Old News

October 10, 2007: UPDATE 2
I'm going to talk like an old man, and go into detail about my health problems and the steps necessary to rectify them! Oh boy! Actually, this is pretty good news. Even though I'm out another 50,200 won for about 10 minutes worth of actual doctor time, my ears are a lot better. Basically, this time, my earwax was soft enough from the ear drops to draw out with suction! So they stuck these tubes into my ears and turned on the machine and out came the wax! It was kind of painful, but not nearly as painful as having some metal instrument in there SCRAPING it from my sensitive ear drum. OH MY GOD, SO MUCH WAX CAME OUT OF MY LEFT EAR. Like, there was just this clump the size of a pencil eraser! Strangely, though, it was my right ear that improved more. I guess my right ear is just, in general, better than my left, since it doesn't have a hole in it from a massive childhood infection.

According to the doctor, there is no infection in my left ear, and while there is one in my right ear, he said it should clear up in 1-2 weeks without medication.

Now, of course, I'm not out of the woods yet. Two money-gouging appointments wouldn't be enough to let me off the hook. I'm going in for a hearing test sometime soon. In my opinion, hearing tests are stupid, because they always show me as "normal" despite my hearing never having been very good. Besides, even if I do poorly on it, what is there they can do without surgery? The only reason I even agreed to a follow-up appointment is to make sure the ear infection is really gone from my right ear.

As for other news, the hanja elective class started today. Due to an administrative screw-up, I got placed in Level 2 instead of Level 1 against my wishes. I don't really care that much, though. I bet it'll still be pretty easy. I mean, three years of Chinese (with traditional characters) at HKIS, plus all that independent study with Mijung have to have counted for something. Today didn't seem like rocket science. I mean, they're just Chinese characters! I'd probably just be wasting my time in Level 1 re-learning the basics for the 5,000th time.

Any other news? Well, thinking the weather was too cold for the mosquitoes, I opened my window when I took a nap, only to discover when I woke up that my feet (protruding from underneath the quilt) were bitten all over the place and had become itchy. Supposedly this can be solved by dripping hot wax from a candle on the mosquito bites. My wax supply disappeared earlier today. I just bore the itchiness.

October 10, 2007
Well, never a dull moment. Today I saw Kevin, the totally fluent-in-English ex-Katusa soldier leaving the building with a police officer. Naturally, I was very curious what was going on. I saw the hasukjip's owners and a couple of youths talking about something VERY SERIOUS around a table. It was so fast and furious that I couldn't really understand much more than that some kind of theft or burglary had happened. The ajumma was in a slightly crotchety mood, as well. The door codes have changed today, too. So obviously something very important has happened.

Finally, when Kevin came back, I found out. According to Kevin, the guy on the second floor (the one who wears pink pajamas as he walks around the hasukjip) is a THIEF. He has stolen a laptop and Kevin's shoes, as well as some other things. The police are looking through his spoils and checking theft reports. He may have stolen more.

Fortunately, they found the thief. It's always refreshing to see that happen. I don't think any of my stuff was stolen. My passport is still here, as is my Nintendo DS, both my computers (now THERE would be something difficult to steal), my Game Boy Advance, my TV, etc. I bet he never entered my room because I'm simply here all day long, because I don't go out to conserve money. That may have saved me some grief. When I go out, I often don't lock my door, because both the front entrance and Kevin's and my floor is sometimes locked. Apparently I should start, because you can't trust folks!

Now, I hate to be a carpetbagger here, but I think the thief deserves to be evicted, so if he is, I'm going to see about getting moved into his room. It's tiny. It's like the size of a closet. Therefore, logically, I should be able to pay less rent for it, which is the most important thing to me. I'm going to see what happens, and if he's evicted (as he damn well should be) I've got first dibs on that room!

October 8, 2007: UPDATE 2
I just finished my essay for the 한글 백일장 (the Korean Language Literary Contest). Can you believe that the Koreans have a single word that means "literary contest?" It's just proof that this language has far too many words to learn!

The topics for this year's contest were "stars" for poetry and "a trip" for essays. I generally dislike poetry, so I went with writing about my trip to Yanbian. I have no idea how I did yet. I estimate the results of the contest will be announced at about 2:00 PM, and it's not even 1:00 PM, yet.

I actually did put some effort into writing it -- my essay is almost two pages and I used the full hour and a half (it may have been two hours, but there was often someone talking over the loudspeaker, which was disruptive). Unfortunately, though, I think my essay is weak on two fronts. First of all, my grammar is very Level 3-ish. I used barely any from Level 4 or Level 5. In my opinion, this is because the vocabulary in those levels was largely either conversation-only or almost completely useless. I'm sure the scorers will see it differently, though. They'll say "oh, according to my experience teaching Korean, this has unsophisticated grammar!" Secondly, I think my essay was weak because it was strictly a summary -- it didn't have me making some epiphany or reflecting on the meaning of life. From those angles, I don't think it'll win anything. Still, I tried to write a decent essay, especially because there are cash prizes for winners, and I could use some cash right now!

I was hoping to finish the essay about 10 minutes early and copy it down, so I could scan and upload it to this site with a translation for the readers of this site who aren't proficient enough in Korean to read it. Unfortunately, I cut it right down to the wire without copying it. I stepped in line to hand it in literally less than one minute before the end of the contest.

Now, theoretically, I should be in the Open Air Theater awaiting the awards rather than typing on this KLI computer. I doubt I'll get in trouble for doing this, though. My dear GOD it was boring last year, so I'm skipping out this time. Basically, lots of Korean language education bigwigs talk, talk, talk into the microphone, and everyone claps like idiots even though they don't understand a word being said. If you study in Korea, you'll learn what I mean. There'll be some lame performances, like students singing songs into the mic. I'm skipping out on that and coming back during the awards -- I'll sneak back in.

