Friday, October 31, 2008

Scream it Like You Mean It.

It's Halloween.

I put on some scary evil ghost clown mask when I arrived to work today and then snuck up to the window where my first class was studying with the Korean teacher. I knocked on the window and when the little kids looked up I screamed.

They screamed back, but not in the way I thought they would. Three of them were terrified. And, two of those three, when they stopped screaming, started to cry. I felt kind of bad. Then I remembered how I have to break them up from fighting and whining and shouting and running around chasing one another every day when I start work, and I decided I was going to have to get an inventory of masks and scare the crap out of them daily.

Korean folk do like scary stuff, though. Horror movies rank just below Steven Segal and Jean Claude van Damn-Wham-Bam-Thank-You-Ma'am flicks in popularity. I'm surprised by the ghoulish comics my little students like to read, and I know when I see one of them standing outside the TV room poking half their head in to watch the screen that there's a ghost story on, and they're too scared to have their whole body in front of the TV. So cute!

So I think Halloween could be a big hit here. The sugar junkie kids would sure go for the trick or treat aspect. By and large, though, K-folk just don't get it. I think it would be a very good thing if there were one holiday where people got to dress up as something else. It wouldn't have to be Halloween related necessarily. Just a "be something different for a day" theme would be awesome. I try to encourage my students to come to our annual party in costume. Some will, but most won't. If their parents are willing to shell out for a scream mask or a witches' hat, then sure. If not, they're going to show up as little Taekwondo-people, or in their usual costumes of lunch-covered sweaters.

When I was growing up I never had a store bought costume. Ever. My mom used to help us with out get-ups, and even sewed costumes a few times. One year she fashioned wigs out of red wool and made me an apron and bloomers so I could be Raggedy Anne and to my brother's Andy. We totally won the school's costume parade. I was a gypsy a couple years running. My brother would borrow a dress and sport balloon boobs and be a lady for a day. Once I wore a brown shirt and brown tights and stuck some leaves and a bird in my hair. I was a tree. My friend dressed all in purple and put a shoe on her head. She was grape gum.

So I wish my students would break out with a little creativity and wow me. We'll give out prizes for the best costumes - and I be the judge o'dat, so basically anyone who is "not-Scream" is going to win. This year, our Halloween party was completely organized by yours truly. I sort of had to hassle my new co-workers into even continuing the tradition of doing something special for the day, which is a good thing I think, since our student's have powerful memories and started asking about the Halloween party in the middle of September. Even though we've had a couple meetings about the party, I still don't think my boss and co-workers get it. At the end of the day today we had one bag of candy total - that I donated - and the loot bags I suggested got shot down because nobody wanted to take the time to make them. "The students can get candy if they win a game."

My boss rigged up the big DVD projector with stereo surround sound in the TV room and they decided to show a Halloween movie. I asked them which one, and was told "Scream." (Rated R for strong graphic horror violence and gore, and for language.) Ha! Poor students thought my mask in a window was scary,...

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Little Girl Judges You


"Go get me some candy, ya giant."

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Election Dancers Judge You

They think if you don't get out in matching outfits and dance for the candidate of your choosing, you're a bad citizen. So, screw you!

Little Wing

Little tiny wings attached to a little tiny bird. I passed the cluster of bright orange cosmos flowers I've been enjoying on my walk to work for the last few weeks.

They're actually on their way out now, with the chilly weather coming on quickly these days. But today there was a little thing flying from flower to flower. Can you see it?

It's not a bee.

It's a teeny wee hummingbird!
This would have been a very cool shot if I could have gotten my camera to focus quicker and the hummingbird wasn't being so frickin hummy!

There was a gorgeous green and purple hummingbird that would visit the garden most mornings while I was in Canada this past summer, but I never had my camera handy. This little Korean version was tiny though, about half the size of its Canadian cousin. Very cute.

