Thursday, September 5, 2013

Health Check

It's been a while, and while I have several events to catch up on, my recent diseased state has prompted a quick post for the current time.  As is the common occurrence when teaching small children, I managed to pick up one of the many germ-fueled sicknesses carried by one or many of my students and I woke up one morning with laryngitis.  I didn't used to get get laryngitis when I would catch colds, but when I started teaching my sicknesses would almost always develop sooner or later into vocal impairment.  My standard course of action is what any normal American would do: find relief in OTC meds and ride it runs its course.  After 5 days of struggling to keep myself heard over the din of 20 kindergartners and trudging through afternoon classes.  I went in to work only to be scolded by my Taiwanese co-worker about the state of my health and my oversight of seeking professional consultation.  The typical response of most East Asians when they wake up with a dry throat and mild cough is to seek immediate health care from their local clinic or hospital.  Considering the amount they pay for a clinic visit (next to nothing) and the total they pay for prescriptions (nothing-most of the time), why not?  My co-worker's concern was mainly that it had been a week and I still had signs of a cold "That is very serious," she told me.  Apparently, colds are no laughing matter over here.  So, I finished work that night and went across the street to the clinic (open until 9pm!) and checked myself in for an appointment.  I presented my National Health card and paid 200 NT (approx. $6.90 US) up front.  I was given a number (just like at the deli!) and sat in the waiting area.  There was a little seating area across from me with several nebulizer machines shaped like polar bears waiting for asthmatic children (or adults!) to be hooked up to them. When my number came up the nurse came out to show me which room to go into.  When the doctor saw me come in he said, "So, English, okay?"  All of the doctors who in Taiwan who attend Taiwanese medical school use English textbooks.  So they know all the English medical terms.  Sometimes their layman's terms are awkward but they know things like runny nose, cough, sore throat, etc.  I tried to tell them I had sinus pressure, but it took some extra explaining until they understood.  Their conversation is sometimes a little stiff, but I usually feel confident that my concerns are understood.  After discussing my current complaints he gave me a little bottle of solutions which I was instructed to use as a nasal spray.  He actually intended to nurse to explain to me, but the most she got through was acting out how to use it, but stopped when she tried to tell when to use it.  Usually the nurses don't have as good a command of English as the physicians.
a typical haul
When the exam finished, he suggested I return for a follow-up in three days and sent me back to the front desk.  They told me they sent my prescriptions to the pharmacy next door sent me to go pick them up.  The pharmacist spoke some English and was able to give me clear instructions on how to take my (several) medications.  With my National Health card, I paid nothing for any of my prescriptions.  One of my prescriptions is something called "Liquid Brown Mixture".  That's all that's listed on my list of scripts.  The only ingredient listed is opium.  All I know is that it is the most horrid tasting stuff I have ever taken, but I sure feel relaxed after taking it!
It has definitely been a different experience living somewhere where healthcare is so easily accessible and affordable.  Even a few months back, when I was hit by a car on my scooter, I got an ambulance ride, Emergency Room care, an x-ray, and pain meds and my bill came to 680 NT (approx. $23.50 US).  I've been told my insurance can even get me discounts on contact lenses.  I have yet to try this out, but I do need some new ones soon.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Genuine Gratitude

While at work, recently, my mobile phone ended up in the hands of one of my students when she told me, “I want to see.” She swiftly unlocked the screen and opened the camera application like a pro and proceeded to document our class break time. The resulting video can be seen to the left. It was at this moment, while she was sitting in my lap and another 3 children were kittens under the table, that I realized how appreciation towards me I have felt in the time I have been here. I think a lot of it has to do with the overall attitude of the students and the general atmosphere of my workplace, which is usually pretty positive. While I enjoyed the work I did in Korea, I found it hard to feel appreciated. Mostly because of the management style, but also I felt the kids were not very appreciative. To be honest, I don’t blame them. The way our school director wanted us to work was to teach the students as if they were adults (regardless of age), but to discipline them according to their age. So, 4th graders were expected to come and read, write, and study for 3 hours with no games or any kind of fun learning activity to keep them interested. So, while I may have been an interesting person to some of my students, to most (mainly the middle schoolers), I was probably that boring foreign teacher who yells a lot. At my Taiwan school, we are encouraged to make our classes as interesting as possible and games are a necessity. So much so, that part of our training is learning how to create games for your different classes. It makes a huge difference in the classroom atmosphere, and therefore on my attitude, when you have a room full of smiling kids who are all so excited to tell me the present tense conjugations of the verb “be” if it means they get to kill sharks that I drew in the whiteboard ocean. Some of those sharks have some pretty menacing-looking teeth, some with blood as instructed by one of the students, and a couple with cute, girly eyelashes. It makes me sad when they choose to kill the cute ones first.

