:: Saturday, June 29, 2002 ::
:: Thursday, June 27, 2002 ::
Korea, Day 12
Over the past couple days I've been hanging out more with Koreans instead of foreigners which has gained me a much more interesting insight into the culture. I've experienced the karaoke rooms, Korean restaurants and soju.
Yesterday, the hogwan boss took the whole elementary school staff out for dinner as a going-away party for 2 teachers. One, a Korean, transferring to a different branch, and a foreigner, who coincidentally happened to have his contract end on Friday and is no longer going to work. The partiers included the very same foreigners who staged a strike the previous day, and the very same Korean teachers who secretly applauded our efforts because they got the day off too.
Of course, a little background might put things into perspective. You see, even though the hogwan knew that the foreign teacher was leaving, they still hadn't found anybody to replace him. They even asked him to stay an extra 20 days. He rightfully demanded more money to stay for the extra days, and they politefully declined. So, the hogwan currently has a teacher shortage which will probably end up getting filled by one of the Korean teachers. Pretty sucky situation, but pretty typical.
For the party we went to a restaurant where you sit on the floor with your shoes off. This isn't the first time I've been to a place like this. I have no problem sitting on the floor since I do it a lot anyway, but some Westerners have real back problems when trying. Our dinner was quite a treat. We had bulgogi, which is basically barbecue beef. There's charcoal barbecues embedded right into the tables, and you cook the meat right on the table. When the meat is done, you pick it right off the grill with your chopsticks and dip it in some sauce and eat it. Very tasty. There was a type of barbecue sauce that was difficult to describe, and a very tasty sesame seed oil that does well with the meat.
So the boss, as ritual dictates, left the dinner early to pick up the bill, but he also left the group with some money to have more fun tonight. The other 2 foreign teachers that we were with opted out to go to the foreigner bars. I, for one, was not ready to give up just yet. We did however receive an invitation to go to the foreigner bar after midnight when things get more interesting.
So it was just me, and 8 Korean women out on the town. So what do Korean women coworkers do for fun? Well, I can only guess that what we did was similar to a "typical outing". I can only guess how the dual presence of a man and a foreigner changed behavior and ettiquette.
The first thing we did was go to the karaoke bar. Now this isn't quite what you expect. I had heard about these places and was interested in seeing one. Basically, a karaoke bar consists of a dozen or so private rooms that you rent for a while to sing your favorite tunes.... in private. Of course, you have your friends as your audience, but the whole idea of singing in private secluded rooms seems very absurd to me. Nevertheless, I went and I sang.
They mostly sung Korean music that I had never heard of. Most Korean music has a lot of techno-like features to it. This is in contrast to Western music which is usually instrumental in nature, only because it is easier to market with a touring band. Popular Korean music doesn't seem to have this restriction. Hence, there's a lot of unbridled digital music out there.
Now, I knew I had to sing. I could have easily opted out, and they would have understood. But dammit I came to Korea for a reason, and I'm going to get the most out of this trip. Very self-conscious and not very music savvy, I know I needed to get some more beer in me before I could do it. I drank and watched the Koreans make fools of themselves for a half hour. 2 drinks later I was singing "Under the Sea" from the Little Mermaid.
I also sang Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody". I think they were more impressed by the first 2 since the rapid wording was very difficult for a Korean to perform. Finally, out of principle, I felt the need to sing some obscene angry music with Marilyn Manson's "Beautiful People". But somehow it didn't quite come out as I expected. Without good ol' Manson screaming into the mic, the song became really deflated and lackluster. It didn't quite give the impression I wanted to make.
By this time, the time on the machine had ended, and we were deciding what if anything to do. I made the tactful suggestion that we could go to the foreigner bar we were invited to at dinner. The name of the bar is Soul Trane which is one of several very popular places for foreigners. Soul Trane was actually the scene of some controversy earlier in the month. The police raided the bar because they were dancing without a dance permit. In addition, they forced a lot of people to give urine samples for drug testing. 2 foreigners were among these people, and being too drunk to think things through, they failed to realize that it's not legal to demand a urine sample and could have refused. So they got busted and spent 2 months in jail without being charged with a crime before finally being deported. One was actually smoking weed, and the other just got it second-hand.
So, details aside, we took a taxi to the famous Soul Trane to see what it was all about. The place isn't as big as I expected it to be with such a reputation. We arrived at 12:30 which was still pretty early for this bar. A band was finishing its performance, and there were scant people. To my surprise, Stanley, the guy who I stayed with the first few days, and also the guy who is our English-speaking liaison to the hogwan was sitting at the bar by himself. I went over and talked to him and found out that "he's working". Apparently he's here to try and recruit an English teacher since they still don't have someone to fill in for the recent shortage. It all seemed very pitiful.
