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Wednesday, July 26, 2006

In the mail

When I was in Nepal getting mail was the highlight of my week. I hiked three hours into the district center, Phidim, every weekend for three things: cold beer, different food, and mail. And if I had had to make do with only one of the three, I would have really missed the beer and food.

One of my Peace Corps friends used to say, "Hey, I got a package from your mom with a letter that says she loves me more than she loves you!" It was the kind of funny that has that undertone of fear; "What if they stop writing to me?" Not that I ever figured Andy was a serious rival for my parents' attention. I mean, they had never even met the guy, so what the heck was he doing saying something like that! Dude!

Ok. I'm back.

Here in Korea it's a different ball game. I can buy a lot of stuff that I just couldn't get in Nepal, especially food stuff. Still, a package from home is a pretty special event for me. So when a package came today, for no reason other than my parents love us and miss us, we were quite happy.

Clothes for Maxine, Horyon and myself. A very cool stone box for Horyon, a CD of kids music that is not at all annoying for Maxine, and a Jayhawk pen for me. The pen plays the closing strains to K.U.'s fight song, "I'm a Jayhawk" when you press the end. At first I thought that it would be annoying hearing that every time I opened or closed the pen, then I realized that it's a twisty pen, so I will only hear the song when I forget that it's not a click pen.

I am already collecting music for Maxine. I'm hoping that the larger her collection is, the less likely she will be to listen to the same annoying CD over and over and over again. I know, it's a vain hope. But I am also hoping to avoid having seriously annoying music in the collection.

The CD Mom and Dad sent me (sorry, I meant Maxine) is Folk Playground by Putumayo Kids. Putumayo is (apparently) a world music label. This CD is a lot of fun for me to listen to. Doesn't bother Maxine, either. I hope that when she gets older she actually likes it, because I could live with listening to it a few hundred times. It's a mix of modern and traditional American folk music for kids, from "Polly Wolly Doodle" and "This Old Man" to "Got No Strings" (from Pinochio) and stuff written since I was born. It all has an acoustic feel to it, as well as a "come on, sing along with me!" vibe. Songs you'd sing around the campfire with a guitar (or banjo) if you had a fire and a guitar and knew how to play.

If you look around a bit on the Putumayo site, you can find a link to their radio show, which you can listen to on the 'net. Right now I'm listening to a Nelson Mandela tribute. Of course, I can't understand the lyrics, but the announcer talks about the songs between tracks. I'm thinking this is a good label to look into.

Well dang. I started this post more than a week ago and forgot about it. Sorry about that. It's going up now.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Help with books, please!

So as I mentioned in my previous post, my cousin (Horyon's cousin actually, but why be picky?) Jeongwon needed some book advice.

Jeongwon is 14 years old now. I first met her almost 6 years ago, and she couldn't speak a word of English. It was so bad that my Korean was better than her English. But we got along famously, and I always looked forward to seeing her. And now her English is so good that I feel embarrassed speaking Korean around her. Her vocabulary is huge, and her grammar is pretty sharp for a 14-year-old; a 14-year-old American! Our personalities aren't that much the same: she's a fairly serious girl, making only occasional jokes, but enjoying mine. She does not share my love for SF and fantasy--she doesn't care for Harry Potter, can you believe it? But she does like to read. And that makes her tops in my book.

Here's the problem: she and her parents are asking me for advice on what books to buy for her. It's too bad she can't just pop down to a public library in any given American town, but Korean libraries have (understandably) limited selections of books in English, in spite of the national obsession with my mother tongue.

So they gave me these data points:

By Roald Dahl
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory: Appropriate level, on the easy side.
Danny, the Champion of the World: More difficult than Charlie.
The Witches: Pretty hard to understand, but she can follow it.

Lily's Crossing (Patricia Reilly Giff): Too hard. She can understand it word by word, and sentence by sentence, but the ideas pile up too fast. She started reading it at an institute, but quit the institute. Even before quitting she didn't follow the book very well.

The Nutcracker, The Secret Garden, and Little Women: These are all simple English adaptations, the last two of which she read in Korean first. Adaptations are fine, but I'm hoping to set her up with stories presented the way they were written.

