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"So I guess this is where I'm supposed to introduce myself. I'm a Canadian male teaching ESL in Seoul, Republic of Korea. This will be my second stint teaching ESL, only this time I'll be teaching at a High School, using my actual teaching experience to use. If you have any questions, please feel free to e-mail me - no question's too small. Take care, and enjoy the ride."

Other Blogs of Note

  • Student in Korea
  • Seoul Man
  • The Daily Kimchi
  • Surviving South Korea
  • Books I'm Reading

  • "Colossus: The Rise and Fall of the American Empire" by Niall Ferguson
  • "Hardboiled Wonderland and the End of the World" by Haruki Murakami
  • "The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order" by Samuel P. Huntington
  • "The Moral Consequences of Economic Growth" by Benjamin M Friedman
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  • the Pacific, how we would fight China, and Tocqueville... Wednesday, June 22, 2005 |

    ahh, the mysteries behind choosing the most ubiquitous title, and confusing all of you, making you wonder what in the world this post is going to be about....
    well, this past week or so has been pretty rough energy wise. due to the unforeseen rise in the amount of pollution thats been hanging over the city for the past few weeks, I've been struggling with a really bad chest and nasal congestion. its comparable to being really sick from either allergies, or a really bad cold. the symptoms are all the same: runny nose, really tight chest, and congestion in my sinus' beyond compare. i'm pretty sure that its not allergies; I've been tested before, and nothing showed up (at home - hence my hesitation to say "no" allergies), and i know its not a cold - and the one thing that's making me sick? the super seoul pollution!! (the average evening temperature in my house is 32F, and right now, even though its early afternoon, my house is right now 27) its getting hot, and luckily, the rains haven't started yet. right now, i don't bother to look at the weather forecast, because even online, with all the technology we have with satellites, they still can't get it right. thats fine with me, but i'd love to know when its going to rain; over here, as i might have mentioned before, when it rains, it pours.
    other than the weather, things are going good. my back is feeling pretty bad lately, and my newest workout scheme isn't helping. i'm sure that if it got worse enough, i could go to a korean chiropractor, but who knows what they'd do, and as always, communication would be a major issue. the shocking thing is that as of today, june 22, i've been in korea for four months. four months. nasty. on one hand, it seems like its flying by, which it its. but it makes me realize all of the stuff that i haven't done yet. either way, its strange to know that i'm a quarter done my contract. its still strange to see new people coming into the school, and having the new people refer to me as someone who knows what they're doing. i've been here for four months, and now that i know exactly how to do everything, its starting to feel comfortable. at the same time however, i've somewhat become more cynical to the whole process of teaching at my school; some of the things they do at my school can seem so incredibly backwards and frustrating. that happens in nearly every situation, any school, any administration. however, i'm locked in here, and things will likely never change here. the only difference is that this hogwan where i'm teaching is a business, not a school. he's in the language business to make money, not for the betterment of soceity. so there are SO MANY resources that could make our school so much better; but they all cost money, hence the lack of quality material that i use. we joke at my school that every time we see our director, he's smiling - we all think that the reason he's always smiling is that everytime he see's us, he see's massive "won" symbols walking around his school...we aren't too attached to our fearless leader.
    well, right now, most of us at my school are looking forward to our one week vacation that's coming up in just over a month. for me, i'm heading off to china for a one week backpacking trip. i'm going to spend a few days in beijing, make a trek one day to see the great wall, and then after two days in beijing, i'll head out to xi'an, where i'll see the terracotta warriors, and then (hopefully) take a bus to chonqing (sp?), and then take a boat tour down the yangje river (soon to be the three gorges dam, removing all of the beautiful valley's, etc) so i'll go from chonqing to wuhan, and take a bus/train from wuhan to shanghai, tour shanghai for a day, and then go back to Seoul. the only problem is that theres a lot of "chance" and "guessing", such as "is there going to be a bus from wuhan to shanghai on the day i need there to be one, or a bus/train from xian to chonqing on the day that i need one? if not, my whole trip could be pretty disastrous. but i'm just going to have fun. i just need to remember that wherever i go, i just need to take my best friend "mr. master card" - then i should be okay. as long as i get back to teach, it'll be all good.
    well, i need to be going - its time to teach, and its about time that i showered and got prepped. i hope and pray things are going well, and i'll talk to you sometime soon
    living the dream...

