January 29, 2011

you’ve got a fan in me...

 My decision to purchase NHL Center Ice a couple months ago was one of the best monthly purchases I've made. It has proven to be better than any jam or beer of the month club, and slighty more attractive than an online porn membership, although Corwin refers to it as my porn addiction.

Justification for the purchase aside, I’ve found some advantages and disadvantages of cheering abroad. (I will also try not make this a blog-ritorial for NHL Center Ice). 

(+) The colossal time zone difference between Korea and N/A moves primetime on the Eastern United States to the start of regular business hours in Seoul. It’s very convenient; I eat breakfast as the puck drops for a handful of games. (-) This handful of games is usually limited to Eastern Conference teams. (+) although, since HBO’s 24/7 (Road to the Winter Classic) I’ve enjoyed following the Penguins and Capitals. (-) Daylight Savings Time pushed the start times back an hour (10am-11am or later for Flames games), as Korea does not partake in the saving of sunlight.

(+) Breakfast and Hockey is perfect on Sunday morning, especially because it is Hockey Night in Canada, my favourite Hockey Broadcast. (-) The Leafs are always the first game on HNIC (is there ever a Saturday night they don't play?). (+) The Leafs usually lose.

(+) NHL Center Ice basically works as a PVR, you can pause and replay live games. You also have access to all games played during the current regular season. (+) Thisarchive allows me to watch Flames games at night, like a normal hockey fan. (-) The NHL website forces me to shield my eyes as I log into it, the scores are all visible across the top of the screen. The process is tricky, as the whole site is filled with spoilers before I’m able to click full screen on a game. I’ve ruined several games through failed log in attempts.

(+) I found that I’ve become a well rounded hockey fan. I watch a couple of periods
of hockey every day. I skip between games I think will be good, and games I’m curious about. I’ve been exposed to some great rivalries and players because I can easily jump between games. (-) Again, most of my exposure has been with Eastern Conference teams, my tirivial knowledge of Western teams is becoming quickly outdated because their games don't get interesting until after I'm at work. (+) I've watched more Tampa Bay Lightning games than most people in Florida.

(-) Non NHL games aren't included, so cheering for Canada at the World Juniors was a tricky task. TSN owned the feeds and I could only watch the games live/streaming. (+) I was able to watch Canada beat the Americans in the semi-final. (-) However,The morning of the Gold Medal game I had a doctor’s appointment. I decided to wait until the game was loaded on Torrents to watch it. 48 hours after the game (and not visiting any hockey, or sport website) I found a torrent with the following tagline "worst collapse ever, Russia wins in third". (+) at least my heart wasn't ripped out, as I'm sure it would have been.

Even though I am thousands of kms away, my love for hockey still has an outlet. Instead of relaxing with my father in his basement watching HD hockey on a 92" screen. I'm watching HD games on my 19" laptop screen. What I give up in screen size I gain in the ability and flexability to follow my passion, I've watched games in coffee shops. Besides I don't need the giant screen, I usually watch the games alone. I have yet to meet another hockey enthousiast with whom to chit chat and share my $22/month passion with.

January 22, 2011

a changing guard...

January marked a mass exodus of my students. In one class in particular, I had three of nine kids leave. While the reasons for student departures vary, I can't help but feel bad and take it somewhat personally. In the afore mentioned case, two of the students switched academies and one student moved to the Philippines.

In training they don't tell you that students leaving is a normal occurrence, and I took the first couple departures really personally. I thought my students hated me, and wanted out. Originally I actually feared for my job as I had two kids leave one of my classes after my first month. I thought for sure I would get into trouble, as my lack of teaching experience cost the school valued money. It wasn't until I watched as other classes around my school get smaller that I felt better. I've since had a plethora of students come and go, and I'm only aware that one was caused by me. (A student;s mother  took him out of my class after an attendance sheet gaff)
When some students leave, the class resumes as if nothing changed. It saddens me to an extent because I quickly forget about their presence at all. It takes pictures to remind of their existence and what they brought to the table. Robin (top right) was one of those students (his name even alluded me during the first draft of this post). Robin would work quietly in class with his pencil case balanced on his head, this was normal. He left my school in search of more grammar help, and the class dynamic didn't change at all in the months since his exit. Jessica (above left) and Cayley's (above right) absence has also had little effect on the class, although both were some of my favourites.

