Monday, November 30, 2009

Ways to Skin a Cat

UPDATE: Before moving on to today's post, here is a follow-up to yesterday's about the furor surrounding the "short man=loser" meme developing in the Land of the Morning Shallow:
Making people taller is big business among doctors and practitioners, despite the fact that claims on the effectiveness of treatments are often exaggerated or far-fetched. And given the latest court ruling on the matter, it seems nothing will stop them for the time being. [More here.]

So this will probably be my last post of the year about my classroom lesson, since it's practically the last one of the semester--for the two weeks after this we're watching How the Grinch Stole Christmas (Thanks, Andy!) or taking exams ...

Proverb, noun: a concise saying often in metaphorical form that embodies common wisdom.

Okay, so I have a list of proverbs and their meanings, 21 of them, numbered, all on little slips of paper. Each pair of students has to memorize their proverb, know its number, and be able to explain its meaning. They get about 12 minutes to do this, after a clever introduction and the instructions. The co-teacher and I go around helping them and quizzing them to make sure they've memorized their proverb.

Then they hand in their proverb slip as they get a worksheet with a table to record other students' proverbs onto. I make them scratch through the space where their proverb would go, otherwise they'll just write it down and other students will copy it from their paper.

A large part of designing a lesson plan here is trying to foolproof it from "cheating"--methods by which students avoid speaking to each other in English in order to complete any activity in which they're supposed to speak to each other in English. They will go to great lengths, devise ingenious plans, put forth effort much greater effort than actually speaking English would involve!

So, during the conversation section, they have to go round to other students (ideally following the sample conversation I have on the board for them) exchanging their proverbs and meanings, placing each one in its numbered grid.

The last eight minutes or so, they take a quiz. While I would prefer a written, each-student-do-your-own-work quiz, I realized during first period that that would be a waste of time. So I just had them turn their paper over and answer the questions as a group--yell out if you know the answer.

You know what they say: You can lead a horse to water but you can't make it drink.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Fried Egg and the Loser

The guys were talking about this on Friday night, about the girl on a TV show called "Misuda", Beauties' Chatterbox, who made a statement to the effect that "short men"--men less than 180 cm tall--were "losers".

Now, that's about 5'11"--tall by any standard. The average American male is 5'10" and the average Korean is 5'8". Much to their discredit, many Korean men took umbrage at this comment. According to the Korea Times:
A mountain of furious letters stormed the broadcaster that aired the popular TV show. The Internet forums were enraged by angry males.
Kim Jeong-woon who teaches cultural psychology at Myongji University in Seoul thinks the enraged response on the Internet on her remark and protest letters to the broadcaster reveals something more than the men's objection to the girls' apparent "prejudice" against short male.
In fact, the "loser" remark was beginning point of a larger social paradigm shift, [according to Kim].

Of course, it could have been a bunch of men feeling righteous indignation at such a shallow dig. Still, hard to deny that the explosion of commentary indicates more than wounded pride--it hints at a massive insecurity, further evidence that change is reshaping the peninsula. Kim continues:
Kim diagnosed that Korean men are increasingly feeling "cornered."
"The remark by the Korean female college girl who declared publicly that she wouldn't date men whose height doesn't measure up to 180cm, labeling them a 'loser' was a trigger for the Korean male trauma to explode," Kim said.
For Kim, the episode is a start of "giant cultural revolution" in Korea where the male dominance is publicly challenged by a member of the opposite sex, who, by getting higher education, entering professional fields that used to be reserved for males, have come to the realization that, after all, they are on an equal footing with men.

Yeah, or that shallow, appearance-fixated college girls use shallow, arbitrary, appearance-based criteria to limit their social interactions.

So, what does a fried egg have to do with all this? Mostly a tenuous metaphorical flourish wielded by Mr Kim: in the olden days, a chicken egg was a rare treat, which the housewife would fry up for her husband when he came home from a hard day's work. (It'a also the finishing touch on a bowl of dolsot bibimbap.)
The outlook for Korean males is grim. "Now the Korean men will try hard to please the Korean women to survive. They will do plastic surgery to have a six-pack abdomen, if that's what the Korean women want. They will send amorous eye signals to win women's attention.
"It's just a beginning. The Korean women have just started what they've wanted to talk about for along time. Now the fried egg is not for the loser," [Kim] said.

