Friday, April 29, 2011

Never Know Who You Might Meet ...

This post is actually no more or less than clearing out the images that happened to be on camera today!

First thing this morning, I took a picture out my classroom window of the progress being made on my school's new gymnasium. To me, it appears to be going quite fast, even if the last two days' rain put a temporary stop to things. Here are the latest pics:


This week's class lesson has been in preparation for the midterm English exams. I previously asked my co-teachers for sample questions that would be similar to the exam, but only got 50% to do even that much (and I think, despite all that that my co-teachers are a cut above ther ordinary!)

Anyway, we're playing Jeopardy, but mostly without the Jeopardy features--I don't require them to answer in the form of a question (except the grammar category) and they don't lose points by guessing wrong. Except on a Daily Double.

Purists (well, like me, really) would argue that without a jeopardy, a risk, you're not even playing Jeopardy. Yep. Sue me. I think it's more important to get them to try--if they felt they'd be penalized for a wrong answer, we'd have total silence.

The graphics are good, the format is logical (easy questions behind the 100 value, working up to the 500 dollar question, which must be exactly right), the competition is tight, and the kids love it! Here are students brandishing their noisemakers before the clue is revealed:

Yeah, that is a rubber chicken for Team 4. Going in order, if I gave it to Team 1, it wouldn't be nearly as funny!

Mr Right held back with a few students to rearrange the desks back into the usual fashion, so I was finished with school earlier than expected. So I was walking down Deungchon-gil toward one of my favorite restaurants when I spotted a bevy of ladies ahead of me wearing colored sashes. They had a mascot of some kind with them, and so I pursued them in order to add to my collection of ME+mascot photos.


Success! I think what he have here is a walking perfume atomizer for a cosmetics firm. You never know who you might meet on the streets of Seoul!

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Education News

1) Korean History will become a mandatory subject in Korean high schools starting next year, according to articles in the JoongAng Daily and the Korea Times. The decision reverses a policy adopted only in 2009 to make history optional in the name of decreasing the academic burden on students. Why the quick turnaround?
“Due to the Japanese government’s recent claim over Dokdo, demands have been high for teaching students the history of Korea,” said Lee Ju-ho, the education minister. “The new policy is aimed at encouraging students to feel proud of Korean history and uphold their will to protect our territory.”

Ah, Dokdo. Of course.

2) In an unpublished survey of 290,000 Korean students and parents, students give low approval to leveled single-classroom English courses.
The Hankyoreh acquired an unpublished Ministry of Education, Science and Technology (MEST) research report on the results of English education policy and plans for development Thursday through the office of Kwon Young-ghil, Democratic Labor Party lawmaker and National Assembly Education, Science and Technology Committee member. Middle and high school students were surveyed on five areas of English education policy, namely leveled single-classroom English courses, English-only classes, EBS English education broadcasts, weekly one-hour conversation classes, and subject-based classrooms. Of these, only the EBS program was found to have more than 50 percent of respondents answering that they believed their English skills improved after the experience. Positive response rates generally fell in the 40 percent range for the remainder.

Fewer than half the high school (39%) and middle school (48%) students responded that they believed subject-based classrooms would be helpful in improving their English skills. These would generally be classrooms in which native speaking teachers require students to listen to English and actually speak in English some non-zero amount.

"In contrast, some 64.9 percent of high school students and 68.9 percent of middle school students responded affirmatively to a question about whether they believed the EBS [television] program helped them develop their English abilities." In this class, students are not required to do anything other than watch TV, or go to sleep.
“This report clearly shows that the Lee Myung-bak administration’s ‘English immersion education’ is nothing more than a lot of noisy sloganeering, and that satisfaction rates at the actual scenes are low on the whole,” Kwon [Young-ghil, Democratic Labor Party lawmaker] said.

This report in actually proves nothing at all, except perhaps that Korean middle and high school students hate to actually speak English and much prefer to sleep or watch TV. The survey asked their opinions but did nothing to evaluate their English proficiency or its improvement.

