Sunday, June 29, 2008

Fifty posts

Well it doesn't sound like all that many, but this post marks the 50th entry into Lee's Korea Blog. I'm fairly pleased with what it has become and plan to keep it alive for as long as there are enough interesting things to show you all.

The first for this post being the Kenny Rogers karaoke bar. This is a franchise across Busan that is apparently doing well enough to warrant more than one outlet.

Rubbish (American: 'trash') is a rather complicated affair in Korea. You can only throw away rubbish on certain days of the week, and each day has a different kind of rubbish for collection. Food waste is collected and taken to the pig farms for food and recyclables are neatly sorted. You need to buy special bags that have a 'rubbish tax' on them to throw away general rubbish. Korea doesn't have a lot of land to spare, so people are encouraged to not be wasteful. One of the side effects of this though, is the spontaneous dumping of unmarked rubbish on the sides of roads. Sometimes the ajossis here will go through it like forensic scientists to determine who the culprits are.

Here's Jef and Maya walking down the road. Although it appears that Maya is a small child, she is actually 22 years old. And she's going to Harvard.
She's going to curse me for saying that again, but I can safely hide behind my monitor because she's in the States now.

Here's Jef, Maya and Swan at a pojang macha. These are street food outlets consisting of a tent and a few stools around a portable wagon. You sit down and eat various kinds of grilled foods and drink beer or soju. They're a good place to talk for hours and ponder the peculiarities of Korean culture.

Here's our favourite ajumma, at work in her tent, called The World Cup. She originally spelled it 'Wold Cup', but someone was kind enough to come along and correct the sign for her. In these places you basically just point out the food you want in the refrigerated partition and she'll cook it up for you.

We met Yu-jong, the girl in the pink, randomly in the Guri bar. Soon she was attached to us like a lost puppy. She didn't speak a considerable amount of English, but we were able to communicate effectively through the use of charades. In this photo, Maya is displaying the universal message for 'I like you'.

Daniel has fit into Busan life fairly well. He's speaking a lot of Korean these days and getting along with the locals. Here he's speaking to Yu-jong's friend, who is displaying the correct body language for 'I am interested in what you are saying'.

This rather more explosive gesture is open to interpretation.

Later that night we went for a song or two. We're a rather musical bunch and although there usually isn't a very updated selection available, we don't mind singing the classics. Local favourites include 'California Dreaming', 'It's Raining Men' and 'Like a Prayer'.

Four hours later we found ourselves on the streets with the sun in our eyes. I usually try to go home before this time, but sometimes you just get caught out. It's bad for my biological clock.

My latest purchase was this air-conditioner. Summers in Korea are stiflingly hot and the single unit in our living room just isn't enough. Heather ordered this one online for me and it arrived 3 days later, installed and running for only $350.

The following weekend it was Shira's birthday. Her nickname is Mum and she's been working with CDI for a while now. She's the girl on the left.

A lot of workers from across the city came and enjoyed beer, wine and Jef's amazing cream cheese and salsa dip.

Here's Jareb, Maya, Swan and Daniel posing with Tim's dog. Cute dogs like this will always be the star of a party, but they just make Jef more hungry. I still haven't gotten around to eating dog meat yet, but I intend to.

Swan and Heather have been working together at the Hwamyeong branch this past week. Swan is going back to Florida soon. I've never been to the States before, but I imagine that I would be more of a west-coast person. Probably because I listened to a lot of 2pac when I was growing up and 'West-side' just sounds cool.

Two weeks ago I was lucky enough to receive my second promotion in the company. I now work in the human resources department and am also the faculty manager of the April program. I'd never taught an April class before, so I was sent to Seoul last week for training at headquarters.

The Coatel hotel is where most new CDI workers stay while they receive their week of introductory training. Back when I first arrived, you may remember that we stayed at the Hotel Major in Gangnam, and we had a jacuzzi in our room.

The Coatel is not as interesting as the Hotel Major, but it was still fairly nice. I shared a room with Robin Choi, who turned out to be a cool guy. If your room-mate is cool, it makes the experience twice as good.

During the week I didn't go out much because I had to get up at 7:30am everyday and head across town. But on Thursday it was Josephine's birthday, so we went to this upmarket oyster bar nearby. Here you could buy three New Zealand oysters for $15.
We ate conservatively.

Traffic in Seoul has always been pretty bad. The standstills that occur for minutes at a time make me appreciate life in Busan. One trip to the training centre took us around 20 minutes, but on the way back there was a traffic jam and it took us over an hour to reach the hotel.

At the end of the week it was time to celebrate. We went out to Uncle Tom's Cabin in Apgujeong for some drinks. I met up with Eric and Maria, but looking through my camera, it seems that I didn't get around to taking any photos of us together. Eric just got back from a French summer camp, teaching French to young students.

This is from Club Circle, one of the trendiest places in Seoul. I also went there on the last gathering in Seoul. On this particular night, they had a Brazilian theme with dancers dressed up like they do in that festival they have there with lots of feathers and things. I'm sure it has a name.

Here's one of the dancers who was very popular with the ladies. Probably because of his quick wit and charming personality.

Or maybe it was his muscles.

Here's another nightclub called Mool, which means 'water' in Korean. These places are very expensive. A bottle of base spirits will cost you around $200.

But they're fun.

I don't teach on a regular basis anymore, filling in for teachers when they're sick or on leave. My main duties are in the office, coordinating various things and trying to keep people happy. I'm going to miss my students at the Saha branch who I've taught for the past year. They were remarkably well behaved.

For the last lesson, one of their new words was 'rifle'. Korean kids love guns and after breaktime I came back to see these drawings on the whiteboard. They're quite good and I'm pleased that they learned their new word. Although from a technical standpoint, I feel the need to mention that the ammunition magazines are curving the wrong way.

