Sunday, April 22, 2012

In Search of Doctor Fish

Today Jackie and I wandered around Hongdae, a district in Seoul is known for Hongik University (the most famous school of Fine Arts and Design in the country), and it’s nightclubs. Hongdae has a Brooklyn-like feel, with intimately tucked away shops, and trees lining the many small side streets. The design is one-of-a-kind, free and artsy, yet intentional, with every detail carefully considered. Our original intent was to go to a place called “Doctor Fish,” which offers a spa-like treatment where fish eat the dead skin off you feet. Some friends of ours had gone and recommended the experience.
With our out-of-date guidebook in hand, we wandered around in search Doctor Fish. It was chilly and rainy, but we were determined to get our feet fishily refreshed. We knew the subway exit that it was near, that it was on the second floor of some building, and it’s name in Korean. There aren’t really street names in Korea, so this information is usually what you have to go off of. Thankfully, a friendly Korean woman saw us looking at a map and took about 30 minutes out of her day to help us find it.
I’ve realized this magic trick if you are lost in Korea (which I often am)…Instead of going up to someone to ask for help, since many people can’t or don’t want to speak English, just stand on a heavily populated street holding a map and looking puzzled. Someone will come up and ask to help with surprising frequency. I’m not sure if this is a result of Korean culture, which dictates hospitality to foreigners, or perhaps many people just want the chance to practice their English. Either way, it’s helped me out on numerous occasions.
The woman eventually discovered via her iPhone that Doctor Fish no longer existed, so we thanked her graciously and parted ways. Perhaps a fish got a little too hungry? Since we were already in Hongdae, we decided to explore the clothing boutiques and cafes, which are numerous, and overwhelmingly adorable. Some shots of Hongdae:

Friday, April 13, 2012

New Camera

I just got a great new camera, a Canon EOS 600D. I've been having fun playing around with it. I like being able to do justice to some of the unique, eye-catching images I am privy to living in Korea. I'm also looking forward to using it while visiting other Asian countries in a few months. Here are some shots from last weekend:

the street in Gagnam 

into the subway

Ttukseom Resort Station

the sun going down and a train passing by

Jackie, William, Jeremy, and Audrey
at Rainbow, our favorite spot

neon lights, people trickling in


a rear-view of the reggae band

Thursday, April 12, 2012

They may be young, but they're not colorblind

Today, after teaching a math lesson involving flag stickers to my four and five-year-olds (Korean six), I was giving an impromptu lesson on flags of the world. “Where are we now?...What colors are the South Korean flag?” They could do that pretty well. “And, where is Austin Teacher from?” “AUSTRALIA!” “No…” “CANADA!!” “No…” “MIGUK!!!” “Yes...Miguk in English is AMERICA…what colors are the American flag?”…They seemed to get it. “Now, one more time…who is from America?” I asked, just to make sure we were clear. “AASHI!” one of the boys yelled, pointing to the only Indian child in the class. “Um, no, AUSTIN TEACHER is from America” I said, jabbing my finger at the flag. Way to make it awkward…and so much for trying to make my students globally aware. :)

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Voices in My Head

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, the end of our last Kindergarten semester was marked by a musical production. My class did Peter Pan. Just imagine for a second what it would take to get a class of American kids to memorize a musical in Mandarin. Needless to say, it was a challenge. How do you get a bunch of seven-year-olds who barely speak English to memorize a 30-minute English musical? By doing a lot of yelling and threatening that we would not be allowed to do if we were teaching in America. And, by practicing over and over and over and over.
Towards the end, I would come home at night and find that the musical was playing, on repeat, in my head. Not just my lines, but all of the lines. Trust me, after practicing with the kids for hours on end the last thing I wanted on my mind was a steady stream of “Look out, it’s Captain Hook! He’s trying to shoot us with the cannon!…” Sometimes the songs would be playing in the background “Yo ho yo ho a pirates life for me…”

As mildly disturbed by this as I was (having uncontrollable voices in your head is usually not considered to be a good thing), I knew it was a passing phase. The semester would be over soon enough and my head would be free to return to the thoughts that normal people have; about friends, money, laundry, whatever, and if a song were stuck in my head, it would be one that I actually liked…or so I thought.
The kids I’m teaching are younger now, and I’m not sure if it’s their age or just my new Korean co-teacher’s personal teaching style, but my teaching these days seems to revolve in large part around teaching the kids songs, songs about playgrounds, animals, letters, fingers, etc. This can be cute (how could happily singing children not be cute?), and fun, a nice break from worksheets. But sometimes it can be a little too much.
We will practice the songs with the kids, and to reinforce their learning we will play them as background music during lunchtime, morning circle, and playtime. The same songs are on repeat throughout my morning, songs that I never liked to begin with. My co-teacher comes into my classroom carrying the CD player and I cringe. Please, just let me teach math, phonics, anything else. And, to top it all off, the voices in my head are back.

I wake up on a Saturday morning and what do I hear? “This little duck that I once new, a little yellow duck with a feather on his head, he leads the others with a quack quack quack…” I’m not sure what is worse, pirates or quacking.  All I know is that I’ve had enough of both of them to last me a lifetime.