Saturday, December 31, 2011

December Book Report

Well, I haven't been blogging, but I have been reading, my standard book or so per week. Here are my usual snapshot reviews.
  • Worth Dying For by Lee Child - Jack Reacher is Child's franchise character, ex-military, massive, super-smart, with cat-quick reflexes, and an encyclopedic knowledge of anatomy that instantly informs his hand-to-hand combat moves. Moves he needs quite often, at least in the nondescript Nebraska town he finds himself in in this novel. While hitching his way east, Reacher gets entangled in a nefarious family and their stranglehold on the small farming community. He has to kick a fair amount of Cornhusker ass in order to untangle things, which he does with unbelievable alacrity. Still you know he's putting it to really bad guys so you don't mind too much. The problem with the book is that all Reacher's foes are so easily overcome by him it's hard to feel much menace in what should be menacing situations.
  • Red Inferno: 1945 by Robert Conroy - This is an interesting alternate history novel based on the premise that Russians did not stop in Berlin as WWII concluded in Europe, but instead pressed on to attempt the capture of all Germany, thus reneging on the Yalta pacts. What ensues, in this version, is a massive land war once more consuming western Europe, this time with the US, Britain and France (and some of the vanquished Germans) fighting Russia. The book unfurls its events with good pacing through several POV, interesting characters on both sides of the battle lines.
  • Blood Street Punx by Joseph Flynn - Not at all what you might expect of a book whose title suggests it's a novel of Chicago gangstas seen at street level. In fact, the Punx are a group of well-heeled boys from the near North Side who are talented artists. However, most of their parents want them to pursue family careers in law, real estate, etc, so they decide to make a big splash on the art scene--painting giant murals as the gang of the book's title. They seem oblivious to the fact that they are "tagging" territory owned by some of the city's most vicious gangs, and pissing of the mayor and police, as well. They wanted attention, just not the kind of attention they were getting. Interesting premise, well-drawn characters (mostly), a quick read with a satisfying ending. Surprisingly good.
  • Skylar by Gregory McDonald - Teen-age beauty queen Mary Lou Simes has been brutally nurdered, her body found a quarter-mile from The Holler, an illegal dive in the forested area of rural Greendowns County. Sheriff "Pepp" Culpepper and his deputies have a built-in suspect in the person of Skylar Whitfield, the boy who always escorted Mary Lou in her pageants. Skylar is a smart but happy-go-lucky recent high school grad, with no college acceptances but lots of offers from the local females. Meanwhile, his cousin from Boston is spending the summer to recover from mono, and the two don't seem to be getting along. Sheriff Pepp and his wife aren't getting along either, and when another body turns up, the heat is turned up both on Skylar and the Sheriff who is pursuing him. Good story up to the end, but I'm just not sure I can believe the final solution to the murders.

Christmas Cake 2011

Happy Holidays to my Dear Readers, and my apologies for my laxity in posting of late--one of my New Year's Resolutions will be to blog more regularly in the coming year.

Anyway, this year I got two Christmas cakes: one for an early Christmas dinner shared with a couple of good friends, a tasty chocolate mocha affair they called "Opera Cake" at Tous les Jours; the second was the only chocolate one they had left on Christmas Day, populated with the popular children's cartoon figures of Pororo and friends:



Sunday, December 18, 2011

Tuttle [hic] Update

Not much happening around these parts, except we started year-end exams on Thursday, which will continue through Wednesday.

On Thursday, I was invited to 회식, hwe shik, a work lunch, with the Development Department of the school, even though I am not a member. In what I would term quite a coincidence, we had lamb skewers at the same restaurant at Sinjeongnegeori where I had dined with Kevin and The Stumbler just two nights earlier.

The head of the Development Dept, Mr Lee, took a liking to me early on, and I was invited so he could tell me how sad he is to have heard I may be leaving the school. Then liberal doses of Tsingtao and soju were applied, and then a bottle of Hennessey cognac came out, and then blue bottle of some clear Chinese hooch was produced.

At about three or so, several of us were whisked via taxi to meet English Dept head Mr Wright in a local hof, where lots of beer was consumed, followed by noraebang, or singing room.

It is a disconcerting feeling to be swimmingly drunk and back on the street from the noraebang while it's still broad daylight. We went to another hof and had chicken and beer. I texted some of my trivia compatriots that it looked like I would not be in attendance, but was informed I was needed.

Somehow, I got to Itaewon just as the quiz began and kind of sobered up under the influence of only three more beers and some heavily salted French fries. We tied for first with only 37 out of 50, which meant more beer.

Somewhere in there, 필름끊겼다, fillum kkeungyeotda, my film was cut but I woke up in my bed when the alarm went off Friday morning.

And that's how you do a hwe shik.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Moon and the Seasons

As my pal The Stumbler reminded me, last night was a total lunar eclipse, an event that occurs at a full moon phase, when the earth lies directly between the sun and the moon. They are relatively rare, and though the last one was earlier this year (June) the next one will not occur until 2014.


It's not much, taken with my iPhone, but that's the scene about an hour before totality. I went to the roof of my fifteen-storey building about four times through the course of the event, and each time there was someone different up there having a look-see--or in one case, just seemingly smoking a cigarette. One guy had a really nice camera and tripod, snapping away. A young couple who spoke decent English were up there with thier five-month-old daughter.

Wrapped warmly. Because it was cold. At least a few degrees below freezing. Looking at my blog posts, I admit I have a tendency to whine a bit during winter about how cold it is. That's mainly because it gets really cold here, much colder than anywhere else I've ever lived, except Chicago.

But this winter, not so much. Have I finally steeled myself to the ravages of Seoul's harsh snow season? Broken down and started wearing thermals? Insulated myself with the constant companionship of a hip flask of brandy? No. It just hasn't been that cold. Until now. A week into December, we've had a few days of sustained freezing weather in the morning and evening, but not yet to the point where I have put on my heaviest coat.

Last winter, the temp. never rose above 0 C during December and January, and much of February--there was still frozen snowy muck on the ground into March. Will this be a mild winter? Or just delayed in its arrival? Only Mother Nature knows for sure.

But one thing of which you can be sure, I'll whine about it if and when it comes.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Education News

First out of the blocks, a chance for sharp-eyed English-speakers to earn some money: the Korean Tourism Organization is offering a reward to photogs who submit signs in muddled, Konglishy English found at "tourist spots". No precise definition of tourist spot, and road signs, restaurant menus and guidebooks are not eligible, as KTO doesn't have jurisdiction over them. Still, an interesting concept, and a chance to get a W50,000 debit card for your efforts. Click here for more.

The Chosun Ilbo carried a report last week of a study done by SMOE (my employer) analyzing the results of a survey "conducted among 28,761 students, 11,980 parents, 2,406 Korean English teachers, and 595 native English-speaking teaching assistants at 1,282 primary and secondary schools in Seoul."

The survey found that Koreans are still quite conflicted about having native speaking teachers run their English classrooms: less than one-third of parents and students "preferred" native speakers to Korean teachers with good English skills, though about 60% are "more satisfied" with the teaching job being done by foreign teachers. IOW, yes, you do a better job, but we still don't want you here--aka, having our cake and eating it too.

Speaking of which, English success not cake, the CSAT or suneung results have been published, and some 17,000 of the exam's 648,946 takers aced the English section.
The Korea Institute of Curriculum and Evaluation (KICE), announcing the scores of the 2012 CSAT [Wednesday], said that 171 people this year received perfect scores on the exam’s three core subjects - Korean language, mathematics and English - compared to 11 last year.
Post-exam bellyaching is an annual sport here, as people complain the exam was too hard if there aren't enough perfect scorers, or that it's too easy if there are too many. The testing authority aims for 1%, but never seems to hit that mark.

As if to make a point, the JoongAng printed elsewhere this story: Student’s perfect CSAT is all his own, about Baek Ju-hong, who aced the suneung without the benefit of hagwons, thus proving the effectiveness of public education.

...Or the inteligence, inquisitiveness and hard work of an individual student:
An avid reader, Baek said, “In the countryside, where there is not a single college prep hagwon, the only way to develop logical thinking skills was by reading many different books.”
Baek said he also had a head start with his parents, who were avid readers themselves.