Travel Vicariously through the Fitzgerald's

We are happy to provide our experiences as a stay-cation for you! If you have any questions feel free to ask. We have a lot to learn and lots to see!


Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Got a Routine

Hello all!

I haven't written in a while for 2 reasons: #1- we have gotten into a very unexciting routine #2 - we don't want to bore you.

I feel though that we should check in with our audience to let you know we are still here, happy and healthy, but no excitement at this time.

It has been raining a lot. There is a typhoon at the southern edge of Korea but it should dissipate by Friday. School is going well. I have spent a lot of time in the elementary building lately. Stacy is staying busy with his classes. He has LOTS of grading to do and I have been helping him with his power point presentations.

Most days consist of getting up before the sun, getting ready and out the door by 7:05. Visit with our KIS neighbors while waiting for the bus. Days can be long or short depending on what is going on. Lately we have been staying until 5:20 because of meetings, after school activities, or to just catch up. We arrive home 5:30 and then the domestic goddess comes out in me. I cook, do laundry, help with homework, wash dishes, etc. Stacy continues working or plays with Ethan. Ethan is in bed by 8:00 which is early enough to give Stacy and I time to catch up on our days.

Next week Ethan starts after school swimming lessons and Stacy and I begin Korean lessons. We are going to be very busy but hopefully by next summer when we visit we will be able to speak Korean!

This week is Curriculum Night for all the different grade levels. Tuesday night was elementary so I went to see what Ethan was going to be learning this year. He is going to learn a lot it looks like. He has a great teacher, Mrs. Carscadden. I met several of his classmates' parents. There are only 10 students in his class. What a small class!

All the women/mothers in the Gungnea-dong neighborhood scheduled a ladies night out last Saturday. Susan, Kristin, Kris and myself were going early and meeting up with Melanie and Jen later. The four of us met at the local bus stop and jumped on the 5500 to Itaewon. The bus was full so we had to stand. Normally that wouldn't be a problem for a 20 minute bus ride but considering the bus driver guns it until he absolutely has to stop in which case it feels like he breaks hard, it made ME car sick. I was sick and the girls are asking me if I want to get closer to the door. I was focusing on NOT vomiting all over the other passengers. The moment the door opened and I got off...I let it go. Once that was over with,  we moved on to hailing a taxi. 3 were stolen from us but the 4th one Susan fought for. Well, she walked over and jumped in the front seat while another guy who clearly saw us standing there waiving down taxis was trying to get in the back seat. Yeah Susan for being brave!

Kris Feller, who is our go to person for everything, was our "tour guide."  She got in the front seat of the taxi and told the driver "Hamilton Hotel" because it is the nearest recognizeable place to where we actually wanted to go. I think the driver and Kris repeated themselves 4 times and finally the driver started driving. He seemed confused but probably got the gist. We were less than a block from Hamilton Hotel when we decided to get out and walk the rest of the way since traffic was kind of tight. Kris tells the driver, "here is okay. We'll get out." He looked up and pointed to Hamilton Hotel. We ended up just all getting out instead of arguing with him. Kris handed him the fare and left him confused. Poor guy...

We made appointments at a place called The Green Turtle Spa. The choices were manicure, pedicure, half hour massage, full hour massage, waxing and hair except for the hair was booked. I can't say that the mani/pedi was better or cheaper here but I needed one really bad so it was fine. No massage during the mani/pedi. No foo-foo treatments. Just cut, buff, soak, nail color. For the combination I paid 55,000.  Next time I am getting the one hour massage. I heard it is amazing!!!!

After spa time, we did a little shopping. Itaewon is the most international place in Korea or close enough. Just looking around you see more Americans here than anywhere else. Stacy needed basketball shoes in a size 12. In Korean sizes he would have needed a 29.5. Everywhere we looked in our area they carry up to size 29.0 but many didn't even have that size in stock. Found him some at the Nike store. They were very snazzy!  This is definitely the place to do some good shopping. The next time we go back I'm going to pick up some souvenirs.  We went to an English bookstore called "What the Book?" where I purchased The Calligrapher's Daughter for book club.

We entered this grocery store that was mainly Indian food but I found some staple items that I thought I would never find in Korea and it wasn't too expensive either. I purchased worcerstershire sauce, cumin powder (product of Karachi), what I believe to be pinto beans, and trident gum. Will I ever find this place again? I don't know but I took a picture of the front and plan to print it out the next time I come to Itaewon and show the taxi driver. We'll see if that works. :)

We walked back to the bus stop and hopped on for the return journey at like 11:30. I didn't realize that we were going to be gone from 2pm to midnight. It was a great night though with girl time. Ethan and Stacy were asleep when I got home. I think I failed to mention that it was raining off and on while we were out. Well I had a nice paper Nike bag with Stacy's shoes and my new book, my LV purse, and my groceries. This whole time the shoe bag was getting wet, not soaked but just lightly sprayed. Walking up the hill with these bags to my apartment, I feel the bag shifting. I am literally 20 feet from my apartment entrance when the bag gives and everything hits the WET ground. I juggled the umbrella, grocery bag, purse in one hand while I am trying to pick up the stuff on the ground before it gets too wet. I was happy to make it inside with very little damage to our new stuff.

Sunday, it rained ALL DAY LONG! We stayed in, cleaned house, worked on some stuff, and by dinner time we were ready to get out of the house. Luckily the rain took a break long enough for us to hop the bus, get dinner and return home. That was one of the first times fast food was FAST. Hahaha! I love this place!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Subbing in the 1st grade

"Teacher...this. Teacher...that!"  Fitz is kind of hard to pronounce I guess.

A faculty child was sick with high fever since last Thursday and it was the mom's turn to stay home with her daughter. I was called on to cover Monday and quite possibly Tuesday. I received the message late Sunday night so I didn't have a lot of time to prepare Monday morning. Considering every teacher has a different routine, I was not the least bit prepared to teach first graders. Although I live with one, having 15 of them in one room is quite the eye-opener.

