Sunday, June 29, 2008

Korea Society Podcast: MOOOOOOO!

The Korea Society has an excellent podcast available for download: Lee Myung-bak's First 100 Days in Office: The Roots of a Summer of Discontent?
Lots and lots of thoughtful, interesting commentary from real scholars and experts. Check it out!

Friday, June 20, 2008

Protest Culture in Korea

I'm working on a much longer post about the recent protests (please keep the groaning to a minimum) in response to a) everybody having cooled down, and b) more interesting conversations with the other researchers in my office about the issue. In the meantime though, please enjoy Gabi Hadl's wonderful article from the Kyoto Journal. It beautifully breaks down and categories the different protest strategies used here.

Gomushin Girl Wuz There!

Proving that I grok all trends about twenty years after they first emerge, check out the fms coverage of DMC's first concert here in Seoul. Yes, I was there! When you're done basking in my reflected radiance (won't take too long . . .) go bask in Expat Jane's.
I'm quite the musical omnivore, but I seldom go to concerts. When I do, they tend to be of the bluestocking variety, so this was a good change.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

축하해, George Takei!

According to CNN, Sulu is going to tie the knot with his partner of 21 years. Congrats!

Once in LA I went out to cover a photo exhibit about Manzanar for an arts magazine, and ended up seeing them together at the show. Cute couple.

thanks AP!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

어떻게 왔어? or, Wine and Sympathy

Last night while I was out running an errand, I ran (almost literally) into an exchange student from the States. As we were crossing the street, this unknown girl suddenly stopped, waved, and called out to me. "Hey," she asked, "Would you like a bottle of wine?"
Silly question! If nothing else, it will fuel another episode of Bomb English!
Turns out she was a music student doing an exchange at a local university, and it was her last night before heading home. Her Korean friends came to check out what was taking her so long, and we all got to talking. That inevitably led to The Question:
How did I end up in Korea?
By and large, unless you're a hyphenated Korean-Japanese/Chinese/American/Russian/Gambian/whathaveyou, people wonder how you got here. Especially if you're a guy, people wonder if you're here because of your significant other's ethnicity or background. If you're a girl, they're just confused. Certainly even back home I was in the minority as a non-ethnically Korean person studying Korea. It seems to be a country where foreigners end up almost by accident.
My arrival was nearly accidental as well. Way, way, way back in high school I'd been on a summer exchange program to our sister school. I had a wonderful time, and the school I studied at suggested that I come back and study there for a full year after I graduated from my school in the US. I came home and proceeded to beg, plead, cry, and sob miserably in an effort to persuade my parents this was a good idea. But I had already started accumulating college credits (through the Running Start program), and my dad especially didn't want to see me waste the time I was putting in at the local college just to go back and do more high school. Instead, he made a deal with me: If I would wait, they would let me do an exchange as a college student. Deal!
I'd planned on going back to Japan, but my Asian History prof. suggested that I go on a new program to Korea. Korea . . .? I hadn't the foggiest notion of what Korea was like, but my professor persuaded me that that was a point in favor of going. I should experience something new while learning about a country that wasn't being studied as much as surrounding nations.
Well, the fact that the program was free didn't hurt either.
So I and a few friends applied that very day, and voila! we found ourselves Korea bound that summer. It was fabulous! It was a one month introductory Korean cultural program, and by the time I went home my research aims within anthropology had shifted west by a few hundred kilometers.
I was very lucky to be encouraged by a number of people both in and outside the field when I returned to the states. My adviser, an economic anthropologist who did all her fieldwork in Mexico, was wonderful and open even though I was the only person in the department interested in Asia. The only Asian history prof. at our school really took me under her wing, and deserves special thanks for being the one who initially proposed Korea as a place of study. Finally, huge thanks goes to the then-president of my college, who was born in Korea and took special pains not only to help me advance in my studies and give me opportunities to come here, but also consulted with me when I got back in how to best advance Asian studies at our own small school (the idea was that even though there was no formal major or minor in EAS, I had done a darned good job of getting so many Asia-related classes at my belt that there might be hope of having one in the near future at our school.)
To my booze-bestowing new almost-friend: Good luck, and I hope you make it back here. When you get home, be sure and thank the prof who sent you here for helping you find something a little more off the beaten path.

