Tuesday, March 26, 2013

A day in the life

                        Hello everyone, I haven’t written in a while and I feel obligated to considering that I only have a few posts. I haven’t gone on any huge ventures lately and in fact I don’t want to write about them in this post. I would like to invite you to see what a busy day is like for me. I am writing this on Tuesday March 25th. Today I have grades 3rd-6th from 1:35- 4:30 each grade back to back for 40 minutes a pop.

Where it all begins 
                       I start a bit earlier than that though. Get up at 7:00 exercise, breakfast, coffee. After getting ready for the day I spend the rest of the time lesson planning. Today took a bit longer than most days because I had to make some more Power Points than I typically do. I leave my apartment around 10:15 for the bus.   
The one on the right

    I live on the outskirts of the town near a bunch of construction (it makes sleeping in nearly impossible). I left my apartment early because today is a market day. Any day that ends in a 1 or a 6 is market day in Boeun. The street that I walk down to get to my bus is filled with more buses, bikes, cars, and the occasional 4-weeler.  As I made my way down towards the busy street I saw this flying overhead.  

                       When I first came to my town and saw things like this it was to say the least a little unsettling. Now after the time that I have spent here I react to it in the same way as the Koreans, and hardly notice it. I live near an airbase and in a given week I will see a handful of fighter jets.

                       Anyway, the street is crazy and a bit difficult to navigate at times, since many of venders have decided to post up on the sidewalk. Old women, or ajummas as they are called here, hurry past the venders selling everything from fish, pastries, clothes, and vegetables, their backs hunched from years out in the fields.

       I hop on the bus at 10:30 to a small village called Wonnam. The bus is filled with old people going out to their old homes in the countryside. The bus goes from flying to a near stop depending on the amount of speed bumps on the narrow roads winding through the rice paddies.  I get into Wonnam around 10:50 and get off the bus and walk to school.
Bustling Wonnam

     I pass rice paddy after rice paddy, once I get near the cattle ranch (if you can call this small place that) I am nearly there.

Right off the drive way to my school
           Today is a bit of a crazy day at Pan Dong elementary. It is open class day, where parents come in to see their children in class while the teacher is teaching. Over the past 2 weeks the teachers here have been frantically trying to get ready for the big day. I walk in, put on my sandals, and greet my superiors with the bow and hello, then make my way to my classroom. I’m not really even sure if I will have classes today. I asked my mentor teacher if I will and he responded maybe. Now this may be a bit of a tangent, but in Korea the word maybe has somehow become more ambiguous. I have been told before, “maybe we will have lunch now” when in reality we are going to have lunch now. The words “are” and “not” have never made it to Korea and as a result we only have maybe. Well in this case I did have classes, but my wonderful classroom connected to the library is being taken from me to be used as a meeting room with parents and teachers. I am banished to the science lab or as I like to call it distraction land.  I clean up my comfy, familiar classroom and walk up to the science lab.

Distraction land
     I am dreading this this place not only because it is filled with everything from dissected chickens in formaldehyde to electric tinker toys, but also because the computer up there is by far the most janky pieces of technology I have ever encountered. It also happens that this day I have made most of my lesson plans revolve around Power Point games (it is the end of the month and review is standard practice for me).  I pray to the technology gods and some how my prayers are answered, everything works. I am extremely pleased that I will not be winging it for the entirety of the day and head down for lunch. At 11:40 the principal, vice principal and some of the other important people at my school have lunch, and I am included. Needless to say perfecting the use of chopsticks in front of these people was a harrowing experience. Today was white rice, (as is everyday) fried fish, radish Kim chi, some sort of delicious steamed leaf, and seafood soup. Delish. I head back upstairs to my impromptu classroom and get things ready as well as write this segment of the blog.

                       As I am preparing for the storm of 3rd graders, when the cleaning lady comes into the science lab. She talks to me in Korean as she normally does (I don’t understand how she hasn’t figured out yet that I don’t speak Korean) and judging from her gestures she wants me to leave the science room so that she can sleep in it. I say ok and wait for my class downstairs in the teachers lounge. I head back upstairs with 10 minutes to my first class and wake her up. She is not pleased.

