Wednesday, March 31, 2010

An Assessment, Part 1

Well, here we are, a solid month into my fourth semester teaching English to high school students in Seoul, South Korea. I am tempted to say, "What a long, strange trip it's been" ... but it hasn't, really.

For all the business of being in a different country, a foreign culture, eating strange food, etc., I just haven't had that much difficulty in adapting. Of course, being set in my ways after 20-odd years of living in the same ZIP code in semi-rural Georgia, that was my biggest fear. Being away from the countryside, the scenic stretches of trees and green grass, and prowling a concrete jungle crowded with foreigners, was my second biggest fear.

But the fact is that Seoul is a perfectly modern city with an excellent infrastructure, public transportation that's hard to beat, a plethora of great areas to socialize with your friends, awareness of green space, loads of things to do on a weekend ... in short, a quality of life (at least for the middle class) that rivals any society I know of. It is safe, orderly, and fun.

Have there been difficulties? Of course. Mainly I am frustrated by my lack of Korean language, but at this point that's largely my own fault--I could speak much better than I do, had I really buckled down to it. Hangeul was simple enough to pick up, but it's no panacea--ask three people how to say something, you'll get three different answers.

One of my earliest encounters with this was "I'm hungry." Young Mr Lee: pae ga go peyo; Mr Hwang: pae go peyo; my cellphone dictionary: pae go pun. You see there, the extra syllable, the different ending? Yeah, that kind of thing constantly hampers my attempts at Korean.

Every time I order the bulgogi dolsot bap in the E-Mart food court, the order lady has no idea what I'm saying. What you do is, you look at this glass case that has models of the food offerings from the different stalls in the food court, and tell this central cashier what you want, by its number. I say, sa ship chil, literally, 4-10-7, aka 47. I know I'm saying it correctly, but they always look at me like I've asked for Green Martian Casserole.

Lately, I've been following that up with bulgogi dolsot, chuseyo, and it seems to work a little better. Don't know why; but language is one of the biggest difficulties, as I was saying.

Still, it's obvious I can get myself well-fed and liquored up, and make my way back home with the limited command I have, or else I wouldn't still be here.

And the food--this too was something I worried about back in July and August of 2008, as I made my plans, because eating well is important to me. Turns out, there's very little in the Korean cookbook that I dislike, and a great deal that I adore. But before you talk about the food itself, there is the manner of its presentation.

Many Korean restaurants have kitchens populated mainly by what we'd call back home "prep cooks" who chop and dice and portion--in other words, prepare the food for cooking. This raw, prepared food is then brought to your table, and you (or sometimes a server/chef) cook it yourself on a grill or hot plate right there at your table.

Your meal will always come with panchan, side dishes inevitably including kimchi, a spiced up green like spinach or mugwort, maybe some bean sprouts, or pickled quails eggs, egg custard, baby blue crabs, tofu, fried tofu, zuchini slices, and on and on.

A lot of Korean food is spicy, most commonly with a red pepper paste called gochu jang, and it usually contains some meat--pork predominates, or maybe chicken. Beef is expensive, and is usually sliced paper-thin. Even a medium steak is rare here.

If you have a sensitive stomach or are vegetarian, I think life here would be challenging--though it could be done. But growing up in Thailand and Zim, I have a cast-iron tum, myself.

Fish is very popular, as you might expect, Korea being surrounded on three sides by the ocean, but it is almost never served filleted, and removing bones with chopsticks is fiddly and time-consuming. Koreans love squid and octopus and all manner of sea creatures--mostly boiled, so it's too much like eating a rubber band to suit me. They also have something called odeng, which rival blogger Andy describes as "fish SPAM", seasoned, mechanically-separated fish flesh, pressed and desiccated. It's not my favorite. That's okay though, there's still plenty to eat.

Next time: Part 2

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

ROKS Cheonan Summary

A South Korean naval vessel cruising the Yellow Sea near the NLL (Northern Limit Line), the sea boundary with North Korea, exploded and sank under mysterious circumstances last Friday night around 9:30, taking 46 crewmen with it.

