Tuesday, November 30, 2010


everywhere once in a while I decide to carry around a small notebook and document the days happenings. hoping, naturally, that the day would be filled with anecdotes that I could use to describe my experience as a whole.

Unfortunately, today was not one of those days. It was, however, filled with a lot of laughs and fun. I'll quickly go over some of what I remember.

1) JibJab.

I decided it'd be a nice/funny gesture to JibJab some of the teachers I sit next to and eat lunch with. If you are not familiar with this website, it allows you to insert friends/anyone's face into a video and make it seem as though they are performing. It's harder to explain than that. You can check out their website. I doubted Korea might have an equivalent service and I was right. I was also correct in my assumption that they would enjoy it. And LOVE IT they did - we must have watched 5x in a row and then I had to e-mail it around for everyone to keep.

Oh, and we were a Holiday Themed Metal Band. 4 Korean teachers & I. awesome!

2) Homer Simpson.

a student in first period told me he thinks I look like Homer Simpson. This was meant as a compliment. I know - how? I don't know. I've chalked it up to my theory that those who think all Asians look the same works the other way around. Other white people I have told I look like: Justin Timberlake (although "chubby"), Russell Crowe, Wayne Rooney, my dad, Stephen Colbert......

ps - is homer even white???

3) Lunch/Recess

The lunch period at my school goes something like this for the students (all boys). Eat as fast as you can. Play soccer or basketball for the remaining time. The period is 50 minutes long - I'd say each student gets in a good 40 minutes of sport. I call this "recess" naturally - although students did not understand. Anyway, every so often I venture out - to challenge a student in basketball or just to hang with them. The teachers really like it when I do this (at least one told me this) because it makes the students speak English OUT of class. I just want to play sports. Today, I played goalkeeper for a few minutes and got OWNED. Then I played a three-on-three basketball game outside - on a completely wet court and in my work "slippers". so slippery. i still put up some decent numbers, though.

and just to set the scene - the percentages break down to this: 85% of students play soccer, 10% play basketball, 3% watch, 1-1.2% frolic while holding hands/combing each other's hair, <1%>

4) PCbong Dating

Pronounced PeeShee Bong - this refers to the ever ubiquitous Computer Rooms here in Korea. They are EVERYWHERE. Most are large rooms with 20 or more computers, stocked with the latest games and filled with students killing some precious time between their 9.5-hour study sessions. Needless to say, Korean boys LOVE their rooms.

One student in my after-school class, a nice but goofy kid, tends to skip my class with some excuse.

(note: in order to miss my after-school class, students have to run an excuse by me and I have to say OKAY. no one told me this for the first four weeks so everytime a student told me he wanted to go home and rest or go to the hospital for some medicine I said okay, even knowing they were going to the PCBong. They had it SO easy).

I know he is going to the PCroom because every tells me. So, when he does show up, I let him have it. Every joke is about his obsession with the room, the games, etc....I do this one for good fun and two because PCBONG is one of the few korean words I can say flawlessly and they GET my jokes!

Today, I ask Wooks, his "english" name, if he has a girlfriend.

He says yes.

I ask, jokingly, if he takes her on dates to the PC-Room.

In complete seriousness, he says "only once".

Says it as if it's a huge accomplishment on his part to not be tempted to take his girlfriend to a room where she can watch him play videogames.

Now I know there are some girlfriends out there who have spent time watching their boyfriends play video games. I've made mine watch. But to TAKE them there, well that's another thing.

I laughed for a while.

5) Dinner.

I found an awesome galbi (korean BBQ - the glory of which will have to be served by another blog post) place near my house. Not used to megooks (americans) in their place - the waitresses found it necessary to wait on me hand & foot. This included, but was not limited to; cutting my meat (on the grill), pouring my water, adding a pillow under my butt.

I ate too much.

i'd leave you with a quotation or a song or something written, but I think this picture says so much. I just don't know what.


