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...

Full Weekend

It is already Wednesday! So before the new weekend starts (and I forget all that transpired this past weekend) I'm gonna write really quickly about the weekend of the 13th and 14th. The Itaewon Global Festival was taking place, so I spent a lot of my weekend in my neighborhood eating delicious food and taking some not so great photos (I need a new camera). While the festival had stuff going on other than food (including concerts and information booths), I just focused in on trying some goodies. Yum yum. It also was a great time to hang out with friends.

Since I live in HBC, it isn't too difficult for me to try new foods. However, a lot of foreign restaurants are rather expensive, especially compared to their Korean counterparts, so it was nice to try smaller portions at cheaper prices. The crowds were massive (especially Saturday night) and mostly Korean. Itaewon has been becoming increasingly popular with Koreans and really is definitely shaping up to be a nice area of the city with really good bars and restaurants (Oh how I love you Vatos Tacos). Despite the increasing popularity of Itaewon, during the festival I definitely saw way more Koreans than usual, including many families and children.
Of course the best time to do some welding is at a festival
 The rest of the weekend was spent enjoying the weather. Fall is the best season in Korea, and there is no excuse to stay in your house on these amazing days. Saturday evening was spent on the Han River, where Chris and Josh played the guitar while we all sang along.

With such great weather, we've decided to make it a point to visit new areas of Seoul. Sunday brought us to Seoul Children's Grand Park, which, surprisingly, I had never been to before. There were some cool animals (I loved the kangaroos) but the cages left a bit to be desired. Zoos are harder to enjoy when you spend half the time wondering if their cage is big enough. 

So that was the weekend! Better head back to work.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Pros and Cons of Traveling Alone: A Taiwanese Example

For Chuseok, I went to Taipei for the long weekend on a solo trip; I hadn't traveled alone in God knows how long, so it was great to go by myself. Then again, at times I missed the companionship of other travelers. Various aspects of my travels were colored by traveling alone in Taiwan, so here were my pros and cons to traveling alone in Taiwan.

Eating: Anyone who knows me a bit knows that I am a live-to-eat type of person. When I'm traveling, I try anything. Taiwan was the perfect place to eat a variety of foods.
Pros: I could eat whatever I wanted whenever I wanted. If I saw a noodle place that looked good, I would just sit down and order. I had a bunch of great food experiences in Taiwan because of the spontaneity of dinner choices and not having to deal with 10 people's dietary constraints and ending up at a f***ing McDonalds.

Gel-covered pork with cilantro. No idea what it was called, but hey. 
Cons: Traveling alone means not having dining buddies. Which means trying less things. You can't really steal food off of strangers' plates (though many a stranger did help with my food choices).

Visiting Sights: 
Pros: I went to all of the things I wanted to see and spent as much time there as I wanted. At the Chiang Kai-shek memorial (so beautiful) I lounged around for a bit and then went into the museum. While I was at first hesitant to skip out due to boredom, I realized that I didn't have to prove that I was some sort of intellectual and could leave the museum at my leisure. Freedom.
Moon cakes and architecture. Life is beautiful
Cons: Every place has its must-see destinations. For Taipei, one of those places is the National Palace Museum. Due to my laziness, I didn't make it to the museum. If I had been traveling with friends, someone would have made sure we went there. I guess it means I may have to go back. 

Pros: Go to the bars you want, hang out with the crowd you want, and go home with you want. Sounds pretty good, right?
50 Taiwanese Dollars per Shot. Great way to get lost in a new city
Cons: You probably shouldn't go too crazy in a city you don't know. If I had drunk a lot in Taipei, who would help me get home? You may need a bit of liquid courage to approach people at bars, so it is a delicate balance between being buzzed and putting yourself in a dangerous position. 

Schedule Flexibility:
Pros: My scheduling was done on a tiny piece of paper. It was purposefully made very flexible. A lot of my friends can't travel like that. But I didn't have anything specific to do at certain times, I was able to join one of the workers at the hostel to his family's house for the Moon Cake Festival. Now that was a great experience. Eating BBQ, drinking whiskey with his heavy-handed mother (seriously, who wants to down three shots of whiskey at once?), singing karaoke, and meeting new people. Whats not to love?

Cons: Not working on a plan with a fellow traveler means perhaps overlooking certain sights or some fascinating place that your friend knows about. This can be compensated for by staying at a hostel, but Asia's hostels aren't the best in the world...  

Time to Think:
Pros: I worked out a lot of my thoughts while in Taiwan. I just had so much alone time that I talked to myself about all sorts of things that were going on in my mind (the future, love interests, work, US politics, etc). I would ponder my life for a bit, enjoy the sights, take pictures of myself, and then go 
Cons: You definitely do run out of things to talk to yourself about. I got through a lot of the micro-issues I'm dealing with and thought about some bigger goals and then though, huh, what's next? My last day in Taiwan I spent many hours singing Phantom of the Opera and Hedwig and the Angry Inch both out loud and to myself. I must have looked crazy.

Pros: I love walking as a means to explore a city. Rather than bus from sight to sight, I enjoy taking the long walking route and exploring as I go. My first day in Taipei I went for something like a four hour walk. While I have some friends that wouldn't mind such long walks, most of them would want to rest after a couple of minutes. Traveling alone gives me the ability to walk for as long as I desire. It also introduces me to cool things, like Taipei's arboretum or a pig in Danshui. 

Cons: My walkative days tend to reduce my energy in the evenings. If I had a bit more balance during the day (maybe a quick nap?) maybe I'd be able to last longer in the evenings. Traveling with friends means more frequent rests. 

Cultural Surrounding

Pros: When you travel alone, you don't have to be aware of how your friends are presenting themselves or if your group is being respectful. You only have to worry about how you are behaving. It's nice not to worry about loud and disrespectful foreigners.

Cons: Sometimes I am that loud and noisy foreigners. If I'm being obnoxious, or doing something impolite without being aware, who is going to inform me? I've traveled with friends who have told me when I'm too loud or being rude, and they really help give me peace of mind. When I went to Longshen temple (right), I wasn't really sure what level of reverence I should observe. It was easy to be quiet, but was I supposed to bow as a non-believer? Should I have left food on the tables at the temple? Would it have been fine if I lit some incense? Traveling with people (especially intelligent culturally aware people) can really add to your cultural understanding of a place.

So I guess I feel a bit mixed about traveling alone. While the freedom is great, it is easy to become lonely and a lazy traveler. After the US, my next trip is in January. Anyone want to go to SE Asia? 

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

September's Sustenance

I had tons of great things to eat in September. That includes some amazing food in Taiwan, but that will be for a later post. Here's what kept me alive in Korea:
Cut noodles (made by hand)
 I went out with my co-workers for some delicious food- steamed minnows, followed by a surprisingly delicious spicy fish soup and then fried rice.

Soldier soup after volunteering with the Deaf Association
Catie and I make wonderful breakfasts on Sunday

Thinly sliced radishes with vegetables
 BBQ with my school and Jinnie teaching us how to make kimchi jjigae (kimchi stew) at home.

 Barley rice and sundubu jjigae (which is a soft type of tofu stew)
 Blueberry flavored makkeoli with my old co-teachers ^^
More kimchi stew with ramen noodles
 C and I have made some very American meals. Including tacos and spaghetti.

YUM YUM YUM! My favorite mackerel and spicy pork stir fry 
Eating spicy rice cake and stuffed pig intestines after our school's volleyball tournament 
 I've realized that my New Year's goal of eating twenty new cuisines is nowhere near completion. I'll have to work on that... Still, I have managed to try a lot of new Korean foods.