By this time, our group had dwindled down to only 4 women and myself. We were then accosted by this really drunk Korean guy. Well, weren't really accosted, but we certainly were by Korean standards. He kept trying to talk to the ladies and kept touching their arms and whatnot. I was actually surprised to see the ladies very visibly uncomfortable and completely unequipped for the situation. This Korean had obviously been heavily influenced by Western culture since he was acting like a Westerner would when looking for women. Being a man and a foreigner, I sort of felt a chauvinistic and cultural obligation to take care of the situation. I tried to talk to the man and say they were with me, but I don't think he spoke much English. Obviously my territorial grunts were not impressing him, so I asked the bartender to help since she would likely be far more adept at handling situations like this. And it worked, he didn't bother us anymore and his friend seemed very embarassed since he gave us a deep bow of apology.
So it was 1:30am and the ladies were ready to go home. I, however, was not. I decided to stay and see what else happened. I talked with other foreigners there. Many foreign men in this country have Korean girlfriends. I was actually quite amazed by the number of good-looking women hanging around real butt-ugly guys. I hung out with a few geeky guys who all had Korean girlfriends and knew lots of Korean women. Of course, mind you that these Korean women they associate with are significantly transformed from your average Korean girl. They wear sexy clothes, act like Westerners, and have the appearance of having been around the corner once or twice. (I don't know what that means) Needless to say, I was amazed, amused, and disgusted all at the same time.
So the night drags on and both of my foreigner co-workers show up to the bar. (The 2 of 3 that actually drink and go out.) One was really quite drunk and it was interesting to see the party life-style that he's been living for the duration he's been here. Of course, before I knew it, it was 6am and the sun was up. I followed my drunk co-worker to see what happens at this hour in the morning.
I think the highlight of my day was meeting Johnny. Johnny was hanging out with my co-worker, so that's how I met him. I've heard quite a bit about Johnny because he's a recruiter for schools in this country. Johnny is a Korean-American, so he's speaks perfect American-English. This also makes him very easy to communicate with. Anyway, Johnny has a long history with the hogwan I work for. He worked there for a long time and developed most of the programs that we do currently. Apparently he was very successful and brought the hogwan a lot of business and reputation. The reason for his success is two-fold, 1) he's a competent person who speaks Korean and 2) he's not crippled by Korean culture and politics. Of course, I don't know how much of this is true. He could be a swindler just like the rest of the Koreans, but so far he's been the most down-to-earth Korean I've met so far.
Of course, the current issue right now is our hogwan's refusal to get a new teacher through Johnny. Johnny charges a commission which is not too unreasonable, plus he has tons and tons of connections and know-how. This is the reason why Stanley was at the bar earlier that night. Trying to side-step the middle man. However, I have to agree with Johnny that direct recruiting is a losing proposition. Most people in-the-know won't trust you, and people who aren't in-the-know will be resentful after they sign the contract. With all this uncertainty clouding the hogwan business, reputable middle-men seems like a great thing.
Of course, Johnny is a businessman too. He told me how once I finish my schooling, he could get me a professor position at one of the universities here teaching engineering. You don't even need a Ph.D. In fact, I could probably get one right now with only a bachelor's. But I don't want to, since I have plans for more schooling. Johnny also complimented me by saying that I'm one of the few foreigners in Korea who actually care about getting kids to learn. He said that I'm about 1 in 50. From what I've seen, this is probably not far-fetched, but you have to be careful about what people tell you in Korea. It could be just another line of bullshit.
So after having microwaved rice at the 24-hour Family Mart (7-11 competitor), I headed off to catch the subway with another drunk foreigner whose been in Korea for only 30 hours. A lot less time than I. Johnny apparently gave us bad directions since we never found the subway stop or we were just too drunk to follow the directions. We got a taxi to take us to the subway station. Very sad. Of course, I sat in the front seat with my seatbelt, and the new guy sat in the back where there are no seat belts. I joked to him that if we crashed, he would be the one to die and the driver and I would be saved. Morbid humor indeed, but you have to laugh at the absurdity of it all. The straps are there, but the buckles are pushed in between the cushions because they "get in the way".
So I got home and slept until 1:30pm. I then spent about 4 hours watching TV, trying to recoup. Uncharacteristically, I got completely obsessed with 2 English-language movies on TV. It was 5:30pm before they were done. I was supposed to call a friend at 5pm but slacked. I can't call cell phones from my room phone, so I had to go to a pay phone and make the call. At the subway station, there's 30% coin-op phones and 60% card-op phones. I've never actually seen anyone use the card phones, so its kind of irritating when you urgently need to use the phone.
