Monday, August 28, 2006

"Recess" at the pool

The Joongang Daily has a weekly question and answer column that aims to explain cultural, and other, differences between Korea and the rest of the world.

This week's question is about rest periods or recesses at Korean pools. "
Swimmers in the water were asked, or so it seemed, to get out of the pool every hour or so, and the pool remained completely empty for a while. This seemed to repeat all afternoon."

This person must have spent a lot of time just sitting around watching the pool.

I've noticed the same thing. I guess it's fine if you arrive just as the rest period ends but it's darn annoying if you arrive fifteen minutes before it starts. Swim for fifteen minutes, get into a rhythm, then bam! Get out and sit around. Why?
The answer the Joongang gives is the same I've heard at many pools here.
...the recess is for health and safety reasons. A brief rest also can help prevent hypothermia among young children, who tend to stay for a prolonged period of time at play, and also prevent accidental drowning.

"Accidental drowning" Well, I might be curious about the 'accidental' part but I know that some (most of the ones I've visited, but that really isn't a significant number for the country)pools don't have lifeguards on deck much of the time. They sit in the lifeguard office most of the time, so far as I can tell. They are unlikely to be around during a 'deliberate' drowning and need to have the patrons rest because they aren't watching the patrons most of the time.

As for preventing hypothermia, I don't know. It was never an issue in Canadian pools but Koreans are delicate when it comes to hypothermia; witness the occurrence of fandeath here.

Again, if you arrive at exactly the right time, it's no problem. If you start swimming just before rest period, you can't convince the guards that you don't need a rest just yet. Actually, if I want to get a few more laps in, I just flip turn at the wall so they can't talk to me. I pretend I don't know what they're doing for a while.

While I was on vacation in Canada this summer, three or four people died from water-related accidents relatively near my home (nearby towns and districts, not neighbors). I hope to get some actually stats about watersafety here and from home to compare more than anecdotes from the two countries. Drownings don't make the news here so, for all I know, Koreans could have safe, boring swims interrupted every hour for a rest with hardly an accident to be found. Well, I'll be looking and hope to post on the subject in September.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Coast Guard or Navy?

I've seen many articles that I felt like blogging about and I even have time, although this is my the end of my free time for a while. It's just that reading the crap recently about foreign english teachers has made me sick. For my mom and possibly other readers from outside-of-korea, you can read that whole, sorry tale Here, with some background here, and here.

Wow. That bit is just about as big as the main point of today's post.

To get my mind off that mess, let me write about something that is merely weird.
According to the Joongang Ilbo, the Korean Coast Guard is expanding it's fleet. I don't actually know how well they manage their current duties so I can't say if I think the expansion is neccessary. Last year, there were reports of Chinese fishermen in Korean waters that attacked Coast Guard officers so beefing up the Incheon fleet might be wise to prevent further attacks.

No. The increase in ships (eight new 1000tonne ships) is "primarily designed to counter the size of Japan's Coast Guard."

I can't really guess why. Conflict between nations is normally settled by naval fleets, not Coast Guards fleets. I understand that Dokdo is a contested island but I cannot imagine the Coast Guard ships duking it out over the place.

Japan has more coastline than Korea so it's natural that they have a larger force patrolling it.

I am not completely against expansion of the Coast Guard; Canada should look into it.

Monday, August 21, 2006

There is at least one good swimmer in Korea

I recently wrote a post titled "why Koreans aren't good swimmers'. I was mostly commenting on how strange it was that Naksan Beach would have a festival titled, "Sea of Fear". To me, that's as reasonable as Air Canada showing "Snakes on a Plane" or "United 93", etc, on a flight.

Anyway, I got called on it. A commenter wondered why I would say such a thing.

I replied that in informal polling, around 10% or fewer of my students could swim and mentioned some personal observations I had made based on time at various pools and beaches in the country. I even made the bold claim that I had not yet met a Korean who was my equal as a swimmer.

