Friday, January 31, 2014

Teaching Korean to My 10-Year-Old Neighbor

I have a weak spot for young boys. I just love their gung-ho energy. I really really do. I've mentioned my colleague Mohamed's three sons before. The oldest, Yousef, will be starting school soon (in March), and he'll be plunked right into fourth grade with zero Korean. Sound fun? Right. So now I'm intensively tutoring him in Korean.

After two solid lessons of perhaps an hour each he's most of the way to reading phonetically, and his retention is very high, so he's also speaking a few sentence structures with his limited vocabulary.

Give me milk.
I don't have milk.
Give me water.
I want to play.
I want to eat.
I am an Egyptian.

He appealed to me to go to a school supply store. Like an idjit, even though I'm busy, I say "Do you want to go to Seoul tomorrow?"

Yousef and I went to Seoul today. We watched ice skaters at Lotte World's ice rink, had a donut with my former student Heehyun, had french fries at Lotteria, and spent way more than he had been given to bring with him at the stationery store (and I got several pens, some twine, some wall hangers, a new notebook, etc.).

When we got home I learned that Yousef's access to my house (not even just the trip to Seoul) had caused intense jealousy in the household. Apparently someone has made going to my house sound a lot more fun than just a study session.

Everyday except Sunday the boys came over-- first on Monday all three came just to spend time in my house. This would have been a lot more welcome if I had not already translated for the family at the clinic and at the cell phone store. I really have a lot to do to get ready for next semester. So when the boys all came over (and made a mess because Achmed eyed by pomegranate with such lust I finally had to give in and give them pomegranate which they managed to get everywhere)(by the way, pomegranates at this time of year in Korea are pretty expensive!) the last thing I expected was that they'd be back an hour later (I never had time to eat dinner) for a Korean lesson, this time with Omar in tow, claiming to be interested in learning, too. Achmed also followed along, promising to be very quiet. They brought popcorn with them. This (unsurprisingly) ended up allover the floor so that I had to clean my floor again.

Tuesday Omar was back, but Wednesday Omar came but did not study, while Yousef and I were able to concentrate again. Yousef is almost reading from memory (except seldom used vowels), and today's conversations were:

Do you want to drink milk?
Yes, I do.
Do you want to drink beer?
No, I don't.
Do you want to eat pork?
No, I don't.
Do you want to eat watermelon?
Yes, I do.
I don't like pork.
I like cabbage.
Do you have water?
No, I don't.
Do you have beef?
Yes, I do.

He has a vocabulary of about 25 foods and drinks, and I'm working hard with him to memorize everything to do with pork, because his mom vented to me one day about how "Koreans put pork in everything" -- which is not true, and it's always clearly marked, but if you cannot read Korean...

Yousef has also mastered a variety of other useful words and phrases, such as "where are you going?" with "I am going to---" and about 15 options of where he is going (city names, school, the dentist, the hospital, the market, home, etc.). He can say he forgot if I ask him something, but I forgot to review "I don't know." He can say he's hot, he's cold, etc. I really want to take him to go practice. I did take him briefly the other day to practice in the Korean snack shop/cheap restaurant (분식), but his brothers came, so then he didn't practice much and most of the time was spent trying to teach all three to use chopsticks, instead of practicing Korean. Incidentally they were closed-minded about trying anything, although eventually Yousef decided he could eat 라볶이 (big fat rice noodles and ramen noodles cooked in a spicy and somewhat sweet sauce), I had to order 공기밥 (plain rice) and fried eggs (not on the menu) for them! Only Yousef would even try 참치김밥  (tuna kimbap) (햄 배고 without ham), although he couldn't get a whole one to his mouth, so I don't think he ever knew what it should really taste like.

