Saturday, November 14, 2015

South Korea Day 5

South Korea Day 5

            Long overdue, but it still needs to be done, so here it is the next segment of my week long jaunt through Seoul.  Now last time I took the day long trip through the DMZ, which was a lot of fun if a bit crazy at times.  Day five was a bit more relaxing as I took a bike tour around the city, which just so happens to be my favorite way to see a city.  It was also a small group, with a brother sister pair from Texas.  Apparently her reason for traveling to Korea was very similar to my reason for visiting Japan (anime), popular Korean media, otherwise known as K-drama.

Seoul History Museum Part 2

            Now for the inside of the museum.  On my second trip through the Museum, I was actually given enough time to read the English translations, and take a few pictures.

Nongno- or a Korean crane from the Joseon Dynasty

Husband’s room

Wife’s Room

Changing Times in Seoul

Gyeongbokgung Palace

            While there are five palaces in Seoul this particular palace is the largest and the oldest built three years after the start of the Joseon Dynasty.  It served as the seat of power until the Japanese invasion in 1592, when it was burnt down.  The palace was not rebuilt after the invasion and the royal court moved to another palace, Changdeokgung.

            267 years later in 1867 the palace was rebuilt and reoccupied by the royal family.  Sadly this didn’t last very long as the royal family abandoned it for a smaller palace after the empress was assassinated by Japanese agents.  Now abandoned, the Japanese destroyed all but ten buildings.  The palace remained in this state until the Korean government began a still ongoing restoration in 1989.


Interior Gate

Throne Room

Living Room


Alright now for the rest of the Tour

            I would say the highlight of the day was the museum and palace tour.  Not to mention the guide was excellent, and more than willing to answer any and all questions.  The snacks were a nice touch to.  One more thing I really shouldn’t have waited until now to write more about that trip as I really didn’t write a whole lot of stuff down.

Down by the river

            If you don’t recognize this part then let me fill you in.  This is one of the roads that was used in the chase scene from Avengers 2 Age of Ultron.  So I had a blast when that part of the movie came up since I had been there before.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Houstai Park

Houstai Park

            Seeing as this is Mongolia, the time to get field trips in is in the beginning of the school year before the weather gets cold.  Ah field trips the love of students everywhere and potentially the bane of teachers depending on how much work you actually have to do to set it up.  So yeah that pretty much explains why I haven’t taken my classes on to many field trips.  Oh and the lack of places to take them to and the occasional block from administration.

            Anyway none of those were the case here in Mongolia as I worked with another teacher to arrange a trip to Houstai Park in the Mongolian countryside to see the wild horses of Mongolia.  Don’t worry it wasn’t all fun and games as the students had to do some site sampling to determine the biodiversity of the park.

Warning Science Content

            If you don’t know what site sampling is, here is the short hand version.  Yes I know that there are many ways to do it, but this is what I had my students do.

1- Mark off a 1 square meter area

2- Count up the number of different species of living things in the sampling site, and how many of each species are present.
3- Compare the results to a site sampling done at the school to determine which area has more biodiversity
            Hint- the more species there are the more biodiversity there is

            Not to worry I didn’t make it quite that easy for my little darlings, they had to take pictures, do sketches, record the local conditions, etc.  One more thing my ninth graders had to walk the sixth graders through the whole process.

Science content over

            The day got off to a bit of an auspicious start with snow, not completely uncommon for Mongolia at this time of year.  While this might have caused some pause for a school trip in the states not here in Mongolia and we were soon off to the races.

And finally the countryside

Arrival…… I think

            It seems getting to the park is not the same as it is in the States, because one you get there you’re not really there.

Time for some off-roading and cows

Woohoo buildings

            It only took about 2.5 hours to get to this point, but it’s not time for any hiking yet.  There was another 30min or so before the hiking started.  The students were very good sports about all of this, and didn’t give me any trouble at all.  I think it’s because they were just happy to have a day off from being in the classroom.

Ok time for some hiking, but sadly no horses.

Yes this is Mongolia and not Scotland

Something unexpected and interesting

            It’s a hike in the countryside, so it should be lots of pretty scenery animals and all the rest of nature.  This of course includes rocks.

            Um ok, that’s a little odd.  Rocks don’t just randomly end up in a circle like that.  Well I guess technically they can, it’s just one of those one is one billion things right.

            Again those look a little to organized, so being the inquisitive person that I am on occasion, I asked our guide.
            Oh that, it’s just the remains of a Buddhist Monastery that used to be here a couple hundred years ago.
            Well shit, it looks like the students get to learn a little history on a science field trip.

