Wednesday, January 9, 2008

A holly jolly Korean New Year Part 1

Happy New Year! I’m back and feeling rested; I never realized how much I needed a holiday like that. I had a big and crazy adventure; I can only hope to convey a somewhat accurate representation of my exploits as sometimes words or my memory fail me.

Tuesday… the 25th (haha really reaching into the memory banks now eh?) Was one really busy day. I taught four classes and cooked a Christmas feast with my new oven. It didn’t turn out as good as I had hoped but that’s what happens when you try things for the first time… and having to leave the oven unattended for hours on end while teaching. I didn’t have a proper pot to cook the chicken in so I laid it out on some tinfoil, which unfortunately ruined my ability to make gravy. My pirogies had a lot more dough than I would have liked and my potatoes had a strange taste but at the end of the day everyone loved it and I need to share recipes later. I had hoped to go home and bake some cupcakes or something quick and easy for my other school too, but was just too tired after working 8 hours without a break. So that was my Christmas, can’t remember what I did to relax when I got home, I probably played more of that Mario Galaxy ☺

Wednesday I spent over 3 hours driving to and from a friends place 40 Km away or so, so that my kitty Otaku had some care during my extended absence. I am continually amazed what a good kitty she is; after being scared for the first 10 minutes or so in the car, she spent the rest of the trip napping on my lap. Amazing for a cat.

Thursday was a great day for school, my schedule of 4 classes somehow dropped to 1 giving me needed time to catch up on stuff, it was also the night of my bonenkai (year-end party) with Yayoi. There was the now seemingly standard all you can eat dishes of sashimi (raw fish), nabe (kinda like fondu but with food and broth), sushi (rice rolls), and other assorted platters. That night was one of my better experiences in Japan thus far, as there were no English teachers around me so I tried hard to use my Japanese. They would speak to me in English and I would respond in Japanese, it was very neat. I shocked them and myself, not that my skill is very good yet but at least I feel better about my progress. Apparently Bingo is a common door prize game at these parties and I ended up with some office supply prizes.

Friday’s bonenkai was like night and day with this party. Not only was it twice as expensive and I stayed half as long, but also since I was next to an English teacher no body would talk to me without talking to him first. I was very bored for most of it; even when I tried to branch out and talk Japanese to other people, they would stop listening right away and look at the English teacher beside me. Luckily it wasn’t so bad after people started getting drunk and not so afraid of talking to me. One of the table pieces was a fish’s head and tail, in the middle of those erected limbs was neat sashimi pieces. I found it odd, my one English teacher is pretty funny though: “we Japanese are like barbarians, we eat everything raw.” Haha what a guy. He said some people even eat the eyes of that ‘decorative’ fish head.

Saturday Dec29 I was up at 3 a.m. again after being drunk the last two nights in a row… still kind of feeling the effects of that, I headed out on the ½ hour walk to the bus. I told Jake (lives in the same town as me, my travel partner for the trip) to send me a message to make sure I was awake. Everything was all right though but we were sending a message or two back and forth confirming where we would meet, when the bus left, etc. I was about 5 minutes away from my house or so when I got the last message from Jake:

“Alright see you there. Don’t forget your passport.”

I froze. Holy crap you saved the day dude. I dropped my luggage and ran back to my house to get it. At any rate that was a stroke of luck, I would have been 3 hours away at an airport before I would have noticed most likely.

The trip turned out alright, still is kind of tiring waiting so much while half paying attention to where you are. When we arrived one of the first things we did was take a bus to Ulsan (where Moon-Ju lives. Friend of the family, great gal. Cute too!) from Busan where our plane landed. I bought a quick snack at the airport and before I know it the pretty lady working there was trying to give me a juice box. “service” she kept saying even though I didn’t really understand. “Gift?” she thought about it “yes, service” at any rate I got a free juice box and was thinking to myself “ah, how I missed you Korea”

My phone works quite well in Korea and other JETs are rather jealous of me for that. So it was easy to co-ordinate by sending emails for cheap or just calling internationally. Moon-Ju sent me a picture of where we were to get off. We panicked a bit when the bus driver drove by it and confusingly got off the bus when he did stop. I soon felt better though when I saw a girl jumping up and down outside of the bus door waving her arms with a big smile on her face. It was Moon-Ju! I hadn’t seen her for a couple years at least. She picked us up in her new car and told us she just got her license a couple months ago. It was quickly evident as we almost hit a car immediately as we pulled out and then ran a red light turning left soon after (they drive on the right like in Canada). The inside joke of the trip quickly became about taxi cabs as Jake joked how he was scared and Moon-Ju joked back how he should take a cab then ☺ Nah I think she did alright though, people drive pretty crazy in Korea.

