Thursday, 28 May 2009

Dosan Seowon Confucian Academy

Scott and I decided that we needed to see more old things. We are living in the cultural epicenter of South Korea, but sometimes when we get free time all we want to do is collapse after a long week of teaching. Figuring out how to get there was really easy, but I have to give part of the credit to my encounter with the French man at City Hall when I did my ARC registration, because it was through helping him that I procured the map of Andong. The map includes sites of interest, as well as bus times and numbers to take, and where to find said bus. We took the 67 bus on a 40 minute ride north for only 1,100 won (about $1).

Dosan Seowon is the oldest Confucian Academy in Korea, and is built into the side of a hill overlooking a river. The architectural style is much like other old buildings and temples in the area, curved to complement the lines found in nature, with striking details painted in bold colors on the undersides of all the roofs.

I like finding the buildings that haven't been as carefully maintained with their painting, although the richness of color in the ones that have is still breathtaking. For the entire lifetime of some of these buildings there have been people climbing under these roofs and painstakingly following the pattern of the original design, which indicates a reverence and respect that is fascinating to see.

The location of the academy is perfect. It is up high enough that you can look out and view the entire river valley below, the distant mountains, the forests stretching out for miles beyond the walls. However, the trees in the front block anyone from seeing the Academy from below.

Just across the river is a small round hill on which Sisadan is located (a memorial to an overpopulated examination once taken on the riverbank- more on that in Scott's blog), and even from there the academy view is obstructed by the trees.

It's fitting that way. The buildings themselves serve to blend in with nature, and the essence of Confucian thought is to focus on cultivation the individual and study- which is dramatically served in such a place.

The Academy was built under the teachings and influence of the Confucian scholor Yi Hwang, but wasn't fully completed and chartered until after his death. Being there though, you'd almost think that there was never a more important man at the academy, as his memory is everywhere. The letters he wrote above all the building entrances, the lotus pond he put in that is now home to dozens of frogs, the bamboo garden that he tended and is still growing wild today. There is also a small museum now in one of the buildings where you can view some of his writings, carvings, and even the broom he used to sweep the floors and pot he used to spit in.

The who academy is open to the walking public, with the doors of the old store houses, dormitories and main lecture hall open (provided you please take off your shoes before you enter). The only buildings left locked and sealed are the building where they printed their books (below), and the library which seem the most untouched by restoration. Their purposes have long been served; empty vessels for ancient Confucian air.

Aside from the museum and a guard post on the grounds, the academy is left alone by modern devices. Although, behind every building you will spy a fire extinguisher. A decent precaution, considering the rate of Arson against sacred relics in this country.

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Chung Yang San Mountain

Last Wednesday, all of the teachers left school after lunch to drive about an hour north to Chung Yang San Mountain. I'm never sure what they do with the children on these days, or how the system works. Quite often the kids leave after lunch, actually, but I never can figure out why. This time I was told about the trip on the day before, so I dressed appropriately for hiking. Although I do have spare clothes tucked away in the bottom drawer of my desk, in case of surprise midday trips or for if one of the teachers asks me to play tennis after school.

It's actually quite common for the teachers to wear jeans to school here, mostly the women, and our footwear is irrelevant because we have our indoor shoes. This is very nice for when you're playing with kids all day.

It was a long winding drive to the mountain, and I nodded off twice during the first half because of the swaying and the soothing Korean conversation in our car pool of 5 (me, Mrs. Shim and Im, Taebun, and Mr. Park the 6th grade PE teacher). I caught myself before I drooled on Mrs. Shim's shoulder.

We arrived to the distant echo of chanting monks, and I was informed that there would be two parts to this hike. The first would be to a temple, and the second would be to the "sky bridge" by following a path leading up beyond the temple. That part would be optional. I said I would be going.

The first part of the hike was very peaceful. Because Koreans hike so frequently, there was a narrow but well-worn path leading up a shallow incline, which was frequently intersected by a tangle of roots or the assistance of large rocks to act as stairs.

Midway to the temple, Mrs. Shim pointed out a house just off the path with little bells of good fortune lined above the front door. She explained that when the owner is home, he will offer tea and a place to rest for visitors to the temple. .

The entire hike was only about twenty minutes. Our arrival at the temple was met with breathtaking views of the mountains beyond. The location is very tranquil, because there isn't a single trace of industry wherever you look.

After about fifteen minutes of mingling with the staff, Mrs. Shim took off up the path leading further up the mountain to see the bridge. I had to shed my immobilizing sense of awe that left me staring off into the valley. Taebun said that although he had never seen the sky bridge, he didn't want to attempt the climb and would rather stay behind. After all, it was a hot day and he was already tired from the previous climb. I called him a wuss (and would explain to him what that meant the next day-he was amused), and began the climb after Mrs. Shim.

