Monday, January 28, 2013

Waiting to fly home/Grand Canyon 1

It's that time again. I'm waiting in the San Francisco airport for the flight back to Incheon. I just finished a tasty pastrami sandwich, a sandwich that more or less had to get eaten because of pastrami's scarcity in Korea. (If you know of a pastrami joint in Korea, please comment) Those sandwiches will be missed, that's for sure. Even my beloved kimbab can't compare to the power of the sandwich. I ate plenty of them while in the States. Then again, kimbab offers seaweed, rice, and vegetables, and a fried egg. Not many sandwiches have that.

It's been a hell of a time here in the States, one filled with many memories. My family hasn't taken a vacation in many years, so it felt great to do it. I'll get to back to Arizona as soon as possible, for it boasts a great landscape and had plenty of activities. My aunt and uncle were great hosts and we went somewhere or did something new every day:

Saguaro National Park
Mt. Lemmon
Pima County Air and Space Museum
The Grand Canyon
Arizona barbecue/ quality prime rib

More will pictures to come soon. I still need to sort through everything that came before the Grand Canyon.

About the pictures:

My brother and I rarely take pictures together, so here we are. He's already off to a great start with his company.

Mexican food: spinach and chicken enchiladas, vegetables, and refried beans. Quality!

Dessert: Apple cinnamon flautas that I almost forgot to take a photo of. Also excellent. (Note: If you're ever in Phoenix, go to Garcia's, located inside the Arizona Mills Mall)

Brody the dog. He's a cool guy.

To come: Further posts about what we did and what we saw. I've also had plenty of thoughts rumbling around my head about being back in the States

Friday, January 25, 2013

Krock: Classic rocker Shin Joong-Hyun

These days in Arizona are going great. We've seen plenty of sights. Look for a series of posts focusing on Arizona and Wisconsin. The trip's not over yet and the pictures will go up soon. Perhaps tonight or tomorrow I can get some stuff loaded here. Until then, enjoy some music!

Another one from the "Should've done this a long time ago" file. Groove Magazine ran an article that mentioned a guitarist and singer named Shin Joong Hyun who's known as the "Godfather of Korean rock." Then phrase sounded like endorsement enough, so I looked him up and liked what I heard. And now I want to hear everything. Much as the Kpop's good, I'll always value guitar rock and it's offshoots over anything pop. See here. Both sounds ride rocking, rollicking grooves. "Please Don't Bother Me" is relentless and "Beautiful Mountains and Rivers" sounds like the Byrds jamming with Hendrix. Standby for more!
"Beautiful Rivers and Mountains"

Below: "Please Don't Bother Me Anymore" (With The Golden Grapes)

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Vacation Days 19-20: Last days in Wisconsin/Greetings from Arizona

The last day in WI got spent tooling around the Southridge Mall area of Milwaukee. It was there that I met Mike at Kyoto, our Japanese restaurant and hit the record stores one last time. In addition to the savory food, I scored some more CDs and DVDs that I'd been looking for. Mike found some good stuff too.

It goes without saying that I'll miss my WI friends. They don't all know each other, but it's been wonderful seeing them again. We caught up with each other and did a bunch of stuff this felt like old times. Although not many new things happened in WI, it was a good time. In spite of all the interconnectivity we have now with Facebook, blogs, and the like, we still had plenty of stories to tell. We had no shortage of information to relay to each other. Life's like that: Only so much can be written online or sent in a message. Some things require face to face conversation. Some stories need a live audience. They just do. All of us can agree on that point. As to when we'll see each other again, I'm not sure. It's been difficult finding time to meet everyone because of our different schedules. I wasn't able to see some old friends during this trip and I'm sorry that that happened. We'll see each other soon enough.

That concludes the WI portion of the journey. I'm now outside of Tucson, AZ. We arrived earlier today, had lunch in Phoenix, and drove down I-10. It's me and my family's first time in AZ and we're already having quite the time. Everything's terra cotta-colored and warm out here. I may have to rename this blog Arizona Dispatches because that's where they'll be coming from for a while. The landscape's looks like The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. Pictures : a steer's head in front of my aunt and uncle's house, and the roadside along I-10 outside of Phoenix.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Vacation day 18: I-94 blues

Another quick one for you. Before getting into driving, there’s something important to note: I’m sorry I missed some of you while I was in town this week. Many things had to get rescheduled within my family and I wasn’t able to make many plans in advance because of that.

