The Volcano is Winning, Aaron is Erupting

This blog post will be a grand experiment to see if I can channel my frustration into productivity of some kind.

At least I’m not homesick!

I don’t want to say that it was really just the cab driver’s fault, but I let him know how I was feeling when he tried to rip me off on a trip back to my apartment last night.

Yes it was only 40 cents. It’s not about the actual money. It’s about the idea. That idea that you are trying to overcharge me. Was it because I’m a foreigner? Because I appeared to be drunk, or you just felt this was a fair assumption considering the time of evening? It doesn’t matter the reason.

At least I don’t piss in the street or sleep on the ground in the middle of the road.

I’m won’t name names.

(I’m not naming names because I don’t know their names)

Either way, the cab driver did not get one whiff of money over 2200 won, which is the standard fair for basically anywhere in Seogwipo, particularly the Bally Hotel to my apartment in Jugong.

The cab driver wasn’t sure what to do at first. He took his time to drive off. Perhaps he was trying to decide if he should yell or chase after me, and then he realized that he would be showing poor character. In the end, it doesn’t really matter.

What does matter is that for the third time this week, I was awoken before 9 am because loud Koreans were working on my balcony.

It’s like Kafka in Jeju!

Two men were painting the roses red, shooting the breeze, and generally having a grand only time at 8:22 am this morning. I’m currently writing from a Paris Baguette down the street because the noise was not conducive to either sleep, work, or anything in between.

I feel like I can’t even (insert something crude in this space) read tarot cards while they’re around. Or maybe I should. That would probably be a good way to ensure complete privacy for the rest of my time on Jeju.

Anyway, I didn’t ask for the maintenance work, but you can be certain that I’m paying for it.

At least I’m not paying for Boingo wireless anymore. What a scam that is.

I’m reading a book called the Soccer War that I borrowed from a co-worker. It’s about revolutions/coups in Africa and South America. It would make a great musical.

Why is it so expensive to travel to North Korea? It’s almost as if they didn’t want me to come.

I would like one of my short stories to be published. Can we get that done?

I would also like some real breakfast pastries, a turning back of the clock to September, a pay raise for my work at Yale, some added height on my frame, more tightly controlled facial hair growth, and plenty of other things that won’t be showing up in this blog post.

Winter is coming. This is a fact.

It’s also the tagline from the overrated and extremely silly (but yes, addictive) show on HBO, GAME OF THRONES, a fantasy series so tedious and nerdy it makes me feel cool that I still prefer LEGOs.

My co worker Robyn is showing me how to properly apply makeup to my face so that it doesn’t look like I barely achieved 4 hours of sleep the previous night. But don’t worry, I’m not becoming a metrosexual. I’m not homophobic, but I still am working on overcoming my prejudices against metrosexual men.

I have no problem if gay men (or women) convert my children, but please, keep the metrosexuals far away from my house.

At least I’m not sick of kimchi yet!

I’m extremely sick of the weird minnows that they keep on serving as side dishes with every meal. But I was sick of those things two months ago.

Tonight is Halloween. Spooky!

Almost as spooky as the mold which is growing on the inside of my pumpkin!

It’s not my pumpkin anymore, though. I abandoned it on the side of the street. Just like Koreans seem to abandon their dogs (with reckless abandon!) when they become too big.

And before I write something I shouldn’t, I’m going to abandon this blog post.



Blogging on Boy’s Night

The above title doesn’t really have any relevance to the rest of this post, but that’s what you get for writing at 2:30 in the morning.

I had the pleasure, earlier this week, of conducting my first naming ceremony. A new student came into my 7M class and I had to provide him with a new English name that we can further cement the language and cultural barrier between us. Maybe that’s unfair.

Anyway, I gave him a list of essentially ten random names I thought up in a few seconds, and by the end of the class, I was the proud teacher of Lloyd, a son of Seogwipo’s finest.

Today students were given surveys to evaluate the teachers with. One of the students was smirking at me and whispering “bye bye, teacher.”

“What do you mean, bye bye?” I asked him.

“You know what it means,” he said with a twisted grin.

