Saturday, November 21, 2015

Spring in Seoul, Summer and Fall in Okinawa

Spring in Seoul, Break in the US, and Back to Okinawa...and a Typhoon

Palace musicians, 16th C.
As this post suggests, I have been almost around the world and back since I wrote.  The promised pictures of my peregrinations through South Korea, well, just Seoul and the DMZ and JSA, are below and captioned rather than very much text since I really need to get caught up in a hurry.  Just to orient you to my exact, current location, I am in my old (new, actually) apartment in Okinawa City, waiting out the first typhoon of the season.  This makes my second in one year in this area.  In all the years of living in the tropics growing up I can only remember one direct hit hurricane. The weather these days is certainly extreme!

That was then. Now, we are enjoying mild days in the 70's but strong winds! I have taken to pulling my hair back, military style, having gotten horribly tired of trying to control it or finding it in my face. I guess everyone's gotten tired of it since even the salon likes it.  Of course the "do" is indistinguishable from that of any other military female around here.
Detail of Eaves, Buddhist Temple, Seoul

Lighting Fixture, Buddhist Temple Gift Shop

Geri and the Baby Buddha

Buddhist Temple, Seoul, Front Steps

Panels, Life of The Buddha

Detail, Eaves of The Buddhist Temple

Detail in the Eaves of the Palace Halls

Throne Room 

Ceiling, Palace Throne Room

Palace musicians playing 16th C. traditional instruments.

Royal Casket

Sculpture, Children's game

S. Korean "White House"

Young Women in traditional dress, happy to pose

Main Palace building with a moat?
UN Peacekeepers in the JSA - Joint Security Area, UN, USA, S. Korea, North Korea
North Korean Building, JSA

Standing in the S., Looking to the North

Conference Building, Split, N. and S.

Conference Table, Split, N. & S.

Obviously, the DMZ - De-Militarized Zone. Tunnels from the North into the South have been and are being discovered, regularly

It has taken me many weeks to update this blog! Loading the pictures, organizing them, and the captions...Whine, whine, whine!  I apologize.

Now it is Thanksgiving Week and I am wishing all Americans anywhere a great time of fellowship with friends and family.

I will be back in Nebraska from Dec. 12th-Jan. 12th, visiting mostly with my mum, family, and friends. Our work here is very intense. UMUC gets faculty to sign on and then expects we will be cheerfully accepting of continuous overloads. From a traditional university standpoint, 2 courses at 6 class hours/week in 8 weeks is equal to 4/semester, 16 weeks. My overloads are therefore crushing with so little time  to complete marking that would have been spaced out over 16 weeks and fewer students!

I must say though that my students continue to be a great joy to work with.  I look forward to our times together and respect them so much for the work, class, and family obligations they bear to make better lives for themselves and their children.  Nevertheless, a break will be good! I will remain in Okinawa for the first Spring term, at least.

Sunday, August 02, 2015

A Cruise and Two Friends

It has been awhile since I actually put a blog together.  I had some great pictures and interesting site visits in S,. Korea but could not get the correct photos uploaded here. I will try at my next break.

Thanks to #MTXConnect, I can stay online anywhere in Europe for a very low cost.  Check them out for your next visit. They'll send you a SIM card--thus the blog update.  

I am getting the chance to spend more time and see new places in Europe I hadn't seen before now. Charlie and I added the Prague pre-cruise extension and enjoyed it very much!  HOWEVER--we have have spent 3 days NOT cruising on the Danube. We have been on board but bussed to the first 2 days of the cruise as the Danube is too low for the ship to sail from Nuremberg to Regensbeurg to Passau. This has meant really long bus rides and truncated times for touring. As of today we are (and have been) where we're supposed to be by the 4th day. In 2013 Europe's flooding was only surpassed by an even greater flood in 1501. Now the drought is so awful they've not experienced anything as dry and hot since the late 1800s.

We will continue on to Melk, Vienna, and Budapest and, when I'm not on my iPad, I will include pictures. Charlie and I are having a wonderful time--both on the trip and together.  I will leave Budapest for Berlin to see a friend from LCC days and from there back home to Okinawa and the start of a new term.   

