Monday, October 11, 2010


By Karl

Ok so it's been a while since any postings. Largely becasue Jenn has left and that makes me sad. That's not to say she left me. She left her miserable scam of a job at the "prestigious" Foreign Language High School (take special note of the sarcastic quotation marks there).  At any rate, something happened today I felt I absolutely MUST tell you all about. FIRE DRILL!

This was not your standard alarm-ringing-stand-in-line-orderly-walk-out-the-school fire drill. They used real fire! Ok ok, not fire IN the school but!

So yesterday I noticed the grounds keepers trimming dead branches from trees and generally cleaning up the shrubbery around the front of the school. They've been clipping and pruning recently (the roses are coming up beautifully and I really need to get some pictures) so I figured it was just part of the maintanence. They piled all the branches and dead brush at the far end of the large field in front of the school. I assumed this simply made for easier collection. Little did I know it would be set ablaze.

Today, during the first class, my co-teacher Y informed me that the school would be having a fire drill during third period. Now I assumed this would mean an alarm would sound and we would all march out single file to the field, wait the necessary amount of time, and come back in with a hearty congratulations from the vice principal for being orderly and not trampling any of the 1st graders. However, during second period I did notice some sort of display being setup with two inflatable dummy flames and three fire extinguishers. "Funny," I thought. What I failed to notice was the fire truck, the other fire extinguishers, the can of gasoline, or the table setup with a lovely cloth covering, which is always used for cermonial occassions.

About 5 minutes after what should have been the start of our third period class, I noticed that the students were absent. "Oh right," I thought, "fire alarm. Guess they do it with their normal class teacher." Suddenly the omnipresent, and unintelligible, voice of our vice prinicpal sounded throughout the halls. He seemed a little worked up and excited about something and I naturally assumed it was the drill. Then the alarm went off and he continued talking. "I guess even fires are scheduled so he would know to be ready on the intercom when a real fire broke out." Then I got up and looked outside just in time to see the piles of brush produce wonderfully tall flames and billowing grey smoke that smelled a bit like spent fireworks. "Wow what fun!" was the first notion that popped into my head.

I watched from the window as students gather near the end of the field, skirting the outside border, and staying well enough away from the actual fire. Then the fire truck started up it sirens, drove the 100 yards to the brush fires, and began playing with their hoses, much to the delight of the kids. Two male teachers ran towards the now much smaller flames and valiantly assisted the firemen by spraying the remaining flames with fire extinguishers. I'm not sure if it was meant as a serious demonstration to the students or if they just wanted to have some fun, too. I suspect more the latter. The truck then used it's main fire cannon to finish off the second brush pile. The kids absolutely LOVED that. And so did the firemen as they then turned the hose towards the students in a long arching shower that misted the kids and teachers watching. The whole time I'm thinking to myself  "my God, fire drills in U.S. schools SUCK!" A production like this would never be allowed. People would complain "oh the kids could get hurt," "someone could get burned," "they'll be drowned by the fire hoses, " "the children will be traumatized by seeing a real fire," "the kids might actually learn something." And the kids here did learn something.

After the initial pyrotechnics, the 5th and 6th graders were gathered to where the three fire extinguishers and the inflatable flames were setup. An instructor from the fire department then proceeded to *gasp* teach them how to properly use a fire extinguisher. After his initial demonstration and verbal instructions, the kids were allowed to walk up, three at a time, and take a practice shot at the dummy flames. And they must have been paying attention because they all properly aimed at the base of the fire (which is proper since you want to smoother the burning material rather than trying to make the flames smaller by spraying at them). School administrators, as well as someone official looking from the fire department, observed everything from the official covered table. When all was done, all the students gathered and the vice principal made an unintelligble, but certainly very grand, speech about the success of the fire drill. The official from the fire department also said a few words and afterwards all the students joined in a school spirited cheer and were led back to their classes.

The remaining brush piles were relit and the fire department watched over as they were reduced to smoldering ashes. I guess the city doesn't pick up bulk yard waste here in Gunsan.

***Edit*** PICTURES!

Turns out the "firework" smell was from this smoke flare above the school entrance.

"Hey Kim, did we remember to bring the marshmallows this time?"

"Hey this reminds me of the last riot. 'Course the students are much younger here."
"And smaller. They go down a lot faster when the hose hits 'em."
"Yeah...Hey look at that bunch over there!"

"I bet there's a test for this."

