Friday, September 26, 2008

Teacher, Where Are Glasses?

Several students asked me that the first couple of days of the week. All the students had only ever seen me with glasses and so it was a change for them. I had to explain to them I no longer need them. I said to a few of them that I had surgery, but they really do not know what surgery means and so I told that my eyes are fixed. A student in my lowest level class saw me and was pointing at me and and tapping on another student. I'm guessing that he noticed my lack of glasses and was telling the other student. It's a strange feeling to not need the glasses anymore. I don't have to worry about finding where I put them the night before just so that I can see. I tried them on tonight and my vision was pretty blurry while I was wearing them. Before the surgery, I was -3.25 diopters in the right eye and -2.75 in the left eye. With the surgery and the glasses, it was way overcorrected. My vision has made a full circle in 15 years.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Hey, Four Eyes!

It has been several years since anybody has called me that, but nobody will be able to now. Friday afternoon I had LASIK. I wasn't planning on having the surgery until my last vacation time, which would be in February. I was going to go to Japan for this break, but on Friday the 12th, I decided that I was not going to go this time. I did not do much planning for it, and I really did not decide where I was going to go. I decided that instead, I would stay in Korea and take care of business, like getting the ball rolling on LASIK, looking into Korean lessons, and possibly traveling around other places in Korea. I did only one of those because on the 12th, I made an appointment with an eye clinic in Seoul.

I had been looking into different places in Korea for LASIK. Only one place in Korea had its website in English. I could have gone to a place in Pusan, but I would have had to take along a Korean speaker to translate for me, which I did not want to ask anybody to do. I even saw on thw website that one of the doctors had studied LASIK at Stanford and UCLA, so I knew for sure that he spoke English. I decided to spend my vacation time in Seoul so that if I did have the surgery, then it would not put a crimp in my plans. If I did not have the surgery, then I could sight see in Seoul.

I had an appointment for a consultation on Wednesday at 2:00. I had a little trouble getting there from the subway station but I called them and they told me how to get there. There were 24 tests that I had to go through. Some were to see if I was a good candidate and some were to see how much correction was necessary. After about an hour and a half to two hours, it was determined that I was a good candidate. I was given a choice between the Wavefront laser or the conventional laser. I chose the Wavefront laser because it is more precise. It would cost an additional 300,000 won. All in all, the surgery was going to cost 2, 300,000 won. They gave me a discount of 200,000 won and then would give me an additional discount of 100,000 won if I paid in cash. The day that that was quoted, the exchange rate was 1116 won to the dollar.

Since I was not going to have the surgery until Friday, I spent part of Thursday, looking for a Nonghyup Bank so that I could withdraw 2,000,000 won. I asked somebody at the front desk where there was one and he told me. I either did not follow his directions correctly or he told me wrong (or both). I did not find it. I remembered though that he told me Insadong street, so I went there and walked down the street. Eventually, I found one. I took a number and when it was my turn, I gave my passbook to the teller and wrote 2,000,000 on the back of my number. There was a slip that I had to fill out. I wrote down my account number and then he had some other customer who was leaving write something in Korean and then 2,000,000 won. After a few minutes of processing and him having another teller help him, he gave me the money in cash. Carrying that much money in cash is like carrying $2,000 in ten-dollar bills. I had to figure out how to get two bundles of money into my purse. I immediately went back to the hostel and put the money in a bag and put it in the freezer, since there was no safe for my jewels.

The next day, I had the surgery. I was a bit nervous. They had to redo some of the tests, but it was just the ones that determined the amount of correction. I had to put a gown on over my clothes and put on a hair net. They put several drops of anesthetic drops in my eyes. The surgery before mine had not started yet so I was able to watch one eye for that person done. Then I was taken into another room where somebody washed my face and put in more drops. Finally, it was my turn. I lay down on the operating table and then they covered my face. They did the right eye first and so they covered my left eye with gel so that it would not dry out. They taped my eyelashes down and then held my eye open. Then came the microkeratome, which is used to cut a flap in the cornea. Then the doctor lifted the flap and ablated the cornea with and laser. He then cleaned the cornea and put the flap down. He did the same with the left eye. Then "Congratulations" by Cliff Richard started playing. It was over. I rested a while in the recovery room. The doctor examined my eye with a slit lamp microscope again. I went back to the guesthouse where I stayed just for that night. My eyes were pretty sore so I just lay there with my eyes closed because they hurt less closed. Later, I went outside and was amazed by how well I could see. There were halos around lights, but that is normal while my eye is healing. I have three different kinds of drops that I have to use. My vision will improve for 1-4 days after the surgery and then will stabilize in 1-4 months. It's weird to be able to see.

The website for the clinic where I went is

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Thank Goodness!

