Sound of Vitality

Blowin up Haengsin-dong. Holla!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Classroom tales

One of my favorite things to do in class is to tell kids about the word 'supercalifragilisticexpialidocious'. One of them even told a co-teacher of mine about it and she asked me what it means. I was at a loss. ''s silly? It's from Mary Poppins. You know Mary Poppins?' Being that I saw MP the musical quite a few times in my capacity as an usher I know the spelling and rapid pronunciation of the word. It's a fun thing to pull of of my bag of Korean-perplexing tricks.

I was introduced to 'eye war' today in one of my classes. It's just what we call a staring contest, but isn't 'eye war' a way cooler way to say that? In another class I taught today the writers of the textbook I was using tried to introduce some modern vernacular in a dialogue about getting a cell phone. The male protagonist, Billy, gets a cell phone from his father and exclaims 'totally awesome!' Billy really has passion on the CD I play for the kids to help them get a handle of the pronunciation. But Billy's enthusiasm pales to the delight I feel when I hear bored, listless Korean kids recite 'to-tall-ee awe-somee' in a barely alive monotone while reading the dialogue back to me.

In other news, I'm an idiot. I've been taking a bus to a subway miles away, when, as pointed out by a helpful Scotsman who's lived in Haengsin for some time, there is an express metro train from the station right next to my house. It's a 15 minute ride to the center of Seoul, compared to my former hour and a half ordeal. The next photo is taken from the platform of that station (click picture to enlarge):

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

So Nice

It was a beautiful day today. It's getting near the high 40s during the day when the sun is out. You can feel Spring coming - it's wonderful. I took a walk to scope out barbershops and possibly get my hair cut. I don't know which shops are just for women and which are just for men, and considering the huge language barrier here in Haengsin, I didn't really want a 10 minute embarrassing conversation where neither of us understand each other. I'm really tired of those talks. I did find a place though - the marquee says 'Men's Beauty Shop' - right up my alley. The only problem was there was only one barber and a 7 man line waiting. I reckon I'll go earlier in the morning next time. I did see something amazing on the way though - a woman was walking this scrawny little yip dog that was wearing four tennis shoes, a tutu and a diaper. It was all at once pathetic and magical. I regretted not having my camera.

I did snap a self portrait sitting on my porch reading - it was warm enough in the sun to chill outside in a sweater. I finished 'Mosquito Coast' by Paul Theroux today, not bad:

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Seoul Pine Tree Club

I went with my friend Chuck to a meeting of the Seoul Pine Tree Club on the campus of some university yesterday. It's an over fifty year old club. They're a group of young people that are learning English pretty much. Chuck and I were the only foreigners there, so we were very popular. We played a pictionary game, some kids made presentations on various topics, including a powerpoint about Casanova that was pretty funny. Then we broke into groups and did reading exercises complete with questions to encourage critical thinking. I was starting to question coming along, because this seemed an awful lot like teaching, except I wasn't getting paid and it was Saturday.

Then we went out. It was very fun. Most of the people in the group are kids at school. Very bright kids too - computer engineers, scientists, a film major, English literature students etc. It was also a big boost to my ego - because my students are always saying I'm old, ugly or mean. The Pine people said 'Oh you're so handsome' and 'why don't you have a girlfriend' and 'do you like Korean girls?' Now, most of the people saying 'you're handsome' were dudes, usually followed up by a quick 'I'm not gay!' But an ego boost nonetheless.

It is the end of their school term so we went to a bar to drink soju and generally have a good time. I regretted having to leave at 10:30, actually 11 with the goodbyes, to get back to the boondocks, where I live (You live in Haengsin-dong? So far!). I got to Seoul station by rail and was trying to find my transfer to my line and I was having no luck, and it was nearly time for the subway to shut down, to boot. I asked a girl randomly 'Train to Haengsin?' She said no, only a bus, but then said that she was going to Haengsin too. So this super-nice girl took me to the bus stop and then told me when to get off the bus when we got to town, and it was a huge help too, because I never would have known where I was. Total Saturday night success.

Here are a couple of my friends at the first bar. Don't ask me their names - I have one hell of a time remembering Korean names. It always goes something like this: 'I'm Ch-ni-sa' Me: 'Sh-na-too?' Them: 'You can just call me Ch' Me: 'Ch?' Them: 'No, Ch'

Here is Chuck with a triple major genius who will be attending a doctorate program at Cal Tech next fall:

Me and a couple buddies. I consider the club's being named 'Pine Tree' portending good things, as I used to live at the greatest apartment in history, Laughing Pines at 951:

Friday, February 19, 2010

Friday Break

They canceled my third to last class on Friday night, which is great, and terrible. It used to be one of my brutal one-student classes where the silence was deafening and the clock ticked backward. My last two classes, as I think I've mentioned before here, is with one girl who is silent also. I have to admit, she is getting more comfortable with me so she is talking a little more, but just.

So I have this hour off now where I go to the grocery and get food for the night. I came home then and did the dishes and I'm boiling water for a little ramen snack. This should all be pleasant, but I'm full of foreboding at having to go back. Please please please don't show up, Jaime. I want Friday night to start NOW!

I got a gift from one of my students this week. He mimed that he won it in a crane machine:

This is a little late, but a sweet Valentine's card made by hand from my friend Carrie:

Monday, February 15, 2010

Biked to Ilsan

I decided to try to make it to Ilsan on bike yesterday. You have to vaguely follow the railroad tracks near my house through Haengsin till you find the end of the city. Then begins the uber dense countryside. The country heading toward Ilsan is a deal more rugged than the country the other direction headed to the Han. First of all despite the cold it stunk out there. Like shit. Not good healthy cow shit either - fetid dog shit in mass quantities. Then I found the source - the whole area is packed with dog farms. Little runty farms with cages of barking dogs. I'm no dog lover, but it was pretty sickening.

I did manage to find my way to Ilsan by following the massive smokestack from what I think is the coal plant. They've plated the top with chrome like a massive olympic torch, so it's very easy to follow. Getting back was another matter entirely. I vaguely knew the direction I was heading but it'd be a tough trip by night.

Here's a sign for a dog farm:

Sunday, February 14, 2010

I crossed the Han River

Well it's officially new year's here. I started celebrating with a sausage mcmuffin from ShaqRonald's (as Rudy call's McDonalds). I saw lots of girls wearing the hanbok, which is the traditional Korean dress, yesterday. I went out to the KS Mart to get an iron, ironing board, gloves and some more tiny cups to complete my tiny cup collection. I'll post pictures of them soon - I keep buying them because they're mad Korean. I wanted to get these gloves that looked like they are from the movie Tron, but they were too expensive, especially knowing that any gloves I buy will likely get left in a taxi someday.

Then I went bicycling to try to find the river, and find the river I did. It's quite surprising how fast you're in the country here, or as I call it, 'greenhouse land'. The country is nearly as dense as the city. It's packed with greenhouses, strange tumbledown houses, tons of dogs in cages (yummers!) and garbage everywhere. I only have to go over the pedestrian bridge over the railroad, through the park with the soccer field, past the flower shops and I'm right there to the local 'countryside'. Anyhow, I found a bridge with a little walking/biking trail alongside the highway to cross the Han River, so I took that just to have crossed the river like the Marines. The whole time biking I just kept imagining some horrible accident that would send a car catapulting over the divider into poor me. They are, after all, all Korean drivers.

Here is the Han and the bridge I crossed. Note the razor wire in the foreground preventing me from accessing the desolate land near the river:

And a view of the river from the middle of the bridge:

Friday, February 12, 2010

Happy New Year!

It's lunar new year's on Sunday which is a huge deal in Korea. Everyone goes to the graves of their ancestors and all the kids beg and bow to the older people for money. They've been begging me for money too but a co-teacher told me not to give it to them. 'They will use you,' she said. One of the students yesterday pleaded with me 'Teacher small homework please? It's New Year's!'

So I'm excited for a 3-day weekend, but also a little bummed because I looked ahead on the calender and I don't think I have another holiday till like May.

I went to Costco this morning. I've been putting it off all week but today I finally did it. It was foolish - it was packed. The Koreans don't have a sense of personal space like we do. It's a mad scrum trying to get on any elevator or across the street. Compound that with those massive shopping carts at Costco and it's nearly impossible to move around that place. I prevailed, though, and now I have lightly salted chips, sharp cheddar cheese, garganzola, Tabasco and olive oil.

Here are a couple pics from a Korean War monument I found when I was biking around. It commemorates the Korean and American Marines crossing the Han River on their way to assault Seoul to retake it from the commies:

Sunday, February 7, 2010

I got a bike!

My friend Carrie helped me buy a bike yesterday. It is super sweet - an orange folding Dahon Litesse. It's a 7 speed steel bike (if you're curious) and folds up small enough to fit in the front seat of a taxi, or lug uncomfortably on the crowded Seoul metro circle line.

After buying the bike Carrie and I went out for some vegan food. I had the 'protein stew' which was pretty delicious. Then we went and met a crowd at this bar called 'Mary Jane's' which had surprisingly awesome music. We were all out for our friend Natalie's 26th birthday. After that it was off to a club where you had to descend down 3 flights of stairs to get in. It was styled like a cave with a big dance floor in the middle and all these weird little nooks and sitting areas everywhere. There was not a fire escape to be found and it was actually difficult to find the door when we left. It was covered in beads and like a heavy fur pelt. Safe.

