Sports Day Triumph

17 May

As a kid in elementary school I always looked forward to Track and Field day. For one whole day classes were cancelled and all the students were allowed to display their athletic talent (or lack thereof) in a series of olympic-like events of their choosing. While some kids(usually the same fatties that hated P.E. class) pissed and moaned about having to spend the entire day pitted against their peers in physical competition for nothing more than the chance to earn a shitty ribbon, I took it quite seriously and wanted nothing more than to dominate and bring home as many shiny blue first place ribbons as possible.

At the risk of seeming like a complete rube, I must admit that I was almost just as excited for “Sports Day” (Korea’s equivalence to Track and Field day) at my school. Clearly this is not because I would be competing in any events nor receiving any ribbons, but I was mainly excited because I knew–if nothing else–that I would be spared from teaching classes and would be able to spend the whole day outside.

As preparations were being made the week before, I began to wonder what my assigned roll for the day would be. Up until this point the only thing that was certain was that I would need to wear athletic clothes.

When I’m finally told by one of the other teachers (with my co-teacher translating) how I will factor into the day’s events, I’m a bit surprised as to what I’m tasked with doing. First I’m told I will need to pull a cart around a giant circle in the middle of the field.

No problem.

Then I’m told that the object of the event will be for the students (in this case, sixth graders) to stand around said circle and hurl as many small beanbags as they can into cart before the time runs out.

It sounds odd and a little painful, but I’m still game.

Lastly, I’m told that I will need to wear woman’s clothing, preferably a dress.

At this point I look up and repeat what was just said to me to make sure I understand correctly.

“Wait, you want me to dress up like a woman?”

I ask for clarification but in all actuality I understand quite well what they are asking of me. For my part in Sports Day, they want me to go drag.

I was  still wrapping my head around having to dress up as a woman when I’m asked if I owned or could get a hold of any cosmetics.  I start to laugh fully thinking they’re joking, but apparently my involvement was not going to be a half-ass production. They wanted me to go all in.

Lucky for me I have some experience with cross-dressing. In the seventh grade school play I was “lucky” enough to land the lead role in a comedic spoof of Sleeping Beauty. Not really the tyoe of role that launches one’s acting career, but at least it was enough to prepare me for my upcoming Sports Day debut.

After agreeing to do my part, I return to my desk and contemplate on how to secure some woman’s clothing within 24 hours, without having to spend any money. I put out a quick message on Facebook and before the afternoon is out I have arrangements to go pick up not one, but two dresses from nearby friend. That’s right, bitches. I had options. Oddly enough some friends had just thrown a transgender party (don’t ask)not too long ago and a couple of my buddies still had their drag wear laying around. In other words, my cry for woman attire was answered by men. Because I figure I couldn’t possibly be lucky twice in one day I decide not to look for make-up.

That night I try on both the dresses and make my final decision: a black tube dress that shows off my shoulders. No sense in going drag if you can’t look good, right?

The next day I show up ready to go, not sure of when the event I’m in will be held. As my official Sports Day day uniform, I am given a neon yellow athletic polo. It looks like something you might wear if you were planning to hike up a mountain and then play 18 holes of golf once you reached the peak. I’m not fond of the color but realize I it’s a lot better then the black dress that is neatly folded in my backpack that I will soon be wearing.

As it nears time for me to take the field for my event, I’m greeted with good news and bad news. The good news: I won’t have to wear the dress. The bad news: They’ve managed to find some bright pink lipstick for me to put on.

Instead of the dress, I’m handed a white blouse, a beige bucket hat, and a plaid pair of what looks like the Korean equivalence of bloomers. I keep telling myself that I’m doing this for the kids, but it hardly helps. The lipstick is quickly smeared on my lips and cheeks and I take the field looking like a transgender ajumma circus clown.

At least I wasn’t alone. One of the other male teachers, a guy around the same age as myself, had to dress up and wear lipstick as well. Only his attire resembles that of an ajossi pimp. He would be pulling a cart in the giant circle opposite from mine that the opposing team of sixth graders would be tossing beanbags into.

As we entered our respective circles, I imagine we were thinking the same thing:  please let this whole ordeal be quick and painless and may no photographic evidence ever surface on the internet.

A strike of the gong signals the start and almost immediately I’m pelted in the face with a bean bag. Then and only then do I realize the shear rediculousness of having an event like this for Sports Day. This was in no way the display of athletic grace and finesse that I took part in as a kid on Track and Field Day. This wasn’t an exercise to foster healthy competition amongst the students. This was something that probably should’ve taken place at a school carnival, where professionals could have been hired to take beanbags to their face and nether regions. I don’t remember any mentioning of this in the EPIK brochure when I was first applying to teach in Korea. But maybe that’s just my bruised ego talking.

After the spectacle came to a close I retreat into the building to wash the make-up of off my face and change back into my neon yellow referee shirt. Before the day is over I witness several other questionable Sports Day events and help out as much as I can and generally enjoy being outside whilst cheering my students on.

Would I agree to do something similar if it took place back in the states?

