Elwood 5566

Images of Innocence (1)

Posted in Comparative, Education, Images of Innocence, Korean children, video clips by 노강호 on December 13, 2010

the hanja character for ‘purity’ (순수한)

In the prestigious boys high school in which I taught for a year, on sports day a class of first year students wore T-shirts on which was emblazoned the hanja character for ‘purity’ (순수한). Capturing the innocence of Korea students in writing is not only difficult, but contended; there will be many Koreans and westerns alike who see their proclaimed ‘purity and innocence’ as over rated or mistaken. But in Korea, I have never taught scum students, students who are vile human beings and whom if had to label, I would classify as violent, anti-intellectual, promiscuous, untrustworthy, grossly disrespectful, and foul-mouthed. Often they had parents who were equally as bad and in most of the UK schools in which I have taught have encountered boys and girls who basically epitomise what it is to be anti-social.

‘Pure’ – not a fashionable concept among British teenagers

Among most teenagers in Britain, ‘innocence and purity,’ which as usual we immediately associate with sexual conduct, but which I think Koreans would understand in a much broader context, is not something to be aspired to; indeed, I would suggest it is something to be shunned. I would absolutely agree that not all Korean students are angels and that there will exist some who could be classified ‘scum’ and I also agree that most British students are decent. I am suggesting, however,  that standards and expectations in Korea are higher than in the UK and that associated values are currently much more effective in providing social cohesion, especially across generations. It is the values of Korean society that put the nation in the top echelons in terms of educational achievement, despite the systems pressures and flaws, and those values which produce a society with one of the world’s lowest rates of teenage pregnant, sexual activity and infection by sexually transmitted diseases.

Yes! Bad things happen in Korea and under the surface there is more nastiness than is immediately apparent. But unlike Britain, I have never seen a Korean girl of 13 giving a boy oral sex in the bike sheds and I have never taught or seen girls of 14, 15 or 16 who are pregnant.   Instead of leaping to the defence of the moral and personal degeneracy of the west, which festers like an  open wound and is visible at every level, instead of raising reminders that Korea too has a bad side, which I do not doubt, we need to acknowledge that in some spheres, Korean society is  very successful and perhaps worthy of emulation.

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© 林東哲 2010 Creative Commons Licence.

Giving Summer the Finger

Posted in Comparative, Diary notes, Education, Korean children by 노강호 on September 3, 2010

Goodbye to all that!

The summer holidays finished last week and one of my students notes in his diary.’This week school finished and we had to change our hair and faces.’ Gone are the ‘poodle perms‘ the vibrantly painted finger nails, ear-rings, temporary tattoos, and dyed hair. Unlike many western countries where teachers battle with hair styles and make up, in Korea it’s all removed before the term starts. Of course, Koreans will tell you the same battle ensues in their schools but they are skirmishes in comparison.  I’ve taught one boy who was forced to run 10 times around the sandy ‘parade ground’ in only his boxers because his trousers legs were too narrow, and a beating because your hair is a centimeter too long isn’t uncommon.  And the ‘budgerigar club’ that exists in every British secondary school (ages 12-16), little cliques of girls who sit for hours on end brushing each others hair, moronically starring in mirrors and slapping on cheap make-up like little Jezebels, all during lessons, is in its infancy.

Painted nails

A little re-touch needed

The irony, of course, is that school never really finished and the vacation that was, was never really a vacation. One of my students spent the entire summer at a cram but claimed he loved it. Packing your son or daughter off for the entire summer isn’t what I’d do if I was a parent.  Another boy spent two weeks in a military boot camp,  ‘thanks, mum!” Another three students, siblings, spent the entire summer in an English school in the Philippines but their English is no better than when they left. So, with summer drawing to a close it’s back to the study routine, constant tests, the after school classes and reading rooms and don’t forget piano lessons and taekwon-do! As for the poor the third year, high school students (고삼), they have the biggest exam  (수능) of their lives looming. An exam which will not only determine their academic future but very possibly the background of their future partner as well as their occupation. DD (‘D’ Day), and that’s exactly how Koreans identify it, is 76 days away and every third year student will be counting. Their vacation was great! They didn’t have one!

