Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas Song Festival

My school just finished up the much-anticipated Christmas Song Festival, which was heartwarming in all the ways that seven-year-olds singing "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" can possibly be (and more).  Behold, the festival program!  (Warning: there is loads of YouTube embedded in here, apologies in advance if it chokes your computer.)

"Happy!" by Mocca


This one was performed by two classes.




First, my youngest and lowest-level class (except the girl in the back, Pisa, who is an English genius and also Travis' best friend at this school).




And from the second round of the older elementary school kids (who ended up winning their "division").  At the line about "life is a bowl of cherries," they actually threw cherry candy into the audience.  A cute idea, but also a potentially deadly one.




"Santa Claus is Coming to Town," by Mariah Carey or Justin Bieber


The version performed depended on the class, two of them used Mariah Carey's version but one class used (grudgingly) Justin Bieber's version.

For the full creepy effect, here's the Mariah Carey video they used (they set up a laptop with a projector to display the video and lyrics for the students to sing along to).  I apologize in advance for the nightmares this is about to fuel.



One of my younger advanced classes, they're all adorable students and very chatty.  They won their "division" on the first day of the festival.  One of the girls (not pictured) also sang Mariah Carey's "All I Want For Christmas Is You."  Alas, I don't have a picture of it.


One of my "intermediate" (the school calls it "Step 2") classes.  They also won their division, for which I am thankful, because I think Travis (all the way on the left) may have had a meltdown otherwise.  He came close to one after a very awkward solo and a cappella performance of "Sorry Sorry" (individual students could also opt to perform as a sort of talent show, if they wanted).  From left to right: Travis, Sophia, Jasmine, Timmy, Diane, Cindy, Lina.

But look how happy Travis is during it all!  And he's a pretty good little dancer.  Just not a very good singer. Plus contemporary K-pop doesn't sound all that good without synths and such.



The other boy in that class, Timmy, also did a solo a cappella performance, which was much less awkward.  I think it was my favorite piece of the entire day, because Timmy is a consummate performer.  Bonus points: one of the slightly incomprehensible quotes that are showcased all over the building: "After death, to call the doctor."



Two of the girls from that class (Cindy and Jasmine) also did a duet of Avril Lavigne's "What The Hell."




"You say I'm messing with your head / Because I was making out with your friend....You say I'm messing with your head / I like messing in your bed"  Think about those lyrics, and then go back and look at the picture to see exactly how tiny they are.  But Cindy is funny little diva (and English genius to boot), I wish I had a picture of this performance. Another picture I'll have to wait to borrow from the school's website.




This class used Justin Bieber's version of The Worst Christmas Song of All Time, which is basically the same as the Mariah Carey version.  They were miserable the entire time, though, so instead I opted for a picture of them during the talent show: recreating a skit from a Korean variety show (in Korean), which they did VERY well.  I about peed myself laughing.  The smaller girl, Alice, however, is a pretty good little dancer and got a special spirit award for doing such a good job with it during their otherwise lackluster dance routine.  I didn't get a picture of that (but I hope to gank one from the school's website some time next week).

"Jingle Bell Rock," Bobby Helms


Two classes chose this song.






And here's the only class who performed it that I actually teach:



From left to right: Albert (who showed off his hula hoop skills), Tom (who gave a solo recorder performance of "Roly Poly" by the K-pop girl group T-ara), Mark (who acted like a crazy banshee the whole time, to the point where the other boys actually took it upon themselves to restrain him), Leo, Paul, Alex (number one nose-picker), Sally, and Amy.






"I Like to Move It," Reel 2 Real


Though the video they used was from Madagascar, the song sounded like the original and not the version from the Madagascar OST so who knows.

One class performed this, and a few of the boys from one of the basic classes (that I don't teach) also did a tae kwon do routine set to this, for which they won first place.



Another intermediate class. The little boy in the big coat in the back is Harry, and his enthusiasm for everything is absolutely uncontainable.  His Korean teacher said he got into a fight with one of the other boys the day before because he wasn't being excited enough.  He's adorable.

But really, the winner for "most awkward" performance had to go to the only older advanced class to participate.  Or rather, "participate":  One of the kids actually sung (and rather enthusiastically) while the rest hung back and looked embarrassed.  I guess middle school is too old for anglophone pop song talent shows?

Maroon 5, "This Love"


Again, think about the lyrics to this one: "I tried my best to feed her appetite / Keep her coming every night / So hard to keep her satisfied..." and "My pressure on your hips /  Sinking my fingertips / Into every inch of you / Cause I know that's what you want me to do..."

And then instead of Adam Levine singing, you have this:



The other teachers and I couldn't contain ourselves.  Giggle fits ensued.



And here's what I wish they had sung:


"Father Christmas," The Kinks




John Lennon, "Happy Xmas, War is Over"





(Not the original music video, since that one's kind of NSFW with gory war images and all.  You can watch in public at ease.)


The Jackson 5, "Santa Claus is Coming to Town"



(The only version of this song I actually enjoy, because it's funky enough that I can ignore the creepy/emotionally abusive lyrics, though there's no small amount of irony in the fact that it comes from one of the most exploited child stars of all time.)

Now I'm off to LotteMart, as I owe some people my trademark "way too much whisky" whisky chocolate truffles and I need to get cracking.

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

More winning quotes from Lina

We've finished their book early (somehow?) so the last few days have been just bullshitting about celebrities and me occasionally blowing their minds.  Lina started off ragging on Justin Bieber's fashion sense.

"His pants are terrible!  They...you can see his panties!"

And then just him in general.

"I hate Justin Bieber.  He's racist!"
"Racist? Why?"
"He loves Japan!"

Lady Gaga is racist, too.  But her clothes are better.  Also, Lindsay Lohan is a lesbian.  And crazy.

We spent a very productive half hour talking about why Japan is horrible.  (I am inclined to agree, or at least agree that the Japanese government has not taken the moral high, or even middle, road recently, but played neutral party to carry on the discussion.)  I also proceeded to explain the sad state of world (especially non-European) history in many American schools. The fact that we have "AP American History," "AP European History," and then just "AP World History" pretty much says it all: we privilege dead white men.

"Many history classes in America don't talk about Korea until America goes to war in Korea," I explained.  Stunned looks all around.  It's hard to convey in someone's second language that your country gets glossed over not because it's insignificant, but because our perspective is extremely myopic. (Hopefully that has changed/is changing/will change soon?)

"I don't think Korean women should marry American men, or Japanese men.  Only Korean men."
"But what if the American man is very handsome?"
"No.  Handsome is not important."
"Then what is important?"

At this point, a student named Christine interjected: "Money money money."  But Lina and the other girl in the class (Rosa) sort of rolled their eyes.  They came up with a list:

1. Loyalty
2. Kindness
3. Money
4. Diligence

These were ranked in order of importance.  Just for a laugh, I gave them my top four considerations for a man (four traits which my boy possesses in abundance):

1. Kindness
2. Intelligence
3. Sense of humor
4. Personality

"No money? You don't care about money at all?"
"I can make my own money."
"But raising a child! It's expensive."
"Well, maybe I won't have children."

