Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Odds and Ends. Well, one odd and one end.

According to the Times:
Elementary and secondary schools plan to create a blacklist of "incompetent" native English speakers and to ask immigration not to reissue English-teaching or E-2 visas to them. 

It's hard to say what 'incompetent' means as the job descriptions for Native Speaker teachers is so, um, flexible.  BizarroBrian is all over it.  Kimchi Icecream describes how some NS teachers are trained, and it is hard to say how teachers can know how they will be evaluated after such training.

UPDATED DEC 31: The teachers strike back:

A group of native English teachers are organizing themselves to come up with a blacklist of schools that they say don't treat teachers fairly.

According to the Web site of the Independent Registry of Schools in Korea (IRSK), the organization was created by Charles Hill and some other foreign teachers working in public schools here to rate schools in Korea. 

With Korea's libel or slander laws (I'm too lazy to hunt up the difference - it's new Year's Eve), I don't know how either one is legal.

The Chosun Ilbo has an article about speed limits on expressways.  My seven-year-old SUV is quite thirsty so I typically drive below the limit to conserve a little.
This statement seems unlikely, although I could not find any source directly supporting or refuting it:
There was a time in the 1930s that cars were traveling even at speeds of up to 300 km/h on the German Autobahn, but an increase in speeding cars and accidents has forced the German government to establish speed limits.

I suspect that few planes were traveling at 300 km/h until the end of the 1930's, much less any commercially available cars.  comments?

Olympics and corruption

First, I must state that I love the Olympic Games.  The Games didn't directly lead to my athletic training; I didn't look that far ahead, but they were always there, in the background, and the Olympians of my childhood were as massive and brilliant and awe-inspiring as the originals, the Greek Gods.

In 1988, I qualified for the Olympic Trials in Canada.  At the Trials, the top one hundred men and one hundred women competed to see who would represent Canada at the Olympics in Seoul.  I was probably ranked 100, or maybe more swimmers attended; maybe there was a 20- or 50- way tie for one hundredth and I was in that group at the end.

I did not attend the Trials but I followed them in the news and cheered for our swimmers and other athletes.  Even Ben Johnson losing his medals for steroid use and the shame we Canadians felt didn't tarnish the Games for me.

I continue to love the Games and the athletes but the organizers, the OIC, have earned my disgust.

It started with a book, The New Lords of the Rings, a somewhat tabloid style expose of the lives and decisions of the members of the IOC.

From Amazon:
The world of modern Olympic sport is a secretive, elite domain where decisions are taken behind closed doors, where money is spent on creating a fabulous life-style for a tiny circle of officials and funds destined for sport are siphoned away to offshore bank accounts. This investigation of the hidden corruption behind the Olympic ideal reveals: how Princess Anne's attempt to unseat the unpopular athletics supremo Primo Nibiolo was sabotaged by secret deals from within, how bribes were paid to win gold medals for Korean boxers in the Seoul Olympics, that Berlin's bid for the 2000 Olympics was so corrupt that the State parliament set up an enquiry, that millions of dollars are spent by bidding cities to woo those who decide where the games will be held, when in fact often the decision has already been made, and that the Olympic number two, Korea's Dr Kim Un Yung, is a trained killer and a former spy.

Notice how Korea is mentioned twice.  I have been following the pressure on the Korean government to pardon convicted former Samsung Group chairman Lee Kun-hee.   Now, it has happened.  Pyeonchang may now get the 2018 Olympics, and they might have gotten them without Lee's help, but if they get the Olympics now, those Games will be further tarnished.

From the Herald:

President Lee Myung-bak has decided to pardon convicted former Samsung Group chairman Lee Kun-hee to give him a free hand to work for the nation's bid to host the 2018 Winter Olympics.
The Cabinet yesterday approved the Justice Ministry's proposal to restore his civil rights in a special yearend amnesty as of Thursday.
In August, a court sentenced him to a suspended three-year prison term and a fine of 110 billion won ($94 million) for tax evasion and breach of duty, wrapping up years of litigations over company bond issuances in the late-1990s allegedly aimed at transferring management control over the group to his son Lee Jae-yong.
The 67-year-old Lee had led the nation's largest conglomerate before he resigned in April 2008 in the wake of the scandal. At his own request, the International Olympic Committee suspended his membership in that year.
The presidential pardon is aimed to boost Korea's chance to host the Winter Olympics at the northern mountain resort of PyeongChang after two unsuccessful bids.
During the Cabinet meeting, Lee said he made the decision "for the sake of national interest" following repeated requests from sports circles, businesses and Gangwon Province, where the city is located.

"He should make efforts to contribute to the nation in the world of sports and help boost Korea's national competitiveness," the president was quoted as saying by his spokesman Kim Eun-hye.
The Justice Ministry expects the tycoon to be able to restore his IOC membership and participate in an IOC conference scheduled for February, which is crucial for the selection of the venue the 2018 games. Samsung expressed gratitude in an official statement, saying Lee will exert his utmost effort to support PyeongChang's bid.
Business groups welcomed the decision. "We hope Samsung will take this opportunity to redouble efforts to restore public trust through more transparent management and the implementation of increased social responsibility," the Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry said.

