Friday, October 31, 2008

Korean Delivery

So, in Korea, pretty much any restaurant has delivery. Walking down the street you, most restaurants you pass have a couple of delivery motorcycles parked out front. Everyone delivers. I mean, your random fried chicken restaurant has one parked out front. McDonald's has delivery! McDonald's! In Korea, you don't even have to leave your house to have your fry-fix!

Korean Adventure: Monday

So, Monday morning I went into school with my fiancee. I was clearly still jet lagged, as getting up at 7am was absolutely no challenge. The trip to the school is a half hour walk. As we were entering the grounds, a kid pointed at me and yelled, "waygook saram," meaning foreigner (literally "alien person"). Coming from Toronto, Seoul is nowhere near as multicultural. I mean, I see a non-Korean person, or group of people, anytime I go to a busy area, but the vast majority of people are Korean, and thus it's hardly surprising that elementary school children have seen few foreigners. I was a bit surprised by some of the reactions, despite being told what they would be by fiancee. Kids would say hi to me in English, then runaway. The running was accompanied by yelling in the case of boys and giggling for girls. The other usual reaction is shyness and avoidance.

I met her co-teachers and the principal and vp. They're all very friendly and nice. Her co-teachers speak very good English, but most of the other teachers do not. The nurse / health teacher was also quite nice, and gave me a present of two neck-hankerchiefs with a map of Seoul and of Jeju Island.

I went around to the various grade 4 classes they were teaching, was introduced, and gave them the opportunity to ask questions. The usual questions were my age, height, favourite foods, sports, hobbies. There were a few odd ones like, "Do you really love her?" or, "How many other girlfriends do you have?". You know, left-field questions that only kids would throw at you. I was also called "very handsome" or "handsome boy" by several of the boys and one or two of the girls. This is apparently common for the English teaching men who come to Korea. The classes themselves remind me a lot of how my grade four and five French classes were, though a bit more high tech (obviously, as it's been a while since I took French), like videos as opposed to our cassette tapes.

Lunches are prepared for the students and staff. They so far always involve rice, kimchi, and a soup of the day, along with another dish that changes.

My fiancee's classes always end in the early afternoon, but she has to stay until the end of the day at 4. There was a staff meeting at the end of the day, and I was introduced to everyone and put on the spot to say hello and stuff. I was also asked if I wanted to come back all week to see the other grades. The grade sixes seemed particularly interested in me coming to their class.

After school, we headed off to Costco and signed up for a membership. Memberships are quite cheap here, and there are a few things common in Canada but rare or hugely expensive in Korea that you can only get (or only get cheaply) at some of the larger stores like Costco. For instance we picked up a bag of frozen mixed vegetables, which she hasn't been able to find anywhere. Plus, we got a decently priced 2 lb. block of cheddar (cheese is somewhat expensive in Korea).

I've never been to Costco in Canada and was impressed by the bulk in which you have to buy there. There package of cheese puffs was insanely huge! Also, we were a little hungry and discovered that nearly every aisle had a free sample of food and you could very easily tide yourself over for hours if you wanted.

Big Vodka

We went home with our purchases and got dinner from "Oh My Chicken", a nearby fried chicken place (fried chicken is very popular and everywhere in Korea!). It was amazingly good, and not too greasy at all. I must eat there again before I leave. Supper and again CSI on TV (three episodes in a row are on almost every night in English with Korean subtitles).

Throughout the day, the minor cold that I had from the weekend was getting worse, and by the evening I really wasn't feeling too well. With a bit of a fever, and my jet lag I went off to bed early.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Korean Couples Shirts

So, apparently the deepest sign of commitment two young Koreans can make is the couples shirt. Yes, both of you wearing the same outfit. Bigger than a ring? You betcha! We saw a number of them on our walk up Namsan. Unfortunately, we weren't able to subtly snatch a good picture. I'll try to find better shots before I leave but I don't want to seem too creepy.

My fiancee loves the couples shirt. She finds them hilarious, and convinced me to do it with her one day at her school. It was half a joke, and half serious. The teachers got a good laugh out of it.

Korean Adventure: Sunday

On Sunday we woke up pretty early, but did some laundry and stuff before we left. The first stop was Changdeokgung which was a secondary palace to Gyeongbokgung, built afterward and destroyed at the same time. It was however rebuilt first, and became the primary palace. The last members of the royal family lived here until passing away in 1989. It's more complete than Gyeongbokgung, and also has a much more forested and secluded garden out back. It was very nice. It was much more crowded than the palace on Saturday, and our English tour had a large number of people. My fiancee says that Korean people love going to there own tourist attractions. More so than other places. I believe it when seeing the huge numbers of people at all the places we went this weekend. We even ran into one of her co-worker with his family (7 people in one car).

