Tuesday, September 29, 2009

A Position in Daegu City, South Korea

Who's tentatively employed? THIS GUY

After a few good weeks of searching and sending my resume across the world, Wonnie found a great opportunity for me in Daegu City.

Daegu City skyline.
Located in the southern inland region of the peninsula, Daegu City (alternatively spelled Taegu) is one of the largest metropolitan cities in the country and is located relatively close to the cities of Ulsan (where Barbara from my course is teaching) and Pusan (where I know few UMass grads are also teaching).

I interviewed with the director of the school, Hee Yong Lee, via Skype (I've provided a link for those that don't have it/never heard of it - it's your key to video chatting anytime anywhere FOR FREE). I learned about 10 minutes before the interview that Mr. Lee had read this blog. Oh boy.

Naturally, I was less-than-comfortable at the thought of the impressions a potential employer could get from reading. To my pleasant surprise, he was very easygoing, assuring me that nothing here at keithteachesenglish.blogspot.com would prejudice me in consideration for the position. I was pleased to learn that he also has a penchant for the booze (he merely asked that I not drink too much on weekdays). He even threw in some jokes about my chops. Awesome.

I thought the interview went quite well, and I told Wonnie I was very interested. The next day, she got back to me with great news - my first job offer! She attached pictures of the school and the apartment that I would live in.

My contract does not begin until the beginning of December. Provided my visa is approved and they don't have second thoughts, from December 2009 to December 2010 I will be living, teaching, and rocking in Daegu City, South Korea. South Korea here we come!
Ah. Students hard at work. A welcome sight. Most of the students at the school are elementary English learners between the ages of 7 and 14.
The hallway.
The director with his adorable child.
The apartment.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Duxbury, Massachusetts

Here I sit in my dining room in Duxbury, plugging away on ESL websites. Last night, I had several shy Korean women calling to ask if I received their emails. They were a few of the recruiters that I've contacted in my job search. As I fill out more applications and send more emails, I expect to hear from more by the day. Mother says that I'm only doing this for the phone calls but I can assure you I'm not. While they are very friendly, the conversation is sometimes awkward and confusing since their English is good, but not great and there's not a whole lot to talk about.

Korean lady (oh so softly and thickly accented): "Hi this is _____ from ________. Can I speak to Keith?"
Me (at first): "Who?"
Korean lady: "_______ from Korea...South Korea."
Me (owing to the confusion feeling obligated to make small talk): "Oh right, this is Keith, how are you?"
Korean lady: "Er...gooood, how are you?"
Me : "Great....uh...what, er...yes?"
Korean lady: "Did you receive my email?"
Me: "Yes I did, thank you (totally lying, not at all sure which recruiter I'm talking to)"
Korean lady: "Do you have any questions?"
Me: "Not at the moment."
Korean lady: "Oh?"
Me: "Yeah, looks good."
Korean lady: "Well if you have any questions..."

And I think you get the gist. They seem to be pretty attentive and helpful so far. For most ESL jobs in Korea, recruiters have some involvement. Especially for an entry-level teacher without a base of contacts at schools in the country, they are the easiest route for finding a job, getting a visa and flying over. Periodically, they send along job postings and information as they find jobs that match your stated preferences. From there, you express interest or not and then they set up an interview with a director.

This all began when my friend Barbara from the TEFL course (who is in Korea already) put me in touch with her tag-team recruiters, Winnie and Wonnie. I'll let you make your own joke.

If there was any lingering uncertainty, South Korea is a definite go, so the question mark must go. Still not sure of a new title. I'm aiming for a late October/early November departure, so I do have some time.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

An ode to Czech beer, part two; Plzen.CZ

Likely one of my last Prague posts (still thinking of a proper Korean title, the question mark must go), I hope it goes down as a favorite.

If ever there were an opportunity, here it is. I think my enjoyment of beer is well known, and I should make it clear that it is not a matter of consumption, it is a matter of savory appreciation. Who else gets this excited about hops fields?

We had a beer tasting that lasted for a very long time mostly because Ryan stinks at drinking. Here are a few of the 16 beers we tried (don't worry, we shared):
Picture slightly out of focus. Czech beer just as I remember it.

Plzen, CZ

A mere hour bus ride southwest of Prague, Plzen is yet another Bohemian gem. Not nearly as picturesque as Cesky Krumlov, it has perhaps an even more appealing draw - The Pilsner Urquell Factory.

The sad reality is that there would have been no other reason to go to Plzen besides to make a Pilsner beer pilgrimage, but I am in the company of many that go, and I would have to say it would be worthwhile even for the casual beer drinker.

On first impression, the factory is more theme-park super-complex than production facility (minus the mascots). The tour only reinforced this.

Ryan and I file towards the bus for the first leg.
A brewery tour would never be complete without a peek at the bottling and canning process. It felt something like an episode of how its made...
The now-defunct water tower. Today, it remains as one of the several antique symbols of the Pilsner Urquell factory.
Antique copper vats. Like the water tower, they are no longer used in the brewing process.
The modern day brewing tanks. A complex series of pressurized pipes connect two copper vats and one of the steel vats. The wort (malt and water) are passed between the copper and steel vats during various stages of the brewing process. Later, the hops and yeast are added before fermentation takes place in huge towers adjoining the building. The production capacity of this facility is about 1,000,000 liters per day (that makes around 2,817,000 12-ounce beers, oh shoot).
The copper container that produced the very first batch of Pilsner Urquell.

Eventually our tour guide led us into the original tunnels below the brewery. It took 90 years to dig these cellars by hand and they remain only partially in use for the tour. As we made our way further and further underground, the temperature dropped to a cold, damp 50 degrees - ideal for brewing. This was a real contrast to the warm 80 it was outside.

The real treat of the entire trip - young Pilsner Urquell fermenting in the open air. Brewed exactly to all specifications of the original, this beer is a labor of love. Fermented in hand-made barrels, there are no mechanized pumps or technology at work, only experienced brew masters that see the process through by hand.


After fermentation for around 12 days, the young beer is transferred to these stacked casks to complete the aging. Single file, our group moved towards an old brew man with a little spigot connected to one of the casks. Out poured a slow stream of golden pilsner. It was captivating.

Ryan and I enjoy that sweet nectar. What is special about this beer in addition to the labors taken to recreate the original process is that it is both unfiltered and unpasteurized. As a result, once ready, it only keeps for 5 days. This makes it impossible to transport, as any change in temperature or disruption to the unfiltered yeast would spoil the brew. Therefore, you can only get it at the Pilsner factory.

The difference can really be tasted, as the flavor is more fresh, full and complete. Even as a light, bottom-fermented pilsner, there is real substance. I've said it before, beer is a delicate thing and none more than this.

One last shot of the famous gates before we set off.
Plzen is not only known for Pilsner. It also is home to the 3rd largest synagogue in the world. Who would have thought?

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Last Day

It's hard to believe that today is my last day in Prague. It just happens to coincide with...


Still have more pictures and such to share, as Ryan and I took a day trip out to Plzen and the Pilsner Urquell factory. I'll probably put something together during my Prague-to-London-to-Boston travels. Hopefully things go better than Dublin-to-Prague...

See everyone soon...


Saturday, September 5, 2009

Art and the Antics of David Černý

David Černý is Czech modern art. If you see something around the city that strikes you as strange or amusing, chances are it's a Černý.

Above, one of his first famous works. The monument itself was built by the Russians during their presence to commemorate their 1968 invasion. In 1991, Černý and a group of artist buddies stormed the monument under the cover of night with buckets of pink paint. You see the result.

The Russians re-painted the monument to its original form only to have it re-painted pink soon after by members of Czech Parliament in response to enthusiastic public demand.

The "Hanging out" sculpture. He's been hanging for around 12 years now.

The Wencleslas equestrian statue in Wencleslas Square, one of the most recognizable monuments in Prague.
Černý has this displayed inside of a mall off of Wencelas Square. It kind of reminds me of Animal House...

The babies. Not sure what the deal is with these things, but they climb the TV tower a few blocks from my flat and it's bizarre. It's a trend with this guy.

The pissing dudes. The general rule for public urination is as follows: the further east you move in Europe, the fewer beers need be drank before a guy has no problem taking a very public leak. This is taken to be Černý's mockery of what I've already mentioned is a significant cultural practice.

Believe it or not, their hips actually move and spell out words. It's possible to send text messages to a special number and the dudes will start to write out your message with their endless stream. If this thing isn't ridiculous enough, the pool that they are standing in is shaped like the Czech Republic.

Any explanation needed?

Museum of Modern Art, Holesovice, Praha.

On my way to the museum, I passed a Czech guy struggling to get through an acoustic rendition of The Red Hot Chili Pepper's "Scar Tissue" that maybe, for comedic value, even my dad could appreciate. All that distinguished it from a traditional Czech folk song for me was the chorus: "with the birds I share this lonely view." For the birds alright.

Every six months, the seat of the EU Presidency shifts from one member state to another. The beginning of 2009 marked the first such opportunity for the Czech Republic since it joined during the 2004 EU enlargement. In celebration of the milestone, the Czech government commissioned Černý to put together a sculpture for display in Brussels. As you may have expected, controversy ensued.
Titled "Entropa, "each EU member state has its own crude caricature. Černý was commissioned to collaborate with artists from across Europe and for some time, it was thought that he was in fact doing so. Instead, he created false names, made fake CVs and websites, and composed the piece by himself with the help of two other friends. The elaborate only complicated the controversy and outrage when it was unveiled.

Germany, depicted as a series of autobahns. It's been suggested that their arrangement resembles a swastika. Yeesh.
Italy, a soccer match. To appreciate this one, video is needed.

Spain, a field of cement and construction.
For Poland, a group of priests raise the gay pride flag Iwo Jima style on a potato field. Crazy.
Romania. A Dracula theme park that periodically roars and blows smoke. Yeah, they weren't too impressed either...

Other countries (from Wikipedia):

Černý later expressed regrets about the way things played out. What one can get away with in Prague versus across Europe are two different things. A lot of people were pissed, the Czechs included, as Černý misled them about the nature of the project while accepting funds. He still ended up pouring a bunch of his own dough into it. Černý may be a nutjob, but I'm entertained.

