Sunday, December 31, 2006

DMZ...

So here's my full-fledged post about my trip to the DMZ. We only did the half day tour because the full-day tour was booked solid but it was so cold that I don't' really mind going back another day to visit the JSA (Joint Security Area) at Panmunjum. This is the only place along the border where North and South Korea actually touch each other. The rest of the entire border is separated by the DMZ.

So if you don't know what the DMZ is, here's a quick summary from Wikipedia...

The Korean Demilitarized Zone (or DMZ) is a strip of land running across the Korean Peninsula that serves as a buffer zone between North and South Korea. The DMZ cuts the Korean Peninsula roughly in half, crossing the 38th parallel on an acute angle, with the west end of the DMZ lying south of the parallel and the east end lying north of it. It is 248km/155 miles long and approximately 4km/2.5 miles wide, and is the most heavily armed border in the world.

So that's that.

Our day began at 7:00 at the Lotte Hotel. This was our meeting place and only me and Matt got picked up there. The bus then stopped by three or four other hotels and by the time we left Seoul we had about 40 people on the bus, half Japanese and half English. It took us a little over an hour to get to the border.

According to our tour guide, the DMZ tour is different everyday and the guides never know in what order each group will be visiting the different "attractions." My tour consisted of checking out the Third Tunnel, The Dora Observatory, Dorasan Train Station, and then the Freedom Bridge. Our guide was on the phone until the last minute trying to figure out where we were supposed to go first.

After a little confusion, it was confirmed that our first stop would be the Third Tunnel. Our guide said we were lucky because our group would be taking the monorail into the tunnel as opposed to walking down there.

Before entering the tunnel, we were treated to watching a 10 minute film that gave us an overview of the history of Korea and a hopeful outlook on the future. I don't think too many of us were fooled by the video and the hope it attempted to project for the future. I don't think unification is coming anytime soon, and I don't think many Koreans believe this will happen in the near future either. After the movie we were given hard hats and descended into the Earth.

Those red car seats are the monorail.
The monorail tunnel was very small and I hit my head a few times on the ceiling. The 1600 meter infiltration tunnel, discovered in 1978, was a damp, dark, and eerie place that's 150 meters below ground. The guides said the tunnel is big enough to move 10,000 equipped soldiers per hour, although it's less than 7 feet wide and high. At the end of the tunnel is a bolted metal door with a window, and through the window you can see another bolted metal door. Passed this door the tunnel was filled in by the South and they have a camera monitoring it 24/7. The tunnel stretches for about another 500 meters or so passed the barricade.

The South discovered four of these tunnels, the most recent in 1990.

Wikipedia says the first of the tunnels is believed to be about 45 meters below surface, with a total length of about 3.5 kilometers, penetrating over 1,000 meters into the DMZ. When the first tunnel was discovered, it featured electric lines and lamps, and railways and paths for vehicles.

The North Koreans actually coated the tunnels with coal dust so they could say they were mining and not trying to attempt a sneak attack. Geological surveys showed that there is no coal there.

Unfortunately, we weren't' allowed to take any bags or cameras into the tunnel so that means no pictures. However, I did manage to borrow a rock from the third tunnel. Notice the black on the rock. It's coal dust that easily wipes off unto your hands.

After exiting the tunnel, I checked out the gift shop (yes, a gift shop at the DMZ - strange I know) and got myself a DMZ t-shirt and a pin.

The whole vibe of the DMZ tour was starting kind of sink in at this point and it was weird. Here I was just a few hundreds meters from one of the most messed up places on Earth and I'm buying a t-shirt.

Our next stop was the Dora Observatory where we could look at North Korea and the DMZ through binoculars that cost 500 Won to use (50 cents). I put a few pics of this place in my previous post and once again there was photo restrictions here. We could look at North Korea through the binoculars but we had to stand behind a yellow line to take pictures. Why you ask? Beats the hell outta me?

The observatory building itself looked really tough and they had some cool models inside showing the location of the villages and other things in the area, but again, no pictures.

You can see the tallest flag pole in the world from here. Go North Korea Go!! Apparently they keep extending it to make sure it remains the tallest.

From this place you can also see two villages that are actually in the DMZ. The South's village is called "Freedom Village," while the one in the North is called "Propaganda Village." The people in Freedom Village are farmers and they pay no taxes. Only about 200 farmers work and live there and in order to be a part of the village you must spend eight months of the year there in order to gain benefits. Supposedly, they make over $100,000 a year.

Propaganda Village is pretty much exactly what it's name says it is. No one lives here besides a few soldiers but they have it set up so it looks like a "real" village. The South realized that the lights come on in the same buildings at exactly the same time each day, and closer inspection with a telescope will allow one to see that none of the buildings even have windows.

Sneaky.

We were soon herded onto our bus again and this time we were off to a train station called Dorasan Station. This is the final destination of the South Korean rail line but they already have the track connected to the North, although no trains go there. It is more of a symbolic place than anything else. They even have a sign outside showing the distance to Seoul and Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea.
Only three trains a day go to Seoul and you must get special permission to ride. They have two army guys at the place where you board the train.

This place was really creepy, almost like something from a movie. You have this shiny, new building but it's totally empty, besides for the bus full of "tourists," a couple of soldiers, the people at the ticket booth, and the person at the souvenir shop. It's basically a place to show the people on the DMZ tour and nothing more. The South Korean propaganda machine works just as well as the one in the North. And oh yeah, you can get some pretty cool stamps in your passport here as well.

Here's what the place looked like as we were leaving.

Desolate.

Our final destination was Freedom Bridge. This place ends with a collage of paper and fabric and flags that contain handwritten hopes for peace, unity and reunion. Many South Korean school children visit this site and leave notes here, although people in the North don't get to read them because they'd have to cross the DMZ to see them.

This place gets it's name because 13,000 POW's were exchanged here after the Korean War. Until 1998, it was the only bridge linking North and South Korea.

The strangest thing about this place is that they had music blaring from speakers on the bridge. It was likely some kind of traditional music and the picture below is the best way for me to describe it.
While we were on the bridge the train passed by right behind us. This is a train that came from Dorasan Station. Matt tried to flag it down and hitch a ride but it didn't stop. The barb wire would probably be a bit of trouble anyway even if he did get the train to stop. I guess we'd just have to settle with the bus ride home.

I must say that I've never seen so much barbed wire in my life.

On the way out I noticed an amusement park in a parking lot at one of the places we visited. In the midst of the most heavily gunned area in the world they decided to put some rides. Good way to ease some tension I suppose.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, was the first half of the DMZ tour. I'll do the other half in the spring when the weather warms up a little.

Sticking with the theme of freedom and all that stuff, today is my last day of "freedom" for a while. Tomorrow I head off to my district English camp outside of Seoul in the middle of nowhere. I'm there for 14 days and I hope I don't go insane there. 14 straight days of teaching and dealing with a bunch of kids for about 12 hours a day is gonna take it's toll. And they better have internet there.

Maybe I'll defect to the North and see if they have shorter camps and next year I'll sign with them.

Ever get in a fight with the ground?

I've been slack with the posts here. I'm on vacation so I'm taking a break from just about everything. And in a few days I leave for English camp so I probably won't get to do any posts for two weeks then.

A few days ago I visited the DMZ and I'll post the pics I took soon. That's North Korea behind me.The picture below is the third largest city in North Korea called Kaesong viewd from the Dora Observatory. At least that's what the South Korean soldier told us but I've been doing some research and I can't find anything to back p his claim. We had to stand behind a line to take pictures at this place.

More on this later.

Today is New Years Eve and I'm hungover really bad. Last night I drank a lot. Me and Matt went to the Woodstock in Gangnam and as usual, ended up drinking with some Koreans. We soon found ourselves at a restaurant drinking soju and it was all downhill from there.

I didn't think this was possible but I actually fell down and hit my head on the ground. It's one of the last things I remember from the night.

Soju is ridiculous...

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Routine...

So the Christmas holidays are upon us. It's Christmas Eve here but it may as well be Groundhog Day or something. It doesn't feel like X-mas at all.

But that ain't a bad thing.

