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Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Angry Birds

Let me introduce to something that has somehow turned into a prominent part of my workday, Angry Birds. Angry Birds first started out as a game that you could play on your computer or iPhone:

Angry Birds Game

Here in Korea, Angry Birds have been taken to a whole new level. There is Angry Bird EVERYTHING. Angry Bird key-chains, Angry Bird pencils, Angry Bird erasers, Angry Bird socks…

Angry Birds Cake-Pops

I had never heard of Angry Birds before coming to Korea, and the other teachers mentioned them to me when I first got here, “The kids love Angry Birds. “Angry whats?” “You’ll see.” Indeed I did, but I still don’t really get it. Why are they so popular? And, what are these birds so angry about, anyway?
Everyone at school loves Angry Birds, from the three year olds to the thirteen-year-olds. I’m not sure if this is a global trend or just Korea. But they are seriously obsessed, some of them especially. It’s the new Pok√©mon. Someone somewhere is making a ton of money off of these pissed-off birds.
On the positive side, we teachers can use this obsession to our advantage by using Angry Birds as rewards (usually stickers). But, sometimes it gets annoying. Like, when kids won’t accept stickers that aren’t Angry-Bird stickers. Or, when they find a way to relate every lesson to something about Angry Birds.
Or, when writing a paper on why it is important to respect your teachers (assigned to a certain class that can’t seem to grasp that concept), one of the kids wrote that “Disrespecting the teacher makes teacher a very angry bird.” Um, yes, it’s true, but so does your freakish obsession with Angry Birds!
I’ve learned the Korean word for bomb, sounds like “pook-tan,” because there are bombs in the game, so the kids are always talking about them (there are also pelicans. Seriously, what is with this game??). A couple times, when drawing apples on the board, I heard a chorus of “Pooktan! Pooktan!” “Say BOMB,” I tell them. You can insult my drawings, but at least do it in English. Geez.
            While all of the boys in my Kindergarten class love Angry Birds. One of them, Daniel, is particularly fond of them. It’s all that he talks about, all that he thinks about, and (I’m sure) all he dreams about. His favorite color is red, because that is the color of the main Angry Bird character. We have to make him use other colors when he’s coloring, so that his coloring-pages aren’t giant red blobs.
The best behaved I’ve ever seen Daniel is the week when one of the other teachers told him that if he got three “good-points” he could have her giant Angry Bird pen. He eventually got it, and now he’s always running around showing it to everyone, including the teachers. “That’s nice, Daniel.”

Me, Daniel (in his Angry Bird sweatshirt)

I confiscated one of Daniel’s Angry Bird toys the other day because he took it out during class-time. And, while sitting next to my desk during lunch-play (as he usually is, since he usually doesn’t behave himself enough to be allowed to play), he was whining to me with all of the English he could muster, begging for it back. “Austinnn Teachaaa, me like this Angry Bird doll SOOO much…me is SO SO SOOO like it…this is my FAVORITE FAVORITE FAVORITTEEEE Angry Bird Doll…” I couldn’t decide if it was funny or just plain disturbing. For the record, he got his toy back at the end of the day. I’m not trying to traumatize the kid.
Angry Birds, at least, seem to be bringing out Daniel’s creative side. He is always getting in trouble for drawing Angry Birds on his worksheets and stealing my board-markers to draw Angry Birds on the board. And, I must admit, the drawings are quite impressive. The other boys even ask him to draw them pictures of Angry Birds.
Last week, we were learning about plant-life, so I asked the kids to draw and label flowers. Daniel, of course, drew Angry Bird flowers (the centers were Angry Bird faces, surrounded by petals). He also brought a pair of homemade, very realistic, paper Angry Birds to class to be displayed as decorations. We now have what looks like an Angry Bird shrine in a corner of the classroom. Alas, if only he were this enthusiastic about studying English.
There was also a huge fiasco when some of the elementary students stole Angry Bird stickers off of the Salmon Class sticker boards. They were telling me about it for weeks (“Me is five Angry Bird stickers MISSING!!! Sonic is TEN Angry Bird stickers MISSING!!!!!”), so I finally hid their boards inside their lockers so it wouldn’t happen again.
My Korean co-teacher, Ellen, is no longer amused with the Angry Bird obsession. “Salmon Class has made me HATE Angry Birds, I want to tell them that they aren’t allowed to talk about them anymore.” But, if we banned Angry Birds, and therefore Angry Bird stickers, how would I ever get the boys to do anything?
I keep waiting for this trend to be over. They have to get over it eventually, right? Can we move on to something else, please?? So far, no such luck. If this fad lasts all year, I’m going to come back to the US a very angry bird indeed.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Eat Your Kimchi

The first word that people usually associate with South Korea is “kimchi,” and with good reason. I don’t know how it started, but Kimchi is a huge part of the culture, and something very unique to Korea. When I first heard that fermented cabbage is a staple in the Korean diet, my initial reaction was “um, why??” I’ve always thought of cabbage as having very little taste or nutritional value, and, why would you feel the need to ferment it?!?

 This is kimchi 

Koreans eat kimchi ALL THE TIME, with practically every meal. For example, when I ask my Kindergarteners what they ate for breakfast (as an English warm-up question in the morning) the answer is usually “rice and kimchi.” This is pretty much the most un-breakfast-like meal I can think of. Kimchi, while it comes in many varieties, is usually quite spicy. And, white rice? Really?
Now that I’ve been here for a while, and have been eating kimchi at least once a day, five days a week (they serve it with lunch at school), I’ve actually grown to like the taste. It’s really spicy, and I like spice. I think it also has something to do with the fact that we don’t get to eat salad very often here, and kimchi slightly resembles salad, emphasis on slightly. Most foreigners seem to hate it, and maybe I’m just going through a weird phase. Sometimes I even crave it on weekends when I haven’t had it for a day or two. It’s really odd, I know.

Some kimchi varieties

In an attempt to understand this strange concoction that has found it’s way into my stomach (and heart), I did some research…ANDDDD….I stumbled across across a fabulous article, saying that kimchi is actually REALLY GOOD FOR YOU! Health.com lists it as one of the world’s healthiest foods! Read on…
“Koreans eat so much of this super-spicy condiment (40 pounds of it per person each year) that natives say “kimchi” instead of “cheese” when getting their pictures taken. The reddish fermented cabbage (and sometimes radish) dish—made with a mix of garlic, salt, vinegar, chile peppers, and other spices—is served at every meal, either alone or mixed with rice or noodles. And it’s part of a high-fiber, low-fat diet that has kept obesity at bay in Korea. Kimchi also is used in everything from soups to pancakes, and as a topping on pizza and burgers.
Why to try it: Kimchi (or kimchee) is loaded with vitamins A, B, and C, but its biggest benefit may be in its “healthy bacteria” called lactobacilli, found in fermented foods like kimchi and yogurt. This good bacteria helps with digestion, plus it seems to help stop and even prevent yeast infections, according to a recent study. And more good news: Some studies show fermented cabbage has compounds that may prevent the growth of cancer.”

Jar o' kimchi

So, there you have it, folks. There is some reason to all of this kimchi madness. Note: There is even an entire museum in Seoul dedicated to kimchi, which I will definitely be visiting…Eat your kimchi!