Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Some things....

Korea is truly an amalgam...yesterday i stood around a table in the office at work and ate food with the principal and vice and a few other teachers. None of them spoke English but the vice-principal insisted on making polite conversation - in Korean, which i don't speak. Eventually we concluded that he was older than my father, and then he tried to feed me.
Tis voting season over here in Gwangju and what do you think that means? Speeches about the things promised if elected? Not exactly, instead intersections are filled with the sounds of loud music blaring from trucks whilst women dressed in the colours of the campaigner endlessly do a little dance to the passing traffic. Occasionally the campaigner himself is there and he waves and bows to the people in their cars while displaying which number he is so that you know what to write down on voting day.
And my favorite thing in Korea is without a doubt the young kids. Everywhere you look there a tiny little things wandering along, their black hair sticking up in tufts and their dark eyes gleaming with curiosity about the strange looking person who smiles at them. You know that South Korea is a safe place when you see 3 tiny children, who cannot be older than 4, waddling along holding hands - with no adult in sight. Pictures of this adorable phenomenon will eventually follow.

Monday, 17 May 2010

Languagey Barriers-u

So a little while ago i switched from teaching 3rd year middle schoolers to 2nd years - not a huge change really, just fewer lewd remarks (its amazing how gutterised their minds get in such a short space of time). My first class was the usual introductions - my name is Lolly, can anyone guess where i come from?No not Canada, or America, or Australia, or China, or France, or England (at some point i think they just start naming countries just for fun). I actually come from South Africa....and so on and so on.Not a huge amount of lesson preparation needed there.

My next class i planned a lesson on rule-making - what are rules, why do we have them, name some rules for baseball, rules you have at home etc, with the eventual intent of making our own classroom rules. Now i'd made a lovely ppt presentation - from scratch and in order to show it I had to ask my male co-teacher to please bring his laptop to class. Once it was hooked up to the screen in the class i plugged in my flashstick and clicked on my ppt and nothing. It turns out our microsoft versions were incompatible which meant no lesson on rules. I explained this to my co-teacher a number of times, looking very disappointed and so on and he nodded his head and mumbled something that i thought was agreement, or commiseration. I then very successfully played a game with my students which involved them using a fair amount of English.

Later standing in the lunch line, my co-teacher turns to me and tells me he is worried about my teaching. oh dear i think, am i not a good teacher? He continues saying that i need to plan lessons and that it is not the Korean way to show up to class unprepared. I smile and say, no no i did prepare our microsoft versions were just different. He gives me a serious look and says our last teacher was most excellent, he was always prepared. He is very worried about my teaching, its not good. He then turns to the other teachers and says something in Korean, the only part of which i understand is my name. i receive mixed looks of pity and dismay. So feeling dejected i sit and eat my lunch and then return to my office.

In walks my co-teacher again to repeat all my failings, adding that it is unprofessional and unacceptable. I once again attempt to explain that i am not a human failure and i am aware that one does not show up to class unprepared - microsoft, incompatible, not work, did have a lesson all leave my lips once again, all met with a blank stare once again. So i show him my nicely prepared lesson and a look of understanding dawns on his face, he offers a wee apology before hastily departing. I feel distinctly better about myself.

The following day we teach together again, and by then i have downloaded a microsoft converter and my ppt works. The lesson goes well and the students participate, and they understand and the timing is great and so on. As my co-teacher and i leave the classroom he says - oh that was a good lesson, very good... Did your boyfriend do it for you? I calmly told him no that I had in fact rubbed my 2 female brain cells together and achieved this wonder of teaching all on my own, thank you.

Clearly he has not caught on to men and women are equal...perhaps my next lesson will be on gender equality, and if it goes badly i will innocently murmur ' oh, but my boyfriend planned it for me'.

Friday, 23 April 2010

Buckle your seatbelt Dorothy, cause going bye bye.

Its hard not to come to the full realisation that you are well and truly far from home, when 'intestine stuffed with seaweed' is a feature on the days lunch menu...I feel nothing more needs to be said.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Where does the health go?

Ok, so we are rather lax at the whole up-to-date blogging thing, but i like to think the way we do it is more natural. It speaks to the lazy, easily distracted person inside of us all. So without further ado, here is what i did today.

Huke and I have been very good and have joined a gym close to our apartments. And in the spirit of new things and pushing the boundaries, we have started going to gym at 6am. Yes, hard to believe but there we are Mon-Fri running on that treadmill.Well perhaps some weeks its Tues-Thurs, but i feel like I have achieved great things in my life regardless.So this morning like (almost) every morning i went and did my little 4km run, sweat pouring from my brow whilst the Korean next to me looks fresh and drip free.Unfair I say!