This week marked a year since I’d driven a car in the States. Prior to flying back, I’d been worried that I’d forget how to drive, but alas, that didn't happen. Once I got inside and started the car up, everything came back. By now I've cruised around all the old destinations of the old life in southeastern Wisconsin. It’s been good. Tonight, my good buddy Dick and I rode out to Milwaukee to partake in some Korean barbecue at Seoul Restaurant.* I’d been dying to get back there to ease my kimchi withdrawal and he’d been keen to try the cuisine I’d been raving about all this time. We enjoyed it, for not only did the food taste great, but it tasted authentic as well. Dick finally got to taste samgyeopsal in all its glory. My dalkgalbi rocked.

Two observations on driving:

Any trip over 30 minutes long gets mentally tiring. I’d first noticed this last year whilst driving back from a friend’s place near Kenosha, WI. An hour on the road at night drained a good chunk of energy. I’d never considered this prior to leaving Korea because as a suburban Midwesterner, driving’s an integral part of life. Even at college, I’d drive every 3 weeks at the maximum and that was enough to keep driving familiar. I spent the year between graduating college and going to Korea driving back and forth between teaching jobs in Milwaukee (tutoring) and the Madison area (substituting), so I got used to 75-125 mile freeway jaunts. Now? All of the alertness that driving demands takes away more energy than I can recall. As much I enjoyed getting behind the wheel again, I’ll gladly leave the driving to someone else. I’d rather not deal with piloting a vehicle.

Bumper stickers everywhere. In short, Korean cars don’t have bumper stickers, though I see “baby on board” signs sometimes. American cars have plenty of stickers, on the other hand. This is another thing that’s so prevalent in daily life that I didn’t know it was gone until I moved away. Upon returning, the backsides of cars scream out slogan upon slogan. Does anybody pay attention to them? Does slapping political bumper stickers on cars make a difference? Does the world need to know Person X’s stance on, say, the president? Cars are for driving, not for advertising political philosophies or advancing slogans.

*It’s on the east side. It’s on Prospect Avenue, just south of North Ave.

And now for the song behind the post's title:

Guitarist Deniz Tek of the Australian band Radio Birdman wrote a searing song about I-94. He was an American guy from Michigan who'd moved to Australia with his family. I-94 runs through both of our states and it's a great driving tune. I'm linking the original version from their first EP. The band recorded a faster version for their second album Living Eyes, but I picked this one because it has more of a night time groove to it and I like the feedback coming off the rhythm guitar. Enjoy. Radio Birdman's one of my all time favorite groups.

The record collection

I had expected everything to be packed up, but ithadn’t. Thank you, thank you, and thank you to my dear mom and dad for keepingthe music collection in one piece so I could see it one more time before I go. Thisis what it looked like before the big move in August 2011: About 670 CDs, 250LPs, 75 7”s, 2 10”s, and 40 tapes. I can’t tell you exactly how many albums I’vebought since then because I stopped keeping records of all the purchases like before, butit’s around 75 Western and Kpop CDs.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Vacation Days 16-17: Dispatch from Waukesha, WI 1

I got back to my hometown of Waukesha, WI* on 4 days ago on Saturday. The WI portion of the USA trip ends this Saturday when we fly out to AZ. Sadly, the OH trip won't happen because of familial circumstances. It's not something I can say much about here.

This time in WI's been great thus far. It's been a race to see just how many old friends can be met with and how many old haunts can be seen before the time's up. Here're the highlights of the trip to date:

Chinese food with the family: I jumped at the chance to get tofu in black bean (jjajang) sauce and resume the family tradition of eating Chinese together. The black beans looked and tasted considerably different here than in Korea, though: the thick, dark texture of the sauce was thin and brown instead. It still tasted good, but I did miss the oil-slick feel of real jjajang.

Korean food near UW-Parkside. My friend Mike found a Korean/Japanese restaurant near his apartment out there and checked it out. He'd been there before and said that a Korean woman ran it. I eagerly scanned the menu and saw that they did a variety of bibimbaps and fried rice dishes, but didn't have any galbi or samgyeopsal on hand for table side grilling. That's unfortunate, because I was keen to show Mike the finer points of Korean barbecue. He ordered chicken bibimbap and I ordered kimchi bibimbap and awaited for those characteristic stone pots to arrive. They arrived with a conspicuous absence of the side dishes so common in Korean restaurants. Once again I had to remember that I wasn't in Korea and restaurants run differently here. Nonetheless, that kimchi bibimbap tasted as good as it does in Korea. The chefs packed plenty of kimchi into it, too. I found this pleasantly surprising. The quality (and quantity--I took half home) of the dish made up for its $14 price--over 2 times what bibimbap costs in its native land. Mike enjoyed his dish too, though he doesn't go in for the kimchi as much as I do.

