Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Expanding My Horizons

Due to something unfortunate, I got a chance to try something new as a far as my Korean speaking and job at the English center goes.

The unfortunate thing is that all last week, Ridia started getting sick. When Monday rolled around, she was at her worst. She texted me while I was walking to school saying she couldn't come to work. In more than a year -- my entire time at the school -- she has yet to miss a day. Now, Geoff and I haven't missed either, but a number of other Korean teachers have. Even some of our other native speaking teachers have missed a day.

Either way, it's a rarity for someone to miss work in South Korea, so she was pretty sick. She asked Geoff and I to teach her class, so we sort of scrambled to come up with some worksheets and games. It wasn't a big deal. Geoff came through big and found a great dinosaur measurement worksheet that fir in with both of our lessons.

The big thing for me was that Ridia asked me to do orientation. That's basically the only part of class that she speaks Korean to the kids. She explains about the English center, the equipment, our lessons and so on.

Now, I speak Korean almost fluently at this point, but I still get nervous speaking in front of a lot of students whom I don't know. Students are the harshest and meanest critics of a Westerner's speaking ability. Their initial shock (which all Koreans have) turns to rude comments if they can't understand you. Never mind the fact that you may just know their grammar better than they do. Haha.

I have heard Ridia do the orientation a thousand times, so I knew what to say and how to do it. But I knew I wouldn't be as smooth. So I decided to do it Korean and English. That makes sense being at the center.

On Monday I was actually pretty nervous, but the kids took to it and understood me right away. So that felt really good. The difference is that what takes Ridia 15 minutes to describe, I buzz through in less than 10. It's part nerves and part that my speaking is not as elaborate or in depth as hers.

Well, she was still feeling sick today, so Geoff and I split up the class in two and did the first two lessons, and Ridia only had to worry about teaching one class in our third time slot. She asked me to do the orientation again. I was feeling more confident about being in front of the kids, but I didn't want to sound like a dummy in front of Ridia.

I definitely did a better job of it today. I spoke my Korean more smoothly, and explained things better than I did yesterday in both languages. I even stretched it out a couple more minutes. Ridia said I did a really good job. She would tell me that anyway, but it's still nice to hear.

She's told us before how sick of it she is that she has to give that opening speech almost every day. And we would be, too, I'm sure. I told her awhile ago I'd be willing to do it for her. I just never really expected her to ask me to run the show.

But it's been a success, and I'm guessing she'll let me do it on a more regular basis now that she's heard me do it. I don't mind showing off a bit. I think it even helps me connect to the students a little bit better.

So it's been an exciting week so far, and we have big things to come. Get ready for Christmas pics from both our afternoon classes and my time Jeong Mi and friends. It's going to be a fun month.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Bucheon Year End Dance Party

My good friend Eun Sang threw a year end party at his dance studio in Bucheon last Saturday. I met Eun Sang at Bamboo Dance Academy and did my performance and the competition with him. I was super excited to go to the party at his studio.

Though they did play some salsa music, and we definitely did dance, it wasn't a salsa party. They played pop music and dance music throughout the night, and had a big buffet of food and a ton of beer. It was awesome.

On top of that stuff, there were also three different dance performances by some B-boys and some high school girls, as well as a singing performance. There was also a magician! It was awesome. Its no secret that I'm a big fan of magic acts, and this guy had some pretty good tricks, and even had a bird do some card tricks with him. And to make it even better, Jeong Mi volunteered and did some tricks with him! It was really fun.

We saw a few of our friends from the Bamboo A Team there, with whom I did the Seoul Salsa Competition. It was great to see everyone and hang out. Bryan and Geoff came along with Jeong Mi and I, and there were a couple western girls there as well.

We drew numbers and they handed out prizes at the end of the night. Geoff won some comfy socks!

It was really nice to do something different. I've been stuck in a rut lately, for sure. This came at the perfect time to shake things up. I can't wait until they throw another one.

Check out all the pics here!!!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

North Korea's Facebook Page

Cracked.com is one of the foremost contributors to research and information on the Hermit Kingdom. They are presenting, for the first time, the Facebook page of North Korea.

Check out the page here!!!

And don't forget to check out the number one dictator on their most recent crazy dictator list!!! You know him, you love him. It's Kim Jong-il!!!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Winter Semester Begins

It's the start of a new semester and changes are already taking place at Hambak.

The first big one happened last month when our secretary and friend, Sunny, did not have her contract renewed by the school. It's sad that she's not here, but the good news is that our new secretary, Olivia, is really cool. She is an English major, as well, so that could be helpful to any of our teachers who don't speak much Korean.

With the new semester, our after-school classes are all leveling up. My first graders are moving onto level 2 of our Backback book series. I can tell you that they're not all ready for the jump, but certainly enough if them are so that they can help the others along.

I did our new level tests on Monday, and was initially worried that my first grade class would top the 20-student level. I knew that three of mine were taking this semester off, but I interviewed eight students, meaning there was a strong chance that I'd hit that magical, terrible number.

What I didn't know, is that five students are taking this semester off, and I only got three more. So that puts me at 18 students. That's one less than last time. And even better is that one of my "trouble makers" didn't come back. He was a nice boy, but he talked too much and he stood up and walked around the room so often that I was frequently stopping class to reprimand him. He's not bad, but he's a first-grade boy. There's only so much I could do.

My fourth, fifth and sixth graders are my favorite class. It's the most advanced class we offer, so I get to teach a lot of writing and grammar. It's something I really enjoy. That class added one new student, but shrank to ten total. I had fifteen last time. The students who dropped out were some of the lower-level fourth graders and one of my sixth graders. Unfortunately, one kid who I wish had dropped it is still there.

He was going by the name of Spongebob, but now changed his name to Elmander, a soccer player. He already told us he doesn't want to be in class, but his mother wants him there, so she signs him up. Unfortunately, now that he's signed up, she seems to not take any responsibility for him getting here. Last semester, he came 10-15 minutes late every day. It got to a point where I told him if he was late, don't bother coming.

I don't know how it is in America now, but in Korea, if a kid shows up late, the class loses it and teeters on the edge of chaos. No matter how well they're studying before the kid arrives, everyone has to say something when he comes in. It's a nightmare.

So we talked to him and talked to his mom. I already knew the problem. He is outside playing soccer every day, so he delays his arrival to the classroom. He came on time Wednesday for the first time ever. But I don't expect this to last. Parents here need to understand that a kid not wanting to attend class is just harming all the other students. It's selfish of the parents. Let the kid join a sports academy. That's what he wants to do.

We do have some great news now that December is here. Geoff and I are about a month away from moving out of our crummy current apartments into these sweet, lost-style apartments in a building that's a block away from us.

I've documented my troubles. I actually don't mind my apartment, but none of the appliances work. The air conditioner doesn't work. The heater doesn't work. The washing machine has been repaired twice. And the building frequently shuts off the hot water. It's an office building, essentially, and we're just converting it into living quarters. Therefore, they don't cater to the residents.

Ridia has been doing more wonderful work for us, and got us into the new places. I'm moving Jan. 1. My only responsibility is getting my stuff there. I will hire a moving company for the job. What would take me a group of friends and most of a day will take them a few hours. I don't know the price yet, but it'll be worth it for sure. I'm so excited to move into an actual apartment. Just having the loft in which to keep my bed will pretty much double the amount of space I have. It's going to be so nice.

The other big news of late is that I decided to join a gym. I've felt like a lazy slob recently because I haven't been salsa dancing anymore. It just got to be too expensive, and the late class times meant I wasn't getting to bed until close to 1 a.m. three nights a week. It also ate into my weekends a lot. Jeong Mi and I still attend the Saturday open dance sometimes (though it's not been switched to Fridays), but we don't take class.

