Friday, December 21, 2007
In this post I'll just talk about the last few days in London. I got in on Weds night, from Milan, receiving sweet entry and exit stamps in my Visa book. Wednesday was a day of intense mass transit. I left my hotel in Genova, run by some weird old lady about whom I'll certainly tell you in my next post, walked to my former professor Stefano's office, and then he walked me to the train station. We said our goodbyes and I took a train to Milano Centrale, where I spent my last remaining Euros on: a bus ticket to the airport, a piece of foccaccia bread with sun-dried tomatoes, a cup of tiramisu, and a bottle of drinking yogurt. I went to the waiting room and stuffed myself, then spent a little while trying to find the airport bus. I took the bus to the airport, killed time until my flight - actually I finished reading an Italian book that I had started on the train - then landed at London Gatwick, took the train to Victoria station, and then took 3 different subway lines to get to Bob's. He welcomed me in some nice pink pajama pants and offered me some leftovers.
I have been relatively busy over these last weeks, as I hope my later posts will prove to you, so I just took it easy yesterday. I got up late, shaved for the first time in too long (Bob has some sweet shaving cream), and did some grocery shopping and other errands with Laura. Then we came home and made some eggnog, risotto, and butternut squash, which we munched on when Bob came home from his silly 11-hour workday. Then we played a little bit with "Christmas Crackers," which, contrary to what you might expect, are not dainty little unleavened morsels. On the contrary, they're really corny party gags consisting of 3 toilet-paper sort of rolls, wrapped in shiny paper, strung together like sausages. A person grabs each end and yanks, and the contraption pops at one of the joints. The person who is holding 2 of the 3 wins, and inside of the middle joint there's some incredibly stupid think made of plastic. Laura got the lousiest die I've ever seen, I got a shoehorn, and Bob got a large yellow paperclip. Another one contained a multifunction comb/cookiecutter/astrolabe. The tubes also contained crowns made of wrapping paper, which we of course all wore, and really stupid jokes, which we of course all read.
After the festivities, we went to bed, and all woke up at 4, at which point Bob and Laura left and went to Spain or something like that. 41 hours before my departure! Best hosts ever! Since then - it's now 730pm - I've been bumming around their apartment, cleaning up our dishes from last night, eating leftovers, getting packed, watching stuff out of Bob's collection of movies and TV shows, and thinking of sinister things to do to their pad before I leave tomorrow night. Suggestions welcome.
Monday, December 10, 2007
Thursday: Arrived at 7PM, met Megan, wandered around in search of a restaurant. She showed me a statue of a dude stuffing little naked squirming babies into his mouth (pictures once I get back to Korea), supposedly inspired by a true story. We checked out some nice little Christmas markets, which were selling hot spiced wine and some arts and crafts stuff, but nothing really distinctly Swiss.
Friday: Megan likes to be at work around 9, so she gets up around 7:20, which means I was unfortunately unable to sleep in. It wasn't too bad, though, since I'm sleeping in a sleeping bag on her floor, so sleeping late isn't particularly pleasant. She went to work and I just hung around her room, getting my stuff in order, eating, planning for our weekend, eating again, and so on. Around lunchtime I took the train down to the Zentrum (city center), walked to her lab, and we went out for some take-out Indian food. After eating in some meal room in the lab building, we went out again to get some Swiss sweets, which we brought back to the meal room and ate. I had some little pie-looking thing, with a crust about 3 inches in diameter, then a layer of choco-fudge-pudding, then a layer of limey frosting, then a chocolate gem stuck into the top. Fantastic. I had intended to go wander around town, but I was stuffed and lazy, so I just walked around the lab with Megan and watched her do stuff to heart cells. I also peeked in the microscopes. Then someone came down the hallway ringing a bell - the sweet sound of tea time. We went back to the meal room again, where we found tea, cookies, cheeses, breads, and cold cuts. I had my first salame in over a year. Splendid. After our 3rd meal in 4 hours, we decided that no work was going to get done, so we packed up and left. We wandered around for a little while and then went to a few bars before coming home early.
Saturday: We had originally planned to go to Marseilles on Friday night and stay until Sunday afternoon, but we couldn't get tickets, so we opted for a more local weekend. On Saturday we got up nice and early (think 6:30) to catch the 8AM train for Geneva. The train ride took a little under two hours, so the fun began at about 10. First we went to the tourist info shop to get some brochures and walking guides, then I took over and demanded we try to find the residence of good old Jean-Jacque Rousseau. We found the street it was supposed to be on, and the cathedral next to it, which was just so-so, and we found the numbers progressing from 32 to 38. However, the philosopher's domicile, #40, was strangely absent. Where it ought to have been, there was a toy shop and a little animatronic bear blowing bubbles. You heard me.
After that we walked down toward the water (Lac Leman), looked at the famous fountain that shoots water waaaaaaaaaayyyyyy high up into the air, and crossed a bridge on our way to the old town. In the middle of the lake, connected to one of the bridges, is a little island, called "Rousseau's Island," which is, I believe, where he wrote "Reveries of a Solitary Walker," which is probably a cool book. Also, around the shores of the island, there were some odd-looking ducks with incredibly muscular necks. Really. Like python-necks.
We knew we had reached the old town when we found the cobblestones. We walked around, passed through some little fair with a carousel, and climbed up a huge hill to visit the church on top. It was a sweet Swiss Gothic church, all austere and imposing, and in the courtyard in front they were preparing for a fair, so we could smell burning wood and smoking ham. Also, about 2% of the people we saw were dressed in 1602 Swiss Garb, preparing for some reenactment ceremony.
We scoped out the church, and left once we had seen it al. We were getting pretty hungry by then, so we sought out a relatively cheap restaurant. Most places were selling spaghetti for 16 francs (14ish bucks) a plate, so we decided to try a fondue place where we could split a bowl for 22. I had never tried fondue. It was alright - it had a really sharp taste, and I think there was some wine mixed in. Anyhow, it was too much, and we couldn't finish. When we got the bill, we understood why: they had served us two portions instead of just the one that we had asked for. We also realized that they had charged us 10 dollars for a liter of water. I never thought it would be possible to get angry at Switzerland, but then again I never expected the gentle swiss to dupe me into buying a 63 franc meal. 63 because we also bought a chocolate-pineapple crepe.
Leaving that fiasco behind, we crossed the river again and walked for what must have been 2 or 3 miles until we reached the botanical gardens. We walked around for a while, disappointed in the lack of wild flaura and fauna, until we realized we were just in some random park. So we walked another 10 minutes and found the botanical gardens, some deer, some peacocks, and some interesting statutes. (Photos later). Then we headed to the UN building, mostly to see a statue of a chair with a missing leg, but it's closed on weekends, so we just took pictures of the gate.
Then we walked back along the lake for 45 minutes or so and crossed back into old town. We went for coffee in a bar and listened to them play the first song off of Kanye West's newest CD, which, incidentally, I enjoy. Once we were finally all warmed up again, we headed back to the church square. On the way, we ran into a fife and drum corps, and it looked like some people were just joining the parade, so we did too. We marched with them until we got to the church, where we broke formation to go look at the fire and cheesy reenactment of someone putting a ladder up on a castle wall. Except this ladder was put up against a residential building and didn't even go anywhere. It just landed about halfway up and was totally useless. We clapped nonetheless and basked in the warmth of the medieval torches.
We watched the corps do its little tricks and listened to it play its little music, and tried to buy some authentic medieval swiss snacks from one of the wooden shacks that had been set up. Instead, they put a little kit-kat type chocolate bar into a little rolled-up piece of dough and put it in a waffle press. Very lame. Then we tried the "vin chaud" (hot spiced brandy wine), which was decent, and then went into the church and sang/mumbled along to some hymns in French (we had a program). We listened to a little music there and then scrammed, following a parade of horses until we decided it was time to go home. Which we then did.
Next installment: Sunday's trip to Basel.
Sunday, December 02, 2007
10PM get off work. Go to the gym, chat and keep score, say bye to the dudes.
11PM go home, snack, finish packing, read articles from bookforum, debate whether or not to sleep
1:30AM go to sleep
3:20AM wake up, shower, eat, go
4:20AM catch a taxi in front of my house
4:45AM Arrive at the bus terminal way early for my 5:20 bus
4:50AM Take an earlier bus. Sleep for 2 hours or so, snack at a rest stop, then sleep another 2.
9:00AM Arrive at the airport, check in, wander around duty-free shops and restaurants
1:00PM Board the plane. Note that they haven't upgraded the video system, so I can only choose between Ultimatum, Harry Potter, Thomas the Tank Engine, a movie where John Travolta crossdresses, two corny old Elvis musicals, and a bunch of chinese stuff. I decide to pass the entire 12 hours studying chinese characters, reading "From Shakepseare to Existentialism," eating whatever they will give me, and napping. I take at least 4 or 5 2-hour naps.
