News from upwind

2 am and I’m up again!  These days I’m taking a nap after school, waking up about 5 hours later, and then doing – absolutely no work!  Yayy!  The cable tv isn’t working for some reason, and the computer overheats every half hour.  (unless it’s sitting on ice, and once that thaws I’m out of luck until it freezes again, which takes many hours) Then, back to sleep for an hour or so and off to school. Thank God for the bike, as it takes me less than 10 minutes to get to school now.

The last two days I spent painting.  Hadn’t been able to pick it up for almost two weeks, but back at it.  I’m incredibly slow.  Probably over-work some things.  I noticed something I thought was fibers, but it turns out it’s previous half-dried paint, so I have to be more careful and learn not to scrub the surface, as it rolls up.  And not happy with the colors (I used burnt umber and would rather have used raw umber, which I didn’t have at the time) And then have been painting in glazes and produced a little green where I didn’t mean to.  But it’s all just an experiment and not bad for a first crack at it.

Decided to make her blue and the background orange.   This is still just the under layer and very thin, so it’s still waiting for me to learn how to lay the paint on in a real painterly fashion.  He he, my easel is a music stand, my palette is part of the board I sawed off to make the picture square, and my computer is only alive for that long thanks to the tupperware block of ice it’s sitting on.  I bought a pair of Asian sleeve protectors for a whopping $2. (how is that even possible?)  They look silly but work great!  Sillier looking still is me wearing two pairs of glasses, because I’ve found I can’t see a damn thing with my bi-focals (cause you have to look down), so I wear my old prescription with a pair of reading glasses over the top.  My kingdom for lasik surgery…

I found three private degree art programs that look awesome, but their students go on to major heavy-hitting colleges in the states, so I’m thinking I can’t afford them.  They’re in and around Gangnam, (the finance section of Seoul, which is where the elite do their business) so that’s an indication right there…One of them has a continuing education program which starts at 6pm.  I’d try (and probably fail) to make it on time, but it’s almost every night, so that wouldn’t be sustainable and when would I have time to paint?  I think the only way that could work is if I lived nearby.  And then how would I eat…we all know what a disaster it was for me to find work in a white man’s world (teaching English in the private sector in Korea – also where all the money is) I also found a dozen art hogwans that cater to adults – “hobby” art, they call it.  Most of which are taught during the day for bored kept housewives.  One or two of them seem like they’d be okay, but a far cry from the conceptually rich stuff being done at the Gangnam schools.  There are also a lot of hogwans prepping students for university entrance.  But their stuff is more on the line of illustration.  And it all looks the same…and again, the hours for all of these are such that it’s difficult for me to get to.  I just need to not live in the country, I guess.  It’s okay.  I’ll just keep playing around at home.

I did buy a couple pre-stretched canvases and that way I can have more than one thing going at a time, and as tedious as it is, (and also requiring confidence) I should try to pull out the water colors again.  I need to not be so timid with the colors in that medium.  On my list is to get a real easel, a huge canvas, and some oil-bar, because I’m too anal and the fat sticks force me to be more fluid and expressive.  Missing from the art equation is music, because my computer can’t handle music for long…

School is going great!  (most of the time)  The first week I got some criticism for speaking too fast again, so I kind of went off and told the co-teacher, goddamnit, I’m here to give the students native English exposure:  it’s a disservice to the student’s listening skills if I speak too slowly.  So the following week I gave them phrases to express their needs.  I told them I have no idea what their needs are unless they tell me and it’s no good for them to sit there with a deer-in-headlights look on their faces and to let me go on.  So now they have to ask me to repeat and to speak louder:  that I’m there for them, and will happily do whatever they ask.  3/4ths of the class really got it and they are now steering their own education!  Ms. Leith, can you say that again please?  To which I say, “SURE!  I’d be HAPPY  to!”  I also introduced the seemingly retarded TESOL method of rotating partners.  As annoying as it is, it DOES give the students more talking opportunities.  Like all things, it works with the proactive teacher and doesn’t work with the passive teacher.  It’s annoying for me because the students are so immature and chaos rules, but hopefully they can get the routine of it if we don’t all cave in to the peace and order of desk work.  But I really like using the National curriculum, because it’s so much less prep work for me.  Though there are an awful lot of scripted dialogs to make the kids listen to…

