Monday, March 30, 2009

Tuttle News Update

1) Both lesson plans went really well on Day 1--so they are definitely worth stealing from me. The true test is the afternoon classes on Tuesday, but I have high hopes.

2) I downloaded some tunes and put them on the mp3 player, and took it to the fitness center. Really good move, I'm pleased to say--the session just flew by! Still awaiting playlist suggestions ...

3) Those of us in SMOE Team 3 got an email from our team leader at 2:14 pm today informing us that we have a co-teacher training session on Wed., from 3 to 6 pm. Consider it mandatory. Hard to figure how you do that when you've only given 48 hrs and 46 min. of prior notice. This is a classic example of the way things are done in the Seoul educational system.

Now I already knew about this, because my co-teacher told me on Thursday or so. It was, I'm sure, my email to David M for confirmation--since neither I nor any of my cohorts had heard anything--that prompted his announcement.

But, most annoyingly, this is after the native teacher group complained loudly at the previous one of these junkets about how poorly notification was handled.

4) So, there's this weird kid who I don't even teach since he is in the math/science stream in second grade (but I remember him from winter camp) who has been hanging around my office at the end of lunch time, wanting to talk to me. Now, I got nuthin' agin somebody what wants to better hisself, but this kid sits in the unoccupied chair opposite my desk and asks me a lot of intrusive questions. And doesn't take a hint. Hint, hell, he hardly even takes a direct command.

Today he brought in a script he had written out for us to read together, rather ungrammatical (but as I say, I don't worry a lot about that, hopefully it comes in due time), but here's the weird part (okay, the really weird part): he plays a customs agent, and I play someone he suspects of trying to smuggle in cocaine.

I try to explain to him that it's insulting to suggest that just because I'm American I would play a cocaine dealer, and that furthermore, you can't smell cocaine on someone's breath.

In Part 2, yes there's a Part 2, he plays someone who uses iDoser, which is the computer age's version of alpha-wave feedback therapy momentarily popular in the early seventies. The idea was, and is, to "synchronize your brainwaves". Or in at least one case, to addle them.

Bonus Photograph: The Icaremewellbeingcafe has just opened a couple blocks away on my walk to work. The hangeul sounds out as "Ah-ee kae-aw mee".

Icaremewellbeingcafe sign

Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Coming Week

So, here I am at the chicken hof, having completed my lesson plans and done all the other things I am supposed to do.

In first grade, we will continue to focus on technology--specifically, the cellphone. We will begin by practicing some common phone phrases, then in pairs rank the features of cellphones: is a camera more important, or current weather conditions, or GPS, or texting, etc? In the final activity, students will write five GOOD questions about cellphone use, then conduct a poll of their fellow students. They will then report their results back to their table.

Somewhere in there, we will listen to the following song, whose lyrics I have transcribed into the powerpoint:

Second graders (that's HS juniors, in case you've forgotten) are continuing a unit on Western music. This week, we will turn to criticism, and examine the question of whether ART can be evaluated simply in terms of good and bad. Is a Classical conductor inherently better than a pop singer? Is representational art superior in any sense to abstract works, or to the line drawings Picasso used to capture the essence of a thing in a few strokes?

Picasso bull
Click here to check out a cool study of Picasso's progression to this image.

Rather than giving a thumbs up or thumbs down, we try to be more subtle, using adjectives to describe our reactions to some artwork. I will play some music clips, each embedded in a slide that details the type of response I want them to write about: Rhapsody In Blue, Faint by Linkin Park, Winter from Vivaldi's Four Seasons and Bongo Bong from Manu Chao:

In other news, I finally bought an MP3 player (since I never got around to it on my trip to China); now I'm looking for music to make a couple of killer workout playlists. The whole reason I wanted one is because the continuous stream of K-Pop in the fitness center, while lively, just doesn't do it for me. And TB's proposal for looping 'Eye of the Tiger' isn't quite what I had in mind.

Suggestions are encouraged.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

What's In A Name?

First grade (which in a high school means 10th year students) began a chapter titled 'Cell Phone: Blessing or Curse', about the impact of technology. I whipped up a powerpoint concerning two articles, one on computer game addiction and the other about Doug Engelbart, the inventor of the computer mouse. The mouse turned 40 in December.

He was surprised that the term 'mouse' stuck to his invention when it entered the home, since mice have an overall negative connotation. In their last activity, students are to pair up and think of new names for computer parts: CPU, the mouse, keyboard, memory and flash drive. Theoretically, they will hold their discussions in English. The co-teacher and I go around looking at their work and talking to them about it.

Some were quite good; for instance: thinker, clicker, tapper, saver and walker. Or smart box, arrow box, key box, etc. Or Einstein, genius box, calc-box for the CPU. So far, so good. I was, however, surprised by the number of students who figured that you are improving on 'mouse' by calling it a rat! Today, a couple of them even renamed it the cockroach. True, they both might scurry around on your desktop...