But for the rest of the ROK, life goes on. The next day was the KBO's opening day, and all games proceeded as normal, without even, near as I could tell, a moment of silence or remembrance of any kind for the missing sailors. (Though perhaps the charye table I photographed was for them.)

In part, Southerners' equanimity may be due to the fact that the cause of the blast which sunk the ship is unknown, and according to a Dong-A Ilbo story could forever remain a mystery. But it is also because this kind of thing is old hat to them. Even if it turns out DPRK military was somehow involved, very little will happen as a result.

Right now, speculation tying the North to the sinking centers mainly on two possibilities: left-over mines in the area from the 1950-1953 action; or "two-manned torpedoes":
North Korea has two-manned torpedoes, citing "former North Korean navy men who defected" to the South.
The two-manned submarines are fitted with two torpedoes or a mine and move underwater at a pace slower than two kilometers per hour to avoid detection.

Still, while NK is quite often sneaky and underhanded, their aggression up near the NLL and Baeknyeong Island has usually been quite open--why, as recently as January, one of their ships spent the better part of the day firing rounds into the empty ocean. More serious skirmishes, even deadly ones, occured in the area in 2009, 2002 and 1999.

The ROKS Cheonan, commissioned in 1989, was a Pohang-class corvette cruiser with a crew of 104, a maximum speed of 32 knots, combined diesel or gas propulsion, and a displacement of 1200 tonnes. It spent most of its time patrolling the waters of the Yellow Sea, or the West Sea as it is called here, and was considerably off its usual course when the blast occured. This may be because it was trying to avoid high waves and rough waters that evening.

Of course, March and April marks the Foal Eagle/Key Resolve joint training excercise, so 22 vessels were speedily on hand to assist in the rescue and salvage efforts. Alas, no survivors beyond the 58 crew rescued at the time of sinking have been found. A diver was killed earlier today during rescue attempts, as well.

Graphic from Korea Times,

Monday, March 29, 2010

Street Scenes VII

The Deungchon-ro pedestrian crosswalk ...

... disappeared over the weekend. It was replaced by a regular zebra crossing and a stop light, which probably pleased vistors to the Deungchon shi-jang but irritated drivers:

I happened to be leaving the market today around lunchtime when I heard the drums playing and people wearing sashes milling about that means there is some kind of ceremony.

Turns out it was a ceremony opening the new crosswalk:

There was a series of brief speeches, sans ribbon-cutting per se, then the band led the assembled dignitaries, soldiers, police offficers and hangers on across the road ...

... where this was waiting for them:

Meorigogi, yummy!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Opening Day 2010

If last Saturday marked the "official" beginning of spring, what with the period of day and night being of equal length, and so on and so forth, then yesterday was the *real* first day of spring, as the baseball season got underway all across the peninsula.

You may not know it, though, judging from the weather. I am told the late cold snap is called ggot sem chui, an idiom something like "winter is jealous".

And Yours Truly was there, along with the usual suspects, Nick, Greg, Andy and Eric (later joined by Jeremy and Jisun):

And 93,493 other people, as all four opening day stadia in the KBO were sell-outs.

Just like last year's opening day, this one featured our Doosan Bears hosting the KIA Tigers from Gwangju. The Tigers are reigning champs, as you may recall from my post about Game 7 of the Series.

Here is a shot of the atmosphere outside the stadium--some ajumma hawking their kimbap, boiled eggs, beer and water:

And inside--someone has set up some kind of jesa or charye table, a traditional ritual memorializing ancestors; a couple of guys smoking directly underneath a No Smoking sign, with stadium officials a few yards away:

On to the game: Both teams' starting pitchers were foreigners (Lopez for the Tigers, Jimenez for the Bears) as were six of the eight starters across the league today. Jimenez had a better day of it on this particular occasion, helped tremedously by a big third inning from his batters. Kim Hyun-soo went 4-for-4 with two runs and got things going when the Bears scored six runs off three homers in third. In my video below, I managed to capture one of the home runs in the middle of the extraneous footage I got:

Baseball season, and thus Spring, is now really, really here.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Shampoo's Friend

Wow! It's hard to believe that tomorrow ends the fourth week of the new semester. And I'm pleased that it's off to a really great start. Once again, all my co-teachers are professional and engaged, and that makes a big difference!

