Wednesday, April 29, 2009


I often get caught-up in playing catch-up. While it's true that the weeks have a tendency to fly-by here (the days - not always so much), I do end-up seeing and doing far too many things to comment properly on them on a daily basis. For example, this past weekend was spent Saturday at Everland and Sunday at a brunch in Gangnam before heading to the Lotus Lantern Festival - something we missed-out on last year. There's a lot to talk about and a lot of photos to post.

I guess what I'm saying is that for me - trying to chronicle everything I do and see here would leave me precious little time for sleep. What brought this to my mind today was two things - loading photos from our trip to Cambodia this past November, and a song.

Going back though these photos, I considered many things:

1) Should I load these photos onto facebook so that more of my friends can see them? Most people don't bother to drag themselves through the thousands of photos I post on flickr. I don't blame them. There are photos there that I have whittled down to a third of what I took, and I could easily take that number down to a more palatable amount if pressed. But, loading them to another site would be an exercise in frustration, I'm sure, though it is perhaps a good way to see what I would choose to eliminate should I ever have to force 600 photos into say 60.

2) I remember things so clearly from these images. I guess I don't really need them all, but going through them, flipping through my guidebook to the temples to remind myself of some names, and just spending time trying to remember what it felt like to be there made me realize that the memories are likely going to feel very fresh for a long time. I'm glad of that.

3) I am starting to feel that I need to travel more. Yes, my contract will be coming to an end in just under a year, but already it's difficult for me to consider a reality where I don't travel, or spend significant amounts of time overseas in the future.

I loaded about 60 photos tonight, and will plan on doing so again - a few a night - until they are all up. I do realize that these photos are mostly for me. It's a lot to ask that anyone would be more than mildly interested in seeing that many photos of places they've never been, or have relation to through their own experience. Still, I go through the photos I've taken, add a description, and throw them up on flickr. Have a gander of you care to. There should be new ones almost daily until I've caught-up. Check them out if you wish, and I promise in turn that I will be ruthless in cutting the unnecessary ones.

The other thing that brought about thoughts of travel, well... not just travel, but also family, time passing, and all of that other heady stuff, was a song. I haven't been listening to a lot of new music lately, but I have been going through my itunes library of over 7000 songs and rediscovering some goodies.

One that popped-up today has got to be one of my favourite songs of recent memory. I first heard it, or perhaps really listened to it, for the first time while Stephanie and I were crossing from Koh Samui to Surat Thani in Thailand this past November.

It was raining. We had just said goodbye to Shannon and Andrew - two of our friends from the previous year of teaching in Korea - and we were approaching a very foreign landscape on a boat - things I'm fond of in general.

I'm sure it was a combination of things: our conversation with Shannon and Andrew revolving partly around the randomness of our connection - Andrew from Florida, Shannon from Toronto, Steph and I from Calgary - meeting in Korea and now sharing a porch in Thailand with mosquito coils doing their best to clear the air and four people doing their best to comprehend what goodbye means under such circumstances.

It was also the fact that I had walked-out onto the deck of the ferry - far away form the hum of the rear engines, and the hordes of people hanging below and out of the rain. The front deck, as I remember it, was painted a thick white - perhaps painted-over ten or more times. The air was thick and humid as air in Thailand always is - whether it's raining or not. And the land we were closing in on seemed... I don't know... I want to say "aware", but that's not quite right.

Anyway, the song that played in my headphones as we approached was by Sufjan Stevens. The song that played is called "Decatur, or, round of applause for your step mother", and if you'd like to see a nifty little fan video of it, just click here.

It's redundant to add that the song clearly has nothing to do with Thailand, though it likely has a lot to do with Stevens' own experience. It's about awkward family encounters, regret, anticipation, civil war skeletons rising to thank the memory of a great leader, and somehow inspiring the song writer to pen a jaunty little banjo tune with haunting harmonies that gives a too-late thank you to someone who tried to connect.

