Archive for the ‘economics’ Category

Freelancing is challenging!

September 8, 2016


Image from.

In early July, I moved to Incheon, where my wife had been transferred, from Busan, where I had worked and my son went to school.  We were a happy family again…

A week later, I went to Gangwon Province to work at an ESL camp, returning to Incheon in mid August. Two weeks later, the whole family – all the in-laws – went to Jeju Island to celebrate my mother-in-law’s birthday.

In between all that and continuing to this moment, I have been looking for work.  Summer isn’t the peak hiring season for universities although I applied to all within, first 50 km, then 80 km and then as classes began, up to 120 km away.  Nothing.

I had been looking at piece work but didn’t want to commit in case I found a long term employer.  And so, now I diving into piece-work.

So far, I can’t complain about being too busy. I spend an hour or two a day on four websites: Koreabridge, Dave’s ESL Cafe, Craig’s List and Facebook specialty pages with job listings (you need to be invited to these so no link here). Of the group, Craig’s List has the best short term listings. Or, it has the most, which might not be the same thing.

Now is a good time to note that I have an F-6 visa, different from most native speaker English teachers, and working at a variety of places is permitted. As a university instructor, my contracts included a clause that I would not work off campus without the permission of the university. In other words, working off campus sometimes meant breaking the contract rather than breaking the law.

And so currently on my plate are:

subbing for a few days for a person going home for a funeral,

an interview for teaching one evening a week at a high school,

and working in a nearby suburb with a young professional and being paid by his corporation.

The thing is, the funeral was put off a week (I don’t know how that works), the professional wants to meet me today, next Tuesday but can’t, and not can because I don’t have subbing to do and the meeting I was going to have with the high school at 5:00 but couldn’t because of the subbing was moved to 6:30 and now back to 6:00.

I look at ten positions and mailed three to five applications a day and when I get responses, they don’t always include information on the position.  Today, I had to ask an employer (No, let’s say client. It sounds better) to refresh my memory on the details.

I now keep Google Calendar open all the time in a browser and will now record the details of every position I apply to in a dated file, “applications Sept 8” to help me keep track.

My brother-in-law is a dentist and an incredible guy.  The thing about dentists is, they are masters of production line throughput in a way that I don’t see with other medical doctors.  While the freezing is taking effect in a patient’s mouth, or an X-ray is developing (that might be an outdated phrase now, do digital x-rays develop?), he is doing the actual fingers-in-mouth work or interviewing a patient or parent…. At his home, he has horses and the farrier (I mean the guy who trims the hooves and works with horseshoes. I think that’s the right term) was in to work while I visited. The two discussed the similarities in their work, with my brother-in-law saying, “First, you find work, then you get a reputation, then you find work sites closer together and choose clients deliberately rather than desperately”.

That describes my plans, such as they are.  The three work sites are not close to home but will get me noticed.  The corporate work is likely to grow and in my interview, I described this first contract as a probationary one for both of us. We would both see how the other worked and hopefully grow from there.  They are interested and eager to find me work in my home neighbourhood if they can.

I gotta keep organized and on top of the schedules and check the postings every day.  It’s a good life if you don’t weaken.

Ethiopia is using the water flowing through it.

June 15, 2013

Four years ago, I wrote about trans-boundary water issues in Korea and about one flood that killed six in South Korea.  This slight familiarity with international treaties on the subject made this article in Scientific American about Ethiopia ending a decades-long agreement with Egypt over water use catch my attention.  Ethiopia is part of a new treaty involving five other Nile Basin countries that gives them greater autonomy over water use and leaving Egypt’s 84 million people in some jeopardy.

Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi said on Monday he did not want “war” but would keep “all options open”, prompting Ethiopia to say it was ready to defend its $4.7 billion Great Renaissance Dam near the border with Sudan.

Ethiopia and five other Nile basin countries – Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda – have now signed a deal effectively stripping Cairo of its veto, based on colonial-era treaties, over dam projects on the Nile, source of nearly all of Egypt’s water.

