Friday, November 30, 2012

Inside a Korean classroom: stand-up desks and lockers

The picture below has two important features of a Korean high school classroom: the stand-up desks and the lockers.

Oh, how I would have loved to have these kinds of desks when I was teaching in Wisconsin. They would've cut down massively on the fidgeting students because they could have moved to the back and stood up to work if they felt themselves getting antsy. As it happened, my schools had none such desks and some students movements disrupted the classes and created problems that could've been avoided all along. To think of all the time that could've been saved if the kids had the option of moving to another desk!

My old teaching professor Tom Scott once lamented how students are almost always forced to remain seated in the classroom. He said, "There is nothing in the teaching standards that says students need to sitting down." I and the rest of the class couldn't help but agree.

Funny enough, the two English classrooms in the detached building that I teach in do not have these desks. This situation must change. Generally, the high school students behave themselves well, but these desks would prove useful at times. I've a few students who'd probably benefit from being able to stand up every so often.
The same thing applies even more to the middle school too. Those girls carry a lot of energy when they aren't sleeping. Perhaps I can have some moved into the classrooms or, failing that, get some myself.

The second thing to note about the picture: the lockers. Korean students have their lockers inside their home rooms instead of in the hallways like American schools do. This is so because the students tend to stay in their home room all day and change rooms only for special classes or events. The teachers themselves change rooms with every period.

Having the lockers in the classroom serves two purposes: reduces hallway traffic and keeps students from using the age-old "I left it in my locker" excuse so popular in US schools.

Side note: while I was taking this picture, Lyn, the pictured student, got curious about why I was doing so. I told him, "We don't have these in American high schools," to which he replied, "They're useful." Indeed they are.

The kind-of, sort of, almost, maybe bus strike last week

*I meant to write about this and it slipped my mind.

A bunch of news reports came out last week about a possible nationwide bus strike because many of the bus companies wanted to protest pending legislation that would classify taxi cabs as public transportation. The strike affected all the buses except the express (고속) ones. Apparently the express buses (ie, the ones that go from here to Seoul or Seoul-Daejeon) weren't involved.

As the strike almost happened on Thanksgiving day and weekend, it would've greatly affected our holiday plans. Not to take away from now this would have affected the country at large--such a strike would've brought the country to a standstill for a time given how many people depend on them. Alas, nothing happened here. The teachers who live outside of Gimhwa/Wasu--the majority of them here--seemed nonchalant about the matter. Their attitude told me that I shouldn't worry, and so I didn't. All the buses ran like normal here.

Did anyone see anything different? I'm curious if bus services did indeed stop in other parts of the country.

I don't normally get into politics, but I'm glad this strike didn't happen because it would've done more harm than good. According the the Korea Joongang Daily, an estimated 15 million people would've been affected by this strike, a number that constitutes a sizable chunk of the country's population. While agree that taxis shouldn't qualify as public transportation and bus companies have a right to get mad at this idea, but holding their own riders at bay is counterproductive.

See here for some more info:

And a key passage from an editorial here:

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Update: 28 November 2012 posts and news links

Again, more Wednesday writing action for you.

Here's what went up today:

Eating dog in Korea - A long-delayed post about the time I ate dog meat at a teachers dinner.

We have a weight room now... A quick hit about the new weight/exercise room at my high school.

A partial reblog and commentary on a post called "I Got All Emotional About Leaving Korea," from a South African teacher/journalist's blog about what she liked the most about Korea. She said many of things I've said or been meaning to say and I thought I'd share her words with you. I'm not sure if she was EPIK or hagwon, but she taught elementary school.

In addition to the new posts, here are some links from the Korea Joongang Daily, the paper that arrives at school every day. It stopped coming for a while, but now it's resumed again. Look for more news articles in the future:

Jeju's been in the news lately: "City Transplants Are Changing The Face of Jeju" details how some Koreans are moving to or wanting to move to Jeju to begin new careers or phrases of life. The island's undergoing a rapid influx of new people and many are finding that it's not easy as they'd thought.

"English Schools Migrate To Jeju" is about international schools setting up shop on the island. [Should've posted this months ago]

"Jeju International Schools See A Boom In Business" is a longer article focusing on how some well-off Seoul mothers have been moving themselves and their children to Jeju so their children can attend prestigious schools. It also mentions the idea of the "goose father" staying at home and earning the money while the mother goes overseas with the child(ren) to oversee their schooling. Like I've noted here, schooling is a big deal here. Perhaps too much?

"With Gamification, Banks Build Profit By Adding Fun" caught my eye because it's about banks building promotions into games. For instance, one game allows patrons to boost their interest rates by getting high scores

Eating dog in Korea

Into the animal rights maelstrom...

I held off in writing this post for a long time because I thought it might offend some people. It's something that I heard about before coming here and knew would come up sooner or later. Frankly, I thought I'd give it a try because of the cultural experience. Doing so went against my big love for dogs and eating dog goes against my upbringing as a Westerner, but I had to give it a try. My attitude in living here has been be a good sport and try new things. It's 

I had the opportunity at a teachers dinner and I went for it. There was one table with the dog meat and one table with pork or chicken (I forgot which). I took my place at the dog table to show that yes, I could handle it. The Korean teachers had been more than considerate in asking if I'd want to opt out because the knew the cultural differences at work, but I said no and took my place at the dog table with the other men and gave it a try. I knew that at any rate doing so would bolster my already excellent standing among the teachers for willingness to partake in Korean culture.

