Sunday, July 27, 2014

Book Report, Part 1

The general laxity in my posting updates of my various fascinating thoughts and activities has been unforgivable, though I admire the persistaece (and perspicacity) of the Teeming Dozens who've stayed with me during this dearth of output. Most shocking of all, has been a failure to provide my deathless reviews/summaries of what I've been reading! Fret no more! i'll begin with two longish books, considered together for their similar theme, even if that theme is not apparent at first.
  • The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II by Denise Kiernan, and The Path Between the Seas: The Creation of the Panama Canal 1870-1914 by David McCullough - Although united by unnecessarily long subtitles, these books have a great thing in common: the satisfying true story of what Americans can do, both individually and as a nation, when called upon to do it to achieve some greater good. The first book uses the words and stories of two dozen women lured or hired to Oak Ridge, Tennessee to perform tasks from nursing to janitorial work, secretarial duties to physics lab tech jobs during the so-called Manhattan Project. At Oak Ridge, a series of massive plants was built to enrich plutonium eventually used in the making of the nuclear bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Of course, none of them knew it at the time, and it could be argued that the bombings only marginally accelerated V-J Day, but hindsight is 20-20, and it's also easy to argue, besides, that the Bomb nonetheless saved hundreds of thousands of Japanese and American lives.

    This book doesn't much concern itself with that, it is mostly about the wartime lives of the women the author interviewed at some remove--their country called on them, and they responded as best they could. Their stories are dramatic, ordinary, at times comedic, and at times tragic, but make for a great read. For many years, I took my school's seventh graders to Oak Ridge every spring as part of a week-long science trip focused on "Energy". The Museum of Science and Energy had an exhibit about the lives of those who Built the Bomb, but it merely scratched the surface of the story this book plumbs so well.

    David McCullough, who later became one of America's best, and best-known, biographers, wrote the biography, so to speak, of the Panama Canal in the mid-seventies, when it had become newsworthy once again. Like the Manhattan Project, it is about a country's strategic needs and willingness to surmount almost impossible odds to meet them. The country was France. Well, for thirty years or so, until they had ultimately to admit they couldn't do the job. I'm sure we all know the famous palindrome "a man, a plan, a canal, Panama." That man was Ferdinand de Lessop, who had triumphantly engineered the Suez Canal a few years earlier. He took on the Isthmian canal project as a money-making venture for ordinary Frenchmen, who ultimately lost their investments because of poor decision-making and dogged persistence in wrong ideas by de Lessop, his son, and his board.

    What I previously knew about the Panama Canal was mostly wrong--though TR deserves some credit for it, he gets considerably more than he deserves; while American medicos eliminated malaria, they did so by continually fighting their higher-ups, conventional wisdom, and the US Congress, none of whom believed mosquitoes were responsible for its spread; while the US did indeed have a treaty involving the canal territory's return after X number of years, that treaty was with Colombia, who no longer controlled the territory by the time the US actually started to build.

