Saturday, November 28, 2009

Episode 37: In Which DFM Helps The Chinese, And Blames The Japanese

On Friday (the climbing trip was last week), Ji-hyeun told me that her, Choi, and Na-ra (the only regular climber at Ace younger than me), were going out for an afternoon in Dongdaemun the next day. It had been quite some time since I had been to Dongdaemun and since I hadn't anything planned for the day I decided to come along (don't worry, I was invited).

Dongdaemun is of course one of the main gates of the old city wall (mun means door/gate). While most of the other gates have been destroyed by natural causes or arson (Namdaemun), Dongdaemun is still standing tall. Apart from the large gate though, the Dongdaemun area is probably most famous for its massive market. When I came here in March I did not explore the market as much as I had Namdaemun Market with Nelson (my Filipino friend), so I did not get an appreciation for just how large it really is. All that changed today.

Dongdaemun market is massive. Ji-hyeun told me that during the Silla dynasty (57 BC - 935 AD), part of the area contained within the present Dongdaemun Market was the major market in the Silla Kingdom (the precursor to Korea). Obviously, from my wording of that last sentence, the present market hasn't lost any of its size.

While the massive, nine-floor Hyundai Department stores are impressive in the range of products they offer, customers are nonetheless often limited in variety. At Dongdaemun market though, customers will be blown away by the incredible number of stores, each specializing in a different product/service. I saw a few shops selling more or less just umbrellas, and one building contained three large floors, with 70+ merchants on each floor, all selling fabric and other sewing related materials (buttons, snaps, etc.).

Next, we strolled along Cheongyecheon (nothing new to talk about there) and through the famous Insadong street I've talked about many times. This is my third time walking the length of Insadong street, and at least my fifth time here in total. It's promoted heavily by the City of Seoul as a must see experience, and touted for the "traditional" souvenirs, but to be honest after five visits it is no more exciting than Whyte Ave in Edmonton (which is to say it is not entirely without its merits either).

(To be fair to Insadong, there were actually a few master craftsmen working their art, like this man making hand made tops that spin perfectly in place.)

When you tire of shopping in Dongdaemun Market, you can visit one of the numerous food vendors crammed so close together that if you rub your eyes whilst walking you will easily miss one. Compared with the over-priced, poor quality, poor service restaurants that are overrunning Alberta (or at least were, before "the crash"), Seoul's tiny, inexpensive, "hole-in-the-wall" restaurants and cheap street vendors are what I imagine dining in Heaven would be like, if there was dining in Heaven. I've written before about how much I enjoy the culture of eating and sharing food in Korea, and being able to share it with my friends from Ace was another highlight of this great day.

Before we walked through Insadong street, we went to Tapgol park. Tapgol means "pagoda," and there is a 12 m, 10 level marble pagoda in the centre that is National Treasure #2 for Korea (it's surrounded by an ugly glass case though, so I didn't take a picture).

Constructed in 1471, the pagoda was apparently the only thing left remaining from Wongaksa, a temple which was destroyed in 1515. While I cannot find any evidence to support it, and the date of destruction would seem to suggest against it, I'm going to go ahead and blame the Japanese for destroying the temple, because I'm half-Korean now and so I hate the Japanese.

Tapgol Park was also the site of the signing and reading of the Korean Declaration of Independence to Japanese Colonial rule, on March 1st, 1919. However, as Ji-hyeun said, it is now just a place for "old men to kill time."

Eventually it was time for my Ace friends to leave (we had been out for four and a half hours), but I decided to hang around in Jongnak station for a while (it had a book store) until I received a phone call I was expecting.

While I was admiring the subway map and how I had walked past three subway stations, on three different lines, during the afternoon, a couple of Chinese tourists approached me to ask me for advice.

They were in Seoul for only three days, and wanted to know how to get to Itaewon and Apgujeong, and which place I thought was more exciting. Having lived in Itaewon for two months, and having received second rate dental service, from a "first rate" dentist, in Apgujeong, I could happily tell them to go to neither, but rather walk along Cheongyecheon and visit the nearby Gwanghwamun and statue of King Sejong instead.

* * * * *

Back in April I met a young man from Slovenia, visiting his girlfriend, on the subway. His name was Mitja, and we had communicated with each over the summer while he was finishing up his degree in Physics. Coincidentally, he was back in Seoul at the same time I was, and today we decided to meet up in Anam-dong where he lives (Anam-dong is nearby my one of my schools, and is where I have coffee with Elise every Thursday).

