The ‘Dumb Waeguk’ Card

Until I actually learn Korean, there are some distinct advantages to not knowing the language.

One of these is that, especially with Jeju natives’ tendency to be passive-aggressive, I can get away with doing some stupid things because people would rather not deal with the hassle of trying to explain that whatever I’m doing is inappropriate.

I am NOT advocating here being a rude jackass. I don’t cut lines at the supermarket or moon people in public or anything like that. Usually what I’m referring to is something innocuous like crossing the street when the light is red or something like that (cars will almost always stop, motorcycles and pizza delivery people are what you have to watch out for, those guys won’t stop for anything).

On Saturday I was able to play piano twice in places where I probably had no business playing. The first was at a coffee shop with a really really nice grand piano and the lady behind the counter was clearly nonplussed but she didn’t do anything besides glower at me and continue to play the elevator music in the background.

Someone who spoke a little Korean tried to explain that I was a “professional concert pianist” (who only happens to know the Beatles? that was a stretch). I compensated the establishment by buying two (delicious) cookies.

Later on, after we got drunk, I went through barricades to get to a closed cocktail lounge to play piano at the Jeju Grand Hotel.

“Quick!” a friend shouted. “Play before they run and kick you off! He’s coming towards you!”

The guy coming towards me first tried to yell at me to stop. When I didn’t, he just kind of stared at me for a minute or two, then slowly stalked around the piano to where I had knocked over some band stands and then finally poked my arm and got angry enough to scare me away.

That Saturday was fun all around. Me and some friends went twenty stories up to the top of the Jeju KAL Hotel and ordered drinks while gazing down at the city below. I must say that while during the day Jeju looks like a giant concrete nightmare, at night it sort of looks like a generic city, which is to say tolerable for a skyline view.

We also went into another casino. In some ways I am the perfect casino customer because my entire goal is just to have fun and I like to make stupid bets, while the people who ‘win’ make boring, calculated bets and accumulate slowly over time.

On the other hand, I don’t think I’ll ever find myself being a compulsive gambler, because while it’s fun to be mindless every now and then, it’s just not stimulating enough to basically throw money on various gussied-up versions of heads-or-tails, where the house has a slight advantage anyway.

The only game that I have ever, and still could, spend hours playing and enjoying myself is poker, and it takes a lot for certain people to understand that most forms of poker are NOT technically gambling, or at least casino gambling.

There is money involved, but whereas most games are the player versus the house, in poker its players versus other players, and the house just takes a cut of the winnings, with no actual stake (at least in theory) in who is going to win.

Anyway, the Jeju Grand casino is shitty but it’s much better than the “Vegas” casino, which is smaller, tackier, and charges for drinks. The foreigners who come to the casinos seem to really enjoy baccarat, and I mean REALLY enjoy it. I saw Chinese/Japanese visitors dropping thousands of dollars (that’s US dollars, not won) on this stupid game.

I think most people who are spending that much money on a game like baccarat are either addicted to gambling or need to really consider why they’re giving away free money to a casino, as opposed to donating to charity or even just burning it for a laugh.

Next weekend is the lunar new year, and I’m going back to Seoul for it. I’m also happy to announce that my shower water has transformed from ‘sort of luke warm’ to ‘scalding’, which is a real nice surprise. I guess it pays to take care of your gas bills, after all.

Also, the Time Machine by HG Wells is a fine read for one afternoon (its only 112 pages).



Where Did Everybody Go?

The public school kids have left for three weeks, to places where there is no snow and they can take stupid pictures of their stupid vacations and post them online even though nobody wants to see that garbage.

The hogwon/private school foreigners, meanwhile, get to experience the wonders of the Korean Hawaii.

This past weekend the island felt particularly empty. A good time to learn Korean I suppose. I lost a bunch of important things on Friday night, and on Saturday tried to do stand-up comedy routine at a particularly lackluster open-mic event.

I woke up Saturday morning really excited and spoke a 5-minute funny bit into my recorder. For whatever reason, either through lack of practice or lack of eating food, I was not in the proper state of mind and just didn’t deliver my material all that well. I don’t think it was BAD, but it wasn’t great. People were just drinking and talking, and I felt like I had to compete with them for attention in the bar.

At least Harold thought it was funny. Harold laughed. Thanks Harold.

I was hungry and wanting very badly to go back home after that, so I tried to sneak out of the bar before any more performances came on stage. “Aaron, you better not be leaving!” said someone.

Sorry, I did. Then I slept for 17 straight hours.

