Wednesday, July 31, 2013

(a)Musings: Teaching Overworked Kids

I finally started making videos talking about some of the social issues and random things I've noticed about living here and found worthy of mention, though the only time I'm making them is after I get home at 2 or 3 in the morning after going out and drinking. Good enough I guess, lol.

One of the first ones is about how overworked and underjoyed most of the poor kids here tend to be. I touched on it in the long ranting post about the things that were bogging me down but wanted to make a little video anyway, because honestly, it tugs at your heartstrings sometimes. Even kids who are very well-off often have at least one parent who is almost completely absent or is at least absent emotionally. It's not that this doesn't happen everywhere, but when you combine the extremes of either ignoring or hovering over your kid like an incredibly annoying, overbearing nag-copter 24/7 with the intense cram school culture, behaviour problems begin to explain themselves.

We used to have one really cute, handsome little boy who was around 8 - 9 when he was at our school, and the level of terror he caused approached mythical proportions. To this day, "I am crazy" is still ominously scrawled across the wall of our hospital-themed room. 
I started around Christmastime, and one of the first times I had his old class, I gave them a colouring sheet of Santa flying through the sky in his sleigh. No one really explained anything to me when I started and just told me to do whatever, so I leaned pretty heavily on the holidays. I asked them questions while they coloured, like what colour the deer were, how many there were, et cetera. Pretty standard, right? Well, while this was going on, said kid violently scribbled his entire page black with a marker, and stabbed it until the marker was dead. He found some scissors at the bottom of the crayon box and started cutting it up. Then he proceeded to cut up the crayon box and some other kids' papers before I could get the scissors away from him. Once I had taken them away, he tore the paper to shreds, and ate it. Yeah, he actually ate some of it. He killed Christmas and ate Santa.

Now, the Korean teachers really liked this kid, and none of us could figure out why. I knew he was really bright and probably pretty bored, but he was just so badly-behaved that it didn't really matter. Challenging questions and positive reinforcement helped, but there was only so much that could be done before he'd start rampaging again. Come to find out, his mother would just drop him at our school all the time (as in, for as many classes as possible). She wasn't there to pick him up, didn't ask about how he was doing, help him with his homework, or anything. She didn't act like she cared very much at all. They had plenty of money and the kid was intelligent, but if my parents ignored me and just stuck me in classes from morning until night, I would have probably acted out the same way. So many of these kids are barely home, and when they are, they're mostly just being told to do their mountains of homework. What about watching family movies or playing board games together or talking about books you're reading, or just your day in general? Sacrificing that love and emotional bonding for academic achievement is a mistake.

Another little 10 or 11 year-old girl of whom I'm quite fond is naturally very pretty, has a nice personality, and is very intelligent. She's a winner, basically. But at the same time, she's got this dreary, sulky disposition, and is tired and stressed out all the time. The oppressed rage (honestly, sometimes she'll just turn around and clock one of the boys who's annoying her or knock over a desk) and anxiety are evident in her face. One time, when we were talking about different subjects in school, I asked them to write about what type of museum they'd like to visit and why. For her, the why was much more important. She had trouble explaining in English at first, but basically, she said that she wanted to go and learn extra things so that she could do her homework better and get better grades on tests, so that her mother would stop nagging her for once.

She doesn't have time to play with her friends. She has no games or toys at home. She goes to school, goes to cram schools, does extra-curriculars, and then goes home and gets bitched at. Is she going to have emotional and relationship issues as an adult? You bet.

These are just a couple of examples of specific kids, but once you've had the same kids for about six months, you know them. I'm not saying that every kid's life is a ceaseless cycle of misery and suffering, but even when it's not, chances are that they're quite overworked. I think it would have been nice to have been able to afford to take lots of extra classes as a kid and to have wasted less time and brain power, but there's a happy medium to be found in all things. My point is that you're going to have to deal with all that emotionally if you decide to teach English in Korea, and reconcile your desire to teach well with your desire to give the kids what may be the only free time, fun and games they're allowed to have all day. Bribing them to do the former with the latter is pretty effective, and everybody wins. I hope you have enough freedom at your hagwon to be able to do that. Even if you don't, kindness and individual attention go a long way and work wonders, especially for shy kids. Whatever your methods, be excellent to them.

