Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Education News

1) Some misguided government official in China has added the Korean-made TOSEL English proficiency test to the list of state-certified tests, according to the Korea Times, though they didn't put it quite that way.

TOSEL is apparently short for "Test of the Skills in the English Language" and you can see what the problem is right there. Even worse, as I have mentioned before, Korea is planning to replace TOEFL and TOEIC, administered by the US-based ETS beginning in 2012, with another Korean-made evaluation. This is akin to putting Barney Fife in charge of selecting police officer candidates, or making Homer Simpson safety officer of a nuclear power plant.

2) Korea's largest teachers' union has "turned its back" on the Lee administration's most heavily hyped education reforms following the recent election of the union's new leadership. Those goals are teacher evaluations and the new application system for school headmasters, according to a story in Korea Herald.

This is a replay of a nation-wide discussion we've been having in the US for twenty years or more over how to identify and encourage good teaching. The latest salvo was the Bush administration's Every No Child Left Behind, in which standardized testing was the sole identifier, and poor-performing schools were excluded from a Federal funding pot.

Still, the situation in the two countries is different--I think the last thing Korea needs is another layer of competition in the school system. And it sure doesn't need more standardized testing, not in high school, anyway.

3) Dong-A Ilbo has a follow-up on a story I wrote about here, involving teachers being sacked for joining a political party:
“Based on prosecutors’ notice of law violation and indictment documents, we examined the case to verify the truth, and found that the teachers’ action was a violation of the law banning political campaigns by civil servants,” the [Gyeonggi-do education] office said.
On the severity of the penalty, however, it said, “A heavy penalty to all of the teachers based solely on the ministry’s stance could provide leeway for the superintendant to abuse his rights to manage personnel affairs.”
“Because of the lack of evidence that the teachers actively participated in political activities, the demand for a lighter penalty is legitimate,” the office said. “Meting out heavy punishment across the board could cause unnecessary confrontation, dispute and confusion to our educational community and society.”

Sounds like level heads will prevail. Until one reads on to discover the national Education office is looking to sue the Gyeonggi ediucation minister for dereliction of duty to force him to fire the teachers.

4) Turns out I will meet only one class tomorrow, first period, and won't teach again until next Thursday. Of course, I still have to show up every day and twiddle my thumbs for a few hours.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Latest From North of the Border

It's official. These are desperate times in North Korea.

Despite their success at building about five nuclear bombs, they still haven't managed to make rockets capable of delivering them anywhere outside their own backyard.

Even though they qualified for the World Cup for the first time since 1966 (when they stunned Italy 1 - 0 in the round of 16), DPRK was joined by only Cameroon in being ousted from this edition by losing every game in group play. In their defense, I should point out that Group G was the 2010 Group of Death.

Although the military managed to torpedo the ROKS Cheonan while it was on regular patrol, it didn't disrupt anyone's resolve, or even cause a hiccup in the Foal Eagle/Key Resolve joint training exercise that was going on at the time.

Captain Kim, or Jong-un, Dear Leader Kim Jong-il's third son and heir to the stinkweed throne, has been paraded about lately, but doesn't seem to inspire much confidence or adulation so far.

Likewise, the execution by firing squad of Pak Nam-gi, North Korea's Finance Minister (well, director of the Planning and Finance Department of North Korean Workers' Party), for his being a "bourgeois infiltrator" who deliberately ruined the NK economy, has failed to inspire confidence in the other leaders to run the economy.

In truth, all these moves were designed to distract the populace from the state of the economy and its inability to provide said populace with the basic necessities. This report from Daily NK paints a picture of the regime's failures from an unnamed source (of course) inside:
“In the second meeting of the 12th Supreme People’s Assembly on April 9th, a delegate from Hamju in South Hamkyung Province reported that on each cheongbo (9,917m²) paddy they had produced 11 tons of rice, and in similar size fields they had produced 15 tons of grain. However, people said that what he said was all crap.”
Then, he added, “In the same meeting, there was a resolution adopted whereby the Sungkang Steel Mill would guarantee iron for both the construction of 100,000 households in Pyongyang and the Heecheon Power Plant. People reacted to that sarcastically, asking, ‘How can they guarantee those materials when they even import chopsticks from China?’”
“When cadres applauded a report by the Director of the Ministry of Electric Power Industry that power production in 2009 had reached 154% of the plan, people looked down on it too, saying, ‘Puppets! How can they applaud when they have no electricity in their houses?!’”
“Electricity was provided to residential areas of Pyongyang for around two hours a day in May this year and for around five hours in April..."

