1/28/2008

A "Monkey" in My Classroom and Other Racial Incidents...

One of my classes today really pissed me off. I was so angry that I was silent. We were about to read a story called "A Gift to Share". Nice story about a little girl who wants to give her aunt the best gift ever but cannot decide. I thought nothing of it. So I say to my students, "Ok, turn to page 65...blah blah blah..." All of a sudden, my kids are pointing and laughing hysterically. I look up and they're pointing at the little black girl in the picture, calling her a monkey. My face quickly turned to a frown. I was so dumbstruck that I didn't know what to do next. So, I just stared at the ringleader, Brandy.

"Why do you think she's a monkey?" I asked.

"Teacher, look! This..." she poked out her lips.

Still offended, I just blinked really hard.

"Is she a monkey because she's Black?" I prodded her, unsure I'd be able to control my reaction if her answer were yes.

"NOOOO!!! NOOOOOO!!!" they all yelled.

"So, why is she a monkey??"

"Nose...lips!"

"If she were a Korean girl, would she be a monkey??"

"Well, no..." I think they were starting to get my point....

"So what makes HER a monkey and not the others??"

**silence** They kinda just stared down at their desks. And with that I walked right outta the classroom. When I came back, I had 5 sheets of paper. I handed them out and proceeded to write 3 sentences on the board.

" I WILL NOT CALL PEOPLE NAMES. IT IS NOT NICE AND IT HURTS THEIR FEELINGS. I AM SORRY, JOIA TEACHER." For the rest of class, they wrote it over and over again. Some of their hands started to hurt and I didn't really care. I just sat there in shocked silence while their pencils scratched the paper, feeling hurt, wondering if my students, my babies, also thought of me as a monkey. It was a question that I didn't ask because I wasn't prepared for the answer. I haven't dealt with those type of things since I was their age. Not surprisingly, it bothered me just as much now as it did back then. I know how kids are and they don't always know what they're saying. They are obviously getting it from their parents and society, I know that. But as a TEACHer, it is my job to bring a certain level of understanding. I can't single-handedly halt prejudice in the world but I can damn sure stop it in my classroom. As class ended, I told them that I was very sad and hurt by their comments. I also told them their parents would have to sign their papers. Granted, the parents don't speak English. But one girl, whose mother is an English teacher, will know exactly what it says.

So, of course, a couple of hours later, I found myself having to defend what I did in the classroom. My Korean coworkers have to do phone counseling every other week or so. Basically, they call the kids and the parents and find out how they're really feeling or whatever. So Steve asked me if there had been an "incident" in my class today and of course I said yes. I explained everything to him. He basically told me to ignore what they say because they are "just kids". And I said well I wouldn't have taken issue with the monkey comment had they called everyone a monkey. Fine. But the fact that they singled out the Black girl shows me that they only associate a monkey with a Black person. Unacceptable. He kinda understood and I could see he felt bad. It is an awkward situation, I'll agree. I won't hold it against my kids. It is not their fault. But I just wanted to make a point. So, I ask you, what would YOU have done in my situation??


But that's not the only racially-charged situation I've dealt with lately. I went out a couple of weekends ago with my buddies. My friend invited along a few other new people. A young, Canadian couple (let's call the woman Angela and the man Andy) and another Black woman in her late 20s (let's call her Tia). So, there are 6 of us altogether - me, my friend Aeja and Margot, Angela, Andy, and Tia. We're all English teachers, all hangin' out, shootin' the breeze. Tia, we quickly realized, is a woman who says a lot of ignorant things. You can't help but feel sorry for her. She's extremely socially awkward, admitted she didn't have many Black friends because she wasn't "Black enough", and also admitted that she can't do her own hair. Aeja and I were sitting down chatting with her and she just kept saying stupid things. It was like a conveyor belt of stupidity, as in - all my friends are White mostly because they love to drink and I just go out and get drunk, Black people never liked me because they said I act "too White", I wish I'd gone to a Black school (or HBCU - Historically Black College & University) so I'd be in touch with my "Blackness". I couldn't make this stuff up. Aeja (who is Black & Korean) and I are literally looking at each other in horror. Is she really saying this?? YES, she is. But it got worse...

