Alarm Clocks are for Zombies

Next week is the last week of term and I expect I’ll have something to say about how close I am to the end of my time in Korea. But in the meantime, I still have another week. This week was less than ideal at work insofar as I had two combined classes, taught a class of third graders in a level I’ve never taught before, and had another class mostly as normal except in a random different classroom and which suddenly combined to double its size for the last half hour.

All in all, not huge burdens or anything but frustrating. A general theme I’ve noticed at my workplace (and which seems to be a common mindset in Korea) is to approach problems as if they only had one dimension. You choose what thing is the most important and you make that look the way you want without considering anything else. Which is frustrating because it means there are easier and simpler solutions that are overlooked. I get that this is for-profit education so money comes first. I hate it, but I understand. Sometimes, though, it’s just straightforward efficiency and time management issues.

Anyway, it’s my first full-time job and I’ve obviously joined the ranks of workers who think they know better than their bosses. Though I’m pretty sure I do, whatever.

On the plus side, though, I had a surprise day off on Wednesday which is always nice. I didn’t do much, surprise. I had a nice, brisk walk (it’s gotten pretty cold here) but nothing too arduous, just around town. I picked up some fancy groceries just because I could–pasta, cream sauce, and fig jam. Highly recommend. Mostly, I just lazed around and slowly went about a few household chores that I had been putting off. It was the right balance, enough to make me feel productive but little enough to let me feel rested.

Our topic today in my debate class was world government but I didn’t really like the lesson so, after doing obligatory lesson things, we had a debate on the proposition ‘War is always wrong.’ And my students (there were only four today) actually had some really good ideas. I helped provide them with some historical examples for both sides but they did quite a bit of work on their own, I was impressed with their maturity. These are mostly sixth graders. Though I did have to stiffle a laugh when, in their speech, a student talking about the US Civil War described slavery as “doing a lot of hard works, listening to bad words, and not being treated as human.”

Kind of funny but also I’m glad that they know enough about the world to say, without my prompting in any way, that slavery treated people as less than human.

You may recall that a few months ago I wrote about the mysterious alarm clock in my neighbor’s apartment that was on for like a day straight. Well, it was back again this week. Starting on Tuesday morning at 9:30 and ending sometime while I was at work, which means at least four and a half hours of beep-beep-beep. But at least it wasn’t overnight like last time.

My explanations then were murder and zombies, a brief recurrence later in the week seeming to suggest the latter. This week’s episode confirms the theory and, I think, zombies must just be heavy sleepers. Because there is no other possible explanation. Zombies.

Though honestly it doesn’t sit well with me that zombies have enough going on in their lives (unlives?) that they need to set alarms. No rest for the wicked, I guess. But are zombies really wicked, if it’s an infection that you can’t choose to get and then suddenly you have a need for brains?

I don’t know. These are the questions that occupy my time. At least I can say I’m together enough as a person, and have leisurely enough mornings, that I don’t use an alarm. In fact, the only alarm I hear in this building is the zombie’s alarm.

Take from that what you will.

Advertisements

Apostasy and Un-postasy

The heat, I think, has finally broken. It’s not cool by any means, but being outside no longer feels like death. It’s also still pretty humid, but definitely livable. I’m excited for it to actually be autumn so I can go around and do things again.

That was really the highlight this week–that and the fact that intensives are over, the last day was Tuesday. So that’s a major relief. There’s also only one more week in this term, which is crazy. It also marks my halfway point on my contract, so there’s that. But I’d like to take the bulk of this post to talk about other things, as feeble as my attempt to discuss them may be.

Once again, I find myself in the untenable position where I cannot say nothing but can’t say anything adequate. Others have written much more fully on issues like the Confederate cause (here), Confederate statues (here and here), reactions and likely reactions in government (here and here), and just generally race in the US (here). And loads of others besides. It seems like recent events are almost literally an armed rebellion. A rebellion against the religious and civic foundation of the country that, simultaneously, is perfectly in line with its religious and civic foundation. And that’s really the issue.

A writer for the New Yorker, Jelani Cobb, put it succinctly when he said, “The biggest indictment of the way we teach American history is that people can look at Charlottesville and say ‘This is not who we are.'”

When we say, “This is not us,” we’re lying.

That’s why I said it’s an apostasy and not at all. Actions like that are so against the story we typically tell about ourselves, but there are perfectly in line with the reality that so many people have faced across time and geography. The great American civil religion is Freedom, Equality, and Justice and the rituals of that religion are and have been Slavery, Inequality, and Injustice. Hate is both an apostasy and an un-postasy.

