Friday, November 28, 2008

Long time no write

Yes, I know I’ve kinda been slacking off on the writing. Steph! You’re supposed to be keeping me motivated – bad friend! Bad! Eh… who’m I kiddin? I forgive you… =)

The truth is that the newness is starting to wear off a bit, I guess. I mean – I have my apartment pretty much settled… well, that’s not entirely true. I don’t have any food, or anything to cook food in, should it magically appear in my fridge. Or anything to eat it with, should it magically appear precooked for whatever reason. I mean hey, the ways of wizards are strange and wonderful, right? Anyway, I’ve still been eating out for dinner every night – let’s see. I had tak kalbi (chicken, Korean rice cakes, veggies; then when most of the food is gone, they come by and throw some woodong noodles on the rest, for dessert-like) one night, which was especially delicious (mashi-so-yo… this is delicious!). Last night I had ja jang myun, which is like thin (rice? Maybe?) noodles with a black bean garlic sauce and onions. Also delicious. Those two were suggestions by the girls I work with, Mi Sun and Mi Jin. So they took me out and paid for dinner and everything – you’re fantastic, ladies! Thanks! Although, next time it’s my treat, so yeah… see ya next year! Ha… anyway. Tonight I had spicy chicken with bean sprouts and rice, but I didn’t catch the Korean name. Betcha can’t guess how good it was!

So, I started teaching (real classes, at the actual school) but I’ve had 4 classes all week and no more till Monday. They’re ok – it’s by far the easiest job I’ve ever had. Although, beginning next week I will start doing extra classes with each grade, bumping me up to 16 classes a week. And seein as how I’ve never actually put together a lesson plan before, or really tried to teach little kids to do anything at all, apart from play baseball, (Go Park Ridge Junior National Cubs! And yes, that is the last time you’ll ever hear me root for the Cubs) well, it should be interesting. If anyone out there has some advice for teaching beginner English classes to 6 and 7-yo’s, or how to start, um, yeah, hit me up. Thanks ya’ll.

So – here are some new things I’ve gotten in the last couple days.

1) My foreigner registration card! This was great! Arrived a whole week early! This allowed me to go and get
2) My bank account. Now, when I get paid, I’ll actually be able to get the money! And spend it! And
3) My cell phone – this phone is phenomenal. It’s got mp3, camera, video, TV and radio channels that I can watch for free, I mean, the list goes on. Oh! And I can make video calls with it – like, it costs a little more, but if I hit the video call button instead of the regular one, and if the person I’m calling has one of these kickass mobile devices also, then we can see each other while we talk. Talk about freaking genius. Korea shoots – it scores! 3 points! And the crowd goes apeshit! Hhhhaaaaahhh! Hhhhhaaaahhhhhh! Uh… yeah. And finally
4) A haircut; this was kind of an adventure, but it turned out really well. At least, I think it did.

One thing I’m starting to notice about Korea, and especially about the service industry, is that these people really know how to take care of you. I think that their lack of any kind of aversion to work is responsible. Like, when you go out to eat at a decent restaurant, they might dirty 15 or 20 little bowls on a table for 2. They just think that’s the kind of service you deserve, so you end up with a whole bunch of delicious little side dishes, most of which don’t get eaten because there’s just so much damn food on the table, and it’s no big deal. Or the massage place – it was the little things that made the experience so enjoyable – the little foot bath before the massage, even though they didn’t really rub my feet. It wasn’t necessary, except as a prelude, an entry into the experience. And the green tea while she washed my feet, and the juice afterwards. You don’t really get that kinda stuff in the states, and it’s a shame. The haircut was the same way – for literally, less than $6, I got a haircut, a shampoo with a hot towel over my face, a scalp massage, and then she starts styling my hair… which I think was a challenge for her since my hair has a much thicker texture than most of the Korean hair I’ve seen. But it was a necessary part of the haircut experience, for her, even if it wasn’t for me. I don’t know… I wonder if it has anything to do with the lack of tipping here. Like, back home, tipping is pretty ingrained behavior, but if you don’t do it right, or at least enough, then you pretty much guarantee yourself a bad experience if you ever want to go back. Because they remember. Oh yes… and they do mess with your food. Trust me. Cue the dark, foreboding music…

Anyway, the real focal point of service relationships here is not the financial aspect, but the personal. For Koreans, the relationship is everything; I even read that Korea is considered a relational culture, in that you can pretty much always tell where you stand with people by the way you are treated from day to day. They won’t say anything; there will just be a drop in service. It’s like restitution because from their viewpoint, if you’ve done something rude, or impolite, you’ve diminished the quality of the relationship; so they don’t feel obligated to strive for quality on their end. It’s a difficult system for a Westerner (where money talks) to understand, I think. All I know is, one day when I didn’t smile and say hello to the cafeteria workers, I got less food than everybody else. I didn’t say anything about then, but I was a little miffed, you might say. The next day I said hello and smiled, and managed to motion that it smelled great, and I got great heaping piles of food, plus one of them even brought a bowl of extra chicken to the table for me! So now, every day I am polite and friendly, and the service is great. At each new restaurant I try to do the same, because they’ll remember. I mean, hell, there’s like 3 white people in the whole town. So my walk from the bus stop to my apartment in the afternoon is becoming quite the parade. There’s me, the beauty queen, smiling and waving in windows the whole way because I don’t want to offend anyone by avoiding them or seeming unfriendly. It’s actually made for a much nicer walk, I gotta say.

