Sunday, July 30, 2006

Memorable Students

I started taking my digital camera to school to try and help capture my memories of some of the children I teach. All of my students have unique personalities. Some students are so wonderful, kind and funny and some are completely spoiled and selfish but all are very interesting and memorable.

I know I shouldn't but I have my "favorites". I am carefully to try and treat them all the same but I admit it is very hard when some of them are so special to me and others are just a nightmare to teach. [I will use their English nicknames when I refer to them as this is how I address them in the classroom and in many cases I don't even know their Korean names.] Here they are:

This is one of my grade 3 classes. The kids are Sam, Star and Bobo. Star is hands-down my favorite student this year. She is kind, and sweet and so very smart. Her older brother is in my grade 6 "Genius" class and I think they must practice English at home together because they both learn by leaps and bounds.

One grade four class I have is comprised of only four girls. They are a joy to teach. I call them my "Giggle Girls". They are always laughing and joking around. I always smile when I think about them.

Here are two of my grade 3 boys named Harry and Thomas. They are always in motion as you can see in this picture. They are cute but very difficult to teach as they never sit down or stay in one place.

Here are Tommy and Toby. Toby is carrying Tommy around piggy-back. They are grade 3 students. One day they are the best of friends and the next day they are punching and hitting one another. When I walk into the classroom I am never sure if it's a day they are friends or enemies [of course within 2 seconds it is apparent which kind of day it is].

One unfortunate part of Korean culture is that Koreans are very prejudice based on the color of one's skin. I've mentioned before in my blog how Koreans use parasols and special "whitening" creams to try and have whiter skin. The boy on the left I named Brian however, everyone else [including the Korean teachers] call him Togo. Togo was the African team South Korean played their first World Cup game against this year. I kept hearing the students calling someone "Togo" so finally one day I asked my grade 6 class, "Who is Togo?". Brian said, "Ann teacher, I am Togo" and walked up to me and put his arm beside my pale white, freckled arm and said, "See, I am Togo." After class he waited to talk to me and told me, "Ann teacher, I am my father's black son". To which I had no reply. He is very dark but I just think it's tragic that skin color is so important here and that being "Togo" has become his identity.

Here are two of my grade six girls. They are both in the "Genius" class. On the left is Laura and on the right in Carrie. Laura is one of my favorite students. She is so smart and she often finds me between classes to talk to me and practice her English.

Carrie seems smart enough but she is incredibly shy. One day the lesson in the book I was teaching was about hobbies. I had to ask my students, "What is your hobby?" I got the usual answers, "My hobby is sleeping." or "My hobby is playing computer games". However, when I asked Carrie she didn't answer [as usual - she doesn't talk. She does all the written work but she won't speak in class] so one of the boys piped up with "Teacher, her hobby is not talking". The entire class broke up laughing - myself included. I then had to try and stop laughing and move on with the lesson so as not to make Carrie feel picked on or embarrassed and I know I should have punished the boy who said that but I didn't cause it was just too true.

Here are some of my grade 6 boys playing the game "Guess Who?" where they have to ask questions about what someone looks like and try and figure out who the other team is pretending to be. They love this game and it actually teaches them to describe physical appearance. What I like is they just think it's a game - they don't even realize they are learning.

Here are some of my grade 6 girls playing the "Guess Who?" game.

This is one of my grade 5 classes. As a rule I love my grade 4 and grade 5 students the most. They are old enough I don't have to baby them but they are still eager to learn and not trying to look cool by not answering in class. The boy in the T Shirt with the Union Jack on it is named Tom and he is the most amazing student at translation. If I tell my students something and they don't understand he just translates it into Korean. I think he has a real gift for languages and interpretion. I won't be surprised if he ends up working someday as a translator or UN Intrepretor.