Canada and the US continue to have good relations regarding water use.  If the subject interests you, here are reports on Great Lakes Water and the Columbia River treaty.


Added a week later:


“Some pronouncements were made in the heat of the moment because of emotions. They are behind us,” Mohamed Kamel Amr, Egypt’s foreign minister, told a joint news conference with his Ethiopian counterpart Tedros Adhanom in Ethiopia’s capital.

The closing of Springwater Park

March 19, 2013

On Saturday, my son and I visited Springwater Provincial Park. along with a few hundred others, to show support for the continued existence of the park which is slated to lose its status at the end of the month.  It is a great little park and everyone there had fun.

Springwater links:  Facebook, Barrie Examiner.

I will be sad to see the park go but I can’t claim to be heavily invested in it.  It is a great local park for Barrie but I have only visited it twice.  I guess I won’t be visiting it again as it will become a ‘non-operational’ park the beginning of April.  I think that means the cross country hiking or ski trails will continue to be open but the animal sanctuary, the unique part of the park, will be no more.

Animal sanctuaries are my thing.  I love seeing local wildlife close up and even as a young adult would call strangers walking down the street to see some raccoon or snake I had found.  The Robertcats (I convinced my son that it was too informal to call them ‘bobcats’) and lynx were the first I had seen ever. I even loved the “site vacant” signs with their explanation that the park did not buy or collect animals but only provide a home for those unable to return to the wild. This kind of viewing opportunity needs to be preserved.

The thing is, from a numbers standpoint, the park really should be shut down.  I said that several hundred people attended the Saturday gathering, but that is probably the same number as visited the park in two or three months last year.  This is a local secret that people only seem to learn about from word of mouth.

I hope Springwater stays open but I also hope other people and parks are taking a second look at marketing and public awareness.  I’ve been out of the country for thirteen years so perhaps my ability, or lack of, to name parks is no indicator of the average Ontarians’.  I looked at the Ontario Provincial Parks website and was happily surprised to see how many there are, and how many I didn’t know about in my neighbourhood.  Well, I might be a little upset, too.

Why aren’t these parks better known?  Springwater is a great park that I suspect no one knew about three months ago.  I only recently learned that Springwater has cross country ski trails.  Wish I’d known that in early February.

As I’ve repeatedly written, I’ve been away.  I am not sure what the responsibilities of a park are compared to the responsibilities of the “Friends of…”  Who is involved in marketing?  How professional are these groups.  Back in the nineties, I had thought “Friends of Algonquin Park” was a volunteer organization of enthusiasts.

The thing I want is for those responsible for Awenda Prov Park and Arrowhead Prov Park to be sure they are keeping their parks in the public’s eye.  These are two great places that I know about that don’t get much attention. I know nothing about Bass Lake, McCrae or Mara Provincial Parks even though I drive within 50kms of them twice or more a month.  Explorer’s Edge, are these parks are in your region of responsibility?

What advice can I give to the marketers?  Well, I have a few ideas.

First, when you make a website, Facebook page, Google+ or Twitter account, Keep Adding Content!  The Wye Marsh, a great place that also needs to be aware of its marketing, offers both a good and bad example.  The Facebook page Wye Marsh has four friends and five photos (all mine!).  It has been in operation for two years with no apparent support from Marsh management.  The Wye Marsh Wildlife Centre, another Facebook page, is full of what appears to be daily content.  Attention seems to attract attention.  Next to actual Wye Marsh generated content is more content made and prepared by the public.  Win-win.

Second, make sure you have accounts with the three media above (and more) and your own website.  Link between them.  Really, these two steps are all that is needed for basic Search Engine Optimization.

Third, plan some events and write about them now!  Don’t wait until news comes that your park will soon be shut down. Do it now.

three laws of future employment

February 9, 2012

Daniel Jelski at Newgeography discusses his three laws of future employment.  What I got from the article was ‘more of the Red Queen problem’.  Everyone is running faster so you have to run as fast as you can just to stay in the same place.

