Friday, 30 July 2010

On Summer Camp and Desk Warming

So, it's summer vacation now and I'm currently engaged in the activity known as 'desk warming' which is a bizarre Korean educational concept that basically involves the Native English teacher coming in to school during the holidays to sit at (warm) their desk despite having no classes or any work to do. It's a bit weird since there's hardly anyone else around and it does seem a bit pointless but that's Korean bureaucracy for you. Our contract states that we get 4 weeks of vacation so that's what we get. Oh well, it's not so bad, it gives me a chance to catch up on emails, learn some Korean, update the blog and get distracted watching old episodes of South Park! At least there's air-con at school unlike in our apartment - it's incredibly hot and humid here at the moment so I actually quite look forward to getting in to my classroom in the morning especially as I don't have any work to do (see the photo above of my empty classroom - ah, so quiet)!

Last week I was running the English Summer Camp which was a fun experience but pretty hard work and tiring too. In Korea you don't generally go away for this so called 'camp' and no tents or sleeping bags are involved. In fact it's not much of a camp at all, more like just an extra week of school really but more 'fun' orientated. Basically, the students can sign up for the 'camp' and they come along and we do fun English related activities for a week at school in the usual classroom. The class size is smaller than usual (about 8 - 12 kids) so it's more personal.

Some of my students playing 'English Quiz Jenga'. This game went down really well. I gave all my kids English names at the beginning of camp, mainly to help me remember them. Some of them got pretty funny names: Spencer, Trevor (who all the other kids kept calling 'Clever'), Kyle and Kenny were some of my favourites. Kyle decided he wanted to change his name to God, hence the name card!

After we played Jenga some of my students kidnapped the wooden blocks and set up an impromptu domino rally!

I split my students into teams for camp. One group decided to call themselves the 'God of god' team!

I enjoyed camp more than normal teaching as I got to actually know my students as individuals and it was more relaxed but I had a really hectic schedule. I was teaching from 9am to 4pm, mostly on my own, every day for a week with just an hour lunch break in between. This didn't allow any time for preparation so I was working like crazy the preceding week to get everything ready and I was so tired after camp that I slept loads the following weekend! Usually in Korea English camps are done over 2 weeks with camp in the morning and teacher prep time in the afternoon but my school is obviously trying to kill me by ramming all of our camp into one week (apparently a previous teacher had asked for it to be scheduled this way so maybe I should be blaming him).

There has been extensive building work going on at my school during the vacation including the ripping up of the old wooden classroom floors and their replacement with poured concrete. Not fun or particularly safe when you have students still running about in the corridors on their way to camp.

Rowan has done a Dr Who themed camp at his school but I won't talk too much about that as I think he will write his own post about his camp. I didn't really theme mine, just did different stuff every day including cooking pancakes which was fun if somewhat messy and Pirate Day replete with treasure hunt, talk like a pirate practice and Captain Pugwash music! Aarrrr!

One of the camp lessons was about comics and onomatopoeia (words that sound like what they are). The kids seemed to get the idea of onomatopoeia very quickly and enjoyed copying me trying to say it. This is an example of one of the comics they made.

The cooking lesson was one of the most manic and enjoyable classes. It was the one I was most worried about there was a lot of potential for things to go wrong but it turned out good in the end. The cooking room at my school was..... interesting. Antiquated maybe a better description though. Most of the cooking utensils were filthy, in fact most of the stuff in the room didn't look like it had been washed in years so we had to get things clean before we could start which was a bit annoying. And there were exposed gas pipes at ankle level criss crossing the whole room which made walking around with hot pans, knives etc. more exciting, That coupled with the fact that most Korean gas stoves seem to have only 2 settings, off and ON, really ON made for a slightly hair raising experience! Standards of health and safety are different here compared to the UK I think.

The God of god team getting messy in the cooking room!

Mihye, my saviour on cooking day! She is one of my co-teachers and very kindly came in to help me.

This team did a really great job of making the pancakes. The girl in the middle ('Mary') was the only student who attempted to flip the pancakes and managed it perfectly every time!

This team did a really good job too. They even gave me one of their best pancakes to eat. Very sweet of them!

