preparing for anything

Well, I just blew a huge wad at the bookstore.  Actually, my budget for the rest of the month and I just got paid.  Fortunately, I am sooo thrifty here.  Like today, I ate rice w/ kimchi for lunch, and ate shishkebab 1,500 won, giant cream puff 1,500 won (I didn’t know that’s what it was – I thought it was a Chinese bun) and a drinking yogurt for 1,200 won.  So that’s $3.50 for the whole day.

Got more Korean workbooks, because the stuff you get with one textbook is never enough.  Got two great discussion books for my adult conversation class.  Got four great speaking exercise books for the regular class, and the missing CD for a textbook on real speech patterns for the regular class.  Also got two English novels for Y:  Kundera’s Fear of Laughter and Forgetting (perhaps the only womanizer I can forgive) and Duras’ The Lover, since she’s really into reading English books and she’s bought me so many gifts since I got here and I haven’t talked to her much lately.  And (drum-roll please) a book on identifying Korean food at restaurants, called KOREAN FOOD GUIDE;  in English.  Lists 800 dishes with their names in Hanguel, romanized Korean, English and French, and their cooking categories and descriptions in English, and has them categorized by the Korean alphabet so I can read menus now!!!  Which is absolutely amazing, because I was thinking last week that I was going to have to make it my life’s work to create just such a book.  (I was at the Seoul Folk Flea Market in the food court, and I literally walked around for more than half an hour, starving, and overwhelmed by all the food, none of the menus of which I could read, unable to order anything, about to cry)

Here’s a small excerpt from the introduction:

…When eating a hot or spicy soup, most Koreans will say siwonhada, which literally translates as “cool” or “refreshing,” and is also used to describe the feeling after visiting a sauna or spa.  The highest compliment you can give a Korean cook is to say the food has a gamchilmat. This describes food that wraps around the palate, enveloping the whole mouth with flavor.  There is no equivalent term in English, and here we begin to see the delicate subtleties of Korean food.

Everyone who has cried in hunger surrounded by food and unable to order any of it because they are alone, illiterate, and unable to speak so anyone can understand you, absolutely must buy this book!

Oh yeah.  Preparing for anything means I am still trying to be a better teacher here and yet I am also researching new jobs at the same time.

From dealing with Holt to now this.  And just last week, I was attempting to play my out -of-tune bandoneon, the one I returned last year to be tuned at great great great (at least a hundred bucks for each great) expense for warranty work, and I asked the bandoneon community what to do about it going out of tune, so the maker came forward out of shame and to save his reputation to fix it YET AGAIN (which he admits means it needs a whole new innards since this one just degrades meaning it’s irreparable) and then the guy didn’t want me to insure it because that means he might have to pay German import taxes on it.  Then I told him of course I’m going to insure it, it’s an instrument that cost almost 5 grand.  So I finally brow beat him into allowing me to insure it, even though I SHOULDN’T HAVE TO PAY ANYTHING since he never really fixed it and I’ve never really had a working instrument from the day I bought it.  But then I tell him no, I’d rather go to someone else because he sent it back to me that first time so-called-fixing it uninsured, which means if a gorilla throws it around in the cargo hold of some airplane, then I am OUT OF LUCK.  Out of an instrument. Too bad.  5 grand worth of matchsticks.  So we go back and forth like this for days until I finally say, “LOOK.  You haven’t answered my question.  Are you going to make me an all new instrument or give me my money back if it gets smashed in shipping?  No.

So I have to threaten him with telling the bandoneon community what a lemon I got and how crappy its been doing business with him.  And finally he relents.  So add fighting with this guy via email in broken German all week on top of the other crap.

Is this the way of the world?

And here I am in Korea.  My school district employer is shafting me for half my airfare reimbursement.  My teacher representative for the school district is paid by the school district (no conflict of interests there) and she basically told me to go to hell.  So now I have to go to the labor board if I’m to get this injustice addressed and my contract breach recognized.

And In Kyung writes me an email telling me essentially that I should just accept Korean culture and stay positive…I write her back and basically tell her Korean culture has nothing to do with it.  Gyeonggi-do schools basically violated my contract and I’ve been doing my best working under a broken contract.  The one thing about Korean culture I will reject, if it is Korean culture, is calling accepting injustice being “positive.”

OK.  You are a cover girl.  Rough-looking beat-up cover girl.  Who got to speak to the Korean people about adoption.  That was good.  Being optimistic.

10 thoughts on “preparing for anything

  1. I will need to purchase that food guide!

    “Everyone who has cried in hunger surrounded by food and unable to order any of it because they are alone, illiterate, and unable to speak so anyone can understand you…”

    That sounds horrible! I arrive on Monday if you need a food friend.

  2. Everyone who has cried in hunger surrounded by food and unable to order any of it because they are alone, illiterate, and unable to speak so anyone can understand you

    I know exactly what you mean, going through that experience each time I visit Taiwan. One of the other problems I face is spending so much time alone, and the fact that most meat restaurants (galbi, etc.) are set up for two people at the minimum. I was refused service at one place for being there alone, an experience that my Japanese friend has also gone through. I don’t know how you feel about meeting strangers from the internet, but if you have free time in the next few weeks I would be delighted to meet you.

