Archive for April, 2010

Fitting in

April 23, 2010

It is common for Koreans to practice their English when they foreigners.  It is also common for youngsters and young adult Koreans to do so to show off, or to have fun, relieve the boredom, whatever.

My mother, having come to Korea form my wedding,stepped out of a car at my soon-to-be-in-law’s apartment and we were swarmed by a hoard of elementary-school aged children yelling Hello enthusiastically enough that my mother may not have wanted to leave the car.

Many times, i have walked past a group of teenagers or university students to have one of them call Hello to my back, after I had passed them.  The call is usually followed by laughter about the silliness of talking to foreigners.

I have to say I haven’t seen as much of it lately.  perhaps Korea really is becoming more multi-cultural.

I, however, may be slipping backwards.

Earlier in the week, I saw a foreign woman at the university.  Not recognizing her, but knowing there are many German and Russian students at the university, I said, “Guten tag” as we met on the stairs.

I kept going and heard a surprised, “Sprechen sie Duetsch” (ah, how’s my spelling?).

I had to turn and apologize that, no,  I didn’t speak much German. “Ich spreche ein bission Duetsch.”(that spelling does look wrong).

Anyway, we soon parted but now I have to worry that I might be taking up bad habits here.


“Move to Aussie”?

April 20, 2010

I have some friends at work from Australia.  I will have to ask them if they refer to their country as “Aussie”.  Certainly, they seem to refer to themselves as ‘Aussies’, but I hadn’t heard that term for the country. Added later: My Aussie coworkers do say their country is sometimes also called ‘Aussie’.  My mistake.

Well, until I read today’s Korea Times, which has an article about Olympic Gold Medalist Park Tae-hwan moving to “Aussie” to train for future events.  In that article you can read about the Beijing Olympic Gold medalist or “Park, the 400-meter freestyle golded boy in Beijing…”

There is s0me interesting information how intensive training is at his level. For me, as a struggling sort-of national level swimmer in Canada, there were only one or two competitions I would prepare to race in best condition for in a year.  Let me break that sentence down.  I competed at several small competitions, and, at those times, I focussed on technique and pacing and the like.  I swam as hard as I was able.  However, on the day before such a competition, I may have trained for six- or seven- thousand metres in the pool.  I was not rested, did not alter my diet, and skipped other preparation activities before race day.  It takes a long time to get to peak fitness, and you don’t actually race at peak fitness.  you reach peak fitness, then begin to rest.  The total metres per day drop and the content of those metres changes.  When I swam at Canadian University National Championships (CIAUs – I think one of those initials is for ‘union’, but can’t remember; no one ever used the full title), I had trained hard for four and a half months and rested for a month.  Around Christmas, I might have competed in a 10,000 metre race, but in February, I wouldn’t be swimming much more than that in a week.

In the week before the race, I followed a high-protein diet followed by a high-carbo diet.  The consensus was that it wouldn’t really help for the distances we would race, but it helped us focus.  The thoughts about the upcoming races followed me everywhere.  Even into my dreams.  On the Wednesday or Thursday before the competition I would have nightmares about the races.  Friday and through the competition, the nightmares would end and the dreams would be about swimming well and with laser-like focus.

On Friday or Saturday morning, I would shave -everywhere the bathing suit didn’t cover.  The suit itself was new, lycra, and six sizes too small.

Wow, I really went on about it, didn’t I?

Anyway, the point of all that is to help explain why Park will not compete in ‘real’ competitions for over a year before his next big one.

Park won three gold medals in the Doha Asian Games in 2006 and snatched one gold and one silver medal in Summer Games in 2008.

However, he collapsed in the Rome World Championships in 2009 in all events he swam in ― the 200- 400- and 1,500-meter freestyle.

However, while training in Australia he took part in the New South Wales State Open Championships and captured three gold medals in the 100-, 200- and 400-meter freestyle.

This time he will not compete in any events during training.

Flowers and ‘snow’

April 19, 2010

These pictures are mostly for family back in Canada.  The cherry trees still look great and I love the ‘snow’ of fallen blossoms around them.

