Monday, October 15, 2007

Weekly Letter Home (10/15)

Monday, October 15, 2007

Dear family and friends,

Once again I greet you from the East. I hope you are well in whatever you are doing, and if not that you at least can see the light at the end of the tunnel, and if not that you realize that there is in fact a light at the end of the tunnel, you just may have to get around a couple of bends to see it.

Sorry this letter is so long (17 pages, Gasp!), but it does cover two weeks, and the two weeks it covers were quite eventful. School festivals, travels to not-so-exotic locals, little teaching, but a lot of eating. Unfortunately, I didn’t get the specific names of all the foods I ate, but I will find them in the future if I ever go back over this thing and decide to make a book out of it even if I only publish it privately.

One particular post to note is that my maternal grandmother passed away recently. For those who were praying, thank you. Please continue to pray for my family as we remember Grandma’s life. We have confidence that she went on to her heavenly home and look forward to meeting her at the final resurrection and in the life of the world to come.

On a side note, my host brother has taken to saying, “Oh, my God!” recently. I don’t know where he learned this phrase, as I abhor it, and it is starting to get on my nerves. I wonder if it’s worth explaining to my family why I don’t like the phrase and that I would like him to stop. They are Christians, but then again, Koreans (much like Americans, I should note) may not think it out of the ordinary to take the Lord’s name in vain, especially in a foreign language. I’ll probably just let it slide. It’s just abrupt to me because it’s just about the only English I hear out of his mouth. If an English speaker says it, it’s usually in context and I don’t even blink. When he says it, though, it percusses my ear like the snap of a marching snare on a crisp fall day.



Saturday, October 13, 2007

Meeting 정준호 (10/13)

On Saturday evening my collegiate host sister, who was home for some unknown reason as school is still in session and there are no breaks around now, told me that the family was going out and needed to borrow my digital camera. Why? “We’re going to meet my favorite Korean actor. You can come!” And suddenly the reason for her coming home became crystal clear…

Anyway, apparently the actor, Jeong Jun-ho, is fairly famous in Korea, so everyone is a little confused as to why he was visiting our small county. He knows some English, probably because he calls L.A. his second home, and was able to have a brief conversation with me. I started this conversation in Korean, but when it became clear that he wanted to speak in English, I obliged him. During the conversation, I was asked the following strange question:

Are you Russian?

…and the following awkward question:

How do you like Korean women?

…made all the more awkward by the fact that my available collegiate host sister who understands English was standing right there. I was then encouraged to marry one if I could manage it while I’m here. And yes, I told him I was only here for a year…

At any rate, I suppose now I’ll have to see one of his movies.

Hiking 등산로 (Deung Mountain Trail) (10/13)

I was finally able to hike the small mountain ridge behind my house on Sunday. It was a pleasant hour’s walk or so that affords a magnificent view of the entire town in places where the trees clear just enough as well as absolute solitude where they don’t. Though, I will say that when you’re on the town side of ridge, the amount of noise pollution from the town and the echoes along the range is mind boggling, so that one is never with a sense of total isolation. Get to the other side of that, though, and one is immersed in absolute silence. A surreal hike, to be sure.

I met the government official I saw at noseongjea the weekend before on that ridge, the one that wanted me to teach the other officials English. He’s offered to take me out to Odesan National Park since he knows now that I like hiking. Perhaps after the Gyeongju conference I can take him up on that.

Coffee, both Black and Bitter! (As Opposed to Brown and Sweet…) (10/13)

A couple of weeks ago, I received a package from home (I’m not sure I mentioned this or not…). Included in this package was a can of Yuban coffee, and, while it is not the best coffee in the world, I was certainly grateful to have something tangibly ground that would require a filter to brew as opposed to the dehydrated instant coffee that’s Korea’s main caffeinated staple.

But this presented a problem, for whereas I have a coffee maker thanks to my host family buying one in combination with a single slice of toast toaster oven (don’t ask…), I did not have any filters to go with said maker.

