Friday, February 24, 2012


We are on the brink of great change here at Poly School.
Today we had our kindergarten graduation.  The three kindergarten classes - Alisa's, Roman's, and mine - performed a song and a drama for which they have been practicing the past few weeks.  The performances went pretty well, I thought.  The kids seemed happy to be finished with it.  And then suddenly we had to say our goodbyes.  Like last year, this took me by surprise, somewhat.  I had spent a whole year with this class and I've come to love them quite a bit.  Each of them have such a strong personality; they're such unique kids.  We had a good year together and it's hard to see the year end because I enjoyed teaching them so much.  Some of my students will come back for afternoon classes, but others I probably won't every see again.  So that's sad.  I'm not sure yet what my next class will be like or what grade level I'll be teaching; I'll find that out sometime next week.
Another big change is that most of our Korean co-teachers are finishing their contract and are leaving Poly now, and my co-teacher, Chavie, who has been with me since I got here, is one of them.  This will make my job quite a bit different as I have come to depend on her for so much.  I will miss her.
A third change, greater than the others, is that we are moving to a whole new location.  As I've mentioned, our school is going to be moving to I-dong (pronounced 'ee dong'), on the other side of town.  On Tuesday, we're all going to be moving out of our current apartments and into our new ones.  We don't know where they are yet, but the director has hinted that they could be smaller than what we have now.(!) (I didn't know they got smaller).  It'll be cool to live in a new place, closer to a lot of our friends, but I can't help but feel sad that we're leaving our current end of town.  I've come to like it here despite it's flaws.
One thing that does excite me about moving to I-dong is its restaurants.  Last weekend, a friend brought me and others to a restaurant that sells this soup called 'hae-jan-guk'.  It's Korean hangover soup and it's delicious.
I hadn't expected to encounter so much change at this point in my Korean experience, but I think it's going to be good for me.  I have been getting into a bit of a rut at school lately and these changes will make it all feel like a whole new experience; and that's exciting.

There will be some things about this area that we will miss though.  Two people we will miss especially are the baker at the bakery, and the buffet lady at the lunch buffet, who are both within a minutes walk from our school.  This week, Alisa and I brought them a goodbye present; we gave them each a bottle of wine.  But the thing about gifts and Koreans is that when you give a Korean a gift, you always get it back.  When we gave the wine to the baker and his wife, they gave us a free coffee and hot chocolate.  When we gave the wine to buffet lady, she gave us a Korean rice desert called duk (pronounced just like the animal).  We're not huge fans of duk (it tastes just like you'd expect - rice), but Alisa made the point that it's possible that buffet lady isn't a huge fan of wine either.  So I guess it's the thought that counts.

My new favourite band lately is called Rusted Root.  They're from Pittsburgh and they have a great beat.  Check them out.

Thanks for reading,

Friday, February 17, 2012

Living in a foreign country is a wonderful experience.  I'm having the time of my life out here in Pohang.  But every once in a while I'm struck with paings of homesickness.  These are usually brought on by random childhood memories that are triggered by something someone says or something I see.  Actually, with Alisa here, these reminders of home happen more often.  I had one of these reminders this past weekend as I was out with my friends for dinner.
My group of close friends here has grown to be quite large; so large that when we all get together and go to a restaurant for dinner, we just about take over the whole restaurant with our size and volume.  This is what happened on Sunday when we went to the new Indian/Napalese restaurant in town.  The food was great, the conversation was great, and the company was super.  Toward the end of the meal, we got on the topic of our favourite books, and then our favourite comic books, and then of course Calvin and Hobbes came up, and then I was feeling homesick.  I miss reading Calvin and Hobbes.  But more than that, I miss being in a place that feels like home where I have the time to relax and read Calvin and Hobbes.  Though I've been here over a year and a half, I haven't felt truly 'at home' here - at least not like I do when I am home.  Then I begin to wonder what I mean when I say 'home'.  What I picture in my head when I use the word 'home' is the time in my life when my family was all living together - my growing up years - a period of time that won't really happen again.  So I realize that 'home' should be an idea that changes as I grow older.  But I also realize that home is where my family is.  I can't wait until we have the chance to be all together again.

