Posts Tagged Government

You Might be in South Korea …

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.

 

Nice bartender at Viniro mixing a bag cocktail.

 

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.

 

Chris doesn't go anywhere without his teddy bear.

 

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.

 

A group played soft music outside of this store on a main shopping strip downtown.

 

 

Two coworkers Jose and Dan outside of a popular foreign bar downtown. Notice Jose's drink in a bag.

 

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The Korean Blog List

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

b) open-minded

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.

 

Light show at Suseong Reservoir.

 

Recent observations:

  • 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

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Korean Culture 101

The first few days of being in Daegu was a time of great exploration, fascination, acclamation, and fornication. Not really fornication, I was testing your level of concentration.

It takes about 25 minutes on the subway to get to the heart of downtown- not a bad right at all. The subways are so smooth and tidy that spending time on them is not a hassle. There is a certain section designated for the elderly. It is things like this that remind me that I am in South Korea, and the fact that I am constantly being stared and pointed at by children because I am such a minority. The only issue I have with this is that if I have food or something on my face I won’t be clued in by people staring because it’s such a regularity. Needless to say, I have been thoroughly wiping my mouth after each meal.

A large pack of bikers in downtown Daegu. I think they were riding for a good cause, like my arrival to the country.

 

On my second day I woke up to the ringing of the phone on my wall. Naturally, I answered it. Apparently it is my door bell which I realized as someone was yelling something from the outside hallway.  I opened the door and a small gentleman briskly walked passed me with a large box. He dropped it in the middle of my room and made several more trips, each time delivering more things. I really liked him because he assembled my bed and dropped off a desk, a chair, and a small dresser. Now I’m just waiting on my refrigerator, TV, washer, and my life’s purpose.

My favorite thing about my place is the shower. There is no separate area in the bathroom to shower or bath, rather the shower head is connected to the sink which results in a wet floor after each shower.  The floor is at a slight slant so the water flows down the drain on the floor. I don’t really mind that I have to wait a little bit for the floor to dry. You just have to make sure to brush your teeth and do other bathroom related shit before showering. Why I like this setup so much I don’t know myself, maybe its merely the appeal of new and different things.It causes some inconveniences : 1)  it takes considerably skill to avoid getting my toilet paper wet, 2) on more than one occasion I soaked myself while fully clothed because I failed to notice that nob was turned for the water to flow from the shower head rather than the faucet.

I have fully adjusted to the 13 hour time difference here but I wake up periodically in the night because of buzzing in my ear. The mosquitoes here must be a different breed. They prefer to hover around your ear for a while before drawing blood as if to taunt you, and they can because they are hard to catch. They are quicker and much more deceptive than lazy American mosquitoes and they are also able to jump. I learned this when I woke up at 3 am,turned the lights on, and struggled for ten minutes to squish one little bastard.

The food here is really good. After the delivery man left on Saturday I ventured out into my neighborhood solo. Throughout the day I had no idea what I was ordering and I limited my dining options by only going to places that had pictures of the food. I would point and say ‘chuseyo’ meaning ‘please give me’ in Korean. I do not deal incredibly well with spicy food and most dishes here have hot pepper in them. I can tell the servers and patrons get pleasure out of seeing me struggle with the spice. Pork is featured in many dishes and beef and chicken are more expensive because of the lower supply of them in the country. I have taken a particular liking to mandu.

Elderly people here are very active and many of them are out hustling selling produce and prepared food.

On Sunday I went for a run to get my heart pumping and to take in the area. I got lost and ended up running for an 1 hr and 10 minutes rather than the 45 minutes that I had originally planned. There are two parks in the general vicinity. Without internet service I couldn’t check out a map so I ended up trying to follow street signs to Aspan Park. As my legs became heavy I asked a young guy if he knew where the park was and he pointed toward a mountain and said “too far, take taxi.” I ran back home.

The weather has been perfect: Warm sunny days in the 70’s and pleasantly cool evenings. The fall and spring seasons are the best time of year to be outdoors in South Korea.

It is good etiquette to remove your shoes inside many restaurants. When I take them off I feel like I should be going inside of a planetarium or jumping in a giant ball pit rather than enjoying noodle soup.

My first days at Avalon school have been smooth as I am doing my training before assuming full teaching responsibilities. All of the foreign teachers have been cool and the Korean teachers have been quiet but friendly. There is an interesting dynamic in the office and I think I am going to like working there. Basically I have been required to sit in on classes and observe the teacher and take notes. The students ask me who I am and what I am doing. Some tell me to leave while others like to interact. Their familiarity of New York consists of ‘I Love NY’ tees and the Statue of Liberty. The observation has allowed me to understand what works and what doesn’t. I get the feeling I am going to be playing a lot of hang-man.

