Saturday, March 17, 2007

a little bit of spring goes a long way

Forsythia. Rhodedendrons. Magnolias. Plum trees. Longer, sunnier days. Warm(ish) rain. Yes, it is the early bloomers that can really give a girl hope.

And this year, there is a bonus: I have my very own roof. And my very own set of stairs that leads to the roof. Which means I will have my very own roof top garden this year!

I've started buying seeds. I've started buying dirt. And in a few short weeks, I will start planting my way into summer.

And just thinking about it now makes me a very, very happy girl.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

This One Will Make You Want to Spit

In this new, "I'm scratching my eyes out" work environment that is all brag with no substance, a new and more serious issue has arisen than my normal rants about nice but racist coworkers and the lack of crayons in the classroom. Brace yourself, people: We now have a serious case of the blatant, disgusting and egregious violation of the rights of women. Specifically the right to have a baby, the right to have maternity leave, and the right to be a working mom.

Now before there is panic on the family front, let me start off by saying that this is not my story. I am not pregnant. But it is quite personal because it is my workplace and the woman is a good teacher, an honest person and well, 7 months pregnant. AND this is the employer who fired me 6 months ago for requesting part time work, and who has since re-hired me at the new school she owns (oh, it's all so complicated). So you can see where this is going right?

So my preggie coworker, let's call her Susie, informed our director last week that she is 7 months pregnant. Well, I know that most people would have already noticed pregnancy at 7 months, but Susie is a heavy girl and and there is no noticing a baby underneath her big hoodie sweatshirts and her ample body. The first reaction from the boss was a positive one: she didn't see any problem; there would be maternity leave, the timing wasn't actually so bad....

The second meeting re: Susie's pregnancy was slightly more scary: the supervisor thought the parents of our kindergartners would be angry because she had promised them the same teacher for the whole year. So her solution? Lie. Tell everyone that Susie needs EMERGENCY HEART SURGERY. And then miraculously, Susie will recover and return to work in August... Uh weird, right? It gets better.

Third meeting: Director and supervisor inform Susie that they had not been deducting the proper amount from her paycheck for pension and health insurance so starting in April, they would be taking out a lot more. Now I'm not sure what this is all about. But I'm sure that it means that at some point, they have been/are in some pretty major violations of basic Korean laws... And so quite unexpectedly, her paycheck is going to be smaller by some $200 every month.

And I bet you are wondering about the supervisor's personal opinion about the pregnancy? Well, she has been editorializing against working moms privately while grinning at us publicly. But let the record show that she told Susie how "worried" she is about Susie finding child care; about Susie's income; about whether or not Susie could be a good mommy and a good teacher (for freakin babies). Yes, the supervisor has expressed many concerns about the well-being of Susie and soon to be son.

The fourth meeting, Susie didn't attend. It was between the supervisor and Korean teaching staff. What made it's way back to us is that actually, Susie would be leaving at the end of April and would not be returning. EVER. And so the Korean teachers were informed about how to lie to the parents and when. And were given plenty of time to think about how to do it well.

Well, needless to say that Susie was more than stressed out when she heard that today. It was certainly news to her that she wouldn't be returning after April. It was definitely a shock to discover that actually, there is no maternity leave in our job...

So Susie, in her 7th month of pregnancy, is gearing up to fight the sexist powers that be in Korea. Because unfortunately, this is not an isolated problem. And unfortunately, there aren't tons of Korean women fighting the man on this issue. And unfortunately, the sad fact remains that just because you have laws, doesn't mean you have justice. And just because you have democracy, doesn't mean you have fairness. And just because everyone else in the world does it, doesn't mean we have to....

Oh Korea, some days, you really make me want to spit.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Where It's At

In bullet form because frankly, I'm not sure what I'm going to say once I start writing....