***UPDATE*** Well, whaddyaknow?!?! My little bird is not a bird at all! It's a macroglossum stellatarum, otherwise known as a hummingbird moth! My astute buddy Joel suggested the possibility in the comments, and after googling images of the hummingbird moth, he's absolutley right. Good one, Joel! I'd never even heard of such a beast!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Triangle Face Judges You


You, and your giant oval head.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Rocking Out

It was Friday night! It was time to Rock Out! What better way to party on down than to smuggle some frosty wobbly pops into the Noraebang? Time to get some singing on!

The "singing room" we went to was called "Demolition." It has a strange Alien/Predator thing going on inside.

"Hi! Welcome to Demolition! I'm your host and I'm here to eat your soul ensure you have an enjoyable evening."

There were only two of us Rocking Out yesterday: my co-worker and I, which was good - since there were only two chairs.
The wafer thin cushions made them extra comfy. Dig the skull arm rests?

But no time to relax, it was time to get to the singing. Enter into the singing room.
If you dare. Mwa ha ha haaaaaaaa.

No pictures of the interior, unfortunately. Microphone in one hand, beer in the other, third hand available to work the camera. But let me tell you, I Rocked it Out. I've been to many a noraebang in my time, and I always flip to the yellow section that contains all the English selections. The song choices are pretty pathetic. However, yesterday I discovered Noraebang Gold in the purple pages at the back of the book. There I found all the new selections divied up into categories of K-Pop, J-Pop, and a smattering of Pop Songs, all in English! I can't believe I never saw these options before. So I scored a triplet of 100's with "There She Goes" by The LA's, "The Scientist" by Coldplay, and Al Green's "Let's Stay Together." Jelly got soul.

My co-worker would have had solid scores of 100's if we had gone to the Shriekaebang. Woman's a banshee, I tell you. We take turns singing, so she shrills out a Korean song and then I'm up - but she doesn't set the microphone down. Instead, she tries to mumble-scream harmony while I'm singing...but she doesn't know the words, melody, or song I'm singing. I could see she was trying to sabotage my perfect scores so I stomped my foot her way and X'd the air toward her mouth. Ha! Then I mished-mashed words and melody for her next hanguel ballad that I'd never heard before. "Blashihamneda shmika licka morrrraaae haaaayyyoooo!" Take that!

In the end, I won. The computerized singing judge did not award a single 100 to my partner in Plan Rock Out. There's a game some play where you have to stick a 1000 won note to the screen for every non-perfect score you get. The next person to get a hundred collects. We didn't play that last night. Pity, because I would have cleaned her out!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Clown Puppy Judges You


And the guy standing next to you, too.

The New Fashion

I saw these at HomePlus last night.

Look how curvy they're going to make your calves and thighs!

But fellas, what will you pair it with? An oversized belted Cosby sweater? Combat boots? Maybe a pirate shirt?!?! I wish there were round-the-clock reruns of Seinfeld on in Korea, instead of the constant loop of Sex in the City and Friends. I need some Costanza.

Monday, October 20, 2008

War of the Weather, Part Deux

I was so relieved when finally, sometime after the middle of September, it was finally cool enough to not have the air conditioner on all day long. I was almost more relieved to not have to battle my co-workers over the buttons on the good 'ol aircon. We could all finally relax with the windows open and the fans blowing the nice fall air around the classrooms.

I didn't mention it before, but there are some changes going on at my school as the new owner arranges things the way he likes them to be. He likes the whiteboards at the opposite ends of the classroom. He likes to switch up the cabinets. He likes a new computer in the Staff Room and the old computer in the TV room. He likes a DVD player and large screen projector in the TV room. I like these things, too. I hope he's going to eventually like to paint this place, because it's a rat-hole. I'd like it if he'd like to hire a troop of adjummas to come and give this place a good clean-down. Seriously. Rat-HOLE! I don't like, however, how he repositioned the fans in every classroom so they're right beside the windows. If you set them on rotate now, they're blowing out onto to street. I can't see how that's helping, unless, like - it's a very still day on the outside.

Today is a nice day. It's really not autumn weather by my Canadian instinct. It's more like early summer save for the leaves that are changing colour instead of blooming; it's currently 26 degrees (79 Fahrenheit) under sunny skies, 42% humidity and a nice 14k/hr breeze. On the other hand, Monday afternoon in my hometown of Toronto is forecast to be 13 degrees (43F) under cloudy skies. Now that's fall!