2AMish Seoul Time/5PMish UK time: Land, deplane, go to customs. As I'm in line, one of the customs agents with a lady at her desk yells out, "Can anyone here speak Korean?" Despite the fact that my plane came from Seoul and had lots of Koreans on it, some of whom must certainly have spoken English better than I do Korean, nobody spoke up, so I reticently raise my hand and wiggled it in that "kinda" sort of way. She asked me to come up, so I cut through about 15 minutes of people and helped the customs agent ask some questions to the Japanese woman who was having some trouble. My insane interpretation skills managed to get her into the country, though it's odd that the customs agent would take my word for anything. Anyway, as a reward for being a good samaritan, I got to skip most of the line. As if showing off weren't reward enough.
6:30PM: Bob shows up at the airport. Hurrah. We take the "tube" (IE subway) back to his apartment, have some dinner, sit around and chitchat for a while, and then go to bed.
Today, eventually we'll be off to some market with a funny name, and who knows what else. I'll take some pictures
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
If all goes according to plan, I'll be leaving for London on Saturday morning. I'll be catching a taxi (reserved the night before) at about 4:30, getting a ride to the bus terminal, taking a 5-hour bus ride to the international airport, then waiting around for 3 hours until boarding my plane to London. I'll leave Seoul at about 1:30 and arrive in London around 5:30, despite spending 14 hours or so in the air. On the way home, I spend only 12 hours in the air, but I leave at 9 pm and arrive at 4pm the next day. Crazy how that stuff works.
My extremely tentative schedule is the following:
Dec. 1: Arrive in London
Until Dec 7/8ish: Mooch off Bob (and Laura) as much as possible.
Dec 7/8ish: Mozy on over to Switzerland and mooch off Megan as much as possible.
Dec 13/14ish: Move on down to Italy. If possible, stop in Domodossola and visit my Italian 101 professor. Also, if possible, find my way to Sils Maria, where Nietzsche lived during the springs.
Dec 15-17ish: Head to Genoa and meet my Padova literature prof. Maybe take a day trip to Torino, the home of an awesome poet, Pavese.
Dec 18-20: On to Verona to see another ex-professor and then to Padova to meet up with the old host family. Hopefully I can woo them into cooking some awesome stuff for me. If I don't gain an average of 0.5 pounds each day over the course of the trip, I'll consider it a failure.
Dec 21: Find a way to get back from Venice to England.
Dec 22: Fly out of Heathrow
Dec 23: Arrive in Incheon at 4ish. Take a bus to Seoul. Take the train to Daegu. Get home around 9 if I'm lucky.
Dec 24: Teach at 4pm.
Dec 25: Holiday. Choose from 3 or 4 new apartments that the bosses will have scouted out.
Dec 26: Teach in the afternoons. Move in the mornings.
Dec 28: Finish moving.
Dec 29-Dec 31: 3 day weekend. Company dinner. Maybe head downtown for the new year, though the lunar calendar isn't so important here...
January: Life goes back to normal.
Thursday, November 22, 2007
Monday, November 19, 2007
Friday, November 16, 2007
The other piece of luck came at the poker table. Of course, this happened on the 2nd or 3rd hand I played, so blinds were low and nobody was warmed up enough to start playing with the big chips. Nonetheless, I managed to scare up a bidding war with the guy across the table, who happened to have the highest straight possible and thus thought himself assured of the victory. However, I trounced him with an A2345 straight flush. According to wikipedia, if you're playing 5-card draw, the odds for this hand are 71,941 : 1. I'm sure the odds are different for Hold'Em, especially since you can count them at several different points. Nonetheless, I can now say I've gotten the highest type of hand in the game (I don't think the royal straight really counts as a different type of hand).
Anyway, after that, we continued playing for another 4 or 5 hours (until about 5:30 AM), and I am pretty sure I won less than 8 hands that whole time, and went home empty-handed. I still think I won the moral victory, though.
Sunday, November 11, 2007
Tuesday, November 06, 2007
Note that I intend to add a lot of pictures from past travels, so if none of the photo album dates match the update date, you know why.
I'll try to write stories about the days as I post the pictures. But...not now. I'll do it later. Right.
So, now that I've finally passed on some splendid photos of the Orient, go check 'em out.
Monday, November 05, 2007
Also, Megan is in the airplane right now on the way to Switzerland.
Oh yeah, and I should know by tomorrow whether my Europe trip is going to work out, but at the moment things are looking good. I should have about 3 weeks to galavant/gallivant (the first spelling came naturally to me but M-W lists the second as primary) around London (if this Bob-feud hasn't escalated further, which it may well do), Bern (since I moved Megan to the #1 spot, I'll certainly be welcome there) , Domodossola, Genova, perhaps Sicilia, and of course my dear Padova. Also, I'll probably spend my entire year-end bonus. Sorry, retirement fund.
Finally, even though this post started as a rant against Bob, it contains some actual news, and so may be fairly counted as a legitimate post for all competition purposes. Also, for the sake of being civil: props for that lemon wedge post, Bob. It was fantastic.
You may view numerous and maximally cute Halloween photos by following the picture link to the left. You can also see some pictures of the ever-elusive George, the Scotsman who has been my partner in crime for the last several months. He's got a little cold right now, so please look at his picture and implore your respective deities to restore his health before this weekend, because we have to throw a going-away party for Chan-hyeok and Johnjohn, who are leaving for Australia this Monday.
All the kids come to the school two or three times a week for 90 minutes and do three 30 minute classes. So, on Halloween and on the day before, we canceled the 3rd class each period and did a little party with some lazy attempts by George to explain Halloween (I would have been lazy too, but my voice was gone, so I couldn't even get that far...), some running around and stabbing children with swords then hypocritically telling them to calm down when they wanted to fight back, and of course, some good old worksheets, including a worksheet that even George and I, working together, couldn't finish in 30 minutes. Take that, kiddies.
Some of them wore costumes - you may see a shot of Peter the Wizard, Tommy the Elvis/Pig, and Tom the Reaper. One also poured water on himself trying to drink from a paper cup. That's a very common occurrence at our school. I'm not talking cardboardy rigidish dixie cups. I mean a paper cone cup, but it's not a cone. It's flat, and you sort of squish it open until it's almost like a 3d V. Or a triangular prism. In other news, several little varmints tried to divest me of my helm, buckler, and armament, and many a young rapscallion tugged upon my cape. The most notorious offenders later received their comeuppance when I scooped them up and pretend to toss them either down the stairs or off of the terrace. Let that be a warning to you all: if you are less than 5 feet tall and weigh under 100 pounds, don't touch my costume.
Sunday, October 28, 2007
What are you getting ready for? Well, there's a Halloween party going down at school soon and I just went to the store and bought myself a costume. It is : Happy Partybox Knight Set! I believe it's designed with 12 year old boys in mind, but I can manage to get it on if I twist my neck just the right way. It's mostly red and gold, with a cape/shoulderpad combo, a sweet centurion hat with a tuft, a shield that looks like the swiss flag, and a little sword. In a few days' time, you may or may not have access to me running some little preschoolers through with a sword. Or getting my costume tugged on. Or just being laughed at and tearing off the outfit in utter dejection as another one of my seemingly brilliant ideas is met with ridicule once again. Only time will tell...
Saturday, October 27, 2007
Thursday, October 25, 2007
In the meantime, though, listen to the following track out of my practice book and then tell me how awesome I am for perfectly answering all ten comprehension questions. Not only that, but they weren't even hard. I mean, come on. Here's the low-down: the bag is 45 bucks and is super-popular with kids, the socks are 2 bucks and she takes 4 pairs, the 75 dollar pants are too expensive but the 55 dollar ones are fine, and you can go visit the office on the 25th floor of the 63 building in Seoul . Finding the office is easy, but don't go in the first door after you get out of the elevator. It's the second door on the right. Also, she's really polite while giving directions.
If you listen closely, you will probably be able to pick out the words for "elevator" and "building." Or, you know, you could also go read something interesting at http://www.bookforum.com.
Thursday, October 04, 2007
I have indeed had two dreams in Korean, but they both happened a long time ago. The first doesn't really count - I went to bed with a stomach ache and rolled around muttering 불고기 (bulgogi) to myself. That was pretty early on.
The second was a little more interesting. I don't know which country the dream was set in, but I was in or next to a field, and on the other end was some museum, outside of which was a statue of Dante Alighieri. Maybe. Also, I think Jamal was with me, but I'm not sure. Could have been a lady that I tutored in Italian while I was in St. Louis. My companion wanted to go walk on the sidewalk, but I said that we should just cut across the field. I really wanted to see that statue. Unfortunately some Korean farmer got upset because we were stomping around on his livelihood, so I dream-told him 다시 그렇게 안 할 거예요. (Again like this not do will/ We won't do it again!) I had this dream probably about 3 or 4 months into my stay, so the grammar doesn't strike me as particularly good, though I'm not too sure I would say it any better now.
Tuesday, October 02, 2007
What's wrong with me? I hope they liked the candy.
Also, I had an astounding Korean-language day today. I somehow managed to correctly formulate the sentence "Would you mind asking where the cough medicine is for me?" (기침약이 어디 있는지 물어 봐 주시겠어요?) without really knowing how I did it. Most impressive was the perfect attachment of the of the suffix/infix 지 (ji) onto the right verb, conjugated in its own special way. This is impressive mostly because I've never run into "ji" (used in this sense) in a grammar book; I've just heard it enough in other, somewhat similar constructions, to have an intuition about how to use it here. It's almost totally subconscious. I can hardly formulate its meaning.
