Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Album of the Day

The Band: Delta Spirit 
The Album: Ode to Sunshine (2007)
Favorite Song: Strange Vine
Why: I can't really pigeon hole Delta Spirit into one category. They have a bit of that Dr. Dog, Fleet Foxes and Moondoggies feel to um. That kind of band with an old soul, and not one that has been manufactured for profit and commercial success. The music comes from the hearts of those who are products of parents who were fans of the Bryds, Beach Boys and ragtime jams, and the minds of the kids who were subjected to all that when they were growing up. 

Their music is just hopeful. Not a Christian rock band kind of hopeful. But rather just having a positive, fun loving vibe to all of it, while still acknowledging the headiness of everyday life. It's optimistic. It's something I can really get down with when I'm not trying to think to hard, and just generally want to sit around and enjoy life. The jangling keys, the out of left field surf rock rifts, and general lounging around drawl of it all makes this album perfectly at home in the summer months. And being that I'm living somewhere where it still feels a hell of a lot like summer, i'm going to be spinning if for the months to come.

Give a listen:

Further Reading: I'm a big fan of the website Daytrotter. Delta Spirit , as well as a slew of other bands have recorded sessions with them, and I always seem to find myself enjoying these alternate takes.

***Sidenote: This video reminds me a whole lot of The Walkmen's video for "We've Been Had," in which the band members also beat the living shit out of each other.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

In the Shit, Part 2: Electric Boogaloo

In school the interactions with my fellow teachers, Vice Principals, Principal and others goes as far as a simple bow, and a friendly “annyong haseo” here and there. And that is about it, nothing more, nothing less. I’m lucky if some of them even show up with their class when they come to my room.

Where the relationship I have with my co-workers and student’s parents can really be summed up is in the stories that accompany my experiences eating dinner with them.
Korean culture is one of community; one of sharing everything with the masses, and one that has zero grasp of the (Western ideal…I guess) of the importance of the individual. Also notably, the idea of excess.

That said everything is a gathering, a big production. Gone are my days of being able to sit at a bar by myself and have a few beers. Eat dinner, and have a peaceful evening out and about.

Dinner 1 – Dinner one was by far the tamest. Actually nothing was really out of the ordinary about it. But it was my first experience with Korean dining.

My co-teacher Mi-Jeong, John (a fellow English teacher at one of my school. He hails from Brooklyn)and I went to a sashimi restaurant, aka heaping plates of raw fish. Not my favorite but, I dug right in, octopus tentacles, eel skin and all. As things have progressed I’ve actually come to love this dinner choice, and have gotten really comfortable with eating just about anything. This was also my first experience with the wonderful tradition of floor dining. Which I’m not used to as is, and was made even worse by the fact that at this point in time I was nursing a horribly sprained ankle. Needless to say I was squirming, and fun was being poked at me the whole time. Overall though good dinner, and it was a great introduction to Korean dining.

Dinner 2- Dinner 2 is where things started to get interesting. The entire staff of Hanmaunm Elementary (about 30 of us) packed into a big room at a Korean BBQ joint. Korean BBQ has become by far my absolute favorite thing to eat here. It comes in all shapes and sizes, but to sum it up, it’s a bunch of meat, that you cook for your self on a plate on the table, that’s about it. And its scrumptious.

Luckily dinner this time was right next door to my apartment. As soon as we sit, the Soju glasses are turned over, and it is all-downhill from there. It is pretty much standard that if you glass if ever empty, it will be immediately filled. Considering this was a Friday and my first rambunctious dinner with my fellow workers, I kind of just let loose and had a blast.
Eating dinner with a big group of Koreans can be a pretty awesome experience. They love making speeches, which I think is hilarious and awesome. The more and more the booze is flowing, the more frequent the speeches become. Back home we would call someone that drink as much as they do a lush, but for them it’s just part of their culture. They are the happiest god damn drunks in the world and can be a good time.

