Category Archives: Tales From South Korea

Newest Abcedarian Story: “The Ant and The Bee” (as Written by Chung Dahm Students)

Thursday was the last night for my Comp. 100 class, and as is often my habit, I had my students write an “abcedarian” story (though abcedarian is usually a poetry exercise  rather than a short story exercise). Each student begins a story by writing a sentence beginning with the letter “a.” The paper is then passed to the next student, whose next, somewhat cohesive sentence, should begin with the letter “b,” and so forth until either time runs out or the letter “z” is reached. Sometimes a letter or two may get skipped until all the students get the hang of it, but generally they catch on pretty quick.  I also like to sit in on the circle and add a few sentences. Stories are titled after they are written.

It’s always interesting to see how students approach this exercise.  Last term’s Comp. 100 class really labored over each and every sentence and were  genuinely amused by the results. This term’s students, while no less serious, seemed to approach the exercise with efficiency. As a result, their stories were a little longer (we got to “v” this term while last term we only got to “t”), but no less amusing.

Here is this term’s winning story (based on student votes):

“The Ant and the Bee”

An ant is moving up a hill. But the ant wanted to fly to the sky when it went to the top of a hill. Carelessly, he jumped, flapping his arms. Directly, he jumped to another hill, where he found another ant trying to fly. Elephants could be seen in the distance.

“Failure isn’t in my dictionary!” he cried out before he fell into the middle of the forest.

Gorilla was searching for food in the forest, saw the ant flying toward him and shouted “flying ant!” Horrified, the gorilla ran away screaming “I’ve never seen a jumping ant…I must be crazy!”

I don’t know why that gorilla is running away”  the ant said. “Just because of little old me?” the ant wondered. Knowing that his energy was consumed, the ant decided to explore the jungle, but he heard people shouting about jelly and eggs.

Lovely…I want to taste them a little…should I?” the ant wondered. Mostly without thinking one more second about it, the ant followed the smell.

“No!” someone shouted  quickly, “it is trap of humans!”

On top of the flower, there was something small saying something.

“Please, please, someone help me!” a bee said.

Quite down so I can concentrate…how can I get up this flower?” the ant said.

Really easy! Fly!” the bee kept suggesting.

Something caught up in his mind. “To me to fly? No. I can’t, it was just a jump” the ant said honestly.Unless…what can I do?”

Vanity never gets you anywhere.

Why Korean ESL Students Ask “Why?”

Many new Korean ESL instructors are sure to notice that their students have a peculiar way of asking the question “why?’ They will notice, for example, that from the mouths of a Korean ESL student, the question “why” has the kind of emphasized lilt which illustrates, without a doubt, that the student clearly understands how a question mark influences the inflection of a word. Instructors may also notice that their students will add an extra syllable to the word, thus “why” ends up sounding something like “why-ee?”

I’m no linguist, but I believe that at least part of the reason students exaggerate the long “e” in “why” has a little something to do with the fact that the English word for why sounds somewhat similar to the Hangul word of the same meaning, which sounds something like “whea.”

Now consider for a moment that Korean ESL students are expected to speak English exclusively during class time and, further, that the penalty for speaking Hangul during class includes anything from a lower participation grade (and Korean students DO take their participation grade seriously) to a two-minute speech on a subject of the teacher’s choosing – in English. It logically follows then that students want to make sure there is no confusion over which language they are speaking, thus the emphasis on the difference in vowel sounds.

This does not necessarily explain, however, why they drag out the long “e” when their teachers announce it is time to take the weekly review test or in-class quiz. In those instances they are clearly just trying to annoy their teachers.

New instructors are also sure to  notice that Korean students use the question “why” as a kind of catch all for all “wh” questions. For example, say Yoojin’s friend comes by her classroom during break to talk to her and calls her name from the doorway to get her attention. While  most American kids would answer “what?” a Korean kid will respond “why-ee?” Students respond similarly when called on by a teacher to answer a question or read aloud.

Important for new instructors to remember is that since “why” is not always used literally, it is wise to take a moment to consider the context in which the student is using it. Honestly, the sooner this technique can be mastered the sooner instructors can minimize the amount of class time taken up by asking students, in a puzzled tone, “what do you mean, why?”

