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I taught Eun Jeong how to cook Chinese food.

I know, that sounds strange. What’s an American doing teaching an Asian about Chinese food?

When I was little, I got hooked on cooking shows. The two that I liked the best were Justin Wilson’s Cajun show and Stephen Yan’s “Wok with Yan.”

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It was “Wok with Yan” that made me ask my parents for a wok. I didn’t know what was so special about it, only that I couldn’t cook Chinese food without one. So, disguised as a present to my mother, I got and electric wok.

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An electric wok.

I had watched that infomercial with the British guys selling hand hammered woks and… this wasn’t exactly what I had in mind. Nonetheless, I tried Stephen Yan’s cooking techniques in the wok. I never remembered any “Wok with Yan” recipe, but almost every recipe was a variation on the same basic moves.

  • Heat oil in wok
  • Add garlic
  • Add onions
  • Add ginger
  • Add main ingredient
  • Toss in a slurry of corn starch and water at the end of cooking to thicken the sauce

Being electric, I now know that the wok could never get to the proper hotness for Chinese cooking. Yet I had been developing my “Chinese food style” over the years.

In Korea, I have been blessed with gas burners that put out some serious BTUs. They’re still not the big flames we see in Chinese restaurant kitchens. Yet I’m finally able to get some good stir fry going. By the way, Alton Brown has shown that a Chinese restaurant burner flame can be mimicked outdoors on the butane burner of turkey fryers.

Last weekend, I asked Eun Jeong what she wanted for breakfast. She said she was in the mood for BokkeumBap (Fried Rice).

“For breakfast?”

I thought I’d have a go at making some fried rice Wok with Yan style.

Eun Jeong is normally critical of Chinese food, saying it’s too greasy. She couldn’t stomach it during her last trip to China. But she devoured my fried rice. She wanted me to make it again. I told her what I did and did the same thing a few nights later with some shrimp, veggies, and oyster sauce. She was frankly surprised that I had a bottle of oyster sauce in the fridge the whole time.

She loved that too and wanted it again the next night. I told her that I would quickly burn out eating basically the same thing each night.

I’ve noticed that she is starting to use the techniques I showed her and is making Chinese food similar to how it’s done in North America. Each day this week, there has been some side dish she has served that tastes like my Chinese food. Eun Jeong’s not a fan of ginger (I don’t get why), but she returned from the market with a big butt package of it.

She also has been introduced to angel hair pasta, which we got in bulk at Costco. She pointed out that it’s similar to yuksu, think Korean noodles used in soup. So we’ve also had spaghetti a few times recently (something else I taught her to make).

On the business front, we have had a lot of stuff going on at school. Our book project is starting to develop. We have made an exciting creative turn that will make the books fun to write and more marketable at the same time. Chris has been extremely busy with projects outside of school. Important people are finally discovering that he has been working on the most cutting edge ESL computer learning systems for a few years.

He already spoke at a conference a few weeks ago. He spoke again at a KOTESOL (Korea Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages) conference in Cheonan this weekend. This one was a pretty big deal, and the teachers (Ben, Chris W., and myself) wanted to come along.

Chris created this great presentation in Flash and had even set up and rehearsed a cool feature that had some of our students join the conference and have a class and take a quiz live via webcam. Chris worked out the kinks, and it worked perfectly.

That made me nervous.

I had a feeling that if something could happen, it would. Chris did the best he could, thinking and implementing back up plans. I helped by bringing an extra headset and a y-splitter audio cable.

Chris had also suggested that the conference use the printer we use to print up the conference booklets. The printer did a good job on the booklets, but it messed up the font on Chris’ stuff on most of the books. I worked on ways to spin it positively because I didn’t want him needlessly stressing out and losing his concentration before the conference. Stuff like this can make anyone high strung.

The organizers told Chris that the traffic on the weekend to Cheonan was horrendous, so we left early. I woke up at seven and had coffee on the balcony, watching the sunrise. I then dressed in a suit, got my gear in order, and met Chris and Ben in the car. We then picked up Chris W. I was the only one of the teachers in a suit.

DOH!

It still took us a while to get to Cheonan. The traffic was starting to pick up. When we got there, we saw the organizers pacing, giving orders, making calls, making decisions. We met Aaron, the chapter president, and Chris S., the CALL-SIG facilitator (the guy in charge of a lot of the details). These guys were cool, and the atmosphere was nuts.

They set us up in a computer lab on the second floor. All four of us got to work setting up webcam systems, getting drivers loaded, wiring and rewiring. You see, the conference planned to kick off with a live online debate between professionals in Korea and a famous professor from Carnegie-Mellon in the U.S. Chris and the rest of us were trying to set this up.

And we got it to work.

Then they told us that someone was scheduled to give a presentation in the lab at that time, so we had to move.

We packed up, moved, and unpacked. Plugged in cameras and components. Again loaded drivers. We got it working again. Almost. One of the cameras wasn’t communicating well with its computer. Aaron came up and told us we had five minutes until it started. Chris S. said that one of the debaters got stuck in traffic. That was not good because we had six boxes set up on the webcam chat program (using FlashCom Server) and only four debaters and a mediator — and not enough time to reprogram the system for five boxes.

Chris and Chris S. looked at me.

“You know about this. You can debate, can you?”

“Debate what? What are we debating?”

“Technology in the classroom. You know about that subject.”

“Yes, you could say…”

“Joe knows technology and internet stuff.”

“Good. Can you sit in on this debate?”

