Maybe I Have a Problem

I started sorting out my closet this evening. I have more than 40 pairs of Korean socks. This means I can wear a different pattern every single day for a month and still not have to do laundry.

Socks (and shoes) are a bad gift in Korea. In Buddhism, the feet are the lowest part of the body. But everyone knows I adore socks. So I was given a bunch of socks on our last trip.

In addition to having 40 pairs of socks in use, I have another 20 waiting to be used.

Hmm. Maybe I need to wear holes in some of these 40 pairs before opening up the next 20…

Two Points for Teacher

When I teach guided reading, I have to choose one book to use on a group of one to five students who mainly have their reading level (and often not much else) in common.

Well, I must have done a good job this time, because yesterday several students were reading their books while walking down the hallway. Score one for Teacher! (Of course they were going to love The Last Book in the Universe, with its mention of “sexbos” on the very first page.)

Today we were told we weren’t allowed to go outside (no problem) and since I had expected it, I’d brought the Korean game yut nori. I introduced it as “a traditional Korean game where you get to throw sticks.”

Eight students learned how to play and I sat there giving both sides advice and making them think. “Wait…if you go there, what happens if they throw a three next time?”

It soon became as rousing and as exciting as it was when Good Man and I played against Master. The kids were yelling and cheering for numbers, arguing over strategy, stopping each other from bad moves—it was neat to see them so excited about such a simple (no computers, nothing flashy) game.

Score another point for Teacher!

In My Palm: Vermicompost

Last week, I watched a worm hatch in my hand. It wriggled its way out of the cocoon. Wriggle, wriggle. I watched it, fascinated.

Last weekend, Mark and his Lover came over to our house for a Korean dinner. Spicy pork, sesame leaves, red-leaf lettuce, kimchi, sesame leaf kimchi, mushrooms, three types of pajeon (green onions, mushrooms and green onions, and kimchi and mushrooms and green onions), dipping sauce, brown rice, and some raspberry wine.


After we ate, Mark and I separated my worms (more than a pound) into two parts and we got him started on worm composting. I also harvested my compost and restarted my bin.

I actually harvested this bin in two parts, two weeks apart. I used the light harvesting method with a bit of a twist. (The light harvesting method consists of shining a bright light on the worms in the bin. They burrow down, you scrape some compost off until they appear. Let them burrow again, scrape… Repeat.)

My compost wasn’t fully finished yet, so when I reached the point where I was tired of harvesting and I was having a hard time finding finished compost, I closed the bin. For two weeks, I didn’t feed the worms anything. I just let them finish what was in the bin.

Well, my idea worked very, very well. I was able to harvest the second batch of compost fairly quickly (although I’m not sure Mark thought it was quick).

My first batch of compost was rather wet, so I let it dry out for about a week. Then I ran it through a piece of 1/2″ hardware cloth to get some of the still-uncomposted stuff out. When I did that, I found a few worms I’d missed. Based on size, one was an adult when I missed it. The others were juveniles and hatchlings, and I’m pretty sure a few had hatched in the compost.

Freshly Harvested Vermicompost

Since that worked so well, I’ll be doing the same thing with this second batch of compost. Wait a week, run it through a screen, take out new worms.

The only thing I really got wrong? I didn’t think the first batch of compost looked like much, so I got a 10 liter bucket to store it. Well, letting it dry and then passing it through the hardware cloth really made it “fluff up” and now the first batch is nearly to the 6 liter mark on the bucket. Since I won’t be using this compost until the spring, I will probably need a bigger bucket.

Also, there is still some unfinished stuff in the bucket. When my hardware store gets 1/4″ hardware cloth back in stock, I’ll be sifting the compost through that as well.

Compost, Post 1/2″ Hardware Cloth

I’ve made a few changes to the way I worm compost. Last time I started off my bin with newspaper, but this time I started it off with a mixture of newspaper, junk mail and computer paper, cardboard and paperboard, and cotton. I usually keep my food scraps in the fridge for a week, but I read that freezing the scraps makes them decompose faster, so I’m going to try that.

