Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Teaching Lessons

Update: Minhee smiles sometimes!
As the semester draws to a close, I’ve begun to evaluate what worked and what didn’t. It’s amazing how many lessons I learned every single day I taught. Here are the very few I remember:

1.      Any class can take an unexpected 180. And a 360.
2.      Bring energy.
3.      And a pencil. And a time-keeping device of some kind.
4.      All the homework you assign comes back and you have to grade it.
5.      Speak slower. Always.
6.      Repeat yourself two or three times.
7.      Repeat. Yourself. Two. *show* or three *show* times. *write it on the board*
8.      Visuals are helpful.
9.      Don’t use words like “visuals.”
10.  Do not use contractions.
11.  R’s are l’s, and you teach “Grobal Engrish.”
12.  “I don’t know; I’ll look it up” is a perfectly acceptable answer.
13.  Have water on hand.
14.  Talk less; make them do the work.
15.  Laugh a lot.
16.  Smile more.
17.  Provide incentive—free homework passes are the new hotcakes.
18.  Have sticky notes with you—because there will be students who need to make an appointment, give an excuse for an absence, or require a copy of last week’s assignment.
19.  They love it when you act things out.
21.  One smile out of twenty is worth it.

We go to the coffee shop sometimes to grade. And not grade.
I like to think I have a couple new tricks up my sleeves for next semester, but who knows. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about teaching, it’s that you have to think on your feet. It’s not even just about fielding the questions:

“Teacher, what’s the difference between ‘quickly’ and ‘fastly’?”

“Professor Elaine, what does it mean to ‘fall behind’?”

“What does it mean when two people say they are living together?”[1]

The rigors of grading are softened by strawberry milkshakes.

It’s about fielding people, and people are crazily unpredictable. I never know when Joey will show up, for instance. Nor do I know what Linze’s excuse will be for missing class on Tuesday—a gaming convention which will inexplicably boost her resume; four days at the hospital due to an ear infection; her father dying: I’ve had all three this semester.

Who knows if anyone will answer the question I ask? Who knows if anyone understands what I’m saying?

The money might be awful—and the students who absolutely refuse to study might be more frustrating than being unable to close the peanut butter lid with one knife-holding hand since the other one is facilitating the mawing of the sandwich made from said peanut butter—but because of all the mental hopping about, I feel like teaching is about as close to being a ninja as I’ll ever be.

[1] You laugh, but all three have come up in the last week. And it took a really long time to explain the difference between “going on a date” and “dating,” and then, of course, what you can and can’t assume about two people “living together.”

Sunday, November 27, 2011


This weekend I watched one of the few American movies to make the jump over the Pacific Pond to my current home. It’s a Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Seth Rogan film called 50/50 about a guy who gets cancer in his twenties. I liked it. It made me laugh and cry and think. Anna Kendrick was brilliant as the hilariously awkward romantic interest, and I’ve always enjoyed Gordon-Levitt’s adorkable comedic timing and charm (“Four angels came out of the sky and they picked up Ed Williams!” Anyone?).


Yay more (unrelated) balls jokes.

For the past few months I’ve been doing just as the good old Christian Reformed Church and Calvin College taught me, and engaging culture. Er, gorging myself on Korean culture, might be more accurate. I’ve been obsessively listening to K-Pop and watching Korean dramas as of late, and therefore learning all about Korean ideas about relationships and romance. In the roughly 30 hour-long episodes of three different dramas I’ve watched, not one single character has mentioned or had sex. It’s all about a kiss, holding her hand, letting her borrow his suit-coat when she’s cold.

50/50 was a good movie, but I’m sick of hearing sentences like, “I fucking nailed that cunt!” and “You could have totally fucked the shit out of that girl” and have it be okay.

It’s not okay.

It’s not okay in real life and it’s not okay in movies.

Korean PDA.
I’m uncomfortable, I’m embarrassed, and it’s not because I’m a prude who thinks sex should be hidden away like grandpa’s yellowing underpants.[1] No, I’m comfortable talking about sex. I think sex should be talked about more—more in schools, more in families, more in churches—but it should be talked about with something resembling respect and maybe a little maturity (why not). 
I’m not suggesting the topic shouldn’t be made fun of. I’m not even suggesting we stop using words like “cunt,” “dick,” and “fuck.” English is a potent language; use it to its full potential if you dare and think you’re able. And it’s tough[2] to be clever on such well-traveled ground. Do your best! (As the Korean’s say, “Fighting!” 화이—it’s pronounced with an h instead of an f.)

