Sunday, August 31, 2008

Suwon Bluewings! Suwon Happy Happy Goal!

One of my favorite things to do in this country is to go to any sporting event. It's one of my favorite things to do at home too, but it's just as fun here too. There difference is that I can go to soccer games here and it's cool. Our closest team would have to be the Suwon Bluewings and the games are seriously fun, and they play in the Suwon World Cup Stadium about an hour south of Seoul.

We went to one in June before the season took a break for World Cup Qualifying Games and the Olympics. We were lucky enough that time to get hooked up with some free tickets from a friend who is a journalist for the team and we got to sit in the crazy fan section. The game we went to this weekend we weren't as lucky but the tickets for the game were only $10 and we were still in the thick of things for the 2nd half.

My favorite part of being there is the cheering. Suwon Happy Happy Goal is a crowd favorite as well as "Suwon Blue-i-wings" because everything in Korea has to have 3 syllables.

One of the funny things I noticed at both games were all the ginormous flags being tossed around. Someone has huge flag that is the colors of the team, Blue and White, and a very large Che Guevera picture on it. Just doesn't seem right being that this country supposedly hates their brothers to the north for communism.

Either way - its a fun time. I recommend it :)

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The King's Tap in Sinchon - a Gamer's Paradise

Seoul is most definitely known for its nightlife. Areas like Itaewon, Gangnam, and Hondgae are the big hot spots catering to mainly foreigners, but even most party hard Koreans. Every now and again though, a bar will go above and beyond that I just need to write about it. The last time I did this I spoke of the Occult Star Bar in Sinchon that was home to Doctor Fish and hookahs with an excellent atmosphere. This time, I have to talk about The King's Tap, oddly enough - also in Sinchon.

The King's Tap was formerly the London Pub. It was a rather large bar on the 5th floor of a building and it was always pretty quaint. BUT now that it has new owners, FOREIGN owners I might add, the bar has stepped it up quite a bit. It has a professional foosball table, dart boards, touch screen games, a pool table, and probably the most impressive aspect - a shuffleboard table. The menu is also quite good with western food and at good portions for a decent price.

Anyway, the bar caters to the foreign crowd and it does a great job with it. If you find yourself in the Sinchon area, I highly recommend it. Stop by and say hello to the owner, Matt who works hard behind the bar and wears a shirt that says, "King."

A Leisurely Stroll up Mt. Inwangsan

Being that I've been here awhile I'm starting to search out more and more things to keep myself occupied. Mainly I'm trying to pick up some more private lessons to get some more cash as well as fill up my time, but the weekends I'm still trying to explore Seoul and really just see what's out there.

I've basically exhausted Lonely Planet and might pick up some other rough guides just to tide me over for my last 3 months, BUT there was one interesting thing I've managed to overlook. There were two "walking tours" of two parts of Seoul that seemed rather interesting. So one Saturday afternoon a gal pal of mine and I decided to take a stroll before heading out on the town that night.

The walk, entitled "Inwangsan Shamanist Hillside Walk" starts by turning left down an Alley at Dongnimmun Station (exit 2) and walking for 10 minutes up a hill.
THEN you get to the gate and an incredibly steep incline heading up towards a buddhist temple.
THEN you get to some carved out stone stairs before heading up to what's referred to as Zen Rocks where mothers pray for their sons.

After viewing the rocks you can walk towards the right - let it be known you're now entirely in the woods and walking along a rather narrow path alongside natural spring waters. Oh, and a little bit further on up the mountain there is an area for you to stop and rest- partake in some of the spring water AND use some fitness equipment. I kid you not:

Just a bit further and you'll get to the top of the mountain where there is a buddha carved into the stone. If you walk a little towards the left you'll come across a clearing with one of the most beautiful views of Seoul I've seen yet. Entirely worth it.

Along the walk you'll see many women camped out praying for various reasons (mainly their sons - with good reason). They're very friendly so say hello. Just don't bug them WHILE they're doing their bowing and praying, obviously.

Anyway, all in all roundtrip it took about an hour and a half. It's a beautiful walk and one I'd think about doing again. But it's a hike - not a walk.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

My One Year Anniversary - Time Flies In Asia

One year in Korea...(prepare for some sappy cheesy 'life is great' stuff - you've been warned)

In a lot of ways it feels like I just got here, but in most ways I have a hard time remembering life before Korea. I'm healthier, I'm more active with outdoorsy things, I feel like I have a better perspective on life, and yet I still find myself in some sort of bar a lot of nights with close friends having good nights and bad.

