Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Rice Treats

I first discovered rice treats when I was backpacking across Japan. Starting to get hungry I took a gamble on the local 7-11's collection of pre-packages snacks and thankfully I struck gold. It was literary a where have you been all my life moment. Well, at least a ...all of my time in Japan moment. I didn't realize what an Asia-wide affair the whole thing was until I discovered them at during the first few minutes in Korea, during my early morning arrival in Seoul.

Sadly they are not known as rice treats but instead as 삼각김밥, literally triangle kimbap. The easiest way to describe them to North America is that say that it's what happened when kimbap and those pre-made sandwiches have a baby. And if you're going to do that then you'll also have to explain how's it's kimbap and not sushi; it's part of Korean national pride to highlight how kimbap is different from sushi:

Comparing kimbap to Japanese sushi, Ali wrote, “Kimbap is more aromatic, better textured with a good crunch and tastier.”

She also likened kimbap to Julia Roberts in the movie “America's Sweetheart.”

“In the movie Julia Roberts plays the homely sister of a Hollywood star, Catherine Zeta-Jones, whose fame relegates Robert's character to the shadows. It is obvious that she is equally stunning, but she is ignored nonetheless.”
Of course given that sushi is fusioned to death in North America the difference is impossible to notice. Here in Korea I still go for 세븐일레븐 (aka 7-11) kimbap, less for nostalgia and more for the fact that the store right by my apartment has them seemingly permanently on sale for 500₩, down from the packaged retail price of 700₩.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007


The closest Starbucks to Mokpo is (sadly, but also conveniently) in Kwangju, right next to the Kwanju bus terminal in the 신세계 (aka Shinsaegyae) department store. The favorite one is in Chungjangno. That Starbucks is the one that is everybody knows as "Shinae YMCA" or "next to the book store" or "across the street from Outback." I'm guessing that's it's also the source for Starbucks Ambiance Sound Recording #1 and #2, courtesy of the tweeterdj at the free sound project. And most Mokponians ignore the third store since the other two are closer to shopping & mass transportation.

Funny enough the lack of readily available Starbucks in Mokpo has turned me off of drinking there. I tried to find alternatives but the drink equivalents are often too sweet or too homo-milky for my taste; Mokpo is a place where soy milk is sold in children drinking boxes but not as a milk alternative for coffee.
After roughly six months of creamer disappointment, I actually came up with my own chocolate soy latte (with a hint of cinnamon) drink for the cold Korean mornings. It's the one thing that I did that can compete with resident super chef, Rachel. (No last name--that's how super chef she is).

The actual Starbucks experience here in Korea is the same as back home. They have soy milk, they have the same promotional drinks, and they have the same prices. And as Rachel put it:

It's not about trying new things; it's about getting the same drink, the way you love it, everywhere you go in the world.
I'd like to see that as a thought on a Starbucks cup.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Lesson 14 - Hallowe'en

Lesson 14 - Hallowe'en is published over at

Friday, October 26, 2007

Review of the October workshop

I previously mentioned that there would be a provincial wide meeting amongst all of the EFL teachers on the Jeollanam-do province's payroll. The meeting was split into two parts with half of the teachers participating the week earlier to avoid overcrowding. Smee (over at was in the early session and started a post with his comments on the whole affair.

The Teaching Demonstrations
The main items on the agenda were two simultaneous teaching demonstrations of a native speaker and a co-teacher. The first presentation was on stage in the main auditorium where the native speaker taught a mixed middle school class while the Korean co-teacher participated with minimal interference. The second was a live video feed presented in a small theater on a lower level where the roles were reversed and the Korean co-teacher actively taught the class while the native speaker was metaphorically warming the bench. As a bonus the second one was also a demonstration of TEE (Teach English in English) a new concept to Jeollanam-do's English education policy where the Korean English teacher teaches English without out any Korean instruction.

Both of these demonstrations defined co-teaching in terms of a teacher-assistant model. A little bit of background reading on co-teaching led me to a book that uses the more official sounding name of supportive teaching. It seemed like the model was being presented as the de facto standard and I would have liked to see more discussion including other co-teaching theories especially when the teachers in attendance differed greatly in their teaching environments, education level, and even school support. Consequently (and after talking to some of other workshop participants) many participants felt like the demonstrations had no real educational value because of this great discrepancy.