Monday, June 16, 2008


Well, this is obviously going to cost me the recommendation of the Met . . .
My mp3 player, a 1GB Samsung Yepp, had been acting up a bit lately. After more than a year of very hard use, the metal inside where the headphones connect seems to have become slightly corroded in spots. It's still perfectly usable, but you have to be careful not to bounce it around to much or the sound isn't very good. My original thought was to see if a good cleaning would fix it, or if that failed see if they could replace the receptor.
A few words about my Yepp: I bought it to replace a Creative Zen, my very first mp3 player. I liked the Zen well enough, but it didn't rock my world and I shopped around before I decided on the Yepp. I feel motion-sickness easily, and I primarily used my mp3 player on my commute, so for obvious reasons I didn't have much interest in upgrading to a player with video. Watching anything on a 1" screen seemed like a recipe for ill. Originally I wanted another player that like the Zen would take AAA batteries. I travel a lot, and finding a place to connect and charge a specialized battery in whatever podunk town I am in didn't seem as attractive as being able to just buy a new battery. The Yepp had a rechargeable battery, but the clerk at the store said that one charge should keep me good for about 15 hours. I was skeptical, but in subsequent use I've actually gotten better than that. The USB connector you need to charge and connect is also built in, so there was no need to carry a cord with me. There was no need to download anything, either, so I could just plug that puppy in, drag the songs I wanted on, and go. Being about the size and weight of a small pack of gum, it was pretty easy, too. My little bright green friend (it's available in a range of colors, and you can also buy cute stickers and whatnot now to accessorize) cost me about 80,000 won, if memory serves me correctly.
So, a checklist:
easy to use
Yeah, the Yepp is basic, but it works and has kept me happy during many a long commute. I would recommend them strongly to anybody looking for an mp3 player that just plain works and won't give you a hassle.
But I'd used that puppy hard. While it still works, that one bit was getting annoying and I knew I'd have to replace it eventually . . .. Ah, and there was the Met and all my friends, whispering honeyed words in my ear about the iPod and all it's glories. "Ah, Gomushin Girl,' they said, "Join us, and together we will rule the galaxy! Buy an apple gadget, and you'll never go back. Discover the joy of iTunes, download all your favorite podcasts, and see the ease with which all your life will now fall into place." Undoubtedly they all went back and had a toast together, and speculated gleefully about how I'll be buying a Macbook Air next.
So I did it. It was a impulse buy, but I went ahead and got the basic Nano.
I hate the damn thing already.
Oh, I'll admit, it's a beautiful design. Isn't it pretty? But I'm going to slug the next Mac fan who tells me how Apple crap is easy to use. Intuitive, my ass.
First of all, it was NOT just stick the damn thing in place and watch my computer and iPod start doing a mystical dance of love. Remember my Yepp? That was was true ease. I stuck the USB in the port, opened my music file, and dragged stuff on. This time, I was running around downloading iTunes. The same iTunes that is taking hours and hours and hours to convert my files. At the rate things are going, I'll actually be able to listen to my music sometime in, say, the next millennium. My computer is a reasonably fast machine, so this is unreasonably pissing me off. There was a file from a friend with an iPod, so I went ahead and loaded that to take a listen. Almost the first thing I did was destroy my hearing. Apple has made the default adjustment vito volume. Scroll while a song is playing, and prepare for eardrum assault. As a nearly pathologically song skipper, what I really wanted to do was easily skip through part of a song. It took me the better part of five minutes to figure out how to do this, and even now it's a damn annoying process that involved clicking several times and then scrolling and then clicking. If you screw up at all, you'll end up fiddling with the volume again. Also, it isn't anywhere near as precise as the same process on either of my old players. A minor issue to some, but a major annoyance to me.
For all the talk about how good Apple design is, and how intuitive it all is supposed to be, I'm left feeling remarkably frustrated. I still have a hard time navigating through iTunes, and I'm down to slogging through the Korean instruction manual to figure out the nitty-gritty of how my machine works. Yes, my Nano has way more bells and whistles than my Yepp, but for sheer ease and practicality? Meh. It has video and whatnot, and it's very pretty, but it's also larger, has less battery life, and is overall less convenient. I'm torn on the price . . . I still agree that the price is really quite fair for what it is. There's 3 more gigabytes on the Nano than on my Yepp (there is a 2GB model, too) and it does more stuff . . .but . . .still, it was double the price.
Normally, fascination and the fun of playing with a new toy take over, and I end up singing the praises of the newer, better machine pretty quickly. But in this case, I'm pretty underwhelmed. My Yepp was a really good purchase that I would recommend still. I'll probably adjust and start using the Nano as my principal machine eventually, but somehow I don't think it's going to actually replace the Yepp in many aspects. I love my Yepp, and when push comes to shove I'll probably still try and get my current one fixed. If it can't be fixed, I may just buy another.
In the meantime, when I step out the door today, the Yepp will be what's in my bag.

