Friday, December 28, 2012

Hagwons (Academies in English)

 The harbor at Tapdong during a winter storm

Hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas.  Between having Vicky here, skyping with family, great presents and tasty food, I certainly did.  To add to my joy, Friday began a 5 day holiday for me.  My school decided to close for the Friday and Monday before New Year.  I suspect this is mostly to give the director of my school some time off but I'm certainly not complaining.

With that downtime and the start of winter vacation for my students, I began thinking again about just how different the education system is here.  I've mentioned before that the kids here have more school and definitely have to work a lot harder than in the US.  What I haven't done is really explain what I mean.

First some quick background.  In Korea there are two types of schools.  Public schools and private schools, called academies.  Academies teach a huge range of subjects and serve many different functions.  There are academies for all the basic school subjects plus sports, music, art and others.  Anything a kid might need to learn is taught in at least some academies here.  They also function as an unofficial national daycare.  Korean parents believe these academies give their children an educational advantage and pay high premiums for them, often $300-500 a month or more.  Due to the costs and national obsession with education, children are placed under lots of pressure from a young age.

For an example we will use one of my students whose English name is Todd.

Say Hi Todd

Todd is a 7th grader, the 1st year of middle school here.  He gets up at 7am and goes to school at 8:15.  He stays until 3.  After school he goes to a science academy for 2 hours.  Then he goes to English academy for 2 hours (it's now 7pm).  Then he goes to math academy for 2 hours.  Then he finally goes home, eats dinner and does his homework.   He usually finishes around 11 to midnight.  Around big tests times (which happen several times a year here) he usually goes to extra academy classes on saturday and even sunday.

Sound fun so far?  It gets worse.  When he gets to winter and summer breaks (both last about a month), he doesn't have school but he still has his academies.  So even during his vacation he's still in a kind of school for 6 hours a day.

 Phillip, a 1st grader with a nearly identical schedule to Todd.  Crazy huh?

Now obviously not all of the kids have that ridiculous of a schedule (until high school.  Then they ALL have that schedule) but none of the students I see goes home before 6pm.  The upside to this is children who are very good at memorization and who do well on standardized tests.  The downside is kids who don't have time to be kids.

 Yes they're cute now but wait until you have to get them to sit and be quiet for 45 minutes.  It's impossible

Ironic as it seems (since I work for one), what I think would help the most would be to get rid of the academies.  Especially the academic ones.  Or at very least make them truly optional, not semi-mandatory like they are now.  Giving the kids more playtime and more leeway to be creative would definitely benefit them.

However since those changes are not likely to come any time soon, I'll continue to enjoy my job on Jeju and the opportunities to save and travel that it provides.  Happy New Year!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Christmas in Korea

The Christmas house we created to hang our stockings in

Hey everyone.  An interesting thing happened to the entire country of Korea on Wednesday.  Everyone had the day off.  But it wasn't a holiday.

Why you ask.  Because Wednesday was the Korean Presidential Election Day and everyone gets time off to vote.  In a totally unrelated development, the election turnout here was around 70%.  Any idea what US election turnout is?  (hint: about half of that)  And Americans don't get the day off to vote.  I'm sensing a hidden connection here somewhere.

Aside from a clear opportunity for my home country to improve itself, Wednesday was also a wonderful day for relaxing.  It's been cold and busy leading up to Christmas and the day off was extremely welcome.

Christmas in Korea is celebrated differently than in America.  It is nowhere near as omnipresent as in the US.  There will be a small tree in a store window here.  A few lights on a counter there.  Nothing like the grandiose displays of Europe and America.  Christmas here is seen as either A) a chance to spend more time with family (like pretty much every other holiday is)  or B) as a date day.  Often a gift or two is exchanged but rarely is there a tree packed with gifts as is common in the West.  As part of that, Christmas Eve is treated like any other day and is definitely a work and school day.  On the plus side, my academy has decided to have a Christmas Party Monday evening with the kids.

