Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Books and Bali

I leave at 18:05 today local time for about two weeks in Bali (see directions below).

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Just kidding. That's a sign for a bar named "Bali" above the restaurant where I had a kick-off dinner tonight with Chris, aka The Stumbler.

It's likely I won't be posting while I'm gone, so here are a few thoughts for other things to read until my return:

  • The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon - Set in Barcelona during the Spanish Civil War and World War II, this is a dark and complex psychological Gothic mystery, and a very good read. Although I more or less figured out the mystery inside a hundred pages, I still wanted to figure out why so I gladly kept reading. Young bookseller's son Daniel comes across a little-known novel, The Shadow of the Wind by one Adrian Carax, and when he tries to find other books, he learns that someone is systematically buying up and burning every book of Carax's ever printed. His search to find out why goes to the heart of the Barcelona power structure, laced with insanity, incest and murder.
  • It's Superman! by Tom De Haven - De Haven's inspired reinvention of Superman keeps many of the standard elements of the lore: grows up as Clark Kent in Smallville (where he gradually discovers his "talents"), ends up working at the Daily Planet with Lois Lane, battles lex Luthor. But things are quite interesting along the way: he travels west as a railroad hobo with a wrongly-convicted photographer named Willi Berg, he works as a Hollywood stuntman for a time, he shacks up with a B-movie costume seamstress (which is how he gets the Superman garb--it was originally intended for Saucer-Man from Saturn). Clark/Superman is plagued by doubts and uncertainty, but fueled by righteous anger. I'm not a comic book fan, but this isn't a comic book, just a good read.
  • Idiot America by Charles P. Pierce - Seems at first glance to be a left-wing diatribe, but is actually a closely reasoned expose of what has gone wrong with America since the Reagan Administration. Idiot America is a nation where intelligence, experience and expertise are not only not required, they are anathema. Pierce has done his homework--bad on him! in Idiot America's view--and cites example after example of how modern America risks its sacred liberty by buying into the notion that truth is anything enough people believe, if they believe it fervently enough, from creationist Reverend Ray Mummert who pointed out in the Dover school board ID case that "We have been attacked by the intelligent, educated segment of our culture" to ... hell, I'm gonna stop there because it's just too depressing to continue. Just so you know, the last Bush Administration comes off looking pretty bad, and his detailing of the facts in the Terry Schiavo case will make you want to waterboard Bill Frist--not because you would acquire relevant information. Which you wouldn't. It only works that way in Idiot America, where a Supreme Court Justice (Scalia) cites a TV show character named Jack Bauer to justify torture.
  • Never Look Away by Linwood Barclay - The jacket blurb from no less than Stephen King proclaims: "The best thriller I've read in five years," and I almost believe it. Each new twist makes you think you've finally gotten a handle on the plot, but it's soon followed by another change that sends you puzzling. And the best part is that none of it feels contrived, except when it's supposed to. Reporter David Harwood, his wife and child are expecting a fun excursion to the newly opened amusement park in their area when everything goes suddenly and terrifyingly wrong. Harwood finds himself embroiled in a nightmarish situation involving his missing wife, false identities, mysterious informants and a robbery gone bad. Superior plotting, believable characters and perfect pacing make this a riveting read.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

This Blog is Pure

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Koreans are obsessed with English--not so much speaking it as wearing it. As I was reminded yesterday at the baseball All-Star Game in Jamsil, when we saw a middle-aged woman walk by with "Up Yours" printed on the back of her tee-shirt.

Here are a few other tees I've caught lately with my cell-phone:

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Attractive, but barely literate

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They're not even trying!  More misspelled words on this shirt than correctly spelled ones


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The English here is fine, I just thought it was amusing

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Education News

This is probably the last Ed News Wrap-up until after the new semester begins, not because Ed News doesn't happen, but because I'm lazy and don't pay much attention to it during the inter-term hiatus.

Nothing earth-shattering of late, but interesting:

1) No. of women in higher education doubles, says the KT headline, but this is absolutely,unwquivocally NOT what it means to sat, at all. The article means to say that the number of women with a higher education has doubled:
The number of women in Seoul with higher education has almost doubled in the last 10 years, according to a survey Sunday. [...]
The research by Seoul City showed that the number of women aged 30 or over who received college education or higher jumped by 95.4 percent to 1.1 million in 2010 from 575,000 in 2000.
During the same period, that of men rose by 45.1 percent.
Girls are also matriculating high schools and continuing on to university at a better clip than boys--last year, 66% of high school girls went on to college, compared to 59.8% of boys.

Women are also defering marriage and motherhood, shadowing US trends of the seventies, with an increase of 37% of women in the 25-34 age cohort remaining unmarried compared to 2000.

2) From the JoongAng Daily, and perhaps of more interest to our waygookin readers, "At hagwon, demand for U.S. teachers rises". The story states early on: "Because Western norms have been embedded within these instructors’ gestures, speech and behavior, these teachers provide education in English while also exposing students to Western culture." This is particularly important for families planning to send their children to the States for English immersion.

