Nine Weeks

School is winding down. Nine weeks are left. I can’t believe how quickly this year has gone, and I can’t believe how much I have enjoyed teaching third graders.

Today my kids asked me if I’d loop with them (stay with them next year). I explained that I was going to stick with “torturing a new batch of third graders.”

“But Ms,” one said, “you get our sense of humor! Nobody else will!”

Actually, kids, I’m pretty sure it was you who had to get used to my sense of humor.

I think I may have taught them a little too well, though. Now when I rib them, they do it right back at me. Hmm.

Five Weeks in South Korea

“Mother, I want to come to Korea this summer,” I said, several months ago on a video chat.

“OK, you can come.”

“But without [Good Man] and Father, I worry. What if we fight?”

Mother smiled, “Why would we fight?”

“Mother- and daughter-in-laws fight.”

“Well, do what I say and we won’t fight.”

***

The plan was for me to go to Korea for four weeks this summer, spending the first two weeks of the vacation with my in-laws alone. Good Man was going to join me for the last two weeks of the vacation, when Father would hopefully get his time back in the country.

Well, best laid plans…

***

Good Man said to Mother, “What if I come for just one week?”

“Why would you do that? That’s a waste of money. And since we don’t know exactly when your father will be home, maybe you can come later, without Amanda.”

“Amanda still wants to come.”

“Of course, she can still come.”

Later I asked Good Man if his mom was just face-saving. “Are you sure I can go alone?”

“Yeah, that’s no problem.”

“What in the world are you going to eat?” I asked Good Man. “Ramyeon and bananas?”

“Well, maybe you need to leave me a survival manual.”

“How long should I go for? How long can you live without me?”

Good Man made his eyes soft and his voice low and sweet, “Only two days.”

***

“Amanda, when are you coming to Korea?”

“Mother, how much do you love me?” I asked her.

“What? I love you very much.”

“Two weeks, three weeks, four weeks, five weeks, six weeks?”

Mother laughed, “You can spend your whole summer here!”

“But if we fight, you will win.”

“That’s OK.”

“Because you speak Korean, so you will win.”

“I know, that’s good.”

***

I bought my ticket yesterday. I decided to spend the first half of my break here, and the last half in Korea. I’ll get back five days before preplanning starts, which means I’ll get over most of my jetlag.

This means I’m going to be in Korea for five full weeks. I’ll be living with Mother and Sister. I have no idea what in the world I’m going to do. I know I’d like to get to know Mother and Sister more, I’d like to practice my Korean more (which will be a must-do, considering the circumstances). I’d like to practice some taekwondo with Master, see some old friends, take lots of pictures, and just enjoy myself.

Taking the TOPIK Exam

I sat for the TOPIK (Test of Proficiency in Korean) test yesterday. The TOPIK test is offered four times a year in Korea and twice a year internationally. There are three tests and six levels. Generally speaking, if you want to study at a Korean university as an undergraduate, you need a four. As a graduate student, you need a five. I have no interest in doing either, but the test is only $15 in this area, so why not take it?

I signed up for the beginner (1/2) test. I’ll take the intermediate (3/4) test next year if I’m interested. (I’ll be taking two graduate classes and will possibly have a student teacher in the fall, so no way am I even considering taking it in September.)

I’ve been practicing for the test since the beginning of the year, which means I’ve focused more on grammar than I normally do, I’ve taken some practice tests, and I emailed Sister essays for her to correct. Although I knew almost all of the vocabulary, my grammar definitely needed some brushing up on. One of the problems with reading so much is that I can figure out a lot from context, but if I miss nuance, it doesn’t often matter in my understanding and enjoyment of the story. The focus on grammar was a good idea.

You have to sign up for the test two months in advance. Well, Thursday one of my students puked in class and went home with a high fever. Friday, another student puked and went home with a fever. Wednesday is when I felt a cold coming on. Friday night I needed “Ny-Kill” to fall asleep, so I was not looking forward to dragging myself 30 minutes away to take a Korean exam. I was worried I’d puke and be sent home with a fever, just like my kids.

