Saturday, December 8, 2012

첫눈 "First Snow"

It's been a pretty eventful work for the ol' Davey, but one of the highlights has been the first snowfall of the season which occurred this past Wednesday. The temperature has been steadily dropping over the past few weeks, the lights have been going up across the city, and now there's a whole whack of the white stuff to get the kids frolicking outside and the Davey all excited about the holiday season.

However, the snow has made it a challenge to get to work without breaking myself. The sidewalks here are inexplicably littered with decorative smooth concrete that looks and acts like marble - especially in rain and snow. Forget about mom's back-breaking sidewalk cracks, step on one of these bad boys the wrong way and you're going to be spending Christmas in traction.

But, the snow mostly means kids at my school running around with kimchi-eating grins on their faces. Their collective good mood is a huge lift for us teachers. The students might be gazing out the window more often than usual, but looking at lazily falling flakes is a step-up from punching and slapping each other during class time. Thank you, winter!

And for those mistletoe connoisseurs, walking in the first snow in Korea also means that you are creating optimal conditions to meet your true love. Everyone basically stops what they are doing and they run out to enjoy what they will likely be cursing in less than a month. I'm all for it. I've already met my true love, so the first snow is a chance for me to look more peacefully at the world and move through it a bit more slowly. It's also all kinds of romantic. Glad the rabbit thinks so too.

Hard to believe that it's December 9th already. If I had an advent calendar, it would already be a third open.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Three's Company

It's been a few days since my last post - mainly because I've been busy as all heck with school, random stuff, and a house guest.

Maria and I are splitting hosting duties while our Australian friend, Andy visits for a post Japan one-week Korean stop-over before heading back home for the holidays.

Korean apartments are generally on the small side - office-tels (what we are in), even smaller. But, we were glad that we could provide a warm floor for someone who is more than used to sleeping on one - what with all of his years spent in Korea already.

Unfortunately, we really didn't have a great deal of time to go out and see the sights as rabbit and I were both working and in the middle of planning for other things, but it was okay as Andy really had few sights he needed to check-off his list.

What it was, was a good time to reflect on that curious aspect of international friendships that originate overseas - it doesn't matter how different your view points, pasts or future trajectories might be, it's still comforting to be with people you know.

I suppose I'm tied to a number of different eras, generations, whatevers, here in Korea. I've been here since August of 2007, and in that time, I've developed approximately 5 constantly shifting circles of friends. The size of the circles shifts based on where you are, what you're looking for, and what you're willing to go out and get. I guess it's mostly about what you need, but it's hard to know what you need until it's right there in front of your face or ripped unceremoniously away from you with a contract ending and plane ticket back home. Anyway, cramped as it was, it was good to connect again with a friend who likes arcades, has plenty of board game loving friends, and who also finds value in reconnecting. Andy is a part of my history here in Seoul, and it's reassuring to know that ended contracts and plane tickets don't need to mean "goodbye".

With three of us in an apartment where we can sleep more than two only if we don't do laundry, I was reminded of a poem from my youth. I got it from a cheap decorative plate and wrote it again with a jiffy marker on the interior wall of a playhouse that our dad build for my sister and I in our backyard. The poem read:

Our house is small, 
No mansion for a millionaire.
But there is room for love,
And there is room for friends,
That's all I care.

Happy trails, Andy. Until next time.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

양말 냄새 (sock smell)

I like to make the wee student folk in my classroom react in strong and interesting ways. It's pretty easy to do - sometimes it involves just taking my glasses off. Other times, I reach into my bag of Storybook theatre broad character tricks and make faces or gestures that invite a response - it helps to make stories come alive or illustrate a language point that isn't making it across the bridge.

My socks have also featured into my classes from time to time. Recently, I acted-out a scene from Heckedy Peg which involved me taking my school sandals then my socks off. That resulted in a chorus of delighted screams and, likely, stories home to mom and dad about the zany waygook teacher at school who takes his socks off in class.

Most recently, the socks came off (and were thoroughly laundered) to be a part of a grade 4 activity. The 4-part chapter has centered around shopping and we decided to end-off the lessons with an auction activity. The focus language changes somewhat from "How much is it?" to "How much is it worth?"

Groups of four students each get $68 in play money which they will use to purchase items from our front table. They don't know the "worth" of the items at the time of purchase, but they know that each group must buy at least one item. The actual "worth" of the items will be revealed via PPT in the last five minutes of class. We add the remaining cash plus the "worth" of the items to see who the most effective buyers were.

Well, of course my socks end up being revealed to be "worth" $45.00 - by far the most valuable item in the collection (which included my Donkey Kong stuffy, a bottle of Vitamin C drink, a bottle of hot sauce, and other miscellanea - revealing each one from a bag at the beginning is also a lot of fun).

Of course, the groups who all regretfully avoided that item up for bid in the first class decided to stop the next class in the hallway and tell them all about the $45 socks that they should all buy in the auction today. I was warned by my co-teacher who overheard this and so I took a couple of minutes with the screen off to change all of the prices in the PPT - the socks dropping significantly in price and the Vitamin C drink going up to an inexplicable $27. Heck, it's all in good fun.

Well, wouldn't you know that two zealous young lads gladly out-bid their own group members to spend exactly $45 on a pair of socks which they proceeded to play with and smell deeply of like they were stacks of American green-backs. They even slipped them on like sleeves and used them to bid for other items using their group's remaining $13.00.

