01 November 2009

Mrs. Lewinsky Remembered (Year 3, Day 68)

Here's something I wrote on May 20, 2009. I didn't have a blog then, but it is a reflection about my experience teaching. I thought now would be a good time time to share it.

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Mrs. Lewinsky Remembered

Working as a teacher in a program that hires teachers for elementary schools as well as secondary schools has brought me to a certain realization about my own elementary school teachers. They probably swore.

I always have this fond recollection of my elementary school teachers, especially the young ones right of college or even still performing their supervised teaching requirements, as being the kindest, gentlest, most sincere and, quite frankly, sinless beings on the face of the planet. They could do no wrong, no harm, and no evil. They were pure, unadulterated good. They were the perfect models to mold young minds and hearts in their most fragile stages, preparing them for the rigors of their later life.

But now I know elementary school teachers. More importantly, I know them as adults—adults who at one time were taking the exact same elementary school classes I was taking. They are no more sinless, pure, or good than the rest of us. They are human. Indeed, they bleed.

I came to this sad realization in what is almost certainly the most innocuous way possible—I saw a curse word in an elementary school teacher’s “Gchat Status”.

For the uninitiated, Gmail—Google’s email service—has an imbedded instant messaging service called Gchat. Users can write a short sentence or two indicating their current status to either elicit conversation or ward it away. However, by my estimation, most people just use it to post interesting links of one kind or another (mostly harmless) or to inform others about what they just did with their lives (mostly crazy; I’m still amazed by what people are willing to make public about their lives on the Internet, myself included). So, on the one hand, you could get a link to a humorously captioned picture of fuzzy feline or a sweet guitar lick played like a pro by an amateur computer science student. On the other hand, you could be informed that your friend just got married or that the-guy-to-whom-you-sent-an-email-only-once-in-your-life-but-somehow-he-wound-up-on-your-chat-contacts-list’s dog has diarrhea.

Or, you can come to a sad realization about your childhood—that Mrs. Lewinsky, you teacher in the 1st grade, was possibly going downtown every evening to carouse and that she more than likely uses words like shit, damn, and even the unspeakable f-word on a regular basis.

I can’t remember the exact phrase in question, and in fact before the incident, I’d heard many of my elementary school teacher colleagues use such colorful explicative in combinations worthy of any deep voiced video fighting game announcer’s talents (86 HIT COMBO!). I do remember it struck me though. I do remember the certain loss of innocence that came with it. And I remember the small part of me that died with a muffled whimper deep within my childlike soul on that day as a single tear streaked my cheek. Any loss of innocence is profound (and certainly worthy of illustrative hyperbole).

I also remember feeling at least a little bit betrayed. How dare Mrs. Lewinsky say I couldn’t swear! How dare she say that it wasn’t polite language, that it was un-genteel, that I would have to sit in the corner for 10 minutes if ever I committed such an infraction again! How dare she hold me to a standard of pristine innocence that she herself couldn’t possibly have maintained outside of school hours with a couple of beers in her!

But I do understand why. I too am an adult attempting to mold young minds, albeit high school minds far more intellectually advanced than my 1st grade mind was. And, thus, I too hold my students to a far greater standard of etiquette than I hold myself. It may have been hypocritical for Mrs. Lewinsky to hold me, a child, to an adult double standard, but it would be even more hypocritical of me, an adult, to hold my adult colleagues to such a double standard as well.

And in the end, I remember this—my friend is Mrs. Lewinsky when she swears in front of me, a mature adult able to handle such foul utterances. My friend is Mrs. Lewinsky when she insists in all-knowing hypocrisy that her students do no swear in front of anyone. But she is most Mrs. Lewinsky—pure, innocent, sinless Mrs. Lewinsky—when she holds herself to that same impossible standard in front of her children—wide-eyed, impressionable, 1st grade me.

28 October 2009

Translation: 'Our desire is unification' (Year 3, Day 64)

This is a song for unification written in 1948. However, as I learned from my discussion with the other teachers at my school today, the translation of the song can have far deeper implications.

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A disclaimer: Please understand that this is a very rough translation by a humble student of Korean. While I'm pretty sure it'll be more accurate than any internet translation engine to date, it still may not even be close to the original since I typically have to look up every three words when I try to read anything. (Hanja constructions are killer...) If you can translate Korean yourself, I would appreciate your constructive criticism. Leave your mockery at the door.