Here are some of my grade 4 students. I am not sure why they all look so sad in this picture. They were all writing work down off the board so I took the chance to snap this picture while they were actually still. This is one of my better classes. The girl on the far left is Sara. I do telephone teaching where I have to call my students at home and the first time I called her house and asked for her in Korean her grandfather hung up the phone on me. I guess he couldn't understand my Korean. Sara was so mortified. I thought it was funny - after I got over being annoyed. Now when ever I have to call the students for telephone teaching I tell them ahead of time in class and most of them will answer the telephone themselves. I love it when this happens. It makes my job that much easier.

Here's another picture of the same grade 4 class. This is how they normally looked animated and always talking and laughing.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Re-visiting Gumi and Daegu

My friend "Ray" and I used to live in Gumi and we decided to head back there and see for ourselves if it was the same as we remembered. We, also, decided to go to Daegu since it is the largest big city near Gumi. Daegu is the third largest city in Korea so it was where we headed to go shopping and go to some of the better Western style restaurants. It was nice to go back and visit the places which formed our first memories of Korea.

Our trip started in Busan at the Busan Train Station. It was a beautiful Saturday morning. However, by the time we got to Gumi it was raining and it would continue to rain much of the weekend. [If you read last week's post you can see my pictures of the rain storms we survived.] Nonetheless, although we got damp our spirits didn't and we had a great time exploring and re-living some of our funny and more memorable experiences from 2003.

It took about one hour and forty-five minutes to reach Gumi.
We got off at the Gumi train station. It had been almost two years ago since I had last been here and yet the NEW Gumi Train Station is still not completed. Not only that, but I was shocked to see that basically NO PROGRESS had been made. In Korea buildings normally go up very quickly. You can walk by a construction site everyday and still see the progress. So, I can't imagine what is taking so long here at the Gumi train station.

From a distance you can see the basic structure of the new train station and it looks like it will be amazing IF and WHEN they ever complete it.

Directly outside the Gumi train station is Dunkin' Donuts. It was one of my favorite hangouts when I lived here and it has one of the nicest restrooms in Gumi. It has a bidet toilet with a heated seat. I went back to see if everything was still the same and sure enough it was exactly as I remembered it.

Gumi is said to be the "Silicon Valley" of South Korea since it is where Samsung and LG Companies are located and where many young executives start their business careers. There are so many factories in Gumi and as a result there are a lot of English Teachers here since for young executives to be promotable they must made a certain mark on their TOEIC [English Language Tests]. I guess they changed the Gumi slogan slightly and now it is called "Electron Valley". I saw this painted on a light post and couldn't resist snapping the picture.

After leaving the center of downtown my friend "Ray" and I were hungry so we set off to see if my favorite Chinese restaurant was still is Gumi. As you can see from my photo it was. It is located toward the painted bridge of Dong-A Department Store. It's on the 4th floor of a large building with a bowling pin outside [to show that there is a bowling alley in the top of the building]. I discovered the restaurant by accident one time after spending a rainy Saturday at the bowling alley. It's a place not many foreigners seem to know in Gumi. What a shame, as, it's beautifully decorated, the food is fabulous and the service is quite lovely. Unfortunately, I can't tell you the name since it was written in Chinese characters and not either English or Korean. However, the menu is printed in both Korean and English so if you ever find yourself if Gumi don't be afraid to check it out.

We decided to get some exercise and try and walk off our lunch while doing some more site seeing. We walked by the Gumi Bus Terminal and it hasn't changed a bit.

Then it was off to E-Mart. When I lived in Gumi there was only E-Mart. Since then Home Plus and Lotte Mart have been built and now there is a choice of supermarkets/department stores that carry some of the "Western" products we ESL teachers crave.

E-Mart has these neat buggies for the kids to ride in with a basket above to hold their parents' products. It's a brilliant idea and seems to help keep the kids happy and let their parents shop in relative peace.

At the risk of seeming obsessed with bathrooms I have to add this picture. E-Mart has always had wonderfully clean bathrooms with "Western" style toilets, toilet tissue, and sinks with liquid soap and paper towels. I know it might not sound like a big deal to other people but after using stinky public squat toilets, carrying my own tissue, and drying [my rinsed in cold water without the benefit of soap] hands on my jeans I don't take nice restrooms for granted. Moreover, the E-Mart toilet seats have pressed flowers incased in the clear molded plastic seats making them easily the prettiest toilets I have even seen in Korea.

