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 hospital, 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.

Friday, January 23, 2015

#ELTworkplaces in Cheorwon County, Gangwon Province, South Korea

Happy Friday everyone! I've about a month to go before I leave South Korea, so it's time to get those last Dispatches out. One of them concerns a pictures of where we English teachers teach. I'll join the fray! The photos below are some of the classrooms I taught in while in South Korea.

August 2011 to August 2014: Gimhwa High School

I started out at this desk on the second floor of the high school.

The high school classroom. You can't see the windows, but they looked east, so the blinds had to stay down for the afternoon classes because the light caused too much glare on the screen. I'd usually have to have one set of lights turned off. The lack of light caused many students to get sleepy.

2011-2014: Gimhwa Girls Middle School
The "English Zone" classroom at the Girls Middle School. The room was too big most of the time, but the extra space really helped for the "visual puns" lesson and anything else that necessitated movement. I also conducted my teachers classes at the rectangular table. I'd usually sit at the head with a rolling whiteboard behind my chair so I could turn and write stuff on it as needed.

Another quirk of the room: The computer that connected to the smartboard was set up inside a small office in the room. Its awkward placement precluded doing anything with the keyboard or mouse during class.

August 2014 - February 2015: Sincheorwon Middle School and High School

The high school classroom on the first day of the fall semester.

This may be stretching the definition of workplace, but I figure it counts since I did plenty of thinking while walking on the streets and on the track outside the school.

The park near the school. I did a lot of thinking here this semester.

*I might return. It's been good.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Reblog: westwoods travels: Temperature Tantrums

She says it well. A former Cheorwon teacher explains why Korean builders are bloody cold in the winter...

westwoods travels: Temperature Tantrums: Emart sells bubble wrap with cute little designs on it. This is not so you can skip the wrapping paper. This is so when you put bubble wrap...

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Fourth and final Christmas on the DMZ / Final posts ahead

Two posts in one day. The post about McCourt and storytelling had been sitting in the drafts folder and this is another one that should go out along with it. This one's more personal and that one's more professional...

Let's begin with two quotes. Here's one from John Lennon:
So this is Christmas
And what have you done
Another year over
And a new one just begun
"Happy Christmas (War is Over)"
Fellow Cheorwon Trooper DMZ Jazz recently wrote on his blog:
I guess it's been a minute.  The reason I haven't updated has been a series of immensely stressful, physically and emotionally painful, life-changing, but ultimately- positive changes. 
Same here. A quick look at the sidebar of Dispatches shows that a fraction of posts have gone up this year compared to 2012 and 2013. There are reasons for that.A major relationship has concluded and I've chosen to resign from EPIK at the end of this semester. These two things go together, and yet they don't.

I'm going to be leaving in February of 2015. The easiest explanation would be that I've been feeling homesick and especially out of place in the past month or two. Wait--that's not all of it. I've just been unhappy with being an EPIK teacher for a while. It's hard to figure out when it started, but it's been going for a year. Teaching English as a Foreign Language has been fun and challenging, but it's not where my passion lies. Joining NCTE in November and reading about unit plans for The Great Gatsby reminded me of how much I miss teaching literature and language arts. EFL has plenty of language arts in it, but it's not where EPIK (and my school) seems to care about now. Therefore, moving on would be best for all parties concerned. Making this choice wasn't easy, but I do feel better now.

Making this choice wasn't easy, but it's best thing for me to do. The past year has been fraught with stress at school over the direction of lessons, teaching philosophy, and administrative issues. No single person's to blame. It was my choice to renew for this fourth year and switch schools and it's not working out for anyone. This is not to contradict the Thanksgiving post below, for the coteachers have been helpful and have done things to the best of their abilities. We only played the cards we were dealt. I just don't think I'm the right man for this position anymore.

Why not?  This might further explain why: I finally got around to watching Dead Poets Society this September. The movie focuses on Mr. Keating, the magnetic, maverick English teacher who shakes things up at a prestigious prep school. His youthful and unorthodox style puts him immediately at odds with his colleagues because he teaches differently than the rest of the faculty does. I found the film heartbreaking on one hand and a moving portrait of inspired teaching on the other. It also made me consider my place as a teacher within EPIK. Was I like him? I certainly harbor different views on teaching and, let's face it, I'm a stranger in a strange land. Keating was a former student of the school; I'm an outsider in most every way.

No, I never set out to become a Mr. Keating and change the world. Far from it: I boarded that plane excited to learn about Korea and have a full-time teaching job. And that's what it was for a long time: Learning about Korea and transitioning from an English Language Arts teacher to an English as a Foreign Language teacher. And, let's not forget, working with a plethora of coteachers and all the attendant issues that that entailed.* What a time. Like the ZZ Top lyric, "I've been up/I've been down/Take my word, I've been 'round."

I found I couldn't reconcile who the teacher I'd like to be with the teacher my school wanted me to be. Combine that with a rampant strain of homesickness and equals "it's time to go." Korea's been great. No other word comes to mind. What a thrill, to get to spend some time here and have all of these experiences.

So...happy holidays, everyone. This is the first of the last Dispatches from Gangwon. We're caught in that No Man's Land between Christmas and New Year's Day. I'm still carrying on with a vacation to the States to visit family and friends. For a a while, I'd thought that the trip would provide the refresher necessary to charge through another semester here, but no, it won't. It's best to move on come the end February.

Enjoy some music:
Ah...J Rabbit. Cool duo. Here they are covering "Winter Wonderland" and having a fun time doing it. I should get some more posts out about Korean music; there are some good groups here.

Here's Chuck Berry doing "Merry Christmas Baby," a song I never knew about until this year.

The Beatles and their Let It Be gem "I've Got A Feeling," which may not be about Christmas, but it's about the peaks and valleys we experience in any given year.

My Morning Jacket - Moving Away. A good slow groover. I cannot thank a certain aunt enough for giving me this album.

*If memory serves, I've worked with around 25 coteachers in the past 3.5 years.