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)

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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.

 

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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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Interlude (4) Su-neung 수능

Posted in Education, Interlude (Theme), Korean language by 노강호 on November 13, 2010

Su-neung

 

This word strikes trepidation into the heart of every Korean student, but most especially those who are third year high school students. The Su-neung exams take place every November, this year on Thursday 18th, and are the culmination of years and years of hard study – well for most students that is.

 

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 then please let me know.

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Minimal Intervention – Toilet Technology

Posted in 'Westernization' of Korea, bathhouse Ballads, Blogging, Comparative by 노강호 on November 10, 2010

but what;s inside is a gamble

 

This month the Korean census is being compiled and on Sunday afternoon I was visited  by a friendly woman who took my details. Handing me the census form to complete, I sat at my desk by the front-door while she knelt on her knees so her shod feet hung over the small entrance where you leave your shoes. From that position she could just manage to offer me assistance without taking her shoes off and entering my one-room proper. With her at my feet looking up, I felt a little like a Buddha.

 

an unpleasant experience and even worse if there's no toilet paper

 

One of the questions on the census asked if my ‘one-room’ toilet is ‘sit-down’ or ‘squat’ and it would seem that the ‘sit-down’ toilet is more desirable or ‘classy’ than a ‘squat’ job and this might suggest that the proliferation of  such toilets is part of the ‘westernization’ of Korea. Not only are Koreans being encouraged to eat western shit in the form of  fast-food, but they are being encouraged to expel it whilst seated. I’ve had my fair share of squatting in countries like India and Morocco and having to do so in Korea always reminds me of unpleasant digital incursions necessitated by a lack of toilet paper. Of course, Korea has toilet paper, or at least it’s available but if you’re using a toilet away from home there is a probability that  both the toilet you are forced to use and you yourself, are tissue-less and hence a digital dredging will be required. Last time I encountered such a situation I was fortunate that both a hose lay in the  cubicle and a handkerchief  in my pocket (Emergency Dump)

 

Personally, the idea of squat toilets are rich in unpleasant associations but they do offer some advantage on the seated toilet bowl. Firstly, they conform to the Korean ideal of ‘well-being’ in that they ideally align the body to provide the greatest expulsion of waste and in the process help reduce or retard the development of hemorrhoids. Secondly, much less ‘skinship’ is required squatting and most notable are the fact you don’t have to sit on what is a public seat and neither do you have to reach for the  sheets from a communal toilet roll. Nothing is worse than having to sit on those stainless steel toilets in British public conveniences which look great if regularly cleaned, but when not are tarnished with stains of unspeakable origins.

 

I notice many K-bloggers don’t like squat toilets but for those who have traveled and have more than one frame of  reference, even the worst Korean public toilets aren’t that bad; they actually have partitions and doors, are usually made of porcelain, have running water, and there’s never a sea of shit six feet from your backside.  Regardless of where you are in the world, shitting anywhere but in your home is a gamble and the worst you can expect in Korea is a lack of toilet paper,  some bad smells and the need to squat. And unlike some of the more ‘developed’ countries in which I’ve traveled, you’re unlikely to encounter anything ‘seedy.’ I once wet for a piss in a toilet in Denver and what I witnessed can be left to the imagination.  Yes; Korean public toilets often lack toilet paper and they can be basic and require that you squat  but in the scale of things this isn’t that bad. But Korea is full of surprises and it is just possible to discover that the emergency toilet is not only impeccably clean but creatively designed. Last winter, on my way to Seoul, the bus pulled-in at what in the UK would be  ‘motorway services.’  The gents toilet was amazing with a large central, glass atrium which filled the toilet with natural light and under which a large garden flourished. There were even a number of showers. Many bloggers seem to think Koreans have a monopoly on dirty toilets and not  only could I cite truly unpleasant toilet experiences, but also that you don’t necessarily need to travel beyond Britain or the USA to find them.  I’ve taught in British schools where students would piss or shit on the floor because they thought it amusing and I have even seen examples where kids would jam a whole toilet roll in the ‘S’ bend and then cap it with a shit.  Every country has unclean toilets and  a lack of toilet paper does not make a toilet ‘dirty’ it just means you should have carried tissues with the same zeal in which you carry a bottled water in summer.

