Thursday, October 29, 2009

Rain on CNN

POPSEOUL! covered Rain's CNN interview. You can check it out here.

Now, I love singing Rain songs in the singing rooms here. Nothing works better on impressing Koreans than singing some K-pop. And Rain's tunes are mixed with enough English that even an elementary Korean learner could keep up.

I found the Rain interview fascinating. The interviewer asked him about "The Korean Wave" that is supposedly sweeping Asia. It's the so-called phenomenon that Korean entertainment is just taking over every other country in Asia.

Granted, a few shows, singers and movies have done well. But if there's even a hint of a performer having a concert in Japan, we have to hear about "The Korean Wave" in all the newspapers.

Well, Rain blasted the Korean wave, saying the name makes it seem selfish. He said he thinks all the countries should combine their ideas and talents to make something new, rather than one country trying to dominate.

He also said he's not trying as much to spread Korean culture to the world, as he's trying to bring the world's culture back to Korea.

It's a good interview and it's cool to see that someone has a different way of thinking about cultures working together.

I say ch-ch-check it out.

Swine Flu Mania

There is an article and a column in The Korea Times dealing with the H1N1 flu that is hitting Korea hard right now.

In the article, the Korean Medical Association is urging schools to shut down for a week or two. Check it out here.

Realistically, that's not a bad idea. If there's one place that can seriously spread an illness, it's a school. Kids are simply germ-producing factories running 24/7. Add in the lack of hand-washing, mouth-covering and other forms of hygiene and you get a time bomb just ready to explode.

My school is shut down this week, and there's a rumor that something big will happen on Monday. I don't know what that might be. What I've learned in my week so far, is that Hambak is no different from my academy. Information is simply NEVER given to anyone until the last minute. And even getting that information might not help you.

Today, Geoff and I were supposed to teach teacher classes in the morning and afternoon. We did the morning one fine. When we went for the afternoon, no one showed. So we were were chatting with the other native speaker, Katie, while we waited.

The head of the English partner came in and saw us talking and pulled Geoff and I aside for a little reprimand. Apparently, we should have gone back to our office instead of waiting for teachers to show up.

But what happens if we leave and the teachers come late? In the morning session, all the teachers were between 10 and 15 minutes late. Oh well. Welcome back to Korea.

That was a bit off topic but fits into how H1N1 is affecting my day. The schedule is just a mess because there are no students. No one knows what to do.

The column in The Korea Times is simple an editorial opinion on the state of Korea's infection at this point, and how best to combat it. Check that editorial here.

The editorial agrees that the schools should be flexible and allow for time for the worst of it to pass. It's a good idea. According to the editorial, vaccines won't be widely available until December.

The editorial brings up an interesting point that panic is playing into this as well. People are buying out all the drugs they can or heading directly to the hospital when they're not even a little under the weather.

My thought is that every time a healthy person enters a hospital, there chances of getting the flu increase exponentially. That's how it works. Healthy people hang around sick people. Healthy people get sick.

Keep checking back as the story unfolds. For now, eat your kimchi, drink your soju and pop on that mask!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

H1N1 Death Toll Hits 33

As of Oct. 28, the death toll in South Korea has reached 33 people, according to a Ministry for Health release.

From the story:

'With the death case, the number of healthy people who have died from the new flu rose to five, as they had not been suffering from any other diseases.

The other 28 fatalities were either in their old age or suffered from chronic diseases, and regarded to be in "high-risk" groups.'

Like I said in an earlier post, the hospital I went to for my E-2 checkup was absolutely swamped. My co-teacher and I went at 9 a.m. and didn't get back to the school until noon. How many of those people were actually sick? I have no idea.

Most of them looked like they were just there for precautionary measures. That might be a decent idea considering five "healthy" Korean people are taking dirt naps right now.

Check out the full story here.

By comparison, America's death toll as of Oct. 27 is nearly 3,000 with 29,000 hospitalizations.

So is Korea simply weathering the storm better? It's hard to say. The virus reached America first and is just now becoming a major concern over here. Schools, businesses and the government are taking preventative measures, but is it too late?

My school isn't holding classes all week due to approximately 20 infections. Many of my friends have weeks without class as well. It's still early in the game. Hopefully Korea can fight this thing.