 

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Cultural Clashes – March 25th – 2001 (Korean Accounts 2000-2001)

Posted in customs, Education, Korean Accounts Part 1 by 노강호 on March 25, 2001

I am still giving Ji-won a lesson on a Saturday evening. His father, Pak Jun Hee  is the same age as I and so we have a very good relationship. A new teacher, Lisa, had arrived from the UK and we decided to take her out to their restaurant and during the course of the evening Ji-won asked her age, Koreans always want to know your age. Lisa, who is possibly nearing retirement, was visibly offended and tried to explain that this was a rude question. Of course, asking ones age is a necessity for Koreans as they need to ascertain where to place you within a hierarchical structure and to address you both in terms of behaviour and language. In order for Koreans to form relationships with westerners, especially ones who fall outside their own peer group, they have to invent relationships in order to ratify a friendship. So for Ji-won, I am his teacher, for Ryo Hyu-sun (료휴선), I am his older brother and I have to refer to him as ‘dong seng’ (동생) and correspondingly, he has to refer to me as ‘hyong je’ (형재). When I thank Ryo Hyu-sun (료휴선) I have to use informal style language whereas towards me he uses formal language which is used from a junior to  a senior. When I thank him I will say ‘komapda’ while he will thank me by saying ‘khamsa hamnida’ (감사합니다). Needless to say such linguistic etiquette makes learning the language all the more difficult.

Ji-won  is a keen student who at the moment is going to school from 7am until 9pm. He will stick to this regime for the next two years. Last week there were classes at Di Dim Dol hakwon which started at 11.15 in the evening. It amazes me how we moan about child exploitation in the west and yet Korean children lead such hideously pressured lives. A fifteen year old boy jumped out of a tower block here last week, and died all because his maths teacher had been disappointed with his ‘average’ maths score.

At the restaurant Ji-won and I sat talking for several hours and then his father came over with some soju and sashimi. Pak Jun Hee  often brings sashimi and I think he considers this a treat for me – which it is. However, while I enjoy sushi (초밥), which is small slices of fish on a small ball of vinegared rice, Korean sashimi I am not so keen on. This is a full platter of various cuts of raw fish and the skill of a sashimi chef is dependant on how long he can keep the fish alive as he is slicing off its flesh. As with Korean barbecues, this fish is eaten with a variety leaves, garlic cloves, the Korean equivalent of wasabi (고추 냉이) and red pepper paste (고추장). One places a small selection of fish in a leaf and adds the other ingredients, wraps it and then eats it. Among Korean friends it is quite acceptable to place food, by way of hand, into you someone else’s mouth.  Pak Jun Hee made a massive ball, of sashimi, and mostly fish, which I could only just fit in my mouth and I very nearly puked. I can take a little raw fish but not half a pound of a cold, raw seafood cocktail. Lim Sun-hee, who is Pak Jun Hee’s wife could see I was a little distressed but I pretended it was the heat of the wasabi and everyone laughed. Koreans find it very amusing when you find their food too spicy. The ball was so big I couldn’t just swallow it so I was forced to chew that cold flesh into swallow-able portions. Pak Jun Hee’s has invited me to go to Pusan with him on August 23rd, which is his family’s ancestors’ day. Then he will go to his family tomb on the mountain and pay respects to his dead relatives. It is a very private affair and I am quite privileged.

I have taken a short break from taekwon do as I have had constant problems with my left hamstring. I think I need to strengthen it as stretching weakens the muscle and maybe it needs a little building up. I have started some special exercises which I do in the lunchtimes before I go to the mokyoktang.

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

Kindy Life – Jan 1st – 20th, 2001 (Korean Accounts 2000-2001)

Posted in fish, Food and Drink, Korean Accounts Part 1, Korean children by 노강호 on January 2, 2001

Kindergarten classes finish at 2pm and we then have to start hagwon classes straight away. The kindergarten is soul-destroying as we follow that stupid Letterland syllabus and the resources are not suitable for kids whose first language is not English. Then of course, to make things more boring, most of the kids know the alphabet anyway but we are still compelled to teach it from the beginning.

Jo told me to make sure we took a whole month to do the letters ABC and within ten days of dragging lessons out the kids, all had finished their work books. Last Monday, I said to Precious, which is the adopted English name of the young woman who is both a teacher and receptionist at the school’s front desk, that I needed the next workbook but she said I had to keep the kids on the current one, the ‘Annie Fucking Apple’ workbook, for the next month! The activities are fine for kids who have weak spatial skills but the colouring in letter ‘A’s’ or ‘B’s’ is a totally useless activity. One boy copied a line of ‘A’s’ in eight seconds. I’m sure some kids could complete the entire workbook in half an hour.

The videos cannot be understood as the vocabulary is too complex or the English too confusing. One moment something is called a ‘puppy,’ next moment it is a ‘dog’ and the books are full of lengthy words which might be understood by a native English speaker but not by an ESL (English as a Second Language) student.

Deok-hyeon, terrified to enter my classes – many kids back in 2000 had never seen a real foreigner

There is another boy who is supposed to be in my class except he hasn’t yet attended, his name is Deok-hyun (덕현). I terrified him the first time he attended the school and every time I went near him he screamed. He was petrified of coming into my class and when we initially managed to get him in he sat trembling. Eventually he ran out of the class and has since spent almost two weeks sitting in the reception with Precious. Whenever I walked past he runs away and hides.