I can still stand by those words as I have not met this man nor any of this teammates but Park Tae-hwan is pretty damn fast! Congratulations go out to him and Korea on their first gold in swimming at an international event. 3:45.72 for 400metres of freestyle is fantastic.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

New book by Limon

I made a resolution for 2006 to read a book a month about or somehow tied to Korea. I read about 80 pages of one thousand chestnut trees and the same of The Imjin War.
Chestnut trees was a library book and I had to return it before I left that district but it is one I really should have finished because parts of it were set in Yangyang Gun (the Kwandong in my name means the eight beautiful sights of Yangyang). I still have The Imjin War and will finish it...sometime.
Despite this failing, I want to recommend a book I haven't even read, yet.
Martin Limon has a series of books (Limon books at Amazon / What the Book) out about two CID detectives in '70s Itaewon. The first, Jade Lady Burning, was great. So great that I overlooked the weaknesses in the following two books, Buddha's Money and Slicky Boys. Anyway, his latest book, The Door into Bitterness, is out in hardcover now and Amazon will have it in softcover Sept 1. Without knowing anything about military life nor Korea of the seventies, these books feel right and I will be getting my copy soon.

Whatthebook has Limon's books but not the other two I mentioned. I figured their strongpoint would be books about Korea.

Oh, I am still working on figuring out how to post video - the video in the post below will be operational sometime (man, are you going to be disappointed after all the anticipation the wait is creating).

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Braving the Bracebridge falls (2)

Playing in the current at Bracebridge Bay Falls

Monday, August 14, 2006

Maybe this is why Koreans aren't good swimmers

Welcome to the 'Sea of Fear Festival'. (Naksan Beach, if you do want to go.)

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Foreign Workers repair flood damage

I just posted about native speaker English teachers possibly being whiners. Here is a story of some foreigners who really work hard in Korea. This group, at least, doesn't seem to be whining.

The foreign workers that day were all connected with the Ansan Foreign Workers Center in Ansan, Gyeonggi province. They volunteered to help with restoration of flood damage on a program managed by the JoongAng Ilbo and the Korean Association of Volunteer Centers.
On July 17, the Bangladeshi workers first discussed volunteering when they saw many flood victims suffering from loss and damage. In a meeting, about 30 workers decided to volunteer.

Also, Jodi at Asia Pages recently commented on meeting some a group of foreign workers near Busan.

Gangwon English Teachers in the news.

Two Gangwon English Teachers are in the newspapers this week.

In an article that could be titled: English Teachers - whiners or victims? Sara Avrams, a teacher in Youngwol, I believe, and an occasional speaker at the Gangwon KOTESOL meetings, is interviewed. She states that most of the time, the teacher involved didn't research the position well enough.

Teachers often hear horror stories about how the Korean legal system appears unwilling to get involved. Avrams points out that once they do get involved, the teacher is likely to be out of a job so nobody wins.
Avrams says the official channels will sometimes soft-pedal the gravity of the issue. Rather than rushing to court, they will often encourage the teacher to try to reach an agreement with the school.

"They are not trying to protect the employer, I think. They are aware that if they have to enforce a rule on behalf of the employee, the employee will likely be fired."

By offering advice to teachers rather than getting formally involved, the authorities are indeed helping. It's a reasonable point and I feel my POV broadening yet again.

Avrams worked as a legal educational advocate before coming to Korea so I expect her opinions to be based on fact. I can only describe my personal experiences. Here they are, should you care. (Below are my comments on an article by a second Gangwon English teacher.)

I certainly didn't do enough research before first coming to Korea but was apparently lucky. At my first hagwon, I learned of the loophole in the contract that all hagwons seem to love. Having a contracted set number of hours per month means they can work you into the ground in February. With Lunar New Year in a short month, 130 hours means almost ten hours a day.

I didn't get a year end bonus at that place because the roof leaked in a typhoon during my eleventh month there, closing the school. They did treat me well and I have no complaints with management.

I went home for a year before returning to Korea and working in Seoul. I knew better what questions to ask but had a strange interview. I asked many questions, eventually including a repeated, "Do you have any questions for me?" The interviewer explained that by asking smart questions, I had already displayed good knowledge of teaching and hagwon life. I was happy working at BCM. Some found the split shift exhausting - me, too, but I can sleep during the day.
In my second year, I was the foreign teacher liaison or coordinator. When I gave info to propective employees, I was positive about my experience but listed every problem we had had. Teachers I hired had their eyes wide open. There were fewer problems later that way.

Next, I worked at Baegam, Kyounggi-do. A nightmare job. I worked for ETC- this is where my blogging email address came from (brianetcetera (at) hotmail...) As always, great students but here is where I first saw creative accounting and other trickery. Oh, ETC changed it's name and a new company may now use the name elsewhere - any current ETC is not the one I am badmouthing.

