Thursday, September 28, 2006

Culture Shock: The Big One

Today, I had a pretty good day at Dong Bu Middle School. I was a little surprised when I showed up and was told my my co-teachers that we would be teaching out of the book. I had brought some lessons I prepared. I went with the flow and taught out of the book, and I think I did a pretty good job. i learned some more Korean--my co-teachers at Dong Bu have been very good teachers for me. They take time between classes to help me with my reading and conversation. I still couldn't say anything in Korean "out in the wild" but in the classroom-like setting I can do okay (I guess its kind of like most of my students).

Funny thing: In Korean, the USA is called "meegook" (Friel Romanization) and literally means "beautiful country." Mee is beautiful and gook means country in Chinese--the language from which much of Korean vocabulary is borrowed. My rudimentary Korean knowledge also tells me that in Korean, gook means soup. So, in Koreanese (Korean+Chinese), meegook, the word for the USA means: Beautiful Soup! The Koreans of course can switch between their Chinese and Korean words flawlessly, but it got a good laugh when I pointed this out. I dare say that it was my second pun in Korean!

With the exception of my towel, it was downhill from there. I got a ride home and got on my computer to check my bank account. Even though the English version of my Korean bank's internet site is a little buggy, it lets me check my balance with no problem. I had not been paid. I was very upset. I grabbed my things, threw my shoes on, and began my march to the bank. I was supposed to be paid on the 25th. Then, after I got home from school that day, I got a call from my co-teacher asking what my bank number was. I had already given it to them once, and since she was calling me after hours, it meant I obviously wasn't getting paid that day. Now, three days latter, I still hadn't been paid.

The English teachers that are in my program and scattered across the province keep in touch through a yahoo group. I have heard of a couple hiccups where the money was in the accounts, but not showing up right away. I went to the bank and found that the money just wasn't there. I indeed had not been paid. I have enough money to live on for awhile, but I had planned on going this afternoon to buy a train ticket to Seoul. I'm going there next week with my group of English teachers during Chusok, the Korean thanksgiving. I then called my co-teacher, but she is on an overnight field trip with all of Seong Po Middle School, and they won't be back in the office until Saturday. The banks are closed Saturday.

So, I felt the most isolated I've felt yet. I was alone on this island with no one to talk to. I felt completely helpless. I had been working for a month, and trying to adapt but I was also looking to spend time with other Americans (and Canadians) and getting away for a bit. I thought about trying to talk to the bank manager. We made friends after my visit on Monday. He spent his compulsory military service in the special forces with an American unit and speaks good English. The other day, after helping me setup my online banking (after hours), he took me outside and offered me a cigarette. Not only had he visited Missouri, but he had been to St. Louis, and even Hannibal. It was great to talk to someone who knew my home state. He wasn't to be seen today, so I began a march to Home Plus.

Home Plus is about two miles from my bank. Along the way, I forced myself to do a half-smile even though I didn't feel like it. I found no relief at Home Plus. It was the first night the new theater was open and it was swarming with middle school students. Oh, and no American movies. The entire setup was so foreign I had no idea what to do--this is coming from a former manager at a movie theater back in America. So, I gave up the movie idea, and decided to return for a matinée on Friday (I have no school since all my students are on that overnight field trip).

I got my towel, and gave in to buy that broom. Then, I went to get some cheese--hoping the large store would have something real. The only thing they had was processed cheese slices, or brie. I bought a package of "Cheddar Process Cheese" even though it can't really be called cheddar (or cheese for that matter). I ended up in the meat aisle, where two enthusiastic employees bugged me until I tried their "steak" samples. "Beef steak, try steak. Beef steak good!" They shouted. I tried a sample from the end of a toothpick. Still frustrated about the money, and the broom, and my isolation, I said plainly, "That is not steak." The price they had on the fist-sized raw meat-product was $10.00--discounted from $13! It didn't taste bad, it just wasn't steak.

So, I headed out from the store after bowing to the alarm clock lady to the side of the check stands and paying for my broom, towel, and "cheese product." I was still pretty upset. I headed to the escalator, where an employee is stationed just to usher people onto the escalator. I didn't need to be "ushered." On the wall next to the escalator are various ads and pictures. Most of them have horribly translated English phrases.

Then, a picture of a cute baby caught my eyes. The baby had his mouth open and had the bottom of a glass bottle in his mouth. I strained my eyes to see what the bottle had in it. The label read, "Vodka!" The huge picture was of a baby sucking on a bottle of vodka! I laughed out loud. It made my walk home a little more bearable.

When I got home, I e-mailed the "Junior Supervisor" for the school district (the American equivalent would be assistant superintendent) and cc'd the English program's supervisor at the provincial office of education. Hopefully, my pay thing can get sorted out tomorrow. If not, I'm not sure what I'll do. Today, if I learned anything, it was that the normal "life problems" are amplified when immersed in a foreign country.


  1. josh...who is melenda? you have an admirer now? did i just ruin it by asking you that??



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