Unhappiest of all was the blow on November 30 last year, when the NK won was devalued or redenominated at a rate of 100 to 1, in an apparent attempt to de-fang the nascent free market economy. The price of rice, or 미 mi, was set to 26 new won per kilo, but skyrocketed to 1500 won by early March. Shades of Zimbabwe.

Since March, though, 미 has stabilized, but the damage may be done. Citizens already barely scraping by saw most of their wealth vanish, and suddenly blaming the Party man who had been in charge of economic policy for about twenty years (Pak Nam-gi) as an infiltrator didn't really make sense.

Also not making sense were initial claims by some in the military taking responsibility for the Cheonan incident, only to be walked back starting in April by stories blaming "South Chosun" and Lee Myung-bak for the episode.

At the present, South Korea's petition to the UN Security Council languishes basically due to China's unwillingness to confront the evidence by the multinational investigation that placed the blame for the deaths of the 46 sailors killed squarely on the shoulders of NK aggression.

While it is understandable that China doesn't want to create a crisis on the Korean peninsula--especially when millions of starving North Koreans will cross its border--it was heartening to see Obama be blunt in his criticism of China at the G-20 Conference.
[H]e wants the U.N. Security Council to produce a "crystal-clear acknowledgment" of the North's attack. The cooperation of China, a veto-wielding member of the Security Council and North Korea's major international supporter, is crucial to that goal.
"It is absolutely critical that the international community rallies behind President Lee Myung-bak and sends a clear message to North Korea that that kind of behavior is unacceptable," Obama said.

Conversely, it was disappointing to continue to hear the nattering nabobs of negativity+alternative reality--Palin, Oliver North and George Allen, for instance--continue to criticize foreign policy in terms both inflammatory and meaningless in order to garner potential votes from those angered by reasonableness, dialogue and civility in the White House.

Is it even worth pointing out to them that the reason Kim Jong-il has nuclear weapons at all is due to the failed Bush policies that they would like to resurrect?

Bush swaggered, and talked big, and hooked his thumbs under his big belt buckle--couture that was de rigueur I'm sure at Andover and Yale--and harried and threatened our allies for grudging support. Is this a policy to which we should return?

At the end of eight years, he tried to wash his hands of the blood of 4,000 dead American soldiers and the 3,000 citizens killed on September 11, 2001. Plus the untold Iraqi dead who had nothing to do with September 11, 2001. Is this preferable to diplomacy, finding common ground and working out our differences?

Conservatives regularly suggested that those in America who disagreed with GWB's foreign policies hated the troops/were unpatriotic/practically treasonous. We are still involved in two wars, so Obama is a "war President". Nothing has changed. Yet conservatives no longer feel it is unpatriotic/nearly treasonous to criticize the President's foreign policy. Or maybe treason is cool now?

Okay. We totally screwed the pooch in the last administration, almost no one but the most abject apologists try to argue otherwise. Let's look at the future. Considering NK's current intransigence on resuming the five-party peace talks, can diplomacy make a difference? I would argue it can.

First of all, China must be brought on board. While Sarah Palin is sort of correct when she says Obama is "getting pushed around by the likes of China and Russia", she fails to understand that the USD 5 trillion debt of the Bush era (mostly sold as T-bills to money-happy places like China) is the reason for it. Our political relationship with China is weakened by this fiscal relationship.

I'm sure such subtleties escape her (or at least her target audience) but hopefully not you. What we have therefore is the soft power of moral force. The Cheonan attack was illegal, discreditable and actionable. China must say so in the Security Council, and the US must promise to limit the response to mitigate crisis or military conflict, while still speaking to NK in a way that's "crystal-clear".

You can see how Iraq War defenders might have difficulty trying to make this argument.

Second, the drawdown of the US presence in ROK must be slowed or stopped. DPRK must see that military action is still in our bag of tricks, as certainly the continuation of OPCON until 2015 will indicate to them. For a man so weak, Obama sure does some strong things.

Finally, people have to give a damn. The same people--well, at least some of them--that poo-poo diplomacy, poo-poo this idea. The BBC has been running a great series on the history and downfall of apartheid during the focus on World Cup 2010 (here is part of it). US college students protested to have their universities disinvest in corporations that did business with the RSA regime, and this eventually helped lead to free democratic elections there. The Solidarity movement in Poland drew strength in the same way from our protests, and eventually brought down the Iron Curtain.

It is not for South Korea we must care--the world's 13th largest economy, a sophisticated and modern infrastructure, etc--but for the North Korean people who live in a virtual fiefdom under the control of an cruel despot ravaged by cancer and possibly dementia. About 1,000,000 North Koreans died last winter, from starvation and/or hypothermia, as every winter. No one knows how many die in "re-education camps" like Yodok, described in Kang Chol-hwan's autobiography, Aquariums of Pyongyang.