I only wish I had taken a photos of their faces when it was revealed that the sock price had been changed from $45 in the previous class to $2. That's what you get for trying to pull a fast one on Teacher Dave.

 Good-natured little guys they are though - they took it all in stride and were giggling about it before the bell rang.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

South in Sanbon

Spent a good chunk of the weekend south of the city in Sanbon with my Seoul Canadian family. What a couple of cute ankle-biters reside there. This time, even the smaller of the two was in a super friendly mood. She seemed to enjoy calling me "daddy", and when she was corrected, she switched to "uncle daddy" which we were both satisfied with.

It was a great chance for my friend and I to catch-up, throw some darts, drink copious amounts of 맥주, have a spirited FIFA tournament on our iphones, and get approximately 3 hours of sleep. Yeesh...

Then it was back to the apartment to decorate the wee tree with my wee rabbit. Heck, it's almost the end of November...

Monday, November 26, 2012

I want to...

Spent the last couple of hours marking worksheets that I prepared for my grade 5 students. It's one of those situations where, through recently gained experience, you simplify an activity so much that you think there's no possible way that students can do anything but succeed with it. Oops...

Anyway, from a lesson targeting the wishful future conditional of "I want to...", I went for a "bucket list" kind of approach - showing first my Korean version (things I've done so far, like make kimchi, visit Jeju-do, etc., as well as things I still want to do, like make pottery and climb Hallasan), then showing my "Big Bucket List" - containing such dreams as traveling to Africa, and seeing a FIFA World Cup match. I also threw in "I want to meet Ban Ki-moon" (the UN's current secretary general and the pride of most self-aware young South Korean academics).

Student work sheets asked for only five sentences using the "I want..." model. I suggested two ideas to get them started ("I want to meet..." and "I want to travel to..." and the remaining three spaces could be filled with whatever "wants" their little hearts desired. We borrowed a whole whack of Korean-English dictionaries from our school's library to help the students along.

Overall, I admit that I'm disappointed with the quality of the majority of returns - I'm okay with the never-ending parade of the "I want to meet (insert name of generic K-pop band here)", but largely, the whole idea of "dreaming big" was lost and replaced with generic sentences from previous lessons - the "I want to take a rest" or "I want to ride a bike" kind of deals. Sadly, many incomplete worksheets had also been returned to my Korean co-teacher during her solo-teaching efforts.

Among the responses that I did get though, there were these gems:

- I want to be a barista.
- I want to meet boyfriends.
- I want to eat French cheese.
- I want to get a watch.
- I want to buy a bus.
- I want to spy on England.
- I want to eat beef.
- I want to meat the president of Japan.
- I want to buy some Russian house.
- I want to eat all of the foods.
- I want to eat a whale.
- I want to eat a snackhouse.
- I want to meet Zeus.
- I want to eat century soup.

and, my personal favourite...

- Bring some water quickly. I'm sorry?

Friday, November 23, 2012

Sound Logic

A discussion had back in the early part of the month...

Co-Teacher: You are wearing an Obama shirt. Why? You are Canadian.

Me: That's true, but what happens in the United States affects the rest of the world.

Co-Teacher: I think so, and I will join the military next month, so I want Obama to win, too. I think he is more peaceful than Romney, and Obama is smart. Anyway, Romney is Mormon. His religion is crazy, so I think he's crazy, too.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Squirrel Path

I feel very fortunate to have met-up with a former student of mine last night. Some of you might remember that I taught two semesters of the Nambu (south Seoul) district's Critical Reading & Writing Program - offered to cream-of-the-crop high school students with high English proficiency and outstanding academic records.

For me, it was a chance to be involved in a level of teaching that I now sorely miss, as well as a chance to meet some very cool people, and certainly some of the city's youngest, best, and brightest.

Anyway, I was truly honoured and touched when one of my former students (who calls me "Gagnier") messaged me back in late September to welcome me back to Korea and to invite me out to his university to look around the campus and catch-up.

Gene was accepted into Korea University - one of the top three in the nation - and is majoring in History. This is one brilliant young man, who not only embraces his inner nerd and is (to the best of my knowledge) unapologetic about it, but he also happens to catch for the Korea University men's baseball team. I hope to be seeing him in action next spring.

Before an Indian dinner at a nearby restaurant, Gene took time to show me around the campus - which is huge. I regret not going in the day as it is a beautiful campus and night shots won't do it justice, but we managed this one shot lit by street-maps - yellow.

Next time, I hope to make it when the sun is still out so that I can capture "Squirrel Road" - an urban legend among the students that involves fateful crossings of paths by a squirrel. Should a student be walking this tree-lined hilly path alone, and a squirrel crosses his or her path - expect three more years of "being solo". If it occurs in front of a couple, then the relationship will be long-lasting. In other words, if you dig on being with someone, don't walk Squirrel Road alone.

In February, Gene will be interrupting his schooling to complete his two years of military service - something mandatory for all Korean males between the ages of 18 and 35. I am pleased to know that for this period, Gene will be lending his gigantic brain to the National Defense Center in Jongno where he will be working to uncover and archive records from the Korean War. This, as opposed to being a floating target for North Korean buffoonery.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The vast majority of Korean parents

...usually get their children to master at least one instrument starting in the very early years of childhood.

Last night, I was witness to a sampling of the results of such practices. The Nambu district students and teacher orchestra club played just under two hours of very high standard classical orchestral music, including all four movements of Beethoven's fifth symphony.