In the penultimate paragraph, Lee is expect to restore his IOC membership.  Now that Korea has lost some credibility in the rule-of-law department, the OIC could gain some credibility by denying Lee a position.

In the last paragraph, business groups hope Samsung will restore trust by becoming more transparent. Why would Samsung do that?  The pardon shows that there is no downside to unethical behavior.

Healthcare- Korea gets quite a bang for its buck

Via Kottke, I found a National Geographic graphic comparing the cost of health care vs the average lifespan for several countries.  As has been in the international news lately, Americans pay so much that they don't fit on the scale, yet have a below average life expectancy.  My summary of how the authors describe the American system is comparing it to auto repair technicians.  The technicians (and health care workers) are paid for piece-work so they recommend medical services that are optional or cosmetic rather than life-span enhancing.

Even more remarkable is how South Korea's health system appears.  Americans pay, on average over $7000 per year for a life expectancy of 78 years, Canadians pay almost $4000 for 81 years, yet South Koreans pay less than $1700 per person for 79 years life expectancy. (click to enlarge)


This is great, but recent problems that have been described in the English K-blogosphere show a weakness in the Korean system.

John Yost broke his back -and I don't blame him, his actions were done to help others- by engaging in extreme sports.  He needs $50,000 to pay for his surgery.

Matt Robinson needed surgery to save his leg.  Expensive surgery.  Shamefully, I have not followed up on his predicament and can only hope he is okay now.

Bill Kapoun and Nerine Viljoen died after sustaining serious injuries here.  I am not certain that money would have saved their lives or sped up surgery and I don't want to suggest that doctors were waiting for money before performing life-saving surgery.  So far as I know the Korean medical system offered the best care possible.  Still, if Kapoun or Viljoen had survived, they would have been under crushing debt.

Despite what Michael Moore said in Sicko (I haven't seen it but have heard clips), Canadian health care isn't in great shape; it is merely limping along.  However, if I needed expensive surgery, I would get it and not suffer from horrible debt afterward.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Language and KwandongAlex

This is the second in what I hope to be a fairly regular series about how my son speaks and learn English, which he calls "Canada talking".

In the first, I drew attention to the way he overuses the present continuous, with phrases like, "I don't want to be doing that. rather than "I don't want to do that."

Today, I am amused by his struggles with the present continuous and two-part verbs.  In the morning, "I am get upping", "When are you get upping?" and the like are common.

another common sentence construction uses "I don't know how to do that."  The other night he was sleeping in my bed with me and kicked me a few times.  I told him not to push me off the bed.  His response was ,"I don't know how to not push you off the bed."

K'brian was wrong about 'Slow Cities'

In March of this year, I discussed the Slow City movement in Korea.  A 'slow city' - which could be a small town, I think the translation from Italian is a little misleading - is an idyllic place where people live as they have for centuries, in a quiet, peaceful place where everyone knows their neighbors and nobody hurries.

This sounds very nice, but the examples I looked at in March were of slow moving town which were slow because the young people had left and people were dirt-poor and insufficiently educated to find better work.

Today's Joongang has an article that works to change my mind somewhat.  It describes  a slow city that is attracting tourism with its relaxed ways and is working to be successful; quiet, but successful.

It does sound like a pleasant place but I hope it is more than a gimmick.  Should visiting these slow cities feel like visiting an Amish colony in the US?

Anyway, Korea has slow cities that are 'slow' by choice and not by economic failure.  I was wrong.

HT to Bizarro Brian.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Use the Chinese model for reunification, not the German model

So says the German ambassador to Korea, Mr. Seidt.

My personal recommendation would be not to follow the German example because the situation is different, I would recommend looking to the Chinese example," German Ambassador Hans-Ulrich Seidt told Herald Media publisher Park Haeng-hwan during a recent courtesy call.
The ambassador's statement reflects a different environment and political settings.
"Look how China managed Hong Kong, Macau, and now they are managing Taiwan," he pointed out.

Some of his reasoning makes sense to me.  Seidt described how European countries that threw off communism had internal pressure to force the change and North Korea does not appear to.

On the other hand, East Germany was relatively poor compared to West Germany (man, I really hope I have 'east' and 'west' right) and North Korea is in a similar, though much more extreme, position.  Hong Kong and Taiwan offered far better standards of living than China did or does and I think Macau did, too.  Hang Kong and Macau were held by leases which offered a clear and legal way to reunite with China.

I have trouble finding the hubris to argue with the German ambassador about how Germany reunified, but I have to question his thoughts on how the Chinese model would be appropriate for the Koreas.  The best I can do is note that outside pressure, from China, paved the way for unification with Hong Kong and Macau, while a mix of inside and outside pressure worked for Germany.  For Korea, most of the work will have to be done outside of North Korea.

Hmm, maybe I'm coming around.

Friday, December 25, 2009

More Newspaper funnies

I guess you have to fight to see who deserves citizenship in two countries at the same time:
Duel citizenship approved, but with conditions -perhaps it will be a non-lethal duel.

