June 24, 2010

...learn from these streets... accept no defeat, surrender, retreat... just like a wavin flag (pt. III)

The following takes place between 2:00am and 6:30am…

Following a short nap, and an energy drink I sleepily entered a cab with two other coworkers destined for City Hall. I actually had a dream that no one was there, that it was indeed too early and people weren’t that soccer mad in this country. Well I was wrong. The police shut down the streets around City Hall, and there were easily more people surrounding the plaza than my last visit. The differences don’t stop there however.

First it was not raining; the weather was everything you could dreamed of considering the hour. I feel the weather was an important factor for the second reason. The Koreans were mostly sitting down. The plaza and surrounding streets was occupied by a sitting army of red horns. The perimeter of this was jammed, as people shoved their way past each other. In the middle, they sat, not flinching, not wavering, and staring contently at the giant screens. I was REALLY confused, why were they sitting? I didn’t get it. This was a huge game; the energy around city hall was easily enough to make you forget that it was 3:00am. Music was blaring, people were cheering, singing, drinking. Most of the participants just happened to be on the ground.

It was the most bizarre form of riot control I’ve ever seen. The people sitting down refused to budge, they sat their ground. While the people standing were almost crushed by the sheer number of people attempting find a place to watch the game. It was as if the people sitting created a wall, no matter how much people wanted to move past them, they never did..

As we tried to meet up with a friend on the grounds we chose to walk through the sitting army. Few Koreans were attempting this strategy, another thing that confused me, I figured why not? I learned at a young age never to hit a wall straight on. I pissed off COUNTLESS Koreans in my attempt to cross the void. People had picnics set up! I stepped on a roasted chicken, I almost went ass over teakettle stepping on mustard. I even had, well I’m what I’m assuming was beer thrown on me at one point. Some Koreans brought mats to cushion the asphalt roadways (smart), and then took off their shoes so they wouldn’t get their mat dirty. I didn’t become aware of this untill after I stepped on a pair of high heels. Needles to say people were disgusted at the tall slender weigook. I was kind of disgusted that they would cheer on their nation from the ground. I figure we were equal.

I assumed when the game started people would stand up, and we could slide through the crowd easier. But when are assumptions ever right? Some people stood for the Korean national anthem, and we made our move, zigzagging easier through the crowds, however when the anthem ended they returned to their mats. Our small group of three was left stranded in the sea of sitting blinking red horns.

Some Koreans made some room for us to sit, although it was really only enough room for a Korean sized body to sit. My knees were at my chest, Sparta felt her pant leg become wet as she sat on something. The first half was great! The first Korean goal was better; the crowd erupted into cheer, and abandoned their mats to celebrate. I was jumping along with the crowd to cheer, and to return the blood flow to my legs. At the half we called our friend and finally met up with her. There was MUCH more room to sit where she was.

I had a thought while sitting and watching the game. Sitting is the great equalizer. I lose my height advantage over the tiny Koreans when we are both sitting down. It’s something I’ve yet to experience here. I had had to peer between the heads of Koreans to check out the screens, and some Koreans have pretty big heads (that’s not racist, that’s an observation). I found this difficult considering how easily I could see over the crowd my first time at City Hall.

The rest of the match they say is history. The game ended in a 2-2 draw and Korea was able to advance to the round of 16. It seems another visit to City Hall will take place on Saturday. I can only hope that crowd will be a little more excitable and spend more of the match standing. It also seems that you will be privy to a fourth installment of this little series.

June 22, 2010

you are very attractive...potato mandu

One of the foods I've decided I miss the most are perogies. It’s not like I ate them very often, perhaps once every couple of months. Yet I found myself on a mission to find some last week. I set forth and scoured the internet in search of those little dumplings of potato happiness. The search hardly yielded a batch of contenders. It simply provided one sole institution, Happidus Pub.

From what I could find in my research Happidus Pub was in Anyang City. Anyang City is a satellite city of Seoul about an hour away by train from Gusan station. I made is my mission on Sunday to visit this pub, and to eat their perogies.

I didn’t want my day to solely revolve around perogies, so further researched revealed that the Seoul Horse Track was nearby, It was on the same train line as Happidus Pub. It seemed to fit, horses and perogies, it had a definite European flare to it.

