Friday, April 22, 2011

Friday April 8

Friday was my friend Joanna's birthday. We got dinner to celebrate and had some drinks at a local noraebong (singing room) and sang our little hearts out - and although the group wanted to get a good rest (most of them were going on a bike trip in the southern part of Korea), we ended up walking some Seoul streets late into the evening.

Of course, we were in the one part of the city that you CANNOT get a cab late at night and the group had to abandon the plan to go to and sleep at a recommended jimjilbong (a large sauna/bath house). They tried to find another one. A closer one. Meanwhile, with my friend Quinn having to get up at about 6am and my not having anything to do - the two of us decided to pass some late hours with one of our favorite Korean past times - screen golf.

After searching for a bit - we had to call Seoul's English Help Line and they instructed us how to get to the nearest 24-hour golf zone. This also proves how valuable a service they provide...

We ordered some jajamyeon to our room (it's like a noodle dish in this dark black bean sauce - it's their "chinese food" and it's very popular here) and golfed. We left the 24-hour golf place around 6 or so and since it was so late I was able to take the subway home with the other zombies and the other people that were actually working that early on a saturday and got some rest.

Saturday April 9

Woke up somewhere in early afternoon and called some friends. Our plan was to go to the Seoul Racecourse (horse racing) sometime in the afternoon and so we met there. The race track was large, and in typical Korean style, was nice, large and surrounded on all sides with awkward English.

I'll throw a picture up so there's something nice to look at here. There's a pretty great city-view just over the course's bend.

Anyway, we stayed at the track for a few hours. We learned how to bet on the races with the Korean scoring card and a couple of us actually won. I came out down about 5 bucks but I won a few races and it was certainly worth it (entrance ticket was about 75 cents USD). It was a beautiful early Spring day and we were surrounded by cigarette-smoking Korean men who, depending on the race and the horses, were either mad enough to throw down their cards, curse in mangled Korean and spit everywhere or jump with great joy and hug anyone around. Noticeably absent were their wife and kids - although there was a large park in the middle of the racecourse - and we suspect they might have all gone there.

Koreans aren't allowed in their own country's casinos, so this may be the only place they can get the gambling going.

After the track we got some sushi in the city and were pretty exhausted. We found a DVDbong nearby, which I haven't explained is just a place that has rooms where you can rent movies and watch them. They have large selections of American and Korean movies and the small group I was with chose The Girl Next Door figuring it'd be familiar and we'd be fall asleep pretty easily. Not so. The three of us stayed glued to the movie and watched the whole thing. The room was nothing more than a very large bed and an even larger (relatively) television.

We went to my friend Nate's cousins open-mic night at a bar and listened to some cool freestyle music and hip-hop and drank some beer. Met up with some other friends and had a late night, but a fun night seeing some new places out in Itaewon.

Sunday April 10

Sunday I slept in and woke up and got some lunch with people around my town. A really good bulgogi galbi place (a combination of two good Korean things) and some great kimchi chegae (a spicy kimchi-based soup) and hung around and spent the day relaxing and eating more. Enjoying each other's company. Somewhere around 8 or 9pm we got a bit restless and someone, probably me but I don't remember, brought up the fact that there was a casino only 10 minutes away by car.

Two friends and I went. We stayed for a few hours. Drank free beer. Unfortunately, my two friends lost a little bit of money. I, on the other hand, came out with one of my best nights ever and take home more than a few hundred dollars. Cheers!

Got home a bit late, after have some celebration drinks and braved the cruel and cold world that is Monday at any school in the world.

Here's a pic of the casino we went to....

In other news I finally booked my ticket for my May mini-vacation. Doing SHANGHAI for a day and a half and HONG KONG for 3 days!! very, very excited. will tell more as that approaches.


Wednesday, April 13, 2011

April Update #1

I've been terrible with this thing lately. Not that this thing - this blog - is fragile, it will still be here even if I neglect it. I should just remind myself to get to writing some things down here once in a while.

And so, in an effort not to lose my place, I'm just going to go through April chronologically - with some small memories of things as they've happened.

I'll start with April 5.

