Monday, August 24, 2009

The Countdown and Hassle Continues

As of today, I'm down to 12 days of abuse left to take.

Over the last two weeks, they've been asking me constantly until what day I work. So I continually showed them the letter from immigration saying I had to leave by Sept. 5.

Well, they attempted to make a plane ticket in advance (GASP!). They didn't tell me about it, but my head teacher, Kathy, saw the confirmed itinerary on the front desk.

It was for Sept. 9 and had my destination listed as Atlanta. Strange how that happened considering I need to leave Sept. 5 and end up in Pittsburgh.

So that ticket got canceled, and with 12 days left to go, there's still no new ticket. One of the former Jungchul teachers said they dragged their feet on her ticket and then one of the bosses was refusing to pay a certain amount for the available flights. So she ended up with a 36 hour flight back home. It should have been 12 hours.

It's pretty much assured the last two weeks will be a mess. I've continually requested a meeting so we can talk about my summer bonus money, final paycheck and severance pay. To this point, there has been no response.

I assume the flight they get me will have about 6 layovers and take multiple days to get home. Welcome to Korea!!!

At least the weekend was fun. Dan and I went out on Friday and ended up meeting some really cool Korean girls. On Saturday, my Skype friend came in and went to the SK Wyverns game with Dan and I. SK lost again. Go figure.

After the game Saturday, we met up with some girls who we first met a few weeks ago. This time, the three we previously met, brought three more. It ended up being a lot of fun.

Since cutting back on a certain commitment, I've met a lot of people and gotten to practice my Korean a lot. With the occasional exception, none of these Koreans speak more English than, "Fine, thank you. And you?" Clones.

The most annoying thing about my remaining time with Jungchul is that the school started a brand new curriculum. It was, apparently, the big boss' idea. I wouldn't be too keen to take credit for it.

It's mixed up, and all the teachers are confused. There are different sections to each unit. The sections are something like speaking, reading, listening, debate and presentation. The problem is they have to go in a specific order.

Also, they only want me to teach the debate and presentation. But they are last in the cycle. Which means all this week, I can do any of it because the students didn't have reading, listening or speaking yet. So I'm just doing boring essays. The students complain. It's lame.

On top of all that, they don't even know what they want for the debate section. These students are not advanced enough to debate. That's not an insult on them. It's a fact about their ability.

During my last weekend, I'd like to just meet up with my friends here. I'm not so concerned about teaching at this point, because they have no direction for me to go. I might have one week of actual curriculum teaching, but I would be surprised if they got their act together in time for me to do that.

Overall, I'm just anxious. I have to get home and take a break. It's nutty here.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Kim Dae-jung State Funeral

The funeral for former President Kim Dae-Jung was held today in Seoul. I saw a lot of coverage on the news for the event.

According to an AP article:

'The two Koreas remain officially in a state of war because their three-year conflict ended in 1953 with a truce, not a peace treaty. Tanks and troops still guard the heavily fortified Demilitarized Zone bisecting the peninsula.

Kim Dae-jung, however, was respected on both sides of the border. As president from 1998 to 2003, his "Sunshine Policy" advocated engaging the isolated North and sought to ease reconciliation by plying the impoverished nation with aid.'

Check out an AP story here.

Meetings, Fun and Controversy

Korea has been in the news a lot recently. Maybe it's only because I'm reading Korean newspapers. Hmmm, coincidence?

Anyway, with the death of former president Kim Dae-jung, and a meeting between the two Koreas for the first time in 18 months, Korea's getting some Associated Press action.

1. Most likely sparked by the death of Kim, the North and South held a meeting Sunday to discuss inter-Korean relations.

According to the AP article:

'The Blue House meeting — the first since Lee took office about 18 months ago — took place just hours before the funeral of Kim Dae-jung, the former South Korean president who met with Kim Jong Il in Pyongyang in 2000 for a historic Korean summit.'

It also sounds like they left on a relatively positive note. Check out the full story here.

2. Since the South is once again pursuing relations with the North, I think they should check out a couple articles about the country first. I mean, they haven't met in 18 months. Maybe the South forget about the mess taking place in their impoverished hat.

One article, from, and written by Adamsan. It's all about the things that North Korea does better than other countries.

