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Sunday, 29 March 2009

I went to the market today and bought a lovely bunch of greens for $1.

I wanted them for my daily salads but also wanted to cook some, so I threw together some pasta, veggies, and shrimp--yummy!

Korean Street Music Festival

From Sokcho, South Korea, 2007

Laughing Class

This is from a Korean academy I used to work at. One student, a young girl, in the class had occasional bouts of uncontrollable laughter, sometimes lasting 10 minutes or more. The first two times were cute, but then it got to be rather annoying. I think this was the 2nd time, and I happened to have my camera with me.

Trying to Avoid the "Cooties"

When I was a young elementary school boy, maybe in the 1st grade, we little guys believed that we could get the "cooties" if a girl touched us. So we ran around at recess trying to avoid all of the infectious girls. I imagine kids in most countries go through some sort of early gender segregation stage.

Now that I am all grown up (and sometimes even act like it) I feel as if my students sometimes have the cooties. I love my students, but there are days when I want to have no physical contact.

Last Tuesday night, for example, I discovered that 5 of the 12 kids in my middle school class were sick. Present in class, but sick. Two of them couldn't even talk, which, since it is partly a reading skills class, is rather noticeable. Several students in other classes were also ill; one look at them, a question for confirmation, and that was it--sick students don't get to use the whiteboard markers and I double my hand-washing rate (me washing my hands, though I encourage them to also).

I really don't want to get sick right now, since a) I recently got over a two-week cold, b) I will be moving soon and have a lot to do, and c) I will be getting on a plane soon, and clearly don't want to travel sick. (The interesting thing is that I don't know for sure where I am going; I know it will be to another country, to get a new work visa for Korea, but I'm not sure which country it will be.)

Saturday, 28 March 2009

Lost Landscaping

What do you think it is? A park? A rock garden? I really have no idea, but someone went to quite a bit of effort to try to encourage people to walk through it.
One of my criticisms of Korea is that there is almost no effort made at landscaping; I think the concept truly doesn't exist here. It's sad, because so many urban/housing areas could look so much nicer with a bit of attention. Instead they are, as in the picture above, quite ugly.
Parks here have no grass, there are no sod farms, I have never seen a sprinkler system, there are no landscaping trucks with people out mowing and clipping . . . indeed, I have never seen a lawnmover in Korea.
This may suggest that I am from a country that has the surplus money/time/effort to spend on such unnecessary endeavors, and that may be true. But other countries, such as Japan, find beauty in small, carefully manicured gardens. It is rare to find such things here.
Korea is actively looking to "rebrand" itself, yet without a shift in consciousness concerning the 'look' of the country I think it will never truly succeed. I have read too many travel postings on the internet of people avoiding Korea due to its ugliness, and while that is a generalization there is some truth to it.
Maybe it comes from being a land that has often been invaded and fought over, a place whose people have had to work hard to survive. But this is a new age and some adjustment is needed.
Putting a roped walkway through an unsightly area and assuming that people will respond only demonstrates this need.

This is an older video of my friends' cat chasing its tail; short but funny.

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Science Class Pictures

We finally finished our big, challenging, American science book, and--partly to review and partly just to do something different--I had the students (4th/5th grade) make some pictures. I asked them to choose one or two plants and animals.

I have two boys in the class and three girls. I allowed all of them not only the choice of what to draw but also whether or not they wanted to draw it alone or with another student(s).

The results seemed fairly typical for gender differences: the girls chose to draw as a group of three and to create pictures of flowers, a butterfly, and a peacock--mostly cute, non-threatening species. They made an extra effort to add titles and to balance the "look" of their composite poster.
The boys, on the other hand, chose to work alone and create pictures of carnivorous animals. No titles, no need to balance.
It was interesting to watch them work and to see the clear differences in approach.

Sunday, 22 March 2009

Cool Mountain Stream

Saturday, 21 March 2009

Student Discipline

I think I have taught long enough that I can recognize when I need to correct students' behavior and when I don't.

Take the "don't" part, for example. I have one elementary class, 4th and 5th graders, who like to sing. One student will start in, humming a popular pop song, and the others will take it up, and, just like that, the whole group is singing along as they do their workbook or write in their notebooks. As long as it is in English, I usually don't mind, though I sometimes I tell them to zip it and focus on the lesson. It's really quite entertaining.

Now for the "do" part. My 6th grade/middle school class. I have been warning them for weeks now that I don't want to even see a cell phone in class, but they--the girls--persist. So last night I confiscated a phone. Enough is enough.

The student in question was quite contrite. She assured me, and I give her a lot of credit for being able and willing to do it in English (though not enough to return her phone, as she might have hoped), that her 'sister' constantly called her. In the last five minutes, deprived of her life link (it was visible, and sometimes audible, on my desk at the front of the classroom), she said, "My phone is sad."

Ha ha:) Double points to her.

I'm interested to see what next week brings, singing and cell phones and all.

Friday, 20 March 2009

Another New Pencil Case

The variety of pencil cases that my Korean elementary students have is amazing; it's a very big industry here . . . pencil cases to promote kids' animation characters, pencil cases with games (a teacher's nightmare), cutsie "Hello Kitty" pencil cases. But this one yesterday was new to me, though of course I recognized it right away: an American licence plate from the state of Illinois. Of course the student had no idea what it was, so I tried to explain. A rather good example of buying "English" products for their appearance and not for their meaning . . .

Monday, 16 March 2009

Yellow Dust

Sigh. I had forgotten about the "yellow dust", fine particles of sand that blow over from the Mongolian deserts every spring. All of Korea is expected to be affected by this afternoon. From living here over the past few spring seasons, I know that, even with my apartment windows closed, it may be I will return home tonight to find a thin layer of yellow dust inside the window frames. If the dust storms are particularly bad, the dust can cover pretty much everything, inside and outside, and can lead to respiratory problems, irritated eyes, etc. I don't know if my new location on the southeast coast will make the experience better or worse . . .