Classroom dynamic is such an interesting balance. I've been able to alter it slightly by introducing new ideas into the class, I like to experiment with change. The biggest shifts come when a dominant kid in the class leaves. Jeremy (left) and Christine (below right) are two such examples. Jeremy was a driven student, although an outcast in the class, he brought playful competition to the class. The class has been plagued by silence and inaction without him.
Christine was a force, she easily aced every exam, and had the highest confidence of any students I teach. When I took over the class almost a year ago she was my predecessors favourite, and it didn't take long before she was one of mine. Her absence has left a massive void in the class, Christine could turn the tide of a class with a single remark. I would seek her help in driving up the tempo in a class, yet she was able to police the other students and calm them down when needed. The remaining students each attempt to fill her shoes, although they lack the charm and charisma this grade three possessed.

January 18, 2011

same same... just Korea (pt vi)

Korean egg timers start at one...

In western society you reach your first birthday exactly one year after you slid out of the birth canal. You subsequently celebrate that anniversary every year, until the year there is no air in your lungs to blow out the candles (i.e. you're dead).

In Korea you reach your first birthday exactly as you slide out of the birth canal. If a baby is born, it is considered a year old in this country. It doesn't take a math genius to figure out that they were only conceived around nine months prior however, this doesn't seem to matter. The anniversary of this birth is kind of celebrated in Korea, but another candle is not added to the cake to mark the occasion. Candles are only added on New Year's Day, the same day that everyone in Korea ages another year.

For example, one of my students, Kate, now has a baby brother. He was born on December 22nd, and at the second he was born, he should have been given a candle to blow out as he was one year old. ten days later, he should have recieved another cake (this time with two candles) as the calendar flipped and we entered 2011. Kate's baby brother is now 2 years old, and hasn't been sucking air for even a month.

Your humble narrator (author, whatever) is currently 27 years old by Korean standards. I assure you that being called 25 has never sounded so good! Also, in case you were wondering, the western age system is used when it comes to all official government/legal matters, drinking and tobacco use. Yet when dealing with small children, age is important, and they always want to appear to be older. Most of us practiced this with our 1/4, 1/2, 3/4 ages (I'm not 25, I'm 25 3/4).

Are you old enough to be my friend?

Now that I have explained the Korean age system you can understand the second part of this post. This is something that has only recently been revealed to me, although it's been in front of me the entire time. In Korea you can only be 'friends' with people the same age as yourself.

Haha, I just made that sound confusing, yet it is simply a language translation problem. The Korean word for 'friend' is 친구 (chingu), and it is the word often translated with the english word 'friend'. In the Korean language though, a 친구 (chingu) can only be a person with the same age.

Now, refer back to the segment above, everyone ages at the same time. So figuring out who can be your friend is a lot easier as it is based on birth year, not birthday. Anyone born in 1985 would share my age of 27, therefore I could be a 친구 (chingu) with anyone born in that year. This concept works really well with school children, because how often are children of different ages interacting? Classrooms are also usually arranged by birth year (even in western societies). Therefore most of my childhood friends share my birth year, and I can call친구 (chingu).
Callie can't believe she isn't my 친구.
You start to encounter some issues with this system when you grow older. For example my friend, Callie (left), she is older than me in Korean years (and American ones). Since she is older than me, I can't correctly call her 친구 (chingu). I have to use another word, and refer to her as my older sister. It sounds strange, I know, because she is not my older sister, she is my friend. But that is just the way it works here. This is applicable on all fronts, and not just older sisters/brothers. If your friend is younger than yourself you would call them younger brother/sister.