The Korean owner did in fact come out to check on us, which provided a chance to speak in Korean. My doing so surprised her, for she probably doesn't have too much Korean-speaking Americans stop by. She asked about why I'd been there and was thrilled to hear I lived in Gangwon-do. What's more, she stirred the bibimbap for me, just all the other Korean restaurant proprietors have done. When that happened, WI vanished for a minute and I was shot back to that first month in Wasu. Good times.

Hitting the movie theater: Mike's a fellow movie aficionado and collector. We saw Zero Dark Thirty one night, came back to his place to watch The Life Aquatic, and caught the noon showing of Django Unchained the next day. Yu could ascertain plenty about our personalities and senses of humor from those three choices. I won't talk about the Life Aquatic except to say that it's a fine film. Django and Zero Dark Thirty, on the other hand, make for a dark cinematic outing. One's a you-are-there documentary-like account of the famous raid on Osama bin Laden's compound and one's a searing tale of revenge in the antebellum south. Both films feature graphically dehumanizing scenes of torture. Both will probably make viewers uncomfortable.

For my money, I liked Django more, not least because of my fondness for Tarantino and his work. It's classic stuff from the auteur: ace dialogue, plentiful blood, strong characterization, and poignant music on the soundtrack. You've probably read about now brutal its depiction of slavery is, which is true, but I also enjoyed the verbal duels happening throughout the film. Christopher Waltz and Leonardo DiCaprio lay down tense, barbed words like shrewd Southern gentlemen.

On a cultural note, not having to sit in an assigned seat felt good. Also, as far as I remember Korean movie theaters don't have matinee prices like American theaters do.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Vacation day 15 - Notes from the San Francisco-Chicago flight

The jaunt went better than expected.

For one, making acquaintances with the woman sitting next to me, a Russian immigrant working for a foundation, sparked a lively conversation that spanned the entire flight. We'd gotten to talking because of circumstance: she'd had to move so I could take my window seat and offered an apology for being in my way. No matter, I said, for such things happen all the time. We discussed everything from travel destinations to college parties and touched in Korean and Russian culture along the way. As someone interested in visiting the Motherland, meeting her proved interesting, for she had plenty to say about the country. The more she talked about Russia, the more it sounded like Korea: both countries focus heavily on math education, both are known for hard-driving mothers, and both have similar work cultures where coworkers often go out for dinner and drinks. She'd never visited Korea in spite of an extensive travel resume and had plenty of questions of school and professional life as well as life in the countryside, so I expounded on them as best I could. The 1.5 years provided plenty of things to say, many of which I've written about here. From school and Wasu, I moved to Seoul and the travels around the country. Again, talking about the traveled sparked the thought that for all my future travel plans, I've done plenty so far. Also, I saw that even though I know I should be much better at speaking Korean, what's there counts as intriguing to someone who doesn't speak the language. Even knowing the Hangeul script means something, for as she said, "It looks like drawings." Writing her name in Korean blew her mind. Likewise, while we didn't talk too much about the Russian language, I've always like the Cyrillic script and how its characters look well.

Talking with her proved energizing, for a much as company can get draining, I just as often get a kick out of it: our talk alleviated the harsh jet lag I'd had in San Francisco and helped the time pass. A flight that might've been spent fighting in vain for sleep instead became a learning experience. It surely best wondering when the plane would land or what song to play next. Even so, the plane did in fact land 30 minutes early. Fancy that piece of luck--I don't think I'd ever heard of a plane arriving ahead of schedule before. Clearing customs didn't happen because I'd already done that in San Francisco, but damn was getting the shuttle pick up point long--I swear I walked through half the airport.

(It's a cloudy and cold day in Waukesha, WI today. The thermometer reads 22 degrees F and a light layer of snow coats the ground. I arrived in WI yesterday after my mother generously picked me up from the hotel near the O'Hare airport. I'd thought about writing a post about arriving in Chicago after a day of traveling, but the jet lag rendered that too hard to do. I waited instead and did it today, which was a better way to go. A good sleep finally came.)

