Saturday, December 19, 2009
Nevertheless, crisis averted.
Check-in, security, immigration, all that was a breeze. Seriously amazing airport they've got here. Literally 10 minutes from finding Asiana's check-in desk, which by the way had like 60 agents working and no lines whatsoever, I was all stamped and secured and on my way to the gate.
I had heard something about this lounge run by Asiana here, basically a business-class type lounge except anyone can go in. Sounded pretty cool. Thought I'd check it out. On a scale of 1 to Grey Goose, I give this place a Svedka. Not as hip or popular, definitely not too expensive, but convenient, cheap, good vibe and definitely gets the job done. So here's the skinny: $20 to get in. Yes, even though it's a Korean airline, operating in a Korean airport, she asked me for, well, to be perfectly honest, she asked me for 21 dollars, not 20. But still... that was weird. Good thing I changed some money before I left Janghowon. Had to take advantage of that exchange rate while the getting was good, ya know? So, I dropped her a couple dead presidents and I'm in the door. It's mostly comfy chairs and small round tables, with windows overlooking the ticketing area on the floor below us. It's a bustling, yet somehow soothing sight. Some kind of schadenfreude, probably, but watching other people stress the hell out from a comfortable vantage point brings its own kind of joy. Just the way it is.
Anyway, I sat down at a table and plugged in the ole trusty laptop. So far so good. I notice an espresso machine, grinning at me amiably from the counter. I go over to shake his hand, and like a maitre d' at a fine french restaurant, come away clutching an ill-gotten gain in my right hand. Complimentary cafe latte, all the way, baby. Giddy up. Feeling pretty good, right about now. Drank the coffee, surfed the web, and rubbed my hands together, grinning evilly like Donald McScrooge. Now feeling self-satisfied and alert, I took a better look around. 20 feet to my right is a little buffet table. I hadn't eaten since about 8:00 (it was, at this point, like 1:30 -- hungry-time, in other words), so I went and loaded up a plate. Paella (not great, but certainly passable), German sausage with mustard, mini spring rolls, finger sandwiches, fixins for bibimbap (mixed rice with veggies and chili paste), cream of potato soup... all in all, not a bad spread, and quite international in the spirit of my season. Sated, I turned my attention to the non-coffee drinks available.
There is a Coke fountain machine next to the espresso maker, and a fridge filled with juice and water and oh lord god there's beer in there. And what's that next to it? Is that, bottles of freaking booze, just sitting out waiting for anybody and their dog to get a drink? What the hell kind of Christmas miracle have I stumbled upon here? Sure enough, an ice bucket, emblazoned with the Dewar's logo, just sitting there all smug and shit, knowing what's about to happen. I mean, what could I do? I'd obviously already paid to be here. There's low-ball glasses, Jack Daniels, ice, and Coke all within a 10-foot radius. There was simply nothing else to be done at that point. At least, that's what I'm telling myself as I sip on an icy cold Jack n Coke and type up this here airport lounge review. You, on the other hand, can think what you like. I'm happy here, and that's all there is to it. I give it 2 over-enthusiastic thumbs up. And next time I leave the country, I am most certainly, definitely and without a doubt coming back here. I'd recommend you do the same, should you ever find yourself at Incheon Airport on a stopover with Asiana Airlines. Seriously, do it do it.
Oh, and also, I'm excited to be going home! First plans -- my little cousin's 14th(? wow!) birthday party later tonight, hitting up some old haunts to meet up with friends and catch the Bears game tomorrow, then lunch with Em on Monday, and then catching the train home to Marion Monday night. On tap for Marion: spending time with my folks, meeting Adam and Felicia's little girl (my adopted niece), family Christmases, meeting my real niece (and accompanying sister-in-law) for the first time, lots of relaxing, and who knows what else? The universe (or at least the hub of it) is my oyster.
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
Still need to pack, of course. And do laundry, and clean my apartment. And, maybe... buy just a couple more Christmas presents, although these are the type that I could find in an airport gift store if need be, I suppose.
Short post today, and boring. But I'm coming home! Exciting!!! See you soon, America.
Friday, November 20, 2009
Yeah, I know how to use ASCII to make a smiley tongue face. Can you do that? I didn't think so.
So, Korean girl (who shall remain nameless, but you all know who I'm talking about) is really frustrating. Like, the same reason I like her (which is because she's so cute and dainty and girly and delightful) is the same reason I get all pissed off sometimes (because she's so flighty or flaky or fliggety-flammety). I mean, I totally understand that girls can change their minds, and I respect that, but come on. We had a date planned... don't tell me (and only after I ask, mind you) that no, you're not coming over in a couple hours so we can have dinner (or staying over for a couple hours so we can have dinner) together. And by the way, don't even tell me that. It's not so much about waiting until you're put on the spot. Have the balls (I really like parenthetical expressions, did you notice?) to tell me that you're feeling tired, before 6pm when you're leaving my apartment.
On the plus side, and apart from all that, things are good here. For our 100 day anniversary (which, by the way, I'm only using that term because there aren't any good ones in English, but seriously, they celebrate 100 days together here), she gave me this really awesome grey Reebok hoodie (which, by the way, is cool as shit here) that I have to fight the urge to wear every day. I gave her these kind of expensive purple gemstone earrings (that I thought were perfect for her skin tone, plus were totally trendy and gilten... is that the right word? anyway... she didn't like them, for whatever reason. oops). She's kind of an awesome girlfriend, but there are just some things that apparently are ok here that wouldn't fly back home (and vice versa).
Anyway, things are more or less good. I'm way into "Curb Your Enthusiasm" now, and "Deadwood," and "Breaking Bad." I think these things are making me more wordy than I deserve to be. They have great writers. I don't. Please forgive me.
I did, however, just find my tin of Burts' Bees lip balm, so I'm feeling cool as a cucumber at the moment, lip-wise. Yeah.
So, the other native English teacher here, Leland, just celebrated his birthday last week. Our Korean coteacher, Bo Il, gave him this awesome, poster-sized print of a photo he took while out on a trip with a photography club this fall. And when I told him (Bo Il, not Leland) how cool of a gift that was, he offered me one too. I accepted, because how ya gonna turn that down, am I right? So now I have this kick-ass framed print of a river lined by gorgeous red... flowers (not a botanist, though I do love a good parenthetical), and beautiful reflection of the sunlight. Hanging (well, not so much hanging, but sitting on the floor directly underneath the place where it will soon be hanging once I get the nails and hammer and such) on the wall across from my bed. That wasn't even a full sentence. What kind of English teacher am I?
Yes, I realize I never completed the story about the DMZ, or even started the Halloween storytelling (which was awesome), but both of those tasks will be completed in due time, I promise. Pinky swear, even.
Trust me? ;)
Monday, November 2, 2009
Well, it turns out that like the first half of the conversation is no longer showing up in the chat screen. That blows. But allow me to summarize, at least from Mr. Haxxor's point of view:
Dude, please come online and help! I'm stuck in London! I got robbed at gunpoint! They took my phone! I injured my leg! I have a plane ticket home but I need $900 for my hotel and cab fare! Can you please Western Union me the money?!
Me: mostly stalling and making ridiculous observations about how hard this situation sucks for him. Finally I give in... which leads to "searching for WU locations," and this:
well, sorta. i think all the locations are actual banks, which are closed right now
i'm still looking. hang on man
dude, the closest place is like 20 miles from here
but I gotta take a bus to get there
it might be... an hour? can you wait that long?
30 Leicester Square.
United Kingdom. WC2H 7LA
Allow me to interject here and draw your attention to how instantaneously he got this address in there. I mean, it followed about 3 seconds behind the "ok." Cut and pastey, time no wastey.
and what's your full name? i don't even remember your middle name man. sorry... that's kinda jacked up, but i wanna make sure you can get the money when it gets there
that's all the info you need
Gettin a bit snippy, aren't we? I mean, I am sending you almost a thousand dollars, here... jeez!
oh... if you're sure. will they give me a confirmation number or something to make sure it goes through? sorry, i've never used western union before
you will be given a confirmation number(MTCN#)
all i need is the senders name,and confirmation number to get the money.
ok, well you got my name. i'll let you know the confirmation number when i get it. will you still be online when i get there?
or hell... you got a phone number where i can call you?
Ah, come on! It was worth a shot, right?
that'll be faster than waiting for me to go and come back
no public phone, hotel phone, something?
u can send me a mail (firstname.lastname@example.org)or +447024074948
that's the hotel number.