I'm sure you found that quite interesting.
To save you some effort, and to preemptively stifle a Jeff-comment: babelfish translates the sentence as "The cough medicine probably is where, it asks and it sees, staring keyss U bedspread."
Monday, October 01, 2007
So here are a few short vignettes just to get me in the mood to blog. They may also make you appreciate some of the people at my gym and my Korean skills.
Since my Korean has become better over the past months, I've become much more capable of interacting with the various dudes around the gym. Before, it was almost exclusively the women that I talked with, since, not having full-time jobs, a lot of them tried to study English during the day, so I could communicate with a few. But now that my Korean allows me to interact more with the men (that is, when they're trying to include me. Sometimes we just order some fried chicken and beer and sit around the gym after closing time, and when that happens, their conversation is totally beyond me), I've become more friendly with a few, especially with the coach. The result, along with more normal conversations and me teasing him about his lack of ab definition, is more locker-room horseplay. Today I told him he'd never achieve his six-pack-by-december goal, and then he threw a wet and, I assume, used towel at me. A few weeks ago, while in the shower, perhaps prompted by something I did or said, he came over and started sculpting my shampooey hair, while muttering "Beckham, Beckham, Beckham" at me. A bit frightening and awkward, but also pretty funny and absurd. Also, the mohawk he formed was pretty nice.
One more. Today, after a long absence from the gym, I returned, and was obviously greeted with much fanfare. By which I mean, one dude, Jae-Dong, with whom I always play squash and kid around, came up to me and shook my hand. I was taken by surprise because I didn't think he would have already played a game, and yet he was incredibly sweaty. So, I double-took and told him that he was dirty and sweaty, at which point he told me that it wasn't sweat, but love that he was exuding towards me.
What a great place.
Sunday, September 02, 2007
The title (down at the bottom) says: ssaibogeu-jiman kwaench'ana, which means "I'm a cyborg, but that's ok." The tagline there in the middle says "k'iseuga anirayo, ch'ungcheonindeyo," which means "it's not a kiss, it's an electric charge." While I do have to admit that sounds really corny, and though both of these actors are famous for films and music I'm inclined to disrespect without knowing anything about, the movie is really fantastic. It's visually arresting - there are even some amazing gun/bloodshed sequences - but in a way that compliments the film, not in a (coughTRANSFORMERScoughD-WARcough) way that makes it look like the director and screenwriter had nothing better to do with their time or brains...
The basic story is about an otherwise normal girl sent to the loony bin because she believes she's a cyborg. She enters a community of quirky - though not insultingly so - mental patients, all of whom interact in quite interesting ways. She's eventually befriended by a young man who has convinced himself, and the other patients, that he can steal intangible objects (eg "your politeness" and "thursday") as well as he can steal other things. I won't give any more plot spoilers here; I'll just say the movie delivers some nice messages without feeling preachy (the director, Chan-Wook Park, is known as one of Korea's best and has done well at various local and international film festivals), is subtly very funny, and is quite beautiful to watch.
I don't know if you can find the movie at a blockbuster, though there's a chance, since it did well in festivals in Germany and Japan. I checked, though, and you can find a torrent on mininova if you search. And a (korean)trailer here.
Sorry to have been holding out for so long. By now, I can’t even remember when I went to Seoul. A peek at my ridiculous financial records (600 entries since my arrival, each including date, place, amount, method, direction, currency and category of expenditure) reveals that I bought a train ticket on July 12th, had a few meals, and then didn’t make any entries until July 18. So I’m pretty sure that I left on Saturday the 14th.
I have posted some much more convenient and much less messy visual aids at http://picasaweb.google.com/mikemikemikemike. You should follow along there.
I didn’t exactly know how to get to the train station, but a kindly lady from my gym offered to drive me, so I of course accepted. The train station was rather beautiful, or at least clean – even more so than those in Switzerland – and was pretty easy to figure out. The big electronic signs switched back and forth between using English and Korean letters, so even those lame foreigners who can’t read Korean can get around there.
The train was nice but I didn’t take any picture of the inside. Nothing too special. However, I did try to read a Korean comic book, and I understood that the title was something like “Happy Train” (I’m working off of notes here, and I didn’t actually write that down, so it’s just a conjecture). Nevertheless, it was really tough, because my vocabulary is small and I’m still mostly used to using really formal, non-nuanced sentences. That means that exclamations, sentence fragments, and anything with any irregular implications or connotations, are mostly lost on me.
I gave up on the comic book – I hate reading in vehicles anyway – and watched a little TV. There was a show about some markets in Thailand that are actually located on top of the train tracks; when a train approaches, the vendors scramble to pull their carts and boxed out of the way. Some of the fruit and such actually stays on the tracks, but is low enough for the train to pass over it. Delicious! The reason I’m relating this to you is because I had a major linguistic success while watching it; I understood the Thai woman say, via Korean subtitles, that “A mother’s love is bigger than the train.” And that was 1.5 months ago.
The ride took about 2 hours and I spent a lot of the time just looking out the window. I hadn’t still hadn’t seen much of the countryside, so it was nice to see some farms and hills and stuff. It’s a really beautiful place, especially in July. After passing through all that rural area, stuff got a little grungy around the tracks, and then we crossed some river and were apparently in Seoul. The train station there looked pretty much just like the East Daegu one, but bigger and with more people.
After getting off the train, I met Robert, a dude who lives close to me here in Ch’ilgok who had gone to Seoul earlier in the morning to meet some dude. We could have gone together, but I wasn’t too inclined to start off my 4-day vacation with an ungodly 7 AM wakeup. He had been to Seoul before and showed me a few places. First we just wandered around and checked out the skyscrapers; the really affluent areas near the train station were clean, new, and overall pretty gorgeous. (You’ll hear about the lurid parts later, no fear…).
First we went to a Coldstone Creamery – apparently the only one in Korea – and had overpriced ice cream. It was sort of a sham establishment though. They had a big, nice –looking menu, written in Korean and with English translations, but they didn’t have all the ingredients and didn’t know how to make most of the stuff. Robert griped about not being able to get some cookie batter shake; I just griped about spending 5 bucks for 250 ml of sugar.
Next we went to something called, approximately, “cheong-gye-jeong,” which is a stream that the governor decided to build along the main street. It was quite astounding to see such a pristine little river surrounded by immaculate walkways and little step-stone bridges sandwiched between roads lined with skyscrapers. People were walking around, chatting, there were some traditional Korean drummers doing a little show, and under one of the overpasses they had some elementary school artwork out. The place gave off a nice feeling, quite different from what I had expected. Also, as evidenced in my web photo album, Korean people love to do something called “photoshot,” which just means take cell phone pictures together all the time. I caught a few of them on camera. Kind of cute, kind of ridiculous.
We went to some big bookstores after that, and I helped him find Tolkien’s Silmarillion or however you spell it, while I failed to help myself find Feyerabend’s Against Method. Back at that time I had been listening to some philosophy of science lectures while I ate breakfast, so I was intrigued. But, I didn’t find the book (out of stock), and my enthusiasm has since waned.
We then started our hike to Seoul Tower. It’s up on a hill and we had heard the view was nice, so we headed up. As waiting for the cable car would have taken about 2 hours, according to Robert’s guesstimates, I decided we ought to walk. He was a bit of a sissy and complained about it, but I just told him to be a baller and not worry about it. My degrading/motivational speeches eventually earned his assent. Unfortunately, his complaining didn’t stop for long and I had to continuously berate him until we reached the top. On the way, we stopped at an idyllic little photo spot and snapped a few.
We reached the tower after maybe 30-60 minutes of stair-climbing, bought our tickets, and then spent about 2 hours waiting for our “15 minute wait” to end. By the time we got up, dusk had arrived, so all the pictures from up top are plagued by reflections and stuff. At night, though, you can see the city all lit up, and it’s pretty spectacular. The tower has a little 360 degree viewing platform, so you can see all around. The city is just huge.
We opted to walk back down and got completely lost on the way. We opted to just wander towards the brightest place we could find, assuming that lots of neon signs probably meant a subway stop would be nearby. We eventually found it, and headed back to the main station. Robert managed to catch the last train back to Daegu, while I headed to my hostel (I forgot to mention that the first thing we did upon arriving was go there, pay, and drop off my bags. There’s a video of some breakdancers we saw). There was nobody there, so I think I made a brief blog post about having arrived safely in Seoul, then, still high on the adrenaline that comes with being somewhere so new, I headed out again. This was at about 10pm. I had only had some bread in the morning and some little triangular seaweed-rice sandwiches during the day (too busy traveling and sightseeing to get a real meal), so I found a bakery preparing to close and bought some discount muffins. Then I took the subway to Itaewon, which I had heard was a really popular place for foreigners. I didn’t really care about meeting any, but I thought I’d check it out, for lack of a better idea.
