Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Fine, thank you. And How Are You?

... which is, as everyone knows, the correct response to "Hello, how are you?"

And that's just about the whole English repertoire of the average Korean. They tell the following joke on themselves:
A Korean is visiting America, when he gets hit by a car, and is lying badly injured on the road.
The car driver gets out, runs over to him and asks, "How are you?"
The Korean replies, "Fine, thank you. And how are you?"

It makes me giggle, I gotta admit.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Tapgol Park, Changdeokgung and Insa-dong

On Saturday, I met up with my friend Steve at Exit #1 of Jongno-sam-ga Station; it was our intention to explore the artsy area called Insa-dong. The first place we came to was Tapgol Park, where I recognized the ten-tiered pagoda that is Korea's National Treasure #2.

My buddy Steve in front of 10-tiered pagoda which is Korea's National Treasure No. 2
A view of 10-tier pagoda more in keeping w/ its natural location
The park is small, and marks the site of a 15th century Buddhist temple. It is famous as the site of the March 1st Movement, or Sam-il (meaning 3 - 1), an important impetus for the Korean independence movement during the Japanese occupation. There is a series of bas relief sculptures around the park documenting moments during the independence movement.

bas-relief of Korean resistance to Japanese occupation in Tapgol Park
bas-relief of Korean resistance to Japanese occupation in Tapgol Park
It was also the terminus of the Great Peace March in 1986, which led to dictator Chun Doo-whan stepping down in favor of democratic elections for the first time in the country's history. Because of all this background, Tapgol Park remains a common gathering place for protests and marches (such as the beef protests earlier this year). We couldn't find out what was in the offing, but it looks as if the police were ready for something:

Police, riot gear and paddywagons ready for any fracas!
Next, we made our way to Changdeokgung Palace, rich in history as the second palace built by the royal family in 1405, during the Joseon dynasty. Few of the buildings from that time are extant, as the palace has been destroyed and rebuilt throughout South Korea's various occupations. First, a picture of Injeongjeon Hall, and its throne room, the site of the palace's formal functions such as weddings, receptions for foreign envoys and the like. It was built in 1405, and reconstructed after a fire in 1609. If you look at the 10,000 Won note, you can see the same image of five mountains that are painted on the panel behind the throne!

Throne room of Injeongjeon Hall
One of my favorite things about Seoul is the juxtaposition of ancient and modern. In this picture, you can see Injeongmun (Injeong Gate) to my right, and the modern city outside the palace walls on my left.

Juxtaposition of ancient and modern--what I dig most about Seoul!
Below are a few more photos of our Changdeokgung Palace tour. Hover your mouse over the photo for a description:

Brilliant colors and designs under the eaves of the King's office/private quarters
The marital bed in the room refered to as the 'baby-making' room
Dunno what this is, but Steve thought it was a good shot of me; what else can I want?
Jondeokjeong pond, whose first pavilion, pictured, was built in 1644, during the 22nd year of King Injo's reign
After the tour concluded, Steve and I were both thirsty, so we went looking for a hof before dinner. Amazingly, we walked several blocks before finding anything at all--apparently we had wandered into the one neighborhood in Seoul that was teetotal! Neither of us is fluent in Korean, so the snack we ordered in this tiny seafood restaurant (the cheapest thing on the menu) turned out to be fried eggs and carrots. With dried tiny sardines on the side.

So we quenched our thirst, and took the edge off our hunger, and wandered back toward the main area of Insa-dong, looking for a galbi restaurant. Turns out, Insa-dong is loaded with artsy coffee shops and panini bistros with names like Cafe du Coin and Ma Ma, but not much in the way of serious Korean food. Okay, we did pass up a Chinese noodle house and a samgyupsal place, as we were in the mood for beef. Finally, we found it! And it was worth the walking--besides we saw all of Insa-dong during our stroll. Now I know where the chicken art museum is located. I will so be back for that.

The galbi was outstanding--it always is--and the bill came to 53,000 W including beer, about $25 each. Which is what you'd pay at Ruby Tuesday's, and infinitely superior.

On the way home, we stopped briefly in Itaewon--about 4 stops away on line #6--as Steve needed a new phone card. We dropped in at Nashville, three doors down from Seoul Bar, and much mellower. A pleasant ending to a pleasant day!

Sunday, September 28, 2008

K-League Heats Up (despite the weather)

So, the K-League soccer season is nearing its end (seven games left for most teams), and it has really started to heat up. The season has been rather disjointed as World Cup qualifying and Olympic competition (even though the South Koreans exited after the first round in Beijing) caused stoppages that prevented momentum from building during the summer months.

Dong-A Ilbo reports on a three-way standings race in which Seongnam Ilwha Chunma (seven time league champs) have moved into a tie with Suwon Bluewings, who have led the league for much of the season thanks to a record-setting 11-game win streak, and are the most popular team in the country with average attendance of about 30,000.

Seongnam and Suwon each have 41 league points, but perennial bottom-dwellers FC Seoul have quietly moved into striking range with 38 points following a 9-for-12 win streak. John Duerden writes at Soccerphile
Despite the broken rib of star striker Mota, Seongnam have barely broken their stride. Youngster Han Dong-won has chipped in with three goals in the last two games. Seongnam are looking fresh and confident while Suwon are spluttering. Worse for Suwon is the fact that bitter rivals FC Seoul are in good form and not that far behind in third.

