Monday, June 30, 2014

Good Words

My taekgyeon master is already a very hardworking man, but lately his schedule has veered toward slightly insane territory. Since he began working toward his doctorate in sports psychology, he's had to drive to Daegu, one and a half hours away, each week to attend classes. But now he has to complete the English language requirement, which has taken the form of a three-week long intensive English course that meets Monday through Friday. So now, every morning, he drives to Daegu, listens to a lecture he barely understands and takes notes in a language he barely knows how to write, and then returns to Changwon for the start of afternoon taekgyeon classes that run until 11pm. It's an insane schedule, and after just one week, I can already see how fatigue is taking its toll.

At 11pm each night, after my taekgyeon class, I tutor him for an hour on whatever the day's lecture covered. And I'm almost appalled by the difficulty of the content of this English class. It's a crash course on formal grammar that covers things like SVO word order, past perfect versus past participle, and the different varieties of subject complements. Today, I had to explain the six forms of the English subjunctive to him... in Korean.

I'm not surprised so many people have an aversion to English. If this is the way it's taught, if this is the English that aspiring academics are required to master before even knowing how to ask for the time, then how can we honestly expect anyone to enjoy learning a second language?

What's worse than the fact that my taekgyeon master is being forced to sit through this no-holds-barred, all-or-nothing course for three weeks is that his English level is very low to begin with. Imagine that you have a basic grasp of the American Sign Language alphabet and knew a few popular stock phrases, like "I love you" or "Thank you." Now learn the structure of ASL in three weeks in a class conducted only in ASL. There are two exams. If you don't pass them, you fail the course and can't get your doctoral degree. Capiche?

My taekgyeon master is visibly stressed and probably feels a little bit hopeless. I've realized over the past week that not only is he a complete novice at English grammar, he doesn't have a firm grasp on Korean grammar, either. I find myself explaining why a word can be both a noun and also a subject at the same time -- or at least, trying to explain in my very limited Korean. It's a struggle for both of us.

On the bright side, he's making measurable improvements. Sometimes he comes across something that he knows he's studied before, and it clicks perfectly. Also, his reading fluency is progressing nicely. It's sheer desperation that's doing it, I think.

And as for me, well, my Korean is getting lots of practice, and I'm learning useful terms for grammatical concepts, like verb infinitive (원형) or prepositional idiomatic expressions (전치사 숙어). Of course I'm glad to be helping my taekgyeon master, but it's nice for me to learn from this, as well.

At the end of our tutoring session tonight, as the clock struck midnight, my taekgyeon master sighed and expressed his concern about his first exam on Wednesday. "힘들어요," he said. "It's hard."

"Right," I replied. I then paused as I searched for the right grammatical form to use, one I'd just picked up fifteen minutes prior as we reviewed the subjunctive. "하지만, 쉽더라면 할 가치 없을텐데요?" I said. "But if it were easy, it wouldn't be worth doing, would it?"

I probably made some errors in that statement. (Correct me if that's the case.) But my taekgyeon master nodded his head thoughtfully. "고마워요. 좋은 말이예요," he said. "Thanks. Those are good words."

제 생각에는, 사람이 예전에 할 가능 없다고 믿었는 것에서 성공하면 가장 좋은 성취감을 들 수가 있습니다. I think our greatest sense of achievement as human beings comes when we accomplish that which we were once certain we could not do.

Now if only all my English lessons could double as character-building lessons...

Sunday, June 29, 2014

The Second Final Dinner

One year ago, Fulbright held the closing ceremony for the 2012-2013 grant year. I wrote in my blog then that the event was nice, but didn't feel so much like the end of everything for a few reasons: it was still a few weeks before the actual end of the grant, the programming was filled with talks and performances, which left little time to reminisce with friends, and, most importantly, it wasn't actually the end. Last year's "final dinner" was actually just the midpoint of my Fulbright grant period. I left the event knowing that although I was saying goodbye to some of my friends, I certainly wasn't leaving Korea: this country and I still had a whole entire year ahead of us

And now that year is over.

This past weekend was my second Fulbright Final Dinner, and it was also the last. Was it different? Surprisingly, I think it was a bit less nostalgic and emotional. I mean, it was largely the same as last year's ceremony, but I knew even fewer people. Still, as always, I enjoyed seeing my friends and having a blast in Seoul for a short weekend.

I was foolish enough to bring my camera but not my battery, so I couldn't take any nice photos over the weekend! I guess I'll have to use thousands of words instead. Haha, kidding, here are some highlights:

1. Volume 7, issue 2 of the Fulbright Infusion was released at the dinner! It is a beautiful magazine, and I'm excited to share it with my students and colleagues. Check out the website, too, to see some of my photos and pieces that were published!

2. A Fulbright Korea alumnus who did his grant year about twenty years ago was a guest at the final dinner, and even though he is a complete stranger, he came up to me and asked, "Hey, you write a blog, don't you?" Apparently, I have some dedicated readers who aren't just my Facebook friends! This little surprise made me very happy.

3. I went back to Acousticholic! Unfortunately, we only caught the tail end of my friend's performance that night, but it was great to catch up with him afterward. This guy is working for JYP Entertainment as a songwriter. I swear he's going to be really big one day...
Food from The Beastro in Hongdae (#6). Also, I'm about to stab my 삼겹살 sliders. Photo courtesy Neal Singleton!
4. A fundraising organization called Running 4 Resettlement, which was founded by a group of current Fulbrighters, held an event at a new restaurant in Hongdae called The Beastro. Donating money to help North Korean defectors adjust comfortably to life in South Korea? Check. Good drinks and company? Check. Chilling in on an open rooftop terrace in Hongdae on a cool summer night? Check.

5. That night, I stayed at a 24-hour sauna called Siloam (신로암), near Seoul Station. It's an amazing sauna, far better than any I've been to (though I haven't yet paid a visit to SpaLand in Busan...). I tried all the different hot baths and steam rooms, including one with walls made of charcoal and one that was like a pit of heated salt rocks. My friends and I chatted in the steam rooms and played Contact until three in the morning! (I may write more about this sauna at a later date, although it's too bad I didn't take any pictures!)

6. Lunch at The Beastro on Sunday morning. This restaurant is amazing! Need proof? Check hungryinhongdae. Also, more ice cream at Fell+Cole, where I finally redeemed the stamp card I've been using for a whole year. 
Katelyn, Clara, and me at Fell+Cole.
7. Followed by shopping -- I got a new shirt (and am now worried about what I'm going to do with all the clothes I've accumulated in this country over the past two years) and a nice afternoon 노래방 (karaoke room) session with friends.

And just like that, a too-short weekend came to an end. Final exams at my school begin tomorrow, which means I will still have nothing to do all day besides input grades, take care of administrative stuff, and... get things ready for the Fulbright teacher who will replace me next semester. Whoever they are, they will say hello to South Korea in one week. (Orientation begins for the new Fulbright class next Monday.) And one month after that, I will say goodbye!

Friday, June 27, 2014

Hangulish T-Shirt

Warning: weird hodgepodge of esoteric linguistic terminology and dumbed-down descriptions of said terminology, as well as smatterings of Korean, straight ahead!

But look left first, before you cross. See the t-shirt? I spotted it while walking around downtown Changwon the other day, and I found it so clever that I just had to take a photo. Why? Look at the writing closely. At first glance, it looks like a list of city names: Seoul, New York, Tokyo... but wait. That's not an "S" at the beginning of Seoul. And the "W" in New York is... pi? What is "Tofyo"? Hm... is this Konglish?

Well, it is, but it's not nonsense "Engrish"-type typography, exactly. What look like mistakes are actually a simple linguistic puzzle. The character that has been subbed in for the "S" in Seoul is a Hangul (1) letter, ㅅ (pronounced she-ut). It makes the "s" sound in Korean, an aspirated alveolar fricative [s]. So, that word still reads "Seoul", but more accurately, in a sense, than the romanized spelling does.

Next, you've got the "you" sound in "New York", represented by the Hangul ㅠ [ju], which has replaced "W". Tokyo's "K" has been replaced with ㅋ [k], the aspirated velar stop.

The next three are an interesting set, because they illustrate the versatility of the Korean liquid /l/ quite well. The letter ㄹ (pronounced ree-ul... or lee-ur... or, actually, let's forget trying to use English for this) is an alveolar liquid, but it changes its expression depending on where in a word it's located. Between vowels, as in the word "Paris", it turns into an alveolar flap [ɾ], like the sound Americans make in the middle of "butter". Same for Milano. Word-initially, however, ㄹ can sound like a flap or like a typical English [l]. So the first letter of "London" has been replaced with the ㄹ, too.

