Sunday, February 28, 2010

Grade 6 Graduation - 2010

On Friday, February 12 2010, the 6th Graders graduated from Elementary School. This lot is very special to me, because when I started teaching in Korea in '07, they were my youngest students... and now they're all grown up and moving to middle school!

It was pretty sad saying bye to them, because they're really nice kids.

**********
People selling flowers outside the school for the graduates!

 

  

I went to every class (6-1 to 6-8)  to say good bye.
This is one of my favourite classes: 6-6!

  

Parents standing in the back (taking loads of pics!)

  

The school principal giving a speech.

 

They're brother-sister. 
When I arrived in Korea in '07, he was a senior, and she was a junior!

  

Snacks for teachers at lunch time

 
   

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Craving Creme Soda

 

Image taken from Google Images

  

Zany Q's & A's about the SA 2010 World Cup

This is currently doing the e-mail rounds:

World Cup 2010… Questions from tourists These questions about South Africa were posted on a South African Tourism Website and were answered by the website owner (great sense of humour!).

 
Pic taken from Google Images

Q: Does it ever get windy in South Africa ? I have never seen it rain on TV, so how do the plants grow? ( UK )
A: We import all plants fully grown and then just sit around watching them die.

Q: Will I be able to see elephants in the street? ( USA )
A: Depends how much you’ve been drinking.
 
Q: I want to walk from Durban to Cape Town - can I follow the railroad tracks? ( Sweden )
A: Sure, it’s only two thousand kilometres take lots of water…
 
Q: Is it safe to run around in the bushes in South Africa ? ( Sweden )
A: So it’s true what they say about Swedes..
 
Q: Are there any ATMs (cash machines) in South Africa ? Can you send me a list of them in JHB, Cape Town , Knysna and Jeffrey’s Bay? ( UK )
A: What did your last slave die of?
 
Q: Can you give me some information about Koala Bear racing in South Africa ? ( USA )
A: Aus-tra-lia is that big island in the middle of the pacific. A-fri-ca is the big triangle shaped continent south of Europe which does not…oh forget it. Sure, the Koala Bear racing is every Tuesday night in Hillbrow. Come naked.
 
Q: Which direction is north in South Africa ? ( USA )
A: Face south and then turn 90 degrees. Contact us when you get here and we’ll send the rest of the directions.
 
Q: Can I bring cutlery into South Africa ? ( UK )
A: Why? Just use your fingers like we do.
 
Q: Can you send me the Vienna Boys’ Choir schedule? ( USA )
A: Aus-tri-a is that quaint little country bordering Ger-man-y, which is…oh forget it. Sure, the Vienna Boys Choir plays every Tuesday night in Hillbrow, straight after the Koala Bear races. Come naked.
 
Q: Do you have perfume in South Africa ? ( France )
A: No, WE don ‘t stink.
 
Q: I have developed a new product that is the fountain of youth. Can you tell me where I can sell it in South Africa ? ( USA )
A: Anywhere where a significant number of Americans gather.
 
Q: Can you tell me the regions in South Africa where the female population is smaller than the male population? ( Italy )
A: Yes, gay nightclubs.
 
Q: Do you celebrate Christmas in South Africa ? ( France )
A: Only at Christmas.
 
Q: Are there killer bees in South Africa ? ( Germany )
A: Not yet, but for you, we’ll import them.
 
Q: Are there supermarkets in Cape Town and is milk available all year round?
A: No, we are a peaceful civilisation of vegan hunter-gatherers. Milk is illegal.
 
Q: Please send a list of all doctors in South Africa who can dispense rattlesnake serum. ( USA )
A: Rattlesnakes live in A-meri-ca, which is where YOU come from. All South African snakes are perfectly harmless, can be safely handled and make good pets.
 
Q: I was in South Africa in 1969, and I want to contact the girl I dated while I was staying in Hillbrow. Can you help? ( USA )
A: Yes, but you will probably still have to pay her by the hour.
 
Q: Will I be able to speek English most places I go? ( USA )
A: Yes, but you’ll have to learn it first.