  • The new job: Well. hmmmm. It hasn't settled down yet. No, not one bit. We've had at least one change to our class schedule every day this week; there is still confusion over which students belong in which classes, what are homework assignments are supposed to be like... Or not. And well, this is the really frustrating thing about working in private schools in Korea: It's all flash and PR to attract extremely wealthy parents and their rotten kids. Here's a great example: we have oil pastels in the art room. And expensive paints. And that kind of coloring chalk that artists use, but we don't have any complete sets of crayons in our class rooms. Nor do we have enough scissors, glue, file folders or a copy machine that actually works, or enough damn desks for all the teachers in our faculty lounge. So we are always fighting over materials and workspace, thereby reducing the amount of time we have to be productive when we are not in the class room, and in fact always having to leave our classrooms to find the things we need. And when we do find the things we need, we usually have to steal it from someone else, which of course is really annoying because it never gets returned. Just, why oh why are we dealing with such ridiculous scarcity for the things we really need, when our school is overflowing with stupid, pretty, useless things that are going to break or get wrecked within 2 months anyhow? SO FRUSTRATING!

  • Speaking of rotten kids... my kids are like totally rotten. Cute, but rotten. Smart, but rotten. We had a meet and greet with the parents last weekend. Boy, was that telling. Our students rule their parents and as such they expect to rule in the classroom. This week has not been easy. No, little 5 year old, you can not tell me what to do. This is school, and I am not your mother... So my students come from an interesting and assorted group of the Korean elite: I have one child who is the daughter of a very famous actor; another whose father and uncle are professional baseball players for Texas and some Florida team in America; a big politician's daughter; and the remainder mostly come from rich executives or old money from the Korean chaebol legacy. I'm trying to remember that it is not the kids' faults that they are so damn rotten, but when you have 8 students with 8 ideas about what they want and have never been told "no," well, sometimes you just feel like lining the kids up against the wall and making your classroom into a boot camp that breaks their will. Now in honesty, the thought of that abhors every anti-authoritarian instinct I have, but it's a hard balance of teaching a kid to remain independent and spirited and not letting them step all over each other and their teachers... Especially when their parents are teaching them to step all over everyone to get what they want...

  • OH what happened to my sweet, smart and respectful students at the first school? Dolphin class and Giraffe class, I sure do miss you kids.... and your great parents.

  • Life with the GS this week has been a little better. He hasn't worked since last Friday when his dad died...He has a lot on his mind of course, and has spent a lot of time on the phone with his family and is doing his best to help them from here, but it's been really nice just to see him after a totally exhausting day and not wonder how late his meeting is going to last or if he is going to have time to eat a meal with me this week. Unfortunately this week will be over as of tomorrow, so it' s back to the grind of being too busy for much of anything outside of work.

  • Although no decisions have officially been made yet, it looks like this will be the last year for us in Korea. He will probably go to Bangladesh first to take care of things with his family... I'm not sure what my plan is yet because I want to finish a year at this school and make enough money to be able to travel to the US and to Bangladesh before I'm settled anywhere.

  • I'm not freaking out as much as I was last week, mostly because that stuff doesn't make sense to freak out about right now. And the GS is still the same old GS, and although it is really sad that his dad died, it is really nice to see him reconnecting with his family and owning up to his responsibilities. And while I don't know what that means for us as a couple, I guess it is good for me to see this side of him and get to know him more deeply... And well, isn't that what being in a good relationship is all about? The adventure; the learning to be there for each other even when it is confusing and hard; and the rewards of growing together, even when it is in sometimes equal and opposite directions... You can spend a whole life time getting to know someone... Isn't that fun?

Sunday, March 4, 2007

Lazy Weekend Bonus

Lil' Sister tagged me for the 6 weird things meme... I've been avoiding it for the obvious drama that has taken over my life, but let's take a break from the drama and learn about just how un-weird I actually am despite the, um, unique circumstances of my life now.

1. I'm a bona fide anarchist, in the good old fashioned Emma Goldman meaning of the word. That's right. Stay away from the 3 pernicious influences: god, private property and the state, and live happily ever after. I come mostly from the anarcho-syndicalist camp of anarchism, which if you read the link, you will find out that anarcho-syndicalism is not mutually exclusive of collectivism or some of the other schools of anarchist thought. These days there is a movement amongst anarchists in which they kind of defy these kinds of "old fashioned" definitions, but that is such a long discussion that it is probably better to keep simple here. And oh yeah, in true anarchist style, I have been tear gassed and beaten up by police, but sadly never actually arrested. I'm not sure how I avoided that actually.

