Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Comfort Women Protest

This is a follow-up to a post from November, 2008, that you can see by clicking: Every Wednesday at Noon ...

On a pleasant Wednesday in June, I made my way to Jong-no and stood outside the Japanese Embassy to join the halmoni in attendance and their supporters at the weekly Comfort Women Protest.


Sixty-odd years ago and more, when they were young girls, these women were pressed by various means (from lies about good factory work to outright kidnapping) into "service" by the Japanese military in so-called comfort stations throughout the Asian theatre of World War II where they were raped repeatedly by Japanese soldiers on R & R.

While the Germans have by and large admitted their war crimes in that era, and made reparations, the Japanese government has done no such thing--officially denying that international law was ever violated. Indeed, some in the upper echelons during this era were later elected to high government positions.

Long voiceless and powerless, the remaining Korean women who were violated by this Japanese policy and its execution, or at least those who found the strength to overcome their shame and injury have decided to speak out. Every Wednesday since 1992, those women who were able have assembled here to speak truth to power.


Over the years, their numbers have dwindled as the elderly women grow sick or die; on the handful of occasions I have added my pasty Caucasian frame to the crowd of supporters, the number who attend has ranged from a low of two on a frozen February day to eight on this day.

Someday, and that day is sadly not too far away, the number in attendance will be zero.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Some Good Books

  • Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman - Richard Mayhew is one of Gaiman's typically unlikely heroes: a good boring man with a good boring job, good boring girlfriend and good boring prospects. Until the untypical thing happens, and he is led into one of Gaiman's fantasy worlds--this one a dangerous, complex society hat has dwelt underneath London for millennia. Now he must help the Lady Door evade the ominous Mssrs Croup and Vandemar and find the Angel Islington if he wants his boring but safe life back. Rich in action and imagination, well-written and well-paced. Good, very unboring stuff!
  • Beatrice and Virgil by Yann Martel - Beatrice and Virgil are stuffed animals, she a donkey, he a howler monkey. They are stuffed. They are the lead characters in a play being written by a taxidermist. The taxidermist sends a copy of the opening scenes to a successful author (who seems much like Yann Martel) to ask for help. So the author and the taxidermist begin an odd and unlikely collaboration that culminates in a scene of unexpected violence. There is much to like in this book, including the way Martel uses animals to explore human behavior as he did in Life of Pi, but I found it ultimately too odd and too unsatisfying.
  • Red Scarf Girl by Ji-li Jiang - Shanghai in 1966 found 12-year-old Ji-Li Jiang an outgoing, ambitious and bright Chinese girl. A class leader, talented, popular, she was on her way to admittance into Shanghai's best middle school, then onwards to high school, university and a great life in Chairman Mao's new China. Then came the Cultural Revolution and the campaign against the Four Olds--old customs, old culture, old habits, old ideas--that must be destroyed. Despite the fact that her family were fine communists, they were targeted by the Red Guard because Ji-Li's grandfather had been a landlord in the old days. This memoir describes what happens to Ji-Li and her family during a two year period at the height of the Four Olds campaign. Highly recommended for anyone interested in Asian history.
  • The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield - A complex and exceptionally well-written modern Gothic: a decaying manorial estate in the Yorkshire countryside, madness, forbidden urges, untamed twins, sabotage, and murder are some of the common Gothic themes explored in this book. Best-selling author Vida Winter is terminally ill and wishes, once and for all, to tell her true life story. As biographer, she chooses unknown Margaret Lea who has secrets of her own, and so unfolds the memorable story that may have been 'The Thirteenth Tale of Change and Desperation'. I suppose this is Chick Lit, but it was such a damn good read I didn't really notice.
  • Hiroshima by John Hersey - This groundbreaking piece of long-form journalism covers the story of the first nuclear attack in history by focusing on its effects on a half-dozen ordinary people who were near Ground Zero on August 6, 1945: a seamstress and mother of three, a pair of priests, two doctors, and a young secretary. Originally published in 1946, this 1985 edition includes an Aftermath chapter following up on the lives of Hersey's original subjects 40 years later, only one of whom has passed away. What surprises me most about these people is their disinterest, in the most part, for finding someone to blame--whether the Americans for obvious reasons, or the Japanese hierarchy for failing to protect, or at least warn them.