Back Into The Swing

Do I mean that in a good way or a bad way? Haha.

As I posted earlier, no students are coming in for this week due to H1N1 complications. Though I'm excited to start teaching, this is actually pretty good for me. It gives me the chance to prepare some lessons as well as get the administrative stuff done that's necessary.

For example, Grace took me to the hospital yesterday to get my E-2 health check done. The hospital was PACKED. I wasn't surprised to see it. After all, Koreans make a habit of going to the clinic or hospital for EVERYTHING. It's cheap, it's easy, they get their medicine and go.

However, now that H1N1 is all over the news, people are terrified. I didn't have a chance to see a hospital when I was in America, but it's probably fairly similar. Either way, there were a ton of people in the hospital getting check-ups. Maybe two of them actually appeared sick. The rest were quite jovial wasting their time in the hospital. Or maybe I mean wasting my time?

Anyway, that's out of the way. Now I just need to pass and send some stuff to immigration. Then I'll be all set.

As Geoff and I were preparing lessons for the upcoming month, Julie came in and told us she had good news. Then she described it as bad news. Then she said we could look at it as good news.

This is where the typical Korean school model comes into play. Everything is LAST MINUTE. This is something that really stressed me out last year. I'm a plan-ahead type of guy. Not knowing my schedule, then working feverishly to finish things, isn't my style.

Well, the key here is to adapt.

Julie's good/bad news is that Geoff and I will be teaching super-basic English to some of the staff members. She made it sound like there will be a ton of people, and we'd each be making two hours of material for Thursday and two for Friday.

Fine. It gives me a chance to meet the teachers and try out my materials.

So Geoff and I each prepared four lessons that we would be comfortable teaching to the elementary school kids. Julie thought two (maybe three) of mine were basic enough. I then told her I could explain things in Korean if people didn't understand. She was ecstatic and approved all of my lessons.

But then we found out that it would probably only be a few teachers, and we have to have FOUR HOURS of material for BOTH Thursday AND Friday.

Welcome back to Korea, Aaron!!!

Julie said our lessons will last a long time because the teachers' levels are so low. They might have a low level, but that doesn't make a 40-minute lesson stretch to 4 hours. So we each prepared an "introduction" lesson to use as the most basic of basic levels.

Last year, this would've made my brain explode. This year, I'm just trying to take it in stride.

The only real issue is Geoff and I are supposed to have 6 lessons prepared each by Friday afternoon or Monday morning. That would be fine if we even had one more prep afternoon (which Thursday usually is used for). But now our Thursday and previously-empty Friday are gone.

We're going to really have to buckle down to get all our lessons ready. I decided I'll prepare one tonight at home and tomorrow at home. It'll get me ahead at the very least.

Once I get into the schedule I'll understand better how many we'll be preparing. But it's already obvious the work load will be heavier at this school.

Some things never seem to change.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Pictues For Which You've Been Waiting

These pictures include my time in America, my trip back to Korea, my new school, my first date since coming back and pics of my apartment.

Yikes! It's a lot to take in. Enjoy them all!

Time in America pics

Trip back to Korea pics

My new apartment pics

Yongsan with Soo-Ryung pics

Hambak Elementary School pics

So Far Second Year Is Good

All has been well since landing in Incheon for my second year. I'm very happy with my new school, as well as my fellow teachers and administrators.

At Hambak, the setup for me is very similar for last year, as far as other native speaking teachers goes. There is a guy named Geoff who is from Wisconsin and a girl named Katie who is from Ottawa. Last year I also worked with an American guy from Wisconsin and a Canadian girl.

The setup is interesting. Katie is working through the Incheon Metropolitan Office of Education. Her boss (Julie) is the head of the school's English program. Geoff and I are working directly through the school at the school's English Center. Our boss (and the head of the English Center) is Grace.

On Monday, Wednesday and Friday, we have three morning classes that are part of school, and three afternoon classes that are like an academy. On Tuesday and Thursday, we have the three morning school classes, and our afternoons are free for lesson prep time.

For the morning classes, we make up the entire lesson. It can be about anything we want. We have use of a wide variety of equipment including huge TVs with computers for Powerpoint presentations, as well as an interactive video board.

In the afternoon, we have books to use. The books are similar to the ones I used at the academy. So I'm already familiar with that.

I'm almost ashamed to say that I've never done Powerpoint before. But today, I made my first Powerpoint and lesson plan. It's about exercise.

Right now, we have NO classes. This entire week will be preparation for the next few weeks.

I observed/assisted with Geoff's morning classes on Monday. As we were waiting for lunch, Grace told us that students wouldn't come in for the rest of the week due to H1N1. Apparently, 20 of our students tested positive for it.

We're still going in for the week for prep time. That's just fine with me. It's giving me a chance to get to know everyone and understand how to make a decent lesson plan. I also got to go to the hospital today for my foreigner checkup. Of course, it took forever because every Korean who has a sniffle is in there checking for H1N1. What a bunch of babies.

With no students today, the cafeteria staff did not prepare lunch. Principal Kim generously took the staff out to lunch. I got a beef soup know as Galbi Tang.

The school's remodeling process which left it with a beautiful turf field means we will have an awesome place to play around. Principal Kim told Katy today that we can use the field any time.

At lunch, I got to sit next to Principal Kim. It's always nice to get a bit of face time with the boss. My studying is paying off as well. I can actually talk with the staff about my past experiences in Korea. It's really nice to be able to connect right away.

The weekend was a typical Korea weekend. We stayed close to home both Friday and Saturday nights. On Saturday, I went to Yongsan to meet with Soo Ryung. We saw a movie and got lunch together. She told me she is going to UC Irvine in a couple of months. It's sad she's leaving for a year, but I'm happy she's getting the opportunity.

On Saturday, two guys from Franklin got here. Dan Schwabenbauer has been a friend of mine forever. He'll be working at Dan Sadly's sister school and living a few blocks away in Yeonsu-dong. Josh Casonguay is a couple years older than me but also a Franklin High grad. Oddly enough, he actually replaced me at my old school, and is living in my old apartment.

On Saturday evening, Sadly (from here on out known as Popper) and I took Schwaby to a local bar and met a bunch of new people. Josh was beat and also in a different neighborhood, making it tough to meet that night.

I went to Josh's/my old house on Sunday afternoon to see how he was doing. He seems to be settling in nicely. We found him an adapter for his computer and took a walk around town. He already posted some nice pics up on facebook. I'm sure he and I will be hanging out a lot once he gets settled in.

This weekend is Halloween (obviously). A group of us are planning to go to Hongdae in Seoul on Saturday. In a crazy twist, I may also be going there on Friday with a group of my former Junghcul co-workers. It'll be a busy weekend, but worth it to see all my friends.

Quick note: I found out a little late last year that it's nice to present your bosses with a little gift from your hometown. So this year, I brought back Franklin honey bears for my new bosses/co-teachers as well as my old bosses. They LOVED it.

That's the scoop so far. I'm very pleased with my school, apartment, neighborhood and friends. MY studying has paid off big time and my confidence using the language has increased dramatically during my time at home.

It's going to be a really wonderful year. I'll post pics as soon as I get a steady Internet connection. Right now I'm borrowing until I can get Alien Registration Card. Anyway, keep checking back for more updates.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Arrived Successfully!!!

All is right in the world again, as I am back in Korea. This year, I'm living in Yeonsu-dong and teaching at Hambak Elementary School.

I left Pittsburgh International Airport at 8:30 a.m. on Tuesday (Thanks mom and dad for getting up so early and driving me there!) I made a quick stop in San Francisco, and then it was right on to Incheon.

I flew Singapore Air this time for my international flight, and it was AWESOME! The food was good, the seats were comfy and the flight attendants were gorgeous. I actually had an entire 3-person row to myself for about 8 of my 12 and a half hours.

Unfortunately, some guy requested to change his seat because he "needed to sleep." They put him in my row. He slept, but he also tried talking my ear off. I didn't want to be rude, but I also didn't want to chat. I was tired and just needed to relax and watch some movies. I did my best to be polite and talk as little as possible.

I arrived at Seoul/Incheon International Airport at about 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday. No one was there to meet me, so I took a cab across the newly-finished Incheon Bridge into Yeonsu-dong. My new home is just a 10-minute bus ride from my old home. I was in this neighborhood often last time because I have many friends here.

This time around has been a breeze so far because I know the area, speak the language and have a lot of friends here. It's so nice.

I stayed at Dan's house on Wednesday night, and walked over to my school in the morning. It's about 15 minutes walking distance from his pad.

They were having a special evaluation day by the school board, so the English classes were not in session. We basically just hung out all day. I also did the meet and greet with the other teachers and administrators.

The school is beautiful. They just finished repainting and remodeling some of it, including an incredible turf soccer field. The teachers and administrators were all very welcoming, and the two other native speakers were very nice as well. Both of them have been here for about 2 months and it's their first time in Korea.

Then I found out where I live. It is the same exact building as Dan and Colin. What are the odds? It's pretty incredible that I visited this building all the time last year and now I live here. Weird, but awesome.

On Thursday night, I went to Vicky's house and watched the SK Wyverns game with her dad. Her mom joined us a bit later. Vicky had to work until 9 p.m. Unfortunately, SK lost and are down 3-2 in the Korean Series.

After she arrived, we went and met some friends. Jess is leaving Incheon in a few days, and Eli is leaving next week. Also, it was Jess' birthday. We celebrated with a bunch of people at Go Bar. It was a good time.

I don't have to work today. They want me to rest, which is very kind of them. I have to get some essentials for my house, anyway. I also have to get some pics printed out for my alien card and medical checkup, which will take place on Monday.

Overall, everything is going really well. I like my house, got to meet my friends again and I'm looking forward to starting work on Monday. I think it's going to be a good year. Check back a little later for pics from the trip and pics of my new apartment!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

"Drunk" Defense Under Scrutiny


The Korean Supreme Court is hosting a seminar next week to discuss changing the policy of giving commutation when a criminal uses: "I was drunk," as a defense.

The reaction comes after 57-year-old Korean man raped an 8-year-old Korean girl, leaving her with permanent disabilities.

From The Korea Herald story:

'Alcohol is generously accepted as a necessary evil. In Korea, it is also a reason for lighter punishment for some crimes, especially sexual violence. A gruesome case of child rape has recently prompted Koreans to wonder whether such long-standing leniency should stay. The nation was shocked after it was learned last month that a 57-year-old man raped an 8-year-old child, leaving her disabled and having to rely on a colostomy bag due to her missing organs.

The repeat sexual offender, Cho Doo-soon, was given a sentence commutation for temporary mental disorder caused by drunkenness.

Clause 10 of the present criminal law states that those who lack legal capacity due to mental disorder are to be given a commuted sentence and is largely applied to sexual violence cases committed while intoxicated.'

Not only is this a problem in and of itself, but it leads to more criminals using the defense as a tactic for a lighter punishment.

Again, from the story:

'Among the sexual violence cases which the Seoul Central District Court ruled as guilty last year, all but one cited the aggressor's drunkenness as a reason for commutation, according to the Korean Sexual Violence Relief Center.

Also, 48.7 percent of the intoxicated sexual abusers were given suspended sentences in the lower court ruling, according to a Supreme Court document recently submitted to Rep. Woo Yoon-keun of the main opposition Democratic Party. The heaviest drinkers were generally given large commutations, showed the data.'

Finally, someone in The Health Ministry wised up and realized they should be giving heavier sentences to people who say the were hammered when they ruined someone else's life.

This decision has been a long time in coming. Let's hope the Supreme Court actually moves ahead and changes the future of the "drunk" defense.

Check out the whole story here.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Lately in Korea ...

I've spent the last week in New York City visiting my brother, visiting friends and family in my hometown the week before that and seeing my sister in Virginia the week before that.

I've been rather busy during my time at home. It's coming to an end in the next couple days, however. I received my visa on Thursday and let my recruiter know. That means I'll be getting on a plane sometime in the next couple of days to head to my new school in Incheon.

During my busy time at home, the world of South Korea has still been spinning, so quite a few interesting things have been happening. A few things have caught my eye, for sure. So I made note of them.