But let's be realistic. I (like most in EPIK) teach students for fifty minutes once a week, in about fifteen of the 19 weeks of a semester. That's 25 hours of contact time, max. There is not a lot of room in there to affect dramatic change--so I settle for incremental improvement, mostly in the unwillingness to try speaking a little bit.

Not surprisingly, high marks were found in the elementary school area, where about 80% felt that adding one to two hours of English instruction per week would help them improve their English abilities. No shit, Sherlock.

The Hankoryeh story begins with this anecdote:
In January 2008, then-Presidential Transition Committee Chairwoman Lee Kyung-sook, currently chairperson of the Korea Student Aid Foundation, said at a hearing on English education, “Americans do not understand when you say ‘oh-ren-jee.’ You need to say ‘ah-rinj’ for them to understand you.” Lee expressed the view that the method for writing English words should be changed accordingly. “Ah-rinj" subsequently became a symbol of the Lee Myung-bak administration’s “English immersion policy,” and a number of English education policies were implemented under the administration, including leveled single-classroom English courses. Three years later, however, the results have been poor.

Indeed, Koreans still say oh-ren-jee. But other than that, actual results of the programs were left totally unexamined by the report.

Street vendors driven out of Insa-dong

Yesterday was the official celebration of 새마을운동Saemaeul Undong, the "new village program" of the seventies and early eighties in Korea by which the government modernized, electrified and macadamized, if you will, most of the country, and the countryside as well. The movement was the public face of strongman Park Chung-hee's infrastructure improvement program, which is recognized for its success in taking Korea from dirt-poor, backwards-ass feudalism to a fully industrialized First World economic powerhouse.

How disappointing, then, to read about Jongro-gu's plan to squelch the Saemaeul spirit of entrepreneurship by ridding Insa-dong of its 포장마차 pojang macha, the street vendors who line the street with their covered wagons.

The article, entitled Street vendors driven out of Insa-dong, does perhaps a better job explaining the position of the embattled vendors than it does explaining why the local government wants them gone. According to the article, "Jongno-gu Office cites passengers’ right to pleasant walking on less congested streets". That's it? Really?

Last time I visited Insa-dong was during Tanner's visit, and navigating the crowds was not an issue. But that was in the coldest part of January, so I went back on Saturday, under very pleasant weather conditions, to see how bad it was.


Hmm, what's what in the center of the bottom photo? An automobile? Why, isn't that illegal on this street on a Saturday? "The ward office plans to move Insa-dong’s 76 stalls to two designated spots as part of its plan to make the street car-free on weekdays as well as weekends." How about the ward office start by enforcing the laws currently on the books?

But what are talking about here, anyway? I didn't attempt to shoot every one of the 76 stalls, but here are a few of my better stills:


So, first of all, the crowding along Insa-dong-gil is quite manageable; and secondly, the stalls, far from being a hazard, are one of the charming and memorable things about the "Insa-dong shopping experience." I would urge the Jongno-gu powers-that-be not to throw out the baby with the bathwater.

If they are serious about making Insa-dong a more traditional experience, they would do better to ban places like this:


Friday, April 22, 2011

An Occurrence in Whitechapel

"As you can see, something terrible has happened here! Your job today is to find out who this person is; who did this to them; and why they did it!"

Thus begins this week's lesson, a create-your-own style mystery set in Victorian England. The student pairs are Mycroft Pound and his friend and associate Dr. Browning, who must work their way to the solution of the crime by reading the "event cards" and deciding what to do next.

3 1/2 hours spent arranging my classroom after school last Friday was the final stage in preparation of this lesson. I adapted the story from one by Helen Brooke titled "Mystery in London", put the events into MS Word, with their various "go to" statements and some appropriate images to suggest atmosphere, and had them laminated.