Farming and farm life

April 19, 2010

I don’t often complain about my job* and never after visiting my parents-in-law.  They are settled and comfortable as farmers, having farmed all their lives.  I help out when I can but I treat my short stints of farm labour in a very different way than they must do.  when I arrive on a Saturday morning, I am eager to get to work, get it done and return home, or somewhere, to relax.  for them, it is one day of many; possibly fulfilling and interesting, possibly drudgery, I don’t know.  I do know they aren’t looking at it as “Get ‘er done and get out of here.”  It would take some serious effort for me to become a full-time farmer, even if the idea of having a large and time-consuming vegetable garden does seem more and more interesting  and something I want to do.

I do follow one particular habit of farmers and former farmers in Korea (and most families are farm or former farm families).  I take my  구충제 (Helminthic, phonetically in Korean: Goo-Choong-Jeh) pill about once a year.

Look how happy that family is for each to be eating for one and not for another family living inside. They are happy to not be suffering various intestinal problems.

The pill is remarkable.  Well, I don’t know how effective it is (we’ll get to that in a moment) but you can take it any time of day, under most any conditions.  Been drinking? take it.  Before a meal? Take it.  After a meal? Take it.  Side effects? No, take it.  Young child? Take it – but don’t chew.

In fact it is so easy to take, I have to wonder at it’s effectiveness.  It is typically taken ‘just in case’ and that is how I took mine this morning.  The whole family did as we do about once a year, with or without symptoms – and definitely without a prescription.  Could it be just a placebo?

Anyway, back to farming.  The Korea Times has a poorly edited article about young men turning to the farm.  Not returning, not necessarily the children of farmers becoming farmers themselves.  No, this is about urban men choosing to go rural.

If you haven’t noticed, here’s the news. An increasing number of young, educated Koreans are quietly submitting their resignation letter to their employers. It’s not because they found a better-paying job at a rival company. They are heading to the countryside.

These individuals are mostly in their 30s, having several years of work experience under their belt. For example, Park Suk-jae, 36, previously worked for a telecom company for eight years before he decided to come to Hamyang county in South Gyeongsang Province a year ago. He now grows persimmon trees, in addition to potatoes and peppers.

Since he’s a “late starter” in agriculture, he had registered himself to a crop-breeding class. “The local government subsidized half of the purchases on agricultural machines I need. I also plan to apply for a 200 million-won loan that the government provides to the start-up farmers,” he told the Maeil Business newspaper.

Lee Sang-hun, 35, who works in the financial sector, plans to go to the countryside soon. “The government support, including subsidy, is a big factor. That means, if you are dedicated and have access to necessary information, you could succeed even with a small fund,” he said.

The government also has a generous policy for these ardent pre-farmers. For example, if one doesn’t have land, the government will loan it for him, and subsidize his purchase of agricultural machinery.


*I might complain about coworkers or missed opportunities to do my job better, but I feel lucky to do have the job I do.

KOTESOL: is it worth it?

April 15, 2010

I think so.  I was a somewhat active member of Gangwon’s KOTESOL group for many years.  I am currently involved with the Busan chapter and assisting, in the most limited way, with a mini-conference they are hosting in late Spring. Oh, wait.  KOTESOL is the acronym for Teachers of ESL in Korea group, usually written this way to emphasize it can be Foreign and Korean teachers, not exclusively Korean teachers, as it may read if Korea is at the front of the phrase. Alright, you now know what KOTESOL is and that I am satisfied with being a member.  Why do I think others wouldn’t be? Well, particularly in Gangwondo, the meetings were interesting but frequently focused on issues that didn’t affect me.  Sokcho and surrounding area had a large EPIK group and many speakers gave talks on their specific issues.  There was a talk on teaching at ESL camps, but the speaker and the examples were all concerned with the mandatory camps the EPIK teachers had.  They had reasonable and clear concerns, but mine were different.  For example, EPIK camp teachers have specific teaching schedules they have to follow that don’t allow as much individual input at they would like.  Budgets are set and spent before the foreign teacher knows they exist…  Anyway, the camps I frequently work at, by choice, do allow, or require, personal initiative, are longer in duration and have different goals than the EPIK camps.  Attending that meeting was by no means a total waste, but it wasn’t as satisfying as I had hope. In short, university teachers were a minority at those meetings and their interests were not met.  Which is the chicken and which the egg, I cannot say. Perhaps Scholarly Societies are on their way out as like-minded groups can increasingly refine their specific likes and needs and meet those needs online.John Dupuis, at Confessions of a Science Librarian has examined the issue closely and discusses an article at The on the subject.  This article is about scientific societies, but clear parellels can be found. WordPress is not allowing me to have nested quotes – that is, the first quote indented and the second quote (inside the first), double indented – so I will not indent Dupuis but will indent the stuff he quotes. The thrust of the article is that scholarly societies are having trouble offering true value to their members in the Internet age, that their business models and even their raisons d’etreare being disrupted.