Jaws dropped.  I could have told them I was a lesbian, or a space alien, and they could not have been more shocked.  Lina could not deal with this.

"Your family!  There will be no more!"
"I have a brother.  He'll probably have children."
"It's good to have a family, though.  It brings happiness."

Sometimes I don't know if she really means the stuff she says, or if she says it just to fool me into thinking that she really thinks it.  I can no longer distinguish the difference between earnestness and irony.  Her parents also don't believe in eating fast food or (if I understand today's discussion correctly) shopping at LotteMart (it's that Japanese thing again).  I'd be curious to meet her mother, I'm sure the two are very similar.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Multimedia Monday (On Tuesday)

Since I now have a "wired" classroom (meaning: I have a laptop that connects to a sizable flatscreen TV), I can for the first time in my teaching experience SHOW VIDEOS. (There was the one time I brought in a Twilight movie to a class of middle school girls because we were way ahead in the book and they had just had a test, but I had to bring in my laptop to do that.) I AM SO EXCITED ABOUT THIS THAT I WILL SHARE EVERYTHING I USE WITH YOU. Mostly because they make me happy, but also on the off chance that other ESL teachers stumble here.

One of the topics in my advanced students' textbook was about "green profits": businesses switching practices to be more environmentally friendly and marketing new products based on the current trend of YAY SAVE THE PLANET. I found four relevant (and funny) TV commercials. I'm sharing them in order from (what I think) is the easiest for ESL students to understand (and for them to verbalize their comprehension).

If you want to use these videos, but don't have Internet in your classroom (like me), there are plenty of programs available that will rip video off of YouTube. The one I use on my laptop at home is the Google Chrome Youtube Downloader extension; at work, since the extension doesn't work (I don't know why?), I use Youtube Downloader HD.


GE's "Househugger" ad



"The Sky is Falling" PSA about CO2 emissions



Audi's "Green Police" Super Bowl ad (with guest star Cheap Trick!)




Green Planet Network's "Do Time With Green" ad


The kids (and my coworkers) responded the best to the "Green Police" one, but all of them went over pretty well.   The animation on the "Househugger" commercial also elicited some "OMG!"/"Aw, cute!" reactions, as well.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Obligatory KJI Post

Despite knowing fuck-all about international relations, I do have some thoughts on the Kim Jeong-il brouhaha. That's for later.  I just thought that where I was and what I was doing when I (and the rest of South Korea) found out was kind of funny:

I go to a jjimjilbang three days a week to use their "health room" (super-small gym) and get the rare hot shower  whose length isn't dictated by the size of my water heater.  The shower is the bigger attraction than the gym, but I use the gym to justify it financially (7,000 won just for a hot shower seems rather dear, but add in the weight training and cardio and it's cheaper/just about equivalent to a real gym, which may or may not have a sauna).  I had finished in the health room (and technically I do it backwards by doing the health room first and THEN the sauna, but I'd rather finish off by relaxing in a hot tub instead of panting on a treadmill) and was getting ready to shower when I noticed there were way more people hanging around the TV in the locker room than normal.

So there I was, naked and glasses-less, squinting at the TV with maybe a dozen other naked Korean women, sweaty from my workout and the heat in the locker room. Before us, a never-ending parade of North Korean footage and propaganda with South Korean commentary on top of it.  Periodically it cut back to well-groomed news anchors discussing something.  The only Korean in the headline that I could understand was Kim Jeong-il's name.  I tried to wrack my brain for the verb for "to die" or "to kill," but came up short.  The footage had all the unmistakable tinge of "this person's dead now," and as soon as I saw it, I knew.  I posted a question on Facebook to be sure, and I saw a few other women texting furiously or calling people—never mind that some of them were still wet and sweaty from the sauna.

That's a memory I'll probably carry around the rest of my life: me, and the ajummas, and the weird naked solidarity we shared watching the lunchtime news.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Relevant to my Life

I've been reading this webcomic since high school.  This latest one struck a particular chord with me (click the image to see it full-sized) in an "I take myself too seriously, hah" kind of way:


Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Student Profile: Travis

Travis is a weird kid. He's also incredibly smart. He is one of my favorites among the younger set that I teach, but some days he really breaks my heart.

It's clear that Travis is not developmentally normal. I think he's a pretty good candidate for Asperger's Syndrome/high-functioning autism, but that's only my armchair opinion. Whatever it is, my coworkers have assured me that his mother insists that her son does not need therapy or anything of that kind—even though his outbursts could potentially hurt other children and already mark him as a weirdo to be preyed upon.* It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that South Korea does not handle mental health issues all that well.

NOW THAT I'VE SUFFICIENTLY DEPRESSED YOU, let's get back to the happy bits. Because these are supposed to be happy entries for me.

I cannot overstate how smart he is. He is also, despite the meltdowns that will strike at random, very self-possessed and mature. Yes, he's obviously still an elementary-school aged child, but there are aspects of his mannerisms that are much more like an adult.

One of the public school districts had an English speech contest last month, and part of my job was to help them train: correcting pronunciation and intonation errors, helping them memorize, and so forth. Travis participated and gave a wonderfully non-sequitor speech on pollution, and saving the environment from pollution, because pollution caused his neighbor's leukemia. I don't know how he performed (he didn't get first, but he rated pretty high), but while he rehearsed with me, Travis performed with aplomb. He was impassioned and serious as you don't normally see children get, both in his performance and in his practice. After he handed me the paper with his speech on it, he said to me (in Korean, my boss translated it for me): "Please listen carefully and correct my mistakes, every little thing." I'm pretty much convinced that the only reason he didn't nab first place was because his speech wasn't "rah-rah Korea!" like everyone else's.

Also, he has these awesome pastel plaid pants that just melt my heart every time he wears them. And a perm.

On good days he is sweet and affectionate to boot. None of my kids now are as huggy as my last group (tears and lamentations!) but sometimes Travis will play with the ends of my bolo tie, stroke my hand, or rub my back. The downside is that if he's angry, he will be just as apt to try to hurt me.

Since his mother seems hell-bent on insisting that her son's "special"ness does not require assistance or input from a trained mental health professional, I can only hope he figures out a way to deal with his issues on his own. I love him to death and I don't doubt he has the potential to go far in life. It's just a question of whether or not he self-destructs.




*There's no way to read that sentence without it sounding like victim-blaming. What I mean to say is this: in class, the students are tolerant of Travis up until he has an outburst of some kind that actually interrupts whatever it is we're doing. They're still too young (and, perhaps, too Korean?) to understand that Travis is processing a world that is a lot different from and a lot more intense than theirs; instead they read it as him being selfish or spoiled and react with disdain accordingly. If Travis had help in dealing with his frustrations in a more productive way than shrieking (full-on shrieking) or hitting students, he would get less negative feedback and more POSITIVE feedback from his peers. That's what I mean by that.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

A Typical Day

I still think that teaching is pretty much the least "blog-worthy" part of my life, but since my dad has been asking and since the school is a bit different than most other hagwons, I figure a brief rundown of my day isn't entirely vacuous narcissism.  BEHOLD, MY LIFE:

My day officially starts at 2, but I try to get to work at least ten minutes early because I dislike arriving later than the Korean teachers (who all start at 1.50).  It just makes me feel privileged and pampered.

