Saturday, February 28, 2015

Awkward Duck has Moved

Awkward Duck has moved to Wordpress

Saturday, February 21, 2015

A Serious Blogpost Interspersed with Sad Ducks

        Life in Korea has its ups and downs, and while I try to focus on the ups and laugh at the downs, life isn’t always as fun and happy as my Facebook statuses might make it seem. Of course, I hope we all know that’s true about everyone on Facebook already. I’m not saying my life isn’t really great and a lot of fun, but sometimes things just get hard.
        My first year in Korea included a lot of hard times that I didn’t write about. The first few months here were a whirlwind of making new friends and trying new things until January, when I went home for a month. I was so busy during my first few months here that I didn’t really experience culture shock, and had relatively little time to be homesick. But when I came back to Korea after my visit home, things changed. Mistakes I had made in the first few giddy months here came back to haunt me, and I lost my closest friendship.

At my lowest point, I did nothing at all for two days- I went to work and sat at my desk and then went home and slept. I didn’t even eat.

I’m able to look on the bright side now, and see that although it was a really difficult time, it was also a very important growing experience. I realized I had come to rely far too much on one person, and that I had other friends who were there for me. Close friends. Friends who show up at your door with a quart of ice cream when you need them, and get angry because someone made you cry. It also opened a place in my life for new friends who have turned out to be so very important to me as well. 
So although I have wonderful adventures in Korea like when I buy too much pizza, or get lost on the train and somehow end up in the town where I will eventually live, and accidentally go on dates or get stuck in revolving doors, I also have lot of tough times. I’m so grateful for the friendships that have pulled me through those times- the messages of encouragement that came at just the right time, the assurances from my family and friends back home that they are praying for me, and the unexpected happiness in realizing that so many many people care so much about me.

Thanks, everyone.

Friday, February 6, 2015

The Russian Fish Master

I'm back from vacation at last and newly determined to write and post more, and I shall begin with the adventures from my journey home.
I arrived in Seoul late on Tuesday night and spent the night in my favorite hostel before beginning the next leg of my journey- a long trek through the subway and bus system to Donghae. I managed to navigate the subway without losing any of my luggage and got everything safely onto my bus. When I arrived in Donghae, however, I made the huge mistake of not double checking under my seat to be sure I had everything.
I somehow manage to leave behind the most vital thing possible. I didn't even notice until I was heading towards the taxi stand and reached for my wallet only to discover my purse was not on my shoulder. I ran after the bus waving my arms frantically, but it was already pulling out of the parking lot. I went inside where several helpful Korean bus station workers gather around me to determine the cause of my distress and assured me the bus would be intercepted in Samcheok and my bag would be retrieved and put on another bus back to Donghae.
I sat down to wait, looking, no doubt, very exhausted and forlorn. Since my wallet was in my purse, I couldn't even get a coffee to drink while I was waiting.
Luckily for me, some entertainment for the wait came along in the form of group of Russian fisherman. One of them sat down next to me and began speaking to me in Russian. When I stared at him blankly, he realized his mistake and asked where I was from and we began chatting. His English was a little difficult to understand, but we could mostly understand each other. His name, he said, was Sasha, and he was the fish master on his ship. He pointed out his friend and told me what job each one had on the ship, and then began talking about the places they've gone fishing, including Indonesia and New Zealand. While talking about New Zealand, he said, "I spend six months in New Zealand. The English language, it is no problem! I spend one year in Korea, but Korea language it is big problem!"
After this, he announced suddenly "I go drink, smoke now. I am Russian man!" and wandered off the to the convenience store with his friends to buy some soju.
After his drink, he returned with an ice cream for me and we chatted some more, he mostly reminiscing about his time in New Zealand and complaining about the price of alcohol there. Then he continued on a slightly different topic: "And the, women, yes? In New Zealand, great women, but so expensive. You could make a lot of money in New Zealand!"
Thankfully just then the bus from Samcheok arrived with my bag and I made my excuses and headed home.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Temperature Tantrums

Emart sells bubble wrap with cute little designs on it. This is not so you can skip the wrapping paper. This is so when you put bubble wrap over you windows it looks less boring and bubble-wrappish.
Wait, you're saying you don't put bubble wrap on your windows? Then either you're freezing, or you don't know how blessed you are to have such wonderful windows. Or maybe you live somewhere warm.
Now, back home, don't get me wrong, the windows let in some cold air. But this is not what happens in Korea. The windows don't just let in "some cold air" they let in an icy blast. And this is just one of the problems at home. I haven't even gotten started on what things are like in other places. Despite the fact that it gets cold EVERY year, Korea has a lot to figure out about living comfortably in cold weather.
Here are some problems I have come across when the cold weather hits:

1.In most buildings the hallway is considered part of the outdoors. As in, all the windows and doors are left open to let in the COLD air. This apparently supposed to prevent people from getting sick or something (it doesn’t work.) So in winter, before class I can stand at the doors and demand all the students leave their snowballs outside, and then after class the students can collect their still-frozen snowballs and go terrorize some other poor teacher. 
Here is is a picture of awkward duck in the hallway at school. If you can't see me, it's because I am an awkward ducksicle from being in the outdoor-temperature hallway.

