Friday, May 30, 2008

If I had a soul, it would be filling with terror!

I learned a new word last week.

Somewhat before class, a student asked if we could have a "Yahweh" class.

Here is an approximation of my stream of consciousness:
Did she just say, "Yahweh"? Does she want a religion class; a Christianity class? What has she heard about me? Am I expected to discuss religion? This is a Christian university.uh, uh, what do I do? What do I do?

Turns out, the Korean word for 'outdoor' sounds similar to to the Christian word for God. It was a beautiful day and she wanted to slack off. Not willing to ask for the hour off, she did the next best thing and asked to go outside for class.
I am an atheist but that doesn't affect anything I teach. I have never bad mouthed religion, of any sort, in class.
Has anyone ever had a successful outdoor class - not one based on sports or relevant material, but simply generic material with the class held outside? If so, please give me advice on how to do that. I suspect I could give a good class outside but to do so takes a lot prep and good weather days are unpredictable -except this year when it is easiest to predict bad weather.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Indiana Jones Quadrology is overrated!!!

There. I said it.

Did I say it right? Is quadrology even a word? Anyway, this series of movies is not that great. Sure, the original Raiders was fantastic and I suspect it still is. The second movie sucked big time -more below, and the third was completely satisfactory, partly due to Connery's involvement. The fourth movie is not good at all - again, more below.

Granted, its been a while, but what I remember most of the second movie is Indy holding a (living, belligerent) swordsman's arm and hand and using them to duel a second swordsman. And that he did that many times. For some reason, that is what strikes me now - that's what I remember now - as being the most unbelievable part. It seems to rank up there with Catwoman (Halle Berry) escaping from jail by squeezing between the bars.

I have just returned from seeing the fourth movie and enjoyed myself. In a few years, I expect my son will enjoy it, too. That is unless 3-d and holo-entertainment haven;t ruined him for entertainment that was good enough for his dad - kids, those days!

Still, there was a lot wrong with the movie. My biggest problem is continuity. There is a scene in a 50's dinner (the movie is set in the 50s, so they probably just called it a dinner) where LaBeouf knocks down the ketchup and mustard containers, in the next scene they are upright and in the next scene, they are down and Indy sets them upright.

That's a small thing. Worse, and this is chiefly because it is the last thing you see in the movie...

[no SPOILERS ALERT!] ......................... [no SPOILERS ALERT!]

In the last scene of the movie, Labeouf is about to take a picture. A slightly interesting thing happens and he is distracted. Then everyone leaves the room, Labeouf is the last to leave, and he walks out, leaving the camera on a chair. It does look like simple forgetfulness; not on the character's part but on the director's or the editor's.

There are other plot problems but there is so much excitement that you can ignore most of it.

Enjoy the score, enjoy the trailers for some cool upcoming movies and don't even try to think about the plot - you'll only hurt your think-bone.

Added later: Ha, ha! Gangneung doesn't have a good movie theatre!

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

What's with this movie, Taken?

At the local Primus Cinema*, I saw ads for what looks to be good spy flick, Taken.
At home, I went to Rotten Tomatoes and found info on a 1999 movie with Liam Neeson. Check. It seems to be the same movie.

In Korea, though, the website is advertised as 'Taken2008'.

A friend saw the movie and liked it but why did it take eight or more years to get here?


* Ha, ha, Gangneung. We have a good theatre here and you guys don't!

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Sleep or use your phone in class, join the gallery

Sleeping is one thing, but hiding under the desk to use your phone is a new one for me.

I asked him a question in class, his head popped up to answer -very briefly - then he disappeared. I actually stepped onto a desk, walked across a few rows and shot down at him.

The Hominid has landed!

He is in Canada overnight before starting his walk home. Our mutual friend, Nathan, found him a place to stay and carried him in "the last vehicle I'll be riding in for the next year or two."

Monday, May 26, 2008

I'm an uncle - again!

