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Mar. 31st, 2010

mirrormask queen

Writer's Block: Luddites unite!

Are you worried about where technology will lead us? Do you think it's possible that civilization may someday turn away from technology altogether for the betterment of humankind?

We couldn't live without technology, so no. The last time we lived without it, we had only just exited the ape stage. Technology doesn't mean just computers and ipods: technology is fire, houses, walls, shovels, farms, etc. If we do not posses it biologically but do use it to live/survive, it is technology. Sea otters are one of the few animals that used technology to live by implementing rocks to open clam/oyster shells. Minor, but it IS technological.

Technology in the modern and complex sense could very well lead us to a point where we are fed up and decide to leave it behind. I am certain, however, that not all humans would do this together unless something forced us to.

But we have to remember that technologies (modern or primitive) are not separate from our existences. Technology has become a part of our being in ways that many of us do not realize. In this sense, we are cyborgian. We have glasses, pacemakers, fake arms/legs/organs, contact lenses, fake nails, makeup, clothing, tattoos, piercings, just to name the physical. Other technologies, like those that help us study DNA, have become huge cultural/political/racial/personal identifiers and statement makers. We use so many technologies just to tell the world and ourselves who we are (computers, facebook, LiveJournal, twitter, cameras, painting supplies, musical instruments, music playing technologies, etc.) There are many more examples of how technology has become a part of our lives, but I won't get into all of that. 

What I'm trying to say is, technology is a perspective and a modern understanding of ourselves and our universe. It has given us, or rather, through it we have given ourselves, a new paradigm, new language, new philosophy. These have been created at various stages of our history whenever new technologies spread through the world. Even if we "gave up" technology, it would still exist in us.

Mar. 30th, 2010

ensign red-shirt

superwoman goes boink

Lina has seemed to become even more stressed out than usual given that she has the equivalent of 6.5 more classes to teach than before. Because of the fact that Incheon has placed 15th out of 16 in English proficiency in Korea, schools like mine are cracking down on English ed, and now Lina has to teach a half-hour class every day before classes start, eliminating the down time we usually get before classes. Even I can't sit down an let myself slowly wake up anymore. Since Lina has to teach this class, I have to prepare for the day's main classes. This is a pain because I don't always know what Lina wants to do for the classes, and I have to bother her while she's trying to teach this supplementary class she so clearly is not enthused about. She hasn't exactly been in a chatty mood either; we've said maybe 2 sentences to each other today and yesterday that weren't class related. I haven't been in great mood either, since I'm usually bored and unfocused once again, the freshness of our new routine slowly wearing off. I wander around the classroom blankly since I have no part in anything except for a game at the end of class, or a couple of things to say at the beginning of class, that is if I can beat Lina to the punch. She's always saying she believes in real CO-teaching, but I have yet to have a class designed by her in which our roles are equally represented. I feel like a prop. And it seems like when she's stressed out she gets even more controlling of the class. I spend a lot of classes feeling angry.

She IS an Ares woman, like me. I'm sure if she was an American we would clash like hell.

Also, since I crossed the 6 month mark and have just finished my 7th, I have a hard time keeping my mind off of getting home again. I've been planning my trip home as best I can without being sure of the exact date that I'll leave. I find random smells and sensations evocative of home in a way that I forgot. I used my microwave this morning, and I grew quiet with a realization that it sounds exactly like my microwave at home...I used to use it every morning to make instant oatmeal...that distinct beep beep beep, both anxious and insistent and something I never liked hearing in the morning. It makes me wonder what else I might have forgotten.

Mar. 29th, 2010

combs poe

odd quirks and remnants of wit broken

This post will deal with some of the odd everyday things that I have become so accustomed to that I hardly notice them anymore.

Mirrors -  there is a constant presence of mirrors everywhere. Subway terminals, schools, official buildings, malls, everywhere. On the trains you will see Koreans of all ages and both genders taking out some kind of mirror to check their appearance, although the several men I have seen do this do so much more subtly through use of an mp3 player/phone with an actual mirror function. Women are always fixing and powdering and applying and fussing over crazily small details, wearing super-high heels and short shorts with black stockings underneath while their top half is covered like a nun, and its 20 degrees out. This extreme attention to looks can certainly be called vanity. But how do Koreans themselves see this? I suppose for them its probably just common sense in a highly metropolitan society where looks always count and count for much more than they should.

