Sunday, June 27, 2010

My first bike ride

Honestly, I'm pretty sure that the cash for my new bike is the best money I've spent in, well... maybe ever.

Today, I headed out of my apartment and made my way to school to test a route for tomorrow. After that, I found my way to the stream near my house (Jungnang Cheon) and went south towards the Han River, cut West once I hit where the Cheonggye-Cheon stream feeds into the Han and rode through downtown.

I can't say how long it all took me. I was ultimately on my way to meet friends near Sinchon/Hongdae and I took my time - stopping off at the Cheonggye-Cheon Museum, grabbing lunch and coffee on the way.

Rather than riding all the way back home tonight, I rode to City Hall and hopped the #1 line to my place to catch the second half of the England/Germany game. It seems England requires a new batch of goal-keepers.

Anyway, I love my bike. I am still waiting on my order for the telescopic seat which will help with my long legs - my legs don't quite fully extend on this thing, but I got around just fine. The speed of the 6 gears, the sturdiness of it, the quickness of the fold and the resulting portability of it can't be beat.

It's pretty fantastic. It's only been one day of riding and I feel like I'm experiencing the city in a new way. Though I know a good portion of Seoul fairly well, most of my journeying across it has been underground. It's nice to be able to make my way by bike, stop in a restaurant and coffee shop, tuck my bike under a table, and then head home on a crowded subway and not have it be an issue.

All in all, I went about 15 kilometers to Hongdae and small portion of the same distance on the way back. An odometer would probably be a good idea.

Damn - I love this thing. I'm selling my car when I get back to Canada this summer.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Today's Best Story

Direct form the mind of a grade 9 student...

one day, homer simpson was called the obama which was the american president. obama is the earth spoke to him for the first time that thought was able to go to the universe that was honored by the thing and went. He spoke that it was "D'oh!" this. However, he listened to a story and I left promptly to the universe on jun 3rd that there were a lot of doughnuts by a spaceship.

This reads so much like the product of an extreme idiot savant, though I challenge anyone to make any kind of translated sense out of this. Always entertaining.

Monday, June 21, 2010

My bike!

I must say, I’m pretty excited about Friday.

Over 2 months ago now, my lady joined me on a bike-shopping adventure when I was misguided and looking to buy a Stryda folding bike. I knew I wanted a folding bike to keep in my apartment and to be portable enough to carry on the subway, and the Strida looked like it would fit the bill. I loved the uniqueness of the design and especially the no-hassle maintenance factor: instead of a greased chain, you have a kevlar belt which, if it’s anything like the Dark Knight’s armour, is pretty near indestructible.

As it turned out though, the Strida just wasn’t what I was looking for. It was too short for my long legs and I actually wouldn’t be able to turn the handlebars properly unless I stopped peddling. Not only that, but good as it is to toodle-about the park on, it’s nothing for long or even medium rides around town.

So, I went home a little discouraged, until I did a little more research online. The main criteria for me investing in a bike here are:

1) It needs to be portable. Though I’m lucky enough to live very close to a stream which leads right to the Han River pathways, I will likely want to cart my bike onto the subway from time to time at the end of a long ride.

2) Portability also factors-in to the ability for me to take it home to Canada when I return in the summers, and when I return to complete my university degree. I know it will come in handy in Vancouver when riding down the hill from Simon Fraser.

3) It has to be legitimate enough as a folding-bike to be solid, comfortable, and durable for the long haul.

Overall, I decided that if I am going to get a bike, it’s going to be a good one that I can take with me and keep and use for years. At this point in my life, I have a hard time throwing money at “things” that are more disposable than worth holding onto in the long run. That leads to more expensive purchases, but they are fewer and further-between, so it all evens out.

Anyway, a month later, I went back with my lady and ordered a Brompton. Here’s my bike:

I ordered the M6-L in arctic blue. The “M” refers to the “M-shaped” handle-bars. The straight ones might look prettier, but I’m tall, and I know that for long rides, the higher handle-bars will help a long-spined rider such as myself. The “6” refers to the number of gears. 6 is the highest number that you can get on a Brompton and they will do me just fine for where I’ll be going. Along the river is mostly level anyway. I went for the telescopic seat, which will help for my height and leg-extension. I also ordered the front pillar to be equipped with dynamo lighting and front luggage bracket. The rear will have a rack in case rear luggage is something I want in the future.

