Wednesday, December 31, 2008

So Long, 2008

This is my first blog, and my first New Year's as a blogger, but I'm guessing the Year in Review post is de rigueur. So with no further ado, here is my short list of Lowlights and Highlights of the year just passed:

LO: lost job at OMA after five years for no good reason
HI: got a job working in Seoul, South Korea with zero grading to do

HI: 2008 Election - Barak Obama next President
LO: Bush administration gets to continue fucking things up until late January

HI: America not attacked by terrorists at home
LO: Americans killed by terrorists in Iraq passes 4,000 - George Bush says, "So what?"

LO: got ripped off when selling my trusty Chevy S-10
HI: got a really good deal on my new 17" Toshiba Satellite laptop

HI: I joined the fitness center in my building, and go 3X week
LO: I've only been about twice in the last two weeks

LO: I am finding the Korean language very very difficult
HI: I can read (sound out) Hangeul pretty efficiently

LO: Koreans protest resumed imports of US beef, fearing "crazy cow" disease
HI: worldwide deaths from US beef-borne BSE remain ZERO, NONE, NADA

LO: fourteen hour flight in tiny seat on crowded plane
HI: seventeen weeks in the Big Big City

LO: tiny apartment - no stove or outdoor grill
HI: tiny apartment - easy to keep clean

LO: Korean cheese, garlic bread (has sugar on it), TV
HI: sam-gyup-sal, galbi, Seoul public transportation

LO: miss my friends and family back home
HI: have made new friends here in Korea

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

School's Out for Winter!

So, yesterday was the last day of classes--actually, half-day. I still had to go in today though, for a grand total of 8 seconds!


Damned if I know. The faculty meeting planned for this morning was cancelled (not that I go to those anyway). I had no paperwork to file. No students to meet. No paperwork to do.

Oh, wait: Mr Hwang wanted to give me the class rolls for the three classes I'm teaching during winter camp. I shrugged. I don't really need those tomorrow, I can just get them on Friday, no problem.

Problem. So, I dutifully arose and walked to school with him, waited in the office until he found the rolls and printed them off. I took them to my classroom (which is not the classroom I will be teaching in during camp--I will actually be teaching each class in a different room), then went back home. And slept for a while.


Because yesterday, big Mr Lee invited me out for chicken and beer as a celebration. And I had loads of chicken, and even more beer. As a result (well, more of the beer than the chicken), I was feeling a tad delicate this morning. So, rather than venture forth into the Big City to See Sights, I Slept It Off.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Bad Advice for ESL Teachers

The Times of London, p. 8, July 22, 1938
I was at the Times Online Games page (Why? If you have to ask, you shouldn't be reading this blog), and saw a link to the Times archive titled "1939: English for Foreigners". I'm going to quote the article in its entirety as the link appears a bit squicky, but don't feel obligated to read it all. [Blog continued below]

