Sunday, January 31, 2010

A Few Notes

1) Three day left of winter camp, but who's counting? After that, no school until March 2, which is Korea's version of the Tuesday after Labor Day, when American grade school traditionally starts the academic year.

Similarly, the date follows a holiday, 삼일 Sam-il or 3 - 1, the date of one of the first displays of the Korean independence movement against Japanese occupation. To give you an idea of the moral influence the US once exerted in the world, the authors of the movement were inspired by Woodrow Wilson's speech in which he outlined the "fourteen points" of national self-determination.

2) After a two-month drought, I've had 양고치 yang gochi the last two Saturdays, first with Nick in Daerim. Then yesterday, I met up with Karen and Patrick, just returned from Borneo, to give them the Bongcheon drill. Patrick had never had makulli before, and sagely noted on his first sip that drinks where you can't detect the taste of alcohol are the most dangerous ones.

True to the prediction, we were in a 노레방 at 2 AM.

3) Korea has long had a pro-smoking culture. Bars, restaurants, office buildings, etc., almost uniformly allow smoking. Until last year, soldiers were given a free ration of cigarettes--and all Korean males spend about two years doing military service.

Government efforts to rein in tobacco use have been less than effective, but I read a story tonight in the Dong-A Ilbo about how some chaebol (large corporations) are approaching the issue. Mostly, they are offering incentives for quitting, including bonuses like cash or a free bicycle. Some are using disincentives:
Woongjin Group Chairman Yoon Seok-keum sent a letter to smoking workers in May last year saying, “Quitting smoking is the easiest and the most fundamental way to boost health and cut CO2 emissions.”
By doing so, 56 percent of the 1,800 smoking workers pledged to give up the habit. New employees were also made to take an anti-smoking pledge, and smoking workers must perform four more hours of community service than non-smokers (16 hours).

Quitting smoking is "the most fundamental way to ... reduce CO2 emissions"?

Friday, January 29, 2010

Language Hanguage

Okay, I'm a little hesitant to open this ole box of Pandora's again, but there is a fairly in-depth story in today's Korea Times about a controversy swirling around the Cia-cia or Jjia-Jjia or something, anyway a tribe in Indonesia, who seem interested in adopting Hangeul as the written alphabet of their language.

The last time I wrote about this, pointing out how the Korean language lacks certain sounds, and that therefore the Hangeul writing system doesn't actually provide for them, I received several interesting comments.

Which, by the way, I am always grateful to read. And publish. Well, unless they're spam. So comment away.

Anyway, I was attempting to make the point that the Jjia-jjia or whoever have hopefully made the determination that Hangeul can adequately represent the phonemes of their language, since otherwise they will end up with Jjiageul. Or Kongjjia. Or something.

The Korean language, as was saying at the time, has no "eff" sound. It also has no "vee" sound. And I could go on, without intending to slight the Korean language or its speakers in the least. Hell, English lacks those wonderfully expressive click sounds I love so much in Swahili and maTonga. I'm just stating facts.

So, since Korean doesn't have an "eff" sound, it is quite understandable that Hangeul doesn't have an "eff" symbol. This is simply and unequivocally a fact.

This fact has two significant results:
1) Koreans as a rule don't ever make an "eff" sound, even when saying English words that have an "eff" sound in them. Instead, they substitute a sound they do have. So, instead of a fork, you get a pork. Actually, you don't even get that, because of the second point:
2) Hangeul simply cannot reproduce certain words. Period. I just said that the Korean for fork was pork, but I was lying. Other aspects of Korean linguistics also come into play. For example, many English diphthongs are disallowed by Hangeul, one of which is "rk". "Lk" is okay (like in a word for chicken flesh), "ng" is infuriatingly ubiquitous, "ch" and "sh" are pretty common, too.

Phonemes, individual syllables, also have particular rules, especially about ending consonants. Coming back to the fork-pork example, calling it a pork won't do, because the "r" is disallowed in conjunction with the "k". Considering the availability of "lk", I am unsure why people don't eat with a polk. But in Korea, they don't. Instead, they eat with a pok-uh.

An anonymous commenter on the previous post asserted the following:
A writing system doesn't need to conform with any specific pronunciation in any case; it's just symbols.

This explains why I review comments--even if I let this go through; it was probably my intent to respond, though I never did (I have a life, y'know). I'll do so here:
Friend! Yes. Yes it does. That is the function of a writing system. "It's just symbols" that represent how you move your mouth, tongue, lungs, diaphragm, etc, in order to create meaningful sounds of your language.

Well, now that I've expended 500 "symbol groups representing meaningful sounds" I see I haven't even touched on the new controversy of Hangeul and the Cia-cia. I mean, the Jjia-jjia. Or however you say it.

Bonus Photograph: Mr Hwang's young son enjoying gopchang in our neighborhood "Korean beef innards specialty restaurant":

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

"North Korea Shoots At Empty Sea"

I admit I stole that headline from the Daily NK's coverage of the latest DPRK shenanigans in advance of the inter-Korean talks scheduled for next Monday. Impressively, every missile hit the target.

