Saturday, May 30, 2009

FC Seoul 2 - Gwangju 1

Subway platform pillars with FC Seoul players on them
When you get off the No. 2 train at World Cup Stadium Station in Sangam, you immediately know you're in soccer country. If you head out Exit 2 on game day, you find a really pleasant atmosphere around the stadium:

... with public spaces like the water fountain ...

... the Cheonggyechun ...

... the pedestrian bridge over the Cheonggyechun ...

... the "World Cup Museumtion" ...

... and the GS 25 convenience store next to Exit 2 where I waited for Gavin to arrive while [gasp] drinking a beer in public. Like everybody else in Korea.

We shared a table with a Korean couple for some conversation and a maekchu or two (the girl, Seong Ah, speaks decent English) before heading inside to have dinner in the massive food court of the mall. It was so packed before the game, we chose virtually the only seats available, at an Italian restaurant called Rimini. Well, the less said there, the better.

We made it into the arena just before kick-off.

Alas, Gwangju Sangmu Phoenix scored just a few minutes into the game--Big Five, anybody? The first half flew by, at least for me--Gavin thought Gwangju dominated, I thought they split control, at least after the goal.

The second half was a different story, with FC Seoul drawing even in the fifth minute of the half (Hmmm) and taking the lead on a direct free kick into the far corner. The momentum had turned and Sangmu Phoenix, though they struggled valiantly, never really mounted another solid offensive foray.

Soccer is The Great Game because of this melding of the physical demands and the constant mental calculus that is required as players adjust to each sudden movement of the ball. In soccer, unlike other sports, play is continuous, a team is instantly offensive or defensive depending on circumstances, and there are few predetermined "plays"--mostly there are patterns.

Anyway, the above is a slice of video I took, mainly to show how empty the stadium is during soccer games here--of course, they play in a stadium that holds 70,000; if this were Mok-dong baseball stadium, it would be SRO. Attendance may not set records, but the fans of the game support it intensely. Gav was impressed by the volume and persistence of the fan cheering section.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Tuttle News Wrap

1) I went to a trivia contest in Itaewon (American expat/military area) at 3 Alley Pub. It had a different format than I've seen before: the host asks questions, you write down your answers--all on one sheet. Then at the end of the game, you turn in your answer sheet, and he redistributes them for grading. But you don't have to put GHB on it ...

So there were 50 questions, beginning with 10 visual ones on the back side of the answer sheet. Then there were 10 questions in each of 4 categories. That's it; no wagering points, no final question, no drama.

On the whole, the questions were rather mundane, but I liked one category pretty well: Food and Drink in Song, with answers like Cream, Meatloaf and Cheeseburger in Paradise. I was hoping for Strawberry Alarm Clock, but no such luck.

I had a problem with one question, though--well, the answer, actually. The category was sports, the question described a hack--kicking another player about the shins or ankles--and asked what this was called in the rules. The answer had to be either kicking or tripping, but he said it was hacking. No, I maintained, that's the colloquial term, not the official name of the foul. At least it wasn't two years ago. I'm not going to cite my qualifications in soccer, but they are not inconsiderable.

My teammates badgered me into confronting him about it. Now, as a former trivia host and writer myself, this is something I don't like to do: you will not win. So I just asked him where he had got that information. "I checked on the FIFA website this morning," he assured me. Well, I checked it out that evening, when I got home, downloading the 2008/2009 Laws of the game here: A search does not turn up the terms "hack" or "hacking". Look at Law 12, Fouls and Misconduct, beginning on page 35.

That one point cost us the game--or at least a three-way tie for first. Plus, he made fun of our "wrong" answer!

2) The Job Fair lesson I wrote about earlier continued to be a success all week--by Wednesday, the whole school knew about it, and classes generally came in chomping at the bit. Even students who didn't want to get interviewed at first ended up jostling to get back in for another go.

This has emboldened me a little bit--I'm going to try another "station" activity in a few weeks: "Murder in London" a mystery set in late Victorian times, wherein pairs of students acting as detective teams (a la Holmes and Watson) will have to read information, examine evidence, and perhaps interview witnesses. After they visit a station, they have to decide where to go next, like in the "Choose Your Own Adventure" books.