I was already in a grumpy mood yesterday when the passive co-teacher informed me she had a lot to do and would be gone half the class.  This is the third time she’s done that already.  Only this time it was listening skills from scripted dialogs with the lowest level students.  A sure-fire recipe for classroom management headaches, but I wasn’t prepared to change lesson plans mid-stream.  Anyway, it all went to shit and I ended up telling the students to shut up.  Which, by the way, Korean students think is worse than saying fuck. (which they say all the time)  So they made sure the co-teacher heard about that when she finally showed up.  She told me to not be angry, that they were good kids but that they just weren’t interested in English.  Then she told me that some of them don’t even know the alphabet.  Now, she’s right about them being good kids, but that only made me pissed off once again at the Korean education system.  I mean, why force kids who have worked HARD at not learning even the alphabet for many years to sit through more classes?  A similar thing happened in the passive teacher’s 3rd grade class, with 3/4ths of the students stubbornly ignoring the lesson, sprawling over their desk (the posture they adopt most of the day and night) and totally ignoring their Korean national curriculum.  So I left the room, got my student list and wrote down the TWO students who were participating and then told the co-teacher (who had arrived halfway through class) that I’d much rather just have private conversations with those who gave a shit.  To which she said, “Oh.  That might be a good idea.”  So that’s what we’re doing next week.  She gets to babysit sleeping soon-to-be university students and I’ll take one or two of them to the English lab and just chit-chat.

There is one half black student this year.  You can’t tell from his features and he looks all Korean, except for his hair which is too straight to make a nice ‘fro and too nappy to lay down nice in a typical Korean haircut.  He doesn’t seem ostracized at all, thank God, but I think it’s good he lives in the country where he doesn’t have to compete for image-conscious jobs, which is also a good thing because he’s a pretty lousy student.  Korea’s going to become more multi-cultural, only you won’t be able to tell because most of the foreigners are Asian brides.  The mixing or race is still a long ways from being common.

Oh, and I spotted two white families with their Korean adoptee kids again, while waiting to meet my friend for dinner in Insadong last week.  Note to myself:  stop going to Insadong.  It’s a mecca for tourists, especially those on homeland tours.  I just get queasy seeing that.  Because I’ve been in those shoes and KNOW.  I know that unnameable thing that is between them all that can’t be talked about but is as plain as the nose on their face.  And btw, I know I’m an American slob, but I can still, for the most part, claim it’s casual and I’m even guilty of cool on better days.  But most American tourists just look um – sloppy – and sometimes even dirty.  So their kids looked really sloppy too.  Which REALLY made them stick out.  And really made them seem like cast-offs, because Korean kids (elementary age and younger) have got to be the best-dressed most doted-on kids on the planet.

There are also two students that are 26.  I think there is such a thing as an equivalency exam, but I don’t think there are courses for it, so these dropouts have decided to come back to school.  Unlike in America, young people live with their parents until they get married, so they don’t have to worry about feeding themselves, etc., but it must affect their prospects.

All in all it’s going well.  The first graders are sharp, excited to have a foreign teacher and very friendly, and the second graders and I have mutual respect going on.  If they could all just act like young adults…I swear these high school kids are just like middle school kids in the states – absolutely no self discipline. I don’t know how many millions of times I’ve said if South Korea ever goes to war, they’re screwed.


Just got back from eating  dubu kimchi at a neighborhood restaurant.  I like this place’s dubu kimchi better than the dubu restaurant ’cause she uses sesame seeds in it, and the last time I went to the dubu restaurant the pork wasn’t right so got concerned.  And I remembered to ask for bep gae (less spicy) since this ajumma puts in too many peppers.  Only this time there was no pork at all.  :(

I heard last month that supposedly all Korea was hit with hoof and mouth disease and all the livestock had to be slaughtered.  Not sure how that’s impacted the meat availability, but it’s everywhere still.  I’m sure prices went up.  But, just like when the cabbage crops all got wiped out, restaurant prices stay the same.  I’m thinking the amount of meat has just been reduced instead.

While there, two guys started chatting me up after seeing me fumble with putting bep gae into a sentence.  The inebriated one who couldn’t speak any English turned out to be a taxi driver and the less inebriated one turned out to be nae dong seng (his younger brother).  It’s always weird how everyone always has to suss out everyone’s age.  They thought I was under forty, and were surprised that I was their noona.  (older sister)  It’s always surprising to me to meet an old ajosshi and find out he’s younger than me.  (I really must have some pact with the devil or something as far as aging goes.  Every new encounter makes me reconsider my urge to stop dying my hair…)  He kept going on and on about how (I think) he didn’t know any English because he was older.

