Wednesday, February 8, 2017

It's Daejeon! The return (Day 2) [repost/edit]

Get ready for picture heavy post...
[fixed errors--Feb 2017]

Breakfast at hotel

The hotel had a decent continental breakfast spread of scrambled eggs, cocktail weenies, bread, lettuce, and tomatoes. For drinks, it had (weak) coffee, OJ, and milk. I'm more of an oatmeal man than a scrambled egg man, but the eggs tasted okay and they helped power me through Tuesday's activities. Here's what happened in the morning rains and the afternoon heat:

EXPO Science Park

At long last, I made it. Getting there proved easier than last year. And yes indeed, doing stuff on weekday mornings is enjoyable: I was one of less than 10 non-employees on the grounds. It was almost as though the place was closed, but the lady in the ticket booth waved me in. I found out that the park's more of a pay-as-you go place. It's expansive and clearly designed to accommodate large crowds, so the place felt ghostly with no one occupying the space.

I went to two of the attractions: the giant IMAX dome theater and the LG Technopia Turbo Theater. The dome's screen is massive and immersive. It was too bad that the film being shown, "Journey to the Planets" had dated animation of kiddie-style space aliens riding around in a space ship looking at our universe. The actual pictures of the planets were great, but the 70s-esque animations made the film hard to take seriously. At least there was some footage of astronauts working on the International Spae Station. Still, for 2,500won and being the only one there, it could've been worse.

The Turbo Theater? Impressive setup, meh film. I liked the huge dark corridors. Very mysterious. The roller coaster-esque seats you strap yourself into we're cool though. I saw "Journey to the Center of the Earth," one of Brendan Fraser's lesser films. Again, I was the only one there. Both the Theater and the IMAX had two college age women at the front counter. I wondered if perhaps the place was overstuffed for the time of day.

I figured two things were enough, so I went back into the drizzle and humidity and crossed the street to go to the...

National Science Museum/Lunch

...and didn't stay long. There lots of kids and school groups by now (noon). The campus looked like it was geared toward kids; i wasn't feeling like a 10-year old, so i ended up buying a ticket to a snow I didn't see because it started in the afternoon. Oh well. I only went because it was there. The gift shop had Dokdo t shirts for 20,000won. I walked out and caught the first bus I saw and ended up in the Yuseong Station area. By now the sun was up and the energy levels were flagging, so lunch came in the form of bibimbap (the go-to Korean meal) at Kimbap Nara. While there, I remembered that the Currency Museum close to the Science Museum and EXPO Park, so back on the road I went. 

Sometimes little mishaps bring pleasant surprises, for while waiting at the bus stop, I met a Tanzanian fellow named Albert who's studying in Daejeon. We got to talking and took a quick rise together. He talked of his studies and how he had to reach level three on the TOPIK exam to graduate. He also mentioned that until he'd met a girl from Lousiana, he thought that all Americans had seen snow. Evidently, that's what Africans learn in school. Interesting stuff, especially when yours truly has never gone a year without seeing snow. 

The bus ride took us back to the EXPO area, so we said farewell and I got back on the street. Around 20 minutes and a bus ride later, I was following the signs to the Currency Museum--Not the easiest place to find! It's set back in what must be an office park, but I soon found out why: It's next door to one of Korea's money printing agencies.

The Currency Museum

Cool place! I mean that literally and figuratively: the air conditioning felt great and I enjoyed seeing coins and bills from Korea' history as well as paper money from around the world. Korea's money used to be called 환 before the name got changed to 원 in 1962. The change happened as a part of currency revaluation project.* Learning about that was interesting, but what's perhaps more insightful is this: The biggest Korean bill in '62 was 500 won. Now? 50,000 won. Those two facts illustrate how much the country's economy has grown since the 6.25 War ended 60 years ago. What's more, the 50,000 won bill was only recently introduced in 2009. It's strange to think about new bills being introduced because America has been using the 100 dollar bill for ages now. We've had bigger bills, to be sure, but they were only for official purposes and not for general use.

Korea's money and how it's changed over time.

The Currency Museum also had a room dedicated to paper money from around the world. Gazing at these bills was one of the day's highlights:

Uganda's colorful and eye-catching money makes the US's look drab by comparison. After looking at all of the bills on display, I noticed that America's paper money is all the same size and virtually every other country's money isn't. Also: sorry R, but there was any Jamaican money on display. 

