bookmark_borderPost-7: No Love for Robot Teachers

Last week’s essay prompt for the high-level students:

Do you agree or disagree:

Robots should replace humans as teachers in the classroom.

I had 27 students complete the essay. Twenty-six opposed robot teachers. Many seemed violently opposed.

The single student of mine who supported robots-as-teachers? A boy in a ninth-grade, born in the fall of 1998, according to his profile on the institute’s staff website. I have not had him in any class before. So far, he strikes me as shy and not particularly  intellectually-curious. His reasons for supporting robots: They are “disinterested” (fair, not taking favorites) and will “always have the correct information”.



Apparently, there have been some so-called “robots” used in classrooms in Korea for two years now:

The 29 robots, about one metre (3.3 feet) high with a TV display panel for a face, wheeled around the classroom while speaking to the students, reading books to them and dancing to music by moving their head and arms.

The robots, which display an avatar face of a Caucasian woman, are controlled remotely by teachers of English in the Philippines — who can see and hear the children via a remote control system.

I don’t think they actually fit the criteria of being robots, though.

bookmark_borderPost-6: Soccerless Saturday

PictureMe / December 2011
Picture by Na-Yeon, a friend of Danielle’s.

I tried to play soccer on Saturday. I failed. Only two players showed up. We had lunch, instead, and went home.

I played soccer almost every Saturday between September 2011 and July 2012. We haven’t played since then.I don’t know why people stopped showing up, but I can say it was one of my favorite things to do. The players were mostly foreigners (mostly English teachers), largely British, with a few Korean regulars, too. Most of us were not very good (a few were), but no one minded. It was all in good fun, and spirits were always high: Whoever showed up would play. Sometimes it was more than 20 people, sometimes fewer than 10. Always enjoyable, to me. I have good memories of these games.

We played in the easternmost neighborhood or Incheon, called Bupyeong, at a middle school maybe halfway between the recently-opened (as of November 2012) “Samsan Gymnasium” and “Gulpo Stream” subway stations (삼산체육관역 and 굴포천역) [Map]. I walked there from my home in central Bucheon, 40 minutes away on foot, across Lake Park. Here is a map:

The red-arrow in the map is anchored on a crossroad north of where we played. Due to varying “availability” (the ancient principle of “forgiveness not permission” was followed), four or five of the schools south of this intersection were used for games at various times.

If you click on the “Satellite” version of the map and you can see a big lake to the east. That is “Sang-Dong Lake Park”. I walked through it every time I went to play soccer. My home is off to the east, not far. Seoul is off further to the east, if you zoom out.


bookmark_borderPost-5: IQ 151

It’s after class. The other students had since run out. Jon Chung — still there.

What is your IQ?“, he asks.

This is a student in “GA class”, the 3rd-highest-level class in the elementary-school group at the language institute at which I work, out of the 11 total hypothetical levels. (Hypothetical because not all exist at any given time for lack of students). (GA means ‘Glide-Advanced’, for some reason). Jon is in 6th grade.

I answer that I don’t know, and that I’d never taken such a test. I quickly turn it around to ask him, a teaching instinct I developed long ago, though this was not exactly a teaching situation.

Me: “What’s yours?
The boy: One-fifty-one.”

He belted it out matter-of-factly, as if informing me of his age or shoe size.

Jon had spent much of the class trying to talk to me about the 19th-century novel Frankenstein, giving me his opinions on it and trying to inform me about the intricacies of the plot as I roamed the room checking work. He came onto that subject because I’d been trying to explain the word “jolt”, and I’d used Frankenstein as an example, as in the monster was ‘jolted’ to life. Jon Chung had raised his hand promptly, and had helpfully pointed out, “actually, Frankenstein is the professor’s name, not the monster’s name.”

Finally, I don’t know what to make of Jon’s question. Was he asking because he thought my IQ was low, or high?  Or just showing off his own supposed IQ? If the South-Korean IQ is 105 on average, as I’ve read, and the standard deviation is 15, then a Korean with IQ 151 is in the top 0.1% in IQ in his country. Maybe Jon did one of those goofy Internet tests, of dubious reliability. Who knows?

I do know that he is pretty smart, all the same.

And he’s still just a kid. Last week after class, he approached me to ask, very earnestly, this question: “Do you like dinosaurs? He subsequently went into a small explanation of his dinosaur collection.

I like this student named Jon.

bookmark_borderPost-4: The First Korean-English Dictionary

It seems that in September of 1816, a shipload of Scots and Englishmen visited Korea. Aboard was the “Ambassador Extraordinary from the British King to the Emperor of China, and a diplomatic entourage including secretaries, naturalists, surgeons, Marines, and an artist” — It was all under command of a Captain Basil Hall; a journey of official goodwill to the Orient, it was.

Captain Hall kept diaries and published a book based on them (A Voyage of Discovery to the Western Coast of Corea and the Great Loo-Choo Island in the Japan Sea“) upon return home in 1818. He reported the Koreans to be  inhospitable, constantly encouraging the White visitors to leave. Captain Hall speculated that the locals’ paranoia may have been due to a fear of the government. I learned all this from a post at Gusts of Popular Feeling.

Interestingly, at the back of Captain Hall’s book there is included what must be the first Korean-English ‘dictionary’:

I may know about half of these words in Korean. Some of them are noticeably altered from the ways I know them, though. For example: water is “mool”, not “bool”. Eye is “noon”, not “boon”. Maybe they were talking to a Korean with a stuffy nose?

The one that confuses me the most is the supposed translation of “No”, though. Captain Hall has it as “Poodong”, which is not right at all. Where could that come from?

bookmark_borderPost-3: Visiting Gloster Hill, 2012

Maybe Post-1‘s photo deserves some explanation.