But until Americans are able to treat the subject with at least a little decorum as well as humor, allow me to finish up fastly (as the students are like to put on their tests on Tuesday) and say this:

For now, I’m switching teams. I like the Korean side of things better.

[1] Or perhaps a more fitting simile would be “like your porn collection,” but isn’t that the point? In our culture, sex needn’t revolve around the things that are dirty.

[2] Believe it or not, I've stopped using the word "hard," because if someone's going to make a sex joke out of what I'm saying, I'd prefer it if they had to work a little.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Way Ahead of You Guys

This is a normal Schnabel Thanksgiving.
JK: this is obvi Christmas. See the snow? Oh, and the old-
time date stamp on the bottom right it pretty good, too.
Let the record show I've grown since then. At least 2 inches.

This morning I thought about all the ways this Thanksgiving was not right. I’ve never had to work before on Thanksgiving, and I was facing two of my least favorite classes and one of my busiest days of the week. Instead of the clink of coffee cups, mom and dad murmurings downstairs, and Gracie’s pitter patter paws downstairs, I heard the people upstairs moving furniture at 7:55.[1] No sister, no fireplace, no football games, no naps.

No mom and dad. That’s big.

That’s a scary first.

Perhaps I’ve always been impressed by the arbitrariness of holiday days because of years in Arizona where Christmas was never as Christmas “should” be. No snow or hot cocoa or whatever it is that makes Christmas feel Christmassy. Perhaps that prepared me for today.

Perhaps I’m finally starting to understand how to be content in all circumstances (though I’m sure my circumstances could become much more difficult than at present). Or perhaps God is providing, like always.

Because I had a GREAT Thanksgiving! Enough introspection! This is how it went down!

With a great many exclamation marks!!!!

With the promise of a morning skype date with my parents!

With Thanksgiving Hand-Turkeys from my students!

With my 500 words of writing a day![2]

With carrots that I boiled all by myself for our potluck dinner![3]

We were, however, sans beagle.
With a great many hugs!

With foreigner friends, with turkey, with mashed potatoes, with gravy, with stuffing, with sweet potatoes[4], with pies[5], with wine, with home-made bread, with laughing, with thanksgiving. With a sort of a family.

[1] At first I thought my internal alarm clock was just that good. But no, the apartment 402 inhabitants are pushing something heavy (a table? Chairs? An ELEPHANT?!) across their floor every morning at this time.
[2] Writing is a dog’s life, but the only life worth living. (Flaubert)
[3] I am cooking impaired. This is the second thing I’ve made since coming to Korea. The first was a ham sandwich.
[4] Ashley is a genius with sweet potatoes.
[5] Elijah baked like 20 pies this week. Did I mention I boiled carrots?

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Sartorial Santa Claus vs. Korbama

Monday’s are laundry days. I wish I meant that in some sort of cool metaphorical sense because then it’d be a great opening line to my first novel. But seriously, I do my laundry on Monday mornings because I have the morning free to lesson plan and climb up and down the mountain like some sartorial Santa Claus.[1]

It was about the third time that I climbed up the rock steps between building two and the dryer-housing dorm that I remember to write about Saturday’s speech contest.[2]

As previously mentioned, this contest was for high school students who were asked to either write their own speeches or memorize famous English speeches and perform them. There’s something about English used well in political documents that gets to me in a seriously nerdy way. I get goose-bumps when I hear the Federalist Papers read aloud.

So it was with a mixture of chills and giggles I made it through this past Saturday afternoon. Chills because even when the speaker can’t pronounce any of the r’s or l’s in the passage, the following quote is still baller:

“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.”

Heady stuff.

Giggles because it was pretty hard to listen to a kid—who had never seen the good old US of A—use a Korbama[3] accent to recite, “With a father from Kenya, and a mother from Kansas, and a story that could only happen in the United States of America.”

Giggles because it was perhaps funnier to hear how many different ways the beautiful parallelism of “on the color of their skin, but the content of their character” could be butchered.

And many more giggles because when trying to copy Bobby Kenedy’s hand motions, one little girl definitely resembled a Hitler-in-Training.

But in the end, it was pretty amazing to hear this kids rattle 3 minutes of famous American speeches from which I only recognize the taglines.

