Elwood 5566

Suneung 2011. D-0

Posted in Comparative, customs, Education by 노강호 on November 18, 2011

‘Suneung Jackpot’

Early morning, 7.30 am and I’m outside the local boys’ high school to watch the ‘suneung’ students arriving for the most important exam of their lives; an exam which for most students will have been their sole goal for the last three years, if not longer. As always, a few students arrive with just enough time to run into the school before the exam begins. You ask yourself how students can be late on the suneung morning, an event they have been counting down towards for the last year but of course no matter how significant the suneung is in the Korean psyche, the unplanned and unexpected problems of life get in the way; an alarm clock that suddenly ceases to work, the parent’s car that has a problem starting, the unexpected traffic jam.

The school stands on the brow of a hill, its front entrance, in the common tradition of poong-su (feng-shui, 풍수), faces east. Behind the schools lies the Warayong Mountain in which the infamous ‘frog boys’ disappeared in March 1991, their murdered bodies being discovered in 2002 (Five Boys Meet Death Where the Dragon Dwells). In the distance, at the foot of the hill, the wail of a police car cuts through the murmur of morning traffic. Unable to meander through the congested traffic, it mounts the pavement and drives up the footpath towards the school. The car, lights flashing, stops outside the school and to a round of applause by parents and congregated well-wishers, a boy jumps out and hastily runs towards the examination rooms.

a student being delivered by police car

As much as I try to avoid making comparisons with my own country, suneung always forces me to acknowledge the immense ideological abyss that separates Korea and the UK in terms of education.   Suneung is an event which has a profound impact on Korean society and is reflected not just in the annual countdown to its manifestation, but in public regulations, guidelines, a host of gifts and items to aid exam success and a range of ‘gimics’ popularly ‘believed’ to aid exam performance. And after the exams, post suneung students are enticed, rewarded, with a host of reductions and offers appearing in shops, health clubs, cinemas and restaurants. Most profound and quite different to my western experiences however, are the attitudes to education.  Try explaining to Korea kids that in your country it isn’t cool to be clever, that intelligent students are often bullied and the cult of anti-intellectualism rife, that a teachers dare not leave their coffee mug on a classroom table for fear of it being spat in, smeared with a pair of testicles or ladled with drawing pins or paper clips (Metro, Feb 2011).   And then try explaining that achievement is leveled so that those who do well or are exceptional go unrecognized while those who were bone idle and lazy hide. In recent years one teaching organisation suggested removing the word ‘failure’ from the teacher’s diagnostic lexicon and replacing it with ‘deferred success’ (BBC News July 20th,2005).  My university, Essex University, no longer awards graduates’ degrees in academic rank from 1st class honours to pass, and instead, degree ceremonies are ordered alphabetically. The graduation ceremony allows for no distinction between degrees earned by three or four year’s hard work and those the product of a permanent party. In the politically correct world of the UK, we are compelled to down play success and hide failure behind Mickey Mouse courses and useless qualifications both of which are given the veneer of parity with subjects that demand hard graft.

juniors students give the exam students support

However much British politicians and school mangers blab about the importance of education, it is mostly hogwash. Most school are more alike than different and innovation is curtailed rather than encouraged. The quality of the teaching staff in schools, where some excellent teachers do exist, is basically bog-standard because job specifications, in the pursuit of politically correct ‘fair-play,’ castrate all applicants who have qualifications or skills not asked for by the specifications. It is totally irrelevant that an applicant can miraculously turn failing students into ‘A’ grade students, or is qualified to teach any subject on the curriculum, if such a skills or abilities aren’t requested on the specifications. Though rules can be circumnavigated they cannot be seen to do so and in the politically correct environment ‘fair-play’ and notions of ‘equality’ are dictatorial. It is a contradiction that any institution can have the ‘best staff’ when those with skills, qualifications and experience beyond the remit of the post’s specifications, have been rejected.

more prostrations

I can’t name one Korean celebrity who I would say is a dimwit but there exists an army of British celebrities who not only aren’t particularly bright, but whose lack of ability is celebrated. A good number of our football players lack a decent education and some are so repugnant and base they are detrimental to the boys who idolise them.  And not only does British society tolerate celebrities who abuse themselves with alcohol and drugs, it financially rewards them!  After being exposed as a cocaine snorter in 2005, super-model Kate Moss’ earnings between 2005-2006, increased by 3 million dollars. (Forbes. cited in Wikipedia) And in dumbed-down Britain, we love to celebrate mediocrity and stupidity. Jane Goody was a prime example of the failings of British education; despite eleven years compulsory education she was probably one of the most ignorant and dumbest adult humans ever to appear on TV. But more alarmingly, despite her tartish behaviour, foul mouth and racist attitudes, an enormous fan base developed even prior to the time she was diagnosed with cervical cancer (Jane Goody, Wikipedia).  For many Brits, Goody was an idol and an example of how brute dumbness, lack of class and vulgarity can triumph. Forget education, manners or decency, just behave like a stupid slag and you too can become a millionaire. And I know it’s pitiful and sad, but once diagnosed with cancer and the mostly moronic public were even more willing to both idolise and defend her.

