Wednesday, July 29, 2009

This is why I'm fat.

Jeon, aka chon, aka I don't know how Koreans stay so skinny in a country full of food like this.

"Jeon is made with various ingredients such as sliced meats, poultry, seafood, and vegetables depending on the style and mixed with flour batter or coated with egg batter and then pan-fried with oil."

Monday, July 27, 2009

Our Neighbors to the North

Background information: The Vice Guide to North Korea, a well-documented peak into this surly hermit of a country.

Latest goings-on: Woman publicly executed for handing out Bibles in North Korea. Since religion is more or less illegal under the leadership of Kim Jong-il the Eternal President Kim Il-sung, I suppose the government felt that they had to make an extreme example of her. Bonus points: they threw her surviving family into a political prisoners camp.

Quoting from the article:

The report sites [sic] several unidentified documents it says were obtained from North Korea.

The claim has not been independently verified and there has been no mention of her case in the North’s official Korean Central News Agency.

Public executions would mark a harsh turn in the crackdown on religion in North Korea, which has four authorized state churches that cater to foreigners only; North Koreans are not permitted to attend.

Emphasis my own, so take with a grain of salt. Nonetheless, I have to say I wouldn't be at all surprised.

On Friday, I return to the land of freedom and tacos for a few days. I set foot back in Korea on August the fifth.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Music Ed, Part Dugae

Tentative listening class playlist, a mix of music that I really like, music with lyrics they should be able to understand, and music (I think) they'll like:

  1. If I Had A Million Dollars (BNL)
  2. Let Me Go (Cake)
  3. And When I Die (Blood Sweat & Tears)
  4. Cat's in the Cradle (Harry Chapin)
  5. Warning (Green Day)
  6. Fight For Your Right to Party (Beastie Boys)
  7. Hot 'n Cold (Katy Perry)
  8. I Would Be (500 Miles) (The Proclaimers)
  9. I Am Woman (Helen Reddy)
  10. Should I Stay or Sohuld I go Now (The Clash)
  11. This Is My Song (Carbon Leaf)
  12. New York, New York (Frank Sinatra)
  13. Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down) (Nancy Sinatra)
  14. Ordinary Day (Great Big Sea)
  15. Johnny B. Goode (Chuck Berry)
  16. Mystery Dance (Elvis Costello)
  17. Seven Day Weekend (Elvis Costello)
  18. Might Tell You Tonight (Scissor Sisters)
  19. Ring Ring (Abba)
  20. Some Postman (Presidents of the USA)
  21. Jennifer's Jacket (Presidents of the USA)
  22. Fix You (Coldplay)

What do you think, sirs?

Friday, July 24, 2009

Keeping Up Appearances

I should preface this post by saying that my job is mostly pretty easy/awesome, and that this is less griping and more just neutral observation. I'm also grateful that Sherlock Academy doesn't really screw us over like I've heard from other hagwons. But sometimes things can be frustrating.

I have a listening class from now until November or so. These are kids studying to get into a foreign language high school and so their command of English is pretty remarkable. They breeze through the classwork in no time.

The fact that they're too smart is really the crux of the issue here. I've tried to explain to our manager that the textbooks we're using are too easy for these kids, but he seems to have taken my concerns and filtered them as: "These kids are too smart and so they make running the class difficult because I run out of material." Which yes, is true, but I also mean: "These classes are a waste of their time and their parents' money, this is material they already know well, you should find another curriculum that address their more pressing English needs." The second meaning, however, seems to be lost on Michael. Either that or his hands are tied as far as what kind of materials he can obtain for us, so he'd rather just avoid discussing that issue. Could go either way.

Sometimes I (and the other teachers) are lazy and once the textbook finishes, we just let them have free time. Other times we try to talk to the students and engage them in conversations about whatever the lesson was, but that can be hit and miss (what kind of discussions can you have about prepositions and locations, for example? not very interesting ones). Their Korean homeroom teachers are annoyed about this (probably because if the parents heard that their kids had fifteen minutes of free time in class, they'd be pissed), and so Michael gave us a brief reminder today that we need to make sure we fill up the entire class time. "If you finish early, give them a word search or some kind of crossword puzzle, so they don't think it's free time."

"So they don't think..." This is really what the hagwon mentality is all about: the illusion of education. Don't get me wrong, the kids do pick up some English at Sherlock Academy, especially if they stick with it for however many years it takes to work through the material we have. But at the end of the day, sending your kid to a hagwon is about social status and class at least as much as it's about education.