One smart-aleck today renamed the computer as 'sexy girl', the mouse as 'pants' and the flash drive as 'penis'. So I whipped mine out, it's about one and a half inches--my memory stick, pervs--and held it up. "Oh, it's very small," I said.

Now, embarrassment isn't necessarily at the top of my list of pedagogical tools, but here's a kid who is testing me (it's our fourth class session). He knew he was being inappropriate and hoped I might overreact, or at least blush. The ideal response: show them how silly they are being, elicit a laugh, make your point, and move on.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The First Blossoms of Spring

kaenari flowers
Na ri na ri kae na ri
Ip beh tta ta mul ko yo
Pyong ah ri tteh chong chong chong
Pom na tu ri kam ni ta.

Lily, lily, golden bell,
Pluck it, put it in your bill.
Bunch of chickies, hop, hop, hop!
Springtime outing, off they go.

The Korean children's song 'Pom Na Tur Ri' celebrates the blossoming of the kaenari, the harbinger of spring here on the peninsula. Kaenari 개나리 is also known as the sansuyu 산수유 (borrowed from Chinese, I think), and the Japanese cornel dogwood or Asiatic dogwood (Latin name Cornus officinalis).

kaenari blossoms
kaenari or Japanese dogwood
I noticed the first blooms on Monday, walking to school with Mr Hwang and asked him what they were. He told me, and sang me the song. You can hear the tune if you go to the webpage where I found the lyrics and translation, then scroll down:

Here is another shot of the ones along the hill, mixed together with some purple blossoms whose name I don't know:

kaenari blossoms mixed with purple flower

Further floral news comes from the little greenspace next to my officetel. The name of it is MaeHwa Park, and the maehwa, or Chinese apricot, is another signal of the arrival of spring. The first scattering of blossoms is strewn across the patch of trees in the park.

first maehwa blossoms
first maehwa blossomes
I'll post more pictures soon, once the park and the sidewalk are in full bloom.

Monday, March 23, 2009

N Korean Dictator Ranked Third Worst

The US Sunday newspaper supplement 'Parade' has named DPRK Socialist Worker's Party leader and depraved lunatic Kim Jong-Il third worst tyrant in the world, after Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe (Ed. Note: I met him once) and Sudan's Omar al-Bashir. According to an article covering the Parade story in today's Korea Times, Mr Kim's status has fallen from first to third since the previous ranking for 2007.

"Puh-leeze," began the official response from the (North) Korea Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang, "Dear Leader is way more brutal a dictator than either of those guys. In case you haven't heard, he's been sick." The communique continued:
Those foul deviants at capitalist American Parade magazine simply demoted Dear Leader Kim Jong-il as part of their campaign to besmirch our great socialist Utopia in preparation for launching a nuclear attack on the socialist wonderland of Korea. I have news for them! Kim Jong-il committed more gloriously heinous acts on anti-socialist pig-dogs in our perfect country before breakfast today than Mr Mugabe will probably manage all week. How dare they beg for food, or fail to share the Rat Carcasses of Dear Leader's Plenty with their neighbors! For this, they deserve to die!

Mugabe starves his sub-human black African socialist comrades only through inept land management, economic incompetence and political corruption. Dear Leader starves proud millions to death by bravely stepping forward and saying "Aniyo!" to the breadcrumbs, the pitiful 500,000 tons of free food offered by capitalist pig-dogs and their NGOs. You know what, Dear Leader doesn't even know what NGO stands for, and he doesn't care!

And don't even get Dear Leader Kim Jong-il started on Bashir--he's a total fraud when it comes to evil dictating! His forces maraud, maim and murder totally indiscriminately! That's no way to run a dictatorship--downtrodden, brainwashed, impoverished masses without two grains of rice to rub together do not respect that kind of thinking. They want cruel repression that makes sense!

In comparison, Dear Leader only heaps outrageous punishments on those who have done great wrong to our wonderful socialist Nirvana! For instance, if your great-grandfather once rode in an American car, or ever wondered what a hot dog might taste like, and we find out about it--you will spend your miserable, socialism-hating life in a hell-hole concentration camp that befits traitors like yourself, being re-educated until you die. Hot dogs are nasty, and don't even taste like dog.

Fear not, Sunday supplement readers, Kim Jong-il is on his way back to the top! Mainly, another year of below average rainfall is predicted, and with our heavenlily antiquated irrigation equipment falling into glorious disrepair, food production is expected to be happily far below what is needed to feed our population. We hope millions more will suffer needless starvation and death in the coming year as they volunteer to help return Dear Leader to his place as the world's number one!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Dreadlock Rasta

The second grade (who are actually high school juniors) begins a chapter on music this week, so I am going to acquaint them with the work of a certain Robert Nesta Marley, born 1945. I get to listen to top-notch reggae all week, how's them apples?