Yousef has continued to study everyday. He's 10 and doesn't feel the urgency of the approaching school year, because he's in massive denial that the kids (I told them they all learned English since 3rd grade and some even earlier) will be able to speak to him in English and that the teacher will be able to speak. Having him memorize "Where is the toilet?" turned into a big argument (he's very smart and articulate in English) about how everyone had to at least know words like toilet in English. That is not true, of course, and this area we live in doesn't have a bunch of good jobs (aside from here at the university), so the kids in the school are kids of lower class families that have not been pushed in extra after-school classes. They haven't gone to all English pre-schools. Even the professors (the Korean professors) live somewhere like 분당 (Bundang, a popular up-scale Seoul bedroom community 45 minutes by bus from here) or 잠실 (Jamshil area of Seoul, the corner of Seoul closest to here) because they want their kids in better schools than this one. So Yousef's classmates are not going to be kids of the elites with all the advantages that can bring. This is not to say that kids of farmers can't be incredibly smart, this is to say that Korean housewives in 강남 (Gangnam, south of the river in Seoul) spend their entire lives on pushing their kids to excel academically, rather than working. This amount of stress makes Korean kids unhappy, but it means they have high test scores.

I worried that Yousef's dad didn't have a realistic idea about the English in the school, and that he was passing this onto Yousef (Yousef said something that made me think that) but I went to talk to Mohamed who told me a story of another co-worker's son being so traumatized by a teacher yelling at him in Korean (she told him to do something, he didn't understand, she kept telling him, he kept not understanding, she started yelling) that he refused to ever go back to the school. Right in front of me Mohamed told Yousef to stop complaining to me about having to learn so many languages (in his old school he was learning French and German as well as Arabic and English), and that he had to concentrate on Korean right now. Mohamed clearly understands the school environment will be almost all Korean, and he's definitely worried about adjustment, but Yousef is about as handsome as any kid his age can be. His personality is great, and he's very smart. So I think he should be okay, as long as he can follow basic instructions (that's what we drilled last night-- open your book, close your book, sit down, stand up, get ready, start, stop), apologize, say he doesn't understand, ask for help, say he forgot, bow appropriately (we've been working on that), and so on. We'll have one more lesson, then I'm off to do field research for 1.5 weeks.
                                                                                     Achmed, Yousef, and Omar

Sunday, January 26, 2014

"Facebook Posts" from my Trip -- Part IV (last part)

Everyone will feel neglected if we don't go personally to visit them. Now we're visiting Hlabae (sister #2). She and her husband live in a tent, even in the winter. Total massive respect. #family #Tibetansaretough

Even in a tent, you still have an altar

Inside Hlabae's tent

The view from above Hlabae and her two neighbor's tents on the mountain. Bringing the herds together at night makes it easier to keep them safe from wolves and thieves.

Achi Hlabae gave me a bowl of the most delicious joma, ever. She harvested it herself while watching the yaks. Joma is? A nitrogen fixing rhizome. A root. Nutty/beany at the same time. #bestTibetanfoodever #family

A hail storm added to the whiteness. Where is the turn off onto a -not- road that will get us safely to Damdentso's?

Passing by a nomad winter house (temporary house) guarded (of course) by a Tibetan mastiff

Herding the yaks home with the approaching storm

Our next stop was Damdentso's house. As the kids showed Karjam and I their year end exam papers it struck me how amazing it must be for a parent who is illiterate, but wanted to study more (like Damdentso), to see her kids becoming literate in written Tibetan, Chinese, and English. #literacy #family

Karjam with Damdentso's oldest and youngest-- the middle child (a boy) has become a monk (at 10 years old)

We went to the monastery store and got prayer flags, both as gifts for my family and to hang on Ama Dunmajhet's gate and the front of her house. It looks great. #Buddhism

Enjoying coffee by the yak chip fire. So glad I brought my aeropress. #aeropress #bestcoffeeever

Frozen morning in Zhyibuk's van from Ahwencang to Maqu turned into a glorious warm shower lasting a ridiculously long time.

Today was the day of restaurants--big lunch with Tserangtso and her boyfriend in a Chinese restaurant in Maqu and fancy schmancy Tibetan restaurant for dinner with Jabu, his family, and Jangloju in Hezou.

Ahyangtso went with me to do errands. I don't know what impressed her the most. Certainly the escalator was surprising. She wanted to push the cart at the grocery (I only really needed it for my bags) but then ran into my heels repeatedly. And she ate constantly. Banana, juice, pomelo, ice cream.

