Archive for November, 2010

The Regifter

Today Mr. Choi, a teacher from Avalon,  stopped by  my place to see if he could get my refrigerator, which has been out of order for three weeks, to work. Mr. Choi is an extremely nice middle-aged guy (even for middle-aged guy standards) who likes to talk about sharks and other random topics. He speaks relatively good English and you can usually find him in a flannel shirt and black pants. Recently, Mr. Choi has assumed the responsibility of taking care of the paper work and housing arrangements for new foreign teachers after the last guy, Robin went AWOL.  A few days ago Mr. Choi proudly handed me my alien registration card. Today he came by place to resolve this lingering issue.

Mr. Choi confirmed what I had voiced concern over for three weeks ago, “Daniel your refrigerator is not working”, then set up a time for a repair man to stop by and fix it. I thanked Mr. Choi and as he was leaving offered him a delicious, crisp apple. Mr. Choi laughed, gladly accepted and offered a slight bow. He then explained that he needed a signature from  my neighbor and fellow Avalonist (this is how the big wigs at Avalon refer to the  employees). Fresh out of bed Chris lethargically answered the door. While they were going over the paperwork, I went into Chris’s refrigerator (where I have been storing perishable items) retrieved my milk and  went back into my room to enjoy a few bowls of Special K.

As I munched on some cereal I could overhear Mr. Choi profusely apologizing to Chris for waking him up. A few minutes passed when Mr. Choi peeked his head in my room and said good-bye. I went across the hall to talk to Chris.

“Ha, Mr. Choi gave me this apple.”

“What! I just gave him that apple!”

“Ha ha really? He left it on my desk and asked if I wanted it.”

“Did he mention that I just gave it to him 5 minutes ago?”

“Na, he just offered it.”

As I started to express my unhappiness with the whole situation Chris sank his teeth into the perfectly ripe piece of fruit.

One, you don’t regift.

Two, if you do regift you give the original giver his or her due credit.

Is Mr. Choi the Korean Tim Whatley?

I thought maybe Mr. Choi felt so terrible about waking Chris that he felt obliged to offer the apple, in which case I could cut him slack based on his intent. But! As it turns out, this is not Mr. Choi’s first time regifting. The head teacher at my school approached me while I was replaying the incident in my head. He said that  he heard about the apple episode. He explained that a short time ago he asked Mr. Choi  if he would like a hot chocolate in which Mr. Choi replied unequivocally, “yes”. I’m sure you can figure out the rest of this tale -which  would only be funny if it wasn’t true. Mr. Choi passed off the hot chocolate to one of his  students (not even another teacher!) with no credit going to the head teacher.

There is only one way to handle a compulsive regifter: give them a gift that is so useless that no one else would even accept it. Luckily, I have a carton of expired milk sitting in my tepid refrigerator.

p.s. Mr. Choi is still the man.


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Fire in my belly

This morning I awoke at 7 am. My eyelids conceded around 3 am with a Richard Dawkins book in my hands. With only four hours of sleep I should have been tired, but I wasn’t. Conversely, I was rather energized and anxious to start my day like I had already been on my third cup of coffee.

Inspired, I sprung out of bed, turned on Nas, and did some stretching exercises for a good twenty. Subsequently, I studied Hangul for close to an hour and then headed to an eatery aptly referred to as Orange because – you guessed it – it’s Orange. A trip to the gym followed. Did Deron Williams’ recent game-winner impel me to accomplish more? Eager to be productive, I felt fresh, vibrant, and sharp. Perhaps more importantly, I felt grateful for all that I have. I was reminded of an expression my father uses when he is particularly excited about something: “It’s a good-to-be-alive day”. Every breath felt wonderful.

We all have this flame inside of us. Instead of waiting for urgency to make a visit the onus is on us to stoke the flame and compel it to grow.

Blue Team vs. White Team

A week and a half ago, Avalon Academy hosted a sports competition day in which all the Korean and foreign English teachers from all three of the Daegu campuses came together on a Sunday. We were split into two teams, competed and had some fun. Prizes were given out and the MVP took home a laptop computer. Needless to say, I wanted the laptop. As we know, history is narrated by the winning side so instead of giving you an account of the day you can read the story  in the words of Chris Justice.

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Pepero Day

Since my last post a lot has happened. The past two weeks have been a heaping plate of interesting with a side of mundane and a hint of nostalgia. Despite what some Daegu inhabitants will tell you  I am becoming much more competent at the business of living in Korea.

Until late, updating this blog was not a chore, I actually looked forward to it. Now that I am more acquainted with the area and my coworkers,  my free time has become filled with studying Hangul, going out/playing soccer, and trying to get an adequate dose of American sports, especially the NBA. Speaking of which after a slow start the Utah Jazz are really starting to come together. Back-to-back come  from behind victories in Miami and Orlando? I’ll take it. Especially when Paul Milsap, a player known for his blue-collar work ethic and rebounding tenacity puts up 46 against the Big Three and their suffocating defense.

