first real haircut

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Liam didn't have much hair until after we came to Korea. I've been cutting his hair since then because, well, I'm cheap. Also, it's part of my child security plan. Who wants to kidnap the freaky waegook child who looks like a shaggy little orphan and throws temper tantrums in public? But finally, I had to admit that Liam's hair would be better off in the hands of a professional.

We took him to "Pama," which is just down the street from the Puma store and shares the same distinctive cat silhouette on its sign. (Have I mentioned that copyright infringement doesn't seem to be a big concern here?) The owner/stylist speaks English fairly well, does a good job (which includes actually listening to the customer), and has holsters for his scissors. Too cool! He also plays in a local heavy metal band, but is married with a daughter Liam's age and another on the way.

Liam acting shy when we first arrived, despite the fact he's been here numerous times when Matthew & I have gotten haircuts.

Getting braver, he sits in a normal chair while Matthew gets his hair cut.

Finally, it's Liam's turn and he gets to sit in a special car chair! He did fairly well, although I did have to hold his hands some of the time.

Looking wistful afterwards

And presenting a side view of his "like Dad's, but longer" haircut.

Unfortunately, he refused to pose nicely with the hair stylist.


Saturday, March 21, 2009

Dear Korean Tourism Organization,

I've seen your KOREA SPARKLING ad campaign and read that you hope to attract 10 million tourists to South Korea by 2010. You're quickly approaching that deadline, so I have some suggestions for making South Korea a bit more tourist-friendly.

Don't get me wrong, South Korea is a beautiful country. The geography alone is stunning. The traditional architecture and Buddhist temples are fascinating. Korea has a rich history and culture, which are well-documented at various museums and monuments throughout the country. I hear the shopping is fantastic, although that's not really "a cup of my tea." And, not to be ignored, Korea has a flair for the quirky: penis parks, museums dedicated to random collections (i.e. the Edison & Gramophone Museum in Gangnueng), odd theme restaurants and bars (like the odd metal spaceship-esque bar here in Sokcho), etc.

However, there are a few things you could do to clean up Korea a bit and make it, um, sparkle more.

1. Put in public garbage cans (AKA rubbish bins). There is a dearth of places to throw away trash in public areas. (Bus stops are the exception.) As a result, there is garbage everywhere. The other day, my family was riding the gatbae across Lake Cheungcho. An elderly woman finished her yogurt drink and tossed the plastic container into the lake. The city playground near my apartment is always covered in trash, including broken soju bottles. Conveniently placed garbage cans would alleviate this unsightly issue.

2. Replace more of the squat toilets. Squat toilets are the bane of my existence here in Korea. I'm sure many foreigners (especially of the female gender) feel the same way. Some restrooms, such as the one at our local intercity bus terminal, have a stall marked "Foreigners Only" with a Western-style toilet. However, this stall is often occupied by Koreans, so obviously the local people also prefer not having to hunker down on their haunches to relieve themselves.

3. Educate people about the proper care of pets, dogs in particular. Puppies are cute and entertaining, but they do grow up. Adult dogs need to be bathed and walked. Westerners do not like to see beautiful, but filthy, dogs tied up on 2 foot ropes. Seeing dogs ill-treated reminds us that some Koreans still eat dog, and we know that you want the world to forget that.

None of these changes detract from the Korean experience, but instead allow Korea to truly sparkle.

Kind regards,
Legal alien #******-666****
(That's really part of my ID number. I can't make this stuff up.)

comment changes

Friday, March 13, 2009

I'm allowing anonymous comments now from folks who don't have a blogger or gmail address. For that reason, I'm also screening all comments. I like to hear people's thoughts, but not if they're obscene.

Obama admires Korean schools?

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Full article: Obama urges longer school hours, extended school year


"We can no longer afford an academic calendar designed when America was a nation of farmers who needed their children at home plowing the land at the end of each day," Obama said, adding U.S. education to his already crowded list of top priorities.

"That calendar may have once made sense, but today, it puts us at a competitive disadvantage. Our children spend over a month less in school than children in South Korea. That is no way to prepare them for a 21st century economy."

He urged administrators to "rethink the school day" to add more class time.

"I know longer school days and school years are not wildly popular ideas," he said. "Not in my family, and probably not in yours. But the challenges of a new century demand more time in the classroom. If they can do that in South Korea, we can do it right here in the United States of America."

South Korean public schools are "closed" for almost two months following Christmas, although many students attend "winter camps" and other school programs. The students also have a month-long vacation in summer. My hypothesis is that the schools are closed during the most extreme weather of the year to avoid atrocious conditions or the energy bills that would come with keeping classrooms at bearable temperatures.

Students attend school five days per week, plus a half-day every other Saturday. Probably this is where they make up extra time. But unlike the U.S., where grades 1-12 must put in the same number of hours per day, South Korean students put in longer days as they get older. Although they're not in academic classes the whole time, high school students are at school into the evening for required activities and study time.

I'm not convinced all that time is well-spent. The normal teaching style here is lecture and listen. Many teachers do not even allow their students to take notes during lectures. Students are merely to absorb the knowledge, then regurgitate it via standardized tests. Middle school students spend weeks studying for their midterms and finals. In fact, coming here directly from teaching public school in the U.S., I saw the South Korean system as a ghastly example (think Dickens' ghost of Christmas future) of what may happen to the American public school system if the test-focused "No Child Left Behind" madness continues. The South Korean model lacks creativity, problem-solving, and independent thinking, important skills if we want American students to be globally competitive.

Now I realize that Obama was only referring to the scheduling side of South Korean schools, but I don't think you can extricate that part of the system. It's a whole: long hours, including weekend, standardized tests, fear of failure (rumor is, no one ever gets held back because they would lose face), school uniforms and single-sex education after grade 6, etc. If that's what we're heading for, I'll pursue other options for my sons. (I could get behind the school uniforms, though. Korean middle and high school students look very snappy, even when they wear sneakers with their uniforms.)

I still support Obama, but I hope he gathers more information before he holds up the South Korean system as any type of example.
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