WE Day Vancouver 2015

With all the flashing lights and screaming teens in the massive sports arena, I felt like I was at a pop music concert. In a way, I was. Hedley, a popular Canadian band, was there for WE Day Vancouver, along with Barenaked Ladies, Colbie Caillat, Francesco Yates, and others. But WE Day was marketed as a "celebration of youth"--a reward for students who have volunteered over the past year and inspiration for students to volunteer this year. 

In between songs, there were inspirational...

How to Pose for Pictures in Asia

When taking pictures of Koreans, I've found there are two options for poses: 1) grumpy, unsmiling, and serious, or 2) cutey-patootey with curious hand gestures and facial expressions. The former is popular in formal situations, such as school portraits, taxi registration cards, or business photos, while the latter is usually reserved for informal, casual situations, like hanging out with friends, sel-ka (cell phone camera self-portraits, the oh-so-popular Korean hobby), and nights out.

I recently found a website of these so-called "Asian poses" including tears/teasing, horns, heart shape and giant heart, fighting fists, claws, and other favourites. While my students would be horrified (italics and bold necessary) if I ever posted pictures of them here, I can say that photos I've taken in my classroom have a large number of these creative poses.

The V-sign (uncorrectly called the "peace sign" by Westerners, including myself) is by far the most popular of all the poses; it's even one that I've adopted for my own photos. But it's not limited to the static (and dare I say, uncreative) hand-up-beside-you-with-the-V-and-smile; my students can strike a dozen different poses with this simple gesture, including the sideways-V-sign-around-an-eye, the V-sign-around-the-mouth, and the double-V-signs-covering-my-cheeks-to-make-it-look-like-I-have-a-small-face.

Me posing at Gyeongbok Palace

Me posing at Gyeongbok Palace

The desire to have a small face poses (ha!) a problem when taking pictures. Many of my students become shy when I point my camera at them, immediate reacting to over up their face, either entirely or in portions. Another popular pose, which has yet to be included in the website, is the I'm-covering-my-entire-lower-face-with-my-hand-so-that-you-can-only-see-my-eyes-because-I-think-this-makes-me-look-like-I-have-a-small-face. (I personally think it looks like they're being suffocated. Not cute.) Other variations of this pose include using fists to cover the lower half of the face, covering one cheek, or covering both cheeks with the palms in a V to make the face look more heart-shaped.

After reviewing this list of Asian poses, I've realized that I must take boring pictures. I usually like to smile, maybe throw up the V/peace sign, orif I'm feeling boldrest my hand on my hip. I have some work to do if I want to get these poses down before I leave Korea in six weeks.

Note: Updated 15 November 2015 to fix the broken link.

Start of Goodbyes

Today, my seventh-to-last day of teaching regular classes at Dongduk, I received a little going-away present from three of my students. All three are first year students (the equivalent of grade 7 in North America), and two of the three had been in a few of my after-school programs this year. None of them are strong students---at all---but they has never stopped them from coming to talk with me after class, which I've always loved. They presented me with a small envelope. Inside was a letter and some earrings. I was immediately impressed with the length of the letter; it was much longer than any composition they had written for me before. In the letter, they introduced themselves as "3 girls who received candies in 1-1 class." Apparently my prizes have made more of an impression on the students than I thought! They went on to tell me that they are sad to see me leave, and asked, "Will you be happy without us??" Knowing that I will miss them, they answered for me: "Maybe you won't HaHa~"

The pink, candy-shaped earrings, the girls wrote, were "composed of [their] minds," which, although I don't quite know what they meant by that, I appreciate the sentiment. Not my usual style, but I gladly put them on and am currently wearing them with pride.

The letter ends with a request to think of them often---something I'll have no problem fulfilling. How could I forget?

This has gotten me thinking about some of my old teachers. Some of them I remember for being great teachers, or for helping me learn about myself. I never would have gotten through math if I didn't have Ms Chalmers in high school for three years. Or, though I wasn't his biggest fan at the time, Mr Sardine pushed me hard in English, and I have to thank him for that. Keck, my drama teacher, supported me through my growing years in high school.

But there are also those I remember for telling us that they hated teaching. I never knew why a teacher would announce to their students that they hated being there with us day in and day out; it's not like we didn't know they were huge grumps, but to tell us straight up they didn't want to be there? That's harsh. Then why are you here? I would telepathically ask them from my seat.

Now, after being a teacher myself, I question their actions even more. WHY WERE YOU A TEACHER?? I want to scream at them. I have loved my job here since Day 1; I'm energized as soon as I get in the classroom, even if I was falling asleep on the bus on the way to school. I feel priviledged to be a teacher, to do my best to help these students grow as people as well as English speakers.

My students don't need to ask me to remember them. I always will.

The Star Said...

This is a story written by one of my Grade 1 (Grade 7 in North America) students for our annual English Speech Contest. I have copied it exactly as it was written, all errors included---but, impressively, there are very few. I not only liked the story and its theme of environmentalism, but she also performed it very well.

Have you ever heard a star talking? Well, I did and I want to talk about it. Are you ready? I’ll begin.

When I was six or seven, my family went to a beach for vacation. The beach was beautiful; soft sand, white waves, lovely trees nearby. We played there like anyone else. We swam and made sandcastles during the day. We ate delicious food and slept peacefully at night. It seemed a lovely and ordinary holiday.

