Wednesday, April 28, 2010

It's Erection Time!

Well it's everyone's favorite time of year. Erection time, wait, election time. There's an election going on in Gwangju. And only the creme de la creme of the citizenry is asking for the populous' patent permission to govern our fair valley. I have no idea what their platforms are, but my only guess is that there is a More Kimchi Party and a More Samgyupsal Party. A cabbage on every plate or a piece of pig butt on every flatiron. I can only imagine the ferocity of the debate.
For the purposes of this article I'll be romanizing the Korean names in a way that actually makes sense. Newsflash, revised romanization committee, you're retarted. I came up with a system that accurately reflects Korean pronunciation in the English alphabet in ten minutes and I know 100 words in Korean on my best day.

First we have Mr. Im Joang Dae. He's my friendly neighborhood split-level house face man. When he talks his left eye moves because it's horizontally parallel to his mouth. I think he's running for some kind of city council seat from my district (there are 5 in Gwangju), because the poster says something about Buk-gu, the originally named North district. He's too old to be from the more progressive More Samgyupsal party, so he must be from the More Kimchi party. Good luck to you Mr. Im.

Here is Mr. Nam Pyong-oh. The great challenger of Mr. Im Joang-Dae. Maybe, he's running for something in Buk-Gu, but his office has a word after it that Mr. Im's doesn't. So maybe Mr. Im is running for a city council seat and Mr. Nam is running to be mayor of the district. I think that might be it, Mr Nam means Mr. South and he's running for office in the North district, ha ha. Either way, you can see he's an adherent of the More Samgyupsal ideology. Full of new ideas, with the new fashionable fake eye wear that all the kids are wearing, a casual oxford shirt without a tie and a smiley thumb pointed upward. He's the kind of guy you could have ten bottles of soju with at the norebang, a real Korean GWB.

Mr. Kim Who-Jin who's on first? I never knew that the kid who sat behind me in biology class and breathing through his mouth would end up being a Korean politician. I have no idea what he's running for but I'm pretty sure Kim Who-Jin is a card carrying member of the Kimchi party. He might be trying to act cool, but it's got a hollow ring to it, like a fat sophomore wearing Oakleys. The Samgyupsals would never have him. What I particularly like about this picture is the word "new" at the bottom after new it says "reedaw (leader)" in Hangul.

Kim Young-Moak will devour you all. Tall as a building, with a suit of the darkest black, woven of the night sky and the shattered dreams of young girls. You will submit to me, your new person who holds a position in municipal government. Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.

Oh hai! I didn't see you there. I was just down here tying my athletic shoe strings. You know what I'm talking about, the shoes that allow you to perform most efficiently when tossing a ball around the park with your dog or executing vigorous calisthenics. Anyway, I'm Mr. Jaun Kap-Gil, and I'd like to talk to you about the Samgyupsal ideology. Pork fat is nutritious and cures cancer much more effectively than the kimchi that my competitor who is as tall as a five story building is peddling around. Here's a study where the conclusion has nothing to do with the experiment. That should prove my point.

There are more... but in the words of Amanda, "I'm tired."

Monday, April 26, 2010

An Epiphany

I’ve been all stressed out about Korea and trying to make a decision about staying, going, and what to do after, when it FINALLY happened! As Dan previously mentioned, my major life decisions are usually made with absolute finality and come like a lightning bolt from the sky. I almost never second guess my decisions because I’m always super positive they are right ones, and if I do make a wrong move, I know it’s wrong the whole time because of the way my brain is screaming, “THIS IS WRONG AMANDA! ALL WRONG!” Usually my epiphanies come late at night, but in this case it was after a particularly arduous day at work. I just thought to myself, “If Dan wasn’t here, what would I do?” And I KNEW. I would simply leave in August, take the $10,000 I had saved and move to Latin America. I would live off my savings as long as I could (probably eight months), maybe work a little, or maybe not, and then go back to the states in the summer of 2011 to start grad school. This was sooooo obvious. There are simply no other options. I need A LOT of rest and relaxation after this crazy culture. I need time to figure out which grad program I want to apply to and some time to do that. I need fresh air and to get back in shape. I would also like to practice my Spanish.

I immediately spoke with Dan about my thoughts. He LOVED my idea! All weekend we have been trying our best to figure out a.) Where our money will go the furthest b.) Where we will be the safest c.) Where we will love it the most.