English For Foreigners - The 250 foreign students who are attending the annual Holiday Course in English at the University of London were advised by Professor Sir Denison Ross, in his inaugural address yesterday, to tackle the crossword puzzles in The Times and to read the books of Mr. P. G. Wodehouse. This far from disagreeable syllabus of studies was commended as the best avenue to knowledge of what Sir Denison Ross called "the neglected background" of the study of English, as of any other tongue-the secret repertory which formed, as it were, the physiognomy of a language, just as grammar and syntax formed its anatomy. Acquaintance with the background demanded familiarity with proverbs, catch phrases other than purely idiomatic phrases, contemporary slang, history, folklore, and the daily life of the people using the language. He wondered how many of his audience had noticed the crossword puzzles in The Times, and how many had tried to write the answer to even one question. It was, he thought, almost the greatest possible test of knowledge of a language to do a crossword puzzle in that language; and he had met none in any language as good as those in The Times and one or two other English newspapers, for they were really an intellectual exercise. Merely putting down a synonym required the kind of knowledge possessed by anyone with a rich vocabulary. But the kind of question The Times asked in the course of a puzzle was the kind of thing he asked his hearers to study in order to acquire the neglected background. It was composed mainly of allusions, many of which presupposed a familiarity with English history and English poetry of what he would call the taken-for- granted type. The men who set those puzzles had a distinct notion of what poetry the English reader was familiar with. He advised the students during their course to try to tackle one of them--though he himself had hardly ever completed one. CRICKET IN ITALIAN Another test of English, Sir Denison Ross continued, was the writing of Mr. P. G. Wodehouse, one of the greatest writers of the English language. Mr. Wodehouse always took for granted the repertory that formed the English background. He would give you a quarter of a quotation, he would give you half a word, and you would know the rest. That was why the speaker maintained that Mr. Wodehouse could not be translated into any other language. To illustrate this contention Sir Denison Ross read the account of a cricket match from an Italian translation of "Piccadilly Jim," with the technical terms all rendered with perfect literalness and therefore unintelligibly. "Since Mr. Wodehouse is one of the most delightful authors in the world," he added, "quite apart from improving your English, let me recommend you to read him as much as possible. And if you would go through one book by him you would know twice as much English, as when you began it." DR. GEORGE SENTER, chairman of the University Extension and Tutorial Classes Council, who took the chair at the opening session, introduced Sir Denison Ross as a great traveller, a great linguist, and one of the most interesting men in this country. "I think I am within the mark," he observed, "in saying that he could speak to each of you in your own language." Dr. Senter also said that the largest number of students that could he admitted to the course (which is being held at King's College of Household and Social Science, Campden Hill Road, W.8) was 290, and that in the existing very difficult inter- national circumstances it was remarkable that there were present 250 students, of 26 or 27 nationalities, many of whom must have found great difficulty in coming. The university attached great importance to the course as some contribution to international understanding and friendship. At no time had a contribution to that end been more necessary. ENGLISH FOR FOREIGNERS 'THE TIMES' CROSSWORD PUZZLES SIR DENISON ROSS'S ADVICE

On first glance, I held out great hope for this article, mainly on two grounds: I am a frequent crossword-filler, and even a sometime constructor, back in the days before the internet and crossword-making programs took the fun out of it; and during my voracious adolescence, I read most everything written by "Mr. P. G. Wodehouse" and can even tell you those initials are for Pelham Grenville without looking it up. And his friends called him Plum.

Crosswords, after all, have a place in ESL teaching--just as they do as vocab review for any classroom. But let's not pretend we're fooling anyone; vocab review is vocab review, whether it means writing the words in horizontal blanks, choosing the correct letter a) b) c) or d), or drawing a line from the word to its definition or its picture.

A Times crossword, however, with its hundred-plus clues and arcane words, is a different animal than a worksheet with fifteen theoretically familiar, well-rehearsed terms with textbook clues. Even a small-town paps "13 by" crossword relies on cultural, idiomatic and "crossword-ready" terms totally past kenning for 90% of ESL learners. Y'know, ken, three-letter word meaning "to descry."

With regard to Mr. Wodehouse (later Sir), it is easy to argue that his work speaks to universal themes--in fact, I'm so certain it does, I'm not going to try. It's beyond the ken of this blog, anyway. While my beloved Plum writes on love and human foible, he does so in a milieu so foreign to, say, a Korean or Chinese, that explaining about manservants and Spinoza may well have diminishing returns. The window-dressing, so delightful to those of us from the West, makes the picture opaque to the viewer with occidental eyes.

Sir Denison Ross gets something right, though: we should teach proverbs, catch phrases, slang, history, folklore and daily life. Done properly, these topics are ideal fodder for well-made ESL lessons. But I can promise you I won't be bringing a full-out Times crossword into class anytime soon. Unless I'm working on it!

Friday, December 26, 2008

The Zero Milestone and More

Seoul zero milestone
The Gwanghwamun Public Square has a zero milestone at its center. Around the zero milestone are four landmarks that indicate the four directions of North South East and West, and another twelve landmarks in the form of the twelve animals symbolizing longevity. Inside the circle formed by these twelve animal-shaped sculptures, are the actual distances from Seoul to the nations[sic] 53 major cities by highway, and the distances from 64 cities around the world, measured in straight line.

