Monday, January 31, 2011

First GH2 video: Sand Mandala Dissolution

My first composed video from using the Lumix GH2. Made with the Vario 14 - 144mm lens and using Cinema mode. Edited using iMovie, although I hope to get into Final Cut Pro someday.

Tibetan monks visited our small town for their 11th year, making a sand mandala and then sweeping it up. Although I could have seen this numerous times in the past when I use to live here, this was my first time. Just shooting and editing this video makes me can't wait to get back to Korea and get out there with my camera.
All right enough gushing on about my new toy.

My New Toy: GH2

Trust me, I am not one of those people who brag about their new cameras in public. In fact I find it really tacky when folks do this and wish they would check their egos. But today I am going to go against my own pet-peeve and brag about my new camera.

Through some miracle of America's credit institution I was able to find my next bright and shiny new camera. Turns out to be the Panasonic Lumix GH2. A snazzy new camera that features high-end HD recording, a set of interchangeable lens and a whole load of features I have yet to even figure out.

It's not a DSLR but a camera part of the micro-four thirds generation. Meaning it has no mirror inside, which is great because this reduces the size and weight of it. Although, for years I was tempted to get an actual DSLR I never could do it due to their huge bulky sizes and their heavy lenses. A year I ago I got the Canon G11 as a way to break the middle ground between point-and-shoots and DSLRs. But it didn't really do everything I thought it would.

I am really excited to have the GH2 and feel it is going to inspire me to make more videos and take great shots.

However, I am kind of new to these bigger camera's operations. The photography courses I took back in high school are helping a little with understanding shutter speed and aperture, but I am doing some reading on high-end digital photography to get a better grasp of it all.

The following are my test shots.

Test shots:
Using the 14 - 140 mm lens I went around the house and outside getting a feel for the camera.

Then I switched to my macro lens to see what that was like, and boy was it fun.

When it became nightfall I took the camera outside, again with the 14 - 140 mm lens, and experimented with night shots.

I even got into the black-and-white function a little.
In my room, I put the camera on a tripod and experimented with its different focusing options. A lot of which you can do with the touch-screen panel. A product of this is a picture of my eyes...I know cheesy.

Don't worry I got out last night and went to an event where I tested the camera out in the field and did some video recording. Hopefully I will get to editing all that soon.

In the meantime, enjoy this video which introduces the camera and talks about its specifications.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Secret Garden (시크릿 가든): Drama Review

Imagine if you will two young Korean couple, one male and very rich the other female and poor, that just happen to switch bodies. Can you see that happening?

That is exactly what happens in the recent Korean drama Secret Garden, which I happen to be watching. I haven't finished it, but I am halfway through. I'll be honest that I haven't been into the K-dramas that much lately due to American ones grabbing all my attention. Plus after watching a little of Boys Before Flowers I started to grow a distaste for it. I really hate it how the female lead character ended up going from a tough-independent person to a soft-apologetic little thing. As I started to watch Secret Garden I feared that this was going to happen all over again. Thankfully, the lead female character in this story pretty much stays a tough chick (so far).

The Characters: source
Gil Ra Im
Played by: Ha Ji Won
Character: The main female role. Feisty and has a street spirit to her, Gil Ra Im shows no mercy towards the male lead who tries hard to bring her into his heart. Her day job is being a stunt woman so you can imagine she is pretty fierce.

Kim Joo Won
Played by: Hyun Bin
Character: Main male lead here who likes to wear fancy track-suits (hand-stitched) and chase Gil Ra Im. Has claustrophobia and a bossy attitude. CEO of a wealthy department store.

Played by: Yoon Sang Hyun
Character: He is the cousin of Joo Won, so naturally he is rich as well. An aging "Hallyu" pop star who faces his career taking a nose dive. Has a heart-broken past with another character. Comes off as cheerful and more free-spirited than his cousin. 

Yeun Sol
Played by: Kim Sa Rang
Character: Watch out guys! This gal is looking for the perfect marriage. She is actually a film director and so you see her trying to make films for Oska. But due to their past relationship things become bumpy. What I love most is seeing her rich-ass cry over her breaking heart...(sorry).

Im Jong Soo
Played By: Phillip Lee
Character: He is the stunt school's director and so has a big influence on Gil Ra Im's life. He secretly loves her but is never man enough to tell her (so far). Makes for complications and a love triangle. 

There are plenty of more characters but these are the main players. The other people you see are Joo Won and Oska's parents, friends of Gil Ra Im and some other lively characters thrown in. 

