Monday, April 30, 2012

Multimedia Monday: CSI: Legoland

I'm early for the first time in a while with this! That's because after a string of mediocre essay topics, the advanced textbook really geared it up for the last chapter: "Crime Fighting Scientists." Of course, talking about crime and violence is always a little unsettling and awkward because inevitably things like rape and sexual assault come up. I'm fortunate enough that those aren't triggering concepts for me, but some of my advanced students are at the age where I'm not sure if they've had "the talk" with their parents about the mechanics of sex. Others are old enough to know, presumably, but there's still no way of knowing what kind of discussions they've had about boundaries and consent and "no means no" and so on.

So, I mean, there was that minefield.

Odd that I don't really have much issue discussing murder, though. I guess death is a bit easier to joke about?

Anyway, I started out the class with a bit more levity.

At least one of the CSI variants are ported over here, in addition to The Mentalist and probably other  crime shows I don't know about as well. I started off class by asking if they knew CSI, and what they thought about it and why. Sometimes we chatted a bit more about TV shows in general, if time allowed.

Then I told them I had a video that was like a CSI episode and gave them two questions.

1. Who did it? And why?
2. Why does the man put on his sunglasses?

After checking to make sure they understood the questions, I played the video. In retrospect, I should have pre-taught the words "lumberjack" and "convict," but I don't think it detracted too much from their understanding. The nice thing about whodunnits is that they're pretty straightforward.

I paused at the shot with all three suspects and took a tally to see who everyone thought was guilty, then let the rest of the video play out.

Obviously everyone could give me a good answer for the first question. The language is too quick and kind of too punny for anyone to have been able to answer the second one, I suppose, but I thought my more advanced students might have been able to catch the "axe"/"ask" joke.

I had textbook material to cover, so I left it that, but I'm sure you could exploit the hell out of this. Simple past and sequencing words spring to mind. Putting aside the content, you could also talk about how to create stop motion animated features and review imperatives and giving/following directions as well.

For more videos (with and without lesson ideas), check out the Multimedia Monday tag. If you don't have Internet access on your classroom computer, I recommend YouTubeDownloader HD.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Doing a Good Turn

North Korea flag DPRKI've mentioned before that I tutor North Korean defectors. I've been doing it for a few months now. The whole time I debated whether or not I should mention it here, but I figured there's nothing wrong with encouraging people to do a good thing.

Classes with the North Koreans aren't much different than with my kids, except their English is much more basic and they're much older. They're all rather good-natured and (as far as I can tell) happy to see me. I teach a basic class that has a core enrollment of three students, with two others who drift in and out as it suits them.

The three core students are two men (I'll call them Yunu and Guncheol) and one woman (I'll call her Soon-mi). Pseudonyms are because I'm not sure what their story is so far and I'd rather not inadvertently put them or their families in danger.

Out of all the students, Yunu is the moodiest. He gets frustrated easily, though out of all of them he probably has the highest level. He and Guncheol seem to be good friends, the kind that joke around and give each other shit.  At least, that's what it looks and sounds like, considering my Korean is not much better than their English. They might be actually fighting for all I can tell.

Unlike Yunu, Guncheol is almost always in a good mood. If he makes a mistake or doesn't understand something, he takes it in stride and laughs it off. He also applies himself more than Yunu; even if Yunu's current speaking and listening level might be higher than Guncheol's, Guncheol already understands phonics (yes, we are starting at phonics, that's how basic this is) better than Yunu.

Soon-mi is itty-bitty. I'm sure she's around my age—at most maybe a year or two younger. Yet she stands a full head shorter than me.

In case any of you forgot (or didn't know), I'm damn short. 5'1". Usually I stop towering over people by the time they hit the double digits. I actually have to be mindful of where I write on the board because Soon-mi might not be able to reach it at all. Photos of starving children in Africa are horrible and touching, yes, but something about a grown woman barely coming up to my shoulders is way more personal.

And while Soon-mi is an extreme (the other girls are taller than her), it's still not surprising. The typical North Korean is about six inches shorter than the typical South Korean. (As far as I can tell, Yunu and Guncheol seem average to me, but I am rotten at judging people's relative heights.)