Our Christmas house without the cool effects

Christmas seems to occupy an interesting place here, similar to Halloween.  It's a Western holiday that is recognized and sort of celebrated.  However, since it's not a traditional holiday it's not given the same precedence as Korean holidays are.  As such Vicky and I set out to provide our own Christmas setup.  We have Christmas music playing consistently in our apartment, Christmas lights in cool patterns and Christmas movies are an evening pleasure we've indulged in frequently after work.  Vicky even made chocolate peanut butter balls Tuesday.  It was like Angels were dancing on my tongue.

That burst of joy makes me think of home and the loved ones there I can't wait to see again, whether family or friends.  And since I'm being sentimental (and/or corny), there's no sense half doing it.  So I'll finish with one of my favorite Christmas song lyrics.

"Although it's been said, many times, many ways, Merry Christmas to you!"

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Sick Days in Korea

Note:  This post has a dearth of pictures and discusses the difference between Korean and American approaches to sick days.  If that doesn't interest you, skip it.  If it does, read on.

With Vicky feeling under the weather the past few days I've been thinking a lot about the differences between Korea and America regarding sickness and healthcare.

In the US, if you're sick you stay home and get better.  Americans do this since rest speeds the recovery process and so they aren't around others when they are contagious.  Same for kids at school.  If your child is sick, they stay home so the whole school doesn't catch whatever they have.

Koreans take a very different approach.  When you're sick, it's a chance to show your dedication to your job.  So Koreans routinely come to work with all kinds of illnesses.  This is very important to them.  A result of this is that Koreans are allotted a very small amount of sick days.  In our case 3 days for the year.  After that you start losing pay for every day you're sick.  This works for Koreans.

Where this becomes an issue is when you thrown foreigners into the mix.  Parents sending their sick kids to school might be good for them but it means teachers get sick a lot more often.  Today I had no less than 1 kid per class who was sick.  You can guess the effect this has.  Vicky has already used up her 3 sick days for the year and it's only early December.  She went to school sick yesterday (only because she didn't want to use her last sick day) but today we agreed she should go to the doctor and stay home.

The root of this behavior is something I've discussed before; the belief that the group is more important than the individual.  So the individual should come to work every day no matter what so the group does not have to be shorthanded.  The flaw in this logic is that it gets more of the group sick and makes the group function less effectively for an extended period of time.  However Koreans, especially Korean bosses, don't see it that way and that's not likely to change.

This also extends to vacation time.  Bosses don't like employees taking vacation and as such, Koreans take the second fewest vacation days per year of any nation (they use an average of only 7 days per year.  that means a ton of people take LESS than 7 days off per year).  This helps explain why our bosses were reluctant to let us take our vacations when we wanted to take them.

As much as I try to be respectful and follow social norms, there are some thing I simply won't do.  Taking my vacation when it's convenient for my boss is one.  Coming to work when I'm sick and contagious is another.  I'm not getting everyone else sick and extending how long i feel horrible just to make my boss happy.  You have to draw the line somewhere.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Coming soon: The Philippines

The colors of fall in Seoul 

Sorry it's been a couple weeks since my last update.  I try not to write unless I actually have something to say.  (posts that say "took the bus to work.  taught.  went home.  chilled.  slept.  repeat." would hardly be interesting).  Fortunately I have some good news to convey.

After a week of discussion with our bosses, we finally convinced them to let us take our vacations when when we wanted to take them.  Yes in Korea bosses often tell their employees when to take their vacations.  Fortunately since we're foreigners we're allowed to break social taboos and take our vacations when we want to.  Normally I try to abide by all the social norms here that I am aware of but taking my one week of winter vacation during the Christmas week (when they wanted us to take it) would have doubled our airfare and hotel costs.  Clearly this was unacceptable.

But after a few talks, our bosses were fine with us having our time off during the first week of February.  This gives us both an extra day off (thanks to Chinese New Year) and much cheaper rates.

And with that week we decided to go somewhere neither of us have been before, the Philippines.  Specifically we are going to the island of Siquijor.  Good luck pronouncing that (it helps if you say it with a Spanish accent).

