Posts Tagged New York

Coming (back) to America

Recently, I came (back) to America after completing a one-year teaching arrangement in Daegu, South Korea. I had a great time in the peninsula known for its spicy food, loud diners, and myriad singing rooms. There are many stories I plan on sharing now that I have some free time (yeah, I’m unemployed).  I also spent a week in Japan, close to a month in India, and a whopping 18 hours in Egypt, so I will fill you in on some of those adventures as well.

My boy Chris and I paying homage to Buddha at Mt. Seoraksan National park in the northeast part of South Korea.

A lot has changed since I last had American soil under my feet:

My Grandpop got remarried to his former high school football coach’s daughter. Well played.

Revolutions have occurred and persist in the Arab world…

…Hell, even Americans have joined in with the Occupy Movements. If I don’t land a job in the next month I might join the party … if only for the free food.

I now practice yoga.

Osama bin Laden no longer haunts the American psyche.

The NBA is not in business (dejected sigh).

My bro moved to New York City.

Another friend tied the knot. Congratulations BD and Cynthia.

Harley, the family German shepherd, is now hobbling around due to pain in his hind quarters.  Eventually all of our biological clocks submit to the force of time. Poor guy.

And this is all just at the surface!

When I was in Korea I didn’t really get homesick at all except for the holidays. It was only the last month when the finish line was in sight did I really begin to yearn for chicken parmigiana. I thought about teaching for another year, not at the same hagwon (academy) but at a different school. I learned that work life can really improve after your first year of teaching because you know the lay of the land. You get a better idea of what academies are top drawer, what area is nicest and, of course, you are more comfortable with the culture.  Plus, you establish a social network of people. I met some great people during my time in Korea.  

Pretending to grade papers on my last day of work.

About a month before I left Korea, I had a meeting with the manager of the academy where I worked. His English name is Kenny. His user login name at work is Brad Pitt. What Kenny lacks in mental stability he makes up for in emotional immaturity. In the one year that I knew Kenny I think I accumulated enough material to write an entire book series based on all of his idiosyncrasies.

First day back from summer vacation Kenny and a female foreign teacher have an exchange.

“Hey, Kenny.”

“Hey, how was vacation?”

“It was brilliant.”

 [motioning to his face] “Did you get the plastic surgery?”
“Uhh, no.”

In the meeting, right off the bat, Kenny made it perfectly clear the reason why he wanted me to resign for another year.

“Daniel I can’t find a replacement for you.”

“Sorry to hear that, Kenny.”

“You know, I got to find a replacement because your leaving and [sucking his teeth] right now it’s not easy to find a teacher in a month.”

“Yeah, I can imagine.”

An uncomfortably long silence follows in which Kenny leans back in his chair and gazes at the ceiling.

“You’re not coming back to Korea, are you?”

“No. It’s not my plan.”

Another long uncomfortable silence ensues.

“So, what will you do?”

“I’m going to look for work in New York.”

“You know Daniel, I’m from New York.”

At every conceivable opportunity he slips in that he is from New York. Nobody is sure how many years he actually spent in NY because the number changes so frequently, but apparently he spent some time living in NYC. He is from South Korea.

“You’ve said that.”

“My dream is to go back and be a sushi chef (I have also heard this many times) …you know I understand American culture … I know Americans don’t like working hard.”

“That isn’t true.”

“You know, you’ve done a good job here.”


“So what do you think?”

“About what, extending my contract?”


“I told you, I’m going back to New York.”

This is more or less how the conversation ended. Even if I thought about extending my contract before the meeting the manner in which he asked me would have changed my mind.  Not surprisingly I was forced to make a threat that I was going to file a complaint with the labor board in order to get paid on time before I left.

After leaving Korea I spent almost a month in India. It was quite the experience. A real jolt to your senses.

I’ve been back in the US for two weeks now catching up with family and friends and getting re-acclimated with American culture. Being separated from the life that I knew really has allowed me to appreciate everything I have, especially my family.  Also, eating NY pizza again was a glorious moment.