Day 15 - News from the Land of the Morning Calm

Korea Joongang Daily articles

"Taxi companies profit, drivers left out in the cold"
"[First in a two-part series] Law denoting cabs as public transport could add to woes"
1400대 '택시재벌', 개인에게 택시 빌려준 뒤…Jan 12,2013|home|top

Businesses will do whatever they can to make money. They will skirt the law, they will use accounting tricks, and they may even endanger public safety. Case in point is some cab companies in Seoul that hire drivers as subcontractors to avoid paying them health benefits and wages befitting regular drivers. Subcontracted drivers also do not have to pass background checks like regular drivers do.
"Korea’s first all-organic farmer dies at age 100"
‘My father ate organic meals for 40 years and always loved others.’ - Won Hye-young
'흙의 힘' 얘기하던 유기농 아버지, 흙으로 돌아가다Jan 12,2013

Won Kyung-sun's an inspiring figure. He worked tirelessly as an organic farmer and teacher. I found his life interesting because I'd never heard of him before and liked his ideas about feeding the hungry. His group donated part of their profits to charities to alleviate world hunger.
"Park insists on cut in military duty"
"As transition team is briefed, Defense Ministry disagrees with her pledge"
朴, '군복무 18개월 힘들다' 국방부 의견 듣고는…Jan 12,2013

Park Geun-hye made this vow at the 11th hour during her campaign. Did she do it to mirror contender Moon Jae-in's similar proposal? Perhaps. Park's idea centers on shortening the country's mandatory military service and hiring more officers to make up for the shortage of enlisted men. Such an idea demands time and money that may not be feasible now. What do you think?
"Proposal doesn’t reflect reality"
"It is wrong and unreasonable to bundle the entire senior group as dependents." Jan 12,2013

This article focuses on how best to care with Korea's aging population. Currently, there are debates about raising the retirement age and how best to expand government services to older people.
"Won’s rise over 1,060 is concern to small firms"
달러화에 엔화까지… 日아베, 한국경제를 공포로 떨게 만들다Jan 12,2013

A numbers-heavy article about the exchange rates and how it'll affect Korea's economy. The won has grown in strength against the dollar in recent times. I'm including it because changes in the exchange rate affect how much money expats have when they send money overseas. For example, I sent money home last year at 1126won per dollar and this year the rate stood at 1070won per dollar. The change in the rate meant a few more dollars going to the US account.
Expect a future post about sending money home, for it's an integral part of expat life.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

V Day 13 (14): Live from San Francisco

The flight in went well. I got bits of sleep here and there, but nothing substantial. It's around 6:30am tomorrow in Seoul and it's 1:36pm in SF right now, so it's early afternoon and I feel like I've been up all night. Which is true, for the most part. Right now the big decision is whether to ride out the tired or get a Monster to rally through the next flight. Sleeping soon means possibly not sleeping later and that Monster sounds tasty, as a year's passed since I've downed one.

The low mountains around the airport look similar to the Korean mountains, but that's it. Every employee here seems stressed and curt--the Koreans, for all the "Hurry! Hurry!" culture, still manage to seem relaxed enough at their jobs, unlike here where everyone seems hell bent on getting through the day without imploding.

On the plane I began cataloging all the Korean stuff I'd miss again. The kimchi withdrawal's probably already started.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Vacation Day 13: Live from Incheon International Airport

Boarding happens in 40 minutes. I arrived early because I can't stand rushing and wanted time to relax before the flight. Incheon Airport's good for that. It's bright and inviting. As busy as it is, it never seems too crowded. The extra time also allowed for having to take a short tram ride to the gate.

The flight will last about 10 hours. I'm ready for it, for the years of 7-8 hour car rides to Ohio have prepared me well. Add to that the flights to and from Korea before and a long bus ride to Canada in 2006. Long trips are nothing.

Next stop: San Francisco. I've never been in California before, so it should
make for a good experience.

Vacation Day 13: Check your e-brake

This one's from the archives. The roads have snowy and slippery now. These are some streets in a neighborhood near Noksapyoung Station.

Why people bother to park cars on these streets, I'll never understand.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Vacation Day 11: Information about shipping stuff home

Had another slow and relaxing day yesterday. I wrote this on 8 Jan but didn't post it until today.

The time’s come for several members of the crew to move on. February 2013 will bring about a large group exodus from Cheorwon. I’ll have to consult with Kirsten about this, but this may be one of the biggest changeovers in local history, for 40% of us EPIK'ers are flying out: Matt, Nina, and Esther will be leaving after 2 years; Kirsten will be leaving after 3 years.

