Thursday, November 29, 2007

SLP Science Fair Day!

Once a month we take the little kiddies in the IP classes (Intensive Preschool) on a field trip. Instead of doing a field trip in November, the school decided it'd be a great idea to let the kids have a science fair day at the school instead.

I usually love field trips - get on a bus, see something new, the kids have a great time, they're generally on their best behavior it's a great day and a good memory for the teachers and for the kids.

Science Fair Day might have been the exact opposite of that. The teachers came in 30 minutes early to learn how to DO all of the science experiment. In one room it was explained to us that one experiment was going to be using Nickel, Cobalt, and ACID in water that was made of glass? And that if the children consumed it, they'd die. It was a very stressful day of stuff I've already seen before, and there was a LOT of yelling to get them to listen to directions and pay attention. There were also a lot of tears when whatever it is they were attempting to make broke, or didn't work, or eventually just fell apart.

Anyway, here are some pictures of the death juice, making bouncy balls, playing with little balancing bird things, and the kids using their newly made flying rockets (SERIOUSLY who thought this was a great idea?!?!)

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Thanksgiving - Korean Style

The fall is easily my favorite time of year. Leaves start falling, the weather gets colder, fashion gets interesting, and you start gearing up for the onslaught of holidays that come with the times. First you've got Halloween, then 3 weeks later follows a nicely timed Thanksgiving which is usually 3 days off, and then another 3 or so weeks and you've got xmas - which all really makes the end of the year fly right by.

Well not in Korea. Thanksgiving obviously doesn't exist here since this country didn't just pop up a few hundred years ago and decide to be thankful that someone taught the people how to farm their land and then kill the natural inhabitants.

It was a little weird this year not having this holiday to break things up. Having four full weeks of work just didn't seem right. And not to mention the thought of not going home and fully living it up on Thanksgiving Eve with all the home friends, was just odd too. No Macy's Day Parade, no Thanksgiving Turkey Dinner, no Pumpkin Pie. It was rough.

Although, the Friday after proved to be its own little mini Thanksgiving here. One of the girls on my staff had gone into Seoul to have dinner on an army base and stole a bunch of goods to bring back to us that were less fortunate. She brought leftover Turkey (the best part of the holiday anyway), bread and butter, and an apple pie. It was all mouth watering deliciousness. It also happened to be the monthly birthday celebration at school, and Robbie's last day at SLP so I probably had more food than on any other Thanksgiving before it. Well, that is if only fried chicken were a traditional Thanksgiving fixin'.

December is just around the corner, and luckily, my school gets a very sizable vacation compared to others so hopefully that'll make up for it.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Yongsan (my Mecca)

This weekend I took a trip to the Yongsan Electronic Markets in Seoul with a group of foreigners to spend our hard earned cash on many, many electronics. Collectively we spent roughly 3.5 Million Won (About $3,800) on our gadgetry. Two laptops, two external 500gb hard drives, a digital camera, an iPod classic, a high speed memory card, and some beer (it was a long day for some). If we were home, that number should have been closer to $5,000.

Yongsan is possibly one of the most amazing concepts for shopping that I've ever seen - and there is truth behind their proclamation that its the greatest technological town in the Far East. The area is comprised of 20 buildings and something like 5,000 stores specifically geared towards computers, computer accessories, video games, televisions, music players, cameras, and almost everything your little technological mind could ever dare to imagine. Think of Best Buy on steroids.

We took the subway into Yongsan, and entered through the KTX train terminal into the first building. Everything in these buildings looks like the bottom floor of a department store - with kiosks everywhere. And they all have the same products for the most part, but they could be extremely different prices. Case in point - my friend bought a new Sony Cybershot DSC-W80 - small, sleek, 7.2 mp, 3x zoom, not a bad little digital camera. One booth told her it was 250,000W and the next booth down said 290,000W. They weren't even 10 feet apart and charging a 40 dollar difference.