Korean people seem to eat virtually everything using chopsticks including pancakes!

Pancakes, fruit, syrup and chopsticks - Korean styleee!

Some of my students decided to make a special sauce by combining all the different syrups and adding in some soy too. They called it 'cherry sauce' and it looked gross.

I had to ask my school to buy the ingredients I needed for making pancakes. I think something got lost in translation as instead of getting 660g of flour I was given 6kg of flour and many more eggs than we could ever have used so the kids decided to fry some eggs to use them up.

The kids who came to my camp were mainly 1st graders with a couple of 2nd graders from time to time and their level of English was generally pretty high which made it easier to teach them and have a good time. They were a friendly, enthusiastic, cheeky bunch and I was actually quite sad on the last day of camp when I had to say goodbye to them.

The Boring Team boys say 'Kimchi'!

We're off on vacation from this afternoon and plan to travel around the east coast of S Korea and down to the south coast and then spend a week on Korea's 'Honeymoon Island' called Jeju which should be fun! We have also been taking Korean lessons at a hagwon in Bundang for the last month so we should hopefully be able to navigate our way around Korea a bit better now.

Thursday, 29 July 2010

More military maneuvers in Gwangju - this time with pictures!

This is just a quick update on one of my posts from earlier this week about the large scale military parachute drop over Gwangju. I was walking home yesterday afternoon and they were at it again! However, there were two main differences this time:
  1. They were parachuting out of planes instead of helicopters this time.
  2. I had a camera with me and was able to take a few pictures (though unfortunately it was only my crappy little compact but never mind).
Other than that it was much the same as it had been at the beginning of the week. Plane after plane flew by releasing 10 guys at a time over the Yangbeo-li hills for some kind of military exercise. I have been told that they do this fairly regularly in fact and that there is a military base on that hill somewhere so no need to panic about it. Apparently, they even do this in the dead of winter through ice and snow so I'm glad they're on our side, they sound hardcore!

No, that's not dust on your computer screen, it's some guys parachuting out of of a plane. Unfortunately, my camera is a bit rubbish so they're difficult to make out.

Bit easier to see in this one.

Landing in the hills behind Gwangju.

For any plane spotters out there - what type of plane is this?

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Doctor who guess who

I've not been enjoying my summer camp that much so far, but today has been really good fun. Why? Because today we played doctor who guess who!

I want to share the game with you because we had a lot of fun playing it and I think it could be a good bit of fun for doctor who fans or a resource for teaching descriptions.

I started the lesson by showing some pictures of people and getting the kids to practice describing them to me, I used the Spice Girls and Westlife because the Spice Girls had a variety of different hair colours and styles and Westlife because kids over here have heard of them. Then I showed them a powerpoint of the various aliens and got them to describe them. Finally I showed the rules for guess who presentation. I know its a hell of a lot of powerpoints but I put some nice animation in them to try to stop them from being too boring and there was lots of interaction with the class throughout.

The game works just like normal guess who except I laminated the sheet of faces and got them to cross them out with a marker instead of flipping the tiles down like the original game. If you don't have access to a laminator you could stick them on a guess who set or just cover them with post it notes or do something else, I'm sure you'll think of something!

Doctor Who Guess Who game card

If you want to play the game yourself you'll need the files below, obviously if you're not a teacher and just want to play at home you won't need the powerpoints!

game card
name cards
aliens of Dr Who presentation
how to play Guess Who presentation

Credit must go to eatyourkimchi for some of the templates, I had the idea independently but I found their version and used it as a base for some of my stuff.

Monday, 26 July 2010

Wet Weekend in Gangneung

At the end of last month we went on a weekend trip to Gangneung, a small city on the east coast of Korea in Gangwon province with a bunch of fellow Gwangju Native Speaker English teachers. We were really looking forward to this trip as it had been a really hot, humid week and we had been stuck at school working. Unfortunately, it turned out to be a really wet, miserable weekend that was even quite chilly at times. (so glad I brought a hoody with me unlike pretty much everyone else we were with). I suppose it was the start of the rainy season in Korea so we should have expected it really.