I haven't managed to make it to a professional sports event here yet, but I certainly plan to before the soccer season ends.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Seoul Weather Report

Yesterday I went to another one of those committee meetings (this one was the School Planning and Development Committee) that is pretty much a party at a nice restaurant paid for by the school! It rained off and on all day.

I was invited because ... well, I'm not sure why I was invited, except I am the KFC harabuji. And a minor celebrity hereabouts. And every Korean wants to speak better English (as well they should, trust me). And I provide a handy sounding board, as possibly the first foreigner they have ever met. There were seven Koreans, and four of them had the Asian alcohol blush--one guy looked like Hooker Hill at night!

We went to a Korean sashimi restaurant at which in addition to raw saltwater bream and sea squirts, we had raw haddock and squid, and smoked shad. And beer. Lots of beer. And soju. Not a grain of rice on the whole table, which is a first. Just like with samgyupsal or galbi, sashimi here is eaten with panchan and wrapped in a lettuce or sesame leaf. Later was a visit to the noraebang across the street from the restaurant. And later still was the ride home in a taxi.

Still, I was bright-eyed-and-bushy-tailed this morning, for my last day running through the interview lesson described about three posts down. Recall that in one section, students write their own questions to ask of classmates. It had to happen, and it did: How long is your penis? Another student wrote, Would you like to kicking my ass hole? I answered, "Yes. Hard." In a related story, one kid had drawn a picture of a penis on the back of his paper. I rolled my eyes in my inimitable fashion and walked away, making sure they could hear me say, "Oh, it is very small." The laugh and the penis were in inverse proportion.

After being warm to hot ever since I got to Korea, and so humid I am drenched after a twenty-minute walk to school--today was downright chilly! It's almost as if autumn lasted 20 minutes sometime yesterday afternoon. However, paran haa-lul, as the Koreans say--the sky was blue!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Konglish Pwnage

So I was just downstairs in chicken hof #2 watching a baseball game between the Lotte Giants and the Samsung Lions--Korean baseball teams generally take the name of the chaebol that owns them. At the moment, the Lions are winning, 4 - 1, but that's actually irrelevant to my post.

No, what caught my eye was the graphic that flashed on the screen everytime someone got a hit. It said PAWN, with two baseball bats forming the center peak of the W. Now, for a little background, PWN is a common slang term among today's yoot, meaning to dominate or humiliate an opponent. It is thought to have arisen from a typo of OWN, as in, "I owned you that time, man!" probably after an online computer game.

Someone, sometime, somewhere, gleefully mistyped their taunt of a fellow geek, and the irony of it all spread.

... but not quite as far as Korea, as it turns out. They seem to have missed the mispledding and have taken up the sound. Which is a different irony, since it's the first Konglish I've heard of that gets the pronunciation right--pwned it, you might say.

Still, I wonder what Koreans visiting the West think when they walk past a Pawn Shop--"I'm not going in there, they just like to taunt and humiliate people." Or knot.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Blah Blah Blogging

Welcome to Tuttle's Five Minute Minutiae Report:

* Well, so Seoul Medical Center faxed a copy of my medical check to the school--I was normal in all respects (yeah, shocked the hell out of me, too) except slightly high blood pressure (yeah, no surprise there). The fax is not good enough for the Immigration Office, so tomorrow morning, I will be skipping my first class to travel all the way to Samseong Station to pick up the original; then, at the end of the day, Mr Hwang will drive me over to Mok-dong to apply for my Alien Registration Card.

* The basic interview lesson went well in every class today--at least as well as could be expected from students who have never had to express an idea of their own in the English language. For instance, wanting to ask, What is your favorite food? one student put down Would you like favorite eat? And this is after modeling "What is your favorite ________?/Who is your favorite ________?" severally.

* That one was easy to figure out, but what do you do with What do you want to buy at first?

* I got to use one of my favorite jokes today (yeah, just TRY to stop me), when the question was "What is your favorite brand?" The kid I picked to respond said "Polo." So I said, "Ah, Polo. By Ralph Lauren. You know why those Polo shirts are so expensive? Because the little guy on the horse is wearing Izod!" Two or three of them actually got it. Eventually.

* Mr Hwang came over after school to tell me about the new medical check/Immigration Office plan and we went downstairs to one of the hofs. We had beer and a sausage plate w/French fries. We talked about how I was enjoying living in Seoul, how I was enjoying the students, etc. Then after a short Korean lesson--focused on word order as emphasis--he told me that the students have responded well to me, even if I have been a challenging teacher. My nickname is "KFC harabuji" or grandfather, so the Col. Sanders thing has expanded to the whole school. He insists it's more my hair style and hair color than my age (Koreans have difficulty figuring the age of foreigners, he says)--plus, KFC harabuji is viewed as a very kind man.

* We also talked about the wide range of fluency among students at Young-Il. It is largely explained by the area served by the school. Students from Mok-dong are wealthy and have parents who have traveled abroad and readily pay for hagwons (private English schools), while Deungchon-dong is solidly middle class, and the neighborhood north of E-Mart is decidedly working class. The advantage of uniforms is that these differences are less noticeable to students; the disadvantage of uniforms is that these differences are less noticeable to teachers.

Monday, September 22, 2008

The New Lesson

This week's lesson is our first attempt at "conversation" in Conversational English. Since only one in ten is actually capable of a conversation, I provided them with a script, with only their specific information to fill in:
A: Hello, my English name is ____________. What is your English name?
B: My English name is _____________.
A: Where you born? How old are you?
B: I was born in _____________, and I am _______ years old.
A: What do you like to do in your spare time?
B: I like to _____________.
A: What other hobbies do you have?
B: I also like to _____________.
... and so on. Each table has three people, so person #3 is the policeman, who makes sure they speak only English. Then they switch roles until everyone has asked and answered.

