Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Chuseok! and the end of our Contracts.

It's Chuseok time in Korea.  For Koreans Chuseok means the nightmare of navigating over-crowded superhighways (a 4 hour drive can turn into 10) and awkward family dinners, answering questions like "Why aren't you married/why don't you have a better job/why don't I ever see you/where's my grand-child?"  For me, Chuseok means three days off and out of the meat-grinder that is my job.  After a year at CDI I feel like hot dog stuffing.  All ground up and squeezed out.  The monotony is relentless.  The tedium never ending.  Well, it'll be ending very soon for me.  I've got 7 working days left on my contract and I couldn't be happier.  My goal was to come to Korea for a year, save some money and travel.  Because of work I wasn't able to see any of the world (The three days of Chuseok are more holiday's than I've had all year), but I did save some money.  

A lot of money.  Enough money that Sara and I should be able to travel for the next year.  So I didn't get to China or Thailand, or the Phillipines, or Japan, or even Jeju-do.  Now I get to see the world, or most of it.  Our contracts end Oct 1 and we'll be out of Korea on the 3rd.  From here we go to Turkey where we'll spend 12 days in Istanbul.  From there we're going to Madrid for two weeks and then on to Paris.  Back to Madrid for Christmas and then to SE Asia to start the New Year.  Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia.  Then back to Madrid for March, April, May.  In June, my sister Katie's getting married and we'll spend the summer in Hawaii.  August should bring new jobs in Beijing or Riyadh or Istanbul or some place else.  Probably not Korea though.

I wouldn't wish my Korea experience on anyone.  It wasn't so terrible, I never got sick or hurt, I didn't lose my job and nothing catastrophic ever happened.  But, I feel like I got water tortured to insanity.  Slowly, every day my work and the nation of Korea laid me out flat on the table and dripped fat beads of water onto my forehead.  Every day, drop after drop, slowly drilling into my brain and driving me crazy.  I recently read an article that said that by September of the average year Korea has 212 sunny days.  This year, they've had 170.  Those 42 days nearly drove me insane.  The weather here is worse than anywhere I've ever lived, including Nebraska and Southern Illinois.  The winter was so long and so dry that my skin cracked and if I didn't sleep with the humidifier humming next to my bed, I woke up with a sore throat and cracked and bleeding lips.  The summer has been so rainy and so humid that as soon as I step into the elevator lobby of my apartment building my sweat glands pop and my clothes fill with sweat.  It rains five days a week and it seems like every day somebody reminds me that Korea is never like this and this weather is highly unusual.  Well, a lot of good that does me, now, living here this year.

At work, I've finally reached a stage where whatever crazy, half-cocked, spur of the moment idea they bring to me, I laugh a little and say, Ok, you want me to do that, fine.  I'll do it.  Last week on Wednesday night my boss came to me and asked if I would conduct a thinking project for 10 mothers.  At the school upstairs, where I do not work, on Thursday, tomorrow. At 11 in the morning, 5 hours before I normally report for work.  Later that night he handed me three pieces of paper and asked me if this project would be ok.  Sure, I said.  Then he told me that there would not be 10 mothers that instead there would be 30.  Or 50, he wasn't sure.  Ok, I said.  

I showed up the next morning at 10:30.  Another boss asked me what I would be doing.  I stared at him. "What would I be doing?"  "Yes," he said, staring back at me.  "A thinking project, for the mothers," I half asked.  "Good.  Ok.  I will translate for you."  Wonderful.  37 mothers showed up.  About 4 spoke any English.  I work with 9,10,11,12 year olds every day.  They speak English.  They require a great deal of energy from me to keep them focused, working, and caring.  They spend 12 hours in school or academy, you have to give them something.  My teaching persona is somewhere between Ronald McDonald and a gorilla.  Korean mothers have little patience for these antics.  I stood and listened to my boss give a presentation about the school, all in Korean.  He finished and I stepped up.  The mothers stared.  I started my presentation.  A thinking project has three parts.  Part 1 - Brainstorming.  "Why do you want your children to learn English?" I asked.  Blank stares.  My boss translated.  More blank stares.  When I ask my students why they learn English they almost always say "Because my mother makes me," so I figured the mothers would have a good reason for torturing their sons and daughters with expensive English academies.  I was wrong.  Here, you do things because everyone else is doing things.  Because it's just what you do.  After poking and prodding and pushing, I got "Get a good job," "Read Harry Potter," and "Communicate while travelling."  CDI costs $250 a month.  For 12 months, that's $3000.  Students can stay at Chungdahm for 5 years.  $15,000 to learn to read Harry Potter and order pizza with double cheese and double pepperoni while on vacation in New York.  

