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.

Ciao,

Kimchi Dreadlocks

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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.

Ciao,

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.

Ciao,

Kimchi Dreadlocks

Teaching from the Bottom of the Totem Pole #4: 6 Months Down (6 More to Go)

3 Mar

Yesterday was the official start of the new school semester and the (unofficial) halfway point of my one-year contract.

I’ve been here 6 months. How do I feel about it?

The end of last semester was fairly  confusing, to say the least. My sixth graders took off for middle school and while there was a big ceremony commemorating their time elementary schoolers, many of the teachers seemed to take it pretty lightly. I brought a camera to possibly take some photos with some of my students before their departure and hoped to shake their hands and wish them good luck. Instead they were promptly marched out of the auditorium and out of the school to the sound of applause and cheering from their families and fellow classmates. As far as I could tell, most of the other teachers in the school went back to their rooms or to the teachers’ office to finish out the rest of the day. I took no pictures, shook no hands and congratulated no one. The ceremony, it seems, was mainly for the students’ families. Not that I have any problems with this, but I would’ve thought that many of the teachers would be little sad to see their students go. I certainly wasn’t shedding any tears on the matter, but over the course of six months I have developed a fondness for my students and admittedly (cue the violins) was somewhat sad at their rapid departure.

It then dawned on me that in Korea teachers and administrators move from school to school quite frequently and are very used to these sudden changes. They come and go almost as much as the students so when it’s time to move on, the goodbyes are short and everyone continues on with their assigned tasks. Sorry Mr. Dreadlocks. There is no time to dwell on your previous kids. We must prepare for the new semester.

As is the norm, change brings about confusion and this situation is no different. New textbooks are being used (though much of the material is the same), I have a new co-teacher (my former one moved to a new school), and my schedule has been jostled a bit. Surprisingly I’m taking it all well. If the past 6 months have taught me anything, it’s that in Korea it’s best to roll with the changes and (as much as you can help it) let the stress fall by the wayside. To do anything else might drive you into a state of depression.

A few thoughts about my first six in the classroom:

–Getting used to my completely illogical teaching schedule didn’t take as long as I expected, but I still have problems understanding how they came up with it. Why am I only seeing my third and fourth graders once every other week?

–Classroom rewards can be useful to foster participation, but they’re a pain in the ass to manage. I’ve written about this before.

–What is the benefit of placing special education students into my classes if I’m expected to completely ignore them? Everything about this seems unethical. *Chris (now gone from Korea) over at Kimchi with Eish wrote a good post on this a while back.

–Playing soccer with the students outside beats desk warming any day of the week.

–Instant coffee isn’t so bad…especially when it’s all you got. I just close my eyes and pretend it’s hot chocolate.

–I never expected to be told that I look like a “strong African warrior” during my time in Korea; let alone be told by someone at my school. Truly, the assistant principal is my homeboy.

–Soju hangovers will not improve your teaching ability, but it will make your breath smell like the inside of a Korean squatter toilet. Never again.

–Teaching my students how to beat-box and pop-lock (in addition to teaching a few hip handshakes) are some of the best ideas I’ve ever had.

–Simply put, the old textbooks were horrible and the new ones show little promise of being any better.

–Dong-Chim was created by satan.

All jokes aside though, the first half of my teaching contract hasn’t always been a breeze, but I have thoroughly enjoyed it and am looking forward to another six months of last minute staff dinners, desk warming and perky Korean students throwing up the peace sign as I pass them in the hallways.

Ciao,

Kimchi Dreadlocks

* On a side note, welcome to all the new EPIK teachers who just started. Words of wisdom for the “newbies” in Busan: KSU on Saturday nights can be bad for your health. See you there.

Grocery Store Shuffle

2 Mar

When I talk with other foreigners here in Korea about some of their annoyances, many of them mention how much they hate going shopping at  the grocery store.

They complain about pushy Koreans who shove you out of the way and abruptly stop right in front of you with their shopping carts; or how there’s never a good time of day/week/month when a particular store is not completely packed with people shopping as if preparing for a  global apocalypse. Then there’s complaints about product representatives who stand at the ends of  aisles screaming at shoppers in an attempt to influence their purchasing decisions–the reason you might walk into a store looking only to buy a soda a some chips, but walk out with a head of cabbage and the latest brand of Korean baby formula. Lastly, the most often cited annoyance is the exuberant prices you’re likely to spend for the oddest things–no Bullshit, I saw a bottle of maple syrup going for damn near $26.

