:: Wednesday, July 31, 2002 ::
:: Tuesday, July 30, 2002 ::
Korea, Day 45
Being an engineer by trade, I can't help but notice all the various engineering feats in this city. I've noticed a few things that I don't see in Oregon, where I'm originally from. Let me list a few of these.
The cell phone infrastructure is quite startling. Nearly everybody in their dog owns and carries a cell phone. Couple this with the amazing density of people, the amount of people talking, text messaging, and moving around at high speeds at any given time, and it becomes quite amazing. You don't see cell phone towers standing in conspicuous locations in the city. People use their phones at the 30th floor of a skyscraper and riding underground in the subway. The coverage and capacity is truly staggering.
Being from an average size city of Portland, I've never seen a subway before. Although I've been to the San Francisco BART, I don't remember the impressive scale of the underground world in Pusan. Trains usually come every 5 minutes, and the reliability with which they come is something very difficult to achieve. I have not once had a problem of a train being stalled on the tracks. The very large underground stations are equally impressive. The ventilation infrastructure to keep everybody from asphyxiating must be enormous. Depending on where you are however, things can get a little hot and stuffy.
In many places, the subway station also extends into an underground shopping mall. Sometimes, this can run up to a kilometer. Usually these areas are also well air-conditioned and fairly comfortable to be in. One wonders what kind of economic incentive was needed to build such a thing. Or it could have just been nutty politics.
Another interesting feat is the city-wide debit card system. You use these plastic cards with RF microchips that register your card ID. You put money onto these cards and are then able to pay for the subway, buses and freeways with a wave over the card reader. What's amazing is the massive city-wide wireless network required to keep track of all these accounts. Think of the thousands of mobile busses, crawling all over the city, and making wireless queries to the central network. Think of the fault-checking, security, tampering concerns, and fast query times that had to be engineered for. I'm amazed that when you swipe your card, it reads back your account balance in half a second.
Another very interesting thing is the parking situation. In some buildings, there is limited space for parking. In response, they've created these mechanical filing cabinets for cars. What you do is drive your car into a special room. Once you get out, your car is shuffled and filed away in some deep mechanical underworld. If you want to retrieve your car, you simply enter your license plate number and out pops your car. There seems to be one serious flaw with the car shuffler I observed. The machine did not seem to remember where it put each car. As a result, when queried for a license plate, it would go through each car and scan its plate until finding the desired car. This makes worst case retrieval times as long as 15 minutes.
:: everist 10:14 PM [+] ::
:: Monday, July 29, 2002 ::
Korea, Day 44
The other night, I watched a Chinese comedy film on television. It was all in Chinese but with Korean subtitles. As you can imagine, it didn't help very much. I'm also certain that it was in Cantonese since mainland China is not known for its movie-making feats.
So the story goes that there's this hot shot master chef who suddenly falls from grace. An evil chef takes all his credit and takes over the business. So the ex-master chef is in the streets where he gets thrust into the middle of a cooking turf war between 2 cooking gangs. There is much knife fighting and vendettas in the midst, but in the end, the good chef invents a knew bouncy and juicy meatball. They market it and becomes a huge success.
Meanwhile, the evil chef and his croneys get wind of this, and they try to buy him out. Again there is a battle scene and the good chef refuses to sell to the evil chef.
On a business trip on the mainland, someone attempts to murder the good chef but narrowly escapes. Instead he finds himself rescued and taken captive by a homosexual monk and his dozen golden bullies. Whenever the homosexual monk moves around, he travels sideways on rollers. The good chef spends many years being beaten senseless by the golden bullies, but finally manages to leave with fighting experience and some mystical talents.
In the end, there is a cooking competition between the evil chef and good chef. There is lots of underhanded fighting and sabotage involved, but the good chef makes the best food. Unfortunately the judge is blackmailed into declaring the evil chef the winner. Just then, the heavens themselves come down, kill the manager and put a hole through the evil chef's chest while simultaneously declaring the good chef the winner. All is good.
I interpreted all this wthout understanding a word that is spoken. A very interesting activity to do if you ever get the chance.
:: everist 9:41 PM [+] ::
:: Sunday, July 28, 2002 ::
Korea, Day 43
On Sunday I finally bought myself a fan. Not an electric fan, but one of those handheld fans that are common in Asian cultures. It cost me 2000 won at the subway station.
The temperature here is not unusually hot, but it is unusually humid. Not terribly humid like South Carolina or Florida, but somewhere in between the deep South and the Mojave Desert.
Koreans seem to have a higher tolerance for the heat, but I often find myself sweating in the oddest circumstances. Unfortunately my Pacific Northwest clothing of dark colors and long pants does not go too well in the Korean climate. My back seems to be the part of my body that sweats the most. At the end of each day spent with at least an hour outside, the back of my shirt will be completely saturated.
The subways are usually very muggy because there is far too much space to air condition. When it rains, it is usually very warm too. Most of the weather gets blown up from the tropics and hits Japan, Korea, and the China mainland. Pusan, where I am staying, is right on the coast, so naturally, the weather can be very volatile. We have cloudy days, sunny days, rainy days, and often, a mixture of them all. Rain in the morning, followed by clear skies in the afternoon, cloudy in the evening is good example.
So I now have a personal fan to better control my body temperature when I'm outside and in non-air conditioned areas. I have an electric fan and an air conditioner in my room, but I never use the air conditioner. The fan does its job satisfactorily. Besides, if I turned on the air conditioner, I would have to pay extra money to the yeogwan. That's not necessary.
The hand fan works pretty well, but when I'm in public places, I can't help but feel a little sissy. I suppose Westerners are used to seeing only Asian women wield the bamboo and paper fans. Apparently, these fans were traditionally used by high-class scholars and landlords. So I've been trying to wield and wave the fan in the appropriate manner to give myself an aristocratic appearance. I'm not sure if it gives me a scholarly look or a snobbish look. I'm aiming for the former, but I'm not certain if the latter can be excluded.
Yesterday I spent a total of 5 hours in the PC bang. I had a Pepsi, some snack food, another drink called O2, and some ramen for dinner. During that time I played only Warcraft 3. At the end of the day, I was tired and I smelled of cigarette smoke. I also happened to be sweating up a storm for some reason, even though the room is air conditioned.
I'm wondering if I'm becoming addicted and whether or not that's a good thing to do while I'm in Korea. For all that junk food and the 5 hours of game playing, it only cost me 7900 won. That translates into $6.60 American. Pretty cheap for an entire evening.
:: everist 10:13 PM [+] ::
Korea, Day 42
I want to talk a little bit about Korean pop culture. I've been watching television off and on, and with the help of a translating Korean friend, I've come to understand a little bit about the entertainment industry in this country.
You basically have movies, music, television, and radio. These are the standard entertainment forums. However, in Korea there is also the karaoke rooms, video arcades, and PC bangs. I'll neglect these latter three for the sake of simplicity.
Movies are partially protected by the government from the overpowering market strength of American movies. I believe, although I have not confirmed it, that all movie theaters must carry a certain minimum percentage of Korean-made movies. This gives local film industry the incentive and the payback to develop an industry of its own. I've actually watched a couple of these movies, one with subtitles and one without.
The first was a teen-slasher film that was entirely predictable. I think I already mentioned this in a previous entry, but it was blockbuster quality and 80's themed.
The second movie I saw was about a border incident with North Korea. Where S. Korean border guards become friends with N. Korean border guards. They hang out a lot, but one day the N. Korean boss walks in on the party and there's a shootout with the boss and one of the guards dying. It's a very tragic and powerful story since the friendship is abruptly terminated by the shootout and the resultant political fallout. The movie is called Joint Security Area if you're interested in watching it.
You also have pop music. This usually consists of boy bands, girl bands, individual singers, etc.. Popular Korean music is a very dirty business. First off, the songs aren't really that great. Sure they might be good singers, but the ingenuity is not really there. There may be revolutionary musicians out there, but I doubt I would recognize them if I saw one. Another short-falling of Korean music is that singers have to be very beautiful. It's a prime requisite to be good-looking, to have a thin body (men and women), and to also have a great personality. You can't have a career if you're a "serious musician".
A good personality and sense of humor is a very recent addition to the world of pop culture. This basically applies to just about every celebrity in every field of entertainment. Like people in the States, Koreans have a very short-term memory when it comes to celebrities, and in order to have a successful career, you must do television shows. Celebrity television shows are a very common thing. They are something akin to Celebrity Jeopardy or Celebrity Who Wants to be a Millionaire except a lot less structured.
In the American shows, the controlling factor is the gameshow host or the referree. In Korea, the celebrities are the complete show. One forum is these bizarre gameshows where the celebrities form teams and compete in these strange games like duck hopping, standing a rod and trying to grab it after you turn around quickly, and this strange game involving angel wings, a harness, a joystick control, and very very large cardboard boxes worth a variety of points if you manage to slip them down a chute. These games wouldn't stand a chance captivating audiences if they weren't full of beautiful celebrities cracking jokes all the time.
Another celebrity show I've seen is something of an educational show. Imagine the Crocodile Hunter, except replace him with Jerry Seinfeld and imagine him cracking jokes as a mundane animal expert handles a deadly python.
Another similar show I saw was celebrities traveling around the world in search of other Koreans. However, the theme of this show was on reading. It was encouraging and promoting any and all reading. It also included some heavy-handed book promotionals. I believe this show single-handedly creates Korean bestsellers.
