Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Sparkling Korea

I have always disliked the tourism logo for Korea--Sparkling Korea. I suppose it's better than something to do with kimchi; but I have seen it as a harnessing of Korea's obsession with all things cute. And as you can see from the image to the left, the government apparently thinks Russian models are better suited to sell the trademark than regular Koreans. There is a rank consumerism in urban Korea that I will write about some other time.

To the point: Sparkling Korea is actually not some cutie creation.

Now I find out that it comes from Koryo--where the modern term "Korea" originates--and Koryo comes from Wang Kon, who viewed himself as the successor to Koguryo. You can see that Koryo is a shortened form of Koguryo. Koryo means "high mountains and sparkling waters." Seoul is anything but sparkling, let me tell you. But there is undeniable beauty outside the city. And Koreans love their land and all of its nature. So, now I get It.

Short history lesson about Koryon and Wang Kon: this all happened in the late ninth century when Wang Kon helped Kyonhwon, the estranged founder of Later Paekche, take back Later Koguryo from his first son who had usurped power when Kyonhwon attempted to have his fourth son succeed him. This kind of made the first born angry.

Wang Kon was the son of Kungye who founded Later Koguryo at Kaesong, in central Korea. (Wan Kon believed that he was the proper successor to what was left of the Koguryo legacy, so he was more than happy to help estranged father take on estranged son while at the same time helping finish off the third, ailing kingdom, Silla.) I do believe it is Wang Kon who fought relentlessly against Later Paekche and who got Silla to surrender. To make a really long story too short: Wang Kon unified Korea. His Koryo dynasty ruled for almost half a millenium. He is viewed by Koreans as being one of the great, magnanimous rulers from the past.



Korea's Place in the Sun: A Modern History, Updated Edition Korea's Place in the Sun: A Modern History, Updated Edition by Bruce Cumings

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars
I am loving this book and I am only finishing the first chapter, Virtues.

So many books on Korea speak about the country and its culture as if the Koreans were Chinese or only known through their coping with the Korean war or struggles with Japan.

I have been looking for a book about Korea and about Koreans. And Bruce Cummings attempts to do this.

The first chapter handles the history prior to the modern era. Korea had its own history and culture, something quite unique: a history I have been interested in for some time.

So far so good.

View all my reviews.


Confessions: Books I-Xiii Confessions: Books I-Xiii by Augustine of Hippo

My review

rating: 5 of 5 stars
I love this book. I am reading it again. A chapter a night. The sincerity and passion and earnest curiousity of the narrative is only slightly undercut by an intelligence that sometimes overcomes the rigid reading of Biblical texts that litter his writing.

In other words, Augustine works (right from the beginning of Chapter I) at manipulating the Biblical text to fit the constraints of his religious doctrine. He transforms both the Biblical texts and the doctrine creating a personal rubric for his spirituality.

Also, he makes me giggle.

View all my reviews.

Friday, December 5, 2008

I am my Revision

I have had to come to terms with my classroom pedagogy on a number of levels since moving to Seoul. I will attempt to address an issue or two in upcoming posts. I am still organizing my ideas.

I have been busier, as a teacher, in three months, than I was in any given year at home. It makes it incredibly difficult to head home after work to blog. Never mind blogging, I am writing a dissertation, too.

I have some catch-up posting to do. And will.

Each day, I post to my facebook page everything I look at online. Much of that will end up here and on my other blogs.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Contacts and Football

From newphotos
Picked up my contact lenses today. I have broken two pairs of glasses playing football on the weekends. Last week, I went to make a heading pass from a 50 yard, monster of a goal kick. The ball hit low on my forehead and my glasses shattered. If you look at my picture closely you'll see the tape holding my glasses together.

I haven't worn contacts since I was very young. Both Glasses and Contacts are cheap here. I bought Rayban glasses, paid for an eye exam, and two lenses with all the bells and whistles for 190,000won. This is about 150$, on a good day. My contacts cost about 120$. The contacts I bought are the most expensive kind available: I wanted contacts that would be easier on my eyes.

I am headed to northern Seoul tonight to watch a few movies with a friend on his giant screen. He has a cool HD projector set-up and actually lives in an apartment the size of an average studio in the US. My place, in comparison, is about 420 square feet.