Like I said - very little to do with Thailand, but at the time I heard it, it had everything to do with me standing alone on the deck of a ferry as we approached in foul weather a nearly empty dock, to soon board a bus that would take us somewhere else. It's the somewhere else that I'm thinking about when I hear the song tonight, so I thought I'd take a moment to write about the idea - as ill-defined as it is. Whenever I hear this song, this is the moment it brings to mind for me - a moment that can't be summed up but can be approximated with words like: indecision, acceptance, longing, and inevitable. Contradictory as all hell, I know, but that's what it is.

Ultimately, as an update on my update, I've decided that I may never properly blog in a cohesive sense about my time away, or time at home. It really seems like a bit of a chore. What doesn't seem like a chore at all is simply taking the time to think about things past, present and soon to be. It's all related, I suppose.

Monday, April 27, 2009


I couldn't resist taking photos of this grandmother with her two grandsons on the subway this past Sunday morning. Though she had her eyes closed for great lengths of time, she opened them from time to time to check on her boys. Protective - even in sleep.
At their stop, she woke them gently and they in turn gently helped her out of the subway before the doors closed.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Cow's Ear

This past weekend also marked my first hiking trip in Korea. After a very long day and night on Friday, and a great reunion with some old friends in Gangnam on Saturday, I met with Mr. Han and his family for a Sunday morning/afternoon adventure on a nearby mountain.

Mr. Han, if you recall, was a teacher at my current school. I met Mr. Han at the "Gentlemen's Club" meeting a couple of weeks ago where I said I would be happy to join him for a hike. Well, Sunday was the day. I was feeling a bit nervous as I know that Mr. Han was among the more sauced of the men when we went out, so I was actually wondering if he had made the offer in a drunken state only to awaken the next morning thinking: "S%$#! Did I just promise some tall-ass white guy that I'd go hiking with him?"

Well, he did promise and I'm glad he did. I met Mr. Han along with Mrs. Han and their daughter, Sung Hee, who is in Elementary school and is completely charming. We met at Dobongsan station which is 2 subway stops away from me. I can see Dobongsan outside of my apartment window by the elevator every day before heading off to school. The mountain doesn't look insane like some of the ones back home - but it's certainly big enough. Korea is one of the most mountainous countries in the world, and where I am in Seoul situates me between two of the better ranges for hiking.

Hiking in and around Seoul is also a unique cultural experience. Some people here seem to make it their mission to climb on a weekly basis. In that regard, I guess it's similar to paces like Canmore - where you can really just go into your backyard a scale a thousand foot cliff in an afternoon. Of course - Dobongsan is still kind of in Seoul, so you're not going to find a great deal of solitude. What you will find are a lot of people.

I've often wondered where exactly those North Face wearing folk with backpacks and hiking poles were going. These people are everywhere on the subway - high-end outdoor active wear, metal mugs clinking from the carabiners on their backpacks. It's not at all uncommon to find copious amounts of Koreans - young and old - decked out in their most colourful mountain finery on the subway - and now I know where they go when they get off.

Dobongsan station was crazy. With all of the people there, the place looked like Disneyland during Spring Break - just hordes of people making for the exits. The streets leading up to the hill which houses the entrances to Dobongsan National Park are lined with restaurants and shops selling more hiking wear and gear. It looked like Myeong-dong in the mountains, and the streets were absolutely full with people.

That's one thing that you just don't see in Canada - the sheer number of people on the trails. Here, there aren't bears, but if there were, they would never come close. If they did, they wouldn't stand a chance against these people. That was a lot of work for an analogy, but you get the picture. If not, hopefully these pictures do it justice.

If the idea of hiking up a mountain with a parade of people doesn't appeal to you, than Korea may not be your kind of place to hike. That's just the way it is here. The good news is that people stay on the trails because for the most part, they have been very well groomed and are wide enough for people to make their way up safely.

Our route led us to Uiam, which Mr. Han told me translates as "Cow's Ear" due to the shape of the rocky out-cropping. The route was only about 5 km total (there are back), but there were some pretty challenging spots that required handrails and ropes. It didn't kill me, though it's not a climb I would recommend for beginners or people who aren't in at least decent climbing shape.

