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Love to Hate Korea: Costco

It’s no secret that Costco in Korea is the epitome of a modern hellhole designed to rip your soul out, divvy it up with a rusty and blunt axe, chew it, then spit it right back at you, so you you put it back inside, then turn around and do it all over again. This place steals so much attention and causes so much heartbreak and frustration, but let’s not forget that all it is is a bloody supermarket!

But why is the place just destined to constantly infuritate me? I blame people. Because, let’s face it, all the ills of the world are brought about by our fellow humans, and Costco in Korea is a perfect example of this.


Inside Your Impossible World


You’re Not So ‘Sunny’ Outside This Classroom

As teachers, we are tasked not just with educating (a loaded word, depending on what is expected of you in your public school or hagwon), but of also remembering. That is, remembering our students’ names. Their English names.

 

And, there are a lot of names to remember.

And, there are a lot of names to remember.


Jangnim: Humanizing My Dong

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This section of Busan gets a bit of slag. I remember looking at a comment thread on Koreabridge one time before I came back where one poster noted that if you breathe the air in Saha-gu (this town within a city where Jangnim is located), you instantly get AIDS. I have on more than one occasion referred to it negatively when someone asked where I lived, replied with, “huh?” and I had to tell them, “it’s next to Dadaepo,” to which the person would almost always say, “oh, wow, that’s so far.”


Looking Up

You come to Korea from where I’m from and you can’t stop looking up. Always up. At the sky without so many rain clouds, at the trees forever in a constant pattern of change, and at the buildings which stretch above everything I’ve ever known. It takes a lot of concrete and steel to make a megalith as complete as the Korean urban space, and event then it never seems complete. There is always some mason tapping away at some finer piece chiselling another groove in the pursuit of perfection.


Upgrade Time!

I got a new toy.

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For those of you who follow this blog regularly you’ll know I like to take pictures. For a while I’ve been using a Sony DSC model, intially the H5 which I bought in 2006 while on holiday in Thailand (I lost my point and shoot at a waterfall in Laos), and then after I thought I lost that I was loaned indefinitely my brother-in-law’s H9, which is a lovely camera.

I’ve been getting more and more obsessed with taking pictures, mainly thanks to my phone which allows for frequent and simple snapping, and of course tied in with this is Instagram, which I probably overdo a little.


Korean Girls Love Me Through Two Layers of Glass

It’s a familiar fact of life in South Korea for many of our expats, especially if they look notably different than our ROK neighbors: the stare.

I have mostly come to peace with it. I admit it, I don’t look very Korean. I have broad shoulders, a big beard, pale skin, bald head and large frame. If I had grown up somewhere where the only person I saw like that was in the movies, on TV or in a magazine, I’d likely be a bit surprised if I saw them coming down my alleyway, too.

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Eek.


Another Brick in the Brainwall

The mind is a big brickwall
blocking,
that must be dismantled brick
by brick
Meanwhile, someone adds more bricks
brick by brick
by brick
by brick, by brick
by brick
There are so many
you’re always tempted to turn focus
rather than focus on the one in your hand.
But, pay attention.
You can’t get those bricks off
except one by one
one at a time
one at a time
a glacially slow, painful process
that doesn’t look like real progress
But the alternative is a wall,
complete, no seams, no cracks, letting in no light
Or worse–
A wall so tall,
it topples over you
smothering you
taking your own light
and the light outside.
So, be patient, be polite, be precise, be diligent
But, most of all,
be patient.


The Not So Best Chicken in The World+ An Update

This post was supposed to be about chicken. My plan was to make the best pre-contest competitor chicken recipe that I would love and love and love and be more than happy to share- but it isn’t. Or wasn’t. I mean I did make chicken this weekend, and I took photos and everything- but the recipe was in no ways amazing. No ways. So I’m not sharing it. I didn’t start a blog just to post any recipe that I used, just for the sake of posting.

So I’m writing this post to share an update. 

It’s been a little challenging keeping up with a food blog lately because I’ve actually been doing everything I can to keep my mind off food. I’ve been dieting since January, and I have to say, especially now that I’m less than 2 weeks out from my show, my food is really not exciting nor share-worthy.


A Korean Birthday Tradition: Seaweed Soup

What have we here?

What have we here?

DSCF6051

Boil, boil

Boil, boil


Knowing When to Say ‘Ajosshi!’


54 Days Later

It is 11 a.m., April 8, 2013 here in Jangnim, Busan, South Korea. It is the 54th day since arriving at Incheon International Airport on Feb. 13, since starting my third Korean adventure in a little over seven years. My refrigerator is full of food. My apartment is clean. I have a plain, ordinary but functional cell phone, which is slowly building a collection of numbers of new friends. I have a job I mostly enjoy, with the exception of the occasional student outburst, the occasional frustration of not being able to properly communicate with many of them, the occasional feeling of loneliness when the Korean teachers are all talking in Korean and the other foreign teacher is in a class. I am building up a social network, an “ordinary” life, if such a thing can really exist when you’re on a one-year contract in a country 7,000 miles from your home.