First they come in with these confused looks on their faces asking "Where is Mrs. Randall?" I answered each and every child as they asked. They looked so sad to be missing their teacher. That first day was a whirl wind but we got through it and the students were somewhat used to their routine so they filled in the gaps. I was very impressed with the reading level of these students. I would say they are at a second to third grade level overall. Some were at a fifth grade reading level. Writing and math was the same. They don't have the experiences to go with this but nonetheless, their knowledge and quickness was impressive. All the students love to draw. Boys are obsessed with Pokemon. Almost all of the students have great drawing skills.

Lunch was wild! I did get to eat with Ethan though. Ethan also ate half of my lunch because it was SO good! Pork cutlets breaded and fried covered with some kind of brown gravy over white rice.

I enjoyed the experience and now have a better idea of what goes on in Ethan's classroom. I didn't sub for his class but I was in his hallway. He stopped to say hi several times. We had a talk about that too. He was so proud to have his mom there and all of his friends call me "Ethan's mom." I love it!!

The few things about Korean children who attend our school are:
1. many are very spoiled, to the point that their drivers carry their school bags and walk them into school. Many don't know how to tie their shoes because they have people to do this for them.

2. They are under LOTS of pressure to perform academically which means sometimes they make bad choices.

3. Some students have parents that are VPs, CEOs, and Presidents of major companies. Their fathers may talk down to their employees and so the students believe it is acceptable to talk down to teachers sometimes. It doesn't happen often but it does happen more often to the Korean staff.

Overall, we have great students who are vibrant, creative, and enthusiastic about all things they do. We feel very fortunate to be able to send Ethan to such an amazing school.

E-mart, Pancakes, and Haircuts...oh, my!!

Thank goodness for sleeping in on Saturday mornings. It was a slow morning. Wake up at 8:30. Get ready. Make it to the grocery store by 10. Koreans don't usually get around until noon because they are night owls. Plus if you try to go shopping after noon, it will likely take you twice as long. E-mart is becoming a more enjoyable shopping experience now that we are familiar with its layout and products.

The one unfortunate event of the day...Stacy left his OU hat on the bus that dropped us at Emart. :( Good thing he had MINE as backup.

Remember back in the first week of us living here we purchased a rice cooker because it is like a staple here in Korea??? Well, nearly a month later, I finally used it! I must be super intelligent because all I had was a Korean manual and the internet. Good news is my research paid off. I made perfectly delicious sticky rice to go with our baked teriyaki chicken and teriyaki vegetables.

Sunday is a whole 'nother story! We had planned to eat breakfast at a new place with Caitlin, our new friend. As I mentioned before, we spend a lot of time waiting on the bus. This day was no different and we have a schedule which we were going by. Meeting time was 11am...arrival time was 11:30. We met Caitlin at her 30 floor apartment building "Paragon" in downtown. She lead us to Butterfinger Pancakes, the Paragon secret! They had a feel good breakfast with all of our favorites.  Granted we spent 50,000 won on breakfast, it was money well spent. Our drinks were 15,000 won together. We'll be smarter about ordering the next time we go there. We ordered pancakes, eggs sunny-side-up, potatoes, french toast, bacon, sausage, chocolate milk and I posted pictures on the shutterfly site. I am so glad she shared this secret with us.

Ethan took his first subway ride from Jeong-ja where we had breakfast to Sunea which is where Stacy and Ethan were going to get their hair cut. He thought it was AW-some!!! Now, he wants to ride the subway all the time even when it's impossible. Silly boy!

We had to go to Seohyeon (another district) for a haircut place that we spotted on our way to Bier Gartien Friday night. It had a sign that said cuts were 7,000 won but we paid a couple bucks more. The barber was wicked! He was so artistic and musical about his movements. I liked his work. We'll be going back.

Before heading home, we decided to explore the area a bit more and just walk around. We ran into another grocery store called Lotte Mart where I found the off-brand Nutella!!! Breakfast just got better. ;) lol

Time is already flying by!!

It has been nearly a week since I have enjoyed the company of my blog. Life continues as normally as before thankfully!

Last Thursday was uneventful. No subbing for me. Stacy did his thing and Ethan had another wonderful day.

Friday was a great end to our week. Ethan received a Phoenix Point for being helpful. I should explain the reason behind Phoenix points. Do you remember Harry Potter? Hogwarts had house teams. KIS has house teams which are the four elements: earth, wind, water, fire. Students are assigned to house teams from their first year and they continue in the same team until they reach high school. HS does not participate in house teams. Each year the house team with the most points receives a special prize. The points can be awarded for anything. Ethan received his for volunteering to throw trash away when another student told the teacher "in a minute." I am such a proud momma!

Happy hour this week was at a place called Gartien Bier but everyone called it Bier Gartien. It is most famous for its tables with beer bottle cooler holes in the tables and for its cheap beer that comes in 3 foot cylinders.  Ethan was at the babysitters. His new favorite babysitter who is a student/friend of ours. He loves her! Since I am such a light weight when it comes to alcohol, we decided to eat first. Transportation to happy hour was not provided so we had to take a bus. The bar was at AK Plaza  and it was hilarious because we are walking through this mall full of Korean people and suddenly we hear something to the effect of "eight and a half years..." Having been in Korea for almost a month, you get to a point where you second guess yourself when you hear English. Did I hear that or is it my imagination? Stacy is the one who heard this. He looked at me and then starts looking behind him. It was like 6 guys from KIS walking right behind us. We tagged along with them after we heard they were going to eat at DOS TACOS. We had heard a lot about this hole in the wall. It was one of those holes in the wall that were really good. It had a sign that read "Best Burritos." Compared to Texas food, no it was not fabulous but considering there is less than 1% of Mexican eateries in the was pretty darn scrumptious! This might be my next calling - "Antonio's Mexican Restaurant in Seoul, South Korea" I think it might work!

