Saturday, April 30, 2011

Soccer in the Rain

I met-up today with an old friend (Andy) and some of his new friends to check out an FC Seoul / Jeju United rematch of the K-League championship final from last season. Good that one of Andy's friends is a dead-ringer for a young Mark Hamill (see photo below).

Sadly, for Jeju fans, the game ended in another 2-1 score favouring Seoul FC. Boooo! I'm not really invested in K-League soccer, but this has been my 4th game - two in Suwon and one now two in Seoul. I have yet to attend a game where my team wins... unless I was too goofy on Hite-uh to remember a Suwon victory. I cheer for Suwon Bluewings and now Jeju United - the former being the representatives from my first Korean home, and the latter being brave enough to have fluorescent orange as their main colour, and zany enough to have Jeju oranges as mascots. I also think they were robbed of a championship last year - so they also have my pity.

That's as far as I think I'm going to go with my K-League soccer fandemonium, though I do enjoy going to the games.

Due to the rain, the stadium was nearly empty, and I can't say it was the most thrilling match I'd ever seen. I was glad though to have a chance to meet some good new people, who really should attend another game in the future. To see what a K-League match with a decent atmosphere looks like, check out the highlights of last year's final.

Friday, April 29, 2011

I guess I missed it

The Royal Wedding of the Duke & Dutchess of Cambridge was today... or yesterday. I'm not sure really how it matches-up with the Korean timezone.

Anyway, I watched a 4 minute highlight reel on BBC's homepage. It looked like fun.

I was 5 years old when the Duke and Dutchess of Wales got married. I don't remember too much, but I remember watching the wedding from a hotel room somewhere in the States (Montana) with my mom, dad, and sister. Sandy had a paper doll book where you could dress-up the royal couple in various garb - including a polo suit for Charles, and discreet swimwear for England's Rose.

I think I was playing with a new Tonka truck set that my parents bought for me at a local department store. The truck had a horse trailer with two removable horses. Sandy and I hooked-up the horses with shoe laces to pull the trailer and we put the overly tall and two-dimensional Duke & Dutchess in the horse trailer to be pulled-through the shag rug for their royal wedding procession recreation.

I'm remembering this for the first time today.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Da Vinchi and a Moon Bear

Well... whaddya know? This is my 400th post.

This past week has been all mid-term exams. That means no teaching for me, but a lot of essay-marking and lesson-planning. I'm kind of "pulling an Andy" (he will take it as a compliment) with my next lesson for my grade 3s and making a two day activity plan based on a popular Korean reality show called "One Night, Two Days". I wish I could have made it more like the show with missions and challenges, but there's really only so much time. The idea came about as most do - while flipping through the textbook a while back, I came across an upcoming lesson regarding travelling in Korea - something I've done a fair amount of in recent years. I'll write more about the lesson in due time, but for now let me just say that it was time-intensive, but hopefully fun and engaging for the students. If anything, all of the printing, cutting, laminating, and cutting again gave me something to do while I was sitting at my desk between bouts of essay marking and while listening to intense NHL playoff games online.

As it was an exam day yesterday, I got out of work early and headed down to Samgakji to meet the rabbit for an afternoon suprise. My coupon-loving girl has a knack for finding cool stuff to do and see as well as for finding the best times in which to do them.

One of the exhibition halls at The War Memorial of Korea has been showing a travelling exhibit called "Da Vinchi, the Genius" for a couple of months now - I first heard about it from some friends who stayed with me back in February. Well, the exhibition closes on Sunday, so I'm sorry I can't use this as an outlet to advertise for people living in Seoul. If you haven't seen it already, I'm going to assume that you shouldn't bother this weekend - it's going to be mad-crowded and that's no fun.

To be honest, I found the exhibition for the most part to be a bit underwhelming, if informative. We all know that Da Vinchi was almost as prolific an inventor as he was a painter, so it made sense that probably 75% of the exhibit was dedicated to his inventions. It was very cool to see that so many of his drawings had been built in life-sized 3D wood, metal, leather, and canvas sculpture. Some really inspired stuff - especially surounding aquatics and flight. This is a wild and crazy suit designed for underwater exploration - complete with bamboo tubes and a smallish diving bell.

I was disappointed however to see that all of the reconstructions were not to be touched. Most of the magic of the creations of Da Vinchi, I would imagine, comes through in their movement. I understand not wanting wee tots cranking some cogs and wheels and taking flight through the museum on a precursor to the modern helocopter, but it would have been nice to have had staff there to demonstrate some of the inventions in use - or at least partial use. All of the visually impressive structures at the exhibit ultimately were no more impressive than the paper their plans were printed on after the 25th sign warning you not to touch them.

There was a fun hands-on area though where you could build a smallish version of Da Vinchi's "Emergency Bridge" - using simple notches in the wood, the gravity and stress holds the piece together. Pretty cool stuff - even if it took some overcomplicated effort from the rabbit and I to complete ours.

The real centerpiece of the museum for me, and I imagine for most, was the 25% dedicated to The Mona Lisa - more specifically, the 2006 "multispectral scanning" of the painting by French photographer, Pascal Cotte. The scans revealed a great deal about the painting's original colours as well as the various attempts to clean and preserve the original work. There was some very cool stuff discovered through the process, including a tiny orange spec of paint that had been (presumably) accidentally added to the painting's background during a move, evidence of eyebrows that may have been made from more organic materials and had long since dissolved into the rest of the paint, and closer looks at damage sustained through the years from various crazies looking to make their mark on a masterpiece with thrown acid or a thrown rock.

...and this is the result of the painting's exposure to Captain Howdy when it was kept in the attic of a three-story brownstone near Georgetown University in the late '70s.

