Any of my Korean students will fetch me a cup of coffee if asked and occasionally they will buy me one from one of the numerous coffee shops in my area. I’m reminded of the time, when as a new teacher in my first post, I had taken a coffee into my classroom and when I came to drain the dregs discovered a couple of drawing pins lurking therein. I only took cups into my classroom on a few occasions and quickly decided it was dangerous to drink from a cup left in the presence of students. I also learnt to check any seat before sitting as upturned drawing pins were also a common means of abusing staff. Even a jacket I once left on the back of my chair was removed, thrown on the floor with my opened wallet and bank cards discarded on top. I can narrate these events to Korean students and they will be mildly shocked but there are some ‘stories’ I wouldn’t dream of attempting to narrate as they are simply too shocking for naive Korean sensibilities: boys masturbating under desks, on one occasion a boy flashed his dick to a female colleague, or girls giving boys oral sex in view of the staff room.
Recently (now a year or two ago) however, an event occurred in a British school in which a boy stuffed his penis and testicles in a female teacher’s coffee mug, took a photo of his exploit and then posted the photo on his Facebook account. The teacher subsequently drank from the cup before discovering what had happened. Unfortunately the only major link I can find for the article is at the Sun, Britain’s crappiest, and most widely read daily newspaper. I originally read it on MSN News. Incidentally, another incident in the same week involved a girl putting laxative in teachers’ coffee. I had difficulty telling the cock and sac story to all but a few very close Korean friends and certainly couldn’t explain it to a class of Korean 16 year olds whom I can mortify by simply sucking my pen. They would not be able to comprehend why any student should behave in such a manner and would see only disgust and depravity in the act. However, I could easily tell it to British 13 year olds many whom would find it funny and a valid reprisal to make on a teacher. Indeed on the MSN comments associated with the news report, some individuals questioned why a teacher would have a cup in the classroom while some simply claimed a teacher deserved such treatment.
I wondered where those ESL teachers come from who claim Korean kids are as bad as British kids given there are so many blogs and books written by full-time British teachers who are appalled by the current standards. Indeed, it’s usually only school managers and those who’ve had to prostitute their personal integrity to gain promotion, those who live in self-denial in order to maintain their sanity and preserve at east a little self-respect, or the lucky few in truly decent schools, who will deny that something is seriously amiss. I could form a small club with the number disgruntled teachers I know and I’ve known a number of excellent teachers who’ve left the profession because it excessively frustrated them. The idea of returning to British shores to teach fills me with dread.
Britain is not the worst country in the world so why pick on it and not a really bad country? The point is I’m not incensed by the inadequacies of other countries! I don’t’ own their passports: I’m British and I’m forced to write that on official forms and documents. When it comes to learning we encourage students to accept criticism as a means of bettering their ability but many people erect a brick wall when it comes to the criticism of their nation. I’m not unpatriotic, conversely I am patriotic. (Indeed, at one time ‘patriotic’ encompassed the criticism of your country as it was borne out of good intention and the desire for your country to better itself). And of course, I have been socialised in the UK, I speak English, I have an ancestry in the British Isles. Everything about me is British and more specifically, English.
When I have lived abroad for long periods, especially in radically different cultures, I start yearning for England: English mist, damp mornings, English rain, green grass, decent tea, an English Christmas, Oh!… and the wonderful sounds of Elgar, even though I hate the nationalism it has come to represent. I miss those orchestral marches with their majestic dignity that is so vividly depicted by the characteristic combination of clarinets in their rich chalmeau register fortified by the cellos and in the background the pizzicato pulse of basses. There is no hurry, the pace is relaxed and only the British have quick marches which are so leisurely you can almost hear the snort of immense cavalry horses. And when the little timpani roll climaxes with the brush of cymbals, a thrilling, gentle ‘tushhhh,’ an orgasmic tremor, evoking a tiny tinkle of brass, breast plates, dangling swords and medals, how staggeringly imperial! The culmination of an epoch of world domination depicted not by Sousarian vigour; its thrashing cymbals, blasting trombones amidst the bling-bling sparkle of patent leather, staybright and plastic, but by sublime subtlety. And what of roast beef, bitter, lazy English villages and English eccentricity? When I’m away from England, Britain, for too long, there is a yearning, almost at the genetic level which reminds me of my roots and kindles what little allegiance I have. I too am British and this memory, this imaginative kindling is my England and ultimately the place, for better or worse, I feel at home. In this context one can argue it is very patriotic to voice a concern that it has a scummy façade, that it is not aspiring to be better either in terms of its physical being or in the nature of its citizens.