A word to the wise: ㄹ is never a purely rhotic sound; that is, it is never like the American "arrr"! But it is certainly the closest approximation that Korean has for the American [r/ɹ], the American [l], or even the French [χ/ʁ], which is the guttural sound in Paris, which is why one letter is used to transcribe all three foreign sounds (which is why some Koreans are confused about r and l in English).

Here are those city names again, in complete Hangul and in IPA according to the Korean pronunciation:
Seoul = 서울 = [sʰʌ.ul] = SUH-ool
New York = 뉴욕 = [njuː.jok̚] = nyoo-YOHK
Tokyo = 도쿄 = [to.kʰjo] = doe-KYO
London = 런던 = [lʌn.dʌn] = LUN-dun
Milano = 밀라노 = [miː] = MEEL-lah-no

Anyway... hope you found this bit of phonetics/phonology interesting. If I ever see that shirt for sale, I'm probably going to buy it.

- - -
(1) Hangul is the name for the Korean writing system. It literally means "Korean writing": 한글.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

No News Is...

무소식이 희소식이다.

They say no news is good news, but when media censorship is involved, no news is actually cause for concern. My co-teachers have often told me, with hints of indignation, that there is a lot more social and political unrest in their country than most people are aware of. They mention vigils and protests that are being held in Seoul -- that have been taking place, in fact, for months upon months -- for various causes, but the newspapers never report on these stories. Of course, from my perspective, it's clear that one reason I am not too aware of the goings-on in South Korea is that I'm not tuned into the news, and my Korean skills are not up to the task of understanding more than the photo captions of the daily papers in the teachers' lounge. But since my co-teachers are convinced that the political powers that be are messing with media output, whatever I do happen to read, I look at with a more critical eye than usual.

So, I was surprised yesterday when a student asked me at the beginning of class, "Teacher, have you heard the news? A soldier killed some other soldiers in Gangwon-do." This absolutely shocked me. Instead of beginning the lesson, I went to the computer, and my class followed along as I did some Google searches to find out what had happened.

Here's an article from the Wall Street Journal that explains: last Saturday, an ROK soldier, a second-class officer, threw a grenade at and opened fire on his comrades. He then ran away from the scene, and a two-day manhunt ensued. Finally, the soldier was cornered on Monday. He attempted to commit suicide but failed, and was then captured. All of this happened in the northern province called Gangwon-do, which borders North Korea. Lots of soldiers are stationed near the DMZ, and the environment is isolated and stressful.

My students all knew the story, but I was completely shocked. I thought that if something as crazy as a multiple homicide in the ROK army had occurred, then it would be all over the news. Have I just been completely oblivious for the past few days?

After class, I visited my go-to Korean news website, This handy resource collects top stories in translation from the main national newspapers as well as posts from popular blogs related to South Korea. As I scrolled through the feed, I found very few articles that mentioned this incident. This article from the Korea Herald details the events that unfolded on Saturday, as does this one from Yonhap News. This one from JoongAng Daily probes into the soldier's troubled psychological condition.

While basic information about the incident was widely reported, I found myself wondering, "Is that all?" I expected a bigger national response. It's not like this is an everyday story. My suspicion is that the incident is being downplayed as much as possible. When shootings happen in the US -- and they do so with desperate and depressing regularity -- the media has a field day. News travels fast on social media, and everyone begins to weigh in. Not just on the basic information, either: soon, back stories are excavated, insignificant details are examined, and conspiracy theories are established. One tragic event stretches into a week of media frenzy (and usually ends there). But the response to this shooting spree, which left five young men dead, has been quite muted, as far as I can tell.

It's nothing like the media response to April's Sewol ferry disaster. I'm curious about why... Does it have to do with the fact that the ROK military was involved? One of the few more peculiar snippets to come out of last weekend's story was the discovery that after the perpetrator had been apprehended and was being transported to a hospital for treatment, the military used a decoy of the soldier to divert media attention. A random soldier with his body covered was loaded into an ambulance as the reporters looked on, while the real soldier was rushed to the hospital from a different location. When people realized that they had been deceived, the response was swift and angry. The Korea Herald reports: "the military's handling of the incident has damaged public trust", which had "already been eroded by the bungled efforts to capture the sergeant."

The story makes me laugh, but it's interesting to me because I don't know which side to take. I can sympathize with the military not wanting the media frenzy for the sake of doing their job efficiently, but it also seems like they've had a hand in a part of the media cover-up of this whole ordeal. I certainly wouldn't want every newspaper reporting on how it took too long after the initial shooting to issue a security warning or questioning why one man on foot evaded capture for nearly two days. Hence, the deception. On the other hand, the cynic in me maintains that it's naive to think the media will ever cooperate with anything other than itself. Anything for a good story, even if it means spreading general panic.

Anyway, it's strange, but it seems like this extremely unusual news story is already on its way out. Tomorrow, South Korea will play Belgium in the World Cup, and articles about this event, which has not even happened yet, are already headlining. Also, the political circus surrounding the Park administration's preposterous failure to appoint a new Prime Minister is drumming up clicks. The old PM resigned because of the Sewol fiasco, but then the two subsequent nominees for his replacement were discovered to be crooked and crazy, respectively, so the old PM is not being temporarily reinstated. Here's an overview from the Hankyoreh.

Speaking of Sewol, the adolescent survivors of the ferry sinking, who were on a school field trip, resumed classes today. This was the headliner for this morning's paper (here's one story from the Korea Herald). Photos of parents crying as they embraced the students walking up to the school gates were so, so sad. This story continues to wrench my heart.

One more body was retrieved from the wreckage earlier this week, that of a female student of the school. That makes 172 survivors, 293 now confirmed dead. There are 11 still missing. No news...

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

A Visit from Old Students

Always a pleasure when old students come back to visit! Now that colleges have let out for summer break, the stream of visitors has noticeably increased (seven in two days, in fact). SY, YJ, and EJ hung out today, and it was curious to see how much they'd grown up. Well, it's only been a few months since I saw them last, but college can quickly change a person, can't it? They all reported that they missed their high school friends a lot and that university-level English was very difficult. At the top schools in the country, all of the freshman year classes are conducted in English. Ridiculous, isn't it? But they seem happy and healthy, and I'm so glad we got to catch up.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The Fulbright Researchers (2014)

Last year, I wrote a very long post that detailed the research projects of the Fulbright Junior Researchers. (They make up the other "half" of Fulbright Korea; every year we have about 120 teachers and two dozen researchers.) Though I'd planned to do the same after this year's spring conference, I quickly became too busy to transcribe my notes.

This morning, while cleaning my desk, I came across them again. They're not as pretty or doodly as my notes from last year, but I still think the information is worth putting down somewhere. So, better late than never, here are brief descriptions of some of the 2014 Fulbright Researchers' projects:

Multicultural Korea
Dorry Guerra informed us that in 2010, 1 in 3 Korean births were multicultural -- that is, babies were born to one ethnically Korean parent and one non-Korean parent. Korea now leads the world in international marriages. This is a cultural phenomenon due largely to the fact that men in rural areas of Korea can't find wives, so they marry immigrant women from China or Southeast Asia. In a sense, these women are mail-order brides, but whatever their circumstances, they arrive in Korea and then they and their families have trouble fitting in. Korea's bloodline ideology, the idea that Korea is one completely homogeneous race and should stay that way, is actually a recent bit of propaganda that promoted national solidarity in the early 20th century, back when the country was in a shambles. Now that that is changing, what is going to happen to the multicultural families? (By the way, Korea is not nearly as homogeneous as the history books like to claim: their blood has been pretty well mixed with Chinese, Japanese, and Mongolian over the centuries.) According to Ms Guerra's estimates, up to 10% of the country will be multicultural by 2050. That's a huge jump from one generation ago. She warns that belief in racial essentialism, or the idea that the different races have deeply-rooted "essences", is a reliable predictor of stereotyping, prejudice, and conflict. So if Koreans generally believe in racial essentialism, then multicultural Korea is in for a rough ride for the next few decades.

Mike Chung gave an economic lecture on the Korean 재벌, or conglomerate. The word chaebol is derived from the Chinese 財閥 (cai2fa2), or "wealth clan". These rose to power during the regime of Park Chung-hee in the 1970s. His government, to put it frankly and with a touch of bias, allowed certain businesses to cheat for the sake of national economic growth. Now, the conglomerates hold unimaginable power over the country. They are seen as both necessary for its success and dangerous and unfair for a developed country that needs to switch to a more fair-play mode.