Laminating was a good move, because as those Dear Readers who have come a-gathering in my Seoul patch for a long time may recall, I did this identical lesson two years ago.

I created an all-new Pound and Browning mystery for last year's classes, "Murder in Hyde Park". I only teach students for two years, so two mysteries is all I need--I'll recycle Hyde Park next year, should I still be here, etc, etc.

After the dramatic introduction and explanation, students pair up as the detective duo and receive their handout:

They have to read the opening and answer a few comprehension questions before they can begin. They record the number of each event card they visit as they go along in the grid below the picture of themselves (that's Mycroft--or more humorously, "Microsoft"--Pound on the left).

I have the luxury of a deserted classroom across the hall from me, so once a team solves the case and answers my exit questions, they can repair next door and work on a puzzle page I made reinforcing key terms from the lesson.

Most students really enjoy doing activities like this--it is challenge for many of them: while the most fluent teams may finish in ten minutes or so, twenty-five minutes is a more likely time frame. Of course, these stories could be adapted further to make them harder to solve, or much easier, depending on your needs. It's one of a teacher's rewards to observe the victory celebration as they exult in completing this task.

Sadly, many of my classes have a few students who resist doing anything productive no matter how I try to motivate them. Frankly, I just do not expend too much energy worrying about them. I would rather focus on the cases where students had not finished the mystery when classtime was over, but still wanted to find out what happened--naturally I or my co would shepherd them through the final cards so they could reach the end.

Monday, April 18, 2011

News From the North

Springtime is creeping northward on the peninsula, and so is reaching the DPRK about now, hopefully giving its impoverished masses a few moments of joy while they enjoy the sun on their backs.

Alas, this bright sunshine may be obscured for many in the North: in addition to "fresh U.N. sanctions for a nuclear test in May and flooding a few months ago that wiped out farmland in a country that already faces chronic food shortages (Reuters)", NASA Earth Observatory posted this image of widespread forest fires:

[The Aqua] satellite captured this image of smoke pouring from dozens of fires (marked in red) in North Korea. These fires could be related to agricultural burning; however, the huge plumes of smoke blowing eastward from some of the coastal fires suggest that those blazes are forest or other wildland fires. Much of the Korean Peninsula’s precipitation falls between June and September during the “wet” monsoon phase. Therefore, these fires are burning at one of the driest times of the year.

The Reuters story reports that no official word has come from DPRK media, but today's Korea Times online has this:
“This year there are many reports of forest fires in North Korea. Residents here are waiting for it to stop spreading by itself. They are also criticizing those who are trying to put out the fires,” reported a North Korean radio broadcast.
According to the media, residents are happy about these fires because the land will be cleared for farming and firewood will be readily available to them.

Gotta wonder about the logic (or English) there: burning down a tree doesn't create firewood, but fired wood. Further, the clearing of land for agriculture is meaningless in an extended cycle of drought and flooding when you lack modern means of irrigation. Like, say, North Korea.

Of course, it's not the residents saying those things, but the party cadres, whose job it is to prove that in North Korea, shit doesn't stink.

Speaking of which, the Daily NK has a story about the spread of Paratyphus in Pyongyang--a bacterial disease associated with poor sewage, flooding and civil engineering failures common to the Third World. Like Pyongyang, sadly.
Since the disease is bacterial and highly contagious, treatment is best done in isolation, while the area where the disease breaks out should be thoroughly disinfected.
However, a country with limited resources such as North Korea struggles to deal with such things. The source explained, "Paratyphus normally spreads through water and defecation, and has spread quickly now because the water pipes here are old and there is a lack of water treatment chemicals.”
“There is a water treatment plant in Nakrang district but there are no chemicals so the authorities are at a loss as to what to do," the source went on.
Nevertheless, the North Korean authorities are doing what they are best at; working to control passage through areas where the disease is currently spreading in an effort to hinder its movement. According to the source, "Public Security Agency guard posts have been set up all over."
In addition, the authorities are allegedly only approving travel for people carrying certificates confirming that they have been vaccinated against the disease. The vaccination and certificate are both officially free; however, this is not really the case in corruption-ridden North Korea.
Therefore, since the cost of the certificate is expensive and obtaining it troublesome, many small traders and other travelers are said to be bribing their way past the guard posts with money or cigarettes.

