Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Priceless Language Moments 2

The woman who drives me to school in the mornings now likes to prepare a few specific things to say in English about current events, which is really awesome. Today, this is what she had to say:

"10 men die handshake Obama," and tried again after looking at her notebook:

"10 men die shaking hands with Obama"

Now, my first thought was that my president has the handshake of doom. This IS big news. After a little while I figured out that she was trying to talk about the Swine influenza, and how she read that Obama went to Mexico and was shaking hands with people that were sick and later died.

Thursday, 23 April 2009

Kids Climbing Mountains

Sorry, as Scott also mentioned in his blog, sickness came upon us this week (though more him than me). It led to being both very tired and extra busy while I tried to keep up with work.

Anyway! Right before the sick started, last Saturday, I joined Scott's school (Dongbu Elementary) in the climbing of a mountain (I think it's called Yongnam). I thought, when invited, that I would be going with faculty from his school since it was Saturday. I forgot, however, that 2 of 4 Saturdays a month all of the students have school (mind you, it's not in our contract to work weekends though), so it was a school outing. The mountain was right behind his school, and the hike lasted about 2 hours.

So without further ado, Kids climbing mountains:

The road was steep and treacherous...

The strong found brief moments of refreshment...

...the smaller and weaker tripped and fell...

And finally, finally, the end was within grasp! What would be over that final rise?!

This is not a joke.

After a 1 hour climb, the 1st through 6th grade students of Dongbu reached the top of the mountain to discover an excercise park.

Koreans let their kids climb mountains with steep drops and no rails without having their mothers sign waivers. They exercise after climbing mountains without a water fountain in sight. Incredible.

Sunday, 19 April 2009

Fourth Grade, and Covert Operations

My imaginary walk with the 4th graders on Friday went very well. Although I may have looked a little foolish because when they didn't understand my English instruction I would do the action myself, and then let Mrs. Im translate if necessary. At one point I tried to tell them that because we were going down a big hill, "Oh no! you fell! you fell down the hill!" and then I had to fall to the ground to show them. Once it clicked, they had a good time- one boy even rolled around dramatically like he was tumbling down the hill.

Class 4-3 was particularly memorable, because of all the classes in the school, they decided to prepare me a gift. They also spent their break before I got to class writing "Nice to meet you!" "welcome" and "Shara" on the board for me. This is what they gave me:

A handmade flower bouquet (you can see inside the flowers they even included the pollen!), a card, and a handmade box (which was wrapped in paper with the word "open" written on it). Inside the box was an assortment of many-colored paper cranes and hearts.

In the card was written:

"Hi we are 4-3 cildren
you comming here 2~3 day
But in Korea is very buriful
We like you and all people
likes you. (^.^)
oh I am sorry we don't write
any - -
I am really sorry
biy biy ~

4/17 Friday
We (4-3) "

There was also a heart at the end with the word "like" written inside. They are not ready to make a love commitment yet.

When got back to the office, the teachers started talking about how popular I am here with the students. The 6th grade gym teacher looked at me and said "I popular too. Rival" so I taught them what the phrase "bring it on" means.

During my free time, I drew 4-3 a thank you card with a cartoon version of myself holding the flowers, and as I went to deliver it to their homeroom teacher using a shortcut (there are 5 floors to my school and various staircases) I made a startling discovery.

They have been constructing an English room.

It's about 2 weeks from completion, and somehow nobody has thought to mention it to me. Even my tour of the school bypassed that hallway. I've been here long enough that I'm not surprised by this, really. When I asked Taebun about it later, he just looked at me as if it was something very obvious. It's the reason why he's been so busy lately and sometimes not around.

The room is massive- on the same floor as my current office, but in a separate hallway in the back right corner of the school (and just down the stairs from 4-3). The walls in that part of the hallway have ben painted a pale yellow, which is also the main color in the English room (with distressed green wood paneling trimmed along the base (the same color as the door) and plantlike details painted in green on the walls. The room seems to reflect me, completely by accident. The furniture hasn't been moved in yet, but there's a gigantic TV on one end by my desk, which is on a small raised platform. At the other end is a distressed brown barn or house-like structure without a roof (maybe for books or to keep plastic food in for restaurant role plays?). I can't get a good look down there there, because the room is locked.

I'm excited.

