Monday, March 31, 2008

The Generation Gap

From a paper on high tech worker stagnation I found this little chart on tertiary education that probably helps explain some aspects of the Korean generation gap.
Similar data is presented here, albeit in individual graphs. The various shapes represent age demographics within the country and the line length is a measurement of the difference. The delta (the largest one there) between the generations in Korea is a good measure of the education divide. Of course 55-64 years ago Korea wasn't the same as it is now:

33% of primary schools destroyed, 60% of classrooms unusable, 80% of books and equipment lost, 38% of teachers missing, 25% of upper secondary schools demolished, 20% teaching staff missing. Such was the situation of Korea’s education system in 1952.

Friday, March 28, 2008

The E-2 Interview

The mandatory E-2 interview is a new part of the Korean E-2 (i.e Teaching English) visa process. The new regulations came into effect shortly after the great pedophile scandal of 2007 in which Christopher Paul Neil, a Canadian national and target of a international pedophile manhunt, was arrested for sexually assaulting a nine-year-old boy in Thailand. Shockingly enough, before living in Thailand, Neil was working as an English teacher Gwangju at the Gwangju Foreign School.

But after roughly 3 months in to the process, it's still fair to say that the regulations have done nothing but increase criticism of Korea's TEFL hiring process and many ex-pat commentators view this a classic case of a knee jerk reaction leading to poor policing making. The new rules are doing more harm than good to Korea's ESL industry; the simple matter is they simultaneously fail to stop more Christopher Paul Neils and deter qualified teachers from considering Korea.

The thing that I'm finding the most useless about the process is the interview. From the initial stories coming in it seems like they are beyond wasteful and border on insulting. Even way back in November, a Korea Herald article voiced some initial concerns:

There are concerns about the logistics of the consulate interview part of the plan. "It's about time they had criminal record checks, and the health check is a good idea," says Tricia Elliot, a teacher at a private institute in Seoul. "But this interview at the consulate is a bit overboard because it cuts out a lot of people from smaller areas of large countries.

"A lot of the Canadians who work as teachers are from the East coast and the nearest consulate is in Montreal," she explained. "That's really far away, and impossible for most people to get to on short notice for an interview that doesn't guarantee a job."
So at first it seems like nobody really thought of mandatory interviews in a country that has 3 consulate and 6 timezones. But is the Korea government that short-cited to force mandatory travel on distances that are five times the journey from Mokpo to Seoul? This wouldn't be the first time that I've come across this phenomenon. I've talk to friends and family from Japan, England, and other small countries and they don't quite grasp the shear magnitude of Canada's landmass. Of course they all think that Canada is mainly a permafrost country where we eat baby seal eyes for breakfast, live in igloos, and our policemen have yet to discover car technology. But I digress; consider this quick map mock-up:

View Larger Map

Basically the distances involved for some people are equivalent to asking people to travel to and from Japan, China, Russian and even Taiwan. And it seems like still there's a lot of confusion about these interviews; for example you can submit an Introductory CD if you're in the jurisdiction of the Vancouver Consulate (but live outside of BC) and a rumored telephone interview if you're in Montreal Consulate's jurisdiction. But if you're in Northern Manitoba it looks like you're out of luck; I couldn't find anything about a compromise on the Toronto Consulate's website.

Geographical and logistic ignorance aside, the actual interview itself comes across as shear stupidity. At first it seemed normal:
1) Where will you be employed?
2) Do you enjoy working with children?
3) What is your educational background?, transcripts were reviewed and discussed with interviewer.
4) Why do you want to work in Korea?
5) What is your teaching philosophy?
6) If you weren't going to teach in Korea, what would you be doing?
7) Do you smoke?
8) Cool Have you done drugs in the past?
9) Have you ever broken the law?
10) How long do you want to stay in Korea?
But then there's the other stories, like in a comment over at the Marmot's Hole:
I just spoke with two Canadians who arrived in Korea this evening, fresh off the boat. They’d done the whole rigmarole: Degree double-checking, background checking and even an interview at the Korean Embassy in Montreal. Apparently, the interview involved a guy who “barely spoke English” asking them where they went to school, then checking on the school’s existence. Then it got weird. One girl was asked how many high schools there were on Prince Edward Island. She was also asked if she’d heard anything about teachers working in China and Japan, and what her feelings about Japan were. The other, who’s got a degree in Psychology, was asked to “Please psychoanalyze me [the Korean interviewer].”
I don't know if you can put that much weight with one comment but there's more, like over at Cows by the Fence
My name was written Zauhory, good times. The diplomat asked me my name, where I was from, my educational background, and my opinion of the Spitzer affair. The whole process took less than five minutes to do. Then I had to hop the bus home which was another four hours out of my day. Eight hours on a bus for a five minute interview?
And at ESL Daily:
"The interview was HILARIOUS. He asked: 1) Where my last name came from 2) About my experience in my two years in Daejeon 3) My possible long-term plans in Korea and 4) Was surprised and delightedly commented on the little Hangul I wrote on my visa application. It was less than 10 minutes. [After] a $45 fee, another week [delay] and today I FINALLY HAVE MY PASSPORT WITH MY E2 VISA IN IT."
And at Tree Top Chatter:
A few minutes later, probably an hour ahead of my 3 PM appointment time, I was called back for my interview. Behind a tiny table wedged into a corner of some forgotten area of the office was a Korean man in a bad gray suit. He seemed pleasant enough. He asked me a few questions about why I wanted to come to Korea, what I knew about Korea, and what I had studied in school. He made a few notes on the visa form I filled out, and I mentioned that I had left some things blank, but he said, “Don’t worry about it.” I’m pretty sure I would've flunked the interview if I was being scored on it. It lasted five minutes, and he said, “Thank you, there is the door.” I stood, bowed slightly, thanked him, and left.

