Posts Tagged Hangul
Early in the summer I went on an “extreme hiking” trip with a cool group of coworkers. Well, it was supposed to be extreme hiking. The only extreme thing about it was the extremely bad judgment of our tour guide, and the drinking later on that night.
After work on a muggy Friday night, eleven of us (all foreign teachers) take the KTX to Busan. We arrive in Busan close to 1 am. The bus is leaving for the hiking expedition the next morning at 9 am, so we decide to try to find a place to stay near the bus station to play it safe.
Standing outside of the bus station weighing which direction might lead to suitable accommodations for the evening, an affable Korean guy approaches and is quick to make conversation. Many English-speaking Koreans have an English name. I have a Korean name that I almost never use. After answering five multiple-choice questions Facebook crowned me with the Korean name Lee Dong Yeol, meaning “eastern passion.” I never truly appreciated the prevalence of the English language until actually going to another part of the world. With that said, I prefer to learn someone’s real name, even if I butcher the pronunciation. Maybe they feel differently. At any rate, he is called Johnny.
Johnny is ostensibly inebriated, yet composed. He wants to help us find decent, affordable lodging because when he was studying abroad many Aussies helped him along the way. We go from one hotel to another as Johnny negotiates for the eleven of us. Things heat up when Johnny is talking to the owner of a motel. Johnny feels we are getting a raw deal and expresses his discontent with the middle-aged owner. Eventually we find a place that costs $10 per person which Johnny is okay with. Our room doesn’t have any beds. It is a traditional room with floor mats, an AC and a bathroom – its ten dollars. We go to a chicken & beer restaurant until 4 am.
In Korea I find many people to be helpful, especially the younger crowd. The most sound explanation is that they are more comfortable communicating, speaking English. Or, it may be more rooted in having a different worldview, being more open-minded than the older generation. I feel most older folks are either thrilled to see a mayonnaise face like myself or put off by it, without much middle ground. Either way I usually have been able to find someone to aid me when needed.
We wake up at 8:30 and drag ourselves to the bus station. It is raining heavily. Four hours of sleep on the floor with a stomach full of beer has got me primed and ready to do this extreme hike. Woo! We take off at 9:15 – a bus load of foreigners and a Korean tour guide, Charles. Charles is thinly built with parted hair, glasses and a permanently wide grin.
Despite the rain everyone is in good spirits. Over a microphone Charles introduces himself and explains the itinerary. He then passes on the mic to the rest of us to introduce ourselves and say a quick something. My brain searches for something witty. Not many synapses firing. I say something lame about being happy that one of my coworkers made it on the trip. Instantly I regret not saying I was a recovering heroine addict or something along those lines. Oh well. There will always be another time to pretend to be a junkie.
The time passes. When I look out the window I see one green mountain after another. Korea is about 70 % mountainous making the roughly 50 million inhabitants much more mind-blowing. It seems that any relatively flat land is either farmland or a city. The bus ride is filled with chatter and faint music coming from an array of headphones. Sensing uneasiness about the heavy rain Charles takes the microphone: “Um as you see, it’s berry rainy… we have to cross riber … but I don’t know what it’s like … maybe it is berry strong … we will try. It’s kind cold so I think maybe we should drink soju now.” Soju is a popular clear liquor that is cheap as hell and will knock you on your ass before you know it. He passes the bottle around.
We finally arrive. It’s close to 1pm. The rain hasn’t let up, but it hasn’t deterred anyone’s spirits. We’re ready to do this hike, except for two girls. One says that she is staying on the bus because she is still recovering from a torn ACL, the other doesn’t want her to be alone. The rest of us get off the bus and we stand in the rain for 20 minutes. Then we go down a small walkway to the river. I envisioned hiking a few hours and trekking across a river at some point. I am wrong. The river is the first challenge. Due to all the rain the past two days the river is deep and flowing at a good pace. The ankle-deep water quickly swirls to waist-level and presumably eye-level for a little person. There are no little people on the trip. In fact, I didn’t see one little person the entire year I was in Korea. Something to think about…
The river was angry that day my friends, like an old man trying to send soup back in a deli.
Charles asks for a volunteer to wade across the river first. Apparently, on a normal day, without torrential downpour, crossing the river is not a sizable challenge in any respect. The next day I would see a brochure of this spot on a clear summer day and it was filled with children and their families playing in the water. Today there was nobody by the river … except for 40 foreigners, and Charles.
“I’ll do it”, voiced a well-built product of Texas.
I’m not sure if he had too much to drink, wanted to impress his girlfriend in attendance, or if he was normally this cocksure, but he started across. About five guys hold one end of a rope and the Texan carries the other end with him. The water climbs to his waist. Holding the rope he steps gingerly in order not to lose his balance. After about 10 long minutes the Texan makes it across unscathed. The rain continues to fall.