And then there's the concept of TEE. While it was just being introduced to the teachers and native speakers (well, at least to me) at the workshop, the theory has actually be around for a couple of years. I am unsure why the province brought up the model in front of all of us since there's a large group of native speakers who can provide anecdotal evidence that most schools are not ready for it. I managed to develop a case of esprit de l'escalier after I did some research and found this paper by Peter S. Dash. Peter raises some valid points against TEE, like the near impossibility of implementing it:

Somewhat surprisingly, a number of papers related to research in Hong Kong appear to also underline the problems of many students learning English through only English. Ho (1985) states in reference to questionnaire findings from 28 schools' remedial English classes, "complete avoidance of the native language (L1) was not possible" (p. 1). Even in Hong Kong- "many pre-service English teacher trainees find it almost impossible to survive in primary and junior secondary classrooms without using the mother tongue" (Lai, 1996, p.173 ). More specifically, in relation to when L1 can best be applied, some researchers see it as particularly useful for concept development and the transfer of cognitive and academic proficiency, (Park and others, 1984, p.1). These conclusions relate to Asian minority students being observed by a variety of Illinois immersion, bilingual and ESL program teaching personnel.
Or the major obstacles from implementing TEE specifically in Korea:
It is also fair to point out that the differences between English and Korean, linguistically and culturally are so great at times that it is not possible to explain every grammar point or cultural difference in English from which a particular lesson might give benefit. ... Or it might sometimes be possible, but the inordinate amount of time to do so could take away from the imperative to cover a fairly lengthy curriculum in preparation for examinations or satisfying the concerns of principals and supervisors.
The fact that many TEE issues were not fully examined during the workshop also highlights another criticism I had with the demonstration: the unrealistic teaching environments. Both classes involved well disciplined children who were so hyper aware of the live studio audience behind their backs that the scene conjured various of images ranging from awkward Sunday school pageants to (my favorite) North Korea military cadets performing of Kim Jong-Il. Peter used quasi-researched feelings of students and teachers to justify his points but in both classes the lessons were so well rehearsed that any complications that could have arisen were simply written out of the script; it simply showed what TEE looks like in theory, not what it looks like in practice. Maybe we would have seen some of Peter's points addressed, even challenged and corrected, if the students had actually been allowed to ask questions.

There's another TEE conflict that Peter's paper highlights and that's the co-teacher. In our TEE demonstration he was useless. This isn't a criticism about his teaching abilities or his interaction with the children. Going back to my live studio audience metaphor, this would be like blaming an actor for a poorly written script. His talents were simply not put to use and from what I saw during the second half of the class he was marginalized to the role of the same cd-rom that is currently in use. Peter's version of TEE assumes that the classes are taught by a single teacher and from what I saw in the demonstration, TEE actually removed the need for a native speaker.

Samuel, the native speaker in question clarified his situation later on the post:
I did a TEE last month. It was a "Conversation Lesson". I was used very little, perhaps about 20 percent. It is possible to watch these TEE on line.
On the 26th, I will do a "Reading Lesson". It is content heavy. I am used about 40 percent of the time. I have no say in the content of the lesson. The Korean makes up the lesson, and they must follow a strict lesson outline. In fact, my co-teacher already gave a solo presentation last month, but for some reason the education board asked her to do the same lesson with a native speaker, which is me. So the lesson was left unchanged, and we figured out what to divide between us. My co-teacher has no-time to make up a new lesson.
This sheds some light on my complaints, but learning about this outside of the workshop, on the board undermines the validity of the entire presentation as well as the usage of a native speaker in a TEE class.

Conflict Resolution
Unfortunately any real workshoping was really at a minimum in the post demonstration discussion. These discussions were rather one sided since the talkative ones were all native speakers and the topics tended to go off on tangents to a point where outbreaks of off topic, but valid, discussion were cut short because of time constraints. Andrea King, the native speaker coordinator for Jeollanam-do and one of the hosts of the workshop kept the workshop moving along by apologetically resolving each situation with something like "well I guess each school will have to come up with it's own solution."

Placing the onus of this resolution on the school really placed the onus on to the shoulders of the native speaker since (at least in my case) the conflicts involves a principal, vice-principal, and 8 different English teachers of various gender, age, and level of Confucius ideology who were not in attendance. Returning the native speaker back to the school without any strategies or at least a notion of what works best was really detrimental and a counter-workshop aspect of the workshop.

Virginia Parker and Nicola Andrewes conducted a in-house poll during the early parts of the session and was going to present their findings (the highlight I was looking forward to) but unfortunately it was rushed and practically cut short for the 5pm deadline. Some of her questions were:
  • What is working? What are some positive apsects of the teaching program you are involved with in Jeollanam-do?
  • What can Korea English co-teacher do to improve their effectiveness in the ESL Team Teaching classroom?
  • What can Native English Speakers do to improve their effectiveness in the ESL Team Teaching classroom?
  • What can the Jeollanam-do Education Administration do to improve the effectiveness of the language program in place in Jeollanam-do?
It seemed like it was the only case where documented feedback could have been brought back to the Jeollanam-do Office of Education for thought in policy making, so it was unfortunate that effectively analyzing the results was pressured against the 5pm deadline.