The dating pool for foreigners really is in the 30’s and younger due to this education gap.  Too bad for me!  It was a really friendly encounter and I wish I had more of these, but as a person who doesn’t really drink  or eat late at anjou (drinking food – you’re required to order food at most drinking establishments) places that seriously cuts down on my interaction with Koreans when they’re most sociable.  But it’s also necessary to go to tiny, hole-in-the-wall places such as this, as most Korean socializing is done in inclusive, often obnoxiously so, groups and interaction with such groups is negligible.

Tomorrow I was planning on going to Yongsan Electronics Market to look at English translators, but I have to stay for the cable guy so I can get my Project Runway fix.  With all my looming expenses (DNA testing, dying computer, art supplies, possible art classes?) I shouldn’t be looking there, but I wanted to check out translators.

When I was conducting my conversation class for teachers I was asked about the value of these things and I told them I thought they were extremely valuable.  I used to work with a Japanese girl at one architecture firm, and she referred to hers often and couldn’t speak more highly of hers.  I think these are really valuable as a bridge to language because they are resorted to in times of need, and when is the time you remember language?  Answer:  when you need to communicate something personally important to you.  So, in the absence of a nurturing bilingual companion, these devices can help you cobble together communication.  While they shouldn’t be a crutch, they can assist in your understanding and give you some exposure to grammar syntax that would normally fly past you.  It beats studying survival Korean in print in a vacuum because it eliminates those phrases you may never use, and is ready reference when you need it most.

Korean ones can be bought in America, but the price of these are about $350 or more in the states, whereas they can be found for just under $200 here, depending on if you purchase them on-line or at a place like Yongsan Electronics Market. Also, the American ones are mostly just talking dictionaries with banks of useful phrases that you have to search for under various categories, so they aren’t as convenient and are best for tourists in limited situations.

It’s really overwhelming searching for these because there are dozens and dozens of dictionaries for next to nothing, but what you really want are the translators, and there are only a few of those.  You have to be careful and get one that has English as well, as some concentrate on Chinese or Japanese.  The ones that do only one language are a little less, so you should be suspicious if it is considerably less expensive.

While researching these gadgets, I discovered that Korean translators have a lot more words packed in them than American ones (go figure).  We’re talking dozens of dictionaries – many highly specialized dictionaries:  legal, business, medical, etc.  The translators do actual machine translation, like the ones on-line do.  The problem for us foreigners are that the menus are also in Korean, so if I get one, I’ll have to find a Korean with the time to (doubtful) map these out for me in English, or I’ll have to translate each menu item and map it out myself (more likely).  Included in these translators are usually learning programs as well, and I want to go to Yongsan to try them out for myself and see how two-way the experience is, as they are designed for Korean as the native language.  They advertise native voice for the English, and I’m hoping that the vocalizations of words goes both ways…

These devices also have the bonus of being like pda’s.  You can increase the memory with a card and they can play movies, games, MP3’s and store e-books.  Half the time you see Koreans on the subway watching movies and I bet it’s on these things.  The two I’m looking at are also pen tablets, and you can train to recognize your own writing, so it can search using your handwriting.  Not bad for $200.  I’m wondering if more is really better as I survey my own habits (one being not wanting to pack a lot of gear with me whenever I leave the house), but then again at such a cheap price (for all those extra functions) I might just think about it as an Ipod that just happens to speak Korean.

The two I’m looking at are:

Casio EW-SF3300

You can click on these photos and they are links to see how these are advertised and also how the google translations work and don’t work for specs.


click on the photo for a translated website where you can purchase this in Korea

Sharp RD-CR3100

How to research goods in Korea:

Google your search, then click on translate.  Then, because Google doesn’t like to translate when you click on a link, you have to go back to the original and find the Korean link location, click on it there, and then take that link and have it translated.  (you can download a google translation tab (in the language of your choice) for your browser’s toolbar to speed up this process).  The problem with a lot of Korean sites is they use comped images to advertise all the details, rendering the words untranslatable.  So I’ve found that going to blogs and reading people’s personal reviews is much more informative for machine translation.  However, some Korean cafe sites are also inherently machine untranslatable, especially Daum cafes.  And within given sites, some pages are translatable and some aren’t.  Anyway, it’s a lengthy process… is also a good place to go for rock-bottom pricing.  But again, it relies on those images.  It’s also better to machine translate your English searches into Korean and use their Korean site, as the bulk of Gmarkets products do not show up in their English website.