The Times is concerned about Tiger Woods and suggests he apply to Berlusconi for Sexual Ssylum in Italy

Meanwhile, the Dong-A, very interested in promoting evolution, has advertised Events to Mark Darwin's Birthday Next Year since Sept. 2008.

A Merry Christmas to all from K'Brian and K'Alex

perhaps even a Crazy Christmas!

The little guy and I were playing with the 'photobooth' feature.  Here's another:

Christmas at our home isn't particularly Christian, I have to say:

Centred in the first shot is a dreidel, a gift from a coworker.  In the second photo are a Tibetan, um, necklace ornament (centre), and near the bottom, from left-to-right, are an old-fashioned coin, an amber bead and two phone ornaments at the edge of the photo.

If you are in the giving spirit, John Yost and his accident are mentioned a post or two down.  He could use some help (and long-timers should be concerned about more complete health insurance - Korea is cheap for typical visits to the doctor, but too many foreigners have been driven to asking for aid.  I don't begrudge them, but I need to prepare myself better - and so should you!).  Kevin Kim could use some cheering up these days as well.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

My kind of Christmas decoration

From Failblog (what you see is a mannequin, not an actual person):

epic fail pictures

Help a Gangwon Teacher with a broken back

John Yost, apparently working in Pyeongchang, was paragliding recently and had an accident.

BizarroBrian was the first I noticed reporting the accident and request for donations, but Kimchi Icecream also broke the story.  John Yost has his own website, where you can donate.

I donated ten dollars, I think.   The credit card I used was issued in Canada, but the website only accepted American states so I was unable to enter "Ontario".  It seems to have gone through, but I am not sure.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009


In an interesting coincidence, I received January's National Geographic with an article on clownfish about the same time I read the Dong-A's article on the Finding Nemo star.

The Nat Geo article (which I read in hardcopy- I don't know the exact contents of the online version.  The magazine photos are fantastic) mostly describes the symbiosis between the clownfish and the host anemone., but also mentions how the movie's success has lead to some locations being fished out to supply the aquarium trade.


Beautiful Friendship


(image from the National Geographic article)

The Dong-A article mostly describes how the fish are new arrivals to the area, possibly due to increased water temperatures which are making Jeju waters sub-tropical.

both articles are interesting and mostly well written, although the Dong-A briefly reaches Korea Times-quality editing:

A scuba diver said he witnessed a 30-meter long green sea turtle, which is likely to spend winter in neighboring waters.

That's one Hell of a sea-turtle!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

updates on e-books

Three of Korea's online English papers discuss e-books today (well, still in the headlines today - the articles could be a day or two old).

The Herald describes how e-books and reader devices have helped the publishing industry:

The year started off poorly for booksellers.
The outlook for the overall publishing market was largely negative in January. The economy was in the doldrums, and readers put off book purchases.
Kyobo, the country's biggest bookstore chain, said its preliminary yearly sales rose 8.9 percent from 2008, helped by the stronger-than-expected revenue from e-book sales. The lackluster figure illustrates that books sold in electronic form were the main drivers for growth.
While offline book sales remain stagnant, publishers and IT companies began to pay attention to the potential of e-books. Even though there have been a handful of attempts to kick-start the potentially huge market in the past few years, writers, readers and publishers have not paid much attention. That changed dramatically this year.
Device makers such as Samsung Electronics and iriver introduced new e-book readers, raising the possibility that Korea might see a boom in the new platform in the near future following the success of's the Kindle in the United States.

The Joongang discusses how Sony has chosen to keep it's reader device dedicated to reading, and not add a variety of other features.

NEW YORK - The way Howard Stringer sees it, Sony’s digital e-readers should focus on the printed word and making reading “comfortable,” even though the consumer electronics giant could turn it into a multimedia machine. Stringer, chief executive of Japan’s Sony Corp, admits there is a lot of “energy” behind’s Kindle, which is seen as the leader in a burgeoning market for portable reading devices. 

As speculation grows that Apple Inc. may introduce a tablet-style computer that could also address the e-reader market, Sony could differentiate itself by adding more powerful chips, displays and media features to the pocket sized readers. 

But Stringer says that, given the nascence of the market, it is smarter to wait and see how consumer warm to the current makeup of the devices. 

“The consumer will tell us if this format is comfortable and helpful and convenient and all those things before you start plowing on a thousand apps or making the ‘Vaio Reader,’” Stringer said on the sidelines of a press conference in New York on Thursday. 

Although I do like the idea of carrying one device that can do everything, in practice it often seems a challenge for me to shift between features or use two at once.  I guess people better at multi-tasking will feel differently, but I don't mind the idea of having a device that only offers books (and magazines and textbooks...) for reading.  If I want to jog or walk with music or a podcast, I won't want to carry a full-size e-book reader, so I'll need a dedicated MP3 player anyway.

The Times describes a serious problem with using e-book readers in class.  Korea has worked to set up electronic whiteboards - that function as a computer screen you can write on -and e-books for the students to carry that will be lighter than a stack of textbooks.  Those textbooks are copyrighted and the copyright holders aren't interested in offering the material in an easily copiable format.

