Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Congrats to G-blogger Catherine!

According to Facebook, "...the newest, and possibly craziest, Campbell was born at 11:12AM Korea Time 12/30...weighing in at 4.1kg"

I trust mother and child are doing well and my best wishes to the whole family.

Look for news at Domestic Bliss in South Korea.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Really exciting stuff - for KwandongAlex

My little guy, as with all little guys, loves big machines. In our apartment, we have three excavators and five dump trucks, a few trains and many fire trucks (as displayed in a previous post). Oh, the trucks and such in our apartment aren't that big, I just want to be clear.
Anyway, I thought that snow removal in Sokcho consisted of dumping snow from the roads into the ocean - the melt water and carried pollutants will end up there in any case.

Apparently not. In Expo Park, a vacant parking lot is up to 15 metres deep in snow. We, KwandongAlex and I, watched six or seven dump trucks unload their cargo there in about the same number of minutes. Both Excavator drivers waved to KwandongAlex - They must know that their job is the dream and main aspiration of all boys under 5, 10...ah, heck, I would love to know how to drive one.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Are 6th Grade students the devil?

Sixth-grade Seoul English teacher Kim Yeong-hwa has written a book with that claim. Korea Beat has the story. The one thing that confuses me, though, is the word 'Novel' in their title. The excerpt reads like non-fiction but I thought 'novel' was used to describe fiction. Perhaps it's a story based on real life events and the author is pushing her agenda through a fictionalized account.

An excerpt from the Korea Beat: [Problems began with]
the abolition of corporal punishment 10 years ago. The inability to use corporal punishment has become teachers’ weak point. Mrs. Kim stressed, “with no way to punish students who violate the rules, the school becomes a lawless place with no control over them. We have to allow teachers to use corporal punishment or expulsion when necessary.” Beginning in elementary school you can clearly see the effects of an inability to punish violations of the rules.

The first satisfactory result from her idea to “allow teachers to use corporal punishment” would be the restoration of respect for teachers. She said, “when children come to school now, the result of corporal punishment is that they think ‘the teacher expects kindness’ instead of ‘what did I do wrong?’ Please don’t cut down the teacher in front of the children… When you have a teacher devoted to scholarship, parents will openly take care of problems. When teachers are not respected, everything is more difficult and they are insulted behind their backs. That is my story.”

I am teaching elementary school students now and enjoying it, but that's only because I'm doing it for only a short period (two hours a day for two months). I worked at a children's hagwon ten years ago and didn't like it. So, I can definitely sympathize with teachers of elementary school children. It is a very challenging job and one that exhausted me.

Still, remove corporal punishment and you have "no way to punish students"? Let's see; telling the parents, or even threatening to, worked for me. Assigning low grades might work for some students (when I was in Elementary school, there was too big a gap between my bad behaviour and my parents seeing my report card- in High school, I understood the connection but not so much in Elementary). Time outs, visits to the principal, detention, loss of privileges...

She somehow thinks that bringing back corporal punishment would restore respect for teachers. Do they use that claim at Guantanamo?

I can't figure this line out: "the result of corporal punishment is that they think ‘the teacher expects kindness’." Does Kim think that violence encourages kindness? Is Gandhi in her class?

I also like the bit about "devotion to scholarship" because that's what corporal punishment means to me.

The Korea Beat also links to a few articles of teachers taking corporal punishment further than even Kim Yeong-hwa would find acceptable - I hope. I think there was a similar Onion article, "Child Abuse: how much is too much?". Here it is (just a picture).

It's possible Kim needs to retire soon.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Nitpicking about wonderful Christmas Toys

As a father, Christmas really is more about giving than receiving (although I liked the shirts and hiking pants, mom).

The little guy received several books and toys that we both really like but I have a few minor points to bring up - constructive criticism, if you will.

This Talking Microscope looks great and I can't wait to use it with the little guy - but I will wait because inside the case were three Triple A batteries while the machine uses three C batteries. Some shirts were packed in the box with the 'scope so I can't be certain if the error happened at the factory or enroute to my home.

Matthew Reinhart's The Jungle Book (What the book / Amazon) is fantastic. These books are no longer described as 'pop-up' books but as examples of 'paper engineering'. The new, fancier title is well-deserved. Still, the book is described as appropriate for ages 4-8 (and that is a group with huge variety!) while I think the book is more appropriate for ages 5 or 6 to 45; again, as a Kipling fan, I love it.
On these pages, Baloo is offering to care for the man-cub, thwarting Shere-khan's scheme to eat the little guy right away.