Fearing the Future

“Coward: One who, in a perilous emergency, thinks with his legs.”
--Ambrose Bierce, Devil's Dictionary
Only 19.5% of 2,500 Korean teenagers responded that "they would fight" in the case of another war in Korea. The story, in today's Korea Herald, suggested that the survey, conducted by Korea Advanced Youth Association and Teengora media, means that Korean students are not "patriotic". I think it depends on how you define patriotism. It has come to mean to many of us a mindless spouting of nationalistic platitudes, and by that definition Korean teens are just as patriotic as American ones.
Meanwhile, in another survey conducted by Chungcheongbuk-do Office of Education, about 37.6 percents of male teenagers replied “yes” to the question concerning their willingness to join the army in case of war.
The study revealed a high gap between genders, as 5.9 percents of female replied positively to the same question.
Another 32.7 percents of boys said they would assist their nation indirectly, making total of 70.3 percents to involve in the war.
What I don't quite understand here is how this question is relevant in face of the fact that Korea has compulsory military service for males. These teenage boys are required by law to perform military service of about two years by the time they reach age 28.

My experience with them, in fact, is that they have three main "fears" in their lives, in this order: 1) their score on the Korean SAT; 2) their military service; and 3) girls.

In a happy coincidence, the JoongAng Daily has a story about a Korean man who was AWOL for 16 years being given a "second chance."
Lee deserted the Army in 1994 due to his grief and confusion following the death of his parents in a traffic accident.
It is hard for a deserter to live a normal life in Korea because every organization is required to cooperate to find runaways.
There is no statute of limitations for the crime, which the military calls a “violation of the order.”
Lee has not publicly disclosed how he lived during his 16 years AWOL.
He turned himself in and was sentenced to, drumroll, please... twenty-four months of military service. And now, at thirty-seven, he is the oldest rank and file soldier in the Army.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Insadong: Little India


Insadong is a great place for top quality Korean food, but when I was there recently I decided to try Little India--I was in the mood for curry, and I had been wondering about the place. It looks authentic enough from outside:


...and from inside as well:


Of course, what really matters in a restaurant is the food, and I was quite pleased. I chose from the "special set" menu, which was a little pricey at 23,000 W but was plenty of food. I ordered chicken masala, lamb curry (meat dishes are your choice of beef, lamb or chicken), yoghurt and fruit desert, and a mango lassi (a kind of Indian shake). It came with rice and naan. And a samosa. It looks good.


My first bite of the curry was reassuring--it was really tasty, just the right heat, sweet and meat flavors. My first impulse was to finish it off, but what if the masala was a disappointment? I wanted to save half in case I needed to wash away a nasty masala.

Fortunately, I needn't have bothered, as it turns out the masala--despite being chicken instead of (to me, at least) tastier lamb--was better, more nuanced, than the curry. The samosa, the tetrahedral pastry, tasted fresh and light.

Next time you're in Insadong, unable to get any decent street food since the pocha have been moved along by the local office, I can recommend the Cafe Little India.

This Week in English B

This week my classroom was converted into the Exhibition Hall of the Young-il Job Fair. This is one of my favorite lessons, and one of the students' as well. It comes from BogglesworldESL, but it has to be beefed up for my classes since I need 10 HR reps and 31 job-seekers in order to accommodate 40+ students.


The activity is essentially the same as described at the website, but I increase the range of skill sets, and sneak in a lot of names that Koreans aren't used to pronouncing--lots of l, r, f and consonant blends. I also use a wider range of companies, including Korean chaebol like Hyundai Heavy Industries and Dongwon FB, and some internationals like DDB Agency and Chevron. Each company has two job functions to fill, so the interviewers have to use the information they learned from the applicant to decide which job to tell them about.


I made a couple of "Welcome to the Young-il Job Fair" type banners, and arranged the classroom as you see in the photos. My co-teacher chooses 10 students to man the interview booths, and gives instruction to the job-seekers in the hallway while I go over the duties of the company reps. "The success of this activity," I intone, "is all up to you. If you are serious, and if you make the others speak and listen in English, this will be a great lesson." Even high school boys respond well to being put in a position of trust and responsibility.


Once that is done, the lesson runs itself, except for guarding the entrance door to ensure an orderly process, monitoring conversations, and checking that interviewees are writing the information they learn correctly and in English--spelling doesn't matter in my class, but not writing in Hangeul does.


Monday 5th period was the Open Class for my contract renewal process, and I was told to expect several members of the administration as well as English Department members to observe. Only the vice principal showed up, walked around for about ten minutes, and left. I was told he was "very pleased". He is rising to become principal when Mr Jun retires in August, so that's a good sign.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Every 토 is 놀토

... at least, starting next year, and at least, according to a story in the DongA Ilbo titled, Schools to introduce 5-day week from next year. 토요일 to-yo-il is the Korean for Saturday, and nol-to is a contraction for "no school Saturday".

Some years ago, Saturday was just another school day for most of Korea's middle and high school students. Then, the government cut down to half-days on Saturday, and more recently to half-days on only the first, third and fifth Saturdays. At my school, these are club days.
"A five-day school week system will be introduced on a voluntary basis at all elementary, middle and high schools nationwide in earnest beginning with the 2012 school year,” the [Education, Science and Technology] ministry said.
Since schools have different educational environments for class, the ministry plans to require school steering committees to review the system and implement it on a voluntary basis.
In line with the expansion of the five-day workweek at companies in Korea, the five-day workweek for the entire population will start in full swing from next year.
Since it is "voluntary", I'm not going to hold my breath. I am sure a great many mothers are unhappy about this, but at least schools will not fall down on their baby-sitting task: "child care classes will be conducted every Saturday for children whose parents both work".

On the other hand, hakwon owners will be happy, as each hour out of school is an hour potentially in academy classes. As the article describes:
The five-day school week system, however, has fueled fears over a hike in private tutoring expenses and lowering of academic performance.
As such, the government will test the new system at 10 percent of elementary and middle schools from this year’s second half. The system will be operated on a trial basis at certain schools to make final check on side effects that could arise from the expansion of the five-day school week as well as countermeasures.
Whew! We can see they've thought it through quite thoroughly: a 4 month trial in one-tenth of schools is certain to iron out the kinks in a social change of enormous magnitude; this is not about shortening the school day by ten minutes, it's loosing 1.5 million children on the streets twice a month.

On the one hand, of course this is a positive move for the health and well-being of Korean children; but on the other hand, I do wish the-powers-that-be here would be a bit more circumspect in these kinds of undertakings.

But it doesn't actually impact me in any case: a) my school will no doubt opt to continue with Saturday school; and b) I don't work on Saturdays.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

SSGT Reckless, Korean War Hero

Last week was a lesson on Sports in my first grade classes, which is mainly a survey activity: teams are given a specific topic and they work together to devise three good survey questions to elicit the opinions of their classmates. Topics in sports include favorite sport, attendance at sports events, women in sports, etc. This year, gambling and game-fixing was included, due to the K-League scandal.

And Animals in Sports. I make that team ask some form of the question, Is it morally right to use animals for our entertainment? I make them ask because I want to know what Korean students think on this issue. I myself am a bit conflicted on it: I love the circus, elephant parades, dogs pushing prams and lion-tamers included, I have been to the racetrack a few times in my day, I even saw the cobra show in Thailand last month and uploaded video to Youtube! But I'm always a bit je ne sais quoi: it's one thing to use them for sustenance, another to force them to perform just for the purpose of relieving our ennui. Of course, being wild creatures, they'd probably be dead otherwise, rather than, say, populating lawn chairs at a clean yet inexpensive resort.

Interestingly, my students seem to be divided right down the middle: 50%, more or less, think it is uncool to treat/mistreat animals like this. Fast forward to today, when when one of my old (well, thirty or so) students posts the link at top on his FB--he's a horsey type from way back.

