Updates, etc.

Sorry I’ve been neglecting this blog (as usual).  I thought it hadn’t been that long but apparently it’s been more than a month.  Oops.  Here are some various updates from the last few months for those of you who still check this.

  • Final exams are fast approaching!  This means that students are anxious, many of my classes are cancelled, and most people around school (teachers and students alike) cannot wait for December 22.  My break schedule is really strange compared to have things go in American schools.  I’m off for a week between December 23 - January 1, I teach at a camp from January 2 - 20, then I’m off again January 21 - February 4, then I’m back at school from February 5 - 10, then I’m off again until March 5.  Odd, but there’s plenty of vacation time in there so I’m not complaining.  Still, I’m sick of reviewing for this exam and am dreading grading tests endlessly.  December 23, please come quickly.
  • From December 28 - January 1, I will be vacationing in TOKYO.  I’m so excited, as I’ve wanted to go there ever since I was in middle school.  My inner high school anime nerd is already coming out as I plan various activities with my friends in advance.  The city will apparently be packed (we had a lot of trouble finding a vacant hotel), but that’s all part of the excitement.  New Year’s should especially be fun.  Apparently the Japanese pull out all the stops.
  • I’ve had two visitors in Seoul over the past weeks: my friend Ian (from Australia, studying in Taiwan) and my friend Joachim (from Belgium).  It was fun showing them around the city and seeing Seoul through a visitor’s eyes all over again.  My friends here seemed to like my guests too, which was an added bonus.  In 2012, I have visits from my mother, my brother, my uncle, my friend Chris, and my friend Katie to look forward to.  People just can’t stay away from Seoul, I guess.


kimchi-monster:

Whilst being in Korea, I have unwillingly tried a multitude of unusual foods. Pig spine, pig trotters, chicken feet, dog, slugs… This is the first time, however, I have willingly gone out of my way and hunted for something strange to eat.

We arrived at Noryangjin subway station in Seoul, where we were immediately overwhelmed by the smell of sea salt. There is a marketplace right next door to the train tracks, where merchants dangle octopi in front of your face, and torment flat fish in barrels. Within five minutes of being there, we had already began to primitively search for the octopus we wanted to eat. After finding and naming him, a crazy lady lead us to her restaurant.

There we sat, with the pink elephant in the middle of the table. Who was going to eat it first?

Aristotle once said that the octopus is foolish since it will ‘approach a man’s hand if it be lowered in the water.’ My chopsticks beg to differ. The octopus was crafty and almost wriggled its way back to King Trident’s castle. Our octopus was, in fact, a genius. One only needs to cast their mind back to the 2010 World Cup to see how octopi are capable of predicting the future and capturing the World’s emotions with their intellectual superiority. (R.I.P. Pete) The octopus refused to give up and put up one hell of a fight before entering our cavernous mouths. In many ways, he had a lot of human in him… Beware of the octopus!

So after finally getting it into my mouth, it attached itself like super glue onto my tongue. So I had to chew. Chew, chew, chew like a train until that tentacle was nothing but a pulpy mass of squidge.


What does it taste like? A rubbery sea sausage filled with bile, that is partial to a bit of ink leakage here and there. Needless to say, I won’t be trying it again.

^ I second everything Stu said in entirety.  Live octopus is fine but I have no deep craving to try it again. 

This happens every morning without fail.

This happens every morning without fail.

We hiked along and through the river.  Here’s me representing the Cleveland Browns all the way out in Korea.

We hiked along and through the river.  Here’s me representing the Cleveland Browns all the way out in Korea.

Last weekend my friends and I decided to finally get out of the constant bustle of Seoul and into the middle of nowhere, so we caught a bus and headed 2 hours east to Pyeongchang, a lovely mountainous region (and also the site of 2018 winter Olympics).  We rented a “pension,” the Korean term for what was essentially a small rental cottage.
It was a short weekend away, but I think we’ll be doing it again soon.  The cottage was only about $20 per person and the bus ride round trip was also only $20.  Viva la pension! 

Last weekend my friends and I decided to finally get out of the constant bustle of Seoul and into the middle of nowhere, so we caught a bus and headed 2 hours east to Pyeongchang, a lovely mountainous region (and also the site of 2018 winter Olympics).  We rented a “pension,” the Korean term for what was essentially a small rental cottage.

It was a short weekend away, but I think we’ll be doing it again soon.  The cottage was only about $20 per person and the bus ride round trip was also only $20.  Viva la pension! 

The rental property even had a noraebang!  I can’t believe I haven’t talked about noraebangs here before, but they’ve been one of our favorite things in Seoul.  ”Noraebang” translates literally to “song room.”  A noraebang will have anywhere from 5 to 30 private rooms where you can relax with your friends and have a private karaoke party.  The “noraebooks” have hundreds (thousands?) of English, Japanese, and Korean songs to choose from.  At most you can order drinks, if not snacks or fancier food.  Anyway, even though we were trying to get to get out of the city, we just couldn’t pass on the noraebang.
From L to R: Ily, Christina, Rochelle, Kris, Scott, Jen, Cathy, my handNot pictured: Stu 

The rental property even had a noraebang!  I can’t believe I haven’t talked about noraebangs here before, but they’ve been one of our favorite things in Seoul.  ”Noraebang” translates literally to “song room.”  A noraebang will have anywhere from 5 to 30 private rooms where you can relax with your friends and have a private karaoke party.  The “noraebooks” have hundreds (thousands?) of English, Japanese, and Korean songs to choose from.  At most you can order drinks, if not snacks or fancier food.  Anyway, even though we were trying to get to get out of the city, we just couldn’t pass on the noraebang.

