Wednesday, November 19, 2008

DJ's and Korean Weddings

I feel like I'm getting a bit lazy and slightly behind with my posts, which is almost a good thing, cause it means that I'm busy.

Last weekend we kicked off our Friday night with a DJ Shadown show in Hongdae. There were likely well over a thousand people packed into a tiny warehouse for the show. He went on at 1am and we arrived with plenty of time to spare. It was probably the most foreigners I've seen in a while (aside from the Adventure Korea tour I guess...). Anyway, aside from the jerks who thought that Shadow was performing "just for them" in the front, you know the type, think that they can push through the crowd back and forth during the show to refresh their beers - not cool. Aside from them, the show was great and by the end of it, we were exhausted. We got out of there around 3:30am and headed home.

Saturday I spent shopping because I had a Sunday Korean wedding to attend. This was probably the strangest wedding I've ever been to. It wasn't entirely Korean and it wasn't entirely western. Very confusing.

First of all, when I arrived the bride was in this room alone with a photographer waiting for guests to arrive to have their photo taken with her. She looked like a tiny Korean doll...well, she is a TINY Korean girl. I was directed to this room and had my photo taken with her. John wasn't with me, as he was at his ball hockey game, and the bride seemed genuinely disappointed that she wasn't able to meet him. This girl, Hee Joon, was a coworker of mine from my days at Plus Academy who tracked me down via an old student of mine. After the photo shoot, we sat down at the back of the wedding hall -- not a church, but a giant room fully equipped with a light stage and a huge bubble machine.
First the groom walks down the aisle, alone but to music and the bubble machine and lights go nuts. Then the bride and her father walk down the aisle...same thing, music, bubbles, and lights. Then the bride and groom bow to each other, and the justice of the peace (I'm assuming this is what he was) says some words. The bride and groom bow at their parents and then someone starts playing a traditional sounding plucky instrument while everyone just watches. Then, the bride and groom head back down the aisle because it's finished and...KAPOW...some sort of explosive streamers fly out of the air and champagne bottles are uncorked for the family.
Meanwhile, during the service all of the guests are just chatting away as if nothing special is going on, there is never a silence during the ceremony. Halfway through the ceremony, most of the guests have run upstairs to the 17th floor where there is a buffet lunch. Koreans constantly complain that they are so 'busy' and they can't possibly stay to attend the entire wedding, so they come, sign the guestbook, drop off some cash, eat and run. We, however, waited until the ceremony seemed to be over until we headed upstairs for some food.

The food was relatively 'normal' and entirely edible, nothing alive or strangely customary. So we sat down in a massive room, ate and then found out that there was a second ceremony happening while everyone was eating. The bride had changed into traditional Korean clothing, Hanbok, and bowed to her parents while they threw chestnuts and dates at them (which indicate how many girls and boys the couple will produce). We missed this part due to our lack of Korean language skills and the fact that there were no announcements about this part....or any part.

Anyway, after 2 hours...yes, just 2 hours the ceremony and reception were finished and we left.

It was by far the strangest, most rushed wedding that I've ever been to and probably not one that I'd attend just doesn't seem worthwhile and definitely not 'traditional' or a 'cultural experience' that is valuable. However it was interesting nevertheless.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Seoraksan Trip

I arrived home tonight exhausted from our weekend trip to Seoraksan, a National Park, east of Seoul and well outside the city. It was nice to escape the pollution and the people for the weekend and to experience the changing fall leaves while hiking for two solid days. We are exhausted, but quite happy with our trip.

We left EARLY Saturday morning to catch a bus with 90 other foreigners. I had no idea there would be so many English teachers in one place, it was ridiculous. It took a while to drive out of the city with the two coach busses but eventually we got to our lunch stop, it was cold bipimbap, which isn't meant to be cold, so it was pretty disgusting, not a highlight, that's for sure. From there we continued on and arrived at Seoraksan National Park. We were about an hour behind schedule due to traffic and when we arrived it was raining. The guide wasn't sure if we were going to be able to hike much on the trip. But I really find that Koreans underestimate the abilities of foreigners. They think we like hamburgers, are all fat, and have no ability to endure anything. Yeah, right. Anyway, ALL of us were fine and didn't mind the drizzle and started hiking up.