In the next activity, each student writes four new questions, and they take turns asking them to each other. We spent the last ten minutes with me randomly selecting someone to ask a question, and then randomly choosing someone else to answer. This was to encourage listening, as you will look silly if you don't know the answer: for instance, the student who informed us his favorite color was to become a medical doctor. I said, "Wow, cool! Medical doctor is my favorite color, too!" It was a Korean knee slapper.

The first few times, I stand near the student I will pick to answer--you want to model success; only after a few good trials should you call on a student who is off-task. Anyway, this lesson seemed to go pretty well, so if you are here for ESL help (although I can't imagine why), give it a try. If you're here for another reason, too bad, it's what I've got for today.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Shellfish in Sillim

Had a great time Saturday as I met up with Andy, my roomie from SMOE training, and his girlfriend Julie (that's her English name)--and later his buddy Greg--in Sillim.

Sillim, eight stops south of Hapjeong on line 2
Sillim is a massive commercial zone chock full of bars and restaurants. And yet it gets not a single mention in the Lonely Planet guide for Seoul! Our first stop was for beers and appetizers in a "Japanese-style" chain; I don't know the name of the bar or what we ate, but it was ddok dumplings, a bit of potato, some sausage, and onions and green peppers all sauteed up in hot red sauce (gochu-jang) and smothered in Korean cheese.

We then moved on to the main course, a shellfish extravaganza at a place called Pirate #1. You know it's fresh, because your dinner is living in tanks outside the entrance. This is another of those places where the food is cooked on a grill right in the middle of your table. Periodically, a server comes along to open the clams, scrape the mussels from the side of the shell, mix in the panchan ingredients, etc. (I will put up a pic or two, once Andy updates his blog and I can rip them--my cellphone battery ran down.) Everything is eaten in a particular order, finished off with a potato and a sweet potato that have been baking in foil on the coals during the whole meal.

UPDATE, 22:38 PM: For another (quite hilarious, dammit!) take on the evening, visit Andy's blog at http://www.judochop.us/index.php?itemid=1450. I'm stealing a couple of his pics, even though I hate him now! More pictures, there, too--dammit.

Julie and me outside Pirate #1In Pirate #1, shellfish cookin' on grill

The food was amazingly good! This fact can be illustrated by the line of twenty-five folks waiting to get in by the time we left--remember, there are easily over a hundred places to eat in this area.

Next, we randomly picked another place, this one basement level, to enjoy a brewski or two. It smelled funny, and we spotted a cockroach on the table, but the 5,000 won pitchers made up for all that. We next headed to a 2F (second floor) bistro named "I Love School" but it was packed, so we went to 3F, called "Garten Bier".

The table had a cellphone charger, so eventually I was able to take the photo below, of Andy. Note two things: first, the funky beer flutes are sitting in little refrigerated wells (a brilliant idea!); and second, the little figurines of musical Negroes on the ledge above the table. 1950's era charm or 21st century racism? Uh, racism, I'm thinking...

Andy at Garten Bier--note refrigerated wells in table and Negro caricatures
Anyway, the total evening was a blast, Andy's friends were cool, conversation was intelligent, and I managed to catch the bus and get off at the correct stop (hard to do at night, since I can't really see the landmarks)! Love ya, Sillim, I'll be back ...

Friday, September 19, 2008

In The News, 2008-09-19

1) North Korea has yet again shown how duplicitous it is, and how reckless US foreign policy has been under the current administration, by thumbing its metaphorical nose at the prospect of being removed from the US terrorism blacklist and promising to restart its non-metaphorical uranium enrichment program.

Of course, the smart money says that this is just bluster to distract the political world from Kim Jung-Il's incapacity following a reputed stroke. Further evidence in favor of this theory is provided by a North Korean Foreign Affairs minister, Hyun Hak-Bong, who called the reports "nonsense." (North Korean officials are about as trustworthy as Fox News.)

2) Also in peninsular military news, the South has announced plans to withdraw all its remaining troops from Iraq by year's end, reducing the so-called Coalition of the Willing to the Coalition of the US, the United States and the Contiguous Forty-Eight plus Alaska and Hawaii ("That's five, count 'em, five whole countries," beamed President Bush, without an iota of irony).

3) While American markets continue to lose value at the most astonishing rate in the history of human civilization, the government of Seoul announced plans to build half a million new homes each year for the next ten years, in an aggressive strategy to stabilize prices in one of the most expensive real estate markets on the planet.

The fact that there is virtually no land available for these homes is what one may term "a fly in the ointment":
"I doubt the government will be able to secure enough land to construct 5 million houses in 10 years," said one expert. Governments in the past came up with housing supply plans for the underprivileged, but none successfully achieved original goals because they had problems acquiring land for construction, he said.

Still, President Lee Myung-Bak, elected on a pro-US and pro-infrastructure platform, has little left to offer at this point to rebuild his cachet. "The government will strive to help newlywed couples and all ordinary households buy their own homes by expanding new housing supply drastically," Lee said.

4) Indeed, FTSE (a joint index of Financial Times and London Stock Exchange) has announced that South Korea has joined the US and Germany in the top rank of investor-friendly financial markets. Its conservative banking system and chaebol-dominated business structure are thought to help insulate the country from much of the fluctuation and uncertainty coursing through today's financial markets. Chaebol are the family-run conglomerates that epitomize ROK business success, like Samsung, LG, Doosan, Hyundai, etc.

