Wednesday, February 19, 2014

High school move in 2014

The hallway's alive with the cacophony of the incoming first grade students this morning. Though classes are out for the next week and a half, they're here to pick up their school uniforms, their textbooks, and move into their classrooms. Each student gets the standard desk and locker combo. It's similar in the US, although as I recall, many more parents would accompany their children there than in Korea. 

Here, the morning's as much about moving in as it is about socializing. One might think the students were reconnecting after having undergone a long summer away at various camps because of the overemotive banter, but no, that's just how they talk. The omnipresent hagwon and proximity of the small town mean that the kids have probably seen each other every day in the past couple weeks. So it goes here. 

Note: Unlike last year and the year before, I've met all of these students before as middle school students. I'll need to refresh the memory though, for I haven't taught the incoming girls in a year and, thanks to the shifting boys middle school schedules, there weren't many chances to teach the incoming boys. Still, they are not unknown. And I'm no stranger to them: They gave hearty hellos and greetings when I peered out into the hallway earlier. Let's hope the enthusiasm holds: High school's a hard three year slog in Korea and their English classes are about to get more challenging.

Friday, February 14, 2014

"Touring is never boring": Gwangju in January 2014 #1

First, some music to play while you read:

"Touring" (1981 version) from The Ramones. I took this post's title from the chorus of the song.

Please don't confuse this with Gwangju Station. Gwangju Songjeong Station is Gwangju Station's smaller counterpart. It sits on the west side of the city. KTX and Mugunghwa trains pass through it.

"...especially with your favorite girl..."

R and I spent part of our winter vacation in the southwestern city of Gwangju. It had been on our list of destinations for some time now, particularly because it was in a region of Korea we had not seen yet and because of its place in Korean history. The city played host to huge protests, as you'll see below.

Where we went

In the May 18 Memorial Park near our hotel in the Sangmu area. We had an enjoyable walk through it on the way to lunch.

This plaque is inset onto the sidewalk on Chungjang Street. The street was the site of the May 18 Uprising, whereupon citizens protested against then-dictator Chun Doo-hwan. Visit Korea has this to say: 
Named after the posthumous title of General Kim Deok-ryeong, Chungjangno Street was the site of the 1980 Gwangju Democratization Movement. Today, it is Gwangju’s major fashion district, comparable with Myeongdong Street of Seoul. The streets of Chungjangno are lined with shopping malls, clothing stores, restaurants, cafes, movie theaters and various other attractions, providing the ultimate experience of modern culture in Gwangju. It is the city's hub of fashion, both trendy and traditional, as well as venue for diverse performances.

The Gwangju National Museum and a beautiful blue sky. Not a cloud to be seen. Note the snaking waterway. We saw plenty of old pottery inside. Serene stuff.

This picture's here for two reasons:
  1. I can't help taking pictures of cafes with unusual names.
  2. A college buddy and I used to make "Seven Howling Monkeys" from Seagrams 7 and the short-lived but delicious Howling Monkey cola.

Here's Caffe Soo, the cafe run by the parents of Miss A's Suzy. R and I love to visit the local cafes, and this was one she just had to see. Okay, okay: I did too...I've always liked Miss A's music and I can always do some cafe action. Suzy is also the most popular of the Kpop girls among my boys. When we dropped by, we noted with amazement that she also starred in Architecture 101, one of our favorite Korean movies. We stayed for a while and gazed upon all of the memorabilia inside: It's a fan's dream, to say the least. See below for links to a couple blogs with photos from inside the cafe. (It's not possible to post them here for some reason)

And yes, the drinks were good. My banana juice was as cool and fresh; R's green tea latte tasted good too! As an added bonus, we received cookies when we left as "service." If only we'd eaten them inside! They were excellent. As R said, "You can taste the butter." 

[Her group's also popular, but she's only member anyone here talks about. I'm at a loss as to why, for all four members can sing and dance quite well. Kirsten once noted their sexiness and moxie, and I can't help but concur. I've written about them here:]

A note about traveling there: It's located across the street from a library in a not-so-central neighborhood. We took a cab there. The links below do have directions. Also: If you plan to eat dinner afterwards, we can recommend a good barbecue place nearby, but that's it.


As always, we sampled the local libations. This makgeolli's the best I've tasted anywhere in Korea. It's also all-natural.

That's all for part #1. More's on the way!

End of the 2013 school year / Updates for 14 Feb 2014

Today's post will be short, but I've plenty more on the way. Now that the school year's over and two weeks of deskwarming await me after the weekend, I've a burst of inspiration for writing...

Like yesterday, today was a shortened day for the students here. They attended school for the first half of the day, received their textbooks for next year, and moved their things into their new classrooms. That's about all that happened today from what I've discerned. My dear second graders are moving up the academic boot camp that is third grade. I'll miss them because I don't teach HS third grade. The kids will survive, but they'll have to work for it. The third grade is a grueling slog of 12 hour days and interminable memorization..


Thursday, February 13, 2014

Graduation Day 2014

While today is the official day, its been coming for some time now. The Korean school year hasnt officially ended yet despite the conclusion of the second semester exams, and winter classes. All three of those things happened in January. The semester itself ended after Christmas. Moreover, the third grade HS students took their CSATs for college in November. Theyve been done for some time now.

The schools buzzing with activity. Students of every grade are conferring with the faculty. Many final preparations are underway. Meanwhile, Im watching everything from my desk because all I have to do is show up for the ceremony. Being the guest teacher has its peculiaritiesthese fly-on-the-wall scenes especially.

Todays the third graduation I will have witnessed. Its the one dearest to me because these students are the 1st graders I met in August in 2011. Theyre the group I had the pleasure of knowing for almost all of their HS careers. True, next years group will be the first group Ive known for all three years, but todays thrilling nonetheless. They were great to have in class because they took English seriously and they were the first group I got to know. Among them is a shy girl who came to me when shed been bullied. I had done a lesson on bullying around that time; maybe it spurred her to act. Another girl had been spreading rumors about her. She was beside herself. We talked for a while. Id advised her as best I could and told her ignore the other girl and to call the Korean helpline.

That was eighteen months ago. Today shes going to graduate and go on to a university in another province. Shes less shy, she speaks more confidently, and she walks straighter. Shell do well.

Id better go now. The fun starts in 20 minutes or so.

Additional notes:

Korean high school graduation ceremonies differ from their American counterparts in many ways:

  • No caps and gowns. The students received their diplomas their their uniforms, suits, or dresses. The suits and dresses aren't common in my experience, though.
  • It's short: This year's ceremony barely lasted 45 minutes, and it was, according to a co-teacher, a long ceremony!
  • The students receive their diplomas in groups. They also tend to receive any awards or scholarships when they're given their diplomas.
  • The students bow after receiving their diplomas, but unlike the Western fashion of bowing while facing the audience, the students bow toward their elders on the stage.
  • The students also receive their diplomas while facing away from the audience.
  • I can't speak to other schools, but my high school and girls middle school combined their ceremonies into one because they're on the same campus.