Read From the Beginning

Posted by Marisa
Marisa's picture

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.

Posted by Jordan
Jordan's picture

So for the last couple of days Marisa and I have been explaining the American election system to Korean middle schoolers. Earlier today I spent a full class period explicating democracy, election, the military, the draft, our two-party system, types of government, and more. The students (all 6 of them--this is one of my smaller Napo classes) were actually riveted, and came up with fine examples of monarchies, dictatorships, and democratic governments. We started out by watching and analyzing the first few minutes of Obama's acceptance speech on YouTube, and proceeded on from there.

I've held mock elections in most of my classes, and all except two of my students preferred Obama to McCain (though all could identify both candidates by name and picture). They all wanted to know whom I had voted for, but I made sure to make them state their own opinions before giving mine (students here tend to be none too subtle about brown-nosing their teachers--when I ask their favorite subject they all without fail tell me it's English. Right...).

Anyway, last night Marisa and I decided we should have an election party, and do American things, such as have a hamburger and declare that we have the right to do things. Of course, the only place in town that serves hamburgers is Lotteria, the Korean fast-food chain.



Marisa Adds:

The consensus was pretty much the same when I took the vote in my class.  Although, a few girls wanted to know who was the more handsome candidate and voted for him (but since I told them that Obama was more handsome, McCain gained no votes).  

As for our election party,  I have to say that American fast food definetly kicks butt.  I didn't even know it was possible for me to dislike fast food, but I have to say that if Lotteria is our only option for a hamburger, I will more likely be giving it up than partaking of the Korean version again.  Although I would have to say that Korean nationalism is probably stronger than American because I would definietly not choose to eat at Lotteria just because it's Korean when it's clearly inferior to the American version.  (Korea used to have McDonald's, but went through an anti-American phase when everyone refused to eat there.  So now we have Lotteria)

Posted by Marisa
Marisa's picture

I was a little nervous the first time we spotted these giant crabs on the street. I was even more nervous when I noticed them in the school soup pot.

Aliens At Last!

06 Nov 2008
Posted by Jordan
Jordan's picture

At long last we have attained our alien registration cards. First we needed our medical checkup results (a full medical checkup including blood tests, x-rays, dental check, vision and hearing tests, etc. costs less than $50 by the way); we had our checkups the day we arrived (Friday, Oct. 24), and it took them about a week to get our results back to us; it then took another week to actually get our alien cards processed. Without an alien card you get no bank account, no phone, and no internet; with an alien card, you receive all these things and more. Needless to say, we are very happy to have ours.

In case you're interested, mobile phones are incredibly expensive here for foreigners (I was told the cheapest one I could get was $400); fortunately I was able to get in on one of those cousin-brother's-uncle deals thanks to my co-teacher (who set us up as Koreans), and so I got ours for $50. Once you have the phones, the plans are more reasonable than in the US: we get 200 minutes a month for $10. Also, internet service is faster and cheaper here: our modem/router and install were "free," and we pay about $30 a month for the service. The bank book is, well, a bank book; we also got a check card with that--woohoo!

Alien Cards

Raw Fish and Wine

07 Nov 2008
Posted by Jordan
Jordan's picture

Yesterday one of the teachers brought to school a very special kind of fresh raw fish; this called, of course for a break in the schedule, and a bit of celebration. All of the school faculty gathered in the dining room, some hot sauce was prepared for dipping, and some Korean wine (quite sweet) and Soju (think watered down vodka) were brought out. 10:00 AM seemed a bit early for the alcohol, but then I discovered that this fish, if served in a restaurant, would run around $500. So it was a special occasion. When I said that I liked the fish the school principal was about ready to adopt me. I didn't actually have my camera with me, so the photos are courtesy of Wikipedia.


Posted by Marisa
Marisa's picture

So I have one full week as en English teacher under my belt, well almost, anyway, it's just Friday morning. I have a few classes left to do. But one week done, many more left, and I think all in all, I am an okay teacher. I succeeded in getting a class to play charades yesterday (although I couldn't convince any of the boys to act out ballerina, middle schoolers are the same everywhere I guess). I also tried to become everyone's favorite teacher by playing hangman in one class because I had been assured by both Matthew, Jordan and the internet that all Koreans love to play hangman more than breathing. So I was extremely disappointed when the class just sat there and stared at me. They proceeded to sit and stare at me through the whole class, never showing an ounce of excitment, not for hangman and not for the word find I made for them. Needless to say that class has been demoted to my least favorite and I will not plan fun things for them anymore, since they like fun things about as much as they like being poked with a stick.

My other classes are much more enjoyable. I had some lessons this week about Halloween, a carry over from last week, so I played some clips from Charlie Brown Halloween. And while I always thought it was too sad to be funny, all the students laughed loudly when Charlie Brown received rock after rock while trick or treating. I also showed a "dubious" clip of an old Frankenstein movie. Ms Park was making dubious faces while I showed it, perhaps she thought it too scary for the students. But Halloween is Halloween, after all, and what is the holiday without a good horror movie?