P.S. Hey Met! You know what else? Next time I buy a camera, I'm gonna get a Nikon! SNAP!

Friday, June 13, 2008

The Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest

It was a dark and stormy night . . .
Baron Edward George Earle Bulwer-Lytton (1803-1873.) A man as long winded as his name would imply. This, my friends, is the face that launched a thousand bad first-sentences, and inspired such luminaries as Snoopy the Dog.
As a prolific Victorian writer (is there another kind?) he wrote some of the worst prose you can imagine. He wrote things that would have sent even Dickens screaming from the room, calling for edits. He also coined those wonderful clichés: "The pen is mightier than the sword," and "the great unwashed".
Expect practice entries to next year's Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest to appear here regularly. Help me decide on the best of the worst.
wikipedia is the best place to find your photo fix

Whither the Korean Underwear Model?

image brazenly stolen from the NYT
Are there too many foreign (especially western) models working in the Korean underwear modeling industry?
The Sports Chosun did a little . . .uh, research into the issue, and Korea Beat kindly translated it into English There’s also a discussion going on over at FeetManSeoul. The Grand Narrative has also talked about this topic in great detail, and found some research that says it’s not just underwear (PDF) that’s being hawked to Koreans using foreign faces. . .
Personally, nobody’s talking about what really interests me: Are the men in those underoos more likely to be foreign as well? Hmm, time to do some . . .uh, research.

cross-posted from 폭탄영어

I've Been Waiting a Long Time for This . . .

At last, FeetManSeoul has a male fashion diarist! Finally, a bit of eye-candy for we of the female persuasion . . . and a very nice piece of eye candy it is, too. Welcome, Sungwon, and congrats on becoming my first official scantily clad male model. Mmmmmmmm.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Things That Make You Go, "Hmmmm"

Today at lunch I had a talk with my coworkers about the protests, and two of them said they'd gone to the big protests the other day. One, a professor of literature, was basically just there to check it out and see what all the fuss was about. The other, our computer dude with the cute butt, said he was there despite the fact that he favors the import of US beef. He said he went because of the fun, festive atmosphere (he plays in a 풍물 troop that went to go bang out some tunes) . . . and because he felt that the government was being unresponsive. In other words, as I said in my previous post, these rallies no longer have a unifying purpose and meaning for at least some of the people attending.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Not Safe for Work!

I swear, someday they're going to catch on at work that oftentimes I have nothing to do, and am working very hard at it. It'll probably happen when I forget to muffle my laughter at sites like this by choking on my own tongue.

Why aren't we doing this for ALL Korean students?

Excerpted from the Korea Herald article:

Teaching Pupils from Diverse Backgrounds

Bogwang Elementary School has 34 students of foreign nationality or mixed ethnic background. Fourteen of them in first or second grades take extra lessons to help them read and write in Korean.

Most of them are children of expatriate workers or Koreans who are married to non-Koreans. Their parents are from Japan, China, Mongolia, the Phillippines, Indonesia, Bangladesh and Russia.

Over 2,200 children of Koreans with foreign spouses are enrolled at local elementary, middle and high schools in Seoul, according to the Education Ministry. Nearly half of their non-Korean parents are from Japan. Almost a quarter (501) are from China, followed by 230 from the Philippines, 73 from Vietnam, and 71 from Mongolia.