 

a luxury toilet

 

I  am tempted to refer to the toilet on which you sit as ‘comfortable.’ Of course, this is a  culturally orientated value judgment as Koreans do not find squatting, either on a toilet or waiting for a bus, uncomfortable. It isn’t that a Korean wouldn’t want to read a book or newspaper while squatting, but that to do so seated is preferable. The difference is much the same between that of a stool and an armchair;  a stool is great for milking a cow or weeding the garden but if you want to watch TV or read a novel, an armchair is much nicer.

 

control console

 

alternative control console

 

Basically, Korea has four classes of toilet which may be designated squat, seated, luxury-seated and deluxe-seated. The three classes can be further classified by four bands based on cleanliness: very bad, bad, okay, super nice. The UK, on the other hand, only has one class of toilet, ‘seated’ and though  UK toilets can be ‘super nice’ in terms of cleanliness, I have yet to witness a ‘luxury’ or ‘deluxe’ toilet though it’s been rumoured for a  long time that the Queen has one.

 

Hyundai's electronic bidet

 

Both Korea and Japan have taken the western style toilet and transformed it into a luxury item which has invested bathrooms and toilets with the same comfort one would expect in a bedroom or front room.  If the ubiquitous British toilet is suitable for reading and relaxation, the Korean luxury toilet provides the comfort in which to enjoy the marathon epics of Tolstoy and Wagner.  Many Koreans households now have toilets fitted with an additional tier which is plumbed and wired-in to create a crapper with the  same sophistication  as the Starship Enterprise. Among the state of the art additions are features such as a toilet lid which raises and closes at the touch of a button or even automatically as you enter or leave the toilet. Koreans love heat under them and so a heated toilet seat is ideal. Cleaning you arse properly never really caught on in the UK  and only on the rarest occasions have I ever seen a bidet in a British home. A  recent survey revealed 1 in 4 British commuters had fecal matter on their hands (Telegraph. UK) which would suggest either sinks by a toilet are a rarity or us Brits wash our hands in the toilet bowl before flushing it.  Meanwhile,  over 70% of  Japanese households have a bidet and Korea is rapidly catching up.

 

Korean toilet fixtures provide a high-tech control console from which to activated a bidet and by which the temperature, force, and location of the spray are controlled. Once douched, an anal-dryer kicks-in and blow-dries the entire area. So, far, only one digit has been required to complete a procedure that formally required at the very minimum, an entire hand. Equipped with musical accompaniment, the ability to automatically inject a variety of scents into the air as well as instantly sucking out  foul smells  from almost the exact point of their origin, deluxe models sanitize the entire process and take poo-ing where no one has gone before.

 

a luxury toilet (link to 'Sharon')

 

A luxury toilet in my last high school

 

There seems to be some discrepancy about whether toilet paper should be used before activating the bidet. Some sources suggest ‘wiping away’ excess matter, some suggest ‘patting’ it partially clean, which I guess means removing any ‘crumbs’,  while others opt for the immediate activation of the anal shower unit. I guess it all depends on the consistency of your crap and certainly, while you might be able to ‘pat’ a bum clean that has just expelled the remnants of a Korean diet,  a western diet will render a much stickier, chocolaty mess totally impervious to anything but a vigorous wiping.  The luxury of a hands-free crap, of cleaning your backside without any form of manual intervention is probably only possible on a diet high in fibre and as most waygukins who eat Korean food on a daily basis, will testify, this is achieved when what you expel looks much the same as when ingested. If the contents of your toilet bowl resemble last nights kimchi-stew, your bowels are blessed with  ‘well-being’ and a bidet will free your hands completely.

 

High School toilets, when kids clean them themselves they are less tempted to piss or shit on the floor

 

And often other luxurious bathroom innovations can be found. I worked in one academy where a kids toilet had been designed and not only were there a miniature urinal, sink and sit-down toilet, but the room itself was less than two meters high and the door by which you entered was miniature. The entire bathroom was like something from a doll’s house.

 

toilets for kids

 

great idea

 

For super clean hands, even after crapping 'hands-free' style, nothing purges loitering microbes like the ultra-violet hand dryer.

 

Korean toilets, the shape of things to come...

