Monday, March 18, 2013

Hwe Shik Stories

A 'hwe shik' 회식, is a work dinner, an opportunity to join in fellowship with your co-workers, or a chore to be endured until you can get away from your annoying office-mates. While I was at Young-il HS, I was Crown Prince of the hwe shik, invited about monthly to dinners of numerous departments to which I not only didn't belong, but often never even heard of.

Well, things are a little different on the elementary school scene. In the month it took for Yangmyung Elementary to have my 'Welcome' dinner, I had already had at least three dinners in my honor at Young-il. This hurt my feelings, naturally, as it suggested I wasn't really being made welcome at Yangmyung. And not just dinners, but dinner, plus second round, plus third round (usually a noraebang). I have yet to hear of a noraebang experience by faculty at Yangmyung Elementary.

I'm not trying to say that Yangmyung Cho teachers are wimps, but they definitely don't have the perseverance of HS teachers. Anyway, we had a 'first week of school' hwe shik last Monday, and a "man teacher only" hwe shik tonight. Though the lady Vice-Principal was there, of course, because she's got bigger cohones than just about anyone in the whole school.

The place we went to was just up the street from my officetel, called "Blue Pine Tree".

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I would have said I've eaten or passed on every kind of Korean food by now, but they had some panchan or side-dishes I've never had before. And almost everything was veg or fungus. Finally, delicious though the other courses were, we got the meat: duck! Ironically, we had duck for lunch at school today. I didn't mention it, in case no one else noticed. Yum:

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Well, I was just about ready to go when finally the soju and maekchu started to flow--not that I was wanting, but I was looking forward to the effect it would have on the others. Finally, I heard what I was waiting for as the conversation turned to me. Not that I wanted to hear I was the winner in the "'Who can drink the most' Competition", although (parenthetically) it was me. No, I wanted to hear what the Principal thought about me ... as a teacher.

He was worried when I arrived last September, and thought I would not be a good teacher for young children. Yeah, you know, I understand that--sometimes little ones think I'm "scary". I totally get it: I am a big, imposing figure. But, he has changed his mind, and is very happy with me--the children like me very much, even though they think I am "hard" (a challenging teacher). He said the children think I am the best! I smile all the time and am very kind. I high-five them or greet them somehow when they come in the classroom, I can be silly or serious.

Back home, I used to do a weekly science lesson (10 minutes or less) with 4, 5 and 6 year olds, and a dozen times, I've had a little one ask me, awestruck, "Are you really Santa Claus?" That has already happened here--and I don't even have a beard anymore.

So, getting back to the point, we didn't even go to second round.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Tuttle Update

1) So I have completed my first week of actually teaching classes in the new school year. It went pretty well, except for one odd thing, which I'll now explain. For background, last year students all had what are called "nametags", folded triangular prisms of paper on which they have written their names. In hangeul on one side, and Romanization on the other. Apparently, Allison, the teacher I took over for, couldn't read hangeul, and I certainly can't at the size most of them wrote it on these nametags. Not to mention that lack of uniformity in the Romanization conventions when it comes to names.

Anyway, I asked my co-teacher if we were going to make nametags on the first day, and explained the problems above. She said she too had poor eyes, and we would not make nametags. So then the fifth graders all show up with nametags they've already made. And I guess she changes her mind about them, because for the remainder of the week, we make nametags. And I'm okay with that, stressing that they must write their name really BIG, because this old man can't see well if they are at the back of the room. And sure enough, they do. We had also agreed not to do Romanizations on the other side (I can read hangeul just fine. However, some students have "English names" they had previously adopted.

I told these students to write their Korean name on one side, and their English name on the other. Then I find out that she's telling them NOT to write their English name, when some of the sixth graders tell me she's told them that.

I said, "I don't care. Write Korean on one side, English on the other."

I went to her then and asked what's going on. We're speaking quietly at the front of the room. "This is English speaking class, students must be allowed to use their English name if they want, right?"

"Well, I have to evaluate them, and their name is in Korean on the roster," she said.