The impending move’s prompted much discussion over how best to ship things home. Esther writes,
I just mailed 4 large boxes back to the States. Make sure you tell them it's by surface before you fill out the paper! It should be a paper that says CP and had a barcode next to it. EMS is mail by air and costs a lot more. CP/ surface takes 2-4 months. I sent four of the no.5 size boxes and it cost 165,000₩. You can make an appointment for them to come pick up the boxes from your place and they'll drive you to the post office to fill out the paperwork. I suggest having a Korean person call and make the appointment for you. You need to correct address of your apt!
Cheorwon alumni Craig adds,
We recently received the boxes we posted before leaving. As a guide, the maximum size we could post was a size 5 box, 14kg, 40k-50k Won, and it arrived within 3 months.
Fellow alum Jerush says,
 Ours took just under 2 months. We mailed 5 big boxes totaling about 55 kg and costing under 200,000.

Their information will prove helpful for when it comes time for me to move. Anyone who lives in a foreign country should consider the logistics behind shipping things home. Since many of us only stay for one or two years, the time to leave comes up quickly. It’s good to know things in advance, so I hope this helps expats over here.

Special thanks to Esther, Craig, and Jerusha for the quotes.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Vacation Day 10-2: Gangnam 9 years ago, school, and acing tests

I came across thesethree news articles while browsing the Joongang Daily's website recently.Enjoy.

Gangnam style of 2003.
"There are two kinds of Koreans ― those who livein Gangnam, or southern Seoul, and those who don’t." 
Keypoints from the article
  • Gangnam's known for its high class living and its elite hagwons. Parents want to live there so their children can get the best education they can.
  • Gangnam wasn't always a fancy area of town: It used to be little more than prairie land south of the river. The changes didn't come until the 1960s, when people became moving to offset the population booms happening north of the river.
  • Hyundai built a luxury apartment building there and it was that building that set the precedent for Gangnam as an affluent area.
Though dating from June2003, this article's still relevant today because the Gangnam address has onlygotten fancier. We can thank Psy for part of that, but the area's been goingstrong thanks to its combination of affluence and a thriving party scene. Tosay it's home to many ethnic restaurants, bars, and clubs would insult thesheer abundance of dining and nightlife options there. I wrote about it here and have beenthere plenty of times. I wouldn't call it my favorite area of Seoul, but it'scertainly a good destination for a night out.

Two articles about hagwon and college tests

Moon Sang-won attendedan $1,800/month live-in hagwon and nailed the all-important college entranceexam. Good for him. He's an example of how far some students (and theirfamilies) will go to do well on the exam. He commented, 
“'In the case of regular hagwon, I feel likethere are so many temptations to avoid on the way to classes or after them. Butliving in a dormitory hagwon provides a space in which I was able to get awayfrom temptations and just focus on my studies,' Moon said. 'We can be in controlof our own minds ourselves but it’s a fact that it’s difficult to controlexternal influences.'

Here's one about pairsof twins who studied together and conquered the exam. The Yang brothers inparticular emphasized studying and discussing their course materials togetherto check their comprehension. Good for them for working together. I find theirmethod intriguing, for I rarely studied with anyone in high school or college.The method of checking each other does work though: I recall studying NativeAmerican history with a friend and how we got smarter because we took turnssummarizing different sections of our textbooks. In addition to making thedifficult class and material easier to learn, it tested our abilities astutors. We both did well on the exam too.

Reading about thesestudents brought the ongoing quest to learn Korean to mind: Though JB theco-teacher and I ostensibly have a language exchange set up ourselves, our meetingsfocus more on teaching me Korean instead of alternating between Korean andEnglish. I should try asking him to go beyond phrases and into conversationsbecause it would have more give-and-take than repeating things.

Addendum: Last year I took a bunch of photos of buildings in Gangnam that never got uploaded here. I was rolling in on the bus when a friend called to reschedule our meeting. Rather than immediately turn around and waste a trip to Seoul, I rode in to Gangnam and wandered about.

Vacation Day 10-1: Cafe Bong

Another quality day here. The flight for the US leaves Friday night, so I'm eagerly awaiting seeing the family once again. 

Wasu's moving up in the world once again, for we now have a new coffee house in town, Cafe Bong. It opened on Christmas Eve in what was once a run-down bar on the roundabout. Apologies for delays in writing about it; I didn't notice it until last week and didn't remember to snap a picture until today. There would have been a picture of the interior, but for whatever reason they were closed tonight, so there went my plans to sip tea and write in there tonight.

Cafe Bong has what may be the best atmosphere of any cafe in Cheorwon. In the words of Rochelle, from the fancy and darker decor of the interior to the 2nd floor location,  it's going for a Seoul feel. Indeed, the inside feels classier than the local Tous Les Jours or Paris Baguette thanks to the lighting. The place would make a good hangout; indeed, the housewives of Wasu have already begun converging on it, for now they can sip their lattes in style. 

Rochelle and I stopped by and picked up after-dinner tea and hot chocolate on the weekend. Both drinks went down well. I'll be stopping by Cafe Bong again because the tea's good and they serve tasty-looking giant slices of bread with honey or chocolate topping. Bong doesn't appear to sell any other foods, so TLJ or PB have the edge for food yet..

  • I was happy to see that one of my incoming HS students is working there as a barista. She's not even a freshman and her working life's already begun.
  • Wasu history 101: Kirsten's fond of noting that when she arrived in Wasu in February of 2010, Wasu didn't have any coffee shops at all.* Options for "real" coffee that wasn't instant or canned consisted of going to Seoul or Chuncheon. She often said she'd get a Starbucks coffee as soon as she arrived in Chuncheon because she craved regular coffee that badly.
    • The Tous Les Jours and the Paris Baguette arrived between then and August 2011 when Pete, Gabe, and I arrived here, but as a point of information, Paris Baguette didn't upgrade itself from bakery to bakery-cafe until 2012.
  • Wasu history 101 part II: A Lotteria got built last year as well. It's the Korean equivalent of McDonald's. The best thing about it is that it gives high school kids jobs.

Vacation Days 7-9: Hunger Games and delivery beer

Weekend notes
·         Relaxed in Wasu and celebrated Gracie’s birthday with some of the crew in Wasu.
·         I finished the Hunger Games trilogy. The last book, Mockingjay, is the best book of the series for its gripping action, its ironies, and its themes of revolution. I’d come to these books rather late, but oh well. Better late than never, especially with a story like this. Mockingjay is where the story moves out of YA territory and enters into the adult world of revolutions, government, and urban warfare. The ending’s an unexpected, but wholly necessary twist as well. Katniss certainly had a coming of age story.
·         On the docket to read:
o   Hemingway’s short stories
o   Reread Fitzgerald’s “Winter Dreams” and “Babylon Revisited.” I may reread The Great Gatsby or check out Tender is the Night too.
Ordering delivery
Hit a milestone for life in Korea: I ordered delivery to apartment for the first time. This wasn’t the first time ordering delivery—that happened in Sincheorwon last month—but I’d never had anything delivered to the apartment because I’d never had much reason to. Since the shops and restaurants only lie 10 minutes away, it always seemed lazy to order delivery when I could walk down the road. Besides, I dislike staying inside all day. Even if it’s 0 degrees and freezing, I’ll still venture out at least once a day to get some fresh air.

Here’s a photo of what arrived:

Above is my bibimbap, Rochelle’s omelet over rice (and the accompanying sauce), the side dishes, and the container of actual silverware. Side dishes were soup, kimchi, fish cakes, and yellow radishes.

When you order food for delivery here, you not only don’t pay a tip, but the delivery man brings the food on actual plates. You put the plates outside your door when you’ve finished eating so he can pick them up later.

One advantage that Cheorwon has over the city is that we're placed in one apartment building instead of spread out over multiple buildings like, say, Seoul. Our buildings are usually called "Won-eu-min gwan-sa" which translates to "Native speaker's house." Both the Wasu and Dongsong apartments are part of elementary school grounds, so the addresses are easy to find. Sincheorwon's easy too, but it's not located it's next to a school. 

Note: pizza and chicken come exactly like they do in the States.
Not in America dept: It’s possible to get beer delivered with fried chicken here. We’ve actually done this in Sincheorwon. A liter of beer runs 5000won, so it’s double what the stores charge, but we did it anyway for the novelty of getting delivery beer. It tasted good.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Vacation Day 6: Relaxing in Wasu / Daily questions / more

Not too much happened today. I spent most of it reading Mockingjay, the third book in the excellent Hunger Games trilogy and hanging around the apartment. It felt good to have a day without any obligations.

