Archive for September, 2011

Stand By Me

Posted in Uncategorized on September 21, 2011 by kingcal

Well, recently I’ve had a big surge in my motivation to learn Korean. No particular reason that I can think of. Just a couple nights ago I got really in the mood. Feeling really pro-active about finishing some of the books I have that I never finished. It comes at a cost, though. I have zero motivation to go to the gym. I actually tried to go yesterday, but I didn’t have my card (lost in my wallet), and the manager wasn’t there, so I couldn’t get a new one. Used the time productively anyway and ran some errands, then came home and studied some more.

I’m currently working my way through a kid’s comic book called The Unstoppable Dinosaur Explorers. It’s pretty funny. Most of it is fairly easy. No tough grammar, since it’s for kids. Just don’t know some words, so I use my dictionary for 2-3 words a page. Though, between every couple chapters are fact about dinosaurs… One page forced me to look up 29 words. They’re written on a much higher level. Makes me feel a bit like a tool. On the subway today, I brought the book with me. I didn’t feel like looking up words, since the subway was really crowded, so I just sat and read it. I read about 60 pages and understood it for the most part. Some words here and there eluded me, but a lot of words are used over and over, so if I had looked them up before I knew them, and a lot of them I could generally guess at by context within the sentence and the picture. On the way back, I went back and looked up words I didn’t know. I had followed the story pretty well, without knowing every single word.

It made me feel pretty good. I mean, this is essentially how kids learn lots of new words. They just read and don’t necessarily understand every word, but they either figure it out through context, or perhaps ask an adult, but I certainly never used a dictionary when I read a book. I don’t really remember ever asking adults what a word meant much either. Finally getting to a pretty good level with my overall understanding. Still, I’d like my speaking to get a bit better. I really almost never ever practice.

Anyway, this week hasn’t been my favorite at work. I don’t know why, but I’ve been a bit grumpy. Maybe because the construction crew that started building something right next to my window on Monday morning at 7:30 AM wakes me up and disturbs my sleep every day now. Fucking blows. Anyway, the kids have been getting on my nerves a lot recently. Really testing my patience.

Wednesdays are also usually my least fun days. I give lots of tests on Wednesdays to take up time. I don’t like my Wednesday schedule in general, so the less time I spend actually teaching, the better. My kindergartners did just okay on their tests. Two really good scores, but a couple others were just okay, and two not so great. I recently started implementing a policy on these tests. If a student scores below a 50% on a spelling test, they have to take it home and have mom sign it, then bring it back. This has had a pretty big effect. The first time one student had to take a test home he had a big crying fit and a near tantrum. Probably didn’t want mom knowing about how badly he’d been doing.

For a long time, a lot of students would never, ever do their homework. I tried in class rewards and punishments, but many students simply didn’t care about gaining/losing check, writing assignments, or time out. In my last student reports, I made a point of mentioning that students weren’t doing homework, and I noticed a pretty immediate improval. One of my kindergartener’s moms actually sent me a fairly lengthy note apologizing for her son and telling me he’d do his homework from now on. It’s true that English hagwons can be glorified day care for some kids, and the parents don’t necessarily care how well they do, some parents really do.

For example, we had a spelling test in my first grade class today. There’s one student that is not extremely far ahead of the others (the class in general is pretty bright), but he’s obviously the highest level. It’s a bit surprising. Usually girls are the best at English. In 18 months here, only two boys have been the best in the class for my classes. Anyway, he told me before we took the spelling test that his dad promised if he got 100% that he’d take him out for fried chicken for dinner. That’s really what a lot of these kids need. For their parents to get interested.

Students to some extent want to impress the teacher, and for most students, in-class rewards are nice, but not terribly important. I’ve noticed that my best students all have parents that are actively involved in their kid’s education, and it’s certainly not a coincidence. I really wish more of my student’s parents cared. Especially for the amount of school that Korean kids have to go through.

Anyway, my arm is still feeling weird from China. It’s mostly normal, but extended periods of typing make it sore and tired. I guess it’s time to wrap this up. My weekend is fairly undefined at this point. I’ve got lots of options, but I’m not sure exactly how I’m going to tie them together.

