Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Idiocy Proven

North Korean officials confirmed Tuesday that they had detained an American citizen who crossed over illegally from China. They didn't give his identification, but I think it's safe to say that Robert Park is currently a North Korean prisoner.

From the story:

'Before leaving Seoul for China on Wednesday to enter North Korea, Mr. Park said he wanted to be arrested to help bring international attention to the North Koreans’ suffering, South Korean activists said. He said he did not want to be released until the North shut down its prison camps, they said.'

Let's hope he said goodbye to his family, because he won't be seeing them for a long time.

This Guy is a Maniac

Robert Park: Loves God and is insane. The two are not related.

A Korean-American crossed the North Korean border Friday saying, "I come here as an American citizen to proclaim God's love."

Faith is important, But Kim Jong-il won't care what you're proclaiming as you're rotting in a political prison.

Robert Park, we hardly knew ye.

Check the story here.

Dokdo -- Now 50% More Annoying!

Recent articles and editorials are stating the case that Japanese officials are once again claiming Takeshima (Dokdo to Koreans) as their territory. And a big pile of worthless rocks being taken from Koreans simply doesn't sit well with them.

The only problem with the huffing and puffing in this article, is that it cites a source that DOES NOT claim Dokdo directly. But Koreans clearly are reading into the inference and getting very angry.

From the story:

'Japan's Education Ministry did not directly mention Dokdo in the guidebook, allegedly taking into account Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama's bid to improve relations with South Korea and other Asian neighbors. But the manual reads: ``The territorial issues should be dealt with on the basis of reasoned arguments rightfully advanced by the (Japanese) government and aim to deepen understanding about the issues." The sentence seems to imply that the territorial issues include Dokdo.'

It says that the sentence "seems to imply that the territorial issues include Dokdo." HaHaHaHaHa. Now, I haven't read the entire guidebook, but the editorial admits that Dokdo is never actually mentioned.

Recently, the prime minister even apologized for Japan's occupation-time atrocities so they can improve relations with Korea.

I know Japanese officials have loved rubbing Takeshima/Dokdo in Korea's face for years now, but I'm not so sure they are implying Dokdo in this guidebook. I'm fairly sure (without the desire to research it) that Japan has other disputed territories as well.

Please, Koreans, you're just making yourself look bad. It's time to move on.

Haha ... Cougars

This is an article about the recent trend for older chicks to date younger dudes here. The problem is that it is very difficult to do in Korea.

In fact, it's very difficult for couples of the same age to date. I got to hear about it from one of my Korean friends. The reason is mandatory military service.

Guys generally choose to join the military service right after high school or after their first year or two of college. So as girls are graduating and getting jobs, guys the same age still have a couple more years in university.

The girl working and the guy taking classes? Let's just say that it is a nearly impossible combination here. Sorry, Smith. You'll find someone better, anyway.

Monday, December 28, 2009

South Korean Striker May Get Another Shot

Striker Ahn Jung-hwan, a hero for South Korea in 2002, and midfielder Lee Chun-soo, who was instrumental in 2006, may get another shot at the national team.

Ahn Jung-hwan

Neither man has been included in the country's national squad in recent years, but South Korea's depth is in question before the tournament, and a shot of some old leadership could prove beneficial.

Smugglers Get Sophisticated

While there's still no word on who sent or was supposed to receive the 35 tons of North Korean weapons that were intercepted last month in Thailand, authorities are starting to provide some answers at the complexities required by the smugglers in order to make the whole situation work.

Check the full story here.

Multiple fake companies and addresses from various countries were used, probably to make the shipping as confusing as possible to authorities. Haha.

The crew still claims to know nothing, and I still believe that would've been in their best interest. I don't know that much about shipping. Obviously, most crews can probably guess what they're carrying if they've been doing it long enough, but how many really know?

From the story:

'"We were to fly to Ukraine," the pilot, Ilyas Isakov of Kazakhstan, told Russian news agencies ITAR-Tass and RIA Novosti in response to written questions. "I don't know what the cargo owners intended to do next, but we were hired to fly it to Kiev's Borispil airport."

He said the crew was hired by a Ukrainian air freighter called Aviatek to pick up 35.8 tons of cargo in Pyongyang, North Korea — which included 25 tons of oil-drilling equipment and other cargo in sealed wooden boxes. He said the flight path included refueling stops in Bangkok and Sri Lanka.'

I get that I'm naive and still trying to believe that people are sincere, but honestly, how would they know what is in these sealed wooden boxes???

What do you think? Is this crew just trying to scam everyone? Or are they just a bunch of dummies who should've been more aware of who they were working for?

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Busan Blast 2009

Busan Blast 2009 group

Well it was quite a weekend in South Korea.

I went to my dance class Thursday and rocked salsa hard. I then went back to Touchdown to meet up with Tim, Colin, Dan and their girlfriends. I have a lot of good memories with those guys, as they were the ones who really introduced me to Korea last year. It was great to all spend a couple hours in the same place again.

On Friday, Barry, Josh and Geoff came to my place around 12:30 p.m., and we headed to Seoul Station to start our Busan trip. At Seoul Station, we grabbed some lunch and last-minute supplies, and we boarded the 3:10 p.m. KTX train toward Busan.

On the way, we decided to so something special and all buy ties to wear on the trip. Make sure you look for them in the pics!

Barry very generously provided us some Johnny Walker for the ride down. We had a great 4-person area that we could face each other and chat the whole time. Unfortunately, old-fashioned racism may have come into play.

On the train

We were being very polite, and mostly studying Korean the whole way down. But twice, stewards came to ask us to be quieter. They said nothing to the two little kids who were SCREAMING their faces off, and nothing to the group of Koreans next to us who were cheering loudly as they played a game.