This dictatorship must end, and its people reach the status of free human beings for the first time in their history. A status they were promised by the very leadership that now oppresses them with a cruelty and capriciousness unique in the world today. It is unconscionable for China to continue its support of this hereditary regime into a third generation (in violation of everything the Chinese system stands for) without facing its own repercussions.

What say you, college students? What say you, investors? What say you, consumers?

Tuttle Update

Here's what's happening in my little patch of Seoul:
  • Mid-term exams start Thursday, so we have no scheduled classes after lunch on Wednesday. Some teachers have already asked to take my class time for desparately-needed review (a.k.a. lack of planning on their part--but no skin off my nose) so I have three classes tomorrow and two on Wed.
  • My lesson plan is one of my puzzlers and word games things, meant to be low stress and fun. I'll continue that next week, for the classes after exams finish (Thursday and Friday).
  • We have a final week of classes July 12 through 16. I will show them some video clips and cartoons.
  • My Summer Camp will run fifteen days, July 20 through August 5. I will do two classes, both of them only involving the fifteen students who have been chosen to go to Singapore (they depart on Aug. 6). One class will be conversation and vocabulary to prepare them for their trip; the other will be "book club", wherein they are to read and discuss Beastly by Alex Flinn, a modern retelling of the Beauty and the Beast.
  • We were told during our "re-hiring interview" to expect a new contract, with a more complete and precise English translation--to arrive at the beginning of July. I'm interested to see what this will bring. We sign it, get a medical check-up, and send that in. Then SMOE sends it back, we take the contract and some other stuff, including some money, to the Immigration Office, and get a new visa. Then it's done.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

World Cup Notes (III)

1) Stay classy, France!

You might think that after Zidane's violent head-butt in the 2006 championship match against the Azzuri, the French might be a little more circumspect this time around. Mais non, mon cher! The latest rumor is the team will be flying back home on economy class!

2) Farewell, too, to Italia, who came to South Africa, in the general concensus, not acting like the reigning WC champs. Turns out, there was good reason for that, as they were but a shadow of their former selves, finishing at the bottom of Group F.

3) Speaking of Group F, how about New Zealand? Arguably the lowest-ranking team in this World Cup, they didn't lose a game in a group that included two historical powerhouses--Italy and Paraguay--but didn't manage to go through to the knock-out round. Still, hats off to the All-Blacks, they came to play!

4) The USA game vs. Algeria on Wednesday night was one for the ages, at least if you are an American soccer fan! For the second time in two games, the US had a goal taken away by poor officiating. Scoreless in 90 minutes, the game looked to follow the usual script with momentary lapses on defense, squandered chances and time running out.

However, Landon Donovan--our premiere player--rewrote that script in the first minute of added time by following up a shot blocked by Algeria's stand-out keeper Raïs M'Bolhi. He was a blurry streak coming from somewhere outside the 18 yard line to punch the rebound into the net.

5) I was in 3AP watching the game with Karen and Patrick, and let out a nice holler of joy at that moment, and immediately ordered sambuca shots all round. However, I had strained my vocal cords in that instant, and soon was left croaking and whispering--not just for the rest of the night, but for the next two days! My co-teachers had to more or less take over my classes. Fortunately, they are capable of doing so (remember, it is a matter of asking entrance and exit questions of each detective team before they solve the Hyde Park murder).

6) Soccerway.com has a profile of North Korea's stand-out striker Jong Tae-Se who plays soccer in Japan (four DPRK team members are Japan-born, and three play in the J-league). Key comments:
"Everybody thinks about our country as being closed and mysterious, so we have to change that," he said.
"We can change to the better if we are more open with the way we talk to people and it would make a better team."
Jong said there was plenty to learn for North Korea if they were to qualify for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
"We regret the results, but there was a real gulf in class between us and our opponents," he said.

7) As I write this, South Korea has just been eliminated in a heart-breaking 2 - 1 loss to Uruguay. Korea dominated the second half, out-controlling and -shooting a stronger South American squad, but were unable to capitalize on three (or more) really good chances after the tie. Both of Uruguay's goals, by Luis Suarez, can be pinned on the Korean right fullback whose lackadaisical marking freed the winger to make the cross. I know, I know, it's easy to place blame ... that's why I'm doing it.

8) In about an hour, the USA faces off with Ghana in the second game of knock-out play. Ghana is the only African squad to pass out of the group level. Soccer fans may remember the WC 2006 meeting between the two which Ghana won 2 - 1, advancing and sending the US home. There was some controversy in that match, and the US may have an emotional advantage in having something to prove against the "Black Stars".

