Korea: Saturday School

I work Monday to Friday, but nearly every weekend on Saturday some or all of the teachers and students attend school. While the US President may praise the Korean Education System I’m afraid I think these students should have a bit more time to be kids rather than studious automatons.  Too frequently I see ten-year-old students staggering out hagwons at 10PM to go home, finish their homework and be at school by 8:30am. That seems excessive to me.

Of course, I also disagree with a former US President’s policy of “No Child Left Behind.” So because Johnny spend the year eating paste he should still move on the next grade so he isn’t left behind even though his antics are dragging down the learning potential of every other student? Well, this is the same President who already claimed “mission accomplished” in Iraq in 2003. Clearly he should have been left behind.

This past Saturday, my co-teacher asked me to attend school on Saturday and I agreed to arrive at 9:45am (the start of second class during the school week.) Normally I wouldn’t but with less than two weeks left in my contract I realized I won’t have much time left to interact with the students, and I’ve grown very fond of these students. Especially the current crop, getting rid of the deadweight class to high school reinvigorated this tiny, rural, border school.

When I arrive the girl’s tee-ball game has already begun. Immediately they install me as umpire. I’ve done it for most of the year and it’s not a big deal to me. With sixteen girls at the school total, it’s not exactly full teams. And the rules are tweaked to permit the girls to play. I’m not a good umpire, mostly because I’m not competitive when it comes to intramurals. I refuse to count to three when a girl ‘strikes out’ I always give them another chance because there is nothing more embarrassing than striking out with the ball sitting upon the tee. There is no pitcher (obviously) or outfield or catcher. To throw home the ball just has to cross the general area of home plate before the player running home.

Here’s the other thing, apparently the red team (or the blue team) I honestly can’t recall, made an amazing last inning come-back earning ten or eleven runs to snatch the victory. I’ve noticed the teachers interact with the two teams very differently and it never twigged until Saturday exactly HOW things were different.

The teachers support the team that shares their pinnies.
After the three inning, girls tee-ball game, the boys and teachers play football (soccer) for an hour. This just amazes me. At this tiny school where full teams cannot be fielded, the teachers are rapidly biased for their ‘team.’ I’m not wired this way. At all. I believe in inclusion, I want the girls to play well and work up a sweat but never once have I asked the score and I can’t even remember (after this neverending winter) which team I’m one and I don’t favour my team when umpiring.

But hurray for whichever team made their impressive and improbable comeback. The level of skill at a school with sixteen girls total is not high, another reason I take things very unconcerned manner.

Then the boys and male teachers played soccer. I put on the wrong pinny at first and was informed by everyone how wrong I was. Now there were three teachers on my side and six or seven students, plus we had two ‘walking wounded’ teachers who occasionally contributed. The other side enjoyed one more teacher and the same number of students. Unfortunately for my side our ‘lead striker’ is the teacher Mr. Jo (조) who never felt making an extra move is a bad idea and never, ever shoots. I float between defense and midfield and while I’m probably the best player on the pitch, I’d rather make passes to students or lob crosses to anyone but Mr. 조 and get everyone involved in the game. We lost 1-0 in what will likely be my final game at the dusty, grass free pitch. Which bothered Mr. 조 a lot more than it did me.

Ready, set, ddeok!

The real reason for this post was that after we wrapped up the football match, it was time for the ddeokbokki cooking contest. Ddeokbokki is one of my least favourite Korean dishes. It’s a cylindrical rice cake, it’s bland but what I dislike most is the texture. And Koreans love their ddeok and ddeokbokki is a very popular dish.

Overhead view: Jajangddeokbokki - with quail eggs and green onionsThe school set about making six or seven versions of ddeokbokki; my team made jajang ddeokbokki – which is just like jajangmyeon only we used ddeok instead of myeon – rice cakes instead of noodles. Other offerings were a cheese ddeokbokki, a lot of traditional gochujang ddeokbokki and a few groups added skewered, fried ddeokbokki.

Personally I avoided the ddeokbokki and chowed down on the ramen noodles when they were added as well as sneaking as many vegetables – cooked and raw – as I could

It amazes me how much Koreans pack away in a meal and yet remain generally thin. I honestly don’t know how they do it. They should be massive but I suspect a lack of preprocessed food helps out greatly.

Ddeokbokki dishes on the judges table

I know I claimed that my team won the contest but in typical Korean tradition they never bothered to tell me the final results, not that it would have mattered much to me. I don’t even think there were prizes. There were judges though.

Finally what impresses me most about Korean students in general is that, when everyone had finished cooking and eating, they all pitched in to help clean up. They did not need to be asked. They understand it is expected of them and so they do it. No whinging, no whining, no hissy fits. They simply pitch in and very quickly everyone has done their small part and the cleaning is completed.

The students cleaning pots

I think it falls under the statement my mother uses, “many hands make for light work.”

With a belly full of fresh vegetables and ramen and as little ddeokbokki as possible I headed back home to Dongducheon with sore legs for the first proper workout I’ve had in months, well, actually since Thursday when I went for a half-hour, 5Km job.

Needless to say Sunday was a lazy day.

I blame all that ddeok.

And I don’t think that was a typical Saturday’s school, but everyone seemed to enjoy it.


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