Thursday, July 31, 2014

Summer Camp 2014

Summer Camp is a Korean education term of art. It is really just half-days of class that extend into the vacation period, for kids that have a strong interest in a subject, like English, or more likely, for parents who don't want to spring for a paid daycare service. I'm doing two weeks. For older students, a grammar and music camp called "Schoolhouse Rock" which combines a part of speech and a style of music; for younger ones, an "Around the World" camp, with topics like kids' games from around the world, world amusement parks, making a toy.

One of the games we played was "three penny hockey", for which 50 wons make a good stand-in:

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We made an arcade toy from an empty water bottle, which the kids enjoyed. I was too busy helping to get pictures, but you take a water bottle, peel off the label, and pry off the ring under the cap. Pop the ring inside, roll up a paper tube about three inches long, glue the tube into the neck and screw on the cap. Now you invert the bottle and try to shake it so you ring the ring around the tube. We also made paper footballs and played flick football with them:

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Yesterday's lesson was about world landmarks. After watching a ppt, I showed them some paper models I assembled, from the website

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I wanted them to have the choice of Mt. Rushmore and the Eiffel Tower, but the tower took me about 45 minutes, and turned out to be a bit too fiddly, so everyone did the American presidents:

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Tomorrow, we will explore Africa by way of scenes and songs from The Lion King; meanwhile, the rockers will be exposed to some love songs, from Greensleeves to Donny Osmond's Puppy Love, and wrap up the week with a quiz game.

See you in August!

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Book Report, Part Deux

  • The Rho Agenda by Richard Phillips (The Second Ship, Immune and Wormhole) - A trio of teenage kids stumbles across a hidden cave in which they find what can only be an alien spaceship. Despite being smart and mature, they investigate it, and fitting peculiar headbands on, they eventually find themselves trainees of the ship's intelligence. They learn that there is another ship, in famed Area 51, possibly sent by a rival group of aliens. Donald Stephenson, lead scientist for the National Lab on the First Ship exploration project, and a nasty piece of work, is meanwhile performing unauthorized human experiments using the alien technology. His ultimate goal is to form a rapprochement with the aliens and rule the world. Can three teens stop him? Of course they can, but thereby hangs this engaging and imminently readable--if lengthy--tale.
  • New World Orders by Edward G Talbot - On a planet Earth teetering on the edge of global meltdown, mass extinction and resource depletion, Samuel Tan heads a secret group of the super-rich and super-powerful with a long-term, even generational, goal of getting the hell off this spinning ball before it's too late. Mega-corporations, massive defense contractors and huge amounts of infrastructure are actually secret parts of the new world order to build their spaceships and transport them to a new terraformed home. Washington, DC police detective Jim Patterson {not my old college professor} stumbles onto their plans, and has only twenty years to stop them. That last bit makes it sound silly, but it did make for a fun read.
  • Hell's Corner by David Baldacci - Hell's corner is a location in Washington, DC where Lafayette Park stands opposite the White House grounds. The jurisdiction here depends on who wants it most: the DC police, the Secret Service or the FBI--or indeed who wants it the least. A sixtyish Oliver Stone (not his real name} is visiting the park, one of his old haunts, before being recalled from a forced retirement to perform a mission at the special request of The Man at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. He's watching a State Dinner wind down across the street when suddenly a bomb goes off. Just like that, his mission changes, and he is thrown into a hornet's nest of terrorism and intrigue even more complicated than it was in the old days. Tight plotting, quirky characters and believable (mostly) action make this worth reading if you don't have anything better at hand.
  • Black List by Brad Thor - The US government has a list of people to be "eliminated"--and once you get on it, there's only one way off. Counterterrorism operative Scot Harvath has just been added to the list. He's got to find out why, and by whom, and do it in time to prevent the worst terrorist attack in American history. Harvath reminds me of Lee Childs's Jack Reacher character--so proficient at fighting and killing there just isn't any point in the opposition's bothering to try. Of course, if they didn't, there wouldn't be a book. And I like books. He's also not that great a writer, this Thor (pseudonym, much?) but he does have a reasonable take on plot-driving action, which is to say the action seems to drive the plot rather than vice versa. If Brad Thor wants my advice, he would give up on invincible, murderous hero Scot Harvath and devote his career to spinning plots about one of the minor characters here, dwarf computer hacker Nicholas with the giant dogs and similarly outsize romantic desires. Until then, don't bother ...

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Book Report, Part 1

The general laxity in my posting updates of my various fascinating thoughts and activities has been unforgivable, though I admire the persistaece (and perspicacity) of the Teeming Dozens who've stayed with me during this dearth of output. Most shocking of all, has been a failure to provide my deathless reviews/summaries of what I've been reading! Fret no more! i'll begin with two longish books, considered together for their similar theme, even if that theme is not apparent at first.
  • The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II by Denise Kiernan, and The Path Between the Seas: The Creation of the Panama Canal 1870-1914 by David McCullough - Although united by unnecessarily long subtitles, these books have a great thing in common: the satisfying true story of what Americans can do, both individually and as a nation, when called upon to do it to achieve some greater good. The first book uses the words and stories of two dozen women lured or hired to Oak Ridge, Tennessee to perform tasks from nursing to janitorial work, secretarial duties to physics lab tech jobs during the so-called Manhattan Project. At Oak Ridge, a series of massive plants was built to enrich plutonium eventually used in the making of the nuclear bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Of course, none of them knew it at the time, and it could be argued that the bombings only marginally accelerated V-J Day, but hindsight is 20-20, and it's also easy to argue, besides, that the Bomb nonetheless saved hundreds of thousands of Japanese and American lives.

    This book doesn't much concern itself with that, it is mostly about the wartime lives of the women the author interviewed at some remove--their country called on them, and they responded as best they could. Their stories are dramatic, ordinary, at times comedic, and at times tragic, but make for a great read. For many years, I took my school's seventh graders to Oak Ridge every spring as part of a week-long science trip focused on "Energy". The Museum of Science and Energy had an exhibit about the lives of those who Built the Bomb, but it merely scratched the surface of the story this book plumbs so well.

    David McCullough, who later became one of America's best, and best-known, biographers, wrote the biography, so to speak, of the Panama Canal in the mid-seventies, when it had become newsworthy once again. Like the Manhattan Project, it is about a country's strategic needs and willingness to surmount almost impossible odds to meet them. The country was France. Well, for thirty years or so, until they had ultimately to admit they couldn't do the job. I'm sure we all know the famous palindrome "a man, a plan, a canal, Panama." That man was Ferdinand de Lessop, who had triumphantly engineered the Suez Canal a few years earlier. He took on the Isthmian canal project as a money-making venture for ordinary Frenchmen, who ultimately lost their investments because of poor decision-making and dogged persistence in wrong ideas by de Lessop, his son, and his board.

    What I previously knew about the Panama Canal was mostly wrong--though TR deserves some credit for it, he gets considerably more than he deserves; while American medicos eliminated malaria, they did so by continually fighting their higher-ups, conventional wisdom, and the US Congress, none of whom believed mosquitoes were responsible for its spread; while the US did indeed have a treaty involving the canal territory's return after X number of years, that treaty was with Colombia, who no longer controlled the territory by the time the US actually started to build.

    And that's just for starters. Great book. Well, two great books!
  • J. Edgar Hoover: The man and the Secrets by Kurt Gentry - As far as I can tell, this book is exhaustively researched, and yet does not reveal any of the salacious scuttlebutt I was expecting in such a thick, detailed, and thorough book, about J. Edgar's rumored transvestitism, homosexuality or fetishism. Disappointing as it is, I have to conclude that it turns out not every homophobe is a closeted gay. Still, there are revelations aplenty about this foul man and his iron grip on American law and "morality" for the nearly forty years he ran the FBI until his death in 1972. He personally destroyed the lives of many good men and women, while supporting the worst kinds of cretins and elevating them to rhe hallways of power. And he still impacts American culture in negative ways. For example, even though the American Communist Party was always a tiny, ineffectual group of aesthetes and wannabes, their disproven approach still serves as a rallying point for conservatives to this day. Though his illegal surveillance techniques were eschewed in the seventies and eighties, the dramatic news of programs like Echelon and Prism seem to bore Americans, in part because Hoover's FBI (or rather the revelations about it) has somewhat normalized them.
  • The Hornet's Sting: The Amazing Untold Story of World War II Spy Thomas Sneum by Mark Ryan - Thomas Sneum indeed was an amazing spy; sadly, he was a poor excuse for a human being. He abandoned his wife and daughter, he threatened his biographer with a loaded pistol, he left his brother to freeze to death, he was a misogynist and all-around asshole. However, he wasn't a coward. The key thing abouut him, that makes the other stuff less important, is that he performed several feats of amazing bravery or derring-do to assist materially in the Allied cause during WWII. Sneum was Danish, and got involved in the war effort after his homeland crumbled under Nazi power without even testing itself. Near his home, the Germans installed a new kind of radar; he took pictures of the installation, and unable to provide the photos to the British any other way, he and a buddy rebuilt an old Hornet Moth, filled it with extra fuel cans, and flew it across the north Atlantic, climbing out onto the wing to refuel it along the way. Wow! That was just the beginning of his remarkable tale, which is replete with British spy agency bumbling, double-agent shenanigans, assassination by crossbow, and seducing a mother and her daughter. Long derided as a double agent, Sneum was ultimately exonerated and rewarded with the King's Medal for Courage.
Part 2 of this installment of the book report will have a slightly more sci-fi leaning. Coming soon!