North Koreans deserve better than this. That is an obvious statement, but one that the Chinese government and the Kim regime's other enablers need to recognize. Also, something more South Koreans need to become more passionate about...

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Yeouido Cherry Blossom Festival 2011

Today was a fine day for a visit to Yunjungno, the avenue that circles Korea's National Assembly building on Yeouido--teeming with sights such as the above. The air was crisp, the sky blue, the slightest of breezes drifted across the Han River, the sightseers roamed twenty abreast and a thousand deep, with as my blogger pal GBSTW! put it, "nary an elbow thrown".

Along the first third or so of the promenade, one sidewalk is devoted to displaying sculptural or free-standing artworks. The theme seems to be that the works must be largely comprised of natural objects like flowers, leaves and branches (not from cherries, though) placed in some kind of relationship to glass or metal. Below are some of the more interesting examples:

Well, enough of that. Now back to the stars of the show, a few more shots of cherry blossoms.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Survey Says

I have been doing the same lesson back-to-back in my first grade classes the last two weeks. Well, it isn't the same lesson, per se, but the same activity--a survey of habits and preferences of other students in the class.

Each team has to create three survey questions about their specific topic, then spread out and find their classmates' opinions, habits, preferences, etc. I give them a form, thus:

Curiously, there are a few difficulties with this form, experienced by more students than I would like to admit: 1) writing their questions along the slanted lines--some students ignore the lines and write horizontally; b) trying to fill in the answers to the three questions going down a column, rather than across a row (??!); 3) writing their own name repeatedly in the space labeled Name. So I have created a mock-up version to illustrate how to complete the form. In fact, I have a whole notebook filled with mock-up versions of different hand-outs for my lessons.

Each team is given a specific topic related to the general unit topic. for instance, last week we finished the cell phone chapter, so topics included: game-playing; camera; parents/punishment/restrictions; statistics. This week the subject is food, and topics include fast food, genetically modified foods, Youngil school lunch, snacks, cooking, etc. My classes have 40 students, or ten teams of four, and thus ten topics, but you get the idea. The co and I move actively from group to group helping them with their questions. Then they spend ten to twelve minutes going around the classroom, asking their questions and answering other students'.

At least, hopefully. Korean students have a real desire to please the teacher, which means to them completing the worksheet. If there are twelve slots to fill in, they must fill in ALL twelve slots. They know it would be impossible to do this in twelve minutes by speaking their questions in English, waiting for their classmate to process and answer the questions, then understand the answers and write them down (which is exactly what I want them to do), especially if they than repeat the process in reverse.

So they tend to do two things which utterly defeat the purpose of the activity, no matter how strenuously and clearly they told NOT to do them: a) give their survey paper to the other person, let him read and write his own answers (see, they read and write English quite well--they just can't speak and listen. That that fact is why they have this class doesn't seem to register with them in their zeal to complete the assignment); or b) read it in English once, then translate into Korean for the sake of expediency.

During the last phase, they return to their groups, combine the data and calculate the results; to wrap up, I ask each group a question to see what they learned about the class's food preferences, like: "Team I, what percentage of students think the school lunch service is delicious?" and "Team A, what is the favorite fast food in this class?" For MI Theory practitioners, this is the opportunity for the math/logic intelligence to shine.

The class survey, pretty good lesson idea. It's not perfect--I don't yet have any lessons that are. It provides a focused, student-generated opportunity for conversation. It requires both teachers to actively listen and relentlessly correct during conversation, which makes it quite tiring.