Step 2 of  a thinking project is the actual creation of something.  A skit, or a song, or a poem, or a poster.  I opted for a poster because I thought it would be easy and it might be fun and it doesn't require any English language skills, a safe choice, but also risky because these women do not look like they have touched a crayon in decades (When my students take these types of creative projects home, the posters often end up in the trash because mom does not consider them learning).  The idea for the thinking project was to have the mothers draw a poster of what they hoped their children could achieve with their English language skills acquired at Chungdahm.  I asked them to draw this.  Blank stares.  The hum of the air conditioning.  My boss translated.  More stares, more humming.  I pushed, I prodded, I poked.  I went to one group and picked up a crayon.  9 mothers around a table.  1 piece of paper and some crayons.  I drew a face.  Dotted in some eyeballs.  Happy or sad? I asked.  Happy, I lined in a smile.  The mother described her daughter's goals.  She hated Chungdahm but she wanted to be a writer.  I drew books and some stick-man fans.  The drawing was terrible.  Did the mother appreciate this?  Was this something the mother wanted for her daughter?  I have no idea.  I got up.  The mothers chatted quietly in Korean.  I walked the room.  2 groups drew their son's playing soccer.  1 group drew their son as a diplomat.  I thought that was pretty good.  5 minutes later 4 of the mom's actually stood up in front of the other mothers and completed step 3 of the thinking project.  Presentation.  They stood and they described their poster and they described what their children wanted.  They did it in English.  They did a fantastic job, confident and clear.  That was pretty cool.

When the project was over my boss excused me.  "Ok, you can go."  That's the last he said to me about the whole thing.  No "Thank you," no "Good job," nothing.  Fine, ok.  They did buy us Pizza.  One of the hardest things about this job has been the lack of feedback.  No one has said anything to me in 11 months of teaching about what happens in my classroom.  This, despite the fact that we have CCTV in our classrooms and I know our bosses watch and file a report at least twice a month.  No good job, no bad job.  No one says anything.  From what I understand, the paycheck is the reassurance that you are doing what you should be doing.  If it's there on the 5th of every month, keep it up.  If it's not, see you later.  It must be my American attitude towards work.  I'm soft, I'm weak.  I need someone to tell me I'm doing something good, something right, or that I'm doing something wrong.  Something.  I must be crazy.

Also, I'm 3 months sober, so there's that.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Finally, A New Blog Post for a New Looking Blog

Inspired by my mother and my sister and my girlfriend, owners of tthree excellent blogs, I'm going to go ahead and try to start blogging more.


Mostly my life is really boring, but if you clicked the links above you know it's not like anyone else in my family has a ton going on and they blog all the time. "Boring Thomas Blogs" could be a group name or a movie or something. A movie where you just watch Adam Sandler type and keep waiting for it to get funny but it doesn't and then you're like, "Oh, Adam Sandler, you fooled me again. I should have gone to see that Will Ferrell movie, which would have been equally un-funny, but likely a shorter wait for the un-funny."

The new picture is better than the old picture because Sara and I are both a lot thinner and we're not covered in gross South American river water. The biggest problem is that the new picture shows us in a bar about to get wrecked, or already wrecked in my case, but now I'm trying to avoid getting wrecked. I've stopped drinking during the week and I'm working on quitting altogether. Outside of a little Korean Mokkoli this weekend I'm doing pretty good.
                       A picture of me trying to quit drinking.  FAIL

Seriously, I've cut my drinking way back.  I've gone from 5 nights a week of black out drunk to 1 night every other week.  Success!  In February I woke up one too many times in either a pile of my own sick, face deep in a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, or with my shoes on in bed.  Since March I've joined a gym, worked out, eaten healthy, scaled back the drinking and lost almost 15 pounds.  All together since I've been in Korea, I've lost more like 30.  It's great.  With the cut back drinking and the  disappearance of the fat deposits previously located under my neck (4 Chins), on my back (Shrek back), on my sides (Love Handles), on my stomach (Baby bump - rarely attractive on a man), everything has been better.

My work life is better and my personal life is better.  So, my whole life is better.  Work is no longer a drag, no longer a headache inducing six hours of suck.  Now it's six hours of fun.  Last week I had my students convinced that my real job was at Pizza Hut and I just came to Chungdahm because I liked to teach Korean kids.  Oddly, I think I might be right.  I now see my job as six hours in the middle of a long day of good times.  The kids have tons of energy and like to tell me about their lives and I like to listen and tell them I'm a scientist sent from America to study the effects of eating human brains, the brains of small Korean children.  Teach-uh!

