Archive for December, 2010

Snowy Days

Posted in Uncategorized on December 28, 2010 by kingcal

Well, right after my last post it started snowing like a mother. I don’t know what it is, but snow is one of the very few things that gets me feeling romantic. Not romantic in the Hey baby, you light my fire kind of way, but more like a child-like wonder kind of way. Just something about snow that makes me feel like a kid again. There’s really nothing quite like seeing the world in a blanket of white.

Also, right after I finished my last post, I went and got my bike from the shop. It was only 55,000 won, which is barely like $45 to get it fixed. Fuck yeah. So, I go in to get my bike, and a second guy is standing there and comments on how well I speak Korean. When I thanked him, he just kind of laughed and asked how long I’d been in Korea. Lots of people ask me how long I’ve been in Korea and seemed genuinely surprised. I suppose that based on my level of Korean they think I’d have been here much longer than just nine months. Anyway, as I’m driving away, I have to drive through these small neighborhood roads. The amount of traffic on main roads is more than enough to keep roads pretty clear of snow, but small roads are tricky. Where I started was pretty clear, but I could tell I was coming up to a snowy, icy section. So I slowed down naturally without braking and cautioned myself against making any sudden changes of direction. Didn’t matter. As soon as I hit the snowy patch I tossed myself off my bike.

I wasn’t going very fast, and I just basically fell over. Still pretty embarrassing. Fell right in front of somebody. I have a bruise on my hip, but other than that, I’m unscathed. A plastic piece broke off of my bike. That looks kind of retarded. I need to get some black electrical tape to fix it up. At least, at first glance, it wouldn’t be glaringly obvious that I broke something off my bike by falling. That’s a good way to make yourself look like a goddamn idiot.

Work today was all right. Nothing special. Some of the classes still don’t have books. That’s really annoying. Pretty hard to teach a class when the kids don’t have books. I had another class with a lot of new kids, so it was easy to waste 10-15 minutes just explaining how I run classes and do introduction/ice-breaker things. I saw Orange class today, and they won the month long class contest – the not speaking Korean thing – so Thursday we’ll be having a pizza party. Today, we didn’t even do anything in that class. At all. I absolutely hate the book. Half of the class was new students that didn’t have the book. The next time I see them, I’ll be doing a pizza party. After that is our vacation week, and I honestly hope that they’ll be on new books by that time.

Also, another happy surprise from today. One of my previous favorite students returned to the program. Yuri, the girl that lived in Jersey for two years, decided to come back. It’s pretty awesome. Yuri’s a cool kid. She’s in my last class of the day Tuesday and Thursday. Today, after class was over, she insisted that we leave together and she held my hand and everything. It sounds a little sappy, but it’s really heart-warming to me to have a kid that wants to hold hands and have a conversation. I think plenty of my students like me, but when class is over, they just want to run out of there and get away from school. I don’t blame them. I was always the same way. It’s even weirder to me, since before I came to Korea, I was not crazy about kids at all. For instance, on Christmas, I went to a Korean friend’s place for dinner and he has a three year old son.  I spent a lot of time playing with the kid and just messing around. Even spent some time one on one with the kid while other people went outside to have a cigarette break. Before now, that would’ve been so awkward and uncomfortable for me. I just didn’t know how to act around kids or what they wanted or expected from me. I do want to teach older students, but I’ve learned to really appreciate smaller kids for being their own little version of real people.

There’s not really all that much more to say. I’m just dying to get to this weekend and have my vacation. I feel like the week is going to drag on and on.

Also, more and more people are disappearing. I meet new people all the time, but I recently went through my phone and deleted a lot of the people I just never hear from anymore. It’s not just people who don’t really want to hang out or keep in touch, but a lot of people have just left Korea. Not just foreigners either. There are so many Koreans that say they want to or are planning to leave Korea. Mostly just to study English, but I’ve also got Korean friends abroad right now that say they don’t want to come back to Korea. Korea seems like the place that everyone’s leaving sometimes. There aren’t that many people here that seem to see a future in Korea. For a lot of people it’s just a stepping stone or a year or two outside the real world back in America.

