Sunday, January 24, 2010


A while back, another online debate question was asked of my students for the English debate. The question was this: "Should students be allowed to have any hairstyle that they want to?"

Korea is a relatively strict place in terms of public school dress codes and such. I heard stories that up until 3 years ago, students at my middle school had no enforced rule for their hairstyle. Apparently, the elderly people that live around our school complained to the school staff that these kooky kids and their crazy-ass hair were contributing to the moral decline of the community. Hence - a new hair rule was developed. It's what you'd expect: keep it short, keep it clean, and if you're a girl, wear bangs and/or a ponytail.

I post the following responses because they were interesting for me to read. I have students who responded with one line, students who wrote complete and complex paragraphs, and students who wrote nothing.

The responses below are at least in part the result of pasting the Korean response into a translator of some kind and seeing what it comes up with. More often than not - it is completely unintelligible. Sometimes, there is a hint of the original intent. Anyway, it's always interesting for me to read these and try to glean some level of meaning from them. This way, teacher and student are both speaking in code, and it feels like the playing field is being leveled a bit. It's actually kind of fun.

Here (unedited) is what some of my students had to say on the subject. See if you can figure out what they really meant to say...

Student #1

"Because the head plentifully there are long students to surroundings. Of course I am not am not long. Bud dyes and the person is and the head route [lu] I think like that because the person who wants being. And the school rule [manh] is long with my thought and is many. Is like that but only the head is freedom."

Student #2

"I approve to hair freedom. The freedom which raises the head because the student being human rights must be is in order to think that. The head grows automatically and the thing we capacity even the necessity which will cut think the money that is not."

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Marriage and Babies

I've been saving this for a while, but there's no time like the present. Last semester, in wake of the World Health Organization's findings that South Korea had the world's lowest birthrate for the second year in a row, our school decided to throw this topic at our middle school students for an online debate: "Should Korean men and women be legally obligated to marry and have children?" - meaning, should there be some sort of enforceable punishment if people don't?

To me, this was worded in a way that didn't allow for the possibility of an incentive program for couples who wish to have more children: government sponsored day cares, tax breaks etc. It seemed to be more about - "Get married - or face the consequences!" Anyway, this was an effective way to get students to think about one of their country's current woes: the fact that the population is aging fast, and there seems to be a genuine fear that the lack of balance between old and young will lead to a situation where the elderly will be in dire need of care, and there won't be enough youth around to give it to them. It's hard to believe when you see all the tots roaming about Seoul, but the stats don't lie.

Here's what my kids think:

Student #1 (People should be legally obligated to have children)

I think it is the obligation to have children. Why? Because to the development of human labor is required. But humans are not capable of the descendants of labor will fall. The society can not develop. Some peopl said "child's education coats is very very expensive, so i don't like born my baby" But, We should know. If you have a baby, If you don't have a baby. Babies. It is very important meaning to us. When you have a problem, Babies can make you feel happy. Now the end It is the obligation to have children.

Student # 2 (People should be legally obligated to have children)
A marriage and having children are necessary. These days, low birth rate is big problem of society. Our future is children, but the children are disappear. Recently, the people want to choice a marriage themselves. So marriage age is older. Accordingly a woman delivered of a child healthy is dangerous. Now I'll tell you about why a marriage and having children are necessary. First all of the animal are make a match.
We are animal too. People must bear descendant so a marriage is necessary. Second a marriage is filial duty to parents. The biggest filial duty is giving grandson and granddaughter to parents. Third, a marriage is good for our health. Research result a single life are die faster than couple. Because couple live with lover, couple are not lonely and when they have hard problem, they are solving the problem using consultation. Accordingly couples mind and body are better than a single life.
Fourth, children is our future. If children don't exist, we are not live and our economy don't develope. So my opinion is a marriage and having children are necessary.

There's nothing like getting married and having children out of filial duty - Jesus...

Student #3 (People should NOT be legally obligated to have children)
marriage is selection
Marriage with does the person who likes doing put on.
The person among whom does not happily.
If last weaning duty, injures a human rights.
So the marriage is selection.