The government plans to have digital devices replace books and blackboards in schools, a transition it claims will open a new chapter in education. However, the ambitious e-learning initiative appears to have been derailed from the start, with a problem that is less about technology than it is with content. 

The Ministry of Education, Science and Technology has spent 300 billion won (about $255 million) to install "electronic blackboards," or interactive monitors for showing electronic content, in 256 middle and high schools across the country.

However, these neat screens don't see much use in classrooms, as the e-book content to replace printed textbooks is non-existent. 

Critics ridicule the government for putting the cart before the horse, spending lavish money on the e-learning equipment when there has been little progress in plans to convert state-authorized textbooks into digital formats. 

It does seem poor planning to spend all that money to set up the framework and not check up on the content.  Still, there will be no e-book content if there are no e-book readers.  Perhaps the government were attempting to be visionaries, leading the market and the market itself failed in taking advantage of the opportunity.

I've been writing a lot in the last few weeks about e-books but still have no plan to buy one.  Partly, the price is holding me back and partly the range of books and their prices are holding me back.   I don't understand how a paper version of a book is only a little more expensive than the e-version.  There is no need to print the books or store them or transport them; the price should be significantly lower.

What if we create a better world for nothing?

Joel Pett had a thought provoking comic on Dec. 13:


This has really been my point over the past few years.  I think Global Warming is happening and needs to be combatted, but even if it is not, there isn't that much oil in the world and we are running out.  Conserving fossil-fuel based energy and following other proposals set by global warming advocates -and other environmentalists even in the 70's - are good ideas regardless of the root cause.

HT to Pharyngula.

Friday, December 18, 2009

How long a test do you need?

During my first few years teaching ESL at university, my oral exams were scheduled to be five minutes long but always took longer.  When a student had trouble with one question, I would give a different one to offer every possible chance for the student to show that they knew some English.  A coworker, Tom, (and I am talking about events occurring six or seven years ago so, if Tom is reading this, I approved of and admired your methods, even if events were not quite as I remember them) would offer a few questions and if a student had trouble, Tom would offer one more.  If the student was unable to answer it, Tom thanked the student and sent him/her on their way.  He was always done testing faster than I was.

How long do you need to judge a person's English ability?  In my case, I have shortened my tests somewhat but still keep them longer than I really think necessary to let the student feel it was a real test; long enough to be taken seriously.

So, I now think a short test is sufficient.  But is there a minimum length?  Is there a length beyond which you are clearly wasting your time.  And counter-intuitively, if a test goes beyond a certain length does it actually hinder the evaluation process?

Cognitive Daily has had a series of posts on similar subjects lately.
[T]hin-slicing studies ... the idea that a few brief exposures to an individual can give just as accurate an impression of key traits as much more extended interactions. For judging sexual preference in men, a 10-second exposure to pictures of faces isn't any better than a 50-millisecond exposure. For evaluating teaching ability, a few 10-second movie clips are nearly as good as an entire semester in class.

The posts linked above suggest that tests can be much shorter than what feels seemly.

I am live-blogging my research, I guess.  At this point, I have not found any definitive research but here are some possibly relevant links.

This test seems well-thought out and is 3 minutes long with the teacher judging up to four students during those 3 minutes.

Wigglesworth wrote about An investigation of planning time and proficiency level on oral test discourse for Language Testing in 1997.
The inclusion of planning time in semi-direct oral interaction tests adds consider ably to the overall length of the test, and it is important to be clear that the increase in length is justified by the language outcome. Previous research has shown that the effect of planning time in second language can differentially influence the resultant discourse with planned discourse eliciting more complex language on a range of measures.
Wigglesworth seems (I only read the free abstract) to be working to define how long a test needs to be and is focusing on how much time should be allotted to a student between giving a question and demanding an answer.  This 'planning time' appears to be not very important for low-proficiency students.  Again, this means that giving the low-level student time to think about the question does not affect much the quality of the answer.

Other articles found didn't seem to apply and I am too lazy on my Winter break to play with search terms to find more.

I am concluding by saying that a properly prepared test for low-proficiency students can be quite short - which is exactly what I had hoped and already thought.  I should stop now before further research throws my conclusion into doubt!

Of possible interest regarding test-takers and test length. Test length and cognitive fatigue: An empirical examination of effects on performance and test-taker reactions  How long a test is too long and is the Soo-Neung (Korean University Entrance Exam) too long?

Thursday, December 17, 2009

hiking above hwa-am Temple

I hiked above Hwa-am temple several years ago with my wife and infant son.  It was  a good hike with great views of the ocean-side of Ulsan Bowi.  To start this post, I have included a photo of Ulsan Bowi, but not one taken from the peak.

The reason this photo was not taken during the hike is, the wind was horribly strong and cold.

