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Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas 2011

Merry Christmas!

The kids had a pretty good Christmas.  We did not pull out all the stops, as you can see from the picture of our Christmas tree.  It may not be spectacular, but it fits our living space, and will not be terribly offensive if left up until Easter, a long time custom in our home.

Maxine was probably the happiest person of the day.  She got a Barbie-clone bedroom set:

She also got some little tin cats from Grandma and Grandpa, as well as a Ken doll, which can be seen in the background.

Unfortunately, Ken is proving to be a bad influence...


Quinten is happy with his dragon that shoots yellow balls (of fire, I presume) when you jam them in his snoot and squeeze his belly (the dragon's belly, that is, not Quinten's).

Horyon and I got matching Kansas Jayhawks shirts, which is pretty awesome.

I also got Horyon some thick, fluffy socks to keep her feet warm.  I got a new chair to sit on while I use the computer, hence the Roblog entry.

Of course, we got to church a little late.  I took care of Quinten while Horyon talked with an expectant mother (due any day now), so neither of us actually got to sing along much or listen to the sermon.  Hopefully we will have many more opportunities to actually participate in a Christmas worship service.

Merry Christmas from the Sacks in Korea to all of you.



Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Weight for it...

[It's been a crazy month.  I wrote most of this post a month ago, and then totally forgot about it.  So here it is, minus some bits that were just way too negative.  -R]

I'm trying a new look for the Roblog.  Blogger suggested it, and I figured why not?  At first glance I like it.  Easier to see more posts, and you only get the first couple of paragraphs.  If you're looking for anything within the past couple of years, you could probably find it easily.  Let me know what you think, Uncle Bob and Mom.  I guess anyone else reading this is welcome to comment too, but they are my loyal core.

I rode to work today.  It was some kind of cold.  The other day I bought some K2 mountain climbing gloves. They use Windstopper technology, but I couldn't find them on the website.  They are very much windproof, but just barely warm enough for this weather.  It was pretty close to freezing this morning, and I discovered that I really need to get some overshoes to put on my biking shoes.  Everything else warms up with hard riding, but my feet tend to stay cold.

I should also remember to grab my earmuffs and face/hat tube top.  These accessories make me look a bit dorkier than usual (a neat trick for a fat man wearing spandex), but the first five minutes of that ride are really cold, and if the temperature gets much lower it will be more than the first five minutes.

I feel that I am nearing the end of my cold.  My cough is dying off, though slowly.  Last night I had enough energy to dance around the kitchen with Maxine and Quinten to All Star from the Shrek soundtrack.  I was still wiped out by bedtime, but I haven't had enough sleep in weeks, so that is hardly surprising.

Today we sent the final translation of the website we were working on.  It was fun to do technical writing again.   Drove Horyon crazy, though.  Too many new, complicated ideas.  Not enough time.  If they are happy with our work, I kind of hope to do it again.  Horyon hopes not.  I told her that maybe I would just study Korean well enough to do that kind of project all by myself next time.  We both shared a good, hearty laugh over that.

The school year is coming to an end.  Sort of.  The students took their final exams on Tuesday.  All of them.  Every grade.  Rough day, I feel sorry for them.  Now they have only three more weeks of school until winter break.  Then we come back in late February for two weeks of classes before the spring semester starts.

So is the year finished?  Students sure think so.  I really have no way of arguing with them. We did oral level tests at the end of the spring semester, and I think we will do so again in February.

[This is where it stops. I was writing late in November, then things happened which even now make me want to stop writing, curl up, and go to bed with a good book. So I'll stop thinking, and publish.  I think the main point was this: I had lost more than 20 lbs in the previous 5 months!  Hence the cute title. Ha. ha.]

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Nasal Irrigation, Speech Contest, and Biking (of course)

I've been coughing for a couple of weeks.  It moved up into my sinuses this past week.  I've been using my Neti Pot (a device for nasal irrigation) the whole time, once or twice a day.  Today I stayed home from church and have used it four times already, and plan to use it at least once more before going to bed.

Friends, if you have not poured water through your nose to fight a head cold, I most heartily recommend it.  I've been doing this for a few years now.  During allergy season I do it once a day, as well as when the pollution levels are high.  This cold is pretty nasty, but for ten or fifteen minutes after rinsing, I can actually smell things and breath freely.  I've also read that it helps you to heal faster because there is no more efficient way to get rid of the gunky mucus resulting from a cold.

So this past week I only biked a couple of times.  Got caught riding home in the rain Monday.  It was only sprinkling when I left school, but it slowly got heavier until I was soaked.  If it had just been pouring when I left school, I would have taken my bike on the subway; When it rains the roads are slippery, and the drivers are crazier.  Tuesday I was sore all over from the tension of riding in the rain on busy roads, so I skipped.  My cough was showing no signs of vacating the premises by Wednesday, but I still rode.  No rain, and I figured the exercise might help me throw it off.  Instead, for the last five minutes I started sneezing, as though I had walked into a hot barn full of dusty hay which had been thoroughly searched for needles by wrestlers who search by throwing things.  I figured it was something in the air, but it turned out to be something in my sinuses.

I didn't ride Thursday and Friday because the sneezing, coughing and ear-clogged dizziness just seemed like poor choices for riding partners.  "Hey guys, you wanna go for a ride?"  "Sure!  Don't worry, we'll keep it short!"  [evil chuckle].

Saturday was speech contest day at Dongsung.  It's in the contract, it's been planned for months, it was unavoidable.  I was miserable, coughing and blowing my nose while trying to be impartial in judging these poor 1st graders who had worked their hearts out.  The scores I gave showed a general downward trend that was more reflective of my physical and mental state than of the speeches being delivered or the props being presented.

Afterwords we all went out for sam-gae-tang;  It's a Cornish game hen stuffed with rice, flavored with ginseng, jujubes and chestnuts, and served in a heavy ceramic bowl in soup that is still boiling when they bring it to the table.  It was pretty good, one of the few Korean foods that comforts me when I have a cold.

So it's Sunday night, almost 11 o'clock.  I've almost finished my Theraflu Night drink (for severe colds, not "serve cold" Josh), and I'm ready to sleep.  There's plenty more on my mind, but you will probably not see another Roblog post for a while.  This week is shaping up to be crazy, and we have a job translating a website for a Korean company that makes a new, exciting (dare I say revolutionary?  Nah.) kind of shear reinforcement for concrete.  You probably know it as rebar--the metal rods that are hidden inside concrete structures to keep them from breaking when there is any force other than simple downward pressure put on them.  It's a new level of editing for me.  They gave me a version that has two English translations.  One is better than the other, but they are both clearly written by engineers.  A lifetime ago I learned that Engineers are generally terrible writers, and in some alternate reality my career is/was/would have been in technical writing and I wouldn't have ever met Horyon and Maxine and Quinten would be no more than cloudy dreams, forgotten upon waking.

Anyway, we're trying to get that done by Friday, but I just don't think that is going to happen unless I wake up tomorrow healthy as a bat.  And that is more possible if I get more sleep.  So goodnight.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Recent Riding

I've been pretty good.  As it becomes regular, it feels like there is less to report.  My right leg is about 95% recovered, but I am still taking it fairly easy on it.  Haven't taken the mountain road home yet.

Monday Horyon told me not to ride, and I decided not to fight it.  I had been (and am still) fighting a cough, and she thought riding would make me worse.  I felt a bit better Tuesday, so I rode.  Wednesday too.  I think riding actually helps to fight it off, as it makes my lungs work harder and more thoroughly than usually.

Today (Thursday) I couldn't ride because I had to get to the doctor's office then home.  Our doctor doesn't take appointments, but if you go sign in, you can leave and come back in an hour (or less) and not have to wait.    I think this is because Koreans are (in general) not good at appointments.  I know, sounds racist, but it's actually a cultural thing with them.  Drives newly arrived Westerners crazy, and can do a number on those of us who have been here a while as well.

Tomorrow I'm not sure whether or not to ride.  On Fridays I leave school and go to chat with someone almost an hour away by subway.  I have to drag my bike on the subway, right at the beginning of rush hour, then ride home afterwards in the dark on a pretty busy street.  But if I don't do it, my daily exercise is reduced to walking.

We've had a scale now for a couple of weeks, and it looks like I've dropped about a kilogram.  Feeling good about that, though the scale doesn't do decimals, so it's hard to be sure.

And this week I was informed that Dongsung Elementary School will rehire me for the coming year.  I was told this at a 40 minute meeting which was not the most fun meeting I've ever been in.  I won't go into the details, as I would rather not look back at this some day and experience a spike in my blood pressure.  If I leave it vague like this, I will be able to look back on it and laugh.  "Ha ha, me in 2011 so funny!"