Since I don't like making empty posts, here's something I picked up at a lecture in the second Orientation back in September of 2011. I've been meaning to get to this one for a while now, for it deals with something I've noted a few times in various posts: Koreans interviewing you. It comes up almost every day here. What follows are notes from the Orientation and reflections on them from after 16 months of living here.

Questions Koreans Ask You

"Where are you going?"
--My notes say, "They don't really want to know," "Ask to show they care," and "Answer specifically if possible"--All of which is true, yet my students do seem genuinely curious. I've been asked this question countless times because it's the one thing every student knows how to say. To the Korean and foreigner teachers who taught their students this expression, well done. You've taught them well. If I ever see a student on the street, he invariably asks, "Where are you going?" I've heard the question more times here than I ever did in the States. Also, Koreans ask "Where are you going" of each other all the time, so it's not just something asked of foreigners.

Of all the times I've heard this question, one instance stands out. It happened some time in October last year I bumped into a middle school girl on the way to the grocery store and this is what we said. My thoughts are in italics:

"Teacher Ben! Where--are you going?"
To buy beer--no, can't say that. "To the grocery store."
Why? The grocery store has food. If I'm going to there, I need food. "To get food."
Seriously? "I'm hungry."
"Oh. Bye bye!"

"Have you eaten?"
--From what I've gathered, Koreans don't like to eat alone. My office usually goes to lunch as a group if we're all present. In my journal's notes from the lecture, I wrote, "It helps to answer honestly. If you haven't eaten, they'll take you to a restaurant." I've actually had that happen a few times. Usually, the person will tell me to eat or give me something to eat. If I'm in a Korean's home, it's one of the first questions to get asked. But after plenty of experience, no matter what I say, food will appear because Koreans want to offer you something anyway. It reminds me of my friend's mom, for every time I came over, she'd ask if I'd had anything to eat and if I'd like anything to eat. It goes like that here: people don't want you to go hungry. For example, once I stopped by Dave's place on my way to dinner to relay some information about a meeting and upon seeing me, his fiance invited me in for dinner with them. And since she cooks like a champ, I needed no convincing. ^_^

"How old are you?"
- Got to get age to get to know someone personally. Korea's still largely a Confucian society, so people ask this question to ascertain how to talk to you and treat you. The talk matters because of the honorifics in speech. If the other person's older, he'll play the big brother; but if he's younger, I need to play the big brother.  As a foreigner, I don't need to worry about this because Koreans generally don't expect foreigners to know about it. Usually my foreigner status means I get treated like a VIP or elder in town or at school: I get the front seat in cars, for example. Despite being the youngest teacher in the school by at least 3 years, I have the status of a veteran.

"Can you use chopsticks?"
--This comes mostly from Koreans' general lack of experience with foreigners. I used to get the question all the time, but it's stopped because I've proven my chopstick skills.

Bonus material:

I meant to post this picture sooner, but it got lost in the shuffle. It's dedicated to coffee lovers around the world. As you can see, it was taken in Ildong, a town about 45 minutes away that's on the Wasu-Seoul bus line. I took this shot because it's yet another example of the interesting English names of places over here: A coffee shop named Need Coffee? Talk about blunt. It even makes for a fun exchange:

"Where are you going?"
"I'm going to Need Coffee."
"When I go there."
Here's hoping that somewhere in Korea stands a bar named Need Beer.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Vacation Day 5: Hanging around in Seoul/Heading back to Cheorwon

Note: I'd originally written a much longer post detailing the delays at the bus station and the trip home, but I must have deleted it by mistake. Either way, I may rewrite it later, suffice to say that the day went well. The text below was originally written at a Latte King in Seoul on 2 January 2012.

Like yesterday, today'll be another easy day, albeit one with more activity. I'll be heading out to Konkuk University Station to meet E-j for lunch before info back to Cheorwon. And after that, it'll be guitar, movies, and cleaning the apartment.

Today's picture's an interesting one I saw online:

This man knew something. Our parents were indeed born in--and for--a different time.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Vacation Day 4: New Year's Day

New Year's Day may be a national holiday, but everything's open like any other day here. We caught the New Year's celebration on TV last night and the event seemed more somber than celebratory. It felt good to get away from the crowds and the hullabaloo.

Today'll be a low-key day for enjoying the weather and our vacation time. We're back in Seoul.

On the docket: another movie or two and some more writing of messages and blog posts. Cheers, everyone. The year in review will be coming soon.

Update: Here's a good article from the Joongang Daily.