Nationwide, the number of children with a non-Korean parent more than doubled over the past two years to nearly 19,000.

Beatrice and Julia from Brazil are attending Bogwang Elementary School to learn Korean culture and the language.

"I think it's a great opportunity for my children because Korea is so far from Brazil and there may not be many chances to live in this part of the world again," said Nicolau Carol, the mother of Beatrice and Julia. Carol's family will be staying in Seoul for about a year because her husband is doing a medial fellowship here.

A Turkish girl named Sehra Zunbul made headlines last year for being elected class vice leader in the fourth grade. Sehra's father Faruk Zunbul is an Islamic missionary at the mosque in Itaewon.

With students from United States, Japan, Bangladesh, China, the Philippines, Russia, Indonesia and Iraq, Bogwang has frequent events and courses to help students learn about different cultures.

Students learn to cook dishes from around the world, and they visit places like the mosque and foreign embassies in Seoul to broaden their horizons.

By Kim So-hyun

My question is, why don't all Korean students go through some kind of cultural diversity training? When I was in elementary school, I spent large chunks of time researching and learning about life in other countries. I'm not going to say that it was the most comprehensive and detailed studies, but I had at least a vague idea that other people existed in other places, and that their lives were pretty interesting. Also, since we learned about many different places, it helped de-exoticize it. Admittedly, coming from the US it's easier to have had multicultural experiences. All but the smallest towns will have a mosque or temple or community center or something that goes beyond white-bread middle class Normal Rockwell ideas about what it is to be American, and even my hometown (the whitest city in America) there were still opportunities to meet and be friends with people from other neighborhoods, other backgrounds, other countries, other classes, etc.
But that's why Korea needs these classes for their children even more. Religious, ethnic, and linguistic diversity are not going away, and considering the amount of bitching that goes on and the myriad large and small complaints that most foreigners here have, I think it's fair to say that Korea needs a little more understanding of and appreciation of diversity. And now, thanks to demographic shifts, they can start doing it in the comfort of their own back yards. This is not something that should be just for international students, or students with parents from overseas. Stop sticking these kids in "special" classes to learn about Korea, and start teaching regular Korean kids about lives outside the kimchi bubble. Give them a sense that people who aren't 100% 우리민족 are real people, too, and not freaks of nature.

In the meantime, I wish adult Koreans would step outside the sanitized kimchi bubble to find sources about foreigners from something other than the vapid and idiotic 미녀들의 수다. God, even just the title of that show is condescending.


stole this pretty pic from the 조선일보

All right, dear protesters:
ENOUGH IS ENOUGH! It is time to cut it out!
Why? Because you don't know what you're talking about or protesting against.
Is this protest about US beef imports? I won't even bother going over the science. I've already spent too much time explaining that project other places, along with everybody from the FDA and US Ambassador on down. Basically, if this is your reason for protesting, you are ignoring scientific fact, logic, and basic reason. That makes you an idiot. Idiots are free to protest, but I don't think the government or anybody else is obliged to listen to them.
If you're doing it to protect the Korean beef industry, well, that's too bad because the agricultural industry in Korea is not going to survive in its present form, no matter how many protectionist measures people take. Hear that? Korea is no longer an agrarian nation.
In the meantime, if you'd like to keep paying three to eight times as much as you need to for beef, well, importing US beef is not going to stop you from that kind of conspicuous consumption. If anything it will make your luxury consumption of 한우 more conspicuous, because in the meantime, I'll be shopping in the bargain bin for US beef. We can both feel good because you'll be supporting a local industry you believe in, and I will be back to enjoying delicious, nutritious and affordable protein. But don't pretend this is about choice. The only thing protesting US beef is doing is denying people the choice of affordable beef. And that's not noble, it's dumb.
Are you there to protest the "arrogance" of 2MB? The man that was democratically elected in a landslide just a few months ago? I'd like to think that I have a fair idea of democracy. I vote. I've been a protester before against my own government and for causes I believe in - but here's the trick: I protested only when I thought there was a real, SOLID reason to believe a law was being broken or a firm moral principal being ignored. In the meantime, I'm free to write my congressman and elected officials to express my views in the meantime, and change how I vote in the next election. I pick the person who I best think will represent me, and as long as they a) do what they said they were going to do to the best of their ability b) make reasonable compromises then I figure I've done well with my vote.
As far as I can tell, Lee has been exactly the kind of president he said he was going to be. I don't see how anyone can act surprised at what he's done or how he's handled things. There wasn't some big misrepresentation. Lee's a "bulldozer"? Sweetlings, it's not like that nickname was coined for him yesterday. He's corrupt? Only since he could walk. It's not like these were things you didn't know about him before you decided he was your man. He was the pick of a bad lot, but a lot of you picked him. And now he's doing exactly what he said he would, and not so long ago that you shouldn't remember.
Lee hasn't done anything illegal. He hasn't done anything he said he wouldn't do. Heck, he hasn't had time to do much of anything yet, except ratify a deal negotiated by somebody else entirely. If you think he should step down already . . . well, what will you do then? Who is the replacement? Sounds like somebody hasn't thought this one all the way through.
It's not a pro-democracy rally if you're trying to get rid of a democratically elected official who has done nothing illegal. Tyranny of the majority is not democracy. It's just dumb.
As for the "arrogance" of the US, trying to cram this bad deal down the throats of the poor, weak Korean people? The American government and beef industry have, near as I can tell, bent over backward to accommodate the current hissy fit. Whatever happens though, from giving Korea the right to immediately halt imports if a new BSE case emerges to voluntarily agreeing not to import meat from cows slaughtered after 30 months of age (despite virtually no scientific evidence of its danger, but hey! we've already determined that you're not listening to scientific evidence) but whenever something is agreed to, the Korean side keeps moving the goal post. Renegotiation? Why? The Korean government, acting as the elected agents of the Korean people signed a deal that was overall good for most Koreans. Now you want the US to redo everything and give into all your demands because some two-bit piece of yellow-rag journalism made a blatantly false report? Dumb.
Along with your media. Don't give me that line about how I should only read the 한겨레/주앙일보/조선일보/동아일보/OhMyNews! whatever rag that you read as opposed to the 한겨레/중앙일보/조선일보/동아일보/OhMyNews! that you think I'm reading. I spend a good chunk of my day reading from a wide variety of foreign and local papers, in two languages. After I've read an article, I think it over. If I think the writer was wrong or biased or somehow unreliable or I just don't quite understand this issue or it's interesting, I go do some research. Trade deals, comment boards, newspaper articles, scientific articles that have been peer reviewed and published in reputable journals . . . it takes time, but it's worth it to not be fooled into whatever line is being spouted by an irresponsible press. If you believe the stuff you're reading in the local papers now . . .well, you're being dumb. Believing rumors on daum cafe and stuff your 선배 told you at lunch that they read on the internet or whatever strange message shows up by 문자? You guessed it: Dumb.
If you're out protesting some other cause like the proposed Grand Canal, English education reform, or some other cause . . . well, no matter how good your cause, protesting now is dumb. Why? Because it's totally getting lost in the mass of anti-beef, anti-2MB voices being raised in disharmony. Save it for a time and venue where people will listen to you.
Oh and on your way out, would you please stop blocking traffic? In the US, even with right of assembly pretty much any public spot we damn well please, we're NOT allowed to cause havoc, interfere with the police, and make a nuisance of ourself to the entire downtown area. If we do, the police arrest us and nobody has much sympathy. A person's right to protest does not equal the right to make life a pain in the ass for everybody else.
My biggest problem is this: There's no clear goal, no clear argument, and no clear audience. It's just a feel-good party, with people trying to pretend they're on the cutting edge of democracy, part of the drive for a better Korea. That's fine, but stop kidding yourself that this is The Cause. If you missed the great pro-democracy movements of the past, that's too bad. In the meantime, it's just a noisy, pointless, stupid picnic.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008