This is, I'm almost certain, not his real email address. I actually have no idea... but when I looked at his facebook profile page, this address wasn't actually typed in, if that makes sense. Instead, someone had posted an image file with this email address written on it. Sneaky sneaky, little hacker. Also, the UK apparently doesn't do reverse directory, and I don't really feel like calling this number from my cell phone. If anybody wants to skype it and get back to me, I'd love to know who picks up the phone.
yeah, i got it. alright man.. give me like an hour. i'll call you when i get it all worked out, cool?
any time...i mean, this must have been terrible for you
are you gone?
not yet. just getting better directions on how to get to this place
you can send me the western union details to my mail.(email@example.com)
I'll be waiting.
have you gotten a better description?
u still there?
yeah, i think so
where is the money being sent again?
i need to write that down
30 Leicester Square.
United Kingdom. WC2H 7LA
what's the name of the place?
is it a bank, or ...?
it's a western union outlet nearby.
please you need to get going.
Haha. So far as I can tell, there is no Western Union outlet nearby. Also, are we really trying to send $900 "nearby"?! Don't you want it sent to exactly the right place? I don't have the most sophisticated software on the planet, but google (who very well might have the most sophisticated software on the planet... who knows?) came up with nothing for this address and Western Union. Or banks.
ok, i'm leaving now man. just hang tight
I'll be waiting.
yep, you will. got no other choice, huh? haha
So I figured that was the end of it, but wait! While I'm gone to Western Union (which will take an hour, one way, on the bus, mind you) he comes back! I didn't answer, of course. Didn't want to ruin the illusion, but anyway, this happened:
Eric is online.
Sean are you there?
Any quick thinkers got any other ways for me to screw with this guy? I kinda figured if he thought he was getting paid and I wasted some of his time, I could keep him from targeting other people for a bit until hopefully Eric or his wife wake up and realize what's going on. Your advice is appreciated! I'll update if I have the pleasure of chatting further with this wanker.
Get it? Wanker? Cause he's in jolly old England... haha. Anyway, that was my entertainment for the evening.
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
Started off with an uneventful bus ride to Seoul after school. Read a little bit of my book, relaxed, and looked forward to the weekend ahead. Rolled into town around 7pm and jumped on the subway over to foreigner-ville, AKA Itaewon. I was supposed to meet up Tom, who planned the trip, and some other folks around 8 or 8:30. I called Tom and told him to meet me at the Wolfhound, a fairly well known Irish pub in Itaewon. I sat down at the bar upstairs, chatted with the bartender (who spoke really good English), and ordered an AlleyKat, which tastes sort of fresh and hoppy and may or may not be an IPA, but is definitely delicious. I start playing sudoku on my phone and get really into it. I finally beat this really hard puzzle I've been struggling over off and on for about 3 weeks. I have a couple of beers. I chat with some other American guys, Army guys I think, for a bit, and then look at my phone. 9:15?! Where is everybody?? I text Tom. The reply: "Wolfhound." Doh.
So I pay my tab and take a walk downstairs. Sure enough, there's Tom, Travis, and a couple of girls hanging out and drinking. I order another beer and we sit and chat for a while about how we need to bounce pretty early and get to sleep so we can make our 7am call at the USO Office. A couple beers later and we decide to order club sandwiches and potato wedges. Then this South African chick, Nomfundo, shows up and we get more food: steak and kidney pie or some such. More beers. Next thing we know it's like 1am and Nomfundo talks us into coming back to her motel. So, by this time the other chicks are gone and it's just the 4 of us. The guys figure we can all share a room for a few hours, so we decide to walk over there. And stop at the Family Mart, to buy more beer and some soju, naturally. Like, that wasn't even an option, for real. Anyway, as we're walking it begins to thunder and lightning, and then to rain more and more heavily. You know, we're not that upset, because we've got beer and the plastic bags that the beer came in to put over our heads. But as it turns from storm to raging downpour, we start looking for little eaves and awnings and whatnot to hide under. Then the kicker: Nomfundo can't remember where her hotel is! But no worries: She's got a business card! But wait -- the address doesn't mean anything to us, because we're not from Seoul! But it's ok because it's got a phone number! But hornswaggle -- we can't speak Korean! Idea: we'll find a taxi and make him call and find out where it is! Bullspit -- no taxi's will stop because we're not by a designated taxi stand. And soaking wet. I'm sure that didn't help...
After about 20 minutes standing on this corner waving and cursing at every cab that came by, we finally got one to not only stop, but also call the hotel, find out where it is, and take us there. Awesome: it's like 2 minutes away from that corner we've been huddling on. Even more awesome: it's smack dab in the middle of the Red Light District. Yep, on both sides of the road, just hookers. And not old dirty ones either... these girls were hot! I'm sure the cab driver was... well, probably not at all surprised that 3 white guys had found this particular hotel out of all the options in Seoul, but seriously: we're here to learn, folks! Not to make out with you! Billy Madison... anyone? Anyone? Ok, never mind. So yeah... we did take a quick stroll (in the pouring rain, mind you) to see what was for sale, because I for one had never been to a Korean RLD before, but it was strictly window shopping. Anyway, back to the hotel for about 3 hours sleep and then we're off to the DMZ.
Morning, hangover, quick walk, quicker cab ride, no breakfast, check-in, bus ride. Korean tour guide, Freedom Road (along the Han River, protected with fences to keep invading North Korean marine units off the freeway), and up to the actual De-Militarized Zone.There we receive a briefing at Camp Bonifas ("In Front of Them All") about the DMZ and expected behavior and such. Highlights? In front of the North Korean guards (whom we only saw from a distance): no gestures, no pointing, basically don't acknowledge their presence in any way. You can take pictures, but they will remotely scan any and all electronic equipment that you carry. In other words, don't make yourself a target and don't be a dumbass. Done and done.
And that's where the story ends for today, ladies and gents. Pictures can be found here.
Monday, October 5, 2009
Actually, a more appropriate title for this would have been lazier and lazier, but that just doesn't roll off the tongue quite as well. So here we are. 3 weeks later and with a title that makes no sense. You're just gonna have to bear with me though. Or... not, I guess. I mean, I don't know if anybody's still checking this site for updates or not anymore. I hear the best way to gain readers to a blog is to actually blog consistently. So... failing that, I guess I could promise naked pictures of Megan Fox or miracle weight-loss techniques or a way to get your house clean without actually doing anything. So... yeah. If that last sentence doesn't draw in at least a few hits from google (hi guys! fooled ya!) then I don't know what this world's coming to.
So what's happened since last I wrote? Hung with out the teachers a few times. Samgyeopsal, kalbi, dalk kalbi. Lots and lots of soju and beer. Man those guys love to drink. We did sports day at our school, at which I took lots of awesome pictures which will soon be up on facebook and my google pictures site. And by soon, I mean later today. Once they're there, I'll come back and add the links. But, you know, I was finally in the mood to write something, and based on how rarely that's happened recently, it would've been dumb to delay it just to upload photos. But they're awesome. And they're already on my computer, just waiting to be captioned and rotated and such.
Went out with the rest of the Janghowon crew a few days ago for booze and chicken and noraebang. The karaoke is actually more fun with white people... I mean, it's fun with Koreans too, but at least with the westerners we all know the same music. So we can all rock out to Bon Jovi, Queen, and Sir Mix-a-Lot at the same time, without having to intersperse it with Kpop.
Went shopping yesterday with the girl. Bought a kick-ass UH Cougar-style (note: not actually a UH jacket; those are impossible to find in the states... the odds against finding one here are astronomical) red white and navy Puma wind-jacket-type thing for like $12 at the outlet. I must be losing weight, cuz as far as Puma jackets go, I can now wear a Korean size medium. Which is kinda ridiculous. Now, like in shirts and stuff, that's not true. But baby steps, ya'll, baby steps. Also, got some new weight-lifting gloves on sale at the Nike outlet and then hit up E-Mart for some groceries. Got pork 'n' beans, snack-sized snickers, arizona green tea, some more dill pickles, some crunchy peanut butter (which is still way too expensive here, but sometimes ya just gotta say screw it), and a big ole jar of sundried tomato alfredo sauce, which I'm using tonight. I'm doing a chicken, shrimp, and spinach alfredo over pasta, and I hear at one of the bakeries in town you can actually get garlic bread with no sugar on it (joy!), so I'm gonna hit that up as well. I'm excited! =)
Oh, and before shopping, we went and saw this god-awful movie that I hadn't even heard of until we got to the theater. "Fame," I believe it's called. Anyway, it has Kelsey Grammer and his ex-wife Lilith, whoever the hell that actress is. Also, the chick who played that obnoxious lady in Will and Grace, and uh... yeah. Anyway, it's terrible. It's like getting humped by a dolphin until you drown terrible. Because you can't actually drown. And, to top things off, I spilled my bucket of popcorn about 30 minutes in. It was actually kinda cool, because the way it fell, I guess there was some kind of centrifugal force on the popcorn. So, it pretty much all stayed in the bucket, which then landed perfectly open-side down next to my feet. So, at least I got to spend the rest of the movie trying to figure out ways to use the objects in my pockets to somehow salvage all but the bottom layer of popcorn and get the rest of it into my belly. My efforts were futile and made a gigantic mess in the aisle, but it was certainly better than actually watching that piece of shit movie.
