Thursday, November 30, 2006

I ain't getting paid for this...

Yeah I've been lazy with the blogs lately. Too busy these days.

I have some after school lessons a few times a week and they are eating up my time, but keeping my pockets lined.

I've also been preparing for the winter English camp. The deadline for "materials" was supposed to be sometime next week but it got changed to Friday, which is tomorrow. It got pushed forward because the school has to finish their budget or some shit and the English camp materials are included in this budget.

I told my head co-teacher that the whole situation is petty. All I need for the camp is some paper that is gonna come from the big stash of paper the school already has. Whoever gave this "command" is making us rush through the creation of this camp so they can write a few numbers on some balance sheet.

They never told me about the new deadline until Tuesday so it gave me three days to finish my stuff. But, Tuesday I teach a lesson to the staff from 3-4:30 so that afternoon was wrote off (believe it or not, I actually have to prepare for those classes too), and Wednesday I had to go out with the grade six teachers for lunch which never ended until 4:00. So this week is wrote off basically except for today.

I even did some work at home tonight (the first time all year) but I'm nowhere near completed what needs to be done. I told my co-workers I didn't think I'd be able to finish this up by Friday so it won't be no surprise.

And to make things even better, Dong-sik was supposed to compile all this stuff tomorrow (I have a hard time using HWP, the Korean version of Microsoft Word) but he got called in by the Army to do a day of training or something. So now that he's gone it's impossible for this to get finished by tomorrow so all bets are off.

He said he'll get to shoot some guns though.

I wish I got to take a day off a fire a few rounds.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Technology sucks...

I'm here at a PC Room for the first time since I got the internet at my apartment. I'm here with my Korean co-teacher on a Saturday afternoon waiting to meet his friends and go to a jam room. You can rent rooms fully equipped with drums, amps, guitars, mics, and a PA system for about 25-30 bucks an hour. We got here early so now we're just killing time.

So I'm writing a blog and he's playing Star Craft, the Korean national past time.

Here's a few funny things that have happened to me lately.

The grade sixes were gone on a field trip most of this week so the principal wanted to go to the grade three classes with my co-teacher. One of the students speaks decent English because her mom is from Singapore and teachers English here in Seoul. I was talking to this little girl and I was very impressed with her English.

We did an activity in that class and the students had to stand up. When I looked at this little girl she had on a pair of tights with a design made up of green leaves. The leaves were actually marijuana leafs and here in Korea 90 percent of the people would not even recognize it.

Yesterday I walked into my "office" and my computer wouldn't turn on. Then I noticed the smell of burnt electronics and I walked into the hallway and the maintenance men were messing with the fuse box. There was a power surge and it zapped two computers and the heater in our teacher's room. This meant that all of material I had prepared for that day was outta reach and I couldn't print it off so I couldn't really do any work.

I started messing with my cell phone because I was bored and I accidently pushed a wrong button that locked my phone. Because the phone was used, the generic password didn't work because the previous owner must have put her own password on the phone.

So there I was with no computer and no phone. Pretty shitty day.

I had to go teach a grade six class so I decided to get one of the good students to start entering numbers on my phone to hopefully unlock the thing. During class, she tried numbers 0000-0500 with no luck. After class one of my co-teachers suggested going to the cell phone service center to get my phone unlocked. It was 1:40 when we left. I had to be back at 3:00 to teach an after school class to the teachers.

My main co-teacher got kinda upset when she heard I left, according to one of my other co-teachers. She was like "Those lessons are private lessons and Richard can't miss that class. He has to teach it."

Well, the joke was on her because I got back to school at 3:00 on the button and taught the class with absolutely no materials besides a sheet of idioms I had printed off. I haven't spoke to her about it yet but I have a feeling I'm gonna get a lecture from her on Monday.

Oh well.

So today I went and bought a new phone. Well, it's used, but it's new to me anyway. And the thing actually has English menus on it so my life has just gotten a whole lot easier. Now I can actually use all the features on my phone, most importantly the alarm clock. I've been using my watch as my alarm and those quiet little beeps are sometimes not enough to wake me from my slumber.

Amazingly, I haven't been late for school yet though. My biological clock wakes me up just in time to rush through breakfast and catch the bus.