Dining at a BBQ place with some of the teachers.

 

Preview for next blog post: Introduction to Soju and Norabang

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Welcome to Wolbae

Since I have been in South Korea I have experienced many new things, some good, some bizarre, and all very interesting. A loquacious gentleman came by today and installed my internet service. After four days I am finally connected to the world. The technician explained to me many things, none of which I understood. I must have said “ne” which means yes in Korean a good twenty times. Hopefully I did not agree to any dodgy business. This post consists of things worth mentioning from my flight up to my arrival in Daegu.

Silk worm larva...it tastes exactly like you think it would.

 A+ for Asiana

From Chicago to Seoul I took Asiana Airlines. All of the stewardesses looked practically identical and they also acted very much the same … they call this collectivism. I’m talking same hair style in a bun, same slender physique, same makeup, same smile, and yes, same gentle kiss… I call this poetic license. Typically flight attendants tend to be friendly and this I understand. Well this group took amiability to a whole new stratosphere. I am not exaggerating when I tell you that these young women appeared to be having the time of their lives. Non-stop ear to ear smiling for a 14 hour flight is no breeze especially when you’re concern is the comfort of a good number of people who don’t appreciate it. I don’t know how much they get compensated, what kind of benefits they have, or what kind of self-satisfaction is tied to the job, but as I ate my kimchi and rice I came to admire the energy and focus of these stewardesses. Asiana Airlines is the way to fly.

Sophie’s First Trip to China

 On the flight I had the priviledge of sitting next to Sophie, a hair stylist from the Ivory Coast born in 1956. Currently, she owns her own salon in Cleveland. Sophie, who has immaculately curly hair and a figure built for power, is traveling to China to learn some new styling techniques that she will bring back to the city that is still grieving over their recent heart-wrenching breakup. I learned that Sophie does not like to be awakened during a flight so that one can maneuver by her to get to the toilet, she opened up the first African hair salon in Syracuse and that she is not willing to fill out a customs slip, which could pose a major problem when you are bringing hair products across the world. I completed her customs form for her upon her request…mostly out of fear. Sophie has a thick accent and she follows the doctrine of tough love.

Gate 10 Incheon Airport

I spot Jared, who is tall and slender with dark hair that is long enough that Sophie could probably style it in an array of different ways. Donned in khakis and a black leather jacket and a number of tribal-looking bracelets on his wrist my first thought (see Blink by Malcom Gladwell) is that he values eclecticity (I know that’s not a word, but it should be … doesn’t it sound better than eclecticism?).   We shake hands, find a seat and in little time we are getting to know eachother.

Jared at the Incheon Airport before boarding our domestic flight.

 My first impression of Jared is that he is serious and quietly confident. It turns out he knows four languages: English, Swahili, Spanish, and Arabic. I know English, very well. Who the hell knows Swahili? Apparently he spent a good amount of time in Nairobi, Kenya. Jared is aspiring to go to medical school to become a doctor and he is using this opportunity in Korea to experience the far-east, save money for school and ostensibly add another language to his repertoire. He is far ahead of me in learning Hangul because he already knows the entire alphabet. I know how to say thank you (ko-map-sum-ni-da), but not very well. Our conversation makes the time pass by quickly and before long a man is waving a sign that reads ‘Mr. Jared and Mr. Daniel’.

Mr. Kang

 The thought that Mr. Kang would resemble Mr. Han from Enter the Dragon was horribly off course. Instead of resembling a power hungry, corrupt drug lord with a claw hand, Mr. Kang is more reminiscent of a high school lunch monitor.

Phone conversation with Ms. Kim

Mr. Kang called Ms. Kim the moment Jared and I met him at Gate 10 in the Incheon Airport. After a minute conversation he handed the phone to me. Mysteriously Ms. Kim’s voice was simultaneously scratchy and soft. She explains that we will be meeting Robin when we get to Daegu.

Seoul to Daegu

The flight from Seoul to Daegu is only 45 minutes and I spent virtually every minute with my face pressed against the window in order to take in as much of the country where I will be living for the next year as I can. The mountainous terrain provides for a beautiful view and from this vantage point the country looks like waves of green and when there is a break in the mountains a city can normally be found. South Korea has a population of roughly 48 million, is about the size of the state of Virginia, and close to 70 percent of the land is comprised of mountains, which means that there are some very densely populated areas. Daegu is one of these dense urban areas. We touchdown in the Daegu Aiport and Jared and I retrieve our luggage with no problems.