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Priceless Language Moments

Yesterday Taebun and I went to pick up my ARC card, but had to stop first at the medical center for a new copy of my exam (because he accidently gave my official copy to the ARC registry). While we were waiting, he got up and said "I have to go to the bathroom." When he came back, he asked me if he should have said "restroom" because there isnt' a bathtub in any of the hospital bathrooms. I explained that there isn't much resting going on in there either, and bathroom is more common. Unless, of course, you're in an English country outside of America where it might be the WC. He told me that when he was in high school the texts told them to say "where can I wash my hands?" which sounds silly, because if you really have to find a toilet then that won't always get you there.

He finally offered that a good option would be to say "I gotta pee," but then I learned that he thought it was "I got a pee" and pee was a noun. I had to explain that "gotta" is "got to" and "pee" is the verb so now we're all clear on the matter.

I am a little apprehensive about going back to the med center with Taebun, because now we're 2 for 2 on urine conversations.

And then today.

Mrs. Shim and Mrs. Im were talking about children and pregnancy. There is a woman that works in the principal's office that is pregnant with twins. Mrs. Shim was having a hard time explaining this to me in English, and tried saying "she gets pregnant" and then "she is pregnancy." She then asked "pregnancy is a noun?" I said yes "and pregnant is an adjective, because it describes her." She then takes out her notebook for writing down new English words, hands it to me, and asks "What is the verb for getting pregnant?"


The Basics.

This is my first week of actual teaching after a two week observation and adjustment period. This is my schedule:

All of my classes are the first four periods of the day and are 40 minutes long. The day starts at 9am, and my fourth class ends at 12:10.

Monday: (6th grade) 6-5, 6-6, 6-7, 6-8
Tuesday: (5th grade) 5-1, 5-2, 5-3, 5-4
Wednesday: (5th grade) 5-5, 5-6, 5-7, 5-8
Thursday: (6th grade) 6-1, 6-2, 6-3, 6-4
Friday: (4th grade) 4-1, 4-2, 4-3, 4-4 (and every other week 4-5, 4-6, 4-7, 4-8)

Note: There are 8 classes for each grade because the school is so large, with about 34-35 students per class.

Lunch is from 12:10-1:10, and then I have the rest of the day until 4:40 for planning before I go home. I'm told that next week I will start holding a class from 3-4pm on Tuesday and Thursday for the school faculty (and so far 30 of the 50 teachers have signed up for it).

After lunch, most Koreans will brush their teeth. They keep toothbrushes and toothpaste in a cup at school. I saw the same thing at the public bathroom of the college where we had EPIK orientation classes, so now I know. I have chosen to adopt this practice, and brought a toothbrush in on my second day of school (after hearing that many others receive toothbrushes as a gift if they don't bring their own).

This puts me at a perfect 22 teaching hours for my contract. I'm really lucky, because most schools are not as large so the other foreigners like me have the teach English at two schools. Scott has to teach 6 classes on Tuesday at another Elementary school because his main school is quite small.


Because most students are too shy to ask me questions, I prepared an intro PowerPoint for my first day in each class. It was mostly pictures with the headlines: Where I'm From, My House, My Family, What I Like, My Favorite Sports. Afterwards, I asked them if they had any questions. Every class asked me how old I am and if I speak Korean, but I did get a few more unique questions such as "Why did you come here?" "Why are your eyes blue?" and "Do you like Kimchi?" (By the way, I did actually finish it the other day! I had expected the spicy fermented cabbage to be the death of me at every meal, but I prevailed! After I announced my success to Taebun, certain I would be hailed as a true Korean, he said "Oh, I don't always eat it."

The English texts are, well, OK here. The Teacher's version of the text is even harder to follow, with it's half English/half Korean instruction for activities. Sometimes it will say the English and the Korean, sometimes just Korean. The only real problem with the text is that Mrs. Shim and Mrs. Im are a little apprehensive to move away from them.

The problem is, a lot of the times the text will use language or situations that wouldn't happen in real life, such as this from the 6th grade lesson on learning seasons:

Dialogue A

Kevin: Hi, Ann. How's it going?
Ann: Not bad. How about you?
Kevin: Fine
Ann: See you later.
Kevin: See you. Ann! Wait.

(The clip shows Kevin going to the grocery store, Ann eating ice cream, and Ann dropping a bushel of green onions as she leaves. They talk in monotone, and the clip freezes as Kevin takes a step forward and holds up the onions like an offering to God.)

Taking out the obvious problem with the "Hello! OK, Goodbye!" style scenario that would never happen between two friends, the bigger issue is that the lesson is about learning the seasons. This clip is played right after having the kids repeat "it's hot in summer" "it's warm in spring" "it's cool in fall" "it's cold in winter."