There was a large, possibly artificial lake, in Gangneung with a cycle path circling it. It would probably have been quite pretty on a sunny day.

Pier out onto the lake.

4 seater bikes for hire to ride around the lake. We went to the Gangneung Town Centre which was a cab ride away from the coast where we were staying and missed out on a mass bike ride around the lake. D'oh!

This Korean family managed to do a circuit of the lake on one of the big bikes though. There were at least 6 people piled onto the bike.

The guy who organised the trip had booked a couple of huts by the beach for everyone to sleep in but they turned out to be really small so Rowan and I chickened out and stayed in a nice motel instead - we're getting so old! The idea of sleeping on the floor in a tiny room with 6 other drunk people just didn't appeal somehow! Still they were a good base and the beach was lovely and sandy.

The beach hut that we didn't deign to stay in.

This was a little girl who was staying in another one of the beach hut rooms with her family. She was showing us her (dead) pet beetle.

A close up of the pet beetle and it's home.

We got the chance to fly our lovely kite for the first time since we've come to Korea. It was really windy on the beach so the kite was pulling hard which was exciting if a little tiring.

Despite the weather we still managed to have a good time and saw some interesting stuff. We caught the last World Cup match that South Korea played in i.e. the one they were knocked out of. We even managed to have a barbecue in the wind and drizzle - very British (even though most of the people there were Americans)!

Luke tends the barbecue with the traditional chopsticks. We cooked our own sam gyop sal.

This guy was staying in one of the other beach huts. He found it fun to run up to the foreigners with his live octopus and wave it in our faces to scare us!

Gangneung was host to a couple of slightly bizarre museums including this Gramophone Museum and...

...The Edison Science Museum.

Seemingly Gangneung's one and only nightclub. Tasteful décor no?

This is a typical Korean male shop dummy modelling snug boxers. They always seem to have the boxers very well stuffed in the crotchal regions!

A cool sculpted fountain in Gangneung that was beautifully lit up at night.

This is Jung Ang Market in Gangneung. It was covered and fairly big with the usual complement of food and spice stalls.

Spices, pickles and dried anchovies on a stall in Jang Ang Market.

Dried fish stall.

Soy sauce marinated crabs anyone?

Basket of fresh fish in the market.

Gangneung is quite far north so not that far from the border with North Korea. This meant that there were some rather interesting and unusual sights to see if you looked carefully.

One of the three bunkers built into a hillside on the main road from the sea to the town.

A rather decommissioned looking tank pointing out to the Sea of Japan in a defiant pose.

This is the beach outside the hut/chalet that the other teachers had hired. The white building to the left behind the green fence seemed to be a guard house. Soldiers came to it every night we were there and stood guard all night. One of our group tried to talk to them but they didn't seem keen to chat.

We caught a coach back to Gwangju and the route through Gangwon-do took us through some fantastic scenery. We could see mountains below the road we were travelling on, their peaks partially obscured by cloud and more mountains towering over us with their peaks hidden by further layers of cloud. It was a breathtaking sight, especially for someone like me from the flat lands of Norfolk!

Large scale military maneuvers over Gwangju

There have been many times when I wish I had my good camera with me and this afternoon was definitely one of them. Not only was the weather fine and the light perfect there were also lots of interesting things to shoot on my walk home from school through the rice paddies. A large, white cattle egret landed right in front of me and stayed still for nearly a minute as if waiting for me to whip my camera out - they are usually extremely hard to get a picture of as they fly away whenever I get anywhere near them. There were so many dragonflies of different hues and sizes buzzing around my head and darting back and forth across the little road through the fields that I began to think they were gathering around me on purpose to taunt me as I didn't bother to bring my decent camera out with me and my little compact had a dead battery.