"That's not a big deal, is it?" I asked. "Surely you could write their English name in the roll alongside. Besides, it's English speaking class--if students have and want to use an English name, that is good and we should do it!"

After class, I apologize for contradicting her (though really it was the other way around), and we again go through our reasoning. "There is far too much Korean Korean spoken in this classroom," I finished, a kind of passive-aggressive comment, but true enough anyway.

She said, "I understand your intention, but they do not have enough time [to write both names]."

I looked at her, squinted my eyes suspiciously (Koreans are very good at reading eyes), and said simply, "Oh, come on." It was BS and she knew it. I didn't bother to point out that we weren't even going to do nametags, so that made her "I have to evaluate them" argument specious on its face.

So, after that, she told them in the Korean version of the instructions (which she gave even if a class told her unanimously that they understood the instructions I had given them in English) to put their English name on the other side. I loved that when she asked class 3-1 how many had English names, almost everyone raised their hand!

2) On Saturday, we had the first session of my Saturday Public Speaking class. We have 18 students this time; they were not selected by the interview and essay process we've used in the past, whittling down 150 or more candidates to the 20 or so in the class. The funding came from a different source, so we had to take one student from each high school in Nambu district. The best student from the school--no, the best student from the school who wanted to take the course.

After the intro lecture, we do a speaking activity. I give each student a different short, humorous story. They have two minutes to read and understand the story, then two minutes to take notes on an index card which they can then use to retell the story to the class. They stand up and tell the story to the class--if they do well, I tell them, they will be regaled with waves of laughter. Though that's not always true, it's still a good way for us as instructors to hear them speak, and for them to encounter the idea of speaking with index cards rather than reading verbatim from a script.

Honestly, the results of this selection process were not wildly different from what we've had in the past: almost all speak passably good English, though the clarity, the confidence, and the storytelling ability vary. One student declined to stand up and make an attempt. This has happened a couple of times in the past, and that student always drops out. They simply don't have the English background for it. So despite the changes, I'm looking forward to another great semester with these high-level students.

3) After my stint was over (the class is taught at Sindorim High School, at Dorimcheon on the Line 2 west spur), I went to Sindorim D-Cube City for lunch. The Irish League or whatever it is is having a St Patrick's Day do there, but not much is going on when I visit--I'm too early, I think. But there is a McDonald's booth downstairs that's recording people doing the "Big Mac Song". It's not the same one I know, but I let myself get roped into it, and do the old school song from my childhood. What the hell, I shrugged, and let a pretty girl put me on the internet. Here's the McDonald's Korea link: http://www.bigmacsong.co.kr/video_detail.php?video_id=53882 and here's the YouTube video. Not that you would be interested:

Monday, March 11, 2013

School Starts

In America, for many decades at least, the school year began on the Tuesday after Labor Day. Nowadays, it varies from district to district, school to school. I'm sure it will change some day, but for now, the Korean school year begins on the day after Sam-il (3-1), which is Korean Independence Day. This year, 3-2 fell on a Saturday, so the first day of school was Monday, March 4th.

This was my fifth "first day of school" in Korea, and I was expecting not to teach, but instead to have a short faculty meeting, hopefully get a copy of my schedule, and perhaps the school calendar. I was not disappointed. More than that, on Tuesday my co-teacher messaged me that we would not actually teach classes all week!

I had scoped out the first few chapters of my textbooks while "desk-warming" in January, created/edited/stole the extension activities for them as I did last semester. Then, at lunch on Friday, my co-teacher said: "I think you should always stand in front of the class."

I said, "I like to get near the students so I can hear them well, and so they can hear me. Students are more attentive when teachers interact with them closely."

"But they lose attention to you."

"I don't think so, I have noticed good results when I can physically interact with them. I have been teaching for twenty-five years. Studies show that ..."

"Korean students do not pay attention if you are not in front of the class," she says.

Team player that I am, I say, "Well, okay. We'll try it."

Pause. THEN, she says: "I don't think we should do things like we did before. You had better lead the chapter in the book, and make the students speak English much more than they did last time."

