Friday, September 9, 2011

Wasu-ri, my sweet home near the DMZ

10pm local time, Friday, 9 Sept 2011

Here's a delayed update on the life and the times. I meant to write much of this sooner but I got delayed because of business at the schools.

Life is good here. Every day I think, I'm here and I'm teaching. As tough as it is, I will learn. I often think of my cousin Mark. A short time ago, he'd served in the National Guard and had been done a tour of duty in Iraq. About a month ago at a family gathering, he told me about how he'd felt on the way to Iraq on the troop plane. He felt nervous and apprehensive and everything else one would feel on the way to a combat zone. When the plane touched down and he stepped off of it, he said to himself, I'm here. I will do this. I'm here. He willed himself to keep a positive attitude about his tour in Iraq. All through the plane to Korea I thought about that story and how I'd say the same thing once I landed in Incheon. And I did. I got off the plane and said, I'm here. I made it. I'm here. [For Mark, if you're reading this: I love you, buddy. Thank you for the advice. Your positive attitude is inspiring.]

What follows are some notes on the life and the times here:

  • The compactness of the town made it easier to figure out. See below for some random factoids about it.
  • It has only one bar, but almost every restaurant serves drinks and beer's available whenever stores are open.
  • We're three norabangs (no-ray-baang), or karaoke rooms here. Norabang literally means "singing room." Karaoke happens in separate rooms and 1000s of Korean and English language songs are available.
  • It has three cell phone stores. They're all the same company. Seriously.
  • Everyone and their sister has a cell phone and most all the students have smart phones.
    • We have two chain French bakeries, Tous Les Jours and Paris Baguette. Tous also has a coffee shop where you can get real espresso.
    • The soldiers run the economy here.
    • There are more restaurants than I can count.
  • It has a cross country bus terminal. You can get on a bus here and get to Seoul in less than 2 hours.
  • Bus lines connect Wasu to Sincheorwon, Dongsong, and probably several other towns, but I haven't figured them out yet. Buses run every day from around ~7am to ~9pm and they're always punctual. From here to Sincheorwon takes ~30 minutes and costs 2100 won ($2) each way. To transfer to go to Dongsong takes 45-60 minutes, depending on the transfer delay, and costs 4200 won (2100 x 2) each way.
  • Bus drivers drive like mad and take turns like their racing in a 350Z. It makes getting across town quite the time.

Gimhwa High School and Gimhwa Girls Middle School:

  • Today marked the end of my second week of teaching here and it went quite well. Despite the language and the cultural barriers teaching the middle school and high school classes has gone wonderfully. Korean students have had English classes since early elementary school, so most students have at least a rudimentary understanding of English. Before coming here, I'd been aware of how I had to vary my word choices to suit various grades, but being here has made me all the more conscious of it since I'm speaking a foreign language and I must cut any excess verbiage from what I say in class. What I say does get through, especially for classroom management strategies. All of the kids know that if I hold raise my hand and count down from 5 it means it's time to quiet down and focus. (Doing this works even better when I count down in Korean). Or if I say, "If you can hear my clap once <clap>," the kids--especially the middle school girls--will clap and snap to. And yes, they will snap to. The Korean kids revere their elders (esp. parents and teachers) more than their American counterparts.
  •  I should note that I have co-teachers who are in the room with me, so I am not teaching alone. I've six co-teachers all together and they're all fun to teach with. They all have their varying styles of teaching (and amount of translation of my English), but they have all more than supportive of sharing their classes with me. I'm closer to some of the co-teachers than the others, but that's due to sharing office space and nothing more.
  • The students are wonderful. All day, every day, they wave and say "hello" in the hallway. Here the students are trained to bow to their teachers and so many of them bow to me as I walk by. I tell ya, it's really something to have that kind of respect. It gets even better with the middle school students. They treat me like a celebrity at times, what with the "Teacher, teacher!" and "HI!!!!"s. Maybe that's the schoolgirl crush coming out; I don't know. Usually I end up walking half of the way home surrounded by a pack of girls asking about where I'm from and if I have a girlfriend. What lovely kids they are. Even with not knowing 90% of what they're saying to each other I can tell you the middle school girls are more affectionate and doting on each other than their American counterparts. They're always holding each others' hands or folding their arms around each other or doing each other's hair. Some of the hugging and handholding brings young clingy couples to mind, but I imagine all the stuff they do's platonic. When I get a chance I'll snap a picture to illustrate my point.
  • The students love it when I speak Korean and attempt to speak Korean. It feels better and better to learn new words and use them in class. In every class I strive to get the Korean equivalent of 1 to 5 words and have people write them on the boards. Sometimes I make fumbling attempts to write them Korean's coming along. Learning it feels exhilirating. By now the once-alien shapes have morphed into English letters or words. Sometimes I just hear the sound of them of them, but it's coming along.
  • Teaching and being at the schools helps with the homesickness and culture shock, even if there've been plenty of times were the school shocks me with enough culture by itself.

My English Conversation students.

Some more high school students. In the back stands co-teacher Mr. Lee. I call remember him as "Young Lee" since Lee's such a common name here and I've another co-teacher named Lee too. 

I show this picture for two reasons. First, platform Chuck Taylor knockoffs! Dig it! 

Second, and more importantly, a bit of school culture: what you see here is one of shoe racks outside every classroom. The students ( plus teachers and staff) all have "indoor" and "outdoor" shoes. When people come to school they switch from their outdoor shoes to their indoor shoes. The indoor shoes range from Chucks (popular here!) to sandals. It took me a week to pic up on this, but I joined in. Now I wear sandals to class like all the other teachers.

Another view. Also, the mops: every day the students mop the floors and clean the schools. Many students do this with aplomb.

A view of Wasu-ri from across the entrance to the high school and middle school. You can see the small stream (which is actually bigger outside of town) running alongside the roadway and can see the temple in the distance.

One of the middle school classes. I'm ashamed to say I haven't learned too many names yet, but I'll get them.

As you can see, the kids all wear uniforms and they look the same as their Western counterparts.


Stayed tuned for more to come. I'll be heading home now and will post more tomorrow.

1 comment:

  1. Hey I used to teach in Wasu with Epik back in 2009 ... at wasu elementary school. It was a small town, but I really enjoyed my time there. Good working environment, good co-workers, other nice foreigners living there ... and just a good vibe.

    I found your page by typing wasu on google haha.

    and on your last picture on your page the one with a bunch of girl students where you dont remember their names picture ... the one on the bottom left looking directly at you ... was one of my former students in elementary school.

    Anyways hope you have a good time there or had a good time.