Sunday, March 26, 2006

Happy Sunday everybody! My goal for this weekend was to buy a bike. Mission accomplished. I walked down to the local bike store today, shopped around, spied a bike that I loved, found out it cost a month's salary and decided to go with a bike I found acceptable. I purchased an American Eagle brand bike. I found it oddly fitting. It's functional; it'll get me around, but it's not like my bike in the states. Compared to my old bike, the Eagle needs to go on a diet. It is heavy, but we'll manage.

I was a pretty shrewd businessman at the bike store. I've been listening to my Korean tapes and they've been teaching me phrases like: "The weather is nice," and "Would you like to have dinner at my place?" Never mind the fact that if I ask a Korean person to have dinner and they say yes, the only thing I could talk about over and over again is how nice the weather was. I was starting to question the validity of these Korean lessons when, at the bike shop, the phrase, "Please give me a discount," shot into my head. This was a sentence that I filed under, "something I'll probably never use," but I decided to give it a try and the guy at the shop knocked thirty bucks off the price! I think I startled him with my sudden burst of demanding Korean. The other guy in the store started laughing and I knew that I was a hit.

This is something that I don't understand though. Bargaining is common in Korea. It's not so much the act of bargaining that I don't get, but the items that are bargained for. I've haggled for items in Mexico when I'm looking to buy a handmade chess set or a bongo drum. These are novelties, but here you bargain over things like bicycles and electronics. With a hand made Guatemalan shirt the price is negotiable. Here it seems like these items should have a set price. What does the salesman tell you about a camera that you want to purchase? "I can't possibly go that low. It took me all day to make this thing." Still, it looks like this bargaining thing might work to my advantage.

Later on, I took my new purchase on a spin around the riverwalk. It's starting to get nice out so all of Korea was outside. There's miles and miles of paths along the river and people were out riding every sort of wheeled contraption imaginable. This made my bike ride a bit hectic as the road bikers were scattered along the path, so were the octogenarians traveling at half the speed of smell, the wanna-be speed skaters on their thousand dollar roller blades, the five-year olds on their new bikes, the couples on their first date who made the horrendous mistake of deciding to go rollerblading, the fashion queens out for a Sunday stroll, the dog walkers, etc. Because of the number and the mix of people, bike riding was be a bit chaotic. I didn't help much either. Where did I fit in? I'll say that my group was relatively small: the speeding waygook. I haven't been outside that much since I arrived here so once I hopped on the Eagle, I was gone. I was weaving in and out of Koreans, just a foreign blur. I imagine that after a few weeks of riding that trail I'll become notorious, "Aiyee, look out! It's the American Eagle!" One can only hope.

No fishing, no motorcycles but apparently dog hunting is allowed.  Posted by Picasa

The Eagle has landed.  Posted by Picasa

The long ride to Seoul. Posted by Picasa

Hungry? Posted by Picasa

Photographic evidence that I'm in Korea. Posted by Picasa

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Underpass. Posted by Picasa

The smog makes for some cool sunsets. Posted by Picasa

View from my apartment when I've had too much soju. Posted by Picasa

The spins. Posted by Picasa
Happy Spring Everybody! Spring is definitely my favorite season. It has the best aspects of all the other times of the year. It's cool at night, warm during the day. A little rain, a little snow, a little sunshine. Basically it's just nice to be able to walk around and not freeze my butt off.

I received an e-mail from my good friend Steph asking if I was having a good time in this country. I haven't said anything outright about this place, whether it's good or bad. It's kind of like when you first start seeing someone and you're scared to admit how much you really like them. You're afraid if things fall apart then you'll be hurt, but eventually you burst forth and proclaim, "I love you so much!" This generally happens while drunk. I have a little bit of soju in me right now and I've been seeing Seoul for about a month and a half so it seems the time is right to proclaim my love. Yes, I love Seoul.

What do I like about Seoul? Oh, there's a few things. I'm going to gush like that love-stricken friend you hate to be around that can only talk about the cute things their beloved does.

1. Seoul has lots of bathrooms. At first you may be puzzled by this comment. "Great it has a lot of bathrooms. Big deal." I've found that international travel is usually a practice in bladder control. In Seoul, you can walk into any major building and use the bathroom, and they're clean. In America we tend to desecrate our public facilities, but here they receive constant maintenance and respect. I should write an advertising campaign for Korea: Korea! You'll love our bathrooms! Seoul, I love the way you take care of yourself.

