Monday, May 31, 2010

Healthy Living in Korea: Fighting!

In my quest to get healthy I have turned my attention to the last frontier of rebellion and craziness in my life: food. And drinks. And stuff disguised as food. In the states I was a vegetarian. Not because I don’t enjoy eating animals. Because I do. But because it is bad for the earth and terrible for my digestion. I’m also lactose intolerant. I LOVE cheese, milk and pretty much everything bad for me, but I feel like shit if I eat them. Anyway, when I traveled though Europe and arrived in Korea I kinda gave up my vegetarian lifestyle in exchange for more freedom and, well, being able to eat at restaurants. I believe in being flexible, especially with food. But now summer is coming and I’m less than three months from heading back to the states and I want to look and feel good again! Quitting drinking was definitely a step in the right direction, and now I’m going to try limiting meat to just once a week. I’m also going to try to go pretty much vegan during my workdays.

The big catalyst for my new found enthusiasm is the latest book picked by the book club I belong to. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life is about a family that decided to move to the Appalachian mountains and start a farm. Their main goal is to only live on what they can grow or buy from their neighbors. The rule is pretty much everything should be sustainable and if they don’t personally know who raised/ grew it, they can’t eat it. It is written by a wonderful novelist (the mother of the family), Barbra Kingsolver with help from her family and contributors.

In my opinion, we have gotten WAY too far away from where our food really comes from. Most people don’t have a clue about what fruits and vegetables are in season when, or even what continent they are grown on. One thing I will say I desperately miss about the USA is the space to grow a garden and the awareness of global food issues that has really started in the last ten years. I can’t wait to go to a farmers market and know none of the foods were grown with pesticides. I really hope the world comes around to these “liberal” ideas about growing food before it’s too late and the topsoil has been completely raped of all nutrients. Please check out this book if you are interested in these issues!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

뭐 말해요

I don't do much anymore and subsequently there is less to write about. Interesting things are happening on the Korean peninsula although I am acutely aware as to how amateurish any opinions I might have on the subjects are.

First, we're going to war. That's right, the tensions are at an all time high and still these kids keep coming to their after after after after school school. They should be reinforcing bunker walls or piling tins on wooden shelves in cinder block rooms. The North is coming with their starving army ready to rape and pillage and shell. At least that's what the bond market is telling the Won which is dropping like a mobster's quarry in the East river. Don't get me wrong they've made some pretty aggressive moves and no one really knows why. The Lee administration was taking a harder stance and has been more unwilling to give them food aid as they're about to experience another epic famine. North Korea has cut all lines of communication and lambasted the South with their typically hyperbolic rhetoric, all this for correctly surmising that the North torpedoed their ship. War would be practically suicidal for both parties involved. The North has enough artillery along the DMZ to do some serious damage to Seoul and Gyeonggi-do, which would probably put the Won at about 2000.00 or more to the dollar, so I would be making $1000.00 a month from $1900.00. As it stands I've lost 200 dollars in monthly income in 7 days because of this bullshit (only 5 trading days). Anyway, the North would certainly lose their regime and Korea would be unified with a substantial amount of pain, like two Asian virgins on their wedding night. So there's no incentive for anyone to do it, unless the North's leaders ended up drinking their own Kool-Aid about the superiority of the North Korean army. It's not going to happen now please put my currency back.

That reminds me of another bone I have to pick with the term Kool-Aid. This term generally comes from the mass suicide of the Jim Jones cult. What 김종일 and his posse up in North Korea do with their propaganda certainly resembles an ideology that has completely lost touch with any sort of reality and is a bit death cultish. The Obama Administration's economic policies are not comparable to this sort of mass insanity. So, ignorant right-wing assholes, when arguing about the efficacy of a Keynesian economic programme please refrain from referring to people who believed that taking cyanide would take them to a heaven planet. Thanks, the non insane people of the world.

Also, it's election time. And I thought that the American electoral process was a moribund spectacle. While we certainly spend much more money on electing untrustworthy representatives to positions of power, the Koreans do it much more vigorously and with a style that is all their own. Buses and tiny trucks with people's faces plastered on them like a racing team. Lady doctors with glasses and men attempting to look as casual as an ajosshi can look adorn every building from my aparte to the river. The intersection at my school is daily taken up with their antics. Ajummas standing on each corner dancing a lame macarena to the toneless jingle that someone's put together and chanting the name of the candidate that pays them (I assume, do they publicly humiliate themselves on streetcorners willingly), speechifying acolytes in tiny stages on the edges of the intersections blocking the turning radii of buses, daily occurrences. This country needs some noise ordinances.

