Saturday, October 29, 2005

J is for jack-o-lantern

What shape is his nose? It's a triangle! B is for bat. Can you say bat? G is for ghost...

It is the end of a long week wherein Halloween was celebrated in full force at Ding Ding Dang, while the communication (or lack thereof) with the foreign teachers was a bit less celebrated. In fact it was more like maligned.

Yes, Halloween is still on Monday (we haven't actually traveled ahead in time here across the date line) but because we have M-W-F classes and T-Th classes and had to have two days of Halloween parties, and because it is just plain better to have a class party going into a weekend then fresh out of one, we celebrated Halloween Thursday and Friday the 27th and 28th.

Some of you may be thinking, "I didn't think they had Halloween in Korea." Some have already asked me that. It's not a Korean occasion, but because we teach English we also teach some Western things that happen in English, so there you go. I still had some real teaching to do, but I also had a bunch of parties with my classes, including quite the extravaganza with pre-school on Friday morning.

The great thing, she said sarcastically, was how oh-so-prepared we foreign teachers were for the whole thing. We were all a little dismayed when every time we turned around, it seemed, some Korean teacher was saying, "Oh, didn't you know you're doing X for Halloweeen?" and "So, which one of you is the ghost for the haunted house?" and we were like, er, ghost? what?

I thought about Halloween even while I was still in the States packing up my life (or trying to) and wondered if I might be able to have some spooky fun times with the kiddies. I love how at the last minute the Korean Teachers(KTs) say, "OK, Halloween parties! Go!" We English teachers were printing every last Halloween word search and pumpkin maze we could find on the web, and we nearly overheated the copy machine in our last-minute frenzy to get activities for all our classes.

Another weird thing is that I think some of these kids don't know how to have fun. They are so used to the school's mandated teaching style, I guess, which is basically lesson-activity-lesson-activity-lesson-activity in order to most effectively motivate them and keep them happy, that I don't think they know anymore that games are actually fun, not just part of school. It certainly didn't occur to them they were supposed to just have fun and not worry on Friday.

My level one class of seven-year-olds literally asked me as I handed out sheets of bats and jack-o-lanterns to color, "Teacher, test?" I said, "No, are you serious? No. Not test. Just color. Just have fun." They wouldn't get up and hang out and eat candy (as I fondly remember doing in elementary class parties). They furrowed their brows and hunched over their colored pencils and then held the papers up with a flourish calling out, "Teacher, finished!" I seriously asked my KT (albeit sardonically), "Can you explain to them they just need to have fun today? That's the only thing on the agenda?" One Canadian teacher joked with me after, "You should have just said, 'Yes, test,' so they would have been less stressed out and known what to do." He's seen it in his kids, too, of course.

Pre-school was another matter entirely. I do love my pre-school: twelve little rugrats all of five years old who came dressed in costumes: black witches, sparkly princesses, butterfly wings, masks, the works. We did fun stuff in class and then after lunch each class walked to the house of one of the students in the class who lives close by for trick-or-treating. I guess the school recruited the walking-distance parents to volunteer their doors and living rooms earlier this week, or month. We English teachers, as I've said, had no idea what was going on until one day this week a kid announced, "Friday we're going to my house!" and at first we just thought they were making it up or something.

Anyway, we also had to teach them these eye-roll-worthy "Halloween songs" which were in fact songs like Mary Had a Little Lamb or Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star with altered lyrics. "Here we come to trick or treat, trick or treat, trick or treat" and "Pumpkin, pumpkin, on the ground" were those two. I opted for "In the graveyard" to the tune of My Darlin' Clementine: "Oh my monster, oh my monster, oh my monster, Frankenstein..." etc. Yes, I know. Ridiculous. But mildly amusing. Until the songs get stuck in your head for days. After we left the students' houses, we all met back up at the park across the street from school for relay races, water balloons, and bobbing for some treat. It wasn't apples--dough, maybe? in a big floury mess that got all over their faces, much to their delight.

After I found out on Wednesday from one of the KTs I have a bunch of classes with that I was supposed to be doing Halloween parties, I was irritated, but the next day there were other foreign teachers even less clued in than I was lucky to be. The teacher who conducts our weekly meetings came to me Thursday and said, "Linda, I announced this in the meeting, right?" I thought it was funny she was coming to me for what vindication; obviously one of the guys had expressed his dismay at the whole situation. I told her no, that I'd found out from a KT. She was shocked. Sorry!

But I think the best part was when they pulled us all into a classroom on Thursday with the KTs -- I mean, the assistant director actively came and got each of us English teachers -- and then proceeded to explain how to make little orange cups into these (actually kind of cute) jack-o-lanterns for every class to use trick-or-treating. They explained it all right -- in Korean! The Canadians, Brit, and I kept looking at each other: why are we here? Later in class my KT was surprised when I got the cups out and asked her to explain it to the kids. "They told you how to do it," she said. Oh, the joys of the workplace.

Meanwhile, some Canadian teachers from another branch of Ding Ding Dang (the one in my old neighborhood, actually) had a little pumpkin-carving soiree on Thursday night. It was fun to hang out with some other peeps who 'preciate a pumpkin! And who are a bit more positive about their school and their experience in Korea than the negativity quadruplets I work with.

I also think I am going to carve a jack-o-lantern with my Chinese roommate this weekend. She is of course baffled by the whole Halloween thing, unlike the Korean teachers who clearly have an annual ritual in place at Ding Ding Dang, even if they can't be bothered to communicate it. On Friday they told my roommate one minute before her Chinese pre-school class start time that she wasn't teaching it that day. "Because of Halloween party!" they said enthusiastically. She was livid. We lamented together a bit on Friday night and were laughing at our Dingy-Dingy-Dang school when her friend, the Chinese teacher at another branch of the school, called to vent that they had done the same thing to him that day. Sheesh! Ever hear of writing a memo, people?

Not to mention the trials and tribulations of finding a pumpkin in Daegu. I learned the word, "ho-bak" (or "ho-pak") but received the usual blank stares and why-are-you-even-trying-to-speak-Korean? looks when I said it. There were some at street fruit and vegetable vendors, but only at about one percent of the street vendors, and the first ones I passed were way too huge to be lugging on the bus and not particularly good for carving anyway, but I did end up finding one. I pointed at it instead of speaking Korean but that particular vendor was quite nice to me so I was glad to give her my four bucks.

The lengths I go to for good ol' All Hallows' Eve! I did have fun with my advanced classes, though, who were quite good at making words using the letters in "trick-or-treat." And blindfolding my level threes for "draw the face on the jack-o-lantern." I also wrote a little Halloween mad-libs for my advanced 13-year-olds, and it was fun. AND I still love orange things!

Did you know that All Saints' Day used to be celebrated on May 13? Brilliant! Happy Halloween, everyone!

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