From the BK to the SK
 
When I was in fourth grade, I'll never forget how much my classmates and I dreaded Ms. Varano's punishments when we misbehaved.
"Do the 12-times table five times - my way," she'd say to us while clutching her cross as she tried to hide her shakey hands that betrayed her voice. Whether she was intensely frustrated with us or intensely intimidated, I will never know, but my classmates and I have reason to believe she was the latter.
Her way looked like this:
12x1 = 12
1x12=12
12x2 = 24
2x12 = 24...etc.
Living in Korea and seeing how these students are punished makes my account of Ms. Varano's 12-times tables seem like they come from the diary of a wimpy kid. (I know, I know, total steal off the movie.)
This morning as I was making copies of a worksheet for my class, I noticed three students come into the teachers' room as one of my co-workers talked calmly and quietly to them. The grave look on the students faces led me to believe that he was being anything but nice to them, and soon all three students got onto the floor and bent their bodies into a bridge formation, supporting themselves by their palms and the balls of their feet.
They stayed like this for maybe ten minutes, every so often lifting up their heads, shaking the pain out of their hands as they were firmly pressed against the cold, tile floor.  Most of the other teachers who passed through the office walked around these three students as if they were litter on the street. It was normal to everyone, but I still could not register the physical punishmet given to these kids that would in no way fly in the States.
One teacher who came into the classroom must have known one of the students well, perhaps it was a boy in his homeroom, and proceeded to pull at his belt loop, pulling his pants up in what I thought looked like it was some form of a wedgie. He shook the boy lightly a bit from side to side, asking him a question or two and then letting him be.
Everytime these kids looked up, their eyes were wet with pain and fear. I felt awful, but it was like a bad car accident: I just couldn't afix my gaze elsewhere.
This is not the first time I've seen this teacher do something of this nature. A little over a month ago, just as the school day was coming to an end and I was walking back to my office, I  passed by his homeroom and heard a loud 'whack'. I looked in through the door, and he was winding up to take a swing like he was the Great Bambino of punishments. There were about 10 kids or so lined up, their hands against the blackboard and their rears up in the air. The whack of the stick against their bottoms drew kids from other homerooms to come and watch the act, and as horrifyed as I was, I went and got Nick to show him what was going on. I didn't necessarily hear any cries or really see any tears, beacuse I am assuming that none of the students wanted to appear cowardly.
Other times I've seen students have to sit on their knees under the cold open windows, lay across the floor to do their homework (which I believe Nick is going to make a student do today), get their hands hit (one student was wearing a cast becaue of this) and other such punishments.
I'm starting to think we had it made in Saint Anselm.
 
 
Waking up to rain is never fun, no matter what city in the world you live in. Your movements are sluggish, your eyes are droopy and your brain is clouded with thoughts of bed and endless movie marathons.
Perhaps that's why I didn't quite notice the yellow dust this morning until I finally arrived at work, turned on my computer and slowly let the tiny cup of coffee I had just made pump itself through my veins. 
Koreans are hypochondriacs about most everything in my opinion. I've never seen so many kids with arm casts, broken legs, crutches, eye patches, slings - the works. I swear that one of my students has had both of his arms broken since I moved here 8 months ago.
I guess I underestimated the 'yellow dust' because I figured that Koreans are a bit crazy about certain things, like, for example, when the principal told me there was going to be severe radioactive rain one weekend so to be sure to prepare an umbrella. (I promise you Korea was going to shut down for the day it was that serious. Two of my students told me that if the radioactive rain were to his their skin, they'd die in three months. If it hit their eyes, they'd die instantly.)
Anyway, every spring, the country is covered in dust blown in from China and Mongolia. I was talking to my friend Laura and she said to me, "Have you seen the yellow dust?"
That's when it clicked. It was such a somber morning, but at the same time there was this really weird haze, this yellowish-brown hue that soaked the sky and made me feel like I was looking through some kind of old, dirty coffee filter. It was quite strange, actually. It didn't last very long throughout the day, and soon the sky became a black hole and it was just pouring buckets down on us. Not such a fun day, but at least I work indoors.
Picture
Yellow Dust in Korea
 
 
As we leave class, my gentle giant co-teacher says to me:
 "Alexandra, these days your face looks better."