My other favorite is the 5th grade chant in the lesson about learning prepositions such as "in, on, under, beside":

Wah do wary wary Wah Wah Wah!
Wah do wary wary Wah Wah Wah!
Where's my watch? It's on the TV.
Where's my watch? It's on the TV.
Oh thanks mom.
Wah do wary wary Wah Wah Wah!
Wah do wary wary Wah Wah Wah!
Where's my bat? It's in the box.
Where's my bat? It's in the box.
Oh thanks dad.
Please hurry up.

...hmm. I actually cut that chant from the Tuesday/Wednesday lesson for 5th grade, but Mrs. Shim felt it was important so she worked it in to the Thursday lesson.

Taebun at least is a little suspicious of the text, so I think there's more flexibility with 6th grade. The balance I need to strike, however, is that the standardized tests Korean kids must take pulls questions straight from these texts and my purpose here is to raise their test scores. Pretty much, if they can tell me the phrase "I'm going to set the table for dinner" but I don't teach them to say "the cap is on the table" then I'm dooming them to poor test scores. I'm starting with cutting the unnecessary items and replacing them with something using the same key phrases in a better way.

My first baby step is the games.

4th grade: The game is supposed to be a board game, where they can advance their piece by saying the proper phrase (the phrases they are learning this lesson are "wow! beautiful!" "watch out!" "look at the bird" "don't do that" and "are you OK?" My problem with it is that like most of the games, it means sitting at your desk, but also because I don't want them just to associate these phrases with their textbook cartoon characters in frozen moments.

Instead (and this will be tomorrow) I am taking them on an imaginary walk through the woods, where they will walk in a line around the room and listen for when I tell (and show- I made some supplemental cards) them what they are encountering. They will look at birds flying above them, experience a change in weather, and have to carefully climb a big hill to see and comment on the beautiful view. On the way back down they will fall and need to check if everyone is OK.

5th grade: (learning up/under/in/etc) The game was to look at the two cartoon characters in the book- one at a table and one next to it. There was a book on the table and a pencil case under it. Then they were to turn to their partner and role play the scenario of asking where the book and pencil case was.

Instead, I drew a bedroom/kitchen on a big poster paper and labeled "bed" "desk" "refrigerator" "bookcase" etc. Then I made 15 little cards with items on it like "milk" "pillow" "trash" "chair" etc. I told them I needed help putting things in the house, so they had to come up (in groups of 5) and put things in the house and tell me where they are (with the class asking "where is the ___?" and then making them repeat the student's answer "the _____ is on/in/under/in front of the ____"). Most classes put things in logical places, but after the first group of five items in the 5-8 classroom, the kids got creative. The chair was on the desk, the trash on the bed, and the computer in the freezer. I let them stay there, and had the class repeat where everything was amidst a sea of giggles. I never said there was a right or wrong place for things!

6th grade: The game was to play telephone (say a sentence and whisper it on down the line) in two lines. Not bad, but for a lesson about seasons I thought there might be something more relevant.

I counted them off by season, and had each season group up in a different corner of the room. Then I gave them two papers and had each group (groups of 8, 4 per paper) write in English (or draw pictures and I would help with the new words) as many things that happened in their season to report to the class at the end. It was amazing the things they came up with. I was warned that most students just don't get English, but really just most of them don't talk. Some pages had nearly 20 things on them after 10 minutes! (and I walked around to monitor participation).

The Few.

Now, there are a few students that have spent time in America. Two of them, a girl and a boy, are in the 5-3 class and I desperately want them to do more. They look so bored during class, but still do the work because it's a requirement. I told them, when the class was learning how to write the letters "K, L, M, N, O" to write down words that start with each letter instead. The girl asked me if I wanted them alphabetical, and when I asked her "what starts with K?" she started by saying "Knock". After class, she wanted to ask me what a word meant that she came across in a book she was reading- "Congressional." Clearly, I need to challenge her more.

School Transport.

The 5-8 homeroom teacher, after last weeks "workshop" at the Andong Dam, found out she lives near me and offered to drive me to school in the morning. I didn't know this, but apparently some people were concerned when they found out I had to walk 20 minutes down the road from my home. She doesn't know much English, but today when I got in her car she had a notebook on her lap with English phrases, so she would look down at it sometimes and then try talking to me. She is really sweet, and if for no other reason that to talk to her in the morning, I'm going to commit myself to learning more Korean asap. I know I shouldn't have a preference, but I adore the 5th grade teachers. There are 4 others that are good friends of Mrs. Shim, all about 35 and have just fun youthful energy. They are always grabbing me and including me, even if I can't speak Korean. The 5-2 teacher has the most positively infectious laugh, I can't help but smile, and she always bounds up to me and says something rapidly in English like she's been waiting for 15 minutes for the perfect time to say just that. It's amazing.