Still, this time, the US is technically the favorite but no one should kid themselves that this is anything but a toss-up.

9) What Ghana is best known for in Korea:

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Hyde Park Mystery

This week is my second annual mystery week, in which I have arranged the classroom as a sort of choose-your-own-adventure murder mystery. Each pair of students make a Holmes-and-Watsonesque duo called Mycroft Pound and Dr. Browning.

While it's true there's no way to make them converse in English in this activity, they must at least read for understanding and process some reasonably complex information. They begin by reading a few paragraphs on a worksheet, and I ask each team a few questions before they can enter the classroom and begin sleuthing. They record the number of each station they visit on their worksheet--which makes it easy for me to know if they followed a correct sequence.

It is possible to get off track about three different ways, but hopefully the vast majority will solve the crime. If you lose the scent completely, you are directed to card #18, where you start again.

This is the same activity I wrote about here, although I obviously had to create a new mystery since the second graders did it last year. There was a little vocabulary I needed to cover, so I took a few minutes of the previous class to prep them--words like blackmail and blotter paper and charwoman.

It's kind of a pain to set up, it took about three hours of my Friday afternoon, and lots of advance planning. But I like the challenge, and the students seem to like the challenge it presents to them--even the ones who don't totally solve the mystery think it's funny, which is Konglish for fun.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

World Cup Notes (II)

1) Regular visitors to this little online patch of Seoul are familiar with my co-worker and friend Hwang Tae-shik; it was my turn, so I invited him and his lovely famly to my chicken hof to watch the Korea-Argentina game on Thursday. I had checked with the manager to make sure we would have a good table outside on the patio in front of the building, but when I arrived 1 1/2 hours in advance of the game, every table was taken. Grrr!

Eventually, we got a table with good sight lines--and the fried chicken was excellent as always--but the game was rather a disappointment. I place the blame firmly on the shoulders of Korea's Coach Huh. a) First of all, after a stellar performance vs. Greece, Cha was rewarded for his efforts by riding the pine. b) The most explosive striker on the team was assigned the defensive responsibility of marking Lionel Messi. While Pak Jisung is a marking midfielder for Man U, on the Korean squad this is a misuse of limited resources. That should have been bald, tenacious Cha. 'Nuff said. c) The Korean midfield was unable to generate offense and poor at marking in the first half, but second half substitutions did nothing to remedy the situation.

Argentina, admittedly one of the best teams in this WC, took the 태극전사 Taeguk Jeonsa into the woodshed and gave them a damn good hiding.

2) The French back line stood still and called for offside, while Mexico gathered the ball and scored the goal for a big upset. Nothing against French people, but I do love when the French lose. Also, I hate when players think they are referees instead of hustling back to play the game and worry about arguing the call later.

3) I am not generally one to whine about reffing. No, really. If the ref misses a call, I can understand that, it's a tough job and there are fifty decisions to make every second. But I really hate it when the ref makes a call when NOTHING HAPPENED. I've watched it over and over, and I cannot see any evidence of a foul or offside or anything whatever to call back the third goal that should have put the USA up 3 - 2 over Slovenia. If a USA player was offside, it is only because a Slovenian who had him wrapped in a bearhug pushed him forward.

4) As a result, Group C is a mess, with Slovenia atop the group with 4 points, the USA and England with 2 each after England's lackluster outing against Algeria resulted in a nil-nil tie. Algeria has one point. The final meetings of the group are June 23 at 22:00 Seoul time.

If USA beats Algeria, we advance no matter what. If England beats Slovenia, England advances. Here's where it gets more complicated. If England wins and USA ties or loses, England and Slovenia advance. If USA ties and England loses, USA and Slovenia advance. If both games are ties, Slovenia goes on. Then, the US goes on if England fails to score three goals more than the USA on Wednesday. Or something.

5) Tomorrow night, DPRK meet Portugal for the first time since 1966, in a game that is still remembered as one of the great contests in the tournament's history. North Korea was up 3 - 0 by the 25th minute in a quarterfinal game played at Goodison Park, Liverpool. But the Portugese responded with five unanswered goals, three coming in the second half (four from one player, Eusebio, including two penalties).

