Friday, October 31, 2008

Korean Baseball Championship Series

Not a very interesting title, I realize, but it has the benefit of clarity to recommend itself.

In brief, Andrew was able to obtain a pair of tickets to Game 4 of the Korean League's championship series (just barely, as they were sold out moments later!) between the Doosan Bears and the SK Wyverns. Here we are before the action on the field begins:

Andy and me before the game
We were rooting for the Bears, mainly because they are the Seoul team (SK is in Incheon), and in my case, because I live in a Doosan officetel. Not that one needs rational reasons to support a particular team. In fact, 'fan' is short for fanatic, which means filled with excessive & mistaken enthusiasm, according to my trusty concise Oxford.

Well, the game started plus ungood, as the catcher misthrew while trying to pick off a runner at second, and it went, slowly, downhill from there. However, the Doosan fans remained enthusiastic throughout the game. Here's a partial explanation: the guy in the green shirt at the center of this photo is selling beer from a pony keg on his back:

Maekchu guy
I mentioned we got the practically the last available seats, which means general admission. We were close to the field, but in the left field bleachers; not a lot of action came our way. The photo below is a Wyvern player fielding a single--it's the only clear action shot I got:

Baseball action--SK player fields a ball in left
What's a wyvern? you're wondering. Glad you asked. I didn't know either. Turns out, it's a mythical, heraldic creature, a winged serpent along the lines of a dragon. It's also the mascot of the best team in the Korean League--they dominated this season, not-so-closely followed by Doosan, rather in the manner that Chris Evert-Lloyd was second place to Martina Navrotilova, back in the day.

Still, it was only 2 - 1 to SK at the sixth inning stretch. Yes, that's right: sixth inning stretch. The other big thing they get wrong from American baseball is the count: strikes and balls, instead of balls and strikes. A full count is 2 and 3, which makes the mind boggle momentarily before you remember, Welcome to Korea! Below is a video of the stretch activities, led by some famous Korean pop singer who is a big Bears fan:

The final score was 4 - 1, and afterward, Andy and I met up with his girlfriend at a beef galbi restaurant near Seoul National University. The food was really excellent.
Julie and Andy at galbi restaurant
Me grilling beef at our table

Oh, did I mention it was extremely late and I was fairly tipsy? Well, it was about 1 AM by the time we finished eating, and I was two-and-a-half sheets to the wind. Sure signs of a good time!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Artist Down the Hall

The art teacher at Youngil is a 60-year-old Korean named Yi Cheong-gi; it is usually him I hear in the hallway smacking his students when they come to class without their sketchbooks. I am not one to use corporal punishment, as I don't think it works; OTOH, I am not one to tell other teachers how to run their classrooms. Unless they ask.

Yi Cheong-gi at work
Yi Cheong-gi at work

His studio at school (seen above) is actually the faculty room on our floor; it also is the only place on campus where smoking is "allowed". While having a cup of coffee and a smoke together, he is the one that usually introduces me to new Korean words. We also share a love for old movies. But mainly, he is an incredible artist. The photos below show a couple samples of the two styles he seems to be working in currently. First is a primitive technique showing country people in traditional dances, wrestling contests and the like. The third one is unfinished.

Painting by Yi Cheong-gi
Painting by Yi Cheong-gi
Painting by Yi Cheong-gi
But mostly he is working on these huge, super-realism paintings of roots exposed by stream downcutting in the mountains. In fact, during exam week, when I had to show up and putz around in my classroom, he went to the interior of China and hiked a couple of mountains taking photos to be converted into new canvases.

Painting by Yi Cheong-gi
Painting by Yi Cheong-gi
Do click on these for the full size version.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Konglish 101

Having a little fun with my new camera (a Canon Powershot A560 that was cheap--under USD 100, including a 1GB memory card), I went around taking pictures of some of the Konglish signage in my neighborhood. Just to test it out, you understand. Mouse over the pic for my smart-aleck comments:
RENOVATE YOUR BODY NEWLY - even if it's oldly bodies that need renovating most
DAY AND DAY - this is E-Mart's bakery, which is open day and night ... but don't tell anyone
OPEN STORE - also open day and night, except when it's closed
SHE'S MIN - oh, is she now--and how can you tell?
MAN & WOMEN - uh, I thought that was 'Shampoo'
GRILWICH: THE BEST OF FRIEND - well, I would rather it be the best of grilled sandwich
CLOTHE WASHED - well, if the clothe is washed, why put them in the dirty clothe hamper?
TOSS ENGLISH - well, with English like this, we might as well!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Blog News: 100 Posts!