Korean Adoption
Hollee McGinnis (who was published in the last issue of the Fulbright Infusion!) talked about the mental health of adolescent adoptees and orphans. Following the brutal Korean War in the 1950s that ripped many families apart, 2 million children without parents have been sent to orphanages. In contrast, 85,000 have been sent abroad for adoption, and less than half that number have been adopted domestically. The statistics for 2010 alone show that 15,700 children needed care, 1,400 were adopted domestically, and 1,000 were adopted internationally. There were 8,590 abandoned infants. So the problem of parentless Korean children is not just (or no longer) a direct result of war. But adoption is still stigmatized in this country: it is usually carried out in secret so that a family's friends and neighbors don't know that the new child is actually from another family. Infants are preferred over children and adolescents. Also, because sons in a family usually perform ancestral rites on traditional holidays, and without a direct blood connection this can be seen as wrong, females are also preferred over males. So, Mrs McGinnis' organization, Also-Known-As, provides help and support to adoptees as well as their families.

(Another researcher, Andrea Cavicchi, also focused on adoption, especially on its history -- the 1962 Family Planning system instituted by Park Chung-hee, the controversy surrounding "baby-selling" during the 1988 Seoul Olympics -- and on the issues that make it so enticing for unwed mothers to give away their children. In fact, tens of thousands of orphans do not actually indicate that Korea has an orphan problem. It has a child abandonment problem.)

Nuclear Energy
Andrew Ju told us that South Korea imports 97% of its energy. That's quite a lot, but understandable for a country that has so few natural resources. Unfortunately, less than 1% of the energy that the country does produce is renewable. On the other hand, Korea's nuclear program, which began in 1978, is the fastest-growing in the world, and it exports a ton of its nuclear energy. (Well, these statistics may have come before the near-nuclear meltdown at the Kori Nuclear Power Plant in 2012, which led to some shutdowns and public outcry against nuclear power. And then there's Fukushima...) Anyway, South Korea wants to continue using nuclear energy, especially since it stands to gain quite a bit from an energy alliance with the US. But I personally hope that it decides instead to lead the world in green energy.

Healthcare and Migrant Women
Sangita Annamalai cited the rapid birth rate decline in Korea (now at 1.24 children per woman, the 5th lowest in the world) and connected it to the rise of immigrant wives for men in rural Korea. The subject matter is related to Ms Guerra's project on multiculturalism, but Ms Annamalai focused on the women themselves and on the public health resources made available to them in a country and language not their own. She went to public and private migrant shelters in rural and urban areas, where women who came to Korea through marriage brokers and found themselves struggling could go for help. There, she found that Chinese (or Chinese-Korean) women had much fewer problems than most; that Vietnamese women had problems with using contraceptives and tended to begin having children right away, which led to even more adjustment difficulties; and that Eastern European women could sometimes pass as half-Korean, but were generally more outspoken than Southeast Asian women, which led to domestic trouble. When the difficulties become too great, the pressure put on these women (by the government and even by the public women's shelters) to reconcile is strong, because in the event of a divorce, the citizenship of the wife is revoked. It's quite a sticky situation, isn't it?

North Korean Defectors
Stephanie Choi, who visited North Korea with me last February, gave her presentation about the acculturation of North Korean defectors in South Korea. There are an estimated 300,000 refugees from North Korea in the world: people who have escaped the tightly-controlled borders of the country seeking political freedom or just a better life since 1953. In the early 2000s, the number of refugees entering South Korea specifically grew exponentially as a result of a devastating famine in the North, but it has tapered off in recent years, following the death of Kim Jong-il and a tightening of security by Kim Jong-un's regime.

Today, the 26,000 defectors in South Korea make up just 1% of the country's minority immigrants. The North Koreans in South Korea are much different from the first waves of refugees. Instead of political elite who were lauded as heroes when they defected pre-Soviet collapse, defectors are now mostly women and children just looking to survive. And they are not treated very positively once here. After a long three-month investigation and assimilation period at Hanawon, where they are simultaneously interrogated in-depth about their background as North Koreans and scrubbed clean of that identity in order to fit in in South Korea, they encounter a host of problems. Some try to hide their identity, but their accent and unfamiliarity with basic skills required in a capitalist society, such as managing a bank account, can give them away. Others are fiercely proud of their background and, stating that you can't change where you were born, are involved in activism to try to change South Koreans' stereotypes about North Koreans (e.g. that they're staunch Communists, freeloaders, or a drain on governmental resources). Many are lonely and turn to each other for support (much like the Fulbrighters, scattered all over the country, tend to hang out together) or to religion. 80-90% are Christian, having been converted by missionaries involved in rescues and border crossings in China. These days, reunification is being talked about more and more. At the beginning of 2014, President Park announced that it would be possible by 2050, calling it a "reunification jackpot". I don't know how I feel about this, but I hope that whatever change occurs will come about peacefully. 땅의 통일, 사람의 통일. One land, one people.

Patriarchy and Politics
Chelsea Carlson researched women in politics, asking the question, "Why aren't there any?" Or at least, as many as there should be? Korea is notorious for its gender inequality, but why is this happening in politics? And will Park Geun-hye, the first female president, change things? Ms Carlson outlined the strictly-defined systems of networking in Korean politics: for men, their classmates, fellow alumni, and seniors/juniors (선배/후배) are all that matters, but women depend mostly on their families and husbands to make connections. This, coupled with a secretive nomination process to select candidates for publicly-elected office, makes it hard for women to get a foot in from the get-go. Women just don't have enough social clout to be elected, it seems, and the system, while not explicitly sexist, isn't helping. In my own opinion, Park Geun-hye utilized the networking system to secure her win. Her family is famous, of course, as her father was a former president(/dictator), and regional loyalty to the Parks is indomitable. Unfortunately, I don't think Park is a champion for women's rights at all; she has done nothing to close the gender pay gap or balance the systems of parental leave in order to help mothers return to their careers. So, gender inequality in politics will likely persist. Ms Carlson then offered a few ways this could be remedied, including a "local service requirement" for candidates (which women could easily attain and use to their political advantage), more transparency in the system, and even affirmative action.

(Another researcher, Aileen Kim, did her research project specifically on Park Geun-hye, and focused on the power of "dynasty" that helped secure her presidential win.)

Hip-Hop and Racial Consciousness
Whitney Barr countered the idea that Korea's infamous racial insensitivity could no longer be deemed as a mere product of ignorance, since Korean millennials have grown up with decent exposure to Western media and other cultures -- specifically, black and hip-hop culture. She explored the positive appropriations of hip-hop culture in Seoul, but also contrasted it with general dismissiveness or outright racism against black people, including the double-edged usage of words like 흑형 (black brother; Google that to get the idea) or 깜둥이 ("darky"), and the consideration of multiracial icons as purely Korean or "at least" half-Korean, discarding their other identity.

Performance Art
Adam Glassman described in colorful detail his experiences with shamanism and street dance in a project that aimed to capture Korean performance art in all its vicissitudinous adaptation to the present day. Why are shows like Nanta, in which the performers encourage tons of audience participation and turn it more into an interaction than a "show", so popular? Why has street dance skyrocketed in Korea in recent years? Mr Glassman suggests that it has something to do with the long-standing performers' directive to "create joy together" with their audience. Focusing on the 무당, or shamans, who practice a traditional religion in decline but still deeply-rooted in many people's belief systems, he described how the rituals they perform attempt to establish a tangible, physical connection between the people and the gods. Of the over 40,000 registered shamans in Korea, Mr Glassman was lucky enough to find one who opened up his home to him so that he could observe daily life and learn more about shamanism. From watching and recording the performative aspects of shamanism, he looked for similar patterns in modern iterations of performance art. Mr Glassman's eventual goal is to return to the United States to reinvent American theater, so that the audience is no longer merely a cold, voiceless participant but living and breathing, with just as much a stake in the performance as the performers themselves.

Other Fulbright research projects focused on more scientific matters that might have interested my students, but weren't necessarily compelling to me. One researcher is researching cancer treatment using electric plasma. Cool! But most of his lecture went over my head. Another is looking at the antihistamine effects of the Korean 다래, a fruit that is essentially a small kiwi. Also, two researchers did their projects on art and painting, and one of them is having a solo exhibition in Seoul in a few weeks! That's pretty exciting.

Monday, June 23, 2014


Me: Well, today is our last day of the English Conversation Club, and--
JY: Oh, nooo!!!
Me: What?
JY: That's not good.
Me: Why? I mean, you can still talk to me whenever you want.
JY: But I want to, uh... exist... with you.
Me: Oh?
JY: Forever.