After satisfying the thirst for monetary history, I moved on and wound up getting a ride back downtown thanks to a generous mom who'd visited the museum with her two children. Once again, I couldn't believe the good fortune. Koreans are some amazingly kind people. She'd pulled up as I was leaving the parking lot and said what sounded like , "Where are you going? Get in," in rapid Korean. I'd picked up the gist of what she said** and got in. She asked again, and I said "시내가세요" which means "I'm going downtown." She asked where exactly and I saw Daejeon station because it was the first one that came to mind and because the Education Museum stood nearby.

She ended up dropping me off at Seodaejeon Station, but that a trifling matter compared to the fun Korean/English conversation the four of us enjoyed together. Her elder son was practicing his English, and the mom, while she didn't speak much English, understood everything I said. The son was eager to know what I thought of Korea and I said accordingly, "우리 나라 사랑해요," or "I love our country."*** It's hard not to love The Land of the Morning Calm when the people are friendly and the food is good! When strangers go out of their way to help you find your way back downtown and act as though you've made their day because they can belp you, it's an amazing thing. 

Once at Seodaejeon Station, I got my bearings and caught another bus, got off, and walked to...

The Hanbat Museum of Education

I was gambling on getting there before closing time and while yes, that happened, it wasn't quite enough time to see the place, so told the woman at the front desk that I'd return the next day. The Daejeon trip would not pass without a trip to a museum about school and schooling. There was no rush to leave early anyway.

I'll add the next day's return trip here for purposes of brevity. The Musuem of Education had exhibits stretching from the '90s all the way back to the old Joseon dynasty days. Inside the class cases of its wood paneled rooms laid all number of textbooks and artifacts from school days past. The first exhibit is a replica of a classroom from the 1960s:

Roughly, "Daily school life from 1960-1970."

Note the heater in the middle of the room and the piano in the foreground. Some of the desks were double and some were single. Apart from those things, not much separates this classroom from its modern counterpart.

Middle school English textbooks from the '90s.

School life during the Korean War.

The lottery wheel used for determining which middle school students would advance to high school in lieu of written exams.

For my mother, who maintains that penmanship among US elementary school kids is lacking these days: the Koreans were there decades ago!

Photos from the Japanese occupation. Note the use of child labor in service of the State. Also note that group work or "pod" seating is nothing new.

More child labor for the imperialist State.

Hyundai world map, circa 1920s. I included this picture because it has Korea as being part of Japan thanks to the Occupation.

The caption speaks for itself. The Japanese were evidently equal-opportunity when it came to making their subjects ready to fight for them.

Old time desks and writing tables. In the background: a scholar holds court.

And finally...wearing the black and white robe of a Joseon-era university teacher. It was comfy. Maybe I should procure one of these and start wearing it to school? It would make a good Halloween costume, eh? Special thanks to Mrs. Choi the Musuem representative for giving me this unique opportunity! She guided me around the place and commented on the exhibits. Despite her self-criticism, her English sounded perfectly fine. Wandering the Education Museum provided the perfect end to the trip.

I'll have another post about reflecting on the trip up soon.

Miscellaneous pictures from Day 2:

The Gab Stream [갑천]

For Dick in WI: I figured you'd appreciate a place like this. The Currency Museum was nearby.

--Written in the hotel room and the Daejeon train station as well as the train to Seoul.

*Time to study more Korean history!

*** In Korean culture, "our" takes precedence over "your." Instead of saying "my country," "my house," or "my father," Koreans will say "our country," "our house," and "our father." 

우리 means "our" or "us," depending on context.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Belated post about Record Store Day 2014

Record Store Day 2015 has come and gone again. I missed it this year, but I did go to a few shops last year and didn't realize I did it on Record Store Day until later. Being abroad can do that sometimes. I meant to post something, but forgot about it. Being abroad does that, too.

What I meant to say last year at this time:

19 April: Record Store Day in the US and UK. And another Saturday for me. R and I had fled the country and gone into Seoul for one of our day trips. As I recall, we spent most of the day in the shopping maelstrom of Myeongdong. We might have seen a movie. At one point we split up so she could see a few cosmetics stores. I went into the Kpop emporium that is Music Korea. Kai in Korea wrote about going there:
I didn’t want to take any photos inside the store, I didn’t know if that was allowed, but it was so amazing…walking into a store and seeing Kpop CDs was really weird, but really great. All the MBLAQ things they had I already owned, so I bought Two-X’s debut mini album and TaeTiSo’s Twinkle album for myself and picked up Beast’s new album “Midnight Sun” for Kirtie and Ukiss’ “Neverland” album for Ali! I hope you guys like them! 

