Sunday, January 31, 2010

Another Dummy

North Korean officials have announced that they caught a second American who snuck into North Korea from Chine.

That's two dummies within the last month who thought it would be a grand idea to waltz into North Korea.

Do we, as American people, have any obligation to get these guys back? They went in on their own accord. Why should we waste taxpayer money and possibly give up leverage in any negotiations to get some jerks back from North Korea?

And if they did come back, they should be thrown in jail here for causing a public disturbance.

It may be heartless of me to think they should stay there, but it's brainless of them to go there in the first place.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Slight Salsa Micommunication

So the extra classes aren't actually with the performance team or anything like that. From what I can tell, the training team classes are the same ones with the performance team, anyway. So I was already there. Haha.

Theses extra classes are just to get me learning new moves to prepare for joining the performance team. I'm on the track, of course, and the extra class was really fun tonight.

I really enjoy dancing with new people and finding out their styles. The instructor was, once again, quite complimentary of my dancing. After that first couple weeks where I was feeling everything out, things just sort of clicked. I just get it now.

So that's good stuff. It's back to the normal training team class tomorrow, and then we have a Lunar New Year's party on Saturday. It should be a fun weekend.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Salsa Performance Team Practice!

This is all happening so fast with the salsa dancing. Last night, one of the instructors asked me to start coming on Tuesdays and Thursdays as well, so I could work with the performance team. He said there will be probably be a performance at the wine party at the end of February that I can be a part of, if I get the routine down.

So I gladly accepted. Now, this will be a lot of salsa over the next month or so. I'll be going basically Monday through Saturday. It's a lot, but I'm really excited. Doing this has really made me feel better about life in general in Korea.

Before, if something stressed me out, I tended to just get down on myself and the school and whatever else. But now, I can go to salsa and forget about other things and just feel good about life. This may be the one big thing that was missing from last year. I need some structured physical acitivity to keep me in good physical and emotional health.

I'm really excited at how fast it's coming along, too. I was originally told it would be around 6 months on the training team before I performed. If all goes well, and I continue to work hard and put in the practice time, I could be part of a very small performance next month. That would be only one month of intro salsa and two months of training. Three total months and I peform??? I'm VERY happy if that all comes to fruition.

But nothing is set in stone yet. The moves the performance team does are more complicated and much faster. I have a lot of work to do, but I'm so excited to get started tonight.

Robots and Hagwons

Now that I think about it, that could be a pretty sweet book or movie about South Korea. Hands off. I'm writing it.

There are two hilariously-related stories in The Korea Times today concerning education.

The first is about how the vice education minister is continuing the current presidential administration's crackdown on hagwons, and trying to make sure students are home by 10 p.m.

While I don't agree with hagwons in general, I think they have become vital in Korea to the success of students. The kids are NOT going to do homework and study on their own, so the hagwons fill the role of study enforcer. The students go, learn from some native speakers and then cram for their language proficiency tests.

By taking that away, the public schools will come off looking terrible, because test scores will drop. Of course, they're not asking to remove the hagwons totally. So my thought might not really be pertinent to the discussion.

It is interesting what the vice education minister is hoping students acheive through their education.

From the story:

'"Simply put, our goals are to enable students to be at home by 10 p.m. rather than in cram schools, and to help them become rational thinkers rather than receptacles of rote knowledge," Lee said.'

Haha. Keep trying!

The second story is awesomely hilarious! Apparently, native speaking English teachers will be replaced by ... wait for it ... ROBOTS!!!

That's funny by itself. The real knee-slapper is that this is expected by 2018!

They hope to ease into it with robot helpers at first. At that point, the native English speakers will be expected to teach via Internet conference call. Yes, because controlling them while we're in the room isn't hard enough. Let's see how it works when we're on a video screen.

Anyway, it's just another big step in robot evolution. First they're teaching, then they're banging us and finally they're eating old peoples' medicine and killing all humans. Doesn't sound terrible, right?

I Feel Shame ...

... because I actually like a K-pop song. Now, there are songs that came out during my time here that I found catchy. And there are a couple others that I do really like to listen to -- to the point of making them a favorite on Youtube.