Today I met Jeongwon and we went book shopping after I bought us some lunch. That was after I went to meet her at the wrong subway stop because there's some kind of stone or something caught between my ears that keeps me from thinking well.

Today we bought:
The Cricket in Times Square (George Seldon)
The Sign of the Beaver (Elizabeth George Speare)

I liked The Cricket back in Elementary school, but didn't recognize the second book. We looked at the back covers, and read a few passages selected at random. Jeongwon thinks she may have read the Korean version of The Cricket, and she liked the description of The Sign.

I asked her to try reading one of them this week, to see how it goes. I will write about it as she tells me.

So from you, my readers, I am asking for suggestions. I know that some of you are (or have been) teachers, in elementary and middle school. Can you make some recommendations for Jeongwon? I thought about The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, but as I said, she's not much of a fantasy person. And frankly, all I know of adolescent fiction is from 20 years ago.

If you have any ideas, please post them as comments on Roblog. I know it's a bit of a hassle to do so, but that way other people can see your recommendations and add to them.

Thank you all in advance.



p.s. Two posts in one day! What's the world coming to!

Details of Bike Ride and stuff, and more stuff

Yeah, it was a good weekend.

On Friday Horyon and I went to the movies. We saw "Superman Returns" and we both liked it. We ate lunch a Burger King and liked everything except the Chicken Tenders. Too much chicken substitute. Fortunately there were only four of them.

If, like me, you grew up on Christopher Reeves' Superman, you will like S.R. It had the same feel as the original Superman, with updated effects. Pretty intelligent plot for a superhero movie, and a good balance of action and story. And there were times when I swore I was looking at Christopher Reeves up there. The new Superman has Reeves' mannerisms down pat, especially as Clark.

Anyway, back to the bike ride details:

Dalmaji is a long hill with a nice view. When I first started riding, I couldn't make it to the top at all, but I put my mind to it and eventually made it. It's not the worst hill in town by any stretch, but it's a good ride. The traffic is light enough that it doesn't feel like I'm in constant mortal danger, and it's open enough to get a breeze. And up at the top there is a resting area where lazy people like to park their cars and enjoy the view without having properly earned it.

I started my ride alone, but I ended up riding with a couple of Korean guys I bumped into on the way. They were going the same direction, and it is definitely safer and more fun to ride with other people. They put me on lead, probably assuming that I would set an easy pace. They were probably right. By the time we topped Dalmaji I was huffing and puffing fit to blow a house in. (Actually, I didn't top Dalmaji itself, just what I think of as Dalmaji 1. Dalmaji 2 is the real top, but I wasn't' up for it.)

I felt pretty good when I got home. Slept well Saturday night, and wasn't even too sore on Sunday. It seems that my cycling muscles are in better shape than my lungs. I'm sure that I would be in better shape if I did this more often, but it's hard to make the time.

Sunday night we visited Horyon's aunt (Sookmo, as you may remember) and uncle. They have moved into a new apartment, and were throwing a house-warming party. Sookmo cooked up a storm, and it was all very tasty. (OK, not all as in 100%. There was one cucumber dish that tasted like it had been pickled in rotten fish. In fact, it may very well have been, as I've had similar tasting dishes before. There are some foods that I just can't develop a taste for.) The main dish was pork ribs cooked in a thick, barbecue-style (but not barbecue) sauce with potatoes, carrots and sweet potatoes. I put away my fair share of that one, along with the fried noodles, various kimchis, mushroom pancakes (better than it sounds!), and, of course, rice. I was stuffed like the turkey I am, and loved every minute of it.

afterwards, they asked me to help Jungwon to make some book recommendations. And that will be my next post.

We went home that night and I spent a couple of hours putting together my plan for today's class. I was happy with it, and only ended up using about 1/3 of it today, so I don't need to plan much for tomorrow or the next day.

And right now both of my girls are sleeping. Adorable like you wouldn't believe, the both of 'em. I am one blessed man.



Saturday, July 22, 2006

Bike Ride and Other Stuff

Today was a good day. For starters, we ran the a.c. last night. That always makes for a good night for me, except for one small problem; occasionally I have to get out of bed and leave our bedroom, which is the only airconditioned room in the apartment. If you've been reading Roblog for any amount of time, you know why.

