Sound of Vitality

Blowin up Haengsin-dong. Holla!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Dum Dum

I bought a massive 5 lb. sack of Dum Dum suckers from Costco. I get a lot of candy from the kids in class, some of which I should probably not eat. They give me unwrapped candy out of filthy little hands, but I figure it'll just boost my immunity for the next plague. Anyhow, I thought it was time to give back. I handed out Dum Dums in several of my classes.

Well I found something out - Koreans hate root beer flavor. Like so much that the unfortunate kid who got root beer (he said 'Yum chocolate!' when he got it, and I was like 'Uh that's root beer kid, it's a kind of...nevermind) was having the other kids sniff his root beer sucker, and they'd all mock puke after that. The second least popular flavor was cotton candy - only liked by one kid so far.

It's fine with me though. Root beer and cotton candy flavored Dum Dums are delicious.

This is some modern art/corporate logo I found in Ilsan - a giant die imprinted 'Life isn't always fair':

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

I went out with a girl

I went out for dinner and a few drinks with a Korean girl on Sunday. It was pretty fun - she's an English teacher, spent time in Vancouver so her English was pretty good. We spent a lot of the time at the bar talking about hip-hop music, which she liked but didn't understand any lyrics of. So I took it upon myself to explain some of the juicier double entendres of rap music. My personal favorite was when she told me she likes the group 'Swollen Members'. We'll see if I ever see her again.

Per the hip hop theme, I present to you 'Crunky' chocolate:

Friday, January 22, 2010


My last two classes on Friday night are with one student. She is not a good student, either. I had her in another class with other students before we were put into Friday night perdition together and she was bad. She does not want to be there. She is a 'scarf talker' - girls who have a massive scarf wrapped around their neck and mouth and mumble inaudibly into the scarf when called upon. This girl is one of the scarf talkers.

So it's just her and I from 6:30 to 8:30 on Friday night. The class I have before that has two kids in it, and one asked me about her. 'You have class with one after this?' she asked me. The girl that asked me is a good student (for me, I've heard from other teachers that she's bad with them). 'Yeah, I have Jaime, just her for the last two classes.' The girl started giggling, 'She only speak Korean, no English.'

It's incredibly quiet, boring and tiresome. She sits struggling through material that is way past her level, me trying to get her through it. Both of us trying to not become totally frustrated and enraged. I want to tell her that this sucks for me too, but she doesn't understand me when I ask her to 'Read please'. So I sit and think - at least I'll be home and having a drink soon.

This is makgeolli - milky Korean rice wine - it's sweet and tasty with about 7% alcohol - very enjoyable:

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Mexicans/Fog walk

There is a unit from one of the textbooks about Mexico that I did yesterday. It was a dialogue of two people talking about the country. One asks what Mexico is like. The other replies, "They speak Spanish, eat tacos and wear sombreros." Hilarious.

It was really foggy yesterday, but very warm and pleasant so I took a walk. Here are a couple images from my walk:

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Some Photos from Itaewon

Russian expats club:

Creepy mask store:

Side street in Itaewon:

Tuesday, January 19, 2010


I went to Itaewon on Saturday to check that out. First I took the bus to Ilsan. The bus driver looked like Yoko Ono and was wearing a huge pair of fake Dolce & Gabana sunglasses. The subway took some time but it's always good people watching. These Korean folk come into the cars with loudspeakers and hawk stuff like knit caps, or hose, or gloves. I saw a seemingly respectable business looking fellow drop a flask of booze out of his suit, too. He seemed nonplussed, picked it up and continued reading his newspaper.

Itaewon is wild - it's like little America. People speak English everywhere. My friend Carrie told me about an English language used bookstore, so that was my first stop. I spent about $70 on books and magazines. There is a main drag on the street where vendors set up on the sidewalk hawking counterfeit goods, so I walked up and down the street a few times and got some gloves, a fake New Era Cubs hat, and a knockoff Burberry wallet. There are dudes on the street everywhere trying to get you to buy a custom suit, so maybe I'll go back and do that next weekend. I'm tempted.

