Posts Tagged Asia
The sultry weather has fed my desire to do some traveling. With roughly four months left on my contract, a weeks worth of vacation days, and two three-day holidays, I will have almost two weeks (paid) to see some of Asia. China is first on the list with Cambodia and Thailand in a dead heat for the number two spot. Jeju Island, off of the southern tip of the Korean peninsula, is in the cards for a three-day weekend trip. One thing is for sure, I am determined to trek the Great Wall, something that we all read and learned about in school at a relatively young age, a creation that, to me, always seemed more mythical than real.
A few weeks ago, the landlady had a new air conditioner installed into my room. How nice it is to shut the windows and keep the bugs out (the screens don’t do the job) and stay fresh like a cut of tenderloin in a meat locker. I fancy (a word I borrowed from my UK counterparts) cranking the ac up full blast until it gets to the point where I am cold and then letting myself thaw, a routine I do repeatedly when I am home for any extended period. The ac has made sleeping so much more comfortable. There is something obstinately difficult about sleeping without a cover and now I can slumber with a thin blanket without waking up perspiring.
The summer semester is just three days old. From what I can tell, I like all of my classes. My schedule is decent in that I teach most of the upper-level classes, making communicating and unsurprisingly, teaching, so much more pleasant. It also makes joking around and having fun with the students less challenging because they can pick up on more things, especially sarcasm. Recently in a low-level class, I reverted to juggling board erasers in a lame attempt to captivate the students. Some students laughed, a few clapped uninspired, others rolled their eyes; performing like a circus entertainer in front of a class of tired, disinterested Korean children. I’ve found my calling.
I teach a total of 22 classes per week. The foreigners in the elementary department were asked to design a book for a special course that is offered to the students every Wednesday at no additional cost. Wednesdays are designed to give special attention to students who are not comfortable speaking, which means that origami and marshmallow spaghetti towers are featured in unit 2.
A young student who chooses to go by the English name, Mindy, is in my class for a third straight semester. Because she has better speaking ability than most in her class, she is by default the unofficial interpreter when a) I have absolutely no idea what a student is trying to communicate to me, or when b) a student and or the rest of the class has absolutely no idea what I am trying to communicate to them. Mindy is small and friendly with a pleasant smile, but this doesn’t mean that she doesn’t have an edge, she can get pretty feisty. Of late, she spends increasingly more time complaining and when she feels it necessary chewing out some of the rowdy boys in the class. The other day, I had the students take turns writing sentences on the board. When it was Mindy’s turn, my jaw dropped when I noticed her t-shirt read, ‘Skinny Bitch’. When I discovered that she had absolutely no idea what it meant I gently advised her that she probably shouldn’t wear the shirt any more. At the tail end of class I saw Mindy using her electronic dictionary, when suddenly her face grew crimsoned, and she looked at me with a tentative smile.
I am about 70 percent finished the painting I am working on in art class. Along the way I have snapped some pictures. Here is the evolution of the untitled painting:
The power of beauty
At some point over the last several weeks the increasingly strong, warm spring air triumphed over the last remnants of the cold winter, giving my students something other than homework or my appearance to complain about : the humid weather. The complaints may go from annoying to intolerable as we make our way into the summer heat. I’ll keep you posted. I welcome the high temperatures because I’m not much for wool socks, dry hands and chapped lips. Plus, the cherry blossoms are nice on the eyes, especially when the cherry trees are closely clustered together. Apparently, the Japanese introduced Korea to cherry blossom festivals during their rule over the peninsula. While cherry blossom festivals are popular in Korea today, after Japan surrendered in WWII many cherry trees were destroyed because they reminded some of the Japanese occupation. Whether most know the origins of the tradition or not, everyone I’ve spoken to in Daegu about cherry blossoms only mention their beauty.
