Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Another day in the Life...

Well, here I sit at Santa's; nursing a couple of beers while I wait for 6:00 to roll around. I have the great pleasure of covering a class for one of the other teachers who is out, with, and this is an unsubstantiated rumor, stress related blindness. If this particular diagnosis is correct, it leaves me to wonder what this guy has to be stressed about. He's working at one of the easiest jobs in Korea, and he's not even working a full schedule. I know I should be more empathetic or something, but I'm finding it difficult to work up any sympathy what so ever. It's probably because I have come to work at times so sick that I would have been a more effective teacher had I been dead. Anyway, I just have to grin, bear it, and drink another beer.

The other very typically Korean thing that happened this week at school was the sudden, or attempted sudden, start up of the CNU Dormitory English Cafe. This project was apparently the brainchild of the Dormitory Director. The initial idea was to have a place where students could hang out with teachers, drink beer or coffee and speak English or get some help with homework and what not. However, the cafe will not exist now because the people who put the place together did not build the cafe to spec. Therefore, the building (which is really just a gazebo with walls) cannot be licensed as a cafe. Now it's an English club. The next thing was that yesterday, the FLEC office informed us that the club would be up and running that night and that certain teachers would be on call to help wandering students. As you might imagine, that went over like birdshit on a newly washed car. The short notice (a very typical thing here in the land of what the fuck were they thinking) was not the only thing. Added to that was the fact that on call meant that students would be going to the teacher's apartments and knocking on the door or calling them up to get help. I don't know about you, but I don't want a student anywhere near my apartment (well...some students might not be so bad slobber, slobber, drool) or to have my cellphone number. The last and final piece of the pie was the fact that the payment plan for this was free kimbab. 'Nuff said. While I do think that the original idea has some merit, the execution: no plan, no funding, no space, no clue, left much to be desired.

Korea is a great place. I've been here for five and a half years, and I love it. However, one of my pet peeves is the seeming lack of planning or forethought that goes into some of the projects people put together here. It's all, "This is a good idea! Let's do it now!" It ends up, "Wow. That didn't work out. I wonder why?"

All complaining aside, this coming Sunday is my birthday. It's official. I'm old and I'll probably be ten years older by the time the weekend is done. It's going to start on Friday with dinner with one of my freshmen classes, wander it's way into Saturday, and die in a pitiful mess of bloated flesh, blood, and brain calls sometime Sunday evening. If I'm lucky, there will be no photographic eveidence of the sin and debauchery that will be this weekend. If I'm REALLY lucky, there will be sin and debauchery of the kind that has been sorely missing in my life of late...wink wink nudge nudge say no more say no more!

Much to the joy of my co-workers, I received my first birthday gift today: two trays of my mom's brownies. Boy oh boy, are they GOOOOOOOOOOD!!!

Thursday, November 24, 2005

The Nothing Better To Do Mix

1. Lenny Kravitz - In My Life Today
2. David Bowie - She'll Drive The Big Car
3. Bela Fleck - The Landing
4. New Grass Revival - Hold On To A Dream
5. Rage Against The Machine - Bulls On Parade
6. Col. Bruce Hampton & The Aquarium Rescue Unit - Basically Frightened
7. Juluka - Soweto
8. Eric Clapton & B.B. King - Hold On! I'm Comin'
9. Johnny Cash - First Time I Ever Saw Your Face
10. The Aqua Velvets - Hawaiian Blue
11. Oscar Peterson - John Brown's Body
12. Duke Ellington & Count Basie - To You
13. Audioslave - Explorer
14. Led Zeppelin - Communication Breakdown
15. Forgotten Rebels - Behind Bars
16. B.B. King - There Must Be A Better World
17. Goo Goo Dolls - Stop The World
18. Little Feat - Fat Man In The Bathtub
19. Hanoi Rocks - Cheyenne
20. Garbage - It's All Over But The Crying
21. Big Bad Voodoo Daddy - Sleep Tight
22. Led Zeppelin - We're Gonna Groove
23. Flogging Molly - Queen Anne's Revenge
24. Danny Gatton - Dancin' Shoes
25. Bad Religion - There Will Be A Way

The Korean CSAT: Socio-educational Insanity

Yesterday in Korea approximately 600,000 high school seniors took the college entrance exam. To understand what a phenomenon this is, you have to look at a few facts: The test is held only once a year, and a student's score can affect just about every aspect of his or her future life from which college the student attends, to the availability of jobs, and even to marriage possibilities. Businesses are asked to open two hours late so as to relieve the usual traffic congestion and allow students to arrive on time to the testing facilities. Flights from Gimpo National Airport in Seoul that fly over or near testing sites are cancelled or re-routed to cut down on noise. Police, fire, and medical emergency vehicles are made available to rush late and/or ill students to testing centers. Parents (mostly mothers) by the tens of thousands fill churches and temples to pray for the success of their children. First and second year high school students camp out over night to get prime seats outside testing sites, so they can cheer the seniors from their schools going in for the test. While all this is certainly fascinating to witness, there is a dark side to the system here.

