Saturday, February 28, 2009

My life is the epitome of globalization

Sometimes, when I'm bored, I think about how my life would not be possible if the world were not so globalized. There are so many weird contradictions in my life. Here are some I was thinking of:

  1. Reading any book by Isabelle Allende. Why? Because she is a Chilean author, who lives in the US, who writes in Spanish. Then her book is translated into English and purchased in the US. Then it is brought by someone to Korea, where I stumble across it and read it.
  2. When I speak to my friends in Chile, in Spanish, while in Korea.
  3. When I eat Indian food in Korea
  4. When I watch Korean dramas subtitled in English, then watch the Japanese version of the same drama subtitled in English.
  5. When I go to the theater to watch movies in Spanish, with Korean subtitles.
  6. Eating Korean food in Chile.
  7. Eating Mexican food in Korea.
  8. When I am able to actually go to China to celebrate Chinese New Year.
  9. When I can't communicate with waitresses in the USA because of the language barrier (ahhh Chinatown).
  10. When I used to watch my favorite American TV shows dubbed in Spanish.
  11. Practicing Spanish with my Korean teacher.
  12. Attempting to learn to read (a little) Chinese without learning to speak it.

That's all I can think of now. But what would life be like without all these crazy contradictions??? If you can think of others, feel free to comment.

Friday, February 27, 2009

The 63 Building

Saturday we headed over to the 63 Building to check it out, since we've been saying we were going to do that for ages now. We took Line 5 over to Youinaru on Yoido island. This is one of the biggest buisness distrcts. We went out of exit 4, and walked for about 15 minutes before arriving at the 63 Building. It looked so close, probably because it is so big, but we just kept walking and walking. Finally we arrived.

We wondered around a little in the shopping and eating area downstairs, found our friends who were waiting for us there, and then headed up to the "Sky Gallery". This is the observation area. The price was a bit steep to me, 12,000 won, but we're on a quest to do everything in this city, so I just had to suck it up and do it. We waited in line forever to get into the elevator. We finally reached the top and I realized why it was called the "Sky Gallery". The observation floor was also sort of a art gallery.

Well, we werent allowed to take photos of the art, of course, but here's the view out the window..... It's a bit polluted out lately.....

Here's something cool. Send a letter to yourself in 5 years. Put it in the mail box today, and they'll send it to you in the year of your choice.

Another view of Seoul... The mountains never look that big to me when I'm on the ground.....

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

A Small Success

Today I had one of the longest Korean conversations of my life. I was walking home from dance class when a girl started talking to me... presumably, she knew me from dance class, but... I don't think I've ever talked to her before.... honestly, I didn't recognize her at all, but she said something about class, so I don't know where else I could have met her. She didn't seem to speak much English (surprisingly, since she looked so young), which suited me just fine, because it's impossible to practice my Korean around here, because I eventually revert back to English to ask some question or clarify something. Here there was no option. I'm happy to say that I successfully understood half her questions and was able to answer them.

I'm still programed to answer all the basic questions.
Where do you live? I live in ....
Where are you from? I'm from the USA
Where do you work? I work in wangshimni, at a hagwon
Are you going home? Yes (or No)
You speak Korean very well. No, I really don't

I'm quite uncreative with my answers honestly, but I was proud of myself. I've been dying to use the word for intersection, but it's never come up in conversation. But today I was able to say.... at the intersection, my house is on the right.

Small victories.... small victories....

Maybe I'll recognize her again and I can talk to her again in Korean only...... god I need practice.....

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Who hacked my skype account??

Surprisingly, this week I've been a little uninspired to write in my blog. There's just not much to write about, I guess...

So, I woke up this morning to an ugly sight. My remaining cash credit on my Skype account had gone from $1.44 to $0.37 overnight. I know what my balance is, because it hasn't changed in over a month. So every day I sign in and it says $1.44. Today I sign in and it's over a dollar lower. Yea, I know it's only a dollar, but, Do you know how much it costs per minute to talk on skype?? $0.02!! That's like... almost two hours of talking someone had to have done at my expence.

I checked my call history in my account, and saw that about 10 calls had been made to Chile of all places. Well... actually, this makes a little more sense.... I signed on to Skype from a few friends' computers while in Chile. But actually this is a little more upsetting. Is there any way one of my friends could have mistaken my account for their own?? Probably not, since mine has all MY friends on the buddy list.

Is there any way that lines just could have been crossed? Or did someone really hack my account????

Tuesday, February 17, 2009


(Title here is a Steven Colbert reference... if anyone gets that....)

I'm cursing Rain (비) this week. He's got all my kids saying the most annoying thing ever. Bibidi Bopidy Boo (think Cinderella). One of my more annoying classes kept saying it over and over and over just to piss me off. It got to the point that I was taking stickers every time they said even part of the phrase. I asked them where they got that all of a sudden... and they just told me Cinderella. But... why now?? Why all of them at once?? It didn't make sense. I was talking to two of my other co-workers at dinner tonight, and one of them said she had the same problem in her class. My other co-worker, who has a Korean girlfriend and therefore tends to pick up on certain cultural things before we do, told us that Rain is in a new commercial and he says it. So, I blame RRRRRRRAAIIIIN!!!!! Damn you, Rain, and your catchy little phrases, you're going to drive me insane!!!! Can anyone translate this commercial for me? I have no idea what they say....

