Sunday, December 7, 2008

US Fisheries don't belong to "us"

I'm not really alarmist at foreign ownership of companies, but have started noticing a trend in fisheries. From watching the Whale Wars TV show I was curious as to who owned the Japanese whaling boats. It turns out they are owned by Nissui, a Japanese fishing conglomerate who also happens to own Gorton's. Gorton's has about 37% of the fish business in the US.

This reminded me of an article I read recently that DongWon, a Korean food company, recently bought StarKist. StarKist has a 40% market share. I'm looking for more information about fisheries and who actually owns everything. I'll try to post up more later.

StarKist owned by Korean DongWon
Chicken of the Sea owned by Thai Union
BumbleBee owned by Canadian investment group
South Pacific Tuna Company, 51% US owned, 49% Taiwanese owned. This is a fishing boat company that is majority US owned so as to maintain a US flag and use fishing grounds as permitted by US treaties. Taiwanese vessels may not have access to these grounds.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Weekend and Future

There wasn't too much excitement this weekend. I originally planned to go to Osan to see the air show, but decided that I needed to stay home and clean my apartment. I went down Saturday night to meet my friend for some Mexican food. It's nice to go to a real Mexican restaurant with real furniture and just chill out for an hour or two.

Usually "dining" in Korea is an experience for utility. As many plastic tables and chairs crowded into a small room where servers nearly trip over every customers chair to slam side dishes and water bottles onto tables. "Balli balli" and get the food down your throat so the next people can come in and sit down. You're here to be fed, not to relax, enjoy, or savor.

On the bus ride back I thought a lot about the next year. With the crash of the won, there is absolute certainty that I won't remain in Korea another year. Not that I was keen on the idea anyway. The crash of the won came with the crash of financial markets at home. I picked up on the symptoms a year ago. I saw two appraisals a day become two a week. Now, it has become acute.

I really want to work in real estate and finance again, even in appraisals, but now is not the time. I want to have my own business, but now is not the time. So I find myself asking questions that I thought were answered over four years ago: What do I want to do?

The time has come that I have to change course, find some employment, something that will remain secure. I don't like the idea of sitting in an office all day, I want to be on my, but I feet a good part of the time, but I don't like sales. After narrowing down my options, I think I've found the perfect job: Wal-Mart.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Free Stereotype with Every Post

Jon Kelly of the BBC has been keeping a blog as they tour the US covering the elections. It seems that every post begins with some stereotype. They do discredit the stereotype further in the article, but it's quite revealing at the preconceptions many in the "enlightened" land of P.C. that is Britain possess.

Especially those that hold themselves out as unbiased. Kelly summed up his attitude best with this introduction: "Fancy an easy dig at Americans? Then you'll probably want to use the words "trailer park" at some point. This one handy phrase conjures up every negative image of the US rural poor, whilst at the same lending you an air of aloof superiority."

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

2008 A Joke of a Year

I think 2008 is going to be one of history's most ridiculous years. We have a presidential election centered around race and sex, not policy issues and we have a natural disaster that is a political issue.

We have a dollar that is in the tank, bank failures, massive government spending and waste (by a so-called) republican president.

I'm so disgusted, I don't think I can finish this post. It remains, a joke of a year.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Why Obama is Bad for Korea

I started writing this post on May 28th, but after seeing television coverage of Obama this morning, I decided to finish it. There is a reference to Hillary, who currently isn't a factor. Just so you know.

In talking to many Koreans, the subject of the current US elections usually comes up at some point. Usually only two names are mentioned: Hillary and Obama. This can probably be attributed Korean press coverage of the race, which seems to have focused mainly on the undecided Democratic nominee. It seems that, at least among those who closely follow US politics, that the Korean desire is to see Obama rise to the presidency.

What initially triggered the post was Obama's letter to President Bush opposing the Korea Free Trade Agreement. He feels that the US won't get enough benefits from the deal. His particular target was at the automobile industry. Last week, he went further insinuating that the US should take a more retaliatory approach to trade with Korea.

A New York Times article quotes him as saying "if South Korea is selling hundreds of thousands of cars to the United States and we can only sell less than 5,000 in South Korea, something is wrong." Selling American cars in Korea is like selling Korean beef in Texas. The NYT article mentions GM's big stake in Korean car maker Daewoo (read: profits from Korean cars come home to America.) Both Obama and the NYT failed to consider the FDI Korea has put into the economy of the southern states with both Hyundai and Kia building plants. Had we followed Obama's theories on trade, there would be a lot of jobless people in Montgomery, Alabama.

The Wall Street Journal had an article that outlined the real costs of Obama's policies. At a time when Korea is opposing US beef imports, Obama feels they should be forced to take it. He is stoking the anti-trade fires on two continents with one issue. Not even Bush could be so divisive. If Obama's foreign policy is anything like his trade policy, he is stoking a fire that will likely burn him.