This marks my one hundredth post to the Seoulpatch blog, stretching back to the time in June when I got the job offer from SMOE to teach in Seoul. It's been quite a journey--and I don't just mean the fourteen-hour flight from Atlanta to Incheon.

This blog has attempted to document a total rewrite of my life; one of my friends has referred to me as the poster child for stability: I spent 22 years in the same ZIP code, holding only two jobs and having only two addresses in all that time. About the only thing that changed was my waistline, and not for the better. To suddenly sell out, settle up and sail off to Seoul may have struck him as strange, but to me it became a simple decision.

If you've read along, you know I took a hard look at Korea, and at myself, before taking this step. Was I ready to give up everything, leave my family and friends, and go to a distant place I had never even visited before? Turns out I was not only ready, I was chomping at the bit.

This post also commemorates two months in Korea. How has it been? Fantastic! While it's only two months, I feel more and more certain I made the right decision. Doncha just love happy endings?

And finally, the fact that I have managed to abstain from 'Konglish in the wild' posts makes me feel a little entitlement, now that I'm at number 100. So today, I was in the food court at E-Mart-uh, enjoying my weekly Whopper with cheese, when I saw a girl nearby wearing a shirt with the following:
A River Runs Thought It in Venice

Read it again. That's thought, not a typo, well, not mine anyway.

First Mention of Monty Python in This Whole Blog

I am tempted not to write this post. Very tempted. Oh, okay, what the hell. I'll go ahead and do it. Despite my misgivings, I'll go ahead and describe the evening. It was the first opportunity for the SMOE crowd to meet Patrick, Karen's boyfriend.

And let me begin by pointing out that neither Karen nor Patrick were anything other than gracious hosts and scintillating conversationalists. Smart, handsome folks. After gathering at Hongdae exit 4 (turns out exit 3 is a phantom) we hiked up several blocks to the restaurant, which was quite a good one--we had most of the top floor to ourselves. Samgyupsal, galbi, maekchu and soju were abundant. Here's a picture (taken with my new camera):

Dinner at samgyupsal-galbi place in Hongdae
The first fallen warrior was Gavin, who's soju limit was exceeded possibly before we even went upstairs. We talked sports, history, customs and almost sang some Monty Python: "Immanuel Kant was a real pissant who was very rarely stable..."

Phillip, bless him, tried to help the guy, despite our best advice, and thus got lost in the crowd. Andy--you know the one I mean--just wimped out. Wimped out. Period. Around eightish. Wimped totally out, around eightish. 'Nuff said, Phillies fans.

Hongdae street scene
On to Itaewon we went, Karen, Patrick, Steve and I. To 3 Alley, which, if you have to go to Itaewon, isn't such a bad place. Vanda showed up, too, so it turned out to be a "good old time". Get this, though: Steve (#2) refuses to share his lesson plans with the rest of us--his shit, apparently, doesn't stink. Fine. Be that way. Just ask me for help when the time comes.

Anyway, I left in time to take the subway home, as is my usual pattern. BUT they were working on the tracks or something so line 6 stopped at Daeheung and I had to take a taxi, dammit. Right at W10,000. And we didn't even sing noraebang!

Friday, October 24, 2008

Ending the Week with a Smile

As the week (and the week's lesson) draws to a close, I have one last episode to relate. Remember, in the warm-up activity, students are to write three sentences using the "relative clause with where". I and the coteacher walk around and help with vocabulary, etc. Here are the sentences concocted by one sixteen-year-old (you can't help but smile):
A park is a place where I can go to meet girls.
A department store is a place where I can go to meet girls.
A hospital is a place where I can go to meet nurses.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Food, Glorious Food

I have previously noted that you can't take two steps in my neighborhood without walking past a restaurant. Just on the ground floor of my building, there are three chicken hofs, two Japanese fusion restaurants, a bakery, traditional Korean porridge, fresh seafood pub, bibimbap, shabu, beef galbi and samgyupsal.

The situation is similar for the officetel in the next block (except where I have a FamilyMart convenience store, they have a GS25). If I walk west from the main road (east is E-Mart), down the side streets, I encounter hofs, fish restaurants, octopus, pork, beef and on and on. Even pizza.

And they're very reasonable--today, Mr Hwang and I met up for lunch after the Youngil marathon and stuffed ourselves on shabu shabu for W15,000 (including beer). He pointed out that Koreans love hot pot year-round, especially when they're drinking--they think a warm belly makes the alcohol healthier. Determining the logic of this view is left as an exercise for the reader.