However, it was different. My parents woke me up at midnight and piggybacked me to the shore. I didn’t realize anything except they were carrying me to some place until mom said,

“Sumin*, look up!”

Stars embroidered the sky’s black cloth. The lights dancing against the black, coal-like sky. I just stared at them in silence. The only think I could hear was the cool sound of the waves lapping.

We walked by the shore, using the star lights as our lanterns and the waves and background music. That stroll by the clean and silent beach is one of the happiest memories of my life.

After some years, my family and I visited the same beach again. I remembered the bright stars and beautiful beach. But, it had changed. The shore was dirty and even made dangerous by debris of glass bottles, Styrofoam plates and paper cups. People had thrown junk onto the beautiful pristine sand and ruined it! I cursed an hoped those people never come to that beach again.

At that moment, I heard someone say,

“Who did you blame? Look at the sky and see how beautiful it is, just as in the past, But look at that shore, all ruined and dirty. While this shore was getting dirtier, what were you doing? Look. The skies, where human hands can’t reach, are the same as ever but the place where human hands have reached has been ruined.

Who was it that said this? There was no one at the shore except me. There was only a star staring at me. Yes, it was a star that just spoken to me.

“Who did I blame? Is it wrong to blame those people? “I wanted to answer the star’s question, but I couldn’t answer. I had done nothing for the beach. Does this mean that someone who has done nothing is the same as those people who made the Earth dirty?

That was it. I am the same as them. Sometimes I littered anywhere even though there were trashcans nearby. I was a part of the mess, even a small amount on this Earth made me complicit.

Now I realized the true meaning of the star’s words and felt remorse.

I made a promise in my heart, to clean up after the places where I stayed. Even now, when I go back home from institutes late at night, I stare at the star of Seoul in silence and believe it was the star who spoke to me. I try to keep the promise I made long ago with the star.

I hope you try to listen to the stars an promise them,

“I will help too.”

-------------- * Name has been changed

Meet the Biggest Boy Band of All Time: Super Junior

Sorry, Sorry
Super Junior

"Sorry, Sorry" is the latest song from the K-pop boy band, Super Junior. And when I say "boy band," I mean the biggest boy band of all time; Super Junior has no less than thirteen members: Leeteuk, Heechul, Han Geng, Yesung, Kang-in, Shindong, Sungmin, Eunhyuk, Donghae, Siwon, Ryeowook, Kibum, and Kyuhyun. And no, I can't tell them apart yet. Even Perez Hilton has taken notice of this super-sized boy band.

Prior to the release of "Sorry Sorry," Super Junior hadn't released a song here since "Don't Don" in late 2007. With no singles and lots of competition, they've been losing their place among boy band-loving teens like my students. TVXQ (also known as Dong Bang Shin Ki in Korea), FT Island, and especially Big Bang have consistently been ranked as the best by my girls. If I mentioned Super Junior, it was always met with, "No, teacher. Not Super Junior. They are not good." But, judging from the dancing around my classroom, I'm pretty sure Super Junior is gaining in popularity once again.

My students made a cute video of the teachers for Teacher's Day. It was styled like a music video for this song, with some teachers and students dancing, posing, or catwalking. Not gonna lie, I was disappointed that I wasn't asked to dance; my part was limited to a goofy smile. But I found this video with all the dance moves so I can practice, and maybe I'll be ready for next time.

Wonder Girls

The latest song from the Wonder Girls is, no surprise, another big hit. And again, I discovered the song only after I accidentally said the title during class (I asked my students, "Does anybody know the answer? No? Nobody?") and all my students broke out into song and dance.

Like all their songs, "Nobody" is catchy. My favourite of theirs, though, is still "So Hot," about a girl who hates all the attention she gets for being really attractive. I just think the video is funny.


"So Hot"

"Tell Me"

Taekwondo, Korea's National Sport

Walking home from work in the evening, it's not uncommon for me to hear little boys and girls practicing taekwondo in the small studio around the corner from my apartment. If the timing is right, I see groups of kids walking home in their white uniforms, practicing a few moves on each other as they head home.

Taekwondo, Korea's national sport, is popular not just here in Korea, but all over the world. It most likely developed from other forms of Korean martial arts, like taekkyeon, which is commonly described as a more “dance-like” version of the sport. Korean martial arts have passed through several waves of popularity and near-extinction throughout the years. As recent as the early 20th-century, during the Japanese colonial period, the sports were prohibited. But, having been passed down secretly, they survived. After liberation, the government decided to eliminate Japanese influence from its martial arts by merging several forms into one. And so taekwondo was born.

The word "taekwondo" combines the characteristics of the sport: tae ("foot" or "kick"), kwon ("hand" or "punch") and do ("way" or "discipline"). The World Taekwondo Federation defines the sport as "the right way of using all parts of the body to stop fights and help to build a better and more peaceful world." Like most martial arts, taekwondo is more than just combat; it combines self-defense and philosophy and teaches its students self-discipline, courtesy, and perseverance.


N Seoul Tower

N Seoul Tower (known as Namsan Tower before its renovation a few years ago) is probably the most well-known landmark in Seoul. How could it not be when it's seen from just about anywhere in the city? It sits on top of Namsan, a small mountain in the middle of the city, just north of the Han River. I visited the tower once, for my 100th day in Korea celebration. The observatory has a view of the whole city. It's an amazing sight, especially at night.