Books are another past time I managed to forget, but I know almost nothing about them except for the bookstore wars that I wrote about previously.
Now I don't want to make you feel sorry for them, but Korean celebrities have it pretty bad in this country with respect to their American counterparts. They have almost no control over their lives since they are strongly managed by their agents. I don't believe the agents are working for the celebrities per se. They may actually be working for the studios, the publishing companies, and the television networks. I'm not certain about specifics. The famedom turnover rate is so high that they usually pop out a one-hit wonder song, promote the hell out of it, and quickly discard the washed up so-called artist. It's quite disgusting to watch, but I see the same thing in American pop culture, just not as blatant.
Korea has also hopped on the techno bandwagon. American record companies have been loathe to avoid it because there is no way you can promote a trendy musician and send them on tour. Techno is usually made by some geeky slob who sits in front of a computer, methodically tracking the music. They usually don't have the piercings, the tatoos, the spiky hair, and the virility involved with playing an instrument. You'll find techno in the oddest of places, from shopping malls and street vendors, to movie theaters and fine restaurants. A very stark contrast to American tastes.
:: everist 10:03 PM [+] ::
:: Thursday, July 25, 2002 ::
Korea, Day 41
I mentioned the sausage situation in this country on Friday. However, I merely described the cheese-sausage hybrid that they try to pass off as a snack food in this country. Little did I know where sausage actually came from.
During the Korea War, the American soldiers brought with them foods that the Koreans had never seen before. Slowly, a demand for these foods emerged. Since the only place to get these foods was on the US bases, entrepreneurs began to pop up who specialized in cooking foods directly from the army bases. These restaurants were usually directly in front of the base and they cooked the food in a Korean style. The main food of desire was sausage, or what we know in the West as hot dogs. So this is how the standard for sausage was set in this country in the 50's. Likely this is how the standard of cheese and coffee was set too.
Anyway, an entire franchise restaurant grew out of these humble beginnings, and they now exclusively sell budaychigay. This is like a soup stew that comes with vegetables, bacon, hot dog, Korean noodles, macaroni and bowtie noodles. It's a very bizarre experience to see these typically lower class foods treated with such gourmet respect. Not being very fond of hot dogs, I didn't eat a large amount of chigay, but it was still very interesting. I heard that they're currently looking for a new name for budaychigay since it sounds really old and antiquated.
I also went down to Jagalchi fish market yesterday and saw lots of live seafood. But the first thing that greeted me was these three little pigs. Look how cute they are and that they're smiling. Smiling pig heads are usually an expensive and prized item to buy for ceremonies involving a new business or a new car. A smiling pig gives luck. I don't know if these are eaten or not.
This is a pretty typical sight down at Jagalchi. These people have a very elaborate aquarium system using very cheap equipment. All of these critters are kept alive with fresh and filtered running water. Of course, they're only alive until someone selects them for consumption. They are then quickly butchered and put in a frying pan. There are about 16 or so containers each with its own unique species. I have never seen so many different animals in one place. Crab, sponges, squid, octopus, fish, and other odd things. All edible.
This is another odd species I found at the Jagalchi fish market. I believe this is some kind of sea worm, but the literal translation from Korean is "dog penis". Rest assured, they are not actual penises because they are very much alive on their own without being attached to a dog.
:: everist 12:14 AM [+] ::
:: Wednesday, July 24, 2002 ::
Korea, Day 39
Koreans can have some really bizarre foods. Some are pathetic imitations of Western food that somehow became extremely popular. One such imitation is cheese. Koreans believe that cheese is only the processed American cheese that they put on hamburgers and sandwiches in the United States. They have no concept of cheddar, mozarella, monterey jack, gouda, provolone, etc. In fact, the only other cheese you can get besides processed is an Australian cheddar in the supermarkets. It's okay, but it's very difficult to find.
Koreans have taken the meat and cheese combination and brought them together like that company who put jelly and peanut butter in the same jar (which also exists here by the way). They sell these so-called sausage sticks which is meat and cheese mixed together. The stick itself only looks like cheese but it certainly does not taste like cheese. This might have been a good combination if they had used good cheese and good sausage. Sausage is naturally a dubious substance and bad sausage really ruins your day. In this case, they took bad sausage and bad cheese, put it through some manufacturing process and created sausage-cheese sticks. The result is completely disgusting. I don't know of any foreigner who likes these things, but Koreans seem to love it.
Another bizarre, but not bastardized, food I saw a couple days ago was empty butterfly cocoons. Some guy on the street had a whole bowl of the empty chrysallises for sale. Apparently the species is intentionally raised for the purpose of consuming their empty cocoons. I did not even contemplate trying them since I was only in the mood for Western food at the time.
Something else is dried baby anchovies. I see these all over the place, and I've even had them a couple times. They're not bad, but the concept of eating a whole animal with those eyes staring back at you is very creepy.
Chicken gizzards and pigs' feet are another common cuisine at soju tents. Soju tents are tiny wagon establishments parked all over the city. They serve soju, a distinctly Korean alcoholic beverage, and strange appetizers such as chicken gizzards and pigs' feet. I have not had the pleasure to eat pigs' feet, but I did have chicken gizzards. Chicken gizzards aren't all that bad, but they still have the creep factor. I don't know why I feel uncomfortable eating them. I think the concept of eating an animals internal organs is more than a bit unsettling. Likewise, I'm not sure I would eat pigs' feet, because well, they're feet!
They also eat dog in this country, but mainly for medicinal purposes. Dog meat is kind of hard to find. I have never seen a restaurant that serves it and when they do, it's usually in the summer months. The reduced consumption of dog can be traced back to the international criticism exacted on Korea during the 1988 Olympics in Seoul.
They also have ramen in this country, but it's called ramyen. In addition, the ramyen dishes are a lot fancier than the 39cent crap we eat back home. It comes with good flavoring, some vegetables, a little meat, and is usually a little bit spicy too.
:: everist 9:53 PM [+] ::
:: Tuesday, July 23, 2002 ::
Korea, Day 38
Yesterday I kicked out a total of 2 students from my 5 classes. The first student's transgression was that he was hiding behind a desk for a half hour during class and finally poked his head up. I kicked him out of class on the spot because I'm sick and tired of having to search for students. Additionally, I figured if a child does not have the will to participate in class, there's no reason why I should have to deal with it. Besides, I don't get paid enough to be a baby-sitter, and the education of the other students suffers when I have to spend time disciplining someone. He spent the remainder of the class standing outside the door.
The second student I kicked was for being generally disrespectful. He did nothing really big like being loud or fighting. Instead, I kept asking him to pronounce a word, but he continually refused to do so. I asked him about 20 times, and every time he said a different word than the one I was asking him to repeat. Obviously, this was a battle of who had power over who. This was a battle I could not and would not lose. I asked him to leave my class, and he started playing the "why game". Every time I told him to leave, he asked why and wouldn't move. I took away his chair. I tried to forcefully move him. I even raised my voice, but he wouldn't move an inch. So I had to enlist the help of a Korean authority, and he cracked like an egg shell. He spent the remaining 20 minutes of class talking to the Korean teachers and bawling his eyes out. He later apologized to me after class.
The act of sending a student out of class is about the most effective punishment in this school. You don't have to hit. You don't have to yell. You don't have to put their name on the board. They absolutely hate being sent out of the class. I'm not certain why, but being isolated and separated from the group has a profound impact on these students. I've probably done it to a total of 8 students with only one repeat. Those who only witness the punishment in class also become quieter and more obedient. After doing this for about 2 weeks, my classes have become a lot easier to deal with since I've established myself as a tough teacher, behaviorally and academically.
Now all I have to do is improve on the Korean I know, so I can tell when the students are saying bad things about me in class. I know it happens, but I just can't catch them at it. I'd be lying if I didn't say that I take a certain amount of joy in punishing students and being the head of the class. However, this isn't necessarily unhealthy because I'm very committed to giving the students a high quality education whether they like it or not. I just have no tolerance for those who would disrupt the class and will kick them out of my class in a heartbeat. Fortunately, my authority is not undermined by the managers of the school. Some hogwan managers have been known to send kids back into class when they had been kicked out. Luckily my decisions are supported and this doesn't happen here, or I wouldn't know how to teach my classes.
My subway card has malfunctioned on me. It can no longer be read, and I had about 23,000 won on that thing. Now I have to take it to the bank that issued it to get a replacement and the recovered money. Problem is I don't know where the bank is.
Pusan has a really impressive debit card infrastructure. Many banks can issue their own debit cards with readable RF chips in them. This way you can swipe it at the entrance to the subway, or use it to get on a bus. You can also pay for parking and pay the expressway toll with the debit card. It's a pretty good system since it speeds things up drastically. You could even keep the card in your bag and have the scanner read it through your bag. Plus, my card is completely anonymous. I have absolutely no name attached to it. Of course, this makes you flat out of luck if you lose it. Someone else can pick it up and use it as if it was their own.
:: everist 9:37 PM [+] ::
Korea, Day 37
This is the first 5-day week I've worked since I got here. I'm wondering where the holiday is already. It's Wednesday and I still have 2 days to go before the weekend. I'm wondering if I can make it for a full five days. I have a bit of an advantage since I only have 5 classes now because it's summer session, but I'll be getting a 6th class eventually.
