Monday, June 29, 2009
Actually, the layout of the bills makes a lot more sense than ours: The 1000 Won notes are blue, the 5000s peach, the 10000s green, and as the denominations get larger, the bills do, too, a little bit. There are 10, 50, 100, and 500 Won coins as well, which also get bigger as they get bigger.
However... there are no personal checking accounts. At all. Everything's transacted in three ways. First, you can use a credit/debit card (and all the major corporations have their own cards, so you might get a ten percent discount at E-Mart if you buy certain products using your BC Card, the only card Costco accepts is the Samsung Card, and so on.) Secondly, when you get money out of the bank, you can take it in a mixture of bills and "checks", 100000 Won certificates that the banks print themselves and are as good as cash. Finally, you can just carry a truckload of bills; until last week, the largest bill was the 10000, which meant that if I got my monthly salary in bills, I literally couldn't close my wallet.
But now the government has introduced the 50000 Won bill; I still haven't actually seen one for real, but there it is in all its glory above, with Korea's first example of a woman on its money, unless the crane on the front of the 500 Won coin is a female; it's kind of hard to tell. The picture on the bill is a prettied-up depiction of some medieval Korean heroine in hanbok (traditional dress). Actually, when she wore it, I guess it was just regular ol' clothing.
The three characters to the left of the lady read O Man Won (Five Ten thousand Won); large numbers are done in multiples of 10,000. The characters below the serial number read, phonetically, Bo Gi, which may or may not be a touching tribute to Humphrey Bogart; I like to think so.
...and then there's the fact that everything is priced in multiples of ten Won, which means that an enormous amount of cumulative time, effort and resources are devoted to adding that extra meaningless zero to every single amount. (Currently, 1000 Won equals 78 cents American.) But at least that means that every payday, I'm a millionaire. And I didn't even need Regis.
Thursday, June 25, 2009
This morning, the Mets defrocked the Cardinals, 11-0. Then I went across town to a steakhouse for Ray's unofficial going-away lunch. (His last day of work is tomorrow; Saturday, he heads off for South Africa missionary work, via Seoul and Hong Kong. I'll miss him. A lot.) Anyway, the steakhouse has an overpriced but pretty impressive salad bar, so I ate well. I don't believe I've seen a salad bar with escargot on it before, by the way... and here's a tip: the next time you load a nice big green salad on your plate in Korea, that ain't Russian dressing; it's hot pepper sauce.
:: gack ::
Anyway, after lunch I took the four-mile walk home. It's hot in Daegu, plenty hot, in the low nineties every day, but not particularly humid (yet) and it was a nice walk, meandering through every shadow I could find.
This evening, I headed out for the game between the Lions and the Hanwha Eagles, who, perhaps thinking they'd be combating actual Lions, dressed in blaze orange. Anyway, I sat in the back of the crazy-people roooters' section, with all the plastic inflated sticks and dancing girls and kiss-cam and singing and chanting and a limbo contest during the stretch, and a good time was had by all, with four homers for us and two for them, and then...
Going into the top of the eighth, I realized I hadn't deleted any photos from my camera for quite awhile... every picture that's been on the blog in the last six weeks was still there, and I think I saw one of Buster Keaton, too... anyway, as the game was a laugher and the Lions had a new pitcher warming up, I proceeded to decimate the digital detritus. What could happen while I delete a few photos, right? The only time a foul ball ever came near me at a game was at Yankee Stadium, 1966, when my friend two seats over caught a ball...
I was also half-thinking about what I was going to write in this blog post; the tentative title was "Calling out around the world, are you ready for a brand new beat?" because, you see, summer's here and the time is right and I'm so dang clever. I was going to post, in part, about how odd it is that the Koreans name their teams in English, and don't attempt to even actually pronounce the English, but rather phonetically put it into Korean writing with all its odd rules, and then pronounce that, so the team's jingle is "La la... la la la la... la Sahm-seong La-ee-own-jeu!", and their other jingle is "Ah-ee lub La-ee-own-jeu" (I love Lions)... and how odd it is that they have trouble telling their Ls from their Rs but have no trouble with "La la... La-ee-own-jeu."