So we are for sure leaving in August! I can’t wait to not HAVE to get up in the morning. Seriously, waking up at 7am is NOT COOL.

We also just booked tickets to Beijing for six days at the end of July. Absolutely cannot wait for that. I really hope these next few months just fly by, and I’m sure they will, because that’s how life is in the ROK!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Decision making processes

The title of Amanda's post is disingenuous. She has a pamphlet. She keeps it hidden in a box under the wardrobe that only her special medieval Japanese key can open. I've seen it. It's ten to fifteen pages long, bright yellow and green like Green Bay Packers season tickets, and she's on the first three pages. That means there's plenty of adventures yet to be had.

In the beginning of our relationship I said that our decision making processes were like the American government, hopelessly constipated. I kid. I'm the legislative branch and she's the executive. I come up with all the ideas, more ideas than I really should, but I want everyone to feel like I'm busy and they're getting their money's worth so I outlaw random things like marijuana, ferrets, alcohol. She has veto power and I can't get a goddamn 2/3 of myself together on anything to override it so it stands like that. Sometimes she oversteps her constitutional authority and introduces legislation or unilaterally declares war. But I let her do that because she's so darn cute.

I prefer schemes that fit together elegantly. Accomplishing something in a short amount of time, or realizing a goal when there's just enough time for it. I just never accomplish anything because I use the time allotted to accomplishment to come up with new plans. It's just so damn fun. Fitting all the goals together, personal, romantic, financial, is very important to me because I am German and in love with efficiency. I reverse course often enough don't get me wrong, but even if I don't have all the goals lined up right away when I reverse course, I am usually quick to pick up a piece of the puzzle that had to be ignored for a short amount of time.

Amanda waits for the almighty to smite her with knowledge. Waiting for an epiphany, like the wise men for the star, she persists in what she does until the brink of insanity. Unlike other people we can't do one thing for substantial periods of time, we lack the routine gene (I'm a poet!). Then the skies part and she realizes the path laid out for her. She takes it confidently.

When you're in a field all paths are open to you, one step this way, one step that, a zigzag pattern or tangential lines. Each step is a new decision. On a path, only one step is a decision the rest is preordained. A crossroad is only a decision with three options, in the field all steps have as many options as a compass has degrees. I've always seen life as a field, being spoiled for choice is one of the best ways to ensure that each choice is difficult, full of second guessing.

The only prerequisite of the paths or steps we choose for the future is that they include each other (cue Awwww moment). I'm not going to say which options I favor. You'd think me a madman.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

I need that pamphlet!

Do you remember when planning your next move in life was a simple as 1,2,3? Like, hmmmm I just got out of junior high, what should I do?? Go to high school. Well, I graduated from high school, what should I do?? Go to college. Or get a job. Now that I've graduated from college (or have a job), what should I do?? Get a job. Or get a better job. Or travel. Now I have a job, have traveled, or make ample amounts of money, what should I do?? Get married, have a baby, buy a house... WAIT ONE MINUTE HERE! WTF? Where did that come from? That's what OLD PEOPLE do! (no offense old people, or young people who act old)

Now that I'm sober, I've decided to try to plan my next life move. This is harder than it may seem to some-what normal people. Most would say, just do what you want, do what makes sense, do what would make you happy. I, on the other hand, am not most people. I insist on thinking about just about every single thing a young, college educated couple with teaching experience and a love for travel MIGHT possibly do. Currently the list includes (but is not limit to):
  1. Staying in Korea for as long as needed to pay off my student loans.
  2. Take the money we have saved and go on an epic trip around the world (on a very thin shoestring).
  3. Take the money we have saved and live in an under-developed country (e.g. Mexico, Peru, Costa Rica) for as long as possible, while living the dream of no job and no responsibilities.
  4. Go back to the states, enroll in a state university and get graduate degrees and teaching certifications.
  5. Go to a different country and teach English.
  6. Have a baby. Everyone knows this means pretty much everything else is out the window. :) If I want kids, I sure as hell don't want to be old and pregnant.
  7. Get married. I don't know why, but Dan LOVES this idea. Not today, of course.
  8. Learn to built platforms high up in jungle trees and become zip-line tour guides.
  9. Move back to Oregon, get stupid jobs and have fun showing Dan all around the coolest state in the union.
  10. Attempt to gain admission to an awesome university abroad, where we could get our master degrees without selling whats left of our souls to the CitiBank evil empire. The UK perhaps? Australia or New Zealand?
As you can see, I've got a lot of options here. I'm so grateful to realistically have all these options. But seriously, how the hell am I supposed to know what to do? One big down side of having an incredibly intelligent and wonderful partner is he keeps coming up with even MORE things we could do. I don't know how other people decide this stuff, but if I could get that pamphlet at the next "What to do with your life when everything seems like a good idea" meeting, that would be great. Thanks!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010