Here goes:


The photo at right was taken on Chuseok Day, 2012. A pleasantly-warm fall day. Chuseok is a Korean holiday similar to Thanksgiving Day in the USA. Everyone who is anyone is off work.

Jared and I made a trip out to Paju, the mostly-rural area between Seoul and the DMZ. The first stop was his old, now-abandoned, U.S. Army base. Then we headed towards a place called Gamak Mountain, deep in rural Paju, which we ultimately didn’t fully ascend. No matter. Also in the area was a Buddhist temple (which seemed abandoned, as all temples do, though we did see one monk peeing off a steep hill). A bit up the road from the temple and trailhead up Gamak Mountain was the place you see at right: A monument to the three-day-stand of the Gloucestershire Regiment in the Korean War. (See Jared’s account of this trip).

The Loss of the Gloucester Battaltion
I found this interesting: In April of 1951, the Chinese Spring Offensive began. The Gloster Battalion — a British unit of 750 men — was at the front in Paju. It was quickly encircled around a particular hill, at the base of which there today stands a park and monument in its honor. It was a terrible 60 hours of constant fighting, and finally surrender. Ninety percent the battalion was killed or captured.

The flags you can see in the picture are in this memorial park: The ROK [South Korea] flag, UN flag, and UK flag.

The park is pleasant, with lots of shade, picnic tables, flowers, and war-related curiosities. There is a certain peaceful solemnity to the place, which I guess is the point.

The day we were there, the major holiday of Chuseok, several families were around, and though the place has a distinct picnicking ambiance, we were the only ones eating anything — the Koreans were probably stuffed full of Chuseok food. (Our ‘Chuseok food’: peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches and apples — energy food. We’d been walking a lot already and were tired).

[Read much more here]

The battle account fascinates me, as it did the public in 1951, it seems. One synopsis of the battle has it this way:

The Gloster Regiment’s Defensive Stand in Paju
In April, 1951, the Chinese Spring Offensive began, which threatened Seoul. The Gloster regiment
of about 700 men from the UK held off the Chinese 63rd Division, of 10,000 men, for three
days in a valley outside of Jeoksong village. By the morning of 25 April 1951, only 67 soldiers were
able to escape the Chinese encirclement
. The remaining soldiers were either killed or captured
by the Chinese. Their heroic defense of the valley prevented the UN forces, who were withdrawing
south towards Seoul through the Uijongbu corridor, from being flanked by the Chinese division. [Link]

It was this kind of action that prevented a loss outright in the Korean War following the Chinese intervention.

I read the autobiography of General Paik Sun-Yup (백선엽, born in 1920, “the R.O.K.’s first four-star general”). He was normally exuberant and kinetic, always actively on-the-ball. Yet he recounts how he sank into an (uncharacteristic) deep depression when the Chinese crossed the Imjin River again in January 1951. He had to be dragged out of his command post chair by a subordinate to evacuate, as the Chinese fast approached. He was genuinely concerned that the Chinese would completely win the war in early 1951. Their winter offensive did recapture Seoul, but was stopped to the south, and Seoul traded hands yet again. In April, General Paik recounts that it was clear that the USA/UN were wavering on whether they wanted to take so many personnel losses in such a wild see-saw of a war.

In the end, the Chinese Spring Offensive failed. UN resistance had a backbone, unlike in summer 1950, and unlike the early days of the Chinese intervention in late 1950 and early 1951.

(The Battle of Gloster Hill seems to me a actually a smaller version of Chipyongni, a decisive battle I read about occuring on my birthday in 1951. I’ve located the site of Chipyongni (지평리 in Hanguel) in north-central South Korea. I will write more about this at a later time, and hope to visit one day).


I seem to be in a pensive mood in that picture. I don’t remember it being taken.

I do remember being in such a mood at this memorial park. Who wouldn’t be?

Anyway, the Gloster Hill Memorial was a few hours well spent, and a great Chuseok Day. The weather was good. There is more to the memorial than I even had the chance to look at. Many more photos are at the military-themed, Korea-focused blog ROK-Drop.

Update, April 2013:
A longer, maybe more coherent post about the Battle of Gloster Hill is at post-40.

bookmark_borderPost-2: Yahoo Mail Says a Lot

There we were, standing in the front, greeting the incoming students at 4:10 PM. Classes start at 4:15 PM.

People who still cling to obsolete, or at least long-thought-abandoned, technology, was our subject of conversation. The third foreign coworker present said, “Oh, my aunt still uses AOL”. Wow, we said. We’d half-believed that AOL folded up long ago.

My new, young American coworker, C.R., chimes in: “You can tell a lot about people in these kinds of ways. It’s like someone who still uses a Yahoo email“. He chortles. Hmm: “I use Yahoo email”, I says.

He disapproves. “That says a lot about you, dude.” It does? “Everyone should have Gmail”, he says.

It was good humored, and I don’t have anything againsy C.R., but I don’t understand his attitude. Who cares what one’s email provider is? What’s so great about Gmail that means every person should have it? I have used Yahoo mail forever — I know it and I’m comfortable with it, and (significantly) everyone else knows that is my email, too. “You might be right, but as our coworker, ‘M.W.R.’, has said to me many times, ‘I just don’t care enough’…”

That’s about what I said in response. About then, the bell was ringing. We departed.

Oh well.

bookmark_borderPost 1: A Blog


This is it.

Goal: Ten posts per week, starting in April 2013, which means about 1.5 per day.

Thanks go to Jared Way for encouraging me to start this blog.

(Image: Me on Chuseok Day, 2012, ripped off gratefully borrowed from Jared’s blog, here.