Well, I looked up and here came a soft liner, undoubtedly to be caught a bit in front of me, but the young women in the two rows in front of me all leaned out of the way and I had my camera in my right hand, and a can of Max beer ("fresh idea!", it says) and... and... well, apparently my reflexes have slowed a tad in the last 43 years...
"Whack!" the ball exclaimed, ricocheting off that little bony bump just on the outer side of my naked kneecap. (Oh, don't get excited... I was wearing shorts.) Unlike in the States, not a single person asked if I was okay and not a single person laughed at me. Sadly, one of the craven girls who lhad eaned out of the way had the ball bounce back right into her lap. The little bony bump is no longer bony, nor is it little.
I'm fine, no pain at all, but if you, as a reader of this blog, feel a little guilty that it only happened because I'm dedicated to your enjoyment so it's all your fault... well, then, ow ow ow it hurts I need cookies. Stat.
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
On the way home I walked across the footbridge over the river, and it was just lovely, the creakety old bridge lit by plastic lanterns, the duck boats sitting at mooring in the gloaming, the neon lights of the motels and restaurants on the west bank gleaming.
I passed the little traditional restaurants by the river, with their tabletops just above floor level, with customers unwinding at the end of the day, some watching big-screen tv's tuned to the Samsung Lions-- our team. People walked past me in the near-dark, toddlers laughing and hopping between their parents, and young couples, girls with their glossy black hair and summer dresses, boys with their American baseball caps and bemused, slightly proud expressions, for they were holding hands with girls with glossy black hair and summer dresses. (I haven't forgotten what it's like.)
And I realized, at last, against every bit of common sense, that Daegu, somehow, has become mine.
Monday, June 22, 2009
I don't sound and look like that, do I?
(I tried to upload a video to illustrate, but Blogger's being recalcitrant. It's been trying to load the video for 45 minutes. It hurts to be rejected by a machine.)
See, in my head, my persona is the poor man's Andy Rooney/Tom Bodett/Garrison Keillor/Mark Twain, that is, full of wry, detached, droll observations on life, somehow slightly cynical but wise and affectionate. But, despite my avuncular wisdom I think of myself as well, not youthful, but timeless. Garrison Keillor in 1974, perhaps.
...certainly not the saggy, baggy, drawling, sad-eyed guy in the video. I don't know who that guy is, and it's too bad the rest of the world sees him and thinks he's me.
He did do a really good job explaining subject-verb agreement, though...
Friday, June 19, 2009
Kristen and her boyfriend James, who taught at my (Manchon) branch of LIKE and the Samduk location, respectively, took off for home without warning a few days ago. It was a shock to me; I didn't know them well, but they both were nice and, as far as I could see, they seemed content. They certainly left the schools in the lurch.
We all have contracts that say that if we don't stay six months, we have to pay back our airfare here, and if we don't complete the year, we don't get airfare home. Also, if we take off without giving notice, our visas are revoked and we can never get another one (not that that should bother somebody who's not happy here, of course). They could have talked to the management and worked out an amicable release.
But my point (and I do have one) is the reason they gave for leaving. James sent email to both schools (after their departure) saying that he'd talked to his lawyer, who'd said that that the dangerous conditions in Korea, with the North's nuclear and chemical preparations and uncertain power structure, justified fleeing the country without notice. (However, I notice that they managed to squeeze in a vacation in Japan just before they fled in panic.)
I have no idea if they gave their their real reason, but if so, it's as weak as Woody Allen's biceps; ain't no way anything bad will happen to Daegu in the immediate future. It does bring up something a few people have asked me, though, and that's been much on my mind: am I gonna die here? And will it be something other than listening to the Mets on the Internet that does me in?
