Wednesday, January 31, 2007


Winds of change are blowing. After growing up in Montana, I never thought that I would be appreciative of the wind. But, the winds started blowing yesterday! The air in the city had been so stagnant that is was nice and refreshing to have a nice breeze. It is a cold wind but a welcome one.

With the winds come change. Winter school is over! We are back to our normal teaching schedule. All we have to do now is prepare for the new school year (starting in March). The added stress of the winter school schedule seems to have lifted.

Throughout the world winds have always held significance. Mary Poppins always floated in on a new wind. The Santa Anas or Red Winds carry powerful superstition with which anything can happen. El Nino winds have been blamed for any number of weather anomalies. Trade winds blew early explorers around the globe in search of riches. Yahweh, the name of God has been translated to breath of God and in Hebrew was even used as a substitute for the word wind. Feel comfort that when wind blows, God is with you.

For good or bad, winds bring change.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007


When I was playing tourist this weekend I accidentally turned my camera to the wrong setting.
I don't like taking my gloves off in subzero weather just to take pictures but I just don't have the same dexterity with gloves on.
Ultimately, it made for some artistic sepia shots.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Winter Footwear

One of the interesting exhibits at the museum I visited on Saturday was of the footwear worn by Koreans throughout the centuries. I thought the skis were interesting.
Rain shoes. Who new shoes on a platform had a purpose.
Snow shoes. Are they meant to carry my 180 pounds? Or more likely a 95 lb. Korean.
Whatever the footwear, the costumes kick butt!

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Good Deeds

Several of the previous tenants of the apartment have left a lot of clothing, broken electronics, and other miscellaneous items that will not be taken away by the city solid waste collection.

At Youngnak, on the fourth Sunday of every month, they collect clothes and then give them away or sell them to turn a minuscule profit. My roommate and I hassled with four large bags of used clothes to donate. I did my good deed for the month. Hopefully some needy child or homeless person will be able to use the clothes.

I joined the choir at church. It went well despite the excessively long rehearsal. Watch the video here. (Yes, I am the overly tall white guy in the back row.)

Because of my good deed, I decided it was necessary to reward myself. So, after church we went to Yongsan and I bought several DVDs and a DVD player for my room. Now, I don't have to leave the comfort of my bed to watch movies. Yea!

Saturday, January 27, 2007


Stupid tourist Saturday!!

I met some other English teachers at the bar last night and they invited me to join them on their weekly tourist excursion.

Our first stop was to Seodaemun Prison History Hall. During the Japanese occupation of Korea numerous prisons were built and used to imprison and torture those patriotic ancestors who were fighting for freedom.

This was a gruesome place with audio and video displays that sent chills up the spine. When I walked around the grounds of concentration camps in Germany, I felt a much more eerie presence and a greater attitude of reverence. But here, the displays made my stomach churn with the graphic nature of torture and imprisonment.

The attitude of the place, I believe, is meant to inspire national pride and a common unified hatred of the Japanese. There is a beautifully large Korean flag displayed on the wall of one of the prison buildings.

We followed a Korean family through the grounds and the young girl was horrified by what she was seeing. Her mom continued to prod her from room to room as if this museum was a right of passage to adopt the pride of surviving Japanese persecution.

We had lunch at an Italian restaurant in Insadong and then made our way to the Gyeongbokgong Palace. Gyeongbokgung is the primary palace of the Joseon Dynasty and was built by King Taejo in 1392.

It has been burnt down and restored several times throughout the centuries and holds numerous national treasures. The grounds are immaculate and the buildings are awe inspiring. While at the palace, we toured the National Folk Museum and the National Palace Museum.

The National Folk Museum had a lot of information on lifestyles and agriculture which I found very interesting. The National Palace Museum had some very impressive items such as royal robes, jewelry, jade scrolls and examples of palace architecture.

Before we left, we were lucky enough to catch the changing of the guard. By the end of the day we were quite tired.

Upon arriving in Gimpo, I decided the best way to relax would be to go watch a movie. I highly recommend Miss Potter.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Etiquette Lesson

Giving and receiving is a matter of pride, respect and honor in Korean culture. This said there are certain rules that must be applied. While we as Americans are given latitude to disregard said rules, I think it is best to assimilate as much as possible.