The Main Gate

The Throne Room

Samples of the grounds and buildings

These four are buildings in the secret garden behind the main palace

Our tour guide and a map of the palace and secret garden

We then hiked up Namsan (the mountain and national park in the middle of Seoul) and went up the Seoul Tower. You can really appreciate how huge the city is by a) viewing it from this tower. b) realizing that there's a freak'n mountain inside the city. I must say, the view was very good, even with the slight haze that the overcast day provided.

Heading home we saw a 4 car collision. Well, 2 cars and 2 buses; clear evidence of the craziness that is Seoul driving. Actually, their vehical accident rate is apparently not bad, and testament to their reactions. The vehicle/pedestrian rate is quite high though, a testament to their recklessness concerning red lights and crossings. The one bus plowed through the sidewalk rail. I'm glad we were not standing there. We boarded another bus that was heading through downtown and got a nice adhoc tour of the city at night. The back of the bus however smelled very much of vomit.

For supper, we went to a very good BBQ place for some awesome Kalbi. CSI again on TV when we get home. Good day.


So, my Korea posts have been somewhat delayed. First, I forgot to bring my camera cable, so I couldn't download any photos until I bought a card reader for xD memory (my Eee PC has an SD reader). That coupled with a very busy schedule and yet another cold has put me a tad behind. I'll try to catch up soon, but since tomorrow is club night and the weekend is our trip to Jeju Island, it probably won't be until next week before I'm all caught up.

Monday, October 27, 2008

My Saturday In Korea

So, here I am in Korea. I'm taking this opportunity while my fiancee is working to describe my past couple of days.

So, I landed in Korea and after standing in customs for a while, I was let in. I met my fiancee at arrivals, which was awesome! 2 months is too long. We got on the subway, and one hour later, got to her apartment. I wasn't too tired at the time, but after some supper, I crashed.

Saturday, we were planning to head out with a group of English teachers to Seoraksan (Seorak Mountain, san means mountain) but, the bus tickets were sold out until later in the day, so we decided to stay in Seoul for the day, which in hindsight was a decent idea considering the amount of rain that hit in the afternoon. So, we went home and got ready to set out again. Up first was Gyeongbokgung (Gyeongbok palace, as gung is palace). This was the primary palace for a time during the Joseon dynasty, but was burnt down during a Japanese invasion. It was rebuilt during the 1860s and later partially demolished again. Here are a few choice pictures, for more, check out flickr.

The Main Gate

The Throne Hall

Throne Hall Roof and Interior

Rear Garden

There were an extraordinary number of cops milling around in the area. I saw roughly 12 police buses in the area. No idea really what was going on. My fiancee suggests police training. They were all very young, but she says that she has yet to see an old police officer, and suspects this is a feature of the compulsory military service. Research will be done.

After that, we had lunch at Mulan - Casual Chinese Restaurant, near Anguk station for some Jajangmyun (really long noodles with black bean sauce, delicious) and then wandered into Mary's Alley in Insadong, a touristy shopping area. All forms of souvenirs can be found here. There were awesome shirts saying "The DNA of Victory - strong", clearly proclaiming the power of Korean genes. There's also this "museum" of pop culture and toys called Toto. It's 1000 won ($1) to get in, and really, it's just some guys collection of toys and models haphazardly displayed in a room. I really don't know how it got into the tourist guide book as it was pretty lame. All except for these awesome post cards and stickers. Oh man, these are pure gold.

Come on! The gun? The random animal eying of each other? Awesome!

We then wandered off to the Korean War museum and memorial. They have an impressive collection of hardware out front. Much more than the Canadian National War Museum at least, since last time I was there, but they've moved since). There was also a traditional wedding going on outside, so we grabbed a few photos. The bulk of the displays are understandably about the Korean war. It was very good, though we were getting tired, so we blew through the post war stuff (Vietnam, etc.). Also, it started to pour outside, so we kept looking for an opportunity to bolt while it was relatively light rain. We found a good window, and left.

The War Museum and Memorial

The Ceremony

For supper we went to Pizza Hut and had a very tasty Crispy Potato pizza. They put seasoned potato slices on top. It's quite good.

No real plans for the evening, most people had left for Seoraksan. I crashed again (the jet lag helps me wake up early, but fall asleep by 9). Very nice first full day.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Korea Here I Come

Posted from the Vancouver airport upon my arrival.

So, here I am on my flight to Korea. In flight for ~20 minutes now. I won't be posting this until sometime after my arrival, as I have no internet at the moment. The detected "Free Public WiFi Wireless Connection" is somewhat deceptive, as I can in no way connect to it, making it somewhat less than a public connection. It is however free, I suppose.

