Sunday, December 23, 2007

Merry Christmas Partay

A few weeks ago Mr. Kim talked Rachel into having a Christmas party at my house (thanks Rachel). Well, on the last Friday before Christmas I threw what was supposed to be a huge Christmas celebration with all of our teacher friends in Korea. But apparently Rachel and I don't have that many friends.

We had the bright idea of making special holiday invitations. Rachel drew them up, and had a fellow teacher translate them into Korean; we were making every effort to have this party be a blast. I did most of the handing out at school and teachers faces just light up like they were getting asked out to Prom by the quarterback of the football team (or the head cheerleader, depending upon who I was giving them too). Nearly everyone I handed them out to said yes on the spot. But because I'm super anal I still had Rachel add on a tear off portion of the invitation that said "yes" I will be coming, or "no" I will not be coming. This was to try and avoid getting too much food, or having no one show up. Well after all of our precautions, that's exactly what happened.

We bought a ton of food, planning for over thirty people to show up, in the end we barely got to twenty, and that was with a few people who responded "no" coming. Tons of food went bad. My principal regifted the present I gave to him from my trip to France, people showed up late, and left early.

Now, with all of those "less-than-spectacular" events going down, you would think the whole event was a wash, but it wasn't. Somehow, with the help of Alex and Jeff, we salvaged the night and gave some people a night they would never forget.

First off, for example, my mother. This night in Korea happened to also be the birthday morning of my mother in Tennessee. Almost 10 Koreans, 2 Iowa boys, a Bostonian and myself sang Happy Birthday to my mom over webcam. It was a surprise to her, and I think it went over well. It made everyone's night at the party too. Honestly without this webcam call, the night would have never gotten to its feet. My coworkers loved seeing my parents, and everyone kind of fell in love with the idea when I told them about it.

Two other young Korean ladies, Jinjew, and Jenny will also always remember this night because it was their first "house party" (or apartment party, whatever) that they ever went to. Apparently in Korea this type of thing isn't that common among young people. I'm guessing it's because young people usually live with there parents until they're married, and places in Korea are usually quite small for parties, but either way they had a new and fun experience.

Overall, I'm really, REALLY thankful for all the people who did come. Honestly, I just hope everyone had a good time and I think most of us did. To those that couldn't make it, I keep hearing that it's just "Korean culture" to say "yes" when invited, but it was a bitter pill to swallow when you didn't show up. I guess it's the thought that counts though. Either way, I'd like to wish everyone a Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Birthday (mom), and last but not least, a Happy Festivus.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

America "OhNo!"

Every once in a while I'm able to actually connect with one of my students. It's not hard to get through to them once we put aside our differences like skin color, nationality, age, race, political views, religion, and first language. After that, it's basically like talking to an old friend, we almost finish each others sentences.

Well, last week while talking to a student, I was interested to see how a young Korean viewed the United States. Being an "adult" now, when I think of America I get all of these "adult" thoughts that come to mind: Bush, immigration, freedom, war, etc. But it was enlightening when I realized my student didn't really care about any of those things, let alone know about them. He is one of my brightest students and here is what he said to me:
"Mr. Kroll, I no like America...before. I see Ohno, I think America is bad. You know Ohno?"

For those of you that can't remember, in the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics, during the speed skating short-track 1500 meter final race, South Korean Kim Dong-Sung was first across the finish line, but was disqualified for blocking Apolo Anton "Ohno", subsequently giving him the gold. The result reportedly upset many in South Korea (not just my student). After the race a flood of emails actually ended up crashing the International Olympic Committee's e-mail account with thousands of accusatory letters, many of which were death threats for Ohno. Even a "song of negative statements" about Ohno was made by Yun Min-Seok.

It was hard to believe that one speed skating race could influence so many peoples views about a country, but apparently it did. In America, Ohno was basically forgotten about just days later (until he popped up on "Dancing with the Stars" again), but here his actions are still remembered. In 2005, an estimated 100 riot police stood guard at the airport to prevent any harm from coming to Ohno when he came to South Korea for the Speed Skating World Cup. But Ohno won two gold medals, as well as the overall title at that meet while battling a serious sickness (losing 12 pounds over three days). This valiant effort of participating in a meet, in South Korea, when he didn't have to, and overcoming his illness reportedly won the respect of many South Koreans. But not my student.

After telling my student that I did remember Ohno, the controversial race, and that I was sorry the South Korean was disqualified, he said to me, "Ohno make me think America is bad, but then I meet you. I am happy I meet you. Now I think it isn't bad, America is good. I like America." So simple and to the point, he likes me as a teacher, I am American, so he likes America. His thoughts don't get clouded by what the other 299,999,999 Americans might be like. But his innocent statement challenged me to think about how many, seemingly non-important events, like a race, made me not like someone. The answer was PLENTY!

Most of the people I don't like, when I thought about it, I don't like them for some stupid reason. None of them cost my country a gold medal, actually in comparison, that almost sounded like a great reason to hate someone. But it's not, and it's no reason to hate an entire country.

So while day-in and day-out I'm pulling teeth to get my kids to learn English, it took one of them just a few minutes to teach me a little something about life. You can make anything a reason to dislike someone; color, race, ethnicity, nationality, or beating your team in speed skating, but that doesn't make it a good reason. I'm sure if Ohno was here teaching English here at Shinjin they'd love him even more than they love me.

I guess what I'm saying is, if my student can change, and I can change... well maybe Rocky said it best...

