As Korean school children start grade three, they begin their government mandated English education. And with it, their first exposure to a few truths: people are different. People from different countries especially so. They speak wacky, they eat wacky, and they do wacky. But how can we best bring them to this realization? How can we show them different countries from the comfort of a classroom nestled safely in Korea? How can we make the little tots cultured and worldly without actually having to go to all those icky places? Let’s explore together.
In our last installment, we followed our hog-faced safariette as she detailed time-zones, gift-giving, teacher names, and all-important hot dog culture via the grade 4 textbook and video clips. This time, we are joined by our friend’s younger brother, for whom the hog-nose gene thankfully skipped over, although he is left with a rather serious case of rosacea. Where will we go? What will we learn about the world? Will it be scary and gross? Probably. Let’s go!
The first stop: your birthday! On Korean birthdays, kids eat seaweed soup, while in China, kids eat ludicrously long noodles to symbolize long life. Meanwhile, poor little Russian urchins are forced to eat pie crusts on their birthday, ostensibly shredding their soft palettes in the process and ruining their appetite for cake. Alternatively, it is a harsh lesson about the cruel and capricious nature of the universe delivered on the most precious of days, because Russia is a land of suffering and also well-planned ironies.
Here, it is explained that while Koreans follow the natural path of a page and write from left-to-right, the wackadoos in the Arabian world switch and write in the other direction. Weirdos! (Side-lesson: children from Arabic-speaking countries wear ghutras all the time, and dress in nothing but stylish, slimming white all year round.)
This is one of actual interest: different languages around the world hear different weird-ass onomatopoeias coming from the animal world. While sturdy, hearty, English-speaking cows go “moo!” and cats go “meow,” their Korean cousins say “ummae” and “ya-ung”, respectively. (What the cow is actually saying is, “In my native language, I am very erudite–I went to Brown, for pete’s sake. But I am always read as just a pedestrian bovine. Such is my wearisome fate.” )
In the West, age is calculated with a child being 0 at birth, and counting up from there. To many readers, who know their age through this system, this seems easy as eating piecrust on your birthday. To my Korean students, who were 1 at birth and turned 2 the very next Lunar New Year, this is tragically ludicrous. Especially so when they meet other children, like in the above picture. The Korean boy proudly announces his sturdy, mature 9 years, while the plucky blond declares himself 8 years old. The Korean boy is incensed, because for one, what a dumb idiot, and for two, who is he trying to impress? Did he skip a grade? Now I have to compete with gifted whitey? What a jerk. When asked at school for my age, I invariably answer with the Korean version, because answering in Western years convinces them that I’ve just arrived freshly out of high school.
Here, we see the similarities between Jacks and a Korean game of near identical structure and rules. And they emerged around the globe! One world, one people, y’all. (Side lesson: white kids still play with Jacks? What, can’t their parents buy them a gameboy? Poor little goons.)
Next, we follow some explorers at a world food festival. Let’s get some multicultural eats, everybody!
Our brave spelunkers into the depths of flavour sample Italian pizza, Indian curry, and Korean kimchi and bulgogi. To be fair, all parties are equally impressed with all the foods. “Foreign foods… they won’t melt your intestines!” (Side lesson: when Western men age, their toupees come to eat their whole faces. It is tragic.)
Mailboxes: in some countries, they’re different colours. Should a Korean child ever make it to my native Canada, they will surely be pleasantly surprised, possibly deeply relieved, to come to understand a similar mailbox colour scheme. Should they then travel down to America, I imagine horror or, possibly, confusion, as they attempt to stuff postcards into the solid, unforgiving surface of a fire hydrant.
The Korean language has a few words for brothers and sisters, based on respective ages and genders of the speakers and targets of speech. To refer to an older brother or sister by their first name marks you as a petulant, impertinent whelp, as the Korean girl assumes of her teddy bear-wielding classmate when she calls her brother by his name. I imagine their next extrapolation: that we refer to our parents, our grandparents, our priests and teachers and prime ministers, surely everyone by their first names only. English: a language with no titles and, in turn, no order.
Here we travel to the foreign lands during the Olympics, so see the animals most representative of these great and proud nations, with the most appropriately patriotic names possible.
Not only does Korea get the toughest animal, they also get the one with the most debonair hat.
In snowmencraft, Korean snow people are usual two spheres tall, while Western individuals of winter are usually three orbs high. Also, they waste perfectly good carrots in making snow faces. (Side lesson: Western snowmen also usually have buttons, implying clothes. Westerners are such prudes about their anthropomorphized precipitation.)
Finally we come to seasonally disparate Santas. In the Northern hemisphere, where Christmas falls during winter months, Santa is usually well-dressed for the occasion, and delivers presents via a small breaking and entering, followed by cookie larceny. In the Southern hemisphere, during summer months, Santa is a cool surfing dude, while also, I guess, still misshapen and old and showing off his prodigious midsection (he is basically the majority of people you will see should you ever go to a beach in Thailand). Santa: he dresses for the weather. Let’s just be thankful I don’t have to try to explain Zwarte Piet.
Will this first metaphysical journey into the world prepare my students any? I imagine them confronted with a transfer student, or meeting some non-Korean child out in the world. They would excitedly barrage them with questions, and would make them write down their name, to see if they scrawled across the page in some bizarre, arcane direction, or maybe write with their feet. They will ask this other child’s age, and after several furtive moments of calculation and trying to remember whether to add or subtract years, understand the other child to be older than them by a half-decade. Due to malnutrition (all those pie-crusts), the other child is just naturally small. And besides, age doesn’t matter, and they can call this other, far-older child by their first name–a rare, defiant treat. They will challenge them to Jacks or chase one another around the park making animal noises which make no sense to one another. If it is winter, they will make a snowman and the Korean child, worldly and educated now, will smile as they roll the middle snow torso together in harmonious compromise. Journey on, my little safariers.