Tag Archives: school

The Labyrinth – Friday Fictioneers

copyright Melanie Greenwood

copyright Melanie Greenwood

 The Labyrinth

For years, adoption was our goal. Every form signed was another step through the bureaucratic labyrinth, until we stepped out into open air and he was ours.

~*~

“Michael is seeing the school psychologist again today,” I told my friend Brent over coffee. “He still starts fights, and fires.”

“It’s hard being a teenager.”

“Did we make a mistake adopting older? Maybe we should’ve gotten a baby.”

“Don’t tell Michael that.”

“I just feel like we’re back in the maze. I don’t know how to get out this time.”

Brent shrugged. “That’s parenthood. You don’t get out, you just go through.”

 


Do you think like a Korean student? Take the quiz.

Yesterday, I played a game with a few of my middle school classes. It was a basic Taboo or Hot Seat style game, where one person comes up to the front and doesn’t look at the TV. A word and picture come on the screen and the others on their team have to describe it without saying the word or using any Korean.

It was amazing some of the ways they came up with to describe things using their limited vocabulary. Some were fairly obvious, like “Justin ____” for the word “beaver”, since Koreans pronounce “Bieber” and “beaver” the same. For others, they used Korean as a base, like “rock whale” for dolphin, since the Korean word for dolphin literally means “rock whale” (although I’m pretty sure the rock part of that is just a homophone for something else). Also, for the word “pear”, they pointed to their stomachs, since the word for stomach and pear are the same in Korean (not that anyone guessed correctly using that clue. They usually just passed on that one.)

And then there were some others. Take the quiz and see if you can guess the answers based on the clues that they gave (and which their friends used to guess the word correctly.) The answers are at the end.

Quiz

1. “firefighter’s friend”

2. “chicken changed”

3. “Edison” (plus pointing up)

4. “Pizza’s friend”

5. “white water”

6. “small round cake”

7. “bird king”

8. “lion’s friend”

9. “Korean number 1 food”

10. “Made in _______”

 

How many could you guess? Scroll down to see how you did.

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Answers:

1. “police officer” (They tend to link these two jobs.)

2. “kitchen” (Korean students always mix these two words up, so they see them as related.)

3. “light”

4. “chicken” or “pickles” (This had two, since they closely relate pizza and chicken, but also when you order pizza here, pickles always come with them as a side dish, even with delivery.)

5. “milk”

6 “muffin”

7. “eagle”

8. “tiger”

9. “kimchi”

10. “China” (even in Korea, a lot of things are manufactured in China, so they are used to seeing Made in China.)

quiz


Exploring a Haunted School

This is a true story. As you probably know by now, my wife and I like to explore abandoned buildings at night, especially ones reported to be haunted. We don’t really expect to see anything, but we keep our eyes open.

Not my picture, but the view as we climbed up the slope to the school.

Not my picture, but the view as we climbed up the slope to the school.

Chungil 2

Last Friday night, we went to the Chung-il Girl’s High School, in Daejeon, South Korea, which was closed in 2006. It’s reportedly haunted and I’ve seen some pretty shaky evidence, but it is a huge structure: 5 stories plus the basement, holding 3000 students at its height. We went after work on Friday and got to the school about 9pm. There were spray-painted signs on the entrance saying things like “Forbidden” and “You must not enter” but we did anyway (of course).

I didn't get great shots, since I only had my phone, but you get the idea.

I didn’t get great shots, since I only had my phone, but you get the idea.

The basement was cool, although not that big. It had a trench cut into the concrete floor with water running through it and you could hear the faint tinkle of dripping water. The light of the flashlight shown off the water and reflected on the walls, making a cool shifting pattern of reflections as I moved the light. I could see someone getting freaked out if they were by themselves down there, and their light suddenly went out, and the rusted metal pipes that blocked the basement from the next section started to creak, ever so slowly…

But none of that happened to us. The school was constructed in an L-shape and we walked the length of it and then up a floor and made our way slowly up the floors until we reached the roof. Most of the classrooms were empty, although a lot had graffiti on the walls.

This says "die". We are terrible at following instructions.

This says “die”. We are terrible at following instructions.

