Monday, April 29, 2013

Getting back to the groove: What Gangwon Dispatches focuses on

According to Blogger's statistics:
  • Gangwon Dispatches has garnered 1,000 hits for the second month in a row
  • It has surpassed 10,000 hits since I started it in August of 2011.
Thank you to everyone who's been reading. I began writing these Dispatches to focus on two topics: Teaching and my travels in Korea. Both topics cover plenty of ground and have provided plenty to write about. Teaching's brought about posts on methods/strategies as well as spurred reflections on the US and Korea. Traveling around the country's brought forth posts on various cities, foods, and celebrations. Living here's also sparked my always-high interest in music, so I've written plenty on Korean music, too.

As of late I've been veering away from the blog's original focus and have thus diluted its content with extraneous posts. Those posts have taken away from what I want Dispatches to be. There will be no more like them. In time, I may write of other topics, but they won't be on this blog.

Since arriving in Korea, I've endeavored to keep positive and enjoy every day over here. Coming here represented a huge opportunity to work with help the community and to bring the best of Korea home to family and friends in the US and elsewhere. As I'm just one guy, I can't possibly cover everything Korea has to offer, but I can write about some of the interesting and positive things I see over here. Despite being on person, I and my fellow teachers serve important functions in the community.

In keeping with being a schoolteacher and amateur travelogue writer, I'm going back to Dispatches' original two focuses of teaching (and strategies thereof) and of highlighting my travels around the country. As the blog's readership has grown, so has my responsibility to write things worth reading and learning from. Stay tuned for more articles about teaching, language, and travels.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

DMZ washout blues (DMZ Trip #4)

Cheorwon County got hit with morning rain so the much-anticipated trip to the DMZ with the Boys Middle School didn't go quite as planned. Instead of seeing the DMZ and going hiking, we went to the Labor Party Building and Baek Ma Go Ji (White Horse) memorial site. (No pictures from the site, unfortunately!) The bus rides to and from the sites probably took longer than the time we spent hanging around, but we all had a decent time. The rain wasn't coming down too hard, so we didn't get soaked or anything. I was particularly excited to get a closer look at the old and bombed out Labor Party Building because I'd only seen it from a tour van's window before. Ms. J the boys school co-teacher snapped the photo below.

It's an imposing old structure. The Soviets certainly liked their right angles and straight lines. I couldn't help but think of 1984 when I saw it, for surely some devious Commie actions went down in there. It's not something to think about, but it's an integral part of Korean history. The popular Korea blog The Marmot's Hole colorfully describes the building here:
A symbol of the tragedy of division and war and a testament to the power of Soviet civil engineering, this building — which you read about here — was erected in 1946 as the local headquarters of Ye Olde Workers Party of Korea, North Korea’s ruling party. Built in that charming Soviet style favored in North Korea’s early years — see here for many more examples — the building took a licking during the battles for the Iron Triangle but kept on standing.
And why yes, those are tread marks from a Sherman tank leading up the steps.
Indeed, if you look closely, you can see the tread marks on either side of the walkway. Despite its dark past, I enjoyed seeing this piece of history up close. Did the students? Hard to say. Most were too busy being kids and trying to stay dry, but I'll ask them about it later. The teachers looked like they had a good time though. Ms. J apologized for the rain, but it couldn't be helped. A little rain never hurt anyway. It was good to get out and see more historical sites.


As I mentioned before, the Labor Party Building's part of the Cheorwon DMZ tour, which the Joongang Daily wrote about here. Gracie, Rochelle, and I took the tour on a sunny day in October and enjoyed it. I'll have the post about it up soon. It's been sitting half-finished in the drafts folder for some time now. Until then, here are a couple pictures from the excursion:

At the Cheorwon Peace Observatory. The DMZ is behind it, but pictures of the DMZ aren't allowed.

At the blown apart tracks of the old Woljeong-ri Station. 

More to come later!


The Marmot's Hole: Korean War Ruins of Cheorwon. An excellent pictorial of Cheorwon's war relics. Good info, too.