According to the story:

'Cracked would like to take a moment to celebrate the good things about North Korea though, the things that the country's enemies prefer to suppress as part of their politically motivated jealousy. Like how no different to you and me, there's nothing every North Korean likes more after an 18 hour shift at the phosphorus plant than a nice beer to go with his dried fish ration.'

Check out the full story here.

A story from 2008 by Alun Palmer on tells the inside story of North Korea's "Dear Leader" and some of the insane things he does every day while the citizens of his country starve to death.

From that story:

'After all this is a man who claims he hit 11 holes in one the first time he picked up a golf club, travels in disguise to visit theme parks and insists on having fresh lobster flown to his dinner table - wherever he is. Oh, and he spends £350,000 a year on brandy.'

Check out the full story here.

3. Last but certainly not least is a poorly researched story in The Korea Times about some criticism that South Koreans just aren't mature enough to handle.

Vera Hohleiter, a panelist on the Korean television show "Chat with Beauties," has written a book about her time in Korea. While some commenters on the story view Hohleiter's writing as a simple observation of her time in Korea, the one Korean interviewed for the story was very upset about what she read in the book.

The reporter, Sunny Lee, then goes on to say "some" people are critical of the German. But Lee gives no real attribution to any source, besides the one student who was interviewed.

On the television show, Hohleiter regularly said very nice things about South Korea, but she insists half of it was scripted and all she had to do was memorize it and repeat it.

From The Korea Times story:

'The 29-year-old German also said, “Koreans have a bad taste for gossiping about foreigners. When they spot them in a public place such as in the subway, they delve into a very detailed criticism of their appearance and do it in a loud voice.”

In the book, Hohleiter complained that Korea is a difficult place for a vegetarian to live, how her Korean boyfriend doesn’t pay enough attention to her, and that the crowded Korean subway reminded her of a group of mice, packed in a small space.

As for her TV remarks, she said a half of them were pre-written by a writer. “You just memorize and regurgitate what is already scripted during the show,” she said.'

Just like Lee, the author of the article, I didn't read the book. But the few comments used from the book seem to be along my same line of thinking.

Anyway, it's causing some "controversy," according to Lee. My thoughts? Take the criticism, South Korea, and look at it as a learning device. Don't just use it to cry and complain about being treated unfairly by the global community.

Check out the full story here.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Seoul Shout-Out from Time

Time Magazine has an article on about Seoul's uber-wired society. Some of the stuff they're doing is incredibly advanced.

Now, I'm no conspiracy theorist, but I do love the future dystopia novels. With that background, it seems that, while impressive, everything the government in Korea is using their technological prowess on is basically keeping track of people.

Of course, the monitoring has other purposes on the surface, but it is all based around monitoring someone's activities.

The article hit the nail on the head when -- while I was thinking about "Big Brother" -- it mentioned him by name.

According to the article:

'To some Americans, the Big Brother--ish qualities of the U-city push can be a tad unnerving. But Seoul officials point out that the U-safety-zone project is entirely voluntary, and the technologically sophisticated citizens seem to have few objections.'

Now, this is the point where I make a joke about them having few objections to being constantly monitored because of their lack of independent thinking and that living at home with mom and dad into their 30s stunts their mental maturity ... but I won't do that (Whoops!).

Anyway, the Internet is nearly ubiquitous in this country, and certainly is so in the northwest corner of the country. Other countries could probably take a look at how the Internet works here and find some smart moves to copy.

Check out the full story here.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Two Possible Movies About Bill Clinton

A writer at named Daniel O'Brien was very impressed with Bill Clinton's daring rescue of two American journalists from the clutches of Kim Jong-il. He was so impressed, he wrote up two trailers comparing Clinton to James Bond (of the "Bond" series) and John McClane (of the Die Hard series).

It is so funny, I even tried to share it with my Korean co-workers. They didn't get most of it because Korean humor typically involves making fun of old ladies and yelling as loud as you can. I don't get their humor either.

Anyway, check out the article here. It's a little racy, but will give you a good laugh-attack.

Another Former Korean President Dies

This time it was due to illness and not self-inflicted. Former President Kim Dae-jung died Tuesday. He's been in the hospital for a month because of pneumonia and other "complications."

Kim was incredibly influential in bringing this country's current democracy into being, wrestling the government away from military regimes. He also lead a crazy life, including assassination attempts, jail time, a death sentence and simply being a "Korean person."

