Sunday, June 27, 2010

Monkeys, Lions and Penguins, Oh My!

-- Am still sick. Oh boy, am I still sick. I felt much better on Thursday and was all, "Ha, this is why I don't take unidentified medicine!" and then I woke up hella sick on Friday and got progressively worse throughout the day. Because irony hates me. At lunch, a co-worker bluntly told me, "You look very bad today." By the end of the day, my students were worriedly asking why I was crying (my eyes were bloodshot - bloodshot with disease) and my co-teacher suggested that I not worry about the after school classes and just take a nap in my office. I asked her if I looked that bad. She gave me a long look and said, "Yes Cait, you look that bad." I finally made it home to a mirror and, yeah, I had sick eyes.  No one wants to hear about me complain about how I'm siiiiiiiiick, but suffice to say I went back to the doctor Saturday morning and my cold has morphed into a fever and some quasi-serious lung issues. The good news is I'm on meds, and while I might be all hippie and organic about medicine, I am fully aware that antibiotics are my friend. The bad news is just now I went to make food happen and I got so dizzy, I had to sit down in my kitchen, which does not bode well for when I have to put on pants and teach children tomorrow.

-- Both Korea and the US were eliminated last night. I'm sad the World Cup is over for me, at least in terms of fan participation. I'm sad being sick robbed me of my last chance to wear devil horns and jump up and down a sing patriotic Kpop songs in a crowd of thousands of Koreans. I'm bummed my students will stop showing up to class temporary tattoos on their cheeks, gleeful and excited about the next game. I'm disappointed I never managed to catch a US game. I'm sad for the players, because they looked so damn happy after Thursday's game and now it's over. And I'm a bit annoyed that I'm going to have to pick a team to root for based on something over than pure nationalism.

-- While waiting for the after school class to start on Thursday (the one day this week where I felt like an actual human being instead of some walking plague factory), my third graders and I played a charade-like game. I would say the name of an animal - sometimes in English, sometimes in Korean - and they would pretend to be the animal. After a good ten minutes of playing, I realized that while I might bemoan the state of my Korean, it's not so much that I don't know any and more that everything I know is useless. God forbid I have to give a taxi driver anything beyond the most basic directions, but I can name every animal in the zoo, which is no help, unless I'm having the taxi drive me around a zoo. Turn left at the monkey isn't nearly as useful of a phrase as I live next to the Daiso.

After School Class - 6.24.2010
After School Class - 6.24.2010After School Class - 6.24.2010
Monkeys, lions and penguins, oh my!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Adventures in Korean Medicine, or How I Got An EKG for a Cold

Korea tied with Nigeria to advance to the next round of the World Cup, which means I get another chance to wear my devil horns on Saturday! I did not stay up to watch the game (it started at 3:30 in the morning), but I did talk about it with my sixth graders in class on Wednesday and they were ~very~ happy. Some students' joy could only be expressed through patriotic song, and several students started warbling, "Oh Daehanminguk! Seungniui Hamseong!" in the back of the class. I am also pleased to see that the US made it to the next round. The game, however, is at 3:30 in the morning, and since I'm sick sick sick, I will be asleep.

Which, right, I'm sick. I'm pretty it's just your generic Death, nothing fancy or special or something that won't clear up after a week or so, but I've been dizzy all week and I'm having trouble breathing, plus I might have had a few mild hallucinations. Or possible there really was a rain of shooting stars over my bed Wednesday morning. I'm sick, my judgment can't be trusted. My co-teachers fussed over me all week and yesterday I finally caved to their demands and agreed to see a doctor for the first time in a year and a half in Korea. (It's nothing against Korean doctors specifically, I just have issues [and a few bad experiences] with over-medicating. I have faith in my ability to tell if something is serious or not, and I have a lot of faith in my body's ability to heal itself of most things with a little time. I think doctors - American and Korean - have a tendency to just throw pills at symptoms, which I don't think will actually help me get better faster, and unless the medication is actually addressing the cause of the disease, I would rather tough it out with over-the-counter pain killers and some good old-fashioned bitching. And I will get off my soap box now.)

I went to the clinic on the second floor of my building.  First I had a consultation with the doctor, who asked me a few questions about my symptoms and ordered a battery of testing, including a lung functions test and an EKG. No, you read that right. The doctor ordered an ELECTROCARDIOGRAM for symptoms that point to a mild viral infection of the lungs, nothing worse than a cold. I went to the next room for my EKG (don't all doctors have a 12-lead EKG in the next room?) and, turns out, my heart is working just fine, not that I was worried. I was never told what exactly the diagnosis was, but the doctor prescribed a whole battery of pills for me to take. And people wonder why I skeptical of doctors.

