Elwood 5566

My Birthday – December 27th – 31st 2000 (Korean Accounts 2000-2001)

Posted in esl, Korean Accounts Part 1 by 노강호 on December 27, 2000

Not being happy certainly curtails writing a diary, as well as other things in my life. However, after several confrontations with Jo, in which we all threatened to resign, things have cheered up a little. Jo has promised that I won’t be teaching in the Yon San Dong school much more than a month when I will go back to teaching in Song So. However, I don’t really trust him.

Chi-u, a young Einstein

The new school is hard work and we each have around 7.5 contact time a day with classes. The first four hours are purely kindergarten classes for kids of very rich parents. Their parents fork out around 800.000KW for the first month then pay subsequent monthly tuition fees of 450.000KW. These amounts work out at something like 500 and 250 UK pounds. I have never seen kids so well dressed and Koreans spend a lot of time and effort presenting their children. One of my favourite pupils is a three-year old boy called Lee Chi-Woo (이치우) who is in effect two years old. In Korea, a child is one the day they are born so you always have to minus one from their age to make them comparable with westerners. I am told this habit arose because when Korea was poor, many children died before their first birthday. Second birthdays here, especially for boys, are a very important affair. I have yet to see Chi-Woo (이치우) in the same little outfit twice. He can already speak a fair amount of English and every morning, when he sits next to me on the hagwon bus, he asks how I am and will then proceed to ask ‘What’s this?’ and ‘What’s that?’ His memory is quite amazing as next day he will have remembered all the previous morning’s words.

Jo’s School, ‘Letter and Sound,’ is a kindergarten in the morning and a hagwon in the afternoon when the middle schools  finish. We don’t have the equivalent of hagwons  in the UK; they are private schools which teach a range of subjects outside normal school hours and to which most children go in addition to state schooling. Normal schools are known as hakkyos (학교). There are hagwons on probably every street in a Korean town and many don’t close until 10 or 11 pm. Like the Taekwondo schools, piano academies, ballet schools and art schools, hagwons always have their own fleet of brightly coloured minibuses which ferry students between designated pick up points and their respective establishments. The ‘Letter and Sound’ bus picks me up every morning from near my apartment.

Jong Hoon – a great kid but a total nutter!

I think the kindy will do quite well financially as it is really about keeping the kids out of the parents way as much as it is about them learning. My class has only four five-year old kids; two boys, Dong-seop (동섭) and Jeong-hoon (중훈) and three girls. Jeong-hoon (중훈) is a total nutter who throws himself about without any concern for his safety. This week he arrived at school with a cut chin and bashed nose. He speaks the best English of the four kids and is very bright. Then there is Dong-seop (동섭) who has no spatial skills and cannot decide whether he is left or right-handed. I try to help him draw a letter but when I leave his side he just scrawls on the paper. I have nicknamed him ‘Picasso.’  My two girls are fucking brain-dead. It’s quite disgusting how there seems to be a universal trend in encouraging girls to be wriggly little pathetic things that must whimper and second themselves to the brashness of boys. This trend seems particularly more acute in Korea than in the west, though maybe I am being too critical. On of the girls is Da-hae (다해), slips off her chair onto the floor every time I speak to her and when she does utter a sound it is in a revolting girly manner. The other girl is Ji-soo (치수) and to get her to respond I have to call her name about twenty times and then poke her.

What does Annie Apple say?’ I chant, and then someone shouts out a long ‘A’ as in father. I say, ‘No, Annie says ‘A,’ as in cat.’ The kids are sick and fed up of Annie Apple and Bouncy Ben alphabet songs. The accompanying videos have characters with regional British accents and of course the kids find this confusing. Annie Apple talks like a Somerset cider slob and Clever Cat has a frightfully posh Oxford accent. Then there are the story books with phrases like ‘skiddly doo doo’ which is a nightmare trying to explain to small children. Even when there are cassettes with Korean interpretations on them the pronunciations are bad. Bouncy Ben, for example, is always pronounced ‘Bounshey Ben’ and this has become a bit of a joke between Pauline and I.

In class I call myself Bilbo Baggins and have written this, in Korean, on my wall.  I have decided I don’t want any of the kids knowing my real name. In the short space of a couple of weeks I have become adept at totally degrading myself in the singing of kiddy songs all accompanied with mad facial expressions or hand actions. Suddenly I am like a character out of Play School. I can even degrade myself in front of parents. I take kids out to piss, wipe their noses and comfort them when upset. None of this was in my contract and I definitely stipulated that I wanted to teach middle, or high school kids.

Nana moved out of the apartment this week and Matt, a new teacher from New Zealand has moved in with me. Matt seems a good laugh. On Thursday another teacher, Angela, arrived from New Zealand. She is a friend of Matt’s.

My Birthday, Dec 30th, 2000. Pak Jun-ee and Sun-hee (left) and Pauline (far right)

Taekwondo is off the cards until after the winter vacation finishes which is  in a week or so. I don’t finish my classes in time to go training and besides I’m too tired.

On a Wednesday evening I teach Pak Ji-won (박지원) English in the restaurant besides the Shin-woo supermarket in Song So. I spent my birthday here and the family have sort of adopted me. Ji-won is very attractive but he’s only 18 and like so many Korean boys, androgynous. I suspect if anyone touched the front of his pants he wouldn’t have a clue what they were doing. This is no criticism, I love the innocence that seems to typify so many Korean teenagers and which is so different to many of the promiscuous male and female whores I’ve taught in the West.

I taught Ji-won every Saturday for most of 2001. He is now one of my closest Korean friends.

On Friday I had to go to U-chun’s and teach her daughter and niece English. I really like her and if I had to leave Korea now I would be sad because she is such a fun person. She was supposed to be giving me Korean lessons in exchange for English lessons but this seems to have been forgotten but her company is payment enough.

On Saturday it snowed really heavily but the temperature has risen and it is no longer minus 15. The snow has set and Matt and I met up with U-chun at the local E Mart. This is the local supermarket. Then we got a taxi to the local Baskin Robbins which was amusing as I asked for three big pots of ice-cream and of course, Koreans are never so greedy and generally share a pot – and probably a smaller pot too! After that we walked down the main road, through busy and around the university campus. From a high spot on the campus we add a view straight down the wide main road that leads all the way back down to Song-So and beyond which must at least be a few miles. Though it was afternoon, a cold mist hung over the entire city.

I telephoned my sister on my birthday and the call, which lasted an hour, cost a staggering £80. (note – today I can call unlimited for next to nothing).

 

Creative Commons License

©Bathhouse Ballads –  努江虎 – 노강호 2011 Creative Commons Licence.
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