The side streets are real hilly and neat there, so I hiked around the back streets for awhile, and finally decided to head to a bar and have a couple beers while I read my New Yorker Magazine I bought. They had Guinness at the bar, which was good, and I stayed for a couple beers and headed back on the Metro back to my part of town again.

Here's the bookstore, 'What the Book?':

Here's a side street in Itaewon:

More pictures to come later this week.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Classroom tales

I have a class on Wednesday night that is a bit difficult. They're 13-14 year olds and salty and disruptive, like they can be, and the class is all boys which is additionally challenging. I've been bringing them around though, as much as I can. They love just guessing the answers to the book questions and shouting 'FINISHED TEACHER' and trying to get me to spoon feed them all the answers. So one kid who especially loves doing this told me part of the work was too hard, and I was like 'Dan it is EASY. You just need to use your brain and your eyes.'

The kid looks back at me blankly. I draw a huge head in profile on the board with brain and eyes visible like a medication commercial for headaches. 'Use your brain (gesturing to brain) and your eyes!' I said to him. The other kids started laughing. 'Brain too big! His brain peanut!' So I laughed and erased the brain size brain and drew a little peanut. We all laughed and the mood of the classroom was considerably lightened and more fun. Dan laughed too and didn't seem to care.

So as the class went on, when Dan did well I'd increase his brain from peanut, to orange, to potato, to mouse on wheel, to B-2 brain model, to finally A-1 brain when he did a really good job figuring out a question in English. I'm pretty sure this would have been considered picking on the kid in America, but here in Korea it was just good fun.

Oh, here is my snail gumbo with green peppers and onions I had for dinner. Not bad!

Classroom tales

Today in class we were discussing what season we liked the best. A surprising number of the kids love the winter, which I don't get. One part of the book asked that you draw a picture of your favorite seasons, and the kids all hated that, so to placate them I drew a picture of my favorite season, the summer, on the chalkboard. I drew myself lying on the beach under an umbrella with a drink and a book at my side.

While grading the books at the end of class one of the kids drew in a 6-pack on chalkboard me. I laughed, and one of the kids was like, 'Teacher, you have chocolate?' In Korea, Chocolate means '6-pack', so called because your stomach kind of looks like a bar of Hershey chocolate, how it's divided into segments. I laughed and said, 'No, teacher wishes he had chocolate. Maybe chocolate ice cream,' and I mimed a big bulbous scoop coming off my midsection. That got a laugh - I'm really getting my comedy act together here.

Here's a can of sea snails I bought. I've been googling recipes since I got home trying to figure out how to eat them:

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

I haven't assimilated

I really haven't assimilated at all, yet. It's hard to order in restaurants and I don't really know yet how to meet natives yet. We'll see. I've been listening to a ton of podcasts lately - namely the Steve Dahl show. I've been listening to Adam Carolla's podcast a little too which is decent, and I've been catching up with Fresh Air via their podcast. If you want a good rollicking time download the Fresh Air podcast with Russell Brand, the English comedian.

I really want a kindle - they don't ship to Korea yet, though. I'm hungry for books (oh my address is Baksan Bestuil #810, Hangsin-Dong 763-2 Dukyang-Gu Koyang, South Korea, incidentally).

Here's a shot of a street right by me, 4 days after the blizzard. As you can see, they don't do much street clearing.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Making plans

My fellow teachers and I talked this weekend about making plans for the future. Evidently it's one of the most popular streams of thought out here. Let me explain: where will I live in the States? What will I do? When will I be back there? Things of that nature. I'm slowly formulating a plan myself.

I'd like to be here for a couple years, save up some good scratch, and head back stateside to do grad school for secondary education. Specifically, I'd like to go to SIU just to live that awesome southern life for awhile. I'm going to try to make it happen.

Here's a building from one of my walks. Humansia: a dwelling for human Asians.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

More friends

I went out with my friend Carrie who lives close to me in Ilsan, and her friends last night. It was a good time - we had Indian food and then went out to a bar. It was one of her friend's birthday so we all had to don silly conical birthday hats at dinner and take copious amounts of photos. Carrie does not like to be photographed, and demurred when someone tried to take a pic of her. Then they passed the camera to the other side of the table to take a photo of me and the Korean boyfriend of the birthday girl I was sitting next to (can you tell I can't remember any names?) and I. I told them 'I love being photographed, but I'm very self-involved.' That went over well and they laughed. Little do they know that it's completely true.