The horses were... well horses. I have never seen a horse race before. Well that’s kind of a lie, I did go to the trots with my grandparents a couple of years back. That was interesting; I’d love to see a speed walking 100 meter race. I think the two are comparable. It’s all about the form and you can’t fully break out on the final stretch. Anywho, these horses seemed small, I’ve never seen horse races before (said before), they could have been the right size I don’t know, but they appeared small. They ran their little hearts out despite that fact. Complete with an average sized Korean on their backs, it must be really easy to be a jockey here, they don’t need to find midgets.

Finally once the races were over, it was time for the main event. Okay wow that sounds like i was going to a boxing match.. um. This was not the case. It was about 5.30 when we arrived in Anyang and strolled down the main piazza, or blvd. The street was Europe meets Asia, there was a big blvd, with lots of shops, trees, and a couple fountains. Then the Asian influence, every building was 5 stories high with nothing but neon signs with names of the hundred or so different pubs/bars/restaurants found encapsulated within. The food industry calls that kind of culture mixing, fusion cuisine, in korea they call it Rodeo Street, Anyang City. I call it interesting...

The rest of the night… well…was a traffic accident. We arrived just after 5.30 to find out Happidus was closed, it didn’t open till 6.30 (speed bump #1). That really was not a problem, it allowed for more strolling of Anyang. At 6.40 we walked in, it was a super cool little bar, actually made cool with the blaring AC. Beer was ordered, and more importantly perogies were ordered. At about ten after seven the waitress came to inform that the kitchen was not open for another two hours. DAMN…. The question then became, should we stay or should we go (now)? (yes, read that and think of the song). Since perogies were the goal, I could wait, and wait we did (speed bump #2). The bar was awesome, it was playing concert DVDs on a projector. When we arrived they were playing Coldplay Live in Japan, followed by Ray Charles Live at Montreaux. This was a semi reminder of home, my father has a love for concert DVDs, and a love for playing them. After Ray Charles had performed a couple songs the owner of the bar stopped by and relayed VERY unfortunate news. They were sold out of perogies…… my heart sank, I endured two speed bumps to hit a wall.

The mission failed, no perogies: dumplings of potato happiness, potato mandu (mandu is a korean dumpling, i've tried to explain to a couple koreans what perogies are, and potato mandu is the best way to achieve this). To say that i was disappointed was an understatement. I was SO excited for them, the perogies at Happidus are hand made, the picture at the top of the article is of their perogies. I really didn't feel like eating anything else at Happidus. I planned the day around them, i had endured two speedbumps in pursuit of them. I ended up settling for some amazing indian food, complete with birthday cake! (there was a birthday meal at the restaurant, they gave us a piece of cake). I will go back for those perogies, i will simply call before i venture down to avoid further heartbreak.

June 17, 2010

...when i grow older... (i will act younger)... just like a wavin flag... (pt II)

The amount of national pride for soccer here makes me miss Canada. I had to live vicariously through second hand reports what the nation was like after Olympic Gold. That moment doesn’t last very long, as much as I love Canada, I love what I am doing here. Anywho, back to soccer, the hopes and tension in Korea is pretty awesome to behold. Let me say that i’m not naïve, I’m aware that Korea is not very likely to win the World Cup. Yet that single victory brought about a wave of jubilation like I’ve never seen before in this country, or any since Canada won Olympic Gold in 2004.

A couple of my kids are really caught up in the tournament. I am treated to a daily update in my Reach Out class, Nathan knows just about everything there is to know about the World Cup. I swear he even knows the vegas line on all the games. Every class on monday i entered was chatting about the World Cup, it didn't matter the age, or the english ability. Park Ji-Sung is the same in english..haha...Parents are dressing their kids up in Korean Football gear left right and center. It’s not unusual to spot a red jersey flying through the halls of the school (there are signs that say no running, most of the kids aren’t tall enough to see them. Let alone read them).

I guess I really shouldn’t be that surprised that the kids are caught up in the tournament. At night every Korean seems to be glued to anything broadcasting the games. It doesn’t matter who is playing, Koreans are watching (I was walking around last night and passed a group of 6 men watching a game on their cell phones). I wonder if they cheer against North Korea. Do ya think they hate the North Korean football team like I hate the Vancouver Canucks? The adults that are glued to the TVs are quite like children themselves. I’ve mentioned before that Korean’s like to drink. My time at City Hall on saturday was another fine example of this. I don’t believe there was a sober person near the venue. They say drinking alcohol makes you act like a child, it reduces you an infant like state. So my 12 yr old bookie student Nathan is probably acting the same age as most of the inebriated adults. I should ask him what england's chances are this year...