2. Seoul has an amazing transportation system. I routinely wander into the city and get lost, but I can always find a bus to transport me out of my lost situation to a place that I'm familiar with. Seoul, I love how independent and convenient you are.

3. Guns are illegal in Seoul. Crime rates are super low, especially for a big city. In fact the most dangerous area in Seoul is Itaewon. This is where the foreigners hang out. I'm not sure if it was initially a dangerous place and the foreigners are attracted to that danger, or if it's a dangerous place because the foreigners are there. Probably a little of both. Seoul, I love your peaceful ways.

4. The people are very polite here. I routinely get myself into compromising situations because of my lack of Korean language skill, but generally people go out of their way to help me and to make sure that everything's all right. Coming from the states where it seemed like every other person I ran into was an asshole, this is a nice change of pace. Seoul, I love how polite and thoughtful you can be.

5. I love the food here. Most food is relatively healthy- pretty much no grease with lots of vegetables, and it's spicy. Seoul I love how vibrant and hot you can be.

6. Things are relatively cheap here. Also taxes are very low and my housing is paid for. Seoul I love how we don't have to spend a lot of money to have a good time.

7. There are tons of hiking trails here and placed along many of the trails is exercise equipment: pullup bars; incline benches; bench presses and industrial strength, oversized hulla hoops. For some reason hulla hoops are a standard piece of equipment for physical fitness in Korea. Hulla hoops aside, staying healthy is a national priority here. Seoul, I love how you take care of yourself.

8. Seoul is land of the miniskirt. Nothing else I need to say there.

There, that was sickening. Even as I love this place though, I can see signs of complications down the road- those little things you notice at the beginning of a relationship that you choose to ignore thinking that they'll go away, but ultimately end up tearing the relationship apart. A few of these are:

1. Seoul, could you please do something about the traffic? Many suburbanites spend four hours a day in their cars commuting to and from work. Everyone drives here and they drive like absolute hell. Seoul's driving can be summed up with this simple phrase: Go like hell, slam on the breaks. Since traffic is bumper-to-bumper there's a lot of slamming on the brakes. The Koreans here have the magical ability to sleep on the bus. I find it impossible because the acceleration throws me back in my seat and the rapid deceleration throws me into the seat in front of me. Seoul, you could learn to slow down and take it easy. You don't have to rush all the time.

2. The pollution here is nasty. Many people wear face masks when they walk around town, and I'm beginning to think this is not such a bad idea. Some days aren't so bad and other days I'm scared to go outside. Seoul, could you please do something about your hygiene? I know you can be pretty but sometimes you just don't put enough concern into your appearance.

3. People walk like hell here. Actually, their walking and driving habits parallel each other. I had heard about the peculiar pedestrian habits of Koreans, but it really has to be experienced to be believed. Routinely, when walking to school, I'll be the only person on the sidewalk and a Korean pedestrian will be walking towards me. I'll move to far right so they can pass on the left but Korean will bear down at come straight at me. They're like Kamikazes. Bumping into people here is routine, and I can understand that on a crowded sidewalk, but on an empty one it's just baffling. Seoul, could you please watch where you're going?

4. In Korea the appearance of quality is enough. Things routinely fall apart here and nothing is built to last. The apartment complex that I live in is less than ten years old and everything is falling apart. It's not as though I live in the ghetto, but there's always something breaking, falling down, flooding, etc. and the repair man never comes when he says he will. Seoul, could you put a little more effort into committing to a project? Take some pride in your work.

I'm sure there's more to say, but it feels as though I've said way too much already. Upon looking at that post I can't but feel that I need a girlfriend.