I am a wine lover. This has been less apparent to my friends in Korea, mostly because the selection here is pretty much limited to Yellow Tail and wineries I’ve never heard of before, with labels I can’t even read. As some of you may know, I spent five long years of my life working at Gustav’s German Restaurant in Clackamas, Oregon, and it was there I developed my taste for great German rieslings. Believe me, I served many a great glass of wine and drank more than my share. After a long day working a double shift at the restaurant (every Saturday) I would almost always stop by Safeway and buy a great loaf of rustic bread, a block of cheese and a bottle of Chateau Ste. Michelle. This winery is in the Columbia Valley, in Washington state, making it very cheap and usually on sale. It is also delicious. If I could afford it, or for a special occasion, I would get a bottle of Dr. Loosen from Mosel Valley, Germany. Seriously good stuff. They have cheap bottles too; it’s just more expensive because it’s imported.

Riesling is such a great summer wine, but in the winter I liked a great syrah or even cabernet. Nothing warms you up like red wine! Living in Korea was definitely a shock to my fine wine senses. It’s not that they don’t have wine here. They do. But it’s either complete crap or really expensive. It’s my opinion that you shouldn’t have to shell out more than $15 for a bottle of wine. And the whole sobriety thing has REALLY put a cramp in my wine drinking style. Hopefully after this year I can go back to enjoying a great glass of wine after work (a not drink the whole bottle!).

Monday, April 12, 2010


So Dan and I went to Seoul this weekend with the express purpose of going to Everland. Everland is a fairly small amusement park with some rides, some animals and a lot of things for kids (of course). I’ve been there before and I had a good time, so I figured Dan and I could get our adrenaline fix, get outta town and have some good wholesome fun! We took the city bus from Seoul (Gangnam Station Exit 6 Bus 5002), we had to wait about 45 minutes for it. Then we had an hour long bus ride. We finally arrived about 1pm. Fist we went for the biggest, baddest ride. It’s a wooden roller coaster with a pretty scary drop. Awesome. Then we ate some crap (churros and pizza rolls) and went for the other roller coaster. It was a good time as well. The weather was perfect for me (overcast, a little chilly, even raining a little) and we walked around looking at the sad animals and the hundreds of small happy children not in school for the day.

Then we decided to go on the rock and roll ride. It is like a big swing with one row of seats on either side. It rocks and flips you over. They specifically tell you to not have ANYTHING in your pockets or on you, even shoes that might come off. Right in front of the ride there are small lockers to put your things. No one besides the people who are actually on the ride can access them. I was stupid and put my new Cannon camera in the lockers and when I got off the ride, even though I RUSHED to get it, it was GONE. I kept looking, even though I knew it had been stolen, and the guy running the ride came over. He helped me look then they held up the whole ride for a few minutes, looking. I went into the control booth, and they got someone on the phone who knew English. I told her what happened and she said if it was turned in, she would call me. Well, I knew that wasn’t happening.

We went on one more ride, walked around some more, then at about 7:30pm we went to the lost and found and customer service to check again. The woman I had talked to previously was there. Obviously no one turned it in. Dan asked if there was anything Everland would do for us, considering they didn’t do a very good job of keeping my camera safe. She gave us back our entrance fee (62,000 won) and free souvenirs worth about 30,000 won. Not my 340,000 won I just spent on my camera, but it was the best she could do. She was super nice and it wasn’t her fault, so I was just happy they gave us our entrance fee back.

