Monday, November 30, 2009
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.
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.
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
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:
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:
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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:
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.
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:
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
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.
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.
Friday, November 20, 2009
A story in the Korea Times says that Koreans are at a record low when it comes to the ability to repay debt.
I've been telling this to my friends in America since I came here. Knowing that the average salary is not ridiculously high, I always wondered how it was that many of the Koreans I know live what I consider to be a pretty darn good lifestyle.
And possessions aside, Korean parents have to pay not only for a house, but also for their childrens' university tabs. Now add those possessions (like cars, gigantic TVs, etc.) and it it baffling how they afford it.
Well, this article is saying that they can't afford it, and now will have a very difficult time paying back all the debt that has piled onto them.
I'm not really in the know when it comes to prices of things. I've never asked an adult Korean how much a house or car is. I don't want to seem rude. And I certainly have never asked any Korean adults what their salary might be.
So I end up asking the Koreans my age things like that. Yes, I know they're adults, but they live with their parents still, so they have very little concept of prices. Thanks, Korean Dad!
I asked one of my co-teachers how much a small house would be on average, and she told me the equivalent of $1 million. Now, I'm sure there are places that expensive. But I want to know the average place. There's no way the majority of Koreans could afford a $1 million house. I guess that's where the debt comes in.
The article says that other industrialized nations like the US and Great Britain are improving in their debt payment capability. But don't let that get you too optimistic.
This story from Yahoo Finance says that the US will not recover too quickly from "a truly extraordinary slump."
Anti-English Spectrum ... again
I haven't heard anything about these guys in a month or so, but someone wrote a story in the Korea Herald this week. The Anti-English Spectrum is a forum on Naver, Korea's number 1 search engine, that claims to be working to protect Korea from foreign teachers. Naver denied a request to remove the group's site this week, claiming that the group doesn't violate any rules or regulations.
From my point of view, they're basically just an Internet-based hate group.
From the story:
Members of the group have been known to use racially-charged insults. Some have even gone as far as, admittedly, following and photographing foreigners to try and catch them breaking any laws. These guys are basically douchers.
What does all this mean for your average native-speaking teacher? Not too much, really. While the Anti-English Spectrum members are a tiny thorn in our side, they haven't substantially affected us in anyway.
Movements have been formed to try to combat their Internet-based hate spewing, but I doubt anything will happen. Naver certainly won't remove the group, and the government isn't going to step in on the side of English teachers. That's a guarantee.
I suppose you could file this one in the "annoying jerks" folder.
Now, my take on this is a little light, but check out my k-blogging pals Brian and Chris (also linked on the left side of this page) to get their takes on it. They go more in-depth and have links to some others who are also on top of this.
China Dealing With H1N1
I haven't seen too much in the news in the past week or so on Korea and H1N1. But here's a story from the AP about China's struggle with the illness.
It seems health officials think that China's extreme reactions, including mass quarantines and school closures, won't do a darn thing to control the flu.
It's interesting this story is about China, because in the last couple of months, Korea's been handling things in a similar fashion. Waves of native-speaking teachers have been quarantined after getting off the plane.
While many are just told not to come in for their first week of classes, others were actually put up in motels immediately after arrival.
As many of you know, my school was closed down for a week to try to prevent the further spread of the flu, after roughly 25 students were diagnosed with it.
Of course, all the teachers still had to go into work, so it may have slowed the sickness among the students, but if any teacher had it, it certainly would still be hopping around the school.
I was told that we have mandatory H1N1 vaccinations this coming week at Hambak. I don't want one at all, and I will try to avoid it, but I might not have a choice. More on that later.
World Cup Rankings
So all 32 teams have solidified their places in qualifying after this week's games. That includes a dubious handball that led to a goal for France by my favorite player ever, Thierry Henry. I feel bad for Ireland on that one. But I still love Henry. Maybe I'm a horrible person.
Anyway, a Yahoo columnist put out his rankings for the 32-team field.
The US is sitting in 14th on the list. That's probably pretty accurate. If they're at full strength and were a little more consistent, they could beat anyone in the tournament. They proved that at the Confederations Cup earlier this year by beating Egypt, Spain and taking Brazil to the limit before going down. Injuries are a major issue for the team right now and their depth is certainly being tested.
The South Koreans didn't get a very promising ranking. They're all the way down at 28, accompanied by "Not good enough at this level." Yikes.
The North Koreans fared even worse. They are ranked at 32 with "Expect some heavy defeats."
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
Let's start out with a story about higher learning, rather than a dumbing down of the world. According to an article in The Korea Times, Korean students make up the third largest source of foreign students in American Universities.
That stat doesn't surprise me at all. With the way Koreans push traveling to foreign, English-speaking countries, it's no shock that they make up such a huge chunk of the foreign students in the United States of America.
South Koreans follow only Indians and Chinese in student population.
While I was visiting my brother in New York City during my time at home, we met a bunch of Columbia University students through his roommate, Chris, who is in a graduate program there.
One of the girls I met told me that Koreans make up the largest number of foreign students at the university. That's a theory that the article would certainly suggest is true.
Dokdo Island (maybe not Takeshima?) ... Again
All those nerds driving an advertising bus across the country and taking out full page ads in major New York City newspapers must be beside themselves with joy right now.
An article in The Korea Times (not a hugely reliable source) claims that a lawmaker obtained a post-war document from a Japanese official that marks Dokdo Islands as foreign territory.
From the article:
I'm guessing that every westerner in Korea who read this article just growned, mostly with an apathetic tone, I'm sure. We have to hear about Dokdo all the time. It's annoying as anything here.
"Do you know Dokdo?" That's one of the most common questions you'll hear from a Korean. They're all ready to tell you that the tiny rocks, inhabited by only one fisherman, his wife and some police, are an important source of resources. Maybe I don't know much about resources.
Anyway, Korea is not known for journalistic integrity in any way. The article doesn't say a thing about how the document was obtained and doesn't say which Japanese official gave away the biggest source of annoyance the Japanese have been using against the Koreans in recent years.
We'll see if anything more comes out of this. I'm actually surprised there weren't parties in the streets at the admittance that Dokdo Islands are considered foreign territory to Japan. Of course, it doesn't say who this foreign territory belongs to, does it? Oh well. I'm sure the Koreans will let us know.
Monday, November 16, 2009
Check out the article here. (An ID and password are possibly required. It's free to do. If you don't want to sign up, you can't read the story, maybe. Sorry.)
On July 10, an Indian professor was riding with a Korean female colleague on the bus when an older Korean man started making racist remarks toward him. It turned into a big deal and the Korean media latched onto it.
The man used the typical "I'm old and drunk" defense, but prosecutors are pushing ahead to press charges of contempt against the Korean man. It's the first time such charges have been applied to a racial discrimination case.
The Indian man, Bonogit Hussain, has faced discrimination like that every day in Korea. So he's basically used to it.
And while Westerners from places like America and Canada face some discrimination and taunts, it's nothing like other Asians face in the country. Many Koreans view these incoming Asians like Many redneck Americans view Mexicans.
The other Asians come in and work as cheap labor in farms or factories. This sprouts cries of, "They're trying to take our jobs," from the blue-collar Koreans.
From the story:
Many of the foreigners come here to toil at sea or on farms or in factories, providing cheap labor in jobs shunned by South Koreans. Southeast Asian women marry rural farmers who cannot find South Korean brides. People from English-speaking countries find jobs teaching English in a society obsessed with learning the language from native speakers.
For most South Koreans, globalization has largely meant increasing exports or going abroad to study. But now that it is also bringing an influx of foreigners into a society where 42 percent of respondents in a 2008 survey said they had never once spoken with a foreigner, South Koreans are learning to adjust — often uncomfortably.'
I've faced discrimination in my time, but it's more in the form of jealousy and spiteful envy rather than a hatred. I feel really sorry for people from other Asian countries who come here, work hard and send money back to their family, only to be faced with these threats every day.
Hye Yun and I never had any real problems. The biggest time we faced and taunts is when Korean guys got drunk and all of a sudden grew a set of balls. But if they were confronted, they usually deployed the "I'm strong and want to fight this American but my girlfriend can easily hold me back" strategy.
I don't know if it is the same for these foreigners from other Asian or even African countries.
The main issue is that Koreans are in a real identity crisis. Many young children still give the brainwashed one-bloodline spiel to the western teachers. But most Koreans I know who are university-age or older, usually just say the one-bloodline thing as a joke. People around my age know times are changing, and most seem happy to go along for the ride.
In America, and certainly in Canada, we're very much used to the mixes of people. They call America a "melting pot." That says all you need to know. Our countries certainly dealt with racism historically and still have embarrassing spots to deal with. Only time and generational changes can get people past it. Even that won't always be enough.
But until the majority of Koreans can look at other people as equals, there will still be major problems here.
So the government is currently trying to pass an anti-discrimination law. Critics argue about how to settle on what is considered discrimination. It's a sticky time and will certainly lead to more WWE-style fights in the national assembly.
While it would be nice if people just started getting along, a law in South Korea may be necessary until people's views change for the better.
Anyway, Ridia is being yanked around at school and I know that's frustrating for her. Unfortunately, there's not much Geoff and I can do to help.
The principal told her to focus on being in the classroom, while the vice principal told her to focus on managing Geoff and me. Now, clearly the principal is a higher rank, so she would logically listen to him. But this is Korea, and logic is in short supply. She has to find a way to please both of them, or risk getting her head chewed off.
Ridia has two different bosses. Multiple bosses are funny in 'Office Space,' but frustrating in real life.
If Geoff and I can help at all, we will. But we are in a position of negative power, essentially. We just have to do our job the best we can and hope it reflects on Ridia.
We have to go out with teachers twice this week. Some can go on Tuesday and some can go on Wednesday, so we are locked into meeting both days. I like meeting with my co-workers a lot, but my new schedule makes it harder to have a good time and get up for work the next day. Boo.
We just have to keep working hard to make Ridia look good. I know she's doing a good job, but management is usually blind around here.
Sunday, November 15, 2009
So this week, we're teaching third-graders from Mun Nam Elementary School. It's only a few blocks away and, depending on which way we go, we can walk by it on the way to school or home.
Lydia said the reason our schedule is always so uncertain is because the others schools are also uncertain. So they try to schedule a time for these students to come, and it's always getting re-arranged.
Seeing our students possibly once a year? For the birds ...
But between the winter and summer camps and the three other schools who come in, I'm thinking we might see each class only once a year. That's kind of frustrating for me. It's always easier when I can make some connection or bond with the students. They learn better that way, and the classes usually run more smoothly.
That's just my style. I guess the upside is that if a class seems terrible, we're never going to see them again anyway. Just strange.
At least the weekend was fun. The usual crew went into Bupyeong on Friday night. Tim and Jeremy, two guys I became good friends with last year, came in from there respective towns. It's always good to see those guys again.
On Saturday, Hye Yun came over and we had dinner with Josh, Schwaby and fellow new Jungchul teacher Barry. We just hung around Yeonsu-dong. Hye Yun had one beer with her, then had to get home.
The four of us remaining then made a night of going to the various bars around here. We even met four western girls who were really fun. We played some darts, pool, drank some more and went to a noraebang. It ended up being a super-fun night.
Back to that weird schedule. Because of the other school students coming in and the specific times the students can come, we have no morning classes on Monday or Tuesday this week. We then have eight straight work days of morning class. By next Friday, I'm sure I'll be slightly annoyed.
Thursday, November 12, 2009
Following up on Tuesday naval showdown off the coast of Incheon is an article in the Washington Post on Thursday. In it, the North claims the South purposely provoked them, and that the South would pay for their actions.
Here's the issue. The North and South both blame each other for crossing the Northern Limit Line (NLL). The NLL was set in 1953 by the U.S. Military. But the North never agreed on it, apparently.
I know we have all these satellite technology and global location systems available, but it can't be that easy to know where this line is. There's not going to be a billboard 200 kilometers out in the ocean warning all trespassers to turn back.
Also, both North and South Korea have guidelines that their soldiers are to shoot first, ask later, when anyone crosses a border.
Did the South provoke the North? I don't think so. Did the North cross on purpose (if it was indeed the North who crossed)? I doubt it. It's just a case of sibling rivalry ... with missiles.
Check out the story here.
Also in the news right now is that the biggest test day in a Korean's life happened on Thursday. Nearly 700,000 students took time out of their schedules for a 9-hour long university entrance exam.
It's pretty ridiculous the lengths they go to to make sure the day runs smoothly.
From the story:
A police officer on a motorbike could be seen escorting a tardy student to Bosung Girls High School, one of more than 1,100 exam locations throughout the country. On the cold and windy morning, a mother shouted words of encouragement to her daughter. Other parents stood outside a gate holding coffee cups, and watching as students ran to their tests.'
Regardless of how ridiculous it appears, this test means almost everything for students' futures in this country. That means the government is also on suicide alert right now. Every year, reports come out about students killing themselves over these tests.
I met my InHa University friends tonight. Cassie told me a girl killed herself already. I didn't know if that was just hearsay, but it's in this newspaper article.
From the story again:
Check out the full story here.
Of all the things in Korean culture I mock or get frustrated about, this one is near the top. This country's government and parents put so much pressure on the students that they are killing themselves at the third highest rate in the 30-country member OECD.
I understand that not all the suicides have to do with the tests and school work and studying. But my thought is that the low quality of life idea starts when they have their spirits broken early on, and that spirit never gets fixed. It just sucks.
I'd file this under "For the birds," but it's just not funny.
Before she got here, Julie would pull Geoff and I whenever we had prep time and ask us to help Katie with her classes. Now, that's fine on a slow day, but generally we're pretty busy actually preparing lessons. So it's a little bit annoying.
Well, we had no morning classes today, so Julie told Lydia she wanted Geoff and I to help with Katie's class. She wanted us for about 2 hours. But Lydia stood up to her immediately. She told Julie how busy we are and that we could go for 30 minutes maximum.
And when that 30 minutes got close, she actually came up to get us.
I heard Julie explaining to Katie about our 30 minute limit, saying that Lydia was changing things and we would be really busy in the English Center now. Well, we were busy before. She just made it worse by bringing us in for extra classes.
Katie's a great teacher and I enjoy participating in her classes a lot, but we do legitimately have a lot to do.
Lydia is nailing down a schedule for us as far in advance as possible. Although she knows it's unrealistic to think it's set in stone. The three of us re-arranged all our materials today too to make sure things that we use most often are easiest to get to. We were even doing an inventory of all our books and materials. It actually feels like professionalism.
I can say, right now, that Lydia is the bomb. I'm so excited that she's working with us.
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
The major event is that on Tuesday the North Korean and South Korean navies got in a small skirmish about 220 km off the coast if ... INCHEON! Hey, I live in Incheon!
Obviously I wasn't affected by any of it. That's pretty far out there. But it was still a significant event.
From the story:
The North Korean ship retreated in flames, South Un-chan said, and the South's YTN television reported that one North Korean officer was killed and three other sailors were wounded.'Prime Minister Chung
A South Korean political science professor thinks the North crossed into the South's water to make a point ahead of Obama's arrival. I don't think getting their faces bombed off sent the message they wanted, however.
Now, in news that's more important to everyone in the world (by that I mean any Koreans and Americans who follow speed skating), an American skater upset two Koreans.
On Sunday, at the speedskating World Cup in Berlin, Tucker Fredricks beat two South Koreans for a victory in the 500-meter race.
Granted, very few people care about speedskating. But knowing the depth of Korean national pride, I feel great because an American put two of them in their place ... at least in this race.
So thank you, Tucker Fredricks.
She said the school's system is terribly disorganized. We told her we understand how she feels and we feel the same. It's just more of that never knowing anything more than 5 minutes ahead of time. It can be quite stressful.
Well, after talking to the vice principal, she decided to stick it out. She wants our team to stay organized and keep lines of communication open.
I can say I'm VERY relieved she decided to stay. She's one of the first Koreans I know who ever openly complained like that. Most of the Koreans I've met in the past just accept the situation. She isn't willing to just roll over. Thank goodness someone else gets it!
But we found out a little info through Lydia today. It turns out the schedule is always changing like that because we are actually in contract with three other schools to have their students get taught by us once in awhile. Again ... birds.
But that could mean we only see the Hambak students once a year in some cases. Entire months will be taken up by grades from these three other schools.
While Geoff has taught some students from one of the other schools, he thinks they're using it as an excuse to keep us off balance and never fill us in on an actual schedule. But Korean school administrators can't be that sneaky, can they?
Anyway, I like Lydia's style so far. She wants to plan things a week or two ahead, organize our workspace and nail down a schedule. That's starting to sound like actual professionalism. Also, her English is good, so there should be less misunderstanding. I'm sure miscommunication won't disappear, but she has a pretty darn good grasp of common sense, from what I can tell. It's a relief, for sure.
Stay tuned as the Hanguk world keeps on turning.
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
We met Lydia (her chosen English name) in the morning, but were told she was going to spend the day just observing a bit and learning her way around. We showed her our current lesson plans and told her what we knew about the schedule.
The tough thing is that Geoff is the longest-tenured teacher in the English Center, and he's only been here two months. Now, Geoff is a good teacher and knows what he's doing. But that's knowing what one is doing in Korea. Even for someone who's been in a place for years, knowing anything is tenuous at best. We find those changes out last minute and we're never sure what's happening.
Lydia hung with Geoff during his second class, and joined us both for our combined third class for the game. For the first time ever, a teacher commented that the students WEREN'T lively enough during the game. Now, this class was a little bit more quiet than others, but usually Korean teachers are terrified at how active the kids are when we play.
Lydia seemed to like what she saw of our lesson plans, and is excited to work as a team to teach the students the best we can. She said she really likes using games to help teach. I love that idea already.
We'll see what happens as the days goes on, but it was a good first impression for everyone.
One (very) small issue is that the parents class started today. I'm doing it Tuesday and Geoff takes it Thursday. We don't know for how many weeks. It's an hour each time.
Four women showed up with English levels ranging from one with about a middle-school level to one with no English at all. We made our lesson plans far too difficult, but it's better to do that than to make it too easy. We can lower the level and teach more thoroughly, rather than not having enough material.
On interesting thing is that Julie gave a small intro talking about communication and how we weren't in the class to become native speakers. So she had me introduce myself in Korean. She said it's all about being able to communicate with each other. So I guess I was a good example. I came to Korea with no background in the language, and now I do pretty well. I just talked about myself for about three minutes, and the ladies all understood just fine.
I'm curious to see how Geoff's goes on Thursday. Really, a parents class is just a hassle and adds more work to our day. But the school clearly is making money, or they wouldn't be doing it. The ladies are all very nice and we had a good time. They're looking forward to learning and I think they'll be willing to put a little extra effort into it.
The lack of information is still and always be frustrating, but if the class runs smoothly, I can be fairly satisfied.
Our dinner with Principal Kim got canceled. It was relayed to us that the reason is due to some type of flu. It's not H1N1, but it's flu-related. Again, no real information coming our way. At least they told us today, and not tomorrow at 4 p.m.
I'm actually relieved there's no dinner this week. When we go out, the administrators and fellow teachers expect us to drink a lot. "You're a strong drinker," they'll say. Or they'll tell you you're the opposite if they don't think you can handle it. Culturally, it's important to be a strong drinker. This week, I'm just tired. I'm not feeling that strong and I don't want to stay out late on a school night. So the postponement is good. Maybe when we have the dinner, I'll be feeling up to representing.
Monday, November 9, 2009
Nigeria is extremely confident going into the game. As they should be. Their youth system has been phenomenal over the last five years.
Check an article on Nigeria's feelings here.
South Korea on the other hand, is still feeling good about their round of 16 match with Mexico that they tied at the death, and went on to win on penalty kicks.
A profile of the confident 17-year-old ROK captain Kim Jin-su is currently one of the featured articles. Kim is also confident and thinks the Koreans can take down the Nigerians, despite the tournament being in Nigeria this year.
Check that article out here.
With this golden youth generation of Nigeria in full swing, it's tough to imagine them not winning on home soil. But Koreans certainly have the talent. Maybe it'll depend on how much kimchi they eat that day (yes, that was necessary).
Check back for the final score.
There was a small group of candidates, and they chose one right away. All I know is she's a female teacher who originally went to school to be a counselor. I'm excited to meet her tomorrow.
I'm curious about her style. From what I've heard, we should be acting as assistants to our co-teacher while she runs the class. While Grace was here, Geoff was doing everything and she was sort of translating. But Katie says that Grace actually quit a couple months ago and was just serving her time out. So her style was less than accurate for a public school co-teacher.
So there's a little excitement and a little nervousness over how things will change. I admit I'm looking forward to not having Julie micromanaging, but the grass always seems greener, doesn't it?
If she teaches like a co-teacher should, there may be less prep time involved for Geoff and I. But who knows what will happen?
Other than that, the day went well today. We were busy with the six classes and got word that our parent classes do indeed start tomorrow. I'm taking the first shift. Julie was pleased with my lesson plans, and she and Mira (who was helping Julie run the English Center without Grace) are both thrilled with my teaching style. Basically I'm a giant clown who gets the kids to pay attention, be enthusiastic and learn. Not too shabby.
On Wednesday is another dinner with Principal Kim. This time, all the other teachers are joining us. And it's off to InHa for my weekly language exchange there on Thursday.
So far, the year is going well. Let's keep that up!
Sunday, November 8, 2009
Chris and Minji
We went to our usual spot in Guworldong -- Damotori -- and had a really fun time. We drank some beer and soju and sang "happy birthday" and Hye Yun brought a cake. It was nice to catch up, and Hye Yun and Minji are more than happy to let me speak Korean.
I got home from that around midnight and went to meet Popper, Schwaby and Josh at a bar in Yeonsu-dong. We had a few drinks and played a few games of darts.
On our walk home from there, we found a desk that a PC Bang was throwing out. Schwaby desperately needed a desk, so the two of them lugged it a few blocks back to Schwaby's place. One man's trash is another man's treasure. Nowhere is that more true than in Korea.
Saturday was really exciting. I was showing Schwaby my new school when I got a call from Hye Yun. Her dad invited me to go to Yeongjongdo with her family. He was going to see his high school buddies and their families, and I was fortunate enough that he wanted me to go as well.
Yeongjongdo is a small island off the coast of Incheon. You can reach it by taking the new Incheon bridge. It is famous for its shellfish and calguksu restaurants.
There must have been 50 restaurants along the main road through the island. They were all similarly decorated with Christmas-type lights and they all had similar layouts with seating both outdoors in tents and inside the restaurants.
We sat inside the restaurant with Vicky's dad's friends. One of the guys spoke a tiny bit of English, but the whole night, we all just spoke Korean. We had a lot of fun, and the guy's appreciate my grasp of the language. They were very welcoming.
The shellfish meal included clams, oysters and various other shelled creatures that I didn't recognize. They come out on a big plate, and we just pop them on the grill until the crack open. Some of the bigger oysters were pre-cracked. As far as I can tell, though, everything we put on the grill came right out of the tank.
I wasn't a big fan of shellfish before, but to prepare them on the grill like that was incredibly delicious. It was sooooo good.
After we stuffed ourselves with the shellfish, we stopped at another restaurant on the island. This was for calguksu, a traditional noodle dish that is handmade. The noodles are thick and remind me of a the style of noodles in a homemade chicken noodle soup. But the broth of the Korean noodle dish is filled with even more shellfish and other fish.
They were really good, even though I was totally stuffed at that point. Hye Yun's family said the restaurant we ate at is famous for the noodles. We had to wait about 15 minutes to get a seat, and it was packed inside.
I am so thankful her family continues to include me on their trips. I'm learning so much through these experiences. Also, I get to practice my Korean the whole time I'm with them. There are no downsides to this.
After Hye Yun's dad dropped me off at home, I popped my head into Colin's place. He was there with his girlfriend, her friend, Schwaby and Popper. We just hung out, had some drinks and ate some food. It was a really nice, relaxing evening after a busy and fun weekend.
It might be a busy week, but I don't mind too much. We'll see. I have another dinner with Principal Kim on Wednesday, and I'm meeting my InHa friends on Thursday.
I've posted all the other pics from the weekend in my Picasa albums.
Check out Minji's birthday here.
Check out shell fish and noodles here.
Thursday, November 5, 2009
As I wrote before, we have three morning classes every day, along with three afternoon classes on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. I think we have a good team going for the teaching. We've been doing our third afternoon class combined because it's so small. We have a nice system worked out and I'm happy to be working alongside him.
Our principal took Geoff, Katie, the vice principal, Julie and Sunny out to dinner on Tuesday night. It was a nice Korean traditional meal that included soups, pork, chicken and some other weird Korean things. The Koreans claimed one of the soup was potatoes, but it did not appear to be potatoes -- neither in taste not texture.
But the gesture was very nice. After the dinner, the native speakers went out with Julie and Sunny. Katie's boyfriend joined us in Yeonsu-dong. It was a fun night.
On Wednesday, I met with my friends at InHa University. It was really nice to see them again. A lot has changed in the 6 weeks I was gone. The biggest news is that Smith got an electrical engineering job at Samsung. It's a very coveted position and we're all thrilled for him.
Unfortunately, the group will surely be breaking apart soon, as they all get jobs and move away. I've had a really wonderful time with them and treasure the things I've learned as well as the friendship.
Work today was interesting. Geoff and I went in and started to prepare for our morning classes when Julie came in and told us we had no classes. Since we have no afternoon classes on Thursday, we had nothing all day.
But Julie asked if we'd help with one of Katie's advanced classes. I think I can safely say we were happy to do so. They were playing a game/lesson about cultural differences. It was interesting to watch how it worked out and how their personalities affected the outcome.
Katie's a fun teacher and she knows what she's doing for sure. It's nice to observe my peers and watch how they do things. I think I'm learning a lot that way.
In the afternoon, we basically just prepared our lessons some more.
But at lunch, we almost got some bad news. Julie told us the staff picture for the yearbook would be Saturday, and we all had to be there by 8 a.m. YIKES!
Katie and I both already had plans, and no doubt Geoff would rather be somewhere else. So we appealed to Julie to help us. Fortunately for us, Julie has a tooth surgery Saturday that she already paid for. She went to the head teacher and pleaded our case.
And ... SUCCESS!!!
We have to bring in pictures tomorrow for the school, but we don't have to be there at 8 a.m. Saturday. It's good for Julie, too. She said bringing us in on a Saturday requires loads of paperwork.
Tomorrow I am meeting with Hye Yun (Vicky), her cousin, Minji, and her cousin's boyfriend (and former Jungchul buddy) Chris. I'm looking forward to it. It will kick off a nice weekend away from school.
Like I said, this year I won't let myself get so invested in my work to the point of frustration. I'm leaving work at work as much as possible.
So things are looking fairly good right now. At the very least, things are nearly stable. Bon Jovi Friday is upon us.
** I forgot to mention this, but we have a glass bird cage at our school in the main lobby. In honor of them, I will post a bird picture every time I think something is totally insane. This pic is not of them, but all future pics will be.
Monday, November 2, 2009
"Hallyu" is Korea's word for the country's cultural wave, which Korean media strongly believe is slowly taking over the earth. Granted, some of their musicians and TV shows are popular in other Asian countries, but the media talks up "hallyu" like we'll all be listening to the Wonder Girls and Big Bang in the West in a few years.