Well tonight is the second game (Korea vs. Argentina), and I’m stuck at work till 9. The game starts at 8.30. So I’m pretty choked that I can’t go to city hall like I was able to for their first game. Instead I am going to hit up Yeonshinae and attempt to see the second half, without the pomp and ceremony the morning teachers will enjoy at City Hall.

Anywho.. I had a couple of my kids write stories about watching the first game of the world Cup. I’ll include Amy’s story, in all its unedited glory!

I just see world cup. There is Greece and Korea do soccer. When one Korea soccer player corner kick Jung-Su-Lee shout the ball so we had one goal. And the onthor time, when Jee-Song-Park run a bal. Jee-Song-Park shout the ball so we can had a two goal. So we can win! I felt very excited.

June 16, 2010

same same... just korea (II)

This is a coupled out edition of same same.. My second addition to the random things koreans do that are different from life in NA.

There are two standard questions Korean kids ask their teachers. First their age (I actually do the math and make it my Korean age). Secondly they ask if you are married. Most weigook teachers are single. This creates a problem for the children. You see, Koreans are entrenched with this idea that you are supposed to be married pretty much… well right outta high school, idk, that’s supposed to be code for super young. There is SO much pressure on the young people of Korea to get married, and pop out children, or child as the recent birth rates are showing. The desire to be an ajuma (older married woman) or ajashi (older married man) is ginormous. My kids look at me strangely because I’m not married.

My few words on the subject don’t reflect the importance of this issue for Koreans. However due to space limitations, and that this topic is not solely about coupling in korea, I’ll move on. The easiest way to demonstrate that you are a couple is easy. PDA’s, a nice make out session in public, groping, idk there are many ways to show your affection for others. However, PDA’s are a faux pas in this country. How do you overcome this dilemma? What can a Korean couple do to show they are together without a public make out session? They do a couple things.

First, they match, they dress in identical clothing. Matching shirts, matching pants, I’m sure the underwear matches as well. In fact i’d bet on it, cause some store windows have mannequins in matching underwear. There has to be an entire industry here that specializes in creating his and her clothing. When I say exact I mean exact replica clothing one male fit, and one female fit. Although a rebuttal can be made, neither male nor female Koreans have much shape, but someone’s making a killing.

Secondly, what is a good honest replacement for madly making out in public? Easy! Madly photograph each other in public. If you can’t stick your tongue down her throat because of cultural norms, stick your camera lens down there. I’ve had the ‘opportunity’ to witness this a couple times (NO, not a guy literally shoving a camera lens down a girls throat). Couples here are enamored with each other, and both use every medium (especially camera’s) they can grab to fully document everything. It’s like sugar never tasted so good. Despite being able to start up a modeling portfolio these couples are able to demonstrate to the world, or Seoul, that they are together.

If you come to Korea and meet the most amazing Korean ever, and you need to figure out if she (or he) is taken. Look for another person dressed in matched clothing, OR a single member of the Korean paparazzi tagging behind your intended target. If you find one, or both of these things. I'm sorry they are taken, but don't worry there are a shit ton of koreans, and individuality isn't that common here. You're sure to find a replica somewhere.

June 14, 2010

...just like a wavin flag... (pt I)

South Korea 2 Greece 0

Back in February I was cheering on Canada cramped up against the ceiling of RMT in itaewon. I cheered my little heart out as we won, why? There is just something about international competition. Nationalism peaks at these points and it’s always something that you remember.

