Korea’s first refugee-citizen

April 1, 2010

Korea gives out it’s first refugee citizenship, after signing the 1951 Refugee Convention. This first person to become a refugee-citizen is a 38 year old male from Ethiopia, who arrived in Korea in 2001.

You can read about it here.

Things my co teacher told me.

April 1, 2010

Well I just learned thanks to the Marmot’s Hole article that the first foreigners in Korea were the Portuguese and not the Dutch. Well regardless, this is a story my co teacher told me, not a long one, but a story.

Apparently, a ship had been damaged so it came ashore in Korea. Where? I don’t know. Anyway this ship was carrying what my co teacher believed to be Dutch. Now there is some name for this guy, but I do not know it. I know that his Korean family name is or Pak (or Park). It seemed to me that there was only one person, perhaps he was the captain and was the only notable person. Anyways, he ended up learning some Korean and staying here because he couldn’t get back to his home country. My co teacher told me that one of his friends was related to him, and he looks slightly different than Koreans. He has a more prominent nose, and to quote my teacher “a more 3D face.” This landing took place around the 1500s. There is my non historical tale of the first European / Westerner in Korea.

For some other things my co teacher told me, you must read here. (It’s a joke)

IF the person who signs your contract goes to jail…

March 23, 2010

Most of the English teachers who work within the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education (SMOE) would have had their contracts signed, or pre-signed by Gong Jeong Taek (공 정 택.) Now this may be an assumption based on my own personal experience, I will say that. But, I have a mock up of my contract, which I had to print out and sign. This was co signed by Mr. Gong.

When I was looking for a specific article regarding my exit allowance I showed my co teacher my document.  He explained to me that Mr. Gong is now in jail for corruption. I have not found any articles stating that he did go to jail, however. I did find that according to this Korean Herald article, he was forced to resign from his post. At the time of the investigation, many principles and education staff were arrested as well. Apparently, he was accepting bribes. These bribes would then determine which candidates would become principles within the education system.

This is from the Korean Federation of Teacher’s Association.

The allegations of widespread corruption and abuse of power at the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education reveal an organization that is rotten to the core. What are our children to learn from these “educators?” What kind of education can such a dysfunctional education office offer? It is time for a complete revamp of the education office.

You can find the link here.

I guess all the worry regarding native English teachers, might be diverted for a little while.

Seoul Horse Racing.

March 15, 2010

Well, I went to the horse races. It was pretty fun!

We arrived there and made our way to the foreigners lounge, a somewhat quiet and smoke free lounge mostly filled with foreign born Koreans or Japanese men. Later on there were a few western stragglers, probably too hungover from the night before to make it there any earlier.

Coming out of the subway the crowd diversity narrows into a steady stream of 40 – 50 year old Korean ajjoshis (married men – assumed). As you make your way into the pavilion you first see a small track where you can check out the horses from above as they walk around or stand in their paddock. I skipped that part and made my way inside. When we figured out that the foreigners lounge was down at the far end of the grand stands, we set off to find it. The place seemed endless and everywhere you looked were old men and a few women set up with their weekend guide book to see who would be the favorites to win. Everyone was checking and rechecking numbers and stats to figure out which horse was going to be their payday.

I have to admit I got pretty into it. Once we figured out how to read the guide book we started making bets. There are a few options with the bets, you can pick who will place (in 1st, 2nd, or 3rd), who will get first, who will come in 1st and 2nd (in any order, and also in the correct order) it goes on from there. My favorite bets were who would come in 1st – 3rd, it just seemed most logical to win. Most of the guys, however, would place bets on the quinella, where you have to determine which horse will come in 1st and 2nd. My bet choice had the best odds for winning, worst for payout. I placed my bets, they can range from 10 cents up to 100 dollars. I chose to bet 2 dollars on one, and 5 dollars on another. In the end I lost $1 and made the rest of the money back. After that I was hooked, once I cashed in my ticket and placed my second round of bets I had a smile on my face that was hard to erase. By the end of the day I watched about 6 races and I was up 7 dollars, then down 2 dollars, then up 4 dollars then back down and finally lost 1 dollar. Pretty good entertainment for the price. I really like the fact that you can bet small amounts of money, you still feel bummed when you lose 50 cents, however.

Oh I should probably mention that this is the only place near Seoul where Koreans can gamble. The other was near my former town of Taebaek. Which explains the vast amount of people in attendance.  As well, the seats outside are quite a sight, everyone smoking frantically, ash flying in the wind, silence, then at the home stretch, curse words and very few cheers.

