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Disclaimer: This is another post related to swine flu. Read on if you dare!

Mondays at SEV are both loathed and loved. On one hand, it’s Monday, and come on–who really likes Mondays? We have to deal with brand new kids, and our lunch hour (and a half) is cut short by a staff meeting. On the up side, Mondays are the marker by which Erin and I count down the weeks. Each week, coworkers comment on our predictable Monday Facebook statuses. Donny has taken to asking, “Five weeks left? How many weeks left now?”

Nobody likes returning to work on Monday morning. Coming back to work today was especially hard after such a good three-day weekend (of course, courtesy of swine flu). The nice weather offered the chance to get out and see some new sites, as well as visit a few old favorites with my parting friends. When I woke up this morning, I mentally geared up for another typical Monday, completely forgetting than 90 percent of the students signed up to come this week had canceled. Was blissfully reminded of the situation when I walked into the office and was immediately told that I had the morning off. Wahoo! Or as the Koreans say, Asahhhh!!!

The afternoon proved to be just as good as the morning. Schedules were revamped and I was given three hours of programming, which turned into playing with the laminator in the office. The only downside to this week’s schedule, besides the fact that I’ve got 13 hours of teaching, is that three of those hours are going to be spent teaching yoga to high school boys. Cue the hysterical laughter from my head teacher. Thanks, Robbie.

In between my lovely morning break and the afternoon of office antics, we had our mandatory meeting. I go into every meeting hoping for something out of Wet Hot American Summer, but am always let down. This week’s meeting was probably the most eventful one yet (and that’s impressive, now that I’ve been to, oh, around 48 meetings). The fear of swine flu has turned into its own epidemic, burrowing itself into the minds of Korean parents all over the city. We were told that it is expected to be very quiet for the next couple of months, until people forget/get over their absurd fears. Seventy percent of the students signed up for next week have already canceled. Any teachers with remaining vacation time are being forced to use it during the next month or so. Some short-term teachers were even let go. The new teachers we’ve been expecting to come this month have had their arrivals postponed indefinitely. By the end of September, we’ll be down to 13 foreign teachers.

This situation presented me with an option that, until recently, seemed absolutely improbable. I could leave Korea early–a few days or even weeks ahead of the end of my contract–and still collect my severance (which amounts to an extra month’s pay). Doing this would put me in Thailand earlier than expected and give me extra time to pick up surfing (ha ha, go ahead and laugh) or just lounge on the beach. Leaving work a week and a half early (the option I was seriously considering) would mean I’d be paid about $500 less than a usual month’s salary. Not included in all of this configuring were the extra costs that accumulate from spending an extra week in Thailand.

After mentally weighing the pros and cons and speaking to my family, I decided to stick it out. Now that I can see the light at the end of the tunnel, that week and a half might seem torturous, but money is money. While I’ll be missing a week of beach hammocks and banana hammocks on the beaches of Phuket, I think staying the length of my contract is the right choice. I’ll still have a month and a half of exhausting travel ahead of me when I finish, and I think that will be enough to mollify my inner free spirit–at least for a little while.

Soon enough, I'll be back under the palm trees with a good book...

I'll be back under the palm trees with a good book soon...

 UPDATE: According to AsiaNews:
“In South Korea the authorities have announced that more than 9 million people, those who are most at risk of contracting the influenza A virus, will get free vaccinations. They include about a million medical and quarantine personnel, 7.5 million school children and 660,000 soldiers. In recent days the government sent envoys to Europe to buy supplies.”

Nine million people–that’s about half the population of Seoul. Let’s see if this changes anything…

Seoul is August is only slightly more tolerable than Washington in August, which means that for the past month, I have spent as little time as possible outdoors. On a recent day off, Mimsie and Sarah somehow convinced me to join them at Lotte World, one of the largest theme parks in the world. Spend a whole scorching summer day outside? Schvitzing through my clothes? For whatever reason, likely a lack of anything else to do, I agreed to go.

Suffice it to say I was surprised–no, shocked–to learn that Lotte World is an indoor park. A majority of the rides and attractions are in a gigantic, climate-controlled room. In retrospect, this makes a ton of sense. Koreans abhor the sun’s rays, as I’ve mentioned in the past, going so far as to wear long sleeves and pants–even when swimming!

Lotte World is gigantic–I don’t even know how to describe what I saw, so I’ll let the pictures do that for me.