Well, it’s World Cup time. Although I can’t drape myself in the red maple leaf, I can witness another countries obsession with a sport. Thankfully I didn’t have to witness it cramped in a tiny bar. I headed to Seoul Plaza @ City Hall in Seoul. I was forced to meet my friends at city hall, finding them was not easy. The subway station was packed with fans, and vendors hocking all types of garb and noisemakers. The crowd was monitored by the police who blocked me at several subway exits. I was forced to walk the streets to gain my access to city hall. I honestly didn’t think I would find my friends amidst the people. I was frustrated and wet, although I was quickly lifted by the crowd.
The atmosphere was electric. The cheers and chants went on despite the rain that steadily fell. Most people wore body condoms to keep the rain off their clothes; I didn’t make the same purchase and held my umbrella up occasionally. That’s right the giant weigook held up an umbrella to further prevent the tiny Koreans from seeing the screens. I’m a horrible person, I know, at least the umbrella was see through. The Koreans would wave red inflated noisemakers and inflated hands to the rythems of the cheers. As the night wore on, and darkness fell, the crowd transformed into a sea of glowing red horns. These cheap LED lights were everywhere, and they were cheap $2. I paid $10 when i saw AC/DC.

The game itself was intense; the fans never seemed to stop cheering. The few moments of silence were quickly interrupted when some Korean over the loudspeakers started up another cheer. I didn’t think that Korea would score. Yet I knew if they did this place would go nuts, and when Korea did score, boy was i right. The picture of me chugging Hite was actually take moments before Ji Sung Park scored Korea’s second goal (you can see my eyes on the screen, not on the camera). The crowd went insane in the moments after that picture, people jumped up and down screaming for a couple minutes solid. Ji Sung Park is a Korean hero. He is the most famous Korean footballer, he plays midfield for Manchester United, and every time the he was shown on the screens the crowd would chant his name.

One of my friends was able to secure a two four of Hite beer in tall cans. We proceeded to drink along with the other Koreans that surrounded us. By the end of the game I’d say most of the people were drunk, but at the very least they were high after their nation’s victory. The crowd after the game was amazing. I spent the last 20 minutes of the game silently suffering, because I had to go pee (eerily similar to the other time I mentioned peeing in my blog, what’s wrong with me??). Anywho, I wasn’t going to miss the final whistle for anything, let alone my bladders pleas for release. After the game I quickly made my way to the bathroom. I knew the crowd in Seoul Plaza was huge, yet it was in my efforts to reach the bathroom that I realized that there were people everywhere, and not just in the plaza. The mass of people spread outward around the plaza.

"Back in South Korea, where nearly one million people watched the game at public gatherings, a busy Seoul boulevard turned into a sea of red with screams of joy reverberating among the tall buildings. Strangers hugged each other in elation and jumped in unison." TSN article..

I have been I Korea for 4 months now, and I have never seen Koreans like this. This is not the Korea i'm used to. They are usually drunk, yes this is normal! but they are quiet drunks. Saturday night the streets were filled with Korean’s loudly cheering and chanting. It was awesome to witness. That game was something that I’m not likely to forget. Their next game is Thursday night at 8.30. I work till 9 and will not be able to be at City Hall, I will however try to get to World Cup stadium to catch the second half. If they make it through to the round of 16 that would truly be something to witness.

June 09, 2010

scheduling Conflicts...

The situation at school hasn’t been the greatest for the past couple weeks. Brian, the only other male in my small social circle, left at the end of May (kinda shitty). The beginning of June triggered the start of two more foreign teachers. They are slowly integrating themselves into the fold of Korean life (not like my jump in with both feet) Anywho, the school also decided that it would be a great idea to fire one of the Korean teacher’s for speaking her mind. Her schedule was unfair she told them this BOOM fired. We are now 2 korean teachers short.

The current state of the Korean teachers shook the new session schedule for June. They have decided to take away one of my classes. They took away my 3pm treasures class. The only class I had every day of the week, some of you have seen the photographs of these kids. They were one of my favourite classes, not to mention cutest, and the best way to start any day teaching. I was really sad. The removal of that class leaves a 40 minute void in my schedule that leaves me with a VERY long prep period. I don’t teach for the first 3.5 hours I am at work, BRUTAL!! Although some make work projects have sprung up to bide some time, I’m sure more blog entries will venture their way online (Lucky you!!).

The brighter side. The weather has gotten a lot better in Seoul. It has been around 30 and sunny for the past two weeks. It’s truly amazing, I sneak out in the morning and try to soak up some of the sun, but I spend most of my time watching it in unair conditioned rooms at school (some are air conditioned though, not all is lost). I am jealous when I hear stories of the morning teachers sitting on patios and rooftops enjoying the sunsets.