The reason a Spanish accent is needed is that the Philippines was colonized by the Spanish and was in their possession for most of it's history.  In fact it was named in honor of King Phillip II of Spain.  Once the Spanish left, it fell under US control until after WWII when it became an independent nation.

The practical benefit to this history is that this gorgeous island country has many English speakers in it.  Combine that with extremely friendly residents and a good size beachfront hut for less than $40 a night (yes you read that right) and you've got a place I can't wait to go!!  Add a hammock and you have my idea of heaven (picture below).  Now comes the hard part.  The waiting.  But good things are worth waiting for :)

PS.  Siquijor is pronounced See-Key-Or with the Or rolled.

Click to view full size image
This is the beach hut we reserved.  Do you see why we're excited?

Monday, November 12, 2012

The little things that make adjusting to expat life challenging

Just so you know, these are more pictures from Seoul and have absolutely nothing to do with the rest of this post.  As always, don't forget to click on the pictures to see them full screen and feedback is appreciated.

If you're reading this, you know I've lived abroad for most of the past 3 years.  And I'm sure you think that this is a challenging thing to do.  But have you really thought about why it's challenging?  It's not the big changes (the different language, the unfamiliar location, the lack of friends and family nearby to support you).  You expect the big ones.  It's the little, day to day adjustments that can really make things tough.  What happens when the simplest tasks in our lives are no longer simple?

Changdeokgung Palace gate at dusk

A shrine in Gyeongbokgung Palace

I thought about this Friday as I got dinner and a haircut after work.  Both are simple activities.  Grab a menu and tell the waiter what you want.  Tell the barber how to cut your hair, then sit back and let them work.  Easy.  Not so overseas.

As I sat down for my haircut, I tried to describe it to the barber.  They didn't understand.  So I had to act out my haircut.  It was like playing the game Gestures, except if you lose you look like you were in a horrible accident with a weed whacker for the next month or two.  To be fair, it's hard for them too.  Especially for someone who only cuts one type of hair.  For a barber who only cuts straight, stiff hair, cutting softer wavy hair is shall we say, an exercise in improvisation.  I'm lucky my hair gets cut short (Vicky can't get her hair cut even if she wanted to) but it's still tough.  And once they nod understanding, you have to sit there and pray they actually do understand and aren't nodding just to be polite.

The throne room at Changdeokgung Palace

Ordering dinner is no easier.  As often as not, you are trying to read a menu written in a different script that looks like this ...

돼지 고기
Sometimes there are pictures.  Sometimes there aren't.  Sometimes there is a very rough English translation underneath.  Usually not.  And once you get your order in, it's not necessarily smooth sailing from there.  What if you need a side or condiment with your food.  Have you ever tried to mime 'salt'?

Without going into more detail, you can imagine what it's like to try taking a bus (think Inspector Clouseau levels of verbal clarity), go clothes shopping (wait i'm a size 105?!?), see a movie (alright Inglourious Basterds here we go.  wait half the movie is in other languages.  no problem.  we'll just read the subtitles that ....... oh man) or go to the grocery store (now i'm almost positive this is some kind of meat we're looking at).  To say these activities become more interesting is putting it mildly.

I'm a long way from my previous home (over 5000 miles away to be specific)

The good news is, I view these daily challenges as adventures.  For me they spice up otherwise ordinary days and keep my daily routine from becoming routine.  I actually miss them when I'm in the US.  It's all .... too easy.  Where's the fun of having to act out your dessert order?  Where's the challenge of getting lost twice on your way from the airport to your hotel?  It's so much more satisfying to succeed when success isn't a given.

And if what i'm saying sounds like your idea of a good time, then I'm probably worried about you.  But maybe you're cut out to be an expat too.

PS.  If you're curious what the Korean words I wrote earlier were, they are beef, chicken and pork.
PPS.  Give yourself a bonus point and a pat on the back if you understood the Pink Panther reference.