The most interesting rooms were the art and music rooms, since they had things left behind. In the art room was a stack of old drawings that I looked through a little.

20140411_21552820140411_215555

20140411_215712There was a lot written on the music room chalkboard. It kind of looks like a song, but the last line says something like “for impact, make the follow-through loud.” The funny thing is that three of the words are English, written in Korean letters, like “polo seuroo” (follow through).

In one room, we found the words “Absolutely don’t turn around” spray painted on the wall. There was nothing behind us though (that I could see).

충일여고 Exploration

We didn’t stay in there too long; no more than half an hour probably. We had missed the last bus back to our city by then so we grabbed a hotel nearby and stayed the night. We were thinking about sleeping in the school, just for the experience, but it was a bit cool and there was no bathroom (my wife’s objection). The hotel where we stayed was named the Lotto Hotel, and their thing was that they gave you a lottery ticket when you checked in. I didn’t check it to see if we won, since I didn’t know where to. Probably we had a better chance of seeing a ghost than winning the lottery that night.

20140411_214250

 


What They Said

Zack loved gossip the way a dog loves other dogs’ poop. He was attracted to every filthy little scandal and when he came across gossip, he couldn’t help adding his own details.

Not that he would ever take credit for anything. It was always ‘they’. “Hey, they say Brad got arrested last night,” he said. “Drugs, I think.” Brad was the school’s top student and it didn’t matter that he had only been spotted going on a ride-along with his cop uncle. The gossip was much more exciting.

gossip

Zack never made anything up. It wasn’t a lie after all, he just took what other fundamentally untrustworthy gossips said, added his own embellishments, and passed it along. But then came the week when nothing apparently happened. Brittany had no news for him; nobody threw up in gym class or got caught making out behind the gym. Helen had nothing either, or Gary, Phil, Victoria or Nell. Even Kyle had nothing new to tell him and Kyle was like a walking tabloid without the ads.

He was starting to get the shakes as gossip withdrawal hit him. He had his own people coming to him, asking what the new story was. That was when Zack decided to make something up, something totally new and so juicy that it would go viral. But who would it be about?

The principal, he decided. The principal was a retired army captain and quite strict. The story didn’t even have to be believable, just sensational. Credibility had never bothered gossips before.

He worked out the exact story and started it the next day on the bus. “Hey,” he said to Kyle, who was sitting next to him. “Did you hear about Principal Brown? They say he was caught smuggling rabbits full of drugs into the country, him and a female Lebanese spy.”

“Wow, where did you hear that?” Kyle asked, with a look of jealousy that he hadn’t heard it first. Zack just shrugged.

“Oh, you know. It’s just what they’re saying.”

Once Kyle had his teeth in the story, it didn’t take long for the whole school to hear about it. It was so successful that Principal Brown even came on the intercom before the last period to assure everyone that he had never smuggled drugs and that he was not the leader of an international spy ring (the story had grown slightly during the day). Zack was feeling good; this was the sort of thing the local news might even pick up.

He was walking home after school, when a helicopter appeared out of nowhere and picked him up with a giant claw and whisked him away. This was unexpected.

The next thing he knew, he was sitting in a dark room, in a single pool of light.

“Zack Bandersnatch, you lied,” a voice said out of the darkness.

Zack scanned his recent history for lies, trying to think of what this person was talking about. It was a rather large list to narrow down. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said at last.

“This morning you told Kyle Pudgybottom a rumor about your principal,” another voice said and Zack suddenly realized there were more people in the room. “You said, and I quote, ‘they say he was caught smuggling rabbits full of drugs into the country, him and a female Lebanese spy.’”

“They might have said that,” Zack said.

“No, they didn’t,” a third voice said, much deeper and resonant, “because we are They!”

Zack was a bit confused by the pronouns and didn’t say anything. There was an awkward silence. “What I mean,” the third voice continued, “is that whenever people say, ‘they say’, they’re referring to us. We start all rumors, so don’t go starting your own.”

Zack thought about this. “Why not?”

“Because it’s our job!” one of them snapped. “People don’t go around saying ‘Zack says’ all the time; they say ‘they say’ and they are us and we are them.”

“Or what?” Zack asked. He had liked making up his own rumors and didn’t want to be pushed around by a faceless gossip oligarchy: a gossigarchy.

“Or we’ll start one about you,” one of them said. “We know just how to do it. It could even start out innocent, like you were studying late in the library. 24 hours later, people will be saying you were making out with Mrs. Vermicelli, the librarian, in the history section.”

“You wouldn’t dare!” Zack said.

“Oh, that would just be the beginning. Everyday there would be a new scandal about you. You would never be able to go outside without being laughed at again.”

“Fine,” Zack said. “What do you want from me?”

“Don’t start rumors,” one said. “That’s our job.” Then a large crane came out of the ceiling and Zack was again unceremoniously hauled away.

*        *        *

I’d like to say that Zack learned his lesson and became a perfect boy, but of course that didn’t happen. Two weeks later, he slipped up and started a rumor about a girl he secretly liked. Sure enough, the next day, the school was abuzz with a rumor about him and the librarian.

Strangely enough, after the initial shock, most people didn’t care. He got a lot of jokes about studying late in the library, but if anything, it all made him more popular. The next rumor was worse. They began to say Zack had peed himself in swimming class. But Zack just shrugged his shoulders and made up a rumor about himself, about how he had been short-listed for a Pulitzer Prize for his history essay on Napoleon. No one believed it, but it increased his fame. Soon the rumors about him were flying and he was the most famous boy in the school.

After Zack graduated, the stories only continued to grow until he was referred only as That Boy. “Remember That Boy?” students would say. “That Boy who won the Pulitzer, peed in the pool, shot his math teacher with a paintball gun, got blasted into space in science class, sold nuclear secrets to the Syrians, saved a group of tigers from a forest fire, kissed all the girls in school, poisoned the cafeteria food, hacked into the Pentagon, and came to school in a kilt that one time. He was quite a kid.”


April Fool’s Day in Korea

Here in Korea, they celebrate April Fool’s Day, although it is called “manujeol” (만우절), which literally means “the festival of ten thousand fools.” (Why is it when Asian languages are translated into English, things come out sounding like something from a kungfu movie?)

Anyway, it’s not as big a thing here, although it does exist. One poll I saw (that I have absolutely no way of verifying) said that 89% of Koreans admitted to having lied on April Fool’s Day, as a joke, presumably.

"April's Fool's Day will be made into a national holiday in 2012." Yeah, obviously this was a joke.

“April’s Fool’s Day will be made into a national holiday in 2012.” Yeah, obviously this was a joke.

I wasn’t expecting much when I went to school today, since I don’t think I’ve ever seen any real April Fool’s Day pranks here, besides things like students saying, “I want to give you a million dollars.” (two second pause) “Haha, April Fool’s!”

Then I walked into my last class and saw this:

20140401_151512

Half the desks in the room were tipped over and some were backwards. Now, this is a middle school, so at first I just thought it was normal chaos, until someone mentioned April Fool’s and I finally got it. (Of course, they also said that the 2-1 and 2-2 classrooms had been switched, which happened to be true.). That’s YB (his initials) up there in the picture, sitting quietly at his desk. He is one of the best students a teacher could ask for. I would have been pretty surprised if he had been down on the floor, pretending that gravity had flipped 90 degrees.

I like that this kid still seems to be reading his English book down there.

I like that this kid seems to be actually reading his English book down there.

I didn’t let them leave them like that, but it was a good laugh. With all the zombie-like, checked out students in middle school, it’s nice to see them show some creativity and initiative, even if it’s only in the direction of a prank.

"Lying on the floor? It's all an illusion! I'm just studying here."

“Lying on the floor? It’s all an illusion! I’m just studying here.”


The “Now” of a Foggy Ride to Work

First of all, apologies for not producing as many long stories these days. I have a few in the works, but I just don’t have much time these days. I’ll post them as they are finished. This post is a true account, something I was thinking of as I rode to work today on my motorbike.

Taken in Wanju, South Korea

not taken today, but similar

I rode my motorbike out along a small highway going out of the city this morning. I passed the Ajung reservoir and Kirin peak beyond, the tops dissolving into the nebulous grey of the fog. All this was reflected perfectly on the still surface of the reservoir. Besides the hum of my engine and the other cars, the world was silent.