©努江虎 – 노강호 2013 Creative Commons Licence.
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.
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.
©Bathhouse Ballads – 努江虎 – 노강호 2012 Creative Commons Licence.
One of my students didn’t do well in his Korean language exams and so his teacher, a woman, gave him five thrashes across his palm with a large stick. Jack is a friendly student with a mild manner and despite not being the quickest academically, he always tries hard. I’m not against the stick but I am against using it either excessively or for punishing students because they didn’t perform well.
I suppose he was quite proud of his bruises and told me that though he didn’t cry, it hurt so much afterwards he had to go to the nurse’s office for some ice. I am aware how situations and events can be wrongly reported by students but part of me wants to confront teachers who so viciously beat kids simply because they did not do well in an exam. Meanwhile, plenty of other punishments exist for ‘naughty’ students.
© 林東哲 2011 Creative Commons Licence.
This weekend, I stumbled across excellent posts on corporal punishment in Korea and the meltdown occurring in schools and education in the USA (where the experience is not much different to the UK). Both posts were in Shotgun Korea. All too often K-blogs berate the Korean education system and occasionally try to claim Korean students are much the same as they are in UK or the USA. Rarely are such authors professional teachers or have had experience teaching in mainstream education in their native countries.
It is refreshing to read posts by an experienced, professional teacher, given that most foreign ‘teachers’ or ‘professors’ in Korea are neither. And who is equipped more than most of us to reflect on the realities of education in the USA and subsequently gives some opinions on education and educational issues in Korea. I have subsequently added Shotgun Korea to my list of recommended blogs in: Beyond the Blog.
For the background on the corporal punishment issues in Korea, see the following link from Brian in Jeollonam-Do
© 林東哲 2011 Creative Commons Licence.
As the weather gets hotter I spend increasingly more time in the cold pool than in the e-bente-tang (이벤트탕) which today was scented with mugwort (쑥). In the cold pool (냉탕) it was so cold I found it difficult swimming underwater but in another few weeks, when we are right into that horrid monsoon, it will be a welcomed sanctuary.
In the cold pool a couple of boys are messing around a little noisily and so some middle-aged man asks them to be quiet. The boys are summoned to attention by the word ‘hakseng’,’ (학생 – student) and simply told to stop mucking about. A little later they have to be asked again though this time the man raps them on their heads with his knuckles. In pansy Britain that’s assault.
I’m thinking about Daech’eon (대천) which is on the west coast, not too far from Ch’eonan, and a beautiful stretch of beach. The freshmen boys in my last high school used to visit there in summer just after their end of semester exams. As beautiful as Daech’eon is, I imagine that whenever they are reminded of the place they will tremble and break out in a sweat. For them, Daech’eon was a place where you both met yourself and your limitations, a place from which you returned a different person and it was feared! In the months leading up to the summer I often heard mention of Daech’eon, always with a mix of reverence, fear and foreboding.
Kids can learn a lot from a smack around the head and some discomfort and pain. In the west we’ve molly-coddled kids to such an extent they’ve had to invent ‘extreme’ sports in order to make themselves feel alive. Anything potentially dangerous in the playground has been removed and that nasty hard and rough floor replaced with a comforting rubber mat. Of course, there’s nothing ‘extreme’ about their sports other than a scratched knee or bruised shins. ‘Extreme ‘is playing on a playground without the protective rubber floor, getting into the boxing ring or doing some of the more strenuous of martial arts with instructors who take pleasure in grueling sessions. In one taekwondo school I attended in Korea, the instructor put a ‘naughty boy’ in a headlock until the boy’s legs went limp and he flopped to the floor – that’s ‘extreme.’ Back in the UK I’ve trained in schools so strenuous, 200 front rising kicks and 200 hundred sit ups just for a warm up, that membership was limited to less than ten students – that’s ‘extreme.’ My military training was 12 weeks which included 6 weeks at a school of physical training. The day commenced with an eight mile run and the remainder was spent in the gymnasium – that was ‘extreme.’ Bungee Jumping would freak me out and definitely pump me full of dopamine especially as I’d be terrified the rope would break given my extreme weight. Personally, I see little ‘extreme’ about such ‘sports’ especially as they are associated with fun and a poncy lemonade, Mountain Dew, and anyone who aligns their personality with a carbonated corporate beverage is gullible and totally un-extreme.
