Thursday, October 15, 2009

Ulleungdo, Dokdo, and the DMZ

Well, the past month has been a doosey. You see, things didn't go so well with Joy and I and apparently we're not speaking to each other anymore. I'm not exactly sure what happened, but I was confused and in the end, apparently I'm the one who messed up. However, I'm not the only confused one, so maybe there's something else going on here.

On top of that, I'm no longer tutoring a couple of little kids twice a week, which kinda sucks. And then, I was also told IVY not to come in anymore. Well, I guess that's what I get for doing some side work for nothing. :P They can easily replace you with someone else. Oh well, I guess I'm back to my normal work hours...

...which is actually a good thing, because I've begun to fall so far behind in my Korean intensive course, that there's no way I can catch back up. None. So today, I told my teacher that I was going to take the level 3 (lower intermediate) class again. She agreed that was probably a good idea and then said that she's going to try harder to help me, which will be a good thing I think. I'm going to try harder to keep up this time, but I just didn't really get what was going on most of the time.

Oh, and I jacked my ankle coming out of a restaurant in front of the university because someone decided it was a good idea to install internet lines and stuff under the road, but in Korea, that means they have to tear up the whole road, dig a trench, install the lines and then bury it all before they repave. Fun. At least they're doing a better job than the road inside the university itself which took 3 months to complete and sinks after ever rain or ever 100 cars (whichever comes first). The builders in the university think that fine beach sand is a good foundation for building, which they are slowly finding out is not the case.

Anyway, so, aside from those things, there was Chuseok in the middle of this month, which basically meant 4 days of nothing happening...not even restaurants that are open. Fortunately, I was paying attention to the holiday creeping up on me, and managed sign up for a trip through

It was amazing. We went to Ulleungdo, this beautiful island off the east coast of Korea, that is basically just a mountain that rises straight out of the ocean. It was all volcanic rock, so there weren't any beaches, but that mean that we could climb out to the last rock sticking up in the ocean and drive straight in. THAT WAS SOO MUCH FUN. Most of my group jumped off a bridge, but I just dove in from the rocks because I was worried that I would hurt my ankle more. But the water was so clear that you could see the fish, the little sea urchans, and even the jellyfish family in the water before you jumped in. It made it so beautiful and so easy to avoid the more unsavory sea life (as you could see them coming in the water hundreds of yards away). FYI see water tastes like overly salted french fries.

But Ulleungdo is very obviously famous for squid because it looked like Cathulu's breeding grounds out there. There were tons of squid, but on the island itself, there were thousands if not hundreds of thousands of squid hanging from Bamboo being dried in the sun. If Cathulu bred in the waters around Ulleungdo, than the people of Ulleungo are his worst nightmare. It seemed like all of the inhabitants had something to do with the killing, drying, exporting of squid life. If you like squid, Ulleungdo is the place to go.

During my time in Ulleungdo, I paid for a trip out to Dokdo, the fabled Liancourt Rocks. I thought this was a good opportunity because Dokdo is a disputed territory between Japan and South Korea, so it seemed important that I see it to get perspective...since most Koreans and Japanese haven't even seen it. It truly is two giant rocks sitting in the ocean. There isn't even a whole lot of space to do anything. If they hadn't built a dock on the island, the soldiers there maintaining that it belongs to Korea wouldn't be able to morning exercise. There is a space cut into the second rock for the one Korean family that lives there (for only like 5 months out of the year, but enough to be counted on the Korean census). However, it is spectacular.

Like Ulleungdo, the water was clean and clear. I looked over the edge of the dock and saw all the sea weed, rocks, fish, crabs, etc living in the ocean there, and for a moment, I couldn't tell where the water began. So I reached down and surprised myself with how far up to the platform it was. It serious looked like glass. But then, judging by how far the water level was, I guessed that I must have been looking several hundred feet straight down into the water to see all the creatures during their daily sea activities.

Anyway, it was beautiful. More beautiful than the areas in the DMZ that are off limits to development. I went there with Katie, Myca, and Michael, thus making it a fun trip, and ran into Larry on the same tour. What a coincidence. But we traveled around the highly militaristic area of the DMZ and I couldn't help but think that North Korea would have a hard time if they tried to push through. There are honestly barbed fences, gun posts, checkpoints and cache areas stashed every you could imagine them to be. And then some. You can not mistake the fact that North and South Korea are still at war when you go to the DMZ. But it was fun, so I might go again. If nothing else but to see the really awkward North Korean propaganda city.

Oh, and I stayed in a Jimjilbang again. This is time two. I'm starting to like Jimjilbangs...which might be because I can actually start wearing the clothes. Well, the shirt anyway. I brought my own shorts, which was a good idea, but since they were blue, the didn't stand out too much...the just looked like they were the special "Large" shorts rather than the regular once dark but now faded blue. But I mostly like the really hot water.

However, Myca decided to get a hot cup therapy (the name I forgot) designed to draw toxins out of the body through the skin. Well, it worked, however, the next day she had these huge cup sized hickeys all over her back. And they were bad. Like serious dark purple. She said it felt good while they were doing it, but the whole next day while we were at the DMZ, she kept saying, "Ouch, Ow, oh!" Good thing I didn't try it, though I was thinking about it.

Anyway, things are going well with Japanese-Korean translation though, so at least I know one thing: I've still got it.

Happy trails people. Until we meet again.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Korean is like an MT on the top of Everest

It is currently 10:30am on a monday, about 2 hours before I have to leave for my school or else be too late, and about an hour and a half into my new and improved Korean Intensive course schedule. The intensive course is both amazing and really annoying at the same time. See, I'm learning a lot, and really fast, but the problem is that everything is too fast, and they expect too much out of us.

It's only the end of the second week, and I'm really behind. There was 30 pages of the workbook due last week, and I didn't have the time to do it. Also, each chapter has at least 80 new vocab words to study, so I've got a little study notebook thing full of words that I'm supposed to learn by the end of last week. Yikes.

Anyway, things are going good as far as the overall perspective. I'm getting screwed out of my housing money, but I'm going to move out next semester, which gives me a while to find an apartment. Meanwhile, the number of Foreigners, especially english speaking foreigners, has quadrupled in the neighborhood, so these days, I have some good friends that I'm spending a lot of time with. Granted, we're not usually speaking in Korean, but I have two Korean roommates now, and one isn't very good at english, so I'm getting a lot of Korean practice in. On top of my Korean classes that is.

Meanwhile, I have two Co-teachers at Chukkwa now. One is Shinji, a very cute and very interesting girl who's spent a lot of time abroad, and the other is Seung-min, who is also very cute and lived in the US for a year, staying in Portland for 3 months last year. That's been pretty cool as far as teaching goes. With them both, I speak english, which isn't as good as the situation with Eunmi, but these two girls all kinds of stories to tell me back, which is cool.

Anyway, I'm kinda busy with the homework and stuff, but I thought I'd drop a line to update things. I've got to get to my stuff, but basically, happy trails people.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Return of the Tiger (That's me)

I guess I’ve beaten the system, as it is not 4am right now. In fact, it’s not even in the AMs. It is in fact 8:30pm, which is 30 minutes before I start my evening Korean study…which I think I really should do tonight. I’ve been putting it off since I came back from the US, but I just talked to the International Office yesterday, and it appears that I’m going to have to take a Korean Language level test for next semester’s Korean classes. I guess taking the class doesn’t necessarily indicate that I actually acquired any skills. Normally, I would be annoyed by this, but I actually agree with their thoughts on this. At least this way, they and I have a better idea of where my Korean level actually is, which is good because maybe this time around I’ll be in a class where I’m not constantly behind the other students. A class where I’ll be uplifted and edified by my classmates…that’d be nice.

