Saturday, 28 January 2012


Here I am sitting, yet again, in a coffee shop as I write my blog. It's been somewhat of a roller coaster at the school I've been teaching at, but the kids were totally worth it. I'm going to be honest and say I didn't love all of the kids there. But being here has taught me a lot of things, and my first perceptions of some kids totally turned around.

Starting at this school, we had 4 kindergarteners whom we spend four hours of our day with. Now, we have 3 and these 3 kids, I love with all my heart. Good days and bad days-- I love them through and through. One boy who isn't in the group picture attended the hagwon when we first came here at the end of August. My first impression of him was that he was a smart and handsome little boy. He was great until I realized he was a complete braggart with way too much ego for his age. It became apparent he actually wasn't as naturally smart as we thought he was. In fact, he would try and just tag along for the ride on the girl's brain. He would try desperately to keep up with her, cheat off her paper, or just work fast without trying to use his own brain because he wanted to be better than another kid. He complained more and more as we got to know him and it was evident he was very spoiled. The boy in the middle was not at the hagwon when we started, but he is incredibly smart, and I don't mean smart as in he just knows facts. He can work hard, figure things out and is incredibly motivated to get the solutions himself with math, English, or any critical thinking task. While he was a bit annoying to me with his super upbeat demeanor, I have come to love this quirky personality of his. You won't find many kids like him, and I mean this with the least amount of cliche possible.

Then there's this sweet little girl. I am so attached to this girl. Since day one, she has been the most courteous tomboy princess out there. Princess in the sense that she was polite, clever, forgiving, and more rare than a blue moon was she ever a diva. She is in every way the smartest girl I've come to know. She is only aged 5 and knows the most crazy things-- science-wise, world matters, famous people, math, English, history... you name it. She knows fractions, simple division, and can almost multiply. We talked about crabs getting new shells and she said, "I think it's because they grow and are too big?" Ryan and I looked at each other and just about fell over on each other. Day before yesterday, Ryan asked her, "Do you know what mummies are?" Of course she knew. But the winning response instead of a yes was "Tutankhamen." Who is this kid and where did she come from? There are way more instances of these things, but that could take up five pages of this blog if I told you all of them.

She is my little mini-me. I say this because we love the same animals, we both love being boyish, we still love cute things, we have "오빠", and we apparently make the same noises. Ryan came in one time and said, "She makes the same noises as you!" And, with half surprised and half expected feelings, I proudly say, "I've never made those noises in front of her. Yet." ;) She is the better "me" in that she is going to go far in life-- she is going to do too many amazing things and not just in one field. Ryan absolutely adores her, too. We've both wanted to hug her so many times and just steal her for ourselves.

Then there's this little boy. He is the one Ryan and I struggled with the most at first. He was the most difficult kindergartener that didn't want to do anything, that worked the slowest, and would not pay attention. We had so many times we've given tough love-- taking away points, scolding, lecturing-- but it made him all for the better. We finally realized that one kid kept talking down on him for working slowly, not being able to understand, make grammatically correct sentences, or even pronouncing some things correctly. (Yes, that same kid that thought he was all that and a bag of chips.) This child has come such a long way. He has a family that doesn't pay attention to him, and I think this boy understands more than his parents think. I can tell if people are deep down emotional and deep thinkers like me. This boy can understand things more than other kids around him. So while his parents and grandparents do not discipline him/let him play games or whine about simple responsibilities, he is adjusting to our "tough love you can't get out of this at school" mentality. He knows when he is bad even he chooses to be bad. But on his good days, he works incredibly hard and I hope this boy knows he can be great at any subject. It broke my heart when he asked me what "stupid" meant. I told him it was a very bad word and not a nice word, to which he said, "Yes. My father said 'You are stupid." It really ruined his mentality on a lot of things the next two weeks. It broke my heart. But on the last day, he was the strongest little gentleman. His friend got mad at him but he stayed calm and said, "I'm sorry. I didn't know your birthday party was today." And to me, he said, "Yes, today will be a happy day. Not sad. It's okay." If you knew how gentlemanly this little boy is for his age, you would be in disbelief. He's the kind that pulls out chair for the girl, gives other kids pencils, compliments them on their work (the other kids do, too), and encourages them even if they are having a difficult time with something. I can still hear him saying, "It's okay."

