Monday, June 30, 2008

Let's have lunch

I have listened to the 3rd half-hour Pimsleur lesson four times, and have some confidence in my ability to explain how little Korean I know. I like the way it keeps reminding you of past vocab, but I'm having trouble with the differences between sources. The current lesson says that a common way to greet someone is to say: "Have you had lunch?" (chom-shim tu-sha-seyo), to which one responds, "Yes, thank you" (Ne, kam-sa-hameeda). In Korean in Plain English, which has discursive entries, they get lunch right enough (chome-sheem), but don't mention the supposedly-common greeting part, and translate "Let's have lunch" as chomshim mogupshida.

Berlitz has "Do you speak English?" as yong-o haseyo, but Pimsleur has yong-o-du ha sha-sui-su-niga. Not to be left out, Plain English has it as yongo-rul hal-jul ashim-nikka. Now, I will grant those last two may be close to the same thing.
Shuh-lay je-man, but can we have some consistency here?

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Soccer is Not a civilized form of war

Wow! The Asian round of the finals for FIFA World Cup qualifying will have a "Group of Death" and a group of also-rans, as per the draw in Kuala Lumpur yesterday (I've been there). Except for Australia, the strongest sides are all in Group B--South Korea, North Korea, Iran, Saudi Arabia.

The only gimme for South Korea (who emerged leaders in their last round, after taking second to Saudi Arabia in the previous group) is UAE. Group A favorites Australia and Japan will face Uzbekistan, Bahrain and Qatar. Hardly an even distribution of power. But of course, World Cup qualifiying never promised to be fair.

Korea continues to have a strong squad from the days when Guus Hiddinck led them to the semis in 2002 (I hear he gets free travel on KAL for life); however, they have not managed to beat North Korea in three meetings recently, twice in the WC qualifying round that ended on Sunday. The matches were ties, though the South went through due to goal difference of 7 - 4 in a group which included Jordan and Turkmenistan. In case you were wondering,
This "semi-final" round of qualifying had five groups of four teams each, with the top two in each group qualifying for the final round. At the draw in Kuala Lumpur on Friday, the remaining 10 teams will be [were] divided into two groups of five teams each. Between September 2008 and June 2009, each team will play eight games (four home and four away), and the top two teams in each group will qualify for World Cup 2010. The two third-placed teams will then play a two-leg playoff to determine who will enter an identical playoff with the representative from Oceania. The Asia-Oceania playoff winner qualifies for the World Cup. The draw will consist of four pots. In the first pot are the top two seeded teams, the second pot containing the next two teams, the third pot containing the next two teams, and the final pot containing the bottom four teams. One team from each of the first three pots and two teams from Pot 4 will be in each group. The AFC will have a random draw to break a 4th-seed tie between Japan and Saudi Arabia.

On paper, it's a good scheme, but in reality it looks like Iran, North Korea or ROK is going to get screwed out of a berth. Fortunately, none of them will have nuclear weapons by 2010, so fallout can be kept to a minimum.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Politics is Inevitable I

First of all, any move which decreases tensions on the Korean peninsula is a Good Thing (TM).

Korea Times calls it "a symbolic gesture ... It remains to be seen whether the impoverished and isolated state will ever abandon its suspected arsenal of atomic bombs. Most observers agree there is a still long way to go."

Indeed, the hand over of nuclear documents by North Korea to procure concessions like removal from the "state sponsor of terror" category will not in any way decrease Pyongyang's ability to do just that. First, it addresses only plutonium, leaving the reputed uranium-processing unverified. Second, whatever arsenal the North currently has will remain hidden, and extant. Third, the issue of exporting nuclear technology to Syria (practically the modern definition of being a state sponsor of terror) is not even addressed. Fourth, it's six months late.

Some deal! Here's how the Financial Times of London explains it, in a house editorial:
[H]ad the Bush administration in its final months not been casting around desperately for a foreign policy success, it is hard to imagine Mr Bush giving so much political credit to North Korea for such an insignificant document.