Sunday, March 08, 2015

Winter in Seoul

Christmas Break
Yes, it has been since well before Christmas (October) that I have updated this post. I sent my household things to S. Korea, while I traveled back to the States for the Christmas holidays--3 weeks-- to visit my mother, enjoy family and friends, take care of some medical things, and have a good time in general.  I did! I also needed to fill my nearly-empty suitcases with some winter clothes.  I finished marking, grading, and recording grades on the long trip home and then could look forward to the music and services, and some of the social activities of the season.

Arrival in Seoul, Inchon Airport, and Apartment
I had a weird return schedule since my Christmas break trip had been booked ahead of my new appointment.  Therefore, I had to fly back into Okinawa, spend the night, and fly to Seoul the next day.  In the end, it was a good idea. A van driver picked me up and took me to the Dragon Hill hotel on Yongsan base since it was the weekend.  The R&R at the Dragon Hill was welcome.  It looks quite a bit like a Marriott; I'm sure they're related.  I was very disoriented, not realizing I was in the heart of Seoul and would be living right next to the base, almost.  After a couple of lazy days there and my last look at television for the next 4 months, the local rep picked me up to show me around and help me get my previously mailed household things to the apartment I would rent for my time here.  

To say that I was dismayed is probably an understatement!  But it was clean and that's absolutely critical.  It was also easy to see that the landlord, Mr. Kim, was very accommodating and anxious to please.  The disappointment was in the discovery that my windows are all frosted, there being zero view.  Furthermore, there was a lovely desk and office chair, a kitchen table and 2 chairs and that was it for anywhere to sit, other than on the bed.  But, that was not the worst discovery.  Opening the door, a horrid odor hit us and wafted into the hall!  Yuck.  Mr. Kim was apologetic and over the next several days explained that he couldn't find the source.  However, we eventually discovered that it's coming from the drains, especially in the tub.  Making sure that they're closed unless in use, is the only way to be sure it is tolerable.  I have also left one window open, except when another horrible odor comes in from outside--the smell of sewage!  I wouldn't speak of the whole of Korea but this area of Seoul seems to have a real problem.  There is almost no day on my walk down the hill from the neighborhood and up the next hill to the base that I am not running the gauntlet of garbage piles  in the streets, much of it uncovered.   

There is a huge positive about this place however.  It is small and can be cleaned, top to bottom in an hour and a half.  Also, the university has purchased a recliner that fits in the study room and Mr. Kim brought a side table and lamp so I now have options and a comfortable place to sit when I like.

Because of the military tuition assistance schedule, the first term at UMUC was delayed by one week in Asia, perhaps everywhere, shortening the term from 8 to 7 weeks.  Then, at Osan Air Force Base, the annual exercises were scheduled for the final week of classes further shortening the term to 6 weeks.  The resulting classes were about 4 hours in length requiring some highly creative methods for keeping us all alert, me teaching and them learning.  I was just getting the hang of managing ways to teach within 8-week terms.  My Osan students and I survived in fairly good shape, none the worse for wear in the battle to finish.  I have just completed the 7th week with the Yongsan class and, within 48 hours will have a about 8 days break before Spring II term starts.  While I can extend class times to satisfy the military requirements of face-to-face time, abbreviated schedules have two rather major drawbacks: I have half the number of weekends for marking and worse, students have half the amount of time for study, even less than that given their grinding work schedules.  I think the general attitude of the all-male class in Osan is that they were "cursed" with a half-crazed professor who seemed to race ahead, and then turn around and jerk them forward --a very ragged approach to what should be a solid foundation for future college writing assignments.  Never mind.  We all did our best and, at our final wrap up class, I was presented with one of the nicest expressions of appreciation, this card they'd all signed.
Perhaps it was a consolation card. "See! It wasn't as awful as you thought."  Anyway, I made sure they knew how much I had appreciated their hard work, their willingness to suffer the lengthy classes, the piled-up assignments, and other hardships.

