Monday, 31 March 2008

Grevious Bodily Harm

This first video gives you a double taste of Korean pop culture. The song is currently popular and the video is primitive machinema done with Maple Story, which is an extremely popular video game. Note the abuse of Pachelbel's Canon in D. I actually think it's kind of cute.

Second: me. A bit of info on my weekend.

I should add that today I taught my most aggravating class "shut your pie hole". The consistently speak Korean, act up, and fail to do their homework. They are not allowed to speak Korean and they use it for communicating pathetically simple ideas that they should know in English - I actually understood one of the students and told him to use the English word for the same thing, which surprised the students. Anyways, whilst putting important data on the board I eventually instructed them to shut their pie holes. Today's class with them was otherwise good because we read a piece on microscopes so I had the official Class Doodler draw one on the board and then confirmed their understanding by walking through labeling the parts of the scope.

Tuesday, 25 March 2008


I just had a horrible and sudden realization: iTunes is dangerous. I've been enjoying some wine and reading a website of passive-aggressive notes while listening to NPR. I realized that when you have iTunes and alcohol all those songs you wouldn't normally consider purchasing are a very real possibility. NPR played a song that I mildly enjoyed a little over a year ago in part of a piece and I burst into song and had a momentary flash of wanting to hear the whole song followed by the thought that I could easily purchase it instantly.[1]

My goals for Korea:
1. Some proficiency in Korean
2. Norebang (Korean karaoke)
3. DVD bang (You rent a room to watch a DVD, gotta be better than renting a video)
4. Japan for my birthday!!!
5. Stuff
6. Things
7. Junk

[1] I totally just bought the song.

Monday, 24 March 2008

Such Great Fortunes

I am so utterly lucky. It is strange that my time in Korea is dominated by two contradictory feelings: that of utter loneliness and incredible love. I received a package from a Boston friend today that was beyond generous. I opened it at work because of the cheese. Yes, more cheese. I might have a cheese party. If this were prison my foreigner coworkers would by my bitches because I have cheese and chocolate. I control the spice.

The coworker whose friend crashed at my place brought me a giant bar of chocolate as a thank you for helping her out. I was surprised. It seems completely natural to help when you can's weird being thanked for stuff that just should be done. I don't know. Anyways, it was nice. Here's my update from the weekend:

Oh and I made a student cry today. I made one cry last week: He wasn't paying attention in class and I gave him a warning and then I caught him flipping through the book (I have a class rule about not flipping through the book) and instructed him to step outside of the class (this is SOP). He wouldn't get out of his chair so I tried to use my understanding of behavior modification from my mother. I told him that he needed to step outside at my request or I would have the office contact his mother. I remained calm but the kid refused to leave the room and broke down in tears and after establishing that he had made the choice I continued with the class discussion.

Today one of the teenage students in my most frustrating class was extremely disrespectful and I told him that he was getting study hall because I knew he would never treat a Korean teacher that way. Possibly foolishly, I said, "I am 28, twice your age, I have a Master's degree, and I am your teacher and you will treat me with respect!" He started crying to himself. This is a continual problem with this student, I need to find the time and opportunity to reach out to him but I don't know him well. The teacher that is leaving observed that this behavior was unusual for the student and I asked him if he could find out what the problem was and he said, "I don't care." But he backed off and seemed to offer to assist and I told him that would be appreciated. I think a teenage boy will respond better to a male teacher he knows that to a new, female teacher.

Sunday, 23 March 2008

Eat More Chicken

First, I've made new friends. Sort of. On Saturday I ran into my coworker's friend (who crashed at my place Friday night when he lost his apartment keys). She and I were both attending classes in different parts of the neighborhood. She had made a friend at her reiki class so we were all wandering around and headed vaguely towards Indian food when it started raining. While we were walking a Korean guy in a suit (pictured below) dodged under our umbrella to get out of the rain and join us. It was pretty hilarious. He got his friend to dodge under the other girl's umbrella and then we got this picture:

On my way home I found the continuation of the vaguely sexual chicken campaign:

Thursday, 20 March 2008

Best. Friend. Evar.

I received Easter chocolate from a sinning, hell-bound friend. I also bought an Engrish shirt. Things are up and down but I'm working to consistently improve my attitude.*

*I know my attitude has been bad to some friends and I'm working on it and I'm sorry.

Wednesday, 19 March 2008

Annual Events

Once again I am pondering the pros and cons of cutting and bleaching my hair to look like Starbuck from Battlestar Galactica (the new, not the old).