When giving and receiving, it is best to do it with both hands (palms up). Especially if you are receiving from someone who is older or in some other way has a higher status than you. When students receive anything from me such as a worksheet or candy as a reward they should always receive it with both hands. Because they are the students and I am the teacher there is a very clear level of respect that should be adhered to.

This rule transcends to nearly every situation. For example: When I pay for a candy bar at the local convenience store, the cashier will most often receive the money from me with both hands. I, in return, should hand the money over with both hands. This can be very cumbersome but nuances of the rule allows for a little help. While juggling gloves, a wallet and my new purchase it isn't always convenient to hand money over with both hands. It is acceptable to hand the item with the right hand and touch the forearm lightly with the left hand. Somehow, the little forearm touching gesture indicates giving with both hands.

This rule is very important at the dinner table as you should never pour your own drink, but instead offer to pour drinks for others. When pouring, it is best to pour with both hands on the bottle and the person receiving picks up the glass and receives with both hands. It is quite common to trade pouring responsibilities throughout the meal.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Our President hard at work.

I receive daily news alerts on selected world politics now which made this YouTube discovery that much better.

What a hack job!

So, I've been in Korea long enough to need two haircuts. My experiences at the Korean hair shops can be summed up to miscommunication.

There are so many hair salons, beauty shops, and barbershops that competition is fierce. Men's haircut and shampoo is as little as 5,000 won ($5).

For my first haircut, I went to the salon on the first floor of our building. They immediately ushered me to a chair and before I had a chance to mime what I wanted the lady had hacked off my sideburns. I like(d) my sideburns. Just because Korean men can't grow them, doesn't mean you need to cut mine off! She gave me the Korean No. 1 cut. It included shaved down to the skin along the hairline with a bushy mess on top. I kept asking her to go shorter on the top and all she could do was giggle. Eventually, we compromised and this was the result. She had never cut an Americans hair before.

My second experience took me to Hair Change (emphasis on the long E vowel at the end - Hair ChangEEEEEE.) This was slightly more expensive at 11,000 won but several of the employees spoke some English so it was worth the added expense. I was foresighted enough to bring a picture with me (Thank you Men's Health subscription.)

Both cuts included a shampoo and a vigorous scalp massage. The scalp massage is a little weird. I'm not going to lie. You feel uncomfortable but at the same time it is very relaxing. At the end the poor girls didn't know how to put wax (gel) in my hair. My style is just to mess it up. She was too tentative so I had to take over and show her how.

Eventually, I'll have them trained on the proper techniques of cutting American guys hair.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

My New Obsession

I have been missing American TV. I wasn't an addict or anything but I did have my favorite shows. My couch potato hours were immediately replaced by hours in front of the computer because of the lack of American sitcoms on Korean TV. (Note to self...really should get a more comfortable chair for the computer desk.)

I love watching the Amazing Race. I really got into Heroes before I left the States. I haven't seen an episode of the Simpsons or Monk in months!

Korean cable offers a wide array of choices. There is always at least one movie on in English. There are Korean talk shows, comedy sketches, and drama series. National Geographic and Discovery air shows but they are all dubbed over in Korean. There is always a football (soccer) game on with Korean players or any number of European league games. Always with Korean commentating though. For English speakers there is relatively a small selection. (However, it is a huge selection if you consider the Korean programming offered in the States.)

A friend directed me to InBlinks and PeekVid. These might be the salvation I was looking for. American television programming free to watch with all of the latest episodes just a click away! Amazing.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Wisest things ever said

A recent worldwide study discovered the three wisest things ever said in human history. They are in order:

3. To be is to do. ~ Plato
2. To do is to be. ~ Socrates
1. Do be do be do. ~ Frank Sinatra

What the West would have been like with Shetland ponies

This made my day.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Seoul 360

So my trip up to Seoul Tower yesterday started with the 'thousand stair march'. There are literally 1,000 stairs up the side of Namsan mountain to the tower.

Namsan park is probably the only place in Seoul that caters to blind people. It is really nice for them. The pedestrian walkways immediately surrounding the park have audio signals that indicate when it is safe to cross. (How they get through the city to those pedestrian crossings is completely a mystery because the rest of the city seems to forget that there might be blind people in its populous.) The walking trail then is nice and wide and looks like a road but is completely devoid of cars. The last time I hiked Namsan I passed five different blind people and this time I passed another one. They walk the trails completely independently.

