Published: April 27th 2010April 27th 2010
Well the past few weeks in Korea have gone as most expect by now: working by day, partying by night, and fighting off the pains of liver cerosis Friday through Sunday. All in all, I must say life is good. I have found yet another country that suits my style in this world and, the more I travel the more I begin to realize… I am easy. It doesn’t take much to grab my attention, suck me into the local culture, and fall in love with everything around me. From the people, to the scenery, to the food; I love it here in South Korea.
For Purple Mountains Majesty
I can’t lie though; I haven’t spent all my time within the confines of this marvelous nation. Last weekend I strayed from the border and crossed into another country; a place so different, so alien, so absolutely foreign to me that I dare not speak the name. There were Taco Bells everywhere, Burger Kings as far as the eye could see, bowling ally’s, movie theatres, and open parks on every corner. This was not Korea my friends for on Saturday I was in…. America! Ah, land of the free and
home of the brave, my home country reeled me back in for a few hours and provided me a slight glimpse of all the things I left behind. Before my friends back home (or my Mother) gets too upset that I didn’t call, have no fear; for I was merely on American soil within Seoul, not back in the Continental US of A. The Yongsan American Military Base is located smack dab in the middle of Metropolitan Seoul. Nestled under the picturesque Namsa Tower and between the districts of Itaewon and the Yongsan Electronics District, the base sprawls out over 3 square kilometers and houses over 17,000 United States Military Personnel. It also has an elementary school, a middle school, two high schools and a college on base. Yongsan Garrison is the headquarters of all US Military Operations in South Korea.
I found the base particularly impressive in that it really was like being back in an American town. There is not a whole lot of green going on in Korea (I’m not talking about pot you stoners, get your head out of the gutter) and it is rare to see much grass (seriously stop it) other than in
one of the preserved parks around Seoul. However, in Yongsan, there were yards, parks, and patches of grass everywhere you looked. They have self service gas stations, American style buildings, and even used car lots that are decorated with American flag banners and streamers… it was like I had finally come home!
One of the most beautiful contributions that Yongsan had to offer me (and these are ubiquitous across Korea this time of year) is the row of Cherry Blossoms that hugged the main street for about 500 meters. Cherry Blossoms are one of the most beautiful species of tree I have ever seen. I’m not one to go gawk at fresh daisy’s or frolic through a field of lilac’s (here come the gay jokes), but Cherry Blossom’s are truly impressive. They only stay in bloom for a few weeks before the pink and white flower petals (꼰잎) fall to the earth below mimicking a new fallen snow, yet the time they remain on the trees provides a beautiful landscape across the Korean countryside. People flock for miles to see their beauty and, while I didn’t understand it before, I now fully know why Koreans and foreigners alike line
up in mass crowds to gaze upon these trees.
While the Cherry Blossoms were the most interesting thing I saw in Yongsan, I would be hard pressed to say that they were the most beautiful. The most beautiful thing I bore witness to on base came in a far smaller package. Resting peacefully in a paper trey decorated in white and red stripes, and covered generously in hot melted cheesy goodness, sat a marvelous helping of American style fried potatoes. Cheesy fries bring out the best in most people, and upon biting into their succulent greasy exterior; I felt transported back to the days spent at a ballpark munching on food from the concession stand. To compliment these fries from heaven, I was eating them in the most American of venues: a bowling ally. Now I am not exactly the worlds best bowler (in fact a 10 year old girl actually got a higher score than me… and I would be lying if I told you I wasn’t trying), but it was still a great time.
My time on the Yongsan base came to an end as quickly as it began, and I was forced to depart, once
again picking up my feet off American soil and entering a foreign land. Goodbye again America, I shall not forget you soon.
My time spent at school has been going great. Though there is the occasional mutinous takeover of the classroom by 3rd grade pirates (their actually students but I tell you they have the look of death in their eyes), I still love every minute of my job.
To spruce up my workweek a bit, last week I attended a conference in Osan for 3 days with all the other new GEPIK (Gyeonggi-Do English Program in Korea) employees. The orientation itself seemed a bit untimely since we have all already been here for at least a month or so, but it was surprisingly not that bad. Over the past few years (especially while I was traveling for my masters) I have been required to attend more than my fair share of these orientations. Usually, I despise them with a passion (my fellow Global’s can throw up our gang sign for feeling me on this one) since they are so repetitive and monotonous, yet this one actually was entertaining. We learned a few new tactics for
dealing with rambunctious classes, and I made some great connections with some fellow teachers in the area.
