Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Free entry to national parks? Not really

Since the beginning of 2007, the Korean government has made entry to its parks free.

Since the beginning of 2007, the Buddhist temples residing in the parks have begun collecting increased fees at the gates.

The result is a slight decrease in the total entry fee (and it wasn't very high to begin with).

Still, hikers who are there simply to climb are less than eager to pay fees for temples they won't visit. For me, the only problem would be waiting for the ticket booth to open in morning or trying to climb over the gate (I like to start my hikes, even short ones, early).

So far this year Odaesan, between Yangyang and Gangneung, has had about 90,000 more visitors than the same period last year (455, 854 people over 364, 290 last year). The increase is attributed to the reduced fees.

The Jogye Order, the nation's largest Buddhist organization, collects money from climbers in national parks where its temples nestle.
The group insists that it is inevitable to levy fees on climbers because its temples occupy 8.9 percent of national parks and require funds to maintain roads leading to the temples and cultural assets.
``We can't help but charge some fees because the temple surroundings are ruined as more climbers stream in since the government abolished admission fees,'' an official of the Jogye Order said.
He said they will protect their property rights, saying roads, camp sites and parking lots on the group's land, which the government built without the order's agreement, are illegal.
``Unless the government restores the ruined nature around temples, we will call for compensation.''
About 19 other temples in national parks levy fees of up to 3,000 won, almost double the admission fees the government levied previously.
Some temples impose toll fees on cars running on roads near temples, arguing they pass through land owned by the temples.

I'm torn on the subject.
I was (somewhat) surprised to learn that the government had built illegal roads and such and can see that the temples need to raise funds to maintain their grounds. Asking the congregation to pay is not reasonable as these are tourist sites and most visitors have no connection to the temple, or any temple.

Still, reading that some temples now charge double the government's admission fee and are making toll roads damages the temples' credibility.

No more North Korean studies at Kwandong

In an article titled, "North Korean Studies Unpopular", the Korea Times, well, discusses just that.
I was surprised that only six universities actually have or had a North Korean studies department and that the oldest was established in 1994. I guess history or Korean studies departments at other universities cover most of the same material.

My university is, or was, one of the six. It apparently closed the department last year although the last cohort of students are still completing their program. I had four third-year students from the North Korean Studies department in a class this year, spring semester.

The article states, "Also, Kwandong University, which is located in Gangwon Province, gave up the studies last year because the school has failed to meet the admission quota over the last few years."
I am unclear on what that means as I felt we exceeded our admission quota in the last few years. Perhaps the NK Studies department (I took 'school' in the article to mean university) is under quota.

Chosun University abolished the department a year after its establishment because it could not guarantee jobs for graduates.

I didn't know universities were expected to guarantee jobs.

My students were interested in working in the military and in politics, which would make the degree at least somewhat useful.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Promises, promises

I've been busy or distracted or lazy over the last few months and haven't posted often. Not only that, in those few posts I promised to write follow-up or related posts and have not managed that.

I wrote about a journalism teacher at a US college whose students didn't really care and who wrote himself about what excellent teachers needed to do in that situation. I said that I would relate that to my classes and write an evaluation of my just-finished semester and plans and goals for next semester. I expect to do that soon.

I also told readers that I would go into more detail about my Jeju trip.

Finally, I completed an online quiz about atheism, posted the results on my blog and a commenter challenged me on the subject. We discussed things back-and-forth for a while before events (not serious, just the sort to take me away form my of-so-important computer time) at home pulled me away. I thought it would be a brief interruption but it's been a few weeks. Sometime, and not in the near future, I plan to repost those comments or parts of them.

Here's some big news: I have decided to read the bible! -What, it doesn't need an exclamation point? Alright, but it's a fairly major undertaking and I had to consider my motivation before starting.

I read the bible in grade three - I think it was a Gideon bible and I probably have it at home, still. It meant nothing to me at the time but I found the bible before going to university and took it there for some reason (it returned home, unread). Anyway, I will be reading an online version.

Why will I read it? There are a lot of reasons of secondary value but the primary reason is simple curiosity. What is all the excitement about?
Of lesser importance: I will check what others have said: there are two versions of Genesis and they don't agree with each other, The ten Commandments are different from when Moses drops them and when they appear elsewhere in The Book, Joseph and Mary go to Bethlehem for a Census although there are no records of a Census that year.

Secondly, many have said the writing in the bible is beautiful. Even Dawkins suggests reading the bible because it is the source for so many traditions in other literature. A teacher at my high school had students read the book of Job as literature.

I may post a few notes regarding my reading but I will not hurry so don't expect much here on the subject.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Shark warning issued

The Joongang Ilbo has a shark warning up. The warning is mostly for the South and West Seas although one large shark was caught off of Kyeongsang Buk Province.

I've swam with sharks and once felt more than a little nervous about my situation. Nothing bad or even really threatening happened..oh, all right, I'll tell my story:

I'm a great swimmer. I'm not bragging exactly; I trained for fifteen years and put the time and effort in. After university, my decline started.

