Tuesday, November 30, 2010

All The News That Is News

... or even not really.

Koreans, whatever else you may say about them, are readers. Every time I go to the bookstore here, I am amazed at how crowded it is. It's like a Jeff Foxworthy book-signing event back home on a daily basis. You might not be a redneck if ... you own more than five books that don't have pictures.

Korea has hundreds of publishing houses to serve its fifty million people (and it's not all TOEFL prep titles, either) and a long list of daily and weekly newspapers, including at least three with a larger readership in Korea than the NYT has in America. Walk past any subway entrance at peak hours and you will find several stands with free newspapers.

Not that the content is necessarily stellar, as you can see from the Daily Mail/New York Sun stylings of the Korea Times, above.

I happened to notice in the subway Saturday morning that five of the people standing in my immediate vicinity were reading books--fiction books, not textbooks or language primers. Of course, almost everyone else was playing a video game or watching a DMB TV.

Anyway, the paps, as those of us who have seen Disney's [insert adjective here] 1992 musical Newsies invariably call them. Or the Fourth Estate, as those of us present in the British House of Commons in 1787 when Edmund Burke used it to refer to the opening up of the House to "press reporting".

The news media in Korea is still in it's toddlerhood, roughly equivalent to a really strong US comprehensive high school's newspaper: slick graphics that somehow don't quite get their point across; in-depth reporting of the latest successes and scandals of the current pop culture icons; interminable "he said-she said" political coverage; grossly unfair treatment of voiceless minorities; rumor reported as truth; sophomoric editorializing on world events of importance; and rah-rah coverage of local sports figures who've hit the Big Time.

Things aren't much better back home these days, I must say ...

Found here

Different This Time, And The Same

I am referring to the North Korean show of force last week that left two Korean civilians dead.  While it's true that the North has racheted-up its "acting-out behaviors" as we educators say of snotty-nosed little assholes, in recent months, the shelling of a fishing village on a border island called Yeonpyeongdo, was highly unusual.

North Korea has broken the peace several times in the nearly sixty years since the truce was declared at Panmunjom--most recently, apparently, in the sinking of a "Pohang-class" corvette cruiser named ROKS Cheonan--but its targets are pretty much always military or governmental.  Forty-six sailors died aboard the Cheonan, two marines were killed at Yeonpyeongdo.  True, there was the Geumgangsan resort shooting--but that was the case of a (possibly soju-addled) ajumma shot by a pimply-faced recruit who panicked.   Meanwhile, tens of thousands in Kim Jong-il's concentration camps have withered away, been stoned to death or shot for attempted escape....

It's also different this time in the reaction of many South Koreans.  They have been angered by aggressive action from the North before this, of course, but there seems to be a feeling of betrayal this time--they killed regular Koreans, not soldiers, but their brothers!  We send them rice, we keep them from freezing to death in the winter cold, and they kill their own relatives?  Enough!

So that's what's different.  What's the same?  First and foremost, of course, are the reasons behind Pyongyang's actions:; scholarly concensus and newspaper punditry agree (read here my favorite source, the Daily NK):
Why did the Kim Jong Il regime carry out this act of aggression?The priorities for the Kim Jong Il regime are as follows, in the order given; 1. Maintain the current system; 2. Hand down power with stability; 3. Draw up domestic and foreign policies to solve problems such as feeding the people.
North Korea's attack on Yeonpyeong Island, and its revealing of a uranium enrichment facility earlier this month, are directly related to priorities 1, 2 and 3, and move the country one step closer to its stated goal of becoming a “strong and prosperous nation” by 2012. The regime's intention to steer the Lee Myung Bak North Korea policy towards failure is clear, and there are two reasons for this; the short-term goals that lie openly before our eyes, and North Korea's oft-repeated, broader goal of 'resolving fundamental issues between the U.S. and North Korea'.

Also the same: international condemnation, roundly stated, but basically futile as long as China doesn't make an effort to rein in the Dear Leader.  That DPRK continues to see the US as its primary enemy and the ROK as her "puppets" should be no surprise, since there's no other way NK soldiers could stomach aiming at their kith and kin.  This is not an exaggeration--I mentioned in the post immediately preceding this one how relational the Korean language is, no matter which side of the 38th parallel you are on. 