5) Speaking of US markets, here's a great Toles cartoon that shows exactly why you should never vote for a Republican ever again:
Tom Toles, Washington Post, 9-18-2008
6) In a further black mark for Republicans, today's Military.com covers Barton Gellman's reporting in "Angler" that Republican former House majority leader Dick Armey says Vice President Dick Cheney lied to him to get his support for the Iraq War.
"Did Dick Cheney ... purposely tell me things he knew to be untrue? I seriously feel that may be the case," Armey said. "Had I known or believed then what I believe now, I would have publicly opposed the resolution right to the bitter end, and I believe I might have stopped it from happening."

That's the horse's mouth, right there, folks.

Heavy Equipment in the Playground

For about a week, there has been a pile of rebar, bricks and other construction-type materials sitting on the edge of the playground at school. It was a mystery to everyone I asked about it.

Today, the mystery was solved: by arriving time--7:45 AM--there was a large breaker, like a backhoe with a jackhammer attachment, breaking up the lower part of the parking lot, with the purpose of enlarging it. By lunchtime, a ten foot trench had been excavated to a depth of about three feet, and a mound of rock and dirt piled alongside.

On the way to my building from the lunchroom, I stopped to watch for a while--what male of the species isn't fascinated by heavy machinery?--as a front end loader was removing dirt. Sounds pretty normal, right? EXCEPT: the kids were at recess, playing soccer, and the front end loader was traversing right through the middle of the game! There was no construction fencing, no Do Not Cross ribbon, nothing between the cavorting students and five tons of killer construction equipment. In fact, the workers were making less than little attempt to steer clear of the kids.

In the States, no one would even need to get injured before the lawsuits started flying. Welcome to Korea. So anyway, I was watching this scene with interest not unmixed with mortal fear, when I was suddenly surrounded by a large gaggle of students. This is not that unusual, for I am something of a celebrity in the neighborhood.

I had just been talking to one student about his brother who lived in "New Jerlun" or somewhere close to that ... New Jersey, New Harlem, New Brunswick, New--Ah ha--Zealand!... when another student was thrust forward by the mob. "Talk, Maury, say to him!"

Well, he wasn't Maury--they were calling him Maori, because he had spent some of his childhood years in New Jerlun. They wanted him to prove he could speak English by holding a conversation with me. As I have mentioned, Koreans are very desirous of English language skills, and are also highly competitive. However, it's pretty tough to hold a reasonable conversation surrounded by fifty gawking listeners. Fortunately (?), one of the kids got too close to the construction workers, and the crowd was forced to disperse.

Gifted vase, by Mr. Chun
In other news, Young-Il principal, Mr. Chun, brought me a Chosuk gift, a piece of "porcelain" he had created himself. As you can see, it is a lovely ceramic vase, which I will, of course, treasure as a prize of my Korean experience. Jealous, aren't you? I thought so.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Tips on Aging Gracefully

I was just about to write this exact same post, but Jo-Anna, at The View from Over Here, beat me to it: What You Need to Know About Korea. Have a look. In the "Metro" section, she writes:
Do NOT sit in the seats labeled for handicapped/elderly/pregnant women, even if there are none around. More often than not an angry ajumma that you
don't see coming will give you a lecture in Korean about how rude it is that you're sitting there, then proceed to kick you out of your seat. If that doesn't happen, you'll certainly get nasty looks from other passengers. Maybe this rule
may become more lax around 11:00 PM.

Now, this is all true, unless, like me, you resemble the KFC Grandfather, in which case someone will probably insist that you sit. No, I'm not kidding. And damn right, I'll sit there. Chances are, if I'm on the subway, I have been walking till my feet are bloody stumps. Uphill. Both ways.

It's kind of like when they charge me the Senior Citizens price at Golden Corral--hey, the cashiers are, like, eighteen years old, so everyone over thirty is old (I keep telling myself). Is it insulting? Yeah. Do I take the discount? Damn right, I do. Little shits.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008


Dongdaemun (Great East Gate) is an ancient gate from the days of the walled city of Seoul, most recently rebuilt in 1869. It stands at the end of Dongdaemun marketplace, which contains three large malls and about ten thousand small open-air stalls.

Here are two views of Dongdaemun, first looking at its south face (in the distance, above the girl's head), then looking at the east.

Dongdaemun Gate, south face
Dongdaemun Gate, east face

Another landmark in the neighborhood is Cheonggye Stream, a natural and man-made stream that bisects Dongdaemun market and the whole downtown area. It was filled with concrete in the sixties, due to sanitation and flooding concerns, but was restored in 2005.

Cheonggye Stream, shot from Malgeunnae bridge
While shopping, I was looking for two things: shoelaces for my Rocs, and a mustache trimmer, for my mustache, which is looking pretty bushMy mustache has a first name ...y about now. There must be over a hundred stalls that sell shoes (not an exaggeration) but I found only ONE that had shoelaces! The only trimmers I found were cut-your-own-hair kits "as seen on TV."

For lunch, I had a corn dog with the French fries built in; I also had some cold, crisp watermelon slices and a tasty pastry--total cost USD 3.50.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Kimchi Field Museum

Even before I left the States, I promised myself a visit to the Kimchi Museum as soon as I could manage it. So that's one item checked off my list.

The museum, dedicated to to the history of Korean pickled cabbage, is located, it turns out, in Coex Mall, a massive underground shopping center located beneath Millennium Plaza (photo below), which contains hundreds of shops, ranging from six-floor Hyundai Department Store (whose food court is has at least fifty different restaurants and stalls) to Pink Chocolate, a 12X20 foot upscale shoe store.

