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Volleyball

7 Apr

It’s Wednesday afternoon and I’m sitting at my work computer cycling between Facebook, Google reader, and Twitter (insert twitter insults here–I really couldn’t care less) trying to do anything but actual work.  My co-teacher walks in, decked out in full athletic wear, and tells me that herself and some of the other teachers are going outside to play volleyball and that I should join them. I would later find out that during the spring they tend to play every Wednesday afternoon. I’m amped about  being able to get some weekly exercise (I’ve never the gym work-out type as I view it as a waste of time and god given athletic talent),  but have no  clothes to change into so I tell my co-teacher that I won’t be playing, but will come outside to watch for a while. I say ‘watch’ but really I plan on scouting my competition should I decide to play in the future. I’m a fierce competitor and can’t stand to loose, and I’ve heard stories about school Korean school teachers being top notch volleyball players.

The teacher’s at my school play for fun, but some schools have teams that compete against other schools in the district. If you’re game isn’t legit, you may not even be let onto the court. A friend of mine once told me his principal came up to him and explained that while the school volleyball team would be participating in a tournament soon, he probably wouldn’t be able to play due to his lack of skill. It’s just too much at stake.

I shut down my computer and head outside. A game is already in progress and as soon as they see me approaching I’m instantly called over to play. I try to explain that I don’t have on the proper clothes and that I will come prepared next week, but they’re not buying it. It’s intimidating because of course they are all decked out in the latest Korean athletic apparel. I protest a little longer before finally giving in to their insistence . Really it didn’t take too much convincing. Not only have I been aching to play sports since before winter, but I’m eager to  show off a bit. Naturally I figure they think the waygook will be no good (a fair assumption considering I almost never play volleyball and have no skills whatsoever) so I’m quick to toss my jacket over a rail and take to the court to make believers out of them.

The game tempo is slower than I anticipated but everyone has sound technique, except for the fact that kicking the ball is allowed if you can’t get low enough. It doesn’t take long before I’m covered in sweat and dust and trying to make every play possible. Even though I’m playing an extremely unothadox version of volleyball–attempting many plays with my back to the net or else by jumping in front of a teammate–my co-workers seem impressed  and I receive a few oooh’s and ahh’s as I jump around trying to look like I know what I’m doing. Conversely, when I make a mistake ( a mistake being anytime I touch the ball and it doesn’t result in scoring) I’m instantly privy to on-the-spot coaching from every one of my teammates. ” Higher, more gentle, stronger, move back, hop on one leg” etc, etc, etc.  I try not to let it bother me and continue to play the game as I know how.

Towards the end of play the vice-principal comes out and surveys the game for a while. I give him a quick bow and jump back into position hoping he’ll get to see me in action. The ball comes my way and I clumsily swat it out of bounds–other team’s serve. Luckily he fails to notice. I’m saved by an ajossi walking around the school field who calls the principal over to chat.

Why was I so eager for the vice to see me play?

Don’t know, really. He already likes me plenty and has nothing but nice things to say. Once during lunch he told me I look like a strong African warrior. Maybe this was the image I wanted to invoke when he strolled right past my athletic fuck-up on the court. Had I known that in less than a few hours we would be singing our hearts out together at the noraebong, I probably wouldn’t have paid him any mind.

I can’t remember the wins vs losses record but this doesn’t stop me from thinking I at least held my own. After the game a  few teachers come up to me and give me specific feedback on my performance. Most notably that I can jump really high and that I’m flexible (though I don’t understand how the latter factors into a possible victory). In another context these statements might piss me off– choosing to comment on something random yet specific enough to avoid hurting my feelings. Like when a mother shows off her newborn who she swears an instead of saying how cute she is, you compliment her on how nice her baby shoes are, or how she has all of her fingers. Still, coming from my co-workers, I take the comments as a sign of admiration for my stunning performance and accept them graciously.

As the last game comes to an end, I realize that I am covered in dirt and still have a staff dinner to attend after work. Thanfully no one seems to notice so I dust off my jeans and vow to be prepared for next week’s games with a decent pair of tennis shoes and some gym shorts.

Ciao,

Kimchi Dreadlocks

English Camp Advice: This Might Hurt a Bit

29 Dec

Before my students took of for winter vacation I had little time to do anything besides planning my three-week winter English Camp.

It doesn’t officially begin until January third, so I’m forced to desk warm until then. As I write this post, I am one of maybe four staff members in the building, in addition to a handful of construction workers who seem to be doing little more than walking around speaking into walkie-talkies.

My instructions for the week?

Show up bright and early at my normal time, hang out at my desk for the day, and leave at four thirty. That’s it. It didn’t seem too bad at first, but then I realized there will also be no school lunch served, and the few staff members who do show up only come in for half the day, usually around noon.

Clearly I’m complaining but life’s not all bad. I found a space heater in the closet behind my desk and every couple of hours I go into the teachers lounge and grab some instant coffee. Because there’s almost no one else around I decide to take two packages instead of the customary single I usually slurp down after lunch.