The little people (maybe 30 students - all elementary school) began first with three pieces including an Ennio Morricone piece from The Mission with a wee girl soloing on the oboe, and then they were joined by the teachers for Beethoven's Pastoral and the 5th after the intermission.

One cool thing about this concert was the fact that all of the teachers involved are teachers of subjects other than music - each choosing an instrument of his or her own interest. It's like Westwinds in the East! My own co-teacher decided to take up the violin again after many years and she's been practicing furiously before and after school in a neighbouring classroom for the past two months.

Anyway, always good to get out and hear people doing what they love to do. The little people inspire - as do the older ones. Time that I pick-up the guitar again and give it another go. That, or an ocarina.


Me: Teacher Joon, are you from Seoul?

Teacher Joon: No, I'm from Daeugu.

Me: Ah! I hear that Daegu has the most beautiful women in Korea.

Teacher Joon: Oh, no.

Me: Oh, no?

Teacher Joon: Well, it is case-by-case.

Last May...

... I was teaching grade 11 students in a B.C. high school about Macbeth, Sylvia Plath, and George Orwell. The lessons culminated in intellectual growth, deeper human understandings, and the elation of self-discovery.

Now, I'm teaching grade 4 students at an elementary school in Seoul about various kinds of sports balls. The lessons culminate in all of those former things (on a lesser scale of course), with the added bonus of getting to sing a song that encourages us to get out of our seats and bounce like balls.

I've taught at myriad levels of schooling over the years. Each has its merits.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Dressed in holiday style

Last night the rabbit and I went to meet with the manager of the restaurant where we will be hosting our Korean wedding celebration - nearly a year after the actual official one in Canada. There will be stuff to write about as the wedding approaches, but for now, let me say that I'm happy to be having it on December 22 - the last Saturday before Christmas.

As I've written about extensively through this blog, Christmas in Korea is an interesting season. One thing the city knows how to do right though is the decor. Well, I suppose "right" a subjective thing, but since much of Seoul is big and flashy anyway, I expect their version of holiday decor to follow suit.

If you want to decorate the home or office, look no further than the underground shopping mall at Express Bus Terminal. The hallways go on until they form a small point somewhere on the suggested underground horizon, and right now, a sizable chunk of the place has been turned into Christmas land: trees, lights, garland and more trees. It's all a little overwhelming. This photo suggests about 5% of the other Christmas decoration stores that continue all the way down the hallway about another 150 meters.

It's madness, I tell you! But, it's also a part of my Seoul Christmas experience: glitz, garland, and all things gauche.

With your mother on a sandy lawn

There is a small LCD flat-screen TV hanging on the wall of the hallway just outside of our shared "Subject Teachers" office.

The screen is always on, and since I've been here (three months now), it's been frozen on the same image: A Louis Vuitton shop - presumably somewhere in Seoul, although it really could be in any world metropolis populated by enough people who are rich enough and empty enough to consider 10,000 handbags as must-haves.

I asked a co-teacher what was up with the TV today. She told me that it was originally meant "for English".

The Milkman

Not sure if they do this sort of thing in Canada anymore for anyone but the home-bound, but here in Korea, pretty much anything is available to anyone for online ordering and next-day delivery.

My lovely rabbit told me a while back that she was going to order some milk online. I'm not sure what I expected exactly, but sure enough, waiting with the security ajushi in the lobby of our place when we got home were two boxes of milk. How about that!

Actually, it's one box of soy milk drinking boxes and another flat of milk - but not just any milk: Yonsei Milk! And it's complete with the Yonsei university coat of arms on each box! I'm not sure if high school students hoping to get into one of Korea's top universities drink the stuff by the gallon for good luck before the SATs, or if the rabbit simply got a discount for being alumni.

Anyway, we are stocked-up until mid-January with milks of the cow and soy bean kind. The rabbit an I have been looking for ways to save money, and milk by special delivery is a start.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Gigantic Family

After a day out in a relative country at Anseong, we stayed closer to the city tonight for dinner at the rabbit father's sister's place. This is the home of the Gomo & Gomobu (the rabbit's aunt and uncle on her father's side).

I was bit apprehensive about two days of the weekend being devoted to relatively new family members (not because I've got anything better to do, but because even if it's not stressful, one is usually mindful on such occasions of making a good impression, which can be tiring), but in the end, it was a second lovely gathering with new family.

And man, this family is huge! Loving my iPhone, I downloaded a free family tree app - deciding that it would be wise for me to carry with me the faces and names of all of the family I've met. I could use refreshers before larger gatherings. It's not that I'm an idiot or possessing of short memory, but rather that my own family back home in Canada (at least the portion we keep in touch with on a regular basis) is quite small. I walk in to the Gomobu's apartment tonight and see a gigantic family portrait containing somewhere around 25 people. Gomo and Gomobu have 13 grandchildren. I should have opted for the 32 gig over the 16 gig model when I got my phone. Parting question from Gomobu tonight: "How many children will you want to have?"


The meal was lovely - I'm sure that Gomo must have been preparing since early this morning. My nephew was joined tonight by the rabbit's cousin's children (12, 9, and 4 years old) and once he got over his shyness, they had a great old time - playing the piano, playing hide and seek, and engaging in feats of strength and showings of skill.

Jun-hyeok (4), who has been practicing hard for an abridged Beauty & the Beast musical which he will present at his English kindergarten in December, watched in humbled horror as his extended family members took turns performing for Gomo and Gomobu. The 9 year-old boy could sing, play piano, do Tae-kwondo maneuvers as well as recite an entire English storybook from memory (it took a full five minutes for him to recite the thing at a very brisk pace), and the younger one memorized and sang some 5-verse ditty about the apostles.

