Monthly Archives: February 2008

Weekly Blog Roundup

A look at some of the political problems that come with having some 20,000ish troops stationed in Seoul. As it stands, the United States probably has more command over the South Korean Military than South Korea does. Will troop withdrawal ever occur? Doesn’t seem like it. Here’s a scenario: North Korea shoots a nuclear weapon at Seoul, there goes your 20,000ish troops.

– Are you a foreigner having trouble getting an international banking card? You’re hardly alone. Many foreigners find discriminatory practices from Korean banks when applying for the card. Either the banks are completely ignorant of the the laws or are unwilling to follow them.

Nonghyup said it would be no problem for me to receive an international cash card, and even more bizarrely, the Ulchiro-1-ga branch of Hana told me that I could get an international cash card right away. I admit that I was skeptical at first given my previous experience with them, but sure enough, I had one in my hands within 5 minutes. It reads, “Hana International Debit Card” and works with the global “Plus” network. Amazing, but also incredibly strange!

I was so confused by all of this that I called up the Ministry of Finance and Economy, to see if there was really some sort of government restriction against issuing international cash cards to foreign residents in Korea. The official I spoke with, however, was just as baffled by the situation as I was.

“There is no government policy preventing foreign residents from receiving international bank cards,” he said. “The banks either misunderstand our policy, or it’s just their excuse.” Meanwhile, officials at the local banking industry’s Financial Supervisory Service could tell me nothing more concrete, beyond the by now largely ritualistic expression, “As a Korean, I’m sorry.”

Here’s the full article written in English. You may want to get the Korean version also to bring to your bank if you try to get an international banking card. My opinion; since most tellers speak little to no English it’s probably easier to just brush us off, illegally, than it is to accommodate us. (via the Marmot’s Hole)

– Also, from the Marmot’s Hole. More on banking. Myths and Facts.

– A couple via Korea Beat, which is quickly becoming one of my favorite sites. Here’s one talking about some of the new English Education Policies the new president is discussing. And an interesting look at the day in a life of a subway driver. Note; it’s not as easy as it would seem…definitely a bit more than pushing a green means go button.

– I’ve often wondered about the Korean art scene beyond the K-Pop juggernaut. Here’s an interesting look at Daegu, and it’s underground art scene.

– I think my personal favorite t-shirt is the picture of the umbrella that says “Rain or Shine.” These might only be funny though if you live in Korea.

– Hair styles as determiners of economic trends? Not about Korea, but Japan is close enough. Besides, the article is interesting/encompassing enough that it deserves a read no matter what culture you are getting your hair cut in.

Beckhamania visits Seoul

– Perhaps the upcoming J-Lo version of South Korea. I’m actually posting this for two reasons. First; the name, Honey. That by itself is not a ridiculous name, but I’ve also met girls named Cherry and Soy, which may hint at a sub-conscious cultural desire to be associated with auxiliary food items. Second reason; I think she’s hot.

– I want to steal this sign:

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– And Finally, Via Amanda Takes Off. More evidence that the mandatory two year Korean Military Service, is not all weekends with the boys and cleaning your AK at elementary schools

I remembered my friend Mark’s story about cooking ramyeon in a hostel in Europe by running hot water over it in the sink. I told that to Good Man and he said very seriously, “We didn’t make much money, and we had to sneak around. Ramyeon was very precious.”

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Your Daily Shot of Soju: I bet Barack Owns a Really Nice Cell Phone

“You Daily Shot of Soju” is my daily format for sharing random cultural thoughts, pictures and basically anything I want to in an easy to digest and read format. Expect to be updated Monday-Thursday, and probably once on the weekend.

All Hail Big Brother:

Does anybody remember this video I posted, back before the Daily Shot became the Daily Shot?

At the time the Orwellian undertones were striking, but I pushed them to the side and instead decided to focus on the media itself. At first the video left me with no revelation outside of “wow, this is a really long commercial.”