My Workshop
Calling the afternoon gathering a workshop was really a misnomer. To me it seemed more like annual corporate rally, showcase, presentation, or even an awkward Sunday school pageant, where the point was to sit back and simply watch the the new direction of education in the Jeollanam-do province. Any attempt at a workshop, where the audience actually participates in exercises to better their own abilities, was really impossible since the problems and solutions were too varied. In the end it seemed like the only problem that had all of the staff and teachers unified was if the schedule would stick to the 5 o'clock deadline.

Playing the game of what I would do to make it better, I'd devise a two part workshop spread out over a number of days focusing on two main topics:
  1. Co-teaching Workshops.
  2. The Native Speaker and Co-Teacher Relationship.
The first part would be valid teaching workshops broken up by education level; elementary, middle and high school all have different education models and curriculum and need different workshops. The teaching workshop could focus on bad and good teaching by examining various realistic situations in the classroom (maybe submitted anonymously to avoid public criticism) and noting what went right and what went wrong. This would be also good forum to laboratory-test the feasibility of TEE.

The second half doesn't have the same nice split across the education levels, so it could reunite everybody to focus on the native speaker and co-teacher relationship. Apart from dealing with problematic children, this seems like the other source of frustration in the school environment and the goal here would be an attempt to solve co-teaching conflicts in a mediated fashion. Off the top of my head some topics could be:
  • Young Female Native Speaker and Elderly Male Co-Teacher: How filial piety can be interpreted as a sexist insult.
  • Okay Okay, Do Not Worry About It and other invalid answers used when answering question in English.
  • Efficient use of a single native speaker and many English co-teachers.
  • It's alright to have bad English: Examples of co-teaching that doesn't embarrass co-teachers with poor language skills.
  • Dealing with school staff without a translator.
  • The proper way to correct mistakes made by the other teacher.
  • Co-Teacher Paper Work: What is it and how can we reduce it?
  • When is a little brat a little shit? The various stages of punishment and when to apply them.
I'll admit that this list seems a little one sided and that most of this post has been thought up from the stand point of my native speaker's point of view. There are other native speaker here with actual teaching training and know way more about teaching than I do--enough that they could lead some of these workshops. And of course I would love to have opinions from the co-teachers side of the relationship, but whenever I ask I get a simple and polite everything is okay, thank you.

Thursday, October 25, 2007


TightVNC is an enhanced version of VNC, a remote desktop application and that lets you control your home computer while your at school. There's a bit of technical information involved but it's fairly easy to set up and once you know your home computer's IP Address, you're good to go.

However be warned that usually VNC applications not secure:

Although TightVNC encrypts VNC passwords sent over the net, the rest of the traffic is sent as is, unencrypted (for password encryption, VNC uses a DES-encrypted challenge-response scheme, where the password is limited by 8 characters, and the effective DES key length is 56 bits). So using TightVNC over the Internet can be a security risk. To solve this problem, we plan to work on built-in encryption in future versions of TightVNC.

In the mean time, if you need real security, we recommend installing OpenSSH, and using SSH tunneling for all TightVNC connections from untrusted networks.
The security risk is that it's possible for somebody to eavesdrop your keyboard strokes as you transmit them through the internet:
'Decoding' the packet stream isn't all that difficult. The information entered into fields is transmitted as text inside the packet. Usernames, passwords, credit card information, etc. will all be visible to a hacker who is looking for it. Please don't think I am down on VNC. I think it is a great tool and I use it all the time, both securely and insecurely. I think it is important to remember that VNC does not provide a security mechanism other then the encrypted password. It's also important to remember that most of the Internet (web, email, chat, news, etc) are insecure. You wouldn't give your credit card on the web without HTTPS (encrypted, secure web page) would you?
So if somebody knows that you have VNC running and knows what they're doing, they could steal something like your bank account password when you log into the bank website--but why would you be remoting to your home computer to do online banking?

The real bonus is when you can use this is within a closed network; I work on three computers at my school. I have two office computers and a classroom computer. All of them are easily described as ghetto so I usually work on the less ghettolicious computer and have VNC installed on the other two. So from the comfort of one desk I can remote to either computer, transfer files, and do what ever I want.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007


StarCraft is for Korea what curling is for Canadia, an unfortunate stereotype used as comedic material by other cultures. Even though not all Canadians curl, all Koreans do in fact play Starcaft; online gaming is in fact a national pastime:

To get some idea of just how big gaming is in the Land of the Morning Calm, you need only look at some of the data collected by the Korea Game Development & Promotion Institute following interviews of 1,500 Koreans between the ages of 9 and 49 in February 2004. Some 75.3 percent - seven out of 10 - have played computer, console or video games, with the percentages particularly high among males and the younger age brackets (in the case of Koreans 9-14 years of age, some 95.3 percent have played games). As for favored game platform, 50.6 percent cited a preference for online games. When asked why they visited PC bang, 74.6 percent said, "To play games." Given how you'd find it difficult to walk five minutes in any direction in Korea without passing at least one PC bang, this would seem to suggest a phenomenal amount of gaming going on.