Soon-mi is a sweetheart, though. Her disposition is as sunny as Guncheol's, and the both of them are the hardest workers in the class. The boys joke around with her much like they do with each other, though to a lesser extent.

The classes start at 10:10 in the morning, and while it means I have to get up and out of the house way earlier than normal, I love it. I think it's something every teacher should do, at least a few times. Most of the time, we English teachers have a good life here in the ROK and it treats us pretty well. It's only fair to give something back above and beyond what our jobs call for.

If you're interested in tutoring North Korean defectors, there's a few resources out there:

1. Ask a Korean! has some private connections and will always field inquiries from volunteers to match them with a school. There are also links in the comments.

2. Hana Center, which is affiliated with the official relocation centers for defectors, also accepts volunteers. I'm personally acquainted with Jordan Groh, who works with one of the four centers in Seoul. You can email him (username jordan.groh at the famous Google mail server) for more information.

3. Up here in Uijeongbu, Danny Chung is the guy to get in touch with. If you want to email him, he's neukorea.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Interview: Vagabond Journey

I was interviewed for an article on Vagabond Journey. While there's nothing there I haven't mentioned before on the blog (other foreigners can be knuckleheads, learn some damn Korean, etc) it might be of interest to you to get a larger perspective (or whatever) on teaching in South Korea: ESL in the Fast Lane: Lessons in Teaching English in South Korea.

I will say that it's infinitely weird to be referred to by my last name in "print." I understand that it's convention, but still. Many of my close friends have called me "Koba" for so long that when other people use it in a professional context, it sounds strange. It's like someone using your college nickname in a newspaper article. The only thing more jarring would have been if she had called me "Kobes."

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Multimedia Monday (On Tuesday): Shit Korean Girls Say

I feel really guilty for thinking this is funny, is. At least the actor isn't in Yellow Face.

God, who thought this would be a good idea?
At some point or another I'm going to have to write a post dissecting all of the hate the stereotypical "Korean girl" gets along feminist and racial lines, but until then, I'm going to be really thoughtless about my privilege and share this with you:

Friday, April 20, 2012

Hanging Out at the 편의점: A Defense

The weather is finally warm enough for my favorite Korean past time: drinks and 안주 in front of the local 편의점. In my case, it's a FamilyMart.

Arguably, it's not the classiest of past times, but I think patronizing the 편의점 gets an unnecessarily bad rap. Perhaps I am too much of an apologist, as Jong-min insists I enjoy it more than Koreans do. If that's the case, my rebuttal is that obviously Koreans don't enjoy it enough, because there are plenty of reasons to loiter in front of the GS25 instead of throwing your money into the shadowy recesses of a bar!

1. Economics

It's just cheaper. I can go to a bar and pay six thousand won for one cocktail, or I can go the FamilyMart and use that six thousand won to get two bottles of soju and a bag of chips. One drink? Or fourteen drinks plus snacks?

2. Why waste the weather?

So many Korean bars are either basement affairs, or up on the third, fourth, etc floors without so much as a good view, never mind a balcony or outdoor dining and drinking area, it seems a waste to spend mild evening boxed inside after you've been cooped up in school or work for the better part of eight hours.

3. Save your lungs.

Korean smoking laws are not as strict as American ones. Any time I go to a bar, I have to be prepared to spend it around clouds of cigarette smoke. Nothing against my smoker friends (I have been known to indulge), but it seems as I age my asthma only gets worse. My lungs will not quickly forget a night in a smoky bar (though my liver certainly will!).

Of course, points 2 and 3 are irrelevant if you're patronizing the rare drinking establishment that's either rooftop or first floor. They do exist.

4. Narrow your focus.

At a bar, there's a lot going on: there's loud music, there's other patrons, there's dart games, there's the bartenders, and so on. It's a really overstimulating atmosphere. Now, there's nothing wrong with that, and sometimes you need to be overstimulated. If I don't have a drinking buddy lined up but I still want to have a few beers, I head straight to the bar to get that need for stimulation out of my system.