The less it seems like X-mas the less I will miss being home for X-mas... I think...

And this is a good year to not be home because a lot of my Deer Lakian friends won't be home anyway so I don't' feel like I'm missing out on too much.

Let's make a list here of the good ol' b'ys...

Jacobs, Sean, and Justin (well, I'm just guessing on Justin) will all be in Alberta...

Matt is here tearing up Korea with me...

Boomer will probably be home for a few nights...

Marcel and Diggz and Spencer and Luke will be home...

So I don't' feel too bad about missing not being home.

I also feel that the last two year's in DL were awesome, especially the New Years parties in Corner Brook, and will be hard to top.

There's also a lot of shit going on here in Seoul all the time and last night I went to one of the punk bars for the first time. Before we went to the punk bar we were walking around Hongdae looking for a bar called Club Spot. All I knew is that it was by the park so we had a look and couldn't find it.

We gave up our hunt and went and drank at a few random bars and then proceeded to look for the Spot again. I dunno how we missed it the first time because it's right in front of the park, but anyway.

So we walk in the bar and the first person we see is a person from Corner Brook (Amy). I'm not shitting you. Later in the night we were walking down the road a girl asked my friend for a smoke. We got to talking and she was from Millertown in Newfoundland. Small little world ain't it.

The show was over at this place so we headed to Club Drug (AKA DGBD or something like that). The bands were finished playing there too but there was a DJ playing all this old 50's music and a bunch of Korean punks dancing up a storm.

We stayed there dancing until everyone was too tired and then hit up another bar while we waited for the subway to start running.

The Korean punks were awesome. They were decked out with there spiked hair and spiked leather jackets. It was funny to see these people dancing to old 1950's X-mas music.

Tonight were gonna go to a bar called Skunk Hell and check out some of the bands. Should be an interesting way to spend X-mas Eve for sure!

I'm also getting on a pretty good schedule these days. Wake up at two or three in the afternoon. Eat, shower, mess around, and then head out drinking somewhere at about midnight. Stay out until 5:30 drinking because that's when the subway starts in the morning. Eat a ham and cheese sandwich froma corner store and then get on the train for an hour and try not to sleep through my stop.

So far so good. Made it home the last two night.

Third times a charm.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

One more...

Here's another ad-poster I made for my English camp.

I wish I had my old roommate Greg from St. Johns around because he really knows how to make things happen in Photoshop.

I just fake it.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Make work projects...

Sometimes it's better to seem busy. It's like that episode of Seinfeld where George realized that if he looked frustrated and had a lot of papers on his desk people would think he was a great worker.

That also works here in Korea as well, but I usually keep my desk cluttered as well as the desktop on my computer.

Last week I made some signs for a grade 4 lesson. I could have made some simple signs with a few markers and a peice of cardboard but instead I took an hour or so and made some great signs on the computer. Here they are.

Making these posters was fun, plus I could sit there and listen to music while I created them. I looked busy and I made a useful "teaching resource."

We needed some fake money for this lesson, so once again I out did myself.

Now that's some valuable currency right there, and the kids loved it. The word got around the school about this money so I had teachers and students from the other grades bugging me to see it.

I've been carrying a bill around in my pocket for the last two weeks and I still get asked daily to "show them the money."

Monday, December 18, 2006

Balance...

To balance the negativity of my last post I gotta write a nicer post. One easy way to do this is to write about music.

I realized a few days ago that a lot of good music came out in the last year, and the major label Christmas rush is also a breathe of fresh air.

In the last few weeks we had the new Jay-Z, Nas, and Ghostface. Then there's a bunch of other new releases like Beck, Sonic Youth, and My Dying Bride, all of which I probably won't listen to that much but I'll get a few spins out of each album.

Wolfmother broke through to America this year and they may just save rock n roll with there fuzzed out, straight up approach. They are actually the first band in my life that I heard on the radio and then proceeded to download the album.

Jack White and his side project The Raconteurs put out a decent rock album as well, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers came through with a solid double album.

Tom Petty put his best album in a long time. This is significant for me because while I was living in Calgary the NBA was using a few of his older hits as playoff theme songs ("Won't Back Down," "Free Falling") so me and Jacobs listened to his classic album Full Moon Fever a lot. His new album "Highway Campanion" rocks almost as much as FMF.

Nine Inch Nail's "With Teeth" was a respectable outing but with each release Trent Reznor gets farther away from his demons and without them his album's suffer.

Tool also put out an album and if I was still 15 I would love it but I just find there's songs rather boring these days. I also thought Lateralus was a bore, but I still really enjoy their first three records. The drummer just uses too many damn tribal beats now, and the Maynard is more "A Perfect Circle" than Tool.

On the underground side of things, Witch is probably my favorite rock release. The main dude from Dinosaur Jr plays drums (I've never liked Dinosaur Jr but it gives a reference point I suppose). It's dirty, grooving rock in a similar vein to Kyuss with a boring singer, but the riffs and solos and good enough to make up for the rather bland vocals.

Now on to metal...

Darkthrone released yet another album "The Cult is Still Alive" and a lot of people tore it apart but I think it's a decent 'metal does punk rock' album. Anyone expecting them to release another 'Blaze in the Northern Sky' should just forget about it.

Ihsahn from Emperor also put out a decent solo album and Slayer put out another record. I will disappointingly say it's the first Slayer record that I didn't buy and I barely listened to it. It's just a boring record but I'd still go watch them live in a split second.

On the hip hop side of things it was a great year.

Masta Killa's "Made in Brooklyn" and Ghostface's "More Fish" were both great albums. "More Fish" was the fifth best album of 2005 according to Rolling Stone magazine, yet the album didn't even sell 500,000 copies. At least Rolling Stone has the balls to give him some props and hopefully help him sell a few more records.

The Neptunes (whom I don't really care for) produced the full album for hip hoppers The Clipse titled "Hell Hath No Fury" and I gotta admit it's solid. It still has those weird bongo-type drums that the Neps use too much but it's the toughest thing they've done in a long time.

Ol' Dirty Bastard's post-humous album " A Son Unique" was finally released and it's decent. The album was a bit of a let down for me because I copped most of the songs long before the album was ever released. I actually got my hands on some of the track over two years ago so finally listening to the album was very anti-climatic to say the least.

AZ released "The Format" and although I didn't enjoy it as much as his last record, his smooth, effortless flow will always keep me coming back for more.

So yes, 2006 was a good year for music considering these are the releases I can think of off the top of my head. I'm sure if I looked through my MP3's I would find some other worthy releases but I dont' wanna put that much effort into this post.

It's already too long.

Shitty, shit-shit...

I checked out one of the boxing sites I read regularly today and was unpleasantly informed that In-Jin Chi, a Korean fighter I know because he fought Mexican legend Eric Morales about five years back, had a bout in Seoul yesterday!?

Dammmmn...

I'm totally disgusted with myself for not knowing about this. Yesterday I did laundry, got some groceries, and cooked a decent supper... but I could've been watching a WBC title bout. What the hell!?

Honestly, I'm almost sick to my stomach about this.

I will now be diligently (yes, diligently) checking international boxing schedules where ever I can find them and hope that something else comes along.

I try not to swear on here I can't hold out on this one.

This is fucking sad b'y...

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Chillin'...

This is the first day I've had some free time at school in a looooong time. I've been surfing the net and listening to music for the last two hours and now I'm bored.

I've found a lot of good music in the last week or two, including new albums from Nas, Ghostface (his second album of the year!), Bronze Nazareth, Masta Killa, Inspectah Deck, Jay-Z and it was good to just chill out and listen while I get paid.

Yesterday I got paid to go out for lunch and watch a movie which is fine by me. I went with the grade two teachers to VIPS and had a steak and ribs along with their wonderful salad bar that has everything from tacos to pizza to onion rings to sandwiches, and yeah, they also have some salads too.

After lunch we went to a movie theatre and watched the movie "Just Friends." It's an American movie so it was in English with Korean subtitles. I was dreading the idea of being forced to sit through a bad romantic comedy but I was pleasantly surprise by the film. It was much dumber and idiotic than I thought it would be, in a good way, and a lot less romantic. Of course, the ending was very predictable but at least it made me chuckle a few times.