Enough about that—the test itself was held at a large Korean church about 30 minutes way. I knew about this place, because they offer Korean classes (to kids) on Saturdays. I doped myself up on Day-Kill and made it there at about 9:05. Although there was a sign about the test, there were no signs telling me where to go, so I had to ask someone for help.

We were told the doors would be open between 9 and 9:20 and that the test would start at 9:30. I had wondered why it took so long to get my registration ticket back in the mail, and I soon figured out why. The registration numbers were not assigned in order of registration, but of age. So the youngest test takers (who appeared to be about third grade) were at the very front, and all of us old folks were in the last row.

Three ajummas were running the test, and they gave the directions in Korean. Basically, a sign pen (felt-tipped marker) was used to mark our answers. We could bring our own pencil or pen to do the fill-in-the blank written section and the essay. We could mark on the test booklet, too. If we made a mistake on the answer sheet, they’d fix it with whiteout. Cool, we started.

And then people trickled into the room. So much for the 9:30 solid start time.

While they gave directions, I looked around. Of approximately 60 testers, exactly five of us appeared to be over the age of 20. The same five were the only people in the room who did not appear to be Asian. In fact, I’ll hazard a guess and specify we were the only five people in the room without Korean greatgandparents. We were sitting in the very back row and the teenagers kept turning around and looking at us.

Was I back in Korea?

We started the first half of the test, which is grammar/vocabulary and writing. After doing ten questions or so I glanced at the prompt and was relieved to find it was something I could think of ideas for. (Who’s your best friend, how did you meet, and what do you do together? Write about your best friend.) I jotted down a few phrases and went back to finish the grammar section.

After I finished the grammar/vocab, I wrote a quick draft about Master before doing the rest of the writing section. That gave me about 30 minutes of the 90 minute period to redraft the paper and write it in my best handwriting. One minute before the testing period was up, I realized I’d inserted an extra space after a period, but I decided I didn’t have enough time to erase 16 characters to recopy them. Oh well. The essay was supposed to be 150-300 characters and mine was 288. Not bad.

While we were taking the test, mothers were hovering near the windows, peering in at their kids. One of the teenagers sitting in front of us (we were in pairs) didn’t even bother to write a single character for her essay. Looking around the room, most of the older kids didn’t want to be there. Most of the younger kids looked worried. And then there was foreigner row.

I wondered why so many kids were there. I figured the older ones might be testing to be exempt from foreign language requirements, but the youngest ones? Were they just there so their mothers could brag about their scores?

During the break, I found out three of the other foreigners knew each other and had all studied Japanese together. The fourth guy was Hungarian and this was only his third day in the country. He didn’t really have an answer for why he was studying Korean, so I decided he was a spy and didn’t push.

During our half hour break, two of the youngest girls were talking in the bathroom. “Do we have to go back?”

“Yeah, there’s another part.”

“What? What is it?”

“I don’t know,” the second girl shrugged.

“There’s a listening section, and a reading section,” I said.

The first girl’s jaw dropped, “Reading? They didn’t tell me that!”

“Yeah, and the listening section is really slow,” I said, “보…기…”

And the listening section was really slow. In fact, it was so slow that the teenagers were all giggling about it. At least until they got to the section where one dialogue counts for two questions. Apparently they weren’t expecting it and didn’t understand the directions. Panic was seen on faces.

During the listening section I looked around and recounted. We were down ten test takers, including the girl who didn’t even write a single sentence for her essay. Foreigner Row was still intact, though.

We weren’t supposed to leave the room during testing, but at this point the Day-Kill started to wear off and I really needed to blow my nose. One of the ajummas had to follow me out and watch me (to make sure I wasn’t cheating, I guess). “Oh,” she said in Korean, “it must be hard to take the test when you’re sick!”

Awww, it really was like being back in Korea, with the ajummas taking care of the weird foreigner.