Something that I've learned about Koreans is that they like to have things that unite them - things that they all know about, that they can talk about together.  When I say this, I'm comparing Korean to Canadians.  In Canada, often there isn't much that unites us.  Many Canadians are from much different backgrounds or even countries.  There are parts of Canada that don't even speak the same language.  And Canadians like it this way.  That fact that there are such differences among Canadians can almost be described as something that unites us (at least something that defines us).
On the other end of the spectrum, Korea is very homogeneous.  I find Koreans to be quite separated from the rest of the world, though I do believe this to be changing.  An example of this homogeneousness is its TV channels - almost all of them are Korean.  And this makes sense of course.  If a channel is not Korean, it has to be dubbed or subtitled.  What this means, though, is that almost every Korean watches the same shows.  There is a  comedy show here that more than a couple TV channels broadcast throughout the day because its so popular.  I can see why it's popular, it looks hilarious (I don't really know because I don't know what they're saying).  No kidding, if you ask any Korean - probably any foreigner living in Korea for that matter - if they know this show, they'll say yes.  My students quote the funny things they say on this show every day.
Because of this homogeneous and Koreans like for things that unite them, I've found that trends thrive in this country.  What I mean by a trend is something like a TV show, a toy, a type of fashion, or an activity that catches on and everyone jumps on the bandwagon.  I mostly see these trends play out in my students.  I've mentioned dok-chee (Korean pogs) before.  Well, dok-chee is out and now the new trend is tops - like the toy that you spin.  Nearly every day, when I come into class in the morning, my kindergartners raise their hand and tell me about their new top.  The tops have names of course and differing levels of strength and other abilities.  The tops come with spinners - a devise that connects to the top and, when you pull the cord, spins the top with great force.  At break time, my kids congregate around a table and make their tops 'fight'.  This means they spin their tops all at the same time so that they run into each other.  The top that spins the longest wins.  I couldn't help but wonder if my kids thought all of this up themselves - the names and such - and no, they didn't.  There's a top animation on TV, similar to Pokemon, that they probably all watch.
This brings me to my final point.  Korean homogeneity and the trends that thrive here have been hugely commercialized.  Think about it - with each new trend, or each new object of Korean unity comes countless chances for major companies to make lots of money.  Angry Birds is a perfect example.  This one simple cell phone game has now become sooo much more.  This afternoon, one of my students showed me his Angry Birds socks.  This morning, Alisa's class ate a huge Angry Birds cake to celebrate the upcoming kindergarten graduation.  Angry Birds paraphernalia is sold seemingly everywhere.  To take my kindergartners new love for tops as another example.  The trend starts when they see another kid with a top at school.  They start watching the TV show, and in no time they're mom's or dad's are at E-Mart buying them a top of their own.  It's a perfect trap.  And I don't like to think about it for too long because it makes me think that human consumerism has made us become almost robotic - tools that companies know how to manipulate and make money off of.  Sort of scary stuff right?

I didn't mean for this blog to get so heavy when I started it.  I start off with a touching story about homesickness and wonder about the meaning of home.  Then I jump into how everyone is cluelessly being manipulated by some billionaire stranger out there.  Sorry about that.

Thanks for reading,

Friday, February 10, 2012

Hockey and Syria

My muscles have been sore all week.  Playing hockey has been taking its toll on me.  It's been worth it though.  I hadn't realized how much I had missed playing the game.  I feel much more Canadian these days now that I am playing hockey.  But it has been taking taking a lot out of me.  This week I played two days in a row with my 'team', and after each of my short shifts on the ice, I was huffing and puffing like the big bad wolf.  I broke my collar bone in grade two and when I was young and I would run or exercise a lot, my collar bone would ache where it had been broken.  It hadn't ached like that for a long time, so I had forgotten about it.  But as I was playing hockey this week, after a particularly tiring shift, the ache returned.  So ya, it's quite a workout.
I've also been thinking a lot more about hockey lately.  I watch a lot more NHL highlights, trying to pick up tips on how play my position better; my friend Sarah, who's from Thunder Bay, sent me a link to a great CBC radio documentary on hockey; and I've even been dreaming about playing hockey lately.
It's also interesting to be on a 'team' with other Koreans. (I put 'team' in parentheses because I'm not sure we are really a team or if I'm a part of it yet).  As with many things, the Koreans that I play with take it quite seriously.  They take every chance they get to give everyone a quick coaching lesson.  Honestly, I don't mind the extra advice, but I can't help but compare our team to my idea of a similar beer-league-team in Canada.  I can't imagine that the Canadian team would invest as much money and energy as the Koreans I play with do. But that's the Korean way.  When they're going to do something, they do it completely.
Here's another example of Koreans taking things seriously: Just down the street from our school, a ping-pong hall was built.  It's a small building with five or six ping-pong tables in it and it's fun to watch the ping-pong players practicing fiercely inside as we walk by.  Well, one day, some of our Korean co-teachers thought it would be fun to sign up to join the ping-pong club there just as something to do after school.  They came back and told us that there was no way they were going to join because of the price.  They told us it was something outrageous, like 200 bucks a month to be a part of it.