I mentioned the department store lesson earlier, it's one I've used before, and which I "borrowed" and modified from Grammarman Comic. In addition to the Shopping with Mr Bean video, with the attendant worksheet, we watch a scene from "Love, Actually" between Alan Rickman and Rowan Atkinson, and finish up with the Mr Bean Makes a Sandwich video.

To build some vocabulary, the starter is to list a few items that can be found in various departments of an Allders (British dept. store) or E-Mart, let's say. That's where the photos I took at E-Mart come in. The reason I mention this is because of a couple of humorous moments during this activity.

One boy listed under Electronics: ODO. That's audio, of course, but I admire thinking outside the box.

Another group was unsure how to spell a word (not that spelling counts--for me! But for them, the perfection syndrome requires it) in their toiletries list, which was approximately, "lentz". I pointed at my glasses: "Lens?" No. They pointed at their hair: "Lentz!" Dunno how it got by me, knowing full well about the R/L confusion (not Right/Left, no), but I got a stellar clue from one of them: "Shampoo's friend!"

That would be "rinse". Brilliant!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Politics is Inevitable IV

Watching American politics from the outside, so to speak, has been a very interesting process for me. I don't devote much space to American politics on the blog, but I do keep up with things "back home". After being pleased with the turn of events in the Presidential election, I have spent much of the last year being mildly disappointed with the tepid attempts at promised change by the new Administration. And repulsed by the behavior of some of its foes on the Hill and in the media.

The Dems have allowed the opposition to own the airwaves--at least the airwaves that make it this far--and have not been effective in responding to their complaints, both legitimate ones, and the false ones like socialism, death panels, totalitarianism, and apologizing to the jihadists. Further, when they have responded, too often it has been poorly, worsening the debate by sinking to the gutter level of Rush Limbaugh, Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck. WH spokesman Robert Gibbs should be looking for a new job.

Last year, a solid majority of Americans approved of HCR, but that majority has slowly eroded as the right-wing conspiracy got its (largely fallacious) message out with virtual impunity, until on the eve of the vote only about 45% approved. And this is when the pro-HCR people run the WH and both houses of Congress!

While I admire Obama's ability to stay on message with the bipartisanship stuff, that message is wearing a little thin, when you consider the response: Charles Grassley once said that even if the health care bill had in it everything he wanted, he still wouldn't vote for it. They weakened the legislation to suit Republicans who were never going to approve it anyway.

Today I am able to breathe a little sigh of relief that the Democrats did what they think is right--health care reform has been part of the liberal agenda, after all, since the Truman era. And part of the conservative agenda as far back as Teddy Roosevelt.

And I am not so much happy about the bill itself, which I think is flawed, as about the fact that they managed to accomplish it. It has been a goal of conservatives and Republicans for decades to show that government doesn't work, that it is part of the problem, not part of the solution. To some extent, the incompetence of the GW Bush administration was intentional--make sure government doesn't work, so you can say, "See? Government doesn't work!" Refuse to fund regulatory bodies, then wait for bad stuff to happen--"Told ya! Regulation doesn't help, let's just deregulate!"

The GOP was counting on gridlock, its ability to filibuster, delay and derail the Dem agenda, as its primary platform to launch a return to power in the 2010 midterms. Now they return to the status of the Party of No, who stood up for the insurance industry during the week when WellPoint raised its rates by 39% and the Dems provided some measure of relief for many Americans.