I had only planned to talk for an hour, but anyone who knows me knows that is an impossibility. I felt sorry for Mitja's girfriend, because she was the odd person out on what amounted to a non-stop, four hour conversation between two people who really like to talk... way too much.

I probably should have paid better attention to the time, because when I tried to get on the subway I found out that the subway from Anam-dong closes a lot earlier than that from Jeungsan (my home station), and I thought I might get stuck on the other side of the city.

Sadly, I was able to flag down a taxi (sad because they were now operating on the increased night prices). I was hoping to just sit quietly in the back and watch my money disappear as the numbers on the meter raced higher, but the driver insisted on chatting to me in Korean the whole trip.

Amazingly, I was able to understand almost everything he asked, and we ended up having a pleasant conversation. The driver must have been appreciative of my efforts to learn Korean, because he soon picked up the pace, and it wasn't long before we were racing across Seoul at well over the speed limit. I can say for certain now that the grip on the Sonata's tires far exceeds the grip between the bottom of my jeans and the seat.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Episode 36: In Which DFM Goes Bouldering In Bukhansan

During this visit and my last visit I only managed to make it out to the mountains to climb twice (once each trip). I was hoping that I would be able to make it out at least two times this visit, but all of the Ace trips since my leg burning fall seemed to be multiple day camping trips, and I have been too busy lately to be able to afford to lose a weekend climbing. Fortunately, Ji-hyeun brought to my attention a half-day bouldering trip to Bukhansan (the large Park just North of Seoul that I used to hike frequently my last visit, and where I ran the half-marathon) that Ace was planning to take, and I jumped at the chance to not only get a second climbing trip in, but also my first serious outdoor bouldering experience.

Apparently the Ace climbers had just recently heard about the bouldering at Bukhansan a few weeks ago from a foreigner. I was rather surprised since I had known about the bouldering there for some time.

Speaking of KOTR, back in May I went to the outdoor climbing wall at Boramae Park with Perry. Just before I was about to leave, an American from Idaho came to the wall. His name was Tyler (I think), and he told me he was on KOTR as well. Just this week Tyler decided to start climbing at Ace, so it was quite a surprise to see him again on Monday. But I digress...

Obviously I had a good time bouldering, but my words could not do justice to the wonderful afternoon, so instead I'll show some pictures.

(Choi setting up the crash pads, while the other climbers have a "safety meeting." This reminds me of unionized road crews back in Alberta.)

(I know some crazies tried to climb up that mammoth boulder on the left, because I could see the chalk marks on all the "hand holds," or at least where someone thought there should have been a hand hold. Thankfully decided to stick to the baby boulder on the right.)

(Some of Ace's veteran climbers on a V2/V3.)

(A break for lunch. What would a Korean climbing trip be without a feast?)

(I hate when the hardest move is the first move.)

(Choi and Rina sending a V3.)

(A fun, overhanging V3.)

(Not even Choi could figure out the finish of this route.)

(Here, Perry's friend who climbed with me and Perry in the Boramae Park post, and whose name I still haven't learned, shows classic bouldering form on yet another V3.)

(Of course we all went out for a big meal afterwards. This is the same restaurant I've been going to with Ace for some time, but I finally figured out the name of this meal: Dalkhanmari.)

And thus ends another great day in Korea.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Episode 35: In Which DFM Helps The Government Of Seoul, And Becomes An Alien

Last Thursday Elise had to meet a friend, so we couldn't meet after work like we usually do. This week she tried to make up for it by taking us to the Ddeok Cafe to celebrate my birthday. The Ddeok Cafe is, like the name would suggest, a restaurant that only sells ddeok.

As long time readers will undoubtedly know, ddeok is essentially rice that has been compressed into sticky, chewy "cakes," which are surprisingly delicious and come in a variety of shapes and sizes. When you think that rice is eaten so often in Korea the name for "meal" is the same for rice, it seems counter- intuitive to then have rice for desert let alone make a restaurant to sell it. Then again, Canada has an obesity rate four times higher than that of Korea, and the restaurant was packed.

