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Sohan, the little cold

Today (6 January) marks the start of Sohan (소한; 小寒) in the lunisolar calendars of China, Korea, Japan, and Vietnam. Despite the name translating to 'little cold' in English it felt very frigid outside today and the temperature was -10°C on my walk home from work. I've recently begun joking with friends that I look forward to the days when it snows because they're usually warmer than the days without snow. As an example of this, Jungnangcheon, the stream by my apartment, started thawing out a couple of weeks ago -- but only once it started snowing.

Sohan begins when the sun reaches a celestial longitude of 285° and continues until it reaches a longitude 300°, which will be on 20 January. The following stage is Daehan (대한; 節氣), a period known as the 'great cold' and which marks the final stage of winter in the lunisolar calendar. While I'm not overly thrilled by the low temperatures it does mean there are fewer people out, which leads to nice photo opportunities:

Taereung (태릉), the tomb site of Queen Munjeong [ link ]

Jeong Darae and the 16th Asian Games

Anyone who has read my LiveJournal for a prolonged period of time will know that I am an avid follower of soccer (football). Other sports that I enjoy include handball, badminton, and archery but those are often much harder to watch on a regular basis -- which is why I am so keen to catch them when multinational events such as the Olympics and Asian Games take place. (Although, since coming to Korea, I have attended the Archery World Championships in 2009 and the Women's Junior Handball World Championship in 2010.)

One of the great aspects to these sporting events is seeing a number of athletes that aren't normally in the public's eye. Athletes competing within more popular sports - for example baseball and basketball in the USA or hockey in Canada - are often in the limelight while those competing in sports like sepak takraw, badminton, and archery (among many others) are not. However, multinational sporting events offer a platform for these athletes to shine. I remember the excitement of watching the Olympics, Commonwealth Games, and Goodwill Games as an elementary student and learning a little more about competitors and sporting traditions with each round of each edition.

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Conflict in East Asia

If you've been following the news recently you've no doubt heard about North Korea's artillery shelling of Yeonpyeong Island on the afternoon of 23 November. If, by some chance, you aren't aware of what's happened you can get a quick summary of events from any number of sources -- such as Yahoo News and BusinessWeek. Before the start of classes today one third grade boy got my attention to talk about events:

"Teacher, did you watch the news?"
"I didn't watch the news, but I heard about North Korea."
"Yes. There was a big 폭팔 (explosion)."
"That's right. 무서워? (Is it scary?)"
"No ... it's exciting!"

I have to admit though that the scariest thing (in my mind) to come out of North Korea over the past week has been their synchronized swimming team at the 16th Asian Games. But that's probably because I'm not a big fan of plastic smiles and nose clips.

In addition to affairs between North and South Korea, there also appears to be some tension developing between South Korea and Taiwan due to the disqualification of a Taiwanese athlete from the Taekwondo competition. While checking out Asian Games photos on DayLife (which I highly recommend) I came across the following:

South Korean students and a woman go into a Korean school in Taipei on November 23, 2010 which was hit with eggs several times the past few days as anti-Korean sentiment increased after a taekwondo row at the Asian Games. Taiwan's taekwondo star Yang Shu-chun was disqualified from the Asian Games in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou last week, setting off a wave of anti-Korean ire across the island where irate fans have blamed South Korean judges for kicking her out of the competition. Organisers of a Taiwanese film festival said on November 23 that South Korean pop groups would not be invited to perform.

Doing a quick web search shed some additional light on the situation, with the BBC reporting on the incident that led to her disqualification and China Post offering information on the aftermath in Taiwan with this article. The general idea from the latter source is that some Taiwanese internet users believe Yang Shu-chun's disqualification was an attempt to make the quarterfinal easier for Korean competitors by removing one of the stronger competitors in the sport.

The technical committee member who disqualified Yang is Hong Sung Chon, an ethnic Korean from the Philippines, while the World Taekwondo Federation's Secretary-General, Yang Jin-suk of South Korea, has reportedly been unable to give a consistent explanation for why the Taiwanese athlete was disqualified. From the China Post article:

The egg-throwing incident was the latest of a series of anti-Korea moves launched by angry Taiwanese, who have called for a boycott of South Korean goods, foods, television programs and entertainers.

Dozens of posts from Taiwanese users were also posted late Friday and early Saturday on the Facebook page of Cheongwadae, South Korea's presidential office, before being removed, with most users blasting the country for its unfair treatment of taekwondo star Yang Shu-chun.

And for those wondering, later news articles (for example, this one from Taiwan News) indicate that the man responsible for the school eggings has been caught by police. Apparently it didn't take much work, as he was standing outside of the school on Monday morning, once again throwing eggs past the main gate.

At the Noraebang: 5 v 1

Monday evening, while teaching my final class of the day, I asked my students what they did over their weekend. One girl mentioned going to the movies. The sole boy in class spoke about wanting to play baseball but staying inside because it was raining too much to meet his friends outdoors. The other girl said she had a horrible time and went on to elucidate.

This girl - currently in sixth grade - went to the downtown of Uijeongbu to pass the afternoon and ended up in a noraebang (노래방) with five boys in their first year of middle school. As she went back over her story again to add more details she mentioned that the boys had given her money to go with them to the noraebang and then gave her more money once they were all inside. She tried calling her friends to come and join her but only one other girl came -- and then the boys called one of their friends to make it a group of six boys and two girls. She didn't have much fun with the sex ratio being what it was, but at least that was the reason for her disappointment concerning her weekend and not anything more.

Hearing that she accompanied a group of guys to a noraebang who paid her for her time was rather surprising but I wasn't really sure what type of comment to make about the situation. The Grand Narrative writes that the age of consent in Korea is 13 years old which makes her weekend activities that much riskier. Since we were in a classroom setting I'm not sure how much detail she felt comfortable sharing with me about the meeting so I can only assume that things didn't get out of hand and her distaste was over spending time with that many boys rather than with anything in particular that they did.

I did make sure to tell her to be careful in the future and mentioned the incident to her former teacher so that someone else in the academy was aware of what had happened. My current co-teacher for her class seems extremely disinterested in teaching. On top of that she is also quite rude, so I don't exactly trust her to handle the situation very gracefully. I really hope that my student takes care of herself in order to avoid any potentially dangerous situations in the future.

My work visa expired last week, though with all the things our academy director is dealing with at the moment it wasn't until today that he realized that we needed to visit immigration to take care of it.

I'd been to the Uijeongbu Immigration Office several times without any problems - usually getting everything done within 15 minutes, and never waiting more than 25 - but with the office moving to a purpose-built site in Yangju in November we were hoping that things would go even more smoothly this time around. On the way there our director complained about how the building was only identified in Korean despite the fact that many (most?) of its patrons are non-Koreans.

We arrived at 11:50 and took a number for Visa & Resident Services. There were 42 people ahead of us in line and two employees working at the counter. After 30 minutes one of those employees left on a lunch break. During this time there was a man sitting at the Naturalization desk with nothing to do and two more employees at the Invitations counter who were chatting between themselves. By 12:50 our director was getting fed up with waiting and went up to the oldest-looking employee to complain. The man was a low-level supervisor who claimed that he had asked the woman at the Invitation counter to help with the workload but she had refused, claiming that she had some data entry that needed to be done first.

I was somewhat worried when our director went up to the supervisor, since 'trouble makers' can be flagged as such in the Korea Immigration Services network. Fortunately we were treated quite nicely when it was finally our turn.* Granted, it took three hours of waiting, but the woman working at the (Outgoing) Immigration desk began to help whenever she could.

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