I have settled into the teaching life at Letter and Sound and have noticed how my girls are all brain-dead. I don’t know what Koreans do with many of the girls but it is quite criminal as a noticeable proportion of them are morons. For example, whenever I asked Da-hae (다해) a question she starts to slaver and dribble all over the table. Then she proceeds to eat the edge of her desk or the cuff or her coat or jumper. Precious has told me that one the bus in the mornings she forever has to tell Da-hae to stop licking the windows. In every class I have girls who fail to communicate with me or are petrified by my simple questions. When I ask them something easy to answer, and then given them a hint, they stare off at a tangent and refuse to speak to me. I have noticed how most of the girls who do this are the ones dressed in pink or with fluffy furry clothing and it reinforces my belief that there is a link between being clinically brain-dead and make-up, the colour pink and My Little Pony paraphernalia. Of course we destroy and undermine the potential of female personalities in the west but here it seems much more acute. In fact if I taught girls in the UK who acted in this manner I might assume they’d been abused in some way but then the Korean girls will have been mentally abused. It is quite sad how many girls second themselves to boys and men.

Matt, Angela and Pauline refer to my class as ‘The Cabbage Patch.’ After lunch, which we serve to the kids in their classrooms, I will help Precious clean up the room. It has now become common practice for us to make jokes about where Da-hae (다해) was sat as there will be a patch of drool and licky food smears. Out of my three boys one is normal while Deok-hyun (덕현) is constantly running out of my classes as he is terrified of me. Dong-seop has started competing with Deok-hyun for the attention of Precious and has also started to have crying fits at the start of each day.

So far I’ve managed to avoid taking kids for a piss – the boys at least. The girls I don’t mind as much as they are surprisingly independent at this task. Boys however, are quite different. However, this week Dong-seop wanted me to take him for a piss. Koreans kids use the word ‘shee’ (씨) which translates into something like ‘tinkle’ or ‘wee wee’ as whenever I use it in front of Korean adults it promotes laughter. Dong-seop started making the gesture for wanting a piss, which is to make stabbing motions towards to their crotch with the palms open.  It is quite a funny gesture and is always done with both hands. I was forced to take him as there were no other adults around. When we got to the urinal I was hoping he would do it himself but little Korean boys will usually just stand there as they are used to their parents doing everything for them. I had to pull down his trousers, and then his long johns however, before I could get them fully down he started pissing into them.

On the Chinese New Year we had three days off which happened to fall on a Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Of course, in Korea you wouldn’t expect to be given even the Monday or Friday off by your boss, let alone both days. Koreans don’t seem to complain or even be bothered about this themselves. On the Monday evening I meet Ryo Hyu-sun and a friend of his and together we went to the bar, Mr Seven, which is next to my apartment. They asked me what I wanted to eat and I said I didn’t mind. This wasn’t a sensible thing to do as next moment we were served a communal plate of chicken feet in spicy red pepper sauce. At first I thought they were prawns but when I lifted one out of the sauce it wobbled grotesquely from the end of my chopsticks. I ate a few just to be polite and all the time had to suppress an urge to chuck up. All the bones seem to have been removed from the feet but they still had bits of gristle in them or maybe that was the bones but regardless, there was a continual crunching in my mouth and throughout the duration I couldn’t help how much chicken shit each little foot had trodden in. Whenever Koreans drink alcohol there is food on the table and they consider it unhealthy to drink without constantly nibbling.