Plastic surgery - In this society, almost all seem to have a better opinion of western looks rather than Asian. They always say "oh, you're eyes are so big! I want eyes like yours!" They have an idea that bigger eyes make you look more innocent; an ideal for young Korean females. Many are obsessed with changing parts of their faces to look less Asian, or less tan. They idealize pale skin. Even my friend Myun Sung, who is a rather unconventional Korean girl compared to most, wants to get surgery to change her nose because she thinks its too low on her face. I remember being taught in high school and college how much pressure girls are put under to look a certain way and to fit a narrow profile of attractiveness. This is true, but that sort of pressure must be 10-fold in Korea. There is a strong counter-movement in the US and Canada and other western countries against these cookie-cutter ideas of attractiveness. We are taught to accept ourselves as we are and that we're not un-beautiful because we're not the girl on the magazine cover (who is rarely very memorable, btw). I'm not certain, but it does seem like Korean girls here don't usually get that support from society. This is a plastic surgery playland. And the cost is much lower and technology much better than most in the US. Even things like laser eye surgery, dermatological treatments etc. There's even tons of products and services said to make your skin paler.

All that being said, I really really want to get contacts. Makes sense to get them here.

weird sparkly things - when shopping for clothes, shoes, whatever, in Korea, if you are a woman, you're going to run into a hideous and (in my opinion) quite tasteless amount of sparkle and bling on everything. And even my friend Sara, who loves extra sparkle, would probably balk at some of this stuff. Clothes that are supposed to be sensible and professional, like suit jackets, will be found emblazoned with some atrocious blotch of a brooch which looks like an idiot's idea of modern art, extra sparkly.  Shoes will be covered in bizarre gold hardware bling which is severely ghetto and yet older women will be crowding in to try them on during a sale. Yes, the sparkle attack isn't a young woman's thing necessarily. Its comical the kind of super-sparkly jackets and shirts the older women wear. Unaware ajumas have plenty of ammo for making themselves look ridiculous if they're unfortunate enough to have little fashion sense. From my eyes, at least; a westerner's eyes.

Writer's Block: Destined for greatness

Do you believe that a higher power controls our fate or that we choose our own destinies?

I think there's no such thing as predestination, but at the same time, as limited beings we can't have complete control over our "destinies". We don't have the foresight to always know what our choices will lead to. So rather I will say I believe in circumstance. We are where we are and we can control our lives within our present situation, but not necessarily where our choices will lead us. We can influence our path, but not dictate it.

Mar. 24th, 2010

mirrormask queen

hectic week already

Its been so crazy and its only half way in. We got new workbooks for the students, which are going to be extremely helpful in a lot of ways. We had to unpackage them all and then make copies of mutiple chapters because there weren't enough books for all the students. And this all on Monday morning before class started. The students are all taking reading, writing and listening tests this week. Part of the reason is because in the national litmus test for determining English proficiency in Korea, out of 16 cities, Incheon came 15th. Lina and I had to take a business trip yesterday for a huge seminar for English teachers in Incheon to address the problem. Mostly, it has to do with the fact that most of these kids aren't being taught test-taking skills. Plus the pressure on students (yes even elementary level) is huge because the grades you get determine what kidn of middle school you go to and from there what high school and even what university, even what job/career. Every level affects the next and the next. And naturally the competition is enormous. These kids get STRESSED. Anyway, I had planned to prep for my after school classes for the next day, but that was shot out the window since we had to leave early and I had to do my prep in the 10 min windows between classes. Now today I have more tests to administer and two after school classes to teach and then I have to prep for my 50 min 5-6 grade class tomorrow.

Very poor lunch today. They served this form of jajang, a Chinese style sauce based on a type of black bean. Normally in resturants and take out places, it quite good. But this stuff the school served turned my stomach. Ugh. Nothing else was that appealing either. Basically just ate rice and the soup. Everything is always vinegar-ed and kimchi-ed. So sick of Korean food.

Mar. 8th, 2010


great weekend

Finally, it seems I've found some people who have the same "night-out" style as me. No more the binge drinking, bar hopping ways of my fellow EPIK people. It's rarely been a good experience or even very fun. I always get easily bored and then tired and then I just want to go back home. I wasn't really sure why, but I think it had something to do with getting scolded for bringing up intellectual topics.

Anyway, the last 2 weekends my friend Hannah and I went out to see some cover bands play, just small gigs at an expat bar. Hannah's friend Jim knew most of the guys, so we got to know them too and we stayed out until maybe 3:30am before we went back to Hannah and Jim's apartment building. Even then, we didn't go to sleep til about 5am.

