Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Proposals, Police, and Penalties

During my time here in Korea so far, I have realized one thing: Koreans LOVE talking to me. We could be standing/sitting in a group of 20 people and the Koreans ALWAYS come up to talk to me. Why? I have no idea. Maybe it's my Midwestern charm that oozes from my pores. Maybe I just look friendlier than those I'm with. Not sure, but this has certainly brought along with it some interesting situations. Like Friday night for example...

So Friday I met up with about 8 other people at Chungmuro Station and we went out to eat at this delicious BBQ place that a few of the group had been to a couple of days earlier. The food, drinks, and company were absolutely wonderful! Afterwards, we headed to another restaurant/bar to meet up with some Korean people that some of the group had met earlier. We are sitting outside of the restaurant, just enjoying each other's company and having a good time when this random Korean guy comes up and starts talking guessed it...ME!

We had about a 15 minute conversation, which was made a bit more difficult by all of the extra noise and clamor of the busy street, but we eventually came to a bit of an understanding. He continuously said the phrase "sing congratulations song...sing congratulations song." Then he mentioned his girlfriend, while pointing down a dark alley way and mentioning his girlfriend. My first idea was that he wanted me to go with him to a Norae Bang (Korean kareokee joint) to sing the congratulations song to his girlfriend. This was not correct and so we continued to try to understand each other for another 5 minutes or so. Some how the idea of proposing came up. I even acted it out! Yes, I got down on one knee, acted like I had a ring, and asked if this was what he was talking about. His face lit up and he was like "YES! YES! YES! YES!"

I thought that I had finally figured out what he wanted: me to go with him to help him propose to his girlfriend and then sing the congratulations song afterwards. He showed me that his girlfriend was only a table or two away and asked me to go with him. I agreed and went over to sit with him and his girlfriend. His girlfriend and I awkwardly said hello to each other and then he montioned for me to start singing to her. Still having no idea what the congratulations song was, I made something up on the spot. It went as follows (imagine this sung in a horrible, off-key tone)...

"Congratulationssssss...He's going to propose to youuuuuu...Congratulationssssss!" (Yeah it was pretty classic)

Well I'm not really sure if either of them understood what was going on, but the girlfriend then proceeded to pour me a shot of Souju for both myself and her. After taking that, she then took a piece of the egg dish that they were eating with her chopsticks, dipped it in some soy sauce, and then FED IT TO ME! Yeah...needless to say I was a little freaked out at this point and decided to head back to the comfort of my own friends just a table away. I retold them what had happened, receiving many rounds of laughs and jeers, along with many renditions of my song. It turns out that he wanted us to sing his girlfriend Happy Birthday, which we eventually did sing to her, turning her about as red as is humanly possible for Koreans to achieve. Let's just say that this is one night that I will never forget.

On Saturday, I headed to the DMZ (DeMilitarized Zone) on a tour put together by Adventure Korea. My friend Steve and some other people from orientation also joined in. It was a really nice tour, but there was a lot of down time at each of the sites, which kind of drained us all of our energy. It was really neat to see the area and learn a lot about the conflict between North and South Korea. Below are some pictures from the trip:

There are still active mines all near the DMZ area

North Korea...this is the closest that anyone could get a picture of the country

The final train station in South Korea...the train tracks actually run into North Korea, but no trains go there
Sunday, I went to an FC Seoul soccer game at the World Cup Soccer Stadium. As I left my apartment (literally 10 feet outside of the front door), I was stopped by a cop car driving by. The following conversation ensued:

Korean Cop: (after saying some incoherent things in either English or Korean) Can I see some identificiation please?
Me: Of course (I hand him my Alien Registration Card)
Korean Cop: What are you doing here in Korea?
Me: I am teaching English at a high school
Korean Cop: Is this your first time in Korea?
Me: Yes it is.
Korean Cop: What is your occupation?
Me: I'm a teacher (I JUST TOLD YOU THIS, REMEMBER?) (I didn't actually say this...just thought it in my head)
Korean Cop: So what do you think of Seoul so far?
Me: Oh, it's awesome! I really like and am glad that I'm here.
Korean Cop: Glad to hear that. (hands me back my ARC) Have a great day! (Drives away)

Needless to say, I was a bit frightened at first. I honestly have no idea why they stopped me (apparently the "Koreans always talk to me" rule also applies to cops in cars). I'm going to say that they were taking surveys of random foreigners on the street. Lucky me!