On the face of it, it's crazy for me to move to Seoul, which I will be doing in two months; it's thirty miles from the DMZ, technically the war never ended, the North has 70 percent of its massive army deployed near the border, and a military magazine estimates that if the North attacks, there will be 200,000 deaths in Seoul in the first few days. Gulp.
I can't pretend that I don't think about it, especially considering that I've chosen to write about it. If the North's rulers ever feel pushed to the point where they would rather all die than lose face, well... gulp.
But they'd have to be bleedin' insane. Of course, this isn't the most reassuring thing with these guys. They obviously don't care if all their people die-- they have Stalinist prison camps, and have allowed massive starvation-- but I think that even they, deep down, are sensible enough to avoid their own utter destruction. They've also been playing military mind games for decades, so all of this isn't anything new. My friend Justin has noted that South Koreans are scared of a lot of things, including American beef and sleeping in a closed room with a fan blowing on your face, but they're not particularly concerned with all this. That's good enough for me. I'm too old to panic.
But when I get to Seoul in August, I am going to register at the US embassy, in case they ever want to tell all the Americans to get out. I'm also too old to not pay attention.
Wednesday, June 17, 2009
A rainbow trout is splashing around,
Going about his fishy business, and
Ventures a little too close to the surface.
He is gripped in an explosion of
Talons and feathers, grasped and carried off
By an eagle, maneuvered around facing front,
Aerodynamically arranged, rising higher and higher,
Gasping frantically, mind whirring in terror and wonder,
As the world spreads out before him
In greens and blues, squares of field and
Ribbons of river and the red setting sun on the hills,
And aha, I see, he thinks,
And what the hell is this, and
How did I never see this before?
It’s all so beautiful and I’m so scared
And I can’t breathe but my God look at it all.
And this is what flashes through our minds
At the moment of our death:
I can’t breathe but my God look at it all.
It's a tough piece to write, and as I'm lazy, I think I'll post this instead; it's a model essay I wrote for LIKE responding to an online talk about the world's "English mania". One of the things I do at school is writing essays, complete with glossary and notes on why my essays are the Pope's knickers, for the upper-level kids to critique, take notes on, and translate into Korean.
(According to the speech, TWO BILLION PEOPLE are currently trying to learn English.) (And the speaker's name really is Jay Walker. No comment.)
PROMPT: Why is English “the world’s second language”, as lecturer Jay Walker says?
For the first time since the fall of the Roman Empire, the world is moving toward a common language. English is fast becoming the second choice of billions of people around the globe, on every inhabited continent. English is the language of business, of education, and of popular culture. Jay Walker tells us, “English represents hope for a better future, a future where the world has a common language to solve its common problems.” But, of all the world’s languages, why is English the chosen one?
For 400 years, the United Kingdom’s empire spread around the world, from India and Australia to North America. “The sun never sets on the British Empire” was the saying; a quarter of the world’s population, covering a quarter of its landmass, was subject to the British crown. The sunset of the British Empire was overlapped by the rise of American superpower, and the military and economic might of both has led to the dominance of English. Above all, the 21st century business world runs on English, and speaking the language is nearly a prerequisite for success in international business, in the sciences, and in education.
Indirectly, English has also been boosted by its ubiquity in popular culture around the world. It is the mother tongue of Shakespeare and Chaucer, of Mickey Mouse and the Pussycat Dolls. Any language that produces both “But soft, what light through yonder window breaks? It is the East, and Juliet is the Sun” and “Don’tcha wish your girlfriend was hot like me?” is endlessly adaptable. Few Korean pop songs, for example, fail to have a “nobody, nobody” or a “baby, baby” thrown in. Clearly, English is also the language of emotion and entertainment.
Finally, English has grown and prospered because it takes the best of every other language as its own: skunk and raccoon from the Algonquin Indians, safari and jamboree from Swahili, kimchi and taekwondo from Korea: all these have enriched English and increased its appeal. French was once the language of diplomacy, but the French Academy jealously guarded it against incursions from “inferior” tongues, and French faded as English threw open its doors to all comers and grew stronger. One website claims that last week English gained its millionth word; there is no doubt that it has the largest vocabulary of any language on Earth.
