Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Voting for foreigners

Skindleshanks might, or might not, be able to vote tomorrow. Many foreigners will, in fact be able to.

This brings to mind Twain's comment that many people complain about the weather but no one ever does anything about it. Well, Korea's political-scene bloggers may soon be able to do more than just complain.
Well, I can't do justice to Skindleshanks' post.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Flowers in the field are so lovely

I don't normally comment on the funny english I see here in Korea. I once told students that I saw many 'am' (암) on the weekend. They very kindly explained that 'am' meant cancer and they had no idea what I was talking about (I had meant hermitage or 'attached temple' - I think I was talking about the hermitages near haeinsa in particular). Make a few mistakes like that and you learn to forgive other's mistakes.

Besides, there is nothing really wrong with this package. Maybe it is only dirty old men or childish men (is there a difference?) who would wonder where you should apply 'Booby Band' to on your body and if men should use it at all.

My plan for the rest of the month is to use 'Flowers in the fields are so lovely' as a euphemism describing the sight of low cut dresses and the like. After all, Spring is Booby season.
The bear does seem to in on some kind of joke. I don't think he'll be upset.

Skindleshanks has his own comments on the brandname.

The Seoul Hero gets a new job title: Father

Congrats go out to Nathan and his family, including the newest member. I have linked to his may 2006 archive as the birth occured near the end of the month and over the course of Friday morning he has managed to write several posts on the subject.

I don't think I am that capable of being profound but Nathan's blog title of Seoul Hero made me consider that only the strongest heros can take on the perils of fatherhood.

All the best to the three of them.

Is North Korea evil?

I don't normally delve into politics and although I have opinions about American politics, they don't really fit the nature of this blog so I have kept them to myself. In general, I find myself against the Bush administration but I like to think I am an open-minded person.

Recently, I found an interesting quote by Condoleezza Rice. From Yonhap:
Rice said there is no other term for North Korea and former Iraq but "evil," despite the incendiary nature of the word. Actually, I guess I am quoting the paper paraphrasing her, but I am certain they captured the spirit of her words quite clearly.

Now, I don't know about Iraq. I read the papers and watch CNN but I haven't paid careful attention. I have absorbed enough news about North Korea to have a strong opinion that is based on the evidence. I won't be joining any national think-tank nor publishing any books on the subject but, as with most people living within a hundred kilometres of the border, I have a hobbyist's enthusiasm for the subject.

And I agree completely with Rice.

I am not giving up my views on other politcal hot-potatoes, but perhaps I will look at them again. If we agree on this subject, perhaps I am wrong on others.

It's a struggle keeping an open mind, but i'm trying.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Choosing to be Korean, Part 2

A few weeks ago, I interviewed a coworker, Marcus, regarding his reasons for choosing to take Korean citizenship.

Today, I interviewed another coworker who has also chosen to be Korean. Tammy has been here for almost thirty years and has been Korean for about twenty years. Although Marcus' decision was based on logic, Tammy's was based more on emotion. She simply feels at home here.

This is my third podcast and I find recording them interesting. Odeo offers a great service but for each of the three recordings, the first time through didn't save properly and I had to do the interviews a second time. Such repetition might have made my delivery smoother but I also find that I reference the previous (and erased) podcast in the current one. I hope this isn't too distracting.

I am satisfied with the interview but I found myself at least once concentrating on the mechanics of recording (volume level, elapsed time,...) too much and giving a sort of meaningless grunt when she stopped talking. Interviewing people requires real skills!

You can download the mp3 here.

Or, listen to it below.

powered by ODEO

Monday, May 22, 2006

Korean as a second language podcast

Intro: This is the first of who-knows-how-many podcasts about learning Korean. At this point, I can't say that much about what future podcasts will cover but I expect they will include a sample conversation, possibly a vocabulary list, and a pronunciation guide. Naturally, the pronuncation segment will cover problems I know I have; there are likely to other problems I am unaware of. The first few 'casts will be a review of lessons a have already completed - I don't want to sound too terrible right away.