This was no regular climb. The mountain deliberately mislead me on the hike to the temple. what was once about a 10-20% incline became a 70-80% incline straight up, with no hope for a brief encounter with level ground.

After five minutes, I heard the ragged breathless huffing of something behind me. Taebun had decided to catch up with us.

On occasion, the climb would get steeper. Sometimes there were planks of wood laid out as stairs.

Other times just tumbled rocks in precarious stacks.

After maybe twenty minutes, rope appeared to one side, wound and tied around trees like something out of the Swiss Family Robinson to assist the weary climber from falling backward.

Mrs. Shim held the lead for the entire forty minutes it took us to climb. She kept insisting that the mountain was "very small" and "very easy." In fact, just last weekend she had made the same hike with her husband and daughter who is in the 4th grade. I had to explain that I was only hanging so far behind her because I didn't want Taebun to feel embarrassed always bringing up the back of the line. The best part was that they actually believed me.

In our last 500m (there was finally a sign!), the ground leveled. But then as if for some cruel joke, we arrived at a tall set of stairs headed down, only to head back up again.

And then finally, just beyond the double peaks of the stairs, the sky bridge!

My first thought when I stepped onto this thing, suspended between two mountain peaks, is that my mother would have a heart attack if she were here. although it's made of hard steel, it's constructed in such a way that it bows down and shifts and sways as if you were walking across a rope bridge. And below? Well, it's just better to look out into the beyond.

On the other side, we met up with another group of teachers who made it there before us. They all pointed to my face and said "hah hah! very red!" but I made it! Mr. Park proved that not everyone is afraid of falling off of the bridge. Again. Mother. Heart attack.

I had a good...well, three minutes before it was announced to be time to go back down and meet up again with the rest of the school at the temple. On the hike back down, I made a joke that I am a very clumsy sort of person, and I that I might trip and roll all the way to the bottom. They didn't understand the meaning of the word trip, except that it's also like "vacation", and then didn't understand my description of the word ("Your foot hits something and you fall forward" and then "you don't always fall to the ground. It's an almost-fall") so on the 70-80% decline I had to try and demonstrate tripping on things. I emerged blessedly unscathed, and we developed the phrase "I tripped on my trip down the mountain."

Back at the temple, my legs were shaking with unbalance and strain, so we decided the best thing to do was to go get tea at a little shop on the grounds. Fermented alcoholic tea made of pine needles.

It did nothing to improve my balance, and we still had the twenty minute hike back to the car.

The reason for the fast pace was that we were all meeting up for some bi bim bap at a local cafeteria surrounded by lucky guardian wooden ducks (they say "cafeteria" when they describe these places to me, but as far as can tell they are like a traditional-style restaurant that specializes in one type of food, plus soup and side dishes. I've only been to these places twice, and both times it's been for bi bim bap). Bi bim bap is like my own personal Korean food blessing. It's rice and various plants and vegetables that you mix all together with some chili paste, completely vegetarian (though there are some variations that you can order with beef) so I don't have to wonder what certain meats are. It's also eaten with a spoon, which is nice.

It's nice to have these outings with my school. As busy as I sometimes feel, marked also with the occasional doubt that I'm not doing enough, it's great to be reminded that, hey, we're all just having a good time. We can organize 50 teachers in the middle of the day and all have a good time at a few days notice. We run like a well oiled machine. A Machine that can teach for 4 straight hours and then climb mountains.

Friday, 22 May 2009

Up All Night

This is from Saturday- part 2 (a little belated)

Around 8pm, we met up with the foreigners to see Angels and Demons- Andrew, Katie, Alice, and my new Korean friend Eunsuk who works as a student teacher at Kilju Middle school with Andrew (I met her at English camp). This marked the end of the English movies for now, as we've all already seen Wolverine and Star Trek. After the movie, Scott and I invited everyone back to our apartment to play some Wii and have a few drinks. We'd not yet had anyone over, and we had a gigantic basket of fruit given to us as a teacher's day gift from Scott's teachers class, so we were excited at the prospect of having people over.

Everyone agreed that they would stay "for a little while," because they were tired and it was already 10:30 at night.

30 minutes went by.

And then an hour.
Around 1am we decided it would be a good idea to go to a noribang (song room), so we all started walking through the rain downtown.

Alice took off, but the rest of us were ready to sing. We ordered 1 hour in a room, two pitchers of beer, and a tray of fruit.

And there was singing.

And Rocking.

And more singing.

Scott and Andrew had some of the most touching moments...

