Monday, December 31, 2012

New Year Wrap-up

I had a post at the beginning of the year with New Year's goals. Time to see if I succeeded.

1) Write a blog entry at least once a week. 
I was doing really well with this until September. However, I have been writing in my other blogs plenty, so I'll say success!
2) Try at least twenty new cuisines. 
This was definitely a fail. I did try one West African restaurant in HBC and some new foods at the Itaewon culture festival... Maybe this was a bit ambitious. I probably tried 20 new dishes! And I ate a bunch of new foods in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan and Macau.
3) Get into an advanced Korean class.
I think I'm in an advanced class right now. Level 4 at Sukmyeong.
4) Keep in touch with my family and friends back home more often. 
Hmmmm... I don't know if I did very well with this. Seriously, why don't I phone my family?!??
5) Watch more Korean dramas. 
Didn't happen. I tried to watch Life is Beautiful, but never finished it. I also almost finished Coffee Prince, but hasn't happened either. Still watching American television if I watch anything.
6) Take a Korean cooking class.
I didn't take a class, but I learned some techniques from my co-teachers, so I'm pretty happy.
7) Study my vocab! 
Success on the GRE! And my Korean vocabulary has expanded a lot.
8) Learn more ASL.
I broke up with BH in March... Since then, I haven't studied.
9) Exercise more. 
Success. I did a really good job at Beondong Middle School since our school had a gym. C and I were doing well for a while, but we got lazy as the days got colder.
10) Travel to at least three new countries. 
Success here as well. I went to Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan and Japan. That's four countries! Yay!

Six out of ten... not bad. 

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Gapyeong Pension and an Uzbek Dinner

I post remarkable irregularly on this blog, and for that, I'd like to apologize. In my defense, I am working really hard on my Korean blog (, another Korean lifestyle blog, and grad school applications. When I get home from work, the last thing I want to do is write a poorly written blog post about my weekend. However, this blog does remind me of why I love Korea, and one day I'll look back at this drivel and smile.

This past weekend, I piggybacked on some friends' travel plans to go to the countryside for a night of solitude in the mountains of Gyeonggi-Do. Pensions (holiday house rental homes) are pretty popular in Korea and can be booked for a decently cheap price. You'll normally end up sleeping on the floor, but with sleeping pads and surrounded by friends, it is better than a noisy sauna full of snoring ajjusshis.

Saturday morning we grabbed the ITX from Yongsan station and got off at . We picked up some drinks, meat, and snacks at a grocery store (20,000 won per person) and the grocery store agreed to give us a ride to the pension in the back of a van. As there was a group of shoppers before us, we had to wait. The area was pretty, however, so we walked around a bit, found some abandon buildings, and threw some snowballs. Some of these snowballs may have broke windows of aforementioned buildings... Oops.

Cameron at the gates to creepy abandoned Korean concentration campesque buildings
 The pension was adorable. Two stories with sleeping space for 12 people. By sleeping space, I mean lots of floor space and two beds. Ladies were given the beds, and all the boys were going to sleep in the common room.

 We slurped down some ramen and then explored our surroundings. Korea is such a beautiful wilderness outside of Seoul. To think, we went from one of the largest cities in the world to this in an hour? Awesome.


Half of the group
Our pensions was called Lothlorien pension I believe. After Lord of the Rings? So I tried to look a bit elvish. (Did I end up just looking stoned?)

The sun was setting and we had some BBQ to prepare. We had 목살 (pork neck) and 갈매기살 (I think this is back), which we grilled up. Outside. And it was freezing. I think we had some 4 kilograms of meat, so it took a LONG time to cook. Even though my feet almost fell off, hanging outside in the freezing weather to deliver food to our warm-bodied friends inside was actually a great experience. Especially since Cameron had brought along makkeoli from around Korea. We had peanut, tangerine, pine, and a host of other flavors.
Awesome makkeoli model
By the time we finished cooking and eating, the makkeoli laughed at us, saying 'Hey, you know how drunk you'll get when you are drinking to stay warm when it is well below freezing? Pretty drunk.' Since we were in the middle of the mountains with no other people or buildings around, this ended up being the best thing to do, so we spent the rest of the evening with more makkeoli and dancing in the common room.

The best part? Waking up to see this gorgeous thing. C, you look great as a unicorn eating ramen.