From newphotos
Tomorrow I will play football on this field. It is typical of most fields around Seoul. Grass is a luxury nobody can afford. We play on sand. It tears nasty holes in your skin and is extremely hard on your ankles. But it makes for a very fast game. Koreans are fast and actually quite skilled compared to most Americans. My teammates are over 25 and most are under 50. They are all surprised that I am a skilled player. I think they are more impressed that I can run for 90 minutes. They all think Americans are unhealthy. So, my ability to run fast for the entire game and my strength has led them to assign me the striker position, which I would have never played when I was younger. I love being the one to coordinate plays at the top of the midfield or take many shots.

From newphotos
Here is a photo of my high school's gymnasium. It gives a good impression, I think, of how hard the football pitch is.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Seoul Shows. Weekend 11/28/2008.

Nothing on Friday. And Saturday does not look too promising, but then I am playing soccer on Saturday and will likely be drinking with the team afterwards.

Sunday, however, looks fun.

At 4pm, Yogiga, there will be a noise show.

Bulgasari - experimental noise night. featuring: Sato Yukie, Lee Han-ju, Hong Shine, Michael Oakley.

I looked up Bulgasari and the web site hasn't been updated in a while. But it looks pretty promising. I will go if I can find Gallery Yogiga.

Then, at 8pm, FF, Jens Leckman

Jens Lekman, with Pink Elephant, We Need Surgery and The Fist
Time: 8:00pm. Admission: 25,000 won.

Sounds great, but 25,000 won is a rip-off. Leckman is great. But even Sonic Youth doesn't cost 25bucks in the states. Can't see some singer-songwriter making it worthwhile. Esp, since I'd have to catch a cab home from Hongdae (about 13,000 won) afterwards.

Let's face it. The underground music scene in Seoul suffers because there is no solidarity between clubs and club owners and show promotion is an absolute joke. I'd love to help, but all my shit is in storage in the US. And I have no time to do anything with my work schedule.

The opportunity for a killer music scene exists, but...


Like NOISE. Let's get together and check out Bulgasari. Should be pretentious fun. At least my brain will get a work out.

Oh. I think Samchung is playing Saturday night. HOT. That's what to do on Saturday. The Spot has a show. More than 10 bands--metal to hardcore--15,000 won. Should be loud, sweaty fun. But I am digging playing striker for Hae Woori too much to ditch for music. I smelled goal last week. I will score this week.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Seoul Life

[Note: I am still experiencing Internet access issues at my flat. Some days the speed is so slow, I cannot tolerate working online. So, I haven't blogged as often as I like. My landlord recently fixed my cable access--though I don't watch the TV, save for soccer--and now, strangely, my Internet access has improved. Maybe somebody did something that somehow helped my situation. Anyway...photos to come in subsequent posts.]

I am sitting in my favorite cafe--Cafe Good. It's one of the only ones near my flat that is not named Dog's Nuts or some French Phrase Although The Menu is in Italian. It is the first sub-freezing day in Seoul this Autumn. So, I am drinking hot chocolate.

Actually, the cafe above is named Nut's Dogs; however, even the teacher who first walked me through my new home was embarrassed to note, as we walked past the coffeehouse, that she believed the name "might mean something about the dog's body." I told her she was right, and asked her if she knew about nuts.

She laughed.

I work with wonderful folks. That is, I know they work hard and know they like to play hard, which I admire. I am invited to every social event and never have to pay. Although I insisted last weekend and gave money to my hosts. The teachers at high schools work Monday through Friday from 7:30 until 5 or 6, and they all work on Saturdays until 1, or later. My contract stipulates no work on Saturdays. I don't go in, but I do feel guilty. On the other hand, I inherited developing-the-curriculum for the First- and Second-grade classes for the remainder of this school year--end of January 2009--and the entire 2009-2010 year.

You might think this wouldn't be such a chore. After all, the students have attended English classes at Samsung High School for over a decade. A catalogue of classwork must exist. Unfortunately, I am the first "Native Speaker" at the school; A curriculum does not exist. I'll admit that it is good to be the first for many reasons, not least of which is that I am gaining incredible ESL teaching experience each new day at Samsung. And it is nice to be the one to develop what I will end up having to teach.

However, many problems have already developed as a result of being first. I use a relic PC that has an English version of Windows XP Pro and Office 2003. This would suffice in most situations. I streamlined the software on it, modified a few settings, ran updates (that took over one week to successfully download and install,) and I added Firefox. The computer is slow at times but works as best as it can. Everybody else at school has a Korean version of XP and uses a word processing software called Hangul Word Processor. They tried to make me comfortable by providing a computer that looked and ran like a PC would in the U.S., but in doing so they effectively made it impossible for me to work with students' powerpoint presentations and essays. Most unfortunate is that I am not connected to the school network and messaging system. I always find out about scheduling changes and meetings too late to prepare.