Confusion

Robin, who is young and dressed like Kanye West picks us up. He says that Jared is going with him in his small SUV and that I am going to take a cab to Avalon School, where I will be working. I was under the assumption that I was going to drop my things off at my apartment and later go to a meeting at the school at 2 pm. It is 10 am now. I ask Robin about the game plan and he says that he will pick me up at the school shortly after he drops Jared off at his apartment. I am confused, but because of the language barrier and because I have fantastic jet-lag I roll with it. Robin arranges a cab for me outside of the airport and we take off.

I just want to live…

The cab driver doesn’t speak a lick of English. I glance at his taxi ID and he looks eerily similar to North Korea’s President Kim Jung-Il. I have heard that people in Korea drive very fast, especially cab drivers, and that you must be careful about crossing streets because pedestrians do not have the right away. None of this prepared me for this next twenty minutes of extreme anxiety. Driving at ridiculously high speeds and taking reckless chances he seemed to be saying ‘welcome to Korea you filthy American’. I honestly cannot remember the last time I was this scared for my life. I genuinely thought that my time had come and that this was it for me. At one point I couldn’t hold my tongue any longer and yelped out “slow down!” Either he didn’t get the message or didn’t care. My knuckles were white from desperately clutching the seat and arm rest and I hadn’t taken a full breath the entire ride. I was so relieved to arrive at the school that I practically leaped out of the Hyundai (which are 90 percent of the cars on the road). He unloaded the suitcase from the trunk and gave me a slight bow. I offered him my best  death stare.

My cool neighbor Leah on the subway. She has been nice enough to show me around. The subway's are incredibly efficient and clean.

Waiting Game

A young woman was waiting outside of  the school for me and paid the cab driver the fare and we went inside. The academy is situated on a lively street in seven story building. Su-Gee speaks little English. She escorts me to a waiting room and says that Robin will pick me up soon. The school is clean and modern. I read the Korean Herald for thirty minutes until she comes out to the lobby and notifies me that Robin is waiting outside.

Empty Shoe-box

We drive about two minutes and take a right onto a small brick road and he says that this is the street where my apartment is. Suddenly, it has a village like atmosphere and we pull up to a building that Robin said is brand new. This is my apartment. I was impressed by the keyless entry system in which you simply type in an access code. Apparently this is very common in Korea. The best part is the little jingle it makes when you enter and leave. I find it soothing and uplifting. It’s also nice not having to ever worry about forgeting or losing a key.

My street, which doesn't seem to have a name. My building is the red brick building on the top left.

Robin brings me to room 103. I ask him what room Jared is staying in and he laughs and says that Jared is working in another branch in a different part of the city (I am working in Wolbae). My place is a small studio apartment (even by studio apartment standards) and what is more disconcerting is that there is not one piece of furniture to be found. I signed a contract that stated the school will provide a fully furnished apartment. I ask Robin where everything is and he says it will all arrive on Monday. It is Friday now. He points to a turquoise comforter and says I can place this on the floor and use it as a mattress in the meantime. I hate turquoise. Normally I would be more agitated by this kind of shoddy practice but my excitement shields my perplexity and frustration. I’m in South Korea!

 

A closer look at my apartment building.

Dongseong-No, a shopping street downtown.

Upcoming blog post preview: Korean Culture 101

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A Farewell to Cheese

Later today I will be heading west to go east, very far-east. There are few places in the world that are further away from the States. I am certainly going to miss everyone. I’ve never been separated from my family and friends for this long so we’ll see how I adapt. Skype, Facebook and NBA League Pass are sure to help with the transition process. Cliché as it sounds I’m not very good at saying goodbye. I prefer to just bounce and check in later. Forgive me if I did not offer you a proper adieu.

This morning I woke up very early…Dave Katz early. We went for a relaxing run with our dogs Scout and Wags. Unfortunately Harley was unable to go because he’s currently on the injured reserve list with a nasty, infected right paw, the result of making a mad dash for a deer in a wooded area (you have to respect the endeavor). He is out indefinitely from participating in runs, fetch, or tug of war. The early morning workout with the old man was just what I needed to relax me for the trip. I came home to a freshly brewed pot of coffee courtesy of Marilyn. She skillfully concealed her disappointment as the St. Louis Cardinals failed to make the playoffs and said a warm goodbye before heading to work.  

