Saturday, April 4, 2009

We've Moved!

No more posts will be made at this site, I dont think.   

This blog will be continued at  

I'd like to thank my subscribers, both of you, and the mysterious people that comment.  

- Jerry

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Lee's on First

... and second and is about to step into the batter's box.

Last Monday night or Tuesday morning, which seems like a decade ago, brought the conclusion of the World Baseball Classic (WBC) championship with Korea and Japan. Though prior, in the semi-final the U.S lost to Japan which would have set up the perfect confluence of culture in my current state. Bollocks. Roy Olswalt owes me a night in Korea full of Soju and Karaoke, which would have surely transpired should there have been a Korea-US final. Anyway, there was much made by ESPN of the fan fare that Korea and Japan were supposedly exposing with their attention to the WBC. I was somewhat skeptical. Maybe its because I dont watch Korean T.V., dont speak the language, or work with people that give a chopstick about sports but I thought the whole "Korea is dancing in the streets," was overplayed. At 10 AM, game time, I made my way around Ochang. No bars were open early. No signs. Everything looked as if it was the same boring morning. So, I ventured to the gym. They at least have TVs on the treadmills and hoped, maybe, someone was watching. Out of the 15 treadmills only 2 had the game on including mine. "This country is a joke," I thought, though only the opening ceremonies were transpiring. The other treadmills occupied by the pink shirts (at my gym, members can opt to wear supplied uniform T-shirts and shorts. Pink for women, blue for men, of course) had on some lame Korean show with people sitting around talking and quirky graphics on the screen- there are many of them. But then the game started.

By the third inning every occupied treadmill had the game on. Maybe a sign of the culture, "If they got it I should too," or "The neighbor kid is going to after school schools till 10 PM? So should mine!" I digress. As the game grew longer the more I saw or heard of the national spirit. Most surprisingly was that the local elementary school let their students watch the game for two hours during the day. On Naver, Korea's Google, a picture of a player was imposed over the Naver logo, front page newspapers splashed about the game though modestly, and even the eye glasses store had the game on. Of which is across the street from my school so I began scheming about how I could sneak out during my 'planning time' and make a new friend as we do not get Television stations on the one TV in the school, flat screen of course. However to my surprise the teachers and secretary were following the game online. Awesome. Finally Im starting to see what the fuss was about.

Two highlights stand out in the game for me. The first came when B Lee hit an RBI single scoring Jo Lee from second base and T Lee advanced from first to second on the hit. Horray for homogeneity! The second was when at one point H Soo Kim was at bat and T Kyun Kim was on deck. I made some stupid observation about the Kims and my co-worker turns to me and wittly replies, "And you are watching the game with Kimmy!" She took Kimmy as her English name to make a simple transition from her Korean last name of, yeah, Kim. Ironically too, my director's last name is Kim. Oh the irony. As it turned out I was the only teacher wearing bright red Koran flare but that did not mean other teachers weren't chomping at the bit when Korea was down 3- 2 with two outs in the bottom of the ninth and rejoicing when Korea's 2 changed to a 3 on the screen. Finally, some excitement in the school.

My co-workers may not care about baseball, or anything round that moves, but they at least restored my confidence in the country for a couple of innings.

Next post - I decode that Tupac is still alive and in the Final Four.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Horses for Arrows

Another bike ride, more surprises.

After a return trip to Ochang-proper, or the old Ochang that looks a bit worn and neglected compared to the modern and developed ‘new’ Ochang, I stumbled upon a small horse riding operation that Kirsty and magically found on a similar bike ride a couple of months prior. (We were somewhat lost. Well, maybe not lost but on an unplanned route which was kind of the plan anyway so never mind). I had wanted to get back to this stable to score some riding time for her birthday. (Nope. I have no idea why I typed birthday. Its to finish the last of her Christmas presents. Yeah Christmas in March!) All I wanted was to inquire about prices, pay, and set up a time to ride for Kirsty and possibly myself. I was at least successful in setting up, nothing.

I got the prices and I think a good deal but I asked if I could pay and get a receipt to show Kirsty that I was for real but the very friendly middle aged male assistant helping me was not interested. After some debate with two teenage females, possibly his daughters he said, “Ehhh pay or next time, no problem.” I had my wallet out and looking for the cash when another question came about which led to us going outside for whatever reason and I never ended up paying which I think was the wordless gesture for, “Why make things difficult? Just pay when you return, ass.”

I said outside because at the time of solicitation of all the riding products offered we were sitting on the heated floor of what presumably was someone’s office that housed a monitor for their security camera, computer, table for dining, one chair, and a desk. (Security from what? This place is in the middle of nowhere. Most Koreans don’t know where Ochang is and this place is even outside of Metro Ochang and in the country). I believe the whole purpose was to make use of his electronic dictionary that was brought out but never used so being in this small office/security room was pointless though I very much appreciated the under-floor heating on my bum.