I also did a little shopping yesterday. I bought some skinny jeans and a skeleton hoodie, which is basically the unofficial uniform of Korean teenagers. What can I say? It's a good look.

Finally, I took a walk today in a direction I'd never been before. Goyang is so different than Chicago, i.e. you can walk in any direction, at any time of day or night and not worry about being mugged. In fact I might start doing some mugging myself. Seems like a real money making opportunity. I found a river though, which was kinda neat.

They've been scooping all the snow up and loading it into trucks. I bet they're dumping it at the DMZ.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The stereotypes are true

I had a class yesterday where the topic was 'what do you eat'. It was a lot of me going around and asking the kids what their favorite foods are and stuff. Bulgogi pizza tends to come up a lot, as well as rice and kimchi and a billion dishes I can't understand when they tell me what they are. Then there was a little chart where you ask someone if they've tried lobster, or steak, or pizza or whatever and they answer whether they have or not, and whether they liked it or not.

And dog was on that chart. Literally, have you tried dog? And 3 girls in the class HAD tried dog, and one admitted to liking it. They all seemed to agree it tasted like beef, and I like beef. So maybe I should start eating dog.

Here's a view out my balcony during the blizzard, which gives you some idea of the accumulation:

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Blizzard/ Payday

It's been a decent week so far, I'll say. We had a blizzard on Monday - biggest in Seoul in 103 years, but only 10 inches of accumulation. Really not bad by Chicago standards. The problem is that they don't plow so the streets are all hard packed snow with cars slipping all around. I've actually seen snow chains - something I've never actually seen before. Either way, and really to no surprise, it didn't stop kids from coming to school. Drat.

Our curriculum is basically monthly, so I've got a whole new set of books to teach now and the classes have changed a little. Fortunately for me my classes got smaller. Now I hope that's not a sign the school isn't doing well. I think it might be some seasonal thing I don't understand. Oh and I finally got paid today. Let me tell you - it's crazy how little tax they take out.

Alright, my friend Jin finally sent me some pics from us hanging out on Christmas. Here's one of them:

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Some friends in Seoul

I hung out with this dude Josh in Seoul this weekend. It was a good time - he was jamming out with his friends on their geetars. They seemed a bit disappointed that I have no musical acuity at all, especially the lead singer of their band. He wanted me to play drums on their song but alack, I have no rhythm.

Josh is American like me, but all his friends were Canucks. They're an interesting lot, and I'm not sure I totally get them. I thought they were just like us Americans but they seem a bit more reserved. I ended up ditching Josh and musical co. for awhile to head to a bar with a Canuck named Julian. I had some bourbon there which was nice, and hung out with more Canucks.

The brutal part of the whole night was the insanely long metro ride home. I was more than half in the biz bag and I had to navigate multiple transfers in crazy foreign land. Being half in the bag I took a lot of pics though.

Here's Josh and his mate jamming:

Julian playing some pool:

Instant coffee on the Seoul Metro:

Waiting for the bus in Ilsan - it never came. I took a taxi.

Saturday, January 2, 2010


I was going to do an entry today about hanging out in Seoul with my new friend Josh last night, but I'm just too excited about going to Costco to do that. I took the bus to Ilsan this afternoon and went to Costco to satisfy my ravenous cheese lust. I was worried it'd be hard to get the card, but despite not knowing my address by heart, or my work address, I was able to get the card for a mere $30. The place is a madhouse. Crowded like you wouldn't believe and just full of pushy Koreans. You know they'll push you? Like push right the fuck into you, like you aren't there. I found that the best way to counter the pushing is to 1) push back and 2) stare at them, with much eye contact. That spooks them good.

Anyway - the point of the story. They had cheese there, like real cheese from America. Not processed cheese - the real thing. I bought a brick of cheddar and a brick of mozzerella, a giant box of Carr's Table Water crackers, and a massive sack of Kirkland brand salt and pepper pistachios. I'm in heaven.

The second picture is the bus ride back from Ilsan.