I finally understand why Steven Colbert hates Rain so much......

Monday, February 16, 2009

WTF? This one goes out to the 꽃보다 남자 fans

So... my friend found this ridiculous video. Big Bang has produced their own parody/ version of Boys Before Flowers/ Boys Over Flowers. From what I have found out, I guess they released this at a concert. It's pretty entertaining, especially for all you Korean pop culture fans (hallyu or Korean wave or whatever they call it these days)

Here is the cast list*:

DaeSung as Makino Tsukushi
TOP as Domyoji Tsukasa
GDragon as Hanazawa Rui
SeungRi as Mimasaka Akira
TaeYang as Nishikado Sojirou

*Note: they use the Japanese names from Hana Yori Dango, not the Korean names from Boys Before Flowers. Their script follows the Japanese version a little more... well, considering that the whole thing is only 10 minutes long or so.

Evidently there is a Coffee Prince parody too. I wouldn't get it since I haven't seen the original Coffee Price though....

And for all you weirdos who aren't watching Boys Before Flowers yet, you'd best get on it. You'll understand so many more of your kids side comments in class, besides the fact that you'll get sucked in too. It's amazing. Here's a link for you:

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Checking movie times

It's often hard for foreigners in Korea to check movie times. We don't have any newspapers that publish movie info, as far as I've found. Until I discovered these websites, I was always just forced to show up to the theater and hope for the best. If you use Google search to try to find movie theaters like CGV or Cinus, they just won't show up. Period. In these cases, you need to think like a Korean. Where do Koreans go to find things? The Korean Google/Yahoo or whatever. So, all I had to do on Naver, was just type in CGV or Cinus and the first link will take you straight to their website.

Now, the second challenge. The site has no English version. After some trial and error, I found my way to the movie times pages on both these sites. All you have to do is be able to read the Korean hangul to figure out the theater and the movie title. So, for those of you who can read Hangul (and if you can't, the why aren't you getting on that? It's so easy and it would make your time in Korea so much less of a hassle), then these sites are your new best friend.
-CGV - Cinus

Some help for you:
Make sure you're looking in Seoul: 서울

Oh, and incidentally, I read in the Korea Times that within the next few months, two theaters in Seoul will be showing subtitled Korean movies more consistently. They plan to release about 10 movies this year with English subtitles. YAYAYAYAY. More updates on this when I know more. I love Korean cinema.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Taxi Cab Conversations...

I've had too many strange conversations to list with taxi drivers here, most of which I don't remember. Today was a good example of one:

We get in the taxi and tell him where we are going. They always look a little confused, but they always take us where we tell them to go.

Driver: Where from... uh.. 오디?

Me: 미국 사람이예요. (I'm American)

Driver: 아! 미국! (Ah! America!) California, Colorado, Nevada, Montana, Denver, mlmlojdkfjasifjelfkmnasl;jaoiwevnkd.... (jubbled words that were unrecognizable but may have been an attempt to name some of the 50 states)

Me: Massachusetts.. uh... Boston... and New Jersey

Driver: Ah! Massachusetts! uh.... ㅣㅏㅓ리ㅏㅓ피ㅓ대ㅓㅍ미아ㅓ (my listening skills are bad...)

Me: uh... 몰라요.... (I don't know...)

Driver: uh... first time Korea?

Me: 아니요... 영어 선생님이예요. (No... I'm an English teacher)

Driver: Ahh... double or single?

Me: What??

Driver: You... single.... double... what?

Me: Sorry, I don't understand.

Driver: You... Mrs. or Miss?? (oh, crap, he's asking me if I'm single)

Me: Uh.... Mrs. (complete lie... obviously)

Driver: 아! ㅣㄴㄷ리 ㅏㅇ네 냐 ㅣㅊ디 ㅈ (Yea, I need better Korean listening skills... no idea)
Me: uh... 몰라요.... (I don't know...)

Driver: Husband.... in America?

Me: No! Here!

Driver: Husband... what... do?

Me: 영어 선생님이예요..... (He's an English teacher....)

Fortunately at this point it was time for me to get out of the cab. I called out 요기요! And jumped out as fast as I could. Awkward...

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Repercussions of teachers suddenly leaving......

So, Tuesday, one of my co-workers announced that he was leaving. The next day. I think he had some sort of family emergency at home to deal with and he took off. Not like I wouldn't do the same thing if I were in his shoes, but it leaves the rest of us a bit screwed over. It didn't look like it was going to affect me, because he was a preschool teacher, and I'm an afternoon teacher. He worked from 9:30-5, I work 1:00-8:00. One of the other afternoon teachers had to take over his classes for the rest of the term (graduation for preschool is in a week an a half) and her evening classes were given to other folks. Didn't affect me, because I already had a full load of classes. They couldn't give me any more.

Then, today, my supervisor pulled me into a conference room on my 1o minute break. She basically explained to me that I would be moving to teach mornings as of the start of the new preschool session, whenever that starts. I thought to myself... well, this is ok.... this happened once before, but I was saved because a girl who used to work for the school came back and subbed until the position could be filled. I was only supposed to be temporary, until they could find a permanent person to fill that position. Ok, I suppose I can do that (as if they were offering me a choice). So, then I asked if I would go back to teaching afternoons once they hired someone to fill the IP (intensive preschool) position. No, we don't want to be switching teachers for IP. You'll work there until your contract is up.

