Monday, June 27, 2011

North Korea - famine, family and feuds

[P.S. If you are short on time, skip to the last paragraph. The first two are more or less just my ramblings.]

Although there are many good and bad things about teaching in South Korea, I think that one of the most interesting aspects of teaching at a middle-school in particular is to see how students of this particular generation view North Korea. Although it's not something I bring up in regular classes (most of my students wouldn't be able to express themselves anyway), it is something that I have discussed with my higher level conversation classes, as it often comes up in essays they submit to various English ability competitions. The view that comes forth is often pro-reunification, although many don't seem to know much about, or perhaps relate to, the Korean War, how it started and the politics around it, beyond "Kim Jong Il wants to kill us all". But there seems to be a generally positive attitude towards the North, and even though no-one agrees on how it is run (obviously - "history is [will be] written by the winners" anybody?), everyone sees it as the other half of the country and North Koreans as still essentially just other Koreans. Although most know about the part that Park Chung-Hee played in the industrialisation of South Korea and can recognise how it fits in to the comfortable lifestyles they live today (in fact, this was what one of them wrote an essay about once), the fact that life in South Korea during the 1960's - early 1980's was arguably worse and more restrictive than life in the North is not something commonly known. Perhaps the familiarity with both of these important parts of Korean history is generational - after all, many of these students' parents would have been born or grown up under Park Chung-Hee that could now see the payoff for all their effort, and similiarly there would be many grandparents who would have been born or grown up during the Korean War - but probably not that many now that were old enough to live through it as an adult and vividly remember everything that happened that are actually willing to talk about it to their families. Not exactly Happy Story Time, right? And after all, these kids are only 13 - 15 years old, so even being able to discuss what they can, in English, is pretty amazing.

What I find interesting is that the stuff I'm hearing now from these students is really not that much more in depth than the opinions I heard from university students in Seoul when I was studying at Ewha. Keeping in mind that Ewha is Korea's top women's university and ranked in the top 5, and pretty much everyone in Seoul seems to at least be able to communicate in English, this was a bit worrying, as the opinions were also completely the other way. At the time I was there in 2006, North Korea was testing nuclear missiles over the East Sea, so naturally there was a lot of worry that Seoul was the next target. Out of interest, I asked around about what my fellow (Korean) students thought of North Korea and I was fairly shocked to hear a pretty generalised "North Korea is evil, they want to kill us, we should kill them first" or "North Korea doesn't deserve our help and reunification will never be possible" or just plain indifference. Ok, sure, the threat of nuclear annihilation was probably a bit influential here. So I asked some of my class mates from my North Korean Literature and Education class what they thought of the country and the people. Not much difference. What about the famines and starvation? Don't you feel pity for the regular people? Nope. Out of about 30 people that I asked, only about four people responded positively, saying that they believed that reunification was possible or that the South should continue to send food aid to the North.

Anyway, so opinions vary. I can't help but wonder however if this generation's vague benevolence to the North has something to do with it's imminence to collapse and the South's clear upperhand in the situation. In 2006, even though the South was still obviously a stronger economic power and had the backing of the Bush administration in the case of military action, food aid was still being sent in fairly regular supply and the Kaesong Industrial Complex, run collaboratively by DPRK and a private South Korean company was thriving. Recently, with the decline of Kim Jong-Il's health and the preparation for the succession of his son Kim Jong-Un, military scuffles are becoming more common, food aid has been reduced and a general air of tension has been on the rise. As well as the sinking of the Cheonan battleship (after which Pyongyang pulled out of the KIC), and the shelling of Yeongpyong island, North Korea recently took great offence to the revelation that certain divisions of the RoK army were using pictures of the North's 'Royal Family' for target practice and severed further ties. All the usual faff and huff. However, a new and very telling development is the effect this has had in North Korea, but this time not just on the people, but also the military which until previously has been pretty well insulated from the effects of food and foreign aid shortages, taking longer to be affected during the famines in the 1990's (apparently North Korea actually requested that food aid be stopped in 2002 but luckily loopholes were found). Anyway, read this article from the ABC and watch the video. It says everything that you need to know. What do you think? Do you think reunification might be something we see sooner rather than later over, say, the next five to ten years? And if so, do you think it'll be reunification from internal collapse, or will the DPRK try to go out guns blazing?

Friday, June 24, 2011

The good, the bad, the ugly...

Ok, so as promised, instead of a rant, a blog praising some of my less aggravating students. And also about some of the funny things they say because I think that some of them are little geniuses! So the Korean education system doesn't encourage a great deal of creative thinking, and it certainly doesn't produce a lot of it. But I do, and although I don't condemn them for not being able to, I do love it when they genuinely come up with some funny and innovative stuff. Like lately, I've been getting my second year students to make their own magic product, and some of the things they've come up with have been hilarious. As well as the usual stuff made with the vocabulary I've given them, there have been a few that have ventured outside the box and come up with some really good stuff. Although I don't know why, but a lot of them seem to like making skin creams with snails in them because they are slimy and have soft skin. I feel like I've seen an ad for something like that at Skin food or something. Anyway, enjoy!

My favourites from class 2-4 (girls):
~ Snack Wings! Secret ingredient: angel's tears. It will make you fly, you will have wonderful wings and it will be very delicious and healthy!
~ Super duper hot diet spray! Secret ingredient: unicorn's horn. It will make your fat be gone, it will make your body like a Hollywood stars', it will make you many boyfriends and you will smell like Queen Elizabeth!
~ Transform energy drink! Secret ingredient: bear toe nails, sheep's fur, apple leaves and deer blood. It will give you super powers and you will change, you will transform into animals, it will be a mystery drink and you should buy it because it will be cheap!

Class 2-5 (boys):
~ God body spray! Secret ingredients: God's hair, my gas, Tae-Hee's tooth. It will make you invisible, you will be able to go everywhere, it will make you  happy and it will make you very interesting!
~ Smile Happy Spray! Secret ingredient: shark tooth. It will make you feel so good, you will smile every day!
~ Beckham hair cream! Secret ingredient: Beckham's hair. It will make your hair like Beckham's hair style, you will play soccer very well, it will make you handsome, it will be awesome!
~ Soccer Energy Bar! Secret ingredient: frog's legs - tagline: kick like a frog! It will be very delicious, you will be able to do trick shots, you will be a soccer star and it will be discounted next week!

Funny ingredients have included:
Dragon Spray (to make your own dragon): iron 10%, soul 60%, black dragon fin 20%, hellfire 5%, gold 5%.
Special diet cream: sugar, solid magma, dragon's hair, snake's blood.
Junjae energy smart drink (the boys who made it are named Jun-Yeong and Jae-Hyeon): mouse tails, cow eyes, batwings, people blood.

Other great stuff they've produced (all second year I'm afraid - as mentioned earlier, I think that there is seriously something wrong with this year's first years, or perhaps it's the parenting that's behind it) is from the week before's activity of writing instructions to do something. These were my favourites from class 2-7:

In other news, it's Friday! Yay! It's raining quite a bit here (which I actually quite like) so it's not as steamy as usual, and since I don't seem to have quite kicked the kidney infection yet, the slightly lower temperature (and lots of Nurofen and water) is something I'm very happy about since it means I can actually eat hot food without ending up in a monsoon of my own sweat. On the upside, because I was so damp from sweat (post-hot shower), it did prevent me from accidentally setting myself on fire the other day when I turned my hibachi thing (portable gas stove that runs on canisters of butane gas) on so I shouldn't say it's all bad. The story: the spark didn't ignite so I thought the gas had run out. To test this, I tried triggering it again, but didn't think my way through it enough to turn the gas off first, hence a very beautiful bloom of fire up my chest and into my face and me screeching like a manic chicken. And ...yes, I'm that stupid.

