November 20, 2011 5 Comments
I’m sorry for the long delay in this post. Let it be known that quite a lot has happened to me since my last post (one which ironically wasn’t even about Korea), unfortunately certain events (coupled with a bit of laziness) had prevented me from writing much (or at all). But I owe it to my friends and family back at home who have supported me (and just generally wondered if I’m still alive) to let them know whats going on in the land best known for Kimchi. This post will be a hodge podge of topics and whatever comes to mind. It won’t have many pictures but thats because the next post needs to have more cool stuff.
Well first I should explain what happened to me. Since coming to this country I have had the pleasure of making many friends and enjoying a good deal of local customs and culture. Because the Korean culture is pretty much set up to work 6 days out of the week (sometimes more) the Koreans work hard and play equally as hard. There are many resturaunts, bars, and clubs with huge lit up districts dotted with batting cages, convenience stores and arcades to entertain and sell to inebriated folks looking to have fun.
Enter the Girl Fighter:
Appropriately names I can only assume to goad people into playing it. (I just wonder how many times this machine has played an audience to the Korean version of “you hit like a girl!”) The basic idea is pretty obvious. You punch the pad as hard as you can and get a score. One night (during a very merry goodbye send off of one of my closest friends) we all stopped and decided to give the machine a go.
Two days later this is my hand. While going for the high score I accidentally missed the pad and my right index knuckle struck the metal support beam holding it up. The bone was shattered.
[The next chance I get I’ll post the X-Ray Photos up here.]
As you can imagine I never had a more sincere appreciation for my hand as I did the month with that cast on. Writing, typing…hell everything was pretty much a nightmare.
On the upside though I got some pretty cool street cred from my kids. They all assumed I beat someone up (a logical conclusion to draw when someone shatters their knuckle). I didn’t feel like correcting 1500 students who all asked “Teacher! Hand sick! Why?” (In Korean sick and hurt have the same meaning) So I just let them think what they wanted. Most gave me a left handed high five. I love those little bastards.
As for my hand presently, it is completely healed up. It’s still slightly weaker and I don’t think I’ll be getting into any fist fights anytime soon but I can operate like a normal person again. One unfortunate side effect is that the bone did heal in an unusual shape. It seems a bit smooshed but doesn’t physically effect me.
(image taken from CNN.com)
About two weeks ago I came into work an hour late. No, not because I was sleeping in or tardy, but because I had to. All Korean High School Students must take a test called the College Scholastic Ability Test (CSAT). On the day of this test all businesses open an hour late, planes are not allowed to fly to minimize noise , and students that are late can call emergency services and get a police escort directly to school.
But while this test seems like something similar to the SAT’s the Korean drive for fairness makes it something entirely different. This test pretty much determines the rest of a students life in Korea. You can only take it once at the last year of High School (also known as the “Hell Year”) It covers multiple subjects including English, Korean, Math and Science. The test is so new and radically different every year that they hire a team of the top educators in their fields and literally lock them in a room for a month to come up with the questions and hold them hostage until the test is done so no questions or answers leak out. (I was told this by a teacher that administers the test).
You can see the effects and the fear it instills in kids. Nearly 75% of all students study nearly every single day in private tutoring facilities after regular school hours (sometimes to the point of neglecting their inconsequential school studies for test preparation). Four to five hours of sleep is actually a normal amount for High School Students. Right now suicide is the number one cause of death for those under 40 in South Korea. Hell right now this country as a whole has the highest suicide percentage in the world, and that’s compared to students in other countries (for example Ireland whose test covers every subject in the sun and lasts literally a week). The reason is that there are only 3 “good” colleges in the country (Seoul National University, Korea University, and Yonsei University aka S.K.Y. Universities) and achieving anything less is “tantamount to economic and social [banishment] for life.”(http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/world_now/2011/11/south-korea-education-annual-college-entrance-exam-required-silence.html)
Teaching in Korea
About a week ago I signed up to renew my contract. This puts me in an interesting situation. The guy I teach with, plans to renew his contract as well, and seeing as how we both get along pretty well I would usally be looking forward to that. Unfortunately however our school will not have the money in the budget to support two teachers, so one of us will be sent to another school and the other one will stay. The faculty at the school needs to choose who should stay and who should go. I’m fairly certain they will choose Simon to stay (while I am a fairly competent teacher I really do think Simon is much better than I.) I am not really upset over this, I would really like the change of scenery and maybe a brand new place to teach where I could establish myself as a brand new independent teacher. However things are made a little complicated by the fact that Simon is currently looking at a new job offer outside of Public School.
