Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Redistribution of Wealth

Recently, I had a discipline issue in one of my classes. This class is particularly energetic which often leads them to yelling loudly at each other, throwing things across the room, and sometimes putting each other into headlocks (usually before class). During class they focus their energy on one thing, not paying attention. And let me tell you, these girls can not pay attention better than any students I have yet to encounter. Their lack of attention usually manifests itself into talking over their beloved teacher, looking in their tiny mirror for 50 mins, doing homework for other classes, and yelling in Korean at fellow classmates. Now not all of the students are bad, I have two groups of girls that are quite wonderful. They participate, ask questions, and listen. I mention this because they will come into play later, so remember, two groups of angels. Moving on, I have come to expect bad behavior from this class and to not let it bother me too much. But today, something just snapped.

Bertha from Jane Eyre (Shout out to my sis!)
Today, three of my students decided it would be permissible to go to a store across the street in between classes, buy a pile of snacks, and bring it to my class. You should know that students are never to leave campus during school hours, they are neither allowed to bring food into my class. So I see them enter 10 minutes late with their bounty of food. 

Dried squid jerky
I tell them to put it away until after class to which they reply, "Oh yes, teacher. Of course, teacher." A few minutes later I spot an open food wrapper and catch one of them trying to sneak food into her mouth. Cue deer in headlights look:

I immediately grab a bag, walk over to the students and, despite their cries of protest, make them deposit ALL of the food they purchased into the bag. But now I had a different problem, I now had a bag full of snacks that I wasn't going to return to them and I certainly wasn't going to eat (squid jerky isn't really my thing). So I put it in my drawer and decided I would deal with it at the end of class. Class continued, the students didn't listen, class ended. I kept the class for a short time after the bell to let them know how disappointed I am and blah blah blah...then I remembered the food. I looked over at the perpetrators and retrieved the food from my drawer. "Most of you chose to learn nothing today, you talked, you refused to listen, and you brought food to my class. But two groups listened and participated, so I am going to give them your food." 

And I did.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Festival Trifecta

You may be thinking, "Another post about festivals? Isn't that what they talked about yesterday?" If you are not thinking this then chances are you have lived in Korea. There is a festival nearly every weekend here and because Korea is roughly the size of Indiana we are able to go to whichever ones we want. And today is your lucky day, because now you can go to whichever ones we want too!

Besides the Mask Festival we have been to three others: Drum, Dance and Lantern. Of the three the Drums were most interactive. We went with our good friends, Matt and Carly Haas. As you can see we took full advantage of the interactive environment:

At one point we even took lessons! Here is us with our dear instructor:

The festival took place in Seoul Plaza, it was like an oasis in the center of the big city. Children played.

Meanwhile, we practiced our dance moves.

But by far the coolest part was one of the amateur drum groups, at one point they leapt from the stage and did some water drumming, it was amazing!

Overall, the Drum Festival was a huge success and made us feel very involved. The International Dance Festival, though lacking in interactivity, was abundant in culture and history. It was held at the beautiful Samgeori Park in Cheonan. Our first attempt to attend was thwarted by our lack of knowledge regarding the Cheonan bus routes and reluctance to take a taxi. On the second try, after doing some intense internet research, we discovered that a bus we take nearly everyday (shout-out to Bus 12!) ends up at Samgeori Park.

I had a schedule with me that was translated from Korean by one of my students. Activities included "Foreigner Wedding", "Parade", and "Old People Dance". After spending some time wandering around the park and watching the "Old People Dance" we made our way to the main stage. Apparently, the event we stumbled upon was a competition for residents of Cheonan only. Of the many performances I believe my favorite was a group of middle-aged women dressed as pirates dancing to "My Humps" by the Black Eyed Peas. I couldn't make this stuff up if I tried...

Aside from the spectacular swashbuckler performance, one other stands out in my mind as particularly interesting. But in order to fully enjoy this anecdote, you will need a brief history lesson. For those of you who have been following our blog, you will remember that a few months back we visited Independence Hall, a museum commemorating Korea's fight for independence under Japanese occupation. Japan's rule over Korea from 1910 until 1945 included cultural suppression, torture, murder, forced labor, and the abduction of women to be used as "comfort women" in military brothels by the Japanese in WWII. Recently, there has been some controversy revolving around a small island in between the two countries called Dokdo Island. When I say small, what I mean is the island has a permanent population of TWO people. The remaining 30 inhabitants are military stationed to protect the island. At one time, Japan sent emissaries to Korea to "give" them the island, but Korea refused to let them past the airport gate and sent them back to Japan because Japan can't give them something they already own. Needless to say, current relations between Japan and Korea are tense.