This is my short video of what it’s like.

Horse Racing

March 9, 2010

I’m going to attempt to get out to the horse races on Saturday or Sunday. As long as I don’t stay out too late the days previous. I will take some video and pictures as well.

In the meantime there is a really detailed blog about horse racing in Korea.


I learned there used to be a horse track just one station away from where I now live. I can’t picture it at all. Perhaps that is why my school does horse riding on Saturdays? I doubt it.

You can bet anywhere from 8 cents (100 won) to 90 dollars (100 000 won) roughly.I hope to strike it rich. I’ve got a lot of change saved up at my house!

Open up and say “RRR”

March 5, 2010

As some people know, Korea is very English oriented. Despite the fact that English isn’t even an official language, it is treated as one. You would be hard pressed to ever find a t-shirt written in their own native language. Sure there are the occasional hats with 오빠 written on them, or something to that effect. But they aren’t popular. Other bloggers have written on this extensively. I’m too lazy to make a link to their pages, but just type “korea beat” into google, and you can see his blogroll to find out more.

Even my co-teacher is confused as to why there is such a demand for English. He said that if there was ever a job where he needed English to be hired he would look for other work. He never grew up with a passion for English, he only ever became interested in the subject during middle school when he started learning guitar and searched for some American music to listen to. Even though he said he wouldn’t get a job that needed English, he ended up being my English co-teacher. When he heard this news he said that he almost cried and wanted to quit his job. Unfortunately, in this economic down turn there are not many options available so he decided to stick it out.

There is such a demand for “perfect” English, that some people go to extreme lengths to achieve it. The lingual frenulum is present on the underside of the tongue, the thing that seems like it connects the tongue to the inside of your mouth.  Not everyone is running out to get this done, but it is being performed on elementary students and whoever else feels the need to get it. Essentially a frenuloplasty is performed to cut that piece of tissue, which apparently helps in the pronunciation of the letters “L” and “R”.The pronunciation is helped due to the extension of the tongue. Most people regard this surgery as useless due to the fact that Korean Americans can pronounce both letters with ease, and without any corrective surgery. I guess it would be like getting liposuction when all you need to do is exercise.

It is pretty amazing that there is such a high demand for English when there are only 1 million foreigners in Korea. Sure learning a language is very useful, especially English, as it allows you to communicate with most of the world. However, learning it so that you may some day get a “good” job seems quite ridiculous. The percentage of jobs that deal with other foreign countries are relatively low. Sure, it is fair to say you need English proficiency within the business community, but other than that, I don’t believe it is needed.

Yes, it will be essential if Korea ever takes off as a tourist destination, but I don’t think countries should be so accommodating when it comes to language. I believe road signs, and important things of this nature should be accompanied with some English, but other than that, no. That is what you sign up for if you plan on entering a foreign country with a foreign language. Be prepared to learn some of the native tongue, just as we demand other people to do within English speaking countries. And I do say some. Not your whole childhood, so that one day if you ever do decide to leave the country, you can use it. And not so that one day you might bump into a English speaker at the age of 26 and direct him to the nearest subway station.

The fine art of doing nothing.

February 11, 2010

How do you stay busy at a time when there is really nothing to do.

I’d prefer to be working on something, but I can not. My new semester of classes starts on March 1st and as of right now I don’t even know what grade I will be teaching. Therefore, I can’t prepare any lesson plans. I have heard that it might be grade four, but we are getting new textbooks this year so I can’t even attempt to start preparing. I am happy that my school is not like most other schools in that they allow me to work at home during the winter break, and I’m not stuck at my desk doing nothing. I am now because technically school is in session. Today is the last day before spring break, and the last day at school before I leave for my trip back home.

In this office setting with five teachers and myself, I have to appear to be working, at least in my mind. Other teachers have no problems watching movies on a laptop in front of their principle or taking naps everyday. Hell, I ‘d like that too. It’s just not in my character though, sure maybe if I was isolated in my own office I would take part in such activities, but I would keep an ear out just in case.  Now to someone who might think this sounds like slacking, try sitting at your desk for 40 days 8 hours a day with nothing to do. All the planning for school can be done while school is in session, and for me it should be done while school is in session. What you expect to happen and what happens during school are two different things. You have to be able to adapt to learning curves and what is popular and what is not. If you waste your time preparing for the whole year and the activities are duds, what is the point? I need some pressure in order to perform properly anyway, otherwise it’s too hard to focus.