Why is the test so important? It's fairly simple. There are three or four "top" universities in Korea; Yonsei, Seoul National University, and Korea University being the ones I can think of. Companies in Korea routinely ignore applicants from "second tier" universities and choose graduates from "top" schools regardless of ability. I teach at Chungnam National University in Daejeon, which is considered to be one of the better state run schools in the country and certainly the best school in Daejeon. However, when I talk to my students about their job prospects upon graduation, they are fairly pessimistic because CNU is not one of the "elite" schools. Why did my students choose CNU? They didn't. Their test scores made the choice for them. Thus, the score a student receives on the CSAT directly affects the university they attend and therefore their future employment possibilities. The ripple effect goes from there.

The pressures placed on high school seniors in this country by the sheer importance of this test are astronomical. High school seniors start studying for the test basically from the time they enter high school. This means that your average Korean high school student studies between 14 and 20 hours a day. This includes regular school hours, cram schools (hagwons), private tutors, and after school, mandatory study sessions. They go to school on Sunday for heaven's sake! I taught high school students at an English hagwon for the first three years I was here, and these poor kids would drag themselves into my 5:00 pm class hollow-eyed and exhausted. I gave them extra credit if they managed to stay awake throughout the class let alone participate and actually learn something. The thing is, most of them had two or three other hagwons to go to after my class.

Pressure is so high that, according to an article in today's print edition of the Korea Herald, parents by the hundreds are moving their families overseas to avoid subjecting their children to the CSAT. Why? Again the answer is fairly simple. Every year a number of students commit suicide due to real or perceived failure on the CSAT. This testing season is no different. In the first reported case this year, a student who was going to take the test for the second time threw himself out of his apartment building the day before the test ( I have no actual stats on how many students kill themselves as a result of this test, but there were at least five last year that I do know about. The unfortunate thing is that the student mentioned above is, in all probability, only the first this year.

While calls for testing and university admissions standards reform in Korea are becoming louder and more strident, I wonder how many children have to die before something actually gets done.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

I'm a Happy Boy!!!

SVT - No Regrets. One of the best fuckin records ever!!!

Today is a GREAT FUCKIN' DAY!! If music is the window to the soul then I have found mine. Today I received not only one of my top ten favorite records in the world, but also, a record that I thought I would never, EVER, be able to find again: SVT - No Regrets! Most of you who read this blog know the story of the record collection I lost. It's a sad and sordid tale that I'll refrain from repeating here.

I first heard this record sometime around 1981-82 when a friend brought home a cassette with the album on it. Although my cheap ass tape player ate the damn tape after about four listens, I was immediately and permanently hooked. I spent the next ten years trying desperately to find a copy of the LP. I finally found a copy in a used record store in DC for $1.50 and was ecstatic.
This is the last album by this band (they only released two full length lps) as the lead singer, Brian Marnell, died of an overdose shortly after it's release. The album went out of print, the label it was issued on went out of business, so finding this thing was tricky to say the least.

Two weeks ago on a whim I was looking through and did a searchfor SVT. Normally this would result in nothing, but lo and behold there it was. Rykodisc re-released the album this year! Needless to say the credit card was out in a heartbeat and the order laid down.

Shameless plug moment: If you are a music fanatic and can't download the music you want, is the place to go. The CDs are relatively cheap, they ship damn near everywhere in the world, and you can find just about everything you want.

Today is a good day!

Monday, November 07, 2005

Just in case you don't think I'm a Redskins fanatic!

Redskins Resurgent!

Last Sunday, the Redskins were beaten, stomped, ass-whupped, and basically treated like a one-legged, red-headed step child in an embarrassing 36-0 loss to the Giants in the Meadowlands. Due to an inability to sleep, I actually got to watch that travesty on TV here, and I have to say it was not the best way to start my week (at least Mark Brunell wasn't on my fantasy team, lol).

However, my boys bounced back with a gritty, 60 minute win against the hated Iggles. While I didn't get to watch the game, I did get to listen to most of it live on the computer which was most satisfying. The Skins are off to face the no account Tampa Bay Bucs next week in what should be a game they can win. The Redskins never make it look easy, but after being cautiously optimistic at the beginning of the season (Hell they sucked for 14 years, what do you expect!) I'm ready to see them make their way to the playoffs. WOOOT!!!

Our musical interlude comes from that poet laureate Sammy Schreiber:


Run or pass and score- We want a lot more.
Beat'em, Swamp'em! TOUCHDOWN!
Let the points soar.
Fight on, Fight on 'till you have won
Sons of Wash-ing-ton!


Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Ho Halloween Hat

It was another weekend of freakishness and frivolity as Daejeon was host to ulti madness: The Ho Halloween Hat. As many know, you put a bunch of ulti players in one spot and things are bound to get out of hand. Kudos to Greg and Woody for organizing another great tourney. You'll be receiving my chiropractic bill soon.

I had a great time during this event. Many folks from Seoul came down to participate and help make the tourney a success. I myself am finally starting to be able to walk properly again after a weekend of hard playing and harder drinkin'.

There are no photos of the parties because I forgot to bring my camera to the Friday night party at Santa's and then was too bruised and battered to make it to J Rock.

Anyway, I have to run because I was just informed that a care package of homemade brownies from my mom just showed up at the office. Enjoy the photos.

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Red Team
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Blue Balls
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Fat man runnin'!
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Up close and personal
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What form! What grace!
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Lookin downfield
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Chip & Hye-suk
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The Captain
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Orange Crush!
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hangin' out
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The Ultimettes!
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Kiwi Glenn
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View from the nosebleed seats.
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