Friday, December 26, 2014

Merry Christmas 2014

My second Christmas in Korea has come and gone and again there has been little to no snow, just cold weather. Unfortunately I picked up a nasty bug which I've been trying to shake for the last month. As soon as I start to feel good I ether catch a fresh batch or a handful of drug resistant bacteria make a comeback. 

I let my students make Christmas cards in class last week. After working hard on it all lesson, one of my grade 1 students gave me the card she was making.

For Christmas Jihyeon and I bought some roast chicken and enjoyed it with the gravy mum sent from Australia and some steamed vegetables. I forgot how good gravy is. I can't believe they don't have it here in Korea. 

Merry Christmas

Just 72 days until I fly home. 

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Blood Type Personalities

In America, Australia and Europe a question that may come up when you meet someone (particularly if you are dating) is "what is your star sign?". In Korea however, you are instead likely to be asked "What is your blood type?". In fact, Facebook in Korea and Japan allows you to list your blood type as part of your profile. 

Like star signs, your blood type can supposedly tell others a lot about the kind of person you are. What I find particularly interesting about this belief is that different blood types were not even discovered until 1901 after a scientist investigated why blood transfusions sometimes caused patients to die, so unlike zodiac signs that go back thousands of years, categorizing people based on their blood type is only a modern phenomenon. 

The idea that blood type can predict personality, character and comparability with others originated in Germany prior to world war 2 and was picked up by a Japanese scholar who introduced it to Japan and the rest of Asia. The theory was largely dismissed in the 1930's after some large breakthroughs regarding the function and role DNA plays, but was later revived in the 1970's by a Japanese journalist with no medical or scientific background. The belief that blood type can predict what a person is like still persists in South Korea and Japan today. 

For the last 3 years my wife has been pestering me to find out what my blood type is. I was very sick a couple of weeks ago and went for a blood test, so Jihyeon seized the opportunity to have my blood type tested (for fun). My blood type is A+ (because I'm awesome), looking at the list of traits below, maybe there is some truth to the pseudoscience superstitious silliness.

Lets start off with unfaithfulness. If you are type B, I have some bad news for you. You are the most likely to be unfaithful because you fall in and out of love very quickly. The order of unfaithfulness is... 
B > AB > O > A

Blood Type A
Positive Traits: Conservative, reserved punctual, patient, introverted and inclined to be perfectionists. 
Negative Traits: They can be uptight, self conscious, stubborn and obsessive. 
Other Traits: Considerate of others and loyal to a fault. They basically never cheat on their partner, period. If they do start seeing other people on the side, it is safe to assume that they have moved on.

K-pop star Sandara Park - Blood Type A
Blood Type B
Positive Traits: Animal-loving, creative, optimistic, passionate, individualistic and flexible. 
Negative Traits: Self-centered, forgetful and irresponsible. 
Other Traits: As I mentioned above, they are the least faithful of all the blood types. They are also often described as shallow and lazy, but they can be quite passionate about the things that are important to them. Type B men have a very negative reputation in Korea and are not considered by many to be good husband material. They are often described as 'players' and are seen as selfish, unreliable and quick to anger. 
K-pop star T.O.P. - Blood Type B
Blood Type AB
Positive Traits: Rational, controlled, empathetic and cool but also introverted. 
Negative Traits: Unforgiving, critical and indecisive. 
Other Traits: They have a confident personality and believe they won't get caught if they cheat on their partner. They are good with money and make rational financial decisions using their head rather than their heart. They are also considered two-faced, and therefore untrustworthy. 

K-pop star Hyeri - Blood Type AB
Blood Type O
Positive Traits: Ambitious, friendly, self-confident and athletic.
Negative Traits: Arrogant, workaholic, insensitive, ruthless and vain.
Other Traits: Type O's are viewed as natural leaders (Japan has had 17 type O prime ministers since WWII, 79% more than statistically would be expected) and are often also natural athletes (Ratios of type O and B professional baseball players exceed the average both in Japan and Korea). They tend to be friendly, outgoing and passionate, but can also bore others to death with their obsessive drive for success. Relationship wise, once they decided to be serious with a partner, they will not cheat on them. 
K-pop star PSY - Blood Type O