Vermicomposting, Round 2

I think I did two things wrong my first time around with worm composting, so I’m going to change my methods this time.

First, I didn’t keep adding paper bedding as I was adding food. I thought they’d eat the bedding and then food and if I quit adding bedding, they’d finish all the food. Instead, it got too wet and then I couldn’t harvest it. (It was really wet.) Then I’d have to quit adding food and add more bedding and wait longer for the bedding to be eaten.

This time I’m going to add paper bedding about once a month. I’m figuring that they’ll basically eat the food and bedding in equal amounts.

Second, I started off feeding the four corners. By the time I got to the first corner, if that food wasn’t gone, I’d wait a week. This worked well. In fact, the worms mostly followed the food around the box, which made it easy to see how the worm population was growing. But then the box started getting too wet (not enough bedding!) and I’d only feed them in another corner when the first corner was entirely gone. This didn’t work as well.

I’m going back to the four corners method of feeding, and I’m going to add bedding to keep the bin’s moisture level right.

I did discover one great secret: if stuff grows in the bin, conditions are right. I had a onion end that grew a root a good two feet long. Most of my scallion ends sprouted as well. I had apple seeds sprouting left and right. If stuff grows in your pure compost, it’ll grow in your compost-enhanced soil!

Not a Gift

On a forum I belong to, someone asked me if I was learning Korean for personal or professional reasons. I explained that it was for personal reasons. (Namely, I married someone who’s first language is not English, which obligates me to learn his language; to communicate with in-laws; because we plan on living in Korea again someday; because I’ve studied two foreign languages other than Korean and mastered neither; because I like the secret code of Hangul.)

The person who asked wrote back that she wanted to learn a foreign language but didn’t have “the gift” for languages.

I replied that it’s not a gift unless you’re raised in a bilingual household. Then it’s a gift that’s been given to you.

For nearly every other person who learns another language, it’s really hard work that gets them there. I’m not going to take that accomplishment away from Good Man, Father, Special Forces, and anyone else I know who’s bilingual. And heck, when I eventually feel accomplished in Korean, I’m not going to take that away from me.

Taking a Shot at Humor

I’m currently taking a graduate course for my GT endorsement (gifted and talented). One of the things we briefly talked about today is that an advanced sense of humor is a sign of giftedness. That reminded me of something AC/DC said this week.

We were comparing two poems in class. They were titled “Rebound” and “Foul Shot.”

“So what do you think these poems are about?” I asked the class, before reading the poems.

Most of the students guessed that it was about basketball, but I could see AC/DC thinking. He poked his finger in the air and said, “Shooting a chicken!”

I couldn’t stop laughing.

Nobody else in the class got it.

I Met President Obama Today

I did.

I met the President of the United States at work.

I’m a teacher. One of the least respected professions in America. (“Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.”) And I met President Obama. Without even having to gate crash.


I’ve actually known since Friday that “someone special” was coming to visit. Thursday and Friday the Secret Service scoped out the school. Friday they came into my classroom, which distracted my students, who were studying for a quiz. “Can you come back in a half an hour? They really need to study for their test,” I said.

Meanwhile, Fairy Godmother thought they were from the renovations committee and pointed out the dangerous plate glass in our classrooms! Well, we are teachers, first and foremost concerned about the safety and study habits of our students.

After work, Fairy Godmother and I had to give our full names, dates of birth, places of birth, and SSNs to the principal. (See, Good Man, this is why you need to memorize your SSN.) So we knew Something Big was going to happen.

When I woke up, Diana and Good Man and done some sleuthing. “Have fun Obama girl,” Diana told me. “You’re meeting The President,” Good Man said.

Today the teachers all had to park 8/10 of a mile down the street. A bus shuttled us to the school. The students who saw us were so confused. You could read their faces. Why are our teachers on the bus? Although we were dropped off in the back, we had to walk around the front, where we had to flash our badges twice within ten feet.