But this is my first coming out (appropriate term) to admit on my blog that I like a song.

It's called 처음처럼/Like The First Time by a group called Tiara. Prior to this, they released a song called BoPeep, which may have been the most annoying song/dance in the history of the world. I mean ... the whole world.

But I like their newest song because it reminds me of an '80s tune ... a lot. A lot of K-pop songs have an '80s feel, but utilize the annoying autotune, ruining it forever.

But this one has a good beat and a rockin' synthesizer with NO autotune. That's all it takes for me, I guess.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The North Hates The South ... Still

An AP story from Sunday said the North Koreans have once again threatened the South Korean with war. You know, like they're not already at war.

From the story:
'The North's warning came in response to the South Korean Defense Minister Kim Tae-young's remarks last week that the South should launch a pre-emptive strike on North Korea if there was a clear indication the country was preparing a nuclear attack.'
 This is just more rhetoric to go with the decades-old war. So to all the parents in other countries, no need to worry. It's just business as usual around here.

Kim Jong-il's Death Predicted

A think tank with far too much time on its hands has predicted Kim Jong-il to die in 2012. There's not really much more to this story than speculation. The guy is 68-years-old and had a stroke within the last couple years. This think tank could very well have picked this year and wouldn't have been taking a huge risk.

This is a pretty badass picture of him, though.

South Korea to Play Spain

South Korea will play world number one ranked Spain in June. That's going to be a heck of a game.

They'll need to bring a little more than they did in their last game, in which they narrowly beat Latvia 1-0.

Of course, the US lost to Honduras this week. So that makes me sad just thinking about it.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Salsa Video!!!

Here's the one I know you've all been waiting. This is a video of me practicing my salsa dance. The dance includes the first 6 moves of our routine. There are, I think, 9 moves total, depending on where one move ends and another begins.

My partner in the video is one of my favorite dance partners. She definitely knows what she's doing, and was infinitely patient with me as I pounded through some of the moves repeatedly to burn them into my brain.

Of course, that patience is a characteristic that all the girls in the academy share. And it's thanks to them that I caught up with the training team routine in only 5 classes. And on Wednesday, my 6th class of the training team, I matched their level, and even put myself a tiny bit ahead.

At the end of class, our instructor was reviewing our steps, and he pumped the tempo to the music up to about twice as fast. My partner and I were the only ones who got all the way through it. It felt really good.

So I'll say it yet again: Salsa is rocking.

Sorry about the quality of the video. It was filmed on one of my dance buddy's cell phones. Then, I had to flip it into the vertical position, and that green bar stuck on it and squished it a bit. But you can still get an idea of how the class is going.

Enjoy the video here!!!

Hambak News Teams

Here are videos of two of our 5th and 6th grade news teams. They did this presentation as part of the braodcast news lesson. It was the final lesson of the week. We had a great time putting this together and the students did really well. Ron Burgundy would be proud.^^*

News Team 1 video

News Team 2 video

Korean Olympic Roster

The Korean Olympic Committee announced the roster for the Winter Games in Vancouver. Not surprising, the team features 26 speed skaters out of 45 athletes. Korea really destroys most other countries when it comes to speed skating. It's only major competitors are the United States and Canada. There should be some great races this Olympics.

G20 Schedule of Events

While there isn't much really pertinent information in this article,it does list a schedule of upcoming events leading up to the big G20 conference that will be held in Korea this year.

The Korean government is thrilled to be involved. As I said before, this is the second year in a row that the G20 will basically be held in my hometown. Last year, it was in Pittsburgh. This year, it'll be in the Seoul Metropolitan area, which includes Incheon.

Korean Icons

On the cultural side, here's an interesting article about different things Koreans view as the most influential pieces of their culture.

While foreigners hear all the time about kimchi, Jeju Island and taekwondo, there are a few things on the list that are new to me. It's worth seeing what makes these Korean cyborgs tick.

New Ajumma Style???

I love this article because it's so hilarious. It talks about how all the "ajummas" (married Korean women) are adopting a new style.

From the article:

If your idea of "ajumma" is a hot-tempered, married woman sporting loose floral print pants and tight perms, you're living in the wrong time period. It's been a while since the symbolic group of middle-aged ladies started overhauling their long-held image.

From leather jackets to thigh-hugging jeans, a drastic change in fashion is what's leading today's ajumma makeover.

Here's a news flash: Changing style won't change attitude. While much of my more personal contact with ajummas has been good, I don't want to run into any randoms on the street. They come with elbows high and politeness non-existent.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Goodness, Gracious, Great Salsa Fire

I wanted to post this with the salsa video, but I need some assistance from Jay. I asked him to upload the vids to my Youtube account from America, then I'll just grab them and post the link here.

I had a rough day at salsa on Friday. It stemmed from being really tired and having a sort of downer ending to the work week. I wasn't quite nailing the moves and I was getting a bit frustrated.

So I decided to take a little rest and skip the open class on Saturday.

If yesterday was any hint, it definitely paid off. I am now completely caught up to the rest of the training team. I don't have the moves totally down yet, but I have at least learned all there is to know up to this point.

There are a couple of key areas where I step forward instead of back or do the wrong turn, but I'm fixing those areas with more practice, obviously.

There was even one time yesterday when we were showing the routine in front of the class that the other training team members all made a mistake on one section, but I was the only one who hit it and continued. So everyone got a kick out of it.

The people at salsa have continued to be really fun and supportive, and as I get more comfortable listening to their Korean, I'm understanding easier and can open up my personality a bit more. Because of that and the steps, yesterday ended up being really great.

I can only imagine it will get better as I get in tune with my body and get myself aligned with dancing. My body simply isn't used to some of these moves yet, since I've never done things like this before. But as I adjust and get the feeling, it's really going to be great.

Videos Coming Soon!

I have videos of salsa dancing and my winter camp all ready to upload. Unfortunately, I can no longer post videos on Youtube while in Korea. Thanks to Korea's terrible Internet policy of forcing people to sign up with real names and identification, Youtube just said "screw that" and canceled uploading ability.

I'm trying to upload right here on Blogger, but it doesn't seem to be connecting when I'm trying to add a video. I'll continue trying, and hopefully I can get it soon.

Anyone have any tips for uploading on blogger? The videos are very short, so they shouldn't take very long to upload.

Winter Camp 2010

Winter camp is going pretty well so far. To cut down on our busy work and planning work, we've come up with a schedule of classes that can be tweaked just slightly, and still be used on all grade levels.

We're on the third week of camp. We have two weeks left after this. The schedule is goofy, and we have two weeks of regular school class in between the final two weeks of winter camp.


Check out more pics here!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

My Favorite Korean Player Coming to the K-league

Ask any Korean you know who their favorite soccer team and player is. There's a 99 percent chance they'll say it's Manchester United and Park Ji-sung. It's super annoying, especially considering I'm an Arsenal fan.

My favorite Korean player is Seol Ki-hyeon. I like him because he spent time with Reading and Fulham in the Premier League. I follow those teams because both of them have a few American players.

Ki-hyeon has never played in the K-league. He's spent the last 10 years in Europe playing for a variety of teams. If Korea wants their national team to stand a chance at the 2010 World Cup, Ki-hyeon has to get his fitness back and be a member of the team.

I'm excited to see him play once the season starts over here.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Sanctions Still Hurting North Korea ... Obviously

The North Koreans want some sanctions called off as part of their discussions to end their nuclear weapons program. Don't count on that. All sides in the issue are in a giant staring contest right now.

Of course, the sanctions aren't any real leverage in this battle. Kim Jong-il cares far too little about the people of North Korea to really be affected by any trade sanctions.

I wish there was some way to get food and supplies to the people without going through Kim first. That's the only way it could ever work.

Check that story here.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Korean Game Industry Thriving

Even with a global meltdown, many Korean companies are still performing well. The most notable industry as a whole -- as far as students are concerned -- is the gaming industry. Industry execs are looking to extend their reach and continue to grow the business of Internet gaming. All that from a country that is already the most connected in the world.

The fact that business is booming, and will continue to grow, is now surprise at all. My friends and I are part of a generation that were born in raised in the earliest days of home video gaming.

But the students who flock to the PC rooms and jam them all night were raised in an era of which they never knew life without games. The PC is still much more popular than the console here, and for good reason. Parents view a PC as a machine that can also help with studying. A console only plays games.

Now, no parents think their child is going to the PC room to study, but it's an image thing. And this is South Korea, after all.

The story goes on to say that the industry executives are looking for further Internet penetration, a term that will always make me laugh, no matter how old I become.

I want to set the record straight on Korean Internet. Everyone says it's blazingly fast. Well, get this: It's not THAT fast. Yes, it's slightly faster than the ethernet you can get in America ... slightly. Maybe it starts out faster, but since we're all living in stacked shoe boxes here, the speed slows down a bit.

And I can't even talk about service without getting angry. My Internet experience in Korea has been nothing short of awful. I rarely had connection problems in America. But in the year and two months I've been in Korea, I've had to call tech support no less than 10 times. They come and fix it that day, but it's still a hassle waiting for them to arrive when everything should just work. That's what I'm paying for, right?

But I digress. The point of this blog post is that as big as gaming already is here, it's only going to get bigger.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Good Money News For Americans In Korea

It looks like our won will have more buying power against the dollar soon. That doesn't do a thing for people just now coming to Korea, but it's great for those of us who live here. The closer $1 gets to 1,000 won means we stand to make more money every time we transfer cash home.

Right now, $1 equals about 1,119 won.

According to The Korea Times story:

'The won closed at 1,119.8 won per greenback Monday, gaining 10.7 won from the previous day. It was the won's strongest level since Sept. 22, 2008, when it traded at 1,117 won. It has fallen 44.7 won from 1,164.5 won on Dec.31.'
Keep climbing, won. I can wait a bit more to send some cash home. I don't mind an extra bump thanks to international markets.

Choco-Pies Major Black Market Trade

Apparently, South Korea's Choco-Pies are so popular in North Korea that they go for about $9.50 on the black market, according to story in The Chosun Ilbo.

Even though workers at the Kaesong Industrial Complex are given two or three of the snacks a day, the speculation is that most of the pies are moved on the black market. Who knew a snack cake could have such a huge impact in someone's life -- besides leading to obesity and diabetes.

Another Slide In Quality Of Life

It seems that the longer I'm in Korea, the more they fall down the quality of life rankings. That sucks. It gives some of my dumb rants justification.

If anyone ever disagrees with me when I'm in a particularly moody day, I can just tell them to check out the quality of life rankings.

While 42nd isn't super-low, it's just low enough for me to feel like my complaining has some merit.

I'm having a way better year this year than last year overall. There are a few things I would change back to last year, if I could. Those things include some personal, relationship-related things, as well as amount of work I actually do at my job.

I only had two classes in the morning today, but I spent 5 of the next 6 hours preparing for future classes. That 1 free hour I had went toward lunch and studying Korean. So in a day with only 2 classes, I had almost no down time.

I hear from some of my friends how bored they are at their job, but they don't know what luxury they have. I don't mind the teaching part at all, but we're always preparing for something new. Or, we're forced to prepare for something routine, in a new and particularly annoying way. Maybe the principal or vice principal just "feel" like we should be doing it differently. Annoying.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Korea Loses to Zambia???

That's right. Korea's national soccer team went down to Zambia by an incredibly embarrassing 4-2 score. I don't even think Zambia has a recognized professional league. This is not a good sign at all, with the World Cup just 6 months away. They'd better pull it together quick, or don't expect a repeat of 2002.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Bamboo Dance Training Team Member!

Forgive me for neglecting the blog for a few days and then bombarding you with a bunch of stories, but salsa dance has kept me insanely busy. Because of that, I now have some very good news to share.

After the optional class on Wednesday night, Fafa and Leon were showing me the special training team. This is the group of dancers who train advanced moves, and after six months to one year, can move onto the competitive performance team.

Fafa asked me what I thought about them, and I said I thought they were great. He then asked me if I wanted to join!

I was a bit surprised, considering I've only been dancing for a month, but it felt great to be invited to join the training team.

I thought about the commitment, both financially and time-wise, that it would take, and I decided that it is definitely a worthwhile adventure for me.

So after my class today, I agreed to join the training team! I'm extremely excited to get started. I'm also a tiny bit nervous. As the moves become more advanced, it's getting more difficult. that sounds obvious, but there's more to it than just technique. I'm learning the technique fine. But since the class is taught in Korean, I sometimes need to see it one extra time before I fully understand.

The instructors usually get a kick out of me when I'm watching intently. They like to crack little jokes in Korean to the other students. But they're also very supportive and really make sure I nail it.

So now, I'll be dancing for two hours a day, three days a week. And with my training team membership, all extra classes, such as the Saturday open class, are free. They also do occasional parties and get-togethers, which are also included in the cost.

The way I look at it is this: The money is a little expensive for the team, but I would just be spending that on beer and going out otherwise. So now, I'll drink less and be active more. It's also great to be in the company of Koreans 3-4 days a week. A few of the students speak English, but this really gives me a chance to be immersed in an all-Korean class. It's way better than just studying my books, and even better than any conversation class I would have to pay for.

So there is a big time commitment, but I just have to stick to a tight schedule and make sure I get my studying and sleeping in as well. But I'm starting a really great adventure, and I'm looking forward to all the benefits along the way.

Oh, yeah. Don't forget that I get to dance with a bunch of really hot chicks all week. That's important too.^^*

The Korea Herald Year in Review

The Korea Herald posted a Year in Review with many of the most talked-about stories of the year from Seoul and Busan. There's some really interesting things in it, and it does a good job of touching on a lot of the subjects that made the headlines this year.

Check it out here. It's worth a read.

Inter-Korean Summit Soon???

An editorial in The Chosun Ilbo hints at a possible Inter-Korean summit in the near future.

From the story:

'Since a North Korean delegation came to the funeral of former president Kim Dae-jung and met President Lee Myung-bak in August last year, the two Koreas have exchanged views on the agenda and conditions of a summit, one government official said. "Once the heads of state of both sides make up their minds, a summit could be held."'
 It's hard to say how accurate any of this is, however. In typical Korean journalism fashion, no sources are actually cited beyond saying someone is "a key official." That and 900 won will get me a cup of coffee. And I don't even like coffee.

Korean Government Requests Extradition

The government has officially requested extradition for Arthur Patterson, one of two American citizens accused of killing a Korean 12 years ago in Seoul. The case was recently brought back into the limelight by the movie "Itaewon Murder."

From the story:

'The 31-year-old Patterson, a son of a U.S. soldier, was sentenced to a prison term as he carried a weapon, but was not indicted for murder. He was released on a special pardon in August 1998.'
From what I understand, the weapons charge was in connection with the murder, so it seems unlikely the US will give Patterson back, most likely citing double jeopardy in the case. But it takes a long time for these requests to go through, and a lot can happen in that time. This could get interesting.

Hating Seoul?

Thanks to The Looks for posting this on Facebook. It looks like Seoul made a lonely planet survey as a "most-hated city," coming it at a high-ranking (low-ranking?) number 3.

The quote they used to describe it?

'According to one comment, ‘It’s an appallingly repetitive sprawl of freeways and Soviet-style concrete apartment buildings, horribly polluted, with no heart or spirit to it. So oppressively bland that the populace is driven to alcoholism.’'
While the alcoholism is very evident, I really don't mind Seoul too much. Of course, I don't go in more than maybe once or twice a month at the most. I'll take Incheon any day.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Heaviest Snowfall in 70 Years!

If this isn't justification for keeping students off the dangerous streets, then I don't know what is. According to this AP article, this is Seoul's worst snowfall in 70 years. Yes. 70 YEARS!

