Friday, December 21, 2012

My Brief Affair with Beondegi

Freeze time. 

A chilly winter afternoon in Busan, South Korea. 

In my hands, a Dixie cup full of warm, boiled silkworm pupae, piled on top of each other like faceless, legless roaches. 

This is "beondegi," a popular Korean street food.

Having just paid about 50 cents for them, I briefly calculate each one's individual worth. And then I eat one.

I don't know what I was picturing. 


I mean, I knew I didn't have an ice cream cone in my hands. I had a cup of bugs. Plain and simple. But I was really hoping to like them and join what I imagined to be the elite crowd of Korean bad-asses who knock back paper-cupped pupae.

My association with piping hot food served to me in a paper cup had been pretty darned good up until this point. There is nothing fear-inspiring about my favorite paper cup snack, "hotteok." Think funnel cake and waffle get together and have a baby. It's just good. So good that the lines to buy one snake and wrap around the stands which sell them. 

There are no lines to buy beondegi. Ever.

Day or night. 

Just lonely cauldrons filled with steaming silkworm pupae, emitting an odor not unlike stiff and dirty socks. Protein-packed stiff and dirty socks, mind you. And that's the thing. Those who willingly eat beondegi and enjoy it will tell you of the health-related reasons to do so. And I believe them. I really do. I can see where these little guys are packed with protein. 

But inspecting poo after eating corn will reveal perfectly fine pieces of corn still intact, but I'm not going to put corn-poo into a Dixie cup and eat it because there are vegetables in there.

But apparently, I will eat bugs. Or at least try. I took my little Dixie cup and found a private place in between two buildings to give it a go. In addition to wanting to be in the beondegi eating club, I wanted Koreans to see me eating them without grimacing, and I thought this would take practice. 

With my face toward the wall, I speared one of the lucky fellows on top and prepared to gear myself up. 

And I was thoroughly freaked out. I mean to say, I was dangling of a high rise roof kind of freaked. Legs numb. Heart racing. Mouth getting dry. Eye twitching. Feet making little nervous steps left and right. Left and right. It was ridiculous. I'd never blend in like this. 

I found taking several deep breaths, not unlike a woman in severe labor, helped a bit. That, and a healthy dose of negative self-talk. "What kind of pussy are you? Jesus, woman! Plenty of people eat these without a second thought. If you were starving, you'd be happy to have in your hands a cup of steamy legless roaches. Get over it, dummy."

This type of self-shaming led me to at least send my tongue out on an exploratory mission, with a speared pupa a few inches from my face. 

I can't imagine that licking the back of a roach is any different. If you let the roach take a little salt bath in a tiny little roach bathtub first. Ridgy. Salty. Waxy. Not words usually used for tasty eats.

But I want to fit in. And I can do this.
That's what I was thinking. 
I can do this. I can do this. I can do this. 

See for yourself. (p.s. If it sounds like my voice is quivering like I'm about to cry. I'm not. I mean, that's silly. Who would almost cry from being freaked out. Not me.)

R.I.P. beondegi. Left for the trash man to find in a seedy back ally. You deserved better. You really did. Sorry we let each other down.

Monday, December 17, 2012

My New Teacher...

First impressions are funny. My first day of teaching 
I thought all Korean girls read dictionaries for fun.

I thought all Korean boys played games before class.
My information was limited. 

On the first day of class, I showed a little "All About Your New Teacher" kind of powerpoint. 
Then I asked students to tell me about, well, me. Their information was limited, but so 
was their English. Here's what I found out about myself, first impression-wise, anyway.

"My new teacher has baby face."
 I'm hoping that means that I look young. Not that I have rolls 
of fat under my chin with this morning's breakfast dried up in there.

"My new teacher likes dogs. She is 43 years old. I think she is old."
 And let's see...yes, I like dogs. And I'm--what? You think I'm what?
Let's play a game called "Guess who's going to fail English this year."

"My new teacher is good english teacher."
Aw. You think I'm a good English 
teacher after only one lesson. You will pass.

"My new teacher is energetic."
"She is little bit weird but fun."
"She is kind."
"She is good person." 
Energetic, weird (but fun), kind, a good person.

