Elwood 5566

Wanted: A Plastic Professorship

Posted in bathhouse Ballads, Comparative, Education, esl, Westerners by 노강호 on May 13, 2010

Have you noticed its predominantly university teachers who hand you business cards? Fingering  the little stash I’ve collected over the years, not one is from  a Haggwon teacher.  I’ve never owned business cards, but then as I’ve never sent a text message and only used an ATM machine once in the UK. I’m slightly odd.

I pine, you pine, he pine, she pine!

I wouldn’t mind handing  out a name card from a university, even a crap one but like most teachers, I would probably feel a little ashamed handing out something from an institution one notch up from a kindergarten or the kids’ party entertainer at Mac Donald’s. Even though haggwon and university pay are now fairly similar, in status there’s a world of difference between Coco the Clown’s English Academy and a University.

No matter how hard a haggwon tries to give itself credibility, names like ‘academy’ or ‘colleges’ don’t hide what most really are, factories (공장). ‘TOSS English‘ reads the bright neon strip over a college near where I live.  Despite the amusing name, it must  be successful as it has a fleet of mini buses and has been in situ for at least  8 years. However, back in the UK, ”Toss’ is slang for ‘shit’ or ‘masturbation.’ And then there’s ‘Kolon English Academy;’ Colon is the destination of the doctor’s digit when you have an extremely bad gut.  Then there are the logos, the cap and mortar board, the pillars of some classical order column. Sometimes they use letters of the Greek alphabet which in the UK would be unrecognized to all but the students of British grammar schools.

In Britain, any awareness of the roots of western civilization is relegated to 5 or 6 year-olds and hence denuded of its significance as the cradle of western civilization. The invasion of ‘ ‘Greece” by Darius in 490BC and Xerxes, 480BC, had they succeeded, would have radically altered the face of western history possibly resulting in an Islamic Europe. Mention Thermopylae to most British people and it is now associated predominantly with a comic or a partly animated, fantastical movie.  Many Korean kids can recite or narrate the Battle of Thermopylae or Marathon and some have even ‘explained to me how Socrates came to commit suicide.  As  a history teacher in the UK, I can put my hand on my heart and tell you I have never seen or heard any mention of Thermopylae , Marathon or Socrates in a British school.  For various reasons,  the most significant aspects of our history, often due to political imperatives, are demnatio memoriae.  Koreans students certainly have more awareness of classical history than do their western peers and so the column, pediments, alpha and omega,  and other little symbols of academia and learning are common but  ironically, the ‘colleges’ they represent are as genuine as the Phrontesterion in Aristophanes’ The Clouds; the silly little ‘Thinkery’ where students bend over, bum holes gazing intently at the heavens in the quest for knowledge.

Much as I love Korea, their method of teaching English needs a total overhaul and the dependence on memorizing phrases, a number of which are clumsy and strange, needs scraping.  Koreans have a similar attitude to teaching  English as they do cooking bean paste soup. I’ve told several friends I add a dash of black pepper powder to my dwaen-jang.  They were shocked and repeated ‘pepper’ several times as though I’d said I piss in it.  Then they told me that black pepper wasn’t part of ‘the recipe,’ as if there is only one recipe, only one way to do it. Korean education is very successful, but their standard of English, despite the haggwons and schools, is dire. Perhaps if they treated English education more like  ‘pushion pood (fusion food), squirting jam over pizzas, replacing mozarella with that stretchy, play cheese, or sweet potato and dipping bistro hotdogs in a concoction of syrup, mustard and red pepper paste, standards might improve. ”I’m  pine,’ ‘Have a nice day,’ ‘pleased to meet you,’ ‘ drive you to suicide. And then there’s the constant American twang but that can wait until a future post!

Currently, I’m waiting for my business cards to arrive and they will probably carry my school’s logo, a cartoony character but I’m not particularly bothered. I’ve worked in enough language factories and a high school,  to know that my boss has genuine intentions and besides, my loyalty is won because my conditions are probably superior to those of most university teachers whose pay is no longer way in advance of a haggwon teacher and whose holidays, at one time a guaranteed four months have been whittled down and interpolated with various obligations. My boss and her family have been close friends of mine for over ten years and have even vacationed with me in England. Though I would  love  to become a professor, albeit a plastic one, working in a university, for me at least, would be a step down.

A teacher from the Coco the Clown Phrontesterion of English. (I'm Pine and You)

Of course, most university teachers, instructors, give you a name card not because they teach in a university, but to impress on you the fact they are ‘professors.’ Professors are the officer class of Korean teachers with haggwon teachers relegated to ‘rank and file.’ Yes, I would probably do exactly the same but it is non the less amusing in its snobbery.  Name cards of the highest status carry ‘professor’ in both Korean (교수)  and hanja (敎授) in order to separate them from ones simply in English. I’d probably have mine embossed in gold. In reality however, it’s the knowledge and skills of a ‘professor’ I would like and not merely a hollow title. By English standards, I’m not too clear how it works in the USA, a ‘professorship’ is a position, ‘a chair,’ awarded to top academics and not a title conferred merely by teaching in a university.  Despite the demise of standards in the UK and the ascendancy of ape values, you still read or hear of academics being ‘invited’ to a professorship.

What, by gad! No dickie?

Last year I spent several days adjudicating a speaking competition with three professors all of whom gave me name cards. Two wore  little silk dickie bow ties and the other a complete set of plus fours and matching walking cane.  When I first saw him, from a distance,  I thought it was Sherlock Holmes until  I heard his American accent. He didn’t have a pipe but his plus fours were real and actually made of tweed. Ironically, I’d met this chap before, some 6 years previously when we worked together in an academy ‘factory.’ Before the plus fours and business card, and of course, ‘professorship,’ he used to turn up for work looking like a backpacker, his hair never combed and his clothes disheveled and scruffy. One day, I recall my old boss consulting me as to whether it was acceptable to offer to buy him some new clothes. If I’d known at the time what I now know I’d have simply suggested conferring a professorship upon him and buying him some appropriate name cards. The rest would have taken care of itself.

Even when I’ve known teachers who for one reason or another moved from university to hagwon, from the status of ‘plastic professor’ to that of a boring ‘teacher,’  they’ve initially introduced themselves, or been introduced to me as, ‘professor.’ Further, not only have they continued wearing the dicky bow, but they’ve insisted students call them by title.

I’m a snob, academia, the classics, the entire gamut from music, art literature to history, Oxford, Cambridge, public schools, grammar schools, dickie bows, waist coats and plus fours, professors, even plastic professors, I adore them all. When I was a boy, this was what constituted education and refinement and through out my twenties I aspired to it. Sadly, by the time I got to university, in my early thirties, the gown, mortar board and anything ‘classical,’ if not already on a heap in the college quad, were on their way! And now, well, every Tom, Dick and Harry have a degree – usually in hair dressing or business studies. As much as I mock plastic professors, tongue in cheek, a least the title sets you apart from the herd. Sadly, of all my university friends, some of whom are university lecturers, professors, some even renowned in academic circles, few embraced ‘the classical’ with any passion in little other than their individual subjects. I don’t want to leave my current occupation, that would be foolish, but secretly, I would love one of those business cards and the snobbery of calling myself a ‘professor.’ Is it possible to teach a lesson or two a week in a university, even a poxy one, and ‘earn’ the title ‘professor,’ or even ‘associate professor?’ If so, pathetic as it is, I want the job!”

EPIK Helped Kill the Korean Experience

Posted in 'Westernization' of Korea, bathhouse Ballads, Education, podcasts, Westerners by 노강호 on April 29, 2011

Podcast 80

Here’s the problem! You’ve lived in Korea three months and you think you know all about it! Now that you’ve got used to being stared at, know the difference between makalli and soju, think you have an understanding of the Korean psyche and culture and have possibly been initiated by the annual waygukin pilgrimage to the Boring  Boroyeong (mud festival), Korea has suddenly become mundane, ordinary and predictable.

has Korea becoming boring?

I know the feeling. There are numerous things which can possibly terminate ones Korean experience or at least quickly lead to the honeymoon being over: these include, the internet, a mobile phone, English speaking westerners and ones ability to read and speak Korean.

If you want to preserve that feeling of amazement you experienced during your initial weeks in Korea you have to avoid taking any interest in learning to speak, read or write Korean and while you can use computers to play games and download music, you must shun search engines and any blog related to Korea. Avoiding foreigners, or at least limiting how many you know, is crucial but relatively easy as most are too busy pretending  they’ve been in Korea for the last twenty years and are adept at blanking you even if you’re sat under their very noses.

Yeah, but nothing like we used to be…(courtesy of Roketship.com

The famous Chicago School sociologist, Robert Park used to advise his students to ‘go out and get the seats of your pants dirty’ and not too long ago that was the only way you could learn anything about Korea. You wanted to learn about Korea, and then you had to go to Korea. You wanted to learn Korean, you had to go out and find someone to talk to; you wanted to learn how to make kimchi or do taekwondo, you had to go out and find Koreans willing to help you. Today, you can do it all from the comfort of your ‘one-room.’ The online oracle provides extensive resources on every facet of Korean culture so much so that you can learn more today about Korea from a computer in backwater Britain or a rural American retreat than you could gleam living here for a year before the invasion of the internet. And for every foreigner arriving on Korean soil a corresponding blog is birthed to swell the already bloated Klogosphere.