We certainly weren't the loudest on that train, just the least Korean. Either way, the ride was fun and went smoothly.

We arrived in Busan around 7 p.m. and hopped in a cab toward the Haeundae beach area. Thanks to Johnny C., we had a good list of places to check out. We first got dinner at a place called FN Taco. The tacos were great and the drinks were cheap.

Hanging on the beach

After a couple hours there, we decided to grab some makkoli and hit the beach for an hour or so.

Following the beach excursion, we headed to a bar called Rock 'n Roll, where the owner was a very generous lady. She gave us some free drinks and wasn't shy about chatting with us. It was a nice time. Josh and I even smoked some GIs in beer pong.

After that, we briefly went to a club. I mean briefly because I left after maybe 10 minutes. It wasn't my scene, and I'm a bit bummed that I paid to get in without really realizing where we were going.

We then decided to try to call it a night and find a place to sleep. A lot of places were full, but we found one place with rooms. The lady was overcharging for sure because of Christmas, but I talked her down to 40,000 won. She then showed us the room, which wouldn't have been worth staying in if she paid us.

So we decided to just head back to Busan Station. We got there at 5:20 a.m., and realized a KTX was leaving for Seoul at 5:30 a.m. So I pulled out my Korean and got our tickets changed for that train. We then hopped on it, all chose our own sleeping seat and dozed on the way home.

I slept all day Saturday, and then met Hye Yun for a drink in InHa at Go Bar on Saturday night. I then joined Barry and Josh, as they came in with a few friends.

It was nice to check out the south side of the country, and I'm happy to have ridden the KTX. The only issue I have is that we essentially did very little different than we would have done on any normal night. That was the basic plan, though, and I had a good time regardless.

So check out the pics and let me know what you think!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Loving The Salsa

When I start something new, I'm inevitably behind the other people who have been studying for any amount of time.

So when salsa began a week ago, I was having fun, but still a little uncomfortable because I am just doing basic steps while others in my class are twisting and turning.

I do this with almost everything in my life -- any sport, hackey sack, musical instruments, Korean language and so on. Salsa is just the next thing in line at which I'll obsess over to become really good.

So I went to my normal classes on last Tuesday and Thursday, then to the wine party on Saturday and my normal class Tuesday this week. I still make some missteps, but I have the basic moves down pretty solid.

I decided to hit up the open class last night, and I could not have made a better choice. Unfortunately, my beautiful and talented partner, Kyeol, couldn't make it. But I decided to just go it alone.

When I got there, there was a class of middle-aged people going on. I thought it was the open class, but it turns out that class was just finishing up. By the time they cleared out, it was just me and two of the beautiful instructors.

For the next 90 minutes, we pounded out the stuff I already know, as well as new turns and partner combinations. It was really awesome.

I'm no salsa prodigy by any stretch, but after last night's 1-on-2 (YES!) with the teachers, I am feel much more confident.

One of the issues that got to me last year was the lack of any extracurricular activities besides studying Korean. I got sluggish for awhile, and it wasn't healthy for me.

Just look how happy and awesome I am in this picture

Doing this not only gets me out of my house in the evening, but it also gives me something active to do. And maybe the best part is that the instructors don't speak English. That means I get even more Korean practice. Last night would've been pretty weird had I not been able to talk to them with anything more than single words and goofy hand gestures.

But whenever we were taking a break or they were explaining a move, the Korean came into play. It made the session a lot more fun since we could just shoot the breeze when we were between sets.

I know it's tough to find an activity like this, but my best advice to anyone who's new or has been here for awhile is to find some kind of club you can join. Join with a Korean friend to make it easier. I'm sure very few foreigners have ever been at Bamboo Salsa Academy.

They love having non-Koreans there. I don't mean that in a racist way. They just like that someone new is willing to come out and jump into a new situation. They'll be happy you're there, and you'll make new friends and learn something new.

It really helps if you miss your family or are getting pounded by your school. So look around, and find something new to try.^^

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Not Helping Your Wife?

From my time here, I've met plenty of stand-up Korean guys who would definitely help their wife out with household chores. But this story from The Korea Times is throwing the Korean gents squarely under the bus.

A nationwide study released Monday by The Population Association of Korea says that women are more inclined to do household chores -- even if the husband is unemployed.

I love this little piece from the story:

'Even jobless men were found to be spending much less time doing household chores. They spent 1.6 to 3.2 hours, while their spouses spent 3.1 to 4.8 hours.'

Guys? What gives? Put down the Soju and help your wife already.

Single Livers Growing

Apparently a domestic trend is taking place in South Korea that goes against everything I witness every day. According to this story, the number of people living alone is growing.

From the story:

'Statistics Korea reported Monday that one-member households accounted for 20.1 percent of the total in 2008, up from 15.6 percent in 2000 and 6.9 percent in 1985.

The ratio will likely continue to rise in the future, with more senior citizens living alone in line with an increasing life expectancy.

Additionally, many young adults these days are delaying marriage and choosing to live alone due to financial and other reasons, while more single women are living on their own amid the rising divorce rate.'

I can certainly understand the growth rate compared to previous decades. That makes sense. but that still doesn't change the fact that I know ZERO Koreans who are single and living alone. I don't claim to know everybody, but I do know a pretty good cross-section of people through my co-workers, friends and family of a certain special girl.

The closest thing I've seen to a person living alone is Hye Yun's cousin. She has her own place independent of her parents, but she lives with her sister as her roommate. So I wonder where all these singles are hiding.

Anyway, the story also says that, as 0f 2005, Korea ranked 24th of 25 OECD member countries at amount spent on education. The country averaged $2,426 per person, while the OECD average was $4,888.

