Monday, April 28, 2008

Olympic Torch Relay Insanity

This whole Olympic Torch Relay thing has taken on a life of its own inciting riots and controversy everywhere it goes. First, this race has been happening all over the world for years, but its just supposed to be a way for everyone to be involved in it. I read in the NY Times the other day that this was actually a Hitler idea in order to shift the public eye to a fake vision of peace while other atrocities are taking place elsewhere. Fascinating idea if you think about it.

The torch came through Seoul on Sunday April 26, and I actually just happened to accidentally see it. We were heading to Smokey's Tavern to try their delicious Burgers in Itaewon when we got off the bus at Hannam to see hoards of Chinese people and flags all lined up along the street. The torch was supposed to come through Seoul on Saturday, but due to security issues they changed everything and the route to be on Sunday instead. I was on one of the last buses to cross over the Han River, which was pretty lucky for me.

We waited about 15 minutes before we saw dozens of police filled buses come down the road, along with the the coca-cola and Samsung floats and then hundreds of runners surrounding the one guy holding the torch.

It was all over in a matter of minutes, but it was still interesting to be apart of. It traveled past us down to City Hall where it met up with 5,000 more fans or supporters before heading onto North Korea for the first time ever. It is interesting to say that North Korea was the only country to have absolutely no protests. A North Korean in Seoul however did try to ruin the festivities by dousing himself in gasoline and running towards the torch attempting to light himself on fire, but the authorities saw and stopped him before he could do any damage. He was of course, protesting China's policy of finding North Korean defectors and sending them back to North Korea which is against UN refugee laws.

Whether or not I think China should have the Olympics, I can never remember a time of the games having this much attention. It is extremely fascinating to see the world's reaction to all of it though. It's also interesting at the rate that we are truly becoming a global community...

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Korean War Memorial

If there's anything you do when you get to Korea it should be to see the Korean War Memorial. Roughly 60 years ago Korea fought in a war to gain its freedom from basically everywhere. Japan had its hold on it for years, China did at some point, and then North Korea has tried again and again to get into Seoul.

I recently learned the basics for the war. The US helped Korea to gain its independence from Japan but only because it wanted to be in control of the peninsula for at least 15 years. This wasn't in Korea's plan so the US left the country in 1949 with virtually nothing. However, the Soviet Union had given tanks and money and trained personnel to North Korea and then that's when South Korea was invaded. The US then came back to bail out Korea and it has been here ever since. Basically it was a mini proxy war between the US and Russia that was fought on Korean soil. However, Korea has climbed nicely out of its past life and is now enjoying the modern life and doing quite well for itself.

It however, has not forgotten its past and has sunk a considerable amount of money into one of the most beautiful museums I've ever seen, and I haven't even been inside of it yet. Walking around the grounds at sunset is something I whole heartedly recommend. If you choose to go, it is just outside of Itaewon next to the Yongsan Army Base.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Field Trip - Train Museum!

Every month we go on a field trip. The last field trip was terrible as it was to the Land Museum - but at the end of April we went to the Korean Train Museum and it was actually pretty entertaining. Not to mention it was a well taken care of, huge and beautiful place.

The exhibits were well put together and had every piece of every train you could ever imagine. A good portion of it was in English too, which was pretty impressive. The tour ended with a 15 minute show in the Panorama Room where they had model trains set up and a model of Seoul that each train went around to give you a working view of the various types that go around Korea. It was even accurate in telling which trains were the fastest (KTX - Korea's newest high speed train) and slowest (freight as you'd expect).

Afterwards we went and had a picnic lunch on the grounds with the kids and even got to play around with actual old train cars later. I actually wish we were able to spend more time there, but what can ya do. At the end of the day everyone had a pretty good time.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

GO BEARS!!! (Baseball in Korea)

I had the luxury of going to my first Korean baseball game today, and I have to say - Well Done, Korea. I am now a tried and true Doosan Bears fan.

The KBO (Korean Baseball Organization) has 8 teams throughout the country. Each team is sponsored by a company such as the Doosan Bears, LG Twins, Samsung Lions, etc, etc. It's run somewhat like the setup in the US - as far as having a spring training, and a 126 game season, ending with playoffs and a championship.

The Doosan Bears and the LG Twins are the two Seoul Teams and they play out of the same Baseball Stadium in Jamsil, right next to the Olympic Stadium (which is gi-normous):

Today's game was a Bears vs. Twins game and it was great fun to see the "home" teams duke it out. I imagine this would be something akin to the Yankees/Mets subway series, only they just share a city, not a stadium.

There are a few cool things about these games...
1) Tickets are only 8,000W.
2) Said tickets are general admission (or at least they were today). Seriously you can sit anywhere you want in the whole stadium.
3) There are Burger Kings, KFCs, and GS25s directly inside of the stadium so its not just normal stadium fare. Well, if you call this normal:

4) The fans are absolutely insane! They have cheers, and cheerleaders, and tons of songs, and those awesome balloon stick things that you bang together to make lots of noise - which I love and now own to be used again and again.

And last but not least - the 5th coolest thing are the men walking around with kegs on their backs and taps in their hand ready to give you delicious (ok well, mildly tasty at best) Hite Beer for the amazingly low low price of 3,000W. Honestly - what an ingenious idea to carry around a mini keg on your back - it beats carrying a tray up and down stadium stairs spilling it all over the place.

Today's game resulted in the Twins beating the Bears, but I have faith that my team will seek revenge at some point. I'm now the proud owner of a sweet, sweet, white Doosan Bears hat, and have a newfound love for Korean baseball. I will most certainly be back...

Saturday, April 12, 2008

She's Getting [More] Ink Done

Well... this really doesn't relate much to Korea, but its more of an update.