It's so popular that it even warrants it's own tv channel:

And it's own sexed up star tribute youtube montages...set to um, horror rap:

Of course it's not without it's controversies:
Some play themselves to death. Last year, the deaths of at least seven people were attributed to excessive game- playing. In August, a 28-year-old man died after nearly 50 straight hours of playing online games. In December, a 38-year-old day worker collapsed and died at an Internet café; his logs showed that he had played for 417 hours in his last 20 days. There are private telephone emergency services that dispatch ambulances for children who collapse while gaming or refuse to come out of their rooms, where they remain glued to online games or threaten violence at intervening parents.
Even CNN has gotten around to reporting on it, slightly dumbing it down so that even your grandmother can understand this intergameweb thing:

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

TV Ngels

TvNgels and is kind of the like a Korean version of wet t-shirt olympics. Its premise is a game show where a group of competing, often bikini-clad Korean women take turns trying to seduce a male victim. If the men are seduced then, apparently, a siren will flash and the victim gets a bucket of water dumped onto his head. Westerners (or at least those that laugh up with MTV) will find the entertainment value of this gem some where in between a lame fear factor episodes and an Axe commercial. Take for instance, the opening ceremonies aptly titled "Ngels dance to 'Sex Bomb' as school girls"

Or this epic battle between Japan and Korea in the Sexy & Cute Dance:

Of course I'm not the first to make this discovery; A Geek in Korea has done more reasearch:
The male stars are hooked up to heart monitors and monitoring devices, and when they reach certain points, or break eye contact, they have cold water dumped on their heads. The women dress up in various costumes and put on an elaborate show to get one of the two male stars to break these rules. One of the men that have to endure the woman’s shows is from Japan, the other from Korea. The hosts are a Korean man, and a woman that can also speak Japanese.

Monday, October 22, 2007

The Washing Machine

A subtle difference between Korean and American culture is the washing machine. For starters a matching dryer is the exception, not the rule here since most people prefer to air dry their clothes. And I don't know what it's called, but the pole in the middle of the washing machine's basin is missing as well. I don't know why it's missing since from experience I'd say it prevents the clothes getting tied into knots. The delicates are usually thrown into a laundry bag.

Of course, there's also the control panel. Trying to figure out how to operate it when you can't understand anything Korean is a bit of a challenge. I have a four options on the one in my apartment:

급수 (Water)

  • 냉수 (Cold)
  • 온수 (Hot)
물높이 (Water Height)
  • 고 (High)
  • 중 (Medium)
  • 저 (Low)
  • 소 (Very Low)
  • 최소 (Lowest)
수동 (Operation)
  • 불림 (Soak)
  • 세탁 (Wash)
  • 헹굼 (Rise)
  • 탈수 (Spin Dry)
  • 구김방지 (Wrinkle Proof)
코스 (Modes)
  • 표준 (Standard)
  • 찌든때 (Old Stains)
  • 통세척 (Self Cleaning)
  • 울 (Wool)
  • 이불 (Bedding)

Friday, October 19, 2007

The Underground Grocer

The Underground Grocer, The Purveyors of thing not Kimchi is a small foreign food shop in Kwangju and it's the closest thing that we go to a foreigner grocery store here in Mokpo. It's pretty small, but makes up for it with bacon, cheddar cheese, tortillas, oatmeal, guacamole, frozen samosas, canned blueberries and other unique tastes of home. They were even taking orders for holiday turkeys.

At last check it's in store J-20 in Geumnam-no Underground Shopping Center; Galbijim has more info.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Review of the Education Policies involved with teaching ESL in Korea High Schools in the Jeollannamdo Province

The Jeollanam-do Provincial Education Office is holding a meeting in a couple of weeks to discuss the current state of the education system. All of the Native Speakers in the province, not just Mokpo, are obligated to attend along with their co-teacher. I teach at a high school so I'm going and before I go I'll try to organize my pre-meeting thoughts while trying to steer clear of digressing personal rants.

At the high school level there's a core English class but it's taught by a Korean English teacher. I teach the supplementary English class where whatever work the students do has no bearing on their academic career. In fact, I am so segregated from the other English parts a student's education that it seems like the other English parts are the considered the real English parts and I'm left to define my own existence. I don't even have a curriculum so when I teach I do so with no direction what so ever. This it drives me crazy.

During my orientation all of the new teachers visited a typical Korean school where we saw a typical Korean classroom. Our guide, the local (Korean) English teacher gave us the tour and took us through some typical Korean school activities. They were for middle school girls so I didn't pay attention and quietly enjoyed the free strawberries in the back. I perked up during the end when the teacher told us that the money that the Korean Government spends on Native Speakers takes away money used by other programs, like school provided lunches for the poorest of students. The teacher was super nice, sweet, polite, etc. so it sounded like more of a plea to take your job as serious as possible. Ie. You have a pretty sweet deal so don't be an ass.