You might wonder how windy it was and how I could demonstrate that to you.  Look at this photo of the handsome man (click to bigify):

Now, where are his glasses?  He has been photographed begging for help in finding them after they blew right off his face and partway down the mountain.
Back to first-person: I twisted to take a picture and the glasses were pulled right off my face.  I saw them fly through the air and bounce a few times, landing in the scrub behind me in this photo.  I pitifully begged for help finding them, my voice made even more pathetic by the wind filling my cheeks and making me sob.

We found the glasses.  They, and my eyelashes, had a lot of frozen tears on them.

Okay, it was that windy.

Helping me look was my friend Matthew.

Again with the wind, you can see how I have braced my legs to stand still to take the picture.

Actually, the day was plenty bright enough and I'm sure the pictures were at a fast enough exposure that a little camera shake didn't matter.
The temple below was beautiful but we didn't stay long.

I had forgotten how short this hike was.  We started hiking after 8:00am, leaving plenty of time to do the hike.  We were in the car, thawing before 10:00.  We could have taken more time at the top if the weather had been clement.

Matthew also took pictures so more may grace this blog in the near future.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Korea Times seems a too-easy target sometimes

From today's Times:

12-16-2009 19:33
여성 남성   
Bundle Up for Cold Spell Unitl Next Week

(To be clear, I made the pasted section purple, that's not what I am trying to show.)

While there, you might find a link for an article with acceptable spelling but poor grammar and especially poor-filtering by any editor on staff.  A sample:

Extraterrestrial cemetery in Rwanda, Central Africa which is at least 500 years old, was discovered.

According to the Weekly World News, Dr. Hugo Childs, the Swiss anthropologist said, "There must be 200 bodies buried there and not a single one of them is human." 

I found these articles on my own but Korea Beat commented on the aliens-in-Africa' article before I did.

These errors are frequent but I think they pick up around Christmas.  Nine years ago, on Christmas or New Year's Day, an entire article had been typed as if the typist had shifted his fingers one key to the left.  Ur kiijws kujw rgua (It looked like this).

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Polar Bear Swim

I enjoy Polar Bear Swims and am looking forward to doing at least one this winter.

These swims are usually festive events, and I did them at Bracebridge's Winter Carnival.  Here, we have three possible days coming up - I am willing to swim on all three days if others will join me.

Who is interested and when?

Friday, December 25: Christmas
 A coworker, Jeff, is interested in a Christmas Day swim and he lives about halfway between Sokcho and Gangneung.

Friday, January 1: New Year's Day

February 13-15: Lunar New Year

This should be a link to a link to a video of last year's swim.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Odds and sods

The anonymous blogger at The Korean Front is having housing problems but, admirably, admits that this is uncommon in the EPIK program.  I've been working on updating the blogroll but this blogger may be gone, due to housing issues, soon.  I hope things work out for him/her.
Ex-Gangwon KOTESOL president Chris Grayson is featured in a Times articles about EPIK teachers.

Being from Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, he was a former stained glass artist. Seeking a new adventure, he came to Korea and started to teach in a private English institute or "hagwon" for two years before joining EPIK. "I chose Korea because I knew very little about Korea. It was a mystery to me," Grayson said.

Grayson liked the mountains and the sea of the port city and now meets his former students all around the city. "Korean students are bright and innocent. I see my students everywhere since Sokcho is a small town," he said. He also liked being a part of the regular school system and available to teach students of all classes.

Hoengseong Gun is concerned about over-drinking during Christmas parties and offers a list of eight nuisances.
Number 2 on the list is boilermakers.  Strange seeing as they originated in Gangwon.

obligatory ski post

I enjoy skiing  but have typically kept to nordic skiing because I could start at my doorstep in Canada and could afford to go every day.  Downhill skiing is a little too pricy for my taste but I go out when I can.  Still, in a blog devoted to Gangwon Province, I need to at least mention skiing now and then.

The Joongang has an article about ski hills, mostly in Gangwon, that offers plenty of detail.

Currently, there are 16 ski resorts in South Korea, with the number of fans of skiing and snowboarding rising annually.

Those craving a world-class experience should try Yongpyong Ski Resort in Pyeongchang County, Gangwon Province, which is once again trying to host the Winter Olympic Games. Nearby Phoenix Park ski resort is known for its spectacular scenery. You can reach High1 Resort in Jeongseon County, Gangwon Province by train, and if you want to stay closer to Seoul then Konjiam Resort in Gwangju County, Gyeonggi Province is the way to go.

[High1] Staff members dress up and entertain skiers waiting to board the gondolas with magic shows, pop quiz games and raffles.

I have not been to High1, but they do a lot of do a lot of advertising and promotions in Sokcho.

Read the article for more details.


This isn't Gangwon-related, but I lived in Masan for a year-and-a-half so I feel connected to the area.  A number of in-laws live there, as well.

Three cities in Kyeongsangnam Do are integrating, to become a super-city.  Masan, Changwon and Jinhae are three cities which already share a public bus system.  Their city councils have already approved the plan and are waiting for approval from the Provincial Council of South Gyeongsang Province (Yes, 'Province' is in the title twice -I'm copying from the Herald). Since the Provincial Council is based in Changwon, I guess disapproving of the plan would make things uncomfortable.

