Tag Archives: Asia

Screen Golf in Korea

Two weeks before I left Korea, after a year of nagging, I broke down and agreed to accompany some coworkers to play screen golf. Screen golf is an indoor virtual golf game in which players use real golf clubs and balls to play an 18-hole game. This stunning marriage of real golf and video game was much more fun than I expected. It was so fun that I returned a few days later with my roommate for one last round.

Each round of screen golf is $20 per person. This seems a bit high; my hometown public course is about the same price. Despite the price tag, it was a lot of fun and left me wanting more.

Screen golf business hallway.

The screen golf business was much larger than I expected. There were at least six private golf rooms, each with a couch, table, and golf screen.

Screen Golf computer and camera

This computer controls the video portion of the game. The camera on top films you and gives you the option to replay it and watch your swing.

To play screen golf, you hit the ball full-speed into the video screen. The screen is nothing more than a thick white sheet that absorbs the energy of the ball. A projector displays the image of a golf course on the sheet, so it feels like you’re teeing up at a real course. Several cameras and sensors judge the speed, spin and trajectory of the ball. The computer program calculates the shot so quickly that it really looks like you’re playing golf.

Screen golf driving range

Before the game begins, players can use the “driving range” and warm up. It’s surprisingly accurate. I know because I sliced every shot!

Screen golf swing

My roommate, Adam, setting up for a practice swing.

My only regret is not playing screen golf sooner. Every neighborhood has at least one screen golf business. My only hope is that there are some great places to play screen golf in the US.

Until next time.

-Taft

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I’m Getting Worried

It’s rare for me to get stressed out, so the past few weeks have left me feeling strange. With less than two weeks before I move to California, I can’t shake the feeling that I’m making a mistake. Am I doomed to burn through all of the money I’ve saved over the past two years? Will I waste it all while wading through a hopeless job search?

As my twenties come to a close, I am encumbered by the Catch-22 that affects so many job seekers. You need two years of experience to snag an entry-level job. This bit of irony makes it nearly impossible to change careers without taking an unpaid internship.

In an effort to build experience in marketing, I did just that. I went to work for a small tech start-up last year, agreeing to forgo pay in exchange for the experience my resume has been missing. I was initially responsible for basic translations and copy writing, but my position quickly evolved into a marketing role. I’ve learned a lot about how an app is conceptualized, designed, made, and sold. Watching a new company get its feet wet has given me a new understanding of and appreciation for the hard realities of entrepreneurship.

Armed with my new experience, I sent out dozens of job applications over the past month. As the rejection letters begin to stream in (11 as of this morning), it has become clear that I’m no closer to landing an interview than I was before moving to Korea.

This should not be mistaken for a lack of confidence. I believe that past performance is the best predictor of future success, and I have a strong history of exceeding expectations. As a police officer, I earned promotions early and often, ultimately becoming the department’s youngest detective. I was awarded the annual emergency services Hero Award and the annual city Customer Service Award. As a teacher, I won 2nd place in the national teaching competition.

I am intelligent, had working, and dependable; I’ve never missed a day of work in 13 years. All I need is somebody to give me the chance to prove myself. The next few weeks will be spent thinking about ways to differentiate myself from the sea of applicants competing for each open position.

I want to hear your job search stories. What helped you land the perfect job? Tell me about it in the comment section below.

Until next time.

-Taft

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Busan to Fukuoka

Three weekends ago, during the Lunar New Year holiday, I took a trip across the East Sea to Japan. It’s been on my list of places to visit for a long time, so I was excited to finally go.

Instead of flying, I took the Beetle speed ferry from Busan to Fukuoka. A round trip ticket cost about 200,000 won ($185) and took just under three hours. The port worked much like an airport. Passengers go through security, show their passport, and present their ticket at the gate before boarding.

Port of Busan Security

Busan to Fukuoka Speed Ferry

The boat also felt like an airplane on the inside. It was a jet-ferry, so it even sounded like an airplane.

I naively expected Japan to be similar to Korea, but the two countries are quite different. The most obvious differences are cultural and not aesthetic. Japanese people seem to be more aware of the people around them, which makes public places in Japan much more pleasant than in Korea. There was a noticeable absence of pushing, spitting, and loud cell phone conversations. When I made an effort to be polite, like holding the door for people, they didn’t look at me like they caught me fingering a cat.

Escalator in Japan

People even follow the rules on escalators, keeping right so others can pass on the left.

I was disappointed that I didn’t get to see any of the weird sexual stuff for which the Japanese are so famous. With the exception of a few women in costumes and a baby-themed liquor bottle at the hotel bar, I didn’t see any weird stuff.

Weird baby bottle liquor in Japanese bar

The liquor bottle shaped like a baby’s milk bottle openly was the only hint that there might be some weird fetishes that don’t carry the same social stigma as in the west.

I stayed at the Crowne Plaza ANA hotel in downtown Fukuoka. Ordinarily out of my price range, I was able to stay at an upscale hotel by using credit card points. After checking in, I went out and explored the city. I tend to travel with a loose itinerary, so most of my time was spent wandering. I managed to incorporate a few of the heavily advertised local tourist attractions into the trip.

My favorite place was Maizuru Castle. This 400 year-old defensive structure was built on a hill in the center of town. It offers stunning views of the surrounding city. The original wooden buildings are gone, but the stone walls remain intact and some replicas wooden buildings have been constructed.

Maizuru Castle in Fukuoka Japan Entrance

This is the castle’s main gate. The Naka river acts as a natural moat.

Maizuru Castle in Fukuoka Japan Stairs

The castle is built in levels. To get from one level to the next, you must pass through a narrow stairway. This allowed for easier defense.

Maizuru Castle in Fukuoka Japan house on wall

All along the walls are guard towers from which defenders could shoot arrows and drop stones.

Maizuru Castle in Fukuoka Japan Panorama from top

The top level of the castle offers beautiful panoramic views of the city.

Not far from the castle was an indoor street market. I never learned the name of the market, but I spent over an hour walking around and checking out the shops. It stretched the length of six city blocks and included several hundred businesses. The shops ranged from fresh produce to traditional clothing to touristy trinkets.

Fukuoka Japan indoor street market

At the far end of the market was a Buddhist temple complex. I walked inside to look around and realized that I had seen the golden steeple of the temple’s shrine several times before. It is visible from several other places around town, including my hotel room.

Fukuoka Japan Buddhist Temple Entrance

The entrance appeared to be decorated for some celebration, but I have no idea what it might have been.

Woman worshiping Fukuoka Japan Buddhist Temple Entrance

The golden column atop the shrine is visible from miles away.

The most surprising thing I found while walking around Fukuoka was a familiar face.

James Brown statue in Fukuoka Japan

That face is pure nightmare fuel.

My only regret was that I didn’t have more time to spend exploring the city – especially the nightlife. I was so tired from walking that I wound up in bed early both nights. Next time, I”ll budget more time for relaxing during the day and hitting the town at night.

Until next time.

-Taft

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Koreans are Busy!

Within two weeks of arriving in Korea, I learned that Koreans are always busy. My students studied all day long – usually more than twelve hours on weekdays. My fellow teachers rush through the halls, frantically playing catch-up. My Korean friends – mostly grad students and young professionals – are perpetually too busy or tired to hang out.

For my first six months here, I operated under the impression that Koreans are the busiest and hardest working people on earth. At some point during my first semester, that illusion fell apart.

In the west, image is important. But we’re taught that being dependable and producing quality work are the way to cultivate a positive image at the office. In Korea, image is everything. Quality of work and efficiency are relatively unimportant here. Convincing others think that you are a hard worker is far more important than actually working hard.

A recent post on an expat teaching forum perfectly articulated what I’ve come to understand about working an studying in Korea.

[Korean kids] “study” a lot. But the way they define studying is very different… Sitting at a desk is “studying” in Korea, no matter what you’re doing. You could be sleeping, playing games, texting, talking, staring off into space – it matters not. If you are sitting at a desk and there are books in the vicinity then you are a master “studyer”. It’s the same with work here…Sleep at your desk all day and occasionally wake up and run around with your arms flailing screaming, “SO BUSY!”.  Koreans are very good at making things look much harder than they really are.  -Source

EPIK coteacher sleeping in school

My coteacher last year was always busy. Fortunately, he found time in his busy schedule for morning and afternoon naps.

As I prepare to leave Korea, my thoughts are filled with all of the things that I will miss when I return to the US. This isn’t one of them. I look forward to working in a place where I’m judged by the quality and consistency of my contribution and not my ability to look busy.

Until next time.

-Taft

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Questions About Teaching and Visas

I received an email from Brian in Pennsylvania today. He asked some great questions about teaching in Korea. Brian is currently an undergraduate student who wants to teach biology in Korea. Though these questions are specific to Brian’s situation, the answers may be helpful to someone else.

Should I finish my bachelor’s in the USA, or should I drop everything now, and just go straight to Korea?

Do not drop out of a US university to study in Korea. A degree from a US university will be far more valuable in the US and in Korea than one from a Korean university. Despite the high rankings of Korea’s high school education system, their university rankings are surprisingly low. Here is an article with much more information.

Do I need a master’s or PhD [to teach middle or high school biology]? Can I just learn the language and teach with a bachelor’s?

The short answer here is that you cannot teach biology at a public middle or high school as a foreigner. If you become totally fluent in Korean and have a PhD, you may land a job as a subject teacher. Korean subject teachers have to take several very difficult tests to qualify to teach students (in Korean). There is an abundance of overqualified and underemployed Koreans in the workforce now, so there is no shortage of native Korean science teachers.

The only possible exception here would be teaching at an international high school. These positions are competitive, so you will need at least a master’s degree in biology, teaching experience, and a teaching license.

What are the steps in order to become a [biology] professor in Korea? Can I obtain my degrees in USA?

As I mentioned before, degrees from US universities are more desirable than from Korean universities. In order to teach biology at the university level, you will probably need a PhD. Foreigners are generally held to a higher standard than Korean professors. Even if you manage to land a job as a biology professor at a Korean university, getting tenure may be difficult. Foreign professors are generally paid less than Korean professors for the same job.

What visas are required? Is everything organized by your work?

Currently, you won’t be eligible for anything other than a student visa. Once you finish your bachelor’s degree, you may be eligible for an E-2 (English instructor) visa. You need to have an employer (sponsor) in order to apply, so they will help you. The process is a bit complicated, so here is a breakdown.

In order to live in Korea as a foreigner permanently, how does one do it?

If you’re a foreign-born Korean, then you can apply for an F-4 visa. I’m assuming that you’re not, so the process is different for you. The short answer is that you need to live and work in Korea for at least a year before you can even apply for an F-2 Long-Term Resident visa.

If you’re interested in living in Korea, but you don’t have a PhD, then becoming an English teacher is the best way to get your foot in the door. Once you arrive and earn enough points to qualify for an F-2 visa, then more doors may open for you. Unlike in the US, a qualified foreigner simply isn’t offered the same opportunities as a native Korean. Sadly, racial discrimination is part of the work culture and is completely legal in Korea.

In the mean time, Brian, I think your best bet is to at least finish your bachelor’s degree and study Korean as much as you can. The stronger your Korean ability when you arrive, the faster doors will open for you. Good luck to you!

Until next time.

-Taft

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