suneung gifts

I remember when the Spice Girls were being interviewed ten years ago and one of them joked about the dismal report she received from her music teacher. The teacher’s suggestion that she not consider music as a career, was pathetically dismissed with the response, “and look at me now!”  I doubt any of the Spice Girls could have distinguished a bass clef from a treble clef and other than miming and pouting the lips like a blow-up doll, doubt they had anything but mediocre talent which certainly wouldn’t have survived a facial attack with acid or a vigorous chaffing by a cheese grater.

Parents pray for exam success at the Gatbawi (갓바위) shrine in Daegu

I have probably had to teach in one capacity or another in around twenty different British schools and in all but a couple it was hard and degrading work.  Most British kids need to be force-fed learning and the high percentage of bad attitudes, behaviour and disruption have a detrimental effect on most classes. Most British teachers are highly defensive about such accusations despite having little or no experience teaching in anything but their own country and school managers are quick to defend their schools and berate the competition in just the same manner the boss of a Burger King will slag-off McDonald’s.

Yes, Korean education has its faults but I prefer being in a system where students know where they stand instead being fed a lot of guff that their nail care technology or business studies course is the equivalent to traditional academic subjects such as maths, history or science. In all but two schools in which I’ve taught there has been a pool of retards in every grade. Of course, most are retards because they behave like scum, abusing teachers and disrupting the learning of their fellow pupils. However, I don’t think I’ve really met a Korean retard and I certainly haven’t met a Korean student who can’t read or write or doesn’t know where their country is on a map. And I’d claim that a number of my students have better English writing skills than kids I’ve taught back in the UK.

anxious mothers outside a school gate

Britain has lost all sense of values and the dumbest, least talented and badly behaved are often able to earn huge sums of money. It was only a matter of time before the dregs of society and their middle class chums, the army of do-gooders who form the politically correct brigade, were able to crown a cretin like Jade Goody. Indeed, one tabloid compared Goody with Princess Diana who despite an elite education wasn’t particularly bright but at least she had class. Britain needs a good dose of Korean education to rescue it from its anti-intellectual disposition and in the process it needs to purge itself of its predilection for mediocrity. Moron celebrities, bad parents and dimwit football players need public ridicule and condemnation and bad behaviour, especially in terms of drugs and alcohol abuse, requires termination by censorship.

a suneung watch often given to third year high school students

The whole of society, and most especially those involved in education, have colluded to tell the dregs they are ‘in with a chance’ if only they will apply themselves, which with many of the phony courses and qualifications provided, simply means, ‘attend the course.’  A cabbage has potential but only within the limitations of being a cabbage. You can tell a cabbage it could be an award-winning poet but there’s not much chance of that happening because the poor cabbage doesn’t possess the awareness it’s a cabbage.  What many of the dregs require, other than a massive brain-over, or better, a total brain transplant, is to be told the truth.

‘Hey kid! You’re a fucking brassica, a fucking cabbage head, a total semi minus moron and you’re going nowhere!’  Then they should be forcibly administered a powerful chemical concoction by the Pest Control Corps to prevent the possibility of ever being able to breed.

and now the discount season begins for suneung students

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Related Posts

Suneung 2010 (Bathhouse Ballads Nov 2010)

D Day and Korean Hooliganism (Bathhouse Ballads Nov 2010)

Suneung – A Day of Reckoning (Bathhouse Ballads Nov 2010)

A Video Tour of Suneung (Bathhouse Ballads Nov 2010)

Suneung 2011. D-10 (Bathhouse Ballads Nov 2011)

Because a Thrashing Always Improves Grades…

Posted in Education, Teaching by 노강호 on July 7, 2011

Jack’s thrashed palm

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.

bruises can clearly be seen at the base of his thumb and left-center palm

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.