Was this interesting? (y/n) Am I cute? (y/n)

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Class Stupidity

As many of you know, I work at an all boys, public, middle school. I work 9-5 and generally do the same work as my Korean co-teachers, although I am able to do many more fun things with my classes than they are. Anyway, this semester the Office of Education (I’m not sure if it’s the one in Seoul, or in Jeollanamdo) has decided that all the English teachers must “open their classes.” This basically means a lot of extra paperwork, and on specific days parents, teachers, and the supervisors can come into your classroom and observe while you are teaching. So normally, if I wasn’t in Korea, I would say this sounds like a good idea. I would actually like feedback on my teaching methods since I’m such a new teacher and all. But in Korea this idea takes on an entirely different meaning. Basically it’s all for show, just one big charade that totally fucks up my day/week and causes my students a lot of stress. People just wander in and out of the classroom, talking amongst themselves and distracting the students. Usually the students are “prepped” for these classes, they are given the material before hand and we have to run through what we’re going to do the week before just so they are prepared. After my first open class I have refused to do this though. Why? Because it totally fucks up the rhythm of the lesson. Not to mention only five parents came to my first open class, anyway.

What really pisses me off about this situation is that they changed my schedule so that I can have three open classes back to back on Monday morning next week. All low level classes. In general, I’m not sure why I teach these classes anyway, the students don’t know English. They basically refuse to learn it. So we play games, I teach them basic vocabulary words and just generally try to entertain them for 45 minutes a week. So WTF do the parents and supervisors want from me? Who knows. But I’ll bet they’ll be expecting their students to speak English in my “conversation” class. Well, they don’t. Sorry. I get it; my co-workers don’t want to open their classes so they changed my schedule so that my classes will be open and they can just stand in the back, translating when necessary. This is how it works in Korea.

Today I asked one of my co-teachers why we have to do the open classes. He said, because the office of education said so. I said, I know, but WHY? What is the purpose? He said he didn’t know. Hey, I went to college, I can think critically about things, I just can’t figure out what the point of these open classes is.

Next month I have an open class where all the native speakers and Korean English teachers in my area will come observe my class. They will probably miss classes to do that. Afterward I will not be assessed in anyway, instead the Korean teachers and supervisor will have a meeting, all in Korean about who knows what, while the native speakers just chat. It's a complete waste of everyone’s time.

This semester, in all, I will have four open classes. These classes are a total waste. They just can't allow things to go on without stressing out as many people as they can. If they haven't stressed enough people out that week or month they feel like they're not doing their jobs. If anyone knows why the fuck we’re doing them, let me know!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Don't run, walk.

Out at the pavilion the rubber thump of Roofball and the click of checkers calls to his memory, and the forgotten smell of that narrow plastic ribbon you braid bracelets and whistle chains out of and of glue and of the sweat on the handles of athletic equipment is blown down by a breeze laced with children's murmuring. He feels the truth: the thing that had left his life had left irrevocably; no search would recover it. No flight would reach it. It was here, beneath the town, in these smells and these voices, forever behind him. The best he can do is submit to the system and give Nelson the chance to pass, as he did, unthinkingly, through it. The fullness ends when we give Nature her ransom, when we make children for her. Then she is through with us, and we become first inside, then outside, junk. Flower stalks.

- John Updike

This passage of Rabbit Run resonated with me as I read it yesterday. In the novel, Rabbit leaves his wife and tries to drive away from Mt. Penn, Pennsylvania to escape (boy can I relate, but I did a much better job in the end). He ends up coming back and shacking up with another woman in Reading who was kind of a prostitute. He acts like a conscienceless prick the whole time absorbed in this search for the feeling that he's lost, like the perfect golf shot (didn't I write this novel?). Anyway, through his unconscionable refusal to use contraception and the mores of the times he spreads his seeds like the instinctual creature he's nicknamed for. Here he realizes the hard truth. The same hard truth that I, and I hope, for their sakes, most of my fellow twenty somethings are struggling with realizing. That you are not, in the words of Tyler Durden, "a beautiful and unique snowflake. You are the same decaying organic matter as everyone else, and we are all part of the same compost pile."

