Elwood 5566

Just…(그냥) Funny Responses

Posted in Just - 그냥, Teaching by 노강호 on March 13, 2011

is this for real?

 

So, I gave one of my classes a quiz yesterday afternoon and a number of questions were on completing sequences. ‘Sunday, Saturday, Friday?’ I ask one student. ‘He replies, ‘yesterday!’

Later, I ask a student to describe ‘toothpaste.’ His answer, ‘toothbrush sauce!”

Creative Commons License

© 林東哲 2011 Creative Commons Licence.

Tagged with:

A Tale of Philosophers and Carrots

Posted in bathhouse Ballads, Education, esl, Korean language, taekwon-do, taekwondo by 노강호 on March 8, 2011

podcast 74

There is a Korean ‘idiom, dang-guen-i-ji (당근이지 – that’s the carrot, or absolutely!). Now, this isn’t directly borrowed from English but is apparently a development, by children, of dang-hyeon ha-ji (당연 하지 – absolutely!) If you say them repeatedly and alternatively, dang-guen-i-ji is definitely easier.

dang-guen (당근) the carrot, a familiar Korean crudité

So, one day I am buying something in a shop and use my newly acquired idiom and proudly ‘joke, ‘ ‘dan-goon-i-chi ‘(단군이지). The old lady serving gives me a funny look, no doubt amazed at my ability to use colloquial Korean. That day, I use the phrase several times and not just overdo its use but probably use it in slightly odd situations and this, so I believe, accounts for the bemused faces it induces.

Dan Goon (단군), legendary founder of Korea, 2333 BC

A week or so later, I use it after having my hair cut and then I discover, I’ve been confusing the Dan-goon Wang-geom (단군왕검), the revered emperor-philosopher with dang-guen (당근), the common carrot. In translation, I suppose Dan Goon-i-ji might be rendered, ‘that’s the Socrates,’ or ‘that’s the Wittgenstein,’ depending on your current taste in philosophical schools. I should have realised my mistake earlier as I have a long history of confusing the legendary founder of Korea with Bugs Bunny’s favourite crudité.

Part of the course in learning a language is that you make mistakes and some of them can be amusing even if they do cause embarrassment.  I’m probably quite famous in the area in which I live for entertaining locals with my bumblings.  One of the local Monday morning market vendors was very bemused when she realised that the ‘eagle jelly’ I was asking for, was in fact ‘acorn jelly’ and on more than one occasion I’ve asked for, ‘some thinking,’ rather than ‘some ‘ginger.’

I’ve been there so many times! (link to Lulu)

In English the sounds ‘kan’ (간) and ‘kang’ (강) or  ‘tan’ (탄) and ‘tang’ (탕) are very easy to distinguish but this is not the case in Korean. For years I’ve heard and read silly arguments between western taekwondo students quibbling about the transliteration of terminology into English without realizing that the relationship between many Korean letters and English ones is an approximation and that many simply cannot be effectively captured with a letter of the English alphabet. English script isn’t adequate enough to differentiate the sounds  of its own language let alone those of another  as is borne out by the discrepancies between the ‘a’ in ‘cat and ‘father’ which result in disagreements between those speaking northern  and southern variations of British English.  Koreans for example, finalise a word ending in ‘n’ with the tongue between their teeth and distinguishing between some sounds often necessitates watching the mouth closely. So, I often mispronounce ‘soy-sauce’ and end up asking for ‘liver sauce’ and confuse ‘soup’ with ‘briquette.’ ‘The reason I’ve spent so long mispronouncing Dan Goon (단군) is because it was one of the first 10 Korean words I learnt some 30 years ago when I began training in taekwon-do. Many non-Korean TKD teachers mispronounce the word because the transliteration often rendered it ‘Dan Gun.’ If you want to pronounce Korean accurately you have to learn the Korean script or at least study the systems of transliteration used closely so as to avoid simply producing ‘approximate’ pronunciations.

Tasty!