40 Days Later, a Reflection

Happy 40-Day Anniversary in South Korea, me. Tip your cap, were you wearing one. Celebrate this Monday morning with folding clothes and cleaning the kitchen area (it really did need it).

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An old photo, but the camera batteries are dead again. The kitchen may be even cleaner today. At least, the stovetop is.

What is such a big deal about 40 days? Anyone with me since the beginning will know that this number is the first major milestone of this over seven-year-series of false starts. Of half-hearted attempts. Or, just, of “not-quite-readies.” It was on the 40th day, in December 2005, that I left South Korea for the first time.


There Are Many Mountains, Not Just One, to Cross

For any readers in South Korea. Or, for that matter, any readers that have moved their entire lives to a new place: How long did it take for you to transition from the newness to the routine?

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This is of course a question that will have many answered, all of them different. People share similarities but each experience can be greatly varied based on many or even one change of details. I just read an article about Mad Men actor Jon Hamm and his enormous penis, that noted the crew politely asked him to wear underwear during shoots because the form-fitting clothing of the early 1960s on him distracted everyone. 


The Real Star of Saturday

Sunday was kind of a lost day. Why? Because of Saturday night (and Sunday morning). And, before anyone virtual high-fives me for this, I am compelled to say that in the end, it wasn’t worth it. Maybe it’s my age, the amount of years I have been “socializing” vs. how many years you may have been socializing. Maybe it’s the amount of time this has happened that has lead to a perspective shift. Maybe this is the way I have felt all along but just didn’t want to admit it because I was afraid that, in a booze-a-riffic place like South Korea, to deny such excess would create a serious social scene handicap.

Well, that’s just silly.


Dadaepo Beach, Noon on a Tuesday

Busan’s lesser-known beach. Not Haeundae, Gwangali or even Songdo. Who knows if, when the subway extension finally makes its way down there in one or two years, the secret’s out? Its Sunset Fountain of Dream is certainly an attraction, but perhaps not enough for some to make the trek.

Tuesday at noon in mid-March is a time where almost any beach is likely to be quiet. So, I hopped Bus 96 from Jangnim, sailed past my usual exit near my school and finally explored just past it, into Dadaepo proper, finally, to Daedaepo Beach.


A Lesson in Perseverance

In 2008 I was on the brink of getting married, and I was busy contemplating what to do afterwards. There were plenty of options, easy and less easy, but none painted in any way a clear picture of the future.

At the time I was working in a relatively big language school on the south side of Seoul and I was nearing the end of my third year. I didn’t have any teaching qualifications, but much like today I talked a good fight and fancied my chances regardless of what happened.

Of course marriage was going to change everything. There was the obvious and easier option and then there was the riskier and more exciting option that you don’t hear of many newly-weds taking, at least not in Korea anyway.


Celebrating One Month in Korea With Mixed Bag Memories, Eggs

Time doesn’t stop. Whether you’re miserable or on top of the moon, time does not stop. Though, I wonder if time flows differently on the moon?

Today marks one month here in South Korea. This time last month, I was on a plane from JFK International Airport in New York to Seoul-Incheon Airport.

A month may not seem like much to some, but for some perspective: the first time I was in South Korea, in 2005, I lasted only 40 days. In 2010, I think it was 55 days, though I have always rounded up when telling people. Shh!

So, for me, even a month spent not just “lasting” here but actually enjoying my time and making the most of it is a significant milestone.

So, this morning, I celebrated with poached eggs.


Firsts Part 2: The Korean Wedding

On Sunday, I got my first taste of a big part of modern Korean culture: the Korean wedding. The experience in unequal parts left me excited, curious and, well, disappointed.

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This is not a condemnation on the institute of marriage. Besides seeing the recent dissolve of one of my best friends’ marriages, and another’s marriage has only been one of convenience for many years, the actual wedding day for me has been very special. They’re usually fun gatherings of your closest family and friends. Sometimes, they’re in churches. Sometimes, at hotels. Sometimes, at wineries, farms or other less-expected locales. In the west–specifically to me, the U.S.–they can be simple or expensive, all-day events. Some of those more expensive ones can cost as much as a downpayment on a house.


Essay on Korea’s National Image – “What is Modern Korea?”

In October I entered an essay competition organised by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade in Korea. The competition sought to find out what foreigners thought was Korea’s national image. I entered, you’ll be happy to hear, but not because of some overwhelming desire to share my thoughts on what made Korea Korea, more because top prize was a new computer, and I fancied my chances.

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So I dutifully brainstormed a notion and worked away on the essay, then forgot about it, then remembered about it, and of course I waited until the last minute to submit it.


The 250-pound Furry Monkey in the Room (or, Glacial Evolution)

That would be me.

That would be me.

It’s a fair time to open up a little wider.

Evolution moves at a glacially slow pace. That paraphrases something Amanda, my best friend, said to me recently while I was plodding through some Korea Growing Pains. Thankfully these don’t involve growth spurts that make me knees hurt or Kirk Cameron. Unfortunately, they do involve not feeling particularly good about myself.