Now all of these are very valid points worth whining about, but as I see it we shouldn’t let these simple nuances deter us and overshadow some of the more interesting elements of shopping at a Korean grocery store. In many ways a trip to the local store can be quite interesting if you know how to approach it. Let me explain.

For starters, let’s look at the obvious. In Korea the term “grocery store” doesn’t quite do these places justice. They should be called “smorgasbord stores,” because you can literally get just about anything you might need on any given day. This is one of the things that amazed me about the stores in my neighborhood when I first arrived in Busan. Not that I’d ever need to, but should I ever want, I can purchase hiking boots, a new washing machine and a space heater–along with milk and eggs–all from the same place. If I was so inclined to (perhaps if I was in a rush with little time before a date, for example), I could also grab a stylish pair of boxer briefs and some designer cologne. Some of you may be less than impressed by all of this, but next time there’s some random item that you can’t find anywhere, check the nearest grocery store. Chances are they’ll have it.

I once needed to have a spare key made for my apartment (I don’t live in one of the more modern buildings with an entry keypad). I checked out every hardware shop in my neighborhood and scoured the subway underground mall looking for any place that would be able to copy a key. Turns out there’s a locksmith’s booth on the third floor of my local Megamart–right across from a McDonald’s, Converse outlet store and the Megamart dry-cleaning service. Amazing. At the time I didn’t even know Megamart had a third floor.

Besides their versatility, Korean grocery stores can also be a cheap place to grab a bite to eat. Most of them have small diners located right in the store (usually near the frozen foods or meat and poultry sections) where you can buy a wide assortment of spruced up Korean street food. Tight on cash? Hit up the free samples. As long as you make it look like you might actually buy whatever you’re sampling you can usually eat as much as you want, but make sure to use the best judgement. If the clerk starts throwing up a fuss, it’s probably best to move on. There’s no sense in getting chin-checked by an ajumma because you wanted an extra piece of mandu.

Lastly, visiting the grocery store can be quite the hilarious adventure if you’re open minded enough. You’d be amazed at the shit they place together. It would be odd to wonder thorough the frozen pizza aisle and end up in the womens’ shoes section back in the states but in Korea, this type of thing is a completely normal occurrence. You might be looking to pick up some spaghetti noodles and discover you also need mayonnaise. Not because you’re out, but because the mayonnaise is probably strategically placed on the shelf just below the spaghetti. Who knew the two went together? After you’ve grabbed your pasta and mayo, head over to the next isle and pick up some sliced cheese. It should be right next to the soju and rice wine.  Tortillas and rice cakes, eggs and cucumbers, dried seaweed and curry sauce; the combinations are endless and each one is more bizarre than the last. True, this can make finding specific items a nightmare, but after a few trips you’ll get the layout down pact. Until then I’d let it the stress roll off your shoulders and simply enjoy the randomness.

Now because I’m really curious as to what grocery stores people most frequent these days (Megamart is my current favorite, but there’s always shit I can never seem to find there), I’ve decided to take a poll: What is your favorite grocery store in Korea? I’ve never done a poll on my blog and I don’t expect it to become a regular occurrence, but I figure I might as well use the feature I’ve only recently discovered exists.

I realize some of you may not cook your own food and could’t be bothered to go grocery shopping outside of picking up beer so obviously there’s no need for you to participate. The rest of you, however, can find the poll on the right at the top of the sidebar.  Be a good friend and cast your vote, and If the spirit really moves you, feel free to drop an explanation about your choice in the comments section.

Ciao,

Kimchi Dreadlocks

Korean What-the-Fuckery on the Bus

15 Feb

I often visit a blog call What the Kimchi??? On it, Flint does a series entitled “Mook of the Week” where he details some of the crazy shit that he notices Koreans doing.

Many of these posts are incredibly funny, and while I have no intentions of starting a similar series on this blog, I experienced something last week that reminded me of the Korean what-the-fuckery I often read about on What the Kimchi???