So I joined a gym that is about two blocks from my house and sits between my home and the school. Adding to it is that the gym is also a sauna. So after working out, I can relax in the steam room or jump in the hot tub. It's a pretty nice extra feature. And it's also important to work out in Korea. With all the drinking, it's not difficult to start growing a little belly. Thank goodness I will continue to avoid that. Bryan and Geoff also joined the gym, so that's good, too.

Other than that, things are pretty routine here. Nothing lately has happened as far as the crazies up North are concerned. Geoff and I had no classes today, so we did a ton of prep work, and we're also discussing winter camp, which is fast approaching.

We have the last week in December off for vacation, but neither of us have plans yet.

That's what's happening here now. Hopefully everyone else is doing well! So it goes.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Best Thanksgiving In Korea Yet

When big American holidays come and go here in the ROK, it's pretty typical to get a lot of E-mails from family and pictures of the wonderful meetings and feasts of which they are a part.

Of course, there are always events for foreigners here. For examples, while I was on a trip with Vicky and her parents last year, all my friends went to a really nice dinner at a hotel in Seoul. It looked like a nice time. Certainly, when you can't be with family, it's nice to have friends in their place.

I haven't yet taken part in any special things with friends. I've been fortunate enough to spend my time with Korean families. It gives me a chance to see what they do, and also I like being with a family during holidays.

But this Thanksgiving, I changed it up a bit thanks to some very good friends. If you are a regular reader of the blog, or live somewhere near Inha University, you're familiar with Go Bar. It opened a few months after I first arrived in Korea in 2008, and I went there on a very regular basis when I lived in Okryeondong.

But since I've moved to Yeonsudong, I haven't been there as frequently. I went last year for a super-fun New Year's Eve, and have been there maybe once or twice since.

But Mike, the owner, wanted to something nice for Thanksgiving this year. So Bryan, Alex, Geoff, Scott (Bryan's new co-worker) and I all decided to join in. We brought girlfriends, of course, and various people provided various food items. It all added up to a really nice time with friends and a nearly authentic American Thanksgiving meal. We replaced the turkey with chicken, but it was still really good. Check it out.

As you can see, that's a pretty good-looking meal.

Along with the food and friends, we also had our fair share of drinks and darts. It was a really nice Thanksgiving and the first time I really celebrated an American holiday over here.

Christmas is up next, and we have no plans as of now. But it would be nice to do something like this again. Thanks to everyone who was involved!!!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Update On The Yeonpyeongdo Attack

Apparently, the North attacked the South's island of Yeonpyeong because the South was holding some military exercises there. That would be like the U.S. attacking Canada because they wanted to do basic training with their Army.

Here's an updated AP story with more details.

I had a discussion with Bryan about how the news feeds into the fear, but some of these quotes from President Lee Myung Bak are pretty severe this time around.

He said:
'"Enormous retaliation should be made to the extent that (North Korea) cannot make provocations again," he said.'

That's pretty intense. To make sure the North can't attack or provoke again would basically need a full-on war ... again.

The island is about 80 km (50 miles) from Incheon. It's not as close as I thought. But that's still pretty close for an almost-full-on attack.

Monday, November 22, 2010

More Shots From The North

North Korea is once again pushing the South's buttons by firing on Yeonpyeongdo, a small island off the western coast of South Korea.

Here's the AP news story.

Here's the Aljazeera news story.

Here's the CNN report.

Both stories include some pictures.

Apparently, there have been at least four casualties, as well as a number of houses being destroyed. It prompted a quick response from South Korean marines.

I'm usually pretty quick to write any crazy North Korean news off, but the past few months have seen the most shooting between the two countries in a very long, especially being condensed in such a short period.

First, the Cheonan ship sank in March. I was pretty skeptical about the North's involvement, but now I'm pretty much convinced they did it. Actions speak pretty loudly, after all.

Because after the ship incident, troops from the North once again fired on the South in October, right before everyone arrived for the G20 summit.

And now, they're firing once again. Keep in mind that this time is not too far from those of us living in Incheon. I used to tell my family and friends not to worry, but now I'm actually a little nervous about all this activity. On top of that, we get to hear continual 'scare' stories about this nuclear reactor that's taking shape.

I know that news feeds the masses a healthy dose of fear. I've managed to think rationally about it before. But even I am concerned about why all these military exchanges have been taking place in the last 8 months.

Let's hope we hear something more solid on this soon.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Hambak's Halloween Celebration

I wrote about teaching Halloween lessons and celebrating here at Hambak, but I realize I didn't post any pictures.

We took Thursday and Friday at the end of October to teach Halloween culture lessons to the morning classes. Don't forget, Koreans don't celebrate Halloween. Certainly the idea is well-known here, but kids don't trick-or-treat, and unless a Korean is friends with westerners, they won't be donning a costume for super-fun times, either.

With our afternoon students on Friday, we all dressed up in costumes and handed out candy to celebrate. It was a busy and fun afternoon. So enjoy some pictures of our Halloween fun at Hambak.

Check out all the pics here!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Yeonsu District Office Song Performance

Twenty schools came out to sing at the performance on Nov. 3 at the Yeonsu District Office. We learned that out of all those teams, our group and one other sang English songs. Both of our songs were English, as we sang 'Sweet Caroline' and 'Summer Nights.' One other school 'did Sing, Sing, Sing.'

Ridia was a bit worried that we didn't have a ton of motions, but it made more sense since we had to learn English words, while the other schools only had to learn movements, essentially.

The students did very well with their singing. I think they had fun, but we're all relieved that it's over. We did a ton of practice and basically had no real down time or prep time for the last 6 weeks. It was fun and whatnot, but that really can drain a person.

It wasn't a competition, so there were no prizes awarded, but our students put on a really nice show. I think the crowd got into it, when they weren't being rude by talking and walking all over the place. The auditorium was packed far beyond its limit, and typical Korean manners took over. I spent the majority of my time reprimanding students for talking and running around during other schools' performances. Oh well. If I can even influence one student to be considerate of others, I'll feel that I accomplished something.

But enough of my complaining. Here are some more pics from the event. It was a good time, and it's nice to get it over with. Back to normal schedule!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Languages Shape You

There is a really great article on cracked.com about how your native language can shape the way you think, based on what words and concepts are available and how they are used.

The article is here. Please check it out.

One of their examples is about people who watched a video of a person breaking an egg. In English, especially, the viewers would say, "That man broke the egg," or something to that effect. But in other languages like Japanese or Spanish, people would simply say "the egg broke."

This is something Popper and I talk about all the time. For example, Koreans only have about 6 tenses, and only use three on a regular basis. Whereas in English, we have 12 tenses, and use at least 6 on a regular basis, depending on how pretentious you are.

Korean speaking and description is very much a situational language. Describing things in person, like where something is placed or how to get somewhere, is monumentally easier in person. If you're doing it over the phone, or even talking about past and future tenses, it's much more difficult to convey exactly what you're trying to describe.

English goes the opposite direction. In English, we tend to describe things in great detail in order to make sure we're as clear as possible. It doesn't matter where you're standing in relation to me, or if it's happening in the future. We an describe the details to a point where it is 100 percent clear to the listener.

An example Popper and I talk about is the Korean word '거꾸로.' That's how Koreans say backwards. But it's also how they describe something that's upside down. Popper even did a little experiment where he held had stood behind one student and had the student's friends describe how he was hold a pencil sharpener. They used the same word for upside down as they used for backwards.

If you're going into a business meeting and have 5 minutes to prepare, what do you do if your secretary tells you all your slides are '거꾸로?' Do you simply flip them around or do you actually turn them right side up? You only have 5 minutes and you have 200 slides. I hope you make the right decision.

Anyway, next time you're thinking about how easy it is to describe some things and think of some concepts in English, keep in mind that it's very difficult in some language, and even non-existent in others.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Halloween in Hongdae 3: The Revenge

For the third year in a row, we dressed in our costumes and headed to Hongdae in Seoul to celebrate Halloween. And just like any sequel, it provided some new twists and turns, new characters and some of the same old stuff that you never liked in the first place.

This was the first time Jeong Mi officially celebrated Halloween. She bought cat ears, but made her own tail and put together a really cool cat costume. I continued my practice of going as my favorite androgynous and/or gay singers by dressing as David Bowie.

I bought a terrible wig and did my best to cut it, but that was mostly a disaster. Haha. But Jeong Mi did the lightning bolt paint job on my face and it was stunningly awesome.

We left Yeonsu-dong for Hongdae around 8 p.m. and got there close to 9:30 p.m. The bus ride on a Saturday night to Seoul is kind of a traffic nightmare.

We met Barry and a bunch of our other friends at GoGo's in what is now Euro Tinpan Alley, or some terrible location name. It was Barry's birthday as well, so we celebrated with Geoff, Bryan, Colin, Popper and a ton of other friends. I even got to see my buddy and former college roommate, Kevin.

It was cool, as always, to celebrate Halloween and see all the costumes. But, as usual, it was just way too many people. We had a cool back room to ourselves, but ourselves was about 30 people more than could fit in the room.

We took off fairly early with Popper and Jong, and headed to smaller restaurant/hof that wasn't packed with westerners celebrating..

While hanging with my friends was fun, there were just too many people. But going to the smaller place was really great. We even had a good time with the staff, and they offered us a bottle of beer for service.

That may or may not be the last time I celebrate Halloween in Hongdae. It's just too many people. I'd rather be with a smaller group of close friends than with 100 acquaintances. That's just more my style. But if it is the last time, it was super fun and I'm glad that I went.

Check out the pics here!!!

North-South Gunplay

Some North Korean troops fired at South Korean troops across the DMZ on Oct. 29. It happened about 56 miles northeast of Seoul.

What does it all mean? Probably nothing. I rarely post news stories anymore because most of them are boring. Even the interesting cultural stories don't really pique my interest very much anymore. I'm sure that people in America see more about the North-South conflict than I do. You guys could probably be filling me in on details.

Anyway, here's the link to the BBC page.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Pumpkin Carving In Korea

Of all the holidays, Halloween is my favorite. It holds an even more special place in my heart because I arrived here just a couple months before it in 2008, and even make a trip into Hongdae in Seoul to celebrate.

So this will be my third year of heading into Hongdae to have Halloween fun. I'm not a huge fan of going to Seoul ... at all. But to celebrate Halloween the right way, you have to be where the westerners are. That's just science.

So to prepare for my third Halloween in Korea -- and Jeong Mi's first official Halloween -- she and I carved pumpkins last weekend.

It was a lot of fun. She had never carved pumpkins before, and I haven't done it in two years, so it was awesome.

We found a big orange one and a small green one at Lotte Mart. The big one was about 12,000 won ($10.62 right now). That's not a bad price. The little one was only about 4,000 won, so that's a good deal.

The pumpkins here are a bit different than what we carved at home. I'd just refer to these as big gourds, really. But a pumpkin is a gourd, and there did the trick.

We spent about an hour doing the whole thing. We checked out some pics of other cool jack-o-lanterns, then got to work on ours. Afterwards, I cleaned off the seeds and baked them for a nice little treat.

Jeong Mi definitely has a good time with the pumpkins. Of course, I did too. The only problem is we have no porch to set them on or window where we can point them out towards the world. And with Halloween this weekend, my apartment is starting to get that unmistakable squishy pumpkin smell. Haha.

But we took a ton of pics, and we made some nice memories for sure. As long as I'm in Korea, I'm sure this will become a tradition for us.

Check out all the pics here!!!

Principal's Daughter's Wedding

The English Center crew, along with most of the teachers, headed to nearby Juan on Saturday to attend the principal's daughter's wedding.

We gave our cash envelope with $100 from the Center, and Ridia and Sunny immediately headed to the buffet. I learned something new again. Ridia said that if you're not that close to the person, it's common to just give the cash and go eat and drink and whatnot.

Our newest teacher Dorian, her husband Andrew and Geoff have never seen a Korean wedding, so we took in 20 minutes of it.

The odd thing about it is that it was at the exact same wedding hall as the only other wedding I've been to in Korea. I went to that wedding two years ago. And it's the EXACT SAME PLACE.

I understand that this might be a popular hall, but of the thousands of halls in Korea, what are the odds? Well, I guess they're pretty good.

Anyway, the food was as good as before, and they even added grilled meat on their deck. It was a step up from what was already a good meal.

The wedding was at 5 p.m. and we stayed until they kicked us out around 7 p.m. That was plenty of time for us to get our money's worth and drink a few drinks.

After that, we headed back to Yeonsu-dong and met up with the crew. Everyone was able to make it out that night. A group of us even went to a noraebang, which I love. Unfortunately, their enthusiasm for going didn't match their desire to sing. I took off after 12 minutes even though I paid for it, haha. I need to just hit those personal booths for a few times when I want a noraebang. If Jeong Mi isn't there, it just isn't as much fun.

Check out some pics from the wedding here.

Unsure Times Continue

They already started interviewing new secretaries for our English Center. That was a good sign. It sucks that Sunny has to leave, but it was comforting knowing we weren't going to be flapping in the wind while they dragged their feet.

But when it rains it pours. The principal told Ridia that the November Market Day would be our last one. He thinks it's a waste of money. But he's retiring in February. What stops us from bringing it back. Let's hope this new person is cool, whenever he or she arrives.

Ridia also said that, in general, she thinks the principal isn't happy with the English Center. I don't understand that at all. What we're finding out is the principal's outward attitude and inward emotions can differ wildly. That means that even though he's smiling on the outside, he could be stewing deep down.

That puts us all in a precarious position. I don't want Sunny to leave. That's obvious. But Ridia is the absolute key to how successful we've been. If she's not there, I'm afraid of what might happen to the atmosphere at the center. Keep your fingers crossed, please, because we might be facing some rocky roads ahead.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Sad News From Hambak

Keeping with standards and traditions, South Korea once again set out to rain in everybody's parade. It's kind of like ... well ... that one guy we know who always rains on everybody's parade.

Anyway, I posted a note recently about how great things are going here. My new contract, my fat bonus and my time with Jeong Mi are just the tip of the really-good-stuff iceberg.

But South Korea sucked me in with its ups, and is now laughing at my face during the downs.

We found out yesterday that our English Center secretary, Sunny, will not be re-hired. They told her this yesterday, as well. Her contract ends on Saturday. Thats right. They told her and us that her contract would not be renewed with only 4 days to spare.

This is bad for many reasons:

1. Sunny is awesome. She is super fun, and we could always count on having someone cool around when we do work-related activities.

2. She's a good employee. They give her way too much work to do, including stuff that she shouldn't be doing (sending out invitations for the principal's daughter's wedding) and she did it without raising a stink.

3. We are short a person in the English Center. That means Sunny's responsibilities will fall to Ridia until they hire someone new. Knowing the system, that means we could be short one person for while. And realistically, we could have used another person as it was.

There was no reason given for her not being re-hired. There are a few ideas floating around. One is that because the principal is retiring in February, the administrators thought the new person would want someone fresh. A second is that this is the end of Sunny's second year. That means that after this renewal, she would leave yearly contract status and become an official employee. The thought is that the administrators want someone who they can get rid of in the short term if need be.

Regardless of any hairbrained theories, this is bad all around for us. We like working with Sunny and don't want to see her go. Even if the new person they hire is just as good, no one can compare to Sunny for her personality and the hard work she put in here.

We'll miss you, Sunny. Sorry that even at a good school, people can become victims of a bad cultural system.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Seongnam In Champions League Final

K-League's Seongnam Ilwha reached the final of the Asian Champions League by getting 1-0 win over a Saudi Arabian team. After two legs, the aggregate was 4-4, but Seongnam won thanks to their three away goals in the first leg.

They'll either play a Saudi Arabian team or n Iranian team in the final. Let's face it, those countries are lame.

Check out the recap here.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Life Has Been Good

I love writing negative things about South Korea. Okay, that's a bit of a stretch, but in my first year here, I regularly vented my frustrations and came off like a whiny baby who needed a diaper change.

But thanks to my current school and co-teacher -- Hambak Elementary School and Ridia, respectively -- this year has been pretty much wonderful. So here's a recap on recent events taking place. This is basically everything that's been going on since we headed to Jeju Island. It's been busy, but fun.

The first thing to get out there is that I've signed on again with my current school. This is a great place to work. The teachers and administrators are all very friendly, and Ridia has put together a great program which has skyrocketed in popularity. It's a very low-stress environment, and the head of our English dept. and I even had a little talk and worked out our differences. It feels great.

My eye seems to be all healed up. I went through a pretty terrible time with the eye cut and subsequent use of glasses for the next 6 weeks. That was no fun. But everything feels okay now and I'm back to wearing contacts. Of course, that's right in time for my winter allergies to start kicking in. So now I'm concerned of hurting my eye(s) again. Let's just hope that's not the case.

All is going very well with Jeong Mi and me. We both are still on our 'time off' from Bamboo Dance Academy, but that only applies to classes. We've become regulars at the Saturday open dance now that we don't go to classes during the week. I want to learn some new moves, but I'm really starting to enjoy open dance now that I don't practice all week.

Halloween is right around the corner. This will be my third Halloween here. Even though I basically avoid partying in Seoul at all costs, one tradition will hold true. We will, once again, go to Hongdae to celebrate Halloween. This will be Jeong Mi's first official Halloween. We're both really excited. All our friends are, too. Only going to Hongdae once a year actually makes it fun.

Back to Hambak, I started going to the cafeteria again for lunch. I took about 8 months off and that was pretty awesome. But I was forced to withstand a barrage of questions from a lot of teachers about why they never saw me at lunch. I figured that since I'm getting a raise this year, I can handle the cafeteria food. The good news is that the school switched to a new food company this semester. I've only gone one day where I only ate rice and salad, because the food has been pretty decent so far.

Our students have been practicing for a singing competition in November for about 6 weeks now. We're singing 'Sweet Caroline' and 'Summer Nights.' Of course, the kids are getting pretty sick of the songs, haha. But they're doing a good job with it. The competition is right around the corner, and I'm excited for the students.

We don't really have a break here for awhile. Thanks to Christmas falling on a weekend this year, we'll get no days off for that. I don't think we get any time off until the lunar new year celebration in February. That's a long time with no extra days for rest. But we don't have a ton of planning to do right now, so it's not too bad. We have some extra stuff to do for government inspectors, but we can handle it. Ridia is really busy as usual, but we're doing our best to help her out as much as we can.

That's all there is for now. As always, people are leaving and new people are coming in. Some of that is good and some is bad. But that's life.

And right now, life is good. Let's hope this feeling continues.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Nobody Parties Like The North Koreans Party

Everybody celebrate!

North Korea is celebrating the 65th anniversary of their ruling Workers' Party of Korea in style. There's singing and dancing and even an appearance by Kim Jong Un, Kim Jong-il's son and eventual successor to the throne.

As my life over here becomes more routine, I can find a little comfort in the fact that posting North Korea news is still interesting. And if it's not interesting to anyone else, it is at least to me.

Knowing I live in a country where the people go about their every day lives under the shadow of one of the most bitter and itchy-trigger-fingered regimes in the world still fascinates me. It's incredible that the people of South Korea are at a point where they barely discuss the guy anymore.

Of course, the North gets play on the news here, but you won't find people discussing it or worrying about it in bars, unless of course their western friends bring it up. I've been dating my girlfriend for 8 months now, and we've only had lengthy discussions about the North a few times.

How many years do people have to live under an ongoing threat before it becomes mundane to them? Anyway, check out the video and pics in the article above. The people seem pretty happy, right? For all we know, maybe they are. We can argue all we want about them being treated poorly, but if you didn't know what a cell phone was, would you be mad that you didn't have one?

Sunday, October 3, 2010

South Koreans Are Good At Indoorsy Things

South Koreans whipped the rest of the world once again at the World Cyber Games, held over the weekend in Los Angeles. Not far behind the Koreans -- who won four gold medals -- were the world's other favorite indoor kids: The USA won three gold medals at the games.

Check out the story here.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

South Korean Girls Win World Cup

The South Korean U-17 Womens soccer team has won its first international tournament. The girls from the ROK beat Japan in the final 3-3 (5-4 PKs). Check out the story here.

If anyone cared about girls in South Korea, I'd probably have to be defending the USA over this one. Good thing they're still second-class citizens here. (Joking ... sort of.)

Kim Jong-il's Son Gains Notoriety and Rank

Kim Jong Un, the son of North Korea leader Kim Jong-il, received his expected promotion this week as he was named a 4-star general in the North Korean military as well as a member of the Central Committee of the party.

While that news was expected for about a month, it's news about the life of this rising communist star that people seem to know little about.

Here are the details that are coming out:
- He's 27 or 28 years old.
- He studied at an elite school in Bern, Switzerland.
- He's the youngest of three brothers.
- He has characteristics of his father.

Other than that, very little is known. There are apparently only two or three pics of this guy even circulating the news agencies.

Here are details on his Central Committee promotion and his military general promotion.

One of the big questions is how the handover of power will affect the North. It seems to me that it won't be a significant change as far as that goes. A bigger question is how long will daddy hold on with his son in an intern-type role. And then, the hope of most of the world is that regardless of how the government continues, will this guy have the balls to step out of the cult of personality of his father and grandfather and do something to actually help the people of his country.

I would think studying abroad would be a major step toward taking over and laying down his own new rules. He must be well-aware of the joke that his country has become. Of course, his father is aware, too, but has spent the majority of his life inside the walls of the fortress. Being raised in the outside world has to change one's perspective on life.

For a refresher course on the North and how it got to its present state, check out this story from CNN.com.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Chuseok and Jeju Island - Yeah, I Went There

It's been an exciting couple of weeks for Jeong Mi and myself. We both have had a lot of new experiences and it's been a ton of fun spending so much time together.

Back at the end of August was, of course, our trip to the USA for my sister's wedding.

Adding another chapter to our travel log, we headed to Jeju Island last week to spend our Chuseok vacation. Chuseok, as understanding Koreans will tell you, is akin to the American Thanksgiving. If the Korean is a jerk, however, they'll tell you your phone dictionary and less uptight Korean buddies are wrong.

Chuseok is a day of thanks, for sure. It's not about turkey and stuffing, unfortunately, but it is about giving thanks for family. The timing of Chuseok is a harvest-timing type of thing from the past when Korea was mostly farms. So, 1997. But really, it was a time for the family to come together to get the fall's harvest.

It has transformed itself now into a time for family to get together and give thanks for the family members who came before them. It's one of the two biggest holidays here in South Korea.

I was fortunate enough to be invited by Jeong Mi to join her family on the morning of Chuseok and check out the traditions. I arrived at 8 a.m. and her dad's brother's family was already there. Everyone was preparing the traditional food and dishes, and had the screen with all the symbols of longevity on it.

After it was all prepared, Jeong Mi's dad and brother took a few turns bowing, wow her uncle's family just bowed their heads and prayed. I just took pictures and took it all in. I've been a part of thanksgiving ceremonies in Korea before, as I have been to a few bamboo dance academy openings. But this was my first Chuseok that I got to experience.

I'm very thankful for Jeong Mi and her family, and I think it was appropriate for me to share that day with them.

Jeong Mi's mother's family came later in the morning, so I got to spend some time with them as well. I think I'm making a good impression. After all, they keep inviting back.

After the meal, Jeong Mi's brother took us to Gimpo Airport, where we met with Popper and Jeong before their flight. We boarded an hour or so later and made our way to the southern sea below South Korea.

Jeong and Popper rented a car, and went to check in when they arrived on the island. When we came an hour later, we had to wait a bit for them to come back to pick us up. The island is about 25 kilometers from the side the airport is on to the side our hotel and pension were on.

We got back to our pension and checked in, and we immediately started having fun. Jeong Mi and I checked two suitcases full of meat, side dishes and alcohol. Also, her dad generously gave us a bottle of whiskey. We paid the owners of the pension 20,000 won and he heated up the grill for us. We hung on the porch, basically overlooking the ocean, took in the cool breeze and grilled up some meat.

The yard of the pension was beautiful. Typical grass in Korea is scratchy and hard. This grass was soft and beautiful like a plush carpet. Just awesome.

We hit the road Thursday morning to take in all our adventures. We went horseback riding first thing on Thursday morning. It was a lot of fun. Jeong Mi and I had really nice horses and the trainer walked far ahead to allow them to gallop and catch up. That was nice. They even got to break into a lite run around the final stretch of the track.

After that, we headed to Seongsanilchulbong. It's a now-dormant volcano. The four of us hiked up the side of it and took and ton of really great pictures. The inside of what used to be the volcano was beautiful. It was a bowel covered in trees and grass. It was also high up and allowed for awesome views of the ocean.

Next, we were headed to a hot-air balloon ride, which, unfortunately, we never got to because of "windy" weather. What we found along the way was a go-kart track. While I thought it was a little pricey, the lady ended up giving us a discount and we got a couple of two-person karts.

Good for me and Jeong Mi is that our kart was really fast. Unfortunately, every time we came around the track, the employees told us to slow down. Yeah, that makes sense. I mean, it's only a go-kart track. Why would we want to go fast?

After that, we headed to the trick art museum. It was really fun. There were bunch of pictures that were painted in a way that allowed you to interact with them. It gave great opportunity for some really awesome photos. We took a ton in there and it was really fun.

After that, we got some of the famous Jeju black pork. Now, we unfortunately went to a restaurant with terrible service. But if you ever go to Jeju and everyone is telling you you have to try this meat. I can tell you that it's not worth the trip. It's between 12,000 and 15,000 won per portion and tastes NO different from what we always eat around here. Want to know what it tastes like? Have you eaten galbi or samgyeopsal in Incheon? Well, you know already.

Next, we went to a small waterfall to get a few pics. It was dark at that point, but the waterfall was lit up and it was really peaceful.

The next day, we headed to a small park where you can get a really good view of the lava rocks formed from whenever the volcano blasted. We didn't stay there too long, because we had to get to The World Automobile Museum.

The car selection there was pretty spectacular. Popper and I were discussing how it seemed likely that the cars probably all belonged to one super-rich collector and he wanted to share them with the world. There were a lot of fancy cars like a classic Cadillac, a Benz, a Rolls-Royce and a Bentley, among others.

There was also row of crappy Korean cars from the early 90s. They don't even come close to the sweet styles Kia and Hyundai are making now.

Next up for us was the sex museum. Now, I know what you're thinking. "Sex museum? Awesome!" Yeah, me too. But it's not so awesome. There were some entertaining things in there for sure. But it was moslty a lot of info and stuff about world cultures. It was like being in a building with a bunch of pamphlets from health class.

At least there was the sex toy room. That was hilarious.

Then came the moment I was really looking forward to: The giant hamburger. Of course, I shouldn't have built it up in my head. It didn't quite live up the expectations. It was big and it did taste good. But I forgot that I was in Korea with all the nature and fresh air down there. The hamburger wasn't beef. It was pork. It was still tasty and I'm happy I ate it.

When the burger time finished, it was over to mystery road, where we had to avoid the bugaboo!!!! Mystery road is a place where your car is going downhill, but the scenery makes it appear that you're going uphill. The girls didn't explain it to us at first, so we were confused when his girlfriend stopped her car and stuck it in neutral in the middle of the road.

After the first time, we realized what was going on. So we did it a second time, and screamed like our car was flying off a cliff. It was hilarious. We then had a little snack at one of the roadside restaurants and chatted with the ladies there. They were really nice and we had a ton of fun.

We then headed up the top of the peak. It was too dark to see anything at that point, but the ride down was awesome. We saw a ton of deer running along and across the road on the way down. It was like being back in Western Pennsylvania.

After checking the deer, Popper and his girl dropped us off at the airport, and we caught our flight home. I crashed at Jeong Mi's parent's place that night, and rode the train with her to work on Saturday. I went home and crashed for a few hours and then got back into normal life.

Overall, Jeju was an awesome trip. We got a really great deal on our flight and the pension we stayed in was really cool and comfortable. Everyone down there was really nice, as well. The four of us got to see a lot, but there's still more to do, if we ever want to go back.

If you get the chance, take a trip down there, even for a weekend. You'll be happy you did.

Until then, check out my pictures. I'll be updating them as more come in. We have three cameras worth of photos to sort through.

Enjoy all my pics here!!!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Things Happening Up North

North Korea's officials and ruling party are holding a massive meeting on Sept. 28 to possibly appoint new leaders within the world's only hereditary, communist government.

On BBC World News today, they reported that the last meeting of this magnitude was in 1980, when current leader Kim Jong-il was given his senior position.

This is a photo of the man who is thought to be Kim Jong Un, Kim Jong-il's youngest son.

With Kim's health in question, the thoughts are that the party is ready to elect one of Kim's sons, Kim Jong Un, to the top post. Not much is known about KJI's youngest son, but he is thought to be in his mid- to late twenties. KJI has other sons, but BBC reported that one of the older sons will not be promoted because KJI thinks he is too feminine. Classic North Korea.

There are major questions around the meeting, such as if a transfer of power will take place, and how it will affect the party and its power. My questions is that, even though the chances are slim, what if this guy isn't like his father at all, and is tired of his country being the joke of the world. Could even bigger changes be coming???

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Starcraft Is Dumb

I mean, seriously. The game is like 100 years old, but Koreans still play it like it came out yesterday. Popper and I were talking about whether they would start playing Starcraft 2, and he had a good point. They will start playing when it's also 10 years old and no one plays anymore. That way, they can feel like the best.

Anyway, check out this article talking about how ridiculous the Starcraft culture is in Korea.

Monday, September 13, 2010

StarCraft is Practically Korea's National Sport ...

And America mocks you for it.

Check out this great video by Cody at cracked.com. He's doing a tutorial on a StarCraft-type game and getting destroyed by his Korean competiton. Good stuff.

Another Reunion Planned

North Korea's Red Cross is proposing another meeting of separated families between North and South Koreans.

These stories are incredibly heartwarming. Yes, it's terrible that there are people stuck across the border in the first place, but to see a family member you haven't seen since the 1950s and aren't even sure if they're alive has got to be one of the most wonderful feelings in the world.

Some really nice video always surfaces after these events happen, so I'll post that as soon as it comes out.

Here's one of the meetings from last year:

'Yoon Ki-Dal, 88, of South Korea thought such a moment would never come. After leaving his son and daughters when they were babies during the Korean War, he was able to hold the hands of his North Korean children last September. 
"Father, we thought you were dead," his daughter, who was in her 60s, told him, her face trembling.'
Again, it's just brutal that two bigger governments (The USA and USSR) could have agreed to separate an entire country and separate millions of people.

But at least there is enough cooperation for a few hundred families to meet every year. If that doesn't inspire hope, I don't know what could.

South Korean Clubs Dominate

South Korea's K-League had placed all four of its' entered clubs into the quarterfinals of the Asian Champions League. It's the first country in the history of the competition to do so.

Suwon Bluewings and Seongnam Ilwha will play each other in the quarterfinals, thereby eliminating one of South Korea's teams' chances. Jeonbuk Motors and Pohang Steelers are Korea's other two teams in the quarterfinals.

This could be a big year for the Korean clubs, who are looking to bring a 9th AFC title to the peninsula.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Melissa's Wedding and The Whole Trip

Well, I've taken plenty of time to recuperate and I've also been pounded with a heavy work schedule since one of our teachers is on vacation. But it's time to document my time back in America.

Overall, it was really great to go home and hang out. It was a super-short time, and we really had to rush around, but seeing my family and friends, giving Jeong Mi the tour, meeting her sister and having a little break were all very nice. The one major problem was the traveling itself, which is still haunting me as I type.

I'll break this up into three parts. So let's start with the first leg of our trip.

Heading back to America

The trip started off a bit ominously, but I knew it would be stressful, so I just tried to go with it. Jeong Mi's dad was going to pick me up at 1:30 p.m. on that Wednesday and we'd go to the airport, say goodbye and be on our way.

Well, as is the case in Korea, a plan is never actually set. Jeong Mi called me at 11 a.m. that day asking me to meet them at her house, instead of him coming to get me. Well, that would've been nice to know the night before, but I got all my stuff together, took a cab to the subway, and lugged my gear to her place.

I had a tiny breakfast with her family and we all hopped in the car and got on our way.

We got to the airport in plenty of time, checked in smoothly and headed to our plane. All was going well. I was even feeling saucy enough to upgrade our seats to get some extra leg room. Yep. All looked good.

We even got to use the Asiana lounge, which had a salad bar and drinks -- including beer. Totally worth the upgrade price.

Well, we got on the plane to find our first disappointment: The plane had no individual screens on the backs of seats. Now, we were close enough to the big screen at the front, but when you get used to having a personal screen and a ton of options, it sucks to suddenly not have one on a 10-hour flight.

Another problem on our United airplane was that even though we were on a trip leaving South Korea, there was only one Korean-speaking flight attendant. Only one! This was a plane with 200 Koreans and there was one Korean speaker. The attendant we had working our row subscribed to the theory of speaking louder if someone doesn't understand English. So when she came around and asked Jeong Mi how she wanted her coffee, and Jeong Mi didn't respond, she just practically yelled it. It came off as very rude.

After being in a country that caters to English-speakers, it was a little reverse culture shock to see how little an American company (flying out of South Korea) cared about speaking Korean.

Well, to add onto our already subpar experience, our flight arrived late in San Francisco. Then, we went through immigration. She had to wait a longer time in her line, because American immigration employees insist on interviewing people who don't speak any English. So I waited in order to translate for Jeong Mi, and had four different people try to make me leave the area.

The final person told me to leave and I got a bit testy and said, "I'm going to do you a favor and translate." The guy said, "Does she speak some kind of strange language we wouldn't know?" I said, "I don't know, buddy. Do you speak Korean?" And what a surprise, after that, they stopped bugging me.

Even after spending 20 minutes at the immigration area, we still had to wait for almost 25 minutes for our luggage to finally roll around. At that point, we had missed our next flight. We were supposed to fly to Denver next, and then to Pittsburgh. We got re-booked on a direct flight to Pittsburgh that would get us in one hour later than before. How stupid is that? Why didn't they just book us on that flight in the first place?

Either way, we got on that plane (with excellent flight attendants) and got to Pittsburgh, where mom and dad picked us up, and took us through Sheetz for a snack. It was awesome.

Franklin, Pittsburgh and Erie

We got up the next day, and I took her through our quaint little downtown area, where we got some coffee and checked out some of the shops and the park. It was really nice, and she loved our town. A 6,000-person American town is obviously different from EVERYWHERE in South Korea.

After that, we headed down to Pittsburgh so I could show her where I spent the last 6 years of my life before coming to Korea.

We checked out Piper's Pub in the South Side for lunch, rode the incline and then headed to Lawrenceville where we hit the Blue Moon and Belvedere's for 80s Night. It was awesome. The bartenders and DJs remembered. It was strange to see how little had changed. It's like time stood still while I was gone.

She and I both loved every minute of it.

The best part was seeing Joe, Amanda, Matt and Joe's wife. It was so great to see my best friends again. We went right back to our old routine, and it just felt so good.

The next day, we woke up, grabbed our stuff, and headed up to Erie, where the wedding was taking place. We stayed at the Sheraton Bayfront Hotel. It was in a really nice location on the lake.

After we arrived, we headed to the church for the rehearsal/rehearsal dinner. The food was great, and Jeong Mi started meeting everyone. She was pretty tired, so she took a bit of a nap, but we had a nice dinner.

After that, it was back to the hotel where we got in the hot tub for a bit before winding down. Her sister, Limmy, came at about 3 a.m., so she went to meet with her for a bit.

We were both awake by about 7 a.m., so we went for breakfast with dad. We also headed over to the beach to check it out. She was pretty impressed by a lake that was so big it actually has waves.

Then, she went to hang with her sister while I was headed to the church at the terribly early hour of 10 a.m. for pictures. Our groomsmen pics took about 15 minutes, followed by roughly 3 hours of just standing around bored out of our minds. Totally unnecessary.

The wedding went by just fine, everyone was happy and whatnot. And then, it was onto the good part of the night.

Jeong Mi had already started meeting everyone, but it was at the reception where she really had to be on her toes. Of course, right after dinner, the travel had caught up with her again, and she had to take a little nap. She missed the Chicken Dance, but was back soon for more dancing and fun.

We even did a salsa dance in front of everyone. She was a bit nervous and wasn't wearing great dancing shoes. We also didn't have a salsa song. But it was a Latin tune, and we pulled out some moves and had a lot off fun. Everyone really enjoyed it.

Then, my night got even better as Lynn and I sand 'Dream Lover' on karaoke. It was my special day and everyone knew it. Haha.

We wrapped up the night by hanging out in Paul and Pauline's room with some of mom's side of the family, and then hanging in Limmy's room for a bit. It was a really nice way to close down the night.

Sunday in Erie and Franklin

I woke up the next day with a pretty big problem. My eye was swollen shut and I was in serious pain. I always have some issues with sensitive eyes because of the airplane and hotel air. It's really dry, and it makes wearing contacts a bit tough sometimes.

Well, we had dinner with the family in the morning to say goodbye to everyone, then headed to a clinic, where I got the wonderful news that I cut my eye. Most likely, it was when I was taking my contacts out. My eye was probably really sensitive at the time, and I probably didn't go easy enough.

Well, we headed over to the beach for one last quick visit, then back to Franklin.

At home, we did a Bruckart family tradition and had a campfire in the backyard complete with hot dogs, beans, mac 'n cheese and , yes, DILL pickles. It was all so good and it was nice to show Jeong Mi how nice life was back home.

We were fast asleep soon after that, and up early to head to Pittsburgh for our return flights. And that's where the stress really happened.

Heading Back To Korea

Here's a little tip for any of you traveling to South Korea. Don't go through China. Our tickets took us to Beijing to transfer, and it was a nightmare. First, in Pittsburgh, they weren't confident about letting me get on the plane, because they were convinced I'd need a visa just to transfer in Beijing. After about 30 minutes of phone calls and searching, they found out that people staying less than 24 hours and not leaving the airport don't need a visa.

But I already knew the day would be nuts.

Our flight to to Newark went fine, and the transfer in Newark was a piece of cake. It was in Beijing where things were a mess.

First, we got sent to about 10 different places, some of them twice, just trying to get through to pick up our bags and check back in. While all the employees spoke English well, none of them knew the process we needed to go through. So it was back and forth between various lines and counters, getting information and misinformation along the way.

As our time was getting exceedingly close to missing our flight, we finally got through, only to find out that we had to ride the tram to a different building, get our bags, re-check in and then come back to the building we were currently in.

While, we were stressed and it was insane, but after running around everywhere, we made it to our plane as it was boarding.

And here's the sweetest part: We flew Asiana from Beijing to Incheon. So we were coddled the whole way back. And that is a great way to end a trip.

Back to Work and Normal Life

And that was pretty much that. I went back to work the next day and one more before hitting the weekend. And last week, Geoff left for a little time off because his contract is finished, and he's re-signing. He's taking  little trip at home. Unfortunately, that means we're getting pounded at work.

But fortunately, we only have one more week and a Monday before Chuseok, the Korean harvest and family holiday. So we'll get four work days off, and the following weekend. Jeong Mi and I are planning to hit Jejudo with Popper and his girlfriend. After that, I'll have hit pretty much every major thing in South Korea. So I'll be ready to start checking other countries.

It's going to be a busy week or so, but it's nice to get back to the familiar routine.

The only real problem is my eye is still bothering me. I've gone to the doctor a few times, and have at least one more trip next week. Also, I can't wear my contacts for a month, which is terrible. I'll have to wear my glasses in Jejudo. That's not cool. But oh well.

So, except for the glasses, it's back to normal. Enjoy all the pictures. I posted a few different sets in the previous blog posts. So check them out and see our time in America. Enjoy!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

More Wedding Pictures

Here are more wedding pictures, which obviously include my time at home.

Here are mom's pics.

Here are my aunt's pics.

As always, enjoy!

Monday, September 6, 2010

Wedding Pics and Tiny Update (Anger)

Here are the pics from my sister's wedding. Notice how happy I am during most of the images. I will not be that happy again for a long time.

While I was at home, I scratched my eye. I think it was because of the dry air in the airplane and the hotel, and not enough downtime in between the trip over and trip back. Because my eye was irritated, I must've scratched it when removing my contacts.

I'll give a description of the trip later, but as for now, I can't even open my left eye because it is throbbing with pain. The doctor told me that I can't wear my contacts for at least a month, and gave me a bunch of pills and drops. So the next month of my life is going to be pretty terrible.

Check out the wedding/travel pics here.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Back In A Flash

At 5 p.m. today I board a plane to head back to America for a week. My younger sister is getting married on Saturday, and I'm using my only vacation time this year to go to the wedding.

The one good thing about it is I'll get to see all my family in one place. On my last visit home, I had to do a ton of traveling around. This time, I'll stick to just Franklin, Pittsburgh and Erie.

Another good thing is that I'm taking Jeong Mi with me. This is a pretty big trip and I'm excited that she's coming along. I'll get to do a lot of translating since she doesn't know English, but I don't mind showing off. Her sister, who lives in San Francisco, is coming to the wedding as well. It's cool they'll get to see each other since they'll be a bit closer than 7,000 miles apart.

I'm so thankful my co-teachers at Hambak have a system worked out to allow us to take some stretches of vacation here and there.

I'll be quite busy at home, and might not have much time to get to a computer. I hope all goes well for everyone in Korea while I'm gone.

See you in a week!

Monday, August 23, 2010

Annoying Traits of Korean Students

All is going pretty well for me right now, and I have no major gripes. But since I'm taking a quick week-long break in America, I wanted to post something tongue-in-cheek so I can get it off my chest.

So I'm putting up a list of things Korean students do that I absolutely hate, and would go nuts over if I was fresh off the boat.

Keep in mind that these things can be chalked up to Korean culture and just the fact that these are kids. I'm basing these on my own teaching experiences, and comparing from my time as a student (although that is a long time ago) and as a camp counselor working with kids (only a few years ago).

10) Slamming doors
     You know you're having class if students are slamming doors. They could be coming in late, leaving or simply entering and exiting rooms with no agenda. You can be certain that that door will slam shut.

9) Being late
     Students are habitually late here. This is definitely because they're a product of Korean culture. I simply expect the afternoon students to be late, and 75 percent of them are. But when the actual school class is late, that blame falls to the teacher. What do you think the kids are absorbing from a teacher who doesn't respect the schedule? Just a vicious cycle.

8) Impatience
     This may be just because they're kids, but my kids at the summer camo never acted this way, so I'm throwing this in the culture bin as well. Anytime I give students a worksheet, kids are asking me what it is and what to do before I can even get the next one passed out. When I play a video, the projector takes about 10 seconds to adjust its brightness. During that time, I will hear 50 times about how the kids can't see. I know you can't see. You don't have to tell me.

7) Swearing
     I know kids swear. My friends swore when I was in elementary school. I'm not dumb. But my friends didn't swear in front of teachers. These kids continue to do it, even if they know I speak Korean. They do it even after I tell them not to. I have to threaten to kick kids out of class sometimes to get them to stop swearing.

6) Disobedience
     But I can't throw them out of class anyway, because they won't leave. When I was in school, if a teacher threw a kid out, the kid left. Maybe the pleaded, but they still left. Not here. I tell a kid to leave. He or she blatantly tells me no. I stop class and tell the kid to get out, they say no. Then they ask me why. But that doesn't matter. I can explain it clearly and they still won't leave. I've successfully thrown two kids out this year. Both times, I had to grab them and pull them out of the room. They fought the whole way. The problem is that there's no real punishment at this level of teaching.

5) Hitting
     That brings us to this topic. I hate hitting. I simply hate it. I'm not some softie, either. I wrestled and played hockey. I like contact sports and I liked hurting people and winning. But they hit all the time. Someone makes a joke. Someone else hits him. A girl drops a pencil onto someone else's table. Someone gets hit. They play a ton of stupid games where the punishment is hitting the loser. When the rest of the world sees pictures of Korea's congress in over-dramatic half-fights, know that it all stems from the fact that they're raised in a society where hitting is the norm. When I was a kid, a fight USUALLY didn't start until one kid outsmarted or out-witted the other. That was the offensive thing.

4) Touching
     Now, any of my friends will tell you that I don't like to be touched, but this goes to a brand new level. Besides hitting each other, kids aren't shy about touching the teachers as well. One of my friends had a girl try to do some spinny taekwondo kick to him after he punished her for something. Kids come up to me all the time and touch my arms because I have hair on them. Koreans never see hairy arms, because they have no testosterone in their society (my theory, not scientifically proven). Again, this is a society where dudes hold hands walking down the street.

3) "Suddenly!"
     Koreans have a universal word they use when they're surprised. The English translation is "suddenly," and it basically is used when someone is caught off guard or surprised or shocked. But you have to keep in mind that this is a country where 90 percent of the people are totally oblivious to their surroundings. So you can't get a kids attention without hearing this phrase. The part that's annoying is that when they say it, they look at you like you just jumped out at them in a dark alley. But really you were just standing in front of them the ENTIRE TIME.

2) Sneezing, coughing, etc.
     Part of this can definitely be because they're just kids. When they sneeze or cough, they don't cover their mouth. But here's why soceity is to blame as well. In America, young kids do this, too. But we try to weed it out as they grow up. We remind them to use their manners and cover their mouths. And for most people, it seems to work. Not here, every year the kids get older, but at no time do their manners regarding this topic get any better.

1) Begging
     This might be the worst because it happens EVERY SINGLE DAY. It's clockwork. Kids come in and ask for candy. Or they ask to play a game on your phone. Or they ask to take a drink of whatever is in your cup. EVERY DAY. And they do it with no shame. And when you tell them no, they say you're a bd teacher. Who are these teachers and parents who give these kids everything they want? Why are these kids learning no boundaries? Why do they expect us to be their personal grocery store? Stop touching everything on my desk!!!

Okay, so I feel good venting about that. Like I said, this is stuff that I've mostly come to accept, and only bugs me if I'm tired or having a bad day. Mostly, I just let it pass over me without thinking about it anymore. But I feel relieved to write it down, anyway. Cathartic, even.

The good news is I won't have to worry about this stuff for the next week. Sometimes that's all it takes.

Do you have any pet peeves that students do? It could be in Korea or any other country. What do kids do that really bug you?

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Things To Remember When Teaching

Beyond the obvious differences in our present culture, it's important to remember there are a lot of bigger differences simply in our life experiences. When we explain things like a record player to the kids, they might not get it.

The Beloit College Mindset List shows 75 things that can cause serious generation gap between adults and children. This years list focuses on the college class of 2014, which means the kids were born in 1992.

So why include it in a Korea blog?

It turns out these kids born in 1992 may just have a totally different view of Asian countries than those of us born earlier. Included on the list is a good one about Korea:

'16. Korean cars have always been a staple on American highways.'
There are some others on the list that talk about other Asian countries, including Japan and Vietnam.

I was born in 1983, and lived through (I think) everything on this list. I definitely remember when Korean cars were basically garbage cans on wheels. I can tell you now that I would gladly drive one of the new Kia coupes or the Hyundai Genesis Coupe. Those cars are pretty sick.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Lee's Major Flip-flop

It turns out President Lee Myung-bak isn't so tough on those North Koreans after all. Though the tough love approach is essentially what got him elected and what he's stuck to throughout his presidency, he's now changed his mind and offered a re-unification plan.

The plan incudes a unification tax to help shoulder the enormous financial burden that would pop up.

Lee said that one of the main goals of this peaceful community is to de-nuclearize the North. But I have one cynical question: By unifying, isn't the North staying a nuclear country, just under a different name???

Lee must be all about making friends now, because he is even pushing for improved ties with Japan. What's next? Dokdo-shima?

Lee has his work cut out for him if he thinks this is even remotely possible. It's about as likely as merging the United States and Mexico. And at least those two countries have better food to work with.

Gulf of Tonkin All Over Again?

On Aug. 4, 1964, the US Military claimed it was attacked in the Gulf of Tonkin by some Vietnamese torpedo boats. The supposed military action promted President Lyndon B. Johnson to pass a resolution that basically started the Vietnam War. Yes, I realize it had subtley been going on for years before that, but this made it official.

Is the sinking of the Cheonan in the Yellow Sea destined to be next. We know for a fact that a ship sunk, but we have no actual evidence it was done by the North Koreans. All we have is their nasty reputation and past battles in that area.

Regardless, the US and South Korea are having some practice time in the Yellow Sea to show off just how big their balls are.

This week, the two buddy-countries are putting on some more war games. We all know what happened last time someone played war games. Let's hope this doesn't turn out as badly.

Of course, if thermonuclear wat breaks out this time, we might need more than Matthew Broderick and a Commodore 64 to save us.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

FIFA Investigates North Korean Team's Public Reprimand

There are stories on CNN and ESPN about FIFA opening an investigation into the accounts that the North Korea soccer team was reprimanded by basically everyone in the country when they returned home from the World Cup.

FIFA has clear rules stating that governments are allowed no intereference in the running of their nation's soccer teams. Obviously, the government can be influential in some ways with how they funnel money, but they can't step in and take over from the country's federation in any way.

If their is truth to the story that Kim Jong-il and the government publicly reprimanded the team, FIFA could theoretically punish the country in some way. Unfortunately, that might simply hurt the players. Most punishments include bans from future competitions.

Also, if they were only reprimanded, they can probably consider themselves quite fortunate. I'm sure my friends and I weren't the only people thinking that the team would go back to some form of hard labor. Of course, we don't know that that isn't the case, as well.

Let's hope FIFA can get in their, reprimand the leaders, and get these players the recognition they deserve for playing well enough to make it to the World Cup finals. That's a pretty big achievement, and all of North Korea -- even the craziest of them -- should be proud.

Record Keeps Spinning

Korean civic groups are unhappy with yet another apology from the Japanese government about the occuptation period between 1910 and 1945.

This really isn't so important to blog about, but I think it's a telling part of Korean culture. There's a certain stubbornness here about issues that no one in their right mind would care about.

Former comfort women showing their discomfort. Get it?

The occupation by Japan was clearly a brutal time, but it was generations ago. Yes, some of the "comfort women" are still alive today, and deserve some compensation, but the current administration can only realistically do so much. Do we really hold people today accountable for something with which they had nothing to do? I don't think we should.

But I have common sense.

To make matters worse, Korean groups have used this apology as yet another chance to bring up "Dokdo." Or as I like to call it: Takeshima.

'They say his apology for Japan’s colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula lacked in sincerity and was made to avoid responsibility for its brutal treatment of Koreans ahead of the centenary of the annexation, which falls on Aug. 29. They also urged Japan to stop claiming rights over the Dokdo islets.

On Tuesday, Kan expressed deep regrets over the suffering inflicted upon the Korean people during the period and pledged to make efforts to deepen ties with South Korea. He came short of admitting that Japan’s annexation treaty with Korea, which was signed on Aug. 22 in 1910 and took effect a week later, was illegal.'
I shouldn't have a problem with the Dokdo issue, but I do, and I'll tell you why. Even the most level-headed of all Koreans actually care about this. I say that referring to the majority. I have met a few Koreans around my age and younger who don't care if that island even exists anymore. So they either get it, or are even further out of the loop.

Here's a fact: There is nothing worthwhile on that island. My Korean friends tell me it's a fishing resource and they'll brag about the Koreans livign there. There are Koreans living there. It's one older couple. They're the equivalent of planting a human Korean flag on the soil.

So until someone can tell me why Dokdo actually holds any importance, I'll continue to make fun of it. I have a joke with my close Korean friends and my girlfriend where I call the island Takeshima. My girlfriend laughs and playfully hits me, but I know that deep down inside it would bother her to know that I think the whole situation is simply silly.

I've posted a few things on Dokdo before and gotten a couple of responses. If someone could enlighten me of the true value of the island, I'm all ears. But as I said it, it's just a pawn in a little game of "who has the biggest balls in Asia."