Thursday, May 21, 2009


To Whom It May Concern:

- On Monday, May 25, 2009, I (and likely several other Midwesterners) will fly from Minneapolis to Philadelphia, where a sickeningly efficient team of YouthWorks! office staff and friends await to train the crap out of us for a week, after which myself and three other staff members (more about them later…much later) will drive ourselves to our home for the summer: Niagara Falls, New York (town motto: What Size Barrel Would You Like?). That will be the location from which this blog shall originate until August 9 or 10. On those days we will return to Philadelphia for debriefing and checkout. On August 11, I will be released from YouthWorks! duty, only to...

- fly to Seoul from Philadelphia to begin my next assignment: international school employment. I will be teaching high school English at Centennial Christian School in Yongsan, which is some indefinable region in the hills of central Seoul. Deal with it.

- So, despite the imminent return to South Korea, I will not be Seoul searching for the summer months; thus, the title of this here page is about to undergo a massive overhaul, a horrific facelift, a harrowing metamorphosis, worse than when A.J. Pierzynski bleached his hair blonde, worse still than when Mike Tyson inked upped his already-finked-up mug, worse, even, than when Sunshine decided it was time to give his grizzly mullet a grisly death. Yes. The address of said blog will remain the same, but the name will probably turn into something original and unprecedented, like “Reuben’s Travels” or “It Ain’t Trickin’ If You Got It.” Vote now (This link will not be funny in three months, but this one will be).

Thursday, May 7, 2009


Crying Awards:

“Most Frequest Cryer”:
---January: Ashley (there was actually a tie, but once she cried on the way to the bus*, so she gets the nod)
---February: seven-way tie.
---March: Renee
---April: Patric
...Overall: Renee

“Loudest Outburst”: Brian…no one would share a pencil with him…because each day he hit and insulted everyone around him.

“Most Subtle Crying”: Patric…he only cried when his stomach hurt, and he would not tell anyone that he was crying nor why he was crying.

“Crying That Made Mr. Haggar Feel The Worst”: Erica, maybe…she was this tiny little girl who only came to Poly for two weeks or so…school was not for her. A different time, all the Walruses gathered around Sara and made fun of her for some arts and crafts project…she didn’t stop crying for a long time, even after I yelled at the rest of the class for a good three minutes.

“Crying That Made Mr. Haggar Feel The Best”: Brian…no one would share a pencil with him…because each day he hit and insulted everyone around him

“Funniest Incident That Instigated Crying”: There are these glass doors to the Poly School building, and Ashley walked right into one of them and started bawling immediately.

“Worst Time Mr. Haggar Made A Kid Cry”: Undoubtedly the time I was yelling at Chris for hitting and kicking the wall and the owner came in and yelled at me. I should have been the one crying after that.

“Best Time Mr. Haggar Made A Kid Cry”: Are you serious? Whose idea was this award?

Other noteworthy events:
---Once Andy accidentally punched Eric in the nose, and it immediately started bleeding everywhere. Eric’s mom probably thinks I am an awful teacher because there was blood all over the kid’s pants.
---In an unrelated event, once Eric stole Evan’s seat, and Evan pushed him or something, and Eric punched him in the eye.
---In one of my first weeks, Edward called Tommy “stupid” and so Tommy burst out crying.
---Jeremy tried to sit down once, but he kind of missed his chair and basically smashed his head and ear into the side of the chair’s seat. I took him into the hall to cure him, and several Korean teachers were passing by. It looked awful.
---Ashley from the Walruses got her finger caught in the pencil sharpener once, and she understandably got upset about it, but I accidentally smashed Ashley from the Cookie Monster’s finger in the tape dispenser, and she was just like, “Uh-oh,” even though it started bleeding.

*see “Funniest Incident That Instigated Crying”

Monday, May 4, 2009

The End Times

The last of the days that I saw in South Korea were eventful. I will lean heavily on photography in the following account, because a) there’s really not a ton to tell b) certain previous posts were roughly the length of “War and Peace” c) about 65% of my friends who follow this blog can’t read.