And it carries over into retail, too. When Dave the Canadian was showing me around, he mentioned a little furniture store that he liked because the guy who runs it is really nice. So we swing by. Sure enough, when he told him I was looking for a desk, the guy starts showing me everything he has in stock, then moves on to catalogs of stuff he can order if I want it. Then we made sure to get his namecard – basically a business card – and he wrote the discount he would give me on the back. Apparently, this works for almost every business in Korea. When Jill buys her computer (from a place a friend recommended, thus ensuring that she gets a discount), she’s going to get me a namecard and the same discount. This referral business thing is really well developed over here, and I love it. I mean, we’re talking about ~100,000Won… which is like 20% off, just because of the referral. I guess I could just ask for the discount and see what happens… didn’t think about that before. I like the idea of the referral network better, I guess. It incorporates an element of personal responsibility into the business relationship that is (sorely) missing in our culture.

OK – like Forrest Gump, I’m pretty tired, so I think I’ll go home now. Actually, I am home, so I’m going to watch “The Office” episodes I downloaded and go to bed. Questions, comments, concerns? You know where to find me.

Monday, November 24, 2008

So two Americans ride a bus into Seoul...

And the first one says to the other, "Hey, didja see that giant effing city over there?!" And the other one looks and goes, "Hey. Yeah. How bout that?"

OK, there is no punchline to this terrible joke. Sorry. You'll get over it, though, right?

So Jill was kind enough to show me around Seoul on Saturday. She was going anyway -- she had a date with a "really cute" Korean guy. This is all she knows about him, apart from his name. Although she did tell me how cute he was over and over, so... yeah. Sad ending alert: she didn't end up meeting him. Poor Jill. =( OK. I'm over it.

So, we took the bus into Seoul, and then the subway farther into Seoul. First, though, we visited a place that may exist only in the best kind of dream. TechnoMart. Is. Awesome. It's like Marshall Fields on State St. in Chicago, except bigger, and filled with nothing but electronics. 10 stories. Of electronics. And a food court. Like I said, it's the stuff dreams are made of. It's basically the Iowa cornfield of electronics. They built it, and I went.

I am, however, poor at the moment. So, no fun gadgets for me. I did find a little notebook computer I wanted for like $400 though, and Jill has an ipod touch, which is freaking fantastic. It does everything the iphone does, except make phone calls. It does have wifi, and Korea has network access covering most of the country for free, so if you buy a little plugin microphone you've got a VOIP phone, ready to go. Bad ass, man. I'm gettin me one, soon. Like, when I'm not poor.

Next stop -- Insadong. This is a very touristy neighborhood of Seoul, but it's still sort of classy. There are lots of art galleries, museums, and the kind of people who like art galleries and museums. We browsed through a few galleries, looked at the souvenir shops, watched a guy doing seoye (giant calligraphy) and then we jetted. She's poor too. As we were walking, I heard a Korean drumline jamming out on the street. So, naturally I went to go investigate, and lo! and behold, we find this really kickass little man-made river running like, in the median of a huge street. And there's steps down to the waterside, and little stepping stone paths so you can cross the water, and willow-y trees planted down there. And where it runs under the streets, there are little lighted art shows and sugarplum fairies and visions of pumpkins and magic dust and they're both verbs and it rhymes and it's just awesome. Pictures of all these things are here.

So, moving on, we found the Youngpoong bookstore, which looks really funny if part of the name is blocked by another building, but has a pretty good selection of English books. I picked up a historical novel about Genghis Khan and 2 of the books in Ludlum's "Bourne" series, which are insanely different from the movies! I was a little shocked at how different, but they're definitely easy to read and quite enjoyable.

Next, we hopped on the subway and went to Hongdae, which is the area surrounding Hongik University. So, lots of college kids and foreigners and bars and restaurants. There was a woman selling cocktails from a street stall, in ziploc bags. For 3000Won. Or like, $2. Yep, vodka cranberry in a ziploc bag, that's how I roll. So, Jill really wanted to salsa dance, and there are apparently several salsa clubs in Hongdae, with the very small complication that only 1 of them actually exists, in the physical sense. The rest are theoretically there, and you can get directions to them from any well-meaning local, but when it comes to actually physically being, with a door and walls and a place to salsa, these clubs are sorely lacking. So yeah, we were on a hunt. Enter Thibault, a French guy who stopped us on the street to ask if we knew where these 2 salsa clubs he had heard about were. They also existed in a very abstract sense, in that people had heard of them and could point the way, but the concreteness of their being was shy of expectations. More cran-vodka-bag, more walking, more looking, more asking, more listening, more looking, more vodka-bag, rinse, repeat. I got pretty hammered by the time we actually did find the one salsa place in the neighborhood. And Jill hated it. Don't ask me why -- I'm hazy on the details; all I know is that the bartender had ordered pizza and gave me some of it with my beer. So I was in a happy place.

Next, they wanted to go to Itaewon, which is the neighborhood surrounding an American Army base, and as such caters to foreigners. So, there are a lot of, in fact I'd say "mostly" foreigners. So we stopped at a little van and bought some empanadas, spoke Spanish to the people selling them, and then hit Club Caliente. Which was full of big ole drunk Army guys. Whoo-ee! And it also charged a cover. That's bad. But with the cover you got a ticket for a free beer. That's good. It was OK... not really my scene, but still fun.

