Tuesday, September 29, 2009

R16 International B-Boy Contest

Do you know the difference between "locking" and "popping"? Well I do now because this weekend ten friends and I took the bus up to Incheon and watched the R16 B-Boy championships. Whats a B-Boy you ask? Well, a B-Boy is another term for male break dancer or hip hop dancer. I have been heavily exposed to break dancing in the media and I though this is my chance to see it done live. Before this my only live break dancing was those Asian kids in High School in front of the student store...

After a four hour bus ride we arrived in Incheon. R16 was on a "Worlds Fair" fairgrounds and we explored the largely underwhelming exhibits for a few hours. Good news however, the Swine Flu was shot right off of us.

The 2 on 2 "Locking" battles started at one. Locking is a bouncy dance style in the spirit of James Brown whereas in "Popping" poses are frozen and shortly held. The 2 on 2 battle was pretty cool at first but I got bored quickly and took a short nap in my chair. Forgive me, I woke up that morning at five. I Woke up just in time to watch the final battle. In the end a team of two girls won and they walked away with a million Won (~900 USD).

After a break it was time for the main event. The crew battles. A "crew" has from 7 to 12 people on it who are involved in freestyle or routine dancing. Or in some cases extra crew members do nothing...I'm looking at you Ukraine! There were 14 crews competing from 13 different countries (two from Korea). Two crews battled at a time and then the winner moved to the next round. Thats right, You Got Served style ie what happens when someone dances and you don't dance back. The teams pulled some great tricks like jumping though each others arms, hand slides, headspins and acrobatic flips. I took a video of the final battle (Russia vs Japan) but somehow the video became corrupted. In the end Japan took first place perhaps because they were lead by a dead-ringer for Rufio out of Hook.

The contest was over late and we returned to Seoul for the traditional exhausted hotel room search. I often wish I lived in Seoul as it is Korea, from events to population everything happens there. One good thing about living in Daegu however, is that I have seen much more for the country than my Seoul counterparts who rarely (and in many cases never) leave the city.

In other news I am going to Japan this weekend! I have a three day weekend and some friends and I are taking a ferry to Fukuoka/Nagasaki. I have wanted to go to Japan my entire life and know this jaunt will just wet my taste buds for more!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Pets in South Korea

After the Korean War "paused" in 1953. South Korea's economy started to rapidly expand between the 1960's and 1980's. New wealth and prevalence of the western entertainment meant that Koreans wanted everything the West had. This includes pets.

Pets are relativity new in Korea but are fairly common with about 1 in 4 owning a pet. Despite Koreans owning pets it is a new development with many owners treating their pets very differently than Americans would. The majority of Koreans live in apartments and so the majority of dogs are small, weighing under ten pounds. These dogs are rarely let outside as the idea of a mandatory daily walk is not a "dog law 101" like in the West. Cats, which would seem to me to be much better suited for apartment life are uncommon. None of my students own a cat and the ones I see are clearly strays. The Hilton idea of a dog as a accessory has certainly caught on however with many "Animal Hospitals" with windows full of dog clothes and dye jobs like this are commonplace.

The greatest problem I have with Korean pets are the stores themselves. Pets stores are everywhere with windows full of puppies. Only puppies are sold in Korea.Puppy Mills anyone? Also there is only one Settler in Daegu. Its run by a British ex-pat couple. My friend volunteered there and said that dogs are rarely adopted and that many of them were purchased from owners who sold them for meat.

This brings us to the picture at the top of my post and to the answer to where are the non-snarf dogs in Korea. Bosintang. Bosintang is a famous Korean stew made with dog meat. It is traditionally served on the three hottest days of the year. Dog meat is difficult to find in Korea and there is no chance of a visitor eating accidentally. I have heard from friends that the meat is best eaten outside of the traditional soup and is tender and sweet. I am not planning on eating dog however, I do not condemn it as long as the dogs are raised in a humane fashion. This many people argue is the real problem.

The number of Koreans who eat dog is much smaller than you hear about overseas. When I asked my students (my own poll group of around 120 kids) nearly all of them had never eaten Bosintang and many of them were disgusted by the idea. The number of Koreans who have eaten dog meat is much higher among my age group but most confessed they only ate it to try it. The original reasons for eating dog (cheaper and available to all classes) is no longer true and the dish is quickly becoming a rarity.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Korean Standards of Beauty

As one of the most homogenized nations in the planet South Korea has evolved a system of standards to determine beauty. Women are naturally thin and beautiful and over the years one exact image of a attractive women developed. Their is no curvy, no ethnic beauty, only a alphabet soup of standards.

The X-line is skinny waist.
The S-line is a big (Korean big mind you) butt, tiny waist and big breast.
The U-line is the lower back.
The W-line cleavage.
My favorite is the V-line having a long pointed chin and a thin face. I fail at this one perhaps I should by some face rollers and work on my V-line.

Koreans also have no qualms with making random body image comments. A women in the washroom told my friend she had a nice s-line yesterday. My students will always tell me that my skin looks dirty if I got sun over the weekend. Korean women also use skin lightening creams, parasols and sun masks to keep their pale complexions.