First there was a HUGE Buddah statue and there was chanting music playing. It was interesting because it was raining and kinda misty around the mountain tops, making it all the more entrancing. It was at this point that I realized that our tour guide had no experience and/or no ability to actually guide people. He just took off with a group of about 10 of the 90 people on the bus and started hiking. He never stopped to tell us where to go, nor did he give us any directions prior to disembarking the bus. At the time we didn't seem to care because there were so many people, who could keep track.

Anyway, hiking up was great, not too difficult. Eventually we arrived at a viewpoint and some random girl, not Korean, nor employed with the company told us "The guide says you're not allowed to go any further." At first I agreed, and took in the viewpoint while chatting. John decided not to agree with this other random foreigner giving us 'direction' and went up the hill. At first I just thought he was going to take some photos, but after about 15 minutes I realized that he was gone and not coming back. I decided to rebel as well taking a few other girls with me. We figured we'd keep going up until we saw the guide coming down. Some of the girls decided to quit before we got to the next viewpoint and I ended up bailing with them because I wasn't even sure that John or the guide were still up there and didn't want to be up there by myself.

After we all descended, it was then that I realized how angry John was with the guide's directions, or lack of directions. He was able to hike up to a staircase and the guide shut him down after letting 10 others up. The guide had been telling us all day that we weren't going to get to go up there (which is why we all agreed with random foreign girl who told us not to go any further, we assumed it was 'dangerous'). John was pretty pissed off that he didn't get to summit but 10 others did, especially because we PAID for the trip and for the guide to take us all up there if we wanted to go. It was really unfortunate and the company will likely get an angry letter from a "Tour Guide/Tour Management" perspective via John.

Aside from the terrible guiding, the scenery was nice and we had good company. Two of the Irish teachers at our Hagwon accompanied us and it was great fun to hang out with them for a couple of days.

Being outside the city in the rain really made me miss home. I know everyone at home is likely hating the rain and cold but its something that I'd love to be home for even though I'm sure I'll regret saying that not too long from now.

Anyway, John and I have big and exciting plans ahead, so stay tuned!

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Cirque du Soleil - in Seoul!

Last weekend John and I were able to see yet another Cirque show, Alegria. We were fortunate enough to make this the second Cirque show in 4 months on two different continents. We saw Corteo in Vancouver in July. Alegria was amazing! We had great seats. Watching the show with a room full of Koreans was interesting as they basically clapped throughout the entire show, rather than waiting for the time to applause. It was pretty hillarious. I think that the only audience members who clapped at the usual times were foreigners. Anyway, it was exciting and even the music was incredible. It was a much needed night out for John and I, as John has been quite sick for a really, really long time.

Work has been...well, work and teaching ESL to unreceptive Korean kids is frustrating. Actually, I think that the most frustrating part is the $47,000 education that I have that is usless here. I have learned some really great teaching techniques and strategies in my year at teacher's college, yet the polar opposite happens here. Koreans aren't actually learning English, they're just memorizing. They're great at it, but there isn't actually ever a grasp on the English language, it's just a matter of memorizing and spitting it out for the next test, then forgetting the information....repeat.

This weekend is a much needed break, however. We are headed to a mountain called Seoraksan which is a few hours outside of the city. We are going on a tour with a company called Adventure Korea, so there should be about 50 other foreigners who are living and traveling in Korea which should make for a good time. We'll end up doing some hiking and sightseeing which will be great and I'm sure the less-polluted air will be welcomed as well.

I think that November is going to fly by fast. We've got plans every weekend from now until the end of the month including this weekends trip, a Korean wedding, and a trip to a theme park called Everland. So I'm sure there will be good stories to follow.

John in Namdaemun Market with actual "Poo on a Stick", only in Korea.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

The Return of Marcus

To all those who lived and worked in Korea with me previously, it's likely that you had an enounter with the old Plus Academy assistant stick-man, Marcus. He was Rob's close Korean buddy and he was with some of us for random times, such as Kevin Dueck, who experienced Marcus running toward him in a Jimjillbang on his second night in the country.