2. Despite my "we're all in the same boat, so let's row it together" mentality, I am a bit of a lone wolf. That's right, WW is not a pack animal. Sure I have friends, and back home in America, I have lots and lots of friends, but I've never been the kind of person to go along with the crowd and have always found small ways to make my self different even if I look pretty darn average. I like people, but damn, I love to be alone with a book even more. People make me tired. And sometimes cranky. Especially stupid ones.

3. I am completely lacking in the self-censorship part of the brain. Show me the line and I will leap over it. Diplomacy? I've tried it, but it never worked for me. Rude jokes? Cynicism? Opinions? Yes, I share them freely, often in the company of those who would rather not hear it. And I'm not sorry about it. Not one bit.

Is any of this actually weird? I don't know.

4. I have a green thumb. And I can milk cows. And goats. And make cheese and yogurt. I don't even mind shoveling shit and throwing around hay bails. Yes, I'd love to live the life of an organic (very small scale) farmer by summer, and urban street smart nearly 30 something by winter. Here in Seoul, I am gearing up for my rooftop container garden that will feature flowers, flowers, flowers! tomatoes, peppers and onions. Maybe even a pumpkin or 2 and some cukes. I love to make things grow.

5. Prepositions are my passion. Okay, not really but I am an EFL teacher in Korea. Koreans don't have nearly as many prepositions as we do, so it's hard for them to wrap their brains around all the different ways to make different parts of sentences fit together. I seem to be the only English teacher in the country who has explained this part of English to students. Oh, adverbs too. Don't English speakers know what an adverb is? So what this boils down to is that I love grammar, although I am no longer all that good at. But I'm in Korea, land of the really really stupid English teacher. Stupidity, from my point of view, is relative, so here I am GRAMMAR QUEEN of the peninsula. I am also especially good at explaining vocabulary words, perhaps owing to my fifth grade spelling/vocabulary club called the HYPERPOLYSYLLABICSESQUAPEDALIST which is a long word that means a person who says long words. Or so I was told by my fifth grade reading teacher, Mr. Peters.

6. I don't like cake. Or frosting. Or pie. I guess there are exceptions to that, but they don't exist in Korea. I'd take ice cream over cake or pie any day.

PS I'm not tagging anyone because I'm like the last person on the internet to do this meme. Besides, I don't even have 6 blogging buddies....


Edited to Add:
So I started thinking about this post and really got the feeling that I wasn't digging deep enough and that I needed to reveal something, at least one thing, that was actually weird about myself. So here I go:

I don't wear deodorant. I stink. And I like the way that it smells. It's kind of musky and soapy at the same time. And the GS likes the smell, too. Maybe we are both weird...

The GS doesn't wear deodorant either. But he doesn't stink. He always smells fresh and clean, even when he is under enormous amounts of stress. Don't ask me how he does it. I sure am jealous.

And I'm a closet Justin Timberlake fan. That's probably not weird, but something I wouldn't admit under normal circumstances.

I have had several "ass injuries". The first was when I was 5 and got attacked by a dog and had to get stitches in my ass. Still got the scar to prove it. The 2nd was in the 4th grade when I bruised my tailbone badly showing off my mad gymnastic skills on the playground and flew off the bar early on a dismount. And the last was, well, I guess I only had two, but for some reason butt trauma takes up a lot of space in my mind.

Last thing: I don't know how to cut my nails so I bite my fingernails, yet somehow, they never look bitten, but neatly trimmed. My teeth have got mad skills, y'all. 'Cept for that one time I chipped a little piece of my front tooth whilst nail biting. That sucked.

Now if there was a meme on strange injuries, I think I could do really well...

Saturday, March 3, 2007

questions that'll make a girl freak out

Well, it seems that the storm that was sweeping the heart and mind of my General Secretary has passed and now his thoughts are as lucid as the blue sky on a Spring day. I'm not quite sure what happened in the last two days, but when he came home last night, his face was at ease and he was even smiling a little. When I asked him he said simply, "The prayer has cleared the confusion from my mind and now I know what I have to do."

