Thursday, December 27, 2012

Hwe-shik and Possible Wisdom

I attended a hwe-shik tonight. Not one held by my current elementary school, God forbid the faculty there should have any fun! No, my old high school. I go back and forth occasionally with the messaging to a couple of the folks there, and got invited to the end-of-year English department dinner. I shared the best possible table, with Mr Right, Mr Hwang, and Oh Byung-hee, the three gregarious, more or less, men of a certain age, though I am the hyeongnim (literally, and officially, even).

Mr Oh confessed to me, after noting how young I am looking, that he is starting to feel old these days. He has dyed his hair black this year. I asked why he did not want to look distinguished. Like me. I investigated a little more, and it wasn't even creaky bones, or popping knees--granted, I have ten years on him, but it should at least include that!

No, his problem was to do with his relationship to the students. Let me back up a bit: Korean high school teachers have a kind of reputation for corporal punishment; my co-teachers regularly smacked bad'uns with their "teaching stick" or made them perform stress positions in the hall, despite my concerns. It was Mr Oh who explained to me once that students enter into this relationship with teachers willingly, because they see them as friends, really caring friends, who only want the best for them.

Mr Oh told me tonight about the many years he was a great friend to his students (his new class each year), how he joshed and palled around with them, grew close. That changed this year. He just didn't care for it much--they were immature and silly and stupid, and he didn't enjoy their company. I remember when that happened to me, but that's not the point of my story.

I explained to him (and here's the possible wisdom part) that that isn't really getting old, it's becoming mature. I said that I think what happens is that when little girls grow up, they become women. When little boys grow up, they become big little boys. But hopefully at some point, never before thirty (and sometimes not even after that), those big little boys actually mature into men. And that's what was happening to him.

I didn't go quoting at him, but I've always loved a line George Bernard Shaw gave to Prof. Henry Higgins: "I've never been able to feel really grown up and tremendous, like other chaps." I love that line, because for much of my so-called adulthood, it worked for me. Even today, it sometimes does--it is useful to retain certain childish enthusiasms.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

White Christmas

It did not actually snow on Christmas, but there was still snow on the ground from Friday's two inches when I made my way to school this morning to "desk warm". This is not the best phrase for the actual activity, for it was a bit chilly in my desk area; even though the heat was on, the space heater they gave me doesn't appear to work. I'll definitely want to check on that tomorrow, as I'd lost the feeling in my toes on the walk home. Despite wearing wool socks and my vaunted Hush Puppies boots.

Much as I have maligned my V-P (not without reason), she is allowing me to leave at 12:10 during the holiday break. They cut off the building's central heat about 2:00 so this is quite welcome. Since I am prepared for camp, I am using the time to prepare lessons for next semester, on the assumption that they'll keep the same textbooks--since they only adopted them this year.

Anyway, my purpose for writing was to share this photo of the soccer field, covered in snow, except for the word "Christmas" spelled out in Hangeul, if you can make that out, in the middle of it.

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Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas Cake 2012

As Christmas cake is a tradition here in Korea, it is no less so at the Seoul Patch, as you can see from last year. This is the first cake in my new digs, so I was torn between continuing to get a colorful chocolate cake or begin a new schema. Here is what I ended up with, still chocolate, but a more elegant, understated thing, with no sign of Pororo and friends:

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Looks good, doesn't it? And, as the message says, to all of my friends out there in Seoul Patch land, "Merry Christmas!"

Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Hobbit

There is no greater fan of the Tolkien oeuvre than Tuttle. Well, at least among those of us who haven't become fluent in Elvish, or tattooed Dwarfish moon runes on our foreheads, or turned the backyard into a scale model of Helm's Deep.

A key reason I convinced my pal Andy to visit New Zealand with me a-way back in 2009 was to visit sites of filming for Peter Jackson's grand and amazing filmic treatment of The Lord of the Rings trilogy. While we were there, at Bag End, so to speak, they were actually prepping for The Hobbit, which was originally proposed as a two-parter. Please visit my blog post about our time in Hobbiton, aka Matamata, NZ, and then return back here.

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Above is an ad in the subway for the first of the three "Hobbit' movies, An Unexpected Journey which I saw last night, along with The Stumbler. I couldn't help but lean over to my friend and whisper during the initial Hobbiton moments, "I've been there."