I will occasionally teach kindergarten when one of the permanent teachers needs a vacation or is sick.  After teaching a few different classes, a lot of the students know me.  One morning, I was there to teach a class I hadn’t taught before.  When I walked into the large common area where all the students gather with their classes before going to their classrooms, one little boy saw me and his face lit up.
“Oh! Teacher Brigid, will you be in Dog class today?”
“Yes, I will be in Dog class, today.”
He then turned to the boy next to him and started chattering excitedly in Chinese.  I had never met this kid before, nor had I ever taught his class.  I’m not sure where he learned my name, or why he was so excited, but it’s moments like this when I feel that I actually am more than just that foreign teacher.  Now, I’ve been to that kindergarten enough that every time I walk in the common area, at least 3 toddlers, no taller than my hip, will make a beeline for me and attach themselves to my legs.  I end up having to pry them off so I can do their morning exercises with them.

There are also the students at my school, which is pretty small, but still has a sizable amount of students.  I’m the foreign teacher for about 65% of the classes at the school, so I know most of the students there.  The planning area for the foreign teachers is tucked in a corner, but it still very visible for the students. They all wave and greet me when they come in, and they will say goodbye when they leave.  There are kids that will run across the play area to our desk when they see me or the other foreign teacher walk in.  Some of them can’t speak any English save for “Hello”, and “My name is _____.” So many times I hear, “Teacher Brigid!” and they just smile and look at me as I greet them, and then return to playing with their Chinese yo-yos.  The one student I’m always looking around for is Rain.  This kid is probably one of, if not the tiniest kids in his class and has one of those smiles that makes him look like he is always thinking of some horribly nasty plan.  If he hears my voice or seems me, he will fling open the door to the classroom where he is supposed to be napping with the other students and announce, “Teacher Brigid is a poo-poo!” Then he’ll laugh, flash one of his horribly cute missing-teeth smiles and wait for me to chase him back in the room, turn him upside-down and threaten him with 100 spelling tests.  I also have my advanced students who are a little older (fifth and sixth grade).  I know they appreciate me when I see them gathering in the classroom before class and two or three of them will see me and come running out saying, “Teacher Brigid, will you kill Johnny? He is sooo annoying!  Johnny! Teacher Brigid will kill you!”  It’s nice to be appreciated as the official executioner.

As always, not everything is perfect and there are still those punk kids that have decided they don’t need to listen to the foreign teacher, since they don’t understand what I’m saying anyways, nor can I speak Chinese, so I must not be someone who should be respected.  Mainly, they are some of the little ones who have never studied English.  I feel it is a combination of still learning how to be in a classroom, not knowing how to interact with a foreigner, and in a few cases, inherited attitudes towards foreigners.  The latter, I feel was a bigger problem with some of my Korean students.  I felt a noted difference in respect from several students in comparison to their behavior towards the Korean staff. While this judgment may be incorrect, it was the conclusion I came to after observations and conversations with the other foreign teachers.

All that aside, it is still nice to go to work and be greeted by 50 kids all smiling and looking genuinely happy to see you.  Even Rain, despite his declarations that I am, in fact, feces is pleased to come to English school and see me.  This, ultimately, makes me genuinely excited to see them.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Gong Xi Fa Cai!

It’s time for Chinese New Year! I have been in Taiwan for about 6 months now. There are a lot of things I have come to like better in Taiwan and some things that I miss from Korea.

