Sunday, December 19, 2010

Big Size Opsseoyo, Big Shock Isseoyo! (15 November)

Saturday involved a long and unsuccessful shopping trip to Itaewon in Seoul.  Another Gunsan South African and I decided to get a really early start and headed to Seoul in an attempt to find some warmer clothing.  The score of the end of the day? Money spent: about 900 000 won (nearly US$900) – Clothing purchased: 0. So what did I spend my money on?

I didn’t find any clothing that fit me – or that I would actually wear - but I did buy shoes: lots and lots of shoes…and a really expensive handbag!  I can justify the shoes because they’re an investment.  I bought winter Teva boots and sturdy sneakers for hiking.  I couldn’t accompany my second graders on their hiking trip yesterday because I didn’t have appropriate clothing – at least, now, I have the appropriate shoes which will probably sit in my shoe closet (I love that I have a shoe closet!) until next year sometime.  The other shoes are all incidental and seasonal so they can also be justified.  After all, you can never have too many shoes.  The handbag…not so much.
It’s a handmade, genuine leather bag so it is an investment.  It’s in a classic style and it’s black so it’s practical but most important: It’s SO PRETTY!

Big Size Opsseoyo

As a foreigner in Korea, you need a really thick skin to go clothes shopping here!  If you’re even slightly larger than the average sized Korean, you’re probably going to have to do your clothes shopping in the ‘Big Size’ stores in Itaewon or similar areas.  I feel like an elephant in Korea.  I know I’m large and slightly overweight but does it really have to be shoved down my throat every time I walk past a store.  Itaewon is the (very sketchy) mecca for many a foreigner living in Korea and the number of ‘Big Size’ or ‘Plus Size’ stores (seriously: That’s what they’re called!) in Itaewon is a testament to this status.  Itaewon is near the US Air Base in Seoul which explains it’s western dominance.

I have yet to have a Korean person or colleague comment about my weight (or maybe they do and I just don’t understand them) but I’ve heard many stories where Koreans have told even US size 8 women that they’re fat or that their “stomach very large”.  Maybe I have kinder colleagues, maybe I’m just oblivious but the truth is…I’m also terrified of walking into most clothing stores that aren’t called ‘Big Size’ because I don’t think I could bear the humiliation of being chased out of the store.  I’ve heard horror stories of foreigners being chased out of stores by staff crossing their arms to form an ‘X’ (Korean sign language for ‘No’) and saying, rather loudly, “Big Size Opsseoyo” (We don’t have big sizes).  Perhaps this hesitancy partially explains why at six pm when we decide to give up on shopping for the day, we haven’t found many clothes because we’re a little hesitant that we’ll be chased from the store by angry mobs throwing the verbal equivalent of flaming torch at the overweight foreigners!

When it’s finally time to leave Seoul, our bus mysteriously seems to be running later and later which is rather unusual for Korea.  We’ve hit major traffic leaving Seoul and we’re so far behind schedule that we don’t even stop at the rest stop on the way home.  Our driver is clearly attempting to make up for lost time too and I find myself feeling rather sea-sick as a result of the swaying bus and manic driving that gets us to Gunsan by just after 23:00.  The next day is spent simply recovering from the failed shopping attempt in Seoul.

Big Shock Isseoyo

Monday morning brings with it a new and rather uncomfortable surprise.  Since the Korean CSAT is being written this Thursday and we have mock exams and all types of other things happening at school and have already lost two days of teaching in the previous week, it means that my filmed lesson will have to happen within the next two days – and not with my desired class.  At least, this is the news that I’m given first thing Monday morning.  My first lesson of the day is easy – this particular class is always an easy class to work with which kind of makes up for the fact that the class directly after theirs is the complete opposite.  My week starts with a lesson that almost seems to run itself followed by a lesson that feels like I’m not only drawing blood from a stone but pounding it to death at the same time as I use my entire weight to drain the fraction of a millilitre of blood in this 11 person rock.

For some reason, my co-teacher is not in this particular lesson from the start so I’m not too concerned when the door at the back of the English lab opens, a head peeps in and then disappears outside again.  My co-teacher is used to my rather casual style of teaching where I generally sit on a desk and try to just ‘chat’ with the students on a Monday morning.  The ten Korean men, all dressed in very official looking suits, who have just entered the English lab with my principal (at least, I think he’s the principal) and vice-principal, however, do not seem as comfortable with this style of teaching.  My kids are oblivious (or just don’t care) to the fact that several suits have just entered the lesson and are currently standing at the back of the room looking at the newly decorated room and listening to my lesson.  I’m equally oblivious, thankfully, to the fact that these suits are actually doing a school inspection and are from the Jeonbuk Department of Education – ie. They’re technically my boss!

By the time I realize this, I’ve already endured the awkward 10 minutes they’ve observed of my conversation lesson – the one where I’m the only one talking on this particular day – and I can only make sure that I am fully prepared for my filmed lesson on Wednesday.  I’m so engrossed in ‘rehearsing’ this upcoming lesson that it takes me 20 minutes and four students to realize I’m meant to be teaching in that particular hour.  Considering it took my kids 20 minutes to come and look for me, I don’t think they’re too worried about missing half the lesson even if I feel like an idiot at that point.  Fortunately, my vice-principal is still entertaining the suits somewhere in the school and isn’t in our teacher’s room to see my latest screw up…

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