Karjam took me to the train station and waited on the platform until the train started to pull away, at which point he walked next to my window. I cried. Of course. I will miss him so much.

I laid down to sleep but the four parents and three kids in my compartment were so noisy I couldn't. Saw a very (very very) sad woman and asked her what was going on. I listened to her and held her hands as she cried and smiled and relayed a story that as she stopped sobbing became easier to understand, of a wonderful father who had meant the world to her. #grieving #mourning

The cost of the airplane ticket is worth it. #loudcellphonegames #screamingchildren #shoutingadults #spitting #secondhandsmoke #eatingchickenfeet #speedoftravel

My birthday. Fever, come, gone, come, gone, come, gone. Nausea. Headache, come and come and come. But I'm pretty sure I've had worse. #30hoursonthetrain #trainrideformybirthday

The boat will be less relaxing than I had anticipated--sharing the 4 bed room with a mother, paternal aunt, and daughter, all Joseon-jok (Korean-Chinese). Like a Korean mother the mother doesn't allow the mischevious seven year old to get away with anything, like a Chinese woman she scolds in a loud and high voice.

Made several interesting friends on the boat--including the warden in charge of foreign prisoners at the largest prison in Korea. Shared a taxi to the subway, and rode the subway with another very interesting guy (and his quiet son).

Chief difference between being around Koreans and Chinese--public etiquette. On a bus of nearly 30 riders I can hear the driver's music and the road noise, and a soft ripple of conversation, and that's it. If this was China I'd be listening to 15 people's cell phones (playing games, or sending text messages with loud button noises and alerts), all conversations would be shouted, and the driver would probably be smoking. #sogladtobehome #sickofChina #Koreaisthebest

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

January 8th, 2014

We were supposed to go get Ama Dunmajhet but Karjam felt that there were still a few last touches on sprucing up the house before she arrived. It had snowed about an inch during the night, more than the dusting the previous night, and so I decided to get out from under K's feet and head out for some snowy photos. I headed toward the nearer temple, intending just to take a few photos as soon as I got high enough to have a good vantage point. My feet took me closer, still. As I was setting up my camera, I noticed a herd of yaks cresting the hill to my right, heading to the mountain to the left of the temple. I positioned to get the perfect shot of yaks in a row, stupa and temple buildings behind them, but the herd kept growing and growing until I was surrounded by over 100 quiet shuffling yaks, with a few horses, cows, and cross-bred yak-cow hybrids as well. It felt pretty magical, just me, the temple, a woman herding the yaks with a baby strapped to her chest, and far off in the distance some hardy souls who were already circling the stupa. The yaks didn't bother me in the slightest, as yaks are patient and intelligent animals accustomed to humans. The downside to the entire experience was that each time I turned on the camera, or turned it off, or adjusted the tripod settings, or took the lens cap off, or replaced the lens cap, or pressed the trigger button to take a shot my hands screamed with the cold. I bunched the fingers together inside the gloves, but it was deathly cold-- on my walk out the steam of my breath had caught my glasses and frozen-- I had to use my fingernail to scrape off the ice in a large enough spot to see through.

These look like 'projects' right? Might as well be. Shoddy construction by out-of-town (village) people for the locals who had never previously owned houses and didn't know how to spot shoddy construction. Really a tragedy, but 'settling' the nomads is part of Chinese policy...

Karjam and I had not lit the fire in the morning, but fortunately after a few minutes we headed to Zhyibuk's house, where the living area was, as usual, toasty warm. Tserdin and Hlamo were, however, conspicuously absent (Zhyibuk joked "they're gone so we don't have anything except tea and bread"). Shortly I was informed that they'd gone to Maqu so that Tserdin could get a hysterectomy. I am all for family planning, but this struck me as odd, both that the kids (3 and 5?) knew it (okay, maybe they didn't understand), and that Tibetans who live in rural areas are allowed 3 children under China's family planning policies, and they usually take advantage by having every allowed child.