Dokdo Island: Population 2 Koreans
Now that you have some context we can come back to the dance. The performers were all Korean students, and they chose to do an interpretive sword dance. It begins with a group of Koreans happily going about their business, waving Korean flags. Then suddenly a group of Japanese soldiers rush in and begin shooting, stabbing and rounding people up for slavery. At one point a Japanse soldier snatches the Korean flag and stomps on it. After a few minutes of demonstrated Japanese oppression, two Korean men dressed in black and wielding swords fight and kill the Japanese soldiers, leaving Korea to be free at last. To end the spectacle they pulled a HUGE banner (Korea is really into banners) over the stage that said: "DID YOU KNOW? DOKDO IS KOREAN TERRITORY!".

Did anyone else notice the banner is in English, not Korean? I have a theory on this. Now keep in mind, this is an international dance festival where multiple Japanese dance groups are performing. Also noteworthy, both the Japanese and Korean governments are pouring money into English programs (hence my current employment with the City of Cheonan Dept of Education). So I pose that they did not want the banner to be in Korean because then the Japanese attendees would not get the message. But they certainly weren't going to make the banner in Japanese lest the other hundreds of people not get the message. Well here's from me to you, Korean student sword dancers, message received.

So the last festival is the Lantern Festival, we actually just attended this festival five days ago in Seoul. It was so wonderful and breathtaking that I think I'll just let it speak for itself.

Thank you for reading, I hope you enjoyed today's installment of hold onto your butts blog week. ^^ *

*Korean smiley face

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The magical land of mystery

When we first arrived in Korea, I must admit, I knew very little of the Korean culture.  Some interesting facts: their culture has survived for 5000 years; they have preserved their own language from invasions of Russia, China, and Japan; and they have preserved the stories and traditions from their ancient clans.  

So we woke up with the sun and jumped on a bus, bundled up in warm clothes, as the cold was setting in.  We then traveled east, toward the rising sun, watching the land move from the rolling mountains of the west to the more rugged mountains of the east.  We even met a Korean man who spoke English with an Australian accent.  

When we arrived in Andong, we had to find a hotel.  We looked up how to say "cheap hotel" on our phone's dictionary and told a taxi driver.  He sped across Andong to the hotel district, and dropped us off.  We then found the magic of the "love motel."  The magic was a good cheap room, with free extra bedding to support 4 people.  And all of this accentuated by a red light...

We finally made our way to the festival.  It is what one would assume from a festival: fried foods, tchotchkes. 
 But the greatest part of this was getting to see the various faces that cultures had created to turn a normal person into a mythical character.    We even had the opportunity to create our own masks, but we didn't yet understand the meaning behind them.

As we toured the festival, we kept stumbling into "Alice in Wonderland" type creations.  

We stumbled through a field of mushrooms.

Ran into a warrior calling out to the moon...

And were attacked by large "go fish" fish.

As we emerged from the mysterious creations of Korea, we were immediately dragged into a street parade.  Forgetting any concept of difference between people, language, religion, etc., we were grabbed band pulled into the dance, jumping, leaping, spinning, and whirling with all of the people in the parade.

The dancing continued, with people in masks, costumes, and even directing puppets.  The excitement was phenomenal.  And it wasn't for any holiday, but only for a cultural festival.  Exploding in lights and confetti, the entire festival was covered in flying color, spinning color, and even the color of musical sound. 

But we still did not fully understand why Andong celebrated the masks.  So we went to the Hahoe mask dance and play.  It was a play whose goal was to equalize the working class and the aristocrats of Ancient Korea.  It begins with two acts: the butcher and the bull (the butcher is attacked by the bull, but kills it, cuts out its heart and testicles), and the hunched weaving woman (bemoaning her work).  