After the one week remembrance celebration of my last birthday I went to Ace to take part in the November climbing competition. Unfortunately I forgot that I had taken my shoes home last Wednesday to climb at Summit and that they were under my bed when I left in the morning. Ji-hyeun was kind enough to let me borrow a pair of rental shoes from the gym, but I think they were about a decade old, and the soles had started to petrify. Needless to say, it wasn't the best competition I've ever had, but it was fun nonetheless.

* * * * *

On Friday I finally got around to picking up my Alien Registration Card (ARC), which was supposed to have finished processing on Monday, but I was too busy all week to pick it up. Actually, I was not too busy, I just didn't want to go.

After picking up my registration card I was asked by a woman to fill out a survey about the experience of foreigners in Korea. I had read the results of this same survey given in spring, and I wasn't sure how six months could make a big difference.

While taking the survey I did notice some flaws though. It took me about half an hour to complete because I actually thought carefully about each question, but after I finished I was left wanting to answer more questions. For instance, how can I accurately give my opinion on the quality of "living in Korea" when the category involves water quality, neighbourhood cleanliness, house quality, etc.? I love the neighbourhoods, and while the houses are small, Americans and Canadians are spoiled with the mini-mansions they call bungalows anyway. However, the tap water literally disintegrates my gums and I've had to be extra careful about not using the tap water to brush my teeth. If I want to give high marks for the cleanliness of the streets and low marks for water quality, how can I do that without averaging the two scores out and making it look like nothing was overly good or overly bad?

And then there was the section for "comments," which didn't exist. I'm not sure how the government is going to know how foreigners think the problems can be solved if they don't let us tell them. After all, surveys don't fix problems by themselves.

My night wasn't done there though. You may remember the MEC Chuseok party back in October when we went to Paju. At the end of that night, Vanilla's swing dancing instructor friend gave us all an introductory lesson to swing dancing. Well, today he was throwing a party at his house, and so Hyenii and I decided to accept his invitation (I'm always up for Korean food).

Hyenii had followed me to the Immigration Office so that she could come with me to the party. I asked her if she could find any signs for the Immigration Office leading up to it from the subway. She could only find one tiny sign in Korean, on the large sign out front, with fifteen other small signs for other companies in the building surrounding it, but nothing leading up to the building that would give us directions as I expected, and yes I'm still bitter about it.

Speaking of bitter, the trip to the party would have taken less than half an hour on the subway, but Vanilla insisted on driving in her car because she didn't like the smell of the people on the subway. I'm not trying to single out Vanilla here, or even Koreans. This is a world-wide problem that I absolutely hate. It seems that as soon as someone makes a little money, he/she all of a sudden thinks that he/she is too good for public transportation. Well, listen people, you're not too good, in fact driving your car in a city with what I consider the World's best public transportation system makes you nothing but a douche bag. That half-hour trip in her car car wound up taking over an hour and a half, because about a million other douche bags decided that they absolutely needed to drive their cars too.

As for the party, it was of course great, once we finally got there. Delicious Korean food + Korean friends has been a recipe for success that has never failed my since I first got lost and taken out for dinner way back in March, and it didn't start now.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Episode 34: In Which DFM Wishes He Had A Book Of Baby Names, And Takes Another Step Towards Turning Into Pigs Blood Stuffed In Intestinal Wrappings

After a wild Friday 13th, in which all the students seemed to forget how to behave in school (this is probably due to two weeks of interrupted class schedules), I was hoping to get some extra sleep on Saturday. However, I would have no such luck, for Saturday was a full day.

Seong-bok had phoned me the week before to say he had some more friends who wanted to see me. Because he is studying English on the weekends in Gangnam, and I wanted to meet in Sinchon, we decided to split the difference and meet in Sillim again. So, back Sillim I went for the third time to eat sundae at the same restaurant. I'm not complaining mind you, as sundae is my favourite food (remember, it's pronounced "soon-day;" it's not ice cream).

In Korea, many English classes force the students to take English names. I think this is ridiculous since very few foreigners would think of taking up a Korean name, even though English names are really hard for Koreans to say (I'm Dee Epp Emm over here). If it is a Korean teacher telling the students to make an English name, that's one thing, but I have serious issues with foreign teachers telling Korean students to change their names (even if they've been told by their hagwon to do so).

The reason I mentioned the English names is because one of Sung-bok's friends did not yet have an English name, and his other friend wanted to change hers. So, for the third time this week I had to come up with an English name. It's tougher to do than you'd think, especially without those handy book of baby names, and without appearing a moron by misspelling an already existing, perfectly fine English word/name to make your baby sound unique. While I won't be sharing my choices here, since I disagree with the concept of an "English name" in general, I put a lot of effort into coming up with fitting names for my new friends, and so I'm pretty happy with my choices.