But what most stays the same is the refusal of the North Korean cadres to conform their world view to the observable circumstances around them: for instance, the per capita income north of the 38th parallel is 7.0% of what it is south of it on the Korean peninsula.  South Koreans have a more-or-less fully functioning liberal democracy in which every vote counts--hell, election day is a holiday here!  While the media here is rather blinkered and conservative, it has few governmental limitations and is sure-as-hell-NOT some kind of US proxy! 

Here is a photo from DongA (thanks to blogger bud Adeel for this) showing North Korea as seen from Yeonpyeongdo, with a less-than-subliminal message for the masses:

위대한 수령 김일성 동지 혁명사상 만세 -
"Long live the revolutionary ideas of the Great Leader Kim Il-sung"
 Interestingly, it was the DongA, of all the paps today, that reported anything other than the resignations/firing of Lee Myung-bak's two main military dudes (is this really the best timing for that?)  due to some verbal miscues in the immediate aftermath of the Yeonpyeongdo incident.  The story focused on Cheongwadae's dealings with Chinese leaders to act.  Titled China begins action on defusing inter-Korean tension, the story provides hope, but little, alas, in the way of concrete measures China is taking, or even promising to take.  I mean, "China is committed to peace and stability on the [Korean] peninsula?"

Who the hell isn't?  Except Kim Jong-il, of course.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

That Time of Year

It's that time of year again--Thanksgiving? Cold and Flu season? College bowls? Well, yes to all that, and still one more--today is officially my birthday, once again. I never make a big deal about my birthday (after all, it's just a matter of survival), or usually, any amount of deal at all, but ths year I become fifty, the Big Five-Oh, in the Korean way of reckoning these things.

Which, if you haven't heard yet, is different than any other country on earth. Koreans count their age as "one" starting at birth. One of my co-workers started to mention my "American age" vs. "Korean age" and I had to jump in there. No, no, no. Not American age. Whole-rest-of-the-world age. This is not USA vs Korea. It's Korea, one year old, the world zero years old, okay?

Koreans also advance to the next year's age on the same day: lunar new year. By which I mean, everyone in my high school first grade classes are all sixteen--and they stay sixteen all year long; they will turn seventeen all together on lunar new year next February. Oh, they do celebrate their individual birthdays, yes; but to the Korean world, it doesn't count quite yet.

Why do they do this? you may ask. The answer is embedded in the Korean language with its extensive use of honorifics and respect terms, and the Confucian elitist age-ism it signifies: in most situations, people don't refer to each other by name, but by position or relation; for instance, older brother to a co-worker who is older than you, or little sister to a younger female, or mother of Jinsu to talk to Jinsu's Mom. It would be problematic if some students in a class were considered older than others, and could therefore "lord it over" their classmates.

Another interesting feature of Korean birthdays is that many of othem aren't, especially among the older generations. For example, my pal Jung-su who runs Chicken Mania was showing my his passport when he came back from Shanghai: his birthday was sometime in May, 1958. But actually, he told me, he was born in November of the previous year. In those days, infant mortality was so high that parents often didn't bother registering a live birth until it looked like the little blighter might pull through. Of course, giving birth in a hospital was not an option for most Koreans until the 1970s. Such rapid progress this country has made!

Anyway, back to me! I consider myself fortunate in my experience in Korea to have some co-workers with whom I have developed very friendly relations. I received a rather expensive Rotring fountain pen for my birthday from one, and another gave me a really nice pair of Kangaroo gloves (brand not leather). Mr Hwang insisted I come to dinner with his family tonight, and they fed me samgyupsal and chocolate birthday cake! Then the kids sang a song, and gave me birthday cards; the boy made his by hand--he swears he did it all himself:

Sweet, isn't it?

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


The textbook used by my second grade students has a chapter on media infludence and advertising. As I was looking for materials, I came across this really awesome video, titled "Logorama" from the Franch animation studio H5. If you haven't seen it, do so now:

Logorama from Marc Altshuler - Human Music on Vimeo.