Anyway, now that I have a ride to school, I worry that the copious amounts of food they give me at lunch will cause me to gain 50 pounds, so I really wanted to walk home. I successfully managed to tell the woman giving me rides to not wait for me after school, but I made the mistake of telling Mrs. Sim and Im I'd be walking home. I did say "I like walking, I like the exercise" but 10 minutes later they had Taebun signed up for the task of driving me home every day. They ask every day if I ate breakfast and to see if I was driven to school. I am going to let it go for a couple weeks before I say I would like to walk, because I don't want anyone to think that I'm ungrateful for their attentiveness to my care. Today, however, Mrs. Im told me to make sure I was exercising every day for my health.

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Return to the Dam (Partner to My Previous Post)

Scott and I went back to the Andong Dam this weekend before the cherry blossoms lost their bloom (which sadly, is now happening at great speed). I wasn't able to take pictures on my previous visit, because my camera was at home.

We took a taxi to the top so we wouldn't have to climb it all, but he turned and crossed a bridge halfway there and brought us to the wrong side of the dam (which we didn't know is closed off to pedestrians). Therefore, we walked back down the steep hill, across a bridge, and back up. The road snakes up the hill a ways before making it to a lookout house on that side of the dam, and the heat was about 85 degrees by this point, so we decided instead we would save some time by scaling the 70 degree mountain up to the lookout...

...on a soft sandy terrain covered in shrubs, dead grasses, and needles.

The view was worth it though. We didn't make it quite to the top, because the climb grew steeper and we could hear a group of people above us at the lookout house. The last thing I wanted to do was grab a tree and hoist myself up into a group of Koreans looking like a heathen shrub. Instead, we made it to a level ground with benches, which had a path that lead us to a park at the base of the mountain. Oh yes, there was a path about 10 feet from where we decided to be mountaineers.

I'm going to miss the cherry blossoms. They are stunning.

We stumbled back down in the blazing heat, and walked down the road to where the exhibition buildings are, just next to the Moonlight Bridge. Along the street were several other small seafood restaurants, with large tanks out front housing the fish you can select to eat. Just as we were about to pass out under the extreme heat I hear "Sara Long!" (well, more like "Sah-Rah Rong!") and out pops my principal from one of the restaurants. When he's not in school, I'm pretty sure he would spend every waking minute basking in the cultural hot spots of Korea- he is very much in love with his country, which is really cool to see. He supplied us with some water and introduced us to his wife. He asked us if we wanted food, but we declined because they had already finished their own.

Before heading home, we walked across the Weolyeongyo "Moonlight Bridge"- that structure is in the center. I like it, because it's not a typical straight bridge. We need to go back again, not only to see the moon from it, but because there are also fountains of water that shoot up from either side of it during the evening.

Monday, 13 April 2009

I'm a 25 Year Old Doll and Tennis Pro

In Korea, the day you are born is your first birthday, and then as soon as the new year turns over, everyone becomes a year older. This is how I am now 25 instead of 23. When my birthday comes in June, I will still be 25 (instead of turning 24) until Jan 1, and then I become 26. I wanted to mention this, so when I start referring to people's age, remember that in America they would be a year or two younger.n

I can't wait to be here on New Years Day. Biggest birthday party ever.

OK. Last Tuesday (and pardon the lateness of this post, but I just acquired the pictures from this event), after applying for my ARC Card with Taebun, I was dropped off at school and told "Oh Sara, today teachers have workshop after lunch." Taebun had to leave again (he's the busiest person I know), so the only additional information I could glean was something about the Andong Dam and dinner later. When 1:20 came around, I left with Mrs. Shim and Mrs. Im and hopped in the car with the 5th grade PE teacher (by the way, the difference between "hop on!" and "hop in!" was discussed at great length during the ride, which later lead to a routine where they would say "hop on!" and me pretending to leap onto the car hood).

So "Workshop" turned out to be another word for "Hang out." I'm not sure what happened with the students at school, but we met up with the entire faculty turned at the Weolyeongyo bridge("Moonlight Bridge"), which is about 10 minutes by car down the river from my apartment, near the Dam. It is the longest walking bridge in the nation, named for the view of the moon you can see reflected on the river like an old Oriental painting, and has a large hand carved gazebo in the center of it.

