Archive for September, 2009

beyond the bus run

In school, there was a certain kind or respect for the bus run. There were different kinds of runs: last bus, morning bus, in between class bus. In Miami, there was the it-only-comes-every-thirty-minutes sprint. Heart pounding, feet running in the widdest stride,faster than your regular jog or treadmill session. For the bus run you get a fire of adrealdine under you, you push it out; the only that maters is getting on it. And if it goes well, as you find yourself bounding up the stirs, chest heaving, hairline beads of sweat, you feel this … ultimate sucess.

Seoul though, has given a new dimension to the bus run. Evolved.
The last train run.

It starts simply. Maybe it’s 11.15 at night. Maybe it’s 11.30. You excuse yourself from the night of debauchery – the coffee shop or mall, the bar or club, the gallery show. Purposefully, you walk towards the subway station. There’s no reason to look at the time again, as it just gets later and later. You walk with purpose, maybe with your chest a bit out, eyes straight ahead.  Here, the trains stop at midnight or soon after.

As you arrive at the station you bound down the stairs quickly, but still collected.  On the way to the turnstile you go over the transfers you’ll have to make, the exits you want. The second you beep your T-money and break through, the second you find yourself in that gate, the heart quickens. Every sudden rush of noise, any sound of distant whistles that warn of the approaching train will make you jump, rush, pound down.

It’s no problem to make that first train, but it’s the transfer that brings you to your knees. At every transfer station, people will sprint out of the cars: old ajjuma’s, drunk girls in heels, businessmen, silly foreigners. The stations are huge, tangles of staired passageways layers underground. There’s a thrill in the air. This is it – the faster you move, the harder the fight, the better your chance is. Miss that transfer and you’ll be at the mercy of the taxi drivers, haggling over fare prices in an unknown station.

Last night, at my transfer station, the subway masters had closed the gate at 11.45, before the last train had come in. People clamored around the gate, angry mob, pointing at their watches and yelling. Some gave up, exited the station. The last train comes in 11.49. Even if the gate opened, you’d have to run like the devil was behind you to catch it.

The gate opened. Flying down 6 flights of stairs, wind in my face, purse unwieldy and thunking madly against my side, flew flew flew. As that train whirled into the station and I slid into one of the many empty seats, there was so much satisfaction. So much … love – love for getting what you want. I look at the other women who had run with me, and I feel a connection. Here we are, alone at night, in Seoul. This is where we live. This is where we run. This is where we are.


I’ve been in Korea for a month now.
This morning, my principle is wearing a checkered suit with dark shades. For some reason, I think he looks like Elton John.


jewing seoul

Tonight I head to Itaewon to celebrate Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year’s. Being Jewish in Seoul has been kind of like being Jewish in Mexico. To be “Yudain” is an abstract concept for most of my students, something they only heard about in history books. Some of the 9th graders seem to know about the Holocaust, and shouted “Anne Franku, Anne Franku!” when I told them I was Jewish. Close enough!

One of the first things my school asked me to do was take out my nose ring, since it is against the students’ uniform policy. Once I explained that it was culturally symbolic to me (and anyone who’s been involved in the social justice Jewish community will know what I mean), the school let me keep it in. That I’m Jewish is important to my school.

That sounds strangely worded, but I don’t know how else to describe it.

In my second week at Hyewon, I met the school’s director; an elderly gentleman who had studied banking abroad and opened up schools here because he believes in access to education. After looking over my resume and asking me some questions about my experience with youth and the arts, he said “You’re Jewish?”

Of course, he already knew I was.

“That’s very good,” he said. “Jewish people love education. Your parents must have worked very hard with you in school. They must have taught you a lot.”

Which, of course, they had.

That sort of thought has been echoed back to me by multiple co-workers, that because I’m Jewish, I’m better suited to this sort of life. Which is nothing more than a stereotype, of the model-minority mold, but… This is Korea. I will probably be the only Jew my students meet for years and years, and  if they just take away that Jews have nose rings, don’t eat meat and love school, well, that’s not too horrible.

So, today I gave each of my Korean co-teachers small candies, and wished them a happy new year. A sweet new year, like the candy. I have a mezuzah on my apartment door, I showed my students pictures of challa,  I have “Michigan” written in Hebrew letters decorating my cubical and my school gave me Yom Kippur off from work because I asked and they are curious and respectful about this whole package. Tonight as I bring in the New Year with however many other Jews living in Korea, I’ll be thinking of my students and how much I want them to travel, to see more than just Korea in their lives. I hope they see a lot more kinds of Jews than me… hahaha.

In the last week I’ve gone to a Korean wedding and to see the original Broadway cast do RENT. Both where amazing – if you managed to stay away through my Jewishness seeping through, here’s some videos of both events:

Some of my students sang at my co-worker Seol-A’s wedding. The music teacher is the lady sitting right under the projection. They where so nervous!

There must of been 2,000 people there. Seol-A is the art teacher at Hyewon

Turns out that one of my fav studnets is the one who sent me the mini-pear. She told me I was “Cute . Like banana milk.” Which may just be a way of telling me I’m fat. -_- but… yeah. And yay! My office!

I went to see RENT with Jin and Linda, two other SMOE teachers. It was fantastic! Before we saw the play, we had this crazy good bean sprout soup. It was alsmost 80% bean sprouts, haha – and veggie!

