Thursday, 29 July 2010

Eating Korean Dog Meat (Part 2)

Eating Korean Dog Meat (Part 2) from Kenneth Major on Vimeo.

Eating Korean Dog Meat

Saturday, 24 July 2010

Snail Hunt After-Party

Jess and I had a lot plans for this weekend. We were going to go grocery shopping, relax in Pohang, watch the firework festival, go see a movie, and much more… but none of them happened.

The rainy season is really putting a damper on our travels. It can be a beautiful 40oC sunny day outside one minute, and the next minute you’re in a torrential downpour. There’s no way to predict what type of weekend you’re going to have, and the Korean Meteorological Society is far from being accurate (although they did successfully put a weather satellite into space last month… high five Korea!).

Instead of a nice trip to the beach, Jess and I spent another nice night in Andeok (close enough…right?). We watched a movie on the computer, had a superb dinner (homemade poutine!), and then took a nice midnight stroll down to the river. We set ourselves up on the small dam, and talked over the sound of the rushing water around us.

Suddenly, two SUV’s pulled up to the side of the dam, and about a dozen people jumped out. They were all in their thirties and fourties, but they sounded like a bunch of teenagers, giggling and chattering in excitement the whole way down. At the bottom, they approached the water holding spotlights, buckets, nets, and other fishing gear. They said hello to us as they walked by, but our presence didn’t deter them from the fun of their little “midnight excursion.”

They spent most of their time on the far side of the dam where the water wasn’t as deep. One or two people held the spotlights in place, while the third guy wadded through the thigh-deep water, overturning rocks and plucking things off of them. We have no idea what all the others were doing, but we could hear their faint laughter in the distance.

As we later found out, they were hunting for snails. I have seen ajummas collecting snails in the river before, but this was the first time I’ve seen a young, well-dressed group of people rush to the river in SUV’s for a little midnight snail hunt…

We’re still not quite sure why they were hunting them, or what they were planning on doing with their “catch,” but it was it was quite something to watch. If this is the new Andeok after-party scene, count me in!

- Ken

Friday, 23 July 2010

Week One Complete

I had a bit of a rough start to the week, but it ended up turning out really well.

One of my co-workers brought his little boy to school to join the camp, and he’s just the funniest little Korean kid to work with. He reminds me of a Korean version of Calvin (from “Calvin and Hobbes”) with a short attention span, huge imagination, and the ability to have some sort of food on his face at any given time. I’ll be in the process of teaching him something, turn my back for just a second, and when I turn back he’ll have either a grape stain, chocolate stain, or unidentified smear around his lips. I just don’t understand how he does it…

Anyway, my class size stayed at a steady one to three students for the rest of the week (which was nice and quiet), and we did end up getting a lot of work done (surprisingly). Near the end of the week, they were much less interested in worksheets, and much more interested in open discussions while playing boards games. We talked about some of the classic round-table topics such as, “If you could have any superpower, what would it be,” and, “If you could be the President for a day, what would you do.”

If the Principal had walked in, he would not have been too happy that I wasn’t busy, hammering verbs down their throats, but I’ve found these types of open discussions way more beneficial for not only raising their vocabulary usage, but also raising their confidence.

- Ken

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

And Then There Were Two

Only two kids showed up to camp today.

We watched a Mr. Bean clip, played a few rounds of “Guess Who” (with push-ups as punishment for the loser of each round), and watched “Hurt Locker.”

I got a few smiles, an English sentence or two, and a promise that they’d show up tomorrow.

I guess that constitutes as progress?

- Ken

Monday, 19 July 2010

Let the Summer Camp Fun Begin

Well, that was an interesting first day of camp.

I arrived at school early, opened up the classroom, and prepared for my kids to arrive. I’m technically supposed to start my day at 9:45 a.m., but I figured they’d trickle in a little late considering it was the first day.

10:15 a.m. rolled around, and my classroom was still empty. The first student showed up at 10:20 a.m., followed soon after by four more.

My schedule was up on the board for all of them to see, and it read:

1 – 9:45 – 10:30

2 – 10:40 – 11:25

3 – 11:35 – 12:20

4 – 12:30 – 1:15

Once they settled in, they looked at the clock (it was now 10:30 a.m.) and said, “Teacher, break time!”