I just remembered that I was asked to keep the events of this evening secret. I'm not entirely sure why, but I think its something of a cultural sensitivity of segregating the personal life from the professional life. Maybe I'll understand more later. What I can tell you is the things I learned about Korea.
I had the most delicious spicy chicken stew and drank soju, a very common drink in Korea. If you're not careful, soju will knock you out fast since it doesn't taste that strong. I learned that if you have an empty glass, it will be filled by someone next to you. Filling your own glass is not something you do. I'm not sure if its rude or just awkward. You also pick up the glass when its being filled. When filling, you hold the bottle with 2 hands if you don't know someone, or one hand if that person is your friend. If you don't want anymore soju, you have to leave the glass not-empty. This is actually the case for all food and drink in Korea, which leads to a lot of food waste. Not-finishing your food is a must in any dining situation.
Also, the person who was going to pay the bill flipped back and forth a couple times. I wasn't quite sure what to do in that situation, but I do think that the oldest person usually ends up being the one to pay. This theory coincides with my age being asked earlier in the evening. I'm not sure though. There was a lot of subtextual interactions going on that I don't fully understand yet, and it may be difficult to illicit explanations.
And finally, I went home and have spent the last couple hours in a PC bong typing on the computer, sitting next to Koreans playing the stupidest of stupid games. Koreans have such poor taste in computer games, its sad. They play mostly Korean remakes of well-established gaming genres such as Bubble Bobble, BomberMan, TankWar, quizzes, chatrooms, so on and so forth.
So now I have to figure out what I'm going to do with my Sunday and my extra day off on Monday.
:: everist 6:50 AM [+] ::
:: Tuesday, June 25, 2002 ::
Korea, Day 10
It was quite an interesting day in Korea yesterday. It was my fourth day of classes at the hogwan, and my seventh day staying at the yeogwan.
For starters, I had a long conversation with my yeogwan landlady. What we talked about, I'm not quite sure. She did provide me with the means of getting rid of some of the mosquitoes in my room. She gave me this insect repellant device, and they were somehow supposed to be killed by it or make them run for the window. I'm not sure which, and I'm not sure if it was that effective. Probably because I used it wrong.
Also, when I got home last night, I found all my piled laundry cleaned and folded on my bed. How lucky I am! I asked my landlady about the issue, and apparently her solution was to do it herself. Now, if I can only get her to do this on a regular basis. So, this morning, I went to the Megamart to find a small gift. A plant, and a thank you note that said literally "thank you" on it Korean. Since besides my name in English, that's all I wrote, so hopefully they'll know who it was from and what it is for.
And work turned out to be a very exciting day. You see, Monday had been declared a National Holiday for all since Korea is going to be playing their final game against Turkey for the 3rd place position. Nearly every hogwan in town is taking the day off except ours. This is despite the fact that our contract says that we get all National holidays off. This is pretty typical of Korean businesses. They try to get as much from you as possible through the smallest things. Of course, the only way to not get screwed in Korea is to take a firm stance and you're position will be respected.
So, this is what we did. There are 4 foreigners working at the hogwan, and we all decided to walk up to the office together and announce to the boss that we would not be showing up on Monday. This would leave them no room for negotiation. The ironic thing about all this is there's no real way we can get fired. If they fired us, what would they have gained? By removing all your foreign teachers, you remove your main selling point about your school.
So we marched up to the office floor and asked to see the boss. The look on the receptionist's face was something along the lines of terror when he heard we wanted to speak to the boss. I don't quite understand the whole taboo about talking with the boss, but we were escorted into the meeting room to wait for our native speaker liaison to arrive and handle the issue. The unfortunate thing about all this is the time we spent at the office gutted 10 minutes of class time from our students. It's unfortunate, but it had to be done.
Our native speaker liaison showed up a little flustered and asked about our concerns. He told us he'd get back to us and let us know what could be done. Of course, that line collectively set off our bullshit detectors, and we collectively announced that we would not be showing up for class regardless of what was decided. We then when back to our waiting classes.
Later on in the day, our liaison showed up announced that it had been decided to let the elementary school have the day off. This also meant that all the Korean teachers had the day off too since if you have no foreign teachers, then you have no hogwan. This was probably more important than our getting the day off personally. You see, the Korean teachers could not have pulled this kind of stunt that we did since none of them were under contract (which doesn't mean much anyway), and if they so much as raised their voice, they would have been immediately fired.