There was a great view to be had, though the day was somewhat dusty and overcast as compared to how it had been before and after Sunday - you just never know until the sun rises. Still - the trip was worth it. Mr. and Mrs. Han were gracious hosts - carting a picnic lunch up the mountain and Mr. Han even brought some beer (멕주) up with us so we could drink at the top. Apparently, some hikers prefer soju - so I think I got off pretty lucky.

There was a bit of a language barrier, but Mr. and Mrs. Han did their best and their daughter, Sung Hee, played translator often. We both brought out our phone dictionaries constantly which led to classic results: during the picnic lunch which consisted of homemade kimchi, kimbap, and fruit, I thanked Mrs. Han for such a delicious meal and she then turned to her phone dictionary. She showed me her translation for what she meant to say: "A trifle - a pittance." Hilarious.

After hiking down the hill, they took me out for dinner with some of their friends at one of the many restaurants on the hill. I have to say that though the company was great, I had some of the most foul food I've ever eaten in Korea. I was glad to see that some of the food was tofu-based, but then there was this fish...

I asked Sung Hee what kind of fish it was, and her phone dictionary said "Skate - a horntail." It was raw, and to be eaten like galbi (Korean BBQ) wrapped in lettuce leaves with garlic, sauce, and kimchi. When I put it in my mouth, well - I immediately regretted my decision to do so. At this point, Mr. Han brought his own "Skate" sampling to his nose and said, almost gleefully, "bad smell - ammonia!".

Ummm... yeah. Well, I tried not to breathe as I ate. I had a few more pieces since Mr. Han looked pleased that I was trying it. But, man - that is something I will do my best to avoid in the future. I asked my co-teachers about it the next day and they said that nobody except for older Korean men like to eat that kind of fish. I am certainly not in that demographic, so my distaste for it shouldn't be a surprise. It was absolutely foul.

Koreans can eat some things that I can't help but find distasteful. On our way out the park, sweet little Sung Hee wanted a treat, so she marched towards the snack carts where there was ice cream, cotton candy, and the like being sold. But no. "Bondaegi!" she shouted with glee.

Bondaegi is roasted silkworm larvae. I don't know where the tradition began, but it's stayed - long enough to allow cute little Sung Hee to get excited about eating a cup full after a long day's hike. She offered me one and I couldn't say no. I'm not lying when I say that the thing popped like a hot grape in my mouth. Timon and Pumbaa ain't got nothing on me. What can I say - I suppose we all eat some pretty distasteful things - it's just that the foreign stuff clears away any filters we might have. I think it's fair to say that gnawing down on fat and muscle tissue is kind of gross too, but hey, most of us do that. Little silkworm larvae-munching Sung Hee also turned her nose up at the fish during dinner.

To each his own.

The day was great. It's times like these that I really value my decision to work at a public school this year. I know that Korean friends are available everywhere, but working in a Korean Public School just lets me see more, learn more, and be a part of more things "Korean". I'm pretty grateful for that - even if it involves eating a silkworm larvae from time to time. I'll be going back to this mountain and more again soon.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Checking up on the Pig

Got back from my first real Korean hike today, and it was glorious. It capped-off a pretty fine weekend and will, I'm sure, give me just to right level of physical incentive to sleep well tonight. I'll write about that this week, but first, a few words about a Pig.

As you may remember from a few posts ago, one of my former students, 이명범 (Lee Myung Bum) gave me a call a few weeks ago. He was happy to hear from Jenn, a former colleague who is his current teacher, that I was back in Korea. With my permission, Jenn gave him my phone number and we've had a few chats already.

Well, this past Friday I made good on a promise to head out to Suwon on a day when I could make it there on time to visit the little guy, whose English name is Pig - he chose it himself - a story too long to relate it again here. It was also a good chance to catch-up with some other students and some of the staff that remains.

I use the word "remains" because it seems the best one to describe my feelings going back to that school for the first time. While many who worked there have less than flattering things to say about the majority of their experiences there, I can honestly look back at my time there in mostly fond remembrance. It wasn't the perfect place to work, but then again I had had a great deal of training in imperfection before coming to Korea, so the shock didn't register with me as it might have with other people.