It won the Kodak Prix at the Canne Film Festival, opened this year's Sundance Festival and won the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film.

US Embassy Seoul - To Me

Artillery Firing into Northwest Islands Off the Coast of Korea

The U.S. Embassy in Seoul is transmitting 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 broadly to U.S. citizens.

This warden message is being issued in response to reports of North Korean artillery firing into the Northwest Islands (Yeonpyeong-do) off the coast of the Republic of Korea the afternoon of November 23, 2010. This artillery exchange was isolated to the Northwest Island area of the Republic of Korea and ceased as of 3:30 p.m. The Embassy is closely monitoring the situation. Should the security situation change, the Embassy will update this warden message.

U.S. citizens living or traveling in South Korea are encouraged to register with the Embassy through the State Department’s travel registration website: https://travelregistration.state.gov/ibrs/ui/. U.S. citizens without internet access may register in person at the U.S. Embassy. Registration is a voluntary way of telling us that you, as a U.S. citizen, are in Korea, whether for a long-term stay or for a short visit. In the event of an emergency, we use registration information to communicate with you. This could include a family emergency in which relatives in the United States request that the Embassy contact you.

For the latest security information worldwide, U.S. citizens should regularly monitor the State Department’s website at http://travel.state.gov 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 Unites States, or, for callers from 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).

End text.

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Eyes Have It

My pal Dave, of George Bailey Sees the World, who is the native teacher in the Saturday writing course that runs alongside the public speaking course I am doing, was telling me about one of his female students writing about the "need" for plastic surgery.

While she wasn't in favor of cosmetic surgery, becoming more attractive can improve her educational and career prospects, she wrote. Left unconsidered in her evaluation of the situation was the question why or how being more attractive makes a person more qualified for a job.

Because, you know, unless we're talkng about modeling or television work, it doesn't.

Korean culture values looks above almost anything else. If that sounds like a very provocative statement, well, maybe it is. But just today, there is an article in the Korea Herald stating that now the suneung test is over, plastic surgery season has begun. The article opens:
An 18-year-old high school senior student in Gangnam-gu spent the weekend following the College Scholastic Ability Test last week taking counseling in cosmetic surgery hospitals.
“I had my appointment made several months ahead of the CSAT, otherwise I would not have been able to make it onto the waiting list,” said the student who asked to be identified by her family name Koh.
“The surgery is actually to be an early gift from my mother, both for high school graduation and university entrance.”
After counseling, she had appointments made to have cosmetic surgery on her eyes and nose and laser-processed dermatological scaling before the end of the month.
It has long become a common process for CSAT-takers here to visit cosmetic surgeons straight after the test so that they may improve their looks before entering university.

Most commonly, Koreans want larger, rounder eyes, eschewing the almond eyes of their race--a race whose purity is practically a national obsession. Go figure. According to an article in Time:
South Korea's primary cosmetic obsession is with the eyes. Having bigger eyes is every girl's dream, and it can now be realized through a simple $800 operation, in which a small incision or suture is made above the eye to create an artificial double lid. Teenagers as young as 14 are doing it, and eye jobs have become a favorite high school graduation gift from proud parents.
Clinics are busiest during winter vacations, when high school seniors are preparing themselves for college or for entering the workplace. The majority come for the eyelids, but nose jobs are also becoming popular among teens. "Teenagers are plastic surgery experts," marvels Dr. Lee Min Ku, a Seoul surgeon whose patients are mostly in their teens or 20s. "They tell the doctor, using scientific words, which surgery method to use." But despite the medical knowledge they bring to the clinics, many teens still show their age. "They end up handing you a magazine," says Lee, "and asking for T.V. star Kim Nam Ju's eyes."

Back to my public speaking class. On Saturday, they will present their persuasive speech, and I went over their topics with them individually. One female student handed in the topic "The importance of outward appearance". I got her to clarify what she meant by this, and what exactly she wanted to persuade the audience about.

"Well," she told me, "I know many people will say how inner beauty is really the important thing. But I do not agree with this. Outward attractiveness is what really matters, because your outward looks show what you are like on the inside."