The first hour of the day is given over to time for lesson planning.  If I have to, this is when I hammer out the Power Point presentation I'll be using for the next couple of days.  Otherwise, I correct written assignments or plan activities for my more challenging classes: making worksheets, generating puzzles,  downloading relevant videos from the Internet, etc.

At 3, we all have lunch.  One of the moms or other relative of a student prepares lunch for us, presumably in exchange for a discount on tuition.  It's pretty good, there's a nice variety (though it's obviously always Korean), and there's plenty of it (as opposed to Cassandra, which always had the same lineup of kimchi, jjigae, and rice, and never enough for the teachers).  I do miss my daily dose of Kimbap Cheonguk and dolsot bibimbap, but I'll gladly take a free lunch!  Especially when the free lunch has a good chance of being budae jjigae, as done properly by a Uijeongbu ajumma.

After that, it's back to planning until my first lesson, which is anywhere from 3.40 to 4.35.  The curriculum at this school is largely based around pop music and American movies.  They watch one movie every two months, for November and December it's been Elf.  My job is to review scenes of the movie with the students and make sure they understand what's going on.  Since the clips are never longer than like ten minutes (and mostly falling in the three- to six-minute range), there's not a whole lot of content and I teach in short twenty minute blocks.  With most of the classes, I put together a Power Point with screen captures from the movie and questions from the students' homework book, and then tag on a Power Point game at the end, usually Bingo but I'm always on the lookout for something else.

I have two of these movie classes that are forty minutes in length, so I spend a bit more time prepping those.  It can be difficult to stretch out a three minute movie scene for that length of time, but on the other hand, it's nice to have the time for proper warm-up activities, giving feedback, etc.

Three of my classes are advanced beyond the point of the movie curriculum.  Instead, I teach them from  a "Speaking and Writing" textbook.  It's a pretty low-budget affair (typos, no proper bookbinding, WordArt graphics) and the topics can be hit and miss.  "Identity Theft"?  Not really that interesting or relevant to a 13 year old Korean.  "Green Profits"?  Lots of  stuff about the environment to talk about.  "One Laptop Per Child"?  Great time to talk about charity, poverty, and the ethical and moral obligations surrounding wealth.  These are the classes I show videos in: first of all, they're forty to fifty minutes long, so there's plenty of time.  Second, sometimes the topics are boring, so the videos help maintain interest.  And sometimes I think they're just good for cultural awareness, like the ad campaign for One Laptop Per Child.  The more access Korean students have to other cultures and accents, the better.

My last class ends around 8.50 or so, depending on the day.  I go home at 9 or 9.20, depending on the day, but I usually stay a little later to finish marking written assignments I've accumulated through the day or to brainstorm lesson plan ideas for the next day.  Again, I feel like a huge jerk leaving at 9 when everyone else is stuck there until 9.30.

Everyone takes turns washing the dishes from lunch.  My day to do that is Tuesday.  Sometimes other miscellany comes up but it's never unmanageable: help some of the students practice for an English language speech contest, proofread and edit my boss' son's essay for his SAT prep hagwon, etc.  Then I come home, eat dinner, go to bed, and do it all over again the next day.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Student Profile: Lina

Now that I have the time in my life again (I won NaNoWriMo, by the way), I decided to bring back student profiles.  There's a colorful bunch of students at this school and I like having these sorts of entries to go look on and think, "Oh yeah!  I remember her!" after my job is finished.  Also, my dad complained to me over Skype that I "never write in your blog about teaching anymore."  So, here you go, Pops.  Enjoy.

I'll start with one of my favorite girl students, Lina.  She's in probably the most advanced class at the school, and is pretty much the "leader of the pack," as far as the girls go. Which, since it's a class of three girls and one boy, is most of the class. Lina's very willful and very frank, things which may later make her more frustrating than amusing.  At the moment, though, I like her.

The textbook for this class is a series of essays on more or less random topics, accompanied by writing prompts and a few short answer questions: identity theft, India's economy, artificial intelligence, and most recently, the well-intentioned, if problematic, One Laptop Per Child project.  I started off the class by asking them what they thought was important for a good education:

"Good books."
"Good teachers."
"Money."
"Passion."

And then Lina chimed in with a firm: "Good educational policy.  Changing Lee Myung-bak."

I always like when my students have firm enough political opinions to rag on presidents.

Sometimes the book is pretty dry, though; it gets pretty repetitive and so a lot of times I'll try to find a salient tangent to what we're talking about.  When discussing India's economy, for example, one of the textbook questions asked what problems poor countries face, and a student said, "Crime."

Ah-hah, says I.

"What about crime in Korea? Do you think there's a lot of crime here?"

"There's a lot of..." Pause to consult her phone dictionary.  The phrase that came out made perfect sense, but it was something we'd never actually say in English.  "Sexual violence," I think it was.

"Ah.  Rape."  Second of week of teaching and we're talking about rape!  None of the girls seem particularly fazed by it so I decided to let this one play itself out.

"Yes."  She nodded her head vigorously.  "There's a lot in Korea."

"How can we fix that?  What can we do so that rape happens less?"

"Teach women how to fight." "Stronger punishment."

"What about the American soldier in Dongducheon? Do you think his punishment was strong enough?"

"What was it?"

"Jail, for ten years."

Lina looked like she was going to punch someone.  "Ten years?!  No, that's not enough.  He should have thirty!"

"Some Americans think that ten years is too strong."

"What?! Really? 헐~."

"I think he should get punched in the face every morning while he's in jail," I declared.  Which I do.


Or, while they were copying down some work from the board: "Teacher, your tee is very...uncommon." (This in response to a Ben Folds concert shirt.)  I'm still not entirely sure what she meant by that.  Either I wear it less often than my other clothes, or it's not the kind of shirt you see in South Korea (but by that logic, all of my shirts you don't really see in South Korea, so why this one in particular?).

There's a note from her to the teacher I replaced that he kept on the fridge, apologizing for being a poor student and promising to work harder.  I'm not surprised that she had been a bad student for him; she chatters a lot in Korean as soon as she's bored and will simply not do pages, but I can't exactly blame her.  The book's extremely repetitive and about as engaging as watching paint dry, especially with this class that's so far above it.  The one benefit is that it provides a whole spectrum of topics to talk about—I've just come to realize that to make it at all engaging, I'm going to have to ignore the book a lot.  I spend a lot of time looking for videos to download from YouTube, or extra reading material, or whatever.

