honest with you, I don't have an exact answer. I am enjoying what I do, but at the same time, I also want to try new challenges and continue to be ambitious whether it will happen back home, or Korea, or elsewhere in the world. In the meantime, I am looking to travel to a new country this summer, preferably in Asia, and to get myself in better physical shape by then.

Until then, I will catch up with all of you soon. Take care. Much love, peace, and continued blessings!


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