People seem to walk the stairs whenever they have a free hour. I was sweating as I went up but then I passed four guys in business suits and dress shoes. That couldn't have been comfortable.

Immediately below the tower is a nice courtyard area. A lady was selling cotton candy with a foot-pedal operated machine.

Kids were feeding popcorn to a flock of pigeons. It was very summer carnival like.

Once at the tower, 7,000 won got me an elevator ride the observation deck. 380 some feet above sea level. That's it. You hike up this massive mountain. Then ride really far up in an elevator and your only 380 some feet above sea level.

There was a really nice view of the city. On all of the windows around the observation deck, there were mileage distances for world cities. Good to know! (Question...Is it still called mileage if you are counting in kilometers?)

I rode the elevator down and then walked down the stairs to the cable car station. I paid 5,000 won for a cable car ride down to the bottom of the mountain.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

The Tower!!

Stupid tourist Sunday!

Today was basically a redo of some of my failures in tourism when I first arrived in Korea. My adventures took us to the Deok Su Gung Palace in Seoul.

This is palace was originally the home of King Seongjong's elder brother Prince Wolsan. It was used as a royal palace for 7 years until 1615. It played host to several royal figures throughout the centuries until Emperor Gojong passed away in 1919.

The palace has several buildings of interest that are ornately decorated. The grounds are quite tranquil and relaxing.

I was a little confused as to which door of the bathroom I needed. Thank goodness for the culturally correct pictures to help guide me.

The gargoyles were really cool. Not as good as the ones on Notre Dame, but cool nonetheless.

When I first arrived, I caught the last couple minutes of the changing of the guard ceremony. I don't think this was a regular occurrence so I felt lucky to be in the right place at the right time.

The grounds also hold at least one national treasure. Jagyeongnu was the state standard water clock of the Joseon Dynasty. It was devised to strike a bell at a certain hour automatically. It was first made in 1434 during the reign of King Sejong. King Jeongjong had it improved in 1536. It is the oldest and largest water clock in the world. Unfortunately, it is out of commission.

After the palace, I hiked my way to the top on Namsan mountain and took the elevator up Seoul Tower. The elusive Seoul Tower was finally conquered! It was well worth it. Seoul is huge! More pictures tomorrow.

I rode the cable car down the mountain and made it to 20s group and church only 15 minutes late.

Saturday, January 20, 2007


Finally, a theme I can work with!

One of our responsibilities is to decorate our classrooms. I posted about this before and I was recently chastised again for my decorating abilities. My boss actually said I have one of the worst decorated classrooms. How does my decorating ability dictate the quality of my teaching?

I have been hanging a lot of my student's artwork and other creations on the walls. I was told not to do that. That I had to decorate the walls professionally and change the design every month.

Firstly, I didn't know that professionally decorated walls cluttered with repetitious patterns contributed extensively to student learning. I thought that students liked seeing their artwork displayed on the wall. But who am I to talk?.....Just their teacher!

Secondly, wouldn't parents rather see their child's creations and hard work on the wall than examples of the teacher's coloring ability?

Thirdly, we are expected to purchase all of the supplies for these fabulously decorate classrooms with our own money. We're expected to create posters, wall decor, banners, and borders from scratch. Colored paper is hard to find and expensive and we don't have a color printer or copier. So we are expected to spend countless hours coloring black and white clip art, cut them out, and laminate them.

Fourthly, we teach theme based months. Christmas in December was easy to find decorating materials. But my January theme was 'Energy'. There was a lot of hands on stuff in the curriculum but I was really struggling to find decorations relating to energy.

Long story short: February's theme is 'books and authors' and focuses on Dr. Seuss. Easy to decorate with Dr. Seuss. I spent the better part of my Saturday (day off) creating decorations for my classroom.

I defy anyone to say anything about my decorations this month. I was able to relate to some of the frustrations expressed in these WWII cartoons by Theodor Geisel.

Friday, January 19, 2007


Today's science experiment was of epic proportion.