Monday, December 8, 2014

Burnt but delicious

Teacher/Student interaction in Korea is a little different to in Australia. In Australia, a teacher would think it highly unusual and suspicious to receive a gift of food from a student. In Korea however, it happens quite regularly. Normally it will be something store bought like a cookie, candy, rice cake, or... if I'm lucky... a hamburger, but from time to time students will cook something in their classroom and share their creations with teachers. 
Student: "Teacher, I cooked these for you".
Me: "Thank you" - I look at them, see they are burnt, and raise my eyebrows. The student sees my reaction and says...
Student: "Burnt but delicious".
Me: "Okay". - I put them on my desk thinking the student would leave. He didn't. He was waiting for me to try one. I tried the least burnt one. 
Me: "Mmmmmm".
Student: "Very delicious! Goodbye Teacher". and runs off back to his classroom.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Jason Mraz Concert in Daejeon

As an anniversary gift to Jihyeon, I took her to see Jason Mraz who just so happened to be playing in Daejeon (the city where we live in Korea). If you don't know who Jason Mraz is (like I did), then check out this music vid. With almost 200 million views, it's pretty popular.

The concert was located in an exhibition hall that is a bit of a pain to get to. There are almost no buses and the subway is about a 45 minute walk away. We knew we had the right place when we saw the official merchandise tent out the front of a dilapidated building. 

I was a little disappointed to walk in an see rows and rows of plastic chairs arranged on a flat concrete floor.

We quickly found our seats...

and waited for the show to start.

And the show finally started..

Jihyeon clapping and singing along having a great time.

After the show we shuffled off and had to walk for about 20 minutes in the cold before we could find an empty taxi. We excitedly flagged it down and went home. 

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Massive education cuts in Korea

I recently made the news! KBS needed some background footage for their news report on education budget cuts, so they came by my school and spent a couple of minutes filming my class. 

No matter what country you are from, politicians make stupid ass uncosted short sighted promises in an effort to buy the votes of their constituents. And no matter what country you are from, people are dumb enough to vote them in.  

Each province in Korea at the moment is making massive cuts to their education budgets. Right across Korea teachers (both western and Korean) are not getting renewed in their thousands, and benefits are getting cut (schools are not paying for flights, salaries are getting cut, and the number of holidays are also getting slashed). 

Why are jobs getting cut left right and center? Well, for a number of years education departments have been running deficits, but the straw that seems to have broken the camels back are the string of election promises the president made at the last election (free child care, free preschool for children under 5, and free lunch for all students (rich or poor) across Korea. 

I have copied a couple of the relevant articles below.

By Jung Min-ho <original article>
Some regional education offices have decided to reduce the number of native speaking English teachers at public schools in an apparent bid to help local governments secure money for free childcare programs.
The job cuts come amid growing disputes between the central and municipal governments over who should pay for free childcare and preschool education for children under five years old, which was a key campaign pledge of President Park Geun-hye.
Local governments are moving to scale down other projects to secure a budget for the troubled programs amid complaints from the affected parents. In line with this, regional education offices are cutting jobs for native teachers.
The Incheon Metropolitan City Office of Education said Thursday it has cut next year's budget for employing native language teachers at its elementary, middle and high schools by 5.4 billion won ($4.9 million).
This means that 76 out of 180 English teachers and 22 Chinese teachers in Incheon will lose their jobs next year, with only 9 billion won allocated for 126 teachers.
The education office in Daegu has also decided to reduce the number of its native language teachers to 323 in 2015, down from 443 this year.
The North Chungcheong Province Education Office also plans to cut its native teachers to 113 from the current 308.
Early this month, superintendents of regional educational offices agreed on allocating part of their budget for free childcare, after the central government pushed ahead with the populist programs without any specific plans to finance them from the nationals budget.
Native language teachers are not the only ones hit by the push.
Although the Incheon education office will have a 2.78 trillion won budget, 80 billion won more than this year, it is planning to cancel 387 projects, including mathematical contests and more sex education for students. It will also limit spending on 982 other projects.
The office said the spending for free childcare and expenses for its workers have increased much more than the additional budget.
Last month, Rep. Yun Jae-ok from the ruling Saenuri Party pointed out that the problem of fewer language teachers has been getting more serious over the past years.
He said 81.9 percent of 11,368 elementary, middle and high schools nationwide had at least one native English-speaking teacher in 2012. Only 65.1 percent of the schools have a native teacher today.
Some observers say fewer native language teachers mean less opportunity for students whose parents cannot afford such education at private institutes.
An Incheon education official said it had to reduce the number of native language teachers due to the "urgent situation." He also noted that it would be difficult to recover the number until the central government comes up with measures to cover the costs.
BY YOON HO-JIN <original article>
As local education authorities struggle to find funding for free school meals and day care, the Gyeonggi Provincial Office of Education said it will fire about 1,400 temporary teachers to free up money for the two welfare policies next year.
According to middle and high schools in Gyeonggi, the education office circulated a document on Thursday that says master teachers and career counseling teachers must teach all of their classes and that temporary teachers who fill in for them will be dismissed. Previously, master teachers and career counselors were exempt from teaching half of their classes and would instead use that time to work as counselors for or privately with students while temporary teachers took their place. The document also said one-year research leave for regular teachers will be suspended.
With master teachers and career counselors teaching full-time, 610 temporary teachers will lose their jobs, along with 358 who fill in during research leave. The layoffs will take effect next year.
The provincial education authority also plans reduce its number of contracted school nurses and teachers who specialize in teaching disabled students by 400.
The local education office estimated the layoffs will save about 62 billion won ($56.5 million).
The plan drew acute criticism from temporary workers, and master teachers also did not welcome it.
“We lost our job because of the free school meal policy,” said a temporary worker who requested anonymity.
“It is like master teachers are driving away temporary workers, who used to be their coworkers,” said Kim Su-bun, vice president of Gyeonggi Secondary School Master Teachers’ Association. “Some master teachers are even saying they will quit instead.”
But the Gyeonggi education authority said the lay-offs are inevitable.
“The restructuring is necessary because the provincial education office already has 640-billion-won deficit even without setting aside for the free day care budget,” said an official of the education office.
Due to financial difficulties, the provincial education office has not set aside money in its budget to fund free day care for the next school year, which starts in March.
Provincial education offices nationwide held a meeting earlier this month and most decided to allocate money in their budget to support free day care for about three more months.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

