Monday, June 29, 2009

News Tidbits

A round-up of the day's news from the Land of the Morning Calm:

1) Well, first of all, the morning wasn't all that calm, as I arose at something before four AM to watch the final of the Confederations Cup, in which the USA appeared, against all odds, to face off with Brazil, arguably the strongest international on the scene. The game started well for the US, scoring twice in the first ten minutes to take a 2 - 0 lead to halftime.

When is the last time someone was up two goals on Brazil? Well, I don't know either, but I bet it was a long time ago. I was elated, but realistic--that score would not hold. I dunno what the coach said to his squad at halftime, but it worked--Brazil scored in the first minute of the second half, and ended up winning 3 - 2. Well, it was really 4 - 2, since one goal didn't count as the linesman, er, assistant referee, was out of position. The game ended before 5:30 and I caught a few winks until my usual wake-up time of 6:05 (6:00 is just too early).

2) About 30 seconds after I left the building for my walk to school, a slight patter of raindrops began. In five minutes, it was a downpour that continued all the way to school and for a good three hours. The sky outside my window was positively black. By lunchtime it had blown by us, and the sun was beating down hotly by the time I walked home--you could see the humidity jumping from the ground into the air.

3) Two stories in today's Korea Times combine to send signals even more mixed than usual from the government. In Story A, the Korean Education Research Institute unveiled a plan to reduce costs for Korean families crunched by private academy tuition that would force 'hagwons' to close by 10 PM.

In Story B, "More Teachers Hone English at Private Institutes", also known as hagwons ... wait for it ... with subsidies from the government. Since, obviously, the best way to make something go away is to throw government money at it.
Many teachers say they are feeling growing pressure to strengthen their proficiency, as they are required to conduct English-only classes by 2012 as part of government-led programs to boost English classes at public schools.

Good luck. I can't even have English-only classes in the English Only Zone with an English-only teacher ...

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Street Scenes IV: Seouldae

Seouldae Exit 3
That's what you see when you come out Exit 3 at Seouldae, or Seoul National University Station, a popular spot for university students and people that live within a few subway stops on Line 2.

traffic at Seouldae
notorious trashcan outside Seoul Nat'l Univ Exit 3
The area immediately by the exit is populated with the world's smallest 7-11 and Seoul's largest collection of pojangmacha, the vendor carts that are tiny, mobile restaurants vending traditional Korean foods. Here is a sneak look from behind a stall, followed by the frontal view, with, among other items, massive grilled octopus tentacles!

Seouldae pojangmacha
Seouldae pojangmacha, grilled octopus tentacles
Subway exits are a logical place to place your vendor cart or pojangmacha--here's the view looking down from the raised platform at Dangsan Station, also on line 2:

Dangsan exit area
I went to Seouldae to dine on pig's feet with Andy and his squeeze Jisun. Only a short walk from the main intersection, the streets begin to look less cosmopolitan and more folksy:

Seoudae side street
Seoudae side street
Seoudae side street
Here is a shot of our delicious Korean-style pig's feet:

What do Andy and Jisun think of Korean-style pig's feet?

They ♥ them, of course!

Friday, June 26, 2009

Twixt Twelve and Twenty

I must confess, there were a few unanticipated problems with the Murder in Whitechapel lesson. Mainly, these issues evolved from students who cannot count. In English. For instance, I was not counting on (get it?) students to confuse the numbers twelve and 20.

As I mentioned earlier, cards are labelled with digits, instructions are given in written out form. I knew this would create some discrepant events, but I was unprepared for confusion of twelve and 20, Pat Boone's advice notwithstanding: card 20 directs you to card twelve. If you think 20 and twelve are the same number, you are stuck in a neverending loop! More than one team was flummoxed and frustrated by this.

Numerical challenge #2 involved exactly the same thing, only different. If 12 and 20 can be confused, so can thirteen and thirty-one. The problem being that 13 is about ten steps from the solution, whereas #31 actually identifies the criminal and leaves only three stations to go. So if you leap ahead, you technically solve the mystery, but you don't understand the story.

For you young folks, the title of the post comes from a book by Pat Boone, vanilla rock'n'roller of the 50s and 60s, a mix of autobiography and advice to teenagers.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Murder in Whitechapel

This is what my students see when they come into the English Only Zone this week. Their job, to find the culprit! The year, 1891. The location, London. Outside The Rose and Crown Pub, Whitechapel.