I got this plan half-baked at a conference back in December but brought it up to speed by actually putting in the music and lyrics, and focusing on the protest aspect of Marley's music--Get Up Stand Up, Buffalo Soldier. I even scrounged up some photos of Haile Selassie.

I have put in photos of my visits to the Comfort Women protests, and followed up on our "discussion" of Utopia/Dystopia by eliciting writing and speaking on the problems we face in our world and whether protest is a useful tool in finding solutions.

Tianenmen Tank Man--did not actually change things, did he?
I'm hoping to actually spark some discussion here, since Korean culture is, um, protest-oriented. Back in the days when more-or-less benign dictators and chaebols ruled the country, marches, vigils and vigorous protests were the voice of the democratic tide. Protests in Korea led to the end of the Chun Doo-hwan era by forcing direct elections--the high visibility of those protests on the world stage thanks to the Seoul Olympics of 1988 surely didn't hurt.

So, what would you protest today, and at whom would you target your protests?

Saturday, March 21, 2009

The Rumor Mill

Yesterday being Friday, my teaching day ended at 12:30, so I went home and took a nap, worked on some lesson plan ideas, etc, before going to the gym for a "moderate-to-heavy workout" of 28 km (14 each) on the elliptical trainer and the stationary bike. Add about fourteen minutes on the treadmill and a couple of water breaks before walking up seven (that's 7) flights of stairs to the third floor, that's nearly an hour and a half.

It's taken me months to get to this point, and my weight change is still marginal, but--I do actually feel better. I ran to cross the street before the light changed the other day, and I wasn't even winded! Gweon Keun-yer 권근열 (English name I gave him: Jeremy), the young guy in charge of the gym, has expressed his pleasure in my limited progress using his limited English. He notes hopefully that my face is thinner--which is often the first place weight change is visible.

Anyway, so I come upstairs and my phone (which I don't take down to the gym with me) is making the sound it makes for a missed call. I call back, and it's Mr Wright, actually Lee Sang Hyeong 이상형, following up on his invitation earlier in the week to go out drinking.

Well, I have to shower, etc, and end up meeting at 8:00 near the school at a Western hof called Adonis which has a pirate statue and a Civil War soldier statue out front. Yeah, transplant that set up to America and you have the gayest gay bar in Gay Town. Moving on ...

Pey-ga go pai-yo, I'm hungry. So's he, so we order some chicken and chat; meanwhile, some fellow Young-il teachers start to trickle in. The Research Dept has had a "meeting" nearby, so Mr Pak the assistant principal, big Mr Lee, Lee Geum-cheon and couple of other major players come in.

Very soon, they get to the point: they are disappointed to hear that I do not want to come back to Young-il next year. I ask where they heard that, since no one has even asked me.

It seems someone in the administration office has started a rumor to that effect. I made it very clear that this was untrue, that I had thought for some time on the issue and had decided that I would re-sign at Young-il if a contract was offered to me. But so far, no contract had been offered.

I explained my calculus on both sides: on the plus side, everyone at the school has been kind and supportive to me, and they take education seriously; my officetel, though small, is well-located, near the school, across the street from E-Mart, and I can't wait until line 9 opens!

Jeungmi Station sign with my officetel in the background
On the negative side, I explained that I am often frustrated in attempting to do my job--that is, get students to speak English, whether to the whole class or just to one other person. I spend hours, I said, consulting the best sources, developing interesting lessons, often to no avail. I meet students once a week, so I have little chance to get to know them.

Anyway, I told them, with Mr Wright and Mr Lee interpreting, I will not stay in Korea for too many years, I will go home to America. My experience has kind of spoiled me, since I know from my friends I am lucky to work with such good people. Even so, I want to experience other parts of Korea outside Seoul, perhaps, or maybe someplace else in Asia, "as long as I am here". They understood.

But at least for next year, I plan to teach at Young-il, despite what they have heard from the rumor mill.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Brinksmanship on the Peninsula

Tensions are really building of late here on the Korean peninsula. The border between North and South Korea, about thirty-five clicks north of where I sit, is the last vestige of the Cold War that once split the globe into two opposing groups, the Coms and Yangs, each bent on world domination.

Well, okay, not the Coms and the Yangs, that was Star Trek's allegorical version, but the communists and the "Free World". It is well-known by now who won, except in a tiny enclave of the world called DPRK. Evil is a strong word to use, but how else to describe men who are willing to let millions starve to death in order to propagate an illusion of strength?

Once again, North Korea has turned away a million tons of food offered by the Free World, even though it surely means starvation for helpless millions held in its death-grip. But, not content with passive evil, Kim Jong-Il is insistent on perpetuating a rising level of antagonism with the South and the US--to an extent that actually risks war.