To make my weekend even more memorable, I had a date when I got back to Seoul. We went out for Uzbek food in the Dongdaemun History and Culture Park area (near exit 5). Man, that food is great. A drunken Uzbek man decided to join our table, and rambled on about Central Asian politics to us in Korean. Do you know what the best sign was that this date was going well? He took it all in stride and enjoyed the evening, even though it wasn't exactly what we planned.

The samsa and the borscht were the best parts
Feeling like all was right with the world, I headed back home, only to find that our washing machine wasn't draining because the drain had frozen over... That was a bit of a mess, but perhaps better for a ranting post about Korea than this lovely weekend recap.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Thanksgiving in Seoul 2012

I can't remember when I was home for Thanksgiving... it must be at least six years. Luckily, most Thanksgivings I've had a great group of friends both in college and abroad who make the holiday worthwhile (even if we don't have the day of in Korea). This year, we hosted Halloween at our house and had quite a great turnout. We pretty much had every Thanksgiving fixing plus some extra dishes. I was going to make rice pudding, but since we had cupcakes and pumpkin pie I was discouraged from making the pretty much flavorless Swedish dessert. C made the turkey and did a fabulous job; she brined the turkey which resulted in a great bird. I might have to adopt her method...

This was my first plate
 Our house was pretty packed. Not only were we celebrating Thanksgiving, but it was also a chance to celebrate three of our friends birthdays. I love house parties!

One of the best contributions was given by JB; he bought a huge bottle of baiju: a Chinese liquor. As I was studying for the GRE, I was not drinking Thanksgiving night. Lots of our guests, however, hit the bottle decently hard. Love was in the air that night. Seriously, there were at least 6 people that kissed on Friday night. That baiju is horniness in a bottle.

They kissed

And we kissed (and JB is straight!)
I hope you kissed... J certainly was dancing like a stripper

 There are probably videos of all the sofa dancing that went on at that party. I'm not sure I want to see it. Embarrassing videos of people dancing are signs of a good party, though, huh?
So Happy Thanksgiving! I'm thankful for having a job that I like most of the time, an enjoyable life, good health, and great friends. I'm thankful that I live in a world where I can live across the ocean and still see my family back in the US at least once a year. I'm thankful to scientists for such amazing breakthroughs in agriculture that we can have amazing food all the time. I'm thankful for life ^^

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

I haven't posted on this blog in a while... I've been a bit busy with studying for the GRE, studying Korean, working, and, of course, my social life. Things are great in Korea, but the weather is certainly getting colder. Since I'm not the smallest guy, I like this change: more layers hide my body and just make me look like a tall and slim guy. Back at the house, we haven't turned on the heat yet because the utilities are pretty expensive; since I grew up in Minnesota, this hasn't been too difficult. What I dread, however, is waking up in the morning and making the trip from bed to shower. Plus, our shower only stays hot for five minute intervals. Sometimes I feel a bit bad for Catie. She's more like this:
At least she has a heated blanket....

Work has been work. Nothing too crazy, but I do have to get ready for winter camp. This could be a decent amount of work because we are preparing a textbook, but luckily there are four teachers on this product.

Shit, I just dropped a piece of squid covered in red sauce all over my lap... I probably shouldn't blog and eat.


Thursday, November 15, 2012

October in Food

Yum yum yum! I'm a little late posting this, but this is some of the food in October!
Original creation: Mexican lasagna
We have amazing breakfast

Cameron made me fried rice!

 I went out for 쌈밥 with my school: all sorts of different types of greens with various side dishes. Super delicious and healthy.

Pork shoulder and noodles at school? Why not?

Homemade pizza ^^
October was a month of potlucks and barbeques


Wednesday, November 7, 2012

A vacation in Minnesota

I had the chance to go back to Minnesota for my brother's wedding (after signing a contract that I would be a well-prepared and excellent teacher in Korea when I returned) and I enjoyed it quite a bit. My parents recently moved from Lindstrom to downtown St Paul. When I went home last year, I felt kind of like this:
This year was a little more like this:
I figured it would be a blast to be downtown (my parents were probably a twenty minute walk to central St Paul) and I would have things to do every night. It turns out that I've gotten too accustomed to the 24/7 lifestyle of Seoul. Yes, St Paul is beautiful and has some gorgeous streets with equally impressive Victorian houses. There are coffee shops, ethnic neighborhoods, bars and clubs, and a vibrant queer scene. Seriously, look at some of these houses.

