Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Adam Has To Desk Warm

Desk warming. It's a term that may be exclusive to the ESL community. It means having to come to school and sit at your desk even when there's nothing else to do, often during school vacation time when everyone else—students and teachers alike—are on break. We as foreign teachers are contracted differently from the Korean teachers, with different vacation schedules, and so we come to a barren, abandoned school and mess around online all day while everyone else takes nice, long vacations.

This video, done as part of the "Downfall" series where people re-subtitle a section of the film about Hitler's last days, encapsulates the situation perfectly.

Right now I'm looking at 2 weeks of desk warming because the students are taking finals, but starting at the end of December there's something like 6 weeks of vacation and I expect a lot of that will be spent desk warming. The frustrating thing is I don't even know how much of it I'm expected to do.

Winter break starts December 30. I know I'll be getting a few days off for the Solar (Gregorian) New Year but then I imagine I'll be back at school on January 3rd to start desk warming. I have been told that for the last 2 weeks of January I have to take a bus everyday to Sangju, 20 kilometers away, to run what they call English camp. No, it's not camping out in the cold, thankfully, but it means teaching a class full of students I have never met English for 4 hours a day, by myself. This actually won't be that bad, with games and movies taking up most of the day.

That takes me up to the beginning of February, when I'll get another few days off for the Lunar New Year, which is February 3rd this year. Then there is inexplicably a week of school, from February 7-11, and then another 2 weeks off, during which I imagine I'll also be desk warming. Then the new semester starts on February 28.

According to my contract, I get 10 days paid vacation during the winter. I have asked when that is going to be because it would be nice to, you know, plan something but I have been told that the school cannot plan that far ahead. No, seriously. Basically, I have to sit around until someone tells me (likely the day before) that it's time to take my vacation.

I feel Hitler's pain, I really do.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Gaya Kingdom

The little town where I teach, Hamchang, isn't even a real city. It's designated as an eup, which I think is more like a village or a hamlet. Anyway, it's definitely not a city, which is shi. It's a tiny little town, this Hamchang. I don't even live here, I just teach here. But from the roof of my school, I noticed something out of place, something that belies this area's past.

This is the tomb of King Taejo, the founder of Goryeong Gaya, one of the city states of the Gaya Confederacy. I confess that before coming here I didn't know that there ever was a Gaya Confederacy. As far as I knew, this was always Shilla territory. Shilla was one of the three kingdoms that vowed for domination of the Korean peninsula in the first half of the first millennium. But while Shilla was growing to the east, the Gaya Confederacy fluorished right here.

The city state eventually fell to the Shilla kingdom, as did all of Gaya. Later, during the Joseon era, this tomb was discovered and statues put up to honor the king. I think the chair is a recent addition.

The burial mound has a few other shrine buildings around it which are obviously used by the locals for things other than worship. This one had persimmon slices drying on a mat, and an old metal desk parked inexplicably in the back. Oddly enough, there was English signage, as well as Japanese. It's said that Gaya metal-smithing was particularly advanced, and items were sold to Yamato in Japan.

Pretty cool that something so important is right in my backyard.

You can see more pictures from this excursion at Facebook.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Mythical Sick Day

I have a cold. It's not a terrible cold, not by any stretch. I can remain upright with little or no difficulty and can occasionally breathe through my nose without sounding like a sucking gun shot wound. All I need is a little rest, a day or so lying in bed, drinking orange juice and watching TV. But that's not going to happen.

My contract with EPIK says I get 11 sick days a year. There are all kinds of addendums to this, such as needing a note from a doctor after being absent from so many days, and how many days I can miss and still get paid for them, and so on. It's all very usual and proper and expected for a job. And it's all complete crap.

No one takes a day off at my school. You're sick, you come to work. If you're too sick to work, you go to the hospital and get a shot of vitamins in your ass and ride that vitamin high until the end of the day. I suppose if your eyes fell out or a lung popped out of your mouth they might let you go home after lunch, but really it's very frowned upon.

Not to mention inconsiderate of other teachers, as there's no system set up to accomodate illness. There are no substitute teachers. If you miss a day, the entire schedule gets reorganized so other teachers can cover your classes. And so everyone works sick. The students too all seem to come to class sick. They cough and sneeze all over the class, or sit with their foreheads against their desks, the other kids covering for them by saying, "He very sick." My God, kid, stay home. But no, you can't.

Last year (before I was here) Korea was gripped by H1N1 terror. People were terrified of getting swine flu. Events were canceled and people were really scared. If people had just been allowed to stay home when they got sick maybe there wouldn't be so much virus walking around the country.

I have been told that the reason I have not been able to kick this cold yet is because Korean colds are stronger than other colds. I have also been told it is because I don't exercise enough (any opportunity to get in a dig about my weight...). I retort that if I could just stay home for a day and rest it would magically disappear. Your body needs rest to effectively fight off the invading sickness, etc., etc. They only look at me and smile at my delusion.

Coming to work sick shows solidarity with the group. The woman who sits next to me has been sneezing and sniffling for months now. One of my co-teachers is sick every other week. I was told that the previous native English teacher did a good job, for the most part, but he took a few sick days and tut tut tut.

I wonder how hard I'd have to cough to pop out a lung. I could use the rest.