It's getting cold to ride, which causes problems for me.  The biggest problem is, of course, shedding excess heat.  Dress warm enough to start, and I am hot 10 minutes in, sweating by the time I get to work.  Dress too skimpy and I don't warm up until I'm almost at work.  Gotta figure out the balance.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Two Turtles, a Buffet, and some Blocks

Yes.  We have our first pets, and they are reptiles.
No, your monitor is not malfunctioning.  They are in a pink wash-basin while their tank is being cleaned.  I can't get any decent pictures of them in their tank.
I don't know what kind of turtles they are.  If anyone out there can help me on this, I would sure appreciate it.  Maxine was begging for a turtle, and we gave in for her birthday without researching much.  Turns out that turtles often carry salmonella, so you aren't supposed to touch them or hold them.  Makes them pretty boring pets in some ways.  They are still fun to watch, though.  They are semi-aquatic, and like to swim around in their tank as well as perch on the faux rock we bought for them.  It's kind of sad to be on display like that, and not entirely unlike my job as an English teacher in a Korean school.

For Maxine's birthday we went to a kids' buffet at Bexco, which I wrote about in this post.  Here are a couple of pictures we took at the time which I have only just now moved to my computer.  We have borrowed my parents'-in-law camera.
 I like these pictures.  It's difficult to get Quinten to look at the camera and smile, so this is a rare find.
 And this picture of Maxine and I captures both of us nicely, if a little darkly.
We recently got some Duplo blocks for the kids to play with.  Horyon found them used, and got an incredible deal.  I'm sure we'll be able to sell them for more than we paid, but more importantly, Quinten LOVES playing with them.  Right now his focus is on seeing how high he can stack them.  Not bad for three-and-a-half, eh?

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Don't Wear Your Coat All Day!!!!!!!!

So Maxine told me that she wore her coat all day at school today, and I decided to let her know that if you wear your coat too much in the winter, you sweat, then it's easy to get cold when you go back outside.  Being a big fan of the Socratic method, I started leading her with some questions.  Here's how it went:

Rob:  So when you wore your coat did you feel hot?

Maxine:  A little.

R:  So what happens to a body when it is too hot?

M:  When a body is too hot it explodes!

R:  !

So be warned as winter approaches:  Don't wear your coat all day, because if you get too hot...


Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Rides 8-11

This week I have ridden every day, following the subway here (20 minutes, though I think I got it down to 17 today busin' my hump) and taking the mountain road home.  I still can't get all the way over without putting a foot on the ground.  Especially if there is a lot of traffic coming up behind me, and especially especially if someone honks at me as he passes.  That happened yesterday and just blew my concentration, and once you stop going up a steep hill it is really hard to get going again.  I ended up walking a way until the traffic let up.

The traffic is not really that fast; they are dealing with stop lights and frequent stops by taxis and buses.  Sometimes I pass cars going up hill, even as I am in granny gear, huffing and puffing and wishing that there was a short cut to getting serious bike muscles and lungs.

Maxine told me that it looked like I had lost some weight.  I'm not sure that I trust her on this one; she knows I want to lose weight, and likes to say things to make me happy.

So I have biked back and forth to work 11 times out of the last 12 work days, missing only once because of a rainy forecast.  I could have beaten the rain here, but there's no way to know that when you set off, so I'm probably better off not finding out.  That puts me at around 92%, an A-.  But they have forecast rain for tomorrow as well, so we will see what happens.  As it is now, I change clothes when I get to work anyway, and my bag has a rain cover.  If it is a light rain, I might ride anyway.

It seems that this is really the only way I will get regular exercise.  I can't squeeze any more significant time out of my daily schedule, and this combines a necessary activity (getting to work) with a desirable activity (exercising).  I know that some people wake up early to exercise.  I just can't do it.  Waking up early is an unnatural activity for me, whereas staying up late comes easy.

In other news, at work they are asking for all of the foreign English teachers to evaluate a big stack of English science books to choose one for next year.  It will be a supplementary book, used a couple of times a month, and probably not by us.  It's hard for me to build up much interest in this, as this school has a reputation for soliciting advise and then ignoring it.  What does it cost them to ask us to spend time?  Nothing.  But we are not considered experts, in spite of our experience and first-hand knowledge.  It is quite frustrating.

And at the end of October it is time for re-signing contracts for next year, and for the school to let us know whether we will be invited to re-sign or just resign.  Unfortunately, there are already rumors about who will not be asked to come back, rumors spread by the people making the decision.  It seems very unprofessional to me, but once again, I was not asked.

The other event at the end of October is Halloween.  We will have our school-wide Halloween party on the 28th, with games, a haunted house, and candy.  It will be a nice break from teaching, but it is ironic that we are doing fake scary at the same time that some of us are going through the real-life scary prospect of losing a job.  I think if the party were after they dropped pink slips, some of our kids might get a bit more scaring than they had anticipated.

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Rides #6 and #7

Well, six and a half anyway.  Maybe I can round it up to 7.  No choice, as I am NOT going to keep track of fractions on this thing.

We only had school for three days this week:  Monday was a national holiday, and Tuesday was a holiday for our school.  Wednesday was a normal ride (#5).  Thursday I rode to school normally, but rode home via the mountainside road.  It's not any longer, maybe even shorter.  Hard to tell as I need to replace the batteries in my odometer.  But it's a lot hillier, that's for sure.

Friday's are an odd ride day for me: Our work day finishes early, at 3:00 instead of 4:30.  But I have an, um... "standing appointment" from 3:30 until 4:30 every Friday at school, so it's pretty much the same for me.  Then I have another appointment at 5:30 across town in Haeundae.  It's a solid 40 minutes by subway, plus 20 minutes of walking altogether, so my schedule is tight.  Last week I took my bike on the subway, then rode home from the appointment.  This week I had the same intention, but screwed it up rather badly.  As I entered the subway station I remembered that my Hanaro Card (electronic debit card good for all buses and subways in Busan, fantastic invention, they introduced it shortly after I moved here in '97, but I digress) did not have enough money on it to ride.  So I rode through the station (not many people around, I figured why not?), charged my card, and went down to the tracks.

The wrong tracks.  Didn't realize it at the time, because it was crazy getting a bike on the subway car, and holding it still while we were moving, and trying to avoid bumping people with it.  After 20 minutes I looked up to check what station we were at.  I didn't recognize it, so I figured I was getting close to my destination.  I'm not familiar with the stations out past where I live.  I took a look at the map above the car door, and tried to find where I was.  When I finally found it, my mind refused to accept where I was.  There was a nasty little bit of cognitive dissonance followed by a little bit of cursing, and the plan to get off at the next stop and get on the train going the opposite way.  I followed through on the plan, then called my wife and my appointment.  Horyon also had an appointment to teach in the evening, so I could not start mine late.  I had to skip it.  Which means not getting paid for it.  I was not happy with myself, and had a good hour of subway riding during which I could think about exactly how unhappy I was with myself.

So the only afternoon riding I did was from the school to the subway station (downhill), inside the subway station (maybe 200 meters of smooth, level floor) and from my subway station home (all of two minutes).  Not much of a ride.

On the bright side, if I count it as a full ride, I have ridden seven out of eight possible days since starting.  88% is not too bad, and I'm feeling pretty good about it.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Maxine's Birthday, Ride #5 and Buffets

Today is my sweetheart Maxine's Birthday.  Six years old, going on 13.  Happy birthday Sweetie!

We celebrated yesterday by taking Horyon's parents to a buffet in Bexco.  It is a kid-friendly restaurant, with basically an indoor playground.  Some tables are right on the edge of the playground, and some are removed far enough that you can barely see and not hear the play area at all.

And the food... oh my hat, as my friend Gert says.

My number one favorite place in the line-up was the grill:  cute little steaks, cooked to order.  I had three in the course of the evening, all cooked to a perfect medium rare, three lovely sauces available, meat so tender I was cutting it with a butter knife.  Very very nice.  Right next to the grill was the pasta station, which was also very nice.  I had some spaghetti cooked with garlic, olive oil and dried chili peppers.  A bit too spicy, but fresh and wonderfully prepared.  The raw fish was fresh and tasty.  The hot dishes were all fresh and tasty.  The deserts were very good, and in such tiny proportions that I could have a creme brule (dangit, how do you spell that?), a raspberry cake/cream thing, a blueberry yogurt, and a little cordial.  The chefs were friendly and helpful, and spoke some English.  They didn't look down their noses at me when I came back for another steak, and even helped me pick out a good one.

