Monday, February 22, 2010

America Hell Yeah!

I have no pictures of this day so you will have to take a leap of faith and believe that this is not a work of fiction of my part.

On Sunday I went with four men I barely knew on a quest for Taco Bell. My friend Ki said he would sign all five of us into Camp Walker in order to sample my favorite trashy fast food. I knew two of the guys, Kyle and Jeff from a mutual friend and we realized how ridiculous this adventure was. Traveling cross town for a piece of taco shaped corn starch that costs under a dollar. Taco Bell was in my mind and nothing would keep me from my goal of 99c goodness. Ki signed us into the base (we had our S.O.F.A.S) and we walked up the dreary path to Taco Bell. After taco consumption we peaked inside the Px and this was when things turned a bit strange.

All of a sudden my friend Kyle turned to me and said 'Whoa, is that Scottie 2 Hottie?' I assumed this was a nickname for some friend of his or maybe a inside joke I was missing out on. I was wrong. Scottie 2 Hottie is a WWE wrestler most famous for doing the worm on his opponents chest. Kyle spoke too Mr. 2 Hottie with religious reverence. Soon enough we learned that there was a free eight round match on base in two hours. Not wanting to break Kyles heart we decided to go.

After killing two hours with cheap bowling we went to the gym. It was a small crowd, about 150 people. As I sat down I felt fear bubbling up in my stomach. What had I agreed to do? I couldn't sit through three minutes of pro-"wrestling" on TV and now I had agreed to a two hour live show? The worst part was knowing that I was truly trapped. Camp Walker rules state that the whole group must sign in and out together. I was trapped until Kyle lost interest which seemed as likely as a child losing interest in Christmas.

The eight rounds proceeded like a incomprehensible circus performance. I could never believe that after nine months in Korea the culture of my own country would be so foreign and repulsive to me. Barely clad girls wrestling and tearing hair, a clown fighting a disco king and a goth vampire fighting a man who played a caricature of the mentally handicap. I had hope that I would find the matches comical but unfortunately I couldn't even mock the players for fear of the fat drunken men next to me. I imagined they would turn on me at any moment. "Its that a english teacher?" they would yell and then the clown would chase me down and Scottie 2 Hottie would impale me on his perfectly gelled hair.

In the end I survived but as I left the base I didn't know which was up anymore. I felt so out of place in little America it was a relief to get cut off by old women in the subway line. I know it will be a bit difficult to readjust, knowing that everyone can understand me and having the knowledge that I can find anything I want at anytime. However I will be returning to the lovely Pacific Northwest where I doubt anyone will drag me to WWF.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Korean Gold

I have always been a fan of the Olympic games. I enjoy the summer more than winter but I still keep my TV permanently set on Olympic coverage. For a small country with a short history in the Games Korea is doing incredibly well as I write this they rank fifth in the medal count! Go Korea! Fighting!

My local sports channel is embodying national pride by replaying Mo Tae-Bum's win in the 500 meter long track over and over and over.... The same ten minute clip set with repeat three times before moving to a different race. Two Korean men are the sportscasters for this race. One man quickly gives a play by play of the race. The other...well you will have to hear for yourself.

UPDATE- My discussion of the Olympics to kick off class was extra fiery yesterday.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010


Happy Lunar New Year everyone. It is one of my three days off and unfortunately I have been simply lazing around. I have a big expensive tip planed in three weeks and I decided it would be best to keep it simple and save money. On that news I'd like to introduce you to a new member of the family, the North Face Tera 65 backpack. This fine friend will be my new companion in Japan, China and the rest of my future travels. It's my Selloal (New Years) gift to me.

Korea, like most of northeast Asia celebrates Lunar New Year as one of the most important holidays of the year. Selloal is a family holiday that spans three days. Unlike most western holidays there doesn't seem to be a exact date to do each event. The most common schedule seems to start on Saturday, peak on Sunday and end on Monday.

