Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Last Post

That pretty much sums it up. My contract has expired and with it so did my year in Mokpo.

Google keeps these blogs around forever so if you're just discovering this site looking for information about working or living in Mokpo feel to look around, but you'll probably get better answers over at waygook.org or any of the other blogs by the ex-pats who are still living down there.

Stay classy, Mokpo. 안녕히계세요.

Monday, April 28, 2008

The Last Lesson

I've posted my last lesson over at waygook.org and, for the curious, this is how I spent my last day with the high school students:

Friday, April 25, 2008

Who is Jello Mando?

On average I get a couple of hits on this blog per day. It's mainly the drifters from Brian's blog, the Korean Blog List, and people looking for southparktv, but recently my count skyrocketed thanks to the Marmot and his link to the garbage bag story. So in case any of you new people were wondering who is the person spending a year in Mokpo, you can find out right here.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Lonely Planet Fraud

In case you've missed it,

The Lonely Planet guidebook empire is reeling from claims by one of its authors that he plagiarised and made up large sections of his books and dealt drugs to make up for poor pay.
There's plenty of information out there but I have to agree with Aaron Hotfelder's take on it over at Gandling.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Parade of the Stereotypes

I use Dave's ESL as a last resort for information since threads often degrade into the usual Korea-hate but I want to share Majolica's story for a couple of reasons:

  1. It happened in Mokpo.
  2. It's a catalog of Korean stereotypes.
  3. It's my apartment building.
Majolica is actually my other half and decided to vent on the forums since (if you don't have a blog) that's the only place where she felt she could vent. I was out of town and out of cell phone reach when this happened and I only heard about this late at night when she broke down in tears telling me this story. Majolica's tale is a cavalcade of Korean stereotypes, including useless police, drunk ajussi, and assault on women:
I was busy cleaning my apartment since the new NS were supposed to arrive in the afternoon. When we were done cleaning we started taking down the first load of garbage and recycling. We dropped of a pile of bags and went back to get the remaining ones when the "garbage" ajossi came out and started screaming at us. We were trying to explain that we were just going to get the rest of the stuff and then sort everything into the right piles, when he grabbed my friend and started hitting her. We started walking away fast, went back to my apartment, locked the door and decided to wait until he was gone before going back down.
Five minutes later, who is outside my door but the garbage ajossi carrying all the bags that we had left by the dump. Along with ajossi is ajumma, and when we open the door, they start yelling at us again(and speaking WAY too fast for my slow ears anyway).

Not crazy enough for you? But wait, who is coming now? Why, it's drunk abusive neighbour man, who joins in the "screaming and shouting at white girls" fest. He keeps trying to come into my apartment, and I kept telling him, "get out"... finally, the super shows up. This guy is nice enough, but kind of rude and overly belligerent when we can't understand what he's saying to us, so my heart started sinking when I saw that he was coming in.

He comes in, (WITH HIS SHOES ON!!!) and starts walking around my freshly mopped floors, going on about special garbage bags and inspecting my place, while I'm trying to ask him to step out and figure out what he wants... meanwhile, garbage ajumma and ajossi are still standing in our hallway, and drunk neighbour is still screaming racist slurs at us from the doorway. Finally, my friend manages to get a Korean friend on the phone, explains about the hitting and the screaming, and hands it over to the super. It turns out that she's freaked out and has called the cops.

At this point, drunken neighbour's screaming has reached a cresendo, my nerves are fraying, and I shut and lock the door. Then starts the banging on the door, the ringing of the bell. Super is still on the phone with Korean friend, ajumma and ajossi are still standing there. I'm now trying to explain through our Korean friend that I can't do anything about the garbage now, I really have to leave the apartment and go to my school and run errands and I don't have time for this insanity.

Everyone still with me?
FINALLY, the police show up. They are super nice, but sort of useless. I'm still trying to explain that I was expected at my school quite a while ago, and I will promise to do whatever it is with the garbage that I'm supposed to do when I come back.

The second policeman is outside the apartment with drunk guy, when drunk guy goes absolutely batshit crazy and starts kicking all our carefully piled garbage bags and recycling down the stairs. One of the bags busts and there's food and garbage all over the stairs, the glass starts breaking, it's just a big fucking crazy mess.

I take one look and start bawling. The super is still trying to convince us to take the garbage down, but I'm so pissed off about the mess the drunk guy made that I tell him I'm not doing it now. The police are still sort of ineffectually standing around and telling drunk guy to knock it off, when garbage ajumma shows up again, carrying the right kind of garbage bags.

SHE starts cleaning up (of course, although she wasn't the one hitting us, or kicking garbage down the stairs, or doing anything at all really). We start to help her, but the police make us come with them, drive us to my bank and school (with SIRENS!!) and drop us back at home. No idea what happened to drunk neighbour or anything else, but the sweet ajumma had cleaned up everything by the time we got back.

So anyway, that's a warning to you. You can throw out anything you want, in any kind of bag you want, in any quantity you want, but you got to wrap it all up in the fancy coloured bags before they'll let you put it in the trash. And also, it takes two policemen, two waegooks, two old people, and one drunk to throw out 4 bags of garbage and 2 boxes of recycling. Also, said garbage dumping takes exactly 3 hours and 20 minutes.
ahhh Korea, how I'll miss you.
I, on the other hand, am not impressed by the sad comedy of a foreigner living in Korean society. Korea, consider yourself warned: You're on notice!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

A Review of 전남 제일 고등학교

This past year I was an English Native Speaker at 전남 제일 고등학교 (aka Jeonnam Jeil Godeung Hakkyo). The school is one of Mokpo's language school and specializes in English, Chinese and Japanese. Funny enough the Japanese course is taught by a Japanese native speaker although since she administers the exam (let alone creates it) I suspect that she is more qualified than a native speaker like me.

Contract
My contract looks similar to this one. I didn't post it but feel free to compare it to other contracts.

Staff
The staff is at the school is friendly and professional and it's safer to have my care packages delivered to the main secretary than to my apartment. I would even use the word warm despite the fact that my only communication consisted of brief nods and 안녕하세요's as I pass each member in the hall. Even the principal is a kind and friendly man (I am allowed to skip teacher meetings) but smart enough to use the vice principal as his enforcer. The English department consist of eight English teachers placed at two per grade level. Despite the horror stories from other schools, the English teachers here have a decent understanding of English. They all have various degrees of proficiency but decent English is the rule not the exception at Jeonnam Jeil; if you were to dropped the entire English department in Big City America most if them would thrive while only one or two of them would die of starvation.

Lunch
For ₩50,000 per month you can purchase meal tickets redeemable at the school cafeteria. The food is unfortunately not very vegetarian or vegan friendly and sometimes you really lose out with the only edible things being rice and kimchi. The past native speakers was also a vegan so I know that the school understands the concept but the cafeteria has never offered me a vegan alternative, even if it was rice without the sprinkled chunks of ham. My predecessor soon opted to go home for lunch but I've kept going since it works with my schedule. In protest I've supplemented my lunch from the local Kimbap Nara place just beside the school and stopped paying for meal tickets. Cashing in the meal tickets is done so on the honor system so surprisingly nobody really noticed or really cared when I pick up a tray without putting a ticket into the bowl. I'm not really proud of this fact, it's just the system that evolved over the year.

