Sunday, May 30, 2010

Makin' Makgeolli

About a week ago, on Buddha's Birthday, I went to a 막걸리 makgeolli making class that I read about on Jo-Anna's website. Makgeolli is a traditional Korean rice wine, flavorful and strong. I have sung its praises in this space before. Today we went back (actually, met up at a cute little traveller's cafe in Jonggak) to sample our rice wine and take it home.

To begin, we each had a bowl containing 600 g 고두밥 godubap, an undercooked, steamed rice and 120 g 누룩 nuruk, yeast.

To this was added in stages 450 ml "starter" or base liquor and 900 ml water.

We then mixed and mixed by hand, breaking down the chunks of nuruk (that's Jo-Anna on the end in the photo), and poured everything into the big jug to ferment.

It ferments at room temperature for about a week, stirring daily, until it separates and gas bubbles cease forming.

Finally, water down your finished makgeolli a little and sweeten it a bit. Bottoms up!

Saturday, May 29, 2010

U.S. Embassy Security Update

Just thought the folks at home might like to see this. Relax:
The U.S. Embassy Seoul transmits the following information through the Embassy's warden system as a public service to all U.S. citizens in the Republic of Korea. Please disseminate this message to U.S. citizens in your organizations or to other U.S. citizens you know.

The North Korean sinking of a South Korean Naval vessel on March 26, 2010, has raised concerns and inquiries regarding security for residents and visitors to Korea. The Embassy’s current assessment of the security environment for U.S. citizens in Korea is that recent events do not pose an imminent threat to the public safety of the American community at this time. However, we recommend that U.S. citizens review the information on Disaster Preparedness in the current Country Specific Information (CSI) for Korea.

U.S. citizens residing or travelling in Korea should continue to pay close attention to current events, and monitor the Embassy website,, for any changes in the security environment. The U.S. Embassy in Seoul provides citizen services to the public during regular business hours 9:00 to 11:30 am, and 1:30 to 3:30 pm Monday through Friday, with no services Wednesday afternoons.

In the event of an emergency situation or change in security situation, U.S. Embassy Seoul will immediately notify the American community in Korea through our warden email system. If you did not receive this message directly via the U.S. Embassy’s warden email system, we encourage you to subscribe to our warden messages concerning travel and security, as well as the monthly Embassy newsletter, simply by providing us your email address via the Consular Section's website at

For the latest security information, U.S. citizens traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department's Internet web site at, where the current Worldwide Caution, Travel Warnings, and Travel Alerts can be found. Up-to-date information on security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the United States and Canada or, for callers outside the United States and Canada, a regular toll line at 1-202-501-4444. These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays). U.S. citizens are also encouraged to read the Country Specific Information for Korea, available on the Embassy's website at, and also at

U.S. citizens living or traveling abroad are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department's travel registration web site at so that they can obtain updated information on travel and security. U.S. citizens without Internet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. By registering, U.S. citizens make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in case of emergency. For additional information, please refer to "A Safe Trip Abroad" found at

Bonus Photograph: Seen in E-Mart, Thousand Ireland salad dressing.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Annual Job Fair

The second annual Young-il English Job Fair is in the books, and it was one for the ages. Michael Jackson has good prospects for a contract teaching English at Happy Time Academy (don't worry, it's not that Michael Jackson); Fred Flintstone is at the top of the list as a marine scientist for Wellbeing Aqua-culture, the imaginary fisheries megacorp; Archie Bunker hopes Shinsegae will look past his laziness and offer him that accountant's job for which he feels so well-suited; and Mickey Dolenz, with his dual Physics and Engineering degree from MIT, will surely get a call from Hyundai Heavy Industry.

I stole this activity from our ESL friends at, and expanded it for a class of forty. The classroom becomes the main hall for the job fair, the desks rearranged as interview booths. Of course, even if you can't rearrange your classroom, making up some decent-looking signs, controlling access to the classroom, and emphasizing protocols of hand-shaking, proper greeting and dismissing, etc. can make this activity a student favorite.

The second graders did this last year, but they were quite enthusiastic about doing it again, and Mr Wright noted that his students have improved their speeking proficiency considerably since last year. So that's good to hear.

A few more photos:

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Late Spring Reading

The end of the month is nigh, which means it's about time for a new "What I'm Reading" post. By the by, Gentle Reader, these posts don't generate a lot of comments, so Ahem! I'd like to invite you to share your thoughts on a book you've also read. Or suggest similar titles, or just recommend a book you liked.

  • Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris - This is that rare book: an easy read that is laugh-out-loud funny, peopled with detailed characters, subtle plotting that catches you up without your realizing it, and a conversational style that belies its careful wordsmithing. It appears at first to be an office comedy of manners, set in a Chicago advertizing agency housed in a Magnificent Mile skyscraper, but is actually a serious exploration of the darker elements of the human condition. This book is the Catch-22 of cubicle-dwellers. Highly recommended.
  • Beastly by Alex Flinn - An updated telling of The Beauty and the Beast, told from the Beast's viewpoint--actually, Kyle Kingsbury, a vain, shallow NYC prep school teen who is cursed by a petulant witch to take a hideous form until he finds true love. While a few of the parallels seem a little forced, on the whole Flinn makes a good yarn out of it, and a quick read. If I ever do a book club for the boys at my high school, this would be a great book for them.
  • Dave Barry's Greatest Hits by Dave Barry - A collection of his humor columns published in 1988, this is Barry is top form, ruminating on being in the Christmas pageant as a child, sharing his rock-n-roll ode to Tupperware, exploring the efficacy of religious beliefs, and more. Reading his column was one of the best things about having a newspaper subscription back in the days before the internets.
  • Genghis: Birth of an Empire by Conn Iggulden - A ripping yarn the formative years of the Mongol leader, the first installment of a trilogy. It seems well-researched, and is a riveting read from page one. The young hero, known then as Temujin, experiences more hardship and brutality than seems possible, and it serves to make him stronger, while he tries to regain his status as a khan's son and ultimately to unite the Mongols from small warring tribes into a nation to stand against the Tartars. Highly recommended.
  • Deep Blue Night by Choe In-ho - The title story tells of two fallen Koreans in America--one a singer brought down by marijuana use, the other a writer--as they conclude a roadtrip around California, driving Highway 1 south along the Pacific coast. A Korean story outside Korea, yet the sense of place is as well-developed as the characters. The second story is a very slim piece (less than 2000 words), "The Poplar", which rises to a tall tale. The village blacksmith is a great highjumper, but he loses the spirit of it when his three chidren drown, the older two in turn attempting to rescue the younger. Later, he plants a poplar tree in his yard, promising to jump over it each day as it grows, until finally its top is lost in the clouds ...

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Playing Chicken

I just had a conversation with my Chicken Mania pal Pak Jung-mun about the global security and economic situation vis-a-vis Monday's announcement by the Korean government placing the blame in no uncertain terms on North Korea for the sinking of the ROKS Cheonan back in March.

He asked if I was worried. Since I am his senior, he couldn't ask if I was scared, or if I was planning to run home, but I assured him that I was concerned, but not overly concerned, about the situation.

He, likewise, was not afraid, but alas was not hopeful that the situation between the two ctates would change for the better anytime soon. I asked him if he knew the expression, "The straw that broke the camel's back." He did, but felt that this was not it.

Jong-il, in Pak's estimation, is not rational, and while he won't live much longer, he feels Jong-un won't be an improvement. If, indeed, the Chinese (and the DPRK generals) allow him to take control. My friend Hwang made much the same point earlier in the week.

So, are Koreans worried about all-out war? It seems not. While the DPRK has numerical superiority, Pak (and most people) thinks the US would swoop in with crushing airpower from Osan and beyond. He also showed me today's Chosun Ilbo front page, which has a surveillance photo of the north side of the MDL (military demarkation line). In it, two gun-holes that are usually described as "closed" are now "open". Personally, I imagine they're there to try to hit the giant propaganda loudspeakers the south is putting up along the DMZ.

Besides, it's not really the North Korea style to stand up and fight out in the open. No, they generally do something underhanded and sneaky, like the Cheonan attack, then lie about it. One of these days, though, they're going to go too far, pick a bad day or something, and it will be the straw that breaks the camel's back.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Looking for the Union Label

Politics in the good ol' USA seems to have turned batshit crazy in the last year or few, but I'm not sure that even at that, we have anything on South Korean politics. Local elections for mayors, representatives of borough, city and province councils nationwide will take place on Wed., June 2--which is a holiday for just this purpose--and things are starting to heat up.

I'll post later on about the typical forms of vote-canvassing, but for today, a couple of news stories caught my eye. First, though, I recall that a few weeks ago when Hwang and I arrived at school, there was an ajumma outside the gate with a sign that looked like a list of names. She was being loudly harangued by one of the older teachers. Turns out, he was the "shop steward" and she had a list of Young-il teachers who are members of the KTU (Korea Teachers and Education Workers Union).

I really didn't see what the fuss was about, since many of the union members, including my friend, have a little sign on their cubicle announcing as much. So then I see in today's paper where "education authorities" are moving to fire 134 KTU teachers for paying membership dues to a specific political party. According to the Korea Times report:
The Ministry of Education, Science and Technology announced Sunday it was moving to sack 134 public school teachers, who reportedly signed up for the membership of the minor opposition Democratic Labor Party, and suspend four others.
"Teachers are bound to maintain their political neutrality. Paying membership fees to support a certain political party is illegal," the ministry said.