Again, this is something that is tough to grasp, seeing how Koreans embrace private academies. I never imagined Koreans were number one in spending, but to be so low surprises me.

Here's my favorite stat from this article of fun facts:

Only 28.2 percent of Koreans said people are trustworthy, the 14th lowest rate among 19 OECD member countries. About 68 percent of Swedish and 58.9 percent of Finish respondents said they trust other members of society.'

Living in Korea, I stopped trusting everyone else as well. Haha.

Monday, December 21, 2009

It's Happening Again!

I'm actually getting really excited about all the "copycat" groups the newspapers and netizens are finding. This one is pretty hard to argue, too.

Introducing Ok-Bang! It's China's version of the hugely popular Korean group, Big Bang. I'm just enjoying this so much! Haha.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Salsa and Wine Party

On Saturday, I took Popper to my dance academy for a salsa party. There were some drinks and snacks and a bunch of people from all the classes were there.

I practiced my steps that I know, learned some new steps and danced with some stunningly beautiful girls.

Notice confidence at work

I am kind of lame about things, but once I start something, I have a desire to become really good at it. I watched some of the students who had been there for even six months, and they were impressive. That's nothing to say about the owners and instructors. They were incredible.

So I've been practicing some of my moves and watching videos online. I'm REALLY enjoying it. I never thought I'd take a dance class, but I'm thrilled that Kyeol asked me to join her.

I'm going to stick with this for the rest of my time in Korea. It's a great new hobby and I'm having a good time.

On Friday, I went to hang with Tim in Sanbon. His area is hoppin'. It reminds me of a much bigger version of Guworldong, obviously one of my favorite hoods in Incheon.

All in all, it was a great weekend. Gearing up for Christmas and Busan Blast 2009.

Check out the salsa pics here!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

More Wrestling Lawmakers

This is a budget story. What it says is not something I care about at all. It's just another example of the Korean National Assembly wrestling each other when they don't get their way. Please, grow up already. You're embarrassing yourself and your country.

More Copycats

This time it's a group from Thailand who is supposedly copying Korea's 2NE1. Let's be realistic here. Does anyone really want to copy these KPop groups? And look at that picture anyway. It's a bit of a stretch to think they're copying the group when both of them simply have a motorcycle in the music video.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Salsa Dance!!!

I wanted to try something new, and thanks to Skype, I’m doing it.

On Monday, a Korean girl wrote to me and we started chatting. The conversation was going well and we were basically just getting to know each other. My new friend, Kyeol Park, then told me she wanted to take a salsa class. I told her it sounds fun. So she invited me to take one with her.

Even though we had just started chatting and never met face to face, I didn’t see any reason not to do it (besides being lured into a dark alley by a complete stranger and stabbed, or something).

Less than 24 hours later, we were at Bamboo Dance Academy, about a 15 minute subway ride from my house, and starting our first lesson.

It was a lot of fun. We just learned really basic steps, but I can tell I’m going to enjoy it. There were about 20 people there, and they mentioned that they don’t get foreigners, so I’m the only American.

The classes are Tuesday and Thursday from 10 to 11 p.m. That’s a little late, but I figured I could handle it to try something new. The first month is 40,000, and a normal month is 80,000 won. They also have practice times on Wednesday and Saturday for a few thousand won more, so we can meet up with the group, bond and work on our steps.

Kyeol is really nice, beautiful and a lot of fun to be around. We clicked right away. I think our personalities are pretty similar. Do I have a crush on her already? Of course.

I’m really looking forward to seeing where this class goes. It’s going to be a great time. I didn’t take pictures yet, but check back soon to see the studio and some dancers. Until then, check out the Bamboo Academy website.

Pohang Steelers Fall

Pohang lost to Estudiantes 2-1 on Tuesday

Korea's Pohang Steelers lost to Argentina's Estudiantes La Plata Tuesday by a 2-1 score in the FIFA Club World Cup semi-finals. It looks like Pohang fought hard, but was reduced to 8 men before the game ended. One of their field players was forced to take goal after their goalkeeper was sent off in the 76th minute.

Check out the heartbreaker here.

Murder Case Reopening? Unlikely

A story in The Korea Times today says Korean prosecutors want to reopen the "Itaewon Murder" case. The case alleges that on April 3, 1997, two teenagers stabbed a Korean college student at a restaurant in Itaewon.

The suspects are a Korean-American man and the son of an American soldier. One of the suspects, Edward Lee, was acquitted of the crimes due to a lack of evidence. The other suspect, Robert Patterson was found guilty on charges of possessing an illegal weapon, and went to the U.S. after serving 8 months in prison.

What are the chances of getting this case re-opened? I can't imagine they're much higher than 0%. While the idea of re-opening it is just in the stages, a Korean official admits the possibility of the U.S. government rejecting it on the grounds of double jeopardy.

Let's face it, the prosecutors failed to put these guys away the first time (if they did actually do it), so what have they gathered in the last 10 years that makes them feel they have a better shot? Did these guys actually do it, or does this go much deeper?

I think the reason this has gained a little traction is because a movie called "Itaewon Murder" came out last year and most likely reminded people of the event.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Plane Coming From North Korea Seized In Thailand

A plane flying from North Korea to Ukraine was seized, and it's crew detained, while making a pit stop in Thailand.

As it turns out, the plane's cargo was missiles, grenade launchers and other weapons topping out at a pretty enormous size.

From the story:

'Thai officials arrested the five-man crew on Friday after seizing the large cargo craft at Bangkok’s military airport, where the crew had landed to refuel. It was unclear why the crew would have chosen a close American ally for a refueling stop, rather than neighboring Myanmar, which has deep business and political ties to North Korea.