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

This Blogger Thing is the Truthiness

How does that sucker look? I think it's pretty sleek. It reminds me of my iTunes player and my little iPod shuffle (yes I am an Apple user, deal with it). I've added the two songs my students performed in last weeks "English Speech Competition" (the topic of my next post), a Korean remake that I've grown fond of, and then some classics. Go ahead, give a listen.
Listening to music is something I love to do, but I have always hated websites that support music players. One moment I'm clicking around in peace and quiet, checking out Chuck Norris facts, and the next, someones MySpace account starts blaring Britney Spears. I try to compose myself as the stares of others start to cut into my skin, but the human body doesn't know how to deal with encountering the ultimate in masculinity, Chuck Norris, and then being surprise round-house-kicked by Britney Spears. That type of thing shouldn't be possible, it should only live in theory; like the scenario "what would happen if Chuck Norris round-house-kicked himself?" Undoubtedly the universe would collapse on itself, but I don't have to experience it to know that it would be bad for us all. Yet someone allows this pop up music to continue to go on websites.

So after all that, yes, I'm considering adding a music player to my site. The forward thinking people at have taken care of those pesky annoyances. It's not brain surgery but just the ability to be able to "click the play button" to hear music is something we've been comfortable with since cassette tapes and boom box's of our youth. Well, they've brought it back like my friends have brought back the "credit card", with a vengeance.
I can also set the volume of the player so it doesn't knock you off your chair when you click play. But then again, with all those Chuck Norris kicks going around, maybe I should set it so you hit the deck from time to time.

What do you think? Should the music player be a permanant fixture on this site? Is it too loud or too soft, good, or no good at all? VOTE! Leave me a message.

Here's another little treat to for those who enjoyed the Steven Colbert reference in the title, and even if you didn't it's still kinda funny, and relevant to this blog.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

BREAKING NEWS: Korean Doctors Study Shows "Kimchi Cures Death"

Unbelievable as it may seem, Korea has been sitting on the answer to life's nagging little problem, death, for thousands of years, but has shared their secret with no one outside of this little peninsula. Today I will break the silence and divulge to the rest of the world what Korea knows to be true.

The secret to immortality isn't found in some fantastical, story book fountain or potion, it doesn't come from the bite of your everyday vampire, and it certainly doesn't come from some outlandish story about drinking from a "holy grail" (where do we come up with this stuff?). Nope, while those crazy ideas have absolutely no basis in reality, science, or fact, Korea knows what truly brings eternal life... 3 daily servings of Kimchi.

Right about now you're probably scratching your head thinking "what's this crazy concoction called Kimchi?". Or if your Korean, and powers of English alliteration lag slightly, your probably just nodding your head with agreement and pride, while gulping down some homemade Kimchi. Kimchi is fermented cabbage (sometimes radish or other vegetables) made with a mix of garlic, salt, vinegar, chili peppers, and spices. It is a reddish color but countless different types exist because of the varying choices of vegetable, and amounts of seasonings that can be added. However, this accepted definition of Kimchi doesn't even come close to telling the whole truth (and nothing but the truth so help me Kimchi) about this ancient culinary delight.

Where do I start? First, some ideology:
A few posts back I commented about American life being one in the same with American Football, you can not tell the two apart. Well, in Korea they don't have football, they have Kimchi. In one of my Korean history books page one starts with Kimchi, and pictures of Kimchi appear on pages 1 through 3. Korea has a Kimchi museum (see the picture).It has been around for nearly 3000 years, eaten and written about in ancient scribes (probably at the same time). Some stories tell of it parting the Yellow sea so Koreans could leave China, while other stories have it at the center of the big bang theory. It is so ingrained with Korean lifestyle that when posing for pictures they say "Kimchi" to get themselves to smile.

Now some facts:
Kimchi is served with every meal. That's right, breakfast, lunch and dinner; Kimchi, Kimchi, Ka-ka-Kimchi, Yum! So if your from America, we can compare it to eating, well, nothing. Nobody eats something for nearly every meal of their entire life, in America. But imagine McDonald's fries had health benefits, there, it's something like that. Most Korean families make their own Kimchi. Koreans consume on average about 40lbs of Kimchi a year, and after some research I found that the average Korean weighs 40 pounds, making them not entirely carbon based life forms but partially Kimchi based side dishes.

Health Benefits:
After living in Korea for over 8 months now, I've come to realize that nearly all Korean foods are "good for stamina", so says Korean men. But Kimchi isn't like other foods, while being good for stamina, bragging about that would be like Micheal Jordan bragging that he can dunk on one of those little plastic children's basketball hoops. More impressively, it's loaded with vitamins A, B, and C, fibers and minerals such as calcium, thiamine, riboflavin and iron, it helps digestion, may delay the skin aging process, prevents yeast infections, retards cancer growth, protects against SARS, and most recently, DEATH.

All jokes aside, Kimchi is has been voted as one of the top 5 healthiest foods on the planet. I copied and pasted almost all of those health benefit facts above from reputable health websites. All Koreans and most ex-pats living in Korea end up loving it, and can't live without it. I'm sure Kimchi is a main reason why Koreans are so thin and healthy. That being said, I still can't stomach the stuff... but I didn't want to live forever anyway.
Don't wish me dead like Rachel is in this picture. I'm happy to make jokes about a healthy Korean habit, if I was commenting on the average American diet it most likely wouldn't be as innocent.

