Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Becoming a Teacher, Abusing 9/11, and the sexist K-blogosphere

Three great links to articles which I think you should read:

1. Stupid Ugly Foreigner has a long but thoughtful, and frankly, beautifully written, post on the character changes, and the new talents and skills developing, that comprise the process of becoming a teacher. A must-read, seriously.

2. The Bobster, who doesn't update all that frequently compared to other blogs, but whose posts are always well worth the wait, has written a thoughtful piece on how America has changed since 9/11, and looks at a 9/11 coloring book as a springboard to ask, what are appropriate and inappropriate ways to remember 9/11, and who gets to make that call?

3. Dating in Korea, congratulations on your two year anniversary. Dating in Korea's two year post reflects on the fact that when she started, there were very few blogs by female writers - a topic I've discussed before, especially at The Hub Of Sparkle before it disappeared. Things have improved: there are a lot of female Kblogs now, if you know where to look for them, but some of the longest-running, most popular or well-known sites or blogs can remain female unfriendly: if not because of the writers, often from the comments that are allowed to stand.


Dating In Korea reflects on a few of the old stereotypes (western women are fat and ugly, western women can't find a boyfriend in Korea, because Korean women are X, Y, Z, and Western women are A, B, and C and so forth...) that have long sent female readers fleeing from K-blogs and K-forums in disgust -- tropes that are asinine, sexist, unfair, and deserve to be called out every. single. time. they appear, until the sexists making those comments, and not expat women, are the ones that feel unwelcome in K-pat forums.

No, the K-blogosphere isn't the only place on the Internet that's littered with latent or open sexism or hostility toward women. But those other places need to work on it, too.

Dating in Korea reflects on the unfairness of lumping all the lady-k-bloggers, or all the dating bloggers, into one group.


Any blogosphere can become more a series of loosely connected confirmation bias-spheres than an entire blogosphere of its own - there are too many blogs around now to characterize them all in a few swoops. There are lots of female voices now, once you start looking. But I also see less cross-pollination between the female voices and the male-dominated circles, than I'd like.

For contrast/context: Yes, the K-blogosphere (or at least some parts of it) sometimes smells a bit like a sausage-fest or an old-boys club; however, this article about the rife, latent or simply unchallenged sexism in the male-dominated Magic: The Gathering world, framed as an open letter to the author's future daughter, calls out the community in the way only an insider could.

Some of the themes in this article - male entitlement, unacknowledged sexism, and men's inflated image of their own worth - remind me of some of the uglier aspects of the interactions between western males and western females in Korea quite a bit. I read the article to the end because of it.


Anyway, I'd like to pass this topic on to my female readers, in the comments, and my female co-bloggers, on their own blogs: why do you think the K-blogosphere sometimes feels like a sausage party? Is there anything to be done about it? Does there need to be? I mean, who cares if Dave's is a sausage party, as long as the tumblrettes have their own circle, right? Or not?

Got some Notbaby Stuff Coming Down the Pipeline...

Got some notbaby stuff coming down the pipeline - but I realized I forgot to post this video on the baby announcement post.

Friday, October 21, 2011

What is your Favorite Blog Poll Results

10 Magazine recently ran a poll for "Who is your favorite Korea blogger" and I placed tenth.

Thanks for the votes, readers and fans, and thanks for running the poll, 10 Magazine.

I had trouble logging onto the site, and couldn't access the voting area, so I ended up not promoting the poll this time, which makes me feel more honored and surprised to place tenth this year than last year, when I placed fourth... through vigorously pushing my readers and facebook and twitter friends to vote for me. These polls generally reflect who sends their readers to vote for them most energetically, so I'm very pleased to have placed despite not pushing my readers to vote at all. It makes me feel awesome.

In other news, I just passed 200 followers.

So thanks Roboseyo fans! You make it worthwhile.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The First Glow; Father-in-Law

So... I promised to control myself, and only post the absolute best 416 pictures I've taken of babyseyo so far...

