A Canadian writer teaches English and finds out what it's like to be a foreigner.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

The Score

Sometimes I have no faith in the mechanics of what constitutes teaching at a Hagwon.

It just sort of feels like unadvised, unregulated meandering towards a set of standardized tests which are either overly ambitious, or outright wrong.

PELT and TOEFL are the big tests that are used to quantify a kid's skill in English. I've always been of the opinion that standardized testing is a useless exercise, even back home, but here in the multi-million dollar ESL industry, grades are the Holy Grail and they've got to come from somewhere.

There's a new test that we were looking at our school which contained a particular question that made me balk at the process. It asks the student to choose one sentence out of five, which is "awkward or incorrect in standard English."

Although they claim these tests are written in part, or at least reviewed by native English speakers, they still contain strange turns of phrase such as "this cake eats crisp" or misquoted idioms like "beggars are not choosers." That's fine I guess, but the following really baffled me:

1. Thanks for filling me in.
2. It's not over till it's over.
3. I can't stomach his jokes.
4. Are you still sored at me?
5. Could you amplify it a bit?

Obviously no one would use the phrase "are you still sored at me?" and the proper thing (though a bit dated) would be "are you still sore at me?"

According to the answer key, the appropriate correction should be:

"Are you still soring at me?"

What drunken pastiche of a film noir hero would use a phrase like that? Is soring even a word?

I didn't figure it was.

I looked it up.

"v. sored, sor·ing, sores:
To mutilate the legs or feet of (a horse) in order to induce a particular gait in the animal."

Is this a common exchange I've been oblivious to until now?

"You wouldn't be altering that horse's gait at me, would ya?"

Yeah, what of it?"

"Well don't get blood on my spats, 'cuz the cold plate special's an open-faced knuckle sandwich and you look hungry, bub."

"Don't swing your flim-flam my way chippy or I'll tell roscoe here to spit metal."

"You're trippin' for biscuits fella."

"Aw, horseradish."

"More like glue, wiseguy."

Seriously folks. I don't think it's that subversive to suggest we play this, not as a numbers game, but at a level of practical understanding.

Then again, it's not my millions, my kids or my country.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

A Query

"Sam, did you eat that entire cake by yourself?" asked the Creator Of The Universe.

"Shut up," was all Sam replied.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Temporary Temporal Tack-on

For a birthday alone in Korea, a guy can do a hell of a lot worse than free chianti and chocolate cake.

Look out 25, I'll be test-driving you for 3 1/2 months, until I return to Canada and lose the year I falsely assumed as time in the Korean womb.

They are born 1, to clarify.

I went to the Paris Baguette after work and bought myself this small chocolate affair.

I said it was my birthday and friendly Mr. Kim asked me how many candles I needed.

"Too many to fit," I told him.

He wished me a happy one, and gave me a free apricot pastry— one without so much cuttlefish ink in it.

Paul bought me a tiny magnetic chess set, of which he has the same.

"Teacher, we can be a couple," he said excitedly.

"I'm too old for you kid."

Sunday, May 27, 2007

4 points is all I have in me

- I had a most excellent time in Hongdae last night.

- I'm paying for it today.

- The days are getting hot, hotter.

- As I walked to the subway with a bottle of wine in one hand and a crossword puzzle in the other, I couldn't help but think such instruments would be better for a Sunday by the pool, than a long, groggy mixture of bus and train.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Small World Syndrome

Right now I'm at a PC Bang in Hongdae in Seoul, surrounded by the shrieks of gamers, the sound of "head-shots", clashing steel and the twinkle of collected gold.

Under a blue light in a basement, on this beautiful, sunny Saturday it's a little surreal.

I'm just killing time, as those around me do instead with trolls, waiting to meet up with an old university friend (like I'm allowed to say that 2 years out of an undergrad...) for a night on the town. It never ceases to amaze me who I discover is in Korea as well.

Case in point: for those who don't know me, I grew up in small town Mahone Bay on the South Shore of Nova Scotia. Before you get any romantic Twin Peaks notions of small town mystique, I'll clarify that though everybody knew everybody. everything was in fact EXACTLY how it seemed.

But it was nice.

Then I went to university in Halifax, surrounded still by family, friends, family-friends, and people I had gone to pre-school with.

Still, it was nice. Community, blah-blah.

When I left for Korea, I only did so knowing that Shane was already here, and spoke enthusiastically about his experience. I accepted that I would be alone but for one friend, in a strange foreign land. Once I arrived though I started finding others. I wrote in my first column for Halifax Magazine about a surreal experience at the Lucy Pie Kitchen in Ichon, sitting with 3 other King's alums from Truro, Trenton and Sydney respectively. All under the watchful eye of Lucille Ball.

"It's a small world" is the truest of the great cliches, because once you understand it to be true, the world just keeps getting smaller to hammer the point home.

I've since discovered a couple from NS in Ulsan, half of which I went to pre-school with, the other half being a friend from high school and former roomate of another South Shore friend.

Then I found another South Shore gal, high-school chum, and good friend of an ex living way down South.

Then there was the Lotus Lantern Festival.

I was on the street in Jongno-ga at about 6, killing time (as those around me are still doing with trolls) before dusk and the parade.

I was taking a photo of a story-high mural of Buddha suspended by a crane, lit up with spot-lights and looking grand.

I got my shot, turned my head to the left and saw, here in a city of around 20 million Koreans, a Chester, NS native and high school friend taking the same picture as me, and turning his head at exactly the same time... only to the right.