P.S. - If you like the "Evolution of Revolution" posting you should go back and check out the reader comments.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Evolution of Revolution

Everyday I sit and watch CNN, even if it's just a few minutes while I eat my breakfast. I think it's important to hear the world news, to be aware of things that are happening to others, or have an idea of how the world is changing. For the first time though I am seeing world news from the other side. Instead of being part of America as it is talked about on TV, I can now see it from the rest of the worlds point of view. It's the same story, but something is different. It's almost like when someone says to you, "it looks like your putting on a little weight," and you hate them for it, instantly. You know yourself, you know your weight, you know everything there is to know about your body, and they are rude, inappropriate, and stuck up for even mentioning such a thing to you. Then the day comes, a day like any other, but on this day when you mossy out of bed you catch a glimpse of yourself in the mirror. It's a mirror you've seen a million times, and a body you've seen a billion times, but today you think "eh, it looks like I've put on a little weight." Sometimes when you have a problem the only one who can't see it is you.

This weekend I tried to sit down and watch as many political debates, and speeches as the internet would allow me to because I still have no idea who I want to vote for in next years presidential election. I have seen the big names; Clinton, Obama, Giuliani, etc, but none of them have really done anything to bolster my confidence in them that they would be a good leader for America. I'm taken by how much running for "president" has become like running for "class president." Remeber in high school or juior high when the over qualified, highly studious, detail oriented student, full of school spirit had to run against one of the popular kids? The only difference between then and now seems to be that in high school we knew it was a sham. Everyone knew that the popular kid was running on his or her name, face, charm, or popularity, and while some people thought it would be cool to elect them, others new the less popular student would do the better job. From school to school and year to year the outcomes change; sometimes cute wins and sometimes quality wins, but the school never seems to be too affected by the outcome much anyway. Well I don't know when it became a popularity contest for America, but that is the way I see it now.

Republicans and Democrats no longer look for the best candidate for President. Honest. They don't want the most qualified person. They want the person that stands the best chance of winning the election, or in high school terms, the most popular. They think the American people can't look past a famous name, a smooth talker, or a confident smile. Can you blame them? Since 1981 our cuntry has been run by a famous movie star, Ronald Reagan, then his Vice President, George Bush Sr., then he was defeated by "Slick Willy", a captivating speaker otherwise known as Bill Clinton, and when we couldn't vote for him anymore we voted for a name we already knew, George Bush again. Well now his time is up, and again a name we know leads the pack...Clinton. These people may or may not have been the best candidates, but they always seem to be the best choice for other reasons than their platform. Either they're famous, or they were the Vice President to a popular President, or they are a great speaker, or they are the son or wife of a President.

The government feels that the popular kid is the only one with the chance to win, so they are the only ones who get endorsed. These endorsements come in terms of more money, more tv ads, more air time during debates, more campaign stops, and all so they can look more like the more qualified candidate. But in high school when the captain of the cheer leading squad tells us she's going to get the class trip to go to Cancun, or get a cotton candy machine in the lunchroom, we know she's really only blowing smoke. Yet somehow we don't see it when the stage becomes larger and more important.

I'm not saying I can see through the smoke and mirrors, I may know less than you, I may not, but I was taken by one candidate when I watched all of those presidential candidate videos this weekend. He was a candidate that has little chance of winning. He has a name that few know, and ideas that even fewer know, but I think he's worth listening to. *Note: I want to say, like I have in this blog before, so far, I am not endorsing this person for president, but I am saying that it is a different way of thinking, of which I'm glad I heard. If you like it, great, but if not, I only hope it makes you dig deeper or think harder about your decision on this topic.* His name is Ron Paul. When I felt like all other candidates were only speaking to "sound good", his words sounded like they were coming from his heart. That is no basis for choosing a president, but I never want to chose one who doesn't.

My basic belief is that I feel a two party system isn't the best system for our society. I even believed this when I thought America was nearly a flawless country. A two party system leads to one view point being seen as right and the other as wrong. But any knowledgeable person knows things are not that simple, there is always a third way to look at things, a grey area, or room to compromise. So we only get one chance every four years to make our voices heard, the voices of reason, and compromise. I don't know if Ron Paul is a worthy candidate yet, but I like the idea of helping his campaign because the better he does may better the chance America has for getting more qualified candidates in the future.

He's trying to raise money for his campaign on the internet. This internet revolution might be the key for lesser known candidates to get noticed. If this gains enough momentum, maybe we'll see an independent follow in his footsteps in the future. No one likes choosing between the lesser of two evils, let alone doing it for the president. But maybe this year taking a chance on someone who stands against war is the best choice we can make. He might show American's that there are people out there, besides the "popular" elite, that are worthy of leadership. He might show us it's okay to see ourselves as we look in the mirror; we maybe putting on some (or a ton) of unflattering weight, but it's not too late to start a healthier diet.
Maybe, just maybe, things can change. I think they can.

Check it out.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving

I was lucky enough to talk to my family over the internet yesterday. On Thanksgiving weekend, while the rest of my family gathered in Tennessee, I was able to join them from my couch in South Korea. Thanks to a free phone call from my computer, over the internet, using Skype I was able to see and talk with them as if I was there. Well, as if I was there and my eyes worked like an old vhs camcorder. But it's amazing the things we can do today. Thanksgiving is a day we are supposed to give thanks for all that we have and sometimes you don't realize what you have until you step away from it. You don't have to step away as far as South Korea, but I've gained a little more perspective of what I have and I would like to give thanks to some (impossible to do all) of those things today.