This may not be a very difficult argument to make--after all, her audience is a classroom full of Korean high school students.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Education News

Three stories of interest have appeared of late in the Korean papers.

First, "ADHD cases skyrocket in Korean adolescents", says the headline in JoongAng Daily:
According to National Health Insurance Corporation’s statistics, the number of adolescents diagnosed with ADHD jumped 2.4 times over the past six years from 18,967 in 2003 to 64,066 in 2009.
The corporation said 6.5 percent of young people from the ages 6 to 18 have ADHD. About 70 percent of patients suffer from the disorder until they reach adulthood, while 30 percent are successfully treated. Male children are four more times likely to be affected than females.
Children with ADHD have difficulty focusing on tasks, controlling their behavior and are hyperactive in ways that are more severe than in average kids.

Looking around, it was easy to find stories reporting a similar rise in the US, like this one, citing the CDC's MMWR, and pointing out that it's probably less a matter of increased rates of disorder, but rather improved "detection".

Whether this means parents and teachers are better informed about the condition, or are just sick and tired of Johnny/Jinsu's antics, is left for the reader to decide.

Second, the Korea Herald has an interview with ATEK (Association of Teachers of English in Korea) spokesman Rob Ouwehand, which they headed English teachers look to change their image.
The nut graf is buried in the middle:
“When English teachers go out into the community and volunteer, collect clothes for poor kids and volunteer English lessons at the orphanage nearby, than instead of being that kind of faceless, scary, English teacher, it humanizes us and by contributing to Korean society and saying we’re not here just to drink and party and take our money and go home. We’re part of Korean society, and we want to be responsible members and contributors to Korean society,” [said Ouwehand].

Which is all well and good, I suppose, but isn't being a teacher already contributing to Korean society? Doesn't the twenty or more hours a week I spend in the classroom with my students in a teacher/caregiver role "humanize" me and give me a face? ...

Third, a change in weighting of elements considered in early admissions to top-tier Yonsei University has foreign language high scgools calling "Foul!" DongA Ilbo covers this in a story headed "Foreign Language High Schools Undergoing Crisis":
A staff member at Yongin Foreign Language High School in Gyeonggi Province said with a sigh of regret, “We advised students with good academic performances and English-language proficiency to apply (to Yonsei University), but most failed, which is hard to believe. Only some of them with academic records good enough for admission were admitted.”
“Only five percent of students who applied for early admission at Yonsei University were admitted,” he said. “This constitutes bashing of foreign language high schools and reverse discrimination.”
A source at Daewon Foreign Language High School in Seoul also said, “The number of students admitted through two early admission programs has declined to a third from last year. We didn’t expect the situation to be as bad as it is now.”
“Since Yonsei will seek to recruit highly talented students, we are pinning our hopes that the university will devise other measures (to recruit our students).”

Sounds like sour grapes to me. The changes were announced, and they amount to increasing the value of overall academic performance in candidates and decreasing the weight of English language proficiency. Instead of considering the exact score on the TOEFL or what-have-you, the grades have been broken into A, B and C.
A source at Myungduk Foreign Language High School in Seoul said, “This means that students who received 780 points and 900 points received the same grade in the college admissions review,” adding, “This is a major blow to foreign language high school students, who are superior in English proficiency but are at a disadvantage in high school academic records.”

Previously, of course, Yonsei had been under attack for favoring students from foreign language high schools, accepting such students despite lower overall academic levels.

Which just goes to show, you can't please everyone.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

수능 Holiday

Well, high school seniors hate it, but people like me enjoy it, because 수능, suneung means a day off while the school becomes a testing site for the all-important Korean college boards.

I decided to go to Gwanghwamun today and finally look at the newly reopened main gate to Gyeongbokgung. While there, I took in the two underground museums at the Gwanghwamun Square, dedicated to "Great King" Sejong and Admiral Yi Sunshin, respectively.


Ceiling frieze inside gate portal

Another ceiling frieze

The Story of King Sejong: Sejong is usually considered Korea's greatest ruler; he was fourth king of the Joseon Dynasty and reigned from 1418 to 1450.

