Thursday, June 21, 2012

Kids say the darndest things, part II

I thought you might enjoy some more humor at the expense of my charming students.

I have a class of fourth graders who are just beginning to experiment with romantic relationships.  By romantic, I mean cyber girlfriends and boyfriends they shy away from at school but text late into the night when they should be doing their English homework.  Last week the class spent the lesson writing an autobiography of their lives in twenty years.  They wrote about the countries they'd visit, the mansions they'd own, the families they'd build, and most importantly, the ideal spouses they'd marry.  My most advanced student wrote about how by that time he will have graduated from Juliard School of Music having majored in piano composition.  He will be a world famous pianist tired of the every day world and living in Tahiti.  As such, "while watching the wooden canoes drift in the clear blue water, I will compose new music for my wife."  This music will never be released, as it is strictly for the love of his life to enjoy.  His second-rate music will be made into records for the general public, but his best, most talented music will be reserved for his wife.  Furthermore, "my now girlfriend might become my future wife, if I know her and still like her then." I wish you both the best!

Another student wrote a rather dull essay, or so I thought.  I skimmed through the poor grammar, running my red pen over every mistake when suddenly I see, "It's a secret, but I really like Won Jae!" Woah, woah let's back track... "I want husband to like going church, so he will go with our family.  He should have good manners and make people laugh, like Won Jae.  It's a secret, but I really like Won Jae!"

Won Jae is another boy in class, who of course, has no interest in Do-Yeon, so at the start of our next class I announced that I would be reading their essays aloud.  Do-Yeon's eyes nearly popped out of her head. 

Another day in this class we were going over the new vocabularly, which has to do with Pilgrims.  As a result, the new words have a lot to do with religion, like worship, faith, and revive.  As I tried to explain revive, the kids weren't getting it, so I imitated fainting, then being revived a few times.  At long last, one kid got it and yelled out, "Oh! Oh! Like Jesus!"  I nodded as another kid chimed in, "Jesus Christ, SUPERSTAR!" How in the world do these kids know Jesus Christ, Superstar? I will never know.

Another class of students took a quick-response quiz, where they have only one minute to answer a series of questions.  One kid answered this way:

What's your favorite book? I hate reading, so I don't read books.
When did you read it? I already told you, I don't read.
Why did you like it? Are you serious asking me again?
Who do you want to read it? AHHHHH this is ridiculous.

One of my co-workers showed us a sentence her second grader wrote for the vocabulary word 'whisper.' He wrote, "Whisper words of wisdom, let it be."

Meanwhile in preschool, things are getting good.  One random preschooler saw Kyle in the bathroom and changed his name from Monkey Face to Caterpillar Face.  Since June 1st, there's been a strict 'No Korean' rule even during playtime.  I feel a little bad for the kids as they grasp for words and phrases, especially since some of them seem to think pounding a fist on their temple will bring the lost word to mind.  One poor boy with the widest eyes and deepest voice misunderstood the meaning of, "I love you" for almost an entire week.  Rather than saying, "I love the playroom," or, "I love pizza," he would say, "I love you, pizza!" and "I love you, playroom!"  It was almost too cute to correct him.

My boss asked Iryne and I to prepare a special song to sing for the children to sing to the mothers at the end of Open House.  Iryne found a really sweet song called, "Mommy I love you."  One day while we were practicing, one girl was singing in a fake baby voice and doing really obnoxious hand gestures.  When the song finished, I was just about to address her behavior when another girl spoke up.  "Don't do that! Sing nicely, or your mommy is very sad." 

A girl who always reminds me to turn on music while she's writing or coloring also gives me a daily nutrition lesson.  "Shelly kimchi...and...good...and...strong!" She also tells me fun facts like, "My house is two balloons! And my house is one dog!" Meanwhile the other kids are having a contest at who can out-compliment me.  "Shelly Teacher is beautiful!" "Shelly Teacher is beautiful star!" "Shelly Teacher is queen!" "Shelly Teacher is beautiful ballerina!" The overall sentence construction entertains me each day; it's like a puzzle trying to rearrange the words into the correct order.  "My is English! No Korean today, Shelly Teacher.  My is English!"  On the other hand, one girl's mother wrote a comment on her daughter's report card that said, "I'm really happy to see my daughter's English improving each month, but I'm also worried.  She's asking too many questions I can't answer, so I think her English is better than mine now." Similarly, sometimes the kids' sentences really amaze me.  One boy asked me to move by saying, "Shelly Teacher, please move your chair, I'm busy playing ninja."  Another girl approached me with a play tea set and asked, "Would you like to drink some chamomile tea?" Why, of course!