But all that doesn't ultimately matter. Is the film any good? is the question. Emphatically, YES, is my answer. Three hours (well, two hours and 45 minutes) sounded like an eternity, but both of us were surprised when the end came! Events on the screen were fast-paced, interesting and unveiled with clarity. There are some heavy-handed moments and cliche images (like our first view of Galadriel, for example), but you've got to expect some of that in a Peter Jackson epic, I think. Still, the story was engrossing.

I tried to stay away from too much of the movie's publicity, but I think some of the poor reviews I read were written by people who saw a different movie than I did: the dozen dwarves were poorly-differentiated? The relentless action was boring? The plot was muddled and confusing? It strained believability a couple of times? (Okay, that's true.)

Jackson and his crew managed admirably to compress the LOTR story in three movies, but I think the shoe's on the other foot here: how can they stretch the smaller,less grandiose tale of dragon-hunting dwarves into three? The answer is that there's a lot of stuff here that isn't in the book. Part of this involves contextualizing the actions of the dragon Smaug as part of the awaking dark forces that will overrun Middle Earth by the time of Frodo. Another part is simply Jackson's fondness of Tolkien's great invention, the characters, creatures and stories, and his desire to get them all down in film, so to speak.

The next part comes out for Christmas 2013, and the final part the year after that. I don't know if I will be in Korea for part three, but wherever I am, I'll definitely plan to be there.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Oh, the Weather Outside

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Seoul has had its second snow storm of the season and it's not even Christmas yet. Oh, dear! We may be in for a long, slippery, crunchy winter. After all, it's not the snow itself that people find problematic, not when it's falling, but the fact that it remains on the sidewalks--occasionally swept/scraped off by citizens--until two days at least of above-freezing temperatures have melted it all away.

Coarse salt is a rarity; usually sand is used to improve walking or driving conditions. Doesn't matter, you must wear your snow boots from the first snowfall until sometime in March. I have a pair of stylish half-boots by Hush Puppies that I swear by.

Anyway, my point is that this winter will be a bad'un, so be prepared. As for me, I have two weeks of camp (as well as my Public Speaking course), then the plan is a toasty beach in Vietnam for a week.

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Never been to Vietnam, even in the old days, so drop me a line if you have any tips.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Nosmo King, Inaction Man

December 8th, 2012, was a red-letter day in Korea. Korea welcomed itself into the list of countries that qualify as "nanny-states", those states that deign to tell people what they can and cannot do for their own good. A smoking ban was enacted in bars and restaurants.

(Full disclosure: Tuttle smokes. Not during the ordinary course of a day, really. But certainly two with my Diet Coke, er Coke Light, first thing in the morning, maybe three. And if I'm drinking of an evening, all bets are off. If I'm not having alcohol, however, I'm unlikely to light up.) (Oh, except if I'm having a Caramel Frappucino at Caffe Bene: I smoke then, too.) (Or if I'm driving a car. Which isn't an issue in Seoul, but it was when I was visiting the States in August, and had a rental with a circle-and-a-slash symbol on the ashtray.) (Fine. I hung one out the window a few times. I was careful though. Whatever.)

When I say a smoking ban was enacted on December 8th, I really mean: not so much. For example, the recently-opened Beerking hof across the street from my officetel still had ashtrays on the tables when I dropped in two days later. On the other hand, that place has eleven tables, and may fit one of the exceptions to the new law, of being under 100 sq. m. of serving area.

However, when I met up with my weeknight dinner regulars at a well-known izakaya in Gang-seo-gu-cheong earlier this week, I was disappointed to see a photocopied circle-and-a-slash cellotaped to the front door. I complained to the sajangnim that this new law is kind of silly and they should at least have a smoking section--it is after all, an extensive establishment well-over the 150-m2 mandated for pulmonary protection of the pissants. When she brought me my beer, she slid an ashtray across to me as well. In fact, we soon noticed that almost every table in the place had at least one smoker lighting up with impunity, and, may I say, relish.

As we left Warawara the izakaya, my friends noted they were living up to the law, in some interpretation, at least: there was a small glass-enclosed booth labeled "Non-smoking Area" with two tables in it. (Alas, I wonder if in 2015, when they start actually handing out fines, smokers won't be on the inside looking out.)