    And that's just for starters. Great book. Well, two great books!
  • J. Edgar Hoover: The man and the Secrets by Kurt Gentry - As far as I can tell, this book is exhaustively researched, and yet does not reveal any of the salacious scuttlebutt I was expecting in such a thick, detailed, and thorough book, about J. Edgar's rumored transvestitism, homosexuality or fetishism. Disappointing as it is, I have to conclude that it turns out not every homophobe is a closeted gay. Still, there are revelations aplenty about this foul man and his iron grip on American law and "morality" for the nearly forty years he ran the FBI until his death in 1972. He personally destroyed the lives of many good men and women, while supporting the worst kinds of cretins and elevating them to rhe hallways of power. And he still impacts American culture in negative ways. For example, even though the American Communist Party was always a tiny, ineffectual group of aesthetes and wannabes, their disproven approach still serves as a rallying point for conservatives to this day. Though his illegal surveillance techniques were eschewed in the seventies and eighties, the dramatic news of programs like Echelon and Prism seem to bore Americans, in part because Hoover's FBI (or rather the revelations about it) has somewhat normalized them.
  • The Hornet's Sting: The Amazing Untold Story of World War II Spy Thomas Sneum by Mark Ryan - Thomas Sneum indeed was an amazing spy; sadly, he was a poor excuse for a human being. He abandoned his wife and daughter, he threatened his biographer with a loaded pistol, he left his brother to freeze to death, he was a misogynist and all-around asshole. However, he wasn't a coward. The key thing abouut him, that makes the other stuff less important, is that he performed several feats of amazing bravery or derring-do to assist materially in the Allied cause during WWII. Sneum was Danish, and got involved in the war effort after his homeland crumbled under Nazi power without even testing itself. Near his home, the Germans installed a new kind of radar; he took pictures of the installation, and unable to provide the photos to the British any other way, he and a buddy rebuilt an old Hornet Moth, filled it with extra fuel cans, and flew it across the north Atlantic, climbing out onto the wing to refuel it along the way. Wow! That was just the beginning of his remarkable tale, which is replete with British spy agency bumbling, double-agent shenanigans, assassination by crossbow, and seducing a mother and her daughter. Long derided as a double agent, Sneum was ultimately exonerated and rewarded with the King's Medal for Courage.
Part 2 of this installment of the book report will have a slightly more sci-fi leaning. Coming soon!

Friday, July 25, 2014

School Elections

Today is the last day of the semester, here at 양명초 , and it was also the day for student government elections--terms apparently run from August to August.

Just as it was at my high school, the key means of canvassing for votes seems to be standing at the entrance to the school in the morning and serenading the students, or at least getting your name in front of them.

This is a big deal to the fifth grade, as they will be the school leaders just one semester from now. Here are some pics of democracy in action

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I say today is the last day of the semester, but I still have two weeks of camp, which is all prepared and ready to go, of course, beforee my vacation time.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Restaurant Review: Linus' BBQ, Itaewon

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It's a bit hard to find, even though it is in the heart of Itaewon, but you are a fool if you don't change all your plans for dinner throughout the next century to beat a path to Linus's door!

After enjoying his "pop-up" at Magpie's in Noksapyeong a while ago, The Stumbler and I have tried to meet up at this new southern-style bar-be-que joint for a couple of weeks, but somehow never worked it out. What the HELL were we thinking!?! Finally, we made it to his newly-opened, non-pop-up restaurant tonight, with new pal Mike, and I never want to eat anywhere else again.

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First, how do you get there? Find the main drag in in Itaewon and make your way to the McDonald's. To its immediate left are some stairs down into a little underground shopping area. Follow the hallway to the end, and turn left, where you'll see the picnic tables outside and a relatively small indoor eating space, as shown above.

Second, I was joyful when J.R.'s Southern Style BBQ opened on the main street last year, and many folks have heard me sing its praises. And I wasn't wrong to do so. but Lawd a' Mercy! you ain't had nothin' like Linus's BBQ! Starved as I was of the gen-you-wine article, I thought J.R.'s was as good as I was gonna git!

I'm not gonna get into where JR or Linus and them is all from--mainly 'cause I don't give a rat's ass--and I think both have a reputable product. But if we just compare the basics, the standard pulled pork BBQ sandwich, Linus wins on every point. The meat is perfectly smoked and seasoned, the buns buttered and lightly grilled, the sauce just like back home (and the right amount of it).

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Third, there are the sides. Both have the shoestring fries, both good. But Linus offers so much more! There were three of us: Mike had the fried okry (delicious, but not as good as my sister-in-law's); I had "Smoky mac-n-cheese", and I do not think I exaggerate when I say I could subsist on a big ol' bowl o' that till my dying day (it's on the left above); Chris had a side of fried mac-cheese-and-jalapeno-balls that were a spicy delight.

Neither restaurant (nor any place I know of in Korea, including KFC) yet has a handle on how to make cole slaw, but I still give the edge to Linus. Neither restaurant is a bargain, either, with the basic sandwich coming in at 12,000 W--if that matters a lot to you, then by all means veer right on Itaewon-gil and enter the Golden Arches. Serves you right.