   

Opportunity vs Obligation

Yesterday I got a call from the editor of an online Korean publication that I sometimes contribute to. I was introduced to him a few weeks after I arrived here in 2007. When I met him, I initially thought I'd be freelancing and contributing articles every now and then - if and when I was able to. His demands were too great and wanted me to attend meetings, which would be on an early Saturday morning. It would take nearly two hours to get there from where I lived.

I told him that I could not commit to his requests. I was in Korea for the purpose of teaching, and writing for his publication would just be an extra thing to do. If I can't give 100% effort to a project, I'd rather not take it on at all. I was really not impressed with his attitude when I told him that. I decided to keep our relationship strictly on e-mail and would submit stories to him if and when I wrote them.

Yesterday, I appreciated that he called me with a very good Journ opportunity. A Korean TV station wanted to cover an event through the eyes of a foreign journalist. The assignment date: Friday, February 26 2010.

That's the day all teachers are meant to go to school. Even though classes only commence next week, teachers have to prepare their lessons and classes. I tell him how I'd love to, but I have to work that day.

"Sheetal, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity," he says.

I know it is, but I'm torn. I wondered what my dad would suggest.
I'm guessing: Work comes first and Don't you dare lie!

He lowers his voice and says, "Just call in sick."

I've just had many days vacation, and I can't risk faking being sick to do a TV stint ... I mean, what if I get caught? Everyone here watches TV, especially this particular channel in question.

He made me feel really guilty about turning it down, but my first obligation is to my work. Right?

  

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Why I will stop giving

 
Images from Google Images

A couple of websites relating to teaching English in a foreign country like Korea speaks about taking gifts for the school's principal, vice and co-teacher. This was no problem for me because I would have done so anyway.

When I studied Anthropology at university, I read a book called The Gift by Marcel Mauss. It is said to be one of the earliest and most important studies of reciprocity and gift exchange. Basically, Mauss discusses that giving an object places an obligation on the receiver to reciprocate the exchange. As one can imagine, this could cause an endless cycle. You give me, I give you...and so it goes.

I genuinely enjoy giving people gifts. Truth be told, the only thing I want and expect in return is the person's appreciation.When I give a gift, I take great pride in saying that I give gifts of high quality and value. Not only have I spent money, but my parents have spent money on buying gifts for my school principal, vice principal, co-teachers and other colleagues. Since most things these days are Made in China, we've bought authentic South African gifts - some of which are handmade and quite pricey, might I add.

Since I've been in Korea, some places I've visited include the UK, Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand, Egypt and a few others. I have brought back gifts from every single one of these places - and not merely just a keyring.

Damn, I wish I received gifts like the ones I've given!



Today, two emotions filled me. At first I was angry and then just heartsore.

I went to work today, and because classes only start next week, no other teachers were at school. Also, there was no work to be done. To pass time, one of the ladies in the admin office said I could watch TV in the janitors room, which is connected to the what you could call the store room of the school. That's also where the night guard sleeps.

I was half watching TV when I got a phone call. I was just strolling around the room while talking until my eyes fell on something on the window sill.

At first, I thought it looked very familiar and then even thought - "and here we were thinking it's unique to South Africa". When I looked again, I realized that it was from South Africa and it was a gift I'd given someone. There were two items staring back at me.

Although it was caked in dust, all that I could see was the invisible price tag. 

For all the times I've been home to South Africa, an entire shopping trip has been dedicated to purely gift shopping. I go armed with my list of people to buy for and then... I have to sacrifice leaving some of my things behind that I want to take back to Korea to make space for gifts I'm taking.

So then what happens? I go back to work and present my gifts to everyone, making a special trip to the principal and vice principal's office. They look at it, thank me, and then what?  

They put it in the janitors office to collect dust on the window sill? 


This must stop. It has stopped.

It opens up another can of worms for me. My mother came to visit in the summer of 2008 and we traveled back to South Africa for my summer vacation. We went shopping practically everyday here in Korea ensuring that no one - no one would be left out in SA when it came to gifts. We bought all kinds of things for people: family & friends.