There are moments when the limitations of the student-teacher relationship (and my own low level of Korean) make me sad.  I'm sure if Lina were older, she'd be exactly the kind of woman (Korean or otherwise) I like hanging out with: outspoken and passionate and a take-no-shit attitude.  She has a feisty attitude that I hope will get her far instead of holding her back.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Un-Korean-ness and White Whine

I originally wanted to call this entry title, "Eat a Dick, Chris."  I panned that for obvious reasons.  The next title was going to be, "Let Me Tell You All What It's Like, Being Male, Middle-Class, and White," but that's kind of long. Fortunately, after my knee jerk reaction of "eat a dick," I have moved on. Now, I  just hope Chris was just having a bad day when he wrote up his bit of white whine about embracing his un-korean-ness, and I hope he feels better now.  Because to that Chris, in that moment of time, I still say, "eat a dick."

Before we go any further, I feel that this is an incredibly appropriate soundtrack.  Facebook won't embed any goddamn videos ever, so just read this on my blog at the link here.  I'm also posting the NSFW version with all of the swear words because I'm ~edgy~ like that.  If ever you listened to a song I've posted here, listen to this one.  Never has a song been more apropos.






Korea is not a perfect place.  I don't need to enumerate the many ways in which it is not perfect because that's not my point.  My point is that when white "waygooks" (good Christ, how much do I hate that word, especially in anglicized form?) suddenly complain about racial and ethnic other-ness, about not being able to integrate, about being judged and presumed about based on their race, I have one and only one response: eat a dick.

Never mind the UNSPEAKABLE FUCKING HILARITY of someone from a pretty privileged class complaining about being treated differently because he's a minority, let's just talk about the big reason all of us teachers are here in the first place, the giant elephant in the room when it comes to our lives as teachers.  Okay, yeah, we all love teaching kids or molding minds or kimchi or whatever, but the biggest, fattest reason of them all is

MONEY.

Of course there are people who are just so unfit to teach that no amount of money would make life worth it for them.  And there are people who are glad to be doing the teaching no matter where they are or what they were being paid, because they're saints.  There are people who came for the money but stay now because they have adapted well to the country, put down roots here and have (gasp!) integrated into society. But if you take a quick survey of foreign teachers here, you'd probably find that the vast majority are relatively fresh out of school and in need of a job and this was easier/more exotic/better-paying than back at home.  At some point, it was indeed about the Benjamins.  (Or the Shin Saim-dongs, rather.)

Because of this, we get paid better than the typical Korean does, too—and they're often on their own about the housing, plus the workload-to-payscale ratio from native speaker teachers to Korean teachers is (usually) ridiculous.  Who among us has the typical Korean work schedule?  Who among us has the typical Korean salary? What Korean enjoys the liberty of being able to quit a too-demanding, too-miserable job because their particular demographic is just SO UTTERLY IN DEMAND?

It's not quite an exploitative system, but it's damned close.  Roboseyo (I think?) mentioned a while ago that the overall attitude of English teachers in Korea is a pretty mercenary one and I'd generally agree with that assessment.  Whether it applies to Chris, I don't know, I haven't met him personally (and however much of a person's blog you read, you can never get the full picture).  But to ask a culture to embrace you with open arms (which seems to mean giving you a magical foreigner bubble through which no ajosshis can shove you or ajummas can elbow you, even like they do to other Koreans; through which no biographical details or "typical" foreigner questions can be put to you; through which only the "acceptable" Koreans can pass) while also (presumably) demanding that they pay you a relatively handsome salary and not work you too hard for it? To also have the luxury of never needing to learn even the most basic bits of the language to survive? Jesus Christ, did you also want the happy ending?  Maybe you work ten hour days, six days a week (and spend your Sundays at the Korean hagwon), Chris, but I'm going to go ahead and doubt that.

And yes, I get that sometimes people have bad days, or that sometimes they need to vent, and that no one is perfect.  I have also been an entitled foreigner in Korea, more often than I'd care to remember or admit: I read back on earlier entries and cringe. It's necessary to recognize your entitlement, though, and to see how it affects your attitude towards Korea and Koreans.  For people like, say, Roboseyo, The Grand Narrative, I'm No Picasso, and so on—the "big names" of the K-blog network, you know who you/they are—there is an especial burden/expectation of you to think twice before you post this kind of white whine.  It reflects poorly on other foreigners and it reflects poorly on you, as well.  (I mean, not to beat a dead horse, but mocking Koreans' crappy English accents?  Really?  Especially as an English teacher, that's poor form.)

Instead of closing with another dick joke, I'm just going to say: I hope you feel better, Chris.  I hope writing and posting that was cathartic.  I also hope that next time you're tempted to vent your frustrations, you either take a critical look at them and realize what kind of impression you're giving, or you find another, much less public (and much more anonymous) space to air them out.   What you choose to do with your blog is your own business, of course—I'm a true 'murican at heart and no one but you should dictate what you say in your own space on the Internet—but I think we all expected a little bit better from you.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

2012: The Year Korea Came to Hollywood

Four big name Korean directors have Hollywood films debuting next year. The list includes three of my favorite Korean directors:


  1. Probably the king of contemporary Korean cinema, Park Chan-wook.  Oldboy (and to a lesser extent, the entire "Vengeance" trilogy of which Oldboy is just one volume) has become an international success and has pretty much made Park world-famous.  If you've seen only one Korean movie, it was probably Oldboy.  Park's Hollywood project is a "gothic thriller" called Stoker, though it has nothing to do with vampires, Braham Stoker or Dracula, as people were originally speculating, since people seem to still be into this whole vampires thing.



  2. Bong Jun-ho, director of the megablockbuster The Host.  He's directed a cinematic adaptation of the French graphic novel Snowpiercer, a post-apocalyptic free-for-all, set on a train designed to be impenetrable to the Arctic climate people in the future suffer under due to global warming.  Bonus points for this one: it will feature Song Kang-ho in a supporting role.


  3.  Kim Jee-woon, whose most notable features include A Tale of Two Sisters (which was later remade by Hollywood under the title The Uninvited),  A Bittersweet Life, and my personal favorite, The Good, The Bad, The Weird.  For Hollywood, Kim's working on an action piece called Last Stand, about a drug dealer whose only obstacle on the way to freedom in Mexico is a small town sheriff played by...Arnold Schwarzenegger.  There is no way this can be bad.

Out of all of the films listed, I'm most excited to see Last Stand.  Kim plays really well to big name Western classics (The Good, The Bad, The Ugly, obviously) as well as contemporary hits (Kill Bill) and he creates really original and exciting action scenes.  Take, for example, the final chase scene in The Good, The Bad, The Weird:


This is one of the most awesome things you will ever see in a movie.

All of these releases are really exciting news, though. I've been out of the Korean movie loop for a while (between being in the states and then working too much in Korea) and this is the perfect thing to jump back into.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Cruel and Unusual Punishment?

I'll let you decide.  That said, some of those prisoners have some pretty sweet dance moves.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Book Recommendation: "This is Paradise!"