During the last couple of weeks all the middle-schoolers in Korea have been studying for and taking some ginormous test that decides whether or not they become President of the World or if they will work at Starbucks forever.  This has a lot of them fairly tightly wound and crying has become pretty common.  Also, many of the middle school students have been gone, studying at home.  For me this has been good and bad.  The good is that some of my classes have been cancelled.  The bad is that some of them haven't and instead of the normal 11 or 12 students, I've had 2.  3 hours with 2 middle school girls can be one of the true hellish times of life.  If they decide with their middle school girl ESP to hate you and completely shut down, three hours feels like 30.

However, if they decide to just talk the whole time to distract you from the lesson, then the 3 hours feels like 30 minutes.  These types of classes are really great because the kids just sit and talk in English the whole time, trying to keep you from doing classwork.  They think they're being so smart, but now I've got Grace and Judy and Bianca, three students I barely hear a word out of on normal nights, conversing in English for 3 full hours.
If you figure that private lessons similar to these can run almost $100 an hour, these girls get $300 worth of English classes in one night, which is usually what they pay for a whole month.  Sadly, when a class like this gets observed on CCTV by my boss, I get in a little bit of trouble.  I'm not sticking to the curriculum which is designed to get them to talk.  I'm skipping that whole curriculum and getting straight to the talking.  Stupid foreigner.

Other things I've done in the last couple of months:

-Korean baseball game.  College football crowd + Triple-A baseball = Fun.  Every player in America has his own song for when he's up to bat.  Every baseball player in Korea has his own crowd chant.  Strike 2 in Korea gets a bigger applause then most doubles in the US.  Plus, inside the stadium you've got 7-11's, Burger King's and KFC's.  With no price gauging.  Beers are 3 dollars.

-Movies.  Avatar, Kick-Ass, Alice in Wonderland, Clash of the Titans, Iron Man 2.  In that order from best to worst.  Iron Man 2 was extremely bad.  Really boring.  Very shiny, lots of techno-crap, but garbage movie.  Let's talk about what's at stake:  Avatar - THE WORLD, Alice - THE WORLD, Clash of the Titans - THE WORLD.  Iron Man 2 - Not the world.  One of these movies sucks a lot harder than the others.  I really like to see summer popcorn movies, but so often they drive me so completely insane with their crappiness.  It just doesn't seem that hard.  Unlikely bad-ass, even more bad-ass villain, some reason for revenge against said villain, the fate of the world in the hands of unlikely bad-ass, dialogue that doesn't force liquid from my bowels in either direction:  Good movie.

I'm not alone in my opinion of Iron Man
Although, "Unwatchable" is probably the wrong word.  Unenjoyable would be my choice.  Like literally, this movie should not be enjoyed by anyone.  You can watch it, but for the love of god, don't enjoy it.

   "Someone Peed my suit - Oh, it was me."  SPOILER:  Actual Plot Point
-Gone Outside.  Part of the reason my life has been so boring has to do with the abysmal weather.  Yesterday we saw 70 for the first time.  I spent 20 hours outside walking this weekend.  Lots of trees, flowers, even some water in the dinky little river in this part of Seoul.  Also, crane game, Supershot basketball, Time Crisis, and other things that make Korean adults look and act like Korean 12 year olds.  Also, I scored 228 on the Supershot at Taito Station at AK Plaza.  I cannot be stopped.

-Bought clothes.  Losing thirty pounds is awesome.  Having a belt that has 8 inches of extra material and pants that fall down all the time, not awesome.  Luckily I'm down to a weight where I can fit in the clothes here.  Also, I can afford some clothes.  All excellent.

-Slept Less.  Anyone who's been around me when I'm sleeping knows I can sleep for 15 hours a day, easy.  I used to think I needed that much sleep to be effective.  Effective at what? you're all asking yourselves.  It turns out I don't need 15 hours.  Now I'm trying to sleep 7 hours a night and I'm feeling a lot better.  Plus, there's more hours in my day for things like the crane game and watching baseball.

I guess that's all.  Being challenged on the internet to blog more by your mother, and then allowing your mother, who could not check her voicemail on her cell phone until about a year ago, to beat you, is embarrassing.  I can't let it stand.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Life in Korea

I have never been this happy in my entire life.