From L to R: Ily, Christina, Rochelle, Kris, Scott, Jen, Cathy, my hand
Not pictured: Stu 

Various recent anecdotes

- Korea’s national obsession with all things skincare has finally lured me in, especially since there’s a huge market for men as well.  My friend Stu and I had a Shameful Shopping Saturday this weekend and I was sucker to the allure of various masks, creams, and aftershaves that have left me vaguely greasy but nonetheless refreshed.  Updates once I’ve settled on a favorite mask scent.

- In the spirit of cultural diplomacy, I’ve been teaching a cheery Halloween lesson about the zombie apocalypse.  Students have to come up with 15 items for a Zombie Survival Kit and then see if they make it through my roleplay-type game in which they must escape Seoul, fight different types of zombies, kill off various group members, and make it to Jeju Island unscathed.  The boy teams tend to win simply because they can name about 10 varieties of weapons (and because, presumably, they’re more desperate for the candy prize if they win).  I was aghast to discover that my students have not heard of Mardi Gras or St. Patrick’s Day, so more holiday-themed food consumption is definitely on the docket for next semester.

- After a month of hip hop / Kpop dance lessons, I can confidently perform a body roll, a body wave, a hip pop, and the entirety of “Paradise” by Infinite.  I’ll post a video if I can muster the dignity.  

- To my horror, I’ve found that - aside from Texas and California - Korean students know almost nothing about the different American states.  When forced to name a third, most say “Los Angeles.” I understand that this topic is not a priority for the pedagogical masterminds of the Seoul Metropolitan Board of Education, but to me the different “personalities” of the states are a key facet of American culture and therefore - per my instruction at orientation - something I should be teaching.  So, in my high-level morning class I’ve been doing a few “road trip” lessons in which I “drive” with students through different states that I’ve traveled in, showing them pictures along the way of actual road trips I’ve taken.  Sadly, they seem unmoved by almost all of my goofy cultural and geographical anecdotes.  They simply don’t care that Elvis is from Memphis or that New Orleans is the home of cajun culture or that North Dakota is a topographical, existential wasteland.  Sigh.  Guess I’ll move back to Spongebob-themed lessons.

- I’ve managed to avoid a lot of frustrating, culture shock-y experiences as a foreigner both by planning for them ahead of time and by attempting at least the key phrases in Korean, but the post office has finally beat me.  Even in one’s native tongue, the postal service can be a vast web of red tape, weird regulations, and long lines, so if you add a foreign language on top of that, the end result will most always be frustration and new gray hairs.  I’ve gone twice now to the post office near me and have successfully mailed exactly zero items.  I’m still not exactly clear on what I’ve been doing wrong (the envelope? the address format? the customs declaration? the blood oath?) but a Korean teacher helped me today and I’m about to head back there now.  Third time’s a charm.  



 

Misconceptions of Korea

I heard and read a lot of things about Korea before I came here, many of them helpful and informative.  A good half, however, were categorically wrong.  A lot of people have heard “from a friend of a friend” what Korea is like, and it was most of these assumptions that turned out to be untrue.  Here’s a start on some of them.  I’m sure I’ll remember more along the way.

1. Korea is expensive

This was the most pleasant surprise of them all.  Being one of the largest cities in the world (second biggest by certain counts), I assumed that - like NYC or Tokyo - stuff in Seoul would be off-the-charts expensive.  I can’t tell you how many times I heard “Seoul? Wow, that’ll be expensive.” before I left.  In fact, life in the heart of Seoul is cheaper than it is in suburban Indiana.  Everything - food, drink, taxi fare, subway fare, clothing - is reasonably priced if not dirt cheap.  I got a pair of shoes for less than $10.  My subway fare is sometimes less than a dollar.  I can split an hour-long taxi ride with friends for less than $5 a person.  Dinners with tons of food and plenty of drinks are usually less than $15 a person.  So unless you’re shopping for imported groceries and luxury items, Korea is plenty cheap.

2. Koreans will stare at you because you are foreign

This is probably true out in the countryside, but in Seoul, foreigners are nothing special.  I have never been gawked at, prodded, or (to my knowledge) had my picture taken in the middle of the city.  The reality is that Seoul is a completely modernized city awash with foreigners, foreign media, and foreign businesses.  Yes, Korea has a complicated relationship with its foreigners, but for the most part my being a white dude goes completely unremarked on a day-to-day basis.  

3. Korea doesn’t have a lot of household items that you’re used to

This idea was sold to me by a order-ahead company for expats in Korea, who convinced me that it would be near impossible to find suitable deodorant, shampoo, bedding, towels, toothpaste, and even liquor here.  All of this is false.  In fact the $30 “Western” towels I bought from the company shed copiously and became unusable whereas the $10 fluffy towel I got from the store down the street works perfectly.  

My friend Scott cooking some pork at a traditional Korean barbecue restaurant.

My friend Scott cooking some pork at a traditional Korean barbecue restaurant.