Our dinner round that night was at a similarly-sized place where we enjoyed gabeurisal cooked on a grill at our table, with carcinogen-laden charcoal smoke leaching into the atmosphere despite the fume hoods that are so ubiquitous in Korean barbeque. That being so, they didn't have the gumption to tell anyone smoking is not allowed. Even though it isn't.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

What I'm Reading

  • The Dig by Michael Siemsen - A happy participant in the willing suspension of disbelief, this one was a bit too far for me. A mysterious artifact is found in an African dinosaur dig, and clairvoyant Matthew Turner is brought in to lay his hands on it, and thus "read" the thoughts and emotions of all who had touched it before. If this was the only unbelievable element of the story, I could have really liked it; (SPOILER ALERT:) alas, the object itself points to a pre-Mesozoic human culture so advanced that a few bits of woven metal armour are the least we should have found. He should have stuck with the human elements of love and greed in the Kenyan dig's encampment, and told a more gripping tale.
  • Please Look After Mom by Kyung-sook Shin - In case you've not heard of it, this is Korea's runaway best-seller from 2011, and deservedly so. The elderly mother of three grown children disappears from a Seoul subway platform during a family visit. The book is narrated in four sections by different family members, painting "Mom's" adult life as a mother and caregiver. In their search to find her, the children find out about her--a more complex person than they imagined, yet touchingly devoted to her family, especially the eldest son, as is expected in a Confucian society. Well-written, thought-provoking, also interesting for the light it sheds on Korean culture for the outsider. Recommended.
  • Cell by Stephen King - King's 2006 novel of the zombie apocalypse begins when incipient graphic novelist Clay Riddell has just gotten his first break. Suddenly, everyone talking on a cell phone begins acting oddly. Well, not just oddly, they're jumping out of windows, biting each other's necks, and generally rampaging. What follows is a gruesome but good read, populated by believable characters but a few unbelievable coincidences, in which those few untouched by the cellphone madness form small groups, while the zombies come together in a Borg-like collective consciousness, as if reprogrammed by the cellphone message. Upcoming movie to star John Cusack.
  • Hot Type by Joseph Flynn - Chicago crime reporter and aspiring novelist Dan Cameron gets a typewriter for his birthday, supposedly the one used by Ben Hecht (Chicago reporter and novelist). After writing his first novel on it--a big success--he is nearly finished with his second when it is stolen during a burglary. The burglar is a recently escaped convict and bank robber who slowly realizes what he's got--and starts to use the novel's plot as the basis for his series of crimes. Meanwhile Dan and his wife team up with a retired FBI agent who had chased down the bank robber and ... Anyway, this book is full of great plot twists, double-crosses, and funky characters. A great read!
  • Ape House by Sara Gruen - The jacket blurb points out that this is an "incisive piece of social commentary" but read it anyway. Isabel Duncan is a scientist at a primate research facility who gets along much better with apes than with her own species. An explosion at the center, blamed on animal rights activists who protest outside daily, nearly kills her, but the Bonobos escape. They are rounded up, sold off, and somehow become the stars of America's latest reality TV show, created by a well-known porn producer (Bonobos are highly sexed). She tries to get them back, by whatever means necessary. Thoroughly researched, well-written, an interesting and entertaining book!
  • Shem Creek by Dorothea Benton Frank - Chick-lit about a divorced mother of two teenage girls, leaving behind life in New Jersey to return to her childhood home of the South Carolina Low Country. She wants a simpler, slower life, especially for younger daughter Gracie, who has been rather in the fast lane lately. Linda takes a job as manager of Jackson Hole, an upscale seafood restaurant with a downscale ambience, and slowly falls in love with Brad Jackson, the owner. I read it mainly for the atmosphere, and it did not disappoint.
  • Nailed by Joseph Flynn - This is the fifth Joe Flynn book I've read, and they have all been distinctly different--locale, characters, themes, plots. They have in common that they are very good, and that they are crime stories; and in this one, the crime is that a well respected black preacher has been nailed to a burnt tree in the Sierra Nevada town of Goldstrike. Police Chief and "recovering bigot" Ron Ketchum finds that his investigation, instead of focusing the suspect list, tends to widen it. Meanwhile, a desperate mountain lion has begun trying to pick off lone joggers and small children, making many in the community of Goldstrike wonder if the curse on the town from the dead pastor's bereaved grandmother wasn't being fulfilled in some way. As usual with Flynn's books I've read so far, the climax and denouement are both unexpected and satisfying. Good stuff!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Autumn Colors

I took some photos last week of the changing trees I see on my way to work every morning. I used the "Autumn Color" setting on the Nikon D5100, and was quite pleased with the results. Remember you can see larger versions by clicking. Enjoy.

Here's the view just before I turn the corner onto the street on which my school is situated:

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Now, some shots as I approach the school campus:

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You can see the back windows of my classroom on the third floor to the left in the further building in the shot at top. Below is an arch under which one passes before entering the school, and below that is an arbor trellis next to the playground:

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One interesting feature of the campus is this collection of large samples of rocks and minerals:

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Finally, here is a picture looking out my office window:

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Sunday, November 18, 2012

Seoul Lantern Festival 2012

Last Thursday, I ventured forth through the cold to Cheonggyecheon to pay a visit to the Seoul Lantern Festival, and get some photos for my faithful readers. I started off quite hopeful, for the first lantern you see, at the top of the stream, was this one:

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The Korean at the top means basically, Seoul Sentry Gate, guarding over the festival, I guess. The first several lanterns seemed to celebrate the career of King Sejong the Great, who oversaw the invention of hangeul, the Korean alphabet, a water clock, rain gauge, sundial, and an astrolabe, seen here:

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Here are some bell-ringers and a drum-banger, both significant in palace rituals:

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After that, the theme basically became images from the lives of ordinary Koreans long ago. And it got kind of samey. Two representative lanterns, a classic teacher-and-students-scene, and some construction laborers:

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Large sections of one side of the stream's bank was brush-strewn, which made for interesting photography:

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These flying fish lanterns provided a popular backdrop for selfpix and young couples:

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And, speaking of flying, these cranes with flapping wings were nice as well:

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Though the thematic element was interesting, it limited the style and grandness of the entries, so it was 80% just lanterns shaped like people. I liked it better in 2009. Anyway, tonight's the last night, so you better hurry if you want to see it!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Politics is Inevitable VII

These are the facts, and they are not in dispute. The US Presidential election of 2012 was won by Barack Obama over Willard Romney. Obama won the Electoral College by 332 to 206, and the popular vote by 3,193,263, which is a margin greater than GW Bush won re-election over John Kerry in 2004.

Elections, as so many Republicans were pleased to point out then, have consequences.

I am not about schadenfreude--well, maybe I am, but i'm going to act like I'm not for the purposes of this post. I want to investigate this: Why did Romney lose? And why was the entire American conservative movement so surprised by the outcome?

Here's what the conservative pundits have put forward:

1) Romney was never a true conservative to begin with; he held his nose as he courted the Tea Party types. True, in his heart, he may be a moderate, but the fact is we never really understood where he stands on a lot of issues, the "Etch-A-Sketch" model identified by one of his own advisers!

2) Romney was never explicit enough about his vision for the next four years. This is true, too--but mainly that's because he didn't really have one, especially after they emasculated the Ryan economic philosophy.

3) Hurricane Sandy: Romney was absent from the front pages, while Obama got to act bipartisan and appear presidential. In truth, Obama actually was bipartisan and he really was presidential.

4) Obama ran a nasty, deceitful campaign, while Romney was just too nice. Puh-leeze. It was a Romney pollster who said, "We're not going to let fact-checkers run our campaign."

5) Obama suppressed voter turnout. This was actually put forward by Karl Rove, the man who has done more than anyone since Lee Atwater to poison American political life. He had no facts, no examples, just the idea that Obama had presented such a terrible picture of Romney that people wouldn't bother to go vote for him. Actually, Republican-led drives to make voting more difficult for the poor, elderly and two-income blue-collar workers, so-called Voter ID laws, have done as much to suppress voters as anything since Jim Crow laws.

6) American voters are uninformed. At least, that's what GOP/TP Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson thinks. Of course, those voters are the same igmos that voted for him.

Why Tuttle thinks the Republicans lost big (and they did lose big, even though some Republicans refuse to admit it--which is part of why they lost big!) in increasing order of importance:

1) Unlike virtually every Presidential candidate of the modern era, Romney refused to release more than a token tax return or two. Hopefully, his repudiation by American voters will reaffirm that you simply must play honest with us.

2) Speaking of taxes, his and Ryan's magical tax-cuts-with-a-few-closed-but-unspecified-loopholes-equals-a-balanced-budget never made mathematical sense, and even kids that don't "get" algebra got that.

3) Anti-science positions on stuff like global warming, with hurricanes Isaac and Sandy front and center to remind us; abortion, with idiotic gray-faced old white men angling to control women's bodies, and one news-cycle's worth of pandering denials from the Romney crowd; FEMA should be dismantled, wait, FEMA is okay but it should co-ordinate with the states ... as is already the way it works!--what, you guys didn't even know that much?

4) The Tiny Tent. Condi Rice said that the GOP needs to have "an even bigger tent". What kind of tent she imagines is beyond me, since the only demographic won by Mitt Romney was WHITE MEN. Not that big of a tent, really. He lost white women, Hispanics, blacks, Asians, gays, Tralfamadoorians, under-thirties, etc. That wasn't an accident--they actually decided that if they could get all the white guys, they could win, so that's the demographic they went for. (Full disclosure: Tuttle is a white guy.)

5) Making rich people richer will eventually trickle down to you regular folks if you just suck their boots hard enough, wait outside the kitchen for scraps, or look sufficiently doe-eyed as they pass by in their limos. Milton Friedman's economic theory, which has held sway in the US since the Reagan years, has been thoroughly and utterly debunked, not least by our own collective experience. US economic growth was iffy throughout the Reagan-Bush I years, and only became robust under Clinton, who raised taxes on the wealthiest 1% and saw a budget surplus by the end of his term. Indeed, Obama caved to GOP pressure in 2010 and renewed the tax cut for the wealthy, yet the Republicans (who should be jubilant that the economy has improved as a result) still pointed to the poor economy as a reason to throw out Obama. Seems to me it's reason to throw out the idea that low taxes on the rich boost the economy.

But don't look at me--the Congressional Research Service, responding to a request from several GOP Congresscritters, spent ages researching this and found no evidence whatsoever that lower taxes on the wealthy improved the economy. You might not have heard of it since those same Congresscritters suppressed the paper that resulted.

6) Lies. Of course, politicians lie/distort the truth/cherry-pick facts. But more than any Presidential campaign in modern history, Romney's repeated frequently-debunked facts in ad after ad. They thought they were doing it with impunity, but the classic result was in Ohio, where the Jeep/China lie actually turned voters away. Good.

7) But here's the biggest reason, and it may be a melding of some of the ones above. But don't confuse it with lying, okay? The Romney team, many US conservatives, and the conservative punditry in general, was stunned, flabbergasted and shell-shocked that Romney did not SWEEP the electorate. No, not just that he didn't eke out a victory against the amazing Obama ground team, they seemed to truly expect a convincing W-I-N.

Now, except for the notoriously right-leaning Rasmussen, virtually every pollster group in the country had Obama leading, usually by two or three--or more--points going into Election Day. But the Republicans said, "No, we know better. You guys, you and your liberal mainstream media, you are all up Obama's ass, and you've got it wrong!"

Well, in so many words.

Only George Will made the correct call, but in REVERSE! So, that's not really correct in any significant way, is it? They were ALL wrong. Really, REALLY WRONG. It turns out, Republicans know practically nothing about Americans. If they know nothing about Americans, maybe they know nothing about America. It's as if they are living in some alternate universe. A world where only they can see Obama sitting in a chair being ranted at by Clint Eastwood. And, he's an Obama only they can see--a socialist, fascist, communist accomplishment-denigrater who got to be head of the Harvard Law Review because he's black.

American conservatives seem to live in another world--a world where the ice caps aren't melting, where rape victims who don't want to become pregnant can just wish it away, where the uncontested biological facts of evolution are in serious doubt, where the resources of the small globe on which we live are somehow infinite, where repeating the mantra 'low taxes on the rich make everyone richer' somehow make it come true.

Well, then, perhaps, we should stop listening to the likes of John Boehner and Mitch McConnell. They don't know what they're talking about. At least, not in this world.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Politics is Inevitable VI

Despite their own upcoming Presidential elections on Dec. 19, Koreans remain acutely aware of U.S. politics. Especially as regards the peninsula.