A Day Worth of Pills
A day worth of pills.  Count 'em - there are fifteen!

I'm not taking the medicine since, well, I don't really take medicine, but I'm already feeling better and its nice to know that I was right and this isn't something serious. The best part, however, is that the whole ordeal - doctor consult, tests and medication - took under an hour and only cost 12,000 won, just over ten dollars. Take note American health care system - you could learn something.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

The Shouts of the Reds!

The Shouts of the Reds - South Korea vs. Argentina
(From left to right: Riah, me and Siobhain at Thursday game.)

It is World Cup season! I realize that no one really cares back home, but South Korea cares passionately and in the weeks leading up to the opening ceremony, I couldn't avoid the bombardment of Red Devil paraphernalia or the overwhelming surge of patriotic pride. (I count at least five different Kpop groups who have recorded World Cup songs in the past few months.) Say what you like about Korea, there are few countries that are better at INTENSE NATIONALISTIC PRIDE! The Shouts of the Red, Be the Devils, KOREA FIGHTING, etc, etc!! Then I caught the opening match at the skewered food house across the street (they will wrap asparagus in bacon and serve it onna stick) and remember, right, I both truly enjoy watching soccer AND, thanks to years of watching my brother's soccer matches, it's the one sport where I actually understand what is going on. And thus I very quickly found myself DEEPLY INVESTED in the World Cup and the Red Devils of Korea.

I watched the first game at a bar up in Sinchon with some friends. It was truly miserable weather - it poured rain all day long - but tons of people still turned out to watch the glorious, glorious game. The bar had been reserved for a friend's birthday, so we were able to actually have seats for the game and room to dance about and bang clappers. Our bar was showing the game was on a fifteen second delay for some reason, which meant we heard the roar of the crowd upstairs when Korea scored their first goal and had a very confused fifteen seconds until our feed caught up. After that we opted to make as much noise as possible to drown out the sounds of any potentially spoiling celebrations from upstairs. Korea won 2-0 and it was wonderful and the rain let up long enough for people to dance in the streets afterwards.

I watched Thursday's game against Argentina at COEX mall. (One of my fourth graders ran up to me in class on Thursday, wearing a Korean soccer jersey and covered in temporary tattoos, and shouted, "BE THE DEVILS, TEACHER! FIGHTING KOREA!" If I hadn't already been excited, their enthusiasm would have been contagious.) The Korea National Football Team Supporters Club erected several huge screens outside COEX and despite the terrible yellow dust and smog and heat, thousands and thousands of people turned up to fill the streets outside of COEX and cheer. Being in that enthusiastic of a crowd for a game I actually cared about was loads of fun, at least until the match turned into a bloody rout in the last fifteen minutes. Halftime, though, was especially fun, since Korea scored a goal just seconds before the buzzer sounded and the entire break turned into one prolonged celebration of the goal.

The Shouts of the Reds - South Korea vs. Argentina
A boy and his vuvuzela. In the background, people are waving clappers, inflatable plastic tubes handed out at any Korean sporting match and are banged together to make a WHOLE LOT OF NOISE.

(You guys, that game. It was a heartbreaker. Like, I knew Korea wasn't going to beat Argentina. No one really thought Korea was going to beat Argentina, not even my die-hard soccer fan co-teacher. But for the middle thirty-five or forty minutes the Korean team played SO WELL and I really thought it might end in a tie.  They were holding their own against Argentina, especially for the first half of the second quarter, and then the Korean defense completely fell apart in the last twenty minutes and it ended in a bloody 4-1 rout and seriously, BREAK MY DAMN HEART, why don't you. I don't think I've ever seen a more depressed subway packed full of people. BUT, Greece beat Nigeria, and we trounced Greece, which means there's STILL HOPE for advancing. Unfortunately, the South Korea vs. Nigeria game is at 3:30 Wednesday morning, which means I can't watch the game and be ~functional~ the next day, but I'm still VERY EXCITED!)

(And don't even get me started on the US-Slovenia match. I didn't even watch it since the US games have so far had the bad fortune of starting very late at night in Korea, but seriously, WHAT WAS THAT! We were robbed and I'm very possible going to have to stay up to cheer during the US-Algeria game on Wednesday.)

(God, I LOVE soccer!)

Red Devil Fans The Shouts of the Reds - South Korea vs. Argentina
Light-up devil horns are a popular accessory for any Red Devil fan! On the left: fans heading home after the Korea-Greece game. On the right: fans lining the streets outside of COEX before the Korea-Argentina game.

