Saunas,Special Chairs and More Pictures

On Sunday I was coerced into visited my first “jinjabong”, or Korean sauna, on Jeju island.

Not to be…whatever, of course this is sexist, but FOREIGN WOMEN LOVE THESE STUPID SAUNAS.

They can’t get enough of them. If my co-workers are stressed out or in a bad mood or have too much time on their hands (and I can’t convince them to do something interesting, like going to the casino or cooking me dinner) then their Plan A plan is to go to the jinjabong.

I’m still not sure what the appeal is of these places. Everyone gets naked, so there’s that, but its also segregated by gender, so there’s that too. There’s all these rooms and all this steam and you’re supposed to relax.

But I don’t need to relax. Or at least, I don’t need to spend money and get naked at a sauna to do so. If I want to get naked, I can do so any time I want in my apartment and the only person who’s going to stare at me is the cleaning lady who has my key.

There’s also apparently a jinjabong in Jeju city with my likeness sculpted in painted glass, with tight abs and a bow and arrow. So it’s like I’m always there watching! I can’t see it, though, since it’s in the women’s section.

As one of my co-workers noted, “it looks like you if you were…better looking.”

Fuck you, Kate. Go to one of your stupid jinjabongs.

The symbol for a jinjabong is this red line with swiggles coming out of it. They’re all over the place and when I first saw one I thought that they were a chain of roasted chicken, like Boston Market or Kenny Rogers or something.

But no, they’re just where assholes get naked.

I went to one on Sunday and somehow I avoided hating it. They give you these uniforms and I didn’t have have to take my clothes off, I was able to go to this outdoor area where there were these pools (possibly or impossibly heated by hot springs).

It was like going to a hot tub party. I remember when I used to not have to pay to go into a hot tub.

There were also great views of Sangbangsan, the oreum/mini-mountain which dominates the southwest part of the island.

There was this wooden shack which was heated and that was kind of cool too.

People forced me into this room called the “oven”, where you sweat and “release toxins” even though really you’re just re-enacting a scene from as-yet-filmed horror movie. It’s not just that its stiflingly hot, its that its cramped and the room is made out of bricks. It’s too bad there were no eggs to fry.

But other than that it was nice. Sitting in the hot tub was a great contrast to a Sunday evening adventure so high octane that I’m not recounting it in the blog. Writing about Sunday evening would mean no longer suppressing the memory. At least I’m still alive. It feels good to be alive. Change of subject:

Last week I entered my first-grade classroom and half the students were crying. There’s only six of them, but still. One of the kids was bawling, and remained doing so for the entire class (more on that later).

I had to get two Korean co-teachers to come in and explain the situation to me, probably because the kids were so distraught that it took a while for the message to come out.

It turns out that the cause of all the misery was the debate over who gets the SPECIAL SEAT.

The special seat appears to be just a random seat off-center to the chalkboard, but my first-graders knew better. Sophie stole the seat, and then Kyle, who must have wanted the seat, called her a poopie-head or something similar, and so the class took to destroying each other in such a fashion.

I tried explaining to them that every seat was special, but they knew better than that. So then I said that yes, Sophie had the special seat today, but I’d pull names out of a hat for the special seat every day thereafter.

I asked my Korean co-teacher about the special seat, and why it was so special. The answer was along the lines of:

1. it faces the white board

2. it’s close to the middle of the room

3. Kyle said it was special

Kyle has some issues with competitiveness. Today he held his marbles for 20 minutes beyond the safety point just so that he could win “the letter game.” Good job Kyle. You won…exactly the same thing as the other kids did.

Finally, some more pictures, this from a hike I went on a few weeks ago along the water.

The road to adventure.

A happy little statue.

These are pictures of the town near Seossokak Estuary, a lovely little spot about 5-7 miles east of Seogwipo.

Seogwipo Transplanted to Mars:

(actually that’s not accurate, Mars has a pink sky)

Finally, I stopped at a fun little cafe to reflect:

This blog post is dedicated to Gary Carter, who passed away tragically and meant a lot to the Met fans of a previous generation.

Also, read up Canadians: Gary Carter is the only Hall of Famer for the Montreal Expos, a baseball team that used to play in Canada’s Frenchiest city.



February is Stupid, and Some Pictures

February is a pointless month, nothing of particular interest is going right now.

Or at least, nothing I can really put on this blog.

Anyway, here are some long overdue pictures:

This is a sculpture from a Yamsan station in Seoul. Here’s another:

Look who it is!

Timo LaTour, Kate Corr, and Aaron Dorman at the war museum, demonstrating what war means to us:

Aaron mans the missiles:

Seoul, walking up Namsam:

They like the view too:

Three happy people after a night of skiing and snowboarding:

Two extremely unhappy people and one obviously happy person after an afternoon walking in weather I wasn’t dressed for. At least Kathleen was merely cold, I felt about as miserable as I look.

But at least I took some pretty pictures on top of the mountain:

It’s a sheep in a boot!

It’s a Krazy Korean man making fun candy out of hardened rice dough and honey!

…aaaaaaaaaaand we’re out of hibernation!

January/Early february in 1000 words and pictures:

There’s a turtle loose in my apartment. I thought that the last survivor of my October pet impulse buy was long dead. He hadn’t look well and I buried my shame under a mountain of indifference.