I have yet to check out whether or not Korea’s version of the Ipad – the TAB – has decent two-way translation programs.  Of course the Ipad does, but that’s a whole lotta money and not enough computer (for my needs, which include needing to make it a local server for webhosting.  Plus it’s expensive, and Mac products are more expensive in Korea, which adds to their cache here among those who consume conspicuously).  The TAB is less than half the size, but I’m concerned about whether I can manage a Korean operating system and adding their programs. These are also (probably) more money than I can spend, though it might be wiser to just skip the translator altogether and put all resources towards a more comprehensive solution.  IF a TAB has both translator, and an OS I can manage, it might be a good investment as portable word processing and internet, since I might be a recipient of a donated workstation soon.

There are other brands of translators which are more like little tablet pc’s, complete with windows operating system, that do all but brush your teeth, but I’m keeping my eye below the $200 range.

Welcome to Korea, land of technology…


Oh, about being upwind.  The situation in Japan hasn’t affected us at all.  Koreans aren’t even really talking about it, for what I can tell, though it is on the news as everywhere, and of course a lot of volunteers are heading over there, since it’s only a few hours away.

Being in a media vacuum, I didn’t even KNOW for at least a day.  I did contact Karl and he said he’s doing okay and heading south of Tokyo to stay with friends.  But he was packing and didn’t have time to give me details.  Once in a blue moon I’ll get a google chat pop up from him, as we’re in the same time zone and all I know is he switched from the countryside and has been teaching art in English at an all girl’s school in Tokyo this past year.

For those of you worried, Korea is very old geologically, and far west of the Pacific’s “rim of fire” subduction zone, atop which Japan sits, which makes sense as islands are geologic babies and pop up where there’s current earthly indigestion.  I guess earthquakes have been felt here, but its’ really RARE.  A lot more seismic activity in Washington State, that’s for sure.  Also, Korea is west of Japan and therefore upwind of it on the  jetstream, so Washington State would be more likely to get nuclear fallout from Japan than Korea would.  There is also 700 miles between Seoul and Tokyo, and no radius of contamination is going to be that far reaching.

The only natural disasters to worry about in Korea is the annual flooding, due to the monsoons every July and August, as the terrain is very steep, rugged, and impermeable, due to the ancient mountains.  That, and the hurricanes that hit – but those are pretty rare, maybe one about every ten years.

So the only thing to worry about really is if you’re a coastal dweller within pot shot of North Korea, and even that is a limited worry as NK can’t really afford to finish anything it starts.  So Korean fishermen should think about fishing further south, as they seem to be written off as collateral damage in the two Korea’s cold war chess game.  Oh, yeah, and don’t join the Navy if you can help it.

Living on borrowed time, so going to fold up the laptop and let it cool off.  Hope you enjoyed all the info!

8 thoughts on “News from upwind

  1. That looks GREAT! However, I think it’s too late for my macbook. It’s already gone through so much trauma, it’s days are seriously numbered. I’m sure the hair-like wires on my processor have been nearly taxed to failure. But if/when I get a new one, I’m going to buy one of those to begin with. Thanks for the tip, David!

  2. Decided to put off the translator, as I should focus on the DNA testing, so I’ll have to give you a report on those later.

  3. Have you ever tried to fix the cooling problem? It wouldn’t surprise me if it was simply dust clogging up the paths that air takes in the machine.

    I have and use a pile of Apple laptops dating back to 1999. None of them overheat. If you haven’t tried, there could be a simple solution.

  4. Hadn’t thought of that. Come to think of it, dust/fuzz is a huge problem in my apartment. I’d turned down a vacuum cleaner because I hate the noise and I like to wipe things down/really clean them, but I rue the day, not having been able to predict the dust situation.

    I think it’s because of the windows. They have huge weep-holes in the sashes for water drainage and they are big enough for insects to crawl through.

  5. Well, I couldn’t remove the back, even though I just happen to have the world’s smallest screwdrivers purchased to make puppets with. I also happen to have a miniature vacuum specifically for computers.

    But the intake vents for this MacBook are woefully inadequate, especially since the body does not dissipate heat at all.

    I do recognize that I put this laptop through more use than two humans, so I’m guessing the almost five years I’ve had it is pretty admirable. It’s like a car with 170,000 miles on it!

  6. “Can you hear the fan running when it’s getting hot?”

    Ha ha ha ha ha!

    Oh, that was sooo last year!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s