Let’s start with the three Laws of Future Employment. Law #1: People will get jobs doing things that computers can’t do. Law #2: A global market place will result in lower pay and fewer opportunities for many careers. (But also in cheaper and better products and a higher standard of living for American consumers.) Law #3: Professional people will more likely be freelancers and less likely to have a steady job.

He goes on to discuss how STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) fields are not good bets for the future.

Laws #1 & 2 predict that there will likely be fewer STEM jobs in the future – they are both easily computerized and tradable. People will always be employed in STEM disciplines, many of them highly paid, but they’ll be paid for smarts rather than education. The disciplines will be much more competitive, with older and less talented workers left on the sidelines.

So if computerized, tradable skills won’t create much new employment, if any, what will? Clearly, it will be non-tradable skills that can’t be computerized. At their most valuable these jobs depend on human-human interaction – empathy. Counseling (of any sort: psychiatric, financial, weight loss, etc.), sales, customer service, management, and personal services all rely on empathy, as does waitressing. While much teaching can be computerized, what remains will depend more on empathy than anything else. “They don’t care what you know, but they will know if you care,” is a maxim future teachers should take to heart.

I’ve already quoted extensively.  Please read his conclusions.

You could also read Tabarrok’s response (He is quoted in the article) at Marginal Revolution.

My own concern on the subject -without disagreeing with him- is that the service industry is not profitable.  Wait staff can earn significant amounts in tips but (I admit I’ve been away for a while so I could be wrong) not that many people receive tips.  Service jobs do require more empathy  than skills jobs, but fewer people can perform the skilled work.  I fear the end of any sort of middle class and a sort of hereditary nobility and serf class.

Teacher’s pay

February 7, 2012

One of my aunts has long been a critic of teacher’s pay.  Well, we haven’t discussed the subject in years, so let’s say she was a critic.  She felt that Canadian school teachers only work a few hours a day and have all summer off plus large breaks during the year.

There are rebuttals, chiefly that school teachers often have homework to mark through their evenings and professional development during their summers.  There are many extra tasks that come with teaching that add to the total workload, so their salaries amy not be so high per hour as my aunt suggests.

This does not apply to me so much.  I work a university professor’s schedule but am not threatened by ‘publish-or-perish’ or research expectations that teachers with many initials after their names are.

I think I can admit my pay per hour is relatively high but that I don’t work enough hours and the university contract makes it difficult for me to work more hours off-campus.  One problem at Korean universities for ESL instructors (in English, they call me “professor” but the Korean word is closer to ‘instructor’) is that the university wants F- visa holders (married to a Korean citizen) because we are more likely to be here for the long-term.  On the other hand, a large number of F- visas holders have families and are looking for a higher salary to support a family.

I have been investigating giving private lessons and have acquaintances who have quoted fantastic pay per hour.  It’s work I would like to do but honestly don’t feel I am worth the money they are getting per hour.  I don’t know these people, or their teaching habits and abilities, very well, so let me careful to say I am not sure that any teacher is worth 50,000 won per hour, a sum they they regularly exceed.  They might be that skilled and capable, but I am not sure how.  I am uncertain of their abilities but figure that mine are comparable.  I would love to be paid that much but is it reasonable?

Alabama State Senator Shadrack McGill (via Friendly Atheist) would say no. He starts the quote below by discussing why legislators deserve more pay but why teachers don’t:

McGill said that by paying legislators more, they’re less susceptible to taking bribes.

“He needs to make enough that he can say no, in regards to temptation. … Teachers need to make the money that they need to make. There needs to be a balance there. If you double what you’re paying education, you know what’s going to happen? I’ve heard the comment many times, ‘Well, the quality of education’s going to go up.’ That’s never proven to happen, guys.

“It’s a Biblical principle. If you double a teacher’s pay scale, you’ll attract people who aren’t called to teach.