So, our little strike apparently didn't affect our relationship with the hogwan very much. We're still very polite with another, and I still like working here. It's just that this is how business is done in Korea. Our liaison's job seems to be dealing with crisis after crisis. Lack of teachers for classes and things like our foreigner's strike are among the many crises that they encounter here. The sad thing is that most of these problems could be prevented with some foresight and a little more respect in the business arena. To give our hogwan some credit, here they pay you and they pay you on time with little to no hassle. Of course, you may have to heckle about the end figure, but you'll generally get the money you are owed. This is in stark contrast to other hogwans in the business which are the source for many a horror stories.
:: everist 10:20 PM [+] ::
:: Monday, June 24, 2002 ::
Korea, Day 9
Korea lost their game versus Germany last night. I found the whole matter very depressing since I invested so much time and energy in it's support. The Korean people actually took it fairly well. Sure they were a little dissappointed, but they also applauded Germany's accomplishment and were generally pleased that Korea had made it to the final four.
After the game, everyone took to the streets and walked home. There was cheering, but noticeably deflated. I and the foreigners I was with all went to another bar and did a lot more drinking. We were there for quite some time. It was about 2am when everyone else left and I decided to take a taxi home. Fortunately, everything worked out okay. Even though the taxi drivers are quite insane here, it doesn't really bother me anymore since I'm quite used to it.
Classes yesterday were a little overshadowed by the impending game. I, for one, was trying to figure out things to do the whole time. I really felt I couldn't work on a lesson plan since my predecessor had often designated Tuesday as a puzzle day. I didn't have a puzzle, but I did bring in a new game for the class which they seemed to like. We played 20 questions, where students have to ask questions in English to guess what a word is. I gave them a point for successfully asking a question, and 3 points for successfully guessing the word. A wrong guess throws them out of the game for the round. It worked fairly well.
:: everist 7:47 PM [+] ::
:: Sunday, June 23, 2002 ::
Korea, Day 8
Today is the day of the big game of Korea vs. Germany. I'm wondering how many students are going to show up to class. The game starts at 8:30 pm, but it may take the whole day for some people to prepare. At least a couple of my students went to the actual game itself on Saturday.
Yesterday was my first day of classes too. I had 6 classes of 3 different skill levels. There was the little 4 and 5 year olds who are doing phonics, only sounding out words. They're pretty easy. All I have to do is sound out words and repeat them while they follow along.
The elementary kids are more difficult. I have 2 classes in particular which have a few catalyst kids who really rile things up. So far I haven't had to punish anybody. The way they punish students in this country is they eject them from the class and make them stand outside the door with their hands in the air.
I think the most difficult part is trying to get away from the mentality of appeasement that I have had relating to other people. Avoid conflict when possible and make people feel as comfortable as possible. Student-teacher relationship is very different. It's my duty to make sure kids learn as much as possible while maintaining a certain amount of order and discipline. A very difficult balance to strike.
A child also told me to "shut up" in Korean which is apparently very rude. Fortunately the other students clued me into it, and I told him to never say it again. Now the hard part is remembering the phrase and catching it when it happens again. "Datchko"
:: everist 7:34 PM [+] ::
:: Saturday, June 22, 2002 ::
Korea, Day 6
Sunday has been pretty low-key. This morning I had peanut butter and bread, and some frosted flakes. I was also faced with the conundrum of trying to figure out how to do laundry. There's no washing machine in the building and there isn't a drier in the country. Most people hang there clothes out to dry.
I tried filling up the small plastic tub up with soap water and cleaning it in that. I think the tub is for washing ones self, but I haven't yet found out how it's useful. I'm not sure how well I washed the clothes. I rubbed some soap on them, wrung it several times, and rinsed it with tap water, then hung them on the clothes line in my bathroom. It may take some time for them to dry in there, but we'll see how it goes.
Apparently yogwan's (motels) offer some degree of service if you ask for it. They will do your laundry for a fee and clean your room to some degree. They will also provide purified water. I have yet to discuss this with my yogwan owner, since they don't speak one word of English. I'll have to attempt a conversation in Korean.
The stench in the streets is really starting to get to me. At first I didn't think it was so bad, but now that I know what it is and have been around it for some time, it's really becoming debilitating. All the streets have open sewer grates, so there's pockets of stink all over the city. It's worse in some places and not so bad in others. The stench is also not good for Korean cuisine. There's street vendors all over the place selling various dishes. It's hard to take interest in them when fresh food sits on a table over a stinky open sewer grate.
I forgot to mention that earlier in the week, when I was at the mall, we were approached by Jehova's witnesses. 2 women, one of which spoke extremely good English and proselytized to us. When she said she was a Jehova's Witness I lauged at the sheer absurdity of it all. Korean Jehova's Witnesses! I also hear there are Mormons around here. I did see foreigners walking around with brief cases, white shirts and ties which is the archetype of Mormon missionaries.