Then I drove home in inclement, snowy weather, another 3 hours. My total time spent in Chicago was probably an hour and a half. Thankfully I know the city pretty well so it wasn't as big a deal as it could've been if I was unfamiliar with driving around in Chicago.
And at Alia in Korea:
I was forced to drive to my "local" Korean consulate where I had mailed the application materials to complete an interview with the consul to determine my eligbility. This meant taking three hours to drive to Newton, Mass. for a ten-minute interview and driving all the way back. Had I known this (and they could have told me when I called and asked a bunch of questions about the visa process), I would have scheduled the interview and brought in my application at that time, instead of paying FedEx to overnight the docs. What a hassle. I went, though, and got even more angry that all the consul asked me was already written on my application, plus the question about why I want to teach in Korea, all of which could have been done over the phone (they refused a phone interview).
And one more, at Uncertainty can be happiness, just for good measure:
I wasn't sure what kind of questions to expect when I went there, and the interview was more of a getting to know you type conversation then a formal interview. I did the get ones I expected, such as: How long do you want to stay in Korea? If given a situation A as a teacher, what would you do? Where do you want to be in Korea? What subjects have you taught?

The last one was amusing; the interviewer stopped me in the middle of my answer to say that this question was more for his own sake than as a part of the interview, as his son needed help in AP Chemistry (which is one of the subjects I am currently tutoring). And no, he didn't offer me a tutoring job for his son.

At the end of the interview, he also mentioned that being a Korean-American will work in my favor in the decision making and more than offset my lack of any teaching certifications.
I've probably copied and pasted enough examples to make my point but I really appreciate this last example. If I'm reading this right, then a member of the Korean consulate just said that ethnic origins also play a factor in the visa application process. Does that mean that belonging to some other demographic will be detrimental? That's a policy that hasn't backfire:
South Korean police have arrested a Korean-American man wanted by the FBI for first-degree murder. The suspect had fled the U.S. to South Korea 10 years ago and had been teaching English in private language institutes until he was captured.

The Gyeonggi Provincial Police Agency on Wednesday said it had arrested a 31-year-old Korean-American man identified as Nam on charges of killing a retired American policeman in the U.S.


Nam was finally arrested on Tuesday. He had been teaching at a private English-language institute in Toechon, Gwangju, Gyeonggi Province for two months.

Over the past decade, Nam had moved from one English-language crammer to another in Seoul, and Gyeonggi, Jeolla and Gyeongsang provinces, working two or three months at each institute. A South Korean court will rule on his extradition.
Now I doubt that was the true intention of the comment; I would vote for properly trained Korean-anything as a teacher but the consulate interview by the government's own admission is about security, not teaching qualifications.

So the policies, the logic, and even the implementation behind these interviews belongs to some understanding that eludes most westerners. Maybe the real reason behind the mandatory interviews is to physically examine the candidates and somehow spot the eugenically bad seed since its obvious that the questions do nothing to filter out the potential Christopher Paul Neil, or, to finish on a big rhetorical twist, the next Seung Hui Choi.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

The Shinan Ship

As I mention during my trip down Museum Road, Mokpo is home to the Shinan Ship, a 14th-century Yuan ship discovered in 1976 just north of Mokpo in Shinan. Surprisingly it's one of the things that really puts Mokpo on the map. Well, at least for Nautical Archeology and Asian Maritime Trade and History nerds; they all stopped by for the 30th anniversary in 2006:

From 17-19 November 2006, approximately 30 scholars including underwater and maritime archaeologists, historians, and ceramics researchers presented cutting-edge studies of artifacts recovered from the Shinan shipwreck and of the Asian maritime trade of the 14th century at the National Maritime Museum of Korea in Mokpo, Korea. The discovery of the Shinan Shipwreck in 1976 greatly stimulated the growth of underwater archaeology in Korea, and after 30 years of research on this site Korean researchers felt it was time for an international discussion of the site and their work on it.
But the more interesting aspect of the Shinan ship is its contribution to China's emerging medieval maritime history:
...two early Chinese shipwrecks and their subsequent archaeological excavation cast new light on early Chinese shipbuilding technology. The two ships noted are a Song Dynasty ship found at Hou Zhu, near Quanzhou in Fujian Province dating from about 1277; and a Yuan Dynasty ship found at Shinan, near Mokpo in South Korea, dating from about 1323. Both ships depart significantly from generally accepted theories of ancient Chinese shipbuilding techniques and the finds raise fundamental questions.
Raising fundamental questions is always exciting but most of the background information about the ship is hidden behind register-required academic journals. Luckily I did find this lengthy snippet, posted on China History Board:
Quanzhou wreck

In 1975, workers dredging a canal on Quanzhou Bay (24?1N, 118?9E) in Fujian Province, China, uncovered the remains of what turned out to be a thirteenth-century ship dating from the end of the Southern Song Dynasty. Over the course of the summer, the remains of the vessel were completely excavated and taken to Quanzhou for conservation and study. The remains of the hull, which has a V-shaped bottom, includes the keel and the remains of thirty strakes, fourteen to port and sixteen to starboard. There were steps for two masts, the placement of which forward and amidships suggests the existence of a third mast in the stern. Although the remaining vessel members are only 24 meters in length by 9 meters wide, interpretation of the finds suggests that the ship originally measured 34.6 meters by 9.82 meters, with a loaded draft of 3 meters. The hull is solidly constructed, with two layers of planking below the waterline, the first eleven strakes from the keel and three above, using a combination of clinker and carvel joinery that Australian archaeologist Jeremy Green has described as "complex rabbeted carvel-clinker."

