Cool stuff

So much is happening and it is all so lovely.

Thing 1:

The Rambergs are getting published.  As you all know, Mike is a writer and works diligently at living on his writing.  Back in February he self published a great novella about our stay here in Mokpo.  Just kidding, MZD, a novella of undead horror is a zombie novella that takes place in our host city.

Well, he is at it again.  Friday he was published in Cal Morgan’s Forty Stories, by Harper Perennial.  It is a great short story about  a ball of twine we all know and love, and its untimely demise.  (it’s on pages 17-28.) Love you, Smoochie. For far more information, check out Mike’s writing website: http://www.grebmar.net.

Update: I posted this on Monday, but today (Thursday) Mike was published again! Way to go baby! My man is on a roll. This time a rock n’ roll piece. Read it for free online, or download the kindle edition of Prick of the Spindle for $1.75 at Amazon. I’m so proud of you, honey!

Remi reading “The Farm at Pony Gulch”

His mom, PTZ, has been editing her father’s memoirs for some time.  In April she published them with NDSU.  The Farm at Pony Gulch is a great read about the family’s emigration to North Dakota, her father’s life as a prairie school teacher, and the community of Germans from Russia which makes up the bulk of ND. Since publication she has been giving readings, gone on a book tour, and had a guest appearance on Prairie Public Radio.  Way to go, Patsy!

Thing 2:

Back in February, I found an amazing project to let the survivors of the Fukishma Tsunami/Reactor tragedy know we that are still thinking of them. A blogger in Japan, named Jojoebi,  started the Little Houses Project, which challenged makers around the world to make little houses for those still in temporary housing.  I made a little house as part of my Thing A Day 2012, but kept in contact with Jo after mailing mine in.

Now Jojoebi is at it again.  She has gotten bloggers from around the world to contribute to a blog series and picture book about neighborhoods around the world.  The series goes live today, starting with Jo’s neighborhood in Saitama, Japan.  We’ll be visiting neighborhoods in Korea, Slovenia, the States – oh, everywhere!  Take a look.  Our page will go up on the 1st of July!  Clock the “badge” to see today’s post.

Please take a peek at the other bloggers.

June 25 — Japan – www.jojoebi-designs.com
26 – California, USA http://akatsukira.com/
28 –  Canary islands, jeveuxunetitesoeurfille.over-blog.com
29 – East Devon, UK, www.knittylorn.blogspot.co.uk
30 – Michigan,  U.S.A. www.godwhohasnohands.blogspot.com
July 1 – Mokpo, S0uth Korea, http://jeollanamdosalad.wordpress.com/
3 – Falkirk in Scotland,  www.kidscraftandchaos.com
4 – Washington,  U.S.A. – http://www.zonnah.com
6 – South Africa – http://www.se7en.org.za/
7 – New York City, USA – http://taliastravelblog.wordpress.com/
9 – Wellington, NZ –  http://thepukekopatch.com/
10 – Berlin, Germany – http://camidaily.tumblr.com
11 – UK (cambridge) – http://crazycambridgemum.blogspot.co.uk/

The Yeosu World Expo 2012

Wow! Saturday we visited the World Expo in Yeosu.  You’re probably all like “Akasha, you mean the World’s Fair?” Yup, same thing.  Seems they change the name every so often.

common pavilion area

Anyways, it was fabulous.  It was like in the movies, almost.  The buildings and displays were pretty cool.  The buildings were built to be re-purposed and were rather block-like in shape, but the country designers did amazing things with the interiors.  Some of the pavilions like Qatar and Algeria made you feel like you were visiting their country.  Others, like Spain and Israel, designed unique environments.

Germany and Norway took me away completely.  The German pavilion had a fabulous woman selling dark beer (so absent here) for you to drink as you waited in line.  There was an amazing show and an interactive center that introduced Germany’s mudflats and compared them to Korea’s.  After the activity we went to the restaurant.  We shared a plate of smoked and grilled sausages, a pork chop, kraut, and mashed potatoes. (And more beer.)

Robot attack at the German pavilion!