Accommodations
My school did not pay for my apartment so there's nothing really to review about it.

Schedule
I was a supplementary teacher and taught, according to the confusion between my contract and my main co-teacher, either English culture or conversational English. Regardless, each week I taught 50 minutes of something to 8 classes of Grade 1 and 8 classes of Grade 2. I used an online calendar to manage my teaching schedule and vacation times.
Since the only one who really looked at the calendar was me there may be some mistakes, but for the curious it gives you an idea as to what my schedule was and how my year was structured.
There are some notes to my schedule:

  • My predecessor and I never taught any winter or summer camps.
  • You will be required to supervise English exams with the co-teacher.
  • The high school semester is different than elementary and middle school semesters; the starting and end dates of the summer vacation was slightly off by a week so vacationing with a friend may cause some problems.
  • The principal requires that you be at school at 8:30. If you don't you will be invited into his office for a discussion about your problems. So I have interpreted this to mean that I leave when I am finished my classes, even if that means at 2pm. Since I have yet to be brought before him for a second time I gather that this is not a problem. Actually as long as you walk out with purpose and greet all teachers in the hall, they won't even think twice.
  • You are required to be in school during 3 days in February for Graduation Week. You will not teach during these days so as along as you make announcement your arrival at 8:30 am you're free to vanish. Although I didn't, feel free to negotiate a removal from these days by way of a family wedding or two; nothing is going to happen during this week.
Lessons
As to what I taught I was given absolutely free reign, something that I think is a bad idea and have posted about it before. I was expected to make my own lesson from scratch with no connection to the students' actual proper English education; my work is stored at waygook.org and the lessons are indexed on the side bar.

I started (as do other native speakers) a few months into the school term. This means who ever is going to replace me in the upcoming month should know that I've basically gone through the entire lesson collection with the Grade 2's but since I've only had the grade 1's for a couple of months. I've only done:
Now people like using my lessons but if my replacements are better than me (i.e. know what they're doing) then they should probably do their own thing. The only things that I introduced to the students were the concepts of a themed lesson, powerpoint games, and South Park. This is an education program with no measurement or accountability; no one will care what you do.

Classroom Management
Classroom management is something that I learned on the spot while teaching in Korea. All native speakers have these problems and they vary according to school and teacher. For my replacement here are the class rules that each student should and does know:
  • Students are required to bring their pen and dictionary to class. If they forget they are sent out of the class room to get them.
  • I do not allow food or drink in my class room. If they are eating or drinking I tell them to go outside in hall with the garbage can and do not come back until they are finished. I continue the lesson without them.
  • If students are misbehaving I kick them out in the hall where vice principal or co-teacher will deal with them privately. I continue on with my lesson trying not to skip a beat.
  • Students do not touch the air condition or heating machine. If they are cold or hot they have one opportunity to ask me to turn the heater or air condition on during the ritual "Hello. How are you?' If they respond 'Fine thank you and you," they've lost it and they'll suffer. Usually one student will pipe up saying "Teacher! Cold!" I stop class to explain that when I asked 'how are you' they replied 'fine.' I'll repeat the exercise, writing down on the board what they should say to me, until I get a clear majority rule of what they want. Having spent summer and winter with me the the grade 2 students know this all too well and they'll usually ask the smart kids in the class to help them with the words.
  • There are student mug shots files that list the students, their photos, and their student numbers, organized by class. I use these for attendance and have arrange the student's in-class sitting chart based on this list. I.e. in table 1, I have student 1 through 6, in team 2 I have 7 through 12, and so on.
  • Volunteering is sometimes painful for my students but they know to expect it. My classes are usually full with 30 students so I'll never get to all of the kids. Instead I take advantage of the team tables and ask each team to choose a captain of the team. If they gang up and choose the quiet kid then I give the quiet kid captain the choice to choose the volunteer. If they squabble I give them the option of kai-bai-bo while I count down to five on my hand. If they're still squabbling at the end of five I randomly choose one kid and give him the option of front of the class or in the hall. Fortunately I have never had to give this option since my counting down to five, in conjunction with the rest of the class counting down to five, encourages one of the team members to step up.
  • I keep cell phones and do not give them back after class. I don't pretend that I'm calling Canada or pretend that I'm calling their mothers, I just keep them, ignore whatever pleas the students have. I'll usually give them to co-teacher during the day and let them deal with it but I show no sympathy to the kids.
  • I do not and have never done candy. I have started giving them titles of Genius Team and if the students themselves introduce this concept in class, Rock Head team.
While my rules maybe strict I can pull it off though my patented friendly way of mocking the students and feigning surprise when they say something intelligent. On my first class I got many "Teacher, smile?" But on my last class I got many "I love you, angry teacher."

Co-Teachers
Jeonnam Jeil has some great co-teachers but that doesn't mean that I've been free of problems. Co-teachers know and understand that they are required to supervise my class. And by know, I mean that I have no problem of making misbehaving kids the vice principal's problem; the vice principal in turn will openly wonder why I am dumping misbehaving kids in his office by way of yelling at the English department. I had eight co-teachers who were responsible for co-teaching 2 classes with me this year. That sums up to two hours out of their week and, in comparison, lunch took up five hours out of their week.

But on average most of the teachers were excellent, arriving and even participating as a co-teacher in my class. The process to get the problematic co-teachers to come to class evolved through the year and ended up in this format: Before each class I would fire off an instant message (my school has an in-house instant messenger system, aptly name School Messenger) to the specific co-teacher, reminding them to come to class through a "Could you help me teach this class?" This was the best Korean way of handling this since I was explicitly asking for help in a documented way (school messenger keeps chat histories) that would be readily available come the next meeting of the vice-principal and the English department. Now in exchange for coming to my class, if they came to me and asked me to be excused from this lesson because of work, then I granted immediately. Or if I knew I was having a easy lesson I told them to not worry about coming to class.

The most productive way that my class ran was when the co-teachers acknowledged me as the dominant teacher but supplemented my explanations (on games, vocabulary, etc.) with Korean while keeping the kids in the back row from misbehaving. Again I've talked about this before, but a good example of this relationship happened when a student stood up in class one day. I stopped whatever I was doing and watched, along with the other students, as she walked over to the co-teacher and asked her something in Korea. The whole class looked on as the co-teacher gestured towards me and replied 'Did you ask Native Speaker?' She sulked back to her seat and we all waited while she said in broken English 'Teacher may I go to the bathroom?" I did and class resumed. Going back to classroom management, I have a rule that I will let students do whatever they want, provided they ask me in English. They're not allowed to open the window or go to the bathroom without first asking me first; nobody has realized that if they asked me 'Teacher, I am feeling sick, may I go home," I wouldn't hesitate.

Teacher X.
While I can safely say that I had a perfectly professional relationships with all of my co-teachers my only real negative opinion of working at Jeonam Jeil came from working with the one teacher who was assigned to be my handler. On paperwork each native speaker has one co-teacher and Teacher X was mine; in addition to being one of my eight co-teachers the teacher also had to file the paper work for my airplane ticket reimbursement, etc. Looking back on the year I realized that X was a classic example of a person with the largest ego with the least ability. Now it would be unfair to paint the teacher as a one dimensional cartoon character but at certain times X acted like something lifted out of TV.