Inside the classroom are various locations in London, and students move from station to station playing a "choose your own adventure" murder mystery. The Whitechapel Killer is on the loose, loosely based on Jack the Ripper--and our murderer turns out to be named Jack. Just not that one! Leaves it open for a sequel next year ...

In order to begin, students must pair up and receive the handout, which describes the initial situation. You are Mycroft Pound, famous detective, and your associate is Dr. Browning. A knock at your door introduces an Inspector from Scotland Yard who asks for your assistance. Students must answer two or three simple questions from me about the opening paragraph in order to enter the classroom and begin sleuthing.

Based on their choices after reading a card, students may get closer to finding the killer, or they may go off on red herrings. When hot on his trail, they may choose the wrong course of action and lose the scent. Failed attempts get directed to station #22, where they begin again, so there is a chance for everyone to succeed.

Never having done this before, I am pleased to see the level of success--most teams take twenty-five or thirty minutes to find the criminal, then they get to go across the hall and watch a Jeremy Brett Holmes video, as mentioned below. A few groups take all period (well, once they get inside) and a few don't actually succeed in solving the crime. Still, even from that group, I have heard how funny it is--which is Konglish for fun!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Jeremy Brett--Gotta Miss Him

In preparing for my Murder Mystery in London lesson this week, I got worried about what to do with students who finish solving the crime in, say, fifteen minutes, leaving them a half hour to create mischief. So I started looking around for appropriate videos to keep them quiet, at least, until the end of class.

Of course, the obvious choice is some Sherlock Holmes, upon whom the story for the class is more or less based. No fewer than two dozen actors have played the iconic character on film, so which one to choose?

Well, for me, there is no question on this matter--the Granada Televsion series which starred Jeremy Brett is incomparable. Brett's quirky, multi-faceted, chisel-nosed Holmes seems drawn directly from the text, as are the Granada scripts. Production values were emphasized and it appeared the entire canon would finally receive top-notch filmic treatment. Baker Street Irregulars and Victoriana buffs the world over were psyched!

Alas, Mr. Brett (who played Freddie Eynsford-Hill in the film version of 'My Fair Lady' though his singing voice was dubbed--along with Miss Hepburn's) had a heart attack in 1995, leaving about 15 or so of the original stories yet to be made.

While looking around, I noted there is a new Holmes movie coming out, scheduled for release at Christmas. I'm surprised it's taken this long, since the thing hit public domain several years ago.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

장 마 is Coming ...

... or maybe it's already here. It rained persistently today, causing me to cancel plans to go to the FC Seoul game tonight. I love soccer, of course, but going to a game is supposed to be fun, which in my opinion sitting for two hours in the rain isn't.

장 마 Jangma is the Korean name for the East Asian monsoon which delivers the Korean peninsula about 50% of its average annual rainfall in about a one month period. Miss Lee assured me on Friday that I need not worry about it--thanks to global warming, jangma is no more! Which is certainly big news to the meteorologically inclined.

Be that as it may, Jangma, if it arrives, typically arrives with the first days of summer, which equinox-wise isn't actually until tomorrow, so perhaps I am being premature. OTOH, I don't think so, as the monsoon is precipitated by the broad temperature differences between the large Asian landmass and the Pacific Ocean. As the land warms up in the summer, southwesterly winds drop water over the continental margins, Japan, Korea, Taiwan and the coastal lands. There's no cut-off date.

In the winter, things reverse, with the line moving east and carrying dry aeolian dust from the Loess Plateau of China in what Koreans call Yellow Wind.

Anyway, I didn't go to the soccer game, but I watched it on TV. This was the first K-League game in two weeks, as the season went on hiatus for the last of the national team's WC qualifying. The visitor to Sangam was Jeju, who went ahead in the first six minutes. Strangely reminiscent of the game I attended two weeks ago. Just like in that game, Seoul stayed on the attack, drawing even late in the second half and scoring the go ahead goal on a very sweet header with about two minutes to go. The win moves them into first place in the league standings--with the bulk of the season still to come.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

And Now for Something Completely Different

Choi Jeong-hwa with HappyHappy, Photo Credit: Kirk McKoy: Los Angeles Times
... we go to LA and the Times thereof for this story about "HappyHappy", an installation being prepared for a major show at the LA County Museum of Art titled Your Bright Future: 12 Contemporary Artists from Korea, slated to open June 28. Hopefully, my friends in LA will find time to get over there and take some pics for me.