Saturday, July 13, 2013


After reading this article/photoessay on Chincha?! back in February, I decided Ansan seemed worth a wander one Saturday when we didn't have to work. 

It's around 40 minutes outside Seoul on the blue line and has a significant number of Southeast Asians, which is enough to frighten away most Seoul-dwelling Koreans. It's even gotten a bit of a bad rap, but it's just like any city with a large, hard-working immigrant population. I think that if the dingy dated arcade in the aging, heavily-Asian mall in the crappy-but-not-dangerous neighbouhood you used to go to in the mid-90's were a city, this is what it would look like.

The marketplace in the center of Ansan has just about everything every Asian street market tends to have, but has a bit of a different feel from those in Seoul. It's definitely more vibrant: you won't find crowds of enthusiastic blue-collar people playing xiangqi or jianzi in Namdaemun.

There's a lot of Thai and other more varied cuisines there, though I didn't end up trying any. We didn't realise the distinctive vegetarian restaurant Si had looked up that was a ways out of the centre of Ansan was closed that day, so we made the journey to it in vain. 
I'd like to go back sometime; the distinctive architecture alone is a lure for me, seeing as how most of the buildings in Korea seem to come from the same Ikea-style pre-fab box, minus the colour choices.

Of course, most of Ansan is basically like Seoul and it's not drastically different, but it has character. People who dig post-apocalyptic motifs, the aforementioned arcade vibe, nostalgia and kitsch should like it enough to spend a day.

Close enough.

The multicultural community center tried to tell us which way we should go, but we decided that we couldn't fit both Bangladesh and Nepal into one afternoon.

A vending machine full of tubes of chips plus one tin of Danish cookies. You can see my brow furrowed confusedly in the reflection.

The juxtaposition of old/traditional/earthy and new/Western/shiny you see everywhere.

For some reason I thought this immaculate office chair sitting in front of what used to be a building was kind of poignant.

Sometimes I have to wonder if Korea is secretly made out of Legos.

I haven't been able to successfully edit videos on my little netbook because it can't really handle playing the HD videos I've been taking in the first place. The other day I decided that I have too much cool crap to keep it tucked away in folders on my external forever, and just used YouTube Video Editor to string these clips together without trimming them. Whatever gets the job done I guess. Maybe I'll try to make them fancy sometime in the future.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Gluten-Free, Vegetarian Recipe: Cookies & Cream Tart

Like many of the things I make, this is a very randomly-assembled concoction and my measurements are not exact. I'm posting it, though, because it turned out surprisingly good and it might give people with limiting diets ideas for their own desserts. 

So the Betty Crocker Gluten-Free Mixes are the best IMO - and I've tried quite a few different ones over the years - but everything has a down side. While the texture is perfect straight out of the oven, if you don't eat the chocolate chips and brownies very quickly, they get hard and crunchy. Something I've also noticed, though, is that the only GF baked good I've ever seen go mouldy is bread. And that's not even all types of bread; it's mostly the homemade kind. I'm sure various cakes and things will go mouldy if you give them the chance, too, but the overwhelming majority don't really seem to go bad. Stale and a little off-tasting after a long time, sure, but not bad.

So anyway, I didn't get a chance to ear like 2/3 of a batch of Betty Crocker chocolate chip cookies one time, but went ahead and stashed them in a Ziploc bag in the cupboard even though I knew they'd gone a bit hard. A while later, I didn't get a chance to eat about half a batch of the brownies.I went ahead and stuck these in with the cookies, which had broken a little and broke even more when I accidentally dropped them. They pretty old by perishable food standards but still tasted the same. So, you know, I figured I should finish crushing them all up and use the crumbs in another dessert. 

Ideally you'll want to use fewer crumbs than I did. As I said, there were quite a few cookies and brownies I didn't get a chance to eat. Using just under half of a gallon Ziploc bag full (once they're thoroughly crushed of course) and 1/2 a cup of butter should be just right.

