Friday, September 30, 2005

Universities merging

Next year, Kangwon National University and Samcheok National University will be merged, as will three other provincial pairs and the total enrollment for the reorganized universities will drop by 2000. The universities will receive either 150 billion won or 124 billion won by 2008.

My university, Kwandong, will merge it's two campuses next year as well, with upper year students in Yangyang to continue there for another semester and first year students starting only at the Gangneung campus. I think that, as a private institution, Kwandong will receive no financial assistance, but I don't know. In the second semester, the Yangyang campus will be closed. The shuttle bus for students and professors will run for at least one semester and possibly both semesters.

I must admit, I am concerned. I live 30 minutes north of Yangyang and Yangyang is about an hour north of Gangneung. I make the trip to Gangneung twice a week and find it not-bad but four times a week would be annoying (and expensive after the shuttle bus stops running).

Alex is 100 days old!

Actually, he is 101 days old today. Here he is yesterday morning, in front of an offering my wife prepared. The three bowls contain seaweed soup, rice and water, which, after praying, she ate. She is not in the picture because she is shy and although I think she looks wonderful at any time, she feels otherwise in the early morning.

Alex, or Kim Dae-seong Alexander Cecil Dean, had a typical day but we went for portrait photos in the evening.

My mother has been here for three weeks, caring for Alex while my wife and I worked. She goes home tomorrow, so, doubtless with much crying from all involved, Alex will go to a babysitter on Tuesday.

Out of the ashes

A gangneung musical instrument maker has made some intruments from salvaged materials from the burned buildings of Naksan temple.

It took Mr. Lim more than 10 hours a day over nearly three months to build the cello and violin and cost him 3 million won ($2,892) for production.

"I felt extremely sorry that the temple's main building will disappear, so I just used some of my talent to keep it alive," Mr. Lim said. "The instruments have excellent sounds, so the cello will probably be worth 30 million won and the violin at least 15 million won."

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

I'm still here

I've been a little busy lately and haven't found anything special to write about. I now have a few things, but am still too busy to write more than a few lines to keep you all updated and reassure you about my health and such.

First, PSAs: This weekend is the Yangyang Songi mushroom festival. If you will be near anyway, it's worth seeing but it's not really worth long travel, unless you are knowledgeable about mushrooms.
Second, there is an 'Aquathlon' in Sokcho on Sunday. You could race in a 3km swim and 30km run or swim 1km and run 10km, if you are interested. I think the water is still fine for swimming, although I am sure the competitors will be wearing wet-suits.

Last weekend, I rented a car and took my mother to Kyoungju. It was my third visit to Kyoungju and it was okay, a wonderful place but I've seen most of it already. The drive there on the coast was fan-freakin-tastic! In fact, I think the Kyoungsangbuk coast is more beautiful and rugged than the Gangwon coast.

This weekend, I am off to Seoul with my mother for a few hours of last-minute shopping before she flies home.

I should be posting more regularly starting next week.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

A newspaper review of Sokcho

I can't remember when I last wrote about Gangwon so I'd better say something now.

On that half-hearted note, last week Mr. Reeck of the Hankooki newspaper wrote about his trip to Sokcho. The story is more about his reasons for travel and high hopes that were, ultimately dashed. He spent some time here but never made it to Seoraksan; I'm not sure what he did here other than haggle for a good room.

He did do a good job of describing people's fascination with cetain places. Koreans sold him on Sokcho as a city both calm and peaceful, and wild and natural when there isn't much difference, as cities go, between Sokcho and any other small city. It is close to a lot of nature but it isn't really any kind of eco-city.

Actually, I think the north end is more natural and scenic - another example of grass-is-greener syndrome as I live in the South end and have not spent that much time in the north. Youngnang Lake (in the north) is prettier than Cheongcho Lake (near my apartment) but equally hemmed in by buildings.

Mr Reeck and I agree that the squid boats are a wonderful sight. Each boat has ten or twenty or more huge and expensive lights that attract squid to the surface (they are naturally attracted to the full moon and the lights are a super-attractor). As I understand it, there is a direct relationship between candlepower and total catch. He wrote that the fishermen lower the lights and that's possible but I don't see how. Also the lights are pretty hot and I think would explode in contact with even a moderate splash of water. He also expressed a wish to ride such a boat on his next visit. Apparently he speaks Korean, so I guess he might be able to manage it but these boats are not pleasure cruisers and I don't think they take passengers. If he does, he'd better bring some sunblock and dark sunglasses because those lights hurt my eyes when I am on shore a kilometer or more away.