Also, I'm having a Summer Christmas with some other Southern Hemisphererers tomorrow (since none of us were sufficiently impressed at having a winter Christmas last year with snow) so I am excited! In fact, with the rain and the heat, it's quite like the last couple of Christmases at home have been - thanks global warming! But sadly, I might not be able to truly represent as an Aussie by wearing thongs (flip flops to you North Americans with dirty minds) as I am currently both excited and disgusted at the same time by the present state of my feet. I tried the foot peeling pack from the Face Shop last Saturday when I was in Busan with mum and dad (mum tried one too!) and as promised, the dead skin has been peeling off to reveal the 'baby feet skin' underneath. While quite impressive, it's also been quite gross, and my feet now look like they have selective leprosy. I've been wearing socks everywhere (not fun in the 32 degree heat we had at the start of the week) to limit the amount of dead skin sloughing off my footsies onto the floor that I keep finding everywhere, and I've been scrubbing them every time I have a shower, but I still have to shake out my bedding (I tend to kick the socks off in the night) and vacuum every day anyway. Mine was 7000 won, but they also have them at Nature Republic for 4000 won and apparently at Tony Moly too.

Oh, and I also bought the 'Secret Garden' manhwa (만화 - comic book) to try and a) help my Korean and b) actually get me interested in dramas, since everyone seems to have loved this one. So hopefully I will have the time this weekend to get started on it and it will be a good incentive to improve my Korean. Anyway, happy Friday everyone! Hope y'all have brilliant weekends ^_^

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

New resolution: Stop making stupid titles for my posts.

Haha. Self explanatory. I just realised how hard it is to find posts that I want by trawling through the titles. babo (idiot) ^^

What the frick.

Why are some of my students almost indescribably adorable and others so bad that I even doubt they have souls? Seriously, there's one in first year, Ye-Min, who's such a little b***h-face trouble-maker that I'm betting (hoping) she gets into a scrag fight with some older and much more bad-ass-er Queen B who can finally teach her that sometimes you just need to sit back and shut up. Because there's no other way she's ever going to learn it, and unfortunately it's probably only going to sink in that she's not top-dog when she gets her butt severely kicked. She actually reminds me a lot of the student last year (now in third year where I don't have to deal with her thank Jeebus) who told me to f*** off to my face twice who is now apparently shacking up with her much older boyfriend and wagging school. This is a BIG thing in Korea - keep in mind that she would be about 15 now Western age, but when she started all this, she was 14. Not only is she driving her parents and her homeroom teacher up the wall, but she's probably also effectively ruining her life since there's no way she's going to get into a good high-school or university now and she's too lazy to do anything to fix it.

Haha, sound harsh much? Well, maybe. You never know, she might wake up and decide that she wants a better life than she can have working in a booking club or all day at Lotteria for w8000 a day before it's too late. But this first year Ye-Min IS a jerk, and then some, so I stand by my prediction for her. She's also a bully, and causes so many problems with and amongst her classmates that about three weeks ago ALL of the parents of the students in her homeroom class got called into school for a meeting (and simultaneous dressing down of the students) with the first grade teachers. My second grade girls have also been complaining to me about how disrespectful the first year girls are, leading to some lunch room scuffles, and I have a feeling that Ye-Min might be one of the instigators.

Last week however, she really took the cake. I walked into class 1-7 to find all the boys hanging out the window trying to get a glimpse of the police car that had shown up at the school. None of them could tell me what had happened, and my co-teacher was equally in the dark, so I asked one of the teachers the next day at lunch (the gossip mill HQ) and apparently Ye-Min had called the police and accused one of the third year boys of sexual assault because he'd touched her breast. Yes, that's right, the police. Not a teacher, not her parents, the police. And so when they rocked up to school and into the main staffroom to investigate, with none of the teachers knowing why the hell they were there, and then walking into both Ye-Min and Ju-Seung's classes to pull them out and figure out what was wrong, you can imagine the chaos that broke out.

