Tag Archives: Tales of South Korea

Anyang Library: Pyeongchon Branch (South Korea)

Recently I decided to explore the Peyongchon library. It’s only a block away, so an easy walk. It has five stories, including the basement level, where there is  a cafeteria with standard snack bar type food, an outdoor “lounge” on the second floor, which will be a great place to hang out and read when the weather gets a little warmer, and five reading rooms for adults (not including the reading room for children and parents on the ground level). There is also a “wireless internet corner,” a periodicals sections and what looked like a computer classroom (it was empty so I assumed it wasn’t for public use).

As it was Saturday afternoon, the library was very busy and all of the reading rooms were pretty full. Really, they are more like study rooms equipped with cubby-like desks. I took my time browsing around and found a room that was less full than the others. I went in and found a desk to sit at and began reading. About ten minutes later a young Korean girl came down my aisle – I assumed she was going to sit at the empty cubby-desk next to mine. She approached me with a piece of paper. She had her thumb on it and wanted to show me something…I looked closer…everything was in Korean, but I recognized the number ten just above the spot where tip of her thumb was pressed. I looked at her in question and she pointed to the top of my cubby, which had the number ten on it. “ooohhhhhhhh” I said, and got my things together. I told her “sorry,” laughed a little, and made my way out of the room. I was a little embarrassed, could feel my cheeks blushing, but I was not daunted.

I wasn’t sure what to do next, so I left the library and headed to the Acro-Towers Starbucks, where at least I know the rules: buy a chai, wait for a seat, race to acquire it. Under no circumstances be polite and allow others who were there first get the next available seat. It just doesn’t work that way here.

On my way to Starbucks I reflected on my library visit. I thought, “I have no idea of how one goes about reserving a cubby in a study room at the library.” I had noticed an information desk at the front entrance, but the man sitting there looked more like a security officer than someone who would arrange for reservations, and since I really don’t know any Korean, I don’t know how I would even begin to ask him where I could get more information. How does one gesture the words “reservations,” and “cubby?” I didn’t even have the phone with me, which has a dictionary in it. And of course, the signs are primarily in Korean.  I did recall, however, one reading room that had large tables in it rather than cubbies and wondered if that isn’t a general reading room for which one does not need “reservations” to sit and read in. In any event, now that I have collected myself and thought it over, I will have to go back and investigate further.

Funny, every time I mention the library to other foreigners, they all seem surprised and state they did not even know there was a library in the ‘hood, even from those who have lived here for a couple of years. Unfortunate for me because that means they don’t know how it works either and can’t explain it to me. Well, I guess I will have to figure it out myself and be the one to inform them.

Third Term Masters Class, Chung Dahm (South Korea)

It’s hard to believe that I have teaching for Chung Dahm for six months now. I am much busier than expected and have barely enough time keep up with my blog. Everyone I ever talked to before coming to Korea who had taught here said they had a lot of extra time on their hands. All I can say is that they must not have worked for Chung Dahm. Either that, or they were here before the Hogwong industry really took off and became so competitive and high pressure.

With that said, I have to say that my second term here has been considerably less stressful than the first. For one thing, I am more settled  and established now than before, am no longer a newbie, and  feel like I am hitting my stride in terms of teaching. Track “B” is also a considerably more manageable curriculum than Track “A.” It didn’t hurt that I had a great schedule – half-days on Mondays and Fridays. I will miss that.

In other news, next week is the beginning of the new term (no break between terms here) and I will have a new schedule. Though I’ve not received confirmation yet, its about 99% certain that I will be teaching a Saturday class this term from 2:30 to 5:30 PM. But, it is a Master’s Reading class, so I will get to teach literature to high-level reading students, and I look forward to the opportunity. So far, there are only five students enrolled, so I really think it’s going to be worth the trade off. It also means I will get a day off during the week, and it’s so much easier to get to places like Itaewon on the weekdays. Saturdays on the subway is always mayhem. The image of sardines always comes to mind when I consider riding the subway during the weekends, because that’s usually what I feel like when standing in a cram-packed metal subway car.

