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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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  • ever wonder...... Tuesday, June 20, 2006 |

    Ever wonder what Korean middle school girls do in their spare time? I count my lucky stars that I don't teach these two, but trust me; I've got some strange birds....
    If I've piqued your interest, click "here"

    A little story called providence... Monday, June 19, 2006 |

    So, interesting things have been happening lately, and I just can't hold it just to myself; I'm a sharing type of guy. Sorta. Here's the story.
    So my institute, which "graciously" grants me ten days of unpaid vacation days a year, has our vacation coming up during the final week of July, first week of August. Now for those of you unfamiliar with how things work here in South Korea, allow me to enlighten you. Students in elementary and middle school stay in school pretty much year long, with a few scattered breaks, mostly 1 month off in summer time, and 1 month off in the winter months, right before their school year starts again in late February. My students complain about it, but they're just a bunch of whiny over-spoiled kids....(they are, and i'm not just being harsh) Regardless. For a country with over 50 million citizens, nearly everyone has vacation time off during the same months; and trust me when I say that there's not a lot of airline's that fly in and out of Seoul, the only international airport accesible to me. It makes for scheduling vacation flights out of the country a two-months in advance adventure...
    Now, I'm not that type of guy (pre-planning? what's that...? Is that something people do if they're bored?). If you remember my last trip to China (see "here"), then you'll remember that I'm not one for preplanning beyond an airplane ticket, much less anything beyond a week; why bother? Well, this year was no different, and after possibly trying to drag my faithful cousin Peter with me, I decided that cousin or no cousin, I was going to Cambodia, the land of 10 million land mines, courtesy of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge. I'm going for reasons besides the aforementioned, but I'm hoping to hit up Phnom Phen, Siam Reap, and Kampot. I was originally hoping to visit the Eastern side of the country, however, I'm hampered more by my flight than anything else. Here's where the providence comes through. Due to my laziness and pathetic ability to remember how hard it is to book flights in this country, when I tried to book my flight, I was dismayed to discover that I was currently on a waiting list of over 80 ppl to get on a plane that had only 140 seats. My roommate scheduled me to get on the waiting list, and that night, both of us looked online for alternate routes to Phnom Phen; things weren't looking good, with ticket fares over 400 Can more than my first option (a direct flight from Seoul to Phnom Phen) and with an average of two connecting flights, a wasted trip. I prayed right after my roommate got off the phone, for direction on where I should go if Cambodia is not for me. The Next Morning at 9am, when their offices opened, they called my roommate on his phone, and told him that I had the reservation, and I could pick up my ticket at the air terminal twenty minutes from my house. Is there anything cooler than our God? I really feel like He's watching over me; good thing He's everywhere too, because knowing myself, I'll need all His help come Cambodia, and I'm not even there yet.