It is incredibly difficult to get to know my male colleagues. They are all older than me and--I think as do my younger, female colleagues--try to save face by avoiding me at all costs. We believe the men don't want to illustrate their lack of English at work. I have hiked with the men on the weekends and have had wonderful exchanges and experienced sincere camaraderie. Oh well. I will say that outside of the silence I am offered at school and other than my undergraduate life at Metropolitan State College of Denver, I have never experienced the warm friendship that men have offered me in Seoul. The men in Korea are very close. They show emotion. They are not afraid of physical contact. For crying out loud, they bathe one another at the sauna. They are affectionate guys. It makes it easy to be friendly. I have always had crappy relationships with men. So, this problem with the male teachers is a very minor one.

I have had several problems with banking that I have yet to sort out. Nobody is able to help. Who could, anyway? I needed to be informed of a few economic realities before I arrived. That should be the Korean government's concern, not my co-teachers' anxiety. So, I am struggling to pay my U.S. debts on time, if at all. I cannot contact my creditors to figure out a method of paying my bills. And I cannot send money to my U.S. bank because they Korean Won loses close to 50% of its value in exchange right now. Anyway, I need a coworker to go to the bank and translate for me, but we work until 5. The banks close at 4:30. My school never thought about this kind of problems that are likely to occur for any new resident. On the other hand, as a government employee, I received speedy access to my Alien Registration Card, my pension plan, my healthcare account. In addition, my landlord will do absolutely anything to attempt to make me at home--like pay my cable bill. I am poor; so, the gesture is welcome. The hospitality I receive helps alleviate major stress I would usually feel while encountering financial problems I have at the moment. (If the economy were better, none of this would be an issue.)

Of course, my school asked for an experienced English teacher and one with experience with Korean students. I fit the bill with 7 years of teaching experience. It's nice to be wanted. However, the teachers were not prepared for somebody with ideas about ESL education--both practical and ideological--to come to their school and begin taking over one third of the curriculum. (The students have English class three times each week; I see them once a week.) When I enter a classroom, I take charge. I don't need help. I was worried about teaching 40 adolescents, but the kids like me and I have made the adjustment from college Freshman and Sophomores to High School Sophomores and Juniors without too many snags.

The teachers are very protective of the students--especially the boys. I am progressive when it comes to classwork, and I insist that the kind of work attempted and possibly completed both builds upon prior lessons and shows visible and applicable results. For I don't know how long, my students have been playing word bingo and solving crossword puzzles for choco-candies. And from what I can tell of other foreigners teaching in the public schools here, many of them proudly carry on the tradition of treating the children like cutie-pies who need special attention. I shouldn't be so critical: many of the teachers hired to travel to Korea are, in fact, not teachers; or, if they are, they are recent graduates from Undergraduate Institutions and are trying to gain a little hands-on experience. At any rate, there is the notion that if a student does something, then that student is LEARNING BY DOING. Of course, the first thing I learned as a teacher was that is complete bullshit; or, WISHFUL THINKING.

If I try to challenge the students I am told they aren't smart or knowledgeable enough to complete the exercise. The problem is that most of my students will interview with several of Korea's Universities in and around Seoul in less than 24 months. The more prestigious schools, which all students dream of attending, all include some type of English conversation in their interviews. My students will struggle with an interview, yet they have been learning English since Primary School. This frustrates me. They cannot read well and don't even think about writing sentences. In addition, the Academies

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I feel the students are being over-protected because they are poor and underprivileged and work so unbelievable hard--15 hours or more a day, 6 days a week, for some every day of the week. I want to hug them, too. But they need to learn to speak English well enough to speak it each day at school and work.

Though I like it here, the cultural differences can be infuriating. I haven't experienced the culture shock that I have seen with other foreigners. My culture clashes can become rather over-significant on any given day because of the amount of work I am asked to accomplish. FOr example, on Monday morning I arrive to school with a new lesson plan for the week and have to make 800 copies of whatever I have for the students. I work from 7:30 until 9am preparing for the week. Then, I teach until 4pm. I teach 5 classes. After seeing 200 students and wearing-in a new lesson plan, I eat dinner and can get home around 8pm. Three days of my five day work week are like this. On the other days, I don't have it easy. In fact, I work later hours. I teach the non-English speaking teachers English on Wednesdays. And I teach 12 students from 5-7pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Mix the cultural misunderstandings with the tremendous workload and you have the potential for anger, not simply frustration. I am happy to say I have had only one argument with a colleague and maybe two verbal disagreements with Koreans in my neighborhood.