Since my first go-round in South Korea, North Korea has become one of my pet interests.  The latest book I read on the subject is one of the few books written by a refugee (with the assistance of a French[?] journalist).  The writing itself is pretty simple and dry; it would be a boring book if it weren't about a first-hand look into what living in North Korea is like.


There's two scenes that I think are pretty telling.



SCENE 1

As a student, the narrator had to fulfill quotas of fecal matter to be used in the communal fields as fertilizer.  He and his friends would go around town emptying out outhouses and collecting animal droppings.   Some other people managed to have gardens, though, and would get fiercely protective over their manure.  At one point he almost came to blows with a neighbor over a frozen dog turd.

A fistfight over dog shit.  Over who gets to keep the dog shit.



SCENE 2

The other story is less surreal and just plain horrifying. The narrator's father escaped into China, found out you could actually make money and eat and not starve to death, and decided his family needed to get out. Patrol guards caught him as he escaped back into North Korea and threw him into prison.  The prison experience itself was horrendous, but that's not the real story. (Though fortunately the father survived and eventually brought the whole family to South Korea, happy ending!)

As Jong-min put it, "It's a North Korean gulag, not a day spa."  The prisoners were often beaten before being thrown in a cell with eighteen or nineteen other people.  One day, this guy gets thrown in their cell who looks especially like hell.  He had obviously gotten a special round of body blows.  The other prisoners noticed and asked him why.  At first he was really reticent about it.  "I stole some meat." No one buys that, of course.  Eventually the truth comes out.

The man's wife had gone off to look for food, so he was home alone with their young daughter.  They were both starving more or less to death, like everyone in North Korea who isn't a top party cadre.  The girl was so hungry she started crying and asking about food.  The man, irritated, knocked her back.  She fell and cracked her head pretty hard, eyes rolled back and mouth foaming and all of that stuff.

She would either not survive, or would survive with all kinds of brain damage.  So he picked up a hatchet and cracked her a good one on the back of the head.  Then he cooked her up and ate her.

Again: he killed and ate his own daughter.  That is how hungry he was.  That's the kind of hunger that's ongoing in North Korea.

It's a book worth reading, for sure.  It's also a pretty quick read and you'll burn through it in just a day or two.


Saturday, November 5, 2011

Funny Because It's True


The image is a link to the original website. Most of them are pretty funny and manage to avoid go-to, "HERP DERP KOREA IS WEIRD" jokes.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Family Pictures

I will be quiet around here again, for a little bit. This time, I will be writing a novel instead of working at a crappy school, so don't worry! My silence means good things! But since today was the first day at my new school, I wanted to share the highlights of my "getting to know you" day. I showed them photos of my friends and family and important places back home. Two pictures in particular I want to pick out.  


This me and my family on Thanksgiving. Clockwise, starting with the person who is very obviously my grandmother: my Mom-mom, me, my brother, my mom, my dad, my Uncle Steve, and my cousin Haley. (Not pictured is Aunt Donna, my mom's sister.)   A pretty textbook "American" picture. Everyone knew it was my family, my older students knew it was Thanksgiving. Then I asked them if they could guess who's who.  Every single student who saw this picture was convinced of two things. One, that my brother was my father. Two, that my father was my grandfather.

 Before they saw that one, though, I showed my kids this one.


This me and the boy on a springtime cruise to Helsinki.  I asked them: "Who is this?"  A not insignificant number replied, in all earnestness: "Your mother and father."

My lifestyle must be aging me faster than I realize!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Everyone's a silver hero, everyone's a Captain Kirk

Since I've been back in Korea, I've taken to watching Star Trek: The Original Series. I just finished watching "Miri," which is honestly a terrible episode. (Seriously? A planet that looks just like Earth?  Were all of the model and miniature builders on strike?  Never mind that none of the drama or the pathos or plot in the episode is at all relevant to the fact that it's "Earth, Jim, but not as we know it.") (McCoy never actually utters those lines but it felt appropriate, allow me the artistic license.)

The premise is, on Earth 2, people were working on a way to manifest immortality.  The result was a virus that would age you extremely slowly (one month every hundred years) until puberty hit, whereupon you turned into a shrill, buboes-covered zombie thing and then died.  Result? A planet full of children.   Three hundred years (assuming, of course, that the Earth twin moves around its own sun at a similar speed) of nothing but children.  At one point the children try to foil Kirk and company's attempt to find a  cure vaccine.  One of them—the titular Miri, who at maybe age 14 is Kirk's creepiest romantic conquest yet—leads Kirk to the shrieking hooligans.  Amid the ironic-I-guess?  background of their "playing school" setting he does his best to get them to listen to him.  Naturally, they don't.

All of this is to say that watching that ninety seconds of footage was like a mirror into my own (not necessarily current) life, though with better English: dealing with a room full of hyperactive defiant children, struggling to communicate key ideas and concepts to these monstrous little hellspawn, dying of a deadly plague...all part of the hagwon job.  Alas I can't find it isolated, and don't feel like downloading and learning how to use a video editing program just for that, so content yourself with the few seconds in the original broadcast preview for this episode.



 The next time I'm frustrated in a class, I'll just think to myself: what would Captain Kirk do?

Unfortunately the show doesn't really give us an answer. Instead, through the magic of editing, Kirk and the children show up to save the day, sans all that messy "classroom management" business.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Return of the Temple Stay

My week of funemployment gave me the time to touch up and upload my photos of the Golgulsa Temple Stay. Instead of retroactively editing the entry (which no one will go back and check anyway), I'll just share the pictures here (where no one will read anyway).














Bonus points: in which I attempt to be a Writer (better known as, selections from The Little Orange Notebook I Carry All The Time):

The morning started out rough.  My cell phone alarm was so subtle as to be...absolutely silent.  I'm still not sure how that happened.  I only overslept by five minutes, however.  It was stil early enough that I took the time to hit a PC-bang before I got on the subway—no job leads whatever, though I had been expecting at least three.  
With only slightly diminished hopes, I promptly boarded the subway...on the wrong line.    Again, fortunately my mistake was rendered relatively minor as I figured it out by the next stop.  All went smoothly until I got to the Express Bus Terminal, a labyrinth of a building given over to an almost exclusively local clientele.  In other words, this was no Incheon Airport, no Seoul Metro—English was in tiny print and not spoken.  It took two foiled ticketing window encounters to realize that I was in the wrong building.  My sleep-dazed self had somehow missed signs for the Gyeongbu Terminal, which is separated from the rest of the terminal for reasons unknown to me.
Once there, the situation was, at first, intimidating: the demanding-looking schedule, the four A.M. wake-up call, the 3000-bow penalty for missing morning chanting—but it soon degenerated into a summer camp type atmosphere.  Only, at summer camp people gave a shit if you didn't show up.  The minders here didn't seem to give shits or even know who was still here and who had left.  They were all too busy being hippies, I guess.
 I was expecting something like a sesshin: functional silence, room to myself, lots of time for meditation and to generally be alone with my thoughts.  But there was no silence to be found, and rooming with nearly all of the girls on the program meant lots of chatter.  And when there was silence—during sitting meditation—the cushions supplied were less than adequate.  My hips needed the extra lift from a proper zafu to get into a good quarter lotus position like I had learned at my sangha.
Ceremonies were led by a ginger woman who had "drunk the Kool-Aid," as Mark described her.  I, too, had noticed her tendency towards "Koreaboo."
I decided on an experiment the second night (or rather, followed Mark's lead): skip evening chanting and Sunmudo practice altogether.  If questioned  I would claim debilitating stomach ache.  Or slitting migraine.  But of course, no one questioned me (or even noticed I was missing).