The story and whole formula for this drama is pretty out there but still adheres to traditional drama algorithms.

Typically, a Korean drama takes a young couple and makes them hate each other at the beginning. Then for some random reason they have to be next to each other practically all of the time. Usually they have to lie about each others relationship to keep their social and family lives smooth. Eventually they fall in love and the last part of the series ends with them finding each other, after being torn apart, and swearing they will never leave each other ever again. 

Beautiful isn't?

Well I can tell you that gets really boring, very quickly. Secret Garden's formula is somewhat like this but the DNA has changed a bit. 

Joo Won finds himself attracted to Gil Ra Im and can't get her out of his head. Gil Ra Im doesn't really fall for him like he does for her, but there are times when she finds herself feeling something. At the beginning of the drama they kind of weave this out for 5 episodes until finally their bodies are switched.

Body Switching! Oh my!

I found it quite whimsical and interesting that the creators of this drama took on body switching. For one there are so many gender and sexual taboos in Korean culture that this kind of story-plot has room to play with. What happens when they discover that they are in each others body is really quite amusing.

The guy reacts by being in the girls body by instantly noticing he has breasts. The girl reacts the same way when she realizes she is a man. It is an interesting play on gender roles and there are times when things almost cross a social barrier. However, the creators of this drama kept things light and fluffy in regards to any kind of social commentary.

The body switching scenarios were mostly playful with one instance where Gil Ra Im (inside the man's body) had to show her switched partner how to put on a bra.
 Don't worry no one walks in on this situation.

They stay switched for quite sometime and end up messing up each others lives. Yes they do switch back, and I won't tell you why, but afterwards the tone of the story becomes more serious. 

Throughout the story Joo Won's mother finds out about his relations with Gil Ra Im. Of course she isn't pleased as Ra Im is completely out of his class. During the body switching she even tried to bribe Gil Ra Im to stay away from her son, but since the person she was really talking to was her son (in Gil Ra Im's body) she ended up toyed with.

After the switch reversal there was an intense scene where his mother called back Gil Ra Im to finally get rid of her. At one point Joo Won walked in and declared that she couldn't get rid of Gil Ra Im

Commentary on Social Class and Standards

His mother berated Gil Ra Im for being poor and daring to think about belonging to her class. The whole scene reminded me of how with my first Korean boyfriend I wasn't truly accepted because I wasn't Korean. 
This is about where I am at in the drama. To sum up the story plot you have a rich guy who wants to love and be with a poor girl. The poor girl time-after-time puts him down and even kicks him around. There are mixed in other love stories and the whole thing seems to be centered on forbidden and broken love. What's going to happen to the couple and will they switch again? Just gotta watch and find out.

Is It Worth Watching?
I would have to say, yes. Although you might find yourself muting it now and then, as I do, since they play the same music over and over. 

I am beginning to see that this is more about the male character changing and dealing with his life. It also portrays rich Korean people in a critical tone, of course done so carefully. You do get the sense that the moral merits mostly come from Gil Ra Im and her "lower class" upbringing. The rich people in this show are portrayed as conniving, backstabbing and easily persuaded. I am not sure if this is something I am imagining or whether the directors are really going for this kind of atmosphere.
All in all, I would say give this drama a chance. Mostly you will need to get through the first 5 episodes and then things get really interesting. There's a lot of the usual eye candy and of course they spend a few episodes on Jeju Island. 

In case you need a visual idea of it all:

Have you seen it? Did you like it? Anything stick out to you as interesting?

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Battle Hymn of Korean Education

Over here in America there has been a lot of buzz over Amy Chua's book "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother". For the most part reporters and commentators have been using her book as another way to bring up the stereotypical image of Asians as hard-core studying people who's parents won't even accept an "A-". However, if you read the book and hear Amy's own words you would find that it is more about her becoming a better parent, in that case it is more like a memoir.

In a recent interview on NPR Amy talked about her book and fielded these social questions from listeners. Although I enjoyed the interview and it did clarify some things it felt like Amy didn't attack the social issues clearly enough. She kind of mostly focused on herself and her family.

To me that leaves a lot of room for debate over the issue of East-Asian parenting vs. Western parenting. From my point of view my mom was pretty tough on me but not because of my grades it was mostly due to my attitude or behavior. With that said I know what living in a "tough" household is like, but when I think about Korean households there seems to be nothing I have to compare it to.

The analogy of Chinese moms being "Tigers" makes Korean moms look pretty tame. In the animal kingdom of parenting I would put Korean moms as something more ferocious and obsessed. However, I can't think of an animal for that. Vultures come to mind but I think it is a bit insulting and I don't really want to make that association. Really, Korean parents are just doing what they know how to do and functioning within what their culture calls for.

