Friday, May 24, 2013

How to make Korean Friends

I was chatting to another NET the other day, about what to do for summer vacation. Her plans fell through so I said I'd ask my Korean friends for advice, and she gasped in amazement and demanded that I tell her how to make Korean friends.

I could write another "witty and yet informative" guide, but I think this is best done by just describing how I became friends with some very cool people. 

1) Co-workers
One of my first Korean friends here was one of the math teachers at my school. She'd had Korean friends before, and since she had a lot of free time she'd come into our office to chat quite often. I tried to follow the Korean conversation (my limited vocab of 150 words means this is possible in about 1 of 100 cases) and joined in where I thought I could. Generally I sat there nodding and smiling. She started sitting with me at lunch and inviting me for walks around the school after eating. She offered me coffee and diet supplements. She took me to the restaurant in Palgongsan when I lost my camera. She treated me to delicious traditional food, and another time we had barbecue and beer. We even went to an art gallery opening together. 

The important thing to note here is that I simply made myself available and open and went with the flow, and all the effort came from her. An important thing to keep in mind is not to turn down invitations. When we first started hanging out we had plans to go for dinner that kept falling through because of a project she was working on that required a lot of travel, and eventually she felt so bad that she took me to one of the fanciest restaurants in Daegu. These days we help each other learn each other's languages, and next weekend I think we might go clothes shopping. 

I also drink coffee in her office sometimes. Today one of the other ladies in her office asked me to join her for iced coffee after lunch, and during that, she invited me to her home for dinner on Sunday. Her mother is going to cook me dinner and we're going to compare Korean and Western culture. I'm really looking forward to that, and it came completely out of the blue. 

2) Meet-ups
I had a rough day and decided the only thing that would make me feel better was beer and a puzzle, so I headed to Buy the Book after work. I forgot that every Friday they have a language exchange there, so I sat there doing my puzzle and drinking beer with a bunch of strangers, and made some new friends. Some of those friends were foreigners, and some were Korean. One girl, about nineteen years old, told me she's planning to move to Germany soon and she shared her fears and excitement with me. We swapped numbers and now we're kind-of friends, but I'll have to work on it a bit harder to make it a more solid friendship.

3) Hobbies
I'm becoming more and more obsessed with geocaching, and after a particularly active day in Chimsan park I received a message via the geocaching website from someone who wanted a hiking buddy while they visited Daegu over the weekend. I think that at the time he thought I was a dude, but I responded positively and we started chatting over Kakao to plan where and when we'd hike. And then we chatted about other things. Eventually the day swung around, and as I stood at the back of a block of flats, waiting to see if this guy was a serial killer, I considered calling in a friend for backup. And then this charming, rather attractive man appeared with a grin and a wave, and off we went. It was hot, we were sweaty, and we found over 35 geocaches together. We spoke about geocaching, and big name geocachers in Korea like Jiho Kim, and hiking, and also language, education, the environment... Lots of things. His English wasn't amazing but neither is my Korean, and we managed to get by with patience and bravery. Other people who we met along the way thought we were a married couple rather than people who'd only met that morning. After the six hour hike we sat on a bench, drinking beer and eating bananas, and those were the best damn bananas I have ever eaten in my life.

4) Local business owners
I always make an effort to chat to the owners of the small businesses that I frequent. The ladies and gent that run Hansot, the andong jjimdalk couple, the owners of awesome bars, to name a few. I see them all the time, so a little word here and there about their health, their kids, or how delicious their food/drink is doesn't go amiss. 

5) Chance encounters
I've told the story before about how I bumped into and befriended my downstairs neighbors. They've been wonderful friends to me so far, and I really look forward to spending more time with them in the future. Other chance encounters that have lead to friendships are things like going for a walk in the park and ending up chatting to a retired English teacher for hours, or striking up a conversation with the girl in the makeup store only to discover that she's half Korean and half Portuguese - a rare mix. Or being asked for directions by someone from out of town, or being offered soap by an ajumma in the shower at the gym. Or hanging out with a dozen Korean Air force majors, captains and lieutenants in a bar downtown. Granted, some of these encounters are significantly more awkward than others, and some are more fun. The important thing is to brush off the awkwardness and appreciate the friendliness that is being sent your way. 