2. Nothing is insulated well (thus the bubble wrap). The lack of insulation makes #1 even more of a problem. The doors all have large cracks them and the frame. This probably makes leaving the windows open slightly less nonsensical, because the heat is all going to escape anyway. The insulation is so appallingly bad that in my last apartment, there was a freezing cold draft that blew from the drain in the bathroom floor. Ugh. This year, my apartment is much more snug, but the windows still do not fit tightly, and when the cold weather hits hard in a few weeks, I have little doubt that I will be at emart or Daiso, picking out some bubble wrap of my own to cover my windows. In preparation for this cold, I have carefully arranged my smallest room, which I call the studio (as that is where the awkward duck painting-station is set up) for maximum comfort when I wish to hibernate next to my space heater.
The lack of insulation is particularly strange because Koreans seem to think that they are very environmentally conscious and that they are very energy efficient. Yet despite this, they terrible about any efficiency whatsoever when it comes to heating and insulating buildings.
Every ESL book has some chapter about the environment like "Think Twice, Think Green" but despite their unparalleled composting habits, they still haven't figured out insulation.
3. The buses. Ohhhhhh the buses. Temperature on the buses is left to the discretion of the bus driver. Some bus drivers are reasonable. Others, apparently, live in an oven and wish to continue at that temperature when they go to work. I actually rode a bus once where there was a small thermometer next to the driver, which read 35 C. For those Americans among you, that's ninety-five degrees fahrenheit. NINETY-FIVE DEGREES!
Awkward Duck on the bus
The worst, for me, is when I get on the bus to school and it is an oven. The journey is too short to shed my layers of coats and sweaters and scarves, but just long enough that when I arrive at work, I'm covered in sweat and feel disgusting. 
Also, when you get off the oven-like horrible bus, it feels SO much colder than it would if the bus were just kept at a reasonable temperature.
This same problem exists in summer, when some bus drivers decide that, although the bus must be flaming hot in the winter, it is a good idea to set the temperature at about 16 degrees. That's about 61 F. I will never understand. Why??
4. The heating methods.
At school, each room has one big vent in the ceiling that the heat comes out of. Each room as it's own thermostat. I suppose this is necessary given the whole "hallways are part of the outdoors" thing. I sure miss central heating though. Whole building being one basically even temperature- it was so nice. That is never the case here.

In my apartment, I have floor heating. Floor heating is the best thing ever. Until you get the bill. So most of the time I huddle in front of the space heater or under my electric blanket.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Reasons Why Coffee Time is a Bad Idea (part 2)

As I've mentioned before, coffee time in Korea can be very dangerous, because it might not actually just be coffee, it might be a lifetime commitment you're getting into. In Korea, it is almost impossible for two people of the opposite gender to be friends. Because even you you say "We're just friends" or "No, this isn't a date" someone will inevitably say "But you had coffee..." as though that disproves everything. 

After lunch, me and a couple of other (female) teachers usually sit and have coffee together, because this seems safe and harmless enough. It's great that some of the other teachers want to chat with me to practice their English and I usually teach a couple new idioms or fun phrases. 
However, my main co-teacher has recently taken to inviting the technology teacher to join us for what used to be ladies' coffee time. In very not subtle way, she then calls the science teacher away to supposedly discuss something important, leaving me and the technology teacher to have coffee together and cause massive amounts of office gossip because it's the foreign teacher and the technology teacher having coffee!

While my co-teacher does her best to set me up with the regrettable non-English speaking and very short technology teacher (whose name I still don't even know), the Science teacher has taken a different strategy towards securing my future happiness. She has decided that since I am a tall, beautiful foreigner, I must find a tall, handsome foreigner to date. She therefore asks many leading questions about the other foreign teachers in Donghae. Sadly, for the science teacher, there are not many male foreigner English teachers in Donghae, and even fewer of them are single. After questioning me extensively about the male foreign teachers in Donghae, she chose one (keeping in mind she's never even met any of these people) who she thinks I should date. This is based almost totally on the fact that the students spotted the two of us eating dinner together a few days ago, and the fact that this man is taller than the technology teacher (the technology teacher's height is a major point of contention between my co-teacher and the science teacher; my co-teacher thinks height is unimportant, and the science teacher appears to be of the opinion that anyone shorter than me is clearly not deserving of me.) When I explained that this fellow teacher isn't even single, she replied 'It's ok, in Korea we say, "Even though there is a goalkeeper, you can still score a goal!"'

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving!

For Thanksgiving, I cooked three chickens and I made stuffing for the first time.

