Sunday, November 30, 2008

Never Leave Before the Final Whistle

I went to Sangam today to watch the K-League semi-final between FC Seoul (who I rooted for, of course) and Ulsan Hyundai Horang-i. Horang-i is the Korean for Tiger, which explains the stripes on the uniform, but not the fact that they're powder blue.

OTOH, FC Seoul have a fetching red and black scheme with gold piping but no discernable mascot. Their logo is a soccer ball that appears to be on fire. And the weather was cold. Brrrr cold. You could have burned a soccer ball to keep warm. Or at least the guy next to me could have, since he caught one of the promo balls the players kicked into the stands when the official warm-up began. Signed by the team and everything!

I paid 20,000 W for a seat (that's $15 these days) at midfield in the sixth row. Right behind the home bench. Amazing. For a playoff game, at that!

Anyway, the game was quite exciting, with FC Seoul controlling the first half and scoring about 20 minutes in; Ulsan picked up the pace and responded about the same point in the second half. Right after halftime, a Seoul player was stretchered off, only return at the next substitution opportunity. A 1 - 1 tie at the end of regulation resulted. Uh-oh, a repeat of the pair of ties during their regular season matches loomed.

However, one good feature of the K-League playoffs is a 30 minute fulltime extra period before advancing to a PK shootout. I hate PK shootouts. Probably because I've only ever won one. And a half-hour is a good, long time to determine who wants it more. Anyway ...

FC Seoul scored about 3 minutes into the OT and held the lead until they switched sides. The Tigers scored to tie it up again, but Seoul took the lead back 1:00 later with a throw-in play I totally saw coming, and would have filmed if I had batteries left. Throwin-backheel-cross-header. 3 - 2. Red and black scores again to make it 4 - 2. Seoul will play Suwon Bluewings in two-legged final to determine the Korean champions. To recap: first 90:00, 2 goals; last 30:00, 4 goals. Never leave a soccer game before the final whistle.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving/Birthday

Today a small group of us gathered at the restaurant of the Somerset Hotel in Jongro-gu (a ritzy area, the financial district, very near Insa-dong, and right next door to the comfort women protest site). It was Thanksgiving Dinner, a big, well-cooked turkey with gravy and dressing, and all the fixings: corn, green beans, mashed potatoes--and they didn't skimp on the butter.

Thanksgiving Dinner
Above is a shot of the group at the beginning of dinner; below, the chef carving the turkey, and the hotel courtyard lighted for Christmas.

chef carving turkeyChristmas lights at Somerset Hotel

Even though there was a little unpleasantness surrounding the tab, we had a fine evening of food and fellowship. I had planned to point out towards the end that today was my birthday, and maybe get a toast--but it didn't quite work out. Oh well. Happy birthday to me.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

A Nation of Singers

My starter this week (the lesson is part II of the movies lesson plan at is to play YouTube clips or describe the top 6 "most famous" movie quotes, according to AFI. And see if anyone can identify the movie.

It's very hit or miss: not one class has recognized the ending of Gone with the Wind; my Brando impression with "I'm gonna make him an offer he can't refuse" usually gets a hit, especially if I mention he's a mafia don; they've never heard of On the Waterfront, even if it's Brando with two of the top three quotes.

#4 is Judy Garland saying, "Toto, I have a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore." I briefly set up the scene, and sing a couple lines of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow". Almost every class starts singing along. Even though many of them don't know the movie it's from.

We're definitely going to do some singing soon. Christmas carols, maybe?

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

A Measure of Progress

I know maybe a hundred words in Korean, and can sound out just about anything written in hangeul. I can now determine whether the soccer game is between Ah-suh-nul and Man-cheh-suh-tuh see-tee or Mah-nah-cho and Nee-suh. It was very satisfying when I was able to recognize a samgyupsal restaurant for the first time by reading the name.

Of course, the difference between reading the characters and understanding the language is the difference between humming the tune and singing the lyrics.