:: everist 2:25 AM [+] ::
:: Thursday, June 20, 2002 ::
Korea, Day 5, Apeshit!
Yes, I know I missed a day. That was mostly because I went out to the bars with a bunch of other foreigners and got completely hammered. And I did the same thing tonight, only less so because my body was still saturated with alcohol.
Anyway, KOREA BEAT SPAIN!! The whole country has gone completely apeshit over this. The streets are completely packed with people singing, screaming, jumping, and making noise. It's about 12am now and people are still milling about and getting completely hammered. I had to dodge an inebriated woman just to get to the computer room.
So here's the situation. Spain scored 2 goals on Korea that were invalidated by offsides calls. Additionally, Spain made so many goal attempts on Korea that's its very amazing that they didn't win. Of course, Korea was sucking it up in the first half, but they began to hold their own in the second half and overtime. Overtime ended with still 0-0 and Korea miraculously beat Spain in the kickoff. Korea plays Germany on Tuesday and Tuesday has allegedly been announced a National Holiday. That means I won't have to work that day and we'll all watch the game and get smashed.
I started watching the game on Haeundae Beach. They have a huge big screen television there, but there was over 10000 people there so that it was very difficult to see the game well. Instead we moved out and went to a bar to watch the game. We drank many beers and there was much rejoicing. Let me tell you, that game was highly stressful. I was eager for either side to make a goal and win for it to be done with.
Every 2-3 min, the crowd in the bar would start another cheer. After we won, we filed out into the streets and participated in the festivities. Since I was in a group of foreigners, we instantly became a center of attention. Several of the guys had drums and they drummed up some excitement. I think Koreans were amazed to see foreigners support Korea so vigorously. Someone threw some toilet paper. Some of us convinced this kid to shake up his Pepsi and spray it all over the crowd.
After about 30 minutes of this, we decided we needed to take a rest and went down to the beach to play some hackey-sack. The end of the cheering was nowhere in sight. The chants continued, the noise continued, and people drove by in their cars perched on top, piled into the backs of trucks, waving flags and doing very suicidal things.
After a while of chilling in the beach, we went to an Indian restaurant that served the best Indian food I have ever tasted. They had this tomato soup that was absolutely divine. And I had a chicken/spinach dish with bread that was really good but also really spicy. It was a very expensive dinner at the price of 15000 won.
After dinner, we went to another bar to cheer for Senegal against Turkey. Sadly, the game did not turn out how we hoped and Senegal lost. But Korea winning is a nice consolation prize.
We discussed a little about the performance of the Korean team. Apparently, Korea has never won a World Cup match in its existence. Not one game. This was due to the last coach they had who selected players for the team based on their status and family connections. Consequently the team sucked big time. 1 1/2 years ago they got a new Dutch coach which re-organized the team and selected players based on merit. Korea is now in the semi-finals and their accomplishment is truly amazing.
You may have seen all the red-shirts and Korean flags in the Korean World Cup game. In fact, you'll see them in just about all games since a lot of the games are played in Korea. Those shirts are everywhere, and I have resisted buying one. I now think I'm going to cave in and buy one even though the slogans are stupid. The shirt slogan says "Be the Reds". I'm not sure what this means, but Korean culture is full of these non-sensical phrases. Another one is "Korea fighting!"
So I'm going to attempt to sleep tonight if the noise doesn't keep me up all night. From my experience on Tuesday, the excitement should wane at about 3-4am. That's plenty of time for sleep!
:: everist 7:54 AM [+] ::
:: Wednesday, June 19, 2002 ::
Korea, Day 3
Yesterday Terry took me to the mall and the grocery store. We hopped onto the subway which was a lot like the BART in SF. Fortunately, since the World Cup came to town, a lot of the signs were translated into English and Japanese, so it was considerably easier to get around if you didn't already know what you were doing.
At our stop, we walked out into an underground shopping mall. Supposedly, this underground dwelling is supposed to go on for miles. Perhaps some day I'll explore it, but our main concern was to visit the mall. We were going to get lunch and see if we could find a Korean grammar book for non-native speakers.