“Okay.”

I went to the computer with the defunct camera, put on my headset, and logged in.

“Joe McPherson – Atlanta, Georgia”

That was the name under the “Mystery Box.”

The conference started with the crowd sitting in the lecture hall. We, the debaters, were in the computer lab. Chris S. welcomed everyone, and we even had the professor from the U.S. set up (it was rumored he would be a no show). Chris S. asked the first question.

Then the server crapped out. Red light on the indicator. We tried to do it again a few times when Chris S. said we should all join him on stage in the lecture hall. We walked briskly to the lecture hall. Chris S. introduced the debaters when they walked in. The three scheduled debaters took the stage. I saw Chris S. look at me, and I subtly shook my head and widened my eyes.

Thank goodness he continued without me. This was a debate that I found out later I couldn’t have done well in. Chris had been preparing notes all week on this subject, and each debater was articulate about each subject. I could just see myself being handed the mic and entertaining the audience with, “Technology is good in the classroom, um, uh, because it has computers, and, kids like computers, and… um, I like it.”

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Chris was the big pro-technology guy on the panel, and he did great, despite the blaring technical difficulties staring at everyone on that big projector screen, including the U.S. professor just walking off camera and turning off his computer.

We took a small break to break everything down and get ready for Chris’ presentation in an hour or so. We couldn’t set up the equipment, though. It was currently occupied by a seminar with the vague title “Several Techniques About Four Skills.”

Chris was to start right after the “Several Techniques” lady, but she ran over. We had to butt in and take over the room. Chris and Ben each broke out their laptops and set them up for wi-fi.

No wi-fi.

“But they said there would be wi-fi.”

Aaron entered to see what he could do. Chris told him the problem. Aaron brought in one of the Korean coordinators, Mr. Han, a young guy in a sharp suit and glasses. Mr. Han got on his cell phone. I can call the guy to fix it.

Fix it? How long would that take?

“When do you need it to work?”

“Now. Actually, five minutes ago.”

Chris was getting that look I have only seen rarely.

“If it comes down to it, we can just screw the internet and do a bare bones presentation.”

I said, “No, that’s not good. What about the kids?”

The kids were excited and had set up their computer systems for this event. Their parents were enthusiastic. We couldn’t let them down, if anything.

Aaron looked at us for a decision. I looked at Aaron.

“We need internet. Let’s go to a computer lab.”

Aaron and Mr. Han immediately got on their phones and got us a computer lab upstairs. Chris loaded his Flash program on the lecture computer. Ben set up a headset with the software to get the kids ready for the presentation.

Finally, everything was ready to give this grand presentation to — two people.

The only people who showed up were Aaron and this other cool guy named David (I met a lot of cool people). The show must go on. Besides, Aaron was an important audience member to have. Chris was short on time, so he skipped a lot of his presentation. He got the kids up on the projector screen and started talking to them.

Bzz… bzz, bzz, bzz…vvv…zzz., vv..bzz.

The sound didn’t work. I went to the computer to figure out the problem. It sounded like an analog problem. In other words, it sounded like there was bad wiring in the speakers, not a computer problem. We plugged the speakers into Ben’s computer, and it confirmed my suspicion.

Luckily, we had only two audience members. Chris just put them on his headset, and each of them got to ask the kids questions for the quiz. It worked beautifully.

After that, Chris ditched the projector and had the two guys join him at a computer, where he showed him everything we did at the school using technology. They were both massively impressed. Aaron said he wanted to come to the school to see how everything worked without the time constraint.

People started filing it. But it was for the next lecture. We packed up and went out to the car. Chris had to go for a walk after this string of disasters. We walked off campus of the university hosting the conference and bought some beers at the nearest convenient convenience store. Chris was pissed, well, as pissed as Chris gets, which is very subtle.

I personally thought that the disasters were blessings in disguise. The tech stuff in the debate wasn’t going to work with the delay, but Chris was able to show it was possible and give everyone a taste of what was down the road. And they were able to hold the debate in real time. He met a few important people and showed them what we did at the school through the web, before and during his presentation. The technical gaffes weren’t Chris’ fault and ironically put him in a better position, because Aaron took the blame for Chris’ presentation not working right.

I was trying to point this out, but even I noticed I was sounding too Pollyanna.

During our trek back, I learned something interesting about this university, SunMoon University. I thought it was a hippie sounding name and wondered if it was intentional.

Well, it may be because it’s owned by the Unification Church, the Moonies. You know, the same cult that was around in the ’70s, got rich, founded the Washington Times and other media outlets and fund much of the Republican Party?

Yeah, those guys.

The beautiful new campus suddenly looked institutionally sinister. I knew there was something not right with the “Love God. Love Humankind. Love Your Country” plaque on the computer lab lecturne.

We returned to the conference building, where Aaron met us, apologizing to Chris still. He asked us (the teachers) if we could poke our heads in presentation rooms and tell everyone that the closing ceremony and door prizes were being handed out at 5:30.

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At the end of the closing ceremony, Aaron showed everyone copies of Chris’ first published reading book, Benny Beaver’s New Home, saying that Chris was at the cutting edge of everything they’re trying to do in learning technology and to tell everyone to watch his work. It was the future of ESL teaching.

The conference was officially over. But dinner was next, which was the part I was looking forward to.

Thanksgiving dinner done M?ori h?ngi style — barbecued underground.

Read more about it in the Food Journal.

Oh, and look —

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A book vending machine on a subway platform. How clever.

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