Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Spring Time for Soju and Korea...

This picture was taken in the closet that is my kitchen area. I picked the flowers from the top of the mountain range behind my house...

In my head, it's being sung to the tune of "Springtime for Hitler" from the Producers...

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Play it COOLish, Keith Teacher

The weeks really fly by and life in this routine would be fairly boring if not for the students. I've had a lot of laughs with them and getting to know them better has kept things interesting and fun. We can't always communicate well, but I can sense the personalities of even the youngest. Many of my anecdotes are probably of the "you had to be there" type, especially the ones that involve the peculiarities of Korea I can't explain in words. There have been some good ones though.

In one of my classes, there were two students with the English names John and George. One day they brought up America (it didn't come up in passing conversation, out of nowhere they said: "teacha, teacha, mee-gook, USA!" while pointing). I wrote "USA" on the board and this developed into a bubble chart of things they associate with the U.S. The product of this free-association session that I copied afterward:
My favorites are definitely "economy good," "crazy cow" (they made cow noises and made circles next to their head before saying 'crazy cow!' I've never found mad cow disease so funny), and the "Statue of Liberty," which they acted out by pretending to hold an ice cream high above their head. Once I recovered, I explained that this was no ice cream, but the torch of liberty. They found this very disappointing.

Later, another student joined the class, so I took it upon myself to name him "Paul." We now had 75% of the Korean Beatles, but I'm not sure if Mr. Lee would approve of me naming a fourth kid Ringo...

Clothing vocabulary is something that comes up in the books. I never really considered how similar "shirts," "shorts," "skirts," and "socks" are in spelling. For young learners, they can be difficult to pronounce and distinguish from each other. Thus, we have many boys claiming that they wear skirts and ties and people refusing to wear socks unless it is summertime.

The funniest I've seen involved a fill-in-the blank model dialogue that the students could fill in with different clothing words. A choice "r" missing led to this:

"This shit is too small. Do you have any shits that are larger?"

One lesson I had was about amusement parks with vocabulary of nouns (cotton candy, roller coaster, ticket) and related verbs (win a prize, buy a pass, ride a ferris wheel). I asked them about their favorite amusement parks. There are some classy parks up around Seoul, but we have a small theme park in Daegu. Trying to be nice "Keith-ahh-tee-chaa," I asked if they would like to go as a class and I'd buy them cotton candy. The sweetest little girl in the class responded in Korean and the class laughed. I asked the Korean teacher, Ms. Na, who was sitting in the back, what she had said, but Ms. Na didn't know the English word. I just gathered that she had called me a name. Ms. Na then took out her electronic English dictionary, punched in the Korean and held it up. It read: "KIDNAPPER."

Oh dear was I taken aback. I mean, sweet little Emily, everything she owns is pink, accusing me of being a kidnapper that lures young children with cotton candy - unbelievable. That's the last time I offer...

In the more advanced classes, we sometimes just have "free talking" where I ask different questions, sometimes putting them in pairs to talk before speaking together as a class. The other night, I asked what the last movie was that they had seen and one girl responded "Strange Country Alice." At first, my mind started humming a mash up of "Black Country Woman" and "Alice's Restaurant," so I was really curious. I asked her if this was an American movie (I haven't seen a movie in theaters since October) before I noticed a few other students asked her in Korean and began laughing. She meant "Alice in Wonderland," but through double translation (English to Korean back to English) came up with "Strange Country." I was laughing with the class until I felt a little lightheaded...
One of the beginner books we use teaches "can" and "can't" along with basic activities (fly a kite, draw a picture, hit a ball, ride a bike). "Ride a pony" is one of the activities, and I doubt many Korean kids have ever ridden a pony, but I still ask. Towards the end of a lesson, I asked little Matthew "can you ride a pony?" He responded in Korean and everyone laughed pretty hard (sensing the trend yet?) but there was no Korean teacher around to clarify for me. I was really curious to know what he said so I asked him again.

I could tell he was trying to describe something and the class was getting a real kick out of it, but my questions weren't really getting me anywhere, so I just handed him the white board marker and told him to draw what he meant on the board. So little Matthew marched up to the board and proceeded to draw a horse with an enormous erection. I could hardly believe my eyes.