F. Scott Fitzgerald's House

It was also nice to be surrounded with so much liberal-minded people. When I was in St Paul, Question 1 was being debated all over the place. A vote yes meant limiting marriage to only straight couples. St Paul was peppered with orange 'Vote No' signs. I felt quite welcome. 

The nature is beautiful, with a great network for biking. My mother and I spent one afternoon biking from St Paul to Minneapolis and back, and, unlike biking in Seoul, their were bike lanes the whole way. Plus, a lot of natural and man-made beauty. 

The might Mississippi

Midtown in Minneapolis
Of course, the best part about St Paul is seeing my family. I met Sarah's new adorable baby, Greta, hung out with Miles, teased Anna, saw David and Shela's wedding, ate at Ben's restaurant, danced with Katie, spent time with the rents and partied with the cousins. What's not to like?
First walk around the new house with Mom and Sarah

Mom looking so beautiful with her ill-fitting helmet
The wedding party and family

Oh, and Halloween happened as well 
So, yes, I enjoyed myself a lot. St Paul seems like a wonderful place for my parents and Sarah to live. But it wasn't for me. The first night, I wanted to go out for a coffee. It was around 10 pm. The only thing left open at this time were bars. When I did go out to the bars, they would close at 2. Huh? That's when things start getting really fun! And where were all the people? I love walking, but walking around St Paul does not expose you to much humanity. Everyone seemed to be inside their lovely houses. I love a city that never sleeps, a city that you have to fight to get your way around because the streets are chock-full of people, a city that has restaurants and cafes on EVERY single street. I love a city that is so large you feel like you are always discovering a new neighborhood, and you don't need to rely on a car for getting from point A to point B. I love a cityscape that is dotted with mountains in case you need a rest from the dynamic center. I love Seoul. And as sad as this sounds, I didn't feel like I was going home on October 25th. No, visiting St Paul was a vacation. I came home on Tuesday when I landed in Incheon, took a bus to Itaewon, and walked to HBC. It probably won't be my home forever, but it definitely is for the time being. 

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

On being late in Korea

I would say I love Korea around 80% of the time and hate it around 10% of the time (with the remainder being feelings of apathy). One thing that can bother me is the importance of appearance; of course appearance is important pretty much everywhere, but the way it gets into some practical issues annoys me. One way the importance of appearance manifests itself is in timeliness to work. A good quality, right? But sometimes there are good reasons to be late- or even absent.
If you are hungover, which may even be because you were out with your school the other night, and you show up at work on time as an unproductive employee that's ok. However, I have been slightly hungover, again from drinking with the school, and needed an extra ten minutes in the morning so I could be at, well near, the top of my game. When I later asked my co-teacher which was better, bleary eyed punctual teacher or efficient yet slightly late teacher, she answered that the former is preferable.
As a pragmatist, this just doesn't make sense to me.

Another example: I was on my way to work and really, really needed to use the bathroom. Like, oh-my-god-my-body-can't-control-itself-right-now-where-is-the-nearest-toilet bad.
Sorry for this visual...
I knew if I stopped at a public bathroom, I would be scolded at work. Maybe a 'I have 설사' would be a good excuse, but it would also be embarrassing to let them in on my explosive diarrhea.  Five minutes of tardiness shouldn't make you feel like an awful employee, right?

As for absences, the policy here isn't only annoying, it also could be dangerous. I tried calling in sick once in 2009. My co-teacher responded with a cool 'you'd better come in'. So I did, even though I felt like shit.
I taught my classes, exposed them to my viruses, and I guess, in terms of workforce cohesion, things went well. But in terms of my personal health and the health of the students?
Even though I have something like 15 sick days in my contract, I probably won't use any of them; if I miss school, I'm afraid that my co-workers job will be harder. In Korea, there aren't last-minute substitute teachers. They have teachers who come in for long absences or maternity leave, but not for a teacher that calls in at 7:30 because they are vomiting. That means co-workers have to pick up the slack and cover your classes, which isn't the best way to make friends at the office.
So unless I'm vomiting, I'll probably make it to school. As for tardiness, I wish I could say I'll be on time. Unfortunately, I tend to be two or three minutes late regardless of my time of departure. Luckily, my new school hasn't said anything yet...