The Korea Times does a straight-up reporting job on the events, including a photograph and nice map:

Map of 1-27-2010 missile firing from Korea Times
They have pretty good blow-by-blow details, a quote or two from a South Korean general, and background on recent episodes that have more-or-less inflamed inter-Korean relations. In today's fracas, the North fired a salvo of 30 artillery shells toward, but short of, the NLL (Northern Limit Line). The South responded with 100 Vulcan cannon rounds as "warning shots". Considering that this weapon can discharge 6000 rounds per minute, they showed considerable restraint. From the Times:
The North began firing again at 3:25 p.m., with a dozen more shells landing north of the Northern Limit Line (NLL), the de facto western sea border. But the South did not respond.
This is the first time that the North has fired artillery into the NLL in the West Sea, though the navies from both Koreas have exchanged gunfire near the border before.

Korea Herald goes for analysis, titling it's most read entry on the story as NK firing part of two-track strategy, the pull-quote being this, from Kim Yong-hyun, professor of North Korean studies at Dongguk University: "North Korea is exercising a two-track policy of aggressively seeking economic cooperation and humanitarian aid on one hand while heightening military tension on the other."
While the cash-strapped North strives to revive business with South Korea, it seeks to gain international leverage in future multilateral talks through saber-rattling moves.
"By firing (rounds of artillery) in the West Sea, the North seems to have intended to demonstrate that it can always act on its words," said professor Kim.
"Such military actions may have two purposes. One would be to highlight the dispute over the NLL and stress the importance of a peace treaty ahead of six-party talks and the other to strengthen national solidarity as it prepares for a post-Kim Jong-il system."

Well, this last begins to get at the truth, which I think is more about what's happening inside DPRK than any other factors--wagging the dog, as it were. Of course, the North can't actually go to war, since it will lose big-time, but it can try to provoke retaliatory action to rally the people against the bad, bad world outside.

Maybe then they will forget the disastrous monetary devaluation that has destabilized the already tenuous economy and squandered whatever goodwill for Dear Leader the people have left. Dong-A Ilbo covers this story, without linking it to today's military exercises:
Good Friends, a group fighting for human rights in North Korea, said, “The price of rice is reaching a new high every day,” adding, “Chongjin in North Hamkyong Province saw the biggest rise in rice prices. The price of a kilogram of rice there based on the (North’s) new currency tripled to 650 won Jan. 22 from 240 won a week before, and rose again to 1,100 won Sunday in the city’s Sunam Market.”
Before the North’s currency revaluation last year, rice went for 2,200 won in the old currency. Given the ratio of the old and new currency is 100 to one, the value of 1,100 won in the new currency is 50 times that of 2,200 won in the old currency.

Wow! Rice costs 5000% more in NK than it did 3 months ago! This is the beginning of hyperinflation, which as we see in Zimbabwe (full disclosure: I lived there a long time ago) is bound to lead to the demise of an evil dictatorial regime. Oh, wait, never mind. Turns out it doesn't ...

Well, I am sickened and saddened by the news from the North just as I am appalled by what has happened in Zim (scroll down for the pics I posted of my old school). For that matter, I'm not thrilled with what's going on in the USA, where it seems being against everything is way more popular than being for anything. No one seems to be for health care reform anymore, or for privacy rights, or even for change. They're not for the status quo, either. It's probably a good thing I'm not in the States right now, because I'd be threatening to leave.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

A Little Off the Top

Well, this is a first. One of my second period students was moping around and moaning more than usual this morning. He usually does a fair amount of moaning, as he has virtually no command of spoken English, and he spends fifty minutes a day in my class, which consists of almost nothing but spoken English.

Still, as I say, he was doing this with greater than usual emphasis, and finally asked if I could give him a slip to go home. "Why?" I asked, somewhat reasonably.

"Aaiiee!" he said, shaking his head miserably.


After a discussion, the best speaker in the class says to me: "Teacha, you know--penis--cut?" with a scissors-like hand gesture or two.

"You mean circumcision?" I ask.

Yeah. So it turns out this kid--eighteen years old or so--got circumcised yesterday and was in considerable discomfort today.

The speaker pointed at another student. "Him--no!"

It turns out that this procedure has become a sort of manhood rite among Koreans since the time of the Korean War. According to this survey (pdf) from the British Medical Journal:
Results: The overall proportion of circumcised was 1306(78.0%) and an additional 192 (11.5%) wished to be circumcised later. Circumcision was carried out mostly during their elementary and middle school years. Of men circumcised,
the decision whether to circumcise was most often made by their parents. Of the subjects, 75.0% believed that circumcision is necessary, while 2.9% believed it to be
unnecessary. Among those who believed circumcision to be necessary, the most common reason was to improve penile hygiene (89.1%).
Conclusions: Our results indicate a positive attitude toward circumcision in South Korean men, linking it with hygienic practices. Circumcision in South Korea depends on the perpetuation of cultural beliefs that support it.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

O, Handsome Man!

Just yesterday, a middle-aged man did a double-take as I was standing on the subway platform and said to me: "Oh, very handsome man!" No, he really did. And he's not the first one, either.