The theatre, on the other hand was kinda disappointing. There were maybe 10 screens at the place but our screen was really small and the room was tiny. I don't say the place sat much more than 50 people, although it's kinda hard to tell. I just know it's was probably the smallest theatre I've ever been in. I'm gonna have to go see a movie at the Megabox soon.

I also finished watching all four seasons of this HBO show called "The Wire." It's probably the best TV show I've ever had the pleasure of watching. I'd compare it to something like the Sopranos but instead of being about the mafia, it's about the Baltimore police, street level and large scale drug dealers, the harbour and port, the school system, and more street thugs. And it ain't all sensational like the Sopranos.

I think the main reason I like it so much is because it's the complete opposite of CSI, a show that I truly despise. It shows the processes and time that it takes to get warrants and wire taps and cutting edge policing equipment, unlike CSI's light-speed police work.

The plot is genius and so intricate that it almost seems like you're reading a book rather than watching a TV series. I dunno how I never heard of the show until this year. Maybe it has something to to with the fact that we don't get HBO in Canada.

Download it and prepare to be hooked.

I'll make him an offer he can't refuse...

I went to a wedding on Sunday. My friend Sonny (the Korean guy who I swap language lessons with) got married in Daegu, a city in the southern part of the country.

I met Betty, one of the bartenders at the place Sonny works, at 9am Sunday morning to go to the wedding with her. I got no idea how to get around this country yet so I still need someone to take me there if I'm leaving Seoul.

Turns out Sonny had a bus rented for his friends in Seoul so the ride was free and really convenient. It took about four hours to get to Daegu and the wedding lasted a little over two hours and then we were back on the bus returning to Seoul.

Weddings here are very different from back in Canada. Sonny got married in a wedding hall, which is typical, so the whole event is rushed and very busy. During the wedding itself, you could hear the all of the commotion from the giant lobby and the ceremony is not nearly as sensitive as a western wedding. Sonny's friends were cheering him on as he walked down the aisle like cheerleaders and everyone else was talking. Very strange.

One cool thing is that when the "wedding" began, Sonny and Ju-mi (his wife) were in a chariot-like cage (hard to describe) about 15 feet in the air. The chariot slowly moved to the back of the hall where the bride and groom came down a set of fancy stairs and then headed down the aisle and tied the knot.

After the ceremony, everyone headed upstairs for dinner, showing our tickets as we walked in the buffet room. I thought the food was good and there was a decent variety but the Koreans I was with said they'd give the food a "C," using the scale "A" to "C."

I thought that was a bit harsh but maybe I'm just getting used to the crappy food at my school. Who knows?

We got back to Seoul at about 8:30 and headed to the Red Dog Bar (Sonny's place of work) for the wedding party. This is where it all started to get interesting.

Once the Koreans got some booze in them they started to talk more English, as usual, and we were soon having a good laugh. One of the guys was doing his mandatory military service and he kinda acted as the slave, cleaning up shit on the bus and clearing empty bottle off the table. Come to think of it, everyone there was particularly diligent in clearing off the tables. It probably had something to do with the fact that 80 percent of the wedding party consisted of bartenders.

But back to the soldier. I learned something very important that night and it went something like this. There are three kinds of people in the world: men, women, and garumbees (or something like that). A garumbee is a soldier.

The guy only had two days left to his service and he seemed quite excited to shed the uniform and everything else that goes along with wearing it.

I soon called my friend Matt and told him he should come out for a few drinks and he arrived about 45 minutes later. By this time I was starting to get drunk because the Koreans were passing around "bombs," which is simply a shot glass of whiskey dropped into a glass of beer, shot glass and all.

And yeah, you gotta drink the thing in one shot.

It was at this time that the quiet, serious looking dude started trying to talk to Matt and me. I don't know his name, but his English wasn't very good. Shin (some Korean dude at the wedding) became our translator and the tough dude was soon telling us that he was a Korean gangster.

The funny thing is that the night before I was online reading about the Korean mafia and then the next night I meet some dude who claims he's a part of it. Crazy.

He was from Ulsan and said his boss was a big mafia man. He never really gave any details but for some reason I believed the dude. He just had that "I don't give a fuck" look in his eyes that most people can't pull off with any conviction.

He was soon tryna get me and Matt to leave the wedding party and go to "his bar." I dunno if he meant he owned the bar or if that was where his "people" hung out so I figured the best thing for me to do was just act confused and not say yes or no.

He was persistent though and I told him I had to stay here at the wedding party at least until Sonny left because I didn't wanna offend my friend. The ggangpae (word for Korean gangster) seemed to respect this and layed off for a while. Loyalty right, that shit's important I suppose?

While I was gone to the bathroom the ggangpae had Matt feeling his muscles to prove how strong he was. He was really hounding Matt to go with him and he even got Matt to pinky swear that he would go to the bar with the ggangpae. Pinking swearing here is some serious shit. Children will lie about just about anything but if you ask them to pinky swear and they don't' do it, you know they're full of shit. I've even heard of some kids who pinky swore claiming they didn't do something and less than a minute after they were crying because they were in fact lying and then they had the balls to pinky swear.

These are just stories I've heard but it makes the pinky swear sound serious so when the ggangpae tried to get me to pinky swear and acted like I didn't understand but Matt went for it.

So as we tore into the night and the party began to slowly thin out the ggangpae was soon at us again to join him at "his bar." I asked a bunch of the other Koreans whether or not we should go with this dude and the consensus answer was no. I dunno if the Koreans just wanted the funny white guys to stay partying with them or if they didn't want us to go with the ggangpae because he was really a ggangpae. It was hard to tell. Mostly they just said "Oh he's really drunk don't go with him."

The ggangpae had a nice suit on and like I've already said, his eyes were made of stone, his face looked hard, and I could definitely see the guy on the Asian version of the Sopranos. Thankfully though, the ggangpae had a little too much to drink and was soon passed out face-down on the bar.

It was at this point when the half-dozen of us who were still around left the Red Dog and headed across the street to a Noribang, also known as a karaoke room. It was now about 3am and yes, I had to work and 8:40 which was quickly approaching. I decided to be semi-responsible and head home at this point and actually attempt to make it work in a few short hours.

I made it home and went straight to bed but when I woke up I was still too drunk to teach so I had to call in sick. Unfortunately, and inconveniently, my cell phone wasn't allowing me to make any outgoing calls so I had to walk to the subway station and call my school on the pay phone to tell them I had diarrhea.

Just in case you didn't already know, diarrhea is the best excuse for getting out of just about anything because no one questions it because everyone’s had to deal with it.

My school was really concerned and I received about half-a-dozen phone calls from various staff at my school, all of them (un)tactfully asking me how I was doing with my diarrhea. My head co-teacher even wanted me to go out for dinner with her after work but I refused because I was cooking dinner when she called. As usual, she was very persistent but I explained to her that I didn't wanna go out and eat Korean food because my stomach still wasn't 100 percent better.

She finally accepted my refusal but insisted that she come visit me after she ate. I couldn't refuse and told her and Kim Dong-sik to swing on by when they were finished. I then had to clean my apartment and do my dishes because my place was kinda a mess.

Seeing I was "sick" and all, I just wanted some peace and quiet but it was not to be. I have to admit I do appreciate her concern at least and she even brought me some bananas, oranges, and some rice soup that is supposed to be good for a stomach ache.

It's still in my fridge.

So my first sick day was a success and I must say that I'm surprised I lasted this long without faking sick. Technically, I had to take the sick day because it probably wouldn't have been a good idea to go to school drunk at 8:40 in the morning. Might give them a slightly bad impression of me.

And to end this post, I have to correct what I learned about there being only three kinds of people in the world. There's actually four.

Men, women, garumbis, and yes, ggangpaes.

Monday, December 11, 2006

The good ol' days...

Busy blog day today but I gotta catch up. Been really busy at work getting ready for English camp so on with the show.