The worst moment of all though was when I noticed the sound of helicopters overhead and looked behind me to see two military choppers that I think were Chinooks flying low in the sky over Gwangju. Trailing behind the second helicopter was a curving line of dots that I realised were parachutes quickly descending to the hills that encompass the south eastern edge of Gwangju in the area called Yangbeoli. I was really cursing then as I had never seen a military parachute drop before and if I'd had a working camera with me I could have got some great shots. Over the next 30 minutes or so I watched as another 7 Chinooks flew over, one after the other and dropped more men onto the hillside. Each copter dropped 10 men so there must be at least 90 guys romping over that hill right now in this intense summer heat. There may have been more as I lost sight of the area once I had walked into Gwangju proper as the buildings obscured my view. Seeing those people jump from the helicopters was quite an impressive sight. At first I could just see a tiny black speck when they first left the copter, then almost immediately, the black speck would bloom into a mushroom as the parachute was released. I tried to imagine what it must feel like to be dropping down in formation over Gwangju like that. I came to the conclusion it must feel a lot cooler and more comfortable then I was feeling baking out in the sun in the rice paddy.

A Chinook - This is what the helicopters above Gwangju looked like.

It was quite a surreal sight considering that Gwangju is really just a small 'one horse' town as our friend Dean put it. I admit seeing a large scale military maneuver made me feel slightly nervous given the current climate in Korea. Perhaps it is a sign of the rising tensions on the peninsular (but then again it could just be a standard exercise). I know that South Korea and the USA are currently carrying out a huge military exercise to put North Korea in its place after the sinking of the Cheonan warship but as far as I'm aware that is happening miles away over the Sea of Japan so this parachute drop must just be an unrelated exercise. It is kind of worrying that the North have threatened to launch a 'sacred war' on th South as a retaliation for the big joint military exercise and even more worrying that this proposed retaliation would be of the nuclear description. I'm just hoping that the guys parachuting onto our hillside are friendly!

Overall, the moral of this story is never leave home without a working camera in South Korea. You never know what you might see.

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

So Gop Chang

Another Korean food adventure but in Korean food rather than Korean attempts at western food this time. Last Friday I was on my out of the school at home time when once of the other teachers called me over and asked me if I wanted to come for some food and drinks with them, having no other plans I thought why not. It was a good group, just me, the art teacher and geography teacher both of who speak good English and the Chinese character teacher who speaks almost no English, I get on well with all of them. We wandered down to a restaurant in Gwangju, close to the 'Italian' place I went to the other week.

Starters were some cold kimchi soup called mul kimchi (물김기) -literally water kimchi which was delicious and spring onion kimchi (바김기) which was also nice, and a few other bits and bobs.

Then they brought out the main sizzling on a hot plate.

So gop chang (소곱창)The picture is midway through the waitress cutting it up into little pieces, what comes out looks a bit like a Cumberland sausage, it's a big meaty spiral.

So what exactly is it? Well the teachers who I was with weren't really sure how to tell me what it was but they eventually settled on cow's stomach pipe. I think it is small intestine but maybe its esophagus, either way some part of a cow's digestive system. Considering where it comes from it is surprisingly tasty! Its basically just beef fat surrounding a chewy tube, the fat is lovely and tasty but the tube doesn't taste of much and lets the whole thing down a bit by being very chewy. The potatoes and onions that came on the same hotplate were very tasty having cooked in the beef fat, nom nom!

So the moral of the story is, cow intestines can be tastier than you'd think!

Funny Korean Music Videos

This week I have been extremely busy trying to plan my English Summer Camp. This is the last week of the school term and next Monday is the start of camp which is in fact not a camp at all. It does not involve any tents, sleeping bags or singing songs around a campfire. Neither does it involve actually leaving the school at all. English Summer Camp is basically an extra week or two of English conversation classes at the school in the usual English classroom but with fewer students (just the few who have signed up for it) and more FUN (mandatory)!

Anyway, more about the summer 'camp' another time. The main purpose of this post was to share a couple of funny videos I found today whilst 'preparing' for my camp. The first one is by a popular Korean female pop combo called the Wonder Girls that features the immortal lines

"Why do you keep staring?
Am I really that pretty?
I know it already but all that staring makes me blush."

Yes, the Wonder Girls are not only "so hot" "so pretty" "so fine" and "so attractive" (in their own words) they're modest too. Watch the video for full English translation - it is pretty funny.

The Wonder Girls are wondering why men keep staring at them - could it be the skimpy outfits perhaps?

