Tuesday, October 27, 2009

How to survive a noraebang with a bad voice...

Here's the question:
How do you sing well in a noraebang if you're not a good singer?

You've come to the right place on this one. I've got to be one of the worst, most tone-deaf singers ever, yet I used to frequent the places somewhat regularly. The following advice is actually more what I used to do to cover my horrid singing skills.

Sing very popular songs...

If you sing a popular song it usually means a lot of other people are going to get into it as well. You should also shoot for a loud one so you can blend in with the others. We used to always sway in a big group while the mic was passed from person to person. I made sure that the mic didn't stay in front of me for too long. Under the Bridge should suffice even though it's kind of a mellow song. Everyone knows the words whether they want to or not.

Sing songs that you really love...

If you really love a song and have listened to it thousands of times, then you can usually mimic the voice pretty well. I love the Grateful Dead and I can mimic Bob Weir's voice quite well, so when I'm singing in the shower, Cassidy usually comes out. However, Korean noraebangs typically don't have Grateful Dead songs, so that doesn't work for me. Hopefully, your favorites will be in there.

Look for easy hooks...

Songs with simple hooks are perfect. I'm not talking Heat Wave here, but some songs have hooks that aren't that easy for bad singers. I usually go for "Night Moves".

Rap and hip-hop...

This brings up another set of challenges for me. I can't keep up with the speed, but some people can really nail it. If you've got good rhythm and know the words, go for a rap song. Your speed alone might be enough to dilute your poor vocals. Most noraebangs have "Changes" by Tupac which seems to be the only one I know.

Be the tambourine guy

I know it's lame, but sometimes tapping or even clapping is just easier. It worked for the sax player in "Dancin' in the Dark".


Bust out the moves and minimize your time on the mic. Not only will people appreciate the show, but you can showcase some of your badass and long-retired dance steps. Maybe a little "Jam On It" by Newcleus?


Hold a bottle of beer or soju and encourage everyone to drink with you. Drunk people don't care or remember how bad you might have sang "Piano Man", but they do remember how much fun it was.

Who the f*ck cares?

Who cares if you sing well. Unless you're trying to impress a boss or a potential partner, you're there for fun with friends. Let loose and shriek Queen as loud as you can.

And now for my favorite noraebang song (which doesn't work with my voice at all)...

Fun question. Thank you questioner "Marsha G".

Anybody have any more advice or personal favorites?

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Who Wants to be an Ajumma?

Here's the question:

Halloween is next week and I want to be an ajuma. Any ideas on how to
make me the world's greatest ajuma?

Aside from snark in me that wants to chide you for not being very original, morphing into the world's greatest ajumma takes years and years of line-cutting and subway-pushing, but there a few accessories that can help.

To start with, I assume you're talking about a 할머니/아줌마 hybrid. These are usually the one's who people dress up as because they are typically the funniest.


If you don't have a perm, then you're not an ajumma. It's just that simple. There are many different styles you can sport though, so I would recommend heading to the local 주부 hairstylist in your neighborhood and start scoping out what works for you. The curlier or more dyed the better, but remember, there are varying degrees and forms of the ajumma. Your perm says a lot about you.

Eyebrow Tattoos

This one is simple. Even though the lady in the photo above didn't go for it, you should. All ajumma's must have temporary eyebrow tattoos. It'll run you about 80,000 won, but it lasts for a year.

Tacky Shirts

Take another look at that hybrid ajumma. That is pure ajumma goodness right there. She's got the furrow, the umbrella, the electric-looking collared shirt, the perm and the eyebrow tattoos. She's amazing. Finding the perfect shirt is very important. Flowers, bright stripes or animal-prints are a must and if you combine the shirt with baggy, black or purple pants with an elastic waistband, well, you might as well just move to the front of the line. You've earned it.

Active Ajumma

Have you ever seen an ajumma just resting? Doubtful and if you did, they were likely hitting their backs, stretching or getting ready for a fully decked-out hike around Seoul Grand Park. But most of the time, they're carrying bags of fruit or getting ready to dig around in some roadside soil looking for roots, but they're always on the move. The point is that you need to look busy. I would recommend buying some gloves, carrying heavy bags or maybe you could even prepare some vegetables just in case you find a good place to setup on the sidewalk.