Well, I'm off to go jam some Korean pop. Can't say I saw that coming when I decided to come here...

Monday, November 20, 2006

Too sexy...

Last night I went to a Korean friend's house for dinner. His "English name" is Sonny. His girlfriend cooked us a delicious meal. He's one of the few Korean friends I have that I don't work with. He's the dude who was juggling the flaming liquor bottles at that bar I frequent quite often.

He gave me an hour of Korean lessons in exchange for an hour of English lessons. Good trade and I think I'll actually learn a thing or two by doing this. Well, maybe.

Anyway, here's the point. After we finished the language trade we went out to some bar and had a few beers. Many of his friends at the Red Dog (the place he works) told me that Sonny used to be quite the player before he met his current girlfriend (who he will marry next month).

I can't tell if a white dude is handsome, and it's basically impossible for me to know if a Korean dude is handsome. So last night Sonny goes to the bathroom and his girlfriend tells me he used to be a model. He's 31 years old now and his modeling career has been over for a long time and this struck me as extremely funny.

I've never hung out with a model before.

So he comes out of the bathroom and I ask him about it and he says it's true. I asked him what his biggest gig was and he said about ten years ago he had a picture in the Korean version of Elle magazine. Then he tells me (very quietly so his girlfriend can't hear him) that after that photo was published he could have any girl he wanted pretty much. So I guess all the shit his friends said about him being a stud is true.

His modeling career didn't last long though. He is only about my height which means he is much too short to be a model.

But I guess he had a pretty good run...

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Open up...

Yesterday I had my open class. This was a chance for the Principals and head teachers of each grade to come and have a look at my class. All teachers in Korea have to do this during their first three years of teaching.

Thankfully, it was a grade four class and not grade six.

The lesson went extremely well, mainly because my co-teacher had an extra class with the students to teach them the games and songs in advance. I would call this cheating, but it's normal over here. We also decorated our classroom the day before the observation and even made special laminated signs to stick on the black board to illustrate the days objectives.

Like I've said in a previous post, it's all about appearance and presentation over here.

Today after school the Principal took the teachers who had open classes out for dinner. Earlier in the day, one of the grade three teachers brought me some homemade bulgogi that I will cook at home tomorrow. And I also got a big bag full of the left over spaghetti that was served for lunch at school.

The funny thing is that I just took chicken out of the freezer yesterday that I was gonna cook tonight, but instead I've been overloaded with food in just a few short hours. It's strange how things work out sometimes.

I also found out some info about the English camp I have to teach during winter break in January. The only thing I remember is that I will make over $1000 during the two week camp, plus my usual monthly salary. Pretty sweet.

The only problem is that the camp begins January 3rd, and we have orientation on the 2nd. This kinda ruins any plans I wanted to make over my Christmas holidays so now I'll probably just stay in Seoul over X-mas instead of taking a trip somewhere. Maybe I can still manage to squeeze in a short vacation somewhere but I doubt it.

I guess this is the price I pay for being a slack ass for the last few years.

So no, I wouldn't say Karma is a bitch. But she's definitely a bit prickish.

Monday, November 13, 2006

"Well, there must be a lot of Koreans burning in hell..."

Friday was a school holiday but the teachers didn't really have the day off. We met at the school, hopped on a bus, and went to a temple and another historic site. They were passing out beer on the bus by 10AM.

The temple was called Sooduk Temple and I'll post a photo gallery to the right. Not much else to say about it really. It was in the mountains and I saw some monks. Maybe next time I go to a temple I'll give a shout out to Buddha, but I really wouldn't have the faintest clue what to say to the dude.

Our next stop was more interesting only because of the historical significance of the place. It was called Haemieupseong or Haemi Castle (although there was no castle anywhere). In the mid-1800's, a shit load of Catholics were killed there. I told my buddy Jacobs back in Canada about the place. He put it best when he said "Well, there must be a lot of Koreans burning in hell for that one."

I'm a Catholic and I'd have to agree. I'm not what one would call a "practicing" Catholic but I got R.C. pride. I think it goes back to the Catholic school I went to as a child. I always enjoyed watching my older cousins beat the local Protestant school at basketball, but unfortunately by the time I was playing the schools had amalgamated and I missed out on this pleasure.