                       The 3rd graders rush in and are just as crazy as ever. I holler out role call and start talking about the “candy day” that will happen this week. Now I should let you know that this is my worst class by far, so I figured that I would try something new. I explain to them in the simplest way possible that everyone would get $1 if they were good for the day (in my “fake money” system $1=1 piece of candy). However, if they were bad I would not give them a dollar. I was hoping that they would respond better to me giving the good ones something and having the bad ones left out.  I began the lesson, as I do with most of my lessons, with a game. This one was a classic, the corner game and it worked out well. The kids actually listened to me talk with the Power Point up and participated when I asked them questions. Things went wrong when we got to game #2 and I had to split them up into 3 teams. These kids are never satisfied with the teams that you pick out for them and I ended up playing the game with 6 out of my 10 kids. They got a dollar and went off on their merry way while some of the bad kids pleaded in vain.

3rd graders 
                       I had the 4th graders next and I don’t have much to say about them, except that they were great. They are one of my smaller classes (8 total) and they get along well for the most part. We played preposition ball and everyone had a good time.

                       I wish that my 5th graders had been as good as my 4th graders were. As things got later into the day my students became more and more restless. Normally my 5th graders are awesome, but today the class ended with Lee Chae Eun throwing an eraser at Song Ju Eun, who caught it with her face. One of my students who speaks very good English was able to explain to me what had happened, and I was able to take care of the situation. That is one of the hard things about being a teacher and not being able to easily communicate with your students. You really don’t want disciplining to be an exercise in language comprehension. I feel that most of my classes would run incredibly smoother if I was able to speak more Korean. But, this is a reality that I have been dealing with for about 7 months now, and it isn’t as bad as it seems.
5th graders, a few of them were a bit tired

                       My 6th graders who are typically my favorite class were exhausted and extremely apathetic to my existence. We watched a few videos relating to the space unit that I am doing with them that they enjoyed. However, I could see that they were tired from the stress of the open class day.

                       I finished up my last class and rode off with the 5th grade teacher around 5. I asked her how her open class went and she said, “ Very good, I feel like I can fly now.” We drove back into Boeun, past an ancient fortress and to my apartment complex. I said goodbye and thank you in Korean and see you tomorrow in English. Before I left I asked her if there was going to be a volleyball game tomorrow? On most Wednesdays the teachers get together for a volleyball game. She said, “ Yes maybe.” As I got out of the car and walked past the construction another fighter jet flew over my small town. I walked through a crowd of middle school students who test their English out on me on occasion. I say hi and nice to meet you to the ones who talk to me. On Tuesdays I have Kim bop for dinner. It is cheap and slightly healthy. 

The Kim Bop place. It has a T-Rex on it. 
Cheap nourishment  

    That was my day. Not the most amazing of days, but not the worst by any means. I do enjoy what I do. Teaching is quite a thing, and I have grown attached to my students. To see them working and being able to use the bits of language that I have taught them over the year is something that I take a great amount of pride in.  Thanks for reading.

Sunday, March 3, 2013


Hello everyone! It has been a bit since I had last posted due to getting back into the swing of teaching. I had a nice month long break, so my 3 friends and I decided to get out of Korea and head somewhere warm. Our main goal was to go to see Angkor Wat in Cambodia and try to see as much as we could without feeling rushed. We succeeded and couldn't have planned things better if we had tried.
Our route

Our trip was from Bangkok to Aranyaprathet, Aranyaprathet to Poipet, Poipet to Siem Reap, Siem Reap to       Ko-Chang and finally back to Bangkok. 

I had done a bit of research before we embarked and was a tad nervous aout this route.  One worry was the Thai and Cambodian boarder, but we will get to that later. The other was getting around, the trains and buses were not as reliable as they are here in Korea. We had a lot to see in 11 days.

We got into Bangkok around 3 am. As soon as you get past security there are plenty of people who will take you anywhere you want to go. There are also plenty of people that would love to rip you off. In Thailand as well as Korea cabs are cheap but, touts will lead you to believe that this is not true. But, that is part of the game you play when traveling in SE Asia. We decided to not even bother with the bus and got a taxi from the airport to Aranyaprathet for around $40 ( the Thai border town). We drove through the night, only stopping for gas, and made it to the border at around 5am. Being there an hour early was a blessing. The border turns into a mad house as soon as it opens. Huge lines piled up behind us and even though we were in the front to get completely through took a while. 

