Sunday, November 29, 2009

"Hangul mal mulah-yo"

Chris: Before my last entry there was a four-month gap between posts. This was probably due, in part, to the fact that my little discoveries have become littler and littler. I increasingly feel at home here. But my Dad keeps asking me to write, so....
(The movie "Meet the Spartans" is on the TV in the background. Holy shit! Aggressively unfunny. I'm so astonished by its awfulness that I just can't change the channel.)
Months ago my boss gave me a Korean name, just for a laugh really. I wanted to be called Min Gyu. I don't know why, I just like the name. Instead he gave me Gil Su. The "G" sounds a bit like the "k" sound, and the "l" is very subtle. So it kinda sounds like how my students say my English name, ie. "Chris-su" or "Chris-uh".
I'm not about to adopt this my Korean name for real any time soon but lately I do feel as though I'm blending in a little here. My Korean-style gestures have become so automatic that I do them amongst my fellow foreigners. When handing something to them I touch my right arm with my left hand. My Korean is still terrible but if the conversation is familiar and basic I can often get by. I even find myself automatically using Korean exclamations such as "assah!" and "aish!"
My Korean would improve exponentially if I put in a real effort, but being a lazy sod is not the only reason I don't know more of the language. I don't mind wandering around not knowing what is going on around me. In fact, I often prefer it that way. Things seem more wondrous and magical this way. For example, when I see my elderly landlady talking with her friend on the sidewalk whilst drying chillies or seaweed or some mysterious vegetable/herb that I can't place, I can imagine them debating the tenets of Confucianism or swapping vivid war-time stories full of pathos. I don't want to know that they're really comparing ailments or bitching about the music volume from the round-eye tenant.

Thursday, November 26, 2009


Chris: Last Saturday I saw snow falling for the first time in my life. I was drinking with friends at a bar when at the time. Instead of the usual fare of Korean beer, we were downing cherry soju and makgeoli. For the uninitiated, soju is a Korean spirit made mainly from rice. It tastes kind of like a weak, sweet vodka, and it has an alcohol content of about 20%. It's sometimes mixed with flavours like kiwi, lemon, yoghurt, or in this case, cherry. Makgeoli is a Korean rice wine. It has on off-white colour and tastes a little like a sweet milk. It was served in a battered, old large metal bowl and ladeled into smaller individual serving bowls. Is your mouth watering yet? Well what if I told you that both these drinks (particularly makgeoli) provide you with a hangover whilst you're drinking? No need to wait for the next morning. But don't fret, you'll have a (monster) hangover then too. Okay, so maybe it doesn't sound all that appetizing, but you'll be sold when I tell you that I spent only 10,000 won (AUD$10, USD$9) and got all the makgeoli and flavoured soju I could drink (this price includes the relatively expensive appetizers we bought).
Aaaaaanyway was about midnight when it started snowing. It was only a light dusting, my Michigan friend assured me. Nevertheless, it was pretty cool, I thought ...even magical, dare I say. I ran outside to catch a few flakes on my tongue. Not even the nearby violent expulsion of vomit by the young lady rushing out of the bar could spoil the moment (clearly she had had a little too much of the aforementioned drinks). Incidentally, you'd think that Koreans could handle their soju/makgeoli, but no.
The obligatory snowball fight ensued. My friends, I would like to say that I won this battle. I would at least like to say that I held my own. But these would be lies. Morally speaking I have no issue with lying. My only issue is with being caught lying, and my snowball adversaries might read this blog and post nasty, truthful comments. To my more experienced snowball-fighting opponents I say this: the Korean winter is long and I'm a quick learner.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Kimchi-coloured vomit...

Chris: ...this is what I see on an almost daily basis. Koreans love to drink to excess and, of course, they love kimchi. All too often the result of these twin passions is the slippery orange gunk that lays in wait for me during my short walk to work. Fortunately, I'm yet to have fallen victim to one of these land mines. Thank God for regular summer downpours.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

East/West Pt. 1

Some differences between Korea and Australia that I've noted so far (in no particluar order)...
- Convenience store fridges aren't as cold in Korea
- In Korea, beer is cheaper, food is cheaper, basically everything is a little cheaper ....except Western food
- In Korea, your boss is your boss outside of work too
- Unlike in the West, there's basically no difference between breakfast, lunch aand dinner.
- Coffee is sweeter and weaker in Korea (at least compared to Melbourne).
- Korean kids seem more knowledgable about world geography than Australian kids, and probably more again than American kids.
- Far, far less animals in Korea.
- In Korea, friendships bring (mutual) obligation.
Some similarities between Korea and Australia that I've noted so far (in no particular order)...
- Kids are the basically the same. Like in Australia, many kids are adorable, many are little shits. Abandon any notion that Korean kids are all super respectful and disciplined least before they get to high school.
- Koreans, like Australians, don't mind a drink or twelve.
- Like in Australia, most people are warm and friendly ....though the "default" or "resting" Korean facial expression is a little more frown-like.
I could write forever but I have to get ready for a Korean/Irish wedding. It should be a gold mine for trivial and important observations about cultural differences ....I'll bring a notepad