The Master’s Reading class is in addition to the Master’s Writing class I was asked to teach earlier, so I will need to go through some additional training. Master’s Classes instructor training is scheduled for this Wednesday in Gangnam, which means getting up early to travel on the a fore mentioned sardine container. After training, I will  need to rush back to my branch by 3:00 PM, then teach until 10:00 PM. In other words, it will be a long day.  Since Gary has to attend the first training session with me (he will be teaching a Master’s Writing class next term), and doesn’t teach until 7:00 PM Wednesday, he said he’d wait for me to finish the second training session so we can take the subway back together, as sardines (yea!).

In any event, as I will be teaching what I have know how best to teach, writing and literature, I am very excited about teaching Master’s Level classes this term.

I am thinking of everyone back home and unfortunately blogging is the best way for me to keep in touch at the moment, and even that (I know) is spotty. Please keep checking in whenever you have a minute and always feel free to leave a comment.

The Unexpected in South Korea

1. Dunkin’ Donuts: There’s one on just about every block, and while the donuts look like the ones in America, they are not as sweet. The chocolate frosting is closer to semi-sweet than fudge-y. On Christmas Eve, the Dunkin’ Donuts near Chung Dahm was having a promotion – free hat with purchase of a cake (eating cake is how Christmas is observed here – seriously). I couldn’t resist and bought a strawberry cake (a very delicious strawberry cake, I might add) and got a free, pink fuzzy hat. It has a huge, white pom-pom on top and the ear-flaps feature polar bear faces. As it was extremely cold that night, I wore the thing home.

2. Smoking: People can smoke almost anywhere here, though it is somewhat expected that smokers do so outside. This does not mean people don’t smoke inside, however, and it is not at all uncommon for people to light up in restaurants in the booth or table right next to yours. (Cigarettes are very inexpensive – less than $2.00 USD a pack). I have noticed “no-smoking” signs in public restrooms (which are largely ignored), some non-food businesses, the movie theater, academies and the subway.

3. Easy access to alcohol: Seriously, a person can walk into a convenience store, by a bottle of beer, soju (rice wine) or wine, sit outside sit at the tables and chairs that are in front of most convenience stores here, open the bottle and drink it right out in the open. A person can even do this on his/her lunch hour and return to work. I’ve never, ever, never once been carded.  Further, you can by alcohol any day of the week at any time of day. If the store is open, it’s for sale (and if you there to buy something, the store is be open).

4. No business zones: What I mean is, many different types of businesses inhabit the same city block or even the same building. And when I say different, I mean drastically. For example, in the building where I teach,  several floors are occupied by academies, but there is also a restaurant on second floor, a PC room on the ground floor, and a bar (“Modern Zen Bar”) in the basement. There are “barber” poles advertising “massages” on the same street as all the academies (do not go into a place that has a barber pole and expect a haircut – and if you want a ” normal massage,” make sure to go to a place that advertises SPORTS massage). In the building where we received our training, there was a maternity ward on the fourth floor. The clinic down the street from our office-tel is in the same building as a cell-phone store. Conversely, sometimes identical businesses are located right next to each other. Seriously, there may be a “Buy the Way” convenience store next to a “Family Mart” convenience store,  and both will carry nearly the same merchandise.

5. Speaking of business zones, even though prostitution is illegal, it is highly tolerated. In our small neighborhood alone there are a number barber poles, live bars and hostess bars. In Yongsung, just across the street from  the I-park mall, there is a “red-light district” where one can find several blocks of women standing in glass cases, many wearing provocative clothing – though I saw one woman in a bath robe, slipper and curlers in her hair. From the right angle, you can see bedrooms behind the back walls. I hear that in Iteawon, a district populated largely by foreigners, there is a place called “hooker hill.”

