Saturday, August 29, 2009


After a few minutes of looking back and forth between my face and my passport, the immigration officer said, "Jonathan Lantz?"



"Yes. I've lost weight."

A laugh, but he kept looking at the passport. I pulled out another ID. "OK. Will you come back to Korea?"


My plane is set to board in fifteen minutes.

Last Day in Korea


Friday, August 28, 2009

Last Day at LCI

Pluto Class (without Alex)

Elmo kids who now attend afternoon classes: Barbie, Bert, and Hanna

Sean, my one-person Monday-Wednesday-Friday class

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Wednesday, August 26, 2009


"It's going to be hard being here without you."

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Back to the 거선당빌딩

My test results came back from the hospital. Normal—no surprise, though of course I was relieved, as always. I gave the comprehensive list of things I don't have to the travel agent, and this time he said, "OK"—literally, as though he'd expected me to fail once more in getting the correct document. I'll be able to pick up the visa on Thursday afternoon, during my two-hour break between kindergarten and third grade.

Monday, August 24, 2009


I think the first book I'll read in China will be Don Quixote. It's been on my reading list for years, and I finally got it for Christmas. Every time I look at the Penguin Classics edition on my shelf here in Seoul, usually as I fall asleep, I think of Terry Gilliam and all but crave his film version. Perhaps one day. But sooner:

Sunday, August 23, 2009

One Week Left

That is, if I get the Chinese visa in time. On Thursday, I went back to the travel agent in Myeong-dong. I'd gotten another health checkup, this time with the results in English, and here you go, sir. But the hospital I'd gone to, Seoul National University Hospital, isn't recognized by the Chinese government, so my results won't count. I had to go to a different hospital, Sahmyook Medical Center, this morning and go through a more thorough examination. The results will be ready Tuesday afternoon, though I'm not sure that gives me enough time to get the visa before Saturday.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Just before Lunch

This morning there was a page in one of the books that required my kindergarten students to organize containers into three categories: bottles, cans, and boxes. At the bottom of the page, the students had to draw their favorite bottle, can, and box.

"Teacher," asked one when he got to favorite bottle, "how do you spell soju?"


The student began her story this way: "Very, very yesterday…"

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

One Year Out

My friend Meg Sparling asked me last year to write an article for Revelator on living in Seoul, South Korea. I'm still working on it. Maybe I'll get it finished when I'm no longer here.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Speaking of Names and Addresses

Where the Hell Is the 거선당빌딩?

Addresses here are by building name, not street number. Thus, when I went to Myeong-dong today to file for my visa at the Chinese-authorized travel agent, because the Chinese embassy in Seoul will not issue individual visas, I spent an hour looking for the place. The name of the agency was 한화관광여행사. Now, I can read Korean, but I couldn't find this place anywhere. I asked several times in my horrible Korean, and everybody had a different answer for where I could find it—or I had a different interpretation every time as to what was being said, which works out to the same thing. Nobody even knew the name of the building. My phone's busted, or else I would've called. Finally I found an information booth that wasn't closed and blocked by sidewalk sales. The people there called the agent, and he came to get me. Upon seeing my sweat-covered shirt, he said, "{Seoul is hot.}" When we reached the building, one I'd passed three or four times, I noticed that the name of the agency was nowhere to be found. The only thing on the front of the building was "노래방" ("karaoke" [literally "song room"]). Only once we got to the second floor were there signs for the agency, and these were on the steps. I thought things would at last go smoothly, but it turned out that because my health certificate was in Korean, not English or Chinese, I couldn't use it. I have to go to the hospital tomorrow for another checkup and ask for a certificate in English. I'll be cutting it close to get the visa before I leave.

Sunday, August 16, 2009


For a more thorough description of today's trip to the DMZ, written by a fellow English teacher we met today, click here.

The DMZ and Dorasan Station

Today some of my friends and I went to the DMZ. My favorite part was Dorasan Station, the last train station in South Korea before North Korea. According to one of the guides, a train used to travel twice daily between Dorasan and the Kaesong Industrial Region in the North, but now the train runs only once a week. Shortly after I paid five hundred won and walked out onto the platform, a train pulled up, and its passengers got off. Though I hadn't had to, they had to pass through turnstiles inside the gate, military police officers handling the perhaps-not-worn-in-enough bars of the turnstiles. A stairway led down into nothing I could see. Everything appeared new and deliberate, though perhaps—how do I say "holding its breath" and still avoid anthropomorphism? I loved the space, but I'm not sure why. Empty or nearly empty buildings usually—what's the word?—repulse me, but the near emptiness of this station was strangely comforting, like the as-yet-nonexistent structures, the planned-for purposes, around which the building was designed would appear.

Saturday, August 15, 2009


Yesterday I received the invitation letter from the school in China. Now all I have to do is get my Z visa. About this time two weeks from now, I'll be boarding the plane.

* "China."

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Dead On

"I'm the language maker."
—C——, third-grade student

School after School

Today the mother of one of my third-grade students came in. I'd talked to her only once before, in a conference, with my Korean partner translating, but this afternoon the mother either didn't feel she needed a translation or didn't want one. She said she was concerned about her son. "He has mistakes."

Missing a word, she called her son over, but he refused to translate a conversation about him (or is it himself here [one can talk about oneself, but can one translate about oneself?]?), which I thought was justified. Finally, with a droopy head, he walked over. "'Serious,'" he said.

"Is he serious about LCI?" she asked me. What she really meant, I decided, was, Is he serious about English?