In the end, my time with that hagwon was mostly positive. I can honestly say that I did my best to make my own little world there a pleasant and productive one. The rewards were in the form of my own satisfaction and a perhaps a few more kids who remember me fondly - to me, that's the only payment needed.

Well, one of those kids was Pig. Another was Charlie - the marble-mouthed little guy who I had assist me with the Calgary theatre awards last summer. I miss both of them a lot, and my visit meant as much to me as it sure did to them. They were both kind of beside themselves in their own ways: Pig being extra excited to tell me about the story he's currently reading with Jenn's class, and Charlie doing little Charlie dances in his chair when I came to say hello. Pig went so far as to buy me a loaf of bread from Tous Les Jours bakery. I gave him a small bottle of maple syrup in return and I told him to put it on his ice cream. To Charlie, I gave a small package of maple syrup candies and when he held them in his hand, he jumped up and did a big Charlie dance, saying "Oh, thank you, teacher! Thank you so much!" in an exuberant way that only Charlie can.

After that, it was off for some quick food and then to Pavox (our favourite lounge last year) where I spent some more time with some of the new teachers who seem like very good people. We had some serious dart action, a few drinks, and then I got called behind the bar to dance for a welcome back drink. Jin helped me out. All in all, a good visit, then it was back to Roger's who graciously let me crash at his place and made me breakfast the next day - a favour to be returned.

All in all, it was a great start to the weekend. But it was harder going back than I thought it would be. The hagwon is suffering from the slowed economy and as a result, the student (and teacher) population has declined in a big way. When Steph and I began our contracts in August of 2007, there were 13 teachers on staff. Today, there are 8 and I'm pretty sure that not all teachers are working a full set of classes every day. The class size too seemed smaller than what I remember it being. Half of the classrooms are closed with the lights off.

The good news is that the teachers who remain there are caring ones. If it counts for anything, and I like to think that it does, a student's relationship with his or her teacher has greater influence on a child's staying at any given hagwon than any other factor that might drive parents to look elsewhere. I think that this is at least true in most cases. Last year, parents threatened to pull their children out of our hagwon unless their demands of keeping their child in a favourite teacher's class were met. I like to see that as a positive thing.

Of course, and excuse the cliche, but with change being the only constant in the world of teaching English in Korea, I'm not really surprised to see such change at my old school. But places affect me - it's the remnants of people I suppose. There's something left there in those rooms even though they are occupied by fewer, different, or no people these days. I have hope for the students' and teachers' sake that things turn-around quickly - enough to at least allow this current batch of teachers to finish out their contracts with a sense of satisfaction and something for their students to build on.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

English Names

As I mentioned a few posts ago, I am currently teaching over 700 students. It's a tad confusing. To make matters worse, each grade 1 homeroom class is further divided into three levels for ability purposes. Still, I have been working hard at identifying students through seeing them in the hallways, having them remind me, and just doing my best to know them.

How do I do this? Well, to me, the only realistic way to memorize 700 students (some of whom I only see once every two weeks if I'm lucky) is to have them choose English names. The familiarity of the names will go a long way towards me being able to identify my students - a very important thing in the classroom. Students pay attention when they know that you are paying attention too.

Having my Korean students adopt English names for my purposes is an interesting proposition for a few reasons:

1) The oppression factor: Though it is a common thing to do on Korean schools (hagwons or public schools), assigning English names to my kids does feel a bit like colonization. Really, these kids all have their own real names, so what am I doing giving them new ones just because I'm more comfortable with it?

2) Most of my students are unfamiliar with all save for a few English names. They know some basics, but most soccer crazed boys want to go with Rooney or Ronaldo. That's fine with me.

3) Even though the students eventually choose their own names, it's no guarantee that I'll be able to remember them afterward. This is going to be a lot of work.

Through the process however I have received a great many interesting name choices. My co-teacher, Mrs. Lee, found a great file with about 100 English names for boys and 100 for girls - each with a Korean explanation o what the name's meaning is - meaning in names being very important for Koreans in general.

These lists proved to be very useful in getting students to choose names they were interested in and would therefore remember and identify with more. Ideally, it would have also given me 7 Emily's, 7 Lisas, 7 Michaels, and 7 Franks. But no - I ended up with about 25 girls named Emily and some really got creative.