6. Chicken. Yes, chicken. The Colonel has nothing on Korea when it comes to fried chicken – or barbecue chicken or roast chicken, or any other kind of chicken you might think of. Favorite chicken places in our neighborhood include “Chicken and Beer,” where they have the crispest, most delicious fried chicken in the world – and several different flavors – at that. My favorite is “teri-que,” which tastes like they found some way to turn teryaki sauce into a batter to dip chicken in and fry. Their golden fried chicken has just the right amount of curry flavoring and their barbecue is sweet and spicy all at once.

Hot Barbecue

Best Chicken in PC

Another favorite is a place called “Hof and barbecue,” (Hof is German for beer) though we call it “hot barbecue” Their barbecue chicken is savory and spicy and is served with a pan-baked macaroni and cheese. Who’d have thought macaroni would taste so yummy with barbecue sauce? Finally, there’s a place down the road called “Half and” we like to go to when we want chicken to go. It’s a little cheaper than our other two favorite places and a little faster too. We think it’s called “Half and” because each order is one-half of a whole chicken. Another interesting thing about the chicken here is that it is cut into many more pieces than in the states. On average in the states, you get 10 pieces out of a whole chicken (two legs, two thighs, two wings, two halves of the breast, the back and bony piece). Here, chicken is cut into maybe 15 or 20 pieces. And while this might seem like the ideal size for finger food, here in Korea, chicken is served with two forks (and a bucket for the bones). While I am getting better at eating chicken with two forks, I almost always wind up using my fingers before I’ve finished my meal. Still, with all that, there is a KFC in our neighborhood too.

7. Another interesting phenomenon about businesses is that they are apt to change overnight. There will be no “going out of business” sales or even any signs posted to suggest that a business might be closing. Rather it is there one day and gone the next – quite literally. There used to be a place called “Western Hot Dog” a few doors down from Chung Dahm. It was a great place to grab a meal on the go, either on your way to work or home. I tried it one Friday. It’s rather amazing how tasty a run-of-the-mill hot-dog tastes when you haven’t had access to one in a while. The following Monday, on our way to work, Gary and I noticed that “Western Hot-Dog” was emptied and some Korean men were putting up a new sign, “Victory Food.” It was open for business by Wednesday that week and has been busy ever since (busier that Western Hot Dog ever was). We were astounded at how quickly the turn-around was, and a little disappointed to lose something we had just discovered. Anytime I notice a new sign on a building, I can never be sure if it is a sign I have simply overlooked or if a new business has moved in.

8. Street Vendors: Most of the street vendors in our neighborhood(s) (Peyongchon and Beomgye) sell a variety of food from the back of their small-sized pick-ups or wheeled carts.  Available cuisine from street vendors include fruit that is in season, myriads of popped corn and rice snacks, pancakes filled with red bean sauce, waffles, fried squid and octopi, fish and rice cakes, ears of roasted corn, ice cream, milk, peanuts and, if you are at the park during the flea market, cotton candy.  Sometimes vendors set up tables near the public school and along the walkways of the residential areas to sell toys, earrings, socks, brand name knock-off clothing and shoes and other miscellaneous non-food items. In addition to these portable food stands, most restaurants on ground level have a walk up window or table where they sell food to go. In our area we can buy mandoo (dumplings) fried potatoes, squid, octopus and sweet potatoes, rice noodle in red chili sauce and waffles.

Tenacious is a word often used to describe Korean people, and this especially true when describing street vendors. Portable vendors get out there and sell their wares no matter the temperature, no matter the time of day. While the recent record snows did seem to force many away, the walk-up windows were still open and ready for business. Now that the snow is beginning to melt, many vendors are returning to their favorite corners and neighborhoods.