Protection from the sun/wind/air

The hybrid ajumma hates the elements. She doesn't like earth, wind or fire, so she protects herself. She might have her entire head and face covered or she simply might be going for the sun visor.
The rest of it is up to you. I would suggest that you should head to Dongdaemun. There's a lot of great finds out there. For ajumma behavior, I think a visit to the authority on ajumma-related subjects would be worth it.

Any readers want to add something?

Love Sticks and Corporal Punishment Revisted

Yesterday, I wrote about "love sticks" and while I still maintain that parents who employ such methods are devoid of expression and patience, the study and video I included suggested that parents who spank or smack their children ran the risk of lowering their kids' IQs and this is proving a bit problematic for me.

Essentially, it's saying that...

Corporal Punishment = Lowered IQs

That's way too simple for me, so I prefer this:

Corporal Punishment + __________ = Lowered IQs

The missing link is quite nuanced though and I should add that this was an American study, so applying it to Korean households doesn't really work as well. That missing link might be that the environment at a home where corporal punishment is taking place is not a very nurturing one. There are many more problems there other than discipline. As I said, I strongly believe that parents who resort to physically disciplining their kids totally lack the communication skills and patience to properly express themselves, so they hit. It's very human, yet overly animal-like.

We could jaw for hours about what that missing link is, but as one of my Korean friends said last night,

"Why does the result have to be lowered IQs? Koreans have the highest IQs in the world and our parents used love sticks."

Corporal Punishment = Higher IQs

Of course, this summoned my KDS and like most cases where the syndrome surfaces, it turns out that he was right. Koreans, on average, actually do have the highest IQs in the world with Kim Ung-yong leading the world with a verified IQ of 210.

Of course, we'll need to figure out that missing link again.

Corporal Punishment + __________ = Higher IQs

I'm not qualified to get into this matter except for saying that perhaps the Korean education system, with it's emphasis on math and science helps give Korean IQ test-takers an advantage. Korea students are typically not allowed to use calculators or formula sheets when doing math. They have to understand why 2+2=4, unlike their American counterparts who only need to know how to type an equation or formula into a calculator. That, and the fact that Koreans are master test-takers.

Again, I'm not the best person to be talking about corporal punishment. I'm just a guy who dribbles about Korea and expat issues. This is a bit out of my league and, honestly, my interests. All I know is that my Korean wife and I have discussed this and neither one of us are going to be heading to the love stick store in the future.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Spanking and Love Sticks

Here's the question:

I teach in a private academy and am probably naive, but I read about a "love stick" in the Korea Herald the other day and was wondering if parents knew about the use of them as well.

You are being naive and I assume you're talking about Brian's piece on "Discipline in the classroom."

"These days corporal punishment in school is technically illegal, though still widely practiced. However, both the larger size of students and the widespread possession of cell phones with cameras has made teachers think twice before using the "love stick."

The use or sight of the love stick or "사랑의 매" is extremely common in Korean schools. But as Brian mentioned, kids are using their phones as protection against their use. YouTube features some pretty brutal videos of corporal punishment in Korean schools. I should point out that not all objects used to hit students are officially love sticks. While some teachers clearly prefer love sticks and brooms, others go for bamboo sticks or the good ol' fist.

You and I know that abusing children is disgusting and should result in jail time, but as the quote above says, schools usually try to circumvent law or superficially ban the practice by outlawing cell phones in class. Just this year, a student was flogged over 100 hundred times on the feet only to go home and commit suicide. The punishment was for being absent from the after school study session that all high school students are required to attend. The story here is not that a teacher hit their students, but the level of acceptance that the other students displayed.

"Students in the school told the investigators that the degree of punishment the student received actually "wasn't too harsh" compared to the "usually very harsh punishment."
Throw that in with this 2004 study and you've got a majority of students who simply are not all that affected by this abuse.

최근 한국사회조사연구소가 전국 272개 초·중·고교생 8100여명을 대상으로 설문조사한 결과에 따르면 응답자의 79.6%가 '올해 교사에게 체벌을 당한 경험이 있다'고 답했다. 응답자의 15.8%는 자주 체벌을 당했다고 답했다. '체벌 경험 비율'을 연도별로 살펴보면 △1998년 93.7% △2000년 85.0% △2003년 86.3% △2004년 79.6%로 학내의 체벌 문화가 점차 개선되고 있는 것으로 나타났다.

