Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Back to Basics

Here is a class picture from my Basic class: Soon Jae, Han Min, Jin Ook, Jay Q, Yoo Kyong, Lynn, Amy, Na Yun, Si Hun, Billy, and Chan Young (Max, Anna, Julia, and Lee are missing).
I have had these students since I first started and I will have them until the end of July. Over that time, they have slowly become my favorite class. They are my youngest students (Korean age 11 which is roughly American age 10) and they have so much energy. When I come into the room, they are always running away from the board where they have been drawing crazy pictures and then start shouting "Teacher, teacher!!! Look!!"
They are also my lowest level students, which means that we read books that are like "I have the ball. I am running. I am not falling. I want to make a goal." Because they are at such a low level, I can get away with playing more games and doing more creative activities with them than I can with older and more advanced students.
It is kind of fun to demote my English level into really simple sentences in order to communicate with these kids. Sometimes though, I can tell that they are getting frustrated because they don't know how to say what they are thinking. The other day, they were trying to tell me that watermelon wasn't a fruit and I was trying to tell them that it was, but both of us were stubborn and I couldn't make any good arguments so I finally just said, "In Korea, watermelon is vegetable. In USA, watermelon is fruit. Okay."
I also love this class because so many of the students have great personalities. One of my favorites (in an annoying but gotta love him anyway kind of way) is named Billy. He is a wild bundle of energy. Every 10 minutes I have to tell him either to sit down or be quiet. One day I had to take his desk away because he kept moving it. Unfortunately, that backfired because all the kids (including Billy) thought it was funny that he didn't have a desk and had to keep his book in his lap.
Lately, Billy has been bringing ants to class. That's right - ants - big, black ants. One day it is crawling around in his pencil case and the next day it's all wrapped up in a little square of wax paper, squirming its legs trying to break free. He insisted on showing me every day and every day I would tell him to put it in his backpack. In the back of my mind, I was imagining having to explain to my boss why I have an ant infestation in my classroom.
One day last week, Billy showed up with about half a dozen ants crawling around in an empty cassette tape box. I decided that I had enough of the ants. I told him that if he brought ants to class anymore, I would throw them out the window of our 7th floor classroom. Billy immediately looked horror stricken, "Teacher, NO!" "YES!" I replied as I stood by the window, mimicking shaking ants outside.
Today, as I'm leaving the teachers' lounge to go to class, Billy runs up to me in the lobby area. Quickly and rather loudly, he says, "Teacher, today I have ant. I sorry. Tomorrow I no have ant. Please no kill ant." My boss and the counter teachers heard his plea and started laughing. I showed some mercy and spared the 1 very large ant Billy had in his pencil case. But I do not want to see that ant or any ant again tomorrow.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Temple Visit

Today was the official day of Buddha's Birthday. We had heard rumors that if you went to the temples today, you could get free food and see some more celebrations. Wednesday night, we got some recommendations from one of the Korean counter teachers at our school. Armed with her information, we set out for what would turn out to be quite an adventure.

After 20 minutes of wandering around the station area looking for the bus stop, we then spent another 30 minutes waiting for our bus to come. Thankfully, it was the right bus and we made it to the temple. Despite the rain, we had a great time walking around the grounds admist even more colorful lanterns. It even turned out that getting free food wasn't a myth after all.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Lantern Parade for Buddha's Birthday

In honor of Buddha's Birthday, there was a lantern parade in Seoul this evening. It started right before sundown and as the natural light disappeared, all the lights in the bright lanterns lit up the street. The parade was by far the coolest thing I have seen so far in Korea. I can't even fully explain it - there was so much color and sound and energy. Afterwards, we went and begged some lanterns off of people throwing piles of them into the back of a truck. Then it was time to try to coordinate an hour long trip home on the subway trying to balance multiple lanterns.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Simile Practice

On a grammar quiz, I had my students write their own similes. Four of them decided to use me as the subject, with some interesting results.

* Amy Teacher is as smart as Albert Einstein
* Amy is as fun as television
* Amy teacher is as funny as comic
* Amy is as beautiful as flower
* Amy is as strong as ox

After that last one, there was an arrow pointing to a note written at the bottom of the paper. The note read "ha"ha" It's joke sorry~

Night Festival

The normally dead-quiet apartment complex that we walk through on our way home after school has been transformed the past 2 nights into a night market full of life, colors, sounds, and smells. It reminds me of a small town festival from back home - adults sitting on plastic chairs around folding tables catching up with old friends, children running around with each other until way past their bed time, couples slowly wandering hand in hand. The main street was lined with bright tents housing merchants selling everything from traditional carved name stamps to knock off Nike tshirts. You could eat an assortment of Korean treats, from pieces of barbeque chicken on a stick to a warm waffle with lemon flavored honey and whipped cream spread on it.

