Archive for October, 2010
It seems like everyday I am here in Daegu, Korea I learn something new about the culture. Yesterday, late afternoon while teaching one of my lower level classes I ascertained, quite emphatically, that Koreans do not wear deodorant. This discovery was not made by detecting a pungent odor, but rather through the unambiguous suffering of my students.
Early in the class, I noticed something very strange. Pizza Pan (this is the English name he chose) a normally outspoken, disruptive student was curiously subdued. Normally, he finds it difficult to resist chatting with others, yelling out random things about killing and death, and staying in his seat. On this day he was in noticeable discomfort. Later on I noticed a few students covering their noses as I walked by. Some appeared gasping for fresh air. I thought perhaps one of their peers was breaking wind or someone was emitting unsavory body odor. Then suddenly, as I leaned closer to field a question for a student, Pizza Pan burst out:
“Teacha you not smell good!”
Perplexed, I made a mental checklist in my head:
Showered today – check
Clean clothes – check
brand new deodorant – check
body spray – check
Laughing, I tried to explain that I practiced good hygiene and even attempted to explain the concept of deodorant and that I was in fact wearing Old Spice High Endurance.
“Too much teacha, too much!”
The rest of the class moaned in agony and I stood there hands on hips trying to justify myself.
I smelled myself and assured Pizza Pan and the rest that I smelled fresh. But, the more I wasted my breath explaining the more they objected and the more I laughed. At one point I even tried to convince some students to get a whiff of my pits and they scattered like exposed frightened sea crabs. Eventually, I conceded and opened the windows and the door to circulate the room with fresh air. After class I walked to the teacher’s office in defeat and explained to a coworker what happened and he said that he had a similar experience one time from wearing after shave. I still needed further reassurance so I asked a Korean teacher if people here used deodorant. She laughed and said it was very uncommon.
I guess from now on I will put the deodorant and body spray on the shelf and only use it during times I am not teaching. We’ll see if my natural body odor is less offensive to my students than long-lasting odor protection. In American culture, people are so accustomed to smelling body fragrances that when you don’t wear anything at all you run the risk of turning people off. Here, artificial scents are apparently less desirable. Either that or I just need a better smelling deodorant.
If nothing else, this bit of insight will come in handy for disciplinary purposes the next time Pizza Pan gets too far out of line – if he thought a few layers spread on my arm pit was too much to handle imagine how he will feel with the entire stick of deodorant pressed close to his nose [evil laugh].
Kimchi is an extremely popular traditional Korean dish. This spicy fermented cabbage is ubiquitous throughout Korea and is basically served with every meal. To say that Koreans love kimchi would be an understatement.
When you dine at any type of eatery they will bring you kimchi before you get your food and they will also make sure there is enough on the table to compliment your meal. I have really taken a liking to kimchi and I think it is best with a mouthful of beef. People are in a kind of panic here because a very rainy September ruined much of the Chinese cabbage crop that is exported to Korea.
I cannot really think of America’s equivalent of kimchi. I read an article that said kimchi for Koreans is like pasta for Italians, people cannot go without it (or how about potatoes for the Irish) . The price of kimchi has gone up so much that some restaurants are becoming much more frugal with their kimchi and the people here are referring to it as gold. The city government of Seoul recently initiated a kimchi bailout program. Seriously. In the US, the government bailed out failing banks, here in Korea the government is rescuing cabbage consumers. Apparently the government is shouldering 30% of the cost of roughly 300,000 heads of cabbage it has purchased, making it more affordable for consumers.
No pot to piss in
For those of you who have not been to Korea before and are coming I would like to offer you a valuable piece of advice. Before you leave your house pretend like you are going on a long road trip in a car. In other words, make sure you relieve yourself before heading out, because it’s likely to be difficult to find a bathroom. Decent restaurants typically have restrooms but you have to dine to use their toilet. Most small family run eateries do not have accessible bathrooms nor do convenience stores and the like. I have been here for three weeks so I do know of a place or two that I can go to in case of a dire situation, but the scarcity takes some getting used to; my body is becoming conditioned and quite adept at operating at a high level with a bladder that is on full.