Nah, just kidding. Babies are beautiful, but many/most don't photograph well, because the cuteness isn't in a freeze frame, it's in the little squeaks, squirms, and mewlings, in the same way my friend from Busan, who is willowy, and graceful, and a stunner to meet in person, seems awkward in photos, because pictures don't show how graceful she is. He's usually wrapped up tight, but if you unwrap him, Babyseyo sprawls in every direction, and throws his arms as far up as they go. And it's not cute to take a picture of it or to tell it, but if it's your own kid, that little stuff is great.

Meanwhile, my in-laws came to town for a while. I've spent a few spells with my in-laws this year: first down in the south coast of Korea, Namhae and Yeosu, during parents' day weekend, where we traveled Korean-style, and tried to hit every well-known spot in the region in three days.

Here are perhaps the three best pictures:

We also went to Niagara Falls and Toronto with them for a week in July, and had a wonderful time. Here are perhaps the three best pictures from that trip.

(as you can see, I'm not wild about putting over-many pictures of my family members up on the blog... it's my blog, not theirs, so...)

 That gorgeous lady in the background there is my cousin, though. She's awesome.

Well, the Roboseyo and his In-Laws saga continues as Babyseyo polishes off his first week   (with a burp and a surprisingly rumble-y fart for his size, as usual).

An interesting feature of this week has been Roboseyo's occasion to hang out around the house with only Roboseyo's mom and dad-in-law around (read: nobody who speaks Englis to throw Roboseyo a rope). This has been a stretching but satisfying experience: there are times I bluff, or shrug and make the "blank face..." but I'm getting more and more, and finding myself able to say more and more, as time goes by. This is immensely satisfying: the light of understanding in my father-in-law's eyes is WAY better than sentence forms in a textbook, as study incentives/goals go.

Well, one thing we did in Canada was try out some Canadian beer, which my father-in-law liked a lot: his favorite was the Sleeman's Honey Brown Poposeyo had in his basement fridge, but we also tried a few brews near the distillery district in Toronto.  Hyangju has been encouraging me to take Popinlawseyo to my favorite neighborhood watering hole - a little place within walking distance of my house, that has a modest but extremely well-chosen selection of beers, including imports from Japan, Germany, America, Belgium, Canada, England and more. It's a great place, and the owners know me there, and sometimes stop by the table and chat. Most of my friends and connections who have met up with me in my neighborhood have been invited to meet me there. I'd put it on google maps, but instead I'll force you to invite me out to buy me a beer, to find out where it is.

So we went there and had some London Pride, some Samuel Adams, some Alley Kat, and some Anderson Valley microbrew.

Now, for old Roboseyo, the question is not how much can you drink, but how fast can you drink. Even back before my body made me pay more on Saturday than it was worth to get right sloshed on Friday night, I could drink a ton... as long as I got to choose my pace... and if I couldn't choose my pace, I'd probably end up barfing somewhere (and then getting back on the horse for more) or making a bad decision (and piling my sobbing self into a taxi).

With my friends, generally we get our chat on, and because I only invite very interesting people to drink with me, we usually have no problem filling up the spaces between sips with enough engaging conversation that the question of pace is pretty much moot. Not so with Popinlawoseyo, because my Korean chops, while improving, are not up to snuff yet, and Popinlawoseyo's English consists of about seven phrases (while Mominlawoseyo's English consists of saying "Why can't we just get popinlawoseyo to say it?" in Korean).

Meaning we were drinking at about triple our normal pace of consumption, simply because there wasn't a whole lot else to do. The liquid courage effect helped me to speak a little more as the tipple made me tipsy, but not enough to offset fifteen minutes a bottle, when my normal pace is forty or forty-five.

(proud grandpa)

I got home, and had a very funny conversation on the phone (in Korean, so that the in-laws could laugh along at my storytelling) with Wifeoseyo, and a playful broken chat with the inlaws, while teasing our two dogs (who have been quite lonely while Wifeoseyo is in the 조리원).

My in-laws are great people, and I love them. They do their best, they are learning to simplify for me (though the Daegu dialect still throws me sometimes), and even though they can't understand what I'm saying, I think they get me, and they see that Wifeoseyo and I pretty much love the hell out of each other.

Final side note: I love the simplicity of many Korean sayings and phrases: instead of some weird idiom like "He's good with babies" or something, the comment people were making, upon seeing me holding Babyseyo, was simply "애기 잘해" which might literally translate as "he babies well"

So... I'll be off babying. Everybody enjoy the fall colors, and see you again, soon.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Babyseyo! Babyseyo! Babyseyo!