We were at Dos Tacos for like an hour and a half....8 of us walked in and ordered + small kitchen = 20 minute wait and plates came out one by one. We did eventually make it to Bier Gartien. It was a fabulous bar full of Americans. I felt right at home. Stacy and I had a great time and tried not to spend too much. After feeling like we had hung out long enough, we went to the bus stop. Probably the worst thing about using public transportation is waiting. We got tired of waiting. I flagged down a taxi thinking I had put the card with our address in my wallet. Turns out it was the card with the schools address. We get in the taxi and I say in my English accented Korean "Gungne-dong" then the driver says what I think is the same thing but pronounced CORRECTLY. I reply "ne" which is yes. I think we do this like 5 or 6 times and each time it sounds like he says it differently. I pull out the business card and hand it to him. He really must have thought we were lost because the address to the school is not the same neighborhood as what I was telling him. He drove us to the address on the card anyway. So, I thought, "eh, it's close enough. If the taxi can just get us to that side of town we can get home from there." Stacy and I learned 3 new words in the last week which helped us get home without having to walk. As we near the school, Stacy blurts out "jick-jin" which is straight. I am thinking, "really Stacy. You are going to try to direct this driver on how to get to our apartment?" Yep! Needless to say, we know how to say left and right but we don't have the Korean accent down yet. The taxi driver was making fun of us and correcting our Korean humorously. He was nice...I love Korean people who have the patience to put up with us foreigners. :)

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

First official week of school

I have officially completed my first day of subbing. I enjoyed being a fifth grade teacher today! The kids were fantastic and rather mature for 5th graders. I made a little red-headed friend named Rachel today too. She was a spunky girl. I got a "curse you Mrs. Fitzgerald for giving us homework!" said in a joking manner. That's what I assumed it was as I was just the messanger. :) We worked on madlibs as an assignment. They took a test. Finished up the day with creating a madlib from scratch. They loved it!

I ate lunch with Ethan!! yeah! He enjoyed it just as much as I did. Have to enjoy moments like this as I am sure they will not last forever.

A word problem we started the day off with was...there are 12 people in a room. 6 people have socks on. 4 people have shoes on. 3 people have both on. How many people are barefoot? Can you figure it out? I had several 5th graders get it and one decided to use a venn diagram.

Today also happened to be Korea International School's 10 year anniversary. The celebration began in the Performing Arts Center  and then was followed by dinner and refreshments in the conference center. Many Korean leaders and dignitaries attended. The school gave gifts for attending. Nicely imprinted towels.  They are in the washer already!

Wednesday was a good day as well. I worked textbooks again but this time I took my laptop and the scanner to each classroom. This was a better way of doing it since it took minimal time and didn't take away as much instructional time. Tommy Toms showed me how to walk from school to the bank. Got back in time to eat lunch. Finished out my day by running errands at school.

I attended my first Social Committee meeting Wednesday also! It is so exciting and invigorating knowing that everyone in my school enjoys hanging out with one another even though we work with one another daily.  I am now apart of the Who's Who and I am in charge of social calendars. The school has SO MUCH for you to choose from that you could do something almost every single day. You actually have to give yourself a day off from activities. It is awesome to have so many choices!  Did you know that in our WASC (Western Association of Schools and Colleges) report our school received praise for our social involvement. It is an official requirement almost!

September 3rd, Stacy and I will be taking Ethan to JUMP!
Jump tells the story of an idiosyncratic Korean family under the rule of a strict grandfather who insists on keeping up the physical fitness of all family members through vigorous martial arts training. While the daily drills alone leave the audience awestruck, the performance comes to a climax when two stupid thieves break into the house and confront three generations of kung-fu masters, inspiring a series of farcical scenes...

The show was a sell-out in London's West End this February following its success as the Edinburgh Fringe box office No. 1 hit in 2005. A splendid blend of championship-level martial arts such as Tae Kwon Do, acrobatic and gymnastic skills, slick choreography and situation comedy.

We are still going 90 to nothin'. Our next school vacation is September 17 for Chusok. Check out the link to read more about it.  We plan to explore Seoul in its entirety.

The last BIG NEWS is our shipment is finally being delivered! We no longer have to wear the same 3 outfits over and over. Ethan will finally have his toys and our house will look and feel like home. It's going to be a super busy weekend but we'll finally be settled.

***Word problem answer: 5 people had barefeet*** If you need an explanation just ask! I got lots of practice. :)

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Day 21 & 22 - Korean BBQ & The never ending bus ride

Korean Barbeque
When your school day ends at 2:45 and begins at 8, it flies by. Well, since I am not in the classroom, it flies by for me but, maybe Stacy doesn't feel that way. Oh, wait, he agrees. :) After a brief meeting with his teacher, I dropped Ethan off with Mr. Feller so he and Elka could play. I went to play volleyball while Stacy finished up his work. We met up with the Fellers around 5pm because they were taking us to eat Korean barbeque for the first time. 

We all piled in their car. Per Korean law, only those sitting in the front seat must wear a seat belt so Kris and I and the kids all sat in the back seat. The restaurant was on the second floor of the building near my dentist's office.

There were 2 places to sit. One area was for the more traditional Koreans where you sit on the floor at this 2 foot high table and the other area is what we are more used to. We chose the standard table and chairs while Ethan and Elka chose the traditional floor seating. Because the menu was in Korean, Kris had someone write down our order at school so we just had to show the waitress. They brought a cart full of food. There was soup, salad, dipping sauces, garlic slivers, onions, squash, lettuce leaves, sesame leaves, mushrooms, jalapeno peppers, kimchi, egg souffle, pickled vegetable of some sort and then there was the pork. It was a very fatty piece of pork. It looked like a super thick piece of bacon.

So the waitress comes to your table with this cart and just starts laying it out. Remember, in Korea everyone shares the food and you don't get your own plate. Then she unwraps the foil that the meat comes in and starts cutting it into pieces with scissors right onto the grill.  She makes room for the veggies on the grill. This is all taking place in the middle of the table where the grill is located. You then take a leaf, with your metal chopsticks pick up a piece of meat, dip it into either the chili paste or into the sesame oil, stick it on your lettuce leaf,  add some veggies to your leaf, then wrap it up and eat it. These can be large bites but small pieces of meat.