Anyway, I’m sitting in my dorm room, listening to JYP while I type this. Why JYP you might ask? Well, I told my roommate that I really wanted the song “Honey” by JYP because it’s friggin’ awesome, and he gave me the entire JYP collection. So, now I’ve got more than enough JYP to fill my desire for a while. But I gotta say, JYP is a helluva lot better than almost all of the current K-POP acts out there, even if most of his music is love ballads. The boy’s got skills. Interestingly enough, Rain, 2AM, 2PM, and the Wondergirls are all JYP creations, so…what gives :P I mean, as infectious as “Nobody” and as kickin’ as “10 out of 10” are, really? Maybe he realized that no one will live up to the bar he set.

Well, back on topic, so I’m back in Korea after 17 days in the US. I came back and was supposed to go through “quarantine,” but that was really just a group at the Airport making me fill out a card with all my contact information in the US and Korea, and then check yes or no to the symptoms of Swine flu and then get my temperature taken. After that, I was told that if I developed symptoms, then I should go to a hospital. Two days later, I got a text from the KCDC (Korean Center for Disease Control) asking if I had symptoms. When I said no, they informed me that should I develop symptoms, then I should go the hospital. A girl I was talking to yesterday told me that she actually went to the hospital and paid $100 for the H1N1 virus test, only to discover that the Office of Education didn’t actually need it, they just wanted to make sure that she’d been checked. Yep, that was a waste of a week.

See, I even took the free time to make lesson plans for my summer school. I was under the impression that it was my extra English class, that my students were 5-6th graders. My vice principle even said when I arrived that they were going to be 5-6th graders, but when I actually got there, they were mostly 3rd graders, with only one 6th grader on my roster, and she decided that she didn’t have the time to come to my class so she decided to drop it. That makes me upset because basically all my preparation was for nothing. So, now I’m sitting back, with no lesson plans, no co-teacher and a bunch of bored 3rd graders wondering why they are even in my class. And to top it off, the powerpoint in my classroom wouldn’t read the PPT presentations I prepared, so half of prep work was gone anyway.

Talk about committing harikari. I wanted to do it right there. The class sucked.

So, now, the reason why I’m conflicted about studying Korean tonight despite the suspended Sword of Damocles (aka language test) coming up is that I really have to change my lesson plans to work with 3rd graders. And these aren’t even the really good at English students, so I’m back to the serious basics.

Changing the topic, when I was coming back, I decided to eat a Baconater Combo meal from Wendy’s in the Seattle airport. You know what the Seattle Airport Wendy’s does these days? They list the calorie count for all the items on the menu. So, while I was waiting for my food to arrive, I calculated up the caloric count for my meal, and then I had a cow. A large Baconater combo is 2000 calories. That’s right, it’s the daily caloric intake, in one meal. One friggin’ meal. So, I’ve been shocked into a serious diet, because I began to think, “If that’s the case here, at this restaurant, how many times have I eaten like 4000+ calories in a day?” Sorry, but 4000+ calories in a day is just fat. Pure and simple. So, since I’ve been home, I’ve been seriously watching my calorie intake, trying to keep in below 2000 in a day. Now, I know that being a larger guy, I probably should be consuming like 2,500 calories, but since I’m overweight, I figured that dropping to below 2,000 was a good call.

So far, aside from maybe today (I had fried chicken breasts today, and I have no idea what the calorie count on that is) I’m doing great on this diet. And I’ve already noticed a change; and not a small “Oh look, these pants fit better change,” but a real, three holes on my belt, kinda change. That and Adrienne pointed out that it looks like I lost a bunch of weight. It’s been a little more than a week and I think I’ve lost almost 10 pounds. I’m a little worried that I’ll lost muscle mass, so I started the “Ultimate No Weight Workout” from Men’s Health today. My inner legs are sore and my pushups are pathetic. I’m going to keep at it. My goal is lose like 150 pounds at least over the course of the next year, maybe year and a half. It turns out that losing 4 pounds a week is okay, but usually people lose about 2 pounds a week, which is fine with me. I’m in the OBESE category, according to the BMI thing, so I need to lose a lot and keep it off.

I think that’s the worst part, keeping it off. I just have to make sure that Baconaters are no longer on my diet. Fortunately, they don’t have baconaters here in Korea, and instead, they have a lot of stuff covered in Chili paste, which it turns out is a good catalyst for weight loss because Capsaicin speeds up the metabolism. Sweet! This morning, I added Kimchi to my breakfast menu (which I’ve been maintaining for more than a week now) only adding 35 calories to my breakfast, which is more than the milk I use on my ¾ cup of Almond Flakes. Heh. It’s a trick, since nuts are also good for weight loss. Yep, I’m eating fine and I’m using natures weight loss helpers in what I’m eating. Smart, right?

Anyway, since I’ve been back, I’ve spent most of my time working on my lesson plans. I’ve only been able to see a couple of friends, Eun-mi and Seong-hun being amongst them, but it’s starting to come together. I’m sure that by the end of the week I’ll have things together. I’d better because on Tuesday next week, I have to give a lecture on team teaching at the TALK Ulsan orientation. Okay. Me, team teaching. I don’t really know what they’re expecting of me, since that’s not a common practice at my school, but I think I know enough of the theories of team teaching to fake it. I doubt I’ll be able to pull off an hour though, so as long as they don’t video tape the thing, I figure I’ll go ahead and use some of the time talk about some other stuff that might be more useful to the talk people.

Well, that’s about it. Oh, actually it’s not. As I was coming back from the international office yesterday, I happened across the Ulsan English Conversation Club practicing “The Merchant of Venice” and I stopped to watch. Next thing I knew, I was pulled into their group, asked to give my input on their pronunciation and whatnot. I think I’ll go back again and help more later, mostly because I like theatre. Besides, I know they could do a great job if they really work on their English skills….oh, and the chick playing the moneylender should really learn how to use her face when she’s on stage. It looks as though the most passionate character doesn’t really care about anything at all.

But that’s it. Happy trails people.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Last day of...

Well, friday was the last day of... It was strange for me because for other people it was something of a special day, but I'm coming back to the exact same situation, so nothing is changing for me, which made me feel as though I wasn't being as emotional as I should be. As I used to be a criminology major who focused on serial killers and those with sociopathic tendenancies, I'm always worried about my emotional involvement, because it seems as if I wouldn't be emotionally involved in anything if I didn't try. Basically, my natural state is selfishness, and it's selflessness that I strive for.

Anyway, it was the last day of... I leave that blank because it was the last day of many things. We took our Korean final, and I had to turn in my application for next semester's "Korean Intensive Program", which official puts an end to my Korean classes until September. Fortunately, if all goes according to plan, next year, I'll only be studying Korean, which means that I will have seriously less stress as all my homework will be related to the topic I WANT to study anyway.

But it was also the last day of teaching until August 17th, which is consequently just a few days shy of being one month away. Of course, I don't have a vacation, since they expect me to plan all of my supplimental english classes during this time off. I don't think that Koreans really understand the point of vacation. If their idea of tours is any indication, they need to go back and relearn some things.

However, it wasn't officially the last day, so we didn't get an official send-off, but the principal did give Eun-mi and I a 50,000 won bonus...what was interesting is that it was actually a 50,000 won bill. I didn't even know they made those things, but apparently they do, and now I have one. Of course, I'm not going to spend it...not if I can help it :P

Anyway, I had a meeting with some people, so I said goodbye to Eun-mi as she was getting on the bus to go back to town, but I know that we'll see each other again, because unlike the mission, I can travel out to Kwangju to see her if I want, and I can call her and other such, so there's not that big of a separation...not like there was during the mission days. Maybe that's why I'm not that emotionally involved, because I've already been part of something that when it ended, it was a big deal, but this is like a small deal, though everyone is still treating it like it's a big deal. It's like Marie said, "I don't know if I'll ever see any of these people ever again." But, I know that if you really want to, there's not that much stopping you. Besides, aside from Amanda and Grant, everyone else I can see by driving...well, anyone I'd want to see anyway. I mean, I made friends with other people, but it's not like the girls from New Zealand, aside from Jung-mi, tried to get to know me.