Every day for the past two semesters, I have spent my lunch break running the English Conversation Club at my school. The brainchild of my co-teacher, the program is simply an opportunity for all the students to chat with a native English speaker (i.e., me) for half an hour once a month. They all attend the club in groups that rotate once a month. For the students, it's sometimes tough to remember when their day is coming up, and when it comes, they have to rush through their meal in the cafeteria, forego the day's soccer or basketball scrimmage, and meet me in the English-Only Zone to talk about the topic of the day.

Some students have dreaded this every month, but they do it partly out of peer pressure and partly because if they stick through with eight sessions (totaling four hours of English conversation!), they'll get a fancy certificate and something to put on their college applications. On the other hand, other students have really loved their monthly club time, and what has really thrilled me are the groups that have great chemistry. Somehow, they just click, and they laugh and joke with each other -- in English -- with almost no help from me. It's a joy to watch. I've gotten to know my students ten times better because of these daily conversations. I'm going to miss them so much.

The very last group will meet with me tomorrow, and then we're all done. Sixty-something hours of prodding questions and casual conversation starters, of laughs and really awkward silences. Done! I don't know what I'm going to do with my lunch breaks for the rest of the year. They'll be so strangely empty.

The most likely scenario is that I'll go back to doing what I did last year, before the program started: wander the halls, the library, and the gym to ninja-attack unsuspecting students with a loud and cheerful, "What's up?!"

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Taekgyeon Black Belt Test

Today, 저는 목표를 달성했습니다. I achieved a goal.
When I came to Korea two years ago, I wanted to learn a martial art. My first semester of teaching was busy, so I couldn't do many extracurricular activities, but by March 2013, I had made up my mind to pursue taekwondo. However, on the day I looked for martial arts gyms in my neighborhood, the only one I could find with adult classes was a taekgyeon gym. That's how I ended up training in taekgyeon every weekday night for over a year.

It's been mostly fun. Sometimes I was really pathetically confused, and at other times I became very frustrated, but I'm glad that I stuck through with it during the rough times. Even after a long day at school, when I arrive home at 8pm, exhausted, and have only an hour before I've got to trudge to the gym, once I arrive I shake off my fatigue and try to give it my all. I've grown to love taekgyeon: the graceful yet powerful movements, the useful techniques for self-defense, the way it has improved my physique. I'm fiercely proud of being a part of a relatively unknown Korean tradition and have eagerly talked about it with anyone. And after fifteen months of training, it all culminated in a short, ten-minute evaluation (심사) this morning for my first-degree black belt (한동).

For the test, I had to demonstrate the 본때뵈기 (bonddaebwegi) routine that we practice literally every single day. It's a choreographed solo routine that incorporates all the kicks, trips, and steps used in taekgyeon sparring, and even though I've done it nearly a thousand times now, I still mess up sometimes. In fact, I kind of messed up this morning because I was demonstrating it at the same time as some very young kids who were also testing for their black belts, and their rhythm was not the same as mine. Also, I was pretty nervous.

After the 본때뵈기, my sparring partner, a guy in his forties, and I demonstrated kicks (마주차기), trips (마주거리), wrestling (대거리), and sparring (맞서기). For each demonstration, I could tell that I wasn't doing as well as I had done during last week's training. Nerves really can get to me, I guess! But it wasn't so terrible that I made a fool of myself. In fact, I actually rather enjoyed it.

And that was that. I finished my test, and then I sat down to watch the kids do their evaluations. These are elementary school-aged children who are already testing for their second-degree black belts! They're years ahead of me in taekgyeon, but still so cute when they do it!

The older kids also did some demonstrations of higher-level routines and also jump rope routines, which my taekgyeon master incorporates into his training. (I suck at jump rope...) Anyway, I took some videos on my phone of the kids' portion of the test, and you can watch it below.
When the evaluation was over (all in all, it took just over one hour), the kids began running around acting like kids, and we snacked on watermelon and rice cakes before having take-out "Chinese" for lunch. I really enjoy spending time with the taekgyeon kids! They're always inexplicably excited to see me, and they're fun to play with. I'm a little concerned at how much they enjoy tackling and tripping each other, but I guess that's the only way a group of kids that trains in martial arts together know how to bond. That, and playing video games on their phones.

I then went home, took a nap, and went to church. The rest of the day felt as normal as any other quiet Sunday. But I feel... I don't know, 마음이 가볍다? A bit lighter? It's not like I've finished taekgyeon. I'm still going to go to training tomorrow (where we'll play soccer... ugh...) and probably continue right up until I leave. From now on, though, since I've reached my goal of obtaining a black belt, I guess my outlook has changed a bit. I've logged a few hundred hours developing a skill that I came to with absolutely zero experience, and now I'm proud to have passed a major milestone.

Another way in which this marks a sort of climactic point in my grant year is that my schedule for the rest of this semester is now free of anything major. I had my research report due last Sunday and just finished a week of endless speech tests for my students; now, my last big hurdle of the semester is out of the way. There's nothing big left between me and August 7th: D-Day. Departure Day. No more big projects. No more deadlines. Just wrapping up and getting ready to go. The emptiness of my calendar is a bit scary.

So I took my black belt test today. Because I want to continue training in martial arts, I hope that this was just the beginning, but when it comes to my time in Korea, I realize that it actually marks the beginning of the end.

tl;dr: I passed!

Saturday, June 21, 2014

North Korean Defector Conference in Daegu

I'm writing this from Daegu, where I attended a conference for English teachers who volunteer with North Korean defectors around the country. The weekend-long camp, the first of its kind, I believe, was an opportunity for the teachers as well as their students to connect and have fun together. Since none of my students attended the camp (we had our own fun activity yesterday at the movies: Edge of Tomorrow in IMAX 3D!), I came just for the workshop programs today.

Besides getting to hang out with some of my Fulbright friends, which I always appreciate, I was able to get a refresher on teaching tips and tricks and learn more about the background and organization of South Korea's Hana Centers. I was surprised to learn that the centers are a relatively recent government initiative (most having been established within the past decade) and that they are all somewhat independently managed. Changwon's Hana Center is hosted in (and maybe by) the city's branch of the Korean Red Cross. Daegu's is in the care of the Empathy for a Better World Foundation, which actually runs tons of other defector- or reunification-related programs, too. The Empathy Foundation does a lot of stellar work with defectors; if you're interested in NK defector issues and in Daegu, go check them out.

Anyway, I had a great day, but unfortunately I can't stay the night or attend Sunday's programming. My black belt test for taekgyeon is tomorrow morning! I have to get a good night's sleep at home.

P.S. Completely unrelated: in downtown Daegu, my friend and I espied an older Korean man wearing a UCLA t-shirt! I pointed at him quite unabashedly, having forgotten for a moment that not being Korean doesnt make you invisible in this country-- in fact, quite the opposite. To hide my embarrassment, I went all in and called out, "UCLA!" The man stared for a moment, then laughed when he realized that I had only been reading his shirt. And he called back, "Ooklah!" My friend, who happened to be a UCLA graduate, turned to me and remarked, "I guess that about sums up how much he knows about his wardrobe choice. Funniest thing I've seen in Daegu today!"

Thursday, June 19, 2014

PSY, JLC, FOB, and the Transmission of Culture

"Oh. My. GOD!" complains the exchange student played by Kim Sungwon as the audience erupts in laughter. "I don't understand about Korean culture!"

Questionable English grammar aside, this Western student's frustration is very relatable. In the popular sketch "School of Mental Breakdown" (멘붕스쿨) on the Korean comedy show Gag Concert, a brief and hilarious few minutes are spent trying to look at Korea through the eyes of a foreigner. (Well, not in the episode shown above; that one's about American superhero movies, but it's the only one I could find on YouTube.) This school is obviously the parody of parodies, but we can laugh at some of the stereotyped portrayals of one slice of Korean culture, its education system.

This does raise some questions about perspective, however. "School of Mental Breakdown" aired last year, but the memory of Kim Sungwon's outbursts came to me as I chatted with my English co-teachers over cheese and crackers at our semiweekly book club. We're reading Amy Tan's seminal The Joy Luck Club, and the bulk of each period is spent discussing that amorphous thing known as "culture". As I am Taiwanese-American, they were interested in whether the issues of cultural assimilation, immigration, and language that are so central to the stories of the four Chinese families were the same as those that my family and I have faced.