In years past, the answer was easy because being a member came with tangible benefits, such as inexpensive journals and the ability to submit abstracts to annual meetings. Nowadays, these perks don’t seem very important. Most society journals are freely available online [1], and the proliferation of scientific meetings has made it easier to find venues to present my current research. Thus, the frequency with which I ask that question–“should I bother?”–has steadily increased.

Clearly, I am not the only scientist who is ambivalent about societies. Judging from their newsletters, many of the larger societies are struggling with stagnant or declining memberships, especially among young scientists. Although it is the youngest scientists who potentially have the most to gain from a scientific society because of networking opportunities, they are the ones who usually are most poorly served by those societies. This is because scientific societies generally cater to the status quo, not to the new and emerging elements of a field.

Both the The article and Dupuis’ comments on it are worth reading.  Dupuis also links to several of his previous posts on the subject and asks these questions (and is waiting for answers): Questions for scholarly societies:

  • Does your society subsidize member programs with profits from it’s publications program
  • What kind of outreach do you do to the next generation of scholars?
  • What do you tell them is the “value proposition” for joining your society?
  • Do you facilitate your members online networking and professional development?
  • What are your thoughts on an Open Access business model for scholarly society publishing?
  • Do your members often mumble your name under their breath with the words to the effect of “just don’t get it” or “waste of money?”

Added later: Jason Renshaw, who once was president of the Busan/Gyeongnam chapter of KOTESOL, discusses problems with the small meetings and local conferences given by various chapters of KOTESOL.  The problem, apparently, is us!

Anger at the extremes

April 15, 2010


Korean universities are handing out a greater number of high grades to their students. The trend suggests that gaining admission to a school is increasingly guaranteeing a degree for many college students here.

According to the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, Wednesday, nearly 36 percent of graduates last year gained an A-level grade point average (GPA) and some 56 percent received one in the B range, while only 0.1 percent flunked. Last year, some 292,000 students received bachelors’ degrees. …

By department, education majors topped the list of graduates with A averages at 55 percent. Medical students came next at 39 percent followed by liberal arts majors at 38 percent, social studies majors at 37 percent, and natural science majors at 34 percent.

Education experts say grade inflation could hamper the quality of university-level education. Some others say that this trend is in line with a growing number of “CEO-style” university presidents who put the first priority on satisfying their students.

From the Korea Times.  Ah, satisfying their students… and parents and administrations.  Meanwhile, in the US:

The biology professor at Louisiana State University at Baton Rouge gives brief quizzes at the beginning of every class, to assure attendance and to make sure students are doing the reading. On her tests, she doesn’t use a curve, as she believes that students must achieve mastery of the subject matter, not just achieve more mastery than the worst students in the course. For multiple choice questions, she gives 10 possible answers, not the expected 4, as she doesn’t want students to get very far with guessing.