The artist is Choi Jeong-hwa, "an internationally recognized figure known as the father of South Korea's Pop art movement," who apparently scoured the local 99 Cent Only Store to find enough bowls, strainers, funnels and containers to create his colorful, plastic artwork. The article explains that a "champion of recycling and inexpensive, mass-produced goods, Choi draws much of his inspiration from the daily lives of ordinary folks in South Korea. But for commissions far from home, he likes to gather materials close to the installation sites."

I'll leave it at that.

Speaking of the 99 Cent Only Store, do go visit the 99 Cent Chef, one of my favorite blogs, about a dude who creates recipes using 99 Cent Only products. He's got some great videos, BTW.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Isu is Cool

The news from the ROK tonight, or at least the Seoul Patch, is perhaps unexciting. Today was a national exam practice day at school, which means I didn't have any classes, but still had to go in to work--until 11:00 anyway. I mostly surfed the web and slept. God forbid I save myself the walk to school and do that at home...

Which actually was a bit of an issue, the napping part at least, since I met up with a group of fellow waygookin at Isu for food and drinks last night. The ostensible purpose was to welcome back to Korea a guy named Jerry who is a friend of Andy. I didn't know this bloke, but never having been to Isu (line 4 or 7, just north of Sadang), it sounded good to me. We ended up with quite a crew, and I stayed much later than intended. No, I didn't get kicked off at Sindorim, but I did miss the last bus at Hapjong and had to take a taxi.

I met some new faces, which is always nice, and ate some delicious chee-tato-dalk-galbi, spicy chicken stir fry with cheese and potatoes, for the first time. I'll definitely be having that again! After a brief stint at Jijimi Bar, the entire crew was assembled at Garten Bier. I have mentioned this awesome place before: it's a chain which has refrigerated wells in the tables to hold your beer--which comes in single, double or triple sized beer vases.

So, in essence, Isu is a more refined Sillim, and another locale to add to my list of party districts in Seoul--this city lives for the night-time.

Tonight was the final night of Asian World Cup qualifying on the Korean side, and the Reds hosted Iran--the country with the contested election a few days ago--across the river from my place, at Sangam World Cup Stadium. I didn't go because it looked like rain and I had some sleeping to get in. Besides, Korea is already assured of a spot in South Africa.

So, I watched the game in my chicken hof, where I was the sole customer inside (there were a few tables on the front patio outside) at the beginning. By halftime, two-thirds of the tables were occupied, cheering on the squad. I like the feeling this gives me, of sharing something in common with the Koreans around me. They came from one down to tie it up on a goal by Pak Ji-seong, the Man U winger and National Team captain, and the crowd went wild.

It ended with the 1 - 1 score, so Korea goes to South Africa without a single loss in WC qualifying--the kind of thing Italy and Brazil do. Still, I doubt they'll make the Final Four, as they did in 2002.

And yes, I did go to the gym today before daring to eat fried chicken!

Monday, June 15, 2009

This Week's Lessons

For the benefit of the two or two-point-five people who read this blog with an eye to expanding their ESL lesson portfolio, here is a brief description of this week's lessons for first (10th) and second (11th) graders.

First of all, I decided to give the PPT/touch-screen presentation a rest. I have been very academic and demanding lately, especially of first grade, so this is fun week--even though I hope next week will be really cool (stay tuned).

Second, first grade: I am starting by introducing them to the game "I Spy": you know, I spy, with my little eye, something (color). My classroom is actually pretty colorful due to all the different stuff I have in it, like my plants and their pots, coffee mugs, calendar, the decor, etc, etc.

The key teaching point is the construction, "Is it the _____?" They must phrase the question correctly and use the English term for the object. Very basic, but I'm not really trying to teach anything new this week.