What can each of these little anecdotes tell you about how to make Korean friends?

Well, it's simple really. Stop thinking of it as 'making Korean friends' and just think of it as 'making friends'. And go about it the same way you would absolutely anywhere else.

Apologies for the lack of pictues; I'm lazy. Here you go:

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Speaking Test

Today we started the first round of speaking tests for the A classes. There were some spectacular answers. 

As for the teacher - my best advice is as follows:
1. Check the student's name against the list and mark their score in the right place. This will save a lot of stress.
2. Try to give off an air of being as relaxed as possible when they walk up to you. Body language should be open. Lean back in your seat, smile, get them to laugh. They're a massive bundle of nerves so loosening the tension will help them to perform better, and they'll be less robotic. 
3. When giving them prep stuff for the test, emphasise creativity and give them ridiculous examples. If they're enjoying themselves, so will you. 
4. Use a very specific rubric to grade them so that it is completely fair. 

Here are some of the best answers I've had today. These are the top level 3rd graders in my middle school:

Q: What makes you special or unique? 1) I am unique and special because I am God. I control the whole universe. 
2) I am unique because I look and dress like a boy, so everyone thinks I am a boy, but that's just my style. 
3) I am unique because I can talk to my dog. 
4) I am unique because I love Katie! ♥ 
5) I am unique because I walk on water instead of swimming under it. 
6) I am unique because I can speak every language. 
7) I am unique because I am a dragon. I breathe fire and I can fly. (teacher: Aaagh! Please don't kill me!)

Q: If you had a time machine where would you go? 
1) I would go to the future so I could see how Doctor Who ends. 
2) I would go to the past to help my mother through hard times, because my brother is disabled.
3) I would go to the future so I could see my future wife. 
4) I would go to the jurassic period so I could ride dinosaurs. 

Q: What are you looking forward to doing in the summer vacation? 
1) I am looking forward to being in PSY's next music video. 
2) I am looking forward to keeping lions, tigers and bears in my apartment. It will be dangerous and I am a little bit scared, but I think it's exciting.
3) I am looking forward to playing soccer with Renaldo on the moon.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Take me out to the ball game, take me out to the crowd...

Last night I ticked off another item on my bucket list: Eat dried squid, fried chicken and drink soju at a baseball game. Bonus points for figuring out how to cheer along.

It wasn't my first baseball game, but it was the first time I completely satisfied the criteria of it. And now I'm going to tell you how to do it.

Step 1: Acquire tickets in the party section. You can buy tickets for the 'free seating' area at the stadium, but the party zone usually sells out quite quickly. If you want to sit around and watch the baseball seriously and be glum, and the very idea of fun repulses you, you'll like the free seating area.
My first baseball game, sitting in the free seating area. I still had fun, though! 
If, however, you want to get the full Korean baseball experience, then there's really only one place to be: the 'Blue Zone'. Party central. This is the area that has sexy cheerleaders, free stuff, a lot of shouting and singing, beer challenges, kiss cams, cutey dance cams, couple dance cams, and so on. If you're a foreigner, there's a good chance of you appearing on the screen, especially if you're decked out in the paraphernalia of your team.

I got a free towel! YEAH!
And if you're in team gear and going for it with the cheers, then the Koreans around you will love you. And they'll befriend you, and give you food, and stuff like that. Last night I was given chicken and dried squid, which is the closest thing I can get to biltong in this country, although it tastes completely different.

Eating ramyeon with new friends. We kept hitting him with our thundersticks, by accident. 
So, yes. The party seats are DEFINITELY worth it and they only cost about 1000 won more. Ticket prices vary depending on who's playing. You will need to buy them online, using something like ticketlink (which I'll write about another time because I don't know how to do it and I rely heavily on a fabulous friend who buys them for our group).