Today I walked into the Teacher's Room to start my work week and something smelled funny. Burney. Electrical. "What's what smell?" I asked my boss. He said "huh?" and I said "oh yah, you don't speak English hey?" So I went to investigate.

Lobby: negative, classrooms: negative, hallway: negative, Teacher's Room: smokey-burney-sockety....and the I spotted it: the portable electric heaters we roll into the classrooms in the winter. It was out - sitting beside the new teacher's desk - and IT WAS ON!!!

"You are SHITTING me!" I said to the heater, as if it had rolled itself out from storage and flipped it's own switch. I reached around and turned it off. When the new teacher - sporting a coat zipped up to her chin - came back into the Teacher's Room I said "I turned your heater off." She said she was freezing and showed me her goosebumped arms. I told her she should bring a couple blankets to wear, because if we had the heat on I was going to die. I don't know what's going to happen, but it might come down to me not spending any time in the windowless Staff Room, which is already the warmest place in the school by far. I still haven't busted out a fall jacket to wear in the evenings when it's still about 14C overnight, and my delicate co-worker is wearing coats and wants to ride around on the wheelie-heater? Damn, I'm in trouble.

Friday, October 17, 2008

World Music Festival

The weekend before last I ventured out to the Ulsan World Music Festival. I'm not sure how long that there link is going to last, but if you click it and it's still available, you'll be able to hear some of the performers.

The weather was overcast but nary a drop of rain reigned o'er us. We were a bit late to the festivities because I am an idiot and didn't print out the directions to the venue. On the internet map, the bus station and train station were noted with the location of the festival off toward the (east? west?) left. I don't know what I was thinking,...we'd just listen for music and follow it? I guess I somehow thought festival intuition would lead us there, magic, like. Yep. I'm not too bright. Eventually we located the Ulsan Culture and Arts Center in Munhwa Park. Various bands performed at three venues - an indoor hall, an outdoor small bandshell stadium, and a stage set up on a backstreet. We must have just missed a parade, because we passed small floats parked on the street as we headed toward the street stage and the fireworks that were going off.

Parade People hello!

And goodbye!

Some pretty Bellydancing Belles in the audience watching the show put on a show of their own, shaking their tresses and jingly hips.



I never did find out who was onstage there and we only caught the tail-end of their performance, but they were hopping. Nice brass section!
(Brass section not pictured.)

We sauntered past the various tents offering stuff for sale and a smattering of International food. A tiny smattering. There was döner kebab served in a pita, (chicken, I think) and a Vietnam stall offering pho and spring rolls,...and that was pretty much that. There were quite a few K-food stalls with quite a few K-food-people eating at them.

We headed back to the bandshell stadium and caught the end of Gipsy CZ's (from the Czech Republic)show. Very energetic and fun! Next up was David D'or, a countertenor from Israel. Man, that guy had some pipes! I actually took another friend the following night to catch him perform inside at the King Theater because I was pretty awed by his voice. Did you know Freddy Mercury was a countertenor?

*Here I'd post a picture of David D'or, but my pictures suck so hard they'd hurt your precious eyes.*

The highlight of the night, and perhaps the whole festival, was Bajofondo Tango Club, a group that hails from Argentina and Uruguay. They rocked it. Did you now they won two Oscars for the soundtracks from Brokeback Mountain and Babel? Forgive my dinky little camera's video quality, but here's a sample of the show:

And because I love you, here's another one:

You can notice a guy in the first video off to the left on the stage. A dancing guy. I loooooved him. He helped shift the instruments and equuipment between songs, and otherwise danced his head off for the entire show. He's very prominent in the second video. Again, my videos don't do the sound justice, but let me tell you it was outstanding. The crowd upfront was raring to get up and dance, but the Peanut Gallery adjosshi's and adjummas in the stadium step-seats would scream at them to "ANJA-RA!" (sit the hell down) and they actually obeyed for about the first third of the show. I'd never seen such a thing before. Toward the end of it everyone was on their feet, and there was a really wonderful vibe. Not bad at all for fifty dolla oh, wait a minute! It was all free! FREE, I say! Well, you can't beat that with a stick, can you?