And then there’s ‘ddong’ ( 똥 – shit)!  A westerner only has to attempt the combination ‘dong’  (동 – east) to elicit laughter and hence ‘dong-sa’ (동사 – verb) and ‘dong-wui-o’ (동의어 – synonym) have the potential to temporarily disrupt English lessons.  Maybe it’s just my lack of ability, but it seems no matter how hard you try, Korean kids seem to choose to hear ‘dong’  (east) as ‘ddong’ (shit).

and I love mandu

Some Koreans, can be quite cruel in their derision should you attempt to speak their language and even ‘sounding’ a word  or phrase in a Korean manner, can elicit sniggers and subsequent mimickery.  I’ve even known friends write my blunders down so they can  narrate them to others but I don’t mind as I too have learnt such blunders, regardless of nationality, are cute and on occasion my pen comes out to record  mistakes.

First, there are the obvious ones:

I’m fine – I’m pine

I like fish – I like pish.

Last week a new student appeared in a class and a student informed me, ‘there is a new pace in the class.’

‘I like crab’ usually always sounds like, ‘I like crap.’

And there is always the older boy who tries to impress you with his knowledge of ‘naughty English’ and proudly states, ‘puk-you! On the subject of four letter vulgarity, ‘vacuum cleaner’ becomes ‘pak-um creaner.’

How about, ‘make a mistake,’ which students often repeat as ‘make a steak’ or similarly, ‘be careful,’ which becomes ‘big apple.’ I hadn’t thought of combining the two but there’s a  laugh  when I want to exact some revenge; ‘be careful not to make a mistake’ – ‘big apple not to make a steak.’

However, the one I remember best was years ago when a colleague was teaching a class to sing, Queen’s, ‘We Will Rock You.’ The kids were thoroughly enjoying the sing along as they loudly sang,  ‘we will, we will LOCK you.’

Creative Commons License

© 林東哲 2011 Creative Commons Licence.

The Boy on the Stair

Posted in Diary notes, Education by 노강호 on February 12, 2011

high school students

For the last two years my alarm call has been the footsteps of a high-school boy. I’ve never seen him and the only reason I assume it’s a boy is the manner in which he descends from the apartments, perhaps two stories above; he seems to take five steps at a time and it only takes him seconds from beginning his descent to exiting the building. The head of my bed is against the wall at the foot of which he lands as he jumps down each flight of stairs. And I assume he is a high school student because no middle school boy would be in such a rush to get to school.

With the winter vacation, his footsteps and my alarm call have been absent but with the start of the ‘prep’ week during which students return to school and settle into their new classes, his feet once again provided a noisy reveille. The ten-day spring break now begins and their will be a short respite before he returns, all the more frantic as I would assume this is his third year (고삼) and the most frantic year of a  Korean student’s life.

 

Creative Commons License

© 林東哲 2011 Creative Commons Licence.

 

 

 

Tagged with: , ,

Too Much Play

Posted in Education, Korean children by 노강호 on January 16, 2011

out of trouble

Sleeping in the classroom is something I’ve never seen British kids do and usually they have so much energy that whenever there is a break they play and run around. As an aging teacher however, though I disagree with the amount of time Korean students study, I prefer a society where teenagers are kept so occupied that they have little energy to waste and no time to loiter on streets causing trouble.

Westerners are quite defensive of the extensive time their youth are permitted to play and will generally condemn Korean culture accusing it of taking away or even obliterating childhood. The fact western kids have had their innocence annihilated by exposure to a range of unhealthy influences, one of which is the concept of ‘being a teenager,’ passes unnoticed. In Europe, British teenagers  are more likely to be either poxed to the max with sexually transmitted diseases or pregnant and this year condoms (Hotspots) for prepubescent boys are due to be made available in the UK. In UK, the C-Card system provide boys as young as 12 with a card which can be shown at football grounds, scout halls and special designated centers and by which they can obtain condoms at the tax payers expense (Times UK).

condoms for prepubescent boys

Why are Brits and Americans so critical of the Korean system? Wouldn’t energies be better spent trying to find solutions to the myriad of problems that western teenagers cause society and their own peers rather than bemoaning how Korean students have no time to play?  Personally, I would have thought that any sane society would want to curtail teenage free time thereby taking them off the streets and improving their potential. Even as a teenager I found the practice of teenagerism vacuous and boring. Rock music, dancing, partying and fashion never really interested me and I doubt I was alone.