They are a very shy people, and when they start drinking, like many other cultures. They really start to loosen up. The Vice Principal was feverishly talking to the English speaking teacher and wanting her to translate everything to me. He kept grabbing my arm, raising it in the air and proclaiming “TAYLOR TEACHER, GOOD TEACHER.” I accepted all his random praise and all of his drink offerings and poured some for him and the principal as well. Overall I walked away from this dinner making a very good impression, and having a really good time. The Vice Principal even invited me to Chuseok dinner (Thanksgiving) with his family! When Chuseok rolled around, guess what? He forgot about that invite! Cause he was too drunk to remember! Surprise surprise.

Dinner 3: Dinner 3 was one of the more completely spontaneous ones, a habit of theirs. 4 p.m. rolls around, you definitely have plans for after work, not to mention it’s a school night, and then the question gets dropped on you “WE GO TO WAYSHEK!?!?” This is of course what they call these dinners.

I kind of reluctantly agree, because disagreement here = disrespect. It’ sashimi again. Dinner goes much like dinner 2, less folks came to this one, but of course the VP showed up and was in rare form. Pouring drinks left and right, and repeatedly saying “TAYLOR TEACHER, GOOD TEACHER.” He is a nice man, and I really wish I could carry on an actual conversation with him, as well as a handful of my other teachers. They are all so eager to chat you up, they are generally an incredibly friendly people. Here I feel much like I did when I was in Ireland, the only difference being that in Ireland I could actually communicate back when people were kind to me. So it gets a bit frustrating not being able to reciprocate.

Dinner ends and we get a ride home with the Grade 2 teacher, she is bumping righteous jams in her SUV on the ride home. We drop the Vice Principal off, but before he leaves he mutters something in Korean in my direction. The two teachers in the front seat giggle, and take off. I ask what he said, and they say he just gave me a Korean nickname. What is it, I asked, to which they replied, “He called you bottomless bucket.” I really don’t know how to take that at first, but it was explained to me later that all it means is that he is very impressed with how much I can eat and drink. I guess that’s a good thing. This was with the folks at Hanmaumn again by the way.

Dinner 4: Dinner 4 was my first experience with the folks from Seongup Elementary. And boy, are they NOT shy.

Seongup is generally a lot more rambunctious of a school. The kids are crazier (but have a lot better personality i.m.o), and the staff has just been really welcoming to me from day one. They have a female principal too, which here means, uber progressive school.

Dinner this time was sort of to be expected. Sports Day had just occurred, and it’s kind of big deal here. Classes get cancelled for a week for the most part in preparation for this day. Needless to say, the teachers put a lot of work into this and they were very excited to celebrate the fact that it was finally all over.

I rode with the Grade 5 teacher and the Vice Principal back to the city. About 10 mins into the ride the VP, who knows very little English, manages to bust out the question “How many bottles of Soju can you drink?” I really don’t know how to answer this question. I say modestly say “uhhhh two,” to which he replies “that is good amount for man your age.” This sets the tone for the evening.

We get to dinner in Tapdong, which is on the Jeju-si waterfront area. Guess what’s for dinner? Sashimi once more. I sit down at one of the two tables our group occupies; unbeknownst to me I had sat at the “drinking table.” I genuinely had a lot of fun with this group at dinner, they even let me make my very own first Korean dinner speech. A speech whose applause and cheers was delayed until after the only English speaking teacher has translated it all. I chatted up the PE teacher, as much as I could about fishing. But we came to a vague agreement that he would take me that weekend.

Dinner is never the end of the night here. The party, the after party, the hotel lobby, they fully believe in ALL OF IT. I get whisked away to a nori bong with my entire school staff. We sit down at a big ole table, and the beer keeps on coming. The PE teacher is the first to bust into song, some Korean jam. The whole staff is (well drunk) and busting a move. I promptly get pushed up on the stage and am told to sing. For any of you that know me, this is not an issue. When I have been drinking I practically beg for a microphone. So my first pic of this evening is Van Morrisons –Brown Eyed Girl. A song they seem to really enjoy. After the applause, and the “Taylor teacher, very good singer” comments, the grade 2 teachers approaches me swaggering and yelling “TAYLOR TEACHER, ME YOUR BROWN EYED GIRL!?!?!?!?!” After this night, I vowed to never sing that song in front of my Korean co-workers again, turns out they all have brown eyes, and are mostly women.