I got some terrible relationship advice this weekend as well. It was suggested to me that I find a 14-year old, for dating purposes or what have you I don’t actually remember. (note: this number was later adjusted to 18)

Then I was told before my next good relationship that I need to have several bad ones. This wasn’t a prophecy (I don’t think so anyway), it was simply stated as a fact, or trial that I must go through.

Now that I’m writing this, it doesn’t seem so bad. Whose fault does the badness of the bad relationship have to lie with? I’m perfectly willing to accept the blame.

All I have to do is find someone random, break up with them after a week, then find another person, break up with THEM after a week, and then I should be ready for something special. This sounds fine.

Back at school, there’s been a lot of turnover as this is the time of year when many students (and their parents) decide to stay at the hogwon or try out a different one. Some of my best, and worst students, have left without saying goodbye.

I’m getting a little tired of the younger students’ textbooks, although at the same time, since I’m teaching the same material over and over again, I’m getting better at knowing how to plow through it. Or not.

I’ve had to teach Base Camp 3 about 54 times since I started in August, and it’s my least favorite “textbook.” It’s about toys, which sounds like it’d be fun, but it’s a trick.

The lessons are insipid and this stupid boy in the textbook is flying kites which look more like girl’s panties. Nobody is ever going to tell this poor boy that he’s flying underpants, but he looks happy, I guess.

Every textbook has two songs. Once again, I go to bed tonight with these words stuck in my head:




Loud Noises in My Bedroom (???)

In Korea, if there’s a problem, you tell everyone except the person responsible for the problem.

Yesterday, I had a strange conversation with my boss. He called me in early to tell me that there had been a noise complaint called in to Yale about my apartment. I was keeping the neighbors downstairs up at night, he said.

I mumbled something about playing music and then went about my business.

Today, I came into work and one of my co-workers comes up to me and says that we need to talk immediately, which sounded ominous, although she assured me that I would find it amusing (and life-changing, which it almost was).

When we went for a walk, she asked: “Aaron, is there a woman in your life that you’ve been keeping a secret?”

Me: “Nope.” (sadly)

She: “That’s what I thought. But our bosses came to me and said that they’re extremely embarrassed because your neighbor’s have been complaining that you’re having loud sex every night and they find it very disturbing. They were so embarrassed to tell you directly that they asked me to discuss it with you. They think you might need to move out of your apartment.”

This being Korea, I now imagine this story having travelled around the entire office by now.

Anyway, I laughed and laughed. But within an hour, I was a little annoyed. Not with my bosses, because understandably this is a sensitive issue. It’s a conservative culture here and Yale is a Christian school.

But this loud sex nonsense. If only such a thing were true! However, I’ve had guests over at my apartment exactly once. Also, even if I’d had more frequent company, I don’t make sound effects.

So this came as quite a surprise. I was so confused! How could my neighbors be so confused? What did they think they were hearing?

I conferred a meeting with my bosses and firmly denied having done anything that would damage the reputation of the school, or having done anything remotely related to the complaint. I did, however, request to them to stay in my apartment.

I was PISSED OFF at my neighbors. Why should I leave because THEY were paranoid schizophrenics? Why didn’t they, if this was a problem, speak to ME DIRECTLY instead of calling the school? So I told my bosses that if my neighbors wanted to speak to me, they’d be more than welcome to, through a translator, but I had nothing to be ashamed of.

“Well,” my boss said, “the complaint came from the janitor’s office. They just assumed it was you. Is there another foreigner who lives in your apartment?”

As a matter of fact, there was. A couple (UK and French) lived on the third floor directly below me.

“Ohhhhhhhh,” said my boss. “It’s probably them.”

So the chain of communication went like this. The fourth floor neighbors, who may or may not be insane, but also have never spoken a word to me, contacted the maintenance office/landlord and complained that someone either above or below them (or both) was having loud sex. Then, the landlord, who knew that Yale keeps an apartment there, assumed that it was me, and called up the school. And the school, because they were too ashamed to tell me, told (all my co-workers?) one of my co-workers to talk to me about it.

But to the good news: I can now have all the loud sex I want, and just blame it on the couple downstairs! Hurray!

(coming up soon, another photo dump and hopefully an open mic night this weekend)


New Years Eve on Jeju

So I never really finished writing about Seoul, but we’re past that point now. Besides, not too much happened after I went to Seoul Tower. I spent 40 minutes or so at the war museum, hopefully I’ll go again and spend more time there.

I had a two-person karaoke session, which was fun.

This weekend, New Years came 14 hours earlier than I am accustomed. I also got a 4-day holiday weekend, which is the longest of the year for people working at Yale.