Today is the end of the Chuseok holiday. Chuseok is like Korean thanksgiving, I guess. Family all gathers, there's lots of food, and then they all drive to their family's ancestral burial mountain to bow to the graves of their forefathers. Just like in America. So, tomorrow it's back to work, but today I'm gonna go look for new bedcovers. I feel like a change. And apparently, the really awesome soft ones I bought when I arrived here last year are like, a winter seasonal item. So they just arrived in stores again this past week. All the summer ones suck, by the way.
So, to recap, here are some links which for now, mean nothing, but soon will have signifieds and therefore become signifiers.
My Chuseok gift set can be found . . .
School Sports Day is moving in right over here!!!
Some other random photos including me dressing up in all sorts of fun and exotic costumes are here!!!
Friday, September 11, 2009
- Currently not teaching; the Global center is on hiatus due to swine flu concerns. Not sure who's concerned, but somebody, somewhere, is really freaking out about this.
- Instead of teaching, they have us doing other things. Grading papers, helping out the homeroom teachers, what have you. Yesterday, we weeded the garden beside the parking lot. I hope we can just go back to teaching soon.
- We have a new foreign teacher. Leland from Minnesota. He arrived last Saturday but hasn't been able to come to school yet. He's in quarantine. Apart from that, he's a pretty cool guy.
- Of course, they encouraged me and the other English-speaking teachers to help him out, hang out, whatever. And then, you know, come to school. Defeat the purpose much?
- Tonight Mi Sun and Mi Jin are coming over for Korean dinner night at my house. Mi Sun's cooking japchae. I'm excited!
- We had an awesome cookout last Saturday at the school. Someone had shot and killed a wild boar, so we grilled that bad boy up. Lots of beer and soju and wild swine. At school, mind you. Awesome.
- Less than 2 months till I get to make my visa run to Fukuoka, Japan. More information coming on this later.
- A little more than 3 months till I get to make my vacation run to America. The more I think about this, the more excited I'm getting. More info etc. coming later.
- Things with the girl are awesome.
- I'm hungry.
- Been spending more time listening to Korean music... especially riding in the car. I'm really tired of K-pop. It's like, I always kinda hated it. But it's just so damn catchy, that you end up singing the only 3 lines you can understand from a god-awful song for like 2 solid days.
- I accidentally got some bleach/detergent spots on my green stripey polo shirt that I like when it was in the wash. Those spots are now exactly the same shade of sky blue as one of the stripes. Win. Too bad they're random and on the sleeve. Still, it surely won't prevent me from wearing it.
- Don't call me Shirley.
Friday, August 28, 2009
There's not really much going on here, it turns out. I've been spending a lot of the time with the girl lately, and that's going fantastic! However, due to a sensitive situation at the house of learning that employs her, she doesn't feel comfortable making things public around here. So... I don't know. Apart from that, things are really really good. She said she likes being my secret girlfriend. Of course, it's only secret here. In Seokcho and Seoul (where we're going shopping tomorrow, by the way) she's been plenty expressive. Just, around Janghowon... because it's so small and everyone knows everyone else... we're keepin things on the downlow.
Also, I watched the tail-end of the Bucs-Dolphins preseason football game, and after the game was over I got Friends and Seinfeld on whatever Fox affiliate this is. Awesome!
Thanks to everyone for the birthday wishes -- it's nice to know people are still thinking about me! =) I feel like I've been gone a long time, but only a few more months till I come home to visit! Whoo-ee! And extra special super-duper thanks to Mom for the awesome care package: Some shirts, jeans, brown work pants (which Mi Sun said were all 예쁘다! handsome and/or pretty!), and... Miracle Whip, 2 King-size Paydays which I love, and 2 boxes of Kraft bluebox Mac & Cheese! It's the Cheesiest! Too bad about the bacon, but it's the thought that counts. =)
Also -- thanks for the postcard, Emily! I will send you one, I promise. Anyone else who wants one... I'm going to Seoul tomorrow so I'll pick up a stack. I do need addresses though, so anyone interested, email your info to firstname.lastname@example.org. I'll get those right out to ya, promise!
Oh, and two months later, here's some pictures from that baseball game I went to back in June. Enjoy! Seokcho photos coming soon! Until then, I bid you adieu.
Sunday, August 23, 2009
It was a pretty good birthday, considering I'm several thousand miles removed from my closest friends and family. Mom -- thanks for the package, and don't worry about the bacon-destruction-by-fire costs. I got it. =) It's the thought that counts, and I'm glad that you thought of me and decided that bacon was a suitable birthday gift. Apparently, I'm doing something right. Awesome. And for all the facebook and email birthday wishes, I'm very grateful.
So -- the party. Last night I went out with Bo Il, Mi Sun, Mi Jin, and Yu Sun. Most of the foreign teachers here either don't like me or were out of the country on vacation. Not sure... but what I am sure of is that it was their loss. We met up in Icheon, went to the sports bar (which, unlike America, does not show copious amounts of sports on big screen TVs). Drank, ate anju, drank more... played Titanic, an awesome Korean drinking game. Basically, you pour a glass mostly full of beer, then float an empty shot glass in there. You take turns pouring soju into the shot glass. The one who makes it sink (hence the name) has to chug the whole thing. Poor Mi Sun -- she was a trooper though, I gotta say. Also had these evil little cocktails, where you take a half-shot of coke in a shot glass and put it in the bottom of a beer glass. Then you take a half-shot of soju and put it on top of the coke shot glass. Then you pour beer into the glass until it's nearly full, while the two shot glasses (if constructed properly) should maintain structural integrity. Then you chug the thing. Good times. Like a Korean car bomb, I guess... although the name does leave something to be desired.
The sports bar also has a Wii, so we played some Wii boxing while all the other Koreans in the bar cheered us on. I kicked ass, in case you were wondering. Undefeated heavyweight champion of the wooooooooorld... and so on. Also played some Wii tennis, which was less fun, it turns out. I mean, still fun, but the rest of the bar lost interest at that point, and what's the point of kicking someone's ass if there's not 30 random people cheering you on? Exactly. We also played some darts. I was on fire the first game (and no, in case you were wondering, I'm not good at darts) but I was nailing bulls-eyes left and right. Won handily at 501. Then came round 2. Since there were 5 of us and only 4 players can play at a time, I got to play as a team with Mi Jin the second game. Now, I'd like to say that this cramped my style, but I was definitely the flat tire on the vehicle that was our losing team. I actually scored a 3 on one turn. Total. With 3 darts. And 3 ones. Ouch. Anyway, our penalty for losing was that we had to finish all the booze left on the table so that we could go bowling. Now, I know what you're thinking... and yes, losing is awesome. Maybe better than winning.
Bowling -- I'm sure you're curious, so let me clear this up. It's exactly the same as it is in America. They even have the computers that keep score for you. The only difference is, Koreans don't drink when they bowl. Which is totally backwards, because they drink at pretty much all other times. Weird. Anyway, I was the clear winner at this little competition. It took me a while to find my groove, and by the end of the 2nd game I was pretty tired, but even with those setbacks and using the house ball I managed a couple of games in the 150 range. Which I was pretty happy with.
Then, off to another bar. More drinking. Then home for sleep. Now then, a list of presents: I got a new Nike golf glove; a "massage stick" with a stuffed puppy on top (no... just no. Not like that); a box of seaweed soup mix; a kick-ass cappucino flavored cake with disgusting amounts of chocolate utensil-shaped thingies on it. My analysis -- the golf glove: very cool. Needed a new one anyway. Can't wait to go golfing and try it out. The "massage stick": at the time, Mi Jin told me it was a one-shot stick. "One-shot" is the Korean way of saying bottoms up. It means that everyone will chug whatever drink they're holding. I'm assuming that the stuffed dog stick is for beating people who don't comply. Which is way more fun than hitting your own back in some kind of masochistic massage ritual, I gotta say. The seaweed soup: this is a traditional Korean birthday meal. It's like eating ham and beans or split peas on New Years; it brings you good luck. So, I dutifully cooked myself a big ole bowl of seaweed soup and rice for lunch today. And it was absolutely delicious. We actually eat this fairly often for school lunch... and it is, I'm sure, much better than it sounds. You don't even really notice that you're eating seaweed. It's just a nice flavorful broth with green things in it, which also taste good and more or less like the broth. So yeah, I think most everyone I know would enjoy it (except perhaps for Gran and my little cousin Erik, but he doesn't count -- he won't even eat pizza). I'll keep you posted on the good luck.