I'm wondering what my current students would think of this use of an animal, or this particular animal. What do you think? You can read more here: http://www.scuttlebuttsmallchow.com/mascreck.html

It's quite a story, but it ended pretty well for SSGT Reckless. One cannot say the same for many other animals drafted for military use, particularly bomb-carriers like the Soviet anti-tank dogs or the USA's Project Pigeon. Go to this Wikipedia article, scroll down to "As living bombs"--is a content warning here really necessary?

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

A Fable of Aesop

One day, an ESL Teacha was thinking of ways to make his conversation students actually speak English in class. The Teacha thinked and thinked until he was all thunk out. "Oh well, I guess I will just repeat the Aesop's Fables lesson plan I have done before. It wasn't too bad, and some students did actually speak English." In the lesson, teams of students performed one of Aesop's fables in front of the class.

The Teacha also knew that this lesson plan forced students to wrestle with English comprehension in a way that was new to them--they had to simplify the language of an old-fashioned story and make it clear and easy-to-understand.

The time came for the lesson to be implemented. In the first session, teams of students got an Aesop fable of their own to read and simplify, and make into a script. The story was already in English and students were told to rewrite or restate complicated words and sentences in easy English.

Alas, some of the ESL Teacha's helpers "helped" students to rewrite their story in Korean and then translate it back into English. Using "grammar-translation" like this impedes fluency and should rarely be done according to modern language teaching theory. When the Teacha found out, he chewed up the bad assistant helpers into small pieces, spit them out, and buried them behind the library in a kimchi pot, never to be seen again.

In the second session, the students presented their stories in front of the class. As the teacha expected, some of the teams just stood in front of the room and took turns reading parts of the original story without much change. But many of the teams stripped away arcane language, found the key parts of the story and acted it out so other students could understand it! Also, they enjoyed themselves a little bit.

The moral of the story: "Aesop's fables are still accessible today--2500 years and 10,000 miles away!"

I've montaged together one of the stories above, the Bear and the Two Travelers, and will do the same treatment to two or three others if I have the energy. However, I would appreciate feedback on whether you were able to hear and understand the story as told this way--does it need subtitles or captions? Thanks.

For the record, I started with a version of each story at www.aesopfables.com/, then did some amount of editing and simplifying myself before printing out two copies per team. I chose stories on the basis of: 1) did I like it? 2) did it have some action, not just dialogue? 3) did it have some dialogue, not just action? 4) is it short? 5) could it be staged sensibly, with just a desk, a chair and some paper plate masks? 6) did it have 4 characters? (I also have one story with 3 and one with 5 to cover my bases.)

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Pizza and Beer


It's time for the "World Beer Festival" at your local E-Mart, well, my local E-Mart anyway, so I toddled over to see what they had on offer. Several varieties, like Singha, Kirin and Budweiser, were only available in multi-packs, so I forwent those brands and picked up one each of the "World" brands one could pick up only one of.

I needed something to need all that beer to wash down, so I got a big slice of the Combination pizza. You can see there is no corn or sweet potato on it, and the toppings are plentiful. The crust gets a bit soggy in the middle but I'd say this is as good as any reasonably priced pizza I've had in Korea, and better than most.


Beer: W20,970 total; Pizza: W2,500 per slice

Monday, June 6, 2011

Education News

1) The World Competitiveness Yearbook is out, and Korea quickly flipped through it to find its picture. "Geez," Korea said, "did my hair really look like that?! And no one said anything?!" More to the point, Korea’s education ranks 29th in world, according to the folks that put out this annual snapshot of 59 countries.

A story at JoongAng Daily explains that the ranking is based on an analysis of 11 quantitative factors, such as total public expenditure on education and student-teacher ratios. The number also figures in 5 factors culled from corporate surveys, such as how well the education system meets the needs of a competitive economy.

2) Online lessons invade schools, says another JoongAng headline this weekend. The story quotes several people who are unhappy with a trend for teachers to show online videos, parents and education officials, and a few people who like it, mainly students and teachers.