I have a job I love, a great relationship, an awesome apartment and I make enough money to live comfortably on and even save some for future plans. I’m losing weight, I’m exercising. I’m even posting on my neglected blog. I feel like I’m doing everything right. All of this in spite of the fact that I live in a place where not only can I speak about ten words, but I can’t even read. I’m working on these things. A very nice friend is helping me learn to read and speak and in exchange we chatter a lot in English so that he can practice his foreign language. His name is Je Gwan. I doubt that that is how you are supposed to spell it when writing it in English, but that’s my best approximation. We meet once a week at a coffee shop (which are in abundance here) and he helps me in my desperate attempts to speak Korean and I correct what little of his fabulous English speaking skills need correcting. I really like him. He’s so nice, and so helpful. Je Gwan might be one of the nicest people I know. Every so often, though, when we are talking he’ll say something that makes me feel sad for him. He is planning to go to university in the states for a little and we often talk about where he might go. I asked him once about his major, and he said art history. My immediate response was to ask if that is why he wants to go to the states, to study art history. “No” he said “I have to study international business for my father.”
The next week, we were talking about the things that we love to do. He kept telling me that he used to be a swimmer, but he quit because he’d never be number one. He used to study photography, but he quit because he’s never be number one. Whether this is a Korean trait, or one specific to him I don’t know. But he seems to be under this pressure that is a different kind of weight. It is a pressure of acceptance and resignation. I can see it in his face when he talks to me. I often think about his face as he told me about abandoned passion after abandoned passion while I look at my students’ furrowed brows over their test papers (which they get every class period). This always makes me a little sad, but shortly one of my students will draw a picture of poop on their test complete with swarming flies and I remember that everyone is not Je Gwan. And that’s the flip side of my experience here; the whimsy and giggles of my students that I experience everyday. Sometimes it’s annoying. Like when they are supposed to repeat what I say and one of them will inevitably go incredibly slow, like he’s been electronically slowed down. They think this is hilarious. And I do too, but as a professional teacher I can’t laugh or the delicate balance of power in the classroom will shift and I will be on the losing side. And my boss is right, these kids can smell blood. Most of the time, I find their antics heartwarming, like when they try to distract me from the lesson of the day with questions about whether or not fish can make sound. They really are some of the cutest children in the world. Korean kids really have a monopoly on that market. The little girls always have the most complicated bobbles in their hair; from elaborate bows and ribbons to entire plastic representations of all the food groups. That’s another market they have the monopoly on, cute bobbles.

And then there are the pencil cases.

These kids have pencil cases that make the cockpit of an F-16 look like a light switch. They actually have buttons for each pencil that, when pressed, ejects the desired pencil into the air for easy and immediate access for the pilot. And every now and again, when things are very, very quiet in class because they are taking their tests, a rogue pencil case leaps from a desk and lands with a loud and resounding CRACK making every student jump, the owner of the unfortunate pencil case gasp in despair at their ruined equipment, and me cringe with exasperation.

But somewhere between the drawings of excrement and the pencil cases, I have a lot of fun at work with my students. I love my job. I know that I am a glorified babysitter and that my lesson plans have been teacher proofed by an R &D department so that they cannot be screwed up by some of the Neanderthals that come here from the states to teach, but I can feel that the days I am trying hard to get the kids involved make a huge difference for their learning experience as well as mine. And there are days when I don’t try as hard, when I’m frustrated by their behavior or the meeting I just had. But I still love my job. As it turns out, I was right; I do want to be a teacher. If I can enjoy this teaching, that can really get pretty mechanically repetitive, than I must have chosen the right profession. I’m really lucky. I don’t have to work so much that I get too frustrated with my job, in fact, there’s a lot of time in my day when I get bored. The students are busy memorizing or taking their tests or writing their stories…like right now, while I write this blog. I wish this weren’t the case. But I have absolutely no control over the curriculum or the lesson plans. They’re done for me. And if I get too off the mark, they check CCTV. I’m recorded every single day and watched randomly in case I need to be reminded about the specific lesson plans that I might accidentally veer away from. But most the time, I’m having fun. In the classroom, out of the classroom I am really glad every single day that I came here. Even if I am illiterate.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Bundang Teaching and Living. Mostly Boredom.

I haven't posted in a long time not because I hate my blog or the people that read it, but more because my life has settled down into a routine so boring I'm reminded of high school. Get up, shower, eat, go to work, come home, watch t.v., read books, sleep, do it again. Not only that, but my teaching job is so structured, generally to the minute, that every day is exactly the same, just with different students and slightly different information to teach.

Despite the boredom, I can't complain. I don't know that I've ever been happier. My job is so incredibly rewarding, what with the teaching and the kids speaking more and more English with fewer and fewer mistakes and those monster paychecks I get once a month, I'm just happy. Plus, most of the rest of my life is basically in order. I'm eating healthy, getting plenty of sleep, but not the 12 hours of day wasting I used to, and I can't help but think how different life would be if I'd gone to grad school last year. I mean, I know how that goes; the 15 extra pounds from the greasy fast food, the constant stress of papers to grade and papers to write, the drinking, good god the drinking, the hangovers, the swollen puffy eyes, the bloated face, the liver pains, the next day apologies. No, I'm thinking Korea was a good idea.