But the song stuck with me. Something about it never seemed quite right. At the time I wrote “I don’t think Orwell saw his savior in big business cell phone companies.Cell phones, in my mind, are in opposition to the idea of revolution. What better way to keep the common folk in line than with a mobile device that can be tracked from anywhere in the world?

This is not the whole story, because the cell phone is a revolution in its own way. But the revolution is limited.night.jpg

In the video the cell phone is painted as the end all, be all, of the grand revolt but the lyrics paint a different story. The words “Everywhere you go I’ll be there,” don’t scream ‘revolution’ so much as they scream ‘replacement.’

And that’s what the video is truly about, replacing the cold government entity with a fun and playful government entity. Somehow this fits with South Korea. While America is all about power for the sake of power, South Korea is about power for something else.

If America is ‘1984,’ then the South Korean/Japan conglomerate would be ‘Brave New World.’

In the states, voices of dissident are squashed by the powers that be. Here in South Korea, voices of dissident are simply neutralized because everybody is too wacked out on Soju and K-pop to care. Even the names Soju and Soma share similar linguistic principals.

Perhaps it’s a reaction to the cold war created societies of China, North Korea and other South Eastern Asian countries, but it seems like something more. South Korea/Japan stand out because not only have they bucked the societal trends of the countries around them, but they have defined themselves apart from their closest ally, the United States; who, it could be argued, share more similarities with the cold dictatorship seen at the beginning of the video, rather than the fun filled world of cell phones seen at the end.

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I think this is ceramic poop.

Piece of Pop Culture I’m Missing Today:

Elections.

I guess this follows up to what I was just talking about. In 2004, after the elections, I was despondent. It was not so much that Bush had won, rather that each party seemed hell bent on destroying each and completely clueless as to what any of the electorate, outside of Pat Robertson, wanted. In 2004, 49 percent of us tricked ourselves into thinking that Kerry would have made a better president, when in reality he would have fallen flat on his face and we would not have the shining beacon of hope we now have in Obama.

This election feels different. For the first time that I can remember there is more than one candidate who I think would make a decent president. I’ve always been a McCain fan, and although I don’t really like Hillary we’ve obviously done worse than her. But then there’s Obama. Obama doesn’t feel so much like a presidential candidate as he does a revolution. Elections aren’t important for what people are elected but rather what they represent.

Obama is a tearing off of the old guard, the oligarchy and blood lines that have ruled America for so long. Forget whether he’s the most qualified, because resume wise, he isn’t. That’s the point.

The closest historical parallel I can find to Obama is Kennedy. Who bum rushed the presidency, on illegal mob money, after 8 years of Eisenhower conservatism and brought with him hope for the future. It’s no coincidence that the decade that brought us hippies and civil rights is the same decade that started off with a president who had no ties to the political pasts of his peers.

If Obama wins, and meets the lofty expectations that have been placed upon him, could this signal a change in the way American politics are run? If the Golden State Warrior win the NBA Championship with their ‘two legs into their pants at one time’ approach would NBA teams change the way they constructed themselves? I don’t know the answer to either question, but I imagine that the answers are the same. Let’s just say I’m holding my breath.

If Obama can not save America from itself then I’m not sure anything can. Save a cell phone revolution.

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Piece of Pop Culture I’m Diggin Today:

In Michigan we have this thing I like to call the “Eff you snow.” It occurs in Mid-April, and usually after a week or so of fairly warm weather. Basically it’s the gods way of telling us ‘Eff you, we run this show.”

For the past week or so it was getting warmer in Seoul, until Monday. On Monday we got our “Eff you snow.” This did not make me happy at the time but it’s important to remember, it’s February, not Mid-April. I’m hearing that this is the coldest winter Seoul has had in a while. I have never been warmer during the winter.

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Your Daily Shot of Soju: I think I remember what I’m doing

“You Daily Shot of Soju” is my daily format for sharing random cultural thoughts, pictures and basically anything I want to in an easy to digest and read format. Expect to be updated Monday-Thursday, and probably once on the weekend.