Anyways, here's what I know about this place. Korea was still being ruled by the Joseon Dynasty and was still a Confucian-based society. Catholicism was growing and the leaders didn't like it so they'd torture and kill Catholics.

During the great persecution of 1866, so many of us awaited execution that the killing process had to be changed. At first,Christians were crushed to death individually under huge stones. Others were hanged from a large tree,which still stands inside the fortress. They'd hang some of us by wires from our hair. The wire marks can still be seen on the tree today.

The italicized section below is from some website I found. Skip it if you want.

With the collapse of the central power in China and Japan' s opening to the West in the 1850s, the Western influence in Korea was imminent and unavoidable. In fact, between 1866 and 1871 Korea faced invasions from three military powers: the Russian Empire, France, and the United States.

With the impending Russian invasion in 1866, two Catholic leaders suggested t
hat the Taewon'gun should consult the French Bishop--who was still a secret resident--on the proper course of action, i.e., forming a triple alliance between England, France and Korea. The Prince Regent seemed open to this suggestion at first, but the anti-foreign (or anti-Christian) faction in the Uijongbu (State Council) prevailed and the bishop was eventually executed in March of 1866, marking the beginning of the Great persecution which lasted until 1871.

The Persecution of 1866 alone took a toll of over eight thousand martyrs, almost half the total of Catholic adherents in the country at the time (by then, there were eight foreign clerics in the country and more than 18,000 believers). Because of numerous coastal confrontations between Korea and the Western powers during that period, Christianity became identified with the Western "gunboat diplomacy", and foreign Catholic missionaries, who were residing illegally in Korea, were perceived by the government as agents of foreign powers (check out this site for a detailed history of Catholicism in Korea).

Here's the tree. It looks tough.

Not only did they tie us to trees, but they also tied us on to these crucifix shaped things and tortured and killed us. This is what those things looked like when they had a real-life Catholic awaiting his fate.

So yes, Jacobs is probably right by saying there are many Koreans getting a great tan South of heaven.

After all of that excitement things took a turn for the worse. We got on the bus and went to the Korean coast to eat seafood. There was only one problem for me; they eat their fish raw and some of it is actually still moving.

For real.

I read about this before I came here so I was mentally prepared, knowing that at one point or another I would have to eat something that was still moving.

Those red things in the middle (I dunno what they were but they looked like some type of octopus "leg" or some shit) were expanding and contracting and pulsating all over that green shit.

I tried one and that was enough.

It didn't really taste bad but the texture was too chewy. I quickly drank a shot of soju to wash away any remnants that may have still been in my mouth.

The next plate that was brought out had about 5 different raw fish on it. The Principal saw that I wasn't eating any of it so he ordered me a cooked fish, head and all, and it was great. He even ordered one for himself, maybe so I wouldn't feel like such a wimp, I dunno.

Then we headed out to another room and grilled some clams.

The guy to my left is one of the maintenance guys at my school. He was getting good and drunk by now. When we left the main table to come out here he stole a bottle of wine from the table and put it in his coat. That's my kinda dude.

His wife is from the Philippines and speaks English, so he could (barely) speak a little himself.

The two girls are grade five teachers. Pretty girls. The one on my left is only 22 years old and she's a homeroom teachers. I got respect for that.

When I was 22 I can't really picture myself in those shoes. Heck, I can't even see myself in those shoes now.

And oh yeah, had to add this photo. This was one of the displays at the R.C. killing fields.

Us Catholics always get the last laugh...

Tuesday, November 07, 2006


Tuesdays are the worst day of the week for me. It's the day that I begin teaching grade sixes who are a bunch of brats.

Well, that's not a fair statement. Thirty percent of my grade six classes are just a waste of my time for the most part. Every third week or so these classes are manageable but most of the time we just spend the class trying to yell over them.

Today I gave up trying to yell over them.

We were in the process of beginning an English game after a failed lesson. I didn't even wanna let them play the game but we had nothing else for them to do for the remainder of the class. We explained the rules, put them into their teams, and attempted to play the game. One group just wouldn't participate, the second group were acting like monkeys, and the third group didn't know how to play. The game was simple because we played it before and it went over fine.

My Korean co-teacher was yelling over the students and I looked at him and said "This is pointless" and I yelled out "Game over!!"