Monday, August 9, 2010

Eunpa Park Excursion

Over the weekend, we went to Eunpa Park, which is really just a trail around a big old lake in the southern part of the city. We had been there twice before, but the first time we went, the heat index was well over 100 F and we were sweaty balls of nastiness by the time we got there and really weren't up for a stroll. The second time we went, we tried to take what looked like a shorter route to walk there, of course got it wrong, and were too tired and hot to walk around by the time we got there.

However, this time, we chose a breezy, partly-cloudy day and took our time walking there (on the real shortest route) and found ourselves with enough energy to mosey around a good chunk of it. I'm really glad we did because there's some pretty decent scenery there considering we're in Gunsan. Plus I miss being near water. Even though Gunsan is a coastal city, it has zero beaches. Every inch of the waterfront is dominated by nasty old docks or nasty big industrial complexes. I REALLY would have liked to dive in the water but I already attract too much unwanted attention when I'm behaving normally. Koreans don't swim (read: don't know how to) so I think doing that would make people freak out.

Anyway, we had a lovely walk. There's a long bridge that spans part of the lake, with pavilions along the way.

In one of the pavilions was something called the "sphere of love" with a little explanation that said if you and your loved one put your hands on the sphere, you will have a long, happy life together. So of course we had to test it out  :)

At one end of the bridge, there's a little touristy area which is mostly snack stands and Korean versions of diners, selling cheap noodle dishes. There's also a cool zone at the other end, where you can walk through cool mist being sprayed along a little path. Of course that area was packed, so we didn't go in.

I thought that it was weird that at the entrance to the park that we came in, there was a seemingly random little cemetery. I wonder who is buried there...

Did I mention that you can rent peddle boats shaped like swans at the lake?

There were also various monuments at the main entrance to the park, which is where we exited. I couldn't tell you what they were monuments of, though, because my Korean is limited to ordering food, communicating with taxi drivers, and talking to pharmacists. It looks important, though, so I took a picture.

All in all it was really a fun day. We ended up walking for over 3 1/2 hours nonstop, but we popped into a convenience store for ice cream and water, which certainly helped! When we got back we curled up with a sleepy Tama.

Not a bad way to spend a Saturday.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Things that make me smile

by Jenn

The following are things that have made me smile recently.

Coffee that's happy to see you.

The dog at the home gym store. Sorry he's blurry here!


Kittle love.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Happiness is a Warm Desk

By Karl

Deskwarming. That's what it's called here. And that's all it really is. Keeping the desk warm.

So, during the "Summer Vacation," while many of the students are enjoying the summer weather (if you can really enjoy it) and many of the teachers are...well they're not here... there are days when foreign English teachers are still expected to come in like any regular paid work day. Now, there are Koreans who come in too, but they are given specific tasks. As a foreign English teacher I'm expected to "deskwarm." In reality this means using my time to plan lessons for the coming semester. Except I'm at an elementary school and let's face it, there isn't a whole lot I can bring to the table. Really, how many variations of Bingo can I use? And it's not like I can give them a research project.

Coming up with lessons for 5th and 6th graders can be a bit tough when lessons are limited to conversational language. Since they don't learn grammar it's hard to teach them rules (since I can't explain the rules because they don't learn grammar). This means I spend about an hour trying to come up with fun activities that will help them learn. This leads to longer periods of headaches (usually from hitting my head repeatedly on the top of my desk). This then leads to searching online for any new ideas that I can re-engineer and take credit for. Which leads to more head pounding and more headaches. After a while I just surf around online and try to amuse myself. All the while ensuring that my desk stays nice and warm.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Beach bummin'

by Jenn

Since I had the day off and Karl got out at lunch time, and it was a gorgeous day outside, we decided to hop on a bus to one of the closest beaches. After eating a quick lunch, we took a taxi to the bus terminal. Taxis are so cheap here that it costs the same amount for us to take a bus to the bus terminal, so I see no point in denying ourselves a little luxury. Anyway, we got to the terminal right after a bus to Buan, our destination, left. Of course. So we found ourselves with an hour and a half to kill before the next bus left. Not to worry, though, there is a Family Mart right across the street from the bus terminal with a well-stocked ice cream freezer and tables in the back. 

I took some pictures of the bus terminal because it just looks like something from a much poorer country than Korea. Korea has all of these super high-tech things like the KTX (Korea's version of the bullet train) and crazy fast internet and neat cars, but some things are really stuck in the past. The bus terminal is small, grimy, not air-conditioned, and has no screens or even doors. It seems like something from a Chinese village or maybe one in the Philippines.


