Posted by: bodking | April 29, 2011

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  • My first trip to Seoul (1 May – 2 May 2010)  – remains my best trip to Seoul.  I was planning on going by myself but ended up going with my friends Bryce and Leandra from Gunsan.  I had such trouble getting a taxi in the morning and I didn’t have a cellphone yet so  I was so worried they’d leave without me.  But I ended up making the bus and had a wonderful time in Seoul.Even though I had some touristy stuff on my list I ended up tagging along with my friends as they went shopping and met some of their friends from other parts of Korea in Seoul.  It was the first warm sunny day in more than a month and it was a great introduction to Korean nightlife.  Seoul’s Hongdae neighborhood on a normal Saturday night feels like the Fourth of July or New Years Eve.  We were sort of a big posse by this point and after a samgyeopsal dinner, we hit the bars and met more people.  There was dancing and drinking.
  • Running the Saemangeum (16 May 2010) – Gunsan Marathon.  My first 10km race.  Training for this really kept me motivated during my first month and a half in Korea.  The first few weeks in Korea were rough for a variety of reasons – normal adjustment stuff, interference from back home, and bad weather.  As I wrote on this blog, the day was beautiful and the day was capped off by a shot of soju and my first trip to a Korean bathhouse and then also drinks with some people who would later become good friends at McJoo – a good outdoor bar in my neighborhood.
  • Biking the Saemangeum (5 June 2010) – On my ten ton bike, I rode with my friend Amber for hours out to sea.  The ride started with some delicious food at her apartment.  We rode out on a beautiful June day through rice paddies and industrial parks before getting to the largest seawall in the world.  We went way out on to an island called Yami-do.  The ride back in to the wind was pretty difficult but rewarded with a delicious fish soup at the fish market on the foot of the seawall. I think again after this there were more drinks at McJoo.
  • World Cup (11 June – 12 July 2010) – This was a great time to be in any of the 32 countries playing in the World Cup finals and Korea was no exception.  There were huge outdoor screenings and non-stop drinking and partying.  It was the most festive I saw Gunsan.  There was no other event or holiday that was so public or exuberant.  Even though South Korea and the U.S. were eliminated in the same time, my friends and I kept up the viewing even though it required being awake from 330-500am.
  • Bumper Cars at Woobang Towerland, Daegu (3 July 2010). I met my friend Julie for an outing in Daegu.  The day started off pretty uneventfully with some Korean-style curry rice and udong  for lunch.  After pondering out next move in the Daegu heat, the spur-of-the-moment decision was made to go to Woobang Towerland in the heart of Daegu.  In the almost empty amusement park, Julie and I could ride any ride we wanted with little or no waits.  While playing bumper cars, I decided to go after my arch-rivals: 10 year-old Korean boys.  But, typically enough, the harder I went after them, the more they loved it.  I ended up with a posse of kids and we got in to all sorts of mischief in the bumper car arena.  Their English was good enough that we could talk about who they liked in the World Cup finals.  Korean boys love Lionel Messi.
  • Gyeongju and Busan – Summer Vacation (29 July – 2 August 2010) I wrote about this before in the blog, so I won’t go too in to details here.  But this trip was great.  The hostel in Gyeongju, the disappointment with the Buddha Grotto, the heat, the coolness of the ice coffee and the weird Germans I met there.  Then Busan was just great.  Everything clicked,  the fantastic train trip, drinking on the beach in the hot sun followed by my first (and maybe only) time ralphing on booze in Korea, gambling away 200,000 won at a casino by the beach, drinking margaritas and eating some raw fish in a massive fish market in Busan’s harbor, meeting a nice girl at a bar then meeting a one in a series of wise Irishmen at the metro.
  • Shanghai (22 September – 27 September 2010) – China.  I loved it.  It had a lot of what I like in a place: history, culture, class, trash, energy and beauty and delicious food.  Again, there’s a blogpost from September about my initial reactions but looking back now, the China trip was sort of a turning point in my time abroad.  Things definitely seemed different before and after that trip.  The weather changed, my social activities changed, and time seemed to go faster after this trip.  
Posted by: bodking | March 13, 2011

This Is Korea

It’s my last month in Korea.  I have big hopes for what comes after my year here and my mind has often wandered to the Sea of Japan and the vast taiga of the Russian Far East.  But a friend posted this video on facebook that made me recollect on the last year in Korea.  It’s a great video – it really sexes up Korea.

