Elwood 5566

Diary: Jack, 12

Posted in Images of Innocence, Korean children, Teaching by 노강호 on April 16, 2012

Every now and then I’m handed a piece of writing from a student that encapsulates not just the uniqueness of the Korean way of life but captures some universal element associated with childhood.

박민수 영어일기. Sunday I went to the Homeplus (Tesco) with my family. First I cut my hair. Next I bought bananas, Nintendo battery, soccer ball and we bought many things.

My hair is very bad because I say: ‘don’t cut short!’ cut small! But hair dresser make mistake he cut very many hair. Now I am ashamed and very very ugly. I want to wear cap and return time.

Jack (2010)

박믄수 영어일가. I was told off by my mom because I was late my academy because I playing soccer. I be beaten with broom. I cry because my mom is very stronger looks like bear. Maybe I had many bruis on my bum. It was my mistake. Sometime all people make mistake. So broom is unfair. Fortunately, today is very many academy so I not get beaten.

Jack (2012)

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©Bathhouse Ballads –  努江虎 – 노강호 2012 Creative Commons Licence.

 

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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.

 

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© 林東哲 2010 Creative Commons Licence.

 

Memory Lane

Posted in 'Westernization' of Korea, bathhouse Ballads, Comparative, Diary notes, Westerners by 노강호 on November 1, 2010

Kimpo Airport

I often mention how rapidly Korea is changing. I have only lived here four and a half years, spread across ten years, so in comparison to friends who have over twelve years experience, I’m somewhat of an infant. I would love to have been here fifteen or twenty years ago, when Korea was truly a country where other than American soldiers, few ventured. ‘Fat ‘has arrived in Korea, an observation I often point out in my posts on bathhouses, and EPIK has brought an army of teachers into schools to such an extent our uniqueness has been lost. And no doubt those who first came to Korea in the 90’s will have noticed even greater changes.

Kimpo in 2000

When I arrived in Korea in September 2000, Inch’on International Airport was still being built and looking back, it is quite incredible to think that the piddly sized Kimpo was the country’s major airport. Kimpo was basically one big room through which people arrived and departed and I’m sure it’s bigger today than it was ten years ago. Few restaurants had English menus and on every street corner were  ‘video shops’ renting the latest videos. The internet contained little information on Korea in terms of cooking, culture or history, zilch on hanja and very little on Korean. Few teachers had air-conditioning and for those in English academies, split schedules, a common practice, meant the 6 hours you’d been led to believe you’d end up teaching in Korea, were probably closer to 8 or 9. Maybe it is still the same in some language academies, but  class sizes  were big, sometimes twenty students packed in small classes and often with no air-conditioning. There were fewer academies and my school, the largest in the area, occupied three floors of a large building. There were few resources, wall sockets often didn’t work and only a couple of tape players if they did and if you complained you were simply told to read to the kids. Most of the westerners I remembered meeting at the time seemed to work  under similar conditions.  Back then, university posts really were the cream of jobs with significantly more pay than other types of teaching and before the recent changes in bureaucracy, transferring from one town to another or one school to another, was easy.

If you had a pair of shoes like this in 2000, you were 'sexy.'

Big shoes were the fashion on young lads. By ‘big’  I mean long and so long that I thought I easily find a pair of English size 13’s. Indeed, they were so long, a little like the old ‘winkle-pickers,’ that they turned up and gave them a medieval appearance. On younger boys, even very young ones, a long forelock on the side of the head was tinted gold meanwhile their teeth were black. While older children seemed to have good dental hygiene, milk teeth were seen as unimportant and many of my younger students had black baby teeth. Today, this is something I rarely see.

Coffee beans or ground beans were hard to buy and I remember a coffee filter machine in supermarkets attracted small audiences and if you wanted a bottle of wine, if you could afford it and could find it, they were stored in a glass cabinet and the choice very limited. It seemed everyone wanted English lessons and were willing to pay for the privilege and being stopped and asked if you would teach privately, was an almost daily occurrence. In my diary for Saturday 18th of November, 2000, I wrote:

Here (KFC in Song-So) I met a man who wanted English lessons and said he would take me sightseeing to temples in return for lessons. Then a boy of about 11 came and talked to me and introduced me to his little brother. Later, yet another stranger came up and asked if I would read stories in his kindergarten and I said I would ring him on Monday.

The KFC near Han-song Plaza has closed and is now a stationary store in which the glass stairs are still embossed with Colonel Saunders’ face, but in the last two years I haven’t once been asked to teach privately by strangers in restaurants or on the street.  I used to teach a few privates on a Sunday and would earn around a 100 000 Won an hour for teaching a small class of 3 or 4 students.

at one time were were as novel as coffee-filter machines and wine

Your presence, especially with children, was often enough for people to stop, gasp and gawk at you in awe.  Only yesterday, a boy of 14 told me how he remembers seeing westerners when he was four years old and how he would be filled with excitement. Few schools had resident foreign English teachers and what foreigners existed were a novelty. Many of the children, and some adults, you met ten years ago had never spoken to a foreigner. Then there was the starring… I remember times when the constant starring stressed me to such an extent, I’d occasionally step into a recess or doorway for a break. Unlike today, when a solitary passenger stares lazily from a busy bus, a westerner on the street would turned every head. I imagine it was even more intense in the early 90’s and 80’s and probably not much different to an experience I once had on a station platform in Delhi, in 1984, when a crowd so large gathered to stare at my friend as he opened a map, that after a few minutes you couldn’t see him. In the Korea of today, you are noticed and not much else and it rarely causes excitement or stops people in their tracks.

A few weeks ago I was up Warayong Mountain in Song-So, Daegu; I’d stopped for a coffee at a small stall almost at the summit and was attempting a conversation with a woman sat on the next bench along.  I noticed a couple of small children coming down into the clearing where we sat and around which were various communal exercise machines. Suddenly, their faces broke into excitement and they started running and skipping towards my seat. For a moment, it was the kind of reaction I remember on my first visit when kids would run up and then stand and stare, or might bravely attempt to say hello or stroke the hairs on a bared arm. However, ten years later and the focus of their attention isn’t me but the dog sat beside the woman with whom I am talking.  The children skip up to it and lavish it with as much excitement and attention as they’d once have given a foreigner. It isn’t even a real dog but one of those ‘handbag pooches’ which look more  like a wisp of cotton-wool on straw legs. I could have understood if it had been a real dog, a labrador or sheep dog, but this pathetic specimen! I realised in that instant that this is what it has come to; a miniature poodle now commands more attention, is more interesting and exotic than a foreigner. I am not exaggerating when I add that despite my height and size, and sitting right next to them, they didn’t even notice me.

a puff of wind and it's dead

Amongst all these changes however, one convenient constant; unlike the rest of the world prices have changed little. I bought a hanja dictionary in 2000 at a cost of 15.000 Won and in exactly the same store, nine years later, the same book cost 15.500 Won. That’s an increase of 25 pence in UK sterling! Quite amazing!

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© 林東哲 2010 Creative Commons Licence.