I will say: never, never, never get a Korean woman mad. Korean Women have the ability to scream with their entire being: and they like to do it in public. I think I made the colleague who yelled at me (after a ridiculously absurd misunderstanding) initially more angry because the spectacle of her yelling was so intense all I could do was smile in admiration. Such amazing passion; to be honest, my heart only grew fonder. After all, to scream like that at me, she has to care. When I explained to her what was actually happening, she apologized. I apologized as well for causing the problem: I could have done a better job of communicating to her. The entire school heard her yell at me. And nobody spoke about it.


Friday, November 14, 2008

Word Choice

Word choice is important. I used "whore" in my last post. Maybe I shouldn't have. I'll admit that the word carries too much signification for me to be using it in a careless manner.

But I will reiterate what an eye-opening experience it is to see educated Americans acting like extras in a Girls Gone Wild video. If you come to Korea and you want to see white folks--the British, the Australians, and the Americans, and some folks from Canada and New Zealand as well as other places--acting like extreme consumerists and/or prostitutes, then you should hang in Itaewon. Oh, and you get the added benefit of spending quality time with the military and the sex industry that thrives around American bases.

Itaewon is a shithole.

Anyway, with the Americans: Maybe it's more Nerds Gone Wild. Whatever it is, it's obscene. And these young women would not behave this way at home. (Unless, they are University of Colorado students.) Or maybe it's just always the behavior I expect from men I know but not women I know. Or maybe it's the alcohol, as I stated in my previous post.

I prolly shouldn't be using "whore". Not loosely anyway.

Allergic to Shrimp and Soccer in Suwon and Guy Stuff, too

I have had a tough week: bad allergic reaction to food, more American friends acting like psycho-tourist haters and whores (for beer and attention, apparently, American women in Seoul will do anything for you,) and I just found out I need to prepare an entire year of lessons by the end of February for two grades.

Now, I am not hating Korea. I love it here. And the teaching challenges are good for me and my craft. I just need to stay away from Americans.

And shrimp, too. I have always said I am allergic to shrimp. Honestly, I had recently begun believing that I have always claimed an allergy because I hate the taste of shrimp. Instead of confessing my fear of tasting new things, I just said, "I'm sorry, I'm allergic...". I guess at some time many years ago I must have discovered that I am allergic to shrimp and forgot about the incident completely. After eating something made with shrimp and shrimp paste Sunday night, I ended up in the hospital with what could have become a full-blown anaphylactic attack. I almost stopped breathing, my face and throat and chest were red, and my lips were swollen. Fortunately, I acted fast enough and took a taxi to a close hospital--with the help of my teachers and their friends via phone. The doctors hooked me to an IV and an hour later my symptoms subsided. With three days of steroids and meds, I am fine again.

On the bright side, I am playing soccer at Suwon World Cup Stadium on Sunday. I will have photos.

Also on the bright side, I have happily learned how to make friends with guys again. I have had my hate on for men since childhood. And my male companionships have always been dicey. I hit my last male buddy so hard, I knocked his tooth out. No kidding. But that could have been the alcohol. In Korea, guys get along. They look out for each other. It's ok to touch another man to show affection. That might be part of it. Men have plenty of masculinity issues here, don't get me wrong. It's simply nice to be able to hang out with other men and not have to suffer privately all my problems.

Visited the Contemporary Art Museum today. It was a joy. I will write about this and more after some rest.

I bought postcards, finally. I am going to try and write my friends at home. So off to the other corner of my flat--ten feet from this corner. (heh.)

Monday, October 27, 2008

In Korea two months and already the Americans suck ass

I don't know what bothers me most about part-time foreigners' persistent whining about Koreans: their whining about Korean intolerance (apologies to EP who has righteous reason to be pissed) or their mass-mind mentality.

A quick search through Google will result in many blog stories, journal rants, and public forum posts about how Korean hate for foreigners erupts in the public sphere. Never mind the countless mentions of intolerance on Facebook and Myspace and the stories I have the misfortune to hear whenever I sit with more than two North Americans at a time.