There was a surprise in the bathroom: German plumbing! Korean plumbing is of a frustratingly low quality.  You cannot flush paper in brand new toilets and sinks flush water on to the floor. (uncool.  You need to wear communal slippers in public restrooms.)  Well, the Germans plumbed their own pavilion.  It was fabulous.  I’m loving you more and more Germany!  The display were fabulous, so much more detailed and interesting than the Festival of nations, which is cool in its own way.

I was surprised that almost everyone I saw there was Korean (except for people wearing badges affiliating them with a booth.)  The pavilions were mainly organized as tours, and we were usually the only non-Korean speakers in the tour.  Many times families stopped us to practice their English.

The theme is The Living Ocean and Coast, and focused on sustainability.   Concurrently, UN secretary Ban Ki Moon is attending and signing the Rio+ 20 treaty on the sustainability of oceans. We picked up on some of the theme, but as much of the information and presentations are in Korean, we didn’t fully understand what was happening around us at times.  When we returned home Mike found this fabulous article on how one of the buildings “breathes” and is carbon negative.  This thread also had awesome photos of some of the modern designs at the expo.

We made a mini-tour of our experience.  You’ll see our friends John pop up in it a few times.  We were inspired by this 1.5 second travel video, as well as one from a new friend, Frank.   I hope you enjoy! There are a few glitches in the editing – iMovies has been a bit troublesome, but this gets the images across pretty well.

The music is by Sigur Ros, and the song’s name is Hjartad Hamast.

Here’s a gallery with some still pictures as well:

Palaces and Baseball: a weekend in Seoul

Well, we spent another weekend away, this time up in Seoul. We left the dog at our local vet’s, a very sweet man with a very nice shop, and headed north Friday night with the hopes of eating some western food and catching a couple of baseball games. We weren’t sure we’d be able to since Akasha had attempted to buy tickets on-line and discovered they were sold out. But, trusting to fate, we went on up anyway.

Deoksangong palace grounds

Our first night we stayed in a nice little motel near the train station, a sweet little find that only cost us around 30,000 won (25 USD). Rested up, we set out in the morning to find some lunch and visit temples. We walked through the Nangdaemun market and into the Deoksungong Palace, one of the five main palaces of old Seoul. This is a nicely wooded site with the typical low, one-story palaces with elaborately painted pagoda roofs.

Embassy street.

Also on the palace grounds is the National Museum of Contemproary Art, which was showing paintings of Lee In-sung, who was an important artist of the 1930’s. He was important for helping Korean artists transition from the old traditional forms of painting to the modern, western style, though under circumstances – the Japanese colonial period – that were no doubt very difficult, if not tragic.

Outside the palace grounds, we took a unique walking tour through the Jeong-dong area, a nice old neighborhood that was one of the first places opened up to the west in the late 1800’s. Here the first missionaries built churches, and the Russians and other foreign countries opened their first legations to what had been known as the Hermit kingdom. It’s still home to a few foreign embassies, and it’s a beautiful, hilly, almost meditative walk.

Mokdong Stadium

Then, we went to the ballpark! We’ve been trying to visit all 7 stadiums in Korea.  As of this trip we have 4/7!  Mokdong stadium is the smaller of the two stadiums in Seoul, where three teams host ball games. Mokdong is the home to the Nexen Heroes, and seats only around 18,000 people. Despite there being no tickets available on-line, we were able to get a couple of nice seats at the box office for 16,000w ($13)! We settled into the first base side only to discover that we’d picked the cheering section of the Hanwha Eagles, the visiting team. We decided to cheer for them anyway, and were rewarded with a win when, in the late innings, a pinch hitter stepped to the plate and drove a liner over the right field wall for a go-ahead home run. The crowd, unusually heavy with fans for the visiting team, went crazy.

Jamsil Stadium

The next night our friend Alice took us to a delicious Thai restaurant that made us homesick for Sen Yai Sen Lek and Joe. We went out to Jamsil stadium, which is the home stadium of Seoul’s other two teams, the LG Twins and the Doosan Bears. It is nearly twice the size of Mokdong at 30,000 seats, and is quite a bit louder. Tonight was the Bears turn to be home team, and the opponent was the club from Busan, the Lotte Giants. Despite Busan being on the other end of Korea, once again the visitors had a large, rowdy contingent on hand. For much of the first five innings, while Lotte belted out four early runs and Doosan remained hitless, the visitor’s crowd was in a frenzy while the home crowd seemed to have given up all hope. The final score was 7-1 Lotte. Once again, we’d brought in lousy luck for the home squad.