We then walked out of the first building and through a long airport like tunnel to the next few buildings:

This is where my friends bought their two laptops - two brand new Sony Vaios, which at home should have cost them around $1,200 at least, but after a few stops negotiating at a few booths they bought two for 960,000W each ($1000). While they were doing that, I decided to take a walk around and try my hand at low balling some shopkeepers for a new memory card.

I found some store that didn't have anyone milling about towards the back end of a building (you know they're hurting for business if they're not in a prime location). I walked over, asked how much for a 1gb basic speed card, and the guy told me 25,000. Then said he'd give me a 2gig card for 30,000. After going back and forth, and asking "CahCah Chuseyo" (I spelled it wrong, but it means Give me a discount) I eventually got a high speed, 1gb Samsung memory card for 15,000 (~$16) which probably would have cost me about $25 at home. Not bad.

I have yet to even break the surface of Yongsan, but I will be going back to buy a new external hard drive in January. The area is 98% geared towards PC users, but there are a few licensed Apple Retailers, and a mock Apple Store that's just a rather large kiosk in the first building.

If only I was independently wealthy, and actually had a need to use half the stuff this place offers...

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Cuse Basketball! in Korea?

This will be a short but sweet post, as I can't help but rave about modern technology and my love of college basketball.

It is no secret that I have nothing but love for my alma matter - Syracuse University. Best four years of my life, easily - even if this current year in Korea is rivaling that. My junior year the Syracuse Basketball team won the NCAA Championship which will forever go down as one of the most incredible nights of my life. This was also the year that I started working security at the Carrier Dome where I was paid to see every sporting event.

When I moved to NYC I went to every SU game at Madison Square Garden, and watched every game that was aired on the local NY network, ESPN, or other sporting stations. So naturally one of my big concerns with moving to Asia was how to assuage my addiction to watching college ball.

Well, technology to the rescue. The SU Athletics website offers a thing called the Orange Access Package. For $9.95 a month I can listen* to live radio broadcasts of the games, and 30 minutes after the completion of the game I can watch the game in its entirety. They've paired with a company called Internet Consulting Services, Inc. which has created the site and its features.

And for once, the 14 hour time difference works in my favor. A 7pm game on Monday means that its 9am Tuesday here for me. So I listen to the first half before I go to work, and then come home to watch the 2nd half. It really is excellent. The trick is not reading SU news, or ESPN, or talking to anyone throughout the day.

I'm sure that if you're from a Division I school they also offer this type of package on your athletic website. If not, well then, 'Cuse really is superior ;)

*Take note, that if you are a 'Cuse fan reading this and are also the proud owner of a shiny Mac computer, you will need to download Flip4Mac. A program that converts all Windows Media Player content into a Quicktime file for your easy viewing pleasure. You have to do nothing except open whatever file you're trying to watch and the program will take care of the rest.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

But Skyping sounds Dirty!

It dawned on me that I have mastered the art of communication in my few months of being here. I think of myself as extremely tech savvy, and I can peruse the internet with the best of 'em to find what I need, or see what exists to make everything easier. I've been in Korea for 13 weeks now, and one of the first things I did and continue to do is abuse my Skype account. My friends and I use the phrases, "Hey, wanna Skype later?" and "Do you ever think that Skyping sounds dirty?" constantly.

Skype offers a lot of extremely useful services as a VoiP (Voice over Internet Protocol) - Skype Out, Skype In, Skype To Go, Skype Pro, etc etc etc. and its hard to navigate. I'll be honest, it took me months to really figure out what everything was because I don't think Skype's website is entirely helpful at the start. So here I am to spell it all out for you.

First things first - create a free Skype account to start using your computer as your phone. Download the service, create a username, and it'll set up a Buddy List (a la, AIM, MSN, g-chat, etc). Calling from computer to computer is free - so urge your friends just to download the service and use their microphones/webcams.

Second, figure out your needs. If you plan on making a lot of international phone calls, Skype Out is probably the only thing you need. Just buy Skype Out Credit (usually about $10 worth) and then you can make outgoing phone calls to anywhere in the world for a really cheap rate as a declining balance (as close to being like a phone card as you can get).