Maxine had a bit of an unsettled night. She woke up two or three times. (I loose track at the high numbers, to tell the truth, and in the middle of the night two is a pretty high number of times to wake up.) Not unusual. We have nights when she wakes up just once, and the occasional night where she gets up to five times. Last night wasn't bad, because each time I took care of her all I had to do was lay her down, pop the pacifier in her mouth, and sit by the crib for a few minutes to make sure she was asleep. I changed her diaper once. The work end of it was not the problem. The problem was leaving the air-conditioned comfort of our room. There's a wall-mounted fan in Maxine's room, so it's not really that hot, but after a.c., nothing feels good except a.c. The unsettled part came around 5 a.m. She woke up, and when I went in to check on her she was wide awake, and nothing I did made her calm down or sleep. In situations like this, I call in the big guns: Horyon's Boobs. A quick feeding will put Maxine back to sleep if nothing else works. This is required about once a week now. Hopefully it will drop off to nothing soon.

So today we had lunch with a friend from Horyon's church. You see, a couple of weeks ago Horyon went to lunch with her parents and a group of church people who clean the church on Saturdays, and one person paid. This being Korea, it is pretty much impossible to go Dutch or offer to pay for yourself in situations like this, so Horyon offered to treat the friend to lunch sometime. Ended up being today.

We had bo-sam: steamed pork is the centerpiece, though to a Kansas boy like myself, the one plate of meat for all five of us (Maxine doesn't eat unprocessed meat yet) looked like the right amount for one person. Not here. For individuals there was dol-sot-bap: rice cooked in a heavy stone bowl, and served hot. You scoop your rice out and into a regular rice bowl, except for the rice that has burned to the sides of the stone bowl. That burned rice is called nurungji (new-roong-gee), and it is eaten after the main course. You put some water in the stone bowl and it makes a sort of bland rice soup. Not my favorite, but it's a good match with food that is too spicy. Those main courses were good, but this place had the best side dishes I've had in a long time. There must have been ten different kinds, and only one that I didn't like. Tasted like cucumbers pickled in rotten fish guts with a hint of turpentine. But everything else was awesome. I am putting that restaurant on my list of places to return to.

After lunch, Horyon returned to her parents house, and I came home. I had a private lesson to go teach. Unfortunately, from a monetary perspective, but fortunately from a time perspective, he canceled. So I went on a bike ride.

I used to ride pretty regularly, but since Maxine came into our lives, back and forth to work (3.5 km going, 4.5 coming, as I take the scenic route) is about all I usually get in. Today I got a solid 27 km ride, to Dalmaji and back.

Now I'm tired. I'm going to bed. I'll try to fill in the details later. For now, I had a good ride, but my butt is a bit sore.



Monday, July 17, 2006

Keepin' Busy during vacation

Hi everyone!

You're probably wondering what hole I've fallen into. Let me tell you: it's called "English Job Interview Class." I am enjoying it, but it's taking a lot of work. In 2002 I got my first university job at Kosin University, and it took me a year or so to settle into it. At Kosin I taught conversation and writing, but that was it. Since coming to Kyungsung University I've taught only two types of classes: a university credit class for freshmen, and a non-graded institute class for adults. (And yes, as far as I'm concerned freshmen are not adults.) The former was much like my Kosin classes, only larger, and the latter was much like my ELS classes, only longer (three months instead of one) and I haven't gotten married to any of the students.

So this is my first class of completely new content in five years. And though I have been through a few job interviews, the last serious interview in America was for the Peace Corps, back in 1993 or '94. Since then all of my job interviews have been here, and though they have been in English, they have still been Korean jobs. In other words, the decision of whether or not to hire me had pretty much been made already by people I hadn't met yet talking with people I had met. It's not so much what you know as who you know, don't you know.

In other words, I'm teaching all new stuff. And you know what you have to do when you teach new stuff? You have to plan.

In addition, I am using two new resources. Well, new to me, anyway. The first is Impress. Impress is Open Office dot-Org's version of PowerPoint, from our old friends at Microsoft. (No link to Microsoft, as your computer undoubtedly steers you that way from time to time whether you like it or not.) Open Office dot-org (OO.o) is basically a free version of Microsoft Office. Not exactly the same, but it has parallel versions of all of MO's programs, and those programs not only have similar features, but can be used to access any files that you have created with MO programs. In addition, you can save/convert your OO.o files to MO format. It's free. It's not Microsoft. What more could one ask for?