Itaewon was a really scuzzy place, perhaps because I went alone, perhaps because I went late on Saturday night. It’s sort of the party district, and I guess there isn’t quite as much big business as downtown, so it’s nowhere near as clean or organized. It’s where all the Indians, Africans, and immigrants from other Asian countries congregate. Had I not been so creeped out, I would have tried some Indian or Turkish food. Maybe I’ll take a day trip there someday. Anyway, among the factors creeping me out were: darkness, street vendors with watches and jewelry, transvestites, prostitutes, drunk people walking around saying odd things, large groups of foreign (mostly Indian and Middle Eastern) men eyeing and heckling the girls who walked by. Despite my immense discomfort, I must have wandered around for about an hour and a half, mostly just trying to see things without being noticed. I really didn’t want to have to explain that, no thanks, I’m sure you’ve got a fine establishment and all, but I’d rather not go visit the basement club guarded by 4 transvestites with sequined dresses.
I made it out unscathed, but upon trying to return home via subway, I was stopped by an official. He asked where I was going, and I said I wanted to go to some market or other, since it was supposedly really nice at night. He said I couldn’t. Then I said I’d go back to the train station. He said no to that to. Then I said I’d just go back to my hostel. (This is in Korean, by the way). He said no go. Only then did he tell me that the subways were closed for the night. I left, grabbed a taxi, and prayed that my pronunciation was good enough to tell him the subway stop closest to my hostel. The fact that the stop had a rather difficult to pronounce name. It’s transcribed Hyehwa, but Koreans often pronouns the ye as just e and the wa as just a. Eventually we got there and he let me out and I was pretty sure I recognized the place, so I took a minute to get my bearings, then went back to the hostel for some rest.
Sunday, August 26, 2007
This doesn't really tie in as well as I was hoping it would, but anyway, I received a very odd sort of freebie yesterday. I was with my friend Eric walking his dog before going out to dinner. We ran into a middle-aged lady who also had a dog, and so when they (that is, the dogs) started sniffing each other she started asking us some questions. In Korean. Here's a transcript, as best as I can remember it. There's a bit of fudging but not too much...
Ajumma (Korean word for "Auntie;" general term for a married woman): Do you know how to speak korean?
Me: Yeah, I can.
A: Oh wow, you speak really well! [After I had said a total of 4 words]. How many years have you been here?
M: 9 months.
A: Wow, that's really good. Where are you two from?
M: He's Canadian, I'm American.
A: American? My daughter is studying abroad in New York right now.
M: Really? That must be nice.
A: She's back here for vacation right now though.
M: So she's here in Korea?
A: That's right. How old are you?
M: I'm 24. [I didn't answer about my friend, he's a bit older]
A: Oh, my daughter too. Wow! What are you doing now?
M: We're going to dinner.
A: I see, can I give you my daughter's phone number? I'm sure she would like to meet you.
M: I don't have my phone with me now. Can I give you my number?
A: I don't have my phone either.
M: Do you have a pen?
A: No. Where are you going with the dog?
M: We're just going like this (gesture to our path).
A: Ok, we live in that complex, number 101. [Points to a building on our route]. Meet me there in a few minutes.
M: Uh, ok.
...we walk to the apartment and I explain to Eric what's happening. The dog still hasn't pooped so he doesn't mind the extended walk. under the apartment, we meet the Ajumma again. In her hands she has what might be described as a dossier of pictures she had apparently just printed out from the computer. I know because paper was moist and limp.
A: (Flipping through the dossier) This is my daughter.
M: OK. (Trying not to give any indication about whether I not I think she's cute.) (She's kind of cute in some of the pictures though.)
A: (Takes one out and flips it over, scribbling). Here's her name and phone number.
M: Alright, thanks. I'm busy tonight but I'll call later.
A: Can I have your number too?
M: Yeah, sure...(number given)
A: Maybe next weekend we can all walk our dogs together or get food.
M: Uhhhhhh ok. Nice meeting you. (Awkward inverted left-handed shake because she had the leash in her other hand). I'll call later.
Then Eric and I finished walking the dog, went to eat, and received a free soda from the restaurant.
Then, this morning, I was going to put the new number into my phone, but it turns out I can hardly read these numbers. I'm pretty sure the one that looks like a P is a 9 (koreans do that sometimes), but there's one that just looks like ㅏ. I have no idea what the meaning is. So now I either have to just wait for a call (and break my promise) or confess all this stuff to my bosses, who will tease me for at least the rest of the day. Of course, they read the blog too, so maybe by the time I get to work they'll already have some mockery prepared.
Monday, August 20, 2007
Not so. Yesterday, one of my favorite students - a middle schooler with a tendency to randomly spout odd things in class like "I love Johnny Depp!" or "Don't give me yellow star. It look...pee" or "There's a fly, so I'm not bored. I do my work today." - said to me, out of nowhere, "teacher, your hair look like ramen." I was pretty much flabbergasted, so I asked her what kind (she said Shin ramen, which is a spicy type, I believe), and whether she meant cooked or raw (she said cooked).
I just don't know what to say. I guess I'll have to get a haircut this weekend.
Sunday, August 19, 2007
First stop: my apartment, conveniently located above a pig intestine restaurant. Of course I haven't tried it. It's the middle building of that triangular set that you should see in the middle of the screen. Right now the surrounding area is rather lush and dense with foliage, but in the winter it was all brown and dirty like the map shows.
Next, Homeplus. You shouldn't be able to miss this building; it's got a big tower on the NE corner. This is where I buy pretty much everything except books and fruit. A lot like a Walmart, but, somehow, not so depressing. Maybe it's because of the free dumpling samples...
Just east of homeplus is my workout/squash/korean practice/free hot shower in the winter/general fun place, a gym called feel leports. People here gave me free pig feet to eat last friday. The building should be pretty centralized in your picture, but anyhow it's on the left hand side of the street, just north of the crosswalk.
These photos were all taken by satellite sometime earlier in the year; this large plot of dirt is now a nearly-finished megamall, HanShin Seven Valley. It will have a pizza hut, an outback, and lots of other stuff. There's really nowhere to just hang out in this little suburb of mine, so it'll be nice when this place opens - supposedly as soon as november.
Just across the street (to the East, once more), is the Lotte Cinema. It must have been under construction when this satellite image was taken (the site says 2007), but I'm pretty sure it was open by February. It's a 10 floor building, and the cinema starts on floor 5. Each pair of floors (5-6 7-8 9-10) has two screens. Pretty spiffy inside, but they don't get too many interesting English flicks, so I haven't gone too often.
And then, further east and a little south, we come to my Herald School. We're on floor 4 of the building at the NE end of the overpass. If you go north from my school, the first building has my most-visited restaurant. It's run by 3 ladies who have been crucial in my korean chitchat skill development. A little more to the north is a pizza shop, and across from that, on the streetside, is my favorite fruit seller man. Sometimes he flags me down and gives me free peaches. I try to but all the fruit I can handle from him. He likes to say "it's a beautiful day." One more building north is another restaurant I eat at a lot. They serve kimbap (rice, veggies, and some other stuff wrapped into a seaweed roll). On the other side of the street, to the south, after the bridge but before the larger intersection, you can find my bank and another restaurant.
Other notes: if you keep going east, you can see the little bus terminal, which is where I catch the bus to go downtown. If you go east some more, you can see a park, which is nice when the green stuff is alive. If you go further east, you hit the mountains, the highway, and the confines of my suburb. And if you follow that highway, you hit the Gugu tunnel, which goes through some mountain, and eventually you get to costco and then downtown.
Also, the thin buildings that look like 4-pip lego blocks are the apartment buildings. Each one is at least 15 stories tall, thus the long shadows. Depending on the building, each floor has between 4 and 8 apartments. So, each building houses maybe an average of 90 families.
Oh, and across the street from Lotte Cinema (to the north) is the nearest apartment complex with good recycling spots, so that's where I haul my paper, bottles, plastic, and what not.
Now you know where I spend about 95% of my time.
Friday, August 10, 2007
Saturday, July 28, 2007
Anyhow, the hostel is really nice. It's actually just a normal apartment building. I'm on the 13th floor right now in a 3 bedroom apartment. The website claimed that I'd be in a nearly full 6-bed dorm, but my room is actually only 4 beds and I'm the second occupant. The other guy isn't here but he left his notebook open on the bed, so I saw that he was studying korean. I think I could kick his butt though. For that reason alone, I predict this'll be a sweet trip.
Wednesday, July 25, 2007
There's a middle school student named tom. The following is a cell phone message conversation I had with him:
Me (unprovoked): stop playing computer games
Tom: thank you but i already played computer game ccc (in korean ㅋㅋㅋ (kkk) means laughing)
Tom (5 minutes later): for 10 hours.