From left to right: Mrs. Im (4th grade), Me, Mrs. Shim (5th grade), and the 5th grade PE teacher (I still can't get his name, but we both show up to work early every morning and he tries to have a rapid conversation with me in Korean and sings to himself at his desk).

The faculty is really a big family here. Which is interesting, because there's over 50 of us, all at different ages. I had expected something much more strict from a culture that puts such a value on respecting elders, but it's actually very relaxed. I can laugh, drink, and joke with my principal (although I still maintain appropriate conduct, such as offering to pour a drink when empty, and when he pours me a drink to hold it with my right hand and touch my left to my wrist. As a foreigner I do get away with little slip ups though). You can respect your elders without being afraid of them. Mrs. Im is 36, Mrs. Shim is 43, Taebun is 30, and I'm 25, but there is absolutely no problem with all of us walking around and chatting about everything. It's great.

After an hour of leisurely strolling the bridge and the area on the other side with Mrs. Shim and Mrs. Im, where traditional Korean houses dot the landscape up the mountain, we walked down the street to some nearby buildings with exhibitions for Andong craft work. In one, you can view and purchase items made in the style or look of traditional Andong art, such as framed miniatures of the famous masks, scarves and coin purses, ties made out of onion plants, and tassels for traditional garments.

(This is me and my school principal)

Next door to this building was another, but in this one they make organic fabrics in the old style for hanboks, the traditional Korean dress. As soon as I walked in, my principal grabbed me by the arm and led me to a display marked "don't touch display" and said "you. change. party dress!" and everyone laughs and cheers. I thought it was a joke, but less than 20 minutes later the owner of the building was taking the dress of the stand and sliding it over my head. Well, here you have it:

Everyone told me how beautiful I looked in the traditional dress, but I couldn't help but worry I looked like a pregnant Amazon next to the dainty Korean women who circled around me.

(Me and Mrs. Shim. I have this framed- one of the teachers gave it to me the next day. Behind me is the display and mannequin that the dress was on.)

It was a lot of fun, even if it was a little strange for me to be on display. It certainly broke the ice a little bit for the faculty who have been a little afraid to talk to me because they didn't think their English was good enough. Afterwards, it seemed like it was easier for them to approach me for a few words or questions.

This is how I suddenly became a tennis pro.

Mrs. Shim and Mrs. Im were not always by my side, so I would try talking with the others. I was seated at a table with about 10 of the female faculty, and they were trying to find things to say. They wanted to know if I played any sports. The only one I know, well aside from riding horses, is tennis so that is what I told them. One woman (I think the school nurse) said "I play!" and wanted to know if I would play with her. Now, this has evolved over the course of the week because I also found out that, because the faculty is a big family, they like to share gossip. I did tell them that I hadn't played in years, mostly just in high school, but that didn't stop word from getting around that I'm fabulous at the sport. Now I've been approached by about five teachers to play tennis with them, and pretty soon I'm about to become a huge embarrassment because I've heard these women are really good. I'll update you when I have my debut.

After leaving the exhibitions, I "hopped on the car" to go to the top of the Dam which is massive and was only just built in 1981. From the top I could see all the way down the Nakdong river, flanked on each side by the rising mountains (which is all the more beautiful of a view when the cherry blossoms are in bloom- pink speckled at random all over. It really brings out the sheer depth of the rising landscape), and could count the bridges all the way to the one nearest to my apartment. I had no idea when I moved that I was not only going to be living right across the river from downtown, but also just down the river from beautiful uninhabited scenery in a country that has to do a lot with limited space in cities.

And then dinner. My parents should enjoy this one because they saw exactly what this was on the Anthony Bourdain Korean food special before I left the country. Dinner was a big pot of spicy red soup complete with a whole catfish (and if it's like we saw it made on the show, they just catch the fish and throw it on it) along with long thin mushrooms that are in most every soup here, and a few other vegetables. Oh yes, I ate the catfish, which was really good once removed from its scales and bones. I must say, I'm really enjoying this whole concept of communal eating that takes place over here. Everyone shares what's on the table. We also had hot stone pots of rice, and various side dishes including tiny dried sardines, peanuts, kimchi, and mushrooms. And of course, Soju. It's too delicious for it's own good.

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

So, a French Man Walks Into a Korean City Hall...

...and says "I don't speak very good English"

Taebun (my 6th grade co-teacher/Mr. Kim. That's how I'm Romanizing his first name) and I went to Andong City Hall to apply for my Alien Registration Card yesterday. The ARC registration table travels throughout the week, and is only in Andong on Thursday. This will make me official here, so I can get a cell phone, Internet, and other useful things. The only problem, I learned later, is that we didn't see a "multiple entry" box to select on the application and we can't clear this up until next Wednesday. So technically if this isn't fixed, this means I lose my job and right to be here if I leave the country in the next year. Hmm.