Posted by: bodking | March 3, 2011

Brawling in the Streets

Although I have drastically cut back on my alcohol consumption, I still find myself out on Bar Street from time to time.  One of the things that has been most shocking about living in Gunsan is the number of fights in the streets and in the bars.

I’ve been to more than my share of bars back in New York, many of which weren’t patronized by the most reputable of characters – but I have seen more fights in the past eleven months here than I had in the previous 8 years in New York.

The fighting is usually amongst the Koreans themselves – in fact the most memorable ones are large groups of Koreans gathering for a drunken taekwondo inspired kicking session.  But it’s not unheard of to see Chinese immigrants, U.S. Air Force personnel, and the English teachers having a good swing at one another.

Like I said, the most memorable fights have been amongst large groups of Koreans.  I remember emerging from my least favorite bar at 4am with a splitting headache to behold a Korean-American screaming at a taxi driver.  Some people tried to drag him away while other people were confronting him.  He eventually was dragged away and the taxi went on its way, but that didn’t stop all these others – who probably had never met before involving themselves in this conflict – from continuing the fight.  The drunken screaming gave way to drunken pushing which – of course – gave way to drunken tawkwondo.  The climax was when two girls my friend and I had been hitting on ran from way up the street to get involved and were immediately involved in girl-on-girl action.  This went on for about three minutes before it ended as suddenly – and pointlessly – as it began.

There was a time where I’d see at least two fights a week.  Korean girls pulling each other’s hair, G.I.s passed out and bleeding on the street, throwing drinks in bartenders’ faces, pulling chairs out from under someone then hitting with the same chair, but mostly just drunk pushing.

The police never gets involved.  I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.  Koreans in general don’t have a high-esteem for their governmental institutions and the police are generally seen as incompetent.   And in a lot of situations they are – Confucianism makes it difficult, if not impossible, for a younger police officer to control anyone older than himself, especially when that older person is drunk.  A lot of Korean police officers are college-age men doing their national service, so most situations are beyond their control.

I’ve asked other people in Korea if Seoul or Daegu or Busan has the same propensity for flying fists as Gunsan – they all have said ‘no’  – so I don’t know if I’m just lucky and happen to see every fight that’s gone down in the last year or if there’s something about this town.

Posted by: bodking | February 20, 2011

Where have I been? and A Korean Dream

I haven’t posted in a few weeks, but not because I’ve been super busy doing exciting things.  I’ve written a couple of entries but I didn’t post them because one seemed too self-indulgent and the other was boring. Here are some highlights of the past few weeks:

  • Many friends have left Gunsan.  We usually have a big dinner and go out drinking.   It’s sad afterwards.
  • I went to Seoul for the Lunar New Year – went to a bunch of cool art exhibits and went to the horse track only to find out that it was closed because of the holiday.
  • I’ve been watching The Sopranos – why I haven’t watched this before, I don’t know, but it’s really good.
  • I received the date of my last day at my job and I’ve been reading up on possible adventures for afterwards.  I’d really like to do the Trans-Siberian Railroad and head in to Eastern Europe, the Balkans specifically.  We’ll see!
  • I’ve been hibernating – not running much, not going out as much.  The past few days have brought some relief from the cold.  I’ve gone for a run and a bike ride.  I’ve gained a bit of weight but I’m hopeful that the spring will bring back that ol’ athletic spirit.

I have a student in one of my classes who is a bit of a brown-nose, sort of a Tracy Flick from Election.  She’s a great student, her English is great and she loves to give me presents.  I got a pair of gloves for Christmas, a very expensive looking wine set for Lunar New Year and a box of nice chocolates for Valentine’s Day.  The chocolates came complete with a depiction of me.

Not bad, eh?