Goodness, I couldn't have reached for the eraser any faster.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Beachin' it in Busan (BOO-SAHN)

Last weekend, we trekked down to Busan (spelled as Pusan in the map above, farthest southeastern corner of the peninsula). As the second largest city in Korea, Busan is a huge port. One part of the coastline stores containers stacked as far as the eye can see.

The KTX got us there in about an hour and we immediately set out for Hyundae Beach.

There were some people enjoying the mild spring day, but in the summertime, over 1,000,000 (yes that's right, a cool MILL) pack onto what was not a very large beach. I'd say it was maybe 1/4 the size of Duxbury Beach.
Curious what a million looks like? I found this picture online:
Sheesh. Good f'in luck finding a spot.
Finding plenty of space on that particular day, the boys and I kicked the soccer ball around a bit and threw some disk. It being my first encounter with the Pacific Ocean, I had to take a dip. The only person interested in joining was of course, Yuriy, everyone's favorite sneaky Russian.
The Russian Hasselhoff on the move. I struggle to keep up.
Korean youth look on. I definitely heard "bah-bo" and "way-gook-een," words that translate to "idiot" and "foreigner." Alright!
It felt like Duxbury beach water in August! When I went back to school Monday, I told them I went swimming and gauging reactions I think there may be some serious doubts about my stability. Oh well.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Four (and a half?) Month Review

Over a third of the my year in Korea down. I would say that I'm surprised to think it's true, but Thanksgiving feels like a long while ago. Weeks move along much smoother than they did in December. I feel very comfortable at school, both with my role and with the students.

I never thought I was any good at remembering names, but I have every one of over 100 student's names down. Either Korean names aren't the same confusing challenge they used to be, or the students have just given up on trying to correct me and accepted my bizarre way-gook-een (foreigner) pronunciation.

I think lunch at school is exemplary of my day-to-day routine.

We always get lunch delivered at 2:30 from what foreigners call "the kimbap shop." Kimbap shops serve up a variety of Korean dishes including kimbap, the Hangul take on sushi filled with pickled goodies, ham and sometimes crab. Usually its just Mr. Lee, the senior teacher and I that eat. After the meal, other teachers join us for coffee (Mr. Lee always seems busy or uninterested and splits).

It started small, but over time, the coffee conference blew up into a full on dessert buffet of cookies, cakes, pastries, and chocolate. Sometimes fruit makes a cameo. We take turns bringing in the goodies. I don't have much of a sweet tooth, but it's hard to resist. Besides, they hardly say anything to me, so I feel like I may as well use my mouth somehow. Through names dropped and my minimal vocabulary, I can sometimes guess what they're talking about, in which case I'll try to chime in but I'm usually met with smiles & nods and ignored.

Long ago, I accepted that these conversations were about exactly the sort of inconsequential gossip you might expect from early middle-aged females (this one's ugly, this one has this much money, etc.), and I should content myself to be ignorantly amused by what seems to be very colorful conversation. For the most part, it has worked just fine. All I do is show up with something sweet occasionally, smile, and they'll probably love me forever. Easy enough.

Peckrill and I have had conversations about how we aren't really living that exciting of lives. Things are new and very different, but we still put in our 40 hours, drink beer on the weekend to unwind, and then do it all over again the next week.

The weather is warming by the day, the days are getting longer, and I'm feeling optimistic. It gives a little boost in morale that goes a long way at school.

So what's it like? Still really hard to say. I have a few post ideas coming up, one that will hopefully feature a video that demonstrates the neon-lit dance pop mega-marathon that is Asian commercial culture. I also have some good anecdotes from school I want to share. After the Peckrill post, we all could use a little brevity for now, eh?

Some quick updates:

A happy 24th birthday to Leeds, England's finest, Handsome James Barr.
For his gift, I painted him this picture that we've gone about describing as "not at all gay."
I recently saw Norway's folk-bossanova-acoustic pop phenomenon "The Kings of Convenience" in Seoul. It was a great show and I captured some video before being yelled at by Korean security.

Cherry blossoms trees have bloomed across Daegu, making for a beautifully Asian spring aesthetic. This is the street just below my apartment:
My mother's worst nightmare and the reality of my laundry situation:

I don't have anywhere to hang things and through-the-floor thermal heating is amazing at drying clothes. Once dry, they are promptly folded and put away. Now mom, I know you're skeptical, but when I clean a big load, I actually can't get from my kitchen to the bathroom without hopping on the bed. It's the kind of inconvenience that can't be ignored for long.