Kidsclub Field Trip – Africa Cultural Centre!

June 7, 2009 at 7:21 am (Uncategorized)

Okay, okay, so it’s actually the Africa Cultural Center, but I’m Canadian and I staunchly refuse to change how I spell words like “neighbour”, “cheque”, “colour” and “favourite”.    I’ve already been forced to adapt my Canadian “zed” to the American “zee” at Kidsclub for our children’s sakes – when I sing the alphabet song and I accidentally end with “x, y, zed” the kids look at me like I’ve lost my mind.  Haven’t I sacrificed enough?!  Anyway, I digress…

Twice a year, the kindergarten students at our hagwon are treated to a full-day excursion.  The first such trip during our year contract was an exhausting day at Everland, the largest theme park in Korea.  Although it was great to get out of school for a day, by the end we were so exhausted it felt like we’d crammed an entire month’s worth of work into a single 8 hour day.   We were excited, but also a little apprehensive, of what the second field trip would entail.

Our new supervisor Sue decided that we would spend May 14th at the Africa Cultural Centre (http://www.africaculturalcenter.com/).  I honestly had no idea until that point that such a place existed in Korea – what would the Korean take on Africa be like?  Our kids have a vague notion of where the continent might be on the map, but have generally had little to no actual exposure to African people or the culture in any way.  Unfortunately a lot of stereotypes against African people and black people in general are alive and well here in Korea, and I was more than a little nervous at how our kids would react to an up-close-and-personal encounter with someone from Africa.

Our co-worker Sarah had actually spent four months living in Zamibia during university, so she was particularly curious at what sort of memorabilia, artifacts and cultural items would be available – would they mish mash items from different areas, or wrongly label something from the East coast as from the West coast?  I was envisioning a cringe-worthy display to show Asian kids examples of all the ridiculous sterotypes of the “backwards” continent of Africa.  Needless to say, my hopes weren’t exactly high for the educational outcome of this trip. 

A week before the trip Sue dropped a bomb on the foreign teachers – although we’d all assumed that elementary classes would be cancelled during the afternoon of the 14th, Sue informed us that this would not be the case.  Surprise!  Oh, and one of the foreign teachers would have to stay behind to teach classes all afternoon while the other two got to enjoy a field trip with the kids.  Double surprise!!  She said she’d let us know which one of us was staying behind sometime during the following days.  The three of us fumed and grouched around for the next little while, wishing she would just tell us who wasn’t going so we could at least console the person!

Sue then showed her incredible steel backbone by announcing, two days before the trip, that she was passing the responsibility of the Big Decision over to the foreign teachers.  It was now up to us to decide who would go and who would stay – how cowardly.  After waiting for her to make up her mind she was putting the whole thing onto our shoulders.  So who should to go, and who should stay behind all day with Mr. Park and teach classes?  How do we decide – rock, paper, scissors or maybe we draw straws?  In the end, Dave – the kind-hearted soul that he is – decided that he’d take one for the team and stay at Kidsclub.  He later sorely regretted his decision and wished he could have taken back his gallant act of selflessness, but it was too late.  Okay, I know that this must sound like we blew a piddly school trip way, waaay out of proportion, but our perks at this job are few and far between so we all really want to enjoy them when they do come around.

So Sarah and I arrived at work early Thursday morning to get the kids packed and ready for the day trip.  Dave’s perk was that he could sleep in until noon, and come to school for 1:00, and I was a teeny, tiny bit envious of that.  We had one large shuttle bus for the teachers and the students, and after getting everyone settled, seated and buckled up we took off for Uijeongbu (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uijeongbu).  Unbeknownst to me at the time, Uijeongbu is actually the site of one of my favourite classic t.v. shows, M*A*S*H.  It definitely looks a little different now than it did during the Korean War!  The area is like a mini Nowon, full of tall high-rise buildings and restaurants, but there is still a very strong American military presence.  It was hard to imagine bombs exploding and army tents full of triage patients dotting the landscape a little over 50 years ago…

Our Shuttle Bus

Our Shuttle Bus

We arrived at the African Cultural Centre just after 11:00 and we herded the kids up a steep path to the main concourse.  To our right was a huge covered performance area, and to the right was a large sculptural garden and a museum.  After a quick bathroom break we brought the kids into the performance area and took our seats in the middle of the front row.  I was responsible for the four little rug rats in Strawberry class – Andy, Cindy, Jenny & Scott, and spent much of the next little while trying to keep them from climbing all over me like monkeys. 

