Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Korean Mid-term Elections, and Memories About People and Phones

I have a hate love relationship with cellphones. Back when I was in college I wrote a musical called "The Assholes on Cellphones Bloodbath," or something like that. It was about people who talk on their cellphones too loudly and yell personal information about themselves to bystanders who could care less. The offenders in my play all died because one of the douche bags on his cell phone was driving a golf cart while talking on his phone and killed the blow fish restaurant chef who was supposed to prepare their meal that night, the assistant prepared the meal instead and everyone died instantly.

Ironically on the day when I took that play into getting it work shopped I bought my first cellphone, and tried to call my friend while riding a bike. As I dialed I noticed a downed power line. Not wanting to ride my bike over a downed power line I slammed the front break of my bike with my free hand and went over the handle bars of my bike, and landed face to face with the downed power line.

Since then I have grown to love the convenience of having a cellphone I still find some people lack manners when they use them. It is with this prejudice that I initially condemned this campaign ad for a candidate for the Mayor of Jinju.
The sign says that this guy is going to listen to the sound of the citizens. He probably wanted to look attentive to the plight of the people and so he pictured himself with his phone up to his ear. Unfortunately, to me the message that the picture sends, is that he is a self important turd farmer who will cut you off mid sentence to answer his phone so that he can arrange a meeting with his Elementary school classmates.

I have nothing against this guy personally, nor do I have evidence that he owns a turd farm, but when I saw that picture I was reminded quickly of one of the most bizarre conversations that I had ever had. This conversation happened with an English professor at a university in Jinju, and stands out in my memory as a conversation where I was both appalled and amused by the audacious lack....I don't know....The professor defiantly lacked something, marbles, scruples, a sense of how humans actually communicate with each other.

The Story of Doctor Ahn

Doctor Ahn was an administrator at a university in Jinju. I'm not sure what his job was exactly, and he was one of those Korean guys who was in a high position but didn't seem to know anything. One day I happened out to Paris Baguette, and Dunkin Donuts to get a cream cheese pasterie and coffee. I was heading to the classroom building in order to prepare some lesson plans, and that is where I was intercepted by Dr. Ahn. He immediately took notice of me and my cream cheese pasterie.

Dr. Ahn: Oh James, it is nice to see you. What is that, oh it looks good.

Me: Hi Dr. Ahn.

Dr. Ahn: Is that coffee? Why don't you come up to my office and have some coffee with me?

Me: Uh, alright.

Up in Dr. Ahn's office.

My pasterie was in a see through plastic bag and sitting on Dr. Ahn's table)

Dr. Ahn: How are you James?

Me: Fine.

Dr. Ahn: I see you have some bread. Is it delicious bread?

Me: I don't know, I haven't tried it yet.

Dr. Ahn: I see you have some coffee too. Do you enjoy coffee?

Me: Yes

Dr. Ahn: Do you enjoy coffee when you teach classes?

Me: Sometimes I have a cup in the classroom.

Dr. Ahn: What do you think of the native English speakers who enjoy coffee during class?

Me: I don't know.


Dr. Ahn: I heard there was one of the native English speakers who enjoys coffee when there is class.

Me: Okay.

Dr. Ahn: (Distracted by the pasterie) Yes.

Me: So....

Dr. Ahn: Ah yes. Do you think that it is okay for the native English speakers to go back to their dormitory and enjoy coffee during the class?

Me: I don't think so.

Dr. Ahn: I heard there was a native English speakers who enjoys coffee in his room during class.

Me: Sorry to hear that.

Dr. Ahn: Can I have some of your uh bread. (As he was reaching over to take a piece)

Me: I guess.

Dr. Ahn: A this is good bread. Do you enjoy bread often? Why don't you have some bread?

Me: It is mine after all.

At this point Dr. Ahn looked distracted. He then picked up his phone and made a phone call to another guy who worked at the university, seeming to forget that we were having a conversation, while enjoying a piece of my "bread."