The teacher had applied for and received the job of handler not because of X's experience, but explicitly for her lack of experience. X (and I guess the school agreed) that this would be an excellent attempt for the teacher's English to improve by way of a personal tutor. Any consideration for my well being was obviously not a part of the decision process.

In the classroom Teacher X was my worst teacher. X would try to come across as an English expert in front of the kids but both the students and I could see that X wasn't. For example X was the only teacher who was afraid to ask me a question about English in front of the class. All of the other teachers both male and female, older and younger, would never hesitate to ask me the difference between two words or ask me to explain or the clarify something I had said in class. Instead X would vanish into the back office and research the word on Naver. This process took five minutes so that when X decided to return both I and the class had moved on to another part of the lesson. And this happened many times during a class.

Another example of this teacher disrupting my class was the way X helped the students. Most teachers understood that when I asked a question to the students I expected the students to respond in English. If they didn't know the answer the students knew full well how to say 'I don't know' so that I could re-ask the question and I could keep the class going. The most annoying thing that a teacher could do was to tell the students the answer. Teacher X would do this and usually it was the wrong answer. This infuriated me to the point that when I saw this in class I pointed to the whispering teacher and scolded X in front of the whole with 'Cheater! Cunning!' The students laughed and so did Teacher X, unaware whom the students who laughing at. I've talked to X many times about this counterproductive behavior but the teacher refused to see it as such, under the belief that the students needed the opportunity to practice English. It was through these experiences with Teacher X I've learned that for some Koreans age caries more weight than anything, including common sense.

Now if the problem with Teacher X was limited to just the classroom I could deal with since I would only have this particular teacher twice every week. But outside of the classroom it was worse and I should have recognized it immediately but assumed that it was the culture shock that everybody was telling me about. For instance on my first day X told me that I must write an introduction, memorize it and give back to the teacher. I did learned that the X's real intention was to memorize whatever I wrote and present Xself as translating 'on the fly' to the rest of the staff while I introduced myself during the morning meeting. I have had so many of these moments that I'm going to limit them to my top five incidents with Teacher X.

Incident 1
Last year all native speakers had to deal with the new security requirements. This included a verification of our university transcripts and our criminal background check; however since many of us had submitted them through the provincial office they had already been verified and processed and we were exempt from process, as told by our liaison at the provincial office of education.

Despite my insistence that X should call the office of education for clarification Teacher X refused to believe me when I said that I was exempt from this process. We danced around this issue for a couple of weeks and in the end I had to get the provincial office to call the teacher. To Teacher X this was an act of rudeness since I was bypassing the school's authority and embarrassing my co-teacher and the school. I know this because X felt like giving me a lecture afterwards. The incident launched a couple of rants performed in front of friends but the important point to learn is that this kind of thinking is detrimental to the well being of a native speaker or the image of the Jeollanam-do Education Program; basically if the native speakers are not allowed to phone the board of education during matters like these then they are isolated and open to abuse. I tried to argue my case but again you do not win arguments with Teacher X.

Incident 2
X was sent to a teacher camp for a month and I thought that I would receive a little time off from dealing with her. Unfortunately X telephoned me constantly with English questions and sent me essays to correct. I wouldn't have minded except for X's special instructions that I should not tell anybody and it should be secret. Well, naturally I did tell somebody, one of my friends who had been a native speaker at a workshop before she told me that this kind of thing is all too common. So I politely refused citing my fears about it being illegal, and while this was something that X denied, X did stop sending me request for corrections.

Incident 3
I was constantly used as a novelty (and this sums up X's view of our relationship) pet. This is one of the most insulting aspects working at Jeonnam Jeil. X would introduce me to Koreans who were X's friends but couldn't speak English, in effect making me wait a hour or so while X sat and gossiped. The awkwardness was compounded when X, in X's most perfect example of uncomfortable vainness would ask, 'how do you think about figure?" implying the friend, acquaintance, or whoever's appearance. X expected me to say 'she is beautiful' or 'he is handsome' or something like so that X would laugh and clap her hands as if I had just yipped and yapped for a treat. It was a suffocating relationship. In the school I had to eat my cafeteria meals with this teacher, alway sit beside X in meetings and assemblies, and always include X when I talked to the other teachers. Somewhere along the lines of 'taking care of me' X automatically assumed a relationship level of intimacy that stepped over many professional boundaries. The other co-teachers labeled X as my 'mother.'

Incident 4
One week X happened to overhear a student asking me about teaching extra English classes. X immediately jumped into this and told the student something to the effect of no, it is illegal. That same week X asked me to help the gym teacher (who was also the coach for the national gymnastic team -- well, maybe, I couldn't understand what X was trying to convey). The students were so busy training that they were unable to attend school and they needed an English teacher and my co-teacher volunteered me. I didn't quite understand this situation but it was completely outside of my contract and I politely refused. X kept on countering my refusal with words like 'duty as native speaker in this country' by this time I had become wise to X's ways and the insistence of reinforced my refusal. X left visibly disappointed.

Incident 5
Early on in the term X came to me and asked me a favor and feeling sorry for her, I ended up loaning X ₩2,000,000. X wouldn't tell me what the money was for and to this day I still don't know. This was the most stupid thing that I would ever do in Korea, but I was still under the impression that X was in control of my winter and summer camps, those little bits of extra work in your summer and winter breaks that stop you from month long vacations. Two weeks later I got the money back and everything was fine. But as a note to my replacements it is important that you do not do this and do not feel pressured into doing this--even if X tells you that he or she knows how much money you have.

(Incidentally I have heard many stories about Koreans lending money that they do not have. In Korean society it seems that people have yet to learn financial responsibility and will go into debt to preserve the image that they are visibly affluent.)

Bonus Incident
X made me 'correct' my comments during the exit interview (i.e. teacher feedback form) and I was not allowed to see what other teachers wrote about my performance.

So after these incidents (and more) I developed a unfortunate habit of immediately being filled with dread every time X wanted to talk to me in private. These incidents do create a harsh impression of X and some part of me wants to believe that there are some redeeming qualities about this teacher. After all it would be unfair to describe X as evil, but X's way of thinking is so far removed from my own--and my other Korean teachers--that working with the teacher proved to be one of the challenging aspect of my time here. I don't know what kind of paperwork X has to deal with concerning me (X will not let me know, informing me that I should not worry about it) but during my term with X I learned to become as independent as I could. The result is this blog and the information that is gathered by learning Korean, asking questions to other Koreans and other native speakers in Mokpo.

And it has to be noted that I was the first foreigner that X had to deal with and I hope that X has mellowed a little thanks our interactions. But, again, I found X to be the kind of person who is insulting without intention and unable to recognize discomfort in other people. While crazy is a word that may be better on the flip side, lack of patience may be equally applied to me. Throughout this year correcting Teacher X's social faux-pas all the time became too exhausting and in the end I gave up and started to avoid the teacher as much as possible, wishing that X magically would 'get a clue.' This is not the best way to handle this situation, but I lacked the drive and ambition; the effort involved in proper mediation was too much for me and my one year in Mokpo.