Now, the point I wish to make is not about the rates of myopia among the Korean population--though I guess it could be--but rather about how such interactions exemplify the strange duality of the culture: homogeneity of the populace was long sold as a strong point (Hermit Kingdom, after all--what do you expect?!); at the same time, the desire for harmony means being polite to the nationality-afflicted in their midst. And possibly the recognition that their country depends for its economic growth on these fair-skinned interlopers, or at least their relatives overseas.

According to a survey just released by the "Overseas Koreans Foundation", 52.9 percent of Koreans regard foreign workers here as members of Korean society. I think this comes as surprising news to many of the foreigners here.

Don't get me wrong, I almost always feel welcome, certainly more so than I expect some subset of foreigners living in America must feel. I suspect "handsome" is pretty low on the list of adjectives they hear. That being said, I don't necessarily feel like a typical member of "Korean society", whatever that may mean. I think most members of Korean society don't leave small children dumbstruck and swiveling their little necks as they walk by. I often do.

The survey was conducted among 800 Koreans living in seven main population centers, and reported in The Korea Herald. The government plans to extend voting rights to overseas Koreans for the first time, and the survey found that 57.4% are in favor of it. Curiously, though, over 60 percent believe that voting through mail or internet should not be allowed. I guess they'll just have to yell really loud.

Emigration was a key topic of the survey, and one I'm particularly interested in at the moment. I was surprised that 17% admit to having a "close family member" living overseas--I thought it would be higher. After all, when I visited Tanner in Beijing, his Liudaokou neighborhood was a virtual Koreatown with familiar Orion and Lotte snacks in the local shops. During my New Zealand holiday, we frequently encountered Hangeul signage in towns like Rotorua, and Korean-frequented gambling rooms everywhere.

Still, only 18.7 percent have a negative response to the idea of living overseas for a time, down from 38.9 percent only two years ago. That is an enormous statistical shift in a short time, which I think is largely due to recognition that the US is populated with handsome men, like me.

Friday, January 22, 2010

School Notes

1) I have 9 more days of winter camp; the last day is Feb. 3, but we have Saturday class on the 30th. Attendance continues to be abysmal.

2) During the break between periods, I watch from my window as about a dozen students, in twos and threes, climb over the fence and make a run for it. Occasionally, I yell out for them to be careful, as the fence is a good eight or nine feet high. Some of them turn and flash me a smile: "Hi, Teacher!"

3) Curiously, the touchscreen function of my classroom big screen decided to stop working this week; no idea why. Supposedly, some bloke was to come out this afternoon and have a look, but it's not in my job description to wait around for him. Not me, I paid my bills (you do this at the bank), then went to 마당집 and had galbitang for lunch.

4) This week in camp, I did a "unit" on advertising. It began with some activities from a good PBS website: and a Canadian site: While I'm doing links, is a great source for current worldwide ads to discuss. Later on, we analyzed the US Presidential TV ad campaign "Eisenhower Answers America", using material from this website: I thought the issue of involvement in the Korean War would interest them.

But their favorite thing was this pair of videos:

The culmination of the unit was to design and present an ad campaign for some product--either made up or real. They were mostly poor, though a couple actually met the requirements I set.

Then there was one boy who did a suicide-prevention public service announcement--challenging material, to say the least. I thought his slogan was really good:
You are an actor or actress in a happy-ending play ... called life.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Today's News

International Desk: The devastating earthquake in Haiti continues to top the reporting here, as Dong-A Ilbo files a story about the Korean government "offering" USD 10 million for relief and rebuilding efforts. Korea Times leads with a suggestion that the government "is considering dispatching peacekeeping forces to earthquake-hit Haiti in a bid to help relief activities and maintain public order, a government official said Tuesday."

Also, some number of Facebook subscribers wore red clothing today, as if that would do anything to help matters at all. Many Haitians also wore red, but that was actually their blood or the blood of their loved ones.

(My personal suggestion, give to Partners in Health, Dokte Paul Farmer's organization I profiled here a while ago.)

Local Desk: A lower court today cleared TV producers of all charges relating to a program in which they lied like a Persian rug about the possibility of obtaining "crazy cow" disease from tainted American beef. In its ruling, the court said, "The contents of the program were within the boundaries of freedom of press." Curiously, the decision is painted here as one of "conservative" prosecutors vs. "liberal" judges.

The Times leads with a report that Universal Studios will finally bring a decent amusement park to Korea with real cartoon characters that anyone has ever heard of.

me with Bugs Bunny, Six Flags, Spring 2003
Weather: The cold snap has come to an end, with high temps yesterday and today being above freezing. However, it drizzled all day, slowly melting the piles of snow that hug every curb, turned black by road residue and the settling of airborne pollutants. Walking to work was a real treat for your humble narrator--well, it would have been, but I turned around and took the subway.

Sports: The Taeguk Warriors rebounded from a pair of friendly losses to beat Finland 2 - 0 Tuesday, says the Times.
The match against Finland is seen as preparation for the match against Greece at the World Cup.
“It’s difficult to say which team is better, Greece or Finland. But today, Finland did not play very well,” the boss explained.
Huh explained that his team must be more active in defending against the taller, stronger Europeans, especially when they are on the attack near the Korean net.