Part of the garden of Changdeokgung Palace

What are you doing reading this???  Look at the pretty leaves and colors

Wednesday, November 7, 2012


Boy that was a great trip to Seoul!  Vicky and I .....

You:  "Hey wait a minute!!  When did you go to Seoul??"
Me:  "This past weekend."
You:  "Wait wait wait!  Why haven't I heard about this in your previous updates?"
Me:  "Because Vicky and I decided we wanted to go on short notice."
You:  "Define 'short notice'."
Me:  "About 2 days before we actually left."
You:  "Ah.  That explains a lot.  Carry on."

As I was saying, we had a great time in Seoul.  We decided on an impromptu trip earlier in the week when we realized that  A) the weather is still nice right now but won't be for much longer  B) the fall foliage is looking lovely and could produce some truly impressive scenery  C) this would be one of our few remaining chances to see Seoul before April-May  D) we REALLY missed American food!

The entrance gate to Gyeongbokgung

A closeup of the gate and the guards

So with those motivations (mostly D) we got tickets a couple days ahead of time, packed extremely lightly (as in half of one of those sack backpacks light) and flew out early Saturday morning.  The weather Saturday was absolutely gorgeous!  Sunny and clear.  A perfect day to go out and see the sights.  And that we did.  We arrived in Seoul around 9:45 and headed straight for Gyeongbokgung, the main palace of the city.  We wondered around staying in general proximity to the English tour but mostly doing our own thing.

We had to split off to see things like this

The changing of the guards, Korean-style

After about 2 hours of exploring we headed for the most exciting part of the weekend, On The Border!!!  After months without Mexican food it was like manna from heaven!  After lunch and a quick stop to secure a hostel for the night, we headed for the 2nd biggest palace in the city, Changdoekgung.  We were hoping to see the secret garden behind the palace but it was closed when we arrived.  Which turned out to be a blessing in disguise since in wondering around the grounds outside we found even more spectacular pictures of the changing of the seasons.

This is just one of many Changdeokgung pictures

 These girls came up to us as we were heading into the palace and asked us to take a survey for a school project.  Naturally we said yes, helped them, then posed for pictures together.  We even had a request from a random Chinese woman to pose for a picture.  Not with her.  She just wanted a picture of Vicky and I.

After the sun set on us there we headed for the foreigner district and a huge plate of BBQ Ribs (have i mentioned we were excited about the food?).  After an great meal (and getting to watch an NBA game while eating no less) we headed for our final stop of the day, Seoul Tower.  The hike up was rough on our sore feet but the view was breath-taking and well worth it.  After that it was finally time to head back and get some sleep.

Seoul Tower at night 

The next morning the weather wasn't nearly as nice, opting for cloudy, windy and cold (aka horrible picture weather).  Fortunately we had planned for this and spent the day eating more of the food we so desperately missed (Subway, apple pie and more Mexican food), finding excellent coffee for Vicky and exploring a large outdoor shopping district.  We even bought a few small things.  After the frantic activity of the day before, a more relaxed exploratory day was just what we needed.  Amazingly we caught a 6:30 flight home and arrived back the day after we left with plenty of time to relax before going to work the next afternoon.

One tiny part of a city of 25 million people

Overall a wildly successful trip to Seoul and a great first mini-vacation together for Vicky and I.  It really makes me look forward to future trips with her.  In the past when I used to travel all over the place I always wished for someone to share those experiences with.  Thanks to Vicky, I don't think that way anymore.  Now i'm just counting my blessings.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Politeness in Korea (Emily Post would be proud)

I know this post is out of the ordinary but something happened in school today that got me thinking and i thought i'd share it.

Do you know how polite Koreans and Korean society are?  Tonight I learned about a Korean party game where the object is to speak rudely to others.  That's it.  Be rude.  Be disrespectful.  Please take a minute to think about that.