Today at lunch, I wanted some napkins (hu-gee). In Korea, the table napkins are these single ply jobbies about 2" X 5". It takes three or four to actually do anything. They come in a box (tung) which can be passed around.

I waited until Miss Cho was talking to Mr Oh, leaned across to her and said, "Hu-gee tung, chuh-say-yo." Wordlessly, she reached for the box and passed it to me.

Then she did a double-take. I smiled with satisfaction.

Bonus Photographs:
--from the cart ramp/escalator at Home Plus, opposite sides of the same sign.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Something I Miss

Today is a half-day at my old school, before Thanksgiving Break begins. Call me a sentimental old fool--Hush! it's just an expression--but the time starting this week and going through New Year's Day is my favorite time of year. It's not the faculty lounge piled with food, the little gifts left on a teacher's desk, the smiles on little kids' cake-smudged faces, the dinner table invisible under the clutter of turkey and Diane's oyster dressing, Marti Lawson's cranberry-apple bake, pear halves, Dad's pecan pies, and all that other stuff.

So, okay, it is all that. But, also, it's Santa riding a Norelco shaver down a snow bank, ads for the latest Chia pet creations, Muzak Christmas carols in every store, rampant Rockwell imagery (Norman, not the "Somebody's Watching Me" guy), the scent of evergreen at every turn, 24 straight hours of Ralphie and the Red Ryder B-B gun (you know, the official, carbine-action 200 shot range model air rifle with a compass in the stock and this thing which tells time) on TNT ... the cultural crap that is the baggage which arrives with the Holiday season.

I'll miss it.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

K-League Playoffs

The K-League has an unusual playoff system, the fist round of which was played on Saturday and today. In this round, third place hosts sixth (Pohang Steelers and Ulsan Horang-i, or Tigers) while fourth place hosts fifth (Seongnam Ilwha Chunma vs. Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors).

Both games were hard-fought, going into an extra thirty minute period, and both games were upsets--Ulsan beat higher ranking Pohang, last year's league champs, in a shoot-out after going scoreless through 120 minutes. Jeonbuk and Seongnam were tied at the end of regulation after exchanging goals in the 29th and 30th minutes. Jeonbuk went ahead on a goal by Brazilian Luiz near the end. It's Big Five wherever you look!

So in the next round, Ulsan will play Jeonbuk on Wednesday. Then, the winner of that game plays 2nd place FC Seoul in a one game semifinal. The winner of that game will play Suwon Samsung Bluewings in a two-legged final. I will plan to go to one of the FC Seoul matches, if I can figure out date and time.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Friday Night in the World's #2 Agglomeration

And what did I do? I went over to Hwang's house and talked about books with his 10-year-old daughter. She is currently reading a bio of Obama. That was followed by floor baseball with his 8 y.o. son. I added sound effects and little drama--blowing out my shoulder and having to replace myself with myself as a rightie, etc--but he managed to beat me. The score was 2 - 2 in the bottom of the ninth, two outs, two strikes and a man on third. The pitch, the swing, the ball sails just past my outstretched hand ... a double to drive in the winning run. Did I mention the kid is crazy about baseball?

Somewhere in there was beer and samgyupsal, so it was all good.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Two Funny Things ... and Snow

First of all, I must confess it has been a sort of hobby of mine making up the names of exotic dancers by altering the names of famous actresses, ever since I was in a production of 'Guys and Dolls' and helped one of the Hot Box Girls name herself Ursula Undress (from Ursula Andress, Swiss sexpot and one of the original Bond girls). Today, one of the students helped me out.

Recall, dear reader, that this week's lesson is about the movies--students will make clues from a movie's genre, actors, setting, etc., and the rest of the group will try to determine the movie in question. Misspellings of names here are sometimes humorous, but usually unremarkable. However, one of the female stars of 'Mama Mia' was rendered as Merry Strip. Score!

The latest joke going around school is this:
Q: What's the biggest bell at Young-il HS?
A: Cam-bell.

