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Finishing the contractual English camp this year was more of a chore than anything else. It’s all in the mind, and I must say that the students I taught were top flight. I did have the best and oldest students at camp. The oldest student was 15, Korean age I’m told.

In the cause of reflective teaching, I wanted to get some feedback from my students. “Write down one good thing and one bad thing about my class and teaching.”  I then disappeared from view, the sheets (bodged A4 photocopies cut into quarters, that were only used on one side.) were then annotated by the students, collected by the teaching assistant later.  Reading the comments later, with a bit of trepidation I might add, was surprising, heartening and enlightening all at the same time. I’d been in a bit of a mood at the beginning of week one. Very unprofessional of me since I was taught to leave all your problems at the door. So, the surprise was that most of the comments were positive in nature, heartening because they expressed that they wanted to come back and have me teach them again, and, enlightening because of the only two negative comments were that they couldn’t understand my pronunciation.  One could rebut that their listening skills weren’t good enough, and that any English speaker doesn’t speak at a moderato tempo. Only in the artificial environment of the language classroom would this tempo be done. What use is classroom instruction if you can’t be understood?

Highlights aside, I know I’m doing the right thing. One student stated that he enjoyed doing grammar. Its the first time I’ve heard that! Grammar for me is what is only necessary to do the productive tasks later on in class.  But, what I have confirmation of is the gamification of the productive task as a vehicle for providing motivation for competitive students. One last note is that Korean students don’t like ICC (intercultural communication). Not just these students I taught, but all ages. The answer to this might be to be more subtle in teaching it. Sort of like slipping a medicine tablet amongst a sweet biscuit.

More (PC) BANG, for your buck

PC bangs (literally PC rooms), are something I have avoided simply because I have had an internet connection. Up until last Thursday when the connection was cut. My fault, haven’t paid the nice people at Korea telecom, and in return they switched off their service. A fair cop. What wasn’t cute and cuddly was once I’d paid the over-due fee, was the delay in restarting the service. Suffice to say having no internet connectivity for four days didn’t kill me, but on the other hand it just wasn’t interesting at all. I did have a lot of time to play games that I had installed on my laptop though.

Sat back in the big, comfy chairs that all PC bangs seem to come equipped with, I then proceeded to check my email and Facebook. Nothing new there. In order to safeguard my passwords and surfing activity, I made sure that I used the browser that was installed on my USB stick. Useful things that, your own browser of preference (Chrome in this case), and it also means that you leave no digital crumbs on what essentially is a computer for public use. I’m such a geek sometimes. Just one niggling complaint is the presence of smokers in close proximity. Most of the patrons that frequented are middle aged men. Given that the area has Samsung manufacturing plants, most users then, are middle aged men that worked in a factory. Sadly, the man sitting at the end of the row of computers was puffing away merrily on his cigarette. I’ve got nothing against smokers, but the fan and ventilation system in the room was pushing his smoke right at me. If anything, that did make me want to leave sooner than I wanted.

Game on! Not quite retro status

It was pure desperation, but I’m glad I tried it. The games I had in my folder were old shooters, ones that ran well on win XP, but hadn’t dare try on Win7. Incompatibility was the reason, and also why I’d put it off playing the oldies until, now. Looking back, and in the present, it still has the sound bug that it had with Win XP: if you don’t let the intro play to it’s conclusion you have the few bars repeating in the game from when you pressed the ‘ESC’ button.

The game in question was the original Alien versus predator FPS, first published in 1999 by Fox interactive and Rebellion. What I really play it for is the skirmish mode. You have the choice of playing either the Alien(s),Predators or Colonial marines.  So much more fun though, pointless as you almost always die.  Yup, one character against nearly overwhelming odds that never stop. Multiple settings, but the one I like to play the most is called stranded. One marine versus H.R Giger’s alien and variations thereof.  What scared the shit out of me initially, was being absolutely lost on the map, knowing that death itself is coming.

You only start with the Marines’ trusted friend, the pulse rifle and move up from there. To the throaty staccato of the smart gun to the almost uncontrollable outpouring of lead from the mini-gun.  So much torque that your point of aim is thrown off if you so much as fire a prolonged burst. “Remember, short controlled bursts.” Purely pointless or purely entertaining? Scares the heck out of me but I keep on coming back. Game over? Maybe.

A shortish march, ouch. I appreciate, I appreciate!

Slightly surprised would be the description of the teachers at my school when I turned up in shorts, t-shirt and a hiking pack. The hike was up Namsan mountain, which according to my supervisor, ‘every town has a south(ern) facing mountain.’ The hike started off in good order, with the third grades leading off. I went with them, as, they would be the first, and, they’re not so inclined to bow and say hello to me every time they see me. I don’t mind being invisible sometimes. The first half of the hike was up to Asan’s war memorial, where, the wars that Korea had fought in, were immortalized in grey marble no less. Not so different to what I’d see back home. Every town would have some concrete or stone spire, a plaque and inscriptions to their fallen soldiers. Come to think of it, the third graders weren’t so much older than their grandfathers and grand uncles that fought in the Korean war. Even walking to the war memorial itself had some parallels as some of the classes touted flags, and messages on those flags. Well, the idea of the hike was supposed to commemorate the soldiers and, a wish for peace and unity. Frankly speaking, the people want peace, but that decision might be up to the heads of state.