    On the subject of Korean textbooks, one that I’ve found very helpful as an additional resource to my class textbook is Korean Grammar for International Learners by Yonsei University Press. Not that you needed any more reasons to spend money, right?

    For the issue of In Kyung telling you to accept Korean culture and stay positive I’d say that, while it’s worth thinking about why people are acting the way they are, by no means does this mean you need to accept ‘no’ for an answer. Ideally, I would have said see if you can get a Korean friend or contact to help you figure out a way to present your objections in a culturally-acceptable manner — but it sounds like your school contacts are set in what they are willing to allow regardless of how the subject is broached.

    I don’t know if there’s any way for me to help, but drop me a line if you need anything. Even if it’s just a sympathetic ear.

  3. Mark – sure! And come hang out. Nobody here seems to know how to do that. They all have to pack in as much as they possibly can all the time, even though what they do is more of the same every weekend…

    Just like Paul said, you’ll find a lot of places you can’t eat just by yourself, so you really miss out on the best food if you’re by yourself. I can’t afford to do this often, but once in awhile would really be welcome!

  4. Paul – Sure let’s get together sometime. Been meaning to head north anyway, since I have yet to do that. As a matter of fact, I need car riding buddies for road trips to make it pencil out…road trip???

    I went this weekend to Bandi & Luni and ditched my Yonsei Korean I for Korea Language PLUS’s KOREAN For Foreigners. It’s really well organized, and goes deep into grammar from the very first lesson. It’s perfect for those of us who try to find the underlying order behind things. Maybe next month I will look at supplements and the Yonsei grammar book. Roadmap to Korean by Richard Harris was the first book I bought here. It’s more of a culture lesson, but a very interesting read. (although I’ve only got through half of it. Kind of funny, because my Canadian friend I’ve yet to meet Lisa always suggests the same things I’ve found – seems two great minds think alike…

    The very worst thing about In Kyung’s email was that it started out, “I want to be your friend but…”

    Thanks for the support, Paul, I really appreciate it.

  5. [“Everyone who has cried in hunger surrounded by food and unable to order any of it because they are alone, illiterate, and unable to speak so anyone can understand you…”]

    I haven’t had that experience yet and I pray that I won’t end up having that experience.

    At the Asian mall I go to, there is a food court on the 2nd floor – some places just have the characters (which of course I can’t read) while other have the English translation. There aren’t usually any numbers to refer to at the non-English places, unfortunately.

    Thank god I have a sister who can help me out. XD

  6. Food courts. I can’t even figure out HOW to order in a commercial food court here. (not like at the traditional market with each place having their own stall) There seems to be one cashier whom you order your food from, and then have to go pick it up from one of the individual stalls. But there is no menu, only those plastic food examples. Which sounds like it would make it easier, but the examples aren’t numbered and of course for the foreigner it’s impossible to read what the dish is and even if you know hangul, to repeat it well enough that the person taking your order can understand you.

    I can see why all the foreigners prefer to hang out in the international areas where there are menus with English on them, as well as restaurants that often serve western food.

    You are going to have an amazing time, Mei-Ling. I hope you and your sister bond during your stay. I’m sure helping you with menus, etc. will do a lot towards that end.

  7. Hmmm, well, I remember in Quebec we used to go to McDonald’s and the servers could hardly speak English, so we’d point at the menu above their heads (for them to understand what we were getting at) and say the number in French as best we could.

    Of course, if one doesn’t have a number to reference to, then I guess you’d just… point?

    Have you tried just pointing at it? Or is the food too unindentifiable/far for you to attempt that scenario?

  8. Oh yeah, I do the pointing thing all the time. Most menus don’t have photos, though. Many restaurants that have photos only have a few. Those with the fake plastic food – it’s usually remote from where you order.

    It’s okay! I have my amazing book now. I wish it had more pictures, though.

  9. I don’t see a way to reach via email on your sidebar, so would it be too much trouble to ask you to contact me ( about meeting some time? I’m not sure that there’s too much to do up here in Uijeongbu, but with the nice weather we’ve had recently you might like checking out Kyunghee University (경희대학교). Also, there’s a private museum in Seongbuk showing Joseon Dynasty paintings through 31 May if you’re interested in fine art.

    That’s a terrible way to start an email. Have you spoken with her since then, and was she able to explain it any better in person?

    Not sure how well it will complement your food guide, but I tried to add links to pictures in this post on Korean food.

  10. Emailing you now. I explained how to her that her email was offensive. She apologized and asked what she did wrong, so I explained how introducing the concept of friendship while at the same time adding the word “but” made that potentiality conditional and negative.

    We’re having lunch together and it will be patched up.

    She said that she doesn’t know how what the Korean way to improve a situation like this would be: probably to be disappointed, swallow it and try and find some circular way to solve the problem. I told her that would take too much time, so I had to solve it the only way I knew how, through confrontation. But everyone here is impressed that the Vice Principal changed his position and that I got some satisfaction from the parties involved.

    As for GePIK – if this is how they treat their foreign employees, then I am happy to find other employment: either by signing with the school independently next year or by signing with the other school districts or going to private institutions.

    The teachers class really really likes my teaching style and are taking me out for Chinese tonight. So I feel good about my approach to teaching speaking. Hopefully I can get the co-teachers on board soon and things will run smoother.

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