Tuesday, September 28, 2010

New Pictures Up on Picasa

I also have some new pictures up on Picasa, check 'em out.


My Apartment

Due to overwhelming demand for a glimpse into my apartment and living conditions, here is a post on the apartment in which I live. But first, a disclaimer: my living situation is not typical and I have been very fortunate; I live in the building owned by my coteacher. It is a large two-story house wherein he lives on the second floor and there are three apartments, including my own, on the bottom. Most foreign teachers live in studio apartments, meaning that the bedroom, kitchen and living room are one room, the only separate room being the bathroom. That said, we are guaranteed certain elements such as a fridge, washing machine, microwave, a gas or electric range and bed, to name a few. See below for more details, after the pics.

My kitchen
My dining area
My den/living room
My bedroom
My bedroom
My deck and chair
Moving into a place of your own, for the generation who grew up on video games, feels a whole heck of a lot like playing The Sims, without the rosebud cheat code (much to my chagrin). I have spent the better part of my last paycheck amassing and coordinating things. A friend of mine on Twitter, who served with the Peace Corps in Cameroon once said that Peace Corps makes one more materialistic. I'm indeed discovering the legitimacy of this observation with a paycheck and a place of my own.

Monday, September 27, 2010

My New Haircut

As many of you know, I have been rocking a buzz cut since I graduated college and in that tradition, it was time to get my hairs cut as the last such incident happened before Brian and Kari's wedding. Anyhow, I was far from shaggy, but having just been paid, it was time for the buzz.
I have never had a problem getting a buzz cut no matter where I have travelled. The "barber shop social script," as I like to refer to it, is a well worn path, especially when all one needs to do is point to the clippers and raise two fingers in reference to the length at which I want my hair cut.
I explained this plan to my coteacher, to which he responded its impossibility. But why? Because everything in Korea is different of course! After his brief explanation, he took out a post-it and wrote instructions for style and length that I would give to the barber upon arrival. The barber spoke little to no English and, after delivering the post-it, the inevitable charades began confirming the instructions.
The barber pulled out the 90mm, battery-operated clippers from a drawer and began buzzing my head in patches. My hair was looking something awful; by the time the battery-powered clippers gave up the ghost (I think it was having culture shock with hair thicker than what it has been used to), I had a luxurious reverse mullet.
"Oh my God!," I thought, "I'm going to have to find some hair clippers quick style before school tomorrow."

I wish I knew I was in the hands of an artist, but up to this point, how could I have known? He pulled out a comb and scissors and, Edward Scissorhands style, his tools of the trade started flying around my noggin and all I felt was the breath of his hands maneuvering in perfect orbit. It reminded me of that scene in the live-action Ninja Turtles movie where the foot clan is training and they throw a smoke bomb to the floor, having to grab all the bells from a mannequin without making a sound before the smoke dissipates. After the cut, we went over to a sink, I lowered my head over a bucket in the sink and he began vigorously applying and massaging mentholated shampoo and conditioner into my scalp and hair. Needless to say, this felt amazing!

Now I was thinking by this point that I have been spoiled by Filipino haircuts. Filipinos clean up edges of a buzz cut with a straight razor; not only does this feel amazing but it looks pretty darn sharp as well. And the moment of truth...
At first he put a pillow behind my head, flipped a lever and the back of my chair flew backwards. He dipped a towel in a rice cooker heating water and put it across my face. As the towel warmed my skin, I heard the clinking of wood on ceramic. Could it be true? Is he really...?
Yes! He pealed the towel from my face and began applying a rich lather around my face and forehead (to get the edges of the hairline) with a soft brush. He sat and began the shave with straight razor, the second time I have ever had such a treatment. After he shaved my face to the point where it felt like a beach ball covered in KY, he began shaving my ears and between my eyebrows. I swear he shaved every invisible hair on my head. But that's not all. After fixing up a few spots, he took very small scissors and began trimming my nose hairs! This was a first!
By the end of the process, during which not a word was spoken, I had the dumbest smile on my face, high on endorphins and ready to shell out the equivalent of $50 for this most exhilarating of treatments. As is common here in a goods and service exchange between a foreigner and a Korean, I handed him my cell phone to dial out the total of the bill as my Korean numbers skills aren't what they should be. And the total? Seven dollars.
I walked all the way home with the biggest, dumbest smile on my face.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Free Internet Phone Calls to the US and Canadian Cell Phones and Landlines