If you get the chance next year, I highly recommend a visit. I think this festival may go the way of PIFF (The Pusan International Film Festival) which started out all rinky dink a number of years ago, but has since become the largest film festival in Asia. I've said already in the "Pho" post, but as Korea continues to open up it's world view, I'm sure this festival's just going to get bigger and better. Oh, and it's FREE, remember?

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Rat Becomes Flatter

Reuters (AP): Newsflash: Mumble mumble mumble mumble economy mumble mumble photo analogy mumble grumble grumble *%^$#&%$#

Flatter Rat:

Oh flat rat
You not eaten by cat
You not wearing a hat
You not looking so fat
Where all your money at?
Someone beat you with a bat?
What up wit' dat?

Thursday, October 09, 2008


I was curious, and so I mustered up some courage and and a calculator to figure out some numbers. As other guys have noted, and I mentioned in the previous post, the Korean won is swirling down the toilet.

It's almost like I got a demotion, even though I'm still going into work everyday and doing the same (fantastic) job. (I mean my performance is fantastic, not the job. The job would be better if there weren't so many screaming children. Ha!) In the time since I went to Canada on July 17th of this year, my monthly salary has decreased by $442.29 when converted to Canadian dollars. In the past year I've lost $632.82, and since January of 2007 my monthly salary has gone down $1,150!! That's so sick.

And let me take this meltdown personally for a moment more, but it ticks me off that I haven't changed my lifestyle; I'm a good shopper and I'm still out spending my dough and propping up the K-economy. And this is the thanks I get?

First Pho

I was inspired by my visit to Ulsan's World Music Festival this past weekend (which I'll post about real soon) where I ate delicious cha gio (fried Vietnamese spring rolls) with scrumptious nuoc cham (dipping sauce) prepared and served by real live Vietnamese women. So, when I noticed a pho shop last night I decided to go in and give 'er a try. Truth be told, this is my first venture trying pho, but I have read a lot about it over at Mmmm-yoso. Kirk sho' knows his pho.

Pho Bay is actually the only Vietnamese restaurant in Ulsan, so it's not like there will be a series of comparisons of pho available round these here parts. I was really looking forward to trying it out. So I ordered some cha gio and what I suppose is plain old pho bò (beef: flank steak to be precise.) I apologize for the pho-to quality. I was afraid to use my flash as ours was the only table in the place and I feared the staff would react like leprechauns worried I was trying to steal their pot 'o gold,...and, like, open my own pho-restaurant next door. Anyhow, here's what I got:
Two little rolls, halved, for ₩3,000. (Please don't make me work out the exchange - it'll make me cry. The South Korean currency is going down the toilet.) The spring rolls were alright, but that dipping sauce is most definitely NOT nuoc cham. It's the same soy/vinegar concoction that's served with mandu (dumplings) here. Not so deliciou-so, know what I mean Kirk?

Here's my pho:
Um, yah. ₩8,000.
Wiki describes the broth as "generally made by simmering beef (and sometimes chicken) bones, oxtails, flank steak, charred onion, and spices, taking several hours to prepare. Seasonings include Saigon cinnamon, star anise, charred ginger, cloves, and sometimes black cardamom pods."
Sounds good!
But here,....not so much.
What the broth did taste like was slightly salty brown water. The six bits of thinly sliced beef (which seem to be hiding in the above photo) had a rainbow hue and were dry and chewy. The noodles were,...well,...blah. I've had rice noodles before, but I think I really need to try the fresh version. These were surely dried noodles and they were really just "meh."

I'm almost afraid to show you the plate of garnishes. I think Kirk might flip out.
Alright, I'll show you.
(Look away, Kirk. Look awaaaayyyyyy!)
Pile of bean sprouts, mound of sliced onion, little bowl of sliced burn-your-face-off gochu, and ubiquitous danmuji. Man, I hate danmuji. Oh, and there's a wee 1/16th of a lemon tucked on the side there. Mmmm, sour.

Oh. Here's the pho mixed up a bit before I threw in some bean sprouts.

There was nary a Vietnamese saram in the joint, although maybe they were hiding one in the kitchen. I doubt it, because I don't think anyone from Vietnam would produce this soup and dare to call it pho.

The good news is that it's very very likely that my second time trying this dish is going to be much better than the first. Also, I'm sure it's difficult to get the ingredients needed to make a proper bowl of this soup, but that's sure to change as Koreans continue to expand their interest in global cuisine. Seriously, six years ago it was hard to find a hunk of cheese or chocolate in this country, so the times - they are indeed a'changing.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Fashion Police

I worry the baby might suffer some sort of damage, being in such close proximity to this outfit.

Meanwhile,...I've had some work done.

Gorgeous, huh?

Monday, October 06, 2008

Competition in Business.

Friends of mine have a restaurant in my little town. It's good to have friends with a restaurant, bee lee you me!

Anyhow, for three years their restaurant was seriously old skool. The tables were oil drums with a hole in the middle where you put the coals to grill the meat. The floor was comprised of little rocks and it was best if you dug your plastic stool into them before you sat down or you were liable to tip over. Those rocks, my friends told me, were hell to clean after a patron would barf over them after too much soju. The toilet out back was a squatter with no flush. After visiting the facilities you'd have to draw from a bucket of rainwater and head back into the loo to splash your "stuff" down the drain. The restaurant was small, only eight tables - and it was poorly ventilated. Boiling hot in the summer and freezing in the winter, it was pretty humble.

When I went on vacation in July, though, renovations were already happening just up the street on a building which was going to house their new restaurant. The place was gutted when I left and I had no idea what it would look like when I returned. Their grand opening was on the 1st of August and so they had already been open almost three weeks when I came back and saw the results. I was SO surprised! Their new place in gorgeous and it's so big! They've got those silver smoke suckers over every table and the stools are plush and comfortable and they've got a great patio with an awning that unfurls with the push of a button. There are two giant air-conditioning/heating units. Stalls! Sit down toilets! That flush! And sinks! With Soap! So posh!

I was really awed by the colours and decor my friends picked out. Very nice. I told them they should hire a manager to run their place and go into the restaurant design business.

And now they've got franchises! There are two other restaurants bearing the same name and menus, and tonight the husband portion of my friend-couple was away in Gyeongju helping another fellow scout out a location for a third franchise.

My friends are "moving on up" Jefferson style!

Last Wednesday I stopped by after work just to say hello and I found the staff (which has tripled in the new digs) absolutely in the weeds. One of the regular girls had a day off, and two other employees hadn't bothered to show up. Bigger place, bigger headaches sort of deal. I asked my friend (really half-jokingly) if I could help out, and she said "oh no, we're okay," but with a look on her face indicating they really weren't. The wait staff were running full speed around the restaurant. I dropped my bags and said, "Naw, I'm going to help."

And so I bussed and cleaned tables non-stop for two and a half hours. And then I did grunt work like polishing and sorting three huge bowls of chopsticks, spoons, tongs, and scissors, (essentials for a "galbi-jip") stacked glasses, and refilled water jugs.

And I liked it.
It's very "Diner Dash" and I sort of pretended I was playing a computer game while I was working. A long time ago I used to work in a huge restaurant in Toronto and it was one of my favourite jobs ever. I liked the camaraderie and the busyness and trying to ensure that customers were enjoying themselves.

When I returned from Canada in August I asked my friends what was going to happen to their old restaurant and they told me it had already been rented out. Their small place was sandwiched between a "Family Mart" convenience store and a chicken restaurant. The guy who owned the chicken joint is an asshole. His chicken sucks and his restaurant was always pretty empty. He didn't make any friends in the neighbourhood; everyone knew he was a jerk. Turns out he rented out my friends' old space and was planning to knock the wall down and expand his restaurant. Which he did.