Today's Joongang Daily carried a Yonghap write-up of comments made by Mitt Romney about how the Obama regime has weakened US influence around the world.
“You see North Korea continuing to export their nuclear technology,” Romney said, in what he termed evidence of a weaker America under Obama’s leadership. ... “I don’t see our influence growing around the world. I see our influence receding,” he said during the debate held at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Florida.
Romney is running as the Republican candidate for US President, with essentially the same neocon foreign policy ideas (and some of the same advisers) as GW Bush, under whose watch North Korea became a nuclear country to begin with. I can't say that Obama has handled DPRK that much better than W did, but we are talking about the most intractable dictatorship on the planet--and the succession of Jong-eun has made it that much more so. Still, Iraq and Afghanistan, "you're with us or you're agin' us" swagger, torture, universal wiretapping and Gitmo are all bad moves that a Romney administration would double down on.
He argued that Iran has come four years closer to having nuclear weapons and the Middle East is ridden with rising tides of violence and chaos, especially in Syria where around 30,000 civilians have been killed in prolonged bloodshed. Romney also pointed out the U.S.’ growing trade deficit with China.
Romney also seems to think that Iran is a landlocked country, whose only outlet to the waterways is through Syria. He has made this statement more than once. 1. Syria does not share a border with Iran. 2. Iran has substantial control of the Strait of Hormuz.

Trade deficit with China--got him there! During Obama's career in venture capital, he regularly bought struggling US concerns, converted their goods and chattels into salable capital, split the proceeds with his investors, and sent the jobs overseas. As a community organizer, one is focused on helping rich people improve their bottom line--petitioning city governments for more beat cops and firefighters, developing resources for early learning programs, trying to underwrite preventive medical care, looking after the 53%, you know.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

School Flea Market

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Late last week, my school had an all-day flea market, that actually only lasted until noon. But there were no classes. The view above is from my classroom, where you can see the little vendors lining the edge of the soccer field.

In essence, it was a crap-swap in which all the children brought in bags full of crap from home to flog at prices ranging from 100 W to maybe 4,000 or 5,000 W tops--like for a virtually new pair of roller blades. They then go round and buy other kids' crap and return home with their bags full of different crap. The proceeds go to support the school program in some way. I assume.

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Directly above are two of the third graders who "clean" my classroom every morning. Actually, they spend about three minutes with tiny hand brooms and dustpans, like you might keep in your car, three more minutes randomly soaking parts of the hardwood flooring with wet mops, and the remaining nine minutes chasing, or being chased by, the boys who share the cleaning duty. It is kind of cute but ultimately futile as a way of cleaning a floor.

Some kids were rather slap-dash in displaying their goods, but others were quite organized. This little fellow had drawn out his floor plan in considerable detail.

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Finally, here is happy consumer with his plush toy:

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My haul included a paperback book, a clip on portable fan, a really nifty LCD reading lamp that plugs into a USB port, a muffler, a little easel for displaying framed art, and a bag to carry it all in. Under 5000 W.

Not sure yet what they may think of me as a teacher, but I will definitely be getting a reputation as a smart shopper.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Education News

About a week ago, the moderator on the SMOE FB page for NSETs politely asked that people keep comments about the Kwak No Hyun situation to themselves. Gwak is the disgraced former Superintendent of the Seoul school system, who has gone back to jail for paying off a rival to drop out of the Superintendent's race in 2010.

Korea Times is reporting that MEST (Ministry of Education, Science and Technology) will be conducting a two-week audit of SMOE:
... a team of 20 ministry officials will inspect major policies, personnel appointments as well as budget expenditure approved by Kwak.

Of course, there are the usual claims that the audit is politically motivated, what with the timing being so close to the election to replace Kwak, to coincide with the presidential election on Dec. 19, and the fact that the conservatives in power at MEST tend only to audit liberal-run education departments.

The Stumbler alerted me to the second story, from Joongang Daily, reporting that the government plans to add 2,300 English conversation teachers in elementary, middle and high schools next year.

This was surprising, because I just moved to an elementary school because they'd de-funded the high school English conversation program. Ah, but then I read this:
“These teachers will not be woneomin [native speaker] instructors, but native Korean instructors who are fluent in English,” said Lee Jeong-ah, an English education official at the ministry.

Just where they will find 2,300 Korean teachers fluent in English is left as an exercise for the reader.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Wronggly

Every morning, I arrive at school well-early, in order to both chill and psyche myself for the day to come. For at least ten years, part of my morning regimen has been playing the word games at the Merriam-Webster website (http://www.merriam-webster.com/game/index.htm). I am not unhappy that they have "monetized" the website with ads and even ad screens (keeping it free or me), but kind of irked with this banner ad they've been running recently:

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See the problem here? The so-called "grammar-checker" has not corrected a single grammar error in the text. The fact that there are no grammar errors to be corrected in the sample is hardly an excuse--how can I trust a "grammar checker" program that can't tell the difference between spelling and grammar? I doesn't.

In addition to the daily games at M-W.com, I highly recommend the daily game called Common Knowledge here: http://www.puzzability.com/cgi-bin/commonknowledge.pl

Monday, October 8, 2012

Inappropriate Tee-shirt

On Monday and Wednesday, I teach two "extra" classes, called Speaking Class, in the first of which, for first, second and third grade students, I noticed the shirt below, being worn cluelessly by a third grade girl, quietly and efficiently going about her work:

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It's no "Too Drunk to Fuck", I'll grant you, but come on.

Chuck Sheperd's "News of the Weird" has a story this week about South Korea, referenced from Bloomberg, with the title "Men Want To Be Pretty, Too":
For some reason, South Korea (with about one-sixth the men that America has) is the world's largest consumer of male cosmetics, with its leading company approaching $1 billion a year in sales. According to a September Bloomberg Business Week dispatch, South Korean males became fascinated with the country's 2002 World Cup soccer team's "flower men," who had smooth, flawless skin, and the craze took off from there. Said a male college student, "Having a clean, neat face makes you look sophisticated and creates an image that you can handle yourself well." Makeup routines include drawing "thicker, bolder" eyebrows and, of course, expert application of lipstick. Said one admiring woman, "I feel like I have more to talk about with guys who use makeup." [Bloomberg Business Week, 9-17-2012]

Friday, October 5, 2012

China 2012: Tanner and Nancy's Wedding Festivities

For my Chuseok holiday, I went to the Jiangxi Province of southeastern China, not, as the post title might suggest, for Tanner and Nancy's Chinese wedding, but for the post-wedding festivities, as they were previously wed. Basically, I came along for the food.

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I arrived at Nanchang late on Saturday, and we (including Tanner's mom Ginny) made our way to the city's Western bar, called the Phoenix, which was one of T&N's haunts when he taught here a few years ago. A comfy place with a nice porch--the weather was spectacular the whole time. Lunch the next day was at a place selected by Nancy's friend Chris, and it was awesome. The pics below are of a really tasty fish dish (and I say that not being a fan of stewed fish) paired with bok choy, underneath which is pig's intestine as a stir fry. The other dishes were nearly as awesome but didn't photograph well.

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We went for a walk in the local park, and i caught a nice snap of the young couple:

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We drove two hours to Fenyi, a new hotel, and a smallish banquet with members of Nancy's family--aunts, uncles, Gran, etc). I have no pictures, sadly, because the food was incredible, and well-presented. After dinner, we went for a walk around the lake to look at the full moon (it's the Moon Festival in China, Chuseok in Korea) and eat moon cakes. The next day was a large luncheon banquet attended by about 200 people. Pictures below: Nancy's parents, the banquet hall, second floor.

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Here's some food, all delicious: lamb, pork balls, pork and rice with corn, turtle soup, spicy pork, rice flour buns, more pork.

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Our final banquet was in the next town over, whose name I don't remember, but Tanner described it as Minneapolis to Fenyi's St. Paul. Instead of one big room, the dinner took place in a number of smaller rooms, with one table in each. The couple spent time, as traditional, going from room to room toasting with water-weakened baijo. More great food, of course, but the star was the lamb. The last picture was taken by Tanner, and shows all the guests at the head table, with the remains of the meal--look at all that food!

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Saturday, September 22, 2012