Certainly, there are a few similarities. The language barrier that rises between generations after a geographical shift is one of the big ones. There are smaller tidbits that I cheerfully identified with, too, like the story of steaming live crabs or the childhood hours spent banging away fruitlessly at the piano.

But I had to admit the other day that a lot of the cultural symbols are just as mysterious to me as they would be to your average Western (and non-Chinese) reader of The Joy Luck Club. I am totally unfamiliar with the folklore and mythology so often referenced in the stories; I don't know which of the five elements I was born lacking, and I have never heard of Xi Wangmu. My comfortably middle-class family has never lived anywhere near a Chinatown. And perhaps the biggest difference is that my parents immigrated to the US in the 80s from Taiwan in order to seek higher education, not from China in the 40s in order to escape war.

But then I realized that The Joy Luck Club, which for decades has stayed on high school reading lists as one of a few representative books about Asian-American minority culture, has probably influenced hundreds of thousands of people toward a certain idea of what it means to be a Chinese-American or part of an East Asian immigrant family. And while that idea, within the pages of the book, is at least not contrived or too narrowly delineated, it is also -- dare I say it -- outdated.

I mean, Asian America looks much different now, in 2014, than it did when The Joy Luck Club was published in 1989, let alone in the 1950s when the memorable just-immigrated stories and childhood stories take place. But what does every high school sophomore who reads these stories today come away thinking? If they're not Asian, they now think they understand Asians. If they are Asian, they try to match up their own lives and experiences to the lives and experiences of the protagonists, to varying degrees of success. In neither case is the media self-contained; that is, it will always inevitably be extrapolated onto others (and onto the Other). Comparisons will be drawn. Judgments will be made. Conclusions will be jumped to across the wide chasm of sixty years of change.

Now how does this come back to Gag Concert and Korean culture? Well, before your average Westerner steps foot in Korea for the first time, they may not necessarily know anything about the country. Surely they've heard of kimchi and PSY, and maybe they're aware enough to know that Samsung, taekwondo, and Kim Yuna are Korean and not Japanese. But when we arrive, there's more than enough in this culture to shock us into thinking, "Oh my God, I just don't get it!"

Thus, Korea has made great efforts in recent years to export not just electronics and cars, but also its own culture. Hence the Hallyu Wave, which has globalized Korean music, TV, and celebrity culture, and the breakneck speed at which Seoul has been metamorphosing into an international metropolis. Korea is flinging its influence in every direction while also urging everyone to come in. But not everything sticks, and not everyone stays.

I want to look at the odd things that do stay in the minds of non-Koreans about Korea. Everyone is still kind of at a loss to explain why PSY's "Gangnam Style" was such a global hit -- it now has over two billion YouTube views -- but, well, here he is. Intentional or not, his cultural influence is powerful and not likely to go away soon. Korea wanted the world to love K-pop and gave them BoA, Rain, Big Bang, and Girls' Generation. The world chose PSY.

The American-educated, somewhat goofball rapper, whose past three music videos have poked fun at various aspects of his home country, certainly has something to say. His most recent video, "Hangover", which satirizes Korean drinking culture, has racked up nearly 70 million views in one week. It is impossible to ignore the fact that PSY's entertainment output is influencing the way the world views Korea. I watched and commented on "Hangover" when it was first released, noting at the end of my post that a viewer should certainly not assume that all Koreans drink from sunrise to sunset and get into street brawls. Yet they do drink a lot! There's enough truth in the parody that before you know it, tourists in Seoul are going to attempt to imitate the dozen different ways to down shots of soju as portrayed in the video and ask their Korean friends why they aren't doing the same.

What I am trying to get at here is that Korean culture can never be fully understood just by watching a few videos, listening to a few podcasts, or studying a few books, but the bits and pieces of it that go viral will become representative of it, for better or for worse. Some would argue that PSY's music is not bad inasmuch as it opens doors for people to get better acquainted with Korea, or at least K-pop, once they are first exposed to his earworms. Whatever it takes, right? On the other hand, it's equally likely that viewers will watch "Hangover" and content themselves with the assumption that Korea is a bizarre land of drunken wtf-ery. I mean, this is the country that produced PSY, after all.

To the confused exchange student at the School of Mental Breakdown: OMG! If you want to understand Korean culture... don't watch K-pop videos.

At least, don't just watch K-pop videos. Without a doubt, "Hangover" does provide the casual viewer with visuals and symbols of Korea, like karaoke rooms and cup noodles; it's not a completely vapid party anthem after all. But my point still stands: we cannot necessarily choose the things that represent our culture to outsiders, especially in this day and age when instant fame and influence on the Internet can fall into the lap of literally anyone. Pop culture entertainment may not be the ideal way to raise awareness about you and your community, but it tends to be the most successful or accessible conduit for those who aren't already commanding the stage on a global or national level.

Hm, where am I going with this now? Eh, here are some conclusions. The Joy Luck Club did a wonderful job of representing Chinese immigrants to the US. But it does not represent them all. PSY does a good job of bringing Korean culture to global consciousness. But he does not represent it all.

I hope that we can all be more aware of how media and entertainment (which includes books and novels) shapes our worldviews and influences our perception of anything unfamiliar, whether we like it or not.

Okay, now watch this:

This is a first look trailer for a new ABC series coming this fall called Fresh off the Boat. It's about a Taiwanese-American family trying to adjust to life in Orlando in the nineties. What do you think? From what I saw so far, it's funny, it has a talented cast, and it captures some great moments familiar to me as a Taiwanese-American kid who grew up in the nineties. Already, the very concept is causing a stir, because 1) Asians in media! and 2) that title...

Yes, there will be controversy. Like I've been saying, as scenes and storylines from this new show undoubtedly raise a lot of questions about issues of race, people will start to compare every Asian they know, including themselves, to the high-profile (fictional) Asian family they can now watch on TV every week.

I know that I'll be enthusiastically watching FOB, even if it turns out to be awful, because I'm really excited about having a sitcom family that is so representative of me and my culture. At the same time, I'm not going to stand for anyone who even thinks they can reduce me -- or my family -- to a set of stereotypes derived from a TV show. Remember: "...but not all."

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Watching the World Cup at school: Korea vs. Russia

Lee Keun-ho from the South Korean soccer team. Image from the Guardian.
Although I'm not closely following this year's World Cup, I was still excited when it was announced that instead of going to zero period classes today, students and teachers would be treated to a live streaming of the Korea-versus-Russia World Cup game. Because of the time zone difference, games taking place in Brazil are shown at 1am, 4am, and 7am in Korea. This has definitely dampened enthusiasm for the World Cup in Korea this year, but really, nothing will stop them from supporting the "Red Devils" when they can.

I arrived at school a little after half-time, when the score was tied 0-0. It was exciting being in the auditorium with all my students and fellow teachers. The game was being played on a live stream on the big screen, and it was really exciting! I took some videos. The first clip is of the crowd's reaction when Korea took a shot at the goal, but it was saved by the Russian goalie. The second is just after Korea scored its goal, as the crowd responds to the slow-motion replay. It was amusing how the teachers around me hooted in laughter at the Russian goalie for screwing up. The last clip is the crowd's reaction after Russia scored: pure dismay!
Russia's goal was doubly disappointing because, in fact, we didn't see it happen! Toward the end of the game, so many people were online to watch it that the servers hosting the livestream on Naver and Daum crashed or malfunctioned in some way. Our screen began to freeze again and again, buffering, and then blanking out altogether. So when the Russian forward started toward Korea's goal, we got really excited -- and then the screen froze. Imagine the frustration! And when it started playing again, we saw that the score had changed to 1-1. 아~ 아타깝다! (What a shame!)

By that time, it was almost time to begin the first period classes, but of course nobody had any intention of leaving the auditorium. The game ended in a tie, and students were disappointed because the technical difficulties persisted (I'd have expected more from a science high school, haha) and because we didn't win. But given the low confidence Korea has in its own team, I'd say a tie with Russia is not a bad thing at all.

While I don't know any more about soccer now than I did before this morning, one good thing that comes from the World Cup is that I can use it as a springboard for conversation with my students and connect with them on another level, especially the shier students who like sports but not English.

Anyway, I probably won't watch any more World Cup games until the semifinals and finals, but I'm still hoping for the best for South Korea! 대한민국 화이팅! 

- - -

P.S. Konglish time: 화이팅 (sometimes 파이팅, romanized as hwa/pa-i-ting) is the Korean version of jia you (加油) and ganbatte (がんばって), a common sports cheer and all-around picker-upper. It comes from the English word "fighting" and is equivalent to "Let's go!" and "You can do it!" or "BEAT THEM." If I had my way with Konglish and couldn't do away with it altogether, I'd at least change 화이팅 to something that makes a bit more grammatical sense. "Korea fighting!" still sounds odd to me... even though I use it all the time now. I can say 화이팅 to a struggling student, to my taekgyeon teammates as they spar, or to my friend who's had a bad day. It's a very useful word to know!

Monday, June 16, 2014

June's a Circus

Hello, world. Would you look at that, we're halfway through 2014. Whew. Just a few updates for today!

1. My 3rd-year students' writing portion of their final exam includes a post on our class blog. They will get a few extra credit points if their post gets a lot of views, likes, and comments! So please take some time to look at the nine most recent entries (all made in June) and comment on anything that interests you. Thanks in advance! Here's the blog.

2. I submitted my Castleberry project report on Jeju-eo yesterday. At nearly eight thousand words, I'm actually kind of impressed with my work, especially since this is the first paper I've written in two years (since I graduated from college, reeling from Honors exams). It's far from perfect, and in fact, my research isn't even finished yet, but I'm definitely glad to have finally crossed that hurdle. I'll post a more substantial update on my research soon.

3. This week, as I predicted about a month ago, is the week from hell. It began when I listened to thirty three-minute speeches in my classes today. Only 130 left to go in the next four days! But that's not all: my hardworking students took my offer to correct extra drafts of their speeches seriously, and as a result, the door to my office opened countless times today as students came in shyly, holding out papers and hopes for last-minute favors: "Teacher, can you please check this draft until [sic] tomorrow?" Even though I already corrected 160 drafts -- twice -- in the beginning of June, well... I relish a challenge. Bring it.

4. In one week, I will take my blackbelt test for taekgyeon. Another source of stress, I suppose.

Basically, the month of June has been very, very busy so far, and the end is just coming into view. After next week, it'll be downhill coasting all the way to the end. I'm a bit excited and a bit nervous. In addition, it seems as if grad school stuff is picking up, too. The other day, I received an email that included the names of Cal Linguistics' entering class of 2014: my six soon-to-be classmates! Although I resisted the urge to Facebook stalk them all, I did Google myself really quick, just to see what would come up. And, well, you don't have to scroll for very long to find this blog.

I of course welcome friends and strangers alike to read about my life on my little corner of the Internet, but it sure is strange to think that people I am going to work very closely with for the next five years could know a lot more about me than I know about them before we even meet.

And now, apropos nothing, here is a photo I took at my favorite local bakery the other day.
Profound and mysterious bread. The best part is that this isn't even a mistranslation. 오묘하다 means profound and mysterious. I should have bought this to find out what exactly makes it so!
P.S. Happy Father's Day (back in the States) to my one and only Babi! I think he reads this.

Thursday, June 12, 2014


I'm at the school gym after dinner to fit in a workout before the first night-time self-study period begins. When I arrive, it looks like a handful of third-year students also have the same idea. Well, they're in the gym and sitting on the weight equipment, but as it turns out, they're not exercising. Instead, they're using the gym's sound system as a jukebox and singing along to their favorite K-pop ballads.

"Hi, TK! Hi, HS," I say. "What are you singing?" HS names a song I've never heard of by a singer I don't recognize.

"Oh, that's cool. Hey, have you seen these songs in English?" I ask. Every few months for the past two years, I've burned a CD of random American or British pop music and left it in the gym in hopes that a student will be interested enough to listen to it. I'm up to five CDs now, and I indicate one of them. "Want to sing one?"

"Uh... I don't know any American songs," says HS hesitantly. TK butts in: "Teacher! He doesn't like English!"

HS looks slightly mortified. "No, I like English!" he protests.

"It's okay, HS," I reply. "You know what? It's okay if you don't like English. Really, I don't care."

His face slackens, and then a soft grin appears. "Oh, then, I hate English."

"But even if you don't like English," I continue, "you have to try hard in my class."

"Yes, teacher," says HS.

TK laughs. "Teacher, I also hate English."

"Oh, yeah?" I say. "Well, TK, like it or not, you still have a test tomorrow in my class, and I expect you to do well."

"Oh, yeah," says TK. Then he groans exaggeratedly and buries his head in his hands. He probably hasn't studied at all!

After this lighthearted exchange, I lift weights for a few minutes until I hear the next ballad they have chosen to sing: Beyonce's "Listen" from the Dreamgirls movie. Grinning widely, I go over and join them for the rest of the song.

Listen, I am alone at a crossroads
I'm not at home in my own home
And I've tried and tried to say what's on my mind
You should have known
Oh, now I'm done believing you
You don't know what I'm feeling
I'm more than what you made of me
I followed the voice you gave to me
But now I gotta find my own.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The Best 밀면 in Busan: 할매가야밀면

A large bowl of 밀면 from 할매가야밀명 in Busan. Just five bucks!
Amy knows where all the best food in her part of town is; I trust her completely with recs for noms when I'm in Busan. There's a popular restaurant located down a side alley in Nampo-dong, one of the busy shopping areas, that specializes in 밀면 (milmyeon). Milmyeon is a kind of cold noodle soup; the noodles are made from flour and potato starch, and they are served in a tangy chilled broth -- it literally has ice in it -- along with chili sauce, vegetables, a boiled egg, and some pork. This version of traditional Korean 냉면 (naengmyeon) originates from Busan.

I very clearly remember the first time I ever had 냉면 -- two years ago at a run-of-the-mill restaurant in Goesan. I was rather unpleasantly surprised by the fact that there was ice in my bowl. But I soon grew to really love naengmyeon, especially in the hot summer months. Milmyeon is just as good. As Amy would put it, "It's SOOOOO GOOOODDDD!!!!!!!" And my friends can attest to how much I liked it: despite having eaten a large lunch, I still downed my bowl -- the one you see in the photo above -- in five minutes flat. I mean, I finished before my two friends, who were sharing the same bowl, had even gotten halfway through theirs.

The restaurant, called 할매가야밀면 (Halmae Gaya Milmyeon, or Grandma's Gaya Milmyeon), also serves enormous 왕만두 (wangmandu, or King Dumplings), which I love. Another perk is that instead of water, patrons get complimentary warm soup, in order to balance the overwhelming chill from your noodles. The service was quick and the place was very busy, so you know it's got to be good. I'm going to share a Fulbright Infusion restaurant review with you in a bit, so you know where to eat lunch or dinner the next time you're in Busan on a hot summer day!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014


Last week, on Sports Day, one of the students who graduated last year came back to visit school. He was one of two alumni, actually, who returned, and I was delighted to see them both. While we chatted, this former student said something that has stayed with me for some reason.

I was discussing how Facebook etiquette was quite different between students and teachers when I was in high school. Here in Korea, it appears to be very common for students to add their teachers as friends on Facebook, especially their homeroom teachers. Teachers, of course, reciprocrate, and the result is that the already very close teacher-student relationship enters a new dimension of sharing and openness in the social networking multiverse.

Way back in the 2000s, Facebook was just starting out, and it was, in fact, still restricted to college campuses when I was a freshman. I didn't think to add any of my high school teachers as friends on Facebook (except for my awesome Yearbook class adviser, Mrs. Dotson) until after I'd graduated. Even then, not a whole lot of people over 30 even used Facebook.

Now, less than a decade later, everyone and their mom has been sucked into the relentlessly blue global social media network. Here in Korea, my host mother has added me on Facebook. My former students have added me on Facebook. Even current students have added me on Facebook, as well as current teachers at my school. That is, my co-workers, with whom I can barely communicate, want to be my friend. I don't know exactly where to draw the line. I'm not really used to this, so I've stopped adding current students as friends for the time being.

Anyway, back to my former student. I told him about how Facebook had changed so much in the past few years, and how I thought it would make the teacher-student relationship awkward if they were "friends" online. But then he told me, "Well, we never really saw you as a teacher. I mean, you weren't like the other teachers, like Teacher Lee or Teacher Roh."

That got me thinking... I could interpret his words in several ways. On the surface, of course I'm not like the other teachers. My English conversation class is almost like an elective for my students; it's nowhere near as important as their other subjects, like physics or math. So, I'm not as important as the other teachers. I do give my students tests for a grade, but my class is much easier overall than their other classes, to the extent that many of them don't really care. And generally, native English teachers at public Korean schools are not treated the same as regular faculty. We rotate in and out frequently, so we don't have to help with administrative work or even contribute to faculty get-togethers. Frankly, I just kind of do my own thing at my school, and nobody has ever objected. And to be completely honest, it makes me feel isolated and useless from time to time.