Jun-hyeok looked absolutely terrified. He hid under the table, but then the rabbit gave him some rabbit power and he emerged and made us all proud - performance under pressure! It should serve him well in the concert.

As a side note, the 9 year-old who recited the English book must be some kind of savant. It's not like he memorized Polar Bear, Polar Bear, what do you see? This was probably the equivalent of an entire page of 12-point font single spaced with no repetition. What the holy heck?

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Anseong Aunties

The rabbit and I spent the day south of Seoul with her mom's side of the family. I have been there before, but this was the first time that 성숙 and I made an appearance as a married couple.

The rabbit mother's side of the family is markedly more relaxed than the father's side. It's just one of those things. A fair amount of gaseous exchanges during and after lunch, people taking turns in the massage chair, food served from styrofoam containers, and laughter - LOTS of laughter.

The rabbit mother and her sisters have a very natural and relaxed way about them, and it's very easy to feel at ease with them as hosts. My hyeong-nim (the rabbit mother's older sister's son) had a long week, so he curled up for an afternoon sleep and snore session on the heated family room floor while the rest of the family kept on telling stories and laughing.

Even I was encouraged to lie down on the floor. Who am I to argue?

We had a nice lunch at the oldest aunt's place and then drove out to see the grandmother's memorial place. I wrote about the previous trip rather extensively here. Today's was a short visit, which I regretted. It's a sad place, but a place with lots of stories.

Had some 칼국수 (hand-cut noodles) for dinner, and a ride to the train station in the older cousin's mini school bus with Pororo playing on the flat screen for those in the back.

I noticed that my 4 year-old nephew, Jun-hyeok, sometimes gets shy and does what I did in the company of strangers (or rarely-seen relatives): he hides behind the couch and creates a cozy place. I joined him for a bit, then lured him out with the "Where's My Water?" game on my iPhone.

A good day - we were all sleepy and comfortable and didn't feel the need to be anything else.

Friday, November 16, 2012

The New iDad

My father-in-law has a new iPad - it was a gift from the man's sister who is a rather devout Christian and figured that getting an e-reader would be a decent way to get her brother back into the good book (St. James version, only $0.99 in itunes).

I don't know about Korean dad's progression on re-birth, but the man loves him some facetime! For those not in the know, it's Mac's version of skype. From a mac to another mac device with the same program, it's clear as day.

Anyway, when the rabbit and I were over for dinner the other night, rabbit's sister called from Daejeon (3 hours or so south of Seoul) with a plumbing question. Rabbit father was right in there - like he was metaphysically getting down under the kitchen sink - all from the comfort of his own home, with ramen bowls threatening to fog-up the iPad screen.

Technology's come a long way.


The first and only time I will ever beat Ian Whittle in a game of chess. He beat me soundly the first time, but of course there are no screenshots of that one. Should have taken that knight when you had the chance, son - you let me up off the mat!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Running the Gauntlet

Now, on my way to school, I have to be aware of the physical dangers (of the bottomless pit variety) as well as the potential olfactory offenses. There be big holes in the ground where my feet should go. Here's hoping that all of the subterranean work will lead to more pleasant pedestrian odors in the days to come.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The New Seoul Central Library

There's been a great deal of building going on in Seoul over the past few years. In 2010, Seoul was designated at the "World Design Capital". I'm not really sure what this means, but Helsinki is the next World Design Capital, so it must be legit to some degree.

Anyway, aside from the Resurrection of Namdaemun, there have been two higher profile construction projects going on in the city in the years since I've been here: one was recently completed, and one looks like it won't be for a good long while. I'll talk about the latter later. The one that was completed is the new Seoul City Hall.

I like this new City Hall for two reasons: 1) The new modern structure kind of enfolds the older one in a way similar to the way Calgary's newer city hall cradles the older sandstone structure of the original building, and 2) The old Seoul City Hall is the new Seoul Central Library. What the heck! A huge new library in the center of a bustling Asian metropolis!

The building was extensively renovated to allow for the new collection and great care has been taken to maintain some of the municipal government offices and meeting rooms for future generations. You can even sit in the mayor's old chair and pretend to take phone calls. Turns out the mayor's office was no dissimilar from my current school principal's - sparse, but complete with a long table of thick leather lounge chairs, charcoal air purifiers, and flags behind the desk.

Now, a word about the library...

They've got a ways to go. I've been in a few libraries in Korea, and (as in Calgary), there are some winners and some that are less "winning".

The Central Library has a great deal of money invested in it, and it occupies one of the more central and accessible public spaces in the entire city. It's a prominent landmark with a history. I really hope to see haechi statues guarding the front doors within a year. The children's area is particularly inspired - if not entirely kid-friendly - and I'm sure the basic collection does the job for the Korean set.

As a foreigner, however - I was a bit disappointed in the collection. To be fair, Calgary's multi-language section also leaves a great deal to be desired. Books are expensive. Maintaining collections and keeping them current and fresh is a hard job, and an expensive one. But, with the importance Koreans place on learning English, I allowed myself to expect a bit of a larger collection in the "World Languages" area. I'm not sure if most of the collection is still on its way, but what was there was a bit... let's say "odd". Most of the material in languages other than Korean was based on travel. That's fine, but of the fairly sparse material found on the shelf, the most appealing was a large coffee table book published perhaps the better part of two decades ago called "Wonders of Kazakhstan."