It's just amazing.

I return now, to the light of day.

Friday, May 25, 2007

God, Speed...

So I bought one of those fancy 5-bladed razors.

Yeah I know...

The very concept was the subject of parody back when the 3-bladed jobbies came out about a million years ago.

I was examining the razor display at the local K-Mart (not to be confused with the other K-mart) and my eyes drifted from the dusty looking Mach-3's to the grandly displayed, excessively-bladed "Fusion." I was wondering why they didn't stick with the Mach moniker, when a hyper-real scenario flashed through my head of Speed Racer's Pops leaping over the cash and shouting in bad dub:

"Sam-Sam! The Mach 5 is not yet ready! Aha!"

It cracked me up in the check-out, at least.

Speaking of Speed Racer, as most of us hopefully aren't in the habit of, here's a strange bit of information on the upcoming Wachowski brothers film version of the 60's cartoon.

Apparently everybody's favorite Korean pop idol (Bi) Rain is in talks to appear in the film in an unspecified role.

The world is not yet ready...


Thursday, May 24, 2007

Lanternpalooza -part 3- "Paper Sky"

Here's the last batch of photos of the Buddha's Birthday festivities last Sunday.

temple at night, during and after the parade:

"Father Abbot, I hate to be the one to bring this up... but is that lantern baby humping the sacred trees?"

Upside down, it looks like rolling hills of lights.

Evidently, the fellow in the lower right thought I was taking a photo of him, and posed accordingly.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Lanternpalooza -part 2- "The Parade"

The Lotus Lantern Parade in front of Jogyesa Temple. The colours, children! I'll let them speak for themselves:

Monday, May 21, 2007

Lanternpalooza -part I-

Today was the Lotus Lantern Festival in celebration of Buddha's Birthday on the 24th.

I am deadly tired from spending all day walking and clicking. But I certainly have lots to show for my troubles.

The exhibition of traditional paper lanterns at Bongeunsa temple, the Lotus Lantern Parade itself, and its culmination at Jogyesa temple all deserve their own posts... so let's start with the Bongeunsa lanterns:

Dragon boat vs. fish.



Then again, that fish has a pretty tough looking reverse moustache and torpedo-like gait...


Lotus and girl.

Does this thing not have the greatest expression ever? I love the eyes... can you believe this is a lantern??

Melancholy Buddha.

Heil hangnail?

Kid monks.

The English temple guide explained this to me as representing the traditional Korean figures of resilience. The things that will exist forever: sun, moon, cloud, tree, stone, deer, crane and turtle.

Buy stock.

An old Chinese legend says that if a carp swims all the way up the Yangtze River, it will transform into a dragon.

I think this one's face is incredibly expressive. The guide described it as a boy in the time after the war, waiting for his mother to come home from work because he has no toys or friends.

Gross, guys.

I *love* this photo. Rock me dragon-fish.

Apparently the shrimp is a symbol of a happy and successful marriage...

And finally, gathering round the Buddha.


This was a totally amazing day. More words and pictures tomorrow.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Dalki & Dongchimee

I wrote before about a fellow Korea blogger who commented on the dung fetish, and introduced me to the character Dongchimee.

Well, I found his website.

As a bit player in the popular character brand Dalki, Dongchimee has his own bio on the Dalki site:

"Dongchimee loves Dung very much. It is his own creation.

It is hard to adjust and makes him feel good every morning.

Dongchimee tries to test to have creations.

He sometimes makes dung watery or dry.

He makes sketches of such satisfactory dung and put it in a glass bottle.

Dongchimee spends most of time at home.

He sticks out dung of others unconsciously when he is outside.

He can't stand just watching it. That's why they call him 'Dongchimee'."

After that introduction, I find it very telling that Dongchimee's astrological sign is misspelled "Virgin."

The character Dalki herself also seems like a bit of a reprobate:

"She sometimes creates accidents and troubles, however she also troubleshoots troubles of others. (Through, most of the time, she is troublesome… -_-;;)"

Sounds like trouble.

Not the least of which:

"She often gets absorbed to heroin of cartoon or movie."

I know TV can be a bad influence, but this sounds like a serious case of hard drug osmosis.

Anyway, the "dung wave" continues unabated.

I'm going to hit the stationary store tomorrow and try to find some Dongchimee swag for those at home.

Failing that, dung-on-a-stick, Dalki style.

Jave Jibe

Shane, my co-pilot in Korea and one of my best pals, got me a fantastic early birthday present that I must share with the world forthwith:

It's a dung coffee mug! I couldn't believe it. The Korean writing even says: "ddong kopi" or "dung coffee." And if the oozing rim and soft-serve swirl on the front doesn't whet your appetite for a cuppa joe, check out the inside:


I deliberately chose the photo where you can see the reflection of my hand, so it looks like I'm using a camera with dung in lieu (or "loo" as the case may be...) of a lens.

"Dear Korea,

Please explain to me your love of dung. If I learn but one thing in my time here, let it be the answer to this mystery...



Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Round 2

"...a perky, Bollywood-sashaying castrato who got kicked out of his community theatre staging of Rocky Horror for being more Strawberry Shortcake than Frank N. Furter."

"...a singing dancing fireworks accident."

Was I right, or what?

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Calm before the storm

The light was really cool last night at dusk before the big rainstorm, so I went down the road to the rice field/bike trail and snapped a few of the Siheung horizon.