Recent Reading

  • The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman - This Newberry Medal winner is the story of Nobody Owens, Bod, who is adopted as an infant by the inhabitants of the Old Town cemetery after his family is murdered. He grows to a fine boy--it doesn't take a village, it takes a graveyard--with certain powers and a unique outlook thanks to his relationships with the ghosts who populate his shadowy domain. Still, he knows he must someday leave the graveyard, and he must avenge the death of his family. What begins as a gentle tale slowly builds to a dramatic finale that you have to read to really appreciate. Good stuff.
  • The Ma Rok Biographies by Seo Giwon - This Portable Library of Korean Liturature volume includes three of the five stories that make up the series, so my review is necessarily constrained. The stories are set during the Japanese occupation, and all include Lord Kim, a member of the Privy Council, as a character, though he represents the hopes and dreams of the commoners who are the lead characters in the tales. Frankly, I didn't understand some of the political/historical background, and this interfered somewhat with my enjoyment of the stories. Still, by the end of each one, I "got" the message and even laughed out loud at the ironic twist of two of them.
  • Genghis: Lords of the Bow by Conn Iggulden - This is the middle book of the series about the Mongol leader's life, and is as fast-moving and engrossing as the first book was. After uniting the tribes in book one, Genghis sets off to wreak revenge on the Chinese empire that held them down and divided them for so many centuries. But first, he must learn how to break through their seemingly invincible fortifications. The catapults and rolling ladders they build require his soldiers to adopt a whole new method of fighting. A fascinating example of leadership, Genghis is a man unafraid to use the ideas of his underlings, to seek new solutions when the tried and true don't work, and to risk his own body in the serivce of his new nation.
  • The Rape of Nanking by Iris Chang - Thoroughly researched and documented, if not particularly well-written, Chang has attempted to dissect one of the worst--and least-known--atrocities of WWII, the invasion and subjugation of Nanking in 1937-8, then the capital of China, as part of Japan's campaign to control Asia (and perhaps the world). Her extensive use of personal diaries, photographic evidence and even Japanese newspaper accounts provide conclusive evidence that the Japanese military behaved in a manner that makes Nazi barbarism towards the Jews and other "inferior" groups seem positively nice in comparison to the rape and murder of 260,000 or more Chinese. In contrast to the Germans, however, the Japanese have never apologized for their barbarity in the Asian theatre of war, they have continually denied it, and have regularly ensconced those who perpetrated this evil (and the evils of "comfort women", "medical experimentation" and other grotesque war crimes) in their government. Most outrageous, perhaps, is the on-going attempt by conservatives in Japan to whitewash history by repeatedly denying established facts, revising history textbooks and lying out their collective ass. Germany stepped up and admitted the truth, and attempted to atone for it; it's long past time for Japan to do the same.
  • A Man by Hwang Soon-won - A collection of three stories by one of Korea's best-known writers. "The Dog of Crossover Village" chronicles life in a small village through the exploits, and survival, of a stray dog; the title story is a short profile of a man's troubles with women--his first marriage is ruined by his jealous mother, and his second by infidelity; "Bibari", or woman diver, is the lyrical tale of a young man's affair with a bibari. These stories are simple but revealing and his writing style is straightforward yet tinged with lyricism. Hwang is the kind of writer here for whom a gesture may just be a gesture, or it may be loaded with symbolic import--and he lets the reader decide.
  • A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park - The second book I've read by her, this one is set in twelfth-century Korea, and concerns a young boy who becomes apprentice to a potter in the seaside village of Ch'ulp'o. Raised under a bridge by the Crane-man, the boy Tree-Ear s ultimately given an important task--to deliver some pottery samples to the Emperor's representative far away in Songpo. To do this, he must trek across the length of Korea, avoiding dangerous animals and even more dangerous thieves. A quick read that still carries a strong impact.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Proof There is No God

Of course I am just being facetious, since everyone knows you cannot prove a negative. Still, the idea of an enormous Jesus statue being zapped by lightning and burning to the ground, strikes me as ... well, it strikes me as something, though I'm not sure what.

Take a look:

That's 62 feet of plastic foam and fiberglass aflame there, leaving behind nothing but the steel frame:

Video here. Nicknamed "Touchdown Jesus" because of the positioning of his outstretched arms, the figure stood in front of Solid Rock Church of Monroe, Ohio (Motto: "Our Church may be built of solid rock, but our Jesus is made of plastic").

This post has nothing whatever to do with living in Korea, so let me correct that now (from Wikipedia):
According to 2005 statistics compiled by the South Korean government, approximately 46.5% of the South Korean population express no religious preference.
Of the religious population, 29.2% are Christian (of which 18.3% (on total) profess to be Protestants and 10.9% to be Catholics), 22.8% are Buddhist, and the rest adheres to various new religious movements including Jeungism, Daesunism, Cheondoism, Taoism, Confucianism and Won Buddhism.

I also wrote a little about religion in Korea in a couple of previous posts, which you can see here.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

I Spy. "Me, too."