"My face looks better? What does that mean?"

"Yes, your face looks better every day. Have you a nice day
 
 
This will be a short post, but it is only getting harder as the months wind down here in SoKo.
My bucket list lesson is a lesson that makes me fall in love with the students and with my life here because of the funny, precious and charming things they write that either warm my heart or leave me roaring with laughter.
Some of the great examples from today:
1. I want to....end the war in Libya
2. I want to....meet my grandfather
3. I want to ....ride a dinosaur
4. I want to.....be a bird
5. I want to...die after I meet my sons' and daughters' childrens.
6. I want to....buy Costco.
7. I want to....meet E.T.
8. I want to ....change my mother's personality
9. I want to .... turn the desert into forest.
10. I want to... my mom and dad to say "thank you and I love you".
11. I want to....throw money on the building. (this one - i literally had no idea.)

And these are just some of the reasons that I love my students and cannot and do not want
 
 
As you know (such a Korean statement from me!!) from my last post, I am teaching a lesson about how to make a bucket list. I've been teaching this lesson since Monday, and it is now Wednesday, so it's far from new material to my co-teachers, which means my powerpoint has been consistent and the same since the beginning of the week.
One of the slides in the powerpoint is "I want to....see the Northern Lights", and the kids check off a box on a piece of paper if it is something they would put on their bucket lists.
The Northern Lights, or Aurora, is a natural light display in the sky as a a result of colliding, charged particles in the earth's magnetic fields. These lights occur within a ring around the Arctic and Antarctic polar circle, hence giving them the name the Northern Lights. It's a beautiful sight, and I only recently discovered it as a result of traveling (one of the reasons why I love to travel so much) when we met a girl from Ireland who was traveling the world. She mentioned it in passing as a great way to end her trip. I looked into it and I was hooked. It's officially on my bucket list.
Anyway, despite that fact that my gentle, giant co-teacher has seen this powerpoint several times and has thus seen me raise my hand along with my students for this slide as we go over those things that we'd want to include on our bucket lists, he's still managed to ask me this one question a few times: "Alexandra, have you seen the Northern Lights?"
Well, let's see. You asked me that question yesterday, and this morning, and the day before yesterday, and my answer all three times was no. Seeing as I haven't left South Korea, it's still going to be a "no".
So today as I was teaching class and having the students create their own Bucket Lists, my co-teacher called to me and asked me that question I was waiting for: Alexandra, have you seen the Northern Lights?
I couldn't help but smile slightly this time in my best effort to conceal my laughter, as I told him no, that it was impossible for me to have seen them within the hour the past between this class and the last class we had together.
"Maybe I saw them in Mexico," he said to me. 
I kid you not, I have never felt so entirely bad for laughing before (except for one other time in my life that only my best friends from home will know exactly what I am talking about). It could have been a combination of any one of these things:
His smile
His eyes that disappeared behind his glasses
His horizontally stripped shirt matched with his vertically stripped pants
His use of the word maybe
The fact that he told me he saw the Northern Lights in Mexico

I burst. I legitimately did not think I could control myself. I had to turn around and walk away for a second to collect myself. I honestly couldn't breathe, especially because as I started laughing, he started laughing with me. It's like a chain reaction. I had to run and find my co-worker, Nick, and I think in all the 8 months that I've been here, I've never in my life been happier to be working with a foreigner. I was literally in tears from trying not to laugh for the remainder of the 20 minutes of my class.
It might not be as funny to all of you back home, but that is probably one of my top favorite moments in the classroom this year.
 