After lunch with Seong-bok and his friends, I went to Sinchon (that won't mean anything to you though unless you know where and what Sinchon is) to meet a teacher's assistant at my Thursday school who wanted to hire an English tutor who could speak Korean. While I'm not fluent by any means, I'm the best she's going to get for the price she's willing to pay. I shouldn't say that she was willing to pay my wage , because even though I cut the going rate in half, she still thought it was expensive (which it was, but I worked hard to learn that Korean, and I also worked hard to prepare her lesson).

After the lesson though, my coworker and I went to watch a movie. There were no interesting English movies playing, since 2012 was taking up three theatres, so I suggested we watch the movie "Good Morning President," a Korean film, because I wanted to test out my Korean listening skills. Well, I failed. I guess I shouldn't have been surprised though, since there's only so many times even the worst writer can use "hello" or "sorry" before they decide to put something else in the script.

I thought the movie would be a comedy, and while there were definitely funny moments, I think it was trying to say something else too. I couldn't really tell though, because I had almost no clue what anyone was saying at any time. Even so, it still beat watching 2012, and it gives me a good idea of where I need to be. It also affirmed my belief that watching Korean movies and dramas is not "a good way to learn Korean" (as many Koreans tell me) when you can't recognize any of the words being said. Book learning is the key!

Episode 33: In Which DFM Has A Birthday But Doesn't Get Older, And Blows On A UFO

Thursday was my birthday. I didn't tell anyone though, so Eun-hye (the ballet teacher at the school I go to on Thursday) was all upset that she didn't know to buy me a present. When she asked me after school what I wanted for a gift after school, I had to think for a minute. I live a very frugal life, and pretty much anything I need I already have. Moreover, I already have most of the things I want, and the things I don't have are related to wisdom or life experience and can't be bought with any currency other than time. Consequently, I felt under the circumstances a cheap umbrella would be a good gift for me.

I've mentioned before that the Koreans I see are more or less petrified of the rain (just the other day I saw a man sprinting the ten feet from the taxi to his door in a light drizzle). While I still don't really care if I get wet or not, and would not normally have purchased the umbrella, I do have concerns about the contents of my back pack which cannot be protected by my jacket.

Conveniently for me then, the Koreans' fear of the rain has forced them to master the art of the umbrella. While I'm sure you can find small umbrellas in Canada too, in Korea I can buy them in a subway station or from the local corner convenience store. I was easily able to find a full size umbrella that folds up into a bundle smaller than a 500 mL water bottle for less than $10 at the first store I walked into (they pretty much all cost about $10 anywhere you go, so there was no need to shop around).

Eun-hye and I then went to a nearby coffee shop to talk, but after a while she had to leave for another appointment and I was left with a good hour and a half to kill before my MEC meeting. I figured I might as well treat myself to a birthday gift from myself, and so I headed to the Kyobo book store in Gwanghwamun (Charles and I went here back in September) to look at the books (I love books).

While there I found the remaining two books in the series of books on how to learn Korean that I'm currently using to study. At first I thought the series was to easy to be effective, but I've since dedicated myself to following its system faithfully, and I now credit this series' simple, straight forward approach to my recent exponential increase in Korean speaking ability and comprehension.

* * * * *

At the MEC meeting I was treated to a birthday cake and perhaps the most well thought out present I've ever received. Sally, one of the members in the club, had remembered me humming the tune to Astro Boy some time ago. She gave me her collection of really old Astro Boy comics, in mint condition, that she had from when she was younger. She also gave me an Astro Boy toy she found McDonald's to be giving away in a Happy Meal a few years ago. The toy included a UFO like object that has a gyroscope inside. The gyroscope can be revved up by blowing through a certain hole in its body. The revved up gyroscope-UFO can then be balanced on top of the Astro Boy toy's outstretched arm and "it really spins!" It's absolutely brilliant.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Episode 32: In Which DFM Goes "Camping" With His Students, And Learns His Lesson (Or Does He?) About Trying To Impress Girls

On Monday, Hyenii (the English teacher at one of my schools) told me that I wouldn't have class on Wednesday because the school was taking the children on a field trip. My boss however later told the school he wanted me to come along (I suppose he was worried about all the work I had been missing because of the school closures). While I would have liked to have had another day off, and having to wake up an hour earlier than usual to catch the bus from the school was not fun, at least I did not have to teach anything.