It's sort of a liberating realization. That is, when you get past the vision of yourself that you've built up since childhood. Ones determination to right the wrongs of the previous generation, or finally live the correct way in the face of all the people, like robots beating our their lives in monotones, living the wrong way, is going to eventually seem ridiculous. The substance of life is misapprehended in childhood. In childhood the promise of life and the strength of the sensation of life are congruous, and a time when that strength is dampened by detachment and age, and the promises about what life holds cease to apply to you, seems impossible, like death. But then you realize, that this is life. This is what they've been talking about all along, you've just been misinterpreting them, and they've been letting you out of mercy. There is joy and potential but realistic joy and potential and there are going to be many many minutes and hours and days and years wasted and forgettable, and plenty to be cloyingly sentimental about. But in the end you should apprehend what is real, and the ability to deal with life in actuality is a liberating phenomenon because you're finally free of the illusion and free to take real steps.

This is why I disdain but understand religious joy. Sure I can find joy and love in a lie when it's believed but reality is in front of me and imagining substituting reality for a happy lie is akin to attempting to retain my childhood, even into old age. At least that was real, even if, after it has passed the attempt at retaining it seems pathetic and desperate. And beyond desperation it seeks to reject the truth that is elemental and impossible to actually reject because of fear. The worst of our motivators, fear. The fear of liberation and thus responsibility, the maintenance of the illusion even after the nature of the illusion is irrevocably realized, that is too much. I'll take life as it is because it's all there is.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010


Dan and I are still attempting to plan our South America trip! It’s so hard to decide where to go and what to do. We know we want to stay put for the first couple of months, we are hoping to teach online classes to make some extra money, and also take Spanish classes for at least two months. We’ve pretty much settled on La Paz, Bolivia for this. The weather is very temperate, the people seem nice and the Spanish is (hopefully) easy to understand. It is cheap and looks absolutely beautiful. After that we are going to backpack for three months or more, depending on the money situation. We’re still trying to figure out exactly how much we’ll need, we’ve heard we’ll need anything from $1,500 to $2,000 a month plus airfare. At that rate we could probably go for about four months.

Trying to plan was getting so overwhelming, the other day we decided to separately make a list of the top three places we absolutely have to go. Then plan the trip around this. Funnily enough, we picked two of the same places! So here’s where we’re going no matter what:

1. Valaraiso, Chile. Dan picked this gem of a city.
2. Cartagena, Colombia. We’ve heard so many great things about this country and city, plus it inspired one of Dan’s favorite authors of all time to write some awesome books that I haven’t read yet.
3. Machu Picchu, Peru. You knew this was coming, didn’t you?
4. The Galapagos Islands, Ecuador. This will be BY FAR the most expensive part of trip. I’m talking like $1000 for 8 days! But I think it cannot be missed.

So now we just have to connect the dots and decide how we’ll get to all these places, and how long we will stay. We are still open to recommendations, and PLEASE let us know if you have been to any of the places on our list! We’d love input on where to stay, what to do, and what our budget should look like!

Monday, May 10, 2010

Falling off the wagon

After 127 days sober Dan and I fell off the wagon. Hard. I actually think the wagon ran us over at some point in the night. Why did this happen? Was there a death in family or some other catastrophic event that drove us back to the bottle? Nope. It was a going away party/ concert and sheer boredom. Last Wednesday was children’s day here in Korea, so we had the day off. Cool. Then my school magically closed on Thursday and Friday. With Dan and everyone I know at work, I was left at home bored out of my mind. I don’t do unemployment well. There are tons of things I could have done, but without anyone to do them with and no time frame to get them done, I achieved absolutely nothing. Then it hit me. I should just get drunk. Yep, this was the solution to all my problems! I called Dan and told him. Guess what he said? That’s sounds like a fantastic idea, let do it. So we drank three drinks at home (BTW Cafri tastes like shit if you haven’t had beer in 127 days) and went out to the bar. Crazy Horse was super fun, catching up with all my old drinking buddies and watching a local foreigner band. I was happy I got to say goodbye to Katie; I probably wouldn’t have seen her if I hadn’t gone out.