We learned today that two US journalists have been detained by DPRK soldiers for filming at the border in China--details are unclear, but it appears the soldiers actually crossed into China to capture the journalists when they would not stop filming. The North also keeps closing, then temporarily reopening, its border crossing to the Gaeseong Special Industrial Complex, which is a joint venture of the two states and provides much-needed hard currency to the failed dictatorship. The purpose seems to be to flummox the South's political machinery, especially while the US-ROK joint military exercise Key Resolve/Foal Eagle is carried out.

Key Resolve is basically an annual defensive readiness exercise, though the North is painting it as rehearsal for an invasion. Amidst all the stories about the exercises, NK's plan to test fire a missile/launch a satellite/whatever, the scariest thing I've read was excerpts from an interview with an "Ex-NK official" in the Dong-A Ilbo, one of the most right-wing paps in a country with virtually no left-wing media.

"In a conversation that lasted nearly two hours," the article states, "he showed evidence of brainwashing by North Korean-style logic. The talk, however, provided clues to how North Korean cadres or residents perceive the situation." Here are a few quotes:
Discipline in our society has become too slack over the last 10 years because of the food crisis ... There are significant fears that if reform is implemented under such circumstances, we could collapse just like the Soviet Union due to failure to control chaos. To wage a big battle, you have to arrange your rank first... I have no great expectations. Rumor has it that [North Korean leader Kim Jong Il] said, ‘There is nothing much about becoming a powerful country. Putting our tanks on top of South Korea’s economy makes us a powerful country.’ Rather than meaning go to war, this indicates that our policy will continue to put priority on military power.

The contradiction in his last sentence makes me think of US policy during the Cold War. The world was kept from annihilation by the recognition of mutually assured destruction (MAD), which depended on the fact that none of the leaders involved was actually, y'know, mad. With Mr Kim's stroke-crippled finger on the button--not to mention his stroke-addled brain--I'm not sure that's the case.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

My Schedule

So, Mr Hwang tells me about the time we arrive at school on Monday that due to the "ground meeting"--a big, once-a-year all-school assembly (that he told me about on Friday)--all classes would be pushed back an hour, and everyone would work an hour late.

Not me, as my contract clearly states my teaching duties end at 4:30; however, I decided not to push it, since they are generally pretty good to me here: I am allowed to leave when my teaching day ends, not hang around until 4:30 thumb-twiddling like some foreign teachers; I don't have to come in every day and sit at a desk for eight hours during the holidays, etc. Still, I let it be known (again) that it isn't the working late that bothers me, it's finding out at the last possible minute that's the issue. Ended up being somewhat moot, though, as they cancelled last period.

I go to lunch off-campus today with Mr Hwang--after he found out I had eaten sundae guk and loved it, he had to eat it with me. He's a very sweet guy. Anyway, he tells me that tomorrow is a very busy day at Young-il. All first graders will have a big meeting during first period, so there will be no class for them. Then, there will be no classes for anyone during 6th and 7th periods as that time will be used to organize and sign up for club activities.

It turns out that my Thursday schedule is 4 classes of first grade: 1, 2, 6 and 7. I have only one class to teach tomorrow. And I found out a day in advance.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Korea Sparkling, Brighter

Action Plan from KoreaTimes
Everyone loves a good list, and this one is the product of a Korean government commission whose job was to identify ways for the Hermit Kingdom to improve its image in the world--its "brand". Frankly, I'm not sure how renaming all its Korean language schools to 'King Sejong Institute' is going to help things, but it's worth a shot, I guess. And, it's an easy one to check off the list.

After all, it's going to be a bit more difficult to achieve item #10 on the list, which this Korea Times article explains is to:
strengthen education of globally accepted norms and etiquette among citizens, according to the council.

Presumably, this means getting people to stop eyeing every foreigner as if he is an AIDS-infected drug kingpin out to destroy Korean society. And stop slurping their soup so loudly. And stop spitting. Indoors.

Curiously, the proposal calls for a "Korean wave" of sharing development how-to to emulate the success of Korean pop culture throughout Asia and the the world, yet does not mention capitalizing on the success of the actual Korean Wave.

I mean, the very same newspaper has an article about a Korean film winning the grand prize at France's Deauville Asian Film Festival. It mentions that another Korean film won there last year. I'm no PR specialist, but ...

Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Rest of the Story ...

So, after the horse races on Saturday, our little group ventured north into the Naked City in search of sustenance--you work up an appetite squandering a combined 120,000 W or so. We debated our choices along the way: dalk galbi, shellfish in Sillim, but just about when the train rolls in to Bongcheon, Andy goes, "How about lamb skewers?"

Well, I am not one to turn that down, firstly because I love that stuff, but also because it automatically entails a visit to the world's coolest makkuli bar just down the street. The lamb was great, as always, but the makkuli bar was our most amazing experience yet!