Students in introductory biology don’t need to worry about meeting her standards anymore. LSU removed her from teaching, mid-semester, and raised the grades of students in the class. In so doing, the university’s administration has set off a debate about grade inflation, due process and a professor’s right to set standards in her own course. …

Even for those who, like Homberger, are tenured, there is a risk of losing the ability to stick to your standards, he said. Teaching geology, he said, he has found that there are students who get upset when he talks about the actual age of the earth and about evolution. “Now students can complain to a dean” and have him removed, Ellwood said. “I worry that my ability to teach in the classroom has been diminished.” …

[Says Dean of the College of Basic Science, Kevin Carman] “The class in question is an entry-level biology class for non-science majors, and, at mid-term, more than 90 percent of the students in Dr. Homberger’s class were failing or had dropped the class. The extreme nature of the grading raised a concern, and we felt it was important to take some action to ensure that our students receive a rigorous, but fair, education. Professor Homberger is not being penalized in any way; her salary has not been decreased nor has any aspect of her appointment been changed.”

From Inside Higher Ed.

I teach a mandatory, but non-major class.  My students want to be engineers or work in tourism.  English would be helpful but is not completely mandatory to perform those jobs – I do think a tourism employee with strong English skills would be more employable and have other benefits, but it is not required.  Engineers would likewise benefit from being able to read technical papers and discuss their work in the international arena, but their store of personal creativity and ingenuity would not be affected by their level of English.

Thus, I am torn.  My university does encourage high grades and my previous one did too.  Indeed, at that university, it was explicitly stated. “Korea’s population is dropping.  Every year there are fewer students available to go to university and every university is struggling to enroll those students.  We have to do things to entice students and keep them when they arrive.”  Well, that is not an exact quote, but it is close.

I am new to my current job.  I am not likely to rock the boat this year at least.

I played with guns

April 11, 2010

Salon has an article about two parents living in Texas and trying to keep their child from playing too often with guns.

Here in Texas, guns are an integral part of life. Many children have parents who hunt. People living out on ranches need a shotgun leaning in the mud room to take care of that rattler waiting on the front porch. And 200,000 Texans and counting have a concealed carry hand gun permit.

Our son is six; in the past few years I’ve seen him make a play gun out of his finger, a stick, a plastic grabber toy and, once, by chewing a peanut butter sandwich into a gun shape. We’ve also given him a couple of prop guns for imagination play – a pirate blunderbuss that goes with his pirate costume and a play rifle that stays in the closet unless Daddy can play with him….

Could allowing our son to play with toy guns — even to the limited extent that we do allow it — make him less likely to handle guns safely? Or are we just keeping a boy from being fully a boy?…

We are sheltering and shielding our child, protecting him from playing with toy guns, from falling off his bike without a helmet, from exposure to the horrible, violent things humans do to each other. All week, I’ve considered the idea that maybe the parents who graciously had us all over to play that day have the more realistic strategy — let the child watch a show about the reality of what guns do, and let him work it out through his play.

For some reason, it doesn’t bother me when the kids play light sabre battle, duel fiercely with foam swords or “zap” each other dead with imaginary lightning bolts from their fingers. But it really disturbed me to see them “shooting” each other with realistic-looking guns in pantomime of war, mankind’s greatest horror.

I have the same concerns and confusion about what is right, what would be good parenting.  I am not sure if living in Korea, with it’s very strict gun-laws, makes the situation better or worse.  The reality of what guns can do is diffused by distance, as we only see what they can do in TV, which is not a credible source.

Of course, and the author quoted above mentions light sabres, swords are relatively common here- and in even modern gang movies.  Gang members have difficulty obtaining guns, so swords are more common, at least in the few gangster movies I’ve seen (Is Kick the Shilla Moon, a comedy, the right place to learn about Korea?)

And, I let my son play with swords – well, toy swords.

Worse, there is a sharp and dangerous sword in the apartment.  After I received my black belt in Haedong Geomdo, I learned I was able to buy a real sword – you need a sword license here.  I bought one and trained with it.  Without actually being heavy, it is much heavier than my training sword and takes some practice.  It has also tasted blood – mine, when I shaved the back of my left hand in a one-handed swing.

Back to guns, with the understanding that the same concerns apply to other objects.

