jinju-in-the-dust

My first short story about Korea has just been published in the winter issue of Cleaver Magazine. Big thanks to Cleaver for the beautiful presentation!

You can check it out here: http://www.cleavermagazine.com/jinju-in-the-dust-by-robert-hinderliter/

New Job

April 7, 2013

I’ve moved to Gwangju, South Korea to teach English at Chosun University.

 

Robert Rabbit

January 17, 2013

I created an “Amazing Pet!” activity for my students. This contribution is from Mickey, a sweet-hearted but mischievous 10-year-old girl. Most of the other students had pet puppies or dinosaurs. Mickey had a “Robert Rabbit.” In the picture I’m holding a carrot and a smart phone. Only one of these artistic choices is an accurate reflection of my current lifestyle. (UPDATE MARCH 2013: Now both are accurate.) My measurements are on the metric system. I like that she rounded my weight to that second decimal place. Also, I’m glad she changed her mind about my food preference. Also, “Rabbit Pong” is awesome – let’s play together some time.

Robert Rabbit

Holiday Message

December 23, 2012

I came home from work the other day and found this message written on the fogged-up door of my apartment building. I’m the only foreigner in the building, so I don’t know who wrote it. Based on my expert handwriting analysis, I think all three lines were written by different people. Anyway, M[e]rry Christmas to you, too!Merry Christmas

 

Thoughts on Samgyetang

May 30, 2012

The samgyetang was delivered still-boiling to our table. This famous Korean dish is a ginseng soup with a whole young chicken submerged in the broth. The soup also includes rice, chestnuts, green onions, and a few other ingredients. Each bowl contains a piece of deer antler, which supposedly has many invigorating and curative properties and promotes longevity.

The flesh of the bird is exceptionally tender and falls easily from the bone with the help of your spoon and chopsticks. If you like, you can dip the meat in bamboo salt before eating. Bamboo salt is said to alleviate inflammation, detoxify the liver, promote trustworthy bowel function, and even cure acne. It’s slightly coarser than regular table salt and leaves a brief and pleasant tingling on the tongue.

The belly of the fowl is stuffed with a hardy, purplish rice. As you break apart the bird, the bottom of your bowl becomes thick with rice and meat and vegetables. Each bowl comes with a ladle and a separate, shallower dish into which you can spoon this mixture. This allows your food to cool faster, which is very useful because the broth in the main dish remains almost too hot to consume for most of the meal. All the vegetables in the soup are whole and uncut, as this is thought to better retain their nutritive properties.

If you have the pleasure of trying samgyetang yourself, one thing to watch out for is the presence of a jujube. A jujube looks similar to a large raisin, but it is actually closely related to a date. This means it has a pit. I’ve eaten enough Korean food to know that you should always proceed with caution, so luckily I decided to nibble before crunching down on this mysterious morsel.

The samgyetang was served with an assortment of side dishes including fresh vegetables, radish kimchi (which was so thick that we had to cut it with our table scissors, another uniquely Korean item), a salad with a creamy off-white dressing, and some crisp greens in a red pepper sauce. We had rice tea to drink, as well as a complementary beaker of ginseng wine, which we drank out of miniature shot glasses. The “wine” definitely had the burn and kick of a liquor.

This meal was around $11 each. No tax or tipping in Korea.

The restaurant is a few kilometers outside of Jinju, set in the middle of a verdant wonderland of natural and man-made beauty. After eating, we roamed the grounds looking at the different statues and sculptures. Behind the restaurant is a peaceful lake. A wooden raft with a picnic table floats on the lake, tethered to the shore. There are many cobble-stoned paths to choose from. An empty wooden swing creaks in the wind. West of the restaurant, winding off into the forest, a purling brook.

I had a class of three 14-year old girls today, and I taught them about haiku poetry. None of them had ever heard of a haiku before. Here are the poems they wrote:

Ah-lim:
Haiku is boring
I don’t want to write haiku
Therefore I’m sleepy.

Hee-jeon:

Test is reluctant
Haiku is too reluctant
Sorry Robert Teacher.

Ha-sun:

Ah-lim is sleepy
Hee-jeon is very quiet
I am nice student.

I created a conversation / debate activity for my Korean students called “The Lifeboat Game.” Here’s the scenario: the students in the class are passengers on a sinking ship. Luckily, there’s a lifeboat. Unluckily, the lifeboat can only hold six people. Since my debate classes have 14 students, this means that eight of my adorable pupils will meet a watery end in the cold arms of the Pacific Ocean. So it goes.

As chance would have it, there is a deserted island within rowing distance of the sinking ship. Those who are lucky enough to secure a spot in the lifeboat will float to the island and begin a new life there. Each student is randomly assigned a character to play, and the goal of the game is for the students to convince the rest of the class to vote them onto the lifeboat. As we all know, there are six criteria for a successful island utopia: food, shelter, peace, health, entertainment, and babies. Students should base their votes primarily on who they think can best provide these six elements, but arguments from other perspectives are also encouraged.