I don't really fault people for answering their phone when they are in a conversation with me. I know that in polite society when a call is important the other person will excuse themselves and talk to the person who called them, if it isn't too important they usually say tell the other person that they are busy and will call them back. Rarely does a person enter a face to face conversation with another to pick up their own phone and make a call just because they happened to think of the person they are calling, without any warning.

I held on until the end of the conversation which lasted for about five minutes. Dr. Ahn described to the person on the other end exactly what he was doing and how he "was enjoying coffee and bread with James. " The subject of the conversation was about how the other person had to cancel their classes for some reason and about how he needed a replacement. When he hung up the conversation went a little bit like this.

Dr. Ahn: James do you know Brian? (Pseudonym)

Me: Yes.

Dr. Ahn: Yes I was just talking to him on the phone. He cancelled a class that he had to teach. I told him about how we are enjoying coffee and bread in my office.

Me: Really?

Dr. Ahn: Yes. Oh hey, are you busy tonight?

Me: No.

Dr. Ahn: Why don't you teach tonight's class for Brian?

I never mentioned that Dr. Ahn wasn't very quick, but I think you get the point. By now he had eaten well over half of the pasterie that I had brought, and he wasn't shy about finishing the whole thing off. I swore an oath to return to his office to enjoy some coffee again, but retraced my steps to Paris Baguette to replace the cream cheese pasterie that I had missed out on.

Rumour has it that Dr. Ahn got turned out to pasture and works a twelve pyeong plot of land harvesting turds. Perhaps he is the campaign manager for the gentleman in the picture. I have no doubt that I was well liked by this Ahn fellow. He saw me on the street once and invited me back up to his office for more coffee. I guess by allowing him to eat my "bread," I made him feel important and respected. Others have similar stories where he would just appear in their dorm rooms to request favors.

I guess I just have to try my best to sleep at night knowing he's out there,,,,stealing some one's pastries.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

An Actual Fun Time in South East Korea

Tonight I went to "Tchaikovski," a ballet performed by the Korean national Ballet at the Jinju cultural arts center. I have never been to a ballet before, and I didn't quite know what to expect, and I confess to being quite moved by the performance.

I knew that ballets generally featured a symphony pit, but I guess when I actually saw I was a little surprised. It was great because you get live music and some pretty badass highly choreographed running and stretching.

It was fantastic. I want to see more stuff like that. That is the kind of thing that provokes creativity, and hats off the the Korean national ballet for coming down to Jinju to do the show. It makes me want to support the arts more. The show was very inspirational.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Fun With People Who Work in Places Where they Have to Wear Name Tags

I have heard somewhere that person's favorite word is their own name. The children that I work with really love it when I remember their name, however the use of names in Korea seems rather taboo since you have to call everyone brother, sister, aunt, uncle, principal, or by some other title that isn't there name.

So just for fun I am proposing this game. Many people in Korea wear name tags for their service professions. People who work at bank, dunkin donuts, or Baskin Robbins. So here is a fun game to play with these service professionals that might lift up their skirts a bit.

Walk into some place and get waited on by someone, as you leave say "Thank You, and then say their name on their name tag.

Or go into some place, read the name tag of the person working and say.

"Hi 태경."

I did this to a girl at Dunkin Donuts today and really surprised her.

So try it, and leave comments below.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Exciting "Story"

Attention readers of Fun Times in South East Korea. I will be starting a new series in which I can exercise my literary skills. Well I wouldn't say that I have literary skills so much as there will be a fiction section to FTISEK.

For people who have no experience with Korea I need to catch you up on a somewhat interesting facet of Korean marketing culture. Occasionally in Korea, Koreans give stores or businesses a name with the word "story," attached to it. If the store is a clothing store, it might be named jeans story. If it is a noodle shop it might be named 면 이야기, or noodle story. I'm not sure if anyone knows why this practice is popular or what the word "story," means in this context, but I intend to give meaning to it.

My plan is to find a place that is named "something something "story," I will take a picture of it, and then I will write a story about it. Suppose there is a place called coffee story, I'll write a story about coffee. I'll try to write these stories in the context of Korean culture, or like a bad Korean movie.