Perhaps the most impressive feat of Cotte's is that he was able to determine what the orignal pigments would have looked like upon completion of the painting. The eyes, the hands, the smile, and more are all projected into large format photographs for the viwer to see how time has changed the painting. I offer these comparisons of the background over The Mona Lisa's left shoulder. I had never imagined that there was once any true blue in the painting. The painting as it appears today is on the left, the original colour is in the middle, and the right shows something that I'm not smart enough to describe to you properly. Looking at the painting this way, it does change things, doesn't it?

I'm really glad to have gone. Every time I think about getting a chance to go to Paris to see the famous painting, I shudder at the thought of being rushed through a room with hundreds of others as bulbs flash and the lady stares out from bullet-proof glass. I do get it, but it doesn't sound like fun. I don't know - maybe it is. I will say though that I'm pretty sure I learned a hell of a lot more about The Mona Lisa at this exhibit in Seoul than I ever could at the Louvre. The best part was that waiting until a weekday afternoon to go to the museum allowed us to roam through the exhibit almost on our own.

After the museum, it was haircut time in Itaewon. They still try to make me look vaguely Korean, but the rabbit was on-hand this time to verbally wrestle the K-pop intent out of them. I get my hair cut twice a year - maybe three times, so I don't want to look like a racially and culturally confused potser when I do.

After that, I convinced the rabbit to join me at Craftworks, a great little microbrewery just South of Namsan. It's weird for someone like the rabbit to be in her own city and to be at a foreigner-owned pub, surrounded by foreigners who are listening to foreign music, saying foreign things, and drinking foreign beer. Really, prior to meeting me, the rabbit rarely ventured into foreigner-frequented areas of Seoul. Truthfully, rarely have I. But I was proud of her for giving it a shot. We had a good time - she sampled the more Hite-esque "Namsan Pure Pilsner" and I tried out the new "Jirisan Moon Bear India Pale Ale". The rabbit tried a few sips as well and was intrigued by how un-Cass-uh like it was.

Each Craftworks beer is named for a Korean mountain. Jirisan went a little bit further to honour the Moon Bear (Asiatic Black Bear), an animal which is (controversially) still kept captive on bear farms in South Korea where its bile is harvested for its "medicinal purposes". There are herbal replacements available, but for some, there's nothing like the old way of keeping a large mammal in a cage small enough where it can't turn around or stand up and jabbing a hollow straw into its abdomen for 10 years until its muscles have atrophied and the animal needs to be put down and probably have its fur turned into a purse or jacket lining. What better way to cambat that nagging rhumatism? Protest groups have sprouted up hoping to change the fate of these bears. A friend here in Seoul is a prominent member of The Beat Truth, which seems to be doing a lot of good work in this area. Go to the site and check it out.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Stevie Y from on High

Just a quick thank you to the Tampa Bay Lightning. Having Steve Yzerman as your GM helps to speed the forgiveness for breaking Calgary hearts back in the '04 cup run. I don't mind seeing the Crosbow-less and Gino-less Penguins knocked-out in the first round. I wouldn't want to see just how badly destroyed they would be by the Caps in round two.

Also, according to the 2011 NHL Pizza Playoffs at my middle school, Tampa Bay's game seven win represents my best chance in the East for saving some coin on the Stanley Cup pizza prize. My Wings and Mr. Kim's Bolts are the the only two non-student teams remaining. It's an unlikely final match-up, but I would love to be in the position to buy either Mr. Kim or myself a nice cheese pizza as opposed to 6 pizzas for a group of starving students.

Anyway, for now - go, Preds!

Well... damn.

Honestly, watching the Chicago Blackhawks come back from a 3 games to 0 round one deficit to Vancouver only to lose in overtime in game 7 really stings.

I'm not really a 'Hawks fan, but it's hard not to become one after this series. The amount of heart they showed after being down as they were was inspiring stuff. Honestly, Bolland, Toews, and Crawford (not to mention Duncan Keith) have become names I will cheer for from here on out. To me, their performances and leadership in this series were truly legendary, at least as legendary as you can be in an opening round series loss. It's a shame to not see them continue in the post season.

So, why do I cheer against the Canucks with such hostility? It's pretty simple - they are a division rival. They have been lazy and cocky, and it's a lot of fun to watch a gutless and lazy giant fall.

I know, I know - in the end they bested the Blackhawks when it mattered most, but it could have gone either way. In the end, the Blackhawks out-scored Vancouver 21-16, and lost 3 of their games by a single goal. There are few things in sport as inspiring as the mental fortitude shown by the Blackhawks to comeback as they did. It hits me like a tragedy that they lost.

I really don't want Vancouver to win - even as an observer, I'm like the Daniel Plainview of the Northwest Division fan base, "I have a competition in me. I want no one else to succeed." That's just the truth. Of course, if it can't be my hometown team, then it may as well be the Red Wings who still have a piece of my heart despite the retirement of one Stevie Y. As for the Canucks, the Oilers, and the once and future Jets, they can all follow roads to glorious failure as far as I'm concerned. If anything, I'm going to look forward to at least one more round of cheering against the Canucks. I really don't get the whole "cheer for the Canadian teams" crap. That kind of nonsense is for non-passionate NHL fans, and really - nationalism is what the Olympics are for.

Interestingly though - the Canucks look strong, and there are some eerie similarities between their year and the one champion year for the Flames - both winning the President's trophy during the regular season, both winning in overtime in game 7 to move on from round one, and... well that's where the similarities end for me. I don't see leadership on that team.

Just watch what Jordin Tootoo does to the twins when Nashville comes to the West Coast - I have a feeling it won't be pretty.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Baskin Robbins in Bundang

...actually, there are probably approximately 35 Baskin Robbins in Bundang, but we found one close to the rabbit's younger sister's place. Her husband is a salary man extraordinaire, so he wasn't able to join us, but last night was a chance for me to see two thirds of a rabbit family portion that I rarely get to see.