[1] And yes, this entire blog was written so I could use the phrase “sartorial Santa Claus.” What of it?
[2] Even though all I can really thinkg about it Shinee. New fav: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=skZxb5sBoiU&ob=av2e Around the twenty-seventh viewing you stop noticing how odd it is that one of them is wearing ALL RED and start noticing how incredibly cute he is at exactly 1:13 (other favourites include 1:09, 1:38, and 2:54). Who says obsession is ugly?
[3] What? Everyone else combines whatever they want with Obama’s name. Why not me? Korean-Obama!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Sketchy Korean Clubbing Scene

Scene: Saturday

As always, I woke up early to play some soccer with the Saturday Mornings Korean Boy Mafia. In the afternoon I judged an English speech contest for Kosin. I had to rate students on how well they delivered a memorized a famous American speech. More on that later, but mostly you should know how hilarious it is to hear Korean high-schoolers say, “They said, they said, they said this day would never come” in an Obama accent.

In the evening I went swing dancing! As always, my meager dancing skills remind me of how little time there is available. In my second, third, and fourth lives I want to become proficient in several languages, an excellent dancer, and a ninja—but probably not in that order.

After that we went to a club—but don’t worry, mom and dad, Korean clubs so straight-laced, they make Baptist church services look like the devil’s work. Well, yes, we did have a beer, danced without being led by the Holy Spirit, and I did give out my number to a cute Korean boy. But aside from that, it was infinitely less sketchy than even the cleanest of American middle school dances.

Rules of Clubbing in Korea:

       1.      American girls get a discount on their cover charge.
And said cover charge includes the aforementioned mildly good beer. Double win.
       2.      Face the front.
No joke: The dance floor was as organized as a CRC service, minus the pews. Everyone stood in rows, respectfully facing the front of the room and dancing in a small square foot of personal space.
       3.      No touching.
The odd thing is, that during these precious moments of freedom from the grind of school and work—in their wildest moments of Saturday Night Bacchanalian Revelry—Korean men and women alike are apparently less likely to touch one another (sling an arm around one another? link arms?). No touching. No grinding. No close dancing. Not with strangers. Not with your girlfriend/boyfriend. The most scandalous dancing I think I saw all night was when a couple held hands and he moved her arms around through the air. I have to say, it was the oddest dance party I have ever been a part of.
       4.      Dance like it’s the 80s.
Koreans are good dancers, but this does not apply to their clubbing style. I reference here rule #2 and #3. Combine this with their natural enthusiasm, the current popularity of the shuffle, and perhaps a lack of creativity and you'll have some idea of the hilarity that ensued this Saturday night.
       5.      Smile at the foreigners
We made friends quickly on the dance floor by virtue of being 외국사람. Within seconds of our arrival near the front, a group of girls giggled a “Hello!” and started dancing with us. One asked me—screamed at me, more like, between the furious techno beats while the strobe light distorting her face oddly and her friends flailed around her—“How do you like Korea?”

It’s great, thanks for asking! You guys are nuts! *thumbs up*

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Heungbu and Nolbu

Nolbu was very greedy and mean, but his little brother Heungbu was generous and loving. When their father died, Nolbu forced Heungbu and his wife and two children to leave so he could keep the fortune for his own family. Heungbu left, and his family lived in poverty while Nolbu prospered.

One day, Heungbu and his wife were out working in the garden when they saw a snake climbing up a tree to eat a baby swallow. Heungbu chased the snake away and repaired the baby swallow’s broken leg. The little swallow gave him a seed to show her gratitude.

The seed grew into an enormous gourd plant, inside of which, when they split open the gourds, Heungbu and his wife found expensive jewels. Soon, everyone knew that Heungbu had become rich—including jealous Nolbu.

He asked Heungbu about his sudden change of fortune, and Heungbu told him honestly. So Nolbu found a swallow, broke its leg, and forced it to give him a seed when he treated the wound. But instead of jewels, the gourds from this seed contained thieves, who stole all of Nolbu’s possessions.

Shaken, Nolbu begged Heungbu for forgiveness. Of course the generous Heungbu forgave his brother, and they all lived in harmony for the rest of their days.

The version my students from group ten presented this very folktale, but instead of jewels in a gourd, our Heungbu found a watch in a ramen box, and Nolbu put a band-aid on the swallow’s neck to make her better again. There was also an odd moment when Nolbu told his wife, “Go to the bed,” inexplicably drew two rectangles and the letter “19” on the board, and grabbed her by the neck for a fake kiss.

But I chalk that up to creative license.