So, I'm spending the first fifteen minutes of class this week playing "I Spy" with my classes. You remember:
I spy
with my little eye
something [color] / something beginning with [letter]

The activity helps build vocabulary and also practices the "Is it the ....?" construction. The kids are really into it; I go first, and spy something red, which is the indicator light on the motion sensor above the door. It's red, but really small, and makes itself harder to see because it blinks--if you look at the wrong moment, you won't see it. Yes, I know I'm cleverer than I look.

Anyway. So today I'm looking in the Korea Times and I come across two North Koreans on trial for--well, I'll let reporter Park Si-soo tell it:
Two men wearing ivory-colored prison uniforms stepped into the courtroom, Wednesday, handcuffed and escorted by seemingly somewhat nervous police officers.
Asked of their jobs by presiding Judge Cho Han-chang, one answered in typical North Korean dialect, "I'm an agent of the state Reconnaissance Bureau (in Pyongyang)." The other sitting next to him nodded and said: "Me, too."

Not, like "Shut up, you idiot," or "Your Honor, I don't know this guy next to me, here," or even, "I am but a humble cobbler," but "Me, too."

No wonder they got caught. The two 36-year-olds had arrived in Seoul on a mission to assassinate a high up defector from DPRK named Hwang Jang-yop, who is credited with creating the North's state ideology of "Juche", which is all about independence of thought and self-reliance, ironically enough.

NK spies are usually here to assassinate defectors. Or collect information, of course. Or "mastermind pro-North Korea campaigns," as the article puts it.

Oh, and they can reportedly "kill people with their bare hands." Cool.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

World Cup Thoughts (I)

1) Last night, Brazil was uninspired and mechanical, to say the least, but North Korea scored a goal on them, and that takes some doing. Brazil controlled the ball about 90% of the game (not even exaggerating), but never seemed very interested in actually getting off a shot--they were nonchalant. North Korea seemed perfectly content to let the Brazilians pass the ball around outside the penalty box, patiently waiting for a chance to steal and go on a quick counterattack.

Hand it to North Korea, their strategy was pretty successful, and they nearly emerged with a tie--the lowest-ranked team in the World Cup against the five-time winners, number one ranked Brazil. Guess who came to play? Of course, that may be because one family member will get "re-educated" for each mistake they make.

2) Too bad North Koreans will not get to see this game, since Dear Leader plans only to broadcast games they win. Still, that beats the hell out of Somalia, where some wingnut Islamic jihadists that control one area have executed at least two people for watching World Cup. Or maybe they just snapped under the relentless buzz of those vuvuzelas.

3) There has been much talk around here about Pak Ji-sung's very nice left-footer to polish off Greece in their first game, but one is now hearing about the tenacious bald defender Cha Du-ri. Mainly that he's a robot. The name on his jersey is D R Cha, because of his creator, Dr. Cha (not to be confused with Dr. Bong or Dr. Noonian Soong); his old number, 11, was actually a plug, for battery recharging, and his new number, 22, is because he's been upgraded to 220 volts. But, as the Dong-A Ilbo story where I read this points out, it's all really a compliment to his "enormous stamina and positive mindset".

4) The officiating so far has been generally excellent, but I did note a couple of significant missed calls that would have resulted in a PK: in the final minutes of added time, a Japan defender pushed down a Cameroon player who has a really good chance 15 yards out on a cross; and a North Korea defender handled the ball in the corner of the big box in the first few minutes.

5) There is NO number five.

6) The two players reputed to be the world's number one and two--Messi of Argentina and Ronaldo of Portugal--turned out to be ineffective in their first showing of this World Cup. Not that they were invisible, Ronaldo even got himself booked with an intemperate reaction to being fouled.

7) Speaking of Messi, Argentina meets South Korea in tomorrow's early game (8:30 PM here), the two sitting even at 3 points in Group B (though Korea leads on goals). Pak Jisung is a teammate of Argentine standout Carlos Tevez at Manchester United, and they are reportedly good mates--though neither one speaks English worth a flip--so it's worth keeping an eye on them in the game.

Monday, June 14, 2010

This Weather!

We had a very long winter here in Seoul, and a very mild spring. Temperatures have been cool--although it has also been unusually rainy: they tell me the vast majority of Seoul's rainfall comes during a month-long rainy season in June and July called 장 마Jangma, a.k.a. the East Asian monsson.

Well, I remember the monsoon in Thailand, and what I saw here last year did not impress. Drenched and irritated, yes; impressed, no.

As I said, the mercury has stayed pretty low--until last week; since then, the high has been in the 30s Celcius pretty much every day (that's about 90 F in dog years, or whatever).

And it's still been humid and rainy. It rained on Saturday afternoon and evening--ruining plans of millions of Seoulites to go to City Hall (click here to see Jo-Anna's post on what that was like) or Sangam or just sit on the patio of their favorite chicken hof to watch South Korea play Greece to start their World Cup campaign.