The second new resource is Moodle. My coworker, Earl, who has been mentioned on Roblog from time to time and is usually happy about that, introduced me to Moodle. Moodle is, to quote their website, "a free, open-source, course management system for on-line learning."

It's even cooler than it sounds.

Basically, Moodle is web-site software. Once you load it onto a host computer, you can do a ton of educating right through the internet. Right now I am using it for very basic stuff: I put together my presentations on Impress, save them as Shockwave files, then upload them to Moodle. On the page for my Job Interview Class, the students can see individual lessons, past and future, as I allow them. I am teaching this particular class in a room with a computer and projector, so I go to the Moodle site, log into my class, and open up the lesson for the day. Whoomp there it is.

I teach the class, and my notes are up on the screen, much easier to read than my usual chalkboard scribbling. In addition, the students can access those same notes from any computer with an internet connection. I can also just write simple documents right on the site, as well as adding links to web pages, pictures, videos, sound. All the clever stuff you associate with the internet.

Well, if I had any video or sound files that I wanted to use, I could add them.

And that is cool enough. But this is more than just a program for organizing teaching materials. It also incorporates testing software. I can write tests with nine different kinds of questions (though I am unlikely to use the two math-based question styles), and have the tests graded and administered in a staggering variety of ways.

There is a lesson format that allows you to present materials then test comprehension, only passing students who answer the comprehension questions correctly, and keeping a score for them.

Like any first-time software user, I'm on a learning curve. The basics are simple enough, but I find it hard to just settle for the basics.

So there you have it. I'm teaching this class in July, and another, similar class, in August. The August class is very much an unknown. I should have the same students who studied with Earl in July, but I doubt that all of them will be keen to return for more. In fact, I'm guessing that less than half of them will do so. So it may end up being a very intimate class.

Oh, and how is it that I can write to you today? It's a holiday in Korea. Constitution Day. So Happy Constitution Day to all of you, and may all of your amendments pass with a three-quarter majority in both house and senate and be ratified by the president.



Monday, July 10, 2006


You may have heard that we experienced a typhoon here in South Korea. Standard for this time of year. The worst is past us as I write this. No more rain, but enough wind to rock us to sleep here in the 19th floor. We weathered this one with no broken windows, umbrellas or bones, though I got pretty wet walking from my office to my classroom and back this morning. Not as bad as some of my students, though.

The class is going well, and deserves more than a sentence or two. For now, suffice it to say that I am enjoying it, the students are enthusiastic, and the attendance dropped from 45 a week ago to 20 on Friday to 12 today. Maybe that's why I like it so much.

I'm also doing some internet-based resourcing for it. I will include a link later, so you can see what I'm teaching these poor kids.



Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Maxine's been pretty busy.

Happy Independence Day, for all of my American friends out there. We celebrated today by going shopping. I got peanut butter with an American flag on the label. Whoopeeeeee.

If you were concerned about my stomach because of the abrupt ending of my previous post, there is no need to worry. Everything came out just fine.

And yeah, there are no pictures with this post.

Maxine is sleeping better. I don't put her to sleep every night, as Horyon doesn't really like my method much, but I do get to take care of her in the middle of the night sometimes, as it is now an advantage to not have milk-producing glands.

Yesterday was a long day for Maxine, and Saturday and Sunday were a bit challenging, too. Saturday we met some of Horyon's ggae friends.

And away we go, off on another long aside about Korean ggaes. First of all, to me the word "ggae" sounds exactly like the English word "gay". The double g at the beginning indicates (I believe) a glottal stop. That's a fancy way of saying that you make the g sound with the back of your tongs, almost in your throat. The origins of the ggae is a sort of pyramid scheme kind of thing. Once a month a group of friends would get together and pool together $10 each. They give the entire pot to one person, who then has a big chunk of cash to play with. In the following months, the recipient rotates, until everyone has had a piece of the action. Of course, that kind of system is wide open for abuse. Suppose you get your big money in the first month, then decide you don't want to play any more? Buh-bye.