    Teacher - "he's is from the bacumbaga?"... Monday, June 12, 2006 |

    Ever wonder if you're cut out for this?
    Being that I've been here for a little bit, my school often asks if I'll be okay to answer any questions by prospective teachers who are thinking of coming to my institute (its clearly not a school - in fact, it hurts me to write school in any writing associated with my institute - if only you knew the depth of their inaptitude..) I digress. One of the most frequent questions I get asked is in regards to teaching, and how hard it is to teach ESL. And truthfully, I can say that its really really easy, and that's not just because I've been doing this for months on end, with little to no vacation (not that I'm bitter...). Its more the little things that make teaching ESL one of the most frustrating jobs on this side of mine digging in China; the only difference being we have fewer fatalities...
    One student that comes to mind is a particularly fond boy with a few uncharacteristic charms that make him mildly appreciated, yet frustratingly annoying. Fred, as I'll call him, has definitely struck out when it comes to childhoods. Both his parents are Korean, yet, he was born in Japan, where his father teaches historical Japanese instruction. After two years in Japan, his family moved to the US, where he lived for two years. After those two years, the whole family moved back to Japan. After another two years in Japan, his mother and brother moved to Seoul, where they've been since then. He has no grasp of Korean, Japanese, and certainly not English, that's for sure. However, with mild-learning disabilities, this makes the job of teaching him in an advanced class even more aggravating. How he got placed in my class is a long story of ineptitude, and since he's been in my class, he'll jump off any bridge if I tell him; I'm his English teacher - his mom loves me, so Fred loves me. The problem is that Fred retains English instruction like water off a ducks back; it doesn't stick around. If he's bored, in class, he'll break out into a rendition of his favourite song: "I'm so lonely, so loooonnnneeeelllllyyyy..", which is all the song consists of; a repeat of the chorus. His last test, when I asked "Where is the rare Plowshare tortoise from?" (by the way, its Madagascar, for those who didn't know) - after talking for over a week about the island, and the animated movie "Madagascar", et al, he wrote, after much deliberation "he's is from the bacumbaga?" question mark and all. Truth be told, I don't even know how to mark the answer.....he answers a question with another question. The rest of his test wasn't all that bad; he got perfect on the vocabulary matching. However, the rest of his test is a rare feat of questions, incomplete sentences, and grammar verb tense preposition confusion. Its something to behold. However, for as long as I'll be at my institute, he'll be in my class, no matter where I go - his parents, by now understanding his inability to grasp English, are wealthy; so as long as he comes home happy, (even though he's only completed half of his homework, the majority of that half incorrectly) his parents hope that after all of my frustrated "Earth to Fred - at least attempt to focus, please, I beg of you", followed by him singing, again..) he'll actually learn something. So as long as they keep paying, I'll keep teaching him.....I'm so lonely, so loooonnnnneeeellllyyyyyy....
    So if you can get past the kids with the inability to grasp English, not understanding a word coming from your mouth, and certain kids never doing their homework, and Mom and Dad not caring, then teaching ESL is the right job for you. The pay is supreme, the hassles, while they may seem great, are few, and for the few kids who do learn, and love you for doing your job, the payoff is worth all of the "Fred's" in the world....
    come to Korea

    The future of Canada in Afghanistan? Saturday, June 10, 2006 |

    So as I've mentioned before, I have been reading up quite a bit on Middle Eastern politics, and at the same time as reading Thomas Friedman's book "From Beirut to Jerusalem. And then today, while continuing my monthly addiction to "The Atlantic", I read an interesting article written by a writer for "Slate" entitled "Hunkering Down". Then to top if off, while I was on an anti-US sentiment feeling regarding Bush's numerous failed policies, but lo and behold, this political cartoon gets published in the Korean Herald. It should be noted that in Korea, they are generally pro-US foreign policy regarding the Middle East (South Korea has currently 3277 Military Personal stationed in Iraq under Alliance command). It got me to thinking about how Canada's future in Afghanistan is being put on display in Parliament, and general public sentiment is showing to be against Canada's involvement. Strange too that the general sentiment in the US also shows a solid distaste for the ongoing struggles in Iraq....Its worthwhile to note that Canada and the US are starting to mirror each other more and more, not only in politics but also in public opinion polls. What scares me most is my own lack of Canadian history - before I go bashing the US over their failed policies, I better make sure that my own backyard is "clean", so to speak. Don't get me wrong - the US is doing a good job in "eliminating" targets (and everything else in a two-mile radius of that "target") - my own problem is whether those targets are as bad as the US makes them out to be....
    And what does this have to do with me? The more I read about all of this stuff, the more I want to go over there and experience it for myself. Anyone know if they need foreign journalists in the Middle East?...Someone has already anonymously suggested to look into "the Kite Runner", are there any other book suggestions anyone might have on Middle Eastern topics?
    Okay, enough of making this blog a political and health related rant - I'll get back to teaching related rants next week....