The reasons is that Bundang is about two hours from my house. I like the area. To live there would be expensive as hell, and I'm pretty sure that I wouldn't fit in with 99% of the places inhabitants in terms of my annual income, but as an area to walk-about, a lot of it is nice. There seems to be more green there for one thing, and there are some great areas with a very European feel - cafes, wine bars and such - that are worth a visit. It's just too damn far for it to be a regular thing. In fact, I believe this was my first time back in Bundang since living in Suwon back in '07/'08. Things change there at the same rate as everywhere else in Seoul.

But, the point was to visit the little sister and her little guy. The dude is attending a preschool with foreign Science, Math, and English teachers. Holy crap - a preschool! Well, at least it helped ease his fears upon seeing me for the first time in almost two years. He's a good natured little fellow, and I have to give him props for being in pretty good spirits after missing his nap to accomodate our afternoon visit. The dry ice from our ice cream purchase was a great source of entertainment, but apparently his lazy-ass foreign Science teacher hasn't yet covered sublimation of C02. Get on it!

Anyway, thanks for the delicious homemade pizza and fruit plate - the latter of which, I would argue, should become a staple snack in Canadian homes as it is here in Korea. Traditionally, when Canadians have tiny forks out for guests, there are tiny sausages on the end. In Korea, it's apples and oranges.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Listen Carefully

"Alas... ear wax!" - Albus Dumbledore

We all have it, but I had a nasty little ball rolling around in my head for the last couple of weeks. It felt like my marble was loose, and it was. Yesterday, I swung-by a nearby clinic and, in a two minute span, I was lead into a large room where a doctor and two nurses sat me back in a chair, stuck a tiny camera into my head and projected a monster onto a monitor for all to see. Fear not, dear reader - the above image is not of my ear - it's a google image search revealing a person with more ear canal problems than I ever hope to have.

What came out of my ear was actually really small and kind of underwhelming, though I could have used it to take an eye out with the aid of a CO2 cannister.

Anyway, I was inspired to finally go to a clinic as last week I had been showing ear wax removal videos to my grade 3 students as they come into class. These things are at once horrific and fascinating. Tiny cameras should really never go near the human body - at least what they find should rarely be posted on youtube. But in an attempt to get my students to listen carefully during our speaking test review class, I wrote the words "Listen Carefully" on the white board, and had this playing as students entered the room. Tell me it doesn't, at first glance, look at least partially like a live birth.

Most were rightfully revolted by the whole thing, but once they realized what it was, the majority of students were hooked. During the 4 and a half minute video, some classes sat back and watched with morbid fascination, while others cheered and then moaned with disappointment when the massive mound was partially removed and then released back into the cavity. When it finally all came out, some students honestly applauded.

Mission accomplished.

Ki-yeon's sweet baby cakes

I'll make this short and sweet - just like this sweet babay. This one's for ma and pa who had the pleasure of meeting Ki-yeon on their journey to Korea in the fall of 2009. She gave my parents an expertly guided tour of Seoul's main palace, Gyeongbuk-gung, during which we learned frightening things - such as why live chickens were kept outside the King's bed chambers when he was enjoying the ins and outs of royal life.

Anyway, we had our first visit with Ki-yeon, and her sweet baby, Na-yeong. Babies are all lovely, and this one was no different. She had a lovely countenance about her though, and I'm pretty sure she's smarter than she looks.

We were also happy to get Ki-yeon out of the house for a dinner with friends - something she'd been missing of late. Anyway, mom and dad, she asked about you and she misses you both. I don't think she'll ever forget our day of Ddeok-bokki with awkwardly strewn gas hoses and toilet paper at the table.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Happy Easter

As I'm not a Christian fellow, Easter hasn't meant much to me since I out-grew the chocolate egg thing. I suppose I haven't really outgrown that, but you know what I mean. I did always like the ones with the blue foil wrapping the best.

Anyway, back in Canada, Easter marked the Spring signal to gather as a family. In that sense, it's like a (hopefully) warmer weather Christmas. Time with family is valuable, and I miss it.

That being said, I had completely forgotten that it was Easter today, until the rabbit sent me an Easter bunny photo on facebook. So there you have it - without the Cadbury company to remind us secular folk, how would we ever know.

Anyway, happy Easter to those who celebrate Spring for whatever reason they do.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

A day in Daejeon...

At the Moon handbook of South Korea (and probably any other travel guide will tell you), there isn't much to see in Daejeon. As I mentioned before, it's a city of of 1.4 million people, but then again every other South Korean city seems to have at least twice that much. There is the fact that Daejeon is "sister cities" with Calgary, so that's something. There is also an aging fair ground from a World Expo in 1993 that might be worth checking out for those who like rusting things. Our host, himself, lamented that here there are few interesting local places to take his foreign visitors who appear with some regularity in his line of work.

Anyway, despite the lack of "tourist attractions", Daejeon is second only to Seoul in terms of recent population growth. The reasons being that there has long been an initiative to move a number of government and corporate headquarters to the West/Central city - partly to slow the out of control density in the capital city as there is much more land available for development in Daejeon. Daejeon is mostly new, and chock-full of people who would survive in an Atlas Shrugged world. Here live the intellectual elite - the people who went to university for 10+ years in order to be exponentially smarter than you or I. The next time one of my apple products breaks-down, I'll drive down to Daejeon and ask any dude on the street corner to help me out. Chance are he'll speak perfect English and will be able to rebuild a hard-drive with any pen drawn from his pocket-protector.

Basically, Daejeon is kind of the Brasilia of Korea.