Leaving Crazy Horse is when things started to go downhill. I honestly couldn’t tell you what happened after that. I heard a rumor we went to Bubble Bar, this was confirmed later by the appearance of my purse still located there. The next thing I remember is coming to in a taxi, alone, and having no idea where I live. It took me a long time to remember, much to the taxi driver’s fear and amazement. I finally did, and he drove me home, then I guess I just ran out of the cab being that I didn’t have any money or my purse with me.

Next thing I know I’m waking up in my bed with Dan next to me. With the worst hangover EVER. Like I got hit by a baseball bat 50 times in the head. Dan was equally a wreck.

I guess when I got home, at 5am, we got into a huge fight. I think I was mad at him for leaving me at the bar? We always joke about how I have some kind of split personality when I’m drunk. We call her Amber. She’s crazy. Getting into fights and making poor decisions is her specialty. When Amber is around I don’t remember ANYTHING. Amber does a fantastic job of fucking up my life, which is why I don’t like to let her out of the closet. Therefore I can’t drink.

Getting trashed just reminded me of why I really shouldn’t drink. Having big spaces of time I can’t remember is not cool. Fighting with Dan is really not cool. Feeling like shit for not one, but TWO days is ridiculous. So now I’m back on the wagon. For good, hopefully. Dan has decided that abstaining completely is actually not a good idea for him. He’s going to start drinking in moderation again. He knows now that if he completely cuts himself off he won’t be able to say no as easily when I suggest drinking. It is really difficult being sober here especially with no one to really support you. So now I’m back to day one again, just taking it one day at a time.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Illegal immigrants can't receive welfare benefits

I take no position in the immigration debate. I understand how people are drawn to the United States risking life and limb to be exploited for a couple cents more than they would make in their own country. It’s all a part of the American lie that has brought cheap labor to our shores to be taken advantage of for the entirety of our history. I also understand how the problem drives wages down for everyone and engenders a large indigent population in affected areas. Too many illegal Mexicans willing to work for peanuts in Arizona (and there aren’t, Arizona is just overreacting) will turn Arizona into Mexico economically as well as culturally. Too many illegal immigrants will simply create what they are attempting to escape, a labor market flooded with unskilled laborers competing for a dwindling number of jobs, driving down wages. Hopefully, this will simply find its equilibrium and the wages, becoming poorer; will cease to draw as many people. This labor market being illegal and thus separate from the legal labor market shouldn’t affect wages for legal workers who have a much greater variety of employment opportunities afforded them.

But this isn’t my point. The thing that bothered me about that unbelievably stupid facebook post isn’t the implicit racism and the amazingly stupid comparison of the American border to North Korea and Afghanistan (is that what you want, really? Really?). What bothered me and continues to bother me is that people have no idea what they’re talking about when it comes to welfare benefits. They use the welfare argument as an excuse to classify people who they might have a pre-existing prejudice against as leeching off the benefits our government provides. Having worked at the welfare office for a year, distributing benefits through federal programs governed by federal code, I feel I’m in a good position to explain how one qualifies for and receives any government benefit. And I can assure you all of three things:

Illegal immigrants can’t get welfare benefits.

Illegal immigrants can’t get welfare benefits.

Illegal immigrants can’t get welfare benefits.

Ok, before you go to the comments section and tell me about how your brother worked with people who he assumed to be illegal and told you about how they received welfare benefits, remember: illegal immigrants can’t get welfare benefits. Before you tell me about how I’m full of shit because I’m contradicting your preconceived notions of how the welfare system works, remember I spent 40 hours a week for a calendar year less than a year ago using welfare policy to administer benefits to those who qualified; I am a reliable source of information on this topic.

In order to receive welfare benefits (SSI, Food Stamps, TANF cash welfare, or Medicaid), an applicant must provide the office which administers these federal programs (the office which handles these programs varies state to state, sometimes multiple offices handle them, sometimes they’re consolidated) with identity, residency and enumeration verification. If your ID looks nothing like you then you’re not getting benefits. There are provisions to allow for third party contact as verification of a person’s identity, but that is only used in extreme cases and under the direction of a supervisor. Ok, so the illegal immigrant gets a fake ID, not the most insurmountable task in the world (I had one in college). He’s free and clear, and the benefits are his? Not by a long shot. An applicant for any of these programs is required to provide a SSN. That social security number is sent to the SSA for verification (verification against the name and DOB also inputted into the welfare office’s system). If the social security number is invalid, or does not match the DOB or name of the applicant an alert will pop up on the caseworker’s screen and the case will be closed summarily (that kind of alert is called a critical alert and is usually dealt with quite quickly). Ok, so the illegal immigrant finds out my SSN, steals my ID, happens to look just like me, now he can get benefits. No. He’d also have to steal my mail. An applicant for any of these programs is also required to establish residency, most commonly with a piece of mail addressed to them at the address given on the application. There wouldn’t be any mail addressed to me at the illegal immigrants address so he’d have to think up something really clever, like setting up cable service at his house in my name, or he’d have to steal my mail consistently, supply the welfare office with my address and steal my mail to receive any caseworker communication/ renewal forms/ semi-annual reporting forms. If he ignores those his case will be closed due to non-response or to returned mail. It would take severe identity theft for an illegal immigrant to receive welfare benefits.

And that’s just for the programs that allow a signature on the application’s affidavit of citizenship to count as verification of citizenship. TANF (the only federal welfare program that actually provides people with cash) or state GA, (cash for people who are verified unable to work for a period of time due to disability) for those states that have it, require a birth certificate as proof of citizenship or, in the case of a qualified non-citizen, immigration papers.

So the next time you’re working your minimum wage job and looking at your suspicious co-workers with mistrust and envy (really?) at the welfare benefits you think they’re receiving. Remember. You don’t know their immigration status. You don’t know what benefits they receive and for whom. Hell you probably can’t talk to them. And above all, remember:

Illegal immigrants can’t get welfare benefits.

Illegal immigrants can’t get welfare benefits.

Illegal immigrants can’t get welfare benefits.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Thoughts on immigration

These days I don’t pay as much attention to what’s going on in my homeland (the USA). I don’t live there, so I’m not bombarded with the media every five minutes and that keeps me safely out of the loop as far as politics are concerned. In college (during the the G.W. Bush years) I was very active politically, I went to protest rallies and sent letters to my senators and congressmen. Now that Obama is in the Whitehouse I’ve laid off a bit. I do still occasionally watch CNN international, so I am aware of the new Arizona law allowing police to detain anyone they “reasonably suspect” of being in the USA illegally. It also makes it a crime not to carry immigration papers. I think this new law is absolutely ridiculous. First off, immigration is a federal issue, not a state issue. Secondly, this is just giving law enforcement the power to arrest anyone. I’m so glad I don’t live in Arizona. Anyway, for the last five years I’ve thought the USA is becoming a police state, and that one of the main reasons why I don’t want to live there, but it wasn’t until today that I got really pissed. Interestingly enough, it was a Facebook profile update that did it. Not one, but two of my friends on Facebook added this as their update:


Ummm I’m sorry, are you retarded? Are you really saying the USA should be more like North Korea and Afghanistan? This is just about the dumbest thing I have ever read. I almost just deleted my FB account right then and there, just so I don’t have to read this stupid ignorant shit anymore.

Illegal immigrants come to the USA TO WORK. They cannot get a driver’s license without proof of legal immigration status. They cannot get welfare, even foodstamps, without a driver’s license. Yes, they can get emergency health care, but what is the alternative? Ask for their papers and if they don’t have them, let them die? I really hope I don’t forget my papers the next time I’m rushed to the hospital.

The United States was founded by immigrants. The people who lived here originally (the MEXICANS and Native Americans) have either assimilated or live on tiny, shitty reservations. I think that people forget that borders are imaginary lines drawn by the people in power. These are people lives we are talking about. All immigrants want is to provide for their families. I think we can all relate to that. They deserve that right. They deserve the right to be legal in the USA. I know, personally, how difficult it is to leave everything and everyone you know behind and try to start a new life in a new country. This should be rewarded! You shouldn’t be thrown in jail for this! Our country was built on the backs of slaves and the hard work of immigrants. Learn the history and don’t be a ignorant asshole.