Korea is a uniquely beautiful place, and I am very happy to have spent 12 months here making good money, teaching fun kids, and getting an experience very few people back home will never even begin to truly understand. I'm also very grateful to have had my best friend visit, as well as a few other unexpected guests to show around. Don't get me wrong, Koreans as a culture can be extremely frustrating, but they're also pretty generous and sweet too.

Being an ex-patriot has meant a lot to me - and not because I don't love the good ol' U S of A, but as an American it is very easy to never leave the country. Realistically a very small amount of citizens actually have their passport, and if they do, something like only 1% of those people actually use it. America's lucky in the sense that every culture in the world somehow makes its way to us. If we want great Indian/Thai/Balinese/Turkish/Italian/Mexican/whatever food, go to your nearest city and pick from any dozens of places for example. The country is also so big that you can literally escape into some remote part of it and it can be an entirely new and different lifestyle. New Yorkers for example are extremely different from those say in Boston, Seattle, Memphis, Atlanta, New Orleans, or Denver. You can live in the beautiful state of Maine full of its gorgeous forests, or move to Arizona with its hot deserts, or go buy a house in Miami and enjoy palm trees and one of the world's best beaches.

Although as an American, while those from other countries are desperately trying to immigrate, you have the luxury to always come back to it whenever you want. There's no reason why you can't go out and see what the world has to offer. Marriage, jobs, kids, all of that stuff can wait while you go off in search of what life is like elsewhere. How can you settle down without knowing all of the information first about where to settle? Nothing is stopping you from getting married to the love of your life and settling in some place like Hong Kong. Not to mention there's never been a better time to get up and go what with the economy tanking, politics being what they are, and a never ending war.

I'm staring down the barrel of my 26th birthday having spent all of my 25th year on this planet in Korea. I've had the chance to see Seoul, Busan, small towns in Korea, Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong, and pretty soon Manila. I went to an excellent University, I worked for a company that was the best in the world for what it did, I had amazing friends and family. Leaving all of that behind was an easy decision to make in order to see what's on the other side of the world. What I found changed everything and also reaffirmed some things I knew about myself. I plan on going back home, but I'll go back knowing a lot more, having friends all over the globe, and a bigger appetite for whatever else life throws my way.

So even though I've extended and have a few more months left here, and this blog is more about information giving and sarcasm - consider this my one reflective post on a decision and a year that couldn't have been any better. Certain people have made that possible - I'd be kidding myself if I didn't say that those I met didn't have a significant impact on life here - and if they read this they know who they are. The traveling community are some of the best people in the world... and here's to them and Korea.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

The Boardgame Cafe!

Korean Independence Day was Friday, August 15th and we had a nice 3 day weekend. A lot of us are pretty poor these days from world travel, or just too much general merriment and boozing. Plus the weather has been kinda iffy lately anyway and that tends to ruin some things.

We did find the time to go and try some new Indian food in Gangnam (Baba India) and man is that place one of the best I've had in Seoul. After that we wandered over to Coex Mall to just walk around and stumbled across the Boardgame Cafe - one of the most unique places I've seen.

It's a little coffee shop of sorts - coffees, smoothies, etc. But also has a menu for board games. While 85% of it seemed to be games in Korean (obviously) there were quite a few that were pretty entertaining.

My competitive partner in crime and I discovered a game called Blockus where you have to try and out 'strategerize' the other person and limit them from making moves with blocks. Quite entertaining if you have the patience and a competitive nature ;)

Anyway, I highly recommend this place. Although it will run you about 3,700won per hour per person just to play the games, it is worth it. Did I mention that its directly across from the (fake*) Apple Store? mmmm Apple.

*It's an authorized apple retailer store. It has everything Apple would have, but Apple is not yet officially in Korea. Sad. Koreans don't know what they're missing.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Visa Extension - Because I Just Can't Get Enough

A few months ago I decided that 12 months here just isn't enough. The money is really nice, the people are great, there are SO many things to do in this country, and really - the US economy is so bad these days that there really isn't any real reason to go home.

My visa ends August 9, my contract ends August 16th, and my alien card expires August 23rd. I will be extending until December 5. The process is entirely different now than it was a year ago apparently, so I've jumped through a bunch of hoops so far. The new Korean President decided to change the requirements for anyone trying to teach in Korea starting January 2008 - so here's what to expect if you are looking to teach OR even if you just want to extend:

- Once you've been hired, or you've agreed to extend you'll need a signed contract from the school (hasn't changed)
- A physical is required including a clean drug test, and an AIDS test (new)
- *Clean criminal records as stated by the police department of the city you last resided in (new)

*If you are in Korea you can have these mailed to you but you will need to go to the Embassy to have an Apostille Seal stamped on it before giving it to the immigration office. The embassy sent out a notice at the end of July that said it would no longer accept any criminal records printed off of the internet. However - this has yet to be verified as I have had friends continue to print theirs off line.