Probably, but as I alluded to above, most Track and Field days in the U.S. wouldn’t involve foreign cross-dressing circus clowns. Looks this will be another experience I throw in the “cultural differences” category.


Kimchi Dreadlocks

Teaching from the Bottom of the Totem Pole #5: Story Time

27 Apr

At the begining of the semester my school (along with almost all other Korean public elementary schools) received new English textbooks. Most of the material remained the same from last semester (aside from the characters receiving much needed make-overs), but for the fifth and sixth graders more material was added to each chapter to accommodate for a third English lesson per week (last semester students attended only two lessons per week). Instead of the usual four sections per chapter, there is now six.

One of the new sections is “Story Time”–short and simple tales that are in no way related to the topic of the chapter, but somehow contain ESL value.

Even though I hadn’t actually looked at the stories in each chapter I figured Story Time would be a worthwhile addition to the lessons. My thinking was that it could provide the students with more opportunities to work with the language in a textbook that, like it’s predecessor, has its fair share of grammatical errors, awkward dialogs and chants that–while sometimes catchy–often contain little more than inordinate sounds mixed in with key sentences from the chapter (the first verse of a chant we sang last week literally contained the “words” “wah doo warry warry wah, wah, wah”).

Unfortunately, Story Time has ultimately failed to impress as an addition to the curriculum.


Let’s take a look at the Story Time from the fifth grade text. It’s entitled “Who Am I.”

Chapter 1:

So we have Hamin and her happy family enjoying some quality time. Fair enough. As is the normal routine, I ask questions to the students about what they see in the picture  before finally reading it to them and asking follow-up questions to check for comprehension. Obviously in this case one of the follow up questions would involve having the students guess what (or “who”) the particular object is. Not a bad framework, but why not make the clues a little less vague?”Hamin likes me very much… I am with her family all the time.” Hell, that could be anything. One of my students guessed it was the stuffed bunny on the shelf (SPOILER ALERT: it’s the TV).

Maybe some additional clues are needed in the story. If nothing else, it would at least make it more interesting. The vagueness of it all made me think more in depth about Hamin’s family which raised several questions related to the Hamin’s family, assuming she’s Korean. Bear with me.

First of all, why is Hamin and her family spending all their time with the damn television? Shouldn’t they be out enjoying all the community has to offer; visiting on of Korea’s many festivals. Does this story take place on the weekend? Shouldn’t Hamin being doing homework or attending one of several Hagwons? Instead of watching TV, shouldn’t Hamin’s parents be teaching her the value of studying hard so she can become an important figure in Korean society, like a doctor or a foreign diplomat? I wonder how good her English is.

But Maybe I’m over thinking this a bit. While my students weren’t extremely interested in the story, they were eventually able to guess what the object was, which provided a minimal sense of achievement on my part, and even though it was boring, it still managed to eat up a reasonable amount of time. It’s not perfect, but I’m still willing to give Story Time another shot.

Chapter 2:

Here, we have Hamin watching television with her dad. They are so entrenched in the show they’re watching they can’t even stop to use the bathroom or even notice Hamin’s mom standing in the corner.

Before I can begin with preliminary questions about the what the students see in the picture, a boy in the second row raises his hand a frustratingly tells me “It’s TV again!” Shit. It’s only the second installment of Story Time and they’re already bored with it. I don’t blame them. Why the the hell should they care about anything else in the story when they’ve already solved the riddle? It’s not like the story contains a lot of depth, and it’s not even realistic.

I refuse to believe that at eight o’clock Hamin and her dad are already dressed for bed in their pajamas. Again, assuming this story takes place during the week (and really, even if it doesn’t), Hamin’s dad would be out eating kalbi and pounding soju with his work buddies and Hamin would be slaving away at some after school academy.

The story leads us to believe Hamin’s mother is concerned about the health of her eyes (and apparently her English language ability) and this is why she doesn’t want her watching too much television, but then we pan to the bottom of the page and see that she only wants Hamin away from the tube so she can indulge in her soap operas. She assumes Hamin is in her room preparing for mid-term exams, but really Hamin has cast her textbooks aside and is instead kicking ass in game of Starcraft on her computer.

During the lesson I try to remain enthusiastic and stretch to stretch the time by asking redundant questions:

“What does Hamin’s Mom do a lot of?”
“What is she doing while she drinks her tea?”
“What does Hamin and her dad do all the time.”

Sadly, I think the kids sense the feebleness of my efforts and completely shut down. This time the Story Time segment barely lasts 10 minutes.

My co-teacher and I discuss plans for the next Story Time and decide we should use different stories of our choosing and scrap the ones from the book. Or at least I thought she wanted to scrap the ones from the book.

When the  Story Time for chapter three rolls around it is decided that I will still teach the story from the book, but my co-teacher will teach a different story.  I’m nervous because I don’t want my students to turn on me for dragging them through another account of a day in the life of Hamin, but am pleased that I don’t have to make it last more than a five or six minutes. As I ask my student to open their book to the Story Time page, I met groans of disgust. Again, I don’t blame them.