He has come such a long way. On the last day at the end of class, he ate the lollipop I bought him and out of nowhere, walked up to Ryan hugging him quietly. He didn't even look up. He just stared out across the room hugging Ryan's leg with a very solemn face. (I told you this kid is deep and understands things.) He understood that we would never see him again. I caught a picture of him hugging Ryan. And then he walked up to me and by this time was almost in tears. Just silently hugging me. And tightly. My heart sank and Ryan and I wanted to cry-- we had tears in our eyes, but we had to try so hard to fight back the tears. "Why is there sand in this building? It's not clean!" Haha

After he hugged me, I scooped the little boy's face in my hands as he hugged me sadly and said, "Promise me. Promise me you will be good and work hard. Be good. Promise me." He looked up at me and gave me the most sincere nod with tears in his eyes. How did I tell a little boy to do these things when I myself am just like this boy? I love playing, I love drawing, I love being lazy sometimes, I make mistakes any other kid would make. It is the weirdest feeling to have to make myself be the grown up in a situation I wanted to crumble in. It felt so hypocritical. A kid telling another kid, "Be good."


The kids after kindergarten were difficult, but they definitely made this an experience to remember. Bossy kids, disrespectful kids, distracted kids, and kids with great hearts even if they were a tad annoying. One kid I got to know this past month (because his classmates were on winter vacation until the end of this month), didn't know Wednesday was his last day seeing me. I didn't know either; he was supposed to come back on Friday. But he was incredibly sick and when his mother told him the school was closing and he couldn't make the last day, he cried so hard saying he had to come to school to say goodbye. I will admit it broke my heart.

This kid got no attention and was not even placed in the correct class. Previous teachers and supervisors didn't seem to care because he didn't belong in that English class! He didn't understand anything-- even basic words one would need to answer questions or have an idea of how to answer them. Since it was just him and not 5 other kids, I was able to focus intensely on his English. I was even learning Korean myself, so I tried to incorporate it into his learning so he could understand. He made groundbreaking progress. He can now form complete sentences and actually understand what is being asked of him when I say simple things like, "Why is he happy? How do they go home? Where is the nest? What is a chrysalis?" I even practiced basic English conversation. Everything I did was done with intricate details to help him understand worksheets, readings, and so on. So I have come to really enjoy this kid, and I was so sad to hear he cried because he wanted to say goodbye to me.

This has been an amazing experience, and I won't let adult things at this school ruin the feelings I take away from teaching here. I can proudly say I gave 200% of myself for every child-- even if I didn't like them. I would do it all over again if I had to. But looking forward, hopefully my new school will be more stable, and I hope I can learn to accept more new kids into my heart and make it melt just like these kids. It will be hard to learn these kids, accept them, and let them completely into my heart- I'm still a kid myself. I'm skeptical like any other kid would be. But being in Korea forces me to be the grownup I never thought I could be. It's great and it's terrible-- but however I feel in the future or even now, it is an experience in itself.

I'm just glad I'm going through this with someone I love so we can share difficult and amazing times together.

Monday, 23 January 2012


"I'm bulletproof, nothing to lose
Fire away, fire away
Ricochet, you take your aim
Fire away, fire away
You shoot me down but I won't fall
I am titanium"

Happy Chinese/Lunar New Year!

Hope everyone has been well since the new year. It is officially the Year of the Dragon, and I have been waiting for this for a long time! This Chinese New Year makes me think a lot about my grandpa and grandma (from Hawai'i). My grandpa would always send lay-see (red envelopes filled with money) and shirts with the year of whatever animal it was. Not that my grandpa or grandma favored any animal or year over any other one. I just knew I was very special to my grandparents. Since it is my year, my thoughts are drawn to my grandparents for some reason. I'm feeling very nostalgic about their cooking, our outtings, sitting on my grandpa's lap to make wonton, and many other things. All of them are very sweet-- I don't recall any bad memories at all. Among these memories, I remember most the last summer I saw my grandpa. My grandma was very sick with pancreatic cancer and my grandpa was trying to be sweet and comforting while we all took turns taking care of my grandmother. He brought home so many sweet cakes one time for me and my brother. We wouldn't be able to finish it, and my father lightly reprimanded him in Chinese, "You shouldn't have gotten them this! They will never be able to finish this!" to which my grandfather basically said, "Gavin and Margaret love these. It's okay. If they can't finish it, it's okay." My father and grandpa would have a little argument over it, but I would look at my grandpa with so much love. My heart could never give him enough gratitude or love he deserved.

