new year’s eve and statistics

It doesn’t feel like New Year’s Eve in Korea, probably because it’s just another day for most people here. Jan 1 isn’t that big of a deal; instead, Koreans have a huge holiday/celebration on the Lunar New Year, 설날 (Seollal) (which this year falls on Feb 8).

Everyone has to come to school today for the Official Last Day; no classes, just, I dunno, paperwork and meetings and ceremonies and stuff. None of which I have to attend. But then I do get the day off tomorrow for New Year’s Day, so that’s nice.

In other news, it seems that my blog has accumulated all kinds of statistics this year. And it seems that WordPress has made a cute little report about them all.

Things like:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 6,200 times in 2015. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 5 trips to carry that many people.

So that’s pretty cool.

And:

The busiest day of the year was March 13th with 72 views. The most popular post that day was Invisible Neighbors.

Why that day and post were so popular, I have no idea. It wasn’t even an interesting post.

Anyway, you can see all the stats here. You know, if you want.

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emotional rollercoasters

*Alert, alert: This post contains sentimental rambling and is outrageously long. If you dislike, please click away now. You have been warned.*

This is the last day of classes for the 2nd semester, 2015.

All my creative and productive juices have been spent.

All my candy has been handed out (except a few stale Twix and MyChews).

All my brain power is fizzling out.

I can’t muster the energy to search for even one more GIF, write even one more lesson plan, create even one more worksheet.

This is not the time to be riding rollercoasters of any kind, especially not emotional ones.

And yet, here I am, heart soaring to the top of joy and plunging down into the depths of sadness, because…

Today is also the last day I will ever teach at my main school.

I’m remembering my first day of teaching at this school just about 10 months ago, and how completely overwhelmed and out-of-place I was that day. How the 3rd graders towered over me like giants. How they cheered and clapped when I walked into their classrooms for the first time. How difficult it was to connect with them beyond just “Hello, I’m the new foreign teacher and you’re my new students.”

I’m remembering the first couple months and how some days felt like pulling teeth and yet some kids were always such day-brighteners, and I would get home sometimes and laugh and cry almost at the same time.

I’m remembering how I had no clue how to teach Korean students for a good long while. In fact, I’m not so sure I have a clue even now, but I do know that I’ve improved at least.

I’m remembering how deeply I ended up caring about my 3rd graders by the end of the 1st semester, and what great rapport we had (something I haven’t quite been able to replicate with 1st and 2nd). How even now, half a year later, I can recall the faces and personalities from each class. Even now, I miss them and wish I could teach them again.

And I’m remembering how I coasted through the first part of 2nd semester by teaching the amazing 1st graders, who were eager to learn, attentive, smart, sweet, and hilarious – a teacher’s nearly-impossible dream. And how I miss them too, and all the energy they gave me during class.

And now we come to today, when I’ve just finished saying goodbye to my 2nd grade classes. To be honest, we probably have the weakest relationship out of the three grades I taught this year because I only had them for 9ish weeks and 14- or 15-year-olds are tough nuts to crack, but nevertheless a few of my classes were full of groaning and fake crying when I announced my departure, and “Teacher, I will go to [my transfer school] next year!” “Teacher, I’ll miss you!” “Teacher, I won’t forget you!” “Teacher, don’t forget me!”

Oh, believe me kiddos, I won’t forget you.

The adorable chubby boy and sassy girl who always sit together, and she acts the perfect Abbott to his Costello, always (good-naturedly) yelling at him for his hilarious comments and trying to help him with his English attempts.

The boy with the sweetest manners and the extraordinarily strong, deep singing voice who sings in the 2nd graders’ band and told me he loves horror movies.

The girl who sits directly in front of my desk and always looked up at me expectantly with this sweet smile, like she couldn’t wait to see what amazing, inspiring, wise piece of knowledge is going to come out of my mouth (don’t think I lived up to that!).

The boy with the extremely black hair (Koreans actually have a range of natural hair colors, from dark brown to black, and his hair is the darkest black I’ve ever seen) and inquisitive face who was always making sheep’s eyes at me while I taught, and then looking away with a goofy grin if I made eye contact.

The cute girl with the tiny heart-shaped face, huge eyes, and freckles, who always wears her hair in a ballet bun, and who always made intelligent, engaged eye contact with me when I would speak.