According to the article:

'Numerous wellwishers at home and abroad, including U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and his former political foes, had been visiting the hospital for days to pay tribute to the statesman known for his brave opposition to authoritarian rule in the 1970s and 1980s.

Kim championed human rights and democracy. Since 1963, he was elected to the National Assembly four times during an epic political career that spanned 46 years.'

I'm sure numerous vigils and protests will be held over the next few days.

Check The Korea Times article here.

Also in The Korea Times is this chronology of Kim's life.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

More Wacky Korean News

1. The most-hated columnist in Korea, John Huer, wrote an article in The Korea Times about the prevalence of plastic surgery.

Check the article here.

2. The North is ready to destroy the South over some military drills between the US and South.

According to the article:

' "Should the U.S. imperialists and the Lee Myung-bak group threaten the DPRK (North Korea) with nukes, it will retaliate against them with nukes," KCNA quoted a military official as saying. Lee Myung-bak is South Korea's president.

"The U.S. imperialists and the Lee Myung-bak group should clearly understand that it is the iron will and resolute stand of the Korean People's Army to go into action anytime to mercilessly wipe out the aggressors," the official said. '

Check out the full story here.

3. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette did a review/story on a Korean restaurant in Cecil, Pa. -- probably the last place I would expect a Korean restaurant to be located.

Read about it here.

Coex Aquarium

On Friday, I met a new study partner with whom I'll meet once a week for some language exchange. Her English name is Alexis. She is the daughter of Mr. Han, Vicky's dad's friend with whom I went on the rafting trip.

She's a nice girl and really wants to improve her English. We should have a good time together. After she and I met on Friday, we went to meet up with her parents and have some chicken and beer. It was fun.

On Saturday, I decided to head into Seoul to go to meet a friend I first met online on Skype. It's really common for Asians to just find me out of the blue and start chatting. Some of them I talk to regularly. Well, there's a girl I've been talking to for about 5 months now who lives just south of Seoul.

So we met on Saturday for the first time in person and went to the Coex Mall, a giant mall in Seoul. I didn't take any pictures of the mall or anything, because it's just a really giant mall. But what's cool is that they have an aquarium inside the mall.

Soo Ryeong and I went to the aquarium to check it out and it was a lot of fun. Unfortunately, it was mostly dimly-lit, and the fish moved around quickly, so pictures were difficult to get. I did my best to get you some underwater creatures, and of course some pics of me.

After the aquarium, we went to Gangnam, a neighborhood in Seoul, to have a few drinks and get to know each other. It ended up being a pretty fun weekend.

Check out my aquarium pictures here!

Monday, August 10, 2009

More English Teacher Harassment???

Here's a story in The Korea Times about a foreign English teacher returning from a trip to Malaysia, only to be accused of drug usage while on his trip. The teacher, Alexander Washko, seems to have had a pretty rough go with Korean customs officials.

Washko says he was pulled out of line on his way back into Korea to be checked by Korean officers. He was then told his passport had MDMA drug residue on it.

According to Washko:

Then they framed me: They wanted to test my hands for ``drugs." After two tests that came back ``negative," they told me to hold my passport before the third test, to which I naturally refused as that would leave ``residue" on my hands. After trying to force the passport into my hands, they simply swabbed the passport, my watch, then my fingers and walked out, while I was screaming to my roommate, ``They are framing me! Look! Help!"

The story goes on to list some other humiliations Washko faced from the officials.

At this point, we only have Washko's side of the story. I'd like to see some comments from some government officials. As of now, this story was only a non-objective column from the victim.

I suspect it's not uncommon for foreigners to be pulled out of the customs line and searched. I have no idea how far the officials usually push the line. This type of stuff happens all over the world.

It's just especially disappointing here because, from the story's point of view, this further demonstrates the stereotypes that English teachers face as foreigners in a "single blood" country.

Let me re-iterate. This is one side of the story. Washko says he will take legal action. Let's hope some more of this story comes out. I'm curious to see what may come of this. Although, I assume not much will happen even if there is some kind of investigation.

Check out the full story here.

JomoCup 2009

Some changes have been made in my life with the hope of reducing stress big time. Of course, it also makes me believe my last month here will be spent closer to home, with less traveling around the country.

Let's just say I've lost a certain, useful Korean connection.

Fortunately, the 2009 All Star Game between the K-League and J-League soccer players was in Incheon this year. So Dan and I snatched up tickets for only 10,000 won, and sat in the corner, second row behind the goal.