After my rendition and a few more songs I sit down next to the Vice Principal and he promptly directs me to the fruit basket and nuts that are on the table (they LOVE fruit baskets.) I go to eat a nut and he gives me the “anyo” look. He grabs in out of my hand and shoves it right in my face. It takes me a moment to figure out what the hell is going on here. Turns out he’s trying to force feed me peanuts. I kind of take it and awkwardly laugh. And then he does it once more. Once again, saying “no” here is a sign of disrespect, so when awkward shit like this happens, you are kind of just have to roll with it. Then he motions for me to feed peanuts to him, I hesitate and he grabs my hand and shoves it towards his mouth.

Don’t worry, this escalates.

As if eating the peanuts was our vows, he then proceeds to the reception, and gives me a lovers toast. You know, where you pretzel up your arms and then take your drink. This happens several times. And then to consummate it all he puts his hand on my leg and proceeds to hold my hand for a while and swing back and forth and sing a bit. I was kind of just staring off into space at this point, thinking happier thoughts and wondering when this encounter would end. I escaped, by volunteering to go up and sing “Yesterday” with some of the teachers, probably some of the only English that they know.

I want to take this opportunity to thank the Beatles for taking over the world with their melodies and their quirky English sensibilities some 50 years ago. John, Paul, George and Ringo I salute you.

We soon left the noribong, and most of the staff was going to continue on to more boozing. I luckily was able to escape. Not because I wasn’t having a lot of fun, bust mostly because it was a Thursday night, and I really don’t feel like teaching their screaming students hung over in the morning. Oh yeah, and there was the whole leg touching.

Next day, the VP, PE teacher and Grade 4 teacher didn’t show up for school.

This is getting long winded so I’m going to cut it of here, and save the last dinner for an entry of its own. While these are all fun, the last one was kind of a frustrating situation, so the tone is a bit different.

All in all, this is a very merry eating and drinking culture. They love celebrating together and having a really good time. They take their day jobs extraordinarily seriously and go absolutely crazy when they have the chance. It’s actually a pretty cool thing to be a part of. They pride themselves in what they do, and do it well. And they know how to give themselves a hefty, drunken, pat on the back.

Monday, October 11, 2010

In the Shit, Part 1

As I sit in my classroom, children screaming bloody murder behind me, I bring to you my first real entry since I've been here.

Long story short, I'm enjoying my myself.

First off, what I'm here for technically: Teaching

I teach at two different schools, both of which are about an hour away from my apartment. Hanmaumn Elementary is near the south eastern coastal town of Pyosan, while Seongup Elementary is in, well...Seongup. Both schools are minutes away on the same road, so aside from the fact that they are a bit of a hike from my apartment, I guess that qualifies as some sort of minor convenience. I would tell you about my carpooling shenanigans, but instead I will just direct you to my previous blog entitled: Korean Karpool.

At both schools, I am teaching grades 1-6. When it boils down to it, I teach anywhere from 15-20 courses a week. Some classes I see multiple times a week (grades 3-6) and some I see only once (grades 1-2....good riddance.) Hanmaumn I am at Mon-Wed, and Seongup Thurs-Fri. While some of my fellow English teachers are serving their time here as English Robots, who are at the beckon and call of their students homeroom teachers masters, I roam the classroom landscape free as a bird. By that I mean, I have no help from other teachers and I plan things on my own. At first it seemed daunting and that I was getting a little screwed over, but in the long run, the other folks are the ones who got the short end of the stick. I'm actually getting the experience of planning and conducting my own courses completely on my own, which will be great for me once I go back home and continue to teach. I got thrown into the fire, thats for sure, but I've came out with only a few bumps and bruises so far, and it only gets better on the daily.