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Last Week Before Vacation

Posted in Uncategorized on December 27, 2010 by kingcal

Well, Monday wasn’t as bad as I was fearing it would be. It’s the last week before my vacation for winter, and coincidentally, it’s the first week of our winter break schedule, since school finished for the year on Friday. Kids have a break from school from December 24th to March 1st. Roughly, something like that anyway.  So, in normal fashion, for the break schedule, we had to drastically change the schedule. That meant I was working with classes at about half capacity today. A lot of kids came late because they forgot their class was moved to a new time. The best was the kid who came in at 2 PM, the last class of the day, but the normal time for him, a full four hours late for class. Nice. We also absorbed a lot of new, but mostly temporary students, who only want to study for a month.

On the new schedule, I’m teaching from 10 AM – 3 PM straight. The good thing is that I get out a full three hours before I get out normally, so I’m going to have a lot more free time. There are two drawbacks. I may have to prepare material for classes outside of work, or stay late to work on the computer at school. Also, I don’t get a lunch break. Originally I was meant to teach 9 AM – 12 PM and 1 PM – 3 PM, but I guess the parents got mad about having a class at 9 AM, so that class got moved to the lunch hour. Sweet.

There’s an entire class of new students. Only five actually showed up today. They seem like a good bunch. Their overall English level seems to be pretty good. One fourth grader speaks so naturally I actually had to ask her if she had lived in the States before. Her only experience out of the country was like a week in England. Every once in awhile, there are super smart kids that just take to English. It clicks for them, I guess. For that class, we did normal first day vocabulary work, and the last 20 minutes of the class was just chatting. After hearing on my evaluation that I’m not personable enough with my students (LOLE), I decided that with a class full of new students I would set aside some time to introduce myself and learn a bit about the kids I’ll be teaching for a month. The only real unenjoyable thing was a student that returned after quitting awhile back.

If you’ve been reading for awhile, you remember the first time I had it out with a student maybe five months ago. I’m not really sure. The girl was always super rude and disrespectful, and one day after disciplining her, she got mad enough to quit. While going over the new attendance sheets, I had seen her name and recognized it, but I hoped it wasn’t her. Sure enough, she has returned. Anyway, when I first saw her, she was in the wrong class, but I wasn’t about to correct the Korean teacher and have her come with me. She was also acting uncharacteristically shy and quiet. I could tell she was a little comfortable seeing me again. Anyway, she eventually found her way into my class. It didn’t take her long to kind of resume the same attitude she had with me before. For instance, with only four students in the class, I was just going through and calling everyone in order, but not only would she still raise her hand (not a big deal, everyone was) but she actually snapped her fingers at me. That made me a little pissed off, so I told her to quit it a couple times. I’d ask the Korean teacher to talk with her, but she only attends the class three days a week, and they’re all days I teach that class and not the Korean teacher. I’ll figure something out.

Also, I went to the scooter shop after work. The guy confirmed my rather inexpert opinion that the radiator was busted. I mean, he just told me I had to change “this”. Probably assumed correctly I don’t know the Korean word for whatever he was pointing at. Still, looked like a radiator to me. Then again, my mechanical knowledge of autoparts is pretty much zero. Anyway, he told me it’d take about an hour to change, so I should go soon. Hopefully it doesn’t cost too much.  I know the guy does things pretty cheaply. Getting the oil changed was only like $4. Seems like a pretty honest, decent fellow. Not like those scam artist mechanics in America.

Anyway, next week is my vacation, but I don’t have anything in particular planned. Probably just bumming around. I might go visit people in other cities if they’ve got some free time. I’m really just looking forward to having some time off. The last extended vacation I had was back in the third week of September. Three months of elementary kids every day for five hours is enough to drive anyone a little insane. I just need a little decompression time.