The short answer to “Why English?” is Jay Walker’s: it’s the language of opportunity. But we must look deeper, to how English became that in the first place. As the language of empire and entertainment, and the language that has welcomed every culture with open arms, it has earned its place in the sun, the sun that never sets on the English language.
Monday, June 15, 2009
When I woke up Sunday morning, the forecast had changed to p.m. thunderstorms, and sure enough, when Joanna and I met, it was coming up a storm. I still felt like crap and sitting in the rain to watch the game didn't seem the best idea, so we gave up on it and settled for dinner. However, by the time we'd finished eating, the rain had passed and we made it to the ballpark ten minutes before the first pitch, and the weather was calm and lovely. We ended up with dinner, a ballgame, a bookstore visit, and ice cream, so the weekend turned out fine after all, even though I was about as lively as a Wal-Mart washcloth soaked in warm skim milk.
Then I came home and slept for ten hours. I'm still beat enough that I can't think of anything terribly interesting to say, but I'm beginning to think I may live.
Friday, June 12, 2009
Speaking of synchronicity about 90 percent of the way there, I was walking along listening to my iPod (a podcast interview with Pete Seeger about folksinging, of all things) when I heard my name called. It was my friend Cliff, from the late unlamented Korean class and the writers' group. He was sitting in a little park practicing his mandolin. Too bad I wasn't listening to a Hollywood gossip podcast... might have met Scarlett Johannson doing a photo shoot.
Anyway, it was very cool bumping into a friend while wandering through this city of over two million people. We talked awhile and Cliff played and sang the Gilligan's Island song for me. A few Korean men found him fascinating, and I believe they thought that the tale of the seven castaways was a centuries-old American folk song. It does fit the format of an epic adventure tale, if you analyze it. And, by the way, definitely Mary Ann, not Ginger.
One guy, who'd obviously figured that it was five o'clock somewhere and had been into the soju, squatted down a foot from Cliff and kept talking to us in Korean, unsuccessfully. (I'm surprised the locals haven't caught on to what every American knows, that people who don't speak your language can only understand you if you TALK VERY LOUDLY.) I think he wanted to try playing Cliff's mandolin. He kept shrugging off his friends' entreaties that he leave Cliff alone, but finally wandered off.
So we had a nice talk on a lovely day in the shade in the park, Cliff said he'd be at Sugar Joe's bar by the Kyungpook U campus later, and I continued to Costco. It was such a gorgeous day that I decided to bypass the 30-pound jug of cat litter and walk back home, too. It's about a 65-minute walk there, a 70-minute walk with a backpack full of tortilla shells and frozen veggies, or 45 minutes lying on the sidewalk waiting for an ambulance with the cat litter.
I took a cab to Sugar Joe's late at night. I'd almost forgotten how much I like the nighttime bustle around a college campus, the coffee shops and bars and donut stands; my neighborhood is completely dead at night. Anyway, Sugar Joe's is a tiny little bar where all the patrons are Westerners, everything in the decor is in English and nothing matches, and even the staff speaks perfect, idiomatic English. We listened to a band practice and chatted with two nice guys, (American) Marty and (Irishman) James, and a nice time was had by all.
I've led such an insular life; an adventure for me would have been a trip to a mall in Syracuse or Jacksonville. The expat's life here takes some getting used to: Cliff came here from the Peace Corps in Africa and is debating whether to teach at university in Daegu or move to Liberia; Ray is leaving in a couple of weeks to do missionary work in South Africa; Joelle's on her way, maybe, to work in Egypt; Micah can't wait to get back to every country that ends in "stan". Me? Maybe in a few years I'll be teaching at one of my new school's campuses in France or Germany, and sometime while I'm in Korea I want a vacation in Bali. I don't think we're in Podunk anymore.