It was a neat experience. I think I enjoyed most of the side dishes more than Stacy because their were lots of onions. He enjoyed the meat. Ethan didn't like any of it. He'll learn to like it, I'm pretty confident about that. Elka wasn't crazy about it either. And this is why we went to McDonald's afterwards. The kids got something to eat...and so did the parents, just as a filler. We were on a mission, a food mission. We went for dessert at Baskin Robbins because they have a fondue set. They give you about a dozen pieces of fruit and cake and a dozen or so mini scoops of ice cream. In the center they provide you with a bowl of chocolate for dipping. Okay after all of this, they didn't have it at this location. I was severely bummed.  I decided to try their new Waffle Berry Flinn. It was delicious blueberry ice cream in  a waffle cone.

The never ending bus ride
Saturday we woke up to an overcast sky. Within an hour, the sky turned dark and it started pouring. Apparently we are getting the outerskirts of a typhoon. We were going to go grocery shopping but put it off for a bit. I think it was like 2 in the afternoon when we finally caught the bus. We took the bus to E-mart but what we didn't know is that we had to go into Shinsegea Mall to the bottom level to get to E-mart. So we did some window shopping.  Again super expensive though. Ethan said he was hungry and then I started to get hungry so we went to E-marts food court where we bought sushi from a conveyer belt. You sit down at the counter and pull what you want from the conveyer belt. Then you stack your plates and pay when you are done. We went grocery shopping afterwards. Ate a little more while we were shopping because the store has so much tasty food.

After paying, we head back to our bus stop but didn't stop to look for the stop going the opposite direction. The 390 comes our way so we get on and ride it for about an hour. The driver stops at the end of his route and turns the bus off. He asks us where we need to go. Don't know how we understood that either. After speaking to each other without much communication we figure out that he is taking a 10 minute break and will continue at 7. After a 2 hour bus ride, 2 tunnels, and a sense of deja vu, we finally make it home. It was an exhausting trip but we learned from it. We also got to see other neighborhoods and stores. It was a good experience. You learn through trial and error.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Day 21 - Busy, Busy, Busy

We are on day 2 of school and it feels like a week. Today was textbook distribution day and I got to help. I finally figured out where to take Ethan first thing in the morning. Lucky little turd gets to take the elevator when he is with me. So after kind of a hectic morning, I grabbed some hot chocolate and a bagle from the morning deli and went back to my room. I was called over to help in the textbook room. I spent the whole day there. I met a lot of kids. Gave several a hard time. :) We had 2 lines going...kind of a drive through window if you will. I was the fastest of the 2. The students were very polite. Names are going to be hard for me so Stacy will definitely have problems. The students are already laughing at him because he's butchering their names. We finally put money on our meal cards so we were able to eat in the cafeteria today.

I am amazed at how many students have cell phones in the elementary level. First graders walking around in the morning and after school on their cell phones. I mean really!! Oh, and many students have DRIVERS! No, I'm not talking golf clubs. Actual drivers like that are paid to chauffeur.  It is even in the handbook. Please parents, guardians, and drivers, drop your children off in the B3 parking garage.

The high school groups still act like teenagers but they actually hurry to class instead of hang out in the hall ways. They all take notes and complete assignments in class. One of my colleagues who teaches grade 3 said she had a student show up with his math workbook completed. His parents purchased the math text book and workbook over the summer and he attended a hagwon (refer to previous blog) where he completed all the lessons. She met with her principal to discuss and he said that this happens a lot. Even though she is teaching grade 3, most students will need more challenging work geared for grade 4.

Stacy was stoked today when he taught his first lesson. They understood the lesson, took notes, were attentive the entire time, and all of them completed their homework that is not due until Monday. They all did great work and he was able to grade them and enter the grades before we left school. Are you exhausted yet because I am!

Since I did textbook duty today, I am severely exhausted from being on my feet all day. I get to do it again tomorrow too. The first issue of The Phoenix Flyer is prepared and ready for publication. You should Google it middle of next week. No need for me to sub just yet but I have had a couple close calls.

The Fellers and us have decided to take turns watching Ethan and Elka after school so we can get work done or have some after school fun time. Today I watched the kids on the playground. It was hilarious watching them work through their differences. They are both talking loudly and argumentatively at one another on the playground that exists between 2 school buildings. The business director must have heard them because he opened his window and watched them from above. I yelled at them to not be so loud because they were disrupting others. Within 10 minutes they were playing "nicely." Kids need to learn to work through differences without adult intervention, right?

We have a family date with the Fellers Friday afterschool to eat Korean bbq downtown. Of course I will be taking my camera and sharing it all with you.  :)

This is completely off topic but, the water is really good. Seoul received an award for the best water system in the world and they are currently working on making it taste better. The Fitzgerald's don't know why though because it has no taste.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Day 18 - New Student Orientation & No bus

One umbrella, three people, no bus and rain equals a bad start to the day. All the neighborhood families are huddled together under the few umbrellas present waiting for the bus to arrive. Ten minutes after the scheduled time and no bus. Everyone else decides to start walking since it's only 10 minutes away walking briskly. We walked back to the apartment to phone the school. By the time we make it there, it is pouring down rain. The other families were soaked!

We call the school and are told that the bus schedule changed this morning. It picked up at 7:15. Didn't get that message! OUR email said that it would start Wednesday, not Tuesday. The school calls back. Nope, it came at 8:10. Every one of the families must have missed it. The bus NEVER came. They tell us we will likely have to get a taxi and she was going to see about getting us one and call us back. Stacy calls his boss who says "I'll see what I can do." Within 2 minutes we receive a call saying the bus is on its way. Stacy says, we'll walk down to the stop.

Off we go using the smallest umbrella (because we misplaced our 2 large umbrellas at the school) and all 3 of us, dressed in our Sunday best minus Ethan, huddled under one umbrella. I'm sure we were a sight. Even though I didn't spend a lot of time on my hair this morning, the bit I did was wasted. We get to our stop and within 5 minutes we had 3 KIS vehicles come from 3 different directions. I guess they realized that they missed our neighborhood and were sending vehicles to all the apartments in our neighborhood to pick up any strays.