KTU leader Chung Jin-hwo called the episode a "Bloody Sunday" and pointed out that "being interested in political issues should not be grounds for dismissal." Assuming the statement was translated accurately, Chung is being a bit disingenuous: firstly, it wasn't "interest", but "action" that got them in trouble; and secondly, maybe it shouldn't be grounds for dismissal, but if you signed a contract that says it is, and if that contract is a legal one, then it is.

Meanwhile, the conservative Grand National Party, currently in power, isn't entirely clean in this affair, as one of their Reps., Cho Jeon-hyeok, published the names of KTU members on his website, citing the right of parents to know their children's teachers' political affiliations. The court ruled that teacher privacy outweighed this "right" and ordered the list taken down. He finally did so after four days and 120 million won in fines paid to the union. Curiously, the law involved here was one written by the GNP.

This Cho is a piece of work. He claims that students of progressive teachers do worse on national exams than other students, without providing any evidence, and that progressive, or anti-capitalist, teachers will brainwash students "the wrong way"--inferring that there is a right way to brainwash them. Practically the first thing he did once elected was charge election funding irregularities in the SMOE superintendent's race in 2008. Okay, I'll give him that one ... In 2009, he introduced a bill preventing anyone but teachers, students and schoolworkers from entering school campuses without permission. Notice any group conspicuously absent from the list? Yes, parents.

Now, as a long-time private school teacher, I can attest that meddlesome, super-demanding parents are the bane of our existence (along with grading exams), but they nonetheless deserve reasonable access to their child's campus.

Sunday, May 23, 2010


With my friend The Stumbler, I went to a new restaurant near Balsan Stn on Line 5 (walking distance--barely), called 육칠팔 yuk chil pal, Six seven eight.

We were there for the galbi-jjim, which is a slow-cooked, spicy dish with bone-in beef ribs and vegetables. We got the medium spicy but found it tame. Next time, I'll definitely go for the full-on spicy.

The stone pot is kept warm at the table via sterno; the contents slowly disappear until there's nothing left but some sauce. At this restaurant, they took the pot back into the kitchen to prepare bokumbap--fried rice--in the pot scrapings.

This was my first encounter with galbi-jjim, but it won't be my last--it is very tasty and filling, if rather pricy, at 50,000 W for two large servings (800 grams). The restaurant is big, shiny and clean, in a new building. The Stumbler knew some of the backstory of the place, including it being part-owned by 강호동, a popular celebrity and TV presenter.

That is an interesting sidelight, but it isn't needed to make the food taste better--it was pretty damn good no matter who owns it.

Buddha's Birthday

This Friday was Buddha's Birthday, which as a student pointed out to me is just like Christmas.

I began the day with a traditional rice wine making class (more about that when our beverage has matured) and then made my way to the city center where there were various goings-on.

First, I hit the Cheonggyechun, where the lantern festival was focused mainly on the themes from the life of the Buddha:

Later on, I walked over to Seoul Plaza in front of City Hall where there were free performances beginning at 7:30. First up was a musical group called 가야금 연주단 '여울' Gayageum Quartet 'Yeoul'. The gaygeum is a traditional 12-string instrument like a zither. Yeoul plays modern music on this ancient instrument, for a unique sound. Their set included "Fly Me to the Moon" and "Stairway to Heaven".

The next performance was a presentation of Nolboo and Heungboo by a theatre troupe called 마당노리 Madangnori. Before they got down to the story, there was a big musical spectacle with acrobatics, plate-spinning and the like:

Free performances continue through next Sunday, May 30.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Aesop's Fables

I have been working on this lesson plan for two weeks, culminating in small group "role-plays" of selected fables of Aesop. Each presentation should take under two minutes.

The main objectives were two: first, to simplify a story, choose what's important, cut it down to its bare minimum; second, to stand in front of the class and speak with confidence.

The results were as you might expect--some groups barely muddled through, some more groups memorized their parts and performed energetically; most groups understood their story well, but didn't communicate it all that effectively. Still, by and large, they accomplished the objectives.

Most of my first grade (high school sophomores) classes have 40 students, so I selected 10 stories with four characters, including narrator, from this website: Mostly, the stories are translated by Townsend, so considerable work was needed to simplify them before giving them to the students to work on.

In week one, they read and dissected the story, determined who would play the roles, and worked on their script. In week two, they prepared their props, masks, etc., polished the script, and performed.

One problem I encountered was materials--you can make almost any kind of mask from a paper plate and a little construction paper; but paper plates are rare here, and very expensive. I remember getting a 250-ct pack in Dollar General for under a dollar, back home. Also, construction paper. I'm sure there are "Teacher" stores in Seoul, but no one at school could direct me to one.