1. I am thankful for a family that loves me, and not just my direct family but all of my extended family and close friends. I was amazed to hear about Owen Wilson's suicide attempt a number of weeks back. I couldn't believe that someone with everything, who all the world loved for no other reason than simply being himself could want to end it all. His act made me realize, more than ever, that you can have everything, anyone you want, the adoration of millions, but it's nothing if you don't have people close to you who you love, and who love you. Your family should love you not because you are handsome or pretty, or funny or smart, or rich and famous but just because you are you; for that is something that will never fade.

2. I am thankful for my blog readers. :) Haha, obviously this is a bit of kissing up, but since most of the people who read this blog are my family, maybe it's not so ridiculous that this is so high on my list. But honestly, everyday I check to see how many people have visited my blog and it brings a smile to my face. Rachel and I argue over who has visitors from eccentric countries. It's inspiring to think that anyone would want to read the writing of a normal guy from Jersey. But thank you to those who do. I will try my best to keep you up to date on what I'm up to, while doing what I can to make you laugh, think, and feel entertained. Special thanks to my readers who have added their names and pictures to my map.

3. I am thankful for having a good job. Shinjin has really embraced me and made me feel comfortable in a foreign land. My job affords me a nice apartment, food, all of the essentials of life, vacations, and the luxury of not being able to understand all of the office gossip.

4. I am thankful for being an American. If you're Canadian, that doesn't mean I'm happy that I'm not from somewhere else. I just think we should all be happy about where we came from...if we were lucky enough to be born free. Korea is one of the countries still trying to hold onto the idealistic view of America: the land of opportunity, freedom, and equality. And while the rest of the world may have forgotten that America, I'm proud that my country was once the place for the whole world to go for a second chance at life. I look forward to the day we can be that place again too.

5. I'm thankful for double stuffed Oreo's...need I say more?

6. I am thankful for being able to work in two of the most expensive cities on the planet, New York City and Seoul. I am truly spoiled in that matter.

7. I am thankful for today, tomorrow and yesterday.

8. I am thankful for sports.

9. I am thankful for Halloween; a day when men can dress like morons and women can dress like their naughty fantasies and no one is looked down upon.

10. I am thankful...very thankful.

What are you thankful for?

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Never Been So Happy for SAT's

Do you remember taking the SAT's? Do you have a moment of sheer fear that you will never forget? A moment of epiphany? Or something else? My favorite memory will be my long time friend, Steven A. Tangen, turning around only seconds before the test began and saying to me "Hey, Paul, my initials are S.A.T." And he said it like he had never once given any thought to his initials ever referencing anything other than his name, as if they were GJN or VWX (do those letters stand for anything?). But it was a moment of epiphany for him, and a moment of calming comedy for me. Steve went on to score the highest in our class with a 1580. He just edged me out, like a fast ball from Rick 'Wild Thing' Vaughn was just a bit outside.
Well this past week in Korea the entire high school senior population in the country took their version of the SAT's. All high school seniors, at once, around the country sat in classrooms for EIGHT HOURS to take the test. Believe it or not, it's an even bigger deal over here. Getting into a good college is, so I'm told, almost all that matters for your future. Bad grades? No big deal. Discipline problems? Don't worry. Ugly? They could care less. Friendly? They're not asking. But if you got accepted to a major University you are qualified to do anything.
I hope my kids did well, but instead of worrying about them when another teacher finally told me why we had a random Thursday off (for the testing), all I could do was think about what I would do with my time off. But the good news didn't end there, apparently the seniors basically stop coming to school now that the tests are over too. Talk about icing on the cake. I mean I mentally checked out of high school as soon as I heard I was accepted to Penn State, but these kids really don't have to come anymore. I've heard that some do, but they spend most of the day playing in the gym. This would mean my heavy work load of 12 classes a week would deflate to a measly 9. That good news, added to the surprise day off, testing coming up soon, then vacation to follow, and I was on cloud nine.
Here are some pictures of what I did on my day off. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! I'll be sure to document my first Thanksgiving in a foreign country tomorrow but I'm pretty sad that today is the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and I'm not seeing all of my old friends at the local Roxbury bar. If you're there, please pour one for your homie. Peace out.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

No Trick But With Many Treats to Come

This is not a trick. My site is now an actual link on a travel site called It's partially hidden but only seconds after clicking the "Travel Blog" link, then clicking "Asia Travel", and lastly "South Korea"...Whop there it is! Rachel seems to think this is the beginning of something big for my blog, but I don't share the same enthusiasm for self(blog) growth. I do on the other hand know that is going to blow up atfer catching some of this blogs traffic runoff. Go ahead check it out. It's fine with me, I won't be jealous.
Once your done with that I have some Halloween photos if you want to check them out. Halloween weekend was a really fun one because there wasn't just a Halloween celebration but Rachel's birthday, and Kristy's going away party celebrations too.

That's all for now but stay tuned because I've got a lot of interesting things planned coming up to blog about: Hot Karl (aka Cap'n Karl) will be visiting Seoul for New Years, footballs sent to Korea, the best bathroom in Seoul, corporal punishment, Jersey boys going "Down Under", etc...
I've also gone and added slide shows to old posts if your interested in looking back...but if you are, make sure you look at the last one and watch Zeitgeist.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Scary Good- Zeitgeist the Movie

Happy Halloween everyone! I hope you've had your fill of candy, costumes, and corny Halloween emails by now, I know I have, so instead of just putting up your everyday run-of-the-mill Halloween posting I've decided to scare you in a completely different way. I recently came across a scary movie on the internet. No, it's not Saw 4 or anything like that. You can take all the cliched scary movie images out of your head right now. This movie isn't scary like the way "The Shining" is scary (in the traditional sense of causing fear), it isn't scary the way the movie "Splinter" is scary either (possibly the worst acted, worst directed, ill conceived screenplays ever put together made it frighteningly bad), nope, this movie is scary because it makes you think. The film I'm talking about is called Zeitgeist.

