Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Korean Western

A Western in the East. The first week, you follow the rules. The second week, you realize there are none. Bullets come out of nowhere. The third week, you make your own. You get a gun. And the fourth week, you break them before they break you.

Cowboy schools: the name given to many privately run English establishments who handle teachers badly. They might break contracts, with hold pay, ration xeroxing, not have the appropriate books...They might fly someone thousands of miles to work for them and then, after a few weeks, decide they over hired. They might leave you high and dry.

Why? "No blue eyes. No freckles. Only round eyes. " The children were disappointed. Their round eye didn't have the full costume. The clown in the wrong makeup. "I'm sure you're good at teaching English, but you don't look the part. We need our teachers to look more more 'native speaker'. Our students are not happy." So refreshingly honest. A simple supply and demand problem.

Just that morning we had been laughing enjoying a lesson about animals and food. A cow becomes a steak or hamburger. A pig becomes bacon or ham. A chicken stays a chicken. A lamb remains a lamb. "What does a dog become?" asked one child. "A dog is always a dog," I said. "We don't have a food term for dogs."

Guerilla lessons: the name given to small unofficial gatherings of housewives or their children in changing locations...meetings in the name of learning English without the overhead of private schools.

Love Hotels: Hotels that rent rooms by the hour usually denoted by a heart on the sign--flashing neon for slightly upscale and a plain painted heart for the budget conscious. Conveniently discreet red and white curtain covers the parking lot sort of like a car wash. Can be rented for the whole night if things get serious.

The Love Hotel was convenient as it was a few blocks from the school. The man with the tiny pick up from the airport came again the next day to escort me to the school. It was not possible to get lost. After a few nights in the Love Hotel, I shared a flat with two Canadian men--teachers at the school. "You don't have your own flat yet?" asked one. "I think their still deciding," said the other. Decisions.

As three is a crowd, I had my own flat a brief while later. The room was spacious but bare apart from a standing closet with its peeling veneer atop an ondol floor. Typical of Korean homes, they ran pipes filled with water under the floor to heat the building. It required slippers at all times. A western toilet shared tight quarters with a shower. The shower was not separated in any way by a curtain or door. As Koreans are quite familar with squatting, they are not particular about the toilet seat getting wet. This is a Western pre-occupation. Things have probably changed since then. I hear they even have Starbucks now.

It was too hot to sleep directly on the floor, so I took my clothes out of my suitcase and made a mattress out of them. Bumpy it was, so I turned the closet sideways and slept on top of it to avoid burning up in the night. The bed was coming. It was a western bed...off the floor. Anything western took longer to arrive. Except teachers. Teachers flooded in from Canada, USA, and England. There were a lot of Canadians as they had highest unemployment rates amongst teachers in the late 90's.

As it was Korea, packaging was in Korean. Han guk mal. Though I was an English teacher, I was completely illiterate otherwise. A puppy in a washing basket. A fluffy white towel. Must be the detergent section. They borrowed a few words...."New and Improved" "Fabulous" "Best Brand". It wasn't fabulously helpful when trying to make out the difference between washing powder, floor cleaner, or fabric softener. Thank goodness for pictures.

I got it home and looked at the washing machine. Luckily, one knob with directions in Korean. I turned the dial. 8 sounds about right. Not too dirty. Not too clean. A neighbor looked on horrified for me as I poured something that was not detergent into the powder drawer. The first of many simple mishaps. It was fabric softener...not too far off.

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