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"So I guess this is where I'm supposed to introduce myself. I'm a Canadian male teaching ESL in Seoul, Republic of Korea. This will be my second stint teaching ESL, only this time I'll be teaching at a High School, using my actual teaching experience to use. If you have any questions, please feel free to e-mail me - no question's too small. Take care, and enjoy the ride."

Other Blogs of Note

  • Student in Korea
  • Seoul Man
  • The Daily Kimchi
  • Surviving South Korea
  • Books I'm Reading

  • "Colossus: The Rise and Fall of the American Empire" by Niall Ferguson
  • "Hardboiled Wonderland and the End of the World" by Haruki Murakami
  • "The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order" by Samuel P. Huntington
  • "The Moral Consequences of Economic Growth" by Benjamin M Friedman
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  • Some Korean "love".... Thursday, January 17, 2008 |

    So I promised two stories about events that made me like Korea again after a hard day at work. So without further adieu, here's the second story of something that made me fall in love with Korea.
    Some of you might remember how I just posted about how Seoul has been setting up their ice-skating rinks in different parts of the city this year. The only thing holding them back was something that you can't buy everywhere in Asia...a Zamboni. This past January they finally finished completing the ice-skating rink in
    Bundang, quite close to where I live. This was especially nice because as it was new, all the skates and blades were new, as opposed to the well-worn and dull skates found at the much more popular City Hall rink.
    So a good teaching friend of mine and I decided to go skating. She hadn't gone in, well, she couldn't remember the last time she had gone skating. We met at
    Seohyun station, and walked the short five minutes there. It was a beautiful night, cold, and a sprinkling of snow was falling - perfect for night skating. We got there early, and as they were cleaning off the ice, we thought it would be perfect it nobody else came - skating on an ice-rink in Korea is sometimes taking your own life into your hands...hundreds of people on one rink, with many of them not having the same advantage as North American people have makes for a lot of people skating out of control....
    As the Zamboni driver cleared off the rink, the snow started falling a little more and more, to the point that the Zamboni tried to keep up with it, but he couldn't. As he finished cleaning off the rink, he told the University student who does "crowd control" to tell the people that the rink was closed. So the student comes into the box where we were waiting, he tells us that the rink was closed. We were disappointed, but there wasn't anything we could do. However, as soon as the Zamboni driver sees us, he says to the student: "
    Foreigners?" (in Korean, of course). "Okay, no problem - let them skate, but only them" (again, in Korea - the Univ. student translated for us).
    So, much to our utter shock, we were allowed to skate on the rink as the Zamboni driver patched the holes on the outdoor rink. What further shocked us was that as multiple Korean families walked up to ask to go skating, they told them that the rink was "closed", even though we were clearly skating in circles, gleefully enjoying the wide open spaces. It was quite possibly one of the most fun times I'd had in a long time. Sure, the whole staff at the public rink thought that my friend and I were dating, to which we both had a good laugh about. We both enjoyed the skate so much that afterwords, we bought the whole staff a dozen donuts. When we handed it to the staff, the looks on their faces was one of utter shock - they all stood at the gate and waved at us as we walked away from the rink - it felt like a commercial - cheesy, but rather comical.
    So those are two stories which made me come to love Korea again. Sometimes, this country drives you nuts enough to wonder why in blazes your working here, as opposed to in some other country where you don't occasionally get treated like yesterday's leftover food. And then things like this happen, and I'm glad God has me here, and not anywhere else:)
    take care all,
    God bless

    the Korean grind.... Wednesday, January 16, 2008 |

    Living and working in a foreign country has its highs and lows, and each come with their benefits and disadvantages. For one, the language difference can sometimes spurn you to "want" to study the language harder, so that the next time you have a problem, you are not relying on the same people to help you out. It can also be aggravating, when, for example, the Korean lunch delivery man blamed me for moving my "dirty-dishes food basket" on him, when it wasn't me, but merely the security guard at the school, trying to help him out.
    (two point note here)
    One - Korean food always comes with free delivery, as long as you order from a Korean restaurant close to where you live - which is virtually a guarantee, since restaurants over here blanket every free wall-space with advertisements. Two, they deliver all of their food on reusable bowls, plates, and silverware (say for wooden chopsticks). It's very refreshing, considering they could always use paper, or something disposable - the fact that they're doing the reusable also creates more work for them as well - and yet it remains so cheap...)

    Okay, so back to the story. Living here can have both benefits and disadvantages - and this holds true for so much more than just languages as well. The nice thing is that sometimes, the strangest events can happen that make you smile, and forget about all of those other things that aggravate you to death. Here is one example which sticks out in my mind, having happened not too long ago.....I'll post another story in a day or so of the same variety :) Enjoy!