From the Herald:

The Provincial Council of South Gyeongsang Province is scheduled to put a bill on the merger of the three cities to a floor vote next Monday.
If put into practice, the plan will give birth to one of the largest cities across the nation, which will have a total population of 1.08 million.
The Times includes the same material but also points out some opposition:

However, the new city comes at a cost because it is being pushed by the government with little consensus among residents of the three cities. As a matter of fact, Changwon's council vote was conducted in an up-and-down manner, after a residents' referendum plan was ditched. The two other cities also didn't conduct a referendum, citing administrative inconvenience. 

Critics claim that the big city will siphon off all resources for the region, making it hard for the remaining 18 local governments to set up their own development plan. 

"It will result in a vicious cycle of the rich getting richer, the poor getting poorer," said an official from a local government that is not included in the three-way merger.

The new city will face a number of problems starting with its name and location of its City Hall, among others, an urban expert said.

I don't know what to think about the merger.  The three cities are close together and are basically merged in fact if not officially.  Jinhae -and I was only ever a tourist there- seems to have a different feel than the other two cities.  Masan and Changwon can both be considered beautiful, but are definitely industrial towns, while Jinhae is more of an oversized fishing village. Just as everyone should visit Kyeongju while in Korea, everyone should visit Jinhae in mid-Spring to see the cherry blossoms.

Her blog is more slice-of-life than political news, but Live From Masan may have more details.  She may have to change the name of her blog soon.

Oh, I think the name of the new city should be Gaya.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Frustrated by you're students?

Play Horde of English Zombies.  If the zombie speeches English as poorly as I did in writing the title, shot him!  If they're word bobble seem's correct, let him go.
Okay, that's enough deliberately bad English.  I'm not saying there won't be errors below, but if there are, they aren't deliberate.

It's not a great game, but for it's price (free) and amusement factor for ESL teachers, it's worth a few minutes or even more.

The future of ESL

disney has ESL schools in Shanghai, China.   As a teacher who personally emphasizes 'edutainment' even for my university classes, I think the schools will do well, financially and in actually having students leave the school with a strong command of English.

I am of mixed feelings, though, in how I feel about the school.  I think everyone in the modern age is suspicious of large companies and Disney just about defines 'large'.

Still, I do expect it to work, regardless of what else it teaches.

Here is the site.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Job posting for Kwandong U

From Dave's ESL Cafe:

Kwandong University is looking for qualified candidates for Full-time Professors and Visiting Professors who will join KDU's English programs from March 2010.

Kwandong University is located in Gangneung City, which is on the northeastern coast of South Korea. Founded in 1954 based on the Christian Faith, it has an enrollment of 10,000 students. The campus is set in a beautiful area, surrounded by forest of pine trees. 
To learn more about Kwandong University and Gangneung city, visit :

The successful applicant will teach credit university English classes, as well as non-credit university classes and children's English program. ...

The listing offers a pay scale for those with a Master's degree and those with a 4-year degree, but the job is essentially the same.

I have some problems I could nitpick about, but I have been at Kwandong for seven years and plan to stay longer; I am more than satisfied.  I have to admit, though, that I have not looked at other job postings in the past seven years, so other places may offer better deals.

This is the opportunity to reduce spending on hagwons

Korean governments have repeatedly tried to reduce the amount that parents spend on hagwons (cramming schools for math, English and other subjects) and repeatedly been unsuccessful.

It could happen this time.

From the Dong-a.

Elementary schools in Seoul have had an average of 29 students this year, the first time for the number to fall below 30 in the city, the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education said yesterday.

One big advantage that hagwons have over public schools is the student/teacher ratio.  Indeed, that might be the only big advantage that hagwons have.  The teachers are usually under-qualified...

Wait.  Don't get angry.  In my opinion, many hagwons are using university students who have not yet graduated.  Some of my students are working at hagwons, teaching English, math, geography, piano and other subjects.  They are eager and hard-working, but typically have not graduated with a degree in education.

...School teachers, with an education in education, and small class sizes, should be able to teach more effectively.

A message to the various Ministries of Education:  don't close the schools.  Keep them open and accept the lower ratios as a good thing.

The sky is blue

... and hand washing cuts food poisoning.

Who knew?

Sunday, December 06, 2009

"But how could the government possibly conduct a project that hurts water quality?"

Lee Myung Bak made a good point in defending his 4-rivers project.  The quote I am using as a title, though, sounds improbably naive or poorly translated.

From the Chosun Ilbo (I have italicized the 'good point'):
...He pledged to stop answering questions on the issue and "proceed with the projects without listening to further criticism." 

At the ground-breaking ceremony, he declared that no future can be opened with "old ways of thinking" and parties' regional interests, and that the projects will be conducted in a "future-oriented" manner with best efficiency, environment-friendly and state-of-the-art technology combined. "Some people allege that water quality will deteriorate in the course of the projects," he said. "But how could the government possibly conduct a project that hurts water quality?" 
Some civic groups say that the four-rivers projects will hurt water quality, but it makes little sense to leave already polluted rivers alone without even trying to improve them. As the president remarked, would a head of state carry out a project to deliberately pollute the environment? 
I do think there is some merit in the first sentence I quoted.  I would have approved of the late Roh Mu-hyun more if he had been firmer in his decisions, even if I didn't care for those decisions themselves.  Still, some merit is a long way from something I would accept.  I feel this way chiefly because I am not sure when he ever answered questions on the subject.