Rebirth of the perfectionist
I’m taking a painting class in Lotte Department store with a Korean friend Mijin. You might be wondering why I am taking an art class in a department store, something I’ve asked myself. Lotte is like Macy’s on steroids, featuring a nice food court and grocery store and offering all kinds of classes, like dance, piano, yoga, etc. The class meets every Sunday. I find myself looking forward to going every week even though it has triggered some of my obsessive, self-critical qualities. As a kid I had a knack for drawing and I would spend hours on a single sketch, trying to make every line, every mark perfect. Typically, it would end in me throwing away my work out of frustration. I have made it over a month without snapping a single paint brush, tearing apart a canvass, or unleashing any real emotional outbursts. Can you say growth? Though sometimes it feels like the instructor and I are speaking two totally different languages (hint: we are). According to Mijin, my defacto interpreter, the teacher has concern that I am devoting too much attention and detail to the background. I think she applies to much makeup to her eyebrows. Mijin deserves an award for being the middle(wo)man and bearing the brunt of my neuroticism.
With six months of experience living in Korean under my belt my perspective of the country is starting to take form, rounding like an inflating beach ball. I am proud to say that the unfamiliarity and separation from my culture and traditions has not led to me becoming a xenophobe. Contrarily, the wider the difference, only the more interesting. I’ve compiled a list of my favorite and least favorite things about Korea (so far). In my opinion, the pros substantially outweigh the cons.
1. Friendly people – most people I meet are nice and welcoming. Unfortunately the men are much quicker to strike up conversation with me than the women, which usually entails them saying something like, “Hi! You’re handsome! Where are you from?” Whatever confidence I collect from these kinds of exchanges evaporates when my students begin critiquing every asymmetry on my face.
2. Mountainous region – no shortage of beautiful mountains
3. BBQ restaurants – they supply you with a plate full of raw meat, as well as an array of side dishes, and you cook the meat on a grill at your table.
4. Noraebangs – karaoke room with friends are everywhere. Apparently some places offer “service” something that is missing from my Korean experience.
5. Public transport – the subway and bus systems are top-notch and don’t get me started on the high-speed rail system … the KTX, which spans the entire country from top to bottom goes up to 190 mph (305 kmh). Enough said.
6. Women – I was never a guy with an ‘Asian fetish’ per se (like my good friend Mike professed that he had back in 7th grade), but with every day that I am here I am finding Korean women increasingly more attractive.
1. Lack of cheese
2. Lack of public garbage cans
3. Lack of respect for personal space-I’ve become accustomed to getting bumped, skipped, and on one occasion, massaged.
In the news…
I don’t know what was more shocking Osama bin Laden’s death or the Lakers getting swept.
Miami Heat win NBA title
Anyone with some life experience under their belt knows that time seems to speed up as we add more chapters to our narrative. Activity can wash away time like a wave swallowing up a footprint in the sand. Tonight, as I visit my blog, which of late has been more rare than a nun visiting your boss’s favorite porn site, it suddenly hit me, I have now been living in Korea for over 4 months.
Upon arriving to Korea, I told myself I would regularly blog about my experiences and adventures. I honored this pact for the first two months. Then I stopped. Why? Is that really any of your business? The important thing in all of this is that I am rededicating myself to blogging on a more consistent basis. I really mean it this time.
Some things worth mentioning from the past two months:
- Daegu winters are cold. Apparently the spring and fall seasons are both very short and the summer is long and soupy hot.
- The only coat I brought with me to Korea was stolen from a booth at a club when I was building a fan base on the dance floor.
- I celebrated Thanksgiving with a large group of coworkers and other miscellaneous people. We ordered two birds from a western style restaurant and everyone added some type of side dish, drink, or dessert to the feast. Before dinner, while perusing E Mart (think slightly classier Wal-Mart) to decide what to bring, my friend Chris and I decide that a king crab would be the perfect complement to the meal. We thought it was 7,000 won. It was 70,000 won (roughly $65). Our outrage dissipated once we started cracking and eating. The host of the party was not happy that the smell of the giant crab masked the aroma of the turkey.