In order to keep kids in post 16 education Britain, has introduced colleges of football, basketball, dancing, and most likely tiddly-winks. In contemporary teenagers’ jargon, most ‘extreme’ sports as well as the sports offered in sports colleges are ‘gay.’ Most British boys wouldn’t last the day in my last high school and they certainly wouldn’t last if subjected to a real training session. Many of the teenagers in British sports colleges have no idea what it takes to become a professional athlete because the ‘training’ they have been subject to is largely based on making it fun. By sanitizing all unpleasantness and removing all threats, kids are no longer forced to confront their own limitations, let alone attempt to push beyond them and in terms of both sport and academia, most are still crouched in the starting blocks.
Permeating much of the general life philosophy of Korea, is a belief that through discomfort, even pain, we become stronger. I was aware of this ‘philosophy’ when I first started training in taekwondo in the 1970’s and it is an attitude prevalent throughout the east. In the opening sequences of the 1970’s, Kung Fu, Kwai Chang Caine (David Carradine) is seen taking the final initiation which marks him as a Shaolin monk, lifting a heavy cauldron of glowing coals between his arms. The cauldron bars his way forward and in moving it the symbols of the Shaolin Temple, the tiger and the dragon, are seared onto his forearms. The initiation is one of pain and marks the transition novice to master, from the hermitage of the monastery to life beyond its confines. Of course, the initiation, symbols and hot-pot are probably historical baloney but it made excellent TV and encapsulated much of the spirit of the time which included an intense interest in eastern mysticism, the orient and martial arts.
In the late 1970’s I remember reports and photos about the Japanese Karate team practicing punching solid surfaces while kneeling on broken glass. The glass must have been ground as anything other would be highly foolish. General Choi’s (최홍희) Taekwon-do ‘bible’ (the first book about taekwondo published in English) advocated training in the snow to develop ones resilience, something still undertaken by Korean soldiers and school kids where the philosophy of discomfort and pain strengthening the human ‘spirit’ is still alive and kicking. Indeed, the five tenets of both the ITF (International Taekwon-do Federation) and the WTF (World Taekwondo Federation) include: perseverance (인내), self-control (극기), and indomitable spirit (백절불굴).
Korean teenagers often attend trips, organised by schools or private organisations, designed to bond them, develop leadership and strengthen the character and coming from both an ex-military and marital arts background, as much as I dislike macho-militarism, I belief there are some benefits in such pursuits. Without doubt my training in martial arts heightened my mental power and my ability to ‘tap into’ a superior mental state, now that I no longer train, is severely weakened. The heightened state of reality, caused by the body being flooded with endorphins, gives rise to a euphoria which can make a lasting impression on the mind and this state, though somewhat perverse to subject ones self to, is rewarding in itself. Confronting ourselves is a revealing experience.
Part of the economic success of Korea has been attributed to the hard work and discipline of older generations. My closest friend often tells me about his childhood and the constant hunger he faced. His mother used to make dong-dong-ju (a rice wine alcohol) which he carted to the local market to sell. By western standards he is working class and for the ten years I have known him he and his wife have struggled to ensure their son and daughter had a good education and entered a decent university. For the last five years he has worked in a car factory in Ulsan and lives away from home returning only every second weekend. His wife runs a street pancake stall where she will freeze or sweat, depending on the season. I can think of few individuals back home who work as hard as they do but their experience is one shared by majority of Koreans who were children in the wake of the 1950’s. It is this hardiness which on the one hand is often attributed to Korean economic success and on the other, to the both the pampering of their children and the occasional desire to provide their children a taste of harshness that might make them better citizens or students.