It's so inexpensive to eat out, I understand why Korean kitchens are so small. Still, meals are intended for couples or groups, so I cook dinner for just myself pretty regularly.

Anyway, if you were wondering if I had some other-than-anecdotal basis for my contention that Seoul is restaurant-um-intensive, here's part of an article from Donga-A Ilbo on the subject, titled "Korea`s Restaurant-to-People Ratio Far Higher Than in U.S.":
Competition among small businesses is fiercer in Korea, but low specialization and efficiency could shake up the industry, experts warned. A Bank of Korea report released yesterday said Korea has 12.2 restaurants per 1,000 people, 6.8 times higher than the United States (1.8) and 2.1 times higher than Japan’s 5.7).
In addition, Korea has 12.7 retailers per 1,000 people, 3.9 times higher than the United States (3.2) and 1.4 times higher than Japan (8.9). The number of motels and hotels in Korea per 1,000 people is 0.9, more than the United States (0.2) and Japan (0.5).

Surely, a shake-up is due--hell, this rapidly-changing country has a shake-up per week--but there will still be a high ratio of retailers to people, since many people don't own cars, or are loathe to use them in the crazy traffic here (Yogi Berra quote, anyone?) So they would rather walk a block down the street and spend a few won more than make their way on public transport to the nearest E-Mart or HomePlus. If I had to take a 20 minute bus ride to E-Mart instead of just cross the street, I promise you they'd see my foreign face there a lot less often.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

School News Update

1) Over a month ago, I did a student interview with the Internet Club. The results are now available online at Youngil High School's webpage. Brush up on your Hangeul first, though.

2) With more data now available, this week's lesson plan depends for its success on the willingness of the students to practice their English. In some classes, it's gone exceedingly well, but in some classes, like sixth period today, it was such a shambles I gave up on it and played Pictionary for a while. City names: Sole, liver pool, new yolk ...

3) Tomorrow is Youngil Marathon Day: we meet at World Cup Stadium Park in Sangam at 9 AM. Students will run (or walk) a 5.4 km course in the park beside the stadium, which was built atop an old landfill--that's newspeak for city dump. Anyway, the whole thing can't last more than two hours, after which we're done for the day. Alas, it looks like rain here in Seoul.

4) A story at Dong-A Ilbo reports on a survey of attitudes toward the Korean educational system:
Nearly half of parents age 30 or over (48.3 percent) want to send their children overseas to study. A third of parents said they want to nurture their children into global talents and a quarter said they do not trust the Korean education system.
The majority 79.8 percent of households said they are burdened by education cost, higher than 73.4 percent in 2000 and 77.4 percent in 2004.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Monday, Monday, so good to me

Well, it's Monday again, and I took the week's lesson plan through its paces with five classes of first grade. Now, the "worst" two classes of the whole week, in terms of behavior, are first and second period on Monday. I can't decide whether that's because of the class make-up or because of Monday morning. Mr Hwang introduced me today to woo-rul-pyeong, which means "Monday sickness."

Well, of course, it's well-known that Monday mornings are tough, from the factoid that Monday morning is the most common time for heart attacks to occur, to the fact noted here that one in four employees calls in sick on Monday, to the Carpenters song "Rainy Days and Mondays (Always Get Me Down)", but only the Koreans have a name for it.

So anyway, I figure if the lesson plan can survive more or less intact through these two classes, it's pretty solid. The starter was relative clauses with where, in which I asked them to write three sentences along the lines of A bakery is a place where people bake bread, cakes and donuts; they choose the places from a list I provided, like museum, department store, bank. Then I ask for volunteers to read their sentence as we go down the list. Incidentally, I ripped the whole lesson from

In both these classes, I got two volunteers before I had to start picking on people, but--get this--during last period, someone volunteered for every sentence. I let them go five minutes early!

Which of course meant I got to leave five minutes early also. Hey, just trying to stave off Monday sickness.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Night of a play and a thousand drinks

On Saturday, trekked over to Noksapyeong (line 6), very near Itaewon and an extention of the foreigner zone, to a small 2F taverna called The Orange Tree for a presentation of the Seoul Players (an expat theatrical group) titled Night of 1000 Plays. I paid my W 10,000 and got a program. Looking inside, I was surprised to see there were only 15 plays! What a rip! I paid for a full thousand plays, as advertised--hell, it's in the title! There are legalities involved here, I'll sue, so help me...

