Elwood 5566

Mid Term Treat

Posted in Education by 노강호 on May 14, 2011

end of mid-term treat

Occasionally, my boss, Cherie, gives me her credit card and I’ll take some students for a coffee or ddeokpoki (spicy rice cake stew). Most Korean kids love this snack. However, the cash is flowing and the destination of their choice is usually Mr Big where they can eat fusion food, burgers or pasta. When some older students finished their mid-terms, cash card in hand we headed off to Mr Big.

Korean kids are excellent at both knowing how to behave in a restaurant and how to socialise with adults in their company. Many kids in UK would probably develop these social skills if ‘eating out,’ especially with a knife and fork, weren’t so expensive and more of a social custom.

 

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© 林東哲 2011 Creative Commons Licence.

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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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© 林東哲 2011 Creative Commons Licence.

All or Nothing – on Mid Term Exams

Posted in bathhouse Ballads, Comparative, Education, podcasts by 노강호 on April 17, 2010

Being the time of mid-term exams, the school was quite strange today as some classes watched videos and generally relaxed, while for others, the pressure is still on. The majority of British kids don’t know what pressure is and would find student life in Korea very strange most especially as Korean kids identify with, and respond to, the term ‘student,’ (학생 – haksaeng).   Even this week, in the bathhouse, a boy was making too much noise and a man close by addressed him as ‘haksaeng!’ Trying to get an English kid’s attention by calling them ‘student,’ would be pretty redundant and a great many would simply tell you to ‘fuck off!’

The one and only!

I have great admiration for the Korean Education system, recently cited by Obama as a model the US should emulate, but one of its major downsides is the incredible pressure it puts on young people to perform. While it’s laudable that Korean students mostly want the best marks, it is somewhat sad that there is only one best mark, notably 100%.   Earlier this week I found some old photos of me taken almost 30 years ago and I was not only incredible fit, but very handsome;  in fact so handsome that I could actually fancy myself.  At the time however, and at every point of my life, I’ve been too fat, too unfit or too ugly and yet there I am in a fading photo with a waistline and looking very good. It’s bit of a knock when you realise that at one time you possessed something you’ve spent your life  looking for, and you never knew it! The same scenario is probably true for many people who struggle with their weight,  especially women, always feeling fat no matter how thin, and it’s similar for Korean educational achievement.

Ben

Asking kids yesterday, how they got on in their National English-speaking tests, even the ones who got 100% generally said, ‘okay,’ or ‘so,so;’ their modesty masking their intense happiness. And those who got scores of 99, 98, 97 etc, were equally as modest except the chances are they’ were bitterly disappointed.  There were several words that confused a number of my students, ‘sea animal’ and ‘sick animal’ was one, the other was ‘ hobby’ and habit.’ I could imagine a native  English speaker making an error but for those who answered incorrectly, this is no consolation and neither is the fact that many of their friends made the same mistake. A score in the 90’s is respectable and worth celebrating unless of course, you’re Korean.

So, as I left school yesterday, Ben who is 15, is sat on his own, forehead on the table,  and crying. I’ve never had a British boy of his age crying because they didn’t do well but here it is not uncommon.  And of course, you cannot console a Korean whose ‘kibun’ (기분) is in the gutter. As a western teacher there is something incredible about a student intensely upset  as it  reflects they care as much about their performance, as you do. When kids don’t care  or have slight regard, you can guarantee your job is  about child minding and behaviour control rather than teaching. However, it’s a travesty that the celebration of success is pivoted exclusively on 100%. Ben is a fantastic student: intelligent, witty, and in the Korean way, innocent, he’s a teacher’s dream, yet despite all his efforts and best intentions the loss of 2 marks effectively makes him a failure. Today was his first of a string of mid-term exams!

I have noticed that when students get their  exam results, school becomes a  refuge for those kids castigated and even physically punished by their parents. Last year, Ben lost one point in an exam and his father scolded him and I recall him being afraid to go home.  And so my boss will spend half her time plying them with tissues trying to console them and the other half explaining herself to agitated parents. Somewhere in the space between 90-99, maybe even 80-99, should be room for celebration and self-congratulation but as with weight-loss, in Korea it’s all or nothing and so a moment of self-appreciation, a pat on the back from a parent, is lost.

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© 林東哲 2010 Creative Commons Licence.