Vast Visions

a year abroad in south korea


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State of Mind

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When I was in college I tutored English, and one of the pieces I worked with through the years was Malcolm Gladwell’s “The Power of Context.” In the piece, he talks about the effects of one’s surroundings on the psyche, even going so far as to suggest that it can make a killer out of an ordinary citizen. The presence of graffiti, garbage, and “broken windows,” he claims, can subconsciously enforce the idea that in run-down neighborhoods crime is omnipresent and, therefore, accepted. He contrasts the crime rate in slums to that of wealthy suburbs, and attempts to explain the disparity through reducing the impulse to commit crime to a visual stimulus that pulls the trigger (one’s “tipping point”). Although he makes an interesting argument, I always reminded my students to think for themselves and consider how large his claim really was. It seemed to be an amusing explanation, but not without its pitfalls. Personally, I didn’t believe it at all.

Almost three years later, on my way home last Saturday night, I started believing.

The night was unusually cold, but everyone had grown tired of waiting for the weather to warm up. The weekend before was rainy, yet there was no shortage of women in short skirts and strappy shoes, powering through. I was out to celebrate a friend’s birthday, and started the night at around 9pm. On the subway into downtown, a nice old ahjumma insisted that I take a seat next to her. This is when I regret that I know so much Korean, because after she asks me where I’m from and tells me about her daughter, which I’m guessing was just a skill check, she seriously asks me, “Is there Jesus in America?”

….huh?

She tells me in the most animated Korean the tale of 예수님 (Korean Jesus), pantomiming blood dripping down his face and reenacting the glory of his resurrection. It was a long 20 minutes.

So…straight to the bar I went. Two gin and tonics later it was midnight and the crowd was just starting to creep out of the shadows. Almost spontaneously, a throng of foreigners lined the main stretch of Daegu’s bars, pouring in and out of Thursday Party, trapped in the stairwell between MF and Who’s Bob. I successfully managed to deliver my well-wishes and clink a few glasses with some friends, so I was fully prepared to call it a night as the clock struck 3. In the midst of my struggle to un-stick my shoes from the filth of Urban’s dancefloor, a drunk Korean girl grabs a random American guy by the collar and lifts/shakes him until the unbalanced pair careens to the ground, knocking barstools and tipping drinks on the way down. People stare, the moment ceases. It was akin to seeing Nicholas Cage act with more than one expression – it just doesn’t happen.

You see, foreigners inhabit very different spaces from Koreans downtown. Usually, bars like MF and Thursday Party are replete with military dudes, English teachers, and other foreign University students. In clubs like AU and Monkey, however, the crowd is strictly Korean. The split can be divided almost geographically, one side of the intersection belonging to Koreans, the other stretch marking the beaten path of the foreigners. Of course, there is some mingling of the two in places like Thursday Party, but no matter where you go, the foreigners have their packs and so do the Koreans.

After months of living here, this has been the first time that I have actually seen a Korean fight with a foreigner. I have always known Koreans to be peaceful and adverse to confrontations with foreigners, but this tough chick was turning the club into the Twilight Zone. Hearing a glass smash in one of the far reaches of Urban’s maw, I got my jacket and wasted no time waiting for the fallout.

I judged the whole thing as an anomaly and continued on, walking through the stretch and passing Thursday Party on my way to the taxis. I had grown accustomed to going out alone and relying on the fact that I know a lot of people, but this night I feared that things were getting out of hand. Not even the biting cold could quell the rage that was permeating the air. I was walking behind another large foreigner group when a 30-something year old man procured from his fleece jacket an entire bottle of liquor, complete with the pouring spout from the bar he stole it from. I hung back, as the equally large woman he was with (his wife?) verbally smacked the shit out of him. Under my breath I mumbled “Timber…” as the blubbering titan staggered for what seemed to be a certain cement kiss. To his misfortune, he met the hands of his burly wife, who ripped the bottle from his hands and flung it into the street. Its shatter sent a crystalline CRACK through the heavens. My breath caught, I came to a dead stop; I was terrified.