There were so many things I didn't know about him, and I wish I could have asked him. (Same with my grandmother). Many things I learned rom my aunt and uncle in fact. I was told that my grandparents were nominated as grandparents of the year in Oahu or Honolulu in that last summer I spent with them. Something of that sort. I find that it's a great honor but my grandpa, a most humble man much like my father, declined to take the award. The article wanted to mention their accomplishments: moving to the US from China with hardly any money, holding a shop open to support 4 children, getting them all through college, having 6 grandchildren all of whom were in college and some of whom were going into grad school even. It is hard getting through this post without crying at times because the amount of love and respect I have for these two people cannot be expressed. When I have hard times, I always come back to thinking about how they never complained and got through times harder than I have ever been in.

This Chinese New Year is wonderful and hard at the same time. I keep thinking about the time I stepped foot outside of their lovely little home and took as many "last looks" at them as I could because I wasn't sure when I would next see them. I actually never expected to never see my grandfather again, but I was somewhat prepared with my grandmother. So when both of them passed within a few months of each other, my heart broke. My brother told me how lonely my grandfather was calling him at college, and I feel so guilty for never calling. I was so busy worrying about finals that no one told me how my grandfather was. It was the same with my grandma. I never found out about her cancer until after my finals which was 4 months after they found out. It hurt when I found out no one told me, and I still feel the hurt because had I known, I would have called them even more. But I can't really be upset-- I should have just called more.

Anyway, this long winded tangent of a post is to say how grateful I am for everything in spite of my recent problems at work and stress with law school decisions. I know that whatever I do, my grandparents would be proud of me and that I should never give up because they never did. If they ever felt weak, they sure were great at hiding it, because I always saw them as the strongest human beings alive. I tend to be a very optimistic person but in recent years, I have become very pessimistic. So, this year has been a reminder. I don't know why this year of all years, but it was much needed. I hope this year gives you hope, strength, and a reminder that we have little problems compared to other people in the world. (Yes, as cliched as that sounds).

Now, moving on:

I would not be accurately representing my life as a foreign teacher if I didn't discuss what is currently going on with my hagwon right now. We were told this past week that our school would be closing at the end of this month. That leaves us 1.5 weeks to look for another job. That is the main issue going on with me as of yet. There are many details that are pretty important and could go onto this blog, however, I know that it is not in my best interest to discuss them here. It's unfortunate, but that's how public forums work on the Internet. Am I stressed? Yes. Have we been looking for new jobs and getting contacted? Yes. It's just a matter of which one do we want to take, getting more contacts about jobs we haven't heard from yet, and considering working hours/pay. What else am I stressed about? Deciding whether I should go to the law schools I got into/am waitlisted for. My thinking: I should maybe retake the LSAT/LSAT courses to get my scores even higher because part of me thinks it is definitely possible. I just have to not psyche myself out and maybe more work on recognizing solutions on the LSAT could get me into a school I am worthy of. That means: do I go back to the US for retaking the course? Or do I stay here, work more and make more money and take an online class instead? Or maybe they have an in-person class here? These are things I need to look into more seriously. Working more looks great because everything is so cheap, and I want to earn as much money as I can so I can have/take care of my own puppy when I get back to the US/pay for some law school things on my own. Decisions, decisions.

As far as recent excursions, Ryan and I recently went to Insadong again to try out a tea shop. The above picture is of the tea shop, and I loved the atmosphere and tea. I think I would go back there again just to relax or study more Korean. We also recently visited Sinchon to meet up with Ryan's friends from Yonsei. We played at a multi-bong and then went to Hongdae for some drinks/dinner and pool.