Sunday, November 28, 2010

DMZ & North Korea

this. will. be. lengthy.

prepare yourselves accordingly.

(for instance - if Lindsey decides she wants to read this, Mom, inform her it may well be of "chapter book" length - the prospect of which I hope she is finding less daunting everyday. Tell her I say to keep up the good work.)

For you of ages above 7, here we go.

North Korea attacked a South Korean island (which on a map certainly looks like it should belong to North Korea). This came after the SK army performed military training drills on the island that NK claimed provoked them.

The attack was with an estimated 100 shells and, for a small island, caused quite of destruction. 4 people have been declared dead, 2 soldiers and 2 civilians, and the island was evacuated of civilian presence.

This, if you read any form of American news, you probably know. Now I'll give you the personal perspective you, more or less, asked for by coming to this blog.

First, I will, at length, describe my trip to the DMZ last weekend and then talk about the North Korean attack. If you are only interested in hearing my thoughts on the second of these, skip down to past the picture of me standing on a block and being pointed at by a South Korean soldier.........although merely that description should warrant enough curiosity to at least read a bit of this post.

For me, the attack came with curious timing. The attack was on Wednesday and just 4 days prior, I had made my visit to the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) - the 4kilometer border that separates the two Koreas. It has been estimated to be the most militarized and guarded strip of land in the world and the tour certainly did little to disprove this point.

Everything at the DMZ is hyper-intense. Everything.

Down to when you can and cannot take pictures. Why can't you at certain points? Because they worry that North Korea may happen across your measly Facebook album and discover unknown military checkpoints/bases/locations, etc.

You cannot stray from your tour guide. Not even for one second. You are accounting for while you are in the DMZ. After going "in" you get to explore some things on the south Korean side where you have a bit more freedom and are, thus, more touristy - but I'll get to that.

I paid a little extra money for my DMZ trip. There are several options open for foreigners to take a tour up there. Since I only did one and many of my friends here have not gone yet - I cannot compare the options to know what the extra money bought.....

We left from the USO base in Seoul at 7:30 or so and arrived at the JSA base (Joint Security Area) at around 9pm. In a place called Panmunjong - we first visited the US/South Korean military camp (featuring the world's most dangerous golf course, a one-hole green surrounded by a potentially live mine field).

This is at the 38th parallel, the 2.5 mile WIDE border the divides the two Koreas.

The JSA was (and really still is) the only part of the DMZ that both North & South Korea patrol. It is the only part with buildings and in the middle has sort of a campus that represents the point where the countries come together. Even this, though, is heavily segregated. With buildings having different color roofs and walls to designate as SK/US democracy and NK/.... Communism.

We had a tour guide on the bus - a Korean woman - but when we got to the base we got a new guide JSA in the DMZ . Below is a picture of him (American soldier) and me.

While in the JSA area, we were given strict instructions to follow every order and not stray from the group. We also were forbidden from doing any actions that might either provoke or inspire a North Korean response. In fact, this is the attitude that the South Korean military takes - one of no emotion - because they do not want to elicit any sort of response from their enemy. And according to the stories we were told, the North Korean soldiers LOVE to provoke their neighbors. They have a building that has been called the "monkey house" because soldiers go in there and dance around trying to taunt and tease the ultra-stern South Koreans.

Each soldier wears thick sunglasses and stands with his fists closed.

While in the JSA - we were able to spot a North Korean military man spying on us through his binoculars. This picture isn't great but you can see him. He was maybe 75-100 yards from us at the North Korean main building on the campus.

So we got to go in one of the buildings (where I took the picture with the SK soldier) and I got to step on the North Korean "side" of the JSA - which is pretty much the closest you can get to the country without some crazy propaganda travel visa. It was pretty cool.

But again, the whole scene up there is wrought with the air of tension and seriousness.

This is a picture that has some of the campus in it. The blue buildings are the SK/democracy ones. White ones are communist. The large building in the background is the "headquarters" (I guess you could call it that) building for North Korea. In front of me is the SK equivalent, a nice glass building called "Peace Tower", but we were, for some reason, not permitted to take photographs of it.