Thus reads the English panel of the plaque upper left, below; to the right is a detail of one of the animals of longevity; the bottom pics are close-ups of two milemarkers.

explanatory plaque, clockwise, Hangeul, English, Japanese, Chineselongevity animal detail
mileage markermileage marker

Admiral Yi Statue: In the background of the large shot of the zero milestone above, you can see a pedestaled statue, partly blocked by a road sign. That's Admiral Yi Sun-sin, one of Korea's great heroes, overlooking Sejeongro Boulevard in Jongro-il-ga. Admiral Yi saved the country from Japanese aggression in some 23 battles during the latter part of the sixteenth century; his strategic brilliance, together with his invention of kobukson or 'turtle ships'--the world's first ironclads--cemented his position in Korean esteem.

Admiral Yi statue, under construction

Admiral Yi, from eastAdmiral Yi, from west

Hammering Man: The 'Hammering Man' in Seoul is the largest (at 72 feet) of a series of such kinesthetic sculptures created by Jonathan Borofsky; there is a list of his public works at his website. In an interview with CMM (Carnegie-Mellon Magazine), also available at his webpage, he comments on the Seoul Hammering Man:
It’s a symbol for the worker in all of us. I used a very traditional hammer image. We still have people who use hammers, of course, to build, but it can be anybody who works with their hands. My vision was to have as many of these hammering around the world at the same time as possible to tie us in as one installation, one people working.

Hammering Man, by Jonathan BorofskyHammering Man, by Jonathan Borofsky

Bosingak Site: "This is the site of the Bosingak Bell Tower, the bell that was rung to announce the time. The bell tower was built in 1396, and the bell was rung to signal the opening and closing of the city gates. It was also rung to alert the citizens when there was a fire.
"In 1413 the bell tower was moved to what is now the intersection of Jongno [where it is now]. In 1440 it was expanded to 5 kan (a kan is the interval between pillars) along the east-west axis and 4 kan along the north-south axis. The bell tower was burned down several times due to war and fire and each time it was rebuilt. ..."

Next to the tower, was this pleasant sculpture installation, obviously depicting a traditional classroom, but beyond that I am clueless.

I took all these shots yesterday; I got off a couple stops past City Hall (green line) and walked west, knowing I would find at least Admiral Yi on my way to the Plaza with the skating, etc. Let me just add, the wind was frozen air funneling through the skyscraper canyon of the Big City--so you better appreciate these pics! Oh, and Happy Boxing Day.

Keeping Company with Clapton

It's been the last class of the school year pretty much all week long (three classes on Monday AM, and that's it).

A second grade student (junior) left this drawing on his desk as he filed out--parting shot or weird homage, you decide. You really have to see this full-size, so click on it:

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas Day at Seoul Plaza

I joined thousands of other Seoulites at Seoul Plaza in front of City Hall, where they have erected a large white Christmas tree, decorated with Santa and his reindeer, and topped with a cross.

They have also erected an ice skating rink, which you can barely see at right when the video stops: below left is a Zamboni, Korean-style; right, one line of skaters waiting for the gates to open.

And they're off:

Other sights:

Getting readyFree hugs!
light display atop portico of Seoul Plaza Hotelcute kids posing in front of geographically-confused light sculpture with penguins AND polar bear, igloo

On my way home, I got off one bus stop earlier than usual. I passed by a truck on the curb with a chicken rotisserie on the back--two for 12,000 W. They smelled fabulous. So fabulous, in fact, that my Christmas dinner was roasted chicken stuffed with rice and herbs! And chocolate cake for dessert.

Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Happy Cake Day!

As much as anything, Christmas Eve seems to be an occasion for Koreans to eat really elaborate cakes. I passed by four bakeries today, and all of them had vast columns of cartons containing beautifully-decorated cakes stacked outside. In boxes, of course.

I had picked up a trial-run, dinky little 9,000 W cake at E-Mart's Day & Day bakery on the weekend, but it was nothing compared to these 20,000 to 40,000 W jobbies they had at Paris Baguette and Tous les Jours, the big bakery chains here. Actually, bakeries are good places for snacks and light meals here--they have sandwiches, mini-pizzas, hot dogs and the like as well as pastries and breads.

Before I get to my cake, I have to tell you about getting my new cell phone (Handu pon in Konglish). As I detailed previously, I was unable to get a new phone because my bank account was set up using my passport, rather than my alien registration. I said "because" there, since it's a subordinating conjunction, not because what followed provides a discernable reason. Welcome to Korea.

So. I spent my time between classes all morning at the bank (< 10 min. walk) fixing my account so it reflects my alien number. Done. To check it, I take out some money using my card (no problem) and update my passbook (also no problem). While I'm on the subject, your bank doesn't send you a monthly statement here--hell, they don't even have checks the way we think of them in the states. You take your passbook to the nearest ATM, insert it in the passbook slot opened to the active page, and the machine prints all your transactions and balances since the last update.

Anyway, after the day's fourth iteration of the Grinch (the last two with no coteacher, as Miss Cho was feeling poorly, so I told her to go home), I made my way back to the LG Telecom store bearing a note from Mr Hwang explaining that I still want exactly the set-up we were trying to get earlier. This time, it was smooth sailing, and I walked out of the store a happy, and connected, man. Turns out, I have the same model my blogger pal Andy just got, if not as good a deal.

A couple hours later, I'm buying groceries in E-Mart, including a steak, some really dirty spuds with which I plan to make mashed potatoes (they turned out great), salad stuff and a bottle of Kahlua (for afters). I get to the check-out, and my bank card won't work! Arrrgh!

Fortunately, since I was just at the bank--where the card worked perfectly well--I have barely enough cash to cover the tab. This had happened at E-Mart once before, an annoyance, but I let it go. E'en if I could communicate with the cashier and the shift supervisor, I doubt I could make much headway with them, anyway.

My next stop is the Tous les Jours in my building for a cake. After all, I'm here to immerse myself in the Korean experience. Well, that, and I like cake. I pick out this chocolate chiffon jobbie that looks pretty tasty. Guess what? The card doesn't work here, either--double Arrrgh!

Well, one door down from my building, past the Hi-Mart, is a "365 bank"--some banks have a room with a row of teller machines that's open 24/7. Lo and behold! I had no trouble at all using my card to withdraw money. Weird. Anyway, to bring this long story to its joyous conclusion, I had steak, salad and mashed potatoes for Christmas Eve dinner. Desert was a delicious chocolate reindeer-shaped cake iced with shell chocolate with an underlayer of buttercreme, and light mousse piping (see photo). Only 15,000 W, a relative cheapie.

Kahlua and coffee so I can stay awake, like every mother's child, to see if reindeer really know how to fly.

Reindeer choco cake from Tous les Jours--all such cakes seem to come with a plastic knife, a pack of candles and a couple matches
... although it's been said many times, many ways, Happy Cake Day to you!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

How the Grinch Taught English Class

In this week's "lesson" students walk into the classroom to see several verses of "Jabberwocky" on the screen.

I read the first verse to them, and ask for volunteers to explain what it means. Needless to say, there are no takers. I indicate in broad, dramatic strokes that I likewise have no idea what it's about. It's filled with nonsense words, or jabberwocky!

So then I explain that we're going to watch a movie that has a fair amount of jabberwocky in it, invented by Dr Seuss (who we've touched on before, and whom some students recall).

Also, just as the poem by Lewis Carroll introduced a new word to the English language, so did the story by Dr Seuss--GRINCH! I'm going to ask them later to tell me what they think the word means. I also remind them to take note of the elements of film that we've talked about--genre, setting, characters, etc--before starting the movie. Which I found in three parts on Using the switch to subsequent parts to review and ask key questions, we watch the whole movie.

The whole time, I've been wearing the FC Seoul scarf I bought at the game that bitterly cold day; after the movie is over, I turn on the lights and make a subtle show of drying my moist eyes on the corner of the scarf. This gets a big laugh.