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Mr. Daniel in Training

I have been in South Korea for just about two weeks now, but it feels like I have been here for several months. This is probably due to a catalog of fresh experiences, though I am starting to get into a very loose routine. Some things that were challenging my first few days -ordering food, not offending people, buying trash bags- are now less challenging, and I have a network of people that I can go to with questions and for advice. Up to this point I have been doing teacher training at the school where I am working. This post will entail the Daegu experience as seen through the eyes of Mr. Daniel.

Day Care

I am teaching at an English academy. Parents pay money to send their kids there because they want them to be worldly and know how to speak English fluently, or because they are unable to find a babysitter that won’t beat their children, which to the disappointment of many of my coworkers is strictly against Avalon policy.  After spending an entire day in their regular school these kids then come to this academy several times a week. You don’t have to be a child psychologist to figure out that if children are pent up in a classroom environment to long they grow restless, tired, and down right violent (I refuse to give most of my students access to scissors). Adding to this, most of the students do not understand English very well. My greatest challenge in the classroom will be to try to get these Korean students to refrain from speaking Korean, and to maintain the comfortable rapport that I am trying to establish.


During my first week I sat in on classes and observed and took notes on other teachers. This is intended to be a way of seeing first-hand how teaching is done at Avalon and perhaps what you should avoid doing. Naturally the students were curious as to who I was and what I was doing, a grown adult, sitting in a play school sized chair in the back of the class. Sometimes the teacher would introduce me and what I was doing there and when they didn’t I used it as an opportunity to continue the suspenseful uncertainty and would sometimes put on a pair of sunglasses and cross my arms in a serious pose. My observation notes went from detailed critiques to complex doodles as I realized that the only person who was and who would ever be reading them was me. At the tail end of the week I became antsy and started interacting with the students more and assisting them with in-class assignments. Some of the time they just wanted to talk to me about where I was from or what I was like, but more often they would blurt out random things like, “Teacha gimme  mahney”, or “Teacha what that bump” while pointing to their own neck (my Adam’s apple?).


This week I have been executing lesson plans in my coworkers’ classes. Basically, I have been doing the job of a regular teacher, but it is much different when you are only doing it on a temporary basis with  a teacher in the room observing. I will be replacing Kirsty a very nice young Scottish woman. This means that not only will I assume all of her teaching duties,  but I will also inherit the rest of her life  in Korea. Her appliances, which I have been waiting for since I’ve been here (television, washer, refrigerator) will be mine, as well as her cell phone and presumably friends. When I have been coteaching in Kirsty’s classes I have made a point to try to get to know the students a little better because essentially they will be my students starting on Monday. I have been introducing myself while telling the class two things about me: “Hi I’m Daniel. I’m from New York and I like basketball.” I go around the class and ask them to tell me two things about themselves. Usually what happens is everyone copies the first person. If Angelina (all of the students have a designated English name) likes to read Harry Potter and does not like her sister you can bank on half of the class liking Harry Potter and not like their sister. When I tell the students I am from New York it generates a lot of excitement, as does showing them my passport. I found this out when I took it out of my pocket when I was searching for something to write with. You would have thought that my passport was a some kind of magical toy, and the last one of its kind. This kept them attentive and occupied for a good ten minutes.

On Monday the real fun starts.

Some notable quotes from students:

“My parents eat teachers.”

“You look like a monkey.”

“Avalon teachers are rich to drink soju.”

“KFC is like heaven.”

“Avalon burn to the ground with fire.”

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Korean Culture 101

The first few days of being in Daegu was a time of great exploration, fascination, acclamation, and fornication. Not really fornication, I was testing your level of concentration.