Part of what I love about giving is the act of giving. Seeing the person's expression when giving them a gift can be priceless. For example, I love giving my brother gifts and he will vouch that they have been awesome gifts! He's like a little boy on Christmas morning. But - when people just take it as if it's expected and then...just kind of...disregard it. Well, then - I start to have issues.

Don't get me wrong. I don't want them to gush or thank me profusely. I don't even want a thank you note. Just show appreciation that you were thought of.  Is this too much to ask? I don't think so.

Why do I feel obligated to buy gifts for people when I travel? I spend a lot of money on trips, and then still have to bring back a bag full of presents for people? What significance do the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur have for someone who's never ever been to Malaysia before? Nothing. Or souvenirs bought from the over-priced gift shop at Madame Tussauds in London? Nothing.

When someone does the smallest favour for me, I want to thank them ten-fold. I always reciprocate. If, for example my Korean brother, No-su buys something for me online, I'll buy him a Korean snack or something from the bakery the following day. Of course, I'm paying him back 100% of whatever he's ordered online for me, yet I want to show my gratitude.

When someone does something for me, or gives me something, I tell them: "I appreciate it."  Just today I sent a text to my friend Hye-ok: "Thank you for always being kind to me. I appreciate it."

Seeing my gift that I'd taken time to select, pay a lot of money for... just sitting there on the window sill amongst what I can only call junk... really hurt me. Worst of all, over the three years of being here I've given countless gifts to people so I can't even remember who that was for - but a hunch tells me it was for my principal.

As you're reading this, I expect you may be thinking: "But it's your own fault for buying gifts. No one asked you to." Of course not. It's just in my nature. This is how I've been raised. However, now I turn cold.

No more.
The most I will give someone is a verbal expression of gratitude.

NOTE:
I give to charities and homeless people on a regular basis, so before you tell me not to turn into an ice queen, please know that this post was meant for people in my life who I buy gifts for and who clearly don't appreciate them.

  

A Waste of Eyeliner

When I woke up this morning, I felt fresh and rejuvenated. I was ready to take on the day. It was going to be my first day back at work after Spring Vacation. It felt like a good hair and make-up day.

Classes only commence on Tuesday, March 2, but various teachers have to come to school for some paperwork (which I don't do) Each grade's teachers come on a particular day.

I was also going to meet my co-teacher who's been on sabbatical for the past few months. I arrived at school on time, went to the English classroom and waited for the other teachers - who are all meant to be at work by 08:40.

By 09:00, no one was there. At 09:10, I called my friend in the admin office asking which teachers are coming in today. She told me 5th grade. I belong to 6th grade staff.

At 09:20, I begin to think it's a mistake that I came to work. I called my co-teacher to ask if she's coming in. She said she wasn't.  So why was I there?

The principal wanted me to come in, so it's been marked as my working day. But - no one else was there and there was no work to be done. How can I prepare lessons for students and classes that are only starting next week? And besides, this is my third year teaching - I have all that already!

So I went to the second floor teachers room where the vice principal sits. He told me to sit at the computer under the heater. I scanned some documents for the secretary in about 5 minutes flat, and then had to occupy myself after that. I'm never bored. I always have something to do, but why I had to be there, when no one else was and when there's no work is just beyond me.

The vice principal started walking around, then came to me and pointed at my bling ring on my middle finger and said in Korean that I need to get a ring 'here' [pointing to the ring finger]. Sigh... This irritated me since the bindi incident.

Lunch time came and went. Usually, if teachers come to school when the students aren't there (and the kitchen's closed), we order in. Well, today the principal and vice went out to have their lunch. I went downstairs to the admin office and they were surprised I hadn't had lunch so they gave me some snacks.  They also couldn't understand why I was there and it felt like I was a display piece for the day.

One of the ladies said I should go to the janitor's room and watch the Ladies' Figure Skating (Olympics). So I did. I sat there for about 2 hours...half watching. Listening to music. Writing on my iPod. If I knew this was going to be the case, I'd have taken my book or my netbook to school.