Across Korea are various ‘boot’ camps which specialize in providing today’s youth with a taste of hardship. The courses are designed to bond, facilitate team work, and develop perseverance and tenacity. Trekking up mountains, standing still for an hour, twice a day, military style discipline and exercises, training in snow, mud, rain or the sea are all common. Some of my middle school students recently went on a trip which involved sleeping on graves in the mountain without any adults – however, how widespread this is I don’t know. Sure, lots of people will see such training as harsh and wicked but for even the most average sports person or averagely talented person, facing your limitations is a common experience. While many of today’s rich and famous have ascended to stardom by virtue of a mixture of luck and looks, most of us will only achieve great things by guts and determination. As much as I dislike football, Beckham is talented but then he spent many hours hammering balls into goal to hone his skill. Molly-coddling kids and protecting them from facing themselves simply teaches them to be less than mediocre. In addition, discipline subjects children to the will of adults which is no bad thing. I’d rather live in a society where the kids are controlled than in one where they run amok doing exactly as they please.
All young men are required to undertake 24 months military service and for young boys this kind of training is a taste of things to come. Considering the relationships between North and South Korea, and the fact the war has never officially ending, conscription is a practical preparation for the unspeakable event. When your country prefers to wage war on distant shores, you can rely on a professional army but when the enemy is on your doorstep such luxuries evaporate.
Circumcision and the freshman summer camp were probably the two most feared events in the lives of the freshmen in my high school. The morning the buses rolled up onto the school grounds to cart them off was especially silent, as if an execution were about to be detailed. A week later they returned exhausted, sunburnt, bruised and very proud. All the boys were scarred, all had badly friction burned knees or elbows, there were cuts and bruises and a few returned with broken legs or arms. Though the boys still had two years of one of the most demanding schools systems in the world to endure, the friction burns, cuts and bruises, like the Shaolin tiger and dragon, were badges of belonging, symbols of esprit de corps. Daech’eon was an intensely private and intimate experience and once recovered, and confined to history, mention of that beach stirred memories and emotions and at such times I felt both an intruder and outsider. In a preface to one of his James Bond novels, Flemming writes: You only live twice; once when you’re born and once when you die. I think the Daech’eon boys, and any other kids who attend such boot camps, have already experienced a second brush with ‘living.’
LINKS TO VIDEO CLIPS OF KOREAN TEEN BOOT CAMPS
LINKS TO WRITTEN ARTICLES ON KOREAN BOOT CAMPS
© 林東哲 2010 Creative Commons Licence.
Has anyone teaching in high schools noticed that if a student is rude or disrespectful, they are generally the ones who have had a sojourn studying in the west – usually in the USA and much less frequently the UK? Now, before I get started, I am not saying that all Korean students who have studied outside Korea are tainted or that Koreans who have never studied abroad are never rude or disrespectful. With considerable experience teaching in the UK as well as experience in Korea, I am making comparisons based on my own experiences in addition to an awareness of the general standards of behaviour both in the UK and Korea.
First of all, I have never been fouled mouthed or insulted by Korean students. No Korean student has ever sworn or shouted at me and the only time I can recall when I was shown disrespect was on an isolated incident when a student addressed me in intimate level speech (반말). As my Korean is rudimentary, students may have been taking the piss and insulting all along but I have never been led to believe they were and even if this were the case it pales into insignificance in comparison to my experiences in the UK.
