Friday, July 30, 2010

Driving in Korea

I never gave much credence to the stereotype that Asians are bad drivers, but after 2 years in Korea I've changed my mind. Koreans are the WORST drivers. This is not just my opinion, it is supported facts; Korea is number 1 in OECD countries for car fatalities and for child deaths by traffic accident.

Traffic laws are treated as guidelines. Drivers often run red lines, merge/ change lanes without looking, drive up on the sidewalk, don't stop until the last second and then slam on the brakes, and in general seem completely oblivious to the other cars and people around them. Practically every time I'm on the expressway I see sometime type of accident. Just the other day I was with a coteacher and a car started to drift into our lane nearly hitting us. Even though the driver saw us swerve to avoid being hit, she didn't alter her path and continued to drive down the middle of 2 lanes. Another time my coteacher and I were driving down a one way street, at the other end of the street a car pulled out and started driving towards us (I don't who was driving the wrong way because cars were parked in both directions along the side of the street). Both drivers saw the other car but continued to drive down the street as if nothing was there. They then acted surprised when they couldn't pass each other and created a situation that took 15 minutes to get out of. All I could think while watching them try to back out and maneuver around each other was "What the hell did you think was going to happen?!"

In November this past year, a Korean woman passed the written portion of the driving exam on her 950th attempt. Her first failed attempt was April 13, 2005. She proceeded to take the test every weekday after that, spending over $4,000 USD in application fees, until she finally passed in November 2009. After 949 attempts you'd think she would ace it, but no she got a 60 out of 100, the minimum passing score. Basically, she is a complete idiot and in my opinion should never be allowed to drive (she still has to pass the behind the wheel portion). This would never happen in America because (at least in Wisconsin) you can only take the same test 5 times within a one- year period. Even more shocking is how Korean people view her; they admire her resilience, tenacity, determination, and perseverance.
Her story isn't the exception to the rule either. It took a man 5 years and 271 tries before he passed. He was illiterate and had to take the verbal exam (I'm not sure how I feel about someone who can't read being able to drive), but apparently "he had [a] good memory and could remember and then analyze his mistakes." This man couldn't read and was able to figure it out before a literate woman, so she is an even bigger idiot than I initially thought. She could win an award for being the dumbest person in the world, but Koreans admire her. Most kids back home can get at least a 50% on the written test before even taking drivers ed. I realize that I might get blasted for my harsh criticism of this woman. Korean's have the right to admire her if they want, but there is no excuse for failing a test 949 time so I will mock and ridicule her complete and utter ineptitude.

I might view all this as more of an annoyance and be less infuriated and disgusted by it all if weren't for two incidences that happened to me a couple of months ago...

The first incident was with one of my 3rd grade classes. The bell rang, the students came in and sat down. There are always a few stragglers so I pointed to the first open seat and asked "Where is he?" The boy next to the open seat looked around the room nervously but didn't say anything; they usually say "late," "sick," or "bad student" when I ask where someone is. Irritated, I asked again and still the boy said nothing. The Korean teacher then shouted at the boy to tell her where the missing student was. They talked for a couple of minutes and she turned to me and said "He died last night." Shocked and feeling like an ass for getting irritated at the kids for not answering, I asked her what happened. She said, "His hogwon bus ran over his head." Now I was horrified.
Later in the day I got the full story from some other students. After his hogwon bus dropped him off, he was goofing around with some of his friends on the sidewalk. Somehow he fell into the street. The students yelled at the bus driver to stop but he didn't listen to them and ran over the boy with the front tires. He paid no attention to the bump which other students on the bus felt, ignored the increasingly desperate pleas of the students on the street, and continued to drive off crushing the boy's scull under the back tires. Then he finally stopped, the boy was already dead.
The school's response to this horrific incident furthered my anger. They did nothing. Despite the administration knowing about the boy's death before school started, they made no attempt to notify the teachers. Every class the students went to that the day the teacher probably asked where the boy was and in every class the students had to explain how he had died. Numerous students were on the street and witnessed their classmate and friend die or where on the bus and felt him being run over. All the teachers I talked to commented on how traumatic it must have been for the students and agreed that it will be extremely difficult for them to get over. Yet no grief counselors were brought in and no help was offered to the students (both would have happened in the States). It was business as usual at school.

The second incident happened about a month after my student was killed. I was waiting for the bus in the morning when I heard a blood curdling scream. I looked down the street and saw a middle school student (not one of mine) had just been hit by a car; he was literally knocked out of his shoes, and was lying in the middle of the street. The car that hit him was long gone. People were staring at him, cars were driving around him, but no one was helping him. I ignored my instinct to help him because for one, I was actually pretty far away and assumed one of the 50 plus people around him would help and two, with my very limited Korean I knew there was little I could do to help. After a couple of minutes an adjossi on the corner, offering no assistance, yelled at the boy to get out of the middle of the street. The boy struggled to get up but immediately collapsed, one of his legs was obviously broken; he tried to drag himself to the curb. Finally a woman went out to help him and then a taxi pulled up beside him to shield him from the other traffic. When my bus drove pass him I could see his cloths were pretty much shredded, he was cut all over, his leg was in an unnatural looking position, and his face and the front of his shirt were cover in blood.

Accidents like this are by no means uncommon either. In the 2 years I've been here I know of 6 people (including the 2 above) who were hit by a car. Three of them died, they were all children.

Two other examples of bad driving (no death)

Monday, July 26, 2010

Desk Warming...

Desk warming- when native speaking English teachers are made to come to school during summer/ winter vacation even though there are no classes or students

I will be desk warming for the next 2 weeks. Since I am not renewing my contract this year, I used most of my vacation days during winter and don't have the bonus two weeks that come with renewing which means I get 9 days of desk warming. Compared to some people I'm lucky; I only have to be at school from 8:30- 12:30 instead of all day. Our contracts don't explicitly say we have to come to school during vacations so it is at the discretion of the school to decided what to do the with the native English teacher during that time. I have some work to keep me busy during this time; however, by this Friday (if not earlier) I will have finished all of it and will still have 4 days (16 hours) of time to kill at school next week.
Desk warming sucks!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Thailand, Cambodia, and Thailand

**I was really lazy about doing this and kept procrastinating because writing/ summarizing everything was getting annoying. So I'm just posting pictures with some comments. There will be more posts in the next few days because there are things I was going to write about but didn't because I wanted to finish my travel posts first.**

Like most people teaching English abroad, I love to travel and experience different cultures. Thus Febuary, a month I never particularly cared for became my favorite month in Korea because there is no school and it is when I can explore the world. Last year, I went to the Philippines and Hong Kong for 2 weeks. This year I spent an amazing 3 weeks in Thailand and Cambodia and took over 600 pictures. I have broken my trip up into 3 different posts to make it easier for me to write and posted them in reverse chronological order so it reads in chronological order.
Enjoy :)

Thailand I: Bangkok

"Free a Bird Scam"- Tourist pay to free one of the birds, what they don't know is the birds are trained and will fly back to the owner.

A couple of temples we saw before going to the Grand Palace:

Big Buddha

Everything is covered in gold and jewels

I don't know why there is blood coming from his mouth.
The Grand Palace:

Allie and me! One of the most annoying things about the Grand Palace is that there are so many people it makes taking a pictures near impossible.

Ton Sai Krabi- The Beach!
Long boats we took from Ao Nang to Ton Sai

Ton Sai is know for its limestone cliffs and rock formations; rock climbing is the most popular activity on the beach.

Base jumper jumping from the cliff on the beach.
Everyday a group of climbers would climb the cliff on the beach. At 6:00pm they would base jump down on to the beach.
We went deep water soloing one afternoon. Deep water soloing "is a form of rock climbing that relies solely upon the presence of water at the base of a climb to protect against injury."
It was amazing and I want to do it again!
Secluded beach where we ate lunch.
Last dinner in Ton Sai
Bangkok again
The Reclining Buddha and Temple

The Reclining Buddha is exactly what is sounds like, a huge Buddha lying on its side.


After Thailand, I flew to Phnom Penh and stayed lake- side at the Grand View Guesthouse ($5/ night). The official Cambodian currency is the Riel; however, the US dollar is the more commonly used and change is given in Riel. Often dubbed a "worthless currency" the Riel can not be exchanged outside Cambodia. Unfortunately the Grand View's view is not very grand because the lake is being filled in. The strip of sand behind the houses used to be the lake. My first night I went on a mini tour of the nightlife in P.P with a fellow Grand View lodger. My second day in P.P. I was feeling a little tired and under the weather so I hung around the guesthouse, watched "The Killing Fields" and booked my bus ticket to Siem Reap for the next day. "The Killing Fields" is played every night at the Grand View while the Cambodian employees work around the guest; I couldn't help but wonder how the they felt about constantly being reminding of the atrocities their families suffered.
The following day I rode the bus to Siem Reap and stayed at #10 Lodge House ($7/ night). The next morning I took a Tuk-tuk tour of Angkor Wat. The experience of seeing it for the first time put me in full on tourist mode so most of my pictures are "tourist pictures" (just like in Thailand) which admittedly aren't very good. I was in complete awe of it and am hoping to return, if for no other reason to get better pictures.
Angkor Wat:

In the evening I returned to Ankgor Wat with a couple of people from my guesthouse to see the sunset; it was over crowded and not that impressive. I returned to P.P. the next day and stayed riverside at the Okay Guesthouse ($6/night). The Okay Guesthouse posts 2 signs in every room; they provide some insight into Cambodian culture and the social problems.

My first day back in P.P. I toured the strip by the river but my second was much more meaningful as I visited the Killing Fields and Tuol Sleng. Instead of going into detail explaining these two places I've provided links because I believe they do a better job and I could write pages about them. I'll simply provide some pictures with brief explanations. I've been to the Holocaust Museum a couple times but it pales in comparison to these to places. Warning some of these images are quite graphic and disturbing.
The Killing Fields: the site where countless people were buried by the Khmer Rouge.
Signs describe what happened at certain sites and the bones of victims have been excavated.

Bodies are buried all over the site. The most disturbing and shocking aspect of it all was the tufts of black clothing (the Khmer Rouge uniform) and bone fragments peeking through the designated walk ways. Every step you took you were aware you were stepping on the remains of a Khmer Rouge victim.

Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum (S-21): The Khmer Rouge Prison
Of the estimated 17,000 prisoner, only 12 are known to survive.

Before being turned into a prison, Tuol Sleng was a high school

A standard room where a prisoner was held; the photograph on the wall was taken by a journalist accompanying the Vietnamese troops who discovered the prison. The Khmer Rouge fled when they learned the Vietnamese troops where making their way to P.P. They made no effort to hid their crimes and left the remaining prisoners to rot or die.

Similar to the Nazi, the Khmer Rouge kept meticulous records or their inmates. A small selections of the intake photos is on display in one of the rooms.

After the somber and depressing experience of the Killing Fields and Tuol Sleng, I needed something a little lighter so I embarked on a walking tour of the city. My first stop was the Russian Market, a place where you can find anything.

From there I walked to the Central Market and then back to the river side where I met a group of Aussies on vacation. I spent the night out with them, which resulted in a minor hangover and a mad dash to the airport to catch my flight back to Bangkok.
A lot of people I talked to don't like Cambodia. They say it's dirty and poor, and think once you've seen Ankor Wat there is nothing else to do; however, I loved my time there and and am planning to return this fall.