The apprehension manifests itself now, written on faces of most in the group. Math has never come easy to me but I do a quick calculation in my head: bus load of people + heavy rain + river crossing = NO FUCKING WAY.
After working out the numbers in my head I turn around to find about 20 Koreans standing under umbrellas up on the side of the road watching what is going on down by the river like they are watching a band of monkeys at a zoo exhibition. Some point, some laugh, others look genuinely concerned.
“This is not going to happen,” exclaimed a woman grasping the hand of another woman. “Where did Charles go?”
I look around and I don’t see our tour guide.
Next I hear police sirens, followed by a voice on a mega phone.
He is speaking in Korean but you get the sense that they want us out of here.
A Korean man comes down the bank speaking in Hangul. He says we have to go. I said I understand and tried to explain in piecemeal Korean that our “leader” (I don’t know how to say tour guide in Hangul) has left.
The bus that parked on the side of the road is no longer there.
“Did Charles leave on the bus?!” cried an Englishman with a cigarette tucked behind each ear.
A few people motion to the Texan that he has to cross back to where we are all standing on the other side of the river. Now the water is even higher and the current has gained strength. Without much deliberation he ties the rope around his waist and slowly descends into the agitated river.
The Texan labors to the midway point of the river and is then knocked off his feet. Everyone gasps – including the Korean spectators by the road. He starts drifting down with the current. More guys quickly take the rope to haul him before he is swept further down the river. As I see this unfolding I run toward the rope and grab ahold of the rope with the others (you can call me a hero). Later the Texan would explain that every tug of the rope dragged his body and head under the water making it impossible to get a full breath of air. In little time, the Texan is pulled across. Upon reaching the dry rocks that border the river his girlfriend runs to where he lay gasping for air. Later that night when the rain finally took a break we all went to the beach that was close to the pension house where we stayed and we had a good laugh about the whole thing as the Texan showed off the severe rope burn across his torso.
You’re probably wondering where Charles disappeared to. At some point during the Texan’s struggle to make it to shore he reappeared. Apparently he was on a mission to get more rope so that we could all cross the river faster. Charles was not in the least fazed by the whole ordeal and actually had the idea to relocate and try to cross the river at a different spot before his idea was shot down by a crowd of uneasy, cold, wet foreigners.
We spent a lot of time on the bus that weekend navigating through the rain (it was monsoon season) but we did have some nice meals together, partied on the beach and went to a beautiful wind power plant on the way home. Overall it was a fun adventure, albeit a much different kind than what we had anticipated.
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.
This morning I awoke at 7 am. My eyelids conceded around 3 am with a Richard Dawkins book in my hands. With only four hours of sleep I should have been tired, but I wasn’t. Conversely, I was rather energized and anxious to start my day like I had already been on my third cup of coffee.
Inspired, I sprung out of bed, turned on Nas, and did some stretching exercises for a good twenty. Subsequently, I studied Hangul for close to an hour and then headed to an eatery aptly referred to as Orange because – you guessed it – it’s Orange. A trip to the gym followed. Did Deron Williams’ recent game-winner impel me to accomplish more? Eager to be productive, I felt fresh, vibrant, and sharp. Perhaps more importantly, I felt grateful for all that I have. I was reminded of an expression my father uses when he is particularly excited about something: “It’s a good-to-be-alive day”. Every breath felt wonderful.
We all have this flame inside of us. Instead of waiting for urgency to make a visit the onus is on us to stoke the flame and compel it to grow.
Blue Team vs. White Team
A week and a half ago, Avalon Academy hosted a sports competition day in which all the Korean and foreign English teachers from all three of the Daegu campuses came together on a Sunday. We were split into two teams, competed and had some fun. Prizes were given out and the MVP took home a laptop computer. Needless to say, I wanted the laptop. As we know, history is narrated by the winning side so instead of giving you an account of the day you can read the story in the words of Chris Justice.
Since my last post a lot has happened. The past two weeks have been a heaping plate of interesting with a side of mundane and a hint of nostalgia. Despite what some Daegu inhabitants will tell you I am becoming much more competent at the business of living in Korea.
Until late, updating this blog was not a chore, I actually looked forward to it. Now that I am more acquainted with the area and my coworkers, my free time has become filled with studying Hangul, going out/playing soccer, and trying to get an adequate dose of American sports, especially the NBA. Speaking of which after a slow start the Utah Jazz are really starting to come together. Back-to-back come from behind victories in Miami and Orlando? I’ll take it. Especially when Paul Milsap, a player known for his blue-collar work ethic and rebounding tenacity puts up 46 against the Big Three and their suffocating defense.