            In the end the students got to enjoy a day hiking in the countryside and I got to see some more of Mongolia at the same time.  Oh and their Biodiversity investigations went off without a hitch.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Back in Mongolia and back in action

Ok, I’m getting back to a more regular update schedule I swear

            Dang it’s been far too long since I’ve updated the blog.  Well it’s now my second year here in the currently chilly Mongolia.  Yes, it’s already getting cold.  You heard me right and I have broken out the sweatshirts, hat, and gloves.  I even got 2 inches of snow two weeks ago and this was after two rounds of flurries and hail each.

            Not cool you do realize that yesterday I had blue sky warm weather and sandy beaches.  However this is the price I pay for living and working in Mongolia.  At least the food is better here in Mongolia.

            My Jeju Island trip will be another post, so what else has been going on in Mongolia.  Well the year got off to a great start, at least until I got sick.  The flu decided to make its yearly rounds a bit early this year.  The turned out to be the least of my worries, as no sooner than I recover from the flu, do I come down with Chingis Khan’s Revenge.  Yup, I can’t win, now I don’t know if it was the water (there were some problems at the sewage treatment plants over the summer), or the school food (which some of us did get sick on last year).  Either way I ended up in the emergency room due to well, if you haven’t figured it out, the Mongolian version of Montezuma’s revenge.

            Long story short, 3 hours, 2 IV bags, and a physical by a doctor, and I am on my way.  Oh and the cost of all this, a whole 97.47$ American.  Shocking I know, at least to my American readers.  Sadly it didn’t do the trick and I went for antibiotics a week later and man do I love modern medicine.  Oh and the cost for 40 pills, wait for it, a whopping 75 cents.  I was happy to finally be healthy the cost savings were simply a bonus.  At least until I discovered my latest ding dong moment.

            So all the way back in 2011 I signed up for a healthcare discount card that costs 34$ a month.  Now here’s the thing, why would a discount card cost money.  Isn’t the whole point of having a discount card to save money not spend money?  The more important thing is that I never actually remembered signing up for the thing in the first place.  Argh….. You can do the math, but let’s just say it’s more than enough for me to go SCUBA diving in South East Asia for the week.  I’ve managed to discontinue the payments, so now I’m just hoping I’ll be able to get some of it back.

Picture Time

Last year

This year

            Hey what the heck happened to the road it’s….. It’s paved….. And we have sidewalks now….. Holy crap what happened over the summer.  Well the Auto Spa Zaisan should still be here right.

            Or not.  Well I have to say this is an improvement, a little slice of Americana has come to Zaisan.  The Pizza Hut is passable, but I’ve never really been a fan of Pizza Hut.  It also has the same problem as other Mongolian pizza places, they just can’t seem to do a decent peperoni.  I can’t say much about the KFC as it was the first time I’ve ever had it.  Who would have thought that I would have to come all the way to Mongolia to finally have KFC.

            I lost the picture from last year, but I came back to a heck of lot more construction than I expected.  The Mongolians sure build them fast, but the question everyone still has is where is all the money for this coming from.

            Well that’s about it for the basics, with more on the way.  I’ve got repeat excursions to Bodg Khan and Terelj, plus my Jeju Island trip that you can look forward to seeing.  Ah screw it I’ve got one more thing for you guys.

The Changing of the Guard

            No, I’m not talking about the famous changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace.  Flying through Seoul is a bit faster than London.  In a generic term the changing of the guards is a ceremony that is performed when the soldiers change between shifts.  The most famous of these being Buckingham Palace.  However, it is performed at other locations around the world, one of which happens to be Mongolian parliament building.

            So why did it take me so long to stumble onto this little gem.  Honestly most of us here at the school have no idea, even the ones that have been here a long time.  Apparently it takes place every Saturday at noon, when the weather is nice.  (FYI- I that means during tourist season)  It might have been years ago, but I still remember the changing at the Guards at Buckingham Palace and the Mongolian one is nothing like it.  One you can get a lot closer to the action, two take pictures with the guards, and three it doesn’t take nearly as long.  A good thing since I was on my way to English club.  The club is simply a gather of Mongolians who meet with westerns to chat and practice their English.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Teaching Mongolia- A year in Review

Teaching Mongolia- a year in review

            So here I am sitting on the plane making the long haul back to Mongolia for another year, and I figured it was about time I wrote my final thoughts about teaching for a year in Mongolia.  Let me start by saying, for as much as things change, many still stay the same.  Cliched to be sure, but none the less true.  (FYI- it took me a week to post this.  Sorry the first week combined with jet lag was a little rough)

            Now for some basics, the school I work for is a small private school nestled in the outskirts of the city near the Zaisan monument.  (Yes I could have just given you the name of the school, but I wasn’t going to make it that easy).