 

Just one small part of the complex

Just one small part of the complex

 

Read that carefully...there's something you don't normally see at Six Flags

Read that carefully...there's something you don't normally see at Six Flags

There was some sort of insectarium outside one of the rides. This kid was TOUCHING slugs. Classy.

There was some sort of insectarium outside one of the rides. This kid was TOUCHING slugs. Classy.

 

On the swinging ship. Fear+excitement=solid photo.

On the swinging ship. Fear+excitement=solid photo.

 

Maybe I chased Koreans while riding a giant motorized panda. So what?

Maybe I chased Koreans while riding a giant motorized panda. So what?

The guide map had a suggested route to take "with your sweet heart"

The guide map had a suggested route to take "with your sweet heart"

 A small section of the park was outdoors. After being greeted by Cinderella’s Korean castle, we found ourselves with this view (and no, we didn’t ride this one):

 

Easily the most terrifying ride in the park

Easily the most terrifying ride in the park

 

While outside, we kept cool with a dry fog machine--easily the best invention of our time.

While outside, we kept cool with a dry-fog machine--easily the best invention of our time.

There are rumors swirling around about the lack of safety at Lotte World. A friend told me that someone died after being ejected from the swinging ship attraction mid-ride. My very tall friend Simon told me he’s not allowed to ride the Atlantis Adventure because of his height, and that, several years ago, a man too tall for the ride was decapitated while on it.

After some quick Googling, I learned that neither one of those stories is true. Nobody has ever been seriously injured on the swinging ship, and the only fatality in the parks history occurred when a man fell from his seat on Atlantis. No head-chopping action there.

A one-day pass to Lotte World costs around ₩30,000. A year-long pass will set you back about ₩100,000, but is definitely worth it if you plan on making multiple trips to the park. Also in the complex are a Lotte department store and a folk museum.

 

I dare anyone to look me in the eye and insist this guy has balls. HE MATCHED HIS GIANT SEQUINED EARS TO HIS SHIRT. Oh, and his girlfriend matched her pink ears to her shirt, too.

I dare anyone to look me in the eye and insist this guy has balls. HE MATCHED HIS GIANT SEQUINED EARS TO HIS SHIRT. Oh, and his girlfriend matched her pink ears to her shirt, too.

 

Gotta love Konglish...signs like this are everywhere in this country.

Gotta love Konglish...signs like this are everywhere in this country.

Lotte World kicks Six Flags’ ass when it comes to awesome amusement parks. The bathrooms were spotless, the rides innovative and fun, and the food tasty and not disgusting greasy. The queues were long, but most rides operated with the fast-pass system, similar to Disney World, and that sped things up considerably.

With only a month left here, I doubt I’ll return to Lotte World, but the park is a must-see for anyone who is here for an extended period of time.

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A few weeks ago, a few of the Korean teachers were discussing their blood types. No, they weren’t talking about donating at a blood drive. Koreans believe that blood type has a direct impact on one’s personality. This idea is also popular in Japan, and Wikipedia likens it to Western astrology.

There’s even a Korean rom-com that explores this idea. B형 남자친구, or, My Boyfriend is Type A, explores the relationship between a type A woman and a rambunctious type B man. Will try to find the film on MySoju and let you know how it is.

I’m pretty sure I’m O negative, the universal donor. According to Korean beliefs, my positive traits are that I’m “agreeable, sociable, optimistic.” Not bad, eh? At the opposite end of the spectrum, I’m also vain and rude. Sigh.

Type A personalities are earnest (though one of the negative traits is overearnestness), creative and sensible, yet fastidious. Type Bs are considered wild and active, but also selfish and irresponsible. Any ABs out there? You’re cool, controlled and rational. You’re also critical and indecisive. Not the worst mix in the world.

In one Little Journalist class, a student wrote a comic strip about blood types and the corresponding personality traits. It’s really funny and creative, not something I’d expect to see from a non-native English speaker, much less one in elementary school!

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How accurate is the Korean system in predicting your personality?

Or just several goodbyes in a short span of time. As happy as I should be because of our swine flu-induced three-day weekend, I’m quite the opposite. Two good friends are leaving Seoul in the next few days, and saying goodbye to them will be tough. This is a cheap blog post, I know, but I’m pressed for time right now. I’m writing this from Itaewon, where I’m spending the night with friends. I write this from Tobi’s living room, where I’ve spent many a night this year. More on Tobi’s apartment in another post. I’m staying the night here to spend some quality time with fellow teacher Lisa before she heads back to Canada. On Sunday, Melanie will be bidding us farewell as she returns to the States for one more year at NYU.

