Saturday, May 29, 2010

Election Season

June 2nd is Election day here in Korea and I gotta say it's a happenin' time. When Americans want to promote their local politicians before election day rolls around, people usually put plastic signs on their lawn, maybe a bumper sticker or two, and for the more daring, T-shirts. Sure we have heated debates on television for the presidential election, but for stuff like director of education and local offices, there's not a lot of hoopla. Mayor races are of course big in Korea like they are here, but let's just say there's a lot more fanfare:

For the past two weeks or so there has been non stop fanfare with signs and posters plastered everywhere introducing different candidates. They have trucks with political supporters riding in the back waving signs and dancing to different tunes which all glorify the candidates name. The "Yu Jae Yong" song is my favorite and I have to get a video of it before the elections are over, because it's sickeningly addictive as the lyrics are mostly the man's name. People walk down the street wearing colored T-shirts and waving banners and flags. You can't really walk past a main thoroughfare without seeing some form of advertising.

O Sae Dong, larger than life.
While it may be a rather interesting spectacle to me, my supervisor at work was telling me she really finds election season annoying as she can't go home without a truck driving up and down her street blaring someone's name. A lot of my korean co-workers shared the same opinion as they didn't really care who became director of education or like commissioner of such and such, they just wanted to go about their daily lives.  For me, election day means a morning off and a lot of fun.  Yes, Koreans get election day off, or rather, the morning off to be able to go vote.  Wish Americans did that.

Friday, May 21, 2010

So You Want to Play Go?

Well, I'm finally finished.  As some of you may know I published 3 books on Go last year.  Well, I did some editing and revising and now I can say they are really ready.  The "So You Want to Play Go?" series was designed to take someone who knows nothing about Go and guide them to becoming a single digit kyu player.  The first book is a primer on the rules and basic strategy, aimed at 30-20 kyu players, i.e. people who are just beginning the game.  The second is for those who have some experience but need an introduction to the larger strategic concepts such as middle game fighting and tesuji.  The third deals with more complex strategy and goes deeper into the subject that were introduced in the second level.  Besides Go there is plenty of cultural information including the history of the game as well as profiles of professional players.

I started writing the first book abut 4 years ago after I went to the South Carolina Go Congress.  I was inspired to start writing a primer after I watched a lecture by Maeda Ryo on the fundamentals.  I had learned Go by looking at professional game records and reading books in Chinese (which at the time I didn't understand but gave me every reason to take Chinese!).  I felt I had a good grasp of the basics, but looking at Maeda sensei's lecture I decided that it was more important for people beginning to learn Go to concentrate on set shapes and know them backwards and forwards.  I learned Go haphazardly when I first started, just experimenting with whatever I thought was good and trying moves from pro games.  I thought a book that was more organized and showed things beginners want to know when they first start would go a long way in making Go more popular.

What do I offer that other Go books don't?  Each book doesn't concentrate on just one idea or area of Go, I wanted the reader to have access to as many different faces of Go as possible.  For instance, you'll find chapters on Attacking, Sabaki, and the Opening in the third book where other Go books only focus on one subject.  Instead of piecing together the game like I did, learning one concept from a lecture here and another concept from a book, I thought it'd be easier for the reader to just have everything at their fingertips.  Is there more to Go than what I've written about?  Of course, but my job isn't to create the great Bible of the game, just lend a helping hand to the Go community I'm very much apart of.

So far I've gotten great feedback.  A friend of mine used the first level of the series to teach his beginner classes at Case Western with good results.  I also got some good comments from members of the Quad Cities Go club.  I'm excited because hopefully I can help the English speaking Go world in my own way.  Visit my main website,, if you want to see some previews or order.