Fast forward to two weeks later, when I finally decided to deal with the tank, and like an amphibian Jesus, my turtle was resurrected from the dead, looking up at me and asking me where the beef was.

This had come at a particularly traumatic moment in my life. I was so excited when I saw he was still alive. I felt like his new lease on life was like my new lease on Jeju, a chance to rejuvenate my spirits and be all that I could be. I was going to be a superior human being, taking chances, taking care of pets like never before, riding a motorcycle, etc etc.

Then I came home later that day and the turtle…was gone. He had disappeared. the bowl that I had left him in earlier that morning was filled with nothing but water and empty dreams. I searched for two hours combing as much of the floor as possible, but he was gone. The turtle had found himself too clever a hiding spot…and also most likely his final resting place.

On the other hand, there’s always the possibility that what I saw that morning was a divine vision, and my holy turtle had ascended to a greater plane of existence during the time I was pretending to teach English.

Either way, I won the ‘contest’ between three other co-workers to see whose turtle could last the longest. Sometimes it pays to buy in bulk!

In spite of irregular sleeping and eating schedules (fuck you, January. winter sucks), I still managed to lead a busy and semi-productive life, or least spent money as if I did. I made a second trip to Seoul (more on that later), played a bunch of frisbee, went on lots of walks, discovered more places in Seogwipo where I could get western-imitation food (NOT as easy task), observed the final weekends of some soon-to-be ex-expats up north in Jeju city, bought a new jacket (which nobody likes, even me because it doesn’t keep me warm), paid a pointless tax an a very important package, shaved a beard, grew it back, and even stole a magazine from Tom and Tom’s Coffee (shhhhh).

I also almost went to a Fire Festival…until I accidentally took a nap from 4 in the afternoon to 9 at night. Whoops!

Back at school, I’m starting to appreciate both the ease of my work and the plight of these poor kids, who have to sit through hours of mostly pointless education. But more importantly, I’m becoming much better at dealing with them and becoming, if not a role model, then at least someone better equipped to make their lives less miserable than they already are.

More then ever, my teaching ability and class management skills are directly related to the amount of coffee I’ve had that day, which isn’t really such a bad thing, since I can afford it and coffee readily available, in many different forms, all around the school.

When caffeinated, the sounds that students make irritate me less, and in fact, instead of getting frustrated, I can stay calm and quietly and casually deal with focusing a class so that I can actually teach them a lesson. Last week on a speaking quiz one of my classes did something along the lines of 95, 90, 95, 100, 100, 80, 90, 95 or something like. I’m kind of pulling those numbers out of my ass but not really. I was very proud of them, and it wasn’t really an easy lesson, either. Ordinal numbers are sometimes a hard concept to convey, but they had no issues with understanding that 12th is randomly spelled with an “f” and that there’s no “e” in 9th, among other things (it took FOREVER for a class a few months ago to get these finer points).

My students have rewarded my efforts at teaching by giving me a new ethnic identity every day. I was Mexican. Then I was Indian. Actually I think I was both Mexican and Indian at the same time, which is pretty cool. The culinary possibilities behind that mixed-ethnicity is definitely enticing.

I was also Italian (another class has apparently dubbed me “super mario”). But the most accurate description of me, as far as I’m willing to interpret it, is that I have a “black face.”

Which explains a lot. Why my boss thinks I have a bad reputation. Why Harold was the only person who thought my jokes were funny a few weeks ago. Why I listen to Cher when I go jogging.

Anyway, this bodes very well for my future. There no non-famous, untalented black Jews. Sammy Davis Jr? Rod Carew? I am in GREAT company.

It is a bit strange that over two weeks you can get compared to Super Mario, Harry Potter, AND a black man (I was not identified with any black celebrity. Considering, including me, there are about 4 African-Americans on the island, ALL of “us” are kind of celebrities to them).  I wonder if my students were trying to make a statement about living in a post racial society. Like, I might not outwardly appear to be a African-American, but that the color of my skin is no longer important, it’s how I FEEL about myself on the inside.

Maybe my students are trying to tell me that I don’t have to qualify by “superficial” standards to identify with any minority community.

I think the only continent I might have not covered yet is South America. So this month, my goal is to aspire to BE Brazilian. Or something. Somehow I doubt any of my students will peg me as a Colombian drug lord. But some of these kids are pretty smart and well-learned. I shouldn’t doubt them.

I’m currently reading “Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail” by Hunter Thompson. So far he’s spent 100+ pages whining about pussyfooting Democrats and the lack of alternatives to a fairly rigid 2-party system that doesn’t really offer much of a choice.

Thank god that’s not how America works any more! I’m glad I can’t relate to his feelings of disenfranchisement………………

……….because I’m here on Jeju! America can’t touch me! I could read the newspaper on my kindle and I might as well be reading JRR Tolkien (but without the stupid songs) for all the impact it will have on my current life.

Newt Gingrich? Mitt Romney? Ron Paul? Ron Weasley? Winnie the Pooh? It doesn’t matter to me!

The Korean won is going down relative to the dollar? Who cares, I’m not saving any money anyway!

And so on.

Later this week I’ll do a January photo dump. My recent life in pictures.

Spoiler Alert: that picture of me screaming on the mountain is a candid shot. It was really really fucking cold up there.