Millennium Plaza at entrance to Coex Mall
Anyway, the museum was quite extensive, considering the subject matter, and offered free samples--okay, so it's no brewery tour, but it was still quite well laid-out and hugely informative. Koreans don't eat much in the way of dairy products, it turns out, because kimchi serves as their source of the lactobaccilli so necessary for digestion of grains--don't misunderstand me, I would never want to give up cheese, but when in Rome ...

With no further ado, here is my photo (crappy cellphone camera photo, that is) tour of Pulmuone Presents the Kimchi Field Museum. Hover your mouse on the pic for a brief description:

Welcome to Kimchi Field Museum
Foreground: kimchi fermenting pots; background: explanation of kimchi-making steps
Inside the pots are models of different styles of kimchi--about 50, altogether
Utensils for grinding, preparing the spices to flavor the cabbage
Section of a diorama of village life showing the preparation of Korean sauerkraut
And finally, a photo op of me and a very nice Korean lady mannekin

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Politics is Inevitable III

It is now pretty well established that Kim Jong Il, the North Korean dictator, suffered a stroke in August which has left him largely incapacitated. The intelligence community of the West still seems unable to learn more than that: he can "stand if assisted" and is "able to brush his teeth", descriptions appropriate of a toddler, not a man with his finger on the button of Armageddon.

The fact that Kim was unable to put in an obligatory appearance during Chusok only increases the level of concern that a power vacuum will soon obliterate what little progress the Bush administration has made after giving up its dunderheaded ignore-it-and-it-will-magically-become-democratic "policy" of the last seven years and actually making diplomatic contact with the loony leader to the north. While Kim has three sons, none are viewed as capable of leading should that be necessary. The most likely scenario has a military junta stepping into the leadership role.

Many South Koreans are pleased with news of Kim's illness, but concerned that there are few options for the rest of the world in influencing the next steps. They dream of ultimate reconciliation, a chance to visit freely with family members in the North, but shrug when asked to describe the mechanism that will open the border again.

Once more we see how the Bush administration (applauded and defended by each and every Republican on Capitol Hill) has fucked everything up! Any reasonable administration would have continued the back-channel diplomacy of Clinton and George the First, and thereby have some tools and room in which to operate. But not Mr Decider and Darth Vader, oh no!

Indeed, the fact that the loony at issue has his (shaky, stroke-ridden) finger on the button is directly due to neocon "magical thinking"--and if you think Mr McCain and the Hairdo have a plan to change all that, you are as crazy as Mr. Kim!

Now, I am by no means some Obama freak who faints at the recitation of his pearly words of wisdom, but I gotta ask--what's wrong with talking to our foes on the world stage? Hell, even Nixon went to China!

So, it appears from here that the choice is pretty clear cut: four more years of cynical neocon lies, intentional incompetence and demagoguery; or something else--a willingness to negotiate, a desire for peace, a tendency to roll up the sleeves and work at this difficult business of governing, rather than strutting, snickering, and lying through your teeth. Vote Democrat straight in 2008!

Friday, September 12, 2008

Blog News

My pal Andy, who moved in in the middle of night on me and Max back during training at Hyundai Center (about forty-two thousand years ago), has dedicated an entire post to my blog. You can read it here, but I'll save you the trouble: he describes me as funny, charming, insightful, handsome, slender, brilliant, all-powerful, God's gift to women, a joy to know, the veritable god at whose feet all humans should worship every day, and pretty damn sexy.

Did I mention how perspicacious he is? I would point you to his blog, Literaryhero and Friends, but it's been in my blog roll since day two after I met him. It's taken him all this time to return the favor, but, hey, I understand. Scumbag.

More on Chusok/Chu'seok/Chuseok

It is, as I mentioned, the Korean Thanksgiving holiday, which falls on the 15th day of the eighth lunar month (this year, we'll call it "September 14th," for the heck of it) just in time for the harvest season. Indeed, newly harvested rice plays an important role in the traditional family festivities, as it is ground into powder and formed into ddok (doughy rice cakes) then stuffed with honey and sesame seeds before being steamed over pine needles.

We were served them for lunch on Thursday, and they were delicious--technically, they're called songpyeon. You bite into a light but sticky doughball and get a sweet, tasty surprise. I guess the tradition of the family making them together has begun to disappear, as I have noticed them for sale for quite a while in E-Mart-uh. Of course, in America, once upon a time, the family would craft and hang the decorations for the tree together on Christmas Eve. Welcome to commercialism, Korea!

Speaking of holiday commercialism, I now understand the everpresent "Gift Boxes" in E-Mart--presentation-style boxes of fruit, liquor, socks (!?), Italian prepared meats, Spam (no, I'm not kidding, gift sets of Spam), hygiene products, mushrooms, and on and on, all ranging in price from from about W10,000 to W200,000. Erase three zeroes to convert to USD. They have been selling Chusok at least since I got here.

Turns out, Seoul won't be a total ghost town; here is a list of activities at Korea Times. To learn more about the holiday, go to Korea4Expats or The Holdiay Zone.

Happy Chusok/Chu'seok/Chuseok.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Chusok Begins

Chusok, for the unenlightened--like, say, myself a month ago--is the Korean version of Thanksgiving. By tradition, folks return to their hometowns for the three-day holiday; since Seoul is the size it is largely due to urbanization in the '70s and '80s, I am told it will be pretty empty this weekend. This is probably a good thing overall, since the subway, etc will still run, but be less crowded, thereby making exploration easier. OTOH, most everything will be closed on Sunday.