Wednesday and Thursday saw lots of packing and cleaning and not a lot of going out with everyone else when they went to Hongdae. I brought most of my belongings to Ray’s spacey apartment on Thursday evening and hauled the rest over on Friday morning, which began at 7 AM so that I could buy donuts, withdraw 400,000 won, clean up my desk, and get multiple infleunza shots from various street vendors. I threw a lot of stuff away, including this pizza that I remember purchasing with Scott some two-odd months ago:

The morning also proved to be eventful at Poly. One of the teachers had made the decision to purchase a very young puppy while he or she was out drinking Thursday, as well as the decision to bring it to Poly School in a box on Friday. Additionally, at 9:27 someone realized that Mr. Boyce was not at work; upon calling, we discovered that his alarm had let him down. Further still, Paul announced to us that both the pre-school and kindergarten birthday parties were being combined and conducted at 9:50 AM (first period starts at 9:35 AM) in the library instead of taking up either second or third period. To top it all off, I was in cruise mode.

I emceed for the birthday party. In my feeble mind, this was a solid way to go out; both my current two pre-school classes and the dispersed Orcas and Walruses were in attendance, as well as about a hundred other five- and six-year old students. So we sang “Happy Birthday” and “The Moose Song.” It went as well as could be expected.

The library where the birthday part-ay is held each month:

Blow that crap out.

"The Moose Song"

From left to right: Mr. Haggar, Judy, Jessie:

Because I wanted the Elmos to think fondly when they looked back on the time they spent with me, I showed forty-five minutes of “Tom and Jerry” during the next hour. Which is the general practice on birthday Friday anyway. Normally the Korean teacher will shut off whatever video they might be watching during our break whenever I enter the room, and they all whine, so I figure they probably all hate when I come in because of that. The rest of the day passed without incident. I tried to take some pictures and not do too much work. Then we took them all to the buses, and that was that. I’ll never see them again.

Tony of the Cookie Monsters, leering from behind his pencil.

David of the Cookie Monsters, with his mop o' hair. Emily P., startled, in the background.

Julie, also from the Cookie Monsters, and me.

The lady Cookie Monsters. From left: Ashley, Katy, me/Nicole, Emily S., Julie, and Emily P. Fare thee well, girls!

The C.M. men. From left: Tony the Angel, me/David, Zeus (the only one who listened when I said to make a funny face and when I said at the beginning of the age to wear a tie on Friday...what a stud), Eddie the Ex-Convict, and Matthew.

The monthly tests dominated the rest of the day. This means things were generally relaxing; very little crowd control, very little instruction, etc. The prompt on the writing portion of the R3 tests was, “Write about the best teacher you’ve ever had. Why is he/she the best teacher?” I think that whoever wrote the test decided, perhaps subconsciously, that this could be an uplifting experience for various teachers, because I imagine that most kids just wrote about whoever their current teacher was…maybe just because they wanted a high score and figured they’d get one if they wrote about whoever was grading the tests. Either way, some kids wrote about me, which was flattering, but there were some words that made me smile. I post them more for a laugh than for bragging that a couple kids in Korea thought I was cool. All of these statements are about me, except for this first one:
- “My best teacher is Mr. Suh [Paul] because Mr. Suh tell about Mr. Suhs girlfriend” (when I arrived in this class, the students said that Paul told them that he had four girlfriends, one of whom was a member of The Wondergirls)
- “Mr. hagger is kind and little bit brave.”
- “When we don’t do a homework he said “That’s OK. You will be find [fine…which I do say…all the time].”
- “When we talk with frient teacher not hit. Just he gave a chance and say ‘don’t do that please.”
- “he’s clever.”
- “And in his cloth it smell good.”
- “There is another thing it is that Mr. Haggar is loudest teacher in my life!”
- “He is faster then the clock.”
- “he looks like he’s drunk but he’s not.”
Also, first grader Eric drew two pictures of me getting eaten by a shark. After R5-1A’s test, we had a small party, but kids from the other class, GT5-2, saw some of the food and demanded equal rights. After the tests, I took the rest of the business down from my desk and hauled it away while Bernard took the business down from his desk and threw it in the recycling.

This is Jennifer. I don't even teach her anymore, but she is neat.

Trashball review with Alice. Tough shot, kiddo.


The men of GT1-B. Neptune, the coolest one, wasn't even there.

The women of GT1-B. Unable to break that old habit, Alice still refuses to pay attention, even for a simple photograph.

Linda and Michelle.