Lastly, it snowed today. Starting at lunch, then for about an hour: heavy clumpy wet blobs, none of which stuck to the ground. I came outside and caught a few flakes on my tongue, which prompted Assistant Principal Kim to do the same, laughing like crazy. The air was thick with it for a while here west of the river; by quitting time, the sky was clear and the temp. was around 50 F. Still, my first snow in Korea. Right now, it's 40 F in Seoul, 36 F in Atlanta. I'll take it as a sign.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Survey Says ...

When I first started thinking about coming to Korea, back in May of this year, the main things I associated with the country, the War and M*A*S*H aside, were LG (makers of my cell phone), Samsung and Hyundai.

Thanks to my old old college roomie, who was half-Korean, next came kimchi. She never once made Korean barbecue or bulgogi, that I can remember, but there was plenty of rice and kimchi. Anyway, below that on my list, and a long way down, would come the 1988 Seoul Olympics.

It turns out I would not be alone in these associations. The daily Dong-A Ilbo reports that it:
commissioned Google to conduct surveys on keywords that best represent 30 member countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and China ...
The names most associated with Korea were Samsung; LG; Hyundai; kimchi; StarCraft; porcelain; textiles; Boa (singer); taekwondo; and personal computer games.
Korea was the only country among major economies such as the United States, China, Japan, the United Kingdom, France and Germany to have the names of companies among the top three keywords.

I'm not sure what it says about me, though, this correspondence: am I just as ignorant and superficial as the average web user, or am I the distillation of the accumulated knowledge of billions of web pages? Perhaps the answer is best left as an exercise for the reader. The kind, generous, perspicacious reader.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Cold Wind Blowing

Today's low was 25 F, and the high a little over 40 F... In Atlanta! It was the same here in Seoul, but the wind chill factor made it feel about 9 degrees colder. In the sun.

I asked Hwang about the wind chill factor this morning, and he figured out what I meant, but it's apparently not included in weather reports here. No sense in making people feel colder than they already are, I guess. It's always been my theory that the WCF and the heat index were inventions of the US weathercasting industry to punch up the numbers a bit, create a little more drama in an otherwise humdrum profession--I mean, a weatherman is lucky to get two or three reasonably devastating natural catastrophes to report on in a whole year.

Anyway, it won't get any colder tomorrow, but it won't warm up as much either--the high is supposed to be 33 F. I brought my heaviest jacket, the old school Adidas fibre-fill I've had since about 1997. I had considered buying a heavy-duty one before I left, but wanted to wait and see (not to mention the limited packing space). Still looks fine, plenty warm enough for Georgia, but ... I'll be contacting my friends at LL Bean in the next few days. I'm thinking the Baxter State parka, good to -55 F.

Monday, November 17, 2008

This Week at the Seoul Patch

1) The Pepero display disappeared from E-Mart to be replaced by ... a Christmas tree display.

2) As if on cue, the temperature dropped overnight from shirt sleeve levels to about 2 Celcius. The temp. tomorrow morning is supposed to be -5 C, which is 23 F. Winter has just blown in. Santa Claus can't be too far behind.

3) For this week's lesson, I totally ripped lessons/MovieLesson1.htm. Just about the only differences are my starter activity and that I converted the "Language" handout into a powerpoint which makes a little fun of "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull."

4) Hwang told me this morning while we walked to school that tomorrow is another examination day--so I have no classes. I have to go in and sit in my room until noon, anyway.

5) Bonus Photograph: This is the sidewalk alongside Airport Highway during my walk to school in the morning.

Seoul sidewalk covered in ginko leaves, 11-15-08

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Art in Insa-dong

Artist Mr Yi and Principal Jun took me to Insa-dong today for a visit to Pi-wun palace, which turns out to be Changdeokgung, which I visited before. However, it is now resplendant in autumn colors. That's Jun on the left and Yi on the right of the photo. I'm the one in the middle:

Pi-wun is from the Chinese, meaning miracle garden. It refers to the "secret gardens" behind Changdeokgung; I have included a few pics below (I like using these tables to organize the photos, but despite scrutinizing the code, cannot make the annoying gap on top disappear):

Following the palace tour, we had samgyupsal at Insa-dong, served by a lovely Chinese girl.