            The school building itself is nice, it’s not going to hold a candle to all of the bells and whistles crammed into the latest and greatest magnet schools in the states.  However it gets the job done, and let’s be realistic, this is Mongolia.  To be honest I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of materials I have available to use when crafting lesson plans.  Sure there are things you might wish you have, however after a little adaptation, I am more than able to get the job done.  Sure it might make some things a bit tricky, but that is what makes it all the more fun and interesting.

            Over the course of the last year I taught 6 grade science, 9th grade science, 11th grade biology, and 12th grade biology.  To those of you who went through the American school system this might seem a little different and that is because the school is running the Ontario curriculum.

            Now this curriculum is a bit different than common core, or any other curriculum at schools I have taught at in the past.  For starters science is not broken down by subject until grades 11 and 12.  This means that from 6th grade to 10th grade the students take a little bit of each of the major scientific disciplines (Biology, Chemistry, Physics, and Earth and Space).  While a student might be perceived as being behind a student from another school in any particular year, by grade 10 the amount of science covered is the same.  In fact under the Ontario Curriculum a student may cover a wider range of science topics than a student using a more traditional American once.  This is due to requiring science through grade 10 and by covering a little bit of each scientific discipline each year a student cannot dodge chemistry and or physics.  While I am not the world’s greatest expert on Physics or Earth and Space science, I do know enough to teach my students.  Plus learning some new stuff every once and a while never killed anyone.

            The second major difference is the grading scale.
50+ passing
70-80 honors
80+ high honors

            At first glance this might seem like the classes are easier, and they would be if the difficulty level isn’t ramped up a bit.  In the end what happens is that it is slight easier to pass when compared to an American curriculum, however it is much harder to get that top notch grade.  I strive to have the class average hit around a 66.

            Next is where we see a little bit of more of the same when compared to teaching back home in the states.  While it was my first time teaching a block period, I was trained for and after a short adjustment, I enjoy it.  The schedule is 4 85 minute periods, a 40 minute lunch with 5 minutes between periods.  The 85 minute period allows me to really dive into the subject matter, and expand on any student questions.  The extra time allows me to let labs run their full course without having to worry about running out of time.  I can also pair shorter labs with the lesson needed to understand them, which I think is a boon for the students.  The main difference here in Mongolia is that we are running a semester block instead of an A/B block.  In the semester block I see my classes every day for one semester instead of every other day for the whole year.  Each system has its pluses and minuses which I will not debate here.

            The schedule for the year while still 180 days is a bit different.  All of those random days, and or 3 day weekends you might get during the year are gone.  The difference is when you get a break, you get an actual break.  1 week off during the fall and spring, 3 weeks during the winter, and another 1 week break for a major Mongolian holiday (Tsagaan Sar).  Oh and no snow days, Mongolia despite being extremely cold just doesn’t get much snow.  This can make parts of the year a bit of a grind at times, but it makes up for it in making it easier to travel around when you do get time off.

            Sports, a staple of the American High school experience, here in Mongolia, not so much.  That isn’t to say that my school does not have sports, or that they mishandled in anyway.  We have fewer sports (Soccer, Volleyball, Basketball, and Cross Country), but they do not dominate the scene like they can in America.  There is a daily sports update on the announcements, a few pep rallies (which a teacher can pass on if he needs the classtime), and send offs in the mornings before the big games.  What I don’t have is the constant missing of class due to having to leave early for games.  All of the games are local, except for a once a season tournament in China for some of the players.  Overall it is a very balance approach that I think needs to be tried back home.

            The school also has a number of clubs, and each teacher is required to run or help to run at least one club.  Oh and coaching a sport fills this requirement.  I coached cross country, and helped out with the ski club last year, and getting students to come was the biggest problem.  More so for the ski club than the cross country team.  Now it probably didn’t help that Mongolia only has one small ski resort, but my fellow teachers also talked about low club attendance at times.

            Uniforms, love them or hate them, we have them in Mongolia with all of the associated issues both for and against them.  It’s a fairly standard uniform fairly similar to what most private schools use.  One nice thing for both teachers and students, is that Friday is a casual day where the students do not have to wear the uniform, and I don’t have to wear the shirt and tie.  This is also when a variety of different activities are run during lunch or after school for the students enjoyment.  Some of these activities will earn them house points.  The entire student body is broken up into houses which compete in a variety of activities throughout the year.  The winner at the end of the year gets a pizza party at the beginning of the next year.

            Speaking of food, the school lunch isn’t bad, but I would recommend bringing your own and saving your stomach.  However any day they serve Khuushur I am there.  The various school clubs run fundraisers throughout the year for a multitude of activities. Invariably they all sell food, usually baked goods, so I was never without my cookies for too long.  Type 2 diabetes here we come.

            The administration, well it’s pretty similar to what you might see teaching in the States, with individual experiences varying from person to person.  I will say I loved the people I worked with and I am looking forward to another year.  Faculty meetings are still faculty meetings however, nothing new there and each teacher is required to serve on at least one faculty committee.  I ended up serving on two, the social committee, and principal’s advisory board.  The social club is pretty self-explanatory.  We organized various activities for the teachers since we are all living and working far from home for the most part.  Most of our time was spent on a Thanksgiving dinner, and Christmas party.  If I am on the committee again I want try and expand beyond this.  The principals advisory committee was unlike anything I had been on before and I would describe it as a bit of a round table with the head of each department if you will (we don’t really have enough staff for a department head) meeting and discussing school issues with the principal.  I would not mind being on this committee again.

            Now for what I am sure everyone is waiting for, the students.  This where things really start to get interesting.  You will still have that typical range of student ability, and motivation, but there is a respect for teaching that you would be hard pressed to find in the States.  Sure I have goofy kids, but never progresses to anything close to what I saw back home.  The hardest challenge bar none is the language barrier.  Most of my students have excellent to workable English, but there are some that can make teaching a bit tricky at times.  Add to that, the fact that the languages of these students are most likely Mongolian or Korean, and it can be difficult.  (FYI- I know only a few scant words of each).  Like all teachers though, I adapt and find a way to make it work.  Also grades 6 through 12 are all located in the same building.  Now this is not the hot mess many would expect it to be as the kids tend to stick to their age group.  Meaning those sticky situations one might imagine happening simply do not occur.  Also the older kids do help out the younger ones when needed.

            In the end the hardest part about teaching in Mongolia, is actually adapting to living in Mongolia.  No easy feat, but it is an adventure.

            PS- Cellphones are still the bane of all teachers here, and I have just as much trouble with them as my fellow teachers back home do.  I use the, if I see it when it is not supposed to be out its mine approach.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Reading Pagoda

Time for something from home

            Yes, I am way behind on things again.  I was enjoying my lazy summer a bit too much, and you know how you have all of those things you say you are going to do.  Yeah, that didn’t happen.  I mean I did complete two half marathons, a triathlon, and an exciting 4 day weekend at Otakan.  Don’t worry you’ll get the full gory details later.

            So part of my grand summer plans was to visit some of the local attractions in and around Berks county near my parents place.  I did get a bit of a late start on this, but I managed to visit several of local tourist attractions, many of which I haven’t actually been to before, or at least I do not remember being to before.  So as it turns out the City of Reading, Pennsylvania actually has a Pagoda, which I have seen from a distance many times, but never up close.  This little problem has finally been rectified.

Warning Cultural, Religious, and Architectural information

            Pagoda is an English translation, for several different types of religious structures found throughout the better part of Eastern and South Eastern Asia.

The Pagoda at the Senoji Temple, Asakusa Tokyo, Japan

            The Pagoda as it is known is a multi-tiered tower with sloping roofs, and is normally used in some sort of religious capacity.  The first pagodas were built between the 5th and 6th century BCE, as part of the Buddhist tradition.  However their origin goes back a bit further to the Stupa.

            Stupas are earthen mounds from the first millennium BCE, and were originally used to enshrine mystics from the Sramana religion which predates Buddhism.  As Buddhism grew in popularity existing Stupas were used as meditation sites, and new stupas were built to enshrine Buddha’s.  This enshrining of mystics and or religious relics was continued as the Stupa turned into the Pagoda.  This shift from Stupa to pagoda occurred when Nepalese architects traveled to China to construct Stupas.  It was here that the Stupa was combined with the traditional style of Chinese pavilions and towers.  This new style of Buddhist religious structure then spread throughout the rest of Asia.

Pagoda at the Chinese Temple in Phueket City Thailand

Cultural, Religious, and Architectural information over

            And now what you’ve all been waiting for….. Drum roll please……….

The Reading Pagoda

            Or at least that is what the people of Reading call it.  On closer inspection you will find that the Reading Pagoda is not actually a Pagoda.

1- Multi tiered structure- Check
2- Sloping roofs- Check
3- Enshrined Buddha and or relics- Fail
4- Heart Pillar (A big wooden log hanging in the middle- Fail
5- A lack of rooms or other internal divisions- Fail

            Sorry but 2 out of 5 doesn’t cut it in my classroom, so the Reading Pagoda is not a Pagoda.  It is however still inspired by Asian architecture, specifically Japanese castle architecture.   The Reading Pagoda is actually based on the design used for the Nagoya Castle, which I’ve actually seen in person.

            Now just because the Reading Pagoda isn’t a real Pagoda doesn’t mean it isn’t a cool place to visit.  If you want to see a nice Panoramic view of the city of Reading then I don’t know a better place.

Final verdict

            I wouldn’t go out of my way to visit the Reading Pagoda, but if you are already in town and want a nice place to eat a picnic lunch, (food options are limited at the Pagoda) then I can’t think of a better place.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Interesting Restaurant

Interesting Restaurant?

            As a kid growing up in the USA, I had the opportunity to try a variety of cuisines from around the world, since you know, we are kind of a melting pot (I’ll leave the authenticity of said cuisine up to you).  Now add on to that trips abroad to Canada, Europe, Japan, Thailand, and South Korea.  By this point you’re probably thinking I’ve had the chance to try every type of cuisine on the planet.  Well you would be wrong oh so wrong, because I recently had the chance to try out North Korean Cuisine.  Yes you heard me right, North Korean cuisine.  As it turns out, Mongolia is one of the few countries on the planet to have friendly relations with the most reclusive country in the world.

            Now I know what you’re thinking, Chris you #$#$!@^%$^@! Moronic idiot, what the hell where you doing traveling to North Korean.  And no I did not travel to North Korean, you couldn’t pay me enough to do that.  However there is a North Korean Cuisine restaurant in Ulaanbaatar off a side street a little ways behind the State Department store.  (It is called the state department store, because prior to the collapse of the communist it was run by the state.)  FYI- Our resident foodie Kelvin couldn’t make it either time, and he was worried we would be eating pine cones or something.


            So what is North Korean Cuisine…..? Well its hot pots, stews, soups, noodle dishes, meat, and kimchi lots of kimchi.  Oh and an important tidbit for anyone traveling to Korea, if the title of the dish contains the word nutritious, its dog.  Yes, you heard me in Korean cuisine nutritious equal’s dog meat.  So if you are a dog lover don’t have the nutritious soup.  Oh and for the record I did not have it and neither did anyone else.

The intrepid travelers trip 1

The intrepid travelers trip 2

Amuse bouche or something like that

            If you can’t tell its rice cakes, and kimchi.  The rice cakes tasted something like an upscale wonder bread.  Weird, I know, but they did taste pretty good.  The kimchi, and don’t ask me what kind of kimchi it is, was also extremely tasty and delicious.


            Yes, kimichi again but it is oh so good.  I could eat kimchi every day.  This is some kind of cabbage kimchi, but between the two trips I had several other varieties including raddish, which is my current favorite.

Main course

Braised Ox ribs

Some kind of beef dish

Seafood hot pot

            Mine was the braised ox ribs, which I had on both excursions, and it was delicious.  The meat is so tender it literally falls right off the bones, and the broth is exquisite.  I highly recommend this dish if you end up going.  Something to remember is to make sure to get rice with the meal because it is perfect for finishing off any leftover sauce.  Oh and the portion sizes are large, and by large I mean American large, I was stuffed after eating it.

            The service can be a little slow, but that seems to be a Mongolian thing and it really wasn’t any different than any other restaurant in Ulaanbaatar.  I do have to say it was particularly bad on our second excursion, but the place was having some renovations done.  A number of us concluding that the restaurant wasn’t really expecting anyone that night, let alone a group of 14 westerns.  Thus I will give them a pass, this time.

The Show

            Sadly no desert, sorry mom not even ice cream.  However you do get a show, by North Korean singers and dancers.  It’s not Vegas by any sense of the imagination, but it gets the job done, and hey where else could I see North Korean singing and dancing.

            At this point some of you are probably wondering, how we know that it is actually a real North Korean Restaurant run by North Koreans.  Well the pictures of the Un family on the wall might have something to do with it, or the souvenir stand selling, North Korean postage stamps, among other things.  FYI- the book of stamps cost 130 USD.  Not to mention the place is cash only.  As we learned from our Mongolian friends, this particular establishment is sanctioned and run by the North Korean government.  Apparently working at this establishment is quite the step up, and many North Koreans apply to work here.