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.