Sidenote: for some reason, typing “Heungbu” is fantastically difficult for me to type. I’ve yet to do it correctly on the first try.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Synonyms and Euphemisms

When I saw the mushroom I had eaten 20 hours previous appear nearly whole in the toilet bowl I was clutching, I decided I had hit my low point. But then again, I thought that same thing when I tossed up the rice and soup I’d managed later that night for dinner. And again, when I called the graduate office secretary Lauren to cancel my classes.
See the mushrooms? Upper right. They were delicious.
Both times.

“You sound terrible! Do you have a doctor you can see?”

“Uh...maybe. *hurple* I can’t really leave my...apartment.”

The toilet seat I imagine I might someday possess patted me companionably on the shoulder.


Then we got back to business.

 Around one o’clock, an angel in a green sweater and too cute grey boots showed up. Ashley handed me a black plastic bag filled with crackers and soda. Then she climbed the Kosin mountain and toted my books back down so I could lesson-plan and grade.

You and me, toilet bowl. We're going places.

“But you should rest!” she said. “Want a story to make you feel better?”

Angel, am I right?

Runner-up angel of the day award goes to Lauren Myracle for her engrossing YA novel Shine. It is now the second novel about the Southern U.S. that I not only do not hate, but would willingly reread and recommend (the first obviously being To Kill a Mockingbird). And it distracted me from all things upchucked.

At least until I realized how to make an ESL lesson out of this fiasco:

Vomit, puke, barf, hurl, upchuck, ralph, spew, wretch, heave, yakking, blowing chunks, tossing cookies, losing lunch, and of course, it’s “throw up” not “throw out” no matter how much you wish you could throw out the image of “blowing chunks.”

It was thinking like this disgustingly cannibalistic
advertisement that may or may not have triggered
the second wave.

Peace begins with saltines.

Adam and Travis. Travis cooked for us on
Friday night and is thus removed from suspicion.
Plus his food was so good I'd probably eat it again
even if it did send me back to my bathroom floor.
Friendly bread-makers at Gyeongju who also did not poison me.
For which I am very grateful.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Pepero Day!

Standard Pepero repertoire
Happy Pepero Day!

As far as I can tell, Pepero (빼빼로!!) Day is the Korean equivalent of Valentine’s Day, but much more delicious and less guilt-inducing. Just like Valentine’s Day, Pepero Day is probably a commercialist stunt pulled by Lotte, a confectionary company who has manufactured the Japanese-based product (pocky) since the 80s.

According to Wikipedia (I am not ashamed!), there is one story that Pepero Day was begun by some schoolgirls in Busan. These girls exchanged the tall chocolate-covered pretzels on November 11 (11/11—like sticks of Pepero), in order to wish one another luck in growing tall and skinny—like a Pepero stick.

Unlike Valentine’s Day, however, there seems to be less pressure on couples. Yes, boyfriends and girlfriends are expected to get special Pepero for their special person, but it’s not nearly as difficult: it’s far more clear-cut. Stores upon stores gear up for Pepero Day and since the “holiday” revolves around little candy sticks (sometimes chocolate, sometimes strawberry, sometimes “nude”) there are only so many variations. And, as always with couples in Korea, it’s just about being as cute as possible.

And, as I believe we’ve already covered, Koreans excel in that particular department.


Thursday, November 10, 2011

Sounds Outside the Lines

I wonder when I began thinking in outlines. Probably years and years of note-taking are finally having an impact, and now my thoughts are neatly organized, compartmentalized, and all sorts of other-ized.

All that to say, I wanted to write about beautiful sounds today, and I couldn’t help but make an outline from which to expound.
Bus 70, pictured here, is not our friend. Despite being
identical to bus 7 and 71, this is the bus that does NOT go
the one place it needs to go, as I discovered today on my
way to soccer where only one person asked if I was a man.

Blessedly (for all of our sakes), I can’t do the 5-sentence paragraph anymore, if indeed I ever could. 
It hurts worse than homesickness. Actually (transition!!), I kind of like how homesick feels: it’s 
a happy kind of hurt. 

There are certain sounds from back home I miss 
more than anything: the ding of the oven (macaroni casserole, oatmeal raisin cookies: done), Gracie’s toenails against the hallway tile, the garage door opening when mom or dad returns from work, Hilary’s no-holds-barred laugh.