The boy who somehow refused to obtain or bring an English textbook to class, ever, but would nevertheless sit there during CD/bookwork time with a random class textbook open in front of him. He also shouts “HELLO!” at the top of his lungs any time he sees me, no matter when or where.

The boy who, without fail, carried my laptop and materials back to my office from the classroom, every single time.

The boy who loves Andromeda (the galaxy) and found a way to bring it into every topic of discussion. “Giving instructions” lesson? “How to go to Andromeda.” “Have you ever?” lesson? “Have you been to Andromeda?” “I hope ____” lesson? “I hope you can go to Andromeda.”

I won’t forget.

fellings

I guess I had the energy to search for another GIF after all. Heck, there’s never a bad time to search for GIFs really.

The principal

Just a little update for those wondering about yesterday’s close encounters of the fourth plate kind. (heh heh) (Look at me being all cultural referencey. I haven’t even seen that movie.)

Today the principal strolled into my office, plopped into my unfortunate coworker’s chair (she grabbed her laptop and went to work in the corner), and said he didn’t think I understood his pronunciation yesterday.

I assured him that I did.

He asked me if “It seemed you didn’t understand my pronunciation” was correct grammar.

Then we had one of our confusing half-conversation, half-English-lesson episodes, where I’m never quite sure whether I’m supposed to respond to his statements conversationally or with the grammatically correct repetition of his sentence.

The head teacher brought us both coffee.

I watched the coffee slosh treacherously around the rim of his cup as he gestured with the cup-holding-hand, hoping he would not spill hot coffee on himself and make it awkward for everyone, but also feeling a little morbidly fascinated by the imminent disaster.

He kept standing up to go, then sitting back down as he remembered one more thing he wanted to ask me. Up down, up down.

It was a little comical and a little endearing.

He left the office and was back again 2 minutes later.

Him: “Maddy. ‘I’m cold in here’ and ‘It’s cold in here.’ Which is correct?”

Me: “Just ‘I’m cold,’ or ‘It’s cold in here.'”

Him: “Ah, on the airplane, I told the staff ‘I’m cold in here.’ That is wrong?”

Me: “Just a little unnatural.”

Him: “I will say the full sentence. ‘It’s cold in here.’ Is that correct?”

Me: “Yes, right.”

He left. 5 minutes later, he returned.

“Maddy, I’m sad that you will go. I’ll miss you next year,” he said. And before I could really respond, he added his usual phrase – “Is that the correct expression?”

Such is my relationship with the principal.

He is a nice person, and I’ll miss him too.

On 회식 and other matters, again

I’m back, people.

I’m not here to talk about Christmas and all that – although mine was nice and I hope yours was too. Especially for those expats in Korea who feel glum at the general lack of Christmas cheer here compared to, say, America.

But today, my friends, we are talking about 회식*. A bookend post, if you will, to complement the one I wrote so very long ago, at the start of the semester.

*회식 (hweshik): A basically mandatory company/staff dinner. Usually accompanied by one, two, or all of the following:

  • Alcohol
  • Karaoke
  • “Round 2” (second drinking/karaoke location)
  • “Round 3” (third drinking/karaoke location)
  • etc…
  • Shared hangovers the next morning at work

I’m extremely lucky in that my school is the classy mature one that goes out for a quiet dinner, with Chilsung Cider (Korean Sprite) as the main beverage, and wraps it all up within an hour and a half. Little alcohol, no hangover, and for heaven’s sake no singing.

This was a bookend 회식 of sorts, after all. We had one to ring in the new school year, and today we had one to bid it farewell (or perhaps just to say “good riddance, took you long enough to be over”).

This was a main school dinner, and I worked at my small school today, so my main co-teacher picked me up after work. We went to a sushi and pasta buffet place, which was perfectly okay with me. I’m totally up for Korean food, but knowing that I’d be able to A) choose my own foods and B) not sit on the floor was a plus.

I’ve reached that awkward stage of language learning where I can garner meaning from about 50-80% of the conversation around me (provided there’s a little context and/or they’re about simple everyday things like school, family, food, etc), but don’t have the grammar / vocabulary / courage to contribute.

Tonight, there were quite a few conversations revolving around my school transfer next year. My co-teacher had to keep explaining how I really really wanted to stay with my main school, but the Office of Education’s decision was non-negotiable.