I would have taken some pictures of the inside where you buy tickets, but it's constantly packed with people and I don't really have the guts to whip out my camera and start taking snaps of random people. They will spit in your face here without restraint, and I wasn't in the mood for it. By the way, the construction you see in the above picture that looks like a Greek church or something is actually a huge wedding hall. The most extravagant structures we've seen in Korea have been, hands down, wedding halls. Weddings are big business in Korea. If you think Americans spend too much and get too frivolous with their big day, you ain't seen nothin'!

Anyway, finally our bus arrived and we hopped on. The ride was to a small city about an hour south of us, and then we hopped on a local bus for a 30-minute ride to the actual beach. The rainy season has come to an end at long last, so the countryside looked pretty today. The rice fields are just so green!

That last shot is from the outskirts of our city. Again, I'm just surprised at how dirty everything looks. It's like things fall into disrepair and they just let them stay that way. Is it a money issue or just that no one cares?

Anyway, after what felt like a very long time, we made it to the beach. It was beautiful! The sand was really squishy, more like a lake, since the west coast of Korea is mostly mud flats. There were so many tiny crabs (about the size of ants!) and minnows and shells. Some dead jellyfish, too, yikes. There weren't many other people there at all, and only a handful of them were swimming. Now, I know that most Koreans can't swim (which is strange to me, but that's another story) but there were tubes and life jackets for rent, so I wonder why it was so empty. Jellyfish, maybe? There were even two lifeguard boats out. Then we started to wade into the water and realized that it just didn't get deep! We went out quite a ways and it never got past our knees. I wonder how far you would have to go to do some real swimming?

So, we amused ourselves by walking around and splashing and checking out the rocky areas jutting into the sea.

We came back feeling a little worn out even though we didn't do much. The heat from the sun and the humidity here just seem to sap your energy if you're out for very long. Luckily, we were able to walk to Subway near our apartment and get a sandwich to revive us. It's comforting that you can order a spicy Italian or a meatball marinara all the way over here. Even if the salami is more like bologna.

On a cooler day, we'd like to go back to Buan and take a local bus to a nearby area because the beach itself and the mountains behind it are part of Byeonsan National Park. Apparently there is a nice day hike in the mountains that has a waterfall and a temple. I'd like to tackle it once the leaves start turning. And when it's not, you know, a hundred degrees. Call me a wimp if you must.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Hot weather? Cool down with hot soup. Obviously.

by Jenn

The most popular food by far this week here in Korea is samgyetang, a chicken and ginseng stew that also has jujubes, sticky rice, garlic, and other ingredients. When I first heard about this dish, I thought "oh, that sounds like a nice meal for winter to warm you up." Imagine my surprise when I found out that it's used for just the opposite- to cool you down in the hottest days of summer. The theory is that hot soup inside your body will make the outside of your body feel cooler. I'm not sure I buy this, and, judging from the throngs of Koreans I see eating ice cream and cold noodle dishes, I'm not sure they do either. However, samgyetang is also supposed to replenish nutrients lost from sweating too much, and it's supposed to treat the lethargy that often accompanies these dog days. I prefer the Japanese idea of fighting summer fatigue with barbequed eel. Thank goodness they sell that here too!  Anyway, seeing as how we're in Korea, we decided to do what (some) Koreans do and fix a pot of samgyetang from a kit sold at our local grocery store. I enjoyed it. But maybe that's because the air conditioning made me a little chilly before I dug in...  It's tasty to be sure, but it certainly won't replace ice cream, watermelon, potato salad, or hot dogs as summer foods in my mind.

The past week has been pretty tough. We have been dealing with the bureaucracy of two offices of education since our schools are not under the same one. Yes, I know that makes no sense as we're in the same small city. As with so many things here, Western logic need not apply. One of the major problems we've been having is the fact that we're not really allowed to talk to anyone at either office directly despite the fact that they speak English; instead, we are supposed to ask our co-teacher something, who then asks the head of their department, who then relays it to the principal, who then contacts however many people at the respective office of education. It's a frustrating game of telephone, and someone, or several someones, don't seem to want to answer our questions. I have asked the same question three times and it is still unanswered. There are many other specific problems we're having that I'm not going to get into on here, but I will say that this has been an immensely stressful week. 