Finally, a little pedantry. I'm allowed, after such a glowing review. The sign says "Linus' BBQ". This is incorrect, as Strunk and White instruct on--literally--page one: "Form the possessive singular of nouns by adding 's." They do allow for exceptions in the case of ancient proper names, e.g., Jesus', but Linus is no Son of Our Lord, even if a god of southern-style dead pig preparation. Hmmm, on second thought ...

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Fifth Grade

One of the fifth grade classes invited me to their class party yesterday. I took a picture:

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...as they had laid on quite a spread. But the reason I mention it is a) because my fifth graders are awesome, and b) because it reminded me that I took some pictures a couple of weeks ago of fifth grade in action.

We were doing a new review activity I made up, called:

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in which students will review key expressions. Their usual class team is divided into two pairs:

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with a divider between them so they have to talk to one another. One pair will decode the message by using a decoding sheet (a one-time pad)

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while the other pair write the message the decoders tell them to on a whiteboard. There is a time limit indicated by the fuse along the bottom. which ends with a bang. I also stuck on the Mission Impossible theme for heightened pressure.

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As you can see in the shots below, they really found it an interesting challenge, and even the most passive students found themselves participating.

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I'm going to do this again, and I'll also make one using a tomb-robbers theme with hieroglyphic symbols.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Tuttle Update

1) Things have been going swimmingly here in my little patch of Seoul. Classes are going along quite well, and in fact I think the fifth graders are actually improving their English in a genuine way. I'm patting myself on the back for that, since I do all the materials and planning for that class. The sixth grade has started coming round again, too, after quite a dull patch in the middle of the semester. The last couple months have seen a real burst of creativity in my lesson planning and new materials.

Next up is two weeks of summer camp, where my themes will be "Around the World" for 3rd and 4th, and "Schoolhouse Rock" for 5th and 6th, which uses the old 3 minute TV songs (the grammar ones) as a starting point.

2) My summer vacation, which begins after camp ends, is nearly sorted. I will spend two weeks in Nepal, basing myself in Kathmandu, with forays to Nagarkot (in the mountains), Chitwan (in the jungle), and possibly Lumbini (birthplace of the Buddha).

3) I just got back from the dentist. I've been going once or twice a week all month, precipitated by some bad tooth pain. On my co-teacher's recommendation, I found a guy in my complex who speaks good English, his office called Samsung Dental. Now, this isn't one of those Samsung or Hyundai places that people name that because they can, this is actually part of the Samsung umbrella. He's done two fillings, and is 3/4 through a thorough teeth cleaning process that has so far set me back 170,000 W.

Sad truth time: my teeth are in pretty reasonable shape. I brush three times a day (always have) and floss regularly (always have). But other than the time my tooth cracked up three years ago, and I got a root canal, I have not set foot inside a dentist's office for over thirty years. As he put it, "You have very heavy calculus that must be removed. Otherwise, soon your teeth will weaken and you will have periodontal disease."

So, I sit in his chair for 45 minutes, under local anesthetic, while he scrapes this stuff off with a metal pick and then goes over the area with some kind of high pressure liquid. He does one quadrant in each visit, and it costs 9,000 W. I have one visit left, although I may be back later if it is decided the crack in my second molar (bottom right), needs to be crowned. Happy fun time it's not, but I'm glad I'm finally getting it done.

4) The World Cup is quite simply at the worst possible place for viewers in the Korean time zone. The US games so far have come on at 7 AM, and I have to leave for work before 8:30, so I have missed the last 20+ minutes--which has been when the real action is. A lot of Big Five action, for those who know what I mean.

The Group G final games air at 1:00 AM tonight, so I plan to get some sleep early, then wake up to watch. Frankly, Ghana-Portugal is more significant than US-Germany, but I'll switch back and forth. You should too.

5) There is no #5.