Last night I watched some obscure action movie starring William Baldwin and Cindy Crawford. Some terrorist gang gets really pissed off at Ms. Crawford and decides they want to kill her. The trouble is, the bad guys don't know when to cut their losses. Mr. Baldwin keeps killing them all.
So the movie continues this way with Baldwin dragging Cindy around for the whole movie with the bad guys trying to kill her over something really stupid. In the end, they go to the bad guys' base which is a boat out at sea parked over a trunkline. You see, the bad guys wanted to tap the trunkline and hack into the banks and withdraw millions of dollars. The problem is, not that Baldwin is running around shooting their lackeys, but that they set a timebomb on their own damn ship and it blew up before they could complete any transactions. You fools! You blew up your own ship! Why?! In the end, the ship sinks with the archvillain still at the computer screaming while someone off-screen pours a bucket of water on his head. It wasn't even believable.
After that really pathetic movie, I spent the remainder of the night working on my Korean skills. I've seized the opportunity of being in Korea to learn a foreign language. So far it's going pretty well. I can use just about everything I learn. I can only count, order food, and buy things though. I can't really make conversation. I neglected my studies for three days. In their place I squandered my time in bars and Warcraft.
Speaking of Warcraft, I really need to find some chums I can play the game with. Preferibly someone who can speak at least marginal English. Playing online is just not as fun as with someone in real life. I got really bored last night with only 2 games online. Both of which I lost of course.
Finally, I had nakchibokum for lunch today. I haven't had that for a couple of weeks now. Nakchibokum is basically octopus with noodles and vegetables in a really spicy sauce. Every time I eat, my mouth and tongue suffer greatly. The meal is so delicious, but I have to pay for it in tears. Koreans give you so much food that I always feel guilty for not finishing it all. I ate about 7/8ths of my nakchibokum, but I couldn't suffer the rest. I had to leave it in its uneaten state. What a travesty.
:: everist 9:32 PM [+] ::
Korea, Day 36
I should have never started playing Warcraft. I've since played 2 days in a row, and I fully expect on making a trip to the PC bang today and getting my ass kicked again. I have not yet won a game, but the last 2 games I played were team-oriented, and we lost because we didn't work as teams. Silly us.
Speaking of PC bangs, while I was there some Korean guy came up to me and talked to me in English. He invited me to have a beer with him, and I thought that wasn't such a bad idea. Of course I had no idea what I was getting myself into at the time. We went to the bar, had some beer and squid and talked about things. He is actually a professional slacker. He is a younger son of 6 sons to a rich father. He's probably in his 40's, and he's spent all his time traveling to different countries and studying.
I could tell he was of the privileged class because he said he really liked Japanese culture. Most Koreans wouldn't say such things, but the Japanese during their occupation cultivated a sympathetic upper class which still exists in society today. I presumed he is descended from one of these wealthy Koreans, but I am only idly speculating.
Of course, the real shocker of the evening is when he told me found me exciting and that he only sometimes likes boys. "You understand?" he kept saying to me with a twinkle in his eye. I understood only too well. Of course, he only mentioned this to me because I'm a foreigner, and he doesn't feel threatened by me. Homosexuality is a big taboo in this country and according to most, it simply does not exist. Homosexuality is generally considered a Western problem and often times is just ignored here. Although there has been no campaigns are laws that overtly discriminate against homosexuals like in the West, you could consider Korea a utopian realization of the US Military's "Don't ask, don't tell" policy.
So I had to tell this guy that I only liked girls, and he subsequently congratulated me on my straightness. Of course he didn't seem to be bothered by my declaration and kept asking me if I understood that he liked boys only sometimes. He tried to feed me squid by hand and told me that is the Korean way. Of course, I knew he was feeding me a line of bullshit. He apologized for his transgression, but I felt it was about time for me to leave. He paid for the beer and squid, since he's the rich bastard, and we said goodbye.
It is a common story among the foreign community that young girls come up to foreign men and offer to buy them dinner. The stereotype is that most of them are only interested in getting English lessons from the foreigners. Of course, some are just interested in dating foreigners. This is supposed to happen with great frequency to foreign men, but it has not once happened to me for the 36 days I've been here. Instead, I had a 40-year old man ask me out for a beer and hit on me. So what does that say about me? One can only make reckless speculation.
Finally, I think its time to reach into uncle wildmage's treasure bag and show some pictures.
This is a non-descript street in Seomyeon. Seomyeon is basically the downtown of Pusan if there is such a place. A very popular place for people to go. This street has the common multi-story buildings with a business on every floor. As a result, each building has multiple signs advertising what is there. Things can get a little cluttered in the streets and makes the nightlife very surreal.
This looks like an average aquarium right? The only difference is that this sits out in front of a seafood restaurant. Many restaurants offer fresh seafood right out of the tank and this is a common sight. Usually I see tanks full of eels though. Eels are kind of creepy because they look like snakes or tapeworms.
An arcade room is a very commonplace sight on the streets of Korea. They usually use standard consoles like those in the picture and install different games in them. It's significantly cheaper than buying new consoles from the manufacturers for every game that's made like they do in the United States. However the arcades in the States are dying because of widespread popularity of gaming consoles at home. I wouldn't be surprised if a lot of the games in this room are ripped off the internet and installed into these generic consoles for free.
Dance Dance Revolution is a game that was wildly popular a few years ago. It infiltrated from Japan and people just went nuts over it here. Basically what you do is you select a song and the music plays while it shows you dance steps you need to perform. You have to step your feet on the pads at the right time, and it's not that easy. Of course many of the kids around here are extremely good at it, and they make me feel old and obsolete. You can play a one or two player game where both people are given different dance moves to the same song. This game can really make you sweat, especially in the humid weather of Pusan.
:: everist 12:42 AM [+] ::
:: Saturday, July 20, 2002 ::
My website wasn't properly showing the archives to the left, but now they've been fixed. Enjoy.
:: everist 12:35 AM [+] ::
:: Wednesday, July 17, 2002 ::
Korea, Day 34
I'm getting absolutely sick with all the happy noises in this country. I'm sick of the elevators that thank you for using them. I'm tired of the beeps and boops, the boings and bangs, the screeches and scratches in everything from consumer electronics to television programming. I despise the laughing and ahh-ing soundbytes and the pop-up bubbles and superimposed text commentary that accompanies nearly every popular TV program. I brood over the cell phones that play a Mozart trio concerto or the Star Wars theme song whenever someone calls. Why don't I ever hear the sweet simplicity of a normal ringing noise?
Of course, I could just be exaggerating my annoyance with something so trivial because I've been sick lately. This is also why I haven't made a journal entry for 3 days. It's not all bad. Though I was in an atrocious and horrible state, I quite enjoyed the experience of being a patient in Korea. Here's how it happened.
I felt kind of crappy on Monday. I thought I drank too much coffee which caused all of my muscles to ache from nervousness. I taught classes in this condition and I gave advance warning that I might not be able to finish the day. However, I managed to pull through the day by staying moderately passive throughout my classes and have the kids play games. At the end of the day, I was feeling not as bad and when I woke up in the morning I felt great.
So 2 more days pass and on Wednesday evening I get a little sniffle. On Thursday morning I feel about the same, but after 4 cups of coffee I'm starting feel crappy again.
Now I'm not sure if it was the coffee because coffee doesn't have that kind of effect on me. I am merely mentioning this because this is what I thought was responsible at the time. And 4 cups of coffee is not a lot since the paper cups are so small.
So Thursday is a day of classes and I'm barely scraping by. I didn't take it easy like I did on Monday but tried to be a good teacher and engage the students. I found myself sitting down whenever I had the chance. Halfway through the 6th and final class, I couldn't continue and asked the manager to fill in for me while I went home.
I went to the office, got my backpack and headed out. I felt so awful that I just sat down in front of the elevator door and didn't go move. My discomfort was mostly coming from my whole body aching. I couldn't sit still and I had to move incessantly. Not to mention, I was getting a little bit delerious.
Finding the elevator a bit of an embarassing place to find a foreigner parked on the ground, I got up and retired to an empty classroom where I lay on the floor for about 30 minutes until the last classes finished. It's a good thing I moved though since the big boss came over with a couple customers he was trying to impress for some reason. I don't know what his reaction or his customers reaction would have been to see a foreign teacher sprawled out in front of the elevator door.
So classes ended and the adventures began. I got up and walked to the office and asked for someone to take me home. I simultaneously had 3 people planning for my safe departure between the other foreign teachers and the Korean management. In the end, they drove a car to the front of the school and I went back to my yeogwan with one Korean and one foreigner.
Really, I only asked the foreigner to come along because with the Korean in particular I have a dynamic business relation with. This is the person I have to hassle about money and holidays, so on and so forth. I wasn't quite certain how, if at all, this relationship would carry over into patient-caretaker relationship. I really didn't have any problems though.
So what's the treatment? When you're sick in Korea you must eat well. As a result I was lavished with food that I had absolutely no appetite for. I merely wanted rice to get me through the sick hours, but they wouldn't hear of it. They considered it a complete paradox to eat something so simple and so little.
The yeogwan lady immediately supplied me with 2 bowls of rice, 1 can of tuna and 3 side dishes: vegetable plant stems, a sour pickled cucumber-like vegetable, and dried baby anchovies. Needless to say, I wasn't in the mood for eating such things even though they normally require very little resolve on my part.
In Korea, when you are sick, you also take many medicinal remedies instead of just one. Pharmacists usually prescribe drugs for people when they have an issue, and those prescriptions always, always come with many, many different pills. If you don't have many different pills, you are obviously not being well taken care of.