Things I like:

1. The students- most of my students in Taiwan are young. The majority of my students are 2nd to 4th grade students. Occasionally, I will also teach kindergarten. Even though, they speak less English than my Korean students, they are much more enthusiastic and generally, happier. They like being at English school(well, most of them), they like talking to you, they are excited when they see you. My Korean students were nice, and some of them had a hilarious sense humor, but as a majority, my Taiwanese students are just good kids.

2. The job-The work environment here is worlds friendlier than my Korean job. Here, I feel like I am actually part of a team. The Taiwanese staff is genuinely friendly, even the ones who speak minimal English. My Korean staff was nice, but typically did their best to avoid any situation that involved interacting with the foreign staff. My Taiwanese company also is concerned about the level of enjoyment among the students. So a big concern with all the teachers is make sure you play lots of games. My Korean school abhorred the idea of fun and games in the classroom because the parents said they were paying for study time, not playing time. It makes a huge difference in the classroom atmosphere and overall attitude of the students when they are laughing and enjoying being in the classroom.

3. The cost of living-It is pretty easy to live nice for a low price. In Korea I was provided housing by my employer. It wasn't bad, it was a one room apartment with a loft which I paid about $430 a month in rent. However, in Taiwan I can live in a 2-bed/2-bath apartment in a community with security, a pool, and a gym for about $580 a month. (Split between me and my roommate-$290, each).

4. The people-The Taiwanese people, in general, are friendlier. It’s not that the Koreans were cold and rude, they are actually very warm-hearted people, but they are, typically, quite shy. They will do their best to avoid any situation that would involve having to interact with a foreigner. Not all Koreans were like that. Several times, there would be people in a train station or bus terminal (usually older people), that would be curious and would ask where I was from or why I was in Korea, what did I like about Korea, etc. Sometimes, they would speak enough English, other times, it would be very minimal and somehow through their minimal English and my minimal Korean we could interact. The Taiwanese don’t seem quite as shy. They will greet me with “Hello”, they will smile, they seem excited to see foreigners.

Things I miss from Korea:

1. The food-Korean food is just….awesome. The Chinese food is good, too, but I miss the flavors from Korean food. A lot of Chinese food in Taiwan is cooked in oil, so it will be a little greasy. Also, it is difficult to keep up your appetite in the night market when you get a whiff of stinky tofu at every corner. (You don’t really understand until you’ve smelled it) I’ve been told by many people that once you get past the smell, it is actually quite tasty. One day, I will try it, I promise. I actually have enjoyed many of the dishes I have tried here. Good lord, I never knew shaved ice could be so amazing. I don’t think I can ever eat enough dumplings. There is a late night food stand by my building that makes these sweet potato fries that are pretty much the food of the gods.

2. Transportation-it’s not like I can’t go anywhere in Taiwan. It’s just that, in Korea, I just had to step out of my building and there were several city buses, taxis, and a metro right down the street. If I lived in Taipei, I would not have put this on the list. I live in the suburbs and it’s a little difficult to get around town without having your own transport. I can walk to work, a bakery, a stationary store, post office, pharmacy, health clinic, convenience store, tea shop, a couple brunch restaurants, and a small supermarket. However, if I wanted to go to the mall, train station, larger supermarket, more restaurants, etc. I have to call a taxi. I recently solved this problem with the purchase of a scooter, but my scooter can only take me and 1 other person. If we are going somewhere with a lot of people, call a cab.

3. Money-I hate to say it, but I am not rich anymore. I knew I was making a lot of money in Korea, but I didn’t realize how well off I was until I came here. I work about the same hours here but am making less. My hourly rate is actually pretty much comparable to my rate in Korea. However, what I didn’t have in Korea was a ridiculously high income tax. The income tax for foreign workers in Taiwan is set at 18% until you’ve been in the country for 180 days. Well, sounds pretty bad for the first 6 months, but after that you should be fine, right? Yes, and no. The counter resets every year. So, my contract began in August, which means I would be reaching my 180 days this month. However, when the new year started, my day counter reset to 0 days. So I have to wait until June (180 days since the start of the new year) for my 18% income tax to drop to 9%. Then, I can roll in money for 6 months before going back to penny pinching in 2014.