NOOOOOOOOOOOOO...... my worst nightmare!!!!!!!!!!!! Stuck in the same room with ten 4 or 5 year old kids (6 or 7 year old Korean age) for 4 1/2 hours a day!!! I came to work at SLP because I could teach older kids. I love my schedule. I love my students (for the most part). How can they do this to me????????????????

Well, I'm trying to look on the bright side, because... well, the other side is gona just depress me.

Here's my list of reasons why I should want to be an IP teacher.
  • Finish work at 5 (or 5:30, or 6:30)..... though... I have to be to school at 9:30.....
  • Start fresh with a class I can mold to do my bidding....
  • Fewer afternoon classes...... but way more prep work...
  • Be able to attend Korean class after work
  • Be able to eat dinner at a reasonable time
  • Be able to have the option of eating school lunch... though sometimes it makes the teachers kind of ill.... I think I have a strong stomach....
  • My two afternoon preschool classes are my favorites. Maybe these could be my favorites too.
  • Less lesson planning (because I do so much of it now... not..)

Ummm.... can anyone help me think of more??? Because everything else I can think of is a con, and I would rather focus on the pros here.............. I'm depressed enough as it is....

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Feeling a little chubby.....

Lately I've been starting to feel a little chubby.... I mean, my jeans still fit, but I just have to work a little harder to keep the rolls hidden. According to the scale, I've only gained about a kilo (2.2 pounds) since coming, but I think that I've just lost lots of muscle and gained lots of flub. Why is this??? I go to dance class three days a week, I walk home from work every day and I walk to work at least 3 days a week. I don't eat much fattening food, since most of my diet is pretty Korean, and I only eat a big helping of meat about 1-2 times a week.

I think my three biggest problems are my carb intake, my meal times, and my relativly sedentary schedule.

Carb intake? I would say 85% of my meals involve a big helping of white rice. I've practically gotten to the point where I don't feel like I've eaten a meal unless there is some rice involved. What have I eaten this week? Lunch everyday has been rice and curry with vegtables (no meat). Dinner Monday was Chamchi (tuna) jjigae (stew), with a bowl of rice on the side. Dinner tuesday was Deopbab of somesort, aka cabbage, pork, some other vegtables in a spicy sauce with a huge helping of rice. Dinner last night was Dolsot Bibimbab. This is rice, egg and vegtables and chili sauce, served in a burning hot stone bowl. Yummy yummy....

See, I'm not eating unhealthy things, but just lots and lots of rice. And if I don't order rice, I probably order something with ramyon and or ddok (the rice cakes like ddokboki)

Meal times? Well, I finish work at 8 (8:40 on T/TH) and after that we head downstairs to the little Kimbab restaurant for dinner. So, I'm eating pretty late. After dinner, then I head to dance class.

Sedentary schedule? Well, my arms were pretty toned when I used to work at Aquatec back in VT, because I was always carrying around heavy jugs of water and giant buckets of water (water is really heavy... esp. salt water). Now, what do I use my arms for? Writing on whiteboards? Yea, not so much excercise. I try to walk to work when I can, but I spend so much time sucked into my computer world when I am at home that I'm often running late because I didn't get into the shower early enough or something. At work, I'm only standing half the time that I'm teaching. Often I sit for almost the entire class... depending on the students and the material....

When I first got here, I would climb the stairs to my 7th floor apartment just about every day, but I think I stopped that once I started going to dance, figuring I didn't need the workout... maybe I should go back to that?

Anyway, I was hoping someone would have a suggestion for me as to what I can eat that doesn't involve rice or noodles. I like soup, but I'm never full unless I put some rice or something with it...

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Boys Before Flowers

So, now I've got everyone in the office hooked on 꽃보다 남자, Boys Before Flowers, and, not only that, but we've all started watching the original Japanese version, Hana Yori Dango. I haven't started watching Media Garden, the Taiwanese version yet, but most of my friends have, and I'm sure I'll follow soon. I even read a little bit of the manga, Hana Yori Dango, but I haven't been sucked into that yet.... Should I try the anime, or is that just taking it too far??

Here's the pic from Hana Yori Dango. Anyway, aren't the Korean boys cuter anyway? Or have I just been in Korea too long? Gu Joon Pyo grows on you after a while... Maybe if I keep watching even Doumyoji will start looking more attractive... Actually, Makino is pretty darn cute in the Japanese version, maybe more so than Geum Jan Di? Depending on the shot I guess.

Here's the manga... hmmm... maybe I'll go back to reading that before I go to bed tonight... it's too late to start a new episode of Hana Yori Dango, and I'm all caught up in 꽃보다 남자.....

(and if you think I'm obsessed, come meet my friends.....)

Dance Class Grooves: 2/9/09

I know you're all wondering what I'm dancing to this week in hip hop class. Well, it's about time: RAINISM! Yup I know you all love 비 so here's the video for your K-pop education.

Incidentally, our dance teacher suggested we check out this parody of Rainism by Kim Shin Young:

Both these videos have English subs for your maximum enjoyment. (that sounds kinda like Konglish to me...)

Sunday, February 8, 2009

The reason behind all the vomit on the street....