Out of Five Stars
While Teacher X was the main problem at 전남 제일 고등학교 it would be unfair to the other members of the school, most notable the other members of English department, to simply say 'avoid this school.' The English department and it's members keep the school from failing my (one and only) school review.

Working at 전남 제일 고등학교 gets a 3.5/5 rating. It's an acceptable rating that acknowledges the staff, the students, the teaching resources and even the teaching environment while noting that there are still some areas in need of major improvement. Of course there are schools worse than mine, schools that are more strict and are more antagonistic towards their native speakers. And of course then there are those schools that will make you join the volleyball team.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Cell Phones In Mokpo

It's safe to say that cellular phone companies are the most discriminatory establishments in Korea. And since we're not in Seoul we don't have many of the side-steps that comes along with being in an international city. Now this topic has been covered before so this post will be short; after a brief survey of Mokponians, it seems like your best bet is in two options:

Korean Friend
Get a Korean friend. Arranging an informal arrangement where the phone is in the Korean friend's name will give you access to the Whites Only "Phones for Korean People" but this does introduce a dependency. If your friend is a co-worker (i.e. co-teacher) then you run the gambit of him or her insisting that your cell phone is not really your cell-phone but company property. In this situation, despite the fact that you've been paying the monthly bills, you may be forced to return the phone at any time.

Pay as You Go
Get a pre-pay phone. For a foreigner it is comparably cheaper but less convenient since they require monthly charging by way of handing money over to the clerk at the store. It is important to note that SK does not offer any such service but most Korean tour guides are oblivious to this fact and will take you there anyway. From a brief survey of Mokponians it seems that both LG and Show offer pre-pay phones plans that can be registered in a foreigner's name. In an e-mail from Angie I got this helpful information:

I use the "Pre-pay" service with LG. 30 000won one-time connection fee, then 10 000 won a month after that. Still quite expensive (I think you only get about 20 minutes of talking time for your 10 000won, so I stick to text messages and receiving calls only).

I always find the LG shops in Old Mokpo, near the railway station to be much more cooperative and friendly. They even gave me a bonus renewal once my phone credit had expired.
Important Vocabulary
From Emanuel I got some useful words:
  • PrePaid: 선불한 (aka Seonbulhan)
  • Monthly / Month contract: 매달의 / 월정의 (aka Maedarui / Woljeongui)
  • Desire to enter into a contract (contract start-want-to): 계약을 시작하고싶습니다 (aka Gyeahyageur Sijakhagosipseupnida)

Friday, April 18, 2008

Korea Same-Same

Korea Same-Same is what I'm going to call Korean wackyness that is shared by both North and South Korea. I brought it up during my ramble on North Korea but now that I have a category name for it, I am seeing it everywhere. Consider this post from A Geek in Korea:

She said that if she traveled outside Korea, she would spend some money. That money would not be going to Korean people, so she was in fact hurting her country. She would never travel outside Korea because she LOVES Korean people, and would never want to spend money that didn’t go to other Koreans. (Never mind she attends a school that pays my salary, and I’m not Korean.)

Thursday, April 17, 2008

The Mokpo Transit System

Mokponians either buy their own transportation (it should be noted that, like wearing socks with sandals, scooters are socially acceptable in Korea) or simply use the cheap taxi system to get from point A to point B. Consequently the transit system is often an overlooked resource, but consisting of a variety of buses the Mokpo transit system is clean, efficient, and comparable to any counterpart city in North America. Sadly English information about this system is non-existent (and again if you're in Seoul you'll have better luck). Here's what I've figured out.

Routes & Services
Routes are classified into four different lines.

  1. Red Lines (간선 – The Main Line) cut through the city along the major streets, going from east to west and back again along the same route.
  2. Green Lines (도심 순한 – The Gentle City Center Line) circle the city.
  3. Yellow Lines (지선 – The Branch Line) cuts through the city like the red lines, but travel along minor streets, resulting in longer routes and less frequent buses.
  4. Orange Lines (외곽 연계 – The Outside Connection Line) all focus on the outskirts of Mokpo.
The buses themselves are colored accordingly except that the yellow line buses look more orange and the orange line buses are white. The orange line buses are also a higher class of bus, more like city coach than city transit and demand a higher fare.

Schedules
There is a bus guide online but it was last updated in 2005 and it doesn't believe in implementing maps. Some bus routes are non existent while some exiting bus routes are missing. But it creates a useful picture of the system; the transgooglelated version lists some information, like the interval time between buses and the operation times for each bus. On average each bus operates between 6am and 10pm and its frequency can be as quick as every 15 minutes or as slow as every hour; generally the lower the bus number the more frequent the turnover.

Luckily printed guides do exist and there is at least one location in Mokpo where they can be obtained, free of charge. Students may know of other places, but the main map poster-pamphlet is available in 시청 (aka Shi Cheong), Mokpo's city hall, at the 교통행정과 (aka Gyotong Haengeonggwa), the Transportation Administration department (pictured).

The process to get one is very informal: ask for a bus map and one of the office workers will lead you to a box and you can take as many as you want. They're free like like leftover Hallowe'en candy. The guides are written in Korean but the maps are easy to interpret. Scans are available at the bottom of this post.

Terminals
Each bus route has a starting and stopping point and it's important to recognize where these are in your schedule. For some routes that operate in a straight line across the city the terminals are fairly obvious; the bus starts at one terminal, travels until it reaches the other terminal and bounces back again. But other, more circular routes, hide their terminals within their loop so if you're not paying attention you'll end up with your bus pulled over and watching the driver's smoking break pass the half hour mark.

Bus Stops
Everybody in Mokpo (and I guess Korea as well) can't be bothered with streets; each bus stop is named according to its closest landmark. On the bus, a pre-recorded voice will announce the next two bus stops and help you practice your Korean listening skills.

Fares & Passes
As of of this post's date the regular fare (at least the one applicable to English speaking Native Speakers) is ₩1,000 for Red, Green and Yellow Routes and ₩1,400 for Orange bus routes. The seniors, students, and other special cases have a reduced fair.

Bus Passes
There are Bus Passes – translated as Traffic Cards (교통카드) – and in it's popular form resemble key chains more than North American credit card sized passes. As of this post you have a couple options. There actually is a credit card size pass but everyone I spy on seems to choose the more popular circle key chain and the rectangle key chain. All of my students have these key chains and they run in between ₩4,000 and ₩6, 000. I used have one and use it as an actual key chain; the proper Korean way is to use them as cell phone jewelery.

Using the Traffic Card is fairly easy; each bus is equipped with a Traffic Card touch pad right by the driver and you simply touch the traffic card to the key pad. Upon a successful transaction the pad will play a pre-recorded 감사합니다 and the LCD displaying the time will switch to funds remaining. There's a similar pad near the exit but that is uses for transferring.

There’s no concept of unlimited ride; the traffic card is really a debit card (also usable in other supported transactions around town) and nothing similar to a North American bus pass where we would expect to pay for unlimited transportation in special 7 day or 30 day increments. Apart from the convenience an added bonus of using the traffic cards is fare reduction by ₩50. Basically use the card traffic card 20 times and the next ride is free.