The Holidays in Korea

Posted in Uncategorized on December 25, 2010 by kingcal

I apologize for the long break between posts. I know I said I would be able to write in mornings at work, but I’ve been mad busy the past week or two. Truthfully, work has been really bad, and if I had written something before now, it would’ve just been some long bitch-fest, so it’s probably for the best that I didn’t write anything. I was actually motivated to write this because of something that happened last night. After a night out, a friend and I were in the 24 hour KFC downtown getting a nightcap. Another group of foreigners came in, and they were discussing one of the photos on the walls. Apparently, the stock photo that someone had chosen to use in the store had a book in it that is rather strange. The Eletric Kool-Aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe. It’s essentially a book that chronicles the early history of LSD use in the US, so it’s rather amusing that it’s plastered on the wall of a KFC in Korea. Anyway, my friend interrupted because he wasn’t sure about the author, and after a little discussion, the guy came over and introduced himself. Another Colin. Gotta love meeting those guys. Anyway, on the way out, we said goodbye, and a girl at the table asked me if I was the Colin, as in Colin in Cheonan.

So I stopped and had a small conversation. I’ve had similar things happen. People just say they Google Cheonan and my blog is one of the first hits, I guess. My blog is how I started with the hapkido class, and I’ve had people mention that they’ve read my blog before. Still, she said that it was really helpful for her, which was a first, so cheers to that. It was a strange ego boost. Not trying to say I’m a celebrity or anything, but it’s definitely a cool experience. WordPress keeps statistics on how many people visit your site and what they search for to find it and all, but I stopped looking at those. The stats got too depressing. When I first started, I could get around like 50 views per post basically, but when it started sinking into the 20s I just stopped looking. Still, I guess if only 20 people see it but it’s useful or entertaining to them, then I guess it’s worth it.

Anyway, it’s Christmas here in Korea, though honestly it doesn’t feel very much like it. People who know me well already know that I’m not a Christmas person to begin with. I haven’t celebrated Christmas in 10 years now. I just quit celebrating it freshman year of high school. I don’t really feel like I need to get scrooge-y on a soap box about why I don’t like it though. I don’t really wave it in people’s faces. Anyway, I was thinking recently about how when Thanksgiving rolled around, I had really looked forward to it, but back in the States, I wasn’t like super excited for Thanksgiving either. I thought maybe being away from home I might get more sentimental about Christmas this year, but I really haven’t.

Part of the problem is that Christmas really isn’t that big a deal here. Kids get presents, and families spend time together, but it’s not like a huge deal like in America. In two separate conversations last night, I found the perfect analogy for how Christmas in Korea feels. It feels like the week after Halloween when you first start seeing Christmas decorations in Target and stores like that. It’s in the back of your mind, but it still feels like it’s a long way away. That’s a pretty good way to describe Christmas in Korea, in my opinion. It’s almost hard to believe looking at a calendar that it’s actually Christmas today.

Tonight I’ll be going to a newly made Korean friend’s house for dinner with another friend. Other than that, I’m not sure what I’ll do. I had wanted to go to Seoul, but I’ll have to see how much I’m up to traveling after dinner. I discovered this morning that my scooter is leaking oil really badly, and the bike shop near my place is either closed for the weekend or Christmas, so it’ll be a day or two before I can get it looked at. Harsh.

Also, New Years Eve is not a big deal in Korea. It’s just not special. The lunar/Chinese New Year is much more important. It’s a three day event. This year, it’s the 2nd through 5th of February. So, that’s the big important holiday in Korea. Still, it’s not like NYE in America. They don’t use it as an excuse to go get wasted and make out with people. It’s a more serious, family-centered holiday that revolves around tradition and honoring elders and ancestors. It just strikes me as so strange that NYE is not really celebrated much here. The most people do is go watch the sunrise and have a romantic moment with their boy/girlfriend. Either way, for NYE I’ll be going to Hongdae to see a friend put on some music and I’m sure that if something is going on in Seoul for NYE it’ll be happening in Hongdae, so it should be a hopping night there. Already looking forward to it.

Weekends Don’t Last Long Enough

Posted in Uncategorized on December 13, 2010 by kingcal

My weekend was pretty awesome. Friday was a bit quiet, but decent. Saturday I went to Daejeon and met some people for a night on the town. It was a great night overall, though it did get a little ridiculous towards the end. Still, given my current mood, I don’t even feel like talking about my weekend.

