Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The upcoming Seoul trip #8 / Updates / "The Quirks of Being a Korean"

  • There'll be more pictures to come soon enough. Much as I want to get them on here ASAP, stuff keeps coming up.
  • I'll be in Seoul again for the weekend because Paula and I have some German markets to check out. It should go well. We're returning to this place,, because their accomodations rock.
  • A tentative list/time table of upcoming posts:
    • The semester has been drawing to a close here and I suppose it's time to reflect on these first few months. Expect more stuff about school life.
    • More pictures from the Seoul trips.
    • A bunch of K-pop album reviews. These should've been written sooner. Frankly, if Motown and the 60s heralded the Golden Age of Girl Groups, then I'm living in the Second Golden Age of Girl Groups here in Korea. Never before have I heard so much decent pop music on the radio. The Wonder Girls, Girls' Generation, Brown Eyed Girls, and of course, 2NE1 all have excellent material out there.
      • The boy bands aren't bad either; not to slight them or anything (Super Junior and BEAST rock), but the girl groups have the musical and the visual appeal. I like the way they look.
  • Finally, this article about daily life in Korea.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Seoul Trip #7 / Happy Thanksgiving!

[Updated 6 December with more photos and a paragraph about the Record and CD Fair in Seoul]
Today marks my third month in Korea. What looks like a quarter of a year on the calendar feels like a lifetime inside my head. I guess it's fitting that today's Thanksgiving Day, since it's the day where we all reflect on where we are and what we're thankful for. Many things have happened in these 3 months. It's time to give thanks.

I'm thankful for my dear family and friends. Thankful for being here. I wouldn't be here without you. You know who you are.

I'm thankful for my wonderful co-teachers and fellow colleagues at the high school and the middle school. They comprise a wonderful and dedicated group of people. Just two hours ago Mr. Park and I finished a delicous Korean chicken dinner. The soju and the conversation flowed, I'm happy to say.

I'm thankful for my students; without whom this job just wouldn't exist. Despite the myriad barriers with language and culture, these kids are some of the best out there. If only I knew more of their names. With 5 grades and 275+ students, it hasn't been easy, but I get a few more with each passing week. Still, they make the effort. At 14 weeks in, their confidence with speaking and reading has increased. They say hello, they ask, "how are you?", they stop me on the street to ask--in English--where I'm going, and they gamely participate in every class. Lately I've tried some tough difficult lessons with the high school classes, lessons that would prove tough for kids in the States, but they tried them anyway. One student, while responding to a questionaire about his Zodiac sign, wrote that he's lazy because it's difficult to work hard. Now there's an astute observation. I told him "Yes, Joo Yong, it is difficult to work hard. Nice work!" Such a thought's the furthest thing from lazy...and to think that he did it in a foreign language, well hell, that's pretty good.

On a final note, I'm thankful for what I've got here in Korea. It can be a strange place, but it's never dull. I love it here.

Also: last weekend: Paula and I spent the weekend in the Gangnam area of Seoul last weekend. Gangnam literally means "River south," for it's in the middle south area of Seoul. The southern side of the Han river makes up the "new Seoul," too. It's a highly developed and modern area.

She came into town for a DMZ tour and I came in for the 1st annual Seoul Record and CD Fair. The Record and CD Fair didn't go quite as well as I'd thought, but she did have fun at the DMZ. We both enjoyed Gangnam though. It's a densely packed area of wide boulevards with tall office buildings and labrythine side streets crammed with bars and restaurants. Check it out...again, I'm not going resize the pictures because I want to get the full effect of the city across:

The above two pictures: Gangnam Dae Ro. The main street by the hotel.

Street sign marking the side street that our hotel was on.
Inside the Seoho Hotel.

Yes, this place exists: the Drunken Bro bar. Thankfully, we didn't see any drunken American bros there. Whew!

Shopping action on Gangnam Dae Ro.
Sidewalk sales galore.
Paula came to Seoul to for another DMZ tour and I came there for this: the 1st ever Record and CD Fair in Seoul. Despite my initial excitement about seeing more K-pop and LPs, I was disappointed by the fair. As you can see, it was quite crowded--so crowded that there was no point in looking at the LPs along the floor. Never mind that there was no room to even pick up a CD...not that that mattered either. I don't want to sound overly picky, but I didn't see much of anything worth buying. While yes, there were plenty of CDs to choose from, I found the place sorely lacking in rock and roll and K-pop. In other words there were no Stones, no Wonder Girls, no Ramones and no 2NE1. And what's more, the directions on [in Korean, but you can go to Google Translate and paste the address into it and translate the page to English] were horrible. I had to go up and down the street five times and ask four people before a generous businessman helped me find the place. And even then, he had to call the number to confirm the location. Not good. The counter people who took my 10,000won (~$9) admission fee were apologetic about my troubles with finding the place, but even so, it shouldn't have been do difficult to find the place. There was at just one good thing about the fair though: live blues music. Electric blues with Korean vocals, to be exact. It sounded good...too bad there was no room to enjoy it.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Seoul Day Trip / Seoul Journey #6

It's been over a couple of weeks since I've written and posted on here. Much as I'm loathe to use the sentence, "I've been busy," it's true. There's no such thing as a normal week here (or anywhere where teacher's concerned for that matter, but still...) and I haven't had much time to get pictures and words together to post here. This week alone has been among the busiest:

- Monday: teacher's dinner to celebrate/commemorate Thursday's SAT test for the high school kids. The SAT is a huge deal here and the kids take it very seriously. My HS went out for dinner and drinks. And after that? We finally got back to the karaoke room! It was about bloody time, I'd say.

Tuesday: dinner and drinks with my two co-teachers and two other teachers who are in my office. Again, an excellent time.

Wednesday: watched TV and drank beer with my MS's art teacher. He knows our EPIK group in Cheorwon and likes to practice his English, so we talked and watched Bones with Korean subtitles. It felt good to see some TV shows that I used to watch before I left America.

Friday: the Office of Education took us EPIK'ers and our co-teachers out to dinner (and, of course, drinks. In Korea, it goes without saying) after Scott and his co-teacher's demonstration class. And after that, we EPIK'ers went to the bar for a bit before I caught the bus home from Dongsong.

And today?

I took a day trip to Seoul today so I could meet up with some friends and check out a few record stores that I'd heard about. Usually I resize the pictures to make them a bit easier to see, but this time I didn't resize anything because I think the bigger pictures help foreground just how busy Seoul is on a Saturday afternoon.

Lunch went well. I did indeed find the record stores, too.

View outside the Namdaemun Market. Note the traffic and the Shinsegae Department Store in the background. Shinsegae's one of the big three dept stores in Korea. The other two are Hyundai and Lotte. Over here, department stores are quite different from the Boston Stores, Kohls and the JC Penneys in the US. Instead of being known for discounted or inexpensive stuff, like US stores are, the Korean dept. stores are known their glamour and for their high price tags. And their seemingly endless selection--that building is the store. Last week, Paula and I wandered through the equally big (and expensive) Hyundai Dept. Store in Sinchon and I thought, "well, this must be what it's look to shop on 5th Ave. in New York or something similar." The place just never seemed to end. It had floor after floor of clothes, housewares, and sporting goods.

Some insights into Korean parking jobs in Seoul. See the street on the left? To park, you turn and drive on the sidewalk for a bit before parking on an incline.

A beauty store called Skin Food? Hey, it's Korea. I'll go with it. Taken near Hongik University.

The area/market near Hongik U. Yes, people actually drive on these narrow streets amidst throngs of people.

More of the Hongik U market.

There'll be more to come. With Korea, there's always more. Today's trip marked Seoul journey #6:

#1 - 1st Orientation--late August
#2 - buying the guitar
#3 - 2nd Orientation/hanging out with Aly--late September.
#4 - wandering around Insadong/Daehok Ro with Paula--mid October.
#5 - DMZ tracking fest plus shopping near Hyehwa and Dongdaemun with Paula--last week.