A little karoake action
Baskets of tomatoes and some kind of Asian lemon/melon
Can you hear me now? Bags of various puffed rice snacks

Monday, May 14, 2007

The Wonders of the Korean Healthcare System

I've been sick for the past 3 weeks. I woke up one morning and started coughing a really deep dry cough that made my head ache and lungs burn. After a week of that, I went to the pharmacy, told the pharmacist I was coughing and got a box of $2 medicine. There's only enough medicine in the box for about 2 and 1/2 days, so pretty soon I was back saying "Do, chuseyo" which means "More, please." Now I was no longer waking up in the middle of the night coughing, but I was now waking up in the middle of the night clearing all the snot from my nose so that I could breathe. By this time, my throat, already sore from doing so much talking in the classroom, was swollen to the point that it hurt to swallow, yet alone talk above a normal speaking voice in a nonraspy way. I was still having horrible headaches and sleeping for 10 hours a night, so I finally decided to take advantage of the fact that I have healthcare and go see the doctor.
During prep period the other day, I left school at 2:10 to go to the doctor's office on the 3rd floor of a building on the other side of the block. I walk in to the reception area where there's only one other guy waiting and hand my healthcare book to the staff. They type some things in the computer, ask "A-e-my Wu-lp-uh?" then lead me over to an area of the waiting room where they take my temperature and blood pressure. I sit down to wait for the doctor and start to take out an essay to mark while I wait. I don't even have time to get the essay book and a pen out of my bag before the nurse is motioning for me to come into the doctor's office.
The doctor, who speaks very good English, looks at my throat (as the nurse pulls my head back), listens to me breathe, asks me some questions, types some things into his computer, and then says "I think you have acute bronchitis. I will give you some medicine." The nurse shows me back out to the reception area. Two minutes later, she gives me a computer printout of my prescription and says, "Doctor is 3000 won."
I go down to the pharmacy on the first floor of the same building and give them the prescription. Five minutes later, they give me a 3 day supply of various colored and sized drugs, all nicely packaged into individual servings, all for the low price of 4900 won. I walked back to school and came off the elevator at 2:40.
As an American used to a very slow and very expensive healthcare system, it is amazing that I can go to both the doctor and the pharmacy and be finished in only 30 minutes and only have to pay the equivalent of $8. That is the good thing about getting sick in Korea, the bad thing is that I got sick from being in Korea during the annual Yellow Dust season where the air is filled with yellow dust pollution that gets blown across the sea from the Gobi Desert in China.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Clam Digging on Jebudo Island

This past Saturday, my school's manager organized a trip for all of us to go clam digging on Jebudo Island. Being a country girl, I had no idea how to dig for clams before we went, and afterwards, I still have no idea. I did have a lot of fun though, walking on the muddy beach and digging random holes.
Lauren shows our new teacher, Janice, how do we do things around here.
Milton, Dave, Matt, and Jonny showing off their bamboo stick fighting skills on the beach.
After we gave up on the digging, we explored the beach and did a little rock climbing.
This was our lunch. There were grills built into the tables of the restaurant and they brought us big baskets full of shellfish which we had to cook ourselves. Seeing the shells open up and boil right in front of me, almost made me want to become a vegetarian. What was good was the octopus cooking in the top left dish. All in all, the day was a great time spent outside under the sun, relaxing, laughing, and having fun.

Friday, May 4, 2007


I know statistics usually aren't interesting, but I read these in The Korea Herald (the English language newspaper that our school gets) yesterday and they struck me as being somewhat relevant and giving a little bit of insight into the Korean way of life.
  • Teenagers between the age of 15 and 19 send more than 60 text messages every day
  • The national average is 16.9 text messages every day
  • 20.7% of male high school students smoke
  • Rice accounts for 35% of the calorie intake of the typical male worker, pork products account for 5%, and soju (Korean alcohol) accounts for just over 2%
  • The typical female worker has a similar diet but drinks less soju and more instant coffee

Now while these statisitics are rather general and stereotypical, a hint of truth does resonate within them. Almost all of my older students have cell phones and all of my younger students are eagerly awaiting the day that the parents will buy them a cell phone. A high percentage of Koreans do smoke. Men smoke all the time in public, there are always cigarette butts lying in the stairway of my apartment building. Women don't smoke as much in public, but that doesn't stop them from smoking in bathrooms and socially accepted places such as clubs and bars. Like most other Asian countries, rice is the staple food in Korea, followed closely by ramen noodles. Soju is cheap and everywhere. Drinking is a big part of Korean culture, my students sometimes joke that I'm drinking soju out of my water bottle during class.