If what they want to talk about is the idea that six-pack abs and 180 cm of height are the most important things in a husband, then I'm not sure that's a conversation worth having.

Birthday Party Recap

The Birthday Boys.

This is in front of Adonis, a "Western hof" directly across the street from the samgyupsal restaurant where our birthday dinner began, a couple of hours previously. Curiously, this is the last photograph of the evening, since apparently the camera declined as the beer surged.

The evening began with this cake--which was delicious--provided by big Mr Lee (on the left), who speaks practically no English but just adores me, for some reason. I have to say his broad smile and optimistic attitude make him one of my favorites on the Young-il faculty. Students and faculty alike love this man.

About three more cakes showed up with latecomers through the course of the night, due to the fact that no one in this country communicates with anyone else. In this case, however, you heard no complaints from me! Dinner was samgyupsal, delightful Korean fatback pork barbecue wrapped in lettuce or sesame leaves with your favorite condiments. You can see a couple varieties of mushrooms at the top of the photo, and that's kimchi and tofu on the right. The white stuff mixed in with the pork is onions and garlic. Panchan in the second pic included small seasoned shellfish, pickled turnips, and cabbage. The red sauce above the garlic is doenjang, a delicious soybean paste that completes each bite:

This restaurant was my choice, heartily agreed to by Hwang, who was as red as a stoplight by the time we finished the soju and samgyupsal and moved to second round at Adonis.

Well, I'm not going to go into all the details (in part because I don't recall them), but after second round, we went somewhere else, and then ended up at a noraebang or singing room called Top Star. Well, I don't know who was the top star, but I scored 100 for my rendition of "Georgia on My Mind" and I have to say that, to the best of my recollection, I hit every note perfectly.

It was around 3 AM by this point, however, so I can't vouch for my memory--but I did score 100.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Always Look on the Bright Side

Happy Thanksgiving to my American friends--save me some dark meat and a slice of pecan pie.

Last year, if you were following along, you may recall I attended a little traditional get-together with some American friends. Tomorrow evening, I'm going to share the festivities with my Korean colleagues from Young-il, at the samgyupsal restaurant near the school that was my introduction to the delectable treat that is Korean fatback barbecue. Man, that seems so long ago!

Actually, it won't be a Thanksgiving affair so much as a birthday party--actually a double birthday party, since Mr Hwang's birthday is today and mine is Saturday, so we're splitting the difference.

In classroom news, the 11th year lesson of the week is about attitude and optimism. After some ruminations of the glass-half-full-or-half-empty variety, some synonyms and a few quotes, their writing activity was to make a positive or optimistic statement about two topics from a list--things like global warming, poverty, nuclear proliferation, college entrance testing ...

Despite its obvious challenge, this seemed to be a high-interest activity for my students. I can recommend it. From there, I segued to the song from Monty Python's Life of Brian, "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life". I ripped it from YouTube into a wmv, then supered the lyrics on top with MovieMaker for a more ESL-valid experience.

The conversation activity was a worksheet I had previously "borrowed" from somewhere and now fixed up for my purposes, that had two boxes, one labelled Complain, the other labelled Respond. The Complaints box had sentences like "The weather has been really horrible!" and "My girlfriend just left me for my best friend!" and "Our television set is broken."

The OR (optimistic responder) chooses an opening for his reply, like "On the other hand ..." or "That may be true, but ..." and finds something positive to say. The pair should try to maintain the conversation for as long as possible. Then they switch roles and repeat.

I try to time the end of class so we just have time to watch the Grammar Rock video, "The Tale of Mr. Morton" since he goes from sad to glad. And some student might possibly learn the subject/predicate relationship, since Mr Morton is the subject of the sentence, and what the predicate says, he does...