The part that disappointed me the most though was the fact that none of the material in the "World Languages" collection can be signed-out from the library - None of it. I actually found a cute little book called Ask a Korean - a culture shock guide that looked like a fun read. No go. I suppose I could always "ask a Korean" when I'm in the area and feel like popping-by the library, but heck - maybe I want to read about cultural curiosities at home, and maybe I want to wonder about Kazakhstan in the comfort of my own apartment. It's a shame.

Anyway, growing-pains and all, I'm sure that the new Seoul Central Library will be making steady improvements in the immediate future. I remember visiting a new library in Ian's neck of the woods a couple of years back, and it was an impressive piece of work. I do love libraries, and I'll be sure to make a point of dropping-in when I'm in the neighbourhood. The rabbit and I got our own cards on the building's second day of opening. Hers features rabbits in a tree. Mine features a teapot, and while we wait for our cards to develop the ability to take reading material home, we satiate ourselves by using the cards to take out DVDs. We must be the only couple in all of Seoul that doesn't download.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Catan Oil Springs

I'm a big Settlers of Catan nerd, as most people who know me know well. While away in Vancouver this past year, I had a chance to introduce some university friends to the game and it went over well. Those who played were instantly hooked, though we ended-up with precious little time to actually play - what with us being involved in a condensed teaching certification program and all.

Anyway, before I came back to Korea, I had a chance to stop-by nerd-land central (The Sentry Box) in Calgary and pick-up a unique expansion for the game. It's called "Catan Oil Springs". Assuming that if you are still reading this, you are already familiar with the basic game mechanics, "Oil Springs" adds a very interesting dynamic to resource production in ways that benefit the game structure as well as add a very educational element to the whole enterprise. Catan has been used in the classroom before to introduce the idea of different parties working together or against each other for resources, but this has even more potential to generate discussion.

Basically, in a 6 player game, avoiding the smaller details, "Oil Springs" works like this:

*Warning, continuing reading this post will leave you covered in a whole whack of nerd sauce...

1) Oil production hexes are determined with a numbered marker (the deserts use a "9" while one sheep pasture and one forest use a "3". This means that building on an oil-marked desert yields oil, while building on a forest "3" with oil yields both oil and wood. You get the picture.

2) Oil can be used: Oil tokens are yielded with a numbered roll and you can exchange one oil token for two resources of your choice. This sounds good - oil = riches!
But there is a consequence to oil use - for each oil token spent, a marker moves along a track towards environmental disaster. When the marker reaches the end of the track, both dice are rolled - a "7" means coastal flooding (cities and settlements on the coast are wiped-out but can be rebuilt) and any other number means that pollution has so drastically affected the land, that one hex will no longer produce anything - ie: if the disaster roll is an "8", then one of the 8s will be removed from the board, and that hex will be forever barren. That kick-ass "6" you built your game strategy around might soon be no more - kind of like a stream near Alberta's oil sands project.

3) Oil can be sequestered: A forward thinking environmentalist can take oil from the ground, but not use it. Instead, it can be sequestered and taken out of the group supply. This means no pollution and no moving of any marker along a track to environmental devastation. For every 3 oil tokens sequestered, a victory point is awarded, and the first to three VPs for sequestering oil earns the "Defender of the Environment" card, which works in the same fashion as the "Longest Road" or "Largest Army" card.

The wonderful thing about this add-on, and what proved itself to be a great potential learning tool for the classroom, is that the game structure is balanced just so that it will create an ideal scenario in which the temptations and consequences of oil production can be explored with a lot of fun had along the way. Some players went right after the oil and were hell-bent for victory, potential consequences be damned (they could, after all, lose their own number hexes too), while others tried to sequester their oil at first, but then gave into the pressure to keep up with their own property expansion - contributing to the environmental destruction of Catan. Rabbit and I chose to live as the Amish do - pretty much off the grid, and we did all right, too - very fortunate to never have any of our pristine fields affected by the oil.

Playing it makes a hell of a lot more sense than this post probably does.

Anyway, more than the game, it was a fun night - some lovely friends make for a lovely reunion, though plenty more were missed.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Seoul Lantern Festival

I love Cheonggye-cheon. To make a long story unduly short, it's the name of the stream that runs through central Seoul. Not that long ago, (less than half a century anyway), the banks were lined with houses on stilts and people washing their clothes. Now, Cheonggye-cheon is a model urban development project - the legacy of the country's current (and one of the most unpopular) presidents (once, Seoul's mayor) and a favourite place for Seoulites and tourists alike. Check out our good friend, Wikipedia, if you are interested in the stream's fascinating history. And if you're in Seoul , a trip to the Cheonggye-cheon museum is well worth your time. I happened upon it during a bike ride a couple of years ago, and was glad I did.

Anyway, the Seoul Lantern Festival is currently running through Cheonggye-cheon, and I'm just going to warn anyone thinking of going next Saturday for the closing night - don't. The festival makes for a lovely mid-week stroll, but tonight was complete and utter lunacy.

There was a queue to even go down the starting ramp at Gwanghwamun that started somewhere near City Hall and snaked its way through the plaza by the big purple and red cone thingy and then eventually led down into the lower pathways by the stream where there was a completely insane bottleneck forming. There were signs posted along the ever-growing line that marked the estimated waiting time to even get into the stream pathway - 1 hour, 1.5 hours... crazy time.