I wish I had gotten the nerve to film “One Song Glory” (prob. my fav RENT song). It had the best lighting, and I had chills the whole time it was being sung. So much RENT love.

I think this was my first “real” theater outing. I can’t wiat to see mor eplays in Seoul! The only issue was that the play ended at about 11pm, and the trains stop running at close to midnight. I was so nervous – but I totally got home just fine 🙂 Life is good.

HAPPY NEW YEAR!!  Have a sweet 5770 everyone!!

Weddings and Pineapple

some wallnice ajjumasome canssome stuff

Today I went to my first Korean wedding! Maybe that should mean I have photos of it… but they’re all on my holga. Anyway, My coworker Seoul A, who’s the art teacher at Hyewon, got married! Mazal tovs all round!

Having never been to a Korean wedding, I asked her what an aproatate gift would be. She said money was teh most common, but it would be okay if I brought fruit or a small cake instead.

I bought a Pineapple. It came gift wrapped.

As I walked to the subway, three girls came running up to me, screaming. I thought my pineapple was leaking all over my good skirt. “HYEWON! HYEWON!”  The pointed at themselves and I realized that they where my students! Three of the hundreds, hahaha. And then they pointed to my stomach (and pineapple) and said “Sick? Are you okay?”

Well. It seems liek my whole school knows I took an out down for my weak digestive tract. 😦 I told the girls I was fine and headed to the wedding, only to find myself the only person carrying a fruit. Of any kind. At all. As I handed it to Seoul A she looked confused.

“I thought it would be funny,” I said hopefully. “You said I could bring fruit….”

The wedding was amazing. And tomorrow I return to my students and school life!

rice porridge and barley tea

The last three days have been straight out of the “gee, I hope that doesn’t happen while I’m abroad!” book.  As school closed out on thursday, I had a terrible stomachache, but I figured it wasn’t any big deal. I’m Jewish right? If you look at em funny it makes my insides hurt. But the pain got so bad that I couldn’t sleep that night, dull stabbing of broken glass.

And then I thought, huh, what do I do now? It’s a 20 min walk to my school, I have limited communication skills, no cell phone (or any phone). This is it – on my own, and crazy sick. I showered, and with the diligence of a 90 year old woman walked two blocks to the nearest major intersection, where I picked up a taxi in broken Korean and got to school an hour early. My logic: find school nurse = everything will get better.

Two hours later I found myself in a Korean hospital/low cost clinic, waiting to be seen for my crippling stomach pain. My school was absolutely awesome, loaning me the money to pay for a shot to the bum to stop  the pain, and a cocktail of medicines to… stop the pain for the next three days? It was unclear. My co-teacher kept saying “I don’t know what they do, Just take them.”  Transparency is non existent in the Korean medical profession.

After coming home from the hospital, I proceeded over the next 6 hours, to vomit a whole lot. I hate throwing up, but each time I felt a lot better. I laid in bed, sleeping, reading, and throwing up until the crazy, incessant, sharp stabbing pain slowed to a dull ache.  hahah. This is the worst blog post ever. At night, my co-teacher and vice principle came over to my disgusting hovel, and made me tea and rice porridge, the only thing I’ve been able to keep down. Now, that’s something I wouldn’t expect in the States, especially after just two weeks of working somewhere. I kept saying thank you and apologizing for the mess…

The whole thing, it was kind of scary and kind of …. adult. I’m more on my own than I ever have been, making decisions and figuring out how to, well, survive. :/

Now, I’m feeling a lot better, but if I still have pain in 3 days I have to go back, so they an look at my insides.  Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that, and that I find myself teaching on monday. 🙂


Tonight Yoon Ji invited me to a gallery opening at her job, BODA photo-studio-place.

It was amazing.

And, other SMOE teachers came too 🙂 Nice nice nite.

Well, it’s official: Teacher Naomi in the house. After a week of sitting in swine-flu bum bum boringness, I’ve landed feet first in the teaching world. Today I had 4 classes, starting at being horrible experiences and growing into almost awesomeness. I was pretty nervous for the first class, and the students skill level is a lot lower than we were prepped for during the training/orientation. I taught 9th grade first, then two 8th grade courses, and finished out the day with an extra-curricular joint 7th/8th grade conversational english class. It seems like the Korean educational system is preparing students who can WRITE not students who can TALK, which is why they’ve imported us.

All of my classes were taught with a co-teacher, who could translate what I said into Korean, but the curriculum, activities and teaching are all me. The only instructions they school gave me where concise: I’m there to make the students talk in English and have fun. Hm.  The after school English class though, that’s on my own. I keep having flashbacks of being in high school, with multiple classes being taught in Hebrew, with directions on the exams being in hebrew, with being totally and completely lost and confused. u_u That’s how the students must feel.

And yet, the conversation class was the most fun. And ridiculous. We made a video together , to force them to speak loudly, and so I can learn their names. I think they almost had fun doing it – – –

After school, though I was exhausted, I met up with Kang Chul, my Korean Language partner and some of his co-workers. They’re all physical therapists! I speak english, they try to teach me Korean; I’m such a bad student tho. This was prob the most failed lesson ever, as we did it over Bekseju. Hahaha.

This video has nothing to do with bekseju. but that’s Kang Chul! So cute! ‘Oppa’ is the Korean word for “older brother” – but now I call him ‘ajjashi’ which is the word for old old old man.  😉