Feb 17, 2010

Chapter Twenty-Three: The End

This is the end
Beautiful friend
This is the end
My only friend, the end
Of our elaborate plans, the end
Of everything that stands, the end
No safety or surprise, the end
I'll never look into your eyes...again

My year in Korea has come and gone.  This will be the last blog entry so I hope you enjoyed reading about my impressions and experiences in Seoul.  Skip to the end if you want to see how follow in the future.

Korea is a country with both feet set firmly in the past, with eyes stretching towards the future, but with absolutely no thoughts about the present. What does living in a place like Korea do to your psyche?  My expectations have changed quite a bit in the last twelve months.  Here is what the last year has done to my thoughts.

I think that if I can't get my way, the solution is to make whiny noises until people give in.

I think coffee should cost twice as much as beer.

I think garlic bread and pasta sauce should always have sugar on it.

I think a bag of chips should be opened sideways.

Everytime someone says "That's very hot," I think "Hot. Hot.  That's very hot."

I also expect them to connect two objects not with a straight line but with the craziest squiggly line ever.

I think I need to apologize profusely if I want to leave the bars or clubs before 5 am.

I think that even with my windows closed, there is always an abnormal amount of dust that accrues in my apartment.

I think the mop/broom combination thing I have is inadequate to deal with said dust.

I think that, no matter where I'm eating, it's a good idea for the food to be served with sweet pickles.

No matter what the time of year is, I think bars should be simultaneously decorated for Xmas and Halloween.

I think it's okay to get one plastic bag even when I buy a month's worth of groceries.

I think I'm in a really fancy restaurant if our group gets more than one menu and we are allowed to keep it during our whole time there.

I think it's normal for korean kids to start chanting "ole," but, like them, I think it's spelled "olleh!" (hello backwards).

No matter where I am in the city, if the nearest 7-11 is more than 3 minutes away I think it's a major inconvenience.

I think it's perfectly normal for businessmen in otherwise formal attire to wear a snoopy or teddy bear sweater.

I think "panties" is a unisex word.

I think it's just a normal day when I see dozens of people on the subway and on the streets carrying cakes.

I think that when you go hiking, you shouldn't take food, maps, a compass, or even water.  If there aren't vending machines somewhere near the top of mountain, there will be a restaurant on the way.

I think that no matter where I am, there will be excerise equipment available.

I think my knowledge of grammar looks like this: "Subject is verb."  (Rex is run.  Teacher is cry?  James is no finish.)

I think wooden chopsticks seem clumsy, large and bulky.

I think it's normal even during drastic crayon shortages for there always to be too many peach.

I think I should be able to take a 20 minute walk, and see a dozen Paris Baguettes, Duncan Donuts, 7-11's, or Noraebongs, but if I see one garbage can I am truly surprised

I think every dinner table should have scissors and a roll of toilet paper.

I think any apartment big enough to fit more than two-three people is massive.

I think old women have the right to push me if I am in any way standing in their way.  Or even if I'm not.

If someone isn't standing as close as humanly possible to the person in front of them, I think it's okay to step in that space.

I think you can just bre
ak up words in English whenever you wa
nt to.

This blog is ending, but the journey is just getting started.  Future travels include hikes in Himalayas and the Pacific Northwest, a few months in SE Asia, and perhaps a visit to New Zealand before teaching again in Japan or Taiwan.

After two months in Nepal, I will meet Rachel in Bangkok and it will kick off.  Follow our adventures here: http://arewethereyeti.wordpress.com/

Feb 8, 2010

Chapter Twenty-Two: People as Places as People

To answer a question
It'll probably take more
If you're already there
Well then you probably don't know
Well we were the people
That we wanted to know
And we were the places that we wanted to go
--Modest Mouse

Considering a move to the hermit kingdom?  Blogs and recruiters will tout the financial and cultural benefits, both of which, depending on your lifestyle, can be very true.  But there are other, less obvious benefits available to those whom risk the change in continent, lifestyle, and career.  Here are five of my favorites.

Racism: The other side of the coin. 

Most of the teachers here are white, and most of us hail from North America, the UK, or Oceania.   Though our generation has been raised with an emphasis on racial empathy, it's good to live somewhere where you are a minority.  Further, it's good to live somewhere where many people disapprove of you based on your skin color.  It will primarily help you examine your own beliefs and preconceptions about minorities in your own country.  Secondly, it is freeing to live in a world where people are predisposed to find you an annoyance or, at best, a novelty.

Corrupting the Youth

This will depend on whom you teach and how old they are, but many teachers here end up with kindergartners in the 4-7 age range.  Taking kids who don't have English names and who barely know the English alphabet and turning them into English speakers who, for example, love the Beatles, quote the Princess Bride and Bill and Ted, and who sing "We Will Rock You," has made my year very rewarding.  What would you teach youngsters about western culture?

You don't need Twitter for Social Networking

By about the age of 25, most people have their friends set for the rest of their life.  Moving to a new country is a great equalizer; everyone is in the same boat.  You can meet so many more people, in the big cities in particular, than moving to another city in your own country.  The social networking for expats is excellent--you can easily find clubs and organizations for everything to soccer, hiking, rafting, drinking, and improv theater. 

It's the Great Outdoors.