Then to continue the spirit of absolute health, i go home to whip up a lovely fruit sald, nuts, seeds and yoghurt breakfast followed by a glass of carrot, apple and ginger juice that i make super fresh each morning. Huke even stops by on his way to work to taste of the fresh carrot delights my newly acquired juicer has to offer.

So you can see that i have made efforts to bring some element of health into my life, to improve myself both inside and out.But then i go to school...

Now don't take this the wrong way, i love my job and i think it is possible one of the best working deals anyone could wish for, but in terms of continuing that healthy lifestyle - teaching english in South Korea is not ideal. For example, this morning i taught my 3 classes for the day from 1st-3rd period. By the third class my stress levels have definitely been elevated and the effort involved in speaking loudly and slowly has caused a fair amount of tension in my neck.

Then having completed all my lessons i go to my small office and sit.I surf the internet for a bit and chat to Huke, which is always enjoyable.Then i get given some biscuits which i feel obligated to eat as i don't want to offend anyone by not accepting their very kind sweet offerings. Besides i really do like biscuits. After this i am escorted to lunch by a lovely bunch of young teachers who all speak a very small amount of korean but who have kindly taken me on as their lunch charge.

Lunchtime is always interesting. You grab your silver compartmentalized tray and look at the huge silver dishes containing - well for the most part you're not sure. But there is always at least the ever present kimchi.Not a personal favourite, not awful, just not what i look forward to at lunch time. Having cautiously dished up small amounts of rice and whatever other delights are on offer i proceed to the table where inevitably i get told "Too little food, more rice". I then painstakingly try to explain that i am on a diet and that sticky white rice with every meal does not help one shed the kilos. This is generally met with silence.

Lunch being over and having no lessons to left for the day i sit in my chair from 1-4:30 pm.Leaving my comfy seat only for bathroom breaks and to pour more coffee into my cup.

By the time i head home for the day i am sure that whatever good may have been done by my morning effort is now long over and in fact the incredibly sedentary state of my day has actually worsened my already bad state. Sigh. But on the plus side i do get paid to pretty much nap in my chair, listen to music and stare at a computer for large parts of my day.

Wednesday, 31 March 2010

So now we never promised blogs in any sort of chronological in the spirit of higgeldy-piggeldy blog posts: this is a photo from our first ever night in South Korea. We are at Jeonju University, 15 floors up, looking at the snow.
We were lucky to experience snow on our first night ever and thus like mature, newly recruited to the working world adults we went outside and ran around in the snow. Attempted to throw snowballs at each other, froze our hands off and got a wee bit wet. Oh and Huke slipped in the snow too.

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Kim Chi - Really?

On numerous occasions, when playing games or asking questions in the classroom, I have heard students say, “my favorite food is Kim chi”. No it’s not, please let’s be totally honest with each other. I’m not going to lie to you so please don’t lie to me. I completely admire the patriotism, but a country can only expect you to stretch yourself so far. It’s fermented cabbage. ‘Mmm, I could really go for some fermented cabbage’ – I think not.

I am the foreigner here so I am to a degree, expected not to like it. I am still granted forgiveness when the principle very inquisitorially asks me, ‘you no like Kim Chi?’, and with a winning smile and an apologetic nod of the head I reply with comments of ‘too spicy, too spicy’. The Korean students however have clearly been forcefully dragged through the ‘you will grow to like it/the more you eat it the better it gets speech’ one to many times. Yet I watch them as they eat. Silently they suffer, with the sole consolation that everyone is suffering around them, all in the name of maintaining an idea: We are Koreans, we like Kim Chi. Really…

Sunday, 28 March 2010

While we were in Seoul we visited an area called Insadong which is the area that is clearly aimed at tourists. Everywhere you look there are 'tradtional' tea houses, shops selling Korean souvenirs and stalls selling Korean snacks. But just down the alley, housed behind the quaint tea house, Huke and I booked into our, um, luxurious love motel.
Now don't get me wrong i was grateful for a bed, and one with a lovely warm electric blanket at that. But the half-used lotion and body oil were worrying. Worst of all was the red light bulb emitting it's dim, seedy glow that seemed to say "yes, you will perform all sorts of depraved sexual acts...just as the many others before you have done". But seeing as how i have yet to come up with any odd rashes or an intense need to scratch, i feel like a came through a stronger person.
One highlight of our stay in Insadong, apart from the 7000 won cup of tea, was coming across a band busking to a fair sized crowd. Now we are unsure if they're called Four Brothers or Poor Brothers, but we enjoyed them thoroughly. There was a damn good rendition of Jason Mraz - I'm yours and then some Korean pop covers (i think). But the highlight was the bands own song...the only words of which we could make out were What Whaaat Whaaaaattttt! sung by the vocalist and then screamed in a variety of imaginative ways by the bassist. I must say it was a very memorable song. From now on 'what' may never be a dull-sounding word...thanks Four/Poor Brothers.