We went back to Seoul, stopped by the foreigner market and had a delicious Mexican dinner at Dos Amigos, which I think has made me fat over Dan's constant reminders that I'm anything but. Then we headed to the bus terminal to get the midnight bus back to Gwangju. Seriously, I HATE the EXPRESS BUS TERMINAL. We took the subway there, and when we got there I remembered that last time I had done that, I got really confused, and it took forever to find the Gwangju ticket office and gate. Well, the same thing happened this time and it took us 20 minutes to figure out that the Gwangju gate is in a totally separate building; actually the MALL and we missed the midnight bus. Luckily, there was a one o’clock bus, so we hopped on that. It was a quick ride (2 hours 50 minutes) and we were back in the Ju. Had a very relaxing Sunday with cleaning, bowling, a movie and golf.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

+/- Korea

Amanda extensively documented the good and the bad about living on this strange peninsula, but I am one of those men who constantly peer over their partner's shoulders to interject loving, irritating, constructive criticism. One day when I say, oh honey it's its not it's, I swear she'll turn into a dragon and tear my head from my shoulders. So it goes. Here's a plus and a minus about Korea that she failed to mention.

Korea +1 Bonus Point-uh: Health Care. Korea has phenomenally inexpensive health care. I guess that's to be expected from a country where many parents systematically force their children into the medical profession. Not only is it cheap, but it ain't half bad. Now they might be skeptical of diseases like clinical depression, ADHD, or really anything that doesn't manifest itself physically, and most people believe that kimchi cures cancer, but these problems have more to do with the culture at large than the medical professionals who are generally well informed. I mean, it's not all that great for a non-Korean speaker who would like to actually talk to the doctor about treatment options or to read the test results, but that's just part of being an expat. The great thing about the health care is, you can just walk in, be seen by a doctor almost immediately, and pay next to nothing at the end of it. I walked into a clinic without insurance, got a blood test and two consultations for 4.50. Amanda was in the hospital for a week (with insurance) and it cost her 500 dollars. I had Lasik surgery done for 1500 dollars. That's a deal and a half.

Korea -1 (maybe 5) bonus point-uh: Music. Korean music makes me want to put my eyes out with a rusty ice cream scoop. There are only two types of music, old people music and young people music. I'm sure there's traditional music too, there are traditional instruments like harps with two strings and such, but I've never heard it.

Old people music is terrible, but it's certainly the lesser of two evils. This music can be heard every day, accosting the innocent from the 10 motherfucking speakers on the bus, this (music or talk radio, blaring on the bus) could be it's own -1 point for the Korean peninsula, or out of bongo flatbeds carrying precarious stacks of empty glass bottles on the way to wherever they go. Here's what happened, at the end of the Korean war the Americans wanted to give the Koreans a present, a housewarming for their new country. Who knows, maybe we felt bad about greasing them up for the IMF like it was deliverance. So we decided to give them musical instruments, but the only ones we could find were trombones. Fuck it. We airdropped some trombones for them to fuck around with, many died, but how would you know it's the Americans bringing democracy, or culture to your country if no one dies, it's like our calling card. When they started figuring out the instrument the first band formed. They decided that they would find the person in town who sounded most like a seagull committing suicide and make him the singer. Then they decided that their backing sound would be 20 trombones playing the same measure over and over. Since in Confucian culture it's almost unthinkable to create your own way of doing things, all bands for the next 20 years followed this exact formula, giving old people music a sounds that in all places, at all times is like music created by a collaboration of a crack addicted Lawrence Welk and Brian Setzer with severe cranial hemorrhaging. Still it's preferable to what the youth obsessively poison themselves with.

While the music for the old is uncreative and tone deaf. The music for the youth is far more insipid, it's a commercial burdened with as many nonsensical, sugary, syth blips as can be stacked on top of one another. How many cultures have ubiquitously popular groups singing songs about cell phones. Their names aren't names anymore they've become words with dictionary definitions, spurring nonsensical English catch phrases that are repeated with parrotlike ignorance by every school child in Korea who barely knows the alphabet. I had a kid in class the other day trying to sing a song that goes, "listen to my heart... beat." But I thought he said, "Listen I have her... pes." It's compositionally nonsensical, like a Britney Spears producer after an 8 ball of coke. It's expressionless, gutless, and in the words of Stephen Morrissey, "Says nothing to me about my life." I guess I should expect that it says nothing to me about my life, I'm not Korean and I never will be. My feeling is sadness, and a deep loss of respect for humanity when I consider that this puerile, commercial nonsense masquerading as music could say something about anyone else's life.

I suppose I might take music a bit too seriously, but in my opinion art is one of the most serious things there is. The drive to self-expression is inviolate and an essential element of our humanity. The music, art, and literature we produce, not as a means to an end, but as an honest expression of our experiences as a human being are as vital to life as air. And when honest expression gets drowned out by aggressive marketing and the herd mentality of people who are suckered into a culture of vapid commercialism and infantile pandering, my faith in humanity dims, because we ARE the art that we produce and consume. There are exceptions to these rules, there is actual music on this peninsula, a punk band from Busan I saw at Speakeasy. But one punk band that really just played covers from classic American punk bands from a city the size of Los Angeles, doesn't make a dent in the fact that this monoculture is suffocating creative expression for the profits of corporations. It happens in the US too, but never to this extent.

So I leave you with just a pinch of this horror that passes for music on this peninsula.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

It ain't all bad

So in light of my last post I thought it was high time to write my "Korea is not so bad" post. I've lived in the land of the morning clam... er... i mean calm, for almost 20 months now and I'd say I have a pretty good grasp on what makes this country and culture suck, AND what makes it cool. Here are some things I like about living and working in Korea:

1.) The money and job security. A#1 top reason fo sho. Free apartment (besides utilities), pension, severance pay, paid vacation and sick leave make this job pretty sweet.

2.) The food. Don't get me wrong I like Thai food more... but you can't go wrong with some delicious Korean BBQ. It's cheap to eat out, and everyone knows I love eating out! And come on, who can say they don't like kimchi? ;)

3.) I LOVE teaching! So much fun. Sure I gripe about it (it's a JOB after all), but especially now that I've finagled my way into teaching pretty much whatever I want, almost all my classes are successful. It's a beautiful thing. My students are hilarious and sometimes we spend the entire class just laughing about stuff. Don't get me wrong, I have some real asshole students, but since I know my students pretty well now, they know I mean business!

4.) Excellent transportation system. I hate driving and I'm happy to take a cab or the bus. In Portland, the bus drivers drive at least 10 miles under the speed limit. I hate that! Here they drive like they have somewhere to be. Love it, love it, love it (except when I am fearing for my life).

5.) Location. Conveniently located in central Asia, it is very easy to travel to other, cooler, places.

6.) Safety. Yousoek's blog aside, I feel safe here. I know I can walk any dark street at night and no one is going to put a gun to my head and rape me. Plus, I'm taller than half the men here, and my white ass scares the crap out of the other half, so I don't think they'll mess with me. I still lock my doors, I'm just not as worried about it.

7.) Good friends and cool people. Lots of the people coming to teach here are cool. Everyone has a college education, everyone is pretty liberal. My kinda crowd.

8.) Korea is not the USA. I don't like what the government does with our tax dollars and I don't want to live in a police state. Thanks but no thanks!

So as you can see, there are some perks of living among the Kim's and the Park's. I'll never be one of them, and hell, I won't even try to be like them, but it's not all bad. Maybe another six months won't hurt?


Monday, April 5, 2010

Should I stay or should I go now...

Daniel and I have recently been discussing our next move. We thought we had it all figured out. We would finish our contracts in August, then get the hell out of this country. Then we realized if we stayed we could make more money. That there's the dilemma. I had the brilliant idea of just staying six more months. Dan could freelance (illegally) and I could go home with one less student loan bill and three grand more in savings. We could move to NYC in the spring and skip the gray winter all together. Every year you stay in Korea your money making potential increases dramatically. When I first got here I was making 1.9 million won ($1,650) a month. Today I make at least 3 million ($2,600). I work a little harder, but not much. This income makes it very difficult to go back to a country in the depths of an economic recession, no matter how much the culture here bugs the living shit out of me.
BTW, when I say six months more, I really mean only four months of actual work. The other two months would be desk warming and taking a three week trip to Thailand, Cambodia and Laos. So instead of being in NYC in snow, we'll be on the beach or hiking in the jungle.
It's a tough choice! On the one hand, I might go mentally insane if I stay here even one extra month, especially without the booze. If we do decide to stay we might have to give up on the no-drinking thing altogether. But if we go, we could end up broke and unemployed. Which means we might have to give up on the no-drinking thing in that situation as well. Everyone knows you can't be on the wagon and unemployed.
We are still debating, I have until next month to decide. I'm leaning toward going back to the states though. I miss my friends and family and I'm desperate for a road trip. I think the logical part of me says stay. This is the most I've ever made, and no rent, car payment or taxes is a serious bonus. Go or stay?