Additionally, here's Sen. Sam Brownback, a rare Republican nowadays who is concerned with human rights:
The lifting of key sanctions in exchange for a tardy and insufficient North Korean declaration will do little to keep the world safe from a nuclear-armed North Korea, and absolutely nothing to keep the innocent North Korean people safe from Kim Jong Il’s barbaric, totalitarian regime...
I am particularly disheartened that the Administration failed to link our country’s concessions to the improvement in human rights for the North Korean people. It is unconscionable to ignore clear evidence of massive concentration camps, systematic starvation, and official oppression, and instead to lift sanctions against the regime of Kim Jong Il.

Meanwhile, the world will watch the destruction of a cooling tower at the Yongbyon facility thanks to CNN, creating a 'Mission Accomplished' moment as photogenic, and as hollow, as the last one.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Certified Apostilled Crazy

My background check was ready today, so I took it along with my diploma and copy up to Atlanta to the Superior Court Clerks' Cooperative Authority, Notary Division. It is just inside the perimeter east of I-85 N (translation, about as far from me as you can get and still be in metro Atlanta). The Mapquest directions were correct, though it's a pretty straight shot.

First problem: the official background check I got from the notary girl at the Sheriff's Office, for which I paid ten bucks, stamped ORIGINAL, was not properly done, and I needed to get it notarized. Even though the office I was at is labeled "Notary Division", they do not provide notary services.

Second problem: My copy of my diploma was not accompanied by a notarized statement from the copier. I told the guy they would not notarize it at the time, because they were not present when it was signed--that would be by the President of the University and the Provost.

He said they should have given me a certification statement. I said, I guess they never heard of that. He said, I guess not. I said, still, any fool can plainly see that the copy is an exact, letter-for-letter copy of this original, I helpfully brought along, right here. However, it turns out the purpose of apostille is only to certify that the notarizing or notarized certifying previously done is, uh, certified.

Whatever. I went off in search of a notary, and thanks to the helpful receptionist, was directed to the bank two buildings down in the office complex. I could walk. It took the nice young man there about half an hour to fix me up, but fix me up he did--including a new photocopy of my diploma. Shortly thereafter, my documents were appended with yet another piece of paper, the apostille (Convention de La Haye du 5 Octobre 1961), this one with an embossed gold foil seal, making them official as all get-out.

On the way back, I had hoped to stop and eat on Buford Hwy NE--there is a concentration of Korean restaurants in the 5000 to 8000 blocks. On the way north, I made sure to double-check the exit: 86; I was going up to 91, so it would be an easy stop. Problem, there was no Buford Hwy or exit 86 going southbound! I was hoping to try the bulgogi and try out the Korean I've learned. Chogun-yo. (A little bit.)

So then I decided to stop at the mall in Union City for a gyro. Turns out, the Gyro place is closed, and there's no bookstore in there anymore either. Fine, I went to TacoMac where at least they'd have the Germany-Turkey game on the big screen. Well, to the extent anyone could. I ate something called Peachtree Hills BBQ chicken, but the less said about it, the better.

Still, it was an amazing finish. Turkey had taken an early lead, but held it only 4 minutes until the Germans tied. The close (or Klose) of the match saw Germany go ahead 2 - 1, Turkey equalize and then Germany score again all in the span of ten minutes. And of the five goals scored, four fit my theory of Big Five--well, it's not my theory, but one to which I subscribe. You can read about it by clicking here and here, but only as long as this section of the site stays up.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

What to boycott: beef or war?

Though Korean and US trade representatives look to have concluded a deal on resumption of beef imports, the internets beg to differ. A boycott of companies that advertise in three major dailies, referred to as ChoJoongDong, the latter of which is to the right on this blog page, under Korea News Links, has sparked cries for legal action from affected outlets.

Though many companies are pulling their ads in response to the "voices of the people", Korean government regulators are looking to address the legalities involved. Although one ISP blocked access to boycotters' posts, that doesn't appear to be the direction of their inquiries.

Hi-tech Korea is one of the most connected countries in the world, so the response was lightning-quick: people began turning themselves in to the Justice Ministry and the prosecutor's office, according to a story at Korea Herald: Hundreds admit to pushing boycott; the Korea Times adds another vector to the protests:

The boycott is now moving in a new direction; netizens are promoting companies who gave up putting advertisements in the three. Samyang, food manufacturer, recently benefited from the boom, as many people are promoting the company's food rather than Nongshim, who refused to withdraw the ads.