A friend of mine had this picture on his MSN messenger. It brought a giant Ugandan smile to my face.
For those of you who weren't wrestling fans as children, this is the man known as the Ugandan Giant: Kamala. What a great character.

If I remember correctly he was a headhunter (the best in the world) and his manager was named Kim Chee. That is much funnier to me now because kimchi is one of the prides of Korea. It's a food made with spicy fermented cabbages.
I've had no interest in wrestling since I probably turned 11 or 12 years old because well, I guess I grew up. Or did wrestling just get shitty? I don't know.

Man, I do know this though. Some things about the 1980's were sure awesome.

The set up...

I realized a few weeks ago that the sun sets behind a mountain in plain view from my window every single day.

I like it.

Cheer up...

Here's a Christmas card one of my grade 5 students gave me. I'm the first teacher in the school to get a X-mas card from a student.

Here's what she wrote.

To, Mr. (heart) ball

Hello~ I'm sooHyun-Lim in 5 grade 3 class. I'm very surprised when you see first. I'm have white men are few Negroes are common.

I think you are so lonely. But cheer up! I don't like English, But because of you, I develop a liking for English.

Thank you (heart)

Merry Christmas

-Kim-suhyun-

I have no idea what she's trying to get at with the white man negroe thing.

Is it just me or does this kid sound kinda like a racist?

Kidding.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Hooker hill...

I've been to Itaewon (the foreigner district) but Saturday night I went there and just walked around the whole place to see how big or small it is. It ended up being a lot smaller than I expected but maybe I missed a few of the hidden, stretching alleyways, but I do think I hit them all.

We checked out this store called the DMZ. It was probably the toughest store I've ever been in. The inside and outside of the place is decked out with army camo shit that you'd have set up if you had a base in the middle of the forest. It was only tiny but they had so many things jammed in there that I swear it had more merchandise than Jim's Army and Navy but was only 1/10 of the size.

They had some crazy things in there like what appeared to me as North Korean soldier's hats. You know, the ones that look like a police officer's hat. Also, crazy storm jackets, and old machine gun, a bunch of broken army electronic equipment, and combat helmets.

I'm gonna start shopping there so next time you see me you probably won't be able to see me because I'll blend in perfectly with the background.

On our way out of this alley we were harassed to buy a custom made suit "really really cheap." I told him the only cheap I was interested in was free and he said "yeah yeah almost free." I shook this guy off really fast but Matt doesn't have that ability yet and politely tells the hagglers things like "Oh, okay, I might be back tomorrow" which causes the haggler to haggle even more.

We then went up the one main street I haven't walked up yet. This is where the big dance bars are called Cancun something and King Club. I haven't been to either of these places yet but I'm sure I'll end up stumbling in there some night. As you pass the big clubs, you walk by a few smaller establishments with signs only in English. I noticed the name on one of the signs: "Nymph Bar." And just as I was gonna point out the amusing name to Matt a scantily clad Russian girl opens the door and says "Hey, come in. Where you going?" and instantaneously the door of the next bar (called Bar Ing) opens and an under dressed Korean girl says "Come have some fun." I told them we were just walking so they closed the doors and let us be.

As we came back down the other side of the street the same thing happened at a bar called the "Cabin" and this girl was best the best looking girl yet, but we still kept walking. If I wasn't raised as a good Catholic I could probably spend a bit of money in this place, but thankfully I got that Catholic guilt.

Apparently, this is just the tip of the iceberg. Somewhere in this area is what's known as Homo Hill and thankfully we didn't stumble through that place.

There's another alleyway in this area that is just apartments but the doors are all open and as you walk through the hookers come out to the street and try to drag you in. I think this is the proper hooker hill and not the place with the bars. I'm gonna have to go check it out the next time I'm in Itaewon because it's things like this you can't see back home.

Well, you could probably find a somewhat similar place in Toronto or Vancouver but they'd all be junkies or crackheads and it probably wouldn't exactly be the safest place in the city to go. The same can probably be said here but the one major difference is that street drugs are not a problem in Korea and without drugs in the equation I think you can generally feel a lot safer.

I do have one question though. You a person feel safe in a place that's also referred to as "VD Hill?"

Literate...

I'm finally able to read the Korean alphabet. I still don't know what I'm reading but I can read it. It comes in handy for a few things such as using the messenger system on my school's computers because I can now read people's names. It's also good for distinguishing if a place is a bar or a noribang (karaoke room). Seriously, one-third of every "bar" in the bar areas are actually karaoke rooms.

Friday night I went to Gundae and went to a few bars with Matt. Ended up at this one place and the bartender's name was Bobby. He was probably the fruitiest dude I've seen yet in Korea but he was a nice guy and gave us a free cocktail.

I asked Bobby if he could recommend the busiest or biggest bar in the area and as I expected, he said this bar was the biggest one in the area. Maybe it was true, but the place wasn't that big, although it did have two levels.

I've come to realize that Korean's aren't overly helpful when it comes to recommending night clubs. Well, I should rephrase that and say the Korean bartenders aren't any help at all. Even my bartender friend, Sonny (who's wedding I attended yesterday... more on that later), claims that he doesn't really know much about any other bar besides the one he works at.

But anyway, yeah, I can read now... If only I knew what I was reading...

Monday, December 04, 2006

The communication barrier...

Last week one of my best hometown buddies, Matt, arrived in Seoul to begin his career as a fellow English teacher. We went out on the town Friday and Saturday night and learned a few things.

First off, I've reinforced the notion that fish and booze don't mix for me. After a night of drinking beer we closed up the Woodstock Bar and headed out to drink some soju with a few Koreans we met earlier in the night. We ordered some soju, a delicious soup, and some type of fish.

The fish was good but booze and fish just don't mix for me. We weren't even through the second bottle of soju and I felt that watery-mouth feeling and headed to the bathroom. I threw up the fish in the sink and knew it was time to stop drinking, even though I wasn't overly drunk (honestly, I wasn't, I'm serious).

When I got back to the table "Dave," one of the Korean dudes, was passed out hard on the table. His friend "Simon" was hitting him on the head and giving him swivels tryna wake him up. For those of you who never went to St. Francis Xavier in Deer Lake I'll enlighten you about the sqivel. It's simply a hard-ass slap on the back of the neck and they hurt like hell.

Well, they didn't hurt "Dave" and he just remained passed out until "Simon" literally yanked him up and dragged him outta the bar.

Saturday night was even more eventful and also a great learning experience.

We went to Sincheon and went to a bar. We left that bar and while we were walking up the street two dudes came up to us tryna get us to go to some bar. One guy had full camouflage on so we just said alright. These guys get paid to yank people off the street and get them to go to their bar and drink.

The bar was a nice relaxing loungey place with some nice girls working there. After a few we left and hit the road again.

We didn't take more than 20 steps and another dude was tryna get us to go to some bar. The last bar worked out so again we said "sure" and followed him to a back alley where he told us his nickname was Superman.

We walk in the door to a place called Hackers and go down the stairs. There's a man in a suit behind a desk and I show him the card Superman gave me and he presses a button and the door opens. Immediately inside the door was this round spinning, lit-up circle spinning below our feet and it looked cool, but hard to explain.

Anyway, this place was big and full of people. It has big gold statues of Greek looking gods and a huge dance floor. Strangely enough, the dance floor was empty.

So a server comes and leads us to a table and I ask for a beer and he says "no beer just whiskey and rum." Matt and I are like "okay whatever man" and the dude takes off and show up at our table a few minutes later with a big ass plate of fruit, a bottle of liquor, a few cans of mix, a bottle of water, half a dozen shot glasses and half a dozen regular glasses.

He then says "ten" and by now I was totally confused. I took out 10,000 Won ($10) and he say "TEN." I then realized he wanted ten 10,000 Won bills and I looked at Matt and again, we said "To hell with it, we're here." So the dude takes off and we start to drink our $100 bottle of liquor.

Then about five minutes later our server comes back with two girl in tow and sits them at out table. It was at this instant that I realized what was going on.

We had been dragged into what is known here as a "booking club." I read about these things online before I came to Korea but kinda forgot all about them until that instant.