So, whoever guesses my object gets to go next. We do this for about 20 minutes then switch to game #2, "Who Am I?" This is a variation on "20 Questions" whereby the object is always a famous person. I have created a bunch of chits and put them in a coffee mug from which someone (me first) draws a name. Then each table, rotating around the room, asks a Yes/No question to hone in on my identity.

I rearranged the desks to make six tables of six instead of 10 tables of four to give them more chances for their group. And when I'm It, I coach them on how to ask questions that narrow the field rather than eliminate only a small group. In other words, "Are you a Korean singer?" is a poor question, since I could be a Korean or a singer and you didn't eliminate either one.

And again, the language key is phrasing a proper question to get a Yes or No answer. "What's your job?" is a clear violation. Next team. "Are you England?" gets a No where "Are you English?" or "Are you from England?" would be a Yes. "Are you fly?" is a No, unless the target is Offspring, while a better question might be "Can you fly?" if you're a superhero.

Third, second grade: the new unit for this class is titled "The First Australians." Desks are in the usual groups of four. In the warm-up, students try to make as many words as possible from the letters in A-B-O-R-I-G-I-N-A-L; today's winner was 16 in both classes. Turns out, ling is a word, who'da thunk it?

But the main activity is one I took from a Dave Deubbelbeiss "Lesson in a Can" called Running Dictation (scroll to #105 at the bottom) in which students memorize a snippet of the information posted on a document, report it back to the base, taking turns, and repeat until they have "downloaded" the entire document. The first team to complete the task are the winners. This is a really good idea.

However, my students are the world's worst CHEATERS, so Mr Hur and I had to continuously modify placement of the document copies and monitor student behavior until we were no longer posting four copies for their convenience, but only two copies, one located in the hallway outside each door to the classroom.

Since the lesson is about indigenous peoples, I used related texts, for example:
The government of Brazil has recently published photographs of an isolated community of indigenous people living in the Amazon rainforest. It is the first time the world has seen this tribe and the first time for the tribe to see the outside world.
The newly-found tribe is surely one of the last remaining peoples on Earth never to have had contact with modern life. The name of the tribe and its exact location are being kept a secret. We only know that the tribe lives in a remote part of the rainforest near the Brazil-Peru border.

One final note I would make is that while I truly appreciate Dave's ESL Classroom 2.0, it is hideously difficult to find anything because the navigation is so poorly organized. Granted, part of that is because of the huge volume of content, but it's moreso because of his idiosyncratic filing-relational-labelling system, for want of a better word. I also dislike having to join a website, even a free one, but this one is worth it for me--if you teach ESL, it's worth it for you, too. One of the best resources.

One more final note I would make is that Mr Hur kept suggesting that students wanted to earn candy for being the winners. These are seventeen year olds. I have used Starburst and Jolly Ranchers before in my career, but only with elementary or middle schoolers. High school students, I explained, should have internalized their motivation for learning and performance by now. Their prize is knowing they won--bragging rights. He agreed, but still suggested they expect something for winning.

That agree/persist thing may be nunchi, the Korean inability to say what they mean, but too bad--we are simply not going to treat high school juniors like ten-year-olds. Grow up.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Steak, Seoul Pub, Aladdin Sane

It was a slow weekend here in the Seoul Patch, as occasionally it should be. Caught up on some laundry, did some shopping, completed my lesson plans for next week ... I did take the time to slip out to Itaewon last night for a thick steak, seemingly unavailable elsewhere in this land, at least at semi-reasonable prices.

I will grant you that a thick juicy steak should be pretty low on the menu for a guy that just complained about a flare-up of the gout, but how do you think I got the condition in the first place? Well, the answer isn't necessarily gluttony, so hush up.

An article this weekend in the New York Times reported new research and new drugs for what it termed "the disease of kings", leaving off the second part of the saying, "the king of diseases" for a level of pain that my doctor told me is second only to childbirth. It's not something I've worried about too much, because I am rarely bothered by it--but when I am, Wow!

Anyway, after my steak I wandered over to Seoul Pub, where I sat near some heavy-lifters. One staggered out almost immediately, leaving his buddy passed out in a booth. A third fell asleep after his first sip of a fresh drink, leaving only the fourth, who waxed rhapsodic about Neil Young's "Harvest" album when some CSNY played. So he was okay by me.