This exact definition of a pretty woman also explains the LBH (loser back home) phenomenon, when a stunning Korean women is dating a nothing special western man. I see LBH's every time I go downtown. I am usually harsh to them but perhaps their dates are LAH's (losers at home?) cause they don't fit they exact definition of pretty. Korea is a challenging dating environment for ex-pat women as we have to compete with a population of models who strut up mountains in high-heels and have no casual clothing. I have 7 male friends dating Korean women right now and 0 female friends dating Korean men. Not only that but I have never even SEEN a foreign woman with a Korean man. I know they must exist....right?

Back to beauty standards, another example is the double fold eye. It is a very popular surgery that men, women and even women will get to create the look of a Caucasian closed eye. This is such a common surgery that when a foreign friend and I where talking about a attractive man we saw the first thing my Korean co-worker asked was "did he have a double fold?".

Every time I live internationaly I love diversity more and more. I side with "The Korean" on this one, America is one of the least racist countries in the world. In Korea's defense however things are slowly getting better.

In a completely unrelated new story. I went to Costco today. Its just like home, only weirder!
The staggering price of Martinellis!

The only two English language books!

And finally the onion salad. When Costco received the onions, mustard and ketchup for the Hot Dogs they didn't know what to do with them. So they followed the instructions and set a condiment bar. Which Koreans decided must Costco's free side dish (all Korean restaurants have side dishes) hence the Onion salad was born. Onions plus ketchup plus mustard. Its very popular with a long lines and people taking heaps and heaps of "salad".

Life in Korea, everyday is a adventure!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Bretts Visit

Hello everyone!
Sorry its been so long since I wrote. Brett flew in late Wednesday night and I took the next week off to travel Korea with him. Thursday Brett came to my Hapkido class with me. I worked on kicking and taking a hit, while Brett started out punching. I appeared that one day was enough for him as he pulled a muscle in his back and spent the next two days in pain. In his defense however my first week of Hapkido I could barely limp up stairs! That night Brett went out with my co-workers and I for dinner at the Fish and Grill. I also strung him along to Makgeolli (milky rice wine) and he braved silkworm larvae. Although he forced me to eat another one with him...blech!

The next day I took him though the sights of downtown Daegu. Dr. Fish, the swings at the coffee shop, Waffle house and random omelet rice restaurant. We also took ridiculous photo booth pictures and played at the arcade. As expected Brett dominated at Mario Cart.

On Saturday Brett and I decided to cram two trips into one day, a trip to a giant Buddha and a baseball game. The Buddha was large (as promised) but it was constructed in 1992 and if things aren't old...well I don't really care. For such a ancient country Korea has quite few relics. Most were destroyed in the countless Japanese invasions. However, the Buddha did make for a great Korean style heart photograph!

After the Buddha visit we rushed to the baseball game. Go Samsung Lions! The game is Korea's top league and was absolutely packed. We arrived five minutes after the game started and watched the rest of the action sitting on the concrete stairs as all the other seats were filled. The stadium was tiny, only 20 rows upward and packed to the brim with singing, chanting and drinking Koreans. I want to go again and do it right. It was difficult to see from the ground. We went to bed early that night as I was excited to travel to Jeju Island or the "Hawaii of Korea".

Brett and I arrived in Jeju after a one hour flight. We had just enough time to find our hotel and snap a few pictures when it started to rain..and by this I mean pour. Jeju is a island of outdoor activities hiking, swimming, scooter riding. Brett and I tried to hike in the rain but we didn't have the gear for it. After checking the weather forecast (no let up for the next week) Brett and I returned to Daegu after a little over 24 hours. We managed to see a lava tube, stay in a over priced hotel and eat a great meal. It was a huge and expensive disappointment but I wasn't going to sit and watch the rain in a hotel room when the rest of Korea is calling!

On Tuesday I decided to take a quick side trip Gyeongju to before heading up to Seoul. Gyeongju is the old capital of the Kingdom of Sila (57-935Ad) which eventually became the ruling Kingdom in the peninsula. It is the most historic city in South Korea and needs more than one day to see it properly. Brett and I decided to focus our day trip on Bulguksa Temple. Originally built in 528AD the temple has been restored and expanded but never completely destroyed. The stone steps leading up to the temple date to 750 and are beautifully persevered. Koreans built their places and temples out of wood which increases the rarity of any part surviving thousands of years.

After wandering the temple and eating the worlds worst Bibimbap, Brett and I began our hike to Seokguram Grotto. It was a 4K steep hike up the mountain. I was not prepared for the hike and it took me around 50 minutes to trudge up the path. It was all worth it to see the grotto, without a doubt the most beautiful thing I have seen in Korea. The grotto is made from granite blocks miraculously transported to the top of the mountain. Finished in 774 by the same government minister that ordered construction of Bulguksa, the grotto is one of Korea's greatest treasures. It took my breath away. The grotto is a place of worship and the view is protected by glass which prevented me from taking any pictures but the view from the top of the mountain was spectacular. You can see the ocean!