The second video is an awesome Middle School Camp project put together by an English teacher who is far more creative than me. He has got his class of 1st graders to hold up the words in time to Daft Punk's "Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger" - really cool video.

The N/O girl steals the show and it's funny that you don't see the HARD girl until right at the end.

We are thinking of getting our classes to do a similar thing for Bob Dylan's Subterranean Homesick Blues as a bit of an amusing homage to the original video for that song where Bob is chucking cards with some of the words written on over his shoulder.

Sunday, 4 July 2010

Suwon Hwaseong (Fortress and Walls)

We didn't just get drunk and watch football, sorry "soccer" while we were in Suwon. We also did some cultural stuff and took a look round Suwon's Hwaseong (Fortress and city walls).

Suwon is the provincial capital of Gyeonggi-do, the province we live in and we'd already been there once albeit briefly to get our alien registration cards sorted out. Since we didn't see much beyond the immigration office that time we thought it was worth coming back to check out the sights beyond that exciting office.

The view from the Suwon city walls over the city, you can see Suwon world cup stadium in the distance.

The bright lights of Suwon

Rowan and Choon Hwa posing by a statue of Korea's first woman western style artist Na Hye Seok

Suwon is the only completely walled city left in South Korea and it is famous for its large, beautiful Hwaseong Fortress and the Hwaseong Haenggung Palace contained within it which was built on the orders of King Jeongjo in 1796. Unfortunately, most of the fortress was destroyed during the Japanese occupation as they had a policy of liquidating Korean culture and history and it was further damaged during the Korean War. However, luckily for us, the fortress has since been restored to its former glory if not its former size. The walls are about 10m tall most of the way round and are dotted with sentry posts and ornate entrance gates.

The east gate of the old city walls

Castle on top of the hill within the fortress walls.

The 'Hwaseong Train' that we unfortunately didn't manage to catch.

This is Suwon's 12 ton bell which is rung for special occasions including New Year and Chinese New Year.

An archery range just by the walls. Apparently the Koreans are extremely good at archery so don't mess with the man with the bow!

The palace itself was really beautiful and we happened to arrive in time to see a recreation of a traditional Korean dance and music performance in the main courtyard which was a good excuse for me to get my camera out.

Suwon palace is set on the side of a mountain.

Beautifully painted roofs in the palace

Yes, they're not real, they're cardboard cut-outs of characters from a Korean historical drama that was set in the Joseon Dynasty era and filmed in the Hwaseong Palace.

Korean traditional dancers performing nong ak (farmers dance).

Dancers again, the dance was traditionally performed to ensure a good rice harvest.

Every now and again one of the dancers leapt in the air and threw themselves round 180 degrees on their side.

The drums they're beating are called chang ku.

The two lead dancers facing each other.

Within the palace there were various traditional cultural activities that you could pay a few won to do including pottery making, fan painting and paper making. Rowan chose to go down the traditional costume route and was dressed up in traditional Korean armor. As it was an incredibly hot day and the armor was pretty thick he was boiling alive under it all but it was worth it! Once he had it on he became a magnet for Chinese tourists who all wanted their photos taken with him. In Korea the excitement of seeing a westerner is enough for lots of people to want to take your photo or have their photo taken with you and seeing a westerner in Korean traditional armor just increased the level of interest.

Getting fitted for the armor

Rowan stands guard in a doorway of the palace.

Rowan posing with some Chinese kids.

With the guards at the palace.

Attack of the Korean ninja!

Suwon is traditionally known as "The City of Filial Piety" (caring for your parents) and according to the Rough Guide to Korea it has "what may be the world's greatest concentration of high quality public toilets - armed with the relevant pamphlet from the tourist office, it's even possible to fashion some kind of toilet tour." Wish we had known that before we went, that could have been an interesting tour to take! However, our friend Dean has reliably informed us that though Suwon's public toilets are very nice they never have any soap, hot water or toilet paper which is a shame (though standard for Korea). Still, we definitely plan to go back to Suwon at some point to ride the dragon train, see the martial arts performances at the palace and maybe to check out some of those palatial toilets too!