In the warm house (the fire stoked by Banko in the absence of the women) I tried just taking off my boots and putting my sock feet near the stove, discreetly for a short time, then re-booting. Over half an hour later I realized that this had not worked, although it had brought feeling back to an acceptable level, so instead I had to strip off my socks and try again. In the meantime I goofed around with the kids and drank cup after cup of green tea. Zhyibuk's house is the only place that people ordinarily drink green tea of the places we usually visit. A different kind of tea that looks like it's made from the whole plant (sticks and all) of some bush is the usual type here, it's dark, heavily caffeinated, and often brewed with milk (this time of the year that means milk from pouches from the store, not fresh yak milk). We brew ours without milk and add milk for those who want it, but at many households I just choose to drink hot water.

We were supposed to move onwards from Zhyibuk's with water from the well for Tubko's household, but while we were there Ani Sanko (Ama Dunmajhet's sister) stopped by and asked Karjam to drive her daughter and daughter's family (who were visiting from Linxia, her husband is not Tibetan-- I couldn't tell if he (Ga Ping) was Han Chinese or Hui), with belongings, out to her son's nomad encampment. Karjam couldn't say no, but part of this process had to include hanging around at Ani Sanko's house while everything got prepared. Karjam doesn't like visiting her, because 1) she's a poor housekeeper 2) she's had a depressing string of bad luck 3) the combination of 1 and 2 pulls at your heartstrings. She is, however, fun and lively-- due to the Chinese speaking son-in-law she's picked up a little Chinese (although I can barely understand him, much less her), and she's super generous. I couldn't leave without a new string of prayer beads and a bowl/cup with the 8 auspicious Tibetan symbols on it, with a smidgen of butter (for richness), two apples, and two disks of bread. It took forever to get out of her icebox home, especially since her dog (not tied up) had recently had (at least three) puppies, and was extremely dangerous (except to Ani Sanko, meaning we all had to have her help us across the yard).

Ani Sanko

K and I then drove the family out to their camp, but on the way there Tsebae called. So, instead of heading to Tubko's to get Ama, we had to return to Ama's house, open the gate for Tsebae, help her sort her stuff, then drive her and her eldest to where her (string of expletives) husband was. Then at last we were able to drive out to Tubko's house. When we got there only Rinchin, Rinchin's deaf brother, Jolo, and Ama were there. After a lunch of tsampa, and afraid I wouldn't have another opportunity I insisted on walking out to the sky burial site. Jolo escorted me past the dog zone, then turned back. As I walked, I reflected on how much easier it had been when I rode to the site on horses with April and Karjam. Certainly long before I had arrived I felt toasty warm everywhere, even my fingers and toes. From a long distance away it was apparent that there were not that many new prayer flag arrays, that trends in how to erect the prayer flags had changed, and that the volume of total prayer flag displays had increased significantly. Last time I visited it seemed the newer style was to use a type of parasol or umbrella style, and flag trees were also common, but now there were two types of display dominating-- rows of thickly hung vertical flags, and extremely long flag strings across the gap between the steep hills lining the site. As I got closer I had to pick my footing with care-- tattered prayer flags, human bone, and shards of sutra-inscribed slate littered the ground. Stepping on or even over Tibetan writing is a huge offense, and I was sure without needing to be told that I should treat the bones with respect. Chanting "om mani padme hum" I gingerly explored the site, wondering which of the two newest displays had been erected for Apa Lorae. I took photos of the tattered prayer flags, and the newer ones, trying to do a decent job and leave quickly as I was worried that K and Ama would be waiting. Sure enough, when I crested the hill on the way back I was shortly greeted by Karjam blowing the truck's horn.

The sky burial site from a distance

This is what the parasols that I loved photographing a few years ago look like now

After stopping at Zhyibuk's to pick up two of Karjam's bags he'd been storing there for more safety (now that Ama is home, one of the three of us will generally be home, allowing for less worry about thievery-- a constant concern around here, whether it is of yak/sheep/horse rustling or more standard B&E.), we finally were able to show Ama Dunmajhet what we'd done to her house. Her reaction was as good as or even better than we'd hoped. She thought it was really beautiful and that it felt like a new home. More, she commented to Karjam that the changes meant she wouldn't be constantly faced by Apa Lorae's absence in the surroundings he'd once filled. She's never slept in the room we fixed up, but now she will. The color, the flooring, the hearth for the stove, all these things we did make it feel really different.