Then there was a weird moment when one of the head teachers sat down and talked with my co-teacher for a good long while. He was talking about me, and then about the previous native English teachers at the school:

Him (in Korean): “Anna*, and what was his name…”

My co-teacher (in Korean): “Hmm, what was it…”

Me: “Jake*.”

Them (in Korean, barely noticing my helpful interruption): “Ah, Jake*!” (continuing their conversation)

*Names have been changed to protect the innocent. Kidding, but it seems like the right thing to do.

Sigh.

Seriously, though, they talked for a long time, blah blah blah Madeleine Teacher, blah blah blah Anna and Jake Teachers, blah blah blah… and after all of that, when he walked away, my co-teacher said, “He said he wants to invite you to his home to tutor his daughter.”

Ha. Ha ha ha.

No.

If he wants to pay me for it, it’s illegal. Public school NET contracts explicitly state that there are NO tutoring-on-the-side type jobs allowed. You work for the Korean government, and that’s it.

And if he thinks I’m going to do it for free… well, sorry, dude, but no.

Also, I’m not even going to be working for his school in a few months’ time!!

But I politely smiled and said, “Maybe,” and my co-teacher said, “If you don’t want to, I can tell him.”

She gets me.

Also, there’s no way that that’s all he said during that lengthy conversation, but guess I’ll have to let that one go.

After two buffet plates (and a beer which was kindly forced upon me by the same head teacher. oh, how I hate beer), I was beyond full. My co-teacher and I made eye contact like Let’s get out of here. Our two tablemates had already gone. (Instead of all sitting at an enormously long, low table, which is Korean style dining, we had scattered throughout the back area of the restaurant in groups of 4, 8, and 12.)

Just then, the principal walked up to my table. I hastily pushed away the beer, not really sure if it’s better to be seen drinking or not drinking or maybe just placing a casual hand on the glass as if to say “Yeah, I might drink a little” or maybe – oops, too late, he was upon us.

This principal is fond of practicing his English with me. He and I have been kinda like buddies this year. (As much as that is even possible within the Korean hierarchy. My being a foreigner helps break the hierarchical barriers a bit.)

Principal: “Maddy, you know something? We must eat four plates.”

Me: “Oh. Really?” (Then, as he walked away beckoning me to follow, I realized what he meant. Then I wondered how he knew I’d eaten three plates, if you counted the plate of fruit and dessert that my tablemates and I shared. Then I wondered whether that’s creepy stalking or just pure chance. And then I felt the food pushing against the inside of my stomach and thought about how awful it would be to add another mouthful of sushi to that bloated feeling. And then I realized he was coming back to see why I wasn’t following him.

Principal: “Maddy, did you understand me? We must eat four plates. Come with me.”

Co-teacher (in a desperate attempt to save me, awesome person that she is): “Oh, she’s full…”

Principal: *ignoring our plebeian desires*

Me (to my co-teacher as I got up from the table): “Oh no…”

The principal led me to the buffet line. “Ladies first,” he said. I took a plate, and just as I turned to the rows and rows of sushi and wondered just how much he expected me to eat for this mandatory fourth plate, he said:

“Maddy. We tried really hard to stop your transfer. But they said, ‘What’s done is done.’ Do you understand me?”

I understood. And then I understood that it was not about the fourth plate at all, but about wanting to tell me, privately, that he did want me to stay and he did try to make that happen. And that was confirmed when I watched him wander about the line, put nothing on his plate, and then go back to the table.

(Honestly, I’m not sure why he couldn’t have told me with my co-teacher there, but nevertheless I appreciate his effort, dramatic though it may be.)

And then I went back to the table, and my co-teacher and I dashed out of there super quick, before anyone else could make us eat any more food or drink any beer or goodness knows what else.

All in all, it was a bit of a strange evening, but when I was dropped off at my door by 6:45 p.m. and was in my pajamas 5 minutes later, I can’t really complain.

I’m not feeling risky

The original title was “This is risky business,” and I had typed quite a long post ranting about something that deeply irritates me: fans who excessively obsess over their fandom, and in particular, the fandom of a certain film “saga” set a long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, which is looking to make more money thrill their fans with a new installment which has just been released.

