Tag Archives: Tales of South Korea

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.

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!

Children’s Day in South Korea (Auli Nal)

Today is Children’s Day in S. Korea, a national holiday, and judging by the two-million people in Pyeongchon Central park today, a big holiday for families. (The number quoted in the previous sentence is an exaggeration – there is no way that many people would fit in PC Central Park. It’s simply meant to connote my surprise over the quantity of people in the park today. Hundreds of people would be a more accurate estimation.) A great number of these people were children.

There where children in strollers, children on bicycles, children on roller blades, and children on skateboards. I guess you could say there were many children on wheels.

Children not on wheels were involved with familial activities such as flying kites, catching balls or playing chase; this despite the limited number of square footage (meter-age) available per individual. Still more families could be seen sitting on blankets on the grass eating picnic lunches or just relaxing with their shoes off. One family appeared to have ordered their picnic food from a restaurant as I saw a man on a scooter delivering them their food. I can just imagine the directions they must have given over the cell phone when ordering: “Ah, yes, we will be the Korean family of  four on the green blanket in front of the blue tent right next to the croquet court.” Made me wish I could speak better Korean.

I can’t imagine Americans celebrating children quite to this degree. In terms of scale and participation, today’s holiday  is more akin to the American Labor Day. Schools are closed for the week, parents take off from work and most acadamies and hagwons are closed, except of course, ChungDahm.

Though many students did not attend class this evening, the ever vigilant instructors of ChungDahm English and Critical Thinking were on the front lines ready to deliver a little edu-tainment to any child who appeared. I took the stance that providing education for chlidren on Children’s Day is the ultimate in celebrating children. The students didn’t really buy it though.

Fortunately, Kim ChungDahm, the fictional entity that makes all upopular rules and decisions at ChungDahm, allowed teachers to pass out candy suckers – a rare treat since we are normally strictly forbidden from giving students food. The irony of this gesture was not lost on the students. Nonthelsess, we were a little less hated as a result.

Letter from Anyang, South Korea: Missing America

Lately I’ve been missing small-town life. Oh, not the small-mindedness and lack of vision that is often characteristic of living in small communities, but the simpler pleasures. Things like tulip festivals and poetry readings attended by the same five or six people at the neighborhood coffee shop. Maybe it’s a reaction to the rash of recent Face Book postings and photos of families engaged in family-type activities that are particularly suited for spring; or maybe it’s from living in a city that is more densely populated than anywhere I have lived before. In any event, with only four-and-a-half months to go on my teaching contract I am looking ever forward to setting my feet on familiar ground and living among familiar people.

How Chung Dahm Students Get their English Names

Before my first day teaching at Chungdahm, I fully expected I would struggle with my students’ names, but as it turns out, most students use English names when attending English Academies. This was a relief  since Korean names can be really difficult to pronounce properly. In fact, all of my first term students used English monikers so I did not have to embarrass myself mispronouncing their names.

Still, I noticed that a lot of students had rather unusual English names. Elvis, for example. I figured the kid just saw the name in some name book and liked it enough to use it as his own. I also figured he probably didn’t know a thing about the famous Elvis Presley of America, who is always the first person that comes to my mind when I hear the name Elvis. It seemed very likely to me that the other kids in the class would make fun of him if they new he shared a name with an American rock icon from the 50s. So,  I didn’t bother bringing it up.  I figured it didn’t really matter anyway, and certainly I didn’t want cause him any embarrassment. Besides, I further figured, what were the chances the matter would ever even come up in class?

Well I’ll be damned if the last unit of the terms wasn’t “The Roots of Rock and Roll” and who did we talk about but none other than the King himself. My god, the poor kid, who was often the subject of teasing anyway, was harassed practically to death. Turns out the odds I had bet against where greater than I suspected, I guess.

Other names that I have heard and wondered about include: Jelly, Chocolate, Cream, Drac,  Rooney, Jack Sparrow, June and some kid that names himself after a different letter of the alphabet each term.

Most kids choose their own names, but often enough they are given their names by English teachers who don’t want to try and pronounce their Korean names, so arbitrarily name them. Sometimes it’s kind of obvious that the kids were in a class together when they were named because you’ll see a group of kids with names like Peter, Thomas, and Paul. Or Christina 1 and Christina 2.  Other times, as in the examples above, naming just seems random and thoughtless. I don’t know which was the case with Elvis.