Meanwhile, it also means that I have no more school until Wednesday (Young-Il takes off a couple extra days). Speaking of school, I took a couple shots of my classroom today, filled to the brim with sweaty Korean teenaMy classroom, students reading from the projector screenge boys--hey, hey, now, do not touch your penis, as a couple of them have listed in their class rules assignment!

View from the rear of my classroom
After school today, Mr Hwang and I walked through the traditional market a few blocks from the school, and had a Korean corn dog and a cruller. It was pretty crowded, as many people are doing their shopping to buy gifts before returning to their hometown for the holiday.

traditional Korean market, two blocks long
Anyway, Happy Chusok!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

A Nice Evening

Did a couple of things of interest tonight, at least to me. I walked east of E-Mart for the first time, in the direction I knew the Hangang (Han River) had to be. After about ten minutes walking, I came to a long, skinny park with nice rubberized walking and bicycle trails. About every hundred meters was a small covered pavilion next to a group of exercise machines, and also tennis courts, soccer-volleyball courts and such. I walked south along the trail for some distance, and came to a set of ramps and stairs, which in turn led to a tunnel about thirty meters long. When I emerged on the other side, the Han was directly in front of me.

It is broad and calm, with a massive bridge about a mile north of the tunnel (the tunnel goes under the highway). No pics, as the cell cam is not up to the task, but it made a lovely scene. Eventually, I made my way west, though I'm sure Mr. Hwang would have a heart attack if he knew I took a different route back!

Later in the evening, I came down to my chicken hof for dinner and a soccer match. The North Koreans "hosted" the South at Shanghai due to a change of venue prompted by Pyongyang's exhorbitant ticket prices (they're really hurting for hard currency following the murder of a tourist in a DMZ resort by North Korean security).

Anyway, this was the first match in the final round of World Cup qualifying--the North and South are in the same group again(!)--and resulted in a 1 - 1 tie. This is the fourth straight draw between the two, including both matches in the last WC round and one in the Asian Championships earlier this year.

However, the South was the superior team in all but score. DPRK converted the PK from an iffy handball call, but ROK equalized about five minutes later (sound familiar, O my players?) on a very nice chest trap spin-and-volley which caught the inside corner from Ki Sung-yeung.

A Few More Pictures

Here are a few more photos from my cellphone, taken after school today. First is a daytime shot of E-Mart, showing the whole building, which stretches to the end of the block:

E-Mart during the day
Below is a picture of the main building at Young-Il HS; note the landscaping of the trees.

main building at Young-Il
And finally, a shot of the playground with the skyline outside the school.

school playground

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Some Pictures

I apologize in advance for the quality, but I know some of you have been hankering for photos of my environs. Here are some pics off my cellphone:

The hof space outside my building
This is a shot of the sidewalk at the front of my building; gleaming red lawn furniture provides spill-over (and breezy outdoor seating) for the row of restaurants on the ground floor.

table service at Chinese restaurant
Table setting including beer, ashtray, utensil container, "Korean beer nuts" and platter of sauteed corn. You can see the service button peeking into the corner of the photo.

The Deungchon-dong E-Mart, large department store directly across the street from my building. The construction fencing is there due to the new subway stop going in. How cool is that?

Week Two Lesson

Today was the second day of my second week; the lesson is about rules--after an introduction, students will write five rules for the English classroom, then read one aloud to the class. I will later choose five or six most useful rules and post them for the whole class, the idea being that it gives them ownership (I have been doing this for many years). They will also suggest rules for the teacher to follow.

Not really much to blog about here, except for an exceptional answer (we will be creative learners) and a few silly ones (I will not take off my pants in class, and we should not play soccer in the classroom).

More interesting were rules for the teacher, including he will not hit the students; while it was explained to me earler that it is "technically" illegal, corporal punishment is fairly common in Korea (as I mentioned before)--I hear its unmistakeable smack down the hall a few times a day. Several students felt the teacher must 'love' the students; I re-stated this rule as the teacher will be kind and encouraging to all students.

Anyway, so far, so good. I just realized that Chusok (Korean Thanksgiving) is this weekend, so I have not made any terrific plans. Well, at the very least, the museums and temples and other tourist spots in Seoul will be less crowded than usual, so it will work out okay.

PS: I have figured out how to send photos from my new cellphone, and I have attached a photo from the Seoul Metro subway to the "It's at Itaewon" post.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

It's at Itaewon

I met up with some of the folks from training in a district of downtown Seoul called Itaewon on Saturday afternoon. It took me forty-five minutes: 10 minute walk to busstop, 15 minute ride to Hapjeong Station (line 2-6 junction), 5 minutes wandering around the station, 15 minutes on Line 6 subway to Itaewon Station, Exit 1, where Karen was kind enough to wait for me.

Above is a map of a small section of the subway. I live about at the last "o" in Omokgyo. For a full-size map, click here. On the way home, I successfully navigated to the station and made it to the busstop. I was unsure which side of the road to stand on, and every bus was packed like a proverbial sardine can. Twenty minutes of that would be okay, but an hour was too much (if I was headed out instead of in), so I took a taxi. It only cost 5000 W from Hapjeong to my officetel.

Now, about Itaewon: this is the best-known hang-out area for ex-pats in Seoul. Initial stop was 3 Alley, Karen's favorite place--by 15:00, I was hungry, and got a huge, well-cooked sirloin steak with some delicious potatoes for 18,500 W, about what you'd pay at Outback back home.

