Monday, 30 April 2007

Feel free to comment

I have had 91 visits to this blog since it began and I'm sure i know most if not all of the people who have visited. I have only received however a few comments which were from people i know.

I welcome any comments from anyone about anything.

It is really helpful to me if people do comment and so if you have a strong feeling about anything let me know, if you don't care at all then also let me know.



Red Dragon Rising

A recent news article revealed that school places in Cardiff’s Welsh medium schools are being snapped up by parents. The supply of 505 places is not enough to fill the demand. There have been 540 requests for places and parents aren't happy. The solution offered by Cardiff city council was to create a number of ‘starter classes’ in existing English medium schools across the city. Some parents say they should build more Welsh medium schools.

This is a very encouraging sign for the future of the Welsh language.

Wales has a population of around 3 million people and according to the last census (in 2001) there were around 21% who could speak Welsh, an increase of 2.3% from the last census, 10 years before. While this is a small increase it is an increase all the same but there is still a lot of work to be done if we are to get back to the 54.4% of 1891 and beyond.

The decline in the language can originally be attributed to invading forces such as the Vikings, the Normans, Germanic tribes and in more modern times the English. Devices such as the ‘Welsh not’ were used by the English to try and break the spirit of the Welsh people and destroy the language. The ‘Welsh not’ was a small sign that was put around the neck of children who spoke Welsh in school and was passed around from offender to offender. Whoever remained with the ‘not’ at the end of class would be punished. Devices like this were responsible for many children growing up with not being able to speak their native language and I’m sure many children of subsequent generations didn’t even get the chance to speak their language.

As with all imperialist regimes and conquering nations language represents a big, if not the biggest threat to any hostile takeover. The fact that any occupying force may not be able to see, or more appropriately hear a revolution being formed under their noses was too much of a risk. It happened in Korea (as well as many other countries I’m sure) when the Japanese invaded and gave all the Korean people Japanese names and made them speak Japanese. The hatred for Japan and the Japanese runs deep in Korea to this day. Much the same happened in Wales although I hasten to add that the hatred is not felt in Wales with the same venom most Koreans feel for the Japanese.

I don’t speak Welsh, it’s a sad fact and a hard one to admit when people from other countries find out I’m from Wales and ask me if I can. I have a moment of shame almost but then I feel I have to justify it by telling a brief and probably factually inaccurate version of history and why I, and many Welsh people don't speak Welsh. As long as they get the point I don’t care.

I'm from South East Wales and live about as close to England as I do to Cardiff and any invading forces would surely have stumbled into my future home before marching into the rest of the country. Wales did get invaded, many times and as a result ( plus other factors) the percentage of native speakers in Wales has dropped to a very sad figure indeed. The same year I left school Welsh became part of the compulsory education you received up to GCSE level which was too late for me, I had to make do with learning French. But with the advent of initiatives like that one and others from the assembly government, the Welsh language looks like its getting some protection and hopefully there will be a new generation who grow up with Welsh not looking like a foreign language. Bill Bryson said of the Welsh and our language in his book, ‘Mother Tongue’ “The fact that the Welsh language has survived in the face of such adversity is due to the character of the Welsh people.”

There is a legend in Welsh mythology about a battle between a Red dragon and an invading White one and maybe sums up the spirit of Wales.
The Red dragon fights with the invading White dragon. His pained shrieks cause women to miscarry and animals and plants to become barren. Lludd, king of Britain, goes to his wise brother Llefelys in France. Llefelys tells him to dig a pit in the centre of Britain, fill it with mead and cover it with cloth. Lludd does this and the dragons drink the mead and fall asleep. Lludd imprisons them, still wrapped in their cloth, in Dinas Emrys in Snowdonia
The dragons remain at Dinas Emrys for centuries until King Vortigern tries to build a castle there. Every night the castle walls and foundations are demolished by unseen forces. Vortigern consults his advisers, who tell him to find a boy with no natural father and sacrifice him. Vortigern finds such a boy (who is later, in some versions, to become Merlin) who is supposed to be the wisest wizard to ever live. On hearing that he is to be put to death to solve the demolishing of the walls, the boy dismisses the knowledge of the advisors. The boy tells the king of the two dragons. Vortigern excavates the hill, freeing the dragons. They continue their fight and the Red dragon finally defeats the White dragon. The boy tells Vortigern that the white dragon symbolises the Saxons and that the red dragon symbolises the people of Vortigern. If Vortigern is accepted to have lived in the fifth century, then these people are the British whom the Saxons failed to subdue and who became the Welsh.