N Seoul Tower

That night we went to the Seoul Tower, the highest structure in the city. There’s a cable-car that takes you up to the base, but the line was long and we needed a hike, so up the stairs we went. It’s quite romantic, with a great view of the city spreading out below. There’s a tradition that couples in love bring a padlock and lock it to the fence, so over the years quite a few thousand padlock have built up. It’s kind of romantic, but also kind of heavy metal-looking, but mostly it’s a sweet tradition.

Mmm.. Pale Ale

From there, tired though we were, there was one more destination: Craftworks Tap House in Itaweon. This bar is one of the few brew-pubs in Korea, and one of the only places to find a good Pale Ale, which is one of my (Mike’s) favorite beers. So, we settled in, found a nice spot at the bar, and had a drink. Akasha ordered a Weiss beer, and we chatted with the bartender and waitress, in English. It felt for a while like we were home. They also poured some beer into growlers for us, and we carried them home to enjoy in Mokpo.

Well, that’s a brief summary of our trip up north. We’re back now and enjoying the more bucolic pleasures of Mokpo, but we’re looking forward to August, when we get to hop the Pacific and hang out in Minnesota for a few days. See you soon!

Korean elementary schools

I (Akasha) am a teacher at home (MN, U.S.A.) as are many of my friends.  This post is intended mostly as a comparison of teaching in Korea to teaching in our public schools.

Big Differences:
Things are very last minute here. Even after a year, I was struck by the last minute approach when the school year changed. I think that we’ve mentioned before that teachers change schools every four years.  They can only teach in the same province for eight years.  That means in a 20 year teaching career you will teach in 3 provinces. The school year starts nation-wide the day after Korean Memorial Day. This year it started on a Friday.

The Monday before the school year began, the teachers were informed what schools they would be teaching in (and therefore what towns). On the first day at the new schools, they learned what grades and subjects they would be teaching.  Then, the teachers went up by team to select envelopes.  The envelopes had student rosters in them.  They drew their rosters at random.  That is VERY different from home where we begin planning the elementary class rosters the spring of the previous school year, trying to get the right blend of personalities and academic strengths in a room.

To clarify: on Monday they were assigned to their school, drew student rosters, and were assigned rooms.  Wednesday was a national holiday.  School started on a Friday.  On Friday the school was still a mess.  Desks were in the hall, and all the old teacher’s stuff was up on the wall.  Looked like a tornado had just passed.  Crazy.

Ice cream filled rice cakes

Kids clean the building.
I mentioned this before, but it still startles me.  The kids clean the building.  While it is good that the students take responsibility to maintain their building, you can imagine that they aren’t the most diligent cleaners. (Mine keep trying to clean the tables with the brooms they sweep the floors with.)

Building layout
The buildings here have a slightly different layout, more open sided like a California school (think 90210.)  My school has 3 buildings.

A Building: Administrative offices, Nurse/Dentist, English, Ping-pong room, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th grades.  The library, 5-6 music classroom,  the computer lab, and art room

(Pretty garden, parking, play space between)

B Building: Kindergarten (optional 1 classroom + kinder bathroom), 1st, 5th and 6th grade. There’s also a classroom just for violin lessons.

C Building: Cafeteria and Gym (two floors)

School calendar:
The school year begins the day after Korean memorial day. This year it was a Friday, the 2nd  of March.  We teach one semester that ends in July, then have a 5 week vacation.  We return to school in September for the 2nd semester, and teach until December.  Then we have a five week winter vacation.  This keeps the schools empty (minus “camps”) during the hottest and the coldest months of the year. The Korean school year is 221 days, almost 40 days more than Minnesota’s 182 day calendar. (This is the first year without school every other Saturday too)

Graduation Day!

The odd part is that students return to school for one week in February for graduation week.  At my school we didn’t teach any content, they didn’t have any electives, but everyone was here for a week.  On Friday, K-5th grade comes to school for 2 hours, then leaves. The 6th grade held a graduation ceremony, then the teachers went out to lunch.

