Sunday, July 20, 2008

in a sea of madarin, rubber duck races, a fateful decision, new friends, and moose

already 2 weeks since my last post...
well quite a lot has happened since my run-in with those bacteria that attempted to devour my kidney
so i'll jump right into the story...

when we left our hero, he was attempting to find respite in the comfortable confines of the fairbanks public library
his arduous struggle and brush with death now overcome, he began to shift his focus to the dilemma of his future employment overseas
for the time being, the library remained his sanctuary within which our hero could browse all of the possible jobs made available by the internet and consider the potential benefits of each at his leisure
but despite the many seemingly beneficial options from which he could choose and the ease with which he could rest his rump in the library's comfy chair, he soon found this decision quite perplexing...

there i sat, confused and befuddled by array of the pretty looking English schools in Seoul before me
many boasted their superior curriculum and proudly proclaimed the many benefits they offered their teachers
with the many schools eagerly offering me contracts that appeared nice on the outside (with higher salaries than im used to and additional provision of housing) but that also seemed sinister in the words that were not included in them, i couldn't help but feel hesitant to readily agree to any of these job offers that seemed 'too good to be true'
so for days i kept searching, all the while preparing the documents I would need to submit once my preference finally rested on one single job prospect
i daily communicated with recruiters, managers, employees of various private institutes throughout seoul and daily commuted to the public library to continue attempting to dig up information that these institutes would not so readily reveal about themselves

one day, ginny received an invitation from another chinese student at the university to a friday night service held at a nearby presbyterian church for all of the local exchange students from china
so we biked there after i finished work at the daycare on friday and waited in front of a gas station convenience store for ginny's friend to arrive
we were in fact met by a drove of chinese exchange students who seemed to pour out of the university like a river in which we were caught and carried all the way to the church
as it was a dinner/devotion, there was a LOT of chinese food waiting for us and as a result, a LOT of chinese students waiting for the food
we learned that most of them had actually arrived just a few days previous and that this was their first time ever to leave their country
i imagined what it must have felt like to them; they must feel so excited and overwhelmed by the wirlwind of new experiences that affronted them
in some way i envied them too
the dinner was great!
ginny and i coincidentally sat accross from that little girl we saw swinging in pioneer park a few weeks ago (the one i put up a pic of on the blog)
after dinner was the devotion and introduction during which everyone stood up and said their name and the pastor explained (being periodically translated into chinese) the purpose of that night and the subsequent weekly meetings that would be held there on fridays
i actually thought his whole perspective was pretty good
he said they primarily wanted to offer these students a chance to develop a community at church, feed them, and help learn about christianity (he told them that they would not be expected to receive anything that was taught in any particular way and described the value of learning about christianity whether or not it is your religion)
he also said that the church offers TOEFL classes to people learning english which i thought was pretty cool
it was an interesting evening, and being surrounded by so much mandarin was a new thing for me (ginny could speak it, but with a cantonese accent, so she told me)
i couldnt help but be reminded of some of my experiences being in similar situations with koreans in hawaii...
for the next few days, the weather turned beautifully sunny, and biking to the normal places we had to go was a lot more fun

on one such day, ginny and i were biking through the downtown when we noticed many people conspicuously congregating along the chena river which runs through fairbanks
hundreds of people were lining the banks, their heads all pointed upstream as the avidly watched and waited for some mysterious signal or event
then i heard someone shout
before i could react or prepare, they came
first a few, then a dozen, then hundreds, even thousands; pouring down the river like some freak, vibrant yellow algal bloom
rubber ducks
they were little rubber bathtub ducks
and they casually floated downstream as the onlookers gave out startling roars and screams
it was a race
i was utterly lost and confused
as the race ran to its completion, i stared at this bizarre ritual, in awe of the rich local culture of fairbanks
then i bought steaming pork from a street vendor, ginny got a free chiropractic check, we ate some jelly beans, and continued on to the library

at the library, i discovered in a note from a friend of mine currently teaching in korea, that one of the schools associated with her company was looking for a teacher ASAP
the place seemed to fit the bill for what i was looking for (near to seoul, smaller school, reliable, well established, small class size, etc) so i expressed my interest
the good thing about it was that i could hear first hand from someone working there what the whole place was about
and as the week progressed i maintained communication with the manager, a mr. kwon
everything seemed okay except for how soon they needed a reply from me, and i dont feeling outside pressure in making a decision
i really took them to the wire
i kept searching for other schools and talking to recruiters on the phone and was really undecided up until the last few hours before which i had to submit my decision
but after some solid testimonies from my friend and another teacher working there, i felt satisfied that the place wasn't going to screw me over (like i have heard some schools will do to foreign teachers)
i made my choice and breathed a sigh of relief
i was all in

so my employer in korea will be gukje foreign language school
it's pretty well known, i think, around suwon, the city it in which it is located, which is about 45 min from seoul by bus or subway
everything in the contract seems pretty solid and i am definitely happy just to have the decision and search behind me
ginny has been a great support to me through this whole ordeal
i think what i appreciate most is how she doesn't get anxious over my dilemma, which helps me be more rational and tells me that she, too, is confident that everything will be fine no matter what happens

i also found surprising support from everyone ive intimated my situation too here in fairbanks: classmates, co-workers, and specifically a family that i've met through open arms, the henrys
i actually met them on my first day at work in open arms
i was helping out in one of the toddler rooms, and i had made a special friendship with one little girl named sophie who i had learned from the lead teacher was half japanese
i tried out some japanese with her and this quickly caught her attention, which was given sparingly otherwise due to her shyness
when her parents came to pick her up in the afternoon, i introduced myself to them and we quickly formed a bond
sophie's parents' names are david and chisato and both of them are professors of japanese and japanese studies at the university
patiently accepting my feeble but friendly attempts at japanese, they told me a little about themselves and gave me encouragement when i told them about my plans to teach english in asia soon, something which david had done after college in japan
not long after meeting, however, we were unable reconnect at open arms again for a while, as sophie and her mother were taking a trip to hiroshima
before they left, however, we made tenitive plans to have dinner sometime when they came back and when ginny arrived (she had not yet flown into fairbanks at that time)
it was last week that i was able to see chisato and her mother again at open arms
at one point i asked chisato how to make okonomiyaki correctly (one of my favorite japanese foods which i always screw up somehow) and right away she suggested we have an okonomiyaki party at their apartment in a few days
it was a great evening, and it was so nice for ginny and i to be able to spend some time with some friends in fairbanks; i realized that although we have met many friendly people here, we pretty much spend all of our free time as just the two of us

then, a few days later, they invited us to go with them to chena lake!
i was especially grateful, as i had just made my decision to work at gukje in suwon the day before and just needed a chance to get out and relax
we readily agreed and they picked us up and we rode together to chena lake park
while in the car, i realized that this was our first time to actually get out of fairbanks all summer!
it felt wonderful
after making a flirting pass at a hiking trail down which we didn't make it very far due to the bloodthirsty nature of the forest's resident mosquitoes, we decided to spend the rest of the afternoon at the lake's edge

(some mushrooms on the trail)
we had a great time wading in the water with sophie, chatting and sharing snacks and drink, and playing はなふだ (hanafuda - a japanese flower card game)
during the time driving around the park, david stopped a few times to check the local flora for wildberries, a curious but contagious obsession he entertained during our time at the park
once we even were able to spot a mother moose and her baby!
we then stopped in north pole (the town that is actually SOUTH and east of fairbanks) to take a look at 'santa land' or something like that - a garishly decorated store with countless useless knickknacks, novelty items, and other random garbage
i was more than a little shocked when i nearly ran into santa as he came out of the store's bathroom
chisato and david then graciously treated us to dinner at a nearby chinese restaurant named pagoda which ginny classified officially as 'american food' (but it was delicious, nonetheless)
at this point sophie was a little stinker as she never got her nap that day, so david and chisato had to trade eating and parenting shifts
we went home, everyone feeling very satisfied
for once i can relax again a little here in fairbanks
no kidney ailments, no more job search
just new friends, sunny days, little kids, tea and anime mornings, and my wonderful hiuyan...

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