I am not implying that I agree with some Koreans' intolerant, rude, and sometimes criminal behavior towards foreigners. There are locals who will take advantage of me if I let them. I am explicitly pointing out to many of the thick tourists posing as teachers that this Intolerance is not a Korean trait, it is a Human trait. In other words, the majority of Koreans are quite warm, welcoming, and helpful. Foresaking the many for the few. It is at best careless, at worst willful.

The typical complaint I have read and heard is shared in a shocked tone by a speaker who simply cannot believe that Koreans are so mean, so crooked, so callous, or so racist. I don't mind someone complaining out of frustration. You know: blowing steam. I do mind hypocritical, petty whining based on some incredibly selfish assumptions.

First, I have had to come to terms with the alienation and solitude that everyday life offers in a country where I do not speak the language and most people do not speak mine. Some days are emotional trials, for sure. However, Koreans owe me nothing. I am not owed anything. I repeat this to myself as a daily mantra. I have to remind myself that I have become quite accustomed to a level of everyday, spectacular consumerist culture in North America, so accustomed that I find it almost instinctive to insist that some of my desires and most of my needs are met simply because I walk into public and begin to participate in various exchanges with other folks around me. I cannot get by in Korea by living a lazy life. I must work hard, remain focused, exercise, attend to my health, and aggressively participate in the public sphere. For example, I must work hard everyday to acquire a new language. (Yes, there are Americans here who bitch about having to learn Korean and about Koreans not wanting to learn English.)

***many foreigners roam the streets of Seoul in packs insuring that most Koreans will never attempt to make that social contact we all so desperately crave, Friendship. I can't speak for Canadians, but I know that the manner in which Americans socialize is strange to Koreans. When we roam in groups, we are louder and more boisterous than most Koreans. In addition, we are simply more obscene. Hit the OED. What I mean by obscene is that we tend to share with everybody what is on our mind. We like to be noticed. We stare at people. We overtly flirt. We talk a lot. And when we roam in groups, we tend to ignore the rest of the world and expect that they leave us alone. This is simply not the way things are done here.

I have been lonely here my first seven weeks. My lifestyle has dramatically transformed. But my emotional trauma is not fairly transferred to Koreans. Moreover, the complaints about hatred and discrimination strike me as completely inappropriate. Even on the worst day I have had in Seoul, I have yet had to confront the institutional racism that a Mexican or Central American immigrant laborer faces on his or her best day in North America. I will not equivocate on this point. The cries of bigotry are quite absurd. (Once again, some Koreans are racists. Calling Koreans racist, though, is like an American middle class white dewd bitching about affirmative action and reverse discrimination: it is stupid, self-centered, ill-informed; basically, an attempt to re-establish the comfortable order found in the white power structure.)

Let me make it clear. I have been in Seoul only seven weeks. I already have a home, cable tv, broadband Internet access, a cell-phone, a health plan, a pension plan, my alien registration card, a renewed VISA with multi-use privileges, a bank account, direct deposit, and membership in a soccer club; in addition, the locals have begun calling me by name, students and teachers look out for my health, the school's administration insures I am taken care of, and my landlord is responsive to my complaints. In the United States, no immigrant receives the treatment I have received in Korea with such sincere rapidity. The majority of the immigrant labor force in North America, never mind the US, covertly labors everyday for scraps and is entirely ignored by the majority of native citizens.

I'll recap:

  • I find many North Americans here, especially my fellow U.S. citizens, to be whiners--spoiled, self-centered shits. For as educated as many of my fellow teachers claim to be, they are incredibly naive and, as a result, incredibly insensitive to the very rational, logical dispositions of others. (Of course, many native speaking teachers in Korea are under 25 and have no experience of the world outside of Mom, Dad, High School, and University life. I think they choose to come to Korea because of the pay rather than the culture. Hence, the roaming in packs: intoxicated, loud, immature, clique-ish, imps. They never will care about Korean culture. They are on vacation.)
  • I find much of the whining about Koreans to be based in the social superiority that is quietly cultivated in the white power structure that is still a part of everyday life in North America. I don't think much of this superiority is intended; I think it is learned. On the other hand, the naivete I see in it makes it that much more pitiful and infuriating. I believe it is our duty to make the corrupt power structures visible, to betray the white order at all costs, and bring about some equality by any means necessary. Anyway, no matter what your beliefs are, this is true: Only an individual who willfully ignores the pain and suffering of others... . Oh, wait a minute. I know how to put it: they all have taken the capitalist pill called ATLAS SHRUGGED. If you know what I mean, say amen.