Anyway, if it rains, and if it's mid-week, go check it out. It would make for a romantic or peaceful stroll if the crowds are at bay. As it was, I was about ready to go all stream-rage on people who kept doing their best - in a sea of body-to-body people on a narrow pathway 12 people thick and football fields long - to push ahead of those immediately in front of them. I'm not sure where they thought they were going, but I'm pretty sure they didn't get there.

The lanterns are lovely though. I remember them being much more accessible a couple of years ago. Popularity kills.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Happy Ero Christmas

I have lived in Korea long enough to have seen some absolutely awful films. One was an American ensemble piece from 2008 that was trying to cash in on the Crash formula. It sucked. Can't remember the name. I also saw The Other Boleyn Girl while I was here. That was 50 shades of rank amateur porn.

Some of the terrible movies I've seen here have also been Korean. Anyway, this latest one comes dangerously close to de-throning D-War as the worst Korean film I've ever seen.

I know, the cover doesn't look promising, but hear me out...

The rabbit and I were venturing to the new Seoul Central Library to return my DVDs from last week and she picked-up this little gem. I saw the "Happy Christmas" portion of the title, and I had a vague flash-back to some Korean "Love Actually" clone from Christmas of 2007 - my first holiday season away from home. I didn't get to see it then, so I thought this might be a good time to make amends.

Plus, the rabbit and I like Cha Tae-hyun - the lead from My Sassy Girl (certainly the greatest Korean romantic comedy) as well as the more recent Hello, Ghost (comedic cheese with a surprising heart). He's unrecognizable behind the Rudolph nose, but trust me - he's a likeable cat. Christmas and Cha Tae-hyun - how could one go wrong? The weather is getting colder and Halloween is over, so why not?

Anyway, we take the movie home and then then the next day I'm having a conversation with my co-teachers about the movie I'm going to watch with my wife later that night. I was convinced it was called "Merry Christmas" and it was made in 2007. There seemed to be some kind of buzz about the office as nobody had heard of the movie. A frantic NAVER search began and then we finally came across the poster that I recognized from the DVD cover.

My co-teacher read me the title:

Co-teacher: "Happy Ero Christmas"
All other Teachers within ear-shot: "Oooooooooooooooh!!!!

So, apparently, "ero"is Konglish for eroticism. Hey, everyone - I'm going to go home to watch an erotic holiday video with my wife! It pays to look into these things before introducing them to one's co-workers.

The movie is not erotic, but it certainly is awful. I'll let the poorly edited Wikipedia plot summary take over from here, because I really can't bear to mentally return to any moment from that film:
"Yearning to be a respectful cop and vanquish the evil since he was young, Byung-ki (Cha Tae-hyun) is a patrolman of few words in a village, helping out trivial tasks like distributing promotional papers. One day, he runs into Min-kyong (Kim Sun-a), an employee of the neighborhood bowling alley, and falls for her at first sight. His attempts to woo her, however, are hardly noticeable and even seem to be gloomy as the boss of the local gang Sang-doo, who also swoons over Min-kyong, strikes to get her virginity on Christmas Eve!
Watch for the goofy tricks of the two to compete for Min-kyong and finally come to blows!"
 I tried to imagine the cast of this "film" attending the premiere, and the cold sweat that appears on the brows of those who would rather be anywhere else.

Avoid at all costs.

Going to see Skyfall tonight. The opening credits will be like a pallet cleanser, and the rest will be like the filmic meal I've been needing since my cinematic stomach rejected the putrid and paltry offering  I presented last night.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012


October 30th was the rabbit's birthday. Tuesdays are not necessarily the best days for birthdays, but the weather made for a nice afternoon stroll about Samcheong-dong, dinner at a new (for us) bistro, and a cozy evening at home.

In addition to the gifts received from the Taylor clan, let me take this moment to also thank auntie and Ernst who took the time to give some birthday dinner contributions from afar. Consider the funds diverted to a delicious dinner at a cute little Italian bistro (the name escapes me at the moment) that we found deep within the streets of Samcheong-dong. We were able to score the extremely cozy window seat and had a delicious meal served by perhaps the best waiter I've ever had. The man is suave and clutch - you can even see him in the window there. 
Our meal was so delicious that the rabbit polished off all of the pasta sauce from her mushroom dish. She remarked at first that the chef would see her clean dish and be proud, and then shifted to say that she felt "a little bit of shame" for having cleaned her plate so thoroughly.

We waited in the cold and looked through the window to see the waiter clearing our table. I took the photo, and then the rabbit zoomed-in to see if the waiter noticed her clean plate. She was relieved to see that he wasn't laughing. "Very professional", she said.
So, thanks to auntie and Ernst for the dinner funds, and thanks to auntie for her extra kind graduation gift this past August. With it, I did as promised - direct the funds to a purchase of a piece of real art to hang on our wall.

(송현노) Song hyeon-no is a Korean artist whose work often includes an animal of some kind, either abandoned on some concrete precipice with an artificial backdrop of its natural environment taped to a wall, or in a surprising state of relaxation in a unique encounter with what appears to be an animate plush rabbit. There are tigers, zebras, dragons, and all kinds of beasties. The images are simple, but the majesty of the animals is always present, and aside from the dream-like quality of the paintings, I dig on two details specifically - the way that the rabbit seems to soothe the much larger fauna with the offering of a piece of flora, and the fact that the flowers being offered are beautifully simple things - dandelion seed heads, poppies, dry grass, nondescript weeds - and not the more traditionally "elite" or elegant flowers one might expect.