This depth of feeling is something Americans haven't been able to muster regarding the Iraq War--either for or against. Korea's more or less with us on the war, having just activated a replacement unit of 300 troops in May, but are diametrically opposed when it comes to beef over 30 months old.

It is amazing to watch the Lee government basically be caught by surprise at every turn, and backtrack and apologize. While it is true that you can't run a country by responding to every whim and wind-change, a well-stated apology from a certain current US President would go a long way with me.

Baby Steps

An-nyong haseyo! Two events of notice today:

1) I have been eyeing the upright Swissgear 28" suitcase in bright red at the local non-Walmart. It went on sale for USD 30 off, so I bought it. The beauty is I had gift cards to non-Walmart to cover almost the whole cost. I was anxious to get this brand, mainly because I have been very happy with the soft-side briefcase I bought five years ago (which will become my laptop case). Despite considerable abuse, it is still as good as new. This suitcase seems very sturdy (I have done my share of traveling in the past) and I hope red will make it easier to snag from the conveyor. Also, I have been stocking up on antiperspirant, as it is only available at a premium.

2) The Pimsleur CDs I ordered at B&N the other day arrived. Granted, I have listened exactly once to a half-hour Pimsleur lesson, and three or so times to the Berlitz "Korean in 60 Minutes" CD, but I fear that awakening those language synapses in the brain of this 46-year-old is going to be quite a challenge. Especially since the two sources sometimes have different Korean words for the same English phrase!

In addition to CDs, I have two dictionaries and a book called Korean in Plain English. On any term I have consulted them, no two have agreed yet. This is not an exaggeration. Living in a studio apartment will be a breeze compared to learning Korean.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

The Papa San of American Literature

According to a story in The Korea Times, almost no Korean students take an environmental science or economics class in school. This is because these subjects are not covered on Korea's college entrance exams. While that is no doubt true, and kind of sad, I was initially more intrigued by the lede statement that Mark Twain is the "father of American literature." After all, he wasn't born until 1835, sixty years after the nation's founding.
Mark Twain, Father of American Literature?
A quick google on the term yields 8,220 results. While Twain gets extra points by virtue of the fact that William Faulkner described him thus, most sites seem to ascribe our literary paternity to Washington Irving. Aside from those two (according to the Google results), candidates include Ralph Waldo Emerson, Herman Melville, Benjamin Franklin, Nathaniel Hawthorne, James Fenimore Cooper (whose father was the Father of Cooperstown, NY) and even Captain John Smith, author of The Generall Historie of Virginia, New England & the Summer Isles.

A Princeton Companion identifies Philip Morin Freneau as the Father of American Literature, but I suspect that's because he went to school there. I've never even heard of him--and although my ignorance is bottomless, it ain't that bottomless.

Of all the names mentioned, who is the truest patriarch? I don't know. I'm not even sure Captain Pierce of the 4077th would know--although his given name is Benjamin Franklin, his nickname 'Hawkeye' is from The Last of the Mohicans by Cooper. Of course, we all know what Twain thought of Cooper--if you don't, click here.

Anyway, the newsstory itself is an interesting profile of two Korean teachers bucking the system to bring hands-on education into their classrooms on subjects with practical application to the lives of their students. Even if it won't be on the exam.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Sorry, Charlie! StarKist on the auction block

Charlie the Tuna, StarKist mascot
Today's news story from Korea? Mammoth food group Dongwon F&B has put in a USD 300 million bid for StarKist, presently a subsidiary of San Francisco-based DelMonte. StarKist, meanwhile, is largely based in American Samoa, where it owns the world's largest tuna processing facility; the tuna industry (StarKist and Chicken of the Sea) employs one-third of Samoan workers.

Dongwon is the largest player in Korea's meat, fish and poultry market, followed by Lotte and Cheil Jedang. Lotte was the only one I had heard of before I read this story. Dongwon Food & Beverage already controls 75% of the domestic canned tuna market, so it looks like they want to make a move overseas, and capture a chunk of the American tuna habit.