I ate dog grilled and as part of a soup. The grilled meat tasted like plain pork and the soup was merely okay. That's about it. I ate it to satisfy my curiosity and to be polite, but I mostly concentrated on the side dishes (and the soju) for that night. Dog didn't taste that good. Months later, that's all the mind remembers: the lack of defining taste.

Some things to bear in mind here:

Eating dog is not at all common here. As an American friend who's married to a Korean put it, "Dog eating was high during Korea's Great Depression but it has died out." This would make sense given how Korea was once quite an impoverished country.

There are indeed a couple restaurants that serve it, they're far from popular. Many of my students dislike dog meat and few, if any teachers actively go for it. Eating dog's a remnant from the past here. I've never seen any places that serve it in Seoul, Chuncheon, or Daejeon.

Yes, there is cruelty to dogs here. It's going away because of changing cultural attitudes to toward dogs.

*Finally, it seems that some people out there have a misconception about where meat comes in Korea. I've seen everything from "Watch out! Your beef may be from a dog" to "Be ready to eat dog every day" and the truth is, that is not true here. Most restaurants I've been in explain where their meats come from on the menus. Grocery stores label the kind and origin of meats just like they do in the States.
**Most beef eaten in restaurants or sold in grocery stores/butcher shops actually comes from the States or Australia. Korean beef (Han-u/Hanwoo) costs more.
***Pork's usually Korean or Australian

I thought of giving this post a clever title, but nothing came to mind. Sometimes what sounds boring works the best. I'll leave you with this:

Sacred cows may make the best hamburgers, but man's best friend doesn't warrant a second helping.

We have a weight room at the (academic) high school now

* I almost said the high school, but then I remembered that saying would probably slight Kirsten, as Gimhwa has two high schools instead of one.

The exercise equipment arrived a couple of months ago, but I forgot to write it about it until today. (There's been some extra free time because of the upcoming exams) the room's open to teachers and students at certain times of the day. I plan on using this room soon. It's one of those things that got put off for a while.

If you look closely, you'll see a Marshall guitar amplifier and a drum kit. Some of the kids practice at night. Again, I probably should ask who's in on this because it might lead to some quality jams.


This page has one South African woman's long of reasons why she likes Korea. I came across her blog when Rochelle found her page about eating at Braii Republic, a South African restaurant in Itaewon, Seoul.

1) Having lived overseas before, I know that living in a transitory environment will always end in sadness when it comes to making friends. I've made some amazing mates, from all over the world, and I will miss them the most. Living in a very foreign country, you tend to open yourself up to people you might not befriend at home, and you become a better person for it. It opens you up to dispelling prejudices, being more open-minded and learning about people you might have dismissed in a more comfortable setting....

Ditto. I never knew anyone from Scotland, Wales, South Africa, New Zealand before coming to Korea. The EPIK program has a great way of bringing a diverse group of people for the common purpose of teaching English. Meeting everyone's been, and continues to be, a hell of a time. Living here means you have to be ready to say hello. It's reminiscent of college only on a larger and more serious scale: by saying hello to everyone and keep an open mind; I'm making potentially lifelong friends. Not only that, living in a rural area like Cheorwon means I dang near had to keep an open mind about meeting everyone because they're people I live with and see every day. They're only 11 of us in the entire county.

With that in mind, all good things come to an end. She writes about the possibility of never seeing many of her friends again and that's something we as ex-pats must understand. I'll always remember meeting Paula and picking her brain about all things England or celebrating Diwali with Lisha and Isha. With any luck, we'll meet again after our time in Korea is up.

2) One of the things I love most about living here, and something that could keep me here for another year all by itself, is the internet. It's the fastest in the world by a long way, and there are few places you can't get it. It's on phones, in airports, in shops, on the subway and in every single household. It costs practically nothing for unlimited broadband, and I will miss it insanely when I'm in South Africa....

The same goes for the USA. My Internet connection's half of what I paid in Wisconsin and more than 3x as fast. Korea's about as wired a country as you can get.

4) Cheap utilities. I've never paid more than 10 000 won for electricity in a month. That's not even R70. Usually it's closer to 5000. And we use lights, appliances and computers all day long. It's going to be a big adjustment turning all the lights off at home. And gas is so cheap, and we don't pay for water. It costs practically nothing to live here.

Yes, to a point, for it appears that she's never had to run the ondol much during the winters. LPG and electric ondol can can cost you a good chunk of change. Otherwise, utilities do come cheap here: in 15 months I've never paid more than 3,000won for water and 15,000 for electricity. The water's practically free, which makes having to go to the bank to pay the minuscule bill slightly irritating, actually.

6) Being able to WALK places without fear of being mugged. At night. The feeling of safety is something I will really miss, not having to worry about my handbag or my life. To be fair, you can't walk around alone at night in pretty much any other country, so it's not an indictment of South Africa. Here we leave our handbags on a chair in the bars and go and do our thing, without anyone watching over them. It's just not a worry, and it's very liberating. We might be blase about safety, but so far nothing has proven us wrong. In fact, if you leave your phone on a train or in a taxi, someone will usually make an effort to get it back to you. Koreans don't generally keep things that do not belong to them.

Once I left my phone on the coach bus from Pocheon to Wasu. It was there at the terminal the next day when I stopped by on the way to school. Neither me nor any of my friends have had any trouble at night here too. I feel safer here than I ever did in the States.

7) Public transport. I can't wait to be able to drive again, but I really love that taxis, buses, trains and subways are so plentiful and cheap. We never have to worry about driving after a night out, or how we're going to get home. Taxis are super cheap, they all have GPS (even though the drivers are usually watching TV on them as they drive) and it's hard to find a place that isn't connected to a bus route....

Aside from wanting to drive again, I couldn't agree more. Korea has excellent and reasonably priced public transportation and taxis. Some taxi drivers do watch TV, but in my experience most are just lead foots. Once I made it from Dongsong to Wasu in under 25 minutes. It ordinarily takes 35 minutes by car and at least 45 by bus.

9) Service! I've never been given so much free stuff as I have here. I went grocery shopping the other day and got a free 2 litre bottle of orange juice. If you buy washing powder you might get a free pack of noodles. We went for dinner last week and got a free dessert. A lot of places, like doctors' offices and sports venues have free coffee machines.

Yeah, free stuff's always good. All of us in Cheorwon can attest to these stories. We gotten plenty of alcohol service in bars and restaurants too. I like the customer service model here because stores and owners know about creating customer loyalty, which is something that seems lacking in the States.

10) Having my bank balance in the millions. And being able to save half my salary. This isn't the real world as far as work and money is concerned, and I will miss being so carefree about money and monthly costs....

Yep, I made the millionaire jokes too. We get paid well out here and I'm always thankful for that. I disagree with Korea not feeling like the "real world" when it comes to money because I don't like profligate spending. The money I (and others) are saving here will surely help down the road.

11) Being able to walk down the road holding TLG's hand without anyone batting an eyelid. Bizarrely, because Koreans in general don't have gaydar and don't even think people can be gay, we attract no attention....

Indeed, most Koreans I've met lack the gaydar of Western people. My students are always amused when I mention I've gay friends. They find it interesting because it's alien to their experiences.

Some of Kirsten's students actually play up their "gayness"--one kid jokes that he's the "Number 1 gay" in school, too.

12) Jimjilbangs and 'love motels'. I've never stayed in a jimjilbang (a kind of dormitory for travellers/drunks/old men, usually at spas, costs less than 10,000w) but I do frequent love motels when travelling. For those not in the know, a Love Motel is a place where people can meet up for a good time, if you know what I mean. Given that most people live at home until they're married, they need somewhere to canoodle, be it for an hour or a night. We tend to stay at the nicer places (60 000 for the room, still not expensive), because skimping on cost will result in bedspreads that glow purple under a black light. Gross! Also, love motels are often the only time I can have a bath, as Korean apartments rarely have them!

Ditto. I've always had an okay to good experience with love motels and have never seen anything that looked too funky in them.

13) Very cheap health care. As mentioned in a previous post, I've undergone surgery in Korea, stayed in hospital and seen many a doctor. A visit for a check up, provided you have insurance (all foreign teachers do) will cost you around 5000w.... Where would you pay that anywhere else? And these are fancy doctors' offices, not crappy clinics....

Indeed, it's true from what people have said. Having health and dental insurance played into taking this job here. I've never been to a hospital or clinic save for the mandatory health checks because I've never gotten sick enough to need to see a doctor. I've never felt healthier since arriving here.

Dental care's good and decently-priced here. The Boston Dental Clinic in Seoul does excellent work and they charge about 60,000won for a cleaning, by the way.

14) Koreans. The way they greet you so loudly when you walk into a store, and then everyone says bye and thank you when you leave. The way they're so willing to help you, and how excited they get when you speak even the most basic Korean. How well behaved the kids are, compared to other countries, and how they dress in identical clothing when they're part of a couple. Their quirky sense of fashion, their gorgeous black hair, and how they'll come up to you and say hi just to practice a bit of English, even if they've never met you before.

Yeah, she knows the score here.

15) Mandu, sachet coffee from Family Mart, iced tea for 1000w/R7, cocktails in a bag, drinking on the street being legal, beer pong and free pool in bars, ramen, japchae, bulgogi, free lunch at work, travelling on weekends, autumn in Korea is so gorgeous, snow, Korean babies/toddlers, hundreds of kids being excited to see me EVERY SINGLE DAY for two years.

While we do pay for our school lunches (it gets deducted from the paycheck automatically), the other stuff's true. Korean babies and toddlers are much mellowed than their American counterparts. They don't cry or act up nearly as much, though parents do seem to give them a lot freedom to move around on their own.

As for the snow? Screw it. 25 winters in Ohio and Wisconsin have withered away any love I may have fostered for snow. It does nice on the mountains though...

Check out her blog; it's got some good stuff on it. Stand by for more commentary on her site, for she's written a page detailing her complaints about Korea that will get posted here soon.

This one time...: I GOT ALL EMOTIONAL ABOUT LEAVING KOREA: Having been in Korea for two years, it was inevitable that I would come to love many things about living here. As the time draws near for T...

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Moon over Wasu

I snapped this while walking home from school. The skies get vividly blue and clear here. Note the rising moon.

That's 85% of Wasu as seen from the northern side in the picture. Our apartments lie on the southern edge of town so Kirsten and I walk by it every day.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Thanksgiving spread

Rochelle and I celebrated Thanksgiving on Saturday. Neither of get crazy about turkey, so she cooked up barbecue chicken, yams, and pasta and cheese. And because we're in Korea, I had some seasoned seaweed to cap off the meal. We washed all of this down with Shiraz wine and makgeolli. Everything tasted delicious.

* Thanks, mom dept: I fell back on what she's said about wines when Rochelle was choosing which bottle to buy.

** Walmae makgeolli's the best one out there because of its creamier taste.

Black Saturday purchase: my new motorcycle jacket / Advice on travel scams

It can take a while to find the clothes your want over here. Persistence pays off. Keep an eye out for a good deal.

I've been wearing leather motorcycle jackets for years now and have wondered about picking one up while in Korea. The two I had back home do not fit too well anymore and they aren't here anyway.

That changed today. Rochelle and I came across this leather motorcycle jacket while strolling through Itaewon. It looked good, felt heavy (always a good sign), and had the classic styling. I tried it on and dang did it fit well--not too loose, not too tight, and not too long.

The price? A cool 50,000won.

I'll probably need to get some oil for it loosen it up, for it's a bit stiff yet, but that's all right.

Normally I don't like self-indulgent "look what I got" posts, but I can't help feeling excited about this, for it's another delayed "American Splendor" ^ purchase to cross off the list.

Buying this jacket brought to mind an article I'd read here.( Roosh, the writer, has traveled extensively in Europe and South America and speaks from experience.

"10. The switcharoo. A guy on the street is hawking cheap cameras that seem legit. Vendor is long gone by the time you realize you bought a box of rocks. Sometimes even stores will give you a box that is already opened.

Defense: Examine the goods."

Yes. Ask to see it/look it over/try it on/hear about its features/open the abox. If an item of clothing had zippers or buttons, play with them. Moreover, look at the packaging. I've noticed a number of suspect "off brands" in markets over here that look like a name brand but aren't.

Again: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Foreigners can be easy marks because they don't know the local customs as well as the natives. A case in point is Koreans and bargaining. It's nigh on expected over here to bargain over the price of something in a marketplace. I generally don't do that because I'm not used to it, but I should do it more often.

Another way: avoid the sidewalk markets or sellers and stick to the legitimate stores. Buying stuff there will likely cost more, but you'll have a better defense against getting scammed. For my part, I've had good luck with the markets: sellers have been friendly and they've often been generous with the "service," ie extra items. I've never had absurd prices quoted either. Still, two pairs of pants did eventually get holes in the pockets, but they can easily get fixed.

Also, the Korean big-box stores like E-Mart and Lotte Mart have generous return policies from what I've heard. Service and customer loyalty is important here. Stores want to protect their reputations. Paula once had to return a defective camera to Lotte Mart and the store took care of it right away. Once I bought a set of computer speakers and found that they were of poor quality, so I walked back to the seller and told him I'd bought them by mistake. I'd made a choice because the price sounded good. He immediately refunded the money on my debit card.

* Roosh's site also has some quality articles about meeting and hooking up with women. If you read more of his stuff, you'll likely see that he's sexist and misogynistic at times. Keep in mind that what he writes is his opinion. I'll stop here because although I'm not running a dating blog.

** I've yet to personally hear about anyone getting robbed or scammed over here beyond a taxi driver cadging an extra couple thousand won by taking a longer route than necessary. (Hell, that's common in the States too. It may be that the taxi meters are set differently in different taxis)

^ A friend coined the term "American Splendor purchase" a few years ago when I put off buying the American Splendor omnibus book for a long time because I never wanted to part with the money. I should've bought it right away.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Gimhwa news: The Technical High School's facelift

Kirsten rocks the English classes at the neighboring* Gimhwa (Boys) Middle School and Gimhwa Technical High School. Recently, her Tech school's undergone some heavy cosmetic work; here is the result. Construction crews worked for around a month bolting a new fascia onto the front and back of the school. While the actual structure hasn't been changed, the building does look much better than it used to. Check it out.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Some tips for surviving the Korean winters

Some wisdom that I've accumulated over the past 13 months of living here...

Get rugs for your floors.

I did this as soon as I arrived because they helped make the place feel more like home, but they also help your feet stay a bit warmer because they keep you from stepping on the cold faux-wood floors. As the ondol heating systems can get quite expensive, putting a couple rugs down can stave off turning on the heat.

For those new to Korea, my LPG heating bills ranged from 75,000 to 247,000won in November to February. The heat was set low at night and when I was out. When I was home, it got set between 16 and 20C.

Buy some mountain climbing pants

The winters here get cold—yes, while I grew up in Wisconsin, I never did care for its cold weather and biting winds. Cheorwon’s similar but it (thankfully) gets less snow.