 

There is so much more to Korean toilets and ablutions than squat loos and lack of toilet paper and putting up with a little discomfort, which could just as well occur ‘back home’ seems to distract some many bloggers not just from what else is out there, but also the usefulness of their experience as a subject. So, next time you find yourself caught short and in a squat toilet with no tissue paper…

 

and then go write about it!

 

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A Day of Reckoning – 'Suneung' (수능)

Posted in bathhouse Ballads, Education, Korean children by 노강호 on October 28, 2010

D Day countdown

As I write, across Korea thousands of third year high school students, known as ‘go-sam’ (고삼), will be religiously counting down the days. Some began the count  at ‘D  Day  minus 365,’ others, more traditionally, began at  ‘D Day minus 100.’ Today, is ‘D Day minus 21.’ And within the space in which I have written this post, in exactly three weeks time, the futures of thousands of teenagers will have been significantly determined.

‘D Day’ itself will present about 600.000 of the nation’s ‘go-sam’ students,  with one of,  if not the most, important experiences of their lives and certainly their most important exam. The suneung (수능) or CSAT (College Scholastic Ability Test) is the Korean, standardized test taken by all final year high school students and although some alternatives are now offered, and more are supposedly on the way, for most students it is the sole qualification required for entry into Korean universities.

Of all the standardized tests globally, the suneung is seen as one of the most rigorous. The path towards that moment of academic reckoning begins in elementary school and every step in the development of academic ability from infant study onwards, is a preparation for the suneung.

 

a late arrival is given a police 'escort'

Taken on the second or third Thursday in November, the suneung temporarily transforms the face of Korea and on the day there is a sense that  the entire nation is backing the candidates. The transformations are a reflection of  the pivotal role education plays in society and despite the  professed importance other nations give to ‘education,’ in most, only a national catastrophe or war would be sufficient to suspend capitalism or national defence. In Korea education stops everything, back in Scumland UK, it stops nothing and I can remember sitting the equivalent of the suneung exam to the accompaniment of persistent rifle fire from the nearby military base.

 

The Korean equivalent of Room 101

The exams last one day and are divided into a number of periods during which exams are taken in subjects such as: maths, social studies, English, sciences, vocational studies and  foreign languages. The exams are largely multi choice. To guarantee candidates arrive in school armed with equipment, entry permits, a ‘fighting spirit’ and ready to do their best, a range of national procedures and contingencies come into effect:

♦All other students begin school after 9.am.

♦To help ensure transport system work to maximum efficiency, many businesses begin work at 10am. This includes the Stock Exchange! Yes, there’s only one Stock Exchange, it’s in Seoul and probably nowhere near a school,  but it’s the thought that counts. For a few moments the success of students is of more importance than the economy.

♦During the periods when listening test are being conducted, planes cannot land at airports and those waiting to land have to circle above 10.000 feet. Even air-force movements are curtailed, within reason, to ensure silence at the appropriate times.

♦Korea Electric Power Corps places 4000 workers on standby in the event of power failures and each examination center, of which there are about a 1000, is sent a technician to monitor power supplies and await any emergency.

♦Police assist on the roads approaching schools and are also on hand to transport students who’ve encountered problems. Nerves thwart the plans of the best intentioned candidates.

♦Since 1993, there has been no evidence of  suneung questions being leaked. In the days immediately  prior to D-Day, specially selected professors are imprisoned in a hotel, denied any form of contact with the outside world, the hotel windows blacked out, and equipped with a library of resources, they  formulate the exam questions. No doubt the hotel is 5 star, but nonetheless, they are kept in  solitary confinement  until the exams are officially over.

♦Schools are also supplied detectors with which to scan students for devices, hand-phones etc, which could be used to cheat.

♦Female teachers in high schools on the day of Suneung are not allowed to wear high heeled shoes or perfume.

 

'suneung exams transport support' provided by the military

 

Police support

Beyond official and bureaucratic procedures adopted to ensure both fairness and a conducive examination atmosphere, a host of other  practices have developed aimed to improve the chances of success. Eating anything sticky on or before ‘D Day’ is believed to enhance ones luck. Sticky things cling to the wall and do not fall and so by chewing on toffee (엿), or sticky rice cake (찰떡),  it is hoped you grades will hold fast and not slip into the gutter. Conversely, eating anything slimy, such as seaweed soup (미역 국) might incur bad luck and see your chances for the university of your choice slipping away. At the same time, one must avoided uttering any word expressing failure, falling, dropping, sinking, sliding or slipping.  The reason obvious; if it’s muttered, it might happen. Parents and relatives will travel to mountain temples to say prayers and leave slips of paper on which are written the names of loved candidates, or they will attend special services in churches where small Bibles can be purchased in which you stick a photo of your son or daughter, all in the hope of currying divine favour. I doubt many believe success or failure is determined by the consistency of ones food,  use of language or  even prayer but anything which can be used to bolster the spirit is a valid psychological  weapon in  the quest for exam success and highlights the desperate measure to which the importance of exam success drives individuals.