We were in such a rush to get to school that we left Ethan's bag on the bus. We had no time for breakfast and got to his orientation right at 9am.  I didn't realize we had misplaced his bag until lunch time because we packed Ethan a sandwich. He's still getting to know Korean food. We didn't end up finding his bag until close to 3pm. We did meet his teacher and the good news is Ethan will be going to first grade instead of kindergarten. We had originally signed him up for kindergarten because we thought it would be beneficial for him to begin at the earliest grade at KIS. After considering the pros and cons, it just made sense to keep him on track. So Ethan will have Ms. Nam this year. He was so excited exploring his new classroom that he didn't want to leave it. I must remember to take my camera tomorrow for a new photo of first day of school. Don't worry, I already told Stacy that I'm going to come by and take a picture of him and his new students too.

So it is time for me to hit the sack because we must rise and shine early tomorrow morning. Hello new school year!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Day 17 - The neighborhood cookout

Sundays are good days. We got to sleep in. Made pancakes. Cleaned house a little. We didn't get out but its because we are broke. Banks aren't open on the weekends here.

The cookout was at 5pm and it was really hot. Within an hour the sun had set enough to still provide light but it had cooled off. The cookout took place in a small fenced area down the street at another apartment complex. The Fellers had a charcoal grill and each family brought food to grill. The kids played. The adults visited. We met more families that we had not met yet.

Almost everyone has lived in other places prior to Korea so they are fountains of information. Mark and Kristen, who are new to KIS but not new to international teaching, recently came from China. Kristen's parents actually were hired by the school that they left in China so they are nearby. 

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Day 16 - Homeplus & the Feller Family

More shopping. You would think I would be excited about more shopping but believe it or not, I'm kind of shopped out. This afternoon we met the Feller family at their apartment down the street. They offered to take us in their car to Homeplus which is the closest and better equivalent to Walmart. It's cheaper shopping, not by much, and has more familiar foods. There's a movie theater on the top floor which is where we plan to take Ethan to watch Toy Story 3. We stopped in at Subway to get a bite to eat. Here we found TURKEY and DR. Pepper!!!! It was delicious! The cans that we are used to in the states cost $2 here. While we were eating, Kris, the wife, stayed with us while Elka and Sean stopped off somewhere else. They showed up with a birthday gift for Ethan. It was the sweetest gesture from a 6 year old. Apparently she had been bugging her parents for this. A little Woody doll from the movie.

Once everyone was done eating we headed down a couple levels to start shopping. Ethan and Elka have a new name...double trouble. They were constantly trying to out do each other. Giving each other not so good ideas but they get along really well.

Stacy and Sean shopped for our grocery list while Kris and I took the kids and looked around. To give you an idea of how much American goods cost here, a small box of Ritz crackers with one sleeve is about $3.50. The store has lots of sampling stations. The kids loved it. Good to go during snack time. We went through the seafood area where the kids wanted to touch the fish, crabs, octupus, and others. The kids were very helpful getting veggies and fruit.

We finished shopping, paid and loaded up so that we could get ice cream at Baskin Robbins. Near BR is a store called I Love Cookie where you can get all kinds of western groceries but they are kind of expensive. I found nutella (7,000 Won) and a small package of corn tortillas (9,000 Won). Stacy and I were excited to find cake mix, sour cream, and American Dr. Pepper. Ethan found a Cars toy that was nearly $50 and in the states it would have been $10. Can't wait to go back and shop sparingly. We get paid Friday!

It was a fun outing and yet again we have more pros to add to our list for a car. Grocery shopping is much easier with a car.

A little info on the Fellers. This is their 4th country. They were in Kazakhstan previously. Their daughter was born in another country so the only life that Elka knows is an international one. It really helps us justify our recent decision.

Day 15 - Friday, dentist, & a good time

Friday felt more routine. Bus at 8:10. Breakfast until 9:00. Meetings through the morning. Korean lunch about noon. Then for me a free afternoon but for Stacy meetings until 3:30.

Since he had meetings, I had to go to the dentist all by myself. I realize that I should be a little more adventurous independently but, my experience today did not encourage me. I was able to get a ride from our counselor, Jonathon Webster, to the dentist's office. He is a fountain of knowledge and has lived here 6 years. So anyways, I get up to the dentist's office, sit down and immediately he says "we're going to extract the tooth today." WHAT!!! Um, well...I wasn't prepared for that. I was able to put it off until our first week off in September (Chusok-Korean holiday). The visit lasted no more than 10 minutes. I got another antibiotic prescription in case it starts hurting again. I found the pharmacy again and filled the prescription. By this time, I'm thinking I need to hurry and get back because it is about to rain. There were some heavy black rain clouds looming in the distance over in KIS's direction. I stand on the side of the sidewalk looking for a taxi. Ten minutes I wait. Finally I flag one down (taxi #1) he drives maybe ten feet and stops. He tells me after looking at the address that he can't take me, politely. Right. So I get out and search for another one. In the exact spot that Stacy and I found the taxi waiting last time is a woman in her own vehicle waiting for other people. I walk into the street next to her vehicle to flag down another taxi. Yeah I think, here comes one (taxi #2). What I didn't notice was the hidden lady who really flagged him down. I show him where I want to go and he says yes. Apparently he said yes he CAN go there but this other lady was before me so he booted me out. The lady in the vehicle I talked about before, rolls her window down and talks to him about taking me. They argue (I think, its all in Korean). She asks where I needed to go and I show her my teachers badge that has the address on it. She points to the taxi that pulled up behind taxi #3. Exact same kind of taxi with the green light on top. She rolls her window up and continues waiting for her people. Taxi guy #3 looks at the address and tells me no, somewhat gruffly. I look ahead to the lady in the vehicle and she sees me through her sideview mirror. She rolls her window down and I tell her, he said no. She hops out of her vehicle and begins conversing with this cab driver for me. All I can make out are hand gestures, Bundang-gu and Gungne-dong. He continues to say no. I think she was saying something about it being nearby and how to get to it. No luck. Next thing I know she is opening her car door and gesturing for me to get in. SHE WAS GOING TO GIVE ME A RIDE. God bless good-hearted people. As I get in, 2 other Korean ladies open the opposite passenger door and look at me. "Who is she?" is the question on their faces. I am SO happy that I was wearing my KIS shirt and badge because the lady asked me "teacher?". I said yes I am a teacher at Korea International School. The lady, the guy in the passenger seat and the other 2 ladies in the back with me are conversating in Korean and I can't understand a lick. (I now understand what it is like for my Spanish students last year.) I hear some laughter, don't know what that was about. I'm sure she told the story about the darn taxi driver who was not doing his job. Nevertheless, halfway there it starts pouring down rain. I failed to mention that with that 3rd taxi driver I was preparing myself to walk back to school. I had my umbrella but it was going to take me 20 minutes and I was pretty sure that I was going to have to figure out the right path. I was super thankful that she had offered. They pull up to the gate of KIS and the guards see me. They start to the car with an umbrella to help me out. I tell the lady thank you in the best Korean I could muster and hand her 3,000 won. My version of a thank you. She gets out of the car and gives it to me with a big smile. I couldn't believe it. I did have to walk up the hill to the school in the rain but this was nothing compared to what my trip could have looked like. I will never forget the kindness she showed me.