Basically the western word 'friend' isn't universally translated in Korea, instead of being one word, it is many. The Korean language is very structured and places a high importance on status. This leads me to the fact that I have never really noticed this before. I stumbled upon it when my physiotherapist, whom I'd never met before that session, called me his friend upon finding out my age. I was a tad confused and thought he was a little presumptuous. I also had a student tell me about a weekend with his 4 older brothers. Yet, I knew that he only had a younger sister. Short inquiries into both situations enlightened me, and led to my understanding (hopefully) explained above.
I've since spotted another example of this in class. 
(the book asked for the students to talk with their friends about school)
Lucy: Sean Teacher (whine) I don't have any friends in the class. 
Charlie: She doesn't!
Olivia: Lucy is 11, we are 12... We aren't friends. 
Sean Teacher: That's okay Lucy, pretend you are 12.

January 13, 2011

stay-cation 2o10

an evening of adrenaline...

I was pretty much clueless about the limitations of my recently ruptured eardrum. My doctor didn't offer me much in terms of what I could, and could not do. His English was somewhat limited, though I didn't ask too many questions. Sometimes the communication barrier is a barrier that is best left uncrossed. So without a clue, although with some reservations, I strapped myself into the last car. I'd find out within a minute or so if it was a good idea to go on a rollercoaster. As the cars rolled up the first hill the uncertainty caused my heart to beat a tad faster.

The French revolution sped through Lotte World, an amusement park in Seoul. The first corner came and went, as did the single vertical loop and corkscrew turns. My head slammed from side to side, my body mildly ached, and my eardrum remained intact. Once I exited the ride I was confident I could attempt any ride in the park, the rollercoaster was my first ride of the evening, and it had the shortest line.

I'm not used to long line ups at theme parks, and it took me a while before I got used to the sheer volume of people inside the park. Cues for several rides were past an hour, and steadily growing. In an attempt to wait out the masses I ducked into a theatre to check out a 'show'. Not having any clue what was about to take place, I sat back and relaxed. The show started with a splash as a fountain erupted from center stage. Water was streaming from several jets in a miniature version of a Vegas fountain show. It was laughable, corny, and then a giant angel was lowered from the ceiling. Fire exploded, and streamed across the stage in direct contrast to the water thrashing about. I think the performance was an interpretation of the creation of earth, I think...

 As I mentioned before Lotte World is an amusement park in Seoul. It is open year round thanks to giant indoor portion of the park. I spent most of my time and wandering around inside avoiding lines (check out the map). Surprisingly not only was the outdoor portion of the park open, it was fully functional. Several rides were operating in the sub zero temperatures, and the line ups were considerably, and understandably shorter. Corwin wanted to go on the drop of fear, I elected to go for the carousel swing. It was as enjoyable as swinging around in super chilled air could be, and I spent the later part of the ride terrified my lanky legs were going to hit the perimeter fence.

Lotte World itself is a Disney rip-off, complete with a castle eerily similar to Cinderella's. The mascots are not mice, they are racoons and look like burglar cousins to Mickey and Minnie. Copyright infringement or not the similarities don't stop there, but I'll let you check out the site for yourself (click here). The park's logo is just as uninspired as the name. Lotte is a giant conglomerate in Korea, they dabble in pretty much every industry, and always keep the Lotte namesake.

The best ride of the day was by far the first, long line ups didn't guarantee great rides. Pharaoh's Fury had the longest line, seemed the newest, but was forgettable. In the ride you sit in an oversized jeep and gallivant through a tomb. You are occasionally thrown astray when the jeep hits rocky terrain, and the ride emulates a 4x4. Understandably the ride came equipped with a Korean soundtrack. I'm sure I could have enjoyed the ride more if I understood what was being said.

To avoid any true displeasure with the park I ended the evening the same way I started it. Testing my freshly healed eardrum, blasting through a rollercoaster that had little to do with the French.

January 10, 2011

same same... just korea (pt. v)

Dental Discovery...