But you learn things. For instance, very few students admit to having "self-pics" on their cell phone, and ice cream is easily the most popular dessert food among my students. Also about 70% are happy with the school lunch program, a turn-around from two years ago, when we ditched J & J Catering for Dongwon Food Service.

The funny thing is, Dongwon was so much worse, the situation became such that the faculty lunchroom was deserted because everyone left campus for lunch. Now, they have J & J back again, and people seem far happier.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

OB Golden Lager

A new product from our friends at Oriental Brewery, OB Golden Lager claims to be made from 100% German Hop and Golden Malt, as you can see in the photo. Now available at my local E-Mart (and probably yours, as well).

For the unfamiliar, OB produces a large percentage of Korea's beers, including the Cass and Cafri lines. Their chief competitor is Hite. Generally speaking, Korean beers are brewed with rice rather than barley malt, and therefore have a different flavor profile than Westerners are used to. Lighter. Weaker, some would say.

Well, different. At 4 to 5% ABV, certainly not less potent.

A little history: Oriental Brewery, "since 1933" as the logo says, was a victim of Japanese colonialism. Then the Doosan chaebol came along:
Oriental Brewery was re-established in the aftermath of the Korean War, emerging later as a reputable international brewer with a diversified portfolio that included construction, machinery, glass, beverages, media, and trade businesses.
Indeed, today's Doosan Bears baseball franchise was originally the OB Bears, as we were reminded on baseball's opening day at Jamsil Stadium when the pre-game festivities celebrated 30 years of the KBO.

When Colonel Sanders brought Kentucky Fried Chicken to Korea in the early 1980s to popular acclaim, OB saw an opportunity to sell a lot of beer by marrying it to fried chicken, and opened hundreds of "chicken hofs" around the country. What better to wash down that delicious new Western golden fried meat than a crisp cold beer? What, indeed? It was a successful strategy that is no less successful today.

OB no longer shelters under the Doosan umbrella--bought by InBev a decade ago and shed to KKR in 2009, it is a back-bencher in the game played by the Big 10, who now account for 65% of the USD 300 billion industry.

So how is the OB Golden Lager? I wish I knew, but my sinuses have been decimated by the recent haze of yellow dust, I have a sore throat and occasional sneezing fits. Still, I'm taking one for the Dear Readers and trying to work my way through the six-pack as a taste test.

I can recommend it, though, because despite all that, it has a definite beer taste. It also has a nice head and a darker color than, say, Cass. E-Mart has had Carlsberg on sale, so I have been spoiled by a good Danish lager from the folks who isolated the species of yeast that makes pale lager and brought us the pH scale.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Education News

1) All the major papers are covering events at KAIST (Korea Advanced Institute for Sciece and Technology), where four college students have committed suicide since the beginning of the year.  This seems extraordinary, but according to the DongA's take on the tragedy:
... a combined 16 students have committed suicide, with four taking their lives in 2003 and this year each. Given the student body of 10,000, this translates into 1.4 to 1.5 suicides per 10,000 students per year.
This figure is no different from the national average suicide rate for undergraduate and graduate students. Of 2.1 million undergraduate and graduate students nationwide, 230 to 340 kill themselves every year.
Still, the recent flurry of deaths have prompted concern.  Some critics place the blame on president Suh Nam-pyo, a former MIT prof. who took over the reins in 2006.  The Korea Herald chronicles:
Suh revised the tenure system which used to guarantee the faculty members’ right to stay permanently at the school. He then ordered all lectures at the school to be delivered in English.

In 2007, Suh adopted a unique tuition system, which is believed to have driven many students to the verge of breakdown.
The state-funded elite school, which was established in 1971 to nurture talented scientists and engineers, had not originally received any tuition from students.
However, under the new tuition system, students are required to pay different levels of fees up to 6 million won ($5,538) a year when their grade point averages are less than 3.0 out of 4.3.
Of the total 7,805 students enrolled last year, 1,600 students, or 12.9 percent, paid an average of 2.45 million won. And the figure has been on the rise recently, with 4.9 percent in 2008 and 8 percent in 2009.
 According to reports, this problem did not affect the students who died, but Suh is nonetheless walking back the policy.  It seems to me a pretty poor policy to begin with, adding huge pressures to students, espcially from poorer families; it was also an effective design to empower unethical professors to bestow grades in return for, ah, favors.