April 5 Tuesday

- my friend Quinn and I decided we wanted to take a bit of a break from the work week and each took a sick day on Tuesday. This just happened (funny how these things work out so perfectly aint it?) to coincide with the college basketball championship game. I crashed at this place and we woke up in the morning to watch the game with some Korean "fast food" (rice dishes and noodle soups) in our laps. The game was awful - anyone that watched it can tell you that - but we weren't discouraged.

It was the first beautiful Spring day in a while and so we got his frisbee and headed into the city to find Seoul Forest - a sprawling park, nature reserve and everything in between in the heart of the city. (as a fun aside, the SF's website says something like "New York has Central Park, London has Hyde Seoul has Seoul Forest - - - - - it didn't quite live up).

The place WAS pretty cool though. Very large, very flat and flanked on every side by tall buildings and reminders of a city of 10 million people. We found a large plot of land taht no one seemed to want to go on and through the frisbee around for an hour or so. The first signals of Spring.

After Frisbee we got some ice cream and ventured over the "Sports Area". It had a riding track for equestrians, which we watched and then a series of courts for all different sports.

We chose Croquet. We wanted to learn how to play and there were plenty of 65-year-old-plus people loitering about to show us. By the way, if this isn't sounding like the Korean Version of "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" I can assure you it felt like it to us.

Through great patience on the part of students and teachers - we started to get the hang of the game. After a half hour or so, we had most of it down.

It should come as a doubt to no one that Koreans that play croquet take that playing seriously. The main man teaching us the game had an electric device on his armband that not only timed our game but also kept track of each ball. Those sitting on the sidelines, watching, were drinking rice wine (makkeoli) and eating kimchi and Quinn and I were invited and insisted to partake in both activities. We obliged happily.

After the Croquet match we found ourselves at the basketball courts and haphazardly begged a few young teenage kids to play us in a game. They were ecstatic to play white people. We played. Quinn and I both came out feeling pretty proud - until we reminded ourselves that we played against 14 year olds.

Later we got hamburgers and beer. We each bought a cheap jersey in Itaewon. Then we met some friends for good dumplings and noodle soup and some more beer.

Somewhere around there we both made executive decisions to take sick day #2 the next day. Not to hang - but to actually take a sick day. It's good we did - both of us got pretty ill. It was probably the rush of spring air - or just the exhausting day of sports with the young and the old.

No pictures unfortunately, but we're headed back to Seoul Forest this weekend for Quinn's birthday so I'll try to snap a few.

April 6 Wednesday

Sick day. Ran a few errands. Chilled.

April 7 Thursday

First day back after 2 days missing. Each student I saw told me he was worried. The other teachers gave me new tea - I was implored to eat more kimchi. Noted.

One school story...........I was doing a mini-unit on company names - some companies with English names that they wear or know and have no idea what they mean. Adidas got brought up. I told them the history. Then I happened to mention that growing up I had heard once, incorrectly, that Adidas stood for All Day I Dream About Sports (an acronym) and that we, jokingly, had a changed that last word into another "S" word that can occupy young men's minds as much as sports. The co-teacher laughed. One or two of the brighter students laughed. The ones that didn't spent a minute guessing "S" words (I didn't tell them - nor say the word explicitly), and right before I cut it off - one student just yells out "SOAP!" to which I burst out laughing and my co-teacher too - perhaps because neither of us could figure out how he came up with "soap" as his first guess.

Also, two students though KFC stood for "Korean Famous Chicken" . I think I ruined their lives.

Thursday night I stayed out later than I should have with friends around town. That's all you need to know about that. It didn't matter though - being hungover and tired (only a little, mom, i promise) went along well with the fact that everyone assumed I was sick.

AND I'll give the weekend it's own new post. I'll stop there.


"They sicken of the calm, who knew the storm"
- Dorothy Parker

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Teacher Retreat

A few weeks ago, my new co-teacher, (who wants me to call her Hong-O, because that what a barista once in San Francisco wrote on her coffee ticket. she's cool though - her self-designated "ideal man" was Billy Corgan), tells me that I'm going on a retreat with the entirety of the first grade and all 16 homeroom teachers (my whole office and the office down the hall).

We went to YongPyong - the same place that I went skiing at a few months back. Since ski season is over in Korea, and I knew YongPyong stays open all year for nature exploration, spas, and golf - I figured this would be an intensive outdoor retreat.