Here are some examples of the characters in the game:

Nurse Nancy is a 24-year-old nurse who is friendly and flirtatious. She won’t go on the lifeboat without her boyfriend, Steve Sloth, an arrogant, indolent (and possibly lecherous) buffoon.

Connie Carter is 31-year-old escaped prisoner. She was in jail for vehicular manslaughter after one foolish decision to drink and drive changed her life forever. She’s very kind-hearted and has a lovely singing voice.

Chris Carpenter, 35, is an expert builder. His specialty is hut design in areas with limited resources. He is gracious and jovial. He weighs 375 pounds and takes up two spaces on the lifeboat.

I’ve played the Lifeboat Game with three different classes. The students have made some great and surprising arguments for why they should be voted onto the lifeboat. Almost every character has made the cut, including all of the characters above. (In one game, Steve Sloth made such a good pitch that he ended up with more votes than Nurse Nancy.) However, one character has never made it on the boat. This poor misunderstood soul who is doomed to always drown in the Pacific Ocean is the writer Polly Pencil.

Trained in both poetry and prose and published in several well-respected literary journals, Polly Pencil was working on the Great American Novel when misfortune brought her to the high seas in search of a remedy for writer’s block. She’s described in the game as 29 years old, usually fun and friendly, although occasionally she will cry all day and refuse to work or talk to anyone. A typical writer, basically. As the only passenger with the skills to properly chronicle the survivors’ story, as well as being able to provide entertaining tales of adventure around the campfire, I thought she had as good a chance as anyone else. But she’s been shark food every time, never getting more than two or three votes.

Why the hard luck for Miss Pencil? Probably because it’s more difficult to justify bringing a writer on the lifeboat than, say, a sushi chef (Kate Cook), or a roofer (Rufus Randolph), and the “entertainment” element is usually satisfied by someone with musical or sports talents. Besides, Frank Fisher (a belligerent fisherman) can probably be a writer too – how hard can it be? Also, the young students have a hard time articulating the importance of writers to society. They lack the vocabulary to describe the ways literature can make our lives richer and fuller, more meaningful.

So I’m never that surprised when Polly doesn’t make the cut. Still, it’s always hard for me to leave her behind. I imagine her waving sadly to the lifeboat as the prow of the ship slips below the surface and she’s left treading water and thinking about her family and her unfinished novel and the seven other souls around her also preparing to leave this mortal coil.

On the lifeboat, Steve Sloth tells everyone he’s looking forward to working on his tan.

Avalon English

My new job is teaching English to Korean children. These children are aged 8-15 and vary widely in their personalities and English proficiency. The younger students tend to be boisterous and excitable and require a lot of energy to teach. The older students are usually tired and studious, and some of them speak exceptional English. I teach writing, reading, speaking, and debate classes.

Before starting teaching, of course, I had to go through training. So, on my first full day in Korea, I observed four classes taught by the other foreign teachers at the school. It was the last day of the term, so they mostly played games with their students such as hangman or Simon Says. The new term started the next day, and I was given my textbooks and told to go teach five classes. After my rigorous training, I felt fully prepared. However, I was getting over the flu and still completely disoriented from traveling, so I don’t remember much from those classes. I’m sure they went great.

During the first week of the term, I asked one of my classes to do a writing exercise answering the question: “What is your proudest moment?” I explained what this meant and let them get to work. One student answered with this response:

“I played rest time very interesting.”

Another student had this to say:

“My proud is exercise to, I proud exercise is soccer because my class soccer is first and each other people I really well the soccer and my well subject is math other people is difficult but I like math because math do it my head is smart then successful my dream.”

I especially like the end of that second response: “then successful my dream.” I think that’s a beautiful way to end any piece of writing.

For another class, I gave the students an assignment to write an essay about their hero. One of the students chose me. His thesis was that I was his hero because I’m smart and nice and I look like Steve Jobs and I didn’t give him homework on the first day of class. His supporting details were that I was born in America and I always wear “blue jeans and weird T-shirts.” I only wore button-down dress shirts the first week of class, so the last part was a factual error, but in general it was a solid essay.

My work day starts at 2:00pm. I usually leave my apartment at around 1:30pm and walk the 20-25 minutes to my school. Avalon English takes up two floors of an office building on a busy street in Jinju. I have two hours to lesson plan before classes begin. Starting at 4pm, I teach three 45-minute classes to different groups of the younger students. Then I usually teach two 50-minute classes to the older students. I work almost exclusively from the Avalon textbooks, which makes lesson planning very easy but doesn’t take a lot of creativity. My work day ends at 9:30pm, and then I go home and make dinner. It’s a nice schedule that lets me have time in the mornings to write and go to the gym.

So, while sometimes it can be stressful, I do enjoy this job very much. I like it because teaching in a foreign country is challenging and rewarding, then successful my dream.