Anyway, so I'm in line and an old man walks up to me and taps me on the shoulder. He keeps asking if this is a tourism information desk. He's French, and speaks with a very heavy accent in very slow and sometimes disjointed English. After a bit of confusing dialogue, I learn two things about why he's here: He was climbing a mountain and lost his guidebook (at first he kept saying "I lost my guide on the mountain" to which I felt horrified that some guy was stranded on a mountain somewhere), and he is in Andong because "there is something important to see here" and he didn't know what it was.

Andong is the capital of Korean tradition- it's on signs everywhere. There are many important things to see here.

Also, nobody in City Hall spoke English. I finally got Taebun involved, because I figured that he was the only person in about a 10 mile radius that could help this man because of his English fluency. However, the Frenchman and Taebun had a difficult time understanding each other because of their respective accents (not to mention the French man liked to interrupt Taebun with a new thought if he didn't understand), so I fit in somewhere in the middle of the fiasco.

After applying for my ARC, the three of us went to the information counter to get him a map. The French man spoke to me, I clarified for Taebun, and Taebun spoke to the women at the information counter in Korean- and then the chain reversed. He kept saying he thought he wanted to see a temple. After about 10 minutes of this, I figured out what he really wanted to see was Hahoe village (which he didn't recognize the name spoken, but he did in print), which is a traditional folk village (the source of the famous masks) and lies just outside of Andong.

We left when he asked us for the address and directions to his hotel. I'm not sure how he managed to get here at all.

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Woobang Tower Land!

Yesterday I went with the 5th grade on a field trip or "work day." No work required. We loaded up 9 buses (just the 5th grade) and took a 1 hour ride down to Daegu to go to Woobang Tower Land!
It is a moderately sized amusement park on the side of a mountain in central Daegu. something akin to Disney Land crossed with a carnival, with a few roller coasters, a water log ride, spinning rides, bumper cars, a ghost house, etc.
...and an "Aladin" fun house! :)
The rides are mostly targeted toward children of various ages, and toward the entrance to the park, there are periodic character shows. The characters are very strange. Unlike Disney, where the characters are from beloved children's movies, Woobang Towerland offers a random assortment of creatures in swanky outfits- cats, bearmonkeys, etc. I can't seem to pick up on a trend or reason, but it's just odd enough to make you smile and nod.
As a result, the merchandise is also very different. Instead of Mickey mouse hats or princess scepters, Woobang Tower Land offers children a very broad array of items for purchase: a scream mask, a devil scepter, a headband with happy stars on springs like antennae, and my personal favorite- a 3 foot yellow pole topped with a swirl of plastic yellow poo with a smiling face. Who could resist! I loved watching kids running around hitting each other with it. Amazing.
It is named for Woobang Tower, a 230 meter tower which sits right next to the park, just a bit further up the mountain. It can be reached by cable car at the entrance of the park.
The tower offers a "sky jump," meaning you can walk out on a platform from the observation deck and bungee jump down. You can see the platform sticking out there.
Also in the tower is an Aquarium on the bottom level, an American restaurant on the top (...so the sign said), and an observation deck one level below the restaurant, where the sky jump takes place.
Daegu, by the way, is huge. I took this from the observation deck of Woobang Tower (which had windows the whole way around), and the city looked like this from every angle.
Massive. It really puts into perspective why people keep referring to Andong as a "small city," even though it looks big to me and has the population equivalent to Grand Rapids, MI. Daegu is also only the third largest city in South Korea, after Seoul and Busan.
One of the best perks about the whole trip, is that I am now the proud holder of a 1 year pass and unlimited ride sticker!

Sunday, 5 April 2009

My 4 Day Odyssey

(For those who wondered, this was our hotel room, as described in my last post. Motel Won.)
A set of highlights from my first 4 days at Kilju Elementary:

Day 1. Tuesday. I Feel Like a Rockstar.

I was picked up at 8:25am (school starts at 9, but we have to be there by 8:40) by my 6th grade co-teacher, Mr. Kim (I think his first name is something like Dah-boon, but I haven't quite got all of my pronunciations down yet). I made my rounds to the staff, starting with the school Principal. After serving us coffee and discussing intensely with Mr. Kim about what I later found out to be whether my coffee was the way I liked it and if my hotel was comfortable enough, the principal began to indroduce me to some of the other staff. Other than my name and that I was the new English teacher, the biggest highlight of my introduction was that I was a great drinker.
On the 3rd floor, I was shown my office. Rather, the office of the "additional teachers" that aren't the elementary homeroom teachers (English/Gym).