But the biggest Korean pop star in recent years spoke out against the wave and now a little negative light is shining on it.
From the article:
"Producers try to make only money-making music and consumers are moved by songs produced in that fashion. Mass media positioning itself between the two have no choice but to be swayed by both."'
Check out the article here.
Today, Geoff and I got back into teaching. We had our afternoon classes only, as per the schedule. We each took two on our own and worked the third one together. We have a really good team working down there, and that's a very good thing, because ...
We got news today that Grace, our boss/co-teacher was planning to quit this Friday. Then, we got word from Julie that Grace had, in fact, quit today and left for home right after lunch.
The way I feel at work in Korea.
I was introduced this morning over the schools broadcast program. It's a morning program they run on TV in the classrooms that goes through the national anthem and a pledge and various announcements/awards.
I was introduced along with another male teacher. I didn't know who he was, but he was dressed like a gym teacher.
I wrote a little essay about my family and home background. The principal read it, then they asked me to speak. So I broke out a bit of introductory Korean to say hello to everyone watching.
At lunch, I asked Grace who the male teacher with me was and what position he'd be taking. She totally misunderstood and kept saying "she" and "her." Grace also said this "she" might be the new English teacher if the tryout is successful.
Now, it's very common for Koreans to mix up pronouns. After all, they almost NEVER use them in every day speaking. So I assumed either she just didn't get my question or was making the pronoun mistake.
Well, in the afternoon, Julie asked to sit down with me (her cue to reprimand someone, which is apparently going to happen regularly no matter how perfect I am).
So we sat down and she starts asking me really ambiguous questions like, "Did you meet any teachers this week?" I'm naive, apparently. I told her yes. I did meet teachers when we were partying for Halloween. I had no idea what she was getting at.
Then she asked me if the science teacher introduced me to a new girl teacher. I said no, and that I've never even seen the guy outside of school. I've only talked to him inside school a couple times.
She then asked how I knew Grace was quitting. I told her that Grace told me at lunch today. I then explained my confusing conversation with Grace at lunch about the new male teacher.
Then, Geoff and I sat down with Julie and another teacher named Mira. Julie and Mira will be splitting Grace's paperwork, but they said neither have enough time to join us for class. So I say ... AWESOME.
I don't want a co-teacher and I'm more comfortable without. Of course, we're still not 100 percent sure of our schedule. No doubt we'll find out right before our classes tomorrow morning.
The bummer news is that Geoff and I are adding one extra hour of class a week to teach parents. That means extra preparation work, which is terribly annoying here once again because we don't know the level for which we're preparing. And no seems to be able to answer any of our questions.
That explains my title to this post a bit. Here's a tip for any incoming teachers. Brace yourself. No matter how pretty of a picture they paint, nearly nothing will be done professionally and you will be the ones who take the heat in most cases.
Remember, it's not your fault and that is just business custom here. Take the slack, let it roll off you, do your work to the utmost of your ability and professionalism and let them sort it all out.
I got really, really stressed last year when my contract wasn't followed properly and I was never given any information until it was almost too late at Jungchul English Academy in Okryun-dong. But this year, that's not happening. I'm focusing on my teaching and keeping all my opinions out of the politics of how they treat the native speakers.
I'm giving my full attention to the students, doing the crap work the administrators throw on me and not letting it get me down.
Though I was extremely tired from hanging in Bupyeong on Friday night, I was convinced to head into Seoul on Saturday to celebrate Halloween in Hongdae.
Geoff, Dan, Dan, Matt and I rode the bus. When we were there, we met up with Tim, Colin and their friends. We went to a bar called "Funky Funky" and rocked our socks off.
They had a bunch of bands playing and a $10 cover that gave us access to unlimited cocktails from 11 p.m. to midnight. That was MORE than enough to do the trick.
We had a really great time dancing and drinking with our group of friends. We also made a lot of new friends.
Even though Koreans don't celebrate Halloween (shameful), it's nice to have access to a foreigner community in which everyone DOES celebrate ... and celebrate well.
Check out all the pics here!