After this main part of the JSA, we went to a tall hill and had a great view for miles. Unfortunately, it was a foggy day so the views weren't as good as usual, but still interested. At the certain point we were brought, we were surrounded by North Korea in 3 directions. Just an odd twist in the land but we could see into it. Besides a few guard towers, there was nothing there. Just pristine landscape, nice rolling hills and trees. It was, in short, quite beautiful.

The one thing you did see was a small village with an absolutely, ridiculously enormous flag pole. This has been deemed "Propaganda Village" - because as of a few years ago it had a loud microphone system that would, for all hours of the day, loudly broadcast propaganda touting Kim Jong-Il and North Korea. It also had quite disparaging remarks about South Korea.

Every report has informed South Korean intelligence that Propaganda Village is a faux village. No one lives there. There are houses, storefronts and the works, but it is just for show. They are nice houses too, but for naught. The only people ever seen in the village are people for the raising and lowering of the flag - which is estimated to weight 600 pounds. Yikes.

I'm going to link to a random site for my information on the village/flag and for its pictures because they are a lot better than mine.

and yes, it is considered the tallest flagpole in the world. they told us that it was once very tall but South Korea decided to build a taller one and did. Not to be outdone, North Korea made theirs even taller just to make the statement. Now there are two giant flagpoles facing each other from across the DMZ - sort of symbolically. Also, the NK flag is so large that they cannot put it up during inclimate weather for fear that it will crumble from its own weight in wind or rain.

Our last stop at the JSA was The Bridge of No Return. A crickety-old thing that separates the "sides" of the JSA, the bridge got its name from the end of the Korean War. After the armistice was signed, all the captured POWs and personnel were given the option to cross back to their respective sides, with the distinct resignation that they would NEVER be able to return back. Thus, the moniker. It certainly has a haunting feeling that hangs over it.

korean name: 돌아올 수 없는 다리

From there we left the JSA and said goodbye to our American leader.

We visited the 3rd tunnel next. Sitting safely (I say that, of course, relatively) in South Korea, the 3rd tunnel site has become sort of the touristy focal point of the DMZ.

The history would eponymously (word?) point out that this was the 3rd tunnel in a series of tunnels. And indeed, starting in the 1970s and continuing through the 1990s, South Korea discovered a series of infiltrating underground tunnels coming in from the North. The discoveries were made mostly from information given by detractors. These tunnels all sort of head toward Seoul but from all different directions. North Korea claims, officially, that they were used for "mining" or "resources" but it was/is pretty clear that at one point they were meant for a planned attack.

Anyway, we took a very long descent down and then quickly toward a part of the tunnel itself. It's way down there! And the tour sort of explained how it was found, how it was effectively made useless by South Korea and details of that sort.

As I said, the area has been done up by the local city for tourists. Here's a picture of me with the more-than-half ironic large letters denoted the DMZ area.

At the tunnel is a large theater showing a film about the DMZ and then a museum that discussed various historical points and references. It included a few quarrels that have taken place along the border in the nearly 60 years of its existence.

After the 3rd tunnel we ate lunch and then our last stop was at Dorosan Station. This is a now defunct train station. At one time, though, train travel was allowed through North Korea and so South Korea could connect, by land, to the rest of the Eurasian continent. No longer.

But the station is still preserved how it was and it still features a platform to Pyongyang. That and they have stamps of the old ticket design from Dorosan to the North Korean capital. Pretty interesting.

And that concluded my tour of the DMZ. I took many more pictures - some of which you can find on facebook, some may show up on a google pictures account I make when I get around to it. I've really only detailed the most important parts of the tour and didn't do much with the intangibles of it - feelings, smells, aura, etc. I'll just reiterate how serious the whole affair has become - even if it is a guided tour. The South Korean military takes extra security measures to make sure there are no attacks on tour groups as that might cause a large international outcry and just isn't something they'd want to deal with.