What's up, docket? Midnight tonight, trivia downtown. Tomorrow evening, my first visit to a noraebang (karaoke parlor). Sunday, Writers' Group meeting and ballgame with Joanna. I gots a lot of sitting around the house to make up for.
Tuesday, June 9, 2009
Still, I'm here now and everything that's happened brought me here, which is where I need to be. So it's okay.
Monday, June 8, 2009
I'd been getting a little nervous as I'd heard very little from them recently and the South Korean government has a blue ribbon in red tape. (Yeah, I know...)
But it's all smoothing out. The reason I hadn't heard anything is that the principal's been let go. But Mr. Park, the money guy, is still in charge, and Tony, the teacher who's my one friend there and who worked so hard last year to get me there, is the temporary administrator.
As it turns out, I don't need another apostilled criminal check from Tallahassee or a trip to the US Embassy in Seoul or a flight to Japan to renew my visa. I just need a letter of release from Mrs. Kim at LIKE and we're good to go. Tony will do the rest.
The St. Paul school can't remain in their suburban Bundang building, as they've outgrown it, but the planned move to the country fell through, so they've acquired space in the city proper, with an apartment building for the teachers a kilometer away. There's also a Costco (and, one assumes, Costco pizza, as well as Tums) a short walk away, so assuming I can bear living in the middle of the world's second-biggest metro area, and the North doesn't precipitate M*A*S*H 2: This Time it's Not Funny, I'm just about all set. Nice.
It's been a busy few days and I'm about socialized out. (As my long-term friends know, I can only manage about a half-dozen smiles a month.) I had Thursday through Saturday off, and as I posted recently-- hope you read it; there's going to be a pop quiz-- I went to the ballgame with Justin on Thursday night.
On Friday, I reprised my Apsan Park trip of the week before, but this time with Joanna, Ray, and Luke. First we went downtown to eat at Gulliver's Travels, whose owner, DJ, speaks the best of English of any Korean I've ever met and thus can make me good food that's actually vegetarian (no lard, no meat sauce, no fish broth) and that I haven't had a thousand times. (I had a delicious quesadilla, and you can have no idea how wonderful something different tastes unless you've eaten the same four or five things for nine months.)
We stopped in at the little Korean-War-and-anticommunist-museum at the base of Mt. Apsan, which isn't very interesting unless you're into black-and-white photos captioned in Korean, and took the cable car up the mountain. At the top, we sat for a libation as we looked out over the city, then took the long, steep, rocky climb down. (Envision the third hour of Return of the King, played backwards.) Then Luke returned home while Jo, Ray, and I took a long hike to Duryu Park and took the subway to a Home Plus store (my fourth... one more and I get a medal!) I'm trying desperately to cut down on cereals and bread and got some nice black beans and fixin's... I'm tryin' here, folks.
Then we went to Papa John's and I'd like to point out that the salad bar provides a delicious meal without high-fat ingredients or breads.
Re: Salad Bar
In the opinion of the crack SJCintheROK legal team, merely stating the fact that the Papa John's salad bar is healthful is not a legal warranty that the employer actually ingested anything from said salad bar. Precedent: Pop's Place v. Jughead, 1959.
Christopher Darden, Marcia Clark
SJCintheROK head counsels
I'd like to point out that Baskin-Robbins has no cereal in it, so stopping there afterward was perfectly okay as well.
On Saturday night, Luke, Joanna and I went to see Night at the Museum 2, which struck me as pretty funny, especially Hank Azaria's channeling of Boris Karloff. (I find Hank Azaria hilarious in just about everything he does; did you see his brilliant comedy turn in Tuesdays with Morrie?) I'm also deeply in love with Amelia Earhart, as played by Amy Adams. The movie stopped just about a millimeter short of way too frantic; at least in the mood I was in, I had a good time.