Thank goodness I live in Pusan and use the Pusan Subway System. I went to Seoul for a few days this week and used the subway there. It was a mob scene. Pusan has only three lines, but Seoul has 10. In Pusan, there are usually seats, and if not, then there are not too many people standing. In Seoul, there were times when there were more people standing than there were sitting. The people standing were packed in like sardines. If you want a seat, you have to be aggressive when one becomes available, or else somebody else will take it. People push and shove in the subway and nobody thinks anything of it because they do not know each other and so they do not have to be polite. If only that were the norm in American culture; many times in public I've wanted to shove people out of the way but did not. One time, in Dear Abby, somebody wrote in complaining that in New York, men do not give up their seats for women and some even run ahead to get a seat before the women do. Here, people give up their seats for old people usually. Men will stand so that their wife or girlfriend can sit if there is only one available seat. It doesn't seem like women expect men to give up their seats, going back to the fact that they are strangers and there is no obligation to be polite. In Pusan, people get on as other people are getting off. In Seoul, it really is impossible because there are so many people getting off, and it is necessary to empty some space before other people can get on. There are so many people on the subways. Friday night, I was waiting for the subway and there were two old men fighting. They were a little far away, but I could hear them yelling at each other, pushing, and one even kicked the other! They got on the subway, and they came to the car where I was and sat across from me. During the ride, they were talking and holding hands and even hugged each other goodbye! (More often than not, two same-sex people holding hands are friends and nothing more.)

Answer to the Question of the Week

What are non-disposable chopsticks made of in Korea?

  • stainless steel-0 (0%)
  • plastic-1 (25%)
  • wood-1 (25%)
  • clay-2 (50%)

The answer is stainless steel. This tradition was started during the Joseon dynasty. The upper class people believed that using silver would warn of evil because silver would tarnish in the presence of evils. The lower classes practiced this belief as well, but they could not afford the silver and so they would use cheaper metals. Spoons are also stainless steel as well. Many restaurants use metal cups and bowls.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Get Out of My Way; I'm Coming Through!

That is what it felt like tonight at E-Mart (Korean Wal-Mart). Sunday is Chuseok Day, but people the celebration starts on Saturday. Monday is the final day. There were so many people shopping. E-Mart has three floors for shopping. The basement is the grocery floor. The first floor is the clothing and cosmetic floor, and the second floor has books, electronics, appliances, toys, and household goods. I went to the basement so that I'd have something to eat because I'm not sure if the stores will be open during Chuseok. It was so hard to get around because there were so many people. There was a long line of people waiting a get a cart. I've never seen that before. According to Lonely Planet, Koreans believe that there is no obligation to be polite to somebody whom one has never met. Therefore, people are unlikely to say "excuse me" and likely to shove others out of the way. On the basement floor, there was a bottleneck at the escalator. I had to weave in around the people with carts to go back up. I decided to go up to the second floor to pay because it is usually not as busy; it was not tonight either. It usually does not take very long to get through the lines at the checkout. They have most of the lines open and people get through faster. All the clerks do it ring up the stuff and take the money. They do not do any bagging or load any carts. Once it has passed through their hands, it's your responsibility. The same goes for Home Plus. At E-Mart, many people do not bag their items because they charge 50 won (about five cents) per bag. After I paid on the second floor, I had to go to the third floor because that is the only place to go when you pay on the second floor. It took a little longer than normal to get an elevator down to the first floor. There was one that came, but it was packed and it was going up. When I finally got down to the first floor, there was a big crowd of people waiting to get in the elevator. In the United States people crawl out of the woodworks the day after Thanksgiving; here, they do it the day before.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Answer to the Question of the Week

Seoul is the largest city in South Korea. Pusan is the second largest. What is the third largest?

  • Jeju-si-0 (0%)
  • Masan-0 (0%)
  • Incheon-1 (33%)
  • Daegu-2 (66%)

The correct answer is Daegu.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Bottle of Wine, Any Old Time

Today I received two bottles of Chilean wine in a gift box and it helped me to understand something that has been going on recently at stores like E-Mart and Home Plus. A couple of weeks ago, the grocery floor was rearranged. In addition, there was a line of gift boxes on the way to the down escalator. Some of the women working at E-Mart have been wearing traditional Korean outfits. Chuseok is September 14. It is Korean Thanksgiving. The wine was a Chuseok gift. The department stores have various gift box sets that are like what one can buy at a retail department store around Christmas. These ones are bigger though (and more expensive). I wondered why all of a sudden I started seeing E-Mart employees wearing Korean attire. Now I know.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

The Sandwich Maker

I got to make sandwiches today. At our school, the kids get point cards for good behavior or good performance. Today, was market day so that the kids could cash in their points. We had a book store, food court, toy store, a movie, and a cooking class. I was in charge of the cooking class, which basically consisted of making sandwiches and letting the kids watch. I also had to cut ham and tomatoes, as well as peel and cut cucumbers. I think that I made more sandwiches for adults than I did for the kids. I made sandwiches for the Korean staff and for some of the parents. We went through two loaves of bread and ran out before the day was over. I guess I could work at a sandwich shop someday. A couple of the students were not able to finish their sandwiches. They were twins. I gave his uneaten half to a Korean staff member who will never have to worry about getting fat. One student ate half and gave the other half to his mother. I took pictures of some of the students with their sandwiches. One student had a hard time eating it; the sandwich fell apart. They're such cute kids.