The school day:
The day officially starts at 9, but by 8:30 the crossing guards have left.  Yup, most kids get to school about an hour early.  Classes start at 9 and are 40 minutes long. There’s a 10 minute break between each class, but a 20 minute break after period 2.  (At Mike’s school, Wednesday’s classes only have a five minute break between periods.) Grades 1-4 only go to school for 4 periods a day.  They leave after lunch.  That’s right.  They eat a free, hot, made fresh at school lunch, then go home at 1pm.  Only grades 5 & 6 are in the building after lunch. During the free periods teachers usually go to the lounge, run errands, have a snack/ smoke.  Students are completely unsupervised for much of the day, also a big difference from  home.

Parent – Teacher Associations
PTAs are much more powerful here.  They second the text books that the teachers select and can override the teacher’s decision.  They come to observe our class (not the admin) in groups of 20+.  They are the crossing guards.  The parents can change many things in a school.  We needed 5 chaperones for a trip.  Almost 30 volunteered.  We paid to take all 30, even though it was too many adults.

Crab soup, tofu, kimch, veggie custard, and greens

Crab soup, tofu, kimch, veggie custard, and greens

Classroom management:
Behavior management is very different.  Corporal punishment was outlawed just before we arrived.  I don’t see teachers hitting students, but I do see them pulling their ears, making them do burpees, making them do downward dog on their knuckles… The most common punishment is to make a student stand at the back of the room.

Confucian philosophy affects everything here, and this means that the students are really good at policing each other.  I told my 5th graders that if every student did their homework the whole class would get a sticker.  The next period only 1 or 2 students were missing their work.  The period after that, everyone had their work finished.  They made sure that the disorganized kids got it done so they wouldn’t miss out.  I just can’t picture my US students policing each other this much.

The overall philosophy is that the children should work it out amongst themselves.  This has its positives, but does lead to an awful lot of bullying.  I would say, anecdotally, that their anti- bullying curriculum is about 10 years behind what I am accustomed to.

Socializing:
Like at home, we teachers have a “friendship fund.”  It is $30 a month.  The money goes to support teacher activities.  The entire school gets together on Wednesdays from 3-5pm to play volleyball and eat snacks. Once every few weeks we have an inter school game against three other schools , and once a semester we go out to dinner as a staff.

A teacher’s meeting

Teacher dinner is always on a Wednesday.  After the dinner many of the teachers go to the Noraebang and sing karaoke style.  A bunch go on after to have a snack and drink.  Mind you there is a lot of dinking going on at the previous two events.  The events usually go on till 2 a.m.  Then we have school the next day.

Students:

Most of this has been said, but the elementary students work hard and play hard.  They get here an hour early. They clean the  building inside and out.  87% go to private school before/after class.

My students play hard.  They have two 10 minute breaks, a 20 minute break, and an hour long lunch/free time break.  There are no rules and no supervisors during free time.  They play soccer in the halls, they play dodge ball without restraint.  They  climb on displays, out windows, and aren’t being naughty.  It’s okay.  If they get hurt, it is their responsibility.(Big difference there) They are pretty awesome.  I like’em.  My favorite time of year is camps so I can tailor make lessons to bring out the fun in them.

Subs:

There are virtually no subs.  You might be able to get a long-term sub if you put in a request in advance and one is available.  Otherwise a teacher will periodically pop-in to check on your students.  Last year a 1st grade teacher  had a family emergency and was gone for +1 month.  My co-teacher would go for a period a day to check on her 1st graders.  There was no instruction in that time.

Teachers Day:

Ah teacher’s day.  Minnesota teachers, you have no idea. On teacher’s day we cancel classes.  All the teachers go to the stadium and play a bracket style volleyball game.  My school went to the final round this year.  The men’s team played the first game at 8:30 am and they finished play 7:30 pm.  In between there were tons of snacks.  Before and after teachers day I was flooded with thanks.  Here are a few of the sweet notes I got:

Finally, here is a video I made to give you an idea of what my school is like.  Can you count how many “Hellos” and bows I get?  I can’t.