Thursday, December 29, 2005

Korean is the most...

I couldn't finish the statement, even though I am quoting someone else, for fear that my blog be vilified.

I am now at Minjok Sagwan High School preparing to teach middle school students at a winter english camp. I am reluctant to speak much about the camp; this is my fifth consecutive camp here so I obviously do like working here, but to allow myself to comment on it, I fear would open up the strong emotions I often feel at the interesting organizational practices here. I dare you to count the euphemisms in that sentence!

On campus are other camps and I feel more comfortable commenting on them. One of the camps is a ten week camp for university age students and it enforces EOP (English Only Policy). Students are encouraged to stick to English. People who slip up and speak in Korean have to pay a fine (the camp recently donated 400,000 won to a needy family- the money coming from preceeds fo Korean speakers).
In addition to the fear of penalty, I found a slogan written on the stairs: "Three months is not - long enough to improve - your english, wasting - time speaking - Korean is the most stupid - thing you could do". The hyphens indicate a break in the line; 'Three months is not" is on one step, "long enough to improve" is on the next.
The slogan is a good one and captures the urgency camp teachers feel. However, there are spaces between the steps so 'Korean is the most stupid" is all alone and I noticed it long before I put the sentence together. A little unfortunate, that.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005


In my previous post, I expected to reach 10,000 on Dec 26. In fact, I made it on Dec 27, sometime around 7:40 am (Korea time - which is still the 26th in North America).

Number 10,000 was from Tacoma Washington and apparently visited 4 pages in 40 seconds. I know my posts are short, but that still seems fast.

Of course, the number isn't really 10,000. As stated before, possibly as many as 1000 visits are mine. I would post to my blog, then visit the blog to see how it looked or use my blog to access the links to friends when on a different computer. Every time I self-linked, for example in my two or three posts about the re-introduction of bears to Chili Park, I added another visit to my counter. Ah, 1000 self-visits seems high but an average of one or more a day is ballpark- that's 500.

Since Alex was born, my output has dropped significantly. I suppose that if I kept up a strong posting rate, I would have reached this milestone faster. Well, I'll be discussing that in the inevitable end-of-year post coming soon.

Thanks for visiting!

Monday, December 26, 2005

Today I will reach 10,000 hits.

..and only a thousand or so are mine!

This morning at 9:00am, I was at 9,974 visitors.

I have no prize, but I may check the counter again later to see where it's at.

And the Marmot gets, what 10,000 in a day? It's taken almost a year and a half to reach this milestone.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Merry Christmas from KwandongAlex

And from Kwandongbrian and the whole Kwandongfamily!

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Take that, ID!

In October, there was a trial in Dover, Pennsilvania about whether Inteligent Design could be taught in public schools. Personally, I find the ID hypothesis to be weak but it could be considered separately from fundamental Christianity in the same way Communism could be considered separately from the USSR or China. The problem is, with Communism or ID, there are no other examples to be seen. ID doesn't have to be promoted or researched by fundamental Christians but they are the only ones doing so.

Judge Jones passed down his ruling today on the case. He tore ID, as practiced in Dover, to shreds, in a very fair and well-documented way, with links to the evidence involved throughout his ruling. From Panda's Thumb

Judge John E. Jones wrote:
The proper application of both the endorsement and Lemon tests to the facts of this case makes it abundantly clear that the Board’s ID Policy violates the Establishment Clause. In making this determination, we have addressed the seminal question of whether ID is science. We have concluded that it is not, and moreover that ID cannot uncouple itself from its creationist, and thus religious, antecedents.

Both Defendants and many of the leading proponents of ID make a bedrock assumption which is utterly false. Their presupposition is that evolutionary theory is antithetical to a belief in the existence of a supreme being and to religion in general. Repeatedly in this trial, Plaintiffs’ scientific experts testified that the theory of evolution represents good science, is overwhelmingly accepted by the scientific community, and that it in no way conflicts with, nor does it deny, the existence of a divine creator.

In other words, Evolution is good science and ID is not, and you can accept both Christianity and evolution - they are not opposed to each other.

One of the problems with ID is that even the top scientists supporting ID say it is only science if you change the definition of science. From Pharyngula:

First, defense expert Professor Fuller agreed that ID aspires to "change the ground rules" of science and lead defense expert Professor Behe admitted that his broadened definition of science, which encompasses ID, would also embrace astrology. Moreover, defense expert Professor Minnich acknowledged that for ID to be considered science, the ground rules of science have to be broadened to allow consideration of supernatural forces.

Call me vindictive or too eager for strong punishment, but I would like to see one of the defendents, Bonsell, face perjury charges. In his deposition before trial he said one thing and changed his story in the witness box.

I may feel lonely in wanting him charged Immediately after the trial, he lost his seat in an election - but not by much: Source here.

Bonsell got almost 2500 votes in spite of having been on the witness stand the week before and showing himself to be a liar -- 2500 people _like_ the lies he told.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

What kind of fuel do they use here?

Here are two pictures of exhaust marks on the sidewalk in front of my apartment. The weather has been unusually cold but is that enough of an explanation? I don't remember such marks in Canada.