The story focused on the Internet as video provider rather than investigating its capacity to provide interactive learning, review and reinforcement. The article concludes:
“It takes more than the Internet to help students develop creativity and build character,” said Joo-Yun Cho, a professor of elementary education at Seoul National University of Education.
That's certainly true, but it takes more than mind-numbing lecture and rote memorization, too.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Read a Book

  • Look at the Birdie by Kurt Vonnegut - This is the third posthumous collection of unpublished stories from the great writer (the other two being Armegeddon in Retrospect and While Mortals Sleep) and its content conforms to many of the themes he elaborated in his published stories as collected in Welcome ot the Monkey House: the dehumanizing effects of modern life, the underappreciated educator, the insanity of the Cold War. The wry humor, the O. Henry twist, and the spare prose of his best writing is there in some of these pieces, but it's still in development. This book is for the Vonnegut fan, or the student of writing more than for the fledgling in Vonnegut. But for me, weak Vonnegut is better than none at all.
  • It's Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini - Sophomore Craig Gilner is attending New York's prestigious Executive Pre-Professional High School, the first step to a good college, a good job and a good life; but he can't sleep, he can't eat, he can't keep up in school. Finally, after suicidal thoughts get the better of him, he checks himself into the mental hospital a few blocks away from his house. What follows is the humorous but realistic story of how he starts to get better.
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  • Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe - Okonkwo is a leader in his Ibo village in Nigeria. He has learned from the example of lazy, perennially-indebted father, and his hard work has given him a large barn full of yams, three good wives and numerous children. A tragic accident leads to his banishment from the village for seven years, and upon his return, not only is his position much lower, but his village has been changed--white man has come, built a church and started to establish white government. Their tribal religion, and tribal justuce are under threat. Okonkwo convinces a few of the elders and other villagers to take a stand, with tragic results. A powerful fable on the theme of man vs society, and an interesting read.
  • Invisible by Paul Auster - Paul Auster has published two dozen books, including a collection of poetry, and I had never heard of him before picking up this book. Weird, yes, but fascinating, and a solid reading experience. The summer of 1967 found Columbia junior Adam Walker preparing for a Year Abroad program, earning spending money as a clerk in the University library and splitting a flat in Morningside Heights with his older sister. He meets a French couple at a party, and soon a random moment of violence alters the trajectory of his life. The story has three narrators, covers forty years, and stretches from Los Angeles to Paris's Left Bank to a Caribbean island. I'll be on the look-out for more with his name on it.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Air Con--On

I have mentioned that the weather this spring has been quite mild--with windows open and fan running, my officetel has been quite comfy. Until this weekend. This weekend, it got hot. Oh, the weather outside was around 29 or 30 C, but with my southern exposure and eight-foot windows, my thermometer climbed to 33.5 C at 3 PM on Saturday. That's 92 degrees in American!

So, I finally turned the air con on. Or tried to, but neither the remote control nor the button on the wall unit would make it do anything. I made my way downstairs and fond the security guard who speaks English and explained the problem.

"Oh, it's not a problem," he assured me, and showed me an announcement buried on the bulletin board at the elevator bank. "See, 'Air con preparation announcing,'" he read, "they will turn on air con on June first, it will not be a problem."

"Yes, problem," I countered. "It's too hot now; I am not worried about next week, but today!"

He laughed. "I understand; already many people have complained."

"And ...?"

Well, And nothing. Someone in the management offices decided that it wouldn't be hot enough for air con until June, and that's it. Now, this only flummoxed me because it has not been the procedure in the past. I don't know when they have turned on the air con power circuit before, but it wasn't as late as June first, and it was before I needed it.

33.5 C--come on, that's hot. I know the temp because I bought a little thermometer a while ago, the red alcohol type: cheap, dependable technology. I just couldn't abide there at home, so I made my way to Itaewon for some frosty cold beverages and returned when it was a bit cooler. So, yes, Adeel, that may well have been me you saw!

Moving ahead, today is June first. The temperature today was somewhat cooler because of the rain; right now it's 20 C, or about 68 F outside. But I don't care, I've got the air con blowing!