I'll leave you on this picture - of a South Korean soldier telling me I could not take a picture. We were at a second observation place - one with a wide-spanning view into NK. There was a line about 30 feet behind the edge of the observation deck. The line was a photo line and no one was allowed to snap a picture from in front of it. They had binocular stands you could use (if you paid) to peer into the northern country but they couldn't risk you taking pictures. Not realizing the gravity - I grabbed one of the child platforms from the binocular stands and brought it behind the line for a better picture. A serious no-no of which I was alerted by this (actually extremely polite) soldier. His job is to inform tourists they cannot take pictures. All day.

Alright, now North Korea situation.

I will first say that the media has blown this out of proportion. All my friends here have acknowledged this just the same and many have already focused blog posts on it.

CNN, my god.

They ran a story today about how Seoul is in a state of crisis.

Certainly there were some riots. Some bad ones. But to suggest that a city as wide-waisted as Seoul is shut-down or chaotic is to be a fool. I was in Seoul last night - things ran on the usual.

CNN makes it seem as though war may be imminent, that Koreans are clutching rosaries praying for some divine intervention to stop what may be inevitable war.

Sure, war is a possibility. But not a likely one.

(for the record, the BBC has much better coverage)

(of everything)

I've talked to teachers and students. Certainly they are a bit scared about the situation. But they are living their life as they always do. The American media, even before this, seemed content to focus on a sort of haunted feeling that they assumed Koreans must carry with them every second with North Korea so close. They don't. They are happy and advanced people living happy and advanced lives.

They go about their occupations, their relationships and appointments not in a state of chaos/recklessness, they live a life worth living and will continue to.

If anything, from what I gathered, they are just very sad that 4 of their countrymen died in the attack. The 2 soldiers were aged 20 and 22.

(sidenote: within 2 days of the attack, 435 people died in a Cambodian human stampede and 29 miners died in a New Zealand cave. Still, the Korean peninsula got coverage as though these were common occurrences)

(I don't mean to suggest that news volume should be based on death toll but the Am. media seemed almost cold to these catastrophes because the Korea affair made more intriguing coverage)

Anyway, for now, people monitor the situation but keep moving as they'd like. Seoul thrives. The suburbs remain kept.

The Koreans are thankful that the US is standing strongly by them; and for that I am proud of my country. The situation certainly warrants more intervention than the other two wars we are fighting.

(sidenote: new report says that something like 86% of Afghani's do not know about 9/11)

Alright, I'm not going to say much more. I am hopeful that things will subside and return back to the normalcy which I have grown quite fond of these 3 months. If you have questions you can ask me.

Boston.com's Big Picture just did their showcase on the whole affair. It's potentially the best photojournalism site on the internet (professionally) anyway and I've been looking at it since freshman year of college. It gets updated every few days and is quick to cover major stories. Really interesting. Check it out.


a quotation.

"Investigate what IS and not what PLEASES"


Monday, November 22, 2010

Lotte Department Store Adventure

I owe this blog a lengthy post about my recent trip to the DMZ - the zone that separates South Korea from North - but for now, I'm going to relay a quick anecdote that occurred in the last half hour or so.

Near my apartment is the 9-story deluxe department store called Lotte. It has a park on the roof - a whole floors dedicated to top-shelf men's fashion (and one for women). A home/living floor. A floor with restaurants and swanky coffee shop.

This picture isn't the one by me - but it looks very similar - just to give you an idea.

At the bottom is a floor of take-out restaurant booths (a favorite amongst my friends & I.....Lotte Dept Stores and similar ones of its ilk are scattered throughout suburban Seoul and most of my friends' suburbs have something just like it) - and a rather large grocery section.

Since the Mega-store is only a block and a half away - its the closest real grocery store to me. It has also features like 10-15 different types of food so it's nice to go there and get a variety. I try to limit my visits there, if only to avoid the large corporate trap, but also because its quite impersonal and glitzy and just a bit uncomfortable to roll through in a dirty flannel and jeans.