Darwin's posse just got bigger.

The Metropolitician has joined the posse. You will find a button on my right-hand side links column "Darwin has a posse" that will take you to, a mainstream science approach to the purely political controversy surrounding Evolution/creationism/ID.

The best quote I have found that really shows the way the argument is set up comes from Pastor Ray Mummert of Kansas; as defender of creationism and ID ( as quoted from kuro5hin).
"We've been attacked by the intelligent, educated segment of
the culture," says Pastor Ray Mummert...

When you call your opponents names like that, you might be in trouble.

Friday, December 16, 2005

My apology to Baduk

A long time ago, Baduk made the claim that Dr Hwang, of cloning and stem cell fame, was lying and making false reports.

I thought he was wrong and disregarded everything he said. Surely, a famous and prestigious journal like Science wouldn't print an article without full review of it's claims.

Baduk, I apologize. You were right, you were right, you were right.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

My little guy is much better

Thanks for the healing thought, Skindleshanks. Alex seems better, not so hot, not so much snot pouring out.... Well that is probably already too much information. Soon, he'll be fine.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

My little guy is sick.

No penis jokes - this is serious.

Well, not that serious. My son, Alex, has a fever and a URI -Upper Respiratory Infection ( a cold). This is his first illness since coming home from the hospital. He has had a cold for about a week, with trips to the doctor, a partial recovery, then another day or two of cold symptoms. The fever is new.

Just after Alex was born and when he was still in the hospital, he was sick for a few days. That was a difficult time because my wife was so upset that I couldn't understand what the problem was. The doctor saw our teary faces and kindly explained that it wasn't serious. It WAS serious enough to require an IV in his forehead. His Mark McNutt (an longtime friend) hairline has finally mostly grown back in.

About the time my wife and Alex came home, my mother-in-law told us we should either call him, or tell him, 'Bootdoora' (hang on). I'm not clear on whether this is a nickname or a command. Anyway, not too long ago, Korea had a relatively high infant mortality rate and the name (or commad) 'Hang on' was a common one.

He's going to be fine but after a looong night, I find myself whispering Bootdoora.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Spanish at school translates to suspension

During my summer and winter breaks, I work at Minjok Sagwan or Minjok Korean Leadership Academy, teaching at a camp for middle school students. One key to the camp is EOP or English Only Policy: students are required to speak only English; in class, in the cafeteria, the dormitory; everywhere on campus. Of the three hundred plus students, more than two hundred are caught violating the policy frequently enough to receive punishment - typically duckwalking and pushups and such.

You might think that the students are caught having long conversations in Korean. No... Well, sometimes. Many are caught making exclamations; they step outside and say (please forgive my terrible Korean), "Ah, Chupta." (It's cold), "Geopchagia" (I'm surprised) or "baebula" (I'm hungry).

I am mentioning this because I found an MSNBC an article about a Hispanic American violating an (unwritten) English only policy at his school.

16-year-old Zach Rubio converses in clear, unaccented American teen-speak, a form of English in which the three most common words are "like," "whatever" and "totally".

He was suspended from school for speaking Spanish. Not in the classroom, but in the hall, on restroom break. What did he say? "No problemo". Heck, I might have said that a few times.

Comparing English in Korea and English in the States is a little like apples and oranges but the rationale on both sides sound familiar from camp:

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) made that point [it is particularly important for students from immigrant families to use the nation's dominant language] this summer when he vetoed a bill authorizing various academic subjects to be tested in Spanish in the state's public schools. "As an immigrant," the Austrian-born governor said, "I know the importance of mastering English as quickly and as comprehensively as possible." ... Since then, the issue of speaking Spanish in the hall has not been raised at the school, Zach said. "I know it would be, like, disruptive if I answered in Spanish in the classroom. I totally don't do that. But outside of class now, the teachers are like, 'Whatever.' "

I particularly like, Zach's final statement; "...the teachers are like, 'whatever' ". That's Greek to me! I have no idea how the teachers feel from his remark.

We will be in trouble at camp if the parents take this approach:
Said Rubio: "I'm mainly doing this for other Mexican families, where the legal status is kind of shaky and they are afraid to speak up. Punished for speaking Spanish? Somebody has to stand up and say: This is wrong."

Another comment on the "like," "whatever" and "totally" element of Zach's (and most Canadian and American students) vocabulary. Did you ever use 'Go' as a synonym for 'Say'? I think it drove my parents to distraction when I would tell a story like this:
"And then I go, "You can't do that!". And Kevin goes, "Yes, I can. I did." And I go, "...

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Korean university students think they can relax after the entrance exam.

Others in the Korean blogosphere have discussed this issue already but I want to share my experiences.

First, for those outside of Korea (hi, mom), Korean high school students go through Hell to study for the University entrance exam. The exam is so challenging because simply getting to the right university sets up your social position for life. My wife has a masters but was unable to teach TOIEC in Seoul because her university was not one of the big ones.