Congrats to Geoje-JongMyeong, my wife's brother, and his wife on their currently-nameless 3.1 kilo baby boy, born about a month early but healthy and with a lot of hair.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Crappy beach weather

Saturday morning began with thick fog but around 2pm we cast solid shadows outside the apartment building. So KwandongAlex and I went to the beach.

There, the fog remained thick and cool. The little guy had fun running in circles and in patterns that probably made sense to him and we both chased a few pigeons, but I kept him in a long sleeve shirt.

I had hoped for better. I was ready to make the plunge, long overdue. No dice.

KBS was problaby also hoping for better conditions. They interviewed me, requiring that Sokcho's handsomest guy be in the picture - and my son, as well. We may be on the telly on Friday, around or after 7:00am.

Lighting conditions were really weird; it was diffuse but still too bright for me to see the images on the screen of my camera. I tried to take a pic of the KBS crew - the cameraman, the English speaking interviewer and the pretty girl (she probably has lots to do when interviewing Koreans but this is not the first time the producer or someone has interviewed me while the host looks on in a friendly but blank way) - but the camera was claiming there was no memory card. I couldn't see that there was a problem until after they had walked away. I chose not to chase after them to repeat the photo, although that might have been ironic as we took three takes for the video.


A different Brian, linked recently to an interesting post by the Gypsy Scholar, who quotes [with a set of adjustments] extensively from a book by Bruce Bawer. I am uncertain what the post is about.

JeollanamBrian uses the word Gangwondon't, which is kind of clever, except that the article only appears to be about Gangwon Province or South Korea in general.

The style is brilliant; the post describes the unfortunate but not surprising reaction of the proprietor of a B & B to an American. Briefly, the American and his friends are treated badly, they complain mildly and are vilified by the proprietor and the local media.
The article ends:
For me, the episode raised a few questions. Why had the South Korean press paid so much attention to a mere travel article? Why had it then been so eager to repeat a cartoonish lie and obsess over it for days? Were these actions reflective of a society more serious, more thoughtful, than the one I'd left? Or did they reflect a culture -- or, at least, a media class -- that was so awed by America as to be flattered by even its slightest attentions, but that was also reflexively, irrationally belligerent toward it?

This sort of story will sound depressingly familiar to many expats living here in South Korea.

However, the story isn't about South Korea at all. It's about an experience that Bruce Bawer had in Norway and recounts in pages 96-97 of While Europe Slept: How Radical Islam is Destroying the West from Within. Another, shorter version of the story can be found online, in Bawer's article "Hating America,", Vol. LX, No. 3: Autumn 2007.

Here's the code for deciphering the story posted above: Korean = European; South Korea = Norway; Gangwon-do = Telemark; The Hankyoreh = Aftenposten; Hanwoo (i.e., Korean beef) = reindeer; South Korean = Norwegian; Grand National Party = Conservative Party; and MBC = NRK.

Again, although the story is of bad behaviour, it seems entirely believable that it happened in Korea. I think the idea is clever and the fact that I believed it, when I thought it was set in Korea, says a lot about anti-Americanism in Korea and my own prejudices as well.

Still, as it is not, in fact, about Korea or Gangwondo, it seems unfair for Brian to describe it that way. The Gypsy also links his point to the naivete of most American travellers, which, well, ...I'm a simple guy and wasn't sure what the point was.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Summer travel suggestion

Why not drive to European Rusia (sorry, it seems you can't get to the country with two 's')?

Let this sign be the response to any who say Koreans are not forward thinkers or long term planners.

Sign seen on Highway 7 north of Yangyang.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

How did I not think of this?

I am not much of a chess player but thought (I suppose, as any teenager does on any subject) that I knew everything there was to know about silly sports in the water.

This looks cool - well, for a few moves..

Korea's Edison

I am not talking about the owner of the Edison Chamsori Museum in Gangneung - I don't care for him much, but the museum is pretty good.

No, I'm talking about Nam Jong-hyun.

