Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The First Day of School

We first met our co-teachers at a meeting at the Jecheon Office of Education. I was pleased to hear that mine knew enough English to say things like "Do you have any experience teaching kindergarten?", but then disappointed to find out I was going to be teaching kindergarten. It's only two classes a week though so it's not too bad. Plus, I seem to have dodged the bullet of teaching sixth graders, who are (according to Anna) horrible, mean-spirited, deceitful little twelve year-olds. I used to teach first grade middle school (one year older) and they were the best. Just sayin'.

My co-teacher had to tell me her name a few times because I thought she was saying a Korean name and I was pronouncing it wrong. Jung-an? Jin-ang? Actually I was just pronouncing her English name -Joanne - wrong. She's really nice and has helped me with several things already. She also says things like "Any time you drink soju, call me!" which I like.

After a weekend of trying to make our terrible apartment livable, with some success, Joanne picked me up on Monday morning and we drove to school. On the way she said that I would meet the principal who no-one likes because he's such a dick. Well, that's not exactly what she said. What she said was "Our principal is very strict, none of the teachers like him." Okay then.

I awkwardly introduced myself to the teachers. My five sentence speech received two completely undeserved but very much appreciated rounds of applause. I think the two words of Korean I managed got me bonus points. The two words were "anyeong" and "haseyo". Next I met the other two English teachers at the school, who were both really friendly - although Mrs Eun spoke very little English and was incredibly embarrassed and shy.

Just before lunch Joanne introduced me to one of the Korean P.E teachers, saying "he wants to practice English." We had a nice conversation about a few fairly simple topics that he could manage. Actually his English was better than several of my co-teachers back in Buan. It emerged part way through that there was more to this "practice": it turns out Joanne had cooked up a scheme with the vice-principal where the other teachers in our office had to speak a certain amount of English to me before they were allowed to go to lunch. The P.E. teacher passed, but then it was Kelly's turn (the sixth grade English teacher) and she was expected to know more because she teaches English. She passed eventually, but not before I knew a lot about her.

Now, the moment you've all been waiting for: lunchee!
Clockwise from top left: sun dubu, mystery meat, kimchi, grapes, fart stew, rice.
The white stuff at the top left is sun dubu (pronounced soon dooboo), which is the Korean name for soft tofu. It doesn't look very appealing in the photo but it's actually pretty good with a generous helping of the soy and chili sauce it comes with. Next is some kind of deep fried animal product. My co-teachers couldn't agree whether it was chicken or fish, which is never a good sign. I'm fairly convinced it was hunks of pig fat, battered, fried, and drenched in an unpleasant salty sauce. Not recommended. Next is kimchi: a pretty decent batch. Not too old and with a good chili kick. On the top right are Korean grapes, which have thicker skins than the grapes back home and seem to always contain seeds. They are tasty though so it's worth it. Below that is a Korean school lunchroom staple: soup that tastes like farts with miscellaneous veges and meats that taste of nothing. Buan was near the coast so the floaty bits in the soup there were often sea"food". It looks like we'll be getting the meat version here as we're quite far inland. I suppose it's an improvement - this one doesn't taste or smell of rotten fish - but I don't think I'll be stopping by the soup table very much over the next year. On the bottom left is rice, with some black grains mixed through it to give it that purple color. It was good as usual, but I'll have to be more careful that the lunch ladies don't give me such a big portion - I took this photo after I'd eaten all the rice I could manage. 

Joanne had told me we were going to Wonju for the medical tests the next day (see Anna's post), but on the way she said that the principal was insisting I take a vacation day to do that. The medical checks are a contract requirement and I have no interest in finding out what a Korean hospital thinks of my height, eyesight, or blood unless I'm professionally obliged to do so. I felt really bad for putting Joanne in this situation (she's really nice and she's doing her best to get us a better apartment) but I had to tell her I wasn't going if it meant losing a vacation day. She actually took that fairly well and the next day she had another argument with the principal and won! So I still have all 14 of my precious, precious vacation days and my co-teacher is my hero.

I had a few questions about what the view is like from our apartment. Here you go:


  1. Kindergarten was my favourite class - you get to just sing songs and they hug you - very cute!!

    1. Well that sounds okay. I'm just worried about communicating - I taught a low level fourth grade class today and even simple instructions seemed lost on them.

  2. Great read Tom, very funny. If you're teaching kindergarten why don't you teach them a few songs? I can send you CDs and sheet music for Justine Clarke if you like

    On a more sombre note Coco and I go to Wellington tomorrow for Jenny Zwartz's funeral on Friday afternoon. A bit of a relief all round actually, especially for Sally.


    1. I'm so sorry to hear that Peter, please give my love to everyone. Thank you for the offer of the cds, the songs are great but I think they might be a bit advanced for my kindergarten class. I think my older students would like to learn them though. If you could send me the guitar chords to a few that would be great - no need for cds as I can just play the videos from the website, assuming that's okay with everyone involved of course.