Then I had images of said fanatics fans reading my post and flying to Korea to bash in my door, crawl through my windows, and demand retribution for my blasphemy. So, I thought better of it. *delete, delete, delete*

(But I still had to get my little jab in there, didn’t I? Seriously though, some of my dearest friends are Star Warsians [[they don’t have a fandom name, do they?]] and I love them anyway.)

(And yes, I have watched all of the films, more than once. Initially I found the original trilogy mildly enjoyable, if a little cheesy and overdone. Over time, the overall campiness/the pedestal these films are placed on turned me off.)

Okay, for those of you who I haven’t alienated, here are some updates from today:

–I was getting ready for work at 7:55 a.m. when my doorbell rang, followed by a pounding and a Korean woman’s voice shouting. This would have been more disturbing had I not previously been visited by the “gas lady” – basically, in Korean apartments, every few months a woman will come and check your gas to make sure you don’t have any leaks. I don’t know why it’s always a woman. Anyway, I knew that’s who it probably was, so I let her in and continued applying mascara. Thankfully she didn’t come while I was in the shower, undressed, or otherwise looking like a drowned rat. The fact that there were dishes in my sink and a messy pile of blankets in the middle of my unmade bed cannot be helped. 8 a.m. on a Friday seems like a very bad time to make this sort of visit, but I suppose somebody has to be first on her list, and today it was me.

–Walked through the school gates and was greeted by a horde of my 2nd grade students, all shouting “Merry Christmas!” and handing out Choco Pies. One of them dashed up to give me one (“I love you!”). The P.E. teacher was dressed as Santa, which was freaking awesome. Even the scary Vice Principal looked all benevolent, watching the Choco Pie distribution. At any rate, it was a nice start to my Friday.

–Had a delightful time teaching the lowest level 2nd graders about Christmas traditions in America today. My CT for those classes is awesome, so she translated the parts they couldn’t understand. They were quite excited and interested to hear about things like putting out cookies and milk for Santa and decorating houses with lights.

At the start of one class, one of the boys made a great effort to speak a complete sentence to me (I can’t tell you how rare this is, especially for low level kids):

Me: “How are you today?”

Him: “Bad.”

Me: “Why?”

Him: “Today… is my… taekwondo test.”

He then told me (in Korean) that he’s a 2nd-degree black belt. I totally feel your pain, kid. I know that pre-testing nervousness all too well.

–During that same class, we played a picture memory game (they studied a Christmas-themed picture for 30 seconds, then the picture disappeared and I asked a question about it). They had to write their answers, and my CT and I gave them 1 point for a correct answer in Korean, 2 points for the answer in English.

The taekwondo boy was making such a great, painstaking effort to write his answers in English. At one point, the correct answer was “stocking” (as in what we hang over the fireplace). He wrote, “Star king.” I knew my CT wouldn’t let that pass for 2 points, so I whispered the correction to him. I feel it’s so important to encourage these kids to just try to write in English, even if they have no idea how to spell it. Isn’t that how we all learned as children? Trial and error.

And after class, even though he didn’t have the highest score, I gave him chocolate and wished him luck at his testing.

 

internet explorer is an abomination

My office computer is awful.

He and I (yes I am personifying my computer) have a cute little morning routine together. And by cute I mean obnoxious.

Me: “Good morning Mr. Computer! Time to wake up!” *power on*

Him: “Okay! Sure thing!”

Him: “Just kidding, I’m gonna freeze up now.”

Me: “No problem, let’s try again.” *reboot*

Him: “Nah, I think this time I just won’t start.”

Me: “Okay. Third time’s a charm?” *reboot*

Him: “Is 30 seconds long enough for you to accomplish something before I freeze again?”

Me: *reboot*

Him: *nope*

Me: *reboot*

Him: *nope*

Me: *mentally banging head against the wall* “FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THINGS HOLY WILL YOU JUST START”

Him: “Not unless you call the IT guy in here.”

Me: “FINE! FINE I WILL!”

tumblr_lskru2nj0u1qd7bw2o1_500

I’m hoping if I call the IT guy to fix this thing often enough (like every day), he can put in a good word for getting a new computer in the English office.

And then another tragedy befell today: Chrome no longer works. It crashes upon launch, every single time. The Mozilla Firefox download page is completely blocked from my school’s server or whatever.

