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."

Monday, August 9, 2010

The Korean Work Schedule Sucks, or Example Of Me Hating My Girlfriend's Schedule

There are a couple of stories in The Korea Times today concerning Koreans lack of sleep and overworking.

Check out the story about needing sleep here. There's not too much to say on that. I think it's pretty obvious that people in most countries don't get enough sleep, and it can be a danger to others as well as unhealthy to the individual.

It's certainly a well-known facet of Korean culture that workers will go out with their bosses for meat and Soju on a regular basis. The streets are packed at midnight on any given day of the week, and it's commonplace to see children in bars running around, wow mom and dad get plastered.

This is definitely a very social culture among people who have already met. I think that's a good thing. I don't see the going out as the main culprit behind Koreans' lack of sleep. The main culprit is the fact that they work too damn much.

With my only school-given vacation days ending, I think this is an appropriate topic. Now, I have 14 days per year to use. That number is inflated because it includes national holidays as well as any school holidays. But when all is said and done, I still have about 5 days to pick and choose for my own personal vacation.

With those days, I -- and other native speakers in my position -- definitely take full advantage and either plan a trip or simply take the time off to recharge our battery a bit.

But Koreans -- even though they have the option -- don't REALLY have the option. Check out the story here.

It uses a typical salaried worker as an example, but that model could be used with nearly all Koreans. My girlfriend works in the department store. During a regular work week, she will work anywhere from 40-50 hours, not including the extra 6-7 hours she's at work and on a break.

Contrast that with my schedule. I am at the office 40 hours per week, but teach only 24 hours worth of class. I also have to use my other hours as prep time. But in a given week, I don't usually work more than about 32 hours. The rest is time that I'm browsing the Internet, writing in my journal, studying, etc.

That's not because my job is easy, necessarily. But when I finish my work, be it teaching, preparing future lessons or doing administrative work, I simply have nothing else to do for the time being. I can't go home until that clock strikes 4:30 p.m., but I'm not just working for the sake of working, really. And don't forget, I'm only there Monday - Friday.

My girlfriend on the other hand, works at least 6 days a week in her normal week, and that ALMOST ALWAYS includes Saturday AND Sunday. She gets one day off per week, normally, and it's during the week. That sucks big time for hanging with her. Either way, one of us is going in quite tired on our work day, while the other gets to sleep in.

She usually has to be at work by 9:30 a.m. and works until about 8 or 8:30 p.m. Of course, sometimes on Saturday or Sunday, she'll get off by 7 p.m. Wow. Awesome. She also has about 45 minutes of lunch time that she doesn't get paid for, but has to take.

Her schedule can change here and there, but that's a pretty normal look at it, and that's terrible.

To make matters worse, her schedule is typical of most Koreans, and that isn't likely to change.

From the story:
'Lee is Korea’s typical salaried worker of today, working the longest hours and taking the fewest holidays among the members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

Koreans worked an average of 2,256 hours in 2008, down from 2,316 hours a year earlier. But it was still the highest among the 30 OECD members and far more than the OECD average of 1,764 hours.'
The story also list a few reasons people don't want to take the time off, including negative views from co-workers and superiors. That sucks. Because it means that even when they do take vacation, they probably feel guilty the whole time.

This is one huge cultural aspect I'd gladly change if I was World Czar. I wish I could get that chance for everyone here.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Vacation Is Over

It's the end of my vacation and I'm pretty much ready to get back to work. Without dance, I have plenty of free time at the end of the day, so going to work isn't as stressful. Of course, going to dance also helped relieve some stress. But it did so at the expense of free time. Balance is tough. Haha.

Anyway, I'm back at work for the next two weeks of summer camp. It'll be pretty much the same stuff as last week, and I'll have to prepare a couple lessons as well for the final week of August.

After these two weeks, it's off to America with Jeong Mi for a whirlwind 7-day tour and my sister's wedding. It's going to be a busy month.

This was actually my first real vacation in Korea. I didn't get one last year because I got sick and spent my vacation days in the hospital. Not so much fun, really.

But this week was great. I got to spend time with my girlfriend and her family. I also spent a lot of time with my friends, even though they didn't have vacation. I don't get to see them until the weekends, usually, because they are on the academy schedule, while I'm on the public school schedule. The different hours make it difficult to hang during the week.

But it was great to just sleep in every day, play some sports, go hiking and hang with my buddies and girlfriend and not have to worry about teaching or talking to kids all day. I did miss my co-teacher and our secretary. They're super-fun, but we'll be back together tomorrow.

So it's back to the school. I'm re-energized and refreshed and I feel good.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Songdo Waterpark

On Monday, I took what will be my only real trip during this vacation. It was a day trip to Songdo Waterpark, which is about a 10 minute bus ride away from my place. Jeong Mi and I went along with Jeong Mi's mother, our friend from dance and our friend's boyfriend, daughter and mother.

We got there at about 9 a.m. with all our food and supplies. I was responsible for chicken and beer, so you'd better believe I delivered.

We rented a tent right by the lake and settled in. There were a ton of people there about an hour later, so it was good we went so early.

I immediately took my shirt off, and we walked our friend's daughter over to the pools and rides to check everything out. The group took advantage of all the pools and slides and had a really fun time. The whole park is basically inflatable and temporary pools and rides. They set it up every summer.

It only costs like 13,000 won to get in. The tent was a bit expensive, at 40,000 won, but we got it for the whole day with a prime spot right on the shore.

I didn't go on any of the rides, because I don't really like water. But I had a wonderful time. I played some hacky sack and spent an entire day without my shirt, and getting quite sunburned.

It was nice to go out with Korean families as well. It's always a bit of a different dynamic from being with just friends.

We left the park around 7 p.m. and Jeong Mi and I came back to Yeonsu-dong and met with Popper and his girl. Later, we had a quick beer with Josh, Alex, Geoff and Bryan.

It was a jam-packed day and our stomachs were just busting at the seems by the end of it. And while that may be the only trip I take during this vacation, it was an absolute blast.

Check out all the pics here and enjoy!!!

Starcraft Is Life

South Korea's love of computer gaming is well-documented. Starcraft matches are contested between pros with big-time corporate sponsors on three different TV channels. Crowds show up cheering for their favorite pro to beat some other guy who also doesn't date ... ever.

The game of choice thus far has been Starcraft. It came out in 1998, but South Koreans have been pounding it out ever since.

So people's worlds will be shifting now that Starcraft II has finally come out. There could be a lot of big changes in the pro circuit, as well. Anyone who ever wanted to be a video game pro might want to bone up on Starcraft II and get over here right away.

'About 90 percent of South Korean households are connected to high-speed broadband and the nation has some 25,000 internet cafes, which took in $600 million last year, according to government figures. The gaming market is expected to be worth $5.5 billion this year with a 17 percent growth rate, according to the Korea Creative Content Agency (KOCCA).
StarCraft II was first released Tuesday in South Korea and other Asian nations. The original game sold about 11 million copies worldwide .
While gamers in South Korea are lining up to get copies of the new title, StarCraft II could be a game changer in the country's professional circuit, Fields said.
"In StarCraft II, the leagues aren't established yet, they're all building up -- it's going to be huge, but we don't know how long it will take, how huge it will be, whether (existing teams) will be good at the game or not," Fields said.'

Check out the article here about the Earth-mover that is Starcraft II. There's even a video!

Fun With Sports!

Some Koreans -- both North and South -- have had a rough go of it recently in the sports world.

The North Korea soccer team didn't arrive to a hero's welcome, as they had hoped. On the contrary, they got a scolding from about 400 people.

The team -- minus the two Japan-based players -- were forced to endure 6 hours of ridicule upon their return.