Cards can be purchased and re-charged at local book stores, convenience stores, etc. all around Mokpo; look for the 마이비 (aka MYBi) signs. Or to find one closer to you, ask your students or get somebody who can translate to call the Traffic Card Hot Line (1588-8990) for more information.

Transfers
Only the Traffic Cards allow you to transfer from one bus to another. The 30 minute transfer window starts when you swipe the Traffic Card on the exiting Traffic Card pad. The transfer is only valid on a different bus; you can't hop off and hop on. And if you've paid cash you're out of luck.

T-Money
T-Money is Seoul's transportation payment system that's viable for Bus, Subway, and even Taxis trips. Normally the two systems are incompatible but this hasn't been tested or verified. I found a story once that T-Money was trying to buy out MyBi, but that link has expired and any Google search come up empty.

Bus Etiquette
Entering a bus is always done at the front door and exiting is always done out the rear door. Do not try and exit out the front door. Bus drivers will yell at you. And when you want to exit you can press the little buzzer found on the walls and ceiling of the bus. Hyunwoo Sun has some key bus phrase in the case there is a break down in communication:
You can say "내려 주세요(Nae Ryo Joo Say Yo)" to mean "Let me off here, please", or add "죄송합니다(Jae Song Haam Nih Dah)", meaning "I'm sorry" in front of that.
Miscellaneous
Here are some notes that don't quite fit in anywhere else:
  • All buses are equipped with a commercial radio and pipe in radio stations for the enjoyment of the passengers. It is the bus driver who is in charge in the in-trip radio entertainment and they do not take requests.
  • The bus rides are crowded during rush hours. You will be forced to stand and consequently people will fall into you. Be strong.
  • I inherited the booklet guide from the previous native speaker but I have yet to find where they hand those guides out. To cut costs it looks like the city has switched to cheaper, 'pamphlet' printings.
Red Line (간선) Bus Map:

Green Line (도심 순한) Bus Map:


Yellow Line (지선) Bus Map:


Orange Line (외곽 연계) Bus Map:

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Mokpo's "Casual Dining" Restaurants

Wikipedia describes Casual Dining Restaurants as

A casual dining restaurant is a restaurant that serves moderately-priced food in a casual atmosphere. Except for buffet-style restaurants, casual dining restaurants typically provide table service. Casual dining comprises a market segment between fast food establishments and fine dining restaurants (see also Fast casual restaurant).

Family-style restaurant is often a synonym for a casual-dining restaurant, particularly used for chains such as Denny's and IHOP that serve mild breakfast-style foods around the clock. A diner is a specific casual-dining restaurant in the United States that emphasize traditional food such as hamburgers and sandwiches.
The closest American Casual Dinning restaurant to Mokpo is a couple of Outback Steakhouses in Gwangju (most of the Mokponians use the one across the street from Starbucks).

I'm not a big fan of casual dinning restaurants. In a snobby kind of way I see them as the awkward puberty stage in your palate's development, where young boys and girls can learn about the wonderful world of asking for menus and tipping waiters. They allow you to graduate from McDonalds with the training wheels of cheese sticks and fried onion rings to something that’s considered good sports bar food. Now there's nothing wrong with sports bar food, it's just that it's food that you get while polishing off a couple pitchers of beer and yelling at TV screens. Unfortuntely, if you're in Korea, it also happens to be the ambassador food of your home country. Sometime that's a dangerous precedent to set:


Mokpo has at least two Korean causal dining restaurant 그랑삐아또 (aka Gerang Piatto) and 베네치아 (aka Beahneahchia), or as the English translations tell us Gran Piatto and Venezia. The fare is imported western food with Korean twists. Such twists include putting shrimp in the spaghetti and spam in the salad bar. Using kimbap as an economic unit, the average price of a single meal hovers between 10 to 15 rolls. Brief surveys of Koreans that I know consider these restaurants 'too expensive for the food portions' and I tend to agree with them. Venezia seems to be the more expensive of the two and the least appealing choice. And the opinions in the foreigner community are mixed. From a couple of e-mails I received I have this:
It has steak and pizza and maybe some other stuff (been a while since we were there) and a salad bar, and I don't recall the rest of the the entrees. We actually didn't think it was worth the money spent or the time we were in line waiting to be seated either (over 30 minutes on a busy Sat. night). The way they do the steak isn't that great either.
And this:
I like the buffet, but the meals were okay-ish. Pretty much I order the cheapest non-meat thing, then eat bread sticks burritos and fruit all night. But yeah, it's nothing special and is rather overpriced.
But on the flip side I have this from Todd Hurst's 2005 post:
The weekend started right - eating grubs. A restaurant called Venezia. It does fusion food. Hearing mixed reviews, I was a little apprehensive but the big red neon sign had been calling my name since November. It’s hard to say no to neon. I managed to convince Laura and May Lynn to meet me and try it out. One of my adult students told me the food was delicious. It was the kind of place a Korean can go for a juicy hamburger steak.

The food was plentiful and delicious. The atmosphere was what I expected. It was done up nicely, a real classy joint.

The salad bar went on for ten miles, they brought free wine (well, they called it ‘wine’) and my spaghetti could drown Genghis Kahn’s army with the amount of cheese it had.
More information can be found on both restaurants' online menus and I can think it's safe to say that, even with my own food bias, these restaurants are actually on par with their western equivalents of casual dinning. The food is Koreanly okay and the prices are a little high. But at least they don't have flare:

Lesson 28 - Word Games

Lesson 28 - Word Games is published over at waygook.org.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

North Korea

I was about to reply to a post on Brian's blog about his bad day, but after organizing all of my thoughts, finding the web links, the videos, and doing a little bit of more research, I ended up with enough material to write a post.

The only thing that I knew about North Korea before I came to Mokpo was largely informed by TV, movies and the occasional dip into Wikipedia when something interesting would flash across the news desk. To me the North Koreans were part of the axis of evil. And I don't mean the political axis of evil, I mean the Hollywood axis of evil that generates one-dimensional villains, usually consisting of unpronounceable rogue nations who have inherited the same world domination goals as 1930s Nazis:


And star in James Bond music videos:

Books
My first educational supplement was Bradley K. Martin's Under the Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader: North Korea and the Kim Dynasty, found by aimlessly browsing at Seoul's WhatTheBook. Published in 2004, the information is a bit dated and needs an updated chapter or two but it's a good way to understand the rise of the communist state and its current state of mind; Martin creates a mosaic of knowledge by drawing on a large collection of interviews and personal visits. There's plenty of reviews and interviews with the author and a good example is FrontPage Magazine's interview that covers the major points of the book.

In that same trip I also picked up The Aquariums of Pyongyang, a memoir about 강철환 (aka Kang Chol-Hwan), his ten years in the Yodok concentration camp, and his defection to South Korea via China. It's a more personal story and a completely different read from Martin's textbook but they complement each other well.

Unfortunately those are all the books I've read on North Korea; I'm a slow reader and by the time I had finished them I had discovered the Internet.