To replicate what I made, you'll need:

A tart pan

A mixer

3/4 of a gallon Ziploc bag of mixed chocolate chip and brownie crumbs

3/4 cup of butter

2 cups milk

2 boxes of Dr. Oetker's Mousse Supreme, one French Vanilla, one White Chocolate

One package strawberries

Approx. 2 tablespoons almond-flavoured chocolate frosting

Approx. 3 tablespoons of Nutella

Dr. Oetker's Mousse Supreme  is an import that came from an Asian market that also had European groceries. The finished product, as you can guess, is a lot like a light vanilla pudding, so I'm sure there are plenty of substitutes available.

You might be wondering about the almond chocolate frosting, too. It was a standard can of Chocolate Fudge-flavoured frosting plus a little flavouring packet I found at Wal-Mart. It tasted kind of like marzipan and gave the GF cake I'd frosted with it a nice hint of grenadine.

So anyway, pour your bag of thoroughly-crushed crunchies into a mixing bowl. Melt the butter, drizzle it over the crumbs, and fold it all together with a spatula or spoon. When thoroughly mixed, pour it into the tart pan and press it in as well as possible with your fist or another implement.

Next, I mixed the remaining flavoured frosting together with what little Nutella I'd had left and spread it over the crumbs. There was just enough for a very thin layer.

Now follow the instructions on the mousse box, or for whatever filling you're using. Whipped cream would be nice to put on top but isn't enough for this FrankenTreat on its own, so you'll have to find something richer and thicker. In this case, you needed one cup of milk for each box of mousse, to be blended with the mix at high speed. When ready, simply spread the mousse over the crumb base and chill for at least two hours before serving. 

I served mine with sliced strawberries on top, though I'm sure it'd also be good with the aforementioned whipped cream, mixed summer berries, mandarin oranges, shredded coconut, cherry pie filling, caramel, et cetera. The possibilities are endless. I really hope someone else finds this to be a good use for the incredibly specific niche problem of overly crunchy GF baked goods :D

Friday, July 5, 2013

Craft(y) Project: Saturday Class Book Cover

Welp, here we are at yet another installment of "Something School-Related I Made On My Desk at Work". I still haven't finished the (only) two paintings I started and haven't made a couple of recycled collages I've been thinking about a lot or drawn anything. GO ME.

We have Saturday classes, and this time I'm doing a higher-level elementary school one that involves reading passages, discussion and answering questions. My coworker asked me to make a cover for the packet of content he created. The subjects in this book my coworker made include: great artists, European history, world geography (he didn't say which world) and astronomy, so I think I covered those. A certain percentage of Americans think that the Lord of the Rings trilogy is a factual account of somewhere between post-Bronze Age, pre-medieval European history anyway, right?

I ended up making a mixed media collage. I kind of wish I'd taken a couple more pics of the progression, but oh well. First I drew the banner with the name of the class, and then was going to draw a map of the world for the background, but decided that copying the map of Middle Earth would be more whimsical. Then I got a bit funky with the inkjet printer and the cup of water on my desk. 

I spilled some water on Da Vinci's Vitruvian Man - who is the compass rose - so it would blend in better and used the runoff to start making the land on the map. A liner pen I was using exploded a bit, and I ended up with black ink splatter that I though looked kind of neat and added more. It didn't look as good after bleeding in with the water, but oh well.

Then I printed a close-up of Jupiter's clouds and a picture of a few of its moons, all over which I also spilled water. I used that runoff to fingerpaint more colour onto the land and ocean. Even though most of the colour runs out of the paper, I think the look of the images is somehow sharper and a lot more interesting after doing it that way. To complete the thing I finished adding details onto the map, added a few yellow-white paint details and printed and cut out some stars for the Jupiter cloud sky. Some of it also ended up being Mordor, which worked out well. I think it's pretty fun.  