On the bright side, with the Chinese New Year coming soon, I have gotten awesome gifts at work and I get a whole week off! I’ll probably be relaxing, shopping, eating, and may even head up to the hot springs. I have definitely needed a vacation ^_^

Wednesday, January 2, 2013


Okay, okay!!  Resurrected due to constant needling and nagging popular demand!  This blog ain’t dead yet!  Going by the date of the last posting….it’s been a while (to put it simply).  Let’s try and get up to date smoothly, efficiently, and thoroughly.

During my stay in Korea, I enjoyed teaching my students.  Some were awesome and made me really enjoy coming to work to see them, and some ended up on that list that all teachers have but never talk about with other people (except fellow teacher confidants).  Regardless of my opinions of some of my students, when it came time to say goodbye, I was given some of the sweetest goodbye notes from the students.  Even those I thought for sure reviled my existence, gave me some of the most heartwarming messages.  It made it really hard to leave, in the end. 

Apart from my work, I also came to appreciate and embrace the Korean pop music and entertainment industry.  I gotta admit, Korea knows how to churn out the pop idols.  Being able to talk to my students about something they knew and liked definitely fueled my interest.  Well, that and it’s just really really catchy music that comes complete with slick dance moves, attractive performers, and flashy concerts.  I learned the popular groups, the member names, fan club names, current idol scandals, the major entertainment production companies, and so much more.  I also attend several concerts, much the envy of many of my middle school female students.  Here’s a list of the performers I've seen in Korea:

Incheon Korean Wave Festival-this was a concert I attended very soon after I arrived.  It was in the city I lived in and it had about 15 of the top pop groups performing.
Rain- we caught his farewell concert before he went to the army for mandatory service
2pm- this video is from the Incheon Wave Festival I was at
YG Family- this was a concert for the members of the YG production company, including
Big Bang, 2NE1, and PSY (pre-Gangnam Style fame)
FTIsland- best concert I went to HANDS DOWN
BEAST- this group is probably known as the group of throwaways that made it big.  Several of the members tried out for other groups and were rejected, then picked up by their production company and are now a hit group.

Besides pop music, I also ate a lot of new foods.  Korean food is AWESOME!  Go eat some Korean bbq and try and tell me differently.  I dare you.  I learned to cook some of my favorite Korean meals and also continue to make them outside of Korea.  I also got to travel.  I went to Tokyo for a quick weekend trip, Shanghai, Kuala Lumpur, and Singapore.  I rode elephants, ate spicy curry, enjoyed fresh sushi, watched Chinese acrobats, saw Muslim women sporting Chanel and Dolce & Gabbana head coverings (they may be devout, but cheap they are not!), and rode in special train cars reserved for women only (they were monitored by train staff on occasion and they would forcibly remove any males that happened to be in the car).

I was very happy in Korea.  I am glad that I got to live there for a year.  All I will say is that if the school management happened to get a new director in my time, I would have considered extending my contract.  If I ever get the opportunity to return in the future I will most certainly consider it. 

Now, moving quickly up to the present time….I was excited to find an opportunity to teach in Taiwan and was able to line up a new contract upon completion of my Korean employment.  I also returned home to the U.S. for about 1 month and then left for Taiwan, the next chapter in this adventure……..(to be continued)

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Apologies and a Debut

First, I would like to apologize for the absence.  In truth, the fact of the matter is that I have become too lazy am having too much fun with my kids that posting to my blog has been getting pushed further and further back on my stove-of-priorities.  To make up for my lacking, I hereby officially dub the month of August as "Summer [In]Sanity" and vow to post once a week.*  You may now all offer me your forgiveness and enjoy the following Special Edition Debut:

Special Edition: Konglish Kooking Vol. 1 Issue 1

To kick off the first issue of Konglish Kooking, I will start very simply: cooking a pot of rice.

In Korea, (bap) is a staple food that can be eaten at every meal.  Many times it is mixed with other grains like barley, or legumes, like azuki beans.  The most common variety is 백미(baek mi) or white rice.  Apparently, many years ago, during the war, there was a great shortage of the rice and the custom of mixing in other grains or legumes to stretch the rice further began around this time.  The government encouraged everyone to do this becuase rice was becoming so scarce.  Many people grew up eating rice this way and thus, the custom continues because they have grown to like it that way.