I thought, “This would make a great picture. Maybe I should stop and take one.”

Then I thought, “But pictures are all about later–about the Then. And they can never compare to the Now.”

So I didn’t stop. I continued on, over the mountain pass and down into the next valley where my school was, soaking in the wondrous beauty all around me and enjoying the sublime Now.


Nobbly Chopsticks – Friday Fictioneers

There is a certain creative freedom when it comes to writing. I am aware that the word “nobbly” is not strictly a word. However, when I saw this picture, the words “nobbly chopsticks” came into my head, with that spelling too. The word means something that is bent or horribly contorted, as you will see.

copyright John Nixon

copyright John Nixon

Nobbly Chopsticks

“Nobbly chopsticks are a way of life!” the teacher shouted. The students were seated in the cafeteria, each with a pair of chopsticks as straight as a question mark after an earthquake. “You make the most of what you’ve been given. If Life gives you one leg, you make do! If Life gives you nobbly chopsticks . . . ?”

“You make do,” the students echoed. They started eating, or attempted to. Only one in five could even grasp the noodles at all.

The teacher spied one boy holding the bowl, slurping the broth. “Hey you! What are you doing?”

“Life gave me hands . . .”


4 Reasons I Don’t Like the First Week of School

I think I’m a pretty positive guy. I try to look on the bright side of things. I only say that because I don’t anything to think of this as a gripe. It is merely a chance to share my unique work situation.

Here in Korea, the school year starts at the beginning of March, so I have just finished the first couple weeks of school. And I am very glad about that. I know a lot of people don’t like going back to school (students especially), but there are several unique factors for a foreign English teacher in my position that makes the first week of school a lot less fun.

1. Getting to school

I don’t have a car. If I did, this would not be an issue. I do have a motorbike and the bus system here is very good, but still, it takes a while to get everything straightened out.

I live in a city of about 600,000, but I work in the countryside around the city, which means I can’t walk to my schools. In times past, some of the teachers would pick us foreigners up, but they usually don’t like doing that anymore, and honestly, I don’t like getting picked up. Even if I have to take a bus, I like to be independent. I can ride my motorbike to two of my schools (I work at four different schools) because they’re relatively close, unless of course it’s pouring rain or a blizzard or the bike’s broken. In other words I have to know how to get to all my schools by bus.

Unfortunately, all of my schools are in different directions and I have to transfer buses to all of them, so I have to coordinate two bus schedules to make sure I get to the transfer stop before the second bus gets there. All this for four different schools which start at different times. I ended up being to late to one school and having to take a taxi to another one the first day in order not to be late.

Wanju work map

2. People assuming I don’t know anything

I’ve lived in Korea for nine years and have taught public school here for five years so I pretty much know what’s going on. I speak the language, can use chopsticks, know the bus system, and everything else you need to survive. But I’m not Korean, so everyone naturally (or not) assumes I got off the plane yesterday. I don’t necessarily blame them, since there is a high turnover rate for foreign English teachers and so a lot of us are fresh off the plane. Still, the first day or two at a new school is invariably the same.

“Can you use chopsticks?” “Oh, I think that food is too spicy for you.” “Oh wow, you can speak Korean!” “Do you know how to take the bus? You do? Wow, how do you know?”

And so on. Again, I’m not trying to criticize the Korean teachers, but it does get tiring when you go through the same routine again and again and again.

3. Not knowing anything

Even though I know a lot about Korea and public schools in general, every new school I go to has its own idiosyncrasies, for one reason or another. One of my schools is built like someone found the plans to the Labyrinth, thought that looked too straightforward and kicked it up a notch. Schools all start at different times, one has lunch after three periods instead of four. Some have English classes in an English room; others in the classrooms. In other words, I do some wandering around sometimes, asking people a lot of questions like where the bathrooms are and what the password to the class computer is.

One of my schools. It looks straightforward, but it's best to hire a Sherpa if you have class in one of the far buildings.

