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Sunday, January 21, 2007


That up there is the korean equivalent of "geek." It's pronounced wahngta. It's an appropriate title for my post because, well, I played starcraft with my middle-schoolers this weekend.

Starcraft, as I've said earlier, is rather huge here. There are starcraft-professionals who earn money to play. There are 2 channels devoted entirely to watching people play. They fill up arenas to watch people play on big TVs. It's crazy. One of the popular pasttimes among middle-schoolers is going to the PC 방, which are large, dark smoky rooms filled with rows of cubicles and computers, all of which are exceedingly fast and which have loads of games installed. One of them, of course, is Starcraft (obviously with the Brood War expansion pack installed). Apparently these kids, who study for about 13 hours a day between elementary and high school, come here on the weekends to play for hours on end. Pretty cheap, too - 50 cents per hour.

So, starcraft comes up in class every so often, either because the books mention it (seroiusly, the textbooks mention it) or because the kids are curious about the english meanings of words like corsair, pylon, photon cannon, seige tank, stim pac. When the kids asked me if I had ever played, I mentioned that there was a period in my youth when I was interested in such foolish things. They promptly challenged me to a cyberduel, and we agreed to meet on Saturday.

I fully expected to get my butt whooped, since I hadn't played in about 6 years, was never good to begin with, and since I expected these kids to be somehwere around the level of the pros that you see on TV...not that I watch them. Anyway, I paired up with "Tom" (I call them all by their english names, since I don't know the korean ones), and we squared off vs "Jeff" and "Alex." Tom was pretty much a total baller and protected me until I could create a mass of carriers, arbiters, observers, and dragoons with which to bash the crap out of my little protoges. Our communication consisted of him saying "teacher, go" and "teacher, stop." For several hours straight, we continously walloped the others.

After that, they asked me to go to one of their houses with them, so I cancelled my dinner plans with an American dude that I met and followed them home. His apartment was pretty nice (generally, only the relatively wealthy students can afford to come to private academies), very big and well-furnished, with many modern amenities, including a toilet seat the likes of which I had never seen. We played a bit of Korean monopoly, which was incredibly difficult since their basic unit of money is the manwon, or 10000 won. It's equivalent to 10 dollars, so when they talk about buying park place, they say that it costs something like ochonmanwon, which means 5000x10000 won. It didn't take me very long to realize that even with simple math like this, if the counting isn't done quite in your style, it can be quite confusing.

While we were playing, his mother brought us a large platter of dumplings, snacks, and fruit, and insisted that I sit upon numerous cushions. Teachers are apparently pretty revered here. After we had finished playing some other games, they took me to the living room, where the mother brought in some really delicious spicy chicken that she had ordered, and everyone watched as I attempted to eat it with chopsticks. Normally I'm ok, but as this chicken was both bony and covered in slippery sauce (the first necessitating lots of maneuvering and the second making said maneuvering nearly impossible), I am pretty sure that I wound up with some on my face, and am certain that some wound up on my crotch.

Another fruit platter followed, and then, for some reason, we all went out to a soup restaurant, where the mother bought 3 huge bowls of soup - one was sort of porridge, one chicken and rice, one pumpkin. All were pretty good. I don't really remember what we talked about for the whole time, though most of the time the kids were speaking Korean and occasionally trying to let me know what they were saying.

Oh yeah, the other highlight of this weekend was my purchase of a toaster oven. I managed to figure out that a certain sign under the floor model meant "out of stock," but also managed to ask enough times that finally someone went into the back and got one for me regardless.

Lunchtime - I've fallen into the habit of eating "kochukimbap," which is a sushilike dish made by putting rice onto a sheet of seaweed, adding yellow radish, egg, spinachy stuff, something called "fishcake," and several heaping spoonfulls of red pepper sauce, and then rolling it up. It costs $2, is pretty filling, and is probably healthy enough to make up for the delicious fried dumplings that often make their way onto my dinner platter.