Since my first term, I have had several students who use their Korean names and I do my best to pronounce them correctly, with some success. The most difficult time I had with names was when I had Jung Huan and Yang Hawan in the same class. The pronunciation of their respective names have subtle, but important differences, which I was only able to appreciate after much tutoring from the students. Jung Huan sounds almost like John Juan, and Yang Hawan sounds similar to Young Ha – wan. I could just about pronounce them correctly by the end of the term.

I have a few more new Korean names to learn this term, and I will probably butcher the heck out of them before I get remotely close. Fortunately, most students are patient, at least in my sight. The most surprising name so far this term, surprising in that is was unexpected rather than odd, is a girl named Eugene. I guess this is a rather common English name for Korean girls to take.

So, If anyone out there ever finds themselves in a position of giving a student an English name, I implore you to do so with consideration.

I mean, it seemed very likely that the other kids in the class would make fun of his name if they new he shared a name with an American rock icon from the 50s.

Teaching Masters Classes at Chung Dahm

Well, the first week of my third term is complete and I have met all my new students.  I am not teaching any Memory classes this term, rather all the classes I have been assigned are mid- to upper-level reading classes (Par and Eagle) and, this is most exciting, three different Master Level classes: Masters Comp. 100 & 105  and Lit. Project 100 (Wartime Literature).  This first week has been a real challenge since I am prepping for so many different levels (Par is the only class I have previous experience with) and I am scheduled to teach 27 hours a week (as opposed to the usual 24) this term. I feel confident one moment and completely incompetent the next. Ah, but such is usually the case when facing difficult but worthwhile challenges. I only wish I’d hadn’t had a head-cold all week; it’s the third one in six months! Everyone says it’s the poor air quality. Still other people tell me it’s due to the change in seasons.  I believe another contributing factor is the exposure to so many different people, mostly kids, in a week’s time. Suffice it to say, I am pretty tired and am looking forward to a Sunday afternoon nap.

Comp. 100 is fundamentals and very similar to Expository Writing. Even though my students are Middle-school aged, they will be responding to college level texts. Sometimes I’m not entirely sure they are mature enough, intellectually or emotionally, to respond to some issues, but then they always surprise me. The students will be writing a variety of short essays and learning about different genres of writing.

Comp. 105 is all about argumentation and is taken only after a student has had experience with Comp. 100. Ethos, Logos and Pathos, here we come!

Lit. 100 involves Wartime Literature and includes the following on its book list: When My Name Was Keoko by Linda Sue Park,  Hiroshima by John Hersey, The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane, The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien and The Book Thief by Marksu Zusak. I can’t wait to sink my teeth into some of these books, some for the second or third time.

Did I mention our terms are thirteen weeks long? With all these books to cover, I think this third term (second to last one here) is sure to go quickly.

When I’m not prepping or teaching, I am writing. My current writing schedule (which was on a semi-hiatus this week) involves writing, free-writing and generating new work in the mornings from approximately 10:00 AM to noon Monday through Friday, with one “floater” day to be used for miscellaneous unexpected events that necessarily come up. I used to spend one hour on Monday and one hour on Friday nights, previously my evenings off, to work on revisions. However, since I no longer have Monday evening’s off, I plan to work on revisions for two hours on Friday nights this term, as I have all day Fridays off.

Sometimes I do a little writing on the weekends – usually blogging – if so moved or inspired, and have begun a writers group here in Pyeongchon, by request. We’ve only met once, but plans are underway for another meeting later in March. Since April is National Poetry Month, I am hoping to recruit a couple of fellow writers to participate in the Poem-a-Day challenge with me.

I’ve been reading voraciously since arriving in Korea, but this has lately been slowed as I try to work my way through Doris Lessing’s The Golden Notebook, a read I admittedly am  undertaking more because it is an “important” work than for pure pleasure – though I find parts of it interesting enough. The political backdrop is actually more interesting to me than the interrelationships among the characters, surprisingly enough. It does inspire me, however, to make notes and observations of the various individuals I’ve met here which I believe will make great character profiles for some novel that could be written at some future date. The novel in my head is of a group ex-pats living and working in Korea and the tales of their travels, relationships and escapades.  Sort a modern Hemingway/Fitzgerald-esque novel with bared secrets and slightly dysfunctional ways of looking at the world. Of course, the novel in my head is interesting and great. Getting it onto paper is another thing all together, isn’t it? Character profiles will be enough for now, though.