Everyday after work I hop on a tiny bus that weaves its way down a mountain on narrow streets packed with parked cars. . I often marvel at how drivers moving in opposite directions negotiate who gets the right away when there’s not enough room on the road for both vehicles to pass simultaneously.

Normally the right to pass is given to the bigger vehicle while the smaller one waits its turn off to the side of the street. For the most part this system works well, and even during rush hour, traffic seems to move along at a steady pace. On this particular day however, we were met with a road hog that decided to fuck up my plans of getting home in a timely manner.

As the bus I’m riding makes it’s way down a steep incline a van approaches from the opposite direction and  instead of turning off into a nearby driveway to let the bus pass, this bastard decides to speed up and stop right in front of us while motioning for the bus to back up and let him through. At this point I take a look out the back window and notice the bus would have to reverse back to the top of the hill into the middle of an intersection in order to let the asshole get by. It made much more sense for the van to back up and turn off into the driveway that was all of ten feet from his rear bumper.

Instead, a 45-second stare down ensues with both drivers motioning at the other to back up and neither vehicle moves an inch. I begin to get frustrated and search the faces of my Korean co-passengers hoping I wasn’t the only one. Surprisingly, no one seems to give a damn.

The driver of the van then hops out, approaches the bus and begins arguing with the bus driver, each man motioning for the other to back up and let him by.

I haven’t the slightest idea what was said but I imagine it went a bit like this:

Van Driver: Why aren’t you moving out of the way?

Bus Driver: Because I was here first. Why don’t you move?

Van Driver: There’s no way that I should have to move. Sure, it’s much easier for me to back my van up a few meters and let you pass, and clearly this would be more logical than you backing your bus up a hill into an intersection, but I was here first and as such, should be awarded the right to pass first.

Bus Driver: Wait, can you explain all that again. I have passengers that need to be somewhere and I’m pretty sure they want to sit here longer while we argue about which one of us should let the other pass. They enjoy watching two grown men act like complete jackasses.

Van Driver: Fine. I’ll just return to my van and stare at you some more through my windshield hoping you and your bus mysteriously vanishes from the road.

The van driver then returns to his vehicle and does just that.

I again look around at the other passengers hoping to find at least one person who shares my growing frustration (In hindsight I think I secretly hopped a gangster ajumma would come to my rescue, going upside the stubborn van driver’s head with a bag of freshly bought bean sprouts. Alas, this is an imperfect world).

After another minute-long stare down, it’s now the bus driver’s turn at an attempt to exert his will. He climbs out and approaches the van, and once more, an argument kicks off, this time with more arm flailing and gesturing. Another minute or two passes (I would have been home by now had I chose to walk) and he returns to the bus swearing (I’m assuming they were swear words) under his breath. He then calmly takes off his sunglasses, wipes them clean and places them back on his face. I got the feeling a curbside brawl was approaching (which I no doubt would have stuck around for) or maybet a game of “chicken.”

The van driver, meanwhile, is wildly pounding his steering wheel and screaming out his window at the the equally stubborn bus driver. I finally decide to get up and walk the rest of the way home when the van begins to creep backwards. What should’ve been a simple 90 degree back-in to the driveway turns into a five-move NASA space shuttle manuver that nearly clips the side mirror off a parked Hyundai.

As the bus finally pulls forward and continues along it’s route I contemplate standing up and applauding but this would have been pointless. I was the only one on the bus who even remotely cared that we were finally on our way. Everyone else was too busy staring at their cell phone screens or otherwise not giving a fuck about what was going on around them.

Why?

Because I live in Korea.

Ciao,

Kimchi Dreadlocks

Battle Rap?

9 Feb

I’m back from vacation and working on a couple of posts that will go up by the end of this week. In the meantime, take a look at one of the best rap battles of the century. Kim Jong Il kills it, but I’d like to see him take on the likes of Eminem. Big ups to The Marmot’s Hole and The Wagook Effect for the heads up.

Like I said, Crazy Kim snapped out, but the Hulkster held his own (especially with Macho Man tag-in). Your opinion?

Ciao,

Kimchi Dreadlocks

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