World Cup Soccer Stadium

The crowd celebrating the winning goal!
The soccer game ended up being a lot of fun! It was my first live soccer game EVER and FC Seoul ended up winning, 2-1! They scored the winning goal off of a penalty kick in the final minute! Super exciting! The game was an absolute blast and I'm looking forward to attending another game on Saturday! Hopefully the ending is just as exciting and positive!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Chuseok Festivities

This past week has been filled with so many awesome experiences! Here's a run-down of the happenings!

I successfully completed my second week of classes. We covered American Thanksgiving because Korean Thanksgiving was this past weekend. I showed my students some clips from Friends and The Simpsons that showed how Americans celebrated. I never grew tired of the Friends clips, but after watching the one from The Simpsons 30 times, I'm OK if I never see that again.

Saturday marked the beginning of the Chuseok holiday, meaning a glorious 5 day weekend! A group of us decided to attend a Korean baseball game. I was so excited because when I was in Japan, we went to a game in Hiroshima and had an amazing time! Korea did not disappoint. So Rachel, Sam, Emma, Rich, Emma, Andy, Steve, Katie, and myself all met up at the Jamsil Baseball stadium around 3/3:30, got out tickets then went and had a few drinks before heading into the game. We purchased seats along the 3rd base line, second level, 1st row. These ended up being amazing seats...with a bit of a twist.

Unlike American baseball games, Koreans get into the game so much! Outside of the stadium they were selling thundersticks for both teams, the Doosan Bears (home team) and the KIA Tigers (away team). In Korea, all of the professional sports teams are called by the company that owns them, not the city that they are from. So most of us purchased white, Doosan Bears thundersticks, as we were there to support the home team. The thundersticks for the KIA Tigers were yellow and we really didn't think anything about the difference until we went to go find our seats. Turns out that we had purchased seats in the heart of the KIA Tigers section.

We walked into the stadium to find the stands literally split in half. Along the 1st base line and into right field was where all of the Doosan Bears fans sat. Along the 3rd base line and into left field was where all of the KIA Tigers fans sat. We walked right into the KIA Tigers section with our white thundersticks and got heckled by a few of the fans. So after quickly deflating our thundersticks and stowing them away before starting a riot, we found our seats. Only problem was that there were two Korean gentlemen sitting in them. So after some exaggerated hand gestures and stern negotiating, they moved and we took our seats. They could not have been better! We eventually were able to attain the correct thundersticks, allowing us to join in on the cheers and excitement of the game. In the end, the Doosan Bears were victorious, 6-3.

R to L: Andy, Emma, Steve, Katie

R to L: Sam, Rachel, Rich, Emma

The view of the field from our seats

The KIA Tigers fans and their thundersticks
Showing my support for both teams!

After the game, Andy, Emma, Katie, Steve, and I headed out to Hongdae to grab some food. We ate at a very good chicken restaurant that had some very interesting artwork. See below:

Following dinner, we met back up with Rachel, Sam, and our other friend Rob and spent the night dancing and having a merry old time in Hongdae.

