Monday, September 28, 2009

Constitution Change For South Korea's Hat

The boys up North changed their constitution's wording in April, but just recently have the changes found their way to the South.

Some of the changes include a definite term for Dictator Kim Jong-il and a stronger emphasis on the political standing of the nation.

From the BBC article:

'For the first time, the constitution refers to him implicitly as "supreme leader". ... It also endorses the role of the National Defence Commission - which he chairs - in national and foreign affairs.

And it places more weight on Kim's personal doctrine of "military first".'

While it's clearly an example of North Korea showing everyone how big they are in the trousers, it's still interesting to see the slight changes to the constitution that make the government even scarier to the people living there.

Check out the story here.

BBC Reunion Video

There's a great video of the reunion between the families from the North and South on Though it's short, and hard to hear, the emotion can be felt by observing the people.

It's hard to make out what anyone is saying, but at the very end, one person says to another: "어디 아프세요?" (oh dee aw puh say yo) [edit - Thank you, Dougie!]. That is asking whether the person is sick or sore. It is a very polite way to do so.

The video is very touching.

Check it out here.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Korean Reunion

On Saturday, 97 South Koreans who escaped the North, were reunited with their family members.

From The Korea Times story:

'Tears that had been held back for almost 60 years streamed down the face of Kim Hye-kyong, 83, who met her daughter for the first time since they were separated during the Korean war, AFP said.

"I have been always feeling guilty since I left you when you were only three years old," Hye-kyong was quoted as telling her daughter.'

Unless your heart is made of stone, or possible non-existent, this is a really touching story.

Check it out here.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Lee Meets Ward

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak had the opportunity to meet Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward Friday as Lee was in town for the G20 conference.

It's no surprise that the local celebrity Lee was set up with is, in fact, part Korean. In the article, Ward is described as a "Korean-America football star." That's something he's most likely never been described as in America. To each their own, I suppose.

A big tip of the hat to the reporter of the story and the editors at The Korea Times who failed to put the "h" on the end of "Pittsburg" on two occasions in the story.

Dear Korea Times, I know you're a small English-language newspaper with no journalistic standards, but city names aren't that difficult, are they?

Take a look at the "Pittsburg" story here.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Pictures From Behind The Curtain

An Italian photographer is a frequent visitor into North Korea. Here are his pictures from August, on the BBC News website.

See the pictures here.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Possible Plagiarism Charges

This news article in The Korea Times is a welcome sign for anyone who lives in South Korea. I don't know the official law, but from pure observation, it would seem to me that no copyright or plagiarism laws exist within the country.

Maybe going outside the country to steal their music is where they made a mistake. G-Dragon, of Big Bang, the group Big Bang and the group 2NE1 are facing possible plagiarism charges from Sony ATV Music Publishing because their songs sound ALMOST EXACTLY like the versions they allegedly ripped off.

Those of us living in Korea don't need this story to confirm our beliefs. We can tell from personal observation that nearly all music, TV shows, movies and anything else are just stolen ideas with a small (sometimes not at all) difference.

Sony executives have music experts analyzing the songs. It doesn't take an expert to notice how similar they are. Possible justice? We'll see.

Check out the story here.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Blast From the Past -- Fan Death

In Korea, whenever there are detractors from typical Korean culture or thinking, there's always someone else on the other side ready to say, "If you don't like it, go home."

I think that's the wrong response. No matter what country you're in, I see no problem with criticizing things. When I make a critique, I'm not telling a country to change or ranking it in any way, I'm usually just venting. Sometimes speaking with other people about things helps me understand the situation better.

That being said, I have met NO westerners who disagree about fan death. Yes, fan death! It's the claim that sleeping in a room with windows and doors closed and a fan pointed directly at you will kill you. Many Koreans have claimed various scientific answers to why fans can kill. All of these reasons aren't really scientific and are, in fact, just ridiculous.

With that introduction, here is an article from 1997(!) about why fan death is ridiculous. Not much has changed in the last 12 years, huh? Check it out. Have a good laugh.

Fan Death - It's a real killer.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Korean Building Names Awkward ... For Koreans

An Article from The Chosun Ilbo attempts to explain why so many Korean apartment buildings use English words as their names. Unfortunately for Koreans, the explanation just makes them all sound really ridiculous.

From the article:

'The preference for foreign names became prevalent after 2000. In early 2000, Samsung was the first to begin selling apartments under the name "Raemian." This led to other broken English names by the builder, including the premium "Tower Palace" and "Tra-Palace." Then property developers like Daelim, Kumho and Lotte featured apartments under names like "Acrovista," "Richensia" and "Castle." Studies showed that by 2005, 47.8 percent of new apartments had foreign brand names. Apartment brand names using Hangeul or the Korean alphabet, which were popular during the construction of satellite cities around Seoul in the 1990s, were no longer favored.'

Notice how the author of the article described the names as "broken English." That's a pretty accurate description of every day life in Korea. For a country that strives to be on the forefront of English education, they either do a poor job of it or are simply lazy in the words and phrases they use.

A Korean Language and Literature professor thinks that the English names are used to flatter Koreans. Maybe I'm wrong, but if I feel stupid, I don't see it as flattery.

He says:

'"The preference for foreign names is a typical advertising gimmick to flatter consumers," said Chae Wan, a professor of Korean Language and Literature at Dongduk Women's University. "Eloquent-sounding foreign names are used to get potential buyers to feel like they should know such words, since they are well educated," Chae wrote in a thesis.'

Just a little taste of some of the oddities of daily Korean life. Check out the full story here.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Kimchi Isn't Working

South Korean officials reported it's eighth death to due the H1N1 virus. There have been 9,968 reported cases of the flu so far.

Check The Korea Times story here.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Job Offer Accepted!

I got good news in the form of an email from my recruiter. First, the background story.

I was concerned about where I would end up next time around, because my recruiter informed me that the government was suspending bringing in new teachers until the new year because of the H1N1 flu that is spreading around. It seems to be Korea's idea to combat the spread is to isolate everyone and everything. In the last month, a bunch of high-profile provincial festivals and events have been canceled.

The good news email came last night, with a job offer from the principal of Hambak Elementary School in Yeonsu-dong. The latest I can arrive is Oct. 19. My assumption is that is the day they want me to start teaching. That means I'll most likely be leaving America on Oct. 16 or 17 in order to get back in time (remember, they're 13 hours ahead).

There are a lot of good things about this new move. The money is the same, but the hours are better. It's a standard work day, rather than afternoon and evening hours. There's more vacation time, more sick days and even days listed for "special leave."

Also, Yeonsu-dong is where all my friends live. That's not something to be overlooked. This past year, I found myself forced to take cabs home because the bus to this neighborhood stopped by about 10:30 p.m. If I got out at 9 p.m. and got on a bus to ride right over there for dinner, we still wouldn't be sitting down to eat until 9:30 p.m. at the earliest. We'd have to rush through dinner if I wanted to catch the bus home. So most times, instead of riding a bus home for 900 won, I had to pay 4,500 won for a cab. Just a hassle.

Now, I'll be on a different schedule from my friends since they're all still at academies. But being in the same areas makes splitting cabs and hanging out easier. It should be easier to relieve some stress.

Also, don't forget that this is my second time around. Much of the first half of my first year was simply adjusting to the culture, job and anything else. even the process of getting their was frustrating at times, not knowing exactly what to do.

This time, I'm practically all set with my documents already. I mailed away my American criminal background check to the Apostille today. I'll get my transcripts and second recommendation letter tomorrow. By early next week, I will most likely have my visa number. That means my plane ticket can be schedule soon, as well. Last time, everything really happened last minute and it was a real whirlwind. I don't even have to go to New York City for an interview this time.

All in all, this elementary school job is looking like a great opportunity. It's a little less time than I expected to be home, but that's okay. I'll have enough time to see family and friends, eat some wonderful American food and then head back to start my new year.

It seems like a quick turn-around, but things are looking.

Here is the website for the school.
It's all in Korean.

Airport Photos

This might be incredibly boring. Here are photos I took on my 30-hour trip home. There are photos from Incheon, Tokyo and Dallas.

Check them out here.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

More U.S.-North Korea Meetings

Officials from The United States and North Korea are still pushing toward meeting with each other in order to find some kind of agreement on a number of pressing international concerns, including uranium enrichment for the purpose of nuclear weapons.

The U.S. officials are hoping to use bilateral talks to push back into the six-party discussions.

According to the AP story:

'"We are prepared to enter into a bilateral discussion with North Korea," State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley told reporters on Friday.

The department denied changing its policy, saying any bilateral meeting would be to bring Pyongyang back to multilateral talks.

"When it'll happen, where it'll happen, we'll have to wait and see," Crowley added. "We've made no decisions at this point, other than just to say we are prepared for a bilateral talk, if that will help advance the six-party process."'

These discussions have been taking place for awhile, with nothing really concrete ever coming out of it. I guess it's good to see they're still making attempts at diplomacy.

Check out the article here.

Friday, September 11, 2009


Well, I made it home. Unfortunately, my last flight of the day was delayed a bit, taking my total travel time (including drive time home) came to roughly 29 hours.

It was already 1 a.m. when we were on our way home, so there wasn't much open. But dad and mom pulled into a Subway for me. I experienced my first instance of forgetting English, unfortunately.

The girl asked me what cheese I wanted on my sub, and I just stared at the cheeses for about 20 seconds. Then I said to her: "I don't remember the names of the cheeses."

Yes, it's a new low in my life. I've forgotten cheese names.

Anyway, I'm simply exhausted from the trip, so I won't even really unpack tonight. It's just time to get some rest and take some medicine for this "cough" I got from the plane ride. Yikes.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Almost Home

I'm sitting in Dallas. In just two gut-wrenchingly long hours, I'll be on the final leg of my trip home. I already went from Incheon to Tokyo and Tokyo to here.

So far, everything has gone smoothly. None of my flights were late or had any problems. The food was decent and there was a good selection of movies and music on the 11-hour flight from Japan to America. If it wasn't for these long layovers, this trip would be a breeze.

The best news is that I had no trouble coming through customs with some of my gifts for people. I made it through with a little more Soju than is allowed by customs. I wrote the correct amounts on the card. They just didn't care.

I'm pretty beat, and the air in the planes has my eyes red and my lips a little bit dry. But it's all worth it just to get home.

I put together a very small photo essay of the different airports I've been in. There's not one exciting thing about it. I'll probably post it tomorrow, along with an update, after I recover.

See you all soon!!!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Is Korea Gay or Do Koreans Just Hate Foreigners?

As I'm preparing to hop on a plane for home tomorrow, I just thought I'd post some news stories about Korea.

The first one is a doozy. The lead singer of trendy/popular singing group 2PM is leaving the country. Apparently, he made a comment on a social networking site 4 years ago about not liking Korea. He is a Korean-American. He was born in America and came to Korea when he was in his young teens to start his entertainment career.

From the story:

'Jae-beom was the center of netizens’ outrage over comments about Korea that he made to a friend on the social networking site MySpace around 2005-2007. Jae-beom, who was then a trainee at JYP Entertainment, wrote: “Korea is gay. I hate Koreans. I wanna come back.” '

As usual, make a bad comment about Korea in any way, and they'll hate you. Oddly enough, my adoring fans haven't forced me out, and I've been saying stuff like that for the last six months.

Check out the story here.

Speaking of things that upset Koreans, the country's competitiveness ranking fell to 19th. The US is at a still-strong number 2.

From the story:

'In its Global Competitiveness Report 2009-2010, the Geneva-based institute said Korea ranked 19th in competitiveness among 133 countries, down six places from 2008.'

If any Koreans see that, they'll be very unhappy, and probably blame the swine flu.

Check out the story here.

Last but not least is a significant editorial from Th Korea Times disparaging the racist attitude of the country. Last month, a drunken Korean man apparently called an Indian professor dirty and smelly.

From the article:

'It is easy to brush aside the episode as momentary mischief by a drunken man, who allegedly called an Indian professor ``dirty" and ``smelly" in a bus late last month. It is not easy, however, to deny a deep-rooted sense of racism among us, particularly against black people coming from poorer countries.'

I joked about the first two articles, but this problem is very real in Korea. I've written about my own personal experiences a few times, and there are many stories of foreigners being harassed.

For example, we now have a male teacher at Jungchul. He got there about 3 weeks before I left. The other teachers and students called him the Korean term for "man teacher." But I was ALWAYS referred to as "foreigner teacher." Why? I'm a man, too. But instead of calling me "man teacher," I was simply the foreigner.

They didn't do it in a rude way, but it shows how deep their racism goes. It's perfectly acceptable just to label somebody as a foreigner, even though there are other ways to refer to them that would make them feel more accepted.

Check out the story here.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Incheon Global Fair and Festival

I finally made it over to the Incheon Global Fair in Festival. It's only 5 minutes away, but I was busy over the last month preparing to finish my job.

My friend, Soo Ryung, got two free tickets to get us in. My university student, Cassie, works for the company who is running the festival. She gave me free meal tickets.

So we headed over there at about 1 p.m. on Saturday. We were able to see pretty much everything the festival has to offer in about 5 hours.

Our first attraction was the world teddy bear pavilion. It had teddy bears as part of cultures all over the world. There was a Mt. Rushmore with all the president's faces as teddy bears, sumo teddy bears and viking teddy bears. It was huge and probably the most fun thing in the festival. They got really creative with some of the countries. They also spelled "Big Ben" as "Big Ban." Yes, I took a picture and found it hilarious.

After that, we checked out the ancient city hall. It had artifacts from ancient civilizations like China, Maya, Inca and Egypt.

We then went to the technology building. They had a ton of art/technology displays and it was pretty cool. One in particular was great. It was a screen where the guy would take a 3-second video of you, and pop you up on the screen with about 30 other blocks of people. All the Koreans just waved. You know what I did? The robot! Boom. That's how a man does art.

They had a lot of fun things in the technology area, and I got some great pictures of it.

We checked out the greener earth pavilion, which was incredibly boring.

We walked through the European Culture exhibit. They had a bunch of cool antique furniture, TVs, cameras, musical instruments and things like that. It was weird, because not all of it was related to Europe in some way. But oh well. It was cool.

Next, we got some refreshment at the world beer pavilion. I bought an MGD for 5,000. It was the only American beer they had. They were also giving out free Hite and Max. It's not that great, but free beer always tastes good.

Next door to the beer pavilion was a small wine shop. The owner is a French guy. We got a glass of wine for 5,000 won. It was pretty good.

One interesting thing is that I was walking by a Native American exhibit when a woman started talking to me. It just so happens she's from Los Angeles and at the fair to represent Native Americans. She was very friendly and we had a nice conversation.

The last thing we saw was the robot exhibit. It didn't have that much stuff, but it did have a robot zoo. I got some great pics of the animals, including a robot rhino.

The fair was pretty fun, and certainly worth checking out for free. Free tickets for events are always floating around in Korea. Soo Ryung and I had a nice time.

After that, we went back to Guworldong and got some dinner. She got on the bus for home around 8 p.m., after we made some sticker photos together.

I then walked back over to the square to meet Cindy, Wendy, Beth and Vicky. It was Vicky's birthday yesterday and all the teachers wanted to see me one last time.

Beth was the only one on time. we were supposed to meet at 8:30 p.m. Wendy got there around 9 p.m. Cindy had just finished work, I think, and came at 10 p.m. Vicky came a little before that. Oh Koreans. Please just be punctual one time. It's not too much to ask.

We went to a singing room and got some food and drinks. We were out until probably 3 a.m. It was a good time, for the most part. I'm glad I got to see those teachers again. They're cool.

So it was a pretty busy, yet fun, weekend. Now I have four days to do nothing. I admit I'm looking forward to the time off. I wish it was back in America. I should've been getting on a flight Saturday. It was still nice to see my friends, though.

Check out the festival pics here.

The Final Jungchul Meeting

I sat down with Sunny after work on Friday and we discussed my finances. Everything went as well as I could have expected. That means I muted my expectations and got about what I thought.

Instead of 2.1 million won for my severance, they only gave me 2 million. Yes my contract says 2.1 million. Sunny said that the severance is supposed to be equal to what I get paid in a month. She said that's between 1.8 and 1.9 million. Well, yes, I do get that after all my bills come out.

But don't worry, Mr. No and Sunny agreed to just pay me 2 million, instead of the 1.8 million. I had my contract and everything, but I was in no mood to argue. I just wanted it to finish.

They paid me the money they owed me from my last paycheck, the money for August and gave me my pay receipts. Everything is finished.

The money is supposed to be in my account Monday morning.

After the meeting, Mr. No wanted to go out. So he and I went, and Sunny joined us about an hour later. We just drank some Soju and ate some meat. It was a pretty good time. As I've said before, outside of the school and when business matters aren't involved, they're pretty good people. They're just no fun to deal with from a work perspective.

We had a nice conversation, and Mr. No said I was the best teacher he's ever had. That was a nice compliment from him, especially considering how bad of a mood I've been in for the last month or so, and how much I got on them about dealing with financial stuff on time.

My last day was pretty laid-back. I wrote letters to all the teachers and to the students. I wrote them in Korean and Vicky typed them up for me. I tried to type them, but it was taking forever. Haha.

Anyway, I gave them all my email address and phone number and thanked them for a fun and interesting year. Some of the kids wrote me little notes, and a few cried a bit. Eli basically taught my classes, and I observed the first couple. It wasn't necessary, but we were just kind of working together. I thought it was pretty fun.

I bought snacks for a couple classes and pizza for a couple others. I also got pictures with a bunch of the students, especially with my favorite classes.

I won't miss the company, but I'll certainly miss the students and teachers. Even when I was frustrated, they were all pretty great.

Check out the pics of all my students, including my university students, here.
I got a bunch of great pictures with everyone.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

My Last Day at Jungchul

Let's start with my second-to-last day. Because of the plane ticket flub that has me going home five days past my visa expiration date, I needed a sojourn extension. My bosses told me that it was done. At the urging of my parents, and just to make sure, I called the immigration office to make sure everything was alright.

Well here's a giant surprise: It wasn't!!!

That's right, they did NOT extend my visa as they had informed me. So I would've gotten to the airport and had to pay a huge fine or possibly been held and interviewed about my alleged plot.

So my head teacher, Kathy, and I went to the immigration office yesterday and sorted it out. All the bosses had to do was tell me. They can't even handle that.

That brings me to today. It's my last day at Jungchul and I couldn't be happier. I've decided that all the hard times and issues I've faced in Korea have been because of Jungchul and the bosses. Any other thing that I got frustrated about was a direct result of my mind-boggling emotional abuse from work.

So today, I'll go in, say goodbye to my favorite classes and fellow teachers and then be faced with my final meeting with my bosses. This is all about money owed for my time spent here. I am very much worried that something will go wrong. My best course of action, I think, is to just accept it now. That way, I won't be super mad about it later. I'll still be a little mad, but I won't fly off the handle at them.

So this is it. It's one last day of class and then six more days in Korea that are just free time. Goodbye Jungchul. I'm confident when I say, "See ya never!"

North Korea Uranium and South Korea Fun Facts

North Korean officials Friday said that they are making progress in enriching uranium.

According to the New York Times story:

'If North Korea succeeds in producing highly enriched uranium, it will give the country another way of making nuclear bombs, in addition to its existing program using plutonium. The North is believed to have produced enough plutonium in the past decade or so to fuel at least several nuclear bombs, according to Western nuclear experts.'

Call me a skeptic, but I'm not convinced it's for bombs. I think they need that power to run their one chicken restaurant in downtown Pyongyang.

Check out the story here.

The neighbors to the South released studies from The Korea Research Institute for Human Settlements on Thursday. The report highlights categories such as foreigner population (surprise, surprise), water shortage and women's influence. It's all part of their "Grand Vision 2050" plan.

In the article:

'Kindergartens closing over a shortage of young students, provincial districts fighting for water and robots taking over countless numbers of jobs ― this is a snapshot of South Korea in 2050. Or at least how a state-run agency painted the country's future in 41 years.'

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Winding Down and Bending Over

I did as much as I could this weekend, which I originally thought would be my last. But since they screwed up my ticket, I don't leave until Sept. 10. Of course, all my plans for this weekend were already made, so that was fine.

Anyway, on Friday, I went with Vicky, Chris and Minji to Guworldong and we just got a few drinks together. We then made our way over to InHa and continued that. It was a lot of fun. Minji has been really nice to me, regardless of what happened with her cousin. She and Chris hang out a lot, and it was an alright night for the most part.

On Saturday, Dan and I went to Yongsan and Itaewon in the morning. It was my first time to Yongsan Station, which is a giant electronics market. If you want electronics of some sort, you can find it there.

I originally just went to keep Dan company while he got a new power adapter for his XBox 360, but I ended up buying one of those DS cards that has 65 games on it. A lot of the games are not that great, but half of them are definitely playable and fun. It also gives me the ability to download games, if I so please.

We also went to Itaewon, where we ate some Mexican food. That was awesome. I also bought some souvenirs for family. It turns out that Itaewon isn't so scary during the day time.

At night, Tim came in to celebrate his birthday and we went to Guworldong. We had a pretty good time there and got home around 5:30 a.m. That's the latest I've stayed out in Korea in about 6 months.

On Sunday, I met Chris and my/his InHa University students. All four of the students who have been in the class came to InHa to chat and spend a few hours together. Chris had the study group before me and passed them on. It was nice to have us all get together.

We went to the arcade first, then to a video game room. I'm surprised that I've never been in a video game room before. They have PS3s and XBox 360s and Wiis set up. It's pretty sweet. It's really cheap. It's also a ton of fun.

When I come back next year, I'll make a point to go there with buddies more often. It's a great stress reliever.

As far as the school goes, I have three days of work left. I was bombarded with 28 classes this week. It's pretty much crap how they are running the schedule. Eli had zero classes scheduled for the week. He was supposed to observe me. That wasn't happening.

Then, he got sick. So he went home early today. I was in a bad mood because I still haven't had my final meeting with my bosses, among other things. When Vicky asked me if him not having classes was part of the problem. I said it's part of it. And she argued that he's sick.

Well, that's true, he is sick. I understand that. And that sucks for him. But even if he wasn't sick, he still has no classes currently scheduled while I have my biggest class load of the year. I'm happy for him not being forced to do this ridiculous new curriculum, but I don't like this school's typical, non-professionalism.

Anyway, that's where I am with three days left. I have three more work days, five days off and a 26 hour journey home. At least I get home on a Thursday. Anyone up for '80s Night at Belvedere's in Lawrenceville?