It’s so awful. And it’s so exacerbated by the reality that nothing is changing, or not much. I exulted a little hearing that Baltimore, in one night, surprised the city by removing all Confederate monuments. But the President, his administration, and Republicans in Congress will do nothing. The general public will do nothing. The majority of individuals (myself included?) will do nothing.

I cannot express how fully I condemn and abhor the violence in Charlottesville. Unfortunately, there is so much more to it than one weekend, one moment of revulsion. There is a system of violence supported by literal millions through actions and words both passive and active. A system that benefits me because I’m a cis white male.

I feel powerless. Guilt doesn’t help anybody, and I’m not sure what I can do. Donate to organizations like the ACLU, attend marches, speak forcefully to my own detriment when people deny the existence or depravity of the pernicious construct of racism that saturates our country.

It feels sort of hollow to preach ‘love’ in a time like this, when so much of me wants to violently tear into something. For all my words, it’s hard to believe that love has, does, and will win. But it’s true nonetheless.

My number one class rule is English Only because that’s a company policy. My number two rule is Be Kind. I say it all the time. So much so that many of my students make fun of me for it, which only makes me say it more, and so on, no one wins. Except I win. Because if I accomplish nothing else, I will have asked, commanded, cajoled, and begged kindness from a few score Korean kids who, perhaps, will be kind when they don’t want to be. And perhaps the scale of the world will tilt one grain or two toward love.

My post from a year ago definitely says what I want much better than the preceding rambles. But I had to say it again because here we are again.

Love only seems weak to people who don’t have enough. And hoping in love is about all I feel empowered to do just now. Hope and love.

Greennesses

So graduation for Trinity was a couple weeks ago now. A shame I couldn’t be there in person but I saw pictures on Facebook and got the gist (Ireland is very far away from Korea and I don’t have the vacation time). And my mother just sent me a picture, my degree arrived today! I’m for real an official Master of Philosophy–magister philosophiae since the whole degree is in Latin– now, I feel like I’ve been a pretender since August. But I have incontrovertible proof now so ha.

Last weekend was a bit of a tough one for me. On Friday, I lost my voice for no apparent reason halfway through my first class. I whispered through my second, went home, and went to bed. I woke up with no improvement. Saturday is my grocery day anyway, go I went and got some honey for my tea and did my best to just generally assuage my throat without much success. That night, I got essentially no sleep. I had given up and been up and about at 5 but then did manage to get a couple more hours around 8 or 9.  That meant that I woke up too late to go to church. I was also not feeling great, the reason for losing my voice finally revealing itself in the form of coughing up lots of super gross boogers and an incredibly runny nose. But I still had things to do.

I went to pay my bills (which you do here typically at a convenience store). Two of the three I couldn’t pay by card (though I had in the past) but whatever, I paid cash no problem. The last one, I have no idea what happened. There was some kind of problem. The man at the counter was so kind and helpful, we called the number on the bill and tried a few different things and then I was just like, nah thanks so much but I give up. Embarrassing and frustrating but whatever. I’ll go into the bank to sort it out.

Then I went a little further into town to get some more pots and soil to plant some basil seeds that I had gotten. That cheered me a little because I like growing things (a bit like a hobbit in that way, I guess). Already, I have a couple of the tiniest sprouts, they’re so precious.

This week we administered level up tests in class (luckily, so there wasn’t much talking as my voice still hasn’t fully recovered). There are three holidays so, naturally, we get one day off and some of us, myself included, have to do a make up Saturday for the students who are on vacation (because why wouldn’t we still have class when there are three holidays and my classes were all at less than half). Testing isn’t the most thrilling thing, but it meant that I didn’t have to talk much and, compared to invigilating at Trinity, it was no problem.

I have seen the most incredible transformation on the hillside I watch from the roof. It has gone from tree graveyard full of skeletal branches to a pink waterfall of cherry blossoms to a verdant mound of leafy green. It is not a unique or special transformation at all but it remains incredibly remarkable. In that spirit, I have prepared a few remarks.

There is much of God in trees. I’m definitely a green person. I’ve said it before, but I’m just not into that whole autumn/winter tree vibe. And it’s not just the sun either, though that certainly is lovely. I like rainy days. And weeks, and months. Against that I have been tested and was not found wanting. What’s really important for me is the green.

I think color symbolism is so much fun because it’s basically whatever you want. Green often means [new] life, growth, fertility but it can also mean envy, money, poison, and sickness. Hilarious. Going green means you care about the planet, looking green means you’re ill, seeing green means you’re jealous, and getting green means you’re rich.