Finally, we walked across the street to the jimjilbang, which roughly translates as shower room or sauna. But for 10000Won, you get a shower, a bath in mineral spring water (pumped from 1000 feet underground), and a mat on the floor in a communal sleeping room. Which is a perfect finish for a drunken night. Except for the naked Korean dudes walking around the bath room, which was a little weird. But again, when in Rome, right? Being blitzed helped too, I think. So, yeah, separate shower facilities, but then you go to this giant room with mats and little pillows all over the (nicely heated) floor, and you sleep with everyone else. So, I'm sure you can imagine, lots of snoring Koreans all over the floor -- strange, but fun. And way better than paying for a hotel with an actual bed -- pshaw, that's so 1990's... or something. So, that was my weekend.

Next time, my first day teaching at the school, and my awesome new schedule. Here's a hint: it starts with 6 40-minute classes a week and ends with... well, a lot of free time, I guess. It rocks. OK, that's all for now. Thanks for reading. Class dismissed.

Friday, November 21, 2008

A Resume

I was lying in bed last night in my brand new apartment, and I was feeling a little lonely. Not sure why, but probably it's just a reaction to the foreign environment. Anyway, I was feeling kinda down, so I decided to start consciously thinking about something positive, instead of only semi-consciously waffling over vaguely perceived and ill conceived negativities. Yeah, that's what I thought. =)

So I came up with a mental list of some of the amazing things I've seen and done (or not seen or done, depending on who's reading) in my years of wandering the planet so far. Here's a partial reconstruction of my sheep counting:

I have been lost in Venice
I have climbed the highest mountain on the Isle of Skye (not that impressive, but fun)
I have tried (and failed) to catch a sheep with my bare hands
I have watched the sunrise from the steps of the Sacre Coeur in Paris
I have attended Latin mass at the Duomo in Florence
I have gotten a crick in my neck looking at the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel
I have walked the Champs Elysees
I have hopped over a barrier, climbed down a ways, and sat undisturbed by the crowds in the Grand Canyon
I have jumped out of a plane near the Gulf of Mexico south of Houston.
I have bought hash (legally) in Lisbon, smoked it (legally) in Salamanca, and cooked brownies with it (pseudo-legally) in a dormitory kitchen in Glasgow
I have smelled the rose garden at the top of the Boboli Gardens in Florence
I have bought "Philosophers' Stone" mushrooms from a corner store in Amsterdam -- they were next to the milk
I have relieved myself in the ancient Roman Forum.
I have hidden something inside a little cabinet in the Notre Dame de Paris
I have swum (or at least gotten my feet wet) in the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans; Gulf of Mexico; Caribbean, Adriatic, Mediterranean Seas; and Loch Ness
I have drunk a Bahama Mama... in the Bahamas
I have played my trumpet (with a jazz ensemble) at the Presidential Palace in Nassau
I have seen both sunrise and sunset over the Painted Desert in Arizona
I have rooted for the St. Louis Cardinals at Wrigley Field in Chicago
I have galloped a horse down a country lane, in central Spain (mainly on the plain)
I have threatened a Mexican in Spanish to get back a friend's money after he was robbed in a Tijuana bar
I have crammed myself into a guard's booth outside Edinburgh Castle with 5 other people
I have walked around Eilean Donan Castle, ancestral home of Clan MacRae
I have been to the top of the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe, and to the cupolas of the Duomo in Florence and St. Peter's in Rome
I have road-tripped to a football bowl game to root for my Houston Cougars
I have watched REAL flamenco dancing in the Gypsy Caves in Grenada
I have toured the Alhambra
I have vomited out the window of a moving train in Portugal, because I was too drunk to find the bathroom
I have played poker with NFL players
I have shaken hands with Sir Anthony Hopkins
I have jumped off a cliff into a river, not once but twice; the second time, since the river was only about 4 feet deep, I used a grappling hook and a tree limb to swing into it sideways, thus preventing death. Ta-da!
I have spent like 2 hours writing all these down, over the course of today, so now I'll quit.

Today, Sean is an introspective Korean, but not bragging, believe it or not. Well, maybe a little, but the list of things I'd like to see and do during the next ten years is just as long, or longer. Highlights would include running with the bulls in Pamplona, hiking up to Machu Picchu, and of course, marrying and starting a family! I'm not all selfish, ya know...

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Quick update from school

Fun things I've seen/done since my last post:

Eaten at Isaac -- the sandwich place. Holy god, was it good! "Hot Chicken VIP" is like $2 and it is chicken, cheese, fried egg, hot sauce and coleslaw (every sandwich comes with the slaw...?) and it is just super.

Taken a massage -- for like $50, a Chinese girl massaged me for an hour and a half... also, there was green tea, a heated table, kick-ass massage clothes (like, funny little brown gym shorts and a beige baseball-t with brown sleeves -- i mean, just classic), apple juice, a foot bath... really really nice. can't wait to do that again!

