Thursday, August 30, 2012

My Teaching Materials.

Korean plementary/primary schools have a few sets of standardised, government-supplied curriculum complete with textbooks and CD-roms. This comes in handy when you need to plan a lesson as every other elementary-level English teacher is also probably going to be completing the same (or similar) lesson as you that week. We teachers have banded together and as a result there are a ton of awesome lesson plans/games/resources found on this here website

However, the CD-Roms and books are sometimes deeply troubling. In this ongoing series, I will highlight the troubling aspects I am able to capture with my lowly work computer, ALT + Print Screen and Microsoft Paint.

I saw this image and immediately worried that the lesson was going to have this student choke to death. Her fist, clutched at her throat! The pursed lips! The crooked eyebrow and wide, staring eyes!

Target Language: I'm thirsty!

This kid. Maybe I've cropped the image poorly but he's leering and winking at his blonde, buxom teacher. The wink is accompanied by an energetic grab at his stomach/nether regions. It's creepy.

Target Language: I'm hungry. May I eat this cake?

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:

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Medical Test

Forgive the incessant blogging, I think I’m still settling in to being here and writing feels like my safe space. Hey, you don’t have to read it!

I’m not sure that we wrote about the medical test last time. Basically, when you arrive in Korea you have to go through a slew of medical testing to ensure you're fit to teach. This includes hearing, eyesight, a chest x-ray, blood tests and a urine test. I want to compare the two.

Last time we arrived, we were hurried off the bus by our coteachers, we ate a huge lunch where I had meat for the first time in 14 years, sweated profusely and learned to love mul naegmyon (Korean cold noodles) because the ice cooled me from the inside. We weren’t prepared for Korean summer, I was wearing jeans and a t-shirt, I had really long hair that keeps in the heat and all of my secrets. After lunch, we drove to Buan and were shunted around one of the hospitals through what can barely be described as ‘medical testing.’

  • Hearing test which consisted of one loud tone being played in each ear for a second.
  • Eye test where we read the biggest letter on the chart and moved on.
  • Trying to pee in a cup when I was seriously dehydrated and sweaty. I have never seen pee that colour before.
  • Being giggled at when they measured my weight.
  • Being seriously giggled at when I had to take my shirt off for a chest x-ray.

This morning my co-teacher collected me from our apartment at about 10 past 9 to travel to Wonju for the testing. Tom was already at his school for reasons I'll let him elaborate on, so we drove over and picked him up along with his co-teacher and her great-nephew. I think Tom's co-teacher is only in her late twenties but through the magic of babies her sister's daugher has a 6 year old. Normally it's the grandmothers' responsibility to take over childcare, but said grandmother is in China learning Chinese for the next three months. The kid is impossibly cute and was very well-behaved, except that 80% of the time he had at least one finger up his nose.

We made our way to Wonju in my co-teacher's tiny car and pulled up at the hospital just as Typhoon Bolaven started to hit. School today was actually cancelled because of the typhoon, but there is no rest/delay in hospital testing for the wicked, so we were all a little scared during the drive considering the car's size and the typhoon's predicted power.
The hospital was far shinier than any in Buan I visited, but the testing was of a similarly haphazard nature. 

  • Hearing test identical to the last place, except this time I had to sit in a booth for both tones.
  • Explaining to the doctor that I have a birth control implant in one arm. He looked baffled until I said 'No Babies' loudly which made him blush.
  • Carrying a vial of my own urine through the halls for a good five minutes.
  • Entertaining the kid as I cowered during my blood test. UGH NEEDLES.

One bonus was the eye test - I can read the bottom of the chart without glasses. It's been over a year since I got them zapped and it remains one of the best medical-related decisions I've ever made.