Monday I got a call from a teacher I only met two times before saying we needed to meet. I thought it was going to be the normal bullshit meetings that Mr. Lee always tells me I have to be there for, even though I do nothing. Unfortunately, I was wrong. It was a goddamn ambush.

Apparently, Friday, when there were like three or four new Koreans I didn’t know that came in, one of them was giving me a performance evaluation. Would’ve been nice to know. I thought she was just a new hire that was observing my class to see what they were like. First of all, my worst class Friday, I actually had the most fun in that class that day that I’ve ever had. Of course, she wasn’t there to observe that.

She only stayed to observe two classes in the middle of the day, one of which I already know the students don’t like me. I don’t know what the hell they want. They constantly complain. Last week all we did was watch a movie and play a game. Literally. For a whole week. They just bitch constantly about how much they don’t like me and prefer other teachers. The deck is stacked against me there.  My last two classes she didn’t observe. One was pretty normal, my last class only had two students but was pretty fun.

Anyway, I got the report and I scored like 3-4 on everything. Even on calling kids by their name, which I do only about 100 times per class. I have no idea what the hell she wants. The three teachers at the meeting were trying to sugarcoat it and all, but they still came up and straight told me that my classes are “boring, depressing” and that students find me “scary”. On the scary note, I’ve heard students say I’m scary, but they always said it with a smile on their face, and the same students that say that are super friendly with me. I did not at all take that seriously. Even if I am scary, it’s only when they force me to be. I have to discipline them. Simply letting them run wild and chit chat all class is not really an option for me. Even so, there’s only three students I ever routinely discipline, and they’re little first grade monsters.

As for the “boring, depressing” part, I can acknowledge that. Mainly because it’s the start of a new book and when I was being observed all we did was read. Yes, reading is not terribly exciting, but it’s one of the things that I’ve been told to stress. I’m in charge of reading and pronunciation. I feel like I’ve got to spend a certain amount of time doing reading. No, it’s not terribly exciting. Yesterday, instead of everyone taking turns reading whole sentences, I had the class read one word each and go in a circle and timed them. At first, they seemed into it and had a bit of fun with it, but towards the end they were drifting. There’s only so much you can do with reading.

Easily, worst of all, in the comments and feedback section, where she listed particularly what was wrong and how I should fix it, she accused me of not trying my best to teach, as well as accusing me of not being personable enough with the students. There isn’t a single day that goes by that I don’t have an extended conversation with a student outside of class, play games with them, etc… It’s goddamn insulting. She said she thinks maybe because I’ve had a tough time with the students at this school that I’m worn down, but that doesn’t give me an excuse not to try my best. You know what, maybe I am getting worn down. I’ve spent 9 months doing my best every single goddamn day, and there are still kids who dislike me no matter how I try to motivate and reward them. Still, it’s kind of a catch-22 when they really tear you down and pretty much tell you what an awful teacher you are, then suggest “Cheer up, just have more fun in class.”

How insulting is that? She observes two classes one time, and she acts like she knows how I teach every day. I think it’s completely unfair. Granted, a lot of times when kids come in before class, in the ten minutes before class starts I just kind of let them talk or read or use their phone quietly until class starts. I’m not always striking up conversations with them, so in that area I suppose I could try harder. Still, I think a lot of what she said is totally out of context because it just doesn’t at all fit me.

Also, just this morning, Mr. Lee came in and asked me if I knew David’s e-mail and had given out someone’s e-mail to David. I guess he sent an e-mail to the head English teacher at the school (who I’ve never met or talked to, let alone gotten contact information), about some dispute of his with Mr. Lee. I had to defend myself, and even then, had to meet the principal and defend myself to him, and all I could say was I didn’t know anything about it. Then the teacher came in and said it wasnt’ me, but another teacher.