"What has become more clear?" you might ask. Well, the GS has decided to take his role as oldest son seriously. He started talking about his responsibility to his family in a way that I've never heard before. In the past he has acknowledged that he hasn't lived up to the expectations of how a son or a father should act, but he was never quite ready to take responsibility for any of it. Now, quite suddenly in my mind, he has started talking about what his job might be when he goes back to Bangladesh; where he might live because they no longer own a home in Dhaka, only one out in the country in a village that still doesn't have electricity; where his mother might live; how he might have to support his sisters and brothers until they get married in addition to his own daughter.

And I'm sitting there thinking, "Huh? Where do I fit into all of this?" I mean, we've had these conversations in the abstract before, but now this is all feeling quite real and fast and I'm really scared. And as was demonstrated in the last few days due to the sad fact of his father passing away, I have a long way to go in understanding his culture and religion. And I'm not Islamic so I'm excluded from the big ritual parts of life in Bangladesh. And I'm never going to be Islamic so how can I fit into his family and social structure?

And is he going to freak out and become like REALLY Islamic? Not like fundamentalist or anything like, I just mean more conservative?

And does this mean he is going to take is role as "THE man of the family" so seriously that I am then "THE woman"?

And isn't his family going to see me as some kind of Western home-wrecking whore? I mean, I am not conservative by any standards. And well, let's face it. One of the first things he will have to do when he goes home is get a divorce. (OH my god! Has even thought about it that way?)

And won't his daughter really resent me?

Am I just thinking about all of the negative things that could happen now that we are suddenly catapulted in the reality of our situation?

So just to clarify things a little (don't freak out mom and sister), there are no definite plans for us to move Bangladesh any time soon. As far I'm concerned, I have to finish my year at this school and save some money or I won't be going anywhere for a long time. But yes family, brace yourselves for the fact that I might just maybe move to Bangladesh, but it would not in anyway as far as I'm concerned be a permanent move....

Oh my god, I'm admitting these things on my blog so they must be real. Because blogging is real, right?

My last question is: Do I really want to post this for the whole world to see? Isn't it a bit premature to publish the kind of freak out to the web? Well I don't know, so here I am... pushing the publish button...

Confusion, Grief and Dealing

A few days ago, the GS got a call from his family in Bangladesh with an urgent message: Come home now, or never see your father again. Well, of course he wanted to see his father, but was faced with a rather impossible situation: if he left Korea, he wouldn't be able to come back. Maybe ever. Such is the life of an undocumented worker. Not to mention the fact that he works for a union and barely makes enough to eat in a month, much less buy a plane ticket. So needless to say, he didn't go.

Yesterday morning, another call came from Bangladesh. His father had died. I can't really pretend to know what he is feeling about this. But I know that he was already racked with guilt and feels as though is father's illness was his fault. You see, his father had a stroke just after a huge fight they had over the phone. And he hasn't been home in 10 years so he has missed seeing his daughter grow up, his sisters and brothers become women and men, and his father's steady progression into illness. The GS is the oldest son in his family, and now as such is responsible for the welfare of his brothers and sisters in Bangladesh since his father has passed. He is now not only the man of the family he created in Bangladesh, but also the man of the family he was born into. In abestentia, that is.

So I was crazy busy at work yesterday and didn't know that the GS had been trying to reach me all day. Finally at 5 I checked my messages and discovered that his father had died. He asked me to come home as soon as I could, and I did. But unfortunately that was at 7:30. I came home to an empty house and he wasn't answering his phone. Finally he called me to say that he had gone to Mosque to pray, something that I'm pretty sure he hasn't done for 10 years. He came back 2 hours later, his face dark and stormy in way I had never seen before, and remained reticent.

I have never been good at the these kinds of things. I did the only thing I could think of: gave him food, coffee, a lot of hugs, a head massage, and my ears if he wanted them. About an hour later he tells me, "It's Islamic law. No physical contact for three days. No crying. No drinking. Only praying. Alone." So no kissing? No hugging? No crying? Nope. And you have to be alone?