Walked around Suwon -- one of the largest cities in Korea, ~2 million people. I think I walked around the residential part of town, because it was just packed with giant apartment buildings. In Korea, instead of making one giant apartment building, companies make 10 or 15 or more that all look identical to each other, and put them in little arrangements. Boil told me that to buy one of these tiny apartments in Suwon can cost the equivalent of $3-400K; in Seoul, it can be twice that. But to rent one, apparently, you just deposit like $100K with the landlord, live there for a couple years, and then when you move out you get your deposit back. I tried to ask how the landlords make their money, but all I could gather was they invest the deposit to make enough money to pay their mortgage... seems like a strange system to me, because I'm used to paying actual rent. So, yeah... I'll look into this further.

Gotten drunker than a monkey -- Tuesday night I went out to dinner with Boil and the 4th-grade teacher, Mr. Han. I think his name is Sang Yeop. Sure... =) Anyway, we had "shop shop" or "shabu shabu," not sure which is the correct transliteration. We also had wine, and soju, and beer. Then we went to a bar and had more beer, with some little plates of bar food. Cuttle fish, I think... it has tentacles, and kinda looks/tastes like calamari, but not fried. Also, very very spicy, so it goes well with the beer. Then, 2 more teachers showed up so we proceeded to get drunk. With a capital DRUNK. When they left just before midnight, I in my drunken stupor found yet another bar on the way home, so naturally, I stopped in for a nightcap... at least, I think that's what happened. Bottom line is I woke up naked, having left the door to my room unlocked and all the lights and the TV on. Why was the TV on? Who knows...

Seen (accidental?) crossdressers -- not one but two guys wearing what I can only assume were Victoria's Secret "PINK" hoodies. One of them was also wearing grey "PINK" pants and carrying what looked like a purse. Maybe it was a European carryall, though.

Applied for my Foreigner Registration Card -- OK, this wasn't fun, but necessary. Anyway, it's done and that makes me happy. =)

OK -- off to class. Thanks for playing! Game over! Please insert 1 or more coins to continue.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

In which Sean visits a Korean outlet mall

Just a quick update today. The foreign teacher who came to the Global center today, Jill, is from Chicago. We had a good time chatting about places we knew, which were actually relatively few because it turns out she’s not really from Chicago, but some little burgh south of Joliet. Oh well, ya can’t win em all, right? Anyway, she’s been in Korea over 2 years, so she filled me in on the things she’s found to do here. She’s going to Seoul this weekend to see the sights, maybe hit an English bookstore, and go salsa dancing with some of the other teachers at her school. She invited me to go with them… and I’m down. I mean, I haven’t tried to salsa in a long time, but hey! When in Rome, right? Uh… yeah. Plus, I really do want to get to Seoul as soon as possible. I drove through it on the way from the airport, and it’s freaking huge. More than 20 million people – the 2nd largest urban center in the world after Tokyo, in an area that’s roughly 1/5 the size of the New York City urban area. Sounds ridiculous to me, so I gotta see more of it. Other fun fact – apparently, “Jill” (or the Koreanization of it, however you say that) is a bad word here. It’s like a kiddie word that means “vagina.” So she has to tell everyone here her name is Jillian, even though it’s actually not, because at her first school they called her “Vagina-teacher” the whole time – awesome.

After school two of the teachers at the Global Center, Mi Sun and Mi Jin, took me to an outlet mall, which, comfortingly, looks exactly like an American one. The road we took to get there, on the other hand… well, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. So they drove me into Yeoju to go shopping for coats with them, which was nice – definitely needed a night that wasn’t spent in the hotel and eating alone in Janghowon. We left Janghowon by taking the highway, which seemed normal enough for a trip of roughly 20 kilometers. Then we turned onto a smallish country road and followed that for a bit. Then, as I’m asking what stores they have at this outlet place and the girls are telling me “OH! It’s great! Coach and Gucci and Armani and very nice very expensive places” and so on, we turn onto this one-lane barely-paved track that runs through some fields, with a ginormous ditch running along the road – no shoulder, just a scary huge dropoff on one side. And we drive, and drive, and I’m getting more and more nervous and asking if they’re sure this is the right way to the Gucci store, because, hell, it looks like this road hasn’t been used since the Korean War, give or take. But sure enough, a mile or 2 more and we come out on a huge interstate, and then there’s this radiant Christmassy light-strewn beacon of consumerism glowing in the distance. And the angels sang, and we were forced to eat Robin’s minstrels, and there was much rejoicing. We shopped for a while, but Mi Sun couldn’t find the coat she wanted, so we ate (I had bulgogi. It’s like Korean beef stew with rice – and it was, and this will come as a complete and utter shock to you all, I’m certain – fantastic!) and they dropped me off. It was… surreal, but nice. Like meeting Anna Scott.

Tomorrow, teaching, and then Wednesday I’m going with Boil to Suwon to get my Foreigner Registration Card and look at some ancient castle there. No classes on Wednesday! Whoo-ee! Also, with my Alien card I’ll be able to get a handphone, and a bank account, and I think some sort of probe with which I will test the physical makeup of the natives to see if they’re suitable for consumption… or annihilation. And a spaceship. And some sharks with frickin’ laser beams attached to their foreheads… I could go on, but really, why?

