Monday, January 24, 2011

Cultural Festivities and Balance (23 December)

It’s finally Christmas time and, as my co-teacher said last month during our chat, the rest of the staff seems to have reached the conclusion that I intend staying for at least the duration of my one year contract.  As a result, coming to school is a lot of fun and the next two days should be even more so. 

Music Recital

Today is the first of the two day Christmas festival at my school.  The morning starts with a concert in the auditorium that is more of a music recital.  Several students perform a variety of pieces on different instruments and I can’t help but wonder where they find the time to fit in music lesson never mind actually practise.  One of the Korean teachers informs me that lessons are usually done on a Saturday morning at the school.  The highlight of the performances is a traditional Korean instrument called a haegum which is one that I would love to learn to play. 

Much to my delight, several of the teachers also participate in this concert with two performances: one is a string quartet accompanied by piano and the second is a music video.  The music video is ingenious and I’m still trying to find out who has a copy of it because I would like it as a keepsake!  All of the male teachers at school formed a ‘boy band’ and pretended to sing a song by some Korean artist whom I don’t know.  The video starts with Six-pack and another teacher (wearing a long red wig) embracing each other.  They’re obviously the ‘couple’ who are either saying goodbye or breaking up (I don’t understand the song).  The rest of the video shows the teachers in various locations both around school and around Soryong-dong.  It was so interesting seeing the different personalities of my colleagues.  Some of them really seemed to be enjoying themselves (even playing on slides in a children’s playground while dressed in suits) and the students really responded to the video.  When one of my male colleagues saw me laughing at the end of the video, he seemed a bit embarrassed and curious as to my view of it.  Ironically, seeing my colleagues behaving in such a silly manner actually makes me respect them even more and I really admire them for doing something like this!

Cultural Festivities

After the music recital, everyone has lunch and then heads to the school’s gymnasium where there is a booth set up for each language (English, Spanish, Japanese and Chinese) in addition to a couple of other booths.  The Korean English teachers have done an amazing job of decorating the booths and it’s really interesting to see culture specific items in each booth.  The fact that the teachers also see no problem with making us wear santa hats and Christmas aprons shows just how popular “cute” is in Korea.   

The fantastic English teachers at Jeonbuk Foreign Language
High School, Gunsan, South Korea.  They really are some of
the most amazing teachers I've worked with!
The next 90 minutes fly by as the Kiwis and I prepare numerous bagels, hot dogs, and drinks that are part of our booth’s set up.  Since we’ve run out of food, we now have free time to walk around and participate in all of the other activities which are still running.  The Japanese booth has a really fun traditional kids’ game, kendama, which involves trying to swing a ball onto a wooden spike. It’s purely by fluke that I manage to get this right so I’m quick to hand back the game after being successful – I won’t push my luck.  The Chinese booth also has Mahjong which I’ve only ever played on a computer so even after numerous explanations by several enthusiastic kids and nearly an hour of observing games and trying to figure out the rules, I’m still none the wiser. 


There’s also a Chinese version of hackey-sack which proves far more difficult than I think it will be.  There’s a group of girls and a group of boys playing two separate games: The boys really look like they know what they’re doing and Six-pack is in the middle of this game; the girls’ game which I join involves more chasing of the hackey-sack after someone kicks it out of the circle.  All in all, however, it’s clear that we’re all having a lot of fun.  In fact, so obvious is this point that several of the Korean teachers invite us to taste traditional foods and participate in other games so that this can be filmed for the DVD that the school seems to be making of the festival.  We’re happy to oblige, laughing our way through everything.

By 16:00, we’re exhausted and pretending to look busy just isn’t working as successfully anymore so we just sitting around observing things around us.  We’ve watched a hackey-sack competition on stage (which Six-pack naturally wins) and an olive eating contest of which I’m not really sure of the outcome.  It’s at this point that the batteries in my camera die.  When we hear that the dance contests our classes have all been practising so hard for will be taking place that night in the gym, NZ2 and I immediately decide that we’ll be returning to school.  It’s a good day of bonding with my fellow Korean teachers and I’m prepared to drag this out for as long as possible.  It also means cancelling plans with Catfish which I feel rather guilty about so I invite her to come to my school’s festival that evening, which clearly upsets the balance of waegooks.

Upsetting the Waegook Balance at School

I’m back at school within an hour and waiting for Catfish to arrive when I’m approached by several female teachers I don’t recognise.  They’re keen to chat to me apparently and I’m floored by the fact that they speak fairly good English. My principal and vice-principal seem equally surprised to see me back at school and something tells me that I’ve just earned major brownie points with my colleagues by coming back to school this evening.  When Catfish arrives, I meet her at the front entrance and we head back to the gym where we find a seat nearer to the stage.  I’m not entirely sure what tonight’s events are but we’re having a good time just chatting and figuring out things.  Clearly the female foreign teacher ratio has been unbalanced, however, and male teachers who don’t even talk to me at school are suddenly coming over to chat – again, I never knew some of them spoke English!  I’m starting to think my colleagues prefer Catfish to me but all’s good when they leave us alone once more and we get caught up in the students’ excitement and joy in the evening’s entertainment. 

It’s funny watching the boys dressed as girls – and going all-out to be a convincing girl – and impressive to watch the single female teachers and two of the younger male English teachers perform a really energetic hip hop style dance.  The class dances are just as good and it’s a really enjoyable evening that leaving at 23:30 almost seems quite natural. I love Korean enthusiasm and the fact that the teachers here are willing to get so involved in things like this.  Again, it makes me sad that the teachers back home aren’t this easy-going!  It’s interesting to see how much effort Koreans seem to put into everything: Once they decide to do something, they seem to always give 100% whether it’s work, recreation, studies, friends, family and even silly concerts that only last a day and a half – it’s one of the things I love most about this country…

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