The Elementary Schools have a set curriculum, complete with terrible text books and cd-roms.

Exhibit A:

Imagine the thrill of having the kids repeat, "WAIT WAIT" and "I"M COMING," over and over and over again. Needless to say, for me the text books are just the framework of what I need to teach. I gather the key phrases from the chapter and make up my own way of teaching it to make it a lot more interesting. The books are helpful, thats for sure, but at times, pretty damn useless.

My grade 3 classes at both my schools are far and away my favorite. They are just getting excited to learn, and pick things up the quickest. There are excited about activities and always just have all sorts of great energy. The grade 1-2 kids I often just don't know what the hell to do it, and mostly just feel like a baby sitter sometimes, and the kids in grades 5-6 can just act like they are way to cool to do anything. It's really tough to get them excited about ANYTHING. Grade 4, is just an awkward transition period, and the text books I have to use for them, and the lesson ideas are by far the most vague and tough to teach.

Some days the kids are absolutely wonderful, and the joy I get out of seeing them actually pick something up and run with it, is unexplainable. The days they just get it, make me realize even more that his is indeed what I want to do, I really do enjoy it that much. Then there is those other days. The ones where you secretly wish the teachers were still using corporal punishment on their students. These kids are BAD. Unless your living some Dangerous Minds type scenario with inner city youth at your school back in the states, you haven't seen these types of behavioral issues in such large quantities. A.D.D. kids don't have shit on the madness of Korean school children. Kicking, punching, screaming, literally beating the shit out of each other. Running around, jumping on tables. On the days they are riled up, you are powerless. That is just how the day is going and you have to try and figure out how to deal with it. It's a group craziness. When one kid is like this, they are ALL like this, even the "good kids."

It's kind of like this. Nevermind, that's actually funny. It's more like this. Yeah, just like that, ALL DAY LONG.

I know there is a language barrier to blame for some of the frustrations that come from trying to get them to calm down and listen to me, but sometimes they just DON'T give two shits about listening, and either do their teachers. There are somethings in a classroom, and fucking life, that are just universal, ie. shut the hell up and don't scream unprovoked (especially in the classroom), don't beat the hell out of your friends (or stab them, yeah that happened already), and just other really simple things here and there that help prevent general chaos. The kids understand what I'm telling them to do, telling them to chill, they just choose to make it a game. Stop me if I'm being nieve here, but this is definitely part of the education system here that frustrates me. When the kids are chaotic, they generally could care less to stop them and just accept the fact that they probably ain't going to learn anything today. To me that is a little warped.

All that said. It's their culture. I'm here for a year. I'm not out to change who they are. And bottom line is I deal with it. It may be frustrating at times, but it's just how it goes.

And there is the fact that the kids are just so overwhelmingly cute. You become merciless.

Contrary to that slight rant. I am having the time of my life so far in the classroom and I can only see it getting better and better. Classes will sporadically get cancelled on a regular basis. Sometimes they tell me, sometimes they don't. You just really have to go with the flow here, and not get too uptight about it all.

I generally have a lot of time free in my afternoons to plan for my classes for the next day, and do just this, screw around on the internet. That said I never have to take any work home, so that is a major plus. All and all it's a pretty sweet gig.

This is getting long winded, so I'll cut it off here. But stay tuned for part 2: The Faculty / Staff / Parents.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Criterion is making me salivate....

I need a Blu-Ray player stat. All these being released soon by Criterion. My head just went POP.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Twisting Tongues on Terribly Boring Day

For the most part this week, I have not taught any classes. After a week long vacation, i'm feeling a bit rusty, and this is making it even worse. Preparations for field day are taking precedent over classes all week, preparations which include; synchronized "She's All That" type dancing, and eerie military like marching on the field. That said, I've spent all my free time on Monday with no class, planning for the whole week, all lesson which I now have not taught and are just going to be rolled over into next week. Oh the joys of being a teacher in Korea.