Chapter 3:

At this point My Kids couldn’t care less about Hamin or any of her family members. They don’t give a a shit about her stupid music shows, or why her mom is crying or what the hell that round thing is near the leg of the coffee table. The story doesn’t provide any information in the form of a hint or clue about “Who” the object is, but this doesn’t matter because they figured out a long time ago that it’s the fucking television. They hate me for putting them through another Story Time and I hate myself for having to do it. Even worse, after I finish the story my teacher swoops in brandishing a colorful Eric Carl story book put to video.  I quickly try to make some funny dance motions to go along with the story (and in turn reclaim my title of “fun teacher”), but it’s too late. I’ve lost them. I cower in the corner and wait for lunch time.

We haven’t made it to the Story Time for chapter four yet, but I’m praying my co-teacher will have mercy on the students and I and not put us through it. In the fourth and final installment of “Who am I” the “who” is formally revealed using sub par grammar and all is right in Hamin’s house:

I’d like to think it could be worse, but I doubt it.


Kimchi Dreadlocks

Water World

19 Apr

I had to spend last night at a love motel.


Let’s start at the beginning.

Sunday night I return from my weekend spent watching the bullfights in Cheongdo (more on that later) and hanging out in Daegu. I walk into my apartment and immediatly notice that the floor feels squishy underneath my feet.  Normally when this happens it’s because an air bubble has formed under the cheap wood grain patterned linoleum that covers the span of my apartment, but this is different.  I Flip on the lights and walk around for a bit trying to figure out what the problem is when I hear a loud squelching sound and notice water coming coming out from underneath the linoleum where one sheet overlaps another. It turns out that there is a layer of water trapped underneath. So much water that when I step firmly on the floor in the center of the room I  see small ripples migrating towards the wall, which makes the floor look like a cheap water bed.

Elsewhere in my apartment pools of water have formed on top of the linoleum but luckily none are near any electrical devices and my dirty clothes hamper remains untouched. I try to assess where the water is coming from and even contemplate trying to clean it up myself but it dawns on me that I’m too tired, too hungover and it’s too late in the night for me to care. Instead I decide to deal with it in the morning.

I wake up for work the next day and realize there is a lot more water than I originally thought. This is evident in the water that has now begun seeping out into the entryway by the font door. I arrive at work and explain the problem to my co-teacher, who eventually calls the landlord. I’ve gotten used to assuming the worse in these types of situations so I’m already thinking that I’ll end up having to foot the the bill for any repairs that need to be made, or at the very least have to stay somewhere else for a few days while the problem gets sorted out.

By lunch my co-teacher has talked to the landlord and he says that the water is coming from a broken pipe under my kitchen sink. I’m told that I need to go home and clean out the area underneath the sink so that they can come and make the necessary repairs in the morning. Fair enough, I can do that. I’m also told that I should try to clean up the water that is already on the floor and that the water valve to my apartment has been cut off to keep anymore from leaking. I’m not really excited about having to clean it up myself, but I figure any effort on my part that can bring quick and painless end to this dilemma is well worth it. I’ve heard and read many stories involving english teachers going through hell because of household malfunctions–sometimes because of negligence on the part of a landlord and other times because teachers are expected to deal with the problems on their own, with little or no help from anyone. In my case, I’m lucky to at least have a co-teacher who can do my bidding for me. I head home hell bent on getting as much water up as possible.

After an hour of sliding around in flip flops with a makeshift mop (really just a swifter sweeper with an old towel attached to the end of it–not the best tool for the job), I realize that I’m doing nothing more than moving the water from one place to another. It’s clear that that I won’t be able to remove it all and at this point I’m thinking it will probably require some professional assistance.

So lets review what we know so far:

1. A pipe has broken underneath the kitchen sink.
2.  There is water all over the floor, made worse by my attempt to clean it up.
3. The pipe will be fixed, but until then the water in my apartment has been completely cut off (No shower, no laundry, no flushing of the toilet).

I throw some shit in a bag and head to a love motel for the night. Lucky for me there are a slew of them in my neighborhood so I pick one at random and pray that it won’t break the bank. For about 35 bucks I get room with the following amenities: a round bed, an interior that looks like it belongs in a Tim Burton movie, a satin robe that barely goes past my butt cheeks (not that I tried it on) and red neon lights that are attached to the ceiling. I’m officially set for a one-man psychedelic orgy photo shoot and best of all, it has running water.

While at work today, my co-teacher tells me that not only has the landlord fixed the problem under my sink (which actually turned out to be a faulty water heater) but he’s also taken out my recycling for me. Little is said about whether there is still water on the floor, except that I should turn on my ondong floor heating system so that whatever water remains will dry more quickly.

I walk into my apartment halfway expecting to see puddles everywhere, but to my surprise there is not a drop to be found. From what it looks like, he pulled up all the linoleum, removed the water and laid it back down. I Imagine he had to to move the furniture around to do this, but if he did I certainly can’t tell. He also took it upon himself to clean the mirrors and television glass, take out the garbage and arrange some of my shoes next to the door (which actually creeps me out a little). I’m considering sending him a thank you card as well as a request for his services on a weekly basis in exchange for english lessons.