So, I understand why people hate Americans. I don't hate. But I am let down. Sad, for sure. I am certainly embarrassed. For as many whining turds that come to Korea to drink and piss away a couple of years before choosing a career at home, there are many travelers here hanging out like I am taking it all in and happy to have a paycheck while doing it. Kind people who are here to learn and work and grow. I hope to continue to find likeminded folks. I think I will.

Oh, and no. I really could care less about the election.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Samsung High School News

I am now writing lesson plans for both first and second graders at the high school. The experience is a bit bewildering. I am still learning where the students are in their English education. Many students can understand only the most basic English; for them, my classroom work is extremely difficult no matter how simple I make it. On the other hand, many students are excellent English speakers for their age and experience; for these students, the basic work I bring to class is an exercise in boredom and patience. I try, therefore, to teach to the middle. I just don't know where the middle is.

This week we are working on basics: parts of speech.

I went with my students to the Contemporary Art Museum last Thursday. They participated in a writing and painting exercise/contest. I was able to spend time with them outside of school. I took many photos. I am posting them in my next entry.

The students seem to be getting comfortable with me. I am a happy teacher. I very tired, but happy teacher.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

(t)here i go.

Just when I feel things settling down, everything seems out of control once again.

My first month in Seoul has been too fast and frustrating yet worth every moment. I am very busy with school work this week.

This weekend I am going to Grand Mint Festival. Friday-Sunday: 60+ bands. Yo la Tengo is the main event Saturday night. I am going with my new friend Jan. He's from Belgium. I met him last weekend. Great guy. We're also going to see Korea take on the UAE in a World Cup qualifier match at World Cup Stadium.

I will have photos and more by Monday evening. The next 5 days look pretty exciting; unfortunately, I won't be anywhere near a computer.

Monday, October 13, 2008

phone woes

I need to find a "cdma" usb driver for my Anycall phone (SCH-w390m). I found CDMA driver packages for Samsung phones, but I think the scripting and executive files must all be in hangukeo because I cannot get the computer I use to recognize the driver once I have installed it.

If anybody has any ideas, get in touch.

More substantial blogging tonight.

Back to teaching.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

My Weekday Routine

I rise at 6am, not too long after many students head-in for sleep after drinking and eating all night. My neighborhood is full of dormitory hotels for students, who after working all-day socialize all-night. Popular bars and restaurants are open till 5am. Still, the neighborhood is never too loud.

I try to leave my flat by 7:30 so I have time to buy coffee. I walk to and from work everyday. The roundtrip is a little over two miles. I am in school by 7:50. At my desk: I check email, facebook, my blog; I brush my teeth. (Routines are so banal.) Around 8:20 I prep for my classes. Only on Wednesdays do I have an early class. Most days I begin teaching at 9:20.

I eat at the cafeteria with my Korean colleagues at 12:10; I teach until 4; I eat dinner most days with students; I usually leave school around 5:30.

Next week I will begin teaching a series of night classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 5-7. I have called the 3, 5-week courses Everyday Expressions I, II, and III. From homeroom surveys, I think I'll begin with something like 35 students. I imagine 15 or so will consistently attend. I am excited about these classes. Not only will I make additional income, I will get a chance to become better acquainted with some of the students here. With 800 students, I can't learn names never mind personalities, hopes, needs--all the stuff teachers like to now about their students.

In January, during Winter Vacation, I will teach a 60-hour English Camp. That will be both a challenge and a joy. No extra pay with this as I am contracted to work during Winter break. I am a trained Lecturer for the College classroom, which is much different than a High School English teacher. So I am learning, too. I hope the students will like my course. I will teach Culture, Conversation, Reading, and Writing: 4 hours of class time with lunch dividing the day.

I seriously strained both my quadriceps playing soccer and am only permitted to exercise with my club until I am healed. I will post photos: the pitches here are dirt. A sandy hardpack that is unforgiving on feet, ankles, and legs. Thankfully, my knees are fine. I usually play a pick-up game around 6pm on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. Across the street from Samsung High School is an elementary school. On the grounds of that school is a beautiful pitch used by the local professional club. Locals are permitted to play on that field in the evenings.

Because I cannot play and until I can again, I visit an acupuncturist after school. Roughly, $3.50 per visit after my healthcare discount. I get two pins in my foot and two in my hand, both rightside, to help control swelling, pain (and heat, I think.)

