Last week I went on a school trip to the Olympics. Now the Olympics was pretty nifty; it was an experience I will look back on fondly for a long time. That being said this post is not about the Olympics. I went, I saw, I froze. It was a cool adventure all around. (did you see what I did there? haha....)
No, what really got my geek was the part of the trip meant for the students. Let me back up a bit and say this first. Field trips with Korean teenagers as opposed to American teenagers is like night and day. There were no spontaneous outbursts of half remembered Disney songs. I didn't have to confiscate tennis balls because they bounced off the head of the driver. No sunflower seeds. No signs being held in the back window saying "help us they have knifes." (and no that wasn't a spelling error on my part.) Honestly unless I looked behind me it was like they weren't even there. They required zero chaperoning. Zip. Nada. As in, we arrived in the city, told them what time to meet up for lunch and let them loose. (the exact opposite of me by the way, who basically became the kid on the backpack leash after I accidentally became separated from the group right out of the starting gate.) This gives you a glimpse into just how responsible these kids are.
Now to the main event. Job World. On our itinerary it simply said job training. I thought this was gonna be some half baked attempt to make cubicles and broken printers seem exciting. I had no expectations for this part of the trip. I should have known better. For starters even the building was shiny.
This was the view when you first enter. By then I realized that of course Korea would take job training to a whole new level. Silly me. Now I was getting excited but I still had no idea what was really going on. I thought this place was going to be like MOSI (museum of science and industry for those who don't know.) and it was in a way; with one major difference. Job World is exactly what it's name says. It showcases careers. ALL CAREERS. It had everything from being a bee keeper to mission control for space programs. the first two levels featured a walk through exhibit with different interactive displays for various jobs. (I shamelessly played with the touch screen design your own train game.) The level below that showcased the TECHNOLOGY used in these career fields. Not just current technology but also displays for things being designed for the future. They had models for future cities. I literally saw things there that was in the Black Panther movie. (You only thought Wakanda was in Africa.)
This was the beginning of the walk through.
An overhead view of the level dedicated to technology.
I was playing a virtual reality game.
So many cool things and the fun wasn't even finished. Before my co-teachers let me loose to explore on my own (The first time all weekend. I guess they thought they couldn't lose me in a building.) they told me to be back on level three if I wanted to observe the students. uh alright. I had no idea what they were talking about but I'm game for anything. So after playing with the virtual reality and getting lost on level four I made it back in time to "observe" the students. At this point I had noticed that I hadn't actually ran into any of my students on the other levels which begs the question, where did they go? Unbeknownst to me they had already started "job training".
Job training. America, we seriously need to take a leaf out of Korea's book on this one. This was so much cooler than having peoples parents volunteer to show students how to carve eggs or fold napkins. Myself and another teacher were ushered into a viewing area. It was another walk through area similar to what I had just been through except this time I was on the outside looking in at my students being coached. As I understood it each student could choose a couple different career paths that interested them and they spent an hour in each learning about what the qualifications are and getting some practical hands on experience. The pictures best describe what was goingon. Check it out.
I loved every minute of this trip but I was honestly blown away by the sheer amount of EVERYTHING that is invested into preparing the youth of Korea for their futures. Their education system isn't perfect by any stretch of the imagination but they are miles ahead of what we have in America. I remember taking a compatibility test in middle school for what I was best at. It told me that I would be a fantastic tank driver. yep.
Seriously though I honestly think that we could benefit from integrating more hands on approaches into our curriculum. American students are graduating from high school completely clueless and unable to take care of themselves and elementary students here can keep buildings from burning down. Do you know how many American parents would be breathing fire and demanding our jobs if we (the teachers) left their middle and high school children to fend for themselves in the middle of the Olympic plaza? We didn't even have the awkward helicopter parents as chaperones. (to be fair though the probability of someone walking off with your kid is significantly less here) Students here are taught and encouraged to be self sufficient and therefore more responsible over all.
What do you think? Am I viewing the world through rose tinted glasses or do you agree with me and think that a practical more hands on approach towards education would be above and beyond better than what we are teaching our students today?