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Crazy foreigners running about in Chungju

Rowena: So I guess it's been 2 months since we've been here in Chungju and it's hard to believe what close friendships we've formed within this time. We spent the weekend celebrating a combined hens and bucks day (or bacherlorette and bacherlor party), then parted ways and partied throughout the night, then rejoined in the early hours of the morning til it was literally daylight. So during the day, a scavenger hunt was organised and we were divided into gender teams. A crazy list was compiled with tasks that both teams had to complete within a time frame of an hour and a half, and these were to be done all around Chungju. Now here's a taste of some of the things we did:
- Fit as many people as you can into a taxi (we managed to fit 10 girls into a 4 seater taxi)
- Fit as many people as you can into a phone booth (again, the 10 girls fit)
- Form a human pyramid in front of Lotte Mart (a VERY public and busy shopping center. We succeeded with a huge crowd of on lookers!)
- Chat up a Korean who was working and score a phone number (success!)
- Kiss and be kissed by a Korean (thankyou to the kind gentleman who allowed me to do it!)
- Take a picture of a Korean with the biggest head
- Take a picture of a Korean with the most 'jacked up' teeth (we got big head and jacked up teeth in one shot! Gold!)
...and a whole heap of other crazy shit! I don't know what the locals now think of us foreigners running all over Chungju like crazy manics! Like we all didn't stand out already. I think some of us feared we'd be sent back to our home countries. But it was definitely worth it, running around in the ridiculous summer heat, and the fact that the girls won made it all worth while!

Monday, June 1, 2009

Minor fracas

Rowena: So far we've had nothing but great experiences in our interactions with Koreans. They have been very friendly and helpful... up until yesterday lol. We were on a bus returning from Anseong to Chungju. Chris and I were having a chat with one of our foreign friends, and I felt a kick on the back of my chair. I didn't think anything of it, maybe someone was just crossing their legs over. Then it happened again, and our friend asked me if my chair was being kicked, and I said yes, thinking that this person behind must be fidgety. Then our friend got up from his seat and was standing in the aisle having a chat to our friends who were further up the bus. Then I felt three hard kicks behind my chair and I turned around thinking wtf is going on?? The person who had been kicking my chair was an elderly man yelling at me and kicking my chair while pointing to my friend standing in the aisle. He wasn't happy that my friend was having a friendly chat on the bus, but I don't think kicking my chair and shouting at me was the most appropriate way with dealing with his 'obviously distressing situation'. Now why was he kicking my chair? Probably because like everyone else, he thought I was Korean, and expected me to tell my friend to sit down. Now I'm all for respecting the elderly, but it goes both ways... So to anyone planning to travel on a bus in Korea with an elderly person, be weary, they're violent*!

*Eldery Koreans are not violent (only the man mentioned in this post)

Sunday, May 31, 2009

New friends

Chris: Shortly after starting work in Chungju the other foreign teacher at our English academy introduced us to his friends here. They're a fun bunch of people and have all been very warm and welcoming to us right from the start. We've actually just come back from a weekend away in a nearby city with about 8-10 of our new friends. I was introduced to an American cultural phenomenon that is a drinking game called "beer pong". Needless to say, things got messy. I'm proud to say that I think I represented the Aussies well. I'll definitely be taking this game back to Australia ...and the USA's cultural imperialism continues....
So of our new friends there's like 10 Americans, 2 Koreans, and 1 Irish guy. I can honestly say that there's not one of them that I don't like. It's obviously really important to meet good people when you've suddenly transplanted yourself to a totally foreign place, so we've been very lucky to have met so many so soon.
We've even met a couple of other Koreans who run a bar nearby our old apartment. I don't know if I'd call them "friends" just yet. Mainly because the closest Korean word to "friend" apparently denotes a closer bond than that of the English word. The owner has just shut down his bar for renovations but not before supplying us with plenty of free food and alcohol! He invited Rowena and I around to his house for dinner this weekend ....but as I mentioned earlier, we were out of town. The cynic in me thinks the owner and his employee's friendliness is somewhat motivated by a desire to practice their English conversation skills and by the fact that supposedly it's good for business to have foreigners frequent your bar. Whatever the case they're nice people and, as I just mentioned, the beer is often FREE!
29 days in Korea and still swine flu free. Every day is a blessing.