2) Speaking of bestowing grades, a JoongAng Daily article titled 'Teachers are under fire for revising report cards' reports on homeroom teachers at 23 high schools in Seoul for revising previous teachers' comments on report cards without permission, to enhance sthe students' chances for admission to colleges. 
According to the office, the teachers revised the cards because so many parents and students pressured them to do so, saying any negative comments would hinder the students from gaining admission.
“It is true that teachers feel burdened when parents and students beg them to change the comments on the cards,” a teacher in Seoul said. “If we don’t do it, they would blame us, saying we are leading students to fail to enter university.” [...]
Among the revised comments on the cards, 41 percent of them were about career counseling for students, and 32 percent were about reading habits of students. The rest of them were about student club activities or volunteering.
Teachers who committed the unauthorized revisions of report cards will be given warnings or reprimands.
3) Finally this week, both the Times and the Herald cover a report from Korea Educational Development Institute stating the number of high school students choosing to study a second foreign language (after English) fell sharply last year, after authorities decided it was no longer necessary:
The number of second foreign language classes at high schools nationwide also fell 11.2 percent to 18,554, the data found.
The dive in popularity for a second foreign language has come after the government adjusted high school curricula in 2009 to put more emphasis on the study of English, Korean language and math. Learning a second foreign language was compulsory until 2009.
By language, the number of students who chose German as a second foreign language marked the steepest 26.9 percent fall from 29,881 to 21,841, according to the data.
Students of Spanish also fell 25.4 percent, followed by French (18.6 percent), Japanese (17.5 percent), Chinese (13.3 percent) and Russian (5.6 percent), they said.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Off the Bookshelf

  • The Queens of K-Town by Angela Mi Young Hur - Chick Lit set mainly in New York's Koreatown about a dysfunctional family with a kind of reverse 'wild goose' phenomenon: a Korean family has come intact to America, but the mother returns to Seoul, ostensibly to care for her dying father. The narrative is confusing at first, as Cora's story is told alternately in first and third person at two different points in her life: first, at sixteen, in the period surrounding her friend's suicide, then at 26, when she is contemplating suicide herself. Lots of familiar elements, from the grad student whose thesis keeps shape-shifting to the mistakes one makes after too much soju in a Korean barbeque restaurant, woven together in a way that at least kept me turning the pages.
  • Bangkok Babylon by Jerry Hopkins - I picked this up in Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi Airport for fear that my borrowed Sony eReader's battery would die on the flight home, and it makes great travel reading, as it consists of about two dozen profiles of Western expats in Thailand, written with Hopkins' famous ability for broad narrative sweep mixed with a unique eye for telling detail. His subjects include a couple of CIA operatives left over from the Viet Nam war, a couple of bar owners, the Lonely Planet guide author, a few businessmen, a child molester, and himself (he's the guy that worked for Rolling Stone and then wrote seminal bios of Jim Morrison and Jimi Hendrix, among others, creating a new genre).
  • The Book of Unholy Mischief by Elle Newmark - This book has the makings of great novel, with delicious imagery (it mostly focuses on life in the kitchens of the Doge of Venice in about 1498), well-drawn characters, and an intriguing plot about how chefs serve as the Guardians of knowledge in this benighted time, with their recipe books as secret compendia. After 350 pages, we're well-set for a stunning climax. The reader has been sensing the momentum of a subplot about the Gnostic Gospels and the power-hungry Borgia in Rome, Pope Alexander VI, but the story ends without even a mention of them. Perhaps this was the author shying away from Dan Brown-ing it, but whatever the reason, it is a serious flaw.
  • The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart - The jacket blurbs for this book compare it to the great Roald Dahl, but I frankly don't see it. On the plus side, I found its 485 pages an adequate diversion for a few days, with its quirky but believable characters who find themselves in a peculiar set of circumstances and undertake a risky adventure to thwart a mysterious foe. In the negative column, the evil foe and his sinister plan seem rather farefetched--not just to me now, but to me as a reader at age twelve (the target demographic). Still, it has lots of clever puzzlers and sticky situations for our heroes to solve along the way, thereby keeping the reader engaged. There is a sequel, which I might pick up if I find it on sale, like this volume was.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Art and Tyranny, Part 2