'Sports Minister Pak Myong Chol was among some 400 government officials, athletes and others at the six-hour-long closed-door session, the report said.
Team members were forced to reprimand their coach at the end of the gathering, the report said.
Japan-based players Jong Tae Se and An Yong Hak were exempted from the meeting, RFA said.
Competing in its second World Cup finals after an absence of 44 years, North Korea exited at the group stage, beaten 2-1 by Brazil, then lost to Portugal 7-0 and to Ivory Coast 3-0.'
I understand they wanted to be represented well by the team, but look at that group. It was ridiculous. I suppose they're just fortunate to still be alive. You know, if they are.

Here's a second story about the public shaming.

Sticking with soccer, South Korea's U-20 women's team added insult to injury in their crushing 5-1 loss to Germany last week.

With the score 4-1, a German player rang a shot off the crossbar. Instead of playing it out of bounds or controlling it, a South Korean player absentmindedly caught the ball and laid it down to her goalie. She clearly was under the impression that the ball went out of bounds. But it's still not a move you'd expect from someone in an international tournament. Make sure to watch that video.

Now, onto the wonderful world of fishing!

A cheating scandal has hit the U.S. Open hard, as a fishing pro was caught weighting his catches in order to win. So how is that bad for Korea. Well, the "Triple-A" fisherman he was sharing his boat with was a South Korean.

The South Korean was cleared of any charges and given a refund on his entry, but still lost out on a percentage of the winnings the two would have taken home. Pretty rough waters, I'd say.

'WON Bass determined that Hart acted alone, even though he had a lower-tier "Triple-A" fishing partner aboard his boat during each of the three days of the U.S. Open.

Naslund explained that the Triple-A partner fishes from the back of the boat while the pro stands at the bow, driving and steering with a foot-powered trolling motor.

On the third day of fishing, Naslund said, Hart was said to have asked his partner -- who had flown in from South Korea -- to change places while he rigged some tackle and checked on the fish in the live-well.

"The same scenario existed on Day 1 and Day 2 of the U.S. Open," Naslund said.

The South Korean angler, who would have shared part of whatever purse Hart had been entitled to after the third and final day, was given a refund for his entry fee.'

And the last story I have for you isn't really bad in any way. It's just funny. Apparently, there's a Korean MMA fighter nicknamed 'The Korean Zombie.' Apparently, he's pretty popular.

That's the sports update for now. Koreans are hoping things turn around for them soon.

Threats Up, Worries Down

A couple weeks ago, amid the schedule of training exercises done by the US and South Korea, the North Koreans said they're prepared to respond with a nuclear attack in order to be "big tough guys."

Now, since those exercises have taken place, there has not been any response. It is possible that the North's telegraph machine is on the fritz, though. So they may have a carrier pigeon on the way.

While it wasn't a response, a South Korean did die due to the Korean War. On Saturday, about 35 miles northeast of Seoul, a floating mine found it's way to the South Korea side of a river and exploded, killing one and injuring another.

Apparently, due to heavy rains, the North is releasing water from dams, and junk is just floating this way.

'South Korean soldiers and police have retrieved 29 boxes of North Korean mines in their joint search which began on Friday along all streams connected to the Imjin River, he said, of which 18 boxes were empty.
Heavy rain has hit the northern part of the peninsula in recent weeks, swelling water levels. The North has discharged water from dams north of the river flowing to South Korea.'
Note to everyone in that area: Stay out of the water.

Don't Call It A Comeback

Alright, my break from blogging is officially over. Starting today, I'll get back to updating on a regular basis. It was nice to have about 6 weeks of down time, but I'm ready to start sharing some more.

I have a bunch of news stories saved up that I found interesting. I'll have a little take on them as always, but I mostly just post those stories so people not in South Korea can get a better understanding of what's happening over here (even though it's impossible to ever REALLY understand, haha).

I also have the story of my trip to Songdo Waterpark with Jeong Mi, her mom and some of our friends. It was a good time, despite my sunburn.

Not much else has been going on, except I've been soaking up all this wonderful rest. So over the next couple days, expect a lot of new posts. I'll get back to averaging about a post per day again before I head to America at the end of the month for my sister's wedding.

Enjoy the upcoming posts!