After all that, I got back in time to tie up a few loose ends then it was time to go home. There was a faculty get-together tonight at Gecko's and luckily one of our new friends has 2 high school aged daughters who were cool with babysitting. KIS sent buses to pick us up at our neighborhood bus stop. We changed buses halfway. Made it to Geckos by 6:30. Had a great time and really mingled with the new and returning staff. We ordered burgers because we thought that sounded good. BAD IDEA for me at least. I thought it tasted like a mix of tofu and ground beef. So I ate my fries and ordered some chicken strips which never arrived. They got lost in communication. I ordered dessert instead. Belgian waffle with ice cream. Yummie!

As we were descending in the elevator in the building, we stopped on a floor where 10 Korean kids tried to pile on. This was like 9:30 at night. These kids were just leaving the Hagwon, which is a private school that specializes in certain subjects. Students attend these after regular school. Since we didn't know where we were, we followed the high school principal and his wife to the nearby subway stop. YES! We finally took the subway. Very easy. Long walk to it but once we found it, we had no problems. They got off before us. We got off at Sunea station and came out at Lotte, a department store type place. It was nice to be out at night. We caught a bus to our home but by this time it was 11pm. Had a fantastic time.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Day 14 - The day before Friday and the Dentist Experience

Today was the first day for returning KIS staff. We went from knowing everyone to feeling like a fish out of water again. I don't know how many people I met today and I probably can't remember any names either but everyone was so friendly that it sure made introductions easy. During the first hour after breakfast, Rich, the middle school principal, did an activity which helped the returning staff and the new staff meet. The returning staff had ten minutes to find a new staff person and interview them. Included in the interview was a question, "what was the most bizarre or interesting thing about you". We found out some pretty bizarre things about people! Whoa! Then you had vote for who was better, Tommy Toms (60 year old, balding, one-time Giants player) or Kevin Caspiac (good looking, young guy). We hadn't been introduced to either of these fellows but voted based on their looks and what we had heard about them. It was silly things like this that really helped to liven it up and make it more fun. Poking fun at one another as if you were family. I can't believe how quickly you make "family members." Everyone in the school is so close.

We had a pretty easy afternoon. I spent my afternoon in the middle school principal's office collaborating with my boss on substitute preparations and the newsletter I will be working on.  Unfortunately, I woke up this morning with a terrible tooth ache (why does everything happen to me?) which I had mentioned to Kevin my boss. I was asking about dental clinics when he transferred the question to Rich. Rich then offered to take me to the dentist. Seriously, he was swamped with principal preparations and offered to take me. If my stinkin tooth hadn't hurt so bad I would have turn him down but, it was needed. I forced Stacy to go with me (not really, he thinks I'm a wheeny but whatever) because I needed him to help me find my way back to school. 

My meds from the dentist. I have to take one packet 3 times a day for 3 days.
I went to UCLA Dental Clinic where the dentist graduated from UCLA. This is the fanciest dentist office I have ever been to. They took an x-ray of my mouth and led me to a chair where the dentist was there within 5 minutes checking me out. Definitely more efficient than the U.S. After looking at everything, he was confused as to what was causing my pain. He thinks it is my wisdom tooth pressing on the nerves of my teeth. He prescribed an antibiotic and said that if the pain goes away, then he will know it is my wisdom tooth. If it does not go away then he may have to extract it TOMORROW! I have to go back tomorrow for him to see me. I didn't have to make an appointment today. I just walked in and was able to be seen. I did make an appointment for tomorrow though and today's visit was 20,000 Won. That is without insurance. (My insurance will reimburse me.) We were instructed how to get to the pharmacy. The prescription came in a pouch. (See the picture) One pill is for the pain. Another is an antibiotic. The third is for digestion. It only cost 6,100 Won. Healthcare is SO inexpensive! The dental visit alone would have cost close to $200.

We took a taxi back to the school. This all happened within an hour. The school had a back to school barbeque with appetizers, beer, wine, footlong hotdogs, and bulgogi which is a Korean marinated grilled meat. It was all very tasty. Then we had cake! It was a time for everyone to visit and get to know one another.

I met a Spanish teacher who is Turkish! I thought that was pretty crazy. Today was the first day that we have had to walk in the rain. It wasn't raining hard but enough to get you wet. Thank goodness for the KIS umbrellas.

So again, we have made it to Friday. Friday is going to be a busy day and in the evening we are all going to meet at a restaurant/bar downtown (adults only) for more celebrating.

Ethan has made many new friends, primarily Elka, and a new one Mia. His girlfriends back home might have some competition :(. Either way he is liking it if not loving it here. We have a neighborhood barbecue this weekend if it doesn't rain. The great thing about this school is that there is always something to do here. Stacy is playing basketball after school Friday too with the faculty.

