Thursday, August 26, 2010

About Pohang and Being a Hero

I'm just about to finish my first month here in Pohang, and if I think about it, that's pretty crazy - it sure doesn't feel like it's been a month.  It's been a good month.  I don't know I could have asked for a better first month.
I thought it might be time to talk a little more about the place that I am in.  Pohang isn't one of Korea's biggest cities, but that doesn't mean it's small.  There's a good sized downtown and quite a number of busy residential neighbourhoods around it.  I live in the neighbourhood of Jang-seong Dong, which is in the northern part of the city.  It is a developing neighbourhood with a lot of apartment buildings being built and also lots of empty lots in the meanwhile.  So far, the hangout places in Pohang (at least for foreign teachers) are a couple of specific bars around town, and the beach.  Pohang has a really nice large beach called Bukbu beach which is only about a 5 minute drive from my apartment.  It's great except the second largest steel factory in the world, Posco, is right across the bay and mostly everyone I've met (including a Posco worker) says the water isn't safe to swim in.  But that's ok - there are other nice beaches outside of the city.
Maybe the biggest differences about living here are the drivers and the roads.  First of all, none of the streets here have names (crazy eh?).  Some of them have numbers but they're all mostly known by the landmarks/important buildings that are on them and the neighbourhoods that they go through.  And then there's the drivers.  In Pohang, and elsewhere in East Asia I'm told, red lights, much of the time, are regarded as yield sign suggestions.  This means that if you come to a red light on a not-so-important-road it's possibly even assumed that instead of stopping, you'll slow down a little, look both ways, and drive right through.  I'm told that this liberal stance on red lights has, as you might assume, led to an increase in accidents compared to the more-conservative-driving-parts-of-the-world, but I haven't seen any yet, and I'm quite surprised by how well it works.  But then you also have to factor in the abundance of scooters.  It seems widely accepted here that the scooter (the smaller and less powerful cousin of the moterbike) is the quickest way to get around, and to deliver food.  There are lots of them here and they obey the rules of the road even less than bigger vehicles - just because they can.  But don't knock them until you've tried them.  Natasha, a co-teacher at my school, who's also been somewhat of an awesome guide to me, has a scooter and she has let me ride on it and even drive it once; if I could choose a hightlight of my time so far, that would probably be it.  So I've convinced myself that a scooter will be my first major investment here (if you don't count a phone - which I just bought [here's the number: 010-2893-0319]).
So that's a little bit about Pohang.

I also have to write about the trip I took to the Bogyeongsa Waterfalls last weekend (full pictures are on facebook).  Four other great people and I drove the 40 minutes (if you don't take the short/long cut) to these waterfalls which include a really great Buddhist temple complex, a small tourist-run town, and around 14 waterfalls (at least that's what people say. We only made it to 2 or 3).  It was my first time outside of Pohang into the tree filled mountainous area and it was really beautiful.  We swam in the small pools at bottom of the waterfalls, jumped off some of the rocks, and had a great time.  But then at the last waterfall we went to, something happened.  There was a bit of a natural rock slide at the bottom of the waterfall and afte we'd been there for a little while, a Korean woman decided to try sliding down it.  Micah, one of the members of our cool group, had tried it earlier and it seemed harmless enough as long as you could swim.  So, assuming that that was the case for this woman, we watched her slide.  But instead of keeping herself up in the water (swimming) she kept going down (sinking).  Micah and I were on the other side of the pool and when we realized the woman certainly was not able to swim we got there as soon as we could and pulled/pushed her out onto the rock.  She seemed to be fine afterwards (maybe a little bit shocked) and she was very grateful of course, but it was a wierd feeling to realize that I had possibly helped save someone's life.  I didn't feel any different, but it made me think a bit about how easy it is to die (to put it bluntly).  I haven't thought too much about the event since then, but it is sort of nice to have been in a heroic sitiation - for me at least, maybe not for the girl).

This is one of the places we swam
This is one of the pictures of the temple.
This is the fountain at Bukbu beach - complete with a rainbow.
This is a sign that has been up at the school for a couple of days. I don't know what it says but it has my name on it - pretty sweet.
The rest of the pictures are of some of my super kindergarteners.  I think they're great.

Thank you for reading to the end.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

About Soccer and Church

I'm really enjoying my kindergarten class.  I have a boy named Larry and he has a brother who lives in Seoul.  Larry talks about his brother a lot and whenever he does he refers to him as his "Seoul brother"...   (get it 'soul brother). I can't help but smile every time and I'm sure he's oblivious as to how funny he is.
Another highlight of being in Korea so far has been being able to play soccer.  Every Tuesdays (and potentially more in the future) a group of foreign teachers meet to play soccer.  We don't play on a full soccer field though, we play on a soccer field that has been divided up into three smaller fields and then green netting has been put around each field.  It's like playing in a netting cage and it's called "Footsall" - it's an international sport.  So that's been really good.
On Sunday I did end up going to the English church and I really enjoyed it.  It was held in a room in a bigger (office looking) building.  There were only about 30 people there but the pastor is on holidays so I think more will attend when he gets back.  The people were really welcoming and after the service they invited everyone to a beach about 20 minutes north of Pohang.  I went and it was fun.  I met some of the members and they were very willing to share some Pohang knowledge with me.  So I'm happy about that, and I'm looking forward to going back.
Overall I'm doing pretty well.  The school days are long and it's hard to make it through some of them.  And I think the jet-leg waited a week and then hit me last week, so I'm somewhat behind on sleep.  But I'm enjoying it and already it has been a rewarding challenge.
This was taken at the beach we went on Sunday.  The area around Pohang is really hilly/mountainous and beautiful and I'm looking forward to hiking in it some day.  Tents are common on Korean beaches.  Sun exposure is frowned upon here so everyone wears full clothing at the beach.