So what stated out as a near disaster turns out to be only a minor irritation due to the help of my awesome co-teacher and and a landlord who either felt sorry for me or is simply an overachieving neat freak.

It’s too bad really. I was somewhat looking forward to spending another night the porno infused love motel.


Kimchi Dreadlocks

Me and the Mountain

18 Apr

There’s a 3rd grade homeroom teacher at my school who considers himself to be my older Korean brother. I like to call him  Mr. Boastful. You might remember him. He’s the one who got me shit faced on soju one night following a staff dinner. He’s the type of person you always enjoy being around but who in some ways, scares the shit out of you because you never know what type of hijinks he’s gonna pull. Following my recent staff noraebang experience, he tried to physically hold me hostage until I agreed to let him come downtown with me to meet a friend for beers. I pulled a spin move to shake free before running to catch a cab. He’s really a nice guy, just a tad pushy.

Now Mr. Boastful is quite the outdoors man and a couple weekends back he invites to go rock climbing with his climbing team on Guemjeong mountain in Busan. Earlier in the year I had expressed some interest in going climbing while he was showing me cell phone pictures of a recent expedition.

I should mention that of the two times in my life when I’ve gone rock climbing, neither of them was on a mountain (let alone real rock) and neither was high enough to brag about. I contemplate coming up  up with an excuse for why I can’t go (afraid of heights, bad knees, expected Saturday morning hangover), but instead agree to go.  He takes my shoe size and tells me that he will prepare every thing I’ll need for the climb–harness, shoes, helmet, climbing pack, etc. At this point I realize he’s more excited about the climb than I am.

He picks me up Saturday morning and we head off for the mountain. With us are two members of his climbing team (a couple college aged girls fully decked out in climbing gear).  The hike to the climb site is short and when we arrive at the site one of the girls gives me a crash course on how to prepare and put on a climbing harness. She barely speaks a word of English so she carefully performs each task on her harness in front of me and I attempt to do the same on mine. I  pay close attention because I’m already nervous and the last thing I want is be in the middle of the climb and have something go wrong because I didn’t attach or tie something properly. My angst is heightened when one of the other team members tells me “Don’t worry. With good harness you don’t never die on mountain!”

Up until that point, the notion if dying hadn’t even crossed my mind. I was completely naive to the possibility that I may not make it back from the mountain alive. I give her a thumbs up accompanied my a nervous smile and proceed with readying my gear. The words “you don’t never die” would become my motto for the rest of the day.

Before starting the climb I reach into my pack and grab the pair of climbing shoes that have been prepared for me. I can instantly tell they will be too small (even for climbing shoes, which are generally smaller than a normal pair of shoes) but I try to squeeze my feet into them anyway just to say I did. After several attempts I decide to simply do the climb in my Reebok running shoes.

Everyone is tied off and we start the climb with one of the girls going first followed by Mr. Boastful then myself. I watch them make their way up the first stage taking mental notes on their route and technique all while thinking “there’s no fucking way in hell that I can do this.” When it’s my turn to start I try to do the same route but quickly find myself  slipping and struggling to find a good hold. Luckily Mr. Boastful takes pity on me and, seeing me about to throw in the towel, begins to hoist me up until I can find a proper hold to continue under my own strength. Despite what you might think, this in no way impedes on my feeling of accomplishment after I complete the first part of the climb.

Just before we start the second stage, I notice two other men have joined us on the climb ( other members of Boastful’s team). One is in full climbing gear and looks like he knows what he’s doing, and the other is a legitimate ajossi with no gear whatsoever; just a small backpack and a pair of lime green Nikes.  This second gentleman ended up doing the entire climb as a free climb. No ropes, no harness, no helmet, all balls. During one stage of the climb I start before him and arrive at the top to find him relaxing on a rock smoking a cigarette. A feat that has earned him the title of Mr. Bad-Ass. I can be positive, but i’m pretty sure he lit his cigarette with his bare hands.

In general Mr. boastful is helpful during the climb; coaching me up rough sections, showing me how to position my body, telling me I “don’t never die” to make me feel at ease.  However there are certain parts of the climb, usually when I’m struggling the most, when he tells me to stop where I’m at and look up for a photo. Here I am clinging for dear life to the face of this fucking mountain, sweating like a slave in my too-small-for-dreadlocks helmet, and I look up to see the man who’s supposed to holding the rope keeping me from falling to my death, grinning and pointing a camera down at me. Several times this happens. Several times I almost panic but keep my cool and muster up a smile. Damn Koreans and their paparazzi tendencies.

We make it to the peak where we plan to have lunch before repelling down, but before I can break out my kimbap and nacho cheese chips, I’m told that I need to hop a gap about five feet wide to get to the flab slab of rock where we will eat. Below the gap is drop that is easily 100-120 ft. down. I look over at Mr. Boastful and Mr. Bad-Ass who are already on the other side waiting and laughing and begin to think they’re actually anticipating that I won’t clear the gap. Again, Mr. Boastful takes out a camera to document the feat.