Thai officials said they intended to charge the crew members with possession of weapons of war. On Monday, a court here approved a 12-day detention for the five men.

But in their first interview since they were arrested, the crew members insisted that they did not know they had been transporting an arsenal of at least 30 tons of missiles, grenade launchers and other weapons, some of which the Thai authorities were still trying to identify.'

Now, the plane had other stops schedule in Sri Lanka and the United Arab Emirates. No one is sure yet where the final destination of the cargo was intended, but investigators are looking into that right now.

The plane, surrounded by security personnel, in Bangkok on Saturday.

I've already witnessed some skepticism from one person who inferred that the crew definitely knew what they were shipping. But let me play devil's advocate on that one.

Why on Aaron's Green Earth would the North Korean government tell this crew that they were carrying a ridiculous amount of weapons? This is super-secret North Korea. For all we know, the crew has held at gunpoint until agreeing to not even step into the cargo hold during the trip.

The crew members thought they were delivering oil drilling equipment, according to the story. And why would they question that? They're getting paid to deliver cargo. They're stopping in the oil-rich Middle East. It certainly would be a believable cargo load.

Does anyone really think this crew would purposely carry weapons for the North Koreans?

Now, looking at it from another angle, this crew was a bunch of dummies to be carrying North Korea's cargo anyway, but they might just be average Joe's trying to make a living. Knowing the regime running North Korea, I'm not yet ready to implicate this crew in anything.

We can assume all we want, but until they're proven guilty of knowing what they were carrying, I will continue to believe they weren't dumb enough to knowingly transport weapons for one of the most-hated countries on Earth.

What do you think? Are these guys just Grade-A dummies trying to earn a living? Or is there something more devious going on here???

Dish It Out But Can't Take It?

In the land of copycats, it seems like people might be feeling a little bit of the sting when someone copies something that you thought was only yours.

China must have wanted in on the action of 9 pretty, yet totally untalented, girls bouncing around ridiculously on stage. They created "Idol Girls," which is apparently a knock off of Korea's "Girl's Generation."

I don't think Koreans have much to get upset about here. The most popular television drama here last year was a ripoff of a Japanese comic and a Japanese drama.

I don't know which group is which. The description was unclear, and they're clones.

Some Koreans are saying it's plagiarism, while others are calling it parody. I guess the most important questions are: Who cares? And why do these groups exist at all?

Now Who Will Koreans Hate?

Something major happened recently. The chief of Japan's ruling party apologized for the atrocities committed when Japan occupied Korea from 1910-1945.


From the story:

'Ichiro Ozawa, chief of Japan's ruling party, apologized Saturday for wrongdoings his country committed during its colonization of Korea in the early half of last century.

The Secretary-General of the Democratic Party of Japan also said he expected his country's parliament to pass legislation next year that will give ethnic Koreans living in Japan the right to vote in local elections.

"There was an unfortunate era in modern history involving the relations of the two countries. It is a historical fact that I, as a member of the Japanese nation and Japan, must apologize to you," he said speaking at Seoul's Kookmin University.

"I believe everyone here thinks that Japan and South Korea should pursue friendly relations and solidarity," he said. "If we remain fixated on the past history, no good results can come from the future of the two nations."

Japan colonized Korea, now divided into North and South, from 1910-1945. Critics say Japan should fully apologize for its crimes during the period, including the sexual slavery of women from nations it ruled.'

The current generation isn't as bad as the older Koreans, but I have a lot of friends who say they really hate Japan. Most of my friends and I roll our eyes at this, but realistically, there are still Koreans alive who witnessed some pretty terrible treatment from the Japanese.

It's a big move for Japan to get up and apologize. Though, it's also important to note that an apology may have been necessary for years. Either way, Ozawa is looking toward the future of Asian relations. Good thinking on his part, especially with China's rise to world power. Asian countries are on the rise. They can only be more intimidating to the west when working together.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo

Why would I title one of my posts with that ridiculous sentence? It's because I'm an English teacher and a grammar nerd.

As an English teacher, I am excited to say I recently learned that the sentence "Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo" is grammatically correct. It would take me a long time to explain, but take a look at the article here on Wikipedia.

That's your fun fact of the day.

Pohang Steelers in Club World Cup Sem-Finals

Korea's own Pohang Steelers have reached the FIFA Club World Cup semi-finals with a victory over TP Mazembe last Friday. The Korean club beat the African club 2-1.

This sets up a showdown on Dec. 15 with Argentina's Estudiantes de La Plata.

Pohang reached the Club World cup by winning the Asian region, and Estudiantes won the South American region.

Dancing With The Wonder Girls

The Wonder Girls, Korea's biggest girl group right now (unless you're counting Rain -- HA), was recently on Dancing With The Stars to sing the English version of their song, "Nobody."

They've been on tour with The Jonas Brothers for the last 6 months or so, basically opening their show only with their one English song. I guess it's caught on a bit, because they're apparently on The Billboard Chart somewhere around the mid-70s. I'm sorry. I haven't done much research.

It's no secret that I think most K-Pop is absolutely horrible. I just wanted to share the story about them finding a bit of traction in the U.S.

I wanted to post the clip of their performance, but it's been pulled from YouTube. Maybe just try searching for it, and you'll probably find it somewhere.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

If He Needs to Escape ...

Kim Jong-il apparently has elaborate, secret escape tunnels, according to a story in The Chosun Ilbo. This might fall on about the same surprise level as Koreans loving Soju.

Let's think about it:

Crazy dictator? Check. Spending on military and alcohol while people starve? Check. Escape tunnels so elaborate that "visiting Soviet military delegation marveled at them"? Check.

Okay, that's three for three.