And while you're at it, think about this too.  The Korean language has different forms of nearly every word depending on what level of person you are addressing.  Whether the person is above you (ie older than you or in a position of authority like a teacher or boss), equal to you (your same age or a coworker) or below you (younger than you or your subordinate) completely changes what you say and how you say it.  You refer to a person older than you by even one year as "older brother" or "older sister", not by their first name.  Teacher's are ALWAYS addressed as "Teacher" or "(name) Teacher".  So my kids always call me Luke Teacher or Teacher.  Never Luke.

In fact while playing that rude game, one of my students started to address me and began with "teacher" out of pure habit.  He blushed but before he could try again I told him to shut up which made everyone laugh since it was the object of the game.  But I find it very significant that even in a game designed expressly to allow rudeness, Korean kids have trouble overcoming the conditioning of both the society and the language.

Can you imagine this in America?  Especially amongst men, rude and sarcastic interactions are so routine that politeness is greeted with surprise and often concern.  In the US this game might be reversed to see who could address the others in the most polite and courteous way possible.

When you realize that manners and proper forms of address are so important to Koreans that their very language is built around them, you begin to see the advantages and disadvantages it brings.  On the plus side, it produces a very polite society.  Respectful of elders.  Not prone to demonstrations, disruptions or questioning authority.  And this is also part of it's downside.  Questioning authority can lead to either trouble or to progress and improvement.  Because it isn't comfortable or acceptable to question your social superiors here, innovation and creative thinking is stifled.

I could give examples like how this is part of the reason that a revolution in North Korea is extremely unlikely or the trouble it causes Expat works when we arrive (Being polite to my boss is one thing.  Thinking of them as my social superior is something I am NOT prepared to do).

However, ultimately the freedom to question authority is also the freedom to encourage creation and innovation.  It's up to each society to decide how much they want to embrace that freedom. And I think we can safely say which way America went on that choice.  Whether that is a good or bad thing I leave up to you to decide.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Decision made

Looking out over Jeju City from Sarabong.  I'm actually really proud of this one and think it's one of my best pictures.  What do you think?  Click on the picture to see a bigger version.

You may recall last week I was facing the rather important decision of what to do with my future.  This decision had immediate ramifications if I wanted to start a PhD program next year.  And I have reached at least a partial decision.

As both my parents and Vicky pointed out, if I'm not completely excited, fired up and thrilled to begin a PhD then now is probably not the right time to start one.  Given the time, work and career narrowing aspects of a doctorate degree, it is not something to be entered into lightly.  I certainly haven't ruled one out.  But I'm not going to frantically scramble to get the paperwork ready and spend anywhere from $500-1000 on it (GMAT fee, flight to Seoul to take the GMAT, and application fees add up fast) unless i am certain now is the right time for it.  Perhaps next year i'll feel differently.

For now I'm going to concentrate on enjoying my current experience in Korea with Vicky and start thinking about what to do when this year abroad ends.  Whenever that decision gets made (and it won't be for a while), i'll let you know.

On a lighter note, I got my new schedule for November and it is wonderful!!!!!!  My worst class is gone!  It was a phonics class that was filled with such beginners that I couldn't even give them instructions or discipline them.  Sunny agreed with me that they would be better off with a Korean teacher and changed them to another teacher.  And not only are they gone, I teach only 5 classes a day and have at least one break every day.  This last month i've been teaching about 6-7 a day.  I also get to go into work later while still leaving at the same time.  I did a celebration dance in the teachers lounge when i saw this schedule (it was the gangnam style dance for those of you who are curious).

So with a great new schedule in hand, I head into next month excited for the possibilities and looking forward to the holiday season to come.

Jeju City as the lights begin to come on

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Ping Pong on Jeju

 Halla Mountain as seen from Sarabong

This week has been fairly low key.  Aside from being nicknamed The Hulk by one of my classes (because of my penchant for picking up bad students and shaking them, sometimes upside down), seeing a 2nd grade girl in one class pretend the boy in class was her dog (and he played along by taking commands to sit, play dead and attack) and going with one of my coworkers to a restaurant only to find out her Mom owns it, other than all that it's been a quiet week (actually that's a pretty normal week for me here).

