Class characters / Chewing the pooch

I'm pretty sure the calendar is playing tricks on me. It tells me that I've just finished my fourth week of teaching, but my brain finds this almost impossible to fathom. I still feel like I'm brand new to the country, to the job, to my students, but I've been here for a month now. And when I actually think about it, things have really settled. Each day ticks by just like the one before it, my students are used to my presence and I'm feeling at home now. 

The days at work still shoot by at an alarming speed. A main factor in this is the first class of the day. The first class of the day is always one of my three youngest groups of children, and if there's any weariness or fatigue heading into the classroom, it's entirely vanquished by the time I leave 30 or 60 minutes later. I like to call them my "baby classes" but actually they're all around 8-10 years old and are inexhaustible bodies of energy that get you on your toes immediately and keep you there - which can be both a good thing and a bad thing. One class features a trio of girls who are sweet and attentive, but can also become mischievous, hiding under their desks when my back is turned or, when I ask them how they are while taking the register, they respond "angry"; I ask them why and all three in turn point a condemning finger straight at me with a cheeky grin on their face. I can't help but laugh at this, but at the same time I feel there's some scheming going on between the three of them. The fourth girl in the class is Sally, who's genuinely nuts. Her English is the lowest standard in the class, but she finds plenty of happiness in the fact that my name sounds like "Robot", shouting it at me every time she sees me and then squeals in delight when I respond by doing my best impression of a robot walk.  

The boys of the class are loud and hard to control. When I get the class to read in unison one kid, Jason, literally screams out the words drowning out everyone else and causing the boys either side of him to have to cover their ears. Additionally, we're currently reading a book called Who's The Thief? and each page ends is "is it mouse?" or "is it squirrel?", but instead he will scream "IS IT ROBERT?!" over everyone else, which the rest of the class finds hilarious. I don't want to beat down on his enthusiasm, but sometimes I just have to shout at him to stop him from shouting. 

Recently, when practicing commands like "turn twice" or "stretch your arms", the whole class found it incredibly funny when they hit upon the phrase "open your panties!", which they all started shouting at me over and over until I had to eventually start smashing books on desks to make them shutup (although I did find it kind of funny as well). This class weren't too hard to deal with, but new students get thrown into classes all the time without any prior warning, and the addition of two new boys to this class in the last couple of weeks has made them a little more difficult to control. I'm going to try to make them sit boy-girl-boy-girl next lesson, but I don't see this going down very well with them - if they even understand what I'm trying to say!

Some of my youngest students having fun on the board

This sudden influx of new students has had an effect on one of my other baby classes too. Where previously I had a group of 4 - three of the sweetest and most obedient girls, and one wide-eyed and amusing boy, this week that doubled to include three more girls and one more boy. Luckily they all still seem to be well behaved, but they're also very excitable. This week in the textbook it told me to teach them the meaning of "shake the desk" and act it out in unison. They're all too small to effectively shake the desks themselves, so I did it, thundering it back and forth vigorously, to which they all screamed and squealed in delight and/or terror. Unsurprisingly, after a few repetitions of the combination of a shaking desk and 8 shrieking children, the teacher next door, Monica, had to come and tell me to pipe down. It's a little hard to get them to settle down after something like that, but a brief threat of a bop on the head with a giant toy mallet usually does the trick.

It's also a little annoying to have this class size suddenly double. They're the newest to English that I teach, and in a group of four I could monitor them all individually quite easily and see how they're progressing. Now that there are twice as many of them, it's going to be twice as hard. But I suppose I shouldn't complain, especially considering the class sizes in most places. 

My third and final baby class features a couple of my favourite students out of all that I teach. It's a small class of 5 (previously 6, but one of my favourites, Alvin, got moved to another class sadly - sometimes kids disappear too) with three girls and two boys. One of the girls, Daisy, has an exceptional level of English for her age and will often come into the teachers' office before the start of lessons to talk to me, and it's truly surprising how much she understands and how much we manage to talk about. She's obedient and works hard in lessons too. One of her classmates is a girl called Angel, which is both the most appropriate and inappropriate name ever. By appearances, she's an adorable little girl with a cheeky smile, but when the two boys in the class start to wind her up, which seems to be every lesson, she'll either snarl or growl at them in warning, and if they continue she'll not hesitate in jumping out of her chair and running over and slapping them on the back and shouting at them. I've had to hold her back a couple of times as she tries to chase them around the classroom, too. She possibly sounds like an absolute nightmare, but I absolutely adore her and find her hilarious. As long as she doesn't take it too far I'm more than happy to let her go and hit the boys, who are mostly inattentive and annoying anyway. Seeing her always brings a smile to my face - and she's good at English too, which is a bonus.