My boss constantly lives ten minutes ago. He promised me that if I gave him a list of all the supplies I needed, he would provide the supplies for the science experiments. I prepared a comprehensive list of materials need and the date that I needed them. I even remind him what I need and when. The morning of the science experiments he still hadn't purchased the necessary supplies forcing me to go out and get all that I could at the last minute.

Ten minutes after class had begun he sends one of the helper teachers in to ask me what I need. AAARRRGGGHHH!!!!

Fortunately, today's experiment was fun, exciting and an inexpensive last minute purchase. The Diet Coke and Mentos Fountain. By rapidly adding the Mentos candy to Diet Coke or any carbonated beverage you can create quite a show. The chalky consistency of the Mentos reacts with the cola releasing the carbonation. Done properly this could create a 10 foot plus fountain.

Unfortunately for my last minute purchase I was reduced to using Coca Cola Light and Fruit Mentos. The reaction still worked but not with the fountain. The kids were still dazzled and so for all practical purposes, it was a success.

The morning was made even better when one student decided to deck another and gave him a bloody nose. Straight to the principals office. No questions asked.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Cancel Atkins

Throw away your Slim-fast shakes. Burn your Atkins cookbooks. Forget about WeightWatchers. South Beach what?

I have discovered the new fad diet. Two months in Korea with a traditional diet will shed the pounds. With all of the Korean BBQs there are very few vegetables served and no carbs. Then, despite being starchy, rice is a great filler and doesn't add a lot of total calories to the diet.

Figure in the fact that I walk most every place I go. And there are always stairs!

It is also very hard to over eat with chopsticks. The added skill involved slows down eating so you quit eating when you are satisfied and not after you are full.

I don't have a scale and so I have no idea of the actual statistical significance of my claims but I definitely have less to grab in the love handle region. Pants that were tight when I first got here seem to be falling off.

The proof of the pudding is that today I went down a belt notch!

Pea Soup

I got a lot accomplished today!

I woke up to a thick blanket of fog. It was an unusual fog and it stayed around almost all day. It didn't burn off and eventually caused a really pretty sunset. (I really impressed myself with how well I framed this picture. It was a complete accident.)

This morning started off with a brisk walk to the post office and I dodged the speeding cars. Because of the fog visibility was greatly reduced but apparently that doesn't mean you need to slow down. After the post office I rushed to work.

Wednesdays are my 'no breaks' days. I teach from 10am to 9pm with only 40 minutes for lunch. I was pretty tired by the end. Teaching takes a lot of energy! I get my daily workout by hoisting kindergarten students up into the air and dragging them back to their seats when they decided to run around in the middle of a lesson.

My last class of the day is a beginner adult class. At 7:30pm they come in looking tired and exhausted (the way I feel). So I have to utilize my last reserves of energy to put on an hour and a half song and dance show to make English interesting and exciting. Tonight we talked about body piercings and what the phrase 'being stood up' means. It was as interesting as I could make it.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Rowing Across the Pacific

It arrived!! My parents had sent a package through the United States Postal Service at the Service/Nonpriority rate. The package was stamped December 4 and it just arrived today. Six weeks of travel!

It is possible that for the time it took to be delivered, the USPS had to hire a Korean to row across the ocean in his dingy, pick up the package and then row back. Then the poor fellow had to walk from the coast into Gimpo.

Fortunately, the package was nothing of dire importance. It is still nice to have it and know that it wasn't lost in the mail.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Bill Nye

As a special project of winter school, my employers have added science classes to the English class schedule. Guess who gets to teach those! Just call me Bill Nye the Science Guy.

So far, we have experimented with paper airplane flight, helicopters, and static electricity. I am still trying to figure out the potato light bulb experiment.

The challenges are three-fold. First, getting the students to complete the experiment and report in the allotted time. Second, getting the students to develop a science vocabulary because most of them don't use science words in their other English classes. Third, getting them (first, second, third and fourth grade level students) to understand the science behind the experiment.

All of this I am supposed to magically do in an hour and twenty minutes with 30 students per class whose first language is not English.

My secret suspicions are that they want to make 'winter school' fun. If I can play with them once a week, blow things up, and make objects fly, my employers will be happy. We will develop a facade of learning by calling it science class and maybe (just maybe) one or two students will learn something.