Later, we went to buy me a cellphone, and walked down the street to an Irish pub called Wolfhound while waiting for the account to be set up (visited my first PC-bang, as well, to print off a copy of my passport for the cellphone paperwork). They had a number of Irish ales, but the music was geared to the, um, younger crowd. Final stop was Seoul Bar, where the conversation was monopolized by a tall, obnoxious Scandanavian named Johann who is a safety inspector for KAL. Also met a bushy-browed Scot named Bob who is an operations specialist for the subway system.

On the way home, I finally bought a T-Money card, which is a public transport pass you just place on a sensor pad at the beginning and end of your trip, and it subtracts the correct amount from your account.

Though I'm not really a bar-crawler these days, it was fun, and I saw lots of places I want to come back to visit: Turkish kabobs, tandoori, Thai food. Oh, and Outback Steakhouse.
UPDATE (9/9/08, 8:00 PM): Photo of Seoul subway car on the way home, taken with my cellphone--
Seoul Metro subway car

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Watching Soccer on the Sidewalk in Seoul

On my way back from shopping at E-Mart, I noticed a soccer match on the TV outside one of the chicken hofs in my bulding. I put on a load of clothes to wash in what must the world's most complicated washing machine--eventually.

As the wash cycle started up, I made my way back downstairs to watch the game. Chicken Mania--http://www.cknia.com--controls a large part of the wide sidewalk at the front of the building, it's between the portrait studio and the traditional Korean porridge restaurant, where they set out plastic lawn tables and chairs when the weather is nice.

Korea's National Team was playing Jordan in a friendly at Seoul World Cup Stadium, which appeared over half-empty, as a warm up before the last round of World Cup qualifying. The Koreans were quite impressive, even though they only won 1 - 0. They were speedy, skilled and aggressive, producing about five shots for every attempt by the Jordanians. Domination. The young businessmen at the table behind me were into it as much as I was.

Distinctly a good time, watching quality soccer as the city of Seoul passes by right in front of me. Gotta say, though, the delivery guys on motor scooters are downright menacing.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Smokin' in the Boy's Room

'Everybody Say No' is the title of an article in the Expat section of today's Korea Herald. The story begins:
Seoul is a smoker`s paradise. While other cities have completely banned smoking in bars and restaurants, many here don`t even have a non-smoking section. For those who don`t smoke, this can be more than annoying at times.

The author then neglects to mention the inconveniences smokers face everyplace else in the world, all based on the shaky, unscientific premise that second-hand cigarette smoke in a public place is a health hazard. Using that logic, we should ban cars, lawnmowers, cell phones (that's handu pon in Konglish) and kids with their pants down around their crotch (not that that's a health hazard, really, I just hate them).

Anyway, as I entered the gate at school this morning, I asked Mr. Hwang about the kids standing along the walkway holding up "No Smoking" signs--there are three or four every morning. Anti-smoking activists? I asked. He puzzled out what I meant, then said No, they were caught smoking at school yesterday; this is their punishment.

Like schools everywhere, Young-Il is a smoke-free campus, for teachers as well as students. However, the teacher's lounge on my floor is an exception. The room has been pretty much taken over by the art teacher, Mr. Chong-gi, who is an incredibly talented artist. When I get a camera, I will post some of his stuff. When not in class, he sits in there and paints, and smokes like a chimney. I've even spied a couple cans of maek-chu lying around.

I told him I thought this was a tobacco-free campus; he agreed that it was, but just not in here. If you want to smoke in here, it is okay, he said. Double standard? Sure. But I've always believed in that: adults are different from children. Setting a good example for children is not the same as living by the exact rules they do.
The real reason dinosaurs went extinct, by Gary Larson
The real reason dinosaurs went extinct, by Gary Larson

Thursday, September 4, 2008

English Dept Faculty Meeting

We had a faculty meeting today after school for the English Dept of Young-Il HS to get to know me. I know it sounds dreadful when put like that, but we ate at a samgyupsal restaurant. On the second floor of a building about two blocks from campus (there are about 18 restaurants per square foot in this neighborhood, swear to God).

Samgyupsal is basically the pork version of galbi: strips of fatback pork, onion, potato, tofu, garlic, and mushroom (this particular place's specialty) are put on a hot grill in the center of the table; lettuce and other green leaves are provided, along with panchan (condiments and side dishes). You put the stuff you want into a leaf, roll it up and stuff it in your mouth.

Eight of ten members of the department were in attendance. After dinner was finished, we moved on to "second round": a western-style bar across the street called Adonis. The crowd thinned out a little, but we sat there for almost two hours drinking and snacking on the world's nastiest nachoes and small, raw freshwater snails that you suck out of their tiny little shells. I had one go at each--I'm a pretty good sport, but if I don't like it, I won't eat it.

We were there long enough they provided "service-uh", a free bowl of canned peaches, pineapples and fresh grape tomatoes (huh?) on ice. By this time, the give-and-take was flowing as freely as the beer. They are all nice folks, and I think they like me, too. After all, what's not to like? One of the teachers, Mr. Song, told me the seniors (who I do not teach) think I am the KFC grandfather. That's, you know, Harland Sanders, the Kentucky Colonel. Welcome to Korea. Hell, I don't even have a goatee (anymore)!