Rest-home fatality

I certainly do not believe that westernization is poisoning Korea but one of Korea's best and most worthy cultural institutions is failing. Or possibly, I am seeing the dirty underbelly.

I have always approved of the way Korea cares for it's seniors, with grandmothers and 'fathers living with their family, instead of living in seniors homes. It seems that nowadays, there are more rest homes for seniors (I describe the other alternative below) and they do not appear to be well-regulated. The article in the Joongang is full of anecdotes without any hard numbers but the anecdotes are surely grim.

There have been many cases in which elderly residents of care facilities died in safety-related accidents or committed suicide, but no autopsy was undertaken. Some cases found evidence of malnutrition or dehydration from neglect, but the deaths were treated as ordinary.

Now, I find the stories every bit as horrible as the writers would want but I do not find them that surprising and I do not mean to badmouth Koreans. There are four specific cases described and I am sure we could find at least four similar stories from Canada. As a part-time ambulance driver in Canada, I saw one urine-soaked hell-hole...ah,that's too tough; it was definitely urine-scented but it seemed well run and I heard stories of teenagers working weekends who made tragic mistakes at other rest homes.

I do hope that seniors homes can all be wonderful oasis of comfort but profiteers are everywhere.

One place that I expect to be well-run the Yangyang campus of Kwandong University. It is the younger brother to the Gangneung campus and is likely to close the end of this year or after one semester next year. Plans are afoot to turn it into a seniors home.

I mentioned another alternative. Maybe there have always been senior's homes. After all, not every senior has a family to go to. The dirty underbelly of the Korean respect and care for family is that those without family can be left out. A case in point can be seen in the opposite situation; that of young orphans. I don't want to spread horrible stories but I trust this source. A photo exhibit of American GIs who adopted and helped Korean orphans was cancelled because it did not show Korea in a good light. From this article:

Lineage is everything to Koreans. These kids, lacking lineage were not a no-body. They were a nothing and “decent” Koreans were affronted by the expenditure of any public resources to help them.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Feng Shui and the Japanese

I found a strange article in the Joongang about Fend shui and how the Japanese tried to use it to poison Korea's psychic environment by placing metal (a conductor? I'm not sure of the reasoning) in strategic places in Korea's mountains. A man named So Yun-ha has been cleaning the country of those damn Japanese relics. The article reads like the premise for a Tim Powers novel (if you're not a fantasy geek, that reference is wasted).

For the past two decades, he's traveled the country's
mountains and valleys to uproot metal posts, nails, rods or chunks, which he
says were planted by ultra-rightist Japanese during the colonial regime; the
shapes are meant to disrupt the flow of Korea's energy according to feng
shui. Feng shui, known as pung su in Korean, is an ancient Chinese form of
geomancy, a study of the flow of the earth's energy. Mr. So is a firm
believer.On his first visit to Mount Namhan, a site so vital to the peninsula's
positioning Mr. So dubs it "the wings of a crane," he followed a hiker named Lee
Jeong-hu who first spotted the suspicious metal lumps drilled into the heavy

As an example, he cites a story about the former
Japanese general Tomoyuki Yamashita who had allegedly confessed to Shin Se-woo,
a translator for the Japanese army during World War II, that the Japanese army
headquarters in Korea had assigned people to plant metal chunks throughout the
peninsula to harm the peoples' gi, or spiritual energy.

Having hiked on a few mountains here, I have found a lot of metal imbedded in the rock, most of it is orange and was put up recently as stairs here in Seorak. Some of it; I think near the Pusan perimeter, looks like military issue to get supplies up the slopes more easily. I wonder if there is good metal and bad metal, or if it is all about placement.

the FSM, Pirates and Preventing Global Warming

In an earlier post, I mentioned that I follow the evolution/creation debate in the US. A new player has emerged. The Flying Spaghetti Monster even has a scientific graph "proving" It's effects. From the Venganza website (I'm having trouble with the linking:

Let us remember that there are multiple theories of
Intelligent Design. I and many others around the world are of the strong belief
that the universe was created by a Flying Spaghetti Monster. It was He who
created all that we see and all that we feel. We feel strongly that the
overwhelming scientific evidence pointing towards evolutionary processes is
nothing but a coincidence, put in place by Him.
I’m sure you now
realize how important it is that your students are taught this alternate theory.
It is absolutely imperative that they realize that observable evidence is at the
discretion of a Flying Spaghetti Monster. Furthermore, it is disrespectful to
teach our beliefs without wearing His chosen outfit, which of course is full
pirate regalia. I cannot stress the importance of this enough, and unfortunately
cannot describe in detail why this must be done as I fear this letter is already
becoming too long. The concise explanation is that He becomes angry if we don’t.
You may be interested to know that global warming, earthquakes, hurricanes,
and other natural disasters are a direct effect of the shrinking numbers of
Pirates since the 1800s. For your interest, I have included a graph of the
approximate number of pirates versus the average global temperature over the
last 200 years. As you can see, there is a statistically significant inverse
relationship between pirates and global temperature.

I don't know if there is any connection but yesterday was "Talk Like A Pirate Day". This cause was championed by Dave Barry, a Floridian who may well be knowledgable on the effects of global warming and on subject of pirates.

Arrgh! Avast them lot an' prepare de plank! (How do pirates talk? All my accents end up being Scottish or, nowadays, Korean.)

Monday, September 19, 2005

The passing of Ven. Bub-jang and donating organs and blood

There have been a few bloggers post (okay, I found only one, but I am sure there were others) on the death of the head of the Chogye Buddhist order, the Ven. Bub Jang. Although I am interested in Buddhism, read their accounts regarding the religious significance of his life and death.

It is Ven. Bub Jang's decision to donate his organs that caught my attention, particularly as described in this article. An excerpt:

Even though all of us ought to take part in the campaign, leaders in all sectors of society need to lead the van. A substantial number of them already made oaths and signed contracts to donate their organs in such campaigns sporadically launched by civic organizations. However, the general public is skeptical that their promises will be kept. Their distrust is understandable because most of them have broken their pledges, including the vow to cremate their bodies, without showing a tiny morsel of compunction. If their promises to cremate their bodies were faithfully honored by their families, our funeral system would have been already improved to the extent that the use of land for gravesides (Probably should be 'gravesites') is drastically curbed. In this vein, Ven. Bub Jang deserves unstinted respect and praise for his keeping the oath at the expense of Buddhist traditions.

Actually, it was either the confusing grammar or the presumption of dishonesty that made me want to write about it. Did the leaders of society make the promise to donate their organs, then change their minds on their deathbeds, pass on their new wishes in sceanses or did the children not follow their wishes? The "If their promises...were faithfully honored..." sentence would seem to relieve the leaders of blame. I suppose, in a 청개구리 fashion, we could respect both the leaders and their children. The leaders for making such a promise and the children for choosing to show great filial respect in a traditional burial.

Anyway, I do respect Ven. Bub Jang's decision and want to do my part. In Canada, I donated blood as often as I could. I have seen blood donation trucks in Korea but have been wary of using them. The Canadian Red Cross has had it's troubles with reusing needles and spreading diseases. So far as I know, all it's problems were solved when I started donating. Can anyone tell me about donating blood in Korea? How easy or safe is it?

Henry Ford was on to something

<(The author, displaying his impeccable fashion sense).

If anyone reading has actually met me, they will know my sophisticated writing style hides a complete lack of fashion or sartorical style. In fact, of the two articles I am commenting on, the first one caught my eye purely because of it's possible racist message. "Black, British Look Is In For Men" describes new fashion styles inspired by British clothing styles and the increased use of the color black, not, well, I don't know; I guess afros or such.

The second article is also about the color black, in some new lines of cell phones. What interested me, in addition to finding two articles about black being 'the new black', was how the new style is thin-thin-thin, even to the point of losing the Swiss-Army-Knife range of features. Phones that are only phones are popular again.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Happy Chuseok from Alex and Brian

Here we are relaxing early Chuseok morning. I hope everyone can stay off the roads and enjoy time with their family.

Friday, September 16, 2005

I thought it was only a myth.

Apparently, a passenger on a flight to Sumatra used their phone at the wrong time, causing the plane to land at the wrong airport. Article here.