I think the story has a nice metaphorical ring to it when talking about the Welsh language and our hopes for its rise from near extinction.

Wednesday, 18 April 2007

Virginia tech shootings

The man who killed 32 people and took his own life in the Virginia tech college shootings was from South Korea.
With this revelation the story has suddenly become more important and relevant to me as I live in South Korea.
Whilst this is undoubtedly a tragic story of a sad person who has committed unspeakable acts, I can’t help but be concerned and curious as to what this revelation will mean for the Korean communities in the US and how Korea will be portrayed in the world and US media. With a recent Korean news article highlighting the negative view of Koreans in Hollywood I wonder how Koreans will be received by the average American on the street.

Cho Seung-hui moved to the US when he was 8 and went to school and college in Virginia. The BBC seemed quick to point out that he was actually from Korea, even though he had lived the majority of his life in the US. Maybe they are just stating the facts but does it really matter where he was from?

The question that should be asked again is what drives these people, usually children to do these things? This is obviously not an isolated incident as shootings in US schools unfortunately seem to be common, since October 1997 there have been 19 school shooting incidents across the US, most resulting in fatalities, they are;

April 2007: At least 32 people are killed in two shooting incidents in the campus of Virginia Tech University in Virginia.

October 2006: A 32-year-old gunman shoots dead at least five girls at an Amish school in Pennsylvania, before killing himself

September 2006: Gunman in Colorado shoots and fatally wounds a teenage schoolgirl, then kills himself; two days later a teenager kills the head teacher of a school in Cazenovia, Wisconsin

November 2005: Student in Tennessee shoots dead an assistant principal and wounds two other administrators

March 2005: Minnesota schoolboy kills nine, then shoots himself

May 2004: Four people injured in shooting at a school in Maryland

April 2003: Teenager shoots dead head-teacher at a Pennsylvania school, then kills himself

March 2001: Pupil opens fire at a school in California, killing two students

February 2000: Six-year-old girl shot dead by classmate in Michigan

November 1999: Thirteen-year-old girl shot dead by a classmate in New Mexico

May 1999: Student injures six pupils in shoot-out in Georgia

April 1999: Two teenagers shoot dead 12 students and a teacher before killing themselves at Columbine School in Colorado

June 1998: Two adults hurt in shooting by teenage student at high school in Virginia

May 1998: Fifteen-year-old boy shoots himself in the head after taking a girl hostage

May 1998: Fifteen-year-old shoots dead two students in school cafeteria in Oregon

April 1998: Fourteen-year-old shoots dead a teacher and wounds two students in Pennsylvania

March 1998: Two boys, 11 and 13, kill four girls and a teacher in Arkansas

December 1997: Fourteen-year-old boy kills three students in Kentucky

October 1997: Sixteen-year-old boy stabs mother, then shoots dead two students at school in Mississippi, injuring several others

The same arguments will be brought up by the same people; some will say it is the proliferation of violent computer games, some will say it is the ease with which you can buy a gun in the US and others will have their own theories.

As a young Korean man who lived in the country of his birth for 8 years I would imagine that he had a real grounding in the Confucian style adopted by Korean society and all the pleasures and pressures that come with it.

It has often been said that the suicide rate is high in Korea due mainly to the amount of pressure put on students to succeed academically by their parents and their peers. Im sure this will all come to light over the next few days as will the fact that Koreans seems to have, at times an unhealthy appetite for computer games, you can walk into a PC bang and see people of all ages playing online games for hours on end, but then you can see it in houses all over the world too.