In my case I had 4 remedies but not from a pharmacist's prescription. I only took 3 of them though. The first was a symptom relief medication for my runny nose and coughing. The second was a medication to relieve the pain in my body. The third was some kind of ginger tonic that was actually quite tasty. Not very certain what it was supposed to do, but I'm sure it's a derivative of Chinese herbal remedies.
After a restless night of tossing and turning, I ate a little more food, took a little more drugs and tried to go back to sleep. Right in the middle of a very pleasant moment of tranquil drug-induced sleep, the yeogwan lady came into my room and brought an extra bowl of rice. She was appalled that I had barely touched the side dishes, while only eating half of the first bowl of rice and leaving the other bowl untouched. She tsk tsk'ed me and took the food away and left a single bowl of rice and another can of tuna since I actually had that for breakfast.
They called me from work to see if I was going to come in, but that was a definite no. I spent the rest of the day sleeping and watching bad movies on television. I saw a Korean "Scream-type" slasher film where 8 or so attractive teenagers go to a remote cabin in the woods, hang-out, and start getting killed. Of course, predictably, one of the teenagers is the murderer but they don't realize this until every one of them is dead except one person.
At the end of the day, I had to get out of my room and I went and had some tea closeby with a friend. I was feeling much better by this point, but not completely up to par. I went back home and watched another movie on television then crashed.
In the morning, the yeogwan lady brought me kimchi and soft rice which is usually what people get when they're sick. She didn't give me kimchi yesterday because it's a common belief that foreigners can't handle spicy food. This is generally true, but I've been here for 30 days already, so I'm used to it by now.
I'm feeling considerably better by now, but there's still a lot of huss and fuss over me. Just now I took a couple pills and another sweet ginger tonic. I still have cold symptoms, but my muscle aches are gone. What I find exasperating is the belief that these Western-style symptom relief medications somehow stave off the sickness and help you get better. They simply prevent you from feeling miserable and if you have no symptoms, what's the purpose in taking them? I have been cleverly avoiding taking excessive medication whenever possible.
Despite all this, I did manage to have a bit of fun. On Saturday, I went over to the PC bang with the intention of writing a journal entry, but my heart wasn't in it. Instead, I got completely distracted and began playing Warcraft 3. What an interesting game! Not at all like the original Warcraft2 and strategically different than Starcraft. I haven't played a computer game in four months, so I was actually quite interested. War3 is also a game that the Koreans are really going to get into since Starcraft is still a very popular game to play. War3 is more strategically flexible than the previous games, so its less of a resource-harvest fest and more of a strategy and combat game.
Sadly, my long anticipated game, Neverwinter Nights is nowhere to be found here. I actually did see it for sale at a computer store, but I have not yet seen it in a PC bang. Neverwinter nights released a couple days after I left for Korea. Since I've been waiting for the game to come out for about a year, I'm a little frustrated that I still have to wait longer to play it.
After playing War3 for 2 hours and drinking a Pepsi, the whole deal cost me only 2500 won. This is a little over $2, so it's not bad!
I feel like playing War3 today.
:: everist 9:54 AM [+] ::
:: Tuesday, July 16, 2002 ::
Korea, Day 31
Yesterday was Constitution Day, and we had the day off. I took the opportunity to go on a road-trip for the day.
This is the first time that I've been in a car for any extended period of time in Korea. This was actually the first time that I've been on the highways too.
This is the way it basically works. Highways are operated by a private corporation and as a result, are actually well managed and designed. But the catch is you have to pay for your drive on the highway. When you get on to the highway, you take a ticket and drive for miles without any exits or merging lanes. There are rest stops along the way that operate a lot like malls.
We stopped at one of the rest stops and went to a cafeteria style restaurant to eat. Very noisy and busy, but it could have been magnitudes worse if things weren't so streamlined and well organized.
After lunch, we had a bathroom break and got some beverages from the vending machine. Then it was back on the road for us. Nearly every available piece of land that I saw along the road was cultivated for rice fields. And nearly every field had a homestead or tent on it with a farmer in the fields pulling up weeds. There was green everywhere with cars driving through it all at 60mph. I pondered that these farmers might be completely locked into their economic situation. Doubtless, I don't think anyone would choose farming as a career if they had a choice. They would opt for a city job, any city job, to be in the midst of all that commerce and wealth. To have greater opportunities for their children who will one day take care of them.
Finally we reached the end of the highway, paid our highway fee, and entered the city of Kyeong-ju. Kyeong-ju is actually a tourist town and has several interesting laws that attempt to retain the traditional style of Korea. Homeowners are not allowed to alter their roofs and must obtain permission if they wish to repair them. This is because the roofs are of the old style and must be preserved.
From here we drove to the old Bulguksa temple to visit. This temple has a history back to the 750s but has been destroyed and rebuilt several times. The current temple was restored in the 1970s with only a few parts remaining from the original design in the 8th century. I could not pay attention to the craftsmanship and design of the temple knowing that most of it was a little over 20 years old. Instead I could only think about how short-lived things are and how often they are destroyed. That everything must die and everything must disappear.
Having walked about the premises, taken a few token pictures, and deftly avoided the souvenir shops, we jumped in the car and headed for the beach. We reached a coastal city that had people in the streets smiling and beckoning us to come and park on their property. Everywhere, you saw restaurants with tanks of live fish, crab, eel, squid, octopi, and sponges. It was like being in a large aquarium exhibit, except you could select your favorite fish, watch it get butchered and cooked, and then eat it.
We parked somewhere and paid 3000 won for the privilege. We spent 15 minutes on the beach watching the waves come close to our shoes and throwing rocks in the water. The beach had a very tight lifeguard duty. Buoys for swimming boundaries, at least 2 active lifeguards sitting in the tent and one lifeguard on call in a motor boat. I didn't really feel like swimming, so we left.
We drove home with a few close calls on the highway. I have to take back my earlier comment that Koreans are good drivers. The majority of Koreans are not good drivers. However, taxi drivers and bus drivers are excellent drivers. They are professionals and I was shocked to see how inept the common Korean is. Fortunately, I did not have to drive, but I almost felt compelled to because being a hapless passenger in that car was a very frightening experience.
Finally, I have something interesting to add. Last week, my ESL 2 class played the collaborative story game, and I took the liberty of transcribing the entire resultant story down. I don't know about the legality or copyright issues involved, but I am going to post the entire story anyway:
The egg green nose England is ugly. Is Korea good and clean. America is a very big country. People is nice day. It is have animals very crazy because dirty and very big. Brazil soccer team is very dirty. Canada is hot dog dirty. Africa psycho. Germany lkes hope and love sky park good because nice dirty.
Of course, most stories end up being very incoherent but the first one has some semblance of meaning because they don't realize how creative they can be. To be crazy in Korea is a very bad thing, so of course, elementary school kids think its funny to call things crazy in English. Its like getting away with saying Scheisskopf in German class.
:: everist 6:54 PM [+] ::
:: Monday, July 15, 2002 ::
Korea, Day 30
You may remember from yesterday that I was waiting in my work office waiting to be taken to the immigration office. Due to their complete incompetence, I sat there until 1pm and my first class was at 1:45. I still had to go to the immigration office.
I then made a decision that I had to go by myself regardless of the consequences. Likely, I would miss my first class and maybe the next. I told my manager what I wanted to do and it was amazing how many things he said to dissuade me from leaving.
The reason I had to go to the immigration office was to renew my visa. It expires on the 18th and yesterday was the 16th. The 17th was a national holiday so offices are closed. I was not going to the immigration office like a chump trying to renew my visa the day it expires. What happens if something goes wrong? Does my visa expire on the 18th or after the 18th. These are fuzzy questions that I did not want to answer.
My manager tried to convince me that we could renew my visa on Thursday as an attempt to get me to stay for class. He told me to "trust him." Never mind that he has not done much to warrant my trust nor anybody elses. He tried to convince me that I wouldn't be able to communicate at the immigration office because I didn't have a Korean with me. I took my chances. He even tried the social engineering technique that scientologists often use to get you to come into their church offices by saying, "come with me," abruptly turning around and walking away while I stood in front of the elevator watching him walk away.
Yes, it's quite amazing the amount of tricks he pulled out of his bag at that very moment. Despite his incompetence at doing his job, he is still a remarkable persuader which is probably why he has his job in the first place.
So I left and took the subway to a station I had never been to. I ended up in a port area where there was lots of shipping going on. It took me about 10 minutes to find the office and I went in. Of course, the office was like a sauna, so I immediately began sweating like a pig. A Russian family was in front of me trying to get their visas sorted out. I think they came on one of the shipping boats since they also had a crew manifesto. I was tempted to speak Russian to them, but I was too focused and hurried to seriously consider it.
After 20 minutes in line and 5 minutes of processing, I got my visa extension and was now happy. I had by now missed my first class and I was beginning to cut into my second class. I took the subway home and realized I was famished. I had completely missed lunch while sitting on my ass waiting to be taken to the immigration office. Since I had already missed my first class and cut into the second, why not sit down to a relaxing lunch?
When I got back to my subway stop, I began walking to a restaurant, but I unfortunately passed one of my students on the way. He asked me why I wasn't it class? Why aren't you in class you tardy bastard!? Argghhhhh! My presence had been detected and it would require a series of excuses why I had not come immediately to class. My plan foiled and feeling dejected, I walked over to the 7-11 to by some dried squid and peanut cookies. Thus, I ate my lunch for the day at 3:30pm.