Why do I consider him Korea's Edison? Well, Edison said, "I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work. " (link, as if it's needed). Mr Nam found 807 ways that didn't work before his great invention, the one that earned him, " the highest-class industrial award on this year's Invention Day." (Korea Times, as are further quotes). Let's keep the suspense up by not naming his invention just yet.

Invention Day "was established after the same date in 1441, when King Sejong announced the invention of the world's first rain gauge."

Alright, his invention? Dawn 808. It is a hangover cure. King Sejong would be proud.

I'm sorry, it is not merely a hangover cure:
Nam's invention not only covers hangovers and lack of stamina. The renowned inventor has domestic and international patents in various fields from cures for burns to a hair-restorer.

Let me join commenter Jimbo2 in wondering if he sells it from a covered wagon outside of Dogpatch.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

What does your tongue actually do when you speak?

New Scientist Magazine has an interesting article about how we can understand what our mouths do when we speak. I get annoyed quickly in trying to describe how my tongue presses my upper palate behind the teeth for the 'T' sound but further back for the 'D' sound. How far back? How hard do I press?

I am not sure if I will be better able to describe the positions and motions verbally but now those criteria can be measured.

In the past, sensor were placed in people's mouths but the sensors themselves altered the shape of the mouth. In a wonderful bit of creative thinking, the sensors have been placed in dentures of people missing their teeth, creating a natural topography for people to speak inside.

From the article:
'Neat trick'

With the physiology of the mouth largely unchanged, the patients could speak normally while the measurements were being taken. They were asked to recite tongue twisters – phrases that are designed to be difficult to articulate rapidly – to generate the results.

"This is a neat trick; a new twist on a methodology that has been around for some time. The idea of using denture patients in this way is clever," says Joe Perkell, a researcher in MIT's Speech Communication Group in Cambridge, Massachusetts, US.

The researchers have so far published results on the production of the sound "T", and are now turning their attention to other vocalisations. "We could use up to five sensors at the same time in this device," says team member Christophe Jeannin, adding that they also plan to recruit more volunteers for the forthcoming work.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Who knew? Hagwon owners want to block unqualified teachers

The Korea Times has a very convoluted article describing the concerns of the Association of Foreign Language Institutes.

It is convoluted because the first half seems to be verbatim from an AFLI press release with their, uh, interesting, spin on the the subject of greater employment options for foreign teachers.

The AFLI doesn't describe the policy that way. They suggest, quote, "the government should block the inflow of unqualified native English teachers, making clear its opposition to a policy to increase the number of "questionable instructors"."

I have been mostly satisfied with the hagwons or institutes I have worked at in Korea. Min Byung Cheol Hagwon in Seoul was great - the money was okay, but more importantly, their dealings with me were completely above board, honest and transparent. I worked at two different hagwons in Masan and both deducted income tax from my salary but apparently never paid it -when I was set to leave and asked for income tax receipts, I was ignored. They also never supplied me with a health insurance card, as the contract stated they would.

The hagwons are not concerned with "questionable instructors". The real point of concern appears in the second half of the article (KIS, mentioned in the quote, is the Korean Immigrations Service).

Under current rules, E-2 visa holders sign contracts with hagwon owners on a one-year basis and are required to work at least nine months at a maximum of only two locations.

The immigration authorities told the association on April 16 that it will let E-2 visa holders transfer to other working places after a month and allow them to work at more than two locations.
The planned relaxation of the rules is aimed at maximizing the convenience for foreign English teachers, according to the KIS. Hagwon owners, however, are worried that this will lead to a high job turnover rate and jack up wages.

Quality hagwons have no reason to fear the changes and quality instructors will be more likely to stay in the country if they are not trapped in the employ of poorly-run schools.

The EFL Geek is also commenting on the article.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

The bridge to somewhere

The village Abai Maul* is perched on the tiny strip of land that separates the ocean from Lake Chungcho -if the strip of land weren't there, Chungcho would be a bay rather than a salt lake.