Okay, here's the deal. You pay the money not only for the liquor, but for the convenient setup of having girls brought to your table for you to chat with, dance with, and then who knows what... Maybe end up marrying one. These girls aren't hookers or anything like that. They just go to these places to, presumably, drink for free and try to meet a guy. All of the girls were quite pretty and I would say most of them are university aged.

So here we are, the only two white guys in the place (that I saw at least), at this place by chance tryna talk to strange Korean girls who know zero English, and we knew zero Korean. It was a strange interesting experience.

So the first girls are gone from our table in about three minutes because we couldn't talk to them and they were probably afraid of us. After those girls disappeared we introduced ourselves to the guys sitting at the table next to us and thankfully one of them spoke English. He explained how the place worked at told us that all we had to do was hold up the lamp on our table and they'd bring more girls to us. Then he grabbed our lamp and held it up in the air laughing.

And sure enough, within five minutes two more girls were led to our table. Once again, no English and I was kinda tryna say "just get up and go if you want because we don't even know what were doing here."

So there we were, sitting in some booking club with no chance in hell of "booking," drinking a $100 bottle of cheap whiskey laughing at ourselves for getting into this situation in the first place. Once the liquor was gone, so were we.

All I gotta say is I really have to learn how to speak Korean...

Thursday, November 30, 2006

I ain't getting paid for this...

Yeah I've been lazy with the blogs lately. Too busy these days.

I have some after school lessons a few times a week and they are eating up my time, but keeping my pockets lined.

I've also been preparing for the winter English camp. The deadline for "materials" was supposed to be sometime next week but it got changed to Friday, which is tomorrow. It got pushed forward because the school has to finish their budget or some shit and the English camp materials are included in this budget.

I told my head co-teacher that the whole situation is petty. All I need for the camp is some paper that is gonna come from the big stash of paper the school already has. Whoever gave this "command" is making us rush through the creation of this camp so they can write a few numbers on some balance sheet.

They never told me about the new deadline until Tuesday so it gave me three days to finish my stuff. But, Tuesday I teach a lesson to the staff from 3-4:30 so that afternoon was wrote off (believe it or not, I actually have to prepare for those classes too), and Wednesday I had to go out with the grade six teachers for lunch which never ended until 4:00. So this week is wrote off basically except for today.

I even did some work at home tonight (the first time all year) but I'm nowhere near completed what needs to be done. I told my co-workers I didn't think I'd be able to finish this up by Friday so it won't be no surprise.

And to make things even better, Dong-sik was supposed to compile all this stuff tomorrow (I have a hard time using HWP, the Korean version of Microsoft Word) but he got called in by the Army to do a day of training or something. So now that he's gone it's impossible for this to get finished by tomorrow so all bets are off.

He said he'll get to shoot some guns though.

I wish I got to take a day off a fire a few rounds.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Technology sucks...

I'm here at a PC Room for the first time since I got the internet at my apartment. I'm here with my Korean co-teacher on a Saturday afternoon waiting to meet his friends and go to a jam room. You can rent rooms fully equipped with drums, amps, guitars, mics, and a PA system for about 25-30 bucks an hour. We got here early so now we're just killing time.

So I'm writing a blog and he's playing Star Craft, the Korean national past time.

Here's a few funny things that have happened to me lately.

The grade sixes were gone on a field trip most of this week so the principal wanted to go to the grade three classes with my co-teacher. One of the students speaks decent English because her mom is from Singapore and teachers English here in Seoul. I was talking to this little girl and I was very impressed with her English.

We did an activity in that class and the students had to stand up. When I looked at this little girl she had on a pair of tights with a design made up of green leaves. The leaves were actually marijuana leafs and here in Korea 90 percent of the people would not even recognize it.

Yesterday I walked into my "office" and my computer wouldn't turn on. Then I noticed the smell of burnt electronics and I walked into the hallway and the maintenance men were messing with the fuse box. There was a power surge and it zapped two computers and the heater in our teacher's room. This meant that all of material I had prepared for that day was outta reach and I couldn't print it off so I couldn't really do any work.

I started messing with my cell phone because I was bored and I accidently pushed a wrong button that locked my phone. Because the phone was used, the generic password didn't work because the previous owner must have put her own password on the phone.

So there I was with no computer and no phone. Pretty shitty day.

I had to go teach a grade six class so I decided to get one of the good students to start entering numbers on my phone to hopefully unlock the thing. During class, she tried numbers 0000-0500 with no luck. After class one of my co-teachers suggested going to the cell phone service center to get my phone unlocked. It was 1:40 when we left. I had to be back at 3:00 to teach an after school class to the teachers.

My main co-teacher got kinda upset when she heard I left, according to one of my other co-teachers. She was like "Those lessons are private lessons and Richard can't miss that class. He has to teach it."

Well, the joke was on her because I got back to school at 3:00 on the button and taught the class with absolutely no materials besides a sheet of idioms I had printed off. I haven't spoke to her about it yet but I have a feeling I'm gonna get a lecture from her on Monday.

Oh well.

So today I went and bought a new phone. Well, it's used, but it's new to me anyway. And the thing actually has English menus on it so my life has just gotten a whole lot easier. Now I can actually use all the features on my phone, most importantly the alarm clock. I've been using my watch as my alarm and those quiet little beeps are sometimes not enough to wake me from my slumber.

Amazingly, I haven't been late for school yet though. My biological clock wakes me up just in time to rush through breakfast and catch the bus.

Well, I'm off to go jam some Korean pop. Can't say I saw that coming when I decided to come here...

Monday, November 20, 2006

Too sexy...

Last night I went to a Korean friend's house for dinner. His "English name" is Sonny. His girlfriend cooked us a delicious meal. He's one of the few Korean friends I have that I don't work with. He's the dude who was juggling the flaming liquor bottles at that bar I frequent quite often.

He gave me an hour of Korean lessons in exchange for an hour of English lessons. Good trade and I think I'll actually learn a thing or two by doing this. Well, maybe.

Anyway, here's the point. After we finished the language trade we went out to some bar and had a few beers. Many of his friends at the Red Dog (the place he works) told me that Sonny used to be quite the player before he met his current girlfriend (who he will marry next month).

I can't tell if a white dude is handsome, and it's basically impossible for me to know if a Korean dude is handsome. So last night Sonny goes to the bathroom and his girlfriend tells me he used to be a model. He's 31 years old now and his modeling career has been over for a long time and this struck me as extremely funny.

I've never hung out with a model before.

So he comes out of the bathroom and I ask him about it and he says it's true. I asked him what his biggest gig was and he said about ten years ago he had a picture in the Korean version of Elle magazine. Then he tells me (very quietly so his girlfriend can't hear him) that after that photo was published he could have any girl he wanted pretty much. So I guess all the shit his friends said about him being a stud is true.

His modeling career didn't last long though. He is only about my height which means he is much too short to be a model.

But I guess he had a pretty good run...

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Open up...

Yesterday I had my open class. This was a chance for the Principals and head teachers of each grade to come and have a look at my class. All teachers in Korea have to do this during their first three years of teaching.

Thankfully, it was a grade four class and not grade six.

The lesson went extremely well, mainly because my co-teacher had an extra class with the students to teach them the games and songs in advance. I would call this cheating, but it's normal over here. We also decorated our classroom the day before the observation and even made special laminated signs to stick on the black board to illustrate the days objectives.

Like I've said in a previous post, it's all about appearance and presentation over here.

Today after school the Principal took the teachers who had open classes out for dinner. Earlier in the day, one of the grade three teachers brought me some homemade bulgogi that I will cook at home tomorrow. And I also got a big bag full of the left over spaghetti that was served for lunch at school.

The funny thing is that I just took chicken out of the freezer yesterday that I was gonna cook tonight, but instead I've been overloaded with food in just a few short hours. It's strange how things work out sometimes.

I also found out some info about the English camp I have to teach during winter break in January. The only thing I remember is that I will make over $1000 during the two week camp, plus my usual monthly salary. Pretty sweet.

