While we were up in Seoul last weekend to get our certificates of residency from the American embassy, we decided to stop in for a service at Yoido Full Gospel Church. Yoido has the largest congregation of any church in the world, with over 850,000 members--it will probably be the first true "Gigachurch." They have around eight services on Sunday (we went to the 3pm one), and have live translation into 8 languages via headsets. For those of you who are interested, here's a look inside the church:
My new semester started out similarly to Marisa's, in that on the first day of school I was picked up by my co-teacher as usual, and was naive enough to think that the day would be without "incident." A few minutes into the drive, however, Mr. Song says, "oh, do you know about new workplace?"
Me: "No." (do I have a new office? I wonder to myself).
Mr. Song: "You are teaching at new school."
Mr. Song then proceeds to explain to me that he had been notified of this school change just a couple hours earlier. "We will see," he says. That day I sit around at Jayang doing nothing, because my co-teacher at my new school (where I am supposed to be Monday through Wednesday now) is too busy to come pick me up. Things get somewhat sorted out by Tuesday though, and I make my way to the new school, a downtown juggernaut of 1000 students, not unlike Marisa's Seoheung... my days of teaching 6 students per class at Napo are gone forever.
My schedule at the new school is haphazard and full to overflowing... they tell me that this schedule is "temporary" though (no surprise there), and that I will be getting my "real" schedule in two weeks... we shall see. In the meantime I've been introducing myself like a broken record to class after class of hollering 1st, 2nd, and 3rd graders (that is 7th, 8th, and 9th graders).
I've been around to some of the classes twice now, but wasn't much prepared for the second encounters, since my "temporary" schedule is actually not a schedule at all, and the classes I end up teaching are rarely the ones shown there; this together with the fact that I have not been given a textbook or any materials, leads to what we in Korea call "flying by the seat of one's pants" (i.e. living). The classes themselves do have textbooks though, and sometimes I improvise from there. In one class the lesson centered around a nature photographer, with the topic being protecting nature. This particular class was what I sometimes call a "dud." Meaning that the students look at you sometimes, but rarely do anything else.
"What is this lesson about?" Nothing.
"Protecting Nature, right?" One student nods.
"Do you like nature?" Nothing.
"Do you want to protect nature?" Nothing.
"Just raise your hand if you like nature/want to protect nature." Nothing.
At this point I go a bit off the deep end, and start wildly drawing a grim Armageddon on the chalkboard: giraffes being blown up with bazookas, bulldozers flattening snowy mountains, and people with flamethrowers torching down forests. This gets the students chuckling. Pretty soon the chalkboard is nothing but smoke and flames, and a bunch of X-ed out giraffes. "Is this what you want to happen to the world?" Nothing.
Which brings me to my haircut: for $10 in Korea you don't get Great Clips--you get fanciness. I get my hair cut at Lotte Mart, because there is no reason to do anything outside of Lotte Mart--actually, it is my theory that nothing exists outside of Lotte Mart. So anyway, when you go in a woman takes your coat; next you get a glass of orange juice, which you can sip as you surf the web with one of the provided computers as you wait. When your wait is up a man with a towering hairdo of craziness invites you to sit down and be "prepared" with multiple aprons and perhaps some spray. A lady brings you The Book so you can pick out a do if you want something fancy. I just point to a man with a buzz. "Short Cut?" they ask. "Yea, short cut." This is not enough confirmation, though, so they (lady and crazy hairdo man together) flip the book and find two or three more men with "short cuts," and verify the idea with me each time. Finally we are ready to begin. I figure that the man will take the clippers, run them over my scalp, and be done with it... this is always how I've gotten buzz cuts before. But no. Instead, Hairdo starts to meticulously cut and trim. Cut and trim. A little bit of clippers now. Now back to the scissors. Now a new pair of scissors. Now cut cut. Now trim trim. And so after 20 minutes I emerge with my finely sculptured buzz. Of course then I get the hair wash and scalp massage treatment that is just part of the regular haircut here. Great Clips is kind of lame.