As you may have noticed from my previous post, Marcus tracked me down via this very blog and I was able to meet up with him today for lunch. Marcus' life has changed quite a bit in the last couple of years. He is now married and has a 15 month old baby girl! Not only that, but him and his wife are expecting their second child in June. His daughter is the cutest little thing. I thought I wanted to steal a Korean baby before...oh my god!! And when she bowed to me, the teeny little kid baby bow to say hello...I think my heart melted! She was obsessed with staring at me and making faces throughout the whole lunch. She is SO cute!

I was able to have lunch with Marcus, his wife, and his baby girl today at a place called Fishers Market, which is an all you can eat buffet that had things like Chinese food, Sushi, Pizza, Korean dumplings, cheesecake, ice cream, etc. We at all of it, it was amazing.
Marcus, who is working as a Radiologist in a hospital, was also able to 'score' me some Tylenol 3's for John. John has been sick for the past few days with an ear infection slash ruptured ear drum. He's in a lot of pain and when we went to the hospital to sort it out a few mornings ago (just before his ear drum ruptured, when the pain was the most severe) the doctor prescribed extra strength Tylenol for his pain. Absolutely ridiculous. This doctor was an ENT (ear, nose, throat) Specialist and he looks in his ears and says, "Yep, for this 6'4" dude, I'll give him 1 Extra Strength Tylenol to take every 8 hours". Every 8 hours is actually what it says on the side of the package.
Anyway, I've now given him some T3's and he's sleeping like a baby. Which is nice, since he hasn't slept in about 3 days.

The other unfortunate event was that our school hadn't applied for medical up until about a week ago. Before John was sick, I was pushing them to apply, because it's in our contract that our employer provide us with medical coverage. Not only that, but as of 2006 the Korean goverment instituted it as a law that we be provided with medical coverage as well. Anyway, of course, we get the ball rolling with the medical, but not soon enough. We ended up going to the hospital about 5 days before our medical will kick in and we came away with a $150 medical bill. Beautiful. I walked into work that day and handed my boss the bill. He complained, but he paid it. I think he realized that it's not my fault that he forgot to apply for medical 3 months ago when the school opened.

Anyway, I think John is gonna come around in the next day or two. I know that he's getting better when he starts making fun of me again, which resumed today, so I think we're on the up and up.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

The Emart Phenomenon

Ok, normally I'd make fun of someone who dedicated an entire post to Emart, Korea's version of Walmart, except with 5 floors of shopping goodness, but this is an exception...

I used to live in a moderately busy area of North Seoul and walking down the sidewalk was only challenging late at night, when drunken old men and women stumbled home from the subway, or local drinking spot. However, 3 days ago Emart opened on my block....ON my block. I can literally hear the Emart "stickmen" or traffic controllers continuously blowing whistles and yelling at pedestrians from my apartment.

On the one hand, it's great because prior to the Emart opening, I didn't have anywhere to shop for groceries on a wide scale, aside from the Hyundai Department Store grocery level, which is a bit pricey and slightly limited. Emart has everything from peanut butter, to whole bean coffee, to hiking boots and backpacks and having it so close means we can buy lots cause we don't have to carry it very far. Like tonight, for instance, John carried home a 7kg bag of laundry soap because it was on sale for the Canadian equivelant of $10, regularly priced at about $25. The opening sales are drawing massive crowds. Which leads me to my drawbacks....

I can no longer walk down the sidewalk with ease. At 9:50 this morning, 10 minutes before Emart opened its doors, there were approximately 60-70 people lined up to get in. These 60-70 people are waiting on the sidewalk...infront of my house. Not only that, but these people are shopping all day, everyday, in massive quantities. Nothing is sold in packs of 1 or 2, but more like 6 or 8. Kleenex for example is wrapped for sale with six boxes attached together, super cheap, but someone's gotta carry this stuff home. That with their diapers in cases of 2, toilet paper in 24 roll packs, new quilts, shelving units, TVs, DVD players, etc. All of these things are being carried down the sidewalk infront of my house. Coupled with the hundreds of people milling around outside, my front yard makes for quite the interesting obsticle course. John and I have taken to crossing the road and taking the long route, which has since become the short route due to all the people.

Needless to say, things have just been cranked up a notch in our day to day world.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

San Nak Ji 2008

Last night was a regular night at work. Teaching kids, handing out detentions, making jokes, really just a regular night. It wasn't until classes were done at 9:30pm tonight that things got a little weird. Somewhere around 9:45 Sharon, one of the other foreign teachers at the school says, "Paul has live octopus and wants us to come and eat it." I thought she was joking. Unfortunately, she wasn't.