The first pair of strakes out from the keel is joined by a "rabbeted carvel joint" in which the edge between the strakes is rabbeted with simple lap joints. The second and third strakes are joined by a "rabbeted clinker joint" in which a rabbet is cut in the inside lower edge of the third plank, which is fitted against the uncut upper edge of the second. The third, fourth, and fifth strakes are joined by the rabbeted carvel joint, and the fifth and sixth by the rabbeted clinker joint, and so on. This innermost layer of planking is sheathed by a second layer of strakes that are edge-joined to one another. However, as these are laid directly on top of the inner layer, the third, sixth, ninth, and thirteenth strakes are clinker laid over the second, fifth, eighth, and twelfth, respectively. The third layer of planking is carvel laid from the thirteenth to the seventeenth strakes.

Twelve bulkheads divide the ship into thirteen compartments; there are waterways cut into the base of all but the aftermost and foremost bulkheads, which were watertight. The bulkheads were fastened to the inner layer of planking with iron braces and iron nails, the latter being set and covered with t'ung putty as a preservative. Another interesting find is the placement in the keel of seven coins in the pattern of the constellation of Ursa Minor, and a bronze mirror, both of which were thought to bring the vessel good luck. While the underbody of the hull tapered towards the bow, the upper decks fore and aft were probably trapezoidal.

The cargo reveals that the Quanzhou wreck was originally a "spices and pepper ship" or a "spice junk." The cargo included medicinals and 2,300 kilograms of spicewoods including laka-wood, sandalwood, and black pepper from Java, garu-wood from Cambodia, betel nuts from Indonesia, frankincense from central Arabia, ambergris from Somalia, and tortoiseshell. It is not clear from this manifest that the Quanzhou ship actually sailed as far afield as Africa, but it does attest to the importance of the port of Quanzhou (on mainland China opposite Taiwan), whose merchants began trading with Africa and the Middle East in the sixth century. Comparing Quanzhou with the great Mediterranean entrepot, Marco Polo wrote,

The quantity of pepper imported there is so considerable, that what is carried to Alexandria, to satisfy the demand of the western parts of the world, is trifling in comparison, perhaps no more than the hundredth part. It is indeed impossible to convey an idea of the number of merchants and the accumulation of goods in this place, which is held to be one of the largest ports in the world.

The ship has been dated based on evidence provided by the hoard of 504 coins, the latest of which were struck in 1273, about the time the ship is thought to have sunk. Today the reassembled hull is on display at the Quanzhou Museum of Overseas Communication History.

Green, "Song Dynasty Shipwreck at Quanzhou." Keith & Buys, "New Light on Medieval Chinese Seagoing Ship Construction." Li Guo-Qing, "Archaeological Evidence for the Use of `Chu-Nam'on the Thirteenth-Century Quanzhou Ship." Merwin, "Selections from Wen-wu on the Excavation of a Sung Dynasty Seagoing Vessel

Shinan wreck

In 1975, Ch'oe Hyong-gun recovered a number of encrusted ceramic containers from a ship lying in about 20 meters of water off the coast of Shinan, South Korea (in 35?1N, 126?5E). These containers were positively identified as antiquities, and divers began to loot the site before government authorities put it under the auspices of the Cultural Property Preservation Office. Proper archaeological excavation began in 1976 and continued through 1984, culminating with the salvage and conservation of the ship's hull in a special shoreside facility.

The remains of the hull include 445 ship's timbers and 223 planks of Chinese red fir and Chinese red pine, both of which are native to southern China. The ship is similar to the thirteenth-century Quanzhou wreck, though there are differences in the construction details. In both ships, the bottom of the hull is V-shaped, and the hull planking is joined in a variety of ways. The Shinan wreck yielded the keel, fourteen starboard strakes, and six port strakes. The strakes were laid over one another in a rabbeted clinker construction, with the rabbet being cut out of the inner lower part of the plank. Towards the bow, this changes to a rabbeted carvel construction to give the hull a smooth side. Parts of two mast steps survived (fore and a main) and the interior of the hull is divided by seven bulkheads.

Further study of the site revealed that the wreck was of a Chinese vessel en route from China, possibly Ningpo, towards Japan, when it sank in a storm. The cargo consisted of more than 12,000 pieces of Chinese ceramics, including celadon vases, plates and bowls, stoneware, incense burners, and ching p'ai (bluish white) porcelain pieces from the Yuan dynasty. Among other artifacts related to the cargo were numbered 729 metal objects, 45 stone objects, 20,000 individual Chinese copper coins, 1,017 pieces of red sandalwood measuring between 1 and 3 meters in length, and over 500 other objects, including the crew's personal possessions. Many of the finds were still packed in their shipping containers marked with the year, 1323, towards the end of the Yuan dynasty.