Seriously, the idea was very interesting and the execution was pretty good: have local authors submit short plays of about three minutes, select the best ones, and assign them to teams of actors and directors. I'll not give you the blow-by-blow, since Chris in South Korea has done so in photos on his blog. It was hit-or-miss, as you might expect from such an undertaking; standouts included "Bin Laden's New Direction" in which the well-known terrorist attempts to improve his poll numbers, "Two-Minute Warning" which is football-style color commentary on the action of a performance of a Restoration tragedy--pretty cute, and "That Word" about a girl who uses the f-word so much it becomes the only thing she can say!

After that, I went to Sadang (line 4) to meet up with Max and Andy and pals. This is where the thousand drinks of the title comes in. We started at a chicken hof, went to a sake place where we sat outside, and then adjourned to noraebang, smuggling in five liters of beer we bought at Buy the Way, since apparently the singing rooms in this area don't allow alcohol. We had a good time, so much so I skipped the subway--not coincidentally, I hardly remember the taxi ride home, nor even how much it cost.

Friday, October 17, 2008

The Ubiquitous Persimmon

Persimmons. What the hell are they, and why can't you walk three steps in the city of Seoul without finding them on sale--or indeed, on my walk to school every morning, hanging in abundance from trees on practically every street?

Persimmons on the tree, from
Well, the answer to the last bit is easy: those are persimmon trees, so you would hardly expect pears or pomegranates to be hanging from them in abundance. But let's get down to brass tacks.

What is a persimmon? It is an ancient fruit, much cherished in medieval Europe for its curative powers when applied to digestive ailments, often called--or maybe confused with--the medlar. It is a pale yellow to orange fruit, ranging in size from a fist to a double fist, depending on variety. It grows on a deciduous tree with broad, stiff leaves, native to China, and the fruit is eaten raw or cooked, fresh or dried.

Persimmons, from
Oriental varieties are subdivided into two types: astringent (sour) and non-astringent. Astringent types should ripen fully--well, nearly rot--before being eaten, otherwise your mouth will pucker so severely your chin will touch your forehead. Non-astringent types can be eaten like apples, most commonly the fuyu, though they're still rather tart.

Like pears and apples, they appear in vast quantities at E-Mart (and street corner vendor carts) in gift boxes at the beginning of October. Mr Hwang explained to me that this year was a particularly good crop, but next year there won't be nearly so many. I went to the internet to try to find a basis for this prediction. I came up empty on that front, but I did find a blog report about Korea's first crop circle:

Crop circle pic from
Back to persimmons, on the way to school this morning, Mr Hwang and I walked past a street corner hawker with a cart full of 'em, so I asked him about their popularity, and later in the paper today I saw a persimmon recipe. Well, to the extent you can call "cup up fruit, dip in melted chocolate, chill, and serve" a recipe.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Free-Woman Town

It was a puzzler. When listing three facts he knew about the USA during a class activity, a student today wrote, "America is place of the free-woman town." Free Woman Town? Free-woman town??

Well, thinking quickly, I decided he didn't mean Reno or Las Vegas--I mean, those women aren't free (anything but!) and I wouldn't really know how to ask, anyway. Unable to go anywhere else with it, I called over Mr Oh, my coteacher. A quick exchange of Korean, and he smiles at me. "Statue of Liberty," he explains.

Now, I have promised these students that no one will laugh at their attempts to speak English, least of all myself. Still, the difference between what I thought and what was meant unleashed a brief guffaw before I could repress it. I tried to cover with an "Ah ha! Now I getcha!" kind of thing, and ran to the board to show the correct spelling and point out that the town involved is New York City. If I can make it there, I can make it ...

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

WC Qualifier: Korea Wins 4 - 1

I finally attended my first soccer game tonight, pretty much on the spur of the moment--I read in the news this morning that Korea's national team was playing UAE at 8 PM tonight at Seoul's World Cup Stadium. That's only three stops north of Hapjeong on line 6, a quick jaunt.

I went alone since there was no time to coordinate with others, and I wanted to see this game specifically, since it's the only sure win in Korea's new qualifying group (which I blogged about here.) After my only class of the day, fifth period, and a long talk with Miss Cho (which I can't say I really minded), I came home, went to the fitness center, then showered and left. I arrived at about six, and explored the Stadium area a bit: there's a park, a giant HomeEver (Korea's Target), a massive food court, and a cineplex (whose website points out CGV Sangam is the first movie theatre inside a stadium in Korea, and represents the prowess of Korea. Whatever that means.) I was looking for a red Korea team cap, but never did find one! Whazzup wi' dat?