I think that in the nature versus nurture debate, each side has its merits but I know people who have unhealthy obsessions with all sorts of things but they don’t commit acts like this and if guns are so freely available in the US why aren’t there more incidents? I have to say that I think the single, most important factor in a child’s life is the influence of the parents and as a result parenting techniques or lack of may need to be looked at when examining the causes of these kinds of events. Im sure there are many causes for this kind of behaviour and I am sure that there isn’t a single one that is solely responsible, more like a combination of factors and I hope a single factor isn’t blamed although im sure it will be by some fanatic/pressure groups.

We will have to wait and see the reaction to this in Korea and the US but I hope the reaction is to the tragedy and the reasons why it happened rather than to try to assign blame and use this tragic incident as an excuse for xenophobic retaliation.

Actions speak louder than words

The so called language barrier isn’t always a barrier. I have met several restaurant owners and shop owners that speak not a bit of English, yet I have a great relationship with them, as good as you can have with someone who it is impossible to speak with! We have an unspoken relationship, literally and yet it seems to be fine as we share looks or gestures and these seemingly small things mean more to me and I think to them than anything I could say or they could say to me. We don’t have any uncomfortable silences or neither one of us says anything we wish we hadn’t; there are no big debates or arguments over politics or religion or anything else.

A common language can in fact be as much of a hindrance in some circumstances as not having one can be in others.

I have met several people in Korea that I wouldn’t wish upon my worst enemy, they’d probably get on!

I have met an obnoxious Australian, several Americans, who get on my nerves in a multitude of ways and a guy from London who though the sun shone out of his own backside! The single thing we all have in common is our language, but even that is a tenuous link as some of the debate with the Americans is over how they speak and even worse, their criticism over how I speak. It seems that when you share a language you really get to know people, even if you don’t speak to them directly you can overhear a stupid comment or get one directed at you and all the while they have a smile on their face.

Language or lack of it seems to be a great leveller. There is no pretence, no underhanded comments that are said to be heard. There is just honest facial expressions and body language. Things that you wish you hadn’t said aren’t a problem when what you say isn’t understood anyway but I have never really felt like I want to say anything in anger so badly to a Korean, we have an unspoken rule and that is we cant understand each other so lets make the best of it.
I am trying to learn Korean and a few phrases do go a long way to making life a little easier but I think my relationship with Korea would change if I understood everything, much as my relationship with some other foreign teachers is failing.

It’s sometimes nice to be the foreigner and Korea would surely lose some of its quirk and charm if I were to understand everything. Where is the adventure in buying a bus ticket or finding the obscure attractions without a bit of a challenge, where are the stories to tell the grandkids?

Tuesday, 17 April 2007

Korean football - It’s a family affair

The beautiful game in Korea hasn’t yet been ruined by money; in fact there seems to be very little money in the game, with both ticket prices and attendances low there can’t be too much money for salaries.
Ticket prices are very reasonable indeed, around 4 pounds for a ticket, this keeps costs down and so it is very common to see entire families go. In fact the majority of the people who go to these games seem to be families, you can see sometimes see a few generations of the same family at the game all having a picnic of Korean treats and various alcoholic beverages. The fact that at some premiership grounds you can buy a watered down beer for about 3 quid and cant take it to your seat is bad enough but when you get to Korea and can quite easily take a carrier bag full of your own beer into the stadium with no hassle makes it all the worse, I'm not sure if its technically allowed but they don’t make a fuss and everyone does it.
You can actually buy food and drink inside the stadiums too and the costs are also kept right down here, its weird but it’s almost as if the food and drink stalls are there for the convenience of the spectators and not to extort money from usually working class fans. Football is an international language but there is no doubting you are in Korea when you go to get your half time pie and are faced with dried squid, various moulded meat on sticks or instant noodles!

Incidentally, I have recently read that the cost for fish and chips at the new Wembley stadium is around 8 pounds, a scandalous amount and the price fixers should be ashamed of themselves. This is twice the cost of a ticket for a K league game! I am ready to admit that the standard of football here is nowhere near the standard of the game in England but people come to cheer on the team and have a nice day out with the family. As with many things in Korea they don’t seem to take it too seriously. I am an avid football fan myself and sometimes the lack of passion does get to me but when I reflect on it they seem to have the right idea.