That says that 79.6% of respondents experienced some sort of physical punishment while in school. It's clear that the numbers are going down, but 79% isn't in anyway a low number. (I couldn't find a recent stat.) Why so common though?

I blame the parents.

First of all, parents often times buy these love sticks for teachers as a signal that beating their child (if necessary) is okay with them. I have seen many love sticks in my years in this industry and teachers usually have a few of them in their classroom. Some of them might be in plain sight and others might be in a closet or desk drawer. They're there though and if the parents are giving them to teachers, you can guarantee that they have them at home as well.

Secondly is the fact that companies actually specialize in selling these sticks.

Look at that picture. It's actually not the official "love stick", but rather a "discipline stick". The very fact that these are being sold is a pretty huge indicator that it's still quite prevalent. However, not all parents spend money on these sticks. Some make them themselves and force their kids to take pictures with it.

"Smile or I'm going to hit you!"

I have yet to find more than a handful of adults who have not experienced some sort of corporal punishment from their parents. Some got popped with a shoe horn and others got the ladle. Without jumping into Confucianism in Korea (which really tires me out), let's just say that it's what today's parents learned from their parents, so they do the same thing to their kids. Stuff Korean Moms Like has a more playful take on the whole thing as well.

Face it, many of us have been victims to some of the classic forms of Korean Mom punishment. Whether you were forced to kneel and carry a large bucket of water above your head for hours at a time, told to go and collect your own whip/switch from the backyard, or simply stand with your hands in the air, just know that the worst is not yet over my friend. You can never outgrow Korean Mom punishments. As long as she is able bodied enough to wield a tree branch, a rice paddle, or raise her voice, she will punish you.

I assume that in twenty years, this too will be a thing of the past. After all, Jesus started it.

I must say though, it's easy for me to shit all over Korean parents for this practice, but the truth is that it's not limited to Korea. Sure, the love stick seems to be part of Korea's "unique culture" and we "must understand", but American schools did the same thing as did parents. I wasn't ever hit or spanked by my parents, but I do recall my mom threatening to "wash my mouth out with soap" every time I brought home a new bad word from school.

I think the best way to get this practice to stop is for the Korean media to publish these results.

If only we could tie-in lowered 수능 scores then I'm certain the abuse would stop.

In the end, it's more about the lack of a nurturing environment at home that usually accompanies this type of discipline. The abuse is just part of a whole range of parental failures and hopefully the next generation of Korean parents will pick up the slack.

So, yes. Parents are very aware of what's going on.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Casual English Education

Here's the question:

I have made a Korean friend who will leave for the States in December to go to university. First, he will spend one year attending a language school so that he will be able to speak English more fluently, then he will attend university. We hang out a lot just doing normal things and his English is good enough that he can communicate his thoughts well and I can figure out what he is saying. Sometimes, he becomes confused if I accidentally use some collocation or something, though I do try to speak with as much simplicity as possible. He is super interested in American culture and wants so badly to be able to speak well.

So, I got this idea that maybe he and I could read a book together and as we read, he could underline things that he doesn't understand. I just thought it would be a good platform for some new and different conversation and could be a good way to learn about American culture. Does this make sense? What do you think? Any book suggestions?

It's good to hear that you're making Korean friends and helping them out in a normal, non-scholastic/private medium.

I have spent years around Koreans who are not perfect in English and one thing that I know for sure is that I don't ever change the way I speak when we are in a non-classroom situation. That means that I never adjust my speed, vocab and use of idioms for low-level speakers. There are way too many crutches in place in Korean English education and I don't want to dumb anything down. In fact, I sometimes even ramp-up the level of humor and sarcasm just to expose them to what I consider the trickiest part of learning and comprehending another language.

Your friend is getting ready to move to an English-speaking country. He's going to be surrounded by people who are NOT his teacher just like you are not his official teacher. Confidence is a huge part of learning a language and if he is given an artificial glimpse into how English is practically used, then you are actually putting him at a disadvantage.

Part of my job is to interview potential Korean instructors. Before I actually interview them, I make sure to check their resume pretty closely. I'm not looking for TOEIC scores or SKY schools. What I'm interested in is what city they lived/studied in while abroad. If I see Vancouver, LA, San Diego, New York, Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Sydney or Melbourne, they immediately get lower marks from me. (Vancouver is the worst though.) These cities are Korean hubs of English education abroad. Parents drop big bucks on this endeavour as students swarm the schools and language institutes to learn English. Yet once class is over and natural English communication can commence, their parents pick them up and bring them to Korean church/restaurants/study groups. The older students group together with other Koreans and together they all speak Korean, think Korean, eat Korean and live Korean. This is useless for them. Simple being around English doesn't cut it.