Young Mr. Lee, who has the Asian alcohol blush big-time, excused himself when we went to "third round": my first noraebang! This is a small karaoke room. More beer; I sang "My Way," my way. I also sang "Daydream Believer" and had to explain the lyrics to them. Yeah, good luck with that one.

Anyway, I held my own, at least, alcohol-wise, singing-wise and funny-wise, and wowed them with my knowledge and experience (and hardly even had to lie to do it).

Words I learned today include kyu-shil=classroom and kareem=painting.

Tomorrow, I meet up with Mr. Hwang to walk to school at 7:30 and go through the same fucking lesson four more times--fear not, O faithful readers, it will be as fresh and funny and interesting to the students as it was the very first time. Aside from it simply being Friday, the best thing about Friday at Young-Il is that they quit work an hour early. I'm tellin' ya, gang, I've fallen into the very shit, here!

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Politics of the Korean HS Student

Today's student similes brought some interesting statements. First off, I must confess that I outlawed all classes from stating they are as sexy as Angelina Jolie. Because they're not. The best image of the day was "as silent as space."

Of interest were several students today who compared themselves to Lee Myung-Bak, the Korean President, and not in positive terms--as silly as, as foolish as; by comparison, one student was "as handsome as Obama." BTW, when prompting for examples of adjectives, every time I ask for the opposite of smart, they always say foolish, never stupid.

Like most American kids, their politics until about senior year come directly from their parents. It is popular now to diss on Lee, because he has mishandled several issues, from American beef to the central canal, despite the fact that he ran for office (and was elected in February) on a pro-America, pro-infrastructure platform.

In other news, I got to walk home alone today--and I made it without incident! Also, my desk was delivered today (to go with my new chair) and I picked up a few more odds and ends (cutting board, alarm clock, extension cord) at E-Mart. It's pretty much a liveable place now. For my US friends, I wish you were here! For my friends in Korea, come on by! My address is:

Doosan Officetel #325
Deungchon 1-dong 631
Seoul, Korea

Meanwhile, I'm headed downstairs to enjoy a couple of maekchu-ga in the open air of Seoul's pleasant early autumn air!

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

My Orang-ee Chair

Mr Hwang walked with me to work this morning, showed me the shortcut--backstreets so I only cross one major road. It took 17 minutes. Then he walked me home--both he and the principal were afraid I would get lost.

Lunch was good again today--kimchee soup, mustard-based salad, mushroom and rice dumplings in brown sauce, batter-fried zucchini slices, something or other in spicy red sauce, and a banana for dessert.

I had five classes today, three first grade and two second grade. The second graders (11th year) were not much more fluent in speaking than the others. I've been through the same lesson plan ten times, with 12 more to go. It's a good thing I'm so damn entertaining or I'd have to kill myself.

As I mentioned, I'm having them write and read out similes describing themselves. Every class has at least one boy who thinks he is as handsome as Tom Cruise ("In your dreams" is my comment), and also one who thinks he's as sexy as Angelina Jolie! Today's twist was the 15-year-old who is "as delicious as Britney Spears." The best so far was a student "as passionate as fire."

Oh, Mr Ye, the school administrator in charge of settling me in, brought a chair yesterday. I didn't know what to say about the color, so I didn't say anything. To be fair, it might have been the only color available. But check out the back--it tilts, swivels and swings, and is extremely comfortable.
My orang-ee chair

Monday, September 1, 2008

They Call Me Mister Camberell

First day of classes today, after meeting the principal who treated me to coffee and coffee cake as we held a strangled conversation--"I speak baby English-ee," he confessed. Actually, he wasn't that bad, but the endless repetition of the same set of questions is beginning to grate. "Sooner or later, you will come to my house for dinner," he said, like it's an ultimatum. Seriously, everyone has been super-nice.

Here is a crazy, crazy thing. About halfway through the day, I had taught three classes my "introductory lesson"--basically a powerpoint about myself, which ends with some similes: "I am as intelligent as Einstein, I am as funny as Jim Carrey," etc, and task them with writing similes about themselves--when I noticed that all three classes were boys. Not totally strange, since Korean classrooms are segregated by gender. Then the fourth class was all boys ... then the last class of the day was all boys...

So, okay, maybe I'm not as smart as Einstein after all, but nobody told me I am at an ALL-BOYS SCHOOL! Not that it really matters, I'm just saying that seems to me a feature of a school that you might want to mention.

Anyway, I ran through the same lesson five times, and will do it again tomorrow five times, then Wed., Thur., and Fri. four times each. Next week, I will do two lesson plans, since I have all 550 or so "first grade" (tenth year) students, and the elective English students from "second grade."

I had lunch in the teacher's lunchroom, on exactly the same cafeteria tray, with exactly the same spoon and metal chopsticks, that they had at Hyundai Training Ctr. Same food, too. Rice, kimchee, spicy meat dish, two types of veggies, and very tasty soup. It could be much worse!

Miss Cho, one of my co-teachers, took me to the bank after lunch so I could finally deposit my traveler's checks and get some Won. I have a debit card (Koreans don't use checks), and when I used it at E-Mart this evening, they asked WHEN I want the payment withdrawn! What a concept. Although I doubt I could get away with saying next year, it's nice of them to ask.

Mr Hwang, my immediate supervisor, has been awesome. He drove me to work this morning, and took me shopping after school to help me get basic supplies. Then he came back later with a rice cooker (new) and some clothes hangers from his home, since they apparently don't sell them here. I still had to go to all the way to E-Mart again (heehee) to get cleaning gear, breakfast food, and other stuff. I have no doubt I'll make three more trips before I've properly outfitted the flat.