My little Huni had an accident in the playroom and peed down the slide.  No one thought it urgent to tell me, so they just kept playing.  Finally, one kid came up to me complaining that his socks were wet.  What? You're just sweaty. You'll be fine - go drink some water.  Then another kid said his socks were wet.  Okay, what is going on?  Then I heard the Korean word for pee, "Shi! Shi! Shi!" Ah, crap.  Settled at the base of the tube slide was a large puddle of urine.  Okay, who peed? Huni! It was Huni! Where's Huni? Huni, COME HERE! Playtime ended early that day, but luckily Huni's mother sent in an extra change of clothes at the beginning of the semester.

About a month later, I saw Iryne rushing out of Bear class holding Huni at arm's length.  I followed her into the Nightinggale Room and asked if everything's okay.  Huni had another accident.  This time she peed in a big lego bucket.  What! After a little more explanation, Huni told Iryne that the bucket looked a lot like those trainer potties little kids use.  After she changed I saw her skipping back to class through the hallway.  Huni, I say.  What happened to you? As her eyebrows rose up, a smile crept over her face, and she just shrugged her shoulders.  Then she skipped away.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

B-Boy Competition

The week before Jane's wedding, we tossed around ideas for what to do after the wedding.  Weddings in Korea aren't like those in the states.  Instead of the party just getting started after the meal, once you clean your plate, the party is over.  We all figured since we'd already be dressed up and in Seoul, we may as well do something while we're out.  One teacher mentioned a "B-boy contest" in Seoul.  Hm?  You know, kinda like breakdancing?  Didn't sound too appealing at the time, then the week just got busier, so no final plans were made.  After the wedding buffet, we started discussing ideas again.  A teacher brought up the B-boy contest yet again.  Thankfully, a few other teachers said, "That doesn't sound like something I'd like.  We could always split up, though!"  We got to the subway station, and still a decision hadn't been made.  Two girls said they were going to the B-boy contest, and anyone else was welcome to come. Suddenly, Kyle and I were left standing alone. Hang out just the two of us - that was the last thing we wanted to do! What was the second-to-last thing we wanted to do? Go to the B-boy contest... A few near-collisions with Koreans whose faces were glued to their cell phones later, we caught up to the other teachers at the platform just before the train took off for Shinsa.  We soon realized that not only were we not looking forward to the next activity, the train ride was about an hour and a half long.

When we finally got off, we had to walk about two miles to the venue. In our wedding attire.  At long last, we arrived only to find a huge line out the door.  The line was made up of both foreigners and Koreans, all dressed in baggy jeans, cut-offs, proudly displaying their tattoos and flat-brimmed hats.  Here we were, winded and business casual.  Most of us plopped down on the nearest stoop to wait for a decision to be made.  I did this with an especially strong pout.  The two teachers who were excited for the contest all along jumped into line and immediately began making friends.  Another couple of teachers went off somewhere to find a bathroom.  When they returned, they were wearing Converse sneakers, torn jeans, and pony tails.  That's it, we decided, we're finding a bar.  Kyle and I left with two other girls and dived into the first bar we came to.  The bartender spoke no English, but we sank into one of her comfortable couches and wrote our order out for her.  As tradition in Korea requires, she also brought out a small dish of nuts and pretzels.  It's improper to drink alcohol without food.  We talked and laughed for a while over our $8 Budweisers.

 A few bottles in, Kyle looked at us and said seriously, "So are you really going into the contest?"

We all nodded, wondering what the big deal was.  He said, "Well, are you going to like, try and win or just goof off?" 

The three of us girls look at eachother wide-eyed, then burst out laughing.  It was quickly revealed that Kyle thought all along that we'd all have to participate in the B-boy contest.  One girl finally calmed herself enough to ask, "So what exactly was your plan, Kyle? To get eliminated immediately by not dancing, or just get drunk enough beforehand to not care?"

"I just wasn't going to go in at all!" Kyle said.  This, of course, led to more laughter.  Once Kyle realized he didn't have to compete, he said, "Well, then what are we doing here? Let's go in!"

The venue was like an empty warehouse all painted black.  It was packed, body to body, with three levels of walkways around the edges.  People dangled their legs between the railings, all trying to get the best view.

