Archive for June, 2012

World Expo: Meh

June 21, 2012

I guess not may people are attending the Expo.  Not as many as Korea had hoped, anyway.  Various branches of government offices are required to buy so many tickets and my wife kinda-sorta volunteered to do so at her workplace.

I was surprised by how close Yeosu is to Busan.  I looked at Google maps and asked for directions- it would have sent me way North to Daecheon before returning South to the expo for a travel time of over six hours.  Instead, we drove it in under two-and-a-half.

Getting there was pretty easy although we didn’t see any Expo signs on the expressway (number 10, if you are curious).  Once near the location we found signs for the Expo -go straight, and for Expo parking -turn right.  We turned right and drove through the grittiest industrial area I have ever seen.  There were a lot of signs for parking and that was the only thing that eased my fears that I was heading into a scam.

It wasn’t a scam, but it was a grim place for parking.  The free shuttle bus took us to the Expo.

I guess there is a gallery of images below.  I had wanted a long row of photos that I could add commentary to, but I guess in WordPress, that is only possible if you place each image individually, not as a group.  Commentary below the images.

We got to the gates just before nine and onto the grounds quickly.  We first went to the Aquarium and though we didn’t dawdle, we did end up -at 9:20- in a line where we queued for more than two hours.  We were lucky to have brought drinks but the little guy could have used some snacks as well.

The aquarium was good but not that much different from Busan’s.  The Beluga whales were interesting to me but didn’t hold the little guy’s attention for long.

He did love the Turkish ice cream men who served acceptable ice cream with great showmanship.  I had seen the act before but even still, I dropped to the ground to catch the cone when he ‘dropped’ it.

Somewhere in the pictures are the only spinal boards I have seen in Korea, the world’s first ‘surfboard’ (suck it, Melvin!) and some images for Kind Fun Labs.  At the lab, we walked in, and played with huge amounts of flour.  In the next room we played with huge amounts of rice.  The picture of me nearly buried in rice? That is my nightmare after a long weekend at the farm.

The fish robot had a frickin’ laser in it’s head!

To cut this short, almost everything that was interesting had long lines. The international pavilions were okay but felt underdone.  Despite the complaints I have heard, there was plenty of English.

At the end of the day -we left around 7:30 – I thought again about the strange location for parking and found some rationale for it.  Several of the exhibits were focused on ocean life and how to preserve it or exploit it.  Not all the exhibits were positive but most were and I think the parking -in the midst of a huge industrial zone at the water’s end – balanced those points well.

If you get cheap tickets, or will be in the vicinity anyway, check it out.  If not, don’t bother.

Check out these reviews from other bloggers:

Pro, con -also via ROK drop.

Creationists in Korea: They’ve hit the big-time!

June 6, 2012

Updated again: Ask A Korean has looked into the changes and feels, as Gord Sellar does (below), that the changes are more cosmetic or for purposes of updating the texts.

The group that represents these creationists, called Society for Textbook Revise (STR), has attempted to attack the references to evolution in Korean science textbooks in any manner possible.

What STR did manage to pull off with three textbook publishers was this: STR convinced those publishers that two diagrams in their books — one about the evolution of horses, and the other about archeopteryx — and the text accompanying them were scientifically incorrect. Notice the claim here:  the claim was not that the diagrams were against creationism. The claim was that the diagrams were scientifically incorrect.

Updated: Resistance to the proposed changes has emerged:

Conflict between pro- and anti-evolutionists has escalated half a year since several major publishers were approached by a local organization to delete or revise examples explaining the process of evolution from science textbooks for high school students. 

In turn, the dormant evolutionists and biologists here have mobilized. On Wednesday, academics and researchers from the Paleontological Society of Korea and five other scientific associations gathered for the first meeting of the Committee to Promote Evolution to debate the issue in question, which is whether or not the archaeopteryx, a prehistoric bird from the Jurassic Period, was a transitional species between reptiles and birds. 

————–

Two weeks ago, I wrote about changes to Biology Textbooks in Korea.  At the time, I was of the opinion that the changes were merely updates: one example of evolutionary change being replaced by another.

Gord Sellar recently wrote about the changes and earlier errors – were at least partially the result of conservatism among the publishers.  The industry receives five-year contracts  and if a publisher has won such a contract, it won’t want to make any changes beyond what is required.