Make sure your friend really tries to break free from this. Sadly, it's not that easy. If he's in one of these Korean hubs, then the population there is really going to work on him. They'll try to suck him into their Korean-only world and if he fights back, he can expect to get some harsh treatment from the community. My advice is go anywhere were there aren't many Koreans.

Next, I think that reading a book is a fine idea, but books tend to get a little long and people can lose interest quick. If you do choose a book, maybe it should be a best seller or a storyline that he's familiar with. I'd also suggest news articles, blogs, magazines and even short stories. My biggest goal is to find something that is relatable to students. They stay interested much longer.

In the end, a lot of adult students believe that studying with a teacher or getting some solid exposure (like reading a book with you or chatting) will greatly improve their skills quickly, but that's just not true as those of who are studying Korean understand. He's going to have to diversify his focus and work on every aspect of the language ON HIS OWN on top of with his teachers and non-Korean friends.

Anyone have any book suggestions or anything else they would like to add?

Monday, October 19, 2009

Herpes and Health Checks

Here's the question:

I have a question about the health check for the E2 visa. Do you know how detailed the blood tests are? Are they only looking for HIV/AIDS or will they also be concerned with HSV1/ HSV2 (the 2 types of herpes)? These are conditions that also come up in blood work, but do you know if they are looking for them? Or if found, would it result in termination of your contract??

I wrote about something similar to this before, so check that out as well.

The blood tests are only looking for HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and narcotics. At least, that's the stated purpose of the tests. However, the main goal is to detect communicable diseases which, if found, will result in the termination of your visa and contract.

I don't think we're talking about simple cold sores here. The question would not have been posed over a little sore. I assume that since the questioner is asking about this, it's safe to assume that they personally have one or both types of herpes (or are asking for a friend). I don't want to judge this person's character because contracting an STD is a tragic story in many cases, but it's also an avoidable consequence of careless behavior in others. I hope that this case isn't the latter and that we are dealing with a responsible person who is not trying to slide under the radar.

From what I can gather, simple blood tests will show the presence of HSV, but it's difficult to determine whether it's the not-so-horrible kind (HSV1 or cold sores) or the holy-fuck one (HSV2 or genital sores). Even though both can cause oral or genital herpes, HSV2 is much more painful and just plain unsightly.

Let's pretend that the test didn't reveal the presence of herpes and since the doctor doesn't give you a physical or anything, you might get away with it. Of course, that plan might backfire and you could be sent packing at your expense. The rub here is more ethical though.

You will be asked if you have a communicable disease. In fact, you'll be asked five questions:

* Have you ever caught infectious diseases that threaten Public Health before?
* Have you ever taken any Narcotic (Drug) OR Have you ever been addicted to alcohol?
* Have you ever received treatment for Mental/ Neurotic/ Emotional Disorder?
* Are OR were you HIV (AIDS) positive?
* Have you had any serious Diseases OR Injuries for the last 5 years?

In this case, the questioner has caught an infectious disease and therefore has a responsibility to answer honestly. My advice is to consider teaching elsewhere. I know that might sound harsh or like I'm discriminating against people with STD's, but the law is very clear about who does and doesn't medically qualify and having genital or oral herpes certainly disqualifies an applicant.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Friday Reads for October 16th, 2009

I love Korean history and so should you. Here are your Friday reads.

Enjoy your weekend! Jazz Festival anyone?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Korean Derangement Syndrome

Here's the question:

Dear Expat,

I am an anonymous blogger who runs a moderately successful Korea-related blog. Earlier this year, I wrote what I considered to be a well-researched article on fan death, demonstrating that it is indeed plausible. It generated a strong reaction immediately, but what was notable was that even after 10 months, many expats absolutely cannot get their head around the idea that fan death is real, even though I explained the science step-by-step and provided external citations from a climatology expert and the U.S. EPA. At best, those expats cannot believe that my post cannot be anything but satire, and at worst they throw verbal feces at the post, the blog, and my intellectual ability in general. Not even my fabled Korea-Japan Saga generates this level of bile and animus.