- Until tomorrow friends!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Day 13 - Ethan's 6th BIRTHDAY!

Today was again full of orientation stuff. We began with introductions to some non-new KIS staff. They had great tips and information to share, like learn the language and eat kimchi. They also shared some great websites to help out with questions we might have.

Then it was on to more macbook training for me while Stacy stayed behind for round table discussions. Again, I love what Macbooks were created to do. Dragging photos from facebook into applications is so efficient. Stacy and his group discussed healthcare, housing, and pension plans. We have 2 retirement plans. KIS retirement, which matches a percentage of your salary based on number of years worked. Then there is the National Korean Pension which KIS also matches a portion of your salary based on your salary AND you get 100% of both of them when you leave.

Below are the notes I took during all of this. If you have questions about our shorthand notes please ask. (So google docs has a feature that allows you to share notes even while you are taking them and whoever you share them with can also contribute, hence the "our" is myself and 2 other colleagues.)

Living in Korea
  • Korean ppl are soft-spoken, soft hand shake, males bow to a lady
  • Koreans cry out loud at funerals
  • drinking - if someones glass is EMPTY you pour their drink with 2 hands.
  • pouring when glass is 1/2 full is only for dead person
  • sip your drink turned sideways when sitting next to an elder
  • take your shoes off before entering a home
  • calling into Seoul dial 020
  • Cell phone- 2 year commitment. ARC only good for 1 yr. Company will not hook you up for contract. Buy pay as you go plans.
  • Don’t eat raw fish and oysters during summer months
  • Western groceries - will be shown later
  • T-Money card -Going to Seoul, swipe in and out.
  • Faculty support can help get more T-Money cards - or buy at Hi-mart for 2500won
  • Multiple visas? Check your passport. You must have multiple entry visa
  • High end hotels and restaurants you will pay taxes. Otherwise it’s built in to price
  • Safety tips - apply with your local embassy
  • Koreans eat quickly, don’t talk to each other
  • Koreans don’t walk and eat at the same time
  • Cars have right of way, not pedestrians
  • Shopping - Iteawon
  • Maintenance - Bundang will receive statement for utilities. Bills can be auto-deducted. Wait a few months before beginning this
  • Watch electricity usage, don’t leave on overnight. The more electricity you use, the more expensive it gets
  • Use handy wipes for everything, Spinning Mop is awesome for floors, walls, and ceilings.
  • AC in classrooms turned off at 11am and 3 pm every day, you can manually turn back on if needed
  • 119 - fire dept, 112- police dept,
  • Recycle as much as possible
  • Buy HIPPO dehumidifiers for closets or clothes will mold. Last ~3 months

Sherman Taylor and Lisa
-History of South Korea
  • Ask Sherman for web links to Korean dramas with English subtitles
  • Don’t let anyone pour their own drink, always pour someone else’s drink
  • Sip from drink so not to have empty glass
  • children can share food with you as a sign of respect
  • parents may try to negotiate grades, students may sometimes continue more school after KIS bc education is their resource.
  • Rude to summon someone with the index finger, you may use your whole hand
  • kam sah ham ni tah (thank you)
  • Give and take with both hands (respect)

Ben Harnish
  • travel within the country from time to time
  • eat kimchi - one of the 5 healthiest foods to eat, cancer-free food
  • learn to read Hangeul
 As stated early, ask if you have any questions. :)

Since Stacy attended the round table discussions, I didn't have to attend this after lunch. We have a pattern going for meals, western breakfast and korean lunches. We are definitely seeing what we like and don't like.

Anyhow, I was summoned to the textbook storage room where I worked with Danielle, our curriculum coordinator, to organize the thousands of books KIS has. It was quite a task and I know we only made a dent in it in the short time I was there. Clair, who is the textbook manager for 2 more days, is leaving to move to Belgium for 6 months while her fiancee finishes up research, then they will marry and move to the US where she will begin her Phd. She spoke the closest to perfect English so far and that is because she lived in Maine for a few years during elementary school. I felt terrible for having to leave but I couldn't miss my bus home.

Before leaving, we had to take Ethan to the nurse's office where we received good news about his TB test. We hustled over to the business office to ask another handful of questions and made it to our bus right on time! Why were we NOT going to walk home you ask? Simply put, the humidity lately has been worst than it has ever been here. Walking home or for that matter, standing outside for more than a minute will have you soaked in sweat.

The big event tonight was a soccer game between Korea and Barcelona. We were going to take Ethan but he chose not to go at the last minute. Instead, we hopped on the bus to AK Plaza. We stopped in at a shoe store because Stacy spotted a pair of Nike basketball shoes which they didn't have in his size. He must have a big foot according to Korean standards. Ethan ended up with the new pair of shoes. Some Nike sandals that he desperately needed because his flip flops were "talking" to us. I spotted some Birkenstocks but they were 69,000 Won. Maybe next time. We got lucky here because the shoe salesman spoke enough English to communicate effectively with us.

We chose to have KFC for dinner...super spicy and we didn't even order spicy. I think they add some Korean spice to the ingredients of western food. We headed on to Baskin Robbins for an ice cream cake that Ethan had been eyeing. It also helped cool our mouths down. The "cake" cost 20,000 Won plus a candle which they lit for us also. Again, super of the employees spoke really good English.

The 3 of us sat down and we sang the birthday song to Ethan...kind of sad that we were alone. We plan on making something a little bigger this weekend with our neighbors. We all ate as much "cake" as we could then had BR pack it up for us. The girl asked Stacy how long it would take us to get home. Turns out they ask so they know how much dry ice to put in the cooler. No charge for this extra service either.

All in all it was a great night! Enjoyed every minute with my family and even ran into some friends while we were out. Truly enjoying life and everything it has to offer.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Day 12 - About the school...

Today was orientation day 3 at KIS. I finally received keys to my office. It's very nice and, so I have been told, I will be working with the funniest man at the school. We will see.