I flat-out refused, telling them that we had just started, so the schedule was going to change for today. In response to my “dynamic” shift in schedule, I received five pouting teenage boys glaring back at me. What a great start…

As with all of my camps, the first thing I did was hand out a small questionnaire for them to fill out. It was nothing complicated at all, but I wanted to gauge how to structure my camp to suit their needs. I quickly discovered why these boys were dragging their feet every step of the way.

Here were the questions for the survey, and their responses:

1) What do hope to learn from this English Camp?

Five out of the five answered: English.

2) Why are you in English Camp?

Four out of the five answered something along the lines of: Mr. Kim said we’d die if we didn’t come (meaning that they were here as punishment).

The other student answered: Home is boring.

3) What is your favourite thing to do in English camp?

Five out of the five answered: Games

4) What is your least favourite thing to do in English camp?

Five out of the five answered: Study

5) How many days will you attend English camp?

Four out of the five answered: 4 days.

The other student answered: Never

After the survey, we warmed up with a Mr. Bean clip followed by some comprehensive questions. They loved the clip, but hated the questions. Only one out of the five kids was paying attention, and I really didn’t have the energy to try and whip the others into shape. They were trouble-makers of the class all year, and it seemed that all of us were in silent agreement that things were not going to change for this one solid week together.

I spent the last two periods letting them do what they do best. Make fun of each other.

I gave each of them a piece of paper and told them to draw their partner in a caricature-type manner. They then had to write down five descriptive sentences, and present their “masterpieces” to be put up on the wall. We finished right on time, and before I could say, “Goodbye,” they were already out the door.

Should be a “fun” week…

- Ken

Saturday, 17 July 2010

Death by Summer Camps

Summer should be a time for kids to spend their days laughing and playing outside with their friends. Such is not the case on this side of the planet.

Today marks the first day of “summer vacation.” For my kids, “summer vacation” simply means, “to work outside of the academic year.” Some of them are studying in private institutions to get ahead of their peers before the start of the next semester, some of them are working on their parent’s farms, and some of them are attending summer camps.

While it’s true that there are some students quietly tucked away in PC rooms wasting their summer days away, most of them are doing anything but enjoying their “free” time.

This semester, I have to run three weeks of camps. The first week is for high school students, the second week is for middle school students at my branch school, and the third week is for middle school students at my main school. Kill me now…

Don’t get me wrong, I love my kids. Well, most of them at least. But teaching the same kids for four classes a day, five days a week can be quite the challenge. Sometimes you feel more like a babysitter than an actual teacher, and with the added fourty degree heat, it’s easy to lose your mind.

Well, at least I have the weekend to relax, re-charge the batteries, and try and start the week off on a good note.

- Ken

Friday, 16 July 2010

Korean Dog Meat

The subject of “Korean Dog Meat” is one which I purposely haven’t written about until now.

Why did I wait a year? The reason is really quite simple: I’m a Westerner.

As a Westerner, I had a strong bias on the subject before I moved here. Now that I’ve been living and breathing Korean culture for a full year, I feel like I’m now in a much better state of mind to write a balanced blog entry.

Let me first state that no, not all Koreans eat dog meat. While it was certainly a common Korean dish merely a few decades ago (especially after the Korean War at a time when beef and pork were difficult to obtain), it is becoming increasingly rare to find. Almost all restaurants in the major cities have removed dog meat from their menus, and people are beginning to adopt a “western outlook” regarding dogs as pets rather than a delicious source of lean meat.

Luxurious canine spas are popping up all over the country in response to the overwhelming demand to pamper these new pets. People are dishing out HUGE amounts of money to keep their furry friends groomed, full of expensive treats, and up-to-date with the latest fashion trends. Despite accepting this as “normal” practice, we are but a few countries that treat our pets better than our in-laws.

This morning was the first time I’ve ever witnessed the killing of a dog for meat.

The dog’s owner, a farmer, led it up onto a giant overturned bucket. He tied a thin wire around its neck, fastened it to the underside of an A-Frame ladder, and then pulled the bucket from under its legs. At first, the dog panicked and thrashed about back and forth with such viciousness that I thought the ladder would fall over. Its struggle only made the wire cut deeper into its neck as it spun around the central axis of the noose. A few moments later, its movements were reduced to full-body shudders, and then finally subsided to the occasional off-beat leg twitches. As quickly as it had started, it ended. The dog’s tongue hung off to the side as its eyes glazed over, staring straight up at the morning sky. Meanwhile, the farmer was off to one side, casually picking up branches that he had cut earlier from his apple tree.

I don’t like to see ANY animals die. Chickens, cows, pigs, and fish are all part of my regular diet, but I still have a difficult time seeing them being slaughtered for consumption.

But for me, seeing a dog being killed is on a whole different level of sensitivity. Why? In all honesty, I don’t know. They’re just animals like all the others…aren’t they? 

Well, the answer isn’t a simple yes or no. From a scientific perspective, the answer is yes. From an anthropological perspective, the answer can be a resounding no. Different animals have been seen in different hierarchical levels at different points in history, and this varied tremendously by culture. I’m not going to try and debate which cultural ideals were (or currently are) morally right or wrong, I’m just trying to shed some light on a single event that prompted me to question the extent of my cultural “open-mindedness.”

I can easily debate either side of the “Korean Dog Meat” dispute, but what I can’t do is change the fact that I cringed as I watched a dog being killed this morning.

Some values are so deeply engrained that no amount of cultural immersion can completely remove them from the subconscious mind.

I will continue to eat meat, yet I will also buy our family dog his favourite treats when I return home to Canada.

I am not perfect.

I am, after all, just another animal…

- Ken

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Last Week of School

Wow. This is it. The last week of school.

I taught my first class barely eleven months ago, and now I’ve just completed my final lesson plan. I can’t believe it’s almost over.                     

I know I’m not a professional teacher, but I sure as hell gave it my best shot. I never had any previous teaching experience, I never had any teaching education, and I never had any preparations at all. But I do know for a fact that these kids took away something from my short time here in Korea.

I remember the first week of school like it was yesterday. The kids were wide-eyed and curious to see a “wehgook” (foreigner) in their school. They stared, waved, and occasionally said “hi,” but only from a distance. Now, I can walk around the school and have full conversations with them about what they did over the weekend, gossip about other teachers (“Did you know Mr. Kim picks his nose in the teachers room?”), or give the middle school boys some “girl advice” (they adore Jessica, and they want to know how to “get one” like her). Not only did their English fluency levels sky-rocket, but so did their level of confidence.

Koreans know how to study. They study hard, and they study a lot. So even if I didn’t have the formal training to put it all in there, I at least helped them to open up and get it all out.

Will they remember “Ken Teacher?”

- Ken

Friday, 9 July 2010

Lunch with Korean Superstar Lee Hyori!

Walking around Seoul, Jess and I decided to stop in at a tiny sandwich café for a quick lunch.

As I stepped through the doorway, I saw one other person sitting at a table, quietly sipping a glass of water as she waited for her meal to arrive. She looked up, and I immediately recognized her as the Korean Superstar (and highest paid female singer in Korea) Lee Hyori!

I nudged Jess and quietly told her who it was. Jess didn’t believe me, but being an avid K-Pop fan before moving to Korea, I didn’t have a single doubt in my mind about her identity. Jess later told me that she also knew who it was but wasn’t AS sure about it as I was. Pffffft ya right…

We sat down at the table next to her, and took a quick peek at the menu. They had so many amazing sandwiches to offer, but I really couldn’t concentrate until settling her identity once and for all.

I leaned over and asked, “Excuse me, are you a singer?” She smiled and replied, “Yes, my name is Hyori. How do you know me?” The next part is kind of a blur, but I vaguely remember mumbling something about watching her music videos before coming to Korea. She was the one who hooked me onto K-Pop, and I would’ve never imagined myself eating lunch next to her.

