Wednesday, June 30, 2010

More yum

Tonight's dinner was inspired by a meal I'd eaten last month with my co-workers. I'm a big fan of Vietnamese spring rolls and after rekindling my love for them at a phở restaurant in a neighborhood called Jeongja (a lovely mix of foreign restaurants/shopping there) we all went out to a restaurant that serves do-it-yourself spring rolls.

I was, as you may guess, in all kinds of epicurean heaven. The lettuce and cilantro and beansprouts and cellophane noodles and cucumber slivers and, most especially, the grilled duck slices, all wrapped in the cool, delicate embrace of edible rice paper, caused the rusty wheels in the long-dormant home cooking section of my brain to spring into action.

I. Could. Make. These. At. Home.

EUREKA! So after I'd spent my weekend cleaning and making my kitchen all kinds of purdy, I made a mental plan to cook two specific dishes: the mirin-glazed salmon in my previous post and the aforementioned spring rolls.

I managed, thanks to the help of my co-workers, to find everything I needed to make it a culinary event (in this case, cilantro - the key to an excellent combination for rice paper filling, and mirin - the key to glazing a mean salmon). Tonight I managed, between bites, to remember that I owned a camera and that I like taking pictures of food.

I watched Jamie Oliver cooking with fresh herbs and plants from his garden. What a lovely idea. If I didn't have a red thumb, I would probably try to grow herbs. Alas, I kill everything plant-like that I touch. Happily, this keeps the veg section at AK Plaza in business and the nice ladies that work there employed to assist hopeless foreigners another day.

I did have a bit of an after-dinner thing tonight. Although I did have a lovely dinner, I had less shrimp today than last time and there was just...the smallest hint of yearning for more.

Happily, and I'm still smiling about this one, I found a wine shop in AK Plaza that sells...yes, blessed readers...real cheese.

Let me type that again, slowly.


I'm talking hard, strong, grateable, palest of yellows Parmesan Reggiano. My love for this cheese knows no time, nor boundary. Here it was, at long last, right near my subway stop these whole four months. It's as if, cherished reader, I had found one of you in the wine section. We embraced, I sniffed it a little and rubbed it on my face. The salesladies seemed to understand. They smiled knowingly, as if they too had come to know the deep and true love one can share with really old milk.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Was it good?

It was good. Damned good.

Recipe: Mirin-glazed Salmon
Source: Nigella Lawson

Come over. I'll make it for you. But you get to scale the salmon. That wasn't as fun as I thought it'd be. Obviously the top of the salmon was a good deal darker than I anticipated but that isn't burnt fish, that's caramelized mirin glaze. Ooh-de-lolly! The rice is jasmine rice (that's jasms to you, fam) and the salmon I got from a ritzy shopping center joined with the subway station closest to work. The lady was very helpful. Actually yesterday was the most successful shopping experience I've had here so far. Very nice. I bought the baby asparagii? asp... vegetables today as well as the mirin and the brown sugar. I haven't smelled real brown sugar for ages. It was intoxicating.

Anyhow, this plate lasted about 15 minutes under the scourge of my fork-wielding appetite. I had at it while watching Julia Child explain about cooking pâté inside a dough decorated to look like a branch and leaves. That's right. As I was eating, I was watching a cooking show. It's my favorite way to spend a meal. And you know, now that I'm cooking for myself, I'm not nearly as prone to eating dessert. After preparing to cook, cooking, eating and watching other people prepare, cook and eat, I am discovering that I am, to my surprise, full and satisfied. Eating out is great. Super convenient, etc. But it's nowhere near as satisfying or pleasurable. It's not an event and y'all know how much ol' Geoffwah likes events, especially when they center around food.

Now to introduce you to the lady who's put the well-sated smile on my lips and the turmeric in my cupboard: Nigella. She is sultriness. She is spices and honey and herbs and simmering sauces. She personifies the inviting smell of your mother's kitchen after mamaw's been cooking something extra special. She makes everything look easy and takes a sensible approach to ingredients and time-saving techniques in the kitchen that STILL allow you to eat well and, if you choose, healthily. Nigella's recipes, coupled with my morning exercise should lead me down the road to toe visibility in due time.