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"우리의 소원은 통일"

우리의 소원은 통일 꿈에도 소원은 통일 이 정성 바쳐서 통일 통일을 이루자
이 겨례 살리는 통일 이 나라 살리는 통일 통일이 어서 오라 통일이여 오라

"Our desire is unification"

Our desire is unification
In our dreams also the desire is unification
This true-heart is dedicated to unification
Let's succeed at unification

The unification these brothers keep
The unification this country keeps
Unification, come quickly
Unification, come!

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Today I had another interesting discussion with my fellow teachers here, this time about left-handedness, at least that's what it was about at first. (At this rate, I should just call the blog "Interesting things I learn from the teachers at my school". My co-teacher was telling us how when he was a child, he had to cut a lot of grass to feed to the family cow. He's left-handed, but unfortunately all of the family's sickles were right handed. He has scars on all of his fingers because of the cuts.

I was surprised when he said he was left-handed though because I have never seen him use his left hand for anything. I asked him about that, and he said that when he was growing up, it was rude to use one's right hand because it looked awkward and was different from everyone else. Whenever he tried to use his left hand, he was scolded by his elders.

Now, I'd heard about this before, how Korean families often force children to become right-handed. Indeed, even when I was growing up, it wasn't all that uncommon for lefties in my class to get teased a bit by my classmates (and probably myself too) before a teacher stepped in to impress upon us the value of diversity. Although, now that I think about it, I do seem remember one teacher actually trying to force one of my friends to learn to use his right hand... But memories are faulty that way. I could very well have just seen it on an episode of Little House on the Prairie or something.

But, despite being familiar with the topic, I decided to try to continue the conversation in that vein anyway. As a language instructor, I often have conversations about things I already know. This makes me respect how bored out of their skulls some of my Spanish instructors must have been when I was struggling with that language in high school.

This time, I'm glad I did. Otherwise, I wouldn't have learned the gem above.

The teachers began explaining to me one of the main cultural differences between Korea and the U.S., that while the U.S. appreciates diversity Korea appreciates unity. It was at this point that they quoted to me the immortal words of Syngmann Rhee, "United we live; divided we die," and cited "Our desire is unity," which is apparently a song that they all learned as children.

Again, this was something I'd heard before, but I pointed out to them that the U.S. actually appreciates unity a great deal. We are the United States of America, after all. I told them that the word they were looking for was probably 'uniformity'. Unity implies a sort of common purpose. It can incorporate uniformity, but it doesn't have to. Uniformity implies sameness across individual units.

But I wondered why my co-teacher, who is well versed in specific vocabulary words and painstaking in his use of them, would so quickly jump to unity instead of uniformity when describing how his parents and grandparents had forced him to use his right hand, and why he had chosen a song that stresses the 'unity' of a divided nation to express this concept of 'uniformity'.

After class, I took a look at my computer's Korean-English dictionary, and I discovered something very interesting.

The first picture is the translation of tong-il (통일) from Korean to English. The next is the translation of 'unity' from English to Korean. The final picture is the translation of 'uniformity' from English to Korean.

It's a little hard to see (if you really care, click on the pictures for larger images), but what's interesting is that from English to Korean 'unity' and 'uniformity' are translated as tong-il and hoik-il (획일) respectively, whereas from Korean to English they translate the word tong-il, without qualification as both 'unity' and 'uniformity'.

So maybe my teachers were right to use left-handedness as an example of national unity and unification. At least, they were right in Korean.

23 October 2009

Teaching, Week 9, Part I: Korean Culture Quiz (Year 3, Day 59)

I've decided to break this week's "Teaching" entry into three parts, and you can view Part 2 and Part 3 at those links. Needless to say, it was a very productive, or at the very least interesting, week.

Between last week and this week, I adapted a lesson plan from "Garrett Gone Korean". The idea was brilliant: give the students a quiz on American culture and then explain the questions they missed. I gave the top scorers in each class a package of ramyeon (라면). During the next lesson, each student had to come up with a multiple choice question to ask me about Korean culture. I told the class that for every time I guessed the answer incorrectly, they would receive a point. Of course, for every correct answer I would receive a point. If the class received more points than I did, I would buy them all choco pies. I did have one caveat: they couldn't make a question that even Koreans wouldn't know. So, whereas "What is the most common form of kimchi?" would be fine, asking "Who invented kimchi?" would be right out.