Green & Kim, "Shinan and Wando Sites." Kim & Keith, "Fourteenth-Century Cargo Makes Port at Last."
Now the previously mentioned "significant departure" of "generally accepted theories of ancient Chinese shipbuilding techniques" is a hot topic because of the 1421 Theory, a theory that China was the first country to:
...discovered Australia, New Zealand, the Americas, Antarctica, the northern coast of Greenland, and the Northeast Passage and that the knowledge of these discoveries was subsequently lost because the Mandarin bureaucrats of the Imperial court feared the costs of further voyages would ruin the Chinese economy. According to Menzies, when Zhu Di died in 1424, the new Hongxi Emperor forbade further expeditions and to discourage further voyages the Mandarins hid or destroyed the records of previous exploration.
It's a controversial theory and many critics question the evidence and the manner in which it has been presented to the public. One of the main pillars of the theory, the massive Treasure Ships or Treasure Junks that made the intercontinental journeys, has yet to be verified with physical evidence. So, as a PBS Nova special describes, any vessel now connected to China's medieval Asian maritime trade, just like the Shinan, is worth more in information than its recovered cargo.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Cultural Context

After my Translation Bot discovery I poked around the Google pages again and rediscovered the Dictionary. Google's dictionary has been out since last year but since then it has switched over its local translation engine from Systran to an in-house model (and gone through a facelift too) so it gave me pause for another examination. Would it sway me from Naver? After some mucking around I would say that I would like it to but it doesn't introduce anything new.

Another thing that I found was the blog translation widget, or the Google Translation Gadget. It's a neat toy to allow people to apply Google's translation magic on your page without the extra step of navigating back to Google. While this is nifty any translation that you get is going to be rather poor and render the functionality useless. Maybe not useless but at least substandard compared to a manual translation:

So why do online translations fail so humourously? One reason is that we can recognize the grammatical errors and understand how the algorithm made the incorrect choice. For an easy example we have the confusion over Renard and The Fox in the movie. In the translation process the two somehow become synonymous and, thanks to Alliance Francaise, Mokpo, I know that this happened because the algorithm failed to recognize Renard as a French proper name. The computer couldn't identify the cultural context in which the lexical item 'Renard' was being presented. So in this case (and many others) the cultural context is everything; maybe if the film was about the 1940's French Resistance, using 'Le Fox' could be passable as correct.

Looking at this problem in another situation, I would say that a failure to recognize cultural context belongs to the plethora of reasons behind Korea's EFL difficulties. I'm not the first to suggest this idea and the problem of how to use foreign culture when teaching a foreign language has been around since the 1960s. Dimitrios Thanasoulas, in his paper The Importance Of Teaching Culture In The Foreign Language Classroom, gives a good argument illustrating this problem and, funny enough, his examples on incorrectness seem to be lifted straight out of Korean education system:
One of the misconceptions that have permeated foreign language teaching is the conviction that language is merely a code and, once mastered—mainly by dint of steeping oneself into grammatical rules and some aspects of the social context in which it is embedded—‘one language is essentially (albeit not easily) translatable into another’ (Kramsch, 1993: 1). To a certain extent, this belief has been instrumental in promoting various approaches to foreign language teaching—pragmatic, sociolinguistic, and communicative—which have certainly endowed the study of language with a social “hue”; nevertheless, paying lip service to the social dynamics that undergird language without trying to identify and gain insights into the very fabric of society and culture that have come to charge language in many and varied ways can only cause misunderstanding and lead to cross-cultural miscommunication.
So would we fix both problems by the simple matter of plugging a 'culturalizer' into Google's dictionary and Korea's EFL curriculum? Well, yes, but unfortunately a culturalizer is one of those mythical devices that hasn't been developed past brainstorm scribbles on a whiteboard. I chose the example of Renard because it's an easily explainable and easily isolated part of French culture. But on a larger scale teaching culture with language isn't quite as simple; too little cultural instruction results in miscommunication and too much results in linguistic imperialism. As Sherene Ariffin points out, in Culture in EFL Teaching: Issues and Solutions,
For instance, in a reading passage about pets, Alptekin (1993) illustrated that Middle Eastern students, especially the Muslims, would feel utterly confused about the American ideology of “a dog as ‘man’s’ best friend” (p. 137). This is because Muslims are brought up to regard them as animals that should not be touched because they are considered “unclean.” Therefore, in reading the passage, the students not only have to overcome unfamiliar words, but they would also have to figure out the context of the culture that the passage is referring to. This could lead to a serious impediment in their understanding of the passage. Marckwardt (1978) also argued against the use of American literature in teaching EFL. This is because American literature presents predominantly America culture and values—positive and negative—and does not take into consideration learners’ backgrounds.
Now we could simply write off American textbooks as American propaganda but not every instance of linguistic imperialism is going to be as easily recognizable; a subtle linguistic imperialism can also be found in the absence of cultural education. Paul Stapleton notes effect in his Culture’s Role in TEFL: An Attitude Survey in Japan:
The perils of teaching culture or making broad cultural statements about language usage was brought home to me recently when a British colleague chastised me for telling students a common response to a compliment in English was ‘Thank you’. My colleague claimed that such a response in Britain would be regarded as arrogant. Whether or not his claim is accurate is not the point here. Such an exchange of views only underlines the difficulties language teachers face when approaching cultural issues.