I look forward to that day, as I look forward to a day sometime soon when I can cook for you, loving reader, and leave you to do the dishes.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Yes, I'm Still Here

Shocked reader, I know. I know. I know. Calm down and have you a glass of tepid water. Breathe into this paper bag. Eyes closed. Head between knees.

Not mine, confused reader. Yours.

There we are. Your hair's a mess after putting your head between your knees but looks aren't important right now. Also you have an eyelash. Not there. There.

As you flick your errant lash to regions unknown, I must make a confession. As I look at you through the ornate scrollwork of the confessional grille, I see that time has been kind to you and that you've been moisturizing. For this, the Lord and I are pleased and truly grateful.

I write to you a changed man. In many ways. While you've clearly been spending your time shopping for well-priced exfoliants and eye creams made of the finest that nightingales have to offer, I have been working and living in a strange, strange land.

Korea. How I love her. She is comprised of so many Americanisms that one can hardly separate the two. They - the "purebloods" of Korea and we the hodgepodge of immigrant/native ancestry that make up Americans, are inextricably spun, twisted, braided, mashed, folded and spindled together. Their history with us, however, has not impacted us nearly as much as our history with them has impacted them.

Americans can go throughout their day, unaware that we were ever in Korea, that we had anything to do with her division, defense/destruction, or subsequent rise to fortune/decline into madness. But here, they think of it everyday. Every time they see a sign in English, or an American business, or a white or black foreigner, or most prominently, an American in uniform, they are reminded.

So Korea (South) has done what she can with what she's been given and, honestly, to have made such an empire out of so little in such a short amount of time is an enormous accomplishment. Monumental. It's a testament to the power of commerce and democracy in an impoverished nation.

The things that I despise: stupid commercials, affected emotion, terrible terrible fashion choices, loud people, liberal horn usage (this is car horns, Trumpet-wielding Reader), lack of empathy, lack of courtesy (occidental), excessive public vomiting...these are things I despise every and anywhere. Not just Korea. They happen a lot here, yes. But if they happened in front of me in America, I'd be just as peeved.


Onto more pleasant subjects.

Work. Good Lord, I LOVE my job. LOVE IT. I hate to say it, possibly unemployed reader, as I know sometimes we don't love our jobs but SOMEHOW I love mine. And that "Good Lord" is in all due reference, I do pray to the Heavens in gratitude nightly.

I have moved into a new place. It's huge. Out in Bundang, a suburb created for the Seoul elite(much like the one I left in Ilsan). The new job is with the same company as the one I left iSponge for. This is a different location but with some of the same staff and administration.

I want to introduce you to some of my gentle lurves from the afternoon classes. During this time of the day I am completely exhausted and a little punchy from having danced and shimmied and belted nursery songs all day for the kindergartners.

These after-schoolers come in after a full day of elementary school (2nd grade). They're also exhausted and sometimes we just stare at each other with little strands of drool from the corners of our mouths to our shirt buttons. It's a party.

The completely delightful first afternoon class. They are well-behaved and pleasant. Kai, pictured here blurred due to his natural exuberance and his attempt to gross his classmates out with his flipped-out eyelids, is about as energetic as the kids get. He adds a lot of spice to a cream-of-wheat start to my afternoon. These kids are game for anything.

The second of the two afternoon classes. These kids I've had since last year and they are sharp as tacks, even though they look as jaded as a roomful of tiny tiny Korean Mafioso. They are witty and clever and love to laugh. Obviously, they are a pre-made comedy troupe and their timing is impeccable. I'll be touring with the green polo shirt kid in ten years. Watch for it. Wait for it. Yearn for it.

So yes, I do love work. I do enjoy my co-workers. I do enjoy making the curricula and all that that entails. I appreciate if double "that" is a rough read. Thanks for hanging on, steadfast reader. I'm fine, myself, just looking very forward to Christmas vacation when I get to fly back and see y'all.

If you are curious at all, these were taken with my new camera. Learning from my mistake last year in Tokyo (having dropped my new camera on the first day, effectively shattering the lens, rendering it paperweightish for the rest of the trip), I have purchased this:

Isn't it gorgeous? Isn't it stylish? Isn't it indestructible? Yes, yes it is. You can crush it, freeze it, sink it, swim it, use it, abuse it and drop it from six-and-a-half feet and it'll keep on a-tickin' boyhowdy.

For those of you who care, Loving Readers, I am sorry to have been away for so long. I ask your forgiveness.