Maybe now that there are two other department stores in Gumi E-Mart is feeling the competition. I say that because while we were there we saw them doing this promotion giving away free gold fish to the children. I hope it works for them since I think it's a neat idea and I really like E-Mart.

We walked by Pizza Mall a really nice pizza and spaghetti restaurant in downtown Gumi. I always loved this place. Unfortunately, we didn't get a chance to eat there but it looks the same as ever and it used to be awesome.

Then we went off to Wa-Bar. I used to hang out at Wa-Bar a lot when I lived in Gumi. However, I have to say this visit didn't impress me at all! Firstly, the menu was printed only in Korean. This kind of shocked me [I hadn't remembered that] and Wa-Bar sort of markets itself as a "foreigner" bar carrying beer and liquor from all over the world. I got a Molson Canadian beer and sat back to relax and enjoy. Soon we were served free corn chips and "salsa". I took a big bite only to discover it wasn't salsa at all but sweet spring roll sauce. I thought it was funny so took a picture of it. As "Ray" would say, "Welcome to the land of not quite right".

Next in our Wa-Bar adventure "Ray" decided to order a rum and coke. However, our waitress couldn't see to understand despite our even trying to order {or maybe I should say clarify his order} in Korean. What is even more puzzling is that rum is "rum" in Korean just said in a slightly different accent. After the manager was called over "Ray" finally got a drink that looked like rum and coke but alas it was pure rum. This is him after tasting the drink and discovering it only had enough coke in it to color it. Oh, well, I guess you can't say they are stingy with their booze.

Wa-Bar has a long, long way to go if it wants to compete with the other "foreigner" bars in Gumi. Not somewhere I will ever feel the need to re-visit at least not unless I feel the need for a really, really stiff drink. LOL!

After Wa-Bar it was off to S-Bar one of my favorite places to dance in Gumi. I found it no problem but it was closed.

I thought it was odd that is was closed on a Saturday night and then I saw this sign that says 임대 [Im dae] which means "for rent" in Korean. I guess S-Bar has gone out of business. That's too bad it used to be a great bar.

Next stop was Club Psycho or as we call it "Psycho". This is the sign.

Walking up the stairs to the 3rd floor is the sign painted on Psycho's signature black walls.

Inside is the bar with all the different kinds of liquor and the small poster of the "hear no evil, see no evil, and speak no evil" aliens.

Even the menu is the same. I love it. It's done on an old vinyl record. I thought it was a neat idea when I first saw it and I still like it today.

One thing has changed. The two Daves [the former owners] are both gone. I miss those guys. At least one of the Dave's had a real gift for remembering people's names. He'd meet you once and after that he'd always greet you by name. It was a nice touch and it always made me feel my business was appreciated.

At least the bar is exactly the same, the service was good and the drinks were spot on.

Even the inflatable doll is still there hanging over the bar.


The next day after coffee and lunch we made our way to Daegu. We took the train to the Daegu train station and then caught a cab to the final destination of our weekend COSTCO.

This is the only photo I took inside Costco. Costco was over-whelming for me. I even found Jelly Bellies and Rice Krispies Treats, yum, yum. Don't even let me start telling you about the cheese .... Despite my best intentions, I got so excited by all the foreign goodies I was too busy shopping to document that part of my trip.

Oh well, I guess I'll just have to make other trip back there so that I can document the wonders of Costco for you - my loyal blog readers. [Okay, I know you're not buying it ... but that's my story and I'm sticking to it.]

