Friday, December 18, 2009
Christmas at School
It really feels like it this year. It has a little, I'm sure, to do with the fact that I pressed some button on my heater and now my apartment is an icicle. A problem shortly remedied when Sung Sook has a look.
I've just been doing a lot of Christmas stuff these days. I kind of made up my mind this year - I'm going to go for it... Christmas, that is. I need to, I think. I'm spending the holiday in Seoul for the first time since moving here in the summer of 2007. Though I've spent significant time in the city during the lead-up to Christmas, I have so far managed to avoid spending the actual day here. As it is for many, Christmas, for me, is a time to be with family. So, while Christmas Eve '07 found me swimming in Loh Dalum Bay on Koh Phi Phi in Thailand, and Christmas Eve '08 found me at home after a successful early December surprise for my family, Christmas Eve '09 will find me here - in the "Soul of Asia."
I'm not going to kid myself and say that there isn't somewhere I would rather be. Christmas is a time for friends and family - family first. I have friends here - some of them very dear - but truth is, this might be the last year that my oldest nephew believes, without impending doubt, in Santa Claus. Knowing that I am missing this Christmas at home, for that reason alone, makes me want to cut out of work early and pay through the nose just to be home at Christmas, suffer through five days of jet-lag, and get back on a plane in time for winter camp at my Seoul public school.
Yet, here I am. There is no need to get all sentimental here, though I'm sure I might sometime before Christmas. Instead, let me tell you about some of the things I have been doing to make this Christmas an enjoyable one for me. Fact is, it's not that hard if you know where to look. Seoul's 80-some-odd % Christian population has taken the Korean franchise of that religion to a healthy and robust place. That means a lot of churches, but also a lot of the commercial aspects of the season. Some people poo-poo it, but it's what I know, and since Christmas for me is more about tradition with friends, family and surrounding experience than it is solely about the assumed birthday of Jesus of Nazareth, I kind of like the twinkly lights. In Seoul there are lots of them. If you dig on the stuff that is immortalized in song through "Silver Bells" and "It's Beginning to Look a lot Like Christmas", then Seoul is not a bad place to spend the holidays.
Anyway, I could go on. Let me start at school, since that's where I left off in my last blog - a lump of coal of a blog if there ever was one. Not to say I didn't mean every word of it, but there is another side. The last two weeks or so have brought that other side into light.
Aside from my open class which was a dubious experience for me, the lesson that it was built upon went over quite well. I decided to use it for my grade 2 lessons that week as well, and it was a blast. The basic premise was to teach the target language: "What do you want most for Christmas?" along with an appropriate answer. I had students considering whether or not Lee Hyori, Korean pop superstar, would appreciate more plastic surgery for Christmas as opposed to soju, or a teddy bear. I had students writing their Christmas wishes on scrap paper, balling them up, and them throwing them at each other (snowball fight!). The found papers were then read aloud using the target language, and the reader had to guess from which table team the wish came. The kids had fun, so did I. Best of all, they spoke English, they learned a little bit about my own Christmas traditions in Canada, and I got to show them my favourite Donald Duck cartoon - Donald's Snowfight, a tradition passed on to me by my friend, Shane. Everything has a link to something in my Christmas past it seems. Starting to get sentimental. Moving on...
For Christmas gifts this year, I decided to make Christmas music CDs for the teachers I've gotten to know well this year. 22 of my favourites - from James Brown, to Jane Siberry. I'm sure that some of the songs will go over well, while others will seem more than strange. It matters not - to me it's more about cultural exchange than pleasing the ear. Mission accomplished, it seems - I've had more than a few people at school say something to the effect of "this is the first year that I've had a Christmas season. Many of the teachers feel that way." It has also been amazing being the delivery guy for the gifts that my parents sent from Canada to some of the teachers that took special care of them during their stay here in October. Mr. Choi was nearly in tears when he saw the gift box for his family, and each teacher who received a gift from my mom and dad was completely lost for words. It was, in many ways, inconceivable that someone would think to send a wrapped Christmas gift to them in Korea. Nice work, mom and dad :)
I guess my room decorating, gift and card-giving, and Christmas themed lesson teaching, has done well. It's cost me little, I like doing it, and even if the odd teacher looks at me curiously as I'm walking down the hall whistling "Jingle Bells", I get the impression that most of the school staff and students are digging on the good spirits and fellowship that Christmas should bring. I don't really take credit for it, but I do think that maybe my December-long enjoyment and promotion of it has in some ways extended the season past the usual one day event that it is in Korea - at least for the students and staff who are open to it. I mentioned above that Seoul decorates the hell out of itself for the holidays, but as far as it goes for most families, Christmas is a time to go to church and then go home. Some have trees, but not many. Some do presents, but not all.
I've just been a right jolly old elf at school for the most part, despite my cold, and it seems to be making me happier too. Next week, leading up to Christmas Eve, I'll be teaching my grade 2 classes about the classic Telus Tune: "I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas", while the 3 classes will be introduced to the Christmas Eve truce of 1914 through an activity based around the 2005 French film: Joyeux Noel. I don't care if it's the last week and kids have already mentally checked-out. Teacher Dave is at the helm which means it's time to learn them some Christmas. Monday will be the after-school English club Christmas party - secret Santa gifts all submitted and wrapped and ready for distribution. I am working until Christmas Eve, but it can't be all bad.