Seoul Weekend Part I

I went up to Seoul for Christmas last weekend.

I had wanted to meet up with some friends, including someone who I knew in HS who was working there for a few weeks. But this was not the Seoul purpose of my visit.

My seoul had grown weary from a mild case of island fever. I could feel it from the nasal congestion in my head right down to the seoul of my shoes.

I also was getting tired of bibimbap and kimchi and mugwort and fatty meat in lettuce leaves and bad pizza. I needed some seoul food. But not filet of seoul.

As it happened, I spent part of Christmas at a mosque.

This was the view from the mosque:

I spent Saturday mostly in Itaewon, the foreigner/expat part of the city, which was great, because I basically felt like I was NY or Boston. I had schwarma, thai noodles, and bought $100 worth of books:

Dance Dance Dance by Haruki Murakami

Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail by Hunter S Thompson

A NY Times Crossword Puzzle Collection

The Time Machine by HG Wells

Miss Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

The Mysteries of Pittsburgh by Michael Chabon

The Yiddish Policeman’s Union by Michael Chabon

Selected Short Stories by DH Lawrence

And a super secret gift that I won’t give away now

Also, check out these fancy dresses:

I waited until the last minute to find a hotel room, then went for a nice walk around the neighborhood. Observe:

 

 

That’s Seoul Tower, on the top of Namsan.

That bakery was really nice, especially the bathroom, where I was able to shave and trim my nose hair.

Later that night, I ate bad mexican food (like a crappy Chipotle knockoff) and went on a frustrating and stressful search for an indian restaurant where I was supposed to meet some friends.

Speaking of which, it turned out my seoul mate was working nights installing something for Samsung and then sleeping during the day. Her seoulless bosses were making her work on Christmas Eve. That’s rough.

Anyway, back to the cab ride; the driver took me to the completely wrong part of the city, and nobody I asked knew where or how to get to the Global Cultural Center or whatever the hell it was called. I went to the WRONG Indian restaurant, then finally when I got to the right part of the city, couldn’t find the street, then when I finally got to the Center, couldn’t find the sign that said “indian restaurant”, and when I did, I ran into my friends as they came down the elevator.

However, we did end the night at a lovely jazz club and then went dancing. Apparently I forgot to say goodbye. But I did look good in a bowler hat. So its okay.

 

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Santa Claus Comes to Seogwipo

Last friday, my school had its annual Christmas party for the children, and I was coerced into dressing up as Santa Claus. Actually, that’s a bit misleading. I was coerced into wearing holiday-themed pajamas/dressing up like a criminal doing community service. Here’s a mug shot:

See how happy I look in that photo? By that time of the day, I probably wasn’t in as buoyant spirits as I appear. That’s because I alternated for six hours between chaperoning a “game” where kids tossed crumpled paper at a trash can (one man’s “bored at the office” habit is another man’s “really fun kid’s party game”, I guess), and a “market” where kids used fake money to purchase a load of junk, most of it things you couldn’t give away at a dollar store.

However, I was highly amused by a sticker set which included “Christmas Bitch” and “I’m a Douchebag.” When I pointed that out to a fellow teacher, it was removed from the marketplace.

It should be noted that the kids looked like they were having a lot of fun, and technically that is who it was for.

Anyway, here are some more photos from that truly precious day:

Teacher Kate looking appropriately horrified at this exercise in tacky American holiday shopping.

A closer look at some of the junk.

Some pink crap I loaded onto one table.

This little guy was having fun.

Happy Hannukah!

Now I’m “Sassy Santa.”

That night I went up to Jeju City because I was flying to Seoul Saturday morning. There was a Christmas trivia quiz, which I thought wouldn’t be that hard, until they started hitting me with questions like:

“What was the name of the prospector and the elf from the 1964 claymation Rudolph story?”

Or

“What country teaches kids about Santa AND Father Spanker?”

At least I knew who the Maccabees were fighting against in the Hannukah story.

Next post: my weekend in Seoul.