That said I decided to fine tune one of my lessons for the week, by throwing in some non-sensical tongue twisters to help kids practice their phonics.  I think you can tell by their escalation in weirdness that I'm getting a little bit delirious today. This week it's letters A-E, so ultimately I should have a whole alphabets worth of these to weird kids out with. I really want to do some illustrations for some of them as well.

Aardvarks always assume accurately
The apple aggressively ate another apples arm
Adventures alone aren't always all that awesome
The ape arranged an absurdly awesome outfit

Bicycles bound bouncily along the big black bricks
I bought brown bananas at a big blue barn
The baboon bakes big beautiful buns
The blue balloon is bigger than the brown bunny

The cat called the cranky crow a cruel name
I went camping in a canyon with a cool cat named Carl
The cold cookie and the crayon couldn’t clear customs
The caterpillar creeps calmly along side the crusty clown

The donkey dodged the dastardly dragon
The dog ducked to avoid the ducks drooping drapes
Ducks don’t dance on the day after a death
Dirt drenched dolphins don’t do drinks on days that contain the letter “d”

Eager elephants eat evil elves
Everyday eggs are eaten an eel escapes from E-mart
Eagles have enormous, elegant, earthy ears
Every time emus run errands, Elmo escorts them

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Korean Karpool

She picks me up on the morning after the typhoon "ravaged the land."

She smiles, nods, pushes aside her rainbow umbrella, and motions for me to sit in the back seat. A backseat completely void of safety restraints.

I'm 8 again. On the big yellow school bus, praying the bus driver isn't leading me to a firey death in which I'm ejected through the winshield

I creek onto the brittle macro-may seat covers, as she slides on her long, bone white, driving gloves. She places them, with authority, on her shimmering bedazzled steering wheel.

She releases the e-brake, nearly kills it, and stops a block later, and begins to feverishly check her cell phone.

Another teacher, "Mary," finally enters.

"Mary" tells me everyday "you look like boy."

"Mary" and "the driver," whose name I don't, and may never know converse sporadically.

Between the "bongs" and the "bops," I occasionally hear what sounds vaguely like "Tay-ler," and polite giggling follows.

"Mary" tells me the driver would like to speak with me, but she doesn't speak English much, or very well.

Smoke spews into the cabin, via the dash. We stop in the middle of traffic.

"The driver" gets out. Stares at the hood briefly. Does nothing, and then re-enters the car.

With her short gaze, she apparently cauterized the beast's wound. We were on our way.

After 45 minutes of pure silence, "the driver" breaks her English celibacy.

"You not here at 5:00...I leave you."

I exit the car, and saunter up my jungle road.

She releases her e-brake, spews smoke, and puts away.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Bon Voyage

Today is the day. I sit with you now broadcasting from the international terminal at Sea-Tac, getting my last taste of America. By that I mean, I'm enjoying the worlds finest pale ale (Sierra Nevada) a shot of well,...americas whiskey (Jack Daniels it was a sultry $3, damn does that waitress know how to upsell!) and a big beefy burger, with baked beans and potato salad. Mind you it is 11am. Save your judgement, I won't have these indulgences in a long while.

The separation from the folks was definitely tough. Even at the airport with my mom and dad we still bickered. Each telling me different directions to roam, which line to stand in and what I should put in what bag, and what have you. Their last gasp of parenting was endearing, but I had to tell them, I'm going to be facing a lot more adversity then figuring out an airport here pretty damn soon, I'm on my very own and no one will be there to help me. I love you guys so much and will miss you everyday.

Same goes for my friends, the last week or so has been spectacular. For the first time in ages I feel at peace with a lot of things that have troubled me in the past. Some relationships have been rocky, others amazing, but all and all in the end, I left everything on a good note and am very grateful for that. Some of you guys are just as much family to me as the real deal.

Somehow, all of this still has not set in. Will it ever? Do I need a heaping waft of spicy kimchi to wake me up to what I'm actually doing? Only time will till, but until then, I am still blissfully ignorant about the enormity of this change, and exponentially excited about it.

Down the hatch goes the Jack, and I'm on my way.

See you in Seoul.