I like this picture. It captures the typical student bewilderment that I often observe.

More of the same.

Grace, the crush-haver.

Ellin and Sara.

R3-2B, which was the class who wrote the monthly tests about their favorite teacher.

And so, having finished the job that had dominated the landscape of my life, I left Poly School and mentally prepared for a nice, relaxing weekend of unwinding and preparing to return to the United States.

Wrong! I dumped all that I’d brought from school on Ray’s floor, reloaded with some t-shirts, and left for Express Bus Terminal, from where an overnight bus was to take Ten-Mile-Britt, her friend Lee, Megan “Swine Flu Survivor ‘09” Schwartz, Tara, and two players to be named later to Mokpo and then to Jindo for a flashback to the Old Testament: The Parting of the Sea Festival.

Now, for the layperson, or for one too lazy to click on the link above, The Parting of the Sea Festival is as it sounds. Exactly how it happens is a mystery to me; something to do with the peak of the morning and evening tides or some such explanation. But for one hour or so on a couple days out of each year, the water goes down enough to reveal this path that leads from the mainland to an island that is about three kilometers away. Obviously, a ton of people walk out on said path; if you hustle, you can reach the island. You’d really have to be moving to make it back in time. Otherwise you have to wait four months until the water parts again, sucker.

Anyway. Such was our destination. We left Seoul at midnight and drove through the countryside to arrive at Mokpo at about 4 AM. The bus to Jindo did not leave until 6:50 AM, so we prepared to camp out in this room in the bus station where there were a horde of chairs that we could lay on. Some old Korean dude kept coming in and turning the lights on, though…just in that room and nowhere else. Lee then scored some taxis that would take us all the way to our hotel for cheap, so we loaded up and headed out. I wasn’t in the taxi that contained any of the navigators, but after quite some time it appeared that we’d become quite lost; it turned out that the place that Ten-Mile had made reservations at had given away our rooms, but we went to some other much closer hostel and scored a room, one that cost less and was basically beachside. Never mind that it was simply a room with some mats and blankets. We got there around 5:45 AM and slept until 11 AM.

At which point we struck out to explore, which lasted basically until the sea parted at 4:30ish. We purchased giant orange boots, posed with and petted horses, ate Korean soup, danced with old geezers to traditional Korean music, walked around, didn’t pay to get into the festival, took naps, met some dudes who Lee knew and who didn’t have anywhere to stay for the night, offered them room on our mats, and saw a dude with a sick mullet.

I took a picture of this statue that was built at the point where the water was to part. I guess there is a legend about how this village was getting attacked by man-eating tigers, not unlike Arden Hills, and all the villagers fled. But this old woman got left behind. She prayed for deliverance and the sea parted, so she walked across the dry ground to safety. And thus began the festival. What struck me about this photo was the similarities it bore to the cover of "Dear Love: A Beautiful Discord" by The Devil Wears Prada. You be the judge.

At 4:25 we rushed down to the point of separation and walked with several hundred others out into the ocean on the path that emerged from the water. It was pretty cool. For the most part, the water was completely gone and there was basically dry land. In other areas, the water just got pretty shallow. After a while, they started blowing whistles and what not so that everyone knew to come back to shore, because the tide was coming back in. I think it’d be wild to just wait out there while the water slowly grew higher and higher around my boot-clad ankles and legs. But.

Soon the excitement was over, and we headed back to our room, where I took a nap and everyone just sort of hung out. Our group, ten strong at this point, went to eat at about 7, and that was essentially it; after supper we came back to the room, shot the breeze for a while, and went to bed around 11 PM. The next day was a travel day; the additions to our room departed at 6:30 AM and we followed suit at 1 PM.

On the bus back from Mokpo, I was sitting next to this little old lady. After a rest stop, she got back on the bus and offered me a bag of baby tomatoes, some thin, crispy rice discs, and these little bean paste deserts*. So nice! I enjoyed this interaction more than I would have if it had happened in North America because there wasn’t that obligation to make small talk or converse at all after her act of generosity. Or, if there was, neither of us caved to it. Anyway. I got back to Ray’s apartment at 11:30 PM, and he rolled in from his trip to Hong Kong at about 6 AM. Yes, that’s right, he still had to teach all day on Monday. What a trooper. Don’t take him for granted, Poly school students.