The story has a weird political twist, I guess you'd call it, going back to an appropriations bill last year. In an article located at Newsbusters: Exposing and Combating Liberal Media Bias, I found this, by Tim Graham:

Over at The Corner [an online feature of 'National Review'], Kathryn Jean Lopez reported GOP Reps. Eric Cantor and Patrick McHenry have found there's a loophole in the new minimum-wage increase: no hike for American Samoa. Why? Star-Kist Tuna is a major employer there, with its headquarters in Speaker Nancy Pelosi's district.

The article goes on to point out Pelosi's hypocrisy regarding the treatment of Tom DeLay's Abramoff-influenced entanglements in the Northern Mariana Islands. Wow, I thought, I wonder if this relates to DelMonte's decision to shed the subsidiary? Well, first, I went and checked out the wording of the law in question, and found it under Title VIII "Fair Minimum Wage and Tax Relief", Section 8103; the law specfically directs that both territories will raise their minimum wage by $0.50 an hour each year until they catch up to the national version. Huh.

I still don't know why StarKist is up for sale, but the claim of "no hike for American Samoa" is blatantly false. I guess Newsbusters doesn't feel inclined to combat inaccuracy so much if it's at National Review.

Tonight for dinner was BBQ chicken thighs, Ruth's mustard potato salad, and green salad with creamy poppy seed dressing. Tomorrow, I'm thinking tuna casserole ... So, cheer up, Charlie!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Today's word is "fickle"

1) A Village Voice blog alerts us to the latest Korean import to America, New York Hot Dog & Coffee, which has taken over Bruno's Pastry on Bleeker Str. In addition to cheese, chili and slaw dogs, NYHD&C has curry, bulgogi and bulgabi topped wieners.

2) Here is a map of Camp Red Cloud in Ouijongbu, provided by the Army and Air Force Exchange Service (AAFES). I hope that I'm not giving away any military secrets! Eligible personnel can purchase a new vehicle from Ford, Chrysler or Harley-Davidson on advantageous terms. Alas, the Chevy S-10 is unavailable.

3) I feel confident I can count to ninety-nine in Korean.
Lonely Planet guide Seoul, 2006
4) Knowing for sure I will be in Seoul, I went to B&N and bought a map and the Lonely Planet Seoul guide. I ate at Five Guys while I was at it. I have to say the Ye Olde Newnan image of Ashley Park is seriously compromised by the cars circling for a parking space, and the smell of hot asphalt and exhaust once you finally find one.

5) Bloomberg reports that the South Korean trucker strike, which appears to be pinching its loaf, disrupted approximately the same amount of import and export traffic, a total of about USD 6 billion.

5 1/2) I don't know if this is right, but this article says Lee Myung-bak's support has slipped to only 20%. If true, President Lee has experienced the most meteoric decline in popularity in world leader history--he was only elected at the end of February, fer chrissakes. Today's word is "fickle".

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

More of the Story

How did I decide to go off and teach in Korea?

After I found out my contract would not be renewed, I naturally started looking at the Want Ads. Most of the jobs still available in west Georgia private schools were either a) too far for a reasonable commute (especially with gas prices in the stratosphere), b) for beginning teachers, or c) requiring relocation.

Then I saw an ad in the AJC Classifieds for Pegesus Recruiting, which promised good pay teaching conversational English in Korea--all you need is to be a native English speaker and have a college degree. It sounded really interesting, but vaguely suspicious, so I began to do some research. Turns out that there are dangerous shoals and other hazards to navigate while charting these seas, but it's quite possible to make landfall in a pretty good position.

Are there stories of Westerners being lied to and ill-treated? Yes. Some hagwons (private English institutes) are slow-paying, some require that you work lots of overtime, and some misrepresent the location or housing you will get. My friend TB took a position in China, and never received his textbook until he had been in the classroom for three days.

Korea was not unknown to me, as I had a college roommate who was half-Korean (military dad)--her Mom always made sure we had a jar of kimchi in the fridge. I read numerous blogs by expat teachers in Korea, learned about the country and culture and decided to go for it. I applied with a few different recruiters and soon received exactly the offer I was looking for, from Korea Connections: a dependable public school position in Seoul with top pay.

The best resource for job seekers has to be Dave's ESL Cafe; my favorite blogs (so far) include The Daily Kimchi, An American in Geoje and Where the Hell Am I?

