Don’t bee afraid

One of the common mistakes made by nearly all Korean children learning English is a strange overuse of the verb “to be”. They will insert it several times into the same ‘sentence’, often to the exclusion of other (more suitable) verbs. I’m not sure what this is all about. It may be something to do with the verb structure in Korean; it may be something they’ve picked up from dubious sources over several generations. Whatever it is, it’s something that all of us, as teachers, are very accustomed to hearing.

Teacher! Pencil is no! (I don’t have a pencil)

I am lunch. (I’m eating lunch)

He is game. (He’s playing a game)

Classroom is desks is my chair is angry. (I have no idea)

House is no! (From http://www.roketship.com)

No matter how much grammar they understand in theory, and no matter how many perfectly constructed sentences they are capable of producing on paper, for some reason when it comes to speaking they are always reduced to using nouns linked together with the verb “to be”. My kids always feel the need to inform me, as if their life depends on it, when a member of the class is absent. Increasingly frustrated at being greeted by urgent cries of “David is no! Jane is no!” every day, I have made a point of correcting them and making them repeat “David is not here” a couple of times. It’s my attempt to show them that “is” is a verb and not the strange linking word they seem to see it as. But it never changes. One child attempted to tell me that one of her classmates came to play at her house over the weekend, and said “Teacher! Lucy is my house is weekend is come is playing!”. I mean, really. This girl is capable of writing full paragraphs in grammatically correct English. I’m at a loss as to why “is” becomes something akin to a comma when she speaks.

On a vaguely related topic, of “bees” rather than “to be”, there was a large bee in my classroom yesterday. A couple of children from my kindergarten class were squealing about it when I came in (“Teacher! Window is bee!”), and they were slightly surprised when instead of calmly dealing with the bee, I turned and fled from the room. Well, it buzzed at me. I went in search of Alex in the hope that he could dispose of the bee, but alas, he was not in his classroom. In the end, a passing elementary school boy (about 8 or 9 years old) asked why I was standing outside my classroom looking in, and upon hearing my explanation, rolled his eyes, marched in, evicted the bee, and then beckoned me in.

OK now, Teacher? he asked with a barely patient expression on his little face.

Erm, yes, I said, trying and failing to find my dignity. Thank you.

There is occasionally a distinct feeling of role reversal in my classroom.

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Differences

OK , two main points to make in this post, and both of them involve things being different, so I’ll lump them together.

Firstly, the trivial pondering: is corn on pizza really a bizarre phenomenon to most people? In Korea, I’m used to a lot of “Wow, that’s really bizarre” moments because things are so different from how they are at home. This is the main way that foreigners bond and identify with each other, because we can all say “You noticed that too? Yeah, what’s all that about?!”. But one that seems to crop up again and again amongst foreigners I know both in person and online is the corn on pizza issue. This completely threw me at first, because I had no idea what they meant, and even now I just quietly accept it without really understanding what the problem is.

Koreans put sweetcorn on their pizzas. Is this weird to you? It certainly is weird to a great number of folk here. But I can’t think of a single pizza place in my home town which didn’t offer corn as a topping. Not only that, but I would regularly choose it if I was doing one of those “create your own pizza” things… or I’d order the vegetarian one, which always had corn on it. I’m now wondering if it’s only my home town – and Korea.  Others seem to react in utter horror, disgust, and bewilderment at the realisation that Koreans think corn is a pizza topping. And I don’t understand. Even if it’s not common outside of Ballymena and Korea (!), surely it’s not such a disgusting concept? It is a salad vegetable, after all, and there’s no problem with putting things like tomatoes and onions on pizzas. Any thoughts?

My other topic for this post is the blog itself. Things may change quite soon, although I’m not entirely sure how and am half-scared that I’m going to lose the whole thing through my own lack of knowledge about how these things work! Basically, I changed to coffee-helps.com some time ago, but being a bit disaster-prone when it comes to anything computer/internet-related, I didn’t know how to do it, and was happy to let my then-significant-other take care of it when he took it upon himself to do so. Then I never thought any more of it. Anyway, now I’ve had a notification from wordpress that I need to pay them some money to keep the Domain Mapping going. I don’t actually know what Domain Mapping is, but I don’t think I’ll be too far wrong when I guess that it’s the set-up that means people who type in coffee-helps.com will be taken to my WordPress-hosted blog.

This is fine, and I can easily do so, but I’m worried about the part of the message that instructs me to also renew my ownership of the domain name itself. Not being the one who organised it all, and no longer being in touch with that person, I’m unlikely to be able to do this, and indeed a search of my emails shows no record of such a thing. It may be that coffee-helps.com will soon be bought by a coffee producer or insomniac or something, and all my readers will be left going “Eh?”, wonder where I’ve gone for a bit, and then forget I existed. I can’t be having this, obviously, and as contacting The Ex is not a road I want to go down having reached a point where I’m pretty much myself again, it looks like the only option is to treat coffee-helps.com as a lost cause and figure out how to buy another domain name and then put my blog on to it and… ugh, I hate this stuff.