I have a long and complex emotional history with cockroaches.
Actually, my history with the creepy-crawly parts of the animal kingdom has generally been pretty friendly. My father, an amateur naturalist, loved showing me the local "wildlife" that ran around our neighborhood. Thanks to him, I was never afraid of snakes, frogs, lizards, bats, toads, and most insects. The problem was more that my mother objected to my bringing the objects of scientific study inside the house for further examination. If I wanted to run around playing with beetles and spiders that was my business, but I'd damn well better not bring them into the living room.
When I was in high school I became a volunteer at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI) and was happily assigned to the biological sciences hall. One of my major duties was staffing the "bug cart": a mobile science unit that housed many of our arthropod exhibits including walking sticks (both Malaysian and Australian Giant Prickly), tarantulas, black widow spiders, wood beetles, and my personal favorites, Giant Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches. From almost the first, the cockroaches were some of my most beloved animals. They were quiet, clean, charming, friendly, and endearing creatures to whom humans were some kind of large and benevolent fruit-bearing gods. Raised entirely in the aquariums of OMSI, they were sheltered but goodhearted insects. Our biggest problem with them was that since they were giant, hissing cockroaches, all the kids wanted to hear them hiss. Unfortunately, the hissing sound is part of a defense mechanism, and they won't make the noise unless they feel threatened. And why should they feel threatened by the lovely fruit-bearing gods? The only time I ever heard one his was when a kid maliciously dropped one - the poor thing was scared out of it's nervous system! I never had any qualms about handling them, and a surprising number of visitors were also willing to touch or hold them.
But you see, they don't fly.
A week ago, in the bathroom of my one-room I saw the most gigantic oriental cockroach. I mean HUGE, maybe 8-10cm. And those suckers, my dears, FLY. They also eat refuse and rot and leave trails of their own droppings like Hansel and Gretel left crumbs. In other words, nasty, dirty things that I don't mind outside, but don't suffer inside. My apartment is gifted with instant, blisteringly hot water that gushes out as if from a fire hydrant, which is how this one particular specimen met his/her doom. One part of me wanted to assume that it was a lone case, driven indoors by the beginnings of the 장마. The other part of me was screaming that the place was infested and untold millions were lurking inside my decrepit 싱크대. The screaming side won, and a few days later I bought bait traps. Unfortunately, I think this might actually be bringing them in with the ever-so alluring fragrance of roach feed, because I saw another gigantic sucker last night. He went after the bait behind the fridge and was not seen again.
There's some kinds of house guests you mind, and some you don't. These I mind (along with centipedes and millipedes . . .why? I don't know.)
I'd rather find a more . . . natural way to dispose of them. I don't like using poisoned traps in and around the area where I live. I'd rather have something that a) won't lure them inside if they're not already here b) won't potentially harm me and c) will be kind of cute.
I want geckos!
It turns out there's a few species of lizards native to Korea, and I'd like mightily to have a few take up residence in my apartment. In particular, I'd like the native Gekko japonicus to start hanging out in my place. Somehow, having geckos run all over my kitchen doesn't bother me in the least. In Hawaii, they're sort of tolerated as indoor wildlife, because they eat other pests. If the Hawaiians are cool with it, so am I.
God bless Google. I done stole that roach pic from here

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Best Protest Sign This Week: 이명박 = ?!?

Without getting into the details of the anti-US beef/American/이명박/cause of the week protest going on in downtown Seoul this week, I would like to share with you one of the signs a friend who was at one of the protests brought to my 집들이as wonderful decoration for my fridge:

이명박 = 찢어진 콘돔
Lee Myeong-bak = a torn condom

No matter where you stand on this issue, surely you can be amused by that?^^

편두통: "All the fun of LSD, but legal"