Today it was rainy and hot when I walked to school today--my hair was soaked, even though my umbrella doesn't leak. The forecast for the rest of the week is more of the same--rain with a high in the mid to upper 20s. There is a chance it will dry out on Thursday though, hopefully long enough for me to catch the Korea-Argentina game in an outdoor venue.

Bonus Photograph: Presented without comment.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Open Class

My "Open Class" was Tuesday, when two teachers from a local girls high school came to observe my teaching. The co-teacher announced this to the students, however, as "guests" from the girls school, whereupon the boys began behaving in a deranged manner, for they thought actual young feminine flesh was about to appear before them.

The groan when they were corrected was a soulful wail of shattered dreams.

Anyway, this is all done as part of my contract renewal process. I was initially hired for this job sight unseen after a twenty minute phone interview; but now that I've been a successful teacher inside their system for two years, they treat re-enrollment very cautiously.

I was told later by Mr Lee, at the "meeting" I held afterwards at the samgyupsal restaurant for the English Dept., that the guest teachers gave me perfect marks. I suspect that this is, to some extent, pre-arranged.

So, the next part of the process is an interview at SMOE on June 17; then comes the hassle of the medical check and the visit to Immigration for a visa renewal. And that's Tuttle set up for another year in the Seoul Patch.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Here and There

Unfortunately, most of my foreign friends are soccer-phobes, so it is always difficult to get anyone to go to a soccer game with me, even though World Cup Stadium is convenient to the subway and is a really awesome venue. And FC Seoul, the home team here, usually puts on a fine show.

I finally managed to get up a crew of more than one person to go with me--Andy, Jeremy and Greg, FCS responded with a great display of offense, with Dejan earning two in the first half--the first an awesome flick up to his right side which he volleyed past the Jeju keeper (today's patsies were Jeju United, in Posco Cup play).

In the second half, Jeju sparked a bit, earning a goal, but Huh Dae-seong answered with two of his own, the second about three minutes after the first, and some defender scored about five minutes after that (Big Five, he says) for a 5 - 1 score and six goals to counter Andy's perennial complaint that the two soccer games he's ever been to were nil - nil ties.

Moving on, today was another "principal's discretionary holiday" so I laid around, read and generally didn't do much.

Tomorrow will (supposedly) be my "open class" wherein a teacher from another school will come to observe my lesson and evaluate my teaching as part of the contract renewal process. The lesson will be fourth period, the topic is sports, and the main activity is the survey. Each team writes three questions on a topic I give them (e.g., Favorite Team, Foreign Athletes in Korea, Young-il Sports Day) and then breaks up to survey their classmates, and answer the other teams' questions. At the end, they share any interesting results.

After school, I'm going to host a "meeting" of the English Department--or whoever will come--at the local samgyupsal restaurant. And hopefully, second round.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

How Do You Feel?

That's "Weary Willie", the morose Depression-era clown character created by the brilliant Emmett Kelly, and together with a handout I took from bogglesworldesl.com and modified to suit me, formed the basis of a lesson plan for the second grade that went really, really well. When they come into the classroom, Willie is on the screen. I ask them what feeling or emotion is showing on his face.

Inevitably, "sad" is the first answer. As a side note, I am pleased that so many students in my classes have become willing even to answer without being singled out. Next I ask what other words they know that describe the same feeling. I wait until I get about four or five different answers. Interestingly, "blue" is one of the earliest answers, even though it is quite idiomatic.

Next up, I have a handful of other photos with people showing clear emotions, and the groups compete to list the greatest number of terms or synonyms to describe each picture's emotion. "Exercise your vocabulary," I tell them, "increase your word power." The whole point of my starter activity is to encourage using English, in some fashion.

Section two is a video of Don McLean's "Vincent" that I got from YouTube that some fine fellow had matched with van Gogh's paintings. Onto this, I overlaid the lyrics of the song and asked them to pay attention to their feelings as they listened and watched. Though I knew they were familiar with van Gogh, I was surprised how many had heard the song before--a few could even sing along a bit.

In section three, I showed a series of paintings and asked them to tell the emotion they felt in response to seeing it--not the feeling in the picture, but the feeling in their heart. They went "ooh" or "ahh" or "와이" so they could not pretend they didn't have an emotional reaction. I think having these pictures in the right order matters a bit, so I started off with a painting of a coconut palm grove with a hammock in it, the sea and a blue sky prominent in the background.

Painting #2 was "Automat" by Edward Hopper, eliciting words like lonely, isolation, darkness. I get a feeling of "tension", but no one ever says this. When it comes to how you feel, you can't really be wrong. Right?