However, if you're like me, and will talk to a lot of friends and family at home, that becomes a bit costly after awhile. The next best thing to do is get Skype In. Skype In is this amazing feature that allows you to get a local phone number back home, from any area that you wish, and therefore anyone can call that number at no charge to them. It's safe to say that 100% of my friends have cell phones with national calling plans so I personally picked an area code that my older family members could call for free from their landlines. I believe it is roughly $18 for 3 months or $60 for a year to purchase a number. I do not believe that this feature is available in Canada or Europe yet, unfortunately.

Then there's Skype Pro - for the avid user. Basically this is a service that is just adding perks to the two basic programs (Skype In/Out). If you're going to shell out the money and make the commitment for Skype In, there's no real reason not to by Skype Pro. It is $3 a month taken directly out of your Skype Out credit, and for that monthly fee you will receive free voice mail, discounts on all Skype products, and your Skype In service will be given to you at a reduced rate of $12 for 3 months or $24 for 12 months.

Skype also offers a Skype To Go feature, which will allow you to create another phone number for where you currently are (i.e. I could get a Korean phone number) and have that be directed to a phone number you call most at home (i.e. your parents, or a significant other) from your cell phone here. It is only available in specific countries though - the US, Australia, Hong Kong, Japan for example, and I don't think of it as a necessary feature anyway.

Having all of this basically should take care of all your phoning needs. I have a cell phone here, but I barely use it other than to make the occasional, "Hey, what's the plan for tonight" phone call so it only costs me $10 a month. Skype is definitely my preferred talking plan, and seems to be the consensus amongst all foreigners I've come in contact with. People do use other services, Yahoo Messenger, for example, I hear is pretty reliable. It is a bit cheaper to make international calls, but Skype has the best all around package and the most options. It even lets you send some text messages which is a neat little feature.

Hope this helps - and have a good time Skyping ;)

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

SLP Open Class/Open House

There are ups and downs with any job. If there was such a thing as a perfect job no one would even bother attempting to work for all the imperfect ones. So when I told people that I would be going to teach English in South Korea people automatically thought that I was taking the easy road. I mean, how hard can teaching be? Especially teaching a subject you were born into knowing. Think about it, you've studied nothing else longer than you have English if it is your first language except maybe the art of walking.

And for the most part - those people were right. It is easy. I work in a school where the curriculum is pretty set across the board, I can just come in and make a billion photocopies of something to keep the kids busy, and at the end of the day I've worked a pretty gratifying 8 or so hours. Sometimes if I feel like entertaining myself I'll put more effort into a game or something. And really its just using some creativity to get the kids to speak up. I use stickers or candy as bribery, for example, and it works better than you'd think.

But make no mistake, there are some really horrible parts of the job. Amongst the common complaints - misbehaving children, kids that have no desire to be learning what they're learning, the amount of germs that are floating around a school because kids are just insanely messy and care little for their hygiene, annoying school policies that don't seem to make any sense, micromanaging parents, etc etc.

But possibly one of the worst aspects of this job I'm currently in is the Open Class that occurs 2-3 times in a year. SLP is the only school that does this (and it is a trend that is catching onto other schools/chains). My school has a camera/microphone in every classroom so if the parents come they can sit in the lobby area and just watch the goings on in the classroom. The kids usually don't know they're there, the teacher doesn't know, and everyone's happy. However, in an Open Class, the parents come directly into the classroom. So you're already small room becomes 10x smaller as there is now a row of adults sitting in the back staring at you menacingly making sure that they are getting exactly what they pay for.

I've spoken in front of thousands before. I've been public speaking since I was 15 years old, and I've spoken pretty confidently on a number of topics. I've conducted seminars at national leadership conferences, I once gave a condom demonstration in front of 1600 college students during a drag show that I organized, and I've taught classes to juvenile delinquents in detention facilities that at any moment probably could have stabbed me with a shiv. But sitting in a room with 10 mothers who barely speak English, critiquing my every move, and my decisions, will probably go down as one of the most nerve wracking experiences of my life.