Jeju's lighthouse and part of the harbor

It sounds silly but one of the things I missed about Korea was good competition in ping pong.  There are many more tables and good players over here.  There are dozens of places just in Jeju City built entirely for people to come in and play ping pong.  They rent tables, paddles, balls and even ping pong shoes to people who go there.  And people wonder why Asians are better at table tennis.  Fortunately I always did love a challenge.

Sunday was a classic example of that.  I played against a Korean hagwon teacher.  His style made him a great defender.  Getting the ball past him was very tough.  My style makes me a great offensive threat.  My grip allows me to generate huge pace from almost any angle.  So my spins and power faced his quickness and defense.  The match was almost dead even.  And it was a blast!  I haven't played someone that good in a long time and i loved every second of it.  We even played Princess Bride style for a while (hint: "I admit that you are better than me."  "Then why are you smiling?"  "Because I know something you don't know.  I am not left handed!").  Overall I thoroughly enjoyed it and i'm thankful for the opportunity to have such fun during my time here.  And next week Vicky will be joining us too :)

For now it's time to relax and enjoy the weekend.  And thanks to the Cowboys game being the noon game and being the only decent game on this weekend, I might even get some sleep Sunday night :)

A redoing of my lighthouse picture from the last update.  Which one do you like better?

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Walking around Sarabong

 The Lighthouse at Sarabong, Jeju

For those of you waiting on an update, sorry it's been so long.  I've been busy and distracted the last few weeks and frankly forgot to write one.  Plus I didn't have any new pictures until recently.  But without further adieu and with no more gilding the lily, i present your new update.

The last month has been good but busy.  Both Vicky and I have constantly morphing schedules.  For the last couple weeks, the middle school students here have been studying for their midterms constantly.  So Vicky especially had a lot of classes canceled because the students wanted to use the time for test preparation.  She didn't complain.

I've had quite a few classes added to my schedule.  Some I like a lot, some less so.  But that's all part of working.

Cool looking temple on the side of Sarabong

The biggest news/decision in my life right now is figuring out if I want to apply to grad school for a PhD.  My options for next year when we finish here in July are A) start a PhD program  B) try to find a job in Texas  C) find another teaching job abroad if I haven't quite got traveling out of my system.  Now making decisions for what I will do next July/August would seem premature except the application deadlines for most PhD programs for the semester next Fall are anywhere from Dec 1 to January 1.  And getting the necessary paperwork, recommendations, essays, etc together will probably take at least a month.  So it's decision time.   Right now I'm completely neutral, not leaning towards any of them.  I'll let you know when I decide which way to go.

One funny story from school (and pardon the one bad word in this story but it wouldn't be funny if I changed it).  In one of my smarter classes, we finished a little early. Daniel (the smartest one in the class) started using the computer. It was horribly slow as usual. I sent him to Google Translate so he would have something to occupy him.  I set it to translate Korean to English.  He promptly typed something in Korean, then pointed to the computer. I glanced down at Google's English translation and saw only one word. "SHIT"

In between riotous bouts of laughter, i told him "yes it is Daniel".

Oh before I go, Vicky suggested I add a comment about our plan to save money on heating this winter.  Just as I did last year, we will be employing a combination of occasional floor heating and a hairdryer.  Why a hairdryer you ask?  Because in winter I don't care if the whole room is warm.  I only care if I'M warm.  Next time it's cold, try this experiment.  Get under a blanket, then turn a hairdryer on and blow the hot air under the blanket.  It will A) feel amazing as the waves of heat wash over you and B) keep you nice and toasty warm without the expense of heating the whole room.  But reason B is secondary to me.  I just love the way it feels :)

Friday, September 14, 2012

Buy 2 typhoons, get the 3rd free

 This picture has absolutely nothing to do with this post.  It's an old picture from my trip to Japan that I re-edited and think looks pretty cool.