Throughout my 8 hour day I usually alternate websites. The most common are Korean news papers or Blogs about Korea. I figure if I’m not working I might as well educate myself on something relevant. As well I feel that the other teachers, who are pretty much doing the same thing I am, will at least see it’s a worth while activity. I bolster these readings with an occasional break to tumblr, facebook, gmail,  and hotmail. I’ve heard people say, how can you be bored, you have the internet. Well sure, if I could watch you-tube and download movies and watch those, I wouldn’t be bored at all.

Despite the fact that I don’t like sitting here and doing nothing. I will try not to complain about it, in that way. I do know that I am being paid and being paid to do nothing. This is definitely not a situation to complain about, as I know many other people do.   No one likes to “desk warm” but if they want us to, than we shall.

I only wrote this for something to do.

Macaroni Market

February 10, 2010
What makes a food critic? I will look that up when I finish this sentence. How do you become one? Do you just have to like food a lot because I do.  Okay, well I looked it up. As I figured, you should probably study journalism. Some other tips included co owning a restaurant, working in a restaurant, researching and reading about food all the time. Write lots of reviews.

Okay so I don’t have these important qualities, but my only jobs (until now) have been in the restaurant industry. In fact I’m not even sure I have read a full review on any sort of food. For me, I want to know how the food and service are and then see a picture of the dish. How developed is the regular persons pallet? If I eat something and think it’s average, did the person that wrote the review thought it was great, does he have some hidden insight or did I just “out taste” him.

My food review without any previous experience or knowledge on the practice.

Restaurant: The Macaroni Market in Itaewon

Food: Macaroni and Cheese

Price: 12 000 won

It looks as though this is a popular dish to review. A quick search on the internet for this restaurant brings up a number of reviews. Why do I have to write another one? Perhaps my take is a little different, I’m not sure. I didn’t read their reviews, but I did see key words which led me to believe it was a really delicious dish. After living in a small Korean city for a year, my cravings for western food have become a lot stronger. Even though I have lived in Seoul for almost five months I have still not eaten a huge amount of western cuisine. When I went to this restaurant I intended to review the food. The reason I chose this restaurant was because of the description and pictures of another food blogger.

I assume the recipe changed a little between the time that myself and the other blogger went to the restaurant, as the price and presentation were slightly different. As far as the restaurant goes, as a building, it’s nice. There is nothing to complain about other than being confused about where the washroom was, but that was quickly resolved with the help of the staff. The complimentary bread and balsamic and oil were a nice touch. Something I haven’t eaten in quite a while. From what I remember other people gave this dish a pretty good review, reading parts here and there.

For me the other pictures looked more appetizing, I was hoping for some cheesy, home cooked style macaroni. That is what it looked like to me. The thing that disappointed me when I got there was that it had changed, it wasn’t the same at all. I thought I ordered the wrong thing,but when I got home and checked the picture I realized just the presentation and perhaps the amount of bacon had changed. The reason I didn’t find it  amazing was that the noodles were swimming in a pool of sauce. I don’t think the sauce should be overindulging, it should just coat the pasta. I’ve noticed this trend in a few places that I have eaten. I did enjoy the dish to an extent, I felt the use of lemon peel interesting, but in the end overpowering. I agree with what the other food blogger said, share the dish and get a salad or something else to go with it. It’s a bit too much for one person to eat, sure I ate it all, but by the halfway mark it was getting kind of bland and repetitive. Overall I would give it 6 out of 10.

Conclusion: I would go back to the restaurant, the service was great. I wouldn’t get that dish again though, I would like to try something different. On a side note I arrived at 3:00pm just as Sunday brunch was ending. We got turned away and had to wait till 5 till it opened again. They said that we couldn’t order from the menu. I’m not sure why since the brunch had ended, and the staff would only be prepping for the dinner rush and the restaurant did not close till four.

Paul Ajosshi’s Photo

Jokbo *Chokbo* Korean Family Tree

February 9, 2010

Yesterday my co-teacher and I were talking about Korea and Canada. He would tell me about Korea and I would tell him the Canadian perspective, or equivalent on the subject. But I was interested in one thing in particular 족보.  My teacher told me that most people (his words were 50%) of Koreans have a book called Chokbo or jokbo.