My expectation for these casts is that listeners review the shownotes while listening the first (or first few)time(s). Then, they will be able to listen again for review purposes anywhere. That's if all goes well. A more modest or reasonable expectation is that listeners will turn off and delete the podcast a minute after the intro.

After a few 'casts, I will reorder the 'casts each time a new one is made. In other words, if a future cast seems simpler in content than this one, it will be listed first.

I have some desire and even a need to learn Korean but a limited motivation. I own several Korean Language books and have completed a few units of each. The first few 'casts, including this one, will be based on a unit from one of these books. Today's cast is based on lesson 12 from 'Korean through English, book one' from Seoul National University. The title of the lesson is, "where are you going?" I will not repeat the complete unit here and I will only use one or possibly two units from any one book so I don't think I am running afoul of copyright infringement. If anything, perhaps I will encourage you to buy the book.

With me today is a student of mine, Bak Ji-min. She will read the conversation, we will repeat it and then work on alternatives. Then she will help me with the pronunciation. Today's pronunciation exercise involves pronouncing and recognizing some Korean vowel sounds. The modern transliteration of hangeul to english would spell these vowels as "a", "eo" and "eu". The closest English comparison would be "a" as in 'bat, 'o' as in dot and 'u' as in but. Again, the Korean sounds are not exact matches with the English letters they are represented by. For example, Koreans spell the english word "cop" - police officer - an 'a'.

In my translation of the conversation, I left out the subject a few times as Koreans typically don't use the subject if it is already clear.

If you do choose to listen more than once, the Korean starts at around 3:20

Where are you going?

A: 어디가세요? --Where are you going?
B: 학교에 가요. --going to school.
Alternatives:힉원, 운동장

A: 수업이 있어요? --Do you have a class?
B: 네, 수업이 있어요. --Yes, I have a class.

A: 몇 시에 시작해요? --When does your class start?
B: 열시에 시작해요. --Starts at 10.

A: 벌써 아홉시 반이에요. -- It's already 9:30.
빨리 가세요. -- Should hurry


a.................... eo............................ eu
'아' .................'어'............................'으'

temple suffix...west


Go.......................'big' -Chinese...................He

'Leaf' -Chinese...Castle..............................Buddhist monk

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Find the MP3 here.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

A slow news day?

As Kent Brockman once said, "I guess you could say... this barely qualifies as news."

I am sure Penman is a good guy (he lives in coastal Gangwondo so he has good taste, anyway) and I don't really blame him for his article. The Herald, after all, chose to run it.

He spent some time in China and then moved to Korea. Korea was a surprise. A pleasant surprise. The end.

As the Herald closes it's archives after a week, I'll post the section the Herald must have loved here:

...Koreans keep their sense of a truly unique national identity. I think this rubs off into the psyche of the people, as most Koreans are modest and polite. This, coupled with Korea's geographical position in Asia and, up until very recently, a troubled relationship with their true brothers, North Korea, makes South Korea an exciting and interesting place to live! I can't yet offer a subjective comparative to Japan, unfortunately, because, simply, I've never been, but it's hard to imagine them being too far ahead! Admittedly, I, like most Western people my age, didn't have to many ideas about Korea, but it is safe to assume, if I had made many negative ones they might have been dispelled quickly. So far, I'm lovin' it!

At first read, this sounds pretty naive but, then, I have to agree that most Koreans are modest and polite. It is only the loud ones who are very loud that alter my perception. Perhaps I owe Penman some thanks for reminding me.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Low birthrates, pro and con

Note: I mispelled a name. My apologies.

I just read Rick Ruffin's article about birthrates and the previous article he was commenting on. Korea has an amazingly low birthrate and the two articles discuss whether this is good or bad. The first article makes the case that Korea is reaching a dangerously lopsided ratio of employed population to total population. The few of employable age will need to pay greater and greater taxes to maintain the elderly.