Hannukah and a Classroom Striptease

This was a bad week for school discipline. One of my students decided during the middle of a class that he was too sexy for his pants, and answered the question of whether he wore boxer or briefs for everyone who did or didn’t want to know.

In case he forgot there was a teacher in the room, I let him know very vocally that this was inappropriate and a pretty fast one-way ticket to see the director of the school. As it turns out, nobody in positions of authority were downstairs, so I gave Jinhee a call.

Here’s our conversation:

Aaron: “Jinhee, a student just pulled his pants down in my class.”

Jinhee: “What? What happened?”

Aaron: “A student pulled his pants down in my class!”

Jinhee: “Well…were there any girls around?”

Aaron: “….No.”

Jinhee: “Oh. That’s okay then. Cultural differences.  Just let him go back to class.”

????????????????????

Since this wasn’t really what I wanted to hear, I took him up to the third floor office so he could get reprimanded by the boss’s wife. Here, the student denied everything, and then we got THIS exchange:

Aaron: “I saw his underpants!”

Boss Wife: “What color were his underpants?”

Aaron: “White.”

Student: “Nope. Sky blue. See, you didn’t see them! Teacher you lie!”

Ugh.

At that point I just left the student there and went back to my class. Later on he came back and apologized, explaining that this is not considered to be ‘unusual’ to mistake a classroom for a Chippendales.

Despite the fact that nobody seemed to consider this inappropriate, I’m calling Bullshit on cultural differences. A classroom, even a hogwon classroom, is not a men’s locker room. Unless you’re playing Strip Hangman on the whiteboard, I don’t expect any clothes to come off in my classroom. It’s also really cold this time of year, people should be adding layers, not shedding them.

Besides, there was a girl in the room. I’m very certain the CCTV camera is a woman. And the eyes of the CCTV never close.

In grander news, I hosted an early Hannukah party this Thursday, and it was a great success. Hannukah doesn’t officially start until next week, but I was impatient and besides, is it ever too early to get into the holiday spirit? I spent almost the entire week preparing to turn my apartment into a place that humans could live in. It was a very ambitious project, but eventually I succeeded.

I also finally got my gas fixed, and took the first hot shower in my apartment since I arrived. This had to be one of the top 10 best showers I’ve ever had.

On Wednesday night, I stayed up until 5 am peeling potatoes to make latkes. I also met my neighbor for the first time since I’ve been here. She was angry because even though they’re allowed to leave their garbage on the landing, when I tried to do it, this was considered to be rude. My neighbor was so angry she screamed at me in a language I didn’t understand my whole trip down the stairs. I hope she got some satisfaction out of this.

The holiday package I received last week turned out to be quite useful. In addition to latkes and shrimp rolls (whatever, it probably wasn’t a kosher kitchen anyway), we spun dreidels, drank wine, and some people were forcing my Beaker puppet into doing unspeakable acts. I found Beaker hiding under the couch the next morning. Also, after enough wine and beer, people were throwing 100 won coins and popcorn around my apartment.

I woke up the next morning to a disaster area, and it took a full two days before I summoned the courage to clean it all.

Also at this point I’d like to give a shout out to my co-worker Charlotte, who ended doing the majority of the cooking, and even though she was dainty with the oil, the popular consensus was that her latkes were delicious. Her work did not go unnoticed, and I award her 300 glamor points for the effort.

I’ll put up photos of the party, and my visit to a seashell museum, in a later post.

Back-to-Back Birthday Weekends

I saw Tin Tin yesterday. My deep insight: I don’t like motion capture all that much.

Last Friday we put up Christmas decorations in our classrooms. I didn’t think it was going to be much fun, but then everyone got so busy at it and I ended up thoroughly enjoying the kids’ sense of holiday spirit.

My second class today got right to work on tearing down the hanging chains and snowflakes, and I was so pleased with their creative destruction that I made them all copy “The Lion and the Ant”, probably the most insipid and deadly story ever thought up for an ESL class, ten times. I knew THEY knew they had done something wrong because nobody complained. To hammer the point home, I had let the three girls in the class (who I knew did nothing) play JENGA the whole time.

This also afforded me to opportunity to try to plan out my week a little bit more.