"My new teacher likes to high five."
 Liking to high five was not part of my Powerpoint. 
(looks down at hand and remembers multiple high fives)

"My new teacher is not bad."
 Eh. Not bad.

"My new teacher small face."
Like a little shrunken- head face, or what?

"My new teacher is look like gohst."
Now wait a second. I know I'm pale and all...

 Yeah, you love me now.

 "My new teacher like dog   oh!  Me too!"
"My new teacher is little...crazy. But I like it too."
Oh! I like this kid!

"My new teacher loves dog. But I scary dog very hate."
I scary dog very hate, too, kiddo.

"I like to run with Auntie B."
You do? And we've done that together...when?

"My new teacher is pretty."
"My new teacher is beautiful." 
I like you.

"My new teacher is wonder woman."
About damned time a student recognized that. 

"My new teacher can anything."

"My new teacher looks like spokefast."
"My new teacher is strange." 
Why do you build me up, 
Buttercup, just to bring me down?

"Bridget has handsome father."

 Forget the new teacher. Somebody has a crush on Youbin!

 Hi there.

"My new teacher has pretty sister."
 Damn. They're comin' for my whole family.

"My new teacher look like mouse."
"My new teacher look like monkey." 
I have thick skin, you little weasels.

"My teacher is good girl."
A little odd to call me "good girl," but...

"My teacher is funny. My teacher is sexy."
...better than calling your teacher "sexy." To her face.
Time to bust out the ajumma pants and shirts. 
Let's see who's sexy then.

Fridays in Yangbo

Every Friday, I teach in a small town called Yangbo.
Everything and everyone in this school is saturated with beauty. 
The school, painted in bright greens and yellows, is nestled at the food of rolling hills.

Cats roam outside of the school and sometimes little kitten 
"mews" can be heard in the hallways when one wanders in.

It's a good place for a cat. They're fed well after every lunch. 
If you work at Yangbo Middle School, on Fridays, this is what will happen:
 Each day, between 2nd and 3rd period, the entire school (24 students, 7 teachers, 
and the principal) will walk two laps in the front yard. Music will play from the speakers 
on the school's roof. The principal may hold your hand while walking, and
butterflies may circle around you both.  I am not making this up.

Sometimes your principal might be found outside, during the 
school day, tending to one of the many gardens on the grounds. 

 If you get sleepy during the day and want to take a nap at your desk, this is not a problem.

 Potted plants line the center of the dark wooden floors.

Your room will be called the "Happy English Zone."

It will be decorated like an adorable 1960s mod apartment. 

Your co-teacher, Mrs. Bae, will be an amazing, dedicated educator. 
She will have a dog named "Ponyo" who she will sew little outfits for.

 Sometimes, during lunch, everybody might need to watch the cats from the cafeteria window.

 If it snows, everyone may jump up and run outside to play and take photos. 
Forget about classes! Why would you teach/learn when you could go play in the snow?

 You might have a perpetual feeling of a love-fest.

Giant snowballs can be formed from the smallest amount of snow.

You will see other teachers enjoying their job and the students around them.

Students may throw snowballs at teachers, and it's all in fun. Because there aren't 
any teachers who students would really want to pelt with frozen things out of spite.

 Some good-natured "I'm locking you out!" never 
escalates into something that would need your help.

If kids transfer to this school and bring a negative attitude and history of trouble with them, 
they will be magically transformed in no time at all by the positivity of their teachers and peers.

 After playing in the snow with your students, you may come 
back to your class to find a bowl filled with warm steamed eggs.

 And if that happens, everyone will crack them on each others 
heads and laugh. Then eat the eggs with joy like you've never seen.

 If it happens to be your birthday, your co-teacher will buy a cake for you, 
which she will then feed to the class like a momma bird with chopsticks.

 Everyone will have lunch together and it will be delicious.

 Cleaning up your tray after lunch will be delightful...

 ...because this will be your view from the kitchen window.

 On your drive home, you will see scenes like this...

 ...and this

 ...and this. And you will pinch yourself and say, "Am I really here? Does this place exist?"

And you will do this every Friday.
In Yangbo.