Thursday, March 8, 2007

Detention Block H, Cell 9128

We love our classes, but we hate our classroom.

It's a 'neutral' (read 'bland') off-off-white that I suspect the painters put on with a broom - after stirring with a scorched walking stick in an unwashed porridge pot. One wall is taken up by the immense black chalkboard (all right, points for drama) and another by a row of dust-grimed, uninspired sliding windows (but the view is out over the mountains - if only we could see them...). The back wall is completely without interest from corner to corner, the floor is poured concrete, and the wooden dais which runs the length of the chalkboard to give the professors some added height/status echoes like a Greek theatre's thunderbox with the lightest footfall. The only furnishings are eight industrial tables (steel legs, pale greyish-brown fake ashwood top) with four chairs each, a rickety wooden podium which reaches almost to my chin (and would conceal some of the Korean female professors entirely), and a teacher's desk huddling meekly in the corner behind the door. Drab, and an uninspiring environment for intellectual stimulation!

Bry and I are sharing a classroom (and an office, and a schedule. That ensures that we get the same day off... obviously a priority...) turn and turn about. The theory goes as follows: I teach two classes in a row, then he teaches his two while I have one office hour and one lunch hour. Then I'm back in the classroom while he has lunch and office, then I head back home while he teaches his final two, then walks down and picks up Katherine from the daycare shuttlebus at 5:15.

Note that I said theory. In practise, things are rather different. My lovely six-hour 'morning schedule' which was supposed to allow me to get home at three-thirty, tidy, recreate, fix supper, and smile at my dear ones coming through the door at five-thirty has been completely changed. I have an extra class (more on that later) and the regular conversation classes have been moved around so that two days a week I start at 10 and go till 5. Yup, so much for a morning schedule!

As it's working out, we all get up at six-thirty or so and shower, dress, eat breakfast. Then we both walk Katherine down to the shuttlebus which arrives at 9:05 (or on a day when I have a nine o'clock class Bry does it on his own) and then head to the office together. I do assorted maintenance, email, organizing, and paper shuffling when I'm not actually teaching... and then there's the whole free supper thing.

If you are a teacher at MJU, you pay 3500 won (about three or four bucks) for a lunch at the Faculty Cafeteria, but you are entitled to a free supper from 5 - 6. It's usually rice, soup, a couple of spicy vegetables, and fish or other strange protein. So, in the interests of saving both time and money, we have been eating at the cafeteria for our suppers - and there's little point in me walking back to the house for an hour or so then coming back for supper, so I stick around. That means another hour or so hanging out in the office, doing more papershuffling or surfing the net. When Bry finishes his last class, we pick up Katherine together from the shuttlebus stop and haul our tired bodies back up the very long, steep hill from the Myongji gates to the campus centre, then across the campus to the cafeteria.

Katherine thinks it looks like a shark or a tiger, and it is indeed a sleek and attractive piece of modern architecture - alas, the only such on campus. Most of the other buildings are concrete clad in unappealing stucco or off-coloured subway tiles. Case in point - our building, Hanbogwan. Nausea Green ceramic and Fainting Beige Mud stucco covers the exterior. Inside it's grey, off-white, and off-pale-yellow. The design is less than optimal, being a box inside a box-like stucco hole. I'm not kidding: two floors are technically below-ground, getting their sunshine filtered down a 'light well', a sort of moat surrounding three sides. The other side of the building, the back as it happens, overlooks the sloping hillside and actually has a large balcony where students sit, study (and smoke) in sunny weather.

Our office, which we have nicknamed the dungeon, is on the second floor (that's still one floor below ground) on the front side, so our nice big windows look directly into a streaky stucco wall about two meters away! The eight-foot ceilings would relieve some of the oppressive atmosphere, except that the entire room is a puce and grey box: fake travertine pebble floor straight out of a sixties shopping mall, pimply puce walls (that vomitous 'soft' stucco texture that gets sprayed over concrete block to disguise the seams), and three dogfish-grey-blue cubicle dividers. The desks are industrial grey and the office-style chairs are black.... the whole lit with three sets of double fluorescent tubes without light panels over them. All in all, an artistic nightmare and psychologically stultifying even for the less sensitive among us.

However, lest you begin to worry about future work-related traumas, let me assure you that the chairs are at least quite comfortable, the desks are large with a nice set of drawers on one side and a bookcase unit on top, and there are two internet-connected computers with a printer and an English MS Office suite installed. Also, since I have never been one to suffer my environment for long, it already looks a bit better: four foamboard 'bulletin boards' have now been installed over each teacher's desk in warm colours, a soft brown scarf lines the broad marble windowsill, and the bleak 'view' is in part disguised by a beautiful old broken Korean hourglass drum (carved wood) full of dried 'weeds' with dramatic shapes and textures. I've also made several desk organizers out of various snackboxes and scavenged cardboard, covered with paper and broad black tape to disguise the ill-assorted colours and fonts, so my desk is tidy and efficient.