Following the example of Expat Jane's excellent series on diabetes and treatment here in Korea, I'm going to spend a bit of time blogging about my most persistent health problem. Most Koreans I've talked to (like most Americans) have only a vague idea of how a 편두통 differs from a regular, ordinary 두통. Actually, I have yet to meet a Korean person who has been diagnosed as a migraineur. . .
In America, at least, approximate 15% of the population suffers from some kind of migraine headache, and at least 80% of those people have family members who also get them. In other words, this problem has a very strong genetic component. In my family, it's more unusual for someone to NOT have them - all of my immediate family get them, as well as my paternal grandparents, and my aunts on both the maternal and paternal side. They are also more common in women than in men (who are more likely to get cluster headaches, however)
There are several different kinds of migraines, but the two most common ones are classic migraines (i.e. migraines with auras), and common migraines (without). In a classic migraine, the headache may be proceeded by a brief period of visual disturbance. Common auras include seeing bright zigzag lines or moving points of light. My aunt describes them as "all the fun of lsd without the illegality." Usually the aura lasts for less than an hour, and is followed within the hour by the onset of the headache. Common migraines don't have any associated auras. Having the auras seems to me to be a good thing: it's an important and painless clue that a migraine is coming, and in many cases is means you can use medications that will prevent the painful headache phase. My grandfather carries medicine with him, and can take it at the first sign of the aura, and usually doesn't have to experience the actual headache anymore. My grandmother used to get only the aura, but not the headache phase (rather obviously named in medical terminology "headache-free migraines". DUH!) I, on the other hand, have experienced auras but mine are NOT reliably followed by the pain phase. Drat. I really don't mind the aura (usually small pinpoints of light that swim and dart around in my field of vision) but I wish it were more strongly connected with the pain phase.
Lots of people think the pain phase of a migraine is just a really, REALLY bad headache. It's not. They're a very distinct medical phenomena, and they feel totally different. A normal headache is a sense of tension and pain that spreads throughout most of the head. Sinus or cluster headaches can often show up in more confined parts of the head (usually around the eyes and sinus cavities) but the distinction of a migraine is a pounding, throbbing sensation on one side of the head only. When I get a migraine, usually the left side of my head feels completely normal. There's no pain at all. The right side of my head, on the other hand, will feel like there's a small elf in my brain trying to push my eyeball out by bracing his feet against the back of my head. My mother describes hers as someone running piano wire over one side of her skull and then playing "chopsticks." Badly.
Not all of mine are severe. For a long, long time mine were so mild that I barely noticed them. Heck, I taught classes of rowdy, noisy high school students during some of my headaches. But when they're bad, they're awful. The worst of them will basically leave me bedridden for a day or two. Luckily those are very, very rare for me.
The pain or headache phase is also usually accompanied by other problems: nausea, photophobia(sensitivity to light), and phonophobia (sensitivity to sound) are pretty common. I experience all three, and it's usually the nausea and photophobia rather than the headache that really cause my problems. One of the real tricks with medicating migraines is that because of nausea it can be hard to effectively use oral medication. By the time I know I'm getting the headache, my stomach has already shut down. That's one reason why when treating migraines caffeine is your friend.
Next time: Triggers and Treatments

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Everybody Else Is Doing It (So Why Don't I?)