The piece I bought for the rabbit (entitled "Dream") is really the perfect one for us. Both being lunar zodiac rabbits, and being married in the year of the rabbit, we also had a giraffe and a rabbit on top of our wedding cake. Call it a theme. I really couldn't pass-up the opportunity to get this. It's not the original, because I'm not a cosmetic surgeon, but it is a limited edition print signed by Mr. Song, himself. So there you go - after all these years of visiting various galleries and thinking of one day buying a piece, I found the perfect one, and it made the rabbit smile. So this is good.

The money isn't really an issue. I pay for it each day that I walk to school and back and save myself some transit fare. I get exercise, and I retroactively save some money. It's win-win!

"Dream" looks fantastic on the wall of our little house. And look what just arrived - a belated birthday package from our Canadian parents. The rabbit will be opening this one tonight - thanks, folks!

On the way to school

More on my immediate neighbourhood a bit later...

Between my home and my school lies a fast-paced 25 minute walk that I am generally happy to take each morning and afternoon - weather permitting. I'm getting nearly an hour of decent exercise each day, it helps wake me up in the am and it helps me justify being a sloth most nights when I get home in this cooler weather.

I would like to take my bike, but the roads I need to travel are too chaotic with cars and the sidewalks are too rotten with parked cars and industrial shops leaving their crap everywhere. So, walking it is.

The first section of the journey ain't half-bad - tree-lined streets above Dorim-cheon (the stream that runs by my place) and a little bit of peace and quiet - fruit stands and the odd biker. Podcasts are doable here.

But then, I walk past this blasted thing - I'm not really sure what it is, but I'm going to venture that it's some kind of vent to an underground collection of decomposing bodies, because that's about the shape of things in an olfactory sense when I'm within 10 yards of the thing. It's like a bloody open sewer.

It's fine when I walk past it in the morning - I can see it coming and prepare myself, let my breathing go shallow for a while, and get to a minimum safe distance. But, on the way home, I turn the corner and BAM - there it is! It took me a while to get used to the sudden drop in air quality. A couple of times in the first week, I rounded the bend (on the crest of a small hill) and got two air-sacs full of invisible filth. My gag-reflex actually kicked-in one day and I thought I was going to spack right there and then.

Oh, and on the way home today, I saw this curiosity - a detached wire hanging down from the middle of a power line right above the sidewalk. It seemed awkwardly tied-off, but was still somehow left dangling in the middle of an expanse between poles. I realize that most people walking there won't come that close to it - but I'm not far off, and what about cars? Or trucks? I mean, they use the sidewalk, too - and some of them are really tall.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Who is stronger?

Today marked the second day of my grade 6 lesson that I had been building toward over the last couple of weeks. The current chapter in our book deals with comparative adjectives ("My hair is longer than your hair", "My dad is taller than me", etc.) and I decided to get all nerdy about our cumulative activity at the end of the chapter.

On (a foreigner-in-Korea teaching site that I somehow neglected until this year), I came across a useful idea. I would like to credit the person properly, but his or her posting seemed to have disappeared the following day, so I was left to do as I always do when I consider using postings (Powerpoint files, lesson ideas etc.) from another teacher - "adopt & adapt". Thanks, Ray.

Sadly, for me, quite often this means tailoring things things to my own tastes, which also means me volunteering a fair bit of my time building and redesigning material to make it work better for me. Sometimes, it's worth it - sometimes, it's really not.

Anyway, some waygook contributor had an idea to make cards giving various attributes to different animated characters - Bart Simpson and the like - and then print them for a duel-type card game where the focus language is used.

I decided to take this a step further and introduce Marvel and DC Comics to the grade 6 crew - six characters from each company - and expand the lesson by giving additional vocabulary (the noun form of the adjective: tall = height, etc.) before the game was played. This involved a rather obscene amount of preparation as I made 7 12-card sets - complete with colour printing and lamination. You can bet that I'll be getting some mileage out of these with winter and summer camps.

Anyway, of the 6 attributes listed on the card, teams of two take turns in a play round that works like this:

1) Each team chooses a set of cards (Marvel or DC)
2) The card piles are held as if to deal or duel - face-down.
3) Teams rock, paper, scissors to see who gets to ask the first question.
4) After a question is asked, each team turns over the top face-down card and checks the matching attribute to see who is more _________ than the other.

For example:

A student asks: "Who is taller?", the cards are turned, and we look to see which character wins when focusing on this one attribute. The weaker card is surrendered to the winning opponent's hand...

All in all, it was a lot of fun for the classes that were actually able to play the game. The hard part is, and this is a conversation for another time, the game was set for the grade 6  classes as it matched with their text book's focus. My grade 6 classes, save for one, are - when one considers the staggering majority of the students involved - unable to save themselves from themselves when it comes to maintaining anything approaching acceptable behaviour. My main co-teacher suggests that it is a sign of "The Korean School Collapse". I suggest it is a sign for me to stop putting this level of effort into activities that my grade 6 students' behaviour will not allow time for. For the one class (the homeroom teacher of which deserves some sort of "Teacher of the Millennium" award), the game worked to perfection. For 3 out of the other 6 though, we didn't even have time to play the game in class. I'm just not liking those odds. Time to simplify for this crowd.