A surprising number of the answers I knew cold, things like When was the Joseon dynasty established? (1392) and Who is the only Korean to have received a Nobel Peace Prize? (Fm. Pres. Kim Dae-jung). Others I could guess based on certain clues. For instance, my Korean teacher's family name is Park (박) and she's always bragging about how she's related to the first king of the old Shilla Kingdom (the first Korean country to unite what is modern North and South Korea). One of the questions a student asked was, "Who was the first king of the Shilla Kingdom?" and only one of the multiple choice answers had Park in the name, so I guessed that one pretty easily. Other times, my capabilities with guessing were far less subtle. Students often made the mistake of laughing at incorrect answers, so I would just guess the one that they didn't laugh at and almost invariably be right. When I pointed out why I was getting all of those correct, instead of clamming up, the students decided they would laugh hysterically at every answer.

Anyway, I highly recommend the lesson both for your students to learn about your culture and for you to learn about theirs.

In other news, I taught my kids the Electric Slide. One of them told me he was practicing it outside of class the next day. To do list: Be a cultural ambassador. Check!

Teaching, Week 9, Part II: Tattling (Year 3, Day 59)

I've decided to break this week's "Teaching" entry into three parts, and you can view Part 1 and Part 3 at those links. Needless to say, it was a very productive, or at the very least interesting, week.

In the beginning teachers' class, I had intended to play Boggle with them as a way to welcome them back after not having had class for one reason or another for three weeks. However, after one "student" hit another and then that other student telling me to punish the one student, we quickly got into a discussion (since it's the beginning class, more of a halting lecture, actually) over the conflicting ideas of "no tattling" and "good behavior" in America. Stereotypically, this is a pretty common conversation in the States:

"OW! Dad, Jimmy hit me!"

"Jimmy, don't hit your brother! Sammy, don't tattle on Jimmy!"

This always confused me to know end. We generally don't like snitches in American culture. At the same time, we don't like people who break the rules. I think it might have something to do with our revolutionary roots and thus thinking that our friends should be united with us against unjust figures of authority. Don't tread on me, and all that. I explained that within a group, right can turn wrong and wrong right. In a gang, for instance, crime can become the accepted way of life. For someone to betray that way of life by ratting the gang out to the proper authorities is tantamount to the ultimate crime within that group. It can be the same with low level violence with siblings or cheating with classmates. Though the person may be doing the actual "right" thing by tattling, they're still breaking the mores of that group.

Still, it's rather confusing to not report something like cheating in school because you don't want to be socially ostracized. Since childhood, I've taken the tact with my friends of not telling on them until they created a dangerous situation for themselves or others, instead earnestly encouraging them to stop and sometimes threatening to break off our friendship if they don't.

But, the teachers rightly pointed out the hypocrisy of it, the disadvantages to it, and the potential for serious consequences. I granted this, but pointed out that it wasn't a hard and fast rule, that there were situations--violent crime, for instance--where "tattling" was entirely appropriate. Indeed, in thinking about it now, I realize there are times where we think of tattling as entirely noble. There are just more pertinent times where we see it as entirely treacherous, even when that person was up to that betrayal one of our best friends in the world.

Anyway, it made for interesting discussion.

Teaching, Week 9, Part III: Korean Relations & Historical Trends (Year 3, Day 59)

I've decided to break this week's "Teaching" entry into three parts, and you can view Part 1 and Part 2 at those links. Needless to say, it was a very productive, or at the very least interesting, week.

With the advanced teachers, we've begun reading through Outline of U.S. History again. We're on the formation of the Constitution now, beginning with the original Articles of Confederation. We talked about how the Revolution made the states realize that they needed to work together to defend each other, but also how they hadn't quite yet got the concept that they needed to work together economically and politically as well to avoid being picked apart by the far stronger European nations across the pond and to avoid the sorts of increasingly violent internal disputes that were beginning to pop up.

That discussion devolved into a discussion of why South Korea doesn't really have any strong regional economic or military partnerships along the lines of the United States (when they were individual states) or the EU. (We're all about applying history in this discussion group.) Korea isn't exactly cozy with Japan or China, and it's geographically too far displaced from SE Asia for them to be really included down there.

I can actually see why China doesn't exactly work. After all, it'd be sort of like the U.S. entering into a close economic system with Jamaica. Sure, Jamaica would benefit tremendously, but what's in it for the U.S. I can sort of see why it wouldn't work with Japan, but really, neither Japan nor Korea are going to be able to balance off of China all by themselves in the long run, let alone the world.