Korean sundial invented by Sejong, this one on display in the museum is about five feet across

Sejong was renowned for his skill as a military tactician

One of his greatest achievements was the creation of the hangeul writing system, which is easy to learn and allows you to write very quickly and efficiently.
The Worin Cheongang Jigok.  Written by Sejong, it contains 500 odes to the life of the Buddha and is the first literature written in hangeul.

The Story of Admiral Yi Sunshin:  Yi is certainly Korea's most venerated military hero, and is one of few admirals in world history reputed to have been victorious in every major naval battle he commanded (often while greatly outnumbered).

One of his most important advancements was the 거북선 geobukseon or turtle ship, whose cevered deck studded with metal spikes made enemy boarding very risky, and whose flat bottom made it very maneuverable.

The model boat on display has scale figures inside.
There is an interactive area which includes a firing range, a "how well can you row oars"  game and other activities.

There is a nicely done video of the Imjin War, which was Yi's main theatre of operations, which includes English subtitles.

The exhibit shows Yi as a multifaceted individual--military genius, family man, poet.

The museum is strong on atmosphere, but weak on artifacts.  This was just about it.
Usually, there is an impressive statue of Admiral Yi at the top of Gwanghwamun Square (click here) but today it looked like this:

Monday, November 15, 2010

What I'm Reading

  • Year's Best SF 14 ed. by David G Hartwell and Kathryn Kramer - There was a period in my young yoot in which oh, 70% of what I read for pleasure was in the sci-fi genre. That was a long time ago; however, that did not mitigate my surprise when I picked up this year's (well 2008's) best of anthology, to find that I did not recognize a single author from the old days. Still, I'm glad to report the 21 stories contained in the 495 pages are all good, and most are excellent. Among the best: "Pump Six" by Paolo Bacigalupi is about the deterioration of civilization thanks to technological improvements that have rendered competence and deep-thinking unnecessary; Jason Sanford's "The Ships Like Clouds, Risen in Their Rain" describes a strange world that is part-spaceship, part-asteroid; in "Fixing Hanover" by Jeff Vandermeer, a man who can fix anything is shipwrecked on some backward planet--things get difficult when a broken-down robot drifts ashore and he must fix it.
  • Strength in What Remains by Tracy Kidder - Possibly the best living writer, certainly the best in non-fiction, Kidder has again found powerful material in the story of a still-young Burundian, Deogratias, who miraculously survived genocide in his home country, to find himself at JFK airport with no contacts, no English, and $200 in his pocket. Kidder tells the remarkable tale of how he got to this point mainly in Deo's own words. Kidder himself enters the story years later when he meets Deo through Dr Paul Farmer (about whom he wrote his previous book Mountains Beyond Mountains) and accompanies him to Burundi as Deo begins to build a clinic there. With the help of a few amazing benefactors, Deo makes hs way to Columbia Medical School to complete studies begun long ago back home, and at the same time makes his way toward mental health in healing the scars of his time on the run from Hutu death squads. A must-read.
  • Terror in the Name of God by Jessica Stern - Though this book was published in 2004, its lessons are still true today. Dr Stern is one of the foremost authorities on terrorism, and she traveled and interviewed extensively over four years in preparing this book--Christians, Jews, Muslims, all come under her microscope as tries to understand their reasons and to inform policy-making in dealing with religious extremists. The book is broken into sections on what motivates individuals to turn to terrorism, and how extremist groups are structured, funded and led. There is a final, thin chapter of policy recommendations. Still, while it may be short on advice, it is long on interesting, sometimes scary, interviews with interesting, somethimes scary, people. Alas, this book's information won't leave you more hopeful, but it will leave you better informed.
  • The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery - Translated from the French by Alison Anderson, this is a beautiful, lyrical book whose imperceptible plot movement has the momentum of a deep ocean undertow that suddenly crashes on you like a tidal wave. The story centers on a dowdy, fifty-ish apartment concierge named Renee Michel, and a precocious twelve-year-old girl named Paloma who lives in her building and has determined to commit suicide on June sixteenth. Both have marvelous, secret internal lives that are discovered by the newest tenant, a retired Japanese businessman named Kakuro Ozu. Eye-opening, thought-provoking, heart-rending. What more can you want in a novel?