Me: you're ridiculous
Tom: (In korean)!I'm not silly, you're crazy! Mike, you're so stupid (korean letters, english sounds)
Me: I'm giving the class extra homework and telling them it's your fault
Tom:what's my fault?
me: (simplified repetition)
Tom: (in korean)I don't understand
me: (explanation about how it was punishment for him calling me stupid)
Tom: (in korean): but you called me silly before i called you stupid!
me: that's because you played video games for 10 hours. you are silly.
tom: yeah, but it was wonderful cc
me: ok, you win. do your homework and don't come late tomorrow.
tom: cc i win you lose (now in korean) tomorrow i'll come late cc
Monday, July 23, 2007
don't know in the least. I met them at the
and haven't seen them since. But we
Everyone just calls him "coach." Actually
the korean word is "coa-chee." He's really
really good at squash. And funny. And goofy.
It all really started on Thursday morning, when I had to go down to the department store to buy the train ticket, since I’m too fussy to just buy one at the station. I didn’t really have a clue where the department store was, but I looked on a map at the school and realized that I had previously explored the area and that I’d passed by it on many a bus. I found it pretty easily.
Outside, I was once again theologically harassed by a member of the Church of God (not very big in America – these people believe some stuff about the Holy Mother [who’s not Mary] and that Job’s description of the rain cycle [“The lord bringeth the rain up from the seas then maketh it fall once more] is so scientifically advanced and accurate that it constitutes proof of the divine inspiration of the Bible), but I dismissed her more curtly than usual and went about my business. I rode the escalator up about 8 floors, stopping on each one to browse around and see if there was anything I needed there that I couldn’t find at my usual shopping venues. I quickly reconfirmed that I wasn’t interested in clothes, home electronics, furniture, or pretty much anything else that was for sale, so I just went on to the ticket booth. Actually, that was a lie. One thing caught my eye: the backpack section with lots of nice little travel backpacks. I looked at a few but decided that 33000 won (~$33) was too much.
I then bought the ticket (all in Korean), went home, and I just now realized that I forgot to talk about something else I ought to mention.
All that stuff happened on Thursday; the night before, there was a squash tournament at my gym. The end of June and beginning of July was a pretty lazy time for me, since the students had their school exams and many were taking a break from their ridiculous academy schedule to study other stuff. I had about 3 hours of work between 3 and 730, then a break, then class again at 930. I had been using the time to study Korean, have long dinners, or chat with coworkers, but because of the squash tournament I managed to cajole another teacher into covering for me so that I could head out early. In return, I had to work an extra half hour on Friday night, but it was worth it.
I headed to the gym and the owner and coach and other members were glad I could make it, mostly because I think they wanted to show off their foreigner to the other gym who was visiting for the tournament. We set up about 18 matches, but we only have one really good game court, so there was lots of bumming around, eating bananas and other power-snacks, warming up, watching, and clapping. It turned out that I was number 14 and I didn’t actually play my match until about 10:30, so I really didn’t need to skip out of work early. Anyhow, I lost my match 21-17, but I was playing against the other gym’s number 1, and he was a total pusher. (That’s a tennis word referring to someone who doesn’t really do anything of his own, preferring rather to keep the ball in play until the other guy messes up. It’s a valid strategy and all – it’s just really annoying and really easy to complain about when you lose.)
After that, almost all of us went to some restaurant beneath the gym (which is on the 5th floor) and occupied one entire wing. We sat around tables on the floor, and in the middle of each table was a pot of hot coals, over which the workers placed some grates, so that we could slap on some meat and get to grilling. We stayed at the restaurant until probably about 230 in the morning. Much meat and soju (Korean equivalent of vodka but only half as strong, I think) and little side dishes were consumed, many laughs were had, much terrible English was spoken to me, much terrible Korean was given in return. The gym directors drunkenly exchanged friendship speeches, and then our gym gave theirs a box full of sport socks as a hospitality gift. The other gym’s members left a little early, as did the women from our gym, but we manly men just stood around outside yelling at each other and giving each other hugs. One of them in particular kept pounding his chest with one fist and then asking me to give him a “Harlem Hug.” The whole fiasco must have lasted a solid 30 minutes.
The hugs thing there reminds me that I had been wanting to write about how the owner of my gym and the coach have, in the past few months, taken to slapping my butt both upon morning arrival and after my squash matches. I’m not sure how it started, but I am pretty sure I must have given them the green light a few days later when I said “I couldn’t come to the gym yesterday, so my butt was lonely.” It’s like living in the Bartmer house again, except nobody has a beard. Often, after either a faux-argument or a less-than-gentle bumslap, we apologize to each other by making hearts with our arms. It never ceases to entertain us.
I think one aside nested inside another aside is probably confusing enough, so I’ll try to get back to my story. We all went home after declaring friendship and brotherhood on the abandoned street (most of those guys I had never met before and haven’t seen since), and then I got up the next morning and went to the department store. Then all the stuff in the department store that I already wrote about happened, and I left. I lunched (back in those days I was having pasta and salad, since I had bought some sweet mozzarella at Costco) and then went on my way to the school.
First, though, I stopped at the thrift store to check out their backpack selection. I found one cruddy little backpack that said “Daegu University;” I thought it a pretty sweet find. It was ratty, simple, and had a little bit of character. Plus it only cost 1000 won. While I was trying it on, and trying to justify the expenditure to myself, one of the worker ladies pointed out that there was another backpack on the wall I might be interested in. Lo and behold, it was the exact same thing I had been too stingy (perhaps some would say too wise) to buy at the department store. For 1/11 the price. 3000 won. 3 bucks. Bam. I snatched that thing up immediately, took it to work, and then tried to brag about saving the 30000 won to all of my coworkers.
Anyhow, that’s 2 pages and I haven’t even mentioned Seoul. Also, I have class in 45 minutes and am still at home in my boxers. The temperature in my apartment is a pleasant 29.4C, which, for you people who never bothered to learn how to convert to the sweeter system, is about 85F. Not to mention that have an errand to run before hand – an American friend has a head cold, so I’m going to swing by his school and drop of some Tylenol. Thus, I really must go. I’ll try to write about Seoul tonight if I’m not entirely exhausted.
Saturday, July 14, 2007
Monday, July 09, 2007
I’m at home now, still without internet, so I don’t exactly know when my last post was or what it was about. I don’t recall giving you the low-down on my May 27 trip to Mang-u kongwon (Mang-u park), so I’ll start there. An American fellow I know, Robert, who happens to be from Memphis and who happens to pronounce the word “UMbrella” in exactly the same bogus/annoying way as Jamal, was enjoying a peaceful meal amongst ice-cream-all-over-their face-youngsters at McDonald’s when some hapkido-garbed kiddies with flyers barraged him, or when some kiddies barraged him with flyers. The oldest kids were high schoolers and they spoke enough English to get Robert sort of interested in the event. Of course, even without being spoken to about it, anyone in his right mind would have been interested, because there was a dude slicing a piece of bamboo with a sword on the front. Who would want to miss that? Robert made use of my reading skills to find out where this thing was, and then mooched my speaking skills when I chatted up the pack of taxi drivers outside of the grocery store in an attempt to find out how far away the park was and what the cab fare might be. Some manwon (10 bucks or so) later, we showed up at the park.
Let me pause here to describe Korean taxi drivers. Usually, if I need to take a taxi, I just go to the grocery store 5 minutes from my house, since they’re always in a long line there waiting to take grocery-laden customers home. The drivers are mostly old men (though if you keep reading, and if I remember, I’ll have a story about an old lady taxi driver when I come to the June 17 section), and the grocery store is such a good customer-finding spot that at any time there are usually 10 or 15 taxis lined up, like at an airport. If business is slow and the weather is nice, the old dudes just sort of bum around outside, chatting, cleaning their cars, etc. The customer is always supposed to take the first taxi in line, and once they do, and once the first taxi is gone, all the dudes hop into their cars, put them in neutral, and push them up 3 meters or so. So far so good, even sort of endearing. Inside the taxis it’s generally pretty nice. The AC is on, the smell is good, and there’s a little horse on the price gauge that gallops when the car is going quickly and stands still when the taxi does, and with lots of levels in between. The drivers’ credentials are clean and prominently displayed. Some of the taxis are even decked out with sweet GPS navigation systems. But the drivers are sort of madmen. I’m very careful about making generalizations about Korean people, but I think I’m entirely justified here. Most taxi drivers cut people off, don’t yield to pedestrians, and make abrupt u-turns, and some blatantly run red lights in the middle of the day. Perhaps more disconcerting is that, probably due to the country’s total lack of street names, hardly anyone knows where anything is except by reference to landmarks. Taxi drivers therefore commonly swerve off to the side of the road, roll down my window, and shout past me to random middle school students on the street asking where so-and-so is. Or, at a stoplight, they’ll do a little Wayne’s World gesture to another taxi driver, and the two will roll down their windows and commence yelling at each other until the questioner has at least a somewhat less vague idea of where he’s supposed to be taking me.
But they usually get there, and all in all it’s pretty cheap, especially if you factor in the price of gas, which is probably 3x more expensive here than in the US.
Back to my story. At the park, there were lots of students of all ages, presumably from different martial arts academies form the area, and when we arrived, they had just received truckfuls of bulgogi, rice, and kimchi and were all eating. Robert and I walked around, and though we were hungry, we decided not to purchase any of the stinky stinky boiled silkworm pupas (“bondaegi”) which were for sale. We perambulated around a sweet castle thing, read some info in English off of some stones, and were puzzled by its bizarre history. Apparetly the whole thing was a replica which itself had been destroyed, rebuilt, and transferred several times. Oh yeah, and it had little holes up top to shoot arrows out of at invaders, or even at peasants for that matter.