Students in my school being punished for lack of homework

First and second year high school students being punished en-masse. I would imagine this punishment particularly painful

A high school student waiting to be beaten. I’ve seen teachers in this school use golf clubs for this purpose

Two of the most common forms of punishment

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Images of Innocence (5) – James

Posted in Images of Innocence, video clips by 노강호 on June 19, 2011

James, is eight years old and my youngest student. He sleeps in a tent in his bedroom with three teddy bears, one named Aloo. Here’s his story.

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Baseball, Boners and Mid Term Exams

Posted in Bathhouse, Diary notes by 노강호 on April 23, 2011

a little like this but with ten raucous kids and a television

Even though I’ve been in the busiest bathhouses, this weekend really wasn’t enjoyable. For many students, the midterm exams are over but for others another week of cramming into the early hours of the morning can be expected. Migwang wasn’t the busiest I’ve known it but it was certainly the nosiest. Samsung Lions, the Daegu  home team were playing one of the first games of the season and a small crowd of men and boys sat in pool nearest the large television. Naturally, there was an air of excited anticipation frequently vented by loud cheers or despondent sighs and as usual, it was friendly and relaxed rather as one might expect with English cricket or tennis and nothing like the revolting displays of tribal machoism associated with British football.

but what I really needed was this…

My favourite pool is probably the cold pool (냉탕), even in winter and unless it’s the peak of summer, it’s usually the quietest; today however, it was packed, ‘packed’ meaning about 12 occupants. Unfortunately, they were mostly older students intent on messing about. With my elbows resting on the pool ledge, I was constantly splashed and on two occasions had to ask boys to move away. And for the first time ever, the choppiness of the water annoyed me as there was a wave that regularly lifted my knees off the pool floor. Then there was the noise! Yes, I tried to console myself that they had probably finished exams and were letting off steam but it I really wanted to relax.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen boners in the bathhouse but today three boys had them and what was funny was they didn’t even try to hide them. If I got one I’d have to hide myself in the water, preferably cold, until safe to come out but they weren’t the least embarrassed.

My relaxation was interrupted on numerous occasions first by a teenage boy who was sat with his father and wanted to talk.  I tried to chat to his dad but he wasn’t in the least interested. Then a boy of nine introduced himself to me and shook my hand. His name was Pete and his dialogue consisted of; ‘Hello, my name is Pete, Nice to meet you. How is your family?’ After this he started firing random words, ‘notebook,’  ‘desk,’ etc. Eventually, he got bored and disappeared but not before four other boys, all aged around 13, began asking where I was from and if I liked Manchester United. Then I had to arm wrestle each of them in turn during which they scrutinised the hair on my arms. One actually started tweaking some hairs on my back.  And of course, as this is happening all the occupants of the pools around me are staring though it is not in the least unfriendly. I was subsequently rescued by a friend whose wife owns a coffee shop.  Whilst we were talking I noticed another foreigner and we acknowledged each other. He sat the pool opposite me but left very quickly. Usually the bathhouse numbers dwindle after 6 pm but today it simply got busier and even by 9 pm it was still crowded.

 

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More Than Words can Say

Posted in Education, Gender, Korean language by 노강호 on March 28, 2011

Preamble. One of my friends, who is actually my boss, has a daughter who has recently been accepted into the top high school for English, in Daegu. Gaining entrance was highly competitive and as such local middle schools can nominate only a limited number of applicants, based on their student population. Her school nominated 6 students but she was the only one to pass the entrance procedure. Not only did she have to compete with a large number of students from her school, but then with students from all over Daegu. Nominated students then had to endure a rigorous selection process held over two weekends the first of which included a fifty minute essay and a question paper. The results of the first weekend provided the final batch of applicants who on the following weekend were subject to group debates and an individual interview.

Korean mothers pray for their children’s exam success

On Wednesday, when the results were released, my boss was hooting with delight and for the remainder of the week the atmosphere in school was hyper. I could probably have canceled my classes and gone home and she wouldn’t have minded. On Friday, I was given a cash bonus and thanked for the extra work I’d volunteered to help her daughter succeed.

Now, this isn’t really the point of this post. After being handed my bonus, as usual in an unsealed envelope and presented with two hands, we walked to a nearby cafe and on the way my boss stopped on several occasions to talk to women she knew and during each brief interaction told them of her daughter’s success. Suddenly my sociologist’s head was activated as I noticed some fleeting, but very interesting behaviour. Perhaps mothers share a special empathy but on two different occasions the conversing women held their clasped hands to their chests and emitted this strange squeal. I noticed it instantly and almost asked, ‘what the fuck are you doing?  Perhaps it was just coincidence or maybe it really is a shared habit – I’ve no idea. The squeal, sounded in unison lasted only a few seconds and is quite hard to describe. It was certainly joyous but in a totally feminine manner. Being a musician, I have a fairly good ear and the strangest aspect of each occurrence was how their squeals rapidly attuned themselves to one pitch so that for a few seconds both were squealing the same note. In that instant, and it was an instant, they seemed to share an understanding, to mutually empathize.