Blogs
If a place like Mokpo can generate multiple blogs about Korean wackiness then surely an entire country with kimchi and nuclear weapons should have a couple of loyal observers. I don't necessarily agree with all of the views all of the time but I still read the following:
Videos
Through the blogs I've watched some interesting videos and documentaries about North Korea. The top of my list is North Korea, A Day in the Life, a 2004 documentary film by Pieter Fleury:
In this narration-less documentary the family of Hong Sun Hui, a female worker in a textile factory, is taking us through an ordinary day in the country of the Beloved Leader Kim Jong Il.

The people undergo an endless stream of propaganda. Unmoved they perform their duty. At the nursery school, Hong's daughter learns that 'flowers need the sun and she needs the love of the Great Leader to grow'. The system of indoctrination, control and self-criticism seems both frightening and ridiculous.

Although unexpected, an escape is underway: English lessons for Hong's brother seem to bring a spark of hope. But 'Internet' is still just a word: it means International Network!
Unfortunately I could only find a sample of the film online and had to resort to other methods to watch it.

The lack of narration is incredibly powerful and it allows the watcher to put the scenes into their own context. For me I not only saw it as a westerner, but also as a person living in South Korea, comparing the two different countries.

Another documentary is Peter Tetteroo's 2001 documentary, Welcome to North Korea and it is available online:


This is a fairly typical documentary of North Korea and many themes that you see here are repeated in other documentaries. A perfect example is the 14 slightly entertaining parts of the Vice Guide to North Korea. It's available from their website:

Again there's tons of other videos online, like this report:

and this documentary on undercover filming:
and this video from Yodok prison camp in North Korea, mentioned in previously mentioned Kang Chol-Hwan's The Aquariums of Pyongyang:

On a lighter note there even a full copy of the Mass Games online for the curious. But after all of this information what can I say about North Korea? Well there's the obvious lessons about Kim Jong Il and the corruption of the worker's paradise but there's also some peripheral lessons that I've picked up along the way.

Same Same but Different
In the west we're accustomed to a political border running somewhat parallel to an cultural border. Coming to Korea I was under the assumption that North Korea went over to the dark side of the force, while South Korea, with the help of the Obi-Wan Kenobi U.S. used the force only for good. Sure the North Korea's wackiness involves human rights violations, but that same wackiness is here in South Korea on a much smaller and less despotic scale:
This photo (from here, via Korea Beat) shows some foreigners taking part in a "Winter Sea Penguin Swim" on Jeju-do. Interestingly enough, Lost on Jeju tells us that local English teachers working under the EPIK program were convinced to take part due to the offer of an extra vacation day for doing so. I have no idea if the people in the photo above are related to that or not, but I can't help but see such photos and think of this painting from the 1984 book "The People's Great Leader" (from here) titled "All the peoples of the world praising Kim Il Sung."
It's not so much the concentration camps but it was in the smaller things where I saw the same-sameness. Like how meetings were handled at the school in A Day in the Life compared to meetings in my school, or how the workers must work harder for the party when I've heard a similar mantra used by English teachers improving English education in accordance with the new administration's policies. In reality it seems like the people in both Koreas are more similar to their counterpart than most people understand; the 50 odd years of communist-capitalist cease-fire seems like is really just sediment laying on centuries of common culture.

North Korea is South Korea's Mexico
This is a concept that was introduced in Bradley K. Martin's book and I'm probably twisting it all to pieces but the gist is this: Reunification is something both sides want, the North maybe a little zealously more than the South. Now, the South is doing all right for itself while the North is at best struggling so the only ways that unification will happen is through a second Korean war or the absorption of North Korea by the South. While it's easy to see how the former is bad the latter is viewed with just as much dread. Germany's unification is a living example that reunification is going to be costly and the sheer volume of people matched with the difference in living conditions is going to be difficult to manage. Basically the South doesn't want to deal with all of the poor people.

So what can the South do? The current plan seems like it is going to help the North understand how wonderful capitalism by working together in economic projects and establishing economic bridges before political ones. While most of this is wrapped up in overtures of inter-Korean brotherly cooperation, I'm going to be cynical and suggest that Korean corporations are more interested in the untapped pool of cheap labour and resources than liberating their fellow man.

Now the corporations are acting just as corporations usually act, out of self interest, but in the context of unification this is a dangerous precedent; while the government sells this as unification baby steps, what incentives do Korean corporations now have to raise the standard of living of their northern brother? If I play devil's advocate then, in some weird Korean way, unification becomes even more costly to South Korea.
With labor costs rising in South Korea, many owners of small and medium-sized factories, say they face two options: closing and moving to China, or closing and moving to Kaesong.
But this is all speculation on my part; in the here and now the new administration has to figure out how it will deal with the current policies. I'll leave the matter of North Korea to the experts and the Koreans who think they're experts.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Garrett's Lesson Plans

Garrett came to Mokpo roughly at the same time as me and ended up being the neighboring native speaker at Mokpo High School. His school had a completely different take on English education and didn't give him any fancy stuff that I used in my lessons. He had no video projector, no big screen tv, and no computer. He was old school. Literally.

Sadly his contract ran out and now he's gone. He will be missed but for those that remain he did leave his lessons plans on his blog in two parts.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Lesson 27 - Analytical Thinking

Lesson 27 - Analytical Thinking is published over at waygook.org.

This was largely inspired by Professor Layton and the Curious Village a game that I'm playing on the DS. It's all about puzzles and you can check out the demo on the official website.

Even Better News!

Dear Dave,

These are awesome. (And congratulations on the baby!)

How long could you survive in the vacuum of space?How Long Could You Survive Trapped In Your Own Home?
The Blog-O-Cuss Meter - Do you cuss a lot in your blog or website?How many cannibals could your body feed?

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Mokpo's Oldest Blog

In the same way that Matt at Gust of Popular Feeling delves into Korea's history I present you with a rare anthropological find from Mokpo's past: the oldest waygooken blog.

I'm welcoming corrections on this but after some searching I'm going to nominate Bulgogi and his Teaching English in a Fishing Town blog dated to the pre-jellomando year of 2002. It's a small sample but it does document a slice of the FIFA World Cup:

Tickets are pretty hard to come by for the world cup. First off only 8% of the stadiums are open to public tickets, the rest are corporate allocations. Thats why for most of the games the best seats are empty, and the stadium only looks half full. there are two ways to get tickets in korea. the first is for international ppl, tourists. you have to apply and they are usually allocated out as part of a package deal. they are also bloody expensive. The other way is for korean residents. You have to apply way in advance, so by the time i got to mokpo, the expats here had already applied, as both korean residents and international visitors. a coupla weeks ago they came through, and of course i didn't have one. then one of the guys had a huge falling out with the girls he was going with, and so he suggested that i use the ticket. if i got in (i might not have because everyone's name is on the ticket) i could pay him the 66,000face value. If i couldn't get in, i wouldn't owe him anything, as he wouldn't have gone anyway. good guy. this was all told to me only last tuesday, so i was stoked that i was going. We took the bus to Kwangju, only 1 1/4 hrs away from Mokpo, good fun, enjoyed the ton of extra expats, including the spanish chicks (i am going to spain soon. the women are phenominal. Everyone remember Andy from Oz Big Brother [the Brazilian dominatrix who got kicked out first]? these chicks looked like that). we watched the world cup games playing before ours (8:30pm, Spain Vs Slovenia, hence the spanish chicks), including the excellent England Vs Sweden (1-1 draw), at this cool dingy pup with abot 100 other expats. there are a sum total of 28 expats in mokpo, 14 of which i hang around, so it was really special. there were no koreans in the pub, including behind the bar (it was an aussie pub), and we loved it.
There's another candidate, one Daniel Roy, dated to April 2001. Unfortunately it's about his wife giving birth to their son in Mokpo while he's in Mongolia. I like this anecdotal proof that Koreans are dicks to people other than waygookens:
Ah, Korea... Sun-duk told me that Hye-young's son was born in Seoul last Thursday, but that his boss (Hye-young's a government employee in a town near Mokpo) wouldn't grant him leave on account of "urgent business". In fact, Hye-young had to work all weekend, and has seen even less of his son than I of mine! I mean, at least I've got a photograph; but the hospital where Soon-joo gave birth doesn't have a web site... Poor Hye-young! Poor us!

National Assembly Elections

It's election day today and another chance for a day off. Unfortunately it's also the first real rain storm of the year.

The National Assembly is a different legislative body but the process is pretty much the same as the presidential election I mentioned a few months ago. Now if you care about it you already know who won, so the only thing I can add is that I am happy election season is over. And I'm not alone in either; I wasn't the only one who got woken up by friendly reminders to vote:

I woke up Sunday morning to the sound of clapping hands, tacky Korean songs, and some dude yelling in a mike. It felt as if someone was slowly bolting a screw in my brain. I hate Korean elections because they are LOUD.
or who had to put up with it during school hours:
They are dancing with the sound of loud music. I enjoy listening and watching them but i can't stand it sometimes specially during our class discussion. Even when i close all the windows in the classroom, we can't concentrate in the class because students are busy listening and sometimes stand up, sing and dance, too!
But this is the perfect summary of the whole spectacle:
This has meant that for the past 3 weeks rigorous campaigning has taken place in every nook and cranny of this tiny country. Let me assure you that campaigning Korean-style looks nothing like our tacky lawn-signs and occasional door-to-door hand-shaking. No, here we've had dozens of trucks circling the city, blaring our campaign songs from 7am to 10pm DAILY. There are advocates for each candidate positioned at the major street corners, dressed in matching outfits, singing songs, handing out yogurt drinks and dried squid, whose ceaseless attempts to pester pedestrian and distract drivers grew old after day 1. Some of the larger apartment complexes (read: mine) even have advocates positioned at the driveways leading in and out of our buildings to ensure that we are bowed to each and every time we pass through. If you're really lucky you'll get an impassioned Adjuma (read: older Korean woman) taking up the mike at one of the many soap-boxes which have sprung up in our parking lots, admonishing the transgressors and extolling the virtues of Mr. Mokpo 1-9. All of this is delivered directly into our apartments via the 1000000000mhz sound systems that are installed in each one of these temporary lecterns. Long-story-short: sleep has been hard to come by recently. I am thanking the heavens above that it will be over by nightfall but even that doesn't seem quite soon enough.

Monday, April 7, 2008

You Can’t Buy Anything On-Line in Korea, Mr. Foreigner

I've talked about it before but Brendon Carr in his Korea Law Blog throws in his two cents on the matter.

산정스포렉스

산정스포렉스 (aka SanJeong Sporex) is a fitness center right in front of 중앙하이츠 (aka JungAng Heights) in Old Mokpo and it's a pretty decent gym even by North American standards. It has the usual fare of treadmills, exercise bikes, weight machines, free weights, and (a real selling point for me) a swimming pool. But it also has the usual fare of Korean accessories:

Loud N-R-G Music
It's a safe stereotype to make that Koreans enjoy cranking up the volume in their daily activities:

The city here is like a giant amusment park without any rides. Lights are flashing at you from every direction, there 101 different pop-and techno-music songs always within earshot, and billboards assault your English skills with strange slogans like "Happy Awesome 100" or "Ace Perfect". It's never really wrong, it just feels so far from being right.
While places like grocery store will probably have the same repeating mix of top 10 k-pop hits, all gyms are regulated to have loud techno music turned up to eleven. I don't know why but SanJeong is no exception.

Televisions
I could really enjoy the TVs if it wasn't for the lack of ear buds. In SanJeong there's a good collection of 20 or so treadmills lined up all along the windows on the second floor and in front of each treadmill is a decent flat screen television. It's even better than other fancy fitness centers since we get our own personal TV. But Korea (and yes I mean the country) doesn't believe in earphones and FM transmitting technology so the only way to hear the TV is to over-crank the volume past the eleven-dialed techno music resulting in the perfect metaphor for Korea's work harder, not smarter mentality.

Vibrators
Foreigners are often confused about certain aspects of Korean society. We think that either they're so backwards that they're stuck in 1950s America or they're so frickin ahead of us that their minds have literally evolved to a point beyond our comprehension. Using vibration machines for exercise is one of these contradictions and SanJeong has both old and new school body vibrators. Now, the academic opinion is that vibrationizing is a just a fad exercise that is coming back for another round but at SanJeong theses machines are right next to the massage machines. So I guess the Korean see the value of a jiggling rubber band tied around your waist as a relaxing Swedish massage chop. Westerners have other ways of recognizing their value:

Friday, April 4, 2008

Lesson 26 - Geography V

Lesson 26 - Geography V is published over at waygook.org.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

The Mokpo Mega-Store Review

Despite it's small stature Mokpo is home to three competing big box stores: E-Mart, Lotte Mart and (new this year) Home Plus. All three are what you expect, playing the economies of scale game and and delivering goods that might otherwise be unobtainable at the local market. And by unobtainable I mean foreign goods like Maple Syrup (available at the same, universal price of 12,000).

The usual exercise that helps foreigners understand the big box store here in Korea is to start with the image of Wal-Mart back home and think it better; the make-up of a Korean big box store is typical of the Wal-Mart model, something along the usual mix of grocery, clothing, animal (eating & pet), sporting goods, housewares, and home electronics store under one warehouse roof.


But even though Wal-Mart is painted as an evil soul-sucking, community destroying entity, the foreigners in Mokpo actually appreciate their stores and are thankful for their existence even if they too are probably putting small business out of business. We like them cause they remind us of home -- especially the grocery section. In Korea all grocery sections in the big box stores are more like the grocery stores back home and occupy an entire floor in their respective multi-level buildings.


As a side note, there actually was a Korean Wal-Mart; it started in 1998 but ended up selling all 16 stores to Shinsegae (owner of E-mart) in 2006:
Wal-Mart Stores (WMT) announced Monday that it is withdrawing from the highly competitive South Korean retail market, agreeing to sell its 16 stores to the country's top discount chain.

The world's largest retailer said Shinsegae Co. would buy Wal-Mart Korea for 825 billion won ($882 million), pending approval by South Korean regulators. Wal-Mart said the decision to withdraw is part of its global strategy.