New York Times: Check Point - Obama Calls for Scrutiny of Trade Deals

Wall Street Journal: Change You'll Have to Pay For

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Fight Tonight

Tonight in Seoul there will be yet another protest against the importation of US beef. Lately it has been with more of a twist. The protesters are now generally protesting the general difficulties of life in Korea. Extremely high food and product prices due to tariffs and trade restrictions (ironic), insane oil prices, "world's best" high housing prices, lack of jobs, and low salaries with few benefits for those lucky enough to get a job. They are protesting a government that they feel is out of touch, a government that they feel is by the rich, for the rich. They are disappointed that this government hasn't brought a change, even though it has been in power only two months.

A few weeks ago I was talking to my co-teacher about how quickly Korea was changing. On almost every front change is happening at a pace that doesn't leave time for much reflection. This is on top of the aforementioned difficulties of living here. In talking to her, I postulated that youth protests, similar to those in France, US, and Latin America in 1968 might soon be occurring here in Korea. I didn't see it happening in the next few weeks.

At first I derided the beef protesters as morons who were letting xenophobia, emotionalism, ignorance trample over science, reason, and rationality. This was confirmed by talking to other Koreans who agreed that the protesters had a few legitimate points, but their methods were akin to using a sledgehammer to kill a fly.

Then I had a realization. They aren't only protesting beef. They are protesting the establishment. So forty years after the social revolutions in the west, it seems that Korea is having one of its own.

Add to the fact that June 10th is the anniversary of protests that led to the first directly elected president in Korea and you've got yourself a stew going. I just hope it doesn't boil over.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Field Day

Today all classes were cancelled to make time for field day. Like at home, parents and grandparents were invited to help and observe, but with a twist.

Parents and grandparents got to compete at the end. There was a parents tug-of-war and a relay. A few of the dads knocked over the moms in the relay, kindof funny. I'll have to get the video of it on YouTube at some point.

The principal held a quiz game where families had to answer questions related to the school and other trivia. At the end the last families standing got some kind of gift. The grandparents (halmoni and haraboji) were invited to "go fishing."

The teachers filled a big flower pot with toothpaste, soap, and soju (alcohol!) and a sixth grader. The grandparents would race to the line, cast their line, and the kid would hook something on the end. I thought it was a cool way to honor the grandparents for coming.

The kids activities were really exciting. They are ultra-competitive, so everything seemed life or death. They had relays, tug-of-war, a game where they raced on top of each others backs, and a pinata type game. There were lots of pictures and videos taken, so when they are put up on the school website, I'll try to post them here.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Why you can't get an Authentic German Pretzel in Seoul

Today on my walk home from school, I passed by the German bakery where I sometimes buy breakfast. I noticed a sign board for pretzels, and a old German man standing behind the sample table. All that was on the table was bread, so I looked for the pretzels in the store. I found some weakly baked almond kind.

I came for a REAL GERMAN PRETZEL, the kind with big chunks of salt and then cut in half and buttered. I went back out and asked the man if they had REAL GERMAN PRETZELS. He told me that they can't be had in Korea. Why? The process to make them is poisonous.

POISONOUS? You mean I'd been eating poison pretzels for a year? Yes. To make the pretzels properly, they are dipped in a lye bath. I tell you no lie. The lye gives the pretzel its gold and crisp shell.

The German "baker" wasn't a baker at all. It seems he had been some kind of (sales) executive for a company and did business for them here in Asia. After he retired, one of his contacts in the bakery asked him if he would like to come to Korea to do some promotional work. They fly him in, put him up and a hotel, and pay him to go stay behind a bread table for a few weeks. He said he gets a lot of free days to go and do some sightseeing and other things.

Sounds like a good gig to me.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

First Day of School

Monday was the first day of school in Korea. The children had about a one week break before moving up a grade. When I arrived at school the first thing I saw was the principal standing in the middle of the street directing traffic. Not only was he doing this, he was wearing some kind of alien ears on his head. He said "hello" to every kid and parent who was going to school.

At 9:00 there was a general staff meeting, all of the teachers meet in the "teachers room." The room is like a big conference room, but also houses the vice-principal's office, some administrator's desk, and my desk. During the meeting, I got to sit at my big desk while all the other teachers crammed into the conference tables. It was nice to be comfortable at my seat, but at the same time a little odd. Everything here has a hierarchy, so for it to be my first day and have a better place than the other teachers was odd. It is understood though, as it is my permanent place. The other people who work in the office are about my age as well.

The principal opened the meeting by singing a song. Of course it was in Korean, but I understood that he's willing to go to great lengths to give everyone a chance to laugh. He introduced the new vice-principal and the new teachers, including me.

Something crossed my mind during all of this: If all the teachers are in a meeting, who's watching the students?

After the meeting was over, the new teachers had to follow the principal downstairs to the library. In the back of the room was a studio, an all out tv station for the school. Each classroom has a big screen (65"+) to watch tv, power points, and the morning announcements. The kids ran the sound and mixing boards, the cameras, and did the announcements. It was pretty cool, especially considering the oldest kids in the school are 12.

They sang the national anthem and did the pledge to the flag. After that the principal introduced all the new teachers. As the only foreigner in the school, I stand out, but now all the kids knew my name.

There weren't any English classes on the first day, so I played on the internet most of the day. Time I could have spent blogging I suppose. The first day of school is pretty much spent cleaning the classrooms and the school. The school has no janitorial staff, students are assigned to clean up certain sections. No wonder the restrooms always reek of urine.

What do the kids do while the teachers meet? They go insane. The go outside and play or they run up and down the stairs. There isn't a lot of supervision here. Between every class is a recess period and the kids are free to do whatever they please. Kind of wild.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Going Japanese

On Wednesday I am going to Fukuoka, Japan, I'm making all the preparations and it's a little bit stressful. With only 3 days there, I don't really have a lot of time to see things, but I'm going to try to cram in as much as possible.

I am going because, on account of my changing jobs, I have been ordered out of Korea. While in Japan, I am going to pick up my new visa that will let me start work at my new school. I'm excited about this part.

Next Monday, the new school year starts. I'm happy to be back at work, doing something productive, and to have a routine.

I've had all this free time over the last month and haven't updated anything. I attribute that to 1. lack of routine 2. Noel coming to town. Over the last few weeks, I've spent a lot of time helping Noel get set up in her apartment and learning her way around town. She's really enjoying it here; given her apartment (small but very new and modern) she should be.

I will be back to Korea on Friday, so I will try to post pictures on here and on Facebook and on Picasa. (See the link on the right hand side.)

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Happy (Lunar) New Year

Today is Lunar New Year; most of Seoul is shut down. It is the equivalent of Christmas at home. No restaurants were really open. So we went to Itaewon, the foreigner section of town and ate at and Indian buffet. It was pretty good, and for once in Korea, I was full for a while. We spent the rest of the afternoon looking in the few shops that were open there.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Costco Yangjae

Directions to Costco in Yangjae.

First travel to Yanjae Station on line 3.

Leave the station using Exit 7.

At the top of the steps you should be able to see the bus stop across from a 7-11.

At the bus stop, board the Seocho 08 bus. It will be in Hangul and will look like this:

Once on the bus, listen carefully to the announcements for each stop. They are all in Korean, however, you should be able to hear "Costco" and "E-Mart" in the announcement.

Walk about two minutes (follow the signs) and you will be at the Costco.

Don't worry if you miss the stop for Costco. The next stop is the end of the line for the bus, but it will deliver you almost to the front door of Costco.

Monday, January 14, 2008


I haven't posted in nearly a month, but it is not without good reason. This is the first time in in that time that I have had the energy or the desire to write. I am backdating these posts to when the events occurred.

Simply, I was fired for asking that my contract be honored. January 10 was the first pay day for me, unfortunately, it was only half the amount it should have been. The problem was that my contract stated I should be paid on a "pro-rata basis to the 10th." That is, I would be paid for every day that I worked up until 10th. I was only paid until December 31.

I asked the owner several times to fix this problem. He created all kinds of excuses about taxes, accounting, pay roll, and franchise rules, which to my mind were all fabrications. I told him that I considered that I was only paid half of my contracted salary and that his actions were a breach of contract. If he didn't pay me by second period, I would sit at my desk and not return to class until I was paid.

As I told him I was leaving to go to first period, he said "No, no go class ... Go back America!"

Stay tuned, does our hero prevail, or does he meet an untimely death after contracting the H. pylori bacteria from drinking tap water?

Sunday, January 6, 2008


The last week was a vacation week for the school. I tried to stay busy and stay out of the house most of the time. I succeeded until the last few days, which I spent here cleaning and watching tv episodes on YouTube.

Saturday night the office Christmas party was at the Hilton. There was only one other foreign teacher who stayed in Korea during the break, so met to find our way together. No one bothered to tell us what time or which restaurant we were supposed to go. By the time we found the group, the dinner was just wrapping up. Everyone had a look of shame on their face. (Rightly so, in many ways) For the Korean staff, it was a big loss of face. Our boss bought us dinner at the Japanese buffet in the hotel. All the sushi, shashimi, and tempura you could eat. Yum.

I went to NamDaeMun Market, which is Korean for "loads of junk" market. Five story building after five story building and all the streets in between filled with junk.

Near there was the Shinsegae Department Store's main store. A 10 story department store with a several restaurants, a spa, and a basement luxury grocery store and bakeries. Kinda cool. I wondered over to the original store building next door. It was full of nothing but expensive name brands. Not a lot of people around there; not a lot of people to afford it.

I also went to the foreigner section of town, Itaewon. It's pretty dirty, full of bars and brothels, but also has a Subway. The meatball sub wasn't that good, but was better than the "spaghetti" I had earlier in the day.

Other than that I did a lot of subway riding and walking around. I wanted to see a lot more sights, but figured I need to pace myself. I need to have something to look forward to on the weekends and something to do for the rest of my year here.

Posting will probably be back on a more regular schedule starting this week, as I will return to a regular schedule.