The Marmot's Hole: Former Cheorwon Office Of The Workers' Party Of Korea. More pictures and info about the Labor Party Office.

Teaching tip: Write alongside the students

English teacher extraordinaire Kelly Gallagher’s written about doing so, and for good reason. As he states in Teaching Adolescent Writers, “the teacher is the best writer in the room.” It’s the teacher’s job to demystify writing and make it accessible for the students. One way to make it accessible is for the teacher to write alongside the students. It can also work well in co-teaching situations because one teacher can write and the other can monitor students.

By letting the students see the teacher write, they can see the mistakes, pauses, and corrections that come along with writing. It shows students that writing is difficult and that it is rarely “right” the first time. As I’ve said to the students, native speakers have plenty of trouble with writing as well. Writing alongside the students gives them a firsthand look at how an expert—the teacher—does it. They can see the starts, the stops, and the revisions that come along the way. The writing process works like stop and go traffic, for it has plenty of speedbumps and can stop at any time. Many of the students think writing's like turning on a tap, but it's not the case, especially with writing in a foreign language.

 In the past, I’ve used overhead projectors, which for all their crudity, worked wonders for showcasing how messy some my drafts could look; I type on a computer that’s connected to a big screen or Smart Board. Typing is cleaner, but handwriting is more illuminating. At any rate, the students can get to see that even smart adults can struggle with writing.

Though Gallagher talks about using this method for complex essays, I've found it works well for shorter pieces as well. Even seeing a few sentences has helped hesitant students put pen to paper. Even seeing a few sentences has helped hesitant students put pen to paper. During the 2nd semester of last year, I and Ms. J taught a series of lessons based on NEAT practice prompts.* We’d introduce the prompt, go over some key expressions or explain a grammar/writing point like how to write complex sentences, and get the students writing. They’d write on their papers, I’d type on the computer, and she’d circulate around the classroom. The prompts would be about things like cities to live in, pros and cons of public transportation, good and bad habits, and fears. Most all of them were 1-2 paragraphs long. The series of lessons worked so well that I've chosen to do them again come 2nd semester of this year.

Writing alongside them also allowed me to better understand the prompt. After all, there’s no better way to understand something than to actually do it. I did the same prompt as the students so uncover any potential difficulties or snags. It was then possible to fine-tune our lesson introduction so the students would better understand the task.

On a final note, using Gallagher's method made me realize how well it worked with a co-teacher in the room, for she could field questions and assist students while I wrote. Her being available to the students eliminated the problem of keeping the students focused while I was doing something. It can be difficult to keep students focused on a writing task, especially the teacher's busy with doing something too. A co-teacher solves this problem and as such we were better able to serve our students. I’m looking forward to using this method more in the future because it’s effective and helpful. 

*NEAT = National English Ability Test. It's a part of Korea's efforts to reform their English curriculum and college entrance examinations.

Amazon: Kelly Gallagher - Teaching Adolescent Writers. An excellent book filled with strategies for teaching middle and high school age students develop as writers.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Midterm madness

Midterms happen next week at all three of my schools and a wave of fatigued hysteria has washed over the students. As we approach the mid-point of week 7, the grind of the new semester’s set in and the students seem to get more and more tired every day. They seem to run on sporadic naps, for they drag their feet on the way to school and can hardly hold their heads up for more than 10 minutes at a time. Whether or not they do get any rest is hardly the point—they do need it, but the bigger point is the frenzy they’ve whipped up about these tests. It’s true that the tests mean plenty, but it’s also true that most all of the test material comes straight from the textbooks, so anyone who has paid attention should do fine.

And then there’s the other thing: After three semesters, material from my classes is on the exams. Getting my questions on the exams means the students have more an extrinsic incentive to do well in my classes beyond “This is interesting and I should pay attention” or “Conversation can improve my English abilities.” Often times, exam questions are the only way EPIK teachers can hold any sort of sway over students’ grades. Plenty of us have implemented points or rewards systems, but they have no official weight on a students’ report card, so they’re only useful to a point. Exam grades, on the other hand, mean everything here.

Taken together with the midterm madness, my students are now dreading the exam because they think I’ve a vendetta against them. Students in every class ask, “Is it difficult?” They say “Oh no!” and assume worried looks. I’ve assured that all the questions are from material discussed in class and that there are no surprises. The kids should do well. I’d like to think so, anyway. I’m not out to get them.

Sambuyeon Falls (삼부연)

After much delay, we finally made it out to Sambuyeon Falls in Sincheorwon. The sky was cloudy and droplets of rain fell down intermittently, but Rochelle and I had a good time. The way there was more straightforward than I'd thought. Gracie had made it seem like we would walk along a mountain trail, but it was actually a narrow paved road winding alongside a mountain. The walk took about 20 minutes from the center of Sincheorwon and we hardly saw anyone else around. It's amazing how a few steps in either direction can make the town into farm tracts everywhere we go in Cheorwon. It made for a pleasant afternoon walk.

Also, the blog's approaching 10,000 hits. Thank you for reading and stay tuned more!

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Op/ed article: "If Only I Were The Taffy Man"

Yet another from the "Should've done this a long time ago" file. The high school gets the English edition of the  Korea Joongang Daily and I read it every day. This article warrants posting because it discusses the difficulties in romanizing Korean into English. Romanization refers to taking another script like, say, Korean, and writing the words in the Roman script. 

As the writer Peter M Beck explains,
Korean is one of the toughest languages in the world for native English speakers to learn, but Koreans make it even more difficult by writing their names a seemingly infinite variety of ways in English. In China and Japan, there is essentially one way to write names in English, but for every Korean name, there is at least 20.
The first source of variation is in the format of the name. Some Koreans follow the Japanese rule of reversing the order of their names to conform to the West. Chi-guk Kim may sound better than Kim Chi-guk, but reversing the order sounds unnatural and is unnecessary. Others prefer to follow the Chinese convention of putting the last name first, but having their first name as one word. This makes names more difficult to pronounce. Still others put a comma between their last name and first name, but this makes their names look like part of a mailing list.  
The most confusing way to write one’s name is to write it as three separate, capitalized words. The Washington Post follows this convention, which once led former U.S. Senator Jesse Helms to refer to Kim Jong Il as “Kim Jong, the second.” Fortunately, The New York Times switched to the format I prefer, which is the last name followed by a hyphenated first name, with the second part written lowercase (Kim Chi-guk). [Emphasis mine] 

Like the Joonang Daily and the New York Times, I employ the last name + hyphenated first name formula because it makes names easier to pronounce and because it sounds more natural to me. Most of my students write their names like this as well. 

He continues,
Of course, Koreans are far more creative when it comes to transliterating their names into English. How can a foreigner be expected to know that Lee, Rhee and Yi are one and the same names in Korean? Some Koreans are more creative than others. Every week or two I see a spelling I have never seen before. 
Ironically, even though hangul, the Korean alphabet, has fewer characters than the English alphabet, Korean is difficult to transliterate into English, especially without using markings that require special software. I don’t have a magic solution or preference, but I do have a simple request: Be consistent! 
I've encountered this firsthand. The names Lee, Rhee, and Yi all come from the Korean character 이, which is pronounced like the letter E. Interesting like, 리 is pronounced "Rhee" or "Lee," but I've yet to encounter anyone with this last name.

The names Woo, Wook, and Woong are all similar, for they look like this: 우, 욱, 웅. The 우 character's pronounced "oo". Those three w-sounds don't actually exist in Korean, but the w- gets added to the names or words because apparently "oo" sounds to strange to Western ears. Maybe it looks better in print? Woongjin's a company that makes, among other things, water coolers; I suppose Woongjin looks better than Oongjin.

I suppose that with students' names, it comes down to personal preference. 우 features in plenty of Korean words and names and it gets romanized to the letter U. Still, "u" can be pronounced "oo," so I've students that will write part of their name as Jun or Joon. Despite my predilection for consistency, using the double O does make the name easily to pronounce because Jun can sound like "J-uh-n" to foreign ears.

The name Young's another one because it can be romanized as Yeong. And while Yeong is technically correct, Young's probably more common and again, easier on Western ears.

Beck goes on to talk of some other issues in Korea, but the big focus of the article's about the Korean language and how it gets romanized. It should help people understand how the language works.

[If anyone out there knows more information, please write in. If I'm wrong, correct me!]

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Investing in Polyurethane Discs: Forays in Kpop/Playlist #2

I wrote this for the music blog and thought it best to mirror it here.

Investing in Polyurethane Discs: Forays in Kpop/Playlist #2: An email to a friend back home spurred this one. He'd written in to ask about new Kpop tunes he'd heard about and wanted to know wha...

The Ballad of Kim Ho-bo

Customs/Traveling role play part II

During that lesson, we got into talking about the word "Hobo" and what it means after the kids started talking about traveling somewhere to stay on the streets. They caught on right away. One boy started saying "Kim Ho-bo!" and began to call a girl "Kim Ho-bo" thanks to the first part of her name being Bo.

Point of information: Bo and Ho are both parts of common Korean names. Ho-jin, Jun-ho, and Min-ho are all common names for boys; Bo-mi, Bo-yeon, and Bo-kyoung are all common names for girls. It isn't too much of a stretch to make Ho-bo.

So with that in mind, I walked into the last HS class of the week to find "I am not hobo!" written on the board and knew instantly who it was. The girl and the boy hadn't forgotten the joke, so class picked up right where it left off the week before. I said, "Right you are, Ho-bo!" She took the jokes in stride and we all had a laugh. It looks like she'll be participating more now thanks to having played her role in these two excellent classes. We'll see. She hadn't done too much talking before, but things can always change.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

10 minutes of freedom – Teacher and office edition

Teacher’s edition

Lest anyone think the 10 minutes of freedom the students enjoy between classes constitutes a bad thing, consider the things a teacher can do during that time:

Make copies / Prepare extra copies

Go to the bathroom without having to sprint there and back

Look out the window and stare at the mountains

Make a cup of coffee / Get another Mocha Gold fix

Update the lesson plan

Escape the chaos and hide in the sanctity of the back office

Hold surprise meetings with other teachers

Ambush students in the hallway

Sometimes I’ll wander around during passing time and start talking to different students about stuff. It’s like a pop quiz; they never see it coming and I can spot-check their English. Most of the time it’s standard stuff like “How’s it going,” but sometimes it’s stuff about math or the weather. I figure this is an easy way to catch them off-guard and in a spot where the pressure to speak perfectly (ie, the classroom) doesn’t exist. It works well. The added bonus of randomly talking to students is that other teachers hear them talking and thus know that something’s indeed happening in my classes. It’s a small thing, but it gets noticed.

The 10 minutes between classes beats the 6 I had in Milwaukee and certainly crushes the 4-5 I had as a student. While US teachers barely have time to walk out of the classroom before the next wave of students rushes in, teachers in Korea enjoy some time to actually do something instead of count the seconds until class begins.

10 minutes of freedom – Office edition

This is when the office goes from near-quiet to rush-hour crazy with phone calls and a seeming revolving door of students coming and going for various things. Some get scoldings some get accolades, and some have burning questions. This also marks the time when teachers hold their impromptu conferences with other teachers about whatever mission-critical issue arose in the past 45 minutes. At times like these I do one of two things: crank up the music in the headphones and plow on with work; or extricate myself from the fracas by strolling outside. Going outside’s growing in attractiveness thanks to the rising Spring temperatures and abundant sunlight that’s been happening lately.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

A pleasant classroom surprise / My dear kids

Not to take away from the article about the chopper crash below, but I wanted to put up some positive stuff from Gimhwa before the day's over here.

Teaching's full of surprises. Some are good, some are bad, and some are simply heartwarming. Those heartwarming things bring joy and moments of precious peace to the world. I walked into the HS English classroom yesterday to find one of my students had written me a message on the screen. I knew immediately who wrote it because I recognized her handwriting. She's one of the finest students in the school; the kind of student who takes good notes, raises her hand, and rarely strays off task. She wrote,

"Ben teacher, I always love you! Thank you for teaching us. Your class always happy."

What a way to begin the day. You know you're doing it right when students say thanks for teaching them. I'm glad I have the privilege of teaching her and her classmates, her class is indeed a happy time.

News link: Helicopter ’hard landing’ near North Korea border injures 21 US military personnel

News from the border:

Helicopter ’hard landing’ near North Korea border injures 21 US military personnel

This happened in our county of Cheorwon today. Jipo-ri's right next to Sincheorwon, where a couple of us live. I checked in with The Crew and have been assured all's well with them. I wish the same for the 21 soldiers that were on board the chopper and hope they make speedy recoveries. No one died, but everyone had to go to the hospital. The chopper's barely recognizable in the picture, so it must been a crazy landing. It had been flying on what was called a "routine mission," and while normally such terms can evoke suspicion, there have been more helicopter flights lately. They don't occur every day, but I hear them from time to time.

As I've been saying, despite the rhetoric, things are still calm. The crash is big news for our area, but aside from the normal rifle and artillery testing, today was like any other day here. We had some good spring weather, actually.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The 10 minutes of freedom / Thoughts on cell phones

I've posted the time schedules for the high school students here before. It occurred to me to expound on another huge difference between American and Korean high schools: Passing time.

I had five minutes between classes in high school in a school that was two floors tall and a quarter of a mile long. My Korean students, by contrast, have ten minutes between classes in a two floor school that’s scarcely longer than a city block. The school is smaller, to be sure, but the difference in passing time illustrates how different the school cultures are. Here, the students often break into pickup soccer games or bouts of grab-ass in the hallways. Their 10 minutes affords them ample opportunity to run with abandon or hold high-level huddles. Most days I can’t tell the difference in sound alone between the high school and the elementary school when classes are out because of the noise they make. The students’ passing time isn't monitored, so they have full license to relive elementary school. I've often thought that American high school students have to grow up too fast and never get time enjoy being kids; out here it’s the opposite; as strenuous as school life is, the students sure know how to run around. This is as interesting as it is irritating, because no one seems to care about what the students are doing or the noise they’re making.

The students always find a way to dawdle during passing time too. Despite having next to no distance to travel, my classes never seem to start on time thanks to students being late. The late starts also come from Korea’s culture of the class beginning when the teacher walks into the room, as opposed to the American idea of class beginning on time. As much as I’ve tried to adopt this Korean custom, I cannot abide by it. I cannot walk into class after it’s supposedly begun and then get the computer running. No, the computer and all the materials need to be ready to rock when class begins because it minimizes downtime. Being in the room before or when class begins also lets me catch anyone without their materials or break up arguments or squabbles between the kids. And there are plenty of them.

The students being students, they have an uncanny ability to manufacture the dramatics. They’ll somehow go from comatose to slap-happy at the sound of the bell. I don’t remember this ever happening in the States. If I or my classmates were tired during history class, we were tired after history class and we probably wouldn't wake up till lunch time. That’s not the case here. Maybe it’s that 10 minutes of freedom they have before they have to sit down and shut down again. They take that time for all it’s worth. I certainly didn't have any time to hang around doing nothing between classes like the Korean kids do. Then again, me and my peers never had smart phones in the dark ages of the early-mid 2000s.

And on that note, I’ll move on to another persistent issue in schools around the world: cell phones. It seems that by now some teachers either don’t care to confiscate all the students’ phones or the students have figured out ways of sneaking them into the school. Students are smart as hell when it comes to circumventing rules, so I’m better that some of them simply keep their phones in their backpacks until passing time comes. I’ve a “No phones” rule in my classes and despite the growing number of students bringing phones to class, there’ve been few problems with students disobeying the rule. I haven’t collected phones at the beginning of class because I want to trust people to take care of themselves. Telling them “Turn your phones off” seems to suffice for now. I’ve had to take some phones away, but no one’s ever thrown a fit about it. Most of the time, I simply grab the phone off the desk as I’m circulating the room and proceed to put it somewhere else. The students get the message: Play with your phone and I’ll swipe it.