Tuesday, November 24, 2009


Right on the heels of receiving the results of my health check-up in the mail today, I read this story in the Korea Times about a toilet that can perform some of those functions for you, while you perform your own, uh, functions:
The toilet bowl invented by students from the Kun Shan University and Southern Taiwan University measures the user's weight, body fat and heart rate, TV channel TVBS reported.
The measurement, taking only 30 seconds, begins as soon as a person sits. A printer on top of the water tank behind the bowl prints measurements.

Personally, I think it should measure weight at the end of the procedure, so to speak.

Korea has its own hi-tech toilets (just go to YouTube and search on "Korean toilet") but nothing that takes your vital statistics.

Speaking of which (vital statistics, that is), I spent about an hour with my phone's dictionary translating what I could from the four-page medical report. Mine turned out to be not so bad: as I mentioned in the previous post, my blood pressure has come down a bit, but is still high; cholesterol is good, blood sugar normal, triglycerides fine, liver function normal (go figure), brain normal (what?)

There were several things I couldn't interpret, but the only thing they bothered to translate into English was this:
You have an inflammation on duodenum, so would be better not to take somewhat spicy or salty food from now on. We recommend you would rather visit gastroenterologist if any symptom of stomach such as heartburn, belching, postprandial pain.

I already avoid salty foods, and I doubt it is even possible to survive in Korea if you don't eat spicy. And I wouldn't want to. Besides, spices are a healthy way to get good flavor in food without resorting to butter, cream, oil and other unhealthy choices. Furthermore, I practically never have any of the symptoms described.

Of course, I am continuing to hit the gym regularly; plus some alumnus of Young-il Go made a gift to the teachers of a pair of gloves (very handy now it's cold) and a little clip-on pedometer. "For your health, for your health!" Principal Jun enthused when he gave it to me. Based on three days' data, I average about 7.5 km per day, most of it to and from school, of course. That's around 500 calories burned.

Health nut? Not yet. Total slob whose only exercise is walking to and from car? Not any more.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Cold and Dreary? Read a Book

It has been a cold, gray weekend in Seoul, the kind of bleak, cheerless weather that causes a depressed man to eye the kitchen knives too soberly and perhaps too long, and causes a little dip in the usually buoyant outlook of even one such as myself.

This was made all the more pointed by the predictions all week long from those around me that the weather would change for the better, certainly by the weekend. Well, I guess they were right--from cold and clear, it changed to cold and drizzly. It didn't even have the decency to snow, even though Principal Jun told me it would snow Friday night and be nice for the weekend. This while he was smoking a cigarette in the boys' restroom. (Korean education brings whole new levels of meaning to 'Do as I say, not as I do.')

All in all, it turned out to be a nice weekend to do some reading, so let me update you on my reading list:
  • Life of Pi by Yann Martel - a gripping read about a teenage Indian boy who grew up in a zookeeper's family in Pondicherry, and adopted the major religions for himself--all of them, simultaneously. Despite that, he felt like a kindred spirit to this rationalist, vanilla, middle-aged American. Nicknamed Pi, he finds himself sharing a lifeboat with a 450-lb adult male Bengal tiger. Perhaps. This novel has an ambiguous ending, and usually I hate those. But I liked this one.
  • The Cry of the Magpies by Kim Dong-ni, #3 in the Portable Library series. The title story is about a soldier who injures himself to escape from duty and returns home only to find that his betrothed has married his best friend in the meantime. Can't recommend it.
  • The Book Thief by Markus Zusak - The story of a young girl in WWII-era Munich, narrated by Death himself. It's hard to summarize this story, because even though it's not long on plot, it's got lots of levels. Superbly written with deep, detailed characterizations and a stunning climactic sequence.
  • Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami - well, I'm only one-third of the way through, but I can tell you it's about an old man who can talk to cats and a teenage runaway who loves libraries. They are somehow linked to each other, and the reading is an itchy race to see their convergence and what happens as a result.