Sunday we decided to take advantage of our extra time and slept in for one of the first times since we have been here in Korea. We decided to meet up later that night to go and check out the Seoul Tower. So about 16 of us met up around 5:30 in downtown Seoul, just below the Seoul Tower. We went on a hunt for food, which proved to be a bit difficult because:

1. Lots of restaurants in the area were closed due to Chuseok
2. We had an extremely large group.

We ended up having to split into two groups. So Sam, Rachel, Andy, Emma, Steve, Katie, Sian, Mimi, and myself all ended up at this traditional Korean BBQ place. This meant taking your shoes off at the door and sitting on the floor in whatever position you found comfortable. After about 20 minutes of trying to figure out what to order and how everything worked, we all ordered Bibmibap (so delicious!) and split a plate of meat. The meal was awesome and wel worth the language barrier confusion.

Following dinner, we met up with the rest of the group and made out way towards Seoul Tower. There are two ways to reach the tower: walking or cable car. Half of us decided to walk, while the other half took the cable car. The walk was about 25 minutes uphill with tons of stairs. Luckily we did this at night so it wasn't as hot and uncomfortable as it could've been. But I still worked up a pretty good sweat in the process. The view from the top of Namsan Mountain (where the tower is located) was absolutely breathtaking and well worth the hike! Sadly, I accidentally deleted my photos before successfully transferring them to my computer, but I will be returning to the tower before I leave. Photos are pending.

Monday was the actual Chuseok holiday. This means that pretty much all of the restaurants and stores are closed, except for things in Itaewon. Itaewon is the district that lies just outside of the American military base in Yongsan. It is a very Americanized area and I was told by my co-teachers that things would be open. So a group of us (11 in all) met in Itaewon and ended up eating at this really small, nice Mexican restaurant. The food was so delicious! I felt like I was back home at El Patio. It was a nice little taste from home and very cheap. We filled up the entire restaurant and kind of overwhelmed the poor women working there. But she was very good about getting our food ready and to us as quickly as she could.

After our scrumptious meal, we headed over to the Namsan Korean Village where there were traditional activities going on for Chuseok. We watched some awesome drummers perform a sick routine, observed small children playing traditional games, and touched probably one of the, if not the largest, time capsule in the world. The time capsule is slated to be opened in 2394 on the 1000th anniversary of Seoul being named capital of South Korea. There are 600 items in the capsule from 1994, covering things such as fashion, food, electronics, books, and many many many other items.

The next stop of the day was a visit to the Gyoungbokdung Palace. Sam, Rachel, Katie, Emma, Andy, and I headed over to this palace, which one of the 5 largest in all of Seoul. It was magnificent! Some highlights of the excursion:

1. Having our photos taken outside of the King's Palace with a random group of Koreans
2. Having one of the Koreans pull me aside, take a picture with me, and whisper in my ear "I love you"
3. Having this same Korean give me his facebook information so that we can become friends
4. Taking some epic jumping photos in front of some of the smaller buildings in the compound
5. Being able to sit and relax and enjoy the beautiful weather and great company

One of the entrance gates with the mountains

L to R: Sam, Rachel, Me, Emma, Katie


The King's Palace

Once we had worn out our welcome at the palace, we all headed back to Emma and Andy's apartment for some food, drinks, and socialization. We sat around and talked for about 4 hours. We also played cards and I learned a new card game which I will be bringing back to the states. All in all it was a great day filled with amazing people and some pretty awesome food!

Both days were used as days to get ready for the next week(s), so lots of lesson planning was completed. That does not mean that fun was not had later in the day. On Tuesday, Rachel, Sam, Katie, Emma, Andy, and I met up near Ewha Women's University, the area where Rachel lives, for some food and exploration. We ate at this little restaurant that served cheesy rice with various toppings. I had the rib cheesy rice and it was aboslutely amazing!

Afterwards, we headed to the Fun Cafe, this cafe where you can play pretty much any board game you could think of. We ended up playing Janga and Taboo for a good two hours. Following that, we found a bar called Mike's Cabin and decided to check it out. It was actually a really neat place. In the two hours that we were there, we played Foosball, darts, and enjoyed each other's company. We went to a few other places before ending the night at a Neorae Beong. A Norae Bong is a kareokee place, but unlike the states, you have your own rooms and drinks are included in the price of the room. We had so much fun singing the night away and making fools of ourselves in front of each other.