To make up for this crappy entry, I’ll include a picture from a visit to the health clinic down the street. A trip to the clinic is a three-step process. First: Meet with the doctor. He listens to your breathing, asks what’s wrong and then prescribes some antibiotics. Second: You are ushered into an attached room, where the nurse/receptionist gives you a shot in a tush. (I usually opt to skip this step.) Third: The nurse/receptionist brings you to another room and sets you up in front of some crazy contraption with a long tube attached. She hands you a tube and, using charades, explains that you need to stick the tube up your nose for a minute or two. While the tube is up there, the contraption sucks up mucus and snot and all of that other undesirable stuff that hangs out in your nasal cavity while you’re sick. Gross? Yes. Effective? For about two minutes, before your nose fills back up with goop again. Oh, Korea…

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After I got back from China, I was pseudo-quarantined. Not allowed to teach for a week, I needed to be assigned some sort of busy work. The programmers asked me to create a four-hour theme lesson plan. The theme of their choice? Economy. I spent about 45 minutes with a middle school-level economy book and decided that seventh graders knew more about income and expenses than I ever would. In my next meeting with the programmers, I suggested changing the theme from economy to journalism (big shock, right?). Over the course of the week, I built up a four-hour class in which students would be taught the history of newspapers, followed by the make-up of the modern newspaper. During the last two hours of the class, students would put together a team newspaper.

I taught the class a couple times each week, and some classes ran smoother than others. Lower-level students didn’t absorb the vocabulary as well as their higher-level classmates, and when it came to writing articles, they would often write a sentence or two and call it quits.

The most rewarding part of the class was during the last 15 minutes of the final hour. All of the teams came down to the auditorium with their newspaper pages in hand. The pages were taped up to the wall, putting scores of stories on display for everyone to read. Granted, the stories were about K-pop culture and the death of former President Roh, but they were still stories, and occasionally creative ones at that. I had one trio of girls who wrote a three-part series about Michael Jackson. One girl wrote about his music, another about his death and the third about his skin disease.

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After nearly a year at SEV, it felt good to be able to contribute to the programming in such a big way. “Little Journalist” got solid reviews from the teachers and programmers. While this is likely the only theme class I’ll ever put together, it was done well, and I’m proud of it.

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I mentioned yesterday that SEV only has five teams here Wednesday through Friday. The only class of mine that was not canceled originally ended up, of course, getting canceled. Swine flu has taken Seoul’s schools and hagwons by storm. Just this morning, I found out that a student at my friend Andrew’s school contracted the flu. No word yet on what he’ll be doing at work for the next few days.
 
Because all of my classes were canceled, I’ve been put on programming duty, along with most of the other teachers. Donny occasionally pokes his head into the computer lab and jokes that it has been turned into the SEV PC-bang, much like the public computer rooms that litter the city.
 
My job this week is to revamp the Police Station lesson plan. The original plan is pretty dry, so teachers rarely follow it. We spend the majority of class playing a “Who stole the money?” game. In my quest for new material, I had a flashback to middle school. I remembered walking down a straight line in the hallway, my vision impaired by special goggles meant to simulate the vision of someone who had a few too many drinks.
I asked my boss if it would be possible to get impairment goggles for Police class. Even after I explained the D.A.R.E. program a bit and insisted that elementary and middle school kids in the States are taught about alcoholism, I didn’t think she’d go for it. So I was shocked when she broke out into a big smile and said she thought it was a great idea. She asked me to do some more research on prices and whatnot and get back to her when I was finished. Easy as pie!
In a country with such a high rate of alcoholism, using those goggles might actually do some good. At the very least, it will provide some entertainment during an otherwise dull and boring class. I’m sure Officer Miller and the Kingston D.A.R.E. program never imagined that their methods would be used to educate Korean elementary students.
 
That all being said, I spent the morning in the lab, Googling and price-checking these goggles, even going so far as to consider the do-it-yourself route. Did you know you can make your own beer goggles? (Insert joke here.) Not a bad way to spend a Thursday morning, eh? Certainly beats teaching kindy nature.
 
While SEV still has no swine flu cases to report, parents are taking no risks. Our scheduler told us that even though we’ve got kids signed up for next week, it’s anticipated that many of them will cancel. If that means another week of heavy programming, I think I’m OK with that.