I'm actually beyond excited to share this story mainly in part because it was a case of spontaneity working out in the most unexpected and best way possible. Last Thursday Tiani and I were bumming around town waiting to watch the Black Panther.
Tiani and I at Nambu market.
As we were walking around we stumbled across a certain building. Neither of us knew what it was but the doors were unlocked so being the intrepid souls that we are, we waltzed right in. (I made Tiani go first to be honest because I have an unfortunate history of accidentally setting off alarms.) It's a big airy building but it looked abandoned. Leaves on the ground, old pamphlets left out, that kind of thing. We thought we were alone. WE WERE WRONG. As we (me mostly) were going around shamelessly opening doors we ran into a man with his dog. We were slightly derailed by this but were fully prepared with the standard fallback should we needed it. (I'm deaf and she doesn't speak Korean.) As luck would have it we didn't need to lie through our teeth. He just smiled and waved and left us to our own devices. Alright, cool beans; Exploration continues. By this time we had ascertained that this place was a music hall of some kind. We found practice rooms with different instruments and places where groups having camps could sleep and shower along with a cafeteria like setting. A pretty nifty setup all in all and not something we expected to find in this small town of Jinan. The last place we found while snooping around was the stage hall. A large room. Solid wooden floors. Dance mirrors on one side. Sound proofed. A nice wide but low stage. Pretty swanky. This is where it gets interesting.
The man from before had followed us in. He was still smiling but he hadn't actually spoken to us so Tiani and I were taking bets as to whether or not he was a ghost. He was in fact a real person. We established this when he pulled a Jangu off the rack and beckoned us closer.
This is a mini Jangu that I made previously at a teacher conference. A full sized Jangu is about two feet wide.
Just like that this stranger started teaching us how to play! He taught us how to hold the sticks properly, where to strike on the drum, and basic patterns. Tianis Korean is a million years better than mine so they were able to communicate while I was banging away on a drum. (It still blows my mind that even though he and I couldn't directly speak to each other he was still capable of teaching me. Proof that music is universal) He invited us to come back that Tuesday night for a real Jangu lesson. Naturally we said of course. At this point we were both on a cultural high for two reasons: A) We got to experience something authentic. It was a random encounter that wasn't staged for the foreigners. B) This was the first time for the both of us (well at least for me) that we were engaged by someone who did more than ask where we were from. He didn't treat us like foreigners which is a novelty.
Fast forward to Tuesday night. I had been looking forward to this all weekend so I was borderline Chihuahua excited. Neither of us had any idea of to expect. We arrived a few minutes early but no one else was there. Our teacher showed up and went straight to business, selecting drums for us to use. Tiani and I are now thinking that we're the only two for this lesson but I had brought my game face and refused to be deterred by potential awkwardness.
The first major difference between Thursday and Tuesday was the Jangu themselves. On Thursday we had simply sat on the floor with them sitting in front of us. Tuesday saw these bad boys slung over our shoulders and strapped to our waist. (I now have a slight bruise on my hip from where it rested). I'm still not entirely certain how he fastened the drum to me but it was definitely effective; that instrument wasn't going anywhere.
For the first twenty minutes or so it was just the three of us and he was going over correct positioning of hands and fingers and basic strike patterns. Then others started slowly trickling in. There was a major difference between these people and Tiani and I (besides being Korean, duh.) They brought their own instruments. This was when I began to realize that not everything was as it appeared. My suspicions were confirmed when these people began independent warm up exercises. This was not a class of newbies. This was an established group. We were not attending a lesson. We were invading a seasoned groups practice time; and they were perfectly chill with that. (It occurs to me now that their practice actually started at 7:30 but this man showed up a half hour early to give us a bit of one on one instruction.)