There was a stage in the center of one wall, and a long plain bar along another.  There were strobe lights and posters all around.  A DJ was set up on stage, and the emcee rolled around in a wheelchair.  Kyle and I looked at each other, laughing, suddenly feeling very relieved we'd ended up coming.  This was going to be good.

The bar was serving Smithwyck's, so we grabbed some beers and shimmied our way into the best view.  One by one, the judges came out onto the stage.  They performed some short dance number, then took their place in the judges' chairs.  The first round began.  The emcee spoke Korean the entire time, but the music was taken from many popular rap songs from back home.  Two B-boys were introduced at a time, then the DJ was called to "drop the beat."  The competing B-boys took turns dancing back and forth.  They were spinning, kicking, flipping, and handstanding all over the stage.  Sometimes, the competition got a little fiery, and the competitor would end his routine by puffing his chest up at his opponent or fake kicking him.  Other times when the second competitor started, he would storm around the stage in a circle, just staring at his competition, glaring and getting pumped up. 

Here's my favorite personality, the chef:

And here are the two finalists competing:

Like I said, the room was packed with people all staring at the same stage.  Anytime an especially good move was executed, the crowd would erupt.  When the competitors finished, the three judges each held up their choice's name.  Though extremely hesitant and judgmental from the start, within minutes of entering the venue, we found ourselves completely absorbed in the competition.  We were all at the same time amazed at the physical capabilities of the performers, entertained by the crowd's involvement, and enjoying something completely outside our comfort zones. 

I've never seen breakdancing outside of random scenes in movies or music videos, but I was really impressed by the way each dancer took on a personality. There were dancers who dressed in all black and danced like ninjas, not smiliing once while on stage.  Others looked nothing like break dancers in their fitted jeans and button-down shirts, acting nervous while the other dancers performed.  Then the music started and they let loose.  Another dancer dressed up in a collarless chef's shirt, baker's pants with an elastic waistband, and a bandana tied around his head.  He kept adding some sort of Latino flavor his moves and ended each routine with a full one-legged ballerina spin.  I quickly developed favorite dancers and was more than happy to stand there sweating in the packed warehouse watching each new round of dancing.  I was especially happy to see my favorite dancer take first place, B-boy Differ!

At no point in my life would I have been able to predict that I'd be standing shoulder-to-shoulder with a bunch of strangers in Korea drinking a beer and cheering on a bunch of Asian breakdancers with Kyle standing next to me.  Events like these remind me why I decided to come to Korea in the first place.  I wanted to stray from the path I was headed down and take an adventure.  Weekends like these leave me with experiences I won't have anywhere else, and though I'm not sure they'll teach me anything specific or help build my character, they leave me with a lasting happiness and satisfaction for what I've chosen for this year of my life.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Techno Mart: Wedding City

I snipped the tag off my new dress and blow dried my hair for the first time in months.  Kyle rummaged around the pockets of his suitcase for any decent looking tie.  He smoothed the wrinkles in his dress shirt the best he could with his hands.  We were ready for Jane's wedding.  Jane is a Korean teacher at our school with a hilarious sense of humor, known for her grammatically poor catch phrases like, "I am die," to describe her hangover. 
We met the other SLP teachers, Korean and foreign alike, and jumped on the train heading for Sindorim.  The subway car was packed tightly, and the A/C seemed to be malfunctioning.  At each stop, somehow more people squeezed in.  During the long ride, the Korean teachers practiced a song they prepared for Jane, and we took turns signing a card for her.  In Korea, brides don't create gift regristries.  Guests always give monetary gifts.  Depending on the amount of money given, the bride then has to show the proper level of gratitude in the form of a thank you gift.  Due to this, the foreign teachers opted out of lumping our money with the rest of SLP's gift.  We didn't want Jane to have to do something too elaborate for the school. 

Anyway, we were headed for a little place called Wedding City, which takes up one floor of the enormous Techno Mart mall just outside Sindorim Station. 

Not my first choice for a wedding, but the ballroom where it was held ended up being really beautiful.  After a few escalator and elevator rides and weaving through the shopping traffic, we walked in a few minutes late, just missing our opportunity for one-on-one pictures with the bride.  Apparently, the bride sits poised on a chair with her dress sprawled at her feet, and the guests line up to get a photo with the bride.  Just like seeing Santa Claus at the mall! And we missed it!

