May 18, 2009

Chapter Eight: Seoul to Squeeze

This chapter was brought to you by the Red Hot Chili Peppers. (Obviously.)

Where I go I just don't know
I got to got to gotta take it slow.
When I find my piece of mind
I'm gonna give you some of my good time.

Everything has been going very well here in the Land of Morning Calm. One-quarter of my time here is up, which is surprising. I have more or less put learning Korean on the backburner--the awareness that learning the alphabet (already somewhat difficult for me) was a small beans compared to accumulating a Korean vocabulary sort of took the wind out of my sails. If I was going to stay for another year there would be no excuse (there's really no excuse now, apart from laziness) and in truth I would strongly consider staying in Korea for another year if there weren't so much of the world left to see. But apart from that, I am set up now: cell phone, bank account, debit card. I know good restaurants in a couple different parts of town, really enjoy Korean bar snacks, don't think twice anymore at having my choice of beer be virtually indistinguishable lager, and don't even notice people staring much anymore.

School is going well, for the most part. There are still hiccups, mostly caused by my own poor decisions. But almost every class I have the kids are showing some real improvement. There are two kids who started off as hideous troublemakers both of whom are highly intelligent and starting to get plugged in and it's pretty awesome.

I've named a few more kids, some inadvertently. In my kindergarten, Rex is now "T-Rex," which took no great stretch of imagination. But I learned he asked his mom to start calling him that, since it was the nickname I gave him, which was cute. In my other kindergarten, another kid who always had a Korean name has, due to prolonged exposure to my geekiness and coloring book choices, now chosen his official English name: Ice Dragon.

Another kid in my afternoon class asked for an English name of a monster, but I was warned that his parents wouldn't appreciate anything too crazy. And so was Je-beoum dubbed "Jaguar;" he seems pretty happy about it.

The key to teaching seems to be simple: treating the kids like human beings. Sure they're little kids and still maturing and learning, but as long as they're treated fairly and consistently they can pretty much deal with any terms or rules put upon them.

One thing at Isponge that I would like to share is how horrible the stories are that we subject to the kids. Stories we all grew up knowing: Three Little Pigs, Goldilocks, The Hare and the Tortoise, The Three Billy Goats' Gruff, and The Goose that Laid the Golden Age are all butchered almost beyond recognition. Incorrect grammar, confusing illustrations, bad voice acting on the CD, and confusing word choices all combine to create something so different from the original that I am surprised the kids even like it.

It was hard to choose one for an example, because they're all so epically, tragically bad. But I went with this one because it's pretty bad and also I taught it today so it's fresh in my mind.


Last Friday was Teacher's Day. This is a day that parents and students make a point of thanking the teachers and provide various gifts. I enjoyed mine, and got two roses, some soap, socks, and a Padres hat. It is always nice for people to make a point of being thankful. And I'm really appreciative of it. But from talking to other teachers, I realized it could have been even grander. Some got wine, others got pizzas delivered to them. Some teachers got gift vouchers as good as cash--one person got 200 bucks worth!

Apart from school, I've been exploring Seoul and Korea to the best of my ability on the weekends. I'm gone down to Suwon and up to Ilsan, both very nice places on the northern and southern edges of Seoul, respectively.

I climbed a small mountain in my neighborhood, another called Cheonggyesan and one hill/mountain near Bukhansan. Best of all was an escape from Seoul to the fishing village of Sokcho and Seoraksan mountain in the north part of South Korea. This is the part of the blog where I try to let the pictures live up to their reputation as word-beaters, so without further ado...

Possibly one of the more puzzling signs I've seen. Who needs a toilet when they're hiking?

Sunset in the 'Gu.

A cool farmer's market at Cheonggyesan with loads of veggies.

The castle walls ...

...and the Dragon Train in Suwon.

And a handful from Seoraksan below.

As always, any acclaim or disdain is welcome. Please share your thoughts in the comments. Until next time....