Growing up in the Evergreen State, green trees were rather something I took for granted. Having now lived a number of places with a decidedly deciduous bent, I often find myself yearning for more cedars and pines (ect ect ect).

If I could write an ode to do justice to the unceasing miracle of the uncountable greennesses of this world, I would. Unfortunately, it simply cannot be done. I will only quote Joyce Kilmer and hope his words suffice.

“Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.”

Childhood; Dreaming of the Ocean

This week held nothing much of note for me, other than a great deal of wonderful weather. I’ve done more walking around than I’ve been wont to do of late and it’s been much to my benefit. I found a beautiful Buddhist shrine and a temple not far down the trail I normally take, just the other direction. There’s also a nice little part of the city that extends into the park a bit. It’s very quiet and pleasant since it’s so cut off.

On Wednesday, I did another test prep class but this time with the slightly younger kids doing the next level lower. It mostly involved picture identification from sentences and included a disturbing question about a man touching the boy kneeling in front of him. So that was not a great moment in test reading for me.

Only one more month of my first term. It’s at once insane how quickly it’s come and how slowly. It seems to always be like that, slow as it happens and fast looking back. It’s been an incredible learning curve and there’s still a ton more, obviously. It’s going to be going full steam until next February. It’s taken so much to figure out things, and I’m just doing two courses and three levels. There are other courses and levels that I haven’t even begun to tackle. So. But let’s not think of that for now. One more month with this. Let’s just get through that.

Anyway.

A small childhood reminiscence: did any of you have that mail subscription to Top Secret? It was those little magazines with puzzles and information about different countries. It was actually a lot like Carmen San Diego (another childhood favorite). The criminals all had fabulous names, the kind my AP Calculus textbook was also fond of. Izzy Sinkin, Sharon Sharilike, Ella Vader (Darth’s daughter). That last one, I kid you not, appeared exactly like that in an AP Calc question.

You had to solve the puzzles and each one would help you figure out who the criminal was, what they stole (it was always theft), and where they hid it. Like Clue too, I guess. They were so much fun. And you visited loads of countries before the subscription ended and you became an official sleuth or whatever. They had a board game too, though I don’t remember it much.

I was thinking yesterday about this, for no apparent reason, and thinking about what my younger self would think of me now. It’s a common question but not one I’ve actually thought much about. Small child me had a lot of interests. At one time or another, I wanted to own a nursery (the plant kind), be a history teacher, be an author, or be an Egyptologist (like Zahi Hawass, a former Egyptian Minister of Antiquities whose name I knew from a very young age).

Sometimes I think I’ve wound up doing just sort of random things instead, from high school until now. But that’s not really the case. I think in many ways I’m very much the same person. I wanted to travel the world and learn as much about it as I could. I’ve certainly seen a good chunk of it with hopefully more to come. And I’m teaching (though that one I honestly did not expect). I’ve studied languages–without achieving fluency…yet. I’ve seen a lot of history and, though I’m no archaeologist, I’ve gotten some rad opportunities to be hands on.

[Little story time on that last note: In Turkey, I visited the ruins of Ephesus and got to actually like touch everything. In England, one of my classes had a field trip to the cathedral library where we actually got to touch thousand year old manuscripts.]

It’s somehow comforting to realize that I haven’t come so far after all. Knowing that my childhood passions are, in fact, still alive and well makes me feel like maybe what I’m doing isn’t so unreasonable. Little Keegan would not, I think, be so disappointed as I sometimes fear. At my core of cores, from then to now, is a desire to know as much as I can about this pale blue dot. Sometimes that means Wikipedia browsing and other times actually traveling. I’m working on it.

Unrelated to everything above, but I was reading this morning and encountered a wonderful sentence that I have to share. Oh, how I ache sometimes!

To see the ocean once is to learn how to miss it.

Divine

Because there is no reason not to start a post with cats. Isn’t she very regal-looking here? And Bubba’s face is visible, so that’s a plus. Photographing black cats is hard.

This week has been decent. The weather has continued to be mostly fine and I’ve gotten in plenty of roof reading. I’ve also encountered a growing amount of lilac which is a major plus as it’s my favorite flower by scent.

There were a few less sunny moments. It did rain quite heavily on Tuesday and, in the midst of the weather, my trusty jacket finally gave up the ghost. The zipper got stuck and then there was…mangling. Poor jacket, I got you in 2010. It had been with me to more than a dozen countries on four continents. May your memory live long. I hardly knew ye.