Monday, July 17, 2006

Typhoon Ewiniar and Rain, Rain and More Rain

Last Monday Typoon Ewiniar hit and I was a little shocked that not only was my school not cancelled but EVERY SINGLE ONE of my students showed up. I still can't believe their mothers' sent them out in the middle of a natural disaster to attend an Academy. I really tried to teach cause I felt they risked their lives to come to class the least I can do is educate them but, alas, it was impossible. They were so hyper-active from either excitement or fear or both that by the time they got to my class it was all I could do to keep them down to a dull roar and inside the classroom. Forget about keeping them in their seats or teaching. I couldn't even get them to concentrate long enough to play a game.

Coming from Canada where we get storm days off from school I still surprised that nothing stops schools in South Korea not even dangerous natural disasters. The attitude seems to be one of complete nonchalance and/or denial. And, I guess it has even sort of rubbed off on me...

For example, I was out running around this weekend and traveling in the midst of the heavy rains. It didn't even occur to me that maybe it was a dangerous situation until tonight when I got a phone call from a Canadian Telephone Operator [my Mom was trying to call me and make sure I was okay and the lines were down here in South Korea. Actually, since I use a cell phone I guess it was the transmition towers that weren't working]. Some how this operator was able to get through to me and then I used a calling card and was able to call my mom and tell her I was okay.

Prior to this I had found the situation annoying and inconvenient but had failed to recognize the potential danger. So after hanging up from my mom I went on the net to read about the situation. I found this article in the Korean Herald which says that 12 people are dead and 25 are missing and thousands are homeless.

  • Korean Herald Article about Heavy Rains

  • I spent the weekend traveling to Gumi and Daegu where I used to live and taking a lot of pictures. I'll post about that later but for now I want to post my pictures of the rain storms I was caught in.

    I took this picture outside the Daegu train station on Sunday, July, 16, 2006 in the afternoon. If you look closely at the cement you can see that the rain is hitting so hard that it is actually bouncing off and up into the air.

    I this is a photo I took in Gumi on Sunday afternoon.

    I took this picture while huddled in a doorway in Gumi waiting for the worst of the storm to end. Other people saw us there and decided it was a good place to wait out the storm so we soon had company.

    This was taken Saturday, July 15, 2006 in Gumi. It shows the rain and the water pouring down a drain spout on the side of a wall. The white dots in the photo are actually huge rain drops.

    This is a street scene or Gumi Saturday, July 15, 2006. I have to admit I have NEVER been in a rain storm like this before. We were laughing and saying we were in a monsoon. Little did we know just how close to the truth our kidding really was!

    Sunday, July 09, 2006

    Red Devils [Korean Soccer Fans]

    My last blog was about Korean Popular Culture. When I finished it I realized that I had only begun to touch the surface of what I wanted to say about soccer and the soccer fever that has gripped Korea as the World Cup [월드컵] has been played.

    Someone who was seen on Korean TV and in newspapers a lot lately was 딕 아드보카트 [Dick Advocate]. He was South Korea's Soccer coach since September and he coached the team through their games at the World Cup. He was quite popular and he had several commericals on TV advertising "Papa Joe's" a pizza restaurant and the "LG Card" a credit card.

    Since Korea didn't get beyond the opening round of play at the World Cup his contract was not extented and he was been replaced by another Netherlands Coach, Pim Verbeek. Korea is excited to have him as a coach since he was an assistant to Hiddink who coached the team during the 2002 World Cup in South Korea when the Korean team made it to the final four.

    This is a promotional picture I found of 딕 아드보카트 [Dick Advocate].


    붉은악마 [Bak un ack ma] means "Red Devil" [or Devils - there is no plural form in Korean]. This is the term used to refer to the South Korea's Soccer fans. They are said to be an intregal part of the team. I have to say that I never saw a country get so behind their soccer team. Having dated several Americans I thought Americans were patriotic and sports-minded, however, the Koreans take it to a whole new level. Supporting the Korean soccer team is almost a religion here!

    For example, I went to a large supermarket near my house [during the first World Cup game South Korea played against Togo] only to find 99% of the entire store staff in the Electronics Department watching the game on a TV on display there. Moreover, on the night of the game South Korea played against Switzerland I saw a number of people on the subway on the way to a large stadium [to watch the game] and they had actually drapped themselves in the Taeguki [the South Korean flag].