All cultures have their own variations of body language and of sounds, guttural and otherwise that can’t be  located in dictionaries. Probably the cutest Korean one I know is when someone doesn’t know something or is unsure and they the touch the back of their head and inhale slightly between their teeth.  In a very strange way the shared squeal, their faces and the way they preciously clasped their hands at their chests, conveyed far more emotion and intimacy than their spoken words. Was it a coincidence or is this a gender based, non-verbal, socially shared form of communication?

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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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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!

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D-Day and Korean Hooliganism

Posted in Comparative, Education by 노강호 on November 18, 2010

D-DAY!

 

Today is the day of the high school suneung examination (수능), which for third year students is not only the culmination of their schooling  that largely determines their futures, but for many is the unofficial arrival of adulthood. The exam results are released in December followed by graduation, in the New Year.

 

Boys cheering after finishing their exams

 

As I wrote previously (A Day of Reckoning), the effects of suneung reach deep into all levels of Korean society and provide an opportunity to both support students and celebrate with them. Suenung  is very much a social event and first and second year students, and supporters congregate outside  schools in the early hours of the exam morning where banners are waved, chants shouted, students cheered and encouraged. If ever Korean students are going to be rowdy or get drunk, which occasionally happens, it is likely to happen in the evening but as usual, it will be tame compared to western teenage rowdiness.

 

Too much excitement is quelled

 

If ever you see a group of British lads with their shirts-off, anywhere other than on a beach, you can expect rowdiness. British males, normally the Neanderthal type, pull their shirts of when England has won a football match or when they are drunk and it is all part of a display of revolting masculinity. If, on Thursday evening,  you should witness a crowd of lads stripped to the waist outside a school, it won’t have anything to do with masculinity or aggression.  However, lads with their shirts off is also viewed as coarse and improper by many Koreans. In a cute kind of way, taking off your shirt, perhaps tearing it up in the process, and then singing a round of songs with your classmates, is about as radical as Korean youngsters can get.  And if you stand and watch you won’t be intimidated, assaulted or abused.

 

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Interlude (5) and Suneung Countdown – 수능대박

Posted in Education, Interlude (Theme), Korean language, Uncategorized by 노강호 on November 15, 2010

D-Day Minus 3


Suneung Dae Pak (수능대박)

 

Dae-Pak (대박), means ‘awesome,’ ‘excellent,’ ‘jackpot,’ and so suneung dae-pak (수능대박) can be translated as ‘suneung jackpot,’ or, ‘have an awesome suneung.’ Of course, you still need the ‘fighting’ spirit. (화이팅!)

 

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.

 

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A Video Tour of Suneung

Posted in Education, video clips by 노강호 on November 14, 2010

Suneung  (수능) will take place on Thursday, this week (November 18th). Here is a selection of videos which give a taste of the activities that take place on what is the most important day in a Korean students life. The videos highlight the communal and commercial nature of the day.

 

VIDEO 1 Early Morning

Up early in the morning, supporters congregate ready to cheer the third year students (고삼), wave encouraging banners and pass around anything which is edible and sticky. Meanwhile, the exam candidates are focusing their mental energies on the day ahead.

 

Click on photo to activate Daum site video clip. (2008)

 

VIDEO 2 Late Arrivals

With the exam about to start, and despite the absence of rush hour traffic, some students are destined to arrive with  minutes to spare. To the cheers of well-wishers, they arrive by police car and on the back of motor-cycles.

 

Click on photo to activate Daum site video clip.

 

VIDEO 3 An Early Start

In this clip supporters arrive at 4.30 am. Lots of chanting and drum banging before the first candidates arrive, one carried on the back of an older brother. Meanwhile, mum straightens a candidates tie.

 

Click on photo to activate Daum site video clip. (2007)

 

VIDEO 4 Commercialism

A collage of the commercial paraphernalia aimed at promoting the ‘fighting’ spirit as well as encouraging you to spend your money.

 

Click on photo to activate Daum site video clip. (2007)
Photo  taken in my local bakers on November 13th, 2010.

 

VIDEO 5 Intermission

The best way to spend a five-minute break with suneung around the corner.

 

Click on photo to activate Daum site video clip.

 

Thanks to the owners of the clips, all taken from the Daum site.


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