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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.

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.