I got some ink done by a korean tattoo artist back in February and it just didn't take. Now, my friend who went with me and got one at the same time had his heal just fine. We even used the same lotion afterwards. My other friend who used the same guy and went a week later even had his heal fine. I imagine because of a combination of things I just got dealt a crappy hand in this situation.

SO I went back and got it touched up. The guy used darker colors this time which I love, and my mom was kind enough to mail me over some A&D ointment awhile back. Don't ever let anyone tell you that a touch up job for a tattoo doesn't hurt - because reopening what is essentially scar tissue is NOT a pleasant experience. It's not unbearable, but it isn't something I'd willingly do again, that's for sure. The cool thing about it is that he gave me something called 'New Skin' to put on over it afterwards in the place of gauze or plastic wrap. It could have been kept on for 1-2 days, but after 8 hours I got ansy and wanted it to get some air. Very cool plasticy material that actually looked like a very thick piece of skin.

Anyway, I don't believe it was the artist's fault the first time around, and I don't think it was my faulty aftercare either. Just something that didn't work so I'd still recommend going to 2nd Childhood Tattoo Studio in Itaewon if you're lookin at getting some work done.

First Tattoo:

Second Time Around:

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

A Day at the Joo* (zoo).

*Koreans tend to pronounce all 'z's like 'j's so words come out like joo and jebra instead of zoo and zebra.

Seoul's zoo is nothing short of incredible. And I know what you're thinking - it's a zoo - if you've seen one, you've seen 'em all. But Seoul's zoo has some interesting features that I haven't seen at other zoos...

First, the zoo is found at Seoul Grand Park about 30 minutes outside of Seoul, which is also home to Seoul Land (an amusement park), a camping ground, hiking trails, and apparently an art museum. The cool thing about the zoo is that its built on a mountain, so you can take a nice hefty uphill walk to the top, OR you can take this awesome sky lift up to the middle for the entrance, or all the way to the top and walk all the way down. The lift goes over some exhibits like the Lion Compound and that was pretty fascinating. The best part of the whole zoo for me was this lift on the way up - even though it costs a bit more. The zoo costs 3,000W to get into to, and the tram is 4,500W for each part (there 4 parts in all, but to go up is only 2).

Basically its your typical zoo - spacious exhibits, entertaining animals, but it had its Asian flair. I saw my first Kangaroo in the Australian pavilion (I think that was the first time anyway). I saw camels do nasty things to each other. I missed out on the Dolphin show because we didn't know you had to actually buy tickets. I even saw a beaver do things to himself I didn't know animals would do. And I saw all sorts of bugs I didn't need to see in the Insectarium Building - BUT I got to see a great mistake on a map in the same building:

And man, is there food everywhere. These people do not waste any space putting in vending machines, or restaurants, or snack bars so you'll never go hungry. All in all it was an excellent way to spend a day, and I couldn't have asked for anything more. There will definitely be a second part to this post once we've figured out how and when to go camping there... I have no doubt my friends will drunkenly try and stumble into the zoo after hours and ride an elephant.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

English by the Hour

It is 100% illegal for foreigners on an E-2 or E-4 Visa to teach English lessons to anyone outside of their schools and be paid for it. With that being said, do people do it? Allll the time.

I believe that this is illegal due to the fact that you could easily come here and ditch the school you were working for to make a lot more money elsewhere. This effectively screws over those who spent good time and money to get you here, so the government stepped in to help out the local businesses.

Although it is illegal, I believe that sometimes a blind eye gets turned. There is a website, that helps people find jobs and private lessons. It has been reworked so its all up to date. Also, Dave's ESL cafe has a Korean Job Board which also will sometimes yield some possibilities. The great thing about these jobs being taboo is that if you're lucky enough to find one they usually pay pretty well. I've had 3 separate temporary lessons in the past, and they've paid $40-$45 an hour.

There really is something to be said for getting paid to talk. Literally one of my lessons was just to have coffee with a woman who was in her 40s and just wanted to conversate. I've had to do some planning beforehand, but not much, and definitely not enough that warrants getting paid as much as we do. Makes it hard to think about leaving this type of job, that's for sure...

If you decide to take a private lesson, just be lowkey about it, don't tell many people, and do not let anyone at your school find out.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

'Daddy's Gonna Be Up Five-Hundy by Midnight'

That's one of my favorite quotes from Swingers (a movie which I have just recently watched thanks to my guys in NYC last year) as Vince Vaughn and Jon Favreau settle in on a night of gambling and womanizing in good ol' Vegas. This somewhat hits home for this particular post since last night a few of us made our way to one of the few casinos around this place.

Koreans aren't allowed to gamble by law, but yet there are still a couple of casinos throughout the country at hotels and such that allow all foreigners to partake. The great thing about the one we went to, which was in COEX Mall in the hotel attached to it, was that its not only free alcohol (which is supposedly customary) but also free food. You can be gambling at any of the tables, place an order off of the menu to the dealer, and within an average amount of time they'll come over and tell you that you can find your meal sitting nicely at a table in the restaurant area.

The place is open 24/7 and the betting is pretty cheap. I played the 1,000W (~$1) roulette tables for awhile and lost a nice 40,000W (~$40). I never hit the streak that my friends around me were hitting so I decided to call it a night. However, after getting a quesadilla and some mushroom soup for the sweet sweet price of free, and many, many gin and tonics also for free, I wandered over to the 3 card poker table to watch two of my friends just dominate and basically bring down the house. Walking away with $300 for one and $1000 for another isn't too shabby. They at least paid for the cab ride back to Suji...

This did spur a conversation to head down to Gwangju at some point during the monsoon season to do a weekend gambling trip. Two hours away from Seoul, and the only place in the country Koreans are allowed to gamble doesn't sound like a bad way to spend a weekend. BUT more on that when it actually happens...