Sorry for so many posts lately.... I guess I have no life, because I'm always on here posting something or other... I hope you can all keep up...

I woke this morning with a revelation. We all complain about the puke everywhere in this country (yet we all know in the back of our minds we've been the cause of it on more than one occasion), and I've finally figured out why you don't see this much puke everywhere at home.

1) It's too cheap to drink here.
2) There's no last call.

If you had to pay the prices for alcohol that you would pay at home, you would have a much smaller chance of getting so drunk that you can't stand. For example, if bars at home charged... oh... say... $5 for all you could drink of beer or hard liquor... and never closed.... what exactly would be your motivation to stop drinking before you were completely trashed? And when a bottle of soju is only 1,500 won... what is any ajossi's motivation to not down 5 bottles with one co-worker in a night? If Seoul wanted to curb its citizens' drinking problems, all they would have to do is put a huge tax on alcohol and make it illegal to serve alcohol past 2 or 3 am.

Though... I'm not saying I want that to happen... hehe

Saturday, February 7, 2009

So lost....

So, today at Korean Class I moved up to the next level... level 3. I learned all the grammar I could out of level 2, which was present, past, future and present progressive, and I decided to graduate myself into level 3. What a shock. The class was taught almost entirely in Korean... which is what I wanted, but I assumed the other students would be on a similar level as me. It was a nice thought... most seemed a little more advanced than me, which is fine, but one student was practically fluent. The teacher just spent half the class teaching to him, since he was the only one who could easily formulate questions and really wanted to know more nuances of using the new grammar forms that we were learning.

I don't know if I'm ready for this. The grammar wasn't too difficult.... when I could understand what was going on... but my vocabulary is so poor that I just can't have much of a conversation.... God I need to study hard this week so I can have a chance to keep up... but where to even begin??? Maybe I need to go back to my level 1 notes and work harder to memorize that vocabulary... Is it bad that I can't even remember the days of the week? or more than 4 colors? My Korean knowledge is too patchy.... I wish I had a textbook that taught vocabulary and grammar together like we had in middle school and high school for learning Spanish. That's where you learn all the random words that don't come up for another 10 years until finally one day you get to use them (like bucear- scuba dive).

Well, maybe I should be studying instead of blogging about wanting to study. I'm going to get on that.... right.. now....

On being a public nuisance...

So, last night, my friends and I had had a few drinks before leaving the apartment to head to Hongdae. We were on the metro and maybe a song or two arose among us. OK, OK, we were singing on the train. It might have been a little obnoxious, but honestly, if I saw a group of girls singing on the train at home I'd just laugh. Would anyone walk up to them and tell them to shut up? I can't see it happening... This was our experience:

Us: lalala (singing some song or another)
Drunk Ajossi getting of the train: ㅓ이랴ㅓㅣ패ㅑ더리ㅏ내ㅑㅓㅍ디ㅏㅜㅍ니ㅓㄹ그ㅜ피ㅓ대ㅓ대ㅓㄴ나ㅜㅐ퍄ㅜ디ㅏㅓ래ㅑ덜ㄴ러너랜ㄹ피ㅐㅑ더래 ( angry Korean speaking)
My friends: (stop singing) Jo-Anna, what did he say?
Me: I duno... probably shut the hell up...
Drunk Ajossi getting of the train: ㅓ이래푸패ㅑㅓㅜㄴ이ㅏㅓ내ㅑㄴ파ㅜㄴ래ㅑㅓ대ㅓㄴ (more angry Korean speaking)
Us: Laugh and continue to sing.
(Drunk ajosshi gets of the train)

Second Drunk Ajossi: (walks over to us and stands right in front of us) ㅏㅣㅓ리ㅏㅓㅣㅏㅓ (some more angry speaking)
My friend and I: Sorry, I don't understand....
Second Drunk Ajossi: (thinking very hard in his drunkeness) Many.... talking.... no... like.
My friend: 궨잔아요 (it's ok)
Second Drunk Ajossi: 안궨잔아요!!! (it's not alright!) ㅓ퍼ㅏㅣㅓ채ㅑㅏ 알아요??? (something something you know??? something something you know??)
Me: It's better to pretend like we can't understand... Just ignore him...
Second Drunk Ajossi: uh..... Welcome to Korea!
Us: (to ourselves) are you kidding me?
Second Drunk Ajossi: Where are from??
My friend: 미국 (USA)
Second Drunk Ajossi: ㅣㅏㅓ나ㅑㅇ (clearly not registering that we're speaking his language)
My friend: 미국 (USA)
Me: Give up.

Around that point we got so creeped out by him we moved to another car... and stopped singing...

I would like to know where that "Welcome to Korea" thing comes from anyway... is that what the government has trained them to say to forigners??? They all say it! I've never gotten that in any other country in the world... especially not from complete strangers on the subway... Even the sober ones...

Friday, February 6, 2009

Funny Kids....

So, we were reviewing animals, and talking about where they live. I asked them:

Me:Where does a dog live?
Student: In the house
Me: Good, and where does an eagle live?
Student: In the sky
Me: OK.. and where does a cat live?
Student: In the garbage!!!
Me: ... um... yeah.... that's... true...