Another thing … when you actually do find a restroom there’s an excellent possibility that it is a mixed gender bathroom. It would have been nice if someone told me this before I nearly pissed all over myself at a urinal when a girl walked passed me and into the stall behind me. At that moment I was utterly confused: Am I in the women’s bathroom? If I am in the women’s bathroom why are there urinals? Maybe she is in the wrong bathroom. Did she see my package? Did she look impressed? Why does it sound like she is dumping a bucket of water into the toilet? I alerted a coworker when I got back to our table and he explained to me that it is not uncommon. I can deal, but a warning would have been nice.
Sans trash cans
Whereas public restrooms are a challenge to find in Daegu, trash cans are impossible. I’m not sure if this is the case in other cities, but in Daegu there are no public trash cans outside, anywhere. I have come across one since I have been here and it brought me so much joy that I went into a corner store and bought a candy bar just so I could use the garbage can by throwing away the wrapper, and because I like chocolate. Remarkably the streets are relatively well-kept and for the most part free of debris and litter.
What Daegu lacks in trash cans and restrooms they make up for in mirrors. There are mirrors everywhere. I am used to seeing mirrors in many places in America so it is not foreign to me, but I’m not used to having the opportunity to look at my self so frequently. I often see women standing in front of mirrors fixing their hair, reapplying makeup, or just staring. Nietzsche wrote that “vanity is the fear of appearing original” and this seems to be a perfect explanation for Daegu’s abundance of mirrors where people can make sure they fall in line with the rest. People here tend to value collectivism more than individuality and self-differentiation. You see a lot of the same hairstyles and people wear the same kinds of clothes because being different is not something that too many strive for – although this seems to be less the case in the younger generation where personal self-expression is manifested more often. What does this mean for me? I find myself singing Michael Jackson’s Man in the Mirror more than ever before.
I am trying to get a feel for if it would be in bad taste to be Kim Jung Il for Halloween. When I mention it to my Korean coworkers they laugh and my students love the idea. I scoured the internet for a sweet mask, but I haven’t really found one. The costumes I came across include a wig, glasses, and a green jump suit – I would need to find some elevated black shoes. Here is a guy who claimed to get 11 hole-in-ones his first time golfing. I like having fun, but I don’t want to offend someone too badly and end up triggering an international incident. I need time to reflect …
Recently something cropped up that I found to be absolutely hilarious that I must share.
WordPress gives me access to my blog’s stats which consists of the amount of traffic it gets, what link people clicked to get to the site, and also keywords people used in a search to find my blog.
Apparently someone typed in these words in a search and somehow found my blog ( true story): find girl for sex in korea
This person must have been gravely disappointed. I can offer you my perspective, satire, and observations, but I’m sorry you cannot ‘find girl for sex in korea’ here. Ironically by sharing this with you and merely typing these words together I’ve increased the chances of a like-minded fella coming to this site with a similar singular purpose, but it was too funny not to share.
The end of a simple era
Yesterday my life in South Korea completely changed. I did not meet a near death experience or find my soul mate, nor did I eat dog stew (my manager at my school said I have to try it), nothing like that. It changed because I now have a washer, refrigerator, television, and microwave. Going two and half weeks without these household appliances tested my patience and survival skills. Some evenings after work, while unwinding for the day, I found myself wondering what might be on Korean television. Other times I would fantasize about how I might pack an exorbitant amount of groceries into my fridge (would I put the orange juice on its side or would I resolve the issue by making an omelette using a dozen eggs?). The days were short, but the nights were long, my friends. With time, do you know what I came to realize? I don’t need any this shit. Sure I need these things to make microwave popcorn, maintain a diet that is rich in protein, and sport reasonably clean clothes, but I survived and even began to find solace in living simply. Now that these conveniences have been thrust back into my life I feel like I’ve been granted the life of luxury. Strangely there is a part of me already yearning for those simpler days that spawned great improvisation – when I had to sneakily enter into the vacant room down the hall and use the washer late at night (every security code to enter into a room in my apartment building is exactly the same), or when I didn’t drink milk for two weeks, but instead made regular trips to a nearby Baskin Robbins to enjoy latte fudge ice cream, or when I found wholesome entertainment at strip clubs instead of on television.
“When your feet cold mine are sizzling” – Jay-Z
Upon entering some places in South Korea it is required that you take your shoes off. Unlike Frank Costanza I don’t mind this. In fact, it is rather nice liberating ones shoes to allow ones feet to breath. Apparently it is unheard of to leave your shoes on inside a home. Many floors in Korean homes are heated to keep your feet warm during the cold months of winter. In the U.S. I know of only a small handful of people that have heated floors, namely the Murphy’s and the Van der Zwan’s, but this is not very common. Here in Korea you will be hard-pressed to step out of bed onto an unwelcome chilly floor.
