The job (including lunch)

Korea isn’t all Galbi and beer it seems, with a substantial portion of my time taken up trying to impart knowledge to our future Asian masters. This, as with everything else in Korea, is conducted in a pantomime of hand gestures and a great deal of fecklessness.

Our day begins at about 9:10am, when we start the slow, sweaty trudge to school from our “love motel” (which is pretty much exactly how you imagine it.) On one side of the road, huge apartment complexes dominate the skyline, while on the other side, convenience stores and small enterprises jostle for space with small restaurants boasting large tanks of docile fish and slithering eels. Here and there workmen clamour over building sites industriously, while pavement-mounted scooters zoom past perilously close and taxi’s pore out of every intersection.

Every so often we hit a stench pocket, where the overwhelming smell of human waste hums in the air like a localised hell. The final stage of our walk takes us down a side street and past a neon cross topped church and into the pretty courtyard of our school, which is where the mayhem really begins.

Even before we’ve changed into our “inside shoes” we are typically assailed with lisping cries of “Danny teacher!” and “Sarah teacher!” from all directions. From here on in a tide of bobbing heads and exuberant greetings follow us up two flights of stairs to the tiny staff room, which we share with four other Waygooks and four Korean teachers. There is usually just enough time to hastily photocopy a few worksheets, gather our shit together and check the days’ schedule before scattering to our first classes at 9:40am.

The “morning” comprises of six periods; two 30 minute classes followed by a 20 minute break, another two 30 minute classes, an hour for lunch then another two thirty minute classes. For some reason I have been designated science teacher, so a good deal of my morning classes are spent fiddling about with ill-conceived science experiments while trying to silence a growing cacophony of “teacher help!” and issuing empty threats about the use of the Korean language. These experiments rarely demonstrate any scientific principles a seven year old could grasp and usually involve a lot of sellotape, swallowable parts and Korean-only instructions. It’s a race against the clock to make sure everyone has successfully constructed their experiment, packed up and if there’s time, learnt a few words of English in the 30 minutes allotted time slot. More than once a Korean teacher has had to wade in to help while I, red faced and sporting a child on each limb have uselessly appealed for calm. My other morning classes involve working from books or worksheets, and generally a lot of colouring in and some songs thrown in to waste a little time.

After the first four classes there is an hour lunch break which at 12 noon, is a little earlier than I’m used to but more than welcome after 2 hours with the Kindergarten terrors. There are four choices nearby for lunch; Paris Baguette, Tous les Jours, Camp and “The pasta place.” The first two are large chains that differ only in that Tous les Jours serves coffee. As you may guess by the names both serve a Korean take on French Patisserie - with varying degrees of success. If you have ever been in a quandary over whether to go sweet or savoury then go to one of these shops. Croissants come with a glaze of sugar and donuts which look normal on the outside, reveal a bean paste when bitten into. I’ve even heard tales of jelly and cheese sandwiches coming out of these places and though I’ve never experienced it myself, I don’t doubt it for a second. In some ways they get it right however; Mini bagel pizzas with sweet tomato sauce and a cheese and ham (and egg?) topping are perfect when you can’t look at a bowl of rice, while a coffee and (real) donut from Tous les jours is a great energy boost for the final classes. Camp on the other hand is the decidedly Korean lunch option, serving Kimbap (like Sushi rolls) Bi Bim Bap (an egg, rice, veg and chilli concoction favoured by the Duchess) spicy beef soup, Mandu (dumplings) and such-like. The service here is efficient and the food, as with most Korean restaurants, tastes good and is shamefully cheap. Forensic analysis of each dish should be expected sometime in the near future. Although I have yet to go to the “pasta place,” I’m sure the time will soon come when, more through curiosity than anything else, I will check it out.

The afternoon schedule consists of four 50 minute periods separated by 10 minute breaks. According to my schedule I should only be working three of these, but teacher shortages of late have often meant doing all four twice a week. These kids are at the elementary level, so the material is more advanced and some, though not all, can hold a decent conversation in English. The nature of these classes differs from that of the morning classes. The kids are generally (though not always) easier to control and the material a bit more challenging. I start a few of these classes by letting the kids sing a pop song. Most recently it has been “Ob-la-di-ob-la-da” by the Beatles and “You’re my inspiration” by some eighties power rock band but in future I get to choose. Youtube here we come! The rest of the class is taken up going through the assigned text book, some of which still have the original CDs (which makes things a lot easier,) but others that require a little creative improvisation.

At 6:20pm the school day finally ends and we set off in search of something to eat. Recent choices have included slices of tender barbecue pork, gloriously fatty and transformed into little morsels of piggy heaven when dipped in deep chilli sauce and wrapped in fragrant sesame leaves. But that’s a different story.