 

high school students

And what is the nature of the ‘childhood’ that Korean children might miss out on? Let’s see!  Not needing to clad the face in make-up if you are a 13 year old girl, or not being obsessed with the fact that you don’t know how to tongue sandwich or fellate your 12 year old boyfriend. Not having to give allegiance to one of the tribal youth subcultures which will alienate you from both other teenagers and your parents. Not having to spend time and money consuming music which often has the same artistic merits and durability as chewing gum. The list is extensive…

We give children and teenagers so much space and freedom and imbue them with notions of rights that many, but to be fair by no means all, eventually find it difficult to behave or act appropriately in other social settings. When I am with western kids I am often reminded of the gulf that separates our worlds but conversely,  with Korean kids I am reminded how much we have  in common. It is strange to feel a closer affinity with Korean teenagers as a foreigner than with British teenagers as a fellow native.

 

keep them occupied

 

In Britain,  most kids finish school around 3.00 pm and with many school subjects no longer requiring homework,  they are left with ample time to both enjoy childhood and when bored, get pissed or contract chlamydia or one of the other staple poxes on offer. How much ‘childhood’ do they need? What kind of a ‘childhood’ do we think we provide for children and youth now we have allowed  tweenyville, that is those years encroaching on being teenagers, to have been sexed up and sleazified with thongs, poll dancing kits and baby condoms?  I would imagine the stress and angst such precocious pursuits add to their already confused minds, enormous. I’ve known many decent teenagers but quite often they themselves do not like teenagerism or indeed, other teenagers!  Sometimes it seems that the most vocal of advocates  of the merits of allowing kids to, ‘enjoy their youth,’ are adults looking back in nostalgia.

Teenagers need ‘banging up,’ not in a sexual context, but in way which restricts their free time, whom they associate and identify with, and which more closely prescribes what they do. So, when I see teenagers and students collapsed on their desk in classes, or twiddling their pens between their fingers with the dexterity of majorettes, I know the directed time which chains them to study is working and both them, adults and society are better for it.

Creative Commons License

© 林東哲 2011 Creative Commons Licence.

 

Tagged with:

Images of Innocence (3) – Knives

Posted in Comparative, Education, Images of Innocence, Korean children by 노강호 on January 9, 2011

sole purpose – sharpening pencils and cutting paper

As I write, highly civilised human beings are stabbing each other. In the UK  stabbings are a regular occurrence and in 2010 19 youths were stabbed to death in London alone (Guardian UK). In 2007, 322 fatal stabbings (Guardian UK) were recorded marking the highest number of knife related deaths since records began in 1977. As the focus of media attention and political concern, definitions change and competing theories are forwarded, some related to the weather, others to disadvantage.  Anti-stabbing kitchen knives are now available as are stab proof school uniforms made from kevlar and one of my local schools has installed metal detectors through which students have to pass on their way into school.

Stanley blades - every student has one

an assortment of blades

While Britain is plagued with knife related crimes, one currently being covered by the media as I write, Korean kids of all ages carry the equivalent of a stanley knife in their pencil cases and do so not to protect themselves, look cool, or as part of gang defense plans, but simply to sharpen pencils and cut paper.

as harmless as its owner

and then there are the scissors...

Creative Commons License

© 林東哲 2011 Creative Commons Licence.

Tagged with: , ,

Cultural Contradictions and Anomalies

Posted in Education, Korean language by 노강호 on January 4, 2011

Korean culture is rich in a number of contradictions mammoth enough in their magnitude to be classed Orwellian and in some cases subsequently rendered as oxymorons.

 

Perhaps the most famous oxymorons

 

With two types of school systems in operation, the state school (hakkyo) and the academy (hakkwon)’, the term ‘school holiday’ is a fine example. Kids yearn for the start of school holidays but unfortunately a holiday they are not as academies, private schools offering every subject from art to English, not only continue operating but increase the hours which they are open.  Any free hours remaining can be easily plugged by enrolling  in the sports academies which provide taekwondo, happkido, comdo (kendo), ballet  and dancing, etc, and which also adjust their hours to take advantage of closure of state schools.