Note: It's awesome to know someone who works at Amazon. I just requested that word be passed to Jeff Bezos that he's on my Shit List.

Sunday, 16 March 2008

Great Moments in Sunday History

The sign above is corrected the way my students correct their spelling. If I tell them they missed a letter they do this...apparently they never stop:

Evil Dead, the musical, is apparently coming to Seoul...I wonder if it's in Korean.

Why Did You Join the Foreign Legion?

Today was one of those days where I needed to forget that I live in Asia. The thing is that it's impossible. It is impossible to lose yourself entirely. It all started with sandwiches...

I bet you had a sandwich this week. You probably had more than one. In English speaking countries that sacred invention is taken for granted. A sandwich is never far away. Even if a sandwich in all its greater-than-the-sum-of-its-parts glory is not present in a pre-assembled form for your enjoyment, the elements of a decent sandwich are. In Korea, that is not the case. In fact, it is probably only slightly harder to get to Mordor than it is to acquire a decent sandwich here.

Asia, as a general rule, neither appreciates nor fully understands sandwiches. For example, in Japan it is acceptable to put shrimp salad and a piece of lettuce on two slices of bread and consider this a sandwich. That is not a sandwich, that is blasphemy. Nothing that comes from the ocean belongs on a sandwich.

Minimally, a good sandwich requires cheese. Asia does not understand cheese either so, naturally, this further impedes the possibility of encountering or creating a good sandwich. What is well known to be "plastic cheese" (ie Kraft Singles) is considered adequate as the "cheese" in a "sandwich" here. I realize that on occasion this occurs in the US as well. People who do this in America, when there is perfectly good real cheese a stone's toss from every point on the map, should be hanged for treason. There are many other elements necessary for a good sandwich but it would require at least a four volume set to fully articulate the art of the sandwich so I will leave this and move on.

Today I wanted to go out but had no specific goals aside from not spending all of Sunday in my apartment. I took the subway to Myeong-dong, which has many eateries, and was seized with the desire for a sandwich. Fast food would not do. I walked and walked. I looked in every bakery advertising sandwiches. A place that had the word "deli" in its title featured no deli foods whatsoever. None.

While in most countries the basic starting point of the sandwich is two pieces of bread, in Korea it is two pieces of bread and a slice of ham. Regardless of other, likely contradictory, elements between the two slices of bread you will see a pink strip in there, jauntily pretending that it belongs. This probably relates to the fact that in Asia, as in German-speaking countries, ham is considered a vegetable. Thusly, if the sandwich earns a piece of lettuce or tomato it also must contain a slice of ham.

Being unable to enjoy a sandwich crushed my ability to fully enjoy anything. It appears that I will not have a sandwich until the end of July at the earliest and that makes me sad. I am aware that chains such as Subway and Quiznos exist in Seoul but I consider what Subway makes to be a pathetic imitation of a sandwich; one whose product would simply be a mealy, flavourless reminder of what I left behind.

So here I am, sandwichless, at the end of the weekend. I'm still in Asia and no amount of drinking or blogging will let me forget it. I'm immersing myself in Battlestar Galactica Season 2 (I still need S1!) to compensate. Frackin' sandwiches.

Saturday, 15 March 2008


Friday, 14 March 2008

I Are Not Drunk

My new hat has amazing properties. By putting it on the wearer instantly appears drunk no matter what. I went out to meet a coworker in the foreigner district at an Irish bar and was given this gratis by a patron of the bar. Another bar in the neighborhood was offering them and numerous guys were filing in looking like abject fools.

I am reminded of the fabulous St. Patty's Day brunch I had last year and sad that I can't do it again.

Tomorrow I have to attend a workshop for all teachers employed by my hagwon chain. It's a 1.5 hour bus ride to the middle of nowhere followed by 5-6 hours of BS "workshops" to help us be better teachers. I know it's BS because they made us "select" which workshops to attend even though none of them had actual descriptions, just two-word alliterative titles. I'm wearing the hat, dammit.

Wednesday, 12 March 2008

Just Look at Him Go for That Chicken...

I had no idea that there was a stereotype about African Americans having a strong affinity for fried chicken until Dave Chappelle informed me. I find that I am generally behind the curve on bigoted and racist shorthand and "facts". A loss, I know.

I mention this because a conversation with EOS when she visited prompted me to say the following: "Asians have a strange relationship with chicken." Em had seen an ad on the subway with a woman indulging in Freudian enjoyment of a fried chicken drumstick and I was reminded of an ad for chicken I had seen in Thailand. In the ad a young man, who has seemingly just been beaten in a fight, is being screamed at by a disappointed father. The viewer (or at least the viewer who does not know Thai) is left with the impression that the son tried his hardest. The son goes home to his apartment...defeated...exhausted...sad...and takes a shower. Meanwhile, his father realizes that he has a good son and, in an expressive act of manly love, leaves a box of fried chicken at his son's door, rings the doorbell, and books it. Love: Say it with chicken.

In Korea, chicken is a separate entity. Meats appear to be generally separated: you go to one kind of restaurant for beef, another for pork and, in particular, chicken has its own domain. I would go so far to say that chicken has its own empire:

Tuesday, 11 March 2008

Immolation is a Girl's Best Friend

We got a new teacher! He's from Canada, eh! This is thrilling because we're always nervous about having enough staff and one of our guys is departing in April so it's nice to have someone in early. The new guy is nice. He's the third Joe to be at work, though, so I'm trying to come up with a non-Joe name. I threw out "Kitten Tits" as a potential nickname and got nowhere...I can't figure it out.

Anyways, we he was meeting some friends in a bar in Nowon (nearby neighborhood) and opened the invitation to people at work. I was generally tempted because I rarely go out during the week, only slightly less rarely on the weekend, and I like to be sociable with the new people and be welcoming. I was specifically tempted when I was told the bar is called "Dragon Bar" and features a fire show.

Oh. Hells. Yes.

It was fabulous. Low key and yet wonderful with a Cocktail inspired booze show, sparklers, fire-breathing, and juggling. This bar also possesses the most ghetto bathroom I've been in since arriving in Korea. Pictures of highlights below (I knew I should have my camera).

As my coworker noted: sometime in the past something deeply disturbing occurred in this bathroom....

Monday, 10 March 2008

Engrish is Everywhere

I'm looking through a free English language magazine oriented towards foreigners. I've been trying to find ways to meet people, socialize, and see more of the city and this magazine has ads and information about where the good places to get drunk are. It also has other information: for example, there's a vegetarian club in Seoul. There's also a lot of Irish culture related stuff that I might well check out. What prompted me to post, though, is the presence of the headings for the personals:
men seeking woman
Whoever she is, she's popular.
woman seeking men

Also: "Language Exhcange" [sic]

Saturday, 1 March 2008

Wardriving at Starbucks!

The curious and often great thing about living in a foreign country, particularly one that doesn't really speak your native tongue and which is further afield than most people travel, is that everything old is new again. My own neighborhood has finally been tamed, its heathen natives civilized, by the addition of a Starbucks (tm). It opened on Friday and apparently they were offering free slices of cheesecake and samples of beverages. I'm not sure if this is revealing or dull but it replaced a KFC. It is so new, in fact, that it still smells like sawdust.

I am now tempted to employ the rhetorical device of asking myself questions because I want to impart a joke but, lack the Laurel to my Hardy as I am alone here. One of the first questions to come up in the chatter at work about the new Starbucks, whispered in the excited tones one might expect from something like "the Johnsons got a new cow and they're gettin' a phone put in!", was whether or not there was a crowd. I, as an American who watched communism and the Berlin wall fall in my youth, expected a crush of Koreans dressed as babushkas waiting outside in lines all along the block. This is not the case now and was not on opening day. Of course, Koreans believe lines to be a kind of formality that is only adhered to in dire circumstances so even if there was some kind of rush to taste Starbucks brand coffee the moment it was locally available, they wouldn't be lining up.

Today I went to Namdaemun market and realized that living here is good training for when I end up in an old folks home. Assuming that social security and related programs to help the aged will have collapsed by the time I am old, it seems that, like retirement accounts, one should be prepared to do battle for limited resources. I am quickly becoming inured to hip-checking old ladies and mowing down anyone under 50 who isn't carrying sharp objects or open containers of food. In my final years on this earth I will have no qualms about using my walker to take down my senile comrades as I rush for the last available bottle of Lipitor in whatever senior citizen facility I end up corralled in.

I went to Namdaemun when I came here in 2000 and it feels as though a lot has changed. Primarily what I noticed is that there are far fewer shops selling traditional Korean garb. I bought a hanbok at Namdaemun eight years ago but the area where I bought it now sells Western-style clothes. It's all old lady Western-style clothes, though. I guess approximately a decade ago women who were middle aged and above still wore traditional clothes and now they all wear hideous pants with elastic waistbands instead. I've actually dubbed a particular type of pants Ajima-pants as they are only found on women of a certain age.

Almost live from Starbucks!