Some times Korean movies have out of context details that weaken the over all effect of the movie. A popular Korean comedy called "Sex is Zen," billed it's self as the Korean, "American Pie," and was both hilarious and disgusting until some guy tried to force a woman to have an abortion, and then the movie was like "Whoa you did not just go there." Some times Korean movies have ten minute long montages of gangsters beating up some woman. So if I make a story called "Rice Story," that is billed as a romantic comedy there might be: animal cruelty, bladder warts, spontaneous toddler, a bar ironically named "rice story," a talking mouse who accidentally kills a pregnant woman which is supposed to be a metaphor for something, or even paraplegic Steve Perry who endures as a rice farmer.

This project will take some time because I both have to see a place that is called "______ story," and have a camera in order to take a picture, and then I have to think up a short story to write it. So one might follow the other. I might write a "noodle story," and then find a place called noodle story and take a picture of it.

Best wishes

Monday, March 8, 2010

Lotteria's Waffles

Today I went to the Geumsan Lotteria with the intent of buying a pork rib sandwich when I decided to take Lotteria up on its waffle and coffee offer.

The Lotteria waffle is a unique item among Korean fast food restaurants. I don't believe McDonalds offers any waffles, but waffles are becoming a fixture among many coffee houses and specialty waffle and coffee houses.

In Jinju there has been a waffle pojang macha vendor downtown selling waffles and Boong uh bang (waffle batter fish with sweet bean paste in the middle) for all of the time I have lived here. At least five years. Also the local department store has started to sell waffles in it's food court.

The Lotteria waffle that I ate was alright. It wasn't very moist, and it kind of tasted like it was made from a modified doughnut batter. The blueberries were tart and sweet.

The waffle and coffee combination is a good idea for a snack, but I wish that Lotteria could open early enough so that the waffle could be eaten as a breakfast food, but in it's current incarnation it seems like a nice little light snack.

I also take issue with the range of coffee drinks that are available at Lotteria, to go with the waffle. I'm not a fan of espresso based coffee drinks, but I feel that the Lotteria cappuccino does in a pinch when there is no dunkin donuts around, because cappuccino has the ability to compliment a sweet food.

The Lotteria waffle combo is served instead with an Americano. Americano coffee is inferior to brewed coffee because the over roasting of the espresso beans and the subsequent watering down of espresso to make the Americano an altogether disappointing drink. The overpowering flavor of the espresso can't do anything in concert with any food that accompanies it because it's bitterness has been lost to the water. Likewise a moderate strength brewed coffee would work wonders with the waffle since the texture of coffee has more body than the body of Americanos. Likewise the milk in a cappuccino or latte would add body to an espresso that would be able to support the sweetness of the waffle.

In conclusion, the Lotteria waffle was alright, but the Lotteria coffee waffle combination failed to impress.

I still think that the Jinju si Geumsan Myeon Lotteria is among the best in Korea for it's courteous staff, and clean comfortable atmosphere. If one has to go to Lotteria, the only Lotteria that I would go to is in Geumsan Myeon.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Hearbreak vs Atlas

On my journey to morbid obesity, I have just had the epiphany that Korean candy bars are much cheaper than American.

At the local Hanaro mart in Geumsan I can choose between a Hershey bar with almonds or two Korean Snickers like candy bars with almonds. Those candy bars are the Lotte "Atlas," bar that boasts almond power. Or the Orion "Heartbreak" bar. I will be reviewing those in the sections below.

Atlas soft texture, really sweet. It is too sweet. I feel somewhat sick eating it. It needs washing down.

Heartbreak A more chewy and tough texture, and more defined flavor profiles. I am going to declare the heartbreak the winner of the Korean candy bar contest. Overall the heartbreak gave me a more satisfied feeling. I couldn't finish the heartbreak during this test because the Atlas seems intent on giving me a case of hyperglycemia.


Management and Education

I've been reading some books lately. It started with "How to Win Friends and Influence People. " I bought this book out of a desire to increase my leadership skills in the classroom so that I can be more effective in doing my job. After reading that book, I used some of the techniques in that book with some pretty good success.