Being in Korea I have no idea of this films popularity, but I hadn't heard of it, so I wanted to share it with you. It is a documentary about religion, 9/11, and the US economy. It is also a conspiracy theory movie. I have never been a big fan of conspiracy theories, or the people who preach the concreteness of them, but when done well, they can make great films. The website says it was made to inspire people to start looking at the world from a more critical perspective and to understand that very often things are not what the population at large think they are. I am not saying that I agree with everything in this film, but I am saying that I'm happy I heard it what it had to say. And the more I hear about it, the more I like it.

The website also says it was made as a non-profit film. I love the idea that someone wanted to get their point of view out there so much, that they would do it for no monetary gain. So you can download it, watch it on it's website, YouTube, Google video, or right here, and it's all legal.

This is a full length film though, and at 1 hour and 56 minutes long, I suggest you watch it on the largest format possible, without interruption. I can not imagine you will be disappointed. I stayed up till 4 in the morning watching it the first time. My coworker, Rachel, stayed two hours late after work to watch it, and I thought nothing short of magical chocolate geyser going off in the school gym could have done that. Another person I told to watch it said he emailed the link to all of his friends proclaiming "if you don't like this film, I'll send you $10", and I don't think there has ever been any precedence of a hippy saying he'll pay out money without gripe for anything before. So what I'm saying is I thought it was good, and the people I've shown it to have thought so to. SO CHECK IT OUT!

P.S. - Zeitgeist is defined in the dictionary as the spirit of the time; general trend of thought or feeling characteristic of a particular period of time. The first think I did after hearing the name was look it up, so I thought I'd save you the effort.

Friday, October 19, 2007

No Soup For YOU!

Recently my blogging privileges at school were suspended. The iron fist has apparently dropped. I don't know what the deal is. No one said anything to me, Rachel or Sueem (the only teachers I know with blogs), but maybe there is a huge underground of Shinjin teachers blogging and they're trying to crack down. Maybe since we all have an over abundance of free time at school we spend too much time blogging? Maybe we blog about our bad students, or our shortcomings as teachers? Or maybe, and more likely, it's just a coincidence. Either way, I hope to get into the habit of blogging at home, and giving you some insight into what I'm up to.
I'm totally into this Picasa slide show thing though too. Do you like it as much as I do, or is it something I should get rid of? Check out my recent trip to Sky Park around World Cup Stadium. I think they are some of my prettier pictures that I've taken in Korea. Should I keep the slide show theme going in future blogs?

Thursday, October 4, 2007

A Big Week For Korea

This week was a pretty big week in Korea. Wednesday was a national holiday that everyone described to me as "Korea's Birthday" but the calender called it a slightly more professional title, "Foundation Day". Either way we got a day off and that's always welcome. I used it to go out, like any good holiday. A few teachers got together for dinner and sojo, and then I met up with some friends in Itaewon.
Another big event strategically placed around this holiday was the North and South Korean Summit. It's only the second time these two countries have gotten together to talk peace. Strangely enough, the Korean War was never "officially" ended and so these two neighboring countries are technically still at war with each other. Even though many families are split between the countries dividing line, and desperately want to see each other, there is no legal way to do it.
The South Korean President,Rob Moo Hyun, made a symbolic gesture by walking into North Korea before being driven to the meeting location in Pyongyang. Every Korean I've talked to on this subject hopes for a unified Korean country in the future. Even though they recognize that taking on the burden of the north's poverty would have a hugely negative effect on the short term economy. Some South Koreans viewed this meeting as a publicity stunt to gain votes for the ruling political party in the upcoming December election, and while that may be true, some good seems to have come out of it.

I think it's pretty interesting how two countries can be so close, yet so different. Here is a satellite picture of the two countries at night. As you can see, the lights appear to be off in the north, except for Kim Jung Il's palace, and the really bright area, yup that's Seoul, where I'm living.
On another note I've added a world clock to the bottom of the page that I think is awesome, if it was smaller I would most definitely have it at the top of the page. And I've also realized that Picasa has the feature of embedding photo album sideshows into blogs. I'm sure I've been able to do this for a while but I hadn't realized it, but I think it's awesome. You can click and see my captions too, all while staying on this page. I will be taking advantage of it from now on. You can see what I'm talking about in my last post. I'm also happy to see the results of my last Poll. The combination of red and purple Skittles are two of the best tasting things you can put in your mouth at the same time.

Sunday, September 30, 2007


After a 5 day weekend you are inevitably left with a two day week, and that two day week rolls smoothly into the next weekend. So today kind of feels like the end of a 10 day weekend. That's sad to think about, but I had a really good break. Since Rachel was out of town, back home in the US for her friends wedding, I got to hang out with some other people, meet new people, and do some new things. Take a look at some of the pictures of the fun, even though much of it happened while I didn't have my camera around. I'm sorry, maybe next time.

But I'll have more pictures of my new friends soon and of course more of Rachel who is nice to have back in town. She came baring gifts too!