His name was Shane and he claimed to earn about 8 million won a month running his own English lessons out of his home. The only way he has his own business, of course, is that he is married to a Korean. They have a small child--about whom he waxed as rhapsodical as he did Neil Young, maybe more.

He is a Kiwi, which for the uninitiated means he's from New Zealand, the land of Peter Jackson and sheep, and claimed also to have a tattoo of David Bowie. As an empiricist from way back, I wanted proof, so here it is:

Aladdin Sane tattoo
Aladdin Sane, no less--the first Bowie album I consciously listened to, shared with me by my friend Tracy in the library at North Greenville College, fall of 1979, when so much more was new.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Friday Night Slow

For the first time since I've been in Korea, actually the first time in a few years, my gout decided to act up today. I did my best to hide it from Mr Hwang as we walked to school this morning, but I was limping noticeably as I walked home from school at lunchtime (I finish after fourth period on Fridays).

When I get it, I get the classic gout--er, metabolic arthritis--which turns my left big toe into a throbbing appendage of agony. And today was the much-heralded day of my Demonstration Class (TM). Still, during that class, I don't do much moving around, a real rarity in my teaching style. The students are presenting reports in pairs, and all I'm doing is taking notes, making comments, and keeping a list of which reports are coming up on the board.

My co-teachers were nervous enough about this demo thing, so I certainly didn't want to freak them out with word that I was less than 100%. Anyway, it went well--very well. I was impressed by the restraint of the students as they listened to other presentations, by the volume and clarity of their speaking voices, and especially by the fact that they mostly got the facts right. I was proud of them.

Well, I came home and had lunch at Burger King, which I haven't done in about two months (and is probably the worst possible meal choice, as gout is caused/exacerbated by red meat, shellfish and alcohol) then took a nap with my leg up. When I awoke, the sharp, stabbing pain had receded and only the dull, throbbing remained. So I went to the gym, since my workout success, such as it is, depends on Friday afternoons.

A cool down, a shower, and here I am in the chicken hof telling you, my dear friends at home and in Korea, my expat blogger coterie, and my internet stalkers, all about it.

Bonus Photograph: Your choice. However, those who want shiny vintage are just SOL.

shiny vintage

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

FoodingPencil Boxes

So, someday, I am going to do a scientific study of male Korean students, their pencil boxes, and their sexuality.

Okay, probably I'm not going to do such a study, but I think someone needs to. In the meantime, I'm going to start posting these pencil boxes of theirs with these weird, weird messages on them. I see fifteen and sixteen year old boys with Hello Kitty pencil boxes. Or two teddy bears proclaiming their undying LUV for each other, or for me, or whoever happens to read it. Mickey Mouse I get, but a plush Panda-shaped one with a zipper down the gullet? A pair of unicorns shrouded in heart-shapes? Or smiley faces that--well, I'll stop describing them and start photographing them, the problem being explaining to a kid why I want to image his pencil box.

After all, it contains a perfectly ordinary set of implements: a ballpoint pen or two, 3 to 5 mechanical pencils, possibly without lead, a marker, a highlighter or two, two drawing pencils that are dulled to the point of unusability, a high-quality polymer gum eraser, a white-out tape roller, 17 Pokemon stickers and an all-but-empty 0.7 mm lead refill cartridge.

No, it's not the contents that intrigue/disturb me, it's the logos, designs and slogans. Of course, they are riddled with Konglish, which drew me particularly to this inaugural example, but they are also--well, fey. I wonder who selects them, but I have to assume Mommy and Daddy don't really give a rat's ass what logo their kids' pencil boxes sport ...

Anyway, first up is this one:

Fooding pencil box
In case you can't read it, it says: "FOODING.... /It's true love we're making/a sonething to lost for all time/(c) Dream Box"

A new tag in the label cloud to your right will be "pencil boxes", also filed under students.

Monday, June 8, 2009


First off, I have to let you know this: the Demonstration class wherein I was to be evaluated today by the head office, get this, did not happen! They changed the procedure at the last possible moment, or even later--the letter was in today's mail, so we did not hear about this change until Miss Lee called to find out why no one had arrived to evaluate my class, as promised. What a bunch of ultra-macaroons, as Bugs Bunny would put it. And if Bugs is making fun of you, how far can you be from Daffy Duck?