Coming next will be The Dante Club by Matthew Pearl, from 2003, a combination of high-concept fiction, murder mystery and alternative history about a series of grisly murders in post-Civil War Boston that follow the outlines of Dante's Inferno, which the great scholarly minds of the time are called in to solve. Sounds delicious.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

A Post Wherein I Play Food Critic

I am blogging at you from the familiar comfort of the chicken hof downstairs in my building.

It's been a while, but nothing changes much here, except the faces of the waitstaff--the uniform stays the same, the individual occupying it seems to move on before very long. The chicken is reliably fresh and hot and golden crispy, the beer cold, the ambiance unobtrusive, though I like it when they play the mixed tape (er, CD or whatever) of classic sixties and seventies rock.

The last time I ate chicken downstairs, I tried the new hof (2000 won obek) that took over the seafood place on the corner, but it was terrible: that thin crumb coating, small pieces, fried dark brown to the point of desiccation. Furthermore, they tried to undercharge me--hey, you announce 2000 W beer on your front door, that's what I expect to pay.

I might have mentioned the Hotsun that opened in Blue Nine across the street--the baked chicken is good, the grilled chicken is better, but the best thing on their menu is barbecued pork ribs.

Speaking of restaurants, I met up with Nick and Andy for Chinese lamb kebabs in Bongcheon on Monday. When I came out of the subway exit, there was a loud cluster of fire trucks and emergency vehicles crowding the alleyway. Nick said something like, "Wouldn't it be funny if that was our lamb restaurant?"

Turns out it was. Not funny, but "our" restaurant. Gutted. Andy got a photo (my cell battery was so low, it wouldn't snap a pic), and then we moved on down the side street to another lamb place that Nick's Chinese friend had certified as authentic. And it was really good. So good, we followed up prodigious quantities of lamb with small, delicate quantities of grilled quail. They arrived plucked, cleaned, and skewered, ready for grilling, and about the size of my laptop's touchpad.

I'm used to Georgia quail which, though small, is double the size and has some meat on it. The Korean/Chinese version were so tiny you're supposed to eat them bones and all--this made them excessively crunchy, though they were tasty nonetheless. I felt just a little like I was eating an Ortolan Bunting. If you don't already know what that is, I encourage you not to look it up.

One final food note: for school lunch today, the main course was cubed pork stewed with baechu kimchi. It was delicious. I realized today, not how accustomed I am to kimchi, but how much I've come to relish it. Served cold, as a condiment (or panchan), it's no great shakes, but mixed up hot with something else--or as a jjigae or guk (stew or soup)--it is filling and spicy and al dente. I usually find myself wanting more.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

There But By the Grace of ...

The longer I live, the more acutely I am aware of the role of randomness in the circumstances of birth, and what the "luck of the draw" leads to. I was born in America during the headiest days of the American century--by the happenstance of being plopped down in the first world, I have had education, opportunity and resources unimaginable even now to about 90% of the people on Earth.

I think--I hope--people who know me believe I am basically a happy guy. I don't complain a lot, and when I do it's with the understanding that this is minor, that things could be worse. In fact, my biggest complaint these days is that my house has not sold--yet I am one of the fortunate few on earth that even owns a home!

I'll become 48 years old in two weeks time, and my biggest tangible problem is that I have too much! While it is not my intent to low-ball the financial difficulties of this situation, I am saying it could be worse. Much worse. I don't live in a refrigerator box, and I don't collect cardboard from the streets and haul it to the recycling center in heavily-laden carts for a few hundred won per kilogram.

Yet there are thousands of Koreans who do just that--and they are elderly halmoni and halabogi (grandmothers and grandfathers) who, simply through the circumstances of their birth, are not eligible for most of Korea's social security benefits. They were born too long ago, or they can't provide evidence of their place of birth.

And even they must be grateful--assuming they know it--they were not located 40 or 50 km north of Seoul, north, that is, of the 38th parallel, when the cease fire was declared in 1953. But here's my point--so must I.