Speaking of big laughs, the students understood the story, I think, quite well (a testament to the genius of Seuss, and director Chuck Jones) but they clearly have three favorite parts:
1) when Max the dog is pulling the empty sled, it overtakes him and he ends up sitting on the back of it, giving the Grinch a shrug and a shy wave;
2) the Grinch takes a billiard shot with an ornament, which knocks the other ornaments from the tree, and they roll into the mouse hole, out the downspout and into a waiting sack; and
3) after Grinch's heart grows three sizes, he lifts up the overloaded sled with the strength of ten Grinches plus two.

Maybe the language is tough--the jabberwocky, at least--but the fact that these fifteen- and sixteen-year-old Korean boys watched with rapt attention (most of them) suggests to me both the genius and universality of Seuss, and his applicability to English instruction. Also, there's no question that if you want to understand the American psyche, you've got to acknowledge the influence of the Seuss-man.

As for me, I have actually gotten paid for a "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" quiz, and my most-requested poem at poetry slams is my "So Long, Dr Seuss" composed on the occasion of his passing.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Sounds Like Eighteen

So, last Monday, I was supposed to have a chicken & beer party with Mr Kim, the PE teacher, you know the guy, the funny one who can never speak English to me in the lunchroom because it's his "non-English-speaking day" or some other humorous excuse; Mr You, the music teacher, who is going to America in January for some kind of conducting gig; and various hangers-on.

Well, that was not to be, as the head PE dude scheduled a PE department meeting (which was probably also a chicken & beer party, though that's neither here nor there) for the same date. Trouble is, no one told me there was a change. I even turned down another offer because of it. I am left standing out in the cold. Literally. An attempt is made to assuage my hurt feelings with samgyupsal on Thursday at lunch. Considering we still have half a day of school, no beer is involved, so I'm thinking that's not an even trade, even if the food is incredibly delicious. Which it is.

So here it is a week later, and we have our "appointment"--only Mr You can't come. Fine, that's more beer for me, right? Mr Kim, Miss Cho, young Mr Lee and myself end up being the only participants to gather in GMC Chicken House, about two blocks from campus. Not to denigrate the others, but if Miss Cho is there, I'm in for the long haul.

Turns out to have been a really good time as, frankly, English speakers outnumbering Korean speakers (it was another of Mr Kim's "non-English days") works out pretty well for me, at least once in a while. I mean, damn.

So, we solved the problems of Korea's approach to English education, I learned why Korean is so difficult to learn (has to do with Chinese, in a way I forget exactly), examined why soccer is better than other sports, and why Man U is better than other soccer teams (okay, that last was more of a tour de force than a deliberated decision-making process), I taught them the worst English swears, and they taught me the worst Korean ones.

Now you know I'm not going to say, I'm not that kind of blog.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Local Pub Review

So, I stayed in the neighborhood tonight, and did a mini-barhop of some of the "western-style" bars that I have not been to. Ordinarily, one rates bars on price, selection, atmosphere, music, management/friendliness, food. But not in Korea: the price for a draft 500 cc (oh bek) is virtually always W2000 to W3000. Selection, too, is a Korean phenomenon--while there are occasionally bars with a wide selection, most places have Hite/Cass/OB on draft, plus about six to ten imports. I chose Western-style bars so I could get by without ordering food, or "an-ju"--as a foreigner, I can just shrug that I don't understand and repeat my request for a maek-chu. Service is not a value point anyway, since tipping is not done here.

Even though it has a cool name and a neon slogan "for the old boys", this place was a mom-and-pop dump with about five tables, and no draft. No music or atmosphere. I paid W6000 for a Heinie and hit the road.

I think the name is a pun or something on Hite Beer, a basement level bar that was totally devoid of customers when I visited. Music was Korean traditional. The walls were white and the decor was gray and black. Nice cloth sofas, and tables edged in silver, but the little alcoves in the wall were sparsely decorated with fake flowers.

There were also a couple of potted "mother-in-law tongues", which are popular in places with little natural light. This Wikipedia entry says it's also known as the snake plant. And says the MIL label is because it is "sharp". I always thought it was because you can't do anything to make it go away. It's very hardy. The bar was antisceptic.

Though the server was dour adjumma, that's not a reason to count a bar out. The music was an interesting mix of Korean, Christmas music and alternative. The decor had about two dozen figurines in the various wall alcoves, figures ranging from Mike Tyson to Genghis Khan to Sitting Bull. Behind the front window was a long, thin grow box mainly populated by MIL tongues.