Hey all,
I was poking around some settings and have discovered a free way for people here in Korea (or in any country for that matter) to call US and Canadian landlines and cell phones for free until the end of the year.
What you need:

  1. A free Gmail account
  2. Hotspot Shield (Mac or PC), a free web proxy
First, you need to download and install Hotspot Shield.
  1. Install and launch Hotspot Shield. Once installed, click the red badge and click "connect".
  2. After clicking "connect", a browser tab will open up and show that it is trying to connect. Basically what it is doing is dialing into a server in California. That server will then access whatever web services you choose so it looks like all your web traffic is being generated in California, not, for example, in Korea. 
  3. If you successfully connect, the red badge from before will turn green. You can now close the tab or window with the connection information.
  4. Next, log into your gmail account. You must make sure that English (US) is your selected language. To check, click on the Settings link on the top right of the Gmail web page. Next, find "Language:" and select English (US) from the drop down menu. Next, scroll to the bottom and click "Save Changes".
  5. Go back to your inbox and make sure chat is enabled. In the chat window, there should now be a phone icon. Click the phone icon. You may need to install a small piece of software. Follow the instructions if it needs to be installed.
  6. When the phone icon is clicked, a dial pad will be displayed. Simply dial the number you wish to call and it will place the call from your computer free of charge to any number in the US or Canada. Keep in mind, Hotspot Shield must be active and connected for this to work.
If you have any questions, let me know. I'm happy to help.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

I'm alive and well

Well folks, it's been a while, hasn't it? Sorry I have been M.I.A. since I arrived in this beautiful country. I offer no excuses other than things keep popping up, whether they be social calls, ironing (ugh!), emergency Pringles runs to the 7-11, etc.

at my desk in the office
I am teaching at Dae Chang high school in Yecheon. I work with four co-teachers, one of which is my main co-teacher, Mr. Do Gi Choel. I teach about 4-5 classes a day on average and am at school from 9 to 5 or 6 depending on if I have an after-school class or not. Korean high schools are three years long and I work with first and second years exclusively as the third years spend all year preparing for exams. The students' English abilities are not stellar but they are very hard workers and they love bantering with me. I have been told that I look like Eminem, Justin Timberlake and David Beckham. I'm fairly certain it's because I am white and I have short hair, but I'll take them all as compliments.
I digress. I have had the opportunity to hand-select students for an intensive English Conversation class every Wednesday and Friday. Mr. Do, my head co-teacher had students interview for positions in the class and I got to pick the best 10. With the 20 students, I am developing a penpal relationship with my former students at San Juan National High School, my school when I was in Peace Corps Philippines. Sir Erwin (my co-teacher in the Philippines) and I are in the process of pairing students.

Otherwise, my home life is great. I have a swank, one-bedroom apartment, complete with airconditioning, a full kitchen, washing machine, TV, 50Mbps internet and iTV (TV that comes in through the internet as opposed to cable). I have also acquired a Play Station 3 from another foreign teacher here in Yecheon, borrowing it until she returns home. The best part about this acquisition? I can now stream movies and TV shows from my laptop to the TV. It is the ultimate entertainment setup.

catfish soup
I live directly below my co-teacher, Mr. Do. This is a great situation for many reasons, but primarily, I get invited to a couple family dinners a week, masterfully prepared by his wife. Aside from the dinner invites, I have been invited out to eat with them. We had a delicious soup consisting of two whole, fresh catfish from our local river swimming in a red hell-broth that brought forth sweat, snot and tears of joy. One of the marvelous things about eating out in Korea is that so much of the food is prepared at your table. It's fun watching the food cook while sitting, snacking on pickled side dishes, chatting and being enchanted by the smell of simmering soups, BBQing meats and the ambience of meals cooked there previously.

Hopefully sometime this week I will post pics of my apartment, of Yecheon and embellish my posts with more detail about daily life here in this town of 50,000 people.