So, yeah, I'm slowly beginning to see the world as a very small place. I'm glad I made the friends I made, glad I made the connections I've made, but internet social networking groups have made it really easy to stay in contact, despite a giant ocean in between you. I can go on to facebook and drop a line to Jackson in England and be like, "What's new, bro" and after a period of time, he comes back with, "Oh, you know, dating, etc." and we keep in touch. The world is not as big as it used to be. Not that big at all.

Anyway, it was also the last day for the POE free Korean Class. We spent half the time having a small lesson with Charles, and then we spent the other half the time learning more about Korean music with Joon-Yeong. We did the Arirang like 6 times, which is cool because now I know the words and tune pretty well (not memorized, but the tune is there, so eventually maybe). Afterwards, we all went to a bbq place and had ourselves some delicious Kalbi...mmm Kalbi. I'm getting so used to Korean spicy foods, that I'm actually wanting Kimchi JJigae today. No friggin kidding.

So, yeah, then there was the last awkward goodbyes at the bus stop, followed by the random last accidental lunch meeting on saturday, which was once again followed by the awkward final goodbyes at the bus stop. It made Mao laugh because I said the exact same thing to Grant on saturday as I said on friday (on purpose of course), which apparently Grant didn't catch until Mao laughed. Guess I know who was paying attention :P. But, its true, I will probably never see Amanda in person again...eventhough she's supposed to give me the traditional Vietnamese hat that she was giving away. Hmm...wonder if I will ever see it.

The last days of the mission were really hard, but these last days don't seem like last days at all. Actually, I'm looking forward to a little break with my family and then coming back and digging right in. I want to rededicate myself to the goals that I have, becoming fluent in Korean, losing weight, etc. etc. etc. So, it was the last day of.... but it's more like a new beginning.

Happy trails people.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Tongyeon x2, Talk x2, Study abroad x2

As you can clearly see, the theme of this post is repetition. As you can clearly see, the theme of this post is repetition.

See what I did there?

Anyway, let’s just get into this thing, shall we? This last weekend, I went on a culture tour that was really fun…despite the fact that I came home with cut feet. Before I tell the story, I want every person who is casually reading this blog to know, if you are ever clamming in the mud, and you think it’s a good idea to take off your shoes and walk around, STOP! You are totally going to come home with several tiny cuts and some really deep ones on the bottom of your foot.

어쨋든, so, this weekend, we went to Tongyeon. Thing is, we went to Tongyeon before. About three weeks ago, we went to Geojedo and Goseong, to a Korean War POW museum and the longest cable gondola in all of Korea, as well as going to a dinosaur park—and seeing actual dinosaur footprints. This weekend, however, we went back to the same place, rode the same suspended gondola, but this time we checked out a classical music concert and the Turtle Ships used by Admiral Yi Sun-Shin to defeat the Japanese invasion of Korea. Of course, we know that in the long run, the Japanese won, what with taking over Korea as a Japanese territory in 1905.

You know, speaking of which, I’d like to make a few comments about that. Koreans are incredibly mad at the Japanese for that, mostly because they were ridiculously abusive during that period, which I totally get and completely sympathize with, but I have to say that there are many things that Korea got out of that period that they don’t really attribute as gains in the overall scheme of things. For example, Korea had this problem with cartography, which was solved when the Japanese taught them to make maps. Also solved problems when they taught them that just because you are making a map doesn’t mean you get to rename stuff…fixing every college student’s nightmare for years to come. On top of that, they were taught how to make buildings and all kinds of other stuff, so you know, maybe there was a reason that Japan as so pushing about doing things their way.

Okay, back to what I was saying. Yeah, clamming. We did some of that this weekend. It was the 4th of July, and I didn’t do any fireworks, have a barbequed or anything else cool for that matter. Nope. Clamming. Well, clamming is what we did on Sunday, Saturday, we checked out the turtle ships and stuff and then saw the wind instrument orchestra and then off to our hotel. Actually, Mao, Daniel McGeary, a guy named Vinh and I had the coolest Love Hotel room ever. It had two beds, two couches, a giant TV, a computer, mirrors above the beds, a separate bathroom and sink that were the size of an average love hotel room, and a shower room the size of another average love hotel room. I made a joke that we could fit all the people that had come on the trip with us in the one room, but an hour later, everyone was up in our room talking, hanging out, and watching TV, so we actually did.

Anyway, as the evening wore on, Daniel, Vinh and I joined up with Cat, her boyfriendy-type fiancé-like guy, Norma, and Natalie, making a very international, very awesome bunch to go to the Noraebang (Karaoke) together. (FYI, Daniel, Norma, and I are straight white-bread Americans, Cat was born in the US but lived most of her life in Canada, where her boyfriend is from, Vinh is a Vietnamese American, and Natalie who is born and bred from the UK). Totally ass-kicking fun because we generally picked songs everyone would sing, thought I did “Fire” from 2NE1, and Daniel sang two Japanese songs, which included “Rinda, Rinda” from the 1980’s. It’s really cool how Korean noraebangs have English and Japanese songs in them too. I think that if they didn’t, they probably wouldn’t be nearly as popular.

Oh yeah, and we totally ran into the Kwangju TaLK scholars on the trip. Turns out they came to Tongyeon too. I had a fun conversation with Kyra, and we talked about Cody some too. I hope he realizes that she’s a really awesome girl, because seriously…

Anyway, so on to the rest of my blog, which it mostly an update on what’s going on…

Well, I’m staying in Korea another year. I signed on with TaLK for another year, and I did so because I REALLY want to learn Korean. I don’t exactly know why, aside from it being another Asian language and a language that will help me in getting into the state department. But I don’t get much out of knowing Korean aside from knowing Korean because the language is only spoken by maybe 76 million people in the whole world, so it’s not like it’s that useful. I mean, Japanese alone is spoken by at least 136 million people. That’s a huge difference. And even then, the 76 million speakers of Korean have at least 7 different dialects, one of which being the Gyeongsan dialect that I’m so fond of, but there’s also the North Korean dialect, which only the people in the North speak anyway.

I don’t know. But I do know that the Lord clearly wanted me to be here, and I have this unexplainable desire to learn and speak Korean. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that few people outside the Korean American population speak Korean in the US. That’s a pretty cool thing when you think about it. I’ll be in one of those circles of really awesome people that you just have to tip your hat to and say, “I bow to your superiority, sir.”

So yeah, another year of TaLK means another year of Study Abroad. Awesome. I’m going to apply for the Korean intensive class, despite the fact that Julie tells me there is a lot of homework and she’s having troubles keeping up with it, which is probably true, but it would be better than the situation I’ve got going here. See, I want to study Korean, but when I have other classes, I spend only my free time studying Korean while the rest of my time is spent studying economics or other stuff. I would prefer to have my personal study and my academic study coincide, so instead of studying Korean around studying other stuff, I can just study Korean and thereby get better and better.

I’m apparently learning a lot though, since I’ve been going through my “Making out in Korean” book, which was hard as hell when I started, and it’s pretty easy stuff…even though it’s supposed to be the Korean you never learn in school. Maybe it’s because I hear this stuff from people all the time. And maybe it’s because I listen to my students and Eun-mi, so you know, special. However, Joy speaks way too fast for me, so I clearly have a long way to go before I’m fluent (and interestingly a short time to get there since the TOPIK test is coming up on me in April, and I was to pass the advanced by then).

In other news, I’m about to argue my way into getting my month of vacation during August. They’re telling me that I only get a week (which is actually two weeks since they haven’t considered that I get a week from my contract). Yeah, actually, they don’t really know what’s going on at all, but they seem to think that they do, and they sorta expect me to roll over and take it. But they’re going to send me home and expect me back within a week. That’s ridiculous when the flight itself is 14 hours. 14 friggin’ hours people. Come on! Besides, I have important things to do, so I’m going home.

Anyway, that’s about it from me here.

Happy trails people.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Korean Experience in Brief

Alright, I decided that perhaps it is time to give an overview of how I percieved my international experience here in Korea. I'm supposed to be going home, but I ended up applying to extend my contract with TaLK after a fairly heated argument with the international coordinator at the University of Ulsan and getting removed from the Learn and Teach in Ulsan program. I was forced against a wall by him and by the TaLK program, and now I'm stuck with my decision, only 24 hours after finding out its possible. I hate the sucks.