Anyway, it’s a beautiful thing. The bike comes from the UK and you’re welcome to read more about its merits here. Because I can't see myself ever buying a car in Korea, my bike is an investment, but a worthwhile one. This is something I’m going to use for commuting to work each day (unless there is an ass-load of snow on the ground) and I know that I’m going to be heading-out for evening and weekend rides whenever possible. The beautiful part is that it's light, sturdy as hell, and folds-up small enough to take easily on an airplane, in a car, or on the subway or a bus without pissing people off. You can watch a dude folding his Brompton here.

For pretty-much the last month, whenever I’ve been lost in thought, and someone has inquired as to why, the answer has usually been “my bike.” I’m like little Ralphie wanting his Official Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two-Hundred-Shot Range Model Air Rifle!
The bike itself has arrived at the shop and I’m only waiting on my seat to arrive.

I’ll be heading in after work on Friday night to pick it up, and ride it home. When I lived in Calgary, my young adult summers would include an almost daily ride through Fish Creek Provincial Park, and a stop near the creek with some good reading – more often than not, Mark Twain. Still haven’t read The Prince and the Pauper, so maybe that’s first on my Korea river biking reading list.

In other news, I hope North Korea sends Portugal home tonight. There’s no way Ronaldo and crew will beat Brazil. Fingers-crossed. Oh, and France is having a colossal melt-down. Interesting stuff.

Saturday, June 19, 2010


It must be the World Cup because I have a golden cock on my heart.

This is of course courtesy of my good friend, Ed, who left my sweater on a subway by accident a few months ago and decided to pay me back by buying me a France soccer jersey. Of course I was originally going for the home jersey of Les Blues, but they have had a tendency to add weird shite to their jerseys in recent years. This year is no different. The cock theme can indeed be taken too far. I'll wait for the next world cup and hope they make their home jersey as classy as this year's away.

As I mentioned last post, France needs a minor miracle. My math was off - France needs to win and Mexico needs to lose. The combined goal differential between the two countries in these two games needs to be +5 in France's favour. Uruguay can win 2-0 and France 3-0. It's not impossible, but it's unlikely. Thankfully, Uruguay and Mexico won't be playing for the tie as none of them want to face Argentina in the next round - they have a reason to fight for victory. Should it look like an impossibility, I'll hope South Africa can win one in front of their home fans.

Anyway, I'll be wearing my away jersey in support, and then will switch to my Korean T-shirt on Tuesday. I'm going to be tired, but it'll be worth it.

Tuesday: Work / essay class / Korean class / Late dinner / Catan with friends to pass the time / France vs South Africa at 11 PM

Wednesday: 3:30am S. Korea vs. Nigeria at City Hall / work / After-school class / sleep

I love the World Cup.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Game #2

Well, I’m up. Just watched France's World Cup hopes shattered by Mexico. I have to say – though I don’t follow professional soccer throughout the year (there are too many professional leagues throughout the world for me to really get invested), I, like most others, get completely wrapped-up in the FIFA World Cup. I’ve been watching at least two games a night, and when the first one starts at 8:30pm and the last at 3:30am, I’m kind of in trouble.

My team is France – partly because my last name connects me to it in a round-about way, and partly because of my love for Zinedine Zidane and Thierry Henry. For the 2006 cup in Germany, I was elated to see France go through to the final, and devastated to see them lose to the classless Italian team. Still, I take from that game the personal honor of Zidane’s choice to get red-carded in the last international match of his career to defend his family’s honor. If some low-life jackass called my Algerian sister “a terrorist whore”, I’d lay him out on the world’s biggest stage as well. Italy won the game in a shoot-out, but they were also outed (again) as the team with the least sportsmanship.

Sadly, it looks like France is on the way out this year. They need a miracle – two actually. First, they need to beat the host South Africans by a 4 goal margin (France hasn’t scored yet this tournament), and they need Uruguay to do the same to Mexico. Merde. I guess this is karma biting them back – this is what happens when your leading players sleep with underage prostitutes and you earn a birth in the finals by eliminating Ireland with a hand-ball.