Moon-Ju has a style of talking that more people need; blunt and honest. Pearls of wisdom shared with us included “this is my mom’s favorite singer, she is ugly” and “I don’t know why he did that, maybe he is boasting because you are foreigners.” But I shouldn’t talk about other people that much I suppose; at any rate hanging out with her was always fun and informative. We taught her “real” English that included slang words like “lamer” and different ways to express how cold it is… ;) not so politely of course.

So first off we went for Kristy’s favorite food. (Patty’s friend now living in Calgary) It was Korean BBQ with the grill in the middle of the table, not unlike what Chris and I had in China. You cook the meat on the grill and mix it with lettuce, sauces, and other side dishes strewn about the table. One thing you notice about eating in Korea right away are the side dishes; one night at a pub we ordered French fries because all pubs expect you to buy food if you are going to have alcohol. We got the cheapest dish on the menu (French fries) one of the side dishes was a deep fried chicken. I wish I were making this up; they served a whole chicken as a SIDE DISH for French fries. Other side dishes for those fries were a bowl of ice cream, soup, and other dishes you see quite often like dried fish and kimchi (spicy cabbage mix, it is like rice in china/japan; you have it with every meal). At first I thought the kimchi was kinda gross being cold and soggy but it was surprising how fast I warmed up to it, in fact I’m kinda craving it now thinking about it, but I digress.

So we went to leave the restaurant and Moon-Ju forgot that her lights were on ☺ It was the 4th time that week and she called her dad for a boost. She said it was lucky we were with her otherwise he would have been more angry. That gave us time to walk around and scout the area. We enjoyed the colorful signs and interesting names like “girl & beer” bar and got familiar with chain stores like “WA bar” which was on every block it seemed where there were restaurants. Later we met up with her dad and then her mom, she had practiced some English all week to greet us. It was funny being at her workplace as our mere presence was enough to shock and scare away some of the other employees. One fella actually started running away as soon as he was out the door and we were told his face was bright red for hours after. Super shy or something ☺

We explored more of Ulsan, seeing light displays and other goodies, even riding a Ferris wheel on top of a building in the middle of the city later on. I like seeing night views of cities and I like aerial views even more so it was very cool, lots of neon lights everywhere. We went to a pub after and hardly ate anything as they keep giving you food and you are expected to eat when you drink. Another thing we noticed right away is that there are a lot of birthday parties in Korea. They dimmed the lights and played a techno birthday song (different each time) at least 4 times in the hour we were there and they had sparklers. Moon-Ju had her birthday a couple days before we got there and said she had 4 parties thus far ☺ We pushed for another one but we decided against it considering how much food in front of us already wasn’t being eaten.

The next day (Sunday) we went with her parents to a famous temple/city in Korea: Gyeongju. There are building codes there where everything needs a traditional style roof… even the gas stations! Pretty neat to see, although the fringes of the city were seeing more leniency to that code and were more of the same you’d see in Ulsan. The place was pretty cool and we did ‘traditional’ things like place rocks in a pile. How it worked was there were many piles and you make a wish. You then take a small rock and put it on top of a pile and it comes true. I managed to do a rather difficult one so my fingers are crossed ;) I noticed in Korea superstition is aimed more towards wishes and not luck, a stark contrast to China. The temple we were at is famous for a monk character depicted on many paintings around Korea. You hang a picture of him in your room and he keeps away bad dreams, not unlike a dream catcher. But he also wards off “underground streams” or something; forces in the earth that sap your energy. But ya he looked creepy at first but now he looks pretty bad-ass; what he did was cut off his eyelids so he wouldn’t get sleepy. I wish I had bought a picture while we were there now but oh well.

We went to a nearby museum and saw things from ancient Korea and many students working on their winter vacation homework. Again, more homework specifically for their holidays, the outrage eh? ☺ They seemed pretty cool and it was awesome watching them write Korean letters on their paper, that alphabet is really cool. We went for “low fish” after, which is Korean sashimi I suppose, raw fish of sorts. Although there were more side dishes than raw fish it was still a good meal and there was a lighthouse in the background out the window overlooking the vast ocean. I’ve never really seen a limitless ocean from ground level before without islands in the background or something so it was pretty cool.

Monday came, New Years Eve, and everyone had to work; So Jake and I slept in and later indulged ourselves by watching Korean television. They have video games on channel 71 (ya I remember these things) all day long, 99% of the time it was Starcraft battles. For those who don’t know, Starcraft is a video game over 10 years old by now maybe and is almost a part of Korean culture itself, more on that later. The commercials were weird and wacky and usually TV shows or movies with Korean actors were riddled with bad acting; amusing to watch especially when you don’t understand what is going on. (pictured: me, jake, Moon-Ju, her parents)

Moon-Ju came and picked us up a little after lunch so that we cold see her university, the University of Ulsan (I think). It was quite a nice campus; we got a guided tour of at least three of the buildings. One building we went in had a picture of AIP 2005 on the wall. Haha yes, my sister Melissa is posted and laminated on that wall in the University; immortalized for the ages. It was funny I couldn’t see pictures of other years that have went, only the 2005 group. Anyways I took pictures and they’re posted along with the other photos; I took 750 photos on my trip and have since deleted almost 200 of those (blurry, duplicate, etc).