Joanna and I have evolved a semiregular dinner appointment on Sunday evenings. We just really enjoy each other's company, even though we're very different. I worked on Sunday morning and afternoon, and in the evening joined her to people-watch on this great burger place's patio. The management cobbled together a nice egg-salad sandwich for me, with some real, genuine, authentic American-style French fries. :: Heaven, I'm in Heaven, and my heart beats so that I can hardly speak... :: Then we sat in a park and talked for a bit and ended up at the Natuur ice-cream shop. (No, no, their ice cream also has no cereal, so that's fine, too. Really. What are you, a dietician?)
Anyway, as the days dwindle down to a precious few (Ray leaves in a couple of weeks, for missionary work in South Africa, and I have ten weeks left in Daegu), I'm trying to make the most of the time with my friends. This coming weekend, there's Justin's midnight trivia on Friday, a noraebang (karaoke parlor) trip for Justin's birthday on Saturday, and a ballgame with Joanna on Sunday... if I've recovered from this weekend by then.
As Satchel Paige said, "Go very light on the vices, such as carrying on in society— the social ramble ain't restful."
Saturday, June 6, 2009
Friday, June 5, 2009
I went to the ballgame last evening with my buddy Justin (that is not he in the photo, and I'm grinning like a moron not because I've been drinking-- this was when we'd just arrived-- but because... well, I'm a moron.) The visiting team was actually the Seoul Heroes, not the Kia Tigers, but how could I not use the headline I chose? Besides, Justin is a Princeton Tiger.
In the spirit of epicurian exploration, I ended up having one beer each of the three major Korean brands: Hite, Max, and Cass. My verdict? I'd rather have beer advertised by Clydesdales than three brands actually manufactured by Clydesdales.
I believe it may be the first time I've had three beers in a day since May 12, 1979. That was my friend George's and my bachelor party. No, no... we weren't marrying each other. (This was thirty years ago.) We were getting married three weeks apart. I'd like to point out, by the way, that I'm winning... I'm already through two marriages and George hasn't even finished his first! Anyway, we started with a keg of beer by the lake, adjourned for some evening/late night/early morning libations (I hadn't known that "two fingers" of Jack Daniels meant sticking your fingers into a glass and pouring whiskey till it reached the join of your fingers and your palm), the hangover wore off in 1983, and I haven't been drunk since.
Nor was I at the ballgame, not remotely. Three beers in over four hours doesn't have much effect. Anyway, I've conscientiously put on a few pounds since coming to Korea just to reduce my susceptibility to alcohol. I did have enough, though, that I ate a piece of meat accidentally. There isn't much food that I, as a veghead, can eat at the ballpark, basically Bugles and Nutty Buddies. Some guy walked by with a Costco pizza, famous for being huge, greasy, fatty, and glorious-- the pizza, not the guy-- and I was ready to cause an international incident to get it (and, if I'd taken it and eaten the whole thing, an internal incident as well.) I settled for walking all the way around to the third-base side to get some tteokbokki, which is very popular fast food, a cylindrical, solid, chewy "pasta" made from rice flour, served in a little bowl , drowned in a hellish hot pepper sauce. It really hit the spot-- actually, the sauce nuked the spot-- but the beer made me just careless enough that I assumed one of the rice pellets had somehow unfolded into a square. It was, as I realized the second I'd eaten it, not so much an unfolded rice pellet as a thinly sliced rectangle of chicken. Or possibly some mild fish. Or could be pork. It absolutely wasn't vegetative in origin.
I don't know if I can describe to omnivores, without being offensive, how horrifying it is to a long-term vegetarian to realize you've ingested a piece of animal. The nicest way to put it is with two words: Soylent Green. Lord, I felt sick.
Anyway, it was an exciting game; Justin had to leave after eight innings and missed an exciting ninth, when the Lions got a walk, a steal, an intentional walk, a fly ball that backed the left fielder up against the fence, and a single to set off this:
...and as I came out of the yagujang (ballpark), I saw that Heeduk had tried to call my cell five times, and I ended up taking a cab to work to help Chae-lin, one of my former students, prepare for a debate contest in Seoul on Sunday. Fortunately, it only took fifteen minutes, but it was odd going in to work after drinking. I mean, gee, I'm not a congressman.