The 500 cc here was only W2000, and it was warm (thanks to well-placed ceramic heaters), and one of the customers spoke to me (in English) when I first came in. Pax, of course, means peace, so the warrior figurines are a bit non-sequitur.

Well, that's what the big Hangeul letters say, anyway. However, this bar replicates a Wild West theme better than many such places I've seen in the States. To begin with, outside, the deck (which has tables and chairs during the moderate months) boasts big, life-size figures of Elvis, a cigar-store Indian, a Confederate soldier and a cowboy. Very kewl.

The interior walls are covered in movie posters, and more life-size iconic figures; also, I got my beer pretty quick, considering the size of the place. The decor is a rough-hewn, plywood look, with about 500 lighted beer bottles suspended from the ceiling in wooden consoles. It's very busy but it works.

I've presented the bars in increasing order of their scores. Chances are good I will never revisit the local Loss Time (it is a chain), and I would only go back to Hiteer with about two to six other people to liven it up. Hint, hint.

Bonus Photograph:

Bar napkins reading Kam-sa-ham-needa, or Thank You

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Of Chicken, Soccer and Konglish

So, I'm sitting down here in Chicken Mania, drinking beer, eating fried chicken, watching Man U on the big screen and posting with borrowed wireless. And I went to the gym earlier so I'm doing it guiltlessly, yes, even the internet.

On the other hand, I'm reading newspaper articles about Korea's plan to completely erase any strides it has been making in English-language education by scrapping the TOEIC and TOEFL exams, the world-wide standards for English fluency, in favor of a state-developed exam.
"We are benchmarking Japan`s EIKEN, or Test in Practical English Proficiency, which is recognized by over 600 schools worldwide," said Oh Seok-hwan, in charge of English education at the ministry.

1) There are probably ten times that number of English-speaking colleges and universities worldwide, and
2) it has taken EIKEN some 25 years to get this far, and
3) numbers 1 and 2 above make it clear that Korea is choosing to diminish its international footprint for the forseeable future.

On the other other hand, if the locally-developed test were to place greater emphasis on functional skills and self-expression, instead of the single-minded focus on TOEFL's grammatical components, which are the parts easily taught in Korean education's lecture-based pedagogical paradigm, then I say more power to 'em. Well, not really, because any Korean English test simply will not replace TOEFL in the eyes of the world. It is folly to think otherwise.

(Moments after Wayne Rooney comes on for Man U, Gamba Osaka scores, to make it 2 - 1, but Rooney chests a pass on the ensuing kickoff and lays it past the GK, 3 - 1. The man scores after being on the field for about 18 seconds! Before I can write another papagraph, it's now 5 - 2, quite a game! Now GBA misses a PK! The final score is 5 - 3 with one more in stoppage time. That's five Big Five goals, friends--actually six, since Ronaldo's header on the CK was moments before the half!)

Anyway, my battery is dying so I better sto

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Hyundai Training Ctr Redux

I left the house this morning at 6:25 AM and have just gotten back at 8:25 PM. This, frankly, was not all that unusual last year, but I've gotten used to the easy life here in Seoul, where I leave at 7:25 AM and get home at 3:35 or 4:35 PM, depending on the day.

But today was the 2008 SMOE High School NEST Co-Teaching Workshop; it was held at Yong-In, at the same Hyundai Training Center where we spent Hell Week back at the end of August. I must say, it seems so long ago, but it was immediately familiar and comfortable, as my first contact with Korea. Aside from socializing with Gavin, Steve and Andy, I got to spend the whole day in the company of Miss Cho. So how bad could it be?

Well, it wasn't great, starting with the commute--all the way to Seolleung station, about 50 minutes on the sardine-can green line, then almost to the end of the "Bundang" (bright yellow) line at Migeum, nearly as diametrically south-east of Deungchon-dong as you can get and still use the subway. A twenty-minute charter bus ride completed the trip. Click on the "subway map" link to your right under Useful Information to see what I'm talking about.

