Friday, March 30, 2007

In which I upload the pictures on my camera

Spring has arrived, the winter clothes are sitting in a pile near the door because I can't find a box and don't want to mess with the pile of suitcases in our one closet...In honor of the idea of spring cleaning I'm finally uploading some pictures.First, here's the kind of homework the kids do in first grade here:

I took this shot because I was telling people how the main difference I saw in preschool here and in the U.S. was much more emphasis on developing muscles for writing here. When Aiden entered preschool they did a lot of tracing, cutting out shapes, etc. -- and told me his arm muscles were much weaker than the other kids (which I have no doubt is true, even now, because he doesn't like to draw).

Now these are pictures of Yellow Dust: on the car and in the sky. The sky was really hazy for the last few days, and you could see the dust on the cars. I had pretty bad headaches for those few days too, not sure if that was related to the dust. Many people wore masks.

Here's another shot of the river near where we live, and the hazy sky above it.

The next shot is of the chickens, rabbits, and guinea fowl they keep at Aiden's school. It didn't come out very well.

Then a shot of the school itself.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

The Bunco Party

Well, I've been trying to write something about the bunco party I attended -- whoa-- almost 2 months ago. As some of you who read multiple Korea blogs, I met fellow blogger Sandra there. Browsing through the blogs written by people attending bunco parties, it seems that these all start with a disclaimer along the lines of "I thought these parties were for losers but went and had fun!" I wanted to write about isolation and its countermeasures, about the ways in which people hold the world together through little acts. So I went through a bunch of drafts in essay form and it was... shitty. I happened to be reading Mrs. Dalloway at the same time, and somehow this turned into fiction. So here's my disclaimer: this is my first piece of fiction, and all the characters are at least partially made up, or they are amalgams of several people. I'd appreciate any feedback! The Bunco Party

And THANKS to Becky, Nicki, Sandra, and Emily for their comments and help with this!

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Korean dramas and titles

We've been here almost four years now and I'm finally getting into one of those dramas. I usually only watch them with my mother-in-law because I can't stand those 김하늘 같은 징그러운 여자들... those women who simper and act frail and weak. Can't. stand. them. But my Chinese teacher is obsessed with the drama 외과선생님봉달희 (Surgeon Bong Dar Hee). It is sort of an ER type drama about doctors and various love triangles and complications. It has some moments which drive me a little crazy, like when one husband and wife unite the husband takes his wife back by talking about the things he wants to eat... I guess I'm conditioned by American TV and film to expect passionate embraces and falling into bed. At least some kissing! Come on! Anyway, I've only been watching for a few weeks. But the scene I just watched was hysterical; the main characters finally went out on a date (to the movies) but in them middle of the movie they are all paged back to the hospital. Leaving the theater they run into two residents who are also dating. Then the resident couple make the female of the main couple buy their silence through coffee, beer, and a lot of food. It is a very funny scene. I am not doing it justice here.

This is just the last in a line of things that make people exclaim (including myself) "You are becoming Korean!" I didn't used to like naengmyun, for instance. Now I still don't like mul naengmyun, but I like bibimnaengmyun. Another time I was asking the principal of FYKO about a new English teacher and caught myself asking, "How old is she? Is she married?"

Labels interest me. Sometime last year KC called me "fluent." I was surprised. I imagine fluency as ease and complete understanding somehow. I still have problems with certain kinds of language, and still have a lot to learn. But I get around just fine and can pick up on most nuance. I share Corey's discomfort with the label "bilingual" or "fluent." But I hold onto it as well; I'm proud of how much I have learned, as an adult, in a language that is so different from English.

The label "writer" is also one I have encountered recently. I don't feel that I can really inhabit that label, since I know zilch about writing, and as of yet no one has been willing to actually pay me to write anything, but I do spend most of my free time writing. The other day my friend Emily tacked on a "I shouldn't tell you this because it might end up in one of your essays" and I thought, hmmm... that actually makes me feel like a writer!

I enrolled in an online writing course given by my alma mater. I'm excited but a little nervous about that.

OK, another reason I don't watch these dramas is that someone always dies. In this case I'm worried the main female character is going to die. She has heart trouble... uh oh.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

toilet humor

Aiden has reached the age at which he delights in the word “fart.” I remember boys being like that when I was young, playing pull-my-finger in the bus. Max does whatever his brother does, so our day is full of conversations like this:
me: What did you do in school today?
A: Fart. [dissolves into giggles]
me: What’s the name of the girl you sit with? [in Korea, kids are paired with a partner (짝) in school, usually of the opposite sex.]
A: Her name is “Fart.” [more giggling. very pleased with himself]
Max: [singing] Do you know the farting man, the farting man, the farting man? Do you know the farting man who lives on drury lane?
I give up. Right now I’d settle for him recognizing that at certain times the fart talk is not appropriate. Like in front of guests, or to his grandparents. But he’s so taken by the word that he loses sight of everything else in his pleasure of being provocative. Choose your battles, right?