...but I think the sweetest of all was when Andrew and Katie sang "Summer Nights" from Grease... with a video of two men boxing on the screen. Well, not just regular boxing. The video started in a lab with a scientist giving one man a shot of green liquid in the neck to make him some kind of super-mutant-machine-boxer when he got into the ring. Oh, those summer nights.

Finally we decided that our voices were dying, and I had perhaps exhausted their collection of Beatles' songs. I became the Walrus. After paying for our 1 hour, we stepped out into the streets of Andong once more and discovered...daylight. It was just past 5am, and we had been singing for nearly 4 hours.

And none of us were tired. Our only real dilemma was that we were hungry and Andong really needs an IHOP.

Sunday, 17 May 2009

English Camp with Awesome Kids

These are the tales of Saturday- Part 1

(Because of how much happened on Saturday, I'm splitting this into two parts.)

1:30-5:30pm: English Camp

Andrew (the foreigner who works at Kilgu Middle school) asked me earlier in the week if I wanted to earn some extra cash by teaching an English camp at his school for 9th grade (which they call 3rd grade, for the 3rd year in middle school). I was really excited, because it meant: a) students that speak more English, and b) a curriculum-free lesson!

Another perk was that the class size was 10 students. There were two groups, with two lessons needed for each group. The first two hours were spent with one group, then the second two with the next group. This is what I ended up doing:

Lesson 1: Movies

Intro and handout: First, I discussed and gave them a handout about movie language ("Who's in it?" "What's it about?") along with plot, setting, genre, etc.

Movie: We watched the short animation "Oktapodi" on YouTube.

Discussion: We talked about the movie, using the elements on the handout. There were blanks for them to fill in, like "The movie was about ________" next to "plot".

Game: I separated them into three groups, assigning each group one of the following: characters, setting, or plot. I explained that we were going to come up with a movie, but they were not to talk with the other groups. After a short period of time, I asked them to tell me what they came up with and wrote each thing on the board. Once it was put together, we talked about what genres the movie might have. We did this three times, so each group had a turn at the different part, then voted on the best one.

These were a few:

Characters: A monkey and an ant
Setting: In space
Plot: Falling in love
-Possible Genres: Sci Fi, Romance, Comedy, Animation

Characters: Me, and two of the Korean teachers at their school
Setting: The middle of the desert
Plot: Playing soccer
-Possible Genres: Documentary, Comedy, Romance (when I asked why, one student explained that we were playing soccer waiting for men. Then another student added "but the men don't want anyone!")

Characters: A tall ugly woman, a short beautiful woman, a handsome beggar man, and an ugly rich man.
Setting: The white house
Plot: On vacation, then drowning while trying to swim
-Possible Genres: Horror, Action, Comedy

Lesson 2: Word games

Mad Libs: I wrote up some mad libs and had them tell me the words to write in, without knowing anything about the story. Then I read it back to them.

These were my two favorites:

1. My favorite animal is a (animal) dragon. My parents won't let me have one because they are too (adj) happy. Instead, they bought me a (animal) shark for a pet. He is very (adj) wonderful and likes to (v) chase (me) in the house.

2. Before I go to school, I eat (a food) jelly for breakfast. I make sure to put (n) the earth in my bag before I leave. I always (v) rush to school on warm days, and if it rains, I bring my (n) ant.My school is very (adj) terrible and has a lot of (pl n) tigers. I'm a very (adj) cute student, and I always raise my (body part) eye when I have a question.

Balderdash: I put students in pairs and then wrote a word on the board that they wouldn't know. As a pair, they had to write a definition for the word and then pass it to me. I wrote each definition on the board, including the real one, and they had to vote on which was the right definition.

I used these words:
footloose [my favorite student definition: "someone who is lame"]

Story Chains: This was awesome. I had no idea whether or not this would work, or if it would go way over their heads. In pairs, I had the students write three words that they want their story to be about (characters, objects, etc) at the bottom of the paper, and then write the numbers 1-5 (because there were 5 pairs) on each line starting at the top. Then, they had to write the first sentence of their story next to #1 and pass it to the right. Then, everyone had to write the next sentence in the story on line #2, then fold over the paper to cover the sentence on line #1 and pass it to the right. They were only able to see the most recent sentence, until the end when we read them aloud.

(these were from memory- I wrote them down quickly but I may have added some articles [the, an, a] that weren't there originally)

My favorite:

[The words at the bottom: hunter, rabbit, arrow]
1. The hunter shot the rabbit with an arrow
2. The rabbit was shot by the hunters arrow
3. The hunter went to take the arrow out of the dead rabbit
4. The arrow liked the rabbit so the rabbit was not dead
5. The hunter took a gun and shot the rabbit

Another good one:

[The words at the bottom: wizard, bishop, dragon]
1. A wizard turned a bishop into a dragon
2. The dragon bishop turned the wizard into a dragon
3. The wizard made the dragon a bishop
4. The bishop made the wizard a dragon
5. The dragon ate the bishop

I hope I get to go back and do another camp, because it was a ton of fun!