If I take my job seriously and examine where I am within the context of taking money away from starving children I see serious problems. I am paid to teach 30 students one hour per week of whatever I want with no curriculum, no direction, and more importantly no valid measurement of their progress. That means that nobody in the Ministry of Education has anything to prove that my presence justifies allotting funds for Native Speakers instead for the supplementary food programs.

That's what gets me; I cannot understand how the public education system can simply throw a foreigner in front of a bunch of Korean students and hope for the best. If the public education system is going to promote English over food then at least it could do so effectively. How can the education system justify my job as a glorified babysitting?

I hear arguments that my mere presence is justification of the program, as if the students will learn English by osmosis. This is a valid theory (and given my experience with the system so far I can see the belief in that argument) but even then, at that level of logic (again from my own experience) I could simply be replaced with a high school version of Sesame Street. Let's counter my claim and continue that argument with the word interaction; I need to be Sesame Street Live and taking that into consideration I think I just upgraded myself from babysitter to English Camp Counselor.

If that's the case, if I'm supposed to play games with the students, then we're back at the original problem of a lack of curriculum: What should I be doing with the children that would help them the most? Including my roughly 6 months here in Korea I have roughly 6 months of experience teaching Korean high school students English; I am obviously not qualified to answer that question and I don't think that I should.

The Co-Teacher
As far as I can tell the co-teacher has two distinct roles. The first is co-teacher, literally standing next to you in the front of the class and both of you teach the class. And the second is cultural ambassador since Native Speakers are fresh off of the boat and need somebody to help them adapt to the Korean Way. While in theory the idea of a co-teacher is, in reality it's a a poorly implemented idea.

The Co-Teacher in the Classroom
Everybody has a different experience with their co-teacher. In my situation I teach multiple classes each day, going through the entire first and second grade each week. Each of the 8 English teachers is assigned to two of my English classes but in reality my English classes go without any teacher supervision.

In a Korean high school I'm dealing with the same teenage dramas that you would expect in a North American high school but without any real communication between me and the students. So having the class room supervision by a Korean teacher is absolutely crucial. If nothing else just quietly standing in the back of the class as an authority figure keeps trouble making students from disrupting the class. When I don't have a co-teacher the class is clearly less behaved; in the past I've had to kick entire gangs of students out of my class room.

When the co-teacher does establish a presence, it's crucial to have the correct presence. Otherwise the co-teacher ends up undermining your authority and does more harm than if he or she had just skipped your class. What's more frustrating is that there's no guideline issued that defines the roles of both co-teacher and native speaker, or to what the correct presence should be.

Since a high school native speaker is expected to create and execute the lessons, a correct presence for a co-teacher should be more about managing my class than actually teaching. Other levels of education require a different co-teacher model since they're dealing with different situations. For example, the native speakers in elementary schools teach in the actual English class and all elementary English teachers teach out of the same Ministry of Education issued text book, something that's completely different from my situation.

From my high school experience, managing the class room should involve watching for hidden cell-phones, dealing with secret gossip circles and (in a mixed high school...well maybe not) dealing with young hormonal love. Given that every teacher hates dealing with these issue (although I'm sure that some of the teachers at my school live for corporal punishment) adding the complication of a language barrier presents a even bigger challenge for the native speaker to handle these issues by himself.

Once a native speaker feels that his co-teacher is dependable enough to act as class room enforcer, then the next step for a co-teacher is to act as a mediator. This is a bonus step for some and is the most difficult to define, but it usually involves recognizing that the students should be doing the work as if the co-teacher wasn't there. Involving the co-teacher is the nuclear option that should only be use when all communication between the Native Speaker and students have failed.

Whispering answers to students, or just plain answering the question for students is one of the worst things that a co-teacher can do to undermine the native speakers authority for class, not to mention the entire rational for spending public money on flying and housing a foreigner with no actual teaching experience. That said, being a foreigner with no actual teaching experience and no understanding of the Korean language, I do recognize the need for something like a walking and talking Korean English dictionary in the classroom.

On the flip side, the dictionary part is something that most co-teachers loathe since they feel insecure about their own level of English in comparison to the students. But there's one English teacher here that's figured out how to bluff his way through this insecurity; he orders them to bring a dictionary to class and even if he knows the word he makes them look the word up in the dictionary. He also carries around a bamboo wand.

Of all my classes, the ones where I walk away feeling productive, I've had a co-teacher fulfill these steps:

  • Show up to class.
  • Act as enforcer.
  • Act as mediator.
And it should be pointed out (again) that I am foreigner with no actual teaching experience working in within public education policies that I question, in a culture that I don't understand, in a country where I can't speaking the language. There's probably more qualified opinions floating on the Internet.