I though the worst of the swine flu fears had passed. At our Monday meetings, we were no longer reminded to get our temperature checked every day, something the bosses had been adamant about in the early weeks of summer. We stopped reading about swine flu cases in Korean schools. Erin was even allowed to go straight back to teaching after returning from Australia.

In a recent e-mail, we were told that Paju English Village, which is much larger than SEV (it employs about 100 foreign teachers; at SEV there are only about 25), had to shut down for two weeks because several teachers contracted swine flu.

I knew something was up a few minutes later when Robbie, our head foreign teacher, sent five of us (presumably the teachers who don’t make that daily trek to the nurse’s office) an additional e-mail reminding us to get our temperature checked every day. Yesterday, I was talking to our boss in between classes, and she said the words that would change my week forever:

“Eight teams cancelled this week because of swine flu. Now all of the Wednesday-Friday students won’t be coming. We’ve got five teams–44 students–for the rest of the week.”

Now, SEV averages about 25 teams a week. With daily students (kids who only come for a day or two and don’t sleep here), we’ve had 40 teams in a day. To go from that number down to 44 students is crazy. All of my classes for the next two days have been cancelled and the hours have been turned into programming. Since we’ll have no students on Friday, teachers are required to use a mandatory paid vacation day. Forced three-day weekend? Not the worst thing in the world. I’ve still got two more paid vacation days left, and I’m planning to use them for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

Swine flu has taken Korea by storm. My friend Karen, who works in a public school, was denied permission to take a vacation to China, for fear she’d contract the flu. Our own boss has asked that we notify her before traveling abroad because we won’t be allowed to teach until we’ve been back in the country for a week. It almost feels like foreigners are being targeted. I’ve already ranted about Korea’s slightly xenophobic mindset, so I don’t need to do it again. Suffice it to say that if we weren’t foreigners, but natural-born Koreans, I don’t think these issues would have ever been brought up.

Sigh…only five more weeks till I don’t have to worry about swine flu ever again…

 

Erin getting her temperature checked in the nurse's office, a new SEV tradition.

Erin getting her temperature checked in the nurse's office, a new SEV tradition.

Our final swimming class of the summer concluded today, putting an end to several things, most notably my awesome tanning sessions, being turned into human monkey bars and, of course, aquarobics. Back in June, SEV’s scheduler asked teachers if anyone would like to help choreograph the aquarobics dances for summer camp. I immediately volunteered, because leading aquarobics guaranteed that I would have more swimming classes each week than most teachers.

Jeanette, Lydia, Shelly and I were given six hours of programming to come up with a couple routines. After three wasted hours brainstorming sick dance moves to “Let’s Get Loud,” Jeanette and I ended up settling for the “Cha Cha Slide,” which needs no creative thought. Lydia and Shelly came up with a solid “Hey Mickey” dance, and Kyle, the head Korean teacher, “taught” us “YMCA.”

The result: whining kids, schvitzing teachers dancing in 90-degree weather and a memorable summer. Swimming class was easily one of the highlights of summer camp. What’s better than being paid to dance around and play with kids in a pool? Precisely, nothing.

 

The kids have to do warm-ups before they can swim. I took pictures of them doing jumping jacks in an effort to avoid doing them myself. Success!

The kids have to do warm-ups before they can swim. I took pictures of them doing jumping jacks in an effort to avoid doing them myself. Success!

 

 

 

Some volleyball action

Some volleyball action

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Three hours in the sun can be exhausting…

 

Just ask Tira!

Just ask Tira!

I’ve found that Asians are very cautious when it comes to their skin during the summer. In the Philippines, it was almost impossible to find sunblock without whitening agents. Here at SEV, some of the staff cover up in long sleeves and pants to avoid the sun. They’ve got to be so hot!

 

Tony spent the entire afternoon in a long-sleeved black shirt! I don't know how he didn

Tony spent the entire afternoon in a long-sleeved black shirt! I don't know how he didn't suffer heat stroke.

 

I called Tira "Ajumma Teacher" all summer, because when she has swimming class, she dressed like an old woman, an ajumma. She leaves all of this on when she goes in the pool!

I called Tira "Ajumma Teacher" all summer, because when she has swimming class, she dressed like an old woman, an ajumma. She leaves all of this on when she goes in the pool!