Then, Thursday after work it’s time to move into my apartment – NO MORE HOTEL!!! Can I get an Amen?!? =)

Today, Sean is a wide-eyed rural Korean window shopper among the fabulous and extravagant.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Boredom, Ambulation and Narration, Vol. 2

Well, I didn’t make it to Icheon today. The weather was kinda nasty this morning, cold and foggy and wet. Instead, I relaxed at the hotel until around lunchtime, then went for a walk after it started to warm up a bit. Had kim bap for lunch – excellent, as usual. Found a part of the town I hadn’t really noticed before, actually, and walked for a couple hours up and down, round and round, all over town. I like rhyming, with the right timing, and bike riding, but not fine dining. Too expensive, and cheap food makes you less pensive. =)

So, a brief recounting of my most recent explorations follows. I’ve been reading an e-book I downloaded, “The Lost World” by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the Sherlock Holmes guy. I’d never actually read it before, but I’m enjoying it thoroughly. I only mention it because I can feel some of his archaic prose trying to slip out through my fingers, so bear with me. I also downloaded “Call of the Wild,” by Jack London – great book. Read it, if you haven’t. If you have, then read it again, because I said so. Come back when you’re finished for discussion, and cookies, and bad Korean coffee. I’m funny. OK.

Last night after I wrote, I went for a walk and ended up eating at Dallas. Boy howdy! The “hamburger” sucked, by the way, but that’s not the important part. Apparently, my pronunciation of the word "hamburger" differs enough from the Korean that I wasn’t sure, after a couple of minutes, if I was even going to be able to try one. Fortunately, there was a Korean guy there named James (or at least, that’s his church name, which some but by no means all Koreans have) who helped me through the process. His English was very serviceable, and we ended up chatting while we ate. He’s from Janghowon, went to the school where I work, and is back in town visiting friends and family. He works for an international trading company, exporting something but I’m not sure what, primarily to Vietnam. We did talk world economics and politics for a while. He’s happy about Obama getting elected too, because the US mismanagement of its money has caused a lot of American companies to pull their investments out of Korea, creating a pretty severe stock market decline here in the past few months. I know, same shit, different pile, right?

Well, after dinner, he took me to meet his friend Ray, proprietor of Ray’s Western Bar. I got all excited, thinking Sweet! More Koreans who speak English, and they sell beer to boot! Hells yeah! Well, I guess my assumptions were standard in that they made asses out of everyone involved, because Ray of Western Bar fame speaks no English whatsoever. We did shake hands, and he did give me a beer, AND there was a little film crew working up there, so I got to wave at a Korean camera. If you ever see my face on the (Korean) big screen, now you’ll know why. I’m freaking famous, that’s why. But honestly, it’s a really nice bar, and if any of my gentle readers are ever fortunate enough to come here, I’ll take you to it.

My second fortuitous meeting was at dinner tonight. I went back to the original noodle shop, home of the infamous Vietnamese Noodle Massacre of 2008, to try something new. The food really is phenomenal, but again, not the point of this particular story. As I’m waiting for my dinner (woodong with fried fish – fantastic!), a real honest-to-goodness nother white guy walks in! First one I’ve seen in Janghowon! So he sits down and looks at me and says, “You must be new in town.” And I thought Yup, that’s how many white people there are here…, but anywho, we ended up talking and went for a walk after dinner. Dave is like 50, Canadian, has been living in Korea for 7 years, and is very helpful and informative. As we walked, he pointed out his favorite places for all kinds of necessities. So now I know where to get a haircut, clothes, furniture, fried chicken (it’s not Pelican, but Ne Ne), dry cleaning, pizza, and all kinds of other things that I can’t really remember right now. Presumably, I’ll know them when I see them again… it’s a pretty small place.

So my complement of friends in Korea now includes several teachers, a really cool Korean guy who only comes here every coupla months, and a 50-year-old Canadian dude. Must make more friends…

Oh! One last thing – there’s a river that runs a couple of blocks from my hotel, which I just found today. It’s pretty sweet; there’s a stair that runs down to the bank, and it looks like a good place for jogging (not that I jog, but maybe I’ll start) or a sunset walk with a member of the fairer sex (not that I know any of them). Across the river lies what I thought at first was a different part of town. But then I realized as I walked over towards it that it must be a separate little town. Then when Dave and I strolled across the bridge he told me it’s actually a whole other country! I was like, what the hell?!? Right in the middle of Korea! Apparently, there’s this small indigenous group of people called MiCheong (sp?) who don’t recognize the Korean government, and have their own little governing body, their own language, even their own little military! It’s so freaking weird!!! Completely blew my… OK, so… yeah. I made all that up. But I had you goin, right?!? Tee-hee!!! =Þ Wow, I’m really bored… goin a little stir-crazy, wouldn’t you say? Whatever, I don’t even care. I’ll learn to speak their language, and I’ll mate with their women, and in time our differences won’t seem so great.

It is a different province though, for real. I don’t know what it’s called. It’s like walking into Missouri from Illinois. Not that big a deal, I guess. Not that big a river, either. Till next time, then?

Today Sean is a Korean spinner of lies and half-truths. Just like the Chinese. Or… wait… never mind.

Boredom, Ambulation and Narration, Vol. 1

1 week down, 51 more to go… not that I’m thinking of it in those terms, of course, but it’s as fine as any a way to make sure I don’t take my time here for granted. You might wonder if I’m wasting an awful lot of time sitting in front of the computer typing. Well, I have 3 responses to this. 1) I type very fast. I’m actually kind of a typing prodigy. Just ask Mr. Dolce at good ole MHS. 2) Part of the reason for this trip was to get back to doing what makes me happy, and to sort of (at the risk of sounding terribly clichéd) find myself again. And writing makes me happy, so I hope reading this blog gives you as much enjoyment as writing it gives me. Oh, and 3) Yeah, kinda. Sue me. It’s very stressful out there! I mean, I can’t even read the signs here. Well, I can, but it takes a whole lot of time and effort and when I’ve done sounded out all the characters, usually twice because I’ve forgotten what the first part was by the time I get to the end, I have no idea what the words actually mean! So I absolutely need some relaxation time. This is better than just sitting here all slack-jawed and drooling on myself, letting the TV watch me, right?!?

This morning (Saturday), I went to the PC Café just to sort of catch up on some news, and to chat with Shan online. I thought, you know, internet café – normally, people checking their email and whatnot, right? Maybe doing some online shopping, reading world news, I don’t know, whatever the hell people do in these places. I walk in, and after the obligatory hello (“annyong haseyo”), and the also-obligatory conversation, comprised entirely of hand gestures and grunts, about what I’m supposed to do now that I’ve walked through the door, I get a little PC card and get shown into a room. And it’s weird. I mean, dozens of machines with huge monitors and all kinds of special keyboards and microphones and joysticks and headphones and god knows what all… and there are sounds of explosions echoing off the walls and cries of “Direct hit! Direct hit!” flying back and forth over my head. And there’s like 30 people in there, all young Korean guys (and 1 chick, but she’s definitely the exception that proves the rule) playing the same game. Perplexed, I walk toward the back of the room where I see a sign advertising the newest version, or expansion pack, or something, of freakin World of Warcraft. I mean, I knew this was a popular game (not with my friends, fortunately, because that would drive me insane) but this whole damn place was devoted to it… and this is a small town. I mean, 30 kids might well be the entire young adult population of Janghowon, for all I know. I doubt it, because it seems like I’ve seen more of them than that outside walking about, but never all in one place at the same time, so who knows?

I think that I’ll go to Icheon (pronounced ee-chun) tomorrow and take a look around. I walked around for about 45 minutes this morning, and I think I may have seen everything of interest here in Janghowon. I’m told Icheon’s not much better, but at least it’s a lot bigger. I can walk for longer than a half-hour and not see the same little Pelican Chicken restaurant (not chain – the same building) 3 times. And no, I know what you’re asking, but I did not try it. I will though, I promise, and I’ll let you know how it is. Other fun things I noticed today:

The driving range here is just awesome. I didn’t go in (but you can bet I most certainly will at some point) but just from the outside, the glory of this place radiates out, warming the whole surrounding block in its joyful glow. There’s a couple different levels to hit golf balls from, which I’ve always loved the idea of but never tried. Also, instead of a big open space like in the States, this “range” is a giant (like, tallest structure in the town, giant) net! It’s only maybe 150 meters long, but high enough that you could really whack a pitching wedge and not hit the top of it. At least, I think so. And I can really whack a pitching wedge too. And I really like saying “whack a pitching wedge.” Go on, say it out loud. It’s nice – fun combination of sounds! Did you do it? Did you smile?!? Yyyyyyeah, you smiled.

There are a lot of stores here devoted to marketing and distributing as their sole commodity available for purchase the wondrous consumer good known as… wait for it … clocks. Like, really, a lot of stores. What, you thought I was going to say opium or panties or something fun, right? Sorry to disappoint, but if I do find one of those (obviously better and more interesting) places, I’ll definitely let you know. On one street, I’d say every 4th or 5th place sells nothing but clocks. This, I do not profess to understand. Koreans in general are very punctual, so I’m told, but I don’t think that really justifies the sheer number of these places. I’ll let you know if I get a more satisfactory explanation.

A lot of the bars here are on the upper floors of what look like (to me, at least) office or apartment buildings. There’s a normal building, maybe some storefront space on the bottom, office-sized and -shaped windows all the way up and then a bar on the 5th floor. I think I might check out one of these (Goodbar, it’s called… maybe they have chocolate too! Ha!) tonight. It’s right next to the hotel, so it should be easy enough. I think the Korean word for beer is “hof.” Like the end of David Hasselhoff. Or at least, that’s how I remember it. Not sure what that says about me, but there ya go.

There are also a lot of churches here, and I think they’re Catholic. That’s weird to me.

Fun restaurants I want to try, in addition to all the little noodle shops and stands, include Dallas (Texas-themed hamburger shop – these are always fun in other countries), the aforementioned Pelican Chicken, Isaac (sandwich place – possibly Jewish, but somehow I doubt it. If you saw it, you’d understand), and Kim Sung Rae’s pizza, which actually looks pretty good. Will eat, will tell you more about these places as information becomes available. =Þ

Today, Sean is a Korean tourist.

Friday, November 14, 2008

I am Sean's angry Korean stomach

Actually, I’m writing this on Thursday night, the 13th, on the notebook computer that Boil, my co-teacher at school, was kind enough to let me borrow again today. And now, for your reading pleasure, I present an amusing anecdote from this evening…

I just got done eating dinner. Um, wow. Vietnamese noodles…. The waitress, in her infinite kindness and very finite English, tried to warn me when I ordered them. Well, to be precise, she said, “uh…” and then made some violent hand gestures that looked like bombs exploding around her mouth. I smiled and said, “OK.” That, my friends, is what we call in the biz Mistake Number 1. But at the time I’m thinking Hey! I’m a man! I can handle it. Let these little Korean women do their worst! And also, there’s the fact that several Koreans have warned me that the food I’m about to eat is spicy, and it’s never been out-of-my-league, Megan Fox hot… well, except that raw pepper from Mi Jin’s house, but come on, right!?! That’s a raw freaking pepper – this can’t be that bad. Yeah, hold that thought.