So, I asked around a bit and found out that there was an import store that sold both ground coffee and filters. However, wpahen I inquired at the store, which by the way looked like something out of the borrowers what with the variety of paraphernalia (look up the etymology on that word sometime; delightful) available for purchase, I only saw two bags of coffee (both hazelnut flavored) and no filters. Some pantomiming and Konglish later, the ajuma produced some coffee filters from a tin on the shop floor.

So, this Saturday, I popped the seal on the can (that smell… oh, Lord give me strength!) and attempted to brew a cup of coffee. I say attempt because the filter was too big and the coffee ended up spilling everywhere. Some trimming and some light remonstrations from my host mother and I succeeded in brewing a cup of very strong, very black coffee which was delicious. (Or, has my taste grown bad or my addiction too strong?)

The host parents asked where I got the coffee from, and I explained as best I could. My collegiate host-sister who was home for the weekend helped. They then proceeded to brew a couple of cups as well. Well, they didn’t ask, but I’m happy to share my addictions, I mean pleasures with the family. Cultural ambassador and all that. Still, I thought that they might not like it. After all, Korean coffee is usually high in cream and sugar and in the end light in body (all of this in an instant mix packet).

Upon their tasting the coffee, I asked them how they liked it. To my surprise, they said that it tasted the same as Korean coffee. I then noticed that I could practically see through theirs whereas mine was as black as night. They must not have used as much grounds.

Well, I won’t burst their bubble about being able to handle coffee bitter and black. I just hope they never drink from the same pot of coffee I do.

Friday, October 12, 2007

TKD: Frustrated, but Determined (10/12)

TKD was rough over the last two weeks. I’ve settled into the monotony and routine that is training the body to be a disciplined machine, though I’m sure the sabeonim would protest that TKD is far more spiritual than I give it credit for. As such, there is not much to report about the day-to-day activities. I have run into some difficulties recently, however, that bear noting if only so I will have a marker to look back on when I’ve run my course.

Speaking of running, it turns out that my Saturday run before the Noseonjea festival may have been a bit of a mistake. The whole next week I was working out the tightness in my muscles, and my flexibility, which was laughable before the run despite the 3 months I have trained, went back to a level I had before I began taking TKD. Luckily, it’s returned all the faster. Still, I think I could bear spending one week on just stretching for two hours a night.

I’m also frequently frustrated with the childishness of the children I train with. It is not so bad when we are under the supervision of the sabeonim, but when we break off by belt level for group practice, my fellow green belt cannot focus for more than one minute before he goes off and annoys some red belts until they pick a fight with him. It’s also hard to find someone to train me in the forms I don’t know during these periods. The children are eager to help so long as they don’t have to do the form with me more than once. That’s too boring, I suppose. But I have trouble remembering something I’ve never done before after one viewing, and it’s frustrating when they run off to practice their kicks on each other while the sabeonim is working with other belt levels.

Still, I go everyday that I can, for two hours, to train. It will not always be fun (though it often is), but it is something I need to do. True, I always wanted to take martial arts as a kid (I’m not exactly sure why I couldn’t, but I think it had to do with either money or the fact that I was in Scouts), but now I have a reason. My doctor said I need to lose about 20 lbs to avoid diabetes after all. I haven’t lost any weight really since I’ve arrived, but I’ve certainly toned, and I think that’ll count for something in the end.

But yeah, it’s mostly because I always wanted to do it when I was a kid. Maybe I’ve got a little bit of the childishness that I complain about in those children at the dojang after all.

Teaching: Kangwondo Board of Education Visit (10/12)

As I said, the school was in a positive bluster preparing for the Kangwondo Board of Education’s visit. Landscaping was redone (the third graders who knew for sure they would graduate were pulled from class for this), school crops were picked, displays were made, music and art demonstrations practiced, and presentations rehearsed. One rehearsal I attended, as it was the main presentation for the BoE visit and included a video made earlier in the semester of me teaching. It was only b-roll footage, meaning no one could hear what I was saying in the clips, but I remember exactly what I was saying in the particular clip they chose.

“I’m sorry about the interruption in your normal schedule, class. This is supposed to be my day off, and I have no idea what’s going on. So let’s make the best of it.”

I’m glad they cut the sound.