Here's the timeline:
Mon, May 27 Initial info sent out about contract renewal
Tues, Jun 2 Final contract renewal submission deadline
Thur, Jun 4 Final day to submit date for Demonstration Class (w/in 2 weeks)
Mon, Jun 8 My date for Demonstration class, as submitted
Mon, Jun 8 Announce (in mail that cannot arrive on Mon) change of renewal process

These people make the Keystone Kops look like the Nobel Committee. To begin with, this process should be taken care of in April, at the latest. The only reason I am not flustered is because, as mentioned previously, I don't plan to break out a hash pipe or rape a student across my desk anytime soon.

However, the timeliness of the procedure is not entirely irrelevant, as my semester break/vacation plans depend on acceptance of the new contract and payment of bonuses, airfare allowances, etc. Let's get with it, SMOE!!

Of course, the fact that no one showed up was no reason, as far as I'm concerned, to cancel the beer and chicken I promised to my co-workers! So, at 5:30 we met at Young Poong Chicken 영풍치킨, a hof in the new Blue Nine building across the street from the Doosan officetel where I live. The weather is quite fine--cool and windy, even--for mid-June, so I opted to sit outside. Frankly I was a little disappointed by the attendance, although it was with only day-of notice: Hwang, Mr Hur (Jerry) and Mr Lee (이금천).

We had a wide ranging conversation; these are literate, intelligent people who think the same of me until it is time to do anything practical--but I'll come to that later. I am still hoping to learn more from them than they learn from me in these episodes, but we're not there yet. I taught them about Christian religion in the West, and they thought they taught me about 눈치 nunchi, but they didn't. I already knew.

Mr Hwang left to go to his son's baseball practice with the words, "I'll be back!" At some point, the idea came up that Hwang would not return, but I assured them he would. Jerry then went into a dissertation on 눈치, which literally means "eye-measure", the subtle art of lying to your friends so you don't destroy the mood or hurt their feelings. Socially adept people can read the hints to determine if their friends are being polite or politic, or if they will really come back.

I agreed with him on the definition, since, after all, I have experienced this phenomenon--what with being in Korea for the better part of a year and all that--but I insisted that Mr Hwang was not being nunchi; if he wasn't coming back, he would say so. Well, about the time I was saying, "No, he'd call if he's going straight home," who did I see coming towards us across the mezzanine? Hwang.

Now, I'm not taking back one word I said in the Orange Drink post below, indeed, I think I'm merely proving it--he is as good a Korean friend as a white guy in Korea could hope for! But the stuff about treating me like a slow ten-year-old remains in force.

To wit: we were together at the cash register when I paid for a single beer, cost: W2,500, with a W10,000 note plus a W500 coin. The correct change should be W8,000. When the cashier gave me W7,000 in return, I looked to the native speakers for help. Both later agreed that they saw the transaction correctly--meaning, my 500 W coin, the 10,000 note and the 7,000 return--but wondered why I hesitated and questioned the cashier.

You know why? I think I do! They AUTOMATICALLY think Koreans are smarter/wiser/more careful/more precise than ANYONE ELSE could possibly be. Which is a very, very dangerous thing to think! No matter what nationality you may be: just look at the NYSE.

In any event, Korean perfection took a big hit just last Thursday when Mr Hwang and a juice box ended up looking pretty silly. I labelled this story as a parable for good reason. Today's episode could be titled "Korean money too confusing for foreigners--I mean Koreans!" I have no hope or expectation of changing Korean culture, I don't really want to, anyway, but what I do want is respect--simple respect. As I've said before, I am respected in the classroom. However, in the rest of the Korean world, I'm Rodney Dangerfield.

Moving on ...

I don't recall exactly how it came about, but I sang a few lines of The Impossible Dream from Man of La Mancha, the breath-taking musical based on Cervantes' Don Quixote, and Hwang wanted to know more about it. I gave him spellings, names, etc--and am chagrined to learn that Richard Kiley's performance is NOT on YouTube--WTF?

However, some guy named Brian Stokes Mitchell turns out to be incredibly awesome. I looked at five or six different tapings of his rendition in the 2006 revival and he brings tears to my eyes every time. Gotta show this to Hwang tomorrow!