So she went back to the kitchen, which is actually in the same room but behind the water cooler. When she told the other ladies back there what I ordered, they all looked over at me and started laughing, so I just laughed right along and gave them the ole thumbs up. Mistake Numero Dos. Yet they obliged and rustled me up a bowl of “Parched Noodles Vietnamese Style,” or some such nonsense. It was steaming hot when she brought it, so I dug into my kimchi and soup and waited for this hot mess to cool down a bit. As I started to stir up the noodles with my handy-dandy chopsticks, even though I hadn’t yet smelled anything, the insides of my nostrils got all tingly. Should have been a clue, right? Uh, yeah. So, I take a bite. And now we’ve arrived at the infamous and potentially deadly Mistake Number D. I later learned that there were some chunks of aforementioned Satan-pepper in the sauce, but that didn’t matter in the slightest. Mixed into this demon-sauce are the devil-seeds and tiny little ground up Beelzebub-bits of what may well have been thousands of those peppers. Several plants worth, anyway, (quite possibly there’s a whole garden of these tended and nurtured by Lucifer himself in the deepest fires of hell, with Brutus and Judas and the practitioners of the legal profession keeping the bugs away) and I’d set my watch and warrant on that, say true and say thankya.

Long story short, after the searing godforsaken heat of the first bite wore off, I tried another one. I’d like to call this my real 4th mistake, but it actually tasted pretty good, once I got used to it. I ate the whole bowl, and it was pretty damn good the whole way, believe it or not. I guess I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that (and I’m not certain about this, because I think I went a little cross-eyed at some point and possibly began hallucinating, but here ya go) I’m fairly sure I saw some snot drip off my chin and into the bowl. Like, quite a lot, actually. I mean, you’d think I’d know for sure, right? Well, you’re obviously assuming that I could feel any part of my face at this particular moment, and that, quite frankly, is a ridiculous assumption for you to make. Plus, it definitely could’ve been sweat. I realized as I walked back to my hotel (in 50 degree weather, mind you) that my heart was pounding like I’d just sprinted a half-mile or so and that I was literally pouring sweat. My hair was soaked (yes, the top of my head was sweating, for fuck’s sake) and I think my pupils were dilating and contracting in time with my heartbeat. I didn’t realize until I got back to the room and looked in the mirror that my lips were all purply and swollen. Ha… hmm, yeah. So anyway, I must have looked quite a sight when I bought some little fresh-baked, piping-hot custard puffs (5 bite-sized pastries for like 75 cents – did I mention I love this country?!?) from a street vendor for dessert and then picked up some coffee on the way home. FYI, most Koreans drink what they call “coffee,” but this drink is a travesty. I’ll explain about this abomination another time.

So that was my culinary adventure for the evening, and I gotta say, I highly recommend it. I haven’t been able to breathe this well in a long, long time. Now it’s back to studying Korean and watching the Korean Basketball League (Can ya say KBL?! Whoo-hoo!) with an African American-looking fellow named, or at least I think he’s named… aw hell, I don’t know. It’s in stupid Korean. More practice is needed, clearly.

Tonight, Sean’s tummy is an upset Korean tummy.

I am

Thursday, November 13, 2008

I can now write "Samsung" in Korean

*** I updated the picture link in the first post, but here it is again! Take a look!***

Well, jet lag is a bitch. For the 3rd day in a row I’ve woken up at exactly 5 am. What in god’s name is so freaking great about 5 am, I’d like to ask my body? What the hell, man? It’s dark, it’s cold, and the bakery/coffee shop I went to yesterday didn’t have coffee, or fresh pastries... On the plus side, my hotel room stocks “life juice” or something in my mini-fridge. So, yeah. Here’s to life.

Also on the plus side: I get to watch all kinds of EPL and Carling Cup soccer live. Right now I’ve got Tottenham v. Liverpool… yesterday morning it was Man U and some team (I couldn’t read Korean yesterday, you remember) that shouldn’t have kept the game as close as it was. Of course, Man U was playing without Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney, so I guess that makes it tough to score goals. Then I got to follow that up with an NFL Network-style 30 minute replay of the Vikings against the Packers… that was a helluva game, I gotta say. So yeah, safe to say I’m ok with the sports programming here.

And you may have noticed, I mentioned in passing that I couldn’t read Korean yesterday… didja notice that?!? Huh? DID YOU?!? PAY ATTENTION TO ME!!! Ahem... anyway, I spent a couple of hours last night going through some Korean lessons I found on wikibooks yesterday, and this alphabet thing really is easy to learn. For a little background, the current Korean alphabet, called “Hangeul,” was created (I’m really just guessing at the time here – the following number will be completely arbitrary) 47 years ago and it was designed to be the most efficient and logical writing system in the world. Thumbs up, guys. The way you write or form the letters is supposed to mimic the shapes the mouth makes (both tongue and lips, depending on the letter) as you say the letter itself, not the sound. I just sat here for a couple of minutes trying to think of a good example, and completely dropped the ball. Well, anyway, if you’re interested, the site I used is on Wikibooks, located here. Enjoy!

So, yeah… big news! I can read (read {def.}: painstakingly and painfully sound out individual characters and then put them together with the acumen of a drunk, retarded 3-year-old chimpanzee) Korean! Hells yeah!

Dinner last night – first meal I’ve eaten alone here, actually – was… wait for it… amazing! Didn’t see that coming, did you? Boil took me to this noodle shop in Janghowon (and helped me order – thanks man!) where I got woodong (udon noodles) and a maki roll with tuna for like $4. With kimchi, of course! I love this country…

Today Sean is a self-satisfied and self-aggrandizing Korean.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

1st Day Teaching

I'm exhausted. I was led to believe that Korean kids are more mature than American kids of the same age. Today... well, I guess I learned that's true. Korean 6th-graders act like 8th-graders in the states. I mean, they're rude, obnoxious, energetic, crazy... well, I still had fun. My job is very easy, except for the students. Just do little presentations about (fictional) Icheon Airport, where the students depart on a flight to E Island (English Island) to learn English for travel words and things like foods and drinks, how to take taxis and get hotels and stuff. It's repetitive... I had written "but at least" after that, and then couldn't think of any redeeming qualities to follow that up. So, let's just leave it at that. It's repetitive.

Last night, I ate my first home-cookin here in Korea, and it was just as tasty as can be. The English teacher down at the elementary school, whose name I think is Miss Choi (sorry if you're reading this, but hey! come tell me your name sometime), *update* her name is not Miss Che -- it's Mi Jin Kim (sorry) cooked dinner for me and four other teachers. We had samgyeupsal -- some sort of pork wrapped in lettuce with rice and uncooked hot (really freaking hot! i mean, eyes-watering, sweating, choking hot) peppers. Fantastico!

I also just got my first lesson in Korean today from Boil. I learned how to say the Korean alphabet. Well, part of it. And I think "learned" might be an exaggeration -- he said it, and I repeated it, and then promptly forgot it. I think I might recognize about 5 characters, so only like 20~ to go... whoo-ee!

That's it for today, because these kids really wore me out. Tomorrow, the South African girl who brought her classes today will bring all the really bad kids, or so she tells me. So, um, wish me luck. Annyong-hi kaseyo!

Today, Sean is an exhausted Korean.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Today, Sean is an overwhelmed Korean

Today is my second day here in lovely Janghowon, South Korea. Here are some things I like about it:
  • The food. It's freaking amazing. My co-teacher Boil took me out for galbi last night, and jesus tapdancing christ was it good. Beef shortribs, cooked right at our table over a little wood fire; about 15 side dishes... grilled pumpkin, mushrooms, onions, garlic cloves, several kinds of kimchi (fermented cabbage with vegetables and chili paste, it tastes a million times better than it sounds), pickled hot peppers, and some other things that we couldn't figure out the names for in English. You cook the steak, wrap it in lettuce with the toppings, and cram the whole shebang in your mouth all at once. It's fun, but messy. Well, I was messy. Boil was doing just fine. According to him, I need technique. Also according to him, I need to lose weight. So ... yeah. Oh -- I also tried soju, a delicious Korean rice liquor. Enjoyed, would try again...
  • The showers. Actually, that term is a little generous. Korean bathrooms don't have tubs, or shower curtains, or any way to actually separate the "shower" from the rest of the room. Get it? Restroom... ha. Yeah, anyway. So you just tile the whole damn thing, put a drain in the middle, and go to town. I can watch TV from my shower. What's up now?
  • The kids I'm teaching. Well, I'm not actually going to be teaching the kids at my school. Obviously... what were you thinking? So at my school, the I Whang elementary school, to be precise, they have started the Global Experiential Learning Center, which is really cool. 5th and 6th grade kids from all over the province come here to learn about things like traditional Korean arts (tea making, music), global etiquette, and English, which is where I come in. From what I've been told, I will be pretty much doing the same thing every day, which sounds both easy and boring. But, on the bright side, it's easy. On the other hand, it's boring. And it comes with a free frozen yogurt... which is also cursed. Apparently, I can make some extra money teaching classes after school to the kids that actually, you know, go here. So I'm about to be rolling in Won... hell yeah. That's money, by the way, not Korean for "children."
  • The people. They're awesome. Kind, generous, polite. And about a quarter of them (that would the quarter representing the women between 18 and 50) are hot. I had heard this, but it doesn't really hit home until you're seeing it... everywhere you look, all the time. It's good. And, what's the word, efficient. These people are efficient! I went to the hospital today to get x-rayed, do a drug test, and blood tests, oh, and get an eye exam and routine physical. This whole process, including paying, took about 30 minutes. Yeah. I was blown away. I mean, it was a dirty little shithole of a place, bugs everywhere, but whatcha gonna do, right...
  • Their humor. Well, actually no. They don't get my jokes, but you do, right? See previous bullet point to find out.

I think that's enough for now. I'm off in 5 minutes, back to my lovely hotel. Pictures will be posted at my picasa page... which I think is here *UPDATE* (which is now fixed!!!) aaand the winner is... me! That's the one. If I get better at blogging then I'll start posting them here. But for now, go there. Do it, and like it.

Dinner is served -- at least, I think. More later.