The kids got to play and eat, back and forth, and we got to go back and forth as well to keep an eye on them.  With four adults, we didn't have to rush our food.  The adult price was just over $20, and the kids around $12, and we stayed from six until almost nine p.m.  We will not likely eat there frequently, but we will very likely go back, as I am in love with the place and we can bring the kids.

I don't know if Maxine enjoyed her birthday celebration as much as I did, but I think that's reasonable considering how often I do things with her that I do not enjoy as much as she does.  And even if she didn't enjoy the food as much as I did, she enjoyed the playground a lot.  As an added bonus Horyon's parents gave her a present:  some princess pencils and 10 new Barbie Dresses.  I think some of them are a bit over-the-top, but that's what Barbie is apparently all about.

It was my second buffet this long weekend (no classes Monday or Tuesday), as we went out after Sports Day on Saturday, which was an event requiring more attention than I can give at the moment.  Saturday's buffet was billed as "The Biggest Seafood Buffet in Asia."  Maybe so.  I had some crab legs, sliced ham (right off the joint), rare roast beef (with a perfect sauce), and a lot of other tasty food.  It was a very different atmosphere, as I was with my coworkers and without my family, the beer and soju flowed freely, and it was the end of a long, hard, but fun day.  I'm not sure how much it costs to eat there, as the school paid for it, but I still prefer the Bexco buffet.

So this morning I skipped breakfast.  Didn't feel like I needed it, as I was still burping from dinner the night before.  My ride this morning felt a bit sluggish, but it was good to be back in the saddle after four days without riding.  Kendra also rode this morning, and we have agreed to hit the mountain on the way home.  That will add some work and time to the ride, and though it may not make up for two buffets, it will at least be an acknowledgement that I ate perhaps more than I should have this weekend.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Ride #4, Busy Day

Took my bike on the subway today.  On Fridays I teach an extra lesson at school for an hour, then another extra lesson some distance from our school.  I usually take the subway to get there, and it is more than an hour's ride by bike (I think, might be worth taking a trial ride some time), so I took the bike on a subway ride.

It wasn't as bad as I expected it to be.  I parked in a wheelchair access spot, fervently hoping that no one with an actual wheelchair would show up.  It was crowded at times, but not bad.

My one mistake was not bringing my headlight.  It's a super bright LED rechargeable that my brother-in-law gave me along with the other equipment.  I just wasn't thinking about it when I left at 7:15 this morning.  By the time I left my last job, it was dark, and I was riding some pretty busy roads.  Not much fun.  But I made it with no incidents.  I should probably just throw the light in my backpack, as winter is coming on and it is getting darker earlier and earlier.  We finish at 4:30 Monday through Thursday, which should still give me good light even in January, but if I get distracted or stop somewhere on the way home for an hour, it could take me past sunset.

And tomorrow is Sports Day (note the capitalization)!  Every student I have talked to is excited about it.  When I tell them that American schools don't do a Sports Day, they always ask me why.  Tough question, but it basically boils down to individualism being such a core value that most parents don't want to see every kid in the school singing a song with the same motions.  And the people who do just have to be satisfied with marching band or ROTC.

So I had a full teaching schedule today (three classes, 80 minutes each plus two hours of tutoring after school) then came home in time for Horyon to leave for her tutoring.  So I got to spend the evening alone with the kids. Bedtime went very smoothly today, for which I am grateful.  Thanks Maxine and Quinten!

And Sports Day is tomorrow!!!!!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Umbrella Charm

The weather forecast called for rain today, so I carried my umbrella and rode the subway to work.  Just as I got there it started sprinkling, so I think I could have made it by bike.  Twenty minutes later my coworker Ed stopped by my room on his way in.  He was soaked to the skin from riding his motorcycle to work.  He told me that when he left home the weather looked fine.  He took the tunnel (cuts a couple of k off the trip to work), and when he came out on the school side it was pouring rain.  So I felt somewhat better about not riding.

It was fairly clear when I left work as well.  It might have been a successful ride today, but then again I may have staved off the rain by simply carrying my umbrella.

If you had not guessed, I am attempting to publish the Roblog daily, even if the posts end up being somewhat insignificant.  I started this post before midnight my time, but it is now 20 after.  Even insignificant writing takes time, you know.

Before I go to bed, a quick update on the kids:

Quinten has taken to loudly announcing when a television show is finished.  To the uninitiated it probably sounds like "blah blah blah ih pinish!", but we can hear it as "Mickey Mouse is finished!"  He hollers whether one of us is in the room or not, and often yells three or four times even after verbal acknowledgement.

Maxine is psyched because her birthday is coming up, October 5th.  Don't tell her, but I think we are going to get her a turtle.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Sports Day's a comin'!!!!!

A common phenomenon in Korean schools is Sports Day.  Today we had rehearsal for it all morning, from 8:30 until after 12:30.  Saturday the actual spectacle will be from 9:30 until at least 3:30, with a lunch break, plus clean up time, plus time at a buffet with free food and beer.

If it weren't a Saturday, I would totally be down with it.  Unfortunately, on that Saturday Horyon's mother will be out of town, so the kids will be staying with just her father.  He has had a couple of surgeries in the last few months, and is supposed to be taking it easy, so we were kind of concerned:  Maxine is not much trouble, but Quinten will run away from you while outside, play rough inside, and get into stuff he should avoid wherever he is. (Maxine never put stuff in her mouth that wasn't food.  Quinten is just now sort of figuring out that he's not supposed to, which means he does it when you're not looking.)

Fortunately, we've found a solution:  Charlie Brown's Cafe!

I believe that they have officially gotten permission from Charles Schultz's estate to use the Peanuts characters.  Unusual for Korea.  They have pictures on the walls, merchandise, and some statues of Snoopy, Linus, Charlie and a few others.  But that's not why we like to go.  They have good food, though it's a bit pricey ($10-$15 for most entrees, $5-$6 for coffee drinks, and adults must order food or coffee along with paying $10 per kid).  The reason we like C.B.C. is that it is full of toys, and has only one entrance, and attendants who play with the kids.  They have a bunch of fake food in the little pretend grocery store area, lots of toy cars that you can scoot around in (if you are a child that is, they are a bit too small for me).  They have a little golf area, and a padded area with big foam blocks.  They have a table with wooden blocks, blocky "paper" dolls with magnetic clothing.  They have one of those giant gerbil cages like you see at McDonald's with a ball chamber in the middle and a train track that goes around it and they run the train every hour on the hour and the kids go nuts over it.

When we go we spend about $50 for three hours, which is a lot on our budget, but we get lunch and we can let the kids run around and play without worrying about them getting hurt or wandering off.  If you have kids you probably understand why this is a pretty good deal, especially if you don't have friends with whom you can easily do play dates.

So Horyon's father will take the kids to Charlie Brown's Cafe, and by the time he brings them to his home it will be Quinten's nap time.  Maxine can color, watch t.v./video, or play with one of the hundreds of toys or books at their home.

Horyon will go there as soon as she can.  I, however, will join my coworkers for food and beverages provided by the school after biking home for a shower.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Rides #2 and #3

Nothing much more to say 'bout that.  I found that if I don't get curious about side streets or stop to talk to people the ride here and the ride home take about the same amount of time--22 minutes.  That is riding mostly in the streets, but taking to sidewalks when the hills are long and the shoulder narrow.

The distance is just over 4 miles (6.7 km or so, I keep forgetting to check/reset the odometer).

My coworker Kendra rode yesterday and today.  She is a bit more skittish about riding on the road than I am. For me it is just a return to my Kosin days, only the ride is about twice as long.

Today I passed a guy on a bike, and he followed me most of the way to work.  That probably pushed me to go faster than if I had been on my own.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Official Ride #1

I made it today.  22 minutes riding time.  Google maps says it's doable in 18 minutes, but I think they assume that the train pulls into the station just as you get to the platform, rather than leaving as you fret behind the person not walking down the escalator.  I left home around 7:20, so I got here at my usual time.  Still feel good at 4:00, half an hour before time to head home.

The question now is whether to ride home easy or hard: follow the subway or head up the mountain?  I will probably take it easy.  I won't necessarily have time to shower right away, and I didn't get to clean up after the morning ride, either, aside from splashing some water on my face.

And it is now time to go.  I am hoping to ride back and forth every day this week.  Friday I will have to take my bike on the subway, as I have something to do in Haeundae, and not enough time to ride there.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Bike to work?