But that’s not what this post is about. This post is about beautiful sounds here in Korea:

       1.      Ship horns: Mornings, afternoons, evenings, I can hear the ship horns harooing their way into or out of the harbor. They are so much more majestic, so much calmer, bigger, deeper, than the blats of car horns. They feel like adventure and fresh air.

       2.      The right answer: Okay, class. So far you’ve failed to respond to “good morning!” and “how are you?” and “did you do the homework?” Next question is tougher: what part of speech is ‘quickly’? Silence. Silence. More silence. The silence of frustration. The silence of despair. Then deliverance. “Adverb!” Usually it’s Julie (group 6) or Ssing Moo (group 10), but sometimes Presia or Toto decides to speak up and when they do, it is the most blessed sound a hung-out-to-dry English teacher can hear.

         3.      Lee’s ukulele nearing my office: I know when a native English speaker is about to knock on my door because they’re louder and less giggly than Koreans. But it’s pretty cool to know it’s Lee by the sounds of the Arrested Development opening theme strumming closer and closer to 2203.

         4.      Korean praying: It is a thing to behold. Yesterday I saw two groups of students praying. Each consisted of four people, one of them strumming a guitar and all of them yelling—loudly, effusively, almost obnoxiously—their praises and prayers. I caught the occasional “Hananim[1],” but otherwise it was unintelligible to me. And it gave me goosebumps—in a good way, in the way that happens when God is really being praised.

      5.      A word I recognize: Because learning Korean is hard, I like to appreciate the baby steps. Words I recognize in the middle of long soliloquys or dialogues are all beautiful: anyeong (안영)! jinjja (진짜)? Gwiyeopta (귀엽다)! Mwo (뭐)? Juseyo (주세요)? Kamsahmnida (감사합니다)!

I tried to throw the outline out the window, but this blog post still seems so organized. Unfortunately, it’s so organized that I can’t help but analyze the similarities between all these sounds. The only thing they have in common (besides being sounds in Korea, of course), is in their randomness, their unpredictability during the day. And they are so much more beautiful that way.

[1] Mini second-coolest Korean lesson you will ever learn: “Hana” (하나) means “one” and “nim” ( )is a respectiful suffix. They add nim () to the end of teacher (선생) to make seonsaengnim (선생님), for instance. So 하나님 is like saying “Honored number one,” or, rather more pointedly, “God.”

Tuesday, November 8, 2011


My students were asked to do name acrostics, using adjectives starting with the letters in their name to describe themselves. Here's the winner for the day. His English name is Neo, but he chose to do his Korean name instead.




I, too, am optimistic about this's manly kid's noble, glorious, and knavish future. Carry on,  Neo!

Rocking the Soccer 'Burbs

In my never-ending search for more people to play soccer with, I’ve acquired a Tuesday night group out in Daeti. Gyu, my soccer savior, helped connect me to these boys who (he says) use “tough language” and, as (I’ve noted) smoke between games.
Nancy picked me up from the airport when
I first got here, and has the cutest southern
twang in the world.

I’m not sure exactly how to describe the skeptical Korean face. Nancy (pictured left, disgustingly fit, and nicely cheery) calls it The Korean Stare. We get it a lot in class.

Actual excerpt:

“In the picture, do you think he is walking proudly *point*, or absent-mindedly? *point* Raise your hand *demonstrate* if you think proudly.” 3 hands and 47 Korean Stares. “Raise your hand *demonstrate* if you think absent-mindedly.” No hands and 32 Korean Stares (everyone else isn’t looking at me).

But the stare I get when I lace up my cleats, while difficult to read, is possible to guess. 3 parts confused, 2 parts skeptical, and 1 part completely disoriented. As soon as I start playing, it’s mayhem. If it didn’t resemble the utter disbelief one might expect from someone who has never seen a pet poodle roll over and play dead, it would be flattering.

A favourite from Jeju.
I got cheers and hollers from even the simplest of moves and whenever I actually did something good, the boys in the stands would faint and weep and make marriage proposals.

I am joking, of course. But I have gotten a marriage proposal before (pre-Korea). And their reactions here are similarly ridiculous.

That said, of course I love being the girl rocking the guy’s world. I love the catcalls at the boy I just beat one-on-one; I love watching them gradually realize I won’t break if they touch me; I love turning the 2 parts skeptical, 1 part disoriented stare into a thumbs-up and an invitation back next week.

Because more soccer is never a bad thing.

I promise (maybe) that I'll stop writing about soccer and start writing about...Korean culture and things. Maybe.