The only problem is that the camp begins January 3rd, and we have orientation on the 2nd. This kinda ruins any plans I wanted to make over my Christmas holidays so now I'll probably just stay in Seoul over X-mas instead of taking a trip somewhere. Maybe I can still manage to squeeze in a short vacation somewhere but I doubt it.

I guess this is the price I pay for being a slack ass for the last few years.

So no, I wouldn't say Karma is a bitch. But she's definitely a bit prickish.

Monday, November 13, 2006

"Well, there must be a lot of Koreans burning in hell..."

Friday was a school holiday but the teachers didn't really have the day off. We met at the school, hopped on a bus, and went to a temple and another historic site. They were passing out beer on the bus by 10AM.

The temple was called Sooduk Temple and I'll post a photo gallery to the right. Not much else to say about it really. It was in the mountains and I saw some monks. Maybe next time I go to a temple I'll give a shout out to Buddha, but I really wouldn't have the faintest clue what to say to the dude.

Our next stop was more interesting only because of the historical significance of the place. It was called Haemieupseong or Haemi Castle (although there was no castle anywhere). In the mid-1800's, a shit load of Catholics were killed there. I told my buddy Jacobs back in Canada about the place. He put it best when he said "Well, there must be a lot of Koreans burning in hell for that one."

I'm a Catholic and I'd have to agree. I'm not what one would call a "practicing" Catholic but I got R.C. pride. I think it goes back to the Catholic school I went to as a child. I always enjoyed watching my older cousins beat the local Protestant school at basketball, but unfortunately by the time I was playing the schools had amalgamated and I missed out on this pleasure.

Anyways, here's what I know about this place. Korea was still being ruled by the Joseon Dynasty and was still a Confucian-based society. Catholicism was growing and the leaders didn't like it so they'd torture and kill Catholics.

During the great persecution of 1866, so many of us awaited execution that the killing process had to be changed. At first,Christians were crushed to death individually under huge stones. Others were hanged from a large tree,which still stands inside the fortress. They'd hang some of us by wires from our hair. The wire marks can still be seen on the tree today.

The italicized section below is from some website I found. Skip it if you want.

With the collapse of the central power in China and Japan' s opening to the West in the 1850s, the Western influence in Korea was imminent and unavoidable. In fact, between 1866 and 1871 Korea faced invasions from three military powers: the Russian Empire, France, and the United States.

With the impending Russian invasion in 1866, two Catholic leaders suggested t
hat the Taewon'gun should consult the French Bishop--who was still a secret resident--on the proper course of action, i.e., forming a triple alliance between England, France and Korea. The Prince Regent seemed open to this suggestion at first, but the anti-foreign (or anti-Christian) faction in the Uijongbu (State Council) prevailed and the bishop was eventually executed in March of 1866, marking the beginning of the Great persecution which lasted until 1871.

The Persecution of 1866 alone took a toll of over eight thousand martyrs, almost half the total of Catholic adherents in the country at the time (by then, there were eight foreign clerics in the country and more than 18,000 believers). Because of numerous coastal confrontations between Korea and the Western powers during that period, Christianity became identified with the Western "gunboat diplomacy", and foreign Catholic missionaries, who were residing illegally in Korea, were perceived by the government as agents of foreign powers (check out this site for a detailed history of Catholicism in Korea).

Here's the tree. It looks tough.


Not only did they tie us to trees, but they also tied us on to these crucifix shaped things and tortured and killed us. This is what those things looked like when they had a real-life Catholic awaiting his fate.

So yes, Jacobs is probably right by saying there are many Koreans getting a great tan South of heaven.

After all of that excitement things took a turn for the worse. We got on the bus and went to the Korean coast to eat seafood. There was only one problem for me; they eat their fish raw and some of it is actually still moving.

For real.

I read about this before I came here so I was mentally prepared, knowing that at one point or another I would have to eat something that was still moving.

Those red things in the middle (I dunno what they were but they looked like some type of octopus "leg" or some shit) were expanding and contracting and pulsating all over that green shit.

I tried one and that was enough.

It didn't really taste bad but the texture was too chewy. I quickly drank a shot of soju to wash away any remnants that may have still been in my mouth.

The next plate that was brought out had about 5 different raw fish on it. The Principal saw that I wasn't eating any of it so he ordered me a cooked fish, head and all, and it was great. He even ordered one for himself, maybe so I wouldn't feel like such a wimp, I dunno.

Then we headed out to another room and grilled some clams.

The guy to my left is one of the maintenance guys at my school. He was getting good and drunk by now. When we left the main table to come out here he stole a bottle of wine from the table and put it in his coat. That's my kinda dude.

His wife is from the Philippines and speaks English, so he could (barely) speak a little himself.

The two girls are grade five teachers. Pretty girls. The one on my left is only 22 years old and she's a homeroom teachers. I got respect for that.

When I was 22 I can't really picture myself in those shoes. Heck, I can't even see myself in those shoes now.

And oh yeah, had to add this photo. This was one of the displays at the R.C. killing fields.

Us Catholics always get the last laugh...

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Bipolar...

Tuesdays are the worst day of the week for me. It's the day that I begin teaching grade sixes who are a bunch of brats.

Well, that's not a fair statement. Thirty percent of my grade six classes are just a waste of my time for the most part. Every third week or so these classes are manageable but most of the time we just spend the class trying to yell over them.

Today I gave up trying to yell over them.

We were in the process of beginning an English game after a failed lesson. I didn't even wanna let them play the game but we had nothing else for them to do for the remainder of the class. We explained the rules, put them into their teams, and attempted to play the game. One group just wouldn't participate, the second group were acting like monkeys, and the third group didn't know how to play. The game was simple because we played it before and it went over fine.

My Korean co-teacher was yelling over the students and I looked at him and said "This is pointless" and I yelled out "Game over!!"

I made all the kids sit down and I handed each one of them a blank sheet of unlined paper. I then approached the black board and wrote "I will be sensible in English class." I didn't want to write "I will be good in English class" because that seems to vague. I got my Korean teacher to explain what sensible meant to them the best he could. I then told the students to write this out 25 times on the sheet of paper.

I told them if they didn't get it finished it would be homework and I wanted it brought to my office first thing tomorrow. Some of the kids just sat there while the others began writing, realizing there was only 15 minutes left of the class. I walked around to the kids who weren't writing and let them know I was serious and if I didn't have this paper when they left class, I expected it tomorrow and if I didn't get it their homeroom teacher and principal would be notified.

Within a few minutes the classroom was silent and all the kids were writing. I noticed one boy who had splints on two fingers on his right hand. He was feverishly writing with his left hand so I told him he only had to write out ten lines because he was right handed.

The bell soon rang and a third of the kids were finished and the other kids didn't' move. They sat there and wrote. I must admit I was quite surprised by this.


There is a ten minute break between each class at my school and I guess the kids realized it was better to finish the work now rather than do it at home.

By the end of the break, I had 25 lines from each student. Multiply that by the 31 kids that were in class that day and you have yourself 775 lines. The next time they are uncontrollable, they will be writing 50 lines, and the next time, 75, and so on.

This ain't something I wanted to do but today I was just fed up with this particular class and their antics. Each week it's the same story and the worst part is that a few students in this class are genuinely interested in English and I know they come from underprivileged backgrounds. They can't afford to go to hagwons like some of the other students and the hour or two that they spend learning English at school is the only chance they get. I'm actually considering having a 30 minute class once a week after school for any kids that are interested. Of course, I will only take limited students and the selection process will be totally controlled by me and only me. I don't know if the school will allow this though because they have an American guy who teaches after school a couple times a week but the students have to pay for this.

So anyway, the grade six class that followed was fine. The kids sang the song, they answered my questions, and they played the game with relative sanity.

The grade four class beforehand was great. I feel bipolar because for 40 minutes everything is fine and I'm loving my job, and then the next 40 minutes make me wanna quit or strangle a few kids, then it's back to 40 minutes of love.

Thankfully, only Tuesdays are usually like this because even though there are some other grade six classes that aren't great, they aren't nearly as unbearable as that one class I had today. Hopefully next week they will be a little more reserved in order to avoid writing 50 lines of English.