Step 2: Acquire food and beverages.
An awesome thing about Korean baseball stadiums is that you can bring in whatever food and drink you like. I've seen people walk in with huge boxes of pizza, chicken, hamburgers... Last night the group in front of us had a mountain of sushi. You can also bring in whatever booze you like, as much as you like, and no one cares. But you cannot smoke in the seating area of the stadium. You can smoke in the back, by the toilets, if you want to. You can also buy snacks (anything from ddeokbokki to squid to ramyeon) at various stores within the stadium. DO bring your own toilet paper. 

Step 3: Find your seat
As you walk into the stadium you'll see a map. Check where your seat is - make sure ALL the numbers match up. Remember that Korean addresses go from biggest first to smallest. When you find the seat that has all four numbers matching the four on your ticket, in the same order, sit there. 

Time for the game! Now, as a South African, I know an awful lot about cricket and rugby but absolutely nothing about baseball beyond a particularly American song that's been stuck in my head for hours. Here is my own Koreanised version of it:

Take me out to the baaaaall game
Take me out to the crooooowd
Buy me fried chicken and ddeokbokki
Mekju, soju and makgeolli
Let me root, root root for the home team
If they don't win it's a shame
Aaaah, for it's one, two, three strikes - you're out!
At the old ball game.

Anyway. I think I'm starting to get the hang of this, so here goes:

A Brief Guide to Baseball for People who are Less Free than 'Muricans.

There are two teams and they take turns throwing and hitting the ball. 

They're trying to hit it hard so that it goes far away, so that they have more time to run to the next sandbag. The sandbag is called a base. Once a player has made it all the way around from base to base, and back home to the dugout, he has completed a run. A run is one point. If they make it all the way around with just one whack of the ball, then that's a home run. If the ball goes too far to the side of the field, it doesn't count. 

This is how you watch baseball.

If the pitcher (the thrower) throws badly a certain number of times, then the batter just walks to the next base. Sometimes batters who are on the bases try to sneak a bit closer to the other ones so that they can quickly run there when the ball is hit. The pitcher can turn around and throw the ball to the base they were supposed to be on and that's irritating to watch when they do it too much. If the batter misses the ball three times, they are banished to outer Mongolia. If three batters are out, then the teams switch places. This switch happens nine times - that is one inning. There are nine innings. Top of the inning - the away team is batting. Bottom of the inning - the home team is batting. 

The team with the most runs wins, like in cricket.

So now you understand the game, or at least you know when it's good and when it's bad. This means you can cheer. YAY!

My students support the team and chose their shirt as their outfit for sports day. 

Step 4: Cheering along in Korean
On the screen and scoreboard is a list of the names of the players. If you can read hangul, this will help. If you can't, it's good practice and you'll see their names briefly in English on the screen. 

The most basic cheer is (Name) ANTA! Which apparently means 'Hit it low'. That way it will bounce and they won't be caught out. 

If you copy exactly what the cheerleaders and cheer guy are doing, it will help. In the Blue Zone, you can see them easily. 

Sexy cheerleaders. Also notice the emptiness of the free section and fullness of the party zone. Because that's exactly what you're looking at, right?

Some players have their own songs or cheers specially for them. Even if you don't know the song, it's pretty easy to clap and wave along, and you can join in when they say the player's name and ANTA or HOME RUN!

When our batters go out, we sing them a little goodbye song, waving them off the field with a sort of bunny gesture. 

A little bit like this.

And that's about it. I love baseball, I love going to games, and I love that my team, the Samsung Lions, are the undefeated champions. They've just reached number 1 in the country's league stats, which is awesome, and they absolutely decimated the Seoul Twins last night with 9 home runs! Bad asses. Samsung Lions! Yes, Keep Going!