A couple of months ago, I wrote a blog post about how tyrants like to control artists and artistic expresson in their countries. Specifically, I was talking about Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe and Kim Jong-il in DPRK.

To that list, we can now add Paul LePage, governor of Maine. Well, okay, he's not exactly a tyrant, being the duly elected leader of the state, but he is a plus-size jackass, if stories like this one are true.

The governor has had removed from the state's Labor Department headquarters an 11-section, 36-foot mural depicting scenes from Maine's history of labor relations. Click here for a panel by panel view.

The reason? "I’m trying to send a message to everyone in the state that the state of Maine looks at employees and employers equally, neutrally and on balance. And the mural sends a message that we’re one sided, and I don’t want to send that message," said LePage in a radio interview.

The removal was prompted by complaints from "several business officials", but the only verifiable one was an anonymous fax that reads in part:
I felt for a moment that I was in communist North Korea where they use these murals to brainwash the masses.

1) True, communist governments like to present an idyllic view of communism in art, and a negative one of capitalism (I visited the awesome Propaganda Poster Art Museum on my visit to Shanghai last year).
2) But mostly, such scenes are highly idealised or not even based on fact. The mural in question is thoroughly fact-based, depicting real scenes from Maine's past.
3) And more frequently, tyrants use art--or indeed remove it--in their attempt to rewrite history to serve their own ends. Sorry, Guv, Maine has a mixed labor relations history: learn from it, deal with it, honor it, don't try to hide it in an undisclosed location.

For a few words from artist Judy Taylor, visit Bangor Daily News.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Don't Breathe the Yellow Dust

... apologies to Frank Zappa.

Nearly 1 million tons of contaminated sand is expected to sprinkle the country in the next two months, according to the Korean Meteorological Association (KMA).

No, this is not fallout from the Fukushima nuclear reactors in northeastern Japan, but the ordinary springtime dosage of bad-shit-pollution from China. According to JoongAng Daily:
Small amounts of cesium-137, a highly radioactive material, have been detected in Korea’s air and soil between February and April - when the dust gets most serious - over the past 10 years, the Korea Institute of Nuclear Safety said in a report submitted to an opposition lawmaker.
Yellow dust - fine sand blown from the Gobi Desert in China and Mongolia every spring that sometimes includes toxic chemical smog emitted by Chinese factories - can cause respiratory disorders.
The atmospheric concentration of cesium-137 reached 252 becquerels per cubic meter, especially when the yellow dust continued for up to 11 days, the institute said. The most recent figure was 89.6 becquerels per cubic meters, a relatively high amount, measured for three days in March last year.

Tuttle has noted, especially the last two weeks or so, an unusual congestion, scratchy throat and dry, irritated nose, often explained by his seventeen pack a day cigarette habit (or his exaggeration habit). When the same phenomena are observed in others, he begins to look outside himself, and notices the usually blue Seoul sky (no, seriously) is fogging up the sun and turning brown with floating particulate matter, aka, crap in the air. Yellow dust. Sez Korea Times:
The hazardous storms cost South Korea an estimated 7 trillion won ($6.2 billion) annually and environmentally detrimental, according to state statistics. Local producers of semi conductors and other precision goods see higher defect rates during this season.
More than 34 percent of the entire population, mostly children and the elderly, receive medical treatment for illnesses caused by exposure to the large amount of yellow dust.
Clouds of yellow dust covered South Korea for nearly 10 days a year on average over the last decade between March and May. In 2010, the sandstorms lasted for a total of 12.3 days.

