Wednesday, February 23, 2005

A very protective country?

From the Joongang Daily

A man won 62 million at KangwonLand Casino but:

Kangwon Land Resort & Casino said it would
withhold payment to Mr. Seo, because he
lived in the vicinity of an erstwhile miners'
village. The casino was located there to help
residents overcome mine closures, and rules
have been set up to protect them, as the
area remains relatively poor.

So they are protecting him by keeping him from his money? Koreans have to show their ID card before entering the casino. Mr. Seo's was examined and he was allowed in. I wonder how many times they might have let him in accidentally had he kept losing?

Still, this post is about the Korean government protecting it's citizens. I can understand how and why the casino, and several others in Korea, are off-limits to most Koreans even though I am not sure I approve. In general, I don't approve of casinos but it seems strange to open several but only allow foreigners in, as is the case in most Korean casinos.

I have swam at many pools and beaches in Korea. At pools, users are protected by lifeguards sitting their staff office most of the time but coming out every hour to whistle everyone out of the pool for ten minutes mandatory rest. I tried reasoning with the guards; that I had only arrived 10 minutes ago, or that I wasn't tired, but they wouldn't let me swim. Usually, as a sort of passive defiance, when I hear the whistle, I just keep swimming and flip turn at each end so they can't be certain I saw them.

At beaches, I experience the same over-protectiveness. Gangwondo coast has great beaches but the buoy lines are only about 5-10 m from shore. To go past the line is to have the guard wail on their whistle for a long time, they are really very determined or patient. They may also have a point. Despite, I guess, 100 km or more of open water, the landlubbers that rent power boats feel safer just offshore and so race along not far from the buoyline. I think the same bad judgment in handling boats can be found at Wasaga Beach Provincial Park in Ontario, Canada every summer.

Anyway, the Korean government seems determined to protect it's childr... I mean, it's citizens.

Except against fire.

scary weather

I am not religious at all but recent weather around the world sure appears divinely powered. The recent tsunami was the biggest event but today's weather reports somehow shocked me more. Maybe the first disaster made me more aware of the weather.

Anyway, today I read about an earthquake in Iran, mudslides and extreme cold killing hundreds in Kashmir and tornadoes in California.

Are earthquakes considered weather? Again, I am not religious but earthquakes would reasonably fit with snow and rain storms as 'Acts of God'.

If I were religious, I might compare these disasters to events in the Left Behind series, although they happened after the rapture, which I haven't yet noticed.

By the way, we've had an unusual amount of snow in Sok-cho but it is mostly gone now. Gangneung, 100km or so up the coast has much more. Really, the weather here is good to typical for the season.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

A few words on unqualified english teachers

This post is mostly for my mother and others outside of the country that might check in with my blog to what I'm up to but have no knowledge or concern about the normal day-to-day concerns of English teachers in Korea. If you're looking for details, look here or here (particularly the 'english spectrum gate' link).

As long as I've been in Korea, there have been concerns about unqualified foriegn teachers. I'm not admitting to a connection between my arrival and the concerns, mind you. However, I was a relatively unexperienced, definitely unqualified teacher when I arrived. I had plenty of teaching experience but all of it was in athletics; teaching and coaching swimming.

I made several teaching mistakes when I started. It took a while to learn to accurately judge my class' current English ability and I frequently used overly complex language and instructions in class. I really didn't know all the rules of grammar that I should have.

I learned though. Some of the things I learned helped me outside of class. For example, I used to speak too fast and stammer as I spoke. Now, I speak much more slowly and clearly. I have to work at it a little to speak at native-speaker speed. I don't mind; speaking slower means thinking as well as speaking more clearly.

I am still unqualified. Again, I have swimming instruction and coaching qualifications, but that's it. After six years here and a year teaching at a private school, I have sufficient, possibly ample, experience in teaching English.

Ethically, I don't think I made any major mistakes in my teaching. I learned on the job and have since helped others learn to teach ESL on the job.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Anti-American American

This article really bugs me. I find a lot to dislike in American politics and culture but, as a Canadian, I find there is a lot I admire about the US. I'm damn glad they're here now, keeping us safe.