Yeah, I realise their catchphrase is cheesy as hell. Cheesy is classy. Pictures in this post were edited using powerpoint, in lieu of photoshop, gimp or paint. Lolly is a goat.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Open Class of Doom

True to form, and in keeping with the overarching theme of this blog, I gave myself a brain injury the weekend before my open class.

I was cycling to Korean class, and it started to rain. In a distracted in-the-cycling-zone mind space, I thought 'Hey, it's raining. Let me just rummage through my bag without stopping to check if I brought my umbre-POLE!'

Swerved to miss it, and my ear cushioned the blow. I bounced off the pole and landed in the road as the lights changed colour. A taxi politely honked 'Are you okay?' loudly at me and some bystanders stood by doing bugger all. Hopped back on my now lopsided bike and went to pre-class dinner. And I enjoyed the laser show that was flashing across my right eye.

No, really, guys. I feel fine.
Fact: Burritos cure concussions. Kind of.

I probably annoyed the crap out of everyone at Korean class. I was distracted but my brain was in overdrive so I was incredibly chatty. I wouldn't shut up. I don't really remember much of it. By the time I got out of class it was about 10pm and too late for me to go to the doctor. I didn't think of the emergency room - I may be a hypochondriac but I'm no drama queen - I'm more likely to moan about being sick than to actually see a doctor. So I went home.

That night I was scared of going to sleep because that's something they say you really shouldn't do with a concussion. Of course, if you live alone and have to be up at the crack of dawn to teach the next day, not sleeping is a bit hard. So I came up with a plan - I set my alarm at intervals and made a deal with a hagwon insomniac friend to check in with him every hour. My alarm is amazing - to turn it off I have to solve math problems. Little did I know that a piece of bone was pressing on the logic center of my brain, making it virtually impossible to divide 10 000 by 100.

Hey, my hand is a calculator!
The next day (Friday) I went to work, and tried to get things ready for my open class, which was today. Still distracted and now with a splitting headache from ear to ear, my friends urged me to see a doctor. I mentioned it to my co-teacher and she said, "Oh no! Look after yourself; you've got the open class on Monday. Oh, by the way, could you proofread this long religious text I translated?"

Eventually I was convinced by multiple people to take myself to the doctor asap. As soon as I finished prepping for the open class. Which is hard to do when your decision making skills are impaired.

Neighbour Min is a trainee nurse, and she recommended a hospital downtown, so down I went. By then they were knocking off for the day so they took me into the emergency room. In the bed next to mine, an elderly man was very, very ill. I thought he was dead until he blinked.

None of the doctors spoke English, and they were all very young and very embarrassed about this fact. Luckily I'm getting pretty good at understanding what Koreans are trying to say, so they checked me out and told me to go for a scan after asking me a few questions.

In another room, I climbed into a space ship and they took photos of my brain.

After a quick flick through it, the doctors said there was no sign of hemorrhaging but that I should come back tomorrow just to be sure. I asked for an early appointment because brain damaged or not, I was planning an epic hike. When I went back the next day, the neurologist told me about the bit of bone pressing on the brain.

"As long as you don't get a black eye or start bleeding from the ear, you're fine," he said, reassuringly. This whole medical experience (including the walk-in brain scan) cost 65 000 won, which is about R620 (for the South Africans).

So I went hiking, and had a blast, and made a new friend while doing so.

Top of Hamji Hill
So, aaaaanyway, open class day swings around and it's on a Monday, my busiest day. I teach 6 of 7 classes.  At least 3 of them gave me a chance to practice my open class lesson before having to be a performing monkey in the last lesson.

Practice 1: Complete disaster. CT derails it by taking over and spending too much time explaining target language we covered last week. Had to skip the practice activity and jump to the production activity, which the kids were nowhere near ready for. Disaster and a half. CT has a fanny wobble and makes me change a lot of things in the lesson last minute.
Practice 2: These kids are geniuses. They're fantastic. Lesson works perfectly. It's amazing. Awesome.
Practice 3: A little more tweaking and it's just right. Hooray! Ready for action.