Adding to that stress is the existence of racist, "foreigner"-hating Koreans working within this system. The Korean government wants at least one native English speaking teacher in each public school throughout the country, but there are many people in the individual offices of education who are, well, racist. And they make sure you know it, too. Jackasses like that need to find another job. Can you imagine someone in the U.S. telling another person in their company "No, I'm not doing that because I'm sick and tired of being a f*ing slave to all these f*ing foreigners."  And all we asked was something that is promised as part of our contract. I've never been treated with such unmasked racism in Asia. Frankly, I don't know whether I'm more astonished that so many of these people are in positions where they work with "foreigners" (note: I hate that word.), or that it's completely acceptable.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Teacher! Teacher!

By Karl

So it's been about 4 weeks into my teaching career and I think I'm beginning to get the hang of it. I think I mentioned once before in a post that teaching seems to be kind of hit or miss. Sometimes you think something will work and it doesn't. You figure out what went wrong and make the necessary adjustments so that if you ever try the same thing again, it'll work out better. This happened to me the first time I tried playing a game in one of my classes. This post will be long enough already so I'll cut to the chase on this part: the way I explained it the first time wasn't so great, nor was the way the game was executed. So during the next class I made a few adjustments to the flow of things and it worked out a little better. The class after that went even better than the second one.

I would like to think it did have something with the way I explained and executed the game but then again, it could just have been the mood of the class. I've done bingo now several times with classes and sometimes they are really into the game, sometimes not so much. So I do what I can and if it doesn't work, well, there is always tomorrow.

At any rate, all in all I think I like my job. It's certainly no dream occupation but compared to previous jobs it ranks pretty high. I'll probably feel a lot more comfortable next semester. I think I'll feel more like I'm working with the students right from the beginning instead of coming in as an interloper. Plus it'll allow me to set some ground rules of my own. This isn't so much a problem at DE My Co-teacher (Co-Y) can be kinda strict and really seems to have a handle on the students. Even the 6th graders don't pose a problem. At GE, the story is a little different.  My Co-Teachers teach alternating classes. So Co-B teaches 3rd and 5th while Co-J teaches 4th and 6th. Kids at Ge tend to be a little more roudy and excitable. And the 6th graders can be a tough crowd. Some of them have attitudes coming to the surface and they seem to like to push it a little. They know they're above the elementary school mentality and they're ready to move on (which is why in the U.S. we put the little brats 6th graders in Middle School). In fact, last time I was with Co-J I had to bring the hammer down. And it worked.

This is one of the 6th grade classes. I snuck the shot while they were busy doing a workbook activity. Anyway, out of frame is one particular young man who thinks he's way better than this stuff. So when we started playing a matching card game towards the end of class, him and his buddies decided they were going to goof around. When I asked them to play it correctly, they faked it long enough until I walked away. Co-J even went over to have a word with them but they wanted nothing of it. They were going to do what they wanted, even if it was folding the cards and throwing them around. So I told them, "If you don't want to play the game, I will give you a test." Co-J even translated to make sure they understood but they seemed to think I was bluffing. So I sat at the computer and typed out a quick 5 question quiz and printed off a few copies. Unfortunately, class was almost over so I really couldn't administer the punishment. Instead, before class left, Co-J announced to the class that I had something to say. I congratulated those that had fun playing the game and admonished those who wanted to goof off. Then I told the class, "The next we play a game, if you don't want to play it the proper way, I will give you a test." As I held up the copies of the tests I printed the class got very quite and their jaws fell open and their eyes got wider. Co-J, I think, was trying not to giggle at the site of the shocked faces. I was quite stern in my tone and I repeated myself saying, "next time someone wants to misbehave during the game, everyone will take a test." I looked at the kid and his friends who started the shananigans and so did everyone else. They got the point.

We'll see if they remember it this week since I have another game for them. But that's part of being a teacher. WG (a Professor from BGSU) told me that when he first started teaching he quickly realized that it was easier to "bring the hammer down" right from the start and then ease up as the semester went on. It's a lot harder to be the nice guy from day one and then try to be a hard ass when things get out of hand later. I definitely agree with his philosophy and it works the same with children as it does with college students. So at the start of next semester, I may just have to bring down the hammer on day one. Especially with those little brats  6th graders.

This is the hallway of the English Adventure! classrooms at GE, with Co-J's classroom to the right and Co-B's classroom behind me and to the right (which you can't see because the camera only faces one way).

Here is my classroom at DE. You can see the grey cubicle wall, on the right side of the picture, that hides my office.

Here standing outside my "office" you really can't see much except for the storage closets. But one inside....

I have my own little hideaway. I just need to get something for the walls. It's pretty stark at the moment.

Sometimes I do get tired on the walls around me so I'll stand and look out the classroom windows for a while and day dream.

But not during class of course.