Anyway, we had a lovely time in Daejeon and it was because we were there to visit the rabbit's older sister and her family. We were treated to a delicious homemade lunch of Vietnamese wraps. In-mook, the rabbit's brother-in-law, had just returned from a business trip to Vietnam and had brought back with him not only a hankering for some SE Asian yummage, but also brough back a bag of "cat poo coffee". I hadn't heard of this before, but basically, cat's (or civets if we're being technical) eating coffee berries, sharting out the seeds and then offering them up for collection, roasting and brewing is a great way to add that extra something to your cup of morning joe. It was a bit of challenge to make out exactly what was going on, but he did have a shrink wrapped bag with him. They told me they had served me Starbucks, but what do I know? They were all a-giggle.

From there, it was off to my first Korean-style variety concert. In-mook had been given tickets through his company to the concert through his work, and was happy to take all of us, four adults and two wee tots, to the afternoon show.

Variety is indeed the spice of life, and you couldn't ask for much more musical variety than was on display here. The Daejeon Mentor Orchestra offered 4 numbers ranging from Beethoven's 5th to a Louis Prima arrangement of "Sing, Sing, Sing" and scattered among the two halves of the program were some very impressive vocal performances as well - the most notable among them being...

1) Louis Choi - a counter-tenor (male who sings in the soprano range) who was as dramatic as hell and nailed every note. I tried in vein for about an hour to think who he looked like, and it finally came to me: Michelle Brandenburg. So there you are, Michelle. There is an extremely effeminate and Korean version of yourself nailing the high notes right here on the peninsula.

2) Choi Jeong-won - One of the most prominent musical stage performers in Korea. She's played leads in the Korean versions of Chicago, RENT, The Producers, and Mama Mia!. She won the crowd over easily and was a clear example of someone doing exactly what she should be doing. Inspiring to watch someone enjoy her life so much.

3) Park Kang-seong (whom I've had trouble finding information about on this here internet - probably because he's since been eclipsed by 4 or 5 other Park Kang-seong's in the Korean entertainment industry since he debuted... in 1982) wowed the purple-hairs in the crowd by covering a few Korean pop standards and roaming the audience to bring people out of their seats. When he shifted into Tom Jones' 1968 "Delilah", the ajuma directly in front of me nearly leaped out of her seat. If Mr. Park had run through that chorus one more time, there would have been panties on stage and quite a scene in the row in front of me. I'm assuming she wasn't able to hear that the song was about a man who slaughters his girlfriend with a knife in a jealous rage.

All in all, it was a fun experience. The rabbit's sister's family is incredibly warm and welcoming and her two nieces are non-stop giggly fun. Daejeon struck me as a pretty decent place to live - really. I was only really there for the better part of a day, and a city's quality can't really be accurately commented on by a foreign tourist after a three hour Korean transit adventure. Having lived in Calgary for most of my life, I know it doesn't seem like much to overnight visitors from Toronto, but I know better.

Anyway, I do see a few trips to Daejeon in my future, so I'll be hoping to get to know the city (and its surroundings) a bit better. This is such a small country, and it's so cheap and easy to get around. In many ways, a place is only as good as its people, and I know a few good people in Daejeon.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Last night's dream...

Waking up and hurrying-together a quick breakfast before we get on the bus...

Rabbit: Did you dream?

Me: Yes.

Rabbit: What was the dream?

Me: I bought a new pet.

Rabbit: What was it?

Me: A baby hippo.

Rabbit: Was is big?

Me: No... it was fast.

And it was, and a little bit nippy as well, but cute as all heck.

Off to Daejeon in the AM

I know very little about Daejeon. Apparently, it's the country's 6th largest city (about 1.4 million) and it's commonly referred to as the Silicon Valley of Korea, which means very little to me as I'm not an electrical engineer.

Anyways, the rabbit and I are hopping on a bus in the early morning to visit her older sister and family who happen to reside in Daejeon. I'm quite looking forward to a trip out of the city, and I'm always happy to hang-out with the rabbit's sweet little nieces, who usually take quite a shining to me. Makes me feel all welcome in the family and stuff.

I found out this afternoon that we will all be attending some kind of afternoon concert. I'm kind of hoping for a bit of this.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Stealth fighters in Gangnam

When you share a bed with someone, you remember your dreams more often. It's just that someone is there to be woken up when you are twitching and breathing strangely in your sleep. It seems to be the process of waking up that sweeps-aside the insanity along with the sleepies , and most dreams are forgotten or supressed as your waking mind begins to make room for reality to seep-in..

Anyway, apparently I was one twitchy summumabitch last night. I had two main dreams which were only somewhat linked. Basic outlines follow...

1) I am standing in Gangnam, but in my dream, the hilly side of the street near the Gangnam CGV theatre is just a grassy hill with no buildings. I'm watching a series of advanced fighter jets, some new kind of stealth fighter among them, taxi and then take-off from an empty Gangnam street right in front of exit 6. The overall sense was that the country was preparing for war, and it overwhelmed me with sadness in the dream.

2) I was in a fairly large older farm house in winter - it felt like a modified street in Cedarbrae back in Calgary - the kind with the grass alleyways between the backyard fences. There was a girl who belonged in the house, but was in the hospital, dying of radiation poisoning from the ongoing Japan reactor incident. Her brother, a young blond boy, maybe 3 or 4, had also begun to succumb to the effects of the leaking reactor. Friends of the girl were coming into the house to comfort the parents and offer food. I was told that I shouldn't mention the dog's whereabouts to the boy, who was waking up. The dog - a yellow lab which had also succumbed to the radiation - had to be put down. The girl's friends told me that the dog's tongue had expanded to such a large size that the animal could no longer breathe. I remember seeing pictures of the dog when he was healthy, but then even the framed pictures were starting to morph into ones showing the dog after the effects of the radition.

Anyway, effed-up dreams. Didn't sleep so well. Had to get that off my chest.

I wear white running shoes

Today, I took away 6 combs and 3 mirrors from girl students who appear deeply concerened about their appearance, but couldn't be bothered to bring textbooks, pencils, or practice papers to class on speaking test day. I take their beauty supplies away, they pout, and I chuckle - sometimes out loud.