If you know how this kind of thing works and can help me, give me advice, do it for me for a fee, whatever, please contact me! Maybe it’s actually really simple, who knows?! My fear of computers and technical terms holds me back. Help me, please!!

Oh, and let me know what you think about the corn, too. :)

Group Ignorance

This weekend, I went to Busan for the first time.

Busan is the second largest city in Korea, and its location on the south coast makes it a top holiday destination – which means that it kind of feels like you’re on your summer holidays even if you’ve just come down for the weekend. :)

Irish Friend One was celebrating his birthday, and invited us to come along to Busan with him for some quality beach time. I didn’t realise how much I’d missed the sea until I arrived! I’ve never been very far from the sea, with plenty of happy childhood memories in the Northern Irish seaside towns like Portrush and Ballycastle, lots of drives to the coast with friends when I got older, and more recently living right by the sea in Tallinn. In Korea, I stupidly picked a city right in the centre of the country, meaning that it’s at between an hour and a half and three hours by train to the sea in any direction. Poor planning, that was.

Busan is really lovely. It has a very relaxed, mellow feel about it, which was, during our stay, enhanced by the beautiful weather. We went to Haeundae (apparently regarded as one of the finest beaches in the world) and had a gorgeously lazy weekend eating far too much good food, building sandcastles, swimming in the sea, going for walks along the shore, and (in my case) getting hopelessly sunburnt. Perfect!

It didn’t get off to a promising start, mind you, thanks to what I am starting to describe as Group Ignorance. When you go anywhere on your own in Korea, you make detailed plans including written directions, maps, bus numbers, train times, prices and opening hours, and even key phrases in Korean that might help you out if you get stuck. You don’t take any chances, because you know how easily misunderstandings occur here between locals and foreigners, and how difficult it can be to get the information you need once you’re out there without your computer. You are organised. And you double check everything – more than double check.

Take something simple, like catching a bus. When performing this once-simple procedure, you will check the timetable, the arrivals screen at the bus stop, your own notes, and the name and number on the bus. You will ask the driver if this bus goes to your intended destination as you get on. You will count the stops as they pass and anxiously and painstakingly read all the Korean information that scrolls past on the screen each time. Before you get off, you will check with a nearby ajumma that this is in fact your stop.

No matter what you’re doing alone, you’ll be this cautious about it, because you’ve learned from experience that if you are not, there will be consequences – and they’ll probably cost you money, your pride, a lot of stress, and a great deal of lateness.

But when you’re in a group, it seems that everyone relaxes quite considerably. I’m not entirely sure why, my two current theories being (a) that everyone thinks someone else knows what they’re doing, and (b) that no one minds things going horribly wrong as long as they’ve got company. I suspect there might be a bit of both at work here, but (a) is more likely to be the main reason. And generally speaking, there tends to be someone in most groups who does actually assume responsibility, who has a bit of wit about them and is paying attention to what’s going on, and who takes on the role of leader.

Unfortunately, my current group of friends displays a distinct lack of such a person.

As a result of this, we all just kind of meander along cheerfully, chatting and looking around us, all in the happy belief that Someone Else has a plan and Someone Else is in charge. Of course, no one has and no one is, and so we end up on a bus going the wrong way because everyone assumed someone else checked it was correct, or  sitting on the train floor because everyone assumed someone else checked that tickets home would still be available, or at a closed venue because everyone assumed someone else had enquired about opening hours.

That’s exactly how we ended up taking an hour long taxi ride to the beach, which we knew to be only a five minute (maximum) journey away. You’d think that someone would have said something after ten minutes, or even fifteen. Turns out that as we’d piled excitedly into the taxi, eager to get to the beach, someone had badly mispronounced the name of our destination to the driver, assuming that someone else had already said where we were going, or that at the very least someone would correct him if they heard him make a mistake. Everyone else assumed that the speaker must know where we were going, and therefore left him to it. And so the taxi driver, in his innocence, proceeded to drive us to some district on the other side of the city that sounded vaguely like “Haeundae”, but not quite.

And we just sat there and let him! The confusion only began to surface and then grow after around twenty minutes, and after some failed attempts at communication using the English-Korean dictionaries in our phones, a Korean friend had to be called and the phone handed to the bewildered taxi driver, who then had to drive our subdued and decidedly poorer group the whole way back to where he’d picked us up. He dropped us off on the beach, which was – obviously – only one street away from where we’d been standing. We could have walked there in a couple of minutes. Instead, we drove around the city for an hour getting increasingly confused and stressed, and then paid 25,000 won for the experience.

