Thursday, June 24, 2010

Good ol' Korean Innovation

One thing I enjoy about living in Korea is their forward thinking when it comes to use of technology. Here are some of my favorite examples:

Call buttons on tables at restaurants
You know when you're at a restaurant and you just can't seem to get your waitstaff's attention for some extra napkins or something? Well, here, all you have to do is push a button on your table and your table number shows up on a screen so that they know right away when you need something. Particularly helpful if you don't know how to say excuse me in the local language (although I now know: Yo-gi-yo!)

Umbrella baggies
When it's raining, all restaurants and shops have these baggies at the entrance that are specifically made for umbrellas. You put your umbrella in it and then you don't have to worry about getting water all over the place. You could even put it in your backpack or purse.

Keyless doors
I'm sure they exist in the states too, but I imagine only in fancy pants apartments. Here, it seems that every apartment has a code instead of a key. Good if you are constantly losing your keys like me.

Video intercom
Another apartment novelty that is ubiquitous here. When someone rings your doorbell, the little camera outside your door turns on and you can see them. Sure a peephole does the same for cheaper, but this is so much cooler!

Remotes for everything
This is one of the nifty advantages of having a keyless door. You can use a remote to open the door. That way if you're too busy (or lazy) to go open the door, you can just use the remote. They also have a remote for the air conditioning.

Elevator buttons
This is possibly my favorite Korean invention, and it's the simplest. If you get on an elevator in the states and push a button to the floor you want, you have to go there. I mean, the elevator will go there whether or not you change you mind and want to go to a different floor. And if there's a little kid who wants to push all the buttons you're stuck going to every floor. Well, in Korea, if you accidentally push the wrong button, or if a stupid kid pushes them all, you can simply push the button again to un-do it. Simple and brilliant.

Paying bills at the ATM
This one is especially useful for us foreigners who don't know our addresses or how to buy stamps (or read Korean). Most utility bills (called maintenance fees) come with a barcode on them, and most ATMs have a special device which will read said barcode. so in order to pay a bill, all you have to do is go to the ATM, put your card in, and then put the bill through the scanner thingy. And that's it, your bill is paid straight from your account.

Phantom escalators
This one is not just cool, it's also green. Escalators and moving walkways have motion sensors to detect when someone is about to step onto them. This way, the escalator can remain turned off until someone needs to use it. As you approach, it turns on. A little creepy at first, but pretty awesome.

Other cool uses of technology
At the school where I work, we take attendance on our computers. Once we're a half hour into class, the computer automatically sends absent students' parents a text message letting them know their child did not come to class.

At hotels, in order to turn on the lights in your room, you have to put your key into this keyholder thingy. It's basically just a tiny motion sensor which turns on the electricity. It means that when you're not in the room, you can't waste energy because everything will be turned off. (Yes you can trick it by putting something other than your key in it, but the other advantage to putting your key there is that then you always know where it is).

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Tallest Building and the Biggest Cup

A couple of weeks ago, Jon, G and I went to visit the tallest building in Korea, dubbed 63 Building because it has 63 floors (only 60 above ground, however). We headed over to the Han River where the building is located, assuming that we'd easily be able to find it since it's, you know, the biggest building in Korea (and gold). Turns out it was pretty difficult to spot actually. So we wandered around for a while and then finally saw a sign pointing us in the right direction. Inside the building is an aquarium, an Imax theater, an art gallery, and various restaurants. In order to go to the top of the tower, you have to buy a ticket for the art gallery, which is the highest elevation art gallery in the world (nice one, Korea). But you get a deal if you buy tickets to more than one attraction at a time so Jon and I also got a ticket to the 3D Imax show "Wild Oceans."

I have to say, the building was a tiny bit of a letdown. It wasn't that high, the art gallery was a well-conceived plot to get us to pay for the elevator ride (it had a few dozen photographs on the walls), and the movie "Wild Oceans" mainly centered on the overexploitation of sardines. But, all in all, I'm glad I went. Here are some pics from the highest art gallery in the world:

My favorite part of the day came after we left the building and walked to Yeouido park, which runs along the river. There were a lot of people out, and everyone was, in true Korean fashion, drinking beer.

You can see the 63 Building in the background.

We also stumbled across a jazz performance. So we stopped to watch. And then I noticed this guy:
I guess jazz fans come in all types.

Also, it's the WORLD CUP! I'm pretty excited, and so is Korea. Everything is World Cup themed and it's one of only two things the students talk about these days (the other being the upcoming final exams). Every restaurant, bar and store seems to have a large screen TV set up specifically for the cup, and men, women and children don red Red Devils t-shirts and devil horns (that light up...awesome). South Korea is looking pretty sharp (as is North Korea-- check out highlights of the Brazil game) and there are more than a few expats rooting for the USA. I, for one, have bought plenty of useless World Cup memorabilia already, including World Cup steins, a wallchart, a Brazil t-shirt, a France t-shirt, and, after unsuccessfully finding a Korea shirt in my size, a Manchester United t-shirt.* South Korea won their first match against Greece and have to play Argentina and world player of the year, Lionel Messi, tomorrow evening. Guess where I'll be when the game starts at 8:30 PM? That's right, at work. With a class full of rowdy, restless students continually asking me to check the score.

*South Korea's star player, Park Ji-Sung, plays for Manchester United, so they are extremely popular here.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Change of Schedule

My FM caught me as I on my way to work last Friday and asked if I'd be willing to switch out my Wednesday 7PM class for a Friday 4PM class. That way, the person I'd be switching with would get Fridays off and I would get Wednesdays off. Would I? Of course! And it turns out I'm switching classes with a friend of mine, L. So I have tomorrow off and I'm wondering what I should do with it.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Summer Term

A warm, overcast weekend allowed for the perfect opportunity to go hiking. J and I headed to Mt. Gwanaksan in Gwacheon. I had heard that Gwanaksan was fairly easy and we thought we'd used it to warm up for a future trip to Seoraksan National Park. It was very easy to find, as I suppose most mountains are, but when we arrived at the base we remembered that we had no way of reading the maps or signs, all of which were written in Korean. We decided to just pick a trail at random, and go on from there.

It started out pretty easy and we were setting a fast pace, though the barbed wire fence that ran along one side of the path made me a little nervous. Before long though, the trail suddenly became much more challenging, with large smooth rock surfaces we had to sort of climb up. I figured it was just a small part of the trail and we kept up our quick pace until we realized that the entire trail seemed to be that way. We climbed and climbed, finding footholes and trees to grab a hold of here and there. Every so often we would stop to catch our breath and take a look at the view.

After perhaps an hour or so, we reached the top. Taking after a Korean couple we met up there, we laid down upon a boulder and closed our eyes. Sweaty and exhausted, we were pretty satisfied having convinced ourselves that we'd just completed the expert trail up Gwanaksan. That was until we looked over and saw another, higher peak with an even more difficult trail going up it. We watched as a small group of Koreans made their way down when all of a sudden a Korean woman, traversing her way down a large vertical boulder, fell head first. Fortunately, she wasn't badly injured and quickly picked herself up and kept going.

We finally found our way down and my clumsiness, which was so well-hidden on the way up, reared its ugly head and had me slipping a few times. All in all, it was a fun little excursion and we vowed to return, though to an easier trail next time.

It is the first week of the term! Here's my schedule:

It is much simpler than my last schedule which had me teaching five different classes. This term I only have three preps and no iBT, or test prep classes, which take much longer to prepare than others. I'm pretty happy because it will mean a relatively easy summer. The only issue I have is that I don't get to stay in one classroom this time around. I'm in one room on Monday and Tuesday, another on Wednesday and Friday, and a third on Thursday. From what it sounds like though, I'm not the only teacher playing musical classrooms this term.

We never did make it out to the lantern festival but I did take a picture of the lanterns that were up in the park by my apartment.