Blurry pic of outside WC Stadium
Figuring that with all that stuff on levels 1 and 2, the food court inside the stadium has got to be pretty damn good, I did not eat. This brings me to my two big gripes: 1) the food inside the actual stadium (once you rendered your ticket you were stuck) consisted of sad cellophaned hot dogs and kimbap; and 2) the only place to buy a ticket was a single little booth in the next postal code. And the ticket office was really lo-tech for Korea: the tickets were pre-printed, and they just gave you the next ones on the scroll for the seating section you chose.

I bought a seat in the nosebleed section (W20,000), and never bothered to find out exactly where it was. I mostly stood at the top of the bottom section until the game was well underway, and chose an unoccupied seat close to the field (W50,000) with no one around me. The stadium holds about 70,000 and attendance was less than half that, so it was easy to do.

Opening ceremony, with palace guard in attendance
The crowd may have been sparse, but what it lacked in number, it made up for in spirit. Korea's relative disinterest in its soccer continues to puzzle me, for the team is very competitive--super fast, excellent position play and ball movement, one or two touches at max, solid defense and aggressive offense. The only thing they really lack seems to be communication in small group situations: two v. two or three in close quarters.

And their excellence was on display in the game, where they scored two goals in succession (ahem!) about thirty minutes in and took a two goal lead to halftime. The second goal was a beautifully-executed soft header forward to himself that #12 (Park Ji-sung, who plays for Man U) one-touched on the half-volley past a stunned defense. The photo below (don't bother enlarging these, they're crappy) shows a near miss from a free kick on Korea's next possession.

The yellow streak left of the upright is the ball, just before a great save by UAE keeper
UAE made it interesting when their striker capitalized on the left fullback's mishandling of a pass from the keeper for a 2 - 1 score. The Red Devils made up for it with two goals, at 79:00 and 86:00 minutes, the last on a sweet corner (I missed #3, as I knew they were about to score, but my bladder was near to overflowing) headed in by Kwak Tae-hwi.

I arrived home just as the guy that runs the fitness center in my building was leaving--he recognized me (Duh!) and we chatted for a minute. Maybe tomorrow, instead of a strangled Konglish conversation about how out-of-shape I am, we can talk about futbol.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

A Shrink By Any Other Name

The Koreans watch our language use pretty closely. I was reminded of this the other day when I explained to Mr Hwang that 'actress' describes a female actor, but 'actor'
can describe either sex. "Why not 'actperson'?" he asked. The best answer I had was, "Give it time. No one has thought of it yet--you're ahead of the curve." Then I had to explain 'ahead of the curve'. But I digress.

From today's Dong-A Ilbo comes a story titled Shrinks to Use New Term for 'Psychiatry'. In essence, since the term psychiatry has a societal stigma associated with it, the Korean Neuropsychiatric Association is casting about for a "better-sounding" term. Never mind the use of shrink in the headline. According to the article,
New names on the shortlist include “brain psychology”; “mental and physical science”; “stress science”; “neuro-stress science”; “neuropsychology”; “neuropsychiatry”; “mental health;” “mental stress”; and “psychiatric medicine.” ...
Association spokesman Lee Dong-woo said, “Our members are engaged in a wide variety of specialties and have different interests in the name-changing issue. It’s really tough to find a comprehensive shiny term to please them all. We will survey the preferences of members before deciding on a name.”

Despite Westerners' here ongoing amusement at Konglish in our daily lives, it is heartening (or, more precisely, disheartening) to see them embrace the American penchant for "comprehensive shiny terms" to distort, hide or ambiguate meaning on purpose.

In related news, the US Republican Party was considering a name-change to Party of Vertical Income Redistribution, until party leaders were accidentally caught live on mic snickering "And we don't mean downward, baby!"

Monday, October 13, 2008

Are You Better Off Now Than You Were 28 Years Ago

28 years is how long the Milton Friedman paradigm has ruled American economics--when rich people get richer, they spend more money on boats, condos and stuff, and so the blue-collar folks who make boats and condos will see an increase in their personal economies. Don't tax capital gains, because rich people will pull their money out of the markets, and businesses will not be able to invest in projects that create new jobs. Trickle-down economics it was called. Or voodoo economics by some.

Well, here we are twenty-eight years later, and it turns out Milton Friedman and the Republican status quo that has ruled in Washington and Wall Street in the generation since Ronald Reagan is definitively ... wait for it ... WRONG! Wrongity-wrong-wrong! So wrong they are begging for the government they hate so much to step in and save their WRONGITY ASSES.