That was followed by Wednesday, when I was rather suddenly thrust into a new kind of review class (suddenly meaning that I was given 24 hours to prepare). I was to help prepare students for the TOEFL Jr. using as basis a great deal of the material for a class I’ve never taught or even seen the curriculum for. So there was that. I scrambled, fudged, and managed like a champion, if I do say so myself. Which I do. I guess I’ll just be a teensy bit ahead of the curve when I teach that course next term. It was, I imagine, incredibly boring for the students and apparently their practice test scores were pretty low. But I didn’t mind doing it. I’m a test taker, it’s always come easily to me, and the question typology they gave me appealed to my routine-love. We’ll see how I feel about it when I’m actually teaching that course.

Anyway. Other things that happened this week: major religious holiday.

Remembering back to last Easter, and all the weighty history relating thereto, it is a curious thing for me this year. In South Korea, roughly a quarter of the population identifies as Christian (about four fifths of which are Protestant, the rest Catholic). There are churches everywhere, but they represent a relatively small portion of the country. The advanced commercialization of holidays is lessened here as well, so for Easter there is essentially no change to mark it outside of a church service.

Coming from the parades, historical commemorations, and general shenanigans of Dublin 2016, it certainly sets up a contrast. I went to a church like normal, and that was that. There was no lamb, nor eggs, nor rabbits. Probably for the best, actually, since Easter is actually just about the church thing anyway.

In one of my lessons, we were talking about human enhancement and the possibility of human perfectibility. Students, while vocal in support of plastic surgery (this is the plastic surgery capital of the world), were in general agreement that perfection is out of the question. And I tend to agree.

Alexander Pope said it well in 1711: “To err is Humane; to Forgive, Divine.” I’m a mess. Not in any particular sense, so don’t worry (parents). But just generally. I get by, I do fine, but nothing special, really. I lack commitment to anything particularly admirable or world-changing. I do intend to do more and then I mostly don’t because I’m lazy. Every effort of mine at self-improvement (how much more for improvement of something beyond myself) ends up collapsing after a fairly brief span. I’d like to think that on the whole I’m on an upward slope but who’s to say.

I fail, and will continue to do so. But the important thing is keeping the focus on the other part of Pope’s point. To err is what marks us as these weak mortals. It is forgiveness–and the faith that forgiveness will come–that changes everything. And that is the great transgression of Easter: it completes the bridge between the human and the divine. While we were still sinners (still are, still will be), Christ died for us. In his rising, forgiveness is made complete and perfect forever.

Let’s remember that. And let’s strive to mirror that divine act of forgiving.

 

More Stately Mansions

I will not apologize for the amount of poetry-related content on this blog. Just wanted to put that out there. But more on that later. I promised a glimpse into my life in Seoul so here are a few things.

  • Both my building and apartment use touch screen keypads and it’s so liberating not to have any keys (though it occasionally freaks me out)
  • I can get a decent variety of triangular kimbap (pictures forthcoming eventually…) at 7-11 right down the street for ₩800 or a little less than 80¢
  • The apartment has heat, so that’s an infinite step up from the house in Dublin
  • I live maybe a two minute walk from the school
  • Korean Netflix is more reasonable than I expected, it’s growing quickly since it’s relatively new here

So those are a few things that have helped make the transition easier. I regret (so very deeply) that the cracker situation is pretty hopeless. As great as Paris Baguette is, it simply cannot compare to those Tesco doughnuts and I don’t even want to talk about crackers. Alas, you can’t win ’em all. There are crackers here, but I think once you go Tesco Cream Crackers, you just can’t go back.

I’ve also now found out what I’ll be doing on Wednesdays. I will spend three hours calling students one-on-one to have ten minute conversations with them. They’re mostly not my students in class, we just talk. The headset is very uncomfortable, but otherwise it’s not bad. Occasionally I will also do intensive study sessions or review groups with small numbers of students. But mostly it’s the phone classes, at least for now.

In terms of Korean experiences for the week, I haven’t had many. Other than getting a bank account and having barbecue, I’ve pretty much stayed home. As you know, that is my default setting. And I won’t be rebuked for it. I know I said that I want more out of this year than just work experience, but that doesn’t mean that I have to spend all of my time eating Korean food, wandering around, seeing what can be seen. I have time, I have eaten food, and nothing’s wrong with me cooking for myself. I want to see what I can see, but I also want to be me and me is a person who stays home nine times out of ten. I came to Korea, that’s plenty for the moment.