I’d love to say “live and learn” by way of a conclusion, but it wouldn’t be true…

Children’s Day

We don’t have May Day in Korea, but we do have two separate days off in May, for other reasons.

This is very unusual, as holidays for hagwon teachers are not exactly plentiful, so as you can imagine we are all very excited about it. Long gone are the days when I would spend a day off just lounging around the house doing nothing! No, a day-long holiday is now very precious, and must be used wisely, so we plan daytrips and – for the ones that fall on Friday or Monday – long weekends away.

I had to work yesterday (May Day back home), but I’m off tomorrow (Wednesday) because it’s Children’s Day. Children’s Day, held on May 5th every year, is pretty much the favourite day of the year for Korean kids. It’s a whole day dedicated to spoiling them rotten (more so than usual, I mean), and it seems to be bigger and better than Christmas is for them. There are cards and presents, outings to the zoo or amusement parks, parties, and special performances just for children. Mums and dads will free up their schedules to spend time with their sons and daughters – no doubt a very exciting prospect for the many children who I’m fairly certain see me or their other teachers more often than they see their dads. This is the day when kids in Korea are assured beyond a shadow of a doubt that they are greatly loved by all the adults in their lives.

And it’s a national holiday, so it works out rather well for the adults, too. :)

We’ve all got to go to a performance (I imagine it’s some sort of variety show) today after school. Not getting paid for it, but I’m kind of looking forward to seeing the kids’ entertainment – and the principal is buying the teachers dinner afterwards, which is always a novelty. Then we get tomorrow off, hurrah!

The school has been a hectic preparation site for the past couple of days, with gifts being prepared and photos being taken for a special slideshow or something. A t-shirt has been made for each child, with a cute picture of them on it and a few words in English. The teachers have all filmed messages to the children, to be played at tonight’s performance. The director decided that it would be nice if the foreign teachers gave their greetings in Korean, since we’re usually discouraged from speaking in Korean to the children. It took the three of us about 5 takes to manage a couple of short sentences each, amidst much squealing of “Argh, wait, stop filming!!” and a lot of “umm…uh…” noises. Ah well. At least we’ll give the lil’uns a laugh!

Happy Children’s Day!

Daejeon loves ya!

On Saturday night, after a long, tiring, but lovely day at a butterfly festival (I’m discovering that Koreans have festivals for pretty much everything!), I dragged myself back out again for South African Friend Three’s farewell party.

It was a fancy dress party, and it was decided that the theme would be “D”, the first letter of said friend’s name. We had a dancer, a deck of cards, a dork, Dame Edna, a couple of dolls, a duck, a diary, a diva, a dreamer, and probably some others I can’t remember. What have you come as? I asked disapprovingly of a guy in ordinary clothes. I’m a dissident, he replied without hesitation. I refuse to dress up just because other people told me to.

I liked that. :)

Irish Friend One was also dressed in normal clothes, announcing that his costume was more a role than an outfit. He was a drunk. He took his part very seriously, and ordered only water and the occasional soft drink all night, which he topped up regularly from the bottles of soju he had smuggled in and hidden under the table.

I went as Daejeon, with the instantly recognisable “It’s Daejeon” logo attached to my head in case there was any doubt about what all the pictures on my t-shirt represented. I have to thank t shirt printing manchester for that one! The response was unexpected. I had complete strangers coming up to me all night and asking if they could have their picture taken with me, or take a photo of my costume. When Dame Edna, a doll, and I arrived at the party, the bar staff almost fell over each other trying to serve us and take photos of us to put on the bar wall. Then a barmaid approached me as I took my first sip of beer.

Do you like tequila? she asked in the shy way that all the Korean barmaids have when they speak English. I nodded, singing the obvious song lyric to her, and she waved a bottle at me. I want tequila shot buy for you please, she said, because you are my city. She then proceeded to set out a glass, salt, and a lemon slice for me, and applauded happily when I solemnly completed the tequila ritual. It’s got me wondering if perhaps I should wear that outfit every time I go out.

The party was fun, even though I did fade towards the end and got told off by Irish Friend One for leaving early – this was at 4am, by the way. I can’t stick the pace like these young’uns, but I’m starting to love the social scene all the same.

This song is now my “Daejeon song”, because it’s played at least once a night no matter where we go, and will forever make me think of Daejeon and my friends here. It’s the type of music I used to not particularly like, but when I hear it while I’m dancing on a crowded dancefloor, and hear everyone singing along and see the crowd bouncing and my friends smiling, it makes me feel happy.

Good times. :)

Our (autographed) photo on the bar wall.