I turned around, and in the next intersection a foreigner was stopping a car with his arms in front of him, laughing and cursing, terrorizing the Koreans within. His friend was carrying an enormous green plastic bottle–

Is that two liters of SOJU…. ?!

The night was getting absurd. Taking momentary refuge in a kebab place, the same guy that had been bowled over by the Korean chick walks in, bloody knuckled, laughing maniacally. He snatches up some random person’s leftovers looking utterly satisfied eating someone else’s garbage, pumps his chest and walks back out. At this point I send a feeble prayer to Korean Jesus to shepherd me out of this strange, strange hell.

Broken glass crunching underfoot, spent bottles of liquor and condom wrappers, dark splashes of vomit on pavement, throaty man-screams of “‘MURICA!”  – This is the stage that we act on. And we all play the parts, don’t we?

I walk past GoGo’s, a place famous for its bagged mixed drinks, and I recall the night that a foreigner thought it was funny to jump into random Korean people’s cars. I remember a time when someone brought an enormous bag of cheese puffs over their shoulder and released a cheddar avalanche into the street. Shortly after, a haggard Korean man had to come and sweep it up. It was heartbreaking and embarrassing.

Foreigners are making Korea suffer. It is an unfortunate reality that many times I wish I could change. Last Saturday, surrounded by other foreigners on that short walk to the taxis made me more nervous than I’ve ever been. Somewhere down the line I got a little too comfortable with Korea’s lack of crime. I guess everyone else got comfortable, too. With no one to answer to, there are no rules. There is just alcohol-soaked mayhem.

At 5am Sunday dawns and I open my apartment door. I think of nothing but sleep in the hopes that I can pass it all off as a bad dream.

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Addendum: I realize I make some pretty sweeping generalizations about foreigners in my writing, and I had to answer for that on an auxiliary site that publishes my posts. I’ll repost my comment here again for clarity:

“…based purely on my personal experiences many instances of destructive, insensitive, or violent behavior have stemmed from other expats. I could attribute this to my being a foreigner, and thus only being exposed to other foreigner behavior, but I’m being honest when I say that I am more afraid of other foreigners than Koreans when it comes to situations like the one I dealt with.

What bothers me is that many foreigners lack the respect or care about the consequences of their actions. After a night like that, no one is walking home with regrets about the mess they made – they’re waking up from a blackout state with no recollection or second thought about what they’ve done. According to them, it’s not their country, not their responsibility.

“As long as it was fun,” they say, justifying the times that they jumped into random cars, scaring innocent people inside.

“It was a good night,” they say, forgetting that they had to rely on a good-hearted taxi driver to deal with their drunk incoherent self.

It’s a damned shame. Many of these people would not go home and do half the things that they feel entitled to do here. It’s a “we teach your kids English, deal with me” kind of mentality. Not all foreigners act this way, but the ones that do truly give other foreigners a bad name. And all any of us can do is watch them burn a place that we have learned to call home.”

I’m not going to disparage my own words by chalking it up as being “overly-dramatic.” It really is a problem that still makes Korea adverse to foreigners at times. I hope that this will help some people understand that the ahjumma giving you side-eye on the subway may have just come back from a night of cleaning some other expat’s puke. It’s cultural friction that originates as far back in Korea’s history as two American soldiers meeting in a cramped, dimly-lit room, drawing a line on the map that would sever the Koreas forever.


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Food and Dranks – The Good, The Bad, and The 무료

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Yet another eventful weekend has passed, and part of me is glad that it’s getting a bit colder so that I (might) have an excuse to stay in. When you emerge from a basement karaoke and the daylight that is 7am hits your eyes, all you can do is send a squinty look to your bros and subtly nod; yeah, I think we just survived that.