On a completely different note, my students taught me how to say throw-up in Korean. It's "Oh Bite". I guess there was some Oh Bite on the boy's bathroom floor and they felt the need to inform me of this. The thing that I find puzzling is not the Oh Bite necessarily, but the fact that they told me this word once and it totally stuck. I look over my Korean flashcards every day, but many phrases leave my mind without a trace that they were ever there. I'll be damned if I can remember how to say, "Pleased to meet you," but I just have to hear Oh Bite once and my rusty, steel-trap of a brain locks on to it. The scary thing is, it's phrases like these I'll never forget. I'm sure when the kids teach me the sentence, "Oops, I crapped my pants," that I'll latch onto that too. In Spanish I could always pick out the swear words. I wouldn't understand anything else sometimes except the swear words. This is not something I train myself for, nor am I proud of this ability. It's just a mystery and a source of puzzlement. I guess we all have our talents and gifts.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Holy Blogaliscious Blog of Blogging. Two blog entries in one day. Just after I completed the first post Scott, another waygook teacher, invited me to go to a Provincial Park outside of Seoul. Despite the fact that it was absolutely freezing ass outside, I decided to go. The group included Alison (Scott's girlfriend), Scott (Alison's boyfriend) Sarah (another waygook teacher) and myself. The park was really cool. We saw a few temples, climbed some stairs, stared at some statues and walk along a wall. Okay, put like that it doesn't sound to tremendously exciting, but it was nice to get out and see something different. The views of Seoul were amazing. Despite freezing our asses off and sacrificing Sarah's camera to one of the Buddhas (it was dropped on the trail), it was a good day.

Peaceful Sunday. Posted by Picasa

Seoul! Posted by Picasa

Royal Guard Station.  Posted by Picasa

Waygooks and the wall.  Posted by Picasa

Waygook being stalked by an athletic Korean. Posted by Picasa

Gateway through the wall.  Posted by Picasa

Pschadelic architecture.  Posted by Picasa

Ancient Korean tombstone? We have no idea what these are.  Posted by Picasa

Me and the bouncer of the temple.  Posted by Picasa

Peaceful Buddha. Posted by Picasa

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Happy lazy Sunday everybody. The weather's been nice here for awhile so I was surprised when I looked at the thermometer and it said a mighty 23 Fahrenheit. I haven't ventured outside yet and I'm not sure that I will. Updating the blog might be my only accomplishment today.

Yesterday I went to Insadong Market in Seoul in search of a guitar. I heard that there was a massive mall that just sold musical instruments so I decided to go in search of it. I should have just handed the store keepers my credit card on entering the place. There's no way a person can get out of there without dropping some cash. My damages amounted to two hundred dollars which I traded for a decent guitar. Now I can torture my neighbors with my unique brand of American music.

Sad to say, my Korean doesn't seem to be improving much, however, I am getting better at communicating through gesturing and improvised charades. I practice my Korean everyday but the pronunciation is what gets me. This is a typical conversation with one of the Korean teachers at my school:

Me: Excuse me but how do you say this word?
K Teacher: Oh that, that's pee-gon-ha-da.
Me: Pee-gon-ha-da?
K Teacher: No, Pee-gon-ha-da.
Me: That's what I just said. Pee-gon-ha-da.
K Teacher: No! Pee-gon-ha-da; da, da, da!
Me: Da-da-da?
K Teacher: No, da!

I guess I can't say "da" right, but I'm trying. It's a good experience for me though. It helps to remind me what the kids are going through when they try to learn English.

I kind of like not being able to understand what people are saying. In the states I heard so much bitching and whining from people. This is because I was a server and teacher. I would hear the kids complain at the school and then I would hear their parents complain at the restaurant. It really brought me down. Now I don't understand what anybody is saying so I'm free to imagine any scenario I feel like. The two ladies yelling at each other from across the street, they're not arguing about anything important. They're discussing who is "it" from their last game of tag.
"I touched you last."
"Oh, no you didn't. Remember there's no double taps."
The two drunk Korean business men on the street. They're not fighting about who slept with who's wife; they're fighting because one guy stole the other guy's balloon. I'm free to create and interpret any scenario in any way I want. Sometimes ignorance is bliss.

Coming to a place like this is tantamount to rebooting my life. Here I'm free to recreate myself in any way I want. It's like wiping the slate clean and starting all over again. I guess that's why I like extended travel so much. It gives me the chance to live many different lives rather than the same life all the time. Some people might think I'm running away, I choose to believe that I'm just adventurous.

I posted some Korean pics, but I was reviewing some camping pics from last year and so decided to post those for little bit reminiscence. Enjoy.

Beautiful artwork or crappy artwork. I was actually looking for a bathroom when I spied this thing.  Posted by Picasa

The stealthy, elderly, Korean ninja sneaks up behind the unsuspecting royal guard. Posted by Picasa

New Disneyland Advertising Campaign Posted by Picasa

SLC Driving Range Posted by Picasa

Did you know you can start a fire by screaming at it? Posted by Picasa

Caption already inserted. Posted by Picasa