When you’re  forced to warm a desk for eight hours, however, there is only so much Facebook and internet television one can take. I decide to spend some time fine tuning the lesson plans for my upcoming winter camp.

Anyone planning to teach in Korea through EPIK will almost surely have to at least two english camps during their contract; one in the winter and one in the summer. There are several ways this could play out. You may be lucky enough to have a co-teacher who not only teaches the entire camp with you, but plans it out as well (not likely). You may have to teach the camp by yourself with ready made lessons provided by your school. Or–as is my situation–you may be faced with the task of planning and teaching the lesson completely on your own with little notice in advance.

I’m responsible for about 40 hours worth of content over the course of two weeks, with a third week being planned by the conversation teacher. The topics to be covered are completely up to me so at first glance I was quite excited about the possiblilities: start out with a lesson on popular dance moves, spend a couple of days talking about the intricacies of American football, throw in some fancy coloring sheets and board games and finish up with a pizza party. Unfortunately this doesn’t quite cut it.

Naturally I freaked out and went back to the drawing board. With some helpful tips from other teachers in the area and the ESL savior that is waygook.org, I was able to piece together some good shit for my mixed class of 3rd and fourth graders. I’d be lying if I said it was a quick process. Even with working on it during my afternoon down-time, I still ended up putting together a lot of material at home, and I hated almost every second of it, but the finished product turned out alright. True, my students may end up completely hating it, but if it comes down to it, I know more than enough Michael Jackson songs by heart to keep the day at least halfway interesting.

What’s my point with all of this?

Simply that if you’re here to teach and given an English camp to plan out, suck it up and do your job. We’re already given ample opportunity to slack off and be lazy throughout the contract. Indeed, I’m no teaching expert and I’m as lazy as the next man when it comes to churning out real work, but even I can come up with better material than the crap we readily serve up from the textbooks each semester. Plus, this may be one of our last chances to showcase our skills before we’re forced out of a job by English teaching robots (a topic which I will rant about shortly) and faced with returning to our employment deprived home countries.

Think about it.

Ciao,

Kimchi Dreadlocks

N. Korea Gangsterdom

23 Nov

 

 

Photo taken from Yonhap News Agency

It’s always a treat when I’m able to get breaking news from Facebook.

Looks like North Korea has gone gangster again as local news organizations are reporting that Kim Jong Il and his cronies have fired  rounds of artillery onto the S. Korean Island of Yeonpueong near the highly disputed border.

According to S. Korea’s YTN television, at least two people have been injured, with one S. Korean soldier having been killed.

Yonhap News Agency, citing a spokesman for S. Korea’s Joint Chief of Staff, says S. Korea has since returned fire with some 80 rounds of artillery and has scrambled fighter jets to the island.

None of this is good, but I guess it’s pleasing to read that at least the S. Korean military aren’t acting like a bunch of pussies when it comes to retaliation, especially considering N. Korea has developed a new uranium enrichment plant which the U.S. is doing nothing about, aside from what it always does: “talking” about the possibility of more U.N. sanctions.

The big question: Should expats (here on teaching contracts or otherwise) be concerned?

Fuck if I know. Popular K-blogger Robert Koehler over at the Marmot’s Hole, usually claims that he couldn’t give two shits about the North’s actions. Judging from random Facebook and Twitter banter, some seem a bit concerned while others seem content with posting links about it and poking fun at yet another N. Korea provocation. If you really care to read it (an no doubt bore the shit out of yourself in the process) here are some initial reactions from supposed N. Korean  experts regarding the attack.

Me? I picked up a jug of beer and a can of  sour cream & onion Pringles on my way home from work. I plan on taking in an episode of Deadwood while reports continue to roll in.

Don’t worry though. If shit gets serious, I’ll be sure to duck under my dinner table while covering my head with both hands.

Ciao,

Kimchi Dreadlocks

Teaching from the Bottom of the Totem Pole

6 Sep

I mentioned in my last post that when you’re a Native English Teacher in Korea, you are often (if not always) placed at the bottom of the totem pole when it comes to hierarchal positioning. After giving it some thought I realize I should elaborate a bit on this. Plus being that my first full week of teaching has come to an end, I should probably share some of my new found insights while they’re still fresh in my dreads.

First off, the view from the bottom of the totem pole isn’t all bad. Yes, I’m the last to find out about any and everything that goes on in my school (this includes random lesson planning sessions with my co-teachers, an introduction to the entire school given via live video broadcast and a retirement ceremony/dinner party that I was told not to miss), and yes, having to teach for almost four hours straight only to sit and warm a desk for the rest of the day is less than desirable at times, but when it comes down to it, I’m living in a beautiful coastal city with my rent paid for and a crap load of vacation time. I’m a stones throw away from several countries I’ve been trying to get to for some time now, and I’m skirting the mundanity of the broke debt ridden post graduation life that awaits me back home. I’m living a dream compared to some of you rubes in the states! Plus the spontaneity usually leads me into some interesting situations.