9. LG: I recognize L.G. as a manufacturer of electronics such as televisions and cell phones, and I am aware that they are headquartered in Korea. But what I am surprised by is that there are many other kinds of items with the LG label, like furniture. Take my couch as an example. If you look closely, you can see the LG logo imprinted in its simulated leather-like texture.

10. CCTV is everywhere. The only place it’s not is inside our office-tel, but I can’t be 100% certain about that. There is CCTV in the hallways of our office-tel building, CCTV on the path that cuts through the residential area that we take to get to Chung Dahm, there is CCTV in the building where we work, in the hallways of our floor and in our classrooms. At Chung Dahm, CCTV is monitored closely to gauge how teachers are doing. Until recently, instructors were shown their tapes during meetings with head instructors. CCTV tapes are also used in cases where students have misbehaved. Many teachers threaten to show these tapes to parents as a way to get students to behave in the classroom. CCTV is also in the classrooms of public schools, only they are live, and parents can tune in anytime to see how their child is doing in class. Parents can also tune into the CCTV that are present in the play areas around residential areas.

Record Snowfall In South Korea – Chung Dahm Classes Cancelled!

Gary standing in the snow in PC Central Part

Seoul and surrounding areas received a 70 year record accumulation of snow earlier this week, causing many traffic jams and accidents. The government departments responsible for snow clearing were grossly unprepared for the event. Military personnel and local police were called upon to clear roads and sidewalks, using plastic snow shovels. Apparently local governments do not own snow plows.There was even a group of Korean men shoveling the croquet court at Pyeonchong central park yesterday.

In response to the heavy snowfall and resulting traffic problems, Chung Dahm actually canceled classes Monday. Most of the instructors were already at the building or well on their way by the time they received the text message. Still,  everyone was very excited to have an unexpected evening off. Several instructors went to PC central park to play touch football in the snow (it was a dry snow and perfect for such an activity), while others of us found warmer, drier ways to enjoy the extra few hours of free time (Gary and I went to a coffee shop to read and write).

Unfortunately, because Chung Dahm is a corporation first and an educational institution second, Monday’s canceled classes (which parents have paid for) must be made up. As a result, all instructors and staff  are expected to work this Sunday from 12:00 pm to 6:00 PM to make up the missing classes. This, of course, is not something foreigners are used to doing, and it is a hard reality; Chungdahm is a a company that insists people work weekends and on a Sunday to make up classes canceled for a snow day. Even those branches that took Friday off for New Year’s day had to make up for it by having classes on Saturday.

Loosing a Sunday is rather brutal, especially at this time of the year. Christmas and New Year’s are over, the winter cold is paralyzing, and the last two weekends were lost to nasty head-colds; Spring can not get here soon enough.

Trip to Dongdaemun Fabric Market (South Korea)

City Gate

A couple of weeks ago I went up to Dongdaemun (pronounced dong-day-moon) to visit the Dongdaemun fabric markets; a five-story fabric, yarn and craft mall. I’d heard about this place through the Soul Stitch and Bitch group and have been trying to get out there since I arrived.

Anyway, it was late on a Saturday, and unlike most places in Korea, the Fabric Market has relatively “normal” business hours that run from 9 to 5 Monday through Saturday, so though many of the shops were disappointingly beginning to close, there were enough shops open for browsing pleasure.

There are probably thousands of individual vendors set up in small “shops” that are anywhere between a 10×10 to 20×20 square feet. There is every kind of fabric imaginable and the prices are amazing. The pathways are very narrow and I can imagine that in the middle of the business day it is probably louder and crazier than the stock market.

I was there to find fabric to make a curtain of sorts to hang in the opening between our “bedroom” and “kitchen” areas (to help keep out the light when one of us is sleeping and the other is up late working). I found a beautiful gold-colored fabric with a deep red leaf

“Hanbuk,” Korean Traditional Clothing

pattern that I think will be lovely, though wish I’d purchased twice as much. I wonder if I’ll ever find the same vendor again.