Here is what the place looks like from outside:

makkuli bar in Bongcheon
First of all, we were heralded into the inner sanctum, the shoes off, low table room that we assumed is reserved for the cognoscenti. Soon thereafter, an older couple came in, and the man started a conversation with us--partly in English, but mostly using We-yun to translate. Though, frankly, both Nick and Andy seem to acquit themselves well in the native tongue.

Anyway, we got quite friendly with the guy, who was a fellow teacher. Hell, he gave Andy a massage:

Andy gets jiggy with our Korean defender
Now, soon after this is when things get hinky, and the story goes into drama mode. Some guy comes in and starts trying to chat with Nick--since he's quite visible through the window into the sanctum sactorum, due to where he's sitting. Well apparently, the guy was just trying to pick a fight, and ALL the other patrons in the place try to get him to leave us alone, and/or go away. After all, we were just enjoying some makkuli and chatting with them--no heroine was injected, no AIDS transmitted or children molested during our visit.

Things escalate, all in Korean, and the massage guy eventually goes out and pile drives the asshole guy into the pavement. A few minutes later the Police roll up in their little tiny car and behave in a completely ineffectual manner.

They leave, and the jerk comes back. This time, pretty much the whole bar spills out onto the street, but our defender takes a hit from the bad guy's cycle helmet, wielded as a weapon. Fucker. So his wife puts him in the car and takes him home.

Then the police return, and continue doing nothing; the guy starts to talk to me, and I don't really understand what he's saying. Later, I gather that he said ship-pal to me, which is particularly ugly in Korean--it's just as well I didn't catch that at first, because they deport foreigners for kicking Koreans in the balls. Owner-dude apologized to me, which I really appreciate.

About this time, it's getting to 11:30 and we decide to leave--I want to catch the subway, even though it turns out I had to take a taxi from Sindorim again. At least this time, I knew enough to choose my own taxi and pay the real fare.

I Got the Horse Right Here ...

And they're off!
And they're off! I spent a day at the races on Saturday with Nick, Andy and his friend Wee-yun at Seoul Race Park. Located 3 stops south of Sadang on the No. 4 line, it is a very nice facility, containing HappyTown and LuckyTown. Admission is 800 W (why even bother?) I must say that the procedure for placing a bet is a bit more complicated than it used to be at Birmingham, in the 1990s. There, you might walk up to the betting window with two bucks and say something like, "I'd like to put this on Happy Camper to win in the fourth."

In Korea, fifteen years later, it's a little different. To place a bet, first you fill out a scantron betting slip ...

Nick filling in betting slip

... then you take some money to the girl at the betting window. She will convert your cash into a slip of paper or chit which you take to the betting machine and insert in Slot A ...

Insert money chit in Slot A
... Next you insert the betting slip you filled out in Step 1 above. The machine will read your bet or bets and ask you to verify the wager you entered. Blue means it's all correct ...

wager screenshot
... After that, he machine will deliver a bet ticket. When you have completed your transactions, it will give you a new money chit which shows how much cash you have left in the system.

machine deliversager slip
Now you go to the Foreigners' Lounge (with the pass you got when you signed in on arrival--it's on the 4th floor, and is no extra charge) to watch the race. Here is what the last quarter-mile might look like from the foreigners' box:

race No. 5 in the home stretch
It's up to you, but before you make your wagers, you may wish to go to the paddock and inspect the horses as they parade before the race.

paddock parade
Here are two views (outside and inside) of the grandstand, which is currently being renovsted:

Seoul Race Park grandstand
Seoul Race Park grandstand
I went down to track level to get some action shots, and noticed that many folks had used the ubiquitous felt tip pens provided by the track to sign the rail, so I followed suit:

Preserved for a little while
Like at any course, the track is smoothed between races, as the horses are coaxed into the gate.

race preparations
Here are two pictures of the home stretch of the seventh race, which at 1700 m. was the second longest of the day. Race 11 was the longest at 2000 m., and had the largest purse at 44 million won for first place. The total wagered on the race was 531 million.

action shot at Seoul Race Park
action shot at Seoul Race Park

Yeah, I bet on horse #8 to win. The lavender cap and teal outfit grabbed me, what can I say? There may be horse-betting "systems" more remunerative (I stress 'may'), but none more colorful. Anyway, win, place or show--or even also-ran--there's no better system for identifying which horse is yours!

Friday, March 13, 2009

Éirinn go Brách

I was fortunate to attend the annual St Patrick's Day reception held by the Irish Embassy in Seoul at the invitation of my friend Karen. It was held at the swanky Grand Hyatt high atop a hill in Itaewon with a great view of Seoul.