For the Yongsan class, there was a different dynamic altogether--probably the result of the 4 girls in attendance of whom 3 remained by the end.  Even so, there were several in both classes who just couldn't manage and had to drop out.  This represents real difficulty for the young men and women (and even those more mature students) as they have to repay the $600+ for any course that is withdrawn or failed.

Over time, I've realized that my teaching philosophy is not a static document. As I approach what may be the final 15 years of this particular career I have decided that there is nothing more important to me than seeing students succeed.  Curve? I don't believe in it.  I want to teach and if students want to learn, then "let's find a way to work this out so you can be successful" I tell them. I'm way past being naïve about this however.  I've had students this past year who were not motivated and who didn't want to share equally in the process. Given the military system, they can withdraw up until the final week of classes and they usually do, knowing that a half-hearted effort will not be a passing grade.  When the dean questioned my above-average grades I said with a smile, "That is because I'm a good teacher and these students are motivated.  The ones who aren't, who would give you the 'balance' in the grade sheet you want, are already gone."  Overall, however, the S. Korean grades will not be as high as those in Okinawa and I'm not sure why.  I was warned about this from other faculty though many of their dire warnings about work schedule interference and general attitudes and effort were not in evidence.

Culture and The Arts
Cafe Mozart (SAC)

It took me at least 2 weeks to realize that, being in Seoul, there were probably cultural events I should attempt to find.  The search term "concerts" revealed a full calendar of rock concerts but not the orchestral, chamber, or vocal concerts I had hoped.  An "arts calendar" led me to the SAC, the Seoul Arts Center, which has become my home on most Friday evenings.
Italian Restaurant (SAC)
I begin my evening at one of these two restaurants as they are generally quiet and have good food.  Then, I walk around, inside SAC to the galleries and shops, always stopping by the ticket booth to find out what is on offer in the next month.  This Friday I will attend a violin concert in the lovely chamber concert hall, attached to the large hall in the complex.

Sheet Music Store (SAC)
This sheet music shop is one of the most amazing I've ever seen.  It is beautifully organized and has every score one would usually have to order at most other places.  I wanted to buy some music but, there is no longer any need, unfortunately. Still, it was tempting, just because I could.  SAC has a conservatory on its campus as well as an opera theater, the large concert hall below, the chamber concert hall, and one other I've not seen.  I have a ticket for Aïda next month.  Musicals are in Korean but, looking over the soloists for Aïda it's clear it will be in Italian, mercifully. The SPO--Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra is world class!  It has been years since I've heard an orchestra with the kind of range this ensemble has.  I am delighted every time I go by their artistry, the soloists they feature, the guest conductors, the enthusiasm of the audience and the wonderful programming. Since finding the SAC, I must say that the quality of my life has improved tremendously!

Main Lobby of the concert hall.

Manners and Sensibilities
I believe I have established some of the differences between my experiences in Okinawa and Korea.  Other things to note are that while the Japanese demonstrate unfailing politeness, the Koreans are much more aggressive.  For shopkeepers, people at the salon, and some waitstaff in restaurants, it is normal to be accosted and asked directly if one wants more or anything at all.  It seemed to me that the manager of the salon was clearly disappointed on Friday that I hadn't planned to spend the morning and all my cash in his establishment for every service they offer.

Next Week
We have next week off and so tomorrow, I am going to the USO to see what tours I can fit in this coming week amidst preparing for the next two classes, which will run for all 8 weeks this term. For the first time in all my professional life, I have  completed all my grading  with exception of 2 students who are working hard to finish.  I am not under any delusion that I have cracked the code of quick marking however, but rather understand that I had a larger than usual attrition rate this term with 12 in each class.  What a huge difference that makes. 

One tour that is apparently a do-not-miss for historical reasons, is the tour to and of the Demilitarized Zone, the DMZ.  I will go but I am most anxious to see some truly Korean sights and perhaps taste something other than kimchee, a national dish for which I have generated little enthusiasm.  

I will return to the States on the 9th of May, having sent my things on to the next posting, as yet unofficially announced as a return to Okinawa.