Jokbo is the western equivalent of the family tree. This genealogy chart was first created during the Joseon Dynasty, which lasted from 1392 – 1910. This chart was created so that others could easily trace ones liniage to the Yangban. The Yangban were the ruling class of the the time.  What surprised me was that people still carry on this tradition. Today being related to the  Yangban no longer holds the same advantages, but it is seen as something of interest. Kind of like saying, “I’m related to Norman Bethune.” It’s interesting, but it doesn’t really help me.

I didn’t really find a lot of information about this book, I assume most of it is in Korean. From what my teacher told me, he said that the book is passed down to the eldest son. I’m not sure what happens if you don’t have a son, does your family tree stop? He mentioned that the girls are written down in the book when they are born, but when they are married they are erased. I would like to know if they get to stay in the book if they do not have any brothers.

He also mentioned that it is a very big insult to say that someones family doesn’t have a Jokbo as this would mean that they came from a lower class. This leads me to wonder whether most people are decedents of the Yongban or did the lower classes begin to create their own family tree, regardless of association.

Aegyo Sal

February 8, 2010

According to the Chosun Ilbo the rate of cosmetic surgery for women in Korea, is the highest in the world.

For whatever reason I am interested in Korea’s obsession with plastic surgery. Guaranteed most of the Korean celebrities have had some sort of  facial tweaking. I’m not certain of this point at all, but I am aware of some cases in which the celebrities become famous before they went under the knife. It leads me to wonder if the idea of surgery came before or after being famous. Most likely the idea was in their head long before their goal of fame came to fruition. Even some of my sixth grade students expressed what areas of their face they would like to have altered.

It can be said that most people would think you were attractive based on celebrity alone.  As many normal looking western people (who then become famous) turn into idols, creating something to be desired. I’m sure that female celebrities in the States face the same amount of criticism as Koreans do when it comes to how they look. The rate of plastic surgery could also quite possibly be on par for celebrities within Korea and the USA. I feel as though that Koreans are more open to talking about their procedures, where as other people try to hush it up.  However, the trickle down effect of looking beautiful seems to effect Koreans more so and perhaps this is because of the openness surrounding surgery.

In particular, 81.5 percent of women between 25 and 29 felt the need for cosmetic surgery and 61.5 percent of that group said they have already had it, suggesting that cosmetic surgery has become commonplace for 20-something Korean women.

This stat was taken from another site, but it comes from Um Hyun-Shin’s doctoral dissertation thesis from Kyunghee University, not too far from this blogs namesake, Jegi Dong. I’ve heard from some Koreans that parents have even suggested to their kids that they should change their appearance so they can attract a good husband. As well, it has even been given as a gift for high school graduation. Koreans getting plastic surgery is not that big of a surprise, and perhaps not that big of a deal. There is something to be said about accepting yourself for who you are, but is better to struggle through that pain, and perhaps never get over it, or perform a surgery and make yourself feel better? I don’t know, depends on the percentage of people that are satisfied after the fact, something tells me they will still have insecurities and will still need to work through their personal problems. One thing that I had considered or joked about was, once this good looking girl and guy get married and have kids, they will be left wondering why their kid is average looking. I wonder what cosmetic surgery does for the process of mate selection and reproduction. Moreover, are they setting their child up for an inferiority complex of their own. “I wish I was pretty like mom” or “I wish I had big eyes like mom.” I guess it’s a good thing there is an easy solution for that problem.

This is a little beside the point, for now I am interested in just “aegyo sal.”  Aegyo sal is a type of cosmetic eye surgery that will give you small “bags” under the eyes. (Click on the link to see an example of some before and after shots). Aegyo itself, means “sweet” or at least that is what it tells me when I type it into google translator. You can hear, mostly girls, speak in an Aegyo tone when talking to a guy they like or parents etc. It’s kind of higher pitched and more drawn out, a cuter way of speaking.

From what I’ve heard people think Aegyo sal makes the eyes look bigger, perhaps draws attention to them. I just thought it was a naturally occurring look, and for some people it is. But, the reason why I find it interesting is because although it doesn’t look bad, I just thought perhaps it wasn’t something to be desired. In fact, it isn’t really. Belpharoplasty is a type of cosmetic surgery that does just the opposite, removes the “bags” from under the eyes. I kind of thought, when I did notice it, that the person must be tired. It’s interesting to know that some people desire that look.

So far I haven’t been able to find the English word for the surgery, but I would like to know, just to see if other people are having this procedure done.