Friday, July 25, 2014

School Elections

Today is the last day of the semester, here at 양명초 , and it was also the day for student government elections--terms apparently run from August to August.

Just as it was at my high school, the key means of canvassing for votes seems to be standing at the entrance to the school in the morning and serenading the students, or at least getting your name in front of them.

This is a big deal to the fifth grade, as they will be the school leaders just one semester from now. Here are some pics of democracy in action

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I say today is the last day of the semester, but I still have two weeks of camp, which is all prepared and ready to go, of course, beforee my vacation time.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Restaurant Review: Linus' BBQ, Itaewon

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It's a bit hard to find, even though it is in the heart of Itaewon, but you are a fool if you don't change all your plans for dinner throughout the next century to beat a path to Linus's door!

After enjoying his "pop-up" at Magpie's in Noksapyeong a while ago, The Stumbler and I have tried to meet up at this new southern-style bar-be-que joint for a couple of weeks, but somehow never worked it out. What the HELL were we thinking!?! Finally, we made it to his newly-opened, non-pop-up restaurant tonight, with new pal Mike, and I never want to eat anywhere else again.

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First, how do you get there? Find the main drag in in Itaewon and make your way to the McDonald's. To its immediate left are some stairs down into a little underground shopping area. Follow the hallway to the end, and turn left, where you'll see the picnic tables outside and a relatively small indoor eating space, as shown above.

Second, I was joyful when J.R.'s Southern Style BBQ opened on the main street last year, and many folks have heard me sing its praises. And I wasn't wrong to do so. but Lawd a' Mercy! you ain't had nothin' like Linus's BBQ! Starved as I was of the gen-you-wine article, I thought J.R.'s was as good as I was gonna git!

I'm not gonna get into where JR or Linus and them is all from--mainly 'cause I don't give a rat's ass--and I think both have a reputable product. But if we just compare the basics, the standard pulled pork BBQ sandwich, Linus wins on every point. The meat is perfectly smoked and seasoned, the buns buttered and lightly grilled, the sauce just like back home (and the right amount of it).

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Third, there are the sides. Both have the shoestring fries, both good. But Linus offers so much more! There were three of us: Mike had the fried okry (delicious, but not as good as my sister-in-law's); I had "Smoky mac-n-cheese", and I do not think I exaggerate when I say I could subsist on a big ol' bowl o' that till my dying day (it's on the left above); Chris had a side of fried mac-cheese-and-jalapeno-balls that were a spicy delight.

Neither restaurant (nor any place I know of in Korea, including KFC) yet has a handle on how to make cole slaw, but I still give the edge to Linus. Neither restaurant is a bargain, either, with the basic sandwich coming in at 12,000 W--if that matters a lot to you, then by all means veer right on Itaewon-gil and enter the Golden Arches. Serves you right.

Finally, a little pedantry. I'm allowed, after such a glowing review. The sign says "Linus' BBQ". This is incorrect, as Strunk and White instruct on--literally--page one: "Form the possessive singular of nouns by adding 's." They do allow for exceptions in the case of ancient proper names, e.g., Jesus', but Linus is no Son of Our Lord, even if a god of southern-style dead pig preparation. Hmmm, on second thought ...

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Fifth Grade

One of the fifth grade classes invited me to their class party yesterday. I took a picture:

 photo photo18_zpsf3b21d7e.jpg they had laid on quite a spread. But the reason I mention it is a) because my fifth graders are awesome, and b) because it reminded me that I took some pictures a couple of weeks ago of fifth grade in action.

We were doing a new review activity I made up, called:

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in which students will review key expressions. Their usual class team is divided into two pairs:

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with a divider between them so they have to talk to one another. One pair will decode the message by using a decoding sheet (a one-time pad)

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while the other pair write the message the decoders tell them to on a whiteboard. There is a time limit indicated by the fuse along the bottom. which ends with a bang. I also stuck on the Mission Impossible theme for heightened pressure.

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As you can see in the shots below, they really found it an interesting challenge, and even the most passive students found themselves participating.

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I'm going to do this again, and I'll also make one using a tomb-robbers theme with hieroglyphic symbols.