Once darkness fell on the facility, the real orientation began. Luckily, my friend D and I packed accordingly, bringing enough Soju rations to feed a small contingent of navy sailors. This kept the party going during the two nights we were in Osan. While throwing back a few beers, we invented a new game that may in fact rival ecvery sport from curling to cricket: Cartesian Golf. To fully explain the rules, I require one to drink a half bottle of Soju and stand with me behind “the ideological mulligan” (an imaginary penalty line), so that will have to wait for another time. All I can say is that it is a fantastic game that will one day take the world by storm.
Cartesian Golf and an hour long trivia challenge kept the rest of the group and I entertained for a time, but as things typically do with me, they took a turn to tipsy town. The late night festivities included beers in the tent located right next to an obstacle course, and an attempt to bust out of the
compound in search of much needed food. The tent served its purpose bringing the whole group together for a time, but the obstacle course provided the potential outlet for many of us to get mortally injured on. Now I have seen a few obstacle courses in my day, but this place was intense. The zip line from the top of the ridge to the field below had to be about 1 mile high if it was a foot (dramatization…. It seriously was about 120 feet), and there were balance beams and rope ladders that pushed 75 feet and lined the entire field. The logic of the thing is a bit ridiculous: “hey lets let a bunch of newbies in Korea have some beer and then hang out around a life threatening obstacle course into the wee hours of the morning.” Thank God no one attempted any major feats of strength and the furthest I ever was willing to climb was about 20 feet up or so. Danger averted!
The attempt to find food was a failure at best. Three of my friends and I stumbled up into the woods with the intention of sneaky across the castle moat. The
only hindrance we could think of would be the 30 foot alligator that surely stood guard 24 hours a day. Soju sure does make you think of some strange scenarios! There was no moat, if there was an alligator, it was off duty, and the “woods” we thought we were in turned out to actually be a clearing that the guard was able to see us in as plain as day. It didn’t take long for security to come up to us and politely ask us to cease and desist.
The rest of the orientation went off without incident and I very much enjoyed the company around me. There were a few odd moments (one “bonding game” included a requirement to massage the person in front of you) but it was all worth it in the end and I thought that the orientation was well worth the time spent. Hell though... how can I complain when I was getting paid to be there… cha ching!
There’s No Cheerleading in Baseball!!
This past Saturday, my friends Brad, D, Mark, and I made the executive decision to head into Seoul early and catch a ballgame. Since I haven’t been
to a baseball game since being home and sitting in the glorious park that is Fenway, I was excited for the trip. We took the subway to Jamsil Stadium and prepared for the day.
To start, one of the many bonus’s of Korean baseball games lies in the cost per ticket. For a mere 8,000 won (about $6.50) a ticket, you can get a seat anywhere in the large stadium from the upper deck to field level. It’s all just sort of based on a first come first serve mind set where you need to claw and elbow your way to the front of the line if you want a decent place to sit. Unfortunately, one of our Korean friends purchased our tickets for us so we were unable to obtain ideal seats, yet they still were not too shabby and for the price, it really can’t be beat.
What’s the one thing that kills most baseball fans from Los Angelus to Boston? While the first answers could be anything from liver failure to lung cancer, those things take years to develop. I am talking about an immediate pain that cuts us all down while waiting in line
at concession stands: beer prices. However, here in Korea, gone are the days of $9 warm beer. Banished are the hours spent waiting in the parking lot due to security catching you sneaking in a $12 bottle of Scotch. Here in Korea, they actually encourage the policy of BYOB (bring your own beer)!!! All you gotta do is run over to a 711, Minimart, or SK Mart, grab a couple bottles of Soju, beer, and a few chasers and presto! You now have enough liquor to comfortably and affordably progress through the innings. It’s amazing how much cheaper this makes going to a ballgame and is the number one reason I think I will be spending a decent amount of time in Jamsil in the months to come.
So once we finally found our seats, cracked open some cold ones, and sat down, I took the time to really see how different the atmosphere is at a Korean baseball game. Now I like baseball as much as any American in this world, but let’s be honest, innings can sometimes drag on a bit and in some occasions the crowd tends to become a bit more somber. Not in Korea.
The environment is more comparable to a loosely organized riot in Thailand than anything I have ever seen in the states (save perhaps a Red Sox v. Yankees game). It reminds me a lot of a college football game to tell you the truth: the fans all have their own cheers, they bring these balloon noise makers to the game, and are constantly yelling at the diamond below in Korean babble. It’s so much fun!