Perhaps the best present of the day was the news my coteacher gave me. We're getting a new foreign teacher next week! An American guy, and that's all they know right now. What this means for me, however, is no more teaching after school classes! He's in charge of that mess now. As much as I love my kids, I'm pretty happy about this no more lesson planning thing. I assume I'll have to help him out for the first couple of weeks, but maybe he's like a teaching ninja and will totally rock the house -- more free time for me! Also, found out I'm getting a Christmas vacation this year! So *sings* I'll... be home.... for Christmas....
And I'll see some (most? all? who even still reads this thing after I completely flaked out on the updates?) of you in a few months! What a great day!
Oh... and today, the girl came over and we watched Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. I love that movie. I'm a dork. But it was really nice -- she just wanted to be here with me on my birthday. 고마와! 너는 최고!
And that was my birthday, Korea-style. I'm planning a little jaunt down to Busan and some of the surrounding countryside for later in the week. Updates on that coming soon, as well as pictures from my weekend by the sea in Sokcho. Don't be a stranger, and I won't be strange.
Thursday, August 20, 2009
So, I'm walking home in flip flops and my workout clothes, trudging through the torrential rain, and realize that as I'm texting, the phone is probably getting a lot wetter than is good for it. Next I realize that the shorts I'm wearing are completely soaked through, so the pocket probably isn't a much better place for it. I resign myself to the fact that it's just gonna be wet, and kinda hold it against my belly under my t-shirt, trying to keep the water from literally running all over it.
When I got home, everything seemed to work just fine... that is until (maybe the next day, or the day after) I tried to make a phone call. And the person I called couldn't hear me at all. Thinking it was just a bad connection, I hung up and tried again. Same story. At this point I'm starting to freak out a little, making the connection between prior downpour and current malfunction. This phone was expensive! And while I didn't have to buy the original one, I'm pretty sure I'm on the hook for the replacement if it comes to that, ya know?
Well, I explained what happened to Mi Sun, and she suggests that we take it to the Samsung Service Center to have it looked at. Fortunately we were doing our grocery shopping at E-Mart in Icheon on Friday before the trip, and her friend Yu Sun knew of a Samsung place just down the street. So we go in there and give them the phone. Didn't even have to explain that this was completely my fault. Just told them, the mic's not working, no one can hear me. Please fix it. 45 minutes, they said. Took Mi Sun's number and said they'd call when it was done.
So, they call. We finish shopping (and ate some McDonald's... mmm, Big Mac) and drive back over there. Not only did they replace the mic, they put in a whole new keyboard unit because apparently the first one looked as if it might stop working soon. And, icing on the cake, this repair was absolutely, 100%, god-as-my-witness FREE. Yep, not a dollar, not a dime, not a single red penny did I pay for this 40%-new phone. Awesome!
So, on Friday I got 3 new cotton t-shirts, swimming trunks, McDonald's, a giant bottle of beer (for later of course!) and a newly-functional phone, all for less than 30 bucks. Great start to a great weekend! More updates coming soon, with pictures!
Monday, August 17, 2009
First things first, though: the English Camp I did at Buwon High School! This was, as you may or may not remember, an English Conversation class with 18 9th-graders from all over the Icheon city area. These kids were obviously smart, and for the most part really well-behaved. I had a lot of fun with this camp. It's so much easier to deal with kids who can understand most of what I'm saying -- I think I'd do much better in a high school setting than in my current job, but it's all about expanding my horizons, right? Anyway, back to the lecture at hand. The camp, first off, was crazy. Two weeks of English and Math. Apart from my class, they were mostly preparing for high school entrance exams, which will hopefully allow them to get into some of the more prestigious private schools around. So, from what I could gather, they would wake up around 5:30 every morning, have mandatory exercise and self-study time, then basically do English, Math, English, Math, lunch, English, Math, English, Math, dinner, English, Math, English, Math, self study, and in bed by 1 or 2 in the morning. Oh, and I think there was occasionally some golf thrown in as well(?). Sounds like an awesome way to spend your summer vacay, no? Well, the upshot of this was that my class at 8:30 in the morning frequently turned into nap time. I mean, I did wake them up and all, but I tried to be understanding about it. Two solid weeks of only a few hours sleep each night will take its toll on anybody I guess, but especially 15 year olds.
So, mostly we just played games. Amanda, I took your suggestion and busted out some theatre improv-type warmup games... which they inevitably complained about as being too hard. I also made them write and perform scripts for TV news-style interviews... that was pretty much a disaster. We talked about different types of events that are often covered on the news, either local (which I'm not entirely sure they even have here, to be honest) or national. Then the reporter was supposed to give us the facts (answering the "w" question words, of course) and then he/she would interview an eyewitness or two. I guess, it wasn't totally bad. One group covered the Harry Potter premier in London... another a Big Bang concert in Tokyo. One group reported on why the air conditioning wasn't working in our classroom, which was actually pretty funny. I think, perhaps, my expectations were a little high going in, and they actually did a pretty good job. And yes, I did just talk myself into that conviction, thanks for asking.
I also used a lot of conversation starter questions I found on this kickass ESL website to get them talking with each other. Made things much easier for me, as I could just kick back and observe. I mean, it was actually pretty easy.
I had meant to make this longer, but Mi Sun's coming over for lunch in a few minutes and I need to get ready. More updates coming soon, and this time I do promise. Come back soon!
Friday, July 31, 2009
I had promised some more Korean cultural oddities in a previous post, but this isn't it. This is just a hold-you-over, snack type thing till we get to the meat of the situation.
But seriously, Koreans really like pink. And not the girls, either. I mean, they like pink too, but that's sort of to be expected, right? I'm talking about the boys. In the past few days of summer camp (and judging by past experience, this seems to be the norm) I've seen pink polos, pink t-shirts, pink-striped shorts, pink socks, pink Converses, pink pencils and pens, pink notebooks, even pink calculators.
It's sorta weird, but Koreans are very flashy in some areas and extremely conservative when it comes to others. For instance -- the socks. Korean socks are awesome. They're largely pink or yellow, and lots of them have pictures of cartoon characters on them. The guys wear a lot of shiny suits, skinny ties, bright shirts and crazy-colored socks... while the girls seem to settle for more muted colors. Of course, they do tend to wear little skirts and tiny shorts over patterned tights, and ridiculously high-heeled shoes... but generally it's earthy tones, with maybe a purple or green here and there.
This whole randomly-conservative thing persists with cars as well. Basically, you get 3 "colors." Most of the cars you see in Korea are white, black, or silver. You see the occasional red, and lots of the work-specific trucks are navy blue, but for the most part the road is pretty boring when it comes to the colors. However, they make up for the lack of visual excitement in other ways.
Traffic lights in Korea, or at least in the rural areas, are completely voluntary. I can't count the number of times I've been in a car where the driver (a normally respectable Korean citizen, by the way) just decides to go for it. Red lights are more or less suggestions here. If there's no one (that you can see) approaching an intersection, it's perfectly acceptable to just hit the gas and burn through that red light. Actually, it's broader than that. It seems like anything that's physically possible in a car is also borderline legal. If you can pull off a U-turn on a crowded street, due to pedestrians blocking oncoming traffic or a school bus picking up passengers, that's definitely fair game. If you can scream through a crowded intersection without killing anyone, feel free! If you can slam the parking brake, spin the wheel, and pull off a 360 while flipping the car end over end blindly through a crowded market without landing on any small children -- well, not sure that actually happens very often, but if you can -- be my guest! And this is why I decided not to buy a motorcycle here. Well... I don't have license, either, but that's mostly why.
PINK! It's the color of passion!
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
First, and this ranks pretty low on the list of strange or icky or what-have-you: 쭈꾸미; in English -- jjook-goomi. Even more in English, spicy baby octopus. With carrots and some other junk. Freakin delicious. I've been to this restaurant 3 times already, and I'll probably be back soon.
Next -- and this was also way better than it sounds, I have to say: 닭발; talk-bal, which literally translates to "chicken feet." I would never have thought to eat this part of the bird, myself, but I know people all over the world do it, so I figured I'd give it a shot. Again, it's spicy, served with vegetables. This one is bar-food in Korea... 안주, they call it. Anju literally means side dishes served with beer or liquor, and you can pretty much find something weird to eat at any Korean bar. I've only tried it once, when Mi Jin ordered it... but I'd eat it again. It's just really really effin' spicy... so you've kinda gotta be in one of those pump-yourself-up-for-the-pain moods.
Let's see, moving on up the ickiness scale, we come to... probably the raw beef liver. It wasn't terrible... just velvety soft and with very little flavor. Again, raw, so it's a little chewy, but only a little. It's actually got a very mushy, unresisting texture. I think, if it were very lightly sauteed, it would be quite nice.