On Monday I laid low until 3 PM, at which point I set out for Sincheon with some boxes and goods that I was planning on leaving at Ten-Mile-Britt’s apartment for future use. The subway was pretty crowded, and this old dude who had a seat offered to take one of the boxes I was holding*. Nice guy! But, as he got up to leave, this other old dude who had a cache of bags and boxes with him grabbed my box and the seat. I thought to myself, “Whatever,” and just kept standing there as he held my box and then seemed to fall asleep. Then I had this vision in which the old guy wouldn’t give me my box back, and what it would look like to other passengers if I tried to take it from him. If you cannot envision it, let me spell it out for you: some homely-looking white guy (me) steals, or tries unsuccessfully to steal, this box from an old dude who is sleeping, thus perpetuating some sort of stereotype about foreigners. But, when I had to leave, he just gave it back to me. End of story. I had some bee-bim-bop with Ten-Mile-Britt and her co-worker Dianne and then headed back to Mok-dong.

Tuesday morning I struck out early to meet Megan “It’s Like Bringing a Knife to a Gun Fight” Schwartz at the Butterfinger in Gangnam. It was solid. I then proceeded to walk here and there through Seoul for the next seven hours, stopping only to a) take pictures from this bridge I walked over to cross the Han River,

b) buy some gifts and such for the fam in Namdaemun,

c) sit by Cheonggyecheon for a minute,

d) speak with this middle-aged Korean guy who asked me where I was from, showed me a magic trick, and told me to have a nice day* (he slapped me when I tried to take a picture of him for this very post, so...),

e) watch the filming of some stunt for some movie over some stream,

f) talk about how beautiful Cheonggyecheon looked for some dude who was going around taping people commenting on the stream* (he also slapped me, sorry, folks),

g) and check out some photography of the stream...right next to the stream, under a bridge.

At 7:30 I met up with Rob, Sam, and Min for one last go round at the barbecue place we’d frequented since the beginning of time. It was delicious. I was moved that they’d want to spend a last meal with me. I look forward to meeting them again at some point. It was a good way to go out.

At 8:55 AM on Wednesday, April 29, 2009, in Mok-dong, Seoul, I shook hands and bade farewell to Ray as he left for school. Also at 8:55 AM on Wednesday, April 29, 2009, in San Francisco, California, some mean security guard yelled at me because I didn’t have my boarding pass out, nor was I moving my bags forward. You do the math. Anyway. I decided to haul my enormous suitcase, my small suitcase, my backpack, and my computer bag, complete with two laptops, the entire mile to the subway station through the morning heat. Not having gotten too much sleep, and seeing as how the sun was beating down on me, I broke into a sweat that would make even Mike Moravec blush. I got to the subway station and paused, because there was probably a hundred steps to the bottom. As I contemplated my plight, this old Korean man came by, grunted and pointed at my bag, grabbed it, and off we went*. Off we went; he, in the lead, sipping coffee casually with one hand and effortlessly carrying my suitcase with his other; me, my gray Skyforce t-shirt soaked in sweat, struggling like mad to carry my gargantuan piece of luggage down the stairs and keep up with him. I really wish I had a picture. He left me at the ticket gate, and I was off for the airport. I also kind of wish I had a picture of when I had gotten on the subway, settled my army of belongings into a corner, and saw this good-looking woman. The picture I want is when I gave her the look that said, “What’s up, baby?” and she gave me a look back that said, “Go back to your cave [in Korean, of course].”

I made it to the airport an hour later, got checked in, flew to San Fran, sat around for a while, flew to Chicago, transferred again, and flew to Minneapolis, where it was raining. Several characters met me at the airport, and thus, as I flung myself into their arms, my journey of Seoul searching came to a close.

*These are all instances that stuck in my mind as just really nice gestures by citizens in South Korean. The people here are sweet. They might not be super friendly, as the culture as a whole doesn’t really do things that stand out or draw attention to themselves, but they were sure warm-hearted and took pity on the occasional lost soul (Seoul?). Additionally, while the young people of Korean seem nice enough, the old people are the part of the population that I would assume exercises racism and narrow-mindedness, if anyone does. But, the aforementioned examples have gone a long way in expelling those stereotypes from my mind. Here’s to you, you amorous strangers! May you live long and be blessed.