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Tuttle News Wrap

1) I am scheduled to present my "demo class" on Monday, in front of the "supervisor in charge and Assigned Judges". This is part of the renewal process for my job with SMOE. They are coming to see my sixth period second grade class, who are doing Week 2 of the Invention project, making presentations about the invention they were assigned to the class.

Some of my co-teachers are surprised that I do not appear worried. Frankly, as long as I don't whip out a hash pipe in class or rape a student across my desk, I will be renewed. After school, I'm taking anyone that wants to come for chicken and beer at the local hof.

2) I've been to Bongcheon for lamb and makkuli twice this weekend. First, with Andy, Nick, Max and Max's GF Jennifer, who I met for the first time. She seems quite nice--far too nice for Max ...

The second time was an unscheduled visit, ostensibly with Steve W and Gavin, after meeting Saturday at Seouldae. We met at Liebe Hof, which is Gav's haunt, but where he admits the food is not so great, so we took a fifteen minute stroll to Bongcheon. Well, Steve and I did, Gav decided to take a cab home before we arrived.

The food and conversation were excellent, though an email from Steve later told me a harrowing tale of his subway ride:
As we went on, each stop the train was emitting these popping sounds at each stop (brakes??? duh-h). Jamsil: BANG!!!! I thought someone jumped in front of the train to commit suicide (as if someone ever does that here). Two stops later, bang!! Smoke, more smoke - get off the train. Leave the subway (pay 11,000 won to the taxi driver to get home). It looked like the brakes to me. To know what was going on, I was fortunate to have a young, English-speaking Korean guy to lead the way and tell me the situation. His help was just another example of how helpful and caring Korean citizens are to foreigners.
As I was riding home in the taxi, I thought of DiCaprio's line from Titanic as he's dying from hypothermia: "I don't know about you, but I plan on writing a strongly worded letter to the White Star Line."

3) With a 2 - 0 win on Saturday over UAE, South Korea has earned a berth in South Africa for World Cup 2010. This was my predicted score as I walked to school with Mr Hwang the other morning, as I will be reminding him tomorrow. The winning goal was scored in the fifth minute. Hmmmm.

4) "A growing number of South Korean students are underweight and nearsighted, largely due to an unbalanced diet and bad living habits, government data showed Sunday, according to Yonhap News," as reported in The Korea Herald. The article gives the number as 42.7% of students being nearsighted--apparently there is something in the water in Gangseo-gu, since at my school the students who don't wear glasses have had Lasik surgery. I'm pretty sure.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

The Parable of the Orange Drink

I might have mentioned before about the occasional juice box we get served at school lunch--clearly labelled (even in English) as Orange Drink. This means it has only a passing relationship with orange juice, something on the order of 10% in common with it.

Koreans are all about how healthy they are, and how great their diet is compared to the American diet, and on the whole I think they're right. But the first time we were served this Orange Drink product, every one of them at the table was stunned to learn that it is actually artificially-flavored sugar-water. They've never read a Nutritional Facts label in their lives, though they're printed here just like in the States--only in Korean, of course.

Anyway, moving on to today, we got an Orange Drink box with our lunch, and at the end, I was about to poke the straw into mine when Mr Hwang stopped me. Dear, sweet, kind Mr Hwang, who would do anything for me, who regularly invites me into his home to sup with his adorable family, Mr Hwang with whom I walk to school every morning, Mr Hwang who labors under the impression I am a mildly retarded ten-year-old when it comes to anything outside the classroom. One time, he tried to show me how to use tape. Swear to God.

So, he thought I was doing it wrong, and would never be able to penetrate the little foil dot since I hadn't extended the straw. Now, in point of fact, the physics of it suggests--oh, never mind. I just said, "Dude, I think I can open a juice box," and proceeded to do so.

He started off to show me the Korean Way and broke his straw in two. Is it still schadenfreude if you don't laugh out loud?

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The Gathering Storm

North Korea has been particularly belligerent lately but you wouldn't know it to watch Seoulites going about their business, just like always.

While the DPRK was successfully testing a nuclear device in an underground site in the northeast mountains, setting off ground vibrations that measured 4.5 on the Richter scale, South Koreans were glued to their TV sets--watching retrospectives on the life of former President Roh Moo-hyun. Roh committed suicide on May 23 by jumping off a cliff rather than defend himself against corruption charges.

