Featured Blog: Quemino’s World

It’s the last day of September today.  The month wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t devote some space to featuring another blog I enjoy reading.  This month’s featured blog is "Quemino’s World," the musings of a very nice and eclectic lady I met last year at the APEC Summit in Busan (check out the November 2005 archive for more details).  Quemino is my favorite blogger name–I always thought Quemino sounded like a cool brand name, perhaps a clothing line or an upscale establishment.  Nah, in reality, it’s her name transposed in such a way that it fits her personality.  She’s a deep thinker who offers acute observations about life and leads you on a meandering journey through her life in fits and starts (she stopped blogging for awhile but returned earlier this year).  She has been all over the world, from Korea to Thailand to her former hometown of Seattle (we are fellow Seattleites), to Washington, D.C., where she now resides.  We’ll probably cross paths again when I return to D.C. next year en route to Paraguay. 
Quemino will challenging your senses with some profound observations on an diverse variety of topics ranging from squashed pennies to Starbucks coffee.  She is a "hip chick" despite letting her blog languish from time to time (lately, I have no room to talk–it seems I take a week off every two weeks).  Her lists featured web sites, blogs, and books for just about anyone.  While she really wants to do what I do for a living, she undoubtedly has a brilliant job that takes her to exciting places.  After I post this, I plan to write her an e-mail to let her know I featured her blog and hope that she will post a few new entries for you in October.  I don’t think she has enough time to do it in September!
Blog Notes:  I survived an extremely busy week last week.  I’m just starting what will be a 10-day vacation at home with my parents in town (hooray!).  I will try to blog more in the coming weeks, especially if MSN features my blog again, as one editor hinted they may do.  That would be really cool!  I would be honored, as always.

Gaming away their future

Over the past few weeks, the western media picked up on the latest trend in Korea–the alarming rise of addiction to online gaming, particularly among youths.  BusinessWeek published an article on September 11 highlighting this rising problem.  The magazine highlighted the results of a government survey reporting that over 540,000 Koreans between the ages of nine and 39 are so addicted to the Internet that they need counseling to curb their addiction.  That’s about one in 88 Koreans, a staggering number.  Last week the Korea Times reported that the Korean government will introduce "No Internet Day" one day per week at Korean schools to counteract this growing addiction.  The problem is apparently so bad in Korea that Internet addiction has eclipsed alcohol, gambling, and drugs.  Much of the addiction stems from the prevalance of online gaming, which is much more widely available in Korea at a higher less of sophistication than in the United States.  The government estimated that youths spend at least 15 hours per week online.  Some youths spend so much time online that some have died from sleep depravation, starvation, or emaciation. 
Experts concur that gaming is addictive and that men (and boys) are more prone to play video games.  I often see students walking the streets of Seoul, but more often than not, the students are girls.  I have often wondered why.  I have suspected that female Korean students are more apt to socialize with each other in public settings, such as in public shopping areas.  I also believe that male Korean students are more likely to head directly to their local PCbang (computer room) to entertainment themselves with online games; hence, fewer of them are on the streets once school lets out.  It’s just a hunch, but the news of the rising problem of Internet addiction among Korean youths confirms to me that too many are heading from school to the PCbang for gaming.

Getting it all done

Dear Reader, I have not been diligent lately in writing my blog, because life has been pretty hectic for me.  Last Wednesday, I took my Spanish language exam via digital video conference, and I improved my Spanish speaking/reading score from 1/2 to 1+/2.  Althought the improvement was slight, it was still worth the effort.  It’s the best I could expect from difficult testing conditions.  I took the test from 9:30 p.m. until 1:00 a.m., an odd time that accommodated the Spanish testers’ schedules in Washington, D.C.  On Friday, after a long day at work, I attended a dinner welcoming my new boss to Seoul.  Afterwards, I went out with a good friend to wish him well as he returns to the U.S.  Tonight, I ended one year as chair of our community association board.  I spoke to our community and updated them on all that the association has accomplished for them in the past year.  I try not to openly brag about my accomplishments on this blog (although I do hint sometimes, I know).  I do have to write that our board’s advisor, and a high-level official, said that I had done the best job of any association chair he had worked with during his career.  It warmed my heart to hear that.  Serving as chair of our community association was a labor of love.  I’m proud of all we did to improve the community association and the community at large.  I am tired, though, and I’m ready to take a much needed break.  I have to shift gears now and write a report for a conference we recently hosted as well as a magazine article.  I plan to go in early tomorrow, on Sunday, and work on it. 
Tomorrow night my parents arrive for their first trip to Asia.  They will spend the night with us here in Seoul and will leave immediately to spend one week in China on tour.  They will return the following week and spend two weeks with us.  I will take them to the airport on Monday morning, work all day Monday, go to one last community association meeting to hand over the chairmanship, and then have dinner with some acquaintances.  Tuesday night we will host a "hail and farewell" party for colleagues who recently arrived or will be departing soon.  Wednesday is our anniversary, and my wife and I are planning a night on the town.  On Thursday, I have Spanish tutoring and a much needed night at home.  The following Friday, I will join my wife for an evening with her colleagues at the symphony.  My parents return the next day, Saturday.
*sigh*  That is the way life seems to be right now.  Life is much more hectic than I would like it to be.  So many things are happening that my wife and I had to make a special calendar so that we can keep track of all the things we have to do until we leave Seoul.  I’ve had to turn down some engagements.  We had to say no to a goodbye dinner for some friends, because it conflicts with our anniversary date.  I had to forego joining the community choir, because it would be much too great a time commitment for me.  As it is, we have just four more months here in Seoul.  I have a feeling that life will become even more hectic as our departure date approaches.