On Wednesday we were off to Seoul on the KTX bullet train. We found a cheap and clean hotel in the financial district and started off our first day by exploring Cheonggyecheon Stream. The stream is a man-made sunken stream in the middle of the city that run for about 4K.Brett and I walked until we were hungry. So hungry that we made the mistake of going to Gwangjang Market for some street food. There we ate mystery organ meat (Liver? Kidney?). The after burps haunted me for the rest of the day.

After that....memorable experience Brett and I visited Deoksugung Place. Followed by the highlight of the day, a 5,000 won all you can drink brewery. The beer was pretty plain by Portland standards but by Korea standards it was fabulous. Fun Fact of the day- North Korea allowed small scale breweries before South Korea.

On Thursday Brett and I went to the National War Memorial of Korea which is a fantastic if not poorly named war museum. Starting with the beginning of Korean history and moving up to Korea's troops in Afghanistan (answer-not many). Brett and I explored the museum for over four hours during which time I tripled my knowledge about the Korean war. A depressing war that could have been prevented if the US stayed in or the Chinese stayed out. Korean's have been invaded and divided since the three Kingdoms first united. I don't know when or if the peninsula will rejoin. After the lessons on the Korean War, we discovered the strangely kiddie friendly "disaster prep" room. This exhibit was to teach children about Nuclear bombs and other forms of mass warfare. The exhibit reminds the children that North Korea could act at any moment and they must always be prepared. There was even a model of Fat Man descending from wire onto a model of Seoul with flashing lights outlining the areas of who would die instantly and who would need to fear fallout. The entire exhibit made me realize that in Korea the Cold War never ended. Lucky the room had superhero costumes for Brett and I to wear. We will save Seoul from destruction by chemical attack!

Brett and I decided to leave at exactly the right time we managed to catch a rehearsal of a Military color-guard.
That night we meet up with Brett's friend Randy, also teaching English in Korea and ate delish BBQ.

On Friday Brett and I took a tour of Changdeokgung Palace. The best preserved palace in Seoul, the last surviving member of the Korean Royal family died here in 1989. The palace was the my favorite I have seen so far. The Palace is famous for its "secret garden". It was a place of refuge for the Kings where they could look out over the lake or read in their private library. The garden is spectacular because even though you are in the 8th most popular city in the world, you feel as if you are in the forest.

Brett and I continued our random tour of Seoul by exploring Yeouido Park and Insa-dong. In Insa-dong, Brett and I were interviewed for Korean TV. It was super awkward as the Korean hostess(?) asked us questions that all Koreans would have a answer to but don't matter to Americans. The questions were 'What is your lucky symbol" and "What numbers are lucky for you and how do seeing them make you act". Brett and I answered mostly with gambling answers (7? 21?) and after them drilling us on 2NE1 the pop group, they asked us about gambling. I've only gone once I said but I'm not sure they believed me... Gambling is illegal in Korea except for foreigners. I think Koreans think we are all obsessed with it. After that super awkward interview we ate Mexicanish food and went to bed.

Early the next morning was our USO DMZ tour. It was very difficult to find the USO office but after we did Brett and I were off to Disneyland! I mean two countries still at war! I got mixed messages like this the whole trip. Our first stop (and why I paid big bucks to the USO) was Panmunjeom or the Joint Security Area. Our US Army guides gave us all UN badges and drove us pass "Freedom Village" (a village of South Korean's who make 80,000 USD and are exempted from taxes and military duty) and "Propaganda Village" (a empty North Korean village home to zero humans and the worlds tallest flag pole). Propaganda Village is famous for blaring propaganda to anyone within earshot. Sadly this has been slowly disappearing and I didn't hear anything during my tour. Once inside Panmunjeoum I was treated to that sight of the North Koreans building made familiar by the media. The best part of all was the appearance of the North Korean soldiers who smoked cigarettes and leared at us though binoculars. Zoom in the picture for our fine friend in tan.

We also entered the blue UN owned buildings and stepped on the opposite side of the table aka North Korea! The ROK soldiers took pictures with us and I got the distinct feeling that we were in a tourist attraction not a war zone. The reason behind the sweet Raybans is so the soldiers don't get into staring contests with the North Koreans. No Joke..

Our tour was soon over and we then went to Dora Observatory, where high powered telephoto lenses allowed me be a creeper and spy on a North Korean Town, which was completely empty. The final stop on our DMZ tour was the 3rd tunnel. One of four tunnels that were discovered in the 70's. This stop seemed the most Disneyland of all with a gift shop (one of many in the tour) and these guys..

Finally on Sunday Brett headed home. :(

And I learned to NEVER take the subway from Inchon to Seoul station. NEVER! It took me two and a half hours!

Thank you everyone for reading my blog! Thanks to you I was ranked in the top 100 Korea bloggers and won a MP3 player! Keep reading and commenting and maybe I'll win the grand prize.