1 Year wedding anniversary in Korea

1 year ago today, I got married in Korea. The time has gone by really quickly and it is hard to believe I've almost finished my second contract to teach English in Korea. I've been sick for the last week and was a little worried I would be too sick to go out this weekend, but happily I was well enough to visit "Iron Chef" on our anniversary. It's a little pricey, so I have steered clear of it until now. I'm happy we went, the food was quite good (the best lasagna I've had in Korea so far) and they have cool Iron Man figurines decorating the restaurant. 

It is on the ground floor near Subway and KFC near timeworld (shopping complex) in Daejeon. 

In case there is any confusion, there is a life size Iron Man statue in the front window. 

So cool. I want one. 

The menu is decent, though a few of the items are a little pricey. Steaks are > 35000won ($35).

They have an open kitchen where you can sit at the bar and watch them cook if you like. 

Fried pork... on fire!

Here is the lasagna. I can't say it is the best lasagna I've ever tasted (that title goes to Mamma's Italian Restaurant), but it was easily the best lasagna I've had in Korea. The meat sauce, pasta layers and cheese was all tasty. 

Since the portion sizes looked a little small in the menu, we decided to order a third dish. The jumbo burger came with cheese, 2 hash browns and two thick proper ground beef paddies. It was good. We couldn't eat it all, so brought half the hamburger home with us. 

After eating enough to feed a 3rd world country, Jihyeon insisted I posed for a photo in front of the life size Iron Man statue. 

As you walk in the front door, you are also greeted by this cool display case packed with figurines. 

The Iron Chef. It's not cheap, but not excessively expensive either. The food is definitely a notch or two above most other western style restaurants I've tried in Daejeon. 

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Halloween in Korea 2014

For those of you that are living under a rock, last Friday was Halloween. I'm anti-Halloween* so my students lucked out and had to put up with my regular classes, but Jihyeon told her students they could dress up (if they wanted to) and let them watch a Halloween special episode of the Simpsons before playing a game. 

In her class, Jihyeon gives out achievement stickers to students for the work they do, and then at the end of the term hands out prizes to the students based on how many stickers they have earned. The prizes are simple things like pencils, pens, erasers and rulers (which she pays for out of her own pocket). My mum also sent over some tiny Koalas which all the children love. Jihyeon creates prize bundles and hands them out the next day.

Here are Jihyeon's elementary students. They were all pretty excited about getting dressed up and receiving their prizes for English class.  

Elementary Grade 1 phonics and basic speaking class. They were the only ones to dress up. 



Elementary Grade 3/4 intermediate English class (this guy was the only student that dressed up from this class).

Watching the Simpsons Halloween episode. 

*a) it's not an Australian tradition (though it is gaining some traction in Australia) and b) it is a silly excuse for children to demand and eat excessive amounts of candy.