The most outstanding problem with low birthrates is it increases the ratio of old people to young people. It spawns an awesome situation of a shrinking labor force. The reduction in the number of taxpayers is set to cause the collapse of various welfare funds on which a growing number of elderly rely. The situation is serious enough to threaten existence of the nation itself.

Ruffin's reply is that reducing the population by having fewer children is the best way to reduce overcrowding, pollution, farm-field exhaustion and other problems.
Almost every environmental problem- and most social and political problems throughout the world today- are because of human population increase. Pollution, famine, pestilence, over-development and war can all be attributed to high concentrations of humans. And you are encouraging everyone to have more kids! You are concerned that there will not be enough people paying into the "system" to support the increasing aging population. Well I say the money saved from not having to deal with pollution and waste created by too many people can more than make up for the money needed to support all the grandmothers and grandfathers soon to appear on the scene.

Reducing the population through reducing the number of children per family does sound like one of the most benign ways to protect the environment but it all comes down to numbers.

Some numbers can be found in a pdf at 'weforum'. There, I found, "Korea will need to figure out how to support a growing inactive population with fewer workers. As shown in the figure above, if Korea maintains its current activity rates between 2000 and 2030, the ratio of workers to retirees is expected to plummet from nearly 7.1 to 2.7."

Click on the picture for a larger view of the population pyramid.

I have no basis for comparison to the ratio of nearly three workers to one retiree but the ratio for children is absent. Naturally, there will still be some children even with the small birthrate and they will also need care.

Korea of 2030 may continue to be viable with these ratios but it will have even less breathing room. There will be less surplus and a big surplus is needed considering our neighbor to the north. Should reunification happen, caring for the North Koreans will be difficult now; in the near future, it will be all but impossible.

There is another way to look at the decreasing birthrate. There will be fewer 'pureblooded' Koreans. I do not feel this is bad in itself and I don't want to belittle my own son's racial mixture but the broader perspective is that the world is 'samifying'. The world culture is already becoming western and the world's people are losing their distinctiveness. Koreans and Indians choose to wear western suits rather than hanboks or saris. McDonalds is everywhere...
Anyway, there is a book describing how the world's cultures are becoming more similar. I have only listened to the interview but the book can be found here.

I do agree that if the world's population can be kept stable, or preferably, drop slightly but steadily for a few generations, the world will be a better place. It just seems to me that Korea is experiencing a precipitious drop rather than the gentle one that would allow greater longterm stability.

I don't know if this next article, in the Times the same day as Raffin's article, has any relevance but it is ironic to find the two together.
The article describes a Kyongsang family with 12 children. An excerpt:
A church pastor and his wife living in Kumi, North Kyongsang Province, gave birth to their 12th child Sunday, adding another member to their already large family. Rev. Kim Suk-tae, 47, and his wife Um Kye-suk, 42, a couple married for 20 years, will now shepherd the country's largest single family.

Here is one couple that should be well-taken-care-of when they retire!

Monday, May 15, 2006

Cycling: broken teeth, bears and a mild rant

Actually my two stories are not connected at all - well, bikes are in both stories.

My teeth are fine but apparently my bike gears have some serious tooth decay. During this riding season, I found that when I really made a powerful stroke, the chain would skip and sometimes fall loose. At the bike shop, the owner brought to my attention the sad state of my middle ring- the one connected to the peddles. Several teeth are broken and many are unnaturally sharp. While the smaller and larger rings are in better shape, they too show the effects of grinding.

I left the shop with my bike and the need to consider what to do. I think I need to replace the three rings, but do I also need to replace the chain? A friend in Canada, Barry Faulkner, showed me how to measure the chain. Apparently, 12 links should be 12 inches. I have not yet measured it, by the way. He told me that chains stretch a little and should be replaced every 15,000km or so ( or was it miles - all errors in this post are my own). At the time, it didn't seem all that important; a long ride was 50km and most were commuting-type rides of under 5km. 15,000km would take years.