Line Up!

Line Up!

Let's Go!

Let's Go!

Once the hall was filled with screaming children from other schools the lights dimmed and the performance began.  The dance company was called Aanika, and were originally from the Cote d’Ivoire, or Ivory Coast, in West Africa (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/C%C3%B4te_d’Ivoire).  Four African men in tribal clothes came out carrying drums; they set up at the back of the stage and began doing some interactive drumming with the crowd.  They would beat out a rhythm, and the kids would have to respond in turn, and they loved it.  Then a woman came out dressed in a long white skirt and a bandeau top and she danced to the music created by the drummers.  She was joined by four other female dancers, and the five performed a traditional dance around the stage.  Then they moved down into the crowd and began marking people’s faces with mud.  Some of our kids were actually terrified and pushed the women’s hands away – they had never been touched by a person with dark skin, and were also scared of having this strange substance put on their faces.  I was a little embarrased by their reluctance, so I made a point to have my face painted so they could see it wasn’t painful or scary at all. 

I apologise for the photo quality of the performance shots – many of these shots were either taken by Andy, or while Andy was trying to take the camera from my hands.

Aanika Drummers

Aanika Drummers

Aanika Dancers

Aanika Dancers

After the women finished they retreated backstage and two men came out – one dressed in long shorts, and the other in full costume to resemble a chicken – he was covered from head to toe in rows upon rows of black and yellow beads and his face was covered by an elaborate mask.  The whole outfit jingled and jangled as he moved, so he created his own music to accompany the drummers in the background.  He and the other man performed an intricate dance to similate a farmer and his chicken, and it was truly spectacular.  They jumped, danced and wove their way around the stage in beautiful motions while we watched with awe. 

Chicken Dance

Chicken Dance

Chicken Dance #2

Chicken Dance #2

Next the women and men all emerged dressed in pairs – the woman wearing a beautiful tie-dyed gown, and the man wearing long pants to match.  They performed a beautiful group routine and then they came into the crowd and pulled adults and children onto the stage to join them.  I was happy to be chosen and took my Strawberry kids up with me – we joined hands with the African dancers and pranced around on the stage together.  I think it was a great opportunity for our kids to break out of their little Asian bubble and experience first-hand the beauty of a foreign culture.
Pair Dancing

Pair Dancing

Pair Dancing #2

Pair Dancing #2

Pair Dancing #3

Pair Dancing #3

On Stage!

On Stage!

Once the performace ended the kids quickly started moaning and groaning about how hungry they were, so we decided it was high time for lunch.  We set up big blankets in a large common area just outside the performance shell, and the kids unpacked their lunches.  Some of the parents had sent special lunches for the teachers, so we enjoyed a fantastic smoked salmon salad (that’s right, smoked salmon!!) and some chicken caesar wraps from Costco.  What a great lunch!

Then we moved the kids to the other side of the performance shell, where the drummers themselves were set up at three different stations.  At the first, one man was sitting in front of a large xylophone, and there were little xylophones scattered around on the ground.  The kids sat on the ground and he taught them to use the mallets and beat out a simple song.  He also spoke a few Korean phrases, which the kids loved to hear.  After maybe ten minutes our group moved over to another man sitting in front of a bongo drums.  Again the kids sat down on the ground and beat out simple rhythms along with him.  It was really adorable. 