While sitting in the stands and attempting to join in with some Koreans next to me cheering, I noticed something gleaming brightly below. Could it be? Through the haze of secondhand smoke drifting from the deck below I saw something that must certainly be too good to be true. There, dancing above the dugout in all their wonder and beauty were…. cheerleaders. The Lord has finally heard my prayers… thanks be to God and hallelujah my brothers and sisters! Baseball has cheerleaders! I can die now. Most people say marriage is the happiest day of my life… maybe the day their kids were born or the day they got their dream job working in their favorite city. While those all sound wonderful in their
own right… this was the happiest day of my life. Sports have come so far in the past 50 years and I would like us all to take a moment of silence to reconcile with those around us and pay tribute to those who have made moments out there possible for people like me. Without sacrifices from progressive minds and determined spirits, moments like these would never have been possible. Here’s to you!
The rest of the game was spent in a mix of happiness and anger since the team I was technically “rooting for” started getting crushed in the 5th inning (10-2) yet it was all in good fun (plus whenever you get mad at these types of games all you need to do is look up at the cheerleaders and bam! Instant good mood!). I sincerely enjoyed my time and will now need to seek out a solid team I can support through the season here in Korea. One thing is for sure: though that may have been my first baseball experience in Korea, it will not be my last.
Man Slaps and Bum Naps
The baseball game got me pretty pumped up and ready
for a great night out in Seoul. After grabbing some much needed Fautas (Mexican rollups with beef and guacamole) at Dos Taco’s in Gangnam, my tanks were full and ready to full steam ahead.
The first stop for us was a convenient store. One great thing about Korea is that once the weather gets a bit warmer (which thank God it has recently) convenient stores put chairs and tables outside. You are then able to go inside, grab a few beers and sit out with your friends while drinking. I tell you there are very few things better than being able to grab a dollar bottle of Soju, a few mixers and a couple cups, and just chill outside the store you bought them at. It makes for an affordable yet entertaining experience that kicks off the night into the unknown.
We then proceeded (also known as “stumbling”) to Itaewon to meet up with some other friends from our orientation. The first stop in the never-ending bar crawl was a popular foreign bar called “Geko’s.” This bar has also been made famous from the infamous “face rocking” done by Brad towards the area in and around D’s nose
which I wrote about last week…. classic. Geko’s turned out… well interesting is all I am going to say and I will just leave it at that. It was great to meet up with some of the others from Osan and start making a game plan for the rest of the evening.
Our next stop took us to the Family Mart. That’s not a bar my friends… its yet another one of Korea’s fine convenient stores offering Maccali (rice wine), Soju, and beer for cheap prices that keep a drunk man’s buzz sustainable all night long (cue the Lionel Richie song of the same title). We all split a few adult beverages and moved to the next watering hole.
I can’t lie; I don’t really know the name of our next stop. The reason being is that I never made it in. I was having far too much fun “stooping it” (coined from the popular Nickelodeon series “Hey Arnold” but re-mastered to fit the definition of one who buys cheap liquor at a store and merely hangs out on the “stoop” in front of the bar without ever actually going inside) with a few of my friends outside.
Why not? Save some money, make some new friends; randomly find a guitar in a back-alley…. Wait what? That’s right folks; Brad, the detective that he is managed to conjure up a guitar on one of his patrols through the Seoul streets. I mean seriously, who does that? I was shocked to see him come around the corner holding onto this beat up old acoustic with poorly strung strings; yet his face showed almost know surprise. “Look what I found guys,” he said as if everything was normal. It’s not exactly normal to do that type of thing, yet it is awesome. So, I snagged it and played the few tunes you can with only three strings while the others sung away on this random stoop in front of a bar in downtown Seoul. Can’t help thinking how awesome things are at times like these.
As all things do, however, my time with the guitar was cut short. Not because I grew bored with playing “Glycerine” and “The General” or because my fingers got tired, not even because of a lack of people to listen. No, my time with the guitar was cut short when Brad, in his infinite
wisdom, drew the conclusion that this newly discovered guitar must be smashed to bits in the street; so smash it he did. Amongst a crowd of gawking, video taping, picture snapping fans yelling out his name into the thick South Korean air, he smashed the beat up producer of melodic tunes into oblivion. The pictures taken will no doubt land him on an album cover one day in the future. I have never quite seen anything like the rage in his eyes, as if the ancient wood along the guitars body had somehow wronged him in some unforgivable way in the past and finally, Brad was able to dole out his vengeance.
Soon after cleaning up (hahaha yea right as if we ever clean up after ourselves) the splinters that were left of the guitar, we all made our way down the street to the nearest Norebang. As I have stated in previous posts, I do love a good Norebang night and this was no exception. The best part about this particular evening was the fact that we had about 12 people with us; all of which had secretly decided to bring in booze (be it in purses, backpacks, coats, or back poket’s) from a Family Mart to keep the good times rolling.