The lake is harbour for small and medium sized fishing boats and the like and is accessible by a canal pinched between Abai Maul and Sokcho proper. For some time, the canal could be crossed by foot traffic by a human powered ferry (갯배 in Korean). It is a locally famous tourist site.

Before I arrived in Sokcho, a beautiful red bridge was built terminating in Abai Maul. Strangely, one does not need the bridge as the land is continuous on that side. It is an unnecessary bridge that ends at the end of a penninsula - a bridge to nowhere.
Now, work is underway to extend the bridge over the canal. I am not sure why Sokcho needs a big bridge or multi-lane road there, but soon they will have one. The bridge will finally go somewhere. The original bridge to nowhere was not a crazy idea. Lake Chungcho, communicating with the ocean only through a small canal was filling up with pollution. Eventually, the plan is to dig a second canal under the bridge so that water could flow in through one canal and out the other, cleaning the lake (and further polluting the ocean and local beaches.)

In other construction news, for the four years I have lived in Sokcho, the building behind our apartment, 'Sporium', has been closed. It will soon re-open as Fantasia and will be a spa and health club and possibly a jimjilbang - a dry sauna and open sleeping area for budget travellers.

*Abai Maul may have an interesting history. After living in the area for a few years, a fellow English teacher from the West Coast told me that it was founded by displaced people from North Korea.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Cut off in traffic

The bike shop in Midland, Ontario really came through and delivered a crank with three gear rings to my mother, who then sent them here. The price wasn't much more than the local guy had listed for two gear rings. I know that having three gear rings is a relatively new phenomenon; I never saw any thirty years ago but I sure like the low-speed, high-power ring for hill-climbing. I use it much more than the big, high-speed ring. I am a slow-moving, fat, middle-aged man, after all.

Still, I was riding with traffic today; keeping up with the congestion and the traffic lights. I passed, and was passed by, one car about three times before the driver made a right turn in front of me.

And I couldn't get angry at him, either. That might be the most annoying part.

If he had been fifty metres ahead of me and made the turn and I caught up with and hit him, that would clearly be my fault. If he had passed me and immediately turned, that would just as clearly be his fault.

He was maybe ten metres ahead; just far enough that I don't know for sure that he was to blame.

I had time to hit the brakes, roar, twist and gently broadside his car behind the back door. We stopped together and both apologized. No harm done to either vehicle or person so we went on but I was gasping for several minutes afterwards.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

They could've hosted the Olympics

Pyeongchang is reporting heavy snowfall today. I notice that Seorak's highest peak is still white as well.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Sleep in class, join the gallery

Teachers work hard, remember them this Teacher's Day

I know it's not for a few days but I don't actually have classes on Thursday (but, really, I work hard, really) so my students need the opportunity to show how much they respect me.

May 15th is Teacher's Day. Please give generously. (Korean says the same).

I may have mastered the goofy look.

Student assistant Mun demonstrates how its done.
Just to be certain I don't infuriate anyone, there is no bottom to the box. If a student was gullible enough to donate money, it would fall on his/her feet.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Does Buddhism get a free pass?

Hong-ryeon Am, part of Naksan Temple Complex

As an atheist, I am generally against religion but I would say I mostly condemn Christianity. I have stronger feelings about (and against) Islam but there are few Muslims around.

There are many Buddhists however.

In a recent blog post, Pharyngula's Paul Myers described listening to a Christian Radio Station discussing Atheism and one of the points brought up was Atheist's attacks on Christianity. Myers gave an appropriate response:

Aikman [on the radio] claims the atheists are bringing "pestilence", and claims that we only pick on Christians (what? What about Hitchens?) because Christians are so good and kind and generous and won't blow them up. We're already in stupid territory: the atheists criticize Christians because they are the dominant element in our culture.

Today, just naturally, I visited Naksan Temple and had a great time. We ate Bibim Rice and visited a few shrines where KwandongWife prayed (reason one for not attacking Buddhism - my wife is a small 'b' Buddhist).