6) I saw this headline on Huff Post: What your Subway sandwich order says about you, and had to have a look-see. I always get the Spicy Italian or the Italian BMT:

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You're smart, hardworking and driven. Your ambition inspires others and while you're always one step ahead, you're also always eager to help other people find their way. You're just a solid human being.

Yep. That's me, alright.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

ROK the Vote 2014

It's Election Day in Korea, with governorships, district offices and mayoral offices up for grabs. Seoul mayor Park retained his seat, but I'm not here to talk about results. Instead, I have some pictures of the canvassing process. The candidates spend oodles of money to get their image (and possibly their policy platforms) into the public eye. Most ubiquitous is the large banner. They block visibility on key intersections, like this one:

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As the election nears, you will see sidewalks littered (a misdemeanor offence, I think) with business card-sized adverts, that you can pull out of your wallet at the polling station in case you forgot who to vote for. The second one is at my apartuh door:

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Occasionally, you find more in-depth treatments of the candidates' positions, in glossy brochures, just about the only campaigning device I'm really familiar with from the States:

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Candidates' canvassers also drive around these trucks, blaring a short message from the man or woman him or herself. Occasionally, the candidate will appear in the truck personally--you can see the handrail there in the second shot.

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They also blanket their gu with brigades of uniformed ajummas to politely entreat pedestrians to put in a showing for their man:

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And as time winds down, the candidate may appear on the street alongside them in a last-minute effort to ROK the vote:

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Sunday, May 18, 2014

Silly Signs

Been a long time since I did a post like this, but here are a few signs that sparked my amusement lately--some perhaps for a Konglish element, some for their ease of misinterpretation, some ... well, just because. Fisrt up, the Korean stork:

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Not precisely sure what a "womanly studio" is, but I bet M. Princess would be welcome there:

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I'm sure they'tr both right (the second one shows a store named more or less "very nice phone"):

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These next two are just misspellings that amused me:

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Here is a computer repair shop, whose name phonetically is "Cum doctor":

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After you visit him, perhaps you can take the advice from a menu in HBC:

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Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Children's Day 2014

I arranged to meet my pal "Heron" at the King Sejong statue in Gwanghwamun Plaza on Monday, which was Children's Day, to have a look round the downtown area at all the Children's Day festivities. While awaiting her arrival, I had the remarkable coincidence of running into Mr Hwang who was my first co-teacher and "handler" at Young-il HS lo these many years ago. I had seen him a couple of times since then, but the kids have grown up a lot in the meantime:

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Heron and I spent a pleasant afternoon, first at Gwanghwamun--she had not yet been to the Sejong and Admiral Yi museums located underneath, then walking along the Cheonggicheon. There were yellow ribbons everywhere, a sad remembrance of the youth who died in the Sewol ferry disaster, but many of the usual activities had been cancelled. There were many visitors, nonetheless.

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The lanterns adorned the stream for Buddha's birthday celebrations. The red-crested crane is Korea's national bird, seen also on the 500 W coin.

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The weather was a tad chilly but the sky was, as you can see, glorious. We walked quite a long way down the stream, and I noticed these painted tiles for the first time (I'm sure they've always been there):

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For those not in the know, the Cheonggi stream was once a blight on Seoul's downtown, an open sewer; Hyundai Industries was contracted to cover it over and make it a street, back when Lee Myung-bak was its chairman. Twenty years later, when Lee was Seoul mayor, he led a move to restore in into a recreation and relaxation spot. Most Seoullites today will probably choose not to remember how unpopular that decision was at the time, since it is taken for granted today, eight years later.

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We meandered through Insadong, then made our way to Itaewon dor dinner. We ate at Zelen, the Hungarian place, and it was delicious, as usual. We shared a shopska salad, she had chicken in white sauce, I had stuffed pork. And white sangria, as if that's even possible.

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A nice ending to a lovely day out. Thanks, Heron!

Friday, May 2, 2014

New Contract Time

This week was re-contracting time here in The Seoul Patch, or more precisely at SMOE for August hires, so I had to fill out some paperwork and undergo an "open class" for the principal and VP. In the past, though I may have worried a bit about the re-contracting process, because there are definitely some aspects of capriciousness to it, I never sweated the "open class", because after 25 plus years teaching, I'm pretty confident in that area.

Or I was, until my co=teacher informed me that last year, under different administrators, they had not really been satisfied with my open class lesson. As she explained, it was "not anything special." Whatever that means. After all, it had clear objectives that matched the textbook, and the activities were designed to help students meet the objectives; there were different types of activities, focused on listening and speaking. The students were successful and there was definitely co-teaching go on. All things that we are told over and over in the SMOE workshops. And I was told that this time I had to do it without a co-teacher.

So my open class this year was to be period 2 of lesson 4 in the fifth grade book (from YBM/Chronjae), which is titled "Say Hello to the Class". In period 1, the story is about two new students, named Sneeze and Hiccup, who join Magic School. "I like magic," enthuses Sneeze, "I am interested in broom class." Hiccup likes wand class. Magic School? Broom class? An homage, let's call it, to Harry Potter's wizarding world.

I won't go into excruciating detail, but my lesson made the relation to Harry Potter explicit. First, I ask a few questions to review the previous lesson, then I ask if they know of any movies that are about a magic school. They know, of course, about Hogwarts. I've been to the trouble of finding an HP clip and applying English subs, warning them that there's a lot of tough language in the clip, but just try to observe what they can about this magic school.


I turn off the lights, and when the clip is over, I make an entrance just like Snape does, wearing a wizard hat and cape. It is a hit. Next we go through a PPT I've made practicing the target sentences of the previous lesson, ending with the team having to unscramble such sentences about HP characters, for points: I am interested in plants. I like gardening. (Neville Longbottom) He is interested in dragons. He likes wyverns and griffins. (Hagrid) She is interested in birds. She likes birdwatching. (Cho) etc.

Eleven or twelve minutes have elapsed, and now we do the practice conversation from the text. I have made and printed out a cloze sheet (fill-ins) for each student. They write in the missing words the first time the conversation is played, then there is a listen and repeat section--nothing earth-shattering here. Next, the teams may volunteer to stand up and read the conversation as a role-play. Now is the fun part--I pull out wizard hats and a broom for them! Lo and behold, every team is chomping at the bit for their turn. Some photos:

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Since all the teams do it, this segment runs about fifteen minutes. Next, we play the "Sleeping Elephants Game" only I've re-done it into Sleeping Dragons. Each team gets a mini-whiteboard, and all put their heads down on the desk. One by one, team members/dragons "wake up" to see a part of a sentence revealed on a PPT slide. At the end, all the team members work together to write down the sentence. If they are correct, they earn a point.

We play this game until there are five minutes remaining in class, and we finish with the other main element of the textbook for this lesson, the "Rap Box." There's one in period 2 of each chapter. Mostly they're dreck, like this one--the idea is solid, it just lacks in the execution.

So that's my re-contracting open class. (Okay, so I did go into considerable detail, but I hope it wasn't excruciating!) I got to practice it twice on other sections before the one in front of the administrators and other teachers, so it went flawlessly. I have to admit I took extra care and extra time in developing this lesson, and was even a bit nervous about it.

Now, here's where it gets a little bit odd. The VP and P are no-shows! My main co-teacher whispers to me that they have to be off-campus (remember, they set this date and time about three weeks ago). They're not coming. The only observers/scorers are my two co-teachers, both of whom support me. "So just relax," she tells me. "They trust our opinion." I was relaxed, but disappointed: I wanted them to see me at work! especially having gone to these lengths to make a great lesson.

Anyway, by the end of the next day, I still had not heard about whether I would get a new contract, so now I was getting nervous. But finally, Wednesday morning during the break after first class, my Co tells me the principal has approved my new contract, "Congratulations!"

So, assuming I pass my medical check sometime in July, I am set for another year of jollity and teaching here on the peninsula.

Next issue: Where to go on my summer vacation? Places I have not been: Nepal, Mongolia, Laos. Places I want to try again: Philippines, Vietnam, Japan. Anyone...?