Somewhere in between “Champagne Supernova” and “Say It Ain’t So,” I came to the realization that this was the life. There are few things more satisfying then huddling around a table full of alcohol seasoned liquids with a group of good people belting out their favorite songs into a hollow room. It all makes for an unforgettable bonding experience that can be shared… well for as long as no one blacks out at least. After spending a few hours at the Norebang (time actually stops while you are inside sound proof rooms, so the actual period of time spent is up for debate and being discussed by scholars across the globe as we speak) the crew hopped into separate cabs and headed across Seoul to Hongdae.
Hongdae has all a man can ask for: good beer, fun clubs, beautiful women, and the most mouth watering Kebab this side of Berlin. Directly in front of a bar called Go-Go’s (it’s not a go-go bar you sick-o’s its just a fun bar with good people) is a stand that serves particularly hot and flavorful Kebab’s that always keep me coming back for more. There’s nothing better than meeting strangers and chatting it up with old friends over a piece of lamb, garlic sauce, and French fries. Good times.
So into another bar/club we all ventured on to continue the late night festivities. In between singing songs in the middle of the dance floor and taking sips of the Soju we snuck in…. horror struck. Brad made an improvised lunge at a resting D who was sitting on a perfectly propped bar stool. D fell to the floor with a bang that, rumor has it, was heard as far away as Katmandu; I’m not one for spreading rumors, but it’s possible.
Immediately, D sprang from the floor to see what was the matter! Away to his friend Ski he flew like a flash, tore open his backpack and gave me this task. When what to my wondering ears did I hear, but the obvious fact that Slaps Day was here.
I couldn’t help at least attempting my own rendition of “The Night Before Christmas” to the new tune of “The Night Brad Was Slapped,” sorry for the delay folks. Anywho, long story short, after Brad broke D’s nose a few weeks ago, Brad bequeathed D 5 slaps to be used at his discretion. One night, using their powers of negotiation and bartering, the two had convinced me to stay out drinking with them by giving me one of D’s precious 5 slaps (like I really needed the incentive… I would have stayed out anyways… score one for the big guy!).
So there I was: standing alone, just me, five fingers, and a stiff palm with the memory of Brad kneeing me in the leg just a few nights before. I drew back my weapon without hesitation, calculated the angle I was standing using a mix of Einstein’s Theory of Relativity and Cartesian Plane Geometric Synchronization Tactics, and pulled the trigger. I was later told the sound of my mammoth sized paws across the right side of Brad’s waiting face was so crisp it shook the foundation of the bar itself. One customer actually left thinking he may be in a scene from Jurassic Park when his gin and tonic vibrated on the table.
Now at first, I doubted that I got the job done when Brad refused to flinch. However, once he stuttered back and winced ever so slightly in pain, I immediately realized that the damage had been done. Slap one down, four to go!
So after the “slap heard round the world” (as it would later be come to be known… I hope), we continued our festivities into the wee hours of the morning. Soon, we all came to the responsible decision that it was time to leave Seoul and head home. My friend Nick reached for the door handle at the exit, opened it slowly, and let in a horrific and unexpected surprise… the vibrant sunshine. Apparently, it was about 8:30 am, and a beautiful morning in Seoul. The light hit me like it does a vampire, and I shrieked in pain as I adjusted my black eyes to the daylight.
Not long after, everyone went his or her separate ways as I tried to find the bus back to Suji. Upon finding the bus and getting on, I instantly fell asleep. Had it not been for D and his uncanny ability to wake on queue, I would certainly be in China by now, luckily, that is not the case. Unfortunately, he did wake me and Brad a bit too late and we were still about 2 miles from home. As D headed for the bus stop, Brad noticed a perfectly good patch of trees across the way. Logic for most would lead them to simply see the trees and continue about their business, yet not on this day my friends. On this particular Sunday morning, Brad and I took our very first (well maybe not my first as some of you know) “bum nap.” That’s right folks, we huddled up under the trees, shut our eyes, and fell asleep on the side of the road, under a sparse patch of trees in downtown Bojeong, South Korea. Despite the fact it was only 10 minutes or so, I felt quite sprightly afterwards. I think I might have one again sometime, in fact, I must. If it weren’t for a gathering group of Koreans gazing at us from the bus stop that was apparently directly in front of us, I would have napped at least another 10 minutes. As stated before, great time in Seoul!
Well that’s all for now my friends. I know this was a particularly long entry describing the past weeks, but as you can see, it has been very eventful. Hope you all have enjoyed and keep reading these semi-inappropriate tales of my travels throughout Korea. Tune in next week to hear about… well… God knows what.