I've had two of these so far, and 8 to go. The first two were for my preschool kids and the first one went great. Just make sure the kids speak a lot more than usual. These kids were trying to show off (they're my smart ones). BUT my second one was a crash and burn (the kids clammed up, and they're my not-so-bright ones). Luckily I only had two criticisms from these parents - something about bigger flashcards and yelling at them more to sit down. Meh. I should have had a 3rd but the parents didn't show up. Darn.

It really isn't anywhere near as bad as I make it out to be, but it is a completely unnecessary distraction being that there are cameras in the classroom. If you're really concerned about your child's behavior/development you should watch him in a natural state - not in a fake one where they are trying to impress you OR they're too shy to do anything because they don't want to disappoint you.

However, as I work for a business that prioritizes money before education, I will do as I'm told and teach like the paid monkey teacher that I am ;)

Sunday Night Movies

Some of the people around here have come up with a great little tradition of seeing a new movie on Sunday nights at the theater in Shinsaegae (department store/mall in Suji). I went for the first time this past Sunday and we ended up seeing The Kingdom - a movie with Jamie Foxx, Jennifer Garner, and Chris Cooper that came out in the states a few months ago, but had just recently made its way over to Korea. They don't seem to have many English speaking movies here, but the Korean movies aren't that bad. I recently watched one about a Korean serial killer true life story that was very well done. And more often than not the movies that are in English here, are generally months after they came out at home - case in point - Black Dahlia was playing here last week and that came out a year ago at home.

It was your average movie going experience - except better. When you buy your tickets (for 7 or 8,000W) you pick your seats, almost as if you were buying tickets to a concert or a sporting event. They even come out looking like event type tickets too:

(on top is a ticket I had randomly in my wallet from when I saw Harry Potter in New York, and the bottom is from Shinsaegae)

So a big group of westerners walk up to the counter and just kind of point to what seats they want. They print out a ticket with your seat number and you can be on your way. The concession stands seem to be exactly the same - big sizes, semi-expensive prices, sodas and candies and nachos.

The theater itself was pretty cool... big stadium style chairs that are absurdly comfortable with big arm rests and the screens are as big as the ones I used to watch in Times Square - and excellent quality surround sound too. I'm sure there are some smaller theaters and some run down ones too, but the one I saw was a pleasant experience. I opted out of going to see something tonight, but I'll be back.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Happy Pepero Day!

Remember a few weeks ago when I wrote about some of the candy I've been addicted to? Well, shortly afterwards I learned of what has become my new favorite holiday - Pepero Day. I've never seen anything like it... sure at home we have Valentine's Day (a day made up by the greeting card companies to sell more cards and chocolate while discriminating against half the population) but I've never seen a day dedicated to one brand of candy. It'd be like having a day dedicated to Twix bars at home or something.

Anyway, every November 11th while America is celebrating its fallen heroes on Veteran's Day, South Korea is celebrating it's love for chocolate covered cookie sticks on Pepero Day. Why November 11th? Well, quite easily because Pepero are long sticks of chocolate - so 11/11 looks like the chocolate. Everything is decorated kind of like Valentine's Day - red, pink, white, and the boxes are arranged in hearts and the packaging all says "We Love You on Pepero Day!"

Friday was a fun day because all of the kids came into school with all type of Pepero - and some were tiny and I even got one that was a foot long from one of my favorite students.

As I was walking around Suji and even Seoul on Thursday/Friday/Saturday there were HUGE displays outside of most convenience stores and even in Lotte Mart there was a gigantic area dedicated to it. This is an example outside of the GS25 that I go to everyday on my lunch break:

Either way, it was a very odd random little holiday and it was a pretty big deal to the kids. Either way, I definitely had my fair share of the stuff, and do not look forward to the day when I can't walk into any convenience store and buy it for 70 cents.