We tiptoed into the enormous ballroom and grabbed the only seats available - three round tables at the front.  Each table and chair was covered with a soft black tablecloth, and placed at the center were bouquets of white roses and small trees decorated with candles.  More fresh, white bouquets lined the auditorium-like stage at the front which merged into a long center aisle covering the length of the room.  Huge white tapestries hung from the ceiling, lining the aisle. 

With their backs to us, Jane and her fiancee stood listening to the marriage officiant.  He went on in Korean for about ten or twenty minutes, and we watched on the jumbotron (Koreans love those things!). 

There was no bridal party, only the bride and groom were on stage during the ceremony.  A few official looking people with wires in their ears walked around making sure the ceremony ran smoothly.  One woman stuck by Jane, tugging at her dress whenever it needed adjusting. It all felt very formal, like watching a theater performance, until Jane turned and waved at all of us, smiling.

After the officiant finished, an announcer cued the Korean teachers, who filed up onto the stage.  The music started, and they all sang a beautiful Korean song to Jane and her new husband.  The performance was supplemented with confetti, small arm gestures, fake snow, and roses for the new couple.  Not your typical maid of honor speech, but it was a very sweet gesture.  I think Jane really appreciated it.  Here's a clip for you to enjoy:

Following the performance, the officiant's voice sounded again.  He said a few commanding lines, then Jane and her new husband kissed while the crowd cheered.  A few violinists and a pianist took the stage, and Jane and her husband walked down the steps of the stage to the floor where two armchairs and a coffee table were set up.  In the chairs sat Jane's mother and father.  The new couple bowed respectfully to the parents, who then stood up hugging the couple, happily receiving them.  This continued on the other side of the stage where the husband's parents sat.  It was a clear symbol of the two families joining together as well as their accepting the new couple.  I really admire the high level of respect for familial bonds in this country.

Jane and her husband took the stage again, and the music faded into Mendelssohn's "Wedding March." The new couple paraded down the elegantly decorated aisle, while younger guests stood at the sides tossing glitter and more confetti.  We mingled for another hour or so in the ballroom, while different groups of people joined the bride and groom on the stage for photos.  First, photographs were taken of the immediate families, then all relatives, and finally friends and acquaintences.  This was the first time any sign of a Maid of Honor existed.  Jane's closest friend and co-worker, Hailey, joined in some special photos with the bride and groom.  They also posed as Jane tossed Hailey the wedding bouquet. 

Many of Jane's older relatives, including her parents, wore the traditional Korean hanbok, which up to this point, I had only seen in store front displays.  I was happy to see some of the Korean traditions still exist in wedding celebrations.  Jane's dress was simliar to those seen in the U.S., except in Korea brides typically rent their dresses for the day and for about the same price as purchasing one in the states! 

After the photographing ceased, we received a meal ticket and filed out the door to the buffet.  Walking out the doors of the ballroom, we were suddenly back in reality.  The sounds of classical music faded, and the noise of a shopping mall took its place.  Shoppers bustled by us, and we piled onto the escaltors once more.  We followed the herd to a huge buffet room that spanned an entire floor.  I'm pretty sure a few different weddings were going on at once at the buffet.  We turned in our meal tickets, then scoured the packed room for seats.  The dozen or so of us had to split up and join half-full tables. 

There were lines and lines of food to choose from, including Korean, Japanese, and Chinese dishes.  We enjoyed plates of salad and other fresh vegetables, sushi, kimchi, fried rice, soups, plenty of seafood, dumplings, stir fries, and of course, dessert.  The servers floated around, clearing plates and replacing any soju bottles that went empty.  At the ceremony, all the guests were dressed as they would for an American wedding, ties, slacks, dresses, and heels.  However, the dress code relaxed quite a bit when we entered the buffet.  There were many t-shirts and jeans among the suits and ties.

 While we were eating, Jane's parents and grandparents visited all the guests, thanking them for spending the day with them.  Soon after, Jane and her husband appeared, also thanking her guests.  They had changed into the traditional hanbok, as well.  Jane thanked us for coming and acted surprised, "Shelly, who is this new man with you? What did you do with your old boyfriend Kyle!?"  All of the Koreans were surprised at how well Kyle cleans up! At this point, it was also apparent that Hailey had some special role in the wedding, as she joined the couple in making rounds throughout the buffet room.  The girls continued chit-chatting at the tables, while Kyle... well, I'm sure you can guess...

After a few more beers, we said goodbye to Jane and her husband as they took off for a week in Indonesia.  We reunited with the other foreign teachers, took one last group photo with Jane's grandmother, then headed out for a night in Seoul.