I tried to convince her that he was, but the principal whisked her into the office. "She's worried about [name withheld]," I called after.

"So am I," the principal replied.

Why? And taking things seriously? Why should he?

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

News from China

My flight to Dalian leaves at 9:30 p.m. on Saturday, August 29, I was told by e-mail today.


In one of the introductory English courses in college, I was handed back a paper on the back of which the teacher had written, "You may know grammar, but you don't know anything about writing." I still don't know what to think of that.


Yesterday my third- and fourth-grade class had to take a placement test. This class is at the highest level in the school, so when the students came in in the afternoon for a test at which I hadn't even been allowed to look and for which they'd had no way to prepare, except perhaps to review everything English they'd ever been taught, they were understandably nervous. They thought they'd be kicked out of my class if they did poorly. One student told me that his mother had said he'd be in huge trouble if he didn't do well. He must be in the top class, she told him. (Not coincidentally, perhaps, his sister happens to be in the "top" kindergarten class, Simba Class.)

When my students were finished with the test, they looked exhausted. "How was it?" I asked, having still not seen the test.

Nobody answered. They just looked at the board as though pissed they might have to learn something in the thirty minutes of remaining class time.

"Harder than one of my tests?" I asked.

"Very many harder."

They were even more scared than when they'd come in. They thought they'd be moved out of my class for sure.

The whole notion of the "top" class irritates me. Yes, I have told this class that they know the most English in the whole school. Maybe I shouldn't have. I meant only to boost their confidence, as they so often express doubts about their abilities to talk. I mean, Jesus Christ, they're nine and ten years old, and they can already hold pretty stimulating conversations with me in their second language. These kids are fucking amazing, and so I want them to feel good about themselves. But they've mixed my praise with some kind of competitive jive.

As a high school student, I was told I was smart but not competitive enough. What a stupid thing to say, I thought then. And I still think that. What a stupid thing to say. One may say that competition is how things work. Pragmatically, yes, one must do things in order to look good and therefore to gain security, whatever form that security may take, but I see so much of this work as bullshit posturing. I have always loved learning—and therefore I have always loved teaching, which is the same thing—but I have never loved proving I know something.

There are constant speech contests and tests. The language has become a competition.

Why are my students studying English? I hope they love it, but I wouldn't be surprised if they hated the fuck out of it.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009


Although I must admit to a fascination with grammar. Not its strict adherence/inheritance. The expectancy of consistency is sometimes so silly.

Monday, August 10, 2009


Both of my third-grade classes use a grammar book intended for college students. Although these students are great with English, their having to use these books doesn't say as much about their abilities as it does about the maniacal former teacher who thought it a great book for nine-year-olds (ten, Korean). When the book was first assigned, back when the kids were in second grade, I protested, especially when I learned that we'd have to get through eight pages every class. Not surprisingly, then, students began to have trouble right away even though most of what we were covering was review. It wasn't the grammar they didn't understand but the way it was described. Parents complained, but they didn't want to spend money on a new grammar book, is what it came down to. Completing the book by a certain time seems to be the most important objective (not just with this grammar book either). Although that teacher is gone and things have slowed down, so that we may cover as little as two pages a day, there's still little time to review sometimes.

To talk about words using only other words.

I care less about the names of parts of speech than I do about the use of them.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

"Teacher, Teacher China Go, Andy Me China Go"

Somebody, probably his mother, told Andy that he's moving to China with me in a few weeks.

David Foster Wallace

Saturday, August 8, 2009

The Foreigners

Yes, there are many people here who point and yell, "{Foreigner!}"—not so derogatory, just plain annoying usually. I've taken to returning with "{Korean!}" My Canadian and Scottish friends are continually called migukin, "Americans." I make faces at staring children, sometimes at adults as well.

In May, when there were twenty-one reported cases of H1N1 in Seoul, we foreign teachers were told to stay away from Hongdae and Itaewon, the so-called foreign districts, because being around that many foreigners was too risky.

Known issue in China.

Thursday, August 6, 2009


"Teacher, me this everything doing?"

* "Language."

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Closed Set

Sometimes I forget how young the kids are. Seven, my students would say. In Western terms, five- and six-year-olds.

They will work on a page of math with "ADDING TO 10" at the top, use their tiny fingers, finish, take a few minutes to look back and forth between the book and me, and then say, "Teacher, this '10' everything—that's OK?"*

Sometimes I even say aloud, "Look: every answer on this page is '9.' Just write '9' for everything." Just to see what they'll do.

Those who understand me the most, whose number changes daily or maybe not at all, look up at me and say, "Teacher, what?"

"Never mind."

Soon they'll run out of fingers.

* When I say "they," it's actually always Andy's voice I hear and therefore quote.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009


In this apartment, I avoid the spots for which I once planned furniture, though it's clear now I won't have furniture here.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Only Four Weeks Left

Tomorrow my visa will be extended so that I can stay and work in Korea until the twenty-eighth, and then it's off to China.

Free Chinese lessons are one of the new job's perks I'm most excited about. Admittedly, I haven't learned much Korean in the almost year I've been here. My students speak their Englishes, and, sure, they're hard to understand sometimes, but. Hangul is mostly straight lines, with a few circles— (the \h\), (the not pronounced or \ng\, depending)—and there's a certain stroke order to the characters that is comforting, as though one could start to know a language by its left-to-right, top-to-bottom progression. Returning to Korea from my first trip to China, in January, I thought, At least I know the letters.