The first paragraph caught my attention and finding it strange I read on.

The other night I saw a documentary about NASA on
television. It featured fearless astronauts breaking the
speed of sound, shaking loose the bondsof gravity and
walking in space. I watched awestruck as great minds
_ totally unfettered by social constraints _
created miracles from science and technology. It
made me proud to be human. It made me proud to
be American. It made me understand why many
people all over the world look up to the United States.

I put the 'totally unfettered by social constraints' part in bold but the author highlighted it himself. I knew I would be reading a 'USA is evil" rant when a wonderful and surely morally-neutral event like spacewalking would suddenly be looked at as somehow avoiding or breaking normal social behavior.

His description of Korea as a 'peace-loving country' provided a welcome bit of humour.

There are some well deserved complaints about the war in Iraq but I found them lost in his next paragraph with the comment "...democracy doesn't work for everyone." Personally, I agree with Winston Churchill that 'democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others." Democracy has only really failed when it wasn't for everyone. One of Korea's greatest improvements over the past 50 years has been in it's constant push for democracy.

After complaining about (American) democracy, he advises Korea to 'be free'. Can I be the only one who sees that as quite a contradiction? Does he mean, "Be free like North Korea.", "Be free with Japan's 'help' ", or "be free and ignore all your debts to America for it's 50 years of help and assistance"?

The author had some, even many, good points but so irritated me with the others that I found myself working to discredit all of them.

bidding for the 2014 (2014!) Winter Olympics

My last few blogs were not very much about Gangwondo so to get back on subject a little, I decided to look at Pyongchang's bid for the 2014 Winter Olympics. The subject caught my eye as I looked through some archives at the Korea Times.
I like the Times as it seems more of a NEWspaper than a tourism brochure like the Herald. However, I had to struggle through some pretty bad writing in the articles I read. For example, I read about Vancouver, Canada winning the 2010 Winter Olympics and plans for the next bid.

Last year, the city lost the bid to Vancouver, Canada, by
a slight margin in the second vote, even though it came
first in the first vote but not by enough to secure the
right to host the 2010 Winter Olympics. The failure
stirred the nation, following allegations that Kim Un-yong,
a career politician and an IOC member, interfered with
Pyongchang’s chance of capturing the right in order to
win vice presidency of the global sports governing
body. Kim actually won the post.

The IOC will choose the host city for the 2010 Winter
Games in its 2007 general meeting. Among other
countries competing for the prestigious winter event are
Norway, Sweden and Austria. It is reported that
Pyongchang has a strong possibility of winning the
bid as IOC member countries favor granting the
right to an Asian country in order to give equal
opportunities to all continents.

I included the bit about Canada purely for patriotism (I can be forgiven bad writing at least inasmuch as it is only my hobby, not my profession). The second paragraph is what I struggled with until I realized they meant "The IOC will choose the host city for the 201[4] Winter Games....". The first paragraph of the article does correctly list the date as '2014' but the paragraph about my quoted section again says '2010'.

That was the Dec 24 paper and I guess people can happily be forgiven mistakes on Christmas Eve.
On the 28th, I read:

As Pyongchang county practically claimed the
South Korean bid for the 2016 Winter Olympics,
Kangwon Province on Monday announced it will
launch a full-scale campaign for the hosting

Wrong again: two years late this time.

Muju expected to have support for it's slopes from the Pyongchang committee but the International Ski Federation had rejected Muju's bid for "Technical and Environmental issues". As I understand it, to make the Nagano slopes long enough, Japan had to make inroads into a national park or some such. I guess if the mountain isn't tall enough, it's not tall enough; Hugh Grant and those Welshmen notwithstanding.

Anyway, the Olympics are filled with politics domestically and internationally and that is the real story here. I wish Pyeongchang the best in it's attempt to host 2014.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Favourite movie lines

I was surfing through MSNBC today and I found this link for a list of 400 movie quotes that will be voted on to make a top one hundred list. The usual suspects are here; clearly I've got to see more Bogart movies, I've never seen the Maltese Falcon, among others.

Two unlikely movie lines stood out for me. Firstly, the line:
"Warriors, come out to play!"
Paramount, 1979
ACTOR David Patrick Kelly
SCREENWRITERS David Shaber, Walter Hill
DIRECTOR Walter Hill
PRODUCER Lawrence Gordon
My friends and I watched that movie at least five times. I just didn't think anyone else had seen it. I guess it was popular at one point.
Second, a terrible movie, but really a great line:
352 NADA
"I have come here to chew bubble gum and kickass, and I'm all out of bubble gum."
Universal, 1988
ACTOR Roddy Piper
SCREENWRITER Frank Armitage (John Carpenter)
DIRECTOR John Carpenter
PRODUCER Larry J. Franco
If you haven't seen the movie, even more than today's movies with The Rock, this was a WWF bout turned into a movie. It would have been a pretty good Outer Limits episode at 40-50 minutes.

I noticed no Clockwork Orange lines. Am I the only one who asks for "milako plus, to sharpen me up for the ultra-violence"? Or what about,"No time for the ole in-out. I've just come to check the meter." Does the fact that I loved the movie mean authorities will be sending me for some time in a ward with cushioned walls or a movie theatre, listening to Ludwig B. while a nurse gives me eyedrops?

There were three Dirty Harry quotes, I missed them the first time I looked. I might have added a few others: "Is coffee psychic?"

Anyway, I guess half the fun is thinking of lines that should be one the list.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Exercise update

Yesterday, I reached two milestones in my fitness training. One, I am now as fast as I was 25 years ago. I was a pretty small back then and a terrible runner but I'm glad to be back to speed and endurance now. I am proud but embarrassed at how out of shape I let myself become.

My second milestone is even more embarrassing and probably incomprenhensible to most Koreans. I sweat, a lot. When my shirt becomes salty, it rubs and irritates my nipples. Yes, I'm a 37 year old male complaining about sore nipples.

At a sports camp I worked at ten years ago, I shaved part of my chest and taped them. It was a little tough to explain but I could explain, everyone knew English. I don't think I'll be doing that and going to the Health Club.

Luckily, I found a suggestion at Answerbag:

If you find that you get blisters, try out some of the
running socks sold by the running stores. Double-layered
ones work well. They are more expensive than cheap
"sports" socks, but if you have blister problems, then
they are well worth it. Another good trick is to apply
Vaseline to your feet before running. Vaseline also
works well if your nipples get sore.

I guess that's what I'll be doing. If anyone cares, I'm up to 5km and 30 minutes. Next visit, I'll try 80kg on the bench press. The big fitness news is that I'm down a kg. I want to get to 85kg and so have 7 more to go.

The sidewalk, an excellent place to park your car and more

I found an interesting article in the Korea Times archives. Before I get into it, I must say that the Korea Times editorial pages have great writing but seem to be mostly used as training exercises for foriegn school students. I like the articles; I'm not complaining, but there are so many with the byline ***** Foreign School (and usually it's Busan Foriegn School) that I think some teachers are assigning editorials as homework.

The one that particluarly resonated with me was about walking paths (which I extended to mean sidewalks in general). The writer, a seventh grade student of Busan Foreign School, complains vigourously about motorcycles on the walking paths.

Round-shaped stones that were placed in front of the walking
path have been destroyed and damaged by motorcyclists and
car drivers who violently try to pass through the walking path.
I was horrified to hear that the motorcyclists have been using
the walking path because it’s faster and easier than the road
which has heavy traffic and many stop lights. I strongly believe
that the walking paths should be used by pedestrians only and
not by motorcyclists who want a quick and easy way to
their destination.

In Masan, I frequently had impatient motorcyclists and scooterists(?) bump the back of my leg as a way of encouraging me to move while walking on the sidewalk and even through the market streets. Usually, I just flashed them a dirty look, enough to see I was a foriegner and stubbornly tried to ignore them. I ocassionally got an apology, probably because I am a foriegner although I am not sure of the connection. Only foriegners get apologies?

Here is another quote that really only applies to walking paths, not urban sidewalks.

In the morning, while my sister and I are enjoying the fresh
air on our way to school, a motorcycle passes by and depletes
the fresh air and ruins our day.

I also agree with this point although it mystifies me. A small engine such as motorcycles have should only sniff at gas (rather than guzzle gas like a SUV- I am trying to use a metaphor here for low gas consumption, not sudenly bring in any kind of drug culture reference) and burn pretty clean.

They should. And they might if they were better maintained.

In Seoul, I was never bumped, thank God, but frequently heard the klaxon (I've been here too long) of cars driving on the sidewalk and wanting me to move out of the way. Again, I ignored them and stuck to the middle of the sidewalk. Luckily, I am still here to boast of my foolishness.

I just noticed that I wrote the "cars....[wanted] me to move out of the way.", while the seventh grader was careful to use 'motorcyclist' and thus describe the actions of the drivers, not the unlikely desires of the vehicles. As I said at the beginning, the English is very good in those articles!

Anyway, here is one more annoyance about sidewalks in Korea. Cars frequently park on the sidewalk, but also, they park right on the lowered curb for crosswalks. I frequently, indeed more than half the time, have to walk around a car parked so as to block the crosswalk.

Vendors often set up shop on the sidewalk and, though they pinch the walking space, I find them energizing rather than annoying. Perhaps it's the human interaction and the feeling that the streets are for living in, rather than purely for travel. Here in the country, but mostly in downtown Seoul, Jongno and Gangnam areas for example, streets are alive with people just enjoying being out and relaxing.

To conclude, let me repeat Lee Ein-jin request: Please, "No more motorcycles on walking paths [and sidewalks]".

Thursday, February 10, 2005

The night sky

I started taking an online astronomy class, just for fun and it is fun (also free!). The course has just started and you can see the first two archived classes if you want although they are mostly just an introduction for the next several weeks of class.

Following the suggestion to look at (don't worry- no connection to Heaven's-gate), I found that many Korean cities are listed- mine (Sokcho) among them. Now, I'm not sure about light pollution here and recently nights have been cloudy so I'll have to wait a bit before putting what I learn into practice but it looks interesting. If anyone is reading this in rural Alaska (Yes, I'm talking to you, Marci), they would be in a great position to see a great deal.

Although Sok-cho might not be the best place in Korea to see the stars, Gangwon in general might be. By wonderful coincidence, I found a Korea Herald article for an observatory in Yeongwol.

Yeungwol is more famous among foreigners for ripple-water rafting - too tame to properly be called 'white-water' but still an enjoyable way to spend a day in the summer. The article says that most of their visitors come during the summer but winter is a better time to see things.

Because the Herald archives it's articles after only a few days, I will post here some of the travel information:

A 20-minute taxi ride from Yeongwol Train Station
will get you to the top of Bongraesan Mountain where
you can experience the clouds beneath your feet.
Byeolmaro Astronomical Observatory, refering to a
"quiet hillsidewhere one can see the stars," is located
right on the top of the mountainis a clean and quiet
place that offers a clear view of the sky.

There are no buses that go to the top of the mountain so it's taxi or hike (no information given for hiking, other than you can do it) or drive.

Detailed Information
Hours: March ~ October >> 3pm ~ 11pm (Admission by 9:30pm)
December ~ February >> 2pm ~ 10pm (Admission by 8:30pm)
Closed: Every Monday/ Day after an Official Holiday/ Chuseok/ Seolnal
Admission Fee: Adult (19 or older): 5,000 won/ Children (6 ~ 18): 4,000 won
Contact: 033- 374 - 7460 (Korean/ Tuesday ~ Sunday Only during Business Hour
Tourist Information: 033-1330 (English/ Japanese/ Chinese)

If you want to watch the astronomy lectures as I am, look here.

Monday, February 07, 2005

A trip to Ulsan-bowi

in 2003, I hiked a lot. I could climb uphill, with a lot of panting and gasping, but steadily and strongly and pain-free. Descending was agony for my knees. So I stopped hiking about a year ago.

To get back into hiking, I chose a short trail to a scenic spot that I can see from my neighborhood (and maybe from my window: if I hang out far enough, I might see a corner of Ulsan-bowi).

Ulsan-bowi is a strange ridge of stone, rounded granite, that overlooks the city of Sokcho. Although it is part of Seorak National Park it does not seem like it belongs where it is. You hike along some mild-sloped foothills and suddenly the stone goes vertical for perhaps two hundred metres.

Ulsan-bowi as seen from the Tong-il Buddha Posted by Hello

Although it is a short hike, it is not an easy one- at least at this time of year. Indeed, this posting is mostly a PSA warning hikers to the area to bring 'Ijen' or spikes for their shoes.

As everywhere else in Seorak Park, wood and steel bridges abound and they are pretty safe and clear of snow. There are some very steep spots and even some gently-sloping spots on the edge of cliffs that require some careful walking and scrambling though. At the top of Ulsanbowi, there is a 150 m stretch that is very slick and I found it a little scary although I made it without spikes. It was much scarier on the return, downward journey and I feel like a fool for not wearing the spikes then.

I have another sort of PSA, or a bit of nagging to do. If you eat oranges, do not think that they will just biodegrade and leave no trace on the trail.

biodegradable? Posted by Hello

Maybe they will degrade but not for a few months; Mainland Korea doesn't have the right bacteria in the soil to digest orange peels quickly. In the meantime, the peels are no prettier than candy wrappers. I am proud to say that I carried more trash down to the garbage cans than I went up with. I also saw two old coots with bags and tongs, collecting garbage. They looked like volunteers rather than park staff so good for them!

rare white-bellied woodpecker, I think. Posted by Hello

A plaque in the park listed white-bellied woodpeckers as rare and I think I saw two, so I feel lucky today. No, the picture isn't upside-down, the woodpecker really was.

I also saw many other friendly birds, one sitting on a gamja-ddeok vendor's hat so I think some birdseed would help visitors find some friends quickly. I don't know about the ethics of feeding Park animals - are they really wild, are we disrupting natural rhythms or what?

Anyway, I feel pretty good about this hike. I'll probably go out at least once more in February and a few times in March and we'll see about after that.

new law will punish consumers of protected animals

The Joongang Daily (online) has an article today about poaching. Actually, it was just an announcement that a new law soon comes into effect. Now, those who consume protected species are liable for prosecution, not just the poachers.

One of the protected species is 'mountain frog', which could well feed a family. These are big frogs! I cannot find a picture but I'm sure I've seen them for sale at NamDaeMoon.

No word on poaching or consuming salamanders.

The strange thing is the Joongang paper states that the Ministry of the Environment announced the new law yesterday, when the M of E website described the law in August of last year. Is it just a reminder?

Sunday, February 06, 2005


I joined a health club (In Korean 'Health' or, because they don't have a 'th' sound, 'hel-seu'). It's near my apartment and I have a view of the ocean and fishing boats while I use the equipment.

It is the first time I have regularly gone to a fitness centre aside from the one at university where I trained with my sports team. I am not the first to mention this but the idea of going down an elevator so I can walk to the health club building and ride another elevator so I can use a running machine is a little strange. There were two health clubs in Yangyang but both were far enough that I was better off jogging and doing pushups and such at home. Jogging on the streets was relatively safe in Yangyang but not so much in downtown Sok-cho, or any other urban area.

I was shocked at how out-of-shape I was. I went because I wanted to get back into shape but also to strengthen my back up as I had been waking at 5:00am with serious back pain. My back is fine again and my running has improved greatly in only a week. I struggled through 20 minutes the first day and am now comfortable at 25 minutes and faster. Next week, I'll knock up the speed some more.

For me, there are three levels of sport attitude. When I start a repetitive sport (repetitive motions- swimming, running, cycling, canoeing, etc), I find my attention stuck on the total distance traveled, my current speed, how much further I will go and other impatience-driven concerns.
One of the main culprits for instilling these concerns is the machine's display or the easy availability of a clock and such. I rode my bicycle across a big chunk of Canada and even after more than a month, I found it difficult to pull my eyes away from the trip computer on the bike. The display on the high-tech running machine I am currently using shows me too much information and I constantly have to refocus my eyes on the harbour.