Daegu can also be spelled as Taegu.

I will be living in Daegu, South Korea. Once I arrive I will give a detailed description of what it is like there. By doing a good amount of research it sounds like an interesting place. In a nut shell, the city is the warmest region in South Korea and is known for its subtropical climate, beautiful women, fashion industry, apples, manufacturing industry (Samsung was founded there). Did I mention beautiful women? I’m excited to frequent Daegu Stadium, the second largest sports complex in South Korea. Daegu will be hosting the 2011 World Championships in Athletics. I plan on attending. I want to see first-hand if Usain Bolt is actually a human.  The country as whole is strongly influenced by Confucianism and especially this region. Not to self:  no wheelchair high-jacking involving seniors.

People have asked me if I’m nervous about the trip and I can honestly say that I have never been nervous in my entire life … except when I was a finalist in a spelling bee in Mrs. Clayton’s second grade class and I said “y” instead of “w” while trying to spell whimsical… okay the word was white. This bitter defeat remains entrenched deep inside me because I wanted to win the Garfield pencil very badly which was captured by Amanda Dubyna who I don’t even think liked Garfield.  I’m more excited than anything else. I think the biggest adjustment will be leading a life that does not involve very much cheese. Apparently, Korean dishes very seldom feature this amazing, delectable foodstuff… excuse me, I’m going to go gnaw on a block of Munster now.

Can I go an entire year without Utica Chicken Riggies?

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The Mystery of Ms. Kim

I found out this morning (Monday) that I take off for South Korea on Wednesday, not Friday. My “Placement Consultant” Ms. Kim was nice enough to fill me in on this detail.

Ms. Kim came recommended by my friend Nicuation, who is now teaching English in Korea. I first contacted her in mid-August. In less than two weeks, she managed to get me a job offer in Daegu, the third largest city in South Korea. Ms. Kim has been impressively punctual in getting back to me, but she has provided me with as little detail as possible throughout each step of the process.  Interestingly, all of our communication has been strictly email based. Throughout our month and a half electronic- relationship she has answered my questions and instructed me on what I needed to do using one line sentences (she does use a pleasant Calibri style font with a welcoming blue color). Ms. Kim has done a laudable job of keeping me on edge about things like my address when I’ll be there, my itinerary for the trip, if I need any kind of immunization shots, etc.

 I have theorized that Ms. Kim

a)      is a woman of few words

b)      is very busy

c)       doesn’t like me

d)      is a spy from North Korea plotting to hold me hostage

I’m extremely excited for this year-long adventure across the globe. I have been reading several books about the history and culture of South Korea and I’m taking a crack at learning the language.  The Two Koreas by Don Oberdorfer explains the volatile relationship between the North and South and how this country was essentially arbitrarily split by two world super-powers (The Soviet Union and the United States) after World War II and how this has led to fantastically different values, systems of government and cultures. I prefer South Korea.

 Luckily, Ms. Kim put me into contact with a foreign teacher at the school where I will be working. Originally he signed a one year contract but has enjoyed himself so much that he is in his third year in South Korea.  For confidentiality purposes I will call him Where the Wild Birds Sing. Where the Wild Birds Sing recently got engaged to a Korean woman (that’s right, we’re Facebook friends).

Here are some of the things I have learned from Where the Wild Birds Sing (taken verbatim from email conversations):

“Another good thing, about Korea in general, is that it’s cheap and easy to travel to different cities.”

“Daegu women are hot, just like all the other Korean women! Often, when you tell a Korean you live in Daegu, they’ll say something about the women being beautiful.”

“Bear in mind that it’s difficult to get big size clothes or shoes here. A few of my friends, who aren’t fat just bigger than the average Korean, struggle to find clothes and shoes to fit.”

“Language is definitely the biggest challenge. We’ve ordered what we thought was steak and gotten chicken feet, but as far as I’m concerned it’s all part of the experience and just makes it more memorable.”

“Koreans are fanatical about studying. Often they approach you and ask you to do conversation classes with them. This basically means chatting to them for an hour. You can get $30-50/hour, but it’s illegal so be very careful about it.”

“Yeah things are going great at the moment. Not sure how I feel about getting married in Korea though. If you ever get the chance to go to a Korean wedding do it! It’s insane, and you’ll know when you do exactly why I feel the way I do lol”

I look forward to meeting Where the Wild Birds Sing, hopefully he will invite me to his wedding. I also hope to get the opportunity to meet Ms. Kim … I think.

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