I've always heard about kids in other schools that choose weird English names for themselves. Most of my kids don't have English names, and the ones that do generally pick decent ones. A few weeks ago, one of my first graders... who is very smart but really weird anyway.... decided that his name wasn't James anymore, but Pastday. Every time I call him James he tries to tell me that his name is Pastday. He has written it on all his books and he even wrote it on his test. I tell him every day that James is a nice name... and that Pastday... is not a name at all. But... either he doesn't understand... or more likely, he doesn't belive me. Either way... where did he come up with this "name" anyway??????

This same student, James (I refuse to call him Pastday), pointed to my stomach today and said BABY! It took every ounce of my will power not to smack him upside the head. What is it with these kids and asking if you're pregnant??? My 1 Jump High back in the summer used to do that to me every day. Made me want to strangle them. The only reconciling thought is that they have said that to the super skinny Korean teachers too. It's not just my fat American belly. I guess they just assume women should be pregnant.

Oh kids.... I'm never bored, I can say that at least.

North Korea is being a little scary lately....

If you're like me, and you have a Korean national newspaper (albeit in English) as your homepage, you may or may not be convinced that North Korea could strike at any moment. Tensions are high between the North and South at the moment. Lee Myung Bak (S. Korean president) has taken a hard line approach to dealing with the DPRK. He actually expects to North Korea to show signs of denuclearization before they give them the millions of dollars worth of food and economic aid. The North, sort of like a spoiled child, has revolted and taken a F- you stance towards the South... and basically most of the other countries of the 6 party talks that had been going so well til this past summer. So much for their Juche philosophy of self-reliance. Any self respecting country... in my opinion, would just import the food it needs, but... they don't believe in trade. Just hand outs. From the country that they would blow to pieces in a second if they had the chance. Some might argue that they are too poor to buy food for their country... but exactly who's fault is that? Are we suffering from famine and poverty 30 miles away?

Now, this week, satellite data shows that they are preparing a new test launch of their long range ballistic missiles capable of caring nuclear war heads. These missiles take months to set up, and honestly don't pose much of a threat. There's no surprise attack from these missiles. The last time they test fired these missiles in 2006, they lost control of them within seconds of launch, and it broke apart in the air.

Those that follow my blogs know that I have a slight obsession with North Korea. I don't know why.. .maybe it's because they are the closest I've ever known to the threat of war. I mean, let's face it... they are only 30 miles away from where I live. It only takes 1/2 hour to get to the border... Or maybe its the fact that it's one of the only countries in the world where there is essentially no globalism. A country almost completely unaffected by the rest of the world. Maybe it's because, even though it's so close, it's almost impossible for me to go there. Who knows.

But, let's remember to be rational. Let's face it. The North and South have been at odds with each other for the last 50 years. I'm sure there's been worse threats than this before, but no one has come out and attacked... .well, at least not on land... in years.

Here is an article published by Reuters addressing their upcoming missile test launch.

Q+A-Why would North Korea test fire a long-range missile?

Thu Feb 5, 2009 3:00am EST
By Jon Herskovitz

SEOUL, Feb 5 (Reuters) - North Korea may be preparing to test fire its longest range ballistic missile, possibly toward Japan, media reports have said.

Here are questions and answers as to why North Korea might test launch its Taepodong-2 missile:


If the launch is successful, North Korea will have a missile with a maximum estimated range of 6,700 km (4,200 miles), designed to carry a nuclear warhead that can hit U.S. territory but not the continental 48 states. This would for the first time pose a direct security threat by the North to the United States.

The North, which already has hundreds of rudimentary missiles, would be able to test its multi-stage rocket systems and increase its ability to produce long-range missiles.


The only time North Korea has fired the missile was in 2006 when it managed just a few seconds of controlled flight and broke apart in less than a minute.

It has a crude multi-stage design and poor guidance system and takes weeks to prepare for launch. U.S. spy satellites can easily monitor the preparations and it should be relatively easy to destroy long before launch.

Experts have said North Korea does not yet have the technology to miniaturise a nuclear device to use as a warhead. But the North has been working on placing biological and chemical weapons on missiles.


Another failed launch would be a major embarrassment for Pyongyang which has little beyond its military threat to win concessions from the outside world. That, and the high cost for the impoverished state, may make it reluctant to risk a second launch.

Its leaders may be happy to simply imply a threat by moving around missile-related equipment, knowing it will be seen by U.S. intelligence and raise alarm with the new U.S. government.

On the other hand, the international community has few options left to punish the North for a launch. North Korea is already subject to U.N. sanctions stemming from its 2006 ballistic missile test in July and nuclear test a few months after that. The United States has already called for a suspension of aid promised under a six-way nuclear deal while Japan and South Korea have blocked channels that sent cash and food to the impoverished state.


North Korea will likely claim that a launch of the Taepodong-2 is for its civilian space and satellite programme and argue that under international law, it has the right to peacefully explore space. It will argue that its rival Japan already has a rocket programme and its neighbour South Korea is developing one.

A successful launch would be portrayed as a mighty symbol of leader Kim Jong-il's ideas and shore up his leadership after a suspected stroke in August raised questions about his grip on power.

The North would also tell its people that it has launched a rocket to carry a satellite ahead of its rich Southern neighbour while signalling to new U.S. President Barack Obama that Pyongyang should not be ignored.


The North may time a launch to coincide with a meeting on March 8 of its Supreme People's Assembly. Its state media has been heralding the event and the role leader Kim will play.