While there is a general lack of research in teacher attitudes on culture learning, some studies have been carried out to better understand the extent to which teachers are familiar with the role of culture in language education and how it affects their pedagogy. Lessard-Clouston’s survey (1996) in which 16 Chinese EFL teachers were interviewed on their views about teaching culture found support among teachers for teaching culture, but cited a need for more understanding of how to bring culture into the classroom context. Adamowski’s survey of teachers’ views on teaching culture in the ESL context (cited in Lessard-Clouston, 1996) suggested that teachers feel culture has an important role to play, yet no systematic ways of approaching how to teach it were uncovered. Prodromou (1992), in a questionnaire study of 300 Greek students, found over half of the students believed that native speaker teachers should have some knowledge about the students’ native tongue and culture. Duff and Uchida’s study (1997) of four EFL teachers in Japan revealed considerable complexity in teachers’ sociocultural identities and a lack of awareness that they were implicitly transmitting cultural messages to their students. Despite the findings of these studies, there is still a general lack of information about how teachers view the teaching of culture and how these views are reflected in their teaching.
It seems like I'm revisiting the same point that I've made in previous rants. As a high school native speaker it looks like the government sees me as the culturalizer but (again) I would say that I'm not the solution (i.e trained teacher) that they're looking for. So I'm stuck with the same problem involving Renard, the Fox and automatic translations; I can easily point out what's wrong with the system but I'm about as useless as the Google Translation Gadget when it comes around to fixing it.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Extending the E-2 Visa in Mokpo

I'm in a situation where my work visa will expire before my contract. This isn't anything new and is easily fixed by getting a short term visa extension. With the new E-2 regulations rumours were abound that I would have to jump through more hoops (i.e. HIV tests, etc.) for what amounts to an extra week of legal residency. But contrary to those rumours and the nice summary from What a Korea the E-2 extension process is easy and didn't I need: apply for the Criminal Background Check Record in advance and have the document ready. The time required in receiving a Criminal Background Check Record varies from country to country. The Criminal Record notarized by either the Korean Consulate (Canadian citizens) or the Apostille (all other citizens) needs to have obtained within the past 90 days. Therefore, too early application will not work.
Of course I'm willing to bet Mokpo has that small town factor in full effect -- the same small town factor that lets five on-duty policemen learn ultimate frisbee from a bunch of waygooken on a sunny weekend. Seriously. True story.

Anyway, the process at 광주출입국관리사무소 (aka Gwangju Chulibgukgwanri Samuso), the Gwangju Immigration Office (Mokpo Branch Office) took no more than 15 minutes; I did it by myself and all I needed was my passport, my ARC, a form filled out on the spot, and a printout of my plane e-ticket. They gave me a new stamp in my passport so now I'm good to hang around for the Jeju Ultimate Frisbee Tournament:

Monday, March 24, 2008

Lesson 25 - Easter

Lesson 25 - Easter is published over at

Friday, March 21, 2008

Lesson 24 - St. Patrick's Day

Lesson 24 - St. Patrick's Day is published over at

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Mokpo's Museum Road

Exploring Mokpo can really be done over a couple of days and should be saved for the occasional visit from back home. One those days can be spent on Mokpo's Museum Road, my name for the Gatbawi Cultural District which is a strip of waterfront property between Yibam-san and Gatbawi that hosts most of Mokpo's museums.

The Mokpo Culture and Arts Center
문화예술회관 (aka MunHwa YeoSul HoeGwan) is the Culture and Arts Center and made famous on this blog for hosting the MCS's reunion concert. It's not really a museum but it's the largest building on the strip and is the main civic center in Mokpo, boasting 6 exhibition rooms and a 700 seat concert hall.
The Mokpo Natural History Museum
자연사박물관 (aka JaYeonSa BakMulGwan) is the Natural History Museum. The museum is typical of other natural history museums (i.e full of stuffed, taxidermied animals, pretty chunks of minerals, and giant dinosaurs skeletons posed in attack positions) but without the Victorian era dioramas. The ticket also gets you into the neighboring Local History Museum that specializes in the local history of Mokpo.
The National Maritime Museum
국립해양유물전시관 (aka GukRip HaeYang YuMul JeonSiGwan) is the National Maritime Museum, the only museum in Korea dedicated to nautical archeology. Its main exhibition is the display of over 3,000 recovered pieces of Koryo celadon, over 22,000 recovered pieces of pottery and of course the remains of the Shinan Ship, a 14th-century yuan ship discovered in 1975 just north of Mokpo in Shinan, and the primary source of the museum's artifacts.
The Korean Industrial Pottery Museum
한국산업도자전시관 (aka HanGuk SanEop DoJa JeonSiGwan) is the Korean Industrial Pottery Museum according the building or the Ceramic Livingware Museum according to the website and specializes in the Korean pottery. The museum also doubles as pottery school with numerous pottery classes and workshops that lean more towards groups of children than adults.
The Namnong Memorial Museum
남농기념관 (aka Namnong GiNyeomGwan) is the Namnong Memorial Museum is an art gallery dedicated to the life and work of the artist 남농 허건 (aka Namnong HoKon) and his contemporaries. Namnong spent most of his life and the 20th century in Mokpo, becoming famous for his contribution to the Namjonghwa school (translated as the "Southern Style") of Korean painting.
The Mokpo Literature Museum
문학관 (aka MunHak Gwan) is the Literature Museum and it doesn't have a Naver Local page or provide any kind of English translation. So I'm guessing that it's a fairly new addition the strip but the least likely to attract English speaking patrons.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Today's Yellow Dust in Mokpo

Here's a unscientific sample of today's Yellow Dust hovering over Mokpo, taken from Yudal-san. You can compare it with a 'clear' day taken during May of last year.

