Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Korea's eco-city

Artist rendition of Songdo, South Korea.

My piece on Korea's first "eco-city" aired this Tuesday on Chicago Public Radio's "Worldview" program. In case you missed it, you can listen to it here. Korea is building what they hope to be one of the greenest cities in the world, but ecologists say that they are destroying important wetlands and eco-systems in the process.

I definitely would like to do more stories about Korea's green growth in the future. 80 percent of Korea's stimulus package was devoted to green growth -- the highest percentage in the world. While Lee Myung-bak has gotten a lot of support for his green initiatives (he even rides his bike to work), some in the government are questioning just how eco-friendly some of his projects are.

Production credit: I couldn't have done this piece without the support (and constructive criticism) from my coach Mike.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

TYWMIK: Popeye's

I actually came across this when accidentally coming out of the wrong subway exit for work. It was simultaneously the best mistake I ever made for my mouth and the worst mistake I ever made for my health.

And two whole floors to clog your arteries in!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Palace Music

A few weeks ago, I recorded an early morning, traditional Korean folk music performance at Changgyeong Palace, and took some photos.

The music itself is a medley of several, centuries-old Buddhist pieces performed by a group of about 20 musicians.

Anyone who is interested can download the full 24-minute performance here.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Like a Kid in a Grocery Store

When I was young, no family weekend was complete without a trip to the Korean grocery store. We'd ride in the van for 45 minutes, passing landmarks I'd gradually memorized as being along the way -- the forest preserve, the gated country club, the Toys 'R Us -- and eventually, my father would turn our maroon Plymouth Voyager down a narrow, alley-like corridor running next to a fenced condominium complex. We'd pull into the back of a strip mall and park in the loading area next to the garbage dumpster.

We always went in through the back door -- past the cleaning supplies and the bathroom, through the thick, plastic-sheeted curtain, out alongside a freezer -- like we were members of a secret society. The shelves would be filled with food you couldn't find at most grocery stores: shrimp chips with strange writing on them, bags filled with miniature, dried fish, wrinkled persimmons sitting in green, cardboard trays, piles of colorful candies sparkling in their cellophane wrapping, and 20 pound sacks of rice stacked tall along the store's front window, blocking both sunlight and passersby from peeking inside.

My brother and I would inevitably wander toward the covered wooden basket at the end of the far aisle, which, when opened, revealed a thick tangle of writhing and snapping crabs, whose legs and arms lightly clacked against one another like woodblocks as they tried to wrestle to the top of the pile. They smelled of ocean and dirt. My mother would come by and either scold us and tell us to put the tongs down, or she would reach for a brown paper bag and have us pick out the liveliest ones for dinner.

Behind the register, an old woman with a perm and a floral shirt would be watching a Korean drama on a small TV. The fuzzy VHS tape gave just a tiny hint as to what sat magnetized on the rows and rows of tapes behind her, each hand-scrawled in black marker with a title and episode numbers. The woman's husband would be sitting behind the tall shelves of tapes, watching several TV's at a control station and writing more labels. He would yell at my parents from the back room about what was good this week, and his wife would pull a stack of tapes from a shelf and place them in a plastic bag. My parents would set a full, plastic basket on the counter and speak warmly with the woman, like an old friend, as she rang up each item. And before we left, she would always hand my brother and me a couple packs of Botan Rice Candy -- the stickers or tattoos hidden inside would be stuck somewhere on us or the van way before we got home.

20 years later and a thousand miles away, I find myself peeking into the fogged tanks in front of restaurants, trying to catch a glimpse of the fish and squid swimming inside. I crane my head back in amazement at just how tall some buildings are, and how there can be surprises stuck all the way up there at the top. I wonder where the old women who sell herbs and vegetables on the street get their goods, and where they go after the sun goes down. I see more varieties of rice than I ever knew existed at the grocery store, and am always tempted by the ladies advertising half-price rice cakes by the registers. I sometimes take the bus now, and am slowly discovering how all those subway stops are connected to each other above ground.

I see small kids on the bus sometimes -- backpacks strapped on, holding on way too casually to the poles for such a bumpy ride -- and I wonder what it's like to be a little kid in such a big city. I can only imagine.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

School's out!

My class and teacher at Yonsei

Thursday was our last day at Yonsei University and boy does it feel good to be done with school! While I don't regret going to Yonsei, those last couple weeks were really tough to get through (as evidenced by the lack of blog posts!). In the end, though, we were some of the proud and (amazingly) few that passed the Yonsei course.

My class ended the semester with a cooking class where we learned how to make Tak Toritang (spicy braised chicken and potatoes) and an Australian wine and French pastry party. Our teacher was enthusiastic and funny and one of the best language teachers I've ever had (definitely better than the ones I had when I was learning Spanish at U. of C.).

But I struggled in the second half of the semester trying to balance my class schedule (9am - 1pm plus homework time) and work schedule (3pm - 9pm). After the midterm, the class picked up pace quite a bit too, as the people who couldn't handle the class (for various reasons) dropped out. By the last week, we were learning three grammar rules and tons of new vocabulary a day. The brutal pace the class took in the second half of the semester showed on the final exam -- everyone did poorly on the grammar section and even people who were great students didn't pass some of the tests.

Given how poorly so many people did on the finals, I really question the point of Yonsei's intense teaching method. Four hours a day, five days a week, for ten weeks is a huge amount of time. But language acquisition doesn't happen overnight and the repetition that you need to learn a language couldn't occur when we were taught new things every class hour.

Our next class at Ewha Womans University will start in just under two weeks. It will be a lot less hours (three days a week and just a couple hours a day), so we're both looking forward to taking a more leisurely (and more sane) approach to learning Korean next semester.