Jul 7, 2009

Chapter Ten: Seoul Sucking Jerk

Today's blog is brought to you by the legendary Beck.

I got a job making money for the man
throwing chicken in a bucket with a soda pop can
I ain't gonna work for no soul sucking jerk
I'm gonna take it all back and I ain't sayin' jack
I'm standing right here with the beer in my hand
and my mouth is full of sand and I don't understand

I had a strangely vivid dream the other night. I was back in the States, and although I was very excited to find myself there, I realized it was 10:30 pm and everywhere I wanted to see was already closed. In Portland, 10:30 is just a few hours away from last call. In Korea, 10:30 is just about dinner time. Suddenly I really missed Korea.

I never know how to interpret dreams, but this one seems to be quite clear. "Enjoy Korea," it said. Well, okay dream voice. With that instruction in mind, here are several things about Korea that I greatly enjoy.

* Universal phone chargers. Every phone uses the same charger--this means your work place, hotels, cafes, etc all have communal chargers that anyone can use.

* Super duper fast downloading. For those who download, Korea is ridiculous. I've seen it as fast as up to 2 MBs a second. At that rate, you could download a feature-length movie in under a minute.

* 24 hour convenience stores [never more than three minutes away.] They sell snacks, sundries, beers, (and, one time, kittens) and they have tables in front where you can sit outside and eat noodles or drink beer. They also have huge rolls of gimbap (Korea's equivalent of sushi) for one dollar and Korea's answer to inari for 2.50.

* Ding Dong Buttons. Many restaurants and bars have buttons on the table to call your waiter. It never gets old pressing them.

* Altitude. There are mountains to climb everywhere. The views from them are a mashup of hills, granite peaks, skyscrapers, and urban sprawl.

* Hilarious Konglish shirts. This is a post-in-and-of itself. But imagine the funniest sayings you can and then give them worse grammar and spelling than you would think possible. They are always in English; I have never once seen one with Hangol on it.

* Bottles of soju. Soju tastes like nasty vodka and is about half as strong. Why would you drink it? Well it mixes nicely with coke or orange juice. And how much does a 500 ml bottle cost? About a buck.

* Cheap street food. Meals and snacks cost somewhere between 80 cents to 1.50.

* Public Transportation. The subway runs so often that waiting for 5 minutes seems very inconvenient. In addition, subway stations are mini malls with everything from food to clothes to guinea pigs. T-shirts cost as little as 3 bucks. There is one card (or cool device) for phone/subway/taxi. Recharging it is easy as can be.

* Fruit and Veggies. They are for sale everywhere on the back of trucks slowly driving through the neighborhoods.

* No tipping. Enough said.

* AC: The summers here are hot. But who cares? Almost every apartment has air conditioning!

* Noraebong (Korea's version of karaoke) is everywhere. From my co-teachers' apartments, you can see 6 or 7 of them.

* Service (freebies with everything). You never know where or when you are going to get something, let alone what it may be, but it keeps you on your toes. I got a red bean icy last time, which isn't as delicious as it sounds.

* Free bar snacks: This is a good one. You never know what you're going to get, but it's always good. From peanuts to coffee peanuts to buja mix to spicy sesame sticks to fruit loop like balls to wheat rings, bars always serve snacks.

Summing up, many of the great things about Korea fall into one of two categories. Either something is convenient beyond belief (like mini-marts everywhere) or utterly random (like costumed, stilted people in the streets to promote a new business or special sale). Another instance is the Korean word "dong," which can mean "neighborhood" or "poop," depending on how you use it.

UPDATE: July 19th. I forget to include several things in my original list. Oops.

* Green tea flavor: Many things are flavored green tea here, but the best are Hall's cough drops. Maybe not a good enough reason to come to Korea by themselves, but these coughcrops are great.

*Soymilk: Speaking of flavors, I've seen soymilk in varieties such as chestnut, pumpkin, and cereal. (Cereal is sort of wheat flavored and a little strange but not at all unpleasant.)

*Dolsot bibimbap While cultural differences have rendered the vast majority of Korean food inedible to me, this dish is amazing. Rice and veggies and hot sauce sizzling in a hot pot=deliciousness.

*Hair cuts: A haircut here only cost 8 dollars, and includes a head washing and a scalp massage. Just be careful because one barber pole means a barber but two mean a brothel.

*Darts: Most bars have cool dartboards. They are cheap and high tech-- with crazy electronic sound effects and little movies when you get a really good score.

*The term "Assah!" It's usually translated as "awesome" but I think it's closer to "sweet" or maybe "W00t." The kids say it a lot and consequently so do many of the English teachers.

*3D Roller coasters: What do you get when you combine a motion simulator with a 3D Movie? A virtual roller coaster where you can pick settings from the old west to the future to Dinosaurs!


There was a recent article that Koreans think foreigners come here "with fake diplomas to do drugs." This is funny because there are many places where getting drugs can be easier, including our home countries, or Thailand, or almost anywhere else. While this
disapproval is hard to deal with at times, it can be liberating when everyone already doesn't like you. (Koreans on an individual basis can be quite friendly, but using broad brush-strokes they collectively aren't that happy to see foreigners.)

With everyone already thinking you're an idiot, you have carte blanche to do whatever you please. You can make stupid faces for the camera on the subway, pose with statues in crowded places, or just make an ass of yourself whenever you feel like it. The only strange part is that when the occasional other foreigner happens along, it feels extra weird.

Alright, my dream voice is telling me to stop typing and go enjoy Korea some more. Good bye!