So today (Saturday) my coworker/friend Kendra and I rode our bicycles to our school, just to get an idea of how long it would take.  On the way there we took a foothill road, and on the way back we followed the subway (above ground, of course).  The round trip was 20 km (12.4 miles for those of you who are slaves to ancient rulers) and took almost exactly two hours: 75 minutes to get there, and 45 minutes to return.  We spent about 10 minutes on a dead end going (an extremely uphill dead end), but came back pretty much directly.

Following the subway was a fairly level course, and I've decided to try riding it to work almost every day for the following reasons:

1.  In March I was diagnosed with high blood pressure.  Rather than tackle the causes, the doctor put me on medication.  This brought it under control, but Horyon has been worrying about it the whole time.  Last week she bought a book about it, and has decided that I need to bring my blood pressure down by more natural means than taking a pill every day.  And of course, losing weight is one way to bring down blood pressure.  Regular exercise being one way to lose weight, and not being one who frequents health clubs (loud music, bad smell, bright lights and no alcohol, it's like the worst half of the bar scene), I need exercise I can enjoy.

2.  Riding bikes is fun.  Working to the top of a hill is a challenge, and coming down the other side is like a well-earned reward.  A good, long, low-access downhill gets the wind blowing through your hair and clothes, and 15 mph feels like daredevil breakneck speed.

3.  It is a surprisingly low stress way to travel.  Even in a big city like Busan, it is relaxing for me.  Driving a car in Busan is stressful because when the fight or flight urge comes, the only option is to turn up the music.  But when you're on a bike you can almost always burn off the adrenaline by standing on the pedals and just working the bike with a vengeance.  And it is very satisfying to pass cars while they wait at a traffic light.

4.  Taking the subway costs about $2 round trip.  The bike is expensive, but it's already been paid for.  I can pump that $2 right into other bad habits.

5.  Taking the subway to work, together with the walk at both ends, takes about 30~35 minutes, depending on how long I have to wait for the train.  The bike route back today took 45 minutes, but I'm thinking that I can bring that time down by optimizing the route and getting my rather large behind in gear.  An extra 15 minutes is no big deal, especially since...

6.  Exercise wakes me up.  I will shop up for work with a fresh mind, if not the freshest arm pits.

7.  It's a good example for my students of living green, maintaining good health, and being unafraid to be different.

8.  It's a good way to stay warm in the winter.  When pedestrians are bundled up and shivering, I find that I am unzipping my jacket to avoid sweating too much.

9.  I am reducing my carbon footprint on the world.

10.  Just because I have ten fingers doesn't mean I need ten reasons.  I'm saving that last finger for someone who truly deserves it on the road.

In an attempt to encourage myself through better record keeping, I will attempt to make a small Roblog post every day, letting the world know whether or not I am keeping this commitment, and giving those who care a chance to encourage me.  Check back frequently, and maybe I can even throw in a picture of the kids from time to time.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

English Summer Camp

Our school had an English Summer Camp for four days at the end of August.  And I want to say right up front that it was better than I expected.  I had a good time overall, enjoyed most of the time with the students, liked most of the food, and very much enjoyed the time with my coworkers.  However…

There wasn't really very much English involved; the students came to four hours with a native speaker every day, plus another hour or two with their group leader.  But the groups were big--up to 14 or 15 in some--so the kids spoke Korean even in class and with their groups.

We got there around 10:30 a.m., had an opening ceremony that was basically a speech by the principal simultaneously translated (read) into English by Ed. This being the first of one-hand-countable times that the entire student body was addressed in English.  It was the usual "Welcome to Camp" speech, though the line "Stand up and give respect to the principal" still sticks out in my mind.  It totally fits the communist prison camp slash boarding school vibe that our school gives off in spades.  (At this point Horyon tells me to not be cynical, painting a picture of our school that makes them look crazy.  I say, “I’m just telling it like it is, and if people think it sounds crazy it is hardly my fault.”  She comes back by pointing out the “communist prison camp slash boarding school vibe” line, and reminds me that they may be monitoring my blog, which sort of fits the communist prison camp slash boarding school vibe.  We both laugh nervously and once again scan the walls for surveillance devices.)

The facility was nice.  It was basically a big hotel with mostly bare concrete walls.  Standard decor for camps, I suppose.  The students were in groups of about 14, same grade, same sex.  They slept on the floor in their room, moved around in their group, went to all their English activities in their group, and probably wanted to kill everyone in their group by the end of the week.  I certainly would have settled for decimation of many groups, and I only spent significant time with my own group of 3rd grade boys.

Once inside the facility, they did not exit until the next afternoon.  They had their meals in that building, did morning exercises in that building (which we were fortunate enough to miss), and went to class in that building.  They were indoors for almost 27 hours, then outdoors for two and a half or three.  The older half of the campers went to the swimming pool, and the younger half went to the "river".  The next day (Friday) at the same time they switched outdoor activities, after 22 hours of being inside, and also spent a couple of hours at a “bonfire” which needs something stronger than quotation marks around it to signify that it was not only un-bonfire-like, but tacky and at times extremely offensive as well but with plenty of blaring music and the fumes of refined petroleum products to lend atmosphere.

But back to the afternoons:  It was the first cool weather we had all summer, so I saw lots of kids coming out of the pool with bluish lips, but they had a good time.  Like every Korean swimming pool I’ve ever seen, this one was about four feet deep at most.  Deep enough to swim without kicking the bottom if you are careful, and big enough that it didn’t feel crowded with 50 kids and half a dozen foreigners splashing around in it.  The “river” was what we in Kansas would call a creek, though we would pronounce it “crick”.  Just over knee deep in some places, ankle deep in others, and more than 50 feet across.  The staff brought down some nets, and the boys and the girls tried to out fish each other.  They brought in a total of about 40 minnows.  I was a bit surprised that they were not cooked up to be served with dinner that night.  Maybe the camp staff knows more about what happens upstream than I.  It was a shame that the weather was not typical for late August in Korea, but that’s not the kind of thing you can blame the school for.  So let’s look at the score so far:

In my humble opinion, if you are spending 80% of your time indoors, you are not camping.  And if you can easily avoid speaking English, and hear it only half the time you are awake, and it is not used functionally at all, it doesn’t seem right to label an activity as “English Whatever-it-is.”  The weather was not very summery, but nothing could be done about that.

In conclusion, Donsung’s English Summer Camp was neither “English”, nor a “camp”, and only “summer” by virtue of its placement on the calendar, which was not strictly validated by the weather conditions.

But I still had fun.

I had an apartment all to myself for three nights.  There is an incomprehensible beauty to this statement that I would not have understood before I had children.  When I was quiet, there was no noise; I could clearly hear the creek running nearby and the wind blowing.  The apartment had sliding doors with screens on opposite sides, so there was a lovely crosswind.  There was a refrigerator in which I kept Pepsi, strawberry jelly, and bread.  I kept the peanut butter out on the counter so it would spread easily.  When I had free time I read, ate PB&J, and drank Pepsi.  And slept.  It was simple and awesome, and not so long that I got homesick.

It was my first time to stay away from my family since Quinten was born.  I talked to Maxine, Horyon and Quinten on the phone every evening.  Quinten is becoming quite chatty, but still has issues with using the phone correctly.  Not surprising for 2.5 years old, I suppose.  But Maxine can talk up a storm.  And she was happy to relay everything I said to anyone who would listen.  It drags on the conversation a bit, but is so endearing that I couldn’t help but laugh.

And in the evenings, after finishing with the campers, I hung out with my coworkers.  We drank, and I did something I don’t do when I’m going to be around my kids:  I consumed more than one alcoholic beverage.  The fact is I drank more in those three evenings than I have total in the past year, though that isn’t really saying much.  Thursday night we played drinking games, which I have not done since before Maxine was born.  But it didn’t get messy.  It ended up getting sentimental for those of us who were there.  Ed told us that he had proposed to his girlfriend while back in the states, and we all got sentimental after that.  He then reminded me, in a very direct, if somewhat slurred and repetitive way, that in my family I have everything that is important.  Darned if I didn’t get all teary-eyed over that.  At the time I didn’t have the words to properly express how right Ed was, and how I have been distracted by losing my job, moving away from Kansas, and a million other little things that pale in comparison to the joy I have in Horyon, Maxine and Quinten.  There were many statements of agreement.  My coworker Kendra, a wonderful Canadian woman in her 20s, told me, “When I see your kids my ovaries ache!”  There was more said, both pains and hopes shared.  And we all stumbled off to bed sometime after 3 a.m. Friday morning.*

None of us brought it up after that, or since getting back from camp.  I don’t know about the rest of them, but to me this is a precious, somewhat delicate memory.  I’m afraid that someone else might break it by laughing about what was so touching to me, lumping that jewel in with the earlier part of the evening.