 

Parents praying for the exam success of their children. I did the same thing here with a friend's family in 2001.

 

messages of good luck at the start of the final 100 day countdown

 

'go-sam' students being greeted by their juniors on exam day

plenty of rousing support

supporters

On D-Day, parents will crowd around school gates, some will pray and other will hold their Buddhist bracelets in reverent anticipation.  Candidates are often greeted by 1st and 2nd grade students as they arrive. Colourful banners wishing students good luck are waved and sometimes juniors will perform the full bow at the feet of those about to be tested. It is also common for juniors to rally the spirits of  their stressed seniors by singing rousing songs before the exams commence. My last high school had almost 2000 students and it raised the hackles to hear 1200 boys singing in unison from all the classrooms under the 3rd floor, where the suneung candidates waited for their exams to commence.

 

Boys singing after the completion of exams

 

a mother prays at the school gates

The exam

And when the exams finish, all the text books and notebooks used by the students throughout the year are unceremoniously tossed from the go-sam windows, often on the 3rd floor.  Of course, the pressure isn’t off as from 6pm onwards, newspapers can publish exam questions and the agonizing process of  self assessment begins until the results are finally released. And of course, as with every exam in Korea, only those with perfect scores are allowed to feel any satisfaction and even this is down played.

 

legitimate vandalism

relieving stress

 

Finally!

Undoubtedly, Korea has one of the best educated populations globally and though we might want to qualify the nature of that ‘education,’ we cannot dispute their success in terms of literacy and the sciences. Objective subjects and languages are much easier to assess. When it comes to the arts and subjective thinking, Korea has problems but however flawed or misguided we might perceive the Korean education system, it has facets worthy of admiration and parts perhaps worthy of emulation. Coming from Scumland UK, where dumbing-down is fashionable, bone-idleness excused, and the fruits of study and erudition watered down into a melee where belly dancing becomes an academic pursuit which has parity with mathematics or physics,  it is  refreshing to work in a culture where  education has too much significance rather than little at all.

 

results

To all 2010 go-sam (고삼) students about to face the suneung, ‘fighting’ (화팅!)

For a selection of video clips giving a general idea of the various suneung activities

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© 林東哲 2010 Creative Commons Licence.

No Pain no Gain – The Korean Bootcamp

Posted in Comparative, Education, History, Korean children by 노강호 on June 23, 2010

The ebente-tang (야벤트탕). Mugwort (쑥)

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.

Most kids would think this ‘extreme’

Korean special forces training – ‘extreme’

Facing your own limitations

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.

The TV Series ‘Kung Fu’

No Mountain Dew? Brutally Extreme!

Boy crying as he reads letter from home (Link to Rokmccamp.com)

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.

Perseverance (인내)

Team work

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).

A central figure in the history of Taekwon-do,  ignored by the WTF

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.

Getting messy hair – ‘extreme’

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.

Korean Kids at a ‘camp’ near Asan

I’ve taught in English schools where you weren’t allowed to shout at children and had to ignore bad language unless aimed at you personally

Knowing your’re alive doesn’t happen very often

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.

Link to New York Times article

Indomitable spirit (백절불굴) And it does them good!

It’s only pain!

The British army stopped log  training many years ago and burpees in the mid 1970’s.

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.’

After the Daech’eon camp

Tired

Post dopamine lull

LINKS TO VIDEO CLIPS OF KOREAN TEEN BOOT CAMPS

ITN News Report

Reuters 1

Reuters 2

Nocommenttv

NTDTV

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LINKS TO WRITTEN ARTICLES ON KOREAN BOOT CAMPS

Jjujund. Translation from the Chicago Tribune Sept 2009

Link to ABC News

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