Tom Toles cartoon, Washington Post 9-18-08
How much wronger can Republicans be? Their fiscal policies, even when done correctly, turn out to be WRONG. Their social policies have attempted to thwart every basic human rights advancement, from equal rights for Americans whose skin is not white, to Americans who love others of the same sex, to Americans who have been violated by rape and do not want to carry the rape-conceived embryo to full term. Until the wrongity-wrong Reagan revolution, human rights in this country had moved forward; Republicans believe in moving backward, taking away your basic rights, including--but not limited to--talking on the phone without fear of being wiretapped.

Um, ask any woman who was raped, this is WRONG. Ask any black American, Islamic American, gay American, any American who talks on the telephone, this is WRONG ... as it was when businesses put up signs that said "Irish need not apply." WRONG. Republicans today stand for an America that is WRONG, that bears no resemblance to the one codified in our Constitution, in which the Bill of Rights are not little niceties that can be swept away because Dick Cheney deems there is a one percent probability that someone, somewhere, might possibly die. Not that his solution will prevent it--still, it's deemed unpatriotic to oppose him. You know what's patriotic? Defending the Constitution, that's what. You know what Cheney has done? Undermine the Constitution. Not very patriotic. In fact, the opposite of patriotic, by any reasonable definition.

Back to fiscal policy, during the reign of George II, the wealth of the top one percent of Americans holds forty percent of the wealth, which means a dramatic decline for the average middle class American. The rich got richer by a 56.3% surge, according to Dallas News. And Mr McCain wants to enhance their tax cuts. Yeah, regular Americans got a microwave oven, and a two-car garage in the last 28 years, but they got them on credit.

So, who's lying to the American people--Mr McCain and Sarah "I am a joke" Palin, who want to change things without changing them, or Mr Obama, who maybe--just maybe--has a shot at turning away from the Bush years, since he, y'know, didn't vote in favor of Bush's policies over 90% of the time ... Wrongity-wrong-wrong.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Why I Like Seoul, Reason #42

I ran out of beer, which back at 150 Boone on a Sunday would mean No beer for me! I slipped on my slippers, took the elevator to 1F (first floor), walked down the hall to Family Mart-uh, without ever leaving the building, and plonked down some money. Crisis averted.

This is but one of the million stories in the naked city. Yesterday, I had to go to Itaewon to get minutes for the handu pon, so I could call Andy about meeting up--turns out he is turning thirty, the young yoot. We had samgyupsal and pork galbi in Sillim, then went to second course at a bar called E.T., complete with large E.T. mannekins and wall murals of the magic finger connection thing.

ET mannekin in ET Bar
I don't know what else they did (there was a crowd of about ten, including Hyundai Training Ctr roomie Max) because I go home at 23:00. I'm too cheap for taxi fare.

Friday, October 10, 2008

I Like Lists

I have, as you know, asked my students for ideas of places to visit in Korea. Following up on their thoughts, and Ben's statement that we did a hell of a lot in 12 hours, I think I've done a hell of a lot in 6 weeks.

To wit:
Dongdaemun/Dongdaemun market
Daehanmun/Changing of guard
Tapgol Park
Hangang Park
Haeundae Beach
Coex Mall
Busan Aquarium
Kimchi Field Museum
Korea National Museum
Seoul Museum of Art
Deoksugung Art Museum
Busan Museum

Some of the places I want to go in Seoul:
63 Building
Namsan (Seoul) Tower
Namdaemun/Namdaemun market
Seoul Land
Seoul Aquarium
Rodin Gallery
Chicken Art Museum
Gwanghwamun/Admiral Yi Statue
Statue of Hammering Man
Cheongwadae (Blue House)
Korean Comfort Women Protest
Namsangol Hanok Village
Yeouido/National Assembly
Seodaemun Prison
War Museum
... and I'm sure there are more.

Some (grade 2) students think that important Korean experiences include:
PC bang
bulgogi/samgyupsal/galbi/their favorite food
various mountains to climb
One of my favorite moments so far in class was the student who translated Namsan Tower's place name to "South Mountain"--which is quite correct.

A Hell of a Lot in About 12 Hours

I had a great time on Wednesday giving Ben, an old student from Heritage who is in naval intelligence these days, a slice of Seoul. He arrived from Busan at Seoul Station where we met, then took the subway up to City Hall with the thought of attending a free modern art exhibit at the Seoul Museum of Art.

While wandering around, we stumbled upon Daehanmun (great first gate) just in time for the ceremonial changing of the guard. With timing like that, I knew we were in for a good time, and I wasn't wrong.