We had building level meetings. My boss will be Kevin Jaramillo who is the associate principal at the middle school level. We covered the parent student handbook, teacher handbook and all of those important things.

My homework tonight is to read them and then I'll let you know all the wonderful things I read about. :)

So, as I was walking through the MS/HS library (which connects the middle school and high school) I met the school librarian named Kris. She, her husband Sean, and their daughter Elka used to live in the apartment we  live in now. Ethan and Elka are the same age. They only moved down the street a couple blocks so we scheduled a playdate for this evening.

There is a playground area with some outdoor exercise equipment in our neighborhood which was our meeting spot. Sean and Elka met all 3 of us there. Ethan and Elka played very well together, choosing to climb the trees and pick leaves rather than play on the playground equipment. We asked Sean several of the questions we had. Again, we are on the fence about a car. We asked him if he was familiar with the bus system and he said they bought a car because it makes life much easier. They purchased a used car for $2100.

According to KIS staff, Koreans don't typically keep the cars they buy for more than 2 years. They always buy brand new and take very good care of their vehicles. So you can always find a good deal.

Also, we were informed that this is the first year that dependents' insurance is covered by KIS. Last year, you had to pay the premiums for your dependents. Since they were trying to hire more families, they have tried to change their benefits to be more family oriented. This is great news to us! Now it is all making sense. This is the first year they have had to accommodate family medical check ups and therefore, they had some kinks in the system. I'm sure next year it will be much easier.

Well, I must go to my homework, so I will catch up with you tomorrow!

P.S. I am going to post some pics of the school to the shutterfly site.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Day 11 - Korean Bank & Medical Clinic...AHHH!

What a freaking long day! Our days are getting earlier and my internal clock is ringing later. Mornings are becoming routine.

No breakfast this morning because we had to fast for our medical exam today. They did everything! Height and weight check was on this awesome scale that had an appendage at the top that moved down until it hit something (your head) and then it went back up. They should have those in the states, just sayin'. Quick hearing check, vision check, and they made sure we weren't color blind. We then had to go outside to a mobile x-ray machine in a bus. Had to strip from the waist up and put on a blue smock. This was followed by a blood pressure reading, giving a vile of blood, then peeing in a cup. How well did we get to know our colleagues? Well, we have now seen each other walking down the hallway with a squeeze tube of pee...I'd say we know more than we would like. Once that was all done, we were rewarded with boxes and boxes of Dunkin Donuts and Krispy Kreme assortments.

Lunch rolled around at 11:30. The school served us a traditional Korean meal that was an acquired taste. We all ate it including Ethan. I am proud of us for trying all of it even the spicy kimchi. We were left slightly unsatisfied especially noticed after we chatted with our Australian colleague Ben about Texas beef steaks....salivating. :)

The buses left the school around 1pm for Hana Bank where about 20 of us proceeded to setup up individual checking accounts, one for US money and the other for Korean money. I have never seen people work so fast and efficiently. I'm sure the bank met their quota for the month AND only half of us went today.  

By now its 2:40 and we are back at school. We checked out Stacy's classroom and my office. I have a desk next to a window in my office. I share an office with a guy named Tomy Tom. Apparently he used to play for the MLB and had a baseball card and everything. I get along with most people so hopefully I will get along with him. I haven't met him yet.

So, back in the states Ethan had to have a medical exam kind of like we did today. I thought we had covered everything but as it turns out he lacked a TB test. Several other staff kids had to have the whole medical check up done. KIS setup this afternoon as the day we would all take our children to a nearby clinic to have the check up. We spent over 2 1/2 hours there. It was on the 2nd floor of a store building. On the second floor it was surrounded by little shops. The location was odd for a clinic. Either way they got Ethan taken care of within the first 30 minutes. Then we waited for everyone else to finish. It was loud, busy and chaotic. The doctor spoke some English which made it easier to communicate and the nurses were nice. When we were all done, we are told that we have to pay. We weren't informed prior to the trip that we were going to pay for anything. No one had brought money to pay for this so our school nurse paid for it and we are supposed to reimburse her or something like that. Of all the experiences so far, this one has been the most headache inducing. I am glad its over and Ethan wasn't traumatized. We didn't make it home until almost 6:30pm. As we were walking up the road to our apartment, Stacy was walking down and coincidently met us. He was SO worried about us because it took so long. We can't wait to get our cell phones activated that way we can communicate when we are separated. He chose not to come with us and now regrets it.

Grill cheese sandwiches for dinner tasted so good tonight. It was quick and I'm going to rest. Tomorrow is another day in the life of an international teacher.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Day 10 - LAZY DAY!

I know, you are probably thinking there is so much to see and do there and your taking a lazy day?!?! In our defense, this last week has felt like a month because we have done SO MUCH! The first reason it was a lazy day is because we are out of Korean money. All we have left is our American money and are extremely happy that we are taking a trip to the bank tomorrow to set up our bank accounts. Yeah! I'm going to have my own bank accounts. Korean banks do not allow joint bank accounts so Stacy and I will each have our own.

The other reason it was a lazy day is because I woke up feeling like poop (excuse the expression). I have got to go to the clinic tomorrow and find out why I am not better yet. Medicine is really cheap here by the way. I bought two boxes (6 pills each) of a nasal decongestant and it was 12,000 WON. This is prescription type stuff too.

Next week have faculty orientation, inservice and meetings. Cheers to the beginning of school!

Day 9 - Getting around...

We met a new family that lives down the street from us and they wanted to go to E-mart. Since we knew how to get to one of the locations, we offered to take them. Everything felt really simple this time around. We knew where we were going, which bus to get on, and how to return.

We shopped, ate lunch at the Popeyes in the food court where I ran into another American. He was with a beautiful Korean woman who I assumed was his wife. He said hi to Ethan and I as we walked by. The look on his face was priceless. He looked shocked to see other Americans speaking English. I don't blame him. We haven't seen many of us either.

It sprinkled on the way back but again it was simple.

We didn't get out again that day. We just chilled at home.