The problem, as a friend explained Miss Jiwaku, is that a lot of Korean biology textbooks have outdated material when it comes to evolutionary theory; the explanation of horse evolution was so old that it had actually been badly needing updating. This, of course, is a deadly situation when you have religious nuts around fighting a holy war against science.

So they struck. Sometimes it’s embarrassing how ignorantists can be so coordinated, so organized, so clever about this stuff.

…[big ellipsis here]…

textbook companies normally do not take risks when it comes to content and their potential inclusion on the Ministry of Education’s textbook lists for public schools. They are, indeed, so risk-averse that they will publish outdated material just to avoid being left off the list. This is because exclusion from the list means a loss of billions of won (ie. millions of dollars) of revenue

Well, this morning, my Google Newsreader was full of international attention to the subject.

The Friendly Atheist:

The National Center for Science Education isn’t surprised by the move — acceptance of evolution in the country is relatively low compared to other countries… (excluding the U.S., because we’re full of science denialists)

The Sensuous Curmudgeon (quoting from Nature) (SC added the bolding):

The campaign was led by the Society for Textbook Revise (STR), which aims to delete the “error” of evolution from textbooks to “correct” students’ views of the world, according to the society’s website. The society says that its members include professors of biology and high-school science teachers.

The relationship between Korea and the journal Nature is an interesting one.  I wonder which report is more embarrassing for Korea: This or the Hwang Woo-seok cloning scandal?

Saha District critters

June 5, 2012

On Sunday, the little guy and I hit the beach and this time we were prepared with a pasta strainer and plastic terrarium.  Here is what I think is a poison fish -that’s not the name but it looks to be related to a puffer, two crabs unfortunately caught in the act -and bravely unwilling to stop, and two …lobsters?  I don’t know what they are -nor, in fact the scientific names of any of our catch.

We also found a twofer here:

There is a flat-bodied crab trying to hide in the shell and a hermit crab’s claws at the bottom-left.

All animals we caught were released more or less where they had been collected but many others were not.  One family went home with a pail full of the flat-bodied crabs and other fisherfolk were everywhere.

The next ‘critters’ are family but they reminded me eerily of the immature white herons I had seen a month ago following tractors and collecting the disturbed insects.  Here, the far-less-icky prey is potatoes.

That was on Sunday.  On Tuesday, I hiked up a local mountain and found myself sharing the path  with this guy.

Later, I found a pheasant.

There were droppings of a large herbivore but I haven’t seen any yet.

privileges for varsity athletes

June 4, 2012

I talk about myself a lot in this post so I should start by clarifying a few things.  I was an athlete while at high school and university and a fairly good one.  I kinda-sorta reached the national level of competition during a few years of university.  I once qualified to try out for the Olympics but knew my chances were so low, I went on a biology field trip instead of Olympic Trials.  In the world of competitive swimming, I was very good, but definitely not great.  Now, to talk about great athletes:

In Canada, I don’t recall receiving many privileges in support of my athletic training.  At university, my competitive swim training was entirely free and if I missed a class due to a competition, my professor was obliged to allow me to make up missed tests or  assignments or the like in another way.  Nowadays, athletes at university have to pay for some of their training.

There was a quiet scandal at my university about an American basketball player who had joined our school and basketball team.  Reports were, he wasn’t attending class nor handing in assignments.  The guy was only there to play.

Here in Korea, university students are not required to attend classes or take tests and have other benefits.  The Korea Times recently published an article on the subject -the first of a series.

“Recently, a professor talked indirectly about the privileges for athletes when he raised an issue over figure skater Kim Yuna’s teaching practice, arguing that as a senior at Korea University’s physical education department she lacked the qualifications to participate in teaching practice. The professor was threatened with a lawsuit by Kim’s agency and was overwhelmed by a Yu-na-supporting Internet mob.”

First let’s look at this specific situation.  If she were teaching physical education, then I argue that she has had more first-hand knowledge of teaching and coaching than almost anyone on the planet.  From the example of her own excellent coaches, to the lessons of anatomy she received with therapy from multiple injuries, she doubtless has the background to coach most sports.  At my high school, phys. ed. teachers also taught sex education and I can’t say one way or the other whether Kim Yuna would know what to say there.  In the US, sex ed is so politicized and regimented that proper training is probably unnecessary.