I am usually home around 8 or 9pm, which is early around here. From what I can tell, the people of Seoul enjoy a night-time culture. I like it quite a bit. I like walking, grabbing a drink from a convenience store, and sitting in a park or on a bench street-side with my neighbors. I probably walk two-four miles each evening.

I am in bed not too long after midnight. If I can't sleep, I read.

Added into this routine is writing, which I am working back into my schedule. I write in the early morning and/or late at night. I always have. I tend to write for 1 to 3 hours at a time.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Have Heart, The Spot (Hongdae, 9/27/08)

Hardcore Seoul: Positive Community Experience (PCE)

So far so good. The Seoul Hardcore/Punk scene seems to be healthy.

The expat crowd whines about it on the message boards. But I find this to be an American Obsession: Scene Health. Scene Health is typically lamented, especially within outsider communities. Anyway, it took me maybe one set to tire of the Army Skinheads Posing as Hardcore Kids scene. It didn't come as a surprise to me when one guy took off his shirt to reveal a pistol tattoo above his belly and some reference to God & Country in text above or below, I cannot remember, the image. He kept making comments about Mexicans.

I have learned, by the way, to ignore the expat crowd and its advice. I know there are many great expats here who are living in Korea and contributing to life here in a positive manner, but many of the teachers, mostly private school folks, are complete bores and professional whiners.

I have two friends here, who I never get to see. Sad. Emily. Vanya. I am sorry I don't live nearer to both of you.

I was told that it would be difficult to get to now Koreans. WRONG. In fact, Koreans have taken me in and look out for me and seem to expect that I will continue to participate in daily life here becoming more Korean with every new experience.

I like the Korean fighting spirit. It is hardcore. And like the kids stage-diving and climbing on top of each other and hugging and holding hands at the Have Heart show last week (The Spot, Hongdae, 9.27.2008,) the men and women I am wandering around Seoul with are very attentive to cultivating a Positive Community Experience (PCE).

Korea has its problems. For example, do not get me started about the sexism.

I am certain to post more about PCE. Right now, I want to post photos from the show and then go to the bath.

grey grey grey

i know the color scheme on dagseoul is poor. i am working on fixing the layout right now. soon, it will be easier to read. cheers.

Getting it Together

Finally, after three weeks I am feeling settled down and a bit of peace has entered my daily life. I am enjoying my new home. I like my neighborhood. The local government has changed the name of my area to "Daehok". I may have it spelled incorrectly. I am still learning.

I used to live in Sillim-dong. Unfortunately, the word Sillim in Seoul conjures up thoughts about the working poor and reminds everybody here about an undefined, yet ever-present dread of poverty. In an effort to improve property values, apparently, (but really in an effort to make it easier to ignore the all-too visible poverty here) I now live in Daehok-dong, or something along the lines of "University Neighborhood" and "Scholar-Hood". I don't think I have to change my mailing address yet...I don't think. Better look into that.

I pulled a muscle, today, in my leg: somewhere high in my quadricep. It could be a bad strain. I will go to the hospital tomorrow and have a sports injury specialist look at it. Oh yeah, I have a health card and it gets me cheap health care at many places. For what amounts to $3.50, I get a 40 minute acupuncture session. I will go for two weeks, four days a week, while my muscle heals. Great stuff. I might not have to pay for anything at the hospital. It depends what the doctor suggests. I can barely walk. Sucks to be in Seoul with a muscle injury. Walking is a way-of-life here.

I am very happy about several things.
  • I begin teaching night classes at my public school next week. My classes will consist of 20 hour courses over a five week period. I will begin teaching Idioms: Everyday Expressions I, II, and III. I get paid after I complete each 20 hour period. It's good, legal pay, and I can use the money to pay off the credit-card debt I created while I lived with my folks in Ohio and like a bum, refused to work. Of course, I was sulking about Andrea dumping me and having to possibly leave Denver for an extended period of time. But you softboys out there know how tough it is when another woman dumps us because of who we are. Whine, Whine, I know.
  • I am writing again, and in a focused manner.
  • I was invited to join a soccer club: Samsung High School Club. I get my uniform and equipment next Sunday. It's too bad I am injured and won't be playing again for two weeks, but I am happy becoming a more significant member of my community.
  • I have made several friends already. Jang Jinho and Kim Sooyoung are great folks. I am learning Korean quicker than anybody expected. But I have good help. I hope with these two I can create lasting friendships.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Phone Home

I will have a phone by the end of this week.