On the other end of the spectrum is my least favourite class, which is a bunch of early teens and features a kid called Ronaldo and another called Tom that stare blank faced at me throughout the whole lesson, constantly talk to each other in Korean, put in no effort and frustrate me no end. The rest of the class is lazy too, which makes it worse. The only bright spot of the class is a kid called Kenzie - actually he just changed his name to William - who has the voice of a cartoon character when speaking English, and usually comes out with some amusing phrases. This week I decided to give this class a break from learning as we'd finished their current textbook and trying to get them to revise it would be a completely pointless exercise, so we played a lot of 20 Questions this week, which at least gets them talking in English a little. As an example of how dense this class is, in one game in which they were doing miserably I decided to give them a bunch of hints until eventually they were at the point where I'd told them that I was thinking of a famous person who was a deceased English writer, first name William, who'd written Romeo & Juliet, and they were still completely clueless. 

One other amusing tidbit comes from another one of my older classes. As I've already said, new students get dumped into classes all the time without warning, and often they haven't got an English name prepared. (Each student chooses a separate English name which makes it a lot easier for us Westerners.) This happened with one girl who had no name for so long that eventually someone in her class suggested that I call her Poo, which I did for a whole lesson as a joke. Surprisingly, I came to actually like the name for her a lot, and she didn't come up with anything better, so the name has stuck and she's now even listed as Poo on the register!

One student's affecting, minimalist diary entry.

One student's affecting, minimalist diary entry.

Lastly, this week I finally got to read some students' diaries. I've been wanting to do this for a while since all other English teachers find them to be a constant source of amusement - either purposefully when the student draws an amusing picture or something to go along with their entry, or unintentionally when they make a mistake with their wording and write something rude or randomly hilarious. I was hoping to find some such gem, but instead in the very first one that I opened I found a melancholy entry that read much like a piece of minimalist ennui poetry, which you can read over to the side. As simple as it was, it had an effect on me, and I've started to pay more attention in class to the student who wrote it, having mostly looked over them because of their quietness before.  

That's more or less all I have to tell you about school this week, but there are still a couple of other tails [sic] worth mentioning. 

 


The Friday before last Jamie, Craig and I went downtown to once again eat at a galbi place, but this time we got served a kilo of meat to share btween the three of us. The meat featured several different cuts and was possibly the most delicious that I've had since I came here. It was a cool and pleasant evening and we decided to sit out the front. The restaurant was placed directly opposite a 'Love Motel' and we watched several young couples walking in and out. We chuckled at their youth and speculated that they had to go and get their business done in there early in the night before they return home to their parents. Even more amusing for speculation were the large groups that would enter occasionally.

Jamie enjoying Galbi

On the table, served along with our meat were several plates of side dishes, one of which included three evil looking green peppers. We decided to play rock paper scissors between the three of us, the loser having to take a big bite of one. With trepidation I entered, and promptly turned out as the loser. I bravely took a big bite, not expecting it to be too bad. A few minutes later when I was scrabbling for endless pieces of tissue to wipe the streams of tears from my eyes I was cursing myself for being such a fool. Later on in the meal it was suggested that we play again. I was hoping that Jamie and Craig would give me a pass and play between the two of them, but this being a man's sport there's no sitting out, even if you want to. So I played again, and I lost again. This time I took a smaller bite, but it being further up the pepper, it was just as spicy and my tongue was a forest fire once again. At the end of the meal when we decided to play for a third and final time I was fairly sure I was going to lose, and sure enough, I was once again the one desperately scrabbling for the water jug. Sod's law.

Playing pool in Who's Bob?

With dinner we'd already downed a few bottles of soju and beer so we were feeling merry and continued on into town to wash away the remnants of the pepper on my tongue with more alcohol. Through various games of pool in Juliards with some Koreans who bought us beers to complement our Jaeger bombs, and on to Who's Bob? where the Jaeger bombing continued, we were unsurprisingly quite drunk. Who's Bob? seems to stay open until everyone leaves, and it was very accommodating since we had the free-to-use pool table to ourselves, and they'll play any song you request at the bar. It was at least 4 or 4.30 before we stumbled out and onto getting a surprisingly incredible kebab. Before getting into a taxi home we stopped at an arcade that had a punch bag, on which we each tried to get the high score. What was meant to be a quick stop become at least a half-hour stay as we continued to try and top the high score, taking huge run-ups to the punch. The punch bag was out on the street in plain view of all who were passing, watching our wild swinging and probably thinking us crazy drunkards (which wasn't wrong). Before long some young Koreans came and joined us in our venture and even paid for us to have several more attempts. Jamie in the end threw so many punches that his thumb was visibly bent by the time we decided to head home.