But I like to think that my student really meant that I should have considered our teacher-student relationship a little bit differently. Putting on a teaching persona doesn't have to put distance between us, necessarily. Of course, I talk to my students as if they're my friends every single moment of the day. I work out with some of them. I chat in the bathroom with some of them (Man Code? What Man Code?). I tease them and ask for fist bumps and share my food and chase them down the hallway until they reply to my "What's up?" with a feeble "Nothing much." But does that make us friends? Or does that just make me the weirdo, talkative, personal bubble-invading foreign English teacher?

I'm not like the other teachers, and my students never really saw me as one of them. I wonder if the way I have constructed my relationships with my students and with the other faculty at my school has truly been for the best?

What do you think? Do you add your students and/or teachers on Facebook? How about your co-workers? Why or why not?

- - -
P.S. I am friends with that former student on Facebook. His current profile photo is one that he took with his friends, current 3rd-years, on Sports Day. It's too cute!

P.P.S. The title of this post is Korean abbreviation slang: "이스 가," while not a question, roughly means, "Can I add you as a friend on Facebook?"

Monday, June 9, 2014

PSY - Hangover (ft. Snoop Dogg) - Korean Easter Eggs

Step 1: Watch Korean rapper PSY's newest music video for a song called "Hangover". Step 2: Seriously reconsider your life choices. Step 3: Rewind to watch again, this time taking note of everything in the video that is completely unique to Korea.

Here we go!

0:30 - PSY and Snoop Dogg vigorously brush their teeth. Koreans take brushing seriously.
0:45 - Hite Dry Finish beer.
0:56 - a 편의점 (pyeon-e-jeom), or convenience store, where you can sit and eat the snacks you've just bought, including...
1:00 - small glass bottles of energy drinks with who-knows-what ingredients inside,
1:11 - and 삼각김밥 (samgak-kimbap), triangle kimbap, and cup noodles (라면/ramyeon).
1:15 - a Korean sauna (I don't think they usually have green fountains, though).
1:35 - copious amounts of 소주 (soju), Korea's most popular liquor.
1:47 - hardy 아줌마 (ajumma), or older Korean women who can drink you under the table.
2:03 - 택시 (taxi).
2:04 - I just noticed the illustrated background is Seoul, with Namsan Tower and 63 Building visible. Also, PSY is now playing a bottle of Hite instead of a saxophone.
2:10 - 동일이발소 (dongil ilbaso) means "Sameness Barbershop"
2:28 - 노래방 (noraebang), a karaoke party room, complete with disco lights and a tambourine!
2:39 - PSY is drinking a can of something with PSY on it?
2:45 - the lyrics read, "누군지 한번에 알아낼 너의 단 한사람," from the song "나를 슬프게 하는 사람들" ("People Who Make Me Sad") by 이승기.
2:48 - BOA's "Rock With You".
2:55 - G-Dragon!
3:20 - Disco Pang Pang!
3:33 - Pool halls, where some of my old students now spend all of their free time chalking their cues instead of studying.
3:45 - PSY is eating 짜장면 (jjajangmyeon), black-bean noodles.
3:58 - a traditional bar for 막걸리 (makkeoli), Korean rice wine, where Snoop Dogg looks like he's dressed in somewhat traditional clothes (and PSY is in a Kill Bill-esque jump suit? I don't know who the girl is).
4:10 - the shake-and-chop method of opening soju bottles in order to rid it of poisonous impurities.
4:19 - love shots!
4:20 - opening a bottle of beer with a Korean metal spoon.
4:39 - delivery guys (they are not usually on fire, though) with Chinese food.
4:42 - oblivious 아저씨 (ahjussi), older Korean man.

And that's all I could catch!. What did I miss?

P.S. Please don't get any ideas about what Korean drinking culture is really like from this music video. Please also hope that rappers will stop objectifying women in their videos in the near future. But do enjoy the craziness of the video, because that same craziness is what made PSY a global phenomenon in the first place.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Memorial Day Weekend (and a Birthday!)

Left to right: me, Sophia, Hana, and Amy at Dadaepo (다대포) Beach in Busan.
I had a lovely three-day weekend thanks to Korean Memorial Day (현충일, 6/6). Many Koreans celebrate the day off by going camping or to the Beach. Unsurprisingly, the Haeundae Sand Festival was also held this weekend. My friends and I avoided the huge crowds at the festival, however, and went to a quieter beach in southern Busan called Dadaepo (다대포). Actually, we didn't even spend that much time on the beach. A good chunk of our weekend was spent in restaurants and cafes, eating. 해물파전 (savory seafood pancake), 수제비 (wheat flake soup), 밀면 (cold flour noodle soup), Baskin Robbins ice cream, pastries from a local bakery, and more... To work all of that food off, we took jumping pictures on the sand.
Me at my least chivalrous. (taken by Sophia)
Not only was it nice to see friends this weekend (especially since I doubt I'll have time to even leave my city for the foreseeable near future), it was great to welcome Hana back to Korea! Hana and I met at church in college, and it was a surprise to me when I found out we would both be going to Korea on Fulbright grants. Fast forward two years later, and here we are catching up, stuffing our faces with food, and singing our lungs out to the soundtrack of Frozen like friends naturally do.
Hana and me, and the most delicious pajeon and sujebi I've had in recent memory.
Things I missed this weekend: the Haeundae Sand Festival, the Korea Queer Cultural Festival, and Swarthmore's 150th anniversary celebration! Yes, my alma mater turned 150 years this year, and there was an enormous reunion party. I stayed away from Facebook all weekend so as to prevent feelings of jealous and... FOMO? (I've never used that acronym before, not sure if I did it right.) But I'm okay; I'm having a great time on the other side of the planet, anyway. Happy Birthday, Swat!

Friday, June 6, 2014

The Future, according to my students

Drafts! As tedious as it can be to correct my students' essays, I enjoy reading them and getting a glimpse of their creative thought processes. Also, these drafts are hilarious. So here are some gems from my first-years' predictions of the future. The prompt was to talk about how the world will change or where they will be in 10, 50, or 100 years. Most of them chose to make omens about global warming and world war, share their dreams of becoming the world's best scientist, or pontificate about developments in technology.

(Keep in mind that these are first drafts, so there are plenty of funny errors; of course, these will be fixed up by the final draft!)

#1 Throwing Fire
So we can forecast our country will be changed, But how? We know that the rock will be move if we put TNT underneath the rock and throw the fire on it, but we can't forcast where will it move exactly.

These are wise words on the unpredictability of change in Korea following a disaster like Sewol-ho.

Second, we will eat medicine instead of rice, bread. Our mothers are good at cooking, but maybe they don't like cooking. So, food stores will make medicine that has all the nutrients.

#3 Tubalroo
Don't forget our global issues like submarging Tubalroo, two times of World War and great men who did available works for us.

My friends and I have been debating the veracity of the idea that island nations like Tuvalu or the Maldives are sinking due to global warming. But this issue aside, her spelling is just adorable.

#4 Angry Mammoths
Second, Global warming increases. so the world is as angry as angry mammoths.

NB: I'm requiring them to use similes in their essays. Oh, those poor dead mammoths - avenge yourselves!

#5 Exploitation
But unified Korea we can use North Korea workers for cheap bills.

More students than I'm comfortable with cited the availability of North Koreans to do "3D jobs" (dirty, difficult, and dangerous) instead of South Koreans or Southeast Asian immigrants as a benefit of imminent reunification. Um... Not so hilarious, I guess.

#6 First Penguin
The importance of education is creative mind, character, Leadership, how much do they try, not a result, not a university, not how smart are they, how much do they know. Future, made by us, I hope everyone could be "first penguin" to fix wrong mind.

Great thoughts, great thoughts, great thoughts, and... wait, what?

~ ~ ~ Intermission ~ ~ ~

Class 1-2, the class that never speaks up and never exhibits any shred of enthusiasm, surprised me by writing the most amusing or thought-provoking essays by far:

#7 Candor
There are many scientists in the world. However, they don't think about the environment. I hate them.

#8 Incurable Illnesses
Doctors will make something like panacea and incurable illness like Albinism will be removed from Earth.

Of all disorders to choose for your example...

#9 The True Meaning of Peace
Many Koreans suffered how terrible the division of a tribe is. So only Koreans would understand the importance of peace. Peace does not mean the situation of no war. This is just a narow definition of peace. The true meaning of peace is that all countries coexist and make harmony.

Preach, sister!

#10 The Google Translate Essay
International CEO is also one of my dreams. I will study hard for my dream and Natural systems, as well as humanities disciplines is substantial as it will foster literacy. Through basic science such as physics, chemistry, biology, earh science and so on Further study and will deepen the Engineering Departmant. I am not purely based on mathematical Sciences, engineering, humanities, business, and financial basis of the complex to become a mathematician wants to study at POSTECH. My dream is for the essay is here.

Man! Even after I specifically told this student not to use Google Translate... he went and did it. This one's going to be a struggle.

#11 The Dinosaur of Dreams
On 5/18, the biggest Dinosaur was discovered. Then, I felt that I have many dreams, so I can't choose my real dream yet.

This is either the best non sequitur or a simple mistranslation of "그때".

#12 The Understatements of the Century
First, many separated families will be able to meet again! They will be as happy as a student who gets A grade in test because of this meeting. In now, separated families' number approach in 600~700 thousands. So unification is very very important thing like go to restroom.

This student also stated that nuclear weapons are as scary as a tiger. He must love figurative language!

#13 The Rant
Do you really think that our future life that we just imagined is really good? Can future people have affection for each other? Just look at us! A long time ago, before scientific technology developed, or the computer system was expanded, people connected to each other just face-to-face. And people cared for each other and helped as friendly as a real family. How about these days? When people get together, they start to talk only for 3 minutes. Soon, they just look at smartphone, or tablet PC! What a strange situation.

I was so impressed by this. Girl knows what's up.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

"Teacher, you look tired."

Several students and my co-teacher have repeatedly told me this past week that I look tired. I don't take offense to this (1), but it's happened often enough that I'm really curious now if I actually appear physically worse than normal. I feel fine, to be honest. But it's true that I've had a lot of work to do.

Speaking tests for my students are just around the corner. Like a true 일벌레 (workaholic), I've committed to having my students write an outline and multiple drafts of their speeches before giving them in class so that they can present polished work. Yes, my students groaned when I told them how much I was going to require of them. Their second drafts are due on the same day as their big math exam. But I didn't suffer their complaints. A quick apology for the unfortunate timing and then I set them loose for an in-class work day. Like the little angels they are, they (mostly) all proved their diligence.

But my work begins once class is over. My inbox has been like a canyon prone to flash foods this past week. First, I got eighty outlines from the first-years, followed by eighty first drafts from the second-years. When I finished the first-years' outlines, there was a five-day reprieve before I received their first drafts. Eighty of them. And today, just before I left the office, I was inundated with my second years' second drafts. Hello, three-day Memorial Weekend, meet my blue pen of correction.

On Monday, when I return the second-years' second drafts, the first-years will turn in their second drafts. It never ends.

I've done this for my speaking tests for the past three semesters, but it's never felt so hard before. I think it has partly to do with wonky scheduling this semester that is forcing me to administer 160 speech tests in five days (2). But another part of it is that I'm just... tired!

And I can feel my teaching persona slowly going to seed. Since my latest classes have all been free working periods, I prepare next to nothing for them. It's just show up, tell the students to be quiet, show them all the major mistakes everyone made and how to fix them, pass back drafts, then put on some working music and meander the rows to monitor students for the last half hour. Yet this is still exhausting. I've found myself getting annoyed when students keep asking to use the computer to look up translations. I find them too loud when they are simply figuring out tricky syntax with their peers. And I've begun to lose my grip on both my slow teacher's speech rate and my penchant for sarcasm.

"English only in my classroom," I warned two chatterbox students today, before the starting bell had rung. They looked at me blankly. I fixed them with my teacher stare.

"Did you know," I shot at them, "that if you try to speak in English, then you will improve your English skill? It's true!" And without waiting for a reply, I turned my attention back to my classroom setup.

- - -
I've come to understand myself a bit better over the past few months, in that I can now tell what my general mood is by how I feel after taekgyeon practice. During the months of March and April, when I was very stressed out about graduate school decisions, I found myself acting very irritable after evening practice. Our weekly indoor soccer games were like torture. My mental disposition was clearly affecting my physical condition (3). In May, the malaise almost magically dissipated. Well, not magic: correlation. Once my graduate school decision was made and a few other issues were resolved, I had fewer mental burdens in my life. Nothing about the weekly routine at taekgyeon changed, but I found that I was cheerful, swimming in endorphins after each practice.

Having managed to notice with my own, usually blindered eyes how pronounced a change I had undergone, it makes me a bit embarrassed to realize that my students and colleagues have undoubtedly been observing me and can tell when I'm not my usual self.

Well, when my students finally work up the guts to actually tell me I look tired (and also proclaim their awe at how I can manage to correct eighty pages of shoddy English every few days), I'm torn between affection because they demonstrate their care, annoyance because I shouldn't be so noticeably tired, and self-consciousness because, well, to be noticed is to be seen.

Anyway, what I want to say is, I'm extremely busy, and the month of June is probably going to be a complete circus, but through it all, I've just got to stay focused and committed to my job. I have to serve my students and help them as much as I can. They care about me, after all, and I in return have so much affection for them. I don't know how to begin telling the students that I won't be here for much longer, but some have already found out. Sigh...

And the Sisyphean task of correcting drafts begins (once again) tomorrow!

- - -
(1) Should I though? Is the taboo against telling people they look tired a Western thing?)

(2) I am already calling June 16-20 the week from 헐.

(3) Can anyone explain how the Konglish word 컨디션 ("condition") gained its notorious present-day status as the umbrella for all ills and the go-to buzzword for hypochondriacs? If someone is feeling under the weather, dizzy, hungry, tired, achey, stuffy, bored, sad, or desperate for sympathy, they'll tell you, "Oh, my condition is not good today." I'm almost used to it by now. But not yet. I want to tell everyone to simply say, "I'm not well", or even "I'm not in good shape", but Konglish will do what Konglish will do.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Election Day

Today was a regional election day, and schools and businesses had the day off. For the weeks leading up to this day, it's been impossible to miss the large groups of campaigners gathered at every busy city intersection and near government buildings with their signs and fliers. They are mostly older women (ajummas) keeping themselves busy -- extremely busy. They've been handing out business cards, pamphlets, leaflets, and probably even moist towelettes to all passers-by. They are dressed in the bright primary colors of their candidate, with matching hats, scarves, shirts, fans, or gloves, often with their candidate's name or slogan emblazoned on them. They carry large signs and move them in perfect synchronization. They bow in unison when large crowds pass. They smile and wave. For hours.

They are a bit annoying.
They're like sunflowers; they bow to you as you drive by. That makes you, dear constituent, the sun. (Side note: the red text on their shirts reads "Education is Key!" and I wonder if that, plus the yellow color, is meant to reference Sewol-ho mourning, which also is symbolized with yellow?)
Also, they're not doing it necessarily because they are politically dedicated enough to spend so much time in the sun chanting or cheering along to loud campaign music. A Korean friend told me -- to my great surprise -- that most of these ajummas were getting paid very well for what amounts to a part-time job. She went on to explain that Korean politicians spend huge sums of money on their campaigns. That doesn't surprise me, actually. Between the enormous banners draped from the sides of tall buildings and rental of specalized campaign trucks that drive around the city day and night, nothing about these campaigns seems thrifty.

Anyway, I couldn't really care less about the actual results of this election. I spent my day off secluded in a cafe, working. Four bucks bought me an iced latte and five quiet, undisturbed hours that I needed in order to correct eighty first drafts. I was certainly more productive this afternoon than I have been in weeks.

For dinner, I ordered an entire large bulgogi-sweet potato pizza and ate half of it. No shame. The rest will be consumed shortly. Then I watched Lego Movie, which was highly entertaining and lived up to expectations, and did some other non-school related work until suddenly it was 1am and I wondered where the day had gone.

Granted, I woke up at noon, so I didn't have all that much time to begin with, but seriously, can somebody get me a Time Turner?

One random day of school tomorrow, and then a three-day weekend for Korean Memorial Day. I'll try to catch up then...

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Sports Day, Rainy Day

And the crowd goes wild!
Sports Day (체육대회) was held today, despite having been canceled earlier this semester due to the national tragedy, and despite this morning's constant drizzle. Classes were canceled and a multi-athletic tournament was held between homeroom classes. I enjoyed watching my students burst out of their shells and prove their passion for something other than studying. The weather certainly didn't dampen their spirits; if anything, it only fueled their determination to make the most of a day off. Although it may have been wiser for me to spend my free day catching up on work, I don't regret sticking around to watch all the games and chatting with the students. Plus, there was free ice cream all day!

Sunday, June 1, 2014


MaChang Bridge (마창대교), which connects Masan to Changwon, at dusk.