This weekend, we are just relaxing at home and feeling the bitter winter cold in Korea. Even the heater isn't helping our freezing feet. Wearing warm socks and thermals only helps to a certain degree. Brr! I am doing my best to relax and prepare myself for experiencing real-life work situations. Getting laid off because of a closing business. Preparing myself for never seeing kids that I have come to absolutely love and adore. (The kindergarten kids). I can't imagine not teaching this kids at all, anymore. Somehow, I will cope with it but it is definitely going to be heart-breaking.

On that note, everything is up in the air. Let's make the future ours with our own hands and work with the cards we are dealt with in life. There is a way to make everything the way we want in life eventually if we are willing to work hard for it.

Make every day a special memory even with the hard times. Life wouldn't be wonderful if it weren't bittersweet sometimes.

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

How Do You Bring in the New Year

... when you're in another country? Celebrate with friends from back in the USA, of course!
Unfortunately, for most of our winter break, Ryan was incredibly sick. It was only just yesterday that we took him to a clinic and found out he had bronchitis. On our first day of break, our friends flew in from Shanghai and we met them around the Hong-Ik University subway station in Hongdae if I remember correctly. We just had BBQ and some soju for the first night and then went home. The next day, we took them to MyeongDong and Dongdaemun for shopping since that's what they wanted to do. That same day, we saw Nanta, which is a very well-known cooking show with music incorporated amidst the slicing and dicing of real organic food. It was my second time seeing it albeit a different theatre. It was still very funny, and I'm glad Ryan and I thought of it to entertain our guests. (I feel weird saying guests since we're not exactly host material if you catch my drift.)

Anyway, on their third day here, we took a 3 hour bus ride to Mokpo, which is south of Seoul. From there, we took a 20 minute bus ride to the International Ferry Terminal to catch our ferry to Jeju. That took another 3 hours, but since Ryan and I took some herbal medicine along with motion sickness pills it was easy for us to get through it all. That night, we ended up eating some classic Korean fried chicken (minus the beer it usually goes with). Ryan retired at our hostel for the night since he was really sick even with all the pills he was popping, and I stayed up with our friends having a good fun conversation late into the night. The next morning, we took a 50 minute bus ride to the Jeju Tourist Complex where we went to the Teddy Bear Museum (again, my second time), Chocolate Land, and a famous waterfall that I'd seen with my parents. This time around, however, I was prepared; I wore a recently purchased teddy bear sweater from Dongdaemun for ~$10 and my bear paw mittens. We didn't go to the third waterfall as our time was getting cut short, but it would have been great to see it since it was my favorite when I was there 2 years ago. Before heading back to our hostel, we went to a tiny store off the side of street selling things Jeju is best known for: chocolate, honey, tea, and oranges. The only thing they were missing? Ice cream. I bought around $35 worth of stuff for my family back at home. I wish I had gotten some of it for myself, but maybe I'll be back in Jeju to get it. So off we went back to our hostel and to the airport. I made it a must that Ryan and my friends try the Jeju ice cream so I got one for my friends to share and one for myself. Although there were 3 flavours--chocolate, citrus, and cactus-- I had them all try cactus since I remember that one being my favourite.

That reminds me, earlier that day, we all wanted to get green tea ice cream near the museums. Well, Ryan (usually being the unlucky one) got in line, got his green tea ice cream and the rest of us were told, "No more." It was hilarious because we all immediately turned our heads in the same direction and glared furiously at Ryan, haha. It was so disappointing that it was funny and even the cashier was laughing. [**Also, side note: most of the pictures that I post here will be of Jeju. The ladder picture required lots of patience on my end to catch this amazing shot. Although my camera is no Nikon or Canon, I have this ability to wait for a great shot and that picture of the rocks was the product. Ryan and I love that photo.]

I digress :P Ryan and I ended up getting back into our city at around 11 and we slept like babies. Our friends decided to do some shopping the next day so Ryan got lots of sleep while I relaxed watching TV shows on my laptop. Relaxing was needed since it was New Year's Eve and we were all meeting up at Seoul City Hall later that night for the countdown. We met up with our friends and also an old roommate, had dinner, did out-door ice skating, went to the countdown, went to Hongdae for some drinks, met some funny drunk people and left with some new experiences/memories I will never forget. I seemed to be the most sober, so I'll get to laugh with myself about that night.

All in all, it was a wonderful winter break. Too short but definitely well spent in good company.