When it was about one in the morning, and after another of Ryo Hyu-sun’s friends had joined us, we went to one of the numerous soju tents known as pojangmacha (포장 마차) which are doted all over the place. These are simply red and white or blue and white stripped plastic tents which stand on disused land or parking lots. They are large with entrances and plastic windows and inside they are heated by kerosene heaters which remind me of living under canvas in the army.  The owner of this tent, a middle-aged man and his wife, had a small portion of the tent where they sleep and watch TV as these tents are open 24 hours a day. We must have spent an hour in Mr Seven discussing the merits of cod soup and cod roe (대구탕,알탕). Incidentally, Daegu, is also the Korean for cod.  Ryo Hyu-sun kept telling me how delicious these soups were and no sooner had we sat down in the soju tent, pojangmacha when a gas burner was brought to our table and a communal bowl of soup prepared. The soups were quite tasty but then we were huddled around the kerosene heater with an outside temperature of minus 10, pissed and hungry. Even a packet of dehydrated soup would have been something to talk about.  Koreans make several assumptions about their culture. The first is that their food is hot and spicy. Koreans are always saying to me, ‘Oh Nik, that meal is very hot!’ or “Nik! That is too spicy for you!’ Another assumption is that their food is delicious. I see their assumptions as a form of racism and whilst I don’t find them terribly insulting they are irritating. I am aware their assumptions are just that and are borne out of naivety rather than malice. Few Koreans have traveled abroad and the country is lacking in western restaurants. Of course MacDonald’s and ‘Kay Pi Shi’ (KFC) are here but there a few Indian, Thai or Mexican restaurants. Most Koreans think their food is too hot for westerners and are surprised if you eat rice noodle soup (떡보기) without complaining about how hot it is. They look at you in awe if you dare eat a raw chilli or glove of garlic at the meal table. As yet I haven’t eaten one Korean meal that is hot, I mean hot like vindaloo or hot like Mexican food. Generally Korean food is comfortably hot. I would love to see a Korean eating a Scot’s bonnet chilli or a habanero. Spicy hot in Korea is one that burns at both end! Then there is the assumption Korean food is spicy – well that’s not really true. Yes, it’s spicy hot-ish but it certainly isn’t spicy. I am sure other spices exist here but the only ones I have experienced are ginger, cinnamon, garlic. Combining a wide range of spices, as in Indian cuisine, is not the essence of Korean cooking and everything is served with copious amounts of either red pepper paste (고추장) or red pepper powder. Matt and I were talking about Korean food at school last week, as we were eating lunch and everything at the table contained some form of red pepper. The kimchi is loaded with it, it was copious in my meal and Matt’s soup and it was in all three of the various pickles at our table. You can rarely eat Korean food without eating some form of red pepper or chilli. Despite this Koreans will tell you their food is spicy. Well it’s hot but the only spice in it is chilli, that’s the only spice in anything.

As for kimchi, Koreans are obsessed with it. Kimchi is a national ‘dish’ and is a form of pickled cabbage a little similar in its properties to sauerkraut. It is made with Chinese leaf cabbage. The other main ingredient of kimchi is of course, red pepper powder along with garlic, ginger, various spring onions a form of fish sauce similar to Thai fish sauce and grated mooli which in Korea is called moo. Kimchi is served with almost everything and I can think of few meals with which it is not an accompaniment. In many meals it is a vital component along with rice or as the basis for soup. You can also buy kimchi flavoured noodles and crisps. If you mention kimchi to some children they get very animated and so far I have only met one child that doesn’t like it. I have been asking children their views on kimchi in my classes and on one occasion the kids became really excited when I said I liked it. Now I have to admit it but when I writing this diary in Korea, I hated the stuff. I would only eat small amounts of it and usually only as an accompaniment mixed with other things I thought it smelt disgusting, and a juxtaposition of something like a blend of flatulence aromas and something rotting. Now I love it and in fact I am pretty expert at making it. Many Koreans have been impressed by my skill at making this condiment. Neither have I really found Korean food delicious, at least not delicious in the same way as one might enjoy Chinese, Thai or Indian food but I do find it very satisfying.

It is amazing watching the kindergarten children eating their meals as their behaviour differs drastically to that of western kids. Korean children, even the very young ones, don’t start eating a meal until it is all served. There is no squabbling over who has a bigger portion and if one child asks for something extra the others don’t all follow suit. The children then all eat in silence apart from these rather unpleasant insect-like noises they make such as juicy clicking noises, smacking of lips and slurping. They eat so slowly and with intensity as if the flavours and consistency of every mouthful is being pondered. Finally, when finished, they take their tray to the reception, clean it and put it back in the rack. All this is done without being prompted.

Many of the kindy kids are three or four years old and yet I haven’t noticed pissy or foetid smells lingering on them. So far, I haven’t had to take any kids for a crap, and I don’t want to, but in the UK you would expect to take such children for a pooh every now and then.  Korean children are impeccably clean but their teeth are often bad and I have noticed the worse a child’s teeth are, the richer the parents seem to be.  The kids at the up market Letter and Sound seem to have significantly more rotten milk teeth than corresponding kids from Di Dim Dol. Despite this however, Korean adults all seem to have decent teeth.

(note – the pojangmacha (포장 마차) I visited stood where Lotte Cinema was subsequently built. At the time, this area was a huge vacant lot with several soju tens permanently stood on its edges. On my third trip to Korea, in 2005, the site was already under construction. Pojangmachas were common on vacant lots between buildings even in built-up areas; indeed, one lay not too far from MacDonald’s in Song-So. The vacant lots have rapidly disappeared and soju tens are becoming a rarer sight.

Bathhouse Ballads chronicles many aspects of my life in South Korea. Kimchi Gone Fusion focuses on ‘the way of the pickled cabbage’ while Mister Makgeolli is dedicated to Korean rice wine.

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©Bathhouse Ballads –  努江虎 – 노강호 2011 Creative Commons Licence.