To be honest, I really wasn’t nervous at all speaking to her at all. Looking back, I had every reason to be nervous, but she was just really easy-going and had more questions for us than we did for her. We talked about anything and everything, as if we were old friends just catching up on news. The next thing on her agenda was the filming of a “gochujang” commercial, and we could tell that she wasn’t too excited about it. We stayed with her as long as we could, slowly sipping our coffees and relaxing in the shade of the café.

When we finished lunch, she wrote down her e-mail address on the back of our receipt, and asked us to send her a message the next time we visited Seoul. Two Canadian backpackers would stand out in one of her celebrity parties like a sore thumb, but it would still be one hell of an experience.

We left the restaurant together, and she was immediately recognized by a group of passerby’s. There was a collective gasp, and they all started whispering in excited tones, occasionally daring to say her name. Hyori just pulled down her hat to cover her eyes, and kept walking with us up the street.

Away from the crowd, she hailed a cab to bring her to work. We said our goodbyes, and headed off on our separate ways.

- Ken

Fight at the Indian Embassy

Gone are the days where you could simply throw on a backpack and travel the world.

Yes, there are still places that you can simply fly into, get your visa at the airport, and be on your way. But seeing as Jess and I are planning to trek through at least eight different countries, we couldn’t risk being turned away for a lack of paperwork. So far, the planning process hadn’t been overly difficult, but we were still missing one essential Visa; the Indian Visa.

This was by far the most frustrating process I’ve ever had to endure for something as small as a signature. For normal people doing a normal trip in a normal timeframe, getting the Visa wouldn’t be difficult at all. But we were trying to get a Visa in a foreign country, at an embassy that we couldn’t readily visit, and far too early to be processed through the regular system.

The nuisances we encountered along the way were far too numerous to outline in a blog entry, so I’ll try my best to sum them up as concisely as possible.

1) The Indian Ambassador was one of the rudest people I’ve ever met.

2) The Indian Ambassador loved his “veto” power… a lot.

3) The Indian Ambassador was an asshole.

As you can see, most of our problems originated from a single source. As Satan’s Indian sidekick, he did a fantastic job of doing everything in his power to suck as much of our souls as possible in the time we were in his office.

He flat-out told us that he wouldn’t let us into “his country.” When asked why, he simply stated, “Go to a different embassy.” We had ALL of our proper documents in order, we followed all of the steps outlined on the embassy website (and cross-checked with the Visa Services Canada website), and his signature was the final step for approval. And boy, did he ever make us work for that signature.

I did everything short of getting on my knees and begging him for it. The whole time I was arguing with him, he didn’t once look in my direction. He just sat back in his chair, eyeing his solid gold watch, and basking in his “power.”

After what felt like an eternity, he reached out with one hand, signed the paper, and dismissed us from his office with a series of quick “shooing” movements.

We ran out and didn’t look back…

- Ken

Saturday, 3 July 2010

The Bat

My co-teacher and I were walking out of the cafeteria at Hyeonseo High School, when she noticed a fuzzy blob clinging to the mesh screen of the sliding door. In all honesty, the little mass of fur looked like a headless mouse, incomplete with a lack of appendages and a tail.

The cafeteria ladies quickly came over to see the reason for why we were staring blankly at the mesh screen. One of them happened to have a fly swatter on her, so she poked and prodded at the little grayish ball…

It sprouted some wings.

All four of the cafeteria ladies jumped back and screamed. All I could say was, “Aww…” The little blob was a tiny little bat, apparently unable to fly (what I deduced from the incessant prodding and lack of flight). My co-teacher swiftly took the fly swatter, unstuck the tiny creature, and quickly placed it into a bush in front of the cafeteria. We decided it was best to leave it there since lunch time was in ten minutes and we weren’t going to subject the teeny guy to the mercy of one hundred hungry high school and middle school students.

(Sigh)…I wanted to keep it…

- Jess

Friday, 2 July 2010

My Birthday!

From what I’ve seen this past year, my teachers don’t celebrate their birthdays at Andeok School. So today, I decided to keep my mouth shut.