China for Chuseok

Posted in Uncategorized on September 14, 2011 by kingcal

It’s been quite a long time since my last blog post. Nothing to important has happened, besides China.

I wasn’t really sure what to expect from China. There were a lot of weird things going on for me at the airport. It all started right after work when I went to six different ATMs and none of them would read my card. I had all of about $20 on me at the time. Luckily, my travel partner agreed to front me some extra cash she had, so I could actually do stuff in the country once we got there.

Anyway, that kind of got my trip started off on the wrong foot. From the get go I was on edge about everything and really snappy. It’s a side of me that very few people ever see of me. Money is probably about the only thing that really stresses me out, and combined with traveling, the prospect of suddenly not having money was really shitting in my cut. When we got to the airport, I was more relaxed, but I still felt really strange. It was the first time I’d been in an airport since I came to Korea. It felt like kind of a big deal. But since we got there at like 9:30 PM the place was practically empty. It was a strange dichotomy between the feeling that there should be some extreme importance to the moment coupled with the place being completely empty. Anyway, got some sleep on a bench and woke up just a bit before 6 AM to get ready to fly.

I don’t want to dwell on it a lot, but there was a bit of an incident in the morning which didn’t exactly help me stay calm. Because of the amount of people getting ready in the girls’ bathroom, my friend took 40 minutes to get ready, and I was seriously stressing about whether or not we would be able to get to the gate in time to board. We made it there with like five minutes to spare according to the ticket, and then of course sat for like another 15 minutes after that while the last of the stragglers got on. So in reality, we weren’t that bad off, but it still shook me up a bit.

When we got to China, it was kind of a shitty day. Cool and rainy. I had thought about packing a jacket or something, but decided not to waste the space, since I was only carrying one bag with me. We found our hostel fairly easily. The subway in Beijing is constantly packed. Attendants have to stand at each door or each car and yell at people to move aside, otherwise the people getting off would never be able to, since so many people are rushing to get on. The good thing is they run the cars every 2-5 minutes, so it’s not a big deal if you can’t get onto one.

After checking in, we had some lunch near our hostel. The place had literally a 30 page menu. Lots of different food. We ended up eating there for almost every meal and never had the same thing twice. After that, we immediately went to Tianamen Square. We saw the memorial to Mao Zedong and entered the Forbidden City, but the thing was so huge we only got to see like half of it before we got the warning that it was about to close. I was dumbfounded by how large it was. Coming from America I’m used to things that sprawl on forever, but having gotten used to the Korean vertical lifestyle, going back into the spread out stuff felt even more immense to me.

We went back and had dinner, then called it quits a bit early because we were both so tired. I stayed up a bit later than my friend to talk to some people in the common area, but after a day of travel and walking all around, I decided to hit the hay around 11 PM. Sunday we woke up around 7 AM and got breakfast, then headed to see the Temple of Heaven. The temple was a collection of several buildings inside a rather large park. The park itself was already beautiful. It was big enough that there were several parts of woods between paved paths, where there were only dirt footpaths. You couldn’t really see the paved parts, and you could almost feel alone. It was almost like going back in time. Really amazing feeling.

We headed back a little after noon to get some lunch then go our own seperate ways for an afternoon/evening. I wanted to go Hashing. I had the details on when and where they would be, so I got on the subway and headed there. I was early of course, but I still couldn’t help but feel like I had done something wrong. Luckily, I just waited around until I saw someone in running clothes walk up the stairs from the subway. We found the restaurant where we would be having dinner after the run, stashed our bags and got down to it. The run was really different that what I’m used to. I could go into extensive detail, but to most people it wouldn’t be all that interesting. There was one really, I wouldn’t say surprising, since we were in Communist China after all, thing.

They are required to tell the police where and when they’ll be running. And because of this, there’s a lot of importance on staying together. Just in case something did go wrong, they’d all take care of it together. They told me that they’d been stopped by police before, and when they said they were running just for fun, the police didn’t understand the concept. Because they used flour to mark the trail, the cops had a CSI team come and check every dollup of flour to make sure it wasn’t anthrax or something.