I clear it just fine, but the same cannot be said for the girl behind me who spends an entire 45 minutes trying to work up the courage to take the leap. When she finally does make it over, she completely breaks down in tears and can barely eat her lunch. And I thought I was the rookie?

When its time to repel down, Mr. Boastful goes first and I follow after leaning how to attach the rope to my harness. He gives me one last “you don’t never die” and snaps another photo before my feet are planted firmly on the ground.

On the ride home I am asked several times if I had a good time and if I would ever do it again. I say yes and Mr. Boastful says that it makes his heart “vely happy.”

“But,” he adds. “Next time you bring soju!” I nod my head and look out the window while mouthing the words “fuck no.”


Kimchi Dreadlocks

Koreans Love Baseball Too

13 Apr

I’ve been anticipating the start of the Korean baseball season pretty much since the end of last season when, due to still being a newbie to Korea, I knew little about it and was likewise unable to secure any tickets to a game here in Busan. It’s a shame because the Busan squad, Lotte Giants, happens to be one of the better squads in league.

At first glance Korean baseball seems somewhat of a joke. The Korean Baseball Organization, the equivalence to the MLB in the states, has only eight teams and several of them adopt their names from the majors (Lotte Giants, Kia Tigers, LG Twins). I also heard that the caliber of play is not comparable to that of the MLB (not that I expected it would be) and that each team is only allowed to have two foreigner players on their roster. Unfortunately the the salary cap for them is so low, teams are rarely able to lure in quality players from abroad.

Still, Koreans take their baseball very seriously. Walk into to any corner store, bar, or galbi joint on game night and there will probably be several televisions tuned into the game. A single mention of the Lotte Giants in my classroom sends the students into a frenzy complete with reenactments of recent home runs and the spouting off of scores and players’ names.  As I’m discussing how to get home opener tickets with other Busan waygooks, a friend of mine tells me he’s been told that many people sleep outside the night before games just to be first in line to purchase tickets after the online seats sells out. I don’t know if this is true or not but if it is, thats the type of fandom I can respect and ultimately want to be a part of (some of you may remember my soju infused Minnesota Twins rant from last year).

Despite the possible odds, I decide to make a go at getting some tickets to the home opener for myself and Kicker Jean. She’s normally a Samsung Lions supporter, but for today at least, she’s sworn allegiance to the Giants.

The Plan is to have a friend who lives by the stadium arrive early and hop in line to secure tickets for himself as well as others who are planning to show up later. I arrive to find him about 15 people from the ticket booth. It looks certain that we’ll be able to get tickets. Right as join him in line, the entire crowd turns around an begins walking away from the ticket booth. We’re less that 20 ft from the counter and the tickets sell out.

Luckily I spot an ajossi ticket scalper nearby. We are absolutely screwed on the price (having to pay double for an otherwise 7,500  Won general admission ticket) but I don’t care. It’s the home opener and the price is still comparable to what I might pay back home for Twins tickets. Unfortunately, my friend who arrived early to stand in line decides not to grab a ticket from the scalper and heads home. I feel bad because he showed earlier than myself and Kicker Jean, yet we were the ones who were getting to see the game. I phone him up and tell him we’ll save him a seat if he wants to try to find a scalper who will sell him a single ticket, but he’s already made it to the subway. There’s nothing else to do but head into the stadium.

Possible the best part about going to a Korean baseball game is that you can bring whatever food and drink you want into the stadium with you. Korean fans seem to take full advantage of this. I see people carrying in whole pizzas, cases of beer, instant noodles, soju, makgoli, kimbap–even fried chicken. Instantly, I fall in love. If you opt to buy your grub at the stadium the possibilities are countless. Instead of  the peanuts and cracker jacks you’d find at an MLB stadium, one can get  dried squid and silkworms. Instead of hot dogs and potato chips, you can enjoy samgyupsal and soon-dae –all of which can be bought either in the stands or at booths around the stadium.

Back in the states, I’m surprised they don’t hand out lube when you purchase a baseball ticket because you definitely get fucked when it comes to game time concessions. $7 bucks for a beer, $5 bucks a hot dog and damn near $10 for a hamburger and fries, and what’s worse, no fried chicken.

After buying a couple jerseys and more food and beer than is probably needed to enjoy nine innings, we take our seats to see the Giants take on the Hanwa Eagles. Before long we’re chanting along with the crowd and high-fiving everyone in the vicinity. I don’t know any of the chants so I simply match the inflections of my voice to that of the crowd. Similar to how people often mumble over the unknown words of a favorite song. From what I can tell, no one notices that I have no idea what the hell I’m saying and the college kids sitting in the same row seem impressed at my participation, so I do my best to keep up with the crowd  Later in the game we end up doing a few cheers together swaying back and forth; arm in arm.

Besides it being my first baseball game in Korea, it would also be the first time I’ve ever witnessed out-of-the-park home run.

The culprit?