Anyway, the focus of the seminar was co-teaching: relationships, information-sharing and lesson plan development. In a sense, there was little new here, as most of the information came from the usual suspects, Dave D and Nick Wossisname, who were key presenters back in August. I might have picked up a couple of promising websites, a couple of lesson plans and an instrument to help improve co-teacher communication.

But mainly I got validation. It seems most other teachers in the program are in the same situation I am in--experiencing the same problems and successes I do: a handful of co-teachers with a wide range of English ability and willingness to contribute, a mix of unmotivated and highly capable students in the same classroom, frustration with a curriculum fixated on fine points of grammar rather than functional language acquisition resulting in students who see English as something to memorize rather than use, an administration supportive but confused about the role of this new "Conversational English" dictum in their school.

Further, if the "sample lessons" with which we were presented are any indication, I believe I am ahead of the curve, both with lessons that are interesting and that give the students opportunities to speak and practice their conversational skills. My classroom is as well-equipped as most, and certainly has what I feel I need.

On the whole, I'm not sure the fourteen hour day is an even trade for validation, but it gave me an excuse not to go to the gym.

Sunday, December 14, 2008


So, go back and listen to the Branded! theme, but put in these words from my very puerile childhood:

Stranded on the toilet bowl!
What do you do when you're stranded,
And you don't have a roll?

To prove you're a man
You must wipe it with your hand!
But--Beware (Mister Man)
Of your hand!

Hey, look, when you're eight, that's about as funny as it gets.

Saturday, December 13, 2008


This article in today's NYT made me wonder about which brands in Korea I recognised, never mind store brands, aka private labels. More on that in a moment, but first a quiz on USA store brands. I'll list the private label or store brand, you determine which store it goes with. Ready? Go!

A) Cost-cutters
B) Clover Valley
C) Best Yet
D) Sam's Choice
E) Berkley & Jensen
F) Market Pantry
G) American Fare
H) Archer Farms
I) Croft & Barrow
J) Great Value
K) America's Choice

Here is the spoiler space, in which I will discourse briefly on what I know of Korean brands before providing the answers to our quiz. The best known Korean brands in the world are, of course, Samsung, Hyundai and LG. Within Korea, these are naturally major movers and shakers, being among the chaebol who received favorable government treatment in the 70s and 80s to build the nation's economic might.

In the supermarkets, Dongwon (the world's largest tuna concern, which I wrote about here), is a major player, as is Lotte, a supermarket behemoth, entertainment business and apartment complex concern which builds "Lotte Castle" properties. Ottogi is a popular maker of sauces, including the ketchup and mayonnaise in my refrigerator. Pulmuone is the major producer of kimchi, and sponsor of the Kimchi Field Museum.

I'm sure that E-Mart and HomePlus have store brands, but I'm too new to recognize them; certainly, I have noticed the similar packaging of E-Mart fresh food products like tomatoes, persimmons or crab meat, which usually include a small English translation on the label. Thankfully.

It reminds me of the Piggly Wiggly Lauren and I used to shop at in the early eighties which offered black-and-white, generic wrapping for "paper towels", "macaroni dinner mix" and "tomato paste". I even remember a generic book display with titles like "Western", "Romance" and "Historical".

A) Cost-cutters - Kroger
B) Clover Valley - Dollar General
C) Best Yet - Southern Family/Barney's
D) Sam's Choice - Wal-Mart
E) Berkley & Jensen - BJ's Discount
F) Market Pantry - Target
G) American Fare - K-Mart
H) Archer Farms - Target
I) Croft & Barrow - Kohl's
J) Great Value - Wal-Mart
K) America's Choice - A & P

Bonus Link:
Do visit the 99 Cent Store Chef at his blog:

Bonus Video:
This was one of my favorite shows as a kid (though, of course, I never even knew it was in color). Starred Chuck Connors, who I idolized as 'The Rifleman', also. Branded, scorned as the one who ran ...