When you attend the Korean Language Literary Contest, you get the following things (ranked in descending order in terms of importance to me):
A Yonsei University clip board, which I'm totally psyched about because I really liked my last one until the clip broke, the pen holder broke, and I accidentally got permanent marker all over it. Now I have a brand new one!
An official Yonsei University notebook. You're supposed to use it to write your essay/poem, but you can use the remainder for whatever you want -- it's filled with Yonsei stationary.
Two English newspapers. I don't know why they gave these to us considering this is a Korean language competition and English native language speakers are the minority, but I'm appreciative because English newspapers are expensive and I like my news in English.
Two muffins
A foam pad for use on hard surfaces, for your ass
A pen

October 8, 2007
Well, I just went hunting for the perfect club. I know I keep saying that I'll never go to club again, but tonight, I had a special purpose in mind. You see, my ideological reason for hating clubs is that guys pay to enter and meet girls (the girls pay no entrance fee, or it's vastly reduced). So basically you pay money to meet a girl. There's a word for that -- it seems to have slipped from my mind, but I think it starts with a p...

Earlier today, my Austrian friend Carina alerted me to a club where I wouldn't have to worry about the paying-to-meet-women problem. She told me about a club in Hongdae called "Tin Pan" which was free for foreign men! AWESOME!

Wanting to believe her, I trekked over to Hongdae. I didn't know the way, so I stopped at a McDonald's and a 7-Eleven and asked directions. Before I knew it, I was in Hongdae. After wandering for a while, I found out that there were two "Tin Pans:" Tin Pan and Tin Pan II.

They were devoid of activity because it was early Monday morning. That's understandable. I asked in both of them, and as it turns out, yes, they are free to foreign men -- the trouble is, they are free to EVERYONE. Now, I respect Tin Pan's egalitarian philosophy. Unfortunately, though, it just results in a meat fest. I'd imagine that on Friday nights, there are at least five men for every woman. That's not cool.

However, to Tin Pan's credit, one of the bar-tending girls actually seemed interested in talking to me. I'm not talking about some sleazy Itaewon bar girl, I'm talking about a normal bartender. She asked me a few questions about myself. Normally the bartender girls never bother to do any talking, because guys hit on them all night. Apparently she wasn't above talking to me. So I respect the Tin Pan establishment, its ideals, and its bar-tending women. I'll probably go there in the future to see what it's like on a Friday, but I'd imagine its egalitarianism means very few women. I hate how the world works.

On the way home, I saw a bar called "UNCLE CHARLES." Well, since my name is Charles, I had to go in and see what it was like. The bar-tending dude asked what I'd like -- I just replied that I'd come to look around, because my name was Charles. He shook my hand and said "nice to meet you!" The cute brown-haired girl sitting at the bar said "HI!" I'd have been tempted to talk with her, except that I know the drill -- she'd ask me a bunch of questions, until we got to age. Then I'd tell her I was 20. She'd tell me she was 22. HUGE FUCKING PROBLEM. Heaven forbid, in Korean society, that the girl be two years older than the guy. Then that'd be it. I'd be forever relegated to being her namdongsaeng (younger brother). So I left that girl alone, even though I respect her breaking the ice first. As I walked up the stairs and out of the bar, I heard her say "BYE!"

Well, now I'm back at home. The literary contest will be tomorrow. I should get at least five hours' sleep. Good night!

The Yonsei University students (including me) turned out in our blue shirts, whereas the Korea University students came wearing red shirts saying things like "WORLD WITHOUT YONSEI" (lame parody on the "WORLD WITHOUT STRANGERS" T-shirts that everyone here wears).

There was live music, as well as the CYON BBOY CHAMPIONSHIP 2007.

October 7, 2007
Yesterday was Yon-Ko-Jeon, a big festival held jointly by Yonsei University and Korea University. I attended it last year, as well, but didn't know what it was, and just referred to it on my website as "Bowing Man 2006" because of a particular video that I took of it with some guy bowing in a really extreme way twice who looked really funny.

Thanks to asking Sora, a Korean friend, I learned what Yon-Ko-Jeon is. It's an event between Yonsei University and Korea University relating to sports. The "Yon" comes from the first syllable of Yonsei. The "Ko" comes from the first syllable of "Korea University" and the "Jeon" is the first part of jeonjaeng, or "war." Korea University students refer to it as "Ko-Yeon-Jeon," putting their own school first.

At this event, Korea University used to haze its students by having them drink beer from shoes (sometimes adding cigarette butts and other disgusting things to the shoe beer). Supposedly this has stopped. I don't know if that's true or not.

Anyways, it had some fairly talented break dancers (B-boys) and a live band or two (or maybe more, I wasn't there for the whole thing). The whole festival was literally one minute away from my hasukjip, so I kept on going to the festival, taking pictures, going back to my PC to upload them, then going out again.

Other attractions included various tents with food, used books (some in English, but all looked excruciatingly boring), and even free stuff (I got a free bottle of Vita 500 Sports-C). Please visit the photo gallery to see all the pics -- the pics to the right are just a couple of those I uploaded.

Photo Gallery

October 4, 2007: UPDATE 2
I've just written up a list of Korean sayings from Level 5. I translated and explained them myself, so it's original content. There is no longer much room under the "Documents" button for new documents like this one. Therefore, when I have time to do so, I'm going to make a new button: "Korean Learning Documents." Until then, you can access the list here: http://www.geocities.com/charleshenrywetzel/Sayings.htm

October 4, 2007
Well, it's almost 8:00 PM on Thursday. I have a little bit of homework to do and some words to study, but thanks to my vocabulary memorization techniques that have improved in efficiency by leaps and bounds from the earlier levels, I'm sure I can get everything done and get to bed at a reasonable hour.