Some of us have devised some other ways of handling cell phones in the classroom. Matt in Uncheon recently detailed his clever method here:
I take them away, and as they plead for them back, I look thoughtful and forgiving as I secretly take out the battery under my desk. I make them promise to not use the cell phone again in my class. I then hand it back to them, and almost inevitably, 3minutes later, when I'm not looking, they ignore my request and try to use it again and realize what I've done. It's amazing how often they out themselves with, "Teacher? Battery?"

I must say, it never occurred to me to remove the battery. One word of caution: iPhones don’t have removable batteries, so this tactic won’t work on them. It will work for every other kind of phone in Korea though.

So there you have it: Passing times and phones. Passing time’s long and the kids are unsupervised. Sixteen year olds in smart uniforms run around like six year olds on a playground. All of the kids have cell phones and most of them have smart phones.

For those teachers reading this, how do you handle cell phones in class? If you’d like to share something, please comment. If anyone has any thoughts on the generous passing times here, you can comment on them too.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Escape from Foreigner Land: strolling on the north east side

Rochelle and I planned on hiking the Seoul Fortress wall this weekend, and though we got close enough to get on path, we ended up taking a wrong turn and found ourselves somewhere in Seongbuk (성북). After determining we weren't quite dressed for the occasion (me more so than her), we elected to keep walking around. The weather was a clear and pleasant 64 degrees. We had nowhere pressing to go. The neighborhood we were in wasn't busy at all, so this was a plus. We hardly heard any noise from the road.

After a while I directed us back to the Hansung University Station (한성대입구 역) and showed Rochelle the Seongbuk Cheon (성북천) so we could take a walk along it. It's a smaller version of the better-known Cheongyecheon Stream (청계천) in central Seoul and it didn't have much traffic on it either. I found this refreshing because Seoul can get like one never ending mob of people. We had room to breathe and we took full advantage of it by walking for miles. We walked further than anticipated thanks to overshooting the Bomun Station (보문 역) and needing to double back. The trip didn't end there, for we got on the train and cruised up to Korea National University (고대). Why go there? We did want to buy a DVD or two to watch in the evening and figured we'd find some there. As it turned out, we didn't; we did see the prestigious university though. Its gate and manicured quad certainly looked impressive to us. We took a look and got back on the train.

We rode back into Itaewon because surely that area would have some movies we could play on our American computers. Again, no dice. We said "Oh well" to that idea and hit the Home Base grocery store to find the discovery of the weekend: black bean makgeolli. I'd been looking for the stuff ever since we'd drank it at Wang Dae Po on the east side and had had no luck finding it. I was overjoyed, not only had I located the stuff, it cost a mere 1500won for a 1.2 liter jug. It would make the perfect complement to the evening's dinner. 

Getting back felt good. My feet were tired and the crowds had worn on my nerves. Actually, I think it's more about having to dodge taxis and scooters in the Noksapyeong/Gyeongnidan area than the crowds. Stil, I did notice something--and this is why an otherwise normal Saturday story's getting posted--despite all the war fears, life goes on in Seoul. Everything's the same as it was last week, last month, last year. Foreigner Land's burger joints are still hopping, the families are still shopping, and couples are still strolling. 

Edit: I should note that tourism has taken a hit lately. The Joongang Daily wrote about it. 

Is this what the British meant by saying "Keep calm and carry on"? Or is this perhaps the Korean way? I wrote the bulk of this while riding home to Wasu. The lack of traffic made typing away possible. I always like leaving Seoul because I know the air'll be fresher when the bus rolls into Wasu. I can only handle so much of Seoul.