Chinese girl serving samgyupsal in Insa-dong
After stuffing ourselves, we visited a few art galleries in Insa-dong. First, here are three public art installations, the third of which should look familiar to readers of the updated "Neighborhood Art" post--the artist, I now know, is Chung Kuk-taek:

Chinese stone carvings at top of Insa-dong-gil
Draw a Stroke, by Yoon Young-seok

Insa-dong is a street in Jongno-gu with several side streets (Insa-dong-1-gil, Insa-dong-2-gil, etc) which is exclusively populated with art galleries, craft shops, traditional tea houses, and cafes and restaurants. Very artsy, and as you might expect, a lot of it is crap. Below are just a few of the better pieces (in my opinion) in the galleries we visited--at least the ones that allowed photography.

As we were leaving, we came across ddok--rice cakes--being made in the traditional fashion.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Silk Road Museum and Nepal Museum

I went to the Silk Road and Nepal Museums in Insa-dong, and the hike up the long, twisty mountain road made me wonder if I was actually talking the silk road to Nepal. Here is a view looking down to the first turn:

The museum was in an inauspicious, three-story building tucked into the side of the mountain, with a fabulous view.

The Silk Road Museum and the Nepal Museum occupy the same spaces in the building to the extent one really doesn't know where one leaves off and the other begins. This is furthered by the almost complete lack of interpretive material in English.

That being said, it is a charming little place, with scads of antique weapons from ancient Chinese cannon to nineteenth century pistols, juxtaposed against a modern collection of anti-war posters. There are numerous display cases protecting objets d'art with provenance ranging from Turkmenistan to Beijing, and everywhere in between. However, much of the catalogue is actually lying out in the open, stacked in corners, or on tables or filling little closets--temple bricks and roofing tiles from Nepal, silk goods, saddles, animal fur saddlebags, carvings, huge pots, mannekins dressed in antique garb. (I have virtually nothing to add to the photos, so I have not included 'alt tags' for you to read on mouseover.)

When I finally finished wandering through the place, three adjummas, one of them apparently the proprietor, invited me to join them for a few tiny cups of tea. I'm not sure if that was as extra or if it was included with the W 5,000 admission.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Korea's Crazy College Boards

Photo from Korea Times
The police were out in force today. Not to quell another beef uprising, or to respond to a terrorist threat, no, they are prepared to taxi students running late to their college board testing site.

Government offices and many businesses opened an hour late today, to ease congestion in the streets. Airports rescheduled flights to deaden noise pollution during the listening test. As early as yesterday afternoon, underclassmen were camping out at the gates of testing sites for prime spots from which to wish their schoolmates haeng-un-ul pim-ni-da! I snapped two groups of girls settled in near Insa-dong:

On Monday, Mr Hwang handed out "beverages and rice cakes" to the third graders, to help prepare them for the exams. Even though the exams are on Thursday. Why rice cakes, I ask. And why so far in advance? These rice cakes are very sticky and dense, so it is hoped they will help the learning "stick to" the students. They are eaten so far in advance because if a student gets a stomachache, it will have time to pass.

They really go all out for these exams, both to help students do their best, and to insure the integrity of the examination process--this is the one time in Korea that your family connections cannot help you.

In some ways, a Korean's entire future is determined by a few hours in a strange classroom on the third Thursday in November. College admission in Korea is based almost solely on College Scholastic Aptitude Test scores. The higher levels of government and business are filled by graduates of the top three--Seoul National, Korea and Yonsei Universities. Though everyone complains about it, they still buy into it--the media decries the system, but still it lists the college affiliations of newsmakers.

On the bright side, of course, the fact that Young-il was used as a testing site means I got the day off today.