Friday, October 5, 2007

A bit of a chin-wag...

Aha! I’m writing… that must mean that it’s Friday night and I am actually here at home with time to type a bit on this here computer. It’s been a long day at school. I don’t exaggerate today. Steph and I were up at 7 to the resounding whak-whak-whak of jack-hammers outside our apartment. Good thing too, because we actually had to be up early today in order to get on a few buses and into a few cabs to get to Bundang – the location of our school’s head office – so that we could meet for the first time about recording online essays.

But what are online essays, you ask? Well, teachers here are chosen to record supplemental material for the company to place online. That way, a student who is studying any given lesson can also log in to the system to watch a teacher explain more aspects of the book. It’s like an extra lesson just to help students out if they didn’t really understand things like why Paul Revere rode through town so fast. Yep – most of the texts here are American textbooks. A lot of them are good for the ESL classroom and a lot of them come with very useful supplementary material for us to use in class, but it’s a bit of a gong-show when you are trying to teach from them for the first time in front of a camera.
Truth be told, I don’t know if Steph or I will be chosen to film the online sessions or not. We visited head office for a bit this morning in order to film a sample lesson in the hopes that they maybe want to use us for the real deal. I hope it works out. It’s extra work, but it’s not all the time. The money will come in handy too and it might even bee enough to finance a trip to Thailand this Christmas if indeed we get to film enough lessons. That’s motivation enough for me. I hear blue ocean water calling my name and I don’t want money to be an issue, so I say bring it on. Besides, after I removed my head from my ass and actually started speaking for the demo this morning, I was really enjoying it.
I think it will be fun, once I get a chance to properly prepare for the material that I will be teaching on camera. I’ll be sure to keep you updated – apologies for the lack of photos from this morning, but I neglected to bring the ol’ camera. Too bad – Bundang is a beautiful area – very clean and new. I’ll take pictures if I ever get back. Fingers-crossed for us both. Stephanie’s demo was brilliant by the way… don’t ever say that four years of acting school never pays off.
So, I realize that it’s been a ridiculously long time between updates and instead of doing the usual play-by-play, here’s a brief re-cap – like a Christmas letter from people that Nick loves very much – when you care enough to send the very best…

School update:

Besides the possibility off online teaching, there is very little that is new in the realm of work, unless you count the fact that I am truly starting to feel at home in the classroom. A few things have contribute to that:
1. My kids have loosened up and they are starting to understand my expectation.
2. I’ve made a couple of kids cry, but it’s for their own good – “There’s no crying in baseball!”
3. I am finally starting to keep on top of essay marking for this new reporting period, in fact, that’s where I was tonight before getting home to write to you.
4. The simple fact that, with time, comes increased confidence and less preparation.
Truth is, I am one of those people what tends to front-load my work. Ie: I need to work my sorry ass off at the beginning before I can let it go at all. Sadly, I’m just not ready to go into class with anything less than one hour of out-of school prep time each day – before I head into school for two more hours of prep time and six hours of class. It’s a little bit of a pisser to feel that I need to do this in my off-time, but I know it will change and if I have to direct my OCD somewhere, it may as well be at work where I will at least get paid – though not for overtime of course ☺

My kids are beginning to warm-up to me more and I think they are understanding what’s going on in my classroom. It’s nice to finally have a sense of repoire with my kids – something that goes beyond a question and answer type of class format. There’s a lot that’s a bit weird here in terms of how school is treated by staff, parents and kids, but I push-on and do my best, hoping that there is at least one kid/parent/staff member who will benefit from the little bit of extra work that I try to throw into a comment on an essay, or the thoughts I share in the classroom. Here’s hoping anyway.