We celebrated a friend’s birthday on Thursday, going ice-skating in a wonderfully atmospheric rink set amid an abandoned amusement park (I’ll put up pictures later). Then we climbed up a mountain and went back down to land in the casino.

Casinos are tacky. That’s an objective fact. Whether they are tacky fun or tacky sleezy depends I think on whether you’re winning or losing money at the time. Also if you go with friends, as I did, people can be hanger-ons and still get free drinks. If I do that about 30 more times, I’ll have gotten my money’s worth.

The only game at a casino that is both skillful and fun (sorry, blackjack) is poker, and there is no poker in the casinos on Jeju.

I spoke at length about roulette last post, I’m sure I’ll do it again at some point, but that “game” is incredibly stupid.

Friday was spent mostly in bed thinking about the gym. Also, I learned that nobody on this island knows what a “bris” is.

Saturday was spent mostly in bed, before finally going to the gym for real. Then I went up to Jeju city and spent the next 30 hours or so gallivanting around the island and taking up the new year in sloppy and expensive fashion, although with not even a photograph to show for it.

During this time, I only had meals at Indian restaurants, eating dinner at a restaurant called Raj Mahal two nights in a row and spending the first lunch of 2012 eating samosas and smoking hookah at the curiously named “Baghdad’s.” Conventional wisdom is that RM is better, and this proved to be the case: the food and selections are better, however, both are wonderful, especially to a south-sider whose access to non-Korean food is basically limited to the occasional cheeseburger.

Also, unlike “Zapata’s”, which is a noble Korean attempt at Tex Mex, RM and Baghdad’s serve legit Indian cuisine.

On New Year’s Eve, I went to a bar, and as is typical, can’t really figure out how I manage to spend 5+ hours doing nothing but dance, drink, and open my mouth.

Somehow, I wound up in a stranger’s car going to Sunrise Peak at 5 in the morning, which is exactly what I had planned on doing in the first place, but how it actually was managed has been lost to the dark corners of my brain.

Sunrise Peak, at the extreme east end of the island, is the first place where the sun rises in Korea (and on Jeju). It’s probably the most photographed tourist attraction on the island, you can probably google it and see a bunch of aerial photos of a green crater, which looks a lot different from the ground. Rising up in the middle of the night, it is a far more impressive monolith than when viewed against larger oreums (small mountains) in the middle of the day. That’s also possibly because during the day you can see people climbing up, so you have that perspective, while it looms much larger at night.

Sunrise Peak on New Year’s is apparently a very big deal on Jeju. There was a big festival the night before and when we got there all the tents were still up.

Since there wasn’t anyone I could talk to or anything to do once we got to the top, I tried (and failed) to “sleep” on my backpack on a rock, until I was woken up by some friends who had camped there from the previous evening.

Altogether there was probably at least 500 people on top of the mountain waiting for the sunrise. When the dawn came, the profile of the crater was illuminated but…there was no sun. Korea welcomed in 2012 with a large helping of clouds and fog. But it was still a neat experience.

After going back down and stopping for a Dunkin’ Donuts (I didn’t get any sleep on New Year’s Eve, in case that wasn’t clear), I met up with some Seogwipo friends. One of my co-workers lost their phone and I spent the morning trying to look for it and ultimately failing. However, I managed to irritate everyone in the process. I felt like I had invested so much time in looking for it that it would really be a bummer if I didn’t get it.

Lesson learned, I guess?

People downstairs apparently called Yale to complain about the noise I make. I have no idea what noise I’m making that is disturbing them, but whatever it is it is going to continue apace, because I have had guests over exactly once and I have no interest in changing my late night lifestyle for a bunch of grumpy “neighbors” who’ve never even knocked on my door.

I promised a friend I’d take care of their dog for a month. The people downstairs probably aren’t going to like that.

Photos from Thursday will be put up soon.

I will end with a great quote from Jeremy Ben Ami: “I understand the point that those who don’t learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them. But it’s equally true that the general who spends too much time learning the lessons of prior battles will end up fighting the previous war.”


Seoul Weekend Part II

Before I continue, let me say that roulette is the stupidest fucking game ever. Not that its any less ridiculous than slot machines or craps or any of those games, but I played roulette this week and the only thing dumber are the serious-faced gambling addicts who sit there and study the roulette “stats” as if it meant something.

Back to Seoul:

The next morning I went for a lovely walk up Namsan, a mountain/hill in the center of the city, at the top of which lies Seoul Tower.

Before I went up, I slept in past the checkout hour. Your key activates the lights in your room. A lady walked in at checkout time and removed the key from the socket, leaving me in darkness, until I woke up and pulled back the curtains.

Here are some pictures of the walk up, including a frozen waterfall: