Follow by Email

Thursday, 31 December 2009

Christmas Dinner 2009

I ate Christmas dinner in Korea with friends. Fortunately they have an oven, so we cooked two chickens (big ovens, like big chickens, are difficult to come by in Korea). Good company and good food!:)

Saturday, 19 December 2009

Boy Words

I was teaching some of my 5th grade boys last week when a certain English phrase I said set them to laughing. I give them a lot of credit--they hid it at first; they attempted to be polite. But, boys being boys, they couldn't hold it in, especially as the situation demanded that I repeat the phrase several times.

It turns out that the sound of this phrase--one quarter, as in 1/4-- is close to the sound of a Korean term for an impolite body word--bugger, as in nose trash. (Looking back, the students asked me to repeat and to pronounce the phrase in different ways--I am not sure if this was for language learning or merely for their pleasure . . .).

It's not the first time this has happened, and probably not the last. Sometimes sounds in different languages meet at a crossroads, the meanings going in opposite directions.

Ah, the unexpected joys of teaching ESL . . .

Saturday, 12 December 2009

Whiteboard Pics

"It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas, especially in my classroom . . ."

Or so some lyrics might go:)

New South Korean $50 Bill

Ok, clearly it's not $50 . . . it's W50,000. 50,000 won. Right now it's not worth as much as $50 due to the exchange rate, but that is beside the point.

The point is that Korea has a "big money" bill. A large banknote.

"Large?" you ask.

"Yes, large!" I say.

For, prior to this ("this" being the past few months), Korea only had the equivalent of $1, $5, and $10 bills.

If you needed a significant sum of money it resulted in a big wad of bills.

Now that wad is smaller.

Hooray smaller wads!

Saturday, 5 December 2009


It's snowing in Seoul . . . as it has a few times, but no sticking so far this winter. The flakes outside my window are blowing sideways and up more than down (it's windy today). . .

Sunday, 29 November 2009

Another Laughing Class

I have one class that has just a few students in it, and, as I mentioned to my boss the other day, they should be taken to a hospital to cheer up sick people. Why? Because they are perpetually happy. I take absolutely no credit for the situation; they are just wonderful kids.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not complaining. Far from it.

These kids (2-3 grade) cheer me up and keep me guessing.

I started a long time ago (it seems now) teaching most of my young elementary students to write the date and the weather ("Today is Sunday, November 29th, 2009. It's cloudy and cold.") in their notebooks after I had written the sentences on the whiteboard (wb). This is useful in multiple ways: talking about days, months, weather, capitalization, punctuation, etc.

In a few classes, as is my practice, I began--once I had trained them to copy these two lines--to have individual students write the lines (to be copied by everyone) on the wb. I say, for example, "Ann, please write on the whiteboard 'Today is . . .' " and it's done, with a little help. They often compete to see who gets to write.

Back to the 'happy' kids.

I taught them to do this--to write the day and the weather on the board--but instead of one student writing it on the wb and the rest writing in their notebooks, they somehow got it in their heads that all of them should write it on the wb.

So, usually, even before I get into the classroom, they start writing on the wb. Writing and laughing.

Why are they laughing? They are friends. They like each other. And, they get silly with the English language.

Picture this: Three students writing the day/weather on the whiteboard: one student is writing letters as big as possible, another student is writing letters as small as possible, and the third student is writing the letters backwards. Or skipping every other letter. (ie, things I would find hard to do as a native speaker).

Again, formal education would speak up and say, "Sit down! Open your notebooks and write . . .". That's what I used to do not even a few years ago. Teacher must be in control.

These happy kids, these laughing kids, are having so much fun--and, in the process, learning so much more--that my previous pedagogy, my prior beliefs and practices, would be a shame.

I wish that all of my students/classes presented the same "problem".

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Thanksgiving Week

I remember a time, long ago ('o how these bones ache), when I went hunting with my friend up around Helena, Montana. We were both university students at the time and needed some food, a freezer full of deer meat.

One of my memories of that experience--hiking around in deep snow in freezing weather in the beautiful Montana outdoors--is of the lunch my friend's mom packed for us, in brown paper bags, no less, as if we were schoolboys. Wheat-grain bread with peanut butter and honey . . . let me tell you, that is really great after hiking around in the snow all day.

The other memory is mostly a bad one, but funny now. I had forgotten a can of soda in my friend's car. Oops. It froze overnight and exploded. We didn't know it until we were on the way back to university in Bozeman. Once the vehicle warmed up the previously-frozen soda drops that had adhered to the interior of his 4WD started dripping on us . . .

Ahh . . . amid all of the stupid, bad things in life, it is good to still have some wonderful memories to reflect on. And hopefully some new ones to make . . .

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Sex Crimes in Korea: A Sentencing Problem

I could not find a link for this column "blip" of an article (The Korea Times, p. 2, Sat/Sun, Nov. 21-22, 2009), so I will retype it. There are so, so many problems with the article and its reflection of Korea's apparent tolerance of sex crimes that I think I don't want to even comment on it (though, I will ask, "Why bother about spending millions of dollars on "branding" your country when you essentially condone child rape?") :

Man Gets 8 Months in Jail for Raping Boy

A court sentenced a 20-year-old man to eight months in jail for raping a boy.

Lee was booked but not physically detained in December 2007 after he lured a seven-year-old boy to a neighborhood public restroom and raped him for 20 minutes.

The Seoul Nambu District Court said, "The accused didn't show any signs of remorse and committed a similar crime after being convicted twice before.

"It is inevitable he will be incarcerated, especially considering the mental stress the seven-year-old victim is undergoing," the court said.

Lee was scheduled to stand trial without detention but the court took him into custody, taking his repeated refusal to appear in court as contempt.

Peru "Fat" Murders

What is being reported at the present time is that there has been a coordinated effort for years to murder fat people in Peru and then extract fat from the bodies to be later sold in Europe for use in the cosmetics industry.,8599,1941168,00.html

If true, these allegations are not only bizarre and disgusting, but also ironic in the sense that some "beauty" companies may have been using human fat cells in their endeavors to make people look and feel better.

I can just imagine all of the morbid late-night talk show humor that these press releases might spawn . . .

Thursday, 19 November 2009

North Korean Performers

I had the opportunity to watch some North Koreans (migrants/defectors) perform in Seoul today, mostly young people, and the traditional music, dance, and other displays were quite enjoyable and educational. They are mostly students who are seeking to integrate into life in South Korea, which is often quite hard for them. I appreciated the opportunity to view some of the arts that they demonstrated.

I was surprised to see the accordian on the stage, and when I asked I was told that it is a more popular instrument than the piano in NK (probably due to cost, portabiity, etc.).

I took some pics and video (can't upload the video here, alas), though the lighting was bad . . .

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Kimchi Journalism

I recently read an opinionated article by an expat in The Korea Times about 'foreigners' gripes' with Korea. This one had to do with a multitude of things, but among them was the issue of kimchi.

First, a bit about the state of journalism in Korea.

There is no such thing as Korean 'journalism', at least as it is published in English. Newspapers here (The Korea Times and The Korea Herald) are often filled with subjective perspectives based on little to no sources. Many articles seek to prop up government views that are easy pledges of "I promise to do this . . .", pledges that are never followed up upon. The large conglomerates in Korea (such as Samsung and Hyundai) control the majority of the media, providing little freedom of expression.

Basically put, reading an English-language newspaper in Korea is like . . . no, I'm not going to go with my first analogy . . . reading an automotive advertisement in the Sunday paper in the U.S.: you know it's a load of crap, but sometimes you still read it.

For example, a November 12th article entitled "Supermarkets to Sell Digestive Pills" (The Korea Times, by Yoon Ja-young) states, in the first sentence, that "Over the counter drugs, such as digestive pills that don't need a doctor's prescription, could soon be sold at supermarkets in the near future . . ."

Clearly, the title of the article, stated as fact, and the first sentence, a hypothetical situation, are in conflict.