And yet, Westerners like me seem to feel we are a special case, that we constitute a special class, an entitled class. I have never had to squat over a trough toilet (oh, I've squatted in the woods more than once, but that was matter of choice, more or less), much less grow up doing it daily, with members of the neighborhood right there alongside me. Budae jjigae is for me (and today's middle class Seoulites) a sort of comfort food, not the rare feast it was for war-impoverished Koreans scavenging the waste bins of Camp Johnson and other US bases.

Even in the 1970s, economic tough times, most Americans could count on tins of tuna and boxes of noodles as a minimum standard meal. While we complained, we could still spare a few cents to feed the starving masses in sub-Saharan Africa. In the 80s, the rich got rich richer, and the rest of us improved our lot, too--every home had a microwave oven and VCR player. Bought on credit, but still ...

I am drawn back to the image of elderly Koreans who are grateful if you leave the packing box from your new microwave where they can be the one to add it to their cart, their take, the meager daily toll they claim for twelve or more hours work.

The longer I live, the more acutely I am aware of the luckiness of my high level of general health, education, economic power, and control over my circumstances. For over twenty years, I lived in the same ZIP code in semi-rural Georgia--I found life there quite acceptable, it's fair to say. Here I am in Seoul, Korea, and I'm liking this place pretty well, too. Now I realize I am me, and you are you and he is him and all that, but I decide it. Some people--well, most of humanity--don't get that choice.

So, when I read of people living here (people from outside Korea) who spend the majority of their time complaining about it, whining about the theoretical constraints they feel, wanting to make this place into the place they come from (or the place they think they come from), I don't really connect to that. Like me, they have led a life of privilege, and are in a better position to change their lives than, say, almost any Korean.

Life is too short to be miserable. Quit whining, and do something to improve your life. Or change your attitude. In the words of Eubie Blake: "Pay the thunder no mind - listen to the birds."

Friday, November 13, 2009

Frauds and Monsters

That's what I ended up titling my lesson in second grade this week. The textbook chapter is about Scotland, for reasons which I won't get into here (mainly because I have no idea). Anyway, last week, I played 20 Questions with them under the guise of "Who Am I? Scotland Edition". They like 20 Questions, even though most classes are notoriously bad at it.

First question: "You Korean singer?"

For God sake, man, do you not understand why that is a horrible first question--even if the category isn't "Scotland"?!? Incidentally, the names were "associated" with Scotland, but had to be people they'd know--James Bond, famously portrayed by Sean Connery, Hermione Granger, a character created by JK Rowling, who lives in Scotland, etc. Of course, they're always people I feel sure my students will know (Obi-Wan Kenobi, Peter Pan, Alexander Graham Bell), but half the time, somewhere around question no. 12, someone will ask, "Are you famous?"

For fellow teachers wondering how I do this in a classroom with 30-odd students, I arrange the seats in groups of six, and rotate the student that asks the question from each table in turn. Syntax is one of the key teaching points, so they must phrase a question. Time limit, one chance to rephrase, etc. I draw the first name, but after that the correct guesser becomes "it".

Anyway, this was week two, so I don't know why I'm going on and on about last week. The first thing we did was watch this video:

They write a two-sentence response to the product, and eventually I inform that it is a hoax--a prank, a trick, joke, fake, fraud. Everyone thinks they are too smart to fall for a hoax, but you don't think that way when it's your teacher--or a scientist or other respected figure (Hwang Woo-suk, anybody?)

From here, I take them to the Loch Ness Monster, show some pics and a video, and then this cartoon:

The point is that whether or not Nessie is a fraud, some people have reason to perpetuate it. Next up on the slide show is a variety of "true or false" monster images--mermen, giant glowing squids, the elephant man, blue people of Kentucky, the Scottish Brothers.

The Scottish Brothers--I'd never heard of them either, before I started researching this lesson--were dicephalus conjoined twins who lived in King Edward III's court most of their lives, until their death a few days apart in about 1490. They were well-educated, spoke multiple languages, and harmonized grand duets--one tenor, the other bass. They also argued a lot.

I had heard of the two-headed monster game, somewhere in the ESL world, where students pair off and speak by alternating word-by-word, as if one brain is using two mouths. More advanced students could do this extemporaneously, but my guys would need a script.