Learning Korean is the quickest way to sully your relationship with Korea. I’m not really happy living anywhere in the world where I don’t have to make an effort to learn what is going on around me because it is easier to get the information I upload.  Back in Britain, I live in a constant state of depression and on a daily basis am subject to a plethora of information that I really don’t want to process and which by its very nature is unhealthy. You don’t have to seek information out, it finds you and worse the bulk of it is rubbish.  If it’s broadcast in daylight hours or is front page ‘news’ it’s very often shit and I have no interest in the intrigues concerning the latest plastic protégés from Pop Idol, the dumb ass contestants selected for Big Brother, the Royal Spongers, Football or the plots of stupid soaps.

 

interesting…

It’s fantastic when I go back home as I have no idea who new celebrities are and besides, many will have disappeared by the end of the year. I lived in Germany between 1976-1986 and was telly-less and beside gaining black-belt in taekwon-do, when I came home to headlines announcing, ’Who Shot JR,’ had to ask who he was.  A great wadge of what constitutes ‘news’ is newsless shite which cascades into your brain like spam. If people treated that organ the complexity of which potentially separates us from lower primates as they do their computers, with upgrades, antivirus and spam devices, society would be much nicer. Do you lower your firewall, terminate you anti-virus facilities and start downloading everything on-line? Of course not! But that’s what many of us do with our brains and much of it can’t be avoided.

Living in a country where you do not speak the language fluently is one step away from living in a mountain temple. It’s shocking I had to be told there had been a tsunami in Japan and an earthquake in New Zealand and natural disasters don’t depress me like manmade ones; but on the other hand my brain hasn’t been polluted with rubbish about royal weddings or the obnoxious habits of celebrities.

And you can certainly give vent to your creative juices. For the last few years I’ve had to construct an understanding of the world beyond my little nirvana from fragmented ‘evidence.’ Like an historian of ancient history, I piece together a narrative constructed from isolated words I’ve understood or images I’ve seen. When I originally saw a clip of what I now know was the Japanese tsunami  (the TV was in a restaurant and there was no audio),  I thought it was a graphic from the 24 hour Starcraft channel. I could certainly go online and access information but choose not to as once you open yourself to external content it quickly overwhelms you. Ignorance really is enjoyable and I am infinitely calmer in my little bubble than I would be by allowing the worlds ‘dirty realities to rape my noggin.

EPIK killed the experience

Not only would fluency in Korean make it possible to be spammed and hacked, but it would take all the fun out of life’s little excursions. I remember the time when most restaurants lacked English translations and often had no pictures.  Ordering meals by pointing was fun; bus terminals with no English! That was a challenge. By all means, learn Korean to order a pizza or tell the taxi driver where to take you but much more than this will quickly curdle your Korean sojourn. Okay! I do speak a fair amount of Korean and put much effort into learning it but you either have to be very gifted at languages or have been here for a long time to actually be able to speak fluently. So, unable to understand anything but bits and bobs from the fast paced gabble of Korean TV and conversations overheard, living in Korea equips you with one enormous firewall. Not one mega byte of unwanted information enters my brain’s processing center uninvited or unprocessed.

Obviously then, the internet has to be shunned though it’s useful in emergencies and for smoothing out potential problems. However, using it to research where you should go, how to get there, what to expect and equipping you with opinions before you’ve even decided where to go is a little like substituting reading the back page of a book for actually reading the book itself.  And the problem with computer technology is that it permits you to lead almost identically the same life as you would have had back home. Yes, even now I am doing exactly the same as I would be doing back in the UK, basically sitting at a computer screen and most of the entertainment it provides in the form of music and film is identical. So vast are the tomes of information on Korea that very little remains mysterious, bizarre or strange. Information technology has helped demystify the Korean experience and severely shortens its potential to engage or entertain us.

Mobile phones are just as bad and owning one simply means that every waygukin you meet gets added to your address book and as they do your social life begins to develop which disproportionately involves fellow westerners. Most westerners, though there will be exceptions, only need a mobile so they can chat with their western mates and book trips to ESL tourist destinations.

As for the waygukin effect, blame it on EPIK! The sharp increase in the number of English speaking foreigners now living in Korea has helped destroy the intense interest Koreans once held in us. I knew more westerners in the area in which I live, ten years ago when they were a handful, than I do now, despite their comprising a small army. At one time, seeing a westerner was so rare you stopped and talked. Today, there are not only more westerners but more westerners married to Koreans or with a Korean boyfriend or girlfriend. There are even western children in some of my local Korean middle schools. And I know it’s mean, but whenever I meet an EPIK teacher I silently curse because it is predominantly their invasion which has turned us from objects of fascination and intrigue into ones boring, mundane and general. We were special until EPIK arrived and now one has been stationed in every school, coffee shop and burger bar; there isn’t s single student who has never met a foreigner.