“Getting There”

This is a short narrative post I initially set out to write for Groove Magazine‘s “Share Story, Win Trip” writing competition. The call came out for ‘funny’ travel stories where a lesson was learned. The winning pieces would be read out loud dramatically. Frankly, there just aren’t enough of these kind of encouraging writing opportunities in Korea. I could say more but I’ll get distracted.

I started writing mine and about two paragraphs from the end I decided that it wasn’t a travel story. So I stopped writing. I came back about a week later and took another crack at it, tidied it up but left it loosely over the 500 word limit, which kind of left it for any kind of flash litt and too short to be considered anything else. Still it’s a good story. You’ll laugh. I hope. 

Getting There


Welcome Home Part 2: Electric Boogaloo

I had a great night last night. It was kind of your standard Korea Night Out: dinner at a galbi place, followed by a hang out at a bar and then Noraebang, where I performed such staples as Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’” and GnR’s “November Rain,” accompanied by friends.

But, this post is not about that. My camera’s batteries died and I didn’t bring it. Sorry! I am planning on doing more photo galleries of my time here that are not in my apartment, I promise.

Though, I will restate what I had mentioned before in an earlier post: domesticity, at least for me, is very important in order to maintain sanity here. My friend Sam noted his apartment is Little America, a sovereign nation smack in the middle of the Kyungsung University area of Busan. Mine is located on the fifth floor of this clean, efficient apartment building in Jangnim, which will eventually have its own subway station. For now, Bus 1001 will do just fine.


Getting Domestic in Korea

This does not apply just to South Korea. Though, it’s damn important here. It may be a personal thing, it may be universal.

If you have just arrived here, you’re starry-eyed and excited and everything is just so. Damn. New. You’re taking it all in. It’s, in a word, whacked. You’re partying. You’re socializing, or at least trying to. It’s a hell of a first few days, especially if you’re young, energetic and seeing something like Korea–something so damn FOREIGN–for the first time.


Welcome Home

I am fully moved in to my Korean apartment. There is still plenty to do to really make this “house” a home. I am very happy that this “ah-pa-tuh” is about double the size of the one I had in 2010. That one, in the busier, less blue-collar section of the city called Deokcheon, made me feel claustrophobic. This one, here in Jangnim, can be a refuge when I inevitably get a little Korea-d out and need my own space.

Without further adieu, here is your 500 won tour:

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I Own My Phone

Haaark!

I own my phone. Congratulate me. Thank you.

For two years I paid my phone bill like a diligent citizen. Included on this was a monthly instalment that paid for the actual device. I couldn’t remember how much it was because when I bought it the salesman spoke very quickly, circled pieces of writing, and showed me a lot of pieces of paper, and all the time I just wanted him to give me the blasted thing so that I could go and touch it constantly. But today I checked my bill and low and behold the bill was a whopping 50,000 won less than normal. Of course this is splendid news for my pocket as I can now divert this sizeable sum to some other bill I struggle to pay every month.

Of course it’s my phone is only a glorified paperweight that I could arguably say I don’t need. In fact I’m very sure I don’t need it. But I do have it. So there. Anyway. It’s all mine now.


Why Repeat Myself?

This post, from August 2009, sums up how I am feeling tonight, at a point in this new adventure where I can begin to use hours instead of days to countdown:

No matter how hard you try, you won’t get to see everyone, do everything and be everywhere you want to be before you leave. So, just let it all go.
I got to hang out with family tonight for a couple hours. It will probably be the last time I see my dad, sister and one of my brothers before I leave, as Monday is going to be jam packed and Tuesday we’re getting up at 6 a.m. I had made plans last week to see a couple of (now-former) co-workers that did not materialize. Rescheduled for tomorrow, that unfortunately got demoted. It just happens.


Letter from Korea, February 2013

Suwon
February 2013

Dear Ireland

Today, Thursday February 7 of the year 2013, has been a long and busy day, and it’s far from over. This morning myself, herself, and +1, rose at 6am as we always do, but instead of feeding and returning to sleep, we dressed in a panic, and bailed into the car in sub-zero temperatures. A trip to the airport was afoot. Why? Well, mammy and daddy were on their way to Korea!


KHAP in Seoul (HIV / Aids Testing)

I got my biannual HIV/AIDS check this past Sunday at KHAP (Korean Federation for HIV/AIDS Prevention) in Seoul. I highly recommend using this service to foreigners in Korea who want an anonymous HIV exam during their stay in Korea. It is quick, professional, provided in English, and free.


Busy ...

My mom and younger sister are in town, camp camp can be hectic at times, and I'm finishing up grad school apps. A bit busy, so sorry for the few blog updates. Tonight, I brought my family to Soho in Itaewon. A couple of the patrons told me I'm lucky to have such a loving family that doesn't mind going to gay bars. I'd agree, but it also can be a little embarrassing to go dancing with my mom. I guess I can relate to Michael from Queer As Folk a bit... Luckily, my mom is adorable.


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