Aside from hockey, a lot of my thoughts have been on the news lately.  CNN is the only purely English channel on the TVs in our apartments and I have gotten into the habit of checking out the news on CNN every morning and evening.
Lately, I've been particularly interested in what is happening in the country of Syria right now.  There, the dictator, Bashar al-Assad, has basically declared war on his own people after there were protests against his rule beginning in January 2011.  In the past couple months, numerous people have been killed daily by the Syrian army.
I am drawn to this news story and I can't help but follow the events in Syria because I can't imagine what it is like for the people who are being attacked by their own government. I think they must feel completely helpless.  I've heard that the there aren't enough doctors to treat the wounded, and that hospitals have run out of medicine anyway.
I'm sure many Syrians, as well as people outside of Syria, myself included, are wondering why the outside world has not done anything about the Syrian government's crackdown on its people.  The United Nations has met to address this issue, but a movement to intervene in Syria was vetoed by Russia.  Russia, apparently, has close political ties to Syria and isn't ready to condemn its government's attack of its people.  My response to this is disbelief that a country would value its political connections with a government over the lives of thousands of people which are being ended by this government.  I start to wonder, how much do peoples lives really matter to people in positions of power who have to make decisions such as the ones the members of the UN are making regarding Syria.  I understand they are in a difficult position, but I wonder how they can simply watch people being killed, knowing they can help the situation.
And yet, I've also considered the opposing side of this debate; the side of the debate that asks, why is it the responsibility of outside countries to intervene on the affairs of one countries' problems?  Shouldn't Syria be left alone to figure out their own problems?  Similar protests and unrest happened in Libya not too long ago and in that situation the UN did intervene and take out the government.  But was that the right thing to do?  Has it helped Libya move toward peaceful elections?
I haven't thought enough about this issue to know the answers to these questions, but this line of thinking doesn't go very far in my mind.  When peoples' lives are being lost like they are in Syria, I do believe that the global community has a responsibility to try to put an end to it.  In situations such as this, I believe that we need to understand how trivial the man-made borders of our countries are and to realize that we are responsible for each other simply because we are all humans.  I hope and pray that soon there will be a resolution to the unrest in Syria which will put an end to the brutal bloodshed of innocent people.

Thanks for reading,

Friday, February 3, 2012

The Week After

Apologies if this post is a little later and a little shorter than others.  I've had to catch up on a lot of things at school this week and haven't had time to get to my blog.

Usually, when I write a blog post, I write about what's been on my mind recently.  This post isn't any different.  What's been on my mind this week, as you might guess, has been the last two weeks' events with the fever and losing my memory.  I can mostly understand the part where I got typhoid fever; I did go to Cambodia, a place where that could happen, and I wasn't particularly careful with what I ate or drank.  But what I have a hard time wrapping my mind around is the part where I lost my memory (pardon the pun - wrap my mind around... lose my memory... chuckle, chuckle).  It's baffling to me that my mind could just decide to stop making memories without any warning, and then, possibly equally amazing, to decide to start making memories again a few days later.  And yet maybe the most amazing part is that my brain was able to make memories in the first place.  What I mean is, losing my memory has helped me realize how wonderful our minds are - to be able to remember so much information for both the short term and the long term.  How is it possible that a glob of grey matter and juices in our heads are able to do all that our brains are able to do: to think, to remember, to take in and organize information, to control our movements, and more?  It's baffling.

This week has been interesting as I've mostly gotten back into my regular routine.  Losing my memory left me unaware as to how long I've been away from my usual activities, so it felt like a long time.  This made things like teaching, scooting, hanging out with friends, playing hockey, tutoring, and even spending time in my apartment feel new and exciting.

At school, my kindergarten class is preparing to perform a year-end skit and song along with the other classes.  Our skit is an "Arthur" play that I found online, and our song is "Yellow Submarine" by the Beatles.  There's no connection between them, but I love both Arthur and Yellow Submarine, so I'm happy.

Thanks for reading,