I’ve started checking the weather reports everyday, and more often than not you see a clear sun logo with Hi: 30 Lo: 18. Considering the possible conflict with North Korea I wonder if the weather network will warn me through weather reports if things get worse ie… sunny with a chance of missiles.

June 08, 2010

I'll rewind your flashforward...

I was standing in front of the structure known as the blue house, which is the Korean version of the white house. Here’s the kicker, it’s not blue, it’s white, and looks nothing like the white house. Even if you could envision what an Asian version of the white house could be, you’d be off. Strange, yet Bollywood doesn’t have a giant garish sign like its nickname counterpart in LA. Nicknames don’t always make sense.

Sunday Funday (another nickname, probably wrongfully appropriated from gill, sorry gill) was spent lazing around Samcheong-dong (near the blue house). Patio hopping from various café’s and fancy eateries that litter the district.

Lately I’ve been struck with these “OMG I’m in Korea’ moments. These places in time where I look around and realize HEY, this isn’t what its like in Calgary, Surrounded by trees and mountains. Well not mountains that I’m used to, these are wimpy hills by comparison, but Calgary doesn’t have any mountains in the city, so whatever.

Anywho, these moments, they have been occurring more and more recently, ever since my self imposed exile from itaewon, the foreigner district. I think the lack of weiguk sightings has sharpened my awareness to my surroundings. it's in these moments where i realize where i am, and what i'm actually doing. I love them, they are little reminders that i'm doing the right thing. Sunday's moment was sparked through a conversation of our friends back 'home' (wherever that is). 24hrs before that conversation sparked my realization, I was sitting in a park alongside the Han River.

The Koreans are very forward thinking people. The city of Seoul has experienced exponential growth in the past decade. Yet this city has remained decently planned. There are a couple roadways that run alongside the Han river. Well not alongside, cause if you put it there you ruin any chances for a park! And no one wants that! So the highways actually run over the Han River, leaving GREAT real estate for bike paths, and recreational grounds alongside the river. There are even outdoor swimming pool areas. The goal Saturday afternoon was to visit one such pool not far from Gusan (where I live). This never happened, because 30degree heat is not apparently enough for them to open the pool. It sat deserted the way I imagine California to be, sans people, kind of overgrown.

The parks alongside the Han river are well equipped. They’ve got all you could possibly need. We sat close to a 711 (This 7-11 is stand alone, in the middle of the park, not on some street corner nearby, actually in the park) that will supply you with all you need, including draft beer, and canned beer at the same price as any convenient store. Alcohol is definitely the number one sell at this store; it seems every group of Koreans have numerous empty soju or makelli bottles strewn around their feet. There are fewer things better than being able to freely drink in public, screw hiding wine in pop cans. An possible reason for this tolerance of public drinking and drunkenness was pointed out to me, where do these people have to drive? The public transport here is so good, most people don’t drive. When you drink you get hungry, and if you wanted food, there were men strolling the park with takeout/delivery menus. I really wonder how you order though, ‘we are the white blanket beside the 10th tree, you can’t miss us???. Yet scooters rip down the pathways delivering fried chicken to hungry Koreans. Who knows if they ordered it, they paid for it and they are eating it.

One thing that is not kosher in Korea is bikinis in public. Our group consisted of 5 girls and me. The girls all had bikini’s on, and we attracted police attention later on in the afternoon. I had boardshorts on, but sitting next to 5 bikini clad women I quickly disappear, and become background noise. The police found me though, and told me through body language and gestures that the girls had to put their clothes back on. The girls sat by peeved that they approached me, the guy, who was at that moment in time wearing all the clothes he arrived to the park in, that the girls, should put their clothes back on. This country is progressive and forward thinking in a lot of areas, yet in moments like that I realize “ah, I’m in korea”.

June 03, 2010

This is not an admission of guilt...

I’ve become quite the hypocrite. I used to be huge on ownership, you know things and stuff, I started to shed that mantra about two years ago. I couldn’t immediately shed all aspects of the North American belief system. I held onto some last articles. Some possessions, mostly: music and movies. Many people know about my dream to one day have a CD and DVD wall in my house, completely alphabetized and enormous. I used to stand by my decision to support the movie and music industry with authority, almost to the point of scoffing at illegal downloaders. WELL… Korea does messed up shit to people.. I’d been downloading some movies and music at home before I left, but Korea completed the shift. How?? Simple..