Well now I'm really at a loss. And utterly exhausted from a really terrible, confusing and busy week. I'm feeling stressed about how I can be there for the GS with having absolutely no tools to deal with this cultural difference. I can't tell if he wants to be alone and or with me and when I ask he says he doesn't know. So after dancing around the issue for 2 hours, I went to bed. He came to bed about 2 hours later, turned his back to me and didn't really even look at me this morning. This morning I had to work (yes, it's Saturday) and the GS wanted to go to a mosque in Ansan, which is about 2 hours away so I haven't seen him today either. When I call him, he doesn't really answer my questions and kind of avoids committing to coming home or being anywhere in particular. I never would have guessed that this is his way of coping with loss.

So he is dealing with his grief alone. He is dealing with his guilt alone. I feel totally shut out and apart from his life. And it hurts me to watch him hurt so much. I don't know what to do, but I know the last thing I want to do is talk to him about how I feel because this really isn't about me. I am worried about him. I worried that if he feels like I'm not supporting him now, he'd rather be with someone who understands his culture, religion and traditions, so I guess that means I am worried about us, too.

He asked me to pray for his dad and his family, but I really don't know how to do that. I'm not sure who or what to pray to. I don' t know what I would say. So mom, maybe you could do it for me? Sister? Anyone? How do you do that?

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Home Again, Home Again, Jiggety Jog

As it turns out, I did make it back to Korea on Monday with few problems. I made a phone call to Korea on Monday morning and talked to my boss who told me that I was flying stand-by and that I should get to the airport as early as possible. Well, I didn't even know that you could fly stand-by on international flights, but I ran to the airport, got to the check-in desk (where not a person was stationed because there were no outgoing flights for that airline until much later in the day) and then searched the airport in a panic to find out what my status was. I located someone who was a little confounded by my panic; she checked the computer and informed me that my boss was an idiot, I needn't have run to the airport and that I had a seat that I could check in for 4 hours later...

So I spent a beautiful Spring day inside the Fukuoka airport instead of outside, but at least with the security of a confirmed seat (11A, thank you very much) and just enough money for lunch. So I guess all is well that ends well.

When I arrived home, my phone was ringing off the hook with bosses and managers and co-workers and friends who wanted to make sure I arrived. I walked in the door to find a tired roommate and crying cat with no food in her bowl and a cat box that hadn't been scooped since the day before I left. The floor hadn't been vacuumed, the dishes hadn't been washed, and all of my laundry that I had just washed (but apparently never dried) was filling my room with the smell of mildew. I was already tired and stressed out, and now to add to it all, very annoyed.

But there was no time to deal with any of that because I had to wake at 7 the next morning so I could get to work early because I had an inordinate amount of catch up work to do due to my prolonged stay in Japan. I walk into a confused, disorganized office and tried to get going only to find that the copying machine was broken, none of the computers in my office were connected to a printer and I had left my personal jump drive at home and our office had nothing I could use. So I spent the day fighting over our limited computers (which we all need all day right now), emailing documents to myself so I could print them downstairs, and trying to pacify the worries of our 2 new teachers who have never taught before, never planned a lesson and who have received no training for their brand new job in a brand new country.

I worked at the kindergarten until 6 and then rushed off to teach my 3 hour middle school class from 7-10 pm. It was a brand new, unbroken in class and really hard to teach. Middle school students can really just suck the life out of you. So by the time I got home at 11:30 pm I was feeling broken and tired and so my house is still pretty much in the same state.

And Wednesday? Pretty much the same as Tuesday. Except on Tuesday night the GS finally picked up on my weariness and did some laundry and took care of the cat poo so our house is a little bit less disgusting.

And today? It's a national holiday so I finally got some much needed sleep, prepped for my class tonight (for the middle school students at the school that does not observe national holidays) and should be finishing my lesson plans for the kinder school, but instead I just feel like complaining. Sometimes life just feels like boot camp, but I'm not sure what I'm training for.

Tomorrow is our first day of teaching. Hopefully it'll go more smoothly than the week of preparation has been...