Anyway, seeing life as an exchange student and as an English teacher at a public school is not the extent of my experiences here in Korea. I have been on various “Culture Tours” provided by the Provincial office of Education, which have taken me to the Island of Jeju (Korea’s Hawaii), inside a farmers home, to traditional Korean villages, and even to various regional festivals. All of these have given me great insight into the Korean mindset and also the mindset of a foreigner experiencing them because in all of these circumstances, I was surrounded by fellow English teachers who taught not only at elementary schools, but at Middle Schools and even High Schools. Each of them had unique and even interesting experiences to discuss, and many of them also openly shared their drinking and even illicit/illegal exploits while here in Korea. I’ve seen firsthand the repercussions of a drunken brawl between a foreigner and a Korean, and I’ve heard of the complications that arise when a foreigner attempts to pick up a prostitute, only to discover that she does not service non-Koreans. On the other side, I’ve been with other foreigners while learning traditional styles of dyeing cloth, making baskets to carry eggs on a day trip, and participating in traditional dances.

On top of cultural experiences, I participated for a while in a program developing English Lesson Plans for the elementary schools in the Ulsan Municipal Educational Office. That was a 2 month project working with other foreigner teachers and Korean teachers to create a system of teaching that would allow foreign teachers to provide better lessons to the elementary school kids. These lesson plans were distributed to all the other teachers in the Ulsan area and became part of their curriculum—of course I don’t know the overall level of acceptance by the teachers, but some have expressed their resolute dislike of the system while others have discussed their whole-hearted application. It is unreasonable to assume that we could have made a perfect system, but perhaps more research would have been helpful.

However, I did undertake a 120 hours TESOL (Teaching Students of Other Languages) course, which has become useful in my daily dealings with my students and even with the other English teachers. This particular TESOL course was sponsored by the Asian EFL Journal (and certified by universities in England, Australia and the US) and was thus oriented toward teaching in Korea and other Asian countries, discussing common issues that occur when teaching English in East Asia. One such discussion was about educational reform issues, and how we as teachers might help in that process. It was an interesting program, to say the least, but was nothing compared to the 220 hour ESL training we received at the start of the TaLK program, hours appropriately named “orientation.”

I have also gone on other trips up to Seoul, experiencing true metropolitan lifestyles. Recently, I spent two nights with my Canadian-Korean friend’s cousins in their upper-middle class high rise apartment in a lower income neighborhood. I found out later that the area in which we stayed is commonly known for its high crime rate. It was interesting to see how people of Confucian ideals intermingle with others of different income levels, which was far different from what I expected. On the hand, I spent two nights in the Executive Premier Suite of an affluent hotel chain in one of the richest neighborhoods in Seoul, and the effort that the hotel made to keep me from having to mingle with the “regular” guests was staggering. I had my own VIP lounge and swimming pool. It was far different from staying with my friend’s family.

But not all my experiences in Seoul have been about economic levels. I have acquaintances there who work for the US military, and on more than one occasion, we’ve discussed the situation between US-ROK military forces. Most of my friends have expressed serious issues in US-ROK military relations, and many of them have to stem from the stereotype of being “American Soldiers”—a stereotype my friends continuously try to avoid. Other things stem from the fact that US spends more money on the military in Korea than the nation of Korea does on its overall military forces, thus giving rise to a gap between the US and ROK soldiers in terms of lifestyles. In fact, that’s the main reason for the KORUS Joint Forces initiative, which allows Korean soldiers to serve in the US military.

Many of my friends, on the other hand, are former ROK soldiers, as it is a constitutional duty of Korean men to serve in the military for a term no less than 2 years, and then continue to be in reserve for another 3 years after that. This has a significant effect on relationships, studying, traveling, etc., especially when you consider that every Korean male over the age of thirty has served in the military. This might be the cause for the differences in culture between Japan and Korea. But it really changes the relationships among college students, when the gap between ages of the males and the female students is 2 years, and when all the male students still act like wild freshmen even at the age of 22, it’s very strange.

But my particular dormitory hall is for foreign students, so I have made some fairly good friends with men from Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Mongolia. One of my former roommates was Mongolian, working on his PhD in Computer Engineering, and discussing with him the difficulties of researching in another country was interesting. My friend from Sri Lanka agreed with the situations discussed by my roommate, but he added more as his doctoral research normally takes him to the city of Taejun, where he works directly with chemical engineers at some of the biggest plants in Korea. His difficulties then had the added effect that despite being surrounded by the smartest minds in South Korea, he didn’t understand what they were talking about. Language difficulties hinder the process of information evaluation and incorporation. However, my Pakistani friend didn’t have any of the issues discussed by my other friends, by he has problems finding Islam-friendly Middle-eastern food in Korea, and that has been a huge problem for him; so much so that he’s had to go far out of his way just to get a meal. That creates an impact on his overall schedule.

Here in Korea, I’ve experienced the gamut from low to high economic levels, good to bad teachers, illegal behaviors to church service projects, government funded training to privately funded training, private universities to public universities, public schools to private institutions, and industrial cities to commercial metropolises. But none of that was anything like my experiences as a volunteer church missionary in Japan.

If you wanna know more, talk to me. Otherwise,

Happy Trails people.

Monday, June 8, 2009

The Korean Wave Splashes Abroad

This time, it's 5:30am, not 4, and I just finished this week's essay for Korean Politics. I still have half an essay to finish (the one from last week) before I've completed my assignments for the class, but I also have to write a comparison essay on something between China, Japan, Korea and the US for Understanding Modern China(my professor recommends Temple construction, but I'm not certain yet). There has been a lot that has happened to me since the last post, like getting the results of my TOPIK exam, but I thought that I would dedicate this post to explaining what I know about Korean Pop culture. So, this Blog post is all for fun :P

In 1997, the Korean Drama “Star in My Heart” aired on the Chinese TV channel Phoenix TV. It was shown in Taiwan, China, Hong Kong, and various other Asian countries at the time, but experienced the greatest popularity in China and Taiwan, partially due to its representation of High Korean Culture and partially because the main actor, Ahn Jae-Wook, was attractive to Taiwanese and Chinese women. This small step into the global television arena started the fire that has been named Hallyu or the “Korean Wave.”

Star in My Heart aired 10 years ago, but this single incident can be traced as the source of the Korean Pop culture movement abroad. Since then, TV dramas like “Winter Sonata,” “Jewel of the Palace,” and “Boys Before Flowers” have all been added to the list of shows that experienced (or in some cases still experiencing) popularity abroad. However, even after 10 years, Hallyu remains a mostly regional phenomenon in Asia, making small by steady ripples in other markets.

Hallyu has been a niche market in Asia due mainly to the secret behind its initial success. As satellite television hit the East Asian arena, there became a demand for new and exciting dramas to fill the voids of airtime that suddenly appeared. Most Asian nations experienced a sudden lack of local entertainment when cable channels went from ten to one hundred almost overnight. This being the case, the need to import dramas and movies to fill the void they had almost accidently created, and importing western dramas and movies was an incredibly expensive endeavor. It was at this time that the already tested Japanese Pop industry stepped up and filled the TV screens, experiencing a huge boom. However, Japanese drama imports were almost as expensive as western ones, so the networks started looking for more. So, when the option to air a Korean drama appeared on the table, it naturally seemed like a good choice.

The price of airing a Korean production was significantly less than Japanese productions, so in no time at all, dramas like “Autumn Story” budded popularity in the Phillipines, while “Winter Sonata” fell on Japan and “Firework” flashed across the Taiwanese networks. Not only were these shows less expensive to broadcast, they had stories that enticed the viewers and had a centrally “Confucian” feel. Young viewers enjoyed the flashy cars, high standards of living, hairstyles and lifestyles of the Korean characters, while the older viewers enjoyed the family centric values and the lack of overt violence or sex. These same reasons for the growth of popularity in Eastern Asian countries, however, might be the same reasons that Hallyu has not had greater success in Western nations like the United States.