Days later, Pyongyang moved a long-range missile to a new launch complex on a western peninsula called Cheolsan, and announced it was no longer bound by the 1953 peace accord that ended the hostilities we call the Korean War. South Koreans again watched their TVs closely, following hours and hours of coverage--of Roh's funeral procession ...

Vicious North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il, in failing health, just announced that his successor will be youngest son Kim Jong-un--the most read article in today's Korea Herald is about a baseball player in a slump. And not even a player in the Korean league, but Lee Seung-yeop, who plays for the Yomiuri Giants in Japan!

This is not to say, though, that Koreans do not know what is going on--they do; nor am I insinuating they don't care--they do. It's just that they have lived with this threat, most of them, literally all their lives. Dear Leader Kim, or his father Great Leader Kim Il-sung, when they weren't busy exploiting the country's limited resources to build up the military and remain in power while starving the people and trampling their human rights, have been threatening to rain down death and destruction on the American puppet regime in the South for over fifty years now; heck, one time a group of NK assassins got within a few hundred yards of the President's compound at Cheong Wa Dae.

Just imagine a similar situation in the USA--actually, we don't even have to. America is "under attack" from Mexico, raining down illegal immigrants who bombard us with hard work and Catholic values for slave wages, and we want to build a twenty-foot electrified border fence patrolled by armed drones, creating our own DMZ. And Mexico is our ally. And doesn't even have nukes.

We call it sabre-rattling, what DPRK is doing, and they do it quite a lot, usually when they feel the world is not scared enough of them, or if they need some fuel oil or food. This is the way they bargain, and the folks in Seoul know it, know it all too well. Despite the threats from the North, all South Koreans continue to hope for eventual reunification. The government even has a Ministry of Unification. 30 miles from the most heavily weaponized border on earth, Seoulites still consider those on the other side to be members of the same extended family--they are Korean, after all.

There is something hopeful in that, which explains why I'm not trying to book a flight out, or stocking up on baked beans, duct tape, and saran wrap. My motto comes from the composer Eubie Blake, who said: "Pay the thunder no mind, listen to the birds." Still, when it looks like rain, take an umbrella.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Pigeons, Beware!

The best story in today's Korea Herald has to be "Pigeons designated harmful animals." Fear not my animal activist friends, this designation seems not to bode ill for the rats of the air, since the revised law that went into effect yesterday merely states that
pigeons can be seized with the permission of local government heads.

Like hell they can. Why just this weekend, I was sitting at the GS 25 convenience store outside Sangam stadium (see post just below) watching a half-dozen of the bobbing, strutting birds attack a candy wrapper and whatever else they thought might be food laying on the pavement between tables. One of them would grab the wrapper, find it wasn't edible, then toss it away. When it landed, another one was right on top of it in their own attempt to consume it. In turn, he would toss it away with a flick of the beak, whereupon another one would pounce. Often, the same one--having apparently forgotten he had just rejected it--would try to eat it two or three times in a row.

Brilliant, they're not. However, they are pretty quick. Anytime a human got too close, or a nearby chair, say, scraped suddenly against the pavement, they were off like a shot, only to settle a few feet away. And resume bobbing for candy wrappers.
Even though their acidic droppings and scattered feathers have caused corrosion to historical structures and inconvenience for citizens, there was no legal restraint that could control their activities nationwide. ...
Citizens largely welcomed the government's announcement. In a recent online poll conducted by Yahoo Korea, more than 80 percent of the 7,101 respondents voted for the revised bill while only 12 percent disagreed with it.

Urban dwellers since Roman times have sought to control the activities of pigeons, legally or otherwise, with limited success. In fact, the best strategy may be to turn them into homing or carrier pigeons, as they had done in Baghdad by 1150--when it was just about the largest city in the world.

Anyway, the article provides another piece of information to help in answering the classic question asked of Cecil Adams' Straight Dope column, to wit: Where are all the baby pigeons? Cecil's answer is that they're right where you expect them to be, growing up in the nest, fed on highly nutritious "crop milk". What he neglects to mention is this:
They also grow quickly. The weight of a pigeon doubles within 34 to 36 hours after birth and they are almost grown within four to six weeks.