Priceless Language Moments 3

Mrs. Im: "Sara? You're driving me crazy"


Mrs. Im: "Is it right sentence?"

This happens quite a lot. It always takes me a minute to realize that they are running English phrases by me for correction- not directing the comment at me. Sometimes it can get quite humorous.

Saturday, 16 May 2009

More On Teaching

First, regarding the 4th grade, I have to put in that my co-teacher Mrs. Im is brilliant. She has elevated discipline to an art form. When the class is getting loud, she'll say something to the effect of "freeze!" and then make a sound effect like "ba-dum!" to trigger movement again. She'll only allow them to move for a second or two, and repeat this two or three times. It becomes a game, because the students all try and see who can make and hold the most outrageous position while frozen (or in 4-8's case, the boys hold a mock-strangle-each-other pose). If the class is really rowdy, she'll use the freeze time to give instruction for the next activity, because it's the only moment of true silence.

I have reached an interesting crossroads in my lessons. The 4th grade just started a lesson that taught them "Can you help me, please?" and "Sure I can" but they don't learn prepositions like "under, behind, next to, etc" or directions "left, right, straight" until 5th grade. I know this because I just started teaching the 5th grade how to give directions. Ironically, we had to re-teach them "Can you help me, please?" because by then most of the students had forgotten it.

So now you might wonder, what else does the 4th grade learn over the course of that four-class lesson? Well, naturally, they learn "how old are you?" This is a pre-listening exercise the book wanted us to play:

1) Girl: Can you help me?
Man: Sure, I can.

2) Man: How old are you?
Tony: I'm eight

3) Man: How old are you?
Minsu: I'm ten

They are separated by numbers, unrelated in nature, but being strung up next to each other makes them feel like they are part of the same scenario if you're just listening. In the same lesson, this is a "Listen and Repeat" exercise, where the students listen to the dialogue, then repeat it:

1) Tony: Good Morning.
Can you help me?
Mom: Sure, I can.

2) Julie's mom: Wow! You're strong!
How old are you?
Girl: I'm eleven.

3) Teacher: How old are you?
Tony: I'm eight

Again, The can you help me/how old are you are right next to each other. I'm at a loss as to why they are in the same lesson. Luckily, Mrs. Im is open to cutting things out, which she did for these two even before I suggested it. Instead, we planned for counting practice from 1-100. I made a PowerPoint with numbers (and at 20 we started skipping by 10). The students already have been taught numbers, but since the lesson started focusing on asking age, we thought it was important to d a number lesson. At the end, the two of us made a PowerPoint where we showed pictures of people (Mrs. Im provided some famous Koreans) and the students had to guess their ages. If they guessed too high, we would say "lower" and if they guessed low we would say "higher." It was good number practice while also sticking to the required theme of age.

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

New Bike and...Serenity Toilet?

(By the way, I changed my settings to allow anonymous comments for those who don't have registered names. Just sign your name at the end so I know who you are though, if you decide to start leaving me comments ^^)

A bike seemed to be the easiest solution for both getting around the city and getting exercise on my way to and from school. I found a used bike for 60,000 won (about $55ish) that won me over instantly. It's blue like my Mini Cooper with a dash of white, a little worn and rusty, and exactly my size. In addition to standard bike function, it has shocks and a lever that allows you to fold it in half. A regular new bike would cost at least 120,000 won, so I feel really lucky to have found it. The shop owner also gave the entire thing a tune up, put on a new gear cover, cleaned it, and threw in a free bike lock.

At my apartment, I had to find a place to lock my bike. In the parking area, which makes up the ground floor of my building to either side of the front entry, I found a silver pipe affixed to a wall near the back. Just as I was leaning forward to wrap the bike lock around the pipe, I spied something unexpected in an inconspicuous gap between the wall and the concrete barrier to the left.

I have discovered that behind my building is a western style toilet, partly hidden, which can be accessed by both parking sections. It's behind the central column of the building where the stairs wind up; a tucked away outdoor alcove just beneath my feet as I ascend to the first floor. Perhaps it was put there by a Korean who publicly wants to hang on to their squat toilet traditions, but secretly sneaks down in the middle of the night with a newspaper to experience the seated glory of the western john. I am mesmerized.

It's in full working order, and only visible to someone looking down from their windows in the building next door. It is in no way practical, so I can only assume that this particular toilet is a path to enlightenment. When I'm ready to embrace it, oh yes, I'm using it.