What occupied most of my time, however, was helping prepare the special co-teaching class for Friday. Or rather, I wish it had taken up my time. As it was, I sat at my desk while my co-teacher did most of the work, insisting that I could not help at that time.

And then, on that dreadful Thursday, she said that we were not yet done with the preparations even though the class was tomorrow. I sighed inwardly and told her that I’d be willing to stay at school as long as it took to finish the preparations. I stayed until 5:50 pm, rushed home to get my TKD uniform and stayed at the dojang until 8:00 pm, at which point I rode over the H.S. to help finish the class work. She ordered pizza for us (and typically wouldn’t let me help pay), and we spend the evening cutting conversation strips and practicing our dialogues. We also helped make a movie for one of the other English teachers who also had to present the next day. I finally got to go home around 10:40 pm. When I left, the third graders were still there studying for their University entrance exams. They stay until 11:00 pm on a regular basis, apparently.

The next day we practiced again in the morning. She was nervous as all get out, and I hit my nervous spike as usual about 10 minutes before we went on. (I still think of these things in stage terms.) The lesson consisted of a review of “What would you like to have for lunch?” which we never taught them in the first place, which moved on to having a student read the day’s goals, which seemed a bit ambitious, which moved on to having the kids name the top five foods in the hamlet, which we made up, which moved on to the kids drawing a picture that they had to describe to the drawer in English, which went surprisingly well, which moved on to mock dialogues with aprons included, which moved on to the strip story of recipes of Korean foods, which went decently well (One kid noted that the first step in cooking samgyetang is not in fact to clean the chicken, but rather, “Catch the chicken!” This is why I love the country.), which moved on to a brief assessment examination.

Despite the fact that the lesson was ambitions, it went very well. The kids were enthusiastic (We were concerned because it was the usually quiet 1-3 class. The administration made this decision, not us, but we thought the student’s performance admirable.), and the activities went off without a hitch. I might use the picturing drawing idea as an activity in the future. The kids kept telling me how excited they were to do the lesson, and I had to tell them that Phoebe, my co-teacher, had done most of the work.

There is really only one major concern that I have with the demonstration day. The province wanted to see our school because our school does well for a rural public school on national testing. Thus, they wanted to see how we manage our school affairs to bring about such results. But, at least in the English class I took part in, the demonstration in no way represented what actually goes on at the school on a day-to-day basis. We do not co-teach. The English teachers usually use a text book and the foreign teacher usually is not even in sync with the standard syllabus. The entire week I was thinking, “What sort of ideas is the provincial BoE going to get about programs they should be implementing when we do not even implement the programs we’re showing off to them?” Ah, well. This is not my country. I told the English teachers about my confusion, but I did not question their methods. I am a guest here, and an observer. I will stay the course.

Teaching: Week 8 (10/12)

Week 8 of teaching at the hamlet’s high school was going to prove to be quite busy. First of all, the Kangwondo Board of Education was supposed to visit sometime during the week, so everyone was a little bit on edge and running around like the chickens at my host family’s house when abeoji throws some corn out there for them to eat. (I wanted to avoid the cliché of “chickens with their heads cut off”, but chickens are all I can think of after this much writing, so give me a break.) Secondly, it was going to be my first (nearly) full week of teaching for quite some time. The past few weeks have had various interruptions so that I was never seeing my full compliment of students. Even this week I wouldn’t as it turned out that my 1-4 and 2-3 classes who I usually see without fail were cancelled, one so I could co-teach a special presentation class with Phoebe and the other so the students could have a cleaning period after the BoE’s visit. (Cultural NOTE: There are no janitors at Korean schools. The students do the cleaning. Aside from the fact that it would disemploy a lot of janitors, I think this is an excellent idea. After all, who trashes their school if they have to clean up after it?)