Pray tell, the Expat -- What is it about these expats that makes them behave like birthers screeching even in the face of Barack Obama's birth certificate? Why do they hate fan death so much?

- Assiduously Adding Knowledge!

Most of you can tell by the tone and humor that this questioner is none other than the inspiration for Ask the Expat, The Korean. Naturally, he asks one hell of question as well.

I spent a good half-hour reading his post again and the subsequent comments. The overriding majority of them were people trying to poke holes in the argument by over-sensationalizing a tiny part of The Koreans argument. The rest of the comments were either in agreement or under the impression that the Korean was joking around. Read them yourselves. Oddly enough, that thread is more civilized than most Fan Death threads.

The best thing to do is this:

First, find an English teacher. No wait, find twenty; a hundred, it doesn’t matter how many, just find them. I don’t care where they’re from or what they look like. Now that you have their attention, tell them that kimchi reduces the aging process and helps keep skin younger and fresher. No wait, that’s not good enough. Tell them that you believe in fan death and just sit back and listen to them roar with laughter and accuse you of being illogical, irrational or just plain ignorant. Wait until the laughing and name-calling subside and then tell them that you still believe in fan death. Careful though, their head might explode or they might launch into a self-praising tirade about how science and logical reasoning works.

Some of you might be laughing now. Some might be making really clever insults up like how I’ve "been in Korea too long" or that I probably think that "kimchi is very spicy". That’s fine though. I don’t suffer from Korean Derangement Syndrome (KDS). This syndrome is a self-imposed barrier that blinds and forbids the mind from accepting anything that doesn’t fit into one’s pre-determined narrative of who Koreans are and how they think. It’s an illness that forces the brain to disregard proven facts and instead offer knee-jerk reactions based on unfounded and unwarranted emotionalism.

The origin is hard to figure out, but I think it has to do with Korea's constant claim to superiority over other Asian (and western) nations. We could be talking about how scientific Hangul is, why Koreans are good at golf, or how chop sticks have made Koreans so good at hand sports, it doesn't matter. There's just something about these superiority claims that riles people up. After reading and hearing about so many Koreans who belief such claims, the reaction starts to become more and more aggressive and dismissive.

If you hear it too much, KDS can be triggered simply by someone highlighting a point of pride in Korean history or culture. It doesn't even have to be a contentious point. Like this:

"Did you know that in the founding legend, Dangun's mother was named Ungnyeo?"

"What? That's so stupid! Koreans are so gullible to believe that myth! Where's my Bible?"

That might be an extreme example, but the point is that KDS has trained people to react this way. Do people view it as a threat to their own idea of supremacy?

Let’s take a look at the fact that kimchi is easily among the world’s healthiest foods. Those suffering from KDS would claim that Koreans are just being overly nationalistic in their enthusiasm, but Health magazine says,
"Kimchi is loaded with vitamins A, B, and C, but its biggest benefit may be in its “healthy bacteria” called lactobacilli, found in fermented foods like kimchi and yogurt. This good bacterium helps with digestion, plus it seems to help stop and even prevent yeast infections, according to a recent study. And more good news: Some studies show fermented cabbage has compounds that may prevent the growth of cancer.”

Unfortunately, facts don’t matter when dealing with KDS-infected expats. They can be shown an extremely comprehensive study proving the claims’ validity, but it will still be wrong. In their perfect minds, they’re correct and the Koreans are trying to make themselves appear more exceptional than they deserve. Luckily, since KDS became so fashionable among expats, Koreans can no longer be proud of kimchi. Phew! That was close!

How about fan death? Most expats don’t bother to look into the science of fan death and rely on faux-claims of suffocation and hypothermia, but if they were to inform themselves, they would see that fan death is in fact very true and very real (albeit rare). Luckily, just as the Korean understood, he knew not to quote a Korean scientist and went with an American source known as fucking the Environmental Protection Agency,

"Portable electric fans can increase the circulation of hot air, which increases thermal stress and health risks”
“Don’t use a portable electric fan in a closed room without windows or doors open to the outside.”

Hyperthermia is what could get you, but again, those pesky facts don’t matter because someone told those freshly-minted expats that Koreans are unreasonable. How else could they believe in such a thing?