Work Schedule

My work hours are by no means traditional: Monday-Friday 2pm- 10pm. I dig the hours, but a few late nights turn into sleeping past noon which translates into not having enough time to really do anything other than eat, read the paper, and shower before teaching a full day. I have done a decent – but not impeccable – job of avoiding this seductive pattern. Strangely, we (teachers) are required to be in to work by 2pm, we have class preparation for  half an hour and then from 2:30 – 3:30 pm  we stuff our faces at lunch; at 3:30 pm we are back in the office for class prep and by 4 pm we are teaching our first class. Curious, I asked my coworkers on my second day why they don’t just have us come in at 3 pm and have class prep for an hour and eliminate the lunch hour altogether. They all said they wondered the same thing. It’s not that I terribly mind this schedule, but it feels off-kilter taking an hour break after only being there for 30 minutes- I liken it to pulling over to eat after driving only  half an hour on a 7 hour car ride.

The Banker

Last week I went to Daegu Bank, a one minute walk from my apartment if I have blisters on my feet from wearing running sneakers to play soccer and a thirty second stroll  if I am at top fitness, to transfer money from my Korean bank account into my U.S. account.  I recognized the gregarious gentleman who opened up my account about a month ago and sat down. During our first meeting he talked at length about his favorite American television dramas, like CSI and Law & Order, and before leaving he printed me out a map of the area and circled a few restaurants that he highly recommended (I went to one of them later that day and enjoyed my first bowl of kal-guk-su, one of my favorite dishes). He said he was happy to see me again and I said likewise. I practiced some Hangul phrases and expressions with him and he became very giddy. He proudly demonstrated that he got alerts of U.S. news stories in English on his I-Phone and then he showed me several framed pictures of his wife and kids that were displayed on his desk.  His English is not great but he can maintain a conversation and is able understand what I say if I slow down my pace.  After I exchanged some won into dollars he told me to wait one moment. When he came back he handed me a box of  Korean brand toothpaste. I asked if he was trying to give me a hint. He smiled without picking up on my insinuation and said he is happy to talk to me and would like to know me better and asked if I drank maekchu. I said only when forced and offered a wry smile. Song Choel  gave me his business card and highlighted his mobile number. I walked out thinking what a genuinely nice guy, why don’t Korean ladies give up their number this easily?

Pick-Up Soccer

Every Thursday after work a group of us rent out this outdoor turf field that is fenced in by massive netting and scrimmage from 11 pm until they tell us our time is up which is usually around 12:30 am. It’s great fun. I was never adroit with the ball but having been removed from the game for so many years the first few times playing was a little rough. “The touch of a rapist” is how an Englishman I work with described it. My conditioning is fine and I am more than able to keep up but beyond making a simple pass and playing solid defense I was not very serviceable. It did not help that I was playing in cross-trainers while everyone else had on cleats or turf boots. Fed up with being one of the last picked every week I made a trip to Homeplus, a Wal-Martesque place and invested in a pair of Diadora indoor soccer boots for 30,000 won, the equivalent of roughly $25. Granted they are not the highest quality, I felt like a new player during my first outing with them on. Who says  shoes don’t matter?

First Date

I had my first official date here in Korea a few weeks back. It went alright but there were no real fireworks. The highlight of the night was probably the makgeolli, which is a cloudy, milky-white wine made from rice; it’s dirt cheap and usually sold by the pot but at this place it was in bottles.

Pepero Day

November 11 is Pepero Day in South Korea. This monumental day celebrates a thin chocolate cookie stick.  11-11  represents a pack of  these tasty chocolate sticks. Get it? 1111! People hand out these treats to people they like. According to my students,  a guy is  supposed to give them to a girl he  is into.  I guess it is a lot like Valentines Day. Apparently they don’t have antitrust laws for this unofficial holiday because Pepero clearly has a  monopoly on the day. I thought this whole thing silly until the  nice-looking girl at the café who I often talk to gave me a pack of  Pepero cookie sticks. Now I am smitten by her.

Within the past week my students have said I look like the following mammals (usually  intended as an insult):

  • Gandhi
  • Obama
  • Kim Jung Un (Kim Jung Il’s fat son)
  • monkey
  • Bill Gates

I am convinced that they utter any non-Korean person that they know. As for the monkey reference, well, what can I say?

Last week I organized the students in some of my classes into teams for a trivia competition. Here are some of the team names that they chose:

  • Daniel’s face is in danger
  • Windows 7
  • Baldy
  • Thank you
  • SK
  • Jazz (my suggestion)
  • Kimchi now!
  • Daniel is under attack
  • Harry Potter in big cast

‘Daniel is under attack’ was stacked with some of the brightest students, winning in a route,  forcing me to give them a stamp in their workbooks.

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