Most of my friends are traveling this weekend to see their family. The Grandmother's or oldest Uncle's house are common destinations. At some time during the weekend the family will get dressed up in a traditional Hanbok for the Sebae ceremony. The Sebae ceremony is when family members do one deep bow to show their respect. Adult siblings to the oldest son, Wife to her new mother-in-law and most commonly, children to parents. This is often rewarded with some money or sweets.

My Neighborhood Hanbok Shop

My students have be talking New Years since my first day of teaching as it is a much larger holiday than Christmas. They have been telling me about the huge amounts of money they receive today  (about 200,000 won seems about average) from friends and family members.  This money is then offered or to quote my students taken by their mothers and placed into a bank account for the child. Many kids get to keep a little of the money which results in crowded PC-bangs (internet cafes). 

Another New Years tradition is going to the public bathhouse or jimjibang. My friend Hannah and I decided to celebrate today by going to Home Spa World. This is by no means my first trip to a jimjibang. I've had old women scrub sheets of dead skin off my body and ask me awkward questions on numerous occasions. This was however, our first trip to Home Spa World and I hoped to get something a little different for my 8,000 won.  The basement of the spa is the actual jimjibang, filled with families dressed in blue for the Dads, pink for the Moms and green for the kids. This jimjibang was the best I have visited in Korea as most have little more than a few saunas. Home Spa World had nine different rooms.The hottest room was shaped like a giant tandoori oven and had a time limit of 15 minutes. The coldest room was freezing and had snow falling from the ceiling. My favorite room was the one with the small heated ceramic balls covering the floor about four inches deep. I buried myself in them like a kid at the beach. Other rooms included black rock, jade, salt rock and ceramics. After Hannah and I had our fill of all the various rooms we went upstairs to try out the many hot pools and steam rooms. We emerged very clean five hours after we arrived. It was a great way to welcome the Lunar New Year of my birth sign, The Tiger!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Hiking in Korea is In Tents!/Intense!

Sorry that its been so long since I have written everyone! I had the horrid graduate school application season in January  followed by the moving apartments. My new place is slightly farther from work, a 15 minute walk instead of three. Its also a bit smaller however everything works in the new place! From heat to having a window its a more livable place than before. I still don't have email however and I am mooching off of the local coffee shop internet. So without further ado my much delayed post about hiking, Koreas national pastime (tied with Starcraft).

Korea is a very mountainous country. 70 percent of the peninsula is mountains which adds to the compact nature of city life. A good hiking peak is never far away and since I live at the edge of city I can begin my choice of several hikes within a five minute walk of my apartment. What Korean mountains have in quantity they lose in height. The tallest peak in South Korea is Halsan 1,950 meters above sea level. The relative ease of the hikes doesn't stop the older Koreans from treating the sport with a Olympic seriousness. The mountains swarm with men and women aged 50-75 speeding up the mountain, out pacing their own top driving speeds. Very few men and women backpack overnight on the mountains but that doesn't stop them from dressing the part. Here are two older gentlemen walking through my neighborhood perhaps on their way to Palgongsan. The long heavy wool  socks over pants is a common fashion choice.

My friends and I decided one fateful day in December that we too could summit Palgongsan. I was ready for a traditional Korean hike. The consistent invite to the picnics at the top, mountain gyms and the little old ladies in white gloves that I never believed could have made the climb. What I didn't imagine however was how high 1192 meters feels on the 27th of December in below freezing weather. I was sweating and overheating while at the same time my face was slowly freezing off. Hence this horrible picture of my sweaty hair and frozen nose.

After a full six hours of trekking we reached the peak. The Korean word for mountain top is "dongbong" which is perfect as I felt thoroughly dongbonged by the end of it.  A storm was coming in and the temperature was rapidly dropping so we took the cable-car down the mountain. Some might call this lasy. I prefer survival based decision making.
You don't go hiking in December for the foliage...

In other news...30 days till Japan and 70 till China. I love my life.