Chusak Pictures

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

From Me to You

Since I was elated with the number of responses to my last posting I thought I'd treat you all. I know, I know, I shouldn't, it was your pleasure, but your kind actions compel me to return the favor.
This past weekend was the lone long weekend of the Korean school year calendar, it was for "Chusok" or Korea's equivalent to Thanksgiving. In the spirit of Chusok I got a gift from the school and I wanted to share it with you. That is my gift to you, "showing you my Chusok gift." Yea, it doesn't sound like much, but what were you expecting? An official Red Ryder, carbine action, two-hundred shot range model air rifle? No way... You'd shoot your eye out. And being that you need your eyes to read this blog, I thought I'd spare you.
Now feast your eyes upon this, safe, extraordinary gift:
Yeah, if you're like me you might be thinking something like "They gave me a briefcase? Why would I want a huge briefcase like that?"
Then I picked it up and realized the case wasn't the present, there was something inside. But what was it?

Now I don't know what the heck it is. What can be in this huge box?

I finally open it and think, "Oh, they got me a coffee table. That's so weird but really nice." Now I'm not nervous anymore, but exited to see what's inside.

Upon closer inspection it was not a briefcase, or a coffee table, it was instead...Spam. Spam and tuna, and some cooking oil too. Every teacher in the school got Spam as a gift for Chusok. Not exactly what we give out on Thanksgiving, but it was still a nice gesture.
I hope you all enjoyed the gift, and can all give thanks to everything and everyone you have. I'll have more on the weekend coming up soon.

Monday, September 17, 2007

"I'm Kind of a Big Deal"

It's crazy to think how things can change in a few short months. Just before I left The Big Apple I was jobless, my lease was running out and it seemed like I couldn't get a freelance gig if my life depended on it. Who turns down free help, I mean really? Maybe the world didn't think I was ready, it wasn't my time, I was too young, too green, but just look at me now. I'm on the other side of the world and I've become the face of Shinjin High School. Ummhmmm, yours truly has become the new face of Shinjin. I guess it's slightly less prestigious than being the face of the McDonald's or Nike like Kobe Bryant, or even the faces of Bojangles 'Famous Chicken and Buscuits' like Jake Delhomme and Steve Smith...

Actually, when the dust settles from that barn I might have them both beat. It took them years to become viable advertising leads in such breathtaking commercials that leave the industry standard in the dust. But me on the other hand, it took me only 6 months, if that. I walked into school a month late, but someone there saw the twinkle in my eye. They saw that one thing, that thing you can't put your finger on, but you know it when you see it. Well, apparently I've got least in Korea I do.
Well, there is enough of my "down on his luck model" shtick. The sad thing is that a lot of people actually come to Asia to feel more important. It's easy to get caught up feeling special over here because a lot of Koreans treat you as if you are a big deal, just for being white, or American. Little do they know how many of us are actually over because we can't cut it in our own countries. From bosses, to coworkers, friends, to friends family members, it always seems to be a more special occasion when the white person is around. People want to make the more expensive dinner when you're coming over, and drink a few more bottles of suju once you're there.
I'm definitely not saying that my situation is a bad one, but it is interesting. When the Shinjin website needed a makeover did they turn to the teachers who had been there for 20 years to project the wisdom of Shinjin? Or teachers who had been there for 10 years? Or even the good looking, young, first year Korean teachers? Nope, they picked me (and Rachel, but mainly me ;)
A white, English speaking, American who can't correctly pronounce the name of the school in it's native tongue is now the vision of:
I think it's awesome but I'm not about to get a big head about all of this and end up staying here forever. I'm pretty sure there's a lot more to life than being really, really, ridiculously good looking. And I plan on finding out what that is. Just like I said, it's amazing how things can change, but while I'm here, "as a caterpillar becomes a butterfly, so must I become Derelicte!"

Shinjin Photo Shoot

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

A Day To Remember Why America is Wicked Sweet

Today is not a normal day. Today is my good friend Mike Bewalder's birthday, but sadly, whenever I hear "September 11th" the first thing I think about is not him growing a year older, as it should be, but instead my head swirls with the images, thoughts, and memories of that day. It is almost that simple to reference...That day.
Remembering 9-11 in a way that enriches your life, and the way you live it day to day, will always be a good thing. If we can learn from those who lost there lives because they were targeted as symbols of what we all stand for, we can honor them. Nearly 3,000 people were murdered on this day 6 years ago because they were in America, living the American dream, flying the friendly skies, or defending our freedoms. It is in honor of those victims at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and on the tragic flights, that today I would like to remind everyone why I think America is so special. Here is a top ten list of the things I miss about the United States of America after 6 months in South Korea:

10. You don't run into Canadians everywhere.
9. There is a diverse population. It is a place where I'm not stared at because I look different.
8. You don't have Korean men telling you that you are handsome all the time.
7. I don't perpetually speak in baby talk. People can actually understand what I'm saying...most of the time.
6. Hamburgers, hot dogs, and weekend barbeque's.
5. Long weekends. The Korean education system seems to not have fully grasped this concept, I mean, who wants a Thursday or a Tuesday off when Friday and Monday are starring you right in the face!
4. Not worrying about mosquito bites when you go to sleep. It's not so bad for me, but seeing the insane number of bites on my friends, coworkers, and students, I still have a bit of insomnia.
3. Going out with my friends, or even just talking to them, or laughing with them.
2. The Jersey shore. Yes, I went to Thailand but I still miss that "No Fun beach" and the crazy weekends there.
1. American football. Yup, this is ranked higher than my friends, and higher than my family (which didn't even make the list, sadly) but for good reason. Let me explain.