Frankly speaking, the vast majority of other English teachers in Korea piss me off.  There are some who never get over the culture shock, and others who are so blithely unaware that it never hits them in the first place.  I don't believe in making "Korea Friends" (people you only befriend because you are both foreigners in Korea) so I didn't say much to any of the other guests.  Without Mark I may have been well and truly miserable the whole time.

WHAT I LIKED

  • the food 
  •  the apathetic atmosphere (It became more of a blessing than a curse, as I could basically do whatever the heck I wanted and make my vacation my own.) 
  • beautiful grounds 
  •  nice accommodations  
  • attending a Buddhist Chuseok service 



WHAT I DIDN'T LIKE
  • lack of organization 
  • lack of discipline 
  • lack of authenticity 
  • lack of silence

Friday, October 21, 2011

Obligatory Tourist Spot #5: Gyeongbokgung

Seoul has lots of Joseon era sites to visit (and earlier, too, I guess, but Seoul was the capital of Joseon-era Korea).  One of the bigger and nicer palaces is Gyeongbokgung: literally, "The Palace of Shining Happiness."  Why do Asian names for things sound really, awfully dumb when translated into English?


Most of Gyeongbokgung is a reconstruction, as the Japanese basically razed it not once but twice.  Oh, and the second time, they put a new residence for the Japanese Governor-General on top of the ruins.  Way to go, guys.  Surely that will endear you to your newest colonial conquests...or inspire them to vomit on the steps of your embassy.

I had always meant to visit (it just seemed like one of those things I should do), and my week of funemployment provided me the perfect opportunity to do just that.  I didn't take a tour or anything (read as: I don't know jack about the palace beyond what I just wrote up there), so I'll just picspam a little bit.

Heungnymun, the Second Inner Gate (also pictured above).


Changing of the guard ceremony.  



"Don't eat on the bench or Haechi will swallow your soul!"

Department of Redundant Redundancies: "...longevity symbols...symbolize longevity."  The rest of the English on the signage was impeccable, in terms of both grammar and style, so this stood out.  "Who's buried in Grant's tomb?"


Geunjeongjeon (Imperial Throne Room): originally built in the 1390s, burned down (by the Japanese) in the 1590s, reconstructed in the 1860s and has survived all Japanese invasions since then.


I think this is Gyeonghoeru Pavilion but I can't be sure, everything runs together.   Gyeongheoru Pavilion is where emperors had feasts and banquets and fancy unofficial fun times.

Part of Amiran, the gardens behind the queen's quarters.


The impression I can't really convey here is that Gyeongbokgung is kind of big.  Even with restorations only 40% complete, it's pretty big.  The South Korean government launched a 20-year program to rebuild the entire goddamn thing (which clocks in at 330 buildings and over 400,000 square meters) and if it ever gets done, Gyeongbokgung will be even more impressive.  Of course, The Forbidden City is still bigger (three times as many buildings and just under twice the amount of land), but I don't think China had to rebuild the thing three times.

I'll probably make another trip in the spring to take the English tour and to visit the two museums attached (The National Folk Museum and The National Palace Museum).  Unfortunately, their price isn't included in the general admission (I don't think?), but Gyeongbokgung is such a deal (3000 won) I can splurge without feeling bad.  Museum admission in South Korea tends to be very economical, anyway.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Ernest Goes to Immigration

And going to Immigration is only a couple steps above going to Prison, but definitely not as fun as going to Camp.  (Confession: I haven't seen a single  Ernest movie.)




Anyway, I have successfully done whatever it is I had to do to change my visa and not be a questionably-legal worker in Korea.  It took the better part of my morning and I did it all without crying!  ("Cry until something works" was actually my plan B, in case the plan A of "Hope that someone will speak English and babysit you" didn't work out.)

A word, then about the Immigration Office in Yangju.

First of all, Yangju is a speedbump on the way to the DMZ.  My good friend Maddie has a grandfather whose quote often got tossed around between all of us (back when we worked together): "Uijeongbu?!  That shithole's a speedbump on the way to the DMZ!"  Not so anymore.

So I don't understand the decision to move the immigration office to Yangju, which by all means seems much smaller, poorer, and more difficult to get to for most of the people concerned.  Nonetheless the building is nice, and new, and probably the nicest and newest thing in the entire dong, if not the surrounding ones as well.

Second of all, despite it being, y'know, Immigration and dealing with, y'know, people who are not Korean, there is a dearth of helpful interpreters or signage in any language but Korean.  I'm not trying to play the "I'm an English teacher and my life in Korea is SO HARD" card: I mean to say, a government office providing extremely necessary services to a group of people who might not speak Korean, or might not speak it well, should probably take that into consideration when setting up its office.  I mean, even subway announcements are in Korean, English, Chinese, and Japanese.  Would it be too much to ask the same of Korean Immigration as well?  (Honestly, they probably only really need  English, Chinese, and Russian.)

They did, helpfully, check off all the boxes in the forms you needed to fill out beforehand (literally every copy of every form had checkmarks, grandfathered in from whatever master copy years and years ago) as well as provide a sample guide so you could see exactly what to put where  (though only in English).  Unhelpfully, the forms were in no way labeled and there were quite a few there to pick through.  What US military needs is (presumably) different from what I need is different from what a student or gyoppo needs.  Seoul immigration does have the helpful "1345" foreign language hotline, which I suppose you could call in a pinch, 

Other blog accounts of this office spoke of understaffed desks and long wait periods, but while I was there every station was manned and I only waited a couple minutes to speak with a clerk.  The first one I talked to was a fellow whose English seemed limited, and after looking at my papers provided me with the correct forms to fill out to transfer and extend my visa.   I finished those, took another number, and talked with a younger and more fluent girl (fluent enough that she commented to her coworker, in Korean, on the "Konglish" in the Korean forms).  She got me squared away and was probably more patient with me than I can imagine, as fatigue, vague illness, and stress were doing their best to make me an impossible human being to deal with.  

 It would have been easier with a native Korean with me, but everyone at the new school is too busy working so the unspoken assumption was that I'd take care of it myself. My mom commented on my self-sufficiency back when I was considering leaving my job in Bundang, but really I'm not.  If I had not had the sheer dumb luck to have a clerk with a relatively high level of English fluency, I probably would have cried, at which point things would either sort themselves out (to get the fat blubbering foreign girl to stop being an awkward production as soon as possible) or I would have gone home in defeat.  Neither way is a very graceful way to handle failure.