What had actually happened was that Ju-Seung had brushed past her at the water station in the canteen (which is a tiny confined hallway area anyway and getting water is like fighting through a rugby scrum at the best of times) and she'd thrown a hissy fit about it and then gotten even more pissed off because he hadn't noticed anything was wrong and just walked away with his friends. Now Ju-Seung is one of the nicest kids around - always polite to everyone (not just to teachers), always looks out for his friends, works hard, doubly so for subjects he's not as good at - and so of course was absolutely distraught at the allegation. Ye-Min being Ye-Min (and being a 11 or so year old Korean girl having virtually nothing to touch anyway), it was pretty clear how much basis there was to this. But of course, it was still a serious matter and it still took a while to clear up. Geesh.

So that was dramatic. Fortunately, most of my students aren't in the Ye-Min category. Of course they are all teenagers and so have their ups and downs, but they are mostly pretty well behaved. I'll have to do a post about the good students later to balance this one out :)

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

미안해!!!! (Sorry!)

 The Super Junior boys (a.k.a. the biggest boy band ever) singing "쏘리 쏘리" ("Sorry Sorry"). And yes, there are that many of them in the band!

It seems like I start most of my posts this way these days with an apology for my extreme laziness and lack of recent posting, and this isn't going to be any different. In my defence, I've been rather busy lately, not with anything particularly onerous, just the time-consuming business of having friends that I actually want to spend time with, so it's a busyness I'm rather glad to have ^^

This past weekend was a long weekend for Memorial Day yesterday (Monday, 6th of June) so I had a rather glorious time in Busan where I saw some baseball, drank (way too much) beer, went to the beach, ate hwaedopbap (회덮밥 - cold sashimi bibimbap) and (briefly) saw some of my lovely Busan buddies! Since it was a long weekend and the weather has been lovely and summery recently, and there was a Sand Festival at Haeundae, a lot of Cheongju people actually ended up there and weirdly enough many of us ended up congregating on the beach at around 11pm on Saturday night drinking beer, doing cartwheels in the sand and generally enjoying not being in Cheongju. Photos will be posted with greater details later (since I have less after school classes this week I might actually have time to post regularly! Hope you don't get sick of me this week dear readers! ㅋㅋㅋ) I also got a bit tanned (nothing like at home) so it was lovely^^

Anyway, apart from that, I also wanted to share a few interesting posts that I read recently. The first is one from the blog A New Yorker in Seoul that all foreigners coming to Korea should probably be told to read upon moving in before you get ideas about legal rights etc settled into your dumb foreign head, and it's especially helpful to know this if you are a foreign English teacher whose contract runs right up until the start date of the new year and whose school will probably want to bring in your replacement before your contract technically ends. Basically, a contract means diddly-squat. You. Will. Be. Screwed. Over. If they think they can get away with it (and they will really push it). I read this and immediately realised that I'm going to have to rethink my move-out plans even more than I had after seeing some friends last year go through this! Lara, Gerri and Neil, I think you'll find this resonates very closely to your last day in Cheongju!

**Gah, update. Gotta love last minute Korean-style plans, along the lines of "Do you have any plans? Because this is the plan that we have made for you that we expect you to attend in an hour's time. So your plans are now moot. Please cancel them." Dinner plans with Edi and Mr Smiley (co-teacher I have nicknamed that because he has only JUST started smiling at me at school, despite the fact that we have hung out quite a few times. And by smile I mean the tiniest possible lift at the corners of his mouth, flashed across his face like a squirrel on speed) and Om (yes, he's tall and has a deep voice so he's like Terry Pratchett's Om in Small Gods at his peak) are possibly still on, as the school admin people are promising to have me home by then, but I guess my plans of going to the gym and generally getting off my big fat butt are not. Oh well - this is why you should always go to the gym when you have the time to, (which was yesterday, instead of drinking vodka with Ead and scandalising her neighbours by sunbathing on her roof in bikinis) and not put it off until later. My bad.

The way a typical school dinner plan is made, a la Coree.