We stepped into the mall which was a 10-story building. The first thing that struck me was that it was a lot like the ground floor of Nordstrom's or Meier and Frank. There was lots of perfume and cosmetic stands and other frivolous items. The other thing that struck me was the salespeople: that they all wore the same black dress and that there was 3 times as many of them than in the US. All the goods were categorized and displayed in large squares, and each square had about 4 saleswomen devoted entirely to the particular products. In some cases, the number of salesmen completely outnumbered the potential customers. I kind of wonder how these malls stay in business if they have so many employees to pay. Normally in the States, whenever I go to the store, I get really irritated when the salesmen begins to hover over you waiting to help you at a minutes notice. In this case, it didn't bother me so much even though they were all like gnats hovering over a stagnant pond.
We went up a couple floors to the foreign goods section to see if we could find some coffee. Practically all the coffee they had was gourmet stuff and it was all really expensive. Of course, couple this with the fact that I didn't have a coffee maker or a coffee grinder, buying coffee beans wasn't really a very good option.
We then hopped up to the 9th floor to the food court. Up there you could find Starbucks, Subway, Wendy's, TGIF, among others. In TGIF, the waitresses wore these long stockings up to their knees with short skirts and cowboy hats. One of the strangest things I've seen in a while. We went to the Subway and ordered sandwiches. It actually cost the same amount in Korea as it does in the US. All the menu sandwiches are the same, but they had a few variations here and there. The tomatoes were actually greenish which made them taste a little different. And the pickles were made differently somehow that made them taste like gimchi. They also sold "doritos" which were actually just generic tortilla chips.
At Subway we actually met one of the teachers at our Hogwan. Obviously, the Western food joints are reasonably popular with Western people. I wasn't so sure I wanted to spend my money on Western food when Korean food is a lot cheaper. We sat and talked about the nuances of Korean culture and how you have to be firm when you want something. How you'll only be screwed if you let yourself be. How public safety and civic awareness is extremely lacking. We commented on all the car accidents, all the extra-marital unprotected sex men have, the fact that there's no homosexuals in Korea and that it's only "a Western problem". We speculated what the HIV rate might be in this country what with all the unprotected sex men have with prostitutes and affairs. To give credit though, I saw an AIDS awareness commercial on the way there on the subway there, but I can only speculate how effective it is.
After this banter, we went back on the subway to the MegaMart. At the entrance they have what I call Techno-Diva Ticket-Takers. They're these women who stand in a booth playing loud techno music, with microphone headsets, and Michael Jackson gloves. Whenever a car drives up, she flutters her hands around in a weird way and makes some sort of announcement followed by giving the motorist a parking ticket. On the way out, the driver gives his ticket back to another Techno-Diva, and she does the weird hand fluttering.
Terry is a body-builder, so by this time he was hungry again. We went upstairs to the food court of MegaMart. Yes, the grocery store has a food court. We took the escalator up and we ran into the bow-boy. I'm not sure what else to call him because that's all he does. He stands at the top of the escalator and bows at people coming up. That is the extent of his job.
We went over to the McDonalds and Terry got himself 2 fish fillets, french fries, and a sprite. Again, McDonalds was about the same price as in the States. Although, I've never been impressed with McDonalds before, its just amazing how identical they make the franchises here in Korea.
Then we went to a PC room. Apparently they're all over the place, but its a kind of difficult to recognize them if you don't read Korean. These PC rooms are usually very smokey. People surf the web, play games, or do email. Terry had to test out his webcam at home. They gave us 2 tiny little fruity yogurt drinks and an ashtray while we did our computer thing. The popular games here in Korea right now are Diablo2, Starcraft, Age of Empires, and to a lesser extent Lineage and Counter-Strike. I actually haven't seen the latter 2 played at all, but I saw them on television.
Yes, there are games on television. In fact, there are 2 channels entirely devoted to video games. This morning I watched a Counter-Strike tournament on TV. Basically it consists of the computer screen in spectator mode, with a superimposed scoreboard, and Korean commentators. Not terribly exciting since I've already burnt myself out of that game, but it's amazing seeing the Koreans giving video games the respect they deserve. They also have a lot of Starcraft on TV.
:: everist 6:30 PM [+] ::
:: Tuesday, June 18, 2002 ::
My second day in Korea.
Hear about hung-over Koreans from the Korea soccer victory celebration, crazy taxi drivers, and the nuances of Korean culture.
I went and saw where I was going to work yesterday. The school, a hogwan, is place where students come to learn exclusively English. Hogwans are a very common place thing in Korea. There is a huge demand for English teachers and especially native-English speakers. I'm mostly going to be working with elementary school kids.
I went and visited some of the classes that I'll be taking over from the person whose going to be leaving the country. Kids are a bit different here in Korea. For one, they give their teacher more respect, but you can really lose it if you try to be their friend. This was explained to me by Renee, the person who I'm taking over for. She has a real difficult time controlling the class, but she said things would probably be easier for me since I'm a male and they give more respect to males.