This is the entry. To the right and left of the bookshelf takes you to our desks.
There are three desks on each side, across from each other. Mine is the one here in the center. Outside the window is the front of the school. Behind me is a refridgerator and a sink with a hot water boiler and cabinets for coffee, tea, and mugs. Coffee here, by the way, is most commonly in single cup packets of half instant coffee and half sugar/cream. Katie and my Mom would not survive here.
Here I met my two other co-teachers. Mrs. Shim teaches 5th grade (and sits to my right) and Mrs. Im teaches 4th (and sits to my left). Mr. Kim sits on the other side, across from Mrs. Im. Yes, my co-teachers are Mr. Kim, Mrs. Shim, and Mrs. Im. Amazing. While Kim is my age, the other two are perhaps in their mid to late 30's. Their English is also very different. Mr. Kim is fluent (I found out that he is good with sarcasm. Awesome.), Mrs. Shim is more limited but can still have a conversation, just slower, and Mrs. Im can have pieces of conversations, but I need to slow it down a little more even still. I welcome the challenge- it will keep me thinking. I do think I hit the co-teacher jackpot though. Everyone is exceptionally nice and cheerful, and our personalities are perfectly in sync.

And then lunch. 1500 students.

I am not kidding when I say I felt like a rockstar. Imagine two rows of students winding down into the 1st floor cafeteria and up either side of two flights of stairs, all waving and shouting "Hello!" "Hi!" and then smiling really wide if I respond. I can't imagine a time in my life when I will again be this popular. I was told that many of them have never seen a foreigner before. However, some Korean parents who have the means will send their children to America/Canada/England to learn English for a year, so there were a few kids who came up to me and were eager to practice having a conversation (and man, are they good! ...but that means the gap between kids' levels in the classroom will be extreme). Lunch is fun.

Oh, and if anyone was wondering, I have to use squat toilets in the floor. I did spy a Western style one, but the door is half broken and fallen in to the stall. Sabotage!

Day 2. Wednesday. My Unicorn Bite.

The day finally came. I needed to get a medical exam so that I can apply for my Alien Registration Card (ARC). That meant an HIV test, which meant needles, which meant bloodwork. Gulp. Scott tells me that needles are really just unicorn bites that make you magically healthier. I remain suspicious.
(Photo fromhttp://www.amc.or.kr/) --->
So this was the most amazing medical exam of my life.
First of all, the whole thing cost 50,000 won --uninsured -- which is only like $45 or less (I don't get medical insurance until the end of the month and I have an ARC card, but I got 300,000 won from my school upon arrival to cover these sorts of things anyway). It was extremely efficient, and like a surprise behind every door. Mr. Kim had to take me around this hospital to separate rooms, each for a separate purpose: hearing test, eye test, height/weight/blood pressure recording, dental exam, urine test, blood test, and a chest X-Ray (to check for TB). I never knew what was going to be behind the next door...which did no favors for my nerves in anticipation for blood work, however.
...Some of this process got a little awkward with Mr. Kim translating.
The Urine test was the worst, because it was like a science experiment. I had a small paper cup, what Scott (who went through the same process later that day) very aptly named "the turkey baster," and a test tube handed to me. Mr. Kim had to then translate that I was to pee in the cup, pour half of it into the test tube, then suck the rest up into the "turkey baster" and then balance all three in a walk down the hallway to drop it off.
Ahh... well they did tell me at orientation to get some outside bonding with my co-teacher.

When it finally came time for blood work, I thought I was going to pass out. But I'm constantly being reminded that I'm an ambassador for my country, so I had to sit still and be quiet. The process made it easier. In America, we are taken back to a separate room and trapped...and sometimes have to sit there for ages contemplating our fate before the nurse finally comes in. At this hospital, the room to go to is on main hallway- you walk in and there is a desk. Imagine it as a registration desk just inside the open doorway, and the person sitting behind the desk has an open window so they can call in people in the hallway waiting. You sit down at this desk and present your arm. After it's done, you get up and the next person is called in. It's all very publicly visible, which turns out is good for me.
Oh, before the medical exam I was called upon to give a short speech to the entire student body and faculty who were assembled military-style outside of the school. It was some sort of award ceremony for students, and near the end I had to introduce myself and tell everyone how happy I was to be there. A little intimidating, but it was cool.

Day 3. Thursday. Fending for Myself and Foreign Invasion.