Nowadays, they do things a bit differently. The group meets once a month, and each member puts their money in, then they spend it. They go out for a nice dinner, or take a short trip. Whatever.

Horyon's Ggae is made up of a group of women who were all teachers at the same school around the time I met her. Since then, they have all moved on to different schools, and in some cases different kinds of jobs, but they stay in touch. They all contribute $10 a month, even during the months when they can't meet, and one of them keeps track of the money, and who owes. On their birthdays they get a Lotte Department Store gift certificate for 50,000 won ($50), and once every month or two they all get together to eat and talk. When they first got started, I believe that only one of them was married, now only two out of the eight are single. At one time I knew all of their names. I may be able to list them all now:

1. Li-ay
2. Mi-ay
3. Jung-ah
4. Su-jin
5. Gil-young
6. Young-ah
7. Hwa-young
8. Horyon

Ha! Horyon has given me full passing marks on this one. Not bad considering how infrequently I see them. Usually when they get together it's just the women, though there are always one or two who bring their child/children along, but Saturday there were all but one of the husbands and both boyfriends along for the ride. Perhaps they were lured by the kamja-tang.

Kamja-tang is literally "potato soup", which is a bit of an ironic name for pork backbone stewed with some kimchi and usually one potato in a bowl of food that feeds four people. Perhaps they consider the potato to be a sort of spice? I love kamja-tang, but it was stricken from our list of regular foods to eat during Horyon's pregnancy. As you may recall, serious vomiting after eating kamja-tang was one of the first indications that Maxine existed, back when she was just a little Bumble-weezle.

But I digress. Again.

It was a fun evening, and Maxine garnered quite a bit of attention. I believe I've seen three or four of the ggae friends bring new babies to these meetings, and none of them were as pleasant as our Maxine. She likes to be passed around the table, she impresses people by standing, walking (as I hold her hands), and eating rice that I feed her. She is a real champ, but the whole thing does tire her out.

Sunday we went to church, as usual. Maxine was passed around, admired, touched and talked to, as usual. And it was tiring for her, as usual. Unusual was that she and Horyon went to Horyon's old church, Sung-sang Church, for a special event in the afternoon. I didn't go because I had a splitting alibi. I stayed home and rested up, right after I ate lunch, did the huge stack of dishes, vacuumed the floor and made rice for Horyon. I got to rest for about ten minutes. I was pretty tired, but Maxine was more tired.

Yesterday, Monday, was a long day for all of us. I went to work in the morning, not sure if I was going to be working. It's fairly cung story of life in Korea; an English Job Interview class was "planned" for July and August. "Planned" in the sense that the class was listed on posters, and teachers were chosen for July and August. One teacher for each month. Earl was listed as the July teacher, and he attended a few "planning" meetings for the class. "Planning" in the sense that Earl, who has taught this class for a number of years, told the director, Mr. Choi (sounds like "chay") the maximum number of students that would be acceptable for the class (30), and Mr. Choi only let students sign up until his paper was full (120). Upon discovering this cung maneuver, Earl told Mr. Choi that it was unacceptable, unless another teacher could be found, and Mr. Choi agreed that another teacher should be found. Earl then asked me if I would be teaching in July, whereupon I replied that as far as I knew, yes, I would be. He told me that perhaps I should check on that.

Seemed a bit strange to me. I had been asked a month ago if I were willing to teach during the summer, and I said that yes, I was, but only adults please. I love kids, especially my own, but put me in a room full of them and I find myself contemplating using the stapler to keep them in their seats. I was told that I would be teaching the adult institute class in July, and just sort of planned around that. But Earl's suggestion that I check on it got me thinking: Maybe I should check on it. So I did.

Which leads right into the second cung moment of this story. The foreign teacher liaison told me that I wasn't teaching in July, and apologized for not telling me two weeks ago when she found out.

Well. Turns out I'm free after all.

So I told Earl that I was available, and he called Mr. Choi to say that he had found another teacher.

OK, just kidding. Earl tried to call Mr. Choi to pass on the good news, but found himself facing the third little bit of cung in this story: Mr. Choi was out of town on vacation. It was Thursday, and the class started on Monday, and he was out of town.