Now I've moved onto explaining natural disasters, which is not nearly as much fun as Halloween, or My Hopes and Dreams. Although I'm looking forward to Internet Shopping in one of the text books.

I've also been enjoying my conversation classes this week, but as I have one still this afternoon, I'll wait a bit before I post on that.

The only real downfall to school is my computer, which is really too old to be functional. I spend about half the day waiting around for it to catch up. (That last sentence took about two minutes to appear). So soon I will likely have a break down and throw the computer out the window. Or else, I will be like Jordan and bring my Eee PC** to school and hack onto the network.

I am, of course, looking forward to the weekend, which is full of promise. It may include Korean Barbecue, a trip to Seoul, huge walking extravaganza, and/or a shocking new hair cut for me. You'll just have to check back and see what happens.

Marisa and her Eee

*One of my students wanted to know the word for a person who studies insects.  I had to look it up.

**The Eee PC is my new laptop, likely to be referred to as the Eee or My Mini. Eee stands for Easy, Excellent and Exciting, what more could you want in a computer. Except perhaps to know that it is Rock Solid -- Heart Touching, which is the company's motto.

Posted by Jordan
Jordan's picture

Fall Festival

I don't even know where to start describing my day of craziness. Okay, so yesterday I learn that Napo Middle School is having a festival today (Friday), and so there won't be any classes... so if I want I can stay at home. Stay home? Heck, here's a chance for me to experience the culture and demonstrate my school spirit at the same time. "No way!" I say. "I'm coming!" I don't know if it was a test, but I think I earned major points for not staying home. The festival basically went all day, and was a Spectacular Spectacular in its own right, considering there are only thirty-two students at this school--I think all but five of them are in one of the school's three bands. We had lunch, pizza break, plays, singing, elimination quiz games and more: Mr. Sam said that had they been a bigger school they would have rented out a venue.

I think I used up all of my good luck for the year, because I was the last one standing in the elimination quiz game. And they had invited me to play as a joke. Because all the questions were in Korean, and I couldn't understand a word. I roughly calculated my odds of winning afterward to be about 1 in 1000 - 10,000. I'm not kidding. Anyway, I'll stop talking now; here's the highlight reel (sadly my battery ran out towards the end and I didn't capture the best show of the day: the school's most talented and flamboyant band):


So after the festival the school faculty invites me to join them for some Hosik: "food together," in the Korean tradition. The experience was simply amazing: all the food I've had here has been good, but the duck feast that we had at this traditional Korean restaurant blew everything else away.

Okay, first of all, traditional Korean restaurants work like this: every group of diners has their own individual room in the restaurant off of a main hall, with a sliding door; you leave your shoes at the sliding door (as you always do when entering any place of dining or habitation in Korea), and then proceed to sit cross-legged on a small cushion at a very low table. The way the food works is you've got many small dishes all around the table filled with things like garlic, fresh jalapenos, green onions, sprouts, hot sauce, soybean sauce, etc. The servers then bring in huge platters of duck, prepared in an incredibly delicious hot sauce with onions, mushrooms, and other vegetables. You put these platters over burners at the table, and cook them there while you snack on peanuts and talk.Once the duck cooks you proceed to take bits of it with your chopsticks and put them in a lettuce leaf with any combination of sides you desire: usually at least a huge chunk of garlic (they cut the cloves in half and expect you to eat them that way) and some jalapeno; roll up the lettuce leaf and pop it in your mouth: it's to die for. After the duck is finished, they bring rice out and mix it with what's left of the sauce from the duck, and you then eat that (also incredibly good).

I'm sick that my camera battery died, because I really can't do the meal justice with my description. The picture below is the closest thing I was able to find on the internet; it gives you some idea of how things work, but the dishes are a bit different, the table is much smaller (we were eating with 20 people at one long table), and you've got to imagine the huge cooking duck platters for yourself.

You also drink Soju during all of this (watered down vodka, remember?), and if you really like someone you give them your Soju glass to drink from (kind of like the peace pipe or something). Anyway, after I had proven once again that I really could eat ever spicy thing in Korea (they tested me incrementally throughout the meal), the top man at the table--the Napo principal--gave me his glass, so I figure I'm in... or something.

Karaoke Extreme

Hm... so I think this is the second time in one week of being in Korea that I've said "Karaoke Extreme." Well, you don't know Karaoke until you go with your boss and all your colleagues to a Korean "Singing Room." The Koreans like to sing. I mean, they really like to sing. Once again I am thoroughly bummed that I didn't have my camera; picture the scene below, but with 15 people in business suits (and they do this all the time). I have to say, though, singing "Dancing Queen" with all my coworkers dancing and clapping around me gave me a bigger high than I expected--I passed my final test of the day with flying colors.

First Trip To Seoul

11 Nov 2008
Posted by Jordan
Jordan's picture

This last Saturday we took a bus up to Seoul (about a three hour ride) to see Matthew,* and do a little electronics shopping (we weren't actually in the market for anything ourselves, but we thought we'd go ahead and tag along). Seoul is massive, teaming, and spreads over everything; about half of South Korea's 49-million inhabitants call Seoul their home, making it the second most populated metropolitan area in the world behind Tokyo (and equal to Tokyo in density--my previous home of Cairo, I'm pleased to say, is the most densely populated of the world's largest city areas).