A few days ago (before the House vote), I was chatting with an acquaintance, a fellow English teacher known for his distinctive headwear, when the topic of health care reform came up. It was his opinion that it is not the government's job to provide for the well-being of its citizens. I don't recall his exact words, but they were to that effect.

I asked if he remembered the DOI or the Preamble to the Constitution--you know, that bit about "provide for the common defence, promote the general welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty ..."? That Preamble states the purpose of our government, and the rest of the Constitution describes the ways and means of going about it. Article I defines the role of legislative branch. And the HCR bill seems reasonably part of its role in promoting the general welfare of the people.

Shortly after this, he pointed out that Al Gore (?) was a "nigger-lover", and during the ensuing discussion of the plight of the black man in America, he suggested that if I love them so much, why not marry a "nigger woman".

I allowed as how that was vaguely possible, but I was definitely up for finding another place to sit at the bar. He apologized and coaxed me back into my seat--I'm always willing to give a drunk guy a second chance after he's gone too far. Been there myself, and all that.

But it got me thinking. All these people flecking at the corner of their mouths with rage during "Town Halls" and "Tea Party protests"--they're mostly not drunk. What is motivating this anger?

A lot of them seem to be my age and older, and they've seen a lot of change in America during their lifetimes. Crazy people fly planes into buildings. One movie ticket costs more than the whole entire date used to--and the movie sucks, and gives you a headache. Most everyone has a flip-open Communicator in his hip, just like in "Star Trek", only they call it a cell phone. A black man is President--even if you're not a racist, surely there's a moment when you wonder if they're gonna dig up the Rose Garden and put in a watermelon patch ... or something.

People don't like change, as a rule, I guess. I'm often unnerved by change myself, yet I picked up and moved halfway around the planet. And believe me when I say change can be good. Just as assuredly, it can also be bad.

But the fact is that Obama ran on a platform of change, including health care reform, and was duly and properly elected our President. As the neocons liked to say a few years ago, "Elections have consequences."

Still I ask, why do these "tea baggers" refuse to acknowledge the election results, and why are they, like my pal in the bar, so willing to call people names? And why has the Republican leadership married itself to them?

All I am saying is, "Give change a chance!" I can honestly say I gave GW Bush a chance, as did I think most Americans (even though more of us voted for the other guy--the nigger-lover). In fact, after September 11, 2001, Bush's popularity ratings soared into the 90% range.

Yet Obama could singlehandedly capture Osama bin Laden today, rip out his heart and feed it to the WH rottweilers, and a significant proportion of Americans, including every Republican member of Congress, would ask what took him so long. And complain that heart-ripping-out should not be covered under the new health care program.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

E-Mar-tuh Impor-tuh

I will be doing a lesson titled "Shopping with Mr Bean" so I went to E-Mart yesterday to get some photos of various departments (kitchenwares, bedding/linens, electronics, etc) for the vocab review/introduction.

While there, I snagged some cans of this special offer, imported German "wheat" beers for W1,650 per 500 cc.

The price is not quite as good as store prices for local rice beers like Cass and Hite, but is pretty exceptional for an import. For comparison, a 500 cc Korean beer is W2,500 in a restaurant, while imports start at W5,500 and go to W9,000. The 5,0 represents the alcohol content, actually 5.2%.

Still, the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and the taste of the beer is in the drinking: I have now had one of each, and they're all decent to good, with the Neptun winning my vote, but not by much.

I'm going to wed the beer to some chili for dinner tonight thanks to a Carroll Shelby's Chili Kit that my pal Jim in Itaewon picked up for me because he has on-base privileges. There's not a lot I miss from home, but generally speaking they are in the food arena. I love Korean food, but I miss: kosher dill pickles (sweet pickles are available here in profusion, but that's just not the same thing); a wide variety of reasonably priced cheeses (friends who came to dinner at 150 Boone were invariably presented with a cheese board appetizer); pastrami on rye; my own really good chili (I just can't find the chipoltles, some other peppers, and good chili beans); and grilling out on the back patio with my great view and a handful of friends.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Roboto Teacha, Help Please!