You can find these in markets, on the street, or in stores for between 10,000 and 90,000won around October-March. Most will look like regular casual slacks, but they’ve three big differences: they resist stains, they dry sooner, and they’re warmer. Imagine wearing pajama pants until a pair of jeans or trousers and you get the idea. The quick drying helps immensely too because we don’t have driers over here. I’ve picked up 3 pairs now and I’ll be wearing them all winter here.

Get space heaters

I didn’t do this the first time around and learned my lesson for this year. I hit G-Market a month ago and picked up two 450/900watt heaters for the place. The heaters have the added bonus of drying clothes much faster than air-drying them: What once took 1.5-2 days now takes ~3 hours. I’ll put a picture up to demonstrate this later.

The electrical bill hasn’t arrived yet, so we’ll have to see how what the damage comes to later.

Get an electric blanket

I bought one by accident because I bought a blanket at E-Mart without looking too closely at the label. It’s worked well for staying warm at night or for watching movies on the laptop.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving!

I know I already had a Thanksgiving post, but Korea's ahead in time because of the International Date Line, so let's do it again.

Dannyfrom504 (link at right) had a thoughtful and honest post about celebrating Thanksgiving while overseas, so check it out when you get a chance. Reading it made me remember my cousin who served in Iraq and how he couldn't join the rest of us in Ohio when we was away. Thankfully, he's back and none of us are in combat situations anymore. Even though I live minutes away from the DMZ, this place is far from a combat zone.

If I were in the States, I'd be off school and would be on Ohio and Kentucky celebrating with the family, but such as it is, Thanksgiving day's just another Thursday over here. I got up, went to school, taught four classes, and came home before going back out to eat dinner at the school cafeteria. Nothing too much out of the ordinary, but that sounds fine. Ordinary means nothing crazy and nothing bad is happening. That said, I did make it a good day and enjoyed the day.

*the soldiers must have had some training exercises because we heard plenty of gunfire and artillery testing throughout the day. We also some flares and tracer rounds at night.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Update: Wednesday, 21 November 2012/Giving thanks

There must be something about Wednesdays. They're the days when the blogs come calling for fresh material and links to other excellent reading material. Today will go down as one such day.

Some updates:

My girlfriend Rochelle has recently posted about celebrating Diwali with my friends in Uncheon. Writing about this'd slipped my mind, but suffice to say I'll link to her page and say "what she wrote" because I can't add much to it. We all had a great time and enjoyed the fellowship and the food. Special thanks goes to Lisha and her friend for preparing the tasty foods and the festive atmosphere. It was my 2nd time in Uncheon (not counting all the times the bus has gone through there) and Rochelle's first. We'll be back again visit Lisha before long!

To my dear family and friends, I apologize for not having kept in touch as much as usual. The past few weeks have been busy, but thankfully not too busy. A couple of the middle school classes proved especially trying this week, but all the other classes have been fine. Life continues to groove along here. As always, thank you for being here. You're always on my mind. You know who you are. If you've any questions about Korea or life here, please post a comment!

Similarly, it's time to give thanks. Of course I'm thankful for my family and for knowing all the friends and colleagues in Korea, as well as...

-Good health
-This fulfilling job
-My ever-studious, if challenging students
-Getting to experience life in this beautiful country.

It's a bit strange to think about how I was always lukewarm on this time of the year (I'll never like turkey as much as I Iike chicken) prior to coming here, because doing lessons on food and customs is fun. We don't have ready access to turkey over here and the students love hearing about new foods, so even cranberries and stuffing sound appealing now.

Cheers, everyone.

And for those who care to know:
Lastly, here's something I should've written sooner: two of my other blogs are on the right hand side. Investing in Polyurethane Discs is my music blog. I don't write nearly as much as I should for it, especially with all the Kpop I'm soaking up while living over here. Frankly, there isn't too much to say about Kpop other than "It's only pop but I like it." Lately it's been YouTube videos of quality tunes...not that there's much wrong with that. I'll be posting more stuff.
Bearded Menace is an excellent blog about punk rock and its offshoots. The author knows his stuff. He used to do write ups of full albums, but now he's switched to doing his own digital mixtapes and writing liner notes for them. Check it out if you're into classic punk.
Musings of Random Plebeians is a blog I co-author with Cato from Wisconsin. Him and I go back a ways. It's originally his blog, but he made me co-author when I mentioned that I was looking for a space writings about stuff other than Korea and music. We write about relationships between the sexes and about whatever else enters our heads. Lately it's been about relationships.
Dannyfrom504's similar. He's been part of the "Manosphere" longer than we have, of course, but he writes cool posts about guy stuff as well.
Traveling The World I Hope is Rochelle's page. She writes about her teaching life in Seoul and has some quality alternative takes on stuff we do together.
Kimchi Soul's a blog I found about Korea. It's getting linked solely on the strength of it's post about DVD bangs.
Eat Your Kimchi - One of the premier sites about all things Korea, Kpop, and Korean food. They've been around for a while and they're quality stuff.

Thanksgiving greetings

It’s Thanksgiving time and I’ve taken some time to talk with my 1st grade HS students about the holiday and what they’re thankful for. Here are some of the responses from the 1-2 class. I’ll be posting more throughout the week, for they're quite heartwarming. I thought you all'd like to see what some of students have on their minds here.