Allow me to backtrack a bit. On Friday, after hanging with some peeps in the daytime, I went in search of a bagged drink at nightfall. However, my sense of direction being irreconcilably bad, I ended up getting lost somehow downtown. On this night, there were a lot of military dudes out, and around here they have something of a bad reputation. And, not to disappoint, I had the few with the bad rep following/catcalling me. After a few good paces, I dipped into a coffee shop and got some hot tea in case I needed to use it as an element of surprise and run/scream in the other direction. Thankfully it didn’t get to that point, and due to how long I was walking they gave up after a while (whew). Eventually I made it to Gogo’s thanks to a friend and the night kicked off. After a “sexy painting” bagged drink, I ended up hitting Who’s Bob, a hip hop club (JEEEP?) and my favorite place for some free drinks, Bombay. Some of my friends were celebrating their birthdays so the shots kept flowing. Too many of them…on our way out, the owner stopped us with another round of shots. AHHHH. After dancing like a maniac and a few drinks, somehow my night ended around 3-4am.

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Saturday I met up with some good friends from far away to see the Daegu Colors parade. It was fun to see everyone lined up in the streets, and many of the performers were kids from the local schools. Some dressed in colorful, showy outfits and some with traditional Korean wear on, they were all adorable~ As we were waiting for the parade to start, one boy from the parade line took up his chance to speak to me in English, but what he said, all in one breath, was “Can I have you number? Sorry!” LOL~~ Off to a good start with the English, little dude.

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There were quite a few characters in this parade, and what my friend noticed was how revealing some of the outfits were. For a conservative culture, there were women with body paint parading, plenty of belly dancer outfits, and a stripper pole on a truck, complete with pole dancers, awkwardly swinging around as the truck jolted forward through the parade. It was the best kind of unintentional humor.

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Maybe an hour into the parade we started getting hungry and we had a craving for some 감자탕 [Gamjatang], which is an absolutely delicious pork bone soup/stew (it’s also pretty fun to say~). Before we could find a place, we stopped into a curious little shop on the street called 마약빵 which translates to “Drug Bread” LOLWHAT. Apparently the little shop was featured on TV so it was pretty legit. There was a line of locals going out the door, and luckily we snagged a few rolls from the last batch they made before closing! :D So what the heck is “drug bread”? It’s a warm, freshly baked roll with a powdery crumb topping that has a sweet corn and some kind of sauce filling. More on the savory side, it was great for staving off the hunger as we looked for some gamjatang. It might be called drug bread because when you’re finished with a roll, you end up looking like a crackhead with crumb powder all over XD

We finally found a place near the military-styled seafood place that I visited before, and ordered a large pot of steaming, fall-off-the-bone pork goodness. It was huge, filling, and we stayed for a while just trying to finish it up. When you get gamjatang, they place a little stovetop on your table and give you the huge pot of stew with vegetables and partially cooked meat inside, and you cook it for a while before sharing the stew. We tempered the meal with some shots of soju, glasses of beer, and good conversation. That bowl of steaming Korean soul food is going to be my go-to in the colder months.

Afterwards it was Gogo’s round 2 for me, and you’d think that I would remember how to get there this time around. I was there yesterday! I confidently led the group to the street that I KNEW had Gogo’s but…if there were tumbleweeds in Korea they would have rolled past. -___-‘ We found the place eventually thanks to some well dressed Korean dudes on the street (seriously, suit and tie…) and Gogo’s once again kicks off the nightlife. Word to the wise, the mojitos are notoriously bad, as my friend had the misfortune of getting one, artificial mint juice and all. Or, a word to the wiser, just don’t get addicted to these cheap bagged drinks full of as much alcohol as you want… x___x

After Gogo’s met up with some frands at MF Bar and wiled away the hours with more drinks (of course), beer pong and merriment. A few punishing rounds later and some pretty awful beer in our stomachs, we headed to Thursday Party. So if you’ve been keeping tabs, at this point I’m pretty much refusing any alcohol being placed in front of me and even though a friend bought me a gin and tonic, I had to set it aside. We were prepared to leave when my friend suggested that I give the drink to someone. I chose this hipster looking Korean dude outside Thursday Party and handed him the drink. All I could say in Korean was “free” (무료) to explain to the bewildered guy why I was handing him a drink. Somehow or another, we started talking with him and one of my friends that speaks Korean helped the conversation along. This guy ended up being really chill and we ended up having kebabs and going to a few restaurants that he liked in the area. Nothing beats locals~