Here's a sampling of the more unique names that some students chose. I explained the sheets, then sent a form around to all of the homeroom captains. Here's some of what I got back:


Handsome Guy
Crazy Plan
Tom Hanks
Spider Pig
And (the student really wants to be called "And" so he can be with his friends)
Johnny Depp

There are also a handful of Franks, Toms, and Dave's - what can I say? I've got a cool name.

For the girls, there are, like I said, a few Emilys and enough Janes. But you will also find:

Benjamin (yes - a girl named Benjamin)
Lucifer (I convinced her to go with Lucy)

Obviously, some of these names won't stand. The whole purpose of having a native speaker at the school is to have the students immersed in an English environment - hence the names. I personally don't have enough of a problem with it, though like I said, I try to be aware of students who might. If someone doesn't want to have an English name, they are more than welcome to stay with their given Korean one in my class. Being that one student wrote "F%$# YOU" in the English name slot on one of the homeroom lists, perhaps it's not 100% accepted after all.

Anyway, like I said, I have varied feelings about it. The great majority of the students enjoyed choosing a name and I'm sure they will enjoy class more when I can address them directly with a name that, considering the circumstances, has just been made a lot more accessible to me. Here's hoping. And here's to Tom, And, and Jerry.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009


...of the social variety, while you're living and working here in Korea, can be pretty odd at the best of times.

Nowhere is this more apparent than at my school. Based on the language barrier, I'm left fairly confident that the entire staff is enamoured with me - at least as much as they are with every Native English Teacher that comes here.

It's not an exaggeration. People are just generally jazzed about the presence of a foreign teacher who's willing to come to work on time and not be drunk, face-down on his desk. So far, so good.

People like to make very good first impressions here, which is perhaps why the younger women on the staff have been stand-offish. You see, Mrs. Lee, on my first day of observation, took the school staff yearbook and showed me the teachers who were still at the school this semester. For the majority of younger-looking female teachers, Mrs. Lee pointed at them and said what sounded like "singer". It was only after that I realized she meant "single." Oh, Mrs. Lee.

But she of course doesn't stop there, so most of the introductions to the younger women on staff involved Mrs. Lee bringing them into the room to meet me, Mrs. Lee uttering something in Korean while gesturing at me, then the young ladies covering their mouths, turning red and escaping from the room as quickly as humanly possible.

I remember last year when I taught at the hagwon and I was at first a bit taken-aback at how there was such a clearly self-imposed gender division among the students - boys sitting on one side of the room and girls on the other.

Well, the same thing happens with the teachers - at least at my school. At lunch time, the women choose to sit together and the men sit on their own - for the most part, this is true. A few times, I have tried to shake it up a bit and sit with the men, but afterward, Mrs. Lee would sometimes ask me why I didn't sit with my "colleagues".

It's really not that I mind. I did after-all work for seven years at the Calgary Public Library and last time I checked, the employee population there was something like 90% female. I got used to it. It was actually kind of nice to have an army of females to befriend, and learn from.

Here, I am pretty much surrounded by women too. In our office of 10, there are 8 women, myself, and one man who's due to retire next semester. He doesn't smile at me a great deal, and rarely has anything to say to the ladies. My opinion? He's probably pretty bitter about spending his twilight working years in an office full of women and a foreign dude who doesn't speak the language. Hmmm...

The thing is, through various reasons, until last Thursday I was pretty much left alone by the men at the school - save for the odd smile and wave as I approach the school in the morning, or as we cross paths in the hallway. At lunch a few times, Mrs. Lee would be approached by one of the male teachers, and she would return to me saying something like: "Mr. Chung wants to know if you like Korea." I would then look at Mr. Chung to see him smiling at his table. It was like getting a note passed to me in homeroom. A couple of times, I have even received an instant message on my work computer from male teachers who have said things like: "Hello, Dave teacher. Me and friends talk about you at lunch and we think you are very handsome and good. I hope you like our school."

As a side note, It's really not uncommon to be called "handsome" in Korea. For the most part, they are excited about our differences. Brendan, a blonde Brit that I taught with last year, after receiving weeks of screaming and unsolicited adulation from male and female students alike had this self deprecating to say about the situation: "I think they'd fancy a horse if it had blonde hair." He's not far off.

This past Thursday though, I was officially invited out with what I will from now on refer to as "The Gentleman's Club". There are less than 20 male teachers on our staff from what I can tell and as their numbers are a lot more manageable. This allows them to behave like the Royal Order of Water Buffalo - heading out once a month to eat and drink to excess with their male colleague counterparts. The Grand Poobah speaks to his people in encouraging tones.

It was my turn this past Thursday, and I had a really good time. It was the end of a fairly punishing day with few breaks, and I was really at a point with fatigue where I was about ready to say no to the evening. You can't really do that though - especially not on the first invite. We went for dinner at a traditional Korean restaurant close to the school where we drank excessive amounts of makoli (unfiltered rice wine) and I made a date for hiking with Mr. Han who is now teaching at another school.

From there it was off to a hoff (beer and food place) to imbibe some more alcohol, then those of us who remained stumbled into a bowling alley where I watched as Mr. Choi, one of the school's Physical Education teachers, bowled a near perfect game. And I do mean near perfect. He ended-up with all strikes save for two frames which he spared. I'm not kidding - the man was makolied out of his mind, but he was also coherent enough to bowl nearly a perfect game, and to walk on his hands down the street - hailing a cab for us with his feet on the way home.

In the end, I had a lot to drink on a Thursday night, ate stuff I didn't really want to, but chose to because of where I was and who I was there with. But ultimately I'm very glad that I went. I don't know how I remained one of the last 6 standing - what with the fact that I had no real lunch that day, and was needing sleep like I have rarely needed it before. But, I managed. They all seemed genuinely excited and pleased to have me there, and I went in with an open mind - however much it may have wanted to shut itself down for sleep.

It was all in all a good night - mostly of fun, but also of getting some insight into the minds of my male co-teachers. Mr. Lee - the youngest (and married) male teacher in the school shared how important the male club is to him and the others. For him, it is a way to feel as though they have "more power..."

Wait - hold-up, you say? Korea is the 1950's with technology, right? Well, yes, but here at Sindobong Middle School, and apparently in the whole Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education, there has been a shift underway. Mr. Lee (who is adored by all staff) and who carries himself very gently and with great courtesy, expressed that he was worried about the fact that women teachers are now all getting paid the same wage as the men...


Yes, Mr. Lee, it's true. He was so sincere in his concern that I couldn't possibly laugh at or even contradict him. I just listened. I did ask though why he was concerned about it since it did seem fair. His response was that the male teachers have "greater responsibility." Hmmm... he must not have met the women in my room.

The day after, when I was walking to school, I ran into Kim Kee Yun teacher - one of my favourite co-teachers. She asked how my night with the men was, and though I didn't divulge any secrets so as not to have my water buffalo hat taken away, she expressed that the teachers must have surprised me with their behaviour - the drinking and all.

"Not at all'" I informed her. She then mentioned that she wished the women could manage their own club after school as well, but with their much higher numbers, it becomes more of a challenge to find a day that works for everyone. I commented on how I was a bit surprised that the great majority of teachers at our school are women. Mrs. Kim then told me that the numbers have shifted a great deal since new requirements were instituted for University teaching programs. Unlike the way it apparently was before, women and men teachers are now required to write the same graduation exam for their teaching subject. As a result, the male teaching population is declining a great deal. You do the math. Perhaps the best way to regain "power" in the workplace is to not rest on your father's laurels. Put that in your makoli cup and drink it!

Anyway, it was all very interesting. They are all good people, even if the men seem to get defensive about things from time to time. Yes, our principal is a man - a kind one, but our Vice Principal is a women and she's the real deal - certainly the de facto leader of the school and the one I would least like to cross. It's funny, the men and women here escape stereotypes at the same time that they're filling them. Mr. Choi - the bowling god and Jackie Chan look-alike invited me to his family's home for dinner next month. He also invite me to see the "flower room" he set-up in the school. He loves flowers, he told me.