3) I'm in my chicken hof enjoying some fried chicken mild-uh and ma-shillin' some maekchu while watching Kia Tigers whip up on the LG Twins. It was 4 -2 Kia at the top of the 8th with one out. Half an hour later, the score is 12 - 2.

4) I only let myself do this after putting in the correct number of visits to the fitness center, where today I did 30.2 km on the machines. I lost 1.2 kg in the last 10 days. Someday, someone will ask me if I've lost some weight recently. I'll say, "Yes, I have--but I found most of it downstairs at the chicken hof."

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Roses Are Red, Even in Korea

In the last week or three, the rose canes that laid dormant all winter have begun to show their stuff. The blooms hang in profusion over the fences round the apartment complexes I walk past each day on the way to and from work.

As you can see, mostly they are red--good, deep red--but there is the occasional yellow one:

I also snapped a couple of pics of the flower boxes of petunias which decorate the new center-lane bus stop on the Gimpo Airport road (yes, that is a car zipping through the crosswalk, even though the light has changed, as you can see from the green "walk/don't walk" figure):

I gotta say, natural beauty that I get to see every morning, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of skyscrapers that is Deungchon-dong, puts a little spring in my step!

Monday, May 25, 2009

"Job Fair" Off to Good Start

This is the week of my English Job Fair here at 영일고 (Young-il HS). I took the template of an idea at solid ESL website, IMO--and fleshed it out. Last week was the introduction of the vocabulary about interviews, employment, qualifications, compensation, etc.

This week was the job fair itself, so I rearranged the classroom to have 10 interview stations, each manned by the better-speaking students in each class--as determined by the co-teacher in advance. I increased and improved the employer worksheets, with real Korean and international companies, plus a couple of law firms and schools, as well.

Each recruiter is trying to fill two different slots: for instance, Dongwon F&B wants chefs and biologists; Happy Time Academy wants English and History teachers; Wye, Knott, Tsu Law Firm wants lawyers and English interpreters. I also found or made logos and had them laminated.

At the end of my last class on Friday, I had the students move most of the desks into the hall, and I stayed behind for what turned out to be two and a half hours getting everything ready. Here is the set-up, in action:

The job-seekers activity sheet had to be spiffed up too--first of all, the original only provided 7 different prospective employees. I have 36 to 38 students in each class, so I needed 28 sheets, all different (38-10=28). So I created a wide variety of skills, backgrounds and character traits; I also created names with lots of Bs, Fs, Rs and Ls, for practice. There are a minimum of two "matches" for everyone.

I was AMAZED at how well this went! Every student took it at least somewhat seriously, and they were all speaking English, trying to understand and be understood.

Students rotate into the classroom each time a seat comes open, and rotate out through the other door after they finish an interview. That meant there was a group of 16 or so outside in the hallway at any given time. But as an indication of exactly how well it went, we never had to chase students down or round up wanderers--they crowded around the entrance door waiting to get back in! Look:

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Sindorim TechnoMart

I met Gavin on Friday at Sindorim, and noticed there was a TechnoMart there. So I decided to give it a gander today, ostensibly to price out a new, lighter, clip-on style mp3 player. In addition to the TechnoMart, it has a CGV cinema and an E-mart.

First, the entrance plaza from inside the station (near exit 1) is done up with ionic columns and a fountain with statues of Greek gods. I guess nothing says modern electronics and appliances like ancient Mediterranean architecture.

"Sindorim TechnoMart Grand Open" reads the sign below (there's one at each escalator), even though the place has been open for nearly a year and a half!

Each floor has four main aisles that look like this, and there are nine floors of merchandise:

In addition to electronics, there is a level devoted to large furniture--sofa sets, dining rooms, bedrooms--and two floors of clothes and accessories. There is also a "Wedding Day" wedding hall, and a bookstore. Basement Level 2 is a food court--but actually a mediocre one compared to the others I've seen in big buildings. Still, there was a Nolboo, which serves budae jjigae, so I was okay.