When I was young I went to Church Camp as a camper, then as a counselor after graduating high school.  Camp always ended in a circle that was reluctantly broken, and I always went home feeling like I had experienced something that I could not truly share with anyone who hadn’t been there before.  The imprecisely named Dongsung English Summer Camp was a little bit the same, only with alcohol.

On a side note, today I was told that after passing feedback on to the administration, it was suggested that I might be asked to be camp coordinator for next summer.  I kind of doubt that will happen, but one never knows...

*Amazingly enough I did not have a hangover Friday morning.  I drank lots of water and juice and took a shower before bed.  It cut back on my sleep, but made the next day tolerable.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Excuses, excuses.

All right, here's the deal:

1.  Maxine dropped our camera a couple of months ago, and now it no longer works.  The lens is extended, and won't go back in to the casing.  Hence the lack of pictures on the Roblog.

2.  Our summer vacation started last Monday, a week ago, and I am just now feeling relaxed enough to write.  Seriously.

During the last week of classes I started getting a tooth ache.  A real doozy.  I had only recently had my upper right wisdom tooth extracted and the tooth next to it capped, but this pain was in the bottom front right.  I was sure that that's where the pain originated, and it was so bad that it made my jaw hurt the first couple of days, then the whole right side of my face. The kind of pain that makes your brain go on strike.

I found that if I could lie down and relax before it hit hard, it passed quickly.  I found that sometimes Tylenol helped and sometimes might as well have been nasty candy.  I found that I am a wimp when it comes to taking pain, so I called my dentist (i.e. had Horyon call) and begged for an appointment.

They took some x-rays, tapped the culprit tooth, asked questions in halting English, and told me that they could find nothing wrong.  Treatment?  Wait and see what happens.

I figured this meant that it was all in my head.  Of course, an actual toothache would be in my head as well, but this must have been me being mental.  So I made a conscious decision to not be stressed.

It worked.  I did not let myself raise my voice in class.  I did not let myself get upset when students were obnoxious.  I dropped my jaw, and found that I had been clenching.  I still wonder how long I had been doing that.

Next thing I knew vacation started.  I woke up last Saturday feeling like I had lost 50 pounds.  I don't remember longing, hungering for a vacation like this since my days in Nepal when escaping to Thailand felt like going into orbit.

I don't think I'm cut out to be an elementary teacher.

3.  We are giving Maxine an allowance of sorts, in line with a presentation Horyon attended a couple of weeks ago.  We are all excited about it, especially Maxine.  She is actually getting paid for doing work around the house.  I think this deserves a separate post, so I'm closing this one down.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Maxine's Thank You cards

Maxine is changing schools this month, and these are the thank you cards she made for her teachers, and a birthday card for my brother-in-law's wife:

Undersea B-Day Partay!
 Open your eyes, duck, or you will seriously run into a tree:
 Either a lot of love, or practice drawing hearts:
 A combination of Tangled and Frosty the Snowman, perhaps?
 The Birds!  The Birds!
 Translation:  Happy Birthday, Auntie (wife of parent's brother, to be exact)!
 Look out fly!  You can't tell from the scan, but this composition used glitter crayons to great effect:
We plan to encourage Maxine to continue to express herself through art.  She will be six in October.  Someday people may look back on Roblog as the first documentation of her career.

A Good Monday and House for Sale

Our house is for sale.  Of course, this link won't last past the house selling, and maybe not even that long.  Hopefully it will sell quickly. Our agent has described it as a
Totally Updated and Super Slick SW One-Level!"

Not sure if those are the words I would have used, but it does look good on the virtual tour.

And today when I came in to work I found that my morning classes had been cancelled.  And I don't have any afternoon classes on Monday!  Happy day!  Got some planning done.

Selling the house is depressing.  It will be nice to have those financial resources freed up, but...

It was our first house.  Maybe our last, if we've learned our lesson properly.  It was our shot at the American Dream, and we missed it.  Yes, our timing was bad.  I understand that the American economy has maimed and destroyed many, and that we are fortunate to have a fall back like Korea.  And I can now see clearly that I was naive about moving back to the states and teaching in a public school.  

I am so glad that we had the chance to live close to my family, and to make new friends in Lawrence.  But we just couldn't make it work.

So much for a good Monday, eh?

Friday, June 03, 2011

Quick Maxine Quote

So I'm working with Maxine on her homework (yeah, homework in kindergarten.  Welcome to Korea, Maxine) and out of the blue she says this to me:

""Daddy, if you want to married you would have to get a duel to see who marries Mommy.  I would say, 'Go go Daddy!  Go go Daddy!"

It's good to know she's rooting for me.

We had a couple of weeks of health and catching up, but Quinten has had a mild fever and some coughing the last couple of nights, so we're split up sleeping with the kids again.

The good news is that...


I'll come up with something later.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Everybody home

Last week we had no school, though we were supposed to be there on Wednesday to hold down our seats.

Didn't work out that way.

On Monday (a holiday, as Tuesday was the Birthday of the Buddha, happy belated birthday big guy!) we took Maxine to the hospital, as she was still very uncomfortable and vomiting over night.  They suggested checking her in for a couple of days to run some tests.  Sure, no problem.  This was a different hospital than the one we went to before, and it just felt more professional to me.

We checked her into a 3-patient room instead of the single.  This cut our payment down from $110 a night to about $25 per night.  Of course, you get what you pay for:  sharing a room with a couple of kids who are coughing sick at a time when Maxine's body is stressed out.  Drunk relatives of said kids spending the late part of the evening, after bed time, being noisy, stinky, and bearing greasy food, the smell of which made Maxine feel ill.  And of course they couldn't open the window for ventilation, because their kids were sick!  Aargh!  Horyon complained to the nurse, and that eventually got things moving.

Eventually it was agreed upon that problem in Maxine's stomach was with her lymph nodes.  I was not aware that there were lymph nodes in or around the stomach.  Learn something new every day.  The reason was stress, compounded by all the medicine she had been taking for the colds she had gone through.  Made sense to me.

They checked her out on Thursday, and she has been home since.  Of course, it is only Monday now, and there is still time for things to go wrong.  Horyon said she was coughing a lot today...

Here is an interesting piece of A4 paper that Maxine decorated, front and back.  It is to be a birthday card, I believe for me to give to her when she turns six.  She made it more than a week ago, and I was undoubtedly short on sleep when she explained it to me, so I may very well have it completely wrong.  If so, I'm sorry Maxine!

A big shout out to my parents.  They just sent me some bicycling equipment and a copy of Disney's "Tangled" (on Blu-Ray and DVD!).  I sat and watched the entire movie with Maxine while Quinten and Mommy were in the hospital.  It was a nice Sunday for me and Maxine.  I can't remember the last time I sat with her for so long.

She was not happy about going back to school today.  She protested that she wanted to be with me and Horyon.  What can you do?  It would drive her crazy to stay home with us all day, but she can't really imagine that.  And she can't imagine what would happen if we both just stopped working to be with her.  I don't want her to be able to imagine being hungry all the time, and not having a home.  I'm glad she can't.  But how do you respond without trying to help her picture it?

Oh well.  I'm sure it will all be better once she becomes a teenager.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Enough is Enough

OK. So last night Maxine spent the night vomiting. (Dr. guessing the stress of too much medication and stress and not enough eating are catching up with her, poor kid.) Yesterday Horyon's father was admitted to the hospital, also for constant vomiting. (No news yet.) I have no classes this week, and Horyon only has class on Wednesday, so we are pretty much set to spike this one down. Quinten is healthy, and Horyon and I are okay. We just want to have a sane existence at this point.

We did have everyone home Friday night, and Saturday was mostly okay.  Long naps for everyone.  Right now Quinten is napping, and Horyon and Maxine are at the hospital (different hospital from the past couple of weeks) getting a slow IV, as Maxine had nothing left inside after about 11 p.m. last night.

Not sure what else to say at this point.  Horyon's father doesn't have insurance, so things will be very tight around here for a while.  On the bright side, Dad tells me that soon our house will be on the market.  On the less bright side, the first house we bought will be on the market soon because we just couldn't afford to keep it.

I find myself being nostalgic for a time which I'm not sure ever existed: the time of a normal, happy, healthy life.  Then I remember that I have a friend whose seven-year-old daughter has Cystic Fibrosis.  She has a regular regimen of IVs, being poked with needles, and taking medications.  I remember that I have many friends raising their children as single parents, making do with one paycheck and no one you can just count on to be there while you take a kid to the hospital.  I remember that I lived for two years in Nepal, where children in villages died, and still die, from diahrea.  I remember that my blessings are uncountable.

I have had trouble praying lately.  We pray at every meal, but it has become somewhat mechanical for me.  I am occasionally rescued by Maxine, because when she prays she really means it.  Today it was just Quinten and me eating lunch at home, and I got choked up when I prayed, saying "Thank you for all the blessings you have given us."  

So if you are praying for the health (and sanity) of my family, please also pray for my spiritual health.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Sick kid, well kid, manageable dad

The good news is that Quinten is fine.  Fit as a fiddle and ready to rock.  Well, he still shows signs of one ear being a little infected, and his throat is not in the best of shape, but relatively speaking he is doing great.

The bad news is that his sister is not.  Maxine fought a fever last night, which kept Horyon up wiping her down with damp towels.  Now it is her throat, the same culprit that knocked Quinten down last week.

So Horyon is staying at the hospital with both of them again tonight.  And tomorrow is a holiday, Children's Day, so we are unlikely to be checking out then.  Besides, we have to work on Friday.

So yeah, this is racking up.  As I mentioned before, the cost for hospital stays here is relatively low, but we have already passed the point where my entire paycheck for April will be consumed in this health crisis.  So much for making progress on the bills.  So much for sending money back to the States.  So much for saving for retirement.  Worth it to have healthy kids, but I am just tired of the whole thing.

I thought they were coming home today.  Last night I was up until 1 a.m., vacuuming, doing the laundry, cleaning the kitchen.  Looks like I have time to do more cleaning today.

I am nearing the end of two months of treatment for hypertension.  I take blood pressure medicine every morning.  The only tricky part is remembering to get the prescription refilled in time.  Today I will have to rush, as I am also teaching a private lesson and visiting my family at the hospital.

These days it is not fashionable to refer to private lessons as such, so we call them "Tea Parties".  It makes me feel as though I should be sitting at a little table with dolls and pretending to drink tea and eat cake.  Silly, but not as shady as telling people that you are pretty happy with your privates.

Yesterday I rode my bike to the hospital for the first time.  Cut the 30 minutes walk down to about 8 minutes.  Almost all level, little side streets.  The time varies as there is a stoplight that takes two or three minutes to turn over.  I got the bike from my brother-in-law, Young-whan.  He is a really good guy, even bought me a $200+ helmet to protect my precious, if ineffective, noggin.  And the bike itself is worthy of a full post, as soon as I get some free time.

Gotta get ready for class.  I only have time for this because one class this morning was cancelled.

Monday, May 02, 2011

Sick Kids

OK.  I've set my timer for 30 minutes, after which I will post this and go to sleep.

It has been one week today since Quinten was admitted to the hospital with a high fever.  It started to come down Friday, and they stopped giving him drugs, but they didn't want to send him home until Monday, because when they release patients on the weekend they frequently come back and need to be readmitted through the emergency room, which is, I guess, a major bummer for everyone involved and not worth the minor advantage gained by taking your family out of an environment full of sick people and health care professionals who don't necessarily have germ theory grilled into their minds.

Last week Maxine and I stayed with Horyon's parents, while Horyon spent every moment outside of work in the hospital with Quinten.  Friday, Saturday and Sunday night Maxine and I stayed at home, got some laundry done, caught up a bit on cleaning up the kitchen, and I cooked a nice chicken soup, which made me feel tons better.  Maxine whined at first because there were onions AND green onions, but I had deliberately left them large enough for her to eat around.

Sunday we hung out at the hospital with Quinten and Mommy, then Horyon's parents took Maxine and I to a meat restaurant.  Maxine ate quite a bit, as did I.

That night Maxine had a tummy ache.  I gave her a Tums, and we both got to sleep by 9:45, pretty early for us.  And this morning she felt crummy.  Vomited twice, and had a fever.  So she got admitted to the hospital instead of Quinten being released.

Right now (almost 11 p.m. my time) Horyon is there with both kids.  The sofa is pushed next to the bed, the kids have their IV drips going, and it is cozy and warm, and just a bit stuffy.  Today was a Yellow Dust day. (Comes from China, fun stuff, coats everything and makes you sneeze.  The Korean Herald said today was the worst yellow dust day of the year.)  That always makes things more fun.

Some people have asked me about insurance for the kids.  We are all insured through our work, though there have been complications.  Nothing that keeps the insurance from working though.  Since Maxine and Quinten are both officially Korean citizens, they are automatically insured by the state if we do not have insurance for them.  Neat, huh?  And though I have issues with the hospital, at $120 per day after insurance picks up the lion's share, I can't complain.  Not out loud, anyway.  Well, not out loud to them, anyway.

Here's one characteristic of a Korean hospital:  everyone gets the IV drip, all the time.  You see patients standing outside having a cigarette with IVs, though not so much from this hospital as it is a pediatric hospital. Quinten has had an IV into his hand (switching hands every three days for the past week.  He has become quite clever at untangling himself, and they have the entry bandaged up so that he can't pull it out or mess it up.  At least he hasn't so far.

They put the IV in Maxine's right hand.  She was pretty upset over how it impacted her coloring, but quickly got over it with some positive reinforcement from me.  She still gets tangled, but she's learning.

Speaking of Tangled, Mom and Dad sent Maxine the video "Tangled" and it arrived this weekend.  Maxine and I watched the whole thing together.  First time in a long time for us to do that.  It was a lot of fun, had me laughing out loud in many places, though not usually the same places that made Maxine laugh out loud.  Thanks Mom and Dad!  They also sent me some bicycle stuff.  Don't know when I will be able to use that...

I brought them both fresh coloring and sketch books today.  Looks like Quinten may be heading down the same artistic path as Maxine, except that he seems to prefer methods that make more noise.  Hmm....

I have gotten a lot of support from friends and family back in the states, and my coworkers here have been great, too.  Of course, when you're a teacher there is not a whole lot that other people can do to make your job much easier.  In the end it is you up there either teaching or making a fool of yourself.

My half hour is almost up.  I need to remember to bring some shoes for Horyon.  She lets Quinten walk around diaper-less sometimes, and today he peed on her shoes.  I usually tell her that it's not a good idea to leave him diaper free, but today I kept my mouth shut.  See Mom, I'm learning something!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Maxine's School

This is Maxine's class at her kindergarten.  Her class name is "Happy Beavers".  Before making any remarks, please keep in mind that these are children.
 The school sent us these pictures.  I'm thinking that they could not resist Maxine's charms.  Who could?
 They took their first field trip to a potato farm.  Maxine told me that she planted seven potatoes.  That's pretty good.  I have not even planted one.
As you can tell, the whole class is seriously into posing for pictures.  Maxine's teacher told Horyon that Maxine doesn't really speak much Korean (she has individual tutoring in the afternoons to catch up), but that she still ends up leading the free play games, like playing house.  I can tell that her Korean is quickly gaining speed.  I think that she heard enough before she turned two that her brain is programmed to receive Korean, she just needs to learn the structures and vocabulary.

I would still like to see her get more attention in this regard.  I know that American schools (KS schools, anyway) are required to have ESL programs for kids who don't speak English.  It's kind of disappointing to hear that Korean schools have little or no plan for kids who don't speak Korean.  My coworker's daughter spent 5th and 6th grade in a Korean public school before transferring to an English school, and she is now working hard to catch up with her peers, because the Korean school administration and teachers let her sit in class not understanding anything, making no concerted effort to get her the language skills she needed to succeed.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Maxine's Art

Here is some of Maxine's art.  Click on the picture for a bigger version.  Below each picture is what Maxine told me about the pictures.  I attempted to preserve her words as she told them to me, explaining why the Roblog today sounds a bit more like a five-year-old wrote it than usual.  All were drawn in March 2011.
 Everyone thinked of a fiesta for the trees, so they decorated it!  With paint and with Christmas decorations, Christmas holders for the Christmas trees.

And they put a ladder on top.  (Daddy:  "Is there a ladder in there?"  Maxine: "They put the ladder away.")

And when they put up the ladder, they put three hearts: one medium, one small, one big, on each size tree.  They put the little one on the little tree, they put the medium one on the medium tree, and the big one on the big tree.

And they put paint the trees with sand to cover the holes chipmunks made in the trees.

The sun was too bright that it put on sunglasses!

(D: "What are the pink things?")  It was so bright that pink flowers comed out of the sky.

They put on strings behind the branches on each tree to another.  D: "What's it for?"  They put a ribbon through the other in the middle.  They put strange things around the trees.  D: "Who?"  The Christmas guy that loved Christmas.  It wasn't Santa Claus.  Nobody seen Santa Claus, because they were so sleepy.

"Is the sky special?  Why?"  The sky was so lightful that it wanted to be a little dark.  The people loved each other, and they lived happily ever after.  The End.
 A fairy was so happy of a smell she came and came of a lost flower falling down from the sky.  And the fairy thought it as a very sweet thingy.  And she really loved it so much that she gave up with going with the other fairies and just followed the smell.
 There was a lost thingy that was a jewelry thing.  All lost things come from the mainland.  When fairies see lost things they get it.  When fairies saw it they took that junk to the mainland.

There were five little mermaids that lived in the sea.  They really loved the sea until Ariel said, "I love a prince."  And he lived on land and she just gave up with the other princesses.  Her mother died, but she didn't care.  She just gave up with other princesses and went up to the top of the reef where fishes live and crabs.  And she got on a rock to sit.  She loves the prince.  The wind was blowing her hair.  She didn't care.  She was the only one different from the other sisters, so she went back under the sea.  But she forgot something.  She still loves the prince!  The end.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

... and found.

Yesterday (March 3rd) we met at a bookstore to hear a presentation on some of our English materials ("Journeys" textbooks from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) in the afternoon.  It was very nice, a good refresher for someone like me who hasn't taught ESL for a few years.  We heard more news about the school, and were told to meet there the next day (March 4th) at 10 a.m.

When we got there, it was a bit of a shock.  I had seen the pictures I showed you in my last post, but they didn't do it justice.

The third floor, where my classroom is, wasn't so bad.  Fire had passed through the hall, melting or burning everything on the walls, including the bulletin boards which had sucked up a day of work for me.  The glass panes of the sliding doors to my room were cracked, broken or smoked over.  Inside the room everything was covered with soot, just like the last fire I had to clean up after.

I salvaged a few laminated things from my classroom, but not much.  I hadn't really done much, unlike the teachers who had been there for years.  My puzzle book and a couple of novels survived, as well as my Korean grammatical structure book.  I was happy to clean up the new mouse and take it out of the room, though I will probably have to take it apart and clean it before I use it again.  All of the textbooks were fine, though I had to wipe soot off of the ones on the top of the stacks.

Restoring my room to a usable condition will not be difficult, just time consuming, and I will not have to do it.  The hallway, however, will take more work.  The ceiling is sagging, and will need to be replaced.  The bulletin boards are all gone, as is the wood paneling.  They had just paneled the stairwells a few days before, which was probably a factor in how quickly the fire spread.  Freshly varnished well-dried wood in a big chimney, funneled the fire right up from the 1st floor where it started due to an electrical problem.

The second floor hallway was worse.  "It looks like a war zone," was a comment I heard many times.  The ceiling panels had all fallen in, making a mushy, ashy carpet on the floor.  In some places the metal framework for the ceiling was sagging or laying on the floor, and there was a lot more debris scattered around.  I passed a framed picture from which the glass had sagged and dripped without falling off completely.  The classrooms were still mostly okay, but they took water damage from the fire fighters, where the third floor really didn't.

The first floor was gutted in many places.  Desks burned down to their metal frames, books lost, total mess.  We were fortunate that there was no severe structural damage, though I am sure that they still need to do a complete assessment.

Amazingly enough, my slippers were still in their cubby.  They are no longer usable, as some glass or plastic had dripped into them and hardened into an unpleasant sort of insole.  Horyon took hers, though.  They need to be cleaned, but she can use them.  I need to order a new pair.

We spent the day carrying books and our stuff to the gym, then cleaning the piles of books.  I still smell smoke on myself, and need a shower before bed.

And finally, while cleaning my zipper notebook, I opened the pockets and found my USB drives!  Hurray!

Our classes will be distributed through other buildings and schools in the neighborhood, as well as in "container classrooms" in the school yard.  In the States schools often use portables (like a mobile home with a classroom inside instead of a home), here they use cargo containers.  I have never seen one, so that should be an interesting revelation.  We will be doubling up, so 30-40 students in one class shared by two teachers.  I am trying to think of it as a unique opportunity to do some team teaching, share some prep, and do activities involving more third graders than I care to imagine in one place.

Wish us luck!  Right now all of our materials are sooty, aromatic, and piled up in the gym, and they expect us to start teaching on Monday!  No problemo!

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Slight problem at school...

So today was supposed to be the first day of classes.  We had planned to wake up at 6:30 to get ready to go.  I, of course, was putting together handouts for the first day at 1:00 in the morning.  At around 5:20 a.m., I got a text message:  "was a fire @ school so no classes today...we are on standby so if they call me later we may have to go in.. I'll let you know."

Surprise.  To say the least.  So I went back to sleep.

At 6:30 I got a message that we were to go in at 1:00 to help clean, so I figured no big deal, right?  I've been through this before, at Kosin University; small fire in one office, everything in my office covered with a thin layer of soot.  I expected I would spend the next couple of days cleaning.

I found some pictures here and here.  At this site there are three pictures of the aftermath and a video if you scroll down.  I have run it through Google translate for you.  Not sure how long this link will be live.  And some of the translations are pretty fishy.  For example, the headline:

"National Gay Elementary gaehakil four days a temporary suspension of fire ..."

Here are the first couple of paragraphs:

"Gaehakil early morning at an elementary school in Busan, a large fire in the classroom and being burned or shot to a new semester, while students in class were put to great inconvenience. 

The school temporarily closed four days of action down the fire damaged building repair and maintenance naseotjiman, meals room, some classrooms and the two burn victims and the size is bigger than you think to the future of the academic calendar seems to have gained a considerable setback. "

No wonder it is so hard to learn Korean if they all speak like this.

In the second picture, looking up the stairs, the little lockers at the bottom left are shoe lockers.  When anyone enters the building, they take off their shoes, put them in their locker, and put on the slippers which they had stored in their locker.  There are extra slippers for guests, as well.  Right behind the person taking the photo were Horyon and my lockers.  Horyon had just put in a cute pair of shoes which she had bought back in Kansas just to wear in the classroom.  She was very happy with the shoes, but now they are ash.  My slippers were bought here in Korea, so they will be more easily replaced.

If you continue up those stairs to the third floor, my classroom is (was?) the first one, and Horyon's is the second.  The articles say that the second and third floor halls are in bad shape, and quite a few classrooms as well.  Our classrooms have sliding doors that are all little windows.  It is going to be a serious mess to clean up, assuming the doors survived.

And right inside both of our doors, still in the boxes, are new printers for our computers.  Well, they used to be new anyway.

I had put a few of my books in the classroom, and a new computer mouse, but not much else is mine.  The one thing I may really miss (assuming it is unusable) is a book of Kakuro puzzles.  Each one now takes me about 20 minutes to complete, maybe more.  The book had more than 600 puzzles, and I figured it would not only fill some down time for me but keep my math and puzzle skills somewhat sharpened.

I guess we will see in the morning.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011


Somewhere between Leavenworth and here I lost both of my USB drives, which had all my old school files.  I love the convenience of computer stuff, but Natalie Dee gets it.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Happy 10th Anniversary!

I can't quite believe that I've been married for 10 years.  Or, to be more accurate:

I can't quite believe that Horyon has put up with me for 10 years.

We celebrated by going to Hello Sushi.  We both agreed that it sounds too much like "Hello Kitty."  However, the place was very tastefully decorated, without a trace of pink, smiling kitty faces with empty eyes that promise oblivion to those who follow her dainty tracks.

Since it's been a while since I reviewed a meal (I think the last time was also while we were living in Korea!), I will do so now:

Oh wait, I almost forgot:  it has been a wonderful trip, these ten years.  Ten years and eleven months ago I was walking home from a date with Horyon.  I was on a pedestrian bridge over the railroad tracks, it was dark and quiet (for the city), and I was overjoyed by the presence of this person in my life.  A few days later, on March 14th (White Day), we were at a nice restaurant (Charlie's, in the top floor of Lotte Department Store) and I had just given Horyon chocolates, flowers and perfume.  (She never wears perfume, the flowers have returned to dust, and she didn't share the chocolates with me.)  I suddenly experienced a moment of clarity, in which it became obvious to me that I needed to be married to her.  I had, of course, thought about being married to her, but hadn't considered asking.  After all, I had only known her for about 45 days.  But in that moment I knew it more surely than any fact I had ever learned: I belonged with Horyon, and she belonged with me.  So I asked her to marry me.

Her response was the classic:  "I beg your pardon?"

After repeating myself, she said yes.  I think we both surprised ourselves that day, but in the almost eleven years since we have never looked back.

Somewhere I read that deja-vu is just your brain remembering things that haven't happened yet, that the impulses that create memories get sort of mixed up at the quantum level and go the wrong way in time.  I sort of like this idea, because maybe that's what happened to me eleven years ago:

Through the course of our marriage, what has gone by, and what is yet to come, I have thought back on that quiet night above the railroad tracks and the day I proposed many, many times, and never with regret.  Even though a very small fraction of memory impulses travel backwards in time, I relive these moments often enough that they add up.  On the bridge and in the restaurant I was feeling a backwash of future emotions, a self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts.

And who knows: if I hadn't asked her to marry me that night, maybe I would never have gotten around to it.  Maybe she would have had enough time to figure out how forgetful I am, and how messy I can be, and all the other annoying things about me.  Maybe we only got married because we will be married for so long, and quantum entanglement has dictated that it be so.

Or maybe it's just a miracle.

Or maybe both.

Anyway, back to our tenth anniversary at "Hello Sushi!" (the exclamation point is mine, feels like it needs it.)

As I mentioned, the decor was subdued, classic, with American antiques here and there and lighting that revealed without glaring.  They started by bringing us each a glass of wine, included with the meal.  I don't know much about wines, but I liked this red.  Very drinkable, and had me feeling a bit light-headed, as I have not had much alcohol in the past few years.  I started with the table of non-sushi items, including shrimp in cream sauce, spaghetti carbonara, and some salads.  For my second plate I hit the sushi line.

I didn't count, but there must have been a dozen chefs preparing sushi up and down the line.  Little slices of raw fish on top of clumps of rice that would fit on a spoon, prepared with a variety of sauces and garnishes.  Some brought me back for seconds, a very few didn't work for me at all.  I also had some crab soup, but passed on the udong soup.

I finished with fresh pineapple chunks, grapefruit slices, and lychees!  Then coffee, with cookies and cream ice cream that wasn't really that tasty.

Cost:  30,000 won each, about $27, according to Google.  (Did you know that if you type in "30000 Korean won" the first result is the US Dollar equivalent?  How cool is that?)  And we felt that it was worth it.

Of course, we will not eat there again for some time.  It is just too expensive to do more than once a year.  In spite of the price it is still quite popular.  Even though it was lunch time on Wednesday, they first told us it would be an hour wait.  A few minutes later they told us we could have a table, but had to clear out within the next hour and 20 minutes.  (We made it with 10 minutes to spare.)

It was a great meal, the perfect bookmark for our first ten years.

Monday, February 07, 2011


The comedy of luggage movement continued in Pusan.  We dragged our four carry-ons plus laptop bag plus kids out of the plane, picked up our stroller at the gate, and went to baggage claims where the serious baggage was waiting.  Once we got it all on a couple of carts, we found out that you could not take the carts out of the secure area.  So Horyon went out with the kids while I stayed with the bags.  She left the kids with her parents, then came back, and we ferried our bags out to the main lobby.  Fortunately many of our bags are equipped with wheels.

It was a touching reunion, being back with Horyon's parents.  I was surprised at how I had missed them.

We then ferried the luggage out to the curb.  The temperature was an uncharacteristic five below zero Celsius, about 23 degrees Fahrenheit.  It was cold for a couple of days, then our highs came back up above freezing, and our highs for the last week have been around 50F. I've been wearing my jacket instead of my coat, and the serious winter gloves that Mary Lou gave me for Christmas when we moved to Kansas have been packed away the whole time we've been here.

So yeah, there are some things about Kansas I'm not particularly missing, like the blizzard that hit last week.

After we left Korea, Horyon's parents moved into a new apartment.  It is much bigger, and brand new.  They had the place decorated with pictures of us and the kids, framed pictures sitting all over the place.  On little shelves, only a foot or two high.  In the kids' room, as well as the living room.

It took a few days, but most of those got put away.  The apartment is still, at 12 days, not quite Quinten-proof, but it's much better.

Jet-lag has never been a huge issue for me.  Two or three days of grogginess and I was usually okay.  I am older now.  Travelling with two kids is not as relaxing as travelling by yourself or with an adult loved one.  The kids have no sense of why they want to sleep all afternoon and be awake at night, and they have no inclination to change that pattern on their own.  It takes brute force from Mommy and Daddy to shift it.  Fortunately, we arrived with more than a month in which to adjust.  Here at day 12, we are pretty much there, except for one thing:

The kids won't sleep alone.  One of us has to be in the room with them when one of them wakes up.  Usually Horyon.  They are sleeping on pads on the floor, which is warm, but a bit hard for my taste.  Make that a lot hard.  I slept with them for three hours the other night, then Horyon came in to say good night.  I was in pain, and soaked in sweat.  I'm sure I could get used to it, but I'm already getting used to more things than I really want to, and Horyon likes sleeping with the kids.  One or both have been waking up around one a.m., needing to be soothed back to sleep.  Sometimes Horyon stays up doing other work and I go back to soothe them to sleep.  But usually she is there.  We have a queen size bed, but we haven't both slept in it since we got here.  Soon, I'm hoping.

On the food front, I have been eating Korean food two, sometimes three times a day, and not suffering much for it.  Granted, our first shot of sushi (and by that I mean sliced up raw fish, not those California rolls) the other night hit my mouth like a dream and my tummy like a freight train, but other than that it has been good.

I have been enjoying my mother-in-law's kimchi more than I ever have before.  I honestly don't remember it being so good when we lived here before, but now it is so good I don't mind eating it at breakfast.

I know.  Right now my Mom is making a nasty face.  Two weeks ago I would have, too.  I think the change has to do with this:

I left Korea with my family four years ago tired.  Tired of being the foreigner, tired of the food, tired of the customs, and wanting a fresh start in what I thought of as my home country.  Four years in Lawrence taught me that the USA is not really a kind place.  Don't get me wrong, the people are wonderful.  I just took a quick break to chat with Judy Chadwick, a friend from First Christian Church in Lawrence.  In our four years, she became family, and she is not unique in that sense.  And the only reason I could walk away from my parents at the airport without tears streaming down my face was that I didn't want Maxine to focus on what she was leaving behind, but what she was heading towards.

I have always said that people leaving their country are either running away from something or toward something.  Sometimes both.

I decided that I would be moving toward a country that I enjoyed, respected, and even loved.  I decided to embrace the role of stranger in a (not so) strange land, and bring back the openness that I originally brought when I arrived in 1997.  And so I have been eating whatever food my mother-in-law or wife serves up, with the intention of enjoying it.

Much to my surprise, it has worked.  Kimchi and rice and soup for breakfast.  It works!  I do have a piece of toast before, and sometimes follow up with orange juice, but hey, I'm the foreigner:  I can be eccentric.

I've gone to the bath-house about every other day as well.  This was not a difficult change to embrace.  The bath houses were the one thing I missed most about Korea, and was most looking forward to visiting upon our return.

We arrived at my in-laws home, now our temporary home, at around 10 a.m.  I think.  The drive from the airport seemed to take forever, even though it was only about 45 minutes.  It was like revisiting a dream: I kept thinking places were familiar.  Sometimes I was right, and sometimes I was wrong.  The traffic seemed insane, and I had to remind myself that I actually used to drive in it, once upon a time.  I wondered, in passing, if perhaps my mental state (circadian rhythm twisted 180 degrees, not enough sleep, too much stress) was projecting my own neurotic mood onto the streets around me.  If so, the projector is still running full tilt.  My father-in-law is a mild-mannered man, but when he drives I keep expecting him to open a panel of James Bond buttons on his dashboard and start laying waste to thugs.

I can't quite imagine getting back behind the wheel here, and will avoid it as long as possible.  So much for embracing the culture, right?

Oh, the other important cultural adjustment: we got cell phones.  I've got a cute little android, though I can't afford to deck it out with apps right now.  Nor do I have many people to call.  But I have a phone!

In the next week or two we will be checking out the apartment provided by our school.  I think we will move in, as well.  We had originally talked about staying with Horyon's parents long-term, but it is hard on everyone.  So we will retreat to our own home at night.

When you make a move like this one, it is inevitable that you lose some items.  We can't find my socks.  This was a major annoyance, as Korean socks are not comfortable for me (tried again this time), and I was making do with two old pairs of my socks that I had planned to toss after wearing.  Fortunately, we found some suitable replacements at Costco, where we went for the first time today.

And so I am trying to be all the way here as long as I am here.  I'll let you know how it works out, and get some pictures of the whole thing up as soon as I can work the bugs out of our internet setup.  It's difficult to make time for blogging during the day, and it is now 1:30 a.m. on Tuesday here (11:30 a.m. on Monday for those of you in Kansas).  I will write more about how the kids are settling in next time.

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.