As for the people and their gathering, there were some competitions where kids wielding wooden swords chopped special graph paper, the winners being the ones with the straightest slice. Then there were the men who went postal on bamboo rods. And then there were the choreographed demos. Some were really boring and just involved people spinning, shouting in unison, and sheathing and unsheathing their swords. But some were pretty cool and involved a little more movement and even music and staged fights with staves and sickles and other cool weapons. Mayhaps I’ll put up some videos of the best ones.
That’s all for May 27. On May 28, I went with my Canadian buddy Eric, who pronounces “umbrella” as one should, to Palgongsan (palgong mountain) (“san”, frustratingly, can, as a noun, mean mountain or temple, and can also be a past participle for the verbs for buy and live, and also sounds a lot like the adjective for cheap), where we meandered and then went to a duck-meat restaurant. It was set up almost like a little village, and we had our own private hut, which got quite smoky while we were doing our barbecuing. The charcoal was burning at a normal color, but for some reason my camera turned it a sweet purple. Maybe Jeff will enlighten us about that in a comment. Anyway, have a look at the good pictures, because what you’ll see is pretty typical of a Korean barbecue meal. You get meat, which you grill yourself, and then rice, leaves of lettuce to wrap it in, garlic, onions, potatoes, a salad, some kimchi, and some other vegetables we westerners usually avoid. It’s very crude (in the sense of being unprocessed) and is a nice change of pace from having a fully-prepared meal laid (lain?) out in front of you. Plus, you’ve got to work as you eat your meal, so you can’t stuff yourself too quickly, which means you don’t feel ridiculously stuffed at the end, even if you eat 2/3 of a pound of origogi (duck meat) with all the fixings. I’m not exactly sure why, but eating that way feels really soothing and even a little more friendly.
The following weekend, June 4th or so, I went to a place called Taejongdae (once I get a computer with googleearth on it I’ll try to find all these places for you), which is kind of a peninsula or outcropping a little south of Busan, the third biggest city in Korea. Busan’s a port city on the Eastern coast, which means it sits on the Sea of Japan. I went with one of my adult students, Sally, whose Korean name I don’t know, and with her daughter, Yenna, who’s probably 7 or 8 in American years or 8 or 10 in Korean. We basically just hiked around, enjoyed the views, enjoyed listening to her chatty daughter blab incessantly, checked out some temples, took a ferry populated with about 30 grandmas (no kidding, I was the only male on the lower deck and one of the 4 people under 30 and one of the 5 under 60). The ferry music, presumably directed at the grandmas, was really atrocious, but the little trip up and down the coast was nice. After a couple hours and several leg cramps, we got back in the car and headed back to the ritzy beach area of Busan, which is called Haeyundae (no relation to Hyundai), where there was some sort of international sandcastle competition. We arrived too late to see some of the other games, but we got to see what I assume were the champion sandscupltures. Apparently the secret is to used lots of wet sand. We also got to see some sort of girls’ traditional drum corps. Then, because I had been struck by a pizza craving, we went to a rather expensive Italian restaurant, where I purchased a 20 dollar calzone and a 13 dollar platter of prosciutto e melone. The little girl didn’t like the prosciutto, so I got to eat more.
I’m not sure what I did the next week, but it couldn’t have been too thrilling, since I didn’t take pictures or feel the need to write about it.
Now the big one: the weekend of June 15thish. I went to Jeonju to visit my friend Min, whom some of you might remember. He was my racquetball partner at WU between sophomore and senior years. He was working at a lab at the med school for a while and whenever I told him I wanted to visit Italy, he told me I ought to check out Asia instead. Neither of us thought it would actually happen, but, alas, somehow I wound up here. Anyway he finally published enough papers in the US to get a job at a university here, and so he’s now come home.
On Saturday morning I awoke at 5, cleaned myself, snacked, chased down a taxi, and made my way to the west Daegu bus terminal. This taxi ride was pretty uneventful, although the driver kept calling me “sir” (in English), except with a weird twist that I can’t really relate too well. It’s like he was a 1940s African-American movie bellhop saying “yesssssah” to his patron. Quite strange. At the terminal, I managed to claim my bus ticket, which my boss had reserved on the internet for me during the week, and then I managed to find the right bus and arrive Jeonju on time.
First, we ate. Jeonju is famous for “bibimbap” (mixed rice), which means rice with a variety of veggies thrown together in a bowl. It doesn’t seem all that special, or at least all that ingenious, to me, but the people of Jeonju and of Korea in general are fairly proud of it. I don’t know what all the ingredients are, but an egg yolk, red pepper sauce, bean sprouts, carrots, spinach, and sometimes a little ground beef play their part. I ordered a version called “dolsotbibimbap” (stone oven mixed rice), which is essentially standard bibimbap served in an extremely hot stone bowl. You throw in a little sesame oil and stir it up and you have some delicious and health friend rice sort of stuff. It was so good that I’ve started ordering it here in Daegu too, but it all pales in comparison to the Jeonju stuff – probably just because in Jeonju it was 8 bucks and here it’s 4.
Then Min showed me his lab, which looked pretty much like the labs at NASA and at WashU. He is just in the process of getting set up, so he doesn’t have any apprentices/lackeys yet, and no experiments going on. Apparently he has to win some grants first or something. So we didn’t stick around there too long. Instead we hiked through a random forest until we wound up at the danoyesulje (some kind of special art festival), which was the reason I had chosen that particular date to go to Jeonju. It was supposed to showcase a lot of Korean crafts and stuff, but it was mostly just people trying to sell stuff that you could find in any old gift shop, so we didn’t stick around too long. Though I did try some traditional but terrible root juice. People say it’s healthy, but I can think of lots of other healthy things to eat which don’t bear quite such a strong resemblance to mud.
After that, we went to his lab, snacked a bit, made plans with his coworkers, and then he showed me his place, which was pretty nice, if tiny. We rested a bit until the others finished working, then we met up and headed to Moaksan (if you are paying attention, you’ll recall that that means Moak mountain/temple/cheap/bought/lived). The other two people were also scientists, stem cell researchers in particular, who had lived in Indianapolis for a couple years a few years back. They spoke a bit of English, so we chatted and climbed up to a temple at the mountain. One of Min’s colleagues was a rather sarcastic guy, so we had a bit of fun at Buddha’s expense. I also noticed that hidden behind one of the buildings at the temple site was a weight bench, where I suppose monks tried to get buff. I don’t think that’s quite in line with general Buddhist practice, but then again, what do I know?
On the way back down, we passed a spot where, according to legend, some goddesses (sunyo) used to bathe. We did a little joking about that, but mostly I’m telling you because it will come up again later. Oh, also, on the way down, a random old man started talking to me, and I managed both to chat a little and to use the proper honorific-imperative (different from the honorific propositive, the honorific indicative, the polite imperative, the plain imperative, etc…….) when I told him to enjoy his walk. Baller.
We were all hungry by this point, and, having joked about eating a stray mutt wandering around the temple, I decided to let them take me out to a gaegogi (dog meat) restaurant. They were surprised that I was willing to go for it, and I was a little surprised at myself too, but then again, not having tried dog meat, I couldn’t think of any good reason not to give it a shot. Having now tried it, I can think of several reasons not to. First, it’s dang expensive; second, it’s tasteless; and third, there’s only one traditionally acceptable way to cook it: by boiling it for an excessively long period of time until it attains a jelly-like consistency. I might be willing to eat it again if it were barbecued or grilled, but meat so tender that it squishes apart between your chopsticks is not exactly appetizing. Unless you’re an old Korean man, I mean.
We decided to have a sleepover at Min’s colleagues’ house (I neglected to mention that they were husband and wife), on account of Min’s house being rather tiny, so we sent the woman home to make our beds and clean some fruit, while we went off to collect clothes and toiletries. We stopped at a pool hall on the way, and I won all three games of cutthroat 8-ball. Hurrah. Then we drove around to find a watermelon, and on the way, the man asked me if I wanted to see a real sunyo (see above). I didn’t quite know what he meant, so I said sure, and he made a couple of turns, told me not to tell his wife (hopefully she’s not reading…though anyone who speaks English as a foreign language will probably have abandoned this post by now), and took us to some sort of prostitute-strip. No pun intended. It was just an otherwise ordinary street, except that where there would usually various shops, there were lots of little prostitute stalls, each one containing heavily made-up and scantily-clad women, beckoning at us. Probably because we’re such handsome guys.
We got out of there and grabbed a watermelon and went back to the dude’s apartment, which he claimed was the most expensive in Jeonju. I’m not sure if I believe him, but regardless, it was gigantic. His kitchen was the size of my apartment; so was his guest bedroom; the living room was easily twice the size; and there were other rooms I didn’t really see. Plus, there was hardly any furniture at all. The living room just had a plasma TV on the wall and a mat on the floor; as a result the apartment seemed even bigger. It was quite stunning. So we chatted and ate lots of Korean melons (different, but, I suppose coincidentally, also named with the words honey-dew-melon), watermelons, apples, and pears. Tasty.