The Co-Teacher out of the Classroom
The co-teacher is also the main contact in charge of our living arrangement. That means that anything like paying bills, fixing leaking windows, etc, falls under their jurisdiction but from practice the co-teacher really does not want anything to do with you out of school. Like Tracy mentioned in the comments about my bank post, she obviously knew some information that I would have found useful if I had only talked to her before. That situation happens a lot and generally falls into the following pattern:
  1. Foreigner faces a problem.
  2. Foreigner stumbles around finding answer.
  3. Foreigner applies answer to solve problem.
  4. Foreigner leaves the country.
  5. A new foreigner face the same problem.
I have to applaud my co-teacher going to distance and actually trying her best to help me with various living in Korea things, but there are gaps in her knowledge that I find frustrating. After a steady rotation of native speakers that have lived and worked in Mokpo, who have shared and accumulated their knowledge into sites like and Galbijim, I would expect to find an something like an official cultural ambassador within the same organization that payed for my plane ticket over here.

I don't want to appear to criticize the efforts Waygook and Galbijim. I love both sites but they're volunteer organizations and run the risk of "This server is costing me too much money" or "I just don't feel like doing this anymore." Like the curriculum problem I can't define the exact solution; I guess that I want the Jeollanam-do Provincial Education Office to have something like an dorm don, an experienced foreigner who knows about Korean culture and trying to adapt to it from a foreigner's perspective. Plus, I'd like to see that don preemptively solve problems. like listing the English speaking gynocologists in Mokpo; somebody who is on the provincial payroll and who keeps a F.A.Q. for the F.O.B.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007


Curious about the translation credits in my Korean subtitled South Park videos, I decided to track down who was responsible. I found them at, a forum and file hosting site of the South Park Korea Translation, team. It's completely open (if you can read Korean) and in exchange for free registration you get access at their more-than-just-South-Park Korean subtitle library, including:

  • Family Guy
  • Friends
  • Futurama
  • Gilmore Girls
  • Joey
  • My Name Is Earl
  • Roughnecks
  • Sex and the City
  • Smallville
  • South Park
  • Spin City
  • The O.C.
  • The Simpsons
The thing that you actually download is just a normal text file in a smi file format. Most videoplayers should automatically detect (and load) the smi file when you play the respective video file. Usually both the smi and the video should have matching names, but it should be as easy as:
  1. Download
  2. Play
This completely frees me from using or any of the other Korean YouTubes and lets me use my normal south park source as well as introduce the wonderful worlds of Futurama and Family Guy to my Korean students.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Teaching English In Korea

The Daily Kimchi has a nice summary of landing your own teaching gig in Korea. The article seems to be focused on Hagwon employment, the private schools that (I'm convinced) some Koreans see more as a fashion accessory than a useful, extra curricular activity. I teach in the public sector where the programs are mediocre and laughable compared to what goes on in an hagwon.

Rafael Sabio's commentary English Education in Korea: It's Time for Accountability does an excellent job of highlighting how useless the English education system is, starting with the price tag:

Is it not a wonder why over 10 billion USD was spent on English education in South Korea in 2006, and yet there has been no noticeable improvement in the English education system
He then goes on to accurately point out how the Ministry of Education is a poster child for inefficient government programs:
Nowhere does the Ministry of Justice state that an instructor of the English language must have some type of teaching certification, experience, or relevant credentials in order to teach.
Today, Koreans wishing to teach English as a foreign language are required to have only a bachelor's degree in any discipline. In other words, a Korean can teach English without really knowing the language!
And of course there's this little gem that brilliants explains why the current divide of public and private education is so great:
With all of the "interesting" television shows and documentaries based on the "terrible teachers of Korea," one would think the government would take action and correct this problem. Instead, they sit back and do nothing. Why is this? Why would a government that cares so much about its people not fix something as important as its education system? My guess is….the money.
It is understood that the academy (hagwon) associations exert a lot of influence over the government. Furthermore, because it is such a lucrative business, hagwons are seen as a wonderful source of revenue.
The article is not without criticism but it does echo other critiques of English education in Korea and gives a good idea of why English Education is on the election agenda.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Lesson 13 - Food Pyramid

Lesson 13 - Food Pyramid is published over at

Friday, October 12, 2007

Fat Korean Kids

For the past couple of years there's been an increase in high stress and American food in Asian teens and it's not good. Basically the Korean kids are getting fatter:

During high school over-indulgence in hamburgers, hot dogs, cola, and other high-calorie fast foods and sodas is frequent but there is another result. A person from the Ministry of Education said, “this can also be accounted for by the fact that as students progress through high school they are trapped in the competition to enter college and they find it difficult to get enough exercise.”

Thursday, October 11, 2007


All the cool kids here in Mokpo Facebook; the current count for the Mokpo group is just under 80 people but compare this to's population of 109 for the entire province of Jeollanam-do and you can see that that it's the way of playing in the social circles of fellow ex-pats and their English speaking Korean friends.