Cyberpunk Book Review: Accelerando

Source: Joonas Sildre
This novel, which was originally a series of short stories, contains so many far-flung concepts that culminate into full-fledged galactic vistas by the time Charles Stross decided to stop writing that I have to believe even the most hardcore tech-savvy nerds looking for a stimulating read would be impressed. Actually, if the nerds of Earth could crown a king, it'd probably be this dude. Aside from hard sci-fi novels and stories, he's invented Advanced Dungeons & Dragons monsters and published articles about the game, used to be responsible for the monthly Linux column in Computer Shopper magazine and has also been both a successful programmer and pharmacist. Lock up your daughters.
Source: Locus Magazine Online

But wait, the title of this post looked vaguely interesting, you say to yourself, but you're not really into that kind of stuff. Well, friend, neither am I. I don't claim to know anything about anything about Dungeons & Dragons OR Linux. I'm not good enough at math to make it beyond basic calculus, either; that's for sure. I'm an art and language kind of person. But that's the beauty of it: this guy is also a fantastic writer with a strong, clear voice and the ability to effortlessly string together more choice words than you recall ever having to look up with a constant stream of innovative concepts and highly technical jargon without coming off like a pretentious jerk. After reading this novel, my ego isn't even in pain after having been unequivocally bested at not only what I'll never even attempt to fully understand, but also at what I thought I was good at. If everyone was as smart as this guy, we'd be a lot further along as a species. I feel sure of that.

The most concise plot synopsis I can muster in my excited state is going to contain some spoilers, but something that introduces revolutionary ideas every other paragraph as a form of plot progression can't really be ruined by the premature introduction of comparatively mundane details.

First of all, there are 9 short stories divided into 3 parts, and the name of the first part, "Slow Take-Off", lulls you into a completely false sense of security. Manfred Macx is a venture altruist who thinks so far into the future that most everyone else in what is supposed to be this decade can't even wrap their heads around how he exists. He's altruistic in that he comes up with patentable ideas as often as every few seconds, uses a dense smokescreen of shell corporations, aliases and legal knowledge to protect them and himself, and makes them available to the public for free via the Internet. Companies and individuals - even the Italian Socialist Party - seek him out when they need his help solving a complicated problem, and in return for what he usually sees as a simple solution that requires minimal effort, these entities fund his life. Plane tickets, hotel rooms, hardware, drinks, clothes, whatever. He doesn't pay for anything. He thinks in terms of a post-scarcity economy in which resource allocation and capitalism are obsolete, so he doesn't work or pay taxes, just lives comfortably on the gratitude of his clients as somewhat of a legend. 

Pamela, his severe, dominatrix IRS official of a significant other, really hates that. It pisses her off. This is an era in which America is no longer an influential superpower, but some people - like her - try to hang on to the old ways of doing things, I guess in an attempt to go down valiantly with the idealistic ship. Pamela's extremely intelligent, but just believes that Manfred is obligated to use his gifts to contribute something concrete to the relatively free market capitalist society that spawned him. They've got an odd relationship that, for a couple hundred years anyway, ends in a divorce Manfred settles financially outside of court by signing over the rights to the (probably countless) corporations he's created to freely distribute all of the 20th century music he could find that wasn't spoken for by the Mafia, which stringently and violently controls it now in place of obsolescent record companies. Being a high-level government employee, there's no legal or ethical way for Pamela to get around this and actually collect the billions of dollars being passively taken in, though it's totally legit on paper. Trololol.

Later on, through means I won't reveal, those two lovebirds have a daughter named Amber who uploads herself onto a starwisp - an ultra-lightweight unmanned space probe - whose mission involves space mining, to escape the suffocating clutches of her mother. This is where it really starts speeding up and getting weird. You're going to miss Manny and wish he was still skullfucking you. Amber and the other kids aboard the Field Circus - who are technically slaves but will be handsomely compensated for their service once they come of age - are exact, thinking, functioning, informational copies of people. I'm not even sure where their "meat bodies" even were or what they were doing on Earth for the duration of the starwisp's lengthy voyage through the solar system. As time goes on, though, the technology that Manfred once used in the form of an extremely expensive pair of glasses (Google Glass, anyone?) to rapidly collect, process and display information upon thought request becomes a standard series of brain implants that become increasingly sophisticated through the stories. People can appear as whatever they please: clothing is an act of will and whim, and the Russian kid on the starwisp even favours a velociraptor as his avatar for quite some time. 