I am also a fan of Lego and the little guy has played with the remnants of my thirty-plus year old Lego pieces for the last year or so. I had planned to get him a box of general parts- various squares and rectangles - but E-Mart had sold out so I got him a fire truck set. He also likes fire trucks so it's a perfect match. The Lego truck has a trailer and is at the bottom of the picture.
Everything went together fine but I have to complain about the packing. The set consists of three or four parts (the fire fighter was of three pieces, is that enough to be counted as separate?) Inside the box were three plastic bags, each with many pieces. Is it too much to ask that the bags each correspond to one part? One bag - one trailer, one bag- the truck, one bag - the contents of the trailer: makes sense to me.

No. The fire fighter's head was in one bag and his body in another. The wheels were in one bag the the tires in a different bag. And so on.

I put it together for the little guy, with some help from him, but it could've been a little easier.

I hope everyone's troubles are as minor as mine and that they have the same wonderful weather to enjoy as I do.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

On December 25th, a savior was born

Oh, and Happy Birthday to the other guy, too.

Ah, what the heck:

Merry Christmas, all!!

Image found here.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

snow and stuff

Here I am in beautiful weather, shovelling snow. For a pencil-pusher like myself, sometimes a bit of vigourous labour feels great.
We were clearing the Coast Guard Memorial in Sokcho. Here are some Coast Guard conscripts doing their part - not necessarily voluntarily, as I was.

At work today, I found Pack the El Camino had received a package. Here, we can see the fragile sticker clearly visible and the box squished into the cubby-hole. That makes a lot of sense.

Monday, December 22, 2008

How to be a super-hero

Yesterday, Spiderman 2 was on TV and the little one and I watched a bit of it. We didn't watch much because he was bored when Spiderman wasn't on and I was concerned when the fight scenes were on. Still, he loved the swinging scenes and jumped around the room, from the kimchi fridge to the sofa to the floor with his hands in the air as though hanging on to webbing. He held on to my wrist with both hands (and I held one of his wrists) and swung him in a big circle from and to the sofa a few times.

I distinctly remember tieing a string to a hook on our basement ceiling in our house on Muskoka Road 14 in Bracebridge and leaping from dad's easy-boy to the sofa and such. I was older than my little guy is now, so I was embarrassed when dad walked in. He told me he pretended to be Superman when he was young.

Well, I read an article today about people who try to be super-heroes (not magical ones or with super powers though, that would be [more] crazy). Later today, I listened to CBC Quirks and Quarks, where the host was interviewing the author of the book, Becoming Batman. The author, a neuroscientist and martial arts expert, suggested that someone could gain Batman's skills in 20 years of training, but would have a career of only about three years before wear and tear would force retirement.

The Rolling Stones article described how some people felt that if Bin Ladin was a super-villain, they could be super heroes. The fact that they have no super powers merely makes their efforts more courageous (to them). Via Pharyngula, which also has links to real hero costume and gadget designers.

I'm a little long in the tooth to train myself and don't care to be killed off to give my son the dedication to train for twenty years, but he is the right age to start. Also, I wonder if there is a niche for a non-super powered aquatic super-hero. There's one I could train for.


I forgot to mention; this afternoon, I didn't go to the health club, I went to a Coast Guard Memorial Site and helped shovel more snow for another ninety minutes. I definitely don't feel like a superhero right now; my back is tight and I expect my forearms to be in knots tomorrow. Perhaps I will take the little guy to a bathhouse this evening for a long soak.

Snow Day

Today started normally, except for all the spinning tires and horns I heard through the night.

I got up, got KwandongAlex ready for daycare and we went out the door. My plan was to take him to daycare, then go to the health club for an hour or so and get ready for work. Passing all those cars stuck in deep snow made me feel the health club part was a little ridiculous - similar to the ride an elevator-drive a car- ride an elevator to exercise routine that many follow.

So, I dropped off the little guy, went back to my apartment, hung up my jacket and backpack of exercise gear and picked up a shovel.

Here is how deep the snow was.

That's more snow than we normally get in a year.

Anyway, the big problem with parking lots and snow is there is no place to put the snow. I helped a guy clear a route for his car by blocking in another car. Once his car was out of the way, I began digging out the doubly-snowed in car. Happily, he told me he wasn't driving today.

I moved a lot of snow; from the sidewalk, from emergency exits and from the parking lot. Finally, the only thing that could replace me arrived and I went home to relax.
This was better than the health club for a full-body workout. Still, the machines and weights at the club offer measurable amounts of exercise. What do I do now, slowly graduate from shovel to bigger shovel to bigger shovel?

Its weird, but I still feel I should go to the club - I may this afternoon and run, if nothing else. Once I returned home, I found that my university has declared a snow-day and so I have no classes this afternoon.