Mr. Kim left me to attend a conference in Seoul today and tomorrow, so I was forced to speak free of additional translation with my 4th and 5th grade co-teachers. I'm actually glad it worked out that way. Mrs. Shim and Im are both amazing women, and we are very patient with each other. Neither of them are frustrated with me if I say something difficult, though it is teaching me to rethink my sentences and slow down. If I say a word that they don't know, Mrs. Shim has a notebook of words that she's trying to learn, and will commit herself to figuring out how to say it and use it in sentences. So far, I've taught her "participate," "highlight," "often," and "flavor" and a few ways of phrasing things like "I opened the window to let in fresh air" and "he put his school books in his bag." It's a very interesting experience. She's also helping me with Korean. "Eye" in American is the same sound as the Korean word for "child" (ah-ee).

I also got a chance to observe a couple of Mrs. Shim's 5th grade classes. I walked in and the students' eyes got big and they started chattering loudly. I'm really hoping the novelty of me as a foreigner doesn't wear off, because the reactions I get are so cute. Mrs. Shim was very nervous because she thinks her English isn't good enough. Mrs. Im feels the same way. I think they are great, but they keep saying "oh, just classroom English." I'm trying to work on their confidence levels. She does do a lot of Korean translation in the class, but likes to make students repeat and practice conversation, sing songs, and play games. She doesn't spend more than 5-10 minutes on each new thing, so nobody falls asleep. I can tell she enjoys teaching.

<---(photo from Internet)
I also distributed a few small gifts to my co-teachers, vice principal, and principal. I gave them all Varnum pens (Thanks Dad and Mom's Lawyers Auxiliary for not using them!), then chocolate to my co teachers and Soju to the vice principal and principal. You can imagine how well that went over with the principal. He is amazing. As a response, he took off his Andong mask bolo tie (Andong is famous for its masks, they have a festival every year) that he literally wears every day and put it around my neck. Mrs. Shim was with me, and explained to me that he says as long as I give him Soju, I can have whatever I want. Hilarious. He kind of reminds me of my grandpa George, for a visual, if grandpa were Korean.

After school, Scott and I met up with other foreigners. I was contacted by a guy named Andrew who works next door at Kilju Elementary. He has been here for 7 months and is now regarded as the leader of the Andong foreigners. There are 13 of us in the city, and we are now getting together every Thursday evening to take a Korean class (which is taught by a six of the others' co-teachers who very graciously volunteered). I'll list everyone, just so it's not confusing when I refer to them in the future:

Me and Scott!
Erin and Paul (A younger married couple who have been around Korea for 3 years)
Peter (has been here 5 1/2 months)
Katie (has been here a month)
Jin (who we met at orientation)
Alice (has been here a month)
Danielle (has been here a month)
Bonnie and Tom (an older married couple who I believe have been here a month)
Also "The Dominican" who I'm not sure the name of. He's been here a number of years and teaches at a private school, so I'm not sure how often we'll be seeing him.

Day 4. Friday. I Think My Soup Stared Back.

It has occurred to me since I've been here, that it's vitally important that I eat things I otherwise would not. Although I suppose nobody knows that lesson better than Scott who had to eat fried whole Minnows yesterday (his blog is http://www.fourteenhoursaway.blogspot.com/ by the way). It's viewed as slightly disrespectful to not finish your meal. However, you can request "Ma-nee chuseyo" meaning "give me a lot", or "Chukay chuseyo" for "give me a little" when you're walking through the line. My principal will sometimes come by, however, with strange spicy things that he wants me to mix in with my rice (even though I managed to avoid taking these things in the line). He's very concerned that I'm eating enough, which is very hospitable. I guess it's better to embrace the food. some of it is actually really good.

I did find a way around the issue of not finishing everything today, though, and still preserving respect. Some things I just am not prepared to eat just yet, but I don't want to be rude. Like the tentacles in my small dish of beef and vegetables, or what looked like eyes with artery looking things behind them floating in my soup. I can ask for only a little ("Chukay chuseyo") soup, which is in a separate bowl, then eat half of its contents...and then mix the remnants of the unfinished side dishes (Korean food is mostly a myriad of side dishes) in with my soup broth. It looks like a half eaten bowl of soup. There's so much going on anyway, it's a total save! I did this today, and was actually complimented on how much I finished. Then on my way out, I just have to dump the one bowl's contents. The last thing I want is for them to believe I don't like anything.

Thanks for keeping up with me through all of this, I know it was a long post!
Let me know if you have any questions about anything I've said or not yet explained- I love comments.