For the most part, Korean dramas appear in the United States on ethnic channels, finding a footing in the Asian-American population. The recent Korean drama “Boys Before Flowers” (꽃보다남자) is one such success story, however, “Boys Before Flowers” presents another aspect of Korean Pop culture entirely, that of the proliferation of outside influences on Korean Pop culture. These influences appear more in popular Korean music than in dramas or movies, but the influence in unmistakable.

The current popular Korean groups in the pop music industry are: 2AM, 2PM, Dong Bang Shin Ki, Big Bang, Shinee, SNSD (Girls Generation), Son Dambi, SS501, Super Junior, and Wonder Girls. Others include: 2ne1, After School, Chae Yeon, Davichi, Epik High, Kara, Lee Hyori, Rain, and Yoon Mi Rae. These groups/singers have at least one thing in common, aside from dominating the current pop music charts, and that is the influx into their music of outside influences. Girls Generation and Super Junior, for example, are groups made of a large quantity of members—Girls Generation having 9 members while Super Junior has 14. The record company behind these bands, SM Entertainment, got the idea of building a large group of entertainers from the Japanese band “Morning Musume.” CP Entertainment also got the rotating membership idea of After School from Morning Musume, however, After School has limited its membership, for now, to six members at a time.

Most of the other groups have aspects of American hip-hop culture in their music, or even overt R&B sounds, and so even go so far as to remix older American hit songs. Big Bang and 2ne1, for example, remixed the 1950’s song “Lollipop.” Son Dambi’s “Saturday Night” is reminiscent of the classic American disco film “Saturday Night Fever” starring John Travolta, while the Wonder Girls’s label JYP records gained inspiration for “Nobody” from the recent blockbuster American film “Dream Girls” – which isn’t a surprise since JYP himself admittedly gained inspiration for his “Honey” dance and dress style in 1998 from Michael Jackson, while the video for said song has obvious “Pulp Fiction” undertones. These are clear influences of western pop styles on current pop music, but despite all this, many of these groups are still trying to break into the US market.

Breaking into the US market, however, is not an easy task. BoA and Se7en are two prime examples of Korean artists currently trying to make it big in the US, as these two artists are, after a long period of hard work, finally starting to get recognition. BoA recently released her all English album in the US and has been lucky up until this point to have the support of the American artist Sean Garret, which has accumulated in her recent reception into the CAA family—this is the same group that promotes Brad Pitt, Will Smith, George Clooney, Oprah Winfrey, David Beckham, and Steven Spielberg, among others—and her performance at the MTV music awards, a giant leap for any performer in the US music scene. Se7en, on the other hand, hasn’t experienced as much popularity yet, but his music video “Girls” featuring Lil’ Kim aired on BET during primetime hours last week, so there is still more to go for him.

So far, Korean Pop artists have had to rely on established US artists to get their name in primetime spots in the US music scene, which may signify the fact that as of yet, Korean pop music lacks the necessary creative push that breaks it into the western markets. Some argue that the American market is, in fact, not readily receptive to non-American artists, but this argument does not hold true when such groups as Nickelback, U2 and Coldplay are presented, both non-American bands experiencing tremendous popularity in the US—Coldplay was even the official band of the iTouch. These bands are Western bands, however, which may then show a line drawn between Western and Eastern bands. That arguments leads to question whether the US market is hard to break into because of a lack of reception by US consumers of Eastern-style music or because of the perception of US consumers on the styles of music. Korean groups and artists, for example, are “trained” for years prior to their breakout, which is contrary to the majority of bands in the US. While some bands are put together by labels and coached, most bands establish themselves and prove their talents to the record labels by building fan bases before they are signed. These polar opposites create a distinct difference in talent level perception by US consumers.

Currently, the Wonder Girls have been brought to the US by their manager JYP, being coached in English and attempting to show their “different” Korean style music to American audiences. However, they too have used the crutch of established popular artists to spread their music to larger audiences. Currently on tour with the Jonas Brothers, the Wonder Girls are playing their innocent images to the fans of Disney’s most popular group. With the backing of Disney, the Wonder Girls are almost guaranteed to succeed in the US market, so long as they continue to drastically improve their English skills and keep themselves from scandalous behavior. However, one has to wonder about the necessity of riding the curtails of other artists in order to get air time.

Korean Films, on the other hand, are having a much greater success rate in the US market than Korean music. The movie THIRST (Bakjwi), recently received rave reviews at the Cannes Film Festival, showing the world that South Korea has a distinct film style that can surprise even the most veteran movie makers. On top of this, many Korean films have been remade in the US or are in the stages of being remade—discussions of remaking first have already begun behind closed doors and the movie has not even had its necessary box office debut yet. This list of remade (or soon to be remade) Korean films includes: My Sassy Girl, The Lake House, The Uninvited (Tale of Two Sisters), The Mirror, Awake, The Chaser, My Name Is Kim Sam-soon, and Old Boy. Interestingly, these movies were also readily accepted in other non-Korean markets like Hong Kong, which has had a notoriously receptive relationship with Korean films during the past 10 years of the Korean wave.

The fact that these films are being remade rather than simply released in the US does not signify a lack of necessary creative value like Korean Pop music might, as US movie makers remake almost every imported movie rather than dubbing over them in English. In fact, most US movie goers prefer to see remakes over dubbed or subtitled films, no matter what the cost. Films like “Eat, Drink, Man, Woman” from Taiwan became “Tortilla Soup,” “Shall we Dance?” “The Ring,” “The Grudge,” and “Dark Water” from Japan were remade with the same name, as well as “The Eye” from China, while movies such as “Le Femme Nikita” from France became “Point of No Return.” The US film industry is notorious for remaking foreign films into English versions, so this remake of Korean films has nothing to do with the Korean film industry, but the American film industry.

While Korean TV Dramas are receiving little popularity among mainstream US viewers, Korean music is steadily growing and Korean films have crashed on the shores. However, it appears as though US viewers do not represent the whole of western viewers, as Korean TV dramas are experience more popularity in European nations than Korean music or Korean movies. This is due mainly to the growth of youth culture. As youth in the technological age, especially those in Europe and in Southeast Asian countries, have begun to develop sufficient buying power and are in sync with global cultural trends thanks largely in part to the increase of the internet, they have become increasingly curious about new and fresh pop culture products. Businesses and media industries are continually trying to satisfy the demands of this generation, which opens opportunities for the Korean media industry to market Korean dramas and other pop culture products. In this light, Korean dramas have been able to provide alternative media to consumers with diverse preferences and tastes and who are bored with the too-familiar and too-abundant Western and Japanese pop culture with something fresh and different. This has been emphasized mostly in the Southeast Asian markets, but Korean Drama DVD sales have increased dramatically over the past few years in European markets.

Within Korean Pop culture, western influences can be felt, but Korean influences can also be felt in Western Pop culture. It is true that Pop culture has a tendency to wane quickly, replaced by the next best thing, the Hallyu Korean Wave has not only continued to hold, but also continued to grow over the past 10 years. Hallyu is not as prominent in Northeastern Asia as it used to be, suppressed mainly by anti-Korean sentiments in Japan and government fear of “foreign influence” in China, it has been growing in Southeast Asia, Europe and the US. There is a strong possibility that hallyu will become a domesticated cultural occurrence like it already has in the Philippines or as Anime has in the US, and if that happens, it will be the final show of hallyu effectiveness, as well as being the ultimate compliment to Korean culture. As Park Jung-Sun stated in her article “Korean Pop Culture Spreads Beyond Asia,” “it is premature to predict the long-term effectiveness of [market] strategies. But the fact that those are not uniquely Korean but common strategies shared by many Asian media industries indicate that the production, dissemination and consumption of pop culture in Asia will take on more regional characteristics than ever before. Also, in such a context, hallyu as a separate and unique phenomenon is likely to disappear as regional and global cultural hybridization will intensify even further.” (Insight into Korea, pg 285)

The future of hallyu is uncertain, and some even argue that the Korean Wave is slowly fading away, but since Korea is the land of miracles, it would not be surprising for the Korean Wave to sweep the world out to sea. Hallyu is important to the Asian pop culture landscape, along with Japanese Animation and Hong Kong action films. It not only provides fresh new images for the growing youth culture, but it also polishes the image of Korea to the rest of the world. The Korean Wave isn’t going anyway, and despite resistance in some markets, it will last for a while.