    You are never too young or old to show support for the team.

    Even the children are dressed in red T- shirts to show their support [or maybe I should say their parents support] of the South Korean soccer team.

    Here's a photo of some of the South Korean soccer fans.

    This is another pictures of the fans. Notice the girl in the center is wearing the Taeguki [the South Korean flag as a skirt] this is the same kind of thing I saw on the subway. The guys wore the Taeguki like a cape and the girls wore it as a skirt.

    Stores everywhere sold temporary tatoos so that fans could decorate their faces with symbols of their loyalty and devotion. [I hate to admit it but I actually got in on this trend and wore a tatoo of the Taeguki [South Korean flag] on my right cheek during the game against Switzerland.]

    There is a trend lately to spell Korea with a "C" so that it reads "Corea". It is especially common on Red T-shirts and banners that are made for soccer fans. I'm not sure what the spelling change is about but I plan to try and find out.

    My friend "Ray" took this picture of the fans in the Ulsan, South Korea sports stadium. Notice how many people are there and how they are all wearing red T-shirts?

    "Ray", also, took this picture. It is showing the fans at night in the Ulsan Sports Stadium.


    I wish I had had my own camera to take pictures of my own. I saw so many great scenes of fans and their patriotic garb and I kept thinking to myself, "I wish I had my camera". Memo to self, "Always take your digital camera with you."

    Sunday, July 02, 2006

    Korean Popular Culture

    Since I have been living in South Korea for more than 3 years now I have become somewhat familiar with a handful of celebrities in Korean popular culture. Some of these stars I like and admire and some of them just sort of annoy me.

    On Korean TV there are a number of American Prime-time TV shows that are screened in English with Korean subtitles. This makes it easy to watch my favorite shows from back home in Canada. Usually the shows are a season or two behind but now that I've been in Korea for so long it doesn't matter cause I am as behind in watching the shows as the Korean TV stations are in airing them [and if you think about it - it makes sense that their is a lag time because it would take time to translate and subtitle each and every episode of a TV show - I can imagine it's a pretty labor intensive activity].

    If you watch TV in Korea at all you will find yourself seeing the actor 이 준 기 [Lee, Jun-Ki]. He is popular for having played in a popular and famous Korean movie called 와의남자 [Hwa oi nam ja which translated means "The King's Man"]. Now he is on TV hawking pomegranate juice for the Lotte Company.

    He is such a girly looking man. He is what they call in Korea "a flower boy". But his styles goes way beyond metro sexual. The first time I saw him I thought I was looking at a Korean style Michael Jackson only prettier. In one of the commercials playing on TV right now he kisses a glass or mirror and leaves behind his lipstick prints.

    There is even a song that goes with the juice. It says basically "This juice makes you beautiful and then when I look in the mirror I am happy." The fact, that I know the song and can sing it amazes my students. The song is so catchy but now because of over-use it is so annoying that I cringe whenever I hear it.

    Here are the lyrics to the song:

    미히녀는 석류를 좋아해~ [mi hi nun sak ryu jo ah hae ]["I like beauty pomegranate Juice".]

    자꾸자꾸 예뻐지면 나는 어떡해! [ja kku ja kku ya bba ji myeon nan un oh ddoe kay]
    ["Over and over, I get prettier. What can I do?"

    거울 속의 나를 보면 정말 행복해~ '[ka ul sok oi nan un bo myeon jang mal haeng bok hae]["When I look in the mirror I am very happy."]

    At this point the song just starts all over again. The kids sing it all the time and it has become "The Never-ending Song".

    Below are pictures of 이 준 기 [Lee, Jun-Ki]. They say a picture is worth a thousand words and I think these photos will illustrate better than I can say just how feminine looking he is. However, all the young school girls and even twenty-some women are just crazy over him.

