Monthly Archives: October 2009

Travel Trivia: Details of My Journey to South Korea

After packing, repacking and weighing my luggage a dozen times on bathroom scales, turns out my bags each weighed a bit over 50 lbs. Fortunately the attendant wasn’t worried about it and I was not charged anything extra.  (I would still have to drag the damn heavy things through Seoul though).

I made it through airline security with my bamboo knitting needles, but never once got them out to knit; there simply was no elbow room.

Alan Arkin was traveling on the plane as Gary and I from ABQ to LAX. He and a female companion were seated just a few rows in ahead of my and Gary’s seats. At LAX, while waiting for their luggage to appear on the conveyors, Mr. Arkin and his female companion were quite affectionate with one another, which was very endearing. It was one of the few times I kind of wished I had twitter.

We did not have to pick up and transfer our luggage at LAX; United and Asiana airlines took care of that for us. We did have to get tickets for our flight from LAX to Seoul, however. (They talked me into signing up for Asiana Frequent Flier Miles).

Gary and I ate at LAX. We both had “Asian” food.

There was a family in line in front of us to go through security before boarding the plane in LAX who were so dramatic we thought for sure they were filming a Novella. There were tears and hysteria and lots of photos and hand grasping over ropes – at least until LAX Airport Authority tired of them and put an end to it. That only caused the drama level to increase.

Just as were were attempting to go through the metal detectors, a child belonging to a large family in front of us decided to throw a full-out fit. I mean, lay-on-the-floor-kicking-and-screaming-fit. Security scuttled around trying to keep the line moving and lots of folks were getting antsy. The mother was simply horrified and I felt bad for her. I was also glad it wasn’t me having to deal with that kid.

There are video monitors on the back of each seat on Asiana Airlines’ Airplanes, so each person can choose to watch what he or she wants. Available choices included movies, Asian TV shows, informative clips and video games.

Gary and I had seats in the center section of the plane.  Our seats were in the middle of the row. This meant we had to disrupt the people sitting on the aisle seats on either side of us every time we wanted to get up to use the bathroom. I tried to get up when the woman next to me got up to minimize disruption. Unfortunately, she had a bladder of steel.

I watched three movies during the flight from LAX to Incheon: Monsters vs. Aliens, which made me giggle, The Soloist, which made me cry (a lot) and (part of) She’s Just Not Into You – the last of which was too stupid to tolerate, even as a free in-flight movie, and kind of pissed me off.

When I ran out of appealing movie options, I read the first third of Julie and Julia, which was better than the last two-thirds. Now I don’t even want to see the movie.

I wasted a good 90 minutes playing a mindless video game that gave me a headache.

The row in front of us was occupied by American Frat boys who found the flight a perfect opportunity to drink all the free beer they wanted.

I had my first Korean meal on the plane – Bim-Bap. Unfortunately it was “Airplane Food Quality.” (I have since had much better authentic Korean food.) I was not crazy about the side dish that looked somewhat like coconut flakes, tasted salty-fishy and, I later noticed, had eyes. I liked the kimchi alright – but again, I’ve tasted some wonderful varieties of Kimchi since then that put the airplane variety to shame.

We beat the sun to S. Korea by about one hour.

Temperatures were taken at Incheon as we dis-boarded the plane and before we went though customs. The now drunk frat boys who were sitting in front of us were as obnoxious as you might imagine. One Hispanic guy threatened to tell the attendant taking temperatures that he was from Mexico. (Ok – I admit, I snickered at that one.)

Incheon Airport is every bit as impressive as everyone described. I may go back there some time just to shop.

Cave Canem 2009 Book Award

The day after we arrived in South Korea, Gary received an email notifying him that his manuscript “Missing You Metropolis” won the 2009 Cave Canem book award. He was told not to tell anyone else until they had published the  announcement on their website. It has since been announced and Gary has shared the news with all his important peeps – so I am now free to brag about his great work on my blog.

Here is an excerpt from the official announcement:

NEW YORK, NY (September 3, 2009) — Cave Canem Foundation, Inc., North America’s premier “home for black poetry,” is pleased to announce that Gary Jackson has received the 2009 Cave Canem Poetry Prize for his manuscript, Missing you, Metropolis, selected by Yusef Komunyakaa. Graywolf Press will publish the collection in fall 2010. Additionally, Mr. Jackson will receive $1,000 and a feature reading. Honorable Mentions were given to Lillian‐Yvonne Bertram and Jarita Davis for their manuscripts, Inside the Face Inside the Heart Inside and As If Returning Home, respectively.

Most impressive of all is Yusef Komunyakaa’s comments about Gary’s manuscript:

Yusef Komunyakaa writes, “Gary Jacksonʹs Missing you, Metropolis embodies and underscores a voice uniquely shaped and tuned for the 21st century. Playful, jaunty and highly serious…the collection is gauged by a sophisticated heart. Pathos breathes within and slightly underneath the
visual comedy, and this quality is the true genius of Missing you, Metropolis.”