Classes using robots developed for educational purposes have proven to be effective in enhancing English classes, the Ministry of Knowledge Economy said Thursday.
Students of English classes using robots as teaching assistants showed better learning achievements in speaking, as well as greater confidence and motivation, it said, citing a survey carried out by the Korea Education and Research Information Service (KERIS).

This from today's Korea Times. Note that the comparison is incomplete--"better" than who? Students with no English instruction? Students with Korean English teachers? Foreign teachers?

As with almost every development in public education in Korea lately, the goal is to decrease the role of hagwons, the private academies that dot the Seoul citiscape like kimbap restaurants:
"Using teaching robots in classes is expected to raise the quality of public school education, thus leading to less dependence on the private education," said Kim Hong-joo, a ministry official.

However, according to this article, the robots will largely be deployed in provincial areas:
The government has expressed interest in robots so that more learning opportunities can be provided to students in rural areas. It said last year that it will strive to be one of the top three global leaders in this field by 2013.
“The machines spurred creativity and had a positive influence on the attitude of students,” a ministry official said, adding that teachers believed robots created equal opportunities for students during learning sessions.

Finally, here is a short news story on the robots; though it is in Korean, you can see what the robots look and sound like:

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Snow, Shoes

1) Almost unbelievably, it has snowed again in Seoul; I posted yesterday that Spring is scheduled to arrive this weekend, but try telling that to the sky, I guess. It started up in Gangseo-gu about five o'clock this evening, and has tapered off now after leaving a quarter-inch dusting and a slush on the roads and sidewalks.

2) Well, it isn't actually a shoe--or even a slipper:

... but the most ingeniously disguised pencil box I've ever seen. I saw this one today, and had to add it to the online collection. Click on "pencil boxes" in the label cloud at right to see more.

Meanwhile, one of my own school slippers has broken--a very nice pair of leather-upper Crocs--because one of the rivet-things that holds the strap on shattered when I banged against a desk. Very annoying.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

First Sign of Spring in Gangseo-gu

While the vernal equinox, this year on March 20, is the traditional symbol of the arrival of spring, here on the peninsula the Kaenari is the harbinger of warmer days and shorter nights to come.

There are only a few of them, but I spied them this morning on the way to school. I only had my cell cam, but here they are:

Kaenari 개나리 is also known as the sansuyu 산수유 and the Japanese cornel dogwood. It features prominently in a well-known Korean children's song, which Mr Hwang taught me last year. Today, he asked if I remembered it, and I do:
Na ri na ri kae na ri
Ip beh tta ta mul ko yo
Pyong ah ri tteh chong chong chong
Pom na tu ri kam ni ta.

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

There were also plentiful buds beginning to peek out, so in two weeks or so I shall post some shots of the whole hillside covered in yellow, where just last Wednesday was snow (or click here or scroll down).

You can use the "flowers" link in the label cloud to the right if you want to see photos of last years blossoms, or just return to this location periodically during the next two or three months as I upload this year's crop.

Soccer, Sangam, Sunday

I went to the first home game of FC Seoul on Sunday with my friend Karen.

Alas, her presence was the one bright spot on the day. While the weather had started out quite nice when I checked at 10 AM, by game time the temperature had dropped ten degrees or more and a light but persistent drizzle had begun.

Before all that, I did get a couple of shots of the pre-game festivities outside the stadium.

I did also sign the giant "Peace Ball" in a primo spot on the tip of the lion's tail:

Then there was the game, versus Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors, current league champs, in these hideous neon green uniforms. Play by both teams was kind of sloppy throughout. So the new coach, Nelo Vingada, failed to impress me, despite being 2 - 0 going in. And it was Jeonbuk that emerged with a solo goal, nicely placed from a solid cross in the 88th minute (Big Five, do I hear you saying?), but it was enough on this day.