The teaching really is rewarding. Although the strange material keeps coming at me. Sex-selective abortion was a vocabulary term a couple of weeks ago, and there were a couple of 12 year olds who knew exactly what it was and didn't hesitate to tell me all kinds of stories about their cousins or aunts or mom's friends who'ed really wanted that boy. And then of course there was the eight year old who knew nothing about abortion or any of that and I started down a very strange path when I asked how long it takes for a woman to have a baby, "Teacher, eight months? Ten months? Nine?" And then asked the question how long does it take for a man to make a baby? "Teacher, a week?" And then I realize that I'm basically starting to teach sex ed, which I really don't want to do, what with my hyper-sensitive ingrained Americanism, as in "we don't talk about sex with children lest we be accused of teaching kindergarteners about using condoms." So it was at that point I just stopped and said "Ask your parents."

This is the type of thing I constantly tell my students: "Tell your parents that if you ever get into a situation where you have to eat them, it's called endo-cannibalism." And then I imagine the whole conversation between Suzie and her mother, Suzie who is cute in the way a baby panda and a baby tiger curled up in a ball are cute. Mother: "What did you learn today?" Suzie:"That if you eat me or I eat you, that's called Endocannibalism." Mother: "Well, let's hope it never comes to that." Suzie: "It's pretty rare, but it could happen, so we'd better be prepared." And then I imagine the mother's dazed look, and the thought bubble, "Last week sex-selective abortion, this week Cannibalism? Well they say Chungdam is the best, I guess she'll keep going."

Also I feel like my students really learn to speak English. In Korea you can safely assume that many of the people you come into contact with speak some English. They've invested billions of dollars to learn our language, and almost everyone who goes to college speaks English and every one who works in a service job speaks some English. But the problem is that the English teaching has been so poor that many Koreans can make the sounds and the words and all that, but they can't actually COMMUNICATE in English. It's a country that's learned scripts. As in, "May I take your order?" And the twenty or so reasonable responses to that question. But ask the people at the hotel when the church service starts at the chapel around the corner, or the guy at 7-11 if he saw and liked the movie Avatar, good luck. Go off the script, and you can forget about comprehension and communication.

A lot of this comes from the drilling and the memorization that are so prized. Sure, a lot of 12 year old kids have vocabularies that rival most American college graduates, but when they don't know how to put the words together, it's useless. It becomes sounds with no meaning. Combine that with the fact that many of the public school English teachers are Korean, and speak English with heavy, heavy accents, you get students who can pass any English test you put in front of them based on grammar and vocabulary, and can memorize huge paragraphs of English in no time, but when you ask them "What's your name?" they just stare at you and then maybe answer something like "Lal-pa" which you then ask them to repeat five hundred times until finally you look it up on the computer or have him write it down and it says "Ralph." This is both frustrating, and incredibly common.

But at Chungdahm, a school that has a strong emphasis on memorization and vocab building still, there's this small glimmer of hope. I can tell that these kids are learning to combine their English scripts. That after a couple of weeks in my class they stop looking at the book in front of them for the answer to "How was your weekend?" (Another odd phenomenon, I can ask them difficult questions about the reading which they can find the answers to in the book, but ask them "How's it going?" or to summarize what they've just read, and they act like your speaking a language their parents haven't invested thousands of dollars in.) It's a nice feeling, because I know that many of my students will go out into the world ACTUALLY speaking and communicating in English and not just working off of their script. And my hope is that soon all of Korea will get this message, that all of Korea will see a true return on their billion dollar investment. We'll see.

Other than that, my life is going by fast. Christmas was great, my parents were here for the week, it snowed a ton, life was good. And as you can see, I even had the time, money, and friends to Karaoke some.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

They Grow Up Fast: Ted Bundy, Coke-ine, and My First Two Weeks of Teaching

It's been a see-saw, a wave, a roller coaster. Some days I love what I'm doing. The kids are smart, funny, productive, and seem to really enjoy what we're doing. In these classes, I feel like a teacher. Other days, I want to pull a runner and ditch this shit. Some of my classes just do not care, do not listen, and are not afraid of the consequences. In these classes, I feel like an underpaid baby-sitter just trying to survive the three hour block. For six hours everyday I waffle, waver, scrape rock bottom, plan my escape, hit new highs, plan my weekend, and when I'm done, I walk out the door and leave it all in the classroom. No papers to grade, no tests to double check, no curriculum to create, I don't even carry anything home with me. I love that part of the job.