I had a lot of toy guns as a child.  I shot at friends and family members and if my father grimaced, I didn’t notice.  Nowadays, I am as much a pacifist as anyone in South Korea can be with those crazies (I am using ‘crazy’ literally here) to the north that need watching and an armed deterrent.   I don’t care for violence, don’t want to use violence, but can see it is sometimes necessary.

Did the change come when I first owned a ‘real’ gun?  My father bought me a pellet gun when I was twelve or so.  We had strict rules and he taught me how to use it properly.  There was a seriousness about touching it that hadn’t existed with the toys.

The little guy has a toy gun – with ‘real sounds and flashes’ that a friend of the family bought him.  He uses it sometimes and I am never happy about it.  This summer, I am very likely to buy him -or both of us- a squirt gun, and feel that is very different despite the efforts squirt gun makers go to make them look like regular guns.*  This I will wholeheartedly join him in playing with. Is that a mixed message?


*We have a spritzer to water the plants.  Are there any other squirt guns that would be fun to use that don’t look like hand guns or rifles?  A small version of a forest fire fighting extinguisher, with a tank on the back and a nozzle and pump, would be great. Suggestions in the comments are (always) welcome.

Note to Mr. Wilson: stay home

April 9, 2010

In my hometown’s weekly newspaper, a summer-resident or cottager is upset that some people don’t like cottagers.

My hometown has around 15,000 residents through the winter and 150,000 in the summer.  These summer-residents do pay taxes that help run our town, but they also vote for things that affect them to the detriment of year-long residents.  I didn’t live in town as an adult for long enough to have a strong opinion of the cottagers, but i do recall cottagers voted  for an official who would prevent a new resort from opening up, thus denying locals a new source of jobs.

Even if I were strongly in the pro-cottager camp (I am, in fact, a fence-sitter), I wouldn’t be too upset about free speech.  If Mr Wilson wants everyone to publicly agree on everything, he should move to the very rural country just north of the one I currently live in.



Members of the Muskoka Lakes Association are upset about the early closure of the locks in Port Carling.  They will close at midnight, remain open 24 hours.

The decision, made this March, has upset many, according to Lake Rosseau cottager and Muskoka Lakes Association board member Phil Harding.

“People are coming to the cottage now and … welcome again to the way the district and the township do things. They make all the changes when no one is here to hear about it,” said Harding.

The small lock used to be open 24 hours a day. Now it will close at 8 p.m. during the peak season. The large lock will be open longer hours to compensate, but cottagers will be stranded if they want to use the locks past midnight on the weekend. The locks opened on April 15.

The change in hours comes after the small lock began to malfunction and was out of operation at times beginning in the fall of 2008 and in 2009.

My favorite part is “They make all the changes when no one is here to hear about it”.  Yes, there were people around to hear about it.  The people who actually live there, you pompous ass!

Local people, people who may need the locks to work, need the locks to function consistently.  Should the locks be used 24 hours a day and break down, who would Harding blame then?

I won’t do this, but I like it

April 9, 2010

This story could well be fake, but it sure does scratch a desire for punishing bad students*.

The teacher has attached a McDonald’s application to a failing test.

From Boingboing.


*Perhaps I need a blogpost on a definition of a bad student.  For this post, let me simply say that ‘bad student’ could describe any student, at least temporarily, who has interrupted the flow of class to the detriment of his/her classmates.  The ‘temporarily’ part of the definition is important; any student could be a ‘sleepy’ student in one class and shine through the rest of the semester and I would hope the same is understood by the teacher doing the describing.

no sarcasm yet

April 8, 2010

I am a sarcastic guy.  I like that kind of humour.   Also, I am the kind of guy who tries to sing in private even when he only knows two lines to a song.

I have been watching, and loving, episodes of Corner Gas on Youtube.  At the end of each episode, some Canadian group sings a song with the opening lines of , “I don’t know/ the same things that you don’t know.”  and that’s all I know of the song.  I sang that one lyric a few times and my son asked me what I was doing.

“Singing a song.”

“Woah, short song.”

Now, if I had said that, it would have been in a very teasing tone. The little guy, in contrast, had just taught himself that songs could apparently be very short.