Last weekend was great. We met the guys in Hongdae (the party-hard part of Seoul where Hongik, Yonsei and other universities are, lots of expats here too). Some of the people were different and some we knew from the weekend before, but they were all cool. We had dinner, went to the bar they were playing at and listened to the first band, which had a kind of Santana-type style except with an acoustic guitar as lead. They were really very good. Then our guys went up and played what I heard called "slop pop". Never heard that expression before, but it was kind of punk-ish, but in a rather carefree way with lyrics that didn't have a lot of weight to them. Kinda funny actually. Afterwards we went to this reggae bar and stayed until about 4am. It was great because most of these people seem to prefer the intellectual conversation as opposed to the meaningless slop that I find so terribly boring. The lead guitarist and I spent like a half an hour talking about modernist literature and Vonnegut and I talked with this Bosnian-Canadian about the Russians and our respective ancestral countries and found a lot of similarity.

So then Hannah, Jim, this guy Mike and I went to a jimjilbang to spend the night (or what was left of it). This was my first time doing this and I really quite liked it. Waaaay better than staying at someone's apartment. That can be sooo awkward if its a Korean household, and your Korean friend will insist and insist that you stay at their house, even if you say you want to stay elsewhere; usually they'll take the latter as an insult. The jimjilbang, located near Seoul Station, was nice and had a big sleeping room where its nice and toasty. The whole room is just these bunk bed type things. There are separate rooms for men and women, so we agreed to meet the guys at 11:30.

When we woke up, we met Mike, got some breakfast (Koreans don't really have "breakfast food", so it was things like seaweed soup, bulgogi, rice, kimchi, the works) and then Hannah and I headed to the baths, which were ok. Some of it was a bit intense for my liking. The steam room was so hot and steamy, you had trouble breathing or even seeing. The mugwort bath was extremely hot and the cold bath was extremely cold; there was no happy medium. Anyway, we got clean and relaxed enough and left. We saw Mike on the way out (Jim apparently was going to sleep there a while longer) and we went to Seoul station, got coffee, caught the metro. Hannah and I watched an Anthony Bourdain episode on my ipod on the way, and encountered two young girls who tried out some english on us (this happens with only some frequency, but the english is almost always silly: "I...am...cute. [points to friend] She...is...ugly! [lots of giggling and pushing]").

Typical weekend in Seoul. But for once a really good one.

Mar. 5th, 2010


back in the saddle (sorta)

I know I haven't written much lately (or at ALL), so here's the latest.

The new semester started on Tuesday of this week, but I didn't have any classes until today. Those few days ago I found out that A. I have a second English co-teacher, B. my after school classes are basically required of me if I want a good rating from the school (hi, Blackmail, I'm Sucker) C. my after school classes are changing in structure COMPLETELY.

Ok, so B sucks, but the other two are really not so bad. First about the after school classes. To begin with, the after school classes were a mess. I had 2 of them on Mon and Tues, teaching a class of 1st and 2nd graders and then another of grades 3-6!! The latter was ridiculous, as I'm sure I've commented previously. I had 4th graders who couldn't spell or say hardly anything (or just one or two really random words that served little or no purpose, like "phoenix", as this one kid did) in the same class as sixth graders who were asking me questions about the French Revolution. WTF. It was crazy and and incredibly hard to try to give every student  what they needed. I had to dumb stuff down to satisfy the median level, which made the class boring and either too hard or too easy. Miserable. The first and second graders were never much of a problem since they were all very early beginners. Oh, and did I mention these classes were 1.5 hours long???

So now what's being done is Lina and I are splitting up the classes differently. Lina is teaching grades 1-2 and 3-4 for 40 min each on Mondays, doing specific stuff like grammar and phonics (which are rather more complicated to explain and therefore impossible for me to communicate to the kids effectively). Then I do the same on Wednedays, each class 40 minutes, focusing on getting the kids to use and apply what they learned with Lina through games and activities and review. Then on Friday grades 5-6 have two 40 min sections, Lina's first and then mine, with a similar set up of structure.

Not only is this giving me some direction and relief, but its also going to let me address the students' needs more efficiently, focus my goals for each class, and I won't have to teach restless kids for 90 mins!!

As for the new English teacher, she has arrived with a slew of replacements for other teachers who have transferred to other schools. I found this rather jarring, since one of my favorite teachers here, a 5th grade teacher who was single, also new to Incheon, who spoke English well, and even took an especial interest in getting to know me and showing me around (even to go shopping or see movies), left for her hometown, which is in the south and central part of Korea. I was sad to see her go, partly because when there are teachers' dinners, very few people choose to speak to me because everyone's afraid to speak their limited English to me. This woman was a little bolder and brasher than the rest, and identified with me as a fellow outsider. She invited me to visit her in her hometown, and I said I would when I travel around Korea during my summer vacation. Myung Sun, my modern-thinking Korean friend who was a part-time teacher here and also the same age as me, has also left the school. She didn't like the job that much and also she has the opportunity to go live in New Zealand for several months. She has told me she doesn't like a lot of things about Korea and the way Koreans are, and I think she'll get a really refreshing experience in such an uncrowded place as NZ, plus gain a fresh perspective of her own country and culture. We'll hang out one last time this weekend as she will take off on March 17th.