When I showed up at school I was told all sorts of different stories about where we were going. Some children said we were going to have a picnic, while others said we were going "camping." However, where we actually went was a smaller version of Edmonton, Alberta's Telus World Of Science (The Space and Science Centre, for all of you readers who don't have enough fingers or free brain cells to keep up with all the name changes the Centre has gone through).

Playing around with a bunch of fun science experiments all morning was quite fun. However, it would be a waste of everyone's time to read about it since you really had to experience them to be interested by them, so I won't write about them here. After the trip was over I was told to go home on my own by the subway. However, I decided to go climbing again for the third day in a row. This was a mistake.

I don't think climbing three days in a row was necessarily the mistake, but after an exceptionally hard day of climbing on Monday, and an ego-driven day of hard climbing on Tuesday (I tried to impress two of Korea's best young female climbers who were visiting the gym), I had absolutely no strength left in my muscles (없어). In the end it (trying to show off) was pointless, because both of the women were better climbers than me on my best days, and I was already weakened from the day before. Long story short, no one was impressed (at least one of them complemented me on my Korean).

There is a certain route in the gym that consists of 100 moves. Perry told me that the Korean name of the route translates to "Once Around The Village," which is perhaps the best name for a route I've ever heard. I've completed this route on three different occasions before this, but on this day I failed to complete even the first 20 moves (없어.)

Despite not actually climbing anything of significance, and probably doing more harm than good, I still managed to waste about three hours at the climbing gym this night. I was, however, able to worry that I may have negatively impacted my ability to compete to my full potential at next week's (this week since I'm posting this late) Ace Climbing Competition. I'll have to wait and see what happens after a good rest.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Episode 31: In Which DFM Tries To Become An Alien (Again), And Ends Up Getting Lost In A Maze

On Tuesday I had the second of two days off from work (go "pig plu!"). I decided it was time to stop procrastinating and that I should make a trip to the proper immigration bureau in Seoul. I can't remember if I had mentioned this in my last post but, for any of you who were not aware, last week I had trekked across the city (and by "trekked" I mean I rode the subway) to apply for my Alien Registration Card, as per the instructions attached to my work visa. However, when my number was finally called I was told that I was in the wrong office, and that I had to go to the new office. Since I forgot the exact name of the office, it took me half an hour of searching on the HiKorea website to find the address. Even forgetting the name aside, I couldn't find the address of any immigration office for half an hour. Click the link and see if you can do better. While the HiKorea website is easily one of the worst organized government websites I have ever seen, even when I did find the address things did not get any better.

The website did include the address hidden deep in its bowels, but did not include even rudimentary directions on how to find the building. Now, I should add here that it wasn't the end of the world, because I was able to find the location of the building and its nearest subway exit, via the wonders of Google maps and some private websites/blogs, but why was that even necessary? As far as I can tell, the HiKorea website is set up with the sole purpose of helping foreigners, so why wouldn't the site help foreigners find the Immigration Building (a building designed specifically to deal with foreigners), without forcing them to search for possibly unreliable information elsewhere?

Fast forward to when I actually got to the subway station. Wouldn't you know it, and I did kind of expect this the way things had been going, there was absolutely no mention of how to get to the Immigration Office from the subway station. There's always a neighbourhood map in each station, and the building was about a block away, so you'd expect a building as important as the Immigration building for all residents North of the Han River to be on it. Later, when I finally found the building through information I had received from an blog, whose author had the same problem as me, there was again no information inside of the building on how to find the Immigration Office! The person manning the information desk also couldn't speak English, so he was of little help. After some time of searching the building I located the Immigration Office, but it had inconveniently required me to pass through a maze of hallways to the back of the building and take a hidden stairwell to the second floor.

Once inside the office, the requisite forms to fill out were located as far away from the door as humanly possibly, hidden in one of the corners at the back of the room, and blocked from view by the seating area. This is relevant because the same forms were located right in front of the entrance at the other office, which in turn was located right near the entrance to the building, which had signs outside on the street directing pedestrians to its front doors. Additionally, the machine that hands out your number in line was hidden on the other side of the pillar, facing away from the entrance and the waiting room chairs so no one could see it.