 
I had my students write bucket lists because, to be honest, I was in absolutely no condition to lesson plan on Sunday. My co-worker, Nick, told me he had just found this really great lesson about bucket lists and that it went over brilliantly with his students.
Here are some of the funnier examples of my students' bucket lists:
1. "I want to be a New Yorker. Hahahaha."
2. "I want to control the wind."
3. "I want to be a terrorist."
4. "I want to collect all pens."
5. "I want to take a money shower."
6. "I want to be rich - very very - the billions!"
7. "I want to break the rules."
8. "I want to be absent from school one whole day."
9. "I want to go to hell."
10. "I want to make eagles."

Some of my other students wrote some things that made my heart smile, like that they wanted to make their parents proud, open up hospitals for sick children, want to make "money very very and give to donations", swim the Nile River, go camping with their fathers; some of it was really pretty cute. These are the top ten that made me laugh the most I think so far, so I figured I'd share them with you.
 
 
Big thanks to Kimchi Dreadlocks for posting this video to his Facebook. It's spot on with the experiences of every native teacher in Korea. My favorite part is about the chopsticks. 
 
 
So, after almost 8 months of living in Korea, there are still a few things here and there that confuse me about Korean culture and society. Yet, there are two definite things that, day in and day out, leave me basically perplexed and dumbfounded at the end of the day.

One of these things is the PE classes at my school. I don't know whether all schools are the same, but the PE classes at my school are a joke. Let me explain.
The students, who are required to have PE outside despite whatever the weather conditions may be, do nothing. I am not joking. The PE teacher stands off the side practicing his golf swing while the girls sit and talk with one another and the boys play pickup soccer or basketball.
There is one bit of group exercise that takes place at the beginning. The students run a lap (but basically crawling) like herds of sheep around the perimeter of the dirt soccer field. They're just this one big mass of people stepping on one another. After they truly exert themselves with this run, they then do some stretching, of which the PE teacher had no control over. He doesn't do anything but practice his golf swings in the shade.
What is going on here? They seem more like a recess than anything else, which is why I am sure it is everyone's favorite class. I have come to hate PE class now that the weather is warm, because the students return to class, sweaty, panting and lounging their bodies across their desks as their limbs hang lazily off the sides, their necks no longer willing to support their heads - some of whose are exceptionally large - and their brains are on some sort of malfunction. They tell to me, "Teacher, PE class - so hot. We die. No work today. We die."
Give me a break. You think I want to be up here teaching when it's 80 degrees outside? The girls sit doing nothing! They're just worn out from sitting in the powerful Daegu sun! Please.
Second, and this is truly the most mindblowing to me, is the squat. I don't understand the squat. They did it in China, and they do it here, but for some reason it's really intriguing to me. It's like these kids came out of the womb and knew how to squat before they knew how to crawl.
People squat where ever they damn well please. When my students come to talk to me at my desk, they squat by my chair, both of their feet fully on the ground. They aren't squatting on the balls of their feet - that's the part that really gets me. Their feet are firmly planted on the ground, and their balance is so on par. They just squat. A little bend of the knees and it's as natural as walking. When I was in Costco shopping the other night, I saw this little two year old girl just squat down in front of me as we rode the conveyer belt (is that the right term?) to the next floor. Ajummas and ajosshis who have backs humped like QuasiModo have no reservations or qualms about just squatting on the sidewalk and talking on their cell phone.
My goal is to master the squat. It' really isn't that easy. My friends and I practiced before we went out last night, and I rolled over like an egg. That night, though, when we were out, I was able to do a few squats with the help of a little soju and some encouragement from my random Korean friends on the streets.
I'm telling you, it's a lot harder than it looks.
 
 
One of my students, Mr. Chu, approached me the other day while I was sitting at my desk in my office. He speaks no English, but I love him to death.
The conversation went as follows:
Mr. Chu: Teacher, Teacher, what does 'son of a bitchey' mean?
Alexandra: Say it again (I couldn't quite understand him)?
Mr. Chu: What does 'son of a bitchey' mean?
Alexandra: No good. Don't say that. Bad. Where do you learn? Where do you hear? 
Mr. Chu: I learn on internet.
Alexandra: Oh, ok. Do not say.
Mr. Chu: Ok, teacher. Teacher, what does 'mean girl' mean?
Alexandra: It is girl who is not nice. Where do you learn? Internet?
Mr. Chu: Yes, teacher. Um, teacher, what does 'banana head' mean?
Alexandra: I do not know. Head like banana? I do not know.
 