The thing about teaching in Korea that I have learned is that all you really need is a degree and a pulse. So job offers are always easy to come by.
However one of the problems I’m finding with a lot of my friends is that its always a mixed bag, no I’m not talking much about the students as I am the faculty. I remember when I first came here it seemed like everyone who had something to complain about always complained about the faulty. The kids were kids, frankly speaking, but the particular faculty here is what makes teaching a particularly iffy job.
Since Korea is a very traditional society they follow age and societal heiarchy to the T in every situation imaginable. Nothing is wrong if the head dog says it isn’t and this is particuly difficult if you are a foreigner. By default you are out of the heiarchy and unable to rock the boat if something is wrong. Even if your boss is doing something wrong or illegal that breaks your contract you’re at their mercy to do what they ask. Because they hold your visa to stay in the country and they hold your paycheck and there aren’t many resources to fight against the system (at least there aren’t many in your language). So you pretty much pray you have a good boss and a good work environment and Co-workers when you get there. Having talked to a few people (a friend of mine who recently left public teaching and one who just joined to replace them) working with government sponsored schools is obviously the most stable. But even then you’re still rolling dice.
Simon and I got lucky this year, but who knows what situation we’ll be thrown into next year. I could be in that nice high rise apartment he has on the 21st floor, but at the same school trying to give the school a person who can work as two but is only one. Or I could find myself at a new school with a whole new set of problems or positives. But I’m looking forward to the new challenge at any rate.
As I live in this country I really have taken a taste to Korean food. but I’m starting to eat less and less of it. I suppose the reason is that I’m starting to understand how monotonous it can be. It lacks spices and flair. Nothing is very savory and most things seem to have the same taste.
The most common seasoning method for food in korean food is quite frankly to let it rot. I’m referring of course to taste of Kimchi (fermented cabbage, radishes, or cucumbers) which is eaten as a side dish to every single meal.
(image taken from: http://koreanfoodsdotcom.blogspot.com/2010/05/recipe-kimchi.html )
The second most popular seasoning method is to overpower it with chilies. Here I’m talking about the sauce that pretty much accompanies ALL meat known as Gochujang (Hot Pepper Paste). Koreans eat this stuff so much that they usually sell this stuff in HUGE tubs.
(TImage source: http://www.maangchi.com/ingredients/hot-pepper-paste-gochujang)
After that it’s the less popular pseudo American foods. This happens usually when they adopt something American and kind of miss the whole point of the thing. For example taking a slice of regular bread and making it as sweet as cake. Or taking a hamburger and stuffing it with flavorless rice cake as a filler. Or dressing food up with cheap meat fillers like spam and cheap cocktail wieners. Or taking a Corndog baking a thick cake-like breading, letting it get cold before dumping it in oil for five seconds (presumably to suck up said oil while still keeping the hotdog ice cold) and covering it with sugar AND ketchup.
Original Caption: Someone does not enjoy his lukewarm corn dog dipped in white sugar and drizzled with ketchup. Oh Korea, you did us wrong this time.
My Reply: Buddy I know exactly how you feel…)
Now don’t get me wrong i don’t mind these things every now and then (well I always HATE it when they screw up my corndogs [DISGUSTING!]) but every single day these things kind of wear on you.
Also Koreans usually eat at home, so when they go out they usually don’t care much to eat their veggies. So someone like me who has no idea how to cook traditional Korean dishes (or even how to read the recipes and labels) is left with usually fried greasy meat and it caused a lot of troubles for me when i first came to the country. A lot of digestives troubles if you know what I mean.
So i’ve tried to take up healthy American style cooking from what I learned back at home and it’s difficult and expensive. There are only a few American brand stores here (a very nice Costco) but they’re all very far away and dragging boxes of heavy food are a bit difficult when you’re only way to get them home is to hold them on a packed subway train for an hour with five mile long transfers in between. But sometimes you just have to go with what you crave even if you destroy your tiny closet sized kitchen and wallet in the process.
This morning I was craving Breakfast. Koreans don’t usually have breakfast. Well…they eat in the morning but there is no difference between breakfast, lunch and dinner. And here is the end result:
Estimated Total Cost: $50+ (imported maple syrup, imported butter [no they don’t use butter here either], luxury Bacon, imported cheese for eggs [nope not that either], imported cereal [nu-uh])
Estimated Satisfaction: Priceless
[If I can I’ll post what I’m cooking for dinner tonight as well.]
Well that’s all for this post. I know it was little more than a status update and some slightly relevant news but that’s whats going on right now in my world.
I’ve done a lot of interesting things and I’ll post those up later this week. Just wanted to let you guys know I’m still up and kicking. I Love and miss you all.