Happy trails people.

(PS I passed the beginner test but only made half of the necessary points to pass the 3 group on the intermediate test)

Saturday, May 9, 2009

It's that time again

It must be blogging time because it's 4am. 4am is always blogging time. That TED talk about 4am being the time that "nothing good happens" is actually a load of .... It's just the time that I catch up on my blog.

Okay, so let's explain the picture first, and then I'll let you know what's popping in Ulsan.

That picture was taken in Jinhae during the flower festival. I went because some of the people in that picture invited me to go with them, which was nice since there was a nother group of people that I considered friends who specifically didn't want me to go with them. So, I went with these people, who are all 2nd generation TaLK scholars, and we went to Jinhae to check out this Cherry Blossom festival.

Well, it was nice, but somewhere in the mix I ganked my ankle. However, I didn't notice until the next day, when my ankle was hurting a little. It got worse on sunday and then on monday it was painful, and on tuesday, I couldn't think because I was in so much pain. The doctor said I sprained my ankle and that the cause was because I was overweight, so, he said, I needed to diet.

Thanks Sherlock, like I didn't know that.

Anyway, they gave me crutches and a weird half-cast split thing (which wasn't done right, so it wasn't helping) and put me into physical therapy. Thing is, the physical therapy wasn't really working, so I got off that. The pain has continued for weeks now though. Oh well.

Alright, so updating.

Well, this week ended another semester of Korean Classes, which means now I've completed Beginner 3-4 and Intermediate 1. I'm still really horrible at Korean, but in the evening classes with the POE, I'm apparently better that almost everyone in the class. Also, I was listening to my audio files, just the dialogues, today and discovered that I understood what people were talking about. To be honest, I haven't been studying very much since the TOPIK exam, so the only thing that I can figure is that the Lord is really pouring on the blessings for some reason....

...Anyway, Marie and I have a make-up class sometime during this week break to learn how to use and conjugate passive verbs, since we both apparently suck at it, but I was praised by the teacher this week. On our final, I did well grammatically, but really horribly in the vocab department. Vocab, she said, grows no matter what, but the grammar was important. So, she said, I was doing well despite barely getting a passing grade. I think her usual gracious nature is going to step in and provide me with a B like it has the past few semesters.

..but we all know I'm at C level.

That's why I decided to stay. Oh, I don't think I mentioned that before. In July, my contract with TaLK ends and I go back to America, never to return to Korea and poised to lose all the Korean Language skillz I have acquired during my tenior here. BUT, the University of Ulsan introduced me to a new program they are starting called "Learn and Teach in Ulsan."

Wonder who they stole the name from...

Basically, I'll be tutoring english at the university for 9 hours a week, and I'll be studying here. Since PSU has been talking about how this time won't matter, how I'll lose financial aid if I go over on credits, etc. I decided that I'm just going to sign up for the Intensive Language Course, which should 1) help me to speak better Korean and 2) raise my vocabulary level.

Besides, since I'm having to study Korean around my already busy schedule, if I make my classes all about studying Korean, then I sorta streamline the process, don't I. And by streamlining, I get rid of all kinds of anxiety and stress. Basically, asides from the 9 hours a week of tutoring, the rest of my time will be dedicated to studying Korean, which means that I should be able to accomplish what I set out to accomplish during this first year here.

So, I'm sure that I can come home fluent in Korean. Which is great, because I want to work for the US Department of State in the future, and Korean is a "Critical Needs" Language, which means more bonus points for me. More bonus points bumps me up the hiring list and next thing you know, I'm off to work in an embassy.

Lot's of travel, decent pay. Sounds like the perfect job for me.

Actually, the money isn't that great, but since its like 30k more a year than I'm even used to imagining, that's not a bad deal. Besides, if I do move onto a masters (but I'll be like 31 when I finish that, so maybe not) then my pay goes up every year I work for them. And if I do aim for a masters, then I'll have some time to learn Chinese, a "Super Critical Needs" language, thereby guaranteeing my acceptance into the organization (and also seriously increasing my pay. As in, at the end of the 5 years training period, my pay will have increased about 6-7 thousand dollars. That's not a bad deal if you think about it. Maybe I will spend that extra two year...

Anyway, when I do finally finish all this work toward the career choice, then it will be like major monies for me. I don't know what I'll do with it all, but since it's all just imagining and speculation right now, I don't really want to plan for it.

Staying here does mean on thing for certain: I'll be putting off my college graduation yet another year. That's right, I may have graduated from Beaverton High in 2003, but I won't be graduating from Portland State until 2013 at the earliest. I'm not worried about that though, because when all is said and done, I'll have all kinds of experience, all kinds of knowledge, and all kinds of abilities at my fingertips.

And the only person I have to thank for all that is the Lord. He's been at the helm, and so far, it's been an amazing ride. The scriptures say that insomuch as you keep the commandments, you will prosper in the land. I've discovered that is true. The church said that if I went on a mission, I would be blessed in more ways than I could imagine. I've discovered that is true. My mission president, the church authorities, and many other people told me during my mission that if I gave up control and let the Lord fly the plane, I would never regret it. I've discovered that is true.

All these things are true, and when I finally do finish school, with my Bachelor's Degree in Japanese and my Bachelor's Degree in East Asian Studies, minors in Economics and Korean, and, IF I do make it all the way through a Master's program (the one that I've sorta set my sights for is the Double Masters in Diplomacy and Asian Pacific Policy at SETON HILL in Jersey), Masters Degrees in Asian Pacific Policy (which assumes that I will be learning Chinese) and Diplomacy, then I will show up on the door step of the State Department, tired after 12 years of College, speaking 4 languages, having over 16 years experience with Asian thought, culture, and history, being one of the few Korean Specialists that exist in the US anymore, and then I will turn to the Lord and say, "You were right, it was all worth it."

Because, at that point, I will have secured my future, my families future, my childrens future, and the honor of both the UHLS and LEWKOWITZ families. I will also set the bar for successive generations, something for them to look to and say, "Holy Crap, I gotta get to work!"

Well, that's the update. It was full of nice dreams and delusional thoughts, but there it is.

Happy Trails people

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Is it blogtime again??

Why is that 4am is the time that I'm up blogging? Maybe it because I have nothing else to do at 4 am. Maybe it's because it's that time of night that is supposedly evil (I referrence TED talks). Maybe its because at 4am, I'm not sleeping, but my roommate is, so all my lights are off and I need something to entertain my mind....

...or maybe it's because I'm lazy and at 4am I've already run through all my options :P

Alright, so the test. It went like this: Beginner test, relatively easy. Intermediate test, sunken chest wound difficult. It was so hard that I gave up. I had to give up because it was taking me 5 minutes to read the paragraph to answer the two questions, but since I was only given 45 minutes for 30 questions, that is way too long per question. I was going to run out of time anyway.

Yeah, I know. Loser.

I figured it out while I was there though. It works like this: intermediate learners take the beginner test, advanced learners take the intermediate test and the fluent speakers take the advanced test. See, the test tells you what level you've completed, which is them used to judge which level you are on. That would mean that if I passed the intermediate test, then I was pretty damn near fluent levels...which I'm not, so it makes sense that I failed the test. I shouldn't have even been there in the first place.

But I'm pretty sure I did decently on the beginner. I'm a little worried that my spelling errors may have cost me, so I might only pass level 1, which would blow, because level one is like really basic stuff. Sigh, but since my vocab sucks, maybe I deserve that.