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But now it’s like, late, and when he offers to take us to a 노래방 to get some food (because all the kitchens are unsurprisingly closed, it’s 4:50-something am) we just say “sure” and go with it. One person from the group KO’ed while my friend and I norae’d with the cool Korean hipster dude “Sean”. He knew a little bit of English and he had a cool perspective on life to offer. Admittedly, I think I was nodding off right in front of him while he was saying something but…it was all really insightful I’m sure. He must have smoked an entire pack while we were there though. Still airing out my leather jacket from that. After a few mysterious phone calls he invites his Scotch-Korean friend Bobby (I kid you not, I actually met a Scotch Korean) to the motley crew. He was really good at rapping in Korean, and he had the chains/bracelets/suit jacket on so he was p. stylin’. After a few songs and waking up our sleeping bro, we emerged from (Carouse?) noraebang into the crisp morning air. We parted ways shortly after, I said hi to someone else in the downtown area, nodded off in the subway and FINALLY made it back to my apartment. Another all nighter, another group of rad peeps, another crazy slew of events. And ya girl is keepin it going~ ;]


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Food and Dranks – Endless Sides

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So yeah guys, it’s a Sunday mornin’, rain is fallin’, and I am in an absolute daze. The past two days have been a marathon. From 6am on Friday morning to 4am today I had three hours of sleep. Whaaaaaat. And let me tell you, it was the most absurd 48 hours of my life yet.

Let’s rewind a bit to see what went down: I got a text from one of my good friends from EPIK on an unassuming Friday night. I had finished teaching classes for the day, and she invited me to a late dinner with a Korean “Wine Club.” I looked from the text on my phone to my pajamas…looked back at the text and told myself “what the hell, let’s do the damn thing tonight.”

After a flurry of clothe-changing and a powerwalk to the Homeplus station, I caught one of the last subway trains heading into Banwoldang. If you haven’t figured it out already, Banwoldang is pretty much the lynchpin of nightlife here. From Banwoldang, I caught a cab to a place between there and Beomeo. I handed off my phone to the taxi driver and someone from the wine club directed him. When I arrived, I met up with my friend and the wine club, a table of about 20 Koreans ranging from late 20’s to…late 40’s I’m guessing. Yep. A few ahjusshis in the mix, and I was the token foreigner amongst them.

We had some delicious, amazing blueberry makgeolli, and the pours didn’t stop. Apparently the group had already been drinking wine before that at a different location, and this was their second round. I graciously accepted the 술 and ate some kimchi pancakes with the welcoming group. Many of them were apprehensive about using their English but a few bowls of makgeolli in, everyone wanted to try some out on me. Especially the ahjusshis. After asking me where I was from, one of them (the one belting it out on the far right of the picture) told me “you are my style – Indian, my style” and asked to take a picture with me. This picture he then sent to his friends, apparently…

Overall there was a good balance of men and women in the group. At one point, one of the women encouraged me to pour one of the men a drink and call him “oppa.” Not missing a moment to impress, I one up’d that and said “오빠 많이 마셔~~” (oppa, please drink a lot~~) to which everyone lost their shit.

Well I’m not sure what time it was at this point but I know that since I had been there the group had gone through about 7 pitchers of blueberry makgeolli. The place we were at closed, and we moved on to Round 3 – 노래방 (Karaoke). Since orientation I hadn’t been to another noraebang, but it’s a lot of fun for me. I know a lot of k-pop songs so it ends up being fun for everyone to sing along. We headed over to a place called 토마토노래방 and for you all that can read hangeul THAT’S RIGHT: the place was called “Tomato Noraebang” LOL. Now here’s where things started getting weird…