While in Korea I will be sure to remove my shoes when requested and to never stop short…
As I walk through the streets and in places like E-Mart (Korea’s version of Wal-Mart) I see many people wearing surgical masks. Apparently this became popular in 2007 during the avian bird flu pandemic in Japan. Three years removed and you still see a decent amount of people (mostly middle-aged women) donning these procedure masks. According to my neighbor C. Justice, whom I will call Chris J. for confidentiality purposes, a reasonably reliable source, the masks have become something of a fashion statement. I am not sold on this theory, but who knows Michael Jackson -the King of Pop- rocked them.
An intimate moment
This weekend was a going away celebration for two teachers who fulfilled their year contract at Avalon School and are now leaving South Korea. There are three Avalon branches in Daegu. Teachers from the other two branches made it downtown to say farewell and to ostensibly wet their beak. I met some new people, some of which already knew my first and last name.
Hello, you must be Dan Katz.
Uhh … yea. Hi.
Apparently they were alerted that a new Avalon teacher was coming. Meeting someone who already knows who you are without any prompt can be a vainglorious moment. It is how a celebrity must feel walking down a street to have a number of people come up to them and announce that they know who they are. My celebrity status quickly wore off and the swelling in my head began to deflate as the new teacher subject became a stale topic of conversation. Later in the night, when maekchu pitchers were being ordered at a faster rate, something caught my attention. A nice-looking, charming, Finnish girl named Emma began making out with her eastern European female counterpart. It was a sight to behold and my eyes made sure to hold it for a while.
Preview for upcoming blog post: A shortage of bathrooms, trash cans & kimchi
You might be in South Korea if you have a mini personal pizza in a cup and a cocktail in a bag in the same night.
There is nothing really special about pizza in a cup other than it is in a cup. The pizza itself is sub par even after a few drinks, but eating pizza out of a cup makes it unique. I think more food should come in a cup.
Cocktail in a bag is in a class all its own. I like the idea so much that I have wondered why more places do not feature an adult beverage in a plastic bag. Think Capri Sun, only bigger, that comes in a cocktail of your choice. This concept would probably not be as practical in a place with open container laws, but South Korea has no such ridiculous ordinances. Here you can take a drink almost anywhere, so why not enjoy in a bag form? It is easier to mix and you seldom have to worry about any spillage as the only small opening is plugged with the straw.
They serve cocktail in a bag at a dive called Viniro. Here you will find a few couches (thanks Shir), a dark setting, and plenty of English-speaking foreigners.
So far, I have had Sangria, Sake, and a Long Island Iced Tea in a bag. Chris Justice, a new arrival teacher living across the hall from me, ordered a Fauost and paid dearly. The main ingredient in a Fauost is Everclear which is something like 190 proof (95% alcohol). Chris goes about 6’2” 195 lbs but clearly he was no match for the Fauost, he did however manage to finish the bag. Kudos to Chris.
Living across the hall from Chris, a product of Cincinnati, Ohio has been like living in a college dormitory. When we are both home our doors are propped open allowing us to engage in senseless banter. When I first met Chris I hated him. Not for anything he did but for what he had. Though he arrived a week and half after me, Chris’s place was equipped with a refrigerator, washer, television and microwave. My place still has none of the above. My disdain for my new neighbor quickly dissipated once I realized he was a cool bro. I store my milk in his refrigerator. His students call him “Beckham face” and “John Cena”. Chris enjoys towering over the Korean populace and yelling random things like “watermelon!” while walking on the street.
You might be in South Korea if you easily offend a restaurant owner by:
a) not ordering enough food
b) not eating said food quick enough
c) failing to say your meal is delicious
Servers and restaurant owners will often stand by your table and observe you while you eat. They derive great pleasure from seeing a happy patron, if you follow these three steps you can usually avoid a hostile situation. Last week our server gave us complimentary pig skin and carefully watched us as we ingested this rubbery, foul-tasting epidermis. Luckily, as a child I had ample practice in concealing non-agreeable food in a nearby napkin or by arranging it on my plate creating an illusion that more had been eaten from my plate than really was. This childhood experience paid dividends.
You might be in South Korea if 90 percent of the people posing in a picture give the peace sign.
You might be in South Korea if you regularly get skipped in line at the bank.