You’d be surprised how much something like this happens. I’m constantly getting questions about drama shit between other employees and Mr. Lee. I stay out of that shit. Either the employee is a friend of mine, or someone I just don’t talk to period, and I’m not going to put myself in an awkward situation by coming my boss and someone else. I actively make sure I know nothing about what the hell other problems people are having. I have a hard enough time with my own problems. Why would I invite more upon myself? And yet, I’m still constantly defending myself, trying to convince someone that I really have no idea what’s going on.

I get asked a lot recently if I’m stressed at this school. The fact of the matter is, inside the classroom, things are fine. Even with the students that complain, even with the small number of bad students, I have a fairly enjoyable time teaching. It’s the shit that is loaded upon me constantly outside the classroom that really makes continuing working here hard.

No. 1 Korean

Posted in Uncategorized on December 6, 2010 by kingcal

Well, my weekend was pretty eventful. Friday, because of the lamest possible injury I suffered in hapkido class on Wednesday, I decided not to go to class. Instead, I met some friends and had dinner at a Vietnamese restaurant. It wasn’t anything mind blowing, but it was good. Afterwards, one person went home, but the rest headed to the Beer Barn. I really enjoy that place. It’s the perfect place to start a night. Just straight up cheap beer.

Anyway, we sat there long enough to get free shit. Then, when I went to pay, the guy behind the counter said “Here’s a diary.” It’s not actually a diary. It’s more of a daily planner. But it says diary on it. I guess, I just look like someone that’s got shit to write down. So many of the best writers were alcoholics, no?

Went to Rock Station for awhile. It was pretty much just a large group of friends there singing karaoke. There was also a group of like four older Korean guys that kept arm wrestling people in our group. They really wanted to arm wrestle me, but I was in no mood. Mostly because they were all really good at arm wrestling and I didn’t feel like getting embarrassed by old Korean guys.

After awhile, I got kind of bored, though. Karaoke really isn’t my thing. I ended up in Dolce, but I wasn’t really in the mood for that either. It was Salsa Night there, though by the time I got there it had regressed to just a general hip hop night. Not a dancer, or a singer, so I was just not really participating in all the fun everone else was having. Just sat and drank for awhile before I got sick of it enough to leave.

Saturday I woke up, had lunch, and met a friend to go to Seoul. When we got there, we met up with a third person and headed to Hongdae to get the third guy a phone, since he’s new to Korea. It was pretty easy. After that, we just walked around, wasting time. Got some coffee. Headed to the park area. When we got there, as usual, there was something interesting going on. A big ass trampoline was set up, and there was this tiny like 2 year old Korean girl jumping on it holding some balloons while some people filmed her.

We stood around for maybe 5 minutes watching. It was only around 5:30 PM, and it would be a couple more hours before other people started to show up to go to bars, so we weren’t really sure what to do in the mean time. Just at that point, a Korean woman came up to us and said she needed a guy to go up on the trampoline, so Steve volunteered. Then she came back and said she needed a second guy, so I got up there. We held a sign cut in half that said “nature” in Korean, and a maybe 10 year old girl holding a fake potted plant got up there and jumped with us.

We were up there for maybe just 10 minutes. Had to do a couple different takes because apparently the camera guy wasn’t ready every time the woman in charge started the countdown for us to start jumping. After it was done, I gave the chick my e-mail. Hopefully I’ll hear back soon. She did tell me they were shooting for a band’s music video, and the band was called No. 1 Korean. She said they were on YouTube, but the only stuff I found was for a song called the same thing by a much more popular artist. They are on MySpace though. So, yeah, I’m going to be in a Korean ska band’s music video. That’s the best part of Hongdae. The random shit that’s always going on there always provides an opportunity for adventure.

Pretty soon after we started drinking. At first, it was just the three of us, but after a couple pitchers, more people showed up. It ended up being about the perfect night drinking wise. I got drunk, but never wasted. Seemingly, I was bottomless. I have a hard time recalling a night where I drank more, but I never lost control or blacked out. So I was pretty happy with it. The only hitch was when I got into the cab to go to the jjimjilbang, I lost my phone in the cab. When I realized it, almost immediately after getting out of the cab, I was upset, but drunk enough to just give it up for lost.