Suddenly, Everything Has Changed - by The Flaming Lips. Press play. 

 Because suddenly everything has changed.





(lyrics to the song "Suddenly Everything Has Changed"):

Putting all the vegetables away
That you bought at the grocery store today
And it goes fast
You think of the past
Suddenly everything has changed

Driving home, the sky accelerates
And the clouds all form a geometric shape
And it goes fast
You think of the past
Suddenly everything has changed

Putting all the clothes you’ve washed away
And as you’re folding up the shirts you hesitate
Then it goes fast
You think of the past
And suddenly everything has changed

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Random Weird Pictures

Been meaning to publish these for a long time... I took these pictures of a big poster in a subway station a long time ago, and still can't get over how suggestive they are. DSCN5972.JPG DSCN5975.JPG heh heh heh. problem is, with a photo like this, the jokes are way too easy, so I've got nothing to say. DSCN5974.JPG DSCN5976.JPG So... do you think APM did it on purpose? Rather... do you think they'd admit to doing it on purpose? DSCN5973.JPG and a couple of random "sand" konglish pictures for good measure. DSCN3577.JPG DSCN3580.JPG

World Mental Health Day: October 10

It's a few days late, but October 10, according to someone I love very much, was World Mental Health day. I'm not linking, because my friend wrote an intensely personal, private account of her own journey with mental health issues, that doesn't need a bunch of strangers reading it, but here's a quote she posted on her website that is germane to mental health issues anywhere, especially in Korea, where the stigma against mental illness is really strong:
The very reason these illnesses are so stigmatized is because no one shares their battle. No one who is "normal" (which I actually, even through all of this, think I am!) ever tells people, "Hey, I've battled that problem, and I'm okay! I have a kid, and a job, and a marriage, and guess what!? I am not going to lose ANY OF THESE WONDERFUL THINGS by sharing the fact that the GABA, Norepinepherine, and Serotonin neurotransmitters in my brain are not properly hitting the synapses of my Cerebral Cortex.
Some people go through life with a limp, because of a sports injury. And nobody thinks anything less of them. It's a shame that those who go through life with a gimpy brain-chemical-regulator, rather than a gimpy ankle, are subject to so many fears, prejudices, and other general crappinesses in life. That's all for now. Rob

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Making the Most of Korea's Festivals

It's festival season here in Korea, and while Korea's festivals are awesome, and one of my favorite things about the country, I have, at times, had a terrible time at a festival, because I didn't follow these simple rules. These rules are generally not unique to Korean festivals, but useful nonetheless.

You can find out which festivals are going on here.

Interspersed in this article are pictures from the "rape and cosmos festival" in Guri, near Seoul. That's rape and cosmos the flowers, not rape and cosmos as in Kobe Bryant and Carl Sagan.

IMG_9674 1. Scout, Research, Plan, Reserve

These festivals don't always happen in one place, and if you zig, instead of zag, you might miss the best parts, and come away from a festival thinking "weak sauce" instead of "wowza."

The best thing is to go with someone who's been before - even better if it's someone who knows enough Korean to get around, read the schedule or (glory of glories) research it online in Korean (there's always more info in Korean than in English).

However, most festivals these days have websites... and even websites with (some manner of) English on them. Don't count on that -- the English part might not have been updated since 2008, but it can't hurt to try. Use Internet Explorer, and turn off your popup blocker.

Before you show up, have an idea of what you want to do, or at least the most important bases to touch. If you just show up and wander around, you're going to catch the butt end of the fun.

If you don't have a car, know the transportation available. Know the phone number for the local taxi company, and/or the tourist help number for that region. If you do have a car, know where parking is, and how far it is from the venues. Whenever you can, get a bead on the nearest bike rental place, and use bikes to get around. Bike rentals are available in many towns around Korea, and they're an awesome way to get around.

Make hotel reservations. Well ahead of time, if at all possible, or you might find yourself up a creek, knocking on lodging establishment doors at 2am, sleeping in an elevator in a jimjilbang (a friend even got turned away from the local jimjilbang, because it was all full up, once), or having to stay out all night. The smaller the town where the festival is located, the less likely they'll actually have enough hotel space to accommodate the entire festival crowd during peak times.