Just because the passion seems to be lacking a little that doesn’t mean that they are devoid of it completely, quite the contrary. The atmosphere from the away fans and the dedicated section for the ‘mad green boys’ (Jeonbuk’s hardcore) seems to be full of singing and drumming. The lack of atmosphere comes from the fact that the away fans at the latest game I went to, against Daejeon Citizen probably numbered around 50-100 fans and the hardcore home fans don’t number much more than this.
The songs they sing are quite interesting and it is possibly worth the trip to see a game just to hear what they are going to sing.

The K league was founded in 1983 and judging by what they have sung at some of the games they looked to England for inspiration. At the latest game Daejeon’s main chant was based on the tune of ‘Popeye the sailor man’(not particularly English I know). It's Funny when you have to do a kind of double take, or double listen and you recognise the tune amongst the Korean lyrics. Even more ear lifting was at the game of Jeonbuk versus Suwon. With Suwon being founded in 1996 and Jeonbuk in 1994 they have not had the time clubs in England have had to form a history and a set of traditions and so it would seem that they have borrowed from English clubs and English music. As a Liverpool fan it was a bit strange and at times chilling to be so far from the UK yet hear several thousand fans singing very familiar tunes. Yellow submarine and ob la di ob la da were the first and the final twist was when the crowd started singing ‘Scouser Tommy’, they obviously had Korean lyrics but the tune was unmistakable.

Suffice it to say, I am glad to watch premiership football when I get the chance and there is no competition which is the better league but Koreans have a different attitude to things and football is no exception.

Monday, 16 April 2007

It's Daejeon!

Daejeon is the capital of Chungcheongnam-do province and is the fifth largest city of South Korea, with a population of 1,442,856 at the end of 2005.

‘It’s Daejeon’ is the slogan of the city and the honest folks of Daejeon haven’t tried to mislead the public by claiming anything outlandish in their slogan. They didn’t try, for example to call it ‘Dynamic Daejeon’, ‘It’s Daejeon, great isn’t it?’ or even ‘It’s Daejeon and we like it, we hope you will too’ (maybe they should use ‘It’s Daejeon and its just ok, nothing special but we like it’).

Daejeon barely gets a mention in the lonely planet guide to Korea but a few things are missing from the guide. The main thing that seems to be missing is Daejeon Zooland, it’s not actually the kind of thing that a traveller who buys lonely planet guides would probably want to see but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t get a mention. The fact that I live in Korea and have bought the guide suggests it also appeals to a different audience than the regular traveller who spend a month or less in one place and then move on. As a resident I want to know what’s here and what’s worth giving a look and, importantly what’s not worth my time. There is also a stadium built for the 2002 football world cup and if you’re a football fan like me you may want to give it a look.

Zooland will pop up on various websites if you’re looking for the sites of Daejeon and should really be avoided. It’s a theme park with a few rides that has a “Zoo” attached. In reality the zoo has the de rigueur reptiles, birds and other traditional animals. At its centre is an African safari. This costs extra (you can buy a combined ticket on entrance) and takes a round 10 minutes to go through a faux African safari park, the animals look malnourished and generally are in a bad state, they have lions and black bears that roam free but the tigers are in a cage and the other animals you can see at any domestic farm in the UK, in short, its not pretty.

Im sure for kids it’s great but Im not a kid and I wont be going back to Zooland.

Daejeon does have a few more things listed in the lonely planet but at the time of writing I hadn’t experienced them, the main ones are the Expo park, Kumdoriland theme park, the national science museum, an observatory (all of which are housed together) and 2 market/eating/shopping areas in Dunsadong and around Daejeon station ( not to be confused with Seodaejeon station which is further to the east) although a worker at a information centre told me to avoid the expo park and the associated attractions, she did mention that the observatory was worth a look.

Daejeon is given three pages in the lonely planet and half of one of them is with a map that is poor at best, it doesn’t have the expo park and associated delights, Murphy’s bar (a recommended food/drink place) or Zooland.
The directions to Murphy’s bar are so bad that the info centre worker said it would be difficult to find as the Dunsadong area of Daejeon is large and this is the only direction the book gives. We didn’t try to find it but I will find it next time for the sole reason that my girlfriends surname is Murphy and it might provide a cheap laugh and a cheesy photo opportunity.

The 2 other places to go and see are the areas surrounding Daejeon station and Dunsadong. The former has sprawling markets where you can see pig’s heads and various types of Korean cuisine being consumed by the locals on the streets and men playing Korean games, sometimes in their hundreds. I found Dunsadong after a while of searching but wasn’t impressed as the place seemed to be distinctly lacking in life, I will try it again on a Saturday night. The station area has plenty of bars and restaurants including a Turkish kebab shop complete with western owner, not sure if he was Turkish though. There is also an Italian restaurant called ‘Cin Cin’ around the corner from the kebab shop that is very nice indeed.
The local specialty of Daejeon, which I have yet to try, is acorn jelly!

The lonely planet guides highlights a website to look at but is no longer working, I did however find another more current website maintained by foreigners in Daejeon and it can be found at

Daejeon doesn’t seem to have anything special to make it stick out from the other cities in Korea, the fact that everywhere else does seem to have a hook means (Jeonju with the food, Seoul is the capital – which seems to be enough, Busan has the coast and with it seafood and the ports and everywhere has temples and parks) the other cities seem to be leaving Daejeon in their collective wakes.
If you have been to several cities in Korea and have a limited time scale then you won’t be missing anything by bypassing Daejeon, if you live here you really should pay it a visit just so you can say you’ve done it. Incidentally, a lot of westerners/non-natives will have some experience and may have been to Daejeon several times as it has a branch of Costco, the American wholesale supermarket that stocks western food items. It really is a sin to travel to another city for the sole purpose of shopping, make a day of it and see the few sites Daejeon does have to offer.

Daejeon isn’t really worth an extended visit as the maxim ‘first impressions count’ applies well here, I wasn’t impressed on first glance and as there are plenty of other cities to explore I may not go back.

If you do plan on going to Daejeon then the info centre at Seodaejeon rail station is a good place to start, but be aware, there is precious little to do in Daejeon. Residents of the city may disagree but they live there, you have been warned.

Thursday, 12 April 2007

The Russians are coming

For the first time ever there are three English teams in the semi finals of the UEFA Champion’s League and this guarantees at least one English club will contest the final. In 2005 there were two English teams battling out a semi final, Liverpool and Chelsea. Liverpool won the game and used it as a springboard to go on and win the final against Italian giants AC Milan in the greatest final and greatest comeback football has ever seen. In 2003 there were three Italian teams in the semi finals and in 2000 the Spanish had three teams in the semi finals.

The first semi final is a repeat of the 2005 semi final where Liverpool beat Chelsea with a Luis Garcia goal, whether it crossed the line or not doesn’t matter, Liverpool went to Istanbul, Shevchenko missed, Dudek was the hero, we won number 5 and we got to keep the trophy.

The other game will see The Salford reds... I mean Manchester United battle against AC Milan, the beaten finalists from 2005 to see who will take their place against the winner of Liverpool and Dynamo Chelsea.

Liverpool and Milan could again meet in the final and few could argue that it would surely produce another great football match. With the pedigree they have (11 champions’ league titles between them, compared to the 2 Manchester united and Chelsea have between them!) fewer could argue that they are easily the most fitting of the teams to contest such a grand prize.

Even with three English teams in the semi finals an all English final is not guaranteed; in fact I for one will be hoping that doesn’t happen. There are two reasons, the first is that for it to even be a possibility Manchester united would have to win their tie with Milan and the thought of them being 90 minutes away from the title is stomach churning. The second is that I feel Liverpool have an advantage over Milan, both psychologically because of Istanbul but also because we seem to play better in Europe and there is a chance that against an English team the match would take on a premiership feel and that could work against us.

With United performing like Jekyll and Hyde will they get the opportunites against Milan and will Milan waste opportunites to kill the tie off? This tie could see United unmasked and given the hiding they have been asking for throughout the tournament.

Liverpool on the other hand are a much better team than in 2005, personnel changes mean that beating Chelsea again is a greater possibility and I'm confident we will do it again.

Jose Mourinho is very aware of this fact too and has already began his war of words with Liverpool by suggesting that we have an advantage over them in that they still have three competitions to compete for, good, I’m glad we have an advantage and I hope it’s the difference between the teams. Rafa Benitez responded to these childish remarks in his usual dignified manner with comments about Jose befriending only the managers of the teams he can beat, that’s why he has a go at the managers of the top clubs.

Time will tell but I for one can’t wait to see the Russian rent boys crying on the pitch come the end of this semi final, much the same as the last time. Jose will pack his bags, Roman will follow soon after and Chelsea will return to the obscurity they came from, cant wait.

The dislexical ramblings of our cousins across the pond

Some Americans sometimes have funny ways of saying seemingly English words, these funny ways can have consequences and breakdowns in communication are common place and would be more frequent if people didn't account for their 'ways'. Here is just a sample of a few of the current lexical quirks doing the rounds, most of these seem to centre on the apparent replacement of 'T' with 'D'. This list will also be helpful to guest houses and other institutions that deal with tourists who are expecting American visitors.

Just remember, they may not be asking for what they think.

Warder - The chief official in charge of a prison or a guard or porter of a gate or watch tower. Do not present them with a middle aged man with a inferiority complex, instead offer them a glass of H2O.

Bedder - No, not someone who 'beds' people, not an ornamental plant suitable for planting in a flower bed or a house keeper from one of the colleges of the University of Cambridge. Instead they are trying to convey to you that they require something greater in excellence or higher in quality.

Liddle - Again don't think they want you to present them with a versatile Scottish footballer who scored 229 goals for Liverpool FC and was never booked. They probably want something Small in size or Short in extent.

Oracle - Not an authoritative person who divines the future or a determiner that may indicate the specificity of reference to a noun phrase. No they mean article, as in 'newspaper oracle'.

Aerobic - Not living or active in the presence of Oxygen but relating to or characteristic of Arabs. "I'm learning aerobic"

That concludes episode one of 'The dislexical ramblings of our cousins across the pond', stay tuned for more of their amusing interpretations of English.

Tuesday, 3 April 2007

The Yellow peril

Korea is currently in the midst of an invasion. Every year a ‘Yellow dust’ cloud passes from the deserts of Mongolia and Northern China over Eastern China, North and South Korea, Japan and has been known to spread as far east as the United States.
The dust, known in Korean as ‘Hwang-Sa (황사)’ is composed of fine, dry soil particles and is said to cause health problems, this results in many Koreans donning their almost trademark facemasks.

Hwang-Sa is such a health concern for the locals that a few days ago I was given 2 free face masks with a pair of jeans I purchased and a young girl on a bus asked me if I had a mask as the dust was coming.
The dust isn’t all bad news however as it’s also thought to enrich the soil of the effected regions and so the Yin-Yang (or Eum and Yang in Korea) balance is seemingly restored.

The first known record of an Asian Dust event in Korea was in 174 CE during the Silla Dynasty. The dust was known as "Woo-To (雨土)" and was believed at the time to be the result of an angry god sending down dust instead of rain or snow. Recently, South Korea and have participated in reforestation in an effort to reduce the problem but as yet has had little or no effect. In April 2006, South Korean meteorologists reported the worst yellow dust storm in four years and The Korea Herald recently reported that this year’s storms will be worse still in terms of severity and frequency.

Some say the storms are a result of Desertification. This is the degradation of land in arid, semi arid and dry sub-humid areas resulting from various factors including climatic variations, but primarily human activities.

I have resisted getting a mask up until now but seeing as I have spontaneously developed a cough I may have to reconsider.

A lovely label cloud

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