The front and back parking lots, as well as the side streets, were crammed with police vehicles. We entered the building to find policemen, Secret Service agents, and bomb-sniffing dogs. I later found out that students had been instructed to leave all personal items downstairs.


Fairy Godmother and I collected the students who’d been chosen to meet the “special guest.” We still weren’t 100% sure what they’d get to do, so we practiced how they could answer some questions, and what sort of questions they might ask President Obama.

Finally, we were called downstairs. We were all wanded. Fairy Godmother and I were given fold-over lapel pins to wear, to prove we belonged in the room.

We waited. And waited. The students watched the men in the hallway “with funny things on their ear” talk “into their hands.” Suddenly, a stampede of press suddenly entered the room, stood behind us, and started snapping photos. “I’m scared,” one of my students said.

“It’s just the press,” I said, “It’s OK.”

“Are they like the paparazzi?”

“No, they’re reporters. It’s their job to follow The President and take photos.”

One of my students wrinkled her nose. “Why doesn’t he get a restraining order?”

A few seconds later, the President entered the room. “Hey! How are you?”

“Good,” the students chimed in the sing-song student-mass voice.

“Good to see you,” President Obama said, as he shook every hand in front of him. “What’s your name… Good to see you.” I watched and winced as my girls gave him dead-fish handshakes. I taught them better than that…

Fairy Godmother and I stood up when he got to us. Everyone laughed for some reason when I did, probably because I jumped up with a goofy grin on my face, but come on! I was not going to sit while shaking the President’s hand!

Obama sat down, asked the students a few questions, and opened up the floor. The students asked him several questions (and no, we did not make up their questions for them).

Meanwhile, I was sitting approximately seven feet from him thinking, Am I really sitting in front of the President of the United States? Really?

I was.

And he was just as eloquent without a speech as he is with one. He was also great at putting things in kid-friendly language without being condescending.

And he slouched a little. (Fairy Godmother disagrees. She thinks he was just “leaning.” I say he was slouching.)

After approximately 20 minutes, the President said he had to go. Suddenly the students swarmed him. He shook their hands, patted their shoulders, and smiled and nodded as they thanked him for coming.

After he left, someone else came into the room and said the President had brought a treat. Boxes of M&Ms (red, white, and blue, of course), complete with the Presidential Seal on them. Ha ha!

Presidential M&Ms and Proof I Belonged There

Amazingly, not 30 minutes after we left the room, his press conference was over and he’d left the building. Gone were the dogs, the cars, the media, the people toting around Very Large Guns. It was as if he’d never been there. Poof!

Even more incredibly, not an hour after he’d left, my students had calmed down and were back to Language Arts (mostly) like normal.

In one year I have attended President Obama’s Inauguration, seen him stumping for Creigh Deeds, and met him in person.

I have now promised Good Man that for the entire year of 2010 I will not once say “you dragged me here, I would’ve stayed in Korea.” As Good Man pointed out this weekend (when we were guessing it would just be Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, or Dr. Jill Biden, or Michelle Obama), if it weren’t for him “dragging” me here, none of this would’ve happened.

Fair enough, Good Man, you get the credit.

Wow. I met Obama!

Subway Stations

The Seoul subway changed while I was gone.

There are no ticket selling men anymore. Instead, you buy your plastic ticket from a machine for an extra 500 won and return it at the end of the trip to get the 500 won deposit back. If you want a T-Card, you buy it from a machine. If you want to reload your plastic ticket or T-Card (I’m really not sure what the difference is now that the ticket itself is reloadable), you use a machine.

This made me sad for some reason. One of the first struggles I remember having in Korean was trying to buy a T-card and not realizing that the card itself had a charge and a minimum first time charge. When I finally figured that out, I was so proud of myself. Alas, I suppose new expats will have that experience with a machine. (Or not. I think they’re multi-lingual.)