No one told the girl TV was a vicious game

I had thought that Korean 'talents' (TV personalities) were tough. A recent article in the Chosun suggests that they are merely unlucky or desperate for work.

The article describes "Challenge! World Expedition Party", a show that sends 'talents' to exotic locations to perform difficult tasks. The show is under fire for not caring for it's actors. Recently, Chung Jung-ah was in Columbia looking for anacondas when she was bitten by one. That's not so bad. The director then told her to do the scene again because it didn't come out right.

I'm not sure that is so bad either. If it were Jeff Corwin or Sir David Attenborough, I would definitely expect them to keep working. As Ms. Chung was not really working as a field naturalist, perhaps she does deserve a break. Anyone who comes into contact with anacondas without knowing if they are poisonous (they aren't) probably shouldn't be out there. Again, anyone who travels without a tetanus booster shouldn't be out there either.

I remember seeing an episode of "Challenge!" or one like it, in 2000 or 2001. A beautiful Korean woman, possibly a model, was in Alaska doing a kind of Alaskan Pentathlon. I hope that I can be a tough as she was, although I also hope I don't have to be. She spent a day learning how to bicycle in the snow with spectacular falls. The next day, she cried as she dressed and huge black bruises were everywhere. She got up and did another day of training. If she was hoping that would be her breakthrough into show business, I sure hope it was. She deserved it.

Although Ms. Chung is at risk of tetanus, she was vaccinated against malaria. A wise precaution after an actor on the show died of the disease six years ago.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

How old is too old?

I haven't been blogging much lately as my mother is visiting and my wife has just returned to work; we are kind of busy at home. I hope I can return to my average of two posts a week soon.

Today I used a typical role-playing game in my third year university classes. In this one, five people are in a balloon that is sinking into a shark-infested ocean. One person must be tossed overboard so the lightened balloon will remain above the water. Who will the unlucky person be?
That is enough of a story. The students could reasonably play themselves and debate who should live. However, to make it more interesting, I made a set of characters. As I made the characters in a hurry, I made changes in each of the three classes. Basically, the characters were:
1) a sick baby
2) an alcoholic woman
3) a thief
4) an old man --this is the important one
5) a 대마초 (hemp or pot) seller.

I commented that the fourth character was the important one and titled this post "How old is too old?" When I made the character 66 years old, three-quarters of the groups fed him to the fish. When I made him 60 years old, only a quarter threw him overboard. At 63, again only a quarter were sacrificed, so I guess the answer lies around 65 years old.

There might be stereotyping involved in my not being surprised about a safety of the alcoholic.

대마초 may be used for recreational purposes but older Koreans (none in my class) might think of it as medicine.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

What Global Warming? A review of Crighton's 'State of Fear'

I read and enjoyed State of Fear although I was also annoyed and later, confused and worried. State of Fear tells the story of a philanthropist who finds his donations are being used for unsavory purposes; specifically, to fake evidence for an environmental catastrophe. He quickly fades from the story but his assistants and some federal agents continue to follow the conspiracy and foil the plot.

The story is good. There is a lot of action and close escapes, some memorable women and great exotic locations. There were some problems though. The close escapes are all of the kind that Austin Powers lampooned so well, "Aren't you going to kill him?" "No, I'm sure the sharks will. I will just walk away and assume that he did die." "But you've already assumed that five times."

Crighton's book always carry a message and his popularity stems both from these controversial subjects and from the way they don't get in the way of the action. Jurassic Park was a thrilling story of man vs monster, but it was also a story of the way man himself can be a shortsighted monster focusing on profits, and a glimpse of the ways our increasing understanding of DNA will change our lives.

State of Fear is a spy story of sorts, and an exciting one, but it also encourages us to question some strongly established views. For example, and least controversially, charitable organizations might not be so benign after all and charitable does not mean free of greed.

The controversial story in State of Fear is that Global Warming is a lie, or at least completely unproven. This is the part of the story that confused and worried me. Crighton backs up his claim with scientific reference after reference, which is good. However, in his book, the people showing global warming as an unproven or unsupported hypothesis are all brilliant, while the environmentalists are mean-spirited idiots, which is annoying.

The book made me reexamine my assumptions on the subject. I listened to Dr. Forbush speak out against global warming and big business (don't bother unless you want to learn how not to do a podcast) in the most boring, unsupported way possible.

