lay your head on this

Today I finally went and purchased a traditional Korean bed!  Been here a year and a half and only just now getting around to it.  Last year I just made do with some seat cushions that folded out, which is fine if you don’t thrash around, but a little thin, and laying on woven straw really isn’t ideal…

I never really wanted a western bed here because a)it takes up too much space in these tiny apartments and b)the western mattresses here aren’t really mattresses at all, but just box springs over which you put a “pad” which isn’t really anything but a quilt.  So actually, a cushy Korean mattress on the floor is more comfortable, if you don’t mind the long distance from standing position.

The mattress sets I love all cost $300 – $600, which is another reason I haven’t purchased one.  This mattress, cover, duvet, two pillows and pillow cases was half the price, so lacking in all those gorgeous traditional bedding features (framed border, hand embroidered embellishments, little neckroll/armrests – and maybe silk tassels, etc.)  yet it also isn’t one of the cheapest ensembles, so it’s still quite nice looking.  The thing I don’t like is these mattresses are made of foam, so they don’t fold up quite as cleanly as the traditional ticking does, which is more like a quadruple thick quilt vs. the foam futon.

I feel really good about the purchase, too, ’cause I went to three bedding stores and found the one I could live with at the store with the least amount of business and the nicest ajumma. I’ll not sleep in it until after my company from France gets to break it in.  (our wonderful friend and benefactor from Provence is coming to visit me in the country one day next week!)

The ajumma wrapped the mattress in plastic and made a lovely carrying handle for me out of tape.   (Koreans have figured out a dozen ingenious ways to carry just about every load under the sun in the most convenient manner possible)  I must have looked like an ant walking down the street, but it worked just great!


Today was like the first day of winter.  High of 50 degrees Fahrenheit, low of 28 degrees Fahrenheit. (5 degrees colder than Seoul) Frigid cold.  It’s not even November yet!  Everyone was walking around with their coats on, shivering, and muttering choowha (or whatever it is meaning “freezing cold”)

I tend to think Korea really has six seasons:  Spring, summer, monsoon, fall, winter, and arctic freeze.  Because there are two parts to summer and two parts to winter.  The first part is when you take the cold without turning on the heat as long as you can humanly stand it.  So inside is almost as cold as outside and you wear your long johns and coat ALL DAY, everywhere.  And then the second part of winter is when you finally break down and turn on the heat.  Well, maybe there are seven seasons, because between the arctic freeze and spring is yet another time like now when it’s flirting with the 30’s and the heat is not turned on.  The classrooms manage to stay a little warm, just from all the warm bodies, but the hallways are just like being outside, with a little wind break.  And the bathrooms…(shudder)…maybe this is why they don’t bother with providing soap.  There’s no hot water, so washing your hands after using the bathroom is painful.

The rice in the paddies disappeared about two weeks ago.  One day it was there, and the next day it wasn’t.  Because I’m getting home so late now, I can’t really monitor the changes taking place.  This weekend the farmer in the tully building outside my window was finally dealing with some of the fallen trees from the hurricane.  But he didn’t really make much of a dent in it.  Yesterday the halmoni had hand cut all the unkempt whatever-it-was she’d planted down.  Their garden is so unlike all the other gardens:  everyone else’s are in neat little rows, but theirs just appeared to be randomly scattered infill.  I wonder if it’s a traditional method, (since their wood shingled roof is one of the traditional but rarely seen house forms here) or an alternative method, or maybe they are just too broke down and lazy to bother with being neat.  Which is really anathema to me, as one of the great joys of gardening to me is the zen of weeding, and with haphazard broadcasting of seed then weeding is really difficult to do.  Anyway, today I’ve noticed the rest of the crops all over town are mostly cut down and the stalks are laying in piles.  I’m hoping they won’t burn them all…

Got to get back to lesson plans for tomorrow.  Coming up with things for older students at the lowest levels is really difficult for me.  The more advanced students are no problem, but the low level students have the attention span of gnats and any low level material out there is not appealing to high school students.  It’s always a huge challenge.  The weird thing is even if I lose my temper when they’re rude – they KNOW they’re being rude and always apologize – and yet still they like me.  I don’t know why, really, since there’s not any communication going on.  I think it’s just because they know it could be much much worse and that they know I’m trying to not bore them to tears.

Oh yeah, and here’s something fun for you:  (sometimes I find the most hilarious things while searching for visuals for my classes)

But god, it’s a struggle.  And liking me still doesn’t mean they are going to participate.  I can’t imagine any other place on the planet where you can nicely and silently put your finger to your mouth and smile, and instead of stopping the talking and paying attention their response is to put their head down and sleep.  If I can’t goof off then I’m shutting you out.  And this is acceptable to the Korean teachers.  It’s absolutely maddening.  It’s no wonder so many foreign teachers resort to worksheets and grammar reinforcement and other non communicative speech methods – it’s the only thing that gives the teacher immediate satisfactory respectful responses.  But I still think that’s a lame and easy way out.  But it’s such a trial if you do anything expansive.  It makes them giddy or it makes them afraid or they try to take advantage of it.  Whoever the idiot was who decided English should be MANDATORY I’d like to sock them in the face.  That alone is what makes my job almost impossible.  These kids who tune out should just not be in the class.  Period.  All it does is detract from the lessons for those who are interested.  And if Korea subtracted all the time their students sleep or tune out, then their 12 hour school day would be cut down to about 6 hours.

And another thing is that it’s taking me these two years to figure out where the deficits are and what direction I need to take with these kids, and it will take another year or two to build up a proper arsenal of tailored lesson plans.  So I’m not sure the revolving door of Native English Speakers as amateur teachers is all that efficient.  The only benefit I can see is if the students realize that English doesn’t have to be the enemy.  But the irony of getting no respect in the land of respect makes you feel embattled.  And it’s hard to be inspiring under those conditions.

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