Oh, well… I’ll still watch and find other heroes and villains.

Speaking of which, this is my first time living in a country that is absolutely mad about soccer and actually has an entry in the finals. It’s a madhouse here on game day – literally millions of red-clad fans hit the streets of Seoul to support their team. I decided to head down to Gwanghwamun plaza with a few friends – just in front of the statue of Admiral Shin – and watch the South Koreans play Argentina.

Well, the Red Devils lost 4-1, though one Argentina goal was certainly off-side and another was an “own-goal” off a Korean defender. The South Koreans were out-played, but they still sit in second place due to goal differential with one game remaining. I plan on being there at 3:30am on Wednesday morning when Korea plays Nigeria. Assuming an Argentina win against Greece, South Korea will only need a tie, but we’ll see.

It would be nice to see South Korea go through. The spirit in this city is amazing for this game. Everything just shuts-down for the big party. It’s hard to explain for those that haven’t been to Seoul, but for those that have, imagine City Hall over-flowing all the way to the Sejeong Arts Center with fans watching on big screens hanging from the glass towers that line the streets. There is also a huge area at the Han River Park set-up with screens. Tens of thousands in front of COEX for the SE crowd, and the entire World Cup stadium is full, too. That’s what’s needed in a city of over 10 million, I suppose. Itaewon, too isn’t a bad place to take in the games. I was there last Saturday for S. Korea’s 2-0 victory over Greece and it was a carnival atmosphere. I’m usually not a big Itaewon fan, but during the World Cup, as it’s the most foreigner-populated are in Seoul, it was like being at the World Cup, itself – lots of flags and lots of fun.

Though South Korea lost, last night was one of the most exciting sporting events I’ve ever attended. I’ll be cheering for the Red Devils to make it through to the round of 16 just so the party can continue here for a while longer. Friendly faces abound. I was wearing my 다시한번 대한민국 (“One more time, Korea!”) T-shirt yesterday and it was a big hit at school. On my way to the game downtown, a man rode past me on a bike and gave me the thumbs-up before adding: “USA – fighting!” basically the Korean way of saying “Go, USA!” Everyone here assumes that most foreigners are American. On the way home, a woman approached me on the subway and was able to say “How can I thank you enough for cheering for our country?” She really wouldn’t let it go. When she learned that I was from Canada, she wondered why my country didn’t have a team in the finals. I could have explained how it has something to do with Owen Hargreaves loving his father more than his mother, but she wouldn’t have understood, I’m sure.

Anyway – good times, but I’m tired. I’ve got my fingers crossed for a France miracle, but I'm more realistically excited about the possibility of South Korea in the second round. Lots of good soccer left to be played.

An interesting note – despite the recent political/military turmoil between the North and South in recent days, most people here seem to be pulling for the North Korean team to make it out of their group. They are unlikely to, being that they are (perhaps ironically) in the “group of death” this year along with Portugal and Brazil, but I still find it interesting from a cultural perspective that my South Korean co-workers are really hoping the North advances. North Korea hasn’t been in the World Cup finals for decades, so the fact that both Koreas are there is, I suppose, pretty special. People here seem to be able to easily set-aside political differences for now, and are able to separate sport and state. Everyone’s using words like “brother” and “our people” when the subject arises.

Interesting - and just slightly more so that the wealthy young couple that fell asleep drunk on the subway last night and vomited into each other's laps. The old gentleman beside them lay his newspaper down on the ground to soak-up the bile and the lady across the aisle offered the bottle of water I encouraged here to give to the girl. I'm pretty sure she threw-up on a new Louis Vuitton purse (still in the shopping bag), and I'm pretty sure it was real. They'll have a fun morning.

Monday, June 14, 2010

The Acoustic Vaginas of a Life Unshapely

It’s been a while. As per usual, there is a lot to write about and little time to write with. Part of the reason is the bout of marking that I’ve imposed upon myself in the last couple of weeks.

As has been well-documented by now, I teach all of the students in my school, which allows me to see them only once every two weeks. That’s over 1100 students this year. So, in a likely misguided attempt to “know” my 330 grade 3 (grade 9 to those back home) students, I asked them to write a paragraph for me to grade.
I did this for two reasons:

1) Other than the speaking tests that I am to give my students twice each term (four times a year), nothing my students do in my class really counts toward their grades – this is evidenced by their all-too-often apathy as soon as they cross the threshold into the English-Only Room. This little assignment might clue them into the fact that I am doing my best to pay attention to each student with the time I am able to devote to each.