IMG_9784(in Guri, people were digging holes in the flowers to get those cute "face in the middle of flowers" pictures.)

2. Have your gear ready
The best way to have a terrible time at a Korean (or any) festival, is to show up empty-handed, only to discover everyone but you knew that the toilets wouldn't have tissues, or that water wouldn't be available on the premises, or that the nearest non-cotton-candy food was a 30 minute walk away, or that there was no. shade. anywhere., or that the cash machine you passed on the way out of the train station was the last chance for a 30 minute bus-ride in every direction, and they don't take cards here. Some festival locales are nearly barren the rest of the year - the cosmos festival is just a park for most of the year, with public park amenities, not major festival amenities, so some of these festival grounds won't be equipped for a whole lot.

To be prepared: bring these items:
-Enough cash to taxi around, and not need to visit an ATM.
-An extra layer (best of all if it is wind/waterproof, especially if it's a spring/autumn festival: the temperature really drops at night).
-Enough liquids to survive a sunny afternoon.
-A package of napkins that can double as toilet paper in a pinch.
-Trail mix, health bars, or something in case there's no food other than cotton candy and stale churros on site.
-Sun protection (I always bring a hat when I'm at a festival).
-A fold-out mat to sit on the ground

At the train or bus terminal, find a tourist information center, and get the map/brochure they're handing out. The person at the tourist information center might be the last person with (somewhat) competent English you come across, if your festival is in the countryside, and if the festival brochure has the word "Traditional" somewhere on the front page.

IMG_9746(I love taking pictures of people taking pictures. Don't know why. Silly photographer poses have got to be one of the reasons, though.)

3. Be Ready for Crowds, And Ready to Wait

One of my more recent "least favorite things about Korea" is that, while there's lots of cool stuff to see and do in Korea, anything that you can see or do that is even remotely seasonal (festivals with a time frame, natural phenomena that have a time limit, like spring blossoms or fall colors) is subject to an absolute rush of people wanting to enjoy that same ephemera, at the same time, as you.

So... there are tons of cool things to see and do... but you'll share most of them with a million other people also wishing to see or do the same things. This is especially acute for famous festivals, festivals near urban centers, and festivals celebrating seasonal things, (flowers blossoming, leaves changing, butterflies mating). So be ready to wait in line, to get jostled, to wade through crowds, and to nearly lose your travel buddies a few times. Be mentally prepared for it, too, because if you're expecting to get away from it all, but discover the "it all" you wanted to get away from is waiting for you at the festival site, the unexpected stress of crowds is a lot tougher to manage than the expected stress of crowds.

IMG_9738(A double rainbow pose! What does it mean?)

4. Have the Right Travel Partner

My mother-in-law likes to travel old-school Korean style: with a checklist and four destinations before lunch. I like to throw the plans out the window and spontaneously take a nap under a nice tree, because it's there. Be sure you're traveling with someone who has the same travel style.

IMG_9742(The classic "proposal" photographer's pose.)

5. Know Where to Be... and Know that Everybody Else will want to be there at the same time

Here's where a little research is handy. The highlights of the festival will be at certain times and certain places - the Andong Mask Festival's fireworks are something you'll remember for your whole life... if you know when and where they are.

The thing is, those other million people who came to the festival? They also want to be there for that, so be ready to show up at or near your vital locations enough ahead of time that you don't miss them while waiting for a bus that isn't packed like sardines. As I said: some of these places don't have the transit infrastructure to conveniently transport the full number of visitors, because the festival crowd is double the busiest day they ever have during the rest of the year. So be ready to move early, or by a different route than others take (if you know the area), or to fight and claw for a taxi.


My wife always teases me because she knows all the different types of flowers, and my flower vocabulary goes like this: "The pink one. The pale blue one."

I've had great times at festivals; I've also had horrible times at festivals in Korea, because wifeoseyo (girlfriendoseyo) and I were unprepared, or had faulty expectations, or under/overestimated distances, crowds, or prices. If you're cool with flying by the seat of your pants, do it, but at least know where you're sleeping, and where and when the bus leaves, or you might spend most of your trip wandering around aimlessly, trying to find a way out of a neighborhood where there's not much to do. IMG_9715

 and one sunset photo from a birthday party I went to on Friday.