 

The Costa del Sol? No! Korea. Boroyeong, waygooked to boredom

Knowing a couple of fellow countrymen, or women, is good for your mental health but getting pally with hordes of them is a bad idea. When ever foreigners hook up in droves you can guarantee the conversation will become anti-Korean and gravitate towards how crappy it is working in Korea, which for many it is but those of us with good bosses or plastic professorships don’t want reminding. Technology and the EPIK invasion now means Korea attracts ESL tourists seeking the Korean package experience. Many waygukin now come here not to experience Korea and its culture, but to basically do exactly the same sort of things that can be done on the Costa del Sol. With a pack of mates in your mobile address book, all waygukin, it won’t be too long before you’re either returning home or looking for another location to provide you that ‘unique’ experience.

Creative Commons License

© 林東哲 2011 Creative Commons Licence.

Beach Bum Teachers

Posted in bathhouse Ballads, Comparative, Education, Westerners by 노강호 on July 2, 2010

I took a walk around Keimyung University, Daegu,  and  passed a couple of  plastic professors one of whom wore a three piece suit and the other, white trousers, jacket and a Panama hat. True there were a few casually dressed waygukins kicking about but I assume these to be students so as not to spoil my myopic view of the world.

Keimyung is a beautiful campus and supposedly, one of the ten most attractive campuses in Korea. I was lucky enough to have attended Essex University in the UK, and indeed own a house only 15 minutes walk from the campus. As a first year student in halls of residence, my room looked out over Wivenhoe Park which was the subject and title for John Constable’s 1816 painting. I never really appreciated the importance of beautiful surroundings and university campus life until I subsequently studied in London where the University probably owned one tree – everything else being brick and tarmac.

For a year, this was my view as I ate breakfast

Swanning about in a boater or three piece suit with a dickie bow, even if you’re professorship is plastic, is so much more sophisticated with a beautiful campus as a backdrop. True, Oxford and Cambridge aren’t set in beautifully rural settings but the sense of the numinous imparted by ancient architecture is just as effective and maybe more so.

Keimyung traditional architecture and the distant city

Traditional and modern typify Keimyung campus

Two miles down the road from Keimyung, in Song-So, there are no boaters or dickie-bows. When you’re teaching in a haggwon a three piece suit is an overstatement. Around Song-So’s haggwons the predominate form of dress for teachers is casual  and hence cargo shorts, shorts, flip flops, vests and all manner of clothing suitable to a Thai beach, building site or the set of a Pirates of the Caribbean movie, are common.

Traditional architecture

Now, I come from Britain where the weather is notoriously shitty and where you can generally wear the same type of  clothing  all year. The same thickness of jeans material will  suffice throughout the year but may be a little warm in summer but the need for three types of clothing, basically, winter, summer and spring/autumn, as in Korea, is not necessary. However, in many parts of  Canada and Australia, and definitely the USA, the summer temperatures and even precipitation are not a lot different to that of Korea. I used to play in a military band and have marched through Calgary, Canada, in a temperature of 44 degrees and I wore full ceremonial uniform and not a pair or cargo shorts and flip flops. I remember Washington DC being very uncomfortable and air conditioning, something of a domestic rarity in the UK, was a necessity. What I didn’t see however, were Americans or Canadians going to work, certainly not professional work, dressed like beach bums.

I get annoyed seeing westerners going into schools dressed like they’re on vacation and see it as a form of racism and symptomatic of cultural ignorance. In my high school, and in haggwons in which I have taught, the dress code, set by co-workers, certainly wasn’t beach wear. Eighteen months ago, we hired a Canadian gyopo (교포).  He had never lived or worked in Korea and spoke little Korean but would turn up for work wearing torn jeans which he wore so far past his hips his boxers were constantly on display. Meanwhile, his hems were worn away from having been constantly walked on. Dressing like a shit-bag puts immense pressure on haggwon bosses and while some, like bosses everywhere, are tossers and deserve it, many are decent and well meaning. Neither is it fair on Korean co-workers  when foreign staff dress for a beach party while they dress, like professionals,  for work.

If I were employing a waygukin, I’d certainly want to see a photo and I’d probably want to ask: what they would intend to wear to school? If they can get themselves to school via the shower and shaver, and if they piss it up every evening? But then I’m inclined to fascism! Easier, I’d probably employ waygukin’s with professional teaching qualifications beyond the month long TEFL, ESL certificate and who’d actually had real jobs to both  check out references and as a means of assuming they will be acquainted with what to wear to work, and how to behave in work. You read so many gripes about westerners not being treated fairly and while a lot are genuine, many will be the result of waygukins who treat working in Korea as part of a backpacking holiday. It is disrespectful, even racist to treat your host culture with less consideration than you would you own culture, regardless of your personal opinions,  more so when there is little or no difference between them in terms of work place etiquette and its associated expectations.

Creative Commons License
© Nick Elwood 2010 Creative Commons Licence.