If I was able to sign a multi-year contract, I could benefit from all sorts of great deals. Unfortunately, my Visa is year-to-year; I can only sign a one-year deal. Whereas my monthly bill is tiny in comparison to US telecoms, my initial start-up fee is kind of high as is the kind of cheap phone I can purchase.

At least I can call: for help, for directions, for conversation. And I can use a nifty software that will help me learn to translate all of the Hangul I see everywhere and am learning to read, but still cannot understand.

My feet are killing me from Sunday's football matches. I played too much on Sunday--3 games. Moreover, I am breaking in new shoes. Ouch.

New photos to come.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Boston Hardcore in Seoul

Yes. Internet is working fine. Enjoyed baseball last night. Pictures to come.

I will head out to Hongdae tonight to see some great Boston hardcore! Can't believe an act like this is coming to Seoul. They are even playing a show outside of Seoul--from what I can tell, very rare.

Say hi to me if you're there. I'll be the bald guy in the St Pauli tshirt with a big smile.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

limited internet access

If you've been attempting to read about my Seoul adventures, I apologize for the lack of posting during my first ten days here.  I have little to no Internet access at the moment, and for another week to ten days.

Until then, here's a quick summary:
  • I have 2o sections of English classes at Samsung High School.  800 students.  They all think I am swell; they're shy; they're wonderful.  I love the school I am at.  I am the first foreign teacher and they are treating me extremely well.
  • The recruiting agency that brought me to the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education (which brought me to Seoul) screwed me and I am being paid 50% less than I should be paid this first month.  Not worth bitching too much about it since I am well paid and will only suffer this first paycheck.  Some teachers come to Korea and end up in far worse situations than partial pay for their first month in town.
  • I play soccer with my students and have played with a local club team.  Games are played on hard-packed sandlots.  Very challenging.  But I am a skilled player at my position and it appears I am welcome to play for many of the clubs in my district.
  • Because I can hike, play soccer, and teach in Gwanak-gu, I have yet to really explore Seoul.  On the other hand (unlike many foreign teachers,) I have been able to fully immerse myself in Korean culture.  Not that most teachers don't want to be here, but most teachers do spend much free time with other English-speaking foreigners and in the foreigner-centered districts in Seoul.  My teaching and sports schedule has me hanging with Koreans almost everyday and evening.  I am hoping this will help me excel at Korean language study.
  • I like the neighborhood I live in.  Sillim-dong is filled with students both university and those studying at law school prep academies.  Plenty of young, active people.
  • A good sauna (sow-na, is how the Koreans pronounce it) is just down the street.  Nothing like a Korean public bath after a hard day working.
just a few notes.  i am leaving for home.  soon i will be posting daily and uploading photos.

until then...

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Gwanak-gu, Sillim-dong

I am sitting in my favorite cafe--"Caffe Good," appropriately enough--and reflecting on my first week in Seoul.

I have enjoyed my time at the public high school.  Samsung High School is a co-ed school with almost 1,000 students.  First through Third grade--equivalent to 10-12 grade in the U.S.  I will be teaching many, many 50 minute sections for all First and Second Graders.  I believe that I have something like 22 sections and 800 students.  I am busy, but I really wouldn't have it any other way.  My life has revolved around teaching and writing, and studying, since 1999.  I don't see why my time in Seoul should be any different.

My co-teachers--5 Korean, English teachers--are very accommodating.  My students are very affectionate.  I am the first foreign teacher to work at Samsung High School; I am sure this fact explains my (at times, spectacularly) warm reception. 

Because I experienced two months of consistent delays in my Visa application process, I arrived two weeks late and missed both orientation weeks that the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education (SMOE) scheduled for new teachers.  Consequently, I am in Seoul with no native English-speaking acquaintances to speak of.  Though, I do have three friends in Seoul working for hagwons.  I am independent enough to handle the awkward realities involving my temporary illiteracy and more than tenacious enough to insist I get what I need from impatient cab drivers and annoyed clerks, but I do wish I had the opportunity to meet others working in public schools, if for nothing more than acquiring an instant social community within which to share my inevitable frustrations.

I am off to meet a new friend.  Only my second social engagement since arriving.  I'll be watching rugby in Itaewon with Kevin and an unknown, sarcastic Australian.  My kind of Saturday afternoon.

Koreans are celebrating Chusok this weekend.  I don't teach again until Wedensday.  I am going to explore Seoul as much as posisble.

I feel great about my choice to come to Seoul, and happy to finally get this blog going.  I will post often.  Enjoy and comment and, if in Seoul, let's meet.