Paul, our boss, decided to place an order for a large styrofoam crate of live baby octopus. He wanted us all to enjoy in the salty, squirmy, dipped-in-hot-red-pepper-paste goodness that Koreans take part in from time to time..."for good health" as is the theme here in this country.

I have tried live octopus, or san nak ji, before at a restaurant where they chop the body off and cut the tentacles into small pieces. Everything moves for well over an hour after it's been killed. This was a little different though. There was no table to sit down at, no beer or soju to drink, no dinner alternatives. This was straight up, reach into the tank, pierce it's head with chopsticks, wrap the body around, dip in pepper paste, and shove the whole squishy wet thing into your mouth.

The thing is, these things aren't that small. I'm not sure that many of us would ever think of putting that much cake, or ice cream into our mouths, let alone a live creature.

Of course the foreigners were a spectacle because people always want to see our reactions. I knew for a fact I wasn't going to indulge, so I played the "oh, no thank you, I've already tried it a couple of years ago...I'm all set" Mike, Catroina, Sharon, and John weren't quite so lucky.

First up was Mike, who surprisingly just ate the whole thing without much hesitation. However his eyes were as big as saucers when the whole thing finally made its way in there and started grabbing at the sides of his mouth [this is actually a dangerous thing to do, and there are a few deaths a year in Korea related to eating live octopus...but hey, when in Rome!].

Catroina was by far the most interesting to watch. She made a deal with John to do it together, so she went first and the octopus went in...she gagged for about a minute while trying to chew/kill the thing in her mouth and then she threw it up onto a plate. Sick. John was so grossed out by the puke up factor that all he could muster was a torn off full tentacle shoved into his gourd. Sharon followed John with the single tentacle and I stayed in the shadows...snapping photos.

Anyway, it was by far the most interesting work night this week. I'm sure that the students wondered what the hell the teachers were all doing screaming and yelling in one of the classrooms on the main floor while they all finished rewriting their tests and serving their detentions.

Gotta love Korea.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Ever heard of Eulalia?

We had an invitation on Sunday to attend the Eulalia Festival with a girl from my work and her husband, both Korean. I've never even heard of Eulalia, so my English vocabulary is ever expanding. Apparently Eulalia is some sort of grass like wheat that has been planted in Seoul on the top of World Cup Park, which is a huge hill, also known as an old garbage dump which has been converted into a park.

There were tons of people, almost exclusively Korean, who came to attend this festival, which consisted of stepping 2 feet into a Eulalia field and snapping photos to make it look like you're in the middle of Saskatchewan in summer. Kind of weird, but a unique Korean experience anyway. We capped off the night with some Sam Geyop Sal, a bacon-like meat that's done similar to Korean BBQ, but on a tilted metal plate, so that the fat runs off and through your Kimchi, which is being heated and fried at the low end of the plate. Let me just say...friggin delicious. We've had it a few times and experimented with a few different restaurants and it seems to get better and better.

A couple of days before on Friday night we ended up going out with the Korean middle school teachers for some drinks after work. It turned into an all out affair and lasted until the wee hours of the morning. Which, in turn, wrote off Saturday for us, which was supposed to consist of an all day hike up Bukhan Mountain. I was a little disappointed that we didn't go hiking, but we'll get there another time.

We also booked a November trip to Seorak Mountain, which is in another province. We'll spend 2 days hiking in Gangwondo, through different trails in the park. It's supposed to be one of the more beautiful areas in Korea and I've never been before, so I'm looking forward to it. A couple of other teachers from work are coming too and the tour is pretty much exclusively foreigners and is done entirely in English. It should provide a good opportunity for meeting new people as well.

In other news, Korean lessons resume this Saturday. I'm going to hit up the OEM Seobinggo lessons and see what level I end up in. With all of the practice that John's had, I doubt he'll be in the beginner level, but we'll see how they place everyone.

Anyway, glad to know everyone is full of turkey. I managed to go with John to KFC last night after work and eat chicken while pretending it was turkey. It didn't really do it justice...but we tried. I don't think I'll be eating KFC for a long while.