There are two escalator banks, one of which has an atrium that is open all the way up:

On the other end of the building, a second bank is open for two flights, and the space between is decorated with seating and art. This one was my favorite:

The top floor has a children's play area, where I was greeted by two massive Lego dinosaurs. Cool:

Still, the function of the place is to provide up-to-date electronics at low, low prices. Alas, on that front, it leaves something to be desired: though selection was larger than at HiMart, the prices were only modestly better, if that.

I didn't buy an mp3 player, but I did buy a book, now that I have finished Kurt Vonnegut's Bluebeard. It is Going Solo, the second volume of Roald Dahl's autobiography, the first volume of which I read quite a few years ago. I cracked it open and read the first two chapters while having lunch. So far, so good.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Free Notebooks for Everyone!

Once or twice a month, a couple of people stand outside the gates of the school I work at and give a free notebook to every student walking in. These are usually 12 or sixteen page newsprint jobbies stapled in the middle. There is no excuse, therefore, for a student to come to class without a notebook.

In reality, these things are actually a form of commercial. The covers, inside and out, plus the first couple of pages, carry advertising--usually for hagwons, the after-school academies most students attend. Sometimes, instead of student notebooks, they're handing out packets of tissues. Tissues come in handy because most restroom facilities do not provide paper. I've seen little packets of Post-it notes, too. Not just in front of school, but politicians and businesses also hand out little promotional giveaways on the street. Anyway, here is the inside back of the one for Hanguk Sports Academy:

Whenever these things are issued, the security guy at school sets out a big trash barrel, and many students just drop it in--it's impolite not to take it, so they take it. The school authorities frown on these freebies, because the advertising is a classroom distraction.

Today, I saw a new one. Talk about distracting (remember I teach teenage boys)! I'm not sure what they're selling here, but I'll take two!

Just kidding. I'm guessing this isn't a freebie, but one the student had to purchase. The inside had twenty pages or so of fresh, unlined paper, ready for him to take notes in English class. Yeah. Like he heard one thing I said all period ...

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Classroom News

Before I get to my classroom, I have here a story in today's Korea Times which announces that beginning in 2010, some 600 high schools in Korea will begin having classrooms that are "designated exclusively to individual subjects."

Right now at Young-il, myself in the "English Only Zone", the art teacher and the music teacher are the only ones with dedicated classrooms. Of course, PE takes place on the playground. The subject teachers rotate from room to room while students stay put. I can't imagine how this works for, say, science. As the article points out,
The government said the new scheme would eventually make each classroom more effective for each subject. It cites the example of English classrooms, which will be equipped with more English materials.
"The new system will gradually offer tailor-made classes according to the academic level of students," said Kim Cha-dong, director-general of the ministry [of Education, Science and Technology].

Congratulations and welcome to the twentieth century, even if somewhat belatedly.

The pedagogy here is almost entirely lecture-based, teacher-centered. In their normal English classes (that is, the four times a week they don't come to me), the typical lesson is dictation and translation. Students have little opportunity to practice or apply what they've learned, except for a handful of rote exercises.

The teachers generally seem to agree that this system is not particularly effective (as does the research), but What can we do about it? they shrug. They are not teaching a subject so much as an exam. And an inappropriate, poorly designed exam, at that. I can state this, since I've seen the (Korean) SAT English section of the last two years. The best thing I can say is, at least the scoresheet had the correct answers.

Speaking of exams, I found out yesterday that I will not have any classes tomorrow (Thursday), because students will be taking a practice version of the national exam all day. So my carefully timed two-week "Job Fair" lesson sequence is foiled by poor communication--for Thursday classes, anyway.

But back to pedagogy: I'll be the first to admit my lessons are far from perfect, but they are pretty much student-centered: the last twenty minutes of this week's lesson requires them to compose and write their own questions (with plenty of prompts), ask the questions of classmates, listen to the answers, etc.

The level of involvement in actually performing varies, of course, but mostly it could be worse. The co-teacher and I try to go round helping with formulating questions, then monitoring the conversation phase. Still, numerous students, perhaps taking a tip from the "Get a Haircut" thing, thought "Are you handsome?" was a good question. Then there was this:
What you get a skill about job?

The most amazing thing about it, though, was that he got answers! I realize he probably re-asked it in Korean, or possibly even just made up answers to fill in the sheet.