Again, I am no professional and can only base my theories on classroom observations, which probably hold about as much water as a mother’s intuition over, say, the educated diagnosis of a trained pediatrician. Still, I believe that English teachers themselves encourage the improper usage of the word “why.”

Instructors are encouraged to use the Socratic Method to guide students through essays; that is, they ask leading questions that encourage students to find the answers for themselves and respond verbally, which arguably encourages participation. While I always figured that the Socratic Method was meant to encourage students to think more deeply about philosophical questions and not merely for skimming passages, it does have some practical application. Unfortunately, and this is especially true when working with reticent youth, it becomes very necessary to ask absurdly pointed questions to get the students to respond appropriately. As a result, the Socratic Method comes off sounding a little something like this:

“OK Jimmy, according to paragraph two, line three,  aerobic exercise is beneficial becauuuussse….why?

Obviously, the proper way to ask questions like this is to front-load it with whatever “wh” question is appropriate. But, since most instructors have little to no experience with or training in pedagogy, much less child development, and are merely trying to do their job, which is to get Jimmy to say the right thing,  the application of the Socratic Method becomes a kind of  fill-in-the-blank word game.

Finally, ESL instructors contribute to the “why” phenomenon when trying to induce topical conversation in the classroom. For example, while trying to break up the monotony of the repetitive main-idea-and-supporting-detail-outlines teachers must illustrate on the board throughout class, they may stop periodically to ask simple content questions, usually something along the lines of:

“So, do you think deforestation is good or bad?”

Regardless of a student’s response, however blatant that response may be, instructors, in an attempt to encourage discussion (for which there is not time) will reply with the now infamous question “why?” i.e. why do you think deforestation is bad? This is generally followed by a thirty second discussion of little to no consequence before the teacher must move on to stay on schedule, no one being the wiser.

New instructors will also discover, and this is the best part, that teaching is as much about being influenced by students as it is about influencing them. I mean, I could obnoxiously insist that my fellow instructors amend their teaching ways and preach the proper pathways to good grammar (as if I knew), probably causing new instructors all kinds of unnecessary paranoia in the process. Instead, I rather encourage teachers to view the “why” phenomenon the same way I have come to view all Konglish; as a kind of in-between language that captures something that neither language can capture without the other. So, if you are, or will soon become, a new ESL instructor in Korea, I say let yourself be influenced by your students and, most of all, let yourself be influenced by Konglish. Learn to respond to a moment of confusion or the call of a friend the same way students do and the same way I and my fellow instructors have learned to do as well. Learn to just ask “why-ee?”

“The Lisa Song:” A Gift from my Chung Dahm Students (South Korea)

One of my favorite students ran into my classroom this afternoon before

Front Cover

classes started and gave me a piece of chocolate cake from Paris Baguette and a big handmade construction paper card. I’m not sure for what occasion – late birthday or early going away gift? Perhaps just an assignment from one of her summer intensive classes? Anyway, I couldn’t wait to share it and have copied the contents of the  card here (verbatim):

Lisa

Wacky night Lisaish night

When all the kids tango to the moon

Presidents appear and waltz with you

A bear appear and tap dance with Lisa

Every thing is so wacky, you can dance

to the son.

Crazy night Lisaish night

when all the birds fly out to space

A pig sings “sing” and dance with you.

A spider back flips and turn cart wheels

Every thing is so Lizaish, You can eat

pigs head.

It was a super special thing to get since I have been feeling a little blue these last couple of days. It’s nice to think “kids tango to the moon” on my night, though I don’t know about eating pigs head.

`

Last Weeks of My Last Term at ChungDahm

Summer in Korea

Summer in Korea

It hardly seems possible that it’s already the first week in August, though the weather outside certainly confirms the fact. I’ve never lived anywhere so humid and hot in my life. Even in the Midwest, the humidity never really goes above, say 70 percent, and even then, not for very long. Here, the humidity ranges between 75 and 100 percent every day while the temperatures are routinely in the 90s (Fahrenheit). It’ always about to rain, raining or just finished raining too, so things are always dripping wet. Rather than comparing the atmosphere to a sauna, a more apt analogy is a tropical rain forest. Often the moisture is so dense you can actually see it in the air, almost cut through it with your hand. It reminds me of the many misty photos of Asia I’ve seen in my life, though I can tell you walking through these landscapes is not nearly as romantic as they are to look at.

