Wednesday, December 17, 2014

suddenly safe

So a few days ago, the temps were above freezing and the snow was coming down in heavy, wet flakes that created a nasty, slippery slush. Since then, the chill has dropped to sub-zero (Celsius) levels, and somehow my campus has largely cleared up: almost all the dangerous surfaces are now dry and devoid of danger. I can't say I understand the physics; it seems strange that slush can turn to ice, which melts in sub-freezing temperatures just because the sun is shining. How does that work, exactly?

I have to admit that I saw a few scattered granules of what was probably calcium chloride or some other melting agent on a few of the steps and hilly spots on campus. There wasn't much of it: the chemical looked to have been grudgingly and stingily sprinkled, as if an unreconstructed Ebenezer Scrooge had been placed in charge of de-icing. It makes me wonder how a university as rich as Dongguk could be so cavalier about its students' and faculty members' safety. Ah, well. The Sewol disaster taught us nothing, it seems. Or it could simply be that not enough Koreans are falling, breaking their hips, and suing universities for negligence. I said it before and I'll say it again: although I don't like how litigious American culture has become, it's for damn sure that the threat of a suit motivates people to be a bit more careful, conscientious, and considerate.

So I have no fear about tonight's walk home from campus. There's one dicey sidewalk near my neighborhood, but it's not a big deal: I can walk on the street to avoid the remaining treacherous ice patches.

Tomorrow, I've got two jjong-parties to host. I had wanted to go to Costco today to shop for the food I intended to prep tomorrow, but my Golden Goose boss reminded me that the local Costco was closed on Wednesdays thanks to an anti-capitalistic Korean law that shuts down big stores, once a week or so, to allow little stores a chance to sell their wares. It's a stupid law (if it is, in fact a law and not merely some regulation), and very inconvenient. So I did my shopping at the Seoul Station Lotte Mart, which had the basil I needed for a caprese (but not the mozzarella or the pesto). I still need to grab some other items tomorrow morning; I'll have plenty of time to do so as my first class isn't until 3:30PM.

It's nice to be at a point where it's all over but the partying. Actually, that's not entirely true: I'll be spending this coming weekend in the office, finalizing all sorts of admin-related crap in an effort to be totally done by the beginning of Christmas week. I'm revealing my students' final grades to them tomorrow and Friday, and I'm telling them that, no matter how much they beg, I'm not going to be changing their grades. The problem with this strategy is that the students might strike back by writing nasty teacher evaluations: that's why many teachers don't reveal the students' grades to them.* But my feeling is that more communication is better than less communication; this is true for all human relationships. So even if it costs me a few brownie points with my evals, it's better to lower the boom on the students' heads now than to surprise them later. (The question of why the students should be surprised at all about their grades is a separate issue, worthy of its own blog post.)

*A further explanation of this point: students can't see their grades online unless they first fill out the teacher evaluations. This is obviously done for psychological reasons: if students could see their grades first and then were allowed to fill out evals, the ones receiving bad grades would definitely strike back by dinging the teacher on the eval forms. That's why I say it's a risk to let the students know their final grades now.

The flip side of this is that students usually get incensed about their grades (and then call or text their teachers, begging for or demanding a grade change) because they're surprised by them. As I hinted above, the issue of being surprised by one's grade is a topic in itself, but the short version of the problem is that a student has to be fairly uncaring about his or her own future not to check, periodically, on his or her grade. Unfortunately, most Korean students are like this: they claim to be eternally worried about their grades, but they almost never bother to check routinely, or to keep their own records. In other words, they don't act as if they're worried about grades. Hence their surprise when they see their results.


1 comment:

Charles said...

"I can't say I understand the physics; it seems strange that slush can turn to ice, which melts in sub-freezing temperatures just because the sun is shining. How does that work, exactly?"

Assuming this is not a rhetorical question, here's my best shot...

Since ice cannot melt below the melting point, there are three possibilities:

1) Water/ice retain heat better than air, so even if the air around the ice is still sub-zero, it is possible for the sun to heat the ice to the melting point (and then evaporate the water that results).
2) The chemistry of the water could change--through the addition of calcium chloride, for example. Contrary to common parlance, the "salt" doesn't actually melt the ice; it lowers the melting point, allowing the ice to melt at temperatures where it would normally stay frozen. (Your comment that it appeared to have been sprinkled "grudgingly and stingily," coupled with the fact that there is little ice left, would seem to indicate that calcium chloride played a part in removing the ice and disappeared in the process. Well, not completely disappeared--look for a tell-tale white residue on the pavement tiles.)
3) Sublimation. This happens a lot more slowly than #1 or #2, but it still happens.

In sum, either the ice did reach the melting point (either through a rise in the temperature of the ice or a lowering of the melting point) or it sublimated away. I'm guessing more the former than the latter.