:: everist 7:10 PM [+] ::
:: Sunday, July 14, 2002 ::
Korea, Day 29
Yesterday I was kind of sick. Although I stuck it out long enough to finish teaching my classes. I didn't really have food poisoning or any sickness like that. Instead, my body seemed to have flu symptoms such as full body aching and a little bit dizzy.
I am feeling better today which is really a good thing since I was supposed to go to the immigration office today for some business. If I didn't do it today, tomorrow is a holiday and I would have had to wait until Thursday.
Yes, tomorrow is another holiday. I think tomorrow is Constitution day or something like that where they celebrate the first day their constitution was inaugurated back in the 30's or 40's by the government in exile. This would make 3 holidays in the 3 weeks. I haven't worked a 5-day week since I got here.
The first holiday was a nationally declared holiday to celebrate Korea's accomplishments in the World Cup. You may remember that the foreign teachers had to apply a little pressure to get this day off. The second holiday was a school-only holiday that was going to be canceled but under complaints from the rest of the school that didn't have the day off last week, the holiday continued. And the final holiday is this Wednesday, which is Constitution Day. I don't have any plans for tomorrow.
So right now I'm waiting to get taken to the immigration office. They've been putting this off for about 2 weeks now and today is the last day to do it. My first class starts at 1:45 and it's 12:10 right now. I'm not taking any excuses now and I'm not leaving this office unless its directly to the immigration office. If need be, I'll take the whole day off to find the office myself.
Really, the incompetence is quite staggering. Nobody is proactive in this company and if you want something done, you have to keep nagging and nagging. As a result, many of the people in this office are under a lot of stress. Truly, a great deal of their stress could be relieved with a little advanced planning and proactivity. I've tried to explain this a couple times, but I just don't think I can get a message across.
Digressing a little, I'm amazed by the amount of cheap B-movies you can find on television. Several stations show American movies with Korean subtitles and some stations are too cheap to get good movies. So they show these obscure B-movies that I've never heard of. And they're wonderful!
I'm actually a fan of B-movies, although I can stomach them for only so long. For instance, the last one I watched involved an apocalyptic future where a corporation dominates everything and clones a younger version of one of their renegade scientists to track him down. The clone ends up switching sides and fighting with the rebels against the corporation. Its all very cheesy and very wonderful that I turned it off half the way through.
Another movie involved this prolonged shootout scene in the jungle with no clear good guy or bad guy. This helicopter kept hovering above and shooting rockets into the bad guys. The funny thing was they kept showing the same cut of the helicopter pilot as he pulls the trigger about 3 or 4 times. Very very silly. This shootout continued for about 20 minutes with no clear resolution before I decided to turn it off.
:: everist 8:08 PM [+] ::
Korea, Day 28
Yesterday, I passed an elderly man standing on the subway steps playing a harmonica. He was begging for money and he had no eyes. I mean the eyes were gone or removed at some point in time.
There are very few beggars in Pusan, but the few I do see are always elderly people. That may make you ask why the elderly, of all people, end up begging for a career.
I don't know really, but this may have something to do with them not having any extended family to take care of them. These people may have emerged from the Japanese occupation and subsequent civil war with no kin left alive. This also raises my suspicion on how that elderly man really lost his eyes.
This also makes me wonder where the rest of society's undesirables are. Where are the mentally retarded? Where are the physically deformed? I have seen people missing limbs, but I have not seen the latter which are essential to every society. Perhaps they are kept hidden away at home, or perhaps they are all put to death at birth? I don't know the answer to this question.
I also found some fairly tame street cats the other day and decided to take pictures of them.
The first is the momma cat which apparently has been in this area for a while. I think she belongs to someone in the area.
The second kitty is the momma's last remaining child. I believe there were originally two but someone catnapped the other or it ran away. Now this one is kept on a ribbon, so he can't get away. I think this cat has been through a lot or it is very sick because it did not seem very active like kittens normally do. I know for a fact that feral cats are often malnourished and are often born with incomplete tails because of it. This kitten is no exception.
Cats are not often well-liked in this country, but there are cat-lovers here. The most common reason I've heard for not liking cats is that they're afraid of their eyes. I honestly don't know what this means or why they are afraid of cat eyes, but it must be a superstition of some kind.
This is the Pusan National University area which is quite a trendy place to go. This is Friday night when its quite busy. The following street is full of trendy clothing shops and cell phone retailers. Not a very interesting place to go if you don't waste your money on things like that. I did walk up this street and its ridden with pot holes and other street hazards. Quite remarkable for such a popular place. However, I think this area is ripe for a buy-out and subsequent installation of a large department store. We will see.
And finally this is the Lotte Department Store which is the behemoth of large scale commercialism in Pusan. It has single-handedly driven a number of competitors out of business and caused numerous traffic jams. I believe this could very well be the largest building in Pusan, but I'm not sure. I have spoken about Lotte in a previous diary entry.
:: everist 7:27 PM [+] ::
:: Saturday, July 13, 2002 ::
To Work in Korea, Part I
In an attempt to add some adventure to my life, as well as preventing myself from totally wasting my summer in some loser job, I found myself an English teaching position for the summer in South Korea with no teaching credentials. I have been keeping regular diary entries of my adventures which have received a lot of positive feedback. Under suggestion, I have written this as a guide and introduction to life in Korea.
The first of two parts is a HOWTO on employment in Korea. The second will cover Korean culture and lifestyle.
People in Korea badly want to learn English, and as a result, thousands upon thousands of private schools called "hogwans" have popped up offering language courses for those who want to pay for them. A common feature for nearly every hogwan is native-speaking English teachers. They are usually intended to supplement the standard grammar education with instruction in conversation and pronunciation skills. They are also a huge marketing gimmick.
Basically, the demand for foreigners outweighs the supply and good salaries are available for marginally competent people. The average salary for a foreign teacher is about 1.9 million won which is approximately $1900 US a month. Combine this with the low cost of living and the fact that hogwan's usually pay for your housing and round-trip plane ticket, foreigners can save more money here than they could working for an American company twice as hard.
So why should I leave my country for Korea?
There are a number of reasons that foreigners come here, and I shall reiterate a few of them. The reason I came was for a vacation that would pay for itself. Intimately exploring Korean culture, eating Korean food, gaining valuable teaching experience and Korean language skills while making enough money to pay for it all seemed like a pretty sweet deal to me. My 3-month extravaganza is not a money-making venture, however, due to my short-term time commitment.
Many people come here just to change their lives for a while. Sick of the monotony of where they come from, they seek new experiences and adventures abroad. There are many such characters here in the foreign community who hop from country to country for sometimes up to 10 years. But most people only stay for 1 year which is the standard contract period before returning home.
There are those who come here strictly for the money. Not necessarily incompetent, they are opportunists who seize the chance to make lots of money for doing relatively little work. I know of one fellow who plans on working here for 10 more years before retiring back in Canada. These are not necessarily bad people, just here for a different reason.
Another very popular reason for coming to Korea is the women. Many western men find Korean women a little more palatable then their western counterparts. The common arguments are that Korean women "know how to be feminine," and that their isn't the typical conflicts involved in contemporary western relationships. Couple this with the attraction of exoticness and mutually intense interest in foreigners, many foreign men usually have a Korean girlfriend at least once during the duration of their stay. Not surprisingly, the converse situation does not hold because foreign women usually find Korean men too chauvinistic and not very attractive. Go figure.
How can I work if I have no teaching qualifications?.
Truly, the expectations of foreign teachers is very low in this country. The only requirements-- and this is merely to get a work visa-- are to be a native-English speaker and to have a 4-year degree. I have a degree in engineering which has absolutely nothing to do with teaching, yet I turned out to be a relatively competent teacher.
I say relative because the quality of foreign teachers is very low. If you merely express a desire to do a good job and appear hard-working, you will shine above the rest.
The primary purpose of foreign teachers is to help with speaking, listening, and pronunciation. This is usually accomplished by doing as much talking with the students as possible. However, hogwans usually give a completely free hand to the foreign teacher as to how they conduct their class. My personal curriculum can be read here. Its generally very very easy.
This sounds too good to be true. What's the catch?
There is a catch. There can be many pitfalls and hazards to working in Korea. These mostly manifest in the differences of business practices, the volatility of the hogwan business, and the ignorance of foreigners.
There are common accounts of foreigners getting ripped off by their hogwan owners. However, with a little know-how, these horror stories can be avoided. First off, business contracts in Korea are generally considered to be "working agreements". This means they are always up for negotiation or changes in the terms.
A Korean will never completely violate a contract. Instead, they will make subtle re-interpretations which will end up with them owing you a little less money. Foreign teachers usually have a good bargaining position, and the risk of losing one's job is very small. All that needs to be done is to stay on top of things and make sure your hogwan fulfills all of its obligations. If you let them, they will walk all over you. It's really not as hard as it sounds though.
Another reason foreigners sometimes get screwed is because new hogwans generally go out of business. When this happens, you will not get any money that was owed to you. The solution to this is to work for well-established hogwans and/or make sure that the hogwan owes you as little money as possible.
Another caveat is the amazing amount of illegal work going on here. It is illegal for foreigners to give private lessons and it is illegal to work without a workers visa, but an enormous amount of foreigners work this way anyway.