Also, first post-departure contact with a certain very pretty kitty. The other was indisposed by illness, unfortunately. He’s on track to recover though.

camaro2017-3-3

So about the poetry that I mentioned earlier. Here’s the thing: because I have so much of it in my head, much like music it can suddenly pop in and get stuck like a song, but just a couple lines of text. This one has come to me occasionally for years and I really like it.

Build thee more stately mansions, O my soul!

This, of course, is from Oliver Wendell Holmes’ wonderful work The Chambered NautilusIn it, Holmes describes the way in which the nautilus is always moving onward and upward, building itself larger and more lovely shell space until at last it is freed from the mortal (and nacre) coil.

I don’t even have anything in particular I wanted to say, that poem has just really been sticking with me this week. It really is a lovely poem; it is a song of freedom and release. To close yourself with a dome more vast until you finally expand beyond all confines. Ugh, I don’t even know what I’m saying, but read the poem, I really like it. More stately mansions indeed.

Till thou at length art free.

서대문구

First, a quick overview of how the Korean language works (written Korean, that is) because you know I like language. The most basic misconception is that it’s like Chinese, written in characters. In fact, Korean has an alphabet with letters. The difference is that those letters are combined into one-syllable blocks. So while ‘s’ is just ㅅ and ‘u’ is ㅜ, the syllable su wouldn’t be written ㅅ ㅜ but rather 수. My name, written in Hangul (the name of the alphabet) is 키간. The title of this post is Seodaemun-gu, the district in which I’m now living.

IMG_20170221_184844182.jpg

This is not in Seodaemun, but rather Gangnam (as you might have surmised)

So on Friday, we had our final assessments in the morning which, thankfully, I passed. Then I got in a van that drove me across the city to my branch (I feel bad for people who actually were leaving Seoul, a 45 minute journey was all I was up for). I stayed in a little hotel across the street from the branch while my apartment was being prepared. There was a little bit of confusion about the apartment which meant that I didn’t actually move in until Monday night, after teaching, but I’m here now and it’s grand. On that note, a bit about my actual job.

So. Firstly, I teach English to Korean students after school. Two three-hour classes a day, 4-10 and arriving at 2 to make it a normal eight hour work day. That’s the basic set up. The way my company works is that it divides students into levels based on skill (pretty straightforward) and then has different courses that students can take. Usually, students take two concurrently, so I’ll mostly have the same four classes twice a week but have different material. One course I’m teaching is sort of content-heavy where we do readings and listenings and stuff. The other is more discussion-based with a project every other week. The ages of my students range from maybe 8 or 9ish to I think 14ish, with levels ranging from barely conversational to reasonably okay.

Teaching is hard. This is not news to me, having grown up with educators and with tremendous respect for the profession, but actually being a teacher is a different experience. Some classes, some students, some lessons are better than others and I will obviously continue to learn a lot over the course of my time here. One week of whirlwind training is hardly acceptable for such an important job, but it’s better than many other English companies here provide. Anyway, I’m managing alright thus far and hopefully will continue to learn techniques and methodologies, acquire fun new skills, and develop the general everything necessary for teaching.

I know that there is a large number of teachers and educators who read this blog. If you feel so inclined, know that I would welcome any advice you have to offer, perhaps by Facebook message or email. Of particular interest to me at the moment are like vocabulary games I could play and ways to get silent classes talking.

There are a million other things that I want to talk about in this post, but a million is a lot and probs no one would read a blog a million things long. I have a year here (excepting unforeseeables) and that is plenty of time, I hope, to tell you all about it. It’s not a million posts long, but I’ll do my best. I was going to talk about triangular kimbap and Paris Baguette and Seodaemun and my apartment. I was going to tell you some of the things that have caused minor freak outs and other things that have provided unexpected comfort. Alas. You’ll have to rest assured that there are such things and hope I include them in future posts. Living in suspense of every detail of my life as I’m sure you do, this may be difficult but I ask that you bear with me.

Also, small Korean experience of the week. You may be familiar with cat cafés (which I have not yet visited, shame) but apparently there are many different kinds of interesting cafés here. For example, I briefly visited a sheep café (the sheep were in a little pen that you could go into) which was across the street from a raccoon café (which people tell me also has a few small dogs). So I guess there are cafés for a range of tastes. I’ll look forward to checking them out, I guess, though I’m not convinced the cat ones are as magical in reality as they may seem at first blush.

Anyway, that’s all I have for this week. I’m still adjusting to my new get-off-work-at-10pm schedule but if I could adjust to start-work-at-3:30am, I think I’ll be fine. Happy March.