Changing of guard, not our picture--from
After that, we headed west, vaguely seeking the Namdaemun markets, but ended up at the Art Museum and decided to go on in. We spent about an hour looking at some very interesting multimedia art installations, and about five minutes looking at uninteresting ones. The exhibition is titled Turn and Widen. While some of it was weird (hey, it's modern art!) much of it wasn't, as Ben put it, "intentionally inaccessible." As usual, mouse over the image for a brief description. There are more pictures at a recent post by Chris in South Korea.

Hello, World, the words on the screen are created as an acoustic signal and propagated through several hundred meters of copper tubing before appearing--or something like that
In this installation, bare light bulbs clank gently against oval mirrors set in a field of broken glass
Patrons sit on the white balls and observe the light and shadow of tree branch images playing over them, titled Light Spheres II
After leaving the exhibit, we walked down a tree-lined avenue alongside the walls of Deoksugung (gung means palace). Arriving back at Daehanmun, Ben wanted to go in--W 1,000 admission, typical of the cultural sites here, I've noticed--and I certainly wasn't averse. This one turned out to be particularly interesting, on account of, first, it was not burned down in the Japanese invasion of 1592, and second, during the Japanese occupation of the early twentieth century, it served as the home of the last emperor, Gojong, until his death, as well as the center of the Japanese colonial government. The Japanese built the two large Federalist style buildings on the grounds during that time. One of these, Seokjojeon, was playing host to a traditional Korean handicraft exhibition.

Ben and I in front of Seokjojeon, those are otters in the fountain; not real otters, no
Well, that was enough culture for us--now was the time for drinking! We headed to an area called Hongdae, around Hongik University, that I had heard was loaded up with bars and restaurants. Well, my sources weren't wrong, as we immediately found a large pedestrian square surrounded by said bars and restaurants. It begins less than a block from Hongkik Univ. stop on the green line.

We began at a quiet, inscrutable puzzle of a place called Sphinx where we had a few maekchu and a sausage and potato appetizer (including tater tots!) before making our way to a samgyupsal restaurant across the square--those of you who have followed this blog know I am totally enamoured of this Korean fatback pork barbecue. We had four beers each, ate to satiation, and paid a tab of W 42,000 (slightly less than USD 20 per person). There were street performers playing right next to us the whole time. Incidentally, there were also two squads of riot police in the square, sitting on their shields. In case candlelight protests broke out. I guess.

My new best friend, a giant walking beer mug, the blurriness may be the camera, or may be the cameraman
Me in front of our last stop, a chicken hof called Chick'n the Home
After that, we visited a couple more nightspots before making our way to Deungchon-dong, where Ben was suitably impressed by my officetel. To summarize: as Ben said, We did a hell of a lot in about 12 hours!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

A Breakthrough, Of Sorts

I may have mentioned that the sophomores are gone this week on a class trip. In case I haven't, the sophomores are gone this week on a class trip. I have seven sessions with the juniors this week, and will use the same lesson next week, when they will be gone and 10th grade is back.

The lesson sort of plays off the fact that they are traveling, and the fact that naval officer Ben is visiting Korea (look for a post on his visit to Seoul as soon as he emails me some pics). After the warm-up, I read from a section of Dr. Seuss's "Oh, The Places You'll Go!" that I have put on a powerpoint. The first activity is to choose a country to which they'd like to go, and write 3 sentences stating facts they already know about the country. Then they write down three questions of things they'd like to know. I give them about 15 minutes, but most don't manage to finish.

The second activity, now that they're thinking like tourists, is to help me make a list of things for my friend to do while he is in Korea. Each student lists 5 places to go in the format (Name of place) is (type of place) where (why the place is of interest), for example: Namsan Tower is a building in Seoul where you can see a view of the city.

I will then randomly call on students to read one of their sentences aloud. But first I ask for volunteers. And this is where the breakthrough occurred. In the past, they have given me a collective look like I had tentacles coming out of my ears when I do that. Today I had two classes, and actually had two kids in each class volunteer! That's four volunteers!

Koreans are perfectionists, especially as they get to high school age, so it has been like pulling teeth to get them to speak English. I have tried very hard to create a class atmosphere where we do not laugh and make fun of imperfect English, and where we encourage any attempt to speak English. I correct them by restating their sentences, emphasizing the preferred language, like Jeju-do is an island with delicious oranges ...

Six hard weeks later, it may be paying off.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Four Fascinating Tidbits for Today

1) So, what do you do when an erstwhile "friend" writes a blog post whose very TITLE is that you, yourself, suck? Why, link to it, of course! You do this mainly because your "friend" has a severe inferiority complex due to his small penis and crappy writing skills ... and you are the forgiving, understanding sort, who has a much larger penis and superior writing skills.