Fatty Lotte Giants power slugger Lee Dae-Ho. This man is a beast. Last year he dominated the league in every offensive category except for one: steals. Fatty can hit, but fatty can’t run. Coincidentally, after Lee knocked one out of the park, Kicker Jean points out that I’m actually wearing his jersey (when I bought it, I just picked the biggest size and went with it).  I fight the urge to pretend like I knew who he was the whole time.

The most bizarre momemt in the game comes when, during the seventh or eighth inning every fan in the stadium puts a blown-up orange platic bag on their head. I’ve heard of this a few times, but no one has been able to adequately explain to me what it symbolizes.

My guess is that it’s a method used to rally the team toward a victory when they are losing, and to uphold the victory when they’re winning. Whatever the case, we have a hard time getting our bags inflated and attatched to our heads, but eventually are successful after the people sitting next to us helps us out. My ears are too small to keep the handles around them so I end up deflating it and wrapping it around my head like a bandana.

Many will say that it was sound pitching and home runs that lead the Lotte Giants to a victory that day, bit I like to think that it was the work of our orange rally bags that made it all possible.

I won’t be able to enjoy a Minnesota Twins game for long while yet, but for now I’m content with watching the Giants. At the very least, it will give me some material to chew up class during dull lessons at work.


Kimchi Dreadlocks

Radioactive Rain?

7 Apr

Korea has been all up in a fuss about the radioactive rain that was supposed to hit the peninsula today. Schools have closed down, kids have been banned from going outside and citizens have been generally  pissed off because they were initially told by the Korea Meteorological Association and the Korean Institute of Nuclear Safety that there would be no radiation coming into the country from Japan. They only admitted to the possibility after other foreign institutions did. Not that it mattered anyway. The trace amounts that were previously found in the air as well as the amount that was expected to fall with the rain were said to be so minuscule that it would have no harmful affects on the human body. Still, with the Korean media blasting information about even the possibility of radioactive rain, many locals are taking extra precautions.

However, as it turns out, all the scare is for no reason. The rain is nothing more than springtime doing its thing.

Honestly it doesn’t surprise me that the nation freaked out for a couple of days over this–even after being told it would cause no harm. Koreans seem to be good at working themselves up for little or no reason. We’re talking about a country that damn near shuts down on spring days when the yellow dust from China blows in (as it does in most of  the southern part of Asia). Likewise, During the winter Busan had snowfall that barely covered the ground, but many schools in the area were closed or had late starts because of it. I strolled into work that day only to find out that classes would be delayed nearly 2 hours–time I could have spent sleeping. A Korean friend of mine (a grown man) told me his mother had called into work for him because she didn’t want him to catch the bus; y the roads weren’t safe enough (which was probably true, but had nothing to do with the snow and everything to do with how crazy Korean drivers tend to be).

Personally I was hoping to get a couple days off with the coming of radiation infused rain. It would have been a great start to my weekend. No lie, when I showed up this morning I was halfway expecting to be sent right back home. In my head I was planning out the rest of my day just in case it happened. Nope. Even without the false alarm, I would have still taught my taught my usual lessons and had to tend to my normal desk warming bid.

So just like that, the possibility of radioactive rainfall has faded, and with it, my hopes of growing webbed feet in time for Busan’s beach season. Dammit.


Kimchi Dreadlocks

P.S. Links here and here in case you want to read more

*UPDATE: So I guess there was some radiation found in yesterday’s rain, but still not enough to create any interesting mutations or provide super human powers.  Now all we have to worry about is the possible radioactive  yellow dust sandstorm.  Great. Just great. Big ups to The Marmots Hole for the links.



7 Apr

It’s Wednesday afternoon and I’m sitting at my work computer cycling between Facebook, Google reader, and Twitter (insert twitter insults here–I really couldn’t care less) trying to do anything but actual work.  My co-teacher walks in, decked out in full athletic wear, and tells me that herself and some of the other teachers are going outside to play volleyball and that I should join them. I would later find out that during the spring they tend to play every Wednesday afternoon. I’m amped about  being able to get some weekly exercise (I’ve never the gym work-out type as I view it as a waste of time and god given athletic talent),  but have no  clothes to change into so I tell my co-teacher that I won’t be playing, but will come outside to watch for a while. I say ‘watch’ but really I plan on scouting my competition should I decide to play in the future. I’m a fierce competitor and can’t stand to loose, and I’ve heard stories about school Korean school teachers being top notch volleyball players.

The teacher’s at my school play for fun, but some schools have teams that compete against other schools in the district. If you’re game isn’t legit, you may not even be let onto the court. A friend of mine once told me his principal came up to him and explained that while the school volleyball team would be participating in a tournament soon, he probably wouldn’t be able to play due to his lack of skill. It’s just too much at stake.

I shut down my computer and head outside. A game is already in progress and as soon as they see me approaching I’m instantly called over to play. I try to explain that I don’t have on the proper clothes and that I will come prepared next week, but they’re not buying it. It’s intimidating because of course they are all decked out in the latest Korean athletic apparel. I protest a little longer before finally giving in to their insistence . Really it didn’t take too much convincing. Not only have I been aching to play sports since before winter, but I’m eager to  show off a bit. Naturally I figure they think the waygook will be no good (a fair assumption considering I almost never play volleyball and have no skills whatsoever) so I’m quick to toss my jacket over a rail and take to the court to make believers out of them.