I am an unrepentant foodie, and I greatly look forward to Korean cuisine. Kimbap nara are the inexpensive local diners that dot the citiscape; kimbap per se is a rice/seaweed roll along the lines of sushi, but with lots of stuffings besides seafood--raw or otherwise. The variety of dishes at these places is bewildering, but fortunately, a freelance writer named Mary has a thorough description of common fare at her webpage (Warning: don't click if you are really hungry). I don't know what most of this stuff tastes like, but I am looking forward to finding out.

Anyway, as of now, I am collecting up the documents I need to send to Korea to complete the transaction and get a visa, and starting to box things up--beginning with books. I know one I'll take with me, my 1974 edition of the Concise Oxford Dictionary. As Hawkeye once said when asked what creature comforts he brought to Korea: "The dictionary--I figure it's got all the other books in it."

Monday, June 16, 2008

Korea's Beef Beef

A big story out of South Korea lately (not many stories from there reach the US front pages, unless it's a massive corporate takeover--looks like LG is not likely to bid on the GE appliance unit) is the massive protests in Seoul over President Lee's decision to lift the ban on US beef imports. When something like a half-million people gather in front of the President's House, you have to wonder if it's really about the meat.

Well, yes and no, from what I've read. The original issue was exactly about beef, going back to September of last year, when Korea agreed to allow meat only (no bones or soft tissue) from cattle under 30 months--younger cows are thought to be much less likely to have BSE. It so happened that when the first shipments were inspected, plenty of bone got accidentally packed up, including in one case an entire spine.

Protests began to take on the theme that South Korea was behaving like a colony of the United States--this despite the fact that Lee's government was popularly chosen in elections four months ago, largely on a pro-America platform. Beef imports (Korea was America's third largest export destination before BSE) are a key sticking point in the US-ROK free trade agreement.

Last weekend was also the sixth anniversary of a tragic accident in which two Korean schoolgirls were killed by a US convoy from Camp Red Cloud, in Ouijongbu. Ouijongbu is 19 km northeast of Seoul, and today is part of the metropolitan area, but during the Korean War, it was the closest town to M*A*S*H 4077th.

So the protests have grown to encompass Koreans' weariness with the US military presence--American troops have been stationed in the South continuously for about sixty years. It isn't a referendum on America, per se, I think; frankly, our image in Korea is probably not as bad as it is at home, where Americans disagree with the direction the country is going by a whopping 75%. Indeed, the Korean protests have a general frustration element to them as well, as numbers have been swelled by truckers and transportation workers fed up with rising fuel prices. Of course, the cars they ship off to China probably have something to do with that.

But, back to the beef, a WaPo house editorial on Fri, June 13 points out, "South Korea can afford exquisite sensitivity to remote health risks. In that sense, the booming, democratic South has earned the right to panic once in a while, just like Americans do."

After all, right here at home I get pretty much nothing but American beef, and I don't panic in the slightest--though I do have other Pavlovian responses as my American steak sizzles on the grill. OTOH, news story after news story has shown (from spinach to beef stew to 150 million pounds of ground meat from one packinghouse to tomatoes--tomatoes?!?1!) that the current administration's death grip on government regulation and inspection has dramatically reduced the fed's effectiveness simply by decreasing boots on the ground, or inspectors in the abattoir. As Alfred E. Neuman said, "What, me worry?"

Tonight, for dinner? No beef, quail. Grilled, very lightly seasoned with garlic and ground pepper. From South Carolina.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

The Deal

So, here's the deal:

After twenty-plus years teaching science and math in semi-rural Georgia, I received a contract to teach Conversational English in a public school of the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education. I sought and got this job because Korea has a robust, hi-tech, export-oriented economy in which English language education is highly valued.

I have a paid-for '02 Chevy S-10 pick-up, and a nice house with a few years' equity, and most of my family within an hour's drive. Follow my travails as I decide how to deal with my property, prepare to travel and attempt to learn Korean basics. And that's just in the next month.

Over the next year or more, I hope to author a weblog that will entertain, educate and challenge both of us as I place my Korean experience under the blogoscope. Hopefully, I will hear from you. I expect high times and hilarity, but I also anticipate homesickness and difficulties. As much as anything is, my motto must be what Eubie Blake said, "Pay the thunder no mind; listen to the birds."