But more often than not I'm with a friend or two. When that's the case, it's not stimulation (or a near-fatal BAC level) that I want, it's meaningful exchange. Drinking at the 편의점 has all the essentials (drinks, snacks) at a good price, without any frills that might detract from the experience.

5. Zoom out.

Granted, this is kind of the opposite of the above point, but in a nutshell: the people-watching is better outside the MiniStop than it is in the bar, most of the time. Instead of just the bartenders and the bar patrons, you can spy on anyone who happens to be walking by. Maybe this isn't important to everybody, but I guess I'm too much of a writer to pass up a good people-watching opportunity.

There are downsides, of course. Going for an all-out bender at a 편의점 is just in poor taste. They're often in residential areas; if you act like a hooligan in a bar, you're not really bothering anyone who hasn't, to some extent, agreed that they don't mind being bothered. If they are bothered, they can leave. But act like a hooligan outside the MiniStop? Best case scenario: you reinforce all of the negative stereotypes about foreign English teachers in Korea. Worst case: someone calls the police.

After all, the 편의점 is not for your "trying to recapture my college years" bender, it's for a quiet night out with friends.

Which do you prefer? A bar? A restaurant? A 편의점?

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

More On Being Fat In Korea: Shopping

As a reward for taking care of some stressful errands, I went to the "plus-sized" clothing store downtown. I'd dropped in a couple times before and found some cute leggings and tops. My goal today was a new pair of jeans and some spring t-shirts.

I only succeeded in one of those missions (the jeans). Definitely one of the more unrewarding of my shopping ventures.

If this were America, I could have gone to Target, Wal*Mart, or Sears, and found everything in a "mainstream" store, alongside the size 0s and 00s. Sure, the fancy boutique-type places are off-limits to my size 14 badonkadonk, but there are alternatives. There's even places like Fashion Bug, Lane Bryant, or Torrid, that cater nearly exclusively to fat chicks like me.

That's not quite the case here. I can comfortably buy t-shirts in department stores that are the equivalent of Target or Wal*Mart, and the occasional elastic-waisted bottom, but jeans, trousers, or fitted blouses are not happening. Like at home, the cutesy boutiques you find on almost every street are only so much fashion-critic window shopping for me. The only place I can buy any clothes beyond t-shirts is one called, creatively, "큰 옷." Literally: "Big Clothing." Not the most inspiring of names.

It's a small store, like all of these boutiques, but they manage to cram a lot of clothing in there. That's a plus. The sizes range from L to 5X. Also a plus. But that was it.

For whatever reason (finances? lack of opportunity? bad timing on my part?) the spring selection was simply not there. Everything was still fleece leggings and gray winter long-sleeve tops. Ninety percent of the color palette in tops and bottoms was gray, black, or brown. Not really the most cheerful, spring-like fashion choices. The first strike of the day. I ended up getting my spring t-shirts at a men's store in the Underground Market.

People complain a lot about vanity sizing in America and how it's nonsensical and confusing. It's even more so if you get clothes overseas, because all of a sudden I went from a 14/M/L/XL (depending on the company) to a XXXL. Kind of depressing, but more depressing for the fact that there are obviously women (and men) in America who are much larger than me. I couldn't imagine being a XXXL in the states and coming to Korea, stuck with trips down to Itaewon or Internet shopping, and then seeing signs that said "3X" in this store—what bitter, awful disappointment.*

She'd probably be a XXL.
Even when garments were outfitted with measurements (which almost all of the trousers and jeans were: another plus), they seem to correspond to hip measurements, or something else that's not your waist. Observe: I have a 35" waist; pants marked 38" would (sometimes) be impossible to get on. Yet the denim skirt I got labeled 38" fit about how I would expect a 38" skirt to fit my waist (it comes with a belt, which is why I got it). The jeans I went home with have an easy couple inches of give at the waist, but none at the hips/stomach. They're also too long (even in Korea, I'm short!) and just not as nice as the pair I had to retire.