Breaking news: the NYT World edition just did a piece on him yesterday...coincidence...


Friday, September 4, 2009

A thought...

"Life is the art of drawing without an eraser."

I first came across this quote when I was getting my hair rinsed before a cut at a shop in Amherst. It was plastered to the ceiling, and with not much else to look at or think about, I made an effort to remember the author's name: John W. Gardner

I have to say it's become clearer and more applicable by the day. By some strange coincidence, I recently lost my actual eraser that I'd been using to draw with (given all the free time I've had, I've been sketching and drawing more than I have in a long time).

Thus, I've found myself literally drawing without an eraser and it's given me a unique opportunity to reflect on the quote as it relates to my situation. I view Gardner's metaphorical drawing instrument as a pencil; its marks are not permanent but without an eraser, each line has a consequence. There are ways to obscure mistakes or make small changes that in the long run make a significant difference for the picture (smudging or shading, for example), but these are cosmetic rather than wholly corrective changes. Paint or ink would mean real permanence eraser or not.

Without my eraser, I've used those techniques in drawing. I'm not a terrific artist and I make plenty of mistakes. If you're still with me, the drawing that depicts me in Prague for the year was begun, but now I'm in the process of changing the outlines; I can't erase those marks, but I'm trying to alter and integrate them into whatever comes next.

That's all.
A scene from the Royal Gardens next to the castle.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Český Krumlov

[Author's note: I took this trip alone, as no one else was free, so these are notes that I took during the day. Very much inside my head, it was actually pretty refreshing]

Aboard the bus to Český Krumlov. It is packed with quirky old British ladies. I anticipate the "oh my's" will continue. Their latest revelation came when they figured out how to operate the arm rests.
First impressions live up to its reputation as one of the most picturesque destinations in all of Europe. Three hours due south of Prague, Český Krumlov was among the first places in the region designated a UNESCO world heritage site, and it doesn't take long to understand why.
This place is more fairy tale than reality. It somehow lacks the superficial qualities you sometimes sense in parts of Prague's Old Town - perhaps its the beauty of the landscape surrounding the town that provides a natural context.
To be sure, though a gem, it is not hidden. I am not alone in my tourism, there are Brits and Germans everywhere. I wonder what its like to actually live here. Hard to imagine.

The Eggenberg Brewery

One of the attractions that drew me here is the historic Eggenberg Brewery. I arrive at 2pm. Tours began at 11am, but I am informed that they are already done for the day. Right. So Staropramen maintains its advantage.

An adjoining beer garden takes the edge off. The Eggenberg 10 degree tastes a bit like a more refined Staropramen svelty, nothing special. The whiff of unrefined wort mash I got around back of the factory stands out and a tinny aftertaste lingers. Overall crisp, but definitely not Heineken Light dad. I suppose rich history ought not be confused with rich taste...more on that later.

While I'm here, I may as well try the other varieties. Okay, so the waitress just sat down with her lunch and shoots me a glare before I can say anything. I place my glass on the bar and nod. To the beer hall!

Woah, bartender in here has an attitude. I tried asking about their other beer styles, unsure of what to get. He points to the board and snappily tells me to just pick one. There goes your tip sunshine. Some of these Czechs are really hard to crack.

Choices are the light, the dark, and the (yeast? couldn't really understand him). I opt for the 3rd. Much better than the last. More attention to filtering, cleaner finish. There is a real difference between the 10 and 12 degree beers - more pronounced in some than others. It's not just ABV content, it's the process and the attention to quality. It can be traced back to medieval times. The servants drank the watered-down, bottom-of-the-troth crude beer (think Coors, but rather than Rocky Mountain water, water from the Charles River, only worse back then as the problem of sewage and potablility was actually not yet viewed as much of a problem). Meanwhile, the royalty and nobles drank only the refined. I suppose this continues today in different forms.

Before I came, I certainly wondered why I had never heard of Eggenberg. Formally established in 1560 (the Plymouth colony a cool 60 years off), the brewery boasts of its historic importance to Český Krumlov. I am uninformed without a proper tour, but I think production capacity has something to do with it. The more plausable explanation is that there really is nothing remarkable about it and it's probably not easy to compete in the Pilsner Mecca of the world. I have also noticed that dominant beer brands are very particular to regions, even in a country this small.

On to the dark. Černý, Czech for "black" beer is something of an anomaly here. You have Bernard, Kozel, and Staropramen and others, but such are exceptions to the norm. First sip: the Eggenberg black lager is more on the smooth side than those mentioned. Pleasantly, it doesn't have the burnt-malt taste I've noticed in the others. The grain roasting is key to the styling of the beer, the deeper the roast, the darker the beer. Some brewers overdo it (intentionally perhaps to bring out smoky notes) but Eggenberg is more to my liking. Good stuff.

Now that you've grown tired of my blabbing about beer, I'll allow the pictures to speak for themselves. I spent the day of the day just wandering (and making pit-stops of course). It was fantastic.

A beautiful sunset as I bid farewell.