As you might expect at such an event, the Guinness was free and free-flowing, though it was served in 6 oz pilsners. Indeed, a centerpiece of the event was this ice sculpture of the "Guinness" harp:

ice sculpture at St Patrick's Day reception
The festivities were officially opened around 7:00 by Ambassador Conor Murphy, following the playing of the Korean and Irish national anthems; his remarks were political, mostly condemning the recent terrorist actions by an IRA splinter group in Northern Ireland, which are re-igniting fears of a return the violence that wracked the country a decade ago. Here is Karen with the Ambassador:

Karen and Conor Murphy
After that, the cellowrap was removed from the food platters and the feasting began. There were lots of choices, from lamb sausages to chicken in vinegar to delectable salmon, but my favorite had to be beef in Guinness, which is a classic Irish stew. The desserts were plentiful as well, but the chocolate raspberry tart in the second photo below had to be the best.

food table at St Patrick's Day reception
dessert table at St Patrick's Day reception
We also met several interesting people, from Korean trade officials to consular reps., including the lovely ladies below, from Germany and New Zealand (that's me in the middle):

new friends at Irish Embassy reception

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Obama on Korean Education

"Obama Lauds Korea's Education of Children" screams the headline at Korea Times today. Although he actually did not do that--he used Korea as a benchmark for comparison:
"Our children _ listen to this _ our children spend over a month less in school than children in South Korea every year," Obama told a gathering at the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce here [the location is not specified in the Yonhap report, though it is obviously not South Korea]. "That's no way to prepare them for a 21st-century economy."

He makes a valid point, but more is not always better. Obama further says, correctly, that the US education calendar remains unchanged from our agrarian days, when children were needed to help out on the family farm.

As an old hand in that system, the flaw is not so much too much time off, but taking it all in one big chunk--three months during the summer. We spend two months or more in our core classes at the start of each school year reteaching what students forgot over the summer hols. I have long maintained we should divide the school year into three terms of three months, and take a month or so for vacation after each term. That's long enough to take an extended trip if you want, but still short enough that little content needs relearning. The article ends:
Obama's remarks came as a surprise to many South Koreans as the country's education system has been under constant public criticism due to its lack of creativity and heavy dependence on private tutoring.

Its heavy dependence on tutoring is because students are at those hagwons so late that they sleep during their classes during the day, so they have to go to hagwons at night to catch up what they missed while they were sleeping ...

Bonus Photograph: Some fossils and fine stones at a stall in the Seoul Folk Flea Market.

stones and fossils at stall in Seoul Folk Flea Market

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

English Dept Faculty Meeting II

Before I come to the event of the day, I have to talk about the other event of the day. Mr Hwang and I both forgot he couldn't go to lunch with me during 4th period, so I ended up going alone. Well, I looked at the offering provided by Dongwon, our new food service, and decided it sucked. I've mentioned before my ambivalence about their menu. The main dish today (well, other than rice) was tofu cubes cooked in doenjang with veg. I'll admit the new potatoes fried in oil and seasoning looked edible. The only meat was the same bony stewed fish we get four days out of five.

Now here's a question I've been longing to ask: Can someone explain to me why Koreans, with their deep love of seafood, including incredibly bony fish, as well as their lauded historical ingenuity, have not managed to devise a means of mechanically boning their fish? What is up wi' dat?

Anyway ...

Knowing there is a Hansot (quickie diner) a block from school, I literally turned around and walked out of the cafeteria--something I'd never done before. As I arrived at the crosswalk, who should be next to me but Yi Cheonggi, my friend the art teacher. He asked me if I have had lunch yet. I said I hadn't. He said, "Come with me, we will lunch-ee together." I said, "Okay."

Five minutes later I was sitting with Cheonggi and his friend in a tiny--I mean tiny--restaurant whose name I sussed out from the menu board was Gwangju Guk Bap 광주국밥, Gwangju-style soup and rice. I'm kicking myself I did not bring my cellphone along for the camera, because what we ate deserved recording.

It is called sun-dae guk bap 순대국밥, a soup or stew made of pig's intestines and brains, served with rice. It was peppery, savory, slightly salty and very tasty. I ate up every single bit of it--the adjumma even brought us extra sun-dae, and we polished that off, too. Like most peasant folk cuisine, the Korean version doesn't let any nutritive part of the animal go to waste, and serves it up filling, delicious and cheap.

The meal was 5,000 W--not that I had any chance of paying, since I was with two Korean men older than myself. In fact, Cheonggi grumbled throughout the coffee-drinking that his friend was "berry trickery" for sneaking off to pay the bill without letting on. He is endearing as hell.

After lunch, I taught two sections of 2nd grade our first lesson on "the future"--utopia, dystopia, Zager & Evans, what is your life like in 2025, etc--then went to the post office to mail in my US bills. After I returned to school, Mr Lee #5 took me to his car, we drove 1 minute 45 seconds and got to the restaurant where the English Dept was having its meeting to welcome the new faculty. I underwent this initiation my first week at Young-il and it remains one my fondest memories here. I felt truly welcomed, and I wanted to make sure the new faculty got the same treatment.

