Firstly, just a quick note to say that I’m ok. Thankfully, the tragic events in Japan haven’t affected Korea. It’s still horribly sad though and I am glad that none of the people my friends know in Japan have been hurt.

The main effect that I witnessed here was that on Monday afternoon, the kids finished school way earlier than usual to practise a “natural disasters” drill. I asked one of my co-teachers what that meant and she made it sound kind of like a fire drill, they’d line up in the yard, whatever. The next day was a nationwide “North Korea” drill, with sirens and a crackling radio broadcast everywhere. It had a very surreal vibe, like an old WW2 air raid drill or something. In this case, what the kids do is, um, move somewhere. As far as I could tell, they would just leave the classroom and go to a corridor or something. It was a mix of weird and depressing in both cases, sort of an attempt to be prepared for something that you can never really prepare for. I mean, if there is an earthquake, ok, get outside. Then what? What are we meant to do with 1500 scared kids when everything on the mountain is falling down? I think it was definitely good to have the awareness of what could happen, though. I just don’t think that it was necessarily that helpful.
It is absolutely possible that all the instructions were in Korean and the kids and other teachers are super prepared, but I’m screwed. Knew I should have learnt Korean sooner!

On that note, I’ve been using youtube of k-pop videos to try to learn a few bits and pieces. I’m at the stage of being here that I can finally understand where words start and end instead of everything sounding like a bizarre stream of noises and madness!

I’m using G.Na -Black & White:

So I can now say “really makes no sense”, “please” and “you and I”. Working on getting “I see you” and “stop doing this” down. All in all, not entirely useless! I started with a different song called “I’ll Back Off So You Can Live Well” and picked up one or two words there but this is waaaay easier and not too bad for teaching. Especially as my kids don’t habitually say please and thank you and it kills me. I’m pretty sure this is a cultural difference rather than them being little pukes (for once) but I’m definitely getting annoyed at having things demanded of me. I also picked up “my-dah-ku” which means “back chat” or “cheeky”, etc.

On an entirely different note; I am sick of RICE! I have grown to hate rice with the firey passion of a thousand suns! If I never have rice again, I will be happy! This sort of extends to most Korean foods. I am so over it. I live my life wishing I had an oven so I could chuck in a pizza or some chicken dippers (Forget you, Jamie Oliver, these foods are delicious and I am a grown up! I will eat all the rehydronated, MSG-laden, sugar and salt filled foods I like! You’re lucky I don’t just make cake mix and eat it raw every damn morning because thats actually all I want in life!) I’m not used to food that is made in their way with their flavours and consistencies or anything. My system also finds it pretty hard to handle. I don’t know if I’m just an extreme westerner or what, but I honestly am not taking to it too well. I’m at the point where my co-teachers have given up and now just express concern for my not eating enough, so they’ve recommended I bring my own lunch. Which is fine by me! Now I can do it and not be rude but following the instructions of my elders, hooray!

In some ways, I see it as symbollic of my status as an outsider. I am different, I am not used to this culture or anything surrounding it. As much as I try to fit in, I will never quite be able to handle or enjoy having rice for three meals a day. I don’t fully understand the Korean mindset when it comes to preparing for disasters or for clashes with the North. I don’t understand why the social hierarchy of age is so very strict. I can’t relate to my kids’ workload and the hours they put in. I can’t quite get used to the fact that I am different. I have gone from being a majority and feeling fairly anonymous, to having people nudge their friends and point me out. To being stared at and having my actions commented on. I don’t think there’s any animosity in any of this, but it really brings it home that I am different here. I’m not the same. I’m an adult with worse reading skills than a child. My facial features are different, my skin is different, my physical build is different*. I don’t have rice for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I am different, and sometimes its very hard to relax. The other night I met up with a bunch of EPIKers for St Patrick’s day and I loved it partially because it was full of people who look, dress, act and feel familiar. To me, this has been a bit of an eye opener and sometimes I relish being different (it feels a little like I can do what I like, people are going to stare at me whether I’m wearing bright red sweatpants on the subway or not), and sometimes I just wish I was a bigger fan of sticky rice and spicy soup.

*On that note, some of my less well behaved kids have started to occassionally shimmy at me in the hallways. How do you even react to that?!