It's only been two weeks, but I'm having a hard time thinking about doing this over and over and over for an entire year. The classes I teach are incredibly structured, everyday I do the exact same thing. It kind of reminds me of the pizza places I used to work at, in that I can still remember 16 ounces of cheese on a large, 14 on a medium, 12 on a small, and now I don't think I'll ever forget Day 1 starts with a review test followed by words in context, vocabulary, vocabulary chunks, so on and so on every single day, exactly the same structure, slightly different material. I mean, the structure is absolutely identical every single class period. I think about it and it scares me that they seem to be preparing the students to be taught by robots who can follow the timing to a T.

Some days are bad, some days are good. I count myself extremely lucky when a 3 hour block finishes without any major problems, me threatening to send one of my students to the principal, or having to repeatedly tell one or two kids to be quiet. Last night, I was really lucky.

Everyday I come into the school log on to my computer and am greeted with an attendance page of my next class. The page contains pictures and an update on whether or not students will be attending class. Lately, because of Swine Flu* it's been a fun game seeing how many of my students, and which one's, will be out. Up until last night the sick ones had all been my really good, quiet students who got sick, leaving me with the monsters. Plus, when it's just the monster's they seem to realize that no one in the class cares, and they tuck away whatever bit of respect they normally have for the good quiet kids who want to learn and just go totally ape-shit.

But last night in my class of 9, three of my kids were gone, including two of the most obnoxious students I have. One of these students is an instigator and a bully. He's actually pretty smart and good at the classwork, but he stands about a foot taller than everybody else and seems to like threatening these young kids every chance he gets. I've never worked with kids before, and I'm working with a strange age. I have this odd mix where about one-third have hit puberty and are growing like crazy, starting to get a little fuzz of facial hair, are obviously wildly hormonal, and two-thirds who haven't hit puberty and our just these tiny angels who still enjoy school and life in general.

So with the kids gone with SI, my 7 p.m. Friday night class was actually a good time, and one of those moments where I felt like a teacher and not a babysitter. Also, this class goes until 10 on Friday night. I feel bad for these kids. If I'd have been going to school until 10 on Friday, I never would have seen an episode of Boy Meets World or Family Matters. What kind of a childhood would that have been? Not one I would have cared to live.

Anyway, every class I do a critical thinking project. It's a 30 minute project where the students try to be creative and answer some topic. Some of them are really simple, like come up with a wish, something you want, and give the reasons. It sounds easy and in an American classroom, maybe it would be. But here, it's like I'm asking them to decide between their mother and father. One will live, one will die. As soon as they have to think entirely on their own, they clam up and shut down, switch into Korean and kind of check out. I generally end up giving them most of the answers. “Ok, you want infinite money, what would you buy with it?” “Ummm.... Nintendo DS!” “Ok, good what else” “PSP!” And this goes on in every single group of students. Always Nintendo DS and PSP.

But last night's CTP was different. Last night's CTP was ridiculous. These kids are 7,8,9, maybe 10. The unit was on detective's and forensic science. Everyone knows forensic science is the study of dead people – everyone except 7, 8, and 9 year olds. Most people I know, know who Ted Bundy is. Now my students do too! Also they know he left bite marks on his victims. They now know about Helen and Olga, two women who murdered homeless people for life insurance policies. They also know that Scott Peterson murdered his wife and unborn child. What a fun Friday night for my 7 year old! But the CTP really takes the creepy cake. My students get to play detective's. Sounds fun. Find the missing treasure or something. But of course, no. This curriculum seems designed to teach the students English and at the same time introduce them to the real world, well the real world of America, where everyone is constantly doing drugs and killing each other, considering all the serial killers and murderers we discussed were American. So the CTP is not about finding stolen goods, it's about solving a murder.

The students are given information on three people. Heather, Lauren and Julian are all suspected of killing their friend Melanie. Melanie had cocaine in her blood. “Teacher what's...coke-ine?” “Um...it's a drug.” And this is a culture whose money is not covered in cocaine, drugs are highly illegal, and most of these kids won't ever see a joint let alone “coke-ine.” Next up “Teacher, what's anti-depressants?” It appears one of our suspects was on anti-depressants. Great. I'm not really sure what the policy on anti-depressants is here, maybe there as easy to get in the states, but I doubt it. If you break a bone, they give you Tylenol, regular Tylenol. No pain killers, and I bet very few anti-depressants.

So great, I've introduced my students to murder and drugs. The best part was that I got to sit through 3 presentations of the CTP in which they outlined why they think Heather killed Melanie and how she did it, and most of them say the word “Coke-ine” like ten times, including my tiny 7 year old and it's all I can do from rolling on the floor and laughing until I puke. Last night was a good night for me, I've dealt with being afraid of serial killers and murderers, and I slept last night knowing I'd done a decent job for the day. But my bet is that at least one of my students went home, Googled Ted Bundy, and won't sleep for weeks.

