Thursday, August 31, 2006

Korean marketing genius

The chain New York Hotdog and Coffee just opened up by my school. You know, because coffee and hot dogs go so well together... At least men made from 100% beef like the combination. I'll pass.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Home away from home

I forgot about this bar I saw on Jeju. I tried to go in but it was dark and deserted with trash piled up in the stairwell and it looked like it had recently been closed down. Too bad, I could only look in through the windows at Kansas...

Monday, August 21, 2006

Fruit lady

While I waited for a friend outside an exit at Dongdaemun station I watched this old lady pile and re-pile her grapes and nectarines. She had a skinny long cigarette hanging out of her mouth and she smoked it all (and the next one five minutes later) without ever taking it from her mouth. The ash grew long and kept falling on her shirt. The grapes were delicious and much cheaper than buying from the supermarket. Peel the skins off to eat the grapes Korean style. Yum!

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Some more Jeju island pics..

Hyeopjae beach

I sat on the rocks where the waves met the fall here.

Sunrise Peak

Oedolgae rock and a new haircut.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Jeju Island: Part 2, Loveland

***Warning: this post is NOT work safe***

In Amsterdam, I wouldn't have batted an eye. California or New York? Not surprised a bit. But Korea? I am seriously still shocked.

On Jeju I couldn't believe how many random museums the island boasts, including an African Museum, a Chocolate Museum, a Cinema Museum, a Tangerine Museum, and Miniature Land. Wanting a more relaxing vacation and not having the slightest desire to see a midget Eiffel Tower or learn about Africa while in Korea, I decided to skip them all and head for the beach. Then at the beach one day I heard from some fellow travelers that I should stop by Loveland. They assured me I would not leave disappointed.

So my last Friday night on the island I made my way to Loveland and paid my 7,000 won admission to see what all the fuss was about. Holy penises! I was absolutely shocked that such a place could exist in this country! I thought I had stepped into the twilight zone. I mean this is Korea, where if I even have an accidental exposed strip of skin showing on my midriff, a random stranger (usually a well-intentioned ajumma) will tug my shirt down for me and cover up the offensive show of skin.

Penis-shaped arrows on the concrete sidewalk directed visitors on this outdoor tour of the flesh, which began with a statue of a naked woman on all fours in quite a provocative position. Young couples giggled as they shyly observed the several different and complex positions the exhibitionist statues were modeling for the usually conservative Korean people. Many were less shy though and went up to pose with the statues, grabbing an ass cheek or a breast with one hand and doing the obligatory peace sign with the other.

After walking past the giant tile-mosaic penis (how funny would that look in Miniature Land?), I went into the small museum of random sex-themed things. On the walls, there were around 20 color photographs of the same couple engaged in a series of different coital positions. An older man was getting within inches of each one, squinting his eyes and wrinkling his forehead, wearing an expression of both curiosity and amazement. I could almost hear him thinking, "Why didn't I ever think of that?" And then there was the peep show box, which featured a collage of Hustler-worthy photographs, that even I was embarrassed to be seen looking at. Moving on, I walked by glass cases full of vibrators, blow-up dolls, S & M paraphernalia and condoms.

As I walked back outside I saw a crowd gathering and lights and cameras being assembled and put into position. I asked someone nearby what was happening and was told there would be nude models coming out soon for a local artist to paint. "Very special event", someone told me, as they excitedly looked on. Sure enough, a few minutes later a masked man and woman walked out wearing white and black sheets respectively. Eventually, after several poses that left the models progressively exposed, they were both completely nude as the artist furiously painted on. He finished the show by painting a splash of black directly across their naked bodies.

As I left Loveland, I walked by several more statues doing unthinkable things and a car that rocked and emitted shouts of ecstasy every few seconds. I walked out into the Korea I know feeling strangely displaced.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Book Review: Tales from the Expat Harem

I reviewed this book for Rolf Pott's Vagablogging website this month. Rolf and I met last year in Kansas (his home state also) at a book reading of his at Watermark. He has a great website for travelers and I would highly recommend his book, Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel, to anyone thinking of traveling the world (or anyone sick of living in a cubicle 40 hours a week). The book and the person are both an inspiration to me-- my teaching in Korea can also be partially attributed to meeting Rolf (he taught for 2 years in Busan). Thanks Rolf!

Here's an excerpt of the review of Tales from the Expat Harem...

As a self-proclaimed travel freak currently teaching English in Korea, I love venturing into new places and letting the unknown surroundings stimulate my senses. I am particularly curious to hear how other travelers experience different countries, especially when it involves other equally adventurous females traveling solo.

Tales from the Expat Harem, an anthology of modern travel writing about Turkey, includes stories that span four decades, contributed by 29 women from around the world, the majority being from America. The tales are told from many drastically different perspectives with entrepreneurs, archaeologists, Peace Corps volunteers, missionaries, English teachers and women marrying into the Turkish culture -- to name a few -- offering their personal and often intimate accounts of the Turkey they have come to know and love. The topics throughout this anthology range from the hamam or Turkish bath, marriage rituals, tales of the bazaar, song and dance, and Turkish superstitions.