The play then takes a sharp turn, presenting a perverse monk who stalks an aristocratic woman on a walk.  The trickster character constantly dances on the outside, commenting on the hypocrisy of the monk, and the ludeness of the aristocrats.

The play ends with a scholar and an aristocrat trying to outwit each other.  They both hold long pipes that require servants to light them (showing their wealth).  The trickster constantly poses questions to them, and watches them debate each other.  In the end, the butcher comes in with the bull testicles, and offers them to the scholar and aristocrat, promising that the testicles will bring strength and sexual prowess.  The two fight over them, but the old woman wins them, waving them in the faces of the aristocrats.  With this final act, all of the characters are equalized.  

Thus, the masks allow a anonymity for the people to become equal actors, and to equalize the roles in society.  

Finally, it all ended with the magic of the dance of the King of Masks.  This King of Masks changes masks throughout the dance, but no one ever sees the change.  He can become whoever he wants with the wave of a hand.  Changing from red, to green, to orange, to white, to black, to his normal face, and then back again.

The night ended with a dance from an Israeli dance troop who brought inanimate metal and plastic to life, making it look as though these mundane work materials had a life of their own, becoming snakes, people, jellyfish, and like children playing with toys.  It all ended with a metallic dance to Bohemian Rhapsody.  
And then we returned to the land of the mundane reality.  However, we will always the escape into the masks.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


Ok I have to come clean, I chose to do a post called "SeoulCalibur" while we were still living in North Carolina. At the time I was playing SoulCalibur 4 (video game) just about everynight and it struck me suddenly as I, Seong Mi-Na, was mercilessly beating Logan, Hong Yun-seong. Not actual footage. I did not discover until much later that these are Korean names, is that destiny knocking? Why yes, I believe it is. So for today's post, I bring you stories of an exotic and bustling city mere minutes away from our humble habitat. For your enjoyment, our first day in Seoul!

The first trip to Seoul was intimidating to say the least. In my mind I associate Seoul with two things, the 11 million people who live there and the seemingly impossible to understand subway system. Thankfully we were blessed with a seasoned guide and good friend, Sarah Bean. The day's itinerary included a tour of one of Seoul's palaces, Gyeongbokgung, and a shopping trip in the tourist/artsy district of Insadong. We took the train to Seoul Station, the shiniest train station in the world.

We then entered the PTDs (Pod Transport Devices), large silver tubes which utilize the most modern air suction technology.

We were shot feet first through an intricate tunnel system that deposited us directly in front of Gyeongbokgung.

Gyeongbokgung is a beautiful palace, and we fortunately ran into a free english tour guide in the PTD tunnels, so we were lucky enough to get information on the palace as well as enjoy the beautiful architecture.

In addition to amazing buildings, Gyeongbokgung had a fair share of terrifying little statues positioned around the palace. I believe their purpose was to ward off fire, which is very important for a palace made entirely of wood. The ones on the roof are primarily to show social supremacy, I don't think they do anything about the fires...

Then we visited the King's quarters where we learned that there is a reason all the King's furniture is flat and close to the floor. According to our tour guide, "Because know....Ninjas." That's right, all his stuff is on the ground so NINJAS can't hide underneath or in it. Here is a picture, see how many ninjas you can find:

We walked around the grounds a little longer until our tour guide left us. Then we decided to get some traditional Korean pictures. So Logan and I spent a couple hours changing into wedding garments, I think it was worth it.

Then I took a more modern style Korean picture with Sarah.

As we were leaving, the palace guards bid us farewell with a traditional changing of the guards. There was much joy and trumpet blowing, it was sad to go.

When we left the palace we discovered the PTDs were out of order so we were forced to try our hand at the subway system. I am currently pretty good at navigating the subways in Seoul, however, at that time I was not. So I just followed our faithful leader. A few minutes of cramped travel alongside too many people and we were there, Insadong. Insadong is adorable, I love it there. Here are some reasons you should love it too:

1) Performance art pieces

2) Surprising little statues

3) Area fauna

4) Sky Fishing

Now to be fair, the last two pictures are in an artsy district right next to Insadong (and they were taken on a different occasion) but I wanted to include them because we don't have many pictures of Insadong. So after a long, full day in Seoul we went back to Seoul Station to enjoy another hour on the train back to our homes. Goodnight Moon.