This leaves me with one option…

Internet freaking Explorer.

I’m sure I need not list all the reasons why this browser is 100% terrible. But just as a reminder… somehow the security settings have blocked every potentially useful site on the internet, including GOOGLE.COM. GOOGLE. They do realize that this in no way makes me inclined to use Bing, and instead sends me into a fit of rage, right?

I had to click a million links and permissions and other crap just to get to my WordPress site to type this blog post.

Also, everything is in Korean (computer interface, Microsoft Office interface, browser interface, all of it).

Also, I hate Internet Explorer’s guts.

beating-head-against-the-wall

 

 

In other (but also depressing?)  news, I was talking about Christmas with some 3rd graders (15 yr olds), and asked them if they will exchange gifts with family/friends on Christmas day.

“No! Teacher, we are not children,” said one girl in mild shock and disdain.

Apparently teenagehood/adulthood = no presents at Christmas. From anyone. Come on, Korea, that’s just sad. You need to up your Christmas game.

strange aloneish thoughts in crowded places

Prescript (as in Postscript, but before not after): Please note that if you want to read about the title of today’s post, you need to scroll down. A lot. I kind of rambled. Sorry.

Today I signed a piece of paper (several pieces, actually).

Those pieces of paper state that I will remain in Korea as an ESL teacher (working with EPIK) for another year.

Ultimately I knew I would regret staying here at least 1% less than going home this spring. So, I’m staying. The “adventures in Korea” chapter of my life isn’t quite finished yet.

Of course, my decision wouldn’t be complete without a good old Korean surprise. Just 1 week prior to contract signing day, I received the news that I will teach exclusively at my small school next year.

You know that tight, sick feeling in the pit of your stomach when you get unexpected bad news?

This means that I won’t be able to teach my lovely, bright, hilarious, sweet students from my main school next year.

Hence the “change is hard” post from a few days ago.

This week I went through a very mild version of the 5 stages of grief.

  1. Denial- First, a mix of emotions rising up in my chest without words, then “No way, this can’t be right.” I felt dazed, like someone hit me in the head.
  2. Anger- “Why would they change it? Why didn’t they tell me earlier? Why don’t I have a say in this?” (sidenote: it’s in my contract. I’d already agreed that I don’t have a choice about where I work before I even arrived in Korea. this was the crazy desperate voice in my head.)
  3. Bargaining- Emails and messages sent to the Office of Education, my co-teachers, and anyone else who would listen, asking if there was some way to change it (there isn’t).
  4. Depression- Considered backing out of my contract for a minute. Consumed with the sadness of not seeing my main school kids next year, of being replaced by some other random person, of them forgetting me within the year.
  5. Acceptance- Thankfully I managed to pass through to this stage within a week, since that’s all the time I had before contract signing day.

I’m exaggerating a bit to make light of my situation. Obviously this is a first world problem and I know it’s time to suck it up and move forward, commit myself to teaching at the school that will now be my only focus.

The most painful thing is thinking of the 1st graders. Although I stopped teaching them in the middle of this semester (so that I could teach 2nd grade), I never said goodbye to them properly. I (foolishly) assumed that I would be back next year to be their 2nd grade teacher.

The fact that they said to me, “Come back next year!” and I said, “Yes, I will!” kills me. It also kills me that a new NET will be teaching “my” kids. Sigh.

Anyway, let’s get to the actual title of this post.

So I went to the Office of Education Center of sorts for the contract renewal meeting. I found myself sitting in a small auditorium in a sea of foreigners (about 40 of them). I felt extremely strange and uncomfortable.

Korea, you are not doing anything for my casual socializing ability.

Not that I had a great deal to begin with. (See: introversion)

I mean, walking around the streets, and even going to work each day, I never ever ever have to make small talk. I never even feel pressure to say a single word most days. In fact I think I’ve actually had days where, outside of teaching class, I haven’t said a single word to anybody except hello and goodbye. It’s not antisocial, it’s just not necessary – and sometimes it’s too much work. I’ve written before about the comfortable bubble of protection that the language barrier creates for an introvert.

So here I am, watching people find their cliques and chatter loudly (why are Westerners so LOUD?! I suppose it’s just because I can’t easily tune out their English conversations like I can with Korean).

giphy

Me, essentially. P.S. if you love Mr. Darcy raise your hand. *raises hand*

Sitting alone with my aloneish thoughts.

