Wednesday, December 21, 2011

It is getting close to Christmas and for many foreign teachers in Korea this means a long awaited week off.  On Saturday, myself and five others, Alisa included, are heading to the warm country of Cambodia!  I'm really looking forward to a vacation, and Cambodia seems like a perfect place to see a different culture, learn about a different history, and lie on a beach.  Angkor Wat is the world's largest religious building and the biggest reason tourists travel to Cambodia.  I'm really looking forward to seeing it, but we're also going to be travelling around the country quite a bit.  We fly into Phnom Penh, take a boat down the river to Siem Reap, which is near Angkor Wat, then head to the coast before getting back to Phnom Penh for our flight home.  It'll be great.

Unrelated to this, something important has happened on the Korean peninsula this week.  Kim Jong Il has died.  This has brought back opinions and debates in the news and in conversations about what the situation is really like in North Korea.  In the news, you see North Koreans crying hysterically over his death, but are they crying real tears, or is it all for show?  From what I've gathered, the situation is drastically different outside of Pyongyang, the capital, as opposed to inside the city.  In the news, we only see videos and pictures of people in Pyongyang.  But, as I understand it, the people living in Pyongyang are not a good representation of all North Koreans.  This is because North Koreans are only allowed to live in the city if they are chosen.  And, of course, you have to be pro-North Korea/dictator to get in.  So maybe the crying people in the news are genuinely sad that Kim Jong Il is dead.  Or maybe in order to be in the authorities good books, you have to be a good actor.
What do South Koreans think of Kim Jong Il's death?  No doubt they are influenced by it.  It hasn't yet been a full lifetime since the two countries were one.  And yet, I don't get the sense that the Koreans around me feel all that affected by it.  It is on the news, of course, but it doesn't seem like people talk about it at all.  It even seems like CNN/America is making a bigger deal of it than South Koreans.  Of course, as a foreigner, I can't claim to know at all how Koreans feel about things.  Yet, more than on this occasion, I've been surprised by how much of a barrier (both physical and mental) has been built between the North and the South in such a short time.

In other news, I'm a recorded musician!  This weekend, my co-teacher Roman, another friend Scott, and I got together with a guy from out of town who's putting together some kind of 'Foreigners in Korea' album.  He brought his recording mechanisms with him and, in his small hotel room, we jammed out and put down a pretty good cover of "With a Little Help From My  Friends" by The Beatles.  Here's the link for it.  I'm the drummer. (Unfortunately, the other guys didn't think a drum solo was appropriate for the song):

I'll leave you with funny Christmas video that I've been showing my afternoon students just for fun.

Thanks for reading,
Merry Christmas.

Friday, December 16, 2011

This past weekend I went on a ski trip.  The best part of the trip was the first time I looked out of our van window on our way there and noticed snow on the ground.  I missed snow and it was awesome to be in a place with lots of it.  I went with an energetic group of friends, and our trip included a beautiful night drive through the mountains, getting stuck in the middle of an icy hill, walking for an hour in the middle of the night to our hotel, very little sleep, an early morning, long lines at the lifts, an awesome day skiing, a joyful Christmas dinner with a large group of foreign teachers from all around Korea, a better sleep, and a good drive home.  The drive back was so good because I got to drive the van the whole way.  I hadn't realized how much I missed driving a vehicle larger than a scooter until I was given the chance.  Another highlight of the trip was meeting a German guy.  We met him while we were skiing on Saturday, and he's awesome because he is in the middle of a bike trip... around the world!  He started with a friend in Kyrgyzstan and are making their way through Asia.. on their bikes.  You hear about people who do amazing things like this, but I'd never met one before.  He was a cool guy.  I was inspired.

Taking a beer break.  (Fritz is the guy in orange on the left.) Good group.
This week I made pasta ratatouille.  It turned out pretty well.  I'm telling you about it because I'm proud of myself.  That's all.

Without a computer at home, I've been reading a lot.  I read "A Long Way Gone" by Ishmael Beah.  It's a powerful memoir about his experience as a boy soldier in Sierra Leone.  From the book, I'm struck by how easily humans can make horror seem normal, and by how amazingly our spirits can recover from that kind of experience.
I'm now reading a drastically different book.  I'm reading "Home From the Vinyl Cafe" by Stuart McLean, the storyteller on CBC.  His short stories are perfect bedtime stories.  They crack me up.

Apologies for the late and shortened blogs lately.  Christmas time is busy at school with us planning our Christmas party.  Not as busy as last year though.  This year the kindergarten classes won't be putting on any Christmas plays, thank goodness.  We'll do that in February.

Thanks for reading,

Friday, December 9, 2011

The weather has been getting colder and colder here and last night I even saw some snowflakes falling.  And, as I remember mentioning in a blog post last winter, this means that our school gets steadily more frigid.  Keeping warm air inside the school building doesn't seem to be too high on our directors' priority list.  I'm always finding wide open windows throughout the day.  And, I forgot to mention this in last weeks blog, in the mornings, when our custodian cleans the school, she won't vacuum a room until she has opened a window in it first.  I'm sure it's related to the fan death idea.

It's been a tiring week, since my co-teacher was away, but at random times in the middle of my kindergartens driving me crazy, they say or do something that brightens my day.  The other day, just randomly as I was teaching, Apple, with the round apple cheeks and the New Zealand accent, raises her hand, and with a big smile says very matter-of-factly, "My little sister's English name is Marshmallow".  I couldn't help but laugh because I'm sure, if Apple's sister looks anything like her, Marshmallow is a perfect name for her.
Alex also has been making me me laugh lately.  Every once in a while, also randomly, Alex starts reenacting a scene in the movie "Up". The one when Russell, the chubby boyscout, knocks on Mr. Fredricksen's door.

Alex knows it by heart and does a really good job acting it out.  So funny.

Tonight I'm joining a group on a ski trip.  First one of the season.  I'm excited.  This is where I'll be:

Thanks for reading,

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Fan Death

I think it is about time that I told you about Fan Death.

Fan death is a belief held by South Koreans (only South Koreans - not even North Koreans) that a running electric fan in a room in which all doors and windows are closed can kill a person.  I'm not making this up.

I get my information for this blog about fan death from Wikipedia ( , Ask A Korean (an interesting and helpful blog for foreigners, and from personal experience.

To be honest, my personal experience is pretty limited. I can't actually remember coming across an electric fan here in Korea, which makes me wonder if Koreans are afraid of them.  But I read that the fans that are sold here are sold with built-in timers that you can set so that the fan will turn off automatically after you have fallen asleep in order to prevent fan death.  Also, in 2006, Koreans were warned by a government-funded agency that "asphyxiation from electric fans and air conditioners is among the country's five most common summer accidents." Saying that, in a two-year period, a total of 20 cases of fan or air conditioning asphyxiation were reported.(Wikipedia).

There are multiple explanations that I have heard or read about that offer an answer to the question: How exactly does a fan kill a person?  The first explanation that I became aware of (and the most ridiculous) was that while the fan is running, the blades chop up the air particles making them unbreathable and causing the person in the room to suffocate.  Other theoretical explanations given on Wikipedia are: the fan creates a vacuum inside the room; the fan uses up all the oxygen in the room, leaving only carbon dioxide; and that air blowing on a sleeping body could cause hypothermia.
The author of Ask a Korean admits that there are a lot of unscientific explanations and rumors for how a fan can kill someone, but he still defends fan death by explaining that, for a fan to kill someone, it has to be very hot in the room, in which case the fan begins to act like a convection oven that blows hot air onto the sleeping person who then eventually runs out of liquid in their body from sweating so much and dies of overheating.
To me, this explanation is a little more credible than the others, but I still think it's crazy to believe that a fan can 'cook' a person to death without them realizing it.

So the question is: if none of the fan death explanations have any credibility, why do Koreans believe it?  Well, some people probably think it's due to a lack of critical thinking skills.  This could be part of it I guess, but Koreans aren't stupid.  Wikipedia explains one theory for the origin of fan death: in the 1970s the government created the idea of fan death as propaganda to conserve energy during a time when energy supply was low.  Another theory that I've heard about, which sounds plausable to me, is that Koreans use fan death as a pseudonym for suicide. 

It's funny to think that something like fan death could be believable, but the author of Ask a Korean makes a good point in his blog.  He says that fan death really isn't a very big part of Koreans lives.  He compares it to the belief that red wine is benefitial for our health, some people believe it, some people don't.  And it's probably true that every culture has beliefs unique to them that seem unbelievable to others.

A quick update of how things are going here: It's been a dreary, rainy week and my co-workers and I have felt somewhat bluesy lately.  To combat this, on Wednesday, Alisa and I went over to Roman's apartment and had a movie night complete with popcorn, hot chocolate, and Tim Tams.  We watched "Almost Famous", which is one of Romans favourite movies, partly because his sister is in it.  It was lots of fun.  Then Alisa and I did a 'honk run' up and down our stairs to work off the Tim Tams.  It was a good night.

Thanks for reading,