Here is a link to the Cave Canem site for more information about the award…

Sunday Again: Prepping for a Week of Classes at Chung Dahm (South Korea)

For four weeks now we have been living in our little officetel in the Tres Belle building in Anyang City and for five weeks teaching at Chung Dahm. The term is half over and soon we will  be giving our students exams to determine who will “level up.” Outside the weather is beginning to change. The hot sultry days and nights of late summer are giving way to sultry days and cool autumnal evenings and mornings.  I miss home daily but find the challenge of living in a new country while also meeting the demands of a challenging job quite satisfying. At times, I am even downright content.  Now that we have internet in our home, I can finally get back to the business of writing regular blogs.

There are so many things to write about and yet I’ve no idea where to begin. I have journal entries and blog drafts about many of my experiences since our arrival here in late August, yet the task of organizing every bit of information and putting it in chronological and coherent order is a bit daunting to think of at this moment, a Sunday evening. Since prepping for the coming week’s classes is foremost in my mind, I think I will write about my classes.

Chung Dahm is one of the better established English Language academies in S. Korea, which basically means its employees can count on getting paid regularly. The Pyeonchong branch, where I work,  is located on Hogwanga Rd. It is called Hogwanga Rd. because it is lined with Hogwangs – or cram schools, of which Chung Dahm is a variety. And not only are their Howangs on both sides of the street for several blocks, they are als stacked one above the other for several stories.

Every night on my walk to and from the school, I see hundreds of Korean School children being dropped off in cabs or shuttles or getting off of city busses to rush to class. I also see a fair amount of foreigners too, who are almost always English teachers.

I teach five different levels of English classes. Two of the levels I teach are known as Memory Classes and are geared for elementary school students. These two memory classes are Memory Mega and Memory Tera. There is one level between these two classes, which I do not at this time teach; Memory Giga.

Since children in S. Korea do not begin school until age seven or even eight, elementary school students here are a bit older than elementary school children in America. I sometimes have difficulty remembering I am dealing with eleven and twelve-year-olds, especially when they are so petite of stature, and find the personality of most Memory students to be a curious mix of precociousness and naivety.

Memory level classes are generally fast paced, have several components and involve a good deal of student management. As a result, I am getting a crash course in edutainment. My Mega students are reading about Elian Gonzales while my Tera students are reading about “Extreme Science Jobs.”

The reason these levels are called “memory” is that a large component of each class is dedicated to memorization. I have my memory students twice a week, and each time we meet, they have a model summary they are expected to memorize. The first class period of each week they are tested on their memorization. Memory students also learn about skimming, annotating and scanning.

My memory classes begin at 4:30 PM and end at 7:30 PM sharp. There is one five-minute break every hour, the first of which I am required to take each students temperature (Chung Dahm’s response to fears over S1N1).  My Memory Mega class meets on Mondays and Wednesdays while my Memory Tera class meets on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I do not have a Memory Class on Fridays.

I also teach three reading classes, which are geared towards middle-school students (ages 14-16), and meet from 7:30 to 10:30 PM. Monday nights is Bridge Reading, in which we are learning about symbiosis, Tuesday and Wednesday nights are Birdie Reading, in which we are learning about immigration, and finally, on Friday nights, PAR reading, in which we are discussing the fascinating subject of Global Communication.  I do not teach a reading class on Thursday nights.

The other reading levels available to students are all above PAR and include Eagle, Albatross and Albatross Plus, none of which I am teaching this term.

Students in reading classes are notoriously tight lipped, sullen and self-conscious, as may be expected from any group of people in this age group. It takes a considerable amount of silliness to get a reaction out of many of them, yet they are able to smile (though they prefer teachers not know this). There are also a few charming, gregarious and bright middle schoolers who make working with middle schoolers all worthwhile.

For all my classes, I use stickers as bribes, which works on all but the most stubborn of sullen students. We can also award “Bonus Tickets” for perfect scores and completing all homework. Students can use Bonus Tickets to increase their test scores by a few points.

The staff at Chung Dahm is composed entirely of Korean people who are good enough tolerate us foreigners. They try to help us, though I suspect we are mostly hopeless. They speak primarily Korean, which can make it difficult to get one’s point across, but with enough pointing, pantomime, drawing and a few key phrases, we all manage to get the kids where they need to go and see that their parents are well enough informed.

Our Faculty Manager is, in my opinion, Pyeongchon branch’s greatest asset at this time. He is conscientious, gets things done and has so far been a pleasure to work with. I have found in him exactly the level of support and freedom I have needed to learn my job and get along at Chung Dahm these past five weeks. While there is still much, much more to learn, I am eager to meet the daily challenge and am every day glad I came to South Korea for this adventure.

Until next time…