Monday, May 17, 2010


I probably sent many of you running to the hills with this title.  K-pop, like it's dreaded cousin J-pop, is all about the sugar coated, bubble gum, recycled lyrics that is the hallmark of pop music.  It's like they took the sugary sweet lyrics of American pop music, refined it, added artificial sweetener and served it on a bed of cotton candy.  Originally I started listening to it so I could find out what the kids listened to and why they reacted so weird when  I said certain words in English.  See, in K-pop and well...a lot of popular asian music in general, to spice up the song they add one or two words of English.  Not too much to offend people's ears but enough to sound exotic. The thing is, the people listening to it may not have any idea what the words mean, especially the children.  This leads to some strange occurrences, like one of my 6 year olds singing "Puppy puppy puppy puppy" for half an hour straight.  Another time, when kids in class were tired of class and started complaining, I'd tell them "I don't care" and then they would respond with a rousing chorus of 2ne1's hit song "I don't care, yeah yeah yeah".

Hearing this at the drop of a hat was a little annoying but funny nonetheless.

As far as groups to listen to, there's a wide variety.  There's the mega groups like Super Junior and Sonya Shidae (Girl's generation) where they give the better looking people more screen and song time.  Of course Korean girls will know every guy in the group, their blood type, and what their favorite food is.  I personally like Super Junior despite the fact they ruined the word "sorry" for the kids with their hit song "Sorry Sorry".  I also enjoy T-ara, Brown Eyed Girls, and Shinee (having your group's name in English is also fashionable).  

The thing is, for learning Korean, nothing beats it.  I've taken to studying Korean more seriously where before it took a back seat to Go.  I enrolled in a class for awhile but it's expensive and even though it was helping I get a lot of reinforcement from well...everyone around me.  I plan on going back maybe next month but in the meantime I'm studying on my own. The thing is, I don't learn from traditional books as well, I learn on my feet.   I learn by listening to people speak and using context and logic to figure out what words mean what.  So far I'm pretty conversational and I can talk to the kids when I need to communicate with them so I know they understand me.  I wanna move to the next level, and so far K-pop is doing it.  Now this may seem odd or exaggerated, I mean after all you'd think you'd need a book right?  Well, like I said before, the book is good but it only gets me 20% of the way.  Like for instance, I learned how to speak German mainly from watching anime dubbed in German and then using the book to teach me some grammar.  The book just introduced vocab and grammar, the show reinforced and added to what I knew.

All in all it's great fun.  It's nice to be able to sing with the kids.  Korean kids have no compunctions about singing and do so at the drop of a hat.  Of course when I sing in Korean it melts their little minds because they're trained to think that non-Koreans don't speak Korean at all.  That's a cultural thing I believe I'll never really understand, but hey, I don't really have to.  By the way, if you're wondering how any child could sing puppy for 30 minutes (I'm not kidding you), then I dare you to watch this.  Don't do so for too long though; try to keep your sanity. Sure, they aren't technically saying puppy but it sounds like it.


Saturday, May 8, 2010

Perfected Recipe #1 - Zuccini bread

My absolute favorite dessert since I was a kid, my first perfected dish.  It's a culinary masterpiece which is now a permanent member of my repertoire: Zuccini bread.  Sure it has a bit of a Korean finish since I had to use the Korean version of Zuccini.
Which looks like this.

It's called "En Hobak".  Hobak means pumpkin but I think the term is used for any type of squash.  It's got a much higher water content and is a bit sweeter than zuccini but I thought "Hey this is dessert".  I ran all across Korea and back to get the right spices, and after much effort, hard work, and slaving away in my mini kitchen I finally created this:
What makes it awesome is the struessel topping.  The bread itself is spongy and moist yet firm.  The walnuts give it a good texture and did I mention the crunchy cinnamon/sugar struessel topping?  I also got the right spice mixture which is a secret I'm taking to my grave.  The people at worked loved it and we're off to a good start.  Btw, I don't want to put stuff that's too easy on my list, like sautéed vegetables.  I want something that takes some effort and skill.  Anyways, I'll post again later once my schedule settles down.


Sunday, May 2, 2010

The Return

So today, on May 1st, I took the subway to Migeum.  For the past month I've been taking a break from Go, and for the past two weeks, I havent touched anything that had to do with Go.  No books, no Go TV, no problems, no logging onto online Go servers, nothing.  I was nervous when I got on the elevator to go to the eighth floor.  After all, I was going to be rusty and the kids are merciless.  I walked in, and everyone was surprised to see me, many of the kids that had been there for awhile were happy to see me, and class resumed.  How did I do?

I owned them.