Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Cheongnyangsan aka Mt. Cheongnyang

This past weekend Brian and I had a mini-excursion to a gorgeous mountain/hiking/Buddhist temple provincial park on the outskirts of Andong, a mountain called Cheongyangsang. We've been meaning to go there to do some hiking for months because we've seen friends' pictures of an awesome sky bridge hundreds of feet in the air that connects two of the peaks. However, on our short excursion this past weekend we didn't have time for the sky bridge hike but instead did a different couple of paths. There are half a dozen or so trails for climbing to this mountain's several peaks, and I do believe we could return there weekly for a few months and manage to have a different experience every time. Some of the trails take longer - we went with a short one due to our bus schedule requirements that day.

Cheongnyangsan is beautiful!! I'm talking stunningly pretty with flat rock peering out from thick green mountainsides, uniquely shaped peaks, and a cute little tourist village with minbaks, markets, restaurants, and so on. Our short hike took us up to Cheongnyangsa (note the lack of final 'n'), which means Cheongnyang temple. Now, I have seen my fair share of Buddhist temples in Korea, and I adore them, but this one was really, really well placed in some spectacularly gorgeous scenery perfectly overlooking the mountain as the late afternoon sunlight dissipated. I am a fan.

I am also a fan of the frog pond at the temple...well, it's not necessarily a frog pond, but it's a little pond in a stone enclosure that sure has frogs in it now. I could have stared at them for hours. There were dozens, and they were black/brown on top, kind of blending with the surroundings, but with orange undersides, and they would flop around in the water every once in a while, turning as if to show off to us their bright bellies. I love frogs.

Cheongnyangsan verdict: highly recommended, particularly Cheongnyangsa.

Afterward, we headed back into downtown Andong and strolled by the park just in time for the evening guards/drums/bell-donging ceremony. I could have stared at that longer too, even though I was being bitten by mosquito monsters, but we were on our way to a delicious dinner at a new-to-us restaurant that served a soup whose name I've forgotten. It's like dongjongjigae - I butchered that, but I do love that soybean-derived soup we get with rice all the time - only with the beans in a more whole form. It's really rice-and-bean-like, which may be why I loved it, although this restaurant also had the best side dishes of any restaurant I've been to in Korea (a statement I don't make lightly!) Brian found the restaurant because he's cool like that; my job is just to eat and then promptly forget the names of things I've eaten.

I suppose that particular mental block of mine could use a bit of examination. Like, some people can't remember dates, or names, or faces - I can't remember food names very well. I don't think it's a Korean thing, even. I am not particularly obsessed with names of foods in the U.S. either. I'm not much for talking about and describing food, although I do like eating it.

This week has been reasonably boring at work. We have two days of testing in our elementary level classes, which should feel like Easy Days at work but instead to me just further emphasized how many middle-school evening classes I have to still teach even on elementary testing days. I'm so looking forward to our new schedule, about four weeks away, although I'm definitely wary in a devil-you-know sense.

Meanwhile, I am entirely fixated on our next adventure, which is barely more than two weeks away: our triumphant return to Japan! Once I get there, I might never leave! (Just kidding, Japanese immigration authorities. Or at any rate, I would obtain legal gainful employment before staying, don't fret.)

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Lovely, Dark and Deep

Well, my middle schoolers are back. I guess they couldn't stay away forever, as I had suggested. My Tuesday/Thursday evening middle school class consists of three, sometimes four, remarkably bright eighth graders who look and act to me as if they are more like 15 or 16. They have a good command of English usage, excellent vocabulary, and stellar class behavior. Their reward? Poetry!

'Tis true. Poetry is not dead. Today I needed a lesson plan for them and I decided we would spend the class reading and discussing "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening." Most people in the U.S. (and the rest of the English-speaking world? do tell!) recognize the last line, "And miles to go before I sleep." They might even know it's repeated, and that it comes from a poem where a speaker and his horse are in the woods. The first line, "Whose woods these are I think I know," is also reasonably well known by English speakers.

So I decided my brilliant Korean middle schoolers could and should handle it. We started class discussing some key vocabulary: snowy, downy, frozen, harness and queer. After having them make sentences with those words, I next practiced the form "Whose ____ this is I think I know. It's [so-and-so]'s" with various objects in the classroom. Then we moved on to plurals, like "Whose pencils these are, I think I know. They're Emily's." So they were prepared to understand the first line.

Man, it is such a great poem. I'm not afraid to say it. Even after reading it many times over the years, I still physically feel the emotional wallop of that last stanza. Luckily, my students know what a symbol is and does. After we read the poem once, we discussed it stanza by stanza. Then I had them read it again, each student reading the whole thing aloud, and after each reading I would ask a different question about it, like "Which words in the poem help you picture the scene?" (frozen, dark, snowy, horse, etc.) or "Why do we say, 'I promise'?" or "What will happen to our speaker next?" We also talked about the man off in the village, and the fact that the speaker is reflecting on what his horse thinks.

After almost an hour, we were ready to move into the all-important reckoning with the repeated "And miles to go before I sleep," to discern why it would be said twice. I love hearing students offer ideas I hadn't thought of. I articulated for them the idea that the first line keeps us in the literal story, but that repetition really makes us veer off into the symbolic, with "sleep" becoming that final sleep.

Naturally, their homework is to write about their reactions to the poem. I think we will write our own poems next week. I had them write weather-related poems when I had most of these same students in an evening class two (academy-)semesters ago. But now we're getting into meaty stuff.

I do have lots of ideas, but if any of you have suggestions for a poem or two that I should teach to my middle schoolers, feel free to comment!

Monday, July 04, 2011

No offense, middle schoolers, but feel free to never come back

The great thing about teaching so many middle school-age evening students this semester is not having to teach them. I think at this point I may have actually had more middle school classes cancelled than not cancelled since this particular 12-week Avalon hagwon semester began.

I previously blogged about my busy(ier) schedule this semester, compared to my first two teaching schedules this year at Andong Avalon. But having so many middle school classes cancelled, I may actually have come out ahead in the deal, even when we had to take on a couple extra classes during our co-worker's brief vacation.

The reason for all these cancellations is basically their semester final exams at regular school -- they spend a few weeks really ramping up their school studying and even when they do come to English academy, it's to work with the Korean-speaking teachers to study for said school exams. So I have been blissfully free - well, comparatively - in the evenings for a couple of weeks. Only a few classes here and there. And I have been loving it! And needing it, since my afternoons are a bit hectic, as are my mornings, my nights, and the space in my brain.

One thing taking up my time, besides reading lots of good stuff, is planning our upcoming summer vacation. I am so excited! We are going to go back to Japan and hit up three or four cities we didn't go to the first time. Yay!