Most Koreans use a rice cooker to cook their rice, as it is more convenient, and much easier.  Therefore, my instructions will include the use of a rice cooker. 

Step 1: Gather ingredients

All you will need is rice, water, and a cooker.  Here, you see all my ingredients assembled

Step 2: Measuring

Now, the most common ratio I use is 2:3 rice to water.  You can use any kind of measuring vessel you like.  Most rice cookers come with its own rice cup, but mine did not as it was a free one that was previously salvaged.  No, worries, I've got a handy tumbler that will work just fine; 2 cups rice into the pot.  In a rice cooker, the pot is usually removable which is very convenient when it comes to the next step.  

Step 3: Washing the Rice

This step is to wash off the talc and excess starch, which Koreans believe to be unhealthy.  Now, when it comes to washing the rice, the Japanese will tell you to rinse and then scrub the grains.  However, the Koreans will tell you to wash and swirl the rice briefly in the water and then drain; none of that ridiculous scrubbing.  So, this is how to wash the rice: take your pre-measured rice and place the bowl in the sink.  Turn on the water and allow it to cover the rice.  As it is filling with water, quickly swirl the rice a few times to rinse the grains.  Once the rice is sufficiently covered with water, quickly start to drain the water.  You will notice the water that is draining is cloudy.  Drain as much of the water out of the pot as you can.  Repeat this about 3-5 times until the water is almost clear.  It will never become completely clear, but that's okay.

Step 4: Soaking the rice

This step is very important as it apparently softens the grains and cuts down on cooking time.  It also allows the rice to become a little stickier when cooked, which is the preferred texture of rice for Koreans.  So, once you have drained the rice for the last time, drain as much of it out as you can.  Then measure your water into the pot.  Swirl it a little to make sure the grains settle evenly on the bottom of the pot.  This is very important for proper cooking.  Then put the pot back into the cooker and close the lid.  Do NOT turn on the cooker.  Many expensive cookers have built in timers that can delay cooking start to include the soak time, then it will start cooking after the rice has soaked for the pre-determined time.  I do not have a fancy expensive one, so I have to remember to turn it on.  Also, I cannot plug it in until after the soaking is done.  When plugged in, it is automatically in "warm" mode and will start to heat up.  The soaking times depend on the season.  Most Koreans will say about 30 minutes of soaking in the summer and about 1 to 1.5 hours in the winter.  Shorter soaking in the summer because it is so dang humid here during the summer.  In the winter, it is bitterly cold and very dry.  Once it is done soaking switch on your cooker and wait.  The cooker will automatically turn off once the rice is cooked.  How handy! 
Step 5: Enjoy your rice...Korean-style!

Please enjoy your rice any way, you like!  Eat it hot and freshly cooked as an accompaniment to a meal; put the leftovers in the fridge and make some 볶음밥(bokkeumbap: fried riceTeacher loves 김치 볶음밥 (kimchi bokkeumbap).  Who likes 김치 볶음밥?  Raise your hands! ("Ohh, Teecha, Korean!!")  You can also put some of your 볶음밥(bokkeumbap) into an omlette and have 오무라이스 (omurice).  My kids eat rice and kimchi for breakfast every morning and look how happy they are!

And thus concludes the first issue of Konglish Kooking.  Some of the dishes I have been enjoying eating and making for myself include: 떡볶이 (tteokbokki), 라면 (ramyeon), 비빔밥 (bibimbap), and the summer favorite 비빔 냉면 (bibim naengmyeon).  So, please look forward to those dishes.

*This statement holds no guarantee. 

