Monday, 8 March 2004

Idle Thoughts During A Snowstorm (March 2004)

So anyway, I have no idea why I'm indoors right now,
except that I'm recovering from a cold. The snow
outside is, paraphrased from a friend's Ukrainian
saying, "climbing down ladders," a rare and beautiful
thing no matter where you are. It's perfect snow. It
crunches underfoot, and it makes perfect snowballs,
sticks to your eyelashes, but doesn't soak through
your shoes. I've been walking around the streets of
my neighbourhood in my green, snow-magnet jacket,
looking like a snowman and grinning like a cat who
just grew opposable thumbs, but hasn't told anyone he
knows how to unlock the sliding door.

I was literally blanketed in snow, when I got to the
Subway (not the transportation, but the sandwich
restaurant, which is two blocks from my house, and
SUCH a joy to have so close; all last year, I ate at
Subway ONCE, and missed it more with each Whopper I
choked down). Before stepping inside, I brushed a
small avalanche of snow off my shoulders and jacket,
and then shook my head and let fly another small
flurry from my snow-gathering curls. After clearing
almost all the fluff off of myself, I looked up, and
the three employees in the Subway were all watching me
and laughing away. I was in such a good mood I didn't
even mind. When I left the restaurant, I crossed
paths with another foreigner named Colleen, from
Portland, who said "how long have you been here?"
I said, "Just over a week."
She said, "No wonder you're so friendly."

(often foreigners in Korea start off with this "golly
gee whiz" feel, and go up to any foreigner they meet,
and say silly things like "Hey! You speak English and
I have no friends! Can I buy you a coffee? A donut?
A car? What if I just follow you around for a while?"
-- and then as they get used to Korea, they get more
and more surly, until they'll pass a foreigner in the
street without even nodding at them -- as if they were
in Paris or something.)

Then I explained that actually I was just in a good
mood because of the beautiful snow, and we talked for
a while about Autumns in Ontario (where I grew up) and
New Hampshire (where she grew up), and made each other
homesick for a while, but otherwise hit it off rather
nicely. It always helps to have friends who live in
your neighbourhood.

It's been an interesting week. I caught a nasty cold
in my first week back (last time I came to Korea one
of the first things I did was get sick as well -- I
think it's part of my body adjusting to a new climate,
diet, etc.). Monday was a holiday here -- Korean
Independance Movement Day (leave it to a Canadian to
forget whether Independence is spelled with an "A" or
an "E"), the day when a Korean started the uprising
that eventually ended Japan's occupation of Korea. I
took it easy that day (I'd already had a lot of fun
that weekend, including taking a friend to that Indian
restaurant (Swagat) I visited with my old roommate
Dave, where he scoffed when I told them "I'll be
back"), but I was up six times on Monday night with a
throat as dry as anything I'd ever felt. It hurt to
swallow, and the next morning I had such a nasty sore
throat/headache combination that I called in sick on
my first day of work. I had wanted to get started on
the right foot, but instead I got started flat on my
back, sucking on a humidifier. Not only that, I asked
my boss to take me to a doctor's office that
afternoon, and since I had no cash, asked her to foot
the bill as well! Turns out I had an ulcer (an
ULCER!) on my right tonsil (and I'm sure my med-school
buddy - you know who you are - will tell me all about
that shortly), but I'm on a few antibiotics and
painkillers and I'm actually feeling quite well
compared to Tuesday evening.

So in the end, I missed my first two days, ate nothing
but rice cereal and orange juice for half the week,
and rented a couple of mostly decent movies when I
couldn't sleep anymore, but reading still made my
headache worse.

I haven't even tried, but somehow my students, before
I even came into the classrooms, had me tagged as a
"funny teacher". I've realized that if I want a class
of kids to take me seriously at all, I have to walk in
the room with a sour, mean face, to let them know that
while we're in class, I mean business. Also, since my
throat is the source of my sickness, my voice is 50%
at best, so I absolutely can't shout over students
when they're noisy. I trained them all to hush up
immediately when I clap my hands twice. Even the
kindergarten kids got that. I think I'm going to hang
onto that. Or maybe even find something quieter
still. I've learned the best way to handle a class of
kids is not with a sledge-hammer -- by being even
LOUDER than they are -- but with a scythe -- somthing
quiet and sharp that stops them right at the root of
the noise.