In other soccer news, storied athlete Seol Ki-hyeon has signed to play for Pohang Steelers, as his club career in Europe seems poised to wind down as he enters his thirties.

Makkuli Desk: "Name one person and one thing that are most associated with Korea University," began the article by Oh Young-jin and Kang Shin-who in the Korea Times. Well, after nearly a year and a half here, I thought I should know something like this, but I was stumped. Actually, now that I know the answer, I'm still stumped.

Turns out, Korea University, which is basically Korea's answer to Harvard, one of the three prestigious universities known as SKY (Seoul National, Korea, Yonsei), is planning to produce its own brand of makkuli, a fermented rice wine a bit stronger than beer, in a pilot plant set to open in May.

Now, I did my fair share of drinking in college (actually, I probably drank for two or three, but let's not get into that), and in my day, colleges even had watering holes on campus (the Golden Spur was in the student union at USC, for example), but we didn't have our own brand of hooch!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Wayback Machine

The internet, and people's access to it, has come a long way in the mere ten or so years I have been "online". I remember the first time I did an "internet search" for Toby Charles--there was not one single reference to him! My search engine of choice in those days was called "Dogpile". The way Dogpile worked, and still does, was actually quite clever--it submits your query term to all the other search engines, and gives you their results lickety-split. After a year or two, I noticed that there was one particular engine that consistently returned the links I really wanted, and that engine was--you guessed it--Google.

Still, no matter how good a search engine is, it can't give you information that isn't there; and information on some of my old almae matres wasn't there. Fast forward to the Age of Facebook, and I find the situation much improved. Not only is information being agglomerated, but best of all, so are the people. I can connect with folks who have been drifting on the winds of time for thirty-plus years!

Mainly, I was seeking the status of my old school in Zimbabwe, Chaplin School, and of Parker High in Greenville, SC, where I matriculated in 1979. There is a certain sense in which I was better off not knowing, since in neither case is the situation particularly heartening.

(I choose to keep my FB identity separate from the one I use here in Blogger, so I am not making direct links--you can easily do your own search. My thanks to the folks who uploaded the photos below!)

Parker High School:
I gather the school closed in the '80s, after briefly serving as the campus for Greenville County's arts magnet middle school. Today it's all boarded up and on the chopping block. Parker was built during the WPA era; here is a photo of the heyday:

And now:

My junior year, I spent last period in the library, gradually becoming an intellectual. There is nothing quite as sad as a library without any books:

One of the teachers in my life that most influenced me was George Dukas, who I had for Chemistry and for Physics. Here's what's left of the science lab:

Chaplin School:
Also founded in the 1930s, I attended Chaplin from 1975 to 1977. Every Monday and Friday, the school day would begin with an assembly in the Beit Hall. This was also the locale for school dances:

Alfred Beit was a gold and diamond magnate in southern Africa, who formed a Trust to fund infrastructure and educational development in the lands his mining concerns otherwise ravaged. One result was Beit Halls like Chaplin's.

Sadly, Chaplin has suffered even greater indignities than has Parker, thanks to the brutal and short-sighted regime of Robert Mugabe. Here's a shot of the west gate, where the majority of students entered the campus every day:

Many of my favorite memories of life at Chaplin were on the field of athletic endeavor. The academic day lasted from 7:30 to 1:00, then you went home for lunch and prep. At 3:00 or so, you went back to school for athletics. I played basketball, track and rugby, and tried to duck out on cross country. The pavilion below was once surrounded by verdant practice fields and a pretty good quality cinder track with a well-manicured rugby pitch inside (we played soccer in infant school, rugby in upper school in those days). Below it is the outdoor basketball court, where at 14 I starred on the second team under Mr Pluke.

Thomas Wolfe famously pointed out that you can't go home again. Alas, you can't even go back to school.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

What I'm Reading

Time again for my periodic book report. Looking back, I see I was still in the middle of Kafka on the Shore when I last wrote on Nov 22. It was an engrossing read, though I was rather disappointed in the ending, which relied too much on the surreal and fantastic to suit me. Since then, I have read:
  • The Dante Club by Matthew Pearl - this is a combination murder mystery, historical drama and literary novel by first-timer Pearl (His second book, The Poe Shadow, is next up after I finish my current book). The premise is that a serial killer in post-Civil War Boston is killing people by copying the punishments of the damned in Dante's Inferno. This is happening at the same time that Henry Wadsworth Longfellow is undertaking the first American translation of the work, aided by his friends Oliver Wendell Holmes and James Russell Lowell (constituting the Dante Club). It also falls to them to solve the murders. The book cannot be faulted for its erudition or for its clever plotting; though it bogs down a bit in the middle, it races to a thrilling climax in the final third. Good read.
  • With Her Oil Lamp On, That Night by Lim Chul-Woo - the title story is confusing and unbelievable, but the second story, a character study of people waiting for a train in the eponymous Sapyong Station, almost redeems the slim volume. For only the second time, I cannot recommend an entry in the Portable Korean Library of Short Fiction series, because the translation is well below par. There are grammatical and/or spelling errors on practically every page, which I found very distracting. The second-best thing about these books, after their easy introduction to serious Korean literature, is their easiness on the wallet--the volumes are a uniform W5,000.
  • The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz - won the Pulitzer Prize, though I'm dashed as to why. The story was a reasonably interesting tale of a Dominican immigrant family in New Jersey, but the author's little conceits were unrelievedly irritating: a) footnotes-copious, even multi page footnotes with invective-filled rants containing historical background about the Dominican Republic; b) Spanish terms-the occasional expression or term is no problemo, but the author repeatedly fills what seems like significant moments with full sentences of a foreign language without any context for understanding them. Skip over them, one might say, it doesn't matter--well if it doesn't matter, than he should put it in English! Dios mio! c) POV shifts-there are four to six different narrators, and if the reader can't even determine that, Junot, you're not doing your job!