This is me and Khemarin at the beach.  He is a law student here in Pohang and he's from Indonesia (or Cambodia).  He's really nice and he told me that I can get free western food at his school.  And he told me how to get to his school.  The water was pretty cold but Khemarin didn't seem to mind.

Thank you for reading.

Sunday, August 15, 2010


Sorry I'm writing this a little late.  I was out of my apartment all of yesterday doing many things: going to the beach and playing a really good soccer game and a good volleyball game; going to a super restaurant where I ate duck for the first time, which turns out to be very good; going to a "noraebang" which is a place with karaoke rooms where you can just sing songs with your friends - it seems funny but they're really popular here - and it's pretty fun; and then hanging out at a bar which played loud Mexican Reggaeton songs.  All that to say that I think Thursdays will be a better time for me to write my blog. 
This story also highlights the fact that there are some cool people here and I'm enjoying getting to know them.  It's certainly an interesting challenge, though, to 'find' my identity here in a new place (I think it is every time you find yourself in a new place with new people).  There is quite a variety of backgrounds in the foreign teacher group here.  I've discovered that a number of them are Christians, so that's a huge blessing.  There's even a girl here who lives a block away and went to Calvin! Crazy eh? (Although for some reason I'm not too surprised).  There is an English speaking church in Pohang, and I'm hoping to go this afternoon, so I'll write more about that later.
School continues to go well.  I can't help but compare it to teaching in Gallup, and teaching here is pretty much stress-free comparatively (and that was a unique challenge to being in Gallup - I don't mean to make it sound like a bad thing).  Teaching here is so 'simple' because the curriculum and and scheduling (pretty much everything) is already layed out for me. While this has been nice, it does have it's drawbacks - it doesn't leave much room for creativity in the classroom.  Also, the goals of the education system in Korea seem to be a little different than in North America.  Here, smarts are judged by how well you can read, understand, and memorize a textbook.  My kindergarten students are super bright - some of them are reading and writing at 3rd grade levels - but I'm not sure that their critical thinking is very strong.  One middle school teacher here put it this way: "Critical thinking skills in America are bad, and in Korea they're worse."  So anyway, more on that later.
Only one picture today.  This is a pear.  This is what all pears are like here.  Crazy eh? (that's my juggling ball beside it to let you put this massive pear in  perspective).  (Ps. I've realized that my floor isn't actually hardwood, it's just a good imitation).
Gamsamnida (thank you) for reading.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Week One for Michael Teacher

I've finished my first week here in Pohang, and it's been pretty great.  Let me tell you about it.
As for the teaching part of it: I don't have to be at school until 9:15 so it's nice to have some wakeup/reorientation (where am I again?) time.  Then I take a nice 10 min walk to school and get ready for teaching at 9:50.  There are 5 other English speaking teachers, and they've been very helpful and welcoming (more on them later).  There are also 6 Korean teachers, one of which is my support teacher in the morning. She's been very helpful, helping me understand how things work.  So I have five 40 minute classes with my wonderfully behaved and very cute kindergarten class from 9:50 until 2:30 with 10 minute breaks and a lunch in between them.  I only have 12 kids and they're all very very smart and fun to be with.  It's really great. Oh, and they call me Michael Teacher, which I like.
Then in the afternoon I teach 5 or 6 elementary aged classes from 3;00 until 7:30.  I teach things like Vocabulary, Grammar, Science, Writing, and I have a debate class one day.  The afternoon is a little more relaxed and I haven't had more than 4 people in any of the classes.  I've really enjoyed some of the classes because most of the students are very attentive and just seem to absorb everything we talk about.  So our hours are pretty long, but overall I'm very happy with how things are.
Then outside of school, my fellow English teachers have: introduced me to a good group of other foriegn teachers from Canada, USA, England, and South Africa; showed me the good bars; brought me with them to play soccer; showed me how to get around on a cab; brought me to the beach last night and today; introduced me to some really good Korean food and restaurants; and insisted on paying for everything.  So I'm excited about getting to know the other foriegn teachers more as well as Korean culture.

Here are some more pictures:

This is my apartment building.  My room is the closest one on the 3rd floor.
This is the local Family Mart which is a good meeting place in the neighbourhood.
These are a couple of the gardens/small farms that I see on my walk to school.  Jangsung-dong is the neighbourhood I live in and it's a developing area with quite a few open lots that are sometimes used for these gardens.
These are some large appartment buildings just down the road from the school.  It's funny, in Pohang there are these random outcroppings of really tall appartment buildings all over.
My School
The Teacher's Room.  My desk is the last one on the left.
The front room of the school.
My classroom, which is full of Kindergarteners in the morning, but this is my afternoon 5th grade class.
I didn't hang that up, my Korean teacher did, to the disgruntlement of some of the American teachers.
Thanks for reading.