The game tempo is slower than I anticipated but everyone has sound technique, except for the fact that kicking the ball is allowed if you can’t get low enough. It doesn’t take long before I’m covered in sweat and dust and trying to make every play possible. Even though I’m playing an extremely unothadox version of volleyball–attempting many plays with my back to the net or else by jumping in front of a teammate–my co-workers seem impressed  and I receive a few oooh’s and ahh’s as I jump around trying to look like I know what I’m doing. Conversely, when I make a mistake ( a mistake being anytime I touch the ball and it doesn’t result in scoring) I’m instantly privy to on-the-spot coaching from every one of my teammates. ” Higher, more gentle, stronger, move back, hop on one leg” etc, etc, etc.  I try not to let it bother me and continue to play the game as I know how.

Towards the end of play the vice-principal comes out and surveys the game for a while. I give him a quick bow and jump back into position hoping he’ll get to see me in action. The ball comes my way and I clumsily swat it out of bounds–other team’s serve. Luckily he fails to notice. I’m saved by an ajossi walking around the school field who calls the principal over to chat.

Why was I so eager for the vice to see me play?

Don’t know, really. He already likes me plenty and has nothing but nice things to say. Once during lunch he told me I look like a strong African warrior. Maybe this was the image I wanted to invoke when he strolled right past my athletic fuck-up on the court. Had I known that in less than a few hours we would be singing our hearts out together at the noraebong, I probably wouldn’t have paid him any mind.

I can’t remember the wins vs losses record but this doesn’t stop me from thinking I at least held my own. After the game a  few teachers come up to me and give me specific feedback on my performance. Most notably that I can jump really high and that I’m flexible (though I don’t understand how the latter factors into a possible victory). In another context these statements might piss me off– choosing to comment on something random yet specific enough to avoid hurting my feelings. Like when a mother shows off her newborn who she swears an instead of saying how cute she is, you compliment her on how nice her baby shoes are, or how she has all of her fingers. Still, coming from my co-workers, I take the comments as a sign of admiration for my stunning performance and accept them graciously.

As the last game comes to an end, I realize that I am covered in dirt and still have a staff dinner to attend after work. Thanfully no one seems to notice so I dust off my jeans and vow to be prepared for next week’s games with a decent pair of tennis shoes and some gym shorts.


Kimchi Dreadlocks

Friday Collision

4 Apr

I’m in the middle of my third period fifth grade class, partially pretending to check some of my students’ review assignments and partially day dreaming about what I will do after I get off of work. For the first time in months, all the windows in the classroom are open and I’m not royally pissed about it. The midday weather is gorgeous and the breeze that’s coming in isn’t freezing for once.

As I’m still daydreaming, my co-teacher begins to explain the art project we will be working on for the remainder of class and I poke my head out the window just in time to notice a bus jump the curb and smash into a light post on the street in front of the school. I’m so surprised that the words “holy fuck” almost slip from my lips.

After the kids begin working on their projects I tell my co-teacher about the accident and we both stare out the window at the scene trying to dissect what happened. The light pole that the bus ran into is completely bent sideways and resting in the branches of a nearby cherry blossom tree

“I didn’t see any other vehicle hit the bus before it crashed into the pole.”
“Maybe the driver was drunk.”
“I wonder if something malfunctioned on the bus.”
“He was probably talking on his handphone.”

She returns to her desk and starts explaining the next instructions for the art project to the kids while at the same time grabbing for her camera and motioning for me to gt some shots of the action unfolding outside. By now an ambulance, two squad cars and another bus have arrived. The passengers are taken away while the driver stays to talk with the police.

It’s exciting because this is the second time this week (and really since I’ve been in Korea) that I’m seeing police doing actual police work.

Last Tuesday while out for dinner with some friends, I saw the police arresting what looked like a drunken teenager after he had crashed his fancy Hyundai into another car. They even had him handcuffed. I didn’t even know Koren cops carried handcuffs. Actually, up until then I didn’t think Korean cops did much beyond walking down the block in droves of 10-15 men intimidating everyone in their path (ajummas and grade schoolers included).

I snap a few shots of the accident and chuckle at how excited my co-teacher is about it, despite the horrible picture quality.  Neither of us really cared if anyone was hurt in the collision. It seems we were both open to any and all distractions to help get through our Friday classes. Do I dare say that we actually bonded over someone else’s misfortune?

At lunch she tells me that she posted the photos I took of the crash (I have no clue where) and that most of the people who looked at them were worried that someone might have gotten injured.

“Am I a crazy person for not caring?” she asks.

I grin and shake my head.

Like me,  she’s not crazy; just generally interested in other peoples’ fuck-ups.


Kimchi Dreadlocks

This and That Vol. 3

31 Mar

Some shots from Thailand that I forgot to post and other randoms from around the hood. Click on the thumbnails to see the full size.