Besides every kind of fabric imaginable, we saw literally miles of buttons, and I am NOT exaggerating. If ever you needed a button, I’m positive you could find an exact match among these vendors. There were also amazing quantities of tassels and other embellishments, not to mention bulk tread at a pittance for what one would pay in the states, and in every color.

Fabric Market

Miles of buttons!

I was also there to find yarn with which to make an afghan and found an overwhelming supply of same. Very nice wool yarn can be had for 5000 won a skein – that’s about 5 bucks for something as nice as merino wool. I only wish I could have found a wool/silk blend. Anyway, I found what I needed and bought eight skeins. The woman threw in two pair of circular knitting needles (part of the service).

I can’t wait to back again!

Second Term Teaching at Chung Dahm (South Korea)

View from Classroom Window

View from Classroom Window

My second term here at Chung Dahm Peyongchon Branch is already two weeks underway. So far, “Track B” has proven to be much easier to prep for and teach, just as promised. I am only teaching three levels this term, which is so much more manageable than five. On Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, 4:00 pm class I teach Memory Tera. I am teaching Par Reading at 7:00 PM on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and Birdie Reading Wednesdays at 4:00 and Thursdays at 7:00. I get off early on Monday and Friday nights, which I am loving. I also have my own classroom this term.

My Wednesday 4:00 pm Birdie class is composed of elementary students. Because Birdie is a fairly high-level reading class, this means I have a class of very smart students. I really enjoy them and get to bring in extra information to challenge them. The first week we met, the students encountered two new terms; tangible and intangible. I explained that tangible is something you can touch or experience and intangible is something like an idea, something you cannot touch. They seemed satisfied with my explanation and we went on with the lesson. However, about thirty minutes later, one student (Jimmy) wondered if air is intangible; a pretty good question for a fifth grader I’d say. After a few minutes of discussing this rather complex idea, I think I convinced him that air is tangible because it can be experienced (we can feel it when we take in breath). Intangible things are more like beliefs and ideas, like love or whether we believe in God. He seemed satisfied once again.

The experience made me realize that I will really have to bring my “A” game to Wednesday Birdie class, but I am so looking forward to the challenge. Folks at Chung Dahm call it a perfect storm when you have a higher level reading class filled with elementary aged students.

Bridge Reading, Fall 2009

Best Friends to the end

Even with the new term proving to be so promising, I cannot help but miss my former students; even the ones who were difficult. Still, it’s fun to hear from other instructors that this or that student is in their class and how they are doing. It’s funny, it’s after you no longer have these students that you learn if they liked you or not. I hear it second-hand from my students’ new instructors that this or that student really likes me. It works the other way too; I hear from my students how much they liked (or sometimes, disliked) their former teachers.

Door Decorations

“Merry Christmas”

A majority of my students “leveled up” last term and the few that did not really could use another term at their current level. I took a few pictures on the last days of classes and will post them here (if I figure out how). This new camera of mine is very smart; it will sometimes ask if you want to keep the picture you just took if it detected that someone moved or blinked their eyes. Because of the nature of Korean eyes, my camera almost ALWAYS asks “did someone blink?” and I wonder if my camera is racist (or just made by wide-eyed westerners).

This past week I made and put a construction-paper Christmas tree on my door and have had my students add decorations to it. The elementary aged students are eager to partake in coloring and adding things, though, so far the middle-school students have not contributed anything. Our branch is sort of having a contest and other instructors are decorating their doors as well. So far there is a snowman with snow flakes on one door and student-drawn Christmas scenes on another. I was pleased when the Chung Dahm staff came to my room the other day and complimented my on my door. I can’t believe Christmas is less than two weeks away. Christmas in Korea will be something to remember, I’m sure.

Great Week of Classe at Chung Dahm (South Korea)

This week, I think, has been a particularly successful week at Chung Dahm; maybe because the term is coming to a close, maybe because testing is over and the students are more at ease, or maybe I’m actually seriously getting the hang of this teaching Chung Dahm style. Whatever it is, I am thankful to whatever beneficent entity aligned the planets of teaching in my favor.

My Mega kids are learning about “Unsolved Science Mysteries” and we’ve been considering the possibility of life in outer space, particularly on Mars. I’ve supplemented the in-class readings with internet images of Mars’ surface as well as images of the various space vessels that have been propelled to that planet. The kids are not as amazed by these realities as I was when I was a child and space travel was still very new. They seem to have every confidence that scientists will in fact find life on another planet or at least discover a planet that is compatible enough for life that we earthlings will be able to immigrate to it before global warming fully destroys our earthly climate.

One of the “Critical Thinking Projects” involved envisioning life on Mars and drawing a picture of a creature from that planet. Most of their illustrations were based more on fantasy than fact and proved to be very imaginative. One group of students depicted alien life looking very much like Sponge Bob.

Monday night’s Bridge class only consisted of four students this week. Our subject was “Prehensile Tails.”

I started the class by asking the kids “if you could be any animal at all, what would you choose.” The answers were bird, dolphin, whale and cat. I showed them a couple of videos of animals with prehensile tales, namely a pangolin (a kind of anteater). Later, during the post reading (which was about prehensile TONGUES) I showed them a video of a chameleon catching a grasshopper with its tongue in slow motions, which quite impressed my students.  I then accused my students of hiding their prehensile tongues and tails from me, which they though quite funny.

The “Critical Thinking Project” for Monday’s Bridge class  involved considering attributes non-human animals posses that are useful and imagining what two attributes would be neat for a human to have. Everyone picked the ability to change colors, like the chameleon, but no one picked prehensile tails. We all drew pictures of our ideas and taped them to the wall. One student thought wings would be nice (the same student who said he’d like to be a bird), another student chose smelling as a preferred attribute because then she could easily find chocolate cake, which sounded like pretty sound logic to me. Two other students chose the ability to run fast so they could shop quicker and easier. I chose a turtle shell and wings, which my students found pretty fascinating. That way, I explained,  I could go to fa- away places and still have my home with me.

Tuesday’s Tera class involved the “Roots of Rock and Roll.” During this unit I played a number of youtube clips of Fats Domino, Chuck Berry, the original movie trailer for “Blackboard Jungle”  (which they really disliked) and finally a clip of Run DMC on “Reading Rainbow” (mostly because our text makes a connection between the rock movement of the 50s and the hiphop movement of the 80s in terms of cross-over music). They thought Fats Domino was ugly and had a hard time believing Chuck Berry was really black. DMC seemed to be their favorite clip. I showed the kids some 50s and 60s dance moves. They loved it when I did the twist.

I have two Birdie level classes, one on Tuesday one on Wednesday nights. My Tuesday night Birdies are a surly, sullen bunch, but I am starting to get through to them. I have of late been rewarded with a smile or two from some of the most surly. My Wednesday night Birdies are all girls and the atmosphere of my Wednesday night class is quite the opposite from Tuesday’s. I spend more time trying to get the girls to stop talking and focus on the lesson. But we all really like each other and, amidst discussions of pop music, shoes and movies, manage to get our work done every week.

I work really hard for Chung Dahm, and Chung Dahm demands it of me, but because I love the students it is worth it and I am thoroughly glad I’ve come to S. Korea.

There is also a chocolate museum and factory, where one can purchase Jeju Island chocolate. The area is famous for it’s orange chocolate, which make sense when you realize that the island is also famous for its delicious oranges.

November Already: NO NaNoWriMo for Me

Sunday again. These things come around like once a week or something. This particular Sunday is gray and rainy, but at least not terribly cold. Muggy is a better description.