Ha ha. Here's a fun one: I'm so Korean...

You know "yo mama jokes" that start with "Yo mama's so [adjective]"? Well at my buddy Yujin's blog, somebody left a comment, "I'm so Korean, my genealogy's all in Hangul, even before Hangul was invented." and then a few more you can see here: "I’m so Korean, our family kimchi recipe includes the line “bury and age for 500 years” "I’m so Korean, when somebody breaks into my house, I sigh and think 'Whatever. It’s happened 5000 times before'.'" and so forth. So, readers, what's your best "I'm so Korean..." boast? Put them in the comments. Winner gets a toaster! I'll start things out... "I'm so Korean, my side dishes have side dishes." "I'm so Korean, if I see a tiger in the wild, I offer it a pipe." "I'm so Korean, my mother-in-law asks ME for my dwenjang-jigae recipe."

Monday, October 10, 2011

Kpop Can't Take Over America. Neither Can Anybody

SeoulBeats has an interesting article that got facebook-posted and twitter'd at me all day today:

It discusses the way Kpop has been facing an increased demand in different countries of the world... a topic sure to get the we'll-repost-every-Korea-article-from-any-foreign-news-source Korea Promotion-type people all hot and bothered.

As you can see from these four videos, K-pop has swept the entire world and every human on the planet now loves Dongbangshinki and Shinee and 2NE1 and Girls' Generation.



and Geneva

and the crowds are no longer just overseas Koreans. See that white girl in the corner of the Geneva video? The one who doesn't really know the dance?

But sarcasm aside, the article brings up some of the usual complaints about the way often the management companies themselves are bunging up the delivery of a great product ...

and K-pop is a great product. It's not art (though there are Korean musical artists to be found if you know where to look) but as performance goes, it's a highly polished act that they've nearly got down to a science. Actually, down to a business model is probably the more apt phrase.

The article also suggests that these days, thanks to YouTube and stuff like that, K-pop has found enough overseas fans that they don't need to try to "convert the masses" the way JYP tried to do, booking The Wonder Girls with the Jonas Brothers: Kpop already has fans in all kinds of places, and they'll do a great job of selling out all kinds of venues... so long as their bookings are in keeping with the size of the fan community in their target cities (but who are we kidding? Ambition will win out. Wembley Stadium cancellation, here we come).

Some people might be a little disappointed if Kpop chooses to cater to that smaller niche, rather than aiming to hit the mainstream...

I'm not. And you know why?

Barenaked Ladies. That's why. And no, that's not a reference to the new look I hope SNSD takes on.

Barenaked Ladies (or BNL) is famous for that one song that gets stuck in your head. The chickity china one. You know it. They've had a handful of hit singles in America. That one catchy song was in 1999. What many people don't know is that in Canada, they first broke out in 1993, with this song:

They got some measure of success in Canada, but to get big in the USA, they toured, hard for a long time. Basically, from 1993 until 1999 when "One Week" broke through, they were releasing albums and achieving slowly increasing levels of fame around the USA, so that by the time the did have a radio hit, they also had a polished act, a solid back catalogue to fill out a full length show, great stage banter,  a pre-existing fan base who could act as their missionaries to those who thought they were one-hit-wonders, and live favorites that new fans could get into, while old fans could sing along.

And if a Korean band really wants to make it in the USA, they're probably going to have to do the same. This whole "hitch our wagon to the Jonas Brothers" thing won't quite do it, and here's why:

He tries to crack up the audience, but his delivery is twelve kinds of "off." It's kind of cute to see him fall on his face, but it's not a speech that will set another million tweens' hearts aflutter, the way the Beatles were charming and cheeky and funny in their moptop era interviews. 

In Robotics, they talk about the "Uncanny Valley" - when robots begin to resemble humans, humans feel more empathy towards them. We empathise with R2D2 more than Robbie The Robot because R2D2 looks and acts a little more human than Robbie does.
We connect more with Mr. Incredible than with Rodney Copperbottom, because he's more human-looking... but then something strange happens.

Call it the Polar Express effect. There's a point where the imitation gets close enough that it becomes weird instead of more and more charming. Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within was so lifelike... that it freaked everybody out. It was so similar to human that the small differences became the focus, instead of the big similarities.

And Korean stars trying to act the way American popstars act will fall into the uncanny valley - that "almost there, but not quite" zone, that will win over those niche audiences, and people who are willing to take Kpop, its awkward English its aegyoish stylings, and its boys wearing eye makeup on its own terms. It won't win over "the mainstream" in the way that would make the Kimcheerleaders feel validated. (Then again... jimmying music chart results for a meaningless number one single (see here) validates them, so maybe it would).

See, Rain's video up there-- he tries to make a joke - a simple pun - and bombs completely. Because rehearsing softball interview questions is not the same as actually appearing cool enough during a live appearance/interview/whatever, that a teenybopper (they're the audience for Kpop) would go "I want to make THAT person my idol." Making a joke that's culturally acceptable, and delivering it in a way that's funny to a widespread audience, is a very, very culturally specific performance, and you can't traipse across an ocean and expect to be the coolest kid in the class when you don't even speak the language. And that's the level of cultural acclimatization that would be necessary to reach "the mainstream." Lady Gaga knows the culture well enough that she can turn it inside out and play off defying its conventions, but you have to know it to subvert it.

(that uncanny valley goes the other way, too: the two mixed-race girls in Chocolat freak me out because their not-quite-Korean faces look really really weird to me in Korean kpop makeup, Korean kpop fashion, doing Korean kpop dances and aegyo. Big noses and aegyo are like apricot jam and pizza to me: both alright, but not together. Don't ask me why specifically - the whole thing about the uncanny valley is that you can't quite put your finger on it - but it's weird to me.)

Oh yeah: Unless you can do this (Shakira), or something like it.
In which case the rest is kinda moot. (Thanks, Youtube)

That may still not be entirely true: Shakira backs up her talent to back it up, with a really strong stage show, and she was a proven performer in Spanish (and had support from that fan base) before she tackled the VMA's.

But the other rub is this:

There's just no such thing as a mainstream anymore. When the Beatles came across the pond in 1964, the average TV owner had something like three or six channels to choose from, period. It's a lot easier to get astounding tv ratings when you're twenty five percent of all that's available! Even in the days of Michael Jackson's "Thriller," there were few enough methods of media distribution, that probably every person in America had heard "Billy Jean" on the radio, and could hum along. These days, thanks to Youtube, Amazon's long tail and iTunes and online personalized specialty radio stations, you can have an album or song hit number one in the charts, with vast swaths of America's population still saying "Justin Whober?" or "Whoby Keith?" or "Isn't M&M a candy?" Arcade Fire had some good chart results, and they still got the Who the Hell is Arcade Fire? backlash when they won Album of the Year. Modest freaking Mouse had a number one album...because in 2007, that's possible. Wouldn't have happened to the Pixies in the '80s.

That's good for music, because it means anybody can find their niche, and it's good for me, because I don't have to wait through radio crap to find songs I like and buy their albums.

Stornoway. Courtesy of a facebook status update. Song: Fuel Up.

But that same diversity in music means that you can't sweep America, or take America, or the world, or Europe, by storm. At very best, you can take one country, or one demographic by storm - like Justin Bieber did, setting youtube and twitter records while people older than me have NO idea who he is, and couldn't be bothered (at the same time as those tweeners really can't be bothered about Arcade Fire and The National). You could be an indie sensation, or a country sensation, or a teeny-bop sensation, or a CCM supadupastar. If you've got the chops.

And that'd be a pretty impressive accomplishment. But you can't take over America anymore. There's just too much ground, and too diverse, with too many pockets of people looking for something too specific, to be taken. What was the last album that took North America by storm? Has anything since Jagged Little Pill had the same impact across demographics?

The group that has the best chance at it will have every member good enough at English that they can do unscripted stuff, and come off cool. They will be legitimately talented, and also very hard-working, and they'll pay their dues: they won't whisk into L.A. from Seoul, book Staples Center, and sell it out because "The Whole World is Being Swept By the Korean Wave." They'll make it the way BNL made it in America. 200 cities a year, for five years. And then suddenly they'll appear out of nowhere.

The way Bobby Kim did in Korea: by being really poor for a while.

So that's what I think. Now go read the article at SeoulBeats.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

So... I'm Dumb. You should go to the KOTESOL Conference

I accidentally linked the wrong Kotesol conference in my last post.

So here's the correct link: you should go to the KOTESOL conference next weekend.

Here's the facebook page.

I was there for one of the days last year, and they had good sandwiches.

Saturday, October 08, 2011

EVERYTHING is Happening

I've received a whole bunch of notices I'd like to tell you all about...

1. The Kotesol Conference...
I strongly encourage English teachers in Korea to do something with their year or two in Korea (other than the usual having fun/see the world things), because otherwise it can be a bit of a black hole on your resume. KOTESOL is a great organization to get involved with, to sharpen your tools as a teacher, and to demonstrate a commitment to your profession that will help you with employers, and in the classroom.

60 presentations. Go visit the KOTESOL site for more information.

2. As seen on Popular Gusts:

 On the evening of Tuesday October 11, 19:00, Mr. Devolin and Senator Martin will host a dinner reception for Canadian English teachers in Seoul at Maple Tree House, Jongno-gu, Samchung-dong 31-1 (02-730-7461) for a casual exchange of ideas and open discussion on a range of issues over (free) Korean BBQ. What we would ask of you is to spread the word (quickly) among your friends/colleagues/acquaintances who are Canadian English teachers interested in the idea of having a meaningful discussion on Korea-related topics or issues of concern to English teachers in Korea. Of course, all of you may attend this event as well. As solid attendence would help their event to be a success (first 50 to RSVP), your cooperation in inviting contacts is much appreciated.

RSVP: eslreception@gmail.com
Attendees: First 50 to reply
Cost: Free
Time: Oct. 11, 19:00-21:00
Location: Maple Tree House (Samchung-dong)

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Guest-Posted! Jonoseyo, Peter Nimble, and Welcome, readers of The Scop

Welcome, readers of The Scop, who may have come here after reading my guest-post on Jonathan Auxier's blog. If you're a fan of Jonathan Auxier, because you're a fan of Peter Nimble, and you're younger than age fifteen or so, I have to warn you that sometimes this blog uses big words, and sometimes it uses bad words like the "h" word or the "d" word (and I don't mean "happy" and "dinosaur")... but I'll make sure this post is squeaky-clean, or warn you.

And hello, my regular readers. I'm excited to tell you about this...

Jonathan Auxier was my very best male friend in university: we participated in comedy improv together, we got all pretentious together (both English lit majors) and generated a huge network of interrelated and absurdist inside jokes with surprising speed. Jonathan is the best yo-yo-er I've ever (knowingly) met, the second best player of "Zip-Bong" (a game I still play when I'm teaching kids) and I'm not sure why, but when I'm talking to him, I'm somehow better with words than I am at any other time. Being around him just helps me turn a phrase.

After graduating, Jon went to Carnegie-Mellon University for a masters' in Fine Arts in writing, and I came to Korea. We kinda drifted apart. But thankfully we re-connected recently.

Jonathan invited me to write a guest-post at his blog after we had a discussion there (also check my long comment) about Harry Potter, and why I felt let down by Harry Potter's performance as a hero: I love the Harry Potter books - really love them - but found that Harry's final victory left me cold. In the meantime, I've discovered my new favorite hero journey: Aang's journey, in Nickelodeon's "Avatar: The Last Airbender" So go read my post at The Scop about why. Aang might be the most likable protagonist I've ever seen (he matches Harry Potter in the first three books in likability - before Harry gets all sullen and resentful of...everything), but Aang has a resolution that's way more satisfying to me than Harry's.

Jonathan and I both dreamed of writing books back in our glorious, handsome, long-armed days of youth, and part of the reason he's started his website, "The Scop" (Scop is an old word for storyteller) is because Abrams just published his debut novel, "Peter Nimble and his Fantastic Eyes."

(book trailer - did you know books had trailers?)