  • I'm a Stranger Here Myself by Bill Bryson - this is a collection of columns written for a British newspaper after his repatriation to New England (from Old England) in the 1990s. (I never said I only read current books.) Bryson has a knack for finding the little things about a culture that illuminate the larger things about it: he writes about a trip to the post office or the number of cupholders in a car or lugging out the Christmas decorations in a way that makes me love America without actually wishing I was there.
  • The Last of Hanako by Choi Yun - one of few female writers so far anthologised in the Portable Korean Library series, the two stories in this volume are beautifully written, with a kind of understatement tells the essential truths without beating the reader over the head. The title story concerns a group of friends whose key member is seen by them as a superfluous hanger-on--only when Hanako (her nickname, thanks to a prominent nose) disappears from their circle do they realize her power. 'The Last Snowman' allows the reader to piece together a cell of the resistance movement of Korea in the 1980s that eventually brought about democratic rule. Good stuff.

Having waded into the last book on my pile (The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga), I went to the bookstore in Kyobo Towers at Gangnam today (the flagship store, I think, and the one I usually go to), and boy was it packed! Koreans apparently love to read--even though they have the fastest, cheapest, most ubiquitous wi-fi on the planet, they still like books, God bless 'em.

As will occasionally happen in a place like this, I was latched onto by an older Korean man who wanted nothing more than to be my friend, or at least converse with me. Here I am hoist on my own petard, believing as I do that we expats are also de facto ambassadors for our homelands--even though I was just out to replinish my current reading pile. Were we in a bar, I'd happily let him buy me some beers, but I doubt buying me a book was in his plans. I politely answered his questions while making it clear I was about selecting reading material, not conducting an interview.

Finally, he got the hint and beat a retreat--ten minutes later, he was pestering a young lass with questions about a book; though she kept saying she didn't know, as she hadn't read it, he was undeterred. Sometimes, you just want to smack a guy.

Friday, January 15, 2010

GeorgiaNorth Korea On My Mind

I'm predicting that events are coming to a head in North Korea, and that it won't be too long before signs of significant change are seen by the outside world--a turning point, if you will.

Of course, I forecast the downfall of China's communist regime back in 1989 while glued to CNN during the Tienanmen Uprising (Google for it, smirk). So, I could be wrong. On the other hand, I correctly predicted Mark Helms's rise to power as fifth grade Hall Monitor at Chipley Elementary in 1972, so my bona fides as a political prognosticator are venerable if not 100% accurate.

DPRK (which is international code for North Korea) has done several things lately to indicate that a storm is a-brewin' in Pyongyang:
* Kim Jong-il admitted that much is lacking in terms of people's living standards (an unheard of confession of failure from the Dear Leader)
* the government changed the scrip, thereby eliminating most personal wealth in a country where eating a rat makes for a good day
* they then backed off due to a Cha-Bagger Revolt and rejiggered the devaluation scheme (still executed a few folks, though)
* renewed calls for nuclear disarmament talks, though these are rightly ignored by the Obama administration--especially since South Korea would be left out of any talks
* anointed third son Kim Jong-un as dictator-in-training (with a day-long birthday celebration), thereby pissing off China, which believes evil dictators should be appointed from within the party bureaucracy
* reported a bunch of made-up celebrations in South Korea to convince North Koreans that the South really wants reunification
* announced plans to create propaganda film/TV studios in each province to "publicize the good conduct of local citizens"
* following the currency devaluation, there was a "run" on low-quality rice in the Chinese provinces near DPRK, resulting in shortages and even starvation

The Daily NK is a great website for North Korea news and analysis; Slate has a story today about the idea of renewed talks; the NYT ran a nuanced story about NK refugees earlier this week; finally, here is a VOA report about North Korea's passive-aggressive approach to diplomacy.

Back in '89, when I thought China was going to change, I was actually correct--it's just that China didn't change the way we thought it would. Tienanmen was followed by a new openness, market openness--China today has capitalist markets in a communist social paradigm. (Americans who shop at WalMart perpetuate the Chinese system.) Chinese can have cell phones, but Big Brother will listen in on what they say (Hmmm, not so different from the USA, come to think of it!)