So obviously having your own subject-designated classroom isn't going to work miracles.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Kimchi Becoming Expensive, Unaffordable

... screams the headline in today's Korea Times online:
Market data showed Tuesday that the price of cabbages, the main ingredient for kimchi, has soared to almost double that of last year at giant hypermarket chains, which are known to offer the best bargains for grocery goods.
A cabbage head cost 1,580 won on average last year, but the price now hovers in the 2,500-won range, according to Shinsegae E-Mart and Lotte Mart, the country's largest discount chains.

Needless to say, this is bad news in a country--well, the only country on earth--which consumes the fermented cabbage and pepper dish with literally every meal. I was trying to think of other foodstuffs so uniquely associated with a particular nationality, and had a hard time of it: gefiltefish, perhaps, or injera, that spongy Ethiopian bread.

Kimchi is ubiquitous here, and for good reason, as I learned at the Kimchi Field Museum: it provides lactobacillus bacteria which are necessary in the proper digestion of carbohydrates. In the traditional diet of Korea, it takes the place of dairy-borne lactic acid-creating bacteria.

There are about 200 varieties of kimchi, though the most common is plain old cabbage kimchi or baechu kimchi. My totally unlearned theory is that the name originated from the Chinese bok choi, though Wikipedia says the variety of cabbage is Napa.

Kimchi is more than just a side dish--it sometimes moves to the fore in Korean cuisine, in dishes like kimchi jjigae (stew), kimchi pajeon (sort-of pancake), haejangguk (hangover-relieving soup), fried kimchi (usually served with samgyupsal), etc. Many Korean homes have a separate kimchi refrigerator.

Anyway, back to the news item: apparently the inflation is not due to the worldwide recession or devaluation of the won, but to more pedestrian factors:
Kim [Jun-ho, a vegetables merchandiser at Lotte Mart] said that prices are expected to remain high this year as the supply of cabbages, turnips and radishes have dipped across the board due to a weeks-long drought and unusually high temperatures.

The story also points out that many housewives feel burdened by making their own kimchi, and are turning more and more to packaged, ready-made products, "which have already become vastly popular among the younger generation." Pulmuone, sponsor of the Kimchi Museum, is a major player in this market.

Bonus Photographs: To go with your store-bought kimchi, why not drink some TRENDY WINE? This was a shameless bin in the wine section of the Hyundai Department Store in Mok-dong:

Trendy wine
wine department at Hyundai Department Store

Monday, May 18, 2009

Hitting for the Cycle

Gifts: Cool news today was that in celebration of Teacher's Day and Young-il Founder's Day at the end of last week, all teachers got some gifts, each one stamped, embroidered or otherwise impressed with the date and name of event. This seems to be standard procedure in Korea.

First, of course, was a box of tasty rice cakes (ddok)--the slogan here seems to be "Say It with Rice". There was also a high-quality umbrella, with the personalization burned into the wooden handle. Plus two--count 'em, two--gift towels.

These are gift towels number six and seven I have received so far (plus the Metro 9 one). It's a good thing, too, as it takes about that many to dry oneself after a shower. See, Korea has an extensive textile industry, so I will grant that the towels are high quality, plush and colorful. The ones I got today were coral, and pink. However, they are only 16 by 32 inches, a dimension that applies not just to gift towels, but almost any towels you can find here.

Full size towels, like you will find in the West, are available, but hard to find and as exorbitant as they are absorbent. It is a curious phenomenon, one discussed widely and at length by expats and their Korean friends. Why are Korean towels so uselessly small?

Of course, Koreans are defensive of their tiny towels, just as they are their minuscule table napkins, which aren't much bigger than an index card. "Waste not, want not," they will say, or would say, if they knew that expression. Still, if it takes four of them to get the job done, I doubt there's much savings involved.

So, why the small towels? No one so far has given me a really good answer, though the best I've heard so far is that they weren't really for drying yourself, but for wetting yourself. That is, farmers and laborers would soak the towels in cold water and wrap them around their necks and shoulders for the purpose of evaporative cooling. Back in the old days. Well, maybe.