Gary’s putting together a small bookshelf we bought at E-mart last night and I am puttering on the internet. I’m feeling particularly distant from all my people in the states; and lonely. Invisible. Forgotten. I’m also feeling particularly uncreative and uninspired, which interferes with my high-falluten ideals of writing a book before I leave Asia. I’ve been getting email from NaNoWriMo groups in Kansas, Albuquerque, New Mexico and even Seoul (I signed up when I arrived). I just delete them with a sigh of disappointment and try to “let go”  inevitable feelings of “this-is-not-what-I-expected.” I’ve been playing with the idea of writing a poem a day as part of the PAD challenge that Poetic Asides puts on every year.  I’ve drafted two poems so far.

I’ve canceled my plans to attend the Seoul Stitch-n-Bitch group today because Saturday got away from me and I don’t feel like I got anything done and want to play catch-up today.  Mondays loom LARGE and are always followed by equally difficult Tuesdays, which are in turn followed by long Wednesdays, so it’s hard to think of anything else but prepping for the week. Fortunately there are only three weeks left in this “Track-A” term, and next term’s Track B is supposed to be much (much) easier.

On a more positive note, we get paid this week (our 2nd paycheck) and have plans to do some shopping at Costco Wednesday (yes, Virginia, there is a Costco in S. Korea – several actually). They are running a sale on a 10 mp digital camera from Nov. 9th – 11th that I am hoping to buy. I haven’t been able to use my perfectly good digital camera since arriving because I screwed up the charger when I plugged it into a adapter without a transformer, thus blowing it out (I melted my culing iron the same way). A replacement charger and battery only costs $12.00 at Amazon, but they won’t ship electronics to Korea (no one will). So I’m just going to invest in a new camera.

So, this is where I am at the moment. Not much of a blog, but an update nontheless. Drop me a line folks.

Gangnam Style: Korean National Museum of Contemporary Art

Up until last Saturday, the weather in Anyang had been mild and quintessentially autumnal. The front that moved through on Halloween, however, drastically changed everything, and it has been very cold and gray since.

My friend Cereba and I  spent Halloween at the Korean National Museum of Contemporary Art, which is a great place to spend a rainy day, though we got plenty wet walking to the museum from the subway exit.  Had we come up at exit 2 at Gangnam Station, we could have taken the Elephant Tram and stayed relatively dry – so a word to the wise.

I probably cannot adequately  express how much I enjoyed the museum. Seriously, experiencing art in whatever form and wherever it presents itself is kind of like a religious experience to me. Sort of like a soulful coming home. I’ve been complaining for a few weeks that I needed to get in touch with some kind of artistic expression but didn’t know where to go. Life here has been mostly about working hard to “make the grade” and, in my perception, keep from getting fired. Everyday life in Korea is about working and then more working, and when not working, drinking or shopping; exactly the kind of lifestyle I try to avoid. I mean, I try to lead a more deeply meaningful life – journey not destination and all that. What I was really seeking is the Korean perspective and reaction to the Korean mainstream way of life. I’m happy to report that I found some of that at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA).

Even though the permanent collection at the MOCA is free to view, we bought tickets for the featured exhibit, “Peppermint Candy.” Besides entry into a fantastic exhibit, our museum tickets entitled us to a free bus ride from the museum to the subway. That is, a warm and DRY ride from the museum to the subway.

So, after a lovely day at the MOCA, and a mostly dry journey home, a trip to our local E-Mart for snacks and dinner at the “Food Box,” our trio headed home to watch scary movies.  After the first movie, we all decided to head to Happidus’, a bar in Beomgye that caters to foreigners which, we’d heard, was having a Halloween party. At Happidus’, I played a game a pool with friend and before we knew it the place was filled with costumed party-goers, many of them, it turned out,  co-workers. I wound up hanging out around until around 1:00 AM before heading back to finish watching scary movies. My friends an I all fell asleep while watching “The Exorcist”

As I mentioned, the weather has been quite cold since Halloween and in the meantime my fellow teachers and I have been very busy administering the IBT Achievement Tests to our students – THE test that determines if a student can “level up.” Word is that once these tests are over, the kids will be wild and difficult to manage – and we still have three weeks left in the term! I look at this week as the calm before the storm and try to have faith in my ability to direct these children in positive ways in the weeks to come.