Awkward Duck won.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

The Pizza

            One night, I finished work a bit late and headed out to catch the bus. Once on the bus, I realized I needed to go to Emart to buy a few things. I had recently decided I need to take better care of myself, and so I was determined to go to Emart and buy vegetables. I had no vegetables at all in my fridge, and my new, more healthy self was not going to be satisfied with the little tiny bit of Kimchi that I ate at school with lunch. I therefore stayed on the bus a couple stops longer than usual and got off near Emart. I walked the last couple blocks and then wandered inside.

Once there, I forgot the vegetables and wandered upstairs to look at the turtles. I'm really tempted to buy a turtle from Emart, because they're absolutely adorable, and they swim along in their little tank and try to follow my finger along the glass, which I think is super cute. After playing with the turtles and admiring the parakeets and all the brightly colored fish, I wandered back downstairs and collected a zucchini, a green pumpkin, and a few potatoes. Then I remembered that I needed coffee.
By then I was super hungry, and I was tempted to forgo the coffee, but I knew that I would really regret that decision in a short time, as in, the following morning when I woke up and remembered that there was no coffee. I went to the coffee aisle. The coffee is mostly instant, which is pretty disgusting, but I drink it at work anyway. At home though, I drink real coffee. I grind it myself every morning in my blender and hand drip it. Mmmm. I prefer Starbucks coffee, but at Emart, that's not an option, so I had begun purchasing a brand called "Jardin" which tastes pretty good to me. A 1 pound bag is about $12, which seems a decent price to me, considering Starbucks is $18. However, this time, they were all out of the kind I usually buy, having only the light roast, and the hazelnut available. Hazelnut is not an option for me because I'm allergic, and I didn't really want the light roast. I like medium and dark roast much more. While I debated my options, my stomach growled and I actually began to consider leaving without the coffee and drinking instant until I bothered to make another trip to Emart when they would hopefully have "my kind" of coffee. It was at that moment, that I caught sight of the most glorious thing: a whole kilo of "my kind" of coffee. Whole-bean espresso roast. Yay! A kilo was a lot more than I was planning on buying, but I pulled it from the shelf and when I saw that it was only $20 I was delighted ( a kilo is 2.2 pounds, so that’s more than twice the amount in the $18 Starbucks bag or coffee, or the $12 bag of Jardin coffee.). I headed to the check-out stand without further ado, my stomach growling again as I waited in line with my giant bag of happiness and the aforementioned vegetables (but alas, no turtle, I still haven't committed to a pet, and probably won't ever do so as long as I'm living in Korea).

Upon exiting Emart, and retrieving my belongings (including two textbooks) from the lockers in the entry way, I began to second guess my decision. Sure, it was my favorite kind of coffee. Sure, it would be really, really tasty tomorrow morning, and it was a lot cheaper than I had expected. But it was HEAVY. And I was SO hungry. I began to imagine how nice it would be to stop and take a little nap on the sidewalk; anything to set down that enormous bag for a while. Then I imagined that if I fell asleep on the sidewalk, I would just die of starvation in my sleep and never wake up. I would become that skeleton awkward duck that everyone just had to step around.
The Awkward Duck skeleton

Just as I was becoming extremely melodramatic and imagining my death by kilo-of-coffee-carrying and starvation, I walked past the door to Pizza Hut and came to an abrupt stop. It was at this point I realized that even if I managed to keep going and not lay down and become an awkward duck skeleton on the sidewalk, I would not only have to climb the humongous hill up to my apartment and get inside, but once inside, I would have to cook dinner. And how could I possibly think about cooking a healthy dinner with all those vegetables I bought when there was the heavenly smell of gourmet pizzas wafting out of the entry to this pizza heaven? I went inside.

Climbing the stairs up to the second floor restaurant took all the energy I had left. The silly waitress asked me how many people would be dining. I defiantly told her one, because there is totally nothing wrong with going out for pizza all by your lonesome. I considered the salad bar, but since it’s mostly comprised of kimchi and pasta salads, I decided it wouldn’t be worth it. I chose the cheesiest pizza on the menu and decided to add on the sweet potato mozzarella crust, because it’s my favorite. I ding-donged* the bell and the waitress hurried over. I pointed with the pizza with the golden-cheesy-goodness crust and she smiled. “Small?” she asked. I frowned. I hadn’t thought about size. “Large.” I said, decisively, ignoring her look of surprise. I told myself I would cook some zucchini when I got home, but in truth, I just ate four slices of glorious cheesy goodness for dinner, enjoyed myself thoroughly, and then stumbled home with my veggies and kilo of coffee, and put the coffee in the cupboard and the veggies in the fridge, where they would remain waiting for the day when the leftover cheesy goodness was gone and I would once again decide to cook healthy food.
Happy Awkward Duck after pizza

*tables in Korea have what appears to be a doorbell fixed to them, which you push when you’re ready to order, or need anything else from the server. It’s the smartest thing ever, and I don’t know why we don’t have them in the US.