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Norm

I was walking home after class last night around 7:45pm.  The fact that it was 7:45pm and I was walking home is already abnormal.  I am normally walking home around 10:45pm.  Middle school testing (think FCAT x 1000) has taken precedence over English hagwon class and thus, my middle school class has been canceled.  Anyways, I was passing the sportswear store (called “Indian”),  next to my building when another abnormal thing occurred.  The norm for walking the streets is usually a constant cacophony of various KPop tunes being blasted from the stores out to the sidewalks, but tonight, something was not normal.  As I was nearing the store I realized that what was being emitted from the speakers was not the latest Big Bang single or a classic hit from Super Junior nor a 2AM smash or even Girls Generation, but it was the unmistakable strains of Ke$ha.  To be specific, "Your Love is My Drug".  I used to hear this song at least 3-4 times a week back in the States between spin classes and the radio. It was at this moment that I realized I have reached the point where the abnormal was now normal and the normal was now abnormal.  It was so out of the ordinary that I had to stop for a moment outside the store to listen.  I even danced a little a bit, I'm pretty sure the Korean businessmen with their pitcher of beer outside the Chicken & Beer restaurant next door just dismissed me as another crazy 외국인 (waegukin-foreigner) as they gave me the sideways stare. (I've gotten used to the stares as well-that is also the well as the random "hellos" from schoolkids on the street--any attempts to continue the conversation with the kid will be answered by shy, confused smiles) As I rode the elevator up to my floor I reflected on this small milestone I have reached during my sojourn.  Other things that are now the norm:
1. My daily schedule:  I wake up between the hours of 10:30am and 11:30am most weekedays.  I leave for work between 2:30pm and 3:00pm.  I teach my first class (elementary students) from 4:30pm to 7:30pm.  Then, I teach my second class (middle school) from 7:35pm to 10:30pm.  I am then usually leaving work around 10:40pm.  Sometimes, I will stop at the Lotte Mart for groceries on the way home.  Yes, there are usually quite a few people grocery shopping at this time of night.  The only downside is, all the fresh bread is gone from the bakery and the sushi counter is closed.  I will then arrive home at 11:30pm which is when I will proceed to make and eat my dinner.  Then, if I am working tomorrow, I will crawl up to my loft around 12:30pm and proceed to work on my homework (catching up on my dramas-this is important homework!  if you know the dramas, you are automatically cool with most of the kids).  I usually fall asleep around 2:30am.  If I am not working the next day, then sometimes I may go out with some of the other teachers.  If this happens I usually don't get home until 3:00 or 3:30am and will fall asleep around 4.

2. Not buying a lot of groceries at once.  As I am walking to the Mart around the corner,  I do not have the luxury of a car trunk to load a lot of groceries into.  Therefore, I must only buy what I can carry in 1 or 2 bags.  Sometimes, that turns into a box.  Next to the registers at the Mart is a counter for people to load up boxes with items so that they can be carried easier.  The boxes are provided free by the store as they are the boxes the products are delivered in to the store.  There are scissors and tape at this counter as well as many spools of paper twine so that once your box is packed, you may tie a carrying strap onto the box.  Exhibit A: This past Sunday's groceries
The twine carrying strap is quite prevalent.  I've seen tied onto many things.  People on subways carrying newly purchased appliances, like rice cookers, electric fans (선풍기-seonpungki), and electric kettles.  They will also put twine on pizza boxes for carryout pizza.  It makes carrying a box a little more convenient, actually.

3.  1.5 L sized bottles of beer.  These are quite common in convenience stores.  It will almost always be Cass brand or Hite brand.  These are the two big domestic brands here. Hite is brewed from barley malt and rice while Cass is brewed only from rice.  When you go to a restaurant, you just ask for "maekju chuseyo", and they will always bring you one of the two (in a liter bottle which will be shared among the diners in small glasses, soju is a frequent accompaniment in even tinier glasses)

4.  Drinkable yogurt.  I don't know why this was so fascinating to me as I'm pretty sure we have something similar in the States (Gogurt?).  This seems to be the most common form of consumption for yogurt here.  But anyways, I now buy my yogurt in a 500mL bottle which I can pour over cut fruit in a bowl or use instead of milk in my cereal.  (my favorite combo so far: freshly cut chamae melon with strawberry yogurt poured over...soooo refreshing) 

My coworkers are planning a trip to Hongdae for another birthday celebration.  Hongdae is a popular nightlife district in Seoul.  I went to Hongdae a couple weeks ago to visit the Coffee Prince coffee shop.  A night in Hongdae means taking the train out in the evening and then having to catch the train back the next morning after they start running at 5am which means getting back home to Yeonsu-gu around 7am.  That's fine.  We're going on the weekend.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