Here they are:

In September, Korean families on the North and South were reunited as part of a program that has been running since 2000. Here is a story on BBC of one specific family. It's really incredible to see their responses.

Check it here.

As the South Korean government brags about their fast recovery from the global recession, a reporter from the Korea Times made note of 10 things that still haunt the country.

Check them out here.

The Korean government is setting up 150 Korean language schools around the world in an effort to globalize Hangeul. Good luck! Haha.

Read about it here.

Here's an account by a BBC reporter of his time spent on North Korea. Getting to see his reaction is fascinating.

Learn about North Korea here.

Those are just a few of the news stories I've been following. I'm going to make some more in-depth observations and cover events a little closer when I return to the country. As of now, my days are winding down in America.

It's been great to see my family and friends and travel around the east coast, but I'm excited to get to my new school and see all my friends -- Korean and Western -- back over in South Korea.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

"Ultimatum" Given

Public teachers in Gangnam can basically take it or leave it. The Ministry of Education, Technology and Science is siding with the Gangnam district's plan to no longer provide school-sponsored housing for the native speaking teachers. Instead, a monthly housing allowance of 900,000 won ($770) will be provided.

According to the story in The Korea Times, the only timeline given for the change is "from next year."

Check out the full story here.

Brian in Jeollanam-do keeps up his in-depth coverage and analysis of the event here. Brian's insight is always good to read. So make sure you check that out as well.

(P.S. - Thanks for catching my typo, Dougie!)

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Seoul Public Schools Continue to Bang Teachers

Brian from Brian in Jeollanam-do has been covering this saga extensively.

At the beginning of this semester, Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education told roughly 100 teachers that their services were no longer needed. The argument was that the education offices always overbooks because enough teachers pull out before actually going (blaming the teachers, essentially).

Well, a month or so into the semester, people started getting calls and emails saying that the schools now have positions open.

To add to the teachers' misery is the fact that a contract change is being forced upon them. The original story was that teachers would be out of their school sponsored apartments in Gangnam by January of 2009. instead of the housing, the teachers would be given a housing allowance of 900,000 won per month and forced to find their own places. Obviously, that's a difficult task for someone in a foreign country, no matter how well they know the language. To make it more difficult, housing in Korea requires key money, which is a deposit that is usually at least 5,000,000 won. Very few teachers would have that saved up so they could afford it.

A new update on that story is that the teachers will be allowed to finish out their current contracts with their housing, but future teachers will be required to find their own.

My little summary of the events is hardly detailed, so check out a great post from Brian. He's got the entire scoop.

Check out the SMOE story from Brian here.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Correcting Native Speakers ... On What Koreans Told Us

A story in today's Korea Times [edit - thanks Brian!] tells foreigners not to call Chuseok "Korean Thanksgiving." Chuseok, happening this weekend, is one of South Korea's biggest national holidays. It's a time for families to get together and give thanks for their ancestors.

The news article is putting down foreigners for not doing any in-depth research into the meaning and history of Chuseok. It also says that we should not compare it to America's Thanksgiving.

But is it our fault for calling it Korean Thanksgiving when ever Korean we meet tells us that's what it is? Hmmm. I admit that not everyone researches every single holiday or festival. I certainly didn't do any in-depth research on Chuseok. I took my Korean friends' word that it was, indeed, the Korean version of Thanksgiving.

The differences of the two holidays are in the story, though no sources are cited:

'According to legend, Chuseok began as a result of a weaving competition held between two princesses in the Silla dynasty. The goal was to see which team could weave the most. The fierce competition lasted for about a month, ending on the 15th day of the 8th month on the lunar calendar during the full moon. As punishment, the losing team had to prepare a bountiful feast for the victors.

In contrast, the U.S. and Canada's Thanksgiving is fixed on the Gregorian calendar. Origins are from the first founding days of colonization, when settlers were saved from a harsh winter by the harvest of Native Americans.'

Well that's pretty interesting. It started as a weaving competition. So why don't they do any weaving over Chuseok? It seems to me that, no matter how it started, the events that occur today are visiting and giving thanks for their families.

Check the story berating me for trusting my Korean friends is here.

A story about the millions of travelers over the Chuseok weekend can be seen here.