Thing is, he didn't re-open as a sucky chicken restaurant. He opened as a clone of my friends' new restaurant! It had a similar design and exactly the same menu! I was so surprised. He's just so shameless and brazen. Sure, imitation is the best form of flattery blah blah, but that's not the case when you've got two restaurants serving the same dishes on the same block.

Let me say, though, that I'm sure this industry theft imitation isn't entirely unusual in Korea. If you've been here you'll notice that there are blocks of similar businesses. You want a puppy? Go to the area where there's ten pet shops in a row. Feel like eating some sashimi? Head on over the the Street of Raw Fish Restos. I think if one business has some success, other people will come along and open the exact same shop virtually next door in the hopes of leeching off your good fortune. It seems so slimy and underhanded to me, but such is Korean commerce.

So Chicken Asshole opened his new barbecue restaurant a few weeks ago with all the flourish a new business venture here comes with: dancing girls, blaring music, free T-shirts, balloons, and seven solid days of free soju! The place was packed and my friends were worried. I tried to soothe them into not sweating it, telling them Chicken Asshole had surely invited in some bad juju through his actions.

Sure enough, his business seems to be going down the toilet. Try as he might, he just doesn't seem to know how to make his food delicious. Ha! Customers would come into my friends' restaurant and confide that they'd been to the other restaurant and the grub was jinja mashiopda. So they returned to my friends' eatery where they know how to make pork rectum up good and yummy. My inner Hero for Justice has been smug and pointing fingers with a big "HA!" and "serves you right" to Chicken Asshole, who even contacted a former employee of my friends with an offer to buy the recipes for their marinades in the hopes of yummying up his meat. So sneaky.

Tonight I feel bad, though. As I walked by on my way home I noticed the copycat restaurant was closed and Chicken Man was taping a sign to the door. I wondered what happened. Turns out there was a pretty horrible car accident right in front of the restaurant just a couple hours before and one of their waitresses was killed.

I had wished bad luck in business to this man out of loyalty to my friends, but certainly not THAT bad. Jeeze.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

One Reason I Dig Korea

There are many reasons I like it in Korea. Truly, if I hated the place I wouldn't be here, and I certainly wouldn't have stayed for almost five years now. I've felt a lot of things at various times while I've been here: happy, overwhelmed, frustrated, amazed, overjoyed, depressed, disgusted, curious, jaded, and so on. For the most part if you can name it, I've probably felt it.

I've met my share of characters here as well, and even though some of those have included drunken assholes, perverts, crazies, and aggressive overbearing men (and, to be honest - a few women as well) one thing I've never felt here in any real sense has been unsafe. I often walk the streets alone in the middle of the night, and sometimes even in strange surroundings and I've all but lost the wariness I used to feel in similar situations back home.

I was reminded of this when I spoke with my brother last night. He and his family went to visit my mother in Niagara Falls last weekend, and when his wife and my mom decided to head to bed he opted for walk. Some guy approached him asking for directions, and as my brother explained he wasn't from there two other guys attacked him from behind. My brother fought back and punched one of them in the face and kicked another, but still got robbed. Luckily he walked away a bit bloodied and shook up after the guys took off, but it could have been so much worse - and I spent the day being thankful to have all but forgotten what it's like to deal with punk ass criminals.

By no means is this La-La Land over here; there are a lot of issues for a foreigner to get fired up about. It's certainly best to be aware. But by and large this is a safe society where you can count on not running into wild eyed junkies in a park waiting to relieve you of your cash. Or worse.

I think of my friend Kevin who's "safe" back home in Virginia right now, but I wish him a continued safe journey once his walk resumes in the spring. It's a different world over there.

Meanwhile my general impulse, which is to cocoon those I love in bubble wrap and tuck them in a drawer where I can keep an eye on them has reared itself again. I'm not sure my loved ones would appreciate that, so I guess it's lucky for them my arms can't reach across the globe.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Bail Out

I'm hearing the U.S. is in a bit of a financial meltdown at the moment. Politicians are freaking out trying to come up with some sort of action plan to remedy the situation. I'm just wondering, but has anyone thought of asking Oprah yet?