- Christmas eve landed on a Friday, which meant that we had to work (Christmas is not huge in Korea like it is in the western part of the world). For most of the day, I actually forgot it was the eve of Christmas until I got a nice card from one of my students. She said she loved me. I told her that she was moving too fast. After classes finished up while we were all in the office inputting homework and attendance into our computers our boss surprised us with a cake. He designated me to cut the cake. I don’t particularly like cutting cake, but I don’t particularly dislike it either. He told me I had to select a woman from the office to cut the cake with. He said to “choose wisely”. I hesitated for a bit and finally settled on a Korean teacher that I am friendly with. My boss said that I couldn’t choose her because she is married. I could sense where this was going – I wanted to defuse the situation but unfortunately the comments grew more racy, laced heavily with sexual innuendo: “Who do you want to spend the night with?” To add fuel to the fire my foreign counterparts began to chime in with “Ohhhh” and “Who’s it gonna’ be!?” According to some, my face transformed into the color of a ripened tomato. I finally settled on a quiet teacher new to the school. The cake was decent. And, no, we didn’t spend the night together.
- Leading up to Christmas I was not feeling well. On Christmas day I felt like I had been beaten by two dozen of Santa’s more sinister elves armed with mallets. I slept almost the entire day only waking up at 6pm to head to a nice buffet at a hotel in downtown Daegu called Novatel with some friends.
- January 1 – New Years Resolution: get in Bruce Lee shape and learn Hangul.
- For the entire month of January our school, a private English academy, offered its students more classes. They call it “intensives”, I call it “doubling your class load”. Normally throughout the year we work from 2 pm-10 pm, but for this special month during “intensives” our schedule changed from 8 am – 7:30 pm. Talk about taking your circadian rhythm for a ride.
- I have been taking very informal Hangul lessons with a Korean friend. She rocks.
- One positive borne out of “intensives” was that for January I was back on a more traditional schedule for most working humans. This allowed me to frequent the fitness center after work at 8pm. I am not a morning person, as anybody who has lived with me can attest, so I prefer to workout later in the day. I discovered by way of a coworker that a yoga class is offered for gym members at 8:30pm Monday-Friday. I always wanted to give yoga a go so I found this the perfect opportunity to dabble. I really took a liking to the class (and the instructor) so I began going everyday. I am not flexible by any stretch of the imagination, but I made notable improvement. One major challenge was that the instructor conducted the class exclusively in Korean which required me to look at the person next to me for cues of when to change position. I ensured the amicable, toned girl next to me that I was gawking out of necessity. She said, “sure” in a sarcastic tone with a smile. After one week I managed to do a headstand without any wall support. Everyone clapped and cheered in my mind, in reality it was a rather low-key moment after a Monday class. Now that we are back to our regular work schedule I can no longer attend yoga class. There goes serenity.
- I am enjoying the teaching aspect of my life here. In mid December I took on the role of “senior teacher”, whatever that means.
- For the Chinese Lunar New Year (February 2) I went to Seoul with my boy Nicuation. Due to the cold weather and a penchant for partying our visit lacked the requisite sightseeing that you might do your first time in a new city. We did manage to squeeze in a trip to the 63 Building. The view at the top provided a panoramic picture of the city and the aquarium on the first floor was worth visiting. We went to a popular traditional market called Insadong which consisted of rows and rows of small shops that featured artwork, souvenirs, Korean garb, among other things. I came very close to buying a hanbok. A hanbok, which literally means “Korean clothing” is the traditional Korean dress worn at festivals and celebrations. I guess they are not very popular with the younger crowd. At one shop, I was able to bargain in Hangul to get the price down (they can get very expensive, like a suit), but this hanbok was not flashy enough for my taste. I am still searching for the perfect hanbok.
That is the last two months condensed into a small easily consumed package. Obviously there is a lot missing, but sometimes the most important thing is what you omit.
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.