I have mixed feelings about Facebook (I'm not alone either) and if it hadn't been for wanting to play in their reindeer games I would have never signed up. The Mokpo Facebook users treat the site as their social organization tool and I'm cool with that. But it's important to recognize that Facebook at best an interactive high school year book and shouldn't be shoe horned into other uses.

In North America discrimination by Facebook is illegal but that doesn't mean it won't happen and a little identity management, if just knowing not to be an idiot, is crucial. Facebook makes stalking so much easier and just because you know stalking is wrong, it doesn't mean that you won't do it, from the comfort of your desk, waiting for your torrent to download. It's the same issue for all of the other social networking sites, but here, within a Korean context, you do need to be more careful thanks to the different libel libel laws. Joe McPherson of ZenKimchi was charged and went though quite an ordeal before being found not-guilty.

Then there's the fairly recent development of public profiles, which transform Facebook from the high school year book to the high school white pages; the option is defaulted to off but really if anybody with an e-mail address can join is there any difference? So I've signed up, but will most likely let the account lapse when I leave Korea, like so many of my other online sandboxes.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Korean Protest Culture brilliantly sums up the various reasons and ways Korean protest. Some are hilarious, others disturbing, but they all have a certain non sequitur flavour that I just find fascinating. For example, what's the connection between protesting a decision to move a military office to Incheon and ripping a live piglet? Or even better, protesting Lotte Mart decision to sell American beef by throwing manure at the local butcher; at least Roger Moore made the effort to track down the corporate decision makers.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

미녀들의 수다

Surfing the Korean TV I discovered what would happen if the United Nations and a Korean Game show had a baby. The show, 녀들의 수다 (aka Minyeodeul-ui Suda), is KBS's Global Talk Show. but that name however is a bit of a misnomer. The more accurate title, translated from the Korean as The Beauties' Chatterbox, reveals that the show's true purpose: to get pretty girls from all over the world (etc & etc) to talk about Korean issues. There's even a guy version although too. God bless 'em.

The girls involve seem to enjoy being on the programme, reaping what fame they can they get out of it. But the show isn't lacking for critics:
When the show began the women on the panel were mostly old hands, Korea-wise, in particular American Leslie Benson, who's spent 11 years in Korea and speaks fluent Korean. The show was mostly people who know Korea well telling Koreans about their own country, gently pointing out some of Korea's less proud aspects, in particular, its sexism.


Well after plodding these well-worn boards for a long time, these topics have ceased to be interesting. Anybody out there who watches this program will notice that in an effort to maintain the interest of basically talking about in-your-face old ladies, drinking soju and eating dog meat, they have changed the format from 'knowledgeable foreigners discuss their experiences in Korea thoughtfully' to 'buckwild foreign chicks who don't know anything about Korea and can barely speak Korean say shocking, uninformed things in barely understandable Korean'
Of course it's not like North American is the bastion of intelligent programming.

Monday, October 8, 2007


Mncast is a Korean video site like that hosts Korean subtitled South Park videos but works in Firefox. This is great since I don't have to deal with various computer issues and I can use Firefox to download the videos. Basically, this means that now (thanks to the kids over at SPKor) I have a holiday lesson.

KoreaCrunch has a nice summary of the other Korean YouTubes.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Word Search Generators

There are tons of them on the Internets, but I like this one for since it can create a word search out of a randomly selected subset of a words. It sounds nerdy but it's great for making a bunch of same same, but different word searches for word search competitions.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Korean Banks

Earning money in Korea requires a bank account and you usually open one right after you become legal. Teaching Kimchi has a nice survey about the various banks in Korea and Just Landed informs us that there are

19 banks are operating in South Korea; the “Big Four” - Kookmin Bank, Shinhan Financial Group, Woori Financial Group and Hana Bank - control 70 per cent of the market. With the exception of Woori, three of the top four banks are majority-owned by foreigners.
and that,
Citibank Korea, Korea Exchange Bank, Woori Bank, and Hana Bank are just a few exceptional banks that have experience with foreign clients. Such foreigner-friendly banks may even let you use the currency of your choice.
There's of tons information from guides and foreigners about opening up an account but (like getting credit cards) your experience will vary from teller to teller, manager to manager, and even from branch to branch. Like my adventures in getting a Korean keyboard I opted for the first thing that I saw, Shinhan bank, and if i could do it over again I would do it a bit different.

I'll go along with Teaching Kimchi's rating of a 3/5 since Shinhan is large enough to know what they're doing on the banking side of things (well, kind of) but, while their English support exists, it's hardly supportive. In hindsight, I should have identified the key foreigner specific services that I wanted and not assume that I would get the same package that I have back home. For example let's look at the Shinhan Cheque Card that comes with your account. Everybody gets one: bankcard is a Manchester United card. Park Ji-Sung is the miracle man in Korea.
The gave me the same Manchester United card and I immediately asked if I could switch if for Arsenal. Unfortunately the lady behind the counter stared at me with confusion and my translator informed me that it was the only card that they had.