Sunday, November 14, 2010

XYZ City Photo Exhibit

Showing at Times Square mall in Yeongdeungpo, a photo exhibit of images of Seoul by eight different artists. Here is a sampling of what I liked:
Jun Min Jo: These are b&w images from the 1970s, and mostly juxtapose the old life with the new, or rural with the urban during Korea's headiest days of rapid development.

Che Won Joon:  Urban decay caught admidst the rapid growth of the "new city" of Seoul.

Lee Deuk Young: The second photo is a detail of the long one, titled "Teheran Road". This sroad is the address of numerous internet-related firms, as so is sometimes called "Teheran Valley". The street was given its current name in 1976 from Samneungno in a "name exchange" when Teheran's mayor visited Seoul.

Cha Ju Yong: Red crosses in Korea symbolize churches rather than hospitals.

Hwa Deok Hun:  Nice bird's-eye views of older tile-roofed houses, giwa jib 기와집.

With Seoul pushing its new image as an international design city, photos like these could lead to a debate about how serious the government has been in implementing design vs merely fostering growth.

Field Trip

My lovely Saturday class went on a field trip yesterday to practice English in the field, so to speak. Our destination was Times Square, a huge mall complex in Yeongdeungpo, to watch a movie, eat lunch and then view a photo exhibit called "Xyz City".

The only English language moview playing this Saturday was RED, an actioner with an amazing cast list headed by Bruce Willis, but then every movie that comes to korea seems to star either him or Leo DiCaprio. It wasn't as bad as I feared, and was even funny at times.

We ate lunch in the food court, where I had a reasonably fair "steak cheese burger" from Burger Hunter:

After that we made our way to an unfinished cavernous area of the mall at level B2. This was, to me, an interesting portrait of Seoul through the years (which I will blog separately). The students were to write guided responses to both main activities. We finished with some ice cream and called it a day.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Street Scenes XII: A View From the Top

... of my building, that is. The sky was crisp and clear blue this afternoon, so I went up to the fifteenth floor lookout of my officetel (introduced to me by Shane and Danielle before they left) to see if I could get a few long distance views of the city.

First up is a view looking northwest:

That strip of blue slightly left center is the Han River.  Next a view to the southeast:

This view--due east--is largely obscured by "Blue 9" (which I am told is now the largest building in Gangseo-gu), but in the space to its left, you can see the Hangang.  Just over the low hill across the river, is nestled the Seoul World Cup Stadium:

Remember to click on the pics to see a full-size version.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


I suppose it's inevitable that a Seoul blogger must have a post about the G-20 economic summit that is starting tomorrow: President Obama arrived in Seoul tday; Medvedev and Lee agree on closer ties; execs urge G20 to tackle protectionism (in Korea? Riiight!); 2 meter steel fence erected around COEX; Park Ji Sung single-handedly wins match for Man U ...

I'm not going to talk about any of that, even though Ji Sung's second goal truly was a stroke of genius. To set the stage a bit, my first graders are wrapping up a month-long unit on movies. The final activity is to design their own DVD jacket cover for a movie--it could be a real movie or one they made up, and there were various required elements, etc. I basically stole this idea from my electronic friends at eatyourkimchi.com (though I made up a full-size template to draw on).

Anyway, one of my favorites is pictured below, titled "G-19 - Assasin of the President":

His plot summary is as follows:
D-1 before G-20, the president of Brazil was assasinated! But the Korean government hide this truth to success this appointment. Only one bodyguard have to kill the assasin and tell the truth to everybody.

Sounds like a pretty good flick to me.

School Budgets

About two weeks ago, I went to the annual SMOE NSET workshop, which I barely mentioned here because there was not much to mention. However, during the sharing session, a couple of people (these are all high school teachers) talked about their candy budget.

I had two responses to that: a) that much candy you need a budget? Seriously? For high school students? Whatever; and b) you have a budget?

