Monday, February 11, 2008

Shim Tae Song

"The cancer has been removed". At least that's what the man said. The man being one David Lee - a mac-loving and trust-worthy gentleman who works at one of the only true mac retailers in Seoul. Mac hasn't really caught on here yet. David informs me that Steve Jobs - CEO and black turtleneck-wearing pitch man of MacIntosh - doesn't really support South Korea because the percentage of users here is much lower than in other countries. Strange; South Korea, the most wired country in the world and the proud nation whose economy seems based almost solely on new cell phone technology is not planning getting the iphone for another few years.

Anyway, let me get this nerd stuff out of the way. The point is... when macs go down, they are hard to fix here. It’s like a Ferrari in a land of Hyundais. My mac went down a couple of weeks ago and after a few early morning visits to Myeong-Dong, I was finally able to connect with David and he told me the problem. The additional memory that had been added to my ibook G4 way back when had gone bad and had to be removed. David, whose grandfather had passed-away the previous day, remarked that the memory card was “dead... like (his) grandfather”. Uncomfortable chuckles ensued.

But yes, the cancer was removed and I was able to take my old computer with me, minus a few gigs of storage. My parents will be happy for the hand-me-down when I get back to Canada, I’m sure.

Anyway, it’s good to have a computer again. Steph has been very gracious in lending me her own, but it’s amazing to recognize just how reliant we have become on these things and you really only feel it when it’s not there. So, yeah - apologies to those who were thinking that I’d actually keep-up with the blog on at least a semi-regular basis. Now, my new black macbook has returned. I feel like Sam Seaborn or Toby Ziegler- congratulations to all who get the reference.

I am glad to have a new computer, though I really wasn’t planning on spending the cash right now. It does however help that I got an unusually fat paycheque this month for the intensive work most of the teachers did in January. I can technically afford it, though money I had hoped to send home is instead existing in the form of a pretty little mac. Oh well. Cars and computers aren’t investments in the traditional sense, are they?

These past few months have truly been more than a bit crazy. Hence the lack of writing or posting, replying of any kind. I watch my emails and facebook action pile-up and cross my fingers hoping that people back home will understand that I haven’t really forgotten them, but rather have been scrambling to eat, sleep and prepare enough for what amounts to 13 hour at-work days, plus whatever time some of us put-in at home in preparation for the next day. It’s been a bit of a s%$# show to say the least.

Rather then launch in to an attempted summation of everything I haven’t reported on since Christmas, let me begin with a school update. Why not talk about Thailand? I’ll save that for a lazy weekend day, I think. But being a school night, I’ll talk about the kids.

Intensives is tough. There’s a lot to like about it too, but let’s build to that. The challenges are obvious in a schedule where we get to school at 8:45, run a 3 hour class from 9:00 until 12:00, take a two hour lunch break (which may or may not be filled with essay marking, planning, workshops, meetings, teach another three hour class from 2-5, 10 minute break, then one more three hour class until shortly after 8 PM. Maybe, if you’re lucky, you can mark a few more online essays before heading home to maybe do some laundry, eat something that won’t kill you and mark some book reports, do more prep, and pass-out to do it all again in a few hours. Then there’s the two report cards you need to write for each child in the one month.

But it’s all good. I know - it does sound rather hellish, doesn’t it? Sorry about that. But it’s not all bad. True, you may find yourself facing down the barrel of the gun that is an 8:00 am class full of students whose parents have forced them into this class unaware or uncaring of the fact that their child simply isn’t ready for this level of English instruction. The hardest thing about my job here sometimes is knowing that this culture demands something different from their extra-curricular education, of which my school is a part. This clearly isn’t the right forum for what I really want to say, but I’ll throw you a bone - it’s hard to watch a student struggle, lose face and let any semblance of confidence that he once had simply fall away because his parents thought it was a good idea to put him in the most challenging class possible for his age group. I always thought that succeeding at something within your grasp was the best way for an unsure student to grow. But I’ve been watching more than a few students simply fail - simply because they aren’t ready. It’s too bad - especially when there is another way. At least I finally have a room with a view.

Intensives were freaking exhausting, there’s no doubt. But, it was awfully nice to be able to get to school at a normal school time - that being 8:00 am. It was the leaving at 8 PM that didn’t really appeal to me. It was also nice to kind of get into a bit of a groove with my students. Seeing them every day did make me sick of some of them (and surely them of me), but it also let us develop a pretty fun relationship with each other.