I will relate one odd detail about this school situation though… if you are expecting to be in-the-loop as a teacher here – well, think again. In my five classes I have had four students drop-out. I was assured by my fellow teachers that this is a regular occurrence: schedules get too full, brother’s music lesson collides with the school time table etc. But still, I was somehow thinking that I would maybe know in advance. No such luck, I’m afraid. I usually find out by taking attendance only to have other students tell me that “Harry’s not here because he quit.” Sadly, some of my best and happiest students have been bailing.
What kind of drives me nuts about it all is that when I asked why they left, I was told in the same breath that a) it has nothing to do with me and that they left because of scheduling conflicts, and b) I should work harder to keep students in my class because if I don’t have a high enough retention rate, I will not only lose my retention bonus (I didn’t know I had one coming), but it “just wouldn’t look good.” I wonder if they realize that in order to have retained these students, I would have had to stop-by their houses for a family dinner so that I could have had a friendly chat about freeing up their child’s schedule for my class.

However, I was tempted to say that it might be a better idea to not fill my classes with students on the verge of a nervous breakdown so that maybe my retention rate will improve and I can get that bonus that I so richly and randomly deserve? Yeah, I guess I’ll just let that one go. As another teacher informed me, chances are that next month nobody will drop-out and I will be praised up and down for my exemplary retention skills. I’ll pencil that day in the calendar. This same teacher apparently lost 10 students in one month and then lost none the next month (likely because there were no more to lose) and was asked what she did differently to keep her students. Yep.
All in all though, school’s been good, and it’s getting better. My out off school prep time has been lessening and might even all-but-disappear in the near weeks. It takes a while to build a repertoire though and I think it’s time well-spent. I’m digging my kids and I’m starting to feel responsible for them – good or bad, that’s how it is. I am finally starting to feel comfortable enough with the curriculum and school expectations to feel like I can start to make the lessons my own. That’s important too.

Music Update

Okay, so I haven’t purchased any new music here yet. I’ve been trying to be good about visiting itunes and stay away from new stuff until I get paid. So far, I’ve been good – but it’s not like I’ve really had much of a choice ☺.
I do have to say though that one of the hi-lites of my trip so far has been the concert this past Wednesday night. For those that missed my blog of a few weeks ago, Steph and I were fortunate enough to see a living musical legend in Seoul this past week. Ennio Morricone, the Italian film composer was in town to play two sold-out concerts at Olympic Park and we were lucky enough get tickets.

It was sublime. My sister had been a fan of his music (most specifically for his score to the film “The Mission”) for a number of years, and I wished that she could have been there with us to see and hear the orchestra and choir perform. He brought over 100 members of the Symphony orchestra from Rome and they joined with 100+ choir members from Seoul to perform for an hour and half to a sold-out crowd.
I know that film scores might be a little nerdy sounding – I can accept that. But this music is just beautiful. You can’t deny the power of a single, plaintive instrument standing-in for a single lonely character. It’s what film scores are all about and what Morricone is best at. There were moments in the concert that made my heart stop, made me wish that every one of my friends and family who loves music could have been there with us to see and hear it. I feel it was a once in a lifetime event for me, and I’m so grateful that I had the chance to go.

It shouldn’t be a surprise to know that I’ve been walking around all week with “Gabriel’s Oboe” stuck in my head if it’s not in my ipod. It’s the kind of music that makes you happy and sad to be alive.
I do hope that I get a chance to visit Olympic park again soon. It’s a cool feeling to know that I’m walking around Calgary’s Olympic Sister City. The Summer Olympics have of course always been a bigger draw that the winter ones and the city has a number of facilities throughout its limits that are still very operational and very well taken care of. Olympic park itself is huge and it’s a treat to be able to walk around in well-planned and expansive green space in the middle of a city so large. It felt freeing to me. I want to go back.

Other Things

Well, truth is… I’ve done a lot of things since I last wrote one of these big blogs, so I will do my best to keep the travelogueness of it all to a minimum.
We were very thankful to have five days off in a row a couple of weeks ago. Chuseok (Korean Thanksgiving) happened to fall at the right time for us teachers this year, meaning that we could have a few days off in a row to rest, explore and yes… do some school prep, essay and report card marking. Ahhhhh… holidays!
But we did get enough of the former things done too. It was great to catch-up on some much-needed sleep and to get into the city to see some sites without feeling completely rushed.