Originally thinking it was for a weekend, I got the good fortune - only days before we left- that it was going to be from Wednesday to Friday. No teaching. No work. Sitting back in the mountains. What could be better?

Tuesday, the eve of the trip, I am handed my schedule for the next three days. It is one piece of paper written all in Korean. Over almost everything are big red X marks and the only things not highlighted are the once a day slots for "Lunch" and "Dinner" and on Thursday one time slot says "Waterpark"

So on Wednesday morning I put on my gym shoes and my old, worn, rusted, crude Wisconsin Badgers 1999 Rose Bowl sweater and make the walk to school with a backpack on. All new experiences. I board bus 7 with my co-teacher and her homeroom class and we start making the trip for YongPyong.

Perk #1 about being a teacher in Korean - All the kids bring snacks. All of them. The three hour bus ride was something like a mobile Last Supper if Jesus only ate crackers, chips and chocolate bars. As a teacher, not only do I get a piece of any bar, bag or stick I want, I am actively offered it. They insist that I eat their snack. Perhaps they want praise for their (parents') trip to the Family Mart to pick them up that Ghana Chocolate Bar. I don't know. Either way, the first hour was more or less going through a stockpile of different Korean snacks and giving them a try.

Then I passed out. Woke up as we pulled into the resort.

YongPyong Mega-Resort. They have everything there. Noraebong (Karoake Room), Bowling Alley, Restaurants (tons of 'em), PC Room, Lotteria (fast food place), Ski Lodge, Four Hotels, Golf Course, Ski Slopes......etc, etc, etc.


All of it. Closed.

Wait, no.

That's not true.

Not everything.

The PC room was open.

Thank God Of Kimchi.

The resort was dead. It was too warm to ski and too cold to walk around or do any of the outdoor activities. I'm guessing my school got a nice deal for going this weekend - because it seems like they shelled out a pretty penny for it. Everything was paid for - I didn't spend a dime my whole time at the getaway. No one else did either. Not that there was really anything to spend money on. Minus the computer games.

So, we go to our rooms. Last time I went to YongPyong, 12 of us Americans piled into one small room - slept next to one another on the floor.

This time? Villa.

Perk #2.

We had a kitchen, a living room, a dining room (sort of), two bedrooms, two decks/patios and a view of some nice mountains in the background. It was a small hike from the main lodge (where we ate all of our meals) but nothing bad.

I roomed with the 5 guys (of the 17 total homeroom teachers) and the remaining women all split two villas between them.

The First Day

After lunch - we came back to our villa. One teacher - the youngest of the group - had brought his guitar and immediately started to jam out some acoustic Korean tunes. He knew some American songs too. He encouraged me to sing along. I didn't until I got drunk later. He had no problem singing to his own strumming though. His favorite American group was Mr. Big. They sing "To Be With You" from 1991. You know it. Believe me, you know it.

We sat around for a few hours doing nothing. One of the guys played some Starcraft game (i actually don't know what starcraft looks like) on his phone. Another guy wore this white goggles which made him look like a cross between Mr. Incredible and Kurt Rambis. I'll put a pic up.

Sometime around 4 or 5pm, while I was drifting in and out of a nap, the group told me (in the best English that they could) that we were going to the girls' apartment. "For what?" I asked curiously. "Drinking," they said. And away we went.

The school had been so gracious as to purchase the teachers an absolutely riveting amount of alcohol and food (including tomatoes and strawberries which are not cheap here). The equivalent of three soju bottles per person was brought for the three days. One teacher told us this sadly. It was more than enough. There were plenty of six-packs of (awful) Korean beer around too. This led to most people mixing the beer and soju togehter to make "So-meg". and by most people I mean the men. Many of the women did not drink.

And so we sat, segregated by sex (like we were in middle school) - the guys on one side of the circle and the girls on the other (i was next to my co-teacher, a woman, so i sat at the end of the men), drinking and making conversation with the person next to us.

every so often, a person would reach for a tomato.or a cashew. or dried squid. or one of these walnut bread balls that are so freaking delicious it's crazy.

some people were drunk by dinner.

after dinner, we drank more. the bro taht played guitar played guitar. the bro that played on his phone played on his phone. i mingled with some teachers. four more teachers had driven (2.5 hours) to the resort to keep us company and the three that weren't the DD got wasted and shared their life stories with me. One was a DJ - he loves Roy Orbison and humored me by singing a bit of "Only The Lonely" in his deep Korean voice. So awesome.

