March 2012


Well, I’ve been packing all day and getting things in order around the apartment. I need to head over to the subway station no later than noon tomorrow to hop on the airport shuttle to take me to Incheon. The subway takes roughly the same amount of time (40 minutes to 1 hour) but considering I’ll have to luggage bags to check in I’d rather just pay the 9 dollars for the direct transportation and not have to worry about transfers or getting glared at for taking up too much space on a possibly crowded train car. Last minute errands such as grabbing a refill on my contacts and picking up a lot of crunky bars and other assorted candies have filled my day. I’ve loaded a ton of movies on my iPhone for the flight and researched what I can bring through customs to the states. This part was kind of undefined, vague to say the best.

My friend in Arizona has a foodie amigo who had requested I bring in some kimchi. I got the processed kind in the sealed bag so hopefully that’s fine. I also couldn’t figure out what the limits on Soju were, a friend said he brought 12 of the small bottles and a few bokbanjoo’s (Korean raspberry wine, whose spelling I’m probably butchering) and some Chongha (sweeter little sister to Soju usually favored by the ladies). I’m a little more cautious and am just bringing four of the plastic bottles and a single of bukbanjoo. I guess worst case scenario they take a couple of the two dollar bottles away. No big loss, I’m not a huge fan of the stuff but it’s nice to bring some form of local beverage for the friends back home to experience.

This last week has been a stutter between killing time at my apartment and rushing around town saying goodbye to friends. Friday was a real treat when my good Canadian friend from Ilsan and I went to the Jeju Rock and Resistance Show in Hongdae at Freebirds. Ten dollars got you entrance to see all ten bands. My buddy’s girlfriend was one of the volunteer coordinators for it, she usually does a lot of work promoting awareness of the Korean “comfort women” who were sex slaves used by the Japanese during World War 2. This makes particular event was to raise funds and awareness of the ongoing opposition to the proposed US Naval base being installed on Jeju Island. The area in question is the site of much natural beauty which has earned it a UNESCO placing and also Gangjeong Village. From what I heard there it is an amazing area and the people are strongly resisting displacement, many also said that it was not the US Navy who was pushing for this exact location but Samsung who is a partner in the site construction/development. For more information check out this link.

Powerful speakers and killer bands really delivered a strong message for this cause.

The bands were quite varied in both genre and skill but all in all I think most everyone was quite happy to have come out for the show. I was pleased to actually hear my first reggae band perform and, wonders never cease, one of the musicians played the rarely scene mellodica which is kind of like a small handheld keyboard you blow into while you play. Awesome! My favorite band of the night was an instrumental trio of two girls and one guy. The gent played a small traditional wooden flute, acoustic guitar and did some synthwork using a Macbook. The girls were both playing their hearts out on their respective traditional instruments I had never seen before. The first was a Haegeum and the other was a Geomungo. This was a mesmerizing performance and it was great to see these amazing ancient instruments creating such powerful and resonant music. I was also quite happy because it took me back to my childhood when I used to play with the miniature Japanese variants of these that hung from our Christmas tree. My father had acquired them during his stay in Japan as part of a high school exchange. Oh yeah, Seoul’s belly-dancing troupe did a performance. I was impressed at their grace and art. I was also cracking up at seeing many of the guys there getting elbowed in their ribs by their girlfriends when they outright gawked at the performance with open jaws. I always try to watch respectfully but was glad to be single at that particular instance, haha.

Saturday I showed the two new hires (a couple) to my school around Itaewon and Haebanchong foreign areas of Seoul. They have only been here a couple weeks and have taken a liking to Korean food but really appreciated breakfast at Wolfhounds and a trip to the High Street Market to see their selection of comfort foods from home. The same friend from Ilsan and my Korean buddy who I’ll call London because of his strong accent after studying their came out and we grabbed a bite to eat and some drinks at Phillies Pub which I highly recommend. One of the new hires was from Philadelphia so he got a kick out of the namesake. Ilsan and I went to a quick show while London showed the duo around Itaewon. It was one stop past Itaewon in the opposite direction of Noksapyeong in a small DIY concert space setup under a coffee house and adjacent to a small bar. It was titled an “Experimental” show and was definitely quite original. From discordant thrash like Christfuck, to the ever building/looping/cascading waves of sounds of the band Ten (recently back from Japan) to a unskilled drummer/kazooist who invokes a sense of Andy Kaufman style humor “I am sorry I not so good, the trumpet player Kenny G is in England tonight.” It was, well, an experience.

Not much happened after this except making new friends with a bunch of EPIK (public school) teachers just out of orientation, last call at Sam Ryans and an after hours party back at Phillies Pub some of the regulars invited me and Ilsan two. Amazing how many new friends you make right before you leave for a while. Irony!

Well, I need to get back to packing before heading out to one last samgyeopsal (BBQ pork) meal and Winter Hof night with the coworkers. The next post will be a photo blog about my trip yesterday to Insadong and Gyeongbok Palace but right now I don’t have time to upload all those photos. Until then, Syonara my friends!

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It’s been an eventful last week. I had a pretty productive weekend and went to the dentist for the first time in a few years. If you go for a span without a cleaning there is a certain amount of apprehension before breaking the spell of not visiting. My worries were eased. Though I did have a couple very minor cavities the dentist assured me that they weren’t anything to be concerned about and that all in all the chompers were in great shape.

The hygienist was a little nervous and giggling quite a bit as she worked on me. She was mortified when she sprayed the water pick across my face and inadvertently jabbed me with the dental pick. I took it all in stride and was laughing with her as she dried off my face “I didn’t know I was so sad.” Haha. With no insurance a cleaning and an X-ray  only cost me $120. The appointment is setup in June when I get back to tack care of the cavities and all in all I was feeling pretty satisfied.

Saturday I dropped by Hongdae with one of my Korean buddies. I felt kind of bad for how things turned out. He doesn’t really kick it in that neck of the woods so after a dinner at Shamrock I showed him the ever infamous Zen Bar 1. For the record this fiasco of an establishment isn’t really my bag of tea but he wanted to see some of the more packed establishments and likes hanging out at establishments similar to this. It was early into the night so this was one of the few places with many patrons. I grew weary of the noise and excessive intoxication and decided to head out before the last subway departed back home, my Ilsan homies were incommunicado after a COEX food/wine buffet and was feeling uninspired. Unfortunately he wanted to stay and hang out with some Americans he met. I received a text the next day stating that one of the girls he was talking to charged a few bottles to his tab for the price of 800,000 won ($700ish). I hate it when other foreigners, especially ones from my home country, act scandalous.

The following day was a group excursion up to Kintex in Ilsan for the 4D festival. While this sounded great in theory with appealing promo videos the reality was disappointing. What my friends didn’t seem to translate when looking up this event was that it’s pretty much geared for kids. I love teaching kids but it’s not my idea of a good time spending an afternoon at flashy yet simplistic, glorified amusement park. Especially in a foreign country where there is no English directions. Lesson learned? Look up some reviews from other foreigners beforehand, don’t be the Guinea Pig.

Graduation was on Monday which went off without a hitch. My kids were outstanding in delivering their speeches to the biased audience of their parents. One of my highlights was definitely the conversation with the father of one of my more mischievous students. “So my daughter was behaved in your classes?” He asked with a stoic face. “Yes, she was.” I answered somewhat untruthfully.” He broke into a big grin and replied “You are a nice teacher, but I don’t believe you” and proceeded to laugh heartily. Classic.

My vacation has now begun and it’s off to a superb start. Yesterday was a holiday so six of the crew from school all went out to Yeouinaru on the banks of the Han river. One nice things about being right next to this subway is that it is the lowest in South Korea and if artillery coming from up North were to fall (incredibly improbable) you can take shelter 9 stories below sea level. Tandem bikes and groups of families and young adults on mats were abundant as everyone wanted to enjoy a rare 50+ (Fahrenheit) day. The evening was finished of by a visit to a local Chinese/Korean restaurant near our apartments for Shabu Shabu. This is a dish which starts out with one large pot of boiling broth which is divided into two sides. One features a salty flavor and the other a spicy. You are given a base of greens, bok choy and mushrooms to add to the soup and an assortment of banchan (ever present Korean side dishes) including thinly sliced radish kimchi, sesame tofu ribbons with green onions and peanuts. The selection of protein is up to you and our group of 7 choose the mix with thinly sliced lamb, beef, tripe, frozen tofu cubes and seafood (octopus, muscles and scallops). Sustainful feasting ensued and the entire meal cost a mere 40,000 won ($35) for all of us. I was a little shocked I hadn’t tried this yet but not a month goes by I don’t discover a new cuisine Seoul has to surprise me with (especially since I started eating meat in the last two months).

Today I visited the pension offices and was pleasantly surprised at how easy the whole process was. My round trip ticket didn’t raise any eyebrows and it only cost about 10 minutes of my life. 10 days after I depart I get 10% of my income deposited into my Korean bank account. I applied for a global Visa card from Woori Bank (1-2% surcharge on all purchases) and should be able to easily visit Los Angeles after Arizona before I cruise back North to the Pacific Northwest and my beloved Seattle until the end of April. I’m also hoping to pick up a new laptop while there so these funds were kinda crucial for that kind of spendage. Tonight there is a benefit show in Hongdae with some friends and start my round of goodbyes until Spring before departure next week.

Now I just need to decide what to do for my remaining 8 days. Visit a Jjimjilbang for the first time? Maybe see a Japanese vs. Korean rockabilly band battle? Not quite sure yet. I do know one thing. I love it when your biggest looming problem is how to deal with the freedom of a two month vacation. Viva!