The worst, though, was the dressing room. Again, props for even having one (a lot of times these kinds of stores won't let you try things on), but it was the most miserable fitting room experience of my clothes-shopping life. It was an ad-hoc affair, akin to the dressing rooms of a Salvation Army or Goodwill, but on a raised floor that creaked every time I shifted my weight. Silly little things like that are magnified infinitely when you are in your underwear, struggling with a pair of jeans that won't reach higher than your thighs, with only a flimsy plastic curtain without a latch or lock between you and the public.

Assuming you even get the pants on, there was no mirror to inspect your choice in the privacy of the dressing room: you had to step out from behind the curtain to see how you looked. Instead, on the walls there were ads for what was on sale (modeled on fairly conventionally-sized women, of course) and maternity clothes. As if the only reason anyone could have for being this size was being pregnant. (Though, to be fair, I don't think I've seen a lot of maternity sections/stores, so maybe this is the only place in the 'bu to get maternity clothes.)

That wasn't the worst part, though. The worst part was:

There was a scale right there in the dressing room.

What sadistic individual thought that would be a good idea? As a (fat) woman, to have that scale there in a moment of shame, stress, and self-loathing is just so much more salt in the wound. I am a badass and beyond giving shits about how much I weigh, but obviously not everyone is a badass. As soon as I saw that scale I decided that I was done shopping there for the day.

So now I'm torn: I haven't really been frustrated or had issues shopping here before (well, one kind of rude sales lady, but just one time), but this experience was so unpleasant that I'm afraid it means the store is on its way down/out; either that, or it was simply never what I wanted it to be. Do I keep shopping at 큰옷, or hold out for Itaewon/Dongdaemun?  Or go the rest of my contract without new clothes? (Obvious answer is: go through the rest of the contract without clothes-shopping, because I don't really need anything. Hopefully I won't need any more retail therapy before November.)

*Aside: now, I realize that Americans are just plain bigger than Koreans, and that as a country we have higher rates of obesity; a quick stroll between Uijeongbu and Hoeryong stations will be enough to tell you that. It's rare (though not unheard of) for me to see a Korean woman my size, let alone even bigger. I'm not calling for a radical readjustment of the clothing sizes in South Korea, merely observing. As for the Korean women my size, or larger (they do exist), I can't imagine where they shop: places like this store? GMarket? Or do they make things themselves?

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Multimedia Monday (On Tuesday) (Again): DJ DOC

The material in the book this week isn't particularly video-friendly (hey guys, let's watch videos of women in yoga pants stretch for twelve minutes), so have some K-pop that I really like:

Thursday, April 12, 2012

How to Be a Great Teacher

I'm editing a document for my boss at the moment. It's a speech her son wrote for the high school English speech contest, about how to be a good teacher. His points are:

1. Be funny.
2. Put effort into class preparations.
3. Demonstrate your expertise (ie actually know what you're talking about).

Thinking back to my CELTA days, we had to rank a certain number of teacher characteristics from most important to least important. Then we compared our list to a list generated by CELTA students (though I wasn't sure if it was every CELTA student ever, or just ones that had studied at the Institut Britannico). Kindness was the top one, but unfortunately I can't remember the other two. I do remember, however, that I ranked "demonstrates considerable knowledge of the subject they're teaching" (or whatever) pretty high, and that was down near the bottom of the list compiled by the students. That baffled me: I don't care about nice if one teacher is a bitch who has her shit together and another is a nice guy who doesn't know what the hell's going on. This may be why my favorite teachers were almost always the ones who were universally loathed for being boring or mean: I could recognize that they knew what they were talking about. Likewise, if it was clear to me you didn't have your act together or had some serious intellectual honesty/cognitive dissonance issues, I don't care a jot if you're nice or mean or the Queen of England.

Or, as this anonymous Korean high school author put it:

That is to say, as teachers are people who give us information we didn’t know, providing more thorough explanations and showing that they are fully ready to teach us can make the students admire them.

It's interesting to see how similar my answers are to his, and how different ours are from the CELTA list.

What do you think makes a great teacher?

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

America: The Land of Milk and Honey and Foreigners Who Can't Eat Spicy Food

Once in a while my students comment about America, and how it stacks up to Korea.

