Sunday, March 29, 2009


Hi all,

Jen and I had a busy weekend. We plugged away on Saturday at the office, teaching an "Intro to Essay Writing" class that went over reasonably well. I'm hopeful that some of my students understand what they're doing afterwards, and that they begin to write decent essays if only to save my own sanity from some of the more interesting experiments in creative design that have resulted from their last few attempts.

I kid. The majority of my students know how to write an essay--they just need help making them more readable.

We hung out for the duration of the weekend: our plans to go to Everland were quashed by cold weather, and so we just... well, relaxed.

We grabbed a pizza on Saturday and sat out in the park, munching away happily and chatting about nothing.

However, we made a minor mistake on Sunday: we cooked. Now, both of us are actually pretty good cooks, but the problem is, we cooked Western style, and with olive oil.

We're not used to either, having lived in Korea for over half a year, and subsisting on rice and various veggies and meats that we've now become totally accustomed to. We've also become used to Korean portions: something I think I am going to miss when I come home.

So, a plateful of home-fries and chicken later, and we're both feeling a bit yucky this morning. We only got a few hours of sleep because, well, we ate too much.

It's a minor point, on the surface. Asian cuisine involves less food per person than does American or Canadian. Looking back, however, I'm frankly shocked by how much more a "Western" portion involves, and not at all surprised that the manner in which we cook (big portions, lots of starch, fried food, etc) results in health concerns and size differences between Canadians and Koreans. I'm only about 70 Kilograms (160 pounds), while Jen is a little bigger.

But Koreans on the whole tend to be slimmer and smaller than Westerners. Part of that is genetic, I'm sure, but a large part of it has to be the diets we live on.

Something to consider if you come here, and for when I come back, I think. I have no intention of returning to the consumption rate I used to live on, back home. I don't need as much food as restaurants serve in North America. I suspect, if I can live up to such a plan, I will be healthier for it.



Sunday, March 22, 2009

Seeing Old Friends

Hi All,

Well, a brief-ish post today. I spoke last time about how we were losing some of our old core staff members, like Naomi (Kyong-Hee Hong, is her Korean name). She's a sweetheart, and basically a dear friend of the majority of the English staff who had worked at our Hagwon over the last two plus years.

Well, we decided to ask her to go for dinner tonight, alongside another friend and former co-worker from our school, Dave, whose blog is featured here. Dave's a smart guy, and a lot of fun to hang out with, not least because he shares Jennifer's and my mutual love of Settlers of Catan. Settlers has become the mainstay at our on-again, off-again games night with the folks from work, and it reminds us of home, where we first started to play it.

Dave, Jen, and I went out to our second Bluewings game of the 2009 campaign, against Jeju United. Once more, Suwon lost. I think this is a case of Championship Blues, or the like: Suwon won the K-League title last year, and played recently against David Beckham's LA Galaxy team. They're also in the Asian Football Championship Tournament, so I can understand some sluggishness. Still--losing to Jeju? Gah.

It was nice to relax a bit this weekend. I'm still teaching Kindergarten, but I had a breakthrough with one of my reticent kids. His name is Rick, and while he's cute as all get out, he was a problem child at first: I suspect his English is limited, and he was actively refusing to take part in class. His mother gave him heck, I think, because he came in after two weeks of rolling around on the floor in class and actively took part. 

Well, paid attention, at least, even if he didn't understand. This week, though, I was able to get him to repeat words, and, better yet, to point to material in the books we were reading that was the same. It's moments like that, when my kids have an "Ah-ha!" moment that I feel like I'm doing something of worth.


On that subject: I had an odd weekend. I read a coworker's blog, where she discussed having trouble connecting her personal perspective with her work here. I can respect that: there's a lot of strange decisions going on in our school, and at times it's easy to fall back on the "It's just Business" motto. I know all about that: I even fell back into that mentality at times, if only to protect my mental stability from the pressure of trying to get these kids to care.

I nearly broke down this weekend. Seriously, literally, and totally broke down. I was on the verge of giving up and going home, I was literally that angry. Our new curriculum took a month for us to sort out, and I was tired of having to come in early every day to fix things. I was ready to give up.

Jin, one of our Korean team-mates, fixed things, after a lot of work, and I feel better now. But it feels as if I'm struggling to swim upstream, all the while somebody's attaching a rope to my feet from the other direction. 

I'm obssessive compulsive--I need organization, especially in my work space, in order to function. I need it that way so I can keep my brain focused, and thus not go completely nuts when things go wrong. I admit to being a perfectionist, as well, so when things get disorganized, I get mad. 

It was frustrating, to say the least, this last month.

I am glad, though, to have spend an hour or two trekking with Jen around the highlands near Kyung-Hee Dae University, near our school and apartment. The mountains in this country are utterly gorgeous, and incredibly peaceful. One can easily lose hours climbing over the hills around one's own house, and its easy to see why hiking is so popular, here. 

It was a mini-date with my wife, which we needed, I think. We talked about a host of subjects, about life, work, and faith. I maintain my spirituality as a private matter--I don't discuss it with my coworkers, as my perspective would take some serious discussion to describe, not to mention, it comes across as seriously heretical to most Christians. I am what is called a Gnostic Christian, and the closest to my interpretation of my faith is the Universalist and Quaker traditions within the mainstream church. Of course, calling the Universalists "mainstream" sounds funny, but you get the idea.

