Wednesday, October 31, 2007
I hope that this isn’t a sign of things to come…
My first Halloween in Korea was very much a low-key one. This past Saturday – you know, the one that falls before Halloween – the ones where everyone parties, does the “Monster Mash” and drinks to excess? Well, for me – a guy getting over a shabby cold – those things just were not options for me. While some of the other teachers headed into Seoul for a cool costume party, I stayed at the apartment under layers of clothes and a blanket – reading, playing Zelda on my DS, and reminiscing about Halloween’s past.
No party for me. Though I did find myself wishing that I had found room in my suitcase for my Jack Skellington costume. It needs to be resurrected and this would have been the prefect place for it. Like most Asian countries, Korea is bonkers for The Nightmare Before Christmas. I missed out on a great opportunity to get sick amounts of candy ☹
So, yeah… my Halloween kind of passed without notice in a lot of ways. I can’t accurately speak to how Koreans handle Halloween in a traditional sense. I get the feeling that they don’t. What I have seen here and have read about here are many westernized versions of Halloween – trick-or-treating and the like. I even saw a large elementary school nearby with a large professionally-printed banner that was promoting a trick-or-treating night. So, who knows? Maybe people do get into it a little bit more than I thought.
There are also, of course, the obligatory bar parties in Itaewon where the majority of foreigners can “get their Halloween on”. Right or wrong, I might have actually gone to Itaewon for the night, just for Halloween – only if I could have been Jack for a time. Sigh… it wasn’t to be.
My Halloweens past have been filled with family and friends and weird as it is, I loved how the street my parents live on was transformed by the simple addition of glowing pumpkins, child-made paper cobwebs, and the odd house that went all-out by creating a graveyard and putting spooky things in the front yard trees. Everything just looked, felt and seemed different that night. I have great memories of Halloween parties – in houses or at bars/pub crawls – dressing-up as Eric Draven and Jack, and loving it when Sandy would do a dead-on version of Dana Scully from the X-Files.
I also loved the few years that my friend Ben, and I got to help our friend Michelle decorate her parents’ place to the nines – a full graveyard, a 9’ tall Grimm Reaper with glowing eyes. It was a good time. If Halloween is only really about fun, and perhaps the fun in being scared, then there’s really nothing wrong with a few decorations, trick-or-treats, scary movies, partying with friends, and gathering around to watch an old-school classic like “Dracula” with your friends while you munch on pumpkin seeds and eat far too much candy - just because it’s there.
This Halloween was a little bit different for me. October 31st was to be the first day of online lesson filming for me. I was to deliver the online lessons in front of a camera for a “Senior 5” level course theme that focuses on “Voices of the Revolution” – a unit devoted to children’s stories about the American Revolution – no, not the one that is currently orchestrated by voting machine fraud, but the one that happened in 1776.
Truth is, the night prior to Halloween, I had one of those nights where I lie awake for hours, grinding my teeth and thinking non-stop about the day ahead – what I need to do, what I need to remember. It didn’t help to know that I would be teaching a story about Paul Revere and I couldn’t sleep for the horse-hoof noises my brain was creating, or for the strains of “Yankee Doodle Dandy” that wouldn’t leave my subconscious.
So, after three hours of sleep, I head off to Bundang – the nearby city where you can find the head office of our school, as well as the online lesson studio where we film. This involves getting on the bus by 8 am at the latest, 30-40 minute bus ride, transfer to the subway for four stops, then about a 20 minute walk to the office. So, about a 90 minute one-way trip. Not entirely a pain in the ass actually – it gives you a chance to relax on the bus, listen to some music or podcasts, and just see a little bit more of Korea as it rushes by your window at 80km/hour.
But on a morning when I was suffering from lack of sleep, and a distinct fear of that I can really only classify as stage fright or performance anxiety, the bus ride was more like torture than anything else. Truth be told, I wouldn’t have been at all disappointed had the bus had a flat tire, causing me to cancel filming for the day. It was a bit of a throw-back really, I hadn’t been that nervous about anything since my first days of University, when I was so shy and terrified of public speaking that I would withdraw from a class that mentioned anything about oral presentations on the syllabus. I was kind of enjoying the remembrance of my young adult fear, when I found myself at the studio and just tried to live in the moment – do my best, and all that jazz.
The lesson was actually okay… I think. I ended-up doing a couple of them on the first day, with more to be filmed in the coming weeks. Basically, online lessons consist of teachers using a “teachers guide” to the story being covered and using the medium to enhance the story lesson by focusing on key study methods, examining finer points of the story, as well as reminding students how to critically look at the text so as to get the most out of the reading. It actually sounds pretty simple and you are given a lot of simplified resources to use, but, as in most things surrounding school, I tend to over-prepare to the point of losing my focus on the big picture. I think the end is result is okay, though I am sure I could do without the excess time I spend studying for the lessons, or the lack of sleep that happens as a result of my misguided, school-centered OCD.
Oh, well… it was nice to have the first day of filming over with. I know now that the future lessons will go smoothly and I will not be as over-prepared as I had been for the first one.
I had been looking forward to the bus ride home, ever since I had gotten on it in the morning. It was a sense of something accomplished, but now I had the rest off the day to look forward to. The rest of my day was to consist of three classes that I hadn’t properly prepared for as a result of my online class preparation. One of these classes was to be an “open class” – a time for the parents of my students to sit-in and see what was going on in the classroom. They would silently observe the class and then there would bee a portion when the kids would bee busied with some other stuff so that I could talk to the parents in the other room and answer any questions they had about their child’s progress or lack thereof.
So, I run into class after getting back into Suwon. Steph graciously takes care of lunch for us both. I run around like mad trying to prepare both my room and my material for the open class, as well as the two classes the open class is book-ended by. And when the “open class” arrives… one parent shows-up. I ask my students why their parents didn’t come and they tell me it’s because they didn’t know about it. I ask my counselor why there was only one parent and she tells me it’s because the parents were sent a text message about it that afternoon. Hmmm…
Instead of feeling completely pissed-off and disappointed, not to mention regretful of having spent so much crazy energy preparing for the open class, when I really didn’t have any energy to spend. I decided to shrug it off. There – look, I’m learning. My last class went well, and like the two before it, we finished-off with some tootsie roll lollipops and a viewing of Disney’s animated chase sequence from “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”. The kids had never seen it before and they were laughing and shivering in all the right spots.
So, despite the lack of sleep, the lack of organization, and the lack of costumes t was a good Halloween, all in all. Earlier in the day, I had forgotten to mention, I came across a parade of cute by the community centre / daycare close to the apartment. It was on my way back from Bundang, and they were having a costume parade with their teachers. Suddenly, I remembered what day it was.
Still, I missed my friends and family and I really missed seeing my nephews as dinosaurs and lions.
I am going to go to extreme measures to make sure that Christmas doesn't come and go in my Korean life without enough fanfare.