The Gwangju station's reading for this day had an average of 100 micrograms which is the first benchmark and is considered relatively safe. To understand the notion of relatively safe you should compare the above to the The Military Monitoring Station Info Card's sample of the toxic level of +1000 micrograms:

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Google's Translation Bot

In another instalment of 'I love Google' I present Google's Translation Bot, an instant messenger translator. Currently only available for GTalk, the translation bot is another buddy that will instantly accept you as a friend and translate whatever you say to it. There's one bot per translation so for Korean to English and vice versa you can add:

GTalk translator bots are nifty but not that practical in my Korean situation since using them makes some assumptions that simply aren't valid. For one, none of my Korean friends use GMail or GTalk so the selling point of having a multi-lingual conversation is made redundant; this isn't even about the Great Anti-Google Conspiracy since even MSN Messenger is a minority here and all the cool Korean kids are using NateOn. For another, I've switched to Naver's English Dictionary since I'm usually at somebody else's computer when translation and arm gestures fail me; it is, however, in those case that the bots would be awesomely useful if I had GTalk hooked up to my mobile device. Sadly, I do not.

I've added the GTalk Badge to the blog so feel free try it out and chat me up in any language.

Monday, March 17, 2008

St. Patrick's Day

Much to the surprise of my students (and myself) St. Patrick's Day does exist in Korea -- even Japan, Singapore and China had some green festivities this weekend. Sadly Mokpo did not have any Irish representation so instead we'll have to live vicariously through the Seoul bloggers who were in full blogging force; there's even this IAK promotional video (from the many) using images from last year's parade:

Friday, March 14, 2008

White Day

I've already blogged about it so this'll be short: Happy White Day.

Lesson 23 - Valentine's Day

Lesson 23 - Valentine's Day is published over at

Thursday, March 13, 2008


Known in Korea as 황사 (aka Hwangsa), the Yellow Sand phenomenon is a dust storm season that straddles March and April and blankets the country with end-of-the-world skies and end-of-your-life breathing conditions. Even though it has been translated into many English names like yellow sand, yellow dust, yellow wind, or even Asian Dust the phenomenon itself is when:

...a noxious brew of Gobi desert sand particles and assorted effluent from China's industrial development comes roaring out of the west and dumps down on Japan and Korea.
And with an industrial cloud of heavy metals floating over our heads we can expect to get some yellow rain or even the rare case of 2006's Yellow Snow; Asian dust season can start as early as February and run as late as May but I'm told that here in Mokpo, April is always the worse month.

There's an informational Yellow Sand site with some interesting facts and documentaries. But there's a slightly more useful monitoring site (via Jess) with the closest recording station to Mokpo being Gwangju:

Health Levels (micrograms of dust per cubed meter)
0-99Acceptable level of Air Pollution.
100-199Korean Acceptable level of Air Pollution.
200-399Maybe you should stay home today level of Air Pollution.
400-799Maybe you should not die today level of Air Pollution.
800+Gas Masks for Everyone!

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Star Golden Bell's Speed English

While doing the research for Super Junior's Full House I came across another show that I had seen on the Mokpo airwaves. 스타골든벨 (aka Star Golden Bell) is one of the seemingly infinite variety shows involving a group of Korean playing mini-games. But here the contestants are guest celebrities and the goal is to win enough mini-games at first as a team and then as a individual to ring the Golden Bell.

Now since I still don't do Korean that well there are some aspects of the show I don't really get:

But there's the one part, Speed English, where the contestants play a word guessing game with the resident English Teacher (or attractive equivalent) that I think is genius:

Well genius in that I'm going to rip it off for a lesson. All I need is decent vocabulary and Eva:

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Postage Stamps

A subtle lesson that Korea (and Asia) will teach you is that it is not wise to make assumptions about the local post office. Show Time Judy makes an excellent comparison between North American Post Offices and their Korean counterparts and the one thing that struck me was use of self-adhesive technology in Korean stamps.

The U.S. currently uses self-adhesive stamps, the sticker kind that don't rely on licking the back. Sometime in my life this stamped replaced the water-activated stamp (the stamp stereotype) but here in Korea they have rejected all self-adhesive technology and instead rely on a glue stick within the post office (or home) for the postage gum. Funny enough, greeting card envelopes and other items that are self-adhesive in the U.S. are gum-free in Korea.

Now, let's side track into India. While the good folk in Korea may not have discovered self-adhesive technology, the even better folks in India have yet to discovered glue dispensing technology. Seriously. I went into one post office to get rid of my collection of postcards and I had the damnedest problem trying to get my stamps to stick. Thanks to my experience in Korea I suspected that I was dealing with gum-free paper.