In place of samgyupsal, we ate galbi and other beef at a restaurant called Bloomhanwoo--literally, flowering Korean beef. It was really good, as it always is at these places. We drank beer and soju but not very much, so I was quite pleased when a move to second round was announced.

Once more, I kick myself that I didn't take any photos, for the atmosphere was really cool. We gathered at two long, split-trunk tables in a subterranean room whose joists and beams were clearly recycled from a much older building. It had an atmosphere a bit like the Sam-il patriots or the Leninist crowd must have experienced as they plotted the downfall of the Imperialists.

"So, we must determine how we are going to begin the revolution," I said in my best bad Russian accent, looking around conspiratorially.

Mr Oh caught on. "First, we must dispose of the Principal," he said.

"No more haircuts!" I said. That got a big laugh. The first week of school, students were rounded up each morning and made to do push ups and squats and so forth for, among other things, long hair.

The revolutionary meme was vogue for the rest of the evening. Around 8:30, things seemed to be winding down, and we left the cute little bar (which I must find again). Ostensibly to go home. But I reminded the old-time faculty that when *I* was a newbie, we went to noraebang for third round! Well, Mr Lee #5 and Mr Oh seemed game, so we took the three new faculty--Mr Hu and Miss Lee (both my co-teachers who you will probably hear more about) and Miss Kim, whose English name is Cherie--about three doors down to a singing room.

I wowed them with a few songs (of course) but then sat back and watched as they overcame their shyness, spread their wings and sang like, like, well, Koreans singing in a noraebang or larks or something.

By the time we left, nearly 10 PM, we had definitely bonded. I hope the experience of their first Eng Dept Mtg was as good for them as mine was for me!

Sunday, March 8, 2009

An Ordinary Sunday

Truth to tell, I was a bit worried that I would have trouble getting back into the swing of things at school, now that the winter break is over. I spent the first part of the day completing and polishing my lessons for the week, and then spent some time wandering around the neighborhood--the weather was glorious, if a touch chilly.

They have put up the subway signs outside my building, they're still wrapped in plastic--the name of my new stop will be Jeungmi 증미 once Line 9 opens at the beginning of May.

Continuing a string of suicides among popular Korean entertainment figures, Korea Herald reports that Jang Ja-yeon was found dead in her home on Saturday, apparently having hanged herself. She was a supporting character on the ultra-popular Korean TV drama "Boys Before Flowers"--which I haven't watched one single minute of.

Bonus Photograph: This is an astronaut photograph taken from the ISS on Christmas, 2005 of Seoul. Read more at

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Ack, Mormons!

They're everywhere, I tells ya!

So here I am, minding my own business, walking down the street about 7:00 pm or so, making my way toward the corner where I hope to find the rotisserie chicken truck and pick up a tasty dinner. This is something I have mentioned before, most notably here.

I'm walking along, and this young Korean starts to pass by me, does a double-take and smiles real big. "Oh, hello! How are you?" he says.

Now, most folks won't give you the time of day in this country, a feature of the culture being to ignore the masses of people all around you, except for the ones you already know. As a foreigner, I get my fair share of stares, mostly from the very young and the very old, and a lot of the "Hello, how are you? I am fine," kind of thing from middle schoolers. Occasionally, a college student will engage in conversation to practice his or her English, and that's what I assumed this was.

He asks to shake my hand, so we do. About then, I notice he is with another young guy, a clean-cut Westerner. Both are wearing black jackets with white collared shirts. 'Huh,' I thought to myself, 'the Mormons are here, too.'

We talk as we walk, mostly them feigning interest in me, with questions about how long I've been here, etc. Fine with me, as long they don't start preaching. Though I'm loathe to give them an opening, I eventually have to ask the American what he's doing here.

"We're missionaries," he says. Yep, I pegged that one. "We belong to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints; sometimes we're called Mormons," he explains.

Yeah, thanks for the explanation, I guess I look like I just fell off the mu truck. He starts to tell me about what Mormons believe, but I give him "I really don't want to get into a religious discussion with you. ... It seems to me that most Koreans already have a religion--sometimes two!"

They think that's reasonably funny. But true.

"So how many Mormons are there in Korea?" I ask.

"About 90,000." That's not very many, considering just the single Christian church congregation that my artist friend Cheonggi attends has 700,000 members. Korea also has spawned a few new religions, such as Cheondogyo. And of course the Unification Church, founded by Sun Myong Moon in Korea, has a few million adherents worldwide--you know, the "Moonies".

Anyway, we finally get to the corner, and my chicken guy is there, across the street. My new acquaintances are headed a different direction so we part company, but not before they give me a Mormon tract. Written in hangeul.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Doing The Math

While I asked for this last semester, and didn't get one, I decided to ask again, since a whole different Mr Lee is my lead co-teacher for first grade: a copy of the English textbook. O Happy of Happinesses, I received it in a matter of hours. Including the "Activity Book" and the CD-ROMs with the listen-and-repeat audios. Sweet.

My objective, of course, is to coordinate my lessons with the subject matter the students are studying in their "regular" (non-foreign-weird-guy-taught) English classes. Glancing at the TOC (table of contents) with this same Mr Lee, I note there are ten lessons in the book. I ask him, "How long do you take to cover each chapter?" He says, "Two weeks." Mr Hwang concurs. "Yeah ... two weeks."

I note here that the semester is 20 weeks long, from now until July 17th. Exact-a-mundo, as Fonzie would say. So I go off and try to sketch out my "curriculum" matching up my lesson plans/ideas with the themes/content--such as they are--of the textbook.

Looking more carefully at the calendar, I quickly realize we must subtract two weeks' instruction for the taking of midterms and final exams. Aha, I say to myself, I must go back and ask Mr Lee which chapter gets shorted. Since, doing the math, I know that 2 weeks X 10 chapters = 20 weeks, not 18! (I was a math/science teacher in a former life.)

I am surprised to learn from him that the 10 lessons are spread (remember now, this was with a stated coverage of 2 weeks per lesson), not over 20 weeks of the semester, but 39 weeks of the whole school year. From that 39 weeks, subtract out 2 more weeks for 2nd semester exams, then Chuseok, and you're given 34 weeks to cover the 10 lessons in the book.

So my superior mathematics skills indicate a coverage rate of 1 chapter every 3.4 weeks (I'm keenly aware these guys are English teachers and not engineers, but that's an error of 70%). Should I plan accordingly? I doubt it, but I'll get back to you on that: Stay tuned to these pages for the continuing saga of "How Do I Teach Thee? Let Me Count the Weeks..."

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

First Day of Classes

As requested, a quick update on my first day of classes; two sessions with the new first grade, and three with the second graders (that's 10th and 11th years), which took place in the school library--a very nice facility on the first floor of the "new" building.

There a classroom area in a back corner, where I previously had noted the occasional study hall being corralled. This is actually a pretty sweet teaching space, as it includes a laptop running Vista with Office 2007 , and is hooked up to a SmartBoard. I will be teaching here until the English Only Zone is completed.

So my intro lesson with first grade is the same as last semester: I introduce myself with a bit of biography, ending with a trio of self-descriptive similes--I am as smart as Einstein, as funny as Jim Carrey and as kind as Mother Teresa. Students have to write three of the same about themselves, and then read one out loud to the class. Today's winner: I am as silent as an assassin.

The second grade intro lesson is "What I Did On My Winter Vacation" since they already know me. After a PowerPoint highlighting my vacation activities, students had to write three sentences about something they did over winter break--following the structure I outlined.

The three classes contained a little over a hundred students, and I would say about half confessed to doing nothing other than going to "academy"--mostly math hagwons--playing computer games, sleeping in and/or watching TV. The most popular vacation-type activity was skiing trips to Vivaldi or Phoenix Park resorts. Next most commonly, students went to Jejudo or visited relatives in the countryside. A few went to Japan and one spent a week in Shanghai with his friends.

I don't really know that this has any particular significance, I just thought it was interesting, a data point. However, in glancing through the Vivaldi Park website, I did find this intriguing guest attraction:

located at:

Monday, March 2, 2009

New Year, New Classroom

Today was the first day of the new school year, here in Korea, and at 11:00 the 1,400 students and faculty of Young-Il High School gathered in the fifth floor auditorium of the "new building" for opening ceremonies. I can't tell you a word that was said, but I did take a couple of shots with my cell:

Principal Jun at opening ceremony
sea of faces at opening ceremonny
I was, however, in for a major surprise, as the end of the hallway on the floor where my classroom is has been converted into an "English Only Zone." It consists of two classrooms and an office. And a cool hallway with recessed lighting, and big pictures of Australia, London and New York.

English Only Zone hallway
There's still debris from the construction in the hallway, and the computers won't be in for a week or more, but when finished, both classrooms will have large "SmartBoards", a half-dozen student computer stations, and one of them will have digital video equipment. Nice.

My new classroom
My new classroom
I will share an office with Mr Song, and it will also accomodate the English Dept. meeting space, which means a big conference table and chairs. The present desks are, I am told, temporary.

new office
To see pictures of the old classroom, check out this post. Numerous of my other English teacher friends here have told me about how their school was given a grant by SMOE of 50 or 60 million won to create an English classroom, and how they have been waiting ... Well, in my case, I just walked up to where my classroom was, and my jaw hit the floor. It's not finished, but I'm not surprised about that, or even too disappointed that I'll be floating or something for the next two weeks.