I'm not exactly fishing for compliments here; a coworker was flabbergasted that I would shovel stranger's cars out with, and for, them*. They aren't complete strangers as we share an apartment building and some of them were clearly older than I; surely anyone with the time would help. Wouldn't they?
*I don't think the co-worker reads my blog and so doesn't know my feelings about traffic and automobiles and the like. I guess from that point, it is a little strange me helping drivers. The contradiction is similar to my doing volunteer work, teaching ESL, at a local church. I'm a complicated man.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

They have some nerve!

Periodically through class, I end up shouting at my students. But sometimes, it's not because I'm angry or drunk; it because fighter jets are buzzing the campus.

These are two pics of a recruiting banner on campus. Those fighter jocks really do have a big pair; after upsetting my classes for six years they ask our students to join them?

Well, I don't want the Norks here so I guess I can't complain too rigourously; I just wish there were some empty area the jets could fly and practise manoeuvres over without irritating people. If only there were an empty space, even one relatively soft for emergency landings; too bad they can't find one on the East Coast.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Should students want stability?

I taught a third year class to administration majors, the majority of whom wanted to work in the civil service. A large part of the class involved job interview questions, a bit challenging for my students and of questionable value, but the answers, at least to me, were interesting.

One answer, in fact. The question was, Why do you want to work here? It is, as those who have studied interview questions, a trick.

My students answered the question honestly, in acceptable English, and terribly. The overwhelming majority said, almost verbatim, A government job is stable and safe. I want stability.

Again, the English is fine, the question is correctly answered, but the answer is job-killing.

An old man like me, with a young child and serious responsibilities might reasonably want stability and maybe, might mention this in a job interview, but probably not.

A young person, with energy and few responsibilities, should take chances, should want to make changes, even.

It is the make changes part that interests me and that I feel should charge youth with energy. Obama and his movement are one thing, an American thing, but most youth, I thought, have some political fire. Those wanting to work in the government should especially want to not merely work, but be involved.

I am now going to make a connection that solely exists in my mind, in stereotypes. I dont think that my students are now interested in or ever will be interested in bribes or corruption, but I see so clearly a relationship between working in government without desire and sampling helping oneself, in taking the bribes, in asking for bribes.

Here are two articles old and I hope the links work about corruption in Korea.

From the Herald:

According to the survey, 50.5 percent of respondents said Korean civil servants are corrupt, whereas only 17.5 percent described them as free of corruption. The perception worsened from last year, when only 45.5 percent answered that Korean government workers are corrupt.

The foreigners' corruption index lowered to 4.05 from last week's 4.16. The index scores are out of 10, with zero being the most corrupt.

And the Korea Times (probably reporting on the same study):

Foreign professionals also gave low marks for the governance of Korean companies ― 40 percent said local companies' governance level remains ``low.'' More than 20 percent said the local business environment still favors chaebol over small- and medium-sized companies, while 25 percent argued conglomerates need to further clean up their ``cozy'' relationship with government officials. About 20 percent also criticized the lack of transparent accounting practices and said the chaebol management structure needs further reform.

They offered up several possible explanations for the corruption problems ― 35 percent argued that the local culture tolerates corruption behavior; others said administrative rules and practices encourage such behavior. Some also cited the legal system, which they described as being lenient toward those charged with corruption.

Oh, I noticed that I called the "Why do you want to work here?" question a trick. The answer should have, and I had trouble explaining this to my students, information about the company looking to hire. "I want to work here because I really like the way your organization does this, works on that, has XXX mission statement, etc." The applicant should research the place s/he wants to work. The applicant should also make a connection between him/herself and 'work on that', 'XXX mission statement' and the like. Anyway, again, statements that sound like, "I want to move into a cubicle and never leave it." should be avoided.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Exceptions to Godwin's Law

This story is a few days old now but I'm approaching it from a slightly different perspective (although no less shallow, as I think about it a bit).

A woman called a bakery in New jersey and asked to have a cake made for her son with his name on it. Normally that would be no problem but the child's name is Adolph Hitler Campbell. According to the article, his sister is named Julie Aryan Nation Campbell. Clearly, the parents have problems.

Now, the reason the story is affecting me a few days late is because a coworker (and good friend) lent me a book, My Father's Keeper, about a group of children who have similar last names. Ah, their names aren't similar to each other, but similar to the young Campbell boy. There are the children of leading Nazis. These children carry the names Hess, Bormann, Goring, Himmler and others.

I imagine there could be humourous exceptions to Godwin's Law, but mostly I am trying imagine doing anything in Germany and giving your name and wondering about the looks you get. If I heard a person were Jimmy Bormann, I wouldn't particularly care, but I would recognize Goring or Himmler and certainly have questions inside.