Football is America. We like to think we have freedoms that the rest of the world doesn't, we like to think we have a government for the people, that we're the home of the brave, and all that jazz. But honestly, we just have football.
Go ahead and think of a time where you can picture a lot of people having fun. I've come up with the completely erroneous number of 95.8 percent of the people reading this just pictured themselves either at a football game, watching a football game, or playing a football game. I know I did.

Sports make people happy, and that is what America is truly about, "the pursuit of happiness". Of course life and liberty work themselves in there somewhere, but almost everyone has life, and I don't even think we have liberty anymore, so it all boils down to football, or I mean happiness... whatever.

When Joe Shmo can't talk about Bush's international policy, or find America on a map, I'll bet 10 to 1 he can come up with Tom Brady's completion percentage. Some people get more excited or more devastated by sports than anything else in their lives. And what is the best and most popular sport in the world? You said it...Futbol.
Wait...what's futbol you ask? It is the most popular sport in the world, but we Americans refer to it as Soccer. This is where the ingenious ingenuity (can those words be used together like that?) of the American mind shines so brightly. We took what the rest of the world loves more than life itself, their "happiness", and changed it's name to soccer, which sounds a lot like sucker, which has the root word of "suck". As in "this sport sucks". Accident? I think not. Then on top of that, we made up our own game, and just slapped their cherished name on it as if we knew it was even better than the reigning "best sport" right from the start. Well, they were right. Over a hundred years later those Americans seem to have had the best case of foresight I've ever heard of.

America may have a lot of things that other countries don't but over here in Korea I can keep in touch with friends and family, I can go eat a McDonald's cheeseburger, or a pizza, I can have a beer, get a job, support myself financially, and over all, live a pretty good life. But one thing I can't do is watch football.

I am not in America today, and with the football season starting it reminds me more than ever of what I'm missing. I hope this posting made you laugh, but if not, I hope it at least made you realize there are some things we all take for granted. Life is short, too short, so enjoy what you've got because even if all seems lost, you've still got football, while I'm over here stuck with

P.S. - I actually like soccer.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Fun Fact #3

To be completely honest I don't know how I haven't written about this topic before now. This fun fact is something I heard about shortly after getting to Korea, but as time passed I came to realize that this wasn't just a small little tid bit of information that you get under a Snapple cap, but a firmly held belief in Korea. What I'm talking about is "Fan Death". Yes, you read that correctly, "Fan Death" or death by fan. What could I possibly be talking about right? How is getting killed by a fan a "fun fact" you might be asking yourself. Well first of all I'd like to strike all of the horrible images of fans lopping off peoples heads from the record; images that you have undoubtedly already pictured in that little head of yours, that's gross (a last second change from the word "chopping" to "lopping" was made because I have a firmly held belief of my own that the word lopping is one of the most underrated words in the English dictionary).

The idea of "Fan Death" was, interestingly enough, started here in South Korea, but has since spread to some other Asian countries. Few people outside of Asia know what it is, or have even heard of it. So listen up as I drop a little international urban legend knowledge on you. This strange phenomenon is simply the belief that if an electric fan is left running in a closed room overnight, any occupant of said room may find themselves deceased in the morning. Dead, departed, expired, lifeless, perished, or snuffed out, all due to that, seemingly harmless, everyday housing appliance known as the electric fan. I know what kind of crazy thoughts and questions are running through your head right now, so I'll give you a second to recompose yourself. Take a look at this picture, and try to imagine it is a silent killer:
*Paul can not be held liable for any ill effects that come from even staring at this menacing fan*
(That is a really menacing fan, all fans being considered)

It's true, an entire country of people believe that a running fan in a closed room is deadly. The actual rationalization that they have for causing the death is a bit hazy, as you can imagine. However, they believe it so absolutely that the belief has actually spread. It's like when dinner is over and everyone except you cleans your dishes, but you fight so strongly that you did, in fact, do your dishes that your parents start to believe you. Even though the dishes still sit in the vacant seat that you occupy every day of your waking life for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and the only logical conclusion is that you're lying, somehow they start to believe; "Maybe they're not his dishes". In much the same way, countries in Asia now believe "A home appliance will kill me while I sleep".

So when I heard this urban legend, that's exactly what I wrote it off as, just a story you tell little kids to scare them into not using up too much electricity. Because we all know how our parents hate using up electricity. Like the story that my dad told me when I was a child, if I don't shut the light off to my room when I leave it, he will put a killer fan in it while I sleep that will lop my head off. I'm glad to say that I've become something of a daredevil since the independence of moving to Korea sank in. Today I don't turn the lights off when I leave the room, and I sleep with a fan blowing directly on me, but I am alive and well, head intact, to tell you today, that I am a survivor.

If you don't believe any of this, or just want another "credible" source please check out this wikipedia article: Fan Death or this "Fan Death" website.

If you need anymore concrete evidence as to how far reaching the absurd fear of "Fan Death" is, just look at the reaction I got when I told this 'Asian' Prairie dog that I was keeping the fan on in his room tonight:

Monday, August 20, 2007

Summer Vacation in Southeast Asia

It only seems like a few days ago when I got back from France, but now I'm back from Thailand and Cambodia.

One of the main reasons I thought teaching abroad sounded like an enticing idea was VACATION TIME. You know, enlightening the young minds of the world, passing on knowledge, helping the youth of the world grow into respectable, well rounded, English speaking young adults, taking in the richness of a new culture, and then of course, VACATION TIME.