Jeez this is long. I’ll count it as punishment for having waited so long before entries.
It was getting late by then, and I had woken up quite early, and I was tired from walking around so much, from kicking butt at pool, and from speaking so much Korean – not to mention the psychological strain that came from eating the nasty dog meat and dog meant soup – so I was ready for bed.
The following morning, Min and the guy and I (I don’t know why his wife didn’t come) went out to a bean sprout soup restaurant. Owing to its fame, the place was swarming. But it only serves one dish, so service is quick and uncomplicated. The soup was interesting – just loads of bean sprouts in a spicy broth – but was not exactly what my stomach needed after the dog meat the previous night. Bean sprout soup is just not something I’m prepared to eat for breakfast, yet.
After that we went to a hanok (traditional Korean housing) village, saw some exhibit about special Korean paper, had expensive green tea at a tea house, and then split up. The scientist fellow went on his way, while Min and I headed to some villa that belonged to a dynasty of epochs past. The villa was called Gyeonggijeon and had lots of small buildings where peasants and officials did stuff for the kings. Cool, but nothing special – that is, until we came to a certain statue under which were enshrined the placenta of the various kings. Apparently the Koreans used to believe that each part of the king’s body was sacred and that the placenta counted as a piece of his body, so they were all saved or something, and then buried beneath a big turtle. Turtles mean long life, pigs mean riches.
After that, we had a little lunch, bought some souvenirs, and then grabbed a cab to the bus stop. The taxi driver was a 50-something lady whom I couldn’t understand. Min told me once we got out of the cab, though, that she (without provocation) had been telling him her life story and about how she had tried to commit suicide several times, and about all the reasons why she tried and why it didn’t work, and such. Quite strange.
We said our goodbyes, I got on the bus, came back to Daegu, and had a pizza for dinner, because I really needed some comfort food after so many exotic meals in a row.
Man, that trip was still 3 weeks ago. What have I done since then? For one, I finally used the subway downtown. It’s really nice, quite clean, quite bright, quite comfortable, well-marked, easy to use. Allegedly in 5 years or so the line will extend all the way to Chilgok, the suburb I live in, but unfortunately I’ll probably be long gone by then.
I saw the movie transformers with a middle school student. It was atrocious, even more atrocious than I had expected. But we saw a bargain show for 4 bucks, so no big deal.
Robert and I went dumpster-diving around the various apartment high-rises looking for furniture, and, lo and behold, I found a sweet wicker pagoda sort of thing that’s entirely too big for my room but which I took anyway. I’ll post a picture soon. I’m going to deck it out with some plants, whose pots I hopefully won’t kick over in my sleep.
Aaaaaaaand, to end on a happy note, Sunday night I went downtown to meet a former co-teacher. This is out of order, but after dinner, we went to a game room, where you pay by the hour to rend board and card games. There were several groups of people, and it’s pretty fun, because generally when you win a game you get to make the loser go embarrass him or herself at another person’s table. One girl who lost was forced by her friends to come speak to me in English and ask for my email address. Another boy was made to wear a wig and come over to my table to be smacked on the head by a big toy hammer. My friend and I first played a card came called lobo 77, which has some odd rules and requires counting. I tried to do it in Korean, but lost on account of some grammatical mistakes, and so I too had to go get a bopping at another table. I was a little bitter after that, so I made her play set with me. Of course, as I had predicted, I utterly walloped her and got my revenge by making her both receive a bopping and pay the 3 dollar game fee.
Lastly: the upcoming joke won’t be quite as funny, because I’ll have to elaborate about the Korean and because I’ve already said it’s not funny, but you’re going to read it regardless, so there. While planning our trip downtown, I sent her a text message that said, among other things, 가레를 같이 먹을까요? (ga-re-rul kach’i mogulkkayo, shall we have some curry together?) She corrected my spelling and told me that curry is 카레 (k’a-re), but I felt like being funny and stubborn, so I kept on saying that I wanted to eat 가레 (ga-re) and not카레 (k’a-re). When we got to the restaurant, she told me that she and her friends had laughed at my message, since my typo 가레 (ga-re) sounds exactly and looks mostly like the word 가래 (ga-rae), which means “phlegm.”
Wednesday, June 13, 2007
In the past weeks I've gone to an elementary-through-high school level martial arts competition/demonstration at some random park, a distant but nice peninsula that reminded me of capri, and someone's house for some home cooked bulgogi and bap and chapchae. Pictures from the may 27 voyage to the park are available at http://www.jeffstepp.com/mike/may27/
I'd post them here if I weren't busy reading an article about communism that I found on ALDaily
Tuesday, May 22, 2007
Now, you may all commence fighting over destinations and such. I expect a serious bidding war.
And all you people in grad school, I know you're not in class then, so you had better give me a good excuse. And not having $1500 doesn't count, because you can always pawn your computer and/or iPod.
That’s my attempt to title this little ditty “Biking Excursion.”
In the first word, the first three blocks mean bike and the fourth is a meaningless grammatical marker showing that the word is a direct object. In the second word, the first block is the base for the verb “to ride” and the second block is another grammatical marker indicating that the verb is being used as a participle or something like that. The third word is translated by my computer as “taking the air; airing oneself; an excursion; a holiday expedition; a walking tour; an outing; a hike; a tramp; a picnic.”
Anyway, instead of talking about the last month or two weeks or however long it’s been (that is, instead of repeating the same stuff about work and getting better at Korean and squash and griping about report cards), I’ll just tell you what I did in the last 45 minutes. I left my buddy Eric’s house after fixing his computer, eating his snacks, roughhousing with his shi-tzu (or however you spell that mangy little bugger’s name) and arguing with him about the moon landing (if ever there was one), humans in space, and the logic of asteroids. Actually, let’s back up first. Something interesting happened earlier.
We went to some big computer/household electronics/gadget/tea warehouse because he needed to buy some memory cards for cameras he bought his mom and aunt as presents. I happened to have gone to this place last weekend because another dude wanted to buy some computer parts, and while I was there, I bought a sweet fan which can figure-oscilleight (bad pun, hope you get it, sorry), has numerous modes speed and frequency settings, a sleep timer that lasts up to 7.5 hours, and a little basket in which you are supposed to place potpourri so that the seon-pun-gi (fan) blows the a-ro-ma (aroma) all over the place. When assembling it, though, I found an extra piece which seems completely unnecessary and makes no appearance in the manual. So, since I found myself at the warehouse again, I went back to the lady who sold me the fan and tried to explain that I didn’t really have a problem but that I wanted to understand why I had an extra piece. I inspected her fan, and it didn’t have the piece either, which made my task all the harder by removing the possibility of actual demonstration. Since I couldn’t describe the thing – seeing as how I can’t say “gray,” “circular,” “grooved,” “ring,” or any other useful words – I basically counted and pointed to the parts and kept telling her something along the lines of “This fan has four things. My fan has 5 things.” And “There’s another thing.” And “The fan has no problems.” And “The fan is OK.” For “I’m curious,” the best I could manage was “I want to understand,” and I also tried out the line “The fan has no problems. My head has a problem.” They appreciated that one, and I am pretty sure between all of my grunting and gesturing and occasional luck forming a 5-word sentence, I got the point across. However, they didn’t know what piece I was talking about, since it wasn’t there on the floor model. I told her I’d bring it if I came again and that she’d be able to see it then.
After that we returned to Eric’s and did the aforementioned stuff.
Seeing as how the weather was nice and the hour not too late, I thought I’d take a ride to the kyeongpook waegugo taehakkyo, which means kyeongpook (name) foreign language university, which is not too far from here. Eric teaches there every once in a while and I wanted to see what it was like. I actually tried to go last night on the way back from somewhere else, since the weather and time conditions were similar, but the road I thought would lead there wound up turning into more of trail, which ended at some guy’s little shanty or some type of shop. It was dark, I don’t know. I turned back for the night, rode through some little maze of small buildings and houses, and went home.
Tonight Eric explained a different route to me, one which he hadn’t personally taken (since he travels by car), but which he said would take me straight to the university. So I took the street and, marvelously enough, it was paved the whole way. However, with the skyrise apartments about 3 minutes behind me, I noticed that the road had been surrounded by what I must assume were rice paddies. It was dark, so I couldn’t really tell, but the water was reflecting the building lights and I wasn’t by the river. And there were some heron-like birds standing around and I could see most of their legs, so the water wasn’t too deep. Unless they had legs so long as to absurdly disproportionate to their bodies, which is a logical possibility I can’t quite rule out. Either way, freak-birds or not, it was a really cool spot and I’ll have to frequent it often in the coming months.