I hold to the belief that God exists, not as a personal being (i.e., an incarnate "old man in the sky"), but as the fundamental spirt of all that lives, what John Shelby Spong calls "the ground of being." As such, I tend to distrust literalism and strict dogma--perhaps this comes from some innate distrust of authority engendered on me in my youth, but who knows, right? For me, like the Gnostics, God is to be found in the shared experience, those wonderful moments when the universe seems to click, and you have an "ah-ha" moment on some deep, fundamental level about life and the meaning of life itself. I've experienced that only a few times, and it leaves me shaken to my core when it does happen.

But a fundamental part of my faith is the belief that I, being constrained by an inherently subjective perspective (I don't accept the idea that God will tell me everything, and even if God did, I would be biased by said subjectivity), have the right to tell others what they should think. As Albert Camus said, I cannot tell others what is right, but I can rebel when I see something I think is wrong. In short, I don't talk much about my faith because I worry that I might interfere in the path and development of others. So long as their path does not prevent others from pursuing their own truths in turn, I find myself unwilling to interfere. 

Perhaps that is an odd perspective, but it is my own... and it was nice to talk with Jen about it this weekend. We fell in love because we were both thinkers and loved to have good, rational arguments about things. I still love her for that, and I hope that I can, in my small way here, encourage my kids to do as I was taught: to question everything, and try to grow.

Or, perhaps, in seeing my old friends, I am feeling nostalgic.



Sunday, March 15, 2009


Hi all, 

It's odd, seeing how things change. Sarah and Amber, two long-standing members of the team at work, have headed home, their contracts here finished. We had to say goodbye to them at the end of February/early March, and it was odd to realize that Jen and I were, suddenly, among the most experienced/oldest ones in our branch of our school.

I mean, seriously? We're the old hands, now? After six months, we're supposed to be the experienced kids in school. Really?

We miss Sarah and Amber. Sarah helped me and Jen to acclimatize when we first got here. Similarly, Daniel, one of the others who joined us in September as new teachers, helped Sionna and Paulina, two new folks 2 months ago, to settle in. So, the older teacher helping the newer one(s) is a bit of a tradition in our school. It was therefore weird to say goodbye.

It was weirder, still, when Naomi, one of the Korean workers in our school, chose to leave. Naomi had been there from before Sarah and Amber's time, so at least two and a half years. She's one of the folks who helped keep us all sane, and to keep the branch running. I'm slightly nervous about how well we'll operate with her gone. The counter teachers are all hard-working, but of all of them, Naomi seemed to basically know where everything was at all times, and how to keep things working.

I wish her the best, of course, and understand why she left. She was working, essentially, 70 hours a week, while being paid for far less. That kind of stress, no-one deserves to have to handle. I've been volunteering to teach a kindergarten class with the school on Saturdays, and I'm exhausted from 50 hour weeks for the past two months. I can't imagine how Naomi felt.

It's odd to see that happening here. Maybe it's cultural, maybe not, but people seem to be putting themselves through hell, whether in the academy as a student, or at school, or work. Maybe it's a left-over from the devastation of the 2nd World War and Korean War--a desire to work hard to rebuild, or to make up for what was destroyed by the fighting... I don't know, maybe it's something else. Whatever the cause, the consequence of over-working is obvious: stress, and loss of staff members like Naomi, and Liz, another Korean staff-member leaving at the end of March.

I hope nobody else leaves--I do not want to be the most-experienced staff member, period, in the school. While that is unlikely, it does worry me. 

All else goes well. With the new essay classes I'm teaching, and problems with some of the test books, I've got a lot of work to do, but that's normal. It's nothing I can't handle. I just keep wondering about the future of the school, and looking forward, in some small ways, to coming home. I'm on the other side of half-way to being done with my contract, and it's weird to start counting down, instead of up.


Sunday, March 8, 2009

Long Week

Hi all, 

A shorter post this week, as I'm rather exhausted. In short, at work, I was asked to help out by taking on a second kindergarten course, one which will run for another six weeks, in addition to the six I'd already agreed to. In other words, instead of finishing my run on the 14th, I'll not be finished teaching the little ones until mid-April.

While I love teaching the kids, the truth is, I'm exhausted. I need a break from six-day workweeks, and the sooner the better. The worst part is, the group I'm teaching for the second shift are mostly unable to speak English--so I'm jabbering at them in English to sit down, or to play, or whatever... and they don't understand.

Oh well.

We're also implementing a new curriculum, the details of which I shall spare you, gentle reader, since they involve a lot of frustration. I like the uniformity, but I don't like some of the difficulties we've had getting the system set up. I'm also working on an essay rubric--I'd like to have something we can give to the parents so that they know where their kids need to improve. We'll see how that turns out.

Jen, new teacher Jessica, myself, and the counter teachers Jin and Hong (Naomi) went to the first game of the season for the Suwon Bluewings. The atmosphere was great, even if we did not win. 

We also finally finished Chi Bi, by John Woo, and saw the Watchmen. Both were decent adaptations of their respective fictional forefathers. The former was actually based on real events, but played out like a rather-heavily adapted version of the Romance of the Three Kingdoms, while the latter endeavored to stay reasonably close to its comic book original. Neither were perfect, but they were enjoyable.

Best regards,