Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Taejon Christian International School

tcis01Had a great visit with the teachers and students at TCIS. Extra special thanks to Connie and Sungmee our librarian  and Chantal queen of the High School English department. We spent three days on the campus working with grades K through 12. Once when I was taking a break I even got roped into reading a picture book to an elementary class visiting the library.


During our residency we had a family literacy night where Sara and I did some poems for the students and their parents. We really like to have these evening gatherings when we visit a school because it gives us a chance to let the parents know what a couple poets are doing visiting their students. It gives us the opportunity to show the people paying tuition how bringing in a couple teaching artists is a good investment. We get to demonstrate how writing and performing poetry in the classroom has great practical benefits for all their kid’s communication skills. Of course we all have fun and many more times than not – we get a parent to come up on stage and recite a piece that they had memorized from their school days.


Connie warming up the crowd before the start of our Family Literacy Night.


Appreciative audience members.


A couple boys take to the mic to read a poem they wrote in the car on the way to the event (get that paper down from in front of your faces!)


A parent reciting a Robert Service poem.


Sara leads some ankle biters through a poem they wrote about soccer.

A very special part of this school visit was the fact that we stayed with a family in their home rather than a hotel room. This is always a daunting proposition because you never know what is going to happen. Well – if anyone had tried to tell us how welcoming and gracious the Choi family was going to be we would have thought we were being sold a bridge.

It was so nice to be a part of a family in the middle of this long road trip and as much as all the dinners out are special to us – that one meal before the Literacy night of home made spaghetti with sauce out of a jar and the kids around the table is probably the one I will remember most. Thanks TCIS and extra super duper thanks to the Choi family.


Tuesday, March 30, 2010

If you see the Buddha on the road shoot him (just don’t use your flash)

dj01 We all need an assistant librarian librarian in our lives. Here’s a pic of the aforementioned Sue – the co-librarian of the Korea International School elementary library. Sue was a cool customer – she had that Bond girl calm and collected demeanor greeting any problem or request we threw her way with a quick and thoughtful nod which meant whatever we needed  was as good as done. Sue was in charge of getting us onto the bus that was taking us to our next  destination – the city of Daejeon  a couple hours south of Seoul.


Our bus ride was completely uneventful which is how one would usually wish their bus rides to go. Once we got to the city of Daejeon the bus terminal was under renovation so there was a little confusion finding our contacts. Eventually though we met up with our new librarian team – Connie and her able assistant Sungmee (I’m tellin’ ya – we all need an assistant librarian in our life.)


dj04 Connie and Sungmee took us to a giant farmers market then to a nearby mountain where we hiked around some Buddhist temples. Hiking is quite the pastime in Korea and we joined right in with the throngs that were dutifully marching up the mountain paths. Along the way we saw stacks of rocks signifying the prayers of earlier trekkers and also passed a couple Buddhist temples. I climbed the stairs to one of these temples removed my shoes and stepped inside. The room was empty of monks or other hikers and I pulled out my camera and started taking shots of the shrine. No sooner had my flash gone off then a monk appeared and kindly, but firmly suggested that my camera and I continue on our way.




dj03After our hike we descended back down the mountain path and had dinner. Outside of the restaurant a woman was selling Beondaegi – the boiled silkworm larva that I mentioned earlier – it’s in the pot in the lower right hand corner of this pic. For whatever reason this particular batch was not as aromatically challenging as other roiling concoctions that we had come across – I took this as a opportunity to try these things out so I stabbed one of the buggers with a toothpick and popped it in my mouth. A little crunchy outside, kind of gooey inside and pretty much tasting like potting soil.




The boiled silkworm larva’s flavor is not as bad as its aroma.
It offends the palette in a completely different almost subtle way,
earthen, agrarian, like dirt.
It tastes as garden soil smells at season’s end,
thick tined pitchfork turning spent stalks,
wilted leaves, and fallen fruit beneath the exhausted rows
with hope of nourishing the plot for next season’s seeds.
The city of Seoul’s taxi drivers
refuse tips,
become offended,
even if keeping the change amounts to less than 88 cents.
The city of Seoul’s taxi drivers
display their licenses permanently affixed to the right side of the dashboard,
directly in front of the passenger seat.
Their photographs
stoically staring at their fare
are never updated.
Fresh and full of promise as a high school year book photo,
hair as black as a mockingbird’s back -
skin as clear and smooth as an Asian pear,
while the man clutching the wheel
through his thin white gossamer gloves
wears a road-map of liver spots across his nearly bald head.
And I wonder,
what he and his photographed self talk about
when driving alone.