Second, let’s look at the general situation.  I have had many athletes who skipped classes with the university’s blessings and I don’t think many of them went to the Olympics.  Kim Yuna probably speaks English well, having trained abroad for many years.  My students, whom I only saw on paper, couldn’t string three words together.  I think the unnamed professor in the quote above has a point.

“In addition, the members of the 2002 World Cup squad including Manchester United midfielder Park Ji-sung, and Korean baseball players participating in the improvised World Baseball Classic (WBC) in 2006, had their military service waived after each side got out of the group stage for the first time in history and reached the semifinals. Both exemptions were hurriedly established exemptions, which raised voices against the extreme favor.

In Korea, all able-bodied men over 20 are required to serve in the military for about two years under the country’s mandatory conscription system.”

“…”

“Looking back in history, there were some renowned sportsmen who joined the military, fought in wars and even lost their lives during their heydays. Boston Red Sox great Ted Williams, the last player in MLB to bat over .400 in a single season, was called up to serve in World War II and Korean War, while Pat Tillman, formerly of the Arizona Cardinals in the National Football League (NFL), enlisted in the U.S. Army in 2002 after turning down a contract offer of $3.6 million (4.25 billion won), only to be killed by friendly fire during his service in Afghanistan in 2004.”

There is a huge gap between the quotes above.

I don’t know much about Williams although I have met a pitcher who struck him out, but Tillman was a volunteer.  The whole argument over conscription is more important than that of a few privileged athletes but not one I don’t intend to get into now.

My main concern here is that the age of conscription is also the age of peak performance for many athletes.  For a competitive swimmer, losing two years to the army would require at least two years to return to that form.  The army training would keep the guy fit but all the subtlety of technique would be lost.  So a twenty-year-old, nearly-Olympic-level swimmer would join the army, then at age twenty-four would be in the same position.  Four years is a lot.

“But Park said there is no leg[al] evidence that medalists improve the national brand or glory by winning medals at international competitions.

“Who remembers where the gold medalist in canoeing at the Beijing Olympics came from?” he asked.”

I didn’t remember and so looked it up.  Still, I think the world knows that Korea is the home for Olympic violence (if it could be used to hurt people, Koreans win medals at it).  I think Park is likely correct but he has also carefully chosen his example. As a competitive swimmer, I had some tiny degree of recognition at school, but the team sport players on the basketball and hockey teams were far better known.  If Park had asked about the Olympic Gold medalists in Hockey, baseball, soccer or basketball, more people would have answered.

At the same time, Park Tae-hwan is famous among swimmers the world over.  If Park had asked canoeing enthusiasts, he would probably have gotten the correct names.

“Another problem is that medalists from the Olympics or Asian Games are awarded monthly pension money after they reach 60. Amid escalating negative comments on the system, the Military Manpower Administration (MMA) is set to take an action to revise the current law.”

Wow.  This is something I would like to have waiting for me.  Rising to the level of Olympian is hard on your body.  I have already pointed out that I was nowhere near that level, yet I have some minor knee and shoulder problems now.  Perhaps Olympians or Asiad medalists don’t need assistance so much as everyone does at that age and a more universal care package should be arranged.

—————

Updated: The day after I posted this, I had a final exam with a student who is also an athlete and permitted to skip classes and homework.  The student, very correctly and responsibly, had informed me early about her training schedule and inability to attend classes.  We made arrangements long before the exam and I commend her planning.

The exam was terrible.  It was an oral exam and I ended up speaking more Korean than she did English to try to elicit any answers from her.  At the end of the exam, I wished her well, saying, “I hope you’re a good [sport name redacted]”.  Two coworkers overheard me and remarked on the backhanded remark.

This student presumably does well in her sport and her sport is a very competitive one in Korea.  If she had made it to the Olympics, she could have used that name-recognition to find work afterwards.  As she has not qualified for the Olympics, she is merely strong in her field but weak in background sports theory.

It reminded me of a student from a previous university who was permitted to skip my classes for most of the semester but somehow lost her protected status and suddenly needed to catch up on homework and prepare for an exam.  The outcome was not a good one for her.


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