I also appreciated the strikingly beautiful woman, somewhere in her 30s, who was also standing in the office while me and the assistant hashed out my request sitting on the floor. She didn’t speak one word of English during the duration. Naturally, I presumed that she was the assistance’s wife. This was not true as I pointed to her as I left and said, “Wife?” He replied, “No, eh visitor.” So then, why was this random visitor in the office in the first place?
After we got my unreserved and unpaid one hour horse riding finalized the friendly assistant showed me the archery practice range that was a whole 5 feet wide complete with one target and proceeded with an impromptu archery lesson showing me the difference between the Korean form and the American. I went one for two in hitting the target from point blank range, thanked the man and left.


Find horse riding place
Reserve a ride and pay
Time - 5 minutes max

Find horse riding place. Check!
No reserved ride, unpaid. No check.
Archery lesson. Check!
Time – 30 minutes. No check

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Sorry Teacher, I've Got To Take This

Many a time I have been interrupted by students who I find texting on their cell phones to their parents or friends and it doesn't matter the age in Korea. Kindergarten on up. True story. Some bug eyed youth are so accustomed to answering and sending texts, or phone calls, I am sometimes not even asked if the contacted student can take the call, they just do it. Unreal. So it is for the teacher in this age.

This is especially true for teenage students who, as reported by the Korean Times, send over 9,000 texts a year- 25 a day.  Just last night as I left the classroom to use the copier, students were quick to whip out their phones and unconsciously return texts or play games on their phone if they weren't talking with a fellow classmate.  A fascinating article from the Korean Times on the prevalence of cell phone use among youth as compared to Japan, Mexico, India, and China is posted below. Taking away though is no mention of the name of the study that compared the 5 countries. Nonetheless some highlights;

"Mobile phones have become arguably the most important electronic device for young people in South Korea, with nearly 90 percent of children owning a handset by the time they reach the age of 12, a report said."

Something very telling about Korea - "When picking handsets, Korean teenagers considered design and capability first, while Chinese users were concerned most about voice quality. Indian teenagers were moved most by battery power, while Japanese users seemed rather indifferent about the brands of handset makers and wireless operators, the report said."

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

I Don't Get... Open Doors and Windows in Winter

My father prided himself on how long he could hold out before the family bitched enough to fold to turning on the heat in the winter. Korea takes this pride to a whole new level.

Yesterday was a very pleasant winter day, for February, that was disguised as a normal spring day. Temperatures were somewhere around the mid 40s. The sun was shining and morale
 was high thanks to the winter heat wave, relief. Upon walking into my school at 1:00 PM I find the heating is on full blast. Which it really didn't need be but was. Its not the fact that the heat blasting on this day perplexed me as I entered but more so that it wasn't on days in November when the temp was 6.

Turns out that Korea simply does not turn on the heat until December.

Students and teachers during that time wore coats and scarves while they were at school. Some classrooms were lucky enough to have a small portable heater, but not all. For two months now there is one student I have yet to see without his long black coat and neck warmer.

OK, I get the whole, 'Lets be thrifty' mantra. Everyone survived, we saved a buck, and the environment won out. I can roll with it, I understand. Until, that is, when December comes round and its open season for the heating units. During dark and harsh winter days with the temperatures in the Baltics outside, and the heat finally on, one can find windows open not by just a crack to let in fresh air, but by full extension and double doors pried wide like a church welcoming parishioners on Sunday.

I don't get it.

Too, hallways in the buildings that separate the businesses are not heated, as well as the entrances, stairwells, and bathrooms. Yes, bathrooms. As such, nature waits for me until I get home.

Turns out that traveling and living abroad not only supplies you with new experiences and stories but also new pet peeves.

I Don't Get... Eating at Outside Temperature

Quite commonly during these harshest of winter days in Korea you can find a student on a snack break eating ice cream.  Six degrees Fahrenheit?  Time for ice cream!  Though its just not students, its adults as well.  You may not to be able to feel your hands but hey, why not freeze your mouth too.  However, I prefer students to eat ice cream rather than dried octopus.  Wow.  Remember that guy on the team that sweated the most and never washed his practice uniform.  Its like that.

The same goes for eating hot things during hot times.  Take Belize.  People here drink their tea hot, thanks to colonization, and put some hot sauce, Marie Sharps or otherwise, on everything.  Even when its 1,000,000 degrees.  Though with this custom I find that the tea is more for relaxation, a cultural mainstay, than for temperature balancing.  Not much A/C anywhere and you are sweating anyway so why not feel relaxed?  Also,  it is said in regards to the hot sauce, that if you make the food hot and spicy and raise the temperature in your mouth then the temperature outside your mouth is more bearable.  

As Anderson Cooper says, "You just have to see it for yourself."  Or taste it.

I Don't Get... Segment Introduction

I don't want to sound like the loud, small minded "Eddy Expat," one frequently encounters when living or traveling abroad.  You know, that guy who denounces the other culture while they are in said culture with natives around talking loudly with other foreigners- enough for the entire bus to hear them.  If you want to experience one hop on any bus heading for San Ignacio or Punta Gorda, in Belize, during the tourist season.  However, there are simply too many instances, comical or otherwise, where I'm utterly confused in a cultural situation and though they are probably not that unique to foreigners, past or current, in the same situation, its unique to me and others who have yet to experience wherever I am.  So, I will write about them in this segment called, I Don't Get... 

Therefore I open myself up to people that are foreign to me to laugh at the way I do things and would love to hear it.   If you give it, you gotta take it.