I had a killer toothache one night, so bad that it kept me awake for several hours. I was convinced that I had a cavity in one of my back right molars. I was so sure of it that I could actually see tooth decay, and I started to fret about the cost of getting it filled. A Google search revealed some interesting information. In Korea they still utilize the amalgam filling (i.e. the silver ones with mercury in them). The amalgam filling is quite cheaper than the composite resin filling that is most common in NA. The silver filling, probably due to cost, is entirely covered by national health in Korea, while the composite resin is not. This could be a reason that a lot of Koreans have amalgam fillings. If you walk around Seoul and admire some smiles, you are bound to see a glimmer of silver in someone's mouth.

Actual x-ray of my mouth, taken 12/01/2010
This new knowledge made me fear my dental visit even more. I did not want an amalgam filling, my reason was entirely based on vanity. I honestly don't really care about the slight possibility of mercury poisoning. I only cared about looks, I have spent so much money attempting to make my teeth look normal, an amalgam filling would surely ruin that. If the composite resin (white) filling had mercury I would write a blog justifying why I risked mercury poisoning. In the end I did not have a cavity, and I didn't have to worry about cavities (a subsequent cleaning also revealed that I have no cavities, yay!) I had a piece of food lodged between my gum and my tooth.

That wasn't before I found another interesting difference between North American dentists and Korean ones. Once in the dental chair, I encountered an interesting sight. An x-ray of my full mouth was there waiting for me on an LCD screen. I knew it was mine, because of the steel rod anchoring one of my front teeth to my skull. As I was admiring my jaw line, and looking for the remote (to change the channel) the assistant started to lean the chair back. Right around the time she would usually pull out the 'cool' stylish shades, the assistant raised a medium sized towel. This sheet was roughly the size of a tea towel, and it had an oval hole in the center. Yes, instead of being unfashionable in the dentist chair, in Korea you are hidden behind a smock coloured curtain. The oval opening was placed over my mouth, a small slit allowed the contraption to sit snugly on my nose, my eyes were draped in darkness. 

I found it to be quite uncomfortable underneath the sheet. It was awkward, and unexpected. Due to the fact I was behind a sheet, the LCD screen didn't second as a television. The only visual was darkness, and the only audio was the roar of the drill as the dentist ploughed into my gums.

January 07, 2011

stay-cation 2o10...

My previous post about the pitfalls of planning (here) led me to do very little over the Christmas season. In the end it felt amazing. Some staffers from my school headed home, some headed to tropical retreats, and there were also a few who didn't budge, and enjoyed a stay-cation. I joined the ranks of the immobile and created Stay-Cation 2o10.

It was actually my procrastination that led to the formation of Stay-Cation, I procrastinated planning so long that Christmas was here, and I had nothing to do. Yet, for some reason these things always kind of work out for me. I don't know if this is just self justification, but if I had been an eager planner, and actually gone on an tropical adventure I would have been left severely handicapped. My blown eardrum would have prevented me from any water activities. Well that's partially a lie, I could float around with my head above the water, but where is the fun in that?? seriously now!

Instead with a blown ear and lazy aspirations, I spontaneously ventured on a lavish food escapades, and to a royally cheesy theme park. (two parts...two entries...)

an evening of mastication...

The lack of Christmas in Korea really got to my palate. So, I set out in search of holiday comforts, i.e. not Korean food. The thing I miss the most from home is BBQ, the smell and taste of wood smoked food is seriously lacking in Korea. Sure the Koreans are notorious for BBQ, but it's an entirely different style. It would be like craving spaghetti and settling for ramen (Mr. Noodle), and over the Christmas break I did not wish to settle.
I sought to remedy the situation by going to Memphis King BBQ, a tiny joint located about an hour from my house (by train) near Bangbae station (I realize that means little to most, but to some readers it might be useful). I read about the place a couple of months ago, and a subsequent article in a local magazine shored up my resolution to frequent the now quasi notorious eatery.