Always Thinking Of Soju

This is just a fun-fact type of story. It turns out that, when polled about alcohol, Korean men and women overwhelmingly think of Soju first. That is followed by beer.

That's no surprise to anyone who has ever ever even spent a day in Korea. This might be the "duh" story of the century. Thanks, Korea Alcohol Research Center!

Promoting English Newspapers

Here's a story that is interesting to me on a personal level.

A bill was proposed to the National Assembly Wednesday to allocate more money toward promoting English daily newspapers.

From the story:

'"Local English newspapers play an important and critical role beyond helping Koreans improve English skills," the two-term legislator said.

"It's a window to Korea and an excellent means of introducing the country to the world in the global language."'

The story also talks about fair reporting and truth. As of now, truth and fair reporting are hard to come by in English dailies. They give us a glimpse into current events, but rarely give both sides of a story or attribute their sources.

I would love to be a reporter again. Being a reporter back in Pittsburgh was a really fantastic job and I really enjoyed going to work every day. It's a bit different from my feeling about my job here.

Maybe a little more money going toward the dailies, and I could find myself back in my old career, but this time in South Korea. I can dream.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

English Teachers Form Union

This is a very interesting story coming out of my city of Incheon.

Apparently, five teachers working at an after school academy, a "hagwon," have formed a union after what they viewed as mistreatment from their employer. The teachers were apparently forced to work 40 hours instead of 30, without proper overtime compensation.

From The Korea Times story:

'The five founding members decided to set up the union after the employer forced them to work 40 hours per week rather than 30 hours stipulated in their contract.

"Under the contract, the employer is supposed to pay an overtime rate of 15,000 won per hour. But the employer paid nothing,'' Jung told The Korea Times in a phone interview. "In response to complaints about the unpaid overtime, the employer even verbally threatened to fire one of the five, who was a woman.'''

The "Jung" referred to in the story is their attorney.

This is interesting for many reasons. The first being that this is the kind of stuff that 95 percent of us face every single day. Last year, there were numerous times where I worked over my 30 hour limit. The tricky thing about contracts is that they say you are there for 30 classes and also to do other school-related things.

Now, when you're already at your 30-class limit and still making phone calls for the call tests, doesn't that technically put me over? Or how about if I'm judging a speech contest? I can argue that I'm working over my limit if I'm simply preparing a lesson plan.

At my current school, I work my 22 class hours, but still put in a ton more time on preparing for future classes, and even teach an extra parents class every week.

The hagwon directors have sneaky ways to interpret our contracts (if they even remember to keep a copy on file) and get as much as they can out of the employees, no matter what is actually written.

This also makes me wonder if it could possibly spurn a movement by other teachers to try to form unions. I don't know the labor laws of Korean citizens, but I know that President Lee Myung-bak is particularly hard on union employees.

Another thing to consider is that due to the popularity of teaching English in Korea, will this make more employers think twice about bringing over westerners? We're currently in an employers' market with people on waiting lists to find jobs here. Knowing that the threat of forming a union could happen, will it swing the market at all? Or will it make it even tougher to find a job, as more employers don't want to deal with the hassle?

One funny (sad) piece at the end of the article. From the story:

'A total of 22,905 foreign nationals are here on E-2 English teaching visas as of Oct. 31 this year, according to the Ministry of Justice. Of them, 134 overstayed their visa, the ministry said.'

Haha. Wow. Look how they threw in a little parting shot about teachers overstaying their visas, even though it had absolutely nothing to do with this story.

Anyway, this article gives us something to think about. Will it affect the hiring process? Will it give these teachers an upper hand? Or will they simply bring tougher working conditions upon themselves?

Monday, December 7, 2009

Han River Cruise

I had a pretty laid back weekend, but included one new, fun event to add to my list of things done in South Korea.

On Friday, I met with Hye Yun for some dinner and a couple drinks. She left on Sunday with her mom to visit Turkey for 9 days. Thanks, Korean Dad!

Then, later on Friday night, Popper and I just played some darts and had a few drinks.

On Saturday evening, I went into Seoul to meet with Soo Ryung. We met at Youido and went to a restaurant called Tony Roma's. It was a little pricey, but it's a great place to go if you're looking to fill a craving for great western-style food. I got a nice, juicy burger, and Soo Ryung for some ribs and friend shrimp. I noticed they even have fish and chips there.

Like I said, if you don't mind dropping a few thousand won more for your meal, it's a real craving buster.

After dinner, we headed down to the Han River and took a night cruise. It was only 16,000 won for a 90 minute ride up and down the river. It would've been cool to go during the day, because my pictures would've turned out better. But I definitely prefer the night trip. So I have a few blurry pics, but I have very clear memories.

Soo Ryung and I posing at the rear of the boat

The city was lit up brilliantly, and the moon was very low and just looked gigantic and bright. It was freezing cold weather, but the boat had an inside cabin as well as an outer deck on which you could hang.

We split our time between inside and outside. They had a guitar player for a portion of the ride, but we wanted to see the outside as much as possible. Standing at the front of the boat, we realized just how miserable cold it was.

But it was great to spend a special night with her. She's heading to California in less than a month to study at a university for a year. This may have been the last time I'll see her in person for quite some time.

It's a bummer to make a good friend in a new country, only to have her leave, but I'm really excited for her to get her chance at living abroad.

Like I said, the pics didn't turn out that clearly because of a certain lack of light, but you can check the best ones out here.

This week at school has been hectic so far, and it's only Monday. It's a new term so we're trying to sort out exactly how to teach the kids with our new storybook materials. I ran more level tests today, and we'll see how that all shakes down.

By Wednesday, we should be back in the full swing of teaching.