As a result, FC Seoul and Jeonbuk trade places between first and third, with Seongnam between them. The stadium was relatively full, with an announced attendance of 38,000+. Usually, it's somewhere in the mid-twenties, but this was Opening Day, after all, and it was against the current title-holders. We ended up next to a young couple with their small child, who found me to be the most interesting thing in the stadium. At least judging by the fact that he watched me constantly.


Saturday, March 13, 2010

Playing ESL Clue

With my second grade classes (that's high school juniors) I did a lesson I picked up at the last SMOE foreign teachers' conference, which I blogged here. The lesson is sort of based on Clue, and actually went well. The target is using the future simple tense, as in
Are you planning to go shopping on Thurday?
No, I'm not planning to go shopping on Thursday.

I explained that I know they can say, "You--movie--Friday?" and I wanted them to work on making grammatical sentences, with the sentence template right up there on the board for them to use.

Students first make cards with activities for the different days of the week, keeping them a secret from the others at their table, for example:

When cut apart, these become their cards, like the suspect, weapon, and room cards you would have in Clue. You ask questions of the other players at your table, vis the target language, to try to guess their cards. When you are right, you take their card and keep going.

If you guess wrongly, your turn ends. Whoever has the most cards when time runs out wins. Each student is also given a clue sheet to record hits and misses.

It took about 20 minutes of warm-up, introduction, instruction and preparation, leaving 25 minutes or so to perform the activity, plenty of time. Students were generally good about asking the questions correctly, but often lax in answering with a full sentence.

This is the kind of activity that works well in my classes: practice the language by writing first; specific, limited vocabulary, speaking only a sentence or two at a time; and using English for some ulterior purpose--in this case, stealing their friends' cards to win the game.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Soccer Scene in Seoul

Things are starting to heat up in the soccer world, in Seoul and otherwise, with World Cup 2010 less than 100 days away, and the K League season just underway. FC Seoul will play its home opener on Sunday at 3:00, and I plan to be there. They sit atop the table after two games, alongside Incheon United, just ahead of Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors, who are the reigning champions. It is Jeonbuk they will host on Sunday, as well.

The stadia are completed, the first round dates set, and an air of cautious optimism permeates South Africa as it prepares to host the continent's first World Cup, according to this nice article by Dave Durbach carried in the Korea Times.

Meanwhile the Taeguk Warriors were in London for a warm-up against a well-respected team from Ivory Coast, the only country, as my pal Jeff likes to point out, named for two brands of soap. Korea won 2 - nil, breaking the ice only four minutes in with a volley just inside the area by Lee Dong-gook. The Reds defense neutralized Chelsea star Didier Dorgba, and though Park Ji-sung didn't score, he gave the African defense all they could handle.

Speaking of Ji-sung, he has been busy the last few days, as he played last night at Old Trafford when Man U trounced AC Milan 4 - 0 in the Champions League. Not only did he score a goal--frankly, finishing is not one of his great strengths--but he won high praise from Sir Alex, and some great press from the Daily Mail, which had two photos of him in their online story (one of which I have copied below):

The caption reads: "New era: United old boy Beckham (right) couldn't get the better of Park"
'Park was the key to our game,' [Sir Alex] Ferguson told MUTV. 'We can talk about Rooney – and he was great – but Park’s discipline, intelligence and sacrifice won us the match tactically. Pirlo is such an important player for them.'
Club captain Gary Neville, who never gave Ronaldinho an inch, agreed with his manager, adding: 'I don’t know if it was easy out there [against Ronaldinho], but you have to look at the work Ji-sung Park did, stopping the forwards getting the service.

Finally, Dong-A Ilbo has a brief summary of the national team roster as it nears its final form. I think they have more internationals now than ever before. They'll need them, as being in the same group with Argentina makes victories over Nigeria and Greece essential if they are to pass through.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Singing in the Snow

... well, not while actually in the snow, but during the time it was snowing last night, I went to a noraebang with a group of co-workers.