Next stop -- 순대 (soondae) and also the soup made from it, 순대국 (soondae-guk). Bet you can't guess what 국 means... :) Anyway, I ate this dish several times during the winter camp, and had it again last week. I guess I had never really asked what was in it, or maybe I did and then promptly blocked it out. But here's the fun list of ingredients for this traditional Korean specialty -- which I would eat again. Actually, the soup isn't great. But a dish of just soondae and side-dishes is pretty heavenly, believe it or not. But it's a "blood sausage-y" mix... blood (pig's, I think, although I'm not entirely sure on that), clear noodles, and barley or other filler... wrapped in a pig intestine and steamed, and then served in a soup with other various entrails, plus onions and potatoes and such. Also, you pick the soondae out of the soup with your chopsticks and dip into a sauce made of tiny (1cm, maybe?) pickled shrimps. Whole and uncooked shrimps. It gives it a really nice salty kick. Really tasty, but definitely getting up there on my newly-formed ick scale.
And finally -- the ick winner. Mostly because it tasted like complete ass, and also looked, smelled, and felt really just vomit-inducing. I don't know what the Korean word for it is, and apparently there is no English word for it, presumably because no one who speaks English has ever wanted to eat one. They were served in a big bowl of 해물 갈국수 that I had last week. That's hae-mul kal-guk-su, or seafood noodle soup. Now, this also comes with dried fish, shrimp with the heads on, and various and sundry other fun seafoods. The fish and clams were delicious, actually, and the soup itself was pretty rockin too. But then there were these... otherworldly alien things, in the soup. Kinda spiny, kinda squishy, yet still crunchy. Like, if you tap them with a chopstick, they make a noise. Anyway, Bo Il was eating them, or at least, I think he was and not just pretending to get me to put one of the damn things in my mouth. So, after letting it cool an appropriate amount of time, I chose the smallest, least-spiny looking of the bunch and chowed down. On the outside, naturally, it tasted pretty much like the soup. Not bad... then I punctured the shell, and all kinds of unholy hell-spawn gushed forth. I mean, this thing was like 11 different kinds of awful, all rolled up into one completely repulsive crunchy-shell-covered goo. And yes, this is the only thing on this list that I definitely, certainly, without a doubt will NOT eat ever again. Even if it does get an English name.
So, to recap: octopus < chicken feet < raw beef liver < blood sausage < unnamed demon-child of the outer deeps.
Tuesday, July 28, 2009
On the smaller news front, I don't think I'm going out of the country on vacation this summer. Sad but true. I'm doing this English camp at the private school down the street, and I'm having to use my official vacation days to do so. You know, with work visa restrictions being all... uh, strict (yeah, who's an English teacher now?) and stuff, I can't officially work at this job without going on vacation from my full-time job. Anyway, the upshot is that I can't technically leave the country this summer. So after I finish up with this camp, I'm gonna do a little tour of Korea instead... check out some beaches, see the sights, all that good stuff. It kinda sucks, but I think it'll all work out.
The reason I say "it'll all work out," and also for the long-awaited "Big News!!!" portion of our broadcast this evening, it's official. I am... staying another year in Korea!
Craziness, right? Well, I've been doing a lot of thinking about this, and there are just... a lot of reasons to stay. I mean, there's a lot of reasons to come home as well, but most of those are people. And people just aren't that important.... um, haha? Anyway, I miss all you guys, I really do. But I really like my job here, the kids, the teachers... And of course, as I'm sure you're all aware, the money and the food are big factors too. Plus, I'm in better shape than I've been... well, since Spain in 2001, probably. Today at the gym, I dropped under a certain weight threshhold that I've been eyeing for a while now (and this was with a good layer of sweaty gym clothes too, although no shoes), and also benchpressed like 20 more pounds than I've ever done before. Ever. I don't know, I just feel pretty good here.
For the record, I'm not staying in Korea permanently. I do have other things that I want to do in my life... so you know, don't worry about that. Also for the record, I will be home (for sure So-Il, maybe Chi-town, probably not Houston) for a couple weeks, I'm just not sure exactly when. I'm shooting for the Holidays/New Year, but I don't know if that's going to be possible. But there will definitely be more updates forthcoming long before the day arrives.
Some posts to look forward to: I'm working on compiling some funny and interesting Konglish, should have that up soon. Also, per (repeated) request, I'll try to put up some pictures of my students, and also the results of the pottery adventures #1 and #2. Oh, and the 2nd part of my post on uh... Korean cultural oddments and strange-alities. So, yeah, don't stop reading and I won't stop writing. At least, not for more than a week or two. Promise. =Þ
Wednesday, July 15, 2009
Just as a reminder:
- Honey, do you love me? One person is it and everyone else sits in a circle. It has to go up to a target and ask "Honey, do you love me?" Target replies "Honey, I love you but I just can't smile." It then has to try to make target smile. If successful, target is now it. If not, it tries again -- I remember this from summer/church camps in the past and it was always a good time.
- What's the time, Mr. Wolf? One person is wolf, standing with their back to the group, and everyone else lines up 30 feet or so away. They call out "What's the time, Mr. (Miss) Wolf?" Wolf says a time (It's nine o'clock!) and then turns around... while everyone takes that many steps towards the wolf. Wolf turns back around, and we do it again. If anyone gets close enough to touch the wolf, the wolf loses and we do it again. Eventually the wolf says "Dinner time!" turns around, and chases the group back to the starting line. If they catch someone, that person's the new wolf.
- Colored Hair. Again, one person is the wolf. There's a starting line, a finish point, and side boundaries. Each person (not the wolf) picks a color, out of maybe 5 different choices. Wolf: "Knock, knock." Group: "Who's there?" Wolf? "A big bad wolf with (choose a color) hair!" Everyone who has that color has to run, touch the finish point, and run back to the start without getting tagged. The wolf chases... first person tagged becomes the new wolf.
However, I've agreed to run a summer camp up the road at one of the local high schools. Pros: Well, 1 major pro, anyway. I get paid kind of a lot of money for it. And it's only 2 hours a day for nine days. And it should be a good experience. All the kids in 8th and 9th grade who wanted to attend the camp had to take a test, and I'm getting the top 20. So at least I'm hopeful that I'll have some kids who not only want to be there but have a decent level of proficiency in English. Cons: 2 major ones... it cuts down my vacation time by 2 weeks (but I've been saying this whole time I'm here to save money and not go crazy with travel, so I shouldn't complain), and I have no idea what I'm going to do with these kids.
The focus of my class is supposed to be conversation. I've got a few ideas, I guess... I just need about 15 more. For instance: roleplaying. I'm going to set up some scenes that involve Korean celebrities in different situations. Seeing an ex-girlfriend/boyfriend, talking to crazy fans, deciding whether or not to do an embarrassing movie role, etc... and have them act out the scenes. I've got some time to refine this, but at least they'll be interested (I think!) and able to express themselves in English (I hope!). Also, the statues game I mentioned above might be much more fun with this age group, so I might save it for that. 20 Questions might be fun also... and I think that there's a similar game played here in Korea so it wouldn't be a big deal to adapt it for an English setting. Oh, and Taboo! Get them to describe something without using any of the "taboo" words and the other students get to guess what it is.
Mi Sun said the English class she took in Australia was done this way -- mostly games -- so she's going to look through some of her old materials for ideas. Still, anything ya'll could suggest would be greatly appreciated. Remember, 14-15 year olds, high level of English... although in Korea that generally means high level of reading/writing, much lower on speaking, hence the conversation focus of the camp.
On a completely different note, the maintenance guy came by to look at my window frame this afternoon. It was leaking like crazy last night... water dripping (nay, streaming) down from this space -- invisible, but obviously present -- between my bedroom wall and the window frame. I had 3 different bowls and a pot catching streams of water when I went to bed last night... thankfully, the rain let up and they weren't yet full when I woke up. The dripping/streaming had stopped too. Anyway, I met the guy at my place after school today, and he went to work on his (hopefully) temporary fix. Which was to put up a sheet of plastic over my windows. Now, the main problem I see with this is that the sheet isn't really long enough to cover the whole window opening. So, he taped it to the wall above the leaky area, and then (partially) taped the bottom of the sheet to the windows themselves. Like, in 3 places, over a 5-foot wide window opening. I mean, I guess it'll keep my bed and wall outlet from getting wet, but he's just directed all the incoming water into the tracks at the bottom of the window frame...