I admit what most of this blog's readers already know: I really don't put a great deal of effort into my appearance. Like B sometimes used to say: "I couldn't be bohvuhd..."

This often extends to my shoes. The only shoes I have purchased in Korea are the size 13 soccer cleats I picked-up in Itaewon a couple of years ago. It's tough to find big sizes here, unless you're one of those starter-cap-with-the-size-sticker-still-on kind of guys, and then you can get the ballin' shoes to match. It's mainly basketball shoes in big sizes for U.S. G.I.s in Itaewon and none of them are really my style.

These days I want something comfortable. So, for the first time since maybe Junior High school (the time of the Reebok Energy Return), I am wearing white sneakers, running shoes, trainers, kicks, whatever the kids are calling them these days, and I'm wearing them out in public - to school anyway.

I bought a pair of the shoes in the picture for an extreme discount before I made a return to Korea in 2009. I have barely worn them, but let me tell you, they feel just fine and they are the perfect pacifier to my barkin' dogs. As an added bonus, New Balance seems to regarded as a high end brand among my students - I'm getting a lot of compliments from them when they hear me squeaking down the hallway. Who knew that New Balance had become cool? I'll be hornswoggled!

But how can I trust my students? They seem to only care about The North Face and making their jeans as skinny as humanly possible. I don't read GQ, but I'm pretty sure that wearing cross-training shoes aywhere other than the gym or an actual cross-training environment is about as cool as wearing black knee-high socks and sandals. But you know what? I couldn't give a rat's ass. These sneakers are comfy, by gum - I feel like I'm walking on air.

I hesitated earlier in the week before putting them on, but today I was reminded of Ryan Iverach. Ryan was a perennial overachiever in High School. I think he was planning to attend an elite military academy after graduating, and during high school, he was pretty much the Cock o' the Walk - starting quarterback, honor roll, and not a bad record with the ladies. He was also just a good guy.

The shoes remind me of a time when we were taking swimming lessons in PE class. While in the changing room, one student named Jamie who fancied himself a tough guy was bullying one of the meaker individuals in our class for wearing "tighty whities" as opposed to the boxers that became popular with students our age a few years prior. He seemed to be campaigning for others to join in the mockery. Ryan interjected in a manner that was both effective and inspiring. It stuck with me through the years. It went something like this...

Ryan: Why are you giving him a hard time?

Jamie: 'Cause he's wearing f$%#ing tighty whities, man.

Ryan: So?

Jamie: So? Nobody wears those anymore.

Ryan: Who cares what he wears? I wear those sometimes, too. Listen to yourself. Why do you care so much about what he wears under his pants?

By this point, Jamie was seeming more and more like an idiot bully who was being called-out by the one guy in the room who could easily kick his ass but would rather just dress him down with words. I think I remember Jamie becoming red-faced and backing-down, and Ryan waiting for Jamie to leave before checking with Mr. Tighty Whitey to make sure he was okay.

Anyway, that moment always stuck with me as a perfect example of a guy who was brave enough to step-in and be honest and to correct someone for being an elitist dumb-ass. It happens in my school every day - kids ridiculed because they don't have the latest phone or they aren't wearing make-up yet.

Anyway, thinking about this today, I googled Ryan Ivarach. Do it yourself and see what's become of the guy who stood-up to a bully in the change-room. I don't know what happened to Jamie, but I do remember that the following year (grade 12), he was expelled from school for robbing a senior citizen with a pellet gun, and I can bet you that at the time he wasn't wearing tighty whities or running shoes.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

If you can't beat them...

...beat them with foam dice!

Last year, I picked up 12 foam dice at Daiso - a dollar store within my local Lotte Mart. They are great for games and for choosing students to participate in class activities. As there are 6 students at each table group, a simple roll of the dice will do much better than a prolonged stalemate of multi-player "rock, paper, scissors" to determine which poor soul has to join Teacher Dave in the demonstration dialogue.

Turns out the dice are also great for beaning students in the head. They are light, rounded, soft, and about baseball-sized, so though they do fly true, their speed decreases sufficiently toward the end of their journey to render them quite safe. It also just so happens that I can power these things at a speed roughly double that of what my students can manage. When it comes to foam dice fun, I also appear to have the eye-hand coordination of a 2004 Miikka Kiprusoff, so I'm in no danger of being hit in return - no matter how many dice are in play.

Anyway, after over two years of getting immensely frustrated with the chaos that occurs when my middle school boys enter the English Only Room before class, I decided to mould the anarchy into something a little more fun: the insane and hyperactive boys line-up near the back of the room and the dice come out. I stand at the front of the room with the touch screen closed behind a sliding whiteboard and let fly. It's fun to watch the boys dive Matrix-style to the ground while the dice slow at the end of their arc.

I don't do this with every class, but if the insanity rolls in, I've decided to join it. I'm kinda done being a grumpy old man for now. So far it's working wonders, the loopy boys get all their "giggles" out and they actually seem a little bit more ready for learning when the bell rings. I also gain the satisfaction of nailing a handful of my most ill-behaved students from a respect-earning head-shot with a piece of fun foam. It's win-win.

...and if the madness that occurs in the hallways between classes is any indication of the school-wide standard of student behaviour, my little dice assault is comparatively tame.

Close your mouth

The picture is cute, the subject of my story is not.

There is a woman who works at my school who is a goddamn nightmare of social eater. I'm just going to say it.

I understand that each culture brings with it new suggestions of what table manners are appropriate or not. For example, in Korea, it's unheard of to drink soup from a held bowl, but it's perfectly fine to do so in Japan. In fact, in Korea - they don't even want you to touch the bowl - even when it's holding something as potentially inoffensive as rice... probably why the things are usually made from very thin stainless steel and the heat goes right through the thing into your fingers. Hands-off! I learned the hard way.