I’m planning a holiday party for later on in the week, so I’m into Stage Two of my fancy apartment makeover. Step One, organizing all my junk, was dealt with last week. Now I’m going to scrub the floors and do all of that nonsense.

Some bad news: not only do I still not have hot water, but I’ve been trying for the first time since I’ve been here to cook inside my apartment, and I can’t figure that one out either. I have until Thursday to straighten this out.

Also, I pressed a wrong button on my washing machine and so I don’t know how that works anymore either. At least I still have my keys!

Good news: a maintenance man is coming tomorrow.

Bad news: he’s coming to paint flowers on my porch.

I don’t have any pictures from this weekend to share. It wasn’t all that great, anyway. I DO however, have some wonderful shots of people having all kinds of fun from two weeks ago. Enjoy these holiday snapshots:

A fierce moment with me and Robyn, a co-worker:

A baddest boyz you’re gonna meet on this island:

I’m not sure what this about. I might be trying to balance each guy on either side of my mustache:

A happy face:

Apparently these people are twins:

Beer, a cigarette, and two Americans making funny faces:

An extreme karaoke moment:

And an EXTREME KARAOKE MOMENT YEAAAAAAAAAAAH:

I have a lot of these photos. They were not taken by my hands, but they were taken by my camera. Thank you Charlotte. And thank you, camera.

Okay, bedtime.

A Holiday Package!

This is just going to be a laundry list of everything I received in the mail today:

*a motorcycle jacket

* motorcycle gloves

*LEGO figurines

*a fake LEGO taj mahal

*a fake LEGO sagrada familia (I might leave it in a permanent state of construction)

*A Beaker hand puppet

*a light up dreidel

*pants

*sweaters

*more dreidels

*more pants

*a menorah from Bed, Bath, and Beyond

*a cardboard menorah “wheel”

*an Oscar Wilde T-shirt

*a third pair of pants

*a steel 2D model of the Golden Gate Bridge

*’a new voice for Israel’ hardcover

*a turtle…vibrator?

and finally, my favorite:

*NARWHAL FINGER PUPPETS

I didn’t see any name on the boxes but there was an address so I can only guess where it came from. So:

THANKS BARI JEAN!

Aaron Visits A Friendship Center

Saturday evening I was encouraged to go for a walk to a very mysterious building which lies at the top of a hill overlooking Seogwipo harbor and the ocean.

The building turns out to be a Japanese-Korean Friendship Training Center, a sprawling complex which looks like it could be anything from a country club to a giant cult compound.

Doing some cursory research it looks like it might have something to do with Buddhism education, but at present, it’s hard to accept that anything that calls itself a “Friendship Training Center” is on the up and up. It doesn’t help that the main building is this massive high-rise which looks like a hotel, except for the fact that ALL THE LIGHTS ARE OFF. It’s like a giant facade. The front foyer was lit when we walked towards it, but my investigative partner was either too responsible or too GUTLESS to allow me to try and walk in.

Actually this is probably a good thing. It’s just as likely trespassing on a “Friendship Training Center” will get you mowed down, or even worse-brainwashed-as it will lead to anything good.

In addition to the hotel building, there are about fifty or so villas encircling the area, and behind the hotel is some really beautiful and bizarre landscaping. Walking around the back also ends in some cliffs overlooking the ocean, which is really beautiful.

There is a strange lilly-pond, some Greek columns, busts of several eclectic figures from history including William Wordsworth, and a giant stone sculpture which looks like an orange wedge to me.

Finally, there is a sculpture of a naked girl and a boy who is crouching on all fours staring at her breasts. He’s about two feet from them. This was hilarious but it confused the hell out of me.

It has to be seen to be believed. And it will be seen. Because I will go back there  and take pictures.