The good news I got today is that I won a prize for best singer from our Hambak party a couple weeks ago. It turns out they really enjoyed my "Johnny B. Goode" and "Rainism". They gave out a variety of prizes from the night in front of a large group of teachers today. I was happy to receive my 20,000 won prize. It was certainly very exciting and felt nice to be included with the other teachers for something like this.

Now if we can only find some actual information regarding our winter camp and possible vacation schedule. Then, all would be well.^^

Koreans Visit Hospitals ALL THE TIME

A new study released by the Organisation for Economic and Community Development (OECD) says Koreans visit hospitals way more than most other nations.

From the story:

'Koreans visit hospitals for diagnosis and treatment a lot more often than other nations. According to a survey by the Ministry for Health, Welfare and Family Affairs, each Korean sees a doctor 11.8 times a year on average, nearly double the OECD average of 6.8 times a year. Only the Japanese (13.6 times) and the Czech (12.6 times) visit hospitals more often.'

If you spend any time living in Korea, this idea becomes pretty clear. Any time a Korean even feels under the weather, he or she goes to the hospital or a clinic.

This year, I had a little cough about two weeks ago, and every day, at least 5 teachers told me I had to get to the hospital right away.

Financially, it's simply less expensive to go to the hospital and get medicine here than in the United States. Most visits to a doctor or clinic only run a few thousand won (a couple of dollars) and the most expensive medicine I had to get one time was 7,000 won (a little more than $6).

South and North Koreas Draw Brutal Groups

Korean midfielder and captain Park Ji-sung

The South Koreans will face off against Greece, Argentina and Nigeria when the World Cup opens in June 2010. Yikes.

But if you think that's bad, don't even look at North Korea's draw. They'll get to play Brazil, Portugal and the Ivory Coast. Now that's just mean.

The U.S. got a dream draw that includes England, Algeria and Slovenia.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Rapists May Face Real Punishments

A story in The Korea Times says that convicted rapists could face up to 50 years in prison and even face chemical castration.

From the story:

'The government and the ruling party are planning a bill that could put convicted sexual offenders targeting children behind bars for up to 50 years, force them to wear electronic monitors round-the-clock for 30 years after being released and, if necessary, undergo chemical castration.

The bill, which the GNP is seeking to legislate this month, is the latest in a series of efforts aimed at amending the Criminal Law in the wake of a controversial Supreme Court ruling in October that upheld a lighter-than-expected verdict handed down on brutal child rapist, Cho Doo-soon.'

Cho was sentenced to only 12 years in prison after raping a a primary school girl and leaving her with permanent injuries.

In a move of rare logic, the bill is also seeking to remove the statute of limitations and the reduction in sentences when an offender's only excuse is that he drank too much. The Korea Herald had a column on the start of that movement.

The Ministry of Justice (that's so 1984, isn't it?) is hosting a seminar next week with the United States, Britain, France, Japan and Germany to discuss punishment guidelines.

Brian's Take On Mandatory Culture

Fellow Pittsburgher Brian from Brian in Jeollanam-do wrote a column in The Korea Herald giving his take on the possibility of mandatory culture lessons.

You can check out Brian's blog through the link on the left of this page.

I posted my ideas on this topic just a few days ago. Brian's thoughts are worth the read.

Bonojit Hussain's Story

This is the first time I've seen this story told by the offended party.

On July 10, Hussain was the victim of discriminatory remarks from a Korean man. Hussain, a research professor at a Korean university, was riding the bus with a female Korean colleague when the Korean man verbally abused him.

On Nov. 27, Incheon district court convicted the Korean man and charged him with a 1 million won ($863) fine.

Lawmakers are also in the process of trying to pass an Anti-Discrimination Bill.

We'll see where this all leads. I think it's a step in the right direction.

* Note - I've faced discrimination in similar respects. I've had drunk Koreans yelling insults at me. But keep in mind, these are the dirtbags of the Korean society. Most people here are good people. But you have to take the losers with the winners, don't you? Bummer, but don't let it get you down.

Hopefully this bill will go through and single out the jerks and reduce the attacks like Hussain faced.

Monday, November 30, 2009

News Flashes - The Times, They Are A Changin'

I have five news stories this time, so I won't make many comments. I'll just leave it up to you to post your comments below. I'd love to hear what you think. Let's light this message board up.

Fined For Slander

For the first time, a Korean man was fined for slandering an Indian man. The insults were racially offensive remarks, a problem that can be all too common here, but is usually just accepted. But now, a group of lawmakers is looking to form a bill to ban discrimination based on race and color.

Ninja Assassinated?

I haven't seen too many good reviews for the new movie "Ninja Assassin," starring Korean superstar Rain. One of my friends saw it and said it would have been better had the fights not all been celebrations of CGI.

Rain still needs some English practice, according to a Korean publication.

Anyway, this article says that the biggest problem with Rain is his broken English. A publication called "Sports Seoul" said it makes viewers feel uncomfortable.

It seems to me that people with heavy accents are generally accepted as Hollywood actors, while actors with no discernible accent are often butchering those of other countries.

Fried Egg As A Symbol

I read this editorial a few times and am still having trouble finding some of the connections it seeks to point out.

It starts out talking about how the friend egg was once a special treat saved for the man of the household, because of its rarity in the meal, and because of the male status in society.

It then talks about how a university chick recently called all males under 180 cm tall losers.

This leads to a discussion of how the role of the woman in society has changed, and is still changing, giving her the upper hand. A cultural psychologist as a university in Seoul says the outlook is only getting worse for the male psyche in Korea.

She then says the egg is no longer for the loser.