I’m thankful for my life."

"I’m thankful for all the things that I encountered whole my life. Because they have made me realize and they have been stimulus for me."

One girl wrote hers like a poem:

"I’m thankful for fresh Autumn wind,

Well-cooked rice, my patient mom, generous teachers,

Edgar Allen Poe, and other poets, air planes,

My favorite writers, the internet, the truth that I’m quite free,

Musics that I like. And dreams during the nights."

"I thanks for my girlfriend.
I think she was always thoutful during date with me."

"I’m thankful for my parents because my parents made and they take care of me."

Winter's here: it's time to sweat and shiver

I awoke on Monday to find that we had our first snow of the season on Monday. Now it’s Wednesday, there’s ice on the ground, and the doors are wide open. Chilly breezes slice through the open windows and ripple down the hallways. Students huddle in their North Face bubble jackets and schlep along in the cold.

Welcome to a Korean high school in the winter.

The doors never close here because the school buildings have no central heating. The open windows and doors supposedly help with airflow, or so I’m told. Scott, a former Cheorwon teacher, said recently that we’d have big mold problems here if the doors and windows weren’t kept open, so perhaps that’s the part of it too. I suppose that makes sense, but then again, the doors have gaps at the top, bottom, and (sometimes) middle to let air through anyway. I don’t know. I thought I’d get used to this after a year, but frankly, I haven’t. Perhaps it’s because I’m dreading seeing ice in the hallways again.

Meanwhile, the individual classrooms and offices have their own heaters that get jacked to near-sweatbox levels. As I write this, the office heater says 25 degrees Celsius, or 77 degrees Fahrenheit. Most classrooms hover around similar temperatures, so in other words, I’m either sweating or shivering when the winter comes here. The office gets too warm for comfort because the heat gets stifling.

The classrooms are the same way. Every time class starts, someone has to futz with the heating controls, especially during the first class because the heaters get turned off at night. It never seems to occur to the students that heaters need time to warm up to deliver the heat they want. And invariably, the students will set the heater on 30C, or 86F—while wearing winter jackets. All of the fuss over the heat’s starting to get on my nerves—yes, teenage students will do these things, but even so, it seems as though they’d have gotten used to winters here by now.

This cold/hot dichotomy makes things a bit unpleasant here. It’s certainly trying my patience to walk out of the cold into a similarly cold school in the morning or to constantly put on and take off my winter jacket.

*Funny enough, I’ve found that people will crank the heaters to 78 in cold weather, but will run for the AC when the outside temperature hits 78. Strange stuff

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Adventures in Korea: DVD bang action

It seems like a good time to get back to the other side of this blog: writing about daily life and experiencing Korean culture...

Rochelle and I went to a DVD bang near Konkuk University. We'd just finished attending my colleague's wedding and it'd come time to figure out what to do next. Rochelle remembered something I'd mentioned on one of our first dates: going to a DVD bang to see a movie. This seemed a capital idea, for we hadn't been to one yet and they're a big part of Korean youth culture. Besides, we love our movies and have been accumulating a list of things to see together.

Bang is pronounced "baang," as in "baa" with the added "ng" sound, so it's not pronounced like the sound a gun makes. As noted before, "bang" is Korean for "room with a specific purpose." I wrote about the noraebangs here and here and DVD bangs are similar: you get a private room to watch a movie in instead of a room to sing songs in. It's basically a video store with mini-movie theaters in it: we walked in, browsed the shelves, found our movie, and away we went. Our room had a giant half bed/half chaise lounge kind of sofa in it that was, as Rochelle put it,"very comfortable," and  it had a big projection screen. Once the lights went out, we had our private theater for watching Once Upon a Time in Mexico.

This informative page has detailed information about the experience. As I said,  like the PC bangs and noraebangs, the DVD bangs represent big aspects of Korean youth culture because they're meeting places for friends or dating venues for couples. As Kimchi Soul blog writes, you have a private room in which you can watch a film of your choice, and a space in which to enjoy it in whichever way you choose- uninterrupted and unquestioned. 

Kimchi Soul has it right here. Young people mostly live at home with their parents and it follows that young couples have few options for meeting in private. For those of us from the States, just imagine that it's like being in high school and your parents won't let you bring your girlfriend over to watch a movie while they're away. With all in mind, we had a great time. After a year and three months in-country, we were well aware of what DVD bangs represented for young couples, but we went there to actually watch a film because neither of us own big-screen TVs.

To me, DVD rooms combine the best aspects of movie theaters and home theaters. Moreover, that sofa sure felt good to lounge on too. We had such a good time that we went back in for another movie. This time we picked Gran Torino. These two excellent films coupled with checking out a new aspect of Korean culture equaled one excellent afternoon/evening.

If you're in Korea and haven't gone to a DVD room, check it out.


As I mentioned, we found our DVD bang not far from Konkuk University station on line 2. If you go out of exit 2 and immediately turn left, you'll find yourself in a typical college neighborhood of cafes, noraebangs, and DVD bangs. We paid 15,000 (7,500 each) for one movie and 12 or 13,000 for the second one because the lady gave us a discount.