So we played the "Scottish Brothers" for the last 15 minutes. I created an interview Q & A worksheet, where the answers would require some practice beforehand, since they had blanks to fill in:
Q4: Tell us about your hobbies.
Q5: Do you like to play sports? Which ones?
Q6: What book did you read most recently?
A4: We both enjoy ______ and also ______.
A5: Yes! We play doubles in tennis! We also like ______ and even ______.
A6: I read ______; my brother just finished ______.

Doubles in tennis!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Changes at Yeouido Park

There are two meanings to the title of this post: first, I have assembled a little video made from snapshots at Yeouido Park throughout the course of the last year, organized season-by-season. I put a little Vivaldi Four Seasons behind it, Winter movement. Since it's winter (feels like, anyway!)

Second, when I visited today, workers were busily redoing the walking track that runs the perimeter of the park:

They are replacing the curbs with big, shiny hunks of polished granite, and laying in improvements to the storm drains.

Some kind of construction is going on above the stage area at the north end of the event plaza, as well. I was a week late to catch the park in full fall colors, but there were some striking examples, nonetheless:

Watch the video for more!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Seoul Lantern Festival

So, it was cold and it was windy but that did not prevent about five trillion people from showing up at the Cheonggyecheon for the opening festivities of the Seoul Lantern Festival. I realized many of those people had come to see and hear the Hallyu headliners perform for free.

K-Pop ain't my bag, so I wandered downstream to get a good look at the "lanterns", which were more like parade floats or statues, really. As you walk downstream, you pass through various zones, focusing on a particular theme.

Perhaps my favorite was the animals of Korean nature and mythology. The Korean tiger, now extinct in nature, and the dragon, have long been staples of Korean folktales (remember to click on the images to see a larger version):

The red-crowned crane is a Taoist symbol of longevity and immortality; it is also revered for its nobility. That's a red-crowned crane on the JAL logo, incidentally.

The bull and the panda were particularly well-done:

There were lots of lanterns of traditional Korean activities, like the wrestlers, the juggler, and the palace guards:

A couple other favs included the space shuttle, and the giant VW Beetle:

There was a tunnel/bridge across the stream made from lanterns:

From outside

From inside

The walls along the sides of the stream near the stage end had lanterns on which you could leave a message. This is very common at festivals here--I wonder what happens to all these items...

The section closest to the origin consisted of famous landmarks from around the world, including Gwanghwamun (Seoul's own main palace gate), Big Ben, and the Leaning Tower of Pisa:

Veteran's/Pepero/Lantern Festival Day

Today is Veteran's Day in the US, when we take a particular opportunity to express our gratitude to those who have defended America in uniform.

It is Pepero Day in Korea, when we buy Pepero sticks (aka Pocky) for those we love. This holiday was invented by Lotte, makers of Pepero, to move product. The date 11/11 was chosen since it resembles the sticks.

It is also the day before Korea's nationwide college entrance exam. Literaryhero describes he situation perfectly in his post for today.

The mid-autumn lantern festival kicks off tonight at the Cheonggyecheon, the man made stream that traverses central Seoul. According to the Korea Sparkling page:
The festival invites people from all over the world to come to Seoul and light a lantern, a symbol of 'hope and friendship'. Main events will include an opening ceremony, star studded concert and the daily lantern lighting ceremonies.

Let the festivities begin!

Monday, November 9, 2009

H1N1 Update/Upset

Before the flu outbreak, if a kid put his head down in my class, I would inquire as to whether he was sick or just sleepy. If sleepy, I would make him alert; if sick, I would leave him alone, and tell the co-teacher he says he's sick.

However, the "new flu" has been identified in 80-odd Young-il students as of this morning--my sixth period class was missing 11: six confirmed and five suspected cases. In two weeks, we've gone from four cases to over 6% of the student body!

With those numbers, better safe than sorry, I say. And indeed, with Korea's tendency toward paranoia and overreaction, so you'd think they'd say, too. Which is why I was both surprised and upset by what happened during fourth period today.