You see, the teachers themselves, in this meme, are irrelevant, what's important is their embedded features, as though they are educational Terminator units with their mission hard-wired: Never mind John Connor, demonstrate American cultural minutiae to our children, please.

[One tutor at a popular hagwon in an upscale district] believes that an American teacher offers a certain trust to parents and students, which has increased their employment in Korea:
“There are lots of factors, but I think the overarching reason is that it is similar for most students,” he said. “[The] number one reason people go to these academies is to learn. And I think the biggest thing is [that they come with a] certain trust and feeling that they are going to get the best education from these native speakers rather than someone who can speak English but is not familiar with the culture. A lingering doubt evolves from that type of teacher.”
Meanwhile, although the national SAT will be adding an English speaking component in a year or two (such dates being eminently mutable), SMOE is dismantling the very high school conversation program with NSETs that represents the public schools' best chance at competing. Go fingure.

Yes, that includes my job. But, the way I understand it, I can keep my HS job as long as my school decides to offer it. Anyway, assuming a positive medical exam tomorrow, my job is secure for at least another year. Besides, who knows what may happen in 2012!

Saturday, July 16, 2011

End of Semester (Whoo-hoo!)

Today was my last class of the first semester--second semester begins on August 22. Usually, I would have to do two to three weeks of "camp" before the actual vacation begins, but yet again my camp offerings proved so unpopular that too few students signed up for the camp classes to "make".

What this means is that I am more or less free to enjoy an amazing twelve days in Bali with a return date well in advance of visa renewal strictures--remember, kids, it's only CHINA that requires Americans to have six months remaining on their Korean visas before visiting!

I made sure my classroom was spic-and-span today by having the last class empty the desks, sweep up papers and trash, and put up their chairs. I wipe down my horizontal surfaces every few weeks--window ledges, countertops, teacher's desk--and make sure the student desks stay clean, so we were all done by 3:00.

My "handler" Mr Oh let me know that I will do a Q&A with teachers and administrators from Australia, New Zealand and Singapore next Friday. We do this every year, on account of my school won some award blah blah. This is the only firm commitment I have, other than medical check and Immigration visit, until next semester.

Speaking of next semester, I have been asked by Nam-bu District to teach the Public Speaking and Debate class on Saturdays that I did last year. I am very happy to do it again, for three reasons:
1) the money is as good as it gets, including good pay for worksheets and ppt slides;
2) I get to use my expertise in this subject area, which is part of my BFA degree;
3) the students are awesome: obviously good at English, but also just plain smart--scholarly, thoughtful and opinionated. It's like having a whole class full of the three or four best students of my usual classes at Young-il go.

To be honest, if this kind of thing continues, I will find it harder and harder to think of reasons to leave Korea!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Good News for Aussies

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Jesters, a popular western Australian meat pie chain, has opened in Itaewon, around the corner from Dunkin' Donuts--go straight two blocks from Exit 3. For some Aussies, this is he equivalent of the Taco Bell for Yanks: it's not the greatest food in the world, but it's a real taste of back home.

My only experience with Down Under meat pies came on my trip to New Zealand; they were quite tasty. On my trip to the new Jesters, I got the "Classic" which is the traditional mince pie, and a "Southern Man" which is beef and cheese. I rounded it off with a mango smoothie, and the total came to a relatively hefty 11200 W (considering the #2 Combo at Taco Bell is 4500W).

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The fillings were both really tasty, but I imagine the real trick is in the pastry. The Jesters website (Australia; Korea) claims their unique "Jaffle Pie maker" does the job better, but I found the crust less flaky and more chewy than I'd like, though on the other hand, I hate a crust that explodes into bits the moment you bite into it.

Still, it's definitely worth a trip, and I found at the website there's a location in Hongdae.

Friday, July 8, 2011

My Korean Things (to the tune of My Favorite Things)

So click on the video from The Sound of Music and sing the lyrics below instead. Okay, ready? Go!

Rainstorms in Jangma and students who'll listen,
Sour Chinese cabbage and pa dalk fried chicken,
Dour old ajumma with long apron strings,
This is a list of my Korean things.

Well-paid tutorials and pink-tinted poodles,
Hwe-shik and mouse-click and doncass with noodles,
Bosses that act just like they're Deng Xiaopings,
This is a list of my Korean things.

Girls in white uniforms with plaid pleated fashions,
Itaewon losers who pretend that they're captains,
PC bang perverts who play with their dings,
This is a list of my Korean things.

When the kim-bap,
When the pay drop
'Cause there's no union shop--
I simply discard all my Korean things,
And then I fly home non-stop.



NB: This is just for fun.  I got my new contract today, and my pay did not drop--in fact I got a raise.  Therefore, I won't be flying home non-stop in August, but to Bali for a brief vacation.  Stay tuned for more. 