It's become an interesting question for me because the problem Koreans most often cite--that the Japanese are the historical enemies of Korea, that they invaded us countless times, that they destroyed our culture and livelihood, and we can never trust them again--has begun to hold less and less water with me as I've begun to learn more about Korea's own history and also as I've thought about the historical trends globally.

In the first case, the countless invasions that Koreans are usually thinking of were brief incursions by pirates. Granted, they were Japanese pirates, but they were lawless vandals nonetheless. It would sort of be like Spain and Britain still being sore over the privateering days or anybody going through Somali waters these days being sore at the actual Somalians. In fact, as far as I can determine, there were only two major invasions of Korea by the Japanese, both happening over 400 years ago, both within 6 years of each other, and both spearheaded by one particular man with a lust for power, and an additional annexation and colonization period.

Now, let me be clear, both of these were terrible, terrible events. After the Hideyoshi Invasions referenced above, the Korean economy was so deflated that rice production didn't reach pre-invasion levels until after the Korean War (Hawley, The Imjin War). Japan stole many of the technological, scientific, and cultural projects and thinkers from Korea and put them to work in Japan. It's estimated that a total of 1 million people died and only 250,000 of those from combat. During the close to 40 year annexation, Japan unleashed a deliberate campaign to stifle Korean language, culture, and identity in favor of new Japanese ones. Koreans are right to feel any range of emotions over these tragic events.

But, when I consider world history, I wonder if Korea holds its grudges for too long. After all, for all intensive purposes, NE Asia, especially Korea, has actually enjoyed a fairly irenic history with short intervals of (granted, brutal) war but far great periods of lasting and enduring peace. Europe on the other hand waged unremitting war on itself for the better part of two millennia. Most of Europe was under French control during Napoleon's brief rule as well, but they've gotten over that certainly. While most of Europe was under German control during WWII, those nations have realized that Germany was under a fascist dictatorship at the time and isn't any more. This last comparison is particularly poignant because Korea and Europe were freed from Japanese and German control respectively around the same time. Europe has moved on. Why can't Korea?

On reflecting on it further, my teachers' class pointed out that Korea has never successfully invaded Japan. (They actually tried to tell me that Korea never tried, but I pointed out that Korea was actually forced to aid in Japan invasions twice under Mongol rule. After looking this up on Wikipedia, they apparently actually encouraged it as well.) This makes Korea a little insecure compared to European nations who all had fair shots at conquering each other. Additionally, because of the imbalance of economic power in the region (China being a light- but fast growing to heavy-weight, Japan already a heavy-weight, and Korea a middle-weight), no nation is really willing to work together like the European nations who are much closer to each other in terms of economic output. Additionally, Japan's military forces are far superior to South Korea's in terms of technical capability. Though I pointed out that it is unlikely that Japan would ever attack South Korea in the near future (especially if they worked together), the concern is still valid. Partners, at least of the caliber of those in the EU, need to be equals in everything especially when the trust between them is already shaky.

I accept these reasons; I think they are accurate depictions of the current reality. The encouraging by whatever means that Koreans will forever hate and mistrust Japan because of historical atrocities is what I don't agree with. In order for nations to heal and to grow they need to move on.

19 October 2009

Translation: Story of a Small Child (Year 3, Day 55)

This is one of my favorite songs in Korea. Besides just having a very groovy feel, the lyrics are positively inspiring, particularly to me. (That'll make sense if you've met me.) I've been devoting extra practice to it this morning in the hopes that the next time I go singing with the teachers I'll have something besides my usual repertoire to sing.

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A disclaimer: Please understand that this is a very rough translation by a humble student of Korean. While I'm pretty sure it'll be more accurate than any internet translation engine to date, it still may not even be close to the original since I typically have to look up every three words when I try to read anything. (Hanja constructions are killer...) If you can translate Korean yourself, I would appreciate your constructive criticism. Leave your mockery at the door.