Friday, September 5, 2008

My Students Taught Me Korean

I learned a couple of Korean words yesterday. Changmin means rose and pea means blood. For the lesson I asked the students what their favorite flowers were. A student told me changmin. Another student said that that means rose. In another class, we mentioned vegetables. A student told me that he did not like vegetables. I have a poster in the back that has pictures of fruits and vegetables. The names are in Korean and English and the English name is in the Roman alphabet and in Hangul. This student said something about how pea is blood. I did not know just what he was talking about until after class when he asked a couple of the Korean teachers. The Hangul for pea is the same as the Korean word for blood.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

New Schedule, Yippee!

This week we started a new term, so I got new classes. Before, my co-teacher and I had mostly lower level classes. At our school, we have ten levels and each has its own name, but for the purposes here, I'll give a number for each level. Last term, we had one Level 1, one Level 2, two Level 3, three Level four, and one Level six class. This term we have one Level 1, one Level 4, four Level 5, one Level 6, two Level 7, and one Level 9 class. Most of the students that I have I have not had in class before. Most of the students are well-behaved because they are older than the ones that I had before and they understand more English. Last term, I had some students with some behavior problems. My last class was one that had several troublemakers. It was difficult at first. Most of the students that I have again are ones that I liked.

Answer to the Question of the Week and more on Hangul

How many characters are there in the Korean alphabet?

  • 52-2 (25%)
  • 30-2 (25%)
  • thousands-3 (37%)
  • 24-1 (12%)

The correct answer is 24. Of course, when some of them are combined, they create new sounds, like when a and u or p and h are put together. There are 24 basic characters, 14 consonents and 10 vowels. The Korean alphabet is called hangul and it was invented by King Sejong. Prior to its invention and for many years after, people used Chinese characters for writing. King Sejong felt that since Korean was another language, it should have its own writing system. In addition, people could not get the proper meaning across when writing with Chinese characters. He invented the alphabet in such a way that illiterate people could read. The characters give you directions on how to pronouce the word. For example, some of them are shown the way that the tongue is suppose to move. When you see Korean, there are several characters that make up one syllable. All syllables have to have a consonent and a vowel. When the vowel is lying down, the consonent is over it and when the vowel is standing, the consonent is standing beside it. When there is a consonent at the end of the syllable, it goes under the other letters.

The letters must be written a particular way. There is a right way and there is a wrong way. You can't just go about writing the lines in any way that you want. There is a particular order that you have to follow. You have to draw from left to right and from up to down. I see this translated into the way that the kids write. Whearas most of us dot our 'i's and cross our 't's last, they do the dotting and the crossing first. On Friday, I was informed that I write my capital Hs wrong. I had the middle section sticking out on either side. A student showed me the proper way to write an H.

Monday, September 1, 2008

How to Get a Cell Phone in Korea

Today I finally got my own cell phone. Before, I had just a rental cell phone and it was a bit expensive just to have, not to mention talk on. All foreigners have to show their Alien Registration Cards to get a cell phone. It took a while to get mine, and then after I got it, the address had to be changed. I got it back for good last week. Since we were still on the summer intensive schedule, I did not have time to go and get a cell phone. I went to an SK Telecom store Friday night after work, but they were closing. I went three doors down to another SK Telecom store and the man there did not speak English. I felt like an idiot. The place was closing at that time too. Later, I looked at some places near the next subway stop in the other direction from my apartment. On one block, there were four SK Telecom stores! Saturday morning, I went to the first one on the block and told them what I wanted. A man in there told me to go to the one with T World on it. There was one employee working in there and he did not speak much English, probably only what was taught in Korean schools, which isn't much. He went next door to get somebody who spoke English and I told him what I wanted. After the first man figured out what I wanted, he said to come back on Monday. What I wanted was not available on weekends. I went back today and he remembered me. There was another man working there and he did speak English. It took a little while because it was Monday he said. I got a used handset for a prepaid phone. Here, you have to go to a dealer even if you want just a prepaid phone. You cannot buy a phone at a retail store and then set it up over a landline phone. SK Telecom stores are everywhere, and KT and LG also provide cell phone service. Virtually everybody here has a cell phone. I have confiscated cell phones from kids in class because they were playing with them. One day, about six kids who were not more than 8 (Western age) were taking pictures of me on their cell phones.