As the title of this post warns, we have yet another typhoon headed for Jeju.  This is the 3rd one in less than a month.  The first I posted about on here.  Though I think I failed to mention that it was a catagory 1 hurricane when it hit which frankly wasn't that.  And I definitely didn't mention that Vicky and I went out to Outback Steakhouse for dinner in it (we wore water proof/water logged clothing).  And I certainly didn't mention that after we got back, we changed into our bathing suits and met a couple friends at a nearby elementary school and played typhoon soccer, basketball and football outside during the worst of it.

The 2nd one was weak enough that I didn't even bother to say anything about it.  It was just a tropical storm and felt about like a good Texas thunderstorm.  This third one looks to be somewhere around a catagory 2-3 when it hits Sunday night/monday early morning.  I'm not worried about it but we are prepared just in case (extra water, candles, etc)

Otherwise life is pretty good.  Vicky is now comfortable teaching and thanks to her strong discipline, the kids are slowly behaving better (though it's definitely a work in progress).  My classes are going well.  One new girl I have is my first absolute beginner.  I'm teaching "hi" "bye" "I" "he" "she", the most basic of basics.  It's interesting and very challenging.

One randomly funny story that illustrates what it's like to live here happened to me the other day as I was taking the trash out to the dumpster nearby.  I dropped our trash and was heading back into the apartment building when a woman stopped me and said her 8 year old son would really like to talk with me.  Why you ask?  Because I'm a foreigner! So I ended up talking to both her and her son on the street for about 10 minutes before heading back upstairs.  Certainly keeps life interesting :)

Same picture.  Different editing.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Back to Jungmun Beach we go

 Sanbangsan near Seogwipo on the south side of Jeju

I'll start by saying that I'm in a fantastic mood today.  Those of you who know me well might be able to guess the cause.  My Cowboys just got done whipping the Giants in the NFL's season opener.  The heavy investment they made in cornerbacks this offseason looks like a great move so far and I'm really excited for the rest of the season.

So while I'm in a break at school and feeling so cheerful, I thought i'd tell you about last weekend.  On Saturday morning, Vicky, Jeb, Tom and I got up early and went down to the south side of the island to visit Jungmun Beach and it's huge waves.  This was Vicky's first trip down and a morning of bodysurfing was the plan.  Unfortunately the beach had other ideas.  We were bereft of wind.  An unexpected circumstance on this normally breezy island.  Without the wind, the waves were sadly small.  Fortunately we still swam, built sand castles and generally had fun.

Photographed at the peak of their hopefulness before a wave came to crush their dreams (and sand wall)

After an hour or 2 at Jungmun, we headed for a small nearby mountain named Sanbangsan (pictured at the top).  Again luck was not in our favor as the hike up had been damaged by the recent typhoon and the mountain was closed (yes in Korea they close whole mountains).  But again fun was had when we discovered a series of old Imperial Japanese caves along the ocean.  Exploring, hiking and pictures followed.

Cool huh?

The rest of the news is quick.  The two typhoons that blew through did little to no damage.  We actually went out and played soccer in the stronger typhoon (it was crazy fun!).  And after the typhoons moved on, the weather has been cooler and gorgeous!  High 70s to mid 80s has been perfect summer weather for almost anything we can think of.  And the cool evening zephyrs let us throw open our 7th floor windows and enjoy the night.  They also make walking home instead of busing it a very pleasant suggestion (20 minutes vs 6 by bus).  One Vicky and I are about to take right now.  Bye.

PS.  If you want something funny that is huge hit here and is becoming surprisingly popular in the US, click on the video link below.  It's for a video called Gangnam Style.  All you need to know is that it's mocking the richest neighborhood in Korea and the lifestyle it espouses.  And the dance is hilariously, awesomely terrible :)

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Typhoon Bolaven is coming

This is what's coming and that arrow points to where we are

If you can see the above image, you can guess the focus of this post.  A large typhoon is headed for Jeju.  It will hit Monday evening here (Monday morning in the US).  As of right now, both Vicky and I are expected to come to work despite this.  The predicted wind speeds are sustained winds around 60-100 mph with stronger gusts.  That plus rain does not sound like fun to be out in.  This is the path the typhoon is expected to take.  The eye won't pass directly over us but it will be plenty close enough.