This one gets the most emphatic response:


The final activity is a writing handout. The handout tells them what to feel, their job is describe the situation. It's in two halves, taken from the Lanternfish "What Bugs Me" handout. I cut it in half, changing the bottom part to be about things that make you feel good.

It was here (the last fifteen minutes--about one minute per sentence) that I was most impressed by these students. They were so honest in writing about conflicting feelings in dealing with their parents, classmates and best friends, I was pleased to get a snapshot of their inner lives as they try to become young adults.

After this lesson, how do I feel? Enlightened, and refreshed.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Election Results

Voter turn-out was its highest in 15 years for yesterday's "mid-term" elections, with 54.5% of voters casting a ballot in Korea's mayoral and provincial polling.

Overall, things did not look good for the Grand Natioanl Party of Lee Myung-bak; while his party suffered soon after his election in February 2008 due to miscues like the "four rivers" and Sejong City projects--not to mention American beef--it had been on the rise in recent polling, due in part to Lee's strong stance on North Korea in response to the Cheonan sinking. From Reuters:
The opposition Democratic Party won seven of 16 major races for the country's largest cities and the provinces in an upset that surprised GNP and analysts who had been expecting a large win for the conservative ruling party.

Korean politics are a boistrous and zany as any in the world, so I'm suprised analysts could agree on anything, especially that. Maybe it's because I live over here in the west side of Seoul--you know, the left--but I had assumed the GNP was going to take a hit. As the Korea Herald explains:
The larger than expected voter turnout and tight race in many regions indicate many voters were poised to “take a whip” at the Lee government, political analyst Ko Seong-kuk said in a televised interview ... “Preliminary results show voters in some of the most critical regions turned hostile toward the ruling party,” he said. “This proves the North Korea factor was not strong enough to outstrip voters’ negative sentiment toward the Lee Myung-bak government’s lack of attention on regional economy and welfare.”

Seoul mayor, Oh Se-hoon of the GNP was expected to survive, and he did. In order to deflect blame from settling on President Lee, GNP headman Chung Mong-joon fell on his sword: "We humbly accept the voice of the Korean people of rebuke ... I want to take this chance to express my wish to resign."

In other news, George W Bush got own Facebook page on the internets: GWB's Facebook page.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

ROK the Vote

Today was election day in Korea. This election was for province officals (do), city offices (shi), and district (gu) and township (dong) representatives. None of these candidates are going to the big green-domed building on Yeouido. So, even though it is not a national election, per se, it still takes place on the same day in every province, district, etc. For most workers, this is a national holiday, present company included.

I live in Deungchon-dong, Gangseo-gu, which is part of the special administrative area of Seoul-shi, which is not in a do. My friend Hwang and his wife came to an agreement one who to vote for, which incuded "six candidates and two parties". In addition to specific seats to be filled on the various councils, there are something like "at-large" seats, as it was explained to me, that are filled by the parties, representationally. I certainly stand to be corrected on this, and welcome input from the better-informed.

Of greatest interest to me, though, was the methods of vote-canvassing that I saw in action during the last month or so. I am very curious about the history of all this, and hope to learn more, and report it to you in a future blog post.

First, color-coded ajumma stand at crosswalks and intersections politely greeting passers-by and attempting to ascertain their interest in the qualities of the candidate they are supporting.

Second, they hand out business cards with their candidate's likeness and a brief synopsis (I assume) of the major planks in his platform on the reverse.

Third, the candidates themselves kiss hands and shake babies in time-honored fashion, roaming among the electorate wearing beauty-queen sashes to announce their fitness for office. And also their Miss Congeniality 2003 triumph.

Fourth, and perhaps most energetic, egregious and vociferous of all the convassing modi, is the annoying truck thing with several devoted ladies on board, blaring a personal message for all within hearing from the candidate, interspersed with a catchy theme song to help potential voters to remember to support you, Gwang Jung Hoon, instead of that scurrilous bastard Gwang Hung Joon. [NB: Those are made-up names. To the best of my knowledge, neither Gwang Jung Hoon nor Gwang Hung Joon is running for office, and in any case, certainly neither one of them is a bastard, scurrilous or otherwise.]

Although these loudspeaker-blaring trucks were pretty common in the last few weeks, I never seemed to have my camera handy when one of them rolled by, or I was too slow (or they were too fast) to capture a sustained video. Still, I did get a few little clips, which I've strung together in the YouTube vid below. First, set the volume as high as possible. Now imagine it ten times louder. Next, play the video repeatedly, at least ten or twelve times. Remember that even if you are Korean, you can only understand at best half of what is being said. There, now you have a rough idea of Korean democracy in action.