Namsan mountain, Asan city, Cheongchung nam province.

Soon after reaching the memorial site, a single wreath of white flowers was laid, and respects given. The march continued. I actually thought that since Namsan was only 150m tall the hike would be relatively easy. Unfortunately, what was missing was gradients and an extra 800m in elevation. Damn you Naver maps! By the time I’d reached the summit, which was enclosed with trees and other greenery, there was no vista to see. Severely unfit, lacking in a substantial breakfast I was sweaty, aching and out of breath. Some of my students thought the same and sat down on some benches near to the top. The water, and bite sized snickers bars that my supervisor had given me weren’t going to make the distance. I’d have to do. No-one was going to carry me down, dead or alive. Having reached the relative ease of flat terrain, I pressed on, protesting muscles and all. Most of my students and teachers looked none the worse for wear. While I, had looked like I had done twice the distance. I was soaked in sweat, greasy from the sunscreen I’d applied, covered in dirty from god knows only where. But, I have to say that lunch, in my current state was a breath of life and was fantastic. The watermelon never tasted so good. I should know, I had three slices.

Hanok, soon to be a memory

Like in so many other countries, time and tide waits for no-one. It’s surprising what pieces of days gone-by you can see if you have your eyes open. Vacant for sometime, the Korean traditional home, a hanok (한욱) is finally making way for a faceless, nameless office building. Or maybe a lowrise apartment building? At one point in my time in Korea, I’ve stayed in a Hanok. I must admit that they have very little furniture, are small but possess the one thing that everyone would like in the Wintertime. Floor heating. Called an on-dol, it’s essentially a series of pipes underneith the house where hot gases from burning charcoal or wood was burnt to supply heat. A more contemporary variation is that copper piping and hot water is used in place of hot gases. I can only theorise that if the floor had cracks in it, carbon monoxide poisoning resulted. What really interested me in this hanok laid bare was the ceiling space was filled up with earth or clay. Wow, that’s some thermal insulation.

It’s owners may have long since gone so, it’s a little sad to see something that has endured to finally be knocked down just for the sake of money. But since, the memories attached to it only belonged to it’s owners, presumably gone, the home must also fade into memories.


Memories, and the taste of stone Bibimbap

Clockwise: Cheese don Cass, Bibimbab, soup and an order of side dishes.

Normally, I don’t seek out spicy foods, it makes me itch. So, from this I normally don’t eat Korean traditional foods because so much of it is spiced. However, today all of us were out and decided to fill the gap. A Kim-babap Na-ra hove into view and we choose our meals. I choose a cheese don-cass, while my wife opted for a stone bibimbap. This, once served, had in it a lot of pepper sauce. Stirring it into the rice, mung bean shoots and a lot of other Korean vegetable goodies, it turned into a scarlet red mixture. Still, I ate some. I remember the times I’ve had this type of bibimbap before and I also remembered the crunchiness of the over cooked rice, made so by the hot stone bowl, and, where I’d eaten it was in Jeon-ju. A city famous for it’s good food and of course, bibimbap.  I also ate the kim-chi, which was fresh and some of the oden. All of them spicy and all of them eaten with a swing of water. My only wish was that the kim-chi was aged kim-chi. In my opinion it tastes better, since it has the qualities of being less spicy and more sour because of the fermentation. Still, it was a good meal, cheap, familiar and even a little bit homely.

A change of tack, untested and potentially tacky

Currently I’m teaching two streams of students. The new first graders and the second grade students who I had taught last year. Still at high school, I’ve got the ‘problem’ of creating a set of lesson plans for teaching my old first graders; the new second graders. After some thought I’ve decided instead of creating more material (which I think has been exhausted anyway) I’ve decided to use a different teaching style. I’m still leading my students to the context, but I’m also using the lexical approach. Throw chunks of new vocabulary at the students and have them use it. A while ago I had struck upon the idea of using collocations for the students to discover and learn. A number of problems to solve swim out of the murk for this tack to work. How to introduce new lexical items? How do I have the students notice and connect collocates without boring them to death?

The current teaching framework I’m using (PPP) works like a charm. But my friend commented and berated me on teaching a vocabulary lesson as this is something that a KET would do. The reply to that is, that it’s a lesson of two parts. Input of vocabulary in the first hour, the second part is that of production and practice using the new vocabulary. The extra layering that’s needed for young learners is the need to communicate. Easily solved, this equates to putting it in the form of a game. So, this leaves the problem of how do you get the student’s to take notice of collocates?


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