I just hope this isn't the permanent solution, because with this sheet taped to the windows, I can no longer open them. I'm told that, this being monsoon season, nobody does outside construction-type work, and I just have to wait for the weather to improve. Wonder when that'll be? I hear that the monsoon only lasts a few weeks this far north, so I'm hoping to have this all resolved within the next week or so. But still, this can't be good: I mean, there's some serious structural integrity being breached, I'm sure, and this building is less than 9 months old. I even went out in the stairway last night just to peek at those windows, and sure enough! 2 out of the 3 were leaking in the same way mine was. Shoddy construction... tsk tsk tsk!
OK -- time to watch the new episode of Weeds and then get some rest! Peace and love, ya'll.
Tuesday, July 14, 2009
Well, my right leg had that conversation with me today. At least, that's what it felt like. And for all of you who were expecting relationship issues... ha. Not today. =) But yeah, after school Mi Sun and I had dinner and then went to the library to look for some books for her upcoming TEPS exam (which looks like it sucks, by the way), and then she dropped me off at the gym. I got there around 6:30, so, much later than usual. And I went to the squash court to hit the ball around for a while before going upstairs to lift. You know, get the blood flowing, muscles loose, get a good sweat going, all that. By the time I finished, however, 3 of the girls I work with (Yun Kyoung, Un Ju, and another whose name I've forgotten at the moment! oopsie!) were getting ready for their squash practice. Yun Kyoung and I played for a bit and then she suggested a quick game. I was feelin pretty good, up maybe 12-5 when I hit a short drop shot. As she was running for the ball she kinda stumble/tripped and (I think) rolled her ankle. It turned pretty red, but their squash coach was right there and sprayed some kind of icy-hot medicine-smelling stuff on there, and she would be ok less than an hour later. So, girl-whose-name-I-don't-know jumped in the box with me, thinking she might be able to avenge the loss of her friend. Alas, I regulated that shit. I beat the snot out of her, like 21-8. Maybe 21-10, but it wasn't really that close. So, at this point, I'm thinkin, yeah... I can play this game. Alright.
I sat down to grab some water and rest for a bit, and watched these two older guys play. Right away, I could tell that this was a whole nother level of squash. I sorta know one of the guys from the gym -- we've talked a few times... he's a Methodist minister, name of Rev. Shin. Yes, it's a common name here... Mi Sun's last name, also. Anyway, he won the first game, but lost the second, and of course, I'd talked myself into thinking I might be able to play with these guys. You know, when you watch pro tennis or golf and you think to yourself "I coulda hit that shot!" Same principle. So when they were done he sat down and we chatted for a bit, watching another game. When that game ended, he asked if I wanted to play him. I said sure! Not feeling like I'd win, necessarily, but at least that I wouldn't embarrass myself. Oh, how wrong I was.
Long story short, he beat me 21-5. I don't really think he was trying. I did hit a few really nice winners, but the general feeling was one of hopelessness. Well, I've only just started playing this game. Maybe a few years down the road, right? Haha... That's when reality set in. Mr. Shin's partner, who'd played him pretty even before, got his ass beat by this even older guy, musta been in his 50's I'd guess, but just looked so smooth moving around the court. So, I'd just watched the guy who beat the guy who beat me, get beat. Badly. And still, there was the coach guy (who's much younger than most of them, probably around my age), sitting down with this serene grin on his face, watching and cheering them on. Finally I got to watch him play, and I'm not sure he lost more than a few points. He didn't play the older guys who took it all serious, but some of the women who were there (and yes, I'm certain these chicks were better than me). But he was routinely hitting different shots backwards, between his legs, slamming the ball off the back wall to hit all 4 walls before it hit the ground, left-handed, you name it... and it looked like he never took more than 2 steps to get anywhere on the court. I'm not sure how you'd even go about scoring points on this guy, to be honest. Guess I've got some practicing to do, eh...
So I'm home now, and just realized that my bedroom window frame leaks. It sucks, really. I've got some bowls and pots there to catch the dripping, but this is a brand-new building! It wasn't finished yet when I moved to Korea last November. Just blows. I've had to move my bed out away from the wall, unplug everything that was plugged into the outlet on that wall, just in case... you know. But I've got no idea who to get ahold of for fixing something like this! My co-teacher, who might actually be able to help, isn't answering his phone... so, I'm kind of at a loss. Bowls and towels for the night, I guess. I just wish it would stop raining!
Oh, and the opening of this post -- my right leg really hurts. I think I might have slightly pulled my groin, but it really hurts to lift my right leg above parallel. Like, hurts to the point that I more or less can't do it at all. I noticed a little twinge earlier when I was playing, but nothing big. The longer it goes (and the more I tried stretching it out), the worse it feels. Hence the whole relationship metaphor. Nothing I say or do makes it any better! This will never work! We should just end things now, before one of us gets hurt! And I say, "It's too late! I'm already hurt!"
OK, I think that's the end of the road for tonight. Wish me luck with the leaky bedroom thing. Peace ya'll.
Sunday, July 12, 2009
At 4:30, we boarded a bus with the rest of the teachers, bound for ... well, I knew not what. But as I boarded the bus, in the school parking lot mind you, I was handed a warm can of beer and a bag of dried squid. It was gonna be that kind of party, it turned out. All the teachers were already crackin open the beers, so I happily joined in. Not two minutes out of the parking lot, Mr. Kim (no relation to Mrs. Kim from earlier -- Kim is a really common last name here) handed me another beer, so I threw down the first one and popped open number 2. Number 3 would follow soon after, as there seemed to be no shortage of booze on the school bus. Yep -- school bus. And yes, drinking in a moving vehicle is perfectly legal here, and actually somewhat of a tradition, I'm told. Beer number 3 carried us to the tomb of King Sejong, but most of us (including me, actually) had been there before, so we walked around for a bit (it was on a free day to celebrate the designation as a UNESCO Heritage Site) and then got back on the bus.
We drove for a bit longer before stopping for dinner. The "restaurant" was on side of the street, but they didn't actually sell food, I don't think. Well, side dishes and stuff, but the main dish, the beef, was sold at little butcher shops across the street. So we purchased an ass-load of beef to cook at the restaurant to accompany the massive amounts of soju we ordered. Now, this beef was supposed to be something special -- all Korean-grown, very exclusive. I mean, it tasted great, don't get me wrong, but I saw the price tags on this stuff and Jesus H Tapdancing Christ! Probably... um, not worth it, is all I'm gonna say. Delicious, yes... but $30/pound delicious? I don't think so... Also -- I tried raw beef liver for the first time. Some of the other teachers were wolfing it down, but Mi Sun and I were both looking at kinda warily. So we decided to "kawi-bawi-bo!" for it... that's Korean for rock-paper-scissors. I lost. It wasn't bad -- honestly, it had a silky smooth texture and not much flavor... I made her try some too, and we both agreed it was pretty inoffensive. Of course, dessert mostly consisted of liquor, and then...
After dinner we headed to the hotel and got settled in. The men-folk hunkered down for a night of gambling and drinking, but the card game was way too complex for me to learn quickly, especially in my already-nearly-inebriated state. Luckily, Bo Il and several of the girls were headed to the noraebang, so that was my new destination. At the noraebang I was forced to choose from the usual lame selection of English songs so I fell back on my standard Aerosmith, Oasis, and the Beatles... but Mi Sun was on fire! This girl was jumping around, headbanging, dancing her little Korean ass off! Never seen that before -- it was a nice change of pace, I gotta say. I think the fact that she wasn't driving anywhere was a big factor. I need to hang out with her when there's no driving involved more often. After a couple hours of singing, we headed back to the hotel.
The boys were still playing cards, so I grabbed a beer, some soju and some watermelon and started trying to figure out the game. Well, I got the basics of it but the simple fact that the cards have only pictures (no words, no numbers, nothing else) was too much for me. However, I realized I could pretty much play the game blind... just like poker. Get a feel for each guys behavior's and you could start to see patterns, who had a hand, who was bluffing. I even got to the point where I was ready to join in, but they wouldn't let me! I got kinda pissed off, but there were two reasons for it: 1) one of the teachers was down like 200 bucks and didn't want the dynamic of the game to change (although I woulda thought he'd be all for it! haha) and 2) they didn't want me to lose all my money and 3) racism? ha... whatever... I was pretty lit up and it probably would have been a bad idea anyway.
Woke up at 7am Saturday morning, still wearing all my clothes but in a different room than I remember being in. Well, I slowly inched the door open and there were like 8 people passed out in the main room, so maybe it was just as well. I stumbled to the bathroom and got cleaned up. Brushed teeth, washed, clean clothes. Then, thanks to my oversized and angry head, I realized the extent of my hangover, so I headed to the kitchen for something to make me feel better. We had, of course, no food on hand... but there was a whole lotta booze left, so I did the only thing I could think of to make myself feel better -- breakfast beer! Hair of the dog, breakfast of champions, whatever you wanna call it, I'm just sayin... it works. Apparently I'm not the only one who thinks so: 3 other guys made the fridge and the beer their first stop in the morning upon waking up. So, an hour and a half or so later we were ready to bounce, and I was 4 beers into a promising day!