The area of Seoul we visited, called Yongsan, is very famous for having... well, everything in the world there is to buy. To my understanding it is in fact the largest electronics market on planet earth (and sells everything else as well). About half way through the shopping we decided to ditch the rest of the party (American friends of Matthew's from his province of Chungbuk) and see Quantum of Solace with Matthew at a fancy cinema to celebrate the fact that the movie came to Korea before the US (which still won't see it for a couple more days).We then almost missed our bus back to Gunsan despite having over an hour to make it to the station.

In short we had a fun time, and learned how to navigate the city: on our next trip we plan to see more of the actual sites, and do some shopping for ourselves (we did buy an incredibly cool splattering pig, though, which you can check out in the video).

*Matthew, if you don't know, is my former college roommate of four years, and very good friend, who got us into this whole wonderful mess: he discovered Korea's need for English teachers first, and we proceeded to follow him over here (and are very glad we did). I would direct you to his blog, but he has stubornly taken it down for the moment.

Marisa Says: I am pleased to note that it doesn't get any denser than Hong Kong. Also it is the best James Bond movie I've ever seen (and I'm not just saying that because the story focuses on Bolivia).


Posted by Marisa
Marisa's picture

So, now that I've successfully completed all of my conversation classes at least once, I figured I could write a little bit about it. In total I have four conversation classes, one for first year, one for second year, one for teachers who don't teach English, and one for teachers who do. The first one I had, of course, was the one with the first years. Not having any clue what was going to happen, I just went to the class (last period on Monday) prepared for anything (in actuality I was prepared for nothing, but sometimes this is the same thing). There were about 15 students aged 14 (although I believe this means they are actually 13, apparently you are a year older in Korea, which means I am 24 turning 25, a fact I don't find enjoyable). So pretty much that first class consisted of us all looking at each other and the students giggling. I did manage to have some sort of conversation for 30 minutes, that's how I know how old they are. I tried in vain to learn their names. Once I mispronounce them they start laughing and can't stop long enough to teach me the right way. Their favorite subject, it turned out, is English. Who knew? So after a half hour of students either laughing at me or staring at me like I'm from another planet, I was a bit more prepared for the second years who I met on Friday.

The year difference in their ages was apparent, as this bunch was not nearly as wily or giggly as the first years. They even managed to make several sentence answers to my questions. Although, I was much better prepared this time, so in this class we made name cards and I had them draw things they liked as well, to talk about to the group. Some had some very nice artwork. The girls like eating, sleeping and some famous Korean people (some of them like sports too, or guinea pigs). The boys like various movies, have dreams to be doctors, scientists and soccer players, and some like to sing. One of the girls wanted my phone number so she could send me messages. Unfortunately, I haven't memorized my phone number yet.

I repeated this exercise yesterday with the first years, and although several of the boys started drawing random pictures of each other and some of the girls didn't finish, the results were still quite good. One of the boys likes sunflowers, and one likes roses. One of the girls likes Oprah Winfrey, although I think this might be because she (meaning Oprah) is black. Anyway, there was a discussion about black people (African-American we call them, I said, Negroes!, they said) and there's a nice drawing of a black woman on her name tag. I am optimistic for both these classes. After all, these are students specially selected out of 300 to be in my class, so most of them are willing to speak English and able to do so. Next we are going to talk about movies.

The adult classes are quite fun and a good way for me to learn about Korea. There are three women in the non-English teacher class. They apparently have only been speaking English for a year, as the teacher before me started teaching them. Considering this, their English is quite good. Today we had various questions about beauty and I learned that one of the women had plastic surgery on her eyes (very common in Korea, I guess the women want double eyelids, I'm not sure why), but only takes 10 minutes to get ready in the morning. Apparently they don't have eating disorders, but the men (the young men) like to lift weights to get buff. We also discussed mirrors because disconcertingly, there are several giant mirrors in the halls and in the classrooms, yet another indication of how important appearance is in Korea. Although they did say that even though they don't like piercing beyond the ears, they wouldn't leave a shop if someone had a lip piercing, etc.

I only have two English teachers in my last class. Ms Park, my coteacher, and Miss Doo, my favorite. Apparently Ms Park has some sort of book with topics in it for the class, although I haven't seen it yet. It's really easy to find already made lists on the internet though, so I'll probably bring my beauty questions to that class tomorrow, just in case :). From our last class I learned that Ms Park is moving apartments (to a bigger one, of course. I asked and apparently she thought this a silly question, her children are gone from the house though, so it seemed she could have been moving to a smaller one...) and Miss Doo lives with her parents (which is what all the unmarried women do, the teacher in my other class likes this arrangement because she can save money), but is lonely, likes to hike in the mountains and always has enough underwear (her parents own an underwear store).

Due to the personal style of these classes, I've been enjoying them very much and look forward to teaching them.

Pepero Day

11 Nov 2008
Posted by Jordan
Jordan's picture

Today is Pepero Day. So you give people Pepero.