I went back to the admin office. One hour left till home time. They told me to just go home. They wouldn't tell anyone. So I did.

I have a sneaky suspicion that my principal is punishing me for something. As much as she tells me how beautiful my eyes are or how well I put my eye make up on, or as much as she tells me she likes my jewelry, I know she doesn't like me. She's got a reputation for sweet-talking people with sugar-coated words, and then upsetting people afterwards.

At her previous school, she had three foreign teachers. I know she categorizes me as "just another foreign teacher". She's not known me as long as others at the school do to know my personality and style of working.

This all comes with living and working in a foreign country. No one will understand how hard it can be. No one stands up to authority here. When you've been raised to challenge authority, this is very difficult. You just have to suck it up. This is one of the reasons people are so stressed at work. They have no say. At all.

The day's over...and I'm putting it down as just another lesson to be learned about living and working in a foreign country with a different culture.

...and that was my rant for the day.

  

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Beijing (25) Buildings & Bye Bye Beijing!

Beijing (1) The idea to go
Beijing (2) Leaving Korea
Beijing (3) Arriving in Beijing
Beijing (4) Welcome on the bus 
Beijing (5) Lunch on Saturday PM
Beijing (6) Forbidden City is Closed
Beijing (7) Cute Pandas
Beijing (8) Summer Palace
Beijing (9) Flying Acrobatic Show
Beijing (10) Hotel & Dinner
Beijing (11) Great Wall
Beijing (12) Great Wall Shopping
Beijijng (13) Lunch on Sunday PM
Beijing (14) Ming Tombs
Beijing (15) Traditional Tea House
Beijing (16) Peking Duck Dinner
Beijing (17) Shopping for Munchies
Beijing (18) Olympic Stadium at Night
Beijing (19) Just me and Jackie Chan
Beijing (20) Tiananmen Square
Beijing (21) Forbidden City
Beijing (22) Silk Factory
Beijing (23) Temple of Heaven
Beijing (24) Hutong Tour

Monday, February 15 2010

I love cool architecture and Beijing has some awesome buildings which I managed to capture while on the bus. Here are a few of them. I wish I knew what buildings they were, but I took these pics while driving past.

 

 

 

  

  

  

  

  

  

  

 My week-end in Beijing has come to an end and we are at the airport. Jenifer walks us in right through to our check-in desk. After saying goodbye to her, everyone checks in individually. I'm really surprised to note that not a single person greets each other. Everyone really kept to themselves in this group (14 of us).

  

  

It's still a very long time until we have to board and I'm still feeling very cold. I have no intention of shopping, but walk around anyway. After about 45 minutes, I head to my boarding gate. This airport is really big and takes forever to arrive at the gate.  Once I'm there, I see some people from my tour group, but they don't look up.

We still have to take a bus to the aircraft. I'm one of the first people on board, and I pray that no one asks me to move my seat. This is my (vegetarian) dinner: A slice of cucumber one one finger looking slice of white bread, and a slice of tomato on the other. Sigh...

  

When we land in Incheon, I rush out quickly since I'm sitting near the front of the aircraft. I didn't check in luggage so I head straight for passport control. After that, I'm also relieved that customs don't stop me (they usually do).  The father in the group (visiting from Canada) passes me and touches my arm saying, "It was very nice to meet you." I tell him it was a pleasure meeting him too and when I turn to greet his daughter, she doesn't even smile. I knew she had an attitude problem from the first time we spoke at lunch on Saturday afternoon. 

I still have to buy a ticket to get home. Standing in the bus queue, a man says I could go in front of him. I thank him in Korean and he starts a conversation - in Korean! Thank goodness I can understand the questions and reply with the correct answers. Basic things like where I'm from and where have I just arrived from. I was quite chuffed because he thought I was a student ^_^

An hour or so later, I'm back in my apartment. It's good to be home!
It was such a good weekend and I didn't expect to like China as much as I did. Then again, Jenifer did say that we were lucky the city was practically empty because all the locals were traveling. We did a whole lot in 3 full days. I'm so glad I found out about the tour when I did. I would have kicked myself if I stayed home for the Lunar New Year weekend!