It is important to put this into a little perspective. First off, there are many laws in Korea that are the result of incompetent legislation. Subsequently, there are many laws that are ignored and unenforced. The high demand for English teachers and the government's inability to legally supply them has led to an explosion of illegal work. However, attempts to eradicate illegal workers are almost non-existent since doing so would benefit absolutely no one. It is very common for hogwans to illegally employ foreigners and treat them with the same courtesy and respect they would with their legal workers. Hogwans generally don't care.
Now I am not condoning criminal activity, but it is important to recognize that the sheer number of incompetent laws in this country makes nearly everyone a criminal to some degree. The key point to realize is that these laws are generally not enforced and the police don't care. If you decide for some reason to go the route of teaching with no work visa, as long as you don't go blatantly announcing your intentions to the police and the immigration office, you will probably have no trouble.
So how do I find a job in Korea?
I originally got interested in Korea from Acts of Gord and tried to get a job through Gord. However, he was a bit busy at the time, so I took the initiative and started looking on my own. I got lucky in that my job turned out to be okay and I was not forced into some compromising position.
To find a job working in Korea, I would suggest going through a recruiter since they generally will look out for you while you're here and make sure you aren't screwed over. Additionally, I would recommend that you find a Western recruiter since Koreans are Koreans and Korean recruiters are just as apt to take advantage of you as hogwan owners. Gord operates in the Seoul area, but I cannot vouch for his credibility, but he's probably a good start if you're interested in Seoul.
For the Pusan area, where I work, I would recommend you mail SK Recruiting which is a very credible American guy who is reasonably competent. Additionally, you can always browse the classifieds, but always check the black list and always ask for a second opinion from someone who knows. Don't believe everything a hogwan tells you.
A couple great sites about working in Korea include the US Embassy in Seoul and Pusanweb. Additionally, you can browse my diary if you're interested in cultural information and day-to-day life.
:: everist 4:04 AM [+] ::
Korea, Day 27
Right now in Korea, it's a lazy Sunday morning which gives me a chance to slow down and reflect upon the things I've seen and learned.
So what do the Korean people value? That's a really tough question that I don't think I have the ability to answer. However, I can reiterate the important contemporary issues that are visible to me now.
One thing to note is that Korea has a serious inferiority complex due to its 35 years of enslavement by Japan followed by 10 years of serious instability. Things like international sports are taken very seriously and any scandal involved is viewed as a national insult.
Take for example, short-track speed skating during the olympics. A Korean skater was in the lead but disqualified for something dubious. In his place, an American, Anton Ono, won instead. The Koreans have been brooding over this one for months now and they have kept talking about it up until the World Cup. The government actually bought the Korean skater a gold medal when he got home, but that still didn't settle their anger.
You may have noticed in the World Cup game of Korea vs. Italy, when they scored a goal, one of the players did a victory dance that looked a lot like speed skating. Of course, in the West, we had never heard of this whole speed-skating controversy and probably don't care one bit. The entire Western society was too absorbed in the whole doubles figure-skating scandal to even notice.
Making it to the final-four in the World Cup game was a huge accomplishment in the eyes of the Koreans. Especially since they left the Japanese team completely in the dust. Like I said, their inferiority complex makes besting Japan a national imperative.
Another sensitive point is the American military presence in Korea. One particular manifestation of this resentment is a car crash involving US servicemen and a couple dead middle-school girls on June 13. I learned about this from protestors in the subways handing out pamphlets and so on. I've had a very difficult time finding any information on this incident, so I am unsure as to how much truth is in these allegations. Although it is conceivable that this is a factual account, and the interest level is so low that it does not appear in English publications.
The recurrence of scandals involving senior politicians has become something of a tradition in this country. Although the president himself has not been implicated in a scandal, his second son has been indicted for bribery charges and his first son is on his way. This scandal is significantly smaller than previous decades but it still receives a large amount of attention.
Although the president Kim Dae-jung is very popular, his popularity does not match that of the Dutch-born soccer coach for the World Cup team, Hiddink. In the wake of a successful conclusion of the World Cup games, Hiddink received a number of honors and ceremonies to an almost ridiculous level, including an honorary doctorate degree and a bronze statue of his head. Given the opportunity, this lavishment of gifts and honors would have continued indefinitely, but as it stands, Hiddink left for his home in the Netherlands and left Korea behind. The amount of re-runs of the soccer games on television would make you think the games are still going on.
And finally, you have South Korea's relationship to North Korea. Ironically, there was a gunship naval battle in the Sea of Korea (Sea of Japan) which sunk a South Korean ship and left many sailors dead and wounded. This went almost unnoticed because of it was right smack in the middle of World Cup madness. Only a week after the conclusion of the games, did the news programs begin to look behind and cover the story.
Since I haven't been here long and due to my proximity to the World Cup games, I have been unable to really gain any insights into the true relationship with North Korea. Perhaps in time, some more sentiments will come to light.
:: everist 7:54 PM [+] ::
:: Thursday, July 11, 2002 ::
Korea, Day 26
Earlier today I went down to Kyobo bookstore to pick up a better Korean-English dictionary. I didn't really have to go to Kyobo, but I did anyway.
You may remember about 2 weeks ago I talked about Kyobo vs. the small local bookstores. Kyobo, the large chain-store from Seoul, has been the scene of protestors complaining that Kyobo is going to crush the local bookstores.
When I arrived at Kyobo, I saw a very interesting state of affairs.
First off, the front of the store had a dozen or so canopy tents to shelter the protestors from the rain. However, there weren't that many protestors. It was still early in the day so only a few hard-core folks were there to manage the sound system.
Sound system you say?! Indeed, the protestors were playing some traditional Korean music which sounded a lot like Native American tribal music. However, I couldn't understand why, with all this elaborate sound equipment, I couldn't hear the music very well. Taking the stairs down to the front entrance, I realized that the speakers weren't pointed to passersby, but pointed directly into the store and extremely loudly!
At the entrance to the store, there's a tunnel that goes under the street and a stairway to the opposite sidewalk. In the tunnel were sitting about 200-300 police officers in tight formation with their riot gear in front of them. I was quite surprised to see so many police officers doing nothing and wondered what they could possibly be here for.
While in the bookstore, you could hear the Korean music outside, quite loudly, reminding you that you're shopping there is sinful. Indeed, the bookstore wasn't nearly as crowded as you would expect from a place like this on Saturday. I noticed periodic police officers entering and exiting the bookstore, 12 to a patrol and double file. I wondered what they could possibly be patrolling for. Then I realized that they were entering and exiting the bathroom in an orderly fashion. Apparently they weren't patrols at all but mandatory bathroom breaks!
After I made my purchase from the employees trying to do their job under the ominous presence of the loudspeaker outside, I exited through the tunnel where the police were sitting down and pondered a bit. What could possibly warrant the presence of so many idle police officers with no visible threat in sight except a few audio technicians upstairs? If the police were so concerned about the protestors, I'm sure it would have been an easy matter to intimidate them or confiscate their audio equipment. But they don't, so what exactly is going on?
I suspect that the police are on somebody's side, because I can't see any other reason to have so many police there. Perhaps Kyobo is bribing the police to give them support? If so, Kyobo sure got a lousy deal because the protests continue and remain effective.
:: everist 12:06 AM [+] ::
:: Wednesday, July 10, 2002 ::
Korea, Day 25
Yesterday was Chobo, or the first hottest day of summer. During Chobo Koreans eat special things such as dogmeat or the famous samgyetang. What is samgyetang? It's basically chicken, stuffed with rice and boiled with ginseng to help revitalize the body during energy-zapping hot days. Yesterday I had samgyetang.
Overall the meal was pretty good. The chicken was boil-cooked, so the meat was pretty tender and the skin was soft. At first I freaked out because I thought they didn't clean the chicken out, but it just turned out to be rice stuffed in the middle. During the meal my arm started to cramp up because of the intense work-out I've been giving to my long neglected chopstick muscles. Picking apart and eating a whole chicken with only chopsticks and a spoon is very tricky. It requires sheer strength and subtle manipulation of the chicken bones via the 2 metallic rods.
The side dishes included kimchi, garlic stems, mushrooms, spicy peppers, and a couple other dishes whose names I don't know yet. All Korean meals come with side dishes free of charge. Often times you get 3 or more side dishes and you always get more food than you can eat. I have never once not had kimchi served with a meal with sidedishes. Kimchi is basically your french fries in this country which comes with nearly every Korean meal. Kimchi is basically pickled cabbage served in a spicy sauce.
I thought I might take the opportunity yesterday to photograph the teaching facilities I use. The classrooms are usually very small with never more than 12 students to a class. You'll notice that the tables look like fine hardwood manufacturing of the highest quality, but the assembly is very shoddy and cheap. The tables and chairs are slowly falling apart under the mild abuse of elementary school children. Siding is peeling off, screws are falling out, and the backs of chairs are starting to crack. This is a good example of the Korean cultural attention of appearance and presentation and the complete neglect of quality of content. You'll find this is many aspects of society.
And this is the same classroom filled with students. This is my ESL 2 class which can speak only marginally well. This class used to be a big headache for me because we were packed with a max of 12 students. At the beginning of the month, they removed some students that drastically decreased the volatility of my class. They've become far more managable and easier to instruct.