My work hours are by no means traditional: Monday-Friday 2pm- 10pm. I dig the hours, but a few late nights turn into sleeping past noon which translates into not having enough time to really do anything other than eat, read the paper, and shower before teaching a full day. I have done a decent – but not impeccable – job of avoiding this seductive pattern. Strangely, we (teachers) are required to be in to work by 2pm, we have class preparation for half an hour and then from 2:30 – 3:30 pm we stuff our faces at lunch; at 3:30 pm we are back in the office for class prep and by 4 pm we are teaching our first class. Curious, I asked my coworkers on my second day why they don’t just have us come in at 3 pm and have class prep for an hour and eliminate the lunch hour altogether. They all said they wondered the same thing. It’s not that I terribly mind this schedule, but it feels off-kilter taking an hour break after only being there for 30 minutes- I liken it to pulling over to eat after driving only half an hour on a 7 hour car ride.
Last week I went to Daegu Bank, a one minute walk from my apartment if I have blisters on my feet from wearing running sneakers to play soccer and a thirty second stroll if I am at top fitness, to transfer money from my Korean bank account into my U.S. account. I recognized the gregarious gentleman who opened up my account about a month ago and sat down. During our first meeting he talked at length about his favorite American television dramas, like CSI and Law & Order, and before leaving he printed me out a map of the area and circled a few restaurants that he highly recommended (I went to one of them later that day and enjoyed my first bowl of kal-guk-su, one of my favorite dishes). He said he was happy to see me again and I said likewise. I practiced some Hangul phrases and expressions with him and he became very giddy. He proudly demonstrated that he got alerts of U.S. news stories in English on his I-Phone and then he showed me several framed pictures of his wife and kids that were displayed on his desk. His English is not great but he can maintain a conversation and is able understand what I say if I slow down my pace. After I exchanged some won into dollars he told me to wait one moment. When he came back he handed me a box of Korean brand toothpaste. I asked if he was trying to give me a hint. He smiled without picking up on my insinuation and said he is happy to talk to me and would like to know me better and asked if I drank maekchu. I said only when forced and offered a wry smile. Song Choel gave me his business card and highlighted his mobile number. I walked out thinking what a genuinely nice guy, why don’t Korean ladies give up their number this easily?
Every Thursday after work a group of us rent out this outdoor turf field that is fenced in by massive netting and scrimmage from 11 pm until they tell us our time is up which is usually around 12:30 am. It’s great fun. I was never adroit with the ball but having been removed from the game for so many years the first few times playing was a little rough. “The touch of a rapist” is how an Englishman I work with described it. My conditioning is fine and I am more than able to keep up but beyond making a simple pass and playing solid defense I was not very serviceable. It did not help that I was playing in cross-trainers while everyone else had on cleats or turf boots. Fed up with being one of the last picked every week I made a trip to Homeplus, a Wal-Martesque place and invested in a pair of Diadora indoor soccer boots for 30,000 won, the equivalent of roughly $25. Granted they are not the highest quality, I felt like a new player during my first outing with them on. Who says shoes don’t matter?
I had my first official date here in Korea a few weeks back. It went alright but there were no real fireworks. The highlight of the night was probably the makgeolli, which is a cloudy, milky-white wine made from rice; it’s dirt cheap and usually sold by the pot but at this place it was in bottles.
November 11 is Pepero Day in South Korea. This monumental day celebrates a thin chocolate cookie stick. 11-11 represents a pack of these tasty chocolate sticks. Get it? 1111! People hand out these treats to people they like. According to my students, a guy is supposed to give them to a girl he is into. I guess it is a lot like Valentines Day. Apparently they don’t have antitrust laws for this unofficial holiday because Pepero clearly has a monopoly on the day. I thought this whole thing silly until the nice-looking girl at the café who I often talk to gave me a pack of Pepero cookie sticks. Now I am smitten by her.
Within the past week my students have said I look like the following mammals (usually intended as an insult):
- Kim Jung Un (Kim Jung Il’s fat son)
- Bill Gates
I am convinced that they utter any non-Korean person that they know. As for the monkey reference, well, what can I say?
Last week I organized the students in some of my classes into teams for a trivia competition. Here are some of the team names that they chose:
- Daniel’s face is in danger
- Windows 7
- Thank you
- Jazz (my suggestion)
- Kimchi now!
- Daniel is under attack
- Harry Potter in big cast
‘Daniel is under attack’ was stacked with some of the brightest students, winning in a route, forcing me to give them a stamp in their workbooks.