Perhaps the most charming part of the evening was having the school's two custodians out with us for all of the festivities. They were introduced to me as being "variety men" - an apt term as that's exactly what they're doing - all of the odd labour jobs - from gardening on the rooftops to moving and installing new furniture in the classrooms. The variety men also had new names bestowed on them that night "MacGyver", or more accurately, "JunGyver and YunGyver" - a cross-breeding of names. Apparently the show was a hit here, and being that they ARE variety men, the shoe fits nicely. When I told them that MacGyver was Canadian, they were very excited indeed, and in their excitement, I was proud of my association to Richard Dean Anderson for the first time in my life.

These are gentlemen. Though he nearly broke my hand with his "power shot" in soccer on Friday, the women around the school speak of Mr. Choi - the P.E. teacher as being the most gentle person - almost in revered and hushed tones. There are divides here, but I look at them more sometimes as needing to find common ground as things are changing. There's a lot of ugliness here too - when it comes to gender roles awkwardly asserting themselves through Confucian ideals in the modern workplace. But here at my school where the boys are grossly outnumbered - they seem forced to be gentlemen. It's working, and it's kind of nice.

Monday, April 13, 2009


Frustration - thy name is "After School Student Conversation". That is all.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Happy Easter

I didn't have any chocolate bunnies this year, but I did have a great day with some friends. Hadn't seen Roger since leaving last year and it was great to catch-up with him again. After the game, we headed back to Jenn and Chris' place - our old apartment for a pot-luck. It's was great to see people (some of whom I met under more difficult circumstances last year) and start at square one. I really enjoyed their company and was grateful for the time together with good food and lots of laughs.
Trips into Suwon are 4 hours of travel from my new place when it's all said and done. So far though, it's been worth it. I'm going to do my best to make it out to as many soccer games as possible while I'm here. For 10,000 Korean won ($9.00 can), you really can't go wrong. Thanks for a great afternoon and evening, guys.

Starting a List

It's been a very relaxing weekend so far. I'm sitting in a PC bang in Yeongtong - four floors down from my old school, waiting to make my way to a pot luck dinner this evening.

Yesterday was just what I needed. I had it pretty much all to myself. I turned away three offers to go out and though it would have been nice to see some other folk after a tiring week, I needed some Davey time more. Being here this year, I have discovered that I absolutely need some downtime on the weekends. One entire day is usually required if I'm to get ready for a week of teaching and no sleeping-in.

Yesterday, my plans fell-through, which turned out to be a blessing in disguise. It allowed me to have two skype conversations that I desperately needed to have. It's not my usual preference to spend four hours on the "phone" - especially on a day as nice as saturday was, but I'm glad that I did. After that, it was a walk from my place to Nowon - to discover that you don't need to dive into the centre of Seoul to enjoy the cherry blossoms at this time of year.

I also decided to bite the bullet and plan properly for my classes this week. There's a speaking test coming-up next week, so this coming week is all about review. I figured I'd better make it fun, so I screwed-around with powerpoint again - trying to make some kind of game for both my grade 1 and my grade 3 classes. I can feel better about going in to work tomorrow - knowing that I'm ready as opposed to being mildly panicked about Monday morning as I have been so far.

Today, took the train and bus into Suwon to meet some old and new friends again. Another Blue Wings game - this time with a victory - so much more enjoyable than a loss. It got me thinking that going to a game would be a great thing to do with my parents when they get here. The atmosphere is amazing, and I'm sure they'd get a kick out of all of the chants and flags.

In fact, the soccer game has inspired me to begin to compose a list: things to do in October when my parents come to stay. Yup - I have finally figured out that I can get a little bit of time off in the fall for a parental visit. It's something I've been looking forward to for a long time and I'm excited to know that it is now a real possibility. I think I'm going to put a Suwon Blue Wings game on the list. That, and a trip on the T-Express with my dad. My mom informs me that she might pee her pants if she were to go on it with us. I tend to believe her.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Gentlemen's club

I was invited out by the male teachers tonight - after a day that I feel fortunate to have survived. More to come on that soon. But briefly - what I thought, based on Mr. Choi's description, might have been "jellied squirrel" at dinner, was actually only jellied acorn. "Good for man's power," says Mr. Choi. Okay.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

A hard day

Long day today, and I'm to tired to attempt any level of eloquence about it. Just a lot of transitioning at school these days and a general rush to get things done yesterday. I know... it sounds like "Korean style", and it is, but today it just got me down.