A student entering university has likely been to a single-gender high school and gone to hagwons until late every night. Personally, I love a good sleep and to hear the experssion '4 in, 5 out' fills me with sympathy for the students (if you sleep four hours a night, you will get into a good university; five hours and your won't). They have no experience with social activities, especially with the opposite sex. At university, they have the experiences I had (okay, I was a nerd: ...experiences my classmates had) in high school for the first time at university. Boys being mean to the girls they like, the girls shrieking.... I feel like yelling, "grow up!", sometimes.

The students who choose to study in China have had a rude shock. Apparently, Chinese students actually study. From a Chosun article titled, "Korean Students in China Must Stop Wasting Time", some Chinese universities have
"started requiring Korean students to take separate entrance exams in English, math and general humanities or science, because so many of them have fallen behind in class or taken to absenteeism. Some schools now reportedly organize separate classes and exams for Korean students."

I have just finished exams at my university. Cripes, what a mess. The oral portion of the exam was a converation the students were to work in pairs to create and act out for me. About a third came in with no preparation at all. Another third read from their textbooks. The final third did fairly well to very well, although the 'fairly well' was mostly in comparison to the slackers. I know these students don't plan to use English in their future careers but the oral should have been an easy 10-15% added to their grade.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Sidewalk ettiquette for the holidays from a New Yorker

People obstructing the sidewalk or other pedestrian lanes isn't a big problem in Sokcho. Still, the people who, at the escalator ramp at E-mart, place their shopping cart in the centre of the conveyor belt so I can't get by do annoy me a little.

In two weeks or so I will go to Seoul. Now, I don't live there but I did for two years so I know where I'm going usually and I'm a fast walker. MSNBC's Clicked linked to a blog with 15 'suggestions' - followed by threats - for how people should use sidewalks or any pedestrian area.

Number five seemed particularly apropo as other bloggers in Korea have complained about 'moving roadblocks':
5. When moving in a group, don't occupy the entire width of the sidewalk by walking six abreast. Especially if you're planning on walking at a snail's pace. When people come at me doing this, and I have to go, say, to work, it seriously tempts me to punch them in the throat. Each and every one of them.

The others seem like common sense to me but maybe there is a cultural difference that makes Koreans ignore such basic politeness to others. Ah, I should be careful here. Maybe there are only a few pedestrians who stop suddenly in the middle of the busy sidewalk but their effect spreads as others avoid them.

Saturday, December 03, 2005


A few years ago we lived on a street of pig farms (did you know they can sound like dogs howling and barking?) in Kyounggi-do. We got a little sick; some diarrhea and discomfort, so my wife reccommended taking anti-parasite pills.

The pills are well-known in Korea, easy to get (no prescription) and user-friendly - we didn't have to worry about taking before of after a meal, avoiding alcohol or other substances, nor taking a course of pills for days. One pill was sufficient. That makes the anti-parasite pill easier to take than any other in Korea. If you catch a cold here and visit a pharmacist, you will get a package with four different kinds of pills, often with different schedules.

By the way, we soon felt better, but I don't know if we really had parasites or not.

Parasites are back in the news due to contaminated kimchi, domestic and imported.

The news reawakens fears that older Koreans have because parasites were everywhere in the 60's and 70's. Since the early '90s, Korea has been mostly parasite free.

Doctors interviewed regarding the contamiated kimchi are not particularly concerned: Chai Jong-il, parasitology professor at Seoul National University, said, "I would like to cautiously suggest that a few parasite eggs are not worth making a big deal about."

If you are concerned, the Jungang Ilbo suggests:

Prevention of parasites
1. Be careful when eating raw fish and meat, which can be a route for parasite

2.Wash your hands frequently to avoid pinworms, especially if you have children.

3. Do not let your children share toys with other children in at-risk or dirty areas to avoid pinworm infection.

4. Regularly take your pet to the veterinarian for parasite checkups.

5. Take anthelmintics regularly once or twice a year.

The advice to take ant-helmintics suggest that the main fear is of platyhelminthis, information of which can be found here.

How much is a Masters worth?

I read this article twice trying to figure out why getting a Masters degree would result in a lower average wage than that of a simple three year degree.

One possible reason is the comparison is to others in the same cohort - the the same block of people who started university together. Holders of Masters degree would naturally enter the work force two or more years later and perhaps the wage gap is an artifact of this later start.

It is also possible that there are simply too many Masters degree these days- with most Korean's constant push for more education, perhaps the demand for Masters degrees doesn't match the supply.

According to the article, Master's holders are more likely to take the first job offered, or anyway, take easy-to-get jobs, while college degree holders are more picky.
About 55 percent of jobseekers with masters’ degrees or
higher tend to aim at jobs lower than their educational standing, the report
Meanwhile, only 36.9 percent jobseekers with college diplomas apply for
jobs that are easy to get rather than what they want.

Some good news for those in my profession:"The study also indicates that college graduates with a B-grades minimum and a TOEIC score of 800 or higher find it much easier to obtain jobs after graduation." - Is that good news? I don't have much to do with TOEIC. Still, interest in English is interest in English.

I have been considering working on a Masters myself. I felt it would help my job prospects back home (whenever I do go back). Now, I wonder.