It began innocently enough as a meeting of the Research Committee. Mind you, the Research Committee doesn't do research, and it wasn't a meeting so much as an opportunity to eat and drink for free. Dinner was smoked duck at a restaurant near Balsan station, delicious:

When we left this place, there was already snow on the ground. We stopped in at a small bar for some beer, then made our way to a noraebang down the street:

Upon emerging from the singing room, it was time to go home. But the streets looked like this, so I took a taxi:

It was still snowing, or snowing again, this morning as I walked to school.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

A Sunday in Seoul

After reading fellow blogger Joy's post about the new exhibit at SOMA (Seoul Olympic Museum of Art), I decided to override my initial reaction to the place on my first visit there, which was so unexceptional that it merited but one line in my post about the overall park experience. This was partly due to the fact that a docent (or an art student paid minimum wage) followed me around the entire museum to insure that I didn't take any photographs, and partly due to the uninteresting exhibits.

However, the featured exhibit at the moment is "iRobot", a retrospective on the use of robots in art. As something of a robot buff, this was appealing to me. Based on her post, the photography policy had been relaxed, since she has a photo of practically every installation in the museum.

Well, hats off to you, Joy! You must be really, really sneaky! I got about three photos before a young girl stepped in to warn me off taking pictures. I saw the same thing happen to Koreans with their cameras as well.

The museum has four main exhibit halls, and about half of them were really good. The contributions by Paik Nam June, probably the inventor of "video art", the use of video and motion images within everyday forms. He is famous for making robots out of radio and TV sets, and the exhibit has two or three of these, which I didn't shoot (again, see Joy's blog). I did get the permanent outdoor installation of his, below:

Some of the exhibits had very little to do with robots or robotics, the toys are pretty much old hat, and I was hoping for more interactivity, but all that being said, it's a pretty good way for a robot buff to while away an hour on a chilly Sunday in March.

The museum was fairly busy, as was the Olympic Park "Peace Plaza", where families were out in force to thaw out after long winter and ride their bikes, fly their kites, and go for a spin in these rental bike-cart things:

On the way home, I go right by Samsung station, so I got out and went to COEX Mall for some Sbarro and a visit to Bandi and Luni's bookstore. It's called the "Lake Food Court" because it's got ponds and a beach-like motif, with fiberglass palm trees and sails or something on the ceiling.

A propos of nothing, here's the sign for a PC bang inside the COEX:

This is the "Millennium Plaza", essentially a smoking area on the concourse between the subway and the COEX:

Finally, here's a shot of me behind the World Peace Gate, bookend to my previous blog post about this location:

Reading List O' Mine

I know I just posted my latest reading list, but I finished the next list today while heading out to Olympic Park for the afternoon. Here's what I read:
  • Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris - Another humorous series of essays collected mainly from Esquire magazine and NPR's This American Life, many concerned with growing up in the Sedaris household or with living in France and trying to learn French. His take on learning and speaking (or not speaking) a foreign language rang true with me living overseas; it was also thought-provoking to me as a teacher of a second language.

  • The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death by Charlie Huston - This is a very different book than I usually read, but I was quite glad I gave it a chance--all based on the look of the cover. The story is about an elementary school teacher with a mysterious tragedy in the past (a couple of them, as it turns out) who has dropped out. He goes to work for a crime scene clean-up team and gets romantically involved with a girl whose father committed suicide--and involved in some nefarious business dealings. The noir storytelling is unique and really strong, the kind of thing you don't want to put down.
  • When My Name Was Keoko by Linda Sue Park - This is a Yearling book for young adults by an American writer with a Korean heritage. Her previous books are set in ancient Korea, but this one takes place during the Japanese colonial period and WWII. The POV alternates by chapter between Sun-hee, a young girl, and her older brother Tae-yul. As the war begins to go badly for the Japanese, deprivations in their village become greater, and the children learn their paternal uncle has been using his printing shop to publish newspapers and leaflets for the resistance. School stops being about education as the children fill sandbags, sharpen bamboo spears and prepare for invasion. Tae-yul joins the Imperial Japanese army in order to reap benefits for the rest of the family, calculating that Japan will lose the war before his training ends. Was he right? Read the book to find out. Really.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Week One Over

One week down, 19 to go!