So, this got me wondering, Do I have a classroom budget? Before I go on, let me clarify it's not that the school I am at is niggardly (with apologies to David Howard), as whenever I've asked for teaching materials they've always been very accommodating--but that's not the same as having a budget!

In any case, I pretty much have what I need: enough desks and chairs; heater and air conditioner; loads of lockable storage cabinets; a modern computer and sound system; and even a large touch-screen display. In fact, it's a rather nice room. Still, I buy things for my classes occasionally, like those witches' hats for the Harry Potter pictures. I generally just out-of-pocket the expense, and don't worry about it--what's a few thousand won here or there, right? (I know, I know, I'll never be a millionaire thinking that way ...)

But I also generally save the receipts.

I've wanted a presentation pointer for a while (the kind of thing that lets you advance Powerpoint slides and so on from anywhere in the room), but Miss Lee had told me that Korean teachers should buy that for themselves. At 75 to 100 KW (kilowon), I didn't want one that much. Well, I did finally break down and buy one just recently for use in my public speaking class.

Anyway, I asked around about my classroom budget, and got an answer today: 500,000 W. About USD 450. This does not include paper and printing costs. So, I go to my room and tally up the receipts I've collected since March 2: 88,420 W.

Yikes. Coming out of my pocket, that sounds like a lot, but coming out of a 500,000 won budget, it's not much. Therefore, I went to the nearby Daiso during my free period and bought twenty bucks worth of marker pens and plastic tubs to put them in, so there are enough for each of my student tables to have their own. (For a first grade lesson I'll blog around the end of the week.) 111,420 W. 388,580 W to go.

Serendipitously (with apologies to Arthur C. Clarke), when I looked through the papers this evening, what did I see but a story carried in both the Korea Herald and the JoongAng Daily about next year's budget from SMOE (my employer). Sez KH:
The Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education will almost quadruple the free education budget next year, officials said Monday.
The office unveiled its final budget plan for next year, which amounts to 6.6 trillion won, a 4.7 percent increase from this year.
A total of 249 billion won is to be allocated to free education, a 376.7 percent rise from this year’s 52.2 billion won, according to the budget plan.
Of that amount, 116.2 billion won is to be used for free meals in elementary schools,

The article continues:
The education support fund for low-income family preschool children has been raised by 51.4 percent from 29.5 billion won to 75 billion won, officials said.

Hmmm. Actually, 151.4% of 29.5 billion comes to about 45 billion. This would presumably be a typo by the Herald, as the JAD account gives the current budget number as 49.5 billion.

So, where is all that money coming from, if the net effect of these increases only raised the budget by 4.7%? Cutting back on native teachers, perhaps?

Maybe, but there's no mention of it. No, the big loser appears to be school facilities improvement, which KH calls "repairing and exchanging deteriorated buildings and facilities": down 27.1 percent.

The upshot is, then, that it is my school's plan to build an elevated gymnasium, rather than me and my measly 500 dollar budget, that will suffer from the cuts: click here and scroll to #4.

Monday, November 8, 2010

FC Seoul Tops K-League

FC Seoul had dropped as far down as fifth place in the middle of the season, but rebounded to take a one-point lead over Jeju United on gameday 29 (of 30) with a victory over Seongnam. Of the five teams that held first place during the season, Jeju was it for the longest, at 10 consecutive weeks before being dethroned.

Still, one point is a perilous lead in any season, no less the Korean pro soccer league. Sunday's match-ups pitted #1 and #2 against bottom tier squads Daejeon Citizen and Incheon United, respectively.

It looked good for FCS from the start, with a goal in the fourth minute to deflate the opposition--additionally, Seoul has not lost a game at home in sixteen straight starts, a win this day would tie the K-League record. The match magazine declared 정조국 key player #1 today, and there he was drawing first blood.

It looked for a long time like that was all the scoring we would see, but with about 17 minutes remaining, Daejeon got a goal from about 8 yards out by some dude who was not even on the roster in the magazine.  I never saw them post an updated score from the Jeju match, so one could only hope they were in a tie as well.