I don't know what's weird about seeing all of the Kpop, because that's the kind of store it is. Music Korea caters to Kpoppers. I was glad to be there because Korea doesn't have too many record stores. Most people download the stuff or watch the videos on Youtube. But as I may or may not have mentioned, I like to have the real thing.

But despite Music Korea's predilection toward the new and shiny, the shop does sell plenty of other music by Korean artists. (I recall an aisle of classical music as well.) I happened to be looking for Kim Kwang-seok, a famous singer-songwriter because coteacher had recommended him. She's less about the rock and more about warm melodies. That, and evidently Kim's short career made its mark on Korean music. I found Kim's 2-CD Best Of  and bought it.

And yep, it's mellow. Good change of pace.

김광석 - 서른즈음에: Here's Kim doing a famous song of his about getting close to age 30.

Record Store Day never entered my mind until I saw an email from ATO Records in the inbox later that weekend.


Lanie in Korea writes about Kpop Mall in Seoul - Another Kpop shop. It's smaller  than Music Korea, but perhaps just as good.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

'Round three weeks ago

I left Korea three weeks ago and went on the road. I didn't properly close the blog down, but then maybe it can't really be closed down. There are still a few more stories to be told on here. Not only that, but at present I've no plans to delete anything here since it might help anyone in Korea or thinking of going to Korea.

Living and teaching in Korea was a wonderful time. It may not have been so apparent from the last few posts on here, but I did enjoy being part of EPIK. The problem was that it came time to move on from EPIK. It happens. I still enjoy teaching, be it language arts or EFL. 

For those who have read and commented here, thank you. I had no idea this blog would be read as often as it is.

My new blog called

More posts to come whenever I get around to them...

Monday, February 16, 2015

K-pop and K-rock timeline / A brief look at 3.5 years of Korean music

I bought plenty of music while living in Korea - something like 100 albums of Korean rock and pop. All of which has been shipped back by now. Packing the big Kpop albums into the EMS boxes brought forth memory after memory. I never danced to Kpop in any clubs, but the sounds blasted out of the stereo and the headphones often enough in the early days here. Those incessant beats and hooks still grab me. The Wasu apartment had posters from the Wonder Girls, KARA, and Secret on the walls. A friend once (correctly) called it a "teenybopper's room." And though I felt a twinge of embarrassment at being called a 26 year old teenybopper, the posters evoked the same sense of home that I had in the US when posters of The Ramones and The Who graced the walls.

Kpop gave way to Krock in the end because A) I've always liked rock more and B) Kpop's candied sounds get annoying after 40 minutes. The rock allowed me to indulge my inner historian and go on a journey through Korea's past. I did find plenty of pop in there, but it was pop of a different sort, for it had real people playing real instruments and only one vocalist at a time. The rock and pop mingled together in the late 60s and early 70s anyway. Shin Joong-hyun played on many of those records and he always threw in some tasteful solos. Sometimes the two genres merged in format: Sanulrim who started out playing '60s garage pop at '70s song lengths in 1978. See some more stuff about the group and their debut LP here.

It's end of the working day here. Apologies for cutting it short.

The timeline of music posts here:

16 February 2015 - Sanulrim's 1st LP.
4 June 2014 - Guitar Fridays [Sanulrim's "Reflection"]
  • Mostly about playing guitar with the students. Included for Sanulrim's song.
8 Jan 2014 - Classic Korean Pop Music Archive: Deulgukhwa / Deulgukhwa 1st Album (1985)

  • A reblog from Classic Korean Pop Music Archive that has a short biography and review of the group and their 1st album. Special thanks to a friend of R's for recommending Deulgukhwa.

19 April 2013 - Kpop playlist #2 [Investing in Polyurethane Discs]
21 February 2013 - Krock 4: Jang Ki-ha and the Faces
20 February 2013 - Krock: Shin Joong-hyun and Yup Juns - Volume 2
20 February 2013 - Krock: Shin Joong-hyun and the Yup Juns - Volume 1
25 Jan 2013 - Classic rocker Shin Joong-hyun
25 December 2012 - A semi-white Christmas in Wasu

  • Featuring music from J-Rabbit. Their Christmas album's soothing. It also has a cover of "All You Need is Love."
21 November 2012 - Ga-in's "Bloom" vs. Miss A's "I Don't Need a Man"
  • Comparison piece between two Kpop songs.
21 August 2012 -  Krock 3: Busker Busker and more from Lowdown 30
21 August 2012 - Krock 2: The Black Skirts
31 July 2012 - 11 months in music...Kpop edition
31 July 2012 - 2NE1 and to everyone who loves to grooving Kpop
  • R and I attended their concert in Seoul in summer of 2012. Quality show.