WTF. Moreso than usual, this request is out-of-the-blue. Fine. I agree.

"Yes," I say. "I think students should speak English more than they do! I would like to do that." You are admitting your system doesn't work, right? So don't go telling me where to stand, okay? (On the inside.) Last semester, both my regular co-teachers operated the DVD program that goes with the text--it's totally and exclusively in KOREAN--so I didn't do much if anything with it, mostly doing the second twenty minutes of additional material. Well, on Friday after lunch, I spent a good part of the afternoon learning what the buttons in the DVD series mean, how to navigate it, and most importantly, how to skip past the annoying and useless "chant" segment.

I'm ready.

So it comes down to today--the first day of English classes of the new year, more or less. Fifth grade. Three classes. In the old scheme (her method), we invariably begin with the textbook. Nope. After the introduction, I ask some questions, then go to a powerpoint with review questions from last year's material. A few teams miss a question, but it's mostly successful, and a good review. Then I lead them into the textbook,and sequentially go through the textbook materials: as I "wander" around the classroom pumping the students from a few feet away (which is my usual method), she stands at the computer clicking buttons when I say stuff like, "Okay, let's Look and Listen" or "Now it's time for Listen and Speak."

But we both know I can click the buttons. I'm even holding the SmartBoard pen, for the first time ever. It's now my class. Same thing, two more times. Maybe she notices she's been relegated to an assistant role, I'm not sure. I'm getting quite specific in recounting this event, not to be petty, but because it encapsulates, IMO, so much about the Korean educational system.

It's not that I have ten years' experience on her--I think a teacher with ten or fifteen years is plenty experienced--it's that she didn't want to hear about research (look up the personal regard strand, and the physical proximity strand) from overseas because "Korean students are different."

Bull. I've been with them for about five years now--they're not. You (Korean teachers) might treat them differently, but that's not the same thing. Certainly, there are cultural issues, but the brain is a homo sapiens phenomenon, and Koreans have the same one that I do.

To end this version of the story, co-teacher and I go to lunch together. She turns to me and says, "Do you the expression 잘했어요 (jal-hae-sseo-yo)?" Well, I think I might, but I'm not sure.

Apparently, it means "Good job!"