On the Sunday Jamie, Craig, Suzie, Eric and I decided to go and try that most divisive of Korean cuisines: dog. A few days prior Jamie had posted in the Facebook group 'In Daegu' in which Westerners help each other to find their needs in the city, asking if anyone knew a good place where we could find dog soup. Instead of getting a simple reply what resulted was a flurry of uproar and moral debate about whether it was right or disgusting, and it raged on for days, probably becoming by far the longest comment thread that has even been in the group. 

People's main objection - other than the mere fact that you're eating dog - seems to be the way in which they are killed. Apparently they are whipped up into a state of frenzy so that they have a high testosterone level in their blood at the time of death, since this is supposedly good for male virility. The method of killing isn't too pleasant either, being done through electrocution or savage butchery. But while there were many people stating this there were several others arguing back about how other animals suffer before death and saying that a dog's life is more valuable than another animal's is unfair.

Craig gets to know a local with a portable radio playing Cyndi Lauper's classic "Time After Time" on the way into town

Our point of view was that a few people trying it or deciding not to try it wasn't going to make any change in the bigger picture, and as they say, "When in Rome...". We hadn't meant to get embroiled in a moral debate, Jamie had honestly just been looking for a restaurant recommendation when he posted, and fortunately one guy sent him a private message with the details on where we could eat dog soup AKA bosintang. 

Deserted Daegu. Waiting around on the street with the closed dog soup restaurant (not pictured).

Unfortunately it wasn't to be our day. When the taxi driver dropped us off on a pretty run-down looking street we found the restaurant in question fairly rapidly, but it appeared to be closed. We asked the store next door and they informed us that the place is never open on Sundays. We were frustrated and disappointed at having gotten ourselves worked up to try it only to be turned away, but we walked it off with a pleasant stroll into downtown Daegu, upon the way meeting some locals and eventually eating much-less exciting but extremely satisfying Mexican food at a place called Dos Tacos.

We weren't ready to give up on the plan too easily though. I hadn't planned to eat dog so soon into my stay here in Korea, but Jamie is leaving in a week and he was dead set on knocking it off his bucket list before departing, so we decided to try again the next weekend. 

On Friday night I once again stayed up late with Craig, Eric and Jamie playing poker until the early hours of Saturday morning and steadily drinking shots of soju and cans of beer. I woke up later that day at 2.30pm with a headache that stretched all the way down the back of my cranium. I grabbed a black coffee and upon meeting up with the others who seemed to be just as rough as me, we headed out for some hair of the dog, literally. (Well, almost.)

This time it was just Craig, Jamie and myself making the venture to eat dog. Since we knew where the restaurant was this time we caught the subway most of the way then when we got out of the station to go to the taxi rank to hail a ride for the rest of the way. We had the name of where wanted to go written down in Korean, but somehow this failed to be as plain and obvious as we'd hoped, and there was then staged an impromptu convention of taxi drivers as they tried to figure out where it was we were trying to get to, as we looked on helplessly, unable to communicate. We really should learn the language. After about five minutes of debate they seem to finally have found the right address to put into the GPS and we were rapidly on our way. 

Upon arrival once more at the restaurant we were gratified to find that it was open. The place was completely deserted and we took a table. The hostess didn't speak any English, but we merely had to say "three bosintang" and she knew what we were there for. 

None of us really knew what to expect from bosintang. All of us had tried asking some of our students about it in the last couple of weeks, but the vast majority have never tried dog. It seems to have been something that was much more common in the older generations and seems to be dying out now. Those who had tried it warned us of a pungent smell, very chewy texture, and not much flavour. We didn't know what the soup itself would be like, having not really done any research, so we were surprised when it arrived to find a bowl full to the brim with green onions, leaves and spices, as well, of course, as large chunks of dog meat. 

Bosintang aka dog soup

We opted to all take our first bite in unison, and I think all of us were grimacing and wincing a little as we took that first mouthful. My first impression was surprise at how pungent the flavour was, but I soon realised that this was caused by the vast amounts of ginger and spices that came in the soup. As I chewed the meat further I did in fact find it extremely chewy and fatty, which I didn't particularly mind, and the flavour was similar to that of a not particulourly flavoursome piece of boiled lamb or beef. All in all it was a lot nicer than I was expecting. In fact, as I continued to eat I started to enjoy it more and more; some pieces with less gristle were a bit like liver, and bits of skin were really tough but still edible. Even more delicious was the rest of the soup with its heaps of onions and the extremely delectable spice-filled broth. With the addition of some rice it all went down a treat, and I polished off my whole bowl in delight.