At any rate, the main lesson for my high school classes was a directions lesson Kiehl C., an ATE from last year, left on the program’s forum board. Essentially, it involves getting the students to generate various direction words for use during the activity (e.g. right, left, straight, turn around), as well as some movement verbs (e.g. go, stop, walk, run, dance, hop). After this, the activity is a simple game of “Where’s Waldo?” played in the entire classroom but with one caveat: the searcher is blindfolded and has to rely on the directions of the students. Sometimes, the students would be a bit sadistic in asking the blind searcher to bump into things, and I’ll admit I joined in the fun sometimes, but it was overall a good lesson. The students were able to speak English and genuinely wanted to participate in the activity. One student, who said he was sick at the beginning of class and so he couldn’t sit up front in an empty seat, miraculously got better when he saw how much fun the activity was. Amazing. Another advantage to the lesson was that, on their upcoming mock university entrance exams, I know there is going to be a listening question on directions.

As it is a new month, I’ve given the second graders an extra credit memorization assignment—Shel Silverstein’s “Whatif”. This one is much easier than last month’s Announcer’s Test as it is shorter, repetitive, and rhymes. Hopefully, I’ll have more takers than last month’s two students.

I finally saw my Advanced Adults after two and half weeks of no classes. They were well prepared on their assigned reading at least—Plato’s Allegory of Cave. We talked about that for the first half of class, and for the second half we talked about the Noseongjea Festival and Korean Language Day, which was that day, Tuesday, Oct. 9th. We even arranged a picnic for the week of no classes after the Gyeongju conference with the program. I am apparently to bring nothing, but I was able to understand their Korean enough to figure who among them was bringing what, something that seemed to surprise one of them. I told them that I was learning Korean and that I even had tutoring lessons with a Seoul Natl. University student during the weekends.

“What? You speak Korean? But what can you say? Just annyeonghaseyo.”

I proceeded to introduce myself in Korean, told them that I could order food and bus tickets, find out where the bathroom is, etc. In other words I could tell people who I was and survive. They were impressed and asked me to speak Korean with hamlet residents more often.

I was also questioned about the Korean girl I was seen walking around with at Noseonjea. That would have to be H.W., so I guess I will have to be careful about who sees me where with whom. Wouldn’t want people to get the wrong ideas…

The next day’s lesson was taken from an article in the Korean Herald, an English language newspaper, about a French-English couple who have decided to bike around the world and are currently on the Korean leg of their tour. After some discussion of the article and talking about where we’d like to travel, we decided that for next week’s class, we’d all bring in pictures of our travels and talk about them.

My beginning adults received the brunt end of my grandmother’s death I fear. I was in no mood to teach that morning, so I left the second half of class to somewhat freeform discussion, which revolved around talking about travel once again.

Besides this, the Character was also back in class. He has asked if he may attend the advanced discussion class. I told him yes, and am unsure how I feel about that. I feel like he is probably a great person to talk to one on one, but in a classroom setting he is more of a distraction than a help. He started asking about geographic features in class and would not believe me when I told him that deep could be used for both canyons and oceans, or that canyons were similar to ravines, or that the edge of a canyon was called a cliff…

A third obstacle to my teaching the beginning class on Thursday was that there was another English teacher there who came to “just watch,” but also ended up commenting on my class a bit. She was from the Philippines, which confused me at first because I knew she wasn’t Korean, but couldn’t quite place her. I was hoping to talk with her afterwards both because she is a foreigner and I’m curious as to what she’s doing in the hamlet and also so that I might share strategies with her.

At any rate, the Character ended up giving me a lecture on how Asian foreign English speakers can always understand each other, but can never understand native English speakers nor be understood by them. He also gave me a lecture on how Filipinos apparently speak English with a Spanish accent. Who knew? I, a person who roomed with a Filipino for two semesters, a Spanish minor, and someone who actually paid a great deal of attention to the colonial section of American history in H.S. certainly didn’t. Obviously, I was in no mood to be lectured about the English linguistic patterns of Asian countries, something I’m already fairly well versed in, and smiled politely while I gave him a little lecture in Spanish. To this he just smiled and said, “Yes,” making me think that he confused it for English he did not understand instead. He apparently does not listen, or else is he apparently unwilling to admit not understanding, neither of which is helpful in a conversation class.

There was no beginning adult class on Friday, but luckily my school week didn’t end on that rather sad Thursday note. I had the Kangwondo Board of Education visit to look forward to.