Following this model is the worst thing that could happen to North Korea, if you ask me. I mean, other than the status quo. Limited capitalism that merely enriches and empowers the elites without intellectual and transactional freedom for the people is a sham. Or, in other words, modern China.

I don't know what will happen, but I am confident that upon Kim Jong-il's demise (if not before), North Korea wll need a fair and unbiased arbiter to marshall the Hermit Kingdom into the Modern Age. This is where the West, working with the South, will need to step in: wonder if Mark Helms is available?

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Sundae on Thursday

I do not wish to start a religious debate, but let me begin by saying that I think Jewish and Muslim people are missing out. Not on the redeeming blood of the Lamb, no, but that's close. I am referring to the flesh and other edible parts of the pig. In fact, in this post, I'll be referring mainly to those "other edible parts", specifically in the Korean context.

I have long been a fan of "sausage"; I don't think I can eat collared greens without a couple big slabs of ham hock in there; there's nothing like Jamaican-style roasted pig's knuckles over rice and beans; chitlins and pork rinds were pretty common in my growing up--'nuff said.

Add to that list a hearty warm-you-up, stick-to-your-ribs stew called sundae guk bap 순대국밥. If you should sometime find yourself at Deungchon station of Line 9, make your way out exit 6 and head south, past the pedestrian overpass ...

(UPDATE: This overpass has been replaced by a zebra crossing.)
... to the Deungchon outdoor market, on your left.

Turn right into the first alley ...

... and look for this storefront on the left:

Gwangju shikdang or Gwangju restaurant, serves its sundae guk in the Gwangju style, which in my opinion translates to 'incredibly delicious'. Actually, Gwangju is a large city in the southwest, home to the KIA Tigers baseball team, reigning Korean champions.

It's not much more on the inside than it is on the outside, but I'm not here for the decor. Heck, half the time the ajumma's grandkids are in one corner playing or doing homework.

First of all, have a look at the panchan: clockwise from the left, kimchi, doenjang (soy bean paste), spicy bean sprouts, pickled turnip, gochujang (hot red pepper paste), fresh onion and jalapeno, and a variety of jeotgal, salty shrimp sauce. You dip the chunks of sundae in this. Mr Lee, Korean food lore resource, tells me that shrimp is very helpful in the digestion of pork.

When the steaming bowl of sundaeguk comes, it is a accompanied by a bowl of rice (which is the bap in the name). The Gwangju style is loaded with black pepper and scallions. It's also loaded with variety meats, in addition to several thick slices of sundae, which is small intestines of a pig stuffed with pig's blood, noodles and bits of vegetable. I have eaten this dish at several other places, and it is always really good, but this one is the best.

Speaking of variety meats, I was recently introduced to dweji meori gogi (돼지 머리고기), which is a kind of luncheon loaf made from pork head meat, also dipped in jeotgal. Only with a supreme display of self-control was I able to stop myself from eating more than two or three pounds. It looks like this:

I found a webpage that describes the process for making meorigogi. It is in Korean, alas, but the pictures make the process clear enough.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Winter Camp Tales

I mentioned earlier that attendance at winter camp is deplorable, and it has gotten a little better (4th class has grown from 2 to 5--of 11 enrolled). Still, at least that means the numbers are quite manageable and students have a lot of opportunities to practice speaking with my immediate feedback.

I have organized the camp by doing different categories of activities on different days of the week; for instance, today is "Circle Time", tomorrow is Video Day, Thursday is Writing Lab, etc. Monday is simply conversation day, and I provide various prompts.

Yesterday was all about jokes and funny stories. To start things off, I had a list of short jokes or riddles in a table (the MS Word kind), with the punchlines on the right. I cut them into strips and cut off the punchlines. These are then distributed to the students. But one student gets the joke part, and someone else gets the punchline: "What time is it when you have to go to the dentist?" Another student has to realize he has the answer: "2:30 (tooth-hurty)" This is tricky since a lot of jokes depend on wordplay, puns and multiple meanings.

And the same with Korean jokes. One of the few that students managed to share was this: "How do you make salt more valuable?" "Divide it in two." In English, of course, this is meaningless, but in Korean, salt is sogum, 소금. Taken separately, 소 means beef, and 금 means gold. Not bad.

Today we played, among other things, Finish the Sentence. First up was "My best friend ..." which elicited some standard answers, physical descriptions and the like, and even a sweet one from a boy whose best friend is in America studying arts (?), who he can only contact on the internet--and he misses him. But one kid confessed his best friend was his computer, and another that his was the TV.

Tomorrow we'll be watching all of the Schoolhouse Rock grammar videos--everyone I know can do a bit of Conjunction Junction, what's your function? But did you know there are nine of them in all?

Sunday, January 10, 2010

In The News: DPRK

Each of the three main English-language newspapers has front page coverage today about North Korea. But each one has a different story.