Pizza Anyone?

Well the weekened is over, and I am attempting to come to terms with the fact that half my pay cheque is Holly said, orgies and such cost money, and I have yet to remove the taste of weed and hooker spit from my mouth. Thanks Peter, I owe you one.

While goals were achieved, and costco somewhat (but not at all) conquered (when you are paying them money you are always losing my dear), I cannot help but feel that there is something more to take away from our little sojourn. As foreigners I think we all, to some degree at least, attempt to fit in with the culture...with the people, the places, the language, the ways of eating and drinking. We wish to be accepted and taken in with open arms, and to some extent we are. But as a result of our high noses, bright eyes and big heads, we will always be seen as somewhat different. I could have lived here for ten years, after having completely assimilated into the culture, and still be greeted on the streets with "wow, welcome to Korea". So why not embrace it, life is more fun that way.

When you realise that you are being stared at because you are sitting on the side of the street, next to a bicycle rack, eating a pizza which would feed a family of 4, but costs the normal price of 1 come to realise the beauty of the situation. We are now travellers. This revelation only to be reinforced when on public transport, we reach into the free plastic packet we have bummed from a Family Mart, and feed on the crusted remnants. People say day old pizza, some say cold pizza...I say pizza out of a cheap plastic packet: traveller/hobo, who can really make the distinction?I may have turned into those I so regularly berated. Although I cannot help but feel that there is something slightly more dignified about eating pizza as opposed to the incessant knawing and sucking on chicken bones...but that's just me.

Triumph in Costco

So this weekend we decided to head off to Seoul, just having received our first real world pay cheque and all. Now i'm not sure how common it is to make a 4 1/2 hour bus ride each way for a day...but that is indeed what we did. So in total (including the time spent in the subway), according to my astute calculations, we spent 12 of our 36 hours in public transport. Was it worth it? Depends what knocks your socks off...

Considering that after such a short, brief, miniscule time in the city...and half our pay cheque later, perhaps not. However, a day of ecstasy, orgies and multiple shots of tequila and bungee jumping for just under a million won each isn't too bad by my standards. Ok, maybe that was an exaggeration of our day. But i must say that we achieved all we set out to how many of you can say that about your days???

Ok, so we each set off with a particular goal in mind. Huke's aim was to acquire a brand spanking new acoustic guitar, naturally with the aim to win the hearts of the koreans with his serenading. I, however, took a far more devious route. My aim was to buy a laptop and with this new, shiny (yes it is shiny) computer I plan to win the hearts of Koreans mastering Starcraft and WoW.Yup, the computer comes with geek speak included. lol.

The only thing that may have slightly dampened the beauty of our trip was our Costco experience...our first ever. So we hear that there is this wonderous place called Costco where you can purchase such things as oatmeal, almonds and giant jars of peanut butter for wholesale prices. With gleaming eyes we venture through Seoul to find this shining gem and it is everything we dreamed, with tasters. Eagerly our eyes peruse the shelves and shelves of western delicacies, we push through the masses of korean families to get our paws on whichever taster is nearest, all the while planning our shopping list. Only then do we find out that it costs 35000 won per year for membership, and seeing as how we live in Gwangju which has not been graced with the presence of the bountiful Costco, we figure its not worth it. Tired, harassed and dejected we wade to the exit...but before we reach it our eyes alight on a giant pizza box. The biggest we've ever seen, and the bonus is it's only 12 500 won. So take that Costco, you giant conglomerate, we may not be able to shop in the hallowed aisles of your stores, but at least we can eat your giant, greasy, cheap pizza. So there.

Sunday, 28 February 2010

A start to the Year in South Korea

As we sit in a coffe shop very unaptly named "Kenya" the heart of a metropolitan South Korean city, abusing the free internet, with only a single cup of coffee between the two of us to justify our being here, we bicker and argue about what to write. How do we introduce ourselves...what is there to say and what do we wish to talk about. After an argument and a period of silence in which far more was said than before...I extend the proverbial olive branch, "Darling, here is my white flag. You are my white flag.

Alas, words are far less useful than people give them credit for...Be a person of action: I refuse to further pummel into the ground an already beaten to death proverb. I...we rather, (the collective Western population, in a country where, to my highly unexperienced and naive experience thus far, provides us with far from a linguistic foot on which to stand to gain any form of support) are here to make the most of words, in an attempt to bring together people and nations who are by my accounts thus far, different, save our collective humanity. Are we here to validate and perpetuate the need for a common language? Is this our shared purpose? Could we ever truly resurrect the old Tower of Babel.

As I gaze through a window and muse about the lives of the checkered blazered school children who strut by, sporting umbrellas and curious, somewhat atavistic glances, I wonder what part I,we are to play here...