Things are changing rapidly at my branch. Both of our branch’s Faculty Managers have moved up to HQ and about half of the faculty are leaving. This is mostly due to the fact that, like Gary and I, most instructors’ one-year contracts are coming to an end. This was the last week for at least four “veteran” instructors and there are four new instructors haunting the halls, sitting in on classes and trying to learn the ropes. They don’t know just how lucky they are to get a week to observe and adjust, for certainly not all new instructors get that privilege. They have been asking questions about why so many people are leaving. We give them the standard explanation that contracts are expiring and people usually choose to leave at term’s end. It’s too difficult to explain fully why most instructors don’t renew. There are just too many nuances that a new instructor could not possible understand, and no one wants to terrify a new person. It’s better they see for themselves what it’s like to work for ChungDahm. Besides, it’s a different experience for everyone.

Most of my students are all doing pretty well, though they are a little more excitable than usual because they are on school break (yes, they still come to academy during school break).  I have built great rapport with many of my students and feel like I have become rather masterful at managing a classroom of elementary or middle school students. I have even made progress with one of my most difficult students, who I have had in my Wednesday 4:00 pm class for three terms in a row now.  On most days, he follows my instruction and does as I say with little resistance. Just the other day, for example, instead of choosing to act out in anger by kicking his desk, as is his habit, he simply stated that he felt angry. I was a little stunned that he chose to articulate his feelings rather than acting on them without thought. I also feel like my rapport with him had a little something to do with his choice. All in all, I view this change as progress.

Another one of my students recently won a prize for best webzine. Since I am his teacher, and he made the webzine for my class, I get a little recognition too. A staff member came around to my class and snapped a picture of me with the student, though I have no idea how the photo will be used. (Probably some promotional marketing pamphlet somewhere).

Right now I am in the middle of a bit of a time crunch. It’s enough to keep me on my toes and make me a little resentful that I don’t have more time to write this week, especially since taking on an extra class, but I also know it won’t last long and I have lots of great poems in the works.

Only three more weeks of gainful employment before Gary and I head south to Busan for a well deserved, and real, vacation by the sea, followed by an adventurous visit to Tokyo, Japan.  We’ll be back in the states by September 20th.

Leaving South Korea:Last Weeks At Chung Dahm

Seven is the number of the month in which I was born, and the number of the month in which we find ourselves in now, this 2010th year AD. But the significance of this number today has to do with the number of weeks left in my contract with Chung Dahm; the number of weeks in which I still have gainful employment.

It means only seven more weeks of Closed Circuit Television and working 4:00 to 10:00 PM with only one or two five-minute breaks and never sitting more than a couple of minutes at at time. Only seven more weeks of lesson planning and grading online essays with their strange and arbitrary set of parameters, e.g. you must make exactly seven comments, each comment must contain 250-350 characters,  include the student’s name, an example and make reference to the in-class lesson.

It also means only seven more weeks to spend time with some pretty amazing students who bring me a great deal of joy and laughter and who have exponentially increased my enjoyment of Korea and the quality of my life’s experiences. Only seven more weeks to interact with these kids and appreciate their unique perspective of the English language and American culture. Only seven more weeks to spend time with awesome co-workers turned friends and fellow writers whose insight and experience will no doubt continue to inspire me long into the future, wherever we may find ourselves.

As in past experiences, as I prepare to move from one geographical area and way of life to another, my experience of and interactions with the objects and inhabitants of this world are more vivid than in months previous. The lines that frame objects and people are sharper, their colors, if not always brighter or identifiable, more noticeable. Even the moisture that sticks to my skin as I move through the humid Korean air is weightier.

I began my countdown the first week I started working for CDI, when I was culture shocked and slightly traumatized by a week-long training session that was quite different from my expectations, despite my efforts to suspend those expectations. I kept counting down through the first awkward, stressful weeks of my first term teaching children who I could barely understand and who arguably didn’t understand me – wondering all the while how anything could be taught or learned in an environment in which the language barrier was so pronounced. And when homesickness pierced my liver and shot through my heart after every American holiday, I counted even more carefully the weeks left in my contract.

Now the acute awareness over every awkward mistake of my early weeks in Korea has begun to give way to acute awareness of momentary perfections, often manifesting in the beautiful faces of my students. My relief over surviving another day now daily metamorphoses into confidence that comes from  perseverance.  I am not longer timid to tell a student he or she is not doing well nor do I refrain from taking their cell phones. I no longer fret over Korean people staring at me on the subway, or the lack of friendly acknowledgments from fellow foreigners on the street. Today, I move through the streets with confidence and teach like an expert. Today, I know these days, at least for me, are coming to an end.

Gary and Lisa’s Travel and Photo Journal for Jeju Island, March 2010

Jeju Island is located south of the Korean peninsula about an hour’s flight away from Seoul’s Gimpo Airport. Gary and I spent four days visiting the island during our vacation from Chungdahm the last week of March, 2010, and even though it was too cool for the beach, we found plenty of fun things to do around the resort area, all of it within walking distance of our hotel.

We stayed at the Jeju Hana Hotel (hana is Hangul for one) located in the Seogwipo-si resort area among a cluster of hotels, golf clubs, and tourist attractions. Our hotel was reasonably priced and had a bath tub, a luxury since most officetels do not have tubs, only showers.

Though the Hana Hotel has a nice restaurant, we were visiting during the off season and the restaurant closed in the evenings. This fact prompted us to explore the area for other dining options. We included in our search all nearby hotels and found Hyatt’s accommodations to be among our best. Of course, being open might have had something to do with that.

The Jeju Hyat is located down the road from the Hana Hotel and has a stunning view overlooking the ocean. Around its grounds are a number of scenic pathways built for strolling and enjoying the local plant life. Visitors can take advantage of these pathways as alternate routes to different parts of the resort compound.

The lobby of Jeju Hyatt also features and indoor koi and goldfish pond with a half-dozen small ducks waddling about. I’m not sure what kept those ducks from flying beyond the perimeter of the indoor pond (their wings did not appear to have been clipped), but they never did. Perhaps they intuited they would get cooked if they didn’t mind their territory.

Many of the other nearby restaurants were also closed for the season, but that didn’t stop us from walking around and snapping a few pictures. Many restaurants on the island offer horse meat and, of course, all types of seafood. Here are a few exterior shots of one traditional-style restaurant near our hotel.

Up the road in the opposite direction of the Hyatt are a number of tourist attractions. We visited the “Sound Island Museum,” which includes in its collection a number of  phonographs (circa Edison vintage), musical instruments from different regions of the world and a couple of rooms filled porcelain nick-knacks and dolls arranged in a kind of diorama. We never figured out exactly why these scenes were on display or their relation to sound and music but speculated that perhaps they are some kind of personal collection belonging to the museum the owners who have no better place to store or exhibit these things. Korean people are, after all, very efficient with space.

Photo courtesy of the Official Site of Korea Tourism

Later, we ambled over to Jeju-do Chocolate Factory, famous for being the only chocolate factory in Asia in the 10 top chocolate factories of the world list. It feature an impressive art gallery consisting of a number of miniatures and “paintings” rendered in chocolate.  It also features a ‘Bean to Bar’ showroom, which shows the entire process of chocolate beans’ transformation into chocolate. Finally, there is a showroom and gift shop where visitors can purchase Jeju Island chocolate. Since the area is also famous for it’s huge, delicious oranges (which adorn trees all across the island this time of year) visitors can also purchase orange flavored chocolate.

Jeju Botanical Gardens: Greenhouse

Jeju Botanical Gardens: Greenhouse

Not far from the Sound Museum and Chocolate Museum is the Jeju Teddy Bear Museum. Korean people have the corner market on cute, and so it’s not terribly surprising that there exists a museum celebrating cuteness as encapsulated by the iconic teddy bear.

The Seogwipo-si area boasts a spectacular botanical garden and is perhaps the best attraction in the area. The indoor compound contains a number of greenhouse gardens that including a simulated desert, water gardens, and a tropical plant and exotic fruit bearing tree greenhouse.

Cacti and Succulents

Kimchi Pots

Kimchi Pots

Banana Tree

Banana Tree

Inside the top

Inside the top

View from the Top

View from the Top

European Gardens

European Gardens

Italian Gardens

Italian Gardens

Japanese Gardens

Japanese Gardens

Korean Traditional Garden

Korean Traditional Garden

Not far from the Jeju Botanical gardens is a beautiful traditional style bridge with a view of a nearby waterfall.  There is also a lovely  Pagoda and fountain nearby, as pictured here.

Good Luck Fountain

Good Luck Fountain

Pagoda Palace

Pagoda Palace

View of Falls from Pagoda

View of Falls from Pagoda

The Bridge

The Bridge

The Falls

The Falls

View of Falls Through Decorative Cutout in Bridge

View of Falls Through Decorative Cutout in Bridge

Perhaps the best part of our vacation was hanging out with Korean tourists. We are used to living and working among Korean people and Korean children and in general doing all the normal daily stuff right along side them.  Our days are made up of the uninspiring stuff that make up daily living, like taking out the trash, getting groceries, taking public transportation and paying bills at the ATM. But we got another glimpse of Korean people while on vacation – Korean people as tourists- and they are a blast. Especially the older folks, who are definitely out to have a good time (the odor of soju on their breath confirms that fact). We were approached several times by folks wanting us to take pictures of their groups. They always offered to take our picture as a return favor. Sometimes people would come up and start a conversation, never mind that we can’t speak the language. They kept talking and explaining things to us even when we gestured  our incomprehension. Really, there may be nothing more endearing in this world to me now than a tour group of vacationing older Korean women dressed in matching pink out to have a good.

I spied one fellow in particular who was dressed elaborately, especially by Korean standards, hanging around the area offering to take pictures for tourists. Koreans are  quiet homogeneous and rather prefer things that way. I mean, they dress alike on purpose and stick together. However, this man was clearly an individual, and I tried several times to take his picture on the sly. None of them came out very well though. I’d given up when he came over and offered to take a photo of Gary and I – it’s the one at the heading of this blog post (it was his suggestion that we put our hands up in the air). After taking our picture, he voluntarily posed for a picture with Gary so even though my previous efforts at capturing his digital likeness was a failure, in the end I was granted the perfect opportunity. Here’s the pic:It’s Gary’s favorite pic of the batch.

The Earthquake Affair: Another Abecedarian Story by Chung Dahm Students (South Korea)

Here is a story my Comp. 100 class and I composed using the exquisite corpse writing prompt our last night of class. Starting with the letter “A,” each new sentence must begin with the next letter in the alphabet. There must also be an attempt at cohesion in the story. All together, we composed four stories. This was voted as best. (Remember, these are middle school aged ESL students.) I’ve copied it verbatim here:

Again and again the children asked their mother to push them on the swings. But their mother, her belly holding yet another child, shook her head, her face white. Children started to find out where their father had gone. Dad was in restaurant with his secret girlfriend. Every other day, he met this secret girlfriend for lunch at this favorite restaurant.

Father!” the children cried in unison when they saw him – one with a shocked face. Girlfriend also stared at the children and asked father “Is they are your kids? Why are they calling you father?”

Ha ha ha,” they are not my kids, they are kids who live in my town.”

I am your son! I am your first son,” the boy cried, his tears streaking his cheeks and rushed home.

John, the first son, went home and surprised by strange man sit closely with mom.

Kelly, I really think you should tell your husband we’re dating. I mean, look at OUR baby!”

Listen to me, we can’t let anyone know about our love-child NOW!” Mom whispered and John the son hide behind the sofa, was so shocked that he cried

NO, it can’t be – Mom and dad BOTH can’t both be having an affair! “Oh my god, what did you mean that both me an your father having affair?” Mom shouted.

“Please tell me it isn’t so!” she wailed. “Quickly, hide Luke!” she said to her boyfriend when she saw her husband coming.

Really, I can’t believe this situation! I heard all things! How can you have affair” said father.

Suddenly the ground began to shake and rumble.

To be continued…

——-

We ran out of time before we ran out of alphabet. But we didn’t run out of fun!