The soccer itself was nothing special. The Japanese league players killed the Korean league players by a 4-1 score. It was fun to see an All Star Game for such a low price, though.

After the game, Dan and I went to the square in Guworldong (one subway stop away), where we only planned on hanging out for an hour or so. But five Korean guys started talking to us and insisted on buying us drinks. We gladly accepted, and got a free night of fun.

They were nice guys, even if they were a bit clingy. Either way, it's always great when a group of people buck the stereotype and treat us like human beings, instead of nameless, faceless animals. And thanks to the fact that we went to the bar with them, we ended up being at a table right next to three Korean girls.

Now, they spoke pretty much no English, but my studying is paying off after all. Dan and I could have a nice conversation without any trouble at all.

It was nice to go out and blow off some steam. I've been stressed lately.

Between the hospital, bills and my recent return to alone, I really needed a break. The next big task is to figure out when I'm actually coming home. That will be as difficult as the hospital bill fiasco, I'm sure.

Anyway, enjoy these pictures of the game!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Clinton Meets Kim Jong-il

An article in The Korea Times says that former President Bill Clinton met with Kim Jong-il for a few hours on Tuesday.

While the article doesn't mention any specifics of what they talked about, it's interesting to note that this is the first undisputed photographic evidence of Kim alive. Of course, it might not even be him, but now we're just playing semantics.

Clinton's visit was urged by former South Korea President Kim Dae-jung, according to Rep. Park Jie-won, an aide to the former president.

According to the article:

Former President Kim Dae-jung had advised Clinton to visit North Korea during their meeting in Seoul last May, according to Rep. Park Jie-won, a long-time aide to the former head of state.

Rep. Park quoted Kim as having advised Clinton to visit Pyongyang as an envoy to end the deadlock in inter-Korean relations and Washington-Pyongyang ties. Upon hearing the advice, Clinton was said to have promised that he would convey the proposal to his wife and President Obama.

That photo is great. Look how tiny Kim is!

Check the article here.

More than 1 Million Foreigners in South Korea

Yet, every time a Korean sees us, the stares and whispers of "foreigner" come like it's the first time they saw us in their entire life!

This is the first time the foreign population here went over 1 million.

According to the article:

The number of foreigners based in Korea has exceeded one million for the first time, up 24 percent, or 215,543, from the previous year, a survey said Wednesday.

According to the one-month study conducted in May by the Ministry of Public Administration and Security, there are currently 1,106,884 foreigners residing in the nation, accounting for 2.2 percent of the nation's entire population of 49,593,665.

Chinese nationals topped the list with 624,994. Americans came in a bit further down with 59,870.

Check out the article here.

Everland Top-7 Most Visited

An article from Forbes Traveler ranked South Korea's Everland as the sixth most visited theme park in the world. The park got on the list thanks to 6,600,000 visitors last year.

Topping the list is The Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla., with 17,063,000. Various Disney parks took the top four spots.

I went to Everland this year. The only other park I've been to on the list is Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif. From personal experience, Everland doesn't even hold a candle to it.

My family went to Disneyland when I was in elementary school, but I still remember going on a bunch of rides throughout the day. At Everland, Vicky and I went on only four rides -- and that includes the sky ride.

Of course, if everyone in Korea got different vacations instead of the same few days every year, it could possibly be much more fun. Then, it wouldn't be so crowded.

Either way, congrats to Everland. If a Korean hears that news, then I'll NEVER stop hearing about it.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Bill Clinton To The Rescue

Check the AP article here.

We aren't privy to exactly what went on behind the scenes, or even before the meeting, but former President Bill Clinton went into Pyongyang, North Korea yesterday and brought home the two imprisoned U.S. citizens/journalists less than 24 hours later.

As the article states:

The journalists' release followed weeks of quiet negotiations between the State Department and the North Korean mission to the United Nations, said Daniel Sneider, associate director of research at Stanford University's Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center.

Clinton "didn't go to negotiate this, he went to reap the fruits of the negotiation," Sneider said.

So obviously there's more to it than Clinton just walking in and asking for their release. But politics aside, should anyone be surprised that one of the most beloved American presidents could get this done? The guy's personality and laid-back demeanor could win over just about anyone.

This all happened despite the playground insult throwing his wife, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, has been involved in with the North Korea government.