Breakfast: sadly, Koreans have no concept of breakfast as we know it. Breakfast, to them, is just a meal eaten in the morning. But, it pretty much contains the same foods as lunch and dinner. So, "breakfast" was some kind of seafood soup: little shellfish critters (maybe a centimeter long) were boiled with seaweed and served to us in their broth. For breakfast. Actually tasted pretty good, except sometimes you'd get one that was a little more attached to his shell or something (at least, I hope that's what it was) and they were pretty crunchy. Some of the men sat at a separate table from all of us, and I noticed some soju bottles at their table. For breakfast. I was feeling pretty loose though and abstained. Anyway... then we were off to the river.
We arrived about an hour early for our little river cruise, so we ended up snacking on ice cream and corn on the cob (which absolutely, positively blows here, might I add -- they have no idea what they're missing), along with iced coffee. We played another Korean card game (no gambling this time), and after watching one game, I jumped in and I dominated. The strategy was really simple -- not sure what they were missing, but anyway...
The cruise -- meh. It was nice, I suppose. Just a little sight-seeing jaunt up the river and back. It was pretty hot up on the top deck but the lack of wind below made the heat worse there. I got sunburned, but not terribly bad. I'm just a little pink around the edges, is all. After the cruise one of the school maintenance workers ordered a jug of makeolli (different kind of Korean liquor) from the snack shop... no one wanted to sit down with him, and I felt bad for the poor guy. He's always really nice to me, and very chatty, so I went over and joined him to drink a bowl of makeolli. He had also ordered a Korean pancake (which is like a really light batter mixed with lots of veggies and hot peppers, then lightly fried), which turned out to be freakin awesome, especially when dipped in the sesame soy sauce they provided. Soon though, we were back on the bus, and off for lunch. Lunch was two things: Some of us ordered spicy chicken stew, which I've had before actually, remember? Mi Jin's was way better, it turns out, but this was still yummy. The rest had catfish boiled in a spicy soup. Whole catfish. Yeah, I tried it... and no, it wasn't great. I mean, catfish doesn't have a whole lot of flavor anyway, and this was really overpowered by the soup it was used in. But, on the plus side, I did get to pluck meat out of a catfish head -- can't say I've ever done that before. Whoo-ee!
Finally, back on the bus and headed home. I got in late yesterday afternoon, and I've done approximately nothing since. Relaxed, went to bed early, and today has been the epitome of monsoon season -- nothing but rain, wind, thunder, rain, wind, more rain... I did make it out to the store for some cereal, milk, and tomato sauce earlier, so my needs are met. English camp starts tomorrow, so I think it's time to hit the sack and rest up for my exciting first week of camp. Peace ya'll.
Friday, July 10, 2009
I had my first bout with monsoons last week, and I won! It was pretty nice out in the morning, a fresh breeze blowing in through my open windows, a little cloudy, but with patches of beautiful blue sky here and there. Anyway, I thought I'd leave the windows open while I was gone for the day, get some fresh air in the apartment, you know. Well, come about 10:00 in the morning, just after class started, I happened to glance out the window outside my classroom. And saw... well, actually, I saw very very little. This was due, I realized, to the torrential downpour of rain and that weird grey-green darkness you get during a summer storm sometimes. My heart sinking, I started plotting ways to get back to my house and rectify this situation, preferably with no one noticing I was gone. Could I steal one of the other teachers' cars? The women usually leave their keys in the office downstairs. Hmm... if I left at precisely the right time, and ran to my house and back, I could maybe make it on the bus. Finally, my co-teacher Bo Il noticed that I was distraught, and I filled him in on the depressing details. After a couple minutes of thinking, he offered to go to my house and shut them for me. Yep -- he'd deal with this hurricane. And he did. He's like the Wolf, from Pulp Fiction. He fixes things. By the time he made it back to class, it was barely raining at all, which was nice... and when I nervously asked how bad it was, he told me that my apartment was completely dry! I couldn't believe it, because it looked like destruction was flowing in all directions from where I sat, but I guess the wind was mostly blowing the other way, and not into my windows. Anyway, crisis averted, and for the next few weeks at least, the windows stay closed when I'm not home. Stupid monsoon season.
English camp starts on Monday -- 2 weeks, but only in the afternoons, which is nice. That gives me the mornings to get prepared and whatnot. Last winter I had, I think, 18 kids in camp. For this summer, that's gone up to 28. Which is roughly half the school. But I've got a pretty good schedule lined up, I think... should have some fun activities for the kids. I dunno -- my first camp was kind of a blur, I was nervous... I'm not even sure what all we did during that time. I at least had enough activities in my head this time to fill up all 40 hours of class time, so that makes me feel pretty confident. Is it just the overconfidence that often follows from ignorance? That is a distinct possibility. I'll keep you posted.
Wednesday, July 8, 2009
Good news first. Classes are over for the semester. I've got 2 weeks of English camp starting next week, and then off till September. Unless (at the last minute, as always here) some school wants to participate in a summer program at the Global Center, in which case I'll have to rush back from wherever I am to work, or something. Doesn't sound like a very restful vacation, but I'm sure it'll work out. Also, I'm going with the other teachers to a resort this weekend. I think it'll be pretty low-key, but we're leaving Friday after school, relaxing in the sun, maybe some swimming, then a barbecue (with soju, of course) and then something on Saturday. Not sure why, but I keep getting flashes of the Beach Games episode of the Office in my head. Where, by the end, Michael was trying to get people to walk across a bed of coals for his job? Yeah, I'm getting that kind of vibe. Hopefully I'm wrong though. If I burned my feet and went to the hospital, I'm 99% certain that part of the treatment would be an injection in the ass. And a whole boatload of happy pills. Worth it? Hmm... maybe so, maybe so. OK, I'm down for the coal walk. Thanks for talking me through that.
On the "No news is bad news" front, there's been no progress on the girl situation. We had a great time on Friday -- went out with Mi Jin, had spicy octopus, went to a bar, drank so-mek (soju+maekju... soju beer bombs, basically), then finished up at the noraebang. Tomorrow night we're hanging out again, going out for dinner. And I guess we'll be spending the weekend together (well, not together-together, but you know) at this resort too. When I write it all down like that, it sounds great, huh?! Well, unfortunately, we're hanging out a lot but it feels awfully platonic. Still, not giving up.
Ok -- 1st post promised long long ago about some Korean cultural oddities, rarities, what-have-you. Let's see, where to begin. I'm not gonna go all deep into why these things are the way they are. For one, I'm not much of an expert on Korean culture and pyschology, so I'd probably just be wrong, and two, it's funnier this way. OK, here we go.
You can't pick up your chopsticks for dinner until the oldest person at the table does first. You can't pour your own drink -- you must wait for someone to pour for you. This sounds like it might be a pain, but they're very observant: by the time you finish the drink, but before you put the glass down, they're ready to hit you up with a refill. When the drink is pouring, you should hold the bottle/glass with both hands, to be respectful. When you drink after an older person poured for you, you should turn away to drink. It's customary during a meal for younger people to take their empty glass and soju and kneel down and offer the glass to an elder. Then you pour them a drink, and they shoot it. Then you take the glass back and they pour you one, which you throw down, while turning your head away, of course.
You always take your shoes off when entering a home, school, church, or any traditional-type restaurant. Some kim-bap places and fast food joints you can just walk in and sit down, as well as stores, but any place where people generally spend a lot of time or go to relax, shoes off at the door. It's important to wear clean matching socks, for this reason. I suck at this. I realized soon after I moved here that a good percentage of my socks had holes in the toe or heel or both, because hell -- who sees your dress socks in the states?
It's rude to smoke in front of your elders. It's rude to fail to acknowledge the eldest person first when making your introductory bows. So, people in Korea, upon first meeting, will almost always ask your age either right before or right after your name. Soon after will be your job title. This is because your age determines what verb endings to use when conversing, and your job title (and not your name) determines what they will call you. Koreans rarely use names with strangers or people they've just met. Or with their superiors. Or colleagues. Or elders. Or family members. Or anyone, really, except people you've known and been friends with since you were in the same grade in elementary school. Yes, the same grade. That's important.
I'm a teacher: in Korean, it's 선생님 (sun-sang-nim). This is also a general title of respect for strangers or people whose position you're not certain of yet. Teacher is a very respected profession here, by the way -- as it should be. So when teachers talk to each other, they just call each other sunsangnim. Or, if there are many teachers present and they're addressing a particular one, they'll use their full name + sunsangnim. So, Hwang Bo Il Sunsangnim! Yes, it does take a lot longer to say than "Hey Sean!" in case you were wondering. Now, with text language and those crazy kids changing the language all around (sounds familiar), it's ok to shorten sunsangnim to just 쌤 (ssam). Or, Hwang-ssam! The kids use this a lot but I hear it even more from the younger teachers when they talk to each other, actually.