During intensives month, I was very fortunate to have a boy in my class who chose his English name to be “Pig”. He had been very popular with the other teachers he had previously and after a day or two of getting used to his eccentricities, we developed a bit of an understanding. It worked like this - Pig would get a chance to talk in class and Teacher Dave would get a massage from Pig. It was a mutually-beneficial arrangement - a symbiosis, if you will. The kids also got a kick out of finding Teacher Dave's white hairs, telling me that I'm old, and then pulling said white hairs out of my head like a group of grooming primates. It was an interesting month.

Pig actually turned-out to be one of the nicest and smartest kids I have ever worked with. He’s always got a lot to say, so it’s a challenge to have him not manipulate or monopolize the entire class, but it’s so fun to have Pig tell his tales and comment on the readings we do in class. It also helps that Pig seems to genuinely like me teaching him. Apparently, he even has my back: Pig has returned to my class this month and when a new student from a different previous teacher asked me why I was handling some class material in a way she wasn’t used to, Pig stepped-up: “This is Teacher Dave! Don’t you know? Teacher Dave is very good teacher. You watch, you see. Teacher Dave’s way will help you.” Then an encouraging nod to go-on from Pig.

My girlfriend has also suffered the defensive wrath of Pig:

“You are Teacher Stephanie?”
“Yes, Pig - I am.”
“You love Teacher Dave?”
Yes, I do.”
“You are very lucky! Do you know?”
“Yes... very lucky...”

That’ll do, Pig. That’ll do.

Anyway, I’m happy to have the Pig back in my class this month. He puts a smile on my face and he keeps my back limber with his skillful hands.

Perhaps more importantly, Pig also reminds me of the fact that I really love teaching. I don’t love everything about teaching - I’m not a complete glutton for punishment, and I am aware of the fact that my ramblings about teaching hours and work-you-take-home-with-you responsibilities from a few paragraphs ago makes “real” teachers laugh, but I have realized that perhaps aside from theatre, the only pursuit I’ve ever really gained as much from is teaching. That’s a good thing to know.

My students in one of my pre-Christmas classes were asked to write an essay giving me the best Korean name that fit my personality - the one that they thought best fit their teacher. I received all manner of suggestions, but the one that stuck with me and the one that I ultimately chose was “Tae Song”. To Sally in my S3 class, it means “great sun” and she told me that she chose the name because she feels that I teach my students things they need to know and I “shine on my students’ life road.” I’m sure I am really none of those things, and Sally was likely campaigning for an “A”, but I do take some small measure of thankfulness in knowing that one of my students found a very eloquent way of telling me what I needed to hear - that I was at least making sure they’d remember me for something.

Tanya, one of the Korean front counter staff (and my counsellor) liked the name as well and she gave me her Korean family name to finish it off - so that we could be brother and sister. Tanya (Sim Mi San) has since left our school for another job and it was hard to see her go, but I’m proud to be her brother - Shim Tae Song. I like the way it sounds.

In other news, the great Namdaemun gate, the 600 year-old south gate to the city of Seoul burned to the ground last night in what was likely the single selfish act of an arsonist. It is the number one treasure of Korea and it is now a pile of ashes on a scorched pile of brick. People here, especially the older generation, are lost and feel like they've lost something that they can't get back. It was beautiful and I hope that it will be rebuilt with love and pride soon.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

O My Nola!

The long and the short of it is that I have no working computer right now and haven't for quite some time. My ibook G4 was a thoughtful gift that served me well for over three years, but with the warranty having run-out and the best of Mac minds in Korea unable to salvage the remains, it's time that Davey bought a new computer. This Saturday will be the day and by then, I promise a blog or twelve that are certainly long overdue for the people back home who were probably wondering if I was alive over the past month.

I've got stuff to talk about: Christmas in Thailand, people coming and people living, my new Korean name, birthday hi-jynx in Bundang, 13 hour work days in January, and most importantly - the fact that I'll be sitting with a friend in the front row when Harry Connick Jr. and his Big Band roll into Seoul with their O' My Nola tour on March 13th. Lots to write about, but I'll wait until Saturday to try - seeing how it's much easier to do these things when one has a computer.
Until the weekend...