Oxymoron – School holidays are academy days

 

Whoppee...a Korean holiday and business as usual in the academies

 

Holidays are nothing like they are in the west and the idea of someone taking two or three weeks off work in which to laze about or go abroad, are rare. For Koreans a vacation usually amounts to couple of days at the most usually taken at the same time as the rest of the nation. As a result, travelling is extremely stressful and vacation locations packed and busy. And of course, vacations are curtailed by the fact all the academies are open and as such all kids should be studying.

Contradiction – ‘holidays/vacations’  – infrequent, short and usually very stressful

 

an annual mass vacation day (courtesy of Life)

 

‘What do you do when you play?’ I once asked a student.

‘I play the violin.’

‘No, what do you do when you play?’

‘I play the computer.’

‘No!  What do you do in your free time?’

‘I play the piano.’

Well, maybe they misunderstood the word ‘play’ but you probably get the idea. Korean kids often have no experience of ‘playing’ as English children  might and a playground packed with children enjoying a range of games such as tag, football, acting out wrestling moves or doing dance routines,  etc,  is something I’ve seldom seen in Korean schools. Some students will even tell you that studying is their hobby! However, I’ve seen plenty of students sleeping at their desk in the five or ten minute intervals in which British kids would be playing.

Oxymoron – ‘play’ is extracurricular study

 

a ‘vacation’ speciality – the bootcamp

 

And then there are exams! Korean students are always taking exams and shortly before they finish you will hear some reference to their ‘last exam.’ The irony is of course, that this is never their final exam but simply an exam which concludes the current batch.

Oxymoron – final exams are a prelude to the next exam

 

mild compared to a vindaloo

 

Koreans are usually always concerned that their food is either ‘too hot’ or ‘too spicy’ for westerners. Most often they conlfate ‘spicy’ and ‘hot’ both of which it is  not. Although one meaning of ‘spicy’ is ‘pungent’ or ‘hot,’ in terms of range of spices, Korean food is limited with chilli, garlic and ginger, being the dominant ingredients. Cinnamon makes an occasional appearance, usually as a sweet drink but undoubtedly Korean food lacks the range of spices used by Indian, Thai or even Chinese cuisines. Neither is Korean food particularly hot when compared with some Caribbean, Mexican and Indian recipes. The Korean chili is substantially milder than the Habanero and Scotch Bonnet and I have not yet eaten a Korean meal which burns ‘at both ends.’ Several years ago I gave a bottle of habanero based sauce to some Korean friends  introducing them to the point that there exist foods  far hotter than kimchi. However, a raw, hot Korean chili still has the capacity to burn the mouth but it won’t incinerate it as some hotter chillies will.

True – Korean food is spicy – as in pungent

False/True – Korean food is spicy in as much as it uses a three main spices

False/True – Korean food is ‘hot’ – well it’s all relative and depends on personal preference but other national  cuisines are typically hotter.

 

Creative Commons License

© 林東哲 2010 Creative Commons Licence.

 

Images of Innocence (2) – Jack

Posted in Education, Images of Innocence, Korean children, video clips by 노강호 on December 26, 2010

Creative Commons License

© 林東哲 2010 Creative Commons Licence.

Tagged with:

Images of Innocence (1)

Posted in Comparative, Education, Images of Innocence, Korean children, video clips by 노강호 on December 13, 2010

the hanja character for ‘purity’ (순수한)

In the prestigious boys high school in which I taught for a year, on sports day a class of first year students wore T-shirts on which was emblazoned the hanja character for ‘purity’ (순수한). Capturing the innocence of Korea students in writing is not only difficult, but contended; there will be many Koreans and westerns alike who see their proclaimed ‘purity and innocence’ as over rated or mistaken. But in Korea, I have never taught scum students, students who are vile human beings and whom if had to label, I would classify as violent, anti-intellectual, promiscuous, untrustworthy, grossly disrespectful, and foul-mouthed. Often they had parents who were equally as bad and in most of the UK schools in which I have taught have encountered boys and girls who basically epitomise what it is to be anti-social.