Shrimpy Snacks make me a better teacher:

Well, I’ve spent the past week hibernating and eating those little bar snacks that taste like shrimp. I didn’t like them at first, but the second you eat one you’ve essentially eaten the whole bag. The only way to stop from eating a huge bag of them is to buy a smaller bag. If South Korea was smart they’d give aid to North Korea exclusively in the form of these little snacks.

Besides sleeping and eating shrimpy snacks I spent lots of my time contemplating my role as a teacher in the South Korean schools. I have spent lots of time on this site documenting the various problems.

So it was that I decided to forgo some brief traveling around the South East Asian areas, and instead spend a week or so figuring out who I was as a teacher. To be fair, it’s not simply South Korea that has forced me to contemplate/re-evaluate my role, but an increasingly weird obsession with pushing myself as a teacher.

Never accomplishing half of what I want, I suppose I still did ok. But I could not shake the nagging feeling that I would have rather been on a real vacation, in a place that is warm and may potentially include snakes. Not that I like snakes, in fact I hate them, but it is my morbid fascination with them that associates them with any warm environment.

Despite this nagging desire I think I did right by myself for staying in Seoul for a week and planning for the coming school year. If I want to be the best teacher I can be then I can’t rightfully be taking off on vacation for the two weeks before school starts.

This is by no means an indictment on my friends who did go on vacation. It’s really just an example. Each decision carried with it pluses and minuses that we need to accept.

It’s what we value that eventually decides our actions for us and, inevitably, our actions that show what we truly value. There’s a phrase “you can’t have your cake and eat it to.” I would say the phrase applies here, but I think it’s one of the stupidest phrases ever.

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Piece of Pop Culture I’m Missing Today:

Friends who call you out:

“I know you don’t really like to blog. You just like to show off that you’re smarter than most of the people that read it.”

From my buddy back home. They know me better than anybody.

I do like to write, but I question the validity of blogging. Validity and blogging are not necessarily oxymoronic, but they’re close. I like how I can write in any format I choose, but if I want anybody to read the blog the writing needs to be fairly digestible. Blogs are for the general public, we’re not getting audiences who are willing to sift through extended metaphors for vague realizations of life. Coincidentally, I love metaphors and vague realizations of life.

Cue the top ten list and hit me up on Digg.

Piece of Pop Culture I’m Diggin on Today:

Not getting arrested last Saturday.

I would be remiss if I didn’t at least mention this past weekend. Which hit epic levels of drunken stupidity that would rival any of my classic “ass hole” moments from back home. Those who know me know that that’s a pretty serious ascertation. I won’t go into specific details, since that would require an extended narrative with vague metaphors and realizations on life. My self destructive nature is well chronicled but, at the same time, is a reaction to a generally peaceful way of life. I suppose one can not exist without the other.

Suffice to say, we ended up at Tinpan on Saturday. Tinpan is a terrible, terrible place. I don’t believe anybody who is at Tinpan actually wants to be there. I can’t recall anybody ever saying something like “Hey, Tinpan sounds like a great place to go,” instead we just end up there and that’s how everybody gets there. Once we get there, since nobody really wants to be there, we all act like assholes in some sub-conscious attempt to get kicked out.

“At least four people were trying to kick your ass the other night.” – From the Don himself. I stopped him right there, I’d rather not remember why they wanted to kick my ass. If he’s the voice of reason for the night then you are in hell.

Tinpan is filled with the most vile of people, wretched and awful…and we are the worst of it’s kind.

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One last bit of fun:

I’m finally on the Korean Blog List!

Yes, it only took me 6 months…now I need to get on some other blogs…

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This Coming Week

I’ve decided to take this week off from blogging.  I am working on a number of other projects right now and writing here would take too much time to get these projects done correctly.