The internet in Korea is continuously ranked as one of, if not the highest in the world for download speeds. According to a report published in February this year Korea ranked numero uno. Average download speeds in Korea are 12Mbps, Canada sits at about 4.25Mbps, and the Americans are at a lowly 3.88Mbps. While geography issues can be brought up in defense of the American and Canadian networks. Korea still beats them hands down, and there are many reasons why.

The first and perhaps the most important (yes i'm aware i should have kept this till the end.. but HEY my blog.. mine..). The Korean government is responsible for the creation of the network, basically they built it. The Korean government has invested millions of dollars to help ensure that Korea boasts the highest download speeds and fastest internet in the World. While the American and Canadian governments have sat on the sidelines in hopes that competition would drive the internet speeds higher. Competitive market forces have not won any medals here, in fact they sit broken and dejected like the Jamaican bobsleigh team.. The fact that Korea is a small country with large population density has definitely helped out, To use this as an excuse doesn’t really work, Similar to yelling at sports teams on tv, Canada and the US have taken a passive approach to building their internet networks. Korea is taking a more proactive stand. If the Canadian and American governments were not passive in their efforts, and tackled the issue a similar way who knows?

What is known, is that neither the Canadian or American governments have any plans to take over the internet network development in their respective countries. Both Governments rely heavily upon competition to drive the development of the networks. Both countries will however provide subsidies to develop parts of the network. They only provide a handful of these subsidies to the select providers in each country. Competition what? Rural areas in both countries are hindered by the lack of financing for their internet networks (was the story for me in Balzac). Government will usually hand out the subsidies to tackle these rural network issues. At least the Canadian and American governments at least realize funding problem, and try to help out.

The Korean government, on the other hand, has recently unveiled a $25 million plan to establish a faster network in Korea. Their ultimate goal is to have their internet download speeds running at 1Gps by 2012. This is an average speed btw, I have already experienced these speeds while downloading large files (They may or may not have been comment) and had them downloaded in a matter of minutes, rather than the period of time required for a good nights sleep. The Korean Government’s plan is to run a fiber optic cable into every building. This is a situation where Korea will benefit from its geographical situation. The population density and small size of Korea will allow it to undertake an otherwise enormously expensive venture. The government wants to kill two birds with one stone with this venture. Fiber optics will enhance the internet speeds for one, and it hopes to use fiber optics to launch a new HDTV network with 8 times the clarity of standard HD broadcasts. The potential for fiber optic cable is almost limitless. It’s the Tim Taylor response to the internet and television!

I have benefited from all this immensely; I haven’t been kept in the dark on new TV or movie releases. I’ve also been able to keep up to date with the music scene in North America. ALL while wasting little time! You’d figure I’d be paying a ton for this government sponsored internet. The opposite is true.

Internet prices in Korea are cheaper than both Canada and the US. Um...okay… cheaper is an understatement. Korean internet runs 4x faster than the US at 1/2 the price. The average internet price in Korea is $28/month (close to what I pay), compared to $48/month in the US. I couldn’t find average internet costs in Canada, but I checked out Shaw Cable for Calgary, and for a comparable internet download speeds to what I’m receiving in Korea, $95/month (Not including the dl limits). What’s the reason for the cheap price in Korea? Actually it’s kinda funny; Korean’s are paying less for their internet because of competition. There are literally hundreds of internet providers in the country. I think its hilarious competition is having the correct effect in Korea, and not in North America.

Due to the high download speeds intellectual property theft (Internet piracy) has become a major issue in Korea. The faster internet speeds crippled the countries music and entertainment industry in the late 90s. Recent changes to the law have allowed the Korean government to attempt a crackdown on this crime. Similar laws in Canada and the US don’t exist yet. Like the development of the networks, North America is a tad behind!

While I realize my recent shift into hypocrisy, I’ve attempted to defend my current situation with government sponsored initiatives. I also realize the efforts in Korea aren’t universal, and the path Korea has followed could not be easily followed by North American governments (the whole massive expense thing). I still believe that some effort should be exerted, the armchair has a great butt groove, and governments should get off their ass. I dread my return to the world of slow ‘high speed’ internet. Perhaps I will resume my possession crazy mantra instead of battering keyboards and wasting time waiting. For now however, I’ll enjoy downloading files faster than it would take to buy them.