From the story:

'Three people were killed in a traffic accident believed caused by icy roads in southern South Korea earlier Monday, according to Yonhap news agency. Yonhap reported the snowfall caused many other traffic accidents throughout South Korea, but officials said no deaths or serious property damages directly related to the snowfall were immediately reported.'

Now, I was out there today and saw all the accidents and almost accidents taking place. I realize no more than three deaths were "immediately" reported, but I would be shocked to find out no more people died, or there wasn't any serious property damage. That's just from what I witnessed, but it looked pretty bad to me.

The point is, I know the government really cares about education, but dead children can't take the tests. Think about that one. Wonder Womaned.

Insane Snow!!!

Just a few days into the new year, and I'm already seeing something I didn't see last year. That something is an insane amount of snowfall for Korea.

When I walked out of my house this morning, the ground was already covered and it was difficult to even see through the flurry that was coming down.

Add terrible snow to a country of terrible drivers and it's just a disaster. Drivers were just gunning it and spinning out of control like maniacs. To make matters worse, Geoff and I didn't see any plow or salt trucks going until 4:45 p.m., when we were coming home from school.

Less than half of our students came in the morning for winter camp, so we canceled our afternoon classes. That was the only smart move of the day. Telling the students that we had morning class was both dangerous and stupid.

We made the best of the time we had with the few winter camp students who showed up. We did some orientation in the first hour, then one lesson and then we took them outside to try to build a snowman. Unfortunately, between the snow not packing and the craziness of kids, it just turned into a big snow fight. But that's better than class any day of the week. 

People weren't walking on the sidewalks, because the snow was too deep. But drivers weren't about to slow down for pedestrians, because they were afraid they'd get stuck. And everyone who lives here knows that drivers DO NOT CARE about pedestrians.

It was just insanity on the roads. The word right now is that more snow is coming. If that's true, tomorrow will be even worse. We only have the two morning classes scheduled, but these winter camps are free. If it's this bad, the administration would once again prove their stupidity if they don't cancel class.

I don't even care if I have to go in. I have preparation work I can do. That's fine. Just don't force the kids to go anywhere near these awful, selfish drivers.

Check out more pics here.

Endangering students' lives ...

Good 2010 Start For North Korean Soccer

The North Korean soccer team, which has qualified for the 2010 World Cup, has started off on a good note after winning the International Friendship Tournament Sunday in Doha, Qatar.

Even though they lost their final game of the tourney to Iran, their two previous wins gave them enough points for the championship.

That's good news for the boys from the North, because their group in the World Cup -- including Portugal, Brazil and Ivory Coast -- will not be so successful for them.

Love That Propaganda

The holiday season can often bring surprises, and none more eye opening than the rush of shoppers at the department store -- in Pyongyang.

That's right. After an apparent currency reform, shoppers are storming the department store.

According to a pro-North Korean newspaper based out of Tokyo:

'“At 10 o’clock in the morning, as soon as the door of the West Pyongyang Department Store was opened, a slew of shoppers stormed the building to buy stuff,” it said.'

I guess holiday miracles can happen, huh? Check out the story here.

Korean Boxer Taking On All Challengers

Here's an interesting story about a South Korean, who defected from the North about 5 years ago. She recently defended her championship boxing title for the second time and is recovering from an appendectomy.

While she's upset that some people are more interested in her background than her fighting, she seems to be taking it all in stride as she continues her title defenses.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Happy New Year!!!

Me and Park Kyeol. Beautiful, right?

From left -- Geoff, The Looks, The Brains, The Wildcard

Josh, Barry, Park Kyeol, Geoff and I went to Go Bar at InHa University to celebrate the new year.

The night involved drinking, dancing, markers on faces and arrival at home at about 8 a.m. Yikes! It was a really good time and I'm glad I got to celebrate the new year with a great group of friends.

Nicknames have been established for the trio of Josh, Barry and I. Josh is The Looks. I am The Brains. Barry is The Wildcard. It's all pretty appropriate if you know us all.

It was a pretty typical new year party, so there isn't much to say. Just enjoy the pictures!

See how we celebrated the end of 2009 here.