Cindy

Cindy

Ricky

Ricky

Joy, Andy, Joon & Tommy

Joy, Andy, Joon & Tommy

Douglas

Douglas

Janet, Cindy & Top

Janet, Cindy & Top

Rose

Rose

Finally we brought everyone to a large area with rows and rows of huge water drums laid out on their sides.  The kids lined up two by two in front of the drums, and another one of the drummers led them in a rousing performance of water drum beating.  It was hilarious to see our little kids beating furiously on these huge drums with wooden sticks.  I could tell they were having the time of their lives. 

Andy & Scott

Andy & Scott

Drumming!

Drumming!

More drumming!

More Drumming!

Lucy & Flora

Lucy & Flora

Afterwards we brought the kids back to our lunch spot, where we were joined by a Korean employee who showed us how to make African necklaces using coloured beads and string.  I know they weren’t really African in any sense of the word, but they were still really pretty.  Then, for some reason absolutely unknown to me, the kids were led over to a woman making cotton candy.  Cotton candy?  What does that have to do with experiencing African culture??  I was worried the kids would think that cotton candy was invented in Africa.  It was a little bizarre, but all kids love sugar so it was very well received.
African Cotton Candy?

African Cotton Candy?

Jenny

Jenny

Judy

Judy

Sarah & Judy

Sarah & Judy

After a nice rest in the shade we walked over to the sculpture garden and the museum.  They had an amazing array of bronze and wooden sculptures, paintings, pottery, carvings and other artifacts on display, but I think the effect was lost on our students.  I had a great time looking at everything and taking pictures, but they just wandered around not really looking at anything.  We walked into one room that was completely filled by a full-sized, stuffed giraffe!  I had never seen anything so big before. 

Sculpture Garden

Sculpture Garden

Sculpture Garden #2

Sculpture Garden #2

Sculpture Garden #3

Sculpture Garden #3

Sculpture Garden #4

Sculpture Garden #4

Sculpture Garden #5

Sculpture Garden #5

Museum

Museum

Museum #2

Museum #2

Museum #3

Museum #3

Museum #4

Museum #4

Museum #5

Museum #5

Museum #6

Museum #6

Giraffe

Giraffe

I slowed down to really soak in the sights, and was joined by my favourite student of all time, Andy.  He is the most amazingly smart and funny child, and I definitely love him more than I thought I could love a student.  He’s very inquisitive and always wants to learn, so we walked around the museum together, hand in hand, while he asked me “Teacher, what is that?”  “Teacher, what is this?”  We found a small room filled from floor to ceiling with beautiful African masks, and had a great time acting out the sounds some of the animal masks would make.  Then we saw something that was both amazing and incredibly heartbreaking – an adult lion and his lioness, stuffed and on display in full aggressive poses.  Of course, neither Andy nor I had ever seen a lion so close before, but to see these beautiful creatures displayed in such a way was very sad.  We wandered around together for a little longer, then we rejoined the rest of the group just outside the museum, and made our way back to our base camp.

Andy

Andy

Andy #2

Andy #2

Andy #3

Andy #3

Andy #4

Andy #4

Mask Collection

Mask Collection

Lion

Lion

Lioness

Lioness

Our last activity for the day was to pose for pictures with the entire African dance troupe, or as our itinerary stated take “Pictures with the African”, (shudder) so we rounded the kids up and took the customary dozens of pictures for posterity.  By now our kids definitely seemed a lot less frightened of being so close to dark skinned people, so I saw this as a definite sign of improvement.  One of our most fearless students, Scott, actually walked over to one of the drummers who was relaxing at a picnic table and climbed up onto his lap.  He played with the drummer’s dreadlocks and stroked his face – it was definitely a very touching moment.

Group Shot

Group Shot

Scott

Scott

All in all, the trip was a great experience.  I think it opened our kids’ minds a little, and allowed them to experience a different culture in a very interactive and personal way.  I was very sad that Dave couldn’t have been there with us, but his sacrifice meant that I got to have a great day with our kids, and that meant the world to me.

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