I stayed in Chungju this weekend and after an early morning stroll around Hoamji Lake FOBY drove over from Cheonan and we took a drive along the North side of Chungju Lake knowing that the road would come to an abrupt end. We stopped at the ferry terminal to enquire about the summertime schedule, of course there isn’t one, we were informed it depends how many people show as to what time the “ferry” leaves. Is this a modern civilised urban area just 90 minutes from the most wired city in the world, Seoul? No It’s Chungju-si!
Moving on we stopped for lunch, a tasty peppery beef broth with vegetables served by one of my students. After lunch we followed the road to its conclusion a small village where old men stroll Sojued in the centre of the road, old ladies exercised in bus shelters and workmen gorged on bananas, sat in the back of a lorry. The local Buddhist temple had a Disneyfied dwarf character at its entrance.
Doubling back we stopped to walk across the newly opened roadway across Chungju Dam. The visitor is afforded great views down the artificial lake and in the opposite direction towards the love motels of Gimsaeng. The evening offered up a baked chicken dinner with beer and a sojourn to Jazz & Sandro for valve induced tunes and the bohemian atmosphere aka 60s Berlin.
Sunday gave up a trip to the Park Hotel spa and a drive through Woraksan and a lunch of char-grilled mountain vegetables. After FOBY returned to Cheonan the early evening sunset inspired me to watch Empire of the Sun. Spielberg’s direction, J. G. Ballard‘s novel, Tom Stoppard‘s screenplay and a starring role for a 12-year-old Christian Bale providing a winning combination.
This morning I was due to introduce my book to students, I’d already seen a number defaced and left in classrooms but that’s no real shock as the graffiti matches that scribed across many desks. My 8 am conversation class (I don’t use the book in these sessions) took part in the first photo-search of the academic year. It’s like a treasure hunt but they have to find things like a Picasso print, and photograph it using a cellphone. They have 20 items to find and the first team back with all correct win a class point. At the end of term the team with the highest points win top prizes such as earphones. It was fun today as both teams mistook Lichtenstein for Picasso and so we had a run-off!
First class as usual, very receptive and engaged, except for the lass who thinks if she stares into a mirror all day seven small men (preferably plastic surgeons) will pop out and fix everything. She takes narcissistic to a whole new level! Three of them including her had left their book in the dormitory. You may think this is not a major problem but I think they are pretty much barred from re-entry once school starts in the morning. The whole aim of the book is to get them to use it as a guide and practice grammar outside class whilst doing more listening and speaking inside class. Today I believe that succeeded, except for Snow White of course.
The second class is lower level and the aim was simply to work on proper introductions using the verb “to be” and to eradicate their favourite words “so so”. “I’m so so” and “I’m fine” send me into fits of teeth grinding and eyeball rolling. With this in mind I tried to introduce, “great”, “fantastic” and “wonderful” achieving a varied level of success. 8 years of being given English instruction should and could have extended then beyond the two ubiquitous replies but unfortunately has not. The endless lists they are supposed to memorise have a zero positive effect on their grasp of the English Language and neither does the endless teaching of English in Korean!
The third group is supposed to be at the lowest level but had a great attitude and tried really hard to pick up the new vocabulary, the fourth group was partaking of a siesta!
First impressions are that with the more able students the book does provide a structure for basic EFL learning and will be an invaluable resource to them particularly those wishing to progress to a good university. It’s success will be less measured with those at a lower level whose commitment to learning another language is minuscule as is their ambition to move away from the confines of the cultural backwater of Chungju-si. My aspirations for them are still intact but I fear my chances of replicating the levels of turnaround I achieved in my London career are destined to succumb to failure.