I am now at Kwandong University. Almost any university position is superior to to any hagwon position and in my opinion, Kwandong takes good care of it's teachers. In general, you get better working conditions but students of a wider range of motivation at universities. It's easier for a teacher to be enthused at universities because there is more available prep time. The biggest negative for university work is, again, the range in motivation in the classes. Each class is fairly homogeneous in motivation but one class (best examples are medicine and education) is likely to be much more motivated than another (least motivated classes are typically piano, Phys Ed and Engineering). A few individuals will buck the trend, naturally.
Fro researchers on this university, there were posts on a blacklist website a few years ago. While there are problems at any jobsite, I don't think Kwandong belongs on any current blacklist.

The Herald closes it's archives to non-subscribers after a week -SO HURRY if you want to read it. They will be part two next week.

Rick Ruffin writes an interesting article about over- or conspicuous- consumption here on the peninsula. The article sort of reads like an interview with Jack who has no last name. On the whole, I agree with Jack's opinion about reducing consumption but he picks a strange opening example. He says,
"...the Korean government wants to build more dams. I understand that the recent floods were a terrible setback for hundreds of families living in the river valleys, but this response is only too typical for a world that can’t think outside the boundaries of ‘more.’ "

His other examples are all reasonable but he really doesn't give any alternatives to dam building. I can agree with drinking smaller amounts of coffee or using an air conditioner judiciously but these are not life and property-threatening choices.

I actually have a tiny bit of knowledge about dams in Korea thanks to a wonderful speaker who gave a lecture at Minjok Sagwan when I was working there. This speaker must remain even more anonymous than 'Jack' as I can't remember her name. Let me paraphrase what she told us:
Korea ranks very highly in total number of dams built and I believe is first in dams per capita. Dams are only stopgap repairs: They eventually silt up so they lose value in preventing floods or storing water for agriculture. Korea has been building dams for fifty years and still has flooding problems so they are clearly not a perfect solution.

Perhaps dams are not a longterm solution but they do mitigate the damage caused by flooding. A more appropriate opening example or alternative solution would have been nice.

Friday, August 04, 2006

A good day/ lost and found

Today wasn't exactly a special day but it was the first one I was comfortable and caring for Kwandongalex wasn't a chore.
That sounds terrible. On previous days, the little guy was pretty uncomfortable in the heat and we felt trapped in the apartment, avoiding the sun. The apartment doesn't take long to close in.

I took him to Hae-su Pia, a health club and sauna with "yu-a" pools on the roof. I don't know what Yu-a means, but one pool was perfect. It was chest deep for my son and just deep enough that I could lay out and maneuver easily to stay near the little guy.

Here, I got a staff member to take a picture. I don't know why he chose to tilt the camera.

There were many awnings and we relaxed under them. Kwandongalex enjoyed running around on the no-slip decking but the exposed areas were HOT and he didn't know what to do. He would stand in place and cry until I ran over to rescue him and cool his feet in the pool.

Skindleshanks, if you and a little one want to hang out on the roof, call or email me - I've misplaced your contact info. My much-belated congratulations on the birth of you second child. I am ' brianetcetera (at) hotmail (dot) com '.

From the roof, I could dimly see Ulsan-bowi. Earlier in the week, it stood out clearly. This is the view I am used to during summers in Korea.
After swimming and relaxing by the pool, we went to E-mart. E-mart is air-conditioned and has a children's play area. There's not much for a toddler to do but I did mention and air-conditioning, right? Other parents had the same idea; there must have been twenty kids in the play area. Most were watching TV but the toddlers wandered amongst them, patting heads and staring curiously at books and older children.

Upon returning home, Kwandongalex played and slowly got tired. He went to sleep around 5:00pm. I predict that we will be visiting Expo Park around midnight.

Lost and Found

I forget things.
A lot.
Recently, I couldn't find my housekey. It turned out that my wife had picked it up and put it in her purse (we have matching keyrings). I was just grateful that it wasn't my failing memory this time.
Before we went to Canada, I left my hat in an in-law's car. It is a good Tilley hat (it's a Canadian thing- I love my Tilleys). It arrived by taek-bae today. It's good to have it back.

Even better, Air Canada found a checked bag they had misplaced and I will be getting it back, ah, sometime.
I had, in fact, prepared to rant about Air Canada losing the bag, even though part of the trouble was I did not properly check the ticket to see if there were two checked-bag tags. At the check-in counter, the attendant forgot to tag my second bag and I had a little trouble convincing AC that I did have, really, two bags. Anyway, they found it.