Before getting defensive about Britain or the USA, there are numerous blogs, and indeed books written by teachers appalled at the conditions under which they have to teach. I too have an extensive blog dedicated to teaching in the UK. There is a small but significant number of professional teachers working in Korea, all who have abandoned teaching in their home countries because of poor discipline, low standards, anti-intellectualism, dumbing down, violence and so forth. So, while there might be bad apples in Korea, they are not likely to attack you or call you a ‘fucking wanker,’ or indeed a ‘cunt.’ These are my experiences but I know many other teachers have had similar experiences and worse. No Korean student has never attempted to hit or spit at me. Indeed, when I was spat at in the UK, the headteacher didn’t even bother asking to see the boy and simply asked to see my planner. That was in Southborough Boys School, in Hook, Surbiton, where I quickly deduced that it was acceptable for a student to spit at a teacher if the lesson wasn’t deemed enjoyable. If I had been a more seasoned teacher at the time, I would have used the attack to claim psychological or physical injury and earned myself several months paid sick leave. Clacton County High School (CCHS) is another school where I’ve had students call me a ‘cunt’ or ‘a ”wanker’ and they were never reprimanded by management. Given the abysmal examples of leadership and staff support, I am not surprised standards are so low in the UK. Outing shit schools and shit practice is something all citizens should do especially when management in those establishments prefer to pretend nothing is amiss.
In Korea, I carry a stick, affectionately called ‘Billy.’ And occasionally, perhaps once a week, I will use it. I have never hurt a student with it though if I wanted to, this would be acceptable. My boss actually encourages me to hit students and I’m sure she sees it as a weakness on my part that I don’t do so more often. When students are being naughty, I’ll call for the stick. ‘Billy? Billy? Where are you?’ Then, I’ll poke around in my draw. Within seconds there is silence. ‘Billy, come on out! Someone’s arse needs a clout!’ Then, like un-sheathing Excalibur, I draw Billy from his lair and brandish him. Even with older students, this pantomime elicits a sigh of awe as if I really have drawn a sword or sparked-up a light saber.
Billy is pretty pathetic! Thirteen inches of stick not much thicker than a pencil and not very springy. Being six-foot six and large, I find him the perfect companion and actually traded him for real stick designed for pointing and striking which I’d bought for 5000 Won (£2.50). We have now been together for two years and at Christmas I took him back to the UK in order to treat him to a lick of linseed oil that I keep in my garage, for use on my front room floor. Ironically, I traded my real stick, which resembled the narrower end of a snooker cue, and which many high school teachers posses, with that of the smallest female teacher in a boys high school. Both of us preferred each others tool. Despite a recent oiling, Billy’s arthritic state spares the kids a real whacking as I am conscious of not snapping him in two.
By now, whatever the problem was has vanished or, if it is an issue of homework, the offender will be awaiting punishment. I always make lack of homework punishments quick and will strike without any prior warning. Sometimes, the offender actually thinks they’ve been spared. I usually hit them on the head. Yes, I know I shouldn’t, but for the PC brigade, anywhere is liable to cause injury and the safest place, on the bum or back of legs demand a sort of procedure, like bending over, which almost serves to ritualise the punishment and which I personally find a little pervy. And of course, Billy is too much of a light weight to have much effect in that area without the risk of being broken. So, the head it is! One short snap, never very hard and certainly much less damaging than the game Korean boys play where they do ‘rock, scissor, paper’ and the winner gets to ‘flick’ a finger on his opponents forehead.
I usually treat Billy like a kukri, the Gurkha traditional knife, supposedly, never sheathed without first drawing blood. Last year, I threw a crazy with a class, probably the one and only crazy I’ve thrown in Korea. For a minute or so I shouted and screamed and smacked Billy on the desk. Two children started crying and the rest were terrified. That was a year ago, but one the odd occasion I need to call for Billy’s help, those students still in the class, and who remember that day, put their head in their hands in trepidation.
I actually find it difficult to hit a student and after striking them feel very bad if they start crying . As in the UK, if you are not careful kids make excuses for lack of homework on a weekly basis but Billy cures this problem instantly; no lectures, no debates, no pleading, no detentions or phoning parents, not wasting valuable time, just a thwack of Billy on the head and you can guarantee the issue will be resolved and a homework subsequently forth coming. Western teachers, fooled by the PC claptrap that corporeal punishment is barbaric, are misguided. If I make a joke and strike my stick on the head of a kid they will laugh but should I use the same force when angry, and the child’s ‘kibun’ is damaged, they will often have tears in their eyes. This should tell you how minuscule my punishment is! It is not the force of my stick hitting them that castigates and punishes them, but the loss of face within the class. Joking aside however, I witnessed some brutal punishments in my former High School.