Nobody thought it would happen. Many felt it was impossible. I, myself, even began to question the feasibility…
Readers, it is with my great pleasure to announce that the seemingly unattainable has been, well, attained. As of today this blog is now officially on The Korean Blog List, a website that is a compilation of English language blogs related to Korea by Koreans and foreigners. What does this mean for you? Nothing, unless of course you are now reading Circumstantial Evidence as a result of perusing The Korean Blog List. If that is the case I simultaneously welcome you and warn you. This blog is not for the easily offended, morbidly obese, or those who like country music. I will guarantee that you will find this blog deeply rewarding and incredibly entertaining if you meet at least one of the following requirements:
a) have good taste
c) living in South Korea or interest in living in South Korea
d) curious nature
e) interest in teaching
f) fan of women, current events, and/or NBA
I would also like to take a minute to assure my readers who have been with me from the very start (one month) that the fundamental nature of this blog will not change just because I have arrived on the big stage. I will still offer the same content, style, and voice that you have come to love. It takes a rare person of great character to stay true when bestowed with grand commendation and I can humbly say that this is something that comes natural to me. When Michael Jordan starting winning Championships he didn’t abandon the very thing that raised him and his team to that level. No, he continued to do the little things that got him there. I pledge to take this same approach. Just because my blog is now featured on The Korean Blog List doesn’t make it better than other blogs out there. It would be silly to suggest something so superficial and presumptuous. Rather it is the eloquence and relevance that makes these posts glow.
Disclaimer: You’re blog will appear on The Korean Blog List if you merely write about Korea on a somewhat consistent basis. In no way does the quality of writing or level of insight decide if your blog meets the necessary requirements.
- The stench that emits from the sewers in Daegu is something repulsive and sickening. The foul-smelling odor must easily eclipse that of a rotting corpse that is left in the sun. I have now gotten into the habit of holding my breath when I pass over a sewer vent. The transportation system in Daegu is impressive, the sewer system is as equally unimpressive.
- While eating out at a restaurant that my fellow coworkers call ‘Moms’ because the server has the innate motherly care and touch, I saw the second fist-fight between two highly inebriated guys in a matter of four days. These guys were enjoying a meal with each other alfresco when suddenly tempers flared. While younger than the middle-aged men I saw fighting on Saturday they were less successful at landing mushes, punches, and off-balanced kicks. Five minutes after they went at it they could be seen sitting together, arm around the other, chatting it up. Who says a quick scrap isn’t the best form of mediation?
- We also frequent a restaurant that my co-workers call ‘Dads’. ‘Moms’ serves beef and ‘Dads’ specializes in pork. I prefer beef, but I give ‘Dads’ the edge over ‘Moms’ because ‘Dad’ hooked us up with free baked potatoes and jumbo shrimp my only time there.
- Korean people are some of the most accommodating and friendly people you will meet. Despite witnessing several alcohol charged scraps I feel incredibly safe in Daegu. Some people give me candy as I pass them on the street and I recently received a beautiful oven mitt from a restaurant owner.
- One of my students’ favorite shows is The Simpson’s. He has the early leg up for being my favorite student. Though he is in direct competition with a friendly little dude who follows the Lakers.
Preview for upcoming blog post: Last week of teacher training
This weekend I made it to the night scene in downtown Daegu for the first time. The section that we went to is the most popular spot for bars, clubs and norabangs. The streets were littered with young people conversing, drinking, walking, all pursuing a good time. Taking in everything with fresh eyes made the experience exciting and the time evaporated like a shallow puddle under a blistering sun.
Almost all of my coworkers went to Seoul for the Global Gathering concert. I stayed behind because as I am getting settled here in Korea I am without extra won to spare on a weekend trip to the capital, and I don’t get paid until the end of the month. I wanted very much to make the two hour KTX train ride to Seoul, especially since my boy from NY, Nicuation was going and we could have united forces. It is about a 4 hour car ride to Seoul from Daegu but apparently the KTX travels at a very high pace. Two coworkers, Taco and Meat Sauce, also stayed behind so we went out together. Meat Sauce has been in Daegu since January so he acted as a guide for the new arrivals (Taco arrived about a week before me). After too much soju and whiskey Meat Sauce’s sense of direction was deeply compromised, but we still managed to hit up some good spots and on Friday we met up with some Korean teachers at our school. One of the girls had an amazing singing voice. I was impressed.
Before I came to South Korea all of my research signaled that Daegu is home to the most beautiful women. After being here for a week I admittedly was somewhat skeptical of this. My neighborhood is a working class part of town with many seniors selling produce and prepared dishes and school children running around. For this first week it felt as if I have more of a chance of seeing two extremely drunk middle aged men fist fighting in the street (which I witnessed) than seeing a breathtaking girl. The disturbing thing about this is numerous people walked by these two men and did not so much as blink. I was across the street viewing from a table, set outside of a convenience store. One of the inebriated guys pulled the shirt off the other and ran down the street with it as if it were his nations flag. The other fella trotted behind him wanting the shirt but not wanting to continue the quarrel. I felt guilty watching.