Monday, June 14th. I received a wonderful call from my family this morning. Complete with wishes of a Happy Birthday and a special piano piece performed by my lovely sister, my day started out on a good note. However, the few hours that remained of my morning slowly turned sour as I continued my day with my craziest class of the week – my Andeok Middle School Grade 1 students. With their unrelenting lack of discipline, they were the start to every one of my beautiful weeks, draining me even before I could begin my second class. I certainly did feel older today…older, more tired, and my back strained from standing all day…


In the evening I felt much better. Ken made me a steak dinner, and surprised me with stargazing on the roof. He had cleaned up all of the intricately-spun cobwebs, watered down the black tar on the roof, and set up candles and balloons all over the roof’s edges. A blanket was laid out underneath the stars, and a cool breeze swirled around us. I lay down on the blanket and was as happy as ever. Ken disappeared for a few moments, and upon return, walked up the stairs of the roof, coming towards me with a tub of coffee-chocolate ice cream, topped with broken chocolate pieces, and lined with thin, glowing candles. I made my wish twice (since the wind blew out half of the candles before I could do so).

It was the best surprise that I could have wished for on my birthday. At the end of the night, I was certainly one year older, but with Ken, I felt one year younger, one year happier, one year more loved…

- Jess

Thursday, 1 July 2010

The World Cup in Andeok

Saturday, June 12th. It was a tiresome evening in Andeok. Both Ken and I had just finished a Saturday’s worth of English camps, and we were utterly exhausted.

Despite covering hours upon hours of camp activities with our students, we mustered enough energy to attend another of Andeok’s community events – watching the 2010 World Cup, South Korea vs. Greece, live from the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in South Africa.

There were a fair number of Andeok residents sitting on the ground in a field in front of the local police station. They placed themselves on flattened out cardboard boxes and picnic mats. Ken and I both received Red Devils’ (the South Korean soccer mascot) t-shirts and pairs of inflated clappers to cheer on the soccer team representing South Korea.

Moments before the game was projected onto the screen, men with hard, hanging drums, spurred on the crowd with their strong, solid beat. Everyone was shouting “Dae-han-meen-guk! (The Republic of Korea!) and hitting their clappers together.

Finally, the game began. The first goal was a perfect setup. In mid-flight, one of the soccer players kicked the ball into the net, which turned our little community into an uproar. In the second period, another mighty goal was scored by South Korea. The players of Greece’s team seemed to grow tired. However, South Korea’s Red Devils seemed to maintain their drive until the very last seconds of the game. No matter which direction the game was teetering towards, it was clear that South Korea fully supported its country’s representatives. Every moment of the game was devoted to shouts and screams of encouragement, the banging of the drums, the inflated clappers, and the hypnotizing chant, “Dae-han-meen-guuk!”.

After two hours of “on-the-edge-of-your-seat” soccer action, two praise worthy-goals by Lee Chun Soo and Park Ji-Sung, an overall score of 2-0 favouring South Korea, and over two hundred deflated clappers, everyone was buzzed and must’ve had a good night’s sleep, exhausted from their enthusiastic cheering.

However, the night was not over for me, Ken, and Justin (the Andeok Elementary School English teacher who joined Ken and I during intermission). We stopped by our local convenience store to buy some celebratory ice cream, and found the owner red-faced and beaming with excitement. He told us that he watched the game on his small TV, which was rested at the top of one of his shelves, and downed seven beers while doing so. He continued with his eighth after offering us some beer in celebration.

After spending more time than we had expected in the store and reliving the highlights of the game, the owner urged us to have one drink with him at a bar. Remembering the last time we were supposed to have one drink at the bar (it turned out to be several), we tried to turn him down gently, but he was quite persistent.


After the store owner closed up shop, Justin, Ken and I walked down the street with him, while he took our arms in his own and swayed from side to side. We eventually made it to the bar…the owner, slowly rubbed her eyes as she had just been woken up by us.

She welcomed us in, as we apologized for our late entrance, and set us up with anjou (snacks) and beer. From dried seaweed and a medley of fruits, to succulent, marinated beef, we happily filled our stomachs with the delicious late night snack. About an hour after our noisy entrance into the bar, we were completely spent, exhausted from the seat-gripped game that was the South Korea vs. Greece World Cup match.


‘Twas a good night.

- Jess

Korean Cafeteria Food