Today in class, we learned the most awesome Korean saying:
Level 5 Sayings:
11. 개똥 (쇠똥)도 약에 쓰려면 없다.
If you try to use even dog shit (cow shit) as medicine, there isn't any.

Essentially, this saying means "something that's normally all over the place and all too abundant disappears when you need it most." An example of this given by the teacher is when you have all these pens strewn all over your desk, and one day, someone calls on the phone, and you can't find a single pen to write down their phone number.

As for other things that happened today, I ran into Hye-yeong (former classmate from Hong Kong) and Gwan-so (former classmate from China) and this Chinese girl from Level 4 whose name I never learned because she was so quiet. It was good to see them again (well, at least the two whose names I remembered). I do remember one thing about the girl whose name escapes my memory -- she had scored lower on the Level 4 listening final than I had. HOWEVER, SHE FINISHED LEVEL 5 AND WENT ON TO LEVEL 6. Logically, if she can do it, I can do it, too. Hye-yeong even went as far to say that Level 5 was easier than Level 4. Good news, good news.

My teacher seems pretty pleased with me, which is good. When she handed back my homework, she remarked that my writing is very, very correct. This is true. I pride myself in being very good at spelling and grammar. Writing is definitely my strength, even if my scores say otherwise. I can write about anything and do so competently. I'm glad the teacher recognizes it. However, she pointed out that while my grammar was correct, I made a mistake in the usage of the -다네 (-da-ne) grammar that we learned the other day. It was only used in the old days, and yet, I have someone in one of my example sentences using this grammar in regard to a father who's just gone to the supermarket. She thought that was "awkward."

Finally, today everyone's talking about the South-North Summit Conference. Apparently Kim Jong-il asked his butt buddy, President No Mu-hyeon, to stay an extra day and have lunch or something. Of course, Kim Jong-il-loving No Mu-hyeon was thrilled to be asked out by Kim Jong-il and really wanted to have lunch, but the Korean National Assembly denied his request. As you may have guessed, I do not like No Mu-hyeon.

October 2, 2007: UPDATE 2
Well, I've just finished another day of school. It went pretty well. It followed the pattern of a normal day, this time -- no time wasted on orientations for new people or anything like that.

We covered Dialog 1 in the first chapter of the textbook and learned the grammar -다네 ("-da-ne"). This grammar is basically like -대 from Level 3 (a shortened form of -다고 해 from Level 2), except that this is used with the more formal banmal (격칙체, as opposed to the more informal banmal, 비격식체). It doesn't seem all that useful since I'm young and rarely use either type of banmal to anyone else, but at least I'll get it when I hear it, hopefully.

Then we went on to the reading period with areumdaun Mrs. Yi. We covered most of the remainder of that Pi, Cheon-deuk story about how he fell in love with his wife, Asako.

Then, one of the most nerve-wracking times at the KLI: the listening comprehension practice test. The first half seemed extremely easy, the second half quite hard. We didn't self grade; the teacher collected them for grading. I'm not 100% sure how I did, but the teacher let me know a rough figure later in the afternoon.

I came back to the KLI, and decided to eat lunch in the KLI basement. I love throwing people for a loop in the KLI basement. I remember one time when I was eating lunch in the KLI basement and some think-they-know-everything British Commonwealth students were joking about something along the lines of "imagine an American from the South who could speak fluent Korean!" Well, by technicality, I am from the South (maybe not culturally, but Virginia was a Confederate state) and while I may not consider myself fluent, a Level 1 student (like all of them obviously were) might consider me such. So I replied to them in Korean something along the lines of "I'm from the South in the US, and I can speak Korean pretty well..." They were amazed and a little bit embarrassed. I thrive on experiences like that.

Anyways, I had just entered the KLI, and both my teachers happen to be hanging out together, and they greet me and ask me if I can understand the class all right (because I have made sure to let them both know in advance that listening comprehension is an issue for me). I said I understood it fine (which is true, I understood all of today's grammar points and so forth with no real difficulties). Then I was like "now I'm worried, because you just asked if I could understand the class all right! Did you grade the test? Did I do poorly on it?" Well, as it turns out, she has graded the test, and I got about 66% (she said I got 10 wrong out of 29) so I passed, and in fact may have done better than the average (she seemed to think I had, but wasn't 100% sure). That's music to my constantly-infected ears! As long as I can keep steadily progressing and take the midterm the same way, I will pass it (unless the KLI decides to fail more than half our class).

What's really frustrating about these listening tests, though, is that unknown words pop up a lot on the test paper itself! Like, what the hell does 일치하다 mean? There was a question on that test where every single possible response included 일치하다! That isn't a test of my listening, that's a term game! So I'm going to ask my teacher if it's okay to use an electronic dictionary in the future. I don't see how else I can be prepared for every single unknown word that we haven't learned like that.

On the way home the first time (before eating lunch in the KLI basement) I ran into Miyuki and Mai on the street. It was cool to talk with them, because I hadn't talked to Mai in forever, and I hadn't talked to Miyuki in at least a couple of months. They're both in Level 6 now. They didn't fail, but they're Japanese. If they'd failed, that'd be pretty pathetic.

Anyways, it's time to sign off now. I could use a short nap.

October 2, 2007
Well, I had my first day of Korean class for Level 5. It went all right. Nothing really went wrong. I like both my teachers so far. One of them is teacher 박영희 (I guess she probably Romanizes that Young-hee Park). She's apparently been teaching for ages, which could be either a good thing or a bad thing (teacher Suh was a good teacher and she'd been at it for a while, but on the other hand, my least favorite teacher, the Level 3 reading instructor, had also been in the game a while -- perhaps too long). She's not too difficult to understand. For the reading hour, we have 이진숙 (probably Romanized Jin-sook Yi/Rhee/Lee). She is FINE. I mean, she might be as hot as Teacher Yang from Level 1. I guess I haven't spent enough time in her class yet to know whether she's as hot or not, but if she isn't, she's certainly right up there (I've had a total of 12 teachers at the KLI, so I guess this puts her in the top 17%, at least).

We basically just began to cover Unit 1 in our Level 5 textbook and then had an orientation (since a lot of gyopos who are pretty much fluent place into Level 5, since it's apparently the KLI's policy not to place students in Level 6, so this is kind of as high as they can start out). During the reading hour, we began reading a short story by 피천득 (Pi, Cheon-deuk) about "karmic connection." It turns out we have already read one of his stories before (in Level 4). As it turns out, Mr. Pi was a real author, not just some KLI teacher who wrote short stories for our reading books, so I guess I'm happy to know that we're using real literature and not some useless short story written for foreigners. Apparently Mr. Pi died this year at the age of 97, so a lot of his work covers his life during the Japanese Occupation (although it doesn't seem that bad -- in this story, he's a student in Tokyo during the Occupation).

I'm really scared about my classmates' awesome ability levels, though. Seriously, like REALLY scared. I know I'm scared every level, and as you know if you read this blog with any frequency, it's always about listening comprehension. I mean, before class started, there were four people total (me, another American [gyopo], a Chinese girl, and a Japanese guy). We were talking about how half the people who had arrived at that point were American. I jokingly said "우리 미국 사람들이 이 교실에 침략했어요!" or something like that ("We Americans have invaded this classroom!") and EVERYONE got it. They all laughed. They ALL knew 침략하다 (to invade). That's a little bit scary. If they know some high-level word that I just happened to pull out of my vocabulary, they must know a gazillion words -- probably vastly more than I do.

As has been the case for almost two years now, I am worried about listening comprehension, so I actually went out and bought a TV (yesterday, before I went to bed early in the evening). I got it in Dongdaemun. It was 50,000 won but it's nice and big and has stereo speakers. I would have bought a smaller one, but I couldn't find one and my patience was wearing thin. On the way home, two beautiful girls helped me carry it! Imagine that! They were really cool. They had both been 유학생 (yuhaksaeng -- students abroad) in Japan. Well, we all arrived at Shinchon and I carried that TV the remaining distance on my own, and finally got it into my hasukjip. The bitter ajumma (not the nice one who set me up in this place) whose voice is permanently set in yell mode was SHOCKED when I brought my chair upstairs and announced that I know longer had space in my room for it and that I would now be sitting on the TV. Before even getting into an argument (fortunately) she called the older, nicer ajumma, who seemed to see no problem with me using my TV as a chair. The younger ajumma kept on YELLING into the phone "HE WANTS TO SIT ON THE TV, AS A CHAIR!" Keep in mind, it's a pretty sturdy TV. I realize this isn't good for it, but I bought it, so isn't it my choice? Well, fortunately, the older ajumma (the one who wears the pants) agreed with me. The TV stays, I can get rid of the chair, and I am cleared to sit on my television if it so suits my fancy.

I'm going to start just running the TV all the time. Whenever I come home, I'll turn it on, and it won't go off until I go to bed, or until I go out. That way, I will be CONSTANTLY hearing Korean. I need to take extreme measures to survive this level, and this is one of them.

Mrs. Park also suggested something interesting that I've never heard of before. She said I should take text (like dialogs) and just read them out loud, as fast as possible, repeatedly. She claims that there was some MIT study that showed that students who did this got the patterns ingrained into their heads, and it helped out their listening comprehension. That seems to make some sense. I can do that. It's no tall order to just read out loud for 30 minutes or so a day.

I'm also taking a friend's advice to use 10-minute segments of video for dictation. I'm planning to start with the movie 웰컴 투 동막골 (Welcome to Dongmakgol), which is about an isolated village during the Korean War in which the inhabitants are unaware that the two Koreas are fighting. I'm just going to listen to a 10-minute segment, then follow along with a script from Naver, then find the words I don't know and define them, then watch again to see how I did. A friend suggested this. I don't know if it'll work or not, but maybe combined with the always-on television and the out-loud reading, this will allow me to get a C again this midterm instead of dropping down to a D or failing.

September 30, 2007
Here it comes, Level 5! As of tomorrow morning at 9:00 AM, I am considered "advanced!" I would self-describe my Korean ability as "lower intermediate," but my level at the Yonsei University Korean Language Institute says otherwise!

As I reflect on my break, I'm not really regretful at all that it's over. It's been so boring. I'm ready for what will be one interesting term.

Why will this term be interesting? Here are some reasons:
Starting this level, we get the full range of electives. I've decided to enroll in the Taekwondo class. I've never really taken a martial art before. It'll at least be something I haven't tried before. You can't stick too much within your comfort zone, or you'll never gain anything.
Starting this level, there is an after-school Korean history class. This will be the first time I'm able to earn credit that can be transferred to a Korean university (3 credit hours for the history class in Level 5 and then another 3 for the history class in Level 6). I'm not really interested in doing my bachelor's degree at a Korean university anymore (maybe I'll do a subsequent degree at one here), but this will still be a milestone. If I get REALLY lucky, maybe I can transfer the Korean history class back to the US to take care of my history requirements (for my associate's in International Studies and my bachelor's in Information Technology).
This is my first "advanced" Korean course. Therefore, provided that I make at least a C and transfer this course back to the States, it will help me with my "higher level" requirement (30 credit hours at the higher level) for Excelsior College. It's probably going to be harder than ever, as well. Level 4 was pretty tough. I fully expect Level 5 to come close to wiping me out, if not actually doing so. Last level, my average listening compehension score was a mere 70.5% -- ever closer to the pass/fail line of 60%. I'm really worried. If I can just pass Level 6 with a 70% overall and a 60% in listening comprehension, I'll be ecstatic, because I'LL GRADUATE. Yes, that's right, this is the second-to-last level!

It appears that a number of my classmates in this class are from the former Soviet Union. I think that'll also be interesting, because although I rarely interact with former USSR citizens, I think that in many ways, their goals are similar to mine. They're white folks from a western culture, looking for a better life in Asia. They have the same native language/target language difference difficulties that I do. I'm sure Russian is no closer to Korean than English is. Unlike the other westerners that I usually encounter, the Russians are more interested in being in Asia for a long time, rather than just a short one-year English-teaching contract, or a semester abroad. I have met more than one Russian who attends graduate school in this country. The ones at the KLI seem to be mostly long-termers who are attempting to enter Korean universities. It will be interested to get to know some of them.

I've already gone to my classroom to see what it was like. It's comfortingly like Level 2 in its layout, which was really my favorite level (back when I had plenty of money, relatively speaking, and when class camaraderie was the highest). I hope Level 5 is like Level 2. Level 2 was tough, but by far the most rewarding level.

September 29, 2007
Well, it's Saturday night. The shitstorm of classes will begin on Monday! I'm welcoming it.

I'm just so bored these days. It's like, I wake up, I plunk around on the computer all day, and at the end of the day, I wonder where all the time went. This has seriously been going on for like two months.

I am making an official decree today. From this day forth, I shall only answer e-mails, Facebook messages, etc. TWICE A WEEK. Yes, that's right, only twice a week. To do so more often seriously cuts into my time (which I'm going to need as I take an intensive Korean course and a five credit hour Chinese course simultaneously). I will do one batch of e-mails on Fridays, and one batch on a weekday of my choice (flexible for MY convenience). If your e-mail is extremely urgent and needs a reply sooner, put "URGENT" in the subject line. So from now on, if you write an e-mail and there's no reply for several days, you'll understand why.

I'm going to Answer every e-mail that arrived before I wrote this message. From then on, the new policy will be in effect.

I'm sorry, there will be no more Japan photos for now. My SD card has mysteriously become unformatted, and all the files have been destroyed, presumably. I guess you'll have to wait until the next time I go to Japan!September 28, 2007
Well, I'm at the Korean Language Institute right now, and it's sure busy here, because classes were just posted and classes start on Monday! I would say "wow, break went by too fast!" except that it didn't. It was boring. Lack of funds meant I couldn't go out and do much without feeling guilty, with the exception of my trip to Japan, a decent Chuseok, and a few other things which broke up the boredom somewhat.

Okay, this is how the class assignments go: I didn't even bother to check the roster to see if I'm the only non-Asian. Experience has taught me that even if the roster says I'm the only one, they'll move some US military cock-blocker in at the last moment. Actually, I shouldn't be so mean, because the US military dude is often the person in the class with whom I have the most in common culturally-speaking, and sometimes they end up being pretty cool, or non-threatening from a stealing-the-chicks perspective. Heck, sometimes the so-called "military cock-blocker" IS a chick!

Unfortunately, it seems as if once again, there's no one in the class that I know. Last level I lucked out and Sonmyeong was in my class (not a previous classmate, but someone that I knew already). However, this time, it's just unknown folks. I guess that's what I was figuring, since I went and did CELTA while all my friends did Level 5. That'll be a little bit melancholy at first, but my friends are mostly still here, just in Level 6 (I can still hang out with them on breaks and before/after school.

I got really excited for a few minutes, because I thought Chun Mei was in my class! I looked up at the roster and it said Zhang, Cun Mei. I thought "that's strange, I wonder why she repeated a level, but I'm really happy we're going to be in the same class, because she is fun, spirited, and is one of the few Chinese people that I can actually understand!" Unfortunately, it was not to be. It turns out that this "Cun" Mei is "Cun Mei Zhang," not "Chun Mei Wang." Damn! Maybe Cun Mei Zhang will turn out to be all right, but I don't think anyone at the KLI dislikes Chun Mei Wang. She's been around for over a year and everyone knows her.

As for other news, I really didn't get any of my goals accomplished except for calling Excelsior. It looks like my degree plan is going to work! They make it easy by offering all the required courses for at least some of their degrees online, unlike Charter Oak where you're required to get them through third-party sources. Here's the painful part, though: when I transfer my credits from Yonsei, I'm going to have to go through two different international credential evaluators. The first is WES, which is what Northern Virginia Community College uses. They're going to charge me at least $100, probably more (I'm not really clear on it). Then, ECE, the credential evaluator for Excelsior College, is going to need to do its own evaluation! So I'm probably going to have to pay out about $200-$300 just to have some fat bureaucrat in America take his big, fat finger and line it up with a line on a page and give it an "APPROVED" stamp. That really sucks.

However, overall, I think my plan for a degree will fly if I work hard. I believe I can do my credits just right so that I end up with an associate's degree in International Studies from Northern Virginia Community College and bachelor's degree in Information Systems from Excelsior College. The big problem is going to be the math. It is possible that I may only need to take four math courses (Math for the Liberal Arts (both levels) and Statistics I and Discrete Math) but if I'm required to take Calculus as a prerequisite for Discrete Math, that's going to make it so much harder! Calculus scares the shit out of me!

Finally, to the left, you'll see the latest pictures of Japan than I took while I was there. With that said, I'd better get to work on something constructive.

Yesterday's Japan Photos:

The Japanese Coast Guard valiantly keeps out illegal boat people from China, Korea, etc.!

On the right, you can see a bag of "Japanese oranges" (probably an oversimplification) and on the left you can see one split open. A bag was 180 yen from an open-air market. They're considerably more in a supermarket.

September 27, 2007
Wow, I really got NOTHING significant done yesterday. That feels pretty bad. I hope that being in school again will jump-start me a little bit.

To the left are the pictures that I should have posted yesterday, taken in Hakata. I will update the site with two more such photos this evening so as to keep pace.

There's no other news, really, except that I hung out with Joe briefly yesterday. I thought he had gotten a job in the US, but it turns out that was a mistake originating from someone else on some internet forums, and the new job that he got is still in Korea. That's kind of cool.

Well, today I have to get my butt in gear and get something done. I know I keep saying this naively, thinking "tomorrow I will buckle down." Oh, the things we tell ourselves!

Here's what I plan to get done today:
Create a credit bank at Excelsior College.
Go to Yonsei KLI and have them send transcripts to both NVCC (Northern Virginia Community College) and Excelsior College. Retrospectively, I should have done this a year ago. It was stupid to wait until now to see if I'm actually going to get credit for these classes or not. I'm nervous about this. If both American colleges declare "IT'S A FOREIGN UNIVERSITY! WE CANNOT ACCEPT THESE CREDITS!" then I'm going to have to drastically rework my life plan to center around graduation in 2010 instead of 2009. How could I have been so stupid and waited so long to find this out? Well, maybe everything will go okay and all 24 credits that I've earned so far will transfer.
Call up Excelsior College late tonight and find out if my degree plan is going to fly.
Take that damn Chinese quiz already for my Chinese class! Stop procrastinating!
Do listening comprehension practice for Korean -- one lesson from the book and an hour of TV. I think my hearing is starting to return a little bit, though it's still not perfect.

Today's Japan Photos (Taken Several Days Ago):

The Other Half of the Game Room on the New Camellia

An Industrial-Looking Part of Hakata Harbor

September 25, 2007
Happy Chuseok! Unlike all you other foreigner suckers, I actually spent Chuseok with Koreans! HaHA!

Big surprise, I spent it with Mijung. Hyeongcheol joined in. We had rice and kimchi (duh) and some kind of dish made from pumpkin and some other dishes, the names of which I'm not sure of because they rarely make it out unless it's a special occasion.

The pumpkin dish and some of the others were served by Mijung with ketchup. Ketchup adds the flavor. I asked Mijung when ketchup came to Korea -- 500 years ago? 1,000 years ago? I mean, I figure, there are all these Korean foods that simply can't be eaten on their own, that are always served with ketchup, so it must be a pretty traditional thing, even though I thought it was a western invention. Well, actually, I was originally right. Ketchup IS, as I had previously believed, a western thing, and these things are normally eaten with soy sauce.

Oh, but wait -- I just looked it up in Wikipedia and found out that indeed ketchup DID originate in Asia! It was originally a tomato paste served with fish, called "kitjap" in Indonesian. Fascinating.

This is a nice canopy in Momochi Seaside Park.

These are some ice cream and beer vending machines on the New Camellia (Busan <-> Hakata ferry).

September 24, 2007
I was looking through my pictures from Hakata, and I found 10 that made me say "you know, that picture wasn't so bad, maybe I should've included it." So this is my decision: I'm going to post two unreleased photos each day, for the next five days. This news page will be mainly about Japan. If anyone ever asks about my Fukuoka visa run or Japan, I can just point them to a 10-item news page specifically focused on Japan. Good idea, eh?

I'm also going to type up some information that I learned while in Japan (prices, how to get certain rudimentary things done, things like that). Oh, I and I realize I'm a neophyte who knows almost nothing about Japan. Typing these things up is more for me than it is for my visitors (so I can remember certain key things for the next time I go). Check out today's two pictures, which I have now decided to upload!

(Yodobashi Camera [Superstore])

Pachinko Machines on the Top Floor of Yodobashi Camera

Ah, now I know the source of my crippling depression! I haven't been getting my DAILY YAMAZAKI!

September 21, 2007
Well, I'm back in Seoul, now, and I had a more or less full night of sleep. Last night, on the bus, I finally got through that tough final level of Super Mario 64 and fought Bowser. The fight was tough, but I could tell that it was winnable. Finally, I was down to zero lives (to the point where if I lost again, I'd have to repeat the entire level). I triumphed! I have now officially finished the classic game Super Mario 64! The problem was that when I got to the final battle, the Seoul-bound bus reached its destination early, so I had to get off the bus and loiter around, finishing it. I had just gotten through the ending when a policeman came and told me to stop loitering. Perfect timing!

Well, I'm probably going to go to Yongsan and sell that game, while it's still a fairly new release and while I can still get something decent for it. It's sad, but I don't feel like trying to get all the stars, since doing so would be nearly impossible.

Anyways, about Japan -- I'm uploading five more pictures, and then I'm probably going to call it quits on the Japan pictures. It was a very informative trip. Should I choose to move to Japan in the future, I don't think the cost of living will be nearly as high as people allege. According to Mariko, the woman who works at the hostel, a room in Fukuoka (of equivalent size to the one I'm inhabiting right now) would go about 25,000 ($215.65) or 30,000 yen ($258.78) a month, but not include food. So the high property price rumor is busted for Fukuoka, and even if property were too expensive, the hostel is only 22,000 yen ($18.98) a night.

The part I love the most is "FRUIT IS SO EXPENSIVE IN JAPAN." Well, that's true of SOME fruit. Apples seemed to be pretty expensive. However, me and Professor Fox bought a bag of small oranges (which looked like lemons on the outside) for 180 yen, or about $1.55. Therefore, I've personally verified that not ALL fruit is expensive in Japan, just some of it.