One of my schools. It looks straightforward, but it’s best to hire a Sherpa if you have class in one of the far buildings.

4. Introduction class

In elementary schools in Korea, there are no classes on the first day. The homeroom teachers are getting to know their students and getting them to color name tags or doing other icebreaker activities, so I don’t have to teach. In middle school, there are classes on the first day, but the teachers don’t want to start the textbook, so they say some variation of, “Just introduce yourself today.”

How long does it take to introduce yourself? Not the whole 45-minutes of class, that’s for sure. Even if I show them the Introduction to my Hometown powerpoint that I have, it only takes five minutes. Now I have been teaching long enough that I come prepared to get the kids talking and fill up the period but it tends to be awkward and I do the same lesson over and over again. I’m not complaining, but I’m always happy when the first week is over so I can get into real teaching.


It’s a brand new school year!

Well, it’s back to the daily grind again. Here in Korea, today was the first day of school, which makes for one very tired Green-Walled Tower keeper. I got in the habit of getting up at 8:00 or 8:30 during vacation; now I have to get up around 6:00. As well, I’ve taught almost exclusively elementary schools for the last five years and this year I’m teaching mostly middle schools, so that’s a big adjustment.

All that to say, don’t be worried or offended if I’m not around as much in the next few days. I have a lot to do and not much energy. I’ll do what I can though.

A look into the mentality of school. This says: "The day has finally come." "The First Day of School" (high school and middle school students' final day)

A look into the mentality of students here. This says: “The day has finally come, &*@#!.” “The First Day of School” (high school and middle school students’ final day)


You Have to Follow the Rules

You have to follow the rules, even when those rules are unwritten social rules, and even when they inconvenience everyone involved. This is a true story that happened to me one Friday last fall.

I go to four schools over the course of a week, so there are several schools I only taught at once a week. One week, my second Wednesday school principal (who was a sweet, grandmotherly type of woman) invited me to a barbecue the school was having that Friday. My Friday school was far away, but I told her I would try to make it, since it was possible to get there if I rode my scooter.

She told me to get there by 3pm and since my classes at the other school finished at 2:30, that was perfect. I rode my scooter along back roads in the mountains and got to the school just before three.

They were packing everything up.

Here was my first dilemma. I could have just taken off, but I didn’t want the principal to think I hadn’t come. That might make her feel bad. So I went through the crowds and found her to say hello.

I was planning to just say hi and leave but of course, as a good host who had invited me there, she couldn’t let that happen. So she told some of the women to get out a grill and cook up some meat for me (samgyeopsal, for those who know Korean food). I tried to refuse, but like all grandmotherly-type women, she didn’t know the meaning of the word “no”. I could have just left, but that would have been rude.

samgyeopsal

So there I was, sitting at a table while a woman cooked meat for just me, while most other people were sitting around talking or cleaning up. The principal, because she was hospitable, sat next to me to keep me company. She didn’t eat anything, since they had all eaten before. However, she did make up food for other people.

In Korea, when you eat barbecued meat, you take a lettuce leaf, then put a piece of meat on it, with whatever other vegetables or sauces you want, then wrap it up like a little package and eat it in one bite. The principal kept making these up for other people, who had to take them even though they were full, since you can’t say no to the principal.

Like this

Like this

After a while, most everyone else wandered off to deal with other stuff and a few women sat talking, while I kept eating. They had made a ton of meat and while it was delicious, I was getting full and felt uncomfortable sitting by myself. I kept asking others to come eat with me, but they all said they were full. I apologized to the women cooking, since they were only waiting there for me to finish. Of course, they said it was fine, since it was have been rude to say anything else. I hope it really was fine.

They had made a lot of meat and I felt obligated to eat it all or at least make a big dent in it. I didn’t eat it all and finally left, very full.

I don’t regret going, since it really was delicious meat, but thinking back it is amazing to see how the iron rails of social etiquette predestined this scenario. It could not have played out any other way without offending someone or at least breaking unwritten rules. Every culture has its own social etiquette rules, some more strict than others, but they’re there so that everything runs smoothly. Whether you like it or not, you have to follow the rules.

…Or do you? What do you think? Are there some social etiquette rules you break?


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