Anyway, I have noticed that a small number of Koreans seem unflustered by the idea of talking with one's mouth full of food. I know it's not a big deal, and at times I find it rather cute - one particular Korean counter staff member back at my hagwon had a very unique pursed-lips noshing technique that I thought was irresistible. I also fully acknowledge that there are almost certainly things that I do at the teacher's lunch table that piss off the other teachers - perhaps it's keeping my mouth closed or not eating meat, but I've beaten that one to death.

Anyway, I swear that this one particular woman does NOT open her mouth UNLESS she has just recently filled it with enough food to create a serious choking hazard. I could daily flip a coin, and for every time it comes up "heads", she is sitting directly across from me at lunch time. I know that I don't understand 95% of the fast and casual Korean spoken at the table, but I am amazed - truly amazed - by the fact that most other Koreans seem to understand what the hell she is saying through her half-masticated bits of pork-chop blended with the mushrooms and cabbage from a few bites ago - even if they are blinking and flinching for fear of being struck in the eye by an errant grain of saliva-soaked rice.

Mostly, I wonder what percentage of her outcast morsels are making their way onto my plate or into my soup. I finished lunch early today and paid attention to this while I waited for others to finish. No shit - in the last five minutes of her meal she had to wipe leaking soup stains from her chin three times, had an entire broccoli tree fall out of her mouth while she uttered a particularly loud expletive at a teacher a few seats down, and she actually had to pause mid-sentence once while she manually rearranged the overflowing contents of her mouth with a spare hand. It seems as though her food is fighting a battle - it wants to be consumed, but it has to fight tooth and nail against her need to speak through the first stage of digestion.

Here's hoping the coin comes up "tails" tomorrow.

Monday, April 18, 2011

"Is it okay if I borrow an umbrella?"

Just wanted to express how proud I am a the fact that two of my most notoriously shy and under-achieving students scored very well on their speaking tests today. They had to complete simple dialogues of request using a photo prompt, and then complete scripted dialogues using an appropriate English idiom. These idiom dialogues were veiwed for the first time during the test and therefore required some sight-reading ability as well.

Anyway, Raymond a tall, large, and lumbering embodiment of shyness and uncertainty took his time and nailed most of the dialogue - losing points only on reading speed and accuracy. I was so proud that he gave it a shot at all - usually, he's content to just shyly shake his head "no" when called upon in class or one-on-one for a test. I was so proud and he couldn't get that smile off his face.

Raymond has been one of my pet projects for the last two years. I always give him chances to speak in class, and he always declines, but he's clearly gotten comfprtable with me, and that matters more. He's clearly a bit of a social outcast in the bigger picture, but he does have his own group of perennial under achievers that he surrounds himself with. They couldn't believe that he scored an 8 out of 10 and they were so happy for him.

The best part was that when his friend, Gordon, got a perfct 10, Raymond did the exact opposite of what most of my students do when their friend gets a better score. Raymond congratulated Gordon from the position of someone who was also still riding high on his own success - no competition there, just happy that the ones who usually don't do at all, were doing remarkably well.

Anyway - diamonds in the rough.


I had meant to post earlier, but my brain had been sufficiently numbed by the experience of running 153 speaking tests over 5 classes, trying to convince my school's administration office that it's okay to give the school's credit card to a foreigner, and going to a post office twice in order to mail something (my Pen Pal package) once. That's a long and negative story, so I'll let it slide for now.

Instead, let me tell you about Totoro and wii...

It's my youngest nephew's birthday next month, and I'm having the two young siblings dilemma: being a far-flung uncle, do I get a little something for my oldest nephew as well, even if it's not his birthday?

Prior to becoming an uncle, I always felt it was a little bit stupid to by the non-birthday nephew a gift on his brother's birthday - let's celebrate the birthday boy on his big day, after-all. But now, it's not so clear. For my oldest nephew, I sent money home to my mom with instructions to buy Miyazaki's My Neighbour, Totoro. That movie has now attained legendary status in my family, and I hope my dad follows-through on his promise to show the movie to his friends.

I'm glad that my oldest nephew, CJ, really digs the movie, and I'm glad that his younger brother, Little Bear digs it equally as much. So, the DVD kind of becomes a gift for both of them.

Apparently, they have recently discovered the latest Miyazaki flick, Ponyo on a Cliff by the Sea and were equally charmed by its weirdness. It would seem that Studio Ghibli stuff (fairly available here in Korea) would become a great source for future Christmas and birthday gifts to send home.

I knew I had to get some Totoro action for the boys, but can I really give a super-cool stuffed Totoro to Little Bear when that would clearly be a gift which, by rights, would reside primarily in Little Bear's room and rarely get to spend quality time with CJ? How would that be fair when the two lads had so happily shared CJ's DVD gift? These are the questions that greatly vex an uncle.

I think I have my answer: after trekking down to COEX mall after school today, I met the rabbit at Ani-land, a stationary and gift store that deals primarily in Anime product - Studio Ghibli product featuring prominently. We found two rather handsome Totoros, and ignoring my initial intention to get the small white Totoro for Little Bear, and the bigger gray one for CJ, I decided on the following: I'll send money to my sister to buy the Ponyo DVD for Little Bear's May birthday, I'll send some Pepero and a couple of Totoro key-chains to hang-off backpacks, and the two awesome Totoros along with their little white Totoro friends will be boxed-up as Christmas gifts when I'm back in Canada next December. So, don't tell the boys, Spanky! I'm thinking the smiley one for Little Bear and the more serious one for Christian James.

There - done! And now you know my Totoro story. And now the rabbit and I have finished our Canadian nephew Christmas shopping. The best thing is that the Totoros are both made in Japan - where all good Totoros should be made.