So for this “immigration problem” I have two solutions:

1.) Make the companies pay. Who should go to jail? The business owners who hire illegal immigrants. Fuck you for hiring people below minimum wage with no workers comp or health insurance and not giving a fuck when they are arrested and thrown in jail. You make me sick.

2.) Legalize the illegals with a guest worker visa. Do a background check (just like I had to do to come to Korea) and give them at least 90 days. After that they have leave. Then they can come back with a new visa. Simple. Many other countries do this. Also, make the immigration process easier and more expedient. It should not take 20 years to become an American citizen. Everyone working in the USA should be paying taxes and have access to workers compensation in case they are hurt.

I really think Americans need to take a long look in the mirror and start treating everyone with respect and dignity. These ridiculous immigration laws make us look absolutely horrible in the eyes of the world, not to mention they are just simply wrong. They make me ashamed to be an American.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Take down that scaffolding!

I don’t like scaffolding!

Okay, that might seem a bit strange. What’s wrong with scaffolding? Well, I’m actually referring to a term used in teaching ESL (although, I’m sure it could be used in other subjects as well). Scaffolding is basically giving the students all the tools they need to complete an assignment. Examples include vocabulary lists, gap fill exercises with the words to fill in the blanks included, dialogues and examples, examples, examples. In Korea, my co-teacher is my biggest form of scaffolding. Obviously, in low level and beginner classes these tools are very important. Students must build up their vocabulary and be able to form basic sentences. The Korean teachers help me out a lot with explaining directions and grammar. But as the students progress in their English learning, I believe scaffolding becomes more and more of a hindrance.

When teaching English in Korea it is easy to see how the culture comes into play in the classroom. Koreans always work together (in America we would probably call this cheating). This can be great in the ESL classroom because the students who understand what’s going on can explain to the others. But the big draw back with this is that the lower level students simply look to their friend or teacher for the answer, and then just repeat it. No critical thinking involved at all. The next time I ask that same student that same question, he has no idea what the answer is. This is the ultimate form of scaffolding. All the answers are just sitting right there, in the form of a student who has memorized the words.

Also, Koreans (like most people) do not like looking like a fool in front of their classmates. They have great difficulty taking risks with their English speaking. Losing face (being embarrassed) is a huge deal in this culture, so if they think their answer is not perfect, they simply won’t say it. In order for me to get some of my students to say anything I must give them a dialogue to read. Obviously this does not allow for the flexibility that the real world demands.

One of my biggest complaints is the dependency on my co-teachers. Many of my students know English quite well. If I speak slowly and possibly repeat myself a couple of times, they can understand. But what happens is I say something one time, and the students automatically look to my co-teacher for translation. Even if I ask them not to translate, the saving face situation comes into play and they feel obligated. Sometimes I wish they weren’t there at all! Speaking English takes practice and a willingness to attempt to understand. It’s not easy, and many of my students are under the impression that if they memorize a few phrases they will be able to communicate in the real world. It doesn’t exactly work like that!

Every once in awhile I like to give an assignment without scaffolding. For example, last week I taught a lesson on music genres. With about 10 minutes left in the class, I asked the students to talk with each other about what music they like and dislike. I didn’t write “I like ______________ and I dislike ________________.” on the board. I didn’t write a dialogue. I just told them to talk about what we had just learned on their worksheet. They were completely stumped. I gave a short example with my co-teacher. Still, nothing. Finally, I said they could talk with each other in front of the class for a sticker (I have a sticker system). One group volunteered. The rest looked at me like I had two heads. The group that did it was great! I gave them a sticker and a couple more students volunteered. They realized I didn’t care what they said, just that they used the English they know to discuss music. They know how to do this. They just don’t have the confidence to do it without scaffolding.

My main goal in teaching English is to give my students the confidence to talk to anyone in the world who also knows English. To use their (often extensive) vocabulary to communicate EVERYTHING on their minds. I want them to understand they won’t have a simple dialogue or a vocabulary list in real life. And that’s okay.

Check out this video blog for a more in depth look at scaffolding by someone with a lot more experience in ESL than I have.

Also, check out this TEDxTalk by an amazing public school math teacher. He also talks about scaffolding in the classroom and how important it is to allow the students to develop ideas independently. I love seeing smart, young teachers making school interesting and fun for their students!