I digress.

I went there tonight.

Lessons learned:

1) Uniqlo ALWAYS has sales. They also ALWAYS have awesome clothes. Be cautious, else you'll come home with 17 different button-up sweater vests and 15 micro-fleeces (pictured below)

2) If you are going to go LeAnn's Bagels - or possible Lotte at all - to grab food, go after 7:30. They are desperate to give away food and the deals are mindbending (this causing me to come home tonight with popcorn chicken, 2 bagel sandwiches and a half dozen onion bagels....all for about $10)

and now, for the best part of my evening.....

As I'm swerving out of the LeAnn's Bagels area - a Korean girl approaches me. She had overheard me speak some English to the bagel lady (who had good enough English to dissuade me from even considering the garlic bagels "ooooo too smelly"...).

We'll call the girl "Relatively Cute Korean Girl" and below is a sampling of our conversation. I'll put my then-present thoughts in italics. (....and for the record, korean girls are very beautiful - the "relatively" here is not cultural/national but rather to the enigmatic and Plutonic concept of "cute".........and yes, i know, i sound like an authorial a-hole saying all that in those terms).

RCKG: Hello! I heard you speak English over there, my name is -----"

hmmm. a relatively cute korean girl.

Me: Ah, my name's Eric nice to meet you.

RCKG: Are you married?

oddly forward yes - but koreans don't waste time with that question.

Me: No.

RCKG: What are you doing in Guri, then?

Me: I am a teacher. Guri Boys High School.

RCKG: Oh, that's great. I am an English teacher too at [insert meaningless Korean school name]

Me: Oh, great. It's terrific to meet you.

[we chat for a little bit. She compliments my eyes, I compliment her bangs]
this is going very smoothly. she is definitely flirting. am i being picked up by a korean chick?

[5-10 minutes pass. I am holding all my food. She laughed at how much I had, even though I insisted I was saving most for the next few days...]

RCKG: Well, I think I should go home now. Can I have your phone number?

yes. awesome.

Me: Sure.

[phone numbers exchanged - without asking she entered my name as "Arrick"]

(note: mom, how did you not thing of that one?)

RCKG: It was very nice to meet you. I very much enjoy talking to American people. I hope to see you soon.

[I nod and smile and return the sentiment]

RCKG: Oh, before I leave, I want to give you something.

hmmm, interesting, a gift already.....this girl is -----





[RCKG pulls something out of her purse]









So there you have it. Just when it looks like someone is kind of into you, turns out they're FAR more into God.


Saturday, November 20, 2010

after school names part 2

My first round of afterschool classes finished last week with an exciting day of trading in their earned class points for Chicago souvenirs and Korean snacks/candies. Fun day.

Gave away my Michael Jordan jersey to the top points earner. The jersey was an "imitation" as the kids called it (not knowing that a real MJ jersey goes for hundreds in the states) and I had gotten it in Itaewon (the "international part of Seoul - which is to say it's for English speakers) for about $25 bucks. The kids were impressed I was giving it away. The teachers were impressed I was giving it away. But I had realized a while ago that I got paid more for one after school class than the jersey. I'll get another one soon. I'll have to take a picture of the jersey shops there - cool "retro" ones.

anyway, so my new round of after school class started with many new students. As now is my tradition, I asked the kids to pick English names. I gave them three options:

1) English-size your Korean name: so one could be Park Joon Woo

2) Pick a famous persons name: so one coul be Ronaldo or Obama

3) Pick any random English name you know: so one could be Steven or John

Here, listed, are the names my students picked.

Hot Cheol
Mu Mu
Chicken Mu
Bong Bong
Jic So
New Chim


Puck - see: Shakespeare, William "A Midsummer Night's Dream"

Desouphe - pronounced "day-sue-fay".....french word for something???

Smobs - ????