Student #4 (People should NOT be legally obligated to have children)

The marriage is selection. I think marriage isn't legal obligation. I have two cause for my opinion. First, marrige is a relation for love, so if we are marrige, we should love for us. but who want to be single, but obligation for marrige is taking ones freedom. Second, marrige isn't always increase in fertility. we can increase in fertility for marrige, but we have double income no kids. It means ther are marrige, but they have not kids and baby, so it can show "marrige isn't always increase"
So, we shouln't marrige and having children be a legal obligation a a member of a nation. we think about freedom is the most important in nation.

It's always interesting to see which students regurgitate information fed to them, and which ones think for themselves.

The Smell of Hospitals in Winter

It's 2010. Huh...

It's also a Saturday night, and I find myself happy to have turned down a couple of invitations: one for Itaewon, and another for Gangnam - both with good people, but tonight my place is too cozy and I just kind of feel like being here. I forced myself to bed early last night, and didn't force myself up at any time this morning. Lazy day.

I have had some free time - when I'm not unnecessarily forcing myself to be a perfectionist with Winter Camp planning. I've been visiting the hospital in recent weeks, and it has been mostly good. I've been introduced to the world of coded phone-calls from sympathetic voices on the other end, an have developed a new appreciation for powdered soups and innovative ways to enjoy smoothies with someone you love.

I guess all this free time means that I should take a moment to update. It's always tough to know where to begin. I suppose an "update" means telling about things that have happened over the last while, but a lot's happened over the last while, and since I don't write in here enough to catalog or relate events as they happen, you get to read my attempt at summary.

Christmas was good - great actually. I didn't really expect it to be - being that this was my first Christmas away from home without the distraction of Thailand. I got involved in Christmassy stuff, and I filled my place with good people. I felt lucky often. Christmas Eve was all about late night games and food, and going to sleep with an apartment full of giggling friends. We woke-up to Tim Horton's coffee brewing, a huge collective breakfast, and Douglas and his German friends making some authentic mulled-wine which filled the house with a smell that I thought could only be found in extremely strong Christmas potpourris. I was in a room that heard four languages that day. That was cool. Then off to TBS Radio for the Christmas Caroling broadcast, then to Papa Park, then home in the falling snow.

There's been a lot of snow here. A 60-year record fall happened on our first day of English Winter Camp. It was a good start. This time around, I've been working along-side a great new friend. Teaching with someone and having some cross-over with our schools' students has made this experience measurably different from the summer camp that I ran on my own. If anything, it's been refreshing to have someone from "back home" (even though "home" is New York) to talk to in my day-to-day at work. I haven't had that since leaving my hagwon last year. I'm surprised at how much I missed it. The kids have been cool. Gabi and I both have worked hard to make this a worthwhile experience. I have had some genuine laughs with my students and co-teacher, and it feels like the first school-related laughs in a long while. Apparently it was needed. These students can be golden, and it's been good to have a manageable group - students who are interested in communication. It's happened organically - except perhaps for Mario who hasn't yet learned to ask where the washroom is, in English. One week to go.

I've been reading. Not nearly as much as I'd like to, but I've been enjoying it for the first time in a long time. Perhaps "enjoying" is not the best word to use when reading Cormac McCarthy's The Road, but I can say that I'm glad to have read it. Finished it before Christmas - in the midst of the festivities actually, and it was a jarring contrast to say the least. Made me think of my family, made me think of the possibility that everything I take for granted could end cruelly, and made me value what I have - people mostly. I am mid-way through Mark Haddon's brilliant mystery, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time. Fantastic stuff. A once-in-a-lifetime story to encounter and be delighted by. Next up: I might even finish that Harry Potter series so that I can read all the retrospectives I've been shielding myself from.