Anyway, I meant to talk about my new co-teacher. She's new to teaching in a public school; she's taught for several years in a hagwon, a private academy which specializes in supplementary education for students whose families can afford it. They're more businesses than schools. Anyway, she speaks good english and she's more laid back than Lina. My role teaching with her will e a little different, since I have more experience with the co-teaching scenario than she does, plus she has never taught so many kids at once. Hagwon classes are 10 kids or less. She seems kind of uncertain, but I think her inexperience also means she's not going to be as set in her ways as Lina. This will be a little more like a partnership than my working relationship with Lina. And now that there's three of us, lunch is a little more enjoyable and I have someone to talk with other than Lina at school. All in all, it seems like it will be a very good thing. Granted, I haven't actually worked with her yet.

I was feeling really bored with this job; it had that awful "been there, done that" feeling and I just wanted to be done so I could find something new to do. But with these changes, I feel more refreshed and enthusiastic about this semester. I feel like I'm actually progressing in a direction instead of being forced to do the same thing all over again. There's hope for me yet.

Jan. 24th, 2010


heading for thailand!

Got up this morning at about 6:15am, got on the train for the airport around 7, and arrived at Incheon I'ntl Airport at around 8:20am. It was really cool heading over the bridge to the island the airport is on. Lots of little rugged islands which look so very Asian. Low tide.

Incheon airport is huge and is said to be the best airport in all of Asia. And it shows.

It's weird to be back at the place where I first arrived 5 months ago, when I had no idea what to expect from this country. I remember feeling anticipation, some curiosity, a touch of anxiety, and not really feeling the vibe of this place. But I was resigned to whatever would happen here.

this airport is probably the least intuitive I've come across. Most airport are through design and architecture pretty good at steering you in a particular direction. this one...not so much. took me forever to find my check-in counter, and I've never had my boarding pass checked so many times in my life; probably because they're making sure you know where you're going and how to get there.

anyway, more once I get to Bangkok.

Jan. 5th, 2010


moving on

So after the first 2 days of teaching for four hours, it's really a much better situation than I thought it would be. Sure I have to make things up as I go, but that's not as hard as it was when I started this job. I have a bunch of games and activities up my sleeve plus these kids aren't like the ones I teach after school. These kids are really good at English and I'm free to go over stuff I normally couldn't with my other kids.

Today I used the phrases "What do you want to do?" and "I want to _____." In the lesson for main classes, the answers are pretty mundane, like "play baseball", "play computer games", "sing", "dance", "go swimming." I made it more relevant by making it about their aspirations. It ended up become a huge brainstorming session where I gave a phrase like "I want to make things/create/invent" and they would give me all kinds of job names that fullfilled that aspiration. These kids knew "architect," "interior designer," "comedian," "producer" etc. It was awesome. I know that if I do this sort of thing again in the future I will want to do it with middle schoolers or higher. The higher the level, the more satisfaction I seem to get out of it.

I appreciate those people who want to work with the kids who straggle behind for whatever reasons, but I just can't abide having to slow down for the ones who can't keep up. A lot of kids here don't care about learning English or they just don't care av\bout making any effort. Fine, but don't waste my time. The fact is, I'm only interested in teaching those who want to be taught. Sometimes, when Lina is teaching and I have nothing to do, I walk around and try to help those lagging behind. It is unbelievable how much of a struggle it can be and how much time it can take just to get one of these students to write just one simple sentance. I never lose my patience with them, but after the fact I usually feel like it was way more effort than it was worth. If the kid doesn't care to even try, what's the point in my pushing them to? Fact is, I can't relate to those kids. I've never been one of them.

Jan. 4th, 2010

baboon punching by almostaday


There is one thing that I do absolutely hate about Koreans, and that's they never tell you exactly what's happening. I was told, repeatedly, by my co-teacher that my English camp was to be four 40-min classes for which I would have to prepare only one lesson and use it four times. Turns out, I have to teach the same students for 4 hours! Basically I have to make 4 lesson plans for one day! And I didn't find this out until the students told me. So of course now I'm just throwing everything I've got at them just to keep them occupied and the plan I created for tomorrow isn't going to come nearly close enough to using up all the time. Whose idea was it to keep 6th graders busy for 4 hours anyway? Plus, to add insult to injury, there's only 6 of them when there's supposed to be 15. And now that Lina's here I've just asked her about the previous and she acts like she told me exactly what it would be since day one. Right.

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