The ribs were well reviewed, and a decent price. I was really looking forward to them. I was seriously expecting great things. In the end Corwin loved them, she thought they were great. I left unsatisfied, it's not that that they were bad, I left wanting more. Truth be told, I left missing my father's ribs. He mastered the pork ribcage a couple years ago, and this place did not meet his standard. The only remedy I could think of would be perhaps order more ribs and simply gorge on the mediocre. 

They had an interesting dessert, a sweet potato pie. In the end this would have to do. Corwin seemed excited as she ordered it from the fluently English speaking staff. However, it was not to be, they were sold out. This left us aching for a decent dessert. Good news though, Korea is a nation of WiFi, and with the help of an IPod Touch we remedied the situation. We found a pastry shop in Itaewon that could help cure our desire for pastry. 

Tartine is a tiny hole in the wall down a side street in Itaewon (an extremely popular weiguk watering hole). I'm actually kind of thankful it was a hole in the wall. It made the whole experience more gratifying because I've never seen it before, and Itaewon is a well traveled area for this weiguk. I elected for a pecan pie, and my elegant date opted for the chef's special blend of mixed berries. Both were served as individual pies, and both were delectable. I'm a pastry fiend, and the pie hit the spot perfectly. I decided to max out my calorie intake and asked for a little bit of whipped cream. Apparently that meant they should bury my pie under a mountain of heavy cream. Hence why there is not a decent photo of my pie, only a spiky white hairdo.

January 05, 2011

the war on christmas: the eastern front...

Every year in North America it seems that Christmas takes another blow. Some religious organization, or atheist movement takes offence to something related to Christmas. One such example, the infamous shift from 'Merry Christmas' to 'Happy Holidays'. This year the Colbert Report informed me about the FOX news  segment  'The War on Christmas', and I thought I'd add my own entry about Korea. 
Christmas in Korea is really not that big of a deal, it's more of a non event. The holiday is more a reflection of a commercial holiday than a religious celebration. I have not spotted a single nativity scene anywhere, although there are random reindeer, and decorated Christmas trees scattered throughout the neighbourhood. One of the pizza parlours I frequent is the proud home of one such reindeer. He proudly showed off the reindeer on my last visit.

I scouted out to find Santa, or well a physical incarnation of the man in red. Like the nativity scenes he was nowhere to be found, alive that is. Gangnam (a trendy affluent area of Seoul), did have several plastic versions tied to streetlamps, and before you ask, no none of them were Korean. A year ago I was building Pepsi displays honouring jolly old Saint Nick, and this year I can't even find a Coke bottle with his likeness.

The Christmas hangover that is usually associated with the days following Christmas, didn't occur. It seemed like the country was ramping up for New Years, instead of winding down from an overdose of Eggnog (a virtually nonexistent novelty). Pretty much this country boasts an absence of Christmas. Sure it is a holiday, but it is a holiday celebrated much less than many others. Christmas day in Korea was a day like any other, I didn't notice even a single store closure. New Years appeared to have more of an effect on the nation, as there were a handful of shops that didn't open. Since drinking is a national past time in Korea, that seemed to make sense.

Although Christianity is the prominent religion in Korea at 26.3%. That doesn't mean much when almost half of the country is non religious (49.7%). So perhaps there was a war at some point in Korean history that wiped the yuletide spirit from the nation. At the very least though, I think the numbers can help allow you to draw your own conclusion.

Religion or not, I'd say that my biggest loss came in the bakery department. I for one love Christmas baking. I love the excuse for people to make delectable cookies, and other baked goods. I spent Christmas day drooling on Skype, as my parents showed off the loot they sat in front of at a friend's house: Nanaimo bars, brownies, and sugar cookies were all waiting to be eaten, 8,500km away.

I was however able to find and enjoy some premium baked goods in Korea, It simply required a Google search, and clever timing. I suppose that is the best benefit from living in a city of 20 million plus, there is a niche market for everything. Yet when Christmas becomes a niche market you know that you are a long way from home.