The second half of the test ended, and the waygookins stood around debating the last two passages. They were about salt and health, and how happy feet make a body happy. I’m sure the young test takers found those exciting, let me tell you.

As I was leaving, I ran into the young girl again, this time with her mother. “Did you do OK?” she asked me.

“I think I did alright, what about you?”

“You were right, the listening was really slow!”

Before stepping out in the pouring rain, I stopped to put on my sunglasses. In Korean, my ajumma asked me how I did on the test. “It was OK,” I said, “but I don’t like having this cold.”

“This is very hard,” she agreed, “Why do you study Korean?”

“Because my mother-in-law doesn’t speak English.”

“Does she live here?”

“No,” I said, “She lives in Korea. I lived in Korea and met my husband there.”

The ajumma patted me, “Ah! I am sure your mother is proud of her foreign daughter-in-law!”

(Cross-posted.)

My New Method for Choosing Korean Dramas

“Why? Why? In every Korean drama the man is an ass to the woman and tells her ‘가.’ And then they get married. If this cross-dresser marries him instead of the Red Messenger, I’m off of Korean dramas!” I yelled, punctuating the air with my embroidery scissors.

Good Man sighed and shook his head, “It would be so wonderful if my wife was off Korean dramas.”

***

“어머,” I said, “나쁜 남자를 좋아해요.” Mother, I like bad boys.

Mother’s eyes grew very wide. Now I know where Good Man gets his “huh? what?” look from. “뭐?”

“한국 드라마에서, 긴 머리가락 있으면 좋아해요. 일본어 말하면 좋아해요.” In Korean dramas, if the man has long hair, I like him. If he speaks Japanese, I like him.

Mother nodded and laughed.

***

If a Korean drama has cross-dressing and/or a gay theme of some sort, I’m apparently all over it. For example, everyone else adores Kim Sam Soon, but I really liked Coffee Prince much better.

I just finished Sungkyunkwan Scandal and thoroughly enjoyed it. The cross-dressing and the inevitable man falling in love with the cross-dresser was a joy, but it was the gifted girl theme that really drew me in.

Beyond that, today I realized that I’ve watched five dramas. In those five dramas…

* Boys Before Flowers included a head maid, played by 김영옥. She was also Han Gyul’s grandmother in Coffee Prince.
* 김자옥 was Han Gyul’s mother and also Sam Soon’s mother in My Name is Kim Sam Soon.
* 김창완, the former shop owner in Coffee Prince was also in Queen of the Housewives.
* The daughter in Queen, 방준서 played the younger version of the gifted cross-dressing scholar in Sungkyunkwan Scandal.

I’m sure I’m missing some actors.

As such, my new method for choosing dramas is going to be to only watch dramas that include at least one person I’ve already seen before.

I put Bad Boy/Guy on my watch list because of 김재욱. He’s the long-haired (relatively speaking) Japanese-speaking prince.

I found another cross-dressing drama today (Painter of the Wind) which includes 이인, who was in Sungkyunkwan Scandal.

김창완 also shows up again in another one on my list, Bad Love.

Personal Taste is another one on my list. It’s a heavy-hitter, featuring multiple actors I’ve seen before (or will see, if I watch Painter or Bad Boy first).

I’m not sure why I’m on such a K-Drama kick lately. I can think of one strong factor: the shows have a definite end. I’m tired of good shows getting canceled before the story is finished (Life?) and tired old shows dragging on until you wish all the characters would get knocked out at once (Grey’s). At least when I watch K-Dramas, I know the story is going to end like it was supposed to.

A White Room

One of my students looked at another and said, without any malice, “I wonder what Ms would be like in an entirely white room with nobody and nothing around.”

I held papers in front of my mouth to hide my smile. I regained my composure and said, “Do you think I’d be more sane? Or crazier?”

He paused and thought for a moment before honestly and earnestly saying, “I think you’d be more… both.”

I nodded my head. “I think so, too.”

Who am I kidding? I’d go completely Yellow Wallpaper, smooching around the room.

Who’s Tilted?