The second book in this adventure is W. Edward Demming's "Out of the Crisis." "Out of the Crisis," provides a critique of American management culture in the U.S. from the stand point of Demming, who helped to build the Japanese quality management system that many Japanese companies adopted after WWII.

I have been finding this book to be very interesting for a few reasons. 1. A lot of the critiques about management culture in 1980s American auto factories are similar to the the management of the 2000's English Program in Korea. 2. I can use the suggestions in the book to help build quality into my lesson planning in addition to the suggestions from "How to Win Friends and Influence People." 3. "Out of the Crisis," gives me some information about management that I can use to influence my decisions about investing.

1. How is a 1980's car factory like the English Program in Korea?
There are a lot of similarities here.
a. Employees in American factories often times didn't know how to do their jobs.
b. Management would often blame production workers if there were quality defects when the system was what needed fixing.
c. Supervisors often times were kids fresh out of college who were looking to boost their careers, yet didn't know how to help the production workers and didn't know the goals of the company.

These are just a few examples. I will draw some comparisons from my job to the 1980's GM plant.

a. When I came to my job, I had a tesol degree and three semesters at a university under my belt as experience when I came into the Co-teaching environment. I often tried my best to work with the text book that we had at the time, but the thing was nearly impossible to figure out. Lessons had titles, listening sections, a nice C.D., little stories that the students had to read (that were dreadfully boring), and the points of each lesson were incredibly vague. There were small speaking sections, that were my responsibility, that were really difficult to understand what was trying to be taught. On top of all of that, I am the first NET that has ever worked at my school full time, and the school didn't really know what to do with me - I don't feel that it should be the school's responsibility to figure out what they want to use me for, I think that EPIK should provide some guidelines and goals for how they want NETs to be used by the schools. If EPIK provided more leadership in that respect they could help their problems with point C.

b. In this case the domestic press does a lot to blame NETs for problems that could be preempted by making a few phone calls. Recruitment for native English Teachers in Korea, usually goes out to unprofessional recruiters who don't do much more than post up advertisements for jobs on websites, wait for the calls, hire anyone with a pulse and a college degree, and then pick the person up at an airport. These so called head hunters don't really do that much. For the EPIK program, I had an e-mail relationship with some recruiter for a few weeks, but was interviewed over the phone by someone who actually worked for EPIK. In the interview the woman asked me a few questions like, what do you think of Korea, or how old are you? I put down a list of references but I don't think that anybody called them. I also put down former employers, but I don't think anybody called them either. Now I think that the woman who interviewed me was doing her best, but perhaps someone in her position should have some kind of background in human resourses. The same could be said about recruiters too. An EPIK recruiter would have done well to spend a lot of money to send people all over the world to attend college job fairs, in order to track down the education professional, or applied linguists that they want. But it seems that recruiters get the contract for recruitment if they can provide the lowest price, and the job goes out to the idiots who recruited me and bent university diploma.

C. I fell into this category. I have a degree in Anthropology, and a TESOL certificate. I have to admit that learning this job is hard, and I noticed for the past few years that I lacked skills in classroom management. I would often fail to understand the needs of the students, the needs of my co-teachers, and the goals of the organization. Now since the goals of the EPIK program are so vaguely communicated from the upper management of the EPIK program, it is up to me to learn from co-teachers, the principal, and myself to design goals and plans for the students. If I think of myself as a lower management supervisor whose customers and production workers are the students that I teach, then it is easy to envision a system where I am both the boss and employee of the organization that I work for. I have under me the students who learn from me, and above me co-teachers and the principal of the school. What is important in this situation is that I create a system where communication between myself, co-teachers, students, and principal is free flowing. It is important that I need to learn as much information as I can from all participants so that I can do the job better. On top of all of that, students need to be encouraged to feel pride in their abilities to speak English.

In the English classroom the customers are the students and the product is their ability to speak English. How Korean English classrooms can be like American car factories of the 1980s is the fact that in American Car factories, increased production meant that factories could turn out more cars with little regard to quality, and the defects from the cars would actually cost the companies more than if they would produce less cars at a higher quality and spend less time fixing the defects.