Monday, March 29, 2010

Please take your shoes off before dancing on the table.

Okay – I am woefully behind in blog posts. We are back from Korea and China now for about a week and I am going to do my best to get caught up here. I may rely a bit more on pictures than text to try and synch timelines.

Here are a few pics from our visit to the DMZ separating North and South Korea.

dmz01 Here is the opening slide from the orientation groups are given before going on the tour of the Demilitarized Zone. 


This is an excerpt from the waiver we had to sign before we took our bus ride up to the border. First time I signed off on the chances of a hostile enemy attack.


Here I am actually standing in North Korea when I took this picture.

dmz02This is a North Korean soldier looking at us through binoculars. Sara wonders if it gets under their skin that South Korea treats the place as a tourist attraction. Of course – South Korean citizens are not permitted on the tour. We were told that the urge to run across the border in order to reunite with long lost family members could be too much for them.

I was surprised by how many of the locals I spoke with looked forward to the day when the two countries would be reunited – as if it were only a matter of time. This is a populace that is familiar with being under the thumb of unfriendly forces and yet retaining their national identity – even in the face of those who specifically and systematically worked to wipe out Korean culture.


I’ve got to ay though – the tension up on the DMZ was real and while I hope the optimism of the folks hoping for reunification is rewarded –  I wouldn’t be holding my breath. The above picture shows the top of one of the tables in the meeting room we toured which is half in the North and half in the South. We were told that the footprints on the smooth finish are from North Korean soldiers who remove their shoes and stomp on the furniture to show their disrespect when they are alone in the room.

dmz06This is the bridge of no return. It was used for prisoner exchanges at the end of the Korean War in 1953. The name originates from the fact that prisoners were given the choice to remain in the country of their captivity or cross over to the other country. But if they chose to cross the bridge, they would never be allowed to return. 

Usually we would have been allowed to get out of our tour bus and walk up to it but on this day there was a dead dog – just barely visible as a white spot in this pic up where the right railing disappears into the brush – that had been there for a few days so we had to remain in the vehicle for fear of some sort of contamination.

So the dead dog just lies there. A South Korean crossing the bridge to dispose of the carcass could very well be committing an act of war (one of the most famous skirmishes on the DMZ began as a tree trimming) and it doesn’t seem that the North Koreans are in any hurry to clean it up either.

Sort of a stalemate isn’t it?


Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Sealed with a KIS

kis001 The week long residency at Korea International School couldn’t have gone any better. Every morning the yellow mini van bus picked us up at the Hotel Gallery just a fifteen minute ride up and up the nose bleed inducing hill on which the school is perched. The kids were all well prepared for our visit and every class we walked into were expecting us and were ready to get to work.

We did assemblies for the elementary, middle and high schools and a teacher professional development session our first day there followed by writing and performance workshops throughout the school for the rest of the week. we think this is the best way to start a residency – the kids get to see us before we come in the classrooms, allowing us to be student centered for the whole time we are working with them rather than talking about ourselves the first part of the lesson. Our hosts agreed and set our schedule to do just that.

kis002 Our poet wranglers – mine being Colleen, the sharp witted upper school librarian and Sara's -  Kris, the super smart and diplomatic elementary school librarian kept us on track, fed, watered and generally treated like royalty. I would be more than remiss not to mention our third support person – the steady and true Sue, the Korean born elementary librarian who provided translation with taxis, hotel folk, doctors, bus ticket vendors and could make anything we requested happen with a short tilt of her head and a firm nod. This trio made KIS one of our most enjoyable (and tiring) international school visits to date.

Kris had worked for two years behind the scenes to get us into the school. we had met her a few years back when we visited Kazakhstan and we are so very grateful for her confidence in our work.

kis003 We even ended the week with a staff party  and wine tasting in downtown Seoul ending with an open mic poetry reading which Sara and I emceed.

Oh yeah, a special note to Rich the headmaster i mentioned in my last post. I did try the boiled silkworm larva – you’re right it doesn’t taste like it smells!


Asking questions during assembly.

kis005 Writing away!


Teacher poetry reading.

kis008 Colleen and Kris.