The System

On Saturday night, I was riding the train back from Seoul.  It usually takes about an hour and a half to get from central Seoul back to my station, Woninjae, back in Incheon.  I was sitting between a business man on my left and a young woman watching TV on her smartphone on my right.  The rhythmic clacking of the rails and the smooth movement started to become quite pleasant and, as anyone would do after walking all over the city, I began to nod off.  I had spent the day with a co-worker, TV, and I could see her shoes across the aisle from me.  I still had several stops before I reached the transfer station.
"What kind of vegetables do you like to eat?"  I prompted my elementary-aged class.  "Ohhh, teacha,"  one of the said, "I only like potatoes and broccoli." 
"Me, too."  another chimed in.
"You kids need more variety," I quipped.  Another student raised their hand.
"Yes?  What vegetables do you like?"
"I like to eat potatoes and cu-...cukoo.."
"Cucmbers?" I suggested
"Yes.  Oh, and kimchi."
"Oh!  I like kimchi too!" many of the students agreed.  
"And me!"
"Ohhh, Teacher likes kimchi, too," I added, "Very good."
"Ehhhhhh?" they looked at me with confused faces.  "But, Teacha from U.S.A."
"So.  That doesn't mean I can't like kimchi."
I have been here for 3 weeks, now. This is where most people would insert "I can't believe it".  The thing is, though, I don't feel shocked or surprised that I've been so comfortable here.  Many people would say, "you're so far from home, isn't hard adjusting?"  "aren't you homesick?"  For me, it doesn't really feel that far away.  I suppose I have modern technology to thank.  With planes flying all over the world as well as the ability to talk to people face-to-face no matter where they are in the world, I really don't feel that far.  The only difference now, is that I can't read the labels on a lot of the items on the shelves at Lotte Mart.  But even that doesn't bother me.  I can usually figure out what it is by looking at it (still working on the brown rice tea, green tea differentiation).  Now, this doesn't mean I have not noticed the staggering difference in culture and daily life here, I have just acknowledged it, made adjustments accordingly, and continued on with my life.  My fridge now contains: 2 packets of kimchi, eggs (some already boiled), orange juice, a bottle of yogurt, some freshly cut pineapple, 2 chicken breasts, milk (Seoul milk-->do not know what that means), sliced ham, mayo, a bag of lettuce and perilla leaves, ketchup, long green onions, tea, a jar of "fruits jam", bottled water (do not drink the tap water), and Chilsung Cider (Korean 7-up).  My pantry is stocked with: 2 bags of rice, cranberry granola, a box of kiwis, a large bottle of soy sauce, cooking oil, olive oil, garlic, spaghetti, curry mix, several packs of spicy ramyeon, half a loaf of bread, instant coffee, tea bags, and small snack packets of crackers.  As I finish the list of these items, my washing machine is singing to me.  That means my clothes are clean.  When I turn my air conditioner on, it also sings to me.
Back on the train, the transfer station jingle is playing.  I see TV's shoes move.  As I stand up, I see her pointing towards the door.  We shuffle through all the people and make our way over to the doors.  The automated system announces the next station on 3 languages (Korean, Japanese, and English).  The train slows, the doors open and every files out.  The people waiting to get on patiently stand in two lines on either sides until everyone is off.  Then, they file on.*  We walk down several stairs, through the station, and up several more stairs.  We then get on the next train and ride several stops and get off at Woninjae.  We walk through the local park back to our building.  It is 10:30pm and it is packed with kids.  Many are playing basketball on the courts, there are some riding bikes around, some adults are running or walking on the circular path around the park, and other kids are playing on the playground equipment.  As we cross the street, I think about the chicken cart I see on some weeknights when I am coming back from work.  One of these days I should buy some chickens from him.  Two roasted birds for 10,000.  That's a pretty good deal.

*For those who were in Rome with me: people stand in line at bus stops.  They stand in single file and they will extend the line down the sidewalk.  When the bus or train arrives, everyone waits for people to get off, then they get on one-by-one.  That is the system and everyone follows it, neat and orderly.