I wish I could say that it’s limited to those two items, but I would be lying. As I mentioned above, sufferers of KDS have deeply-instilled gut-reactions to many points of Korean pride. Dokdo and the East Sea come to mind. While the argument is one that continues to truck along, many expats prefer to assume that it’s Japanese territory and that Koreans are just overacting. You will probably be laughed at by some if you make the simple statement that Korean history started in 2333 BCE when Gojeoson was founded. In their superior minds, Korean history started in 1953. I could talk about spicy food, dog meat, medicinal food and Korea’s clearly unique and separate cultures from China and Japan, but it would do no good. Korea Derangement Syndrome is just too strong for facts.

And if it sounds like I’m talking down to those who suffer from KDS that’s because I am. It’s a willful ignorance that parallels the loons in the US who believe that Obama is not a natural born citizen and that he wants to create death panels, also known as “birthers” and “deathers” respectively. I don’t know if KDS is about western superiority or arrogance either; it’s just a blatant denial of facts which don’t fit into a fixed idea of what Korea is or should be.

I must say that I can understand a bit of my fellow expats frustrations. Sometimes it's hard to find a lot of diverse opinion in Korea. If you ask one Korean about a particular issue, there's a high chance that a large majority of other Koreans feel the same way. Take the stereotypes that teachers or American military personnel put up with. We are both accused of being criminals, but that's just not true. The US military is still viewed as 100% guilty for the Armored Tank incident and that's all the Korean population needs to know. Of course, as GI Korea knows, there's much, much more to the story, but Koreans know what they know and they don't care. Did you know that Yongsan Garrison's soil has been destroyed by the American military? Expats might not know that. The US military might not know that, but the Korean people ALL know that.

The point is that Koreans take a lot of what they hear at face-value. I'm not saying they're gullible or unreasonable, it's just we -the expats and non-Koreans- have to put up with so much misinformation about us and the world's interaction with Korea that after awhile we shut-down and start rejecting everything we hear as being bullshit. It's not fair, but the fault falls on both sides.

I would recommend that Koreans tone down a bit and double-check their own facts and figures and that my fellow expats start reading books and papers a bit more and rely less on what online forums and whiny short-term expats claim. I understand that some might get tired of hearing about the same Korean highlights over and over again, but no one is forcing you to repeat or promote them. Do some research; make up your own minds and stop following the lead of that one expat who infected you with KDS.

So, it's not fan death. It's being bombarded with reasons why Korea is special.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Why is Christmas a romantic holiday in Korea?

Check out the podcast if you have a few minutes.

My ideas...

  • Separation of Christianity, Santa and family traditions from the now Koreanized holiday
  • Commercialization and Pop Culture
  • Lack of romantic opportunity, expression and the prevalence of romantic holidays in Korea

Anyone else want to add anything?

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Are birthdays important in Korea?

Here's the question:

I have a Korean co-worker who has a birthday coming up and when I asked her if she was celebrating with anyone, she said "no". What's going on here? Do Koreans celebrate birthdays?

Odd really because Koreans, like everyone, love to celebrate their own birthday. Who wouldn't like an entire day where you can guilt other people into celebrating YOU? I just had my birthday and even though I didn't guilt people into anything, I had fun being special for the day. In this specific case, I going to have to conclude that your co-worker was just not that into you and probably didn't want to share her day with you. Sorry.

There are a lot of holidays in Korea. Some are national and others are family-oriented. This past Chuseok alone saw a 25 million people traveling around the peninsula which is a huge number and obviously a very celebrated holiday, but is it the biggest or most important? This got me thinking a bit, so I asked about 50 of my students what they thought with a quick survey.

First question: For you personally, what is the most important holiday in Korea?

Second question: For the Korean nation as a whole, what is the most important holiday?

Individual Koreans thought that Christmas, their own birthday and Lunar New Year (설날) were the most important, while as a nation, Lunar New Year, Harvest Festival and Solar New Year were the most important. You can look at the breakdown yourself.

Clearly, birthdays are important to Korean people. I should also note that 환갑, or the celebration that commemorates a person hitting the age of 60 (and now 70) received a lot of attention in the second question, but that's likely because it's viewed as more of a milestone than an individual celebration.

There's another story here though, but before I address it, I'll need to create a survey for you guys. Stay tuned on that front.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Climbing and Korea on the Rocks

Here's the question:

Just a very quick question, my partner and I are wondering if there are any expat rock climbing groups in Seoul or Gyeonggi. We live in Gwangju.