English teaching.
The mainstay occupation of a good chunk of the westerners here in Korea, teaching English can be lucrative, fun, and a rewarding professional career. Or, of course, it can be a hellish nightmare that leaves people screaming in terror as they run towards the exits. It's not the only occupation represented in the Korean blogsphere (Marmot, Metro, Korea Law Blog, etc. are all run by people who don't rely on the English language teaching industry) but between the remaining blogs and the majority of commenters on major blogs, the English teaching industry here is very well represented in the digital never-never land, as well as in other forums. So well represented, in fact, that everyone assumes I am an English teacher.
I'm not at all insulted by this. English teaching is cool. Some ESL teachers here are good, some are bad, and some are weird, but every occupation is like that. I'm a bit annoyed though, in the same way I am when I'm asked if I'm Canadian or Russian (ok, I am a bit insulted by the Russian bit, but not because Russians are some kind of primitive species I wouldn't want to be associated with. Rather, the question here when posed towards women tends to mean, "Are you a hooker?") I'm annoyed just because I'm not, and it gets boring to keep repeating who I am and what I do. Sometimes I wish I were an English teacher because it would make conversations with taxi drivers much more concise.
I've been an ESL teacher here in Korea before. I spent two years on a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant (ETA) grant, which places recent US college graduates in Korean middle and high schools to teach part time and spend the rest of their time doing . . . .well, something constructive. Research, language studies, something - We had a vague requirement to produce a short paper over our winter breaks. I wrote about ritual in Korean vs. Japanese new year celebrations, took photos of historically important buildings, studied Korean, learned how to perform a tea ceremony, and traveled, but the bulk of my time and attention was on teaching. I taught at boys' high schools, and loved every minute of it that didn't see me locked in the bathroom, crying. Teaching was fun and very, VERY challenging. I have a lot of admiration for people who teach well.
Still, that experience came to an end, and when it did I very happily rejoined an academic community that was interested in other things. Returning to Anthropology and Asian Studies as formal disciplines gave me a mental charge that teaching ESL didn't. I'm still very, very interested in English education and how it's conducted in Korea - but not from the angle of a participant. I've already written a grant proposal that I'll be schlepping around this next year for funding (please, God, please?) and I think that while I had fun teaching, there are people who are better at it and more interested in the actual communication of English language knowledge. I leave it to them. I always had more fun asking my students slightly inane questions about social constructs or pontificating on esoteric aspects of American life than I did actually making them construct grammatically correct sentences.
Someday I'll go into a long post about the regulations regarding visas for ESL teachers here and the incredibly exploitive 학원 system, but all in all it makes participating in the system kind of obnoxious. And with a degree in Asian Studies I wanted to find work that would use my skills instead of working in a field that I didn't intend to make my profession.
Have you ever tried to find a non-English teaching position in Korea? Needle in a haystack doesn't even begin to describe it - visa regulations are draconian, and what little work there is that's not teaching tends to require real, viable job skills that my grad school didn't prepare me for: Business, law, marketing . . . and I didn't qualify for any teaching outside of ESL because I only hold a masters.
In other words, I could earn a heck of a lot more money if I taught English, but at the cost of not pursuing more academic studies. I'm preparing (slowly) for a PhD program, but before I start I think I need a more solid base of experience and research and language, and I want to get that here. Hence my current position as researcher. The pay is lousy, but the hours are great and I feel like I'm participating in something that advances my studies and my prospects within Asian Studies.
God, it would be nice to earn money though!

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

왜 "고무신 걸"이라고?

Why "Gomushin Girl"?
Gomushin are cheap rubber shoes that used to be common footwear here in Korea. They're kind of cute in that they look like little rubber boats, or shoes for elves. I'm sure that's exactly what Galadriel had on her feet when Frodo came calling. My mother wears a pair when she gardens, but other than her you'll usually only see them on the feet of the elderly and monks. I don't know quite how they got to be the official footwear of the traditionalist monk (running shoes are also a popular choice, but I suspect they're the more progressive monks) but regardless . . .
I've never had a pair of gomushin. I do, however, own a pair of bright green ballet slipper Crocks. Now in their worst form, crocks do look a bit like bright, happy, foot-eating carnivores. Sometimes they mate with Uggs and you get Cruggs (shudder!) But mine almost looked like real shoes, and they were a glorious innovation that make a lot of sense during the rainy season. They're very practical footwear that will hold up in a good drenching. They're also apparently irresistible to the Metropolitician's junkie cats with their plastic addictions. Yes, the Metropolitician's cat ate my shoes. It's not the strangest thing to ever happen to me.
Anyway, a certain Korean friend of mine accompanied me on the shopping trip that resulted in their purchase. Aforementioned friend took one look at them when I picked them up and pronounced them the most expensive, ugly pair of gomushin he'd ever seen. And that is exactly why I bought them. Shortly thereafter I needed to adopt a 필명 for FeetManSeoul, and thus was born my new secret identity.

C'est moi! C'est Moi! 'Tis I!

A brief rundown of who I am and why I'm blogging:
In short, I'm a sometime graduate student who just finished up a language grant to study Korean here in Seoul. Not being quite sure what I wanted to do when I finished, I decided to accept an offer to work part-time as a researcher at the International Center for Korean Studies at a major university. What do I research? Well, at work, despite the title, not much. I'm trained as an anthropologist, and am interested in everything from folklore to fashion. In my copious spare time I go to punk rock shows, write for an online fashion magazine, pretend to study Korean (expect some blog posts wholly or partially in 한국어), throw parties that aren't very well attended, podcast, take photos (badly), drink tea, go to lectures, and make a public nuisance of myself. I'm blogging because there are stretches of time where I can't be out and about causing mayhem in the streets, so I do it digitally. Also, I like to talk to myself, and a blog seems perfect for that.