Thoughts like…

– Other than the slightly humiliating stigma of being a loner when everyone else seems to have a friend group, I prefer this. It feels superficial and daunting to chat with people who clearly already have a clique. Do you know how hard it is to break into people’s cliques?? To me, it’s just not worth the effort, especially considering that in my daily life I have little opportunity or desire to meet up with them at clubs and bars. (Sidenote: I understand that other people may disagree. Kudos. I envy your mad socializing skills.)

– Why is the heat blasting. It’s not even that cold outside.

– Oh, look, there’s that guy. He was at my orientation. Oh and apparently he knows that girl from that one training seminar. Wow, guess they’re a part of that one clique. Who knew all these people would be renewing.

(after frantically scrabbling my fingers around in the bottom of my huge laptop bag) YES! I do have a pen! I’m not that person who forgot to bring a pen to an important contract-signing meeting! I AM THE BEST!

– Dang it’s hot.

– Should I avoid making eye contact with this person whose name I know because she was in my orientation group but she probably doesn’t know who I am anymore? Oh shoot we made eye contact. What do I do? Awkward tight-lipped smile, yes. That’s the way to go.

– I am SO glad I don’t have to meet an entirely new set of CTs and adjust to a new school. However, it’s amusing as names are called and foreign teachers and Korean teachers have to find each other and have that anxious, awkward first meeting.

– Oh thank goodness my amazing CT finally got here. I AM NO LONGER ALONE.

At this point she and I had to sit in on a quick meeting specifically for the Korean teachers about paperwork, and then we skedaddled out of there as fast as possible. And she drove me home because she’s awesome like that.

Hopefully this doesn’t make me sound like a social outcast. Or a sociopath. I promise I’m not. Well, I’m not a sociopath anyway.

Honestly, the expat scene in Korea is just not my style. Making friends with people who will only be here for 6 months or a year seems like a whole lot of effort.

Also, there are well-established cliques. I’ve already stated my feelings towards cliques. It’s great when you’re in one, but when you’re not it’s just kind of vaguely annoying to be around them.

Also, most (not all) foreigners like to party hard in the downtown areas. I like to watch YouTube in my pajamas.

So those are my excuses. Poke holes in them if you want. I’m content with my life here, and I’m certainly not unfriendly or unkind to the foreigners I do interact with.

Just do your own thing, people. Socialize and be outgoing if you want, or don’t. Dance to the beat of your own drum. Don’t worry too much about what other people think of you. (Don’t do mean and stupid stuff either though.)

If you need me I’ll probably be at home, wearing my pajamas and a fleece blanket, watching my Christmas tree lights dance on my ceiling and eating ice cream.

tumblr_n0wqfhew9k1sghdp8o1_400

Both GIFs in this post are from that simultaneously wonderful and horrible place, tumblr.

 

 

change is hard

original title: change sucks

but then i felt weird using the word “sucks” in a title, as if that’s somehow worse or different than using it in my actual post (it’s not)

i decline to say too much in this post

other than that change is really difficult for many of us, but particularly for someone as stubborn and “color within the lines”-oriented as me, and that i am facing a lot of it right now

and also

e e cummings must’ve had a great deal of fun typing like this

and putting line breaks any

where he pleased

poetic license

must be nice

if i ever become a poet i think i’ll give

up on the flowery stuff and

just emulate e e cummings

or perhaps

this is really more an

archy and mehitabel thing

firstarchy

who wouldn’t want to read the poetic thoughts of a cockroach. that’s my question

realizations

1. In terms of Korean listening skills, I might be like a smart 4 yr old or a not-quite-so-smart 6 yr old depending on the conversation. In terms of speaking, I’m like a really smart 2-1/2 yr old. Take that as you will.

2. I spend a ridiculous amount of time searching Google Images and Tumblr for high quality pictures and GIFs to put in my PowerPoints. Like, my job description should be: “Officially, teacher of English as a second language. Unofficially, finder of GIFs.”

Side note: Professional GIF hunter should totally be a real job. I’d be at the top of my career in no time.

3. It’s only a matter of time before all my kids will be chanting: “Where’d ya get that body from?” “I got it from mah daddy.” Thanks, PSY.