I made all the kids sit down and I handed each one of them a blank sheet of unlined paper. I then approached the black board and wrote "I will be sensible in English class." I didn't want to write "I will be good in English class" because that seems to vague. I got my Korean teacher to explain what sensible meant to them the best he could. I then told the students to write this out 25 times on the sheet of paper.

I told them if they didn't get it finished it would be homework and I wanted it brought to my office first thing tomorrow. Some of the kids just sat there while the others began writing, realizing there was only 15 minutes left of the class. I walked around to the kids who weren't writing and let them know I was serious and if I didn't have this paper when they left class, I expected it tomorrow and if I didn't get it their homeroom teacher and principal would be notified.

Within a few minutes the classroom was silent and all the kids were writing. I noticed one boy who had splints on two fingers on his right hand. He was feverishly writing with his left hand so I told him he only had to write out ten lines because he was right handed.

The bell soon rang and a third of the kids were finished and the other kids didn't' move. They sat there and wrote. I must admit I was quite surprised by this.

There is a ten minute break between each class at my school and I guess the kids realized it was better to finish the work now rather than do it at home.

By the end of the break, I had 25 lines from each student. Multiply that by the 31 kids that were in class that day and you have yourself 775 lines. The next time they are uncontrollable, they will be writing 50 lines, and the next time, 75, and so on.

This ain't something I wanted to do but today I was just fed up with this particular class and their antics. Each week it's the same story and the worst part is that a few students in this class are genuinely interested in English and I know they come from underprivileged backgrounds. They can't afford to go to hagwons like some of the other students and the hour or two that they spend learning English at school is the only chance they get. I'm actually considering having a 30 minute class once a week after school for any kids that are interested. Of course, I will only take limited students and the selection process will be totally controlled by me and only me. I don't know if the school will allow this though because they have an American guy who teaches after school a couple times a week but the students have to pay for this.

So anyway, the grade six class that followed was fine. The kids sang the song, they answered my questions, and they played the game with relative sanity.

The grade four class beforehand was great. I feel bipolar because for 40 minutes everything is fine and I'm loving my job, and then the next 40 minutes make me wanna quit or strangle a few kids, then it's back to 40 minutes of love.

Thankfully, only Tuesdays are usually like this because even though there are some other grade six classes that aren't great, they aren't nearly as unbearable as that one class I had today. Hopefully next week they will be a little more reserved in order to avoid writing 50 lines of English.

At least my Mondays are great. I only teach grade fours and they are awesome. Just look this dude.

He can be a handful at times but I can manage that, and at this age they still have fear of the Korean teachers.

The grade sixes though are more like a truckloadful coming to run over everything that's in their path.

The judge, and the jury...

Yesterday my school began it's "English Speaking Contest." One student from each class is selected and then they have speak some English in front of me and my co-teachers. We are the judge, and the jury.

What surprised me the most was that these kids had to memorize the stories they presented. There was no one in the room besides the students and us teachers. The students were so nervous that I almost felt nervous.

The grade threes began the event and all of the contestants were flawless. To be honest, it was virtually impossible to judge who was the best out of the seven students. They all knew their stories word for word and their pronunciation was just about equal.

Then the grade fours stepped up to the plate and most of them struck out. The first two students got through their stories but their pronunciation wasn't as good as the students who followed them. But the rest of the grade fours panicked and froze on multiple occasions so a teacher had to lead them on.

I kinda felt bad for the kids. I said to my co-teachers that this was more of a "Memorize an English Story Contest" than an "English Speaking Contest." We all had different opinions of who was the best "English Speaker" and we eventually came to an agreement for each grade.

Well, actually, I was able to sway them in my direction so I didn't really agree on anything but I'm more English than them so I guess they thought I should have the final say.

Tomorrow it's the grade fives and sixes turn to be devastated and be forced into taking the first step toward hating English.

Protect your neck...

Most of the shirts in Korea have English words instead of Korean. The makers of these shirts don't hire an editor and a lot of the time the message makes little sense. I spend the first few minutes of each class checking out the kid's shirts looking for a laugh.

Last week, a girl in one of my grade six classes had a t-shirt on that was covered with English words. It went something like this...