Today (Wednesday) has been spent relaxing and catching up on some much needed sleep. I'm planning on getting together with a group of people for dinner tonight in a new part of Seoul to see what there is. I've been surprised how much I have been eating out since I've been here, but the meals are not overly expensive and it beats cooking at home with ingredients or food that you really don't know what it is or how to cook it.

Tomorrow I head back to school for two days. We will be covering music and listening to Bruno Mars. Next week I think we will be covering superheroes and villians and the students will be able to make their own superhero or villian. That should be a great time! Well Chuseok has officially come to an end, as has this post! Until next time...

Friday, September 2, 2011

Early Observations

So I have been settled in my apartment for almost a week now and have the following insights to Korean daily and school life to offer you...

1. Any paved space = parking lot. This includes the sidewalk you may be walking on at the exact moment that a car decides they need to park. Motorcycles also use the sidewalks at will.

2. Korean students have the best socks! When students come to my class, they have to take their shoes off (tradition). This exposes their wide variety in sock choices. Keep in mind, I teach at an all-boys high school. Some of the best socks I've seen the past week:

- Superman
- Simpsons
- Power Puff Girls (no joke!)
- Cartoon animals (mainly dogs and cats, but also one frog for good measure)
- McDonald's Golden Arches
- Koala and Polar Bears
- Batman

I'm sure that this list will continue to grow as my time here in Seoul progresses...

3. The morning commute is insane! The subways are packed to the brim and trying to get off is brutal. I had to fight through at least 15 people today just to get off at my stop. Looks like I'm going to have to leave my good ole Midwestern values at home. Politeness and the subway do NOT mix here!

4. It's an interesting feeling when you're sitting at lunch surrounded by Korean teachers, all speaking Korean and using your name at will, while continually pointing in your direction. I can't help but smile because obviously they are talking about me (and are not bashful at all about it!). Just hope it's all good things!

5. The bells at school are awesome! Forget that boring old American school bell. Here in Korea they play a little song! Only problem is that it doesn't work in my classroom (fantastic!). So I have to go by the clock, which supposedly is 5 minutes slow (according to one co-teacher), but matches all the other clocks in the building. Oh well, the students have 10 minutes for passing time. Pretty sure they can make it to their next class.

6. Not sure if this is true of just Koreans, but the boys at my school at super touchy with each other. For example, I had one class where several boys laid in the laps of the person sitting next to them and received a head message. They are constantly touching, slapping, kicking, punching, and pinching each other. They also like to jump on each other's backs and walk around either holding hands or with their arms wrapped around each other's waist. It's been an adjustment!

7. Being called "handsome" by a Korean is nothing to really take as a special compliment...they say it to everyone. Students. Teachers. The principal. Vice-Principal. All have called me handsome at some point during my time at school. Also, I have had students profess their love for me while in line for the cafeteria. Kinda catches you off guard when one of the students you've seen once and don't know their names yells out of the second floor window "I LOVE YOU MICHAEL TEACHER!"

8. One way streets actually mean drive whichever way you want to. I have seen more drivers driving the WRONG way down a one way get pissed at the people driving the CORRECT way. Learn what an arrow with an X through it means!

So I made it through my first week of teaching! I'm very excited to move on to something other than introducing myself! Next week I am teaching my students about American Thanksgiving with the help of my favorite show of all time, Friends! Korean Thanksgiving is next Saturday, so I have a 5-day weekend. The tentative plans at the moment are to visit the DMZ and then head to Beijing, China for the rest of the break. Hopefully it all works out and I can get some people to come with me!

College football kicks off this weekend! It's going to weird not being able to watch any games live, but I will survive. Have a great Labor Day weekend everyone!

For good measure...Go Panthers! Beat State!