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Restaurant Review: Gang Ho-dong's Baek Jeong

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He may be a Stumbler, but my buddy Chris has a pretty sharp eye when it comes to new dining experiences in Gangseo-gu cheong. And so it came to pass that we dined together last night at 강호동 백정 Gang Ho-dong Baek Jeong, which opened within the last two weeks across the street from our rendezvous point, the Family Mart Kevin calls "the office".

Anyway, the name means "Gang Ho-dong Meat Man". Gang Ho-dong is a Korean celebrity, a wrestler turned comedian, TV presenter and restaurateur. He's the guy I'm posing with above, and just so you don't forget between walking in the door and ordering your meal who the man is behind this culinary experience, that's also him in cartoon form on the menu cover.

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We dined al fresco; the menu includes beef and pork, but we stuck with the red meat on this occasion; 소갈비살 beef rib meat was 11000 W per serving, and really tender and flavorful; most of the pork menu was 7900 W. One of the things I especially liked about this place was the ring on top of the fire basket, which was partly filled with scrambled egg to cook while the beef is grilling, and the other compartments so could cook garlic, onions, kimchi, etc without worrying about charring it.

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Sunday, July 3, 2011

Education News Wrap

Time for the weekly *cough, cough* post about what's going on in education here on the peninsula. And this one is particularly interesting, or at least [your adjective here] since it crystallizes some of the key issues in Korean education. 

First up, there is "the problem with an easy CSAT prep test", the problem being that too many Moms complained that the test does not allow their particular genius children to shine, since there was just too much shiny-ness.
It’s an important issue because CSAT scores are weighed heavily by universities in their admissions criteria. “If the official CSAT this year is this easy, getting just one problem wrong will place you in the second level,” said Park Su-jin of Seoul Foreign Language High School. Park is in charge of helping students at the school with their university admissions.
“Because of this [exam], it will be harder on the students.”
One might suggest that the best action on an easy exam is not getting just one problem wrong.  That's what Norfolk & Chance did last Thursday at 3AP in winning the Trivia Contest, after all.   But this is Korea, and it's always more complicated than that:
[Previously] KICE came under heavy criticism from parents. Last year, only 11 brought home a score of 100 percent for those sections. The prep test is intended to be used a barometer for students to determine their readiness for November’s CSAT. [...]
This isn’t the first time KICE [Korea Institute for Curriculum Evaluation] has come under fire for the CSAT’s difficulty level, which was introduced in 2008. Every year, parents complain that it is either too difficult or too easy. Korean students often compare it to water or fire.
It’s an important issue because CSAT scores are weighed heavily by universities in their admissions criteria.
 So, which is the greater problem, that the test can be by turns judged--by less than impartial parties--too easy or too hard, or that a single test, administered on one and only one day in November, is weighed so heavily in in college admissions?
Next, three recent stories concerned the digital age and the Korean student.  Yonhap News via KH describes the results of an OECD study on digital literacy.  The story begins with the sentence:
Young South Koreans learn the best from computers and the Internet according to a survey of 15 year-olds in 19 countries, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development said on Monday.
PhotobucketThis sentence is a total--and typical--misunderstanding of the report.  It really says that Korean students, thanks to their unwholesome addiction to PC bangs and MMRPGs like Starcraft, have a head start on digital reading.  Reading.  They can read from a computer screen better ... and "their ability to solve problems using the Internet is even better,” a Seoul Education Ministry official said, without a shred of evidence for his statement from the study.

Even an occasional reader of this blog knows I am as techno-savvy as most teachers and more so than most with similar hair-hue; at my school I am the "God of Powerpoint" since I seem able to bend that program to my will.  I bought into the Internet for homework information, cool links and interactive assignments when they could be found, long ago.  I totally believe in the power of technology for good, and of course, for ill. 

All textbooks to go digital by 2015, announces another KH headline, stating that soon students in all age groups will be able to access textbooks and activity books using smartphones, tablet PCs and so on.  This is a good thing.

Citing the best score South Korea garnered in an OECD digital reading survey, the Education Ministry believes that the digital platforms will bring about a sea change in the classroom and boost the country’s educational competitiveness.

Oh, dear.  Well, see, no.  That's not ... um,  [sigh]  Or, put it this way:

The problem we face now, however, is an exaggerated trust in digital education. Some people wrongfully assume that the quality of academic activity will improve with the use of multimedia digital material instead of conventional textbooks. However, without a teacher’s guidance, the impact of digital textbooks may fall short of expectations. There is a risk that digital textbooks will only aggravate addiction to the Internet among the young, when 12.8 percent of students are already suffering from this condition.

The above is from a JoongAng Ilbo editorial titled Smart education, not lazy teachers, which does a reasonable job lying out context for the e-textbook, teachers, and the computer-based classroom in the 21st century.   Many in the educational administration field, especially the political wing--in Korea and America and probably everywhere--seem to view technology as a money-saver: more technology units=less teacher units.  Certainly, quality interactive materials can free a teacher's time from rote processes like grading, but they cannot replace the truly interactive experience that is at the heart of education: teacher-student face time.