I forget what the topic in class was, but one of my advanced students mentioned that Koreans are very rude, while Americans are not. She explained it via door-holding policies.

"You go to a building, and a Korean person opens the door? They FWOOM" and a violent door-shutting motion.

"But you go to a building, and an American person opens the door? They keep and, 'Oh, thank you!' 'You're welcome!'"

Later that day, another one of my intermediate students was working on her homework in the teacher's room. She is a chatty sweetheart and always has something to say to me.

"Teacher, I think America is very fun."

"Fun? Why?"

"Korea mom and dad....'Yah yah yah!'" She made an angry, faux-scolding face. "But America mom and dad, nice."

"Not all American parents are nice," I replied. "Sometimes American parents are angry, too. Yah yah yah!" I made the same angry scolding face she did.


On more than one occasion, I've had a student give me a bit of ramen, I think more out of a perverse desire to see me freak out at ~OMG SPICY~ than a generous or kindhearted gesture. Considering every time they're always surprised when  I say, "Mmm, delicious!"

"Teacher, not spicy?"

"What? No! It's very delicious!"

Looks of bafflement abound.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Multimedia Monday: Reforestation

This week we're talking about reforestation and saving the world's forests. I'm just glad that we're done with "Aging Populations," which I think takes the cake as far as "totally unappealing to middle school students" goes. It was actually very timely, since this past week was Arbor Day in Korea (April 5). I had no idea until my students mentioned it.

"Teacher! Yesterday was...tree...growing...make new forest day!"

"Oh! You're right. Arbor Day."

I found this video from WeForest, which is cool both because of what they do, and because Stephen Fry narrates it. Also, it's one of those good videos that includes key bits of text from the narration in the video itself, which makes it much easier for my kids to follow along and retain important points.

Did you know that trees made clouds? I didn't!

A good discussion-starter if you're working on environmental issues in your class.

If you want to see other videos I've used in class, visit the Multimedia Monday tag. If you want to save any of these videos for your own personal or pedagogical use, I recommend YouTube Downloader HD.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Adventures at the Underground Market

My cellphone, which suffered the tragic loss of its plastic backing in December, is sputtering gracelessly into the twilight of its years. I occasionally get text messages a full 48 hours after they've been sent, and apparently when I call people, they can't hear me—and I can't hear them either, unless I plug my headphones in. My friend and former coworker Mina gave me her old phone, so I could hopefully switch my contract (yeah, I don't have a pay-as-you-go) from this phone to hers.

I have this, but in orange. Do not go gentle into that good night, little guy!

I've been meaning to do this for two weeks now, but stress and anxiety over trying to negotiate the situation with the phone store guys in my shitty Korean and their shitty English kept me away. Yes, simple things like talking to sales clerks gets my heart rate up. There's a reason I'm a reclusive hermit unless I'm with well-established friends and drinking buddies.

Anyway, today was doing to be different! I was going to be a normal person and be undaunted by the simple task before me! Surely I was worrying too much! It would be simple! Like when I left my first phone at a random bus stop in Uijeongbu and had to buy my now-perishing iriver!



I tried three different phone stores that carried the correct brand of cellphone (as far as I could tell) and not a one could (would?) help me. Add to this that my water bottle had leaked in my purse and gotten my Korean vocab book quite soggy and ruined the fastidious notes I had taken in a cute yellow notepad from Daiso, my mood quickly went from "LIFE IS GREAT WHAT A BEAUTIFUL DAY YEAH BEING RESPONSIBLE" to "NNNNNNNRGH SOD EVERYTHING I NEED A DRINK."

Being that there are no bars in the Uijeongbu Underground Market, I did the next best thing: engaged in retail therapy. But no clothes (too fat) or shoes (feet too big) or purses (cannot bring myself to give half a shit about them) for me. Instead, I availed myself of one of the countless optometrists in the market. I had tried to change my phone, after all. Surely I deserved some kind of reward! It had been stressful! I had felt like an idiot! I'd had to talk to strangers! Besides, I had been meaning to get a pair of black frames anyway, as my old black frames were now hopelessly out of date with their prescription and also more navy and less a true black than I'd like.