In education, humanity is as important as grades

Vacation Day 2: 30 December 2012

--Hit Gwanghwamun Jip (house) for some excellent kimchi jjigae. Seoul Magazine recommended it. The place defines small: it's barely big enough for a kitchen, let alone a restaurant. You actually walk past the stove to get upstairs. Narrow stairway, too! We made our way upstairs and got seated next to a group of ajoshis and ended up conversing a bit with them when we asked to have our picture taken. One of them spoke excellent English and informed us that the restaurant has been around for 30 years and that we were the first foreigners he's seen there. I found that interesting in light of the restaurant's history.

--National Museum of Contemporary History
This free--yes, free--museum has an excellent overview of Korean history from the 1876 until today. We didn't take as many pictures here because the halls weren't very big and the place was packed with families enjoying the weekend. We took heart in all the kids looking at the exhibits. At one point Rochelle and I got to talking with two little boys who were looking at LPs and calling them CDs. I corrected them and they started talking to us and saying their names. They were cute.

We enjoyed seeing Korea's progression from a rural agrarian country to a modern industrialized one. It's notable that Korea's last kingdom, the Joseon Dynasty ended in 1910 and it's only been a functioning republic since the 1980s. As we were walking out, Rochelle observed that the 3 floors of exhibits went from dark to light as though Korea was emerging from the dark past into a bright future.

Words of the day

정부 government
애국가 National anthem
군사정변 Coup d'Etat
공화국과 republic
통깉타 acoustic guitar
혁명 revolution

Note: Pictures will come soon.

Also, we checked out the Korean movie Architecture 101 and we liked it. It sparked a few discussions. The review will come later.

Vacation Day 3: Happy New Year from Suwon, Gyeonggi-do

Added after the original post:

The three events of New Year's Eve:
Buying Dr. Martens at the bustling ABC-Mart inside the ever more bustling COEX mall
Traveling to Suwon
Eating at Hwaseong Sutbul Galbi
Seeing students leaving their hagwons at 9pm.

Hwaseong Galbi: Good but expensive

Rochelle and I ate our most expensive meal to date at during our short stay in the city. We had followed an enthusiastic recommendation from Groove magazine and went there because our barbecue-loving selves were eager to try the dish Suwon's famous for. Indeed, the restaurant does what looks like a thriving business in its multistory location. Hwaseong Sutbul Galbi certainly disappoint us: we got loaded with quality side dishes and the beef tasted excellent. This softened the blow of the 68,000won bill, though we thought we'd had as good or better meat elsewhere and at a better price. (Beef galbi runs around 20-25,000 in Wasu, for example)

The big cost came because we'd thought we'd put in one order at 32,000 each when the restaurant had given us two orders. 500g of meat for 32,000won sounded like plenty for two people in our minds, but things work a bit differently over here: When two people order barbecue, they get two servings. I'd known this fact for a long time, but I didn't think it applied here because no restaurant prior to Hwaseong Sutbul Galbi had had portions bigger than 250g.

I got annoyed with the high price until these things came to mind:

  • A good friend's oft-repeated saying of "You've got a job, you can afford it." Thanks, Mike. 
  • It's a special occasion. It isn't New Year's every day and we certainly don't go for beef galbi every day when pork galbi costs less and tastes about the same.
  • The side dishes: The fresh kimchi and the potato pancake rocked. Bonus points for the liberal helping of gochujang pepper sauce.
Altogether, a good if expensive meal.

As a side note, Suwon does have an excellent (and cheap) makgeolli going for it. We enjoyed a 1.2l bottle for only 1,200won. 

Students leaving hagwons at 9pm on New Year's Eve

There's just no rest for the students here. We passed by dozens of students leaving their hagwons when we were walking back to the hotel. I couldn't help but wonder about why they would need to attend school at that hour on a day like New Year's Eve, but that's what happens here. A day off here and there might actually help the students by giving them time to process what they've studied in school, but it doesn't seem to go like that.

The original post:

The Doc Martens

Rochelle and I bought matching pairs of Dr Martens today, [Monday, 31 Dec] and in doing so, we're joining the ranks of all the other Korean couples with matching shoes. I once said I'd never do this. My, how times have changed ^_^
We took the pictures of the station and our shoes on the street on New Year's Day before we got on the train.

Coming posts: New Year's Eve, galbi, and more pictures

In front of Seryu Station in Suwon.

Below: pictures of our room at the Bel-Amie hotel. It's the best place either of us have stayed in yet. Dig that tub!