Whether you agree that the East-Asian model of parenting is best or the Western one, in Korea education is still taken a bit extremely. The following PBS video highlights practically everything you need to know about Korean education and its affects on students.

What I like best about this video is the part at the end where the discussion of change is opened up. Certainly, I feel most people in Korea are self-aware of how obsessed their country is with education and how the end result doesn't work out for everyone. I would like to say that I don't expect Korea to change in a way that will resemble the west. Rather, Korea's education system should change for the better of its people so that suicide rates come down and empathy goes up. 

As much as we expat teachers in Korea like to judge and pass criticism on the Korean education system it is what pays our salary. Currently, you can start to feel changes taking affect especially if you work in the public school sector. I have come to realize that as an outsider it is best to watch as things transform and lend a hand only cautiously. 

How have you seen Korean education change? Has it been for the better or only made things worse?

Monday, January 24, 2011

The Little Avocado Pit That Could

Way back last summer I walked into Lotte Mart and to my surprise they had a large pile of avocados for sale. By "sale" I mean you could get one for less than 3,000 won, which is what they usually are sold for. You might be thinking what is so special about them being a in a large pile? Well, let me tell you! Avocados are usually sold in pairs wrapped in plastic and stuffed in the "exotic" produce area.

As you can tell I was delighted to see this sight and so brought home a few. I recall they were pretty good and they made a great addition to my salads sandwiches.

The best part about avocados is not just their delicious flesh, but also their pits. Growing up my mom would take avocado pits and turn them into plants. Seeing a seed in a jar propped up to make a sprout, was a common sight.

After a few emails back and forth I got the instructions on how to turn my own avocado pit into a plant.

First dry out your pit:

Then after the pit has dried for about a week you peel off its delicate skin. Next you find a used jam jar and place some water in it. Using toothpicks you "borrowed" from the office stick them gently into the sides of the pit. What you want to do is balance the pit at the opening of the jar so that a portion of it "floats" in the water.

Like so:

Place the whole thing in a semi-sunny spot and refresh the water now and then. After some time the pit will split and grow a root.
Eventually it grows a stem which then sprouts.
At this point you want to take the pit-stem-sprout thing and put it into a pot with soil. 

Ta-da! Unfortunatly, my little avocado pit (that could) didn't fare so well after being put in the soil. A week later I discovered there were a lot of little white bugs crawling around the dirt. So I put the whole thing outside at my front door. It became a receptacle for people's little trash and one day was even found kicked over. But I kept it there anyways. Sadly by the time I moved out it had shriveled up and I think the soil was frozen. I just left it there for the new person to deal with. 

Next summer I hope to try all over again, this time finding better soil.

Jukjeon at Night

Back before winter hit and I moved out of the Suji / Jukjeon area I found myself getting dinner with a friend. Before we met up I took a few pics, here they are.

That's the moon up there...
Am I missing Korea? Yes, definitely. My social life is back there along with many art events I want to go to. I'll be back in just about thirty days, so not too long.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Preparing Myself to Become a Better Language Teacher

Admitting that you have no formal training in teaching English as a foreign language is perhaps really embarrassing to the general expat in Korea (who is a language teacher). Indeed, there were times during my last two years at public elementary school that I wondered what I was doing there and why they even hired me. The large question remains in the expat community over what makes us qualified to have these jobs. Over time I have formulated my own answer, which is that a "qualified" native English teacher in Korea is one who has an open mind, is patient and willing to put in the effort required. A non-qualified teacher would be one who sees their job as just a way to bring in the money and get by, while their social life and time after work is more important. Korea, to these folks, is just a short sting between undergraduate and graduate school. 

Being "qualified" to teach in Korea shouldn't require a hefty background in the subject and credentials under your belt. Since the protocol for hiring people for these jobs simply requires you to have a Bachelors degree and be a native speaker of English.

However, I will digress here and say that once you have been in the industry here and have a few years under your belt you end up desiring more skills and knowledge to better match the needs of your students. This is where my current pursuit comes in to become a better language teacher. In other words, to go beyond my already "qualified" skills and give myself better tools and knowledge to teach well and produce better results.

I have come to see the past two solid-years of teaching in Korea as my "stomping in the mud" experience. There I was able to see what works and doesn't, along the way creating my "teacher-self." Now I feel it is time to expand and really understand the EFL environment and what I can do to improve.

That is why over the course of my lengthy vacation, here in the States, I picked up several books from Amazon on teaching EFL. Today I am going to review one of these books and provide samples from it, that I feel are going to greatly benefit me at my next job.

Teaching Large Multilevel Classes by Natalie Hess:
Review: So far, as I am not finished reading it, the book has provided me with a lot of "ah-ha" moments. In other words, it has been really helpful in allowing me to take my experiences from the past and digest them into cohesive material. The book is written in an academic way, but it doesn't hinder you from following along. Everything is put right to the point and doesn't mess around. There are several sections to this book on different aspects of what you need to teach. Within these topics are a description and then activity examples with plenty of information to let you know how to do it. However, this isn't a cheat-sheet book that you can just look up an activity and apply it to your class. The book provides the necessary details to let you come up with your own activities and scripts. I would highly recommend this book for the seasoned Native English teacher or the one who is about to jump on the plane and fly over to Korea. 

Coping with Multilevel classes through 11 Principles:
The book starts off by providing 11 Principles that you can apply to the large class. A large class is likely up for interpretation but in this case, teaching in Korea, it means a class with more than 30 students, which is the typical scenario for elementary school and even higher for the other levels. However, if you are working at a hagwon (private school) then you will find yourself with a small sized class. These principles might still be applied. 

Generally, I think most new public school teachers feel an initial anxiety knowing they are going to teach a large class, especially since all the students are EFL. Usually, their next thought is that we will have our coteacher and they will "help" us. In most cases, and most recently, this is not the situation. These days, coteachers are either really involved or just sit in the back of the class and doze off. The native English teacher is expected to teach at least 80% of the time in the classroom. Meaning you need a set of class management and principles to get you by. By showing the following examples from this book I hope they will come in handy for any Native English teacher out there.

Let's take a look:
  1. Don't Panic! In more professional words the book basically laid this out as the first principle. Saying that the job is challenging but bad days should not weigh us down.
  2. Variety: Match all levels and vary the way in which things are done. You will likely get into a routine, especially working from the class book. Make sure to mix it up and keep the Ss (students) on their toes.
  3. Pace: Know what activities should be fast & slow, pay attention to the time. Coteachers really value this and will criticize you if you fail. My tip: Use the first class of the lesson as a tester to see how much time Ss need on certain activities. Then the rest of your day will go smoothly.
  4. Interest: Each lesson should incorporate activities that get Ss interested. What this means is set up the class so that there are the usual stuff but something "fun" mixed in to it. Outlining the day's activities at the beginning of the class will help Ss to get interested.
  5. Collaboration: This is a fancy word for "group work." Basically you want to get the students working together and using the language a lot. In time they will work together and even create their own works.
  6. Individualization: One of the biggest struggles in a large class, especially if you have many of them throughout the week, is getting to know each and every student. I for one believe you don't have to know each and every one of them, but instead make sure that every student is given a chance to express themselves in class. This can be done either by speaking or working on an individual assignment. 
  7. Personalization: Make sure each Ss has the opportunity to to present their own opinion and be recognized. 
  8. Choice & Open-ended expressions: One thing you should really strive for is to get away from the Multiple-choice type of questioning or the "yes - no" answer response system. Ask questions to the class that open up their minds to make full responses. Asking "why" or "could you explain that more" helps.
  9. Setting up routines: Although variety is something you want to strive for, keep lessons fairly similar to each other so a routine is set up. You know...after covering material there is later a test. So you will need to review before hand. Build up things so that they are familiar in a timely sense. This helps not only cognitively but also with class management. 
  10. Opening up the Circle: Teaching in a way that allows every Ss to participate. Don't just pick the same "Min Su" who raises their hand. Wait for more Ss to put up their hand. One thing I learned from this book is to alert the quiet kid before class that you want him/her to participate and will likely call on them. 
  11. Questions That Arouse Interest: Basically this goes with #8. Just try to get Ss more interested in the topic. I did this a lot with the 6th grade last year, and it helped get them involved and steamed up. haha
I look forward to keeping those principles in mind as I start at my new school next year. In general, I think we Native teachers need to start thinking of our classes more like opportunities instead of "I have just 3 more classes today...I can make it." Sure you get tired of teaching and there are weeks where you feel burnt out. But approaching the job with a positive attitude in this manner might keep things more perky.

Sample Lesson Activities:
I would like to show some examples from the book of activities you could use. However, I haven't gotten through the whole thing so I am just going to pull from their "Reviewing" and "Writing" sections.

Reviewing Activity:
  1. English Goals: For the beginning of the semester. Ss write down their goals for learning English then walk around and discuss it with others. Eventually you figure out the major ones and turn those into goals for the whole class. As the semester rolls on you review them with the class and see if things have been met or not.
  2. KWL Chart: "Know", "Want to Know" and "Learned". Make a chart with those topics on it. The chart will be used when starting a new lesson. Ss will brainstorm in groups answering the first two questions. After the lesson they go back and review the first two steps and the fill in the "Learned" section.
Written Work:
  1. Buddy Journals: Ss keep a journal between them and a friend. Could be Ss in the same class or from another. Could be done with email.
  2. Wall Newspaper: Using written work from class pick ones of interest. Edit them and have Ss re-write them Post them up on a bulletin board. Let it cycle throughout the year.
There were a lot more samples and many with great ideas, although I did feel some of them were for advanced levels. However, it is definitely your job to take an activity or task you find through research and transform it for your student's levels and capabilities. Plus after using an activity in class you usually end up modifying it anyways as things work themselves out. 

Whether or not I actually do become a better language teacher at my next school, I know that I at least have the drive to do it. My motivations aren't my salary or that I will even be working at a private elementary school. Instead, I plan on doing all this because I want to see the results in the students and the feeling it will produce in the classroom. 

Am I nervous? You bet I am. As much as I want to get in there and start putting these thoughts into action a little part of me wonders how it will work out. Then there is the whole coworker and comradeship situation that must go smoothly, and I end up pulling out my iPod and playing Veggie Samurai to forget about it all.  

I know last year was a particularly difficult one when it came to working with my Korean coteachers, but I must move on and let go of it all. Take with me the lessons I learned and apply them to my next school. Thankfully, I will not be coteaching, but that doesn't mean I am out of the woods.

All in all, I hope all my past gripes and new found enthusiasm has somehow helped other expat teachers in Korea. :)

Oh Crap! It's a foreigner!

Waking up this morning I went over to Roboseyo and found he posted a funny Japanese anime that highlights meeting a foreigner.

I was inspired after this and found one of my own to post. Everything is pretty much on point when a non-native English speaker attempts to make contact with you in public. Especially the "targeting" and running away bits.

Friday, January 21, 2011

My Favorite Thing I Learned in 1st Grade...

Turns out to be math. According to this document, that I found deep in my stored boxes, I was a genuine fan of Math in the first grade.
I also pictured myself with a big head and strange cat-eyes. Fancy that?!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Vacation Video

We indeed took some videos while on our vacation. Instead of making one long version I have decided to make short ones.

Chicken Parmesan and the Berkeley Marina

I thought I would relieve you guys of seeing "The Great Vacation" in the title this time, although this post is on the same subject. Basically we are at the end of JH's visit, where we mostly just made our way to the airport. Along the way JH tried some good food and saw a site that left lasting memories.

Our last night in Nevada County was spent having an Italian dinner at a new restaurant. I think JH was starting to feel stressed out from knowing he had to go back to work. Poor guy.

It was here that he discovered his new found love for chicken Parmesan. I plan on making it for him when I return to Korea.

The next morning-afternoon, we had brunch at a diner before our drive out to the Bay Area.
 The place had the American nostalgic feel to it.
 JH got his usual hamburger and I got a waffle plate.
Yum! On our way to the Bay Area I let JH drive a good portion of it. When we pulled over to switch seats he couldn't help but get out and explore. We were in the area between Davis and the coastal mountains, where it is mostly farm country.

On our way to the hotel, I knew we were going to be a bit early so I took JH to the Berkeley Marina. Turns out he really loved the place and was truly amazed at the scenery and relaxed nature of Americans. 

I'll have to check but I am pretty sure this was his favorite part of the whole trip. Actually, it was kind of funny because he was very fascinated with the squirrels at the park. It was as if he had never seen one before and was very amused with how friendly they were. 

As we walked back to the car, very slowly, I knew he wanted to see more of everything in America, but his time was so limited. We promised each other to come back and that I would show him the Eastern side of the States. 

We crossed the Bay Bridge, which now has a toll of $6.00!

We checked into our hotel, which was near the airport and then took a look at the local downtown area where there was the Korean restaurant,"Mom's Tofu House".

 JH had that New Year's dumpling soup, while I had galbi.

It was our last night together in the States and I hope not forever. He's back in Korea doing his thing, but we miss each other a lot. I'm still here, as you know, in my family's area doing my little projects and enjoying life without work. Except, I do miss the kids...haha.
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