I also visited Cooler Heads, a site that tries to show the global warming for the myth it is. To my shame, as soon as I saw it was a consumer site, and related to big business, I turned away. This is exactly what the deluded folk in State of Fear did. It did have references, if you are interested. One was the Marshall Institute, which has a Q&A with responses like this:
"15. Will global warming produce more violent storms? This is not likely."
They may be right in this case, but the bare bones answers were kind of annoying. Violent storms may be caused by global warming but the evidence for that will be statistical. One storm does not prove GW, not even a bad decade of storms is enough.

Three sites that felt they had evidence for global warming were Global Warming Early Warning Signs, The Earth Institute and the Global Warming International Centre. Crighton visited the Earth Institute and the scientists there apparently are dismayed that he didn't ask them their opinion (they feel GW is real).

One thing I'd seen before is the way one organization tries to hijack another's visitors. There is a "" and a "" site, differing only in the suffix. Which came first, I don't know but I have seen this used as an underhanded way to steal visitors who mistype the name.

Anyway, in my opinion, global warming is probably occurring but it doesn't matter. GW is caused by CO2 (and a few other gases) emissions and to stop emitting would be to stop all enterprise. However, reducing emissions of other polluting gases would automatically reduce greenhouse gases..

To reduce various fossil fuel exhausts would reduce pollution: smog, acid rain, and a number of lung ailments. For individual drivers to drive less or to carpool, would reduce the number of cars built and the energy that goes into constructing a car is probably as much or more than the energy that goes into driving it. Driving less would likely improve people's general health...

I have calmed down as an environmentalist as I learned a little (really, the least possible) about economics. I have a vague idea that reducing automobile production would not help people's total quality of living. Still, if people are concerned about global warming and pollution, leaving their cars in the driveway would be the reasonable thing to do.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Taekwondo remains an olympic sport

Some (including myself) feel that the Olympics are a little too busy with fringe sports (my term). Is arm-wrestling in the Olympics yet? Some sports were recently removed but Taekwondo was not one of them, for which I am glad.

However, taekwondo will undergo some changes, for which I am also glad. I think most of the changes involve methods of scoring to reduce corruption (I can't wait for the day when I see the two words "Korea" and "Olympics" and don't see "corruption"), also described with the euphemism "incorrect referee judgements".. From a quick reading of the Yonhap article, competitors will wear protective gear with electronic contacts to record hits, much like fencers do already. Referees will still have some discretion to award points for difficult moves.

I hope there will be something to encourage difficult moves or some risk-taking. I have seen many matches where the two players feint and feint for long periods, knowing it's easier to counterstrike than strike. So many times, I have seen upper dan blackbelts tug their pantlegs up to free their knees for a kick. Why not call time out and make an announcement?

One other point stood out in the article and I quote: "Taekwondo's survival is considered a consolation to Koreans after the resignation of former IOC Vice President Kim Un-yong, who received a jail term for corruption last year. Kim previously served as president of the World Taekwondo Federation (WTF)." I should point out that I want TKD to stay in the Olympics but this is some strange logic. Taekwondo was kept in because a high-ranking Korean official was jailed for corruption? Incidentally, Dr Kim Un-yong was pardoned on June 30 of this year, according to Taekwondo Times.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Dopes dupe Dummies While Dingbats Doze

That was the title of a 'Boffo' comic I read years ago. The punchline was a character saying "looks like none of us came out too well".

You can decide if these people are the dopes, dingbats, dummies or needing another label, but none of them are coming out of this mess in any positive light.

I'm talking about Katrina and New Orleans.

I try to think the best of people and I try not to second guess those in difficult situations but, Oh My God! What a mess.

The residents knew the storm was coming a few days in advance but did not prepare enough.
The various governments; local, state and federal; knew the storm was coming and did nothing.
People with stolen guns are delaying rescue efforts and the townspeople blame the police.
The police are hiding in their station, with snipers on the roof, pinned down and trapped.
A sniper shot at people trying to leave a hospital.
The news networks are being accused of rasict reporting, describing white people as "finding food in grocery stores" and black people as "looting" the same stores.
Oil companies and transport people are price gouging.

My sympathy goes out to the people of the Gulf Coast. You did nothing to deserve this and perhaps I would have reacted the same way, but I hope not. I hope that if I end up in a mess like New Orleans, I can show a little dignity.