Of course, Clinton's involvement could've just been to help out his old Vice-President, Al Gore. Gore founded Current TV, the media organization for which the two women work.

No matter why he got involved, and no matter what these journalists did to get caught, it's good to have some US citizens safe and sound.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

MacArthur Memorial

Chris came into Incheon on Friday so we could go check out the park where the Douglas MacArthur memorial is standing. It's about a 30 minute bus ride from my house.

We had to ask a couple people for directions, but we found our way to this park on top of a small hill, where a bunch of Korean war memorials are located.

We saw MacArthur, a children's memorial, and a sculpture celebrating 100 years of relations between Korea and America.

It was really hot, but the park was really nice. We even got some pictures with some Incheon mascots, as well as a beautiful view of the city.

I guess it's appropriate to say, on behalf of Gen. MacArthur: "You're welcome, South Korea."

Check out the pictures here.

Rafting and 4-wheeling

Thank goodness we got a four-day weekend from Jungchul this week. After my failed negotiations (in which the boss' new set of numbers showed me owing them money), I needed a little stress relieve. Enter Vicky's parents.

They rented a place in Gangwondo and booked trips for rafting and 4-wheeling. We left bright and early Thursday morning, and came back home Friday afternoon. It was about a 3 hour drive each way.

Gangwondo is in the northeast corner of South Korea. Being there for a couple of days has me reconsidering where I'd like to come back to when I return to Korea. It was so nice to get away from the city, traffic and pollution.

Gangwondo is a page right out of Western Pennsylvania. It was had beautiful mountains, trees and a river running through it. Wow, it made me feel like I was back at home on the Allegheny.

When we arrived, we went straight to the 4-wheeler place, which was set up on one of the mountains. After brief instructions, during which Vicky's family was asked if I understand Korea, we got on the 4-wheelers and cruised around the mountain trail. The trail wasn't huge and only took about 5 minutes to complete, but we got to ride it a few times.

It was really fun. Vicky's mom was quite adept at handling her 4-wheeler.

After that, we went to the raft launch. There were a ton of people rafting on Thursday. It was hot and the sun was shining.

Each group of people got a tour guide and a quick lesson on how to to the rafting. Again, my Korean understanding was questioned. I told the guy I'd been on some boating trips before, and he didn't have to worry.

It was a really cool time. The water was crystal clear and you could see to the bottom of the river, which, at it's deepest, reached about 30 feet.

We even got to jump off the raft and swim around for awhile.

There's a "ritual" where the raft guides take you to a small mountain stream and hold your head in the water shooting off some of the rocks. I didn't understand why. They probably just like to laugh at all of us.

After we finished rafting, we went to our house, which was really nice. It sat on a small hill overlooking the river. It was a really beautiful view.

The parents cooked a light, late lunch, and then every except for me and Vicky, passed out for the rest of the day and the night.

I spent my time hanging outside, enjoying a beer and taking in the view. Vicky, and the others when they temporarily woke up, enjoyed the inside. They preferred watching television. Do I understand? No, I do not.

An interesting thing to note is that, in the summer, you'd never know it was hot by looking at Koreans' clothes. They cover themselves from head to toe in long sleeves and pants. The only people without shirts were me and some of the rafting guides. Just Korean culture.

We came back Friday afternoon, and Chris came into Incheon for a special trip. More on that in vacation post number 2.

For now, enjoy the pictures from the rafting and 4-wheeling trip.

Here they are.

Hillary Clinton Doesn't Like North Korea

This is from a couple weeks ago, but I'm sure this running theme will continue. Apparently USA Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has made North Korea her number one name-calling target.

It's shocking in this day and age of political correctness and international sensitivity that Clinton would use remarks like:

"What we've seen is this constant demand for attention," Clinton, who is in India, said in an interview that aired on Monday on ABC's "Good Morning America."

"And maybe it's the mother in me or the experience that I've had with small children and unruly teenagers and people who are demanding attention -- don't give it to them, they don't deserve it, they are acting out," she said.

To be honest with you, I like it. She's treating them like the babies they are. Let's just say the North Korean government attitude toward life doesn't seem too different from their family down South. I think Clinton is dead-on in her observation.

Article 1

Article 2

Article 3

Cicada Time

Here's a very brief note in The Korea Herald about all the cicadas around here. They're pretty loud and annoying. That's my take on it.

Check it here.