It would be difficult for the North to launch one by the time of Kim's 67th birthday in Feb. 16. Another possible date is April 25, the anniversary of its Korea People's Army. (Editing by Jonathan Thatcher)

Here is an article from the Korea Times addressing the DPRK's latest military stance.

01-17-2009 21:22
N. Korea Military Threatens to Wipe Out South

North Korea's army Saturday threatened to take an "all-out confrontational posture" against the South and wipe out the conservative government in Seoul for refusing to cooperate with them, according to Reuters.

"Now that traitor Lee Myung-bak and his group opted for confrontation, denying national reconciliation and cooperation, backed by foreign forces, our revolutionary armed forces are compelled to take an all-out confrontational posture to shatter them," the North's army spokesman was quoted as saying.

The spokesman said Lee and his "puppet military warhawks" have driven "our revolutionary armed forces to take a strong military retaliatory step to wipe them out," in comments carried by the official KCNA news agency.

Ties across the heavily-armed border between the two Koreas have turned sour since President Lee took to office last February on a promise to get tough on his communist neighbor after 10 years of liberal leaders' efforts to engage Pyongyang.

South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff immediately issued an order to its entire military to intensify its guard against North Korea, Yonhap News reported.

A North Korean soldier shot dead a South Korean woman in a tourist enclave run by a Hyundai conglomerate affiliate in July and North Korea all but froze border crossings since December, blaming Lee for dragging Korean relations to a dangerous low.

The North has also been angered by a cut in aid that poured in from the wealthy South. It has threatened to reduce its neighbor to ashes, but there has not been a major military clash since naval skirmishes killed dozens of sailors on both sides in 2002.

The army spokesman, appearing in full uniform on North Korea's state television, said provocations by the South's military including naval intrusions have cross the "danger line" and it could "no longer remain an onlooker to them," according to Reuters.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

A Sad Day....

Today was the first day of a new schedule at SLP. Older students moved to later times, small classes combined with others and my schedule has completely changed. I lost my big beautiful 2 hour break on Tues/Thurs, but I did get one... 40 min. break on Mon/Wed/Fri. It's a rather bittersweet day, because I'm getting some new classes and loosing some. I lost 4 classes, but two of them I didn't particularly care for, they were my two least favorite classes.

I did loose my favorite class though too. They were a class of five 4th grade boys who had been at our hagwon since they were in preschool. These boys were totally troublemakers. But they were so darn smart and crazy I couldn't help but like them. I would bribe them to be good by buying them ddukbokki or sundaegochi or kimbab at the food stall in the lemon mart downstairs. Never thought I would spend my money on my kids, but I liked them so much I didn't even mind.

During the last month, three of the 5 boys dropped, and I was left with the two smartest. With the reorganization of classes, there is no way to justify teaching a class for only two students, so they were combined into our most advanced class... a class with a bunch of 1st and 2nd year middle school students (7th and 8th grade US). I'm a little sad for them, because they probably won't fit in in that class. Their speaking and vocabulary will be much too advanced for the other students. Not to mention they're going to loose that incredible classroom dynamic that they had as 5 boys who had been together for 5 years. I doubt they'll last much longer at SLP.

Kids seem to be leaving in droves. My supervisor said it's probably the economy.. and that might have something to do with it, though most kids that tell me they are dropping, usually tell me that it's because they are going to a different... better hagwon. On the 4th floor of our building (one floor up) there is a huge hagwon that not only has English classes, but also math and science too. It caters more to the older students. Our school is good for preschool, and it has a decent program for elementary school age students, but as far as older classes are concerned, our classes are not the best quality. Olympiad upstairs can offer the older students much more I suspect. Not only that, but a new hagwon is opening around the corner from us, and we may loose a lot of students to that school, since they advertise that they have only foreign teachers. Sounds like a terrible idea to me, but that's just me.

And, just to show that the economy is even affecting the job market here too for English teachers, at the end of this month, 5 of our foreign teachers' contacts end. Only 4 teachers will come and replace them, because there just aren't as many classes as there used to be.

One plus side of my sad day of class changes though, was one of my third grade students came back after being away for two months. He is pretty annoying and totally the class clown... but he makes me laugh. I missed him a lot.

Now I have to look forward to Thursday's class changes. No more breaks during the day. I'm picking up 4 completely new classes, and another class with 3 new students added. I forgot how hard it is to learn students' names.....

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Year Of The Ox and New Year's Celebrations

I've already written one post about Lunar New Year, so if you don't know what it is, check out that post. As you probably already know, I spent my Lunar New Year in Hong Kong. Hong Kong has got to be the best place in the world to celebrate the New Year. The entire city is completely decked out. Think any US city during Christmas season, then change the Christmas trees for dragons and oxen (it's the year of the ox) and all the colors to red, and you might have a fair idea of what Hong Kong was like. Every store, every mall, every restaurant, completely decorated.

Lunar New Year seems to be all about bringing good luck for the new year, and avoiding bad luck. There are many superstitions about what sort of things you should and should not do on during New Years to have the best possible year. Fireworks ward away bad spirits. So does the color red. So, for that reason, you'll see red lanterns and red scrolls hung all over the place. In the next photo here, you can see me spinning a wheel. They say if you spin this wheel in one directions as many times as your "lucky number" (which was a rather complicated calculation for me) you can either find new love in the new year, or have long lasting love... depending on the direction you spin the wheel in. I'm not sure how much stock I take on these things, but I figure it can't hurt to give it a whirl... literally. They had these wheels for studies, careers, wealth, and luck too. I spun them all.