Now that summer camp is over, the pool will be drained (which shouldn’t take too long–the water only came up to our hips!) and we’ll go back to teaching real classes instead of lounging in the sun. On the upside, only six more Mondays left of teaching!!! This next month is the final stretch–full of goodbyes, packing and figuring out what happens next. And for better or for worse, I guarantee that whatever comes after Korea won’t involve the “YMCA” or “Hey Mickey.”

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1. I am a serious hypochondriac. Last night in my sleep, I was attacked by a mosquito. I attempted to hide under my covers, in the process leaving only my elbow and left side of my face open for attack. The bastard got my under my eye. Now the area under my eye is incredibly swollen–enough that I’m wearing my glasses to work this morning. I’m half-convinced I’m going to go blind…

2. Summer camp has officially ended. All of the camp teachers are peacing out,  leaving about 20 of us here at SEV. For the first time since I came to Korea, I’m the only person living on my floor. Four other teachers leave in the next month, then it’s time for Erin and I to say our goodbyes.

3. Despite an incredibly easy workload this week, I have no desire to go to work. While many of the teachers have programming all week, which means they get to stay in the office and work on arts and crafts or lesson plans, I’ve got a full teaching schedule. Well, as full as a schedule with 12 breaks can be…

4. We’re getting orphans in a couple weeks. I’m too burnt out on SEV to appreciate them anymore. I just want the last month of work to fly by smoothly, but that never happens when the orphs are here. I don’t need the added stress when I’m already stressed about getting things together to leave.

5. This week’s Modern Love was excellent, a mon avis. I haven’t been much of a fan of recent columns, but this one was fantastic. Just the right amount of heartstring-tugging to get the reader hooked.

This is the post in which I somewhat reluctantly admit to my teenybopper tendencies. My first concert was *NSYNC when I was 13 years old. As if I couldn’t be excited enough, I found out that rising star Pink, whose music I really liked at the time, was opening. I’m pretty sure I cried, or at least came close to doing so, when I found out she was one of the opening acts.

That excitement was mirrored when I was accepted to Maryland. I remember the screaming, the near-hyperventilating, the tears and the frantic phone call to my parents. Yes, seeing Pink/*NSYNC has the emotional equivalent to getting accepting to university. I haven’t felt that same excitement in a long, long time.

That is, of course, until several weeks ago. Last week, I admitted my love for Boys Before Flowers. I made a passing mention of my love for Kim Hyun-joong’s character Yoon Ji-hoo. To say I love him is to only graze the surface. I’m pretty freakin’ obsessed with Ji-hoo. Mimsie gave me a cell phone charm with his face on it, a quarter of my work nametag is taken up by a picture of him and when the kids ask who my boyfriend is, I slyly answer, “Yoon Ji-hoo, of course.”

As some of you know, I’m prone to fits of random Wikipedia-ing. As I got more and more hooked on BBF, my creeper tendencies only grew. Turns out that the actor, Kim Hyun-joong, is part of pop group SS501. Not that I’m that that into K-pop, but I’ll admit to dabbling. I know my fair share of Girls Generation, Superjunior and Big Bang.

A few weeks ago, we found an announcement in a local Korean paper for a concert in Incheon. It was all in Korean, but some of the acts were written in English. Imagine my surprise when I found out that some of Korea’s biggest names, including SS501, were performing. Imagine my further shock when one of the Korean teachers read the announcement and told me the concert was free.

We snatched up tickets as soon as they were available. For weeks, we’ve been telling students about this concert. All of the other teachers here knew about it and how excited we were. As the days drew closer, I couldn’t stop myself from squealing whenever the concert came up in conversation.

That is until this morning, when I got a text from Mimsie, informing me that the concert was postponed due to former President Kim Dae-jung’s death earlier in the week. Convinced she was wrong, I went to the event website and found this:

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SS501 is off the new line-up! Words cannot express how sad I was for most of the day. Even writing about it now, I’m pretty bummed. I definitely want to go to the rescheduled concert, but I know I won’t be nearly as excited for it. Not without my SS501.

I’m going to make a bold claim, here and now. I’m going to find Kim Hyun-joong eventually. And when I do, it won’t be on a billboard or an advert. I’m going to meet him in person and take a damn good picture with him. Do I hear any nay-sayers?

 

So close, yet so far. But doesn't he look handsome up on that board?

So close, yet so far. But doesn't he look handsome up on that board?