In a Korean class, there is absolutely no mistaking who is the boss and this difference creates a chasm in standards between British and Korean schools. In Korea, the teacher is always boss and ultimately students know this. Korean kids will push their chances and intimidate you in their own Korean way but they know that they can be physically punished. British kids however, are equally aware that teachers can do nothing about bad behaviour. In many British schools, it is children who rule the class room and permit or hinder a lesson as they see fit. Bad management structures, of which students are unwittingly aware and will use to their advantage, have created schools where classroom teachers are powerless while managers can saunter into lesson and demand compliance because students know they have direct access to contacting their parents – a power usually denied non managers.
Ah, Korea. A different world where for most cases, even the most horrible student is an angel by comparison. And instead of being shunned like a leper when out shopping, Korean students want to introduce their parents to you or simply say hello. Today, a student’s mum bought me a large cake, last week I received a bag of six homemade soaps, and so forth. Anyone who has taught in Korea will have been presented gifts such as these. In the UK, I didn’t even get a fucking apple from the class creep! So, when I have been confronted by ‘disrespect’ from Korean students who have studied abroad, it’s more like ‘indifference’ and familiarity than lack of respect. I have frequently had to interview high school students and a substantial number of those who have studied abroad will slouch in front of you, talk to you in a familiar way and are the quickest to tut or talk back. On a few rare occasions, I’ve even heard them mutter expletives under their breath.
Experience of the west must have a profound effect on them as it exposes them to a range of experiences, not all of which are bad, which are denied them in Korea. Most will have been exposed to drugs, anti-intellectual attitudes, educational mores that encourage and prompt them to be sexually active, homosexuality, trans-gender, a society that empowers students well in advance of them being able to yield that power responsibly, and a system that often polarizes teachers and students and charges that relationship with antagonism and distrust most pertinent the notion that every adult is a potential perv. In the UK, Billy would have been assassinated! There is no doubt students would have sought him out when not in my company and snapped him in half. More disturbing, they would have done so with glee.
The Times Newspaper (UK), conducted a survey in 2008 which revealed a fifth of all teachers support the use of corporeal punishment. This week in New Zealand (May 15 2020), it was revealed half the population support the return of the cane especially in the light of figures highlighting the corresponding rise in crimes within school that has occurred since corporeal punishments was banned.
Ministry of Justice statistics for pre-teen violence released just last month also showed a disturbing trend. From 1998-2008, the number of police apprehensions for grievous/serious assaults by 10-13 year olds increased by more than 70%. For each of the most recent two years, there has been almost 1,000 apprehensions for 10-13 year olds for all violent offences, which include aggravated robbery, sexual violation, indecent assault, and serious assaults – an increase of a third since 1998. (link to NZNEWSUK)
If you care for the development of children, the occasional smack is absolutely necessary. If my son or daughter were caught sticking their fingers in the electric socket, I would administer them a good clout as failure to instill in them the danger of doing this, puts their lives at risk. It is widely believed in Korea, that corporeal punishment reflects caring for youngsters’ development and the stick is often referred to as the ‘stick of love’. Personally, reflecting on some of the hideous scum I have had the misfortune to teach in the UK, it is clear we neither respect them, ourselves or other members of society – most notably other students. Of course British teachers can’t say they ‘love kids,’ not without having to spout a diatribe to explain themselves, which is just as well as judging by the scum we have allowed to pollute wider society, we clearly don’t. You will hear the phrase ‘spare the rod and spoil the child’ far more in Korea than you do in Britain. The politically correct lobby has compelled us to obsess about the rights of bad children and generally bad people in a plethora of contexts, has helped facilitate a society where all of us, including children, in one way or another, are now victims of, or held ransom by, the very scum we molly-coddled and subsequently empowered.
This is true, a few weeks ago my boss gave her class a vocabulary test. One of the words requiring translation into English was, ‘몽둥이.’ (stick). Two students answered, ‘Billy.’
I don’t know how long this link will remain on Daum, but here is a brief recording of a very disturbing, and brutal corporeal punishment.