My Korean coordinator went to the immigration office last week with my signed criminal records that were also notarized, and they said a seal would not be necessary. After getting all my tests back and such, my Korean coordinator went back to hand everything in and was told by the guy that the seal is 100% absolutely necessary. SO I will be taking a trip to the Embassy pretty soon. An extra step for no reason whatsoever.

So much work to lead the good life...

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Seodaemun Prison - Not a Museum for the Weak

One of the more interesting things I did over my summer vacation (and that's not saying much) was to visit Seodaemun Prison. I didn't even know it existed until a friend recommended it, and now I see it mentioned everywhere. Funny how that works, right? Anyway if you have a weak stomach, I wouldn't recommend you continue reading.

Seodaemun Prison was created in the early 1900s by the Japanese to imprison, torture, and kill Korean Patriots fighting against them. Lets just say that Japanese were not a friendly people at the time, and had some pretty gruesome tricks up their sleeves. Walking through this place made me think of how it must feel to walk through something like Auschwitz - same dark, eerie, death like feeling.

The grounds of the prison includes multiple buildings with various purposes. One of the buildings takes into its basement where you see torture rooms with specific goals. One room shows sexual torture, and another demonstrates life size and life like mannequins being flogged or having sharp rusty metal objects shoved up their finger nails. Oh, and screams can also be heard echoing through the hallways.

Another building shows the cells that look actually pretty spacious until you realize that 8-10 people were crammed into these rooms that aren't much bigger than your average studio apartment.

One of the buildings had rooms where the patriots would go up against panels of Japanese Judges - with a noose around their neck - and if they were found guilty there was a trap door under your feat where you'd be executed immediately.

Perhaps one of the most interesting things I had seen all day was the standing coffins. These closet looking contraptions were not much bigger than 5.5 feet tall, maybe 1.5 feet wide and a foot deep. They would put someone in this thing standing upright for 2-3 days and by the time they would open the door you'd be completely paralyzed. I stood in one and it was unbearable for even just a few moments.

It was a fascinating way to learn more about Korean culture and why they have such a hatred for the Japanese. It was an enlightening couple of hours to show you what lengths humans will go to in order to acquire something. I recommend it, and for only 1,500won - it's something everyone should go and experience.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Ssssss-trike!!! Bowling in Korea

One of my favorite past times at home is to go bowling. I got roped into joining a bowling league 8 years ago in High School as something fun and random to do on Sunday nights. I was NEVER great, but its always been one of those things that just screams fun to me. At home bowling alleys are dark, dank, smoke ridden, musty places that offer endless cheap pitchers and fried food. Not so much in good ol' SoKo.

After months of talking about it, we finally went to a bowling alley. Now, this MIGHT not be representative of other bowling alleys in this crazy country since we were at Lotte World in Jamsil. This place was family friendly and oozing wholesome, clean, good time fun. Next time if we go, we're definitely loading up on the Poju Cocktails (Powerade + Soju). Games were only 3,600won and shoe rentals only 1,600won.

Overall 3 games and some shoes cost about 12,000. Can't complain now can we? And I might add that I did win all 3 games ;)

Friday, August 01, 2008

Korean Couples and Their Matching Clothing

One of the funniest things about this culture is the clothing. Fashion rules here and I don't even mean that in a name brand sense. Of course, you'll see every store you'd see in NYC's 5th Ave all over the place, but the best shopping comes from places like the subway underground malls where clothing can be like 5 bucks (don't even get me started on the hobby that is finding crazy 'Engrish' shirts). Every style exists here, and right now the 80s are definitely back in full force for some of the Korean College Kids. We're talking fluro and high tops, and funny hats and sunglasses with baggy shirts everywhere. It's amusing actually. The women here will also wear heels to every occasion - even to hiking or the beach!

But one of the greatest things to witness here is the matching clothing by couples. Everyone here has some sort of story regarding this phenomenon and it's great. A Korean once told me that it's a test from the girl in the relationship. If the guy doesn't wear it then that means he doesn't love her. SO the poor guy is trapped into wearing something he probably does not want to wear. I heard another story once where a couple was witnessed at an airport and a woman broke into hysterics because the man was not sitting on the right side of her so their t-shirts could make sense.

I saw one recently and I actually followed the couple and asked to take a picture of them and their shirts. They were walking (in the correct order) and a stick figure is holding a can to his ear and the line stretches across his shirt to the girl's shirt who's got the other end and has a heart. Absolutely adorable. And something I would never, ever ever subject my significant other to.

(This girl does not look and was not happy about this whole thing - the guy found it hilarious though).