I have seen some good-looking women but to be frank it was not living up to the hype. This all changed when I went downtown this weekend. There I found an abundance of yeputa (pretty) girls at every turn. On Saturday, after hitting up a few bars that are popular among the foreign populace (The Commune, Thursday’s, & Organ) we checked out a Korean dance club. Virtually everyone there was on the dance floor bobbing to the music that sounded very techno. Interestingly I did not see any men and women dancing with each other, rather everyone kind’ve did their own thing. I’m not sure if this is typical in Korea or what. When I approached a few ladies to dance they seemed more startled then anything else and after some unsuccessful attempts I realized this was a futile method. Unfortunately I don’t speak Korean beyond greetings and ordering food. My conversational skills are on par with a two year old baby that really likes beef. In short, I did not truly “experience” a Korean girl this weekend. Regardless, I had a great time and danced for a large part of the night. I met some nice Korean guys who were quick to call me handsome and explained to me a little about Korean women.”You hav to choo vewry careful” stated one guy in a thick accent. We also made friends with some Italian guys who loved to dance and who wore permanent smiles.
We left the Korean club at around 5 am with two Korean guys and their female friend. How did this trio end up joining us? Meat Sauce began talking to a guy named Kwan and this is how their encounter went, or how I remember it.
Meat Sauce: (Put’s arm around Kwan)
Kwan: (Jumps) Hey I’m not gay.
Meat Sauce: Trust me Kwan I am not gay either, my friend. I love women very much. Last night I had sex with two women. I want to find Korean girl to bring back to my apartment, my man.
Kwan: Do you know American girl?
Meat Sauce: Yes, yes Kwan. I know many white American girls that you can one hundred percent have lots of sex with.
Kwan and his friend explained that they watch plenty of American porn and that they have fantasized about being with an American.
Kwan: I know girl for you, but she little fat.
Meat Sauce: That’s perfect, my man. Kwan, I do not discriminate. Being with a Korean is like trying to stick a watermelon in a thimble.
I went to the dance floor and came back to the lounge and their female friend was sitting next to Meat Sauce. Her friends said she wants to drink so we went to a restaurant type establishment. There we ordered red wine and hor d’oeurves. It was a typical Korean restaurant in that you sat on the floor cushion with a low table, but it was more intimate because all the tables were separated by a very thin, see through curtain. We enjoyed a few bottles and got to know each other. The two guys kept saying their friend was fat for Korean standards and she agreed. Meat Sauce was extremely quick to put these thoughts to rest. She was not thin, but not fat by any means. She had a round face and short, straight hair that mushroomed around her ears. After about an hour, a pissed-off guy claiming to be her boyfriend came by and grabbed Kim Chong Yong. The three Koreans hurried out of the place with the agitated boyfriend. I’m not sure if it was a ploy for a couple free drinks or if it was really her boyfriend but the disappointment on Meat Sauce’s face was reminiscent of a kid finding out Santa is not real.
Walking in downtown Daegu I thought I inadvertently wandered into a gay-friendly section of town. I thought this because there were many same-aged women holding hands with each other, and there were a handful of men holding hands as well. “Not that there’s anything wrong with it” (if you know where this quote is from you have my ultimate respect) but I found it odd because people I have spoken with and things I have read all suggest that the Korean culture does not really embrace homosexuality. After reporting back to some of my trusty coworkers it turns out that two people holding hands is just a normal part of the culture and it does not necessarily suggest romantic intimacy. I try to experience things with my cup empty and without preconceived notion about how I think things ought to be based on my culture. Using your own culture, in my case American culture, as a template of what is normal and measuring any deviation from this as abnormal is an easy trap to get caught in and it is something I am trying to avoid. In this case, I clumsily made a premature judgment about something and as a result I was probably mixing up which players belonged to which team.