And no, the teddy bear museum is not one of them.
Monday morning, 9am, the entire school piled into two tour buses and we were off. First up was a museum called “The Queen’s House”. I doubt the Queen has ever even heard of it, let alone lived there, but that’s besides the point.
Look, the thing with Korea is that you can’t tell if they’re being serious or if they’re deliberately making a joke. The entire “Queen’s House” was blatantly, unashamedly fake, from the imitation Buckingham Palace gates outside with the giant Nutcracker “soldiers” “guarding” it (seriously, I don’t know why) to the sparkly Cinderella carriage and pink and blue wire hearts (for that perfect photo!) and the fake stone façade they were building.
Inside everything continued to be faux to the max: fake jewellery, fake fireplaces, fake old clothing. Added to this was the hilarious incongruity of a giant David Beckham poster, alongside pictures from movies like Breakfast at Tiffany’s and The Princess Diaries (I don’t get it. Seriously), movie stars (including Princess Diana, who…was not a movie star, but hey, who’s counting?!) and a whole section devoted to diamanté cartoon figures.
My mind was understandably feeling a little bit blown by the time I made it to the exit…
… where I found this.
Believe it or not, it was about to get weirder.
We went next door to a place called “Psyche World”, what I had been told was like a butterfly exhibit/ museum. So I was imagining something along the lines of a tropical greenhouse filled with beautiful fluttering specimens… Turns out, not so much.
The first room on the ground floor was called “Parody World”. Looking back, that should have been the first sign that we were about to enter hitherto uncharted territory in the World of Weird.
The entire room (and it was not a small room) was lined with glass display cases. Inside the cases were various insects (I’m not sure if they were real or fake, but judging by the overall real:fake ratio, I’m going with the latter) in humanoid poses. It was just…bizarre.
The scenes ranged from ancient times: gladiator bugs, bugs constructing the pyramids, bug Ulysses returning from his journey; to recent events like the World Cup (camerabug included) and from the everyday: the library, a hospital, a park; to the unbelievable: bug Auschwitz.
I eventually couldn’t laugh anymore and just walked around with my mouth open in disbelief. Mind = blown.
We finally exited “Psyche World” through a small petting zoo, which was awful. As far as I know, Korea has no or very few anti-animal cruelty laws, and this is evident when you see the way animals are housed and treated. Technically speaking the animals in the petting zoo weren’t being ill-treated; their enclosures were fairly clean and they looked healthy enough. But it’s a little disturbing for someone coming from a Western context to see a cat chained up on a pedestal for hundreds of grubby kids to grab.
Behind “Psyche World” was an adventure zone and a hall of mirrors. I was more fascinated by the Korean fairy tales adorning the walls, complete with model scenes of course. The Engrish was hilarious. The funniest one I have reproduced below:
The angle and the woodcutter
Once upon a time a kind woodcutter lived with his mother. One day, he went to the mountain to get some wood and found a deer that was chased by hunter. The deer told him about the place where the angles took a bath to thank to him because he didn’t have a wife. He went to the place and hid an angle’s clothes. Without the clothes which had wings, angles couldn’t go back to heaven without the clothes, one day night, the angle asked him to show her the clothes. He couldn’t resist it and showed her clothes. Then, the angle went to the sky with her two children in her arms. He really wanted to see her and his children and cried. So he pleaded with the deer to give some good advices. The deer told him that angles took a bath by taking the water from the land to the sky. He went up to the sky using the water bucket and lived with the angle and children happily. Later he worried that his mother lived alone, so he came from the sky riding a swift horse. The angle told him not to come down from the swift horse because he couldn’t come back to the sky. However, he spilled the soup which his mother made for him on the swift horse. The swift horse was mad and left. The poor woodcutter never met the angle and his children again. Finally, he became a chicken and cried every morning as looking at the sky.
After we’d had lunch (teachers had Korean picnic food, mostly kimbap (Korean sushi. Badly wants soy sauce, which is how I eat it when I’m at home) and fruit and chicken; and the kids had the craziest assortment of junk food I’ve ever seen. I was a little shocked!) we went to the Jeju Peace Museum, commemorating the Korean War and, I think, the Jeju Massacre. I was very interested in the whole thing, being a history major at heart, but of course every damn thing was in Korean. Such a pity. The only bit I could read was the captions of large black and white photos from the war, mounted outside in the shape of 6.25 (the Korean War is known as the 6.25 war because that’s when the war started. Ahem).
We also got to visit the old wartime tunnels in the hill behind the museum. It was interesting, but I’m afraid not a patch on the Dover Tunnels! (Side note: if you’re ever in Dover and the slightest bit interested in WW2 history, do the tunnel tour. Absolutely fantastic.)
Highlights from the rest of the week:
– Open Class with the grade 5s at the TT school on Tuesday. Open Class is where parents, and anyone else who feels like it, can come and sit in on your class. I’d never seen my co-teacher put so much effort into her lesson preparation as she did for that class. It was staggering, particularly as her usual idea of prep is to arrive five minutes before the lesson starts and have a quick read-through of the textbook and teacher’s guide. But open class is all about the appearance, and I’ve gathered from other native teachers’ experiences that the Korean teacher going crazy with materials and lesson prep is pretty much standard practice. By the same token, of course, the kids were particularly well-behaved and enthusiastic during that lesson. Only a handful of parents showed up anyway, so I found the whole experience rather underwhelming. Of course, my co-teacher was leading the class and I was just assisting. I’m sure leading your own open class is quite different.
– the third graders were so badly behaved during their class that at one point there were more kids on the floor than at their desks. Sitting on the floor, along with keeping your arms raised and standing at the back of the class, are some of the punishments Korean teachers use. Corporal punishment was only recently outlawed so it’s sometimes still used, like during the third grade lesson when the teacher klapped one of the boys really hard on the back. Again, being a PC Westerner, my eyes nearly fell out of my head.
– I somehow managed to find my way back to the cellphone shop where I’d got my phone the week before, following nothing more than my nose and the knowledge of the sea behind me and the mountain ahead of me. I had to go there to receive my free cover, as they hadn’t had any in stock before. The lady who helped me was both amused and horrified to see I’d already dropped it hard enough to leave a serious mark. Oops.
– on the way back to my apartment (I discovered the back route!) I walked past a whale meat restaurant, complete with picture of smiling cartoon whale. Delightful!
– the grade 1s continued to be my cutest, most favourite class. They love to sing and we have such fun together.
– on Thursday my co-teacher suddenly announced the grade 6s were doing a spelling test, which consisted of spelling three words and giving the Korean for two. I was not impressed, remembering the 6s at my other school had done a 20 question spelling test on the same vocabulary, English AND Korean! There are some pretty bright kids in that class too (the TT one, I mean) so I definitely think they need to be pushed more.
– Engrish to make your eyes pop out: a second grader wearing a grey hoodie with a picture of Minnie Mouse and the words “Bum Club”, and some girl on the street sporting a shirt that said “Admiralty None”. Um. What??
– I managed to pack six days’ worth of winter clothes into a carryon bag…
Next time: SEOUL baby!