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Lyrics taken from Unfinished Work on 2009.10.19

하하의 "키작은 꼬마 이야기"

준비된 So~ 손 들어 My Brother and Sister~
동훈~ 하하 키 작은 꼬마 이야기 Yeah~
준비됐어 Come on yo,ok ok Let's go 하하

Everybody 모두 put your hands up
Everybody 모두 throw your hands up
Everybody 모두 put your hands up
Everybody 모두 죽지않아

키가 작은 꼬마 동훈이~yeah
내 얘기를 들어보세요오오~

받아쓰기 20점
동네꼬마 비웃어
나랑 키도 비슷해
이것참 난 석사인데

키도작고 못생겼는데 (oh yeah yeah)
가진것도 하나 없는데
키가 작아서 나는 행복해
세상 모든것을 우러러 볼수 있으니까
나는 행복해 oh~

니노막시무스 카이저 쏘제
쏘냐도르 앤 스파르타~
죽지않아 나는 죽지않아
오오오 나는 죽지않아

니노막시무스 카이저 쏘제
쏘냐도르 앤 스파르타~
죽지않아 나는 죽지않아
나는 키작은 꼬맹이니까~

꿈이 많은 꼬마 동훈이 yeah
하고 싶은게 참 많았지
노래하고 싶다고(come on)
무대서고 싶다고
앨범까지 냈는데
이것 참 아무도 몰라

마음대로 안풀린다고
마음먹기 나름이라고 oh oh
절대 놓치고싶지않아~
넘어지면 또다시 일어나면되니까
나는 괜찮아 ~oh

니노막시무스 카이저 쏘제
쏘냐도르 앤 스파르타~
죽지않아 나는 죽지않아
오오오~나는 죽지않아 ~

니노막시무스 카이저 쏘제
쏘냐도르 앤 스파르타~
죽지않아 나는 죽지않아
나는 키작은 꼬맹이니까

사랑에 실패해도 절대 죽지않아
사업에 실패해도 절대 죽지않아
시험에 떨어져도 절대 죽지않아
You&I we are never die

니노막시무스 카이저 쏘제
쏘냐도르 앤 스파르타~
죽지않아 나는 죽지않아
나는 키작은 꼬맹이니까

Haha's "Story of a Small Child"

Everybody's ready so put your hands up my brother and sister
Donghun, Haha's "Story of a Small Child" Ye-eah
Everybody's ready. Come on! Yo, okay, okay. Let's go, Haha!

Everybody everybody put your hands up
Everybody everybody throw your hands up
Everybody everybody put your hands up
Everybody everybody we don't die

Small child Donghun, yeah
Listen to my story, please

My dictation score was 20 points
The village's child of ridicule
I was about your size
But I was really the master of this

I was small and ugly (Oh yeah, yeah)
I didn't have even one thing
But I was happy because I was small
Because I can see all things in the world
I am happy, oh!

Nino, Maximus, Keyser Söze
Sonador, and Sparta*
They don't die, I don't die
Oh, oh, oh I don't die

Nino, Maximus, Keyser Söze
Sonador, and Sparta
They don't die, I don't die
Because I am a small child

Donghun has a lot of dreams, yeah
Aren't the things I want to do so many?
I said I want to sing (come on)
I said I want to in my field
And I even got an album
I really don't know what else

My wishes have no explanation
My intentions really depend [on things] Oh, oh
Total failure is undesireable
Because if I fall and once again I rise up,
I'm okay, oh!

Nino, Maximus, Keyser Söze
Sonador, and Sparta
They don't die, I don't die
Oh, oh, oh I don't die

Nino, Maximus, Keyser Söze
Sonador, and Sparta
They don't die, I don't die
Because I am a small child

Even to fail in love is not total death
Even to fail in an enterprise is not total death
Even to fall through a test is not total death
You and I we are never die!

Nino, Maximus, Keyser Söze
Sonador, and Sparta
They don't die, I don't die
Because I am a small child

*It seems that Haha is listing people (and city-states) who he thinks are emblematic of the invincibility and forever positive spirit of his protagonist, Donghun. Though Maximus, Keyser Söze, and Sparta (popularized in Korea by the movie 300) are readily familiar to an American audience (they are small forces though confident and seemingly invincible, able to take on huge tasks), the other two are more obscure. As far as I can determine from a Yahoo! Korea Q&A site, Nino refers to Japanese actor, singer, and songwriter Ninomiya Kasumari who some might recognize from Clint Eastwood's Letters from Iwo Jima. He's relevant to the song I suppose because he started out his career so young and was able to achieve so much. According to the same site, Sonador is the horse protagonist from the movie Dreamer: Inspired by a True Story.

An issue in translation:
Because I am not a native Korean speaker, it is hard for me to tell who the narrator is. It could be a nameless narrator telling the story to Donghun, or it could be Donghun himself telling us our story. I have done the best I could with this and have assumed that an unnamed narrator is relating his childhood story in order to encourage Donghun, a small child.