I tried to ask where the glue was and was told 'glue is outside.' By outside the nice old aunty-ji meant the nice old courtyard in the back, with some benches, a fountain, and one sad looking wooden desk under a glue stick tied to a tree. And by glue stick I mean I mean a stick in a pot of glue. You literally had to dip the stick and spread the glue, mastering the art of just getting enough for a quick dry. Of course it wasn't until I gave the stick to the person next in line that I saw that the proper way to use the glue stick is to wipe the glue with your finger and then spread the glue on the stamps; fingers are rinsed in the courtesy fountain and you can sit on the benches while you wait for the glue to dry.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Anonymous HIV testing in Mokpo

Via the closest anonymous HIV testing in Mokpo is in Gwangju. An interesting note from that thread is that if you are identitifed as HIV positive you will be deported within 2 weeks. That idea is being challeneged as an assault on human right in one court case:

The commission last week submitted its opinion to the Seoul Administrative Court, which will rule on his petition against the order. "The HIV virus is not transmissible through normal contact. Living together with his family members here, the plaintiff can get active and voluntary treatment, meaning that the possibility of HIV infection by him is extremely low," the human rights watchdog said in a statement."Because of the situation in China - where such people are quarantined, and only rudimentary human rights protection exists for HIV patients - deporting him could adversely affect his health and life. By international human rights standards, such an order is excessive."

While the case is so specific to China it could set a precendent, one that may have a disastrous side side effects:
The Korea Federation for HIV/AID Prevention said the deportation could have side effects. "It could drive more foreign HIV positive people to hide their illness fearing deportation,'' its spokesman said
Of course cases like these, as unfortunate as they are, are common throughout the world. The issue of deportation (or at least refusal of entry) based on HIV screening is also common in most countries and Korea is not alone in automatic explusion:
United States of America
In principle, the USA refuses entry to foreign nationals known to be HIV positive. In exceptional cases, a stay of 30 days may be granted (for family visits, medical treatment, business travel or participation in a scientific, health-related conference).
HIV testing or a medical exam are not required. In the visa application form, the applicant has to say if he/she has a “communicable disease of public health significance”. The visa will be denied if this is the case. An applicant who answers “no” despite better knowledge commits an immigration fraud, which leads to immigration prohibition. HIV-positive foreign nationals lose their right to remain in the USA and are expelled if their status becomes known.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Lesson 22 - Review

Lesson 22 - Review is published over at

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Educational Nomads

The previously mentioned Indian Wave is in Korea, although in a slightly different form from what's going on in Japan:

An increasing number of Korean children now study in India, where they can learn English more cheaply than in the U.S. or the U.K. Parents are also impressed by the reputed strengths of Indian education in math and science, making the country an affordable alternative to the traditional destinations for Korea’s “educational refugees.”
Of course somebody beat me to breaking (well, blogging about) the story; Seoul Buffoon has already weighed in with his experience and has noted this amusing side effect:
At half the cost, the kids can get a decent education conducted in the English language. But of course, there is a caveat. They will end up speaking with Indian accents!

In fact my partner was there for two years (thats where I met her and followed her to Korea) and she speaks English with an Indian accent! Infact if she speaks in English on the phone, the person at the other end may actually think that she is an Indian!! Joking ofcourse, but the point I am trying to make is that if Korean parents can “tolerate the Indian accent” it works to their advantage.
I find this interesting since I'm now forced to reconcile the contradiction between the parents who send the kids off to India and the parents who are blind to acknowledging anything other than American English. I spell colour with a U even though I'm told that it's wrong.

But there's something else about this article that caught my eye: Educational Refugees. It's the first time that I've heard that term but to me the word refugee is loaded with so much tragedy and suffering that to use it to describe children of affluent parents and their personal education choices is very questionable. I'll grant that there maybe some validity when used as a commentary on Korean education but this goes too far and turns the affair into a sad hyperbole. For one, I'm sure that the Chosun isn't being hipster ironic and for another these Korean children are not being left behind:
As a high school teacher and guidance counselor, I am currently dealing with the fallout of [The No Child Left Behind Act] as I try to find schools for students who are not doing well in our school. We are a "failing school" that is "in need of improvement" and heading toward "corrective action." Yes, our test scores are low. But they are low because we are a transfer high school, meaning that we take in students who are being pushed out of other schools that need to meet AYP and these "weak" students will prevent them from doing so by scoring abysmally on the tests. The mission of our school is to educate these second chance kids, NCLB be damned. However, on occasion we do have students that need to tranfer to another school. And this is what happens: nobody wants these students. There are hundreds, probably thousands of students that no school will take in because those students are a "liability." The schools that have been educating these second chance kids for decades and trying to open up other possibilities for them are now being punished for doing so. NCLB hangs over schools like ours menacingly. We have been educating students that no other school wants for 25 years. When schools like ours disappear or are "restructured," what alternatives will kids have?
In this comment the Educational Refugee label has some merit since these children have no other alternative in the mainstream education culture. In another example, I found this website that uses the same metaphor albeit entrenched in a Christian motif:
Quite often, they start their homeschooling because of some negative causes, such as their children getting bullied in public schools. They are always in need of various kinds of help and encouragement from outside. Sad to say, many Japanese churches are not cooperative to the homeschoolers in Japan Homeschoolers often do not receive cooperative or positive reactions from other church members, and this can be detrimental for their Christian life. Even some of them are "persecuted" by other church members.
Even though I don't agree with subject matter, this contemporary use of Educational Refugee seems appropriately well placed, reinforcing the notion that Educational Refugees are members of society targeted for exclusion. This then poses the question: Are the Korean Kids being alienated by the national educational policies? I would say no. It seems like they (or their parents) are instead opting out of the educational system to gain that extra educational edge:
The OECD recently released the results of its Program for International Student Assessment (PISA). In the survey, Korean students finished first in reading skills, fourth in mathematics, and 11th in science. When the report was released, Koreans made a fuss about the science ranking plummeting to 11th from top place six years earlier. But the foreign press still regards Korea as a nation of excellent students. Despite the students' outstanding performance, Korean parents are uneasy about the country's education system. They covet an "advanced education," setting their eyes on overseas schools. They are aware that high scores don't necessarily reflect real abilities or skills. Nonetheless, they are so worried that they send their children to private crammers and continually push them for higher and higher scores.
So it looks like it's safe to say that the Chosun's usage of Educational Refugee is a good example of mediocre journalism that's thankfully outside of the current emotionally charge atmosphere. Except that I found Rieko Fry's PhD thesis Japanese children abroad: Politics of education for kaigaishijo and kikokushijo with this breif history in it's introduction:
Business expansion in the 1960s and its associated international strategies have meant that many Japanese company employees and their families were sent abroad on long-term assignments. The children who accompanied their parents on such assignments and then returned to Japan were first described as 'educational refugees' and were regarded as culturally ambiguous, socially marginalized and academically disadvantaged. The Japanese government considered that special measures were needed for these children, as they had missed out on the standard education that they would otherwise have received. Consequently, it introduced various educational options so that they could reintegrate smoothly into Japanese society and its educational system. Later, in the 1980s, when 'globalization' became vital to Japan, the attributes associated with such children were recast and they began to be regarded as 'valuable national assets' for their supposed rich cross-cultural awareness and bilingual abilities, the very qualities the government sought in the new generations of Japanese.
Interestingly enough the term was at first referencing an internal demographic, much like the left behind of No Child Left Behind, but soon became a fashionable (i.e marketable) quality. I can only guess that this is the same logic behind the Chosun's usage; the term has mutated within the Korean monoculture to a point of direct contradiction with it's dictionary definition. Simply put, Education Refugee is now Konglish.