    such beauty in the midst of dirty air Thursday, June 09, 2005 |

    hello all
    this past weekend, i was lucky enough to have a long weekend, where Monday was our "labour day" in Korea. it was really nice, because there was a lot of us at my school who needed a day off, but then it makes the rest of the week for some reason just drag on.....and seem like the day is just draining on.....regardless of that i'll take the day off. so what i decided to go climbing on my day off. now, in Korea, mountain climbing is a huge undertaking. you don't just go mountain climbing wearing pants and a shirt- you go mountain climbing wearing every single article of clothing specifically designed for mountain climbing; from the hat, to the poles, to the pants, ankle to knee-high socks - if there ever was a group of people from first glance that you thought were going to be heading off to mount Kilimanjaro, or Everest, it'd be the Koreans. they look for any excuse to get dressed up to go hiking. its kind of funny, to see them all worked up over this, but its their most popular hobby, so i guess they're allowed. the more comical they look, the more serious they are about hiking. in my neighbourhood, theirs a small mountain that takes you about forty-five minutes of slow walking to ascend - but regardless the size of the mountain, they dress to impress.
    oh, before i forgot to mention that all of the new pictures posted on the site are from buhkansan, or buhkan mountain (san is korean for mountain) - it will give you an idea of what i mean when i write "such beauty in the midst of dirty air"....
    overall, the "mountain" took my good friend youn-joung and I two hours to climb. part of the longer duration to climb the mountain was the fact that because of the national holiday, the climbers were out in force. we certainly weren't the only people who thought that mountain climbing was a good thing to do. regardless, once we reached the top, the view was beautiful. the air smells so much better up there, because theirs just no smog; the air flows much better up there (naturally) and only then can you appreciate the beauty that is Korea. valleys and mountains flow everywhere, and over the whole 360 degrees, all you can see are mountains going everywhere, and Seoul spread out all between the different ranges.
    unfortunately, some Koreans thought that it would be a good joke to flip around the distance marker for the trail down. so instead of thinking that we had only 1.3km to go to the bottom, some nerd who flipped the sign instead sent us down on the 2.8km trail down the mountain. for all of the talk of Koreans being nice, they sure are lazy sometimes. who knows how many people knew that the marker had been flipped, and just walked down the side they knew was shorter. regardless, its easier to go down than up, so it only took us 2.5 hours. all in all, it was a long trek, including the 45 minute rest and short lunch at the top. it was pretty cool. all in all, its still so surprising to come out of the subway in the middle of Seoul, and see mountains surrounding your subway stop. its especially startling when you have to travel 1.25 hours just on the subway to cross the city, and then after that much time underground, your first sight is the mountains. it just reminds you when your here how much they've expanded from the original city on the rivers edge.
    other than that, not much is new with me. the monsoon season is slowly starting up, with rain predicted for four days next week, on and off. and shortly after the rain, the cockroaches will all come out of hiding.... (I've killed five so far, and these guys are bigger than twoonies... they're vicious too; territorial suckers. if i could take a picture of one not moving, then you'd know what i mean...).
    that's all for me. i hope and pray things are going well for you. if you're ever in the area, drop me a line, and we can catch up on lost time. he he....seriously though, if you're ever looking for a cool city to visit, minus the roaches, Seoul would be it....

    adios all

    this time i have a real treat for you... Sunday, June 05, 2005 |

    well, this time i have a real treat for you. as some of you might remember, i had my cousin visit me some time ago. he spent nearly two weeks with me, and i had a great time. I asked him if he'd be willing to write about his time here, so that you get a second perspective from the world of south korea. so what will follow will be my cousin Peter's blog. Enjoy!!

    About one month ago I boarded a plane in Detroit, endured an 11 hour flight from Chicago to Tokyo, and then touched down in Seoul to be greeted by the smiling face of none other than my cousin. That was the start of an amazing and all-too-short two week visit to South Korea. Two weeks ago, he asked me to post on his blog detailing my experiences and impressions of the country (mostly Seoul). I’ve been procrastinating because the amount of stuff I could write about far exceeds the brevity required by blogging. So what follows is really the barest description of the country based on my short time there.

    The vast majority of my time was spent in Seoul, S. Korea’s capital city. In many ways it is similar to any big North American city: gleaming office buildings, a sprawling subway system, congested traffic and tight living quarters. But it differs in many ways as well. For instance, I couldn’t get over how clean Seoul is. The thought of using a public bathroom in a Seoul subway station didn’t cause me to break out in a cold sweat. The janitor responsible had his picture, name and phone # posted on the wall. Also, there was a notable lack of panhandlers in Seoul: no squeegee kids greased up your windshield, no bearded men shouted God’s wrath down upon civilization, and nobody camped out over a subway grille. I believe in the 2 weeks I was in Korea I saw a grand total of five beggars and three of them had no legs. Basically, if someone is begging they really are in dire straits and have no other option. That’s because Koreans have such a strong work ethic and have made one of the most capitalist societies in our world. I know that we Canadian sometimes complain about all the billboards and advertising along American highways but compared to Korea the Americans are downright restrained. In Seoul garish neon signs crowd into every street, vendors line any busy road, and there’s no such thing as a bare wall. It’s an advertiser’s paradise and an architectural wasteland. Most people live in an apartment building due to the scarcity of land. That’s not so shocking in and of itself but it seems the Koreans settled on one design for their apartment buildings and then mass produced them everywhere. I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say that 100% of them are these white, utilitarian concrete behemoths that have two little towers protrude like horns at either end, creating a monotonous and dreary cityscape at every turn.

    Thankfully that’s about the worst I can say about the country and there is a lot to redeem it. Korea is a very mountainous country which makes it a hiker’s paradise. It’s easy to get out of the city and into a national park. There are bike paths and parks along the Han River and its tributaries, many beautiful palaces and museums to visit, and quiet parks are sprinkled all throughout the city.