    The Hospital's long reach... Thursday, June 08, 2006 |

    This is for all of those of you who hate waiting in Ontario hospital waiting rooms, for our free health care.
    So today I went to Samsung Medical Center, to talk to my friendly neighbourhood ENT specialist, Dr. Hoon. While there, I was fitted for a new tube to try and clear up the fluid that's been there for, well, a really long time, and never gone away. After convincing him that I'm okay with doing it in his hospital waiting room (outfitted with all the necessary instruments ofcourse), we set about for the twenty second procedure of outfitting my ear for a tube. (for those of you curious as to what an ear tube looks like, click here) After all was said and done, I was in and out of his office in less than ten minutes (after twenty minutes in the waiting room), which included the photographs of the before and after "surgery". At first, I thought this to be unnecessary; why would I need proof that he had done what he said? The proof was in my bill.
    129,920 Won. In today's Canadian dollar, that worked out to 152.27. And how much did insurance cover of my bill? 48,522 Won, or nearly the EXACTLY amount that I pay every single month for my monthly insurance bill. I felt a great deal poorer after walking out of the hospital, and had a slight greater appreciation for the Ontario Healthcare system; for those of you who preach a two-tiered health-care system, be careful what you wish for. Yes, I waited only two weeks for my hospital visit, and once inside, got treated like a real hospital patient, with complimentary tea (self-service) and plenty of people willing to help me (call it the foreigners curse - they assume because I'm surrounded by Koreans, I'll want extra help; bless they're hearts, but it gets a little annoying), but for all that I got, I couldn't help but feel slightly taken to the cleaners (3200 Won for an electronic scheduling of my next appt? Is that really necessary?)
    Call me cured, in more ways than one, with hearing that's much better than before - and I'm certainly happy, because fortunately for me, money is absolutely no problem. However, before we go preaching on how to fix our own health-care system, a reality check might be suggested before we take drastic measures.
    By the way, how did Health-care become almost a mute-issue in the past election, being overtaken by everything military? Shouldn't we worry more about our problems right upfront as opposed to more "optional" ventures?
    just a thought...

    Contributing to society... Wednesday, June 07, 2006 |

    Just the other week or so, it was localized election time in Seoul, which meant driving box-trucks of placards and loudspeakers speaking garbled Korean, blasting throughout neighbourhoods as if they only need YOUR vote for them to win. I was feeling somewhat left out, as I didn't do my civic duty and vote in Canada's last elections. Sure, I probably would have voted randomly, which means it's probably better that I didn't vote at all. Anyways, I digress.
    I was feeling like I wasn't actively participating in trying to make Korea a better place, and then last Sunday, I felt redeemed for an entire year.
    I went out to meet a friend of mine who I hadn't seen in a while, and as I'm walking back to my apartment building, I can hear this child just wailing as if someone just took his lollipop- he was loud. So I walk up, to find a queue of almost ten people waiting for the elevator. Living on the 13th floor, I felt justified waiting (while I knew that more than half probably lived on the 3rd floor - side note - Koreans will wait ten minutes for the elevator to take them to the second, or even third floor of a building, when the stairs are RIGHT BESIDE the elevator..) So the child is just wailing, and the parents seem to be beyond caring, and two old people are losing patience with the kid, telling him to stop it. We all cram into the elevator (sure enough, six people push the 3rd and 4th floor). Sure enough, the child's even louder in the elevator. All of the sudden, he just stops, completely. Everyone breathes a sigh of relief, and two people mention (I'm assuming) "Wow, I wonder why he stopped?". Sure enough, the kid was staring at me, with a mouth wide enough to fit a soccer ball through. The mom just about wanted to crawl into a hole, the dad just shrugged his shoulders. The woman standing beside me, who had no idea that I (a foreigner) was standing beside her, almost fainted when she saw me (I've been living here for nine months - you'd think she would have recognized the ONLY foreigner living in the building). Needless to say, two people said "thank-you" as they walked out of the elevator, and I felt like I had just done a powerful service for the country.
    Welcome to Korea - where even foreigners have more power over children than a Tootsie Pop.

    so what's with the attitude... Friday, June 02, 2006 |

    So the other day, I'm in my class, and one of my class counselor's tells me that another student is going to be changing levels, and joining my 5:30 class on monday wednesday friday. I was excited, because I've been teaching the hooligans in that class for over eight months now; considered an eternity in the esl world - a teacher for more than six months is a blessing, because teaching changes are frequent in the esl world - we're like side dishes- interchangeable....right. I digress.
    So Diana, an intelligent girl the same age as the other girls in my class, tries the class on Wednesday, and from the moment she walked into my class, the other four girls instantly, and I mean INSTANTLY started talking about her; allow me to inform you that they knew NOTHING about this girl. And they're doing this all completely in plain view of Diana - Now, I'm pretty firm in my class, and my students generally follow me when I raise my voice. However, concerning this poor girl, they refused to stop whispering and talking about her; blatantly. Not until I seriously threatened them with hours of homework, doing useless crap, did they actually stop, by which point was almost the end of the class.