F4 Pop Culture

"Boys Over Flowers" is a South Korean tv drama that is immensely popular right now. Based on a Japanese manga series, and following related Japanese and Taiwanese television shows, the drama is about a group of high school students, namely a poor female student and four rich male students. As the four boy characters are viewed in real life as handsome and are pop culture idols, the drama is also commonly referred to as "F4"--"Flower 4" or "Flamboyant 4".

My students here in Korea have been passing around pictures of the actors/actresses, and one student recently showed off an F4 notebook/pencil case/pencil set.

One large cell phone provider announced the marketing of an F4 cell phone.

Unfortunately, an actress from the show committed suicide last week, the latest in a series of Korean celebrity suicides.

Sunday, 15 March 2009

The Black Hole

Tongyeong Channel/Harbour Pics

The first picture is of the hill I walked up (it's to the left of the fishing boat harbour) to get the following Tong-yeong harbour and channel shots. Also included is a close-up of the turtle boat replica that Korean admiral Yi Sun-sin (or Yi Soon-shin/Lee Sun-shin; that's a statue of him) utilized in numbers to defeat Japanese naval forces on numerous occasions during the 16th century.

Saturday, 14 March 2009

Big Sugar

I just watched a documentary called "Big Sugar", and while its basic message that 'too much sugar causes obesity' is not surprising, it is worth watching. I found it at

A Visit to the Jinju Fortress (Jinjuseong)

Today dawned bright and sunny, so, as I had been thinking about for a few days, I caught a bus over to Jinju to visit the fortress there (some signs say "castle" but, while it is military fotification, it certainly isn't a castle).

According to the tourist pamphlet I was handed with a ticket in exchange for my 1,000 won entrance fee (less than $1), the fortress was "constructed to protect the region from foreign invaders" and was given an upgrade in 1379 when the mud walls were replaced with stone ones.

In 1592 a Korean General (Kim Si-min) won a victory there against a 30,000 strong Japanese army with his 3,800 men. Not too long after, stung by the defeat and disgrace, the Japanese returned with 100,000 men and laid waste to the place, killing more than 70,000 soldiers, officials, and civilians. The parts of the fortress that weren't destroyed then were finished off during the Japanese occupation and the Korean war.

The fortress was restored in 1972.

It is a nice place to stroll around for a few hours, especially on a cool sunny day.

The pic of the rocky area (find guy jumping) between the fortress wall and the river is where, during the Japanese invasion, a Korean female entertainer threw herself into the river--along with a Japanese General--thereby earning herself a memorable place in Korean history. The spot's name was changed from 'dangerous rock' to 'righteous rock'.

Saturday, 7 March 2009

The Gender Problem Problem

This is absolutely amazing to me, funny in a very sad way. The Korea Herald reported today (Mar. 6th, 2009) that, "Despite Korea's dismal ratings by international organizations on gender equality, only one in four people believe it to be a problem here . . ."

Only one in four? 25 %? And that is perceived as good?

You know there is a problem when a 25% disapproval rating is perceived as good.

Get a clue, Korea Herald.

Thursday, 5 March 2009

Those Teenage Years

I have a class at my academy that previously consisted of mostly 6th grade boys and girls, 4 or 5 of each, who segregate themselves in the classroom and, as gender groups, are quite distinct. The boys are quieter (in this one class) and don't play with English as much, while the girls are quite into pop culture and chatting.

What has really interested me is that both groups just moved into middle school (or 7th grade), and their lives are forever changed. The outward markings of this change are that they now wear uniforms to school; I have had, this week--the first week of the new school year in Korea--a few short discussions with the girls about their uniforms: Do they like them? Whose uniforms are better? (Some of them go to different schools and so have different uniforms.)

Also, there is a current Korean drama, called "Boys Before Flowers", that many students (and people in general) are infatuated with, and it has become a topic of interest in several classes. In the drama there are four main teenage male actors, and the popularity of the show has led them to be referred to as "F4".

A younger elementary student in another class gave me a picture of one of the actors, and when I showed the pic to my newly minted middle school girls one of them appropriated it and said, "I am his [the teenage actor's] wife."

Ah, those teenage years.

Cool Pics

Some pictures from Dubai, United Arab Emirates, where the Burj Dubai--the world's tallest human-engineered structure--is scheduled to be completed this year.

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Hand Shadows Video

Can you make hand shadows? I used to be able to do a rabbit, but this guy in the video is truly amazing . . .

Sunday, 1 March 2009


Spring is coming, and with the seasons it seems that I, too, will change. Change jobs, that is, though perhaps a lifestyle also.

When I first came to South Korea I was adamant about the fact that I did not want to live in Seoul or any other large city. I have so far chosen to live in smaller cities on the east coast of Korea, next to the clean ocean air, near beaches. And I have enjoyed, for the most part, the time that I have spent in these places.

However, I have decided that I want more options for myself as far as things to do, and I want to live closer to friends, so, come May, I will make the big move (for me) to the Seoul metropolitan area.

This weekend I interviewed for, was offered, and accepted a hagwon teaching job in the Seoul area. I am quite excited about the increased opportunities that will be available, even if they are a subway ride or two away; Seoul is, after all, the 8th largest city in the world.

Details to be worked out, things to move, all of that will come soon enough (and I will undoubtedly complain about it), but, for now, an evening between the 'what will be' and the 'what is' (work tomorrow), time to contemplate the possibilities of the future . . .