Man Stepping Off the Subway

Some stops are now announced in Chinese as well as Korean and English. The first time I heard it, I whipped my head around and stared at Good Man. “Did you hear that?”

The fonts for the signs are changing. Dongdaemun Stadium station’s name is changing.

Everyone is supposed to walk on the right side now. Unh huh. If they want that to happen, they need to convert all of the escalators and moving walkways to follow that convention.

Many of the stations now have anti-suicide glass panes up. Apparently these make the stations quieter (and warmer, it seemed to me), but I prefer the old stations because you can peer down the tracks.

Crossed and Uncrossed Legs

Anti-suicide doors can be seen in this photo.

Of course, some things never change. The touts with their wares, the ajummas elbowing their way to their seats, the beggars and homeless men.

Men Examining Dokdo Propaganda in a Subway Station
“Walk on the Right” sign can be seen in this photo.

But more interesting than the changes were the memories. “This is where I bought my first T-Card,” I said to Good Man. That was the first memory, but they kept coming.

“I used to buy my socks here.”

“I remember when they were doing construction here.”

“This is where that chick kept smacking her boyfriend because he was checking me out.” That was after we’d seen Jump!

“I used to walk this way every night after taekwondo.”

“This is where we had to catch a taxi to the National Museum because it was pouring rain.”

I was expecting things to change. I was expecting some things to remain the same. I wasn’t expecting the flood of memories from subway stations!


Organic Terrorists

Good Man and I walked to the hardware store today. This meant we had to walk back the 1.6 miles carrying our purchase.

“I wonder what people are thinking,” I said, “seeing you with a laundry basket, a foot and a half and wire mesh, and a two liter bucket.”

“They think we’re organic terrorists.”

Hand Magic

Good Man and I had to buy another coffee grinder. (This is our third in a year. The first was abused with water, and the second with gravity.) We used a gift card we received at my wedding shower and went to Sears. (If you ever want to go shopping on a Saturday, go to Sears. They’re dead.)

We ended up getting a mini food processor that could also grind coffee.

Today Good Man said, “Why can’t I get it to work?” He pushed the buttons and nothing happened.

I looked at it. “I can tell the top isn’t locked into place correctly.”

“Yes, it is,” he argued. He took the lid off and put it back on, correctly. He pressed the button and the machine whirred to life.

Good Man jumped back from the machine, shaking his head and waving his hand at me, “No, no, not possible. You did something! You have magic!”

Next Time

Master’s Daughter

Thursday, Good Man and I met with Master’s family again. We had dinner and we had plans to see Sherlock.

Master’s Daughter

The kids came with us to the movie and Master’s Daughter sat next to me. At some point she wouldn’t stop whispering, even when her mother told her to. I dragged her onto my lap and whispered in her ear. “We can’t talk…”

She nodded. “OK, Amanda, but [??? request].”

I didn’t know what she’d requested, but I sort of recognized it as something Good Man sometimes says. I started patting and scratching her back. Master’s Daughter lifted us the back of her shirt and I scratched her back. Every once in a while she’d whisper “위에” or “밑에.” Higher, lower.

Turns out that the thing I didn’t understand was “scratch.”

Master’s Son

Before we went to the movies, Master said, “Amanda, you know 윷놀이? 화투?” I said that I knew both yut nori and hwa tu (go stop) but that I wasn’t good at either.

He asked which one I wanted to play. We decided on yut nori. “Next time, Amanda, we play hwa tu.”

“Next time, Master? When will that be?”

He paused and thought for a moment, “I don’t know, but we will meet again!”

I grinned. It is true.

Playing Yut Nori (Photo Taken by Daughter)

Master and his wife were one team, and Good Man and I were another. The first game, Master’s team won. Drats! We had a popcorn bet going on the game.

Master, Winning

The second game, Good Man scored four yut noris in a row. Go, Good Man!

Master, Losing

We had a third game to break the tie and! We lost.

Next time! Next time, we will win!