Damn Yankees

The New York Yankees, the best Major League Baseball team money can buy, just won the American League East Pennant for the ninth straight year.

A Rave for Montessori

Last month my son started attending preschool at a Montessori School in Seoul.  He absolutely loves it.  Although he initially had a bit of difficulty interacting with some children, because he likes to play a bit rough (he loves to "rough house"), he settled down and now is playing well with the other children.  His two teachers use the Montessori Method developed by Maria Montessori in the early 1900’s to help him learn, a method to which he has adapted well.  Originally developed to assist special needs children in Rome, the Montessori Method empowers children to learn at their own pace, teaching them personal responsibility, sensitivity to others, and progressively challenging curricula.  Teachers act more as guides than instructors, helping children on a more of an ad hoc basis than does traditional education.  While Montessori schoolchildren range in age from preschool to high school, the program is especially effective with younger children like my son.  My son was already well on his way to knowing his numbers and alphabet, and he can spell some basic words, including his name.  However, since he began attending a Montessori school, he has already learned to spell some complicated English words, including the long form of his first name.  The teachers have also channeled and honed his artistic skills, helping him learn how to paint and draw with improved technique.  He’s well on his way to making beautiful art.
I think that Montessori schools are an excellent educational option for preschool-aged children.  I also believe it’s a good program for older children, although I don’t have firsthand experience with Montessori’s youth programs.  Montessori schools can be expensive, which is a primary reason why most children do not attend these schools.  However, if you have the money and the opportunity to enroll your child in a Montessori school, I highly recommend investigating this option.  We plan to continue our son’s Montessori education when we’re back in the United States.  Unfortunately, our next destination, Paraguay, does not have an English-language Montessori School.  We’ll make do with what we can find in Asuncion.

Korea’s lagging productivity

According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, a United Nations organization comprised of the world’s 30 largest economies, South Korea’s average hourly productivity between 2000 and 2004 was $10.40 per hour, equating to $10.40 earned in economic output produced each hour by a Korean worker.  In contrast, the average productivity of a U.S. worker between 2000 and 2004 was $40.00 per hour, nearly four times more than that of the average Korean worker.  U.S. productivity on a per hour, per worker basis exceeded that of any other OECD nation, including runner-up Japan, whose workers each produced on average $39.90 in economic output per hour.  The U.S. was more productivity during this period by this measure and than that of any other economy, including all European countries.  My friend married to an Austrian who insist that Austrians are more efficient than Americans can put that myth away.
If you’re a working American, it’s OK to smile knowing that you’re one of the most productive people on the planet, even more efficient than the vaunted Japanese salaryman.  If you’re an American expatriate working long term in Korea, you may also nod your head upon reading this statistic, because the OECD confirmed what has been gnawing at you for quite some time–the feeling that on a per-hour basis you are more productive than your Korean counterparts.  Still, the OECD’s statistic does not quite tell the whole story.  For one, Koreans work about 25% more hours annually than Americans do.  This boosts their overall annual productivity by 25%.  In addition, the OECD statistic measures the period 2000-04.  Koreans are no doubt more productive in 2006 than they were in 2000, the beginning of the period measured by the OECD.  In addition, Korean productivity gains very likely exceeded American productivity gains during the same period.  Korean workers are also more likely to be involved in manufacturing than their American counterparts, who are more likely to be engaged in services.  While productivity gains occur in both sectors, productivity advances in service sectors frequently outpace manufacturing gains.
Yet, any way you look at this statistic and try to explain it away, one fact is indisputable–Americans can still get almost four times as much done in an hour as Koreans do!

Remembering 9/11

Five years ago today I was in Washington State, walking into the plant where they built the four jets used as missiles that crashed into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and a field in Pennsylvania.  I drove to work, not tuning into the morning news as I usually do during my morning commute.  I was oblivious to what had transpired.  As I walked into the facility, someone asked me, "Did you hear what happened?"  They proceeded to tell me the news of the World Trade Center crash.  The Pentagon had not yet been hit, and only one of the Twin Towers had fallen.  I thought they were joking, because what had happened at the time seemed nothing short of unreal.  I soon realized that this was no joke.  I sat silently with my fellow employees glued to our radios, hoping to hear any news amid chaos erupting on the East Coast.  The Internet was down due to overload, and web sites like CNN.com were inaccessible from heavy traffic.  Work had to wait.
Just two weeks later, I left that company to pursue my MBA.  Just two years later, determined to serve my country and make a difference in the world, I took a new assignment.  I am now on the front lines of foreign service and am dedicated to promoting American interests and helping keep Americans and America secure.  I love this job and wouldn’t trade it for the world.  This is where I need to be right now.  I don’t think it would have happened had not that fateful day on September 11, 2001, when the world changed, and America changed.  At the 9/11 ceremony today, with flag at half mast, taps, and a memorial speech, I was reminded of that day five years ago and how it changed my life.
On this fifth anniversary of 9/11, I hope and pray for peace.  I hope for peace in Iraq and Afghanistan.  I hope for peace between Democrats and Republicans.  I hope for peace between Israelis and Palestinians.  I hope for peace in the War on Terror.  I hope for peace between Blue Staters and Red Staters.  I hope for peace between the Two Koreas.  In all conflicts, I hope for peace.  There will likely never be true peace on earth in the life we live now, but one can hope that at least we’ll have a bit of respite and a temporary ceasefire of hostilities.  It’s probably more than we can hope for in this world.  There is a lot of fear, anger, and bitterness among people.  I wish that this day will help temper these feelings and create more goodwill.