Anyway, after the run we had a great dinner. Then after that, we headed to a bar for the normal Hasher extra-curricular activities. I don’t believe I paid for a drink all night, Every time I even got near the end of a beer someone was already handing me another. Friendly kennel, no doubt. They even got me in a cab and made sure I could get back. Unfortunately, the taxi driver was not quite so helpful. When we got to the train station near my hostel, there was a bit of a disagreement about the price. We argued for a bit and I finally handed over some money and got out of the cab pissed off. It wasn’t until moments after the cab had pulled away that I realized while we had argued my wallet was on my lap, and when I got out of the cab it had fallen down somewhere in the cab. I was also not immediately familiar with where I was, which only added to the stress.

I ended up making it back without much trouble, once I oriented myself near the exit I had gotten to know. Got into the hostel and just crashed. I woke up 2-3 hours later quite abruptly when I was being informed that we had signed up for a tour group to go to the Great Wall, and it would be arriving in 30 minutes, so we had to pack up, check out, and catch the van. I was in less than a great mood overall. Luckily I had no credit cards, had seperated my cash so I only lost like $40, but I was still pretty sour about it. Still, once we got to the Wall, it was pretty hard to still be upset about it.

We took a cable car up the mountain to the wall, and then we had about an hour and a half to explore. We actually reached the end of a section, which had a sign to tell people they weren’t allowed to go any further. So we kept going. For the main part of the wall, if not immaculately preserved or reconstruced, it was at least kept clean and functional. The piece we found was completely overgrown. Bushes taller than myself by several feet grew up from the Wall. There wasn’t any more brick to walk on, just a dirt footpath. Even at one of the wonders of the world, you could find a place to really feel alone. It was amazing. I think I had a stupid ear to ear grin the entire time. Unfortunately, it was a bit of a smoggy day, so the pictures I got weren’t that great, but you still couldn’t beat it.

We tobogganed down the mountain. Yes, tobogganed. It was fun as hell. Got back on the bus and went back. During the tour we also saw jade and silk factories, and the Ming Tombs, though those were a bit underwhelming. The tomb was especially disappointing. After the tour we stopped at the hostel long enough to pick up bags and rest a bit, then headed to the airport fairly early. We got there around 8:30 PM or so, and our flight didn’t leave until 1 AM. We just tracked down the gate and tried to rest, but it wasn’t really happening. My friend got me a piece of cake and some milk for my birthday. There was a group of Chinese girls that thought it was really cute. It was. It cheered me up a bit after an exhausting, emotional rollercoaster of a day.

Unfortunately, the adventure didn’t end after that flight. We had a connecting flight within China, and a six and a half hour layover before our second flight. What we didn’t know until we landed at 2 AM was that the airport closes completely, and we got kicked out of doors until the airport opened again at 5:30 AM. Then we had to wait in the lobby until 6:40 AM when check-in started. So much for getting some sleep. So, between Sunday and Monday night, I probably got 4 hours of sleep at the most. Dozed very, very lightly on the plane and bus ride back to Cheonan, but by the time I got home, I was too glad to be back to really bother sleeping. Besides, someone I knew was leaving, so I went to go Hash with them one last time. Talk about tired. I slept like the dead last night. Still got some sleep to catch up with.

My calves are absolutely dead. As well as my right forarm. No idea why. Woke up extremely sore on Monday. I didn’t notice it much, but now it’s less sore, but feels extremely weak. I’ve noticed that fine finger movements are a bit impaired. Writing and using chopsticks feels a little clumsy. Typing is a huge chore. I essentially can’t use my ring or pinky fingers to type. In the typing position, those fingers just curl up like dead, useless nubs and won’t do what I tell them. I decided to skip the gym, maybe for the rest of the week, to catch up on rest and to hopefully let my arm recover. I can barely make a fist, so I don’t know how well I’d be able to lift weights right now.