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Vacation Reading

  • A God in Ruins by Leon Uris - I remember at age twelve, when I first considered myself to have my own "library". Fifteen books or so, I had, and four of them--I remember this quite well--Leon Uris books, Exodus, The Angry Hills, Topaz, and Mila 18. The rest were sci-fi or fantasy: Heinlein, Asimov, Bradbury; and a Vonnegut or two. And an atlas. (Soon I added Arthur Hailey and Harold Robbins to my oeuvre, but that's for another conversation.) I've picked up a couple of Urises since the mid seventies, but not so much as you might expect of someone whose personal collection was 25% Uris at the start. A God in Ruins has the epic generational sweep of Trinity, the political intrigue of Exodus and the righteous man's polemic of QB VII--this time the issue is gun control (curious since so many of his early books were so violent). I liked the story, I liked the characters he wanted me to like, I disliked the ones he wanted me to, the ending seemed appropriate... in a word, it was formula. If you only read one Leon Uris book, don't read this one. Read Exodus. And if you read a second, read QB VII.
  • Morality for Beautiful Girls by Alexander McCall Smith - This is the third installment in the lovely "No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency" series focusing on Mma Precious Ramotswe and her betrothed, Mr JLB Matekoni of the Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors. This episode features a feral child discovered in the Botswana bushveldt, a Government Man who suspects his sister-in-law is a poisoner, a crisis at the Miss Beauty and Integrity Contest and a bout of depression being suffered by Mr JLB Matekoni. In the midst of all this, the agency is under financial strain, and Mma Makutsi, graduate of the Botswana Secretarial College with a score of 97%, must step into the breech. These books are not really detective stories, but they are truly delightful reading!
  • The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas - At a Saturday afternoon barbeque in suburban Australia, a spoiled four-year-old takes a swing at another child with a cricket bat, and gets slapped by the other kid's father. This event reverberates over several months and five hundred pages, as the event and its afetermath are related from the points of view of the main (adult) actors. The court case is done halfway through the book, and halfway through the characters--each gets one chapter, then it's on to the next POV. This format works well to expand the moral complications of what is in reality an everyday event.
  • America Unchained by Dave Gorman - Is it possible to travel the USA coast-to-coast in a car without paying homage to The Man (TM)? Meaning, without relying on using at all corporate American retail outlets like Exxon, McDonalds, Best Western. Gas-Food-Lodging. While it seems like a political tome in the making, Gorman's reasons were simpler than that: on a comedy stand-up tour (he's a British comic i am familiar with via QI, for example) across the US, he was dispirited by the soul-less, samey-samey hotels and restaurants he was booked into. He came back, bought a 1970 Ford Torino station wagon in San Diego and made his way ultimately to Savannah, Georgia in six weeks, meeting lots of real Americans along the way. This is a unique travel book, humorous, thoughtful, appreciative Americana.
  • The Kalahari Typing School for Men by Alexander McCall Smith - I had about eighty or so pages yet to go in this book when I left Ayette's Bamboo House Restaurant, Port Barton, after breakfast one morning, sticking it securely, or so I thought, in my camera bag. When I arrived at my bungalow a twenty minute walk later, it was gone. I immediately retraced my steps, then again, asking at every little business and home along the way. Nada. I am so enamoured of the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series that when I got back to Seoul, I had to make my way to What The Book to buy a new (well, used) copy and finish it up. Anyway, this is the fourth book in this charming, gentle and wise series of tales from an Africa I miss--where concrete and tarmac smell acrid and harsh, but thatch, earth and burned coals smell of home and happiness. As usual, there are no bloody, twisted bodies or missing millions in this edition, but a radio stolen twenty years earlier, a new detective setting up shop in Gabrone, and an idea by Mma Makutsi, Precious Ramotswe's assistant detective (and 97% score graduate of the Botswana Secretarial College), to earn money on the side by offering typing classes--for men.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Philippines, Palawan: Food

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The KFC Grandfather meets the Jollibee, um, bee. Jollibee is a popular Filippino fried chicken chain (Savory being the main competition); the Colonel is available on the main island, but not yet in Palawan. I ordered the value meal, which was as follows, for 99 PHP:

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There's a piece of greasy over-breaded chicken, a packet of rice, some pineapple-ade, and macaroni soup. There are numerous fast food chains, including internationals like Shakeys, and indigenous ones such as Noki-Nocs, where I had a delicious creamy beef and mushroom "topping", meaning it goes on top of your rice.

Another chicken chain, though not fast, is called Ka Inato, which wins a mild endorsement for the spicy grilled chicken leg, and nothing else:

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Puerto Princesa is not a big city, but even as the culinary hub of Palawan, the choices are limited, and mostly not too far from the airport. Good seafood is available at Ugong Rock, where I had a starter of Bagnet, which is crispy deep-fried fatback pork with skin on, followed by a creamy white-fleshed Bangus, aka, milkfish:

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Puerto is also the best place to obtain some of the island's unusual foods. First up, and perhaps most famously, is "balut"; this is a duck or chicken egg that has been allowed to develop for seventeen days so there is a recognizable embryo inside, then it is boiled in vinegar:

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Though the liquid inside is rather strong, overall it tastes like a hard-boiled egg, only a bit crunchy.

Two more unusual foods are tamilok, which is the raw worm from the bark of a mangrove tree, dipped in vinegar and pepper sauce (at 6 to 8 inches long, three was enough for me); and crocodile sisig--sisig is a preparation style where the meat is chopped and pan-fried with salt and black pepper:

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I spent several days in the west coast village of Port Barton, where the best restaurant was this place, called Kusinero del Barrio, which doubles as a travel agency:

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Everything I ate there was really good. Typical fare, Filipino beef stew, called Kaldereta:

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Nice rustic scene in the village. What's for dinner? Chicken and pork adobo, I suspect:

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Indeed, chicken and pork adobo was one of the dishes we made in Mr Ventura's kitchen though the ingredients came from the market. The key ingredients, prepped:

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First, you add a little oil to a hot wok, and fry the garlic. Add shallots, then dump in the pork. Let it cook for a while before adding the chicken. Then coat everything with soy sauce, turn down the heat, cover and simmer. Say, 20 minutes later, add vinegar (preferably coconut vinegar), and let simmer until you're ready to eat it (over rice):

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We also grilled blue marlin ...