Be safe. Be respect. No take chance. Be smart. Fight HIV. Help people. Learn for AIDS. Protect yourself. Wear a condor.

Later that week I noticed a boy's shirt in grade six that had perfect grammar but it cracked me up. I started busting out laughing while I was teaching. The shirt was kinda old and faded. It was blue and behind the letters there was a sun and a palm tree. The text read as follows:

"I lost my virginity in Madagascar."

Amazing, just amazing.

I did a Google search and I can't find a shirt like this but I did I find a hat and it's exactly the same design as the shirt.Pretty cool hey.

I wanted to ask the kid to sell me the shirt but I'd have too much explaining to do to all of the teachers at my school. They probably wouldn't get the humour.

But to be more serious, I just hope that boy wore a condor on that humid night back in Madagascar.

Thursday, November 02, 2006


Yesterday was long.

My school district gathered all of the English teachers together at 8AM. We soon met up with another group of teachers from a different district and were whisked onto a bus towards some mountains that sprout really expensive mushrooms.

Three and a half hours later we reached our initial destination, a place called Dosansewon, or Dosan Academy for all the English dummies like myself.

Here's the low down on this place according to my good friend Wikipedia.

Dosan Seowon (alternatively, Tosansowon) was established in 1574 in what is present day Andong, South Korea, in memory of and four years after the death of Confucian scholar Yi Hwang by some of his disciples and other Confucian authorities. Yi Hwang had retired to the location in 1549 and begun construction on the facility, a private Confucian academy offering instruction in the classics and honouring the sages with regular memorial rites.

Like other Confucian academies, Dosan Seowon serves two purposes: education and commemoration. The site was well known in Korea as one of the leading academies and was home to the Toegye School of Thought for over 400 years. Although the educational function of the facility has long since ceased, the commemorative ceremonies have been and are still held twice a year.

This place is also pictured on the back of the Korean 1000 Won bill ($1).

Next we went to some restaurant that serves special mushrooms that are picked from the nearby mountains. Apparently the natural mountain mushrooms tastes much different than ones that people grow elsewhere, even though they are the same breed or species or something.

The food was good and with it they served some traditional Korean alcoholic beverage. Just what one needs before hiking up a mountain.

Then it was back on the bus and we headed to Mount Cheongryang Provincial Park to climb up a mountain and check out a temple. The fall weather was perfect for hiking and the leaves on the trees were awesome, although the colors of the leaves back home in the Humber Valley are much more vibrant. But there's no temple on the side of a mountain back home so I guess everything's even.

I can't tell you anything about this temple but some Buddhists still live there, or at least they hang out there in the day.

Ya know, it must get kinda annoying having hundreds of people come by your pad everyday taking pictures and then taking off when they're had their fill.

By now we're about three hours behind schedule and the next event on our agenda is a seminar about teaching. We get back on the bus and one of the district supervisors tells us we're just gonna connect the seminar on the bus on our way back to Seoul. A few of the second year teachers said a few words, talked about a couple of lessons (and they kept it extremely brief!), and then we had our usual bitch-fest.

Every time us English teachers get together on official business, our "seminars" and "discussions" always turn into one big criticism of the Korean education system and the way things are done at our respective schools. The topic of discipline and teacher's expectations of students is another hot one. Thankfully, I don't' have much to complain about at my school so I didn't get myself involved. It's just the same ol' bullshit each time.

We finally arrive back in Seoul at about 9:30PM, ninety minutes behind schedule, and we go to a kalbi restaurant. Dong-sik, my co-teacher went home, and he told me today that he threw up last night. He did have a bad flu all week, but I think he couldn't handle the mountain mushrooms.

With the meal comes a few bottles of soju, then a few bottles of beer. By this time I was simply ready to go home and sleep so when a few of the guys (and the district supervisors) said they were heading across the street to a bar, I declined. I wouldn't usually do this but the night before the hike I was out drinking with the "Young Men's and Women's Club" from my school and I needed half a night's rest at least.

Although the hike was yesterday, I'm dead tired again tonight but I made the stupid choice of washing a load of laundry and I'm waiting for the dumb machine to stop.

It really takes about 1.5-2 hours to wash one load of clothes.

But I suppose that's a lot faster than it takes to dry by hanging it on some rack...