My guess is it's that in the past, even if a dude was a total loser and failure, his wife, children and society would put him up on a pedestal, therefor earning him the egg. But he no longer qualifies for that egg by just being a male. I think that's what it means. Can any Koreans help me out.

Also, I'm only 175 cm. So I suppose Korean university chicks won't date me.

Drinking To Connect With The People

Another Korea Times editorial points out how the hot trend in politics is to drink makgeolli with people to better connect with them. Makgeolli is a rice wine that used to be favored by poorer people because it's so inexpensive.

I like makgeolli. It's still inexpensive and I like the flavor. It certainly does the trick in providing entertainment for a night.

It looks as though even President Lee Myung-bak, who has some pretty low approval ratings, is jumping on the makgeolli wagon to connect with people.

Teacher Disappears In Germany

This last story doesn't take place in Korea, but it is a fellow English teacher. A 22-year-old American has been missing since last weekend after attending a concert in Germany. He was teaching in Prague since July.

I know my tiny blog won't help Devon Hollahan or his family, but let's just look at this as a warning for those of us who feel relatively safe wherever we are. Even someone who seems prepared can get into trouble in a split second.

Now, we don't know all the circumstances surrounding his disappearance, and the news clip isn't too in depth, but keep an eye out for your friends and use common sense as much as possible. We want to avoid these sad stories as much as possible.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Suicidal Innocence and Mandatory Culture

Mayor Commits Suicide "To Prove Innocence"

Just read this Korea Times article.

The mayor of Yangsan, Oh Geun-sup, was found dead in his apartment Friday after what police are ruling a suicide. He hanged himself, apparently.

This happened while he is in the midst of a bribery scandal.

We've seen this all before. We can't forget former President Roh Moo-hyun who recently killed himself in the middle of a corruption scandal. Roh prided himself on being a "clean" politician.

As far as Oh's vice-mayor is concerned, Oh's suicide proves Oh's innocence.

From the story:

'"Personally, I believe that the mayor took his own life to express his sentiment toward the investigation and prove his innocence," Vice Mayor Ahn Gi-sup said during a press conference shortly after the mayor's body was transferred to the Busan University Hospital in Yangsan. Ahn will serve as the acting mayor.'

Once again, I might need to ask forgiveness for sounding callous and skeptical, but when it's common for politicians to kill themselves while involved in scandal, I have a hard time believing that's evidence of innocence.

I realize this is all part of that "saving face" crap we hear so much about. But I don't buy it. If a guy commits a crime and then kills himself to avoid paying the consequences, I think he's a coward.

Possible Mandatory Culture Course

A story by "Number 1 Foreigner Hater" Kang Shin-who in The Korea Times says a Grand National Party representative has submitted a bill in the hopes of providing mandatory culture courses.

From the story:

'The reaction came after Rep. Cho Jeon-hyuk of the governing Grand National Party (GNP) submitted a bill aimed at providing a mandatory course on Korean culture to native English speakers at elementary and secondary schools as well as private language institutes. '

Shin-who writes that some native speakers spoke negatively about the plan. He's proven in the past that his reporting can't be trusted. The only shining light in this story is that he did take the time to interview Association for English Teachers in Korea President Greg Dolezal, who spoke positively about the approach and would like to provide input into the program.

I have no problem with a culture course, but I think it's much more vital to get a language course. It's hard enough to get people to study the language when society has made it clear that it's not totally necessary. But then to ask native speakers to pay for courses makes it so much less likely.

I study every day at my own cost. I buy my books, notebooks and other supplies that I need. And it's certainly possible to find a language exchange group for free. But any instruction with a certified teacher will cost money.

I have done quite well for myself studying without a teacher or organized course, and everyone else could do the same if they're willing to put in the hours.

If we're going to be forced into a mandatory course, why not make it a language course with culture sprinkled in here and there to highlight examples of what we're learning. I think it would kill both birds with one stone, and be much more useful to the people giving up their free time to gain a bit of knowledge.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Hambak Family Number 1

Our head teacher welcoming us in front of a banner that says "Congratulations Hambak Family

The principal threw a big party Wednesday for all the teachers at a super-fancy Chinese restaurant. Apparently, we're the number one school in Incheon. That's what we were told. And I'm not questioning it.

Anyway, we had our own private room and about 50 teachers were there. It was really awesome. The food was nothing special. In fact, I are very little of it. I just wasn't that into it. The Koreans just loved it, though, so it didn't go to waste.

Geoff, Katie and Ridia

The key to the night was clearly the traditional Korean wine. Katie described it as tasting like Big Macs. That's pretty appropriate. It just wasn't quite as good as a Big Mac.

Anyway, we drank a TON of it. Vice Principal Kim went around to every table and was giving entire glasses of the stuff. He then proceeded to request the "one shot." So we had to chug that bad boy.

Making the night more awesome was the karaoke machine they brought in. It came complete with a live drummer and guitar/saxophone player. These guys were awesome playing along to the songs.

I started my singing out with "Johnny B. Goode." I was so "goode" that the other teacher started chanting encore. So I rocked their socks clean off with Rainism by Rain, in Korean. Eat that, Hambak.

Rocking out some Queen

As the night went on, we got progressively drunker. Geoff maintained his cool as always. But Katie and I were just going bonkers. We went around to every table, introduced ourselves to everyone and did subsequent shots with nearly everyone.

Celebrating with Principal Kim

It was great. We were singing and dancing and meeting all the teachers. We had a really fun time.

Of course, I did get back up for another trip around the karaoke floor. I did "Crazy Little Thing Called Love." And later still, Katie and I belted out "Hey Jude."

Ridia and Julie along with many other teachers didn't hold up so well. There was a lot of passing out and yaking. But the Americans and Canadians rocked the house hard.

