Together

IMG_20190318_180227 Solidarity over hate
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A shortish march, ouch. I appreciate, I appreciate!

Class marching to site.jpgSlightly 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.Respect.jpg

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,Youarelost-namsanAsancity_zpsdde8fe60.jpg 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.

Free seminar, the only cost was sleep

WebonairEDIT_zps3f174fc6.jpgFree webinairs are just great to attend. They allow me to learn in a live format, the newest or the latest issues in ELT and ESL. This particular webinair was essentially bringing taboo issues into the classroom. Named, “Out of the Closet Into the Classroom webinar”, the two hosts/ lecturers , Aaron Wright and Scott Thornbury discussed the issues and pedagogy of introducing subjects like Gay and lesbian, HIV as a topic for conversation in the classroom. They then went onto issues dealing with declaring or at least broaching the subject of informing your students or your employer of your sexuality. Like, WOW. That’s, gutsy. Most ESL teaching environments that I know of are very, very conservative. I can cite the examples being of Asia and the Middle East, though I’m less sure of the Middle East of their potential rejection of the outee.

Sadly given the time difference between New York and South Korea was massive. So much so that I mis-calculated the start time and logged on thinking I was fashionably early. Not so, through bleary eyes I watched the Q&A part of the webinair only slowly getting the gist of the discussion. This subject was definitely not covered by Johnson in his book, Values in English language teaching. To relate part of  what’s in Johnson about marginalisation, this is the social phenomenon concerning Native Speaking English Teachers (NSET) in foreign locations where English is an L2. If NSETs are on the margin or ‘edge’, then gays and lesbian teachers are even more so.

Hello, good-bye Incheon

A recent hike through the Incheon station area, located, not unsurprisingly at the end of the Incheon line. The station had the usual refinements, being an above ground station, it was a simple matter of walking out the doors. Putting on sunscreen (and later a hat) inside of the station seems normal enough. Only it attracted an unwanted stare from some older-middle aged Korean man. I stared back, he kept starring back, I turned, only to check later if he was still starring. Essh. What a cycle. Welcome to Incheon, home of the xenophobic throwback Korean men.

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The odd contrast to this initiation was the Chinatown that had been build. It was plush. Cobble-stoned streets and preserved buildings from Koreans’ colonial era. Ben and I made a bee-line for Jayu park. This is significant for the fact that it holds a statue of Douglas MacArthur, and other adornments celebrating the Korean war and (surprisingly) Americans. Found in the park were two rather esoteric sculptures. One of them under certain conditions could look like giant turd. Personally I found the graffiti that was on it a more interesting composition than the inscription found across the square from the sculpture. Built to commemorate Korean-American cooperation during the war. Well, something like that. Further inside the park there was a life sized bronze statue of MacArthur himself. Mounted on a pillar no less. Beside it was something more interesting, a wall frieze of MacArthur and his staff making for the beach. Presumably during the historically notable Incheon landings, you could actually see MacArthur’s bronze hand showing signs of wear, that it had been touched, and ‘shaken’. For an expression of appreciation or just a chance to even come close to a man of such reputation I can only speculate.

Onwards and downwards to the Chinatown. Exiting the park, we both noted elderly people that seemed to congregate in the park. I noted the same thing too in China. My walking companion observed that the old people there are more appreciative foreigners since, they would have seen and experienced the Korean war, unlike their younger, fellow citizens born after the war. Maybe the ajossi at the train station could do with a change in attitude.

The Chinatown had cobble-stoned streets and was well taken care of. Perhaps falling under the influence of Jayu park above it. Very much a show piece of Incheon, it was part tourist trap (there were tourist shops on every street, and on almost every corner), and historical site with the actual Chinatown having many buildings from the period of colonization from the Japanese. Ben and I went into a former bank to have a look, but also with the ulterior motive was to get out of the sun and cool off. The museum/ 1st bank of Japan was wonderfully air-conditioned. It has massively thick walls, arranged in what seemed to amount to a maze of rooms. I had my photo taken infront of a stage set, of the street, as it was back when the bank was constructed. The one and only helper at the front desk was mature, pretty and very helpful. Exiting, Ben and I gave the donation box some notes.

