NOTE: THIS WAS WRITTEN OCT. 9. SINCE THEN I HAVE ANOTHER WEEKEND’S ADVENTURES TO RELATE, SO HANG ON ANOTHER DAY OR TWO.
Another week down, and I finally feel like I’ve turned a corner – I moved into my new apartment and school is going smoother. I am, with fingers crossed, thinking maybe I can do this. I still don’t believe I am making an impact on the children in terms of learning English, but at least I am a constant source of amusement for them. It’s weird to walk down the hall, or even sit at my desk and be constantly greeted with giggles and a musical “hello-o!” And the kids are even worse.
The weekend was again chockful of activities, starting with a parade on Thursday evening. The first weekend of October was the Tamna Festival, marking something like the 1000th anniversary of Korea. I don’t have any pictures of the parade because I didn’t know about it until Thursday afternoon, when my Aussie friend emailed that it was happening.
The parade was composed of various elements of Korean traditions, from Shamans and haenyo, women shellfish divers, to a rainbow of fantastically costumed musicians and dancers (can’t you just picture it?). The best part was the complete absence of commercialism – not a single waving politician or thinly veiled advertisement.
Saturday was the day my schools have been working toward for a month – the all consuming Sports Day. English classes at both my schools were randomly cancelled all week because the students needed to practice their games. If they put a fraction of that effort and enthusiasm into “playing English,” as they call it, they would be orating at the U.N. by 6th grade.
On Sports Day all the parents are invited to come and watch the all-day races, contests, dancing and music exhibitions. It’s basically an open house, but they don’t go into the school. Koreans are crazy about fitness, certainly something Americans students could stand to emulate. Teachers in Korea are expected to put in lots of free hours, all in the name of the common good. Sports Day was no exception, and when I rolled in around 11 a.m. (exhibiting my American work ethic), the Korean teachers had been at it for hours. Everyone was dressed in their best sporty attire, from track suits to golf clothes. Korean women believe in avoiding the sun, not for fear of skin cancer, but for the antebellum notion of keeping their skin as white as possible. Here, tanned skin is still associated with the working peasants, laboring in the fields. To protect their faces they were these enormous visors, sometimes with extra flaps on the sides to protect against rays from all possible angles. Tres attractive. They also wear white gloves, which make them look like traffic cops. Or Minnie Mouse.
As I walked up the long sidewalk to the school the students greeted me with their usual enthusiasm, pointing me out to their parents, who shyly avoided me. Families had picnic blankets spread out along the walk, covered with the usual assortment of Korean food: 16 kinds of kimchi, 10 kinds of dried fish and rice in various shapes and colors.
At this school, the vice principal, my buddy, is always dragging me into the staff room to sample the latest delicious cuisine. This week it was yet another form of gelatinous rice, called doh, colored deeply green, which was apparently a plant derivative.
Anyway, after being greeted by my VP, and ignored as usual by the principal, who speaks NO English, I mingled and took photos. Things were going well until after a large group of mothers took to the field to do a hip hop routine that I swear was based on “The Time Warp” from the Rocky Horror Picture Show. When they were finished one of the teachers grabbed my arm and said “Now the teachers dance!” Oh god, no. Oh god, yes. Oh well. I trotted out to the middle where I hoped to blend in (ha ha!) and shuffled along in my Birkenstocks as well as I could while the camera-wielding parents clicked away. Afterward the VP said the students thought I was a good dancer, and they got it on video. All week teachers kept saying I was a good dancer. It was embarrassing, but I think it helped to make me at least not quite the outsider. This week one of the teachers asked if I wanted to come along next Friday on a teacher hike. They do them quite regularly, but this is the first time I’ve been invited. It’s a huge big deal, really.
The man featured in the photo below, left, is Hong Song-min, the school athletic director and resident hottie. Thirty-four, not married. He’s leading the school in a form of Japanese exercise to music. They have been practicing this at least once a week for who knows how long, but as you can see the kids are still just flopping all over the place. This is pretty much a visual of what English class is like every day. Me: “What. Do. You. Want. To. Do?” Student: “I play computer game!” Today I took special time to make them say “games,” plural, over and over, and they overstressed the S every time so it came out “gameZZZZuh.
Sunday I swapped apartments with a teacher who actually wanted to live in the Pig Pen. She got the bigger apartment, but I am very happy with my new place. It’s right on the bus line so I can step out my door and catch a bus that runs all the way to either of my schools, instead of walking a quarter mile to the rural bus stop while gagging on sewer and manure smells.
And it has high speed Internet and a HUGE HDTV monitor. I spent all day Sunday unpacking and gorging on The Daily Show and The Colbert Report. It was killing me to not be able to watch them during the presidential campaign, the richest source of satirical material ever. Speaking of which, it was also great to be able to watch the presidential debate this week at home, instead of hunkering down in some coffee shop with bad Korean pop music assaulting my ears. I could yell at that insane McCain and not look crazy myself.
Sammy isn’t too happy with the move though, since it is so much smaller, and has no outdoor access – I’m on the 13th floor. Yes, 13th. He keeps looking for the “other” room. He also is not happy with the Korean cat food I had to buy when his U.S. food ran out last week. I hope he adjusts. I did make him a custom cardboard cat scratcher, which he enjoys.
One more anecdote: Thursday a boy in class was suddenly seized with stomach pains – he looked really miserable. But the teacher said he didn’t want to go to the school nurse because he was afraid of the, “what do you call it, needle?” Huh? She explained that for non food-related stomach pains the remedy was to poke a finger and squeeze out the bad blood. I guess I looked skeptical, because she insisted, “It’s not mystery (I think she meant myth), is traditional Korean medicine.” I suggested that maybe the pain of the bloodletting distracted the patient from the stomach pain and they were thus “cured,” but this didn’t get across to her. Some Koreans also believe in “fan death” — that if you sleep in a closed room with a fan, it will suck out all the air and you will die. So there you go. Open a window.