My curriculum consists of reviewing the lesson material that my Korean counterpart prescribes and playing games and talking as much as possible. As I see it, foreign teachers are here primarily to help students talk and listen as much as possible. The "enforcement" or quality-control of foreign teacher education is almost non-existent. I believe that hogwans generally have low expectations of foreign teachers, so they don't expect too much. Often times foreigners completely screw around in class and waste everybody's time and money. This is usually acceptable to hogwan owners since they usually believe any foreigner is good for the job.
Where they draw the line is adjourning class early and teachers not being to their classes on time. As long as the foreigner is in class and "working diligently" with the students, they will think of it as a good job. Again, this is another example of the cultural focus on appearances and neglect of quality of content. As long as you appear to be doing a good job, they don't care. If you work hard and do a good job teaching, you will not be appreciated.
Of course, I don't let this discourage me. I intend to do a good job in my teaching primarily for myself. I would feel guilty if I wasted my hogwan's money and the student's time in frivolous games and "free time". I expect nothing less than the best for myself.
Since we're usually given a free hand in our choice of curriculum, I took a very logical approach of the purpose of having foreign teachers in the first place. The primary purpose of foreign teachers is to help with pronunciation, conversation and listening skills. So, anything that I should do must advance and practice any of these skills. There are many ESL resources on the internet that gave me a bunch of ideas, but I'm quite proud of my own inventions.
The first game that I invented was a collaborative story. We would go around the room and each student would say one word which I write on the board to make sentences. Each student consecutively says a word to tack on the end of the previous word to build full sentences. Usually the stories end up very zany and largely understandable. The important thing is that they're funny, the students enjoy it, and they're building sentences. I had to be careful though. When I first started out, students happened to make other students the subject of the story, and I had one boy in tears because of it. I've sinced enforced the no-names rule, but they can still talk about me.
The other game I do is Mad Libs. In this case, they have to fill in the blanks for types of words such as adjectives, adverbs, nouns, etc. Then they take the pre-selected words and put them into a story that also ends up being crazy and funny. They enjoy this too. Although I didn't invent this, I'm finding myself having to design each Mad Lib because the resources on the net are very scant.
The final thing that I'm doing is individual conversation assignments. During the last ten minutes of class, one student comes up to the podium and talks with me one-on-one. I think this is the most important assignment I do since their use of English in conversations is severely lacking and the circumstances under which they're forced to listen and talk are few and far between. This is also takes them away from the peer pressure and security blanket of others around them. They can't ask for help and they must do it on their own. I believe that this has gone good so far. Although, a couple students have struggled a great deal, most students have done better than I expected.
:: everist 8:11 PM [+] ::
:: Monday, July 08, 2002 ::
Korea, Day 24
This morning I got up earlier than I normally do at 6am. I was out the door by 7:30. On my way to the subway I heard a rhythmic clicking noise with a tempo of about 1 second. I wondered if it might be some sort of machine Korean's use to do God knows what.
Then I saw it. It was an old woman clapping together a pair of wood blocks while either praying or singing. She stood in front of her place of business, a small fried-food shop, looking into the street and sang with a calm melancholy to the beat of even clicks.
This is actually the first PDR (Public Display of Religion) that I have since I've come here. This is excluding the proselytizing of the Jehova's Witnesses because since I don't think it takes religion to be a salesmen.
As I stood on the subway platform waiting for the train, I watched the subway channel on the small televisions evenly spaced along the tracks. The TV showed me beautiful people singing beautiful songs. It tried to sell me pants. It asked me if I had seen this child. It warned me about the dangers of AIDS. It informed me about the great new movie just out, Men in Black 2.
The clothing commercials are styled after the first Gap commercials to feature dancing people that everyone has ripped off since. What makes these different is that they often feature "commercial bloopers". You know, behind-the-scenes screw-ups, funny things that happened, and so on. These bloopers can run non-contiguously with the associated commercial since everyone who rides the subway has seen the commercials dozens of times and can relate to the outtakes.
While I'm on the subject of television and commercials, infomercials are a big thing on regular television. Although its not quite the same spam-fest we have in the States where they beat a dead horse for 30-60 minutes. In the case of Korean television, they'll have infomercials that last only about 5-10 minutes with 3 or 4 infomercials stacked on top of each other. So usually about 30 minutes are devoted to infomercials in between normal programming.
The people who host the infomercials look exactly like the people who host them back home. They're in their 40's, wear lots of make-up, do their hair in some atrocious manner, wear "church-style" dresses, and sound incredibly sincere in their enthusiasm for this product. I think the one thing that is truly insulting about these small infomercials is that, to cut costs, they don't have an audience like they do in the States. Instead of paying some 50 people to attend the filming and pretend to be amazed, they bought some audio-tapes with things like "oooh" and "ahhh" as well as laughing, clapping, etc.. It doesn't even sound real! I want to hear the testimonials! I want to hear from the lady who says she's going to buy 6, one for every person in her family!
Getting back on track, I watched a documentary last night on the feral cat situation in Korea. It was all in Korean, but I could tell what they were talking about. Cats are not well liked in this country, but there are some cat-lovers here. In addition, most all cats in Korea are feral. It seems their has been a population explosion in the city as the city grows. In addition, this brings lots of problems such as scavenging and the annoying behaviors associated with mating.
It also seems that Koreans are becoming wiser to the fact that attempts at cat extermination aren't very effective. Instead, they've started to learn that the most effective means of population control is trapping, followed by neutering, then release. I inferred that the reason this is most effective is that the released cat continues to compete for resources while not reproducing. Had the cat been terminated, his territory would have been vacated and an eager younger cat would have taken his place.
Dogs are much more popular in Korea, but they're still marginalized. Most dogs in the city are small toy dogs since no one has the space needed by a large dog. I walked by a pet store yesterday and saw little dogs in little pens sitting on white paper and ribbons. How they managed to keep the dog's pen so clean and aesthetically pleasing, I don't know. This false impression of the cleanliness of dogs probably directly contributes to the number of abandoned animals in the streets.
I have actually seen at least 2 abandoned dogs in the street since I got here. One, a dachsund type dog, was trotting down the sidewalk going no where in particular while another, a shaggy-small dog, sat on the subway steps as hundreds of people walked around it. The friend I was with tried to pet the shaggy dog but he nipped at her.
Another characteristic of dogs in this country is that people often give them the strangest hair cuts. The dog at the home I stayed at when I first got here was groomed to have a shaggy mop-top. Other dogs I have seen walking with their owners or being carried in bags have other outlandish hair styles or even fur coloring.
Today is also the first hottest day of summer in Korea. What this actually means, I'm not sure, but its a pre-determined day such as Groundhog's or Thanksgiving day. There are three hottest days which shift around depending on the lunar calendar or something. I can't find anybody who knows how these days are selected, but all the restaurant owners seem to know.
On each of the hottest days, special dishes are served that you can't get any other time. These dishes are designed to help you keep your energy during the hot-humid afternoons. Chief among them are some kind of cold noodle soup and also dog meat. Dog meat is eaten primarily by men, but substantially decreased under criticism from the international community when Seoul hosted the Summer Olympics in 1988.
Enough of this meandering, I finally found a SmartCard reader for my digital camera and have a few selected pictures to show.
This is a small section of the city of Pusan seen from the the 17th floor of the building I work at. This area is primarily residential, so it has tight alleyways and shoddy attempts at making Confucian-style courtyards. This doesn't have the neon signs, video arcades, PC rooms, bars, pubs, and restaurants that nearly every square meter of Pusan normally has.
This is what the outside of a typical PC bang looks like. PC bangs, pronounced "bong", are literal translations of PC room. These are your internet cafes, but they're primarily used to play games such as Starcraft and Diablo.
This is what I had for dinner last night and is my absolute favorite Korean dish so far. It's called Andong Jimta. It means Andong-style chicken stew where Andong is a city in Korea famous for this dish. I'd have it every night if it weren't so damn expensive at 10000 won for half a chicken. It comes with chicken, noodles, potatoes, and of course the spicy delicious broth. I'll talk more about Korean food later.
And this is at Haeundae beach, immediately after Korea beat Spain in the World Cup game which sent Korea to the semi-finals. I believe I talked about this in a previous journal entry a couple weeks ago. Koreans have a large capacity for celebration that I and my foreigner friends couldn't keep up. But the whole affair was remarkably civil since there was no fights or property destruction. Traffic was almost completely halted in the city since the streets were all full of people, but nobody seemed to care since Korea's win was an almost religious experience.
:: everist 3:52 PM [+] ::
:: Sunday, July 07, 2002 ::
Korea, Day 22
Now, I have mentioned that the coffee here sucks, but the tea is absolutely divine. Compared to the Lipton tea bags we have at home, Korean tea completely blows us out of the water.
Often times, Koreans will serve cold tea with meals and strangely enough they'll call it "water". The best place to get tea, however, is at the tea houses. Tea houses in the ancient Confucian world were a general hang-out for noble landowners to spend their money in the city. Today, anyone who wants to relax in a Korean-style environment away from the commercial madness of the big city patronize these small tea shops.
I have only been to 2 so far, and they're notoriously hard to find. They're usually situated several floors up in a typical restaurant building. Most all restaurants are in multi-story buildings which can be anywhere from 2 to 6 stories. Probably one of the reasons they're difficult to find is that their signs are in Korean. Many establishments in Pusan have seen fit to put up English names and English advertisements of what they sell to attract foreign patronage. Teahouses usually don't do this.