Which brings me back to my school: Nam Middle School, like almost every other school in Korea, as far as we can tell, has been outfitted over the winter break with a shnazzy new English room; "Welcome to Global Zone" is printed over the door in large letters. The room is large and very well outfitted, with a ginormous touch screen television, large sliding whiteboards, new computers, and clusters of tables arranged in a "we're here to be casual and have fun but also to learn about Global Zone" sort of way. Light is good, and posters around the perimeter sport catchy slogans and photos of English-speaking places, like Australia, Britain... and France. My office is actually in this room, where I sit alone and ponder my life. The provided computer, unlike my 10-year-old one at Jayang, is new and fast, and sports a 22-inch LCD monitor. So while the move from Napo is painful for the most part, my new school is not entirely without its upside.
Which brings me to the conversation class I had with the English teachers (5 of them here, all women) yesterday. We started out by discussing London's Tower Bridge (pictured on one of the posters), and I tried to explain how it was not London bridge, and how London bridge is quite drab looking, and how the previous London Bridge is currently in Arizona. Then they naturally wanted to know why "London Bridge is falling down." I had a quick pop into Wikipedia to verify what I thought I knew... anyway, things progress like this, and eventually we are onto America. Then eating. Then beef, which is thought to be to Americans what Kimchi is to Koreans.
"American's eat hamburgers every day?" asks one of the ladies.
"Not really. And no, not generally for breakfast."
They then go on to explain to me how American beef is diseased. All of it. This is why Korean beef is expensive and American beef is cheap. Koreans tried to get the government to stop importing it a while back with massive protests, but to no avail. Luckily, the Korean people know enough to stay away.
"Hm..." I said. "I don't think all American beef is diseased, actually."
"But you will get sick if you eat it," they insist.
Eventually I figured out that this "disease" they were talking about was Mad Cow. My thought was that perhaps not all American beef was infected, as that would mean most if not all of the US population would have already been eradicated, but this theory did not fly with the Koreans. In all fairness I do remember when nobody in Minnesota would touch beef due to the Mad Cow scare, even though to date only 3 BSE cases have ever been identified in the United States (as opposed to say 183,841 in the UK).
That about sums up my week.
So Domino's is an international chain, right? Well, courtesy of Matthew Fisher you can see what they call "pizza" on his side of Korea (don't forget to look up Coq au vin, if you don't know what it is); of course, perhaps that's what one should expect from a website that's titled "Creative Domino's Pizza" (www.dominos.co.kr). The image is the motto and mission statement of Jeonju National University, which we see on buses all the time; personally, I think Bethel should maybe steal both the motto and mission statement outright.
So I was teaching about modes of transportation in class today at Napo, and we had all kinds of fun. At the end of the class I decided to have a showdown between all the types of transport we'd discussed; we lined all of the modes up in brackets, and for each bracket the students had to vote on their preferred way to get around. It was a basic bracket style tournament, where you'd have, say, walking vs. train, and if trains wins, then it goes on to meet the winner of car vs. rowboat.
Now what you have to realize here is that we had brainstormed up basically every kind of transportation imaginable, from jet ski to hot air balloon to hand glider--so there were a lot of choices, and a number of rounds. Well, needless to say the tournament was tense to the very end, with emotions soaring in all directions, some wild thrashing, a couple of students who had to be physically restrained, and no end of close and unexpected upsets. The long and the short of it is that Canoe--yes, you read that right, Canoe--emerged victorious, soundly defeating the previously unbeatable Jet. I tried for the life of me to understand why Canoe was so popular, but all I really got in the end was that it had something to do with "human power." I'm sure there's a valuable bit of insight into the Korean middle school psyche here, but I'm not sure what it is. Cast your own vote via the poll in the sidebar.
I was busily working away at my desk this afternoon when suddenly I realized the large teacher's room was empty and there was quite a bit of commotion going on outside. So I snuck out and determined it must be a fire drill, Korean style. The drill included, but was not limited to: a fire truck, a podium, red smoke, a boy in a stretcher, a boy in a splint, a fire hose being sprayed in a dramatic fashion, many yelling children (although actually when I think about it, it wasn't many, it was only a class worth, I don't know what this means for the rest of the students who were left in the "burning" building). The drill finished with a speech by the prinicpal and a very long speech from who I can only assume to be the head of the fire department. His was a very long speech. I was saved by the word search I had made for one of my classes. Luckily, it turned out to be very hard.