I had one of the worst single lessons that I can remember teaching since coming to Korea. The really shabby thing is that it was a lesson that I had been using with great success all week. It's simple stuff, really - showcasing the difference between:

1) What does he like doing? ie: "He likes playing soccer."
2) What is he like? ie: "He is short and fast."

Just from this, you can get a pretty good idea of what level of English I am teaching this year.

This was for my grade 7 classes. With the advanced level students, the class ended-up having a lot of fun. I used a basic powerpoint slide show to reinforce the basic sentences (as outlined above), then we divided into teams and had a team contest, showing various celebrities through powerpoint, engaged in some sort of activity. Teams would then

1) Tell me what he or she was doing.
2) Use the Apples to Apples adjective cards to describe what he or she is like.

Sounds pretty basic, but for my kids, it was right on the money and the kids had a lot of fun describing my choice of celebrity (from current Korean president, Lee Myunk-Bak, to Bart Simpson).

Today just went to S#*@, and fast. I could go on about this class, but I don't have the energy. It just brought me down. I felt like I was teaching a room full of greasers and pink-ladies. I half-expected to hear the sound of bubblegum snapping throughout the class. One girl was actually putting pink rollers in her hair, using a hand-mirror so as to be sure that she got it right.

The thing is, this class didn't learn the lesson, they didn't listen to each other or me, and we didn't have time for the fun part of the activity. With 5 minutes left in a 45 minutes class, knowing that I didn't have time for a game that requires 20 minutes in the best of circumstances, I just told the class to close their books and that class was over. Finally, they knew it was serious and apologized to me after class.

The worst part is, I don't have this class next week due to a school scheduling conflict. The week following is their speaking test - one third of which will involve the lesson that they paid no attention to. Next week was to be review, and now that time slot is lost. I'm going to have to schedule time somewhere else for me to ensure that this group of students is ready for the speaking test in two weeks time.

I'm counting it as a positive that I still get disappointed in lack of caring from students. I know I'm on the right track when I have a truly successful class, but then the rug gets pulled-out when another group just couldn't care less about being there. I know that encouraging them to care is my job, I just wish that the hill wasn't already so high to climb.

On a good note, the blossoms that were sadly missing form our Yeuido excursion this past weekend are out in full bloom on the trees surrounding my school. I popped my head out of the window a few times, and it was good to see the flowers today. A favourite student gave me one to press in my book. It went a surprisingly long way towards turning the day around for me.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009


One of my students decided today that his English name would be "Lancelot"
... oh no, he di'n't!

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Conor meets Mukmuk

(For anyone unfamiliar with Mukmuk, please press here, watch, learn, then proceed)

Today, the inevitable happened. Conor met Mukmuk. There are two, you see... one for me, and one to keep Conor company. Here's how it went down...

Took a long-ass train ride to Sanbon on a Sunday afternoon where I met my friends for an afternoon and evening of good food, good people, and some marmot action. When Mukmuk made his first appearance, Conor was a bit skeptical...

We headed-out for a walk to sooth Conor's nerves as initial Mukmuk encounters can tend to be a bit traumatic for the young.

As you can see from the photo above, the shock of Mukmuk was so severe that Conor lost consciousness for a moment. His parents however were confident that things should go ahead as planned.

So, we headed to our favourite tofu restaurant and put Conor into his stroller. Mukmuk tried to give him a hug, but Conor shut him out...

Upon our return to the homestead, Conor decided he would try to hug Mukmuk, but first - he needed a little bit of liquid courage...

Conor was getting giddy...

But once again, he froze when the moment of truth arrived...

We were getting concerned that even apple juice wouldn't assuage young Conor's trepidation. That's when dad came-along to bridge the gap between marmot and mankind. Mukmuk and Conor, friends at last...