“To go in and raise someone’s child for eight hours a day, or many people’s children for eight hours a day, requires a calling. It better be a calling in your life. I know I wouldn’t want to do it, OK?

“And these teachers that are called to teach, regardless of the pay scale, they would teach. It’s just in them to do. It’s the ability that God give ’em. And there are also some teachers, it wouldn’t matter how much you would pay them, they would still perform to the same capacity.

Giving a teacher more money would attract lazy teachers, ones who are only in it for the money.  Giving a senator more money reduces the danger of corruption and acceptance of bribes.

Now, there have been reports of school teachers accepting bribes in Korea so maybe that is an argument for their receiving better pay.

One argument for fighting for higher pay is the uncertain nature of work in Korea for Native Speaker English Teachers.

The Seoul Ministry Of Education is thinking about getting rid of all it’s NSETs.  It wasn’t that long ago that they were hiring native-speakers-with-heartbeats.

A Geek in Korea made public a remark from John in Daejeon about Teaching ESL in that city.  Here is an excerpt:

I hope you have some backup plans just in case something happens that affects your position.

I bring this up because, over the holiday, my old boss informed me that 20% of the hagwons in the his association here in Daejeon are close to shutting their doors due to low enrollment, and that this was the first year in his 10 years of being a member that no new directors joined the group. So there happens to be quite a bit of nervousness even among those members whose academies are still doing well as to the “up in the air” future of education in South Korea. Some directors have even started using part-time native speakers who are married to Koreans to save money on E-2 visa processing, airfare, housing, and whatever other benefits that they can get away with not paying them to help save money.

At least at the university level, foreign (Chinese) students can be enrolled in greater numbers to justify keeping teachers. However, if there are fewer and fewer students enrolling in elementary schools due to the low birth rate here, what justification is there in keeping the current levels of public school teachers and hagwon teachers? […]

Seeing as I am morally troubled by asking for a high salary, perhaps I need to change my teaching strategy.

Yoo Soo-youn earns a billion won a year (about a million Canadian dollars) teaching TOEIC

…TOEIC English  proficiency test, which is still widely taken in Korea. “I leave home around six-thirty in the morning and give TOEIC lectures from 7 a.m to 2 p.m. I teach about 1,000 people, 200 in each of the five classes,” she says. “After the lectures, I head over to the Yoo soo-youn English Center, which I established, around 2.30 p.m. When I’m done there, I head back to my classes and lecture from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. I usually handle three classes of 200 people. My day officially ends when I get home around 11 p.m. I usually go to sleep at 1.30 a.m. in the morning after I check online posts and comments related to my lectures. I haven’t slept for more than five hours a day since I became an adult.”

She lectures to 1600 people a day.  That’s a lot but it could be more.

Sebastian Thrun taught an Artificial Intelligence course online for Stanford and had an enrollment between 60,000 and 160,000.  He is now trying to run a course for 500,000 students at a time.  I’m straying off topic here because I have no information on Thrun’s salary.

“Having done this, I can’t teach at Stanford again…It’s impossible…there’s a red pill and a blue pill and you can take the blue pill and go back your classroom and lecture your 20 students. But I’ve taken the red pill and seen Wonderland.”

Now teaching isn’t the same as learning.  I happily accept that these two teachers, with their huge numbers of students, work hard to offer as much help to their students as possible.    Still, working with a thousand or more students a day seems too impersonal to me.

So I will finish this post as I started: wondering if I should be working at a high per-student rate for a small number of students or a small per-student rate for many.

The Times on saving energy and travel for women

October 21, 2011

A career educator in nearby Changwon discussed management styles of energy conservation in today’s Korea Times.  At one college, the owner/president decreed that all employees should do all in their power to reduce energy use.   Later, at a private university, individual rooms were proctored by students who made sure the lights and electronics were turned off when the room was not in use.  The student also kept the rooms clean and the white- or black- boards were clear.  Finally, at a national university, no one seemed to care about energy use and lights were often left on in empty classrooms

In the final situation, the teacher would typically turn lights off as he passed vacant rooms. 