I understand only the basics of Buddhism and approve of most of them. They don't exactly have a god (well, if you squint right). They believe in moderation, non-violence and the impermanence of things. So far I'm satisfied.

Buddhism has a thick outer shell of things I like, but it also has an small but integral core of, well, garbage. Reincarnation. You will be reborn and your actions in this life determine your starting point in the next life.

This might be a useful lie, encouraging good behaviour, but I wonder why I do not rail against it, as I have against the foolishness I have occasionally encountered from Christians?

Perhaps because most of the Buddhists I have met have been quiet about their religion; completely willing to discuss their faith but unwilling to volunteer. They answer questions happily but do not evangelize. Well, the ones I have met.

I wonder, am I being hypocritical by not inspecting the claims of Buddhists more closely?

Um, Happy Buddha's Birthday?

The things I do to entertain my son.

Who am I kidding; this was fun and I'd do it even without a child.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

A different yellow dust

And not Phillip Pullman's dust, either.

The windows to our classrooms were left open (screened, but open) over the weekend and everything was coated in a yellow powder. I tried to tell me students it was hwangsa (황사), the Korean name for the dust coming from China's deserts and literally 'yellow dust', but htey were having none of it.

Who'da thunk there were that many trees in Korea?

Oh, and identity thieves, here is your chance; how many times can you find perfectly dusted fingerprints just waiting to be printed out and used...somehow?

Friday, May 09, 2008

My work and family life combining terribly!

This morning, my son saw a work videotape on the table and carried it to the VCR.

I guess I am happy that KwandongAlex is interested in my teaching materials. Still, I watch the same episode of Connect with English, nine times a week. I watched them last year and the year before that. I can quote long sections of dialogue and sometimes sing along in class, to the student's amusement and my own horror.

The material is fine but, well, it doesn't fit the student's needs as well as I would like (to be fair, I don't have a better curriculum to put forward). It can be difficult to teach but mostly the result for me is like an adult trying to watch a children's movie and be interested in it. To make it understandable, the issues are skimmed over and not at all shaded.

Interestingly, the issues are serious and can be dark but the dialogue is corny and the whole thing is somewhere between a professional TV show and my own UCC (Konglish for homemade video).

And now my son wants to watch the videos at home....Is there no escape? The horror, the horror.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Another trip to Seoul...

...another student interview.

Many times, when I visit Seoul and go to a tourist site, a group of students will ask for an interview.

Kyobo Book Store seems infested with middle school students ready to ambush foreigners in the foreign book section. Well, it seemed that way a few years ago, things may have changed.

Yesterday, I was interviewed in Insadong by a group of Korea University students and they seemed to be doing real research so I did my best to talk about English Education in Korea.

Most times, however, the interview is a homework assignment given by a teacher who thinks getting the students to speak with different foreigners is a good idea. Ah, put like that, it probably is, but do these teachers realize how small the pool of interview subjects is?

A Korean English professor at my university gave similar homework to one or two hundred students and we 20 foreign staff were overwhelmed and finally hid - partially because the students waited until the last moment and tried to all interview us on the same day in a long line.

Anyone who thinks 'Interview the foreigner' is a good homework assignment, please consider the student/ available foreigner ratio before going ahead with it. I am fine with, I don't know, an interview a year, maybe two, but not ten in a day.

To put it bluntly, I get paid to teach English, don't think I am eager to teach your students for free on my time off!

Friday, May 02, 2008

A letter to pedestrians

If you want to use the sidewalk,...

...You can just go f--k yourself because I am so important that I don't have time to park my company vehicle in a parking space.

Telecom Guy

Oh, and seconded by busy van-drivin' guy...

...and Truck Drivin' guy, because...
...I need room in front of my truck for, uh, something, or maybe I was in a hurry and didn't have time to think about others - hey, just like always!

Thursday, May 01, 2008

It the first of May!

I suggest you all celebrate the First of May.
WOW version here.

That Coulton is a funny guy.

ADDED Later: Possibly NSFW (not safe for work)