    I was also fortunate to meet some exceedingly nice and helpful people while in Korea. That’s not surprising though. Korean’s are very polite (unless on the subway in which case they resemble their pushing and shoving North American counterparts) and are willing to go far out their way to help strangers. I’ll give a few examples from my experience. One day I was hiking in Bukhansan National Park, which tends to be more vertical than horizontal, and had only brought one bottle of water. It didn’t last long and I found myself parched atop a mountain. So a Korean man walks up to me and after a bit of miscommunication gave me a bottle of ice cold water. Another time I was on the subway and offered my seat to this old lady standing in front of me. Little did I know that she was an English teacher. At the next station someone a few seats down got off and she shooed down the rest of the people so that I could sit beside her. After plying me with candy, she reviewed her English lesson with me and then at her stop exclaimed what a nice young man I was. Another time I was in Gongju (not to be confused with Gyeongju) and after a day of walking through the city was a few kilometers from the intercity bus terminal. The sky was starting to cloud over, when a guy pulled up in his van and offered me a ride to the terminal. I hopped in and we chit-chatted the way over there. When he dropped me off he just wished me a good day and refused to take any money; shortly after it started pouring rain.

    In short I really like Korea and would highly recommend making the trip if you have a few thousand dollars laying around and don’t know what to do with it. The people are fantastic, it’s inexpensive, the country is gorgeous (minus the bits I talked about), and best of all there is English signage everywhere. It’s really easy to travel around the country, the KTX bullet train is cheap (about $30 to travel across the length of the country at 300km/hr) and intercity buses can reach those out-of-the-way destinations. There’s so much more I could’ve talked about: Gyeongju, being swarmed by school kids, the food, the yellow dust, living on ramen, tourist destinations around Seoul, the cool and friendly staff at my cousins school, crazy grocery stores, how my cousins school kids assume white people are fat, etc, etc. I want to give a big thank you to my cousin for being such a good host and putting up with my jet lag the first few days. Say hi to the 5:30 skipper for me!


    the good ole' korean work ethic.... Thursday, June 02, 2005 |

    I realize now that its been a while since i made my last post; i was spoiling my faithful readers the past while with multiple posts, and since then i've dropped off. but two people sent me remarks in e-mails in the past week reminding me of my "duty", in other words, to let you know how this part of the world is doing, and so here we go.

    when generally referring to the work ethic in asia, most people allude to the fact that they generally put the north american work ethic to shame. what most people don't realize is that north american's actually do work incredibly hard (we put the French, and most of europe to shame with our work habits...) regardless, i digress. however, when comparing societies, most people think that koreans and asians work seventy hour work weeks, and they log massive ammounts of hours behind their desks. well, i'm here to somewhat dispell that myth. asians generally do work hard, thier is no doubting that fact. but allow this picture below to explain a few things.

    Image hosted by Photobucket.com

    for those of you who don't have good enough eyes to interpret the picture, allow me to describe it to you. in this picture, you will see a prime example of a korean "working" hard... what you can't see all that well is that he's sleeping in his car, on a five lane inner-city highway, and he's just decided to pull over and take a siesta. now, this is not uncommon at all. koreans by nature work some of the strangest hours that you will ever hear of. for example, in my neighbourhood, there are no more than four optometrist offices located on different street corners. two of these glasses stores are open until 11pm on sunday night. yup, 11pm sunday night. i can't imagine that he gets a lot of business much past five o'clock, but he's open till 11pm with two staff members. and this is not uncommon - its not only related to optometrist shops.... the other fact is that most korean stores do not open until roughly 10, 11am in the morning, or whenever they get around to it. it seems lacksidasical (sp?), and to most north american's, it doesn't make any sense whatsover. why stay open so late? theres no logic to it- when you look for logic, you'll find nothing but more confusing answers.....you just look at it, pause for a second, and then chalk it up to what we call "korean style" - basically, take something logical, confuse it, and then presto, you have "korean style". now sure, that's my interpretation. i'm sure that there's a completely logical explanation for their reasons for doing things they way they do them, and i'm positive that it has something to do with history (we've always done things this way, so why change....we're one of the most powerful countries in asia now, and we're isolated from the world....(unless you count North Korea....), so if you don't like korean style, then leave).

    and to their credit, they deserve their due. they can only ship thier products to whomever wants them - trucking is out of the question when you have to go through north korea...and so is by train....(read my last blog if that one doesn't make sense) so they have to work twice as hard to market thier products. but when you've been here for a bit, you have to wonder, because korean style seems so strange to the north american style; we've been so successful with capitalism, that it makes other styles seem so complicated. but why reinvent the wheel, right?

    well, thats about all for me. for those of you who have been looking for a good article on what its like to work for a hogwan (my school's semi-official title), my parents sent me a great link to a cbc article that's posted online. it basically gives you a good idea on what a lot of people my age have been doing. here is the link: peruse if you so desire.


    take care all, and i will talk to you sometime soon i'm sure