You would think that after a round of wine, soju and makgeolli that Korean people would stop drinking. You would be wrong. At the noraebang someone ordered 10 bottles of beer and a few bottles of…something that was hard liquor but not soju. Some people were passed out for the duration of the noraebang session, some dudes were snoring, ahjusshis were serenading me with trot songs, and then this one dude started telling me sweet nothings in Korean…??!! I looked to my friend, not really knowing what to do…she couldn’t translate what he was saying either because he was slurring LOL…. He had k-pop orange hair, fake gold chain, strangely acid-washed-bleached jeans, and the overwhelming smell of alcohol. I politely repeated to him in Korean that I really didn’t know what he was saying, but there was no deterring the woo-ing as he picked up the mic to sing melancholy-sounding ballads. -__-‘

At another point, maybe at 3am ish, my friend and I catch the ahjusshi who took a picture with me quietly sitting there with his phone. Then we catch a glimpse of the phone. HE WAS LOOKING AT THE PICTURE…….LITERALLY JUST SITTING THERE STARING AT THE PICTURE OF ME AND HIM……….. o___o! Slightly skeeved out at this point, but mostly super tired, my friend and I put in one last song (Everybody by Backstreet Boys, of course), declared it 마지막 (the last one) and thus our noraebang-ing came to an end. We woke up the dudes who were passed out and we parted ways in the wee hours of the morning.

Since my friend came from far away, both of us went to my apartment and got a whopping 3 hours of sleep before the daylight crowbar-ed our eyelids open. We went to a noodle place near my apartment for brunch and it was heavenly – two big bowls of jjajjangmyeon (black bean noodles) and an order of sweet and sour pork ;___; <3 We were practically falling into a coma at the restaurant though, so we stocked up on some vitamin water and headed off to the museum we had planned to visit.

Took a micro nap on the subway ride to the museum and successfully got there without getting lost (hooray!). We wanted to see the Yayoi Kusama exhibit, which you can read about here. The museum and the exhibit was beautiful, playful, awesome, and well worth the pilgrimage. Can’t wait to see what the next show is going to be~

After the museum we stopped by the Lotte Department store, which is ten floors of glistening, shiny awesomeness. Luxury brands like Gucci, Burberry, Louis Vuitton, etc. packed every sparkling floor. At the eatery section we had some absolutely killer pho (fuhhhh) and kebabs?? Kebabs are a thing in Korea. They’re everywhere, with middle aged Korean ladies making them. I had a wrap at one of the kebab stands and it was delishasss. The ingredients were so fresh. I am really, really going to miss the food here.

So I parted ways with my friend here because she had to catch a train at this stop. I rode the subway back to Banwoldang, where I was supposed to transfer to the green line and get my butt home, when fate intervened and…I ended up catching dinner downtown with some friends.

At dinner, we had some samyopsal (**pork belly) and wrapped the meat in sesame leaves. Man, too much good food. Then someone ordered some bamboo soju and of course I had to try it. Mah gawd, that stuff was heavenly. So some shots of soju and glasses of beer later, I’m wandering around Banwoldang again with some more people I know headed to a bottle bar. This place lets you pick out as many beers as you want, and at the end you just give them your bottles and pay. So easy! I said I wasn’t going to drink anymore but I had a sip of a beer called Mariachi, an agave/lemon flavored beer, and I had to have one. (Guys, am I sounding like an alcoholic yet??)

Well, after hi-fiving/gang-signing someone else I knew who came to the bottle bar and finishing our respective beers, off we went again to a pretty low-key bar that played some classic tunes on vinyls. Good conversation over some more beers that were conveniently situated in an inset bucket of ice on the table. Afterwards I think we visited the club for a bit, cheered on one of my EPIK bros that was DJing, and dipped out towards MF Bar. What does MF stand for, even? (**”My Favorite” LOL) Anyway, it’s where everyone and their mother has their birthdays and it was PACKED. Apparently there were multiple birthdays that day and it was swarming with people who were well past tipsy. There were some pretty obnoxiously drunk, clumsy girls there, doing some ungodly things with some random Koreans. Yep, scum of the earth was festering at MF on that particular occasion. Not my favorite part of the night, but I did get to see more people I knew, met some cool new peeps, and…had some more beer.