Meanwhile I read a book about life as a prisoner in the North Korean gulag.  So a couple of nights ago I had a dream where I was a prisoner in a gulag.  This student and her family were imprisoned in the same camp.  She was really enthusiastic about all of the North Korean propaganda.  It was pretty terrifying in the camp, but I knew for whatever reason that if her family was released I would be released with them, so I had to tolerate if not encourage her annoying celebration of the régime. One day Dear Leader himself was visiting the camp.  I could have pummelled him with a metal pipe – maybe killing him, maybe not – but I chickened out.  I wanted to live.

Posted by: bodking | January 29, 2011

Hunger for the Drink

I remember one day in July.  A monsoon rain was pouring down on Gunsan and instead of heading to the bars like I normally would, I decided to go to the bath-house.  I did the normal routine of sauna, cold pool, hot tub, and as I sat in the hot tub I remember thinking that it rivalled a Jameson on the rocks for the best way to spend $6 on a Friday night.
The only difference is that one Jameson hardly ever suffices and a visit to the bath-house never gives me a headache the next day.
I don’t remember the first time I got drunk in Korea but it was probably with my boss – I had such trouble saying ‘no’ when he’d pour me beer.  Once I started drinking here, I was drinking hard and often.  Usually on a place the foreigners call Bar Street,  in Gunsan’s Naundong neighborhood.

Bar Street; Naundong, Gunsan. food, beer, karaoke and computer games

Beer is very cheap.  If you’re drinking Korean beer (which is not particularly good) at a Korean style bar, – hof  호프- large pitcher of beer (maybe 3 liters) usually costs around $10, smaller bottles 500mL or 750mL go for around $3 depending on what beers they are or what the place is like.  Then there is soju which is also very cheap and also very not delicious – at the market it’s about $1 for a 500mL bottle – but at hofs or restaurants it’s usually twice that.    The forgotten stepchild of Korean drinking is rice wine – makgeolli 막걸리 –  which is milky sweet and delicious.
Then there is the Western style places.  They are not so cheap.  There a Korean beer will cost at least $4, liquor drinks more than that.  But it’s at these places I’d too often end up.  It’s here that one can blow through a wad of cash.
Drinking is a huge part of the culture here and if you have any taste for drinking, some money, time, and your mornings off, it’s hard to resist the temptation of the siren song.  Add some Irish ancestry and some hard drinking friends and it’s a perfect storm.
My drinking probably reached a crescendo towards the end of the summer.  I realized then that I had ceased enjoying it and realized how much money the booze was draining from my account.  The more I went out the less I actually enjoyed being out.  I remember being at the main western friendly bar and realizing that for all the time I had spent there, I never had an amazing time there.  But it’s hard to just stop when so much of your social life revolves around drinking.  Even when I was training for my half-marathon, I drank regularly.
At this point, in January – I have lost all taste for the Korean drinks.  My liver needed a break.  I just have no desire to drink.  If I were offered a delicious craft beer or a nice glass of wine, I would definitely drink it.  But Hite, Cass, Jinro, Charm, no matter how cheap, are not worth the price.

 

NOTHING GOOD EVER HAPPENED HERE (except for the time when Xander convinced a guy from Alabama that he was from Australia)

 

Posted by: bodking | January 16, 2011

Korea Gets Cold in the Winter

Nothing too surprising here really.  It’s winter and it’s cold.  Before I came here I knew that the winters in Korea got cold.
One thing that’s been interesting to see in Korea is how consistent the weather within each season.  Once spring hit, it was warm and sunny every single day.  In the summer it was 85 with a 25% chance of rain everyday.  In the fall, it seemed like for two months it was 60 degrees and sunny.

Now it’s the winter.  It’s snowed maybe  10 times since winter began but it never snows a lot.  Just a light sprinkling of snow that goes on the snow that’s already on the ground.  Once it’s on the ground it will never get shovelled.  People on the sidewalks will pound it down with their feet until it’s solid ice.  It seem inexplicable that heavily trafficked areas are solid ice like that but they are.

People do slip and fall.  I have to go to the hospital regularly to see a doctor, and on the latest visit I noticed a huge uptick in the number of people with broken bones.  Like I said – it’s pretty inexplicable.  When you do see someone with a shovel, it’s some sad looking thing that could barely cut the dirt in an herb garden much less clear a sidewalk of heavy snow.