You can find them all over Seoul, but the college areas would be best places to look. I don't know too much about prices.

*Truth be told, I haven't written too much about this stuff because not many new things have happened lately. Maybe that's what happens after living here for a time: once-new and interesting things become normal. I won't say "boring" because I'm rarely, if ever bored here.

**This applies more to couples than anything because noraebangs are hugely popular among groups of Koreans and ex-pats; many of my teachers dinners have featured a noraebang session.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Korean teaching tip: Embrace the downtime / Deskwarming

Deskwarming = having to be physically present at school without having anything to do.

Essentially, it means being paid to show up. Though some of us consider these days boring, they can provide valuable time for planning and relaxing. I embrace the deskwarming days. There’s no use in getting angry about them. As boring as they may be, things could always be worse. They’re part of the Korean teaching life. Some of us get it more than others because every school is different. Sometimes we know when we’ll be deskwarming (as in, most all of February) and sometimes it happens because stuff comes up.

This week’s seen some big deskwarming days and “sudden free time,” as one co-teacher put it: First, I showed up on Monday morning to find that the entire middle school had a three day field trip to Chuncheon, so all six classes didn’t happen. I taught 3 classes between Monday and Tuesday. Second, I arrived on Wednesday morning to hear that the first and second grade high school kids had a day-long test, so those four classes went away as well.*

The free time couldn’t have come at a better time: for the past week or so, I’ve been feeling uninspired on creating new lessons. Ideas weren’t coming easily and it was getting frustrating because I knew that the lessons wouldn’t write themselves. Fortunately, the writer’s block’s gone this week. Tuesday and Wednesday saw plenty of work get done for this week and for next week. The upcoming Thanksgiving holiday sparked a series of revisions to last year’s Thanksgiving plans, so there’ll be some newer and more engaging material this time around.

Embrace the deskwarming time. Here are some other things you can do besides lesson planning:

  • Talk to colleagues. This includes the Korean teachers as well as EPIK’ers.
  • Catch up on emails
  • Talk to the students when they're between classes. Say hello and surprise them.
  • Get out the headphones and crank up the tunes. YouTube’s got plenty of full albums posted and I'm on there every day listening to old favorites and new stuff.
  • Practice/study Korean
  • Enjoy the downtime while it’s here. Living here provides plenty of it.

*This also speaks to the Korean way of passing along information at the last minute. I knew nothing about the trip or the test until the days they happened. As they resulted in not having to do something, I’m not bothered by it.

** Here's some of what I played during deskwarming:

Soundgarden - Superunknown

Soundgarden - Badmotorfinger

Both represent quality records from the '90s or any era of rock. Dense, heavy, and richly textured. Soundgarden was Black Sabbath for Gen X in my opinion.

Black Sabbath - Sabbath Bloody Sabbath

And since we're on the subject, here's Black Sabbath's classic Sabbath Bloody Sabbath LP. I was in the mood for the heavy stuff that day for some reason. All three records hadn't gotten played in a long time.

And now for another band I can't get enough of...The Flamin' Groovies.

"Teenage Head"

"Yesterday's Numbers"

"High Flyin' Baby"

All three tracks come from their top-notch 1971 LP Teenage Head, a record that combines the best of classic rock, blues, and rockabilly. They even throw in a country number for good measure and end up beating the Stones at their own game. Compare this to Sticky Fingers and tell me what you think. Head is better: it's leaner, grittier, and more consistent. 

"Shakin' All Over" - if you thought the Who's cover on Live at Leeds was good, wait until you hear this. It's even better. Get the reissue of Teenage Head if you want this song on CD.

"Tallahassee Lassie" - they tear it up on this Freddy Cannon cover.

More to come later. Keep on rocking...

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Shawn James, Black Freelance Writer: Why Men Shouldn’t Fight Over A Woman

Shawn James, Black Freelance Writer: Why Men Shouldn’t Fight Over A Woman

I meant to post this to a blog I contribute to, Musings of Random Plebeians, but posted it here by mistake. Oh well: though this blog's about teaching and living in South Korea, Mr. James' article makes some excellent points about why a man shouldn't lose his sense of self over fighting for a woman. Enjoy.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Classroom quotes: Greater Cheorwon edition

I recently asked the Cheorwon crew the following questions:

What are 3 of the most interesting things any of your students have said to you or that you've overheard recently?

To you, what are the top 3 strangest things about life in Korea?

To you, what are the top 3 best things about life in Korea?

Top 3 recent K-pop songs?

Here are some of their responses:

From Gracie, an elementary school teacher in Sincheorwon:  “Teecha, I am pineapple.”

  •  “Teecha, I am pineapple.”
    • “You ate a pineapple?:
    • “No, teecha! I AM pineapple.”
  • “Teecha, on September 5th, I saw you with a man. Who was he?”
  • “Teecha, we should be more concern with environmental terrorists.”
    • “Envrionmental interests.”
    • “Yes, environmental interrorists.”
  •  "Teecha, you know poison? YOU EAT IT YOU DIE!"

From Lisha, an elementary school teacher in Uncheon: "Teacher, fall is the time of year when the leaves get a suntan!"

From Alexis, an elementary school teacher in Wasu: " Teacher! Black skin!"