I continued on past the paddies and came to the end of the road. There weren’t too many lights, but I could read well enough to know that I wasn’t quite at the university. I meandered a while until I had a little “ah-ha” moment and, thanks to a big green net at a driving range, figured out where I was in relation to my house. Assured that I could no longer get entirely disoriented, I kept on chugging until I ran into some joggers who helped me with directions. I did what they said and found the place. Then I asked the night guard if there was a shorter way to get back to my house, and I understood 100% of the two words in his reply. My mission completed, I turned around and headed home. I passed the two joggers on the way and they laughed at me when I thanked them and told them that I saw the school.
Then I came home and ate some tasty banana chips and filled out stinkin’ report cards.
Tuesday, May 08, 2007
In other ego news, I am proud of two new links somewhere around this page, which should bring up the websites of Bob and Laura, who are moving to London and Uganda, respectively. I think I may have a month break in November, so now I have to decide whether to go to the USA to see people, to Italy to see people and to get some certifications, to Bangkok to see Thailand and to get some certifications, or to Uganda to expand my continent count. Decisions, decisions...
Tuesday, May 01, 2007
Wednesday, April 25, 2007
(Those are the steps one has to go through to turn Korean into English, or vice versa. You’ve got to deal with alphabet changes and massive syntactical changes, which show up more in more complicated sentences, in addition to all the normal vocabulary issues.)
What have I been doing recently? Let’s start with an easier question, perhaps “what are you doing now?” Well, I’m sitting in my room preparing the post, since at school I generally only use the computer for about 30 minutes at a time, and it’s almost guaranteed that during the last 10 or so there will children watching me and perhaps even tugging on me or trying to type. And they inevitably keep groaning “teeeeeeeeeeacher” over and over, since their English isn’t good enough to say much else.
Anyhow, back to now. I didn’t head to the gym this morning, since I mysteriously contracted some pinkeye and so will have to go to see a doctor before work with my boss. I’ll also have him check out my throat, because I’m afraid that pesky laryngitis may be planning to lay siege on my throat again.
I’m sipping on a little shake that I made with the cheapy little mixer/blender that I bought at the superstore sometime in the past few weeks when it was on sale. Actually, lots of things were on sale, and stuff was sort of sloppily labeled, and so I read the sign for a $7.90 iron and thought it was for the mixer (in Korean, “miksoh”), which actually cost $12.90. So when I got past the cash register and looked at my receipt, I went to the customer service desk and was able to tell the people what happened. They confirmed that I had made a mistake, but I decided just to keep the mixer anyway, because mixing stuff is pretty nice. My shake is composed of a banana, some canned pineapple, some canned peach, and some peach juice, all blended up. As for food, a friend prepared “chapchae” (what we usually call chop suey, I think) for her family and made a little extra for me. So I’m snacking out of a Tupperware filled with cellophane noodles, hot peppers, carrots, onions, strips of tofu (I think that’s what it is), strips of spinach, and strips of ham. I think I’ll need to learn how to make this.
The only thing atypical about this morning, besides the sickness, is that I didn’t go to the gym and am planning to leave for work before noon. Usually – because the lady who gave me this chapchae also gave me one of her extra bikes – I leave for work at about 2:10, after waking up around 9-9:30, having some tea and a little bit of yachaeppang (vegetable bread) for breakfast, spending 2 or 2.5 hours at the gym playing squash, studying Korean (with help), helping people with English, or just chatting, and then coming home and having lunch around 1ish.
The Korean is coming along quite well and generally my Korean grammar, at least for relatively simple matters, is better than most Korean people’s English grammar. But they all have much bigger vocabularies. Just go give an example, I surprised my boss’s husband (who speaks very little English) by explaning to him that I didn’t need a ride home since I had received a bike and ridden it to school that day. He asked where it was and I told him where I had parked it. I say it surprised him because I guess I don’t speak very much Korean at school (the kids, especially the little ones, go a little bonkers and won’t concentrate, and they just keep yelling “uri mal haeboseyo” [our language speak-try-please]), but I speak a good deal at the gym and if I go out for lunch and dinner, so he didn’t quite know how much I had picked up.
As you may well know, I’m not too skilled with bikes, but so far I’ve managed to ride it to the gym and to the academy several times without so much as endangering myself or anyone else.
Another recent acquisition is my cell phone, which was on sale for $10 at the store and which has a camera and mp3 player and organizer and all sorts of other spiffy stuff – though it doesn’t have a Korean dictionary. The phone plan costs 13 dollars a month and gives me unlimited text messages and incoming calls, but costs something like 1.8 cents for 10 seconds of outgoing. So if I call out, I still do it from home. Hopefully now I’ll be a little more willing to go exploring downtown or even outside of Daegu, since I’ve got a little added safety. If I could get a dictionary installed on this bad boy, I’d be set.
OK, so about those pictures below. Sometime near the end of march, I believe, a friend English-named Sally took me to gyeongju, a city sort of on the eastern coast. It’s famous for its cherry blossom tress, so those are the white thingies that you see in some of the pictures below. There are also some cool Buddha statues from a museum we went to, which has a lot of neat artifacts from the Shilla dynasty, but I don’t remember when that was. Lots of knives and arrows and spears and other stuff that Jamal would love; and lots of bowls and jewelry and spoons and stuff that maybe some anthropologist friends like Marisa would dig (HA pun). After the museum we went to a totally awesome lake-retreat that the emperor made all his little peons build for him. It’s got lots of curves and inlets and they’re arranged just so that there’s no one point on the lake from which you can see all the rest, even though it’s rather small. Originally there were something like 19 or 24 buildings around it, but now all that’s left are the foundations. The ones you see in the pictures are attempted reconstructions.
After pacing around the lake for a while, we got stuck in traffic for an absurdly long time and then went to eat something called “ssambap.” Bap (pronounced like “bop,” the synonym of “whap”) means rice and I don’t know what ssam is. The meal was a little more ornate than usually. Korean meals always come with side dishes; some only come with a bowl of broth and another bowl of kimchi; some also come with anchovies, cucumbers, yellow radishes, garlic, onions, bean pastes, peppers, tofus, other radishes, other vegetables, egg things, and who knows what else. This ssambap meal came with more sides than I’ve ever seen, and I’m not exactly sure what the main part of the meal was, though I suspect it was that fish that we dismantled.
Then we went to some huge temple, which may have been called donghwasa, though I could be making that up. Lots of rooms with gilded Buddhas – which of course confused me, since as far as I know Buddhists believe that the material and sensible world is an illusion, and since if I believed that I wouldn’t bother making gold statues and tapestries and what not – and lots of other rooms which were empty. The architecture does look pretty cool and it’s as ornate as lots of the churches in Europe.
Then we walked through the big park with all the cherry blossom trees and took a few pictures. By then it was getting dark (maybe 7PMish), so we were thinking about going home, but traffic was still terrible, so we decided just to go the other way. We drove up the mountain but whatever place was up at the summit was closed, so we went back down and Sally made me arbitrarily pick somewhere to go based on road signs that I didn’t understand, and we wound up at the beach where you could look across to an island where someone had buried some king’s remains. Then we went and ate jjajangmyon (noodles in black bean sauce) and tangsuyuk (sweet and sour pork) at a Chinese restaurant. By now it was about 9pm, but the streets were still packed, so we just wandered around until it was too cold, and then we went into the Hilton hotel and sat around in the lounge and listened to music while drinking $10 milkshakes. I’m not sure what the deal was with the teddy bear bus stop, but I liked the mustachioed bear so I took a picture with him.
Then we left there, maybe at 11, and the roads were still packed, so we stopped at some wild market with clowns, skits, restaurants, dollar stores, gambling games, and a skinny, deformed midget – Sally actually thought he was a monkey at first – playing a drum. I kind of wish I had taken a picture of him, but I didn’t have my camera out and I would have felt guilty.
Finally, at midnight, the roads were clear enough and we got on the road, and made it back to Ch’ilgok (the name of our suburb) at about 1. Exhausting day. So exhausting that since then I haven’t left the city again, though I think I probably went downtown once and wandered around a little more. Nothing of interest happened though.
One other thing. I’ve discovered a new restaurant here called “chiarestaurant” (I believe that’s their attempt to spell “chinarestaurant”), which has really cheap food. Jjajangmyon is $1.50, dumplings are the same, jjajangbap is $2.50, fried rice is 3, chapchae with jjajangbap is $3.50, etc. It’s wonderful. The only downside is that the cooks and waitresses at the other restaurants I used to frequent more frequently now always ask me “wae an wassoyo,” why didn’t you come. Up until this last week, I didn’t know the name of the days of the week, so I could only explain by saying “yesterday I did this and yesterdayyesterday I did this…” But now I’ve learned the days – ilyoil woryoil hwayoil suyoil mogyoil kumyoil toyoil – and so I can manage it.
Phew, that was a fat post. Speaking of fat, I think I’ve put on a kilo or two (I’m up to 65.5) (with shoes and clothes), probably from all the delicious dumplings that I eat. Though of course there’s always the [remote] possibility that the gym time has actually resulted in some muscle gain. But I don’t think that’s the case.
충분해요 = choongboon haeyo = (it) enough does = that’s enough. Oh yeah, I forgot to write about my birthday. Maybe next time. Oh yeah, I forgot to explain those muscly pictures. Maybe next time on those, too.