I was up early in the morning and left the house at 7.15 to find my way to the school. Ted and Mr Chǒng had given me directions last night and they were fairly straight forward. From my apartment, which is in a row of one room apartments with its own separate glass door entrance, the school is up a hill. Ted had told me there was a short cut but that to save getting lost that in the morning I should take the long route. The first part of my walk took me past the small shop I had visited last night which I now noticed stood beside another dog soup restaurant. Then I passed a triangular shaped paddy field where Ted had told me to take a right turn. Then I simply had to walk straight up the hill passed a number of small shops and cross a main road to find the school entrance.
The hill up to Bukil (北一) isn’t that steep but in the heat and humidity I was soaking wet before I was even half way. There was a long string of boys behind me and I didn’t want to have to start conversations on the hill. I was so exhausted by the time I had walked only halfway up the hill that I turned off the road and caught my breath by the school’s baseball diamond. I had forgotten that Koreans, even youngsters, tend to plod up hills and don’t rush like westerners do but in my rush to get to school, and not knowing how long it would take me, I walked at a fair pace. I would have remained longer recuperating at the baseball diamond had I not seen another westerner in the distance and decided to carry on up the hill.
Further up the hill four boys stood ‘at ease’ across the road and as I passed them they stood to attention and bowed at me. A number of boys were doing press ups or burpees on the pavement. At the top of the hill, where the school entrance is situated, three teachers, all armed with sticks stood on duty. I noticed that as the boys passed this point they saluted the school.
The road up to the school, which at the time I didn’t pay much attention to, is lined with trees, cherry trees. At the bottom of the hill there are two enormous sets of iron gates, one for the boys’ school entrance and one for the girls’ school. Between the gates is a sort of guard room and to the side of this, on the boys side of the entrance is the most massive mirror. I have since noticed large mirrors in quite a few places in the school. Beside the road leading up to the school are two terraces, the first contains a number of tennis courts, the second contains the typical sandy parade cum sports which has a number of wisteria entwined arbours and drinking water fountains around its edge. Any British person, especially a teacher is tempted to call this area a play ground but one never sees youngsters playing in it and it is an arena employed more for physical training, assembling the entire school and used by the boys to play various sports. At the head of this arena and opposite the school façade, stands a large, covered podium. In between the back of this and the school façade is the most beautiful garden with pine trees cut and shaped in the traditional Korean manner. A large sculpture stands to the side of the entrance.
When I arrived at the front of the school Mr Kim was already waiting for me. I was absolutely exhausted and being soaked in sweat and wanting to compose myself before being introduced to anyone else, I asked to be shown the nearest restroom.
There is no time wasting with Korean employment procedures, no time for getting acquainted with systems or methods and neither are any individuals allocated to look after your needs. I don’t know whether or not this is because Koreans have tended to have very little experience of foreign travel or simply because they are ignorant or disinterested in your needs. I have always found that in Korea one has to discover aides and sympathetic helpers from among one’s colleagues. I think that after meeting Mr Kim on the entrance steps to the main building, and after exchanging a few pleasantries, I was taken straight to the humanities department where I was shown my desk and computer and then handed a class timetable. I was introduced to CM, my fellow English speaker. Next I was taken to the teachers meeting room for the typical Monday morning schools briefing. I met the school Principal and then had to give a five minute talk about myself. It was now 8.20 in the morning and I was due to start a class at 9.10am. Looking back on this I cannot belief that just after 10 hours of being in Korea and only after having been in a school for one hour forty minutes, I should then begin teaching.
CM, whose name is Claude Montgomery Tidwell, is a rather distinguished looking American who is in his early sixties. Like so many older teachers in Korea, especially the ones who have taught in Universities, as CM has, he dresses in that stereotypical fashion reminiscent of Oxbridge; bow ties, tank tops, blazers and tweed jackets and silk ties are all part of his wardrobe. I recently meet a Professor from Ch’ǒnan Dangook University, who I automatically assumed was English; he was dressed entirely in tweeds, had a silk bow tie, a carved walking stick, which wasn’t for show as he did have a lame leg. I quickly discovered he was from New England and I remember his name as it so suited his attire; it was Michael Huntingdon. Of course few of these ‘professors’ are professors in the British sense of the word. In the UK a professorship is not a teaching position but a position of prestige and status within a department. It is a title conferred on distinguished academics. I have not had experience around Korean English university teachers before but they do like to refer to themselves as ‘professor,’ using it as a prefix to their name. This is obviously a western affectation as Koreans use the title (교수) as a suffix in much the same manner as we use post-nominals. Further, the ‘title’ seems to be one that western teachers will use as a means of identity even after they have left university teaching in the same way it would be used in the UK. However, I would probably do the same if I was teaching in a university.