* Foreigner Land is my term for the area in and around Itaewon. I suppose it sounds elitist or ironic given that I'm a foreigner too, but as a country bumkin, it's strange as hell encountering foreigners I don't know now.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Dispatch from the ground: Calm on the border

More updates from the ground

Despite North Korea’s bellicose rhetoric, the mood here in my frontier town’s the same as ever. Everyone’s carrying on as if nothing’s happening. This probably so because nothing different is indeed happening out here. My students haven’t mentioned anything and the teachers have been silent as well. The students actually talked more about last summer’s typhoons then they’ve talked about North Korea. Perhaps they’re too worried about their studies or the latest smart phone app, but they’re the same as ever. Moreover, no one’s looting the grocery stores. We haven’t had any air raid drills here, either.

And while yes, I’m not worrying much about the North, I am concerned about the Kaesong complex being closed because it means Kim Jong-un went through on one of his threats. The complex had been running for years until now and now it’s shut down because the North wants its dose of attention. I’m no foreign policy expert, but cynicism and 1984 tells me that the North closed Kaesong because it means they could tell their own people that “the world made us do it” so they can play the victim. They’re doing it to build support among the people. Kaesong generates plenty of cash for the North, so stopping the cash flow means they can starve their people into getting angry with the rest of the world. The North Korean people are pawns in the never-ending game. Big Brother did the same thing in 1984 with the artificial shortages of goods. What’s more is that 53,000 North Koreans are now out of work for the time being because their leaders threw a tantrum. I should emphasize that while the Kaesong complex has been closed for days, nothing much has been happening. I find this interesting because of what Kaesong represents for the two countries and because now’s the first-ever time the complex has been closed. It was running during the Cheonan sinking, for example.

Does the Kaesong closing represent something more? Is it a sign of worse things to come? We’ll have to see. For now, I’ve been assured by the teachers here, “Don’t worry. No war.” I’ll take that and remember the British saying: Keep calm and carry on. The South Koreans have lived with the North for over 50 years and they’re in a much better position to comment than I am.

Relevant articles:

And some classic punk rock for your listening pleasure:

Vibrators - War Zone (V2, 1978)

Dead Kennedys - When Ya Get Drafted (Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables, 1980)

Subhumans - Who's Gonna Fight In The 3rd World War (Demolition War EP, 1981)

We'll close with Black Sabbath's classic "War Pigs." Get it on 1970's Paranoid LP.

I also have another new post up for those who want less doom and gloom:

Customs/traveling role play fun at the HS

Yesterday’s high school grade 1 class was especially good. I'd been a bit worried because they came in revved up, but their energy paid dividends during the lesson. We did a role play about customs and traveling wherein the students would play travelers and customs officials who’d pretend to be at the airport. To get them ready, I went over the conversation questions and asked for possible responses. The "purpose of visit" question yielded an answer not heard in the five other gr. 1 classes: shopping. Another student said, "Eating!" I was impressed by that, but it got even better when one boy said, "Information stealing!" I had to hand it to the kids for coming up with new reasons for traveling somewhere, and while no one in their right mind would say “Information stealing” when talking to the customs officer, such responses were too good not to write on the board.

And then there was the "Where will you stay?" question. After the usual answers like hotels, relatives' homes, and dormitories, I started hearing "Tent!" "Resort! "Street!" "Subway!" and "Box!" Again, all excellent, if offbeat responses. You know the classes are good when they’re not only getting the lesson, but making it humorous as well.

After demonstrating the conversation, I got them going and saw everything fall into place. It was a complicated lesson that involved speaking and recording information, but they all nailed it. All of the classes did, but this one and the one before it had the most enthusiasm and the best speaking. It's great to see the kids do well and know I helped them get there. What a time.

If you want to do the lesson yourself, I found the materials here:

The link explains how to conduct the lesson. I strongly recommend teaching this lesson with a co-teacher, for it will help with explaining what “Do you have anything to declare?” means and keeping students on task during the role play. The Korean students aren’t always used to doing activities on their own, so it’s best to keep circulating the room.

Also, be sure to explain the difference between nationality and "Where are you coming from?" Many students needed help understanding that people sometimes visit multiple countries on a trip, so a Korean traveling from the USA to Mexico would answer "Where are you coming from?" with "The USA."

All told, it was great to see the kids do well and know I helped them get there. What a time.