Anyway, my new goal is to study tons of vocabulary...if I can get myself to study. I've been so busy the past few days that I haven't, and then I'm tired when I can, or hungry or something, and I end up wasting the time away napping eating or the like.

So, that's it. I got my kids to calm down with new punishment measures. Looks like the 5th graders are trying to test me though. Seo Dae-sung still thinks I'm kidding. At least Lee Jeon-Geon believes me. Controlling him actually lowers the level of volume in the class a whole decible. Also, he was attacked by one of the other boys after school the other day and I defended him. It doesn't look like he appreciated it, or that he even cared, but I ended up reinjuring my ankle because of it, looking at another two weeks of recovery. Sigh. The things I do for my kids.

Well, I have to tutor Sera in English tomorrow, so I should get some sleep. We're doing one hour of self-introduction work for job interviews and then 1 hour of business english study. She's hoping that she can get a job at another company soon. I hope she can too.

OH, before I go, I ran into Rookie the other day. He's my ex-roommate from the first semester here. I agreed to speak only in english in our room because he wanted to get a job at Hyundai Heavy Industries, and they require excellent english skills for that. Well, turns out that he got the job and was really grateful for my help. I'm glad I could help him. Speaking of which, I should email him before i forget his email address.

Anyway, happy trails people

Friday, April 17, 2009


And I would like to appologize quickly for my comments that might have been offensive to some people. Like I said, these people who don't speak korean are not worthless, they have great worth, are good people, good teachers, and good friends. They are wonderful people who just don't speak Korean.

And I didn't mean to include anyone in my rant who may not be able to learn korean for whatever reason. No, I was targeting those people who would rather spend their time in drunken hazes that lead to mornings of confusion then learning how to communicate with Koreans. And if I still have offended you, well, perhaps I need to rethink my thinking. But then, maybe you need to rethink yours...

1 day...

Alright, now that it is officially Saturday where I am, I am down to one day before my exams. Yes, Exams. I'm not just taking one exam, but two exams. I will be taking the TOPIK beginner exam from 9am to noon-thirty and then I take the Intermediate exam from 2pm to five-thirty. The idea behind this is that I'm sure I can pass the Beginner test, but if I fail the intermediate test, then I get nothing. They don't say, "Oh, well, he did good enough to know Korean." No, they just give me nothing. So, in case I fail, I decided that I should take the Beginner test too.

I'm not ready for that either.

But I'm pretty sure that I will be able to squeak my way through that one. Not because I'm all full of myself, but because I'm in the University of Ulsan's intermediate class and I'm in the POE's "Advanced" class, so either scale would agree that I've got enough of an understanding to squeek through the beginner level.

Doesn't mean I'm not stressed.

Anyway, I just wanted to write in this blog to de-stress. I was thinking of writting an hourly update on my progress toward the TOPIK exam, but then I thought "Since when did my blog become my twitter account?" so I decided against that. Basically, I'm just studying at 2:30am 'cause I slept through most of yesterday (I'm fasting so I didn't have dinner, which meant that I fell asleep at 5, right after I got back, and just slept until midnight). The idea is that I will study until I get tired again and then sleep, and then wake up and get stuff done and then fall asleep again, and basically completely mess up my sleep schedule that way I don't know if I'm coming or going during the test. That should increase my success, right???

Yeah, sure. And monkeys like to watch the NY Stock Exchange.

No, I'm sick. I woke up this morning (and by that I mean Friday morning) to find that I was more sick then before. Is it stress? Maybe. Is it my body trying to let me in on something? Most likely. But I don't have time to talk to it. After the TOPIK, I can sit, relax, and let myself recover. In fact, coming up around Golden Week time, it's Buddha's birthday and Childrens day, so I'll actually be able to sleep. After that, I want to take a trip to Singapore or Hong Kong, because they're so close and I would be incredibly dumb not to take advantage of that.

But right now, I gotta worry about passing my TOPIK exam. You know, 'cause I really want to be justified in my patronization of the Foreigners who have been here longer and know less Korean than me. Of course, the fact that I'm fasting and asking for the gift of tongues is balanced out by my desire to call my brother Racca. Dang. I really need to get back into congruency. I mean, how mean is my desire? How much of a jerk am I?

But seriously though, I was thinking about it today and was thinking that there's no excuse really. See, even if I started working for a company and they sent me out to the most remote part of the world for whatever reason, I think that I would still not be like these people I keep referring to. Consider than these people have been in Korea for 10+ years and still don't have a basic foundation. Or, consider the fact that there are people who arrived the same time I did, and this not being Thomas but being like the people in my "Advanced Korean" class with the POE, and they still miss pronounce many words...

..of course, there's a few things that I need to consider here if I'm going to break these people down. 1) I should not be judging them in the first place, lest I be judged with the same judgement that I judge upon them, 2) perhaps I'm not the best judge anyway, as I seem to be divinely gifted for this particular subject, thus changing my perspective, and 3) they likely have other qualities which I do not posses that make things different in their particular circumstances.

For example, one of these said people may, in fact, be a way better english teacher than I am (which I totally believe is highly likely situation). Or, perhaps these people have been spending their time developing highly fulfilling relationships.

BUT, I can't say that is the case for all of these people, because I KNOW that some of them are actually just wasting their time, as they have told me about their situations in detail. That still doesn't mean that I'm not just more blessed then they are, but let's remove the possible outliers and look directly at some of the people who I know I can talk about with some certainty (assuming of course that they have other qualities that still make them good people, but I'm examining their language abilities, not their worth as a person. I know that these people have great worth, especially in the eyes of the Lord).

Two acquaintences of mine have been in Korean for 15+ years. These gentleman have Korean wives and jobs here in Korea. One is part of a small business trying to promote new works in the Tech field, and the other owns a foreigner bar and has been part of several small business endavours such as this. But both of these men have been held back by their lack of language skills. In my mind, if they are married to someone who speaks another language fluently (and in the case of one of them, has a couple of children who speak Korean as their native language but English as their nearly native second solely based on him being their father) and has been married to this person for years, they should have been able to learn a significant amount just from attempting to create dialogues with their spouse. Also, if they have been busy with business in this country, and they've been hindered by language, why haven't they tried to rectify this situation?

For clarification purposes, one of these men has been trying, but seems to have a complete inability to perform basic pronunciation exercises. Strangely enough, this same person speaks at least 2 other languages as well, being a part-time professor of French at the Uni.

I blame this kind of situation on lifestyle choices. They could have but they didn't. This brings me to some other aquaintences who also seem to have a problem with the Korean language. These aquaintences haven't been in Korea much longer than myself but don't seem to have any understanding of tense or grammar. Why? The answer can only be found when you look at their lifestyle. This group generally spends their time after teaching communicating with each other or going out for drinks. Most of these people go to foreigner bars, where they can order in english. They drink, they might go to a Karaoke place (which always has songs in english), and sometimes inter-date. This means that their lifestyle is much the same as living in the US, with the added benefit of less bills and thus more spending money. But, their life is almost completely in english. These people are the ones that make it hard for me to ride in Taxis or meet new people, because they help develop the belief that all foreigners are here to get drunk and try to pick up korean chicks. Thanks guys.

Now, considering my own complaints about trying to learn Korean, I'm sure there are many ways to justify these people's behavior, but I think that it's more of a situation of laziness than of actual inability. It's a question of application. Many of this latter group have just finished school (college) and are still in that transitional period before entering the "real world." Some people would call this an admirable move of maintaining ones youth as long as possible, and such "youth maintainence" actions are good things, but when you completely forget about learning because you "are bored with it," well, you don't get any sympathy from me.

I say again that I would not be like them if I were put in some far reaching place in the world. They leave work eventually, right? I mean, they drink and have fun often with their foreigner friends, so they obviously have free time. Why don't they use some of that free time to study? Some of these people are always trying to pick up girls at the bars and clubs. Why don't they try talking to these girls in their own language?