Lest I sound like one of the numerous whiny foreigner bloggers already clogging up the Internet, I want it noted that I am not complaining that there was a lack of English signage. Certainly that would have helped me, but my complaint is that there was a lack of signage of any meaningful kind, as far as I could tell. I had actually gone to the trouble to learn the name of the Immigration building in Korean so I could find a sign outside if it existed, but it just didn't exist (as far as I could tell). Now that I think of it though, if any building in Korean may want to include a sign or two to help English speaking foreigners it's the Immigration building, which requires all English teachers and other foreigners who stay in Korea for over three months to register at the Immigration building.

While I have even more complaints, I feel it would be responsible to list some of the positive aspects of the new building and the Immigration department of Korea. Once I did find my way inside the office, and got my number, I found the workers to be incredibly fast an efficient. Unlike the workers at Everland/Carribean Bay, who wait a day and a half before letting the next person in line start the ride, the officers at the Immigration building give you all of about ten seconds to get to the desk after your number is called before they skip past you to the next number. The result is of course very low wait times, and a very happy DFM. Also, unlike Alberta, where it takes over two weeks to get your new driver's licence back from the government, my new Alien Registration Card will take less than a week to process.

To recap, Go Korea! Keep doing things as efficiently as you are once I get inside of your government buildings, but give me and everyone else a little help so we can actually get there in the first place.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Episode 30: In Which DFM Fact Checks H1N1, And Tells The Truth About Canada

I've been pretty busy this last week, so I'm a little behind. Fortunately, nothing overly noteworthy happened on the weekend, so it should be easy to catch up.

Many of the kindergartens in Seoul (and possibly Korea) were closed Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday because of the H1N1 scare. I was just now going to say that Canadians schools didn't close, but a quick Internet search revealed a report about one (just one) Burnaby school shutting down for a week.

I was going to write about my boring day off, in which I went to register as an Alien, but was told I went to the wrong office and would have to try again another day. However, instead I will use this part of the post to shed light on a popular, but unjustified fear amongst Koreans.

I really do wish I had a dollar for every time I've been told to "be careful" about the H1N1 virus from my Korean friends. Without too much exageration I could probably just about take a day off from work and be financially unaffected. When I ask my friends why they're so worried about the H1N1 virus though, I invariably get an answer along the lines of "there are many people in Korea so we have to be scared."

I suppose the reasoning is that because Korea has many people in a small area, the chance of coming in contact with the virus is greater than in, say, Canada. However, according to a recent report by South Korean health authorities, as of Nov. 4 only 45 people (in a country of over 48 million people) have died because of the virus. Compare that to the Public Health Agency of Canada's Nov. 5th totals of 115 deaths. So, really, you have nothing to worry about Koreans, 45 deaths out of 48 million people isn't that big of a deal. There are already about 3 billion too many people in the world as it is.

* * * * *

On Thursday my school had a "World Costume Festival," which basically involved dressing all the six year olds in costumes and holding a mock fashion show. If anything, like most events for children, it was just a lot of extra work for the teachers who had to constantly change the children in and out of costumes three times per class, and an opportunity to show off for parents, but at least there were some cute pictures. Here are some of the highlights:

(I like how the "Spanish" boy here is playing a ukelele.)

(This "Egyptian" looks really happy to be wearing a dress.)

(This girl can't speak English, so she often tries to communicate with me by means of her own made up language that sounds like a cross between a dog barking and a cat meowing.)

* * * * *

Last week at MEC (the English club), I learned that or leader, Tom, was gone on a trip. No one had any idea when he would be back, so I was asked to prepare the reading topics for the next week in case he was unable to prepare them upon his return.

I had originally planned to search for some interesting Korean articles - like Tom had been choosing so far - but I had difficulty searching for something about which I had no clue. Instead, I decided to fall back on what I knew: Canada.

Many Koreans think Canada is a land of milk and honey, and while I don't want to give them the impression that Canada is not one of the nicer places to live (because it is), it is far from perfect. So, I chose two articles that I found to highlight two troubling aspects of life in Canada in an attempt to broaden the perspectives and open the minds of those in attendance.