Yeah, I know what it means. It means that I’m going to call you out on my blog, you little dipshit. Even Skywalker and his stupid smirk isn’t that malicious.

A survey was also given out to a class that I have taught twice in my life so far. I’ve spent 100 minutes with these kids, and they are grading my teaching skills. Which in the end makes sense, because although I’ve only been with them for 100 minutes, the memories are going to last a lifetime.

But are they though? I can barely remember what I did with them on the first day RIGHT NOW. But I’m past age 22 so both my memory and my libido is already fading, where as these kids are just about embark on the adventure of life. Maybe I need to shave again.

My faith in my students was almost (just almost) restored when one of my eighth graders knew who the Loch Ness Monster was. I hope it’s not because he saw that really shitty movie “The Water Horse.” But I’m too afraid to ask.

I would like to now awkwardly transition to an obscure question about poker rules. I am almost 100 % sure that in a showdown where somebody has gone all in, both players need to show their hands. This was a minor point of contention for others, but a major one for me. Who among this blog’s 12  endless legion of readers will help me out on this one?

While I’m writing about ‘sports’, or at least ‘things that show up on ESPN’, I can happily report that I both found and utilized a gym this week. An excellent picture of me trying to look sporty whilst unknowingly holding a large pick handbag will be appearing on this blog shortly. Not that this looks out of place in Korea.



A Pork Belly Birthday Party

Yesterday morning I was greeted at 9:45 by a Korean shouting and banging on my balcony window. I live on the fifth floor.

Before I could ask him how exactly he got up on my balcony, he opened my door and threw my sheets, which were hanging on the clothesline, into the middle of the floor. This, by the way, was another boxers Monday morning.

A few minutes later he started washing my windows. At least that solved the mystery of what he was doing on my balcony. He was on one of those cranes that takes him in a little box to each window. It did not solve the mystery, however, of why he was so rude, or why the maintenance people here have no concept of privacy. This apartment is my f–king castle guys! Don’t storm the castle! At least this time it was a man.


Last night we went out to eat at a ‘galbi’ restaurant for a friend’s 30th 23rd birthday. Galbi I believe just means that they cook it in front of you on a round pot. This particular place specializes in black pig pork belly, something Jeju is well-known for, but I had yet to try it. What happens is the pork is cooked in the middle and you have all your sauces and accessories, and when the pork is done, you put everything in a big leaf and then shove it in your mouth. It’s a lot of fun. The pork belly was extremely fatty but tasted delicious, probably due to the fact that I was lopping on sauce like nobody’s business and drinking Soju like everybody’s business.

I must have had more to drink then I wanted because later on in the night I impulsively ordered a grilled cheese sandwich. I also realized that there are basically three guy foreigners who regularly socialize in basically all of Seogwipo.  This is truly the land of women.

Not the least of which is because I’m learning that the ‘ideal’ Korean man looks like a pretty girl. This girl was staring at this tiny cutout picture in my class and I grabbed it from her and was like ‘who is this lady?’

Her answer: “that is the sexiest man in Korea.”

And I replied: “No. This is a pretty girl.”

And this went on for about ten minutes until she finally allowed to keep the picture as a gift.

I really need to find and put this picture up on this blog. The boy is wearing a rainbow tye-dye sweater and on his sleeves he has these ruffles like he’s about to play a maracca. He’s sitting on this leopard skin blanket and pillow, and he has this expression on his face like ‘somebody give me a hug’ or ‘I need a puppy.’ I would not even say he looks ‘gay’, he just looks really feminine and passive.

Not that the Korean women get a free pass either. There’s this weird school-girl fetish thing going on, which was most apparent during the half-time show at the soccer game the other day, when a bunch of cheerleaders came out in quasi-school girl outfits and were doing this really risque dance. It seemed inappropriate, but then again, 30-year old women can pretend to be school girls when the ‘ideal Korean man’ is about as threatening as a poodle.

Here are some pictures of manly men for your entertainment:


Aaron Wanders Through A Confusing Weekend

I’m not sure who won this week, me or the volcano.


Went on an epic (but not EPIK) hike with another Yale teacher, Kate, walking from inland to the beach, along a really cool path lined with lemon groves and (we learned this the hard way) bee farms, among other things. I’m not sure if we really knew where we were going, we just kept on reaching forks in the trail and choosing a direction.

We also helped euthanized a sad little snake who we found closer to the beach. The poor guy’s guts were coming out and he was writhing and so we found a large rock and we (hopefully) painlessly enabled his journey up to snake heaven, where there are always mice and never any snake oil salesmen.

We also found some dogs and played with a really adorable black puppy in the middle of the road. Dangerous? Probably, but who cares, except for the little girl who was watching two foreigners play with her dog.

After that, in chronological order, we went north to Jeju City to meet up with people at a soccer match, ate at a Korean attempt at Mexican food, played darts, and then went dancing. I’ll try to fill in some of these details in a later post. If Matt Harris ever stumbles across this blog, I hoped he’ll be pleased that he had one of the nicest floors I’ve ever slept on.

This morning was soccer and pumpkin carving. That will also be discussed later.

Earlier in the week, I found a music academy with practice rooms, which I should be able to rent out monthly. So I now finally have a place to play piano and hear the sound of my own lovely voice.


The shower is getting colder. The cold water was already cold to begin with. Now that its mid-fall, I’m starting to get concerned that my showering will move from “uncomfortable” to “intolerable” to “staying clean isn’t worth the hypothermia.” I maintain that there is no hot water button or process or routine that functions in my apartment.

I missed the Korean/Russian foreign relations conference. That was a bummer. At least I got to watch Game 1 of the World Series.

Finally, I’m having some rather unusual issues with mistaken identity. I’ve had several incidences where I’ve spoken to someone thinking they were someone completely different than who they actually turn out to be. Here’s a conversation I had with someone this weekend:

Aaron: Hey there.

“Kim”: Hey.

Aaron: Did you have a nice time last Sunday (we hiked last Sunday)?

“Kim”: Yeah, I guess…

Aaron: Are you excited to go to Beijing?

“Kim”: I’m not going to Beijing.

Aaron: Why, what happened your boyfriend?

“Kim”: I don’t have a boyfriend.

(note: at this point in the conversation I just thought that she was being bitter and I had stumbled on a very recent and sore subject)

Aaron: oh my god…what happened? You don’t have to tell me what happened. Did you break with him this week? I’m really sorry.

“Kim”: No, I didn’t break up with anyone this week…what are you talking about?

Aaron: You told me you had a boyfriend!

“Kim”: No I never said that. Wait…who do you think I am?

Aaron: You’re not Kim, are you.

“Kim”: No. *laughs* My name is Amber.

Whoops! At least SHE took it well, or least pretended to. As for someone about a month ago, I think probably not.

Either way, last night was probably the worst. I was dancing with this Korean girl in a white dress, and then I went to the bathroom. When I came out, I realized that there were SIX Korean girls in white dresses who LOOKED EXACTLY THE SAME. And it wasn’t beer goggles, these were six different people. And I couldn’t tell them apart. That cut the dancing really quickly. Can’t people just wear name tags?


Aaron Has a New Stalker

And it’s not who you think it is! Or maybe it’s exactly who you think it would be.

Anyway, one of my students now knows when its Aaron’s “coffee time” and he’s waiting outside so he can walk with me there and back. Sometimes he brings one of his friends, the rest of the time its just him. We’re talking about a second grader, by the way.

It’s my own fault. I gave him a cookie the first time he and a friend joined me for my afternoon stroll, and now he thinks I’ll just buy him shit as long as he sticks close by. And basically, he’s right.

The only real downside, besides the dent in my wallet, is that I actually have to wait for the green light now to cross the street, instead of running past cars and taxis, because now I have to set a good example and all that nonsense. And I certainly don’t want it getting back to parents like ‘today I was running red lights with my teacher wheeeee.’

Some bad news: apparently the fruit lady is not only not single, but she’s much older and married to the owner of the Dorothy Cafe. One of my ladyfriends insists that she was ‘just being nice.’

BULL SHIT! I maintain that you don’t compliment a man on his appearance AND give him a giant fruit unless you were looking for something. I’m sure I could steal her away from her man if I was driven to do such a thing. But that’s just not me.

It’s getting colder, so I’ve had to switch mostly to long pants. Tonight is the first night I’m going to leave the apartment with a jacket. It’s also raining.

I unclogged my drain at 3 am last night with chopsticks. Now I know I’m in a foreign country.


Midweek Update

I’m reading three books at once right now. That way I have a good excuse not to finish any of them.

This weekend was very relaxed. On Saturday I went to a Buddhist temple underneath a mountain, Sangbangsan. It was quite spectacular but you’re just going to have to believe me on this one because my camera ran out of batteries as soon as I got off the bus. Here’s a photo courtesy of google:

Sangbangsan is on the western side of the island and unlike the knobby mountains which surround the central volcano Hallasan, Sangbangsan is more like a monolith, a giant rock whose sharp profile makes it impossible to ascend unless you’re a person with a lot of skills.

You can get about a quarter of the way up, however, via a staircase which goes from the lower temple buildings to a lovely cave with a Buddha statue carved inside. There are steps for prayer and meditation. I sat outside and read for an hour, which is as close as I’m probably going to get to finding some inner peace.

Near Sangbangsan is a quasi-amusement park area, with one of the more random collections of attractions I’ll probably ever see: a swinging Viking ship, a carousel, and a batting cage. Jeju sometimes feels like a silly place.

I am a proud contributor to this, by the way. While at the gift shop at Sangbangsan, I bought a large turtle rock for my two turtles to bask on under the UV light. So far, it has been a success.

The next day, we went to an island called Gapado, also west of Seogwipo, to walk along one of the Olle trails, which are a series of nature paths all around Jeju and the surrounding islands. Gapado island itself is not very impressive; it’s extremely small and flat, providing no real spectacle of nature on its own. But the views of Jeju from the island are what makes it worth the trip. You have great views of the western side of Jeju, including Sangbangsan, the Oreums and towns the line the coast, and far back behind the haze, the looming volcano which dominates the island.

The trail on Gapado was very short, moving along the rocky shore before cutting through the middle of the island and returning to the docking area where the ferry comes in. The highlight of the journey was the show put on by the local grasshoppers. It was apparently mating season when we went there; no matter how good a time we foreigners were having, I can assure you that the grasshoppers were having a better one.

They also have the capability to mate and hop around at the same time, and I was treated to the indignity of grasshoppers having sex on my shoe.

The first two days of the teaching week so far have been wonderful. At least 90 percent of this swell of good feeling has to do with the fact that test prep is finally over, at least for the foreign teachers. I am back to teaching children about Solidarity and Healthy Eating, among other topics. One of my students has been in the hospital for 2 weeks, and I had the class all write get well cards (mostly in English). The girls worked hard on theirs and took the entire 50 minute class period to make some truly beautiful art work and let the student, Elena, know that they cared. The two boys in the class spent about 5 minutes on their cards and spent the rest of the time staring into space. I hope I wasn’t that insenstitive when I was 8. Actually, I’m pretty sure I wasn’t. At the very least, I liked to draw.

There’s a conference going on at the Jeju Hyatt about Korean/Russian foreign relations. Like the books, this gives me yet more things to sleep through in the morning. If it doesn’t make it into the blog, you’ll know why.

Within this sentence lies word no. 666 of this blog post. How demonic! Speaking of which, Halloween is fast approaching, and there’s a pumpkin carving event on Sunday. I think I’m going to carve out a very particular animal, one with a very important and special tooth. Can you guess what animal I’m referring to?? I’ll give you a hint: it’s not a giraffe.

Aaron Wants Another Cheeseburger

Today my boss, Mintak, took all the foreign teachers out to lunch at the Suassakak Stone Cafe, which is a tiny cafe right on the ocean with literally four menu items: a cheeseburger, a chicken sandwich, a salad, or brunch. There’s also Vietnam handdrip coffee.

Mintak had been talking about the cheeseburgers all week. Using his Korean-inspired English, be basically demanded that I order a cheeseburger.

“Aaron, you get cheeseburger,” he said yesterday. “It is delicious. Not at all like McDonald’s. Real cheese. Amazing. Best food I eat.”

This sounded to me like Mintak being Mintak, and it’s difficult when your boss orders you to eat a cheeseburger and then asks what you think, knowing there’s only one right answer.

But I didn’t have to lie to my boss. Mintak was right: it WAS an amazing cheeseburger. It was all about the toasted bun. But two hours after I ate it, I wanted another one. Who knew Koreans could make amazing cheeseburgers? Mintak did I guess. So did Minho, the owner (and cook) of the cafe. The Koreans certainly do burgers better than the Spanish. I won’t be ordering the $30 gristle sandwich from Restaurant QQ anytime soon, for a few reasons.

Unfortunately, having another cheeseburger might take some (but not a WHOLE lot) effort, if only because it’s either a 5,000 won cab ride or an hour walk, and the burgers are not cheap. But sometimes you do whatever you need to do to satisfy your cravings.

Last night I went to a campfire on Jungmun beach to say goodbye to my spearfishing partner, Weston. It was a very nice evening; I was treated to sausage on a stick (two euphemisms for the price of one!) and we told scary stories (actually, only I did). I was sorry to say goodbye, though.

I’m getting a little dispirited in fact, by the strange cycle of comings and goings which occurs with the foreign teachers here (or anywhere in Korea or Japan, for that matter). Not that it comes as much of a surprise, but almost every non-EPIK (state school) teacher is on a different timetable, and its strange to get to know people for a month or two and then have them leave, most likely forever. I guess that’s why people find romance from within the group of people who arrived at the same time they did. But who has time for love when you have two turtles to feed and a washing machine filled with clothes that need to be hung out to dry?

My students were making me anxious today. In my first class, a boy named Ken (he’s holding the Mike Piazza doll in a picture from about a month ago) high-kicked a girl, then refused to leave the classroom, so I gave him to Mintak to get a good scolding.

Later on, I tried to use tarot cards to give one class a nice break from test studying. I thought it would be a fun way for them to practice their English skills, but the tarot cards were too vague and verbose to make any sense to these poor seventh graders. Which isn’t to say that they weren’t illuminating, or 100% accurate.

For instance, when one kid asked if he would have a girlfriend, the cards KNEW he was in Korea. They said that it wasn’t happening with his dream girl (Emma Watson?), that it was time for “second guessing”, but that he would find what he was looking for if he used his friends and associates to help set him up. Another kid was informed that he would never be rich, and the first kid asked how he did on the exam he took yesterday. The cards informed him that he “needed a mental health day.”

But don’t we all? In addition to the abrupt departures of newfound friends, there’s another sad theme that’s been cropping up recently here, which is the alienation of Americans (and Canadians) from the motherland on the opposite side of the Pacific. I feel like quite a few people have mentioned over the past few days that they have no interest in returning back for at least another 5-10 years, if at all.

And I can’t blame them, or myself. The job market back in the US is abysmal, and there really doesn’t seem to be much of an end in sight to the steady stream of young educated adults who leave school with a liberal arts degree (or even a “real” degree) and discover that there are no jobs, and the process to search for the jobs that don’t exist will leave them depressed, exhausted, and still jobless.

The lack of jobs is the kicker, but it doesn’t help that the vast majority of people here, including myself, observe from a far the US becoming a place antithetical to our values and interests. It really is no fun watching the slow decline which has helped bring many of us eastward in the first place.

I think what separates me from a lot of people here, however, is that I don’t think I’ll be able to parade my CELTA degree around Asia indefinitely. It doesn’t matter how bad things get, America is still my home and I would like to have a sense of pride from being from there. If I can’t manage to return to America within 2-3 and find solid footing, I will be very unhappy.

I originally wrote ‘devestated’, but that doesn’t seem appropriate. I’ll do what I need to do to find some measure of success, but my sense of place is too strongly engrained to feel like I’m anything more than distinguished guest in this country. I could live in many places in America, particularly the northeast megalopolis (Boston-NY-Philadelphia-Baltimore-Washington), and feel a sense of inner peace, but for right now, and the forseeable future, I think I’m fighing a volcano.