I've seen a few films. Found a great little art house cinema near the Myeong-dong Catholic Cathedral. They play the small foreign stuff that no other theatre seem to want to touch. Saw Moon - pretty excellent, but I wanted more in some hard to define way. Sherlock Holmes was entertaining as hell, and then I forgot all about it once I left the theatre. The Road was well-acted and harrowing - but pulled some punches and lacked the poetry found in McCarthy's prose. That's hard stuff to capture. Douglas and I had a look at The White Ribbon, Germany's entry into the 2010 Oscars Foreign Film category. You can read my review here if you like. It's dark stuff. I also saw Inglorious Basterds a couple of days ago. Some truly inspired and entertaining stuff. It wasn't all gold, but Tarantino never fails to engross me. I watched it by myself and had there been a camera to capture my reaction, that would have been entertaining too. This film had some of the most intense and tortuous scenes of dialogue building into violence that I've seen in a long time - my stomach is knotting just thinking about it. Avatar IMAX 3D next weekend. It's truly an undertaking to get tickets for that movie here. More on that after I see it.

I'm also going home - in February, for a shorter visit than I would like. I'll be coming by myself - the person whom I wish could accompany me being unable to travel this time around. This will allow for some quality time with the people I need to see, namely, my family, and a few friends. I'm not planning any grand get-together. Rather, I plan on a few coffees and dinners - not to mention a few trips to the theatre with my movie-loving friend. I won't have time to see all the people I will want to see. It's good to know that going in. Basically, if you're reading this, I will see you. That helps to narrow it down. In addition to seeing my family, I'm also looking forward to following-up with my school research. Despite the challenges this year, a teacher is still what I want to be. Funny how a life plan can change by the places you go and the people you meet. I'm looking at doing a one year teaching program at a Western Canadian University before heading back to Korea for what looks like at least a couple of years. Home is where my family is. Korea is where the better part of my heart is. How did that happen? I'm hoping to find a program that will allow me to study from abroad while I'm here - shortening the time needed to stay at school in Canada. I may as well make myself useful in my own schooling terms during those cold or humid Korean nights.

And so - I have re-signed at my school for next year. I know this was the right choice. Bitch as I may about certain things, I know that my situation is a good one. I have changes in mind for things I'd like to do with my classes next year, and I already know that certain work relationships are headed towards a changed for the much better. I'm grateful for this.

I'm also grateful for meeting Papa Park. People - and moments you share with them - usually form my greatest Christmas memories. A couple of years ago, Steph's dad and some of his church buddies invited us to come along with them on Christmas Day to the Tom Baker Cancer Centre at the Foothills Hospital in Calgary. They brought guitars and we sang carols for the patients there. It was one of the most meaningful Christmas Days I've spent. I wish I could be there to do it again.

This year, it was Papa Park. One of my best friends here, has been lucky enough to have a father working here as well. Through a roller-coaster of a December, Papa Park, had a blood vessel burst in his abdomen, two surgeries - both of which he had a 20% chance of surviving, three weeks in a hospital, reconnection with his son, a promise of full recovery, a flight back home to Vancouver to see friends and family, then the worst fortune - a rupture of the repaired artery, and a sudden death. My friend called me with the news the day he found out. I stayed with him. He was unbelievably strong - stronger than I am being as I write this - and he was off home to deal with the death of his father - someone he had bought a golf glove for this Christmas. He was told he would be back on the links by Spring.

My friends and I had the great pleasure of meeting Papa Park on Christmas Day. After the radio station, we went straight to the hospital. Our friend wheeled him out to us and though he was out of breath, and sleepy from the medication, he spoke to us for some time. He held us captive with stories of growing-up, moving to Canada, becoming a father, working odd jobs - a limo driver for Audrey Hepburn, a Tae Kwon Do instructor - everything for his family. Papa Park broke into tears when he saw the friends that his son has surrounded himself with here in Korea. It was hard not to cry with him. It was one of those father and son moments that made me long to be with my own dad - just sitting there and knowing the value of what we have.

I listen to a lot of Christmas music, and I have many favourites, but in recent years, "recent" meaning since the Christmas of 2004, one of the most played for me has been Hawksley Workman's Almost a Full Moon. It's more winter songs than Christmas songs, really. But the best on the album is "Merry Christmas, I Love You", which opens with this lyric: "If God takes you, he leaves a huge foot-print of love and kindness behind which is where you once stood." It's a strange opening for a song of the season, but somehow a perfect one for this season. I met him only twice, and both times were brief, but I'm glad to have met Papa Park, and I will miss him.