We wrapped-up our impromptu COEX day with some bibimbap at a modest Korean restaurant and before we left, I introduced the rabbit and myself to Mariokart wii at a display in front of Bandi & Lunis bookstore. I'd never played the game before, though I must say, even after a few rounds, I'm sure I'd prefer the DS version.

The rabbit, on the other hand, quickly moved from nervous and confused to giddy and giggly as all heck in the matter of 3 races. She was doing the classic raise the controller to bounce up over the mushrooms routine - just as my sister did back in the 8-bit days. Only now, the game actually benefits from such Tom-foolery. My, how times have changed...

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Yeuido Blossoms

Checking out the Yeuido Cherry Blossom festival is something I don't think I'll ever tire of - if only because it's the only time I can think of outside of FIFA World CUP South Korea game days when ridiculous amount of Koreans can crowd into a barely moving mass and be nearly 100% pleasant to each other - nary an elbow thrown.

There are far more peaceful places to visit during the blooming season, and for many this means going south a couple of weeks prior to bloom time in Seoul. If you're sticking around the capital though, Yeuido is fun just for the madness of it all. As one Korean behind the rabbit and I remarked: "There are more people here than there are blossoms!" This was, however, the best blossom day I can remember - blue skies, and blossoms in full bloom - usually the festival kicks-off with the flowers still hidden away in their buds. Today though was perfect. It's a way to celebrate the new season, and everybody's busy enjoying the warm weather and flowers. How could you not be all smiley and giddy? At this time of year, Seoul is all twitter-pated and stuff.

All in all, a good day - rode from The National Museum to the rabbit house where I joined her and her mom for lunch, then over the the festival by the National Assembly, beer, original chips and rummikub in Yeuido Park, and a puppy meet and greet with Johnny and friends down by the 63 building.

And what would a day be without using one of the rabbit's coupons? Last summer, three "Cafe Aritaum"s were installed on two bridges spanning the Han. They are small, and only accessible by odd-pod space elevators, but they are worth getting to. The food is delicious (all organic desserts - we sampled carrot cake, tirimasu, and blueberry yogurt) along with the lattes.

Hell, man - those coupons are opening up a whole new world of restaurants and cafes that we could never afford otherwise. Thank you, rabbit - and your skillful web-surfing ways.

It was also nice to run into a Brompton family at the cafe. Just as bus drivers acknowledge each other with a salute as they pass on the road, Brompton riders do the same on the bike paths of Seoul. It was good to be able to introduce my baby blue to some friends outside the cafe. They got acquainted while the rabbit and I dined.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Hello Kitty Cafe

I had heard about this place for quite a while and my coupon-loving rabbit decided to take me there tonight.

There are apparently 3 Hello Kitty cafes in Seoul, and I'm guessing quite a few more in Tokyo as that is the birth place of the San Rio character.

I remember Hello Kitty being around for a while (my sister had a pencil case or something with Hello Kitty on it back in Kindergarten days) and I knew from my recent trips to Japan that that character was still all mad-popular - not just with kids of course, but specifically with 20-something ladies who enjoy appropriating the cute and simple character as an entry drug for more fetishistic stuff that populates the streets of Harajuku on Sunday afternoons.

Anyway, the blossoms are out on the streets of Sinchon, so we went there as opposed to the more popular cafe in Hongdae - armed with a coupon and a travel edition of Rummikub.

What can I say about the place? The pictures speak for themselves. It does seem like a place Hello Kitty and her pals might populate and it runs mostly on cute. There is a small amount of merchandise available, but the real draw is the decor and themed treats and refreshments. We ordered a caramel bread (thick, sweet toast sprinkled with powdered sugar, whip-cream, and chocolate sauce - the kind of thing that Hello Kitty, herself, might subsist on.

While we were there, a local TV station interviewed me with an odd question: showing me photos of four Korean male celebrities (Kang Ho-dong, 1 Night, 2 Days; Chu Seong-hun, Japanese-Korean MMA Fighter; Choi Hong-man, K-1 fighter and overall gronk of a human being; and some guy I don't know), the interviewer asked me which of the four had a secret passion for collecting Hello Kitty paraphernalia. I had no idea, but I said Choi Hong-man, as he is the least obvious of the group - being 7'2" and 350 lbs.

Turns out I was right. That's it - that's all there is to the story. It might air sometime on some station. Many others were interviewed through our time at the cafe as well, but I'll bet not everyone guessed the Korean Colossus! The place was fun, but like the rabbit said: "one time is enough". Indeed.

But, if you're a Hello Kitty fan, or even if you just have a vague remembrance of the character from your sister's pencil case, it's worth a visit.

Shannon would have gone crazy here.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Time to politically-correct the dictionary...

Mi-yak guk is a Korean seaweed soup. I’ve come to appreciate the taste of seaweed in its various forms during my time here – even mi-yak guk. Here, in soup form, the weed can’t be hidden and be all crispy, salty, and thin as it is in a California Roll or as thin and brittle strips of kim (which go quite well with a glass of lighter beer). In the soup, it’s generally limp, slimy and green – it’s seaweed in its most familiar form. But, it’s very good for you, and as I said, I have grown to appreciate it for what it is.

Today’s mi-yak guk, however, was less appealing. It tasted (exactly) like the smell of the old flamingo house at the Calgary Zoo. That’s pungent stuff.

Korean staff agreed. A colleague borrowed the dictionary on my phone and the entry explained the smell thusly:

Fishy; smelling of fish; bloody, smelling of blood; stingy, niggardly, miserly."

Pen Pals

Well, I'm waiting on one more student to drop-off his pen pal letter and then these babies (which I've artfully laid-out in the above photo) will go in the mail.