K-rock review: Sanulrim Vol. 1

Sanulrim's 1st LP (1978)

Sanulrim should've been written about sooner because I've played them more than any other Korean rock group as of late. Their swirling organs and fuzz guitar make an excellent combo. And what's above is true: Play track 1 side 1 of their 1st album, "Ah! Already?" below and hear for yourself:

The groove and melody attack immediately, eh? To me, the groups genius lies in how they took what would have been two-and-a-half minute singles and stretched them into longer '70s-style jams. What sounds like senseless indulgence and repetition isn't: The songs breathe. Maybe the band felt the same way because all of the songs on their debut run past the three minute mark. The tempos vary between ballad and uptempo, but the organs prevail.

Anyone who likes older pop and rock would enjoy these guys. Their first three albums got reissued as a combo package of CDs and SACDs recently, but I think it's gone out of print because it was a limited edition. Youtube has many of their songs though.

Despite the 1978 recording date, the production veers closer to 1966 due to the limitations of Korea's recording studios at the time. It sounds out of time because of

My Korean isn't good enough to understand everything in the lyrics, but most songs deal with pop topic mainstays like summer romances and unrequited love.

The blog Ghost Capital wrote about the group here.
A biography and review of their albums here.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Scheduling fun / Scrabble, revisited

Not so fun Friday: Out sick again thanks to knots in the stomach and a pain in the neck. 

School's "begun" in the sense of teachers and students returning to the school for classes, but I can't ascertain what, if anything, we're supposed to be doing these days. I wish I was making this up. The scheme so far has been that the students go to classes for a half a day and the teachers stay the whole day. I've overheard teachers talking about the students calling one movie shown in class "not interesting." None of my teachers have said anything about what to do in classes. Some don't even know if we have classes together. I find this strange: How is this possible that teachers don't know if there will be classes?

Or this one: One coteacher was out on a business trip and didn't tell me until an hour before we had class. This was Tuesday. I was at school all day on Monday and could have been informed in advance, but, like a lot of things over here, it didn't happen for whatever reason. Things like this have happened so often that I'm numb to the annoyance. Maybe this coteacher didn't know she had to teach? It's entirely possible.

What's been going on in the absence of lesson advice: I've been carrying on with bringing in sets of Scrabble and showing the students how to play it. So far so good!

For prospective EPIK teachers--I can't stress this enough: Get used to living with uncertainty.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Dispatch from an empty office in Cheorberia

3:55pm: 35 minutes until I can leave. It's my eighth and final day of desk warming in the vacated office upstairs at the middle school. Maybe four or five other people are at school or have been at school. The principal's been here at times because I've seen the light on in his office. He's held some meetings. My excitement because when the teacher of Korean that I talk to about novels came by to pick up a package.

Otherwise, it's been a solitary, lonely, and downright cold time here. I tracked the temperature changes over time today: The thermostat said 3.6C when I arrived at 8:30am. The overhead heater's efforts brought the temperature to 19.5C, which is hospitable, but it's only been above 15C since noon today. I've survived the cold by layering, but it's still difficult to type with gloves on. Going to the bathroom means putting on the overcoat and walking downstairs to the staff bathroom. It's not exactly convenient.  That's how it goes for those who desk warm. I've passed the time by reading novels, writing emails, and planning my exit trip.

On another note: I've often been asked about how Cheorwon or Korea's weather compares to my home state of Wisconsin. The answer usually goes something like this: "Wisconsin gets more snow and lower temperatures, so Cheorwon isn't so bad." What I leave unsaid--and this is something I didn't fully comprehend until this winter--is how the cold in Korea pervades everything. The temperatures may not dip as low as Wisconsin, but the place certainly feels colder more of the time thanks to the lack of central heat, the bad/nonexistent insulation, and the drafts in buildings in Korea. Even now, it's 19C but it feels chillier thanks to draft currents. Oh well. It's nearly time to leave. And not just leave for today--I've less than four weeks to go before this job concludes. 

*Anyone considering teaching in Korea should bring long underwear and thick socks.