Last place of the night/morning was Thursday Party, where outside a Scottish dude that I met at MF tried to start a fight with me. Getting all up in my grill. After he strangely started wrestle-hugging me and insulting/complimenting me (I have no idea what he was doing) I thought he calmed down. I was conversing with a few people when all of a sudden he comes back and starts forcibly poking my face. MY FACE. Assault poke. I didn’t really know how to react, What exactly does one do when someone starts poking you hard in the face?? WTF? I tried evading/backing away but this guy was persistent… Eventually after enough people tried to intervene he stopped. -__-;

After that strange, strange episode I took a cab home and arrived at my apartment at 4am today. Slept in, woke up and ate some ramen. Rested, recovered, and still asking myself what the hell happened for the past two days. Korea, that was a whole lotta weird in a short amount of time. Here’s to surviving it. Cheers, 건배~~~


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Art Update: Yayoi Kusama @ Daegu Art Museum

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Hey peeps, here’s a little post about the museum I went to recently~ I was able to take lots of pictures this time because it was photo friendly for the most part.^^

About a 30 minute subway ride away from where I live in Daegu, the Daegu Art Museum is pretty easy to get to (even for me). At one of the exits is a shuttle that takes you to the front of the museum so no need to figure out buses and stops to get there. The museum itself is absolutely gorgeous. Situated at the cusp of the city and the beautiful rolling green hills of Korea, the museum spaces are expansive and bright with natural light. Glass, steel, and clean-looking marble made the museum like walking through an elegant glass box. There is an adjoining wedding hall where a wedding was underway, so museum patrons and well-dressed wedding goers were strangely occupying some of the outdoor spaces together.

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The Kusama exhibit itself, titled “A Dream I Dreamed,” had a wide ranging appeal because of it’s playful nature and immersive environments. Some spaces took up entire halls, and some spaces were concealed around a darkened corner, only visible to those who venture close enough to see it. Unlike the Seoul Art Museum, there was generous amount of space dedicated to the on-display work, so one could view artwork at his or her own pace. The pieces ranged from installation to sculpture to painting to video/performance, which made the exhibit a new experience in every room. There was a lot of play with illusionistic spaces, mirrors and features of the face. One space that you could look into forces you to confront your own reflection while viewing the work.

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One room, titled “The Obliteration Room,” allows viewers to place stickers anywhere in the livingroom-like setting. We had to take off our shoes to get in, and despite the poopy diaper smell from all the toddlers running around, it was a really dynamic space. It changes as you are present, with people carefully deciding where to place their stickers. Those kids though…so many kids…*shudder*

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This space was really cool – you enter with a few other people and stand on a platform surrounded by a shallow amount of water. The mirrored door is closed behind the group, and the small room transforms into infinite space. Suspended lights change colors and ever so subtly move amongst the chatter of awed viewers. Kinda magical. (There’s me with the white pants LOL,)

In all, I really enjoyed Kusama’s exhibition because of the attention she paid to each and every space. It was well considered, with a minimal amount of work but carefully selected pieces and installations. The beauty of the museum’s immense space is not lost, but instead complimented by the pieces that lure you through the rooms and halls. A huge problem I often encounter in museums is when the artist/curators try to cram too many pieces into too small of a space, and THEN cramming in tons of people. A museum I visited in NYC before I came here had an exhibit that would emit a piercingly shrill beep every time a patron got too close to a piece, and given the space it was impossible to walk freely AND stay within a 3 ft. radius of all the pieces.

One thing I missed was a gift shop! Go figure! We awkwardly walked around the wedding area, the ground floor…nothing! On my way out I grabbed another pamphlet out of sheer disappointment.

Well, this has been your Korean Art Update! I hope to spend a lot more time viewing art and taking pictures so expect a few more of these as the journey goes on~


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Kindness in Korea

Hi all, I hope things are going well. I wanted to write a post today about how completely floored I am that a people as kind as Koreans exist.