At the second level, I can daydream. I can run, paddle, swim, or ride with good effort but little attention given. I think about things I will write (or would have if I weren't so lazy), plots of books or movies I have seen and the like.

Finally, when I have mastered the sport, I return a bit to the first level in my desire to see my speed and such parameters but only to compare them to where I think I must be. I am very much thinking about the sport and concentrating fully upon it.
When swimming, I would look out of the corner of my eye at the pace-clock and think, "that last 50 metres was 36 seconds; it should have been 37. Ease up a bit."
And I would; the next 50 metres would be 37 seconds because at that point I could feel the difference in effort of 1 second. In a race, I could feel the difference of a tenth of a second.
Now, in the third level, I concentrate fully on the sport but can also be aware of what's going on around me. In the pool, I knew who was nearby; in a canoe, I could spot landmarks and wildlife all around.

I never reached the third level, or only did intermittently, while riding. Swimming and canoeing, with their specific stroke techniques were easier to reach the third level.

Anyway, I think that I have reached the second level in my running as my attention leaves the display for longer and longer times.

In other health-related news, I brought my touring bike back with me from Canada. I once rode most of the way across Canada and hope to see a little more of Gangwon and even Gyoungsangbuk's coast. I am sure cycling is 'good for health' but I mostly use it as another way to explore- faster than hiking but allowing more contemplation than driving.

Friday, February 04, 2005

tell your doctor what to do!

I mentioned a few days ago that I had another reverse-cultureshock experience while home in Canada. I just did some research-well, spent one minute with google- and found that I am not alone.

While at home, I saw a handful of ads for prescription drugs. Each ad ended with something along the lines of, "Ask your doctor if XXXXXXX is right for you."I thought, this is crazy! Who am I to tell my doctor what drugs to prescribe? Did I spend years studying pharmacology? And, anyway, why would I want to suggest a relatively new, untested drug? Isn't that what apes are for? (Sorry to all my relatives- animal testing should only be a carefully considered final option after other avenues have run their course.)

From the Health Central website:

Heavy TV advertising helped make Vioxx so successful. Hundreds of millions were spent suggesting that this arthritis drug could make life more enjoyable. In early commercials, Olympic figure skater Dorothy Hamill was featured gliding over the ice in a picture-perfect mountain setting. The message: "Ask your doctor about Vioxx, a prescription medicine from Merck. And find out if Vioxx is right for you."

With 20/20 hindsight, experts are complaining that the direct-to-consumer advertising for Vioxx created unjustified enthusiasm. People badgered their doctors for a prescription for the drug instead of relying on over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, etc) or naproxen (Aleve). It turns out these inexpensive products may have been about as effective as Vioxx and a lot safer.

I guess, if you are in pain, any alternative could sound like a good one. Still, Vioxx didn't turn out to be such a good deal.

The article stated that only the US and New Zealand allow advertising for prescription drugs yet I saw them in Canada - on an American station however.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

I'm back

I'm Back!

In case anyone was worried for me, I'm fine and will be posting regularly for the next four months at least.

I was at home (my mother's, in Canada) for three weeks (and suffering with Rural Canada's slow internet speeds), home (mine/my wife's, in Yangyang) for two days then off to Minjok Sagwan to teach at an English camp for middle schools students. At Minjok, I was so busy that I hardly had time to post anything. Well, I probably had time but although I could post (and, I think did post one message), I couldn't see my page. Blogspot is hard to connect to in Korea: some of my students can access it on campus but I can't from my office and Minjok was another dead spot.
I am actually writing this before I can post because we moved to Sokcho and are not hooked up to the internet yet. I hope the megapass people come by this afternoon.

It's been a busy seven weeks. The trip home was great and I have one more culture shock related post based on my experiences there coming.

The camp was, well, worth several posts. I meant to post some comments about camp earlier with the warning that I may want to work there again so I had to be careful about how frank I was. Well, I still need to be careful as I recieved a job offer from them that I need to consider.

I will also be posting about the meaning of 'etc' in Korean contracts. From my Minjok Winter 2005 English Camp: Teachers may be asked to take on additional responsibilities such as organizing or judging contests, etc. What does this mean, in practice?