My story takes place in Australia. It was a night dive. Earlier that day, I had had trouble descending; my ears didn't adjust to the pressure well and that was a first - I used to dive at full speed. On this dive, my partner pulled ahead and I suffered a leg cramp. Working through the pain, I caught up to him and tapped him. He looked at me, didn't see anything wrong and swam off again. For the first time in my life, I had trouble catching up to a dive partner.

Soon after, we prepared to surface. Australia, or the province we were in, required decompression stops just in case. There we were, sitting five metres under the dive boat, in a black sea and expected to remain for several minutes. Just at the edge of our lights, I could see shark eyes glittering and disappearing, glittering and disappearing.

Five minutes later, we got out.

I guess its not a thrilling story. I guess my point is, even I, a strong and knowledgeable swimmer, sometimes get the willies when shore is more than a minute away. The warning is not for my area, but I will be scanning a little more often and staying closer to shore than previously, I am sure.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Dr. Fish and serious concerns about the future

The weather stinks today. And it stunk yesterday. And it stunk during the last few days of my mom's visit.

While mom was here and as the walls of my small apartment closed in, we decided to spend a day at Hae-su-pia, a bathhouse, jimjilbang and rooftop garden with pool.

The jimjulbang occupied a whole floor and consisted of several dry saunas; a 'sweat' sauna, a 'jewel' sauna with quartz and semi-precious stones and more, including a 'cold' sauna with refrigerated walls. The saunas were clustered along two walls but a jimjilbang is more than that. It is also a little like a youth hostel (I am told youth hostels are more like business or university retreats here). There is a large open area for people to sleep or sit and talk (and drink) all night. I think people don't actually sleep much. There was also a bar, a restaurant, a PC room, a video game room and a children's play area.

With the bad weather, it was a good place for the little guy to run wildly and play with other children. For us, it was a place to let the little guy run and give mom a different experience.
On the roof there are two pools and the little guy and I swam in them last year. This year, the larger of the pools is now drained and the smaller one has aerators and thousands of little fish -medical fish (the ads are titled 'Dr Fish').

You are expected to pay some small amount to stand in the water and let the fish nibble away (stuff?) but no one was around so I stepped in and took a few photos.

On to the serious stuff.
Whenever I go out with the little guy, people are interested in him. He is a cute baby, I must admit. Still, passers-by are a little too curious and they are curious differently than Canadians would typically be. Many times a middle school girl would see him and call friends over and perform a 'Dr Fish' style visit on him.

While I am complaining, I will add people would frequently give him hard candy. One time in particular, we were walking and he choked on the candy, coughed it up, wouldn't spit it out and choked on it again before swallowing it. If he were still, he seemed to handle the candy fine, but it was still annoying and troubling.

People: Don't give my son candy.
If you feel you must give him candy, ask me first!

Back to people mobbing my baby. Probably they noticed me, the big foreigner, first. I would hear shouts of 'Waegukin!", the equivalent of "Tallyho" or the baying of a hound on the scent or ...do sharks make a call when they scent blood? Then, one person would arrive to see the baby and quickly summon others.

I am foreign. Still, I know two Koreans of Caucasian ethnicity well and there are others, so I could be Korean. My son is Korean. His eyes are larger and rounder than most Koreans and his hair is much lighter in colour ...
I almost wrote above "His eyes are larger and rounder than most ethnic Koreans..." but that is my point.
My sister invited her university roommate to dinner with our family once and my grandfather asked where she was from. "London [Ontario]", She replied.
"Where are you really from", my grandfather interrogated, curiously, with the latent racism forgivable in the elderly.
I get the same attitude here and it is getting less and less dismissible or forgivable.

A friend of mine, with his Korean wife and their child, have recently moved home to the US. Here is what he told me in an email:
Yes, for us school age is the cutoff as far as being in Korea, unfortunately. I don't know how you feel about it, but I think [name] would either end up being really reserved or bitter about being Korean, living in Korea, but always being singled out as a foreigner. ...I want him to have a secure identity, so if it can't be as a Korean it can easily be as an American. That's the way it goes.

I am always considering leaving but never all that seriously. My work and lifestyle here, though not even close to perfect, are comfortable enough that its hard to leave. Returning to Canada would mean great changes and a definite drop in standard of living, though possibly an increase in quality of life.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Bad news for Pyeongchang

Sochi has been selected as the site for the 2014 Winter Olympics.

CNN has the info here and Sochi has a wikipedia post.

CNN claims that Putin's visit to the voting site was a deciding factor. Yet another thing for people to hate No Mu-hyeon for.

I would like to say something snarky about Russia buying the vote or using mafia-style influence but I've already said similar things about Korea in the past. If Russia did anything like that, then Korea would have been beaten at its own game.

Of course, both sides could have played it clean.

Seriously though, both places seem pretty warm for Winter sports.

Sunday, July 01, 2007