Side note: Swine flu is running rampant through all the schools here, something like 5 billion cases of school children. That might be exaggerated, but I've seen the way all the kids take their paper masks off and swing them around, leave them on desks, let other kids touch them, and then put them right back onto their little faces, breathing all those wonderful germs. And it's not just the kids, no one here seems to have any concept of germs and how they are transferred from one human being to another. For example, hacking a huge lugee in the middle of the street – totally acceptable. I'll never forget the time Sara and I were walking to get some food and heard this person behind us hacking, I mean really digging deep, scraping the snot off the brain pan type snorting, and of course the spitting and the eventual thud against the pavement. And I'm thinking, oh, there's like a dying homeless man suffering from emphysema and he's got to get that shit out of his lungs. Meanwhile Sara looks like she's going to vomit. The person's footsteps get closer behind us and we kind of move over to one side expecting this emphysemic homeless man, but no, a little old Korean woman in a tracksuit with a huge perm and an even larger visor. But, that's Korea. Totally acceptable to hack up your lungs on the street, no paper towels in the bathroom, no natural impulse to cover your mouth when you sneeze, incredible paranoia about swine flu.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Caterpillar (pre-cocoon learning)

As usual, Zach has inspired me to write something on our blog. He's right, the purpose of this blog is because we forget so easily and get confused so often. We're both lucky that our lives are so full of excitement that we get one adventure confused with the next. Our current adventure in Korea consists of teaching English at a Hogwan (Korean private school) in Bundang, which is a suburb of Seoul. Zach teaches at Chungdahm (on the 3rd floor) and I teach at Chungdahm April (on the 4th floor). My classes are children from about 6 to 11. They are energetic, but not quite as energetic as I am.

Today I was teaching away, singing and giving my students acting tips when there is a knock at the door. I answer it to find my Korean teaching partner, Ray, standing there looking....


She asks if she can speak to me for a second, and I step outside. “Sara, you're supposed to...” to make a long complicated mistake short, I have been teaching the wrong thing to half of my students for the past two days.


Ray is very patient with me, she walks me through the array of Type A or Type B teaching days, Seed, Sprout, or Sapling. When to teach only speaking, or reading and speaking (but only speaking butterfly). She reminds me that I do not teach writing, but I do the homework check for writing. She also tells me all about the e-learning on the computer, the magic screen, how to grade revision tests, enter them in the computer, update the classes, and grade participation. So I have to get there early tomorrow because all of the lesson planning I did in order to get ahead was based on my own personal level of ignorance. Luckily, the Faculty manager (my boss) doesn't know the curriculum for April very well either, so when he watches me on CCTV (that's right, we have live cameras in our classrooms where our boss watches us and gives us feedback) all he sees is a vibrant, confident teacher who asks leading questions, elicits answers and helps her students.


I'm figuring it out, slowly but surely. On Thursday and Friday I have to record videos of the kids acting projects and upload them so their parents can see them. And I have been warned, when the mothers don't get to see the videos, an uproar ensues.

Be advised, the Korean mothers are watching.

Hopefully, I succeed, record the videos and upload them properly. I still need to get my Alien registration card, a phone, a gym membership and fully function internet. I am confident that I can do these things. It's fall here and the leaves are turning beautiful shades of red, yellow and gold. Now, if only I can figure out how to turn the heat on in the apartment, I'll be all set.

Buying A TV in Korea

Neither of us has posted to the blog in awhile, and we feel bad about that. Not because we think the world needs Twitter like updates of our every move, but more because our own memories of the last year get foggier and murkier every day. We've been so many places and seen so many things that now we can't even remember what country we first ate fried cheese in. That's the real point of this blog I think, for us to remember who and where and when. It's a journal, but open to our friends and family and random internet passer-by.

Anyway, quick update. Sara and I have moved to Korea. We split 10 days in a couple of love motels, which actually turned out to be some of the nicest hotels we've ever stayed in; big tv's, clean accomadation's, quiet hallways and lobbies, decent lighting in the rooms, hardwood floors. All in all, these two love motels, The Hotel Noblesse and the Hotel Major come highly recommended. Still, as nice as they were, we're happy to be in our own place. We've got a decent amount of space, and it helps that our sleeping area is lofted above the kitchen, although the somewhat low ceiling makes it impossible to stand up in our "bedroom." That's fine. We can live with crouching every time we want to get into or out of bed.

We were also excited to see that the previous occupant of our apartment had left us a monster 40" television. One of those big grey, old, boxy behemoths, the bigscreen tv equivalent of the Zach Morris monster cell phone. Great. A big tv. But, we turned it on, and the picture kind of sucked. We tried for a couple of days to watch it, but quickly gave up and decided to buy a new tv. Now, we don't speak any Korean, and this being a Korean speaking country, we knew we might be in for some trouble. Add to that the fact we don't have a car, don't have a phone, don't know our address, weren't sure our American credit cards would even work here in Korea, you've got a recipe for TV buying disaster.