Special thanks to for the materials! It’s an excellent resource.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

5 reasons why Wasu's better than Seoul

Top 5 reasons why Wasu is better than Seoul (Why the country beats the city)

  • Better service/cheaper prices in restaurants
    • Proprietors tend to be more generous with portions and side dishes here.
  • Slower pace of life/less trendy BS
    • We may lack the wide assortment of ethnic restaurants and any semblance of club life, but we have a few decent bars, noraebangs, bowling alleys, great Korean food, and plenty of chicken and beer joints. There's little to no debate about where to go because of the smaller amount of options.
  • Fewer people
    • Fewer ajummas jabbing you in the subway, fewer slow walkers everywhere, fewer cars and buses blaring their horns.
    • Fewer cars/trucks/buses
    • Cleaner air
  • Incentives to learn Korean: need to get on with locals.
    • The lack of/lower level of English make it necessary to learn basic Korean to get around. Doing so helped us gain cultural fluency and has resulted in plenty of interesting moments.
  • Celebrity status
    • There are 8 foreigners in Cheorwon, so when we do something, people notice. 

Saturday, April 6, 2013

"I must not think bad thoughts" / Ruminating on cynicism and the city

Reading certain blogs make me thankful as hell that I don't live in any of Korea's major cities because I'd probably get much more cynical and loathe living in Korea. Chalk up another advantage to the country life: no neighborhoods of room salons, no packed subways, and fewer distractions. I don't have to think about loud and crazy neighbors because I don't have any neighbors like that. The 9 unit apartment building we three EPIK'ers live in has us and a few other teachers besides the building manager living in it. It's mostly quiet save for the one teacher whose family lives on the first floor. We hear their kids being kids occasionally.

That's not to say I don't enjoy the trips into Seoul or other cities. On the contrary, I'm fine with going there. On Friday nights I ride the bus into Seoul to see R and dive into the maelstrom at the Dong Seoul bus terminal. Seoul brings back the hard city thoughts I had in Milwaukee, where space comes at a premium and the noise makes it hard to concentrate. Neil Young wrote about the city life wearing him out and how he had "to think to smile" in his song and I get like that too. After a while I need get to get back to the mountains and hills of Wasu.

While biking to school yesterday, it struck me that unlike living in the city, no one expects you to do anything at night in the country. I can get up, go to school, and go home every day without anyone asking about what I do at night because there isn't much to do at night. It's a simple life, but I like it because it because it has few distractions. Sometimes the Korean teachers will ask if I'm lonely and I always say no. Meeting with the crew once or twice a week and drinking tea with Dave is plenty during the week. Besides, teaching's not a job that ends when the bell rings, and despite the ample prep time at school, sometimes there' stuff to do at night. Being at school all day can draining enough for my introverted nature, so I welcome the quiet times. Besides that, after college ended, I've never liked being out during the week because it eats away at guitar and music time.


Note: The title quote comes from the excellent X song of the same name. It's from their fourth album More Fun In The New World. They're a cool band from LA that I got lucky enought to see in 2006 when they had a reunion tour. They fused rockabilly riffing with Beat poetry and a punk ethos and their first four records are quality American rock and roll. Singers John Doe and Exene wrote perceptive and poetic songs about their relationship. Listen to them and feel the love and tension.

Note: Thanks goes to Rochelle for telling me about the Expat Hell blog.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

All's well on the frontier

This'll be a quick one. Despite the rhetoric from both sides of the DMZ, all's well over here in Wasu. The days have been quiet and the military hasn't done anything out of the ordinary. No tanks have rolled through the streets, in case you're curious. I do hope that this verbal duel ends quickly because it's not doing anyone any favors though.

It's been a normal school week. I'm looking forward to rocking a few more lessons at the Girls Middle School and drafting next week's lessons before rolling home tomorrow.

The year's off to a pretty good start.

Let's sign off with a couple of classic UK punk tracks.

The Subhumans' song "Powergames." You can find it on their finest album, Worlds Apart.

UK Subs' song "Warhead." Available on Brand New Age.