You remember that post I wrote about that constant scowl I carry to ward off strangers? Well, that seemed to have vanished on its own. From greeting all of the teachers every morning to saying “hi!” to every student that enthusiastically calls my name in the hallways, the amount of time I now spend smiling has already outweighed the whole amount I did last year. Seriously.

You remember my ahjumma story, right? Well the kindness hasn’t stopped there, and it’s still only been a few weeks. Today I came back from the bank, where an extremely helpful bank teller has been helping me with the difficulties of banking as a foreigner. He doesn’t speak English too well, I don’t speak Korean too well, but somehow we’ve met in between.  I had a problem withdrawing money today so talking in broken Korean, miming at times, he patiently listened, furrowed his brows, sometimes laughed, and eventually figured out what I needed. At banks here, they give you water or coffee as you wait, and he got up abruptly to get me some when I told him I didn’t have lunch yet. We talked a little about chuseok plans and at the end of the trip he said to come back again soon, to which I replied 당연하죠! (of course! ^^)

One day my class had a field trip to the downtown area of Daegu where we painted book shelf/stand things. It was a little too big to fit in a backpack so I carried mine home in my arms. On the subway, I chose to stand because all the seats were full, and suddenly an old woman snatched it out of my hand! WHAT? But then I remembered that sometimes this happens – a seated stranger will sometimes offer to carry your things if you end up standing on the subway. Nice, huh? I bowed and thanked her, when behind me an elderly man asked me, “where are you from?” I replied in Korean and had a short conversation. When a seat opened up, I offered it to another elderly person standing up, and the good feels practically filled the entire subway car. I made sure to thank the old woman who helped me carry the book stand and she smiled for daysss. And as I got off on my stop, I got a “very beautipul” from the elderly man  ;__: <3

I’ve also ventured to have small conversations with local shopkeepers, who are always super impressed by my rudimentary Korean XD I will say that people here really appreciate when you try to communicate with them, if even in English. And it isn’t just confined to words, even a smile or a bow can communicate so much. I will say that my time here so far hasn’t been easy, and sometimes the staring eyes of people on the sidewalk get me, but thinking about successful cultural exchanges like these have helped me a lot. In all, I am grateful that I’ve been welcomed here by such kind people to teach, and I want to try my best for them, even if it means giving up a seat or smiling through a rough day. So far it’s yielded amazing results.


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Food and Dranks – The Appetizer Round

Hey everyone, went out successfully last Friday, and effectively lost my voice! T__T Stayed in recouping from it to teach on Monday, and I did a decent job of it by drinking honey citron tea.

Friday night was a long night, and I’m sure if you stay in Daegu you’ll develop a feel for all the hotspots. I will occasionally write about the food and dranks (alcoholic things) here, but for now let’s start with my first trip out: “the appetizers.”

The first place I went to in the downtown area (Banwoldang) was a seafood place. The waiters(?) grilled fresh seafood in front of you, wearing a strange army gettup and hustling about. Honestly I was apprehensive of going in because of the crowd (all middle aged men) but really, the food was so good. The had clams on the half shell with some mozzarella cheese on it, delicately seasoned things, baby clams in foil, shrimps, and for dessert they had a roasted sweet potato mixed with more mozzarella cheese. Wow. So good. Not sure what the deal is with cheese, but it was placed perfectly so I’m not complaining. While enjoying the fare I had a few glasses of beer and some soju.

Before the group went to the next location, we dipped into a 7-Eleven to get a curious little glass bottle of what tasted like apple juice. At about $6-7, this is what’s called a “conditioning shot” that eliminates hangovers the next day. I have to say, the next morning I felt amazing. AMAZING. Worth the investment. I will sorely miss these little bottles of wonder when I go back to the States.

When you walk downtown on a busy night you will often bump into people you know, as was the case with me. Bumped into a few people we knew at a place called Bombay, where they have a nice lounge-y atmosphere and a pool table. Really liked this spot, kinda low-key and relaxed. I had a few gin and tonics with a cucumber garnish, which is always recommended by the bartenders. Apparently limes do not exist in Korea. The owner is a cool dude who offered us free shots on our way out.

Still going hard, we trekked over to a place called GoGo’s that offered mixed drinks in Capri-sun-like plastic bags. The drink that I had, El Diablo, is something like red wine, red bull and…other things, Who knows. It was pretty good though – gotta be careful with those next time. The venue is pretty cool; a little window facing the street where you order your drink and chat with people also on the avenue. Other than the cars trying to squeeze by as you’re conversing, super casual and kinda quirky with everyone holding/sipping on colorful, weird drink bags.

Last place I hit was Who’s Bob, which was a place that I was kinda anxious to see. Nothing too flashy; foosball table, beer pong, and apparently high(er) stakes pool. There were a few Korean dudes in here who had some flak. Went in the dude’s bathroom instead of the women’s one but who’s counting right? Definitely not Bob.

All in all, it was a good first trip downtown. Still phone-less and internet-less at my apartment, but I didn’t let it deter me from having a good night out. Cheers to more exciting nights in Daegu~


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Tuned Out

Ahh, middle school. Such an awkward phase, where we come up with gimmicks to make ourselves cool. We are at the stage of forming an identity – one that will carry us though the travails of puberty. Some are drawn to the “class clown” identity. For me, I remember having a single strand of hair on one side of my face because I thought it was hella cool. I also said “ya’ll” a lot. Anyway…after my first day of teaching middle schoolers I am keenly reminded of the phase, but this time I’m on the other side of the podium.

So I actually surprised myself when I taught today. I tend to get anxious delivering presentations to my peers but I was really at ease in the classroom. I projected well, didn’t stumble over words, planned well, and generally enjoyed my time teaching today. That being said, the first class of the day that I taught was pretty rough.

The first class was small, which made me relieved. However, it worked against me. It was a class of about 10 boys and only 3 girls. The girls were distant and didn’t engage in the class. Two boys were really outspoken, but in the “class clown” kind of way. Three of the boys were in the back of the room being big shots and throwing around each others’ pencilcases. The other five were talking in Korean about LoL. Meanwhile, I’m delivering an easy lesson about expressing opinions by introducing myself via “two truths and a lie”. Once in a while I caught their interest but they were all basically “tuned out.”

Truthfully, I would be too. When you don’t understand 80% of what the instructor is saying, it gets tiring. That being said, I used the simplest terms and slowest speech I could. They are simply not ready for a class led entirely in English.

My second class was a little better than the first despite some technical difficulties in the beginning. I had a list of riddles which were invaluable for my classes because I breezed through the powerpoint every time when I was sure I was going to spend too long on it. Backup activities are Godsends. My co-teacher for this class was on the quieter side, kinda lurking around and ethereally present…is she here? Not here? Thankfully it didn’t make too much of a difference.

Third class was the best. This group was the high-level English class. They were obedient, engaged, and willing to participate. It was a nicer atmosphere to work in. The co-teacher chimed in once in a while which was also nice. One girl came up to me at the end of class and told me that I was a “very kind and good teacher” which was gratifying and so, so cute :3

My last class of the day was pretty good, the co-teacher for this class was the most vocal throughout the lesson which sped things along. There wasn’t any hand-holding as far as waiting for the co-teacher to translate, but somehow after she said the directions in English everyone suddenly understood? Ok cool?

At one point during the day, one of my co-teachers was like “Why middle school? You should be teaching little kids, elementary…” as if apologizing for the behavior of middle schoolers. I am actually still glad it’s middle schoolers. Singing and dancing isn’t really my thang. And I feel like these students still need to get to know me as a teacher. Hopefully we can have some fun and learn a lot in my classes. I want to make English something that they like, not something that they are forced to do. It will take some time but with some more engaging activities I think things will get better. Can I keep all of my students from being tuned out? Maybe not, but I want to at least make it helpful for the ones that are tuned in.