We met our tour guide and he said I look a lot like my sister, a comment that was expressed and echoed a couple times during my stay, even from Moon-Ju’s parents. While I’m not sure if it’s a compliment or not to look like a girl, I made sure to point out Melissa has more hair than me while showing my back hair. :O Just kidding Melissa.

After the tour and when Moon-Ju was done work we went to a pottery place to make things out of clay… ☺ Pottery is self-explanatory I suppose, anyways I started making a beer mug but boy that took a long time, my project was abandoned later when the teacher showed up and started using the spinning machine… thing to make cool pots right in front of us ☺ Moon-Ju and Jake gave it a try but I decided against it, maybe good thing too because we went to a New Years party right after with a bunch of her high school friends and she had a bunch of clay on her black pants ☺

The food was good and so was the company, it was Jake and I to about 7 different good-looking girls (including Star who I met last time! yay!). We wowed them a bit with what little Korean we had learnt the last couple days (na nun tony ya = I am tony; very roughly). It was cool too, my students wrote some Korean words on paper for me that they translated on their cell phones. Important things to say like “thank you” and “I love you” ☺ Those kids are great. Funny thing about that though, when I tried to use their words I “sounded Japanese” because the Japanese way of saying things uses their alphabet; “cream” becomes “kurimu” in Japanese kind of like “camsamnida” in Korean became “camusamonida”.

We later went for Korean karaoke, of which there was no nomihodai like Japan (all you can drink alcohol). It was still a lot of fun though and if you want to see something REALLY awesome, get a small cute Korean girl to do gangster rap for you ☺ oh man that was something else, she liked singing and was good so she did more than one song. Also teaching and getting a bunch of Korean girls to "raise the roof". All the girls save for Moon-Ju had to leave and go home though… before midnight on New Years Eve. Apparently all their mom’s would lock them out if they were out late but Moon-Ju had the “there are foreigners with me” card to play so she was safe, although her mom did call a couple times later that night to check up I believe. We went to a bar and convinced the bartended to play the countdown at least and we handed out sparklers to other patrons so they could join in. We counted down later in the night after I found my first Canadian beer since leaving Canada (it was moose head and it was over $7 but oh well). It wasn’t too terribly exciting and there weren’t many other places to go; one other foreigner was drunk and said rather vulgar things once stumbling to our table, but one point was kind of clear “does this look like new years or just a normal Tuesday night?” (pictured: moon-ju, star and friends raising the roof)

Ah well, so we later went to a bar with dancing (apparently kinda hard to find) and busted moves past 3 in the morning when we had to leave. Couples in Korea wear the same clothes here it is weird ☺ I have heard about it in Japan but haven’t seen it yet. Anyways sometimes they’ll go so far as the same shoes, backpacks and everything. That bar was cool; I somehow got 3 free tequila shots, maybe because it was 2008! (woo!) Some cute girls came up to me asked where I was from and another question. Bars are the worst places for talking and worse yet when there is a language gap, I regretfully made them repeat their question 3 times and ended up just guessing what it was. I guessed wrong though as all previous excitement in their cute eyes was instantly replaced with confusion and awkwardness. They quickly turned around and that was that. I still had fun though; Moon-Ju is a great dancer.

Well maybe this is enough for now, good way to end the year and not drive you mad with endless reading ;) Part 2 might be up tomorrow, see if I have time or not, I have to pick up my kitty and tutor my genki kids again.

"Whatever you dwell on in the conscious grows in your experience." -Brain Tracy



Unknown said...

"...get a small cute Korean girl to do gangster rap for you" lol! Lots of good stuff in the post but this one seemed to make me laugh the most. Maybe it's because I remember the fiasco that was us doing karaoke to "a certain song" in China. Golden moments man. Good to hear you're getting out and having some fun dude.
Take care.

Tnoy said...

Oh man she was so cool doing it. She did all the hand movment and head bobbing you see in those music videos too. And 1/2 of the songs she sang were Korean so I couldn't tell what she was saying! :) Rap is big in Korea.
Ya I have since heard that "certain song" karaoked a couple times since being here, I personally avoid it like the plague but oddly enough it is on my Ipod... haha
Good to hear from you too, hope you're having a good new year. *D