Not surprisingly, everyone was feeling a bit under the weather. But we braved the day, knowing only Friday separates us from the glorious weekend.

Check out the rest of the pics here!

Monday, November 23, 2009

G20, China and Weddings


The G20 Summit, which took place most recently near my hometown in Pittsburgh, will be hosted this coming year in Seoul. This story in The Korea Herald says that the plan is to discuss post-crisis management for the global economy. Of course, that's assuming we've reached the "post" part of the crisis.

Also, if all goes according to plan, the meeting will be held on an island in the middle of the Han River.

China Threatens US Status

A story in The Chosun Ilbo reminds us all that the United States is no longer the only game in town for South Korea. Though they've been economic partners since the end of the Korean War, China is trying to assert its dominance in the global market by jumping into South Korea.

From the story:

'The U.S. remains the chief political and military ally of South Korea, but "vital issues such as a trade agreement and North Korea's atom bombs have been sidelined in the U.S., while China plays a greater role in both Koreas," the daily said.

It quoted Andrew Gilholm, a senior analyst at British international security consultancy Control Risks, as saying, "The long-term idea is that Seoul will ultimately drift more towards Beijing's orbit, although less so under President Lee Myung-bak."'

Considering logistics, as well as the rise of China's economy compared to the fall of the US economy, it would really come as no surprise for China to take over as the main trading partner to South Korea. China's influence in the area is really coming on as they look to surpass the US within the next 20 or so years.

This has no immediate impact on the US, but as the dollar remains in an unstable position, losing another major economic partner can't be good news for the States.

Korean Weddings

A story in The New York Times discusses the traditional and current thinking behind giving gifts at a Korean wedding. Traditionally, the gift is an envelope of cash. Considering that weddings are so expensive here, the wedding cash gift is generally used toward paying off that hefty price tag.

But this story reports that some people are moving away from that tradition of giant guest lists and loads of cash gifts in favor of smaller, more intimate events to mark their special days.

From the story:

'Before entering a Korean wedding hall, guests normally line up to hand their offerings to a cashier, who opens the envelopes and registers the givers’ names, and the amounts of the gifts, in a velvet-covered ledger. The practice is such a given that wedding invitations sometimes include bank account numbers so people who cannot attend can still send money. ...

But in recent months, the wedding cash and the habit of inviting a large crowd of guests have been criticized as wasteful at best, and a conduit for vote-buying and bribery at worst.'

This story is certainly an interesting look at culture. My second weekend in Korea, I attended a Korean wedding. I got their expecting something similar to any wedding I've ever seen. But the Korean wedding is a rowdy affair, with people milling in and out during the ceremony, and shouting and cheering throughout. It's certainly not similar to the quiet weddings in America where the focus is on the bride and her gown.

I really enjoyed it. There was a lot of energy and excitement in the room.

The wedding was held at a big wedding hall, where many weddings were scheduled for the day. After the wedding, we went into a giant common buffet hall, where all the wedding parties in the building gathered for what we would consider the reception. There wasn't dancing, but there was a ton of food and alcohol.

I didn't give the cash gift. The Korean I was with gave on behalf of us, and told us not to worry, since we were foreigners there. It was a pretty cool experience.

This story says that it's the younger generation that is trying to change the rules of the weddings and white envelopes of cash.

While that by itself is interesting, I think it points to a larger picture of the swiftly-moving generational changes that Koreans are facing on an almost-daily basis.

Check the story out for a good bit of cultural knowledge.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Hambak What?

That's what we're asking ourselves every day.

The third graders from Mun Nam Elementary have been a lot of fun. I have been doing a lesson on family, and the kids are doing well at it. We have to figure out a good full-class game for younger kids, though. The bingo seems to be a bit difficult for enough of them that it is tough to do.

We have Hambak second graders starting on Tuesday. I'm looking forward to getting back to our own students. I think I'll do a lesson on colors and shapes. That should be right around their level.

Unfortunately, the principal and vice principal are still giving Ridia a hard time and she is still thinking about quitting. Things are running smoothly within the center, but I know how stressed she is from those guys.

The Korean school system.

She called it "the Korean way." That is, they had a problem with her, so they told everyone except her. And that is my experience from my last academy as well. It's like they use workplace gossip to get a person rather than just being straightforward. It makes me mad that a truly good teacher/person is getting abused like this. We do NOT want her to leave at all.

Unfortunately, we have no power in any of this. Can I go to the principal and vice principal and talk about how great she is? Maybe. But she wouldn't want me to do that. I just don't know what to do.

Good news from the Jungchul front is that Hye Yun is done after this week. She'll get a little rest and travel a bit before finding a new job. She wants to be a flight attendant. Congrats to her on her impending Jungchul departure!

I met with Hye Yun, Barry, Josh and Veronica (another Jungchul teacher) on Friday in Guworldong. We went to Damotori, our usual place, and had a really great time. On Saturday, I stayed closed to home. Popper, Schwaby and I played some darts and then hung in Popper's place with Geoff and Colin. All in all it was a nice, restful weekend.

This week will be insane as we have 25 classes to teach. No breaks this week thanks to scheduling conflicts between our school and the other elementary schools we teach. Frustrating for us, but I'm keeping things in perspective this year. Don't get too caught up in it.

Although Friday was tough because my afternoon first and second graders are just so difficult to teach. There are 10 of them, and they can't sit still or pay attention at all. I'm doing my best, but it feels more like babysitting than teaching. That sucks. I think that age might just be a bit too young for foreign language study. Even just vocabulary stuff is very hard for them. Once they get to third- and fourth-grade, I find that they're way better. I love my afternoon classes for every student after the first and second graders. I have to figure something out.

Maybe this will be the week.