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... and made a spicy crabs and prawns dish, using finely minced garlic, more chopped shallots, six or seven tiny but super-hot chillies, chopped fine and a half-cup or so of ketchup. Steam the shellfish first, then crack and/or peel them, then stir 'em around in the pan for a few minutes. Lovely:

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Art Ventura took me to a hang-out called Katabom on my first night, and I went back whenever possible; there was a really great vibe there, super-cold beer, and live music. He introduced me to Jud, a guitarist whose sets invariably included several Simon and Garfunkel tunes, some Cat Stevens, and even a bit of Pink Floyd:

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The next band seems to always be a five-piece traditional group, with a big drum sound, for whom the bar gets packed.

Of course, a lot of the pleasure of travel is in meeting people, so Thanks! Art, Jud, Dexter the Eldorado bartender, the movie FX Canadians Nick and Tanya, Sabina and Manfred, and Mister Colorado. Remember to take a hat, we may end up miles from here!

Philippines, Palawan: Puerto Princesa Market

Regular visitors, and even irregular ones, to the Seoul Patch, know that food is one of my great loves, especially travel-wise. I always look for a cooking class of some kind wherever I travel. Despite my efforts, I was unable to find such a class in Puerto Princesa; I mentioned this desire and lack of success to the owner of Puerto Aventura Resort; some time later, unable to find such a class, Mr Ventura, the owner, came back to me with a solution.

Mr Arthur Ventura, I should point out here, is the retired Vice-Governor of Palawan, chairman of various committees and agencies of the local government, and a kind of mogul as owner of a dozen gas stations, several islands, farms, etc, etc. At age seventy-two, he is still active and engaged in improving life for Palawan natives, which includes tourist satisfaction. Art himself took me around for the three days I stayed at his resort--and wherever we went, everyone knew him, crowded around him, etc.

Anyway, unable to find a class, he undertook (as a chef and caterer himself) with his personal cook Ami, to demonstrate some Filipino cooking techniques for me. So, the next morning at 9 AM we went off to the Puerto Princesa market to gather some items for our cooking session: we wanted pork, chicken, fish, crabs, shrimps, fruits, vegetables and condiment items like garlic, shallots, kalamansi limes, etc.

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You will see lots of dried fish, as above, but not even close to the amount of fresh fish, as below:

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Strange Filipino seaweed, an explosion of snot in your mouth. Not really my thing.

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There are loads of fresh fruit and vegetables ...

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(virtually every stall has a massive slice of tree for the butcher block)

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...all of it legal as per the business license plates:

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... including prepared and packaged goods:

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One delight of the market (which I think is common to SE Asian cuisine) is sticky rice grilled in banana leaves, called here suman:

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Compared to, say, Dongdaemun market in Seoul, this is a pissant place; compared to Shillin market in Taipei it's a bit small; relative to Ben Thanh in Saigon it's crude; but considering that Puerto Princesa has about 200,000 inhabitants, this is an amazingly vibrant and real market, crowded and not one little bit touristy.

Once you leave the market, you have to make your way home. Palawan has not many taxis--mostly, those without their own transport use "tricycles", which are motorcycles to which covered sidecars have been welded. So--a bit like a Thai tuk-tuk, a Chinese motorized pedicab, etc:

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Each operator gives his tricycle a name; like say, Brenda, or Suzie or Zarathustra--God only knows where they get them from. If it doesn't have a name, it's a personal tricycle and not for hire. I looked for Tuttle, but never did see it. Oh well, maybe next time.

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What I love about the last pic above is the "Biochemist" store. If Jesus Heals, then why do we need a pharmacy?