This is Korean monoculture at it's best: since there is one Premier Korean on the team, Manchester United is now Korea's Team. What gets me is that most of the people I meet are not Manchester supporters but Park Ji-sung supporters. This is a crucial element to supporting a team in the Premier league. If Park were to leave the team how much would Manchester stock be worth? It's the same with Henry and Arsenal. Any true supporter knows his where his allegiances lie. But I digress.

The real problem with the Shinhan cheque card is that it's only valid within Korea. Escaping the country is less fun when you can't access your funds and the only way you can access your funds outside of the country is by wire transfer. This is nothing new and is part of Korean Monoculture that propagates low-trust policies against foreigners.

I'm starting to realize that the banks that I need either have good foreigner relation departments, or (as a result of the global market) are actually foreign banks operating in the Korean market:
One of America's top banks, Citibank, has more than 240 locations all over Korea. Teachers with an account back home can access their funds with no fees, though depositing money in their account from Korea does have some restrictions. Visit the Citibank Korea English website for branch locations.
I could change banks, or even open multiple accounts, but right now Shinhan isn't bad enough to warrant the effort.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007


Another popular way for downloading videos for various purposes is BitTorrent. BitTorrent has been around for a couple of years now and there's enough information out there, floating on the Internets, to make this a very short post. The only tricky part about BitTorrent is finding a good site. And even though it can be tricky, one site, tvRSS, is turning out to be nothing short of awesome.

tvRSS tracks North American TV shows from some of the other BitTorrent sites and is perfect for the ex-pats who are don't like watching flash videos or who are excuded from the big network video sites because they don't live within the United States:

ABC: "Only viewers within the United States can watch these full-length episodes.”

CBS: "This content is not available for viewing outside the United States.”

NBC: “We’re sorry, but the video you've selected isn't available in your location.”

Fox: “Thank you for your interest in FOX. This video is currently available for viewers living in the United Stated.”

CW: "Thank you for your interest in The CW. This service is currently available to viewers living in the United States.”
For the super keen, you can even configure your bittorent client to download the shows automatically. It's easy and, again, the Internets can easily help you with any problems you have.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Escape Mokpo By Train

Like escaping by bus and by boat, Mokpo has one way to escape by train, The Mokpo Train Station (목포역 aka Mokpo Yeok). But it's usually referred to as Mokpo KTX thanks to the Korea National Railroad (Korail) popular bullet train service.

There are other train classes apart from KTX that offer a slower trip at a cheaper price. There's the Saemaul-ho (새마을호) trains, the Mugunghwa-ho (무궁화호) trains and finally the Commuter (통근열차) trains. But most foreigners in Mokpo prefer KTX since KTX's Honam line, connects Mokpo to Seoul's Yongsan station in just under 3 hour.

Figuring out the timetable is somewhat tricky. The online schedule is only available in Korean and the English part of the site tries to push the Tourist Korail Pass instead of providing a translated schedule. Since Seoul is involved, there is more English information (blogs included) but in the end, the best bet is to purchase the tickets at the station.

A KTX ticket is priced by distance and class. The popular economy, one-way seat, from Mokpo to Seoul, will cost 45,000₩. However for groups of four, a cheaper option is to snag the table, the part of the train car where the forward and backward facing seats meet. There, two pairs of seats face each other across a folding table in middle of the car and the quad only costs 108,000₩. This works out to 27,000₩ per seat, slashing 40% of the normal seat price in exchange for bumping legs.

Monday, October 1, 2007


추석 (aka Chuseok) is the Korean Harvest Moon Festival and is a three day national holiday celebrated on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month. Gregorianly this sometimes works out into a five day weekend, an annoying mid-week interruption, or even valuable time off wasted by overlapping a weekend.

Traditionally Chuseok is all about paying respect to the elders with a food offering and/or a visit to their graves. Most will try to compare the subsequent themes of family, gift giving, and feasting to U.S. Thanksgiving. Unfortunately other nationalities are left to come up with their own comparisons.

Of course it's also a holiday where, thanks to the massive migration that occurs throughout the country, entire cities can become ghost towns leaving the foreigners and Korean tumbleweeds free to explore otherwise crowded places. Some may opt to join the masses but they'll be competing for their train, bus, airplane, or boat ticket against the rest of the country. Any travel plans should be made well in advance.

Some foreigners who are looking to escape Mokpo can chose to explore Seoul. Knowing that the international city will half its population makes it a comfortable destination (provided you are sure what's open).

And if Seoul isn't your thing there are plenty of other destinations.