Lie - has no idea the English translation of that word

Muscle - skinniest kid in the class. and note, it's not "muscles" just a singular, one muscle

Jose - when I told him that this was a common Mexican name, spelled with an accent, he was upset. He wanted me to confirm that his name was American and not Mexican.

Reges - pronounced more like "reggae" than "regis" but I still haven't gotten it completely how he wants it.


Thursday, November 18, 2010

health care

i wanted to make an entry about my sick day. it's coming a week late.

so last wednesday I took my first sick day. I had no idea what to expect. Supposedly we get something like 10 or 12 sick days while we are here. However, it was made well known that the Korean "sick day" is not standard.

for one, korean teachers almost NEVER take sick days. their job dedication leads them to come to school whether snot rains from their noise or not. anything short of decrippling SARS, they are showing up for classes.

this is in conjuction with the idea their national idea that korean people hardly get sick. thanks to the "miracle" of kimchi - they are loaded on nutriets all the time. and if they do feel the slightest pollutant of disease creeping toward them - off to the hospital for a shot in the bum. i envy them.

anyway, by the end of school tuesday it was pretty clear that i was not feeling well. my co-teacher gave me a few packets of cough drops, full of some chemicalized name I had never heard but she insisted was good for battling coughs and colds.

wednesday I woke up and wasn't feeling great. could i have gone to school? sure. would i have been miserable there? absolutely.

i called my co-teachers cell. she was worried. i promised her i'd go to the hospital later (note: their non-emergency doctors are located at the hospital as well as ICU's and the works. every "doctor's office" is a hospital).

I slept until about noon. Then I went to the hospital.

Now, I had been waiting for the day where I would get sick and need to cash in on my FREE, GOVERNMENT-SPONSORED health care because well, the United States could use the taunting. don't get me wrong, this way was MUCH preferable to the US but it wasn't as easy as going in and telling them my throat hurt and taking home some AFFORDABLE medicine.

i went in, after a bit of confusion and walking around, I found a "guide" of sorts, one who spoke enough English to take me where I needed. I paid about $7 for a hospital membership card (one-time cost), saw a throat doctor who said I had "tonsilitis" about as casually as you would inform someone that their hat looked nice, and then paid $9.50 for my medicine. the whole endeavor took about 35 minutes.

now, 2 factors proabably made this longer than it could have been:

1) I don't speak Korean.
2) I went to the biggest hospital in Guri, my city. It's the closest (or one of) to my house and the only one I had been to before (for my pre-work physical and drug test). A smaller hospital would have been more easy to traverse and might have made the interactions quicker. Couldn't say for sure though.

Now, what medicine did $9.50 buy me?

1) 150 pills. 5 pills 3x a day for 10 days. 150 pills. For a sore throat. 150 pills. No explanation of what any of them do. 150 pills. All 5 different colors, sizes and shapes. 150 pills. What did they give you for typhoid fever - a four-course meal of medication?

2) black liquid to be mixed with water, gurgled and spit out. tastes like M&M's. If M&M's were soaked in acid, dragged through mud and had already done a once-through your family pet. Yikes.

The sweetest part? At 4:00pm, when the school day ended, 3 teachers from my school came over with food for me: a huge tub of pouridge, 15 tangerines, a box of cereal, chocolate cake snacks, 2 giant pears, a little kimchi, and cheesy spam.

I'll have to talk about spam some other time. some of you know. some of you don't. it's got a whoooooole different cultural effect here than in the U.S.

anyway, the teachers had pooled money together to get me some food to feel better. very sweet. i really have a great staff at my school.

well, that was my sick day.

what i'm listening to (and you should be too):

Elizabeth & The Catapult - Everybody Knows

(leonard cohen cover).......(nevermind the video, it's an interesting concept, but ehhhhhh)

"i dream of giving birth to a child who will ask, "Mother, what was war?"

- poet Eve Merriam


Tuesday, November 16, 2010


of late, these compliments have stayed in my mind for their hilarity:

- earlier today, during my first class, a student mumbled some korean for a while. the teacher in the room translated this to "he says you're concept of appearance if special." I asked if this meant "style" and she not quite and we moved on.