Now -- this aversion to using names goes much further. In families -- you don't call your siblings by their names. Like, if I had an older sister -- she'd be 누나 "nu-na." An older brother -- 형 "hyung." But if a girl has an older sister -- she calls her 언니 "un-ni" and her older brother 오빠 "ohp-pa." There are different words for younger siblings too, actually... which means a boy who has an older brother, a younger sister and a younger brother could actually be "a nam-dong-sang," "oppa," and "hyung" all at the same time. Weird, right? But get this -- people in school who are even a year above you... well, they're called the same things. So like, in my after school class, the 2nd grade boys call the 3rd grade girls "Nuna!" (mostly because I can't for the life of me get them to remember each other's English names...) Which technically means older sister, but it applies to the more general Korean family as well. When you go out to a restaurant, and you want to get the waitress's attention, and if she's around your age (because she gets a bump in respect for working there and taking care of you) you can call her Nuna or Unni (if you're a girl) as well. Or you can just yell out "Yogi-yo!" Which sounds rude when translated into English ("Over here, please!") but is perfectly acceptable. If she's older, she's "Ajuma" -- literally, woman who's already raised children. Always makes me think of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, quoted here in its entirety for your enjoyment:
King Arthur: Old woman!
King Arthur: Man, sorry. What knight lives in that castle over there?
Dennis: I'm 37.
King Arthur: What?
Dennis: I'm 37. I'm not old.
King Arthur: Well I can't just call you "man."
Dennis: Well you could say "Dennis."
King Arthur: I didn't know you were called Dennis.
Dennis: Well you didn't bother to find out did you?
King Arthur: I did say sorry about the "old woman," but from behind you looked...
Dennis: What I object to is you automatically treat me like an inferior.
King Arthur: Well, I am king.
Dennis: Oh, king eh? Very nice. And how'd you get that, eh? By exploiting the workers. By hanging on to outdated imperialist dogma which perpetuates the economic and social differences in our society.
Note that in Korea, ajuma is a title of considerable respect, for it's said that women must be something akin to superheroes to successfully raise children. So if Dennis were Korean, he might not have minded so much about the "old woman" thing.
One more interesting factoid: Lots of Korean girls call their boyfriends Oppa. Sounds funny, at first, but no worse than Hispanic guys calling their girls "Mamacita," right? Ha, anyway... I guess the guys like it cause it makes them feel like they're in charge and the protector and all that. Coming up next time (or at least, the next time I feel like writing about this): Why the guys are definitely not in charge...
I'm back, baby! It's the summer of Sean!
And I'm going to make a concerted effort to update more regularly, promise.
Saturday, June 27, 2009
Terminator was pretty good, actually. Perhaps because I had literally zero expectations going in, but it was entertaining. Not at all terrible. I was pleasantly surprised. Lunch was amazing though -- she took me to 초이 수제비 -- Cho-i Soojebi. We had 비빔밥(bi-bim-bap) , 졸면(jol-myun), and 수제비(soojebi) -- mixed rice (with egg, vegetables and hot sauce), spicy cold noodles with bean sprouts, and dumpling soup (which tastes almost exactly like the chicken and dumplings at Pioneer's Cabin near Carterville, minus the chicken). And it was a whole lot of food. And it cost about 7 dollars. Maybe less. And no, not each -- total. I love this country.
The movie was good. We held hands, even (dare I say) cuddled a bit. Fun times. Then we went to WaBar for drinks and tried to talk in Korean. I can say some things, I promise. But with my extremely limited vocabulary the conversation pretty quickly devolves into a lot of one-word sentences (on my part) followed by what? or why? (from her) followed by my old standby, I don't know. Less than spirited conversation, to put it mildly. There was a really cute baby hanging out at the bar though, which always amuses me. I mean, he wasn't just chilling alone trying to pick up older women or anything. He was there with some girls already. But seriously -- who brings a baby to a bar?!
Other observations: the bugs (mosquitoes, especially) are getting bad. And they have no trouble getting into my apartment, even with the doors and windows shut, it seems. It's hot in the summer. Not Houston hot, or even Marion hot, but it's uncomfortable nonetheless. The new cheap awesome pizza place is killing me, but no worse than I expected. It's just... right... there. Sucks. Mud Festival is coming up -- I'll do a post about that soon, but I'm definitely going. Still don't have a firm plan for summer vacation. That's starting to freak me out a bit. Federer's rolling through Wimbledon, no surprise there. The Cardinals' offense blows, slightly bigger surprise. But their pitching has been fantastic, even bigger surprise. Brett Favre is un-retiring, so, um... negative infinity surprise on that one. My electricity bill is gonna suck -- I keep forgetting to turn the A/C off when I leave the house. Oopsie.
And actually, that's all I've got to say about that.
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
Well, lunch was good. Then we bought ice creams and went to the park. And talked. And it came out that even though we have fun together... her family wouldn't approve, and we live in a small town and work in a small school, and i'm white. (the horror!) and she likes me as a friend, but doesn't think we can date.
And this was on the one month-iversary of our first date. Just a shitty day, all around. I haven't given up yet. But damn, did that suck. I've never been discriminated against because I was white before. To any minorities reading this, I'm sorry. Discrimination is a bitch, affirmative action or no. Anyway, I did what any good minority-type person would do. I shanked a bitch, smoked some crack, did some advanced mathematics and then went to prison, where I refused to eat beef and pork and then called home and talked to 19 different people before I found someone in my family because they were all out mowing lawns when I called. Actually, haha... no. I did what any Korean would do and drank some soju and then got online and enjoyed my ultra-fast broadband connection. But still, have some sympathy, yeah?
I'm not giving up, though. Presents. Sweet-talking. And if that don't work, well then blackmail's never let me down before.
Sunday, June 21, 2009
Afterwards we went to WABar for beers. Met up with Tom and Travis and headed over to meet a big group of foreign teachers at "Sports Bar." Actually, the name is something else, something I don't recall. But they call it sports bar because they have darts and you can play Wii sports there. Which, sadly, I didn't do. Boo. Also, instead of normal pitchers for the beer, it comes in these like meter-long tubes with smaller ice-filled tubes inside them. And you get your own tap and everything. Good stuff.
I did play a Korean drinking game too, which was kinda awesome. It's called Titanic. You put an empty shot glass into a mostly full mug of beer. It floats... then you take turns pouring tiny amounts of soju into the glass. Whoever makes it sink has to chug it. I did fine... you know. I'm all good when it comes to drinking games. Practice makes perfect, all that... haha. But Mi Sun -- yeesh. She was driving and so she enlisted me as her drinking surrogate. I think she was screwing me over on purpose! Anyway, I got pretty toasty, but I also got a ride home. You know, 6 of one, right?
Saturday. Rain, rain, all day. But still warm, and sticky, and just gross. Today was sunny and hot and nice, but I didn't really have anything exciting to do.
Tomorrow we have an open class. This means that the principals and some parents and others get to come watch our 4th grade class. Now, my coteacher Mrs. Yun is also a music teacher, so she's combining her discliplines and we're doing a music class, but in English. So, that should be fun. I get to wear a tie, and play the recorder. Yee-haw! On the plus side, though, we don't have any groups coming to the Global Center this week! So, apart from Monday, and Tues/Fri after school classes, I got nothing to do! Awesome... gives me time to study Korean, and maybe practice English with the girls at work. I'm also trying to talk Mi Sun into playing tennis with me sometime. She's got these weird double-jointed elbows that allow her to twist her forearms around like 50% more than a normal person. I think she might be good at tennis, although her athletic skills are uh... less than developed overall. And she's kinda lazy. Actually, I don't have high hopes for this at all, apart from good exercise and the inevitable humor factor. Which is totally worth it.
Speaking of tennis -- Wimbledon starts tomorrow! Hell yes. And the Cardinals are back to their winning ways, leading the division, half a game ahead of Milwaukee! And uh... yeah. That's it. That's my life.
Oh, one more thing. Turns out China's kind of a pain in the ass for American citizens. Visas are expensive, and you can't just go to the consulate to get them. You have to use a Chinese gov't-approved travel agent. You also have to prove that you have transportation out of the country and hotels already booked. It just doesn't sound like it's well-suited to my current situation. I have no idea where I might want to go, or when exactly I'd be leaving. I was just planning on hitting Beijing for a while and then hopping a train south. And coming back eventually, to take the boat back to Korea. Anyway, I'm now entertaining other options. Any suggestions? Thanks.