I had four classes on this day and they all went perfectly. Before each lesson, the class captain stands up and calls the class to attention. All the boys then sit up straight with their hands on their thighs. Next they are given an order to bow. It is possible to begin a class here the very second the bell is sounded which is amazing and so unlike degenerate schools back in the UK.
My small apartment, in a complex called Roseville One Rooms, is about a ten minute walk from the school, and is situated in an area of Ch’ǒnan called Shin Bu Dong (신부동). My area consists of a number of ‘one room’ complexes and the nearest land mark is known as Tower Golf. Here there is a large golf range and also a sauna (목욕탕). There are also a number of dog soup restaurants in my vicinity. The daytime heat is very uncomfortable and initially I did not enjoy walking to and from school or even around the school as there are 6 floors and no lifts in the main building. In the first few weeks I didn’t really explore my immediate area though I quickly discovered where the nearest supermarket was – a Lotte Mart which is a short drive from my apartment. To be truthful, I was quite exhausted at the end of a day and didn’t relish going into town or walking around in the heat exploring.
©Amongst Other Things – 努江虎 – 노강호 2012 Creative Commons Licence.
Written September 2007
Today, Mr Jo, my boss, took me to the other side of Daegu to get my alien registration card. The journey took us half an hour and I realised that the city meanders through several large valleys and is much larger than I thought. He has just spent the weekend in Jeju-do, a rather beautiful holiday island of the southern most tip of Korea. At the registration office I had to have all of my finger prints taken as well as ink prints of my hands. I arrived back at school late but somebody else had started my classes.
In class, one of the boys kept writing on his desk and I asked him to stop on several occasions. When I went to take the pencil out of his hand he tightly hung on to it so I simply stabbed his hand with the point of a pencil I was holding in my other hand. He shrieked and let his pencil go. ‘Don’t fuck with me,’ I said in English. The Korean teachers often ask me what I do with bad behaviour in an English school. When I tell them there is almost nothing you can do, they are astounded.
Grade six kids had a party in the Lotteria restaurant which is next door to my school but on the ground floor. I should add that Lotteria is a sort of Korean McDonald’s which is very popular. I didn’t know any of the children so I sat at a table of Korean teachers who one by one moved to another table. I have subsequently discovered this is because they are embarrassed by not being proficient at spoken English. Even the teachers who do speak English avoid you. One of them did ask me if I wanted some food and even though I said I didn’t, she nevertheless went and bought me some. When she brought me the food on a tray, she placed it in front of me and went and sat on the table with her colleagues. I then decided to go and sit with the Korean kids but they to moved away from me. Still I persevered and moved onto an adjoining table but they to quickly moved away. Eventually, a couple of brave girls tried to speak to me in English but giggled and ran away before I could respond. I don’t think any of them had ever spoken to a westerner. In the end they began to crowd around me, a few stroked my arms as they are fascinated with hairy arms and one girl sat holding my hand as she talked to her friend about how big it was. Others poked me in the back like I was some simian zoo exhibit. In my paranoia, I felt they were poking me to see if I had pillow padding underneath my shirt. It wasn’t a very pleasant experience.
Winter has suddenly arrived and today there is a distinct chill in the air. Mr Jo told me there is a party for Nana and I on Friday and that we will be going for a meal and then to a noraebang – this is Korean karaoke. I had read all about the Korean obsession with noraebang in travel guide books before I left the UK (because there was nothing on the internet in 2000) and they all advised one to learn a song that can be sung from memory. I have actually been dreading it as I hate such forms of entertainment.