Well, I've had my bike for about 13 years now and have cycled across most of Canada (Yes, I am so damn proud of that that I try to fit into every bike post. Sorry to annoy you). I've also covered fair ground here in Korea. I guess I probably am at or above 15,000 by now.

If I didn't mention it before, a stretched chain doesn't fit the gear properly anymore and so grinds them. I suppose other things can grind gears, like not shifting far enough to allow the chain to fit tightly to the gear.

The bike shop owner has given me good service in the past but this is a major overhaul and likely to be exensive. His shop caters to mountain bikes - as all shops in Korea seem to - and I worry about his ordering the right parts. I guess I should start investigating the situation - the gears have the Shimano brandname and a number and such so product matching should be simple - instead of writing about it.

By before I go, a story about a Canadian cyclist -in Canada- who was attacked by a black bear.

A mountain biker in Alberta was apparently chased down and attacked. He is in the hospital but will be okay, he has a few broken bones and such but the article suggested that he would recover more or less completely.

Firstly, I feel for the guy. If he saw the bear approaching, I guess he would try to pedal away. The article didn't have a lot of details but he could have been climbing a hill or just finished climbing a hill and unable to race away. Or maybe it was simple, level ground; bears are much faster than they look. Once the bear got him, it had him for hours. Other cyclists found him and the bear, left to get help and then rescued him. I can't imagine hearing or seeing help so close leaving again.

Back to my trip across Canada (fit it in again. Woo-hoo!). On my trip I saw one grizzly at a distance and a black bear cub near road on two occassions. Seeing the grizzly was cool and I would have missed it except that I first saw and questioned the student standing on the roadside beside her car and waving a big antennae array. She pointed to the grey mass several hundred meters away. This opportunity for a close connection with the location is why I love cycling.

Seeing the cubs was much scarier. The first time, I was on level ground and the cub was in some brush very near the highway's shoulder. I began to edge into traffic as I approached and the horn of a surprised driver scared the bear away. I am sure that I upset the driver (who was oblivious to the bear) but I am glad he sounded his horn. The second time, I had just finished a fair climb, there were no cars nearby and I was tired. As I passed the bear I 1)tried to take a picture holding the camera sideways and hoping it was in the frame 2) looked anxiously for it's mother and 3) struggled to come up with any reasonable speed to pull away from a possibly dangerous situation.

Yeah, I feel for the guy and wish him a fast recovery.

On the other hand, he was wearing headphones when he was attacked. Now, they may have had nothing to do with his injuries. It's completley possible that listening to whatever was not a factor in being attacked or in not being able to escape. I just hate the idea of listening to music or podcasts or non-natural sounds when exercising in natural surroundings. This is probably material for a separate post so I'll be brief here. I wear headphones in the gym and find they help fill in the time spent on the exercise bike but I would never use them while riding outside. I listen to podcasts while walking downtown but would never listen while hiking.

Part of the reason is concentration. I have already implied that the cyclist attacked by the bear might not have been concentrating because of what he was listening too. Road cycling is concentration intensive and I think headphones are illegal while cycling or even driving a car. I'm not sure about the illegal part, but it is known to be a bad idea.

I do find background music helps me concentrate when I study or do a variety of other tasks (marking papers and other school work but also wood carving), however . Odd, that.

The main reason I disapprove of listening to music and the like in natural settings is that I respect the settings too much - unlike some students, I wouldn't listen to my MP3 player in class or at meetings or at church and I feel forests deserve the same treatment. I am of the view that hiking, canoeing and other outdoor sports cannot be fully enjoyed without really immersing yourself in the situation.

This view may bring me back to the concentration issue. I do not want to immerse myself in cycling when I am at the gym because it is pretty monotonous but I do want to immerse myself in cycling on a quiet back-country road because it is peaceful.

Anyway, I hope the guy will soon be well and, regardless of their responsibility in his injuries, I also hope he leaves his headphones at home or, well, not on his head, when he next goes riding.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Tour de/da/ Korea

It hasn't been a great Tour De Korea. I was working throughout the races so I was unable to watch any of them but I did see these signs. Is 'Da' an Italianized version (brought to mind by the 'Da Vinci Code' publicity)? The two signs faced one another - I cut'n'pasted the top one in.