    What is it with middle school girls? The poor thing nearly cried when she got home, and she's now back in her old class, where's she's heads and tails above the other students (where she's worshipped, and not gossiped about). God Bless anybody who teaches middle school students, but even more so those who teach middle school girls. They're vicious, knife wielding people...Now, I won't lie, the boys in this country that I teach aren't much better; they're either spoiled, or just plain stupid when compared to the girls...but man, if ever there was a time that I really felt for the future men of Korea, it was during that class... Today I really let them know how hurt I was that they treated her as they did, although I was more frustrated that I had been teaching them, and it was while I was teaching that it happened. Needless to say, today was one of the longest classes, with two of the girls refusing to cooperate for the rest of class, and then moping severely as they walked out the door....I love Fridays.

    Allow me to humbly apologize to my three (*five female readers - on days when the prison inmates are allowed to use the internet*) as to my numerous references of women being sudoku puzzles; I'm referring more to Korean women, although, on more than one occasion, other women I’ve known fall into that "comparison"...however, I'm not trying to lump all of the women into groups; (just those I deem fit to....) No, seriously though, I apologize in the chance I’ve insulted anyone. it will probably happen again in the future, just to warn you.
    take care ya'll, and props to my graduate student friends who've finished another year....

    Fine tuning this soul of mine... |

    Well, I hope that all of you are enjoying this nice stream of hot weather that seems to have engulfed not only my home, but yours all across the US and Canada. So much for coming over here to Korea to escape unappreciated parts of North America- the really hot weather has finally landed here, and I for one am not enjoying it (its also barely begun)...
    Thanks to those of you who have sent encouraging notes after my last post - things are going good, thanks in large part to a strange listening mix. Allow me to explain in as few words as I can.
    A while ago, I'd been given The Killers album "Hot Fuss" to listen to, with strong recommendation. At the time, I was sick of their songs "mr. brightside", and "somebody told me". Well, I was removing the songs on my mp3 player before I was going to go out on an inline skate ride for an hour, and I decided to add the Hot Fuss album. Now, allow me to add this fact; I'm sorta strange, but I'm sure I'm not the only one who does this - but I have conversations with God when I'm out by myself - I'll have sorta rhetorical conversations about things that are bothering me, work struggles, faith struggles, etc. Most of the time, its in my head, so as to not scare people I pass by at pretty quick speeds (I use speed-skating training inline skates - they're fast) As I was nearing the end of one of my skates, I ended up thinking to myself "Why am I not happier?" - I've got everything that I could need - what am I missing? And as I nearly tripped over a stone, I realized humbly what I was missing - and that was nothing. I was somewhat getting discouraged by pretty much nothing - it sounds stupid, but I know that I'm not the only one who at some point has felt depressed, and then when they take an account of what might be making them feel down in the stink-hole, until they humbly realize they have nothing to be depressed for - except their own embarrassment at realizing this. And the song that made me realize this was "Smile Like You Mean It"... I'm a Christian - I'm saved, and I've got the best friend I could ask for - I'm also coincidentally employed, paying off my loans at record pace, living with a great roommate and friend, and although their might be much more that I feel I'm missing, it's nothing compared to just what I need. Strange how a song does that to people -never mind one by The Killers....(I'm musically inclined - I figure that if I can't play an instrument well, may as well enjoy those who can).... So thanks for the prayers - they were much appreciated.
    You'll notice, if you scan even a few scrolls down the page, that I've added a new section on the right side of the page. I'm somewhat of an internet geek, and I've spent far too much time just reading other people's problems on the internet. For those of you who didn't know, I have a younger brother who's currently working in Arkansas - HAHA - Arkansas. Sure, he's probably going to surpass my earnings once he gets a job as a civil engineer, however, I'll be complaining to him every time I drive over a shitty road, or anything else civil-engineering related. The other thing you might notice are two blogs from teachers who work in the Public school system in the United States. For those of you who didn't know, I did my student teaching in an inner-city school in urban Chicago (98% Latino neighbourhood), in a crummy school no less - I can relate somewhat to their stories of frustration and despair, while trying to work in a struggling system. The last thing you'll notice are two blogs about Iraq. As much as I might get flak for this, I'm currently contemplating doing some teaching in or around Iraq, Afghanistan, or possibly the Middle East. (I'm currently reading a book by Thomas Friedman entitled "From Beirut to Jerusalem", in an effort to learn more on the Middle East.)
    So if you're bored, give some of the blogs a check, and who knows, you might learn something. And if you think I'm nuts, I dare you to do the unthinkable, and comment on it....
    God Bless,