The first article I chose was about the Davis Inlet Innu nightmare. Of course it's sad that people are living in third world conditions in an OECD country, but worse yet that the government (and by extension the rest of Canada, including myself) does not really care one bit about the plight of these and any other Aboriginal Canadians (is that the PC term these days?). Koreans are constantly trying to apologise to me for racism, but they were appalled to see how equally racist (or should I say "classist?") Canadians really are. (Watch this excellent feature on the Innu from the CBC archives page for more on this tragedy - video 5, "I'll Never Stop Sniffing Gas.")

The second article I chose was called Canada's Shame. It is about the 42% of Canadians who are semi- and functionally illiterate. My Korean friends were again amazed at this statistic, since they consider the literacy rate in Korea to be 100% and reasonably expected the same of Canada. Much like the Innu story, this article also led to an interesting discussion about our failing education system in Canada. My favourite question being one I've been asking myself for a long time: "If one teacher is better than another teacher, does that teacher get more money?" Of course not, are you crazy? Why would we want to do that?

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Episode 29: In Which DFM Brings Out The Dark Side In Korean Girls, And Chews The Heads Off Fish

The first couple of days of this week were marked by a "severe" cold snap. Severe that is for the Koreans, who were wearing winter coats inside, but I must say that 1 degree centigrade doesn't quite make for Arctic conditions where I usually live. That said, compared to the temperatures in the high teens we've been getting the previous week the change was still unpleasant. It also made me realise that I have a "clothing gap" between my light shell of a coat that doesn't really keep out the water when it rains, and my ski jacket that will probably be too warm even for the coldest of Korean winters. Luckily I noticed my local Korean sweat shop sells fleecy jackets that I might be able to get for a cheap price if and when the need arises.

With the cold weather, some Koreans have gone seemingly crazy. A Korean friend even told me that the two Seoul subway companies have a mental health counsellor on staff now because employee stress has risen as a result of dealing with the ever increasingly stressed out passengers.

How does this directly effect me? Well, the hard work the two Seoul subway companies spent to help create a respectful environment during my four month absence from Korea, seems to be for naught. On at least three separate occasions on Tuesday, an old Korean woman tried to sneak in to the subway train before even one person had left.

To put this in perspective, the behaviour of a fair number of Koreans in subways is rather rude by "Western standards," but a pet peeve of most of the "foreigners" I talk to is the fact that the people waiting outside the train will try to sneak in before everyone coming out of the train has left. I have to admit that I also get annoyed by this, but usually they only try to sneak on just before the last two people leave, so I can forget about it. What really irks me though, is when an old Korean woman (it's always an old Korean woman; they're the rudest of all Koreans, I'm sorry to say) gets paranoid and tries to push people out of the way to get to an empty seat that doesn't exist. It irks everyone else too, because most people would have given her their seat anyway (not me though, because they annoy me). On the subway on Tuesday though, I saw an old Korean woman try to sneak onto the train before the one person leaving had even taken a step. This man put his hands on her shoulders and pushed her back off the train, and gave her a short lecture on not being rude. This man is my hero, and this moment was definitely the highlight of the week so far for me.

Another funny story involved Sticker Girl at my school (everyone remembers Sticker Girl, right?) The story involves a new teacher from Paris who I had to show around my school to give her an idea of what to expect and how to teach for my company. Since I knew it would be tough for her on her first day, I tried to get her to sit by a friendly child so that she could feel welcome. Unfortunately, I didn't think things through clearly because Sticker Girl was quite cold toward the new teacher. Afterwards she (the teacher) asked me what she had done wrong. I told her, "nothing, Sticker Girl has a crush on me, and she views you as the enemy because all the boys said you were pretty." The new teacher said "oh yes, I didn't realise that, she must really hate me." She's only 6 years old, but she's already mastered the Western female art of being overly jealous. Good work Sticker Girl.

In other exciting occurances, I met Perry again on Tuesday (Tuesday was a good day). He had been on a trip for the Korean government, leading a team of Korean youth up mountains in Italy, apart as well as being overly busy with his booming public speaking/personal motivation business. As a result he had not been climbing since July, but when he returned, it was "business as usual" and I went over to his house after climbing for some delicious food. This time his wife was not home, so we were forced to make do the best two "bachelors" can do. Perry bought some Korean spicy ramyeon noodles (which aren't so spicy for me any more) and tofu. He then mixed this all together with an egg and microwaved some fish that we ate head, bones, skin, tail and all, which is ironic since Koreans will peel all of their fruit before eating it because it's either sprayed with "chemicals" or "not delicious."