Monday, November 05, 2007


In New York I was apart of a gym that was $70 for the year. It had an indoor track, brand new(ish) equipment, a pool, basketball courts, locker rooms, very clean, and never busy. They were all over the city as part of the City Parks Foundation Recreation Centers. It had crappy hours 6am-9:30pm M-F and then 12-4 on Saturday, closed on Sunday. However, it was a block away from my apartment and I swore I would never find as good a deal on a gym ever again.

After I got my first paycheck in October, the first thing I did was to go sign up for the gym that every foreigner here seemed to belong to. Prime Fitness - a gym on the top floor (7th) of a building that also houses one of our local bars. It's a gorgeous gym... big windows that overlook the main downtown area of Suji, and treadmills that line the whole front part of the building. It's very bright, dark wood floors, and red accents everywhere so its looks state of the art. It's not very big, but it gets the job done. Free weights are in the back in a room that when it rains, it actually rains in the gym itself, and nautlius machines are in the main room. The locker rooms are really nice (at least the women's are) with big individual showers behind thick frosted glass (that I'll probably never use). You walk in, and the really nice guy at the counter who's pretty fluent in English hands you a key for a locker and you take your paper stub out of a list on the wall and put it into a machine so it can punch the fact that you've been there - it reminds me of an old factory clocking in and clocking out or something.

All in all, its a great way to spend an hour or two after work at the low, low, price of 70,000W for 3 months (or 280,000 fo the year). And it's basically social hour in there, and if you don't go on a Friday night, you may not know what the plan is for the rest of the evening. So if you're in or around Suji - I recommend it.

Scary Kids Scaring Kids (Halloween)

Yes, I stole that from a horrible New York Indie Band name, but its oddly appropriate. Last week saw a two parter in the way of Halloween - asian style. First up was the adult version... (no not THAT kind of adult). Saturday night, October 26th a few of us went over to Lotte Mart and bought ourselves the cheapest easiest costumes we could find. I personally spent 11,000W (or rather $13 b/c i used my credit card) to purchase a pair of blinking red devil horns, some batteries, and a pitchfork. I always like a costume that stands out, and even if I wasn't the least bit creative this year at least I had something people would see in a crowd.

The evening started off early with a house party somewhere near Itaewon that I can neither remember nor pronounce. It wasn't so bad - great place - interesting people. Two random guys were dressed up as a "Good Ajima" and a "Bad Ajima" (ajima meaning very old korean woman) which was kind of hilarious. Stayed there for a few hours and headed towards Hongdae to go to a club called Funky Funky. Well after the world's longest car ride sandwiched between a drunk brit and a mermaid I had not known before this experience we found ourselves in one of my favorite areas of Seou only it was being ravaged by drunk westernizers in insane costumes and the bar we wanted to go to cost 25,000W to get in and have an open bar. I just wasn't up for it so my friends, as great as they are decided to go with me to find another bar, Tin Pan, even though I just really wanted to walk around. So we go to a bar that was free to get into, but it was insanely hot and crowded, and the complete antithesis of my kind of place. Wasn't exactly my favorite Halloween, that's for sure.

However that was all made up for by celebrating with my kids on the 31st. The teachers at SLP spend most of Tuesday evening decorating our school almost beyond recognition. We each had our respective rooms - Tarot Card, Story Telling, Crafts, and the Haunted House (which yours truly was co-incharge of). It was very much a success considering we made 5 kids cry, and about 10-15 not even want to attempt to stay in there longer than a minute or two. I even reused my makeshift devil's costume and found some fake hands to make it more authentic.

All in all it was an entertaining day. Did it feel like Halloween? Oddly no. BUT I believe that to be because outside of entertaining the children at work the outside world didn't really seem to notice. There's no trick or treaters at night, no big parade like in New York, not many decorations up in public, and the stores don't have big displays of Halloween candy to be given out. The real weird thing was on November 1st, there was no thought that there was only 3 weeks until Thanksgiving as it doesn't exist here. I'll just have to make it to Christmas.