“For my part, I like the last one with the students and the teachers taking care of things around us on their own.  That is, after all, the real aim of education.”

I agree with his philosophical point; that we should care for things around us.  I wonder who should be teaching this, and when, though.

A simple activity that anyone at university can do, that will make everyone much more comfortable and will also save energy is to ensure that the access doors to the building are closed when not in use.  I see this as win, win, win, win.  The fourth ‘win’ is that fewer access doors to buildings will be locked if people learn to close them properly. 

Also in the Times was the article “Solo travels offers unique perspective for women”.  I expect that the titles claim is correct but article is interesting for two other reasons.

The first is that the online version of the paper has no awareness of the article.  MSNBC offers the article and notes that it is copyrighted with the Associated Press.  Okay, in the corner in small print of the Time, I can see (AP).

The second reason I find it interesting is a travel story included in the article that matches very closely the experience a friend had and it also relates to language awareness.

Safety is also an important consideration for Warkentin. After being robbed of her camera at knifepoint while traveling alone in Chile in 1992, she downsized her camera and routinely uses windows or other reflective surfaces to see who’s behind her.

A female friend traveled to Brazil some time ago and spent a day at a beach.  While on the beach, vendors repeatedly spoke to her, asking her to buy their product.  At the end of the day, she was tired of this and when a man near a bus stop stood in front of her and yelled, “cuchillo…[something, something..]”, she ignored him and told him, “No!”.  Then she went to her hotel and learned “cuchillo” means knife*and the man had probably been trying to rob her.

If she had spoken better Portuguese, she could have been robbed.  I think she was lucky and don’t recommend this, but not knowing the language saved her a lot of trouble.

*I think “cuchillo” is knife in Spanish and Portuguese, but could be off. Also, I heard the story long ago.

Bounty hunting, Korea style

October 7, 2011

Are kids studying late at night in hagwons?  Turn ’em in (via Idiot’s collective)!

SEOUL—On a recent afternoon, Jung Doo-gil walked into an after-school academy with a hidden camera in her purse in search of a peculiar type of wrongdoing: overeducation.

She has joined a nationwide cat-and-mouse game among parents zealous for more education for their children and government and activists who are trying to reduce the fever.

Caught in the middle are the managers and teachers working in after-school academies called hagwons.

Other bounty hunters work to “film people committing small crimes and then turn the evidence in for a bounty…

Mr. Im’s pet target is people who burn garbage at construction sites, a violation of environmental laws.

“I’m making three times what I made as an English tutor,” said Mr. Im, 39, who began his new line of work around seven years ago and says he makes about $85,000 a year….

The bounties, however, are only part of the issue. More fundamentally, what we are seeing is the ubiquity of surveillance. I have mixed feeling about this transformation but given technology it is inevitable. What we can do, however, is to ensure that the surveillance goes all ways. The government surveils us both directly and with the help of the junior bounty hunters but we must guard our rights to also surveil them.

(Above I quoted Alex Taborrok at Marginal Revolution -the full-width text- and the article he is commenting on – the indented text.)

I could sure make a mint filming people running red lights.  At the exit from my apartment, when I wait for a green light, people pass me on the right and make a left turn in front of me.

Taborrok’s final paragraph really applies to both articles.  I agree with his point: we will never escape surveillance so we need to really open up how we, the public, use it.

Soon, the lack of video evidence will be a point against suspects.  “If you are innocent, why don’t you have video evidence verifying the fact?”

Sympathy for the president

September 29, 2011

I am powerfully ambivalent about Korea’s President Lee Myeong-bak.  I don’t care for and don’t trust his giant schemes for improving Korea’s waterways.  The Canal plan was ludicrous.  On the other hand, he is the man I want in charge around here when it comes to dealing with North Korea.  I think the Sunshine Policy of the late Kim Dae-jung has been shown to be a failure and Roh Mu-hyon was not the right man to face off against the North Koreans.