I should be back this weekend.  Or if there’s something incredibly pressing for me to post, I’ll make sure to get it up here.  In the meantime, try to live without me.

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Weekly Blog Roundup

– South Korea’s no. 1 National Treasure is torched. Pretty sad day for all those involved. Here are some pictures of the landmark before the blaze.

– To the surprise of no one, it was a drunken old man who torched the landmark. The crazy thing is, this guy has been convicted of torching a national treasure before! Let’s file this under the category of “old guys get away with everything in Korea because of outdated Confucian law.” Is that a category on my blog yet? Because it should be.

– The Metropolitican tells us that Ajussi’s ruin everything. (Ajussis are a term for older men) Drunk and angry old men don’t seem to be a rare occurrence in this country.

– On one of my first blog posts I wrote about an old man coming up to me and basically telling me how much I sucked. This is what I wrote, back in August.

You find racist pricks all over the Earth. Last night an older man came up to me as I was sitting on the patio of some local bar, and began to speak in Korean. He seemed nice enough, smiling and talking quietly, but I did not understand much of what he was saying. I knew something was up when I picked up one phrase I halfway recognized, the Korean way of saying “F___ you.” Kukoyo, I think? After he left, without waiting for any response from me, I asked a girl who I was with that spoke Korean what he said. She refused to repeat it, saying that it was too derogatory to repeat. Mind you, I did not have any contact with the man before this nor was I doing anything besides sitting at a table. I need to learn to speak Korean, like yesterday.

Little did I know that racist, angry, drunk old men would become a recurring theme during my stay in this country.

– Kimchi as biological warfare?

– South Korea is preparing for it’s first astronaut flight. The real story though, isn’t the flight, so much as the flight’s menu. Kimchi (no brainer), instant noodles (ramen; a staple of stoners and space men alike), and other organic foods. This is quintessential Korea.

– PopSeoul wonders if we’ve found the new Wonder Girls. I guess the video has a similar kind of look, but the song is too different. I always thought this song was more similar.

– Two things Korean girls love: Cell Phones and calling their boyfriends out for not caring enough about them. Now they can have both!

– In this weeks edition of Korean national secrets, we present you with: Baseball Statistics.

– Surprise, Surprise…sticking drugs up your ass to smuggle them in the country isn’t the top method preferred by international smugglers. Or maybe it is, and they’re just not the ones getting caught. More surprises, foreigners aren’t the biggest problem…yay English.

– I thought this was a staple of all democratic nations. Apparently it is not. Korea has it’s first every trial by jury. Co-teachers opinions: Jurors are stupid. My response: Judges are stupid/corrupt.

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Your Daily Shot of Soju: Fighting the Stupid Foreigner

“You Daily Shot of Soju” is my daily format for sharing random cultural thoughts, pictures and basically anything I want to in an easy to digest and read format. Expect to be updated Monday-Thursday, and probably once on the weekend.

Korean English Education has the Power to Piss Off Everybody:

Drunken arguments make me feel more human. They remind me what it’s like to be me.

I suppose this is what constitutes the ‘Disintegration’ phase of culture shock. I can’t be totally sure, because this phase is characterized by one questioning a culture, but questioning culture is something I did back in the States also. I guess there really is no better way to forget the mistakes of your own country than by looking at the mistakes of another country.

Regardless, I need a drink and I happen to know just the place to get one. Not my local ‘Buy the Way’ but a real bar. Tonight demands dim lighting and bar stools. So I head off, down the street to take my place at the end of a bar that has dim lighting and stools. It also has snacks and a few other randoms filling some of the other bar stools.

One man, a few seats down, looks at me and says “You Teacher.”

Well, I’m a foreigner and I’m too short to be a G.I. so that pretty much leaves teacher as the only other job I can get hired for here. This man is obviously quite refined in the art of guessing.

“What you think of Korean schools,” he asked.

Well, I was a few drinks deep and so I figured honesty was, of course, the best policy.