Peter Nimble and his Fantastic Eyes is a great debut novel. Peter is a blind thief - the world's greatest thief - and a ten-year-old boy, who breaks into a mysterious haberdasher's wagon, and steals a box which he discovers to contain three pairs of magical eyes. When he puts the first pair of eyes in his empty sockets, he is magically swept off to a mysterious place, and has high, swashbuckling adventures that are full of revelations, surprises, sly references to other children's classics (Peter Pan's Lost Boys, meet The Missing Ones). For your token Korea reference of the day (because this is a Korea blog), there is an evil king whom Peter eventually must confront, and he uses a surprisingly similar method of controlling his enslaved population as North Korea's Kim Jong-Il and his propaganda machine: force-feeding his people lies about how happy they are under his rule until they believe them. 

The book includes Jonathan Auxier's own drawings (as does his blog: if you do something really awesome, sometimes he draws a picture for/of you) and the whole story is presented by a winking narrator who is never funnier than when (he?) directly addresses his audience... one of my very few gripes about the book, which I think is an absolute winner, is that I wish I could have heard more of the narrator's hilarious/witty/unexpected thoughts on topics. The action was exciting, but other books also have action... I kept waiting for the totally unique narrator's voice to throw that one extra layer of self-referential fun on top of the action, like the rug that ties the room together. (Warning: this video clip includes a Very Bad Word that your parents don't want you to say... so don't click on the link if you don't want to hear it.) Sometimes I got the gently-tossed narrator's bulls-eyes I hoped for, and sometimes I didn't. Part of the reason I wanted the book to go on longer, was so that I could hang out more with that narrator.

Take that single gripe with a grain of salt in the exact shape of this fact: Jon is a friend of mine from of old, so perhaps I simply miss his voice because he's my friend, and I'm reading this book partly as a friend of Mr. Auxier's, and not purely as a reader of books. Maybe his editor disagrees with me. Or twelve-year-old readers. Maybe most readers wouldn't go "More of Jonathan Auxier! Less of that Peter Nimble fellow" in a book about Peter Nimble... but I did, strange as that is.
(image from Jonathan's own website: looks like the friend I remember)

However, I'll say unequivocally that Jonathan Auxier has grown to become quite an excellent writer, and it is clear that he has worked extremely hard on crafting a book that is quite nearly perfect, and that doesn't show off how hard he must have worked on it (because that's the greatest trick good writers can do: a good writer can spend hours getting a sentence just perfect, but when you read it, it seems like it just popped into their head. The hardest working writers make their effort invisible.)

Now that I have his readers and friends attention for this one post, I'm going to dish up one juicy story from his past: at one point, Jonathan decided to start reading the dictionary, from cover to cover, in order to find all those lovely, delicious words that are fun to say, or that perfectly describe something that's difficult to describe, but aren't very common. Well, he'd started on that task when he handed me a manuscript he wanted me to critique. The story was good... but it was loaded, loaded with very obscure words that, while they perfectly described their various situations, needed to be looked up in a dictionary. The funny thing is, because Jonathan had just started his quest to read the dictionary from cover to cover, the obscure and wonderful words in the story all started with "A," "B," or "C"!

Photo on 2011-10-06 at 12.26

Jonathan Auxier's book, "Peter Nimble and his Fantastic Eyes" is an abomasal book, and if you visit the website for the book: http://www.peternimble.com/, you can see that Peter Nimble will answer your questions, but you will also see (events) that if you decide to study "Peter Nimble" with your class before next February, you can have a free skype visit with the author, Jonathan Auxier. Some of my regular readers may teach young students who are middle-school-level readers, who might just LOVE this book (Jonathan describes it as the book he wished somebody'd handed him when he was in middle school)... and it'd be fun making Jon stay up late to skype-visit a class of students in Korea.

One last thing: another benefit of re-connecting with Jonathan is that his writing on The Scop (which often discusses being a teller and lover of stories) led me to discover Cockeyed Caravan, which is a blog by a writer named Matt Bird, that should be read by anybody who dreams of telling stories for a living, whether that's books, televeision, or screen. I know Korea's expat scene is loaded with people working on their novel or screenplay, so go subscribe to him, too.

Disclosure: I received no compensation of any kind for the guest-post I wrote, or for writing this glowingly positive post, for Mr. Auxier. Other than the short thank-you e-mail he sent me.