Click here to read the complete review.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

The Americanization of Zach

8 year old Zach (named after my younger brother), started in my class two weeks ago after moving back to Korea after 2 years in Eugene, Oregon. I took him and the rest of the class for ice cream the other day and three teenage girls came and sat down (within hearing distance) at a table a couple feet from ours. Zach takes one look at one of the slightly overweight girls and says to me matter-of-factly, "Aly Teacher, she's real fat!". I proceeded to tell him that he needs to keep those sort of comments to himself and what he did was extremely rude. He replied, "It's okay Teacher, she doesn't speak American!". Time to bust that myth of his before he gets in trouble. Unfortunately though, I've encountered many expats, GI's and travelers that share Zach's belief that most Koreans don't speak English and therefore proceed to have disrespectful conversations any time or place. I've seen it too many times to deny it. The truth is that most Koreans understand at least some English, especially in Seoul. And even if they don't understand English, it's quite obvious when you're being talked about on the subway by a group of foreigners. Let's hope Zach has learned his lesson and doesn't get beat up by the next teenage girl he calls a chunk.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Jeju island: Part 1

Five star accomodation

Jungmun beach (you can see our lifeguard stand if you look close)

I'm back from Jeju island to find the rainy season has abruptly ended. July was constant rain, everyday almost without fail. The forecast for August seems to be hot, hot, hot and humid. This summer weather makes me feel like I'm back home again. Unless I'm in the classroom, I'm usually wearing a constant sweat bead moustache and my clothes are drenched. I wake up now before 7 not to the light of the sun like before but to the HEAT of the sun.

The weather on Jeju was perfect beach weather everyday. The only respite from the heat in the weather was a refreshing short summer storm on Saturday. Overall, the trip was a good one, although not exactly relaxing. I traveled all around the island, sleeping every night in a different place including several saunas, a lifeguard stand on the beach, a home stay with a Korean family, and a couchsurfing couch.

The first night John met me at the airport with Sonny, who drove us to his house in Jeju City where his wife Maggie had dinner waiting for us (at 10:00 pm), complete with pumpkin from their garden followed with watermelon. John had met Sonny on a beach and Sonny had insisted that we do a homestay for a night. Sonny was a funny character whom I began to refer to as 'The King of Idioms'. He must have spent some serious time studying books devoted to English idioms, as he seriously had one for every situation. Their bookshelves were full of English learning books and many of the classics in English. After we went to our room-- a mattress on the floor surrounded with a much needed mosquito net-- I found a book called 'Sexy English' on the book shelf. We were shocked at some of the slang words included and couldn't quite imagine Sonny studying and memorizing them. We were dying trying not to wake our hosts up with our laughter when we came to the section on mispronunciation, complete with drawings for mistakes such as, "I put some clean shits on the bed", "The audience crapped for a long time after the concert", and "Rots of ruck on your coming erection" (Lots of luck on your coming election)!

The next day Sonny and Maggie had planned out a complete itinerary for the day with visits to places such as Miniature World, the Chocolate Museum and a green tea farm. I told Sonny that honestly we didn't care much for seeing any museums and would just love to go to the beach.(Other random museums Jeju boasts are the Africa Museum, Cinema Museum, and Tangerine Museum.) He was obviously relieved about the suggestion and we all piled in the van, along with their 25 year old son, Chance, for the beach. Twice on the way, we went the wrong way on the street, making John feel right at home. At one of the three beaches we went to, John and I gave Sonny and Chance a swimming lesson. Later, thinking the 20 minute swimming lesson was sufficient enough, Sonny swam out to the deep part where John and I were floating around and I had to drag him back to safety. My lifeguard training actually came in handy again!

Saturday night Sonny and Maggie dropped us off at a bus stop where we caught a bus to Jungmun beach. (Sonny secretly told John to take me to a romantic beach and had spent much time telling us how perfect of a "couple" we were. Koreans don't seem to understand the concept of platonic male/female friendships. It was amusing though nonetheless.) John and I had a grand time swimming after dark, burying each other in the sand and then sleeping in the lifeguard stand on the beach. Unfortunately for John, I stole the sleeping bag in my sleep (I swear I don't remember!) and he froze all night. The mosquitoes got revenge on me for him though: I woke up with 24-- I counted-- mosquito bites only on my legs. John had 2.

After John woke me up at 6 am I walked up to the Hyatt looking like a barefoot and homeless child to brush my teeth and get some water. On my way, I was teased by the most delicious looking brunch ever-- watermelon, oranges, bananas, omletes, potatoes, waffles, juices-- and I was starving. We played on the beach for a few hours until our growling stomachs couldn't take it anymore-- there was a serious lack of food on this beach. John shouted my breakfast at the Hyatt and we ate until we could barely move, taking advantage of the gourmet food and air conditioning. It was delicious...