2) I spent the usual untold hours (okay, about three) preparing my lesson plan yesterday, only to find out on my way to school that this is the last day of exams--no classes. Between Chuseok, exams and Foundation Day, I'm starting to wonder why they brought me here ...

3) An old student (well, he's not old, he's somewhere in his twenties, but you know what I meant) is coming to Seoul for an overnight visit while on liberty from his ship, the USS George Washington, which is in Busan for fleet review. So I went shopping for an inflatable mattress in E-Mart-uh to put in my loft, only to learn it's a seasonal item, summer only. I had to settle for a pad sort of thing, but it ain't that bad. Besides, military guys should be able to sleep on broken glass and eat nails without complaining. I believe it's part of the training. Right, Ben?
Che Guevara
4) I think most of us will agree that cyberbullying and internet slander are reprehensible, but I wonder if Korea's new laws with criminal penalties are a solution, or just an additional set of problems. These laws were first discussed in the context of the recent beef flap, but are receiving renewed attention with the apparent suicide of popular actress Choi Jin-sil. Her death is being blamed on malicious internet rumor-mongering. Incidentally, though the Romanization is Choi, her name is pronounced much more like Che, of Guevara fame. How can you possibly learn a language this way?

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Day Trip to Busan

Went with three lovely ladies I met during SMOE training week to Busan for a day trip on Saturday. If you look at a map of Korea (helpfully included at right), you can see that Busan (aka Pusan) is about as far as you can get from Seoul and still be in Korea. It's probably most famous for the so-called Pusan Perimeter, where allied troups reorganized following their initial defeats by the North at the outset of the Korean War, fall of 1950.

We took the KTX superfast train, which traveled at up to 300 km/h, and lasted 2 h 50 m in relative comfort. I continue to be impressed with the public transportation here. A word of warning, though: don't be late, the trains depart on the tick of their scheduled departure time.

To get around, we used the Busan City Tour buses, which arrive at specific locations on a more-or-less regular schedule. First stop: Busan Museum, which was really pretty impressive for a podunk little town of 4 million. It mostly focused on ancient Korean history, from cave bear clan times up to the 1700s, with a bit on the Japanese occupation in the early 20th century.

Mannequins at Busan Museum
The tour bus had about ten stops, but we only made it to two. The second stop: Haeundae Beach and Busan Aquarium. This beach is famous as the subject of one my WhatIsIt? puzzles at OMA, as well as setting a new Guinness world record for the largest number of parasols installed at a beach. Our arrival was coincident with the Pusan International Film Festival, which is what the PIFF behind me stands for, in the photo below.

Me in front of stage at Film Festival
After looking around the beach for a while, we went on a trek to find some fresh seafood for lunch. The folks at the tourist office suggested an Italian restaurant in the Hotel Paradise, but we ate at a Korean-style place instead. It was delicious, and at W10,000 per person, I'm sure better than half the price of any western-style eatery. Even if we did have to de-bone it ourselves. With cho-ka-rock (chopsticks) this is no mean feat. With fingers, it is much easier. After this, we put our shoes back on and headed across the main drag to Busan Aquarium.

Three lovely ladies at Haeundae Beach
Haeundae Beach, looking south--note lighthouse at point
Meeting new friends
Looking north, at Haeundae Beach
I've been to quite a few aquariums (aquaria?) in my day, and I must say, this is one of the better ones, especially for about $15 admission. Lots of good photo ops. Hover your mouse over the pic for a brief description:

gawkers sihouetted in front of big shark tank
A picture of this tunnel that goes through the big shark tank
Me shooting myself in mirror, with shark tank behind
Duh-duh, duh duh duh-duh!  Shark!
Sea turtle
Another sea turtle, feeding
It seems we all really enjoy aquariums, so it was after five o'clock when we left, and the next tour bus arrived at 5:30--with about an hour's ride back to Busan Station and departure time at 7:30 (and not one minute later), we barely had time to grab a bite! Still, waiting for the bus, we got into a conversation with two shipbuilding engineers (Busan is the world's third larget shipping port, and Ulsan, just up the road, is home to Hyundai Heavy Industries, the world's largest shipyard) from San Diego, who helped make the time pass with conversation by turns interesting and witty. Well, I was the wittiest, but you knew that, didn't you?

I should also mention we passed over Gwangan Daegyo (Bridge), Korea's longest, a double-decker suspension bridge, which has various lovely lighting effects, none of which could be seen from the bus.

All four of us in classic photo op, inside giant shark jaw
Thanks for a great day, girls, we need to do another jaunt together soon!