2) Since newspaper articles and questions based on them are what our speaking tests are about this month, I figured it would be fun to get them to each write a brief article. It’s a chance to be creative in a second language, which for some is just what’s needed.

So, the assignment was to write a short newspaper article about a recent or upcoming event. In an attempt to prompt the less imaginative or motivated students, I gave the “Who?”, “Where?” and “When?” of their stories, and left them to come up with the “What?”, “Why?”, and “How?”

Students chose one card at random from each of the three piles:

“Who?” (Beyonce, Obama, Gwyneth Paltrow, Lee Myung-Bak, G-Dragon)

“Where?” (Our middle school, Myeong-dong, the International Space Station, Everland, Family Mart, my house)

“When?” (Chuseok, Christmas, last night, next month, Buddha’s Birthday, Children’s Day)

Some of the answers were very well thought out and fun – showing a desire to do work outside of class time and experiment with the language. Others, looked like this:

May 20th. Today is a birthday of the Buddha. This day Beyonce comes to korea, and she played it, Audiences were enthusiastically the acoustic vaginas as soon as Beyonce danced. And monks will dance it according to Beyonce’s dances. Audiences laughed. And it seemed to be the “blown-eyed girls” which was a singer, and baby monks did it, and they liked as soon as Beyonse posed of the Buddha.

One might raise obvious questions from such an article. One: don’t grade 9 students know to capitalize a country’s name? Don’t they know not to start a sentence with “And”? Oh, and WHAT THE HELL IS AN ACOUSTIC VAGINA?!!! That was either some serious misuse of a dictionary, or some oddly intended subversion in the latest issue of the Sindobong Sentinel.

Speaking of misuse of a dictionary, check out the sad misfortune that befalls Mrs. Chris Martin on Christmas Eve…

Last night Christmas Gwyneth Paltrow is soju eat. She is guarantee stand, so guarantee stand. She is life unshapely. She is a debt run-up - a score. So she is life unshapely. She is family mart in the sleep, so policeman is a arrest.

Yes, there were some good efforts, too – and they’ll be awarded accordingly, but these are infinitely more quotable.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

I like sports, and I don't care who knows!

It looks like the Sindobong Middle School 2010 NHL Stanley Cup Pizza Playoffs is about to draw to a close, and it's been an exciting process. I do realize that trying to get my Korean grade 9 students to invest in Ice Hockey was a bit of a stretch, and really more for my own entertainment than theirs, but it's actually been a lot of fun.

All grade 9 homerooms chose a playoff team to follow, and the class whose team gets the cup, gets pizza during our last class together this semester. It's down to class 3 (Chicago) and class 10 (Philadelphia), and it's been grand. Each day as students enter my class, I play big screen highlight from, and I've been encouraging students to check the website and follow their teams. Even in round one, I was pleasantly surprised to have students come up to me in the hallway and say things like: "Teacher! last night, Bancouber is win!" Thankfully, I didn't have to hear THOSE exact words beyond the second round, but it was very cool to have students checking the playoff bracket outside of my room every day and trash-talking each other on game-day.

Hoping for the Blackhawks in 7 - just 'cause I want them to do it at home, though a victory in Philadelphia would be equally cool.

In other sporting news, the FIFA World Cup gets underway in just a couple of days. This will be the first time I will be living in a participating country, and of course, Korea is mad for soccer. They actually have a pretty decent chance in their group - quite a few writers predicting them to finish just behind Argentina in their group. Regardless, I plan on entering a truly overwhelming Sea of Red at the front lawn of Seoul City Hall on game a day a couple of times to watch the Korean Red Devils do their best.

Perhaps because of my last name, perhaps because I appreciate Zidane's honour even in the face of a disgraced finals loss in '06, and because I love Henry despite a hand-ball, I will be cheering for France first, followed by Korea, and then leaving a little room in my heart for England, and then whatever team forms a compelling story.

May the best team win, and may that team not be Italy.