Kim Jong-il Determined to Feed His People (Korea Times):
"I am resolute in my determination to enhance people's living standards in the shortest possible time so that they don't have to envy the life of people in other countries," he said, according to a North Korea's official Web site, Uriminjokkiri. [...]
"Even though our nation has become a powerful state in terms of political ideology and the military, but it is much lacking in terms of people's living standards," Yonhap cited the web site, saying Kim's remark had originally appeared on the state-run Rodong Sinmun.

Nowhere to Hide for Kim Jong Il? (Dong-A Ilbo):
A Chinese-language magazine published in Canada has carried in this month’s edition a photo of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il’s office and vicinity. In photos taken in the 1980s, his office had equipment that received six foreign broadcast channels. In the latest photo, eleven satellite antennas were shown, including those for receiving South Korean broadcasts. This suggests that Kim is fully aware of what is going on in South Korea and other parts of the world. Accordingly, he should then realize how his country’s isolation and hereditary tyranny are worlds apart from the rest of the globe. [...]
He reportedly uses several residences. Those not frequented by him are made to look as if he lives there, but where he does reside is places unimaginable as living quarters. He uses underground passages so that no satellite can take photos of him. Intelligence data suggests that he uses doubles for public activities.

N.K. suspected of inflating heir apparent's age (Korea Herald):
North Korea's heir apparent was actually born in 1984, proving to be one year younger than previously known, a Japanese newspaper reported Sunday, citing an unidentified informed source, according to Yonhap News.
The Mainichi Shimbun said it has been confirmed that Kim Jong-un, the third son of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, is now 26 years old, as he was born on Jan. 8, 1984, instead of the previously known date, Jan. 18, 1983.
A 25th birthday celebration was held in Pyongyang on Jan. 7 last year in honor of the North Korean heir apparent, the paper insisted.

NK Power Shift Becomes More Visible (Korea Times):
Without noting the apparent age discrepancy, this story reports on a celebration of Kim Jong-un's birthday last Friday.
rare photo of Kim Jong-un
North Korea watchers said this indicates that Kim Jong-un will soon ascend to a leadership role.
Earlier, the reclusive state showed signs of preparing to crown the heir-apparent, the youngest son of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, eulogizing him as the “morning star.”
“A bright full moon shone through the night in the skies above Mt. Baekdu, marking the maximum distance of vision until dawn came,” the North’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said in its New Year’s Day meteorological report on Jan. 2.
Jong-un was initially referred to as “General Kim” but he is now called “Morning Star General.”

Thursday, January 7, 2010

No Thaw in Thight!

The weather remains the big news story here, as the Korea Meteorological Administration reports that temperatures across Korea hit a nine-year low. Tomorrow is not expected to be any better--and may be a degree or two worse. We may break the freezing point next Thursday, according to my weather gadget (to your right). And even then, it's going to snow again!

My twenty-minute walk to work isn't all that bad, especially with my super-great "Baxter State" parka from LL Bean, free gloves that were given to all Young-il teachers by an alumnus recently, an extra-long scarf made of genuine New Zealand wool, and this item:

Mine are the AirWalk brand, and are the best W6,000 I've spent all winter. Warm ears are the key feeling warm all over!

The foot of snow we got on Monday, added to a couple inches last week, hasn't even begun to melt, except over storm drain grates. The city has been spurred into action, and promises to levy fines against those who don't remove snow from around their homes or businesses. It doesn't say where they should put it, though I'm sure a disgruntled citizen or two has a thought on that.

The same Korea Herald article reports:
While citizens face a heavier responsibility for clearing snow, drivers could be exempted from fines if their traffic violation is proven to be due to the heavy snow that fell on the nation this week, according to the National Police Agency.
Many drivers have been filing petitions over the past few days about traffic fines, claiming that violations were due to the snow or the resulting icy roads. Most involved traffic light violations.
"We will analyze the road surveillance camera recordings in case of such complaints and check whether the violations were indeed inevitable," said an NPA official.

This seems to me quite reasonable, even if it is a reminder, as though the ubiquitous CCTV signs weren't enough, that Big Brother is watching.

The need to remove the snow (and avoid potential fines) has helped out a bit in the jobless sector, as noted in a story from Korea Times:
It didn't take long for Jin Tae-yong, who runs a fitness center in downtown Seoul, to find a part-timer to clean up the ice and slush piled up around his building from this week's record snowfall. He put up a posting on a job site and, within a day, had nearly 30 applicants calling in. [...]
Typical part-time jobs pay an average of 4,000 to 4,500 won per hour, but the snow jobs pay anywhere from 6,000 to 8,000 won, based on the listings posted in the past few days.

Ah, well. Hopefully, a little more than a month from now I'll be laying on a beach in the Gulf of Siam, thawing out.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

What's Happening Now?

No, not the old TV show from Television City in Hollywood with Roger (Raj), Rerun and Roz, but a brief update on the state of things in this little patch of Seoul.

1) It's freaking cold. How cold is it? It's so cold ... I saw a fire hydrant chasing after a dog. (Old Johnny Carson line.) The temperature here hasn't broken the freezing point since about the first week in December. There has been snow on the ground for one and a half weeks now, and while the sun has been out the last two days, the snow is still in piles everywhere you look.

2) I had my third day of winter camp today, and attendance has been particularly abysmal so far--perhaps due to the weather. My three classes have 52 students amongst them, which is 156 "student attendance units" to date. Attendance on Monday was 13 (including zero during 2nd period), yesterday I had 12, and today an uptick to 18. With 43 SAU, that's 28% overall attendance.

3) Today, I tried out a lesson I'm planning to use next semester based on Harry Potter. I'm not a big HP fan, but the kids here love it, and I find it mildly interesting if enormously derivative. After we watch the Sorting Hat scene from the first movie, we discuss what it is that makes the hat decide which Hogwarts house a young wizard goes into. The answer is something like "talents" or "character", maybe.

I hand out a worksheet to each group with a list of these character traits or talents, and a table with the four houses. Next, I show a video I found and downloaded with Jim Dale doing the first year Sorting Hat song. I added the lyrics using MovieMaker, which I am gradually doing to many of my videos. From this, they can begin to place the adjectives in the correct column for each house.

With copies of the fifth year sorting hat song posted in the far reaches of the classroom, we play a game called "Running Dictation". This is a good activity if you can keep it from becoming a cheat-fest or a spelling bee. Each team has a recorder who sits at their table. The other team members go to the posted document one at a time to memorize a part of the text, then return and dictate it to the recorder. They take turns memorizing and dictating until the entire piece is "downloaded".

Once they have the whole Sorting Hat poem in front of them, they can complete the chart-filling activity. This all went really well, as I expected. If time permitted, we watched some deleted scenes from the movies. To finish off the class, I showed them this video, after reviewing "parody", a term we learned during the Movies unit last semester:

4) My school announced plans on Monday to build a gymnasium, as part of its Innovation 2010 theme. Now, ground area is a bit limited so, as I understand it, the gym will be built above the school gate--that is to say, cars and pedestrians will actually pass under the new building, which will be on stilts to conserve space. Even though PE classes are already a bit cramped (the soccer field is about 50 yds X 70 yds), I would think the PE folks will jump at getting a dedicated indoor space instead of shoving chairs out of the way in the assembly hall when the weather is bad.

5) Like it is now (the forecast predicts a ten-day high of 30 and a high low of 13 F). Which explains why I am sipping a kalhua and coffee with a touch--or two--of Chivas Regal and getting ready to bundle up in bed. Ondol, do your thing!

Monday, January 4, 2010

Record Snowfall, View from Yeouido

Today was the first working day of 2010, so I dragged my butt out of bed, through the shower, into my clothes, etc, etc, and looked outside at 7 AM from my third floor window, only to see a good six inches of snow on the ground, with more of it falling fast.

The snow began at 1 AM, the papers say, and it was still snowing heavily when I left school at 1 PM, though it tapered off by mid-afternoon. Here in Gangseo-gu, I give it a good 12 inches, though the official record books will say 25.7 cm (10").

Still, that's enough to set a new record for Seoul snowfall--though record keeping only goes back to 1937. The previous high was 25.6 cm on Jan. 28 1969.

I grabbed my camera and made my way to one of my favorite spots in the city--Yeouido Park. Good choice, as it turns out; here are a few photos:

Above is a sign identifying the cycling path versus walking trail (didn't see a single biker, and precious few walkers, for that matter); at top are hints of one of the new curbs they put in during renovations I wrote about on my last visit--click here (I'll update that video with some of these pics eventually). Below is a pair of park benches almost shivering in the cold, and at bottom is Sejong Daewang, Great King Sejong of the Joseon dynasty, Korea's most revered leader, stoic and scholarly despite the conditions.

Finally, a pair of shots that illustrate the serene beauty of this park, even though it is located smack in the middle of Seoul's hectic Central Business District:

I am wondering about something, though: in all my wanderings through the snow--and this is our third treatment so far this winter--I have yet to see a single snowman!

Saturday, January 2, 2010

2010: Off and Running

... or drinking, anyway.

I'm afraid I rather overdid it on New Year's Eve. I met up with Karen at 3 Alley in Itaewon for dinner, planning to meet Andy&Co later somewhere for something. I had the grilled salmon with seafood risotto, and it was outstanding.

The clock started ticking down and the alcohol started flowing. This was exacerbated (the alcohol not the clock) by a pal named Jim, an engineer who works on turbines in the south and gets up to Seoul sometimes. He started breaking out the sambuca shots (which he knows I can't resist, and which Karen likes okay, too) and I practically couldn't manage when it was time to count down. That's Jim on the left below, and those are infamous sambuca shots:

After we welcomed in the New Year, I was set to join another group of friends, once they finally told me where to go! Bongcheon, Time Hof. A little hole-in-the-wall Korean place, but packed and hoppin' on New Year's Eve, apparently.

Sadly, once I made my way to the subway platform, I couldn't remember exactly the route I needed to take--sambuca will do that to you. Especially if you have about thirty-eight of them.

Looking back, I think I was lucky to make it home. I can't imagine the trouble I might have gotten into had I actually made it to Bongcheon!