For the people who run it, it's just all about the Benjamins. If a student tells their parents they had fifteen minutes of free time in class at Sherlock, and the parent angrily phones up and informs Mrs. Kim that they'll be withdrawing their child because they feel Sherlock is a waste of their money...well, you see how it is. Parents don't want to feel like their money's being wasted, and Sherlock Academy wants to make sure nothing happens that would provide evidence to the contrary, so they can keep their paying customers.

To make the point even clearer, one student recently left Sherlock Academy. Mina said it was because his family was moving away, but what his mother told Mrs. Kim was that he was "too stressed" about tests in class. So Mrs. Kim sent out a memo to the Korean teachers to tell them to make sure the students are having fun in class, and to make sure that they don't worry too much about tests and other things. Never mind that sometimes stress is the perfect catalyst to get you off your dupa and studying.

So I've decided to supplement the fluffy, worthless textbook with stuff of my own—reading along with the lyrics to American music, maybe watching movies (since I have a few Korean movies with English subtitles). It may be equally useless, but until they give us a better curriculum, that's what I'm doing.

Walls and the Holes in Them

I have a long overdue post about my trek out to the N Seoul Tower with Aaron, but since he has all the pictures from the trip with him (I didn't have my camera), I'll have to make do with a filler post.

Thanks to the miracle of the Internet and assorted "social networking" sites, I've managed to make the acquaintance of a Korean fellow (Jong-min) who speaks fluent English and who doesn't live unreasonably far from me out here in Minlak-dong. We spend most of our time in the neighborhoods surrounding Korea University (mostly Anam), where he knows the places to go to eat and drink.

Something that seems to be popular in the more casual places is store-sanctioned graffiti. Nice restaurants will keep their walls prim and pristine, but the ones more equivalent to your college town pizzeria have walls covered in scribbles, cartoons, declarations of love, etc. Last night we had dinner at one of these places: a kim chi sort of pizza deal (I forget the name but pictures will be forthcoming as soon as I remember), sausages, and giant plate of french fries, and one "Dragon Shot" each to drink. (More on the Dragon Shot in another post.) This particular eatery boasts, in addition to wall-mounted TVs and a boisterous atmosphere, a giant LED marquee, to which you can text some message or other, where it will scroll by (with the last digits of your phone number) until someone sends in their own. So while we ate dinner, Jong-min's:

"I work on Saturday. FML."

rolled by. Prior to that, a line in Korean about a girl wanting to find a guy to take her to a noraebong scrolled by for about twenty minutes or so.

Another one of these places—smaller quieter, and without the technology, but with the same floor-to-ceiling graffiti—served soju cocktails (read as: soju mixed with fruit juice) in little ceramic pots. The food there was also delicious, and the price was nice: drinks and food for the two of us came to 13,000 won. Google tells me that's $10.43 American. Win.

Or last Wednesday, we enjoyed a giant plate of kim-chi and tofu at a Korean "tea house" that specialized both in Korean teas and Korean spirits—so naturally we indulged in some of the latter (Chrysanthemum wine, to be exact).

Departing from Korean staples, there's also an Uzbekistan restaurant in Anam that serves traditional Uzbek(i?) and Russian food. No pirogies, but yes to pirozhki, borscht, and imported Russian beer. Never would I have guessed that I'd need to be able to read Cyrillic while I was in Korea.

Billiards halls are inexplicably popular here. You can't walk for ten minutes without seeing a sign for a pool hall, all of which stick to some (un)officially agreed-upon standard in symbols:

Which sign do you think is for the pool hall? Go on, guess.

Billiards seems to be just as popular as eight-ball here; you can find both kinds of tables in pool halls. I shot my first game in over four months last night, and did rather well—though it's a bit intimidating when your table is right next to a billiards table with very serious-looking Korean ajosshis who obviously don't mess around when it comes to billiards, pool, or any variant thereof.

If it sounds like I'm drinking a tremendous amount, the fact is that's what you do in Korea. It's rare for me to have more than three or four drinks on a weekday, though, which is hardly even a buzz.

I plan on getting a cheap little point-and-shoot while I'm here (my Kodak EasyShare is too nice a camera to take out when there's alcohol involved), so with any luck, pictures of these places will be forthcoming.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Hit and run post number two.

Cell phones (aka handphones) are really commonplace here in Korea, and for one of my students NOT to own one would be an anomaly. Maybe it's also like that back home and it's just that I've been out of American schools too long, but it's a bit weird at first. Especially when most of my students have a nicer cell phone than I do.