One thing I noticed is that kids are fascinated by the hair on my arms. Twice so far, some kid has run his hand across my arm to feel the hair. I wonder what they'd think of my chest.
Since I've been living at Stanely's house, the Korean whose been escorting me and driving me around all day, I probably have to find alternate place to live at a yogwan. A yogwan is something like a hotel and you could probably find a place for $250 to $300 a month if you bargain properly. Of course, you need a Korean to do the bargaining because if you're a foreigner, you'll get ripped off. I initially didn't think I needed to find my own place since staying at Stanley's would be cheap and the food is good. However, on the urging of Terry, another foreigner who works at the hogwan, having your own space might be an important thing as time goes on.
Terry and I hopped into a taxi last night to go looking for the yogwan he once stayed at. As soon as we got in, the back seat where I was sitting, didn't have a seat belt buckle. This made me pretty nervous, but I considered it just a fluke at the time. The driver immediately pulled out into traffic and made an 8-lane U-turn right in front of a dozen cars forcing them to break to prevent collision.
By this time, I wasn't really surprised by this maneuver. I had been riding through traffic for quite some time and noticed the craziest driving maneuvers. The ironic thing about all this is that Koreans are actually really good drivers. I don't mean that they follow the rules (which they don't), but they drive their cars with such speed and precision that it makes me cringe when they pass a car at 35mph with a one-inch clearance. The same thing with pedestrians. They'll drive at 45mph past a pedestrian on a crosswalk. Very crazy, but very skilled.
Finally we got dropped off and began walking through alleys and backroads. There's a shop of some kind on every corner and people usually live at their place of business. The air smells a lot like gimchi which is a type of dish made of cabbage and spices. Its a very common thing, almost like french fries in the US. Another thing is public-drunkeness. On the way we saw a man sitting in the road, completely hammered. Terry commented that you only see older people drunk in the streets and never the younger generation.
We arrived at the yogwan and tried to strike up a banter with the owner. After much attempts, we eventually just exchanged phone numbers to get some of the administrators at the hogwan to do the bargaining for us. So, we headed on out and caught another taxi. I got the back seat and wouldn't you know it? There was no seatbelt in the back seat. The driver was equally erratic in his driving and I was equally nervous. I think I've made a resolution to avoid taxis whenever possible.
I think one of the more interesting observations I've made so far is the large amount of laws that are completely disregarded. Of course, Americans regularly disregard laws such as jaywalking, speeding, and software piracy. However, the amount of ignored laws is actually staggering. Practically all traffic laws are disregarded except traffic lights. Not to mention they also disregard a number of laws regarding business practices. The fact of the matter is, many laws just aren't enforced very well. However, not what you expect from this attitude, I haven't really seen any theft. I can leave my things around and they won't be stolen. Of course, I haven't taken very large risks either.
:: everist 7:01 PM [+] ::
:: Monday, June 03, 2002 ::
First day in Korea
I stepped off the plane from Tokyo to Busan jet-lagged as hell. It had been 16 hours since I got on the first plane to San Francisco. I met Stanley at the airport after having gone through customs and drove off in his car.
First impressions: driving in Korea is crazy! The stoplights, signs, and lanes seem to be only a loose framework for a barely contained chaos. People are constantly running red lights and stopping short of an inch before hitting a pedestrian. Oddly, the pedestrians seem to be strangely unaware how close to death they are. I haven't seen any accidents yet though.
The soccer game between S. Korea and Spain was on last night, so everywhere you went in town, you saw people crowded around a TV and people screaming "Korea"! When we first showed up, Korea was losing 0-1 and the game was about to end. Miraculously, Korea scored a goal to tie and the whole town came to live. You could hear cheering in all the neighboring buildings, in the streets, and the honks of the cars. A national pride was at stake.
Around this time I was at Stanley's house attempting to settle in. They gave me a bed and I plopped my luggage in the room. A half-naked kid was wandering around the house that seemed to really like me. The dog outside was barking at me because I was a stranger. And of course, the whole family was watching the game on their TV. I was given watermelon and we watched the rest of the game as it went into overtime. Korea eventually scored and the cheering was intoxicating throughout the whole city. You could hear it in all the buildings and in the streets
After that I went to bed and slept a bit uneasily given all the noise.
I woke up to the sound of fish trucks traveling through the alleys and soliciting business through automated recordings. In this area, all the buildings are very close together and you can hear what's going on nextdoor. Stanley's familiy lives in the same building as their business which is a public bathhouse. I had the privelege of going to the bathhouse this morning since those are the only cleaning facilities in the house.