Thursday night was a "meeting" for new teachers hosted by the faculty soccer club. I am neither a new teacher nor a soccer club member, but I got invited anyway. Mister Popularity, me.

First round was samgyupsal, grilled fatback pork--in the restaurant, mushrooms are the specialty so there are always three different kinds of them as well. Second round was at Adonis Bar across the street and that was followed by third round in the nearest noraebang. I got home around 12:15 and had two classes back-to-back on Friday morning.

I live a ten minute walk from the noraebang, so I had it easy to compared to some folks. This may partly explain why the subway system runs later on weeknights than on weekends: the "business meeting" is virtually a requirement in the culture here, especially if you are a junior employee. So it's alright if you're getting smashed for work purposes with your boss, but just don't try it on the weekends with your friends.

That's one theory. My other theory is that the taxi drivers' lobby is very strong over in Yeouido (the National Assembly) so they can catch all those tipsy fares--is it a coincidence that the base fare rate goes up late at night when the trains stop running? I, for one, doubt it.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Have Some Rice

1) Today was the first day of classes, and it went pretty well--the new crop seem responsive, and they enjoyed my intro lesson. Which admittedly is a killer, the one where I tell them I'm as smart as Einstein, as funny as Jim Carrey, as kind as Mother Teresa, etc. They then have to write and read aloud similes about themselves.

The second grade does a different lesson, since they had that one last year, based on an article about how knowing English increases your chances at love in Korea--I wrote about it here. But the interesting thing was that one of my classes has only 23 students. Usually there are 35 to 40 in a class. The co-teacher explained to me that this was a special section made up of very talented art students--a couple of composers, some actors, musicians and painters. Very cool.

2) Sometime after lunch, a dude came by with a plastic bag labeled 영어실--at first I thought some student had the nerve to get his lunch delivered, then I realized it said yeong-eo shil, English room. Inside was the following:

Now, what that is is a selection of 떡 ddeok, which are rice flour cakes, and a drink called 식혜 shik hye, a sweet rice concoction, which is quite tasty until you get to the little chunks of actual rice (or sometimes pine nuts) in the bottom.

When Koreans celebrate they like to share rice around; the ideal celebratory meal would consist of rice-flavored rice in rice sauce, with rice on the side. I'm sure this dates back to the time when rice, and food in general, was hard to come by. In fact, a common greeting among older people is 식사했어요 shiksahaeteoyo, meaning: Have you eaten yet?

Anyway, I wondered what was being celebrated, remembering I get an enzyme-laced health drink whenever a colleague buys a new car, and some ddeok when someone buys a house. Turns out, this was a gift from a teacher I don't even know on the occasion of his son's, who I don't even know, wedding. They have some delightful traditions here.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Get Your Hat On, It's Time for School

Today being the second of March, many millions of Korean schoolchildren returned to school for a new year--and their teachers along with them. At my school, we only had a brief teachers meeting at 8:30, followed by a not quite as brief opening assembly at 11:00. It was also the first time I got my schedule, the yearly calendar, and the new second grade textbook.

Tomorrow is the first day of classes, where I will meet the new "freshyear" boys, and continue on with the second year students who didn't make the math/science stream.

Photographs of Hats: I was in E-Mart yesterday and came across a bin full of ball caps with hashed up slogans on them. I whipped out my cell cam, so here you go:

Missing an "I"? Or some quotes around "could be"?

No idea what this even means.

I admit it, I'm kind of curious about how that hyphen got there.

I like the way they saved on the "T" by running Detroit together with Tiger, but why did they use the big R? I understand the D is somewhat more traditional.

So, something called beta-glucan has potential in treating some leukemias, but I'm not sure I believe that the folks who put in extra hyphens and leave out or misapprehend various other letters would know that.