This makes it sound like Seoul has an air pollution problem. Well, there's good news and bad news. The good news is, Seoul's air quality is consistently as good or better than other OECD cities, like Tokyo or New York. The bad news is, that isn't really such good news.

While Seoul has replaced its diesel and petrol buses with cleaner CNG, its attempt to force odd/even driving days seems to have failed. And the Japanese nuclear "meltdown"--though it's not that, of course--isn'r helping matters. From today's Korea Times, describing a "worst possible situation":
The Norwegian Institute for Air Research reported Sunday that cesium-137 and other radioactive materials leaked from the crippled reactors will reach the southern part of the country around 9 a.m. Wednesday and cover the entire Korean Peninsula around 9 a.m. the next day.
Radioactive substances will reach the Korean Peninsula three or four days after leakage from the stricken Fukushima plant, and levels of radioactivity are expected to be higher than ever detected here.

I'm all aglow with anticipation.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Korean Teenager News

Instead of my usual "Education News Roundup" I'm going to focus on two stories from the paps reporting on survey results comparing Korean teenagers' attitudes to those of other nations'. Both surveys came out of the National Youth Policy Institute, but were carried by Korea Times and Korea Herald, respectively.

1) Korean teens less happy than Chinese, Japanese
71.2 percent of surveyed young Koreans said they are happy, lower than the 92.3 percent of Chinese contentment and 75.5 percent of Japanese gladness.
The survey was conducted on 2,268 Korean middle and high school students, 1,167 Chinese and 1,144 Japanese students last October and November.
Of the Korean students who answered "yes" to the question, 20.8 percent said they were very happy, far lower than the ratio of Chinese students' 60.2 percent and still less than that of the 27.6 percent in Japan.
Korean teens also showed the least contentment with their free time, 67.5% being satisfied, presumably with amount and type of leisure time, compared to 78 percent of Chinese and 74.7 percent of Japanese respondents. While it is easy to blame this on lengthy and intensive study time, as the researcher does, it is worth remembering that Japanese students run a similar prep gauntlet.

Check out this BBC report on South Korean education.

Koreans, at 48%, were sandwiched between Chinese (83.7%) and Japanese (23.9%) when asked if they will do anything for their country if it is in danger. Of course, the males will do their mandatory military service, so perhaps they feel it satisfies the requirement.

2) S. Korean teens' social skills among worst in world: report
No surprise there.
Each nation was assessed in the three areas of relationship promotion, social cooperation and conflict management through surveys of students' participation in local and school communities, their perceptions of community and foreigners, as well as democratic solutions to conflicts, the report said.
South Korean teens scored the lowest among the 36 nations with scores of zero in the two areas -- relationship promotion and social cooperation -- that valued highly voluntary participation in local and school communities.
Koreans scored well in the third component, Conflict Resolution, because of their ability to list off possible methods for democratic resolutions--not because of any demonstrated ability to resolve conflicts democratically. The article continues:
Teenagers in Thailand had the best social skills with 0.69 points, while Indonesia (0.64), Ireland (0.60), Guatemala (0.59), Britain (0.53) and Chile (0.52) followed closely behind.
"Social interaction skills are linked to the ability to live harmoniously with culturally or socioeconomically different counterparts, so they are very important to teenagers who are the leading players in a globalized and multicultural age," the report [from NYPI] said.
"(We must) pay attention to the fact that Korean children scored well only in areas with a strong emphasis on written assessments and performed very poorly in areas related to internal and external activities. There is a need for measures to change the policy on developing knowledge toward nurturing independence," it added.