That should not have been a big deal, and ordinarily wouldn't be cung at all. After all, in Korea cell phones outnumbered landline phones seven or eight years ago. Koreans love their cell phones. You can find stores that sell nothing but dangly bits of cute crap to attach to your cell phone and cases for your cell phone and protective skins to put on your cell phone. I've seen couples out on a date with both of them talking on their cell phones as they walk along, hand in hand. Elementary school kids have cell phones. I wouldn't be surprised if people bought cell phones for their pets. And so being out of town means nothing.

Except that Mr. Choi wasn't answering his cell phone. Or his email. He wasn't even checking on his passenger pigeons. He was totally in-cung-municado. And so it continued until Monday morning, when the class started.

Monday morning my father-in-law came at 7 a.m. to pick up Maxine. (I'll bet you had forgotten that this post was about how tired Maxine is, hadn't you?) She was happy to see him, though it was a good three hours early. Still, changes in routine are hard on people, even babies.

I went to work. Turns out I didn't have to. Not for the Job Interview class, anyway. I had to be there for any students of mine who wanted to whine about their grades, though. I made a very embarrassing three changes by Tuesday evening. Big changes, from D's to B's. There were some gaps in my grading spreadsheet that could not be explained by the rules of physics as we understand them.

But, once again, I digress. Back to the job interview class:

Only 80 students showed up. Mr. Choi was thrilled, because Earl had already suggested that the class could be split, with half of the students attending at 10, and half at 11. But Earl wouldn't stand for it. "isn't' this for the kids, Mr. Choi? They want a two hour class. They're hungry for all that English. You gotta think of the kids!"

Good ol' Earl. He really went to bat for me. If it weren't for him, I'd be sitting around all month not tacking an extra $1200 onto my July paycheck. I seriously owe him one, and plan to buy him a beer as soon as Maxine is old enough to join us.

So on Tuesday (it was today when I started writing this, though it's Wednesday now) I started teaching a class of 40 kids, most of whom actually seem to want to improve their English, especially as it relates to job interviews. So far it's a fun class, in spite of the size. I will undoubtedly write more about it later this month.

But for now, back to Maxine and why she's so tired.

Monday afternoon, Horyon called me and asked if I wanted to go to her parents church that evening for the last presentation in this special event for families. I told her that of course I would be thrilled to go sit through a lecture I couldn't understand, but I really had to get home and trim my toe nails.

Her response was a heavy sigh. And a reminder that lots of people had asked about me on Sunday. And that her parents were helping out with the hosting. And the suggestion that I could play with Maxine the whole time if I wanted. And the promise that the food would be good. And the program would only last an hour or so.

So I decided to put my toenails off until they get a bit longer.

The food was good. Lots of people said they were happy to see me, especially the in-laws. And I did get to play with Maxine quite a bit.

But the estimated duration of the event proved to be inaccurate. Very inaccurate. The speaker was very spirited, and she had a nice little power point presentation. I couldn't understand more than a few words of it, but Horyon translated some for me. An hour into this lecture, Horyon leaned over to me and whispered, "She said that small children have a short attention span, and you shouldn't lecture to them for more than two minutes!" I could only groan, "Oh, the irony!" as the children around us grew fussier and fussier.

By the time the event finished it was 9:30 p.m.! Cung! Horyon's parents felt bad about it, and explained that it was the first time for their church to do something like this. Horyon and I talked about it quite a bit on the way home. This post is already long enough without going into detail. Suffice it to say that Korean and American churches work differently, as I have pointed out in a previous post.

And so it is possible that Maxine has been sleeping better because she is exhausted. I know that I have been sleeping soundly because of exhaustion.

Oh, and just so you know, we couldn't see those North Korean missiles from our house, so I'm not very worried. The experts say that North Korea is just trying to get attention from America. Perhaps we could take them to the park and then have lunch at McDonald's. It certainly won't heal the rift, but it's a start.



A Brief Introduction

Roblog is my writing lab. It is my goal to not let seven days pass without a new post. I welcome your criticism, as I cannot improve on my own.

Here is a link to my cung post, which remains the only word which I have ever invented, and which has not, as far as I know, caught on. Yet.