- the teachers at the lunch table unanimously agreed that I looked like a "physics doctor". Of this, I could not gauge if that meant "physicist" or "medical doctor (one who might study physicality)"......to no avail.

- four korean girls guessed my age at 32 this weekend. to be fair, 32 in korea is 31 in america. but really?

(i do have a two and a half week beard growing, which I'm sure is at the root of many of these "compliments" (all 3 were meant as compliments in their own ways).


Monday, November 15, 2010


just finished reading East of Eden and I could write a novel as good if I were given all the years ahead of me. i suppose we'll see.

this weekend I picked up a book on Korean Slang and old Korean Folk Tales so I should have some interesting things to report - on the literary front, anyway, soon.

"when a child first catches adults out - when it first walks into his grave little head that adults do not have divine intelligence, that their judgments are not always wise, their thinking true, their sentences just - his worlds fall into panic and desolation. The gods are fallen and all safety gone. And there is one sure thing about the fall of gods: they do not fall a little; they crash and shatter or sink deeply into green muck. It is a tedious job to build them up again; they never quite shine. And the child's world is never quite whole again. It is an aching kind of growing."

- Steinbeck (bolding is mine; E.G.)

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

this little ajumma goes to hongdae

as i've told some of you - the popularity I incurred during school on Friday was nothing compared to amount of attention my friends and I got on Saturday night.

I have to thank my friend Quinn before anything else, for his genius brainstorming and coming up with the idea of a collective group of ajummas doning the moniker "ajummania". excellent work pal.

and before I tell the story, Hongdae = the are around Hongik University, a large and top-rated art school in Seoul. It has become a major area of partying and night clubs, as well as interesting art boutiques and coffee houses. Obviously, one gets more attention under the moon.

so, even despite the success of my costume at school on friday, we were all a bit apprehensive about bringing 8 ajummas out into the public. Again, I reiterate, KOREANS DO NOT CELEBRATE HALLOWEEN. And even though Hongdae has its fair share of foreigners, and several bars/clubs having halloween parties - the majority of the area's onlookers were koreans. non-costumed koreans.

so we worried about how we might be taken to.

up top I've included a picture of us getting ready. at that point, we had the laughter of each other to share but no idea if we would be laughed AT or WITH or illicit any reaction at all.

turns out, we had nothing to worry about.

quinn, mo and I stepped out of the hostel first. we had on full garb. we were just going to the convenience store down the street to stock up on Soju *** (see future post) *** and come back to the hostel to continue drinking before we went out.

It was immediate. Like a comet had crashed in hongdae still flaming and had three interesting aliens riding on its top. pictures were taken within seconds. groups of koreans around us. we started posing. we started taking it in. we became celebrities within a second.

we called our friends. "no way we're coming back - it's all grand out here - you come meet us" we said.

(you can drink on the streets here. as we did)

the rest of our group came. we sat on a storefront stoop all together. some of us drank. some of us posed for pictures with the various groups that passed by. koreans LOVED the costumes, loved that we embraced part of their culture. loved the attitude we brought with it.

i must have posed for 100 pictures that night. and smiled radioactively in each one. ear-to-ear.

it rivaled a many Madison Halloween nights just for sheer randomness. who knew we'd be such a hit. and not just a hit, but a HIT.

that was just the first part of the evening. the rest was more a blur but featured: dancing on a stage at the front of a club after being kicked off a half dozen times, noraebonging *** (see future post) *** as a group of ajummas, silent disco (everyone dances with just headphones in their eyes, no music played out loud just binaural solitutude)......

alright i'll wrap this up.

Bruce Springsteen - City At Night

(from Darkness On The Edge of Town sessions)

tell me that this doesn't have a wonderful tint of Lou Reed in it. guitar first, vocal style second.

and i'll finish with a quotation.......