In Korea, English is taught and measured by a slew of tests that look for defects. Parents spend a lot of money sending their kids to cram schools to learn basic skills so that students can pass tests. Big companies spend a lot of money sending their employees to English schools so that employees can meet English standards in order to keep their jobs. Yet the quality of English produced by this industrial system is measured in quantifiable numbers like test results, and there isn't much work done in improving the overall quality of the system. I feel that there are a lot of ways to introduce quality based management into the Education environment. It is a system that is difficult to work in because the worker (Teachers [from what I can tell]) are given inadequate tools to work with, and are given many responsibilities in the administration of schools that don't have much to do with teaching. The system of many schools robs workers of their pride of workmanship (This can also be from the perspective of Korean teachers.)

It seems that these problems also persist in America as well. According to a recent New York Times education special article entitled "Building a Better Teacher," it seems as if the "No Child Left Behind act has created a system where deans of schools try to fire teachers whose students don't perform well on tests and give incentive pay to teachers who can teach well. Demming is adamantly against management that gives incentive pay, and the firing of under performers because it doesn't do much to improve the system as a whole, also constantly replacing workers can create other problems in retraining.

Fortunately, "Building a Better Teacher," talks about a guy named Doug Lemov, who is a teacher trainer, who did some research into what makes a good teacher, who has outlined 49 in a publication called the "Lemov Taxonomy," that can be used as guideposts to help train teachers, and hold students captivated. (If you have a spare hour or so, click the link above and read the article, it is well worth the read, but it is a New York Times magazine Education Special article. New York Times magazine articles are often worth reading but they are also a bit of a commitment.) Anyways it seems that a lot of what Doug Lemov, and others mentioned in the article could be the beginning of an example of how to institute quality management in the field of education. In all fairness to Korea, the EPIK program did run a pretty good training in service that last December there were a few drawbacks, but at least it was kind of a start. I wouldn't exactly call it quality management because there was no consistency of purpose that was outlined, but it did give some pretty good teaching ideas.

At any rate, the purpose of writing this post was to try and imagine quality management in the context of an Education setting. I really don't know that much about quality management or how it could be applied to education, but I think that many of Demming's ideas could be used in schools and universities. They could also be used by the individual teacher when trying to design a curriculum, select text books for that curriculum. Also they can be used in personal reflection in conjunction with Carnegie's ideas for better leadership.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

My One Degree of Fame

The owner of this site is proud to further the cause of Taekwondo as taught by Grandmaster Chung Sun-Hwan's Moo Sool Do system with the endorsement of Master Kevin Nilson's poomsae (Forms, Kata) D.V.D.s entitled "Tae Kwon Do-a visual guide to forms." and "Tang Soo Do - a visual guide to forms."

Nilson, an incredible technical expert demonstrates his exquisite flexibility in breaking down step by step the poomsaes of Taekwondo and Tangsoodo. Practitioners of Tae Kwon Do and Tang Soo Do will find these guides to be invaluable in their pursuit of black belt or advanced degrees of blacks belt Tae Kwon Do and Tang Soo Do.


James Kruska 4th degree black belt

Kim Jong Ill 된장녀

The associated press via the New York Times has an interesting story from a defector about Kim Jeong Ill's extravagance. It seems that the dictator sent cadres of chefs to Austria to learn how to make Austrian food, and "only eats imported food."

Reminds me of Kim Soo Mi's character in a Korean movie called 못말리는결혼 motmalinin gyulhon. The movie title means something about getting married, and it follows the romance of a vein plastic surgeon and a woman who is good at Korean traditional arts. If I remember correctly she makes paper dolls.
The mother of the plastic surgeon is a self made millionaire who dragged her family out of poverty and no longer values traditional Korean ways. When the potential daughter in law visited the family house with a basket of cherry tomatoes that came from her father's garden, Kim Soo Mi shrieked and nearly vomited when she learned that they tomatoes weren't imported.

Check out the article and the movie. It is one of my favorite Korean comedies.