At least my Mondays are great. I only teach grade fours and they are awesome. Just look this dude.

He can be a handful at times but I can manage that, and at this age they still have fear of the Korean teachers.

The grade sixes though are more like a truckloadful coming to run over everything that's in their path.

The judge, and the jury...

Yesterday my school began it's "English Speaking Contest." One student from each class is selected and then they have speak some English in front of me and my co-teachers. We are the judge, and the jury.

What surprised me the most was that these kids had to memorize the stories they presented. There was no one in the room besides the students and us teachers. The students were so nervous that I almost felt nervous.

The grade threes began the event and all of the contestants were flawless. To be honest, it was virtually impossible to judge who was the best out of the seven students. They all knew their stories word for word and their pronunciation was just about equal.

Then the grade fours stepped up to the plate and most of them struck out. The first two students got through their stories but their pronunciation wasn't as good as the students who followed them. But the rest of the grade fours panicked and froze on multiple occasions so a teacher had to lead them on.

I kinda felt bad for the kids. I said to my co-teachers that this was more of a "Memorize an English Story Contest" than an "English Speaking Contest." We all had different opinions of who was the best "English Speaker" and we eventually came to an agreement for each grade.

Well, actually, I was able to sway them in my direction so I didn't really agree on anything but I'm more English than them so I guess they thought I should have the final say.

Tomorrow it's the grade fives and sixes turn to be devastated and be forced into taking the first step toward hating English.

Protect your neck...

Most of the shirts in Korea have English words instead of Korean. The makers of these shirts don't hire an editor and a lot of the time the message makes little sense. I spend the first few minutes of each class checking out the kid's shirts looking for a laugh.

Last week, a girl in one of my grade six classes had a t-shirt on that was covered with English words. It went something like this...

Be safe. Be respect. No take chance. Be smart. Fight HIV. Help people. Learn for AIDS. Protect yourself. Wear a condor.

Later that week I noticed a boy's shirt in grade six that had perfect grammar but it cracked me up. I started busting out laughing while I was teaching. The shirt was kinda old and faded. It was blue and behind the letters there was a sun and a palm tree. The text read as follows:

"I lost my virginity in Madagascar."

Amazing, just amazing.

I did a Google search and I can't find a shirt like this but I did I find a hat and it's exactly the same design as the shirt.Pretty cool hey.

I wanted to ask the kid to sell me the shirt but I'd have too much explaining to do to all of the teachers at my school. They probably wouldn't get the humour.

But to be more serious, I just hope that boy wore a condor on that humid night back in Madagascar.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Cultured...

Yesterday was long.

My school district gathered all of the English teachers together at 8AM. We soon met up with another group of teachers from a different district and were whisked onto a bus towards some mountains that sprout really expensive mushrooms.

Three and a half hours later we reached our initial destination, a place called Dosansewon, or Dosan Academy for all the English dummies like myself.

Here's the low down on this place according to my good friend Wikipedia.

Dosan Seowon (alternatively, Tosansowon) was established in 1574 in what is present day Andong, South Korea, in memory of and four years after the death of Confucian scholar Yi Hwang by some of his disciples and other Confucian authorities. Yi Hwang had retired to the location in 1549 and begun construction on the facility, a private Confucian academy offering instruction in the classics and honouring the sages with regular memorial rites.

Like other Confucian academies, Dosan Seowon serves two purposes: education and commemoration. The site was well known in Korea as one of the leading academies and was home to the Toegye School of Thought for over 400 years. Although the educational function of the facility has long since ceased, the commemorative ceremonies have been and are still held twice a year.

This place is also pictured on the back of the Korean 1000 Won bill ($1).

Next we went to some restaurant that serves special mushrooms that are picked from the nearby mountains. Apparently the natural mountain mushrooms tastes much different than ones that people grow elsewhere, even though they are the same breed or species or something.

The food was good and with it they served some traditional Korean alcoholic beverage. Just what one needs before hiking up a mountain.

Then it was back on the bus and we headed to Mount Cheongryang Provincial Park to climb up a mountain and check out a temple. The fall weather was perfect for hiking and the leaves on the trees were awesome, although the colors of the leaves back home in the Humber Valley are much more vibrant. But there's no temple on the side of a mountain back home so I guess everything's even.

I can't tell you anything about this temple but some Buddhists still live there, or at least they hang out there in the day.

Ya know, it must get kinda annoying having hundreds of people come by your pad everyday taking pictures and then taking off when they're had their fill.

By now we're about three hours behind schedule and the next event on our agenda is a seminar about teaching. We get back on the bus and one of the district supervisors tells us we're just gonna connect the seminar on the bus on our way back to Seoul. A few of the second year teachers said a few words, talked about a couple of lessons (and they kept it extremely brief!), and then we had our usual bitch-fest.

Every time us English teachers get together on official business, our "seminars" and "discussions" always turn into one big criticism of the Korean education system and the way things are done at our respective schools. The topic of discipline and teacher's expectations of students is another hot one. Thankfully, I don't' have much to complain about at my school so I didn't get myself involved. It's just the same ol' bullshit each time.

We finally arrive back in Seoul at about 9:30PM, ninety minutes behind schedule, and we go to a kalbi restaurant. Dong-sik, my co-teacher went home, and he told me today that he threw up last night. He did have a bad flu all week, but I think he couldn't handle the mountain mushrooms.

With the meal comes a few bottles of soju, then a few bottles of beer. By this time I was simply ready to go home and sleep so when a few of the guys (and the district supervisors) said they were heading across the street to a bar, I declined. I wouldn't usually do this but the night before the hike I was out drinking with the "Young Men's and Women's Club" from my school and I needed half a night's rest at least.

Although the hike was yesterday, I'm dead tired again tonight but I made the stupid choice of washing a load of laundry and I'm waiting for the dumb machine to stop.

It really takes about 1.5-2 hours to wash one load of clothes.

But I suppose that's a lot faster than it takes to dry by hanging it on some rack...

Monday, October 30, 2006

Hail hail...

So it turns out that the girl I met up with Saturday is a "Christian." I have no problem with "Christians" but here in Korea a "Christian" is closer to someone who is Pentecostal than say, and Anglican. What I mean is that "Christians" are kinda serious about religion and it's not like back home.

She had to go home relatively early because she had to go to church in the morning.

And in January she's moving to San Francisco for two months to live with her Aunt and Uncle. He's a pastor and he's been studying scripture for something like 20 years on scholarships. Wow.

So I've met two "Christian" females here (not counting teachers at my school, but they don't count) and one was kinda crazy (the girl who said "I love him, he loves me, but no sex! I don't understand") and the other one is really involved in her church.

I just find it strange when I see young people who are actually involved with church, but I'm thinking maybe I should just start going myself. It's probably a good place to meet women.

Here's the best picture I took this weekend.

There were girls all over the street with those "Free Hugs" signs. I dunno why they were giving away free hugs but it seems like a decent idea I suppose.

But more interesting is the old white guy in the photo. He had two megaphones attached to a long pole that was attached to a sign that said something like "Jesus died for you." He was going up and down the street passing out flyers and giving people a calming smile.

I think he was trying to pick up girls too but didn't wanna go to church to do so.

So after I left the Insadong area I decided to stop into the Gundae area (I dunno how it's spelled). I stopped into a bar I regularly frequent and then went to a few others bars that I've never been to.

One place was called "The Wall" and I was expecting the place to be cool and Pink Floydish but instead I walked in and they had a Barbara Streisand concert playing on the TV. I've always wondered who but Streisand albums and now I know.

The bartender spoke some English and he gave me a really cool Jack Daniels lighter.

I dunno why he gave it to me. I guess I deserved it for some unknown reason.

It was at this moment that I realized a regular rum and Coke is about 5000 Won, but Bacardi 151 is only 7000 Won.

Bacardia 151 is 75% alcohol.

So I started drinking these and soon headed off to another bar. I can't remember the name of the place but there were only a few people inside. Actually, there were more bartenders than customers so the service was exquisite. These Korean dudes kept going "cheers!!" but I was drinking 151 so if I drank at their pace I would've probably died.

They were drinking Bud.