Next stop: TOKYO!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Ladies and Gentlemen

Aiden Panty Playground.

That is all.

Friday, June 12, 2009

And now, just like a pole dancer or a millworker...

I'm down to the daily grind.

Day in and day out, beleaguered reader, I deal with the likes of the sweet boy pictured here. We'll call him Raiden, to protect your innocence.

"Geoffrey Teacher, later today I will sit with my head on the floor and talk to you out of my hind orifice."

Yeah, I was just as surprised as you when he used the word orifice.

Or whatever.

There's a battle raging in that classroom. The Apple classroom. The Apples. We all shudder with fear upon hearing the name. We actually convulse and soil ourselves when we enter the room. I feel impotent, redundant, null as the French would say. I have become the educational equivalent of my student's favorite feature on my neck: a skin tag.

NO, THIS IS NOT MY NECK! This is the anatomical avatar of my career thus far.

I have tried everything within my power to get them to settle down, to listen, to join me in their education.

Some, like the girls here, traipse down the corridors of knowledge and learning with aplomb, their childlike laughter reverberating as they learn a new phrase or use an old phrase in a new way.

A chosen few threaten each other with scissors, clandestinely severing random locks of hair from friends and occasionally doing a worksheet about how many sides a triangle has.

This is as advanced a case of Lord of the Flies Syndrome I have ever seen. Admittedly, there are a couple of kids who may not be able to help it and, due to the that's-just-how-things-are-edness about Korea, parents choose not to believe that anything is wrong with their child. Instead they blame the teachers for their child's inability to sit still without turning themselves into a human washing machine. You just enjoy that mental image.


And now: the Spin Cycle

For the few that pills won't help, they're just easily distracted. Noisy kids, whispers, bits of errant string, breathing things or shiny objects: anything and everything can set them off on a course of actions that end in their removal from our little society of knowledge and into the diet coke bottle-riddled confines of the teacher's room.

Sometimes, hindsighted reader, I wish I'd done things differently. Reacted faster, had some kind of brilliant solution, called upon the unbridled power of an impromptu tapdance to reign them in. But the truth is, when it comes to kids, I just don't have any resources. I haven't had to deal with them for ages. And really I had become sort of disenchanted with them in the last 10 years, not having had to deal with them at all.

The point is: today I yelled and almost cried. On Monday we're having an early morning meeting (-sigh-) regarding discipline and behavior given by our fearless leader and a pretty inspiring guy, our principal.

I don't know what to expect or what the outcome will be but...I'm hoping for more tools.

I'm hoping for deliverance.

I'm hoping for cattle prods.

Monday, June 1, 2009

The Escape Part II

And now...the REST of the story:

Simultaneously with all of this hooplah, fair and decent reader, I was being groomed, nay...even courted, by the job which had started this whole fiasco ages ago. The first time I'd even thought of going overseas, a friend of a friend (KaRyn, friend of Jon), suggested that I apply to take the position she was leaving.

"Where is this job?" I asked.

"In South Korea," said she.

"That sounds dirty and possibly behutted," said I.

"And stinky," she thought to herself, but instead offered the four and a half most intriguing words a freshly graduated wanderer can hear:

You'll. Make. Good. Money.

I saw dollar signs, mostly because I didn't know what the currency was in Korea. Rupees? Yen? Tourquoise agates?

However, when the time came down the road to connect with KaRyn (emphasis on the RYN, thank you) it turned out that she'd decided to re-up on her contract and so I was left to my own devices, scouring the internet for a free ticket out of the Home of the Brave.

Here, you look hungry, famished reader. Have yourself a Coke zero and a bag of Doritos, to ease any emotional distress you may be feeling.


Once I saw things at the i-Sponge taking an El Nose-o Dive-o (Spanish for "nose dive", proud Latino readers) I quickly went in search of alternatives. KaRyn, now nearing the end of her contract, began to drop hints which, like good underwear, were gentle but firm.

The new job was far more intriguing. An American system school where the teachers and the principal have the power, not the mothers. Where the children learn to speak and listen before they learn to read and write (just like real life!). This is a land where English is not taught explicitly but via content-based curricula: Art, Drama, Language Arts. And it's ALL. IN. ENGLISH.

You should know, ye readers of the arched supercilius, that the speaking of Korean is not villified, but honored and accepted as an important part of the children's lives. The classes are disciplined with clear behavioral methods. The school serves the child, the whole child, rather than its own money-grubbing agenda and desperate, melodramatic mommies. The principal is very available, affable and always has amazing suggestions and insight into dealing with children and understands the difficulties of getting a six-year-old boy to just sit the hell down and shut the hell up while you're trying to give him the Judas-priesting lesson that you spent all rassafrassin' morning planning. And he's gonna like it. And sit nicely.

Or risk certain death/dismemberment.

The transition was only slightly awkward. I had to stay for two weeks in the basement mews of my principal's palatial residence. It was glorious and tiny. But I loved it. I took me a trip to Japan to get a new visa (it was forfeit once I left my old job) and witnessed me some sights and breathed me some clean air before coming on back to the land of constant nasal offenses.

A week later, I moved out. It strikes me that I've spent a considerable amount of my life moving in and out of basements.


Like the other job, I was worried for the entire first month here at "Creativity School" that I would be fired. As you can imagine, this resulted in a goodly amount of swamp ass. But after time, I saw that was not how things work here. Teaching is also seen as a learning process here and the teachers are not expected to do anything other than work hard and do their best with what they've got.

Here, settled into the daily routine, I am constantly encouraged, uplifted and supported by those around me. When I have a problem, I have people to go to. When I need to punish a child, I can (and do, you'd better believe). When mommies come to the school, I rarely see them.

It isn't bliss, fair reader. It's often arduous and trying. But there's so much I want to do and so much I am now doing that it boggles the mind.

Needless to say, I am happier here at 창의 학교.

I love hearing from you all and hope that this blog finds you healthy and happy.



Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Escape -part 1-


This journal has been a long time in coming. I know most of you have been asking after me and my silence has worried my loved ones greatly.

For this I am sorry, but you see...the last few months have been rough ones. Journey back in time to just after my last post with me, adventurous reader, and let us gently spelunk our way through the caverns of treachery and depression (January and February), but let's do it together and with snacks.

First and foremost, you must know that the principal at my school arrived at the school only a couple of days before I did. She was purportedly scouting the school to consider buying it from the company. Yes, schools are bought and sold here.

OKAY! The preface is over. Now onto the...just...face?

January first marked the beginning of the new principal's plans for the graduation of several of the previously mentioned students. It also marked the beginning of the new principal's plans for getting the head Korean teacher fired.

One can only speculate as to why she wanted to fire Christine teacher, but this is my blog and speculate I will! My guess is that Christine, though a mere underling, knew much more about the ins and outs of a kindergarten than the new principal. In Korea, it's important that one kowtow to their boss and not challenge or question their decisions or judgement.

Well...Christine may look and speak Korean but...she spent a good portion of her life in New Zealand and, thusly, a lot of the Korean norms have been well-Kiwi'd out of her. The principal had had experience with hagwons (after-school study schools), but has precious little knowledge about elementary education. Christine, on the other hand, has been working in kindergartens for several years and knows quite a bit but is not in a position of power.

To cut a long story short, I'll just say that the power struggle became too much for the principal and she decided to fire Christine.

I could tell that Principal had wanted the whole thing to go smoothly and quietly, like a KD Lang ballad, but sadly for her, it went only slightly less smoothly than, say, a Yoko Ono ballad.

First of all, Christine had been with the school for a year. As you know by now, the schools are run, not by teachers or head teachers or even principals but by obsessive, controlling, psychotic Korean mommies. Sadpants once again for Principal: the mommies of the graduating class all knew Christine VERY well, but were unaquainted with the new principal. of the firing spread like nutella across white bread toast and soon a varitable bevvy of porcelain-faced, stunningly passive-aggressive mommies marched into the school, voicing their concerted opinion of the principal.

During this time, the principal fired the cook, to hire a cook who would work longer hours as the schools janitor, and fired our only helper teacher, while simultaneously racking up huge bills on the company credit card.

Also about this time we (the foreign teachers) got a call from Christine in hysterics because the principal had told her that we'd all gone into complain about the way Christine was doing her job. A he said/she said roundabout fiasco of lies, geared toward forcing Christine to quit early.

Luckily for our Cha-cha (Christine's nickname at the office) the stink the mother's raised reached the nose of the principal's boss, and once he caught wind that they'd threatened to pull the kids out early and send them to a different school if Christine were fired, decided to postpone Christine's "leaving date" until the kids' graduation.

What does this have to do with me? can imagine, empathetic reader, that the school was a fairly unjoyous place to be during this time. That feeling spread to the kids and we saw many, many of our students leaving.

It became a dreadful thing to show up to work, and an even more dreadful thing to have to deal with "That Woman" as she became known. Day in and day out she became more and more strange. Calling us into the office at seperate times, telling us that teachers were talking about us, or that parents were saying things about us, none of which were true.

Plans were made, dropped, brought back and changed on a dime and from day to day none of us were sure what was going to happen or what new dramatic revelations were going to spew forth from that back office, but spew forth they did.

This was when I decided it was time to leave.

The day came when I had found another job, secured it, and was told to break the news to "Her" as nicely as possible, as it was important to have a good relationship with her after my employment. Why? I have no idea.

For a few days, I hemmed and hawed. How to say I was leaving after only a few short months? When would be the best time? What kind of dress shirt says "yeah, I'm outta here, CRAZY"?

Sadly, none of them. However, the time came, as I prayed in the bathroom stall for guidance, that an opportunity sauntered forth like a member of the Lollipop Guild. I say that only because That Woman was seriously about 5 feet tall.

She asked me into her office (or lair, whatever) and sat me down to talk about finding replacements for the other foreign teachers, who were leaving in March. I seized upon my big chance and said that I'd had a good offer from another school and that I, too, would be leaving in March so she shouldn't need two more teachers, she'd need three.

After a two second pause she continued on as if I'd said nothing. She asked me if I knew anybody who'd be interested. I asked her how many people she needed. She said maybe only one, because the school didn't need three teachers. I explained again that she'd need at least TWO teachers since I wouldn't be there come March.

Another pause and then the Jack Russell head tilt.

She laughed and said " have a contract...I think you cannot break it...". Well...she didn't SAY it so much as SING it like a school yard bully sings "Oh Geoffreyyyyyyyy...guess where I put your gym shooooooorts". Ultimately I kept saying "Yeah, this is just a really good opportunity for me, I can't pass it up." and she finally said: "Oh, Geoffrey. You cannot leave. Don't disappoint me, okay?"

After several more minutes of back and forth, she stopped arguing and then proceeded to say "Okay?" over and over again.

"So anyhow, those are my plans."
"Geoffrey. Okay?"
"Okay, what? What's okay?"
-long pause as she was probably thinking 'fall into my trap, fall into my trap, fall into my trap'
"Are you okay?"
"I'm fine. What's okay?"
-nervous fake laugh-
"I have to teach now, I'll try to find somebody to fill my place."

Meh, I figured if she was gonna lie, I would too. Why would I ask one of my friends to work for her?! How could I after painting her as the Dragon Lady. I don't mean actual paintings with phthalo blue and alizarin crimson, I mean taking potshots at her lack of character or ethics. WithOUT the happy clouds, Bob.

I had TWO more meetings with her. They were equally unpleasant. I came to the second meeting and wasn't aware that I would be participating in In the second meeting she said "What if I don't want to sign the release?"
" would be nice to have it but...I think I'd be okay..."
"No...I think you have to go back to your country..."
"Umm...maybe not MY country, but a different country, yes."
"No, I don't think so."
After a brief pause, when it was clear that we both thought the other was CLEARLY mistaken and probably mentally challenged, That Woman merely chuckled and changed the subject.

Within a month, I was saying good-bye to the children. We had a grand graduation ceremony. The kids all did a good job with the ENORMOUS amount of memorization they had to do, and I'm happy to say that the dramas were not half bad. There's DVD of it, so...once I take the time to figure out how, I'll post some of the blessed event. This graduation marked the departure not just for me, not just for the kids, but for two other Korean teachers who were being hastily replaced after putting in their notices.

Before I left, Mr. Kang (the real owner of the school) looked sheepishly into my eyes and grinned like a boy who'd been scolded by mummy. He shook my hand and thanked me for all of my hard work on behalf of the school.

That Woman gave me a half-handed, limp shake and didn't look me in the eye. I wanted to break her fingers off but decided that, at some point, they'd realize the exodus was the first of many she would be causing and they'd break her fingers for me.

******JOYOUSLY KARMIC UPDATE: They've fired That Woman!*******