Still, I do agree that the rivers are already polluted to some degree.  GI Korea has frequently pointed out that Koreans pollute their own rivers, it is only when Americans do it, that it becomes news.

The GI linked to this Korea Times article:
It is shocking news that 29 timber companies were found to have released 271 tons of formalin over the past three years into streams feeding the Han River, the main source of drinking water for Seoul and Kyonggi Province.

Okay, the rivers are polluted.  I can't say whether President Lee's project will help or not, but we clearly aren't dealing with pristine rivers here.

And the rivers aren't surrounded exclusively by forest, pristine or not.  I have written before, describing floods, nearly yearly and the need for some flood control.  This is the one reason I am ambivalent about the project.

Again, we crash into the quote I used as my title.  This might (maybe) be reasonable for a president with no historic ties to heavy industry or who had not recently been thwarted in another river project that could be seen only as a big-money project for heavy industry with no conceivable benefits.  President Lee, once leader of a Hyundae construction group and architect of the Trans Korea canal project, does not get the benefit of the doubt.

To keep up, Korea should have Cabinet meetings at Panmunjeom

... And Canada should have it's meetings in the High Arctic.
From the Dong-a:

Members of the Nepalese Cabinet raise their hands yesterday in convening a ministerial meeting at a base camp on Mount Everest, which soars 5,250 meters above sea level. The Nepalese government assembled the “high mountain meeting” to publicize the melting of permanent snow at the Himalayas ahead of the Conference of the Parties under the U.N. Climate Change Convention in Copenhagen.

Ah, my title is based on Nepal being best known for the Himalayas, as opposed to global Warming, although my suggestion for Canada still applies.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

More Mulling! About the DMZ!

I recently wrote about plans to mull wine (and what a weird word 'mull' is after a few repetitions) and about the DMZ.

It's interesting that the Chosun has an article "Gov't Mulls Turning DMZ into Eco-Peace Belt".

The ministry laid out potential plans mainly focused on making the DMZ an eco-peace belt that would include biosphere preservation districts, geoparks and an ecology tour program. 
The ministry also plans to turn the 495-km line that runs between Ganghwa in Incheon and Goseong in Gangwon Province into a bicycle path, possibly holding an international mountain biking competition once it is completed. 
Areas surrounding the truce village of Panmunjom are to be turned into a symbol of world peace. Efforts to establish a United Nations peace conference center and a UN peace university are currently underway. 

I like the bicycle paths and the other plans but hate, HATE the idea of making the DMZ a symbol of peace.  That is as wrong as George Bush II's "Mission Accomplished" banner.  Make it a peace zone after there is peace, don't distract the people away from the horrors on the other side (this is what my previous post on the subject was about).

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

What does the DMZ symbolize?

A tank-trap near the DMZ.

At four kilometres wide and a few hundred kilometres long and with almost no human presence, the DMZ might reasonably be considered a haven for wildlife.  It is the reverse of a scar, a band of natural, healthy green between developed and over-developed land where even the farms cover the ground in black plastic wrap.

Some wildlife does thrive there, with many reports of deer (saber-toothed deer, cool!), boar and giant pheasants. Still, as GI Korea notes, this is a bit much (quoting from another source):
It is a refuge for Asiatic black bears, leopards, rare Korean tigers, and birds such as the red-crowned crane, which has long used the area as a wintering grounds.
Yes, the crane are there, but no bear, leopards or tigers have been seen (sorry, some bad quoting - GI Korea reports that no bear or the like have been seen - he quoted a journalist as above).   The four kilometres in width is too narrow: if a bear or tiger had been there, it would have been seen by now...and probably seen limping along on three legs.

Yes, there is nature aplenty in the DMZ and, aside from possibly-leaking explosive mines, very little pollution.  Depending on where this water actually comes from in the DMZ, it likely is very pure (the link is to another GI Korea post, more recent, but behind the times as the water has been around for a while now).

So, is the DMZ a wildlife sanctuary?   As I've described, it is more and less than that.

Can it be a symbol of peace?

"The DMZ has created a natural reserve for endangered species at the cost of the tragic war," said Lee O-young, professor emeritus of Ehwa Woman's University and an advisory member for the group.
"We have to make the DMZ a symbol for the so-called Natural Capitalism, a new trend that avoids over-production and over-consumption."
Gyeonggi Governor Kim Mun-soo asked for the group's efforts in order to preserve the area's cultural and historical meanings.
The group plans an orchestra performance themed on world peace next year near the Peace Dam on the Bukhan River, which was built in 2005 to prevent possible flooding of North Korea's Imnam Dam.
The 2010 DMZ Peace Forum is also scheduled in August next year, the group said.