Therefore, I've concluded that teaching English in Japan would be no less profitable than doing so in Korea. Although you have to pay for your own accommodation in Japan, the JET salary of 300,000 yen a month (or so I've been told) would well offset the added costs. On the other hand, while you can save more in Japan if you're frugal, you're not "above average" income-wise (indeed slightly below average), whereas saving that same amount of money in Korea would make you firmly upper-middle class. I'm sure Japan works you a lot harder too, since they can.

Well, it has been a fascinating trip, and I hope I don't come off as seeming too much like I know everything about Japan -- I realize that some of my figures (the ones I haven't personally verified myself) may be wrong. I'll probably look back at this in a few years and think "I WAS SO NAIVE."

September 20, 2007
Well, it looks like I'm back in Korea, for better or worse. I had no problems at immigration. The officer was like "you wrote that you want to study here, but it you only have a tourist visa" so I was like "ah, there's a special method, you can extend your tourist visa to a student visa at the Immigration Bureau." He was cool with that. Didn't even make me show an onward ticket, which is good, because I didn't buy one. I had my Yonsei enrollment paper with me, just in case, but the need didn't arise -- he just asked me "do you speak Korean well?" to verify that I was actually a serious student and I replied "I cannot speak it well, but I can talk about things." He was satisfied.

Last night in Fukuoka, a Korean guy who I'd say was in his late 20s or early 30s came to the Khaosan youth hostel. He's starting a study abroad program that will last for two years. Anyways, he was thrilled to meet another Korean speaker and instantly decided to treat me to quite a large amount of beer and anju at the local bar. He was a nice guy. Now I'm in Busan. I'm kind of indifferent to Korea these days, but Busan doesn't seem like a terrible place. This is the base of the pro-US Grand National Party, so unlike Seoul, the people supposedly like America better than they do North Korea.

Well, my time on this computer is just about to run out, so I'd better get to the bus now and ride to Seoul. I'll arrive at about 2:00 AM and need to take a taxi home. Well, Japan was really nice (and I finally played Pachinko) but at least now I'm back in my zone, where I can whip out the local language at any time. So I may be back in the ROK, but my super powers have been fully restored!

Me in Front of Elvis at the Hard Rock Cafe, Fukuoka
September 19, 2007
Well, today has been reasonably successful. I got the following things done between late last night and now (not in order):
I got my C-3 visa from the Korean consulate. There were no hitches. Therefore, one mission of my trip is completely accomplished and I may return to Korea tomorrow.
I went with Christy/Christie (not sure which one it is) to the Hard Rock Cafe. It was expensive, but the food was good and it was an experience, which is more justifiable. For 1,470 yen ($12.77) I got a very, good cheeseburger that used blue cheese instead of regular cheese. It's been forever since I've had blue cheese. As Christy/Christie pointed out, blue cheese is extremely hard to find in Korea. Then we took some pictures.
I talked with this white English professor who has permanent residency in Japan! This was extremely fascinating, because he didn't get it by marrying a Japanese woman, but simply by living here for a long time and having a decent income/education. I have never met someone who did that in Korea, not once. I view myself as something of an immigrant to Asia, because I've lived about 1/3 of my life in Asia and overall, I like it in Asia. While absolute integration with an Asian society is not something that is possible or even that I necessarily want, I view some form of residency as extremely important. You can't know how painful it is to not be able to do this/do that because you can't get the appropriate visa to do it, until it's happened to you. Once you have a residency visa (preferably a permanent one) you can usually work almost any job you want without permission from the immigration office. Quite frankly, I don't think Korea ever gives out residency visas to true foreigners unless they are incredibly rich or married to a Korean. This means that I'm rapidly losing interest in Korea, because with the current system, I will never be considered anything more than a temporary worker there. Japan, on the other hand, has a tightly-controlled but theoretically possible permanent residency scheme. A country that doesn't offer PR is basically saying "fuck you, we don't want you" to all of the professors, the scientists, the doctors, etc. Someday, I plan to be quite well-educated. I'm not sure when I'll run out of energy, but I don't see any reason not to go all the way up to a PhD. When my title changes from Mr. to Dr., take a wild guess which country I'd rather live in: one that treats me like an insect or one that treats me like a regular? This is why Japan's GDP per capita is twice that of Korea and why their standard of living is so much better.

This image is not stolen. I took it myself, in a place that I actually visited!
September 18, 2007

Visit the new photo gallery by clicking here!

Wow, another newsworthy day in Fukuoka! Today me and a whole bunch of foreigners (mostly English teachers) went to the Korean consulate and applied for our visas. There was no problem with my application, and I paid the 5,400 yen ripoff fee, and supposedly I can have my visa tomorrow morning. I ain't holding my breath, but we can hope.

Then I went with Dr. Fox to Momochi Seaside Park. I did some swimming and went to some shops, including an ice cream place, some surf shops, etc. MAN that beach is nice. The water is still quite warm and swimmable even in the later half of September. I'd say it's better than Boryeong was about two months ago.

Unfortunately, unlike Boryeong, there weren't any girls in bikinis. There was almost no one on the beach. Still, I'll bet that's an awesome party scene during the weekend and on Fridays. It's very clean and there are lots of shops, including one hardcore surfing shop (the kind that doesn't just sell shirts, it actually sells real surf boards and surfing implements and there're tools in the back for boards).

Tonight, we're going to do some sake. I think I'm going to hit a pachinko parlor at some point and do a tiny bit of soft gambling, just for the experience, but I keep on getting caught up in a group, and who knows what we'll really do. Well, it's been a pretty good trip so far, and I can feel free to plunk away on the computer because there are THREE, so it's seldom that all of them are in use at once and someone's waiting.