A kid with his head down said he felt sick. I alerted Mr Hur, who talked to him a bit about his symptoms, then sent him to the school nurse. He had a headache, general misery and a fever.

Some time later, I notice that the kid has returned to the classroom! Mr Hur investigates, to find out the nurse was unable to confirm the flu--of course--but had told him to go to the hospital (hospitals and clinics are the Korean equivalent of "going to the doctor"). The boy says he did not want to miss school, so he came back to class. Fortunately class was almost over. In my ensuing conversation with Hur and Miss Lee, I learned that they don't think government policy allows the school to send kids home even if the school nurse directs that they go to the hospital.

Well, I hit the roof! Millions of Koreans spent last summer protesting American "crazy cow" that never hurt anyone, but you let kids presumed infectious with a known killer flu spread the microbe in classrooms packed with 30-odd other students.

I think they're wrong about the policy--the Korean Medical Association wants to close schools for a few weeks, and some have done so--so I am thinking of arranging to discuss this with Principal Jun. I have never taken a flu shot, I have never worried about my own health situation regarding the flu, etc., but this business of ignoring standard protocols for it (ANY source of information points out that you must stay home if sick) does make me worry!

Of course, we are coming into the time of Korea's main testing frenzy! Thursday is the nationwide college entrance examination, taken by "third graders" everywhere. Airplanes will be re-routed, businesses will open later than usual, vomit-splattered soju-drunks will hide in alleyways rather than splay themselves on park benches, all in order to assist the seniors in their quest for the SKY! (Seoul National, Korea University, Yonsei)

This will be followed next Tuesday by the national practice exam for content area competence among HS first and second graders. So students feel a special burden to come to class, even if they put their heads down and don't learn a damn thing! Sure, there are kids that need an injection of Tamiflu, but the educational system needs an injection of common sense.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

A Dog Cafe

Nope, not a place with dog on the menu, but a place with dogs to pet and play with. I met up Saturday afternoon with Karen in Hongdae (Hongik U. station, Exit 5) then turned left and walked two big blocks, and turned right into the first alley. Maybe the second building on the right. It's 2F and the sign looks likes this:

Usually, I am beloved by dogs and small children, but it took a while before I found a canine friend here. People say dogs' love is unconditional, but this is untrue--snacks help:

There was quite a wait to get a table, but the dogs roam quite freely, and I made a friend who loved having her belly rubbed (who doesn't?):

The "Bau House" offers beverages including coffee, tea, fruit drinks and beer, but not much to eat--except doggie treats! It is family-friendly and several families brought their own pet. Remarkably, there was very little aggressive behavior, and while the place smelled of dog, of course, it was very clean thanks to constant swiffering by the staff.

A big city is a difficult place to own a dog, so this "cafe/hotel" offers dog-lovers an opportunity to commune with their canine side. There were about thirty or so dogs of a wide variety of breeds, from chow to husky to sheltie to lab, some of whom apparently do work in the entertainment industry when they're not being pampered by patrons of the Bau House.

Still, they spend most of their time indoors, so it's no wonder someone wants to go walkies:

Thursday, November 5, 2009

This and That

1) Yesterday during sixth period, it was Open House, meaning mothers come in to observe in classes. Guess when I found out it was Open House? Yesterday, after fourth period. Surprise.

Now, I have no problem with anyone observing my class, anytime. I'm not going to change my lesson plan, or anything like that. However, knowing in advance, I would be sure to dress less casually--best foot forward and all that. Fortunately, I was rather nattily attired yesterday, but that's not the point.

Further, I am proactive in asking my co-teachers on Friday about any special events or anything that might effect my classes in the coming week. But not a word. As consolation, Mr Lee assured me that the mothers who sat in my class (7 or 8) were very satisfied.