Seoul bloggers have been commenting on the good weather but here it has been miserable. I've gone back to wearing a jacket and carrying a new umbrella - my old one was bent up in the wind. Man, rain and wind; those cyclists must be loving the race.

The organizers can't be too happy with the weather either. I saw one pace car in the ditch; I guess because of slippery driving conditions. Perhaps the riders look on the bright side by thinking, "At least there are no fires and water reserves are back up to where they should be."

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Children's day Coast Guard Tour

I had a chance to to ride on a Coast Guard boat on Children's Day. I love being on the water and had a good time. Our little guy didn't care for the rocking though and was pretty sick. He was sick while he was inside the galley cabin and a little time in the fresh air fixed him up. We finally found the perfect location; in the doorway where we could be warm enough yet still have some moving air.
Below, a 250 ton Coast Guard ship.

KwandongAlex and I in front of the 50 ton ship we toured in.
I had wanted to see Naksan from this vantage for years and finally got the chance.

Fun at E-mart

He seems to be having fun. A good thing, too. I had to hunt around to find a cart. Actually, at ten months old, him riding in the cart was probably more important to me than to him.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Tour De Korea

I saw a sign in Yangyang that this year's Tour De Korea is about to start. The race starts in Seoul and takes two days to reach Yangyang, then they have some time trials and circuit racing.

I could find no information about this year's race but here are some links from last year's.

Oranckay was all over it last year. Recently he had some connectivity problems but he is the best source for the tour.

I also found a website forum with a discussion about the race.

The Tour of Korea is a fairly hard race. Mike Carter, a friend and racer who got 2nd there last year and 8th this year, told me a little bit about who is elligible to get in the race and what it's like when I saw him while he was here doing it this June.Basically, elite-level racers and professionals are the only racers allowed in. That means that the people who do the race have all been racing for at least a few years. Because there is no road racing for people to partake in to learn to race in South Korea, the 'local' riders consist mostly of racers who compete in track events, and a few who
comprise a road team that travels to different Asian countries to race during
the summer. According to Mike, the track riders have alot of trouble even
finishing each stage, let alone being a factor in the race. Apparently, and to
the behest of the riders who were finishing the stages, the officials were
allowing these local riders to drop out half way through some of the stages and
still start the next-day's stage -- a definite violation of UCI (International
governing organization of cycling) rules. But, being as the race is "the Tour of
Korea," they wanted to be able to say that at least some Koreans finished the

Sorry that I'm still in 'quote mode'. I don't know how to get out. Anyway, I also rode about last year's race but I just rehashed what others said. If you like, check the archive for May 2005.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

An interesting place to park illegally

My father was a police officer and we lived near the station. I would often see the brakelights of cars come on as the drivers realized a police station was ahead. If they thought about it, they would realize that police stations are not (or weren't, I don't know about nowadays) armored fortresses with cameras and people guarding the roads nearby. They don't particlularly care if you're speeding. I guess that the locals aren't that fussy about what happens just outside their stations either, but it does look bad.

Audio is working in post below.

It took some effort to make the player in the post below work and I found that once it worked, every time I went back to add this update, it stopped working. It took a lot of work to get that player going - you had better LOVE it!

Oh, the problem mostly went away when I used 'Firefox' browser instead of Explorer.

Choosing to be Korean

Update: I am trying to get the audio to work on my site. You can still follow the link to ODEO and listen there.

Today I interviewed Marcus, or Masuro, about his decision to be a Korean citizen. It is a subject I am very curious about because being Canadian is important to me; it's a emotional issue. For Marcus, however, it seems to be the practical choice.

This is not my first time playing with audioblogging but I am a novice - one manifestation of my lack of experience is the low volume of the audio. Crank it up. The conversation is just under eleven minutes.

To listen to the audio as an MP3, visit Odeo.