I had a first grade class between the last practice class and the open class, and since the teacher is away on maternity leave and we covered this week's stuff last week, I decided to spend the whole lesson playing a completely pointless vocabulary game.

Run to the open class, and they're all EARLY! Goddamnit, why are they early? And there's a camera, and there's snack food I didn't know about, and the girls are...

Wait a sec, what are the girls doing?

It's the last lesson of the day and these girls are so excited to have a crowd of waygooks watching them that they're bouncing off the walls, which is just, well, fantastic for me! Really fantastic!

We teach, and I realise I'm doing most of the teaching, so I hand some over to my CT with some silent eye wiggling, and she fluffs it a little cos she's nervous but it's okay, and the kids have a great time, and they learn stuff and do things and the timing is perfect and one group answers all the extremely difficult riddles and they're amazing and wonderful and

The lesson is a hit. One observer wants to steal it and teach it to her kids.

Korean class is cancelled today. Film Posse (movie club) is happening later. There are five beers in my fridge and it's home time, baby. I rocked it.

Oh, and my head is feeling much better, by the way.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Breaking up a fight

My morning so far:

Walk to my first class (MG1 boys) and see that there's a kid playing 'lookout' on the door and a lot of noise coming from the class. Of course, the dear boy is looking the wrong way, so I gleefully sneak up on him and say 'Boo', scaring the crap out of him. He dashes in and shouts something.

Teaching is the best job ever.
So I enter the class, and one of the better behaved kids in the class grabs me and points at the back, where a circle of boys is surrounding a boy who is on the floor. "Teacher! They're fighting!"

No sign of my co-teacher, so I march to the back and shout,

"YA!" (Which means "HEY!" in Korean). "Stop it!"

The kids freeze. Some of the boys pull the guys who were fighting apart, and they move to opposite ends of the class. "Sit. Down," I snarl. They rush to their seats. "Now." That gets the stragglers.

I glare at the students. "Is that how you act at school?"

Students are quiet, and attentive. Co-teacher walks in. The little angels have never looked this good before class. But she comes in as I'm saying, "No fighting at school!" so she's clued in.

So, that's how I sorted that out. In hindsight, I think I would have preferred the Trunchbull method,. Oh well, a few stern words in an angry teacher voice will have to do.

A wild Trunchbull appears! She uses pigtail spin! It's super effective.

The kids were angels for the rest of the lesson, and the co-teacher spoke to the fighting boys after class and made them apologise to each other.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Getting the hang of Hangul

I signed up for the Level 1 Intensive Korean class at the YMCA. It was a bit pricey but so far I'm really enjoying it. Even though it means that two nights a week I go from school straight downtown (to have dinner with classmates beforehand) and only get home at 10.

It's ok. You can use traditional Korean methods to stay awake at work.
At first I emailed them but it didn't seem to be working as their English website is horribly out of date and they're pretty busy. Their emails are mostly used for informing students en masse of important things. In the end, I went in person, signed up and paid cash. They're located near Banwoldang station (I forget the exit number but it should have a YMCA sign on it). They do have a card machine but they prefer you to pay cash for the books. W180 000 for intensive classes and I think the books were W25 000.

The class is small, with about 9 students. Almost all of them are from my Epik Orientation group, so we're getting along swimmingly. There's a mixture of levels, with some people having studied on their own beforehand, and some people being fresh off the boat, having just arrived in Korea this week. Everyone seems pretty patient. I knew going in that we'd be starting from scratch, as I'm not quite at the next level yet, so I joined the bottom level class. I still learn something new every lesson.

The lessons are about two hours long, with a ten minute break in which (if you're fast enough to get it while stocks last) you can snort coffee and shoot yourself full of tea.

The first week, we had 44 pages of homework. They weren't kidding when they decided to call it 'Intensive'. It was mostly learning to write the Korean alphabet, though, so it was quick and easy. This week the level went up quite a bit - there seems to be a steep learning curve - but there were fewer pages to do.

I can now introduce myself, talk about my job, and ask someone if they're a Russian prostitute.