See, now you can go ahead and throw these questions back at me, but I actually can respond. I do study with my free time, and I do attempt to talk to people in Korean. However, more than I few times have I said something in Korean, thinking it was the correct sentense, only to have it thrown back at me with the question, "What the hell are you talking about?" That's really disheartening. But you can ask Eun-mi or Taseol, or anyone that gets a text from me these days, I try to use korean with people who I know understand it. I would do the same thing if I was in Nepal, Norway, Argentina or the Phillipines. If you are in the nation, it is really dumb to waste the opportunity and not get to know the people. And how can you get to know the people if you don't understand what they are talking about?

Well, now that I've ranted about something that's been bothering me for a while, it's time to get back to TOPIK studying.

Happy Trails people

Thursday, April 16, 2009

2 Days...

I bet you're wondering, "What happens in two days?" The answer is: in two days I will be sitting in a room at Busan University with a bunch of other foreigners trying to show that I've got the skills to pass the TOPIK (Test Of Proficiency In Korean) beginner and intermediate tests.

I am not ready.

You see, the test is very vocabulary-oriented. I am not a very vocabulary-oriented guy. I'm grammar oriented, so in the end...I'm screwed. But hopefully I can squeak by. What do I get if I pass? I get this neat little certified that authentizes my Korean abilities and basically gives me justification for being a douche to all the foreingers who have been here for 10+ years and still can't speak Korean (like the dude in my class at the University who's been here for 16 years). It also becomes something I can put on my resume to make it look like I went through some intensive course (apparently learning Korean in one year is impressive to most people), and I can argue for credit back at PSU (whatever).

Why do I want to accomplish this? I don't know. I don't actually know why I want to say I did it. Maybe it's because Japanese was relatively easy for me. Okay, it was really hard, but compared to trying to learn Korean, it was really easy. I'm not sure if that's the nature of Korean or if because I've been learning Japanese for almost 10 years now. Of course, I learned the most in the 2 years I was there, but that was preceeded by 4 years of study, which probably did a good job setting the base. In the case of Korean, I had one year and then WAM! thrown into the deep end and told to survive.

But it seems like survive I might. Hopefully.

Am I stressed? Ninja duh!

So, wish me luck. I only hope my jacked up ankle doesn't flare up in the middle of the test and make it hard to focus. I'm gonna be praying like crazy tomorrow and Saturday that I might be worthy enough for the gift of tongues. If they Lord's will is that I use the Korean language in the future, then 1) I will learn it and 2) I will do well on the test. I have faith, the only question is: Am I worthy?....


Happy trails people

Friday, March 27, 2009

Kicking it into Gear...again

So, it's been a while since I wrote in my blog, and it turns out that I actually do have people reading this thing. That's been a strange revelation because, well, I'm buried deep in Blogspot's server. I actually didn't know that my friends and family read this blog since no one seems to leave comments, so I stopped, but it turns out that they actually do.

So, here we go.

Last night, I went to bed at 3am after having a long conversation with Thomas's Roommate. The guy slept in my roommates bed because my roommate didn't come home last night (I'm seriously beginning to suspect that his home is actually very close to here), like most weekends, and Thomas was then able to have his girlfriend and close friend Nathan (the same that appears in my photos or stories because he too is a TaLK scholar). It is "Open House" this weekend, which is pretty much just 48 hours of the students doing whatever they want, going where ever they want, and basically having a good old time. Fortunately, most of the foreign students are either a little older or a little more respectful of the area, so there's no a whole lot of drunken orgies going on. :)

In fact, my Japanese friends had girls in the their room last night, and everyone was drinking, but it was interesting because the typical Japanese drinking fest is loud and full of stories that you can't tell anyone about, but they were calm, contained and decent.

Actually, last night, while I was brushing my teeth and other things, I ran into one of the Japanese girls and a couple of guys standing outside the bathroom labelled with the symbol "여" signifying that it was designated for females. This only occurs during Open House times, and its just a logistical way of making sure that the women who visit have a safe place to go to the bathroom in the Men's dorm building, a place normally off limits to them. But this particular girl was embarrassed and blushing, ranting about how it scared her. I stopped to talk to them, and it turned out that one of the mongolian students, either oblivious to the new designation for the bathroom or oblivious to the meaning of the symbol, had gone inside and was using the bathroom, and she'd walked in on him. It was interesting and eventually cleared itself up while I was chatting with them, but it was funny because she was speaking in Korean at first until the guys said, "Oh, he lived in Japan, so he can speak Japanese." I guess she wasn't listening when I was talking back to them.

Anyway, my situation is interesting. To cover most of what's happened to me since I last posted, I'll give a brief rundown.

-I made two music videos, both now on Youtube. One is a mix of G-dragon from the Korean Hip Hop band "Big Bang" and Maroon 5, both singing their hit "This Love". The other is a compilation of Supernatural episodes done to BoA's song "Eat You UP." On facebook, This Love is fairly popular, but the supernatural video is actually doing better on Youtube.

-I got rejected by a girl who claimed she "wanted to be my girlfriend, but is too busy. If I wait a year, when shes a 3rd year, then she'll be ready." I call this a rejection because 4 days later she started dating her roommate, a guy she barely knew when we first met.

-I haven't finished my "Dictionary of Basic Korean Grammar" but I have been studying pretty intriquitely, and that includes a 6-10 hours of speaking nothing but Korean every week, which isn't alot, but it's alot more than I had before, and that has made a huge jump in my abilities.

-Doran, my co-teacher, quit and I have a new person whose name is "Choi Eun-mi" pronounced as "Che" like in "Checkers", "Oon" as is "Spoon" and "Mee" like "Meet". She's cool, and actually the reason behind the Korean Speaking time because we came to an agreement: I speak with her in English for a few hours a day, and she speaks with me in Korean a few hours a day. We obviously don't see each other every day, but enough.

-There are only 3 weeks left until my TOPIK (Test of Proficiency in Korean) Test, so I have to study hard because I might be getting grammar, and I might be improving my speaking skills, but the test is mostly vocabulary. Damn Koreans and thinking that vocabulary is the key to a language.

-I moved buildings during the winter break time and then moved back when the semester started, and now Thomas lives across the hall. We've been seeing each other more often, which is cool.

-Geoff, my good friend in the TaLK program, went back home to LA. This has been a good and bad thing. He and I basically hung out with each other all the time, which means that I'm sorta alone again. But, I've been meeting up with other friends, so I've been developing relationships with people like Adrienne, Grant, Mao, Marie, Thomas, Eun-mi, Sera and Yasuyo.

-Having started the new semester, I have new classes. One is on Modern China, one is on Korean Politics (which is self study/private tutoring, so I have to read a bunch of books basically for a grade), and the last one is Intermediate Korean Conversation. Apparently I've been doing pretty good with the language.

-My new students, which many are the same from last semester, are so intense and off the walls when their teachers aren't around, that I'm not sure what to do with them. I don't know when they stopped respecting me, but I've spent all my classes at a loud roar, and last time, it degenerated into a bunch of people playing Rock, Paper, Scissors and drawing on the back of their homework. Sigh.

-I started taking the POE free Korean classes, and somehow got placed in the Advanced course, but I'm more advanced then the course. It's fairly clear to me, as the teachers are busily going over grammar principles and vocabulary that comes up so frequently in my conversations with Eun-mi that I forget when I learned it.

-As part of the ULSAN POE/TaLK Cultral Tour program, the TaLK Scholars all took a 3-day trip to Jeju-do, a semi-tropical island south of Korea. It's called the "Hawaii of Korea" as it is tropical-ish, the largest of a small island chain (all belonging to Korea), and has a group of native peoples that are not Korean. It was really cool, and there's some amazing things on Jeju. I was suprised to find that many people on Jeju speak Japanese as well because of the large amount of Japanese tourists. It apparently has some pretty strong parallels to the Hawaiian islands.

Well, I think that's about enough to get things caught up. I'll start posting on a regular basis (crosses fingers) now that I know that I have an audience. I didn't start this blog for an audience, I started it for myself, but I guess not that I have people waiting for their next fix, I should get on top of this thing.

Happy Trails people.

p.s. I hate the new Youtube.