"As we continue to focus our efforts where we can have the greatest impact on our growth strategy, it became increasingly clear that in South Korea's current environment it would be difficult for us to reach the scale we desired," said Mike Duke, vice chairman of Wal-Mart Stores.

...

"They failed to attract customers to the stores," said S.K. Lee, a retail analyst at Hyundai Securities in Seoul, adding that housewives in particular were dissatisfied with food and beverage offerings.
The New York Times, in a similar article describing Wal-Mart international difficulties, gives us this little graphic depicting Wal-Mart's world:

But I digress. As I mentioned before, the big box stores in Korea are like Wal-Mart but better and that includes food. ZenKimchi's video tour of Home Plus illustrates what's on par with mega-store food offerings.


Now ZenKimchi focuses more on the wacky (i.e non-western) aspects of Korean grocery stores (and, trust me, come Chuseok even convenience stores will have Economy Size pre-wrapped gifts of Spam) but for the Mokponian Waygooken, which store is better?

E-Mart
E-mart is located in the center of town and ranks 3rd in my list. On an random sampling it appeared that E-mart offered the cheapest prices but the difference never went higher than a 1,000. Cheap prices should have placed it closer to the top but unforunatly E-mart was the cause of the Great Brown Bread Depression of 2007 in which E-mart management decided that 'whole wheat white bread' was not worth keeping in stock. This caused cartoon sadness ripples throughout the entire foreigner community. And by foreigner community, I mean me.

Lotte Mart
Lotte Mart is located in Peace Park and is more convenient for people living in Hadang and a more expensive taxi-ride for people living anywhere else. Lotte Mart ranks a solid second place. On the same random sampling that determined that E-mart has lower prices it was also made clear that Lotte Mart has more variety than E-mart. As an added bonus the location is right next to Lotte Cinema if eating in movie theaters is you thing. Unfortunately, as of this blog post, it has nothing resembling brown bread.

Home Plus
Home Plus has the luxury of being the last arrival to Mokpo and has taken advantage of E-Mart and Lotte Mart's shortcoming. It's closer to old Mokpo, right off of 3rd Square and awesomely enough right next to my school. It wins 1st place since, in addition to having that 'whole wheat white bread' thing it also carries tortilla shells, dairy-free ice-cream, ginger ale (along with black cherry and orange soda), and waffles. The downside is that yes, prices are more expensive but until people can show me another place that gives me something resembling Mexican food and vegan friendly organic ice-cream waffles, Home Plus shall remain the undisputed leader of Mokpo Mega-Stores.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

아줌마병

아줌마병 (aka Ajummabyeong) is an often mis-diagnosed but common disorder affecting post-menopausal Korean women. While at first it may seem controversial that a condition is linked to an ethnic type, it is not uncommon. For example, scientists have long identified Sickle Cell Anemia as being,

...found in people of African, Mediterranean, Indian, and Middle Eastern heritage. In the United States, these disorders are most commonly observed in African Americans and Hispanics from the Caribbean, Central America, and parts of South America.
But what's puzzling the current research is the high density of the affected women living within the Korean peninsula. In comparison, samples of ethnic Korean women who live in other countries have a remarkably low probability of developing ajummabyeong. In the fact the relationship between developing the condition and proximity to Korea is almost exponential; while nearly 100% of Korean women living in Korea will develop some degree of ajummabyeong, the likelihood for a Korean woman in neighboring China was shown to be drastically lower. This trend continued, and as Dr. Ha Foon Ni in his paper Relationships between Ajummabyeong and Ethnic Korean culture points out, his team links
...smaller probability with longer distances, up to a point where the furthest distance sampled, North America, contained almost negligible cases of developing ajummabyeong with this caveat: the numbers were reported lower since, of the discovered cases in the target cities, it was shown that a large percentage of these females had a high ratio of Life in Korea vs Life in Host Country. Likewise, Koreans who had a lower ratio, that is people had spent more of their life in their host countries, were virtually free of symptoms attributed to ajummabyeong.
Again it seems absurd that a condition could target a specific gender from a specific country. But after Googling some similar results I found out that ajummabyeong isn't the only affliction targeting Koreans. There's also stomach cancer.

While Gastrical Cancer is another emerging Korean-only condition, it doesn't discriminate as blatantly as ajummabyeong, again, statistically speaking and compared to neighboring countries. But nonetheless Korea somehow has an improbably high rate of stomach cancer and while the cause of ajummabyeong is so far a mystery, scientists are blaming kimchi for the cancer. This idea is something that is at best described as contradictory to Korea's collective belief. For example, consider this lead paragraph from the Digital Chosen Ilbo:
Cancer is Korea’s biggest killer, responsible for 25 percent of deaths. Its causes are still not fully known, its treatment too often remains a stab in the dark, but it is clear that a diet rich in kimchi and other traditional Korean dishes can be highly effective in preventing cancer.
And compare it to this study, conveniently name kimchi and soybean pastes are risk factors of gastric cancer.

While the argument between kimchi and cancer may be convincing, it would be premature to suggest a connection between kimchi and ajummabyeong. A cause (and heance cure) is still unknown at this time. However, the symptoms for ajummabyeong are fairly easy to identify but the tragedy is that many women fail to recognize their own symptoms before it's too late. And even then most women tend to go without treatment due to a lack of awareness. From a quick search on the internet I can list these most common symptoms:
  • Drastic metabolism reeducation. Unfortunately the high metabolism that is generally acknowledged in keeping young Korean women fairly slim simply stops working, resulting in immediate weight gain. As a side effect the addition weight bears down on lithe skeletal frames and most women, as ajummabyeong progresses, lose a considerable amount of height. In serious cases this results in a stoop.
  • Hair protein realignment. Scientists don't know why during the on-set of ajummabyeong the subject's scalp will start producing a different strain of hair protein. The closest related phenomenon is female balding, except that the effect is slightly different. The average Korean 'straight' hair will start to contract, resulting in wavy or curly hair. As the disease progresses, the realignment becomes so severe that the subject's hair will contract to a point of oxygen starvation and (for lack of a better term) the apparent suicide of the hair folical. The end result is permanent hair loss.
  • Polymorphic light eruptions. More commonly know as light allergies, PLE are skin complaints triggered by exposure to natural light affecting roughly 80% of women diagnoses with ajummabyeong. The more severe cases will require the subject to cover all exposed skin including the hands and face. While in the past many women were held prisoner by this aspect of ajummabyeong, the invention of UV-coated plastics has greatly liberated their suffering. To avoid the 'mummy' look, Korean women can wear a face visor, a UV-coated shield that covers the entire face from the painful rays of the sun.
Many experts agree that the first obstacle in curing ajummabyeong is awareness. And, like the Green Ribbon, the Pink Ribbon, the Red Ribbon, and even the Pink and Blue Cloud Ribbon, ajummabyeong has its own kimchi-colored awareness campaign ribbon. I don't quite understand the logic behind the selection of Red, Orange, and Green to signify the disease but I have to applaud the effort that Koreans are just now starting to make toward fighting this terrible affliction that affects nearly all Korean women. After all, awareness is vital in the fight against any diseases and hopefully the more Korean women that recognize that they are suffering from ajummabyeong, the more Korean scientists can learn and come closer to finding a much needed cure.