Very bizarre I must say. When you shower, you sit on a little stool in front of a mirror and a shower hose completely naked in front of all the other guys. They have a couple spas and a sauna as well as some other features that I don't quite understand yet. For instance, I saw one guy put his back onto an auto-massage machine of some kind. Maybe it was to loosen his muscles or something. Also, some of the men wash each other which is pretty unheard of in the US.
When you walk around in people's residences and businesses, you always take off your shoes. I immediately realized that I'm at a handicap since I seem to be the only one with shoes that have complicated "strings". As a result, I have to pause a great deal longer before I go in and out of the house. I'll probably wear my burkenstocks more often here.
For breakfast I had rice with a sampling of a couple other foods like gimchi, seaweed, and some other vegetable dishes. I wasn't too hungry this morning since I had a total of 4 meals on the airlines. Then we drove over to the school where I'm going to work since Stanley had to teach a class. That's where he is right now, and I'm sitting in the lobby on the computer waiting for him to get done. Not sure what we're going to do today.
:: everist 6:05 PM [+] ::
:: Saturday, June 01, 2002 ::
Society for the Promotion of Minor Chords
Joyfully, I completed my book report for my Chinese culture class. Strangely, I had to wait until the very last day, the very last night to actually hammer it out. I even got up early this morning to proofread it.
The weekend was spent completely slacking off on Saturday, followed by frantic work on Sunday trying to catch up. The 5 page report was the hardest thing to do.
The thing I have with writing is that its so difficult for me to put myself in front of a blank page in my word processor and hammer out a composition from beginning to end. Its so intimidating and so time-consuming.
Contrast this with journal entries and email messages and I can do complete novels. I think the difference is that I feel that I am communicating to someone, so I know exactly what I need to say. In the case of a blank page, I am communicating to no one in particular but rather trying to fill the space up with somewhat meaningful words.
After the composition is done, I wash my hands of it and refuse to touch it thereafter. There's something that seems so alien to me with these writings. It doesn't even feel like they belong to me.
Sadly, I need to learn how to do this better if I'm going to be successful in my pursuits.
:: everist 9:23 AM [+] ::
Well, in 2 weeks I will be graduated and will have my degree in Computer Engineering from Oregon State University. So what will I do next you ask?
For one, I'm going back to school in the Fall to pursue a Master's in Mechanical Engineering. I know it starkly contrasts with my computing background, but I want to get into robotics and space engineering, so I think this is a good stepping-stone in broadening my education to pursue something like that.
Second, I'm going to Korea this summer to teach English. I actually learned about the opportunities there at Acts of Gord. I talked to Gord about it, but the problem was that I wanted to do a Summer only position instead of a year contract which are the standard fare these days. Since summer positions were more rare, I had to find one on my own, so I'm going to be working just a few miles (er.. kilometers) at of Busan. Small classes, kids of all ages. Should be a great experience.
Going to Korea was really a no brainer for me. I've been itching to get out of the country for years, but there hasn't been any excuse to do it. I could have taken a year or so off of college and do Peace Corps or study languages, but that seemed so costly in terms of lost study time. Not to mention the debt I would put myself in if I didn't work. Couple this with the fact that there was virtually no good paying summer work during this time in the economy that going to Korea seemed the best of both worlds. Actually working there is going to be financing my entire trip and stay. Not to mention Korea is cheap as hell, so I will net about $500-$1000 in 3 months after all the expenses are paid.
Today I worked on a new website to showcase my interest in Near-Earth Asteroid Mining which I now believe is going to be the focus of my career pursuits. The other day I discovered a great series of conventions for topics related to this. Unfortunately it was in March and I just missed it. The next won't be held until 2004, so in the meantime, I'll have to content myself with the submitted papers of past years. Hopefully in 2 years I'll have my own paper to submit.
I actually discovered 4 copies of proceedings of past years in my university library. Too bad that I'm not going to be in town long enough to read them all. Truly, if you look closely enough and research closely enough, you will realize that your university library has a huge treasure trove of information from a large variety of subjects. One important thing to realize is that most of the good stuff is in journals, not books. This took a while for me to catch on, but there are hundreds of scholarly periodicals out there with very smart people submitting there works for publication. The library usually carries decades in archives. Its not like the web where you can just type some keywords in a search engine and get what your looking for. It requires more effort, and you usually have to use 3rd party databases that catalog all that information for a subscription fee. Fortunately the university pays that fee and not me.
Now I have to see if I can get the library to buy or borrow the remaining books of conference proceedings because they are prohibitively expensive for the likes of me. It's upwards of $60-$100 per book from ASCE, the people who host the conference bianually.
:: everist 7:20 PM [+] ::