So, once a student made a pleasing or successful mask or prop, I took command of it, and recycled it in the remaining classes.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Special Holiday

I found out last week that we would have no school today, as it was a "Special Holiday" called by the principal. In reality, what happened is that Saturday was (school) Founder's Day, and taking a half-day vacation wasn't suitably festive, so he decreed it moved to today. Apparently, school principals have about four such days at their discretion, but this is the first one our leader has ever used. Couldn't say what's up with that.

So, what did I do on my Special Holiday? Washed a load of clothes, got a haircut, did a bit of shopping. Nothing special, then.

School will also be closed on Friday, as it is Buddha's Birthday--same as Christmas, one of my students explained to me.

Saturday, I went to Mokdong to watch the Heroes--whose fortunes have been on the upswing of late--lose to the Samsung Lions 0 -5, after beating them 18 - 5 on Friday. Still, the Heroes won the series by taking Sunday's game 9 - 8. They don't play at home again until the 28th through 30th vs. LG. But I'll be ready, as I found a Heroes cap (only one left) in the cap bin at E-Mart for 18000 W. That's half the price they want in the stadium.

Finally, I watched Korea face off with Ecuador last night from my chicken hof. True, the game was live just a few miles away across the river, but I was all stadiumed out. As expected, the Reds won 2 - 0, in the second half; Ecuador didn't make the final round in South Africa starting in about three weeks--what did they expect?

Friday, May 14, 2010

Sports Day 2010

As this post's title might suggest, today was Sports Day at Young-il go. I'll limit myself to three photos from each category. (Remember to just click on a picture if you want to see the full size version.)

Basketball: Only the third grade (HS seniors to you and me) has a basketball tourney on Sports Day, dunno why. So it is kind of an insular affair--but everybody seems to love the new rubberized court surface:

Soccer: While the third year is playing basketball, fisrt and second play soccer. This is followed by a student vs faculty game, which was a hard-fought 2 - 2 tie.

Relay Race: On the dirt of the playground, in tennis shoes, wipeouts are pretty common.

The Kids: A few general shots of the for a feel of the atmosphere and a look at some of the faces of Young-il Sports Day.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Korea at the World's Fair

An article in yesterday's Korea Times reminded me that the 2010 Shanghai World's Fair has been open for nearly two weeks now. But you don't need to get in a panic--the closing date is October 31. Modern world's fairs or International Expos always run six months, and must take place inside one calendar year.

The last fair was in Zaragoza, Spain in 2008, and the next will be held right here in Korea--Yeosu--in 2012. These are both "recognised" fairs, smaller in scale, and lasting only three months. Yeosu, 여수시, 麗水市, literally "peaceful water city", is the largest city in Jeollanam-do at the center of Korea's south coast. The theme of Yeosu 2012 will be: "The Living Ocean and Coast: Diversity of Resources and Sustainable Activities". Frankly, I think Okinawa 1975 said it better: "The Sea We Would Like to See".

But getting back to Shanghai 2010, it is expected to shatter almost every world's fair record. Size: 1300-acre site straddling the Huangpu River; attendance: 70-100 million people projected (for comparison, all Disney parks combined draw about 60 million in a six month span); participation: 200 countries will be represented. The theme is "Better City, Better Life".

Korea looks to have a really cool pavilion; you can learn about it here (includes a nice video): http:// /en/kopavilion/ kor_tour.jsp. The pavilion is a multidimensional cube with 3-D Hangeul characters. The mascot is "Dauri", which means "everyone living in harmony."

But none of this is the concern of the Korea Times article I mentioned at top, which has the following headline: 1900 Korean pavilion in Paris Expo disclosed. Vicente Gonzales Loscertales, head of the BIE (a Paris-based body that sanctions world fair events), donated several rare documents relating to the fin de siecle Universal Exposition. Korea put in its first fair appearance at the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago, famous among other things for the first Ferris Wheel.

Le Petit Journal, a French daily, covered the Korean Pavilion at the 1900 Paris Expo:
"The charm of this wooden building, colored in primary colors and covered with a roof of Far East beauty, attracts the public gaze," the newspaper said.[...] "The pavilion impresses visitors portraying Korean resources and industry as it displays collections of the king and artifacts brought by French who lived in Korea."

Sunday, May 9, 2010

MaeHwa Park in Bloom

This is the small park next to my building; I visit frequently for some fresh air and sunshine during the appropriate times of year. Spring is, of course, the most colorful time, and right now the azaleas are in bloom:

In addition to azaleas and some Chinese apricots (which is what maehwa means), there are stands of bamboo, and a lone peony shrub:

I have written about this little patch of green before (just click on Maehwa Park in the label cloud at right); you cannot travel more than a few blocks in Seoul's residential areas without stumbling across one of these postage stamp parks.