Max is pretty much toilet trained now. He hasn’t had an accident in a while, though he still wears a diaper to sleep. This has something to do with the use of M&Ms as bribery -- I mean reward -- and a lot to do with the persistence of his teachers at school. I can’t say enough about how much I love the school he goes to, FYKO. It is a bilingual school, a bit pricey, but I get a discount for teaching there and it is really worth every penny. I can’t imagine teachers in the U.S. teaching kids to potty train the way they have here, dealing with all the messy accidents (I used to have to send him to school with a bag full of extra clothes, and he’d still come back home wearing someone else’s pink socks.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Moving on

I have been a negligent blogger lately. Some scattered things I meant to write about:

Seoul Man, who took the Korea-blogging world by storm last year, is leaving Korea. That’s the problem with being an ex-pat -- people are always leaving. You finally meet someone, you invest in a relationship, and a year later they move on, hopefully to some exotic location so you can plan to visit them. Last year saw the departure of at least 3 friends; this year will see a few more. In some ways I think that ex-pat friendships can become very strong very fast because there’s a sense of being in a special situation that not many people can relate too. But sometimes I think these friendships never get past the acquaintance stage because you know the person (or yourself) isn’t going to be around very long.

So Aiden is in elementary school now. We’ve spent the last two weeks or so preparing. We had to get all his school stuff (backpack, new indoor shoes, new outdoor shoes which are -- holey moley -- the same size as my mother-in-law’s shoes, a desk, crayons, etc.) We had to clean out a room for him to use to study, which took a REALLY long time, and now our “office” is full of discarded toys that I need to donate. But his room is really nice now. He doesn’t sleep in there, just studies. I knew all this was coming, and I knew it would be busy and tedious, but I had trouble getting up the motivation to do all of it. It is March! I can’t get used to associating March with the start of school. It is funny how the seasons trigger such strong memories and associations. No matter where I am or how old I am, the fall reminds me of starting school, makes me want to go out and buy new notebooks, and run in the crisp fall weather (memories of running cross country). With great difficulty and much avoidance and griping we managed to get Aiden set to go to school.

People have been telling me, with a slightly maniacal gleam of the eye, that once your kid goes to elementary school life becomes really difficult and busy for the mom. Moms are expected to help out a lot at the school, cleaning the classroom or serving meals or standing on the street making sure the kids don’t get run over. They also have to run around preparing all the things the kid needs for school each day. Some teachers discriminate based on how much the mom helps or how much money the mom has given the teacher, so there’s a great deal of anxiety about finding out which teacher your kid is assigned to. Plus, so much of future social life depends upon the kids in the class -- elementary school kids bond here in a way that doesn’t happen much in the States. KC still regularly meets his elementary school friends, they have reunions and stuff. Aiden’s friend’s mom (Carol) and I requested that our kids be in the same class, which usually they won’t do, but we argued that because I’m a foreigner and unfamiliar with the school system I would need someone to show me the ropes so that Aiden wouldn’t be a burden on the teacher. They granted our request, and now our kids are in grade 1 class 4 together, with a 50-something female teacher who has a reputation for military-style teaching, low tolerance for troublemakers, and discrimination based on how much the moms help (but not based on money, that’s good). The parents got scolded twice already -- first for hovering around the classroom windows and distracting the kids on the first few days, then for not having sent all the necessary materials on the second day. But watching her talk to the kids, so far I have to say that she seems like a good teacher. She is authoritative and firm but not mean, and the kids seem to like her. She’s one of those very solid looking women you don’t want to mess with -- no lace and coy smiles from her. She wears practical shoes, not heels, and she has a commanding gaze. When the kids came unprepared, she didn’t scold them, she scolded us. That’s fair. It explains why Carol called me in a panic the second morning and warned me: “Don’t forget this and this and this! OK see you later!” Teachers are taken seriously here.

Another strange thing about school here is the graduated start. The first day of school only lasted an hour or so. The second day (which was a Saturday -- another strange thing is that they go to school 2-3 Saturdays a month) was also only an hour (10am to 11am). The next three weeks they only go from 9am to 11am, then after that they finish at noon. So first grade here starts off pretty easy, to let the kids get used to it, I guess. Nevermind that most of these kids have been in school for 3 or more years. Max, for instance, now goes every day even though he’s not quite 3, and his day lasts from 9:30 to 2:20 -- far longer than Aiden. I feel hesitant and ambivalent about sending him so long at such a young age. So far he’s doing well and seems to really like it, and frankly, I enjoy having some time to myself each day, catching up on all my crap.

People move on, kids grow up. Lately Max has been really into playing with Daddy. He walks around the apartment with a toy gun tucked into his pants (and often falling into his pants, since the gun as almost as big as he is) and a blanket tied around his neck (his cape), saying “Daddy! Let’s sword fight!” But then a few minutes later the gun will fall into his pants again and he’ll cry, because he’s still that touchy kid who loses it sometimes. Then will retreat together to cuddle in the bed, him nursing and holding onto me with his chubby finger. He’s still my baby, though if I call him that he corrects me: “No Mommy, I’m a BIG BOY.”

In medias res

I know, I've been a terrible blogger lately. The kids were on vacation and then Aiden started elementary school. I hit a patch of exhaustion. But they will both be gone for a few hours today so I will post some more. Until then, here is "In medias res."