But we wanted that TV. We started by looking on Craigslist, but could only find Televisions much like the one we currently had, old gigantic three hundred pounders. No thanks. So we decided to try to find a store. Last Saturday we went to six places trying to find a TV. No one really even tried to help us, which was fine as we were kind of going through something trying to decide what size and whether or not a plasma or lcd would be best. Plus, you get into the tv showroom, and there's a bunch of 40 and 42 inch televisions that look beautiful and perfect, and they're pretty reasonably priced. But then there's that giant 60" hanging there, dwarfing the 40", ruining the perspective of everything. It's not that much more in money, (ok, it's double), but it's so much bigger and the people look like they could walk right out of the screen and into the showroom and dance around with their weird purple hair and yellow spandex shorts. So Saturday, we went home. We couldn't afford the 60" and the 40's no longer looked adequate. Shamed by their bigger, brighter, better cousin the 60, we were defeated.

But we came home, turned on the old tv and went, oh screw this, tomorrow, new tv. So Sunday, we wake up and head to the LG store, about two blocks from where we live. Again, we don't know our address or how we're going to get our tv home, but we're also kind of stupid and just do what we want regardless of little problems like not speaking the language and not having any idea where the tv should be delivered, if that's even an option. But, while we may be kind of stupid, we're also extremely lucky. The first guy that approached us at the LG store spoke decent enough English. So he kind of points at the TV's and repeats the major capabilities of all the Tv's, 50", 1080p, Plasma, LCD, that kind of thing. There's some kind of wonderful sale happening, complete with a giant dancing clown out front and The Black Eyed Peas blaring from speakers, and most of the tv's are marked down 600,000 won, which is close to 600 dollars. Great for us. We point at a tv and the guy goes and checks the price and tells us it's a display model. We're like great, sold. He's very happy, we're very happy.

Now, delivery. We try to tell the guy we live close, in the building with the Pizza school. He kind of looks at us like, great... this Pizza school reference is sort of the equivalent of telling someone you live near a Starbucks and therefore not very helpful. So we tell the guy we're going to leave, go to the apartment, find the address and come back. Ok, good. He walks us to the door and asks us where we live. We point down the street, you can almost see our apartment from the store. So we're pointing at our apartment, and he starts pointing at his car. "My car, I'll take you." We look at each other, look at the guy, sort of figure he's just a serious salesmen and cross our fingers that he's not some kind of Korean serial killer and get it. So then this guy drives us to our apartment, hops out of the car, gets the address from the security guard, gets back in the car and drives us back to the LG store. Awesome. What a great country.

Good, now we know what TV we want and we know our address. We fill out some paper work, all in Korean, so maybe we signed our organs away to this guy I don't know, and hand over our credit cards. He swipes them once, twice, three times... no go. Thwarted by our foreigness. And us, from the country where easy dirt cheap credit allowing young, barely employed, broke people to buy fancy televisions. Noooooo! So what can we do? Get cash? Sure, but we're confident we have limits on how much we can take out and we want this TV today. So we leave, promising to find a way to get this much cash. Lot's of ways flash through my head. The Koreans are a pretty trusting people and with any half-way decent pick-pocketing skills, you could clean up on the subway or any kind of crowd really. But I like it here and don't want to go to Korean jail, although I bet there would still be Kim-chi. So, while Sara and I are standing around trying to decide whether or not we should rob a bank, the salesmen comes running down the street, waving. "Hey" he communicates. "I got it." Something about a phone call to the credit company, I don't know. What I do know is that we go back in, he makes a phone call, punches our numbers into the phone, and boom, receipts start popping out. TV purchased. So now this guy has driven us to our apartment, chased us down in the street and sold us a 50" plasma, to be delivered on Monday.

We walk out of the store, all high on spending massive amounts of money, and I start to put the receipt in my pocket, and I look and it's all in Korean, and I start to wonder, what if this is all some big scam? What if we just dropped a thousand bucks on nothing? What are we going to do if they don't ever bring our TV? What can we do?

Of course, there's nothing we can do. It's done. The TV will come or the TV won't come. That's it.

Happily, it wasn't some rip off the foreigner scam and on Monday morning the largest, most beautiful tv in the world arrived. The delivery guys even set the whole thing up and changed the menu to English. All included in the price of the TV.
Now, I'm sitting here in my new apartment, watching the NLCS on my new tv and feeling pretty good about this whole Korea thing.