I'd forgotten what a pleasure it is to teach. I
really do enjoy getting in the class. After a month
of being excited/terrified of this new school which
normally only hires people with education degrees,
which has really high quality/professionalism
standards, it was really a relief to just plain get
into the class with the students and do some
old-fashioned teaching. (That's old fashioned
teaching as in actual teaching with students, as
opposed to thinking about/reading about/worrying about
teaching; it's not old fashioned teaching as in I got
out the slates, straps and rulers and handed out some
good corporal lashings). Teaching really does make me
feel good. This school's students are SO bright
compared to my last school -- fluent, with great
attitudes! They'll have conversations with you
outside of class, speaking in complete sentences! If
not for the accents, I'd think I were teaching back in
Canada sometimes. This is really fun. And the stuff
they learn -- most of the classes are within a year of
studying the same material kids their age are studying
in Elementary schools in California! Except how many
Californian grade schoolers can tell you the
difference between a pronoun and an adjective (come on
Angela -- what's the difference? MY students know.
Do you (even though you're not from California)?)

I'm teaching Kindergarten, which is also really fun.
After my first class -- I hadn't met these kids fifty
minutes before -- two of the girls already wanted to
come up and give me hugs, just for being there and
making a noise like a chicken (or maybe THAT's why
they all think I'm a funny teacher. hmmm).

I think I'm really going to like this. A lot.

And golly, it's fun writing to a bunch of native
English speakers, to whom I can write as strangely and
colourfully as I wish, and who will almost all still
catch almost all of what I'm saying. (If you're
having any trouble, ask your mom. You know who you
are. Dan.)

heh heh heh.

It's been really nice being in Seoul this time around,
because I already know how to survive -- last year it
took me until March or even May to really feel like I
could get through a day without any big troubles, but
this time I arrived already knowing how to use the
busses, how to read a subway map, how to read the menu
at a restaurant, how to ask if it had dairy in it (it
never does), etc..

Anyway, this letter may match the tone of my first few
letters my last time around, except maybe now that
I've been around the block once (as well as through
the wringer), that tone is tempered with a little more
savvy. One of my friends wished my letters could
always be so chipper, and match those of another
friend who's now teaching in Taiwan, but I don't think
I'd be able to write anything other than how I'm
feeling in an e-mail like this, and I don't think I'd
want to anyway. Sorry (you know who YOU are, too.)

So maybe my next e-mail will be melancholy and
introspective, or thought-provoking and philosophical,
or bubbly and joyful, but I hope they're never flip or
trite, because I think I owe it to you, my loyal
friends and family in Canada/USA/Red Deer, to give you
slices of the real, no-punches-pulled me, in the real,
no-warts(or-wonders)-concealed Korea.

All my love

Rob "Now I'm going to go get more snow in my
eyelashes" Ouwehand

Dave: your e-mail was awesome, and I'll respond to it
personally soon.
Melissa: I keep telling everyone here how wonderful
Ayden and your family is.
Kristopher: This school definitely looks like a
keeper. I've only had one day of classes so far, but
I enjoyed it a lot, despite a headache and no voice.
Angela: I JUST got your e-mail now. E-mails take
longer to reach me because I'm asleep when you send
them, and you're asleep when I answer them, AND I
don't check as often now that I have to go to an
internet cafe to check. Korean kids DO only go to
school from 9-12 AM, but then they go to after-school
schools (Math, or Science, or English, or Piano, or
Taekwondo, or Soccer, or Swimming, or several of the
above) somtimes until 7:00 or even 9:00 at night! And
yes, they go to school on Saturday. But not to our
school. Most Koreans go to work on Saturday too. And
sorry, I don't have a saxophone you can borrow. But I
do have a purple walking puppet named Apostrophe Bill
you can use -- though I'll need him back when I come

Dad (and everyone else)
My address (so you can send me presents, or even just
funny/cheeky/scenic postcards) is:

and, sorry to sound like a beggar, Dad, but could you
include in the package with the documents and
papermate pens, if you can, two more items? -- 1. a 2
ft by 4 ft (or something thereabouts) Canadian Flag
for display, and 2. a water bottle belt-loop hook,
like the one Mom gave you a couple of Christmasses
ago? That's all, I swear! Feel free to deduct those
amounts from money I send home, too. Thanks a

a few English errors my kids made:
"Two small words coming together into one word is a. .
. "
"Complain word!" (compound word)

the book said "I see two hedgehogs."
he read "I see two hot dogs."

and for some reason they wouldn't stop laughing every
time I said the word "Judge" -- it was being used in
the "judge not" context, but they kept pounding their
fists like gavels on the desk. I explained that it
was the same word -- a Judge judges people -- but it
still cracked them up.

and one more for the road, for anyone with the
endurance to read this far (you brilliant troopers):

I didn't know why Koreans kept mispronouncing the word
"Doctor" and laughing, 'till a former co-worker
explained. Ddokk is the Korean word for chicken, and
Toll is the Korean word for fur or feathers. So if
you mispronounce "doctor" in a particularly Korean
way, it sounds like "It took two chicken feathers to
fix my ribs!"

one more time, as always with love,

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