From Esther, an elementary school teacher in Dong Song:  "mm migook nemseh" as i walked by. which translated to "mmm american smell"

Kirsten, a boys middle school and technical high school teacher in Wasu:  "Walking home with a student yesterday (high school grade 1):

"Teacher, I'm going to see my girlfriend this weekend. (paraphrasing) She lives five hours away."
Me: "So will you stay with her over the weekend?"
S: "Yes, i sleep with her"
Me: "You sleep wi
th her?!"
S: "Yes, she sleeps on the bed and i am on the floor, but it's so cold. So i say to her 'ooh, i'm so cold, can I go there?' and she said yes. so i went and... mmmm, so warm."

^^ Kirsten's story cracks me up. It's cute and serious at the same time. Boys will be boys.

The massive make-or-break Korean College Entrance Exam

The all important College Entrance Exam is tomorrow and my school's given most of the teachers, myself included, the day off. At this time last year I still had middle school classes on Thursdays, so I still had to in to what looked like a ghost school, but this year's different because all of my middle school classes happen on Mondays and Tuesdays.

The College Entrance Exam represents the culmination of the Korean student's primary and secondary schooling. The test more or less determines each student's destiny.

The 1st and 2nd grade high schoolers get a much-needed holiday as well. Good for them. They've been working quite hard. The 1st graders in particular have steadily improving in their writing and speaking abilities. Expect a post about their writings soon!

Here are some links for further reading:

Korea4Expats - "College Entrance Exam"
The first two paragraphs (emphasis mine):

The exam begins and ends at the same time all over the country - 8:40AM to 6:05PM on the 2nd Thursday of the month. Results are officially released during the 2nd week of December (in 2008 the test was on Thursday 13 November and the results published on Wednesday 10 December).
On this day, workers at government offices and public firms all over the country are allowed to arrive at work an hour later (10AM rather than 9AM)so reduce traffic congestion and ensure that all students arrive at the exam place on time. The stock market may open late and close early. The frequency of trains and buses is increased between 6 a.m. and 10 a.m.. Motorists are prohibited from honking their horns near schools and teams of volunteers and special police units work as traffic managers. Parking is banned within a 200-meter radius of test  venues.  The Civil Aviation Safety Authority restricts aircraft operations near the exam sites so that noise will not disturb students during listening tests. Flights,  both domestic and international, operated by national and foreign carriers will have their takeoff schedules altered between 8:35 a.m. and 8:58 a.m. and 1:05 p.m. and 1:35 p.m. on exam day so air travelers should  to check their flight schedule in advance on the 2nd Thursday of November. Strikers and protestors will often suspend their demonstrations for that day. The military, U.S. and Korean, will usually halt live-fire training and aviation missions.

Los Angeles Times: "South Koreans hold collective breath on exam day"

Christian Science Monitor: "South Korea shuts down for the all-or-nothing Korean SAT"

Key passage:

But the pressure-laden path to the test, say critics, is one littered with some of South Korea's most glaring social ills. Though its education system is held up as a model around the world, with about 80 percent of high school students going on to college, South Korea harbors one of the world's most astronomical levels of private education costs forked out by parents intent on ensuring their children get ahead. And some have linked the test to some of the increasing number of teen suicides in the country.

This is true. Most all of my students go to on private school or another to supplement their regular schooling.

Best of luck to Cheorwon's 3rd grade high school students tomorrow!

Monday, November 5, 2012

Teaching tip: Know what your kids like

I had a long and tiring day today, but I wanted to post something positive because it's been a few days and the time's come for fresh dispatches...

Knowing 2 or 5 things about your students can pay dividends when it comes to catching their attention. Last week's lesson about pronouns that I did with the MS 2nd graders underscores this point.

I saw that the girls were studying reflexive and intensive pronouns in one part of their current chapter, so I based the lesson around those two ideas. The PPT slides had many example sentences and simple explanations of what reflexive and intensive meant. It also had plenty of pictures. A lesson like this needs plenty of pictures to work because otherwise the students would get lost in the grammar.

Enter Kpop. My kids are nuts for their bands. The 2nd graders love B1A4 and BAP in particular, and knowing this helped them a grammar point. I'd included a picture of B1A4 and had written the caption They call themselves B1A4 over the top of it. Such a picture would make explaining what themselves meant a bit easier, and it did. As soon as they saw the slide, the kids erupted like it was Beatlemania. One girl who calls herself Lady Gaga jumped out of her seat and ran up to the screen to proclaim her favorite member. "Him! My favorite!" she exclaimed, and as soon as she did, I had to quell a growing disagreement on how looked the best. (Such is life in the classroom. The girls will talk and talk if given the opportunity)

The next slide about 2NE1 drove the point home. They were ready for the handout and speaking activities after that. So, as ESL teachers, we'd best get to know our students because we can use their interests in lessons. Doing so serves two purposes: it helps with the students relating to the content and it also brings their world into the classroom. This is a powerful thing because it shows that we can learn from anything in the world. For jaded teenagers, it may show that the school need not be a boring place. Actually, those two things work well for both the regular classroom and the ESL classroom, but for us ESL teachers it shows that we know something of Korean culture. Knowing a bit about how Korea works also pays off over here.

Rock and roll it