Kimchi Dreadlocks

Right of Passage

30 Mar

*I got yelled at for not posting for more than three weeks and it turned out to be just what I needed to get back to writing. Not that I ever stopped. I’ve just been lazy.

Before last week I must admit that as a native english teacher in Korea, I was feeling a little left out. Since the start of my contract it seems two important events for ESL teachers had evaded me. I had yet to consume raw seafood with my Korean co-workers and I still hadn’t done a round at the Noraebang with them.

For whatever reason this has become somewhat of a ritual for EPIK teachers. Koreans do it all the time, but for your standard english speaking slave, it’s damn near considered of a right of passage. Similar to when teenage boys in Africa would wonder into wild to catch and kill a lion before they could be presented as men to their village (only without the pain of getting circumcised). It doesn’t necessarily move you up any notches on the teaching totem pole, but it is something that at least leaves you feeling like you’ve accomplished something–that is, if you don’t already regularly consume questionable raw fish while getting plastered and singing along to songs you normally would only attempt in the shower.

The Monday before my Korean christening my co-teacher informs me that we will be having a staff dinner the following Wednesday. Not that I had anything planned that evening to begin with, but I was happy to be finding out about it two days in advanced. I had almost gotten used to being told about things at the very last minute. I was even more excited to learn that we would be going to a raw seafood restaurant–so excited that I contemplated wearing a tie for the occasion. My thinking was that if I was going to be digesting anything that might still be moving on my plate (specifically squid and octopus), I at least wanted to be dressed for success (turns out there would be no wriggling fish; just the kind that lays there dead).

We promptly take off for the restaurant after playing a few games of volleyball (more on that later) and arrive to a coloful spread of the usual Korean side dishes accompanied by a varied assortment of fish that I probably couldn’t name even if they were swimming beside me, let alone chopped up and neatly laid out on a plate in front of me.  My co-teacher begins to explain to me some of the different choices, but I struggle to listen because I’m too busy trying to decide what to smaple first.

I start to dig in with an open mind all the while assuming there will be something on the table that will have me clutching a toilet later in the evening, but am surprised at how much I enjoy most of the spread (the mid-meal porridge failed to impress).  Just when I think I have sampled everything, my co-teacher points her chopsticks toward a few slabs of light grey meat and tells me it’s whale. I’m told I should dip it in a mixture of salt and chili powder before indulging. Having no preconceived notion of what whale might taste like, it instantly becomes my favorite of everything on the table. With a a texture that I would describe as being somewhere in between that of pastrami and cow tongue I begin thinking of what whale meat might taste like as a sandwich. No cheese, no lettuce. Just some mayo and maybe some dijon mustard, and grilled. I haven’t found out how I can make this dream a reality, but before I leave Korea, it has to happen.

As with any staff dinner, there’s plenty of soju involved and I do my best to keep up with the other males of the school, a few of which are recent additions and whom wanted to slam a couple shots down with the crazy haired waygook. This always amazes me. During school hours I might only get a quick wave and an “anyeong” in passing, but in the context our staff dinners they’re all about coming over to my table and making small talk–usually with my co-teacher doing light translating. It seems the atmosphere of dinner (combined with several shots of the green bottled monster) gives them just the confidence they need to use whatever english they may or may not know and attempt a conversation with me. I love it.

After dinner I plan to make a dash for downtown where I’m suppose to meet a friend for a beer when I’m immediately told that the next stop will be at a nearby noraebang. Before you know it, I’m crammed into a small room with a flat screen TV, a couple of microphones, and around fifteen of the school’s staff (vice principal and co-teachers included) as well as enough liquid courage to make sure even the shyest among us would bust out a tune. Of course I’m among the first elected to sing.

Not having that much time to pick a song, I decide to make my mom proud and select Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together.” I know all the words and have sang it drunk more than a few times so it seemed a fitting choice. It was either that or Michael Jackson’s “Off The Wall” which I couldn’t find anywhere in the selection book. I completely murder the song but recieve a warm applause for my efforts. At some point in the night I’m invited to sing a song with the vice principal. I don’t know the song he selects, but I nonethess sling my arm around his shoulder and do my best to be a worthy back-up singer. When I wasn’t singing I was drinking beer and playing the tambourine of beat. Like I said, I was trying to make my mother proud.

Towards the end of the night, as I’m watching my co-workers plow through the playlist, I sit back on the couch, beer in hand, and have what I often refer to as a “Korea moment”–a small subtle slice of time where I once again remember that I actually live in Korea. It’s not necessarily some euphoric moment where the sound fades and you lose yourself  in the crevices of your own thoughts ( as far as I’m concerned that shit only happens in movies and during traumatic events), but I remember feeling like I had all of a sudden reached a new plateau of success in the R.O.K. I still can’t sing for shit, I’m still at the bottom of the teaching totem-pole and soju still makes my breath smell like a sack full of assholes, but somehow in a single night, my life was made better by raw whale meat and karaoke. Life is sweet, my friends.


Kimchi Dreadlocks

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