A closer look at the dog meat

Craig enjoyed it somewhat and ate about half or two thirds of his bowl, while Jamie was least keen on it, seriously disliking the chewiness of the meat. I had enjoyed mine so much that I ate a bit more of his leftovers until I was completely stuffed. As we ate the restaurant started to fill up a little and we noticed that everyone was eating bosintang. All the patrons were elderly people, which reinforced the idea that it was mainly something enjoyed by older generations. Not only that, but they were mostly elderly couples, which also brought to mind the enhancement in virility that bosintang supposedly brings. Wanting to once again prove his own manliness Jamie once more suggested a game of rock, paper, scissors to see who ate the peppers on the table. I was understandably apprehensive after last time's triple loss, and Craig backed out too, so Jamie cavalierly went in for the kill himself and paid a huge price. He looked in genuine agony as he tried to calm his mouth and took no time in proclaiming it the hottest pepper he's had in Korea (which is quite something). I was more than happy to have my chance to sit back and laugh on this occasion.

Smashed it. My empty bowl.

At the end of the meal we were pleased to find that the meal had only cost us 10,000 Won per bowl, which is just over six pounds, which, for how much I enjoyed it and how stuffed I was feeling, seemed like a steal! Additionally, seemingly impressed by our efforts with the dog soup the hostess gave us a free bottle of coke - a glass bottle nonetheless meaning it tasted genuine, which we split and the delicious cola finished off the meal nicely.  Overall I thoroughly enjoyed the meal and if it weren't dog meat but instead lamb or beef I could see myself wanting to eat it fairly often. Nevertheless, if someone wanted to go then I would be more than happy to accompany them. I made sure to pick up the card of the restaurant on the way out and tuck it in my wallet to show to the taxi driver next time.

We walked off the meal following the same stroll into town that we had the weekend before, but doing it in much faster time. Perhaps the rush of having just eaten dog put an extra spring in our step or something. We grabbed a quick coffee and drank it out on a balcony above the high street watching all the people pass by and discussing our students and our jobs in general. 

We then went to the arcade for a few quick games. Jamie had to split from us as he had a dinner date but Craig and I decided to go see the new Matt Damon film, Elysium. I'm a pretty big fan of writer/director Neill Blomkamp's previous film District 9 so I was looking forward to this. I've heard reports of disappointment from people back home, but overall I came out satisfied. Some of the writing and plot points were paper-thin, which was dissatisfying but it also meant that it didn't get bogged down, allowing the tension to stay up and the film zipped along from action scene to action scene - and what action there was! Some really brutal and gripping fights made for entertaining viewing. 

Post-film we were shattered from our late night of poker so headed home and to bed.

Which brings me to today. Hope you've enjoyed reading. If you feel like leaving a comment then please do. If you feel like reading something else I've written then head over to the Dream Diary section, where I've finally entered something. 

Thanks. 

-Rob

Currently reading: War God by Graham Hancock - As I said last time I posted I wasn't sure I was going to take to reading non-fiction and would probably be back on fiction before long, and I was right. Graham Hancock was introduced to me on my favourite podcast The Duncan Trussell Family Hour, and War God is his latest book. It's a fictionalised account of the Spanish conquest of Mexico in 1519. It's not the kind of thing I would normally read these days, but all the magic and talk of gods in it takes me back to my teenage years when I would read a lot of fantasy. This seems to be more grown up though, and is extremely well detailed on the culture of the era as Hancock is an expert on the period. I'm over halfway through now and the disparate characters' storylines are starting to coalesce nicely. The only annoying thing are the seriously hard to pronounce character and place names; try these for example: Guatemoc, Cuitlàhuac, B'alam K'uk, Tlascala, Ilhuicamina.
 

Currently listening to: 

Arctic Monkeys - AM  - One of my favourite bands on the planet, this is their fifth album and sees release this coming week. While at first I was unconvinced, the Turner charm is quickly starting to take me over and different songs have been getting stuck in my head all week from the trippy "Knee Socks" to the uber-catchy "Snap Out Of It" and the cheesy closer "I Wanna Be Yours". I'm not sure yet where this stands in their pantheon of albums, but I think it's safe to say the boys have done it again.

 

Factory Floor - Factory Floor - This minimal tech/post-industrial London trio have been buzzed about for a long time but I've only had fleeting listens to their prior-released singles. The buzz has reached a deafening point on the cusp of the release of this, their debut album, and became impossible to ignore. And thankfully so, this album is packed with mechanistic and hypnotic dance grooves. Hopefully look for a more well thought-out review from me on Beats Per Minute this coming week.

 

CHVRCHES - The Bones Of What You Believe - The debut album from current poster children for UK electro-pop, this album can be a bit derivative or grating at times, but when it hits like on "The Mother We Share" or "Recover" then it really crushes. 

 

A song for this blog post: 

WU LYF - "Such a Sad Puppy Dog"