I decided to try to get one of the Korean dudes to try my drink so he'd understand what I was trying to communicate to him and after one sip he got it. Then him and his buddies all got a 151 and Coke and with that the frequency of "Cheers!!!!" dropped rather quickly.

It was getting late by now so I decided it would be best to grab a taxi and head home.

On my way to the main street the congruity of the evening showed her face once again on some sign that made little sense to me besides for one word.

I then looked up and this is what I saw.

I tried to go in but the door was locked.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Very good for health...

Tonight I went out with the "Men's Club" at my school. This is just the male teachers and maintenance staff. We went to a restaurant near my school and ate some pork called twaeji-galbi which is delicious.

The only problem was that instead of drinking regular soju the principal kept ordering this brown stuff that was a mix of soju and ginseng. It tasted pretty bad and it kinda grossed me out a bit. I intended to go out tonight but I'm not feeling up to it now, or I should say my stomach's not feeling up to it.

Whenever something tastes bad here the Koreans tell me "Very good for health." Whenever I hear that something is healthy now I'm very skeptical and usually expect it to taste like crap. I even joke around with my co-teachers about this and when they say "Very good for health" I usually respond "So it tastes really bad then?"

But besides my stomach, all is well. I'm going to go meet one of the Korean girls I met last weekend tomorrow although I don't know if it's a "date" or not. Talking to Koreans on the phone is a rather confusing thing, especially when they are walking down a busy street and you can barely hear what they are saying. I was attempting to make it a date but I'll have to wait and see I guess.

I also don't know the ins and outs of going out with a girl here so my confused state is probably for the best anyways.

Besides, there's nothing like solving a good mystery.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Quiet...

Not much to say these days. I'm in a good groove with work, although I'm a little busier than I want to be because of the after school classes I have to teach. Those extra three hours, plus an hour of planning, really eat away at my time. I find myself having to catch up on lesson plans because they want everything typed up. It's kinda ridiculous but there ain't a thing I can do about it.

I went out for dinner with the grade five teachers yesterday and got to know a few more of the young teachers. One girl is only 22 years old and she's a homeroom teacher! We went to VIPS and had the buffet salad bar which was awesome.

Today I went to an imports grocery store with another teacher. The place was small but they had things such as french fries, cans of (normal) soup, chicken nuggets (which were 25 bucks a bag so none for me), frozen lasagna and many more things. The prices were outrageous but I still came home with as much as I could carry.

And today was also payday so now I gotta figure out the cheapest way to send money back to Canada so I can pay off the loan I got for this computer, pay off my Roger's phone bill (I been waiting nearly 3 weeks for an email from them bastards) and if there's any money left after that, I'll probably waste it on Ebay.

Gotta love Ebay.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

The fun ratio...

Last night takes the prize for being my most fun outing since I've arrived here in the R.O.K.

I left work with Dong-sik (my male co-teacher) and went to Seoul National University of Education to meet some of his friends. This university pumps out 500 elementary teachers a year it is solely an elementary education university.

Me and about 10 of his buddies went to a restaurant and ate some pork. We then headed to the university to watch the guitar clubs annual performance. Dong-sik and his friends played one song.

Because the university is only for elementary education, the females greatly outnumbers the males so well over half of the performers were females.

It was such an entertaining show to watch even though I didn't understand anything the MC said and 90 percent of the songs were sang in Korean. They were mostly Korean pop songs with a songs with only guitar.

Nearly all of the songs were performed by at least eight people, some requiring a dozen players. Bass, two acoustic guitars, two electric guitars, a drummer, keyboards, back-up singers, a lead singer, and a couple of random percussionists. Like I already said, most of these people were girls so that made it even better for me.

The music was usually upbeat and happy and it was exactly what I thought typical Korean pop would be. One of the male singers was so into it that I was nearly busting out laughing the whole time, and many of the Koreans sitting around me couldn't hold in their laughter.

I think most of the musicians were beginners, or maybe just really nervous because much of the playing had very little soul. I like my music to be loose, but this was quite the opposite. All I can say is that the gigantic smiles of most of the musicians kinda evened out the lack of feel.

All in all though, a great show that was run very smoothly and everyone there had a great time.

When the concert ended, everyone headed to a nearby bar for drinks and once the Koreans finally loosened up, due to English Juice (AKA alcohol), I had no trouble finding people to talk with. Everyone there was either a university student or a recent graduate so they all studied English for their degree and many of them had an impressive grasp of the language.

I met so many people got the phone numbers and emails of many, many people, though mostly girls who could speak English. Most of them were typically very interested in talking to the "foreign guy" but their brains can only handle so much English before need a break. Thinking and drinking are not two things that mix very well, and in order for them to talk English I believe it requires a great deal of concentration.

So after a while I decided to keep my conversations relatively short and keep moving from table to table. I also met a lot more people like this and I didn't give people English exhaustion.

I drank A LOT of booze last night because with every new table came new people, and new people meant more shots of soju. I was down with this and I think a lot of the Korean dudes (the few that were there anyway) were quite impressed with this white boys drinking skill. It pay to be a Newfy.

Another thing that helped me, and everyone else there, drink all night is that food keeps getting brought to the tables throughout the night. The were bringing sausages, cold spicy spaghetti, corn chips that have a fishy flavor, boneless chicken pieces with a delicious hot sauce, and a bunch of other shit that I decided it was probably best for me to stay very far away from in order to avoid having to go toilet hugging.

I had so much fun that now I only want to hang out with Koreans and I'll probably tag along with Dong-sik quite often from now on. At the end of the night things got a little confusing though. Korean culture showed her face and I was in the middle of it.

Dong-sik tells me he's going to meet some of his tae-kwon-do friends and he says I can go but I wasn't really interested. I was much more content to go where ever his other friends and all the girls were going. So myself, Dong-sik, and another Korean dude take a quick run to a convenience store and the other Korean guy, who I think said his English name was Josh misunderstood the situation.

Josh is older than Dong-sik so the whole hierarchy and respect thing is just a part of the way they interact and Josh thought Dong-sik was ditching me. Dong-sik was trying to explain that I was fine to go on without Dong-sik but Josh thought this was really rude or something. The two of them are arguing in Korean for about five minutes while I stand next to them drinking my bottle of water.

After they finish their conversation Dong-sik says he will stay with me but I'm like "No man, you go meet your friends and I'll just go with the flow here. I'm fine."

Dong-sik was well aware of this but I think Josh thought I needed to be babysat by Dong-sik. I explained that I had been out many nights in this city and I can manage on my own. There's nothing to worry about... blah blah blah...

This takes another five minutes and finally everyone is in agreement, at least I think we were. So we walk around the corner and head back to the bar and everyone is gone. Dong-sik's phone was dead so he had no way of calling anyone so because of this whole "Don't ditch Richard, you must take care of him" thing I missed out on the extension of the party.

I was kinda pissed and jumped in a taxi and went home. The cab only cost 10 bucks though (the Korean's predicted 20 bucks) so by the time I got home I wasn't angry because I was feeling pretty shitty anyway

Judging by how terrible I felt today, staying out any later definitely would have a been a really really bad idea.

And this brings me to the fun ratio.

Last night I would say was about a 9/10 in terms of fun. Great supper, great concert, a load of girls (this is very important to the fun ratio, maybe the most important criterion actually), a great bar, lots of drinks, lots of English speaking, made some new friends, and got a cheap taxi ride home.

But the problem with the fun ratio is that a 9/10 only leaves you with one "fun point" remaining for the next day. The fun ratio lasts for at least 12 hours, so when I woke up this morning (well, this afternoon really) I only had one fun point in my pocket. What I'm trying to say is that this morning I was had about 1 out of 10 points for the fun department.

My head hurt and my stomach hurt because, yes, I had much too much fun last night. And everything in this world eventually evens itself out so I had to slowly restock my fun point potential.

Oh and one more thing I forgot to mention about why last night was so great. I never paid one cent for anything. The Koreans wouldn't take my money even though I offered.

So although the Korean culture ended my party time short, it did save me a bit of cash in the end.

Once again, things even them self out.

Peace.