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.

Monday, October 06, 2008




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Sunday, October 05, 2008

John's Drum Battle

Video of the Ingwasan Viewpoint

Drums, Beers, and Temples

Well, loads of pictures, and many more to come as John has been snapping shots like the paparazzi. So many pictures weren't posted because I was making the "oh please don't take my picture...again" face. I guess it's nice though, because I don't have to spend the time taking the shots, yet I still get the benefit of having awesome pictures and great memories.

This weekend we had another long weekend. We've been pretty fortunate since we've been here to have quite a few days off. This holiday was called "Foundation Day" which celebrates the beginning of the Joseon Dynasty.

We started the weekend by checking out a Drum Festival on Friday afternoon. This month marks the beginning of the Hi Seoul festival, so there is a lot happening this month I think. Anyway, the drum festival turned out to be pretty cool. When we arrived, there were demo tables of all sorts of different types of drums, most traditional, and John turned into a kid in a candy store and had to touch and play every single one. The best though, was when we were watching this "famous" drum instructor in a big crowd and I guess he asked for a volunteer to play the second drum kit with famous guy and I am pretty sure he said it in Korean, but John magically understood and shot his hand up right away. Being six foot four, and very white, he kind of stands out, so they picked him and he got to jam with this guy. It was really cool, he's totally the guy that wants to be up on stage, or picked as a volunteer. Its great, cause then I get to turn into the camera man. At the end of the night there was a big performance with all sorts of percussion groups, so we stayed and watched most of it, it was nice to spend the day in Seoul Forest, just hangin out.

On Saturday morning we finally had our furniture arrive! We have been quite excited to actually have somewhere to sit, put our clothes, and use the computer!! Our house feels a lot more livable now and I actually really like it. If I imagine that the walls are a different colour, I could even spend some time here...maybe paint is in order? That still wouldn't get me past the 60's flower wallpaper though. That's ok, it's the hospital green that bugs me.

Saturday night we had plans to go to one particular restaurant, however, upon arriving we realized that it no longer exists at the location it once did. The restaurant has not updated their website in a couple of years, I guess. Needless to say, we had a great night hitting up random places. We started out at this Japanese restaurant in Gangnam and had awesome food, including: Tuna Tataki (pictured), Mashed potato tempura -- incredible!, and Chicken Yakitori. We chased that with a bottle of Sake and a couple beers and we were off to a good start. The great thing, or maybe not so great?, about Korean beer is that its really weak, so you can drink a few and feel like you've only had a glass of water. It's really tough to get drunk from local beer.

From the Japanese place, we went to a few random bars just for a single drink, just to check out the area and see what was cool. We found a bar called "Wild Bills" and ended up staying for a few and playing a couple of rounds of darts. It was a bit weird because the darts were all computerized, so we didn't really know what we were doing for the longest time, but we played anyway. After our hours of fun, we decided to take the subway home, but failed to realize that we would only be able to take it to Sadang station before it closed and we got kicked off. So we were stuck about a 30 minute drive away from home and were forced to take a cab, which wouldn't be so bad, but we were out of cash, and every bank machine we tried was denying us. After about 20 minutes of looking and wandering, we finally found a machine that worked, grabed some cash and got a cab.

The cab ride in iteslf was interesting. First when we told the driver where we were going he cackeled with joy because it would be a long ride. Then once he started moving, he proceeded to turn on his tv and watch some sort of Korean pop culture show...while driving 120km/h! We were a little freaked, but we arrived in one piece. We were tempted to go to one last bar near our home, but I was pretty tired, so we folded and went to bed.

Sunday was interesting as well, we woke up and took it easy and then I remembered a hike that I had done a couple of years ago up to a shamanistic temple called Inwangsan. We decided to go hike the mountan and take some photos. It was really neat, there is this one rock, that women go to so that they can pray for a son and there were many women, grandmothers, and even men, praying for boys. We were able to get to a really great lookout point and just sit and view this city, which prompted me, for some reason, to think about drinking tea. So we climbed down the mountain and toward Insadong to have some Korean "Five Taste" tea at an old teashop just off the main drag.

It was a pretty exhausting hike to say the least, but it was really fun and we came home, flopped on our new couch and watched a movie. A really great end to a really great weekend.




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