Back in August or so, I made a pair of patterned wrap pants. I don’t know what I was thinking when I made those pants. I decided to rip the wrapped pants apart so I could use the patterned fabric.

Gored Skirt

I drafted a gored skirt (8 panels) pattern. You may remember that I drafted a gored skirt pattern for my Problem and Solution skirt, but that it ended up being too large in the waist. I fixed that this time.

But I only had enough of the patterned fabric to do the center front and back. No problem! I bought some black cotton fabric to do the sides. The patterned fabric is a tad heavier weight than the black fabric. Next time I won’t make that mistake.

I used that same fabric to do a Hong Kong underlining (I’ve also seen it called a European turned underlining). This means that under every gore, I have a piece of the black fabric. In the summer, this will be great since I won’t need a slip to prevent see-through. When I’m wearing tights, however, I need to wear a slip in order to prevent cotton-on-cotton-stickiness.

Hong Kong Underlining

This skirt was probably the best I’ve ever done with an invisible zipper, and I finished the waistband and hem with bias tape.

When I tried the skirt on, I realized I have a tilted waist. This means I like everything to sit higher on the back of my waist than in the front. When I discovered this, I tried on a variety of skirts and pants from my closet. Yep. I just prefer that clothing ride higher in the back than in the front. This explains so much!

I tied elastic to my waist, settled the skirt in place, and pulled up on the front as much as possible to keep the grain straight. I had to stop at a certain point though, or the waistband would’ve become huge. I used my chalk marker (with the help of Good Man) to mark the front hem. My front center panels ended up being 3″ shorter than my back panels. Since this skirt fits so well, I think I’m going to copy this SKIRT to make my new gored skirt pattern. It will have multiple pieces (instead of just one pieces used over and over) but that’s OK. It’ll fit and the pieces will be on grain!

I wore the skirt to school today and got a lot of compliments on it. I like it, I think I’ll wear it often this summer.

Growing Season

I’m so excited spring is here. This year my container garden is getting even bigger. I’m not sure how I’m actually going to fit everything I want to grow in, but I’ll make it work. (Good Man said, as we were leaving Home Depot with $100 worth of soil, manure, and seedlings, “It is a damn good thing we don’t own a house.”)

Indoors, I’ve started three varieties of Korean peppers, Korean sesame leaves, and basil from the seeds leftover from last year. I also started some Thai basil from seeds I collected from the plant I had last year. I started the seeds 3/13 and need to restart some more sesame and Thai basils. I’ll probably do that this weekend.

Indoor Garden Starting (20 March 2011)

Outdoors I’ve got sugar snap peas I started from seed 3/12. The peas sat around for two weeks or so before even peeking out. When they finally did sprout, they sat around for a bit more, as if they needed to decide to grow.

The “trellis” is actually dried up stalks from last season’s Korean peppers! I’m not sure if it’ll work, but I thought it was worth a shot.

If all goes according to plan, the peas should be done just about the time I need the pot for my Korean peppers.

Sugar Snap Peas (5 April 2011)

I also bought strawberries and romaine lettuce transplants. I bought two varieties of strawberries, one ever-bearing and one June-bearing. I know strawberries are generally slow the first year, good crops the second, and one more crop during the third year. So these pots will be used during the whole season.

Strawberries and Romaine (5 April 2011)

My mint is also trucking along. The more I ignore it, the better is grows. I might dump it out and loosen up the soil and roots, but I also might just continue to practice my method of doing nothing with it.

Peppermint (5 April 2011)

I’ve also go Baby Blue Eyes flowers going, but there isn’t much to see yet. When I can put things outside, I’m also going to grow some more dill from seeds I collected from last year’s dill.

As an experiment, I’m also going to try growing a pineapple plant from the crown of a pineapple. Good Man doesn’t know it yet, but I was given an indoor growing kit from a coworker. I was expecting something small for herbs, but it’s actually much larger. So in the winter, I should be able to keep the pineapple going. Just don’t ask me where it’s going to go in our house.