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Published: October 11th 2007
Tomb hills in center of town
Well, I’ve been here over a month so far and still sort of settling in. I now realize that South Korea is a lot more modern than I expected. Of course, these are my much generalized, comparisons with Australia and my limited experiences in China. Everybody here seems to have a high standard of living. It is fairly clean with not much litter, unlike many Asian countries. The traffic seems to flow well, with good roads and transport system. There are good wide main roads, although some smaller roads can be tight squeezes. Parts of the cities could be parts of Sydney. I visited one of my student’s father’s Fire Station and it was very big and modern, even for a small country town (see photos). All students seem to have Broadband access at home, as do many old people.
More and more crops are being grown in green-houses and more machinery is being used, but much is still cut by hand. Most houses out here are fairly modern with the traditional curved tiled roofs. Inside are very large TVs (with cable or satellite access), air-con and floor heating. I enjoy walking, down the back lanes, with their
Open tomb hill
old stone walls, past these houses seeing people outside cut, collect and dry crops by hand.
HOLIDAYS, EXCUSIONS AND DAY TRIPS.
At the moment, there seem to be many holidays, ‘Special Days’ and excursions. There are the usual school plays and concerts, other cultural events and music performances; I even managed to see the traveling Seoul Ballet for free! I’ve just concluded my first holiday and maybe last for quite a while, with a few days in one of the main cultural areas of Korea (the Silla Kingdom). It took me about 4 hours and five bus changes to get to this place about one or two hundred kilometers to the east. I only managed to get (slightly) lost in one these bus changes. I’ve had to ‘re-adjust’ once again to a new traveling environment.
SIDE NOTE:- Although Korea has a better English and Tourist setup than China, I soon realized that there where other problems. Having an English map was good, but not very useful when you asked a Korean person for directions. Although most people here learn English in school, they soon forget it thru not using it regularly and ‘place names’ are hard
to translate anyway. In China, the 100% Chinese maps had the advantage of having the numbered bus routes marked out on the streets, so you could always get on a bus and travel around until you saw the numbered bus you wanted and then catch that one; sort of like swinging from bus to bus.
The Gyeongju area was rather spread out, but with the very efficient Tourist Information Centre (with English) and a bit more ’bus-swinging’ I managed to see most things. Most of it was reconstructed, but I did get an idea of how it was. There where many Buddhist statues, foundations, temples and so on, but what was different were all the giant tombs everywhere, which look like perfect grass covered hills, even in the middle of town!
A week latter our school went back to this place for the ‘School Picnic Day’. This time I got there in about an hour and a half in our charted bus. We actually visited the ‘Gyeongju Expo’, which was a bit commercial, but fun. There were heaps of school groups all marching around. I got to see the Russian Ice Ballet for about $A12- a bargain!
Drum in Temple
A few days latter, a few of us teachers got to visit an ‘International School” and “genuine Australian Outback Steakhouse” in the big city of Daegu near my village, so I got to see a LOT of American culture. The ‘International School’ was actually part of an American army base. I needed my passport and Korean ID card to get thru the security. The kids where mainly children of American soldiers in the base, and there are now many part-Korean students and teachers, so everybody looked multicultural, but the language and feel of the place was definitely American. I felt like I was on an American school-teen movie set. Unfortunately, I did not get to see many classes in action, but the teachers and student there where very friendly and helpful and the whole place was very well equipped. Then it was off to lunch at the canteen.
I was surprised that the school canteen had no Korean food. The menu was all American and I think ALL the food was imported pre-processed from America. No fresh vegetables in sight (maybe we were there the wrong day) and the veggies and fruit all seemed to be processed. I was
part of ancient city wall
never a big fan of melt-in-your-mouth-carrots. For me, it was all too soft, sweet and salty; I call it ‘baby food’.
In the afternoon we had a look at a temple nearby: picked up English newspaper and Korean road maps; had coffee at Starbucks-(the American coffee shop chain) and did a bit of shopping. We finished off with the American ‘theme’ for the day with dinner at the ‘genuine Australian’ “Outback Steakhouse”, because the Korean teachers where keen to try Australian food and I was curious also.
The Outback Steakhouse is actually an American restaurant chain like Pizza Hut. It’s pretty expensive, with real Aussie beef-very good (of course). The menu was interesting with Popcorn Shrimp, Kookaburra Wings, and “Blooming Onion”, which is onion wedges in a dipping sauce. Yum, just like back home (I don’t think so!) Although, the Alice Springs Chicken wasn’t too bad, with chicken covered with bacon, mushrooms, herbs thickly covered with an American style orange cheese, with honey mustard sauce and Ketchup on the side; just in case you didn’t think there were enough flavors. There were Aussie decorations on the walls; although the American baseball on the giant TV screens every 4 meters did
Tomb hill in middle of town
tend to spoil the ‘atmosphere’, just a bit. Overall the day was quite an interesting cultural experience.
SCHOOLS AND CLASSES
I think all the holidays and day trips are over for a while, although, new surprises seem to pop up all the time. I am actually looking forward to a bit of routine and getting into the teaching seriously. I basically have about a total 24 X 45 minutes of classes over the five-day week at two schools.
At the main school (Bugye Middle School) on Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays, which is a five minute drive away from home(supplied by my landlord, the minister, whose son is one of my better students), I teach 12 of the lessons with my Korean co-teacher. There are about 20 students in each of the three grades (a total of 58 students at this school). These lessons are fairly straight forward and from a text book so require little preparation, although I do try to add a little extra (mainly about Australia, for variety).
I have also just started doing writing lessons with students who wish to learn writing at this school. These three lessons pay overtime at a good rate.
They are all volunteers from all grades, so they all will be keen, I hope. I am looking forward to this class. I had to learn how to teach writing at my last school in China (which I was not happy about). I always knew it would be handy one day.
The other school on Wednesday and Thursdays is at an even smaller school (Sanseong Middle School). It is about a very pleasant 15 minute drive thru another beautiful valley with one of my neighbors who is an Administration Worker at the school. The school used to have over 500 students but it now has a total of fourteen!! I teach 8 students in one grade, and three each in the two other grades. There is more flexibility here and my co-teacher is showing me how to use roll-plays as a teaching method in the six lessons with them. This does make the lessons more interesting.
At this school on Wednesday afternoon, I will also teach about a dozen other Korean English Teachers from the surrounding schools for about two or three hours. I felt a bit intimidated by this at first, because some of them are my
Me in front of tomb
age and even the younger ones probably know more about teaching than me. I am sure they teach English very well to their students, but the problem is that they rarely use English outside of their Middle School classrooms, (even to each other), so they get a bit ‘rusty’. We can mostly understand each other in normal conversation. Part of this new Korean Government policy of a Native speaker with Korean Co-teacher is to improve the Korean Teachers English skills; a bit like an update/ refresher course. The course is very flexible and informal; I get to choose the topics and they can add suggestions too. We get to talk about anything, such as differences between our countries, America and the world, culture, jokes, movies, classroom methods, anything; maybe even go on a few more excursions! So, hopefully we will all have some fun and learn from each other. I am also looking forward to this class. The opening ceremony for this class was rather formal with ‘men in suits and ties’ from the main office in the big city attending. I guess I should get used to the illusion that I am important, every now and then.
next blog (early November??) I should talk about where I live, how I am adapting to home life and the surrounding village.
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