In an recent Joongang article, Lee’s problems with corruption are discussed.  I am again torn.  without once claiming that Lee had ever been personally involved in bribes while in the construction field, I have to imagine he saw them and saw how influence could be bought.  At his level of leadership, he must understand how corruption works from the other side in contract discussions.

From the article:

Lee sternly warned members of his government to maintain their integrity and transparency, calling it an important goal of his administration. “The crisis was prompted by the so-called confidants who have failed to separate their personal lives from their lives as public servants,” Lee was quoted as saying. “Public servants must work with a new determination, and the people working in the cabinet, Blue House and near the president must remember this.”

Lee also ordered the Ministry of Justice to investigate the corruption allegations of his aides quickly and thoroughly.

“Cases against my relatives and aides must be investigated more sternly,” Lee said. “That will allow us to achieve the goal of building a transparent administration and an advanced country.”

I hope he means this and follows through.

Aides, relatives and top public servants will be the objects of special surveillance to detect corruption, Yim said, adding that top officials have agreed to work toward “self-purification.”

“Until now, investigations only took place when allegations were raised at the National Assembly or by the media,” Yim said. “But from now on, we will thoroughly look into rumors and suspicions. We also want to spot accusations with malicious intent.”

This sounds good but feels very much like the way Muslims and, well, brown people in the US are “the objects of special surveillance” and dragged off of airplanes due to “rumors and suspicions”.

I would like to see other focuses for such investigations.  If Korea wants to show the world it is working on reducing corruption, chaebol leaders should not be so quickly released and pardoned.  They may indeed deserve to be “the object of special surveillance.”

I was told by my adult students that during their occupation by Japan, breaking the law was a  form of resistance and patriotism.  I feel that even though the leadership is now domestic, the tradition continues.  As the son, grandson and husband of police officers, I do acknowledge that the police need to be themselves watched.  Here in Korea, they also need and deserve more respect.  I don’t know, but I suspect a broken window policy here might help.  Show that people will be charged for minor violations (the metaphorical breaking of windows or more concretely of traffic violations) and they may gain more respect for the rest of the legal system.  People would have trouble feeling less.

Koreans not so good at math?

June 29, 2011


From the Dong-a:

Korea will introduce next month a pension lottery that awards each winner an inheritable monthly payment of 5 million won (4,619 U.S. dollars) before taxes over a 20-year period.The new lottery is part of the Korean government`s efforts to cope with the rapidly aging society by benchmarking similar lotteries in the U.S., Canada and Germany.

Perhaps I misunderstand the article.  Is it saying that seniors could win the lottery and use the money as their pension?  Or will the proceeds from the lottery go towards senior centres and the like?

I, too, dream of winning the lottery and not worrying anymore about money.  I know better, though, and have never bought a ticket.  Surely, anyone with common sense knows that money given to lotteries is money thrown away?

I guess not:

A person can buy up to 100,000 won (924 dollars) worth of the lottery tickets at 1,000 won (92 cents) each. Sale of a ticket is banned for those under age 19.

I extended the quoted section to include the age limit.  As James at the Grand Narrative will tell you, the age of consent for sex is much lower.  It seems that the government understand somewhat that lotteries are dangerous… The money available from them is so tempting though – to the government, I mean.

Its not easy being a student

May 20, 2011

Below is another link dump discussing the business of education.

Marginal Revolution quotes a past-president of the American Teacher’s Federation and it sounds like something a member of the Korean Teacher’s Union would say:

When schoolchildren start paying union dues, that’s when I’ll start representing the interests of schoolchildren.

When that school child does graduate, union member or not, his future isn’t as rosy as he might have hoped (Salon):

However, it’s an open question whether their hard work — and considerable expenditure — will help them find employment. A study published yesterday by Rutgers’s John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development paints an unencouraging picture of their chances in the current job market.

I remember playing Hamurabi, an early text-based computer game in high school and being surprised by how much each farmer needed to eat.  Does the American congress know how much it costs to educate a child?