If you were unaware of my teaching situation for the nearly 6 months that I've been here it has been 8 AM to 4 PM Monday through Friday. During which, I teach 17 (45 min) classes a week to classes of 30 to 35 high school aged students. However, during the summer for two weeks my teaching hours were 9 AM to 12 PM, where I usually only had to teach for half of that time to classes of 2 to 6 high school students. It was basically heaven in comparison, if there is really any comparison at all. I mean, heaven and hell are both places you spend your eternal afterlife but the comparisons seem to stop there. And that's not to say that teaching for around 13 hours a week is hell either, it's that the summer classes were just THAT GOOD! I was in such a good mood I even carried all of our luggage when it started raining.

Small classes are wonderful. I can almost remember the students names. The students actually listen, speak, and sometimes even learn. We can play, have fun, and joke around when the classes are small, but when the class size is between 30 and 35 it's hard to do anything. Even the best laid out lesson plans can crumble in presence of 30 Korean students, 60 busy hands, 300 grubby little fingers, and from what I've heard they must be hiding more mouths somewhere because I can count no less than 1000 voices in those rooms sometimes. That is when they are speaking Korean, of course, when English is being spoken I need only to look in a mirror to see where the noise is coming from. But that was all forgotten for the summer. Two weeks with good students, good lessons, great hours, and more free time than I knew what to do with.

After those two glorious weeks were over the real summer vacation began; 2 weeks off. I chose to visit two countries in Southeast Asia on my two weeks of freedom, Thailand and Cambodia. I would have preferred to do the whole tour of Southeast Asia; Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Philippines, and Singapore, but the two week constraint made me focus my efforts. So I chose one of the wonders of the world "Angkor Wat" in Cambodia, and the world renowned beautiful beaches of Thailand. Check out the excitement on my face on the plane ride over not disturb me while I'm sleeping.

I am here to tell you that Thailand and Cambodia are great too. If you get the chance, GO! If not, well then I have roughly 500 pictures that you can look at and live vicariously through here.

We flew out of Seoul and into Bangkok where I just barely missed Carmen Sandiego. We strategically (accidentally) planned our visit to coincide with the "Mo Chit Weekend Market" in Bangkok, the largest outdoor market in Asia (so we were told). It was huge though. As Rachel put it, "It has everything you'd ever want, ever!", and it was extremely cheap. But all I wanted was the t-shirt that said "How's your day go?" for my Italian friend Karl but those Thia's don't sell a shirt larger than a boys medium. So I'm looking good in it now, and Karl has to do without, it's bitter sweet. The night in Bangkok was even odder than I can go into here on this blog, and they don't let you take pictures, but there really are some places on this planet where rules just don't seem to apply. It's like the Thunderdome, only anything can go in and out, 2 men, 3 women, it doesn't matter. The next morning it was a 5 hour bus ride to the Cambodian border.

Angkor Wat is one of the wonders of the world, what more do I need to say? It's really interesting. Whenever ancient civilizations create huge buildings and tombs and then fall off the face of the earth without explanation they leave behind ruins for travelers like myself to climb all over, and tell their friends about how cultured they are for visiting ancient ruins. It makes you feel like a little kid when you're in places like that. Everything you look at is interesting, and you want to check it out, and climb on it. We also had our own personal "Tuk Tuk" driver for our 2 days there, who drove us anywhere we wanted to go, and then waited for however long to take us back. It's like getting a taxi in New York City but your his only client until you leave and he comes up to you right after you cross the George Washington Bridge, oh yea, and he only costs 25 bucks.

We ended up flying out of Siem Reap airport the day after visiting Angkor Wat because the only road that leads to and from the border is the worst road on the face of the earth. On the way there 3 hours of bouncing up and down, ducking my head, hitting my head, biting my tongue, and sharing the road with farm animals was the kind of experience your happy to have done once, but don't ever want to do again.

So it was back to Thailand, but this time to the beach. And I don't just mean "to the beach" I mean actually to where they shot the movie "The Beach", a film about finding a legendary island paradise (heaven on earth type of place).

Yeah, I did that. I also played with monkey's, rode elephants, climbed dangerously unsafe rock faces in sandals, went kayaking, ate exotic foods, drank enough fruit smoothies to kill a lesser man, and got a little tan. And in case you were wondering two weeks is just enough time to get sunburned, have the sunburn fade into a dark tan, and then peel so you lose your tan by the time you return home. Wear sunscreen.

Then I finished off the trip with another movie island visit, "James Bond Island". The 1974 film "The Man with the Golden Gun" was shot on what is now know as "James Bond Island".

So Now I'm back home, or well, back in Seoul at least. The weather here has been surprisingly nice since returning, which is really sweet considering my friends told me we left Korea before the worst week of weather all year. Alright, I need to get back in the swing of things here but there will be more posts about Korea to come, I shouldn't be visiting anymore countries for a little while now :/

P.S. - Mr. Jong, probably my best Korean teacher friend here, who can barely speak English dropped this gem of a word on me in conversation today:

floccinaucinihilipilification: "the act or habit of estimating or describing something as worthless, or making something to be worthless by deprecation".

With 29 letters, it is the longest non-technical word in the first edition of the Oxford English Dictionary.

We can't have a coherent conversation about the color of billiards balls, but he knows this word. I try to teach him things like "Hello my name is Mr. Jong", but I guess he feels floccinaucinihilipilification for my teaching.