Beyond the stress of foreign paperwork, it was a beautiful day to be out and about for four hours.  All of the cabbies in Yangju drove with the window down to take advantage of the mild weather and the sunshine.  The leaves are just beginning to change in places, and while it's getting chillier (down to single digit Celsius temperatures in the night), the humid summer air has evaporated away into the refreshing clarity of autumn.

I have to go back and finalize everything in a few weeks (things get outsourced to the big office in Seoul instead of being taken care of in the assorted provincial offices) but 95% of the remaining bugbear hounding at me since I changed jobs has been taken care of.  

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Real Life Drama: Take This Job And Shove It

I suppose now that I have moved house, it's an appropriate time to say that I no longer work at Cassandra Academy.  I've settled back in to Uijeongbu and am due to start a new job one week from tomorrow.  I'm really excited both to be back in Uijeongbu and also to start this new job because it seems like a good one.  And once again the header of my blog is relevant to my locale!

Even with all the excitement, however, there's also more than a little resentment and bile below the surface—after all, I did leave the job for a reason.  Many reasons. The first instinct is to spew that bile far and wide over the Internet, even though I realize that's not entirely fair.  The school was simply not a good match for me, and they can't be blamed entirely.  Not only that, but there are plenty of other English teachers who get treated even worse—to say nothing of the manic work schedule of a typical Korean.  There is a little bit of entitlement in my anger, I realize.  In the interest of moderation, I will enumerate my reasons (because hey, it's my blog and I do what I want), but avoid naming names.

Cassandra Academy used to be to a branch (or franchise, I'm hazy on how these things are sorted) of the mega-chain POLY.  That's the most identifying information I'll name, mostly because its history as a POLY school has a lot to do with how it's run now.  The books and curriculum are all (I'm 90% certain) POLY's material, as are the hours (9 AM to 7.30 PM).  Cassandra has two campuses, with plans to open nine(!) more; right now one campus has typical hagwon hours and the other campus has atypical hours.  I worked at the atypical one. 

My first and foremost complaint is the hours.  While there is a ninety minute block in the middle of the day to prep for your afternoon classes, plus another hour for lunch, the fact remains that you spend ten and a half hours every day more or less tethered to your work. If you're the kind of person who has boundless energy, both mental and physical, then it's not an entirely untenable schedule.  When I first arrived in Korea, even, I could manage it, since the sheer and utter exuberance of being back in Korea carried me through the hours to scheduled dinner dates with friends I had not seen for a year and change.  Once I got settled in, however, it didn't take long for me to wear down. 

That's why my updates have been so intermittent and lacking in depth since I've been back:  I don't have the time to sit down and set down my thoughts in anything other than a cursory, skim-the-surface manner.  The longer entries I've posted (for example, what I wrote a while back about "who owns Arirang?") have taken weeks, due in part to the fact that just as I would hit a good writing groove, I'd check the time and realize I had to go to bed.   Then factor in revisions and editing and spell-checking, and you add even more time.  There are still two more drafts sitting in the Internet ether, waiting to be finished at a time when I have more brain juice.

Not only that, but the broad expanse of hours means that doing any kind of life maintenance is impossible.  Your only real free time is the weekend, but most of the things you need to do are closed on the weekend.  Either that, or they're the things you don't WANT to spend your weekend doing (like getting teeth pulled).   Your only window of opportunity for life administrative duties would be your lunch hour and part of your prep.  Otherwise, you have to call off and then everyone else who does work gets screwed over because they have to cover your classes.

The other big reason I left was an absolutely toxic work environment.  My manager at Sherlock was not the most popular guy, but  I've never carried as much sustained rage at his shenanigans as I have at the (former) head foreign teacher at Cassandra, a woman held in utter contempt by each and every teacher who worked under her.  In one of those twists of fate you kind of come to expect in the corporate world, at the company picnic on Saturday the owners announced that she was being promoted to Vice Director.  The fact that they did this despite numerous complaints from teachers about her is, paradoxically, both mind-boggling and par for the course.  Clearly they value her decision to stick with the school (and the pretty sweet gig and cozy schedule she set up for herself) above the complaints from teachers who come and go after a year, or two at the most.   Even when they keep hearing complaints from a number of different teachers.

There's a whole litany of complaints I have about her, but I will sum it up as neatly as possible: she is in a managerial position without even an iota of managerial training, and it shows.  She micromanages, she undermines your authority in the classroom, she delegates work to teachers that should really be under her purview, and she is not one to rise above petty disagreements.  Even the students—or at least most of the ones that I taught—dislike her.  One of my older students called her Voldemort.  And I say all of this as a teacher who managed to get treated pretty well: she only dumped work for me to do during my free periods (named, of course, "R&D periods" so they can justify giving you more work to do) a couple of times and never pulled me aside for awkward confrontations.

Other little things came up that contributed to my decision to leave: lack of communication between the owners, other administrators, and the teachers; the fact that they do the bogus "base salary plus a monthly bonus" bullshit so as to cheat you out of money on your pension and severance; useless and inefficient "teacher meetings" (but then, is there ever an effective and efficient meeting?); lots of little bullshit that we were some how required to do despite it not ever being mentioned either in the interview or in the contract.

In the interest of being "fair and balanced," I will say this:  those who work at the other campus with more typical hours and without the same head foreign teacher enjoy their work and seem to be treated pretty well.  It is not a problem with the whole company, per se; just that the particular campus where I worked was not a fun place.  If the managing situation was different, it could easily be a tolerable, if not fun, place to work.  And while the "low base salary plus monthly bonus" is a bunch of crap, they still send you home every month with very decent pay, all told.  The actual teaching is a breeze, as there is a lot of content in the material (maybe, in some cases, too much) so you're not stuck with wondering what to do next.  Coming from a school that used utterly contentless books (try spending ten class periods teaching fifth graders the concept of comparatives and superlatives after they get it on the first day, from a book targeted at seven year olds),  I had a lot more fun in my classes at Cassandra than I did at Sherlock.  It just wasn't enough to counter the fact that the hours were soul-sucking and that the management was subpar.

I would hate for this to be anyone's first experience in Korea.  My prior life here meant I had loads of networking opportunities available: people recommended recruiters to me, forwarded job openings, and eventually I found my new job via the Uijeongbu Crew Facebook group.  Many other people at Cassandra, however, don't have that prior experience to draw on, which makes leaving much more difficult.  Hopefully I can provide them even just a fraction of the assistance I received, should they make that decision. 

Anything else would be too personal to provide in a public forum, I feel, but I am amenable to any questions asked of me in private.  I'll just let Johnny Paycheck and David Allen Coe play this entry out:

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Obligatory Korean Tourist Spot #4: Temple Stay

Remember that time I went to Gyeongju for Chuseok?  Yeah, I had almost forgotten that, too.  Fortunately, with the three day weekend (and canceled trip to Gwangju), I now have time to tell you all about it!