If I'm being completely honest, this little project actually began as a last-minute attempt to wrestle a lesson plan out of my sleepy Sunday night brain about a month ago. A dialogue from the textbook which encouraged students to work-out an email exchange with a foreigner caught my eye, and the idea of doing pen pals was born.

All students answered a series of questions on a worksheet (many of which we brainstormed answers for together as a class) and some of these questions have been incorporated into next week's speaking test.

Just to keep things realistic, the top two students in each of my 11 grade 3 homeroom classes (determined by the quality of their responses) were selected to have a Canadian pen pal. They would attend a lunchtime meeting the following week to go over letter writing details and expectations. Other students who weren't selected but were really eager to have a pen pal were invited to come along as well.

In the end, 4 out of 22 selected students weeded themselves out of the equation by apparently not wanting to bother, while 6 more joined. Those 24 plus the 10 from my after-school club then wrote original 4-5 paragraph introduction letters which were edited by me and now they have returned their final drafts on funky Korean stationary inside cool envelopes. I'm pretty pleased with the result, and I've been very mindful of letting those who don't want to bother, simply bow-out. Well, this is true with a couple of exceptions as some of my best students are also some of the most absent-minded when it comes to handing-in material to me (homework is something that's rarely required in my class as I try to not make a habit out of marking and editing worksheets from over a thousand students). I have had to chase-down a handful of students who are enthusiastic, just bloody busy and with other things on their minds.

Anyway, I've got 34 lovely little letters to send to Canada on Monday. I attempted to get something smallish and fun from the Seoul Tourism bureau downtown (I figured they'd have bookmarks etc.) but to no avail, so I instead found a fun little sheet of Korean flag stickers in Insadong for around 3,000 won - believe it or not, with exactly 34 stickers on it.

They are all ready to go, and our good friend Lego (from a previous post) who is hoping to snag an international relationship included this set of photos for his as yet unknown beloved...

I do wonder how middle school students in Canada will react to to stationary here - especially from some of my boys. Here, it's quite normal for the most platonic of friends to receive letters that have pictures of the Eiffel Tower with inscriptions like "The moment I saw you, I knew yours was the love I'd been searching for." The boys' stationary is mostly filled with rainbows and cupcakes - which I personally think is great. Here's hoping the Canadian students don't take things too literally and take a cue from the Korean kids, who might not actively acknowledge that any of their countrymen are gay, but who also have no problem being kids for a little longer or embracing their feminine side by using bright pink Hello Kitty stationary.

I'll be sending these early next week and expecting a return package sometime in June, so I'll keep you posted. It was a lot of extra work, but completely worth it and hopefully something that will create a memorable experience for my students. This is what it was like before email, after-all.

Oh, and the letters will be sent to ESL students at a middle school in North Calgary, who I'm sure will be delighted to have a chance to speak with someone far away who is also learning English as a second language. A small percentage of my letters may also be sent to teen volunteers with my old job at Calgary Public Library. PPTs and paraphernalia will be sent along with the letters to explain a little bit about Korean middle school life. Can't wait to hear what Canadian kids think about after-school academies...

* As a side note, after having assigned, edited, corralled, explained, collected, and edited, returned, tracked-down, and edited again (all of which was done in my free or after-school hours), I was inquiring as to how this package of letters might be send to Canada. Should I just drop it off at administration and they would take care of it? A call was made, and administration said "no". I apparently have to pay for postage myself. It won't be much, but it's the principal of the thing. I guess administration doesn't see this as a worthwhile activity. Colour me surprised. I guarantee that my friend's school back home will not only pay for postage with no questions asked, but will also likely jump on board by adding cool stuff to the envelopes for free.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

2011 NHL Pizza Playoffs

It worked for me last year, so again this year I am running a pizza contest with my grade 3 students. I've been pumping-up the playoffs since last week when the final positioning was being decided. Yesterday, I invited all 11 class leaders to a meeting at lunch where draft order was drawn and teams chosen.

In order to get the students excited about the game, I'd been showing highlights (hits and goals) and then introduced the students to the 16 playoff teams via powerpoint. I thought it would be fun this year to include the Stan Lee created "Guardians" for each of the teams. The Guardian Project as a whole is pretty ill-conceived, but some of the designs can work well as toys and mascots. That's about as far as I hope they take it. Otherwise, they worked well to get my power-ranger/anime loving students all jazzed to choose a team. They were then encouraged to visit to research the teams and convince their class leaders to choose appropriately.

I have 11 grade 3 homeroom classes so each of them chose a team, and the five that were left over were taken by myself and the grade 3 teachers, plus one saved for Mr. Kim - a PE teacher and a friend. I went ahead and chose Detroit first overall - my usual stand-by when the Flames fall or don't make it at all. Go, Wings!

This is the pizza playoffs again, so the class whose team wins the Stanley Cup will also win a pizza party sponsored by your truly. It's really not a big deal. I'm going to go to Pizza School (6,000 won pizzas), not Pizza Hut. Should a teacher win, I will buy him or her a personal pizza, a coffee, a beer... whatever they like. Should I win, I can save myself some money and just bask in the glory of a Wings victory.

In case anyone cares, aside from Detroit, the draft went as follows:

1. Vancouver
2. Washington
3. Philadelphia
4. Montreal
5. Nashville
6. San Jose
7. Boston
8. Los Angeles
9. Pittsburgh
10. Phoenix
11. Chicago
12. Anaheim
13. Tampa Bay
14. New York
15. Buffalo

No big surprises except for maybe Montreal going early. Someone in class 3-6 likes to cheer for the little guy against the big, bad Bruins.

This gives me something to follow daily and it'll be fun to play corresponding game highlights as my students enter the classroom. I'll be updating boards inside and outside of my classroom each day. Even if I can get a small percentage of the kids to care about hockey through this, it'll be worth it. We shall see what kind of sense they can make out of the NHL's English website.

Game on!