One of the characteristics of teahouses is the wonderful sweet aroma in the air. After about 5 minutes you're scent receptors will short out and you won't smell it anymore. You sit down at one of the tables and the waiter brings you a complimentary cold tea (either Green tea or something else) and the menu of the kinds of tea they offer. Of course, the menu is in all Korean, but with a little patience or an English-speaking Korean friend you can translate their meanings.
Oddly, the meaning tells me little about what the tea actually tastes like. They're named things like "Tea of Love" or "Tea of Romance". They also have a selection of green teas which are sold based on the time of year they were harvested. One teahouse sold coffee, but I thought it was a good idea to avoid it.
When you order your tea, it comes with a tiny a kettle containing your "tea solids", a tea cup, and a thermos of hot water. Teas can be made from lots of things. I personally have seen them made out of dried leaves, roots, and dried flowers which look like dandelions. You'd be surprised by how much tea you can get out of the small kettle they give you. On one occasion, a friend and I got 3 thermoses of tea out of a single serving of a root-type tea.
While drinking your tea, you'll notice the decor consists of mostly classical Confucian-style paintings and poetry. Some Chinese poetry may be in here too since Chinese and Korean history and culture are strongly intertwined. You also might find a number of ceramic cups and kettles for sale to be used for consuming tea. The style of pottery they use is actually quite beautiful and I might not mind bringing back some of these home when I leave.
:: everist 7:09 PM [+] ::
:: Saturday, July 06, 2002 ::
Korea, Day 21
Yesterday, I was walking through the mall, casually sipping my Starbucks coffee and looking for an electronics shop, when I saw a Korean girl wearing a shirt that said, "Love you long time." I nearly burst out laughing and am kicking myself that I didn't take a picture.
Carrying a cup of coffee through the mall is a dangerous proposition. It was Sunday and the mall was very busy, and people are apt to run into you. In large groups there isn't a terrible amount of courtesy, so I became instantly afraid when a fast-moving Korean headed in my direction.
Though I did not spill my coffee, it was definitely worth the effort. Finding good coffee in this country is a very difficult thing to do. Starbucks coffee is, hands down, the best coffee I've found in Korea. The second best coffee I've found is Folger's crystals which I drink daily at work.
So why does coffee suck in this country? A couple of reasons. The first is that serving portions are much smaller in this country. Koreans tend to fill cups only halfway where in the States they usually fill the cup up 90%. Also, the cups are generally much smaller. The second reason coffee sucks is the notion of what coffee means. If you go to a coffee shop in Korea, you'll likely be served a relatively clear liquid with trace amounts of coffee, heavily doped with some flavoring such as hazelnut. Additionally, coffee is standardly doped up with lots of cream and sugar. The end product is nothing close to the black coffee I drink at home.
I also forgot my USB cable for my digital camera which was why I was looking for electronics stores. I've been unable to download any of the pictures I've taken to my laptop. Additionally, I can't publish any of my pictures to the internet which is very frustrating. So I've been either looking for a cable replacement or looking for a SmartCard reader with a USB connector.
Finding computer parts in this country is very difficult. Most electronics stores sell whole desktop computer solutions, CD/Walkman radios, cell phones, and Korean-English pocket computers. Finding OEM parts and other peripheral devices is almost impossible. I may have to end up mail-ordering from Japan or something.
:: everist 7:15 PM [+] ::
:: Friday, July 05, 2002 ::
Korea, Day 20
I think I've finally figured out the bathroom situation here in Korea. It took me a while, but I had to answer questions like, why is the floor always wet, and what is the bucket and scooper for?
Most bathrooms I've gone to here in Korea have western-style toilets. This is in contrast to the floor pots that you normally squat over which I have only seen once. Plumbing is a source of difficulty for Korea since I've seen so many bathrooms with ad-hoc plumbing systems, no water, and incompetent sewage systems that don't keep out the smell. Generally, they're better than I expected, so I don't let it bother me.
Bathrooms at people's homes have been a source of mystery for me. There are many features that I didn't understand up until now. Firstly, there are no showers or bathtubs in the common Korean household bathroom. I myself am lucky because I have a bathtub in my yoegwan, but many people do not. Instead, there is usually a hose somewhere in the bathroom that you use to wash yourself.
Every Korean bathroom has a drain in the floor, so most people just wash themselves down in the middle of the bathroom. This answers my long-standing question of why bathroom floors are always wet, and subsequently, why do Koreans always wear slippers into the bathrooms. Floors are generally wet from this mornings shower.
It does seem a little odd to me to wash yourself in the middle of the bathroom, especially since you have to hold the hose over you the whole time. However, I finally figured out what these plastic water tubs are for that you see in every bathroom. Apparently, Koreans fill up a water tub and splash the water on themselves when rinsing. This eliminates the waste caused by a running hose when not using it. Some but not all bathroom tubs come with a scooper that you use to pour water with. This makes things a little bit more targeted than random splashing. I haven't actually used these tubs yet since I'm content to just run the hose.
Korean lifestyle in general is very efficient in its consumption of resources. Lightbulbs are usually the energy-efficient kind. You can tell because it takes a few seconds for the lights to flicker on. This is in contrast to the power-suckers in the States that come alive the instant you flip a switch.
There are no laundry driers in this country. All clothes drying is done via hangers and clotheslines. One could speculate that this is because driers are too expensive, but I also know that driers are very greedy in their energy consumption. Additionally, laundry washers are more abundant, but I don't have access to one. I actually have worked out a deal with my yoegwan landlady to do my laundry for 30000 won. I tried handwashing for a while, but I found myself notoriously inept at it. I'm also just really lazy.
Garbage disposal in this country strongly discourages waste production. In order to dispose of waste, you need to buy specialized bags from the supermarket that cost a certain amount of money depending on the type of waste you want to dispose. You then fill the bag with your garbage, and it will be taken away. I haven't had to do this since my yoegwan owner takes away my garbage for me. The pinch for the consumer is felt at the supermarket for the cost of disposal bags. As a result, people generate a lot less waste. In fact garbage containers in this country are so small, you could put them in your backpack.
:: everist 10:43 PM [+] ::
Korea, Day 19
I went to the movies last night. Star Wars just came out here in Korea, and I resisted all temptations to go watch it. I personally boycotted that movie in the States and I have every intention of boycotting it here. Instead, we went and saw Resident Evil on the 10th floor of the Lotte Department Store.
Lotte Department Store is a very fascinating place. It's 10 floors of megamall madness followed by 16 more floors of hotel goodness. The sheer number of people in this building and the claustrophobic elevators you use to navigate from floor to floor makes the place even a little bit frightening. One wonders if the exit facilities are sufficient to handle the deluge of people in the event of an emergency. I'd hate to be in this fancy place should there be some kind of natural disaster.
Putting these morbid thoughts aside, (which I've learned to do while riding taxis) Lotte is enormously fancy. 10 floors and each floor is specifically devoted to a particular genre of mall attraction. 10th floor cinemas, 5th floor electronics, 8th floor duty-free, 11th floor SkyLounge, etc. A friend and I had to get to the movie at around 9:15pm, but the major problem was that 9pm is when most of the employees in the store get off work. As a result, you're pushing against traffic to get anywhere. How do you get up to the 10th floor when nearly half the elevators have been re-configured to go exclusively down.
After about a ten minute wait in front of an elevator in some obscure corner of B1 floor, 1/4 kilometer away from where we started, we were lucky to fit into an upbound elevator with only 1 space left. The cinema floor is very fancy. There's a coffee shop, the 7-11 Game Zone, 12 large theaters, and a couple restaurants. There was probably more stuff on this floor but I didn't really take the time to explore all that much.
We came into the movie a little late to be right in the middle of previews. We saw previews for American movies I've never heard of, and some Korean gangster movie. Apparently humorous gangster movies are extremely popular in this country, but this is only third-hand knowledge. It looked like it was about some gangsters who hijacked a train traveling from Busan to Seoul on a whim, and the hero is some goofy looking guy in army fatigues who gets beat up a lot.
Resident Evil itself was quite fun. It had been a while since I've seen a horror movie, and I believe they did a good job blending the elements of homicidal computers, genetic experiments gone awry, the terror of amnesia, and my favorite, complete claustrophobia. Of course, many horror movies are similar in style which is why I find a lot of them very humorous. This was no exception, but it still had its pleasant surprises.
Popular movies and music are very different in this country. Sure, many popular songs and movies in the States make it here, but some movies and music that you've never heard of or rarely cared about are extremely popular here. Some songs that were popular in the States 10 years ago are popular now. I can't remember which songs right now, since I'm too lazy to do homework on this.
However, this morning I've been watching television to see what I can find out about the typhoon. Yes, there's a typhoon approaching the SW coast of Korea which is now in the vicinity of Seoul. It missed Busan by a ways, but there was still a lot of wind and rain yesterday. It's mostly windy now and nearly no rain. The typhoon scare actually gave us quite a bit of freedom last night in choosing which bars to go to. We picked a nice cozy bar with relatively few people in what looked like an usually popular place.
Getting side-tracked a little, I've learned that one boy has gone missing, but the circumstances under how and where he became missing are beyond me. I think the place in Korea that has been the hardest hit is Cheju Island. This is actually more of a resort island, but its still very large and went right through the center of the typhoon. That's probably where most of the damage was done, but I'm only guessing since I don't speak Korean very well to follow the news broadcasts.
:: everist 11:46 PM [+] ::