    For those of you who remember, a Korean Sauna is a bit of a harrowing experience the first time for a foreigner. For those of you who would like a previous re-counting of my first Sauna experience, you can read about it HERE. So here I was after going to the gym, and I was just finishing up my whole shower, when i feel this child somewhat staring at my, in a "look at me" kind of way. Now, sometimes my workout-finishing time will coincide with the end of the children's swimming lesson. The showers and hot-pool will be inundated with all sorts of children of all ages running around, the "Ajushi" shower-man trying to tell the kids to stop running, and the swimming instructors getting out as quickly as they can. So I'm just about to head out when I notice a small boy staring at me. He was holding out a huge bottle of shampoo, and by gesture, was asking me if I wanted some. So I said "a/sah" in Korean, which made him giggle quite a bit (a/sah is Korean for "very nice"). So the little child tips the bottle over, gives it a huge squeeze, and nothing but a huge "fart-like" sound emits from the bottle. Both the child and I laughed a little, and then, as he goes to shake the bottle for the second "go", as he brings it down, the child squeezes a blob of shampoo into my hand so big I could have washed my hair for a month - it was flowing out of my hands. At this point, the child looked almost scared, as if I'd tell him he just wasted the shampoo by pushing too hard. So, instead, I said "a/sah!" with extra emphasis, stuck it all in my hair, and said "Kam/sa/ham/ne/da" - which is the English writing of "thank-you" in Korean. This brought a smile so big to his face, that he turned around, ran into the other half of the showers, and proceeded to tell all his friends about what just happened. This brought five other kids running to see if his story held-up, and once they saw me, and I saw them, I said "Boo!" and tried to chase them around the shower. Not the brightest idea, but the kids loved it, and I felt good about Korea.
    Story two is coming hopefully tomorrow
    God bless all, and enjoy the wonder of winter

    A whole new year.... Sunday, January 13, 2008 |

    So, belated happy new year to all of those who are still reading:) Apologies for the long break between posts - I actually was scared to check to see when the last time I had actually updated. So allow me the joy of posting a little longer post than normal.
    First, Christmas in Seoul.
    Korea is predominantly two major religions: Christian and Buddhist. The Christians love Christmas, for it is a very large holiday, and its a time of blessings, love, and for the kids, presents. The Buddhist's love it because they get the day off, and because Korea is such a "service" type of country, most of the restaurants stayed open.
    Last year, in Seoul, Korea finally converted their wide-open city-hall space into a massive ice-skating rink, to massive popular approval. Koreans are known world-wide for their speed-skating (who would think that a country so inept at skating could produce Olympians in speed-skating. It'd be like Canadians winning, I don't know, a host of surfing medals, only, in consecutive Olympics....if you lived here, you'd understand the head-scratching of this....Anyways, I digress. Here's a picture of what their whole ice-skating rink looks like.
    Its actually quite a beautiful rink. That "castle like" structure goes all the way around, and it lights up the whole neighbourhood. The best part of this whole scheme is that renting skates is 1000 Won, or effectively 1 dollar. You usually get to skate for just over an hour and a half, and then they kick everyone off, clean the ice, and by the time the kids get their skates off, they run around to the doors beside the Zamboni platform, and play around in the huge pile of snow the Zamboni dropped out of its front. To these kids, they stare at the truck as if its a snow-making machine...a Zamboni? In Korean, its written as 참보니 - with no "Z" in Korean, its pronounced "cham-bo-ni". So that's the story of Christmas in Korea. They open the ice-rink around late November, and it stays open till mid-January. And then in typical Korean fashion, the whole thing will be dismantled in less than 24 hours, and it will look like the whole thing was never there.
    New Years Eve. New Years Eve in Korea is quite a spectacle. For once in the country, fireworks are allowed to be lit, but only in the street. Korea, which has mandatory military service or police service (you basically do Riot Police duty) were there in huge numbers....almost one riot police officer for each Korean or foreigner there. My friends and I went to the main area, without knowing what or where we were going; we basically followed the "follow the crowd" principle. The main area for New Year Eve, where there's a big bell, which gets rung quite a few times to ring in the near year. I have no idea how many times, because there were more than 100,000 people all trying to get within viewing range of a massive bell that was completely cordoned off by riot police four deep, upwards of seven, depending on how close to the celebrities they were. Basically, the only "legal" firecracker you could use were "roman candles" which actually made the air nice and smoky, which worked well for taking time-delayed shots, or slow-motion photography, showing the streaks of the roman candle firecrackers. Here's the best shot I could manage during what henceforth shall be known as the "Human Stampede of 2008".

    I have never been so tightly packed into one place. For the most part, you had no control over where the crowd was moving; you just all moved as "one". At one point, it was so crowded, and the people were pushing so hard that I could not put my foot down - there was no room for my foot. It truly is a miracle that no one was stampeded to death; and this was before the Korean Pop sensations "Super Junior" took the stage.....Curious who they are? check out the video below....

    When that started, it was mayhem. They sang only one song, but the push towards the front of the stage was the tightest space I've ever been in my life. Good times. Not the song so much, but just being in that area. Strangely enough, when doing the countdown, in most places I've been, they countdown the number that is showing on the big digital screen, and everyone counts along - not so in Korea. They were always one number ahead, so when the 10 flashed on the screen, everyone screamed "9" in Korean...and when they got to "1" the whole place went bananas for Koreans...they screamed, made some noise, and then quickly forgot what they were supposed to do, and started pushing around to get their way out of the crowd. Definately something i'll remember for a long time.
    So that's my recap of Christmas and New Years Eve in Korea. I promise to report on two comical incidents sometime soon, and I will also do a more concerted effort to write more frequently. Enjoy the nice winter weather.
    God bless,