Jeju is the island just North-East of the eye at 9pm Monday

So for all who are reading this I have a simple request.  Please pray for our safety as well as the safety of our island home.  I don't expect a ton of damage but this is a Category 3 hurricane rolling over us.  Prayer certainly can't hurt and would be greatly appreciated.

PS.  If you want to track the progress of the storm, you can do so here
and here

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Liberation Day = vacation day!

Jeju sunset

Nothing beats a random weekday off for a holiday you didn't even realize was coming up.  And that's exactly what we got today as Korea celebrated Liberation Day.  This celebration marks the surrender of Japan to end World War II on August 15, 1945, which freed Korea from it's colonial yoke.

For the previous 35 years, Korea had been ruled by the Empire of Japan which had done everything in it's power to destroy Korean culture.  The goal was integration but the result was near annihilation.  The resentment and anger this period produced still lingers today.  Sadly the independence gained would be short-lived before the country was split in half and war again consumed it.  But Koreans, both North and South, celebrate this day as the beginning of their glorious futures (though how glorious the North's future has been is, let's tactfully say, debatable).

We celebrated by catching up on some much needed sleep, spending time with friends and watching a parade from our 7th floor windows.  Basically we enjoyed Saturday on a Wednesday and that's always cause for a smile :)

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Not listening in my class? Busted!

Jeju City on a cool rainy day

This has been a very boring week.  So I'll leave you with one funny story and hope for a better report next week (i only have to work on Monday and Tuesday due to a national holiday Wednesday and the school choosing to be closed Thursday and Friday!)

Remember the class I told you about that never talks?  Of course you do!  The boys are getting more talkative but the girls remain determined to be unsociable and taciturn.  I tested this recently by asking about their weekends.  The boys said they played soccer and computer games.  So far so good.  When I asked the girls what they did, they stared at their desks and shook their heads.

Did you play soccer?
Did you play games?
Did you see a movie?
(with a grin towards the boys)  Did you eat food?

At this the boys started laughing and the girls looked up trying to figure out why.  The boys explained in Korean while still giggling.  The girls turned appropriately red at being busted not listening and participation was better for the rest of class.  Victory!

The school behind our building

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Happy Birthday to me

Some moments you just have to stop and enjoy

For those of you who remembered my birthday on Friday, thank you.  I had a great day and a great Saturday too.  For those who forgot .... shame on  you!  My students remembered my birthday and I didn't even tell them.  They wrote birthday messages all over my white board and behaved extra well.  The other two English teachers even brought me cakes and pastries.  The pastries I would describe as dry bread with bread filling.  But the thought was sweet.

However, Vicky outdid them all by finding a piece of chocolate cake!  And the next day she took me out for a great lunch, then went screen golfing with me.  It was her first time to really ever try golf.  By the end of our 9 holes, not only was she hitting the ball consistently, she even made par on the final hole!  I was so proud.  To paraphrase George of the Jungle, "Luke good teacher!"

A small island, only visible on the clearest of days

Vicky's first week went pretty well.  Since the last teacher in her school had never heard of the word "discipline", she inherited a few wild classes.  This has led to many amusing stories that began "Guess how much I got to yell at the little troublemakers today!"  I fully support this method since taking joy in discipline early means you'll get to take joy from a well behaved class later.

My own classes are fine.  I have one middle school boy who took 3 months to say his first words to Jess, the former teacher.  I got him talking, albeit extremely quietly, on day 2.  He doesn't always answer questions and never above a whisper but at least I've got him to engage and that i'm quite proud of.  Ironically my biggest problem class isn't one that talks too much but one that talks too little.  They answer questions correctly at a whisper and don't like games.  I nearly always finish with over half the class time remaining and no way to continue to force them to talk.  Fortunately there are much worse problems to have.  For now i'm off to enjoy a nice warm day outside.  TTFN.

 Sunset over the sea