 
It's been a while since I've posted, but this has been a busy week filled with birthdays and visitors and not a second to write.
Last weekend, my friends and I planned a trip to Seoul to receive my friend Sheila's parents and to visit the DMZ, or the demilitarized zones of Korea.
This is something I have been wanting to do since I arrived here, so I was definitely more than excited. I had just finished reading my book about North Korea, one that opened my eyes and my mind to understanding more about the struggle between the Koreas and the isolation North Koreans face.
Anyway, so after a train ride to Seoul, a night of reunions, some good food and a luxurious hotel (remember, I've been a backpacker for 4 years now), we turned in for a good night of sleep before the long day ahead of us.
We woke up at 6 a.m. to get to Camp Kim in Seoul bright and early for our 7:30 a.m. departure to the joint security area. The JSA is the area of the Korean border where North Koreans and South Koreans stand face-to-face.
After signing our lives away to the JSA and a 15 minute debriefing about Korean history pre-and post-war, we were led in two, single-file lines to the border.
The Korean border in the JSA area is literally a concrete slab that is guarded by North Korean guards and South Korean guards. It is the most heavily guarded border in the entire world; the fact that it is so scarily unique is one of the things that makes the border so interesting.
Unfortunately, much to my dismay, we weren't led anywhere remotely close the the concrete slab that serves as the divider between the two countries. I had some high hopes, but the tour was very regimented. We were led into a house that serves as a meeting place for any peace talks or meetings that occur, and it sits directly ontop of the border. Thus, one part is in South Korea and one part is in North Korea, so you're able to cross over the border by walking from one end of the house the other. There are South Korea guards inside of the house and North Korean guards outside of it, monitoring the activity and reporting back to their higher commanders.
You can see the North Korea guard, who is atop these large steps leading to a rather massive building with these rather large windows hidden behind what look like stumped columns. The North Korean guard keeps a steady and fixed gazed on all that's going on, and every few minutes he would walk over to one of the windows where his commander was hidden from view. It was such a strange feeling, knowing we were being watched. It didn't make me scared, it made me feel like I was on some kind of adrenaline rush, actually. 
After visiting the JSA, we were taken to the Bridge of No Return that was used to exchange the POW's at the end of the Korean war. We were taken to the third infiltration tunnel, of one four discovered tunnels built from North Korea to South Korea, which North Koreans claim was dug out for coal mining and things of the like but was intended to launch surprise attacks on South Korea.
This tunnel was MASSIVE and deep, and it was crazy to think that within an hour or so tons of NoKo's troops could have been charging through those tunnels to spark another war. 
After the tunnel, we were brought to higher ground where we could look out on North Korea, though unfortunately it wasn't the clearest of days. At one point of the tour, we were literally surrounded by North Korea as we stood atop a hill and looked onto Propaganda Village, famously named for the propaganda that would play over these large speakers for anywhere from 6 hours to 12 hours a day. No wonder these people are brainwashed.
And last, but not least, we ended the tour by receiving a North Korean stamp, which you are strongly discouraged from putting on your passport as it is a red flag for many countries you might be traveling to or through. I put mine on my piece of paper where I signed away my life before going into the JSA, but I also had to show by my passport some recognition, leave a mark that I'd think about every time I opened it.
 Don't worry, I didn't stamp one of my pages; I stamped my passport holder, a map of the world that now bears the mark of one of its most unique, isolated places - a country that doesn't even show up as anything but a blank slate on Google maps.
I apologize for this lame post, but I am tired and knew I needed to write before my thoughts escaped me.