We passed out sometime around midnight. I hope I didn't say anything stupid - but even if I did, only a few people there would have understood. Perk #3.

I slept on the couch. Perk #4. the Korean teachers slept on the floor. they do this. all of them. it's actually pretty comfortable. and the rooms come with large comforters and sleeping bag type sacks.

i woke up sweating several times in the night. i took off some layers. i went to teh bathroom. i saw the thermostat. 26Celsius. I do the math fast. 78F. No, wait, that can't be right. IT was. 78 degrees.

I like to sleep in the cold. I've met people who like it colder - but on average I think I'm a sleep-in-the-cold kind of guy. 78? Noooo.

The Second Day

I went back to bed, afraid to change anything. I was woken up. "Breakfast," one teacher said. "We go eat."

They were all ready to leave. They woke me up at the last second. I put on the layers I had taken off. My hair was in seven directions. I'm as hungover as a hippo (does that work? it does now)

we eat breakfast. rice, kimchi, soup. same as lunch. same as dinner. yongypong food suuucked. we ate at the general lodge and all the kids ate there too and so we had what was essentially the equivalent of cafeteria food. except i like our cafeteria. didn't care much for this.

after breakfast, we come back to the villa. The teachers ask "Gondola?" and I say yes. Apparently, the gondola for the ski mountain was still running and you could go up and its a great view.

We walk. A few of them carry small bags. I don't know why. We don't turn for the gondola. We go inside a building. We into the spa. "Gondola?"I ask innocently. "First, sauna" one says.

Korean saunas. They're called jimjilbongs and involve quite a bit of nakedness. The other teachers stripped down. The little bags they wer ecarrying were their shower things. I strip down. We go in. It's a bunch of showers and 4 different pools - with different temperatures and one steam room. I go into the 37C one. Theres a 41C, a 50C and a 20C. I spend most of my time in there. The korean teachers go in and out of one or the other. We don't talk.

One time, as I get up to move, out of the pool. One teacher smiles nicely and says, "oooh, eric, nice-uh shape."

"Thanks," I say, laughing.

Other men in the room do pushups and exercises and then dip into the cold pool. Many men shower. We stay for a while. Eventually Ive had enough - it's tooo f'n hot and i dont know how long they are going to stay. I shower and go back in.

The proper manners at jimjilbongs deserve their own post. So i won't go much into them - but there is a proper way to act in there. Again, involving quite a bit of nudity and with no reserve for any one around you.

It did cure my hangover, though. Knocked that sucker right back into yesterday, what with all the sweat and everything.

After the sauna, we went back to the room for like 30 minutes. I passed out. One teacher did indeed take me up to the gondola and I passed out there too. We ate lunch.

Next, the waterpark.

I had told the other teachers that I wanted to go in. They didn't. Crazy, right?

But I had forgot my swimsuit. We tried to rent one for me. All they had were very, very, very tight and very, very, very short suits. "That's alright," I said. I looked into the park. ALL the students wore life jackets (required), they also all wore their shirts (not sure why). Half of the waterpark's slides were closed. The teachers got dippin' dots and chilled.

We went back. Hung. I passed out. We had dinner.

After dinner was the ending festivals. This was more or less a talent show where student/student groups could volunteer to go on stage and sing and dance. They generally just went up to make fools of themselves. A few sang well. The workers at YongPyong had some games too - one that involved a poor Korean girl smelling the students' socks to pick which smelled worst. Dozens volunteered to try out. The winners were a group of guys that danced around to a KPop song and ended it by taking their shirts off and wrestling. They won 40 dollars to the big cinema chain here. They nearly wept with joy.

Later, the teachers got together again with the girls for drinking. This time we had soups and raw fish (called "huey") for an extra meal

Got drunk. Talked with the other drunk teachers.

Woke up the next day terribly hung over once more and got my stuff together and we left. I got back to school sometime around 4:30 or 5pm and went to get dinner for my friend Nate's birthday but couldn't do much more than that. Too tired. Went home and passed out. And, like that, it was over.