Friday, September 18, 2009

Episode 13: In Which DFM Watches Paint Dry, And A Korean Tries To Make Him Go Bald

During my last trip I wrote about the songs that the children sang in their classrooms every morning. The last song in the video from the above link is called "Tomi the Baby Squirrel." It is my favourite song that the children then sang and now still sing, and I recently found the lyrics and learned the words.

Today at school I broke out my rendition of the song and it was a big hit. In one class Tae kwon do Boy (the boy punching in the picture halfway down the linked page), nearly lost his mind. There was then frantic discussion between the children in the class, and I heard "Korean person" mentioned a few times, so I'm not sure what to take away from that. Later, in the same class that sang the song in the video everyone was so impressed that the teacher played the song on the piano and we all sang it together. It was a proud moment.

In other news at the school, the 6-year-olds were having a Mini-Olympics as part of a school wide "sports unit" on which each of the classes are working. There are three six-year-old classes at the school and they were somehow split into two teams before I arrived. One team was Team Kim Yu-na (World Champion and record-holding 17-year-old Korean figure skating phenom, who now lives and trains in Canada), and the other was Team Pak Tae-won (gold and silver medal winner at the 2008 Olympics, and the first Korean swimmer to ever win an Olympic medal in swimming).

(Both teams awaiting the start of "throw as many balls as you can as fast as you can and hope some of them land in the bucket so you can score" event.)

(Team Kim Yu-na dominating the tug-of-war event).

The "events" were well organized by the Korean teachers, with additional bonus games and prizes, and all the children had fun adapting Korean baseball player cheers to their respective team names (it helps that every name in Korea consists of three syllables, so they are completely interchangeable). Later in the day, while some of the girls were waiting for their ballet class to start, I took out one of the drums because the girls wanted to do the cheers again.

During the events, the teachers would play Korean songs that the children enjoy. One song that is impossibly popular with the children is the hilarious Norazo song, "Superman." Woojin uses this song for the children's warm-up during Phys Ed class on Mondays, and I had always wondered what its name was until one of the teachers told me today. I have since added it to my list of Korean songs I will memorize in an attempt to impress the children, not to mention I like the song.

After school some of the children stay until 6:00 or later because their parents have opted for baby sitting. I always feel bad for the Korean teachers who have to stay until 7:30 PM every day, are forced to babysit on Saturdays too, and still make at least $600 less a month than I do. I also think it's funny that foreign teachers who get paid more, do less, and finish at 3:00 PM can't figure out why some of the Korean teachers are not more happy to see them (especially since the Korean teacher always has to stay and assist the foreign teacher as well).

After school today, some of the girls cornered me after school and made me sit down on a tiny chair about six inches off the ground. They proceeded to tie a cape around my neck and give me a "hair cut." After my ears had been lowered I had my hair combed, albeit rather aggressively it seemed for a “beauty salon.” The Korean English teacher joked that if I wasn't careful I'd lose my hair. In Korea it seems that everyone is always afraid that I will lose my hair, either from acid rain, or stress, or hair cuts. I should just shave it all off as a joke one day.

. . . . .

While normally I would go to climbing after work, today was the day of the monthly Ace climbing competition so I decided to go home first and rest. I was actually a little surprised when Ji-hyeun had told me earlier this week that the competition was today, because it seems like just two weeks ago that I had come in to surprise her with my return and she told me that I had just missed the competition and would have to wait four more weeks for this one. Time really is flying by now.

On my way home to rest though, I had perhaps the biggest case of culture shock I've experienced in my three total months in Korea. A road works crew was repainting the lines on the road leading from the subway station to my home. However, there were just four men, and the road was not closed. I watched them for a few minutes, and the efficiency with which they worked was nothing short of amazing.

At the time I was watching them they were working on repainting the yellow and white lines crossing the entire width of a five foot wide (front to back) and twenty foot long (curb to curb) speed bump. One man would put a wedge down at the front of the bump. A second man moved the painting machine into position by placing its front wheels against the wedge. A third man would then place a wedge at the back of the hump. The fourth man stood behind the first man and encouraged the other men to hurry, while looking over their shoulders to make sure there were no cars coming.

The machine they were using seemed to shoot flames from underneath it to dry the paint almost instantly as soon as it was applied. I saw some other pedestrians test a freshly painted stripe with their shoes, and not a single drop of paint was disturbed. When lines on the road are repainted in Alberta, you can see yellow or white tire tracks turning left through the intersection after they've driven through the crosswalk that took a group of unionized workers three days to repaint.

I rested at home for one hour before leaving again to head for the competition. When I returned to the same site, the workers were gone, and all three speed bumps on the road had been completely repainted in yellow and white alternating stripes across their entire length.

. . . . .

Earlier in the day, Ji-hyeun had sent me an sms message (text message) telling me not to forget about the competition because she had something to give me. A number of days (if not weeks) prior I had told Ji-hyeun that I needed to buy some Korean books for children so that I could practice my Korean. When I arrived at the gym today everyone had a silly grin on their face, and Ji-hyeun presented me with two classic David Shannon children's books translated into Korean: David Goes To Kindergarten, and No, David! I was pretty impressed with the thought she put into the gift, since a) I teach kindergarten and b) David is pretty close to DFM.

The competition this month was pretty small, with only about fifteen people attending. I ended up winning my division, but since there was only one other competitor in the division it was hard to feel overly proud. After the climbing we all went up to the “Sky Lounge” (just the roof of the building in which Ace is located) and a massive barbecue was prepared.

We were cooking on the old fashioned charcoal barbecues (forgive me Hank Hill), but unlike when my family used to use one of these, the Koreans did not try to light the charcoal bricks with matches or other such primitive lighting tools. I suspect Koreans would die if they had to wait that long for anything, so they use a propane torch to speed up the process exponentially.

Nothing special to report about the eating, just the usual great time I always have eating with Ace climbers. However, this time I attempted to eat an entire hot green gochu pepper. You may remember that I mentioned in a previous post that these were by far the spiciest things to eat in Korea. My last attempt was hiking with Perry way back in March. It didn't go so well as I started hiccuping aggressively and I thought my mouth was burning so badly I thought it was on fire.

This time I thought I had adapted a little better to the spicy cuisine here, and felt it might be time to give the demon pepper another try. I still hiccuped like mad, and my eyes were watering so badly I couldn't see, but I managed to endure three bites over the course of the night. I'd say the pepper was four bites long, so next time that gives me something to aim for.


  1. Ha! I laughed so hard over the lyrics of the Superman song!

  2. The music video is even funnier, once you know what they are saying.