After some shopping around, the ajosshi behind the counter helped me find a pair of frames I liked, and he cut new lenses for them as well. It was just one man running the whole shop, which he did with such a well-practiced efficiency that it made me wonder if he wasn't some kind of magical glasses wizard.  He even had a very dapper pair of round lenses in thick black plastic himself. They suited him very well and made him look like a glasses magician even more. That or a cartoon character.

He didn't bother to tell me to go and shop around and wait for the new glasses, so I stayed and watched the lens-cutting machine drill out my new eyewear. That was pretty neat, because before when I've bought glasses, the store didn't keep the equipment out where people could watch. They'd just tell me to come back in like half an hour or whatever to pick them up. I'm sure he thought I was a weirdo for being so fascinated by it, but oh well.

So, sixty dollars later, I didn't have a new and more useful phone, but I did have some sweet new glasses!

This is the face of defeat.

I did manage to find some reasonably-priced ($15) bright red rain boots in my size, so even if my phone is broken, I'm ready for the upcoming rainy season. I guess I have that to feel productive about.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

You Encounter: Older Men Before Work

It's getting to be warmer—a bit. Some mornings I tutor North Korean defectors (more on that in another post), and then afterwards I head to the gym, and after that I sit outside and read or study Korean. Often times, before or after the gym, I run into Korean grandfathers (or I suspect it's been the same grandfather), and he says hello and smiles. The last time I saw him, he asked about what I was reading. I happened to be reading a book called  How to Read a Book, which he thought was very funny.  Which, you know, I think it is, too.

I look forward to running into him (or them, if it's been more than one) in my mornings, it's a pleasant little exchange that brightens my day a little bit.

But yesterday, instead of a grandfather, it was an ajosshi who stopped to talk to me.

"Hello! How are you?"

"I'm doing well, thanks!"

And then instead of going on his way, he continued to talk to me. At first it was just awkward small talk, and he tried to insist that he was American, that Philadelphia was in Virginia, and that he had an uncle who lived there.

Red flags went up left and right, especially when he tried to pry into my quasi-private life: what did I do, where did I teach, did I work full-time, etc.

"I teach English home school. I am always looking for native teachers to come on Saturdays."

Oh, so that's where this was going.

"I'm very busy, sorry."

"I can pay you. Only one or two times a month."

"Maybe, but I'm very busy, I'm sorry."

"Ah." He would not be so easily defeated, though. "Are you a Christian?"

"Uhh. Yes?"

"Do you go to church?"

"No, I like to rest on the weekend. I don't think God minds."

He made a disappointed face. "My church is very close to here. You should come. This Sunday, it'"

"Easter," I suggested.

"Yes! Easter Sunday. You can come!"

"I'm going to my friend's church (Ed. note: blatant lie), and then we're going on a picnic (Ed. note: the truth). I'm sorry."

"Oh." Crestfallen. "Where is it?"

"In Seoul."

"Oh. Well, this is my church, and maybe someday you can visit." He gave me a flyer for some church or other, which I graciously accepted with two hands. I then spied that the crosswalk signal was green and tore the hell out of there. Fortunately, my interlocutor was going in the other direction. I did some shopping and, as soon as I got to work, threw the flyer in the trash.

It's funny now, but at the time I was fuming. If you want to hire someone, you don't ask people off the street (who tell you they already work full-time). You advertise in appropriate venues. You put up posters. You hire a recruiter. You don't assume that you can just strike up a conversation with Jane "Whitey" Doe on the street, immediately ask her to work for you, and have her be okay with that.

Fortunately, that was my first experience with being approached with the motivation to be used as cheap English labor, instead of normal human interaction. I can't imagine how bitter I'd be if this happened all the time.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Multimedia Monday: Bieber Fieber

The topic in my advanced classes' book this week is "The Power of YouTube." And who is YouTube's #1 celebrity? Justin Bieber, of course.

Thank God he didn't take down all of his original videos. Having the students guess the singer is kind of fun.