Because all foreigners are Russian, and all Russians are prostitutes, of course. 
Still, I'm having fun and it seems to be worthwhile. Having forked out money for it, and being in such a small class, at least it's giving me some kind of driving motivation to keep up with my Korean learning.

If you missed this round, the next one runs from July 1st to August 29th.

In other news, I'm rushing frantically to get my Open Class lesson ready for next Monday, I accidentally bought a puzzle that takes up my whole apartment's floor space, and I've been having fun discovering amazing little secret restaurants all over the city. I might just have to start doing some proper restaurant reviews. All in good time, when I have more of it.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Red Gym of Doom

Neighbor Nick convinced me to join his gym so that we can motivate each other to get our lardy western posteriors out of our warm, comfy beds at a ridiculous hour of the morning, deliberately torture ourselves through excessive, unnecessary movement and sweat more than a teenage boy hiding in a swimsuit model's cupboard.

This isn't where I parked my car!
So we joined Red Gym. They have a yoga class every night that I haven't had a chance to go to yet, and a lot of machines, many of which are completely alien to me. I was greeted by a small, extremely buff Korean guy in a very small, very tight, lumo-green lycra t-shirt.

We signed up, and I paid a three month membership online. With yoga classes, it came to W160 000, so I guess I'd better start going. I don't think the class is in English, so that's going to be a fun story.

He handed me a tiny towel, some unflattering one-size-fits-all shorts and a shirt.  Red for the girls, blue for the boys. He directed me to the changing room. I walked in, and the first thing I noticed is that everyone leaves their takkies at the gym. I need to buy myself a fresh new pair and leave them there. I put my stuff in the locker, and I vaguely remembered reading somewhere about showering before and after your workouts. So I stripped and headed to the shower area. Which was... My first communal showering experience outside of a jjimjilbang.

An ancient ajumma was sitting on the floor of the shower, her legs spread wider than a simile I don't want to spend too much time on, scrubbing her hoohah with gusto.

I politely greeted her and moved to a showerhead some way away. There were also lots of baskets in the bathroom, filled with toiletries. So that's something else I should get.

So wait, you're telling me I can go straight from work to the gym without having to carry anything more than a bottle of water and my asthma pump?

The gym itself was ok. Something cool is that all the treadmills have TVs attached. This morning I watched competitive League of Legends, a lingerie fashion show, the Bold and the Beautiful and some kind of variety show about farming. Next time I hope I remember earphones.

Lycra McMuscles was helpful, coming over and telling me to stick my chest out more when doing the lat pulldowns. Of course, in broken English that mostly consisted of him pointing at my boobs and going 'No! Out! This! Yes!' which made me somewhat uncomfortable. I am still a bit nervous about trying some of the machines, especially the ones where it's unclear exactly which way is up. For now I'm sticking to the ones I know, and watching the ajeossis and ajummas out of the corner of my eye to see how to do things properly.

So far so good.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Some Google Translated School Message Gems

Yesterday many of the Daegu epikers were given the day off. My school was glad to get rid of me, even though I begged to work, because it was test day. Today is another test day so I'm deskwarming  catching up on all the lessing planning I need to do by tomorrow.

But first, here are some wonderfully mistranslated gems from the messages sent yesterday and today.

The teacher who's bringing lacy underthings to the exam
5 minutes before completing the test, I'll bring my Gaiters.

The teacher who signed his/her message with a confession to grave robbing
person who needs to take a lot of remains.

Is this threatening punishment by slavery to a sanitation expert?
(Note, if you do not speak any other reason except for traveling supervision assigned to supervise the next time will be to cater to the Director of untreated water).

Apparently test protocol includes beating the students

Admitted hitting the the preliminary species when beginning (5 minutes before the start of the test)

Pray that the banks reopen! And, world peace, and global warming, and stuff. God's going to be busy.
The bank is closed today. Ask god recyclable recovered the banks Busy Busy Sangsin, - ~