For a few of my more "challenging" groups of students, I had to give a speech about taking care of the cards as opposed to bending them, throwing them at each other, or using them to scratch each other's forearms  to draw blood, or to clean under their finger nails. It was a good thing that I thought to count the cards when they were returned to me as one student thought it would be a good idea to abscond with Iron Man. I noticed the missing card, went to the student I suspected, and he shrugged as his friend removed the card from the guilty party's pocket. I wonder how much he thought he could have made for it on ebay.

On the plus side, my wonder class had enough time with the instructions and game to take it to another level - making little tournaments among neighbouring student pairs and having a rollicking good time of things. Three other classes were able to achieve something resembling order with the game, but had precious little time with which they could actually play. Live and learn.

  • Watching students win over any other character with the Professor X card because his intelligence is off the charts.
  • Giving attributes to these characters I know and love and trying to make the game fairly balanced. It meant short-changing the Hulk on intelligence (hey, he's not Bruce Banner all the time) and giving Barbara Gordon a little something over Dick Grayson. She is rather bookish, so let it be the smarts. Batman got a little short-changed in a few areas. Dems de breaks
Biggest Challenge:
  • Finding a google image of Catwoman appropriate for the elementary school classroom.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Kindergarten Festival

I'm sleepy today - partly as a result of wet weather, and partly as a result of a challenging morning with two of my three grade 6 classes - more on that later.

While yesterday was a rainy day mostly at home, Saturday was a chance to head to Bundang (southern attached suburb of Seoul) and see what the younger crowd is up to. The younger crowd in this case being my nephew, Jun-hyeok, and his kindergarten pals as they participated in a sports day event.

We were very fortunate with the weather - sunny and dry - and it was a chance for me to hang-out with family. I have to say, I was impressed with the level of organization that went into the events that day. An outside event planning group came in and delivered a two and a half hour session of non-stop fun for approximately 100 kindergarten students and their parents. There were no breaks - just constant joy in the form of mucking-about with foamies, plastic ball-pit balls, parachutes, and the like.

My three favourite activities were:

1) Red & Blue Foam Squares

- There were about 200 double-sided foam squares (1' x 1') with one side red and the other blue. They are spread all higgledy-piggledy about an open field and the two teams of tots ("Read Team" and "Blue Team") run at once into the breech and attempt to turn as many of the squares as they can to have their team's colour facing up. Chaos ensues. Of course, as one happy red team member is all satisfied from turning a set of two blue squares into red ones, along comes a blue team member to erase his or her effort. The most entertaining duels involved a red team child facing a blue team child for the entire one minute duration of the game. They would patiently take turns turning a group of four or five squares, then wait for the opposing child to turn them again, and then repeat ad nauseam. The whistle would blow, and then it would be a contest to see who could remain behind to turn the squares one more time on the way off the field. The squares are then collected by colour and the highest pile wins the event.

2) Tunnel-Ball!

- Parents and children form a line facing each other about 5 feet apart, then every second child crosses to the other side to ensure that there is even distribution of parent and child on each side. A long piece of cloth (about 40 meters long and 2 meters wide) is held between the sides - creating a "road" the length of the team and about 3-4 feet off the ground. A giant inflatable ball needs to be passed down to the far end of the road and back again by working as a team to raise and lower the "road" like a caterpillar. The other team is working nearby to accomplish the same in a race format. The real fun, however, starts with the second round where the ball reaches the end of the high road and then has to pass underneath on the way back through a raised tunnel of cloth, arms, and hysterically kicking legs. Parents and children both need to work in unison to kick the ball through the tunnel to the end. Inevitably, one overly zealous child would break free from his or her parents' arms and attack the ball with a great ferocity - beating the hell out of it and stopping it dead in its tracks with a flurry of punches and kicks while neighbouring parents looked on in consternation. Fun for the kid, bad for the team, and entertaining as all heck for bystanders like me.

3) Joust!

- Seemingly inspired by the 1982 video game with the same name, this game involved wee tots astride their parental steeds. Wearing "tails" in the form of mini pool noodles, the tots have to roam about the field and attempt to steel the tails from other tots while defending their own. Because Jun-hyeok's dad was tired from the previous event, I was lucky enough to act as ostrich for my nephew for this one. As I was approximately a foot taller than most of the dads on the field, we had a distinct advantage. We survived our tourney unscathed and made-off with a tail from the opposing team. Nice work, Jun-hyeok! We high-fived a few times that day, and while he thinks nothing of having a way-gook saram (foreigner) as an uncle, to his on-looking friends, I may as well have been a pet dinosaur. Apparently, before he went to bed that night, Jun-hyeok told his mom that his friends were sad because they didn't have a tall uncle Dave to ride in the game. Finally, my height is good for something in this country other than smashing into the top of inter-car subway doors.

A box from afar

The rabbit opened her birthday box from Sandy last night. She is currently wearing her arm-warmers, eating Annie's rabbit crackers, and eying the rabbit "Peeps" with great curiosity. Last night, as requested, she scared me with the Halloween decorations from my nephews. I had a hard time getting to sleep after that. We plan on using the rabbit wine-stoppers as soon as possible. Where on earth did you find those? Thank you, Taylor family, for the lovely gifts. It's getting steadily colder here, and we are making a cozy Sunday of it. A clean and organized house, a delicious dinner being prepared, and a movie in waiting. We decided to wait a bit more for the new James Bond across the street and will instead stay in with the 2006 Stephen Frears masterpiece, The Queen. Still keeping things decidedly British. The perfect night for a little Helen Mirren. Missing you lots.