For example, at the end of my first day of teaching I’m told that the principal is retiring on the following Monday and that the vice-principal will be transferring to a new school shortly after. This is after I sweat it out in button-up and tie  and bow like a damn slave trying to impress him during our initial meeting. Only to find out that I’ll probably have to do it again. I couldn’t figure out why I should care that the man is retiring when I just arrived as the new Native  English Teacher. That is until Monday rolls around and  my co-teacher tells me during lunch that I’m expected to attend a ceremony for said retiring principal in an hour and a half. Mind you I have lesson planning to do as well as a status to update on Facebook (both equally important), but I smile and say I’ll meet here in the school auditorium 10 min before it starts.

“Ceremony” was an understatement. As it begins there is a 10-min video presentation on the man’s life, followed by a grand introduction. Next everyone stands to sing a song in Korean. I’m handed the lyrics and stare blankly at the characters pretending to follow along, even humming at times to make it seem like I’m completely involved. Before the ceremony is said and done, there are several speeches given complete with plenty of tears bowing, pictures taken and a clarinet performance of Frank Sinatra’s “I Did It My Way.” Later my students would ask If I understood anything being said during the ceremony. When my co- teacher translates to them that I understood only the tears and the clarinet  they all enjoyed a good laugh while I pictured the outgoing Principal laughing at me in his office at the same time. .

Still, the kids are the best part of the gig. Everyday I’m hit with a borage of greetings as soon as I walk in the door:
“Hello Mr.Woodson Teacher!”
“Mr. Woodson handsome guy!”
Sometimes the kids just rattle off all of the random english phrases they’ve been taught:
“Hello. How are you doing? I’m fine thank you. Are you Hungry? You have a nice shirt. Bye bye!”
Half the time they say it so fast it sounds like Korean. I just stand there hoping to soon make it to my air conditioned classroom.

The best, however, is noticing the differences between school kids in Korea and those back in the states. For starters, Korean kids bring razors to school. Why? I have no clue. At first I thought it was a low grade way for them to cut paper, but in every classroom there is a big ass basket of scissors that the kids can use whenever they please. I asked my co-teacher why they have them, and still haven’t gotten a concrete answer. The whole thing has me feeling uneasy. I try to ignore it but the kids often extend an retract the blades. It makes a distinct clicking sound that has me thinking I might get shanked at any moment. “Fuck up one english syllable Mr. Woodson and I’ll stick this in your abdomen.” It’s like teaching in midget prison.

In addition to the razor blades you always have to be weary of the famous
“Dong-Chim.” If you’ve ever taught in Korea chances are you just quivered at the sight of those words. Literally translated, “dong-chim” means poop needle. Apparently boy students like to sneak up on their unsuspecting teachers, place their hands together while like a gun with both pointer fingers sticking up and send a quick jab right up the poop shoot. No joke, I read about this on a blog before I left for Korea and It almost deterred me from coming altogether. What kind of shit is that? Not only do I have to worry about young Jun-ho slashing me with his razor, but now I have to watch my back for fear that his buddy might jab me in the rectum while giving a lesson? How the hell am I supposed to teach in this type of environment? A friend of mine teaching in Daegu told me he almost got caught slipping the other day. It was like he was describing a scene from American Me. I told him to pinch his cheeks and pray, and never turn his back on his class. That’s the only advice I had.

I ask one of my co-teachers about Dong-Chim, and she grins (as if it was a joke) and asks is if it has happened to me yet.
I tell her no and she then tells me it’s like a game  and asks if students in the United States do it. First of all dong-chim is NOT a game. Hangman is a game. Jeopardy is a game. Dong-Chim is likened to rape.  In fact, if one of my students tries that shit on me, I guarantee the next lesson they learn will be the proper use of profanity to express anger and distress.  Or even better, I’ll simply release a vile gas bubble right as the litle bugger is trying to penetrate. Ask any of my students back home. I’ve farted on kids for less! And no, kids in the U.S. don’t “play” dong-chim. If that happened in a American public school the kid would probably be sent to counseling for the rest of his natural life.

All joking aside though, my students are eager to learn and I’ve had t pretty easy compared to my other Busan comrades. Some people got stuck in classrooms where discipline is nill, and they get blamed for poor lesson implementation because of it.

I have little to complain about. The differences are apparent, but that hasn’t stopped stop me from giving the kids all the energy I have in teaching my native tongue (and a new handshake or two). I give four or five lessons, eat lunch amongst a bunch of Korean women, and sit on my ass for the rest of the updating my Facebook status and checking up on my hometown sport teams (in addition to planning a lesson or two). Indeed, view from the bottom of the totem pole ain’t half bad.

Ciao,

Kimchi Dreadlocks

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