Despite my hangover I took the bike out to explore a bit today. Here it is at the pedestrian train crossing and in front of some abandoned flower shops:

Friday, February 5, 2010

Marvelous and the Rudefather

My old roommate, Rudy, sent me this fantastic chat conversation between him and my other old roommate, Matt. It should be noted that Matt insists on going by one of a litany of nicknames such as Marvin, Marvelous, Margin, Large Marge and The Golden Pheasant.

Rudefather: Yo marv! You available?
Marvelous: I'm here
Rudefather: Sorry, I was going to ask you a question, but I can't remember what.
Marvelous: ok, well if you think of it let me know
Rudefather: Done.
Marvelous: Hey, now I have a strange question for you.
Marvelous: what would you guess is the monthly electrical rate per kilowatt hour?
Rudefather: I don't know. Why would I be the person you ask that?
Marvelous: I don't know. I saw something in a standard of living article I was reading
and I thought why not ask Rudy
Rudefather: Oh that makes sense. And what are you doing reading standard of living articles? Why aren't you working.
Marvelous: I was eating lunch
and browsing around, educating myself instead of looking at facebook
Rudefather: Facebook is educational. How do you think I'm up on all of the gossip?
Marvelous: that's not educational.
Rudefather: Your definition of the word educational is too narrow.
Marvelous: isn't that ironic
I'm narrow minded because of definition of eductional
Rudefather: I don't see how that is ironic. Not even by Alanis Morisette's guidelines.
Marvelous: I meant an oxymoron
I know the two are different
I just read about it, and not on facebook
Rudefather: Now none of this makes sense. The definition of educating oneself would be to aquire knowledge one did not have prior. I was stating that you made a broad generalization based on your preconceived notion that facebook is not educational. For example I did not know that Steph and Jon were engaged
until I learned about it on Facebook. Just because I didn't read about it in Nerds Weekly doesn't mean I did not some how educate myself. On a side note you had to ask me about electrical rates and kilowatts therefore you clearly did not educate yourself. However to get back to the original reason I am writing this, how does the word oxymoron apply to any of this?

That's Marvin on the left and the Rudefather on the right:

Thursday, February 4, 2010


One of my favorite classes is my 7:35 on Mondays and Wednesdays. It's all boys and they love talking and being disruptive, but they try to talk to me, which is really all I ask. I have a class before them that is two girls and a boy and they are so quiet. They're good and all - they do their homework and everything, but the silence is unnerving. I wish I could just read a book during that class.

Anyway, on Monday during the boys' class we had a unit about traveling and where you'd want to travel. All of the answers were sports-based - England, Italy and Spain were 3 of the answers. Then the fourth kid says 'Cleveland'. Cleveland? Anywhere in the world and you'd go to Cleveland? 'Teacher, you know Choo?' Ah. He wants to go to Cleveland because Shin-Soo Choo plays for the Indians. I tried to convince him that it'd be better to visit Chicago to see an Indians away game rather than go to Cleveland, but it was too complex trying to explain that so I gave up.

Here's another picture from my fog walk a couple weeks ago:

Tuesday, February 2, 2010


I nipped out yesterday morning for some milk and water at the 7-11 downstairs. When I was coming back I noticed a 90's Corvette at the car wash across the street from me. Now, I've seen probably less than 10 American-made cars in the 2 months I've been here, and most of them have been Ford SUVs, so this was pretty exceptional. Then I saw the owner walk over and get in the car. He was an old Korean man, probably in his 70s and he was wearing an Irish flat cap, wraparound sunglasses, an olive drab military-style coat with a huge confederate flag on the back, blue jeans and multiple rings on his hands.

I got upstairs and ran out on my balcony with my camera hoping to get a shot of the Corvette and maybe if I was lucky, the guy. No dice.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Throwback weekend

I went out to Seoul this weekend and hung out with a dude I went to LT with. He's a dude from Western Springs. It was fun hanging out - we walked around some shopping district in Seoul, then headed south of the river to his area for some seafood, then to a couple taverns. We hung out with a group of his friends. There was a girl from Peoria, one from Canada, a dude from Germany and another American from parts unknown to me.

It was a fine time anyhow - fun to talk in English to people really fast, instead of deliberately slowing down the timbre of my speech and still not getting my message across. I crashed at my LT friend's place in Seoul, and the next morning headed to Itaewon to hit the bookstore and shoe shops. My LT friend is endeavoring to really learn Korean and is pretty good at it, so thus inspired I finally bought a phrase book and am going to try to learn the language already. I also got me some New Balance kicks, a couple novels and 6 bootleg DVDs from a fellow selling them on the street. It was a good weekend.

I found a bus stop adjacent to a Metro stop that's a little closer to my place. Unfortunately the bus stop is in the middle of a highway, so there's fuck all chance of grabbing a taxi if your bus doesn't come. You're just stranded:

Fortunately there is the bus tracker - my bus is the 72 (just like Division street). Eight more minutes: