For Your Viewing Pleasure

Here is a taste of what my little people and I have been up to for the past couple months. I was recently invited to see the website on which these pictures are posted for the parents and selected the following few gems (out of the hundreds) :Kindy

kindy6 Kindy2 Kindy3 Kindy4

I teach four classes but spend the most time with this kindergarten class every morning. I never imagined enjoying them as much as I do. They are the best part of my days. “Who loves you?” I ask when they line up for lunch. “Teacha does!” they grin. You betcha.

Advertisements

The Doctor Will See You Now. Like, Right Now.

Okay, so obviously with my last post I hit rock bottom. I was sick, miserably so, and my loneliness and frustration with Korea came pouring out of me like an oozing sore.

On Friday I finally went to the doctors. I had been putting it off because I imagined the hassle that would come with getting an appointment, explaining myself to a doctor who most likely wouldn’t speak English, and getting medication. The office was closed by the time I got out of work each day and getting up early was the last thing my sick body wanted to do. But after a week I was fed up and went on my lunch break.

Enter the miracle that is the Korean medical system.

I walked in the office and asked to see the doctor. They took my alien registration card and asked me to wait. Less than FIVE minutes later I was in his office explaining my symptoms. He examined me and told me in broken English that I had an infection in my lungs and also the common cold. He gave me a prescription and I walked out to pay for the visit. A grand total of four dollars. I took an elevator down to the pharmacy and wa-la! I had a week’s worth of SIX different pills to be taken morning and night. Another grand total of eight dollars. I even had time to get a sandwich at Subway afterwards. I was stunned.

I took the pills with my lunch and by five o’clock I was truly feeling like a brand new woman. Unbelievable. I was so giddy to be feeling even the slightest bit better I decided to go for a walk at the park after work. A decision I quickly regretted and cut short to go back to my apartment, take the pills again and pass out.

Isn’t that the most efficient thing you’ve ever heard of? It took twenty minutes for goodness sake! It would take that long of a phone call just to make an appointment in the States.

Anyways, being sick had a huge impact on my mental health and perspective. Being healthy again quickly reminded me that life isn’t so bad. Yes my apartment is shitty, but it’s free and it’s mine. Yes, they take an absurd amount of photos at my school, but some of them are pretty cute.

Yes, Korea is definitely not what I was expecting it to be, but that’s life. I was strong enough to come out here and try, and each new experience helps me grow. I am thankful for a healthy body, a loving family and the opportunities life presents me with. I am thankful for sunny spring days and skype dates with my boyfriend, who doesn’t mind if I am blowing my nose through most of it. I am thankful for the few friends I have made here, sharing my struggle and lifting me up with kind words and good company. And I am thankful for you, readers, for your kind support and encouragement.

I’m not sure how much longer I will be here, but for now I am taking each day as it comes and making the best of it; something we are all doing, somewhere, somehow.

Sincerely,

Savanna

A Woeful Wednesday

On Wednesday I was sick as a dog. I went to school with a deep cough and enough snot to empty out your freshly opened tissue box. I didn’t call in sick because well, that’s not really a thing here. My school allows three sick days and if you take them they insist on taking you to the doctors themselves. You better be dead or dying because your boss will be waiting outside to hear the diagnosis. They don’t have substitutes I guess. My school is a private academy. It’s a business. We fudge grades so parents will be happy and rush through advanced arts and crafts projects so there’s time for the photo op at the end. I’m not kidding.

“Look we’re making waffles!” ( I made waffles. They’re 5 years old for goodness sake.)

“Look we celebrate St. Patty’s day!” (They gave each kid a green balloon and a shamrock headband.)

“Look we made Easter Baskets!” ( 7 oragami baskets in 20 minutes. The kids put the stickers on.)

“Look at the pretty white English teacher working with your kids!”

Now, I’m not singing my own praises, it’s widely known Korean’s are lookists and your chances of getting a job increase ten-fold if you’re attractive. South Korea is the plastic surgery capital of the world. It’s a common high school graduation gift for most girls. It’s why they ask for an intro video and multiple photos with your application. Glad I made the cut but now hundreds of photos of me posing with each individual child are on some website somewhere for the Korean parents to comment on. Yikes.

Since it’s such an expensive private school, the main thing is keeping the parents happy. Us teachers have little input. The Korean staff and administration handle it all, and then speak to us if there is a problem. “Why didn’t you sign the kid’s homework?”

“Because he didn’t do it?”

“Okay but then he did it afterwards, you should just sign.”

Whenever my kids fail a test they retest with the Korean helper teachers the next day and come back with one hundreds. I mean really?

ANYWAYS there I am snotting all over myself at the start of my nine hour school day (yes, nine), maintaining little-to-no control over my classes and being too tired to care, when my boss asks to see me.

Now, I’ve mentioned a couple of times my apartment is pretty rough. Originally I was resigned to that fact but when I eventually got to see all of my coworkers apartments I realized I REALLY got the short stick. I knew that having a nice place to come home to would improve my general outlook and mental health, so I asked to be moved.

I asked a couple of weeks ago and so when she wanted to speak with me I knew it would probably be about that.  And it was.

She admitted in broken English that my apartment was very old and needed repairs.  And then she tried very hard to explain why it would not be possible for me to switch. Or that if I really wanted to it would cost somewhere around five hundred dollars.

I just thought to myself, that money would be better spent towards a flight home. Then I went back to my kindy kids, handed out crayons, sat down and stared at absolutely nothing while trying not to cry. Only 7 hours of the day left.

Sincerely,

Savanna

“Nature Never Did Betray The Heart That Loved Her.”

Last weekend we went hiking at Bukhansan National Park. It took an hour by subway and when we finally arrived there was a small road lined with street vendors selling food and…hiking gear.

Guess we should have stopped to get some because when we finally got to the mountain we realized Koreans are hiking enthusiasts. And by that I mean hiking gear enthusiasts. And by that I mean every single person going up or down the trails was in hiking gear head to toe. I’m talking special hats, shirts, jackets, gloves, walking sticks, pants, big backpacks filled with who knows what, and of course, boots. Nylon pants in green and orange earth tones scaled the mountain while neon plastic walking sticks poked and prodded it. Expensive looking backpacks hung on every shoulder and bucket hats shielded every face. We looked so out of place in t-shirts and sweats.

Turns out you don’t need all the gear to still be able to get to the top.

We chose a path and as we ascended the crowd thinned out. The trees were mostly bare, except for a few early bloomers with bright purple flowers scattered throughout the forest. It reminded me of New England. It was wonderful to be out of the city and among the trees, the air was fresh and warm and I felt nature’s healing touch. I needed it.

The peak provided a panorama of the sprawling city of Seoul, a remarkably quiet and still presence when viewed among mountains.

The most unique part of the hike though was the sudden appearance of Buddhist Temples among the trails. They were gorgeous.

temple2

Temple

Hiking

I can’t wait to go back to see the mountain in full summer splendor.

Sincerely,

Savanna

The Girl In the Elevator

There’s a girl who lives on my floor in my apartment building.  A foreigner, like me. I know because I was waiting for the elevator when she walked up.

“Hi.” she says, surprised.

“Hi.” I say, even more surprised.

The elevator opens and we get in.

Cue super awkward moment where we’re both not sure what to say next so we don’t say anything at all. I couldn’t remember the last time I was in an elevator with someone I could actually communicate with.

We stand quietly but inside I am absolutely RACKING my brain for SOMETHING friendly, relevant and/or intelligent to say to her.

You can’t pass this up. You need friends.

Ask if she’s a teacher.

No nevermind, it’s rude to assume.

Maybe…How long have you been in Korea? 

No

What’s your room number?

Definitely not.

Say something! Quick!

“You going to work?” I finally blurt out.

Alright, not the best line but I was panicking.

“Yeah….you?” she asks.

The elevator opens and we step out, “Yeah I work at a hagwon over on main street,” I answer.

“I work at a hagwon somewhere over there,” she replies in an English lilt and gestures off to the right.

Aha, my question worked! I now successfully started a conversation AND know she’s a teacher. And British! 

“Sorry, I’m late.” She glances at me apologetically as she starts walking away.

“No problem” I shrug, slightly defeated. So close.

I start to ride away when she calls to me, “I’m Grace, by the way”.

Boom.

“I’m Savanna!” I reply, with too much enthusiasm, “It’s nice to meet you!”.

And I ride away grinning.

Sincerely,

Well, you know.

A Stranger In The City, Part One

The day begins. I wake up to my low loft-ceiling covered in small glow-in-the-dark stars, accompanied by penciled drawings of rocket ships by some small child who once dreamed up here. The neon pinks and greens look down and mock me as they remain pasted to the peeling, dirty, off-white colored wallpaper that is suddenly visible in the morning light. I turn over.

The morning light is just a general expression for the few photons that kindly decide to shimmy in between the abutting eleven-story apartment buildings, shoot all the way down to my window and filter in through gaudy gold and silver curtains. There’s so little of it that consequently I am always sure it’s raining.

I love the mornings though. If I can get up on time. Maybe because it’s the one time of the day that being alone feels okay. Feels…peaceful.

I start with a shower in the awkward square of a bathroom that must have been designed by someone with terrible spatial reasoning skills (at least the water pressure’s good). After, I make myself a bowl of cereal and some coffee and enjoy those first few sips like embracing a lover. I flip through news stories or scroll social media on my computer and run down the clock till I have to maneuver my bike through the doorway, down the hall and into the elevator. I put in headphones and stare at myself in the elevator mirrors covered with Korean advertisements and try and guess at who the girl looking back is.

I bike slowly through the tiled walkways of the streets, littered with last night’s flyers and cigarettes. People either stare or don’t see me at all. The contrast of the bleak buildings and quiet streets in the morning versus the profusion of lights and life at night always makes it feel like the city woke up hungover.

I wait at crosswalks forever with the other morning travelers. For the first week I wondered why I kept seeing Korean men and women on (seemingly) random sprints, until I found myself doing it to beat the 30 second count down. Like a team of drag racers the cars wait impatiently in six lanes and are gunning toward you before the light reads “1”. If you aren’t already waiting at the crosswalk your ass better start sprinting unless you want to wait another 6 minutes. Thankfully my bike allows me to get to work without being sweaty and feeling like losing my breakfast.

After I make it across main street I enter one of the massive buildings and head up to the fifth floor, where most surprisingly, there is a kindergarten. The day begins. Again.

Sincerely,

Savanna