The best thing about Korea in the winter is the heating systems in the apartments.  They use a floor heating system called ondol.  The floors get really warm.  Lots of the restaurants here make you take your shoes off and sit on the floor.  I never really liked this until the temperature started to fall below freezing and I was able to sit with my butt on the hot floor.  It’s really not bad.

Posted by: bodking | January 3, 2011

Some New Years Resolutions

In 2010, I accomplished a lot of goals.  I resolved to do quite a few big things and accomplished most of them.  I moved out of the comfortable confines of the New York metropolitan area, I kept myself motivated to do as much possible with my time here, kept the energy up, ran a half marathon, travelled to three countries I’ve never been to before and met lots of new friends.    My biggest personal disappointments are not learning much Korean and not writing more ( I have a couple of screenplays I’d love to get written – Pot Pirates and Time Pot).
In 2011, gotta keep up the momentum.  I have to build on accomplishments from last year and work on new things.  The most important of which is figuring out what career path to take.  That’s my goal for 2011.   Having my masters in library science, I’m going to start from there  – looking for jobs as a librarian.  But I have a feeling that I’m going to have to look elsewhere for my true calling.

So here’s a list of some 2011 resolutions

  • Finish off some of the things on my Korea to-do list.  (e.g. seeing a Korean bullfight, temple stay and going to the DMZ)
  • See new parts of the world before returning to New York
  • Keep running – do two more half-marathons  either in Asia and North America
  • When in New York, find a job – reintegrate
  • Think hard about my future
  • Think hard about THE future
  • maybe cut back on the cheesy ramyeon (this is the resolution I think I won’t keep)

 

Yet another instalment of this unbelievably eccentric Korean family who loves using LG’s various wireless products and being really quirky.

AND, a part of this same campaign is this commercial which might not seem to be that great unless you happen to be a fan of Terminator, the ending combines the “I’ll be back” line from Terminator I with Arnold Schwarzenegger’s death scene from Terminator II – giving the thumbs up as he’s lowered in to a giant tub of molten metal.

Posted by: bodking | December 27, 2010

Korean Christmases

December 25, 1950.  Somewhere above the 38th parallel. One month earlier things had seemed up for UN forces fighting in the Korean peninsula.   Pyongyang had been captured and American and South Korean soldiers were almost at the border with China.  But then everything turned real terrible.  It was the worst Thanksgiving ever for a lot of those guys as an unbelievable number of Chinese volunteers charged through the cold of the rugged northern Korean hills.
The Chinese came in with such energy and in such volume that in a few weeks the UN was forced to evacuate Pyongyang and most of Korea north of the 38th parallel.
The only good news for the UN was the spectacular breakout of surrounded US Marines from the Chosin Resevoir which had been capped by the even more miraculous evacuation of all UN forces and thousands of Korean refugees from the city of Hungnam.

Christmas for most soldiers on both sides was spent literally freezing in the cold.  Many troops on both sides suffered frostbite, hypothermia and other ill effects of the cold.  UN and South Korean troops spent their Christmas walking their way back towards the 38th parallel, even though inflicting terrible casualties on the Chinese and North Koreans it was a sudden, humiliating and cold reversal of fortune.

December 25, 2010.  Somewhere below the 38th parallel.  It’s Christmas day in Gunsan.  For as Christian as this town is, there is not too much of a festive spirit to be found.  (If you want to hear some of my theories why there’s no Christmas spirit, feel free to message me.)   Recent provocations have made the divided peninsula appear to the outside world as a scary and tense place.    But the reality is that the everyday lives of people here haven’t changed and although there’s definitely a lot of worry about what’s happening by the border, there’s no real sense of panic.
Immediately after getting out of a Christmas lunch with my friends, snow began falling in such a perfect gentle way.  I met up with them again later and we all headed through the snow to a nice restaurant to have a good proper sit-down meal with knives and forks.  The world outside did seem like that fantasy image of a winter wonderland.  So peaceful and far from any of those real-world worries.  The weather was really cold but the atmosphere was warm.

As the cold settles in for who knows how long and the wind whips at the windows of my apartment, I try to think of the poor guys who fought in this same country in this same cold 60 years ago.  Their suffering kept this half of the country free from the rule of the Kim family.   I’ve also been thinking of my friends and family back home.

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