But then I find this story and learn what it means to be a true Korean Educational Refugee:
The educational exodus from Korea has created not just success stories. The number of students who give up on their studies overseas and return to Korea is increasing, from 8,019 in 2001 to 13,586 in 2005. Some soon pack their bags again because they can no longer adapt to their home country either.
So it seems clear enough: the Konglish definition of Educational Refugees is an umbrella covering all Korean nationals who acquire education outside of Korea. This is a mislabeling since these students don't become Educational Refugees (by measure of the rest of the word) until they return home and experience the alienation brought upon by their foreign education -- much like Seoul Buffon's Partner but of course to a larger and less humorous degree -- and acquire a new designation in the Korean monoculture: The Educational Nomad.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Super Junior: Full House

I know the folks back home who read my blog (both of them) are really diggin the Korean TV. So another good example of the stereotypical K-TV programming is Super Junior's one of many reality shows, Super Junior: Full House:

Two female international students - the Russian and partly Polish intern Anna (20 y.o), and the half-English and half-Japanese intern Eva (25 y.o) - arrive to Seoul, South Korea to do a homestay with Super Junior for a month. Living with Super Junior, the two foreign students experience the comedic adventures with the group and develop deep friendships.
Now given North American sensibilities it may be hard to believe that "comedic adventures" and "develop deep friendships" lacks any trace of irony. The members of Super Junior are bred and raised to be as safe and appealing as possible; it would be a mistake to simply call Super Junior an Asian Backstreet Boys clone since there's an industrial replaceable cog like quality that I've only seen in Menudo, the Latino boy band that has managed to survive for 20 years. The current generation also has its own reality show). Take this 2007 music video, wonderfully translated for karaoke by Cherry Blossom Heaven:

So without further ado I present Super Junior: Full House, online and with English subtitles:

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Babo Shirts

I love ironic shirts to a point where my wardrobe annoys everything else in my closet. Outfits like Cafe Press, Spreashirt and Zazzle make it easy for anybody to scribble something witty on a t-shirt (or mug, mouse-pad, towels, underwear, whatever) and get it made. The cool kids here in Korea have done it but I have to give props to the guys at Babo Shirts -- shirts so hip that only 2% of the population can understand them.

Monday, March 3, 2008

First Day of Korean High School

The new term has started at my school and everywhere else in Mokpo's public education system. The first thing that I noticed was the subtle shuffle of my previous year; I've swapped one English teacher for another from a neighbouring high school, I've lost some of my memorable students, and I've gain a completely new crop of freshmen and women. And my first day didn't really involve any teaching since it was dominated by a welcoming ceremony and orientations but it was chock full of Koreanism that went unexplained:

  • The class schedule is not finished; the real timetable is TBA
  • The classroom lists (my crucial mug shot sheets) are not finished. Again, TBA.
  • New school equipment like class room computers have not been delivered. Unfortunately we had to ship the old computers out before we left. When will classroom get a computer? TBA.
  • My Internet connection has not be fixed since I reported it broken a couple of weeks ago and I cannot get a definite answer of when it will be working again.
  • My classroom average classroom temperature is 7C
On the positive note I get to start over with the confidence of a battle-hardened veteran. They know that this is my house now:
  • I have made the new freshmen stare at me in awe. They tell me I am handsome.
  • I have made the new freshwomen fall in love with me. They too tell me I am handsome.
And on some other notes:
  • Grade 1 classes are now sex-segregated; it keeps the hormones at bay (I guess) but my worst memories involve the same-sex cliques.
  • I can reuse all of my lessons on the Grade 1s.
  • Since I do my blogging at school, updates will be sporadic until I get my Internet fixed.