Later, all of us are at dinner. Andy and Tia are chatting it up and all of a sudden, the conversation turns to how Tia is planning a trip to Africa. She's going to spend a year or two just traveling around. She really wants to explore, but she has a dilemma. She doesn't want to "stand out". So, she decides that she's NOT going to wear her glasses. "Africans don't wear glasses so I won't wear mine.." Aeja and I cringe. We explain that wearing glasses is really not going to make a difference. Then she starts talking about her hair and how she'll get it braided. Fine. Whatever. But she's so caught up on trying to "blend in" with Africans that she will probably miss the whole point of the trip. This was an awkward conversation to be having PERIOD. However, it was complicated by Andy putting in his two cents. He added, "Yeah...well you're gonna stand out anyway cuz your nose doesn't start out HERE..." as he put his two fingers on his cheeks.

Oh, Andy...

Why, Andy, why?? He kinda chuckled to himself and once he realized no one was laughing, not even his WIFE, he shut the hell up. Aeja and I just looked at him. We didn't say anything....but maybe we should have opened the can of worms. I've had a few incidents like this come up. One happened at my old job. My ex-boss actually made a comment about a young Black woman's nose. She said, with absolute certainty, "there's no way a nose like that could come from a Black person..." YES. My BOSS said that in the presence of 3 other Black women. None of us said anything to her but we all felt it. How would you handle these situations? I'd like to find a tactful way to tell people they're ignorant @$$holes but the words always escape me. So, help me readers!!! What do you say when someone has obviously offended you, in front of others, and you don't wanna turn into an ABW (Angry Black Woman) but you really are an ABW???

That's all for today....I'm about to be late for work!!!

1/26/2008

When I'm Sad, I Salsa...

Quite literally, salsa is one of the few things to pull me from the depths of sadness. I have no idea if I'm even doing it right as salsa is actually very difficult for me. I was always a merengue kinda gal. However, lately, I've been feeling blue. I'm coming home next week for a quick trip. Just for a week but I'll be savoring every single minute. I'll be seeing some friends and family which is sure to lift this cloud from my brain! But for now, until I get home, I'm doing salsa around my room. Yup, I get in the shower and I salsa in there. Then I jump out and I salsa some more. I'd like one person to tell me that they don't feel better after doing salsa. I bet there's no one in this world who can deny that feeling. La India is my favorite...she's been around forever. I remember just randomly buying a CD of hers when I was about 14 or 15. Actually, it was a tape and then I bought the actual CD. She is my salsa queen! So......that's my solution. When I'm sad, I salsa.

But I have had a lot of bright spots lately...

I started my beginner Korean class yesterday!!! I am BACK!! I realize that's one thing that truly makes me happy...learning a new language. It's the most intense high I've ever felt. Suddenly the world opens up for you when you realize you can speak to people. Granted I only learned 5 vowels and 6 consonants but you know what, it's only the beginning. I am doing something new and exciting and fun. I think I will pick it up somewhat quickly because I plan to practice all the time. I would love to be very conversational by the time I come home. How many Black chicks do you know that speak Korean?? *looking around* .......uh, yeah me either...

I also discovered a new bakery near my house with the most amazing buns I've ever had. It's called Rotiboy. I've passed by several times and the name struck me because Roti is a popular West Indian food so I kept thinking it might be related to that. But no, all they make are these buns. They're sweet and filled with butter and some sweet paste. All I know is I always eat two (even though I really want to eat 5 or 6..). It makes me divinely happy, eating these buns. I'm trying to figure out a way to smuggle some back home next week. Even after an 18-hour flight, they'd still be incredible.

Hmmmm, what else?? I saw the movie Cloverfield yesterday. Has anyone else seen this? I've never screamed so much in my life at the movies. I think the idea of a ginormous monster eating NYC is probably what terrified me the most. But the way it was shot really gave it the extra impact. Literally filmed from a home video-style camera. Amazing. I wouldn't recommend seeing it if you have a headache though. Lots of jumpy pictures and close-ups and stuff. Just like how you'd expect a home video to look. Anyway that's it for now!!!!! I'll probably post again before I leave for home and while I'm there...cant wait!! :)

1/17/2008

Mi Familia and An Episode...

My parents sent me a whole bunch of pictures from over the holidays. Surprise, I'm late in posting them! My aunt and uncle and their 3 munchkins were in town. I got to see them all on Skype and I cried like a fool. But I wanted to share some of the pictures...so you can see where I come from! These are the people I love the most and who (arguably) love me the most, too! Ok, my Mom will probably wonder why there's not a picture of her and that is only because I don't want to piss off the woman who'll be preparing my meals in about 2 weeks. The picture that I really like is one she may not agree with so better safe than sorry. But, suffice it to say, my Mom is gorgeous and I look just like her! *tooting my own horn* Ok, so here's my fam....and I'd appreciate any and all comments referring to my brother be kept to YOURSELF *ah hem...Mimi, Timah, and Meeka*







I'm trying to cut back on the amount of time I spend on this contraption. As much as I love my Macbook, it is a vortex of unproductivity (is that a word?). Anywho, so I'm limiting myself to only checking my email twice a day (as opposed to, say, 87309257029570932500124359573050 times a day...) During another recent episode, which Michelle unfortunately had to witness, I said I was turning off my computer for an entire week and proceeded to give her my Korean cell phone in case she needed to reach me. Lol. Well that lasted 48 hours before I was feening like a junkie to check my email. The problem is that this computer is all I've got connecting me to my family and friends. It is my lifeline...and I continue to treat it as such. However, I should treat it as a line and not as my life. Therein lies the problem. I feel like it is hindering my ability to really experience my surroundings. I find myself racing home after work or a long day out in the city to see if I have any new emails or voice messages. When I don't, it's almost like the wind is knocked out of me. "Damn, no love today..."

This is really the first time I've felt okay talking about the broad range of emotions that literally take over my psyche out here. When you decide to up and move 15,000 miles away from all that's familiar, of course it's going to have an effect on you. But I really feel almost bipolar sometimes. Somedays I am manic, very giddy and excited to experience Korea and life in general. I feel like you could slap a big ole W on my chest and call me "Wonder Woman". But then the next day, after having received no new messages, I can feel borderline depressed. I get anxious and jittery and reduce myself to moping around my apartment. I don't even feel like going to school. I'm trying to find that balance of emotions and it's been a battle.

I am alone.

I've never lived alone before so that's been the biggest adjustment. I'm used to coming home and trying to squeeze in some silent moments before my roommates knock on my door. I miss those moments now. I kinda wish Ash or Jar would come barging into my room, yelling about how I left the fridge open again or how we need more toilet paper. I know my friends and family are just a phone call away, but not at 4am they're not. Recently, I've found myself waking up at 5am for no apparent reason and just turning on my computer to check my emails. That's not normal at all.

Reading the book "Eat, Pray, Love" has been a tremendous help though. I'm at the chapter where she's just gotten to India. She's studying yoga and meditation at a famous Ashram. I can relate to her because she's having the most trouble trying to quiet her mind. During meditation, she can't seem to focus on anything. She says, "I am burdened with what the Buddhists call the 'monkey mind' - the thoughts that swing from limb to limb, stopping only to scratch themselves, spit, and howl. From the distant past to the unknowable future, my mind swings wildly through time, touching on dozens of ideas a minute, unharnessed and undisciplined." That's me! An undeniable monkey mind! If you think about it, it's really difficult to live in the present, in that exact moment. Our modern minds are hard-wired to always be thinking about the next step. I'm already fretting about what I'm gonna do when I leave Korea in 8 months. Gotta take the GRE. Gotta apply to grad schools. Gotta find a good internship. Gotta find a job. Then a career. THEN maybe I can squeeze in some love and a husband. Then perhaps some kids. I want my parents to see their grandchildren, after all!! I know my life will fall into a rigid schedule once I return so that's why I've taken this extended vacation in a foreign land. I came here so that I could live in the present....and yet I'm continuing to worry about the future. What kinda crazy am I?? All I know is it's gonna start with me hitting the OFF button on my beloved Macbook. At least for a little bit. Only 2 times a day now. And for no more than an hour at a time. I'm like a junkie going through withdrawal....but that makes you stronger right? :) Dear God, let us hope...

1/12/2008

Who Let Out the Crazy??

Today I had one of those "Ah-ha" moments, like in O magazine. I realized, in a most unfortunate way, why hats were invented. I know you're thinking, "Duh, they're for keeping your head warm..." But you'd be WRONG! They're for those moments when you're blowdrying your hair, minding your own business, and the piece of crap dies mid-way through and what are you left with?!?!?! That's right!!! Hair that is both wet and dry!! WET AND DRY!! Two in one!!! Yes, this was my exact situation this morning. If you've ever experienced this scenario, you know the horror. The sheer terror that grips you after your trusted friend (yes, the blowdryer) breathes its last puff of mangled air. It was like a little whimper and then silence. So, I did what any logical woman would do. I reached down and tried the little TEST buttons on the outlet. Yes, press it in, then something pops out then it restarts. After doing this 5 times (ok, 20) I threw in my towel. I waved the little white flag. I knew I'd have to venture out into the blistering cold and buy a new one. Not a big deal when your hair is totally dry...but I've got a little half-and-half action going on. I'd bought a beret-like cap a couple months ago so I shoved my messy mop of hair up under there and trekked out. I don't think I'd ever walked so fast in my life and I know I got the crazy looks from people. They had a bunch of models so I just grabbed any old one and ran back home. And NO, I didn't take a picture of my hair while in this state. Sorry to disappoint. But, there is an after shot! Surprise, my hair looks just like it always does...:)


I don't have much else to report. I ate enough cheese today to shame the entire state of Wisconsin and now I feel like a damn Whoopee Cushion. I do love cheese, but I think I overdid it this time. I had Pizza Hut for dinner and I think they only put cheese on the pizza because I don't recall seeing any sauce whatsoever. Then my meal came with some spaghetti-like stuff with ham in it and, that's right, more cheese. I think I'll take a break. Hey, at least I'm eating again!

One of my older kids really pissed me off on Friday. This type of student has ALWAYS annoyed the crap out of me. During my own schooling, I hated kids like this and I still do. They are the people who sit there and talk throughout the entire class. The teacher calls on them and they don't have a clue what's going on because they've been too busy running their yaps for 45 mins! Well, lucky me, I have one of these knuckleheads in my class. She is not a bad person. She may even have a slither of English intelligence in her otherwise vacant mind. But I don't see it yet! I'm just working on getting her to shut up. That's my new mission...

Here are some pictures of my burned dumplings and pancakes...


1/08/2008

A Rough Patch...

So, I'm entering into my 4th month here. And I've hit a wall. Suddenly all the things I like about Korea and the food are repulsing me. My favorite lunch meal (fried rice with vegetables and black bean sauce) makes me nauseous to think about. Some of the smells are bothering me more than normal. I've read that it's rather normal to feel this way. Sort of like the honeymoon is over and now reality has set in. So yeah, in 3 days I've eaten an apple, a clementine orange, a cookie, and some rice. I made my bulgogi last night and it looked more like a human brain than beef. Needless to say, I threw it away. I'm sure this will pass, but no one should be surprised if I'm a little smaller when I come home.

I was coming home from the gym tonight and about 4 different people were ready to hock up their spitballs. I had to hold my mouth and resist the urge to bolt. It's like after 3 months of dealing with all of this, I'm suddenly overly sensitized to everything. I'm annoyed because I still have no idea what anyone's talking about either. But that will change soon. The beginner Korean classes start January 19th or something. Guess who'll be front and center?! That should be interesting and fun. I think I'll catch on quickly.

So much for volunteering here. It's actually illegal and I could be deported. Yes, sounds absurd to me...but that's the law. You can only do that which is stated in your visa. No outside stuff. On other visas, you can do that kinda thing but as a foreign teacher, I can't. Oh well...

Classes are kicking my butt right now. We have winter intensives so on MWF, I have 8 classes. That may not sound like a lot but it is. You have to think of different, fun, interesting activities for each class. Or at least I like to. But look, by 9pm, I just wanna get the heck outta there so my last class isn't always "fun". But I try. I'm happy that a lot of my kids are talking more. Still not complete sentences but for now, I'm just glad they say more than "Hi." Truthfully, these kids are damn smart. I've lost 2 of my favorites recently - Michael and Joe. I was SO upset. I really cared about them because they were both unusually bright and very witty in ENGLISH! That's remarkable. When you can be funny in your second language, I think that shows a true gift. But they're gone and I'll probably never see them again. I secretly hope that they'll reappear one day, but I won't hold out. So is the life of a teacher...yes? :) Until next time, J

1/02/2008

My Imaginary Korean Boyfriend #2

You know, I thought I'd be okay with Daniel Henney, gorgeousness that he is. However, I've stumbled upon yet another gorgeous Korean creation and I'm having a tough time deciding. Actually, there's not much of a competition here anymore. I'd like to introduce you to my new boo, Will Demps. He plays for the NY Giants I believe. And um, yes. He is half Korean and black. I'll just stop here because I'm actually drooling on myself now. Enjoy the eye candy, ladies. Sorry guys....

PS. If anyone is thinking about what to get me for Christmas next year, see below. Wrap him up with a nice, big bow too. Thank you much...