Oh, info on Godwin's law here. Basically, the law states that anytime someone in an argument compares their opponent to Hitler, they are known to have lost the argument.

I may post a review of the book when I finish it.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

YangyangBill is a great host

YangyangBill invited us to dinner last night (by the way, is the TownName thing getting old? I originally did it for a little anonymity but I don't know if it really serves any purpose). The Kwandong family showed up as did a few other coworkers and friends in the area. There was great food, good conversation and more great food.

Let's see; there were smoked oysters, Vietnamese noodles, chips and salsa, shrimp salad, and I'm sure there was more.

Another famous blogger from Gangwon called YangyangBill up to give him a message only minutes after I had said the same thing. YangyangBill had no choice but to believe us, although he had no way to confirm our identical but separate story: last night had the largest full moon of the year (link is to the top google search - I don't think it's about astronomy per se). It was a shame that last night was cloudy until around 11:00 - we did see a very bright but not noticably larger moon as we walked home.

Friday, December 12, 2008

crashing electronics is a new hobby

As you may recall, my notebook died a few weeks ago (at the most exciting time for it - just when I needed all the spreadsheets and files for exams and end of semester stuff). It is back and working fine, although I still have plans to upgrade.

At the health club today, I, uh, did something to two running machines. They had their revenge though.

I guess the air is really dry in the club; as I reached to change the speed, my whole hand went numb with the static... and the controls stopped working. I couldn't turn the machine off, nor change the speed. Don't worry, I wasn't trapped, I stepped onto the side of the machine. The fitness instructor had to unplug the machine from the wall to stop it.

The same thing happened, although this time I grounded with the back of my hand to avoid some of the pain of the shock through my finger. Well, this time the machine shut down and wouldn't restart for me.

Anyway, I'm now okay. I think the treadmills are, too.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

exam answers

Edit: I've added to this post a day later- some stuff I forgot the time through and new, but equally boring, stuff from today.
I give midterm exams to all my students but most of my classes have a Korean co-teacher who gives the final. As a result, I only have three exams this week. Still, there have been some interesting answers.

First, what is the Korean phrase that translates to 'hard boiled'? A coworker commented on seeing it a few times in homework and yesterday, in the oral exam, a student told me she respected Helen Keller, partially because she was hard-boiled.

Part of the problem is I don't have a clear definition in my own head of what the phrase means. I thought it was something that only hard drinking '30s detectives could be.

On the exam, students were asked to, "Tell me about someone you respect other than your parents." We'd done this previously in class and as homework, and I knew I needed to add the 'not your parents' bit to avoid honest but trite responses.

The Confucian training was strong, however, as many students told me about their grandfathers. This was more than acceptable as I heard tales of great sacrifices made in conditions I have never experienced.

Edit: Five students - about a tenth- told me they don't respect anyone. Kids these days.
Anyway, one of them gave a well-reasoned answer, in good English, for his response. He is more interested in actions and results than in flattering others.

Anyway, exams are going well- for me, and for some of my students. I posted the questions online three weeks ago and some students told me they hadn't looked at them. I have to admit I don't feel so bad failing such students.

Edit: A coworker is just finishing his Masters and is now applying to start his Doctorate. I find it ironic that he is studying and thinking about complex symbols and metaphors in poetry and I find myself singing along with KwandongAlex's TV shows, "I'm Bori!...Bori, Bori!...I'm Bori! I'm curious!"

Another coworker described how her passion and enthusiasm were in danger of fading. I discussed this with her and she paid me the wonderful compliment of saying she was impressed with my passion for teaching. Thanks DonghaeJennifer and right back at ya! I certainly think you care and advocate for your students with energy and passion.

I promised a KOTESOL conference post and now the conference is six weeks gone. I will still review the material and my opinions but mostly as they relate to how I feel this year of teaching went and what my plans are for the next teaching year.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

computer's back...

Thanks, Masuro, but it's the same computer. Still, its working well and I'm getting school work done.

I don't feel much like blogging these days even though I have a pretty light schedule this week; I only need to invigilate (Thanks, Nathan, for teaching me that word) three exams. Still, I'll be busy enough as a single parent; my wife had a 24 hour shift finishing this (Saturday) morning and after 23 hours at home, she is off for several days at sea. I hope she gets some rest after that.

Maybe more later.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Under repairs

The fan on my notebook computer recently gave up and so it (the whole computer) is in Seoul for repairs. The computer is six years old so I am not surprised that it is wearing out, just upset by the timing - final exams are next week at the university and I have grading and such to do .

I am currently typing on the computer in my office - it is running Windows 98! That's pretty old.

More posts when I have something to post on that doesn't make me crazy.