This is just one of the many, daily, problems with Korean 'news' reporting, expat or not.

But let's get back to kimchi.

No one, to my knowledge, has ever published a scientific paper or study supporting the purported benefits of kimchi. As I have said before on this blog, I do believe that kimchi has valuable properties, and so I eat it every day. And I understand that it is a source of national pride for Koreans. However, to claim that it can "prevent cancer" (according to The Korea Times; I asked them for support to that claim in an email, but they never responded) is preposterous, especisally without scientific support.

If you think I am a science nut, forget about it; I am not. I am worried about the impact this cultural belief, fed by the media, will have.

Witness this.

Two days ago, in a class of mine, I asked my students how their school day was. They, as a group, said it was horrible. I asked why. They said it was the day that they had to get the H1N1 vaccine jab . . .

So I told them that I was happy they got the shot, even though it hurt, but that they still had to be careful about transferring the flu: wash hands, and so on.

As a point, I mentioned that tens of thousands of people die in the U.S. every year due to normal influenza strains, and that most countries suffer winter deaths, especially among the young and old, due to influenza.

One student, however, said, "Not in Korea."

I asked her what she meant.

She said, "Korea has kimchi. Kimchi is medicine."

Dangerous thought.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Korean Pepero Day

Today is "Pepero" day in South Korea, one of those "created" holidays when snack companies get to sell lots of their products. Kids give these chocolate-coated treats (breadsticks) to their friends, family, etc. Why was this date chosen? Because it is Nov. 11th, or 11-11, and those four ones resemble the snack . . . kinda cute until you get so bogged down in the stuff. But then it's only one day, and the kids here don't seem to have quite as many holidays as they do in many western countries . . . so, good for them:)

Saturday, 7 November 2009

Me? Just Raising Questions.

For several years the world--or, as publicized, many "western" nations--has dealt with the problem of Somali pirates hijacking ships.

Now there is a new dimension.

Somali pirates are now capturing "western" people and demanding ransoms, prisoner swaps, etc.

Before it seemed to be that such westerners were simply part of ships' crews. But now they are the crews. And so the thinking is changing.

Should western governments pay a ransom for their citizens' rescue?

What should Britain and Spain do--especially Spain, since they are holding several "pirates" for trial?

Where lies the line between racism and nationalism?

When Bosnia (and the rest of the region) was suffering from a regional conflict, how much attention was paid to the hundreds of thousands of people dying in Africa?

There are no easy answers here, yet it is clear that favoritism on the world stage, in the world's media, is playing an important part . . . and that favoritism is a reflection of the inhumane bias that continues to exist in the world today.

Friday, 6 November 2009

Sneaky Students

So I wrote a couple of sample sentences on the whiteboard, minus the spaces for adjectives (for my students to fill in), and when my attention was elsewhere one of the sneaky kids (elementary) decided to add their own sentence. Quite funny, and good for them; I don't mind if they practice English in a non-traditional way, and I deserve it as I am always (jokingly) threatening them with huge, difficult tests.

And yes, we did play a game:)

Sunday, 25 October 2009

That Orange Snack Food

Cheetos, that all-American snack
Healthy--no; satisfying--yes
Why orange fingers?
Use chopsticks instead.
Cheetos: an unhealthy picker-me-upper!

Supermarket Sea Creatures

Live octopi in a bag--how cool is that?

And some wompin big-assed crabs.

Biker Boy

Some pics of my new used bike, bought off Craigslist from another teacher-type in Seoul and transported home on the subway today (no little feat, but at least no one yelled at me; the first train I was on was freakin packed (and then a bunch of older folks got off at the stop labeled "Seoul Racehorse Park" . . . hmmm)).

I've been looking for a hybrid like this for a while now. Yeah!:)

Saturday, 24 October 2009

New City View

Here are two pics, almost the same, from a 19th floor apt. in a building about 10 minutes from mine. The apt. these were taken from faces a different direction than mine, so the height and the angle show a different view of the city, a view mainly of other high rise apt. buildings (a lot of people living in a fairly small area; this is, after all, a Seoul "suburb").