Baseball: Anyway. This weekend was wet and cold, so naturally we went to a baseball game. Well, actually, we went on Sunday--joined by old pal Steve W--for a rare KBL doubleheader. It became a DH in order to make up a rain cancellation on Saturday.

Though the weather had been less than ideal, it cleared up, and warmed up, by Sunday afternoon, when Samsung Lions from Daegu came to Jamshil to play the Doosan Bears. The make-up began at two, to be followed by the originally scheduled game. Tickets for both was a reasonable 9,000 W.

If you have been following the blog very carefully, and I mean very carefully, you will recognize that this game represents an event of sorts: a trip through the batting order, going around the horn, hitting for the cycle. All of which is to say that I have now been to a game to watch each team in the entire league.

Granted, it's a league of only eight teams but Opening Day was April 4 and we've ventured no further afield than Incheon.

Lesson Plan: This week and next both classes will be doing a lesson on Jobs, ending next week with an English 'Job Fair'. I open this week's class with 'Sixteen Tons' by Tennessee Ernie Ford to warn them to study hard so they don't end up in a life like that--owing their soul to the company store. The truck system or debt bondage, as we call it today.

Just as a minor political point, you do realize that if it weren't for labor unions, this would probably be your lot in life today, right? An interesting New Yorker article is just out, illustrating Chief Justice John Roberts's ideological bias for big business and the executive branch over virtually all comers.

Next, students rate various factors for their importance to them in their future job preference, such as: challenging, fun, make the world a better place, etc. I also play a couple verses from George Thorogood's "Get a Haircut" to lead into some vocabulary on job interviews in preparation for the Job Fair next week. Finally, we do a survey activity for speaking practice.

Here is a final cautionary "tail": remember, there is an employee inside that suit!

sandwich board cow for galbi restaurant

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Rainy Saturday

A steady drizzling rain fell all day today, dampening my spirits ...

So I slept in instead of going to the club activity presentations at school this morning, and spent part of the day working on lesson plans in exchange. I did go out for a while, to do some shopping and to eat at KFC.

Yes, a Kentucky Fried Chicken opened about two weeks ago in my neighborhood, so add it to Popeye's, Burger King, Baskin Robbins, and Starbuck's as Western chains within a three minute radius of my building. It is in the "Blue Nine" tower across the street which is now completed and open for business.

Other than that, I surfed the internets and watched Premiere League reruns on TV. I read for a while, too, and will be finishing Bluebeard soon.

PS: Have a look at Andy's blog post here if you want to see a classic example of the cheap shot.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Young-il Sports Day

Today was, as the title of this post suggests, Sports Day at Young-il High School. It was also Teacher's Day, so we began with a ceremony recognizing teachers who hit 10-, 20-, and 30-year milestones, including the warm, gentle, and intellectual Mr Lee, who had been at the school for 30 years. At the end of the ceremony, all the teachers were given a massive boutonniere--I got two, which means I'm double loved!

Mr Leethe doubly-loved KFC halabudgie

The first and second graders have been playing intramural soccer games for several weeks (I have mentioned class being cancelled on that account), which culminated in the class championships today.

Meanwhile, the third-graders--that's seniors to you and I--were playing basketball championships in the corner of the school playground, on a court the size of the one on Gilligan's Island that time the Harlem Globetrotters were there:

The morning events culminated in a faculty-student soccer match, which ended with a 3 - 3 tie. Below is a shot of Mr Hwang helping out on defense--he drew first blood on a header about ten minutes in.

The faculty went ahead by 3 - 1 before the students came back to tie it up as time expired!

After lunch, it was time for the relay races. Each class put forward 4 runners, for a total of 41 teams across all three grades. In the final heat, a fifth leg was added, run by the homeroom teachers of the classes that made it through.

Say Kimchi!
Left, students watching from the windows of the "new" building; right, the campus was decorated with flag streamers called mangukgee 만국기, literally "ten thousand national flags". Mr Lee told me this form of decoration became common in Korea in his elementary school days to recognise the sixteen nations that fought with the South during the Korean War.

mangukgee, ten thousand national flags

Points were accumulated by each class, and the top three teams were recognised by the principal in a brief ceremony. The envelopes contain money to be shared by the participants!