Speaking of auspice for the new year... Did you know that I was born in the year of the ox? I feel like being born in the year of the ox and visiting China to celebrate the year of the ox is quite auspicious... but not only that.. but! Guess what I found on new year's day? A real live ox!!!

Talk about luck. I think this has got to be good luck for the whole year. I found this guy on New Year's day on Lantau Island not so far from the Big Buddha. He was just sort of wandering around in the brush. Where did he come from? I have no idea.

We visited a small temple in SoHo and found quite a few worshipers putting out their offerings of incense and fruit.

Then there was the parade. This parade is quite famous for being one of the biggest Chinese New Year parades in the world. The parade started around 8:00 on Jan 26th. We got there around 7, and there were already quite a few folks there, but fortunately we were right in front of one the three performance areas along the parade route, and there was a screen for us short folk to watch on (Yea, I'm even short in Asia. What the heck?).

We had gotten a little preview in the previous days. Every time we walked past the Avenue of Stars, we caught a glimpse of some of the performing groups in their rehearsals. And this ox mascot that was so darn cute. I wish I could have gotten a good pic of him from the front.

After waiting around for a while and being entertained by the MC/ croudwarmer.... who spoke mostly in Chinese, but every once in a while switched into near perfect English when he found foreigners in the crowd, the parade finally started. I expected more dragons... like these above. Actually, it was more like a parade at home. Lots of floats from all over. Performing groups from all over too. America's contribution to the parade were some NFL cheerleaders . They sure did get some cheers from the crowd.

Here was one float from Japan. They actually had two, the other being much more amazing, but no photo would have done it justice. It consisted of some men balancing bamboo polls strung up with at least 50 paper lanterns, on their chin, forehead, hip and anywhere else mildly feasible. These bamboo polls were at tall and wide as sails. I was certain they were going to crash them, they were balancing so precariously. One big gust of wind and they would be on top of us all. But it never happened.

I was happy to see that Korea made a good show of their traditional music and dancing. Korean folk dancing is unmistakable. If it weren't for the brightly colored hanbok, you could still pick it out by the dancers that do a ribbon dance by having the ribbon attached to their head while they dance. It's about time the world sees how awesome Korea is.

Anyway, I had a great Lunar New Year in Hong Kong. Before I went, I read that It's not the best time to go. There may be a few cons to go during Lunar New Year, but I think that the reasons TO go during Lunar New Year far outweigh the cons. Lunar New Year falls on February 14th next year. You've got a year to plan your trip. ^^

Dim Sum in Hong Kong!

My first experience with dim sum was in Boston at Hei La Moon. That time was pretty adventurous and I ate some crazy things that passed by me on carts. This experience was quite a bit tamer, I must say.

We ate dim sum two times at a restaruant called Jade Garden in Star House, near the Star Ferry launch port in Kowloon. This was a very nice restaruant, but for the ambiance, the prices weren't bad for dim sum. I think that their other meals were much pricier.

We started off with jasmine tea for the table and some cucumber and tofu side dishes that made me think I was back in Korea (though, not in a bad way). This restaruant didn't have crazy carts going around on all sides like my last dim sum experience in Boston. There was a congee cart around, but otherwise, everything was ordered off a menu.

Under the wise advice of one of my friends who seems to know everything about Chinese food, we ordered some steamed buns. I've never had these before, though I've seen them around. They always looked very doughy to me, and I wasn't sure what was inside. I had three different kinds of steamed buns; barbeque pork, shrimp, and vegetable. They were all amazing, but the barbeque pork was especially amazing. Evidently it's a Hong Kong specialty, we saw bbq pork buns suggested in one of the tourist pamphlets we picked up at the airport. We also had some fried spring rolls or something yummy.

For more information about this traditional Cantonese brunch food, check out the wikipedia article.

Monday, February 2, 2009

McDonald's in Asia

I wasn't planning on writing about McDonald's, but since my friend asked, I might as well say a little something. I don't really like fast food, but under the bad influence of my friends here in Seoul, I have been eating it more often, and I did make two stops to the one near our guesthouse by Tsim Sha Tsui Station.

For the most part, it's just like home, with a few exceptions. Evidently here in Asia, McDonald's is trying to catch the gourmet types with fancy deserts. I haven't seen it yet in Seoul, but supposedly it's coming. You can get all sorts of fancy cheesecakes and chocolate cakes and... some other stuff (honestly, I didn't pay too much attention) at a separate counter next to the regular counter where you order your Big Mac. I didn't see anyone lining up over there though........

For the most part, the regular menu seemed similar to home though. Unfortunately, the whole menu wasn't posted on the overhead boards, if you wanted to see the whole menu, you had to ask to see some laminated menu at the counter. Sort of annoying. Everything on the overhead board was double sized. I guess folks in Hong Kong have big appetites. They also served curly fries, which cost only 2$ HKD more (Like 2o cents more). Though... mine were a little cold. I also got a McFlurry. They only had two kinds: Oreo and Smarties... I wasn't sure what they meant by smarties, so I stuck with the Oreo one.... Aren't smarties those little sugar candies that come in the plastic wrap? That would be disgusting in a McFlurry... but who knows... It's prob some British candy that I don't know about. Anyone know? Anything else? Not that I can think of.