2) Interesting article in today's NYT about why it's so hard to lose weight despite regular exercise (and yes, I watch my calories, too):
The Denver researchers were especially interested in how the athletes’ bodies would apportion and use calories. It has been well documented that regular endurance training increases the ability of the body to use fat as a fuel during exercise. They wondered, though, if the athletes — or any of the other subjects — would burn extra fat calories after exercising, a phenomenon that some exercisers (and even more diet and fitness books) call “afterburn.” ...
To their surprise, the researchers found that none of the groups, including the athletes, experienced “afterburn.” They did not use additional body fat on the day when they exercised. In fact, most of the subjects burned slightly less fat over the 24-hour study period when they exercised than when they did not.

Still, you can design your workout to maximize the amount of body fat you burn. I had this conversation with the fitness guy at my gym last week, when he told me to slow down on the stationary bike--I do 2 min. really hard (above 40 km/h), then slow down a bit for 3 min. (between 34 and 36 km/h), over a period of 25 min. Then I do 5 and 5 in similar fashion on the elliptical trainer for 25 min.

I pointed out to him that to drop this fat (or "pa-duh"), I need a heart rate of at least 125. Which is what I get (the machines have pulse monitors). It's true I get red in the face, but I can still talk while working, I don't get dizzy or feel excessively weak, and I sweat up a storm. The article has this to say:
“If you work out at an easy intensity, you will burn a higher percentage of fat calories” than if you work out a higher intensity, Carey says, so you should draw down some of the padding you’ve accumulated on the hips or elsewhere — if you don’t replace all of the calories afterward. To help those hoping to reduce their body fat, he published formulas in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research last month that detailed the heart rates at which a person could maximize fat burning. “Heart rates of between 105 and 134” beats per minute, Carey said, represent the fat-burning zone. “It’s probably best to work out near the top of that zone,” he says, “so that you burn more calories over all” than at the extremely leisurely lower end.

I may print this off and take it to him. His English is poor, but he is motivated to improve, and armed with a dictionary, I think he can get through it. My Achilles' Heel remains the chicken hof--Korean fried chicken is awesome! A new hof opened in my building where the seafood place was, and I'm sure I'll be able to give you a review soon.

3) Of all the fruit trees you can grow, Seoulites seem to choose the 감 gam, persimmon, above all others. I pass a dozen persimmon trees growing in people's small yards each day, and this is the time of year when they get ripe. They must be bletted before consumption, so don't go picking them as you pass by and crunching down. Here are a few photos:

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Konglish 102

Here are a few examples of Konglish (Korean English) collected recently. First is a football confiscated in class by art teacher Lee Chunggye, the 'Vesta Impect' model:

Just down the street from my school is this car remodeling shop, with the questionable/questioning motto: 'The Car, Whatever You Want?'

I just noticed this tag on the inside of the small, auxilliary backback of the backpack I bought for my China trip. It reads 'This label is issue to the only Genova product that proved it's best quality by 12 steps of test in the extreme':

Finally, found just inside the Men's Room at Seoul World Cup Stadium:

For more Konglish, just click on "konglish" in the Label Cloud in the right-hand sidebar.

The Weather Outside

Well, it turned really cold all of a sudden here in my Patch of Seoul; today's high temperature was 54 F, and the low tomorrow is expected to be 31 F, with a high of 40. Brisk, to say the least.

It was rainy all day yesterday, until about 7 PM; after it stopped, the temperature started dropping. Also, the ghosts, ghouls and other scary creatures started appearing--no, Halloween isn't popular in Korea (yet), I was in Itaewon, Seoul's stand-in for the USA. I had dinner with Karen, after which we made our way to a place called The Loft on the promise of free drinks for the ladies. Andy and Jisun were there there, along with Nick. The Loft is more for the younger crowd--the music too loud and the atmosphere too close--but we stayed until it was time for me to catch the last train.

In addition to the dressed-up weigookin, there was also a small faction of Korean small-fry in Batman and Superman costumes doing trick-or-treating on the streets of Itaewon. In uniquely Korean fashion: they were actually giving out candy! The cuteness of it defies my powers of description. A picture is worth a thousand words, but I don't have any pictures, either. Sorry.

Bonus Photographs: In an attempt to make up for it, here are a couple of photos from my visit to 서울풍물시장, the Seoul Folk Flea Market.