I guess it can be, but it seems to require some serious double-think.  The DMZ, a boundary between two heavily armed nations and where no one goes to preserve a delicate armistice, one that is broken every few years, is also a symbol of natural beauty and home to animals too light to trigger the land-mines.  Because it is so natural and wild, it seems peaceful if you don't look too closely (to see those mines) or too widely (to see the huge military presence on either side).  Because it seems peaceful, it is a symbol of peace.

Okay, got it.

Oh, this Natural Capitalism thing ("a new trend that avoids over-production and over-consumption") sounds a lot like the slow cities of Jeolla Province.  In both cases, the end product was never intended.  Here, the land is not over-developed because it is a war-zone! The slow cities are slow because the young people are flocking to the big cities.  The cities can well be described as dying, and the DMZ, well, are Natural Capitalists planning on starting wars, then signing armistices to create more?

Now, symbol of peace or not, it is one thing that Korea is famous for.  No, my parents did not know about kimchi when I first came here, but we all knew about the DMZ.  It is Korea's most famous landmark and a tourist attraction.

As a tourist attraction it is a popular one:
According to the provincial government, about 27.06 million tourists visited the province during the first half of the year, up about 1 percent from 26.78 million on-year. The number of foreign tourists rose by 175,000....
The number of tourists to the Cheolwon area, where tours of the demilitarized zone are being promoted, grew by a hefty 180,000. 
These numbers seem hincky - half the population of Korea visited Gangwondo?  There were really 175,000 more foreign tourists visiting Gangwon Province in half a year?  Perhaps I am being racist in not believing this number -foreign does not mean white after all.  I likely would not recognize most foreign tourists as foreign.

Anyway, it is a tourist site and I strongly recommend visiting panmunjeom.  This place lives up to it's reputation and I felt simultaneously scared and fascinated.  From the Korea Times:

...the DMZ was once said to be the ``scariest place on Earth’’ by former President Bill Clinton. 

According to Time, that should not serve as an excuse not to visit. 
Inside the bright-blue-hued conference rooms that sit atop the tense border in Panmunjeom, visitors are able to cross a few timid feet into North Korea. 
Outside the buildings, a look across the border will be met with icy glares from a North Korean soldier with binoculars. 

Some see this as a problem, however (same article):

Time magazine listed the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) as one of the top experiences one can have in Asia in its latest issue, but South Korean officials and marketing consultants question whether it spoils the country’s image. 

From South Korea's perspective, the DMZ magnifies its negative association with communist North Korea, which policymakers are seeking to avoid. 
The country’s image has been damaged and clouded by the actions of the Stalinist state. Whenever Korea is mentioned in any corner of the world, many ordinary people often conjure up negative images of nuclear weapons or dictator Kim Jong-il.
This badly damages the positive image of South Korea, which is an OECD member, the ninth-largest exporting country in the world and a tech-savvy nation. 
Michael Breen, a Korea Times columnist and a PR consultant in Seoul said, ``Many Korean officials consider the DMZ to have a negative impact on tourism and would prefer that it is not promoted.''

Again, it is a symbol of peace or war?  Can a land where humans literally fear to tread due to land-mines ever be accepted as a positive?

The DMZ has given South Korea fifty years of prosperity and stability; at the same time it has kept the North Korean people out-of-sight and recently (without Russian aid) suffering greatly. The DMZ has given us four kilometres of distance and curtaining so we can't see what is happening, but we are getting reports that beyond the DMZ is a hell-hole and Kim Jong-il is probably thrilled that we are looking at the DMZ and thinking about the DMZ and not beyond it.

The DMZ is a pretty bandaid hiding a hideous wound and we are admiring the bandaid.

The DMZ is a beautiful place and you should go and see it.  I wish it were as endangered as the animals it protects.  See it, but look around and see more than it.  It is a symbol of deliberate, selective blindness.
Added later: More of the same at the Herald:
 Well, perhaps not quite the same.  In one article they discuss making the DMZ an ecological park and dividing the DMZ into regions for industry and development.

The government plans to develop border areas with North Korea into a center for inter-Korean cooperation, international peace and ecological protection.
The Ministry of Public Administration and Security yesterday announced the plan during the meeting of the Presidential Committee on Regional Development attended by President Lee Myung-bak.
The ministry will designate the Demilitarized Zone as an ecological preservation zone to protect rare wildlife and the natural environment.
More than 3,000 rare species of animals and plants are found in the 907-square-kilometer heavily fortified border.

"Supra-regional belts represent new territorial growth axes of the nation combining industries, culture, tourism and infrastructure," said Lee Yong-woo, a senior researcher of the state-run Korea Research Institute for Human Settlements.
The strategy seeks to make the best use of the nation's geoeconomic advantage, as it is located in the center of Northeast Asia and positioned to serve as the gateway both to the Pacific Rim and Eurasia, he said.
The government plans to finalize comprehensive plans for each of the supra-regional belts including financing, infrastructure and industrial development in the first half of next year, the committee said.

Actually, these regions may encompass area outside the DMZ, but seem to include it.