AC did me right on the flight home, as well. Kwandongwife returned to Korea before I did for work and I flew with the little guy. I had dreaded the flight but the flight attendants took good care of the two of us and were very helpful.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Hot and Tired

If you tried to read my previous post and were confused by the bit about my computer troubles and comments; me, too. I guess to the blogging adage, "never blog angry", should be added, "never blog jetlagged". Anyway, I'm still having computer trouble and am wondering if or when it will be time to get a new computer.

I don't know if I am still jetlagged but I am definitely tired. I understand that I am now in a place where day and night are almost perfectly switched but KwandongAlex doesn't and has had either too much sleep or not enough. In some of his waking periods, he is cranky and almost asleep. Although we had started giving him half his calories in solid foods (are yogurt or stew solids?) it is easier to give him a bottle during this transition so he is stepping backward somewhat.

I'm not sure if I will take him to the beach tomorrow. He learned to like the water in Canada and here enjoys the waves breaking over his feet and sucking him seaward but finding a place to change him into dry clothes is such a chore that I finish as hot and sweaty as when I arrived at the beach.

Changing topics now, what is the deal with the awnings at the beach? I arrived while they were setting up this morning and took a prime spot before the workers arrived to set an owning up. They told me (politely) to move and I simply told them no. They tried to explain to me that the awning was to go over the place I had selected and I should move or pay them the rental fee. I continued to say, "no" and once tried to explain that I felt in a public beach, the rule was some variety of first-come, first-served. Eventually they stopped bothering me and left.

I respect that they rent awnings to beachgoers that want them and I would never crowd or bother others using the awnings. Still, if they are licenced or officially permitted to work on the beach, do they really get to take the prime spots and make frugal folk take places further from the ocean? Am I the only one who finds that weird? Do Koreans really accept being treated like second-class citizens on public land?

Possibly this is a similar situation. I originally felt that Koreans were not sticking up for their right to safe riding conditions on buses. The Scribbler (Metropolitician, podcast #3), in a podcast, explained that, in general, Koreans accepted the rough driving as the price for faster service and I realized I had been narrow-minded. Is there an anagolous explanation for beach conditions?

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

I'm Back

...and really tired. I mean I'm sleepy, it's not that my arms are sore or anything, although it was a long flight.

I don't know what everyone has been complaining about; the weather seems warm enough. Man, those crybabies in July sure whined, apparently about nothing.
Kwand..(I'm shortening our names to K... for now- you can pronounce the 'k' or not as you like): Kwife was very happy and excited to see KAlex but he didn't really seem to recognize her. He was willing to be picked up by her but didn't spend much time looking at her.

We took advantage of the weather this morning. After walking KwandongWife to the bus stop for work, KwandongAlex and I went to the beach. The water was clear and refreshingly cool. The little guy took a few moments to get used to the water but was happy to stay and play.
Getting him ready to swim and later ready to go home was much less pleasant. It's a real challenge for a single adult to change a baby into and out of diapers and swimsuits and all the rest. One thing I liked in Canada was the availability of diaper changing stations; there's room for improvement here.

In other unpleasant news, my computer decided today to give up on Explorer. Last night, I was able to visit every site but Yahoo. I would sign in to Yahoo, have two seconds to see how many messages I had, then the window closed. This morning, Explorer closed itself immediately after being opened.
Which leads me to a question. I was a computer expert and taught my high school teachers what to do in the old days but not many people used Commodore 64's now and my current knowledge is self-taught with many lacunae. Added to this, my computer has a Korean OS and I never did follow through with learning Korean with the vigor I'd imagined when choosing the OS. The computer has little or no anti-virus protection either. Still, I wonder if one reason for the computer's moodiness is the number of downloads (mostly from reputable sites) and possible conflicts. When you get a new computer, what are the minimum downloads you expect to install? I figure the following, unless these are now part of the package installs:
Firefox (which I'm currently using but not usually)

Now, my computer has a lot of redundant programs. I-tunes loading with something else but Korea didn't have I-tunes at the time so I picked up I-podder-lemon.
Serif-photo plus is another good download.
I have some codecs and such for converting files.
If you don't understand which ones I felt were necessary - then we are in agreement. Anyway, comments and assistance are welcome.