Luckily though, in a rare event, luck actually bounced my way. I ran into a friend and his Korean girlfriend at the jjimjilbang, so she called my phone. The taxi driver answered and they agreed to bring it back, for the small fee of just 4,000 won. There are no free favors here, I suppose. I think he just turned the meter on for the time when she called to whenever he showed up at the jjimjilbang. Whatever. It’s certainly worth the 4,000 won to not have to go through the hassle of getting a new phone.

Sunday was a little different. I got home around 12:30 PM and just watched movies and TV shows until it was time for the language group. When I got there it was only three foreigners and me, so I kind of gave up on the idea of studying that night, even though Koreans showed up a little bit later. Also, I was just not in the mood. As much as I want to learn Korean, and as much energy I put into it, sometimes I regress to a point where I’m like “Fuck, I don’t want to know this language. It makes everything so much more complicated.” The phase doesn’t occur often or live long, but it does happen. I’m not really sure why.

I also got kind of depressed sitting there, so I left. It sounds dumb, but the reason I was depressed was because a girl there was just too beautiful. I think any person from the group who reads this could pretty easily understand who I’m talking about, so maybe it’s not the best idea to write about it, but whatever. Recently a woman has been showing up that’s just 10/10 drop dead gorgeous beautiful. I feel like I have no occasion to talk to her. It’s not because she’s intimidatingly beautiful, though I have met a rare couple women with that quality.

She’s got a very warm, kind, open personality. I just can’t think of any reason to talk to her. I know more than a couple of the guys in the study group are interested in her. I, myself, at this point am not. That’s actually why I don’t want to talk to her. Right now, aside from being beautiful and a very general impression I get from being around her, I don’t know her very well. I just want to keep it that way. Not because I think she’d spoil some idealistic image I have of her. I’m just concerned that I’d end up falling for her, so I avoid all the embarrassment and heartache by not talking to her. Yes, stupid, I know, but entirely depressing.

Monday at work was a little strange. I was expecting a new teacher, because Diane said someone was replacing her. I got a call from Mr. Lee at 9:03 AM saying I had to come to his office to help revise textbooks. What it really was was his designer for the books was incorporating my revisions into the file she had, and basically all I had to do was pick out the pictures to go with each question or whatever. It was pretty much a waste of my time.

I met the new teacher and we chatted a bit. Had lunch, then showed up to teach about 5 minutes before class started. I was under the impression Diane had quit and the new teacher, Jane, would be working in her stead. Instead, I found out over lunch that Jane would actually actually be co-teaching with me. That is to say, she would be sitting in the back of the room watching me teach all day. When I found this out, I was a little pissed off. I mean, to me it seemed like because of the fairly recent event with the student which prompted several students to be pulled from the program, and the apparently endless wave of complaints Mr. Lee tells me he receives, the case was that she was there to babysit me and make sure I’m not beating these kids or something.

Still, having her in the classroom did make things easier. Especially with the first grade class. They were thrown a little by a new person, so there behavior in general was a little bit better, and when some of them did start to act up, she was helpful in getting them to settle down without necessarily needing punishment.

Overall, the day was pretty good, actually. We started new books, so there was lots of new work to do. With my second two classes I started a new exercise after someone mentioned what he did in his classes. Basically, it’s an extension of my points system. I put up 10 points on the board, and every time that a student speaks in Korean, I take away one point. If I take away all ten points, then I’m going to give the kids a writing assignment. If they still have points left at the end of class, everyone gets a point.

I have never had a class so silent before yesterday. It was ridiculous. At first, the kids were like “Shit, we can’t speak Korean anymore? Damn!” but then they adapted pretty well. They made much more effort to speak only in English, and if not, they just didn’t speak. It was amazing. Definitely incorporating this into all my classes from now on.

I’m a little less excited for today. One class has a new kind of book. Something totally different from the rest of the books we’ve used in the entire time I’ve been here. Not exactly sure how I’m going to teach it yet. Also, it’s one of my long days. Never excited for those. But I’ll get through it.