Thanks for reading my Beijing blog xxx

 

Beijing (24) Hutong Tour

Beijing (1) The idea to go
Beijing (2) Leaving Korea
Beijing (3) Arriving in Beijing
Beijing (4) Welcome on the bus 
Beijing (5) Lunch on Saturday PM
Beijing (6) Forbidden City is Closed
Beijing (7) Cute Pandas
Beijing (8) Summer Palace
Beijing (9) Flying Acrobatic Show
Beijing (10) Hotel & Dinner
Beijing (11) Great Wall
Beijing (12) Great Wall Shopping
Beijijng (13) Lunch on Sunday PM
Beijing (14) Ming Tombs
Beijing (15) Traditional Tea House
Beijing (16) Peking Duck Dinner
Beijing (17) Shopping for Munchies
Beijing (18) Olympic Stadium at Night
Beijing (19) Just me and Jackie Chan
Beijing (20) Tiananmen Square
Beijing (21) Forbidden City
Beijing (22) Silk Factory
Beijing (23) Temple of Heaven

Monday, February 15 2010

Hutongs are a type of narrow streets or alleys with traditional courtyard residences.

In recent years, hutongs in Beijing have decreased because they've been demolished for new roads and buildings.

There are a few hutongs that have been preserved to showcase the cultural aspect of Chinese history. In many cases, there could be up to 9 families living in one courtyard.

We were taken on a rickshaw ride and stopped to walk around. We even got to visit a family to see what homes in this area look like! It was a very cool experience...

Here I am wearing four layers of clothing!
How cool that we even get blankets to cover our legs ^_^


 

The rickshaw drivers getting ready to GO!

  

  

 


 

Video from the rickshaw:
In the video, you can see Linda, our Hutong guide riding past on her bicycle




  

  

People put these wooden planks up to protect their tyres from dogs urinating on them!


  

  

Some families in this area have opened their homes to
tourists to get an idea of what a typical house looks like inside.  
We went to the home of a sweet old couple and allowed us 
to take photographs of their room and kitchen.

  

Here's a video of Linda talking a bit about the couple:




Their fridge is filled with magnets given to them by visitors from all over the world.

  

Bedroom

 

  

 Kitchen


 

 Here I am with the couple.
I really wanted to give them something, but I had nothing on me,
so I gave them money.

  

Outside area

  
 
 



Beijing (25) Buildings & Bye Bye Beijing!

 

Beijing (23) Temple of Heaven

Beijing (1) The idea to go
Beijing (2) Leaving Korea
Beijing (3) Arriving in Beijing
Beijing (4) Welcome on the bus 
Beijing (5) Lunch on Saturday PM
Beijing (6) Forbidden City is Closed
Beijing (7) Cute Pandas
Beijing (8) Summer Palace
Beijing (9) Flying Acrobatic Show
Beijing (10) Hotel & Dinner
Beijing (11) Great Wall
Beijing (12) Great Wall Shopping
Beijijng (13) Lunch on Sunday PM
Beijing (14) Ming Tombs
Beijing (15) Traditional Tea House
Beijing (16) Peking Duck Dinner
Beijing (17) Shopping for Munchies
Beijing (18) Olympic Stadium at Night
Beijing (19) Just me and Jackie Chan
Beijing (20) Tiananmen Square
Beijing (21) Forbidden City
Beijing (22) Silk Factory

Monday, February 15 2010

Emperors of the Ming and Qing Dynasties used to visit this temple for annual ceremonies of prayer to Heaven for good harvest.

The blue colour symbolizes the sky (heaven) and the green symbolizes the common people on earth. It's so beautiful :)

Here too, the place seemed to feel commercialized so I wasn't moved much. Still, one definitely appreciates the intricate details in the artwork.

 

Here, some people are playing traditional Chinese games or playing cards.

  

  

  

  

  

  

  

 


Beijing (24) Hutong Tour

   
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