It takes about 25 minutes on the subway to get to the heart of downtown- not a bad right at all. The subways are so smooth and tidy that spending time on them is not a hassle. There is a certain section designated for the elderly. It is things like this that remind me that I am in South Korea, and the fact that I am constantly being stared and pointed at by children because I am such a minority. The only issue I have with this is that if I have food or something on my face I won’t be clued in by people staring because it’s such a regularity. Needless to say, I have been thoroughly wiping my mouth after each meal.

A large pack of bikers in downtown Daegu. I think they were riding for a good cause, like my arrival to the country.


On my second day I woke up to the ringing of the phone on my wall. Naturally, I answered it. Apparently it is my door bell which I realized as someone was yelling something from the outside hallway.  I opened the door and a small gentleman briskly walked passed me with a large box. He dropped it in the middle of my room and made several more trips, each time delivering more things. I really liked him because he assembled my bed and dropped off a desk, a chair, and a small dresser. Now I’m just waiting on my refrigerator, TV, washer, and my life’s purpose.

My favorite thing about my place is the shower. There is no separate area in the bathroom to shower or bath, rather the shower head is connected to the sink which results in a wet floor after each shower.  The floor is at a slight slant so the water flows down the drain on the floor. I don’t really mind that I have to wait a little bit for the floor to dry. You just have to make sure to brush your teeth and do other bathroom related shit before showering. Why I like this setup so much I don’t know myself, maybe its merely the appeal of new and different things.It causes some inconveniences : 1)  it takes considerably skill to avoid getting my toilet paper wet, 2) on more than one occasion I soaked myself while fully clothed because I failed to notice that nob was turned for the water to flow from the shower head rather than the faucet.

I have fully adjusted to the 13 hour time difference here but I wake up periodically in the night because of buzzing in my ear. The mosquitoes here must be a different breed. They prefer to hover around your ear for a while before drawing blood as if to taunt you, and they can because they are hard to catch. They are quicker and much more deceptive than lazy American mosquitoes and they are also able to jump. I learned this when I woke up at 3 am,turned the lights on, and struggled for ten minutes to squish one little bastard.

The food here is really good. After the delivery man left on Saturday I ventured out into my neighborhood solo. Throughout the day I had no idea what I was ordering and I limited my dining options by only going to places that had pictures of the food. I would point and say ‘chuseyo’ meaning ‘please give me’ in Korean. I do not deal incredibly well with spicy food and most dishes here have hot pepper in them. I can tell the servers and patrons get pleasure out of seeing me struggle with the spice. Pork is featured in many dishes and beef and chicken are more expensive because of the lower supply of them in the country. I have taken a particular liking to mandu.

Elderly people here are very active and many of them are out hustling selling produce and prepared food.

On Sunday I went for a run to get my heart pumping and to take in the area. I got lost and ended up running for an 1 hr and 10 minutes rather than the 45 minutes that I had originally planned. There are two parks in the general vicinity. Without internet service I couldn’t check out a map so I ended up trying to follow street signs to Aspan Park. As my legs became heavy I asked a young guy if he knew where the park was and he pointed toward a mountain and said “too far, take taxi.” I ran back home.

The weather has been perfect: Warm sunny days in the 70’s and pleasantly cool evenings. The fall and spring seasons are the best time of year to be outdoors in South Korea.

It is good etiquette to remove your shoes inside many restaurants. When I take them off I feel like I should be going inside of a planetarium or jumping in a giant ball pit rather than enjoying noodle soup.

My first days at Avalon school have been smooth as I am doing my training before assuming full teaching responsibilities. All of the foreign teachers have been cool and the Korean teachers have been quiet but friendly. There is an interesting dynamic in the office and I think I am going to like working there. Basically I have been required to sit in on classes and observe the teacher and take notes. The students ask me who I am and what I am doing. Some tell me to leave while others like to interact. Their familiarity of New York consists of ‘I Love NY’ tees and the Statue of Liberty. The observation has allowed me to understand what works and what doesn’t. I get the feeling I am going to be playing a lot of hang-man.

Dining at a BBQ place with some of the teachers.


Preview for next blog post: Introduction to Soju and Norabang

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