Back to wandering through the streets, a school kid started to speak to us in English. I blew him off, but Ben being more patient, answered his questions while I hurried around the corner of a building and onto the main road.

Leaving behind the Incheon station and into more conventional streets, I took a photograph of a ‘shop’ that sold just anchor chains. Looking at the amount of heavy metal he had, I’d say he’d cornered the market comprehensively. I didn’t see a shop that sold only anchors, but would have been very pleased if I did!

After all that, walking toward Bupyeong station was all a bit of an anti-climax. To cap off the walk, we went through Dong-Incheon underground shopping center. Corridor on corridor of mindless crap that I personally could never think of buying. I’d always thought that underground shopping centers and even the underground subway lines in Seoul also serve a dual purpose of acting like bomb shelters a’la the London blitz of world war two. Would they, could they, withstand a direct hit? Would the North Koreans use gas in their warheads? What’s more would the gas be heavy, and go down, into the subways? Would there be enough kim-chi to out-last the siege? Ben and I walked out and onward to our final destinations.

You say either and I say eyether

Drawing cartoons at a high school. I guess the teacher was suitably impressed.

Aging slappers feat, Politically crazed Evangelists

 

The groupies are back, and it seems, soggier than ever.  The weather hasn’t  dampened any enthusiasm. I did see one bunch of groupies being coached along with a whistle like a marching band or cheerleaders. Though short skirts are the fashion this year. I shudder to think how they would look, if these aging slappers should don their daughters attire ala Girls Generation. 

Harraging on every corner

Also similar to last time, are the trucks with a huge billboard of the candidate on it. The truck comes with a podium and even a TV screen in some cases, so that the encumbent-wannabe can tout his line to the pundits. What on earth do the candidates do on the off-season? My guess would be go back to their hibernation chambers and wait for another year. 

For me it’s just been a time to avoid getting a calling card from the groupies. Honestly it’s like the streets have been hit by politically crazed evangelists. Though I do think that the straight out, evangelical types (church goers) are easier to dodge. What’s more some of the stuff they give out, like mini packs of tissues, lollies and sometimes cups of tea, are more useful. I can’t believe this. I’ve just given my vote of preference to a load of God-fearing twits.

The Mapo broadwalk, big contrast

The last time Ben and I walked through Mapo, was about two years ago. Then it was shabby buildings that looked like they’d been bombed by some foreign power. This time, it was quite literally the other side of the railway lines.

What a contrast it was, setting off from the randomised station, we emerged, as it turned out, in the hagwon district of Mapo. Pretty posh, we pasted a Maths hagwon that ‘guaranteeing your grade’. I wonder how hard you’d have to sleep in class to flunk, and then how much more harragging from the mother to get a refund. In big cities, the schools aren’t run by the Principal or the head, they’re run by the parents.

Mapo has streets like any other street in Seoul, this one was clean with the usual stores, apartments and restaurants. Towering above us were candidates for the forth coming local elections. A booty of high pay and perhaps a more reclining lifestyle awaits the individual that champions his cause the best. Maybe not this guy. He needs to review his photos before they go to print on a 10m by 50 meter poster stuck on the side of a prominent building. Wincing your hands isn’t conducive to an image of integrity and honest policies. Even the crowd in my town have a better sense of decorum.

Onwards to what could almost be seen as the “apple cart”. You don’t have to travel far to see signs of Koreas agricultural roots.

It never fails to surprise me how lacking in testosterone men are portrayed in advertisements in Korea. From Boy bands, to selling Nikon camera to showing what the average police graduate might look like. He might look nice, but he doesn’t at all have the image of authority that Mr Plod in New Zealand might have.

I have to comment that the photos of the two police officers are would-be graduates of a Police hagwon. Not, just one, but one of many police hagwons, or ‘academies’. Joke anyone?