You can now check out a photo gallery that I'm making for Busan/Fukuoka/the boat that goes between by clicking here. This photo gallery is also accessible by clicking on "Photos," then "2007: July 1 - Present." Happy viewing.

A View of Busan Harbor

The is a scene inside the Camellia, a ferry that runs from Busan to Fukuoka and back. I found it to be unexpectedly luxurious!

Houses Along a Canal in Hakata

September 17, 2007
This morning, onboard the ferry Camellia, I arrived in Hakata, Fukuoka Prefecture, Japan! I'm very peopled-out today, so I'm going to get this article written as quickly as possible and then have some quiet personal time. I've been hanging out with two foreigners in Japan and partied quite heavily last night. I've had a lot of fun, but I'd like to do some fact-finding on my own for a little while.

Basically, my trip started right after my last news post. I went to the Express Terminal in Seoul, and took a long bus to Busan for 19,800 won. It went pretty quickly and I think it took less than five hours. I ended up in Busan and took the subway to the ferry terminal. However, I became worried when the woman at the counter informed me that it was uncertain if the Camellia was arriving or not! You see, there was a typhoon yesterday. In the meantime, some "volunteers" at the Busan ferry terminal were busy pestering me. This guy named Choi Chunman was constantly talking to me in English no matter how much I talked to him in Korean, so I had a somewhat negative impression of him at first, but he ended up being a pretty cool volunteer, at least if what he says is true. The first thing that caught my ear was when he said something to the effect of "Korea needs more foreigners. It needs them to develop as a nation." AMEN TO THAT! Okay, so I can forgive the constantly replying in English business. He also claims to have taught the current president of South Korea, President Roh, English for two years! I don't know if it's true or not and probably never will, but still, Choi Chunman was a character.

Well, 4:30 came and the decision was reached: despite the typhoon, the Camellia could still launch. So I bought a return ticket and waited.

At nearly 7:00 PM, we boarded the boat. I realized (OH SHIT) that I'd left my passport and ticket in the lounge! I just about had a heart attack! Fortunately, it was still there. Had this been China, it would have disappeared the moment I set it down and looked away, but if I can say one positive thing about Korea, it's that there are very few thieves. So I got my passport and boarded the boat.

The boat was absolutely incredible. It was literally a cruise ship. I was expecting some dirty, crappy fisherman's boat, but this ship was a beauty! It had multiple levels, a game room, restaurants, karaoke, telephones, and lots more! It seems to have been an incredible deal for the ticket price (133,600 won for a round-trip ticket). I hung out with this dude on the boat named Joshua who was also on a visa run to Korea. Pretty soon, this Japanese dude named Tetsu started talking to me, and before we knew it, we were all drinking Cass Red and singing songs in one of the several karaoke rooms! We had a pretty awesome time.

Now, my "room" was clean, but I had to share it with a bunch of people. Basically, everyone just slept on mats on the floor. However, it was very clean and modern, and my roommates consisted solely of five young women, so it was an acceptable arrangement. I went to bed, had a terrible dream about one of my friends from high school having a school shooting (creepy). Then I woke up in the early hours of the morning, as the boat was nearing land.

Immigration at the ferry port was kind of a pain (not in an extreme way, but not nearly as fast as Korea). The border guard hassled me about several things. She said writing down "Tourism" for a visa run was unacceptable, and chastised me for not having made hotel reservations in advance and prepared a trip plan. That's a lot more anal than the border guards in Korea, I suppose.

After getting out of the ferry port, me and Joshua started walking in a random direction, trying to get to the Korean consulate to get our visa stuff taken care of. Basically, we'd walk for a while and stop in Korean restaurants so I could ask the owners in Korean for directions. This worked very well, and we were able to follow a somewhat complicated route. One of the restaurant owners took a liking to me, kept on chatting my ear off, and gave us a free umbrella! So now I finally have an umbrella to protect myself from the rain, especially Seoul's acid rain that'll make your hair fall out.

Anyways, we reached the consulate -- CLOSED! Good thing I bought a flexible return ticket!

Well, soon after that, we went our separate ways, and I got my bearings and looked up the youth hostel I'm at right now on a computer at a mall (a ripoff at 100 yen for 10 minutes -- about 87 cents). I scribbled down the directions, took a bus to Hakata Station, and followed those directions and reached the youth hostel (called "Khaosan").

Now, let's talk about prices. Japan is NOT as expensive as it is rumored to be, at least based on my first day here. I ate breakfast for about $2.27. That included a Karupisu ice cream bar, two fish filets, and some rice. That's not significantly more expensive than Korea. My bed at the youth hostel is about $19.13 a night. That's not so bad. It's a really nice youth hostel with clean rooms and several internet computers.

So so far, Japan isn't looking that expensive. This evening, I hung out with this dude who teaches English in Korea (and seems to enjoy doing it) but I haven't memorized his name yet. We went to this MASSIVE Best Buy-like store with seriously the biggest selection of electronics I've ever seen in my life (as well as other things). I mean, we saw industrial printers in the 500,000 yen range, scuba diving equipment including tanks, EVERYTHING. It was really amazing. I know it doesn't sound too amazing in this blog, but if you saw it, you'd agree.

I'm not going to make any hasty statements about Japan, but I liked what I saw today. Food is not prohibitively expensive. This roof over my head isn't that much more expensive than something comparable in Seoul. I need to pay close attention over the next few days and decide where I'd rather teach English when I have my bachelor's degree.

Well, I'm getting tired now, and had better sign off. I have uploaded ten pictures, and pretty soon, I will add links to those as well -- when I'm better-rested.