We headed into the city a couple of times over the holidays to do things like buy cell-phones and other stuff we couldn’t do without. We headed into Dong Dae Mun market as well with our friends, Roxy and Shannon on the holiday Monday – just to see something we hadn’t seen before.
At first, Dong Dae Mun wasn’t my bag. It’s an area of the city much like Nam Dae Mun and it houses one of the gates of the Old City (The East Gate, or “Gate of Flourishing Benevolence”). The place is also surrounded by markets of the street and flea variety as well as more than enough malls. The place is a little bit run-down which in parts is part of its charm to people like me. There in the middle of the street is Dong Dae Mun stadium – built in 1926 and the site of many cultural and sporting events – not the least historical of which was the gathering of a quarter of a million people to celebrate the end of Japanese rule in Korea in 1945.

What is the stadium now? It’s a flee market of course. The place has all the trappings of any building of its kind that is bordering on complete dilapidation. I had read that it was used for some of the Olympic events in ’88, but time has not been kind to the old building. The covered flea market runs around the inside circle of the stadium and it is a maze. I may or may not have seen a legitimate Arcteryx jacket that a man was offering for 130,000 wan ($130 Canadian) – a jacket that would run for about $600 on Stephen Avenue Mall, but there is really something there for everyone.

It’s just a bit more than odd to be in a place where people are packed into stalls to make a living selling goods that people simply want, but do not need. It might sound a bit too obvious to say that what excited me about the place, also bothered me most – the excess and rampant consumerism. Odd to know that these mostly made in China goods were being snapped-up for a bargain from the street vending tables of a national neighbour. It’s just not something I see in such unapologetic excess at home.

Anyway, back to the stadium. I think I might be a bit haunted by that place. I have always had a fascination with old buildings, old theatres, old theme parks – old places in general. If an old place has been well-maintained, it can be beautiful and awe-inspiring, but it’s just a pretty old place sometimes to me – I think maybe if I want to throw some personification around, I am okay with labeling places like that as happy enough – maybe as places that demand attention, but perhaps have become less unique in their demanding. In the case of Dong Dae Mun stadium, the place struck me like a cricket bat full of nostalgia for something I never had any sense of.

But there is something undeniably grand, almost perfect, beautiful and sad about a building that is a bit disgraced by fading signs of faded glories, and by the goings-on that now literally cheapen things inside the hallowed grounds. After a few minutes of walking around and seeing tour buses parked in the middle of a place that so much recent history has maybe already been forgotten, I just felt for that building, and if it had a heart, I’m pretty sure I heard it breaking just a bit. Old buildings like that are too proud to show too much though. Don’t even get me started on Maple Leaf Gardens, but if you want to get an idea of what I’m going on about, check out the following link…

Anyway, I would like to go back to the place and at least from one sentimental soul to a presumed one warming behind a cracked and fading façade, wish it a Merry Christmas. I think I’ll make sure of it.

The time off also gave us a chance to visit Hwaseong Fortress – a beautiful World Heritage Cultural site right here in our hometown of Suwon. It is a huge fortress (nearly six km in length) that was built in the late 1700s and surrounded the old city of Suwon. Mauch of it has been restored to its former glory as in the case with may such sites in Korea, it had the crap kicked out of it through centuries of Chinese and Japanese occupation.

The Fortess itself is beautiful and is well worth the trip and the time you will spend there. We decided to head around the entire wall which took us through many interesting command posts, look-out towers, and peaceful, reflective areas that I hope I get a chance to visit again. There are really too many pictures to post here, but should you be interested in seeing some more, check out the August 2007 set from my flickr site and you can see them in all of their glory.

The hi-lite for me was making it to the top of Mount Paldal to relax in the shade of a look-out and then ring the bell of filial piety. Trust me, it was cool, and it is always nice to be in such a place and feel so connected to my family through a simple act and a simple thought.
Well, I must be off to bed. Tomorrow, I will let you in on the joy of finding soccer fields in Korea, the warmth of sharing of Starbucks with friends, and the pure bliss of finding a park dedicated to the health and well-being of bare-feet. It’s time for a little shut-eye and hopefully a dream that is interesting enough to blog about.

1 comment:

Nicholas said...

Thanks muchly for the Chistmas letter ........ Christmas must have come early this year?!?!?