Anyway, here I sit listening to the new Alanis Morissette album, which the entertainment system offers and I decided to give a try. It was listed at the top, I'll descend into the list shortly and see what they offer.

The family just the the right of me has a portable DVD player showing The Fox And The Hound, baby seems content.

I'm quite excited by this trip, and plan to take many a picture. Can't wait to see my fiancee, who continues to remain nameless in the blog world at her wishes. So, only another 17 plus a bit hours until I see her. Awesome!

Monday, October 20, 2008

All You Need To Know About Korea

So in celebration of my trip to Korea in 3 days to visit my fiancee (who's teaching there for a year), I've stopped procrastinating long enough to post these somewhat amusing clips from the "All You Need To Know About Korea" document her agency gave her before her trip:

On Beer:

Bring a couple bottles of your favorite brand for a special occasion. All the main Korean brands- Hite (aka Shite), OB Lager (aka OB Slobber), Cass (aka Ass), are light lagers (think Coors and lots of trips to the bathroom). Recently, Cass has come out with an evil creation. They call it Cass Red and its alcohol content is just under 7%. I’m fairly certain that it is normal Cass with a little bit of pure ethanol added to it, for I have woken up on numerous mornings unable to see, with a thunder storm pounding in my head. Avoid Cass Red – a more apt moniker ought to be Cass Black-out. Trust me.
On Items for Female Teachers:
  • Bras: If your bra size is larger than size AA, bring a year’s supply with you.
  • Shoes: If you wear shoes larger than size 8, bring several pairs with you.
  • Condoms: These are a good thing to have whether active or not. Asian condoms tend to break easily and do not cater to larger sizes.
More On Condoms:
Condoms: There is a reason why there are 46 million people in a country the size of Indiana or Vancouver Island. Korean condoms are small and notoriously unreliable. Bring a few boxes of condoms with you when you go.
A digression from the topic pf pets:
Koreans only eat a specific type of dog....only eaten on rare occasions- particularly as a male aphrodisiac in the summer....and when the dog is ultimately made into soup, this is what supposedly adds to one’s sexual prowess. Methinks Korean men would have better luck if they worked less than 80 hours a week, didn’t smoke like chimneys, drink like fish, learned their children's names and didn’t spend Saturday nights in hostess bars, but that is a story for another day.
On deodorant:
Deodorant doesn’t come cheap so be prepared to shell out for your Gillette Smooth Glide Gel, but can anyone really put a price on that fresh Gillette feeling? Costco offers discounts on multiple sticks, but selection is limited, so if you are particular about what goes on your pits, bring a year’s supply with you.
On Private lessions:
"Private classes are usually taught at a low Korean style table where you have to sit crosslegged for an hour at a time. For westerners not used to sitting in this position, it can be as fun as sticking coat hangers through your thigh. Don’t worry, after a few months you will be amazed at how much your quadriceps will have stretched, or you will become extremely adept at pain management."

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Zombie Walk

Now I understand why I saw so many people in zombie makeup today. It was the 6th Annual Toronto Zombie Walk. I saw evidence of this last year and looked into it, but completely forgot it's existence. There were a lot of zombies on the subway and street cars today (I travelled all around downtown picking stuff up and NOT watching House today). Now I understand

House May Be Ruining My Life

I've be procrastinating over a few things lately. Blogging for one. Part of this is the marathon of colds I've had lately. Part is my preparation for my trip to Korea. However, a large part I think is also the awesomeness of House, M.D.. I've been watching the early season lately, since I missed a good portion of them first run. It's really hard to stop. I could easily watch 5 episodes in a night and not get anything done. It's especially bad because there's so much going on in an episode that it's easy to miss the twists and turn if you aren't paying attention. This makes it hard to multi-task and do other things at the same time.

I didn't really consider all of this about my House habit until my I offered the 2nd season to my friend Daniel and he quickly turned me down saying that the first season almost ruined his life by how good it was. It may be ruining mine as I type. I should go to sleep (as I'm sick again), but feel compelled to go watch just one more.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

New Subway Cars

I was supposed to post these pictures a month ago when I took them at The Ex. Last year the TTC showcased two of the competing street car designs they were considering (one from Bombardier the other from Siemens) . Turns out that neither made it through, and the TTC has reopened bidding, but regardless, this year they were showing a sample of the new subway cars they're planning to purchase.

The interior, at least of this sample, wasn't too different than what's currently in use, with the seats looking pretty much the same. The new seems more spacious though, feeling wider on the inside. It featured hand grips running down the center of the car which will be useful. There were also signs to point out the next station, and the subway system map on the side was lit up with LEDs (not sure exactly what for). It looked good.

Oh yes, and the new map featured the new stations planned for the University/Spadina line.