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

School Posters

Many of our students have been making posters for class projects, partly to give the students a sense of ownership and pride in what they accomplish, but also to work on developing the functional English that accompanies such work: "Can I borrow your glue?", "I think we should . . .", "How about we . . .?", etc. Some of the posters have eroors, but that's ok:) This sampling shows the efforts of mostly my younger elementary students, with a few "pop culture" items from some other class.

Saturday, 17 October 2009

What the . . .?

The sign (with the heart) might be a little hard to read; I tried two different shots/angles. Anyway, it says "Ice Cream Plastic Surgery" . . . Don't know if that is a combination of two things, a new medical proceedure, or what . . .

Making a Class Minibook

My one advanced class at our English academy, composed of 5th/6th grade students who are essentially fluent in English, recently completed a minibook. My boss backed our efforts to publish this text, and so it happened. I did not fully edit the students' writing, which goes against my training, but I/we wanted to give them full ownership of the 'book' so they typed and edited and illustrated everything. It turned out to be about 20 pages, and my one written inclusion was a letter to the parents about the project.

I am so proud of them and hope to repeat the process--on perhaps a bigger scale (especially after today, when I read two of the students' great poems in their diaries)--in the future.

You can see some of the pics of their work . . . cover, contents page, text, glossary, etc.

Saturday, 10 October 2009


Fall weather rocks!!

(Just in case you didn't know that.)

About Obama's "Peace"

I am very glad that Obama is now President, as I think he might be able to acheive some wonderful things.

However, since when do you give a peace prize to someone who continues the U.S. policy of waging war in multiple countries?

That makes no sense to me whatsoever.

Unfortunately, I think the whole concept of the peace prize has been discredited, and that is a shame.

Friday, 9 October 2009

Getting My Antibiotics

I went to the doctor today. I don't like to go; when I have a sore throat as I do now I prefer to drink chammomile tea, oj, and V8, use Ricola sugar-free lozenges, consume daily quantities of garlic and kimchi, etc. Why? Because I believe all of these things will make me better. Repeated studies have shown, after all, that there is little difference in the cure rate between patients who were given "real" medicine (such as antibiotics) and those given placebos, or sugar pills. 35% vs. 31%, according to one study I read recently. It's all in the mind.

Up to a point, that is. My voice was going out on Tuesday and by Wednesday night all I could really manage in my last class was to write on the whiteboard and whisper--in a very hoarse voice--"You've got 10 minutes left" to my students.

Some of my students found my vocal difficulties a bit amusing, and since I haven't had a fever and therefore haven't been too grumpy, I agreed. I did sound funny.

By Thursday night I had had enough and I told my middle school students that I was going to go see a doctor the next morning. I should have anticipated their response, as it was 8 pm and they were moving into their 3rd hour of English instruction, all on top of a normal public school day. Middle schoolers are, after all, looking for any break they can get. So the dialogue, such as it was, went something like this (jokingly):

Students: "Teacher, we think you should go see a doctor now."

Me: "I told you, I'm going in the morning."

Students: "No, we think you should go see a doctor right now." (ie, cancel class)

Me: "Why?"

Students: "We want to see you next Tuesday."

Me: "What do you mean?"

Students: "You might die!"

But we did have class, finishing up the condensed version of The Elephant Man.

And I did go to the doctor this morning. Chammomile tea isn't going to cure a bacterial infection, which is what I think (and the doctor agreed) that I have. Got my antibiotics.

And here, I have to weigh in on the American health care reform debate.

I have Korean national health insurance. I co-pay 50%, which is less than $100 a month. The visit to the doctor, while not the most strenuous of exams, cost me the equivalent of $4.00. My medicine cost me $3.00.

I'm happy, and less than 9 hours after beginning my medication I already notice some improvements (I can talk a little).

Hopefully by Monday I'll be back to normal, and Tuesday night I'll get to see whether or not my middle school students appreciate the fact that I'm still kicking.

Friday, 2 October 2009

Animal Pics

Some animal sculpture pics from the park across the street . . .