    This picture shows him holding a bottle of the pomegranate juice he is advertising on TV.

    This is him sitting at a piano surrounded by pretty girls- one is left to assume that they drink the juice and that it is the juice that makes them pretty. Quite a brilliant advertising strategy when your target audience is young girls.

    This is a close-up picture of 이 준 기 [Lee, Jun-Ki] showing his face. See how much make-up he is wearing and how "girly" he looks. I dare you to look closely and his lips and tell me that he isn't wearing lipstick.


    I just don't get the fascination with this man. I don't feel he is attractive at all - at least not for a man! I could never date a man who is prettier than I am [or wears more make-up than I do]. Also, since I have been in Korea the majority of my boyfriends have been American military guys and I find that I like my guys clean cut and rugged.

    There is a web blog that spoofs Korean culture in the same way "The Onion" mocks Westerner culture. It is called "The Yangpa" which means onion in Korean. It's June issue spoofs 이 준 기 [Lee, Jun-Ki] saying he is the perfect spokesman for feminine hygiene products.

    Here's the link to the site.

  • The Yangpa

  • ***

    Also, on TV is a South Korean actress I do like. Her name is 문근영 [Mun, Kun-Young] and Koreans call her 국민여동생 [kuk min ya dong sang] Korean people's little sister. This seems to be the Korean way of saying she is "the girl next door". Everyone seems to like and admire her and in this case I whole-heartedly concur.

    She is in a lot of advertisements from KTF [a cell phone company] to make-up commercials, however, my favorite ad is the one in which she promotes "Eye Pender" mascara. It shows her at a movie theatre surrounded by other Korean girls and they are all watching a sad movie and crying. However, since she is wearing water-proof mascara she alone doesn't have circles under her eyes. She looks around and sees the other girls who have turned into panda bears [cause their mascara ran]. It's a really cute and catchy advertisement.


    I wouldn't dare finish my post about Korean popular culture without talking about the soccer fever that has swept over Korea of late. I never watched soccer before but I found myself getting caught up in the fervor this year. I even have a favorite soccer player. He is 박지성 [Park, Ji-Sung]. He is a Korean Soccer player who now plays for the England team Manchester United. In the recent [2006] World Cup he played for South Korea wearing # 7.

    Why do I like him so much?

    Well not only is he an awesome soccer player but he seems to be very kind and polite.

    I appreciate this quality in 박지성 [Park, Ji-Sung] so much more now that I have lived in his country! A country where a lot of the time manners are not displayed or appreciated at least not in public.

    What do I mean by this?

    Well, it seems that in Korea strangers don't exist. Unless you know someone they don't exist for the Korean population. Thus, it is normal to be bumped into with enough force on the street to almost get knocked down and never receive an apology. Don't expect to hear a "sorry" or an "excuse me". I have been told it is because Korea is a Confucian society where one's role is society is strictly defined by age, and gender. Even the Lonely Planet guidebook on Korea says that "This structuring of relationships is very important in Korean society. All relationships require a placement in some sort of hierarchy for one party to determine how to behave with respect towards the other. The middle-aged male office worker thrusting ahead of you to pay for a Coke at the 7-Eleven does not even register your presence. You have not been introduced and he has nowhere to place you on the scale of relationships. An introduction and an exchange of business cards would immediately place you into a category that would demand certain behavior from him."

    Well, I still like and admire the courteous treatment of strangers in public and 박지성 [Park, Ji-Sung] seems to feel likewise. Maybe it is because he lives in England now that he plays for the Manchester United soccer team and therefore he has become more "westernized". I noticed his manners right away. After Korea lost to Switzerland [2-0] he exchanged his soccer jersey with a Swiss player [something I saw no other Korean player do]. Moreover, whenever he collided with other player on the field I saw him extend his hand to help the other player up. I think 박지성 [Park, Ji-Sung] and his behavior gives Koreans a good reputation with people around the globe. Kudos!

    Here is a picture of 박지성 [Park, Ji-Sung].