FCS didn't think like that, though, and really put on the pressure, challenging the defense again and again until  김치우 got the go ahead point in the 88th minute!  Turns out the tie was really all that was needed, as Jeju and Incheon went scoreless through ninety minutes.

So, there will be but one more game at Sangam this season, the final game of a two-leg championship on December 5th.   I'll be there.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Size Matters

... at least when it comes to your score on the SAT essay section.  Didn't know the SAT has an essay section?  You're not alone--my informal survey on this question found one out of two people didn't know the SAT even has an essay section, which is 50% of the sample.  The other 50% couldn't remember what SAT stands for.  Mind you, this survey has a margin of error of + or - (whichever the case may be) 15,000 per cent.

My survey is slightly less scientific (but only slightly) than that performed by a New York high school student and reported by ABC News: Has Teen Unlocked the Secret to a Better SAT Score?  Nebbishy fourteen-year-old Milo Beckman has taken the SAT twice, and found that even though his second essay was factually inaccurate and generally inferior, it earned a higher score.

It was longer:
"My hypothesis is that longer essays on the SAT essay component score higher," he said.
So he asked his fellow students at New York City's Stuyvesant High School to count how many lines they had written on their essays and to provide their scores.
"I thought, 'This ought to be interesting.' I've always wondered about this, too," said David Sugarman, a classmate.
"This was something directly related to the SAT itself and the means by which, you know, we were being graded," another classmate, Yana Azova, said.
Milo says out of 115 samples, longer essays almost always garnered higher scores.
"The probability that such a strong correlation would happen by chance is 10 to the negative 18th. So 00000 …18 zeros and then (an) 18. Which is zero," he said.

Me?  I kinda wonder what are the chances that it's really an 18 after those 18 zeroes?

Another thing I wonder is, why has a 14-year-old already taken the SAT twice?  I only took it once, as a high school senior, and that was under duress.  Back then, the top score was something like 23.  Today, you can get 14 million on your SAT.  And you still might not get into Harverd. 

The ABC News story follows up Milo's research with some MIT professor's insane blathering about how to do well on this (largely imaginary, according to my research) essay section, including such advice as memorize some big words and sprinkle them randomly throughout your writing, and conclude your paper with a quote by a famous person, even if it is totally unrelated to your topic, and even if you don't really remember it well enough to get it right.  I hasten to add that I am NOT making this part up.  

Which explains why I didn't get into MIT.  As the poet Sherman Helmsley said, "I am the Captain of my Fate, I am the something something here in Seoul."

Young-il Wizards

I'm just going to share a few pictures of my second grade students during the "Harry Potter and the Sorting Hat" lesson. The boys really love the Harry Potter books, so I can use that. It is also competitive, which they love even more.

"Running Dictation", or shall we call it analog downloading, they are less fond of, because it actually requires them to speak English for the purpose of communication to a classmate. What could be better than that, if you are a teacher of conversational English?

Friday, November 5, 2010

... And Pack Your Water Wings

Thanks to alert reader Wei Bo, here is an amusing tidbit from Google Maps. Check out direction number 43:

(Click on the image to see larger version)

Wednesday, November 3, 2010


A 'new' dinosaur (공룡, if you didn't guess) has been officially catalogued, the first time in the annals that one has been labeled indiginous to the Korean peninsula--and it's been named Koreanosaurus boseongenesis, in honor of that provenance.

A member of the family ornithiscia (bird-hipped), no one will be making movies about it, as it was fast-running herbivore, about three feet tall and 10 feet long, weighing in at 220 pounds. It lived in the Cretaceous, the last period of the Mesozoic, and spent most of its time being an appetizer for T. Rex and his homies, or burrowing into the ground to get away from them.

The fossil was found in May 2003 by a team from the Korea Dinosaur Research Center in Boseong-gun in Jeollanam-do, on the southern tip of Korea:

Here is a photograph of the fossil's "holotype" (the original or best early specimen) that I ripped from a copy of the paper introducing the new dinosaur:

The paper was published in October, and both the Chosun Ilbo and the JoongAng Daily (from whence I got the top image) ran stories today. A Wikipedia page was put up on October 19.