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.