After an hour of flitting through the halls, the five of us piled back into the car and drove straight back to Jecheon. The wind and rain had really picked up, and it got pretty scary as we were buffeted across the lanes of the highway when the gusts were strong enough. Both co-teachers were scared for our apartment - our windows aren't double glazed so there was a big risk of breakage. Fortunately, aside from it's general crapness the place was fine and we've managed to borrow a fan from my school for a while to take an edge off the heat.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Made it five days.


It was my first day at school today.

I woke up nervous at half past 6 in the morning – early for Korea but a decent sleep in if I was still in New Zealand. Although I could take advantage of the time difference and pretend I’m a morning person for the next few weeks, I decided sleep was better and forced myself to close my eyes and calm down.

My alarm woke me at half past 7 and I got up, tried to eat breakfast and used the internet to talk to my Dad and my best friend back home. I’ve managed to connect to one of Korea’s free wi-fi services that pop up around the country – provided I sit in a certain area of our living room I can tap in and feel connected again. There’s a number of really, really swish PC-bangs (internet cafes) close to our apartment, but it’s nice not being interrupted by a parade of Korean teenagers fascinated by what the waygook is looking at online.

As I’d previously agreed, I met my coordinator outside a store a few minutes away from my apartment. Last time, I had one main co-teacher and two schools, this time I’m at one large school and I’ve got a coordinator and four English teachers I’ll be working with.

My coordinator doesn’t speak a lot of English – she’s a 5th grade home-room teacher, not a dedicated English teacher. She’s very sweet but we’re equally shy at the moment, so she spends a lot of her time with me talking on her phone. I hope it’s nerves, otherwise damn, she’s rude!

We got picked up by a third grade teacher and driven to my school – I think I’m expected to walk  from now on. My coordinator has provided me with the following map:

The route should take about 15 – 20 minutes, but I’m going to need to invest in a sunshade as it’s super hot at the moment. Our apartment’s thermostat clocks in at 30 degrees Celsius, and we don’t have a fan or air con to ease the heat. There was a nice breeze this morning which I hope will continue.

My school – Jangnok Elementary – has 1000 students and I’ll be teaching grades 4  -6. Each grade has 6 – 8 classes of around 30 students per class. Buan Elementary had 500 – 600 students with an average class size of 24, and my rural schools had between 12 and 100 students (with smaller class sizes again) so this is a bit of a change. My school is close to a Lotte Supermarket (yay!) and on a hill (boo!).

I met my principal and vice principal, remembering to bow deeply but forgetting how to say ‘nice to meet you’ in Korean. I think I need to stop cracking out the Korean I do know, because I’m giving people ideas about how well I can actually understand things. I can read phonetically and count, but the longest phrase I can say is ‘I only know a little Korean.’

Last time, (please forgive the comparisons, but it’s hard to avoid them!) I spent most of my week in a dedicated English room. This time I’m sharing an office with ten or so other teachers and administrators, plus the vice principal. I logged in to my computer and found I don’t have internet. In an effort to seem productive and on to it, I read through the assembled textbooks and then looked at the files the previous teacher had left. In a moment which seemed eerie and also made me proud of my ppt skillz, I noticed that there was a game saved that I had made– I know it was mine because the dialogue featured ‘Anna’ and ‘Mollie’ – my co-teacher at my smallest school.

One of the English teachers I’ll be working with told me I won’t have any classes this week which is a relief and also a worry, and Tom and I will be going to Wonju tomorrow to run through the health and blood tests required at the start of our contracts. This morning, aside from writing this blog post, all I’ve done is put big, red circles around New Zealand and Korea on the map I’m using for my ‘My Name is Anna’ introductory powerpoint which is a standard requirement for new English teachers. Maybe I’ll show it to you one day.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Stuff I Brought With Me

This post is going to be relevant to you if you want to be awesome and send Tom and I some stuff. When I left New Zealand I packed twice - once before I flew up to Auckland to see my family and again just before I left. Fortunately I'd been living out of a suitcase or thereabouts for A YEAR so I didn't have a lot of stuff, excepting a stupid amount of clothing as I'm addicted to shopping.

When I reached my parent's place in Whangarei I came to a shocking revelation - the backpack I'd taken over the first time and travelled with for 5 or so months was considerably smaller than the wheely duffle bag thing I'd put everything in for the Wellington - Auckland journey. Scarily smaller. I have a thing about packing light which has been inherited from my mother - I took enormous, conceited pride in the mere 7 kilograms of assorted goods I lugged through our 5 month trip, and when I arrived home in New Zealand with around 13kg of souvenirs, I felt proud that most of the weight was from 2 much-needed bottles of duty free liquor.

This time, my bag from Wellington was a hefty 15.6 kilograms of clothes and random things I'd decided were necessary. I had to fit all of the items in the bag on the right into my beloved pack on the left, and then cram in all of the New Zealand food and other assorted goods on top of that.

Through the miracle of rolling things up tiny and shoving them in haphazardly, I got all of my things into my comparatively small 55L pack.

Now for the things I took with me. There are a majillion blogs out there telling you what to take to Korea and now this is one of them. After our year of experience we had a slightly better idea of how/what to pack and what we wanted from home. My best tips:

Kindle, or similar e-Reader type appliance.
I love mine in the evangelical way I love things. I want everyone to have one. It is so much lighter, smaller and cheaper than all of the books I dragged over with me last time. Don't get me wrong, I love using the Book Depository and I love the smell and feel of books, and I get a certain satisfaction from a full bookcase but I got over all of those damn sentimental feelings when I got my Kindle. I was actually reading a regular paper book when I bought it, and was determined to finish the book before committing to e-reading but I didn't make it because Kindles are so awesome. Added bonus: Kindle vouchers.

Korean bedding sucks. The 'bottom sheets' here are quilted semi-blankets. If you roll them up small, sheets don't take up a huge amount of space. Totally worth it.

You can get spices here and it's easy enough if you're in Seoul or Busan or somewhere big. Last time, Tom and I would pay won after won for cumin and tumeric and coriander. Before Tom left, he went to the Spice Rack in Petone and got us so many spices for barely any money, and they don't weigh much. 

Beyond these three it's kinda up to you. I did however take these things:

In some vague order:

Eskimos and Malt Biscuits.
These racist candies and terrible biscuits combine together to make Lolly Cake, something I would not normally eat on a regular basis but it tastes like home, reminds me of my Nana and is easy to make. You can get butter and condensed milk in Korea without any trouble.

Terrible Magazines.
I have a rule that I'm not allowed to buy That's Life or Lucky Break unless I'm on a plane. I would buy these magazines weekly otherwise. They're only $3! One of the stories was 'I'm a gap-year motorcycle grandma! Amazing! 12 hours Auckland-Seoul counts as serious plane time.

Toothpaste and deodorant.
Although I've heard there is flouride in the toothpaste here, the brands I've tried are gross. Deodorant is also available but it's expensive, hard to find and usually aerosol.

Fortunately Korea's customs isn't as stringent as New Zealand's, so this time we brought basil, oregano, min, sage, thyme and coriander. Today I sat in our sun room/laundry and planted them all. Apparently it gets as low as -20 in Jecheon so they're all probably going to die, but we're trying.

Yoghurt mix.
Reliable sources have told me you can get unsweetened plain yoghurt in Korea now, but last time EVERYTHING was sweet. I like my yoghurt sour, Greek and so thick you could stand a spoon up in it. You don't need a machine to make it, just a watertight container and a bucket, plus some boiling water.

So expensive here, vital for yoghurt.

Chocolate and licorice.
Both delicious. Apparently chocolate here lacks cocoa solids and can be a bit bland.