Just kidding, it's been two weeks since my three day weekend and I've been incredibly remiss in updating this.  I kept a notebook my entire trip in Gyeongju (since I had a lot of time to myself), and I would love to do some kind of pseudo-literary write-up on it.  Maybe I will in the near future.  But before they vanish entirely from my memory, let me get the bones of the trip out here, even if they lack the meat.

Gyeongju is beautiful. While the naked Korean winter has its own kind of beauty,  I was glad to be down there in the summer for the greenness and foliage and so forth.  If anything, expectations were exceeded in that department.  Since I don't have any of my pictures ready for Internet publishing (in need of some GIMP adjusting and image resizing), I'm stealing some of Mark's.  He'll deal with it.



The weather was intermittently rainy, with some spots of gorgeous sunshine.  The temple itself was also lovely, though not as huge and extensive as Bongeunsa or Bulgoksa.



Truth be told, that was about all I got out of it.  There were a lot of mitigating factors involved: my personal experiences with Buddhist retreats and thus my expectations thereof; the sheer number of foreigners (way more than they seemed to really be prepared for); unpleasant life situation leading to uncharacteristically dyspeptic mental state; my general disdain for fellow anglophone foreigners; whatever.  In a nutshell, I found the experience extremely tourist-y and not particularly well-organized.   

The former descriptor is a subjective one, absolutely: other people seemed to really enjoy themselves and I don't doubt they found the experience enlightening or life-changing or whatever.  Organization is a fair one to take them to task for, though.  The schedule often changed at random and without warning; meals that took ten or fifteen minutes to eat were allocated to ninety minute blocks which left you with a lot of random meandering to do (or, presumably, naps to take).  If you didn't show up for an event, no one came to look for you.  Upon arrival they warned that "missing morning chanting means you do 3000 bows for punishment, and it's 1080 bows for any other chanting that you miss," but I skipped out on the evening chanting my last day there and suffered no consequences whatsoever.

Mark and I left one day earlier than anticipated—traveling ON Chuseok proper—and it was probably the smartest decision I could have made.  Nonetheless, it was nice to be out of Seoul for a few days, and seeing Mark was also a pleasant (and totally unexpected) surprise.

Overall, I wouldn't really recommend this particular temple's program, at least not their Chuseok one.  Maybe during the off-season it's a different tone, but Chuseok is simply too scatter-brained and too disorganized to really give you any sense of culture that isn't prettied up for white people.


Sunday, October 2, 2011

Ich bin eine Erdnuss

A conversation my kindergarten class had with their other teacher:

"Lisa-teacher, you are tall!"

"No, I'm just wearing tall shoes."

"Ah. Katherine-teacher is very very short.  She's like a peanut."

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Bae Doona, no!

Like every other kid my age, I freaking loved the heck out of The Matrix. Doubly-so for me because not only did the wire-fu-fighting-exploding-oh-god-what-was-that-oh-sweet-Rammstein-soundtrack aesthetic pretty much plug straight into a teenager's typical attention span, but also because at the time I was heavy into a cyberpunk phase that I haven't really ever grown out of. (I mean, I run Linux, fer frack's sake.) I missed the initial theatrical release, but caught up with it on DVD. I watched The Animatrix. I rented the bullshit video game but never actually completed it because getting out of the intro level was anything but intuitive (I spent many an hour on GameFAQs trying to figure it out; one day I plan to pick up a used GameCube copy to see if age has improved my addled video gaming wits). I have the poster hanging up in my bedroom. I had (have?) a sweet sleeveless, cyberpunk-looking top with asymmetrical seams and Matrix glyphs on it that I cannot find anywhere online. I waited for the sequels with bated breath.





And if I die before I wake, I pray Keanu my soul to take...


tl;dr:  GUYS I REALLY LIKED THE MATRIX. Also, prepare for some massive tl;dr coming up, whilst I nerd out.

I thought the Wachowski Brothers had done something cool that, while not visionary storytelling as such, was solid storytelling with really interesting visuals. I looked forward not only to the sequels but whatever else they would do.

And then...the sequels happened.

"Well, they had a bad run of luck," I thought.  "Maybe they didn't really want to do a trilogy.  Maybe the studio botched it up."  Still I had faith.

And then...V for Vendetta happened.





Admit it, you only saw this to see Natalie Portman wth a shaved head.


I couldn't even really blame them entirely for this one, either. The source material (oh yeah, I'm gonna go there) is pretty mediocre. Hardly Alan Moore's greatest work. The art's pretty "meh," the dystopian future not all believable, and (most importantly), EVIE IS THE MOST ANNOYING WOMAN CHARACTER TO EVER APPEAR IN A SERIOUS-BUSINESS GRAPHIC NOVEL. Fortunately Alan Moore grew out of this with Promethea, and one of the things that was better in the movie (oh yeah, I just went there, too) was that Evie, while still kind of dumb and irritating, was not half as dumb and irritating as the source material. I wish I could find even just one scan to show you, but you'll have to take my word for it, Internet. This is why Natalie Portman was an awesome casting choice because while she sometimes makes questionable film decisions (see: the entire Star Wars prequels shenanigans), under it all you can tell she's a smart cookie.

Nonetheless, the movie's a pretty hammy, mediocre thing overall. Not eye-gougingly bad, but not on par with, say, Zack Snyder's take on Watchmen. Though to be fair that's also better source material.

And then...Speed Racer happened.





A look of horror crosses Christina Ricci's face as she realizes exactly what movie she's in.


Now, for summer blockboster shlock, you could do worse. Subjectively, I still like this movie. A lot. But I realize that it is truly and utterly deplorable and without any cinematic merit whatsoever and is pretty much a QED reason to permanently ban les frères Wachowski from the world of cinema.  At least until they make another Bound. If nothing else, Speed Racer is a pretty clear indicator that they've gone George Lucas/Sam Raimi batshit by this point: more interested in special effects and visuals and all the cool technology you do with a computer than in telling a good, interesting, or even exciting story.  I mean at the very least they could have put in so many shoutouts to the old show: the cheesy sound effects, the pose Speed strikes at the end of the beginning credits (would be a perfect bullet time moment!)...and you gave us nothing, Wachowskis.  Nothing.

So when I read that not only are the Wachowskis attempting another movie (based off the novel Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell), but that my number one favorite Korean actress Bae Doona is going to be involved, I was sad. Disappointed.  Though I admit it took me a second because I have been so utterly disappointed in the Wachowksis that my brain parsed "Wachowski brothers" as "Coen brothers" and I thought, Wow, Bae Doona with the Coen brothers? Awesome!  Then my reading comprehension kicked in.




On the plus side, Tom Tykwer (remember Run Lola, Run?) will be co-directing so we may see some substance yet.  It also seems that Bae's role will be relatively minor; the film is actually six short vignettes that overlap in small assorted ways, and Bae will only appear in one of them (the dystopian future Seoul populated by clones) while the white people with the main billing will appear in two or three.

You can read more (with less Wachowski-inspired rage) here: Bae Doona to Play Clone in Wachowskis' New Sci-Fi Flick, courtesy the Chosun Ilbo.