Quick question with an even quicker answer: Korea on the Rocks. I also talked about climbing a few months ago as well.

Common English mistakes made by Koreans

Here's the question:

I read somewhere that you teach adults. I'm getting ready to start teaching adults in about a week and am worried about my ability to teach them well. What are the most common mistakes they make?

Yes, I do teach adults. I don't, however, teach English conversation anymore. I used to though. When teaching adults, you've got to play the expectations game and identify not only what they want, but what you want for them. This is important. Don't let anybody get away with telling you that they want to be fluent. I don't and they appreciate my honesty.

There were some pretty common mistakes that used to really irk me, but the problem with being a long-term teacher here is that you get used to incorrect English and even Konglish sometimes starts to make sense. That's a problem, so let me give you a quick list of expressions that adults say incorrectly.

The Top Ten

10. "He was died."

9. "I'm going to home."

8. "Are you drunken?"

7. "I was today tired."

6. "I had a lunch/dinner with my friends" or "I took a medicine."

5. "Yesterday I got stress" or "I was stressful in the meeting."

4. "She looks like fat."

3. "Here is a notebook, not a folder."

2. "I have an appointment/promise with a friend." (disputed and possibly okay)

1. "I took a rest all weekend." (disputed)

The most common one that I hear is easily "I took a rest". I don't know who is responsible for it, but I've asked teachers from every eligible nation (minus the Irish) and they always thought it came from some other English-speaking nation. I blame Canada.

We all know the problems with B, V, P, F, R, L and Z, so no need to mention those here.

Any additions? Make sure to check the comments for more.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Naughty hagwons being naughty...again

Here's the very, very shortened and paraphrased question:

I work for a school that has placed me in sub-standard living conditions, refused wage payment and constantly lies about everything from visas and taxes to refrigerators and roommates. I want to get out of this school, but don't know how as I have a visa. Also, I'm worried that if I do somehow manage to find a way out, I won't get my last months pay. This is not an option for me due to financial obligations back home. What should someone do in my position--I love Korea other than my school and want to stay?

I get emails like this one almost everyday and my reaction is always the same: When is the Korean government going to get serious about these kinds of shady practices and don't they realize that for every million spent on branding, five million is lost from poor treatment of teachers.

Getting a letter of release is crucial, but the questioner already tried that route in the form of "If you don't pay us, then you must release us." Still, it didn't work out since the director has probably been up to these shenanigans for years.

How to get out?

1) Keep a clear and detailed record of everything that has taken place while you've been working.

I say this because your hagwon probably assumes you're not and they're also hoping that once they pay you, the complaints will fade. You gotta hold on to pat stubs, emails, memos and anything else that you can use to pressure this school into not only releasing you, but to incriminate them when you contact the right people.

2) Stay strong and confident.

Since you have all of your records organized, go into the director's office as much as possible with your files in hand. I mean it. Go in there every damn day and sit down with them and just rail into them with facts. Directors like this are banking on the fact that teachers will just give up and leave, but that only makes it worse for teachers to come. Sure, they might try to laugh it off. They might try to paint a positive picture of what's going on, but you gotta remember that when Koreans laugh in serious situations it's not to express a relaxed confident attitude, rather it's covering up their embarrassment. If they laugh, then you pounce when they're vulnerable.

3) Call the Labor Board.

These guys are getting more organized and will certainly be able to take it to your director. Korea4expats writes this:

Complaints to Labor Board or Commission

An employee's complaint against her/his employer may be heard by either the Korean Labor Board or the Korean Labor Commission. The nature of the complaint determines which body will hear the case.

Types of cases
1) unpaid wages / unpaid severance pay / unpaid overtime pay
2) claim for sexual harassment cases
3) claim for industrial accident cases

Types of cases
1) Unfair Dismissal
2) Unfair Suspension / transfer / reduction wages
3) Unfair labor practices

Ministry of Labor Hotline:
Call 1350 and press 7 for English, between 9AM and 6PM

Ministry of Labor Website: http://english.molab.go.kr/english/
Offices: http://english.molab.go.kr/english/mol/MOL.jsp.
Lawyers: http://www.korea4expats.com//Lawyers-service.html.

I hope that one day my inbox won't be filled with these complaints. I hope that employers will one day be held to the same standards that teachers are, but until then you've got to be organized, strong and connected. Final word: Contact the labor board and put the pressure on. You'll be surprised how fast they cave...