Honesty resulted in a few more drinks and a shouting match. So, like I said…the best policy.

It was tough to have an argument regarding education between us because I suck at Korean and he sucks at English. Try having a heated drunken argument while speaking very slowly so the person can understand you. It takes lots of the heat out. Except for those moments when you are so obviously patronizing the person with your slow speech that you would come to blows except it takes the other person 2 minutes to realize what you said.

A few of his arguments that I picked up (rewritten for your convenience):

1. Foreign teachers feel a sense of entitlement without actually earning any respect.

2. We are not trained/qualified teachers.

3. We do not understand how the schools here work and therefore have no right to complain.

4. If we don’t like the set up of the schools then we should have been more careful when signing the contract. If we weren’t careful then we should just shut up or quit.

5. Native teachers don’t spend any time on creating lessons for students.

A few of my arguments:

1. We do not understand things the school does because people rarely take the time to explain things to us.

2. The government hires teachers who are not trained and gives them pre-packaged lessons that suck, this drives away qualified teachers.

3. We don’t feel a sense of entitlement so much as we feel marginalized and simply wanted to be treated with equal respect.

4. We may have been careful when signing our contract but because it was written by a Korean there was language present that seemed right at the time that doesn’t translate over cultures i.e. “Schools Off.” Which in America means nobody comes to school, where in Korea it means teachers come to school.

5. Native English Teachers are underutilized in schools or utilized improperly.

I bet that if we were removed from the context of drunken arguments that him and I probably agreed with much of what the other was saying. Nothing that we said was really that unreasonable and, in reality, are all problems facing the Korean English education system.

But in the end I felt the need to defend my profession/friends while he felt the need to defend his country. Understandable on both counts.

In fact I think everybody in the system is pretty stupid. The government who hires us is stupid for writing a contract that leaves many foreigners feeling frustrated when it’s put into practice and for hiring teachers who are not qualified, and then wondering why students can’t speak English properly.

The schools are stupid for using its native teacher as nothing more than a walking tape recorder. For shooting down any lesson ideas that is different from the pre-packaged lessons, regardless of it’s benefit. For putting the native teachers on the fringe of English education when they should be the center of it.

The native teachers are stupid because we complain about our schools, yet we don’t take the opportunities many of us are given to become better teachers or prove our worth…we have four hours at the end of each day to kill…you’re telling me you can’t rework your pre-packaged lesson to be more beneficial, or read up on current teaching theories, or study the language? Youtube is that cool?

The only person who is totally right in this situation is me…only me.

I remember while growing up, hearing a sermon where the pastor described someone he called a ‘blockhead.’ A ‘blockhead’ is someone who, no matter how much you argue with them or what you say, won’t change their opinion because they are too rooted in their own beliefs.

Looking back, now, on that conversation that’s exactly what we were. A couple of blockheads, arguing about things neither one of us fully understood nor have any power over.

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Your Daily Shot of Soju: Understanding Korean Culture Through Refrigerator Art

“You Daily Shot of Soju” is my daily format for sharing random cultural thoughts, pictures and basically anything I want to in an easy to digest and read format. Expect to be updated Monday-Thursday, and probably once on the weekend.

A Study in Korean, 5th Grade Art:

The task was simple.  Make a book that said what you did on your vacation.  The results…mesmerizing.  Some of my favorites.

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I can only imagine what movies she was watching.

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One went to the zoo and terrified monkeys.

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Let me translate this one for you  “I went to the airport and went to Taiwan with scout member.  I played TaeKwonDo with Scout member at camp fire time.  I ate Taiwan food.  Something was delicious but something was bad.”

I was too impressed that he tried to go above and beyond the task to correct every mistake.  I did go over a few things with him though.

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I imagine the end of the sentence was “a phone call from Cuba Gooding.”

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My favorite out of many pictures revolving around Dokuk (Sp?).

And a few others

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Is there ever any better representation of a culture than the pictures the cultures children draw?

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