‘Pure’ – not a fashionable concept among British teenagers

Among most teenagers in Britain, ‘innocence and purity,’ which as usual we immediately associate with sexual conduct, but which I think Koreans would understand in a much broader context, is not something to be aspired to; indeed, I would suggest it is something to be shunned. I would absolutely agree that not all Korean students are angels and that there will exist some who could be classified ‘scum’ and I also agree that most British students are decent. I am suggesting, however,  that standards and expectations in Korea are higher than in the UK and that associated values are currently much more effective in providing social cohesion, especially across generations. It is the values of Korean society that put the nation in the top echelons in terms of educational achievement, despite the systems pressures and flaws, and those values which produce a society with one of the world’s lowest rates of teenage pregnant, sexual activity and infection by sexually transmitted diseases.

Yes! Bad things happen in Korea and under the surface there is more nastiness than is immediately apparent. But unlike Britain, I have never seen a Korean girl of 13 giving a boy oral sex in the bike sheds and I have never taught or seen girls of 14, 15 or 16 who are pregnant.   Instead of leaping to the defence of the moral and personal degeneracy of the west, which festers like an  open wound and is visible at every level, instead of raising reminders that Korea too has a bad side, which I do not doubt, we need to acknowledge that in some spheres, Korean society is  very successful and perhaps worthy of emulation.

Creative Commons License

© 林東哲 2010 Creative Commons Licence.

Interlude (7) A Friendlier version of ‘Mr’ ‘Mrs,’ etc. (샘)

Posted in Comparative, Education, Interlude (Theme), Korean language by 노강호 on November 24, 2010

Okay, here is the point. The term ‘sem’ (샘), is a contraction of ‘son-seng-nim’ (선생님 – teacher) using a letter from each syllable block. The contraction is slightly less formal than the full rendition.  Perhaps the closest translation of  ‘son-seng-nim,’ and its contraction, ‘sem,’ is ‘Mr’, ‘Mrs’ or ‘Miss’, etc.

 

Education has more than a token value

 

And here is my ‘twisted’ analysis, a micro-rant. Though translated as ‘teacher’ either word fails to slip directly  into English and  presently, in British culture ‘teacher’ is both not too short of being a ‘slur’ and is a bordering  on a euphemism for someone who though highly educated, professional  and constantly vetted by the world’s most rigorous system,  is regarded with great distrust.  The same situation applies to numerous other professions – doctors, nurses, etc. Even the Korean media is learning to pick up on the distrust in which countries like Britain and America hold their teachers and subsequently use it nefariously.

Rooted in Confucian ethics, ”teacher’ (선생님 – 샘) is a term of respect with teachers and education being held in high regard – though less so if you are western. Though not perfect, the Korean education system plays a far greater role in shaping Korean society than it does in many western countries.

As someone permanently struggling with Korean these are my notes on words and phrases I find useful and which are usually not in a dictionary.  Any amendments, recommendations or errors, please let me know.

Creative Commons License

© 林東哲 2010 Creative Commons Licence.

Suneung Thursday 18th of November 2010 ‘D Day’

Posted in bathhouse and jjimjilbang culture, Daegu, Diary notes, Education, video clips by 노강호 on November 20, 2010

On Thursday 18th of November, suneung (수능),  I set off at 6.45 am to watch the arrival of students at Song-So High School. By the time I arrived, around 7.30, most of the students had passed through the gates but a large ground of parents and supporters, plus a lot of police, were still in place and students were still arriving. I hadn’t even stopped to watch when a cup of grapefruit tea was thrust in my hands and a few moments later a woman police-officer handed me some chocolate gold coins.

Song-So Boys High School

plenty of hot and sticky drinks

The event was a little disappointing as even by seven am many students have entered their schools and nothing special was happening outside the Song-So High School other than there being lots of police and plenty of people taking photographs.

Students arriving

celebrity treatment

'Junior students rallying the third year candidates

Paying respects to exam candidates

a mother prays

sticking toffee on wall in the hope of success

I bought some chocolates for an old student resitting suneung but I couldn't get hold of him on the phone to get his address. He's currently doing his military service. So, 박진영, if your reading this I hope you did well.  As for the chocolates? They were truly  gross and greasy ersatz chocolate  the type of which predominates in the USA (eg, Hershey) '왝' But I still ate it!

Creative Commons License

© 林東哲 2010 Creative Commons Licence.