"laughter is a fife-and-drum flourish"

-malcolm de chazal


Friday, November 5, 2010

this ajumma goes to school

okay. so i need to tell about halloween. but im going to have to do it in parts.

this post will be about school on friday.

i made the mistake early on of promising my kids that I would wear a costume to school the Friday before Halloween. I did this because I had to teach them the word "costume" and it always just seem to filter in my teaching.

So I prepared by going shopping at Seoul's largest clothing market - an ajumma paradise. For those I have not told already an "ajumma" is a korean grandmother/ old lady. They have a distinct style of clothing that includes, but is not limited to, gloves, sun visor, flower-patterened shirt, vest....

i got most of the essentials. as you can see. enough to confidently be an ajumma.

so friday started approaching and I began to grow more nervous. No one else would be dressing up - as Koreans don't celebrate Halloween. Chances are, before Friday, most of the teachers had never heard of it. Would I be laughed at? Ridiculed? Would I offend the older ladies at my school - some only a small step away from ajumma status themselves?

With some prying by my co-teacher, who had been excited about the idea ever since I told her a week before, I came to school Friday morning with my costume in a bag. I got there early and so did my co-teacher (who awesomely dressed up as a witch to maybe not make me feel so alone in my endeavor - or maybe because she's totally in to Western tomfoolery) and I threw the ajumma on.

The reaction was instantaneous. All my fears and worries were for naught. The costume was a MAJOR success. Everyone in the room loved it. Everyone that came in the room loved it. I took pictures with most of the teachers, and if not with, then they took a picture of me because they were too embarassed to be a part of my happening.

I had told students they could come trick or treat at my desk if they could remember the old rhyme (trick or treat/smell my feet/give me something good to eat/........and for the advanced students the "if you don't/i don't care/ i'll pull down your underwear" part earned you extra candy), so students were in and out of the office all day. They loved it. Some called me Mrs. Eric for the day and got a huge kick out of it.

I scored major points with the teachers for it. And of course with the students too - many of whom begged for a five minute slot at teh end of class to take pictures of me. So i stood there as htey all took their cell phones out of their pockets and shot away. Some took pics with me. I'll post one or two of those.

So, yeah, the ajumma at school was a total success and I'm glad I was convinced to do it.

Lastly, and maybe most surprisingly - on Tuesday after the weekend I came to school to find a small box on my desk. No note. I opened it and it was a small mug that said "Happy Eric" twice on it with big painted hearts. No idea who it was from. Asked my co-teacher and the women that sit around me and nothing. Found out hours later it was from the art teacher who told my co-teacher that my costume had given her so much laughter she wanted to repay with a mug. She was embarassed about it all though so when I thanked her she practically hid from me.

also, for anyone keeping score at home. the top picture features (from left to right): Bong Bong, Ferdi and Ace. awesome guys. the best students in my after school class.



got my first experience in pick-up basketball today after school. i had to stay around for some Guri High School recruiting assembly (for parents of incoming high-schoolers) so I had some time to kill

game : 3 on 3

baskets made: 11 (they counted for me)

times called "kobe bryant": 11

yes, after each time i scored.


Monday, November 1, 2010

ajumma fame!

there's much more to come about halloween, but let this serve as an introduction. credits to Olivia Darmali for the photograph.


over the last week, I've learned that Koreans use different noises to refer to:

a dog barking: something that sounded like "womb womb"

a cat's call : "yeow"

a heartbeat: "chung, chung"

and Beethoven's "Fur Elise" is recognizable to most of the student population due to the fact that many Korean automobiles made before 10 years ago would play the song as that car reversed. If the song is played, the kids all make motions as if turning a steering wheel. Odd.

Their doorbell noise is not the "ding dong" we are used to, but I can't exactly describe what theirs is. More complex.

what i'm listening to:

Lenka - Gravity Rides Everything

what you should be listening to:

The Libertines - Don't Look Back Into The Sun

"all angels bring terror" - rilke

a glass of papaya juice
and back to work. My heart is in my