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…

Fourth Saturday in South Korea: Getting Acquainted

I’ve been in South Korea for about three and a half weeks now and so much has happened in that time that I hardly know where to begin. This is the first time I’ve really had time to reflect on my experiences so far and formulate any kind of real opinion. Up until this moment, I’ve had to rely on quick reactions and sometimes very basic survival skills. I’ve met some great people and a couple of real assholes too; faced overwhelmed, overworked students whose accents are so strong I could not understand them; gotten up in the early hours of morning to prep for classes; and wished a million times I had not left my comfortable home in Albuquerque.  But I persevere and have even begun to feel like I can make a place for myself here, even if only for a year. This belief is drastically different from the one I held only three days ago when I was certain I would have a nervous breakdown If I didn’t have a plane ticket back home in my hands before the day was out. I really don’t know how I moved through those feelings except by paying close attention to my breath and reminding myself that nothing and no one here can truly hurt me. I look forward to sharing some of the details of my first three weeks here as some of them are truly hilarious and some quite frightening. The best part is that these are my own true experiences of my own real-life adventure.

Thanks to everyone for your continued support and messages of encouragement. You have no idea how truly helpful they have been!!!

New South Korean Address: I’m in Anyang Y’all

Many, many people have asked for our new address, and here it is…

Kyunggi-do Anyang-si Dongan-gu Gwanyan-dong 1598-1  Trebell officetel Apt.
517

DO means Province
Si means City
Gu means District
Dong means Neighborhood

Very Quick Update from Seoul: First Days at Chung Dahm (South Korea)

We’ve been moved from the Casa Ville hotel in Samsung to the CoAtel in Gangnam Seoul and while we do not have a place to live yet, we are meeting with our real estate agent Monday morning. We will be working at the Chuung Dahm branch in Pyeongchon, just twenty minutes south of Seoul city limits. Right now, it takes about an hour to get from our hotel to our school, but we should be able to find a house (villa or officetel) within ten minutes of our branch.

Yesterday we visited our branch school, met our branch manager and a couple of head instructors, which did a lot to calm my nerves. It appears we will be in a pretty supportive environment and will get lots of tips and constructive advice about our preparation and delivery of lessons.

I am spending the afternoon prepping and practicing for my classes, so I’ll have to go for now. I just wanted to post a little something so everyone would know we are alive and survived our training (not everyone passed).

Until next time…

News Update From Seoul: Day Three (South Korea)

I’m reporting live from the 7th floor of CasaVille in the Samsung District of Seoul, South Korea. The current temperature is 85 degrees F. and the skies are partly cloudy. The humidity is somewhere around 200%, which begs for comparison with Florida rather than Kansas weather.

This is the beginning of our third day in Seoul and we are slowly but surely working things out. In just a few minutes, we will be shuttled to our Training Center Location in the  Kwangjung Bldg 4th floor, 18-9 Hwayang-dong, Kwangjin-gu, Seoul where we will begin orientation. The process today will only take a couple of hours and involves a test over Chung-Dahm policies, codes of conduct and, yes, grammar; the last subject of which caused me to wake up a 4:40 am this morning to brush up on my skills (remind me, what the f*** is a predicate nominative clause again?). Other items on the agenda for today include obtaining cell phones and bank accounts and finding out which Chung-Dahm branch in Seoul we will be teaching.  I think we will also secure an apartment or loft today (yay, finally a REAL address after two weeks of being essentially homeless!).

We’ve met three other Chang Dahm instructors here at CasaVille and have struck up a friendship. They will be at the orientation as well today and perhaps this afternoon the five of us will do something together.

Until then…

Annyong-hi ga-shipshiyo.