Ex Libris Tuttle

  • The Prometheus Project: Trapped by Douglas E. Richards - This is part one of a juvenile three-parter in which two quite bright chldren of quite bright parents find themselves trapped in a multi-dimensional spaceship buried deep underground in rural Pennsylvania. Part 1 is on Kindle, parts 2 and 3 much less so ...
  • The Accidental Billionaires by Ben Mezrich - From the guy who wrote the book about the MIT blackjack teams comes the story of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, the basis for the recent movie, told entirely without his participation--or that of the Winklevoss twins. Interesting, well-told, but ultimately unsatisfying, as we really need to hear Zuckerberg's side.
  • Memoirs of an English Governess by Anna Harriet Leonowens - This book speaks to the raptures of imagination that can bring us a well-told story. Not this one, alas, but the magical The King and I musical by Rodgers and Hammerstein that is "derived from" it. How they got their charming tale from this dreary tome is beyond me; though there is a bit of story (i.e., a sequence of events linked by narrative) in the beginning and again at the end, mostly this is an endless description of Thai funerary rituals, coronation procedures and belittling descriptions of ordinary life in the Siam of the 1860s. Unless you really like Thailand (or Broadway musicals), skip it.
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  • Wired and Amped by Douglas E. Richards - Thoroughly imaginative sci-fi thriller combining some of the best of both genres I have read in a long time. Brilliant genetic engineer Kate Miller has developed a treatment that temporarily rewires the brain to achieve almost god-like intellectual abilities; David Desh, ex-special forces operative, is hired to "bring her in" before she can sell off her secret to Islamic terrorists--or so he is led to believe. This series (for I hope there will be more) has a red herring in every chapter and enough double-crosses to keep your head spinning--and the pages turning. Highly recommended.
  • Reading in the Dark by Seamus Deane - Vignettes of enormous descriptive power bring the reader into the mid-twentieth century world of Northern Ireland and "The Troubles" as seen through the eyes of an Irish Catholic boy. There is a secret in his family, one that slowly emerges through the short scenes, until revelation of the truth--violent and devastating--leads to his adulthood and independence. Deservedly shortlisted for the Booker Prize.
  • Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See - The second Lisa See book I've read, frankly, Shanghai Girls was better. Still, there is much of interest here for one who loves Asia--mention of numerous traditions, not least the laotong relationship, which pairs up girls for a lifetime, and is stronger than their husband-wife bond; foot binding, a brutal custom that hobbled and even killed Chinese girls into the twentieth century; nu shu, the long-secret "women's writing" which Mao tried to ban during the Cultural Revolution (the suffering of women in Confucian China is a major theme of the novel); and a host of festivals, particularly in the countryside, such as the "Expel the Birds" Festival, held just before planting time, in which poison seed was laid down so that the good seed could be planted without having it stolen. In the midst of all this is the story of Lily and her laotong Snow Flower, told over the course of their lifetimes in nineteenth century Hunan province. I have to say the cultural insights are more engrossing than the plot. Despite that, it's a good book, and I'll read more Lisa See.

Friday, September 7, 2012

A Class at My New School

I haven't been thoughtful enough to take pictures of my new school or my new classroom, but I did take a few shots of some fifth graders this week. They were studying the past tense of a set of irregular verbs, and the review activity I did was to give them cards with which to create a story.

There were three categories of cards, and sentences were to be constructed in the format [noun]+[verb]+[object], where the verb was in infinitive and had to be converted into past tense.

They have small size white boards and markers (which I asked for at Youngil but never ended up getting), and worked in their usual groups of three or four. Like so:

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Cuties! And the fifth grade seems (after two weeks) to be a particularly good group. Since I bought my new Nikon D5100 for Christmas, the old single body Canon has been kept at school so I can capture the odd moment without having to plan ahead. My young, enthusiastic co-teacher had the idea to display the resulting stories around the room and borrowed enough fresh boards for all four classes' work to be lined up. Here are two examples from the first session (Ted, Amy and Suji are characters in the text):

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Without at all meaning to disparage my high school boys, some of these fifth graders did work as good as a mediocre group of them might do. Also, despite the horror stories, teaching has not been a constant battle for attention and appropriate classroom behavior--if left unsupervised, of course they get rowdy, but so far they are obedient, polite and manageable. Except for two of the sixth grade classes ... where the stopwatch may be introduced.

It hasn't all gone swimmingly, as I think the Vice-principal finds it unforgivable that I won't do their "English Festival" one Saturday a month. I am already committed to my public speaking class on many Saturdays, where I make a ton of money and get to interact with the best and brightest from all over the southern district of Seoul. We had the candidate interviews last Saturday, and about 40 of the 70 who finished the vetting process would do quite nicely. But we only keep 20.

From the director of the program, I heard that someone at my new school had called the main office (I suspect the VP) to ask if I could be taken off the public speaking class. When the main office called him, he told them to go jump in a lake. This really burns me. I'm sure you know that I am not all about money--I regularly turn down work because time matters more to me, but I made the exception for this class. And this VP lady tried to take away a package of approx. 3.2 million won, in exchange for 4 Saturday mornings at 25,000 W per hour. Definitely uncool.