And, most importantly, the office may be drab (though not for long), but our compatriots are not. We're enjoying getting to know everyone, and to pick up our friendship with Dev where we left off. A number of cafeteria meals together, conversations over the shared office hours, and going shopping inevitably starts the bonding process! I promise to let you know about our fellow teachers next time.

Love and hugs,


Blogger Mike said...

Hi, guys!

Things are quite hectic here and I am finally finding a moment to actually READ your posts so far. March break starts today after school and we are off to visit various grandparents and relatives (and deposit various assorted children with them for a few days) this week. Mike is home next week (yay!) and we will be able to spend some time together, with only the baby at home.
Of COURSE you are improving your enviroment, Judy; when have you not? Just by being in it you would do so! :)
I am glad for you that Katherine is adjusting so well. Of course, the fact that she is a co-operative, confident/self assured, intelligent little individual helps, doesn't it? I miss my niece--give her a big hug and kiss for me. Xanthe keeps asking if we can "call Kaferine in Korea and go play place 'gain." She understands that Katherine is "far away", but anything longer than an hour's trip is far for a three year-old.
I miss you guys too. We are getting a new computer and once we get everything installed and set up, we will get Skype ( I promise!)
That will likely be next week sometime.

Love you,

Liese and Co.

March 9, 2007 at 11:59 a.m.  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Bryan & Judy,
We have enjoyed reading your posts - keep up the good work! (Thanks for the tip on leaving comments; I've tried twice before but didn't know how to get the characters to show up. )
Once you have the little kinks worked out of your schedules, and Katherine is used to the routine of going to daycare, life will be easier. She is doing amazing already!
Victoria is spending lots of time on the Sims. Thanks, Aunt Judy!
Love from us all,
Audrey & family

March 10, 2007 at 11:18 a.m.  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello Judy!

I bookmarked your site already some days ago, but found only now the time to have a closer look - you are really living an interesting life there! It will surely not be boring and will get easier with the time once you settled in. Those mornings as you described in „Katherine the Trooper“ will surely be an exception and after some time you will enjoy how you - and Katherine - have mastered it.

I‘m glad your classes are nice - how many children do you have in one class and how old are they ? You will surely have some ideas to let your classrooms look better as well.

Your flat looks quite comfortable on the jpg you posted - how big is it actually?

Alembyc is a nice way to post and keep your family and friends informed. And you designed a perfect outlay! (I have seen less convincing).

I hope you two will find always the time to keep it running and us informed. - No need anymore to write a book afterwards!

Greetings! Th.

March 12, 2007 at 9:58 a.m.  
Anonymous Gean said...

Dear Bard and family,

I'm not sure I'll be able to create a dialogue out of this, but let me try and share 'a word or two' with you.

First off all, I must compliment your fascinating idea for your homepage. I have a weak spot for your bardic heritage and keep being reminded somehow of the etymology of bard/troubadour/trouvere, I'm sure you understand. I've always had the idea to design a homepage for myself like a village, but an alchemy lab will do nicely as well ;-)

Already there was much to catch up with, your adventures so far have been noteworthy indeed. I'm sure previous experience has guided you a lot and that the shocks aren't as big as the very first time in the East, but the involvement of one Joy extra makes it a completely new experience I suppose.

I'm very curious how you intend to brighten up the various locations you reside in during working hours, and how far the local authorities will allow you to go. A reminder of nature would not be bad at least, even a fishbowl in the classroom sounds like a huge improvement. I visited a house last week which was painted completely white on the inside, but featured wooden furniture and various wooden decorative pieces like a simple large branch of dried wood (man height, nicely curved) and wooden photothingies (sorry, Lexicon is failing here). But I'm quite sure you'll think of something better ;)

My own hectic life is at least put in perspective here: I had a three hour traintrip yesterday there-and-back-again to reach the location of a concert (here in the Low Lands enough to reach the other side of the country), but I'm positively sure your flight was a little longer, even excluding the future 'back-again'. I have a lot of nice music to perform and try to read the occasional piece of literature for my university classes, and in between I make an occasional visit to Santharia, unfortunately not too often. I hope I'll have some time soon to reach some of the others (Faugar, Dala, Talia, in no particular order) as well.

Take care! Yours,

March 12, 2007 at 3:49 p.m.  

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