I read somewhere that the best part of getting to Poipet is leaving. Just as you get out of Cambodian customs more touts approach you. Every backpacker who makes it though this dirty border are headed to Siem Reap. One gave us a good price to get there and we hopped in a car. Cambodian driving consists of a whole lot of honking, but we were so exhausted we managed to sleep most of the way. We were only awoken by our cab driver stopping to relieve himself off the side of the rode and when he almost ran a motorcyclist over. We were all pretty groggy when we reached Siem Reap, but it was great to finally get there. We were transfered over to another driver who would become our guide   

We were all quite exhausted after our day of traveling. Going straight to Angkor Wat was a bit out of the question. We were all far to tired to go explore, but another option that our guide gave us was to check out Tonle Sap lake. Tonle Sap is the largest freshwater lake in SE Asia, it is fed by the Mekong river, changes directions twice a year, and has a floating village on it. So going on a boat ride on it seemed like a perfect way to relax after our travels. 

The high point of the boat ride.
It wasn't as relaxing as we had hoped. I'm not sure how it is during monsoon season, but while we were there the river/lake was a brown liquid that vaguely resembled water. We cruised down to the mouth of the lake where the floating village was situated. 

  This part was interesting at first, but it quickly became apparent that the image of a floating village I had in my head and the reality of the floating village were two very different things. This was when it all hit us. Siem Reap had been built up on the money that Angkor brought in. Outside of our nice, but very cheap hotel, Cambodia was still recovering from its turbulent past. We cruised around the village and were brought to a floating store. The drivers of our boat told us that this is where we could buy some rice for the floating orphanage. After paying an exorbitant amount of money for a bag of rice, a tour of an orphanage, and a ride down a mangrove forest, we were out of scam lake. 

We made it back to the hotel in time for dinner and hopped back into our guides car for sunset at Angkor Wat. It was perfect. We wandered around the 900 some year old ruins and everything was all worth while.                                                 

                      A view from the outside.

The next day we saw it all. We started at Angkor Wat and ended at Ta Prohm. I'll just let the photos do the talking for this bit. 

Angkor Wat is the largest religious complex in the world.

Angkor Thom

Ta Prohm
 These are just a few of the main temples around Angkor. The whole place is amazing, well worth the long trip there. 

 Not only does Cambodia have some beautiful temples to check out, it also has some of the more interesting things that I have eaten since coming to Asia. 


Exhibit A: Pong Tai Koon - A 20 day old duck embryo served in its shell with salt and lime. Our guide told us that we were the first tourists he had encountered who were interested in eating this extremely unappealing sounding morsel.  No matter what I write here you are probably still going to think that this would be absolutely disgusting, but, it was actually amazing. I really had never had anything like it and cannot describe the taste.

Exhibit B: Durian aka the stinky fruit. Durian is a large spiky fruit common in most SE Asian countries. The smell is so powerful we saw signs up in hotels, taxis, and airports forbidding its consumption. I have heard that either you love it or hate it. We all enjoyed it quite a bit. It was like creamy garlicky... fruit. I would not recommend eating it before a date because it will give you some of the worst smelling breath imaginable.

 Exhibit C: Cobra Blood Whisky and Cobra Soup. Our guide had suggested us a few other things to do once we were finished wandering around the temples. This one seemed the most doable ( We could have shot RPGs, but they are much more expensive than cobra). We were brought around the side of a restaurant into the kitchen. The place was covered in flys and there was a chopping block and an orage mesh net which contained our cobra. Our guide had informed us that the chief who normally is in charge of this operation was not there and some hesitant Cambodians surrounded the net. Our guide assured us that it was going to fine and took the first shot of it with us. It tasted like smokey whisky, not much more.                                      

However the soup was especially delicious. Cobra meat is like extra chewy chicken. We sat outside of the restaurant in a little bungalow eating our cobra. Our guide mentioned that this wasn't entirely legal, but we were at a "big power mans" restaurant.

Cambodia was quite a trip. It wasn't relaxing and often times nerve racking. But, for me zipping around dirt roades past bombed out buildings was infatuating. I'm pleased that I had the chance to see this amazing country.

 I am going to have to take a break from blogging for a bit ( I hate to say it considering that I only have 3 posts). I must devote my time to writing a paper for my TESOL class. Hopefully I will get that done soon and I should have some posts up on Thailand and Japan. Thanks for reading!