Not pictured: Cheese. This time, Tom and I brought over 4 blocks of Tasty Cheddar, 2 blocks of feta and about 4 of blue. I wasn't sure the blue would survive and unfortunately signed the rights away to eating it, but it made it! We put all of the cheese in our checked baggage which kept it cold for the 12 hour flight and until we got it to a fridge. Today, we got to the E-Mart in Jecheon and they have Mainland Vintage Cheddar so maybe we could have skipped this part of the packing, but last time we barely survived on bland, bland, bland American cheese from Costco so we weren't taking our chances.

So, in return for awesome socks, please consider sending some of the above to us during the next year. We'll appreciate it.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Korea Take Two

And we're back.

Sorry to keep you waiting so long. Between leaving Korea in August 2011 we've travelled to Nepal, India, Malaysia (okay, just Kuala Lumpur which barely counts), Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand and Laos, and then back to New Zealand. We spent 6 months at home working temp office jobs in varying Government organisations (Tom) and just one (me) all the while applying for jobs back in Korea.

In early July, through a friend we got 2 elementary school jobs in Jecheon, a city in the province of Chungcheongbuk-do. Jecheon is vaguely in the middle of Korea and at a population of around 150,000 people it's considerably larger than Buan. I spent my last 2 months in New Zealand eating as much delicious food as possible and hanging out with my wonderful family and friends, I'm pretty sure Tom did the same.

On August 23 after about a week of me being an embarrassing crybaby we flew out on Korean Air to Seoul. This time, instead of receiving a lump sum payment for our entrance allowance we just get reimbursed for our flights over so we treated ourselves AND got emergency exit seats - totally recommended. I watched 6 movies in 12 hours and will happily tell you what they were if you care to ask.

We touched down in Seoul and hauled our 60+ kgs of luggage (combined, not each!) to Gangnam where our friends had offered up a futon for the night, directly under their air conditioner. All 5 kilos of cheese we brought with us made it through customs, along with the assortment of NZ products we'd shopped for in the days prior - I'll post about them soon.

On the 24th we met our friend who'd got us the jobs - she was leaving for home that day and it was wonderful to see her before she left. After a quick catch up we grabbed our luggage again and caught a bus to Jecheon. It's 2 hours from Seoul rather than the 3 - 4 we were used to from our Buan days. It felt strange going to a different bus station, and the whole experience of being back is still fairly weird. It's all so familiar and yet we've been gone as long as we were here last time. I'm certain our Korean recruiter thought I at least was a small-town hick, as we drove around the city I kept exclaiming about how big the place is.

We got to Jecheon and dumped our stuff at the apartment, then went to meet our co-teachers. Tom's at two schools this time and I'm at one, which is another change from the assortment of tiny rural schools we taught at last time. After an hour of going through our contracts we bought some bedding, had a look around the area we're staying in and headed back to the apartment.

There's no way around it. Our apartment is a piece of crap.

Here's the postives: It's a lot larger than the last place (hurrah!), it's got gas heating, it's close to shops and restaurants and the nicest PC Bang I've ever seen. It's only up 2 floors. That's about it.

It's also one of the oldest apartment buildings in Jecheon. The bathroom is laughably small and was caked with the hair and blood (!!!!!!!!) of the previous tenant. When we moved our bed last night, there was a good half inch of dust underneath, all but two pieces of furniture are broken and there's no precious, precious air con. To say we were disappointed is an understatement. We're both homebodies so a sucky apartment is a difficult thing to deal with.

Here's a video. Excuse my gross heavy breathing and sweaty face.

Here are some pictures which better highlight the utter grossness. It doesn't really show up in the video.

General fridge muck. There was red sauce splashed under the freezer door. HOW?

Mystery dried liquid caked with dust, our bedroom.

Extra revolting kitchen splashboard.
Today we managed to buy some cleaning products and have spent an hour or so cleaning up, with a lot more to go. One win is we've had our groceries delivered to our house successfully for the first time! It's a free service we were too scared/confused to use last time. Hopefully with some magical feng shui rearranging and the promised new wardrobe/chairs/table/desk from our schools will brighten up the place. And hopefully our next post won't be as depressing. Please come and stay!