At this point I had been feeling pretty confident and smart. look at me I can tap out this two part beat without screwing up! Which is basically the equivalent of hot cross buns on a recorder. We were splashing around in the kiddie pool. Then they snatched off our floaties and chucked us in the deep end. One minute we were standing a circle introducing ourselves then the next the beat dropped and it was like we had been press ganged into a marching band. It was exhilarating. These people had an entire choreographed routine and they expected us to just go with it. We did our dead level best and it was gratifying that even though we didn't spin the right way or dance exactly in time with the beat and basically looked like dancing ducks they didn't belittle us. I don't speak Korean well but I know when people are trash talking us and that didn't happen. They shared snacks with us, chatted, practiced some more; a good time was had by all.
What started as a simple walk through town morphed into an adventure that blew the top off of any expectations I might have had. I've been in Korea for seven months so far and this is the first time I've felt a solid connection with the community. I'll definitely be back next week.
One of the greatest pleasures in life are open air markets. Whether its a flea market or a farmers market experience has told me that some of the best things and be found in markets. I'll swear that one of the best cinnamon rolls I've ever had came from this older hippy lady's stall at a farmers market in St. Augustine. I simply adore open air markets. Which is why it is strange for me to have delayed visiting these kind of markets here in Korea. I had all the usual excuses; I was busy, it's too far away, I'm broke, blah, blah, blah it's a familiar routine. Last week though I finally had an opportunity/no excuses. It started with this invitation.
One of the first things people do when you first land is hook you up with the Facebook page for foreigners in your area. On these pages people post anything from furniture for sale to reliable English speaking doctors. This was an event that was posted for our viewing pleasure. Can anyone guess what the key operating word in this advertisement was? That's right FREE!!! I love freebies especially when they're nice ones. Everything on the list of activities was something that I felt I would enjoy so... why not? At this point I had been hold up in my apartment for an unhealthy amount of time so any excuse to breathe fresh air and feel the sun on my face was a good one. With this in mind I signed up and prepared to wholly enjoy myself.
An important thing to know about Korea. If it can be made cute, it will be; and everything has a mascot (including the police). When I arrived at our meeting place this is what greeted me.
One of the mascots of Nambu Market place. I'll admit this surprised me. I wasn't expecting this method of advertising. I'm not entirely certain but I think it's supposed to be some sort of lizard. Either way it was cute So I did my duty and took a picture. When everyone arrived we went to our first stop. The Hanbok shop.
This is a hanbok for women. It came with four pieces. There is a hoop underneath and another long sleeved jacket under the first one. The blue skirt wraps around my chest and is tied in the back with ribbons. The jacket ties in the front. Honestly this is probably one of the most straight forward traditional articles of clothing I've ever tried. I was actually quite comfortable. As a bonus the lady dressing me gave me a fur scarf. (I guess I looked cold)
As far as I could tell the men's Hanbok was a long robe fastened over matching pants. They also accessorized with hats befitting their station. (Two kings and a guard.)
Properly attired we set off on our exploration of Jeonju's Nambu market. We had the privilege of getting a behind the scenes tour before the nightlife took over. Korea is facing a problem that most modern countries have: a lack of interest in traditional values. Time is a heartless witch and many things simply get left behind and forgotten. The people of Nambu market refuse to get left in the dust though and instead have revived interest in the area and made it popular with the younger generations. The secret? Young people are running the show.
During our tour through the underground of Nambu market (which gave me the feeling of being behind the scenes at Disney World) we met several people of the artistic persuasion. If you have spent any time in Korea I'm sure you have noticed the abundance of murals adorning walls everywhere. We met one young lady who creates these.
A work in progress.
We also met a woman who makes Hanbok; and across the way from her was the studio of some young designers who uses vegetables as inspiration for their clothing.
After the behind the scenes tour we were treated to tteokguk which is rice cake soup. I'm a fan of the stuff. It has a very mild flavor so people who don't fish or spicy things would probably enjoy it. The rice cakes are very chewy but easy to swallow though some people might be put off by the texture. It's usually garnished with dried seaweed like shown in the picture. The yellow stuff is pickled radish. As far as I can tell pickled radish is the equivalent to celery sticks in the United States. If you order pizza, pickled radish comes with it. Chicken wings? Pickled radish. It's right up there with Kimchi.