The Shouts of the Reds - South Korea vs. Argentina
The clappers are especially useful when chanting. Throughout the game, someone would shout Daehanminguk, the official Korean name for the Republic of Korea, and the crowd for respond, "Daemanminguk! CLAPCLAP - CLAPCLAP - CLAP" This went on for approximately the ENTIRE GAME.

The Shouts of the Reds - South Korea vs. Argentina

More photos and videos are here.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

After School

After School Class - 5.13.2010
Third graders are pack creatures. In the wild, they often wear copious amounts of pink, allowing the pack to blend together into one giant, adorable mass. If they spot a camera, their defense mechanism is to pose, usually with the peace sign, rendering the cameraman unable to attack due to extreme cuteness.

I have epically failed at blogging since, oh, April, which is when my school added an extra four English classes to my schedule. Turns out, I really relied on free time in the afternoons to write blog posts. When I arrived back in March, my school asked if I would teach four after school classes (two groups of kids, twice a week). Since I only see my students once a week and my classes are all 30+ students, the after school classes are really my only chance to build a personal relationship with the kids and give them some individual attention. Also, I am in favor of extra money.

Special Class A - 4.20.10
Hard at work. We made the mistake of telling the students that if they didn't finish their worksheets in class, it would be homework. After that, the kids were too busy trying to finish their work to pay attention.

The classes started in April and well, they've been interesting. For the first month, my co-teacher and I had free reign over, well, everything. We had two classes: one group of twenty third and fourth graders and one group of twenty fifth and sixth graders. For the third and fourth graders, we scrounged up some old phonics books and taught some consonant blends, but we didn't have any books or pre-existing material for the older students. The school wanted me to teach conversation and I spent the few classes killing myself trying to come up with topics that would engage the kids and creating elaborate material to go along with the lessons, but after about a week and a half of staying late everyday trying to get everything done and nearly getting locked into the building a couple of times, I simplified my lessons and got the students to talk by bribing them with vitamin C tablets. Yay for bribery!

After School Class - 5.13.2010
Korean pencil cases are insane. Everyone has one, and they range from merely cute to having three compartments and a roulette game mounted on the lid.

Starting in May, however, the vice principal informed my co-teacher and I that for the rest of the year, the classes would be divided into an advanced class and a basic class. That would be a class for all the advanced students, grades third through sixth, and a class for all the basic students, grades third through sixth. *headdesk* My co-teacher and I both protested, pointing out that third graders and sixth graders need to be taught differently and that even the most advanced third graders can't hope to keep up with even the average sixth graders, much less the advanced ones; the education gap is simple too great. The vice principal had made up her mind though, and the decision stood. We're just the teachers; what do we know. We gave all the students who registered for the after school classes a test to determine what class they would be in, and nine students, all fifth and sixth graders except for one EXCEPTIONALLY bright fourth grader, qualified for the advanced class. We told they rest they were placed in the basic class and chaos broke lose. Several sixth graders, ashamed of being in a class with third and fourth graders and bored by lessons that ultimately end up being geared towards eight and nine year olds, begged their way into the advanced class, where they are hopelessly out of their league and mostly come in late and cut up in the back of class. Meanwhile, the parents of the brighter third and fourth graders who were put in the basic class called the school and demanded that their children be placed in the advanced class. The school caved and three of the more advanced third and fourth graders were moved into the advanced class, where they are also hopelessly out of their league and spend the entire class talking to each other. This means that in addition to having too great of an age range to really be effective, the classes aren't even grouped by ability anymore.

Basically, the classes are a mess, but I've been here long enough to know I can't change them. In a way it's a relief; it give me an out from actually having to invest a lot of energy into the classes. Lesson planning is pretty simple - copy a few pages from the textbook that the school (finally) provided and come up with a game. The basic class plays a lot of bingo and the advanced class plays a lot of hangman. There's a twenty minute gap between the last period of the school day and the start of the after school classes, and the third graders usually show up right away. I take them to the back room, where they treat me like a human jungle gym (the little girls love to be twirled around, the little boys like to jump on me) and they bring me pictures of animals they want to learn the English for. The older students love to draw and I substitute some sort of art project for the game every few weeks. A few weeks ago I gave the advanced class a short story about a catorse - an animal with the head of a cat, the body of a horse, the tail of a mouse and the wings of a butterfly - and told them to make their own hybrids and write a short summery about their animal. Yun Joon Sik's animal had the body of a dragon and the arm of a ninja. That's right, my fourth grader independently created Trogdor!