Friday, December 12, 2008

SNU Museum of Art

Exterior 1 SNU MoA
Seoul National University's Museum of Art is a striking example of functional architecture designed by world-class firm OMA, currently one of the designers of those new islands in Dubai. The building is located adjacent to the main gate of SNU, and is easy to get to: take the #2 line to SNU station, exit 3, and take bus 5511,5512 or 5513 to the main gate.

SNU main gate
Exteriors: The front of the building is a striking, uncluttered cantilever.

The only piece of art adorning the exterior is shown in the left photo; to the right is the building's left side.

The top photos are stairs down each side of the building, and the bottom show the museum coffee shop underneath the rear of the building.

Interiors: The wedge shape of the building is mirrored by a ramp-like entry and a broad centeral stairwell that leads up to the top floor exhibition hall. There are only two spaces, which are broken up by divider walls to increase display space and enhance the discovery element. It works.

Which brings me to the exhibitions themselves. On my visit, there were two: Vision1, which had a couple of cool pieces, but was mostly unimpressive, such as a horse watching a slideshow; the second was called Blake's Shadow: William Blake and His Artistic Legacy.

Later on, I met up with Gavin for some beers at this place, next to the SNU subway stop:

LiebeHOF, since 1988

Thursday, December 11, 2008

There's a Korean Expat Market?

There are one to two million foreigners in Korea, depending on whose stats you pay attention to, the majority of them in Seoul. In a certain sense, that's a lot of people, like if you were having them over for dinner, or even trying to find them all a hotel room. But we didn't all arrive at once, and most of us understand we're in a foreign country.

Be that as it may, the government today released information about efforts to improve the foreigner experience, such as increased English signage, more English-language announcements in the buses and subways. According to an article in today's Korea Times:
Additionally, beginning January, they will find it easier to take care of pending immigration matters and consult with civil servants, thanks to a new plan to expand immigration "field" services.
The government is also planning to unveil a host of other foreigner-friendly measures starting Jan. 1, the Office of the Prime Minister said.
The steps aim to help make it easier for overseas corporations to do business and invest in Korea.

Also today, the Korea Herald did a special interest story on the website which provides smart-aleck tee-shirts mostly in Hangeul, with slogans like "I'm not an American", "I'm not a Russian girl" and "What are you staring at?" Or these:

Millionaire in wonI'm pine. And you?

While I can see the humor, the size of the market seems almost infinitesimal. However, there is one product they offer which I think needs to be available--no, required--worldwide, to alert the world to the problem of fan death:

Fan Death Warning Sticker

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Street Scenes I

Today being a half-day, the English Department had a meeting after school. At the duck restaurant in Mok-dong. Instead of duck galbi, we had it roasted, and it was incredible. The stuffing was wild rice, some other grains, fruit such as raisins and plums, and aromatic twigs and bark. NB: do not eat the wood. Panchan included salad with a delicious citrus dressing.

I took my camera but completely forgot to take pictures. So to make up for it, I took some on my way home. I'll add a couple more shots that I haven't used anywhere and call this post "Street Scenes", first in an occasional series.

weird noraebang sign
The Hangul in red says noraebang in case the microphones didn't make it clear enough. While the English says "Good day!" the singing peasants seem drunk or really tired or something. Odd. And why are they in their stocking feet?

street scene, Deungchon-dong
This is a view of the street a block down from the noraebang. Seoul is up one hill and down another. Also note the tangle of phone/power lines criss-crossing the street. This is typical--actually, it's a little tame.

corner truck farmer
This greengrocer sets up his truck almost every day on this same corner about a block away from my officetel.

Sadang night scene
This is a Saturday night in Sadang, which is one of about thirty or forty heavy-duty party districts in the big city. Seoul has a very active nightlife scene, far more so than Chicago or Atlanta, the only two comparable cities I have experienced.

This is the Itaewon subsway stop on line #6 at the end of the night. If I have one big complaint about Seoul's public transportation system, it is that it closes down too early--the last buses and trains run at midnight or a little earlier.

I'm not sure why this is, but I have two possible theories:
1) the powers want to encourage workers to quit drinking early enough to go home and get a night's sleep so they can do productive work the next morning;
2) taxis benefit greatly from late night drunks trying to go home, and their lobby exercises enough influence to maintain the status quo.