While I'm at it, maybe you're interested in what McDonald's is like here in Seoul? Well, there is one on my way to work, though I usually only go there if I have to get up early for work and eat breakfast (which happens once every 3 months or so), or if I'm coming home late at night from the clubs and my friends want food before they go home. It's open 24/7. I think breakfast starts around 4 or 5 am. Breakfast is about the same, except that you can't get a fried egg and cheese without some sort of meat... either sausage or bacon. I suffer with bacon (because bacon is sooo awful.... not.....). Or I get hotcakes. Their regular menu is mostly the same, but they do have a bulgogi burger. I don't think I've tried it, but I feel as though I should.

Service at a Korean McDonald's is borderline slow. I think I remember Megan telling me that there is supposed to be something like a 45 second prep time for a meal. I think in Seoul it's got to be around 3 or 4 minutes. I know that's not really that long, but if you're used to getting your meal within seconds, it's a big change. Hong Kong, by the way, was not like this. They had extremely quick service.

Trash separating is also a bit complicated at McDonald's... and most fast food restaurants where you clear your own food for that matter. Seoul has an amazing trash/ recycling program. It's very well organized, and it's also very demanding of its citizens. Trash must be sorted. Food waste must go into one bin, trash goes in another, sometimes cups are collected separately, water waste (including ice) goes into another bin, and recyclables go somewhere else. Unfortunately, it's only ever labeled in Korean (with some ambiguous pictures) so you sort of have to guess/ watch other people throw away their trash. But, actually, this is an amazing idea. If we were half as recycling conscious in the US as they are here, I'm sure we could reduce our trash output by half. Haven't seen anything like this in other countries.

Then again, as trash conscious as Seoul seems to be sometimes, it's usually next to impossible to find a public trash can (never mind recycling bin) and leaving trash on the street is normal. There are street cleaners (people, not machines) that come by every night to pick up trash, so it's not... so... bad.

Anyway, totally random post, but I think that it's relevant. This blog is supposed to be about cross cultural experiences, and McDonald's would definitely fall into that category... as ashamed as I am to say that I eat there now.

Other fast food chains in Seoul? Burger King, KFC, one Quizno's in Itaewon, Subway (but not that many). Those are the only ones I can think of now.

Other western food chains in Seoul? Outback... everywhere. Baskin Robins, Dunkin' Donuts, Starbucks, Red Mango.

Other western/ international chains in Seoul? Family Mart (Japanese), 7/11, Citibank, HBSC.

I know I'm forgetting some. Any others you can think of?

*Note: These photos weren't taken by me, and I have not visited these particular McDonalds, but similar ones to these. I sometimes steal photos from other sites, like most bloggers, but for some reason, today it bothered me more then usual.

Po Lin Monastary and the Giant Buddha

Monday we headed to the Cable Car to take us to Lantau Island. We didn't expect that many people to be there, so we were a little shocked to see a huge line of people when we got out of Tung Chung station. We got in line, and it took us about an hour to get from the station to the cable car in that line. A return trip ticket cost $107 Hong Kong Dollars ("special day price") which is probably about $15 USD. The cable car ride was about 20 minutes and it took us right into Ngong Ping "village".

Ngong Ping village is in no way shape or form something that I would willingly call a village. What it is is a newly constructed tourist trap designed to bring in hoards of visitors and destroy the ambiance and serenity of this would be holy place. I'm not a very religious person, but I have a serious problem with the commercialization of religion. Religion, in my opinion, can not, by definition, be about money making. This place, on the other hand, seemed only to be about money making. To get to the Buddha, you need to cross through this "village" full of Starbucks, plastic wishing trees and souvenir shops.

Once you make it through the hoards of crowds (probably so many because it was new years day) you can make your way up to the Tian Tan Buddha or Big Buddha. This is one of the largest Buddhas in the world. It was only constructed fairly recently, in 1993. Climbing the 268 stairs, for us, was not too arduous. We live in Seoul, which I think could get reasonably be called the stair capital of the world because the subway is so far below ground and there are so few escalators to bring you up to the top. Stairs for me now are nothing. Anyway, we got to the top of the Buddha and had a nice view of Lantau Island.

After climbing back down from Buddha, we headed over toward the Po Lin Monastery. This monastery is about 100 years old. I have a feeling that the monks who originally founded this monastery probably chose the location because it is so remote from everything else in Hong Kong. It was probably a very serene place to meditate and escape from the trappings of crazy Hong Kong life. Today, though, me... mill about peering in through windows watching monks recite their mantras and taking photos everywhere. I must admit, though, that many of the visitors were actually Buddhist, and stopped to make offerings and burn incense. There was incense burning everywhere. It was very cool, and the air, even outside, was thick with burning incense. In the photo below, we found these gigantic incense sticks burning near then entrance. Everything red in this photo is incense, including the red posts in the foreground. If you could see the top, they were burning as well.

After we meandered around the temple for a while, we headed back to the village to get back on the cable car. We had another 45 minute wait in line to get back on. From there we headed back to Kowloon to catch the parade. More on the parade, and Lunar New Year to come.