Seoul won't be mistaken for Edinburgh, Melbourne, or Paris any time soon.  But Korea is a scenic, beautiful country--minutes of leaving the city reveal a rolling green countryside that belies the uber-urbanization associated with South Korea.  The valleys are full of rocky swimmable rivers, the islands have gorgeous, campable beaches, and everywhere you go are the mountains.  Seoraksan, pictured here, is a vastly scenic area replete with hiking trails, hot springs, hermit caves, and waterfalls.

Information Vacuum

In many ways, this is my favorite.  Korea is already a little out of touch with the rest of the world, and without a tv (or at least without English news) you can escape the over-dramatized uber-sensational programming mislabeled as "news" in the west.  Escaping the barrage of banality is a major boon; the mental equivalent of selling most of your useless stuff and paring down to the essientals.  If your ears ache from hearing too much celebrity gossip, I suggest you start developing a taste for gimchi and start thinking about what to pack. 

In fairness, you will probably have more challenges in Korea than if you stayed in your home city.  I have known many teachers here who had great difficulties dealing with how different the people, attitudes, and the culture is.  But dealing with challenges isn't always a bad thing, either; if you are open to new things or want to become so, then teaching abroad may be for you.  If it's ever crossed your mind, I say "go for it!" 

Feb 2, 2010

Chapter Twenty-One: One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer

One bourbon, one scotch, one beer
Well I ain't seen my baby since I don't know when,
I've been drinking bourbon, whiskey, scotch and gin
Gonna get high man I'm gonna get loose,
need me a triple shot of that juice
Gonna get drunk don't you have no fear
I want one bourbon, one scotch and one beer
One bourbon, one scotch, one beer

Korea wants you to drink and it's not for nothing that the Koreans are known as "The Irish of Asia."  In addition to drinking vast amounts of alcohol, they are quite social about it.  Invitations to join people whose only common language is the international tongue of "drunk" are often forthcoming.  Korean media portrays alcohol as vital to health and some even suggest it can cure cancer.

There is a dark side to this too.  You don't have to live here long to see old women puking on the streets, sometimes quite early in the morning on their way home from the bars.  It's socially acceptable to pass out in the streets, on the subway, in an elevator, on a park bench, anywhere really.  Drinking in Korea is dangerous because many of the checks built into other countries don't exist.  Last Call?  No such thing.  Overserving?  Here that's known as "bartending."  Closing time?  Only when the last stragglers leave--and if that's at 8 in the morning, so be it.

Korea wants you to drink, but for those less interested in alcoholic drinks, many options exist.  From sweet potato lattes to delicious mocktails, you can always find something.  Coffee is everywhere, and in some places it is actually good..  It's usally in the 5 dollar range, however, and beer can cost as little as 2 dollars for a pint.  Korea wants you to drink.  Another consideration is that, unlike in the west, where pricing is based largely on alcohol percentage,  you can pay as much for a glass of lemonade as your friends did for their Long Island Ice Tea.  Korea wants you to drink.

Here are some photos from a year's worth of outings.  

These margaritas at On the Border are incredible and come in a variety of flavors--some of which are unique to this restaurant.

Makgeolli is a cloudy rice wine that one time was primarily for farmers.  Luckily, its deliciousness has transcended class barriers and you can now get it most everywhere.

Korean beer is, largely, flavorless lager.  It grows on you. Especially when it's in a nice evergreen bottle.

But the most delicious thing is this Korean raspberry wine.  It's like drinking candy.

Jan 26, 2010

Chapter Twenty: Just Eat It

How come you're always such a fussy young man.
Don't want no Captain Crunch, don't want no Raisin Bran.
Well, don't you know that other kids are starving in Japan.
So eat it, just eat it.

Don't want to argue, I don't want to debate.
Don't want to hear about what kind of food you hate.
You won't get no dessert 'till you clean off your plate.
So eat it.

A friend of mine once said "If ukuleles accordions were considered in the same class as guitars, Weird Al would be bigger than the Beatles."  Whether or not that's true, Weird Al's classic "Eat It" is a good introduction to some of my meals in the past year.

Even though my kitchen is small and I don't have an oven, cooking for myself has been a real boon during my stay in Korea.  I knew beforehand that veggies, rice, and tofu were easily acquired.  Finding things like pasta and spaghetti sauce were a boon I wasn't expecting.  I've gone through a lot of peanut butter too, which at 7 dollars for a small jar of Jif is a gourmet food here.  Though I've documented the challenges of not eating meat in Korea, that doesn't mean that you can't eat well here.

My attempt to make a tofu sandwich.

Vegan ddukbokki (rice noodle soup).  We added raymeon noodles to ours.  This was super good, super spicy, and super filling.

One of many stirfries, this one was spiced up with cashews and a strange form of tofu.

Thanks to some tvp from the homefront, I was able to have some delicious penne marinara.

Jan 21, 2010

Chapter Nineteen: Another Brick in the Wall

We don't need no education
We don't need no thought control
No dark sarcasm in the classroom
Teacher leave them kids alone
Hey teacher leave them kids alone

Some of the children of Isponge, followed by a very important lesson in cultural sensitivity. You are never too young to learn!

Betty, who is as cute as a bug in a rug.

Ho-Jun, who is nicknamed "Tornado" for his exuberance.

Zion and Eun-Seok. I complimented Eun-Seok on his green vest last week and he has worn it every day since. (Don't tell anybody, but I would too.)

Sarah, looking intense. Whatever you do, don't call her "Tri-sarah-tops." She finds this neither witty nor amusing.

Rex is a genius. Look at his crossword puzzle; it's the hardest I could find (for English speaking adults) and it took him about 45 minutes to finish.