In other news, I finally had my long awaited second cheeseburger at the Seosokkak Stone Cafe, and walked along the ocean back to Seogwipo. The walk along that stretch of the shore is probably one of the prettiest on the island, as you pass several small islands and rocky tidepools. This trek is also in need of a return visit, perhaps once a week, when I have my camera. I also managed to pick up a cowboy hat, which has been labelled everything from “too cool” to “too much.” You be the judge:

It looks like I’m scary poor Lily in this picture. But that would be a misrepresentation. Anyway, she’s from London, so I’m not surprised that my sudden switch from Jeju Jew to Urban (or is it Midnight?) Cowboy would be off-putting. I also think it was cold outside.

Friday night was a birthday party and there was a lot of singing and a lot of drinking. I would up sending text messages at 5 am in a Buddhist prayer room on the 8th floor of an apartment building. I woke up in bed next to a mostly naked man. I sort of ended up there by choice. Later in the morning I was chastised for crashing five minutes from my flat. It seemed so far away at the time, though.

I was punished for being this lazy when I left my keys there and wandered around all Saturday, having been banished from my home.

I’ll post some fun pictures of Friday later on this week.

In other news, I am now a reporter in at least two different countries. I covered a story for the Jeju Weekly about a kimchi-making charity event. Here are some fun photos:

And a final message: Thank you Jose Reyes for the memories. And right now, I’m feeling a stronger allegiance to the Kia Tigers or Lotte Giants than I am for the New York Mets.

Mustache Time

My students are trying a new strategy to make sure I’m not lonely. Instead of asking me if I have a girlfriend, they are just telling me straight up. A recent conversation:

STUDENTS: Teacher, girlfriend?

ME: Yes I have one in the USA (a safe answer).

STUDENTS: Teacher you lie. (ouch)

ME: No, I don’t lie, her name is–

STUDENTS: Teacher, you have girlfriend at Yale. (surprise!)

ME: What?

STUDENTS: The tall girl with the glasses. (who?)

ME: Who?

STUDENTS: Robyn teacher! (Ohhhh. Sorry Robyn, but…..tall? I guess to sixth graders everyone is ‘tall’)

ME: Oh, okay. Sure, whatever.

I really do enjoy the students’ attempts at matchmaker. It’s like arranged marriage in reverse, where the kids choose who the adults will have to be with. I wonder if relationships would work out better this way.

I’m also wondering if the students gossip about their own little Alternate Universe Yale, in terms of who’s ‘dating’ who and what’s going on with the teachers.

One of my students saw me yesterday and ran away. Another student saw me later on and started dancing with me in the street. I like the second student better.

Earlier this week, as the title suggests, I decided to sport a new look in honor of ‘Movember.’ I went up to Jeju City on Tuesday for what I thought was going to be a really fun “mustache party,” but by the time I arrived most people had already left and I was the only person who had a mustache.

The night turned out to be eventful anyway. Someone tried to start a conversation with, “so…….you like books?” Later on, I tagged along for someone’s birthday party and tried some chicken gizzard, which had the distinctive taste of something you would only eat at 2 in the morning on someone’s birthday after some drinks.

There was going to be some dancing and karaoke, but then drama happened, and that just ruined everything. I did wind up crashing at the apartment of another guy named Aaron. That was kind of fun.

At the mustache party there was a drink called the “Big Unit.” Up until Tuesday, I did not realize that the big unit signified anything other than Randy Johnson (who is ACTUALLY tall, by any standards, and actually kind of scary). The commercial for GEICO where Randy Johnson gets into a snowball fight is pretty hilarious. Anyway, now I know what the “other” Big Unit is. I feel indifferent about this new knowledge.

Speaking of baseball, someone tried to “explain” to me about what Moneyball is. I know Moneyball. I’m sick and tired of Moneyball. I would like to see the movie, just so I can confirm what I already know, which is that whatever merits the movie might have as a STORY, it is so completely fake and unrelated to what actually happened in real life that I don’t think I’d be able to appreciate it. I remember thinking after a time that the book Moneyball was a bastardized version of real life, and the movie is supposed to be a bastardized version of the book, so that makes it twice removed from anything in reality.

In the film, Brad Pitt plays Oakland Athletics’ GM Billy Beane.

Billy Beane is not my lover. He’s just a man who claims that I am the one. But the kid is not my son. (ba da ba da ba)

Anyway, here are some mustache pictures: