Sunday, June 26, 2011

Comings and Goings (4 March)

Although I really like the second grade students and am looking forward to getting to know them a lot better this year, part of me is sad that I won’t be teaching the first grade students.  I really liked this group of students when I taught them during the winter camp and was looking forward to teaching them this semester so I feel somewhat torn that I’m not able to teach both groups.  I’m very vocal in asking the kiwis to remind the first graders that they’re welcome to come and chat to me anytime and that I hope they’ll come and visit me from time to time.  More than that, I can’t really do.

I’m pleasantly surprised when I arrive at school this morning and am soon met by a first grade student I whose name I actually remember.  He’s brought me a folder with several cool postcards and posters about Korea and tells me that he is part of a volunteer group called “Friends of Korea”.  I’m touched that he’s thought of me and has taken the time to come and talk to me and give me such a cool gift. 

The rest of the day passes in a bit of a blur as I attempt to work out lesson plans – something we didn’t really have to do last year – since there are three teachers for the second graders and we have a textbook from which to teach.  By 5pm, when the kiwis go home for the day, I’m still sitting at my desk working and at 6pm I reluctantly pack up my work and prepare to shut down my computer when Mr Jeong returns from his last class for the day.  He seems surprised that I’m still at school and tells me that he’ll be in the office until 9:30pm anyway.  My enthusiasm seems to confuse him further – particularly since it’s a Friday evening - and he asks if I’m heading down to dinner with the rest of the teachers and students.  I’ve already made plans to meet Catfish for dinner at 7pm but am touched by his constant thoughtfulness.  He’s one of many teachers I truly respect. 

At 7pm, I meet Catfish at our favourite Vietnamese restaurant, Hoa Binh, where the cute guy who works there seems to have been banished to the kitchen while we’re there.  Catfish seems disappointed that she won’t be able to see as usual but it only dampens our spirits momentarily.  Dinner, as usual, is the delicious fresh spring roll platter. 

After dinner, we pop into Lotte mart to use the restroom.  Catfish has just had her eyes tested and has taken a bit of a shine to the optometrist who did her eye examine.  She tells me that this is about the eighth time she’s walked past the front counters of Lotte mart today.  As we head towards the main exit, on our way to Coldstone, Catfish clearly has admirers in the cell phone department and from the optometry counter.  I can’t help but tease her about being a magnet in Korea even she disagrees.  Fortunately, we can both laugh about this as we head to Coldstone, the best ice-cream place in Gunsan!

New Acquaintances (3 March)

Girls’ night is officially re-instated and Catfish and I happily head over to our Kiwi-mom’s apartment for a chat and a round of “10 Days in Europe”.  With the other South African having recently left Korea at the end of her contract, we’re now done to only three players.  However, we have the pleasant surprise of meeting M, a Korean friend of our Kiwi-mom.  She’s the same age as me and Catfish, in her now usual style promptly asks if M is on Facebook – after all, if you live in Gunsan, Catfish will become Facebook friends with you. 

Amidst plans to contact each other, I receive a message from NZ2 telling me that Seokjin, who owns Adventure Korea, has invited NZ2, Catfish and I to join him on this Saturday’s AK hike to Daedunsan.  Since we live less than 2 hours from Daejeon, we can meet the group in Daejeon and hopefully get back to Gunsan in time to meet everyone for NZ2 and his fiance’s  engagement dinner.  Having planned to hike Daedunsan at some point, Catfish and I are only too happy to accept this invitation.  Now, if we can just figure out the bus schedule…

Welcome class of 2013 (2 March)

The new semester finally starts and I’m relieved to finally be back to teaching a regular timetable after two months of deskwarming and attempting to keep myself occupied.  I’m also curious to meet the new teachers since the kiwis and I were at a training session in Buan when the school had a farewell dinner to say goodbye to the teachers who were transferring to other schools and to welcome the new teachers to my school.

One of my new co-teachers seems very reserved and I sense it’s going to be difficult to get to know her.  She seems to dislike me and I can’t quite put my finger on what it is that seems so strange.  I’m a little disappointed to hear that I’ll be teaching half of my classes with her because things feel very strained at the moment.   However, I’m thrilled that I’ll be teaching the other half of my classes with my fantastic co-teacher of last year and feel optimistic that things will even out in some way.  Plus, lessons this year will be far more guided and structured since we will be working from a textbook instead of just a vague syllabus.

Opening Ceremony - Korean Style

The opening ceremony in the auditorium is an interesting experience.  With the presence of several parents – presumably of the freshmen students – there are no seats left and I’m surprised to discover that the auditorium is actually rather hot.  It’s an uncomfortable 40 minutes but rather enlightening too.

I don’t understand anything that’s being said but I’m guessing it is the usual “welcome to our school, we hope you’ll be happy here and work hard” spiel that is usually given at the start of a new school year.  The surprising part, however, is when all of the freshmen stand while a representative for the grade stands directly in front of the podium behind which the principal is standing, and reads an oath on behalf of all of the freshmen.  I later learn that this is the agreement that students stand by to honour the school, respect their seniors and always promise to do their best in all their efforts while they are students of this school. 

Once the oath has been read, the freshmen turn to either their left or their right (whichever is closest to the aisle) while the senior students, who are seated in the outside rows, stand and turn to face the freshmen: they all then bow to each other before leaving the auditorium to commence their classes.  It’s an interesting start to the school year and just one of the many cultural differences I respect and enjoy watching.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Happy Birthday, KiwiKat (1 March)

Today is a public holiday in Korea and I’m grateful that I don’t have to go to school since yesterday there were only 10 people at school: 3 admin staff members and seven of the international staff.  Either we didn’t get the memo (translated) or we really were expected to go to school just to keep our desks company.  The kiwis had the day off to move apartments and, for more than a few moments, I really wish I’d been moving apartments rather than sitting at my desk attempting to prevent my soul from escaping for more exciting pastures.  Nevertheless, today will not be as boring as Catfish and I plan to head to Seoul (Itaewon to be precise) for KiwiKat’s birthday celebrations. 

We arrive in Seoul at 10:40 and make our way to the All-American Diner in Itaewon where she has planned to meet friends for lunch.  Although we’ve told her that we’re attending today, she still seems surprised to see us.  Lunch at the All-American Diner is a salivating experience with so many choices that it’s sometimes hard to choose just one item.  I settle for my trusty old faithful order of a proper hamburger.

Determined to make the most of our day in Itaewon, Catfish and I decide to try and get our hair cut.  We make our way to what KiwiKat has termed the “second-rate hairdresser” where, fortunately, they can fit us immediately.  With slight trepidation, I take a seat and cautiously eye out the scissors that are approaching my hair.  I decide to request just a straightforward trim with the hope that it’s hard to screw up and lose in translation.  Korean hair is cut without being washed – the hairdresser simply dampens it slightly with water and eagerly wields that scissors that I hope will not mess up my hair.  I’m relieved when my hair still looks pretty much as it did prior to the cut and am amused, and somewhat hesitant, when I hear Catfish issuing more complex instructions for her hair.  At 10 000 won (approximately US$10), it is the cheapest haircut I’ve had. 

From there we head to B & T for some clothes shopping and I finally get my black spring coat.  We have a few minutes to kill before heading to Healing Hands for a back massage that a friend of ours booked while we were at lunch.  This turns out to be the most amazing massage and I’m almost sorry that I didn’t book for a longer massage.  From Healing Hands, we meet up with KiwiKat and head to the What the Book? before KiwiKat shows us the heavenly pie shop, Tartine Bakery, that is tucked away in a little known side street on the main road. 

We wrap up the day with dinner at Gecko’s where we’re easily sated with their fish and chips. Sadly, both WanSu and Dan have quit their jobs at Gecko’s in preparation for the next academic semester.  We soon say goodbye to KiwiKat and make our way to the bus terminal for our long trek back to the Dreamhub that is Gunsan.