As it got dark K went and fetched Tubla and Ahyangtso from the Nyingma temple (the farther away temple). When Apa Lorae died he was not "done" with a series of Buddhist tasks--such as circling various temples, spinning various prayer wheels, and doing prostrations at various sites. The kids, especially the two girls, are finishing a lot of these tasks before the 49 days are up. They circled the large prayer hall at the Nyingma temple 500 times (total for both of them) and have to do another 500 the next day, to finish that task. I would have gone with K to get the girls but I was exhausted after all the activity of the day, and stayed home to cook. I made veggies for Tubla and I (Tubla is being mostly vegetarian these days!!!), and Ama cut up meat that I made into a big meat and noodle soup for the other three. The girls spent the night on Ama's old bed, going to sleep earlier and leaving Ama, K and I up around the stove, talking.
Even last time I came here it was impossible to find so many good veggies in Maqu. Now I dine like this! Nummy!

Monday, January 20, 2014

"Facebook Posts" from my Trip, Part III

Spent the whole day painting. Exhausted. #homeimprovement

Paint Ninja! 
Made a tile hearth for under the stove. So nice to have a husband with useful skills. Retreated to Zhyibuk's house for dinner because we couldn't reseat the stove yet. #homeimprovement
Prayer flags on the hill above the house

Spreading the concrete for the hearth

Years of dental nightmares have taught me self-diagnosis. Desperately in need of an emergency root canal, and the closest dentists I sort of trust are in Korea. The pain is all the way into my cheekbone. Inadvertent meeting of the wrong tooth with anything has me screaming like a banshee. #cannotchew #holyFballs #misery
  *this dental pain resided over the next few days. back in Korea now, I must find a dentist.
Note the completed hearth!

Carpet to keep the cold of the concrete farther from one's feet

Getting closer to done!

It dusted snow last night, as soon as the sun came out we went to the top of the hill above town with my cameras. Gorgeous. Flakes of falling show, sun glinting, prayer flags straining in the wind. Then tea at Gongwher's winter house. #prayerflags #beautifulTibet #family

Karjam with Gongwher's middle daughter

Done preparing Ama Dunmajhet's room--even the bed is set up! Sharing tea by the fire with Karjam in a very changed room. #homeimprovement

At Zhyibuk's house Rinchin Dunma (his granddaughter, Dorsey's daughter) was playing. Her game was to make a makeshift hand-held prayer wheel by sticking a chopstick in an empty Red Bull can and rotating the can while chanting. #Buddhismeverywhere

Ama Dunmajhet said "it feels like I have a new house." She's very pleased. She also said that the changes made it feel so that she wasn't constantly expecting to see Apa Lorae sitting in his normal spot, because the spot had changed so much. She was relieved about that.

Tubla and Ahyangtso came to spend the night and arrived before dinner. Tubla is mostly vegetarian, so she shared my food. #vegetariantibetan #wondersnevercease #goTubla

Today is exceptionally cold. Ama Dunmajhet decided to wear her warmest outfit to go to the temple-- a sheepskin (wool on the inside) coat with decorative trim. Then she worried to Karjam "will people think I'm not properly mourning?" She ended up dressing less warmly. #sameeverywhere #warmiswarm
This is a before sunrise photo I took of Tubla and Ahyangtso doing circuits of this temple building. This a long exposure, the people circling the temple appear as black blurs. 
Just after sunrise
Gongwher came to visit. Such a hottie! He has kind eyes and listens to Ama Dunmajhet who loves to talk (just like Karjam) with words of encouragement and not much else. #Tibetanmen

Ama Dunmajhet comfortable by her stove

In the evening when I drove back to pick up Tubla and Ahyangtso

Ahyangtso doing prostrations-- very determined

Tubla and Ahyangtso