One of my students yesterday—a new girl named Lily—asked for my number, and I obliged. Having your teacher's cell phone number seems to be pretty standard, here; Mina will occasionally get texts from one of our students, either saying that they'll be late or whatever else. Plus she's a sweet girl and not going to, say, call me at 3 in the morning for shits and giggles.

Just an hour ago, I got a text from Lily: "Teacher!! It's Lily. What do you do now??"

"Hi Lily! I'm cleaning my apartment. ^-^"

"Oh!! Good teacher and clean teacher!"

This is the most adorable thing that will happen to me for the rest of the week, pretty much.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Music Ed

What American/British/otherwise sung in English songs do you think would be good/accessible for beginners in Korean? I think my listening classes are really boring (and really easy!) and adding music would be fun for me AND for the kids.

I'm trying to think of stuff without complicated/obscure vocabulary and well-enunciated lyrics (so no Kurt Cobain or John Fogerty) but my mind's drawing a blank.

Saturday, July 11, 2009


While my friend Aaron was here, a lot of his visit revolved around "where should we eat next?" I love food, he loves food, and Korea has some great goddamn food. Clearly there was only one thing we could do, and that was eat. And eat we did.

닭갈비 (Dak Galbi)

The first we didn't actually get around to eating, but it's probably my favorite thing to get whenever I go out. 닭 is chicken; 닭갈비 is "a popular South Korean dish generally made by stir-frying marinated diced chicken in a gochujang (chili pepper paste) based sauce, and sliced cabbage, sweet potato, scallions, onions and tteok (rice cake) together on a hot plate." It's also delicious, especially when you get lots of tteok with it. There's a place near Sherlock Academy that adds cheese, too. Heaven!

부대찌개 (Budae chigae)

Whenever I talk to Koreans in Seoul, without fail they admonish me for living in Uijeongbu but never eating budae chigae. No longer! Chigae is the name for a whole family of stews with gochujang and tofu. There's kimchi chigae, and chumchi chigae, and also budae chigae. "부대" (budae) is an army base or soldier camp. Naturally there are a few of them up here by the 39th, which is why Uijeongbu is particularly infamous for its budae chigae (like cheesesteaks and Philly). The ingredients in budae chigae include your basic chigae, but with the addition of scrapped meat that post-war Koreans would scrape together from the Americans' rations: sausages, SPAM, hot dogs, and so on. Definitely some of the more filling food I've had so far, but also really tasty.

삼겹살 (Samgyupsal)

This is usually my dinner on Saturday nights when I go to Seoul. It's pork—the same part of the pig where bacon comes from—that grills right on your table in front of you. "The name can be translated as Three (sam) layered (gyeop) meat (sal), of course hinting at the three layers that are visible in the meat."

With both the samgyupsal and the dak galbi, I might add, a whole bunch grills right at your table, in a hotplate or wherever. You have your own little plate, then there's a plate of greens (usually big lettuce leaves and sesame leaves). If you're getting samgyupsal, there's also some small bowls of different sauces. You pick out bits of the meat, dip them in sauce when appropriate, and then wrap them in the lettuce leaf. Any of the other side dishes served are also fair game.

갈비 (Galbi)

Straight up galbi is a bit different than dak galbi. It eliminates the extra veggies and rice cakes, consisting mostly of marinated ribs and maybe some onions or garlic thrown on for flavor.

In case you couldn't tell, meat is kind of important here in Korea. Being a vegetarian would be pretty tough—being a vegan would be pretty much impossible. I eat more meat here than I do at home, mostly out of necessity but also because meat done Korean-style just tastes better. Probably too better, I've packed on a few extra pounds since I got here. Oops.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Crafts and Plans

Two weeks ago, I went back to Dongdaemun with my friend Winnie (a Chinese-Canadian girl) and found me some more beads. Most of the ones pictured are wood, except for the ones in "cool" colors. Those are artificial, though what material exactly I'm not sure. Acrylic? Polymer? All of those, plus three feet of chain in bronze/copper/something that's not a silver or gold analogue, matching jump rings, crimp beads and head pins, and a cell phone charm dangle—seven USD.

One of my college friends will arrive in a few days for a visit. I'm looking forward to that for the obvious reasons (haven't seen him since right after graduation), but also because there's a lot in Korea that people miss out on because they don't think of it as a tourist destination and I'm happy to play host at places "off the beaten track," as it were. (Considering what I did at Lost River Caverns, that seems to be something of a theme in my life.) I'm starting to put together an agenda: so far I'm thinking N Seoul Tower, the COEX Aquarium, and maybe the Everland Zoo (to see the ligers!).

Pictures and stories forthcoming.