That's all for this time.

Thanks for reading!

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Korean Baseball and My Birthday

Sporting events in Korea are always fun to go to. One of Heather's new colleagues got us tickets to a Busan vs. Seoul game so we set out for the stadium on the weekend. This was also where they held some of the games for the 2002 World Cup.

I'm not particularly interested in baseball (although I used to play the old T-ball in elementary school), but I like going to games here. The atmosphere is always very lively and beer is cheap. Ajummas will walk through the crowds selling everything from ice-cream and dried squid to kim-bab and fried chicken.

The crowds are also interesting. At public performances, or at sporting events like these, Korean audiences will always get very involved and see themselves as more than just spectators. Here's a video of the game, showing some of the pom-poms that they make from ripped up newspaper. Heather taught me how to make one too.

Another common occurrence in Busan is that someone will start handing out a lot of orange shopping bags that will get passed through the crowd. People will then fill them with air and tie them onto their heads. Nobody really knows why.

Before long, the stadium is a sea of inflated shopping bags. Each popular baseball player for the home team also has a catchy song that the crowd will sing when they make an appearance. The Busan team ended up losing, but the crowd was defiant until the end.

It was also my birthday the other week, which kind of crept up on me. I've been keeping myself busy as usual and it was only until the week before that I realised I'd be turning 26 fairly soon. On Friday I invited some friends over and we celebrated until the morning.

Some jovial spirits enjoying the mood. These are CDI administration staff from the Gwangan branch.

When the merriment has gone a little too far, it's time to mop up drink spillages with some good old toilet paper. Most houses in Korea have vinyl floors rather than carpet, making cleaning a lot easier.

These are all people I work with. Of particular note is Cassie, in the blue jacket, who I've promised to mention on the blog. Sometimes she teaches me Korean, but most of the time we just talk about the intricate politics of our workplace. Hi Cassie!

On the left is my new flatmate, Maya, getting her hair braided by the ever-talented Jef. Maya is very clever and has been accepted to Harvard medical school, a feat that she modestly downplays whenever you mention it.

Jef and Maya are working together at my old branch, Busanjin, and she's filling in for my other flatmate, John Ngo, while he takes a long vacation to Thailand. He's got his own blog now too, which I've added to my links list on the right.

Logan had been hatching an idea in his head for the past few months. The idea was to get a whole bunch of people down to the cemented river area near Pusan National University and drink makkoli together during the day.

Makkoli is unfiltered rice wine that tastes rather sweet and costs about one dollar per litre. Sometimes it's wonderful and sometimes it isn't. We poured it into a big teapot that Alice named 'Big'. She's a beginner in English and it was the first thing she exclaimed when she saw it.

It kicked off at around 3pm but the gathering slowly increased in size as text messages were pinged around the city. There's Alice on the right, who we went to Jinhae with. Alice wants to live in Australia, which is apparently becoming the new favourite destination for a lot of international students.

Before long, the sound of catch-up chatter and the smell of abundant makkoli attracted some uninvited characters. They were welcomed anyway, and were soon supplied with their own cup of the devil's milk.

Then it was time for some Twister. We'd forgotten the official rules for the game but came up with our own.

We drank until nightfall and then went and ate Turkish food. It was an interesting day, but then again whenever daytime drinking is involved it always is.

Recently my age-old friend from Australia, Daniel Pak arrived to join our company. He had been in Canada for a while but decided to come over when his old job turned out to be less exciting than initially expected. Welcome to Busan, buddy!

We took him out to the Fuzzy Navel bar in Seomyeon. Bars in Korea will always serve interesting side dishes like curried popcorn or these deep-fried spaghetti sticks. They're surprisingly addictive.

Also on the menu were some of my old favourites, deep-fried cheesesticks. They're basically sticks of cheese that have been fried in breadcrumbs.

Bartenders in Korea often have a few tricks up their sleeves. They used to do this kind of thing at the New York Bar before it closed down.

Here's a video of the action. At the end what he's doing is lighting up a stack of glasses filled with spirits. Someone later drank them with a straw.

After that we went to another place. It was all a little too much for poor old Maya, who had a ten minute power nap and then felt like eating ice-cream.

It was also Buddha's birthday not so long ago. A lot of colored lanterns wishing for good fortune were hung up around the city.

We went for a hike on the weekend up near the Busanjin branch. This is the driveway to a temple that's located halfway up the mountain.

I also managed to spot this little fellow on the walk up. He was eating some sort of acorn and dropping a lot of scraps on us.

I've come to learn in Korea that whenever a president is elected, there will always be an anti-president brigade. These guys were holding a protest in downtown Busan, calling for Lee Myung Bak's resignation. I don't know a lot about Korean politics, but I do know that the new president's face looks a little bit like a mouse. That doesn't necessarily make him a bad president though. Or does it?

In equal force were the riot police. There were about two hundred of them surrounding the area. A lot of them are adolescent males who are doing their military service in the police force.

Last week it was the end of the school term and our old branch manager, Julie, said her farewells. In this photo, Claire is pouring her a farewell Coke fountain.

These days our work dinners are on a much larger scale. We now have 23 staff in total.

Here are some new faces and some old ones at our branch. On the bottom right is our new branch manager, Charlie.

After dinner we went for some karaoke over the road. Here's Michelle, Logan and John enjoying the comforts of a king-sized singing room paid for by the company.

The apparent orderly nature present in this photo quietly alludes to the intoxicated festivities that were to occur soon after. It was a good night out and we ended up going through 3 cases of beer. Three cheers for work dinners!

That's all from me this time. I'm in the process of negotiating my third contract year with the same company here in Busan. It's been good living here and I'm happier than I ever expected. Come and join us sometime.