Later, people can spawn ghosts, or alternate, intelligent, searching selves, to work out all of the probable and possible outcomes of situations for them before they make decisions. It's never again certain how much real, "wall clock" time is passing; everything is measured in kiloseconds, megaseconds, gigaseconds, etc. Whether or not a technological sigularity has occurred and when, if it has, are debated for the rest of the sojourn as the solar system becomes more intelligent and microprocessors outnumber and eclipse the processing power of all the human neurons in existence. 

Amber remains in space for the rest of the story, never returning to Earth in any form the reader's acquainted with. She lives a fantastically bizarre life around Jupiter before Manfred finds out about and informs her of an alien signal received from a point adjacent to a brown dwarf, a type of super low mass celestial body. It turns out to be a router, built and left behind by an alien civilisation of unknown origin and intent. Amber and a number of others decide to upload themselves into the router, leaving behind copies for backup. 

Source: ITSF
The relationships she has with a French-Algerian boy who was also aboard the Field Circus and an Iranian holy man are a little too complicated to get into, but Amber finds out when she returns that her backup entity, or eigenself, has a child named Sirhan with the stoic, philosophical Middle Easterner, which completely throws her for a loop. What's even worse is that he's really bitter and suing her and what's left of the empire she had constructed before leaving, having lived through many full lifetimes before he was even a teenager as his parents simply hit the 'reset' button over and over hoping to get a result that more closely matched their preconceptions. It's not like Amber doesn't already have enough problems: they've brought back a copy of an extinct alien slug parasite with them from the router, and all they managed to find out was how ill-prepared humans are to participate in what they come to call Economics 2.0, in which life forms and information are used in too-complex-for-unaugmented-humans-to-fathom trade agreements that further status and access in the universe. It's turns out we're not alone, anyway; we just didn't have enough bandwidth to communicate with demigod extraterrestrial intelligences before we started dismantling the planets to turn their dumb mass into computronium. 

Geeze, I haven't even mentioned the cat. The robotic cat is the key to all of it.

Honestly, while reading about the voyage of the Field Circus and Amber's Ring Imperium, I wished the story of Manfred Macx had been its own novel entirely. It's not so much that the whole thing became too crazy for me to enjoy so much as I as just thought that the first part was the best one. It's the closest to our current time and the most relatable, but completely amazing. I had to read the first chapter in two sittings and found myself constantly putting down the book to pause and absorb what I had read. A reference to "President Santorum's America" placed in this decade, for example, seemed more shockingly prophetic and less coincidental than it should have given the visionary abilities of the author, and I stared at the wall for a while wondering if it would be possible for a British man to actually call something like that ten years before. I know it's not even remotely likely, but I still wouldn't put it past him. 

If you're looking for a mind-expanding departure or challenge that, as my favourite review snippet on the back cover so accurately pinpoints, "makes hallucinogens obsolete", you've got to read this. And the best part is, in the true spirit of his first protagonist, Stross has made this epic work available for free online, so you have no excuse not to.

Check out the various free eBook formats of Accelerando on Charles Stross' blog, as well as the back story of the novel.

(Originally published 3.28.12)

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Cute Shit: Googling Nature 2

This one isn't Korea-themed; it's just of cute stuff the Internet has been kind enough to show me lately. Here's a little bird called a tufted titmouse:

Aww, you dork, that peanut's much too big for you.
My bologna has a first name, it's f-i-n-g-e-r... OM NOM
 And this is the Birdseye Pea Car, which I'd very much like to own:

You can read a bit about it here.
Pea car pea car pea car pea car MUSHROOM mushroom.

And finally, something a friend posted on Facebook: an otter at a Japanese zoo who gets your juice can from the vending machine for you.