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I'm Only Happy When It Rains

I have never been a rainy day type person. I am actually a little more mental on cloudy days than I am normally and that isn't good usually (yay! three adverbs) but I love Busan when it rains. This city, for reasons peculiar to itself, really benefits from a bath. It is normally a little dusty, a little grubby, and wears all of its odors maybe a little too proudly. A little rain gives it a shine and softens the stonger smells. It is nice.

And so it has been for the last few days, which have produced a steady drizzle. I don't even need to look. I can hear the rain tread of the tires in the busy street up the alley. I think, BTW that the alley that terminates in at my building is the steepest and shortest in Busan, but this is most certainly wrong. It is certainly fun to navigate when neither of us are too dry (me or the alley).

I went to my first professional basketball game last night, the (Busan) SK Magic Wings versus the team in green. 'Magic Wings' always makes me think of some innovation in feminine hygene but I cannot recall from my subconscious the source of the association. The crowd, like so many here at any sporting event other than baseball, was sparce but enthusiastic. Koreans love to cheer and they aren't afraid to jeer either. Professional Korean sports teams are allowed a limited number of foriegn players, and basketball is no exception. They were each allowed two gigantic African-Americans. Only one was allowed to play in the second and third quarter. we missed the first quarter (Allison, Jiho, and I attended), but when we arrived Busan was about three points down. The center for Busan (who remained in) was a likeable fellow who didn't hog the ball and made some very good assists to his Korean teammates. By the end of the third quarter Busan had built a ten point lead mainly through team defence and excellent passing. The Koreans were not great drivers but they were able defenders and played a complicated pick and pass game akin to the WNBA. The center was several times signalled to stand on the baseline in three point land to draw his counterpart out of the lane, allowing the Koreans to run a successful set play, a role he graciously accepted.

The fourth quarter ushered in the other foreign player, a guy who probably would have played point or shooting guard in the NBA, and who thought (mistakenly) that everyone in attendance had come to see him. He asked for the ball every time down the floor and got it and proceeded to drive on triple teams. He usually ended up either laying on the floor, producing a fast break for the other team or being called for charging. The opponents scored 16 unanswered points and won the game handily. Needless to say I was disgusted.

Afterwards we went down to Yeonsandong (my neighborhood "downtown") and walked the narrow alleys until we found a cute little chicken spot to eat. We ordered the variety platter and it was really good. Allison, my new coworker and apartment neighbor, ordered a pitcher of Soju and fruit punch, and ended up drinking most of it. The chicken was great and I brought the leftovers home. So ended another lovely rainy Friday night in Busan.

What to do if you get sick while teaching in Korea:

Go to the hospital. Once you have your alien registration card and your physical you are registered into the country's mandatory medical insurance plan. I pay about 37000 won per month out of my paycheck (employer pays the other half) for the coverage and it is well worth it. I have been sick twice since I got here and both times I got fast and effective medical treatment. Today during lunch (this is why I am writing about this) I went to the hospital across the street with a bad cold. I was examined at the door and sent directly to the doctor who diagnosed me with an Upper Respiratory Infection (URI) and wrote me a prescription. I had that filled at the pharmacy down the street and I took a dose and lunchtime isn't even over yet and I feel better already. I can breath at least.

Moral of the story: get your alien card and physical as soon as possible after you arrive and if you get sick (and you will) go to the doctor immediately. I started working on my alien card fairly quickly and it still took almost a month to get everything back (you have to enroll in the medical plan after you get your card and that takes a minute as well). Also, bear in mind that immigration will be holding your passport while they process your alian registration. I had to adjust my travel plans for the first month to compensate for not having a passport. I arrived at the end of June and the school closed for the last week of July and I would likely have gone to Japan if I was sure I would have got my passport back in time.

And at these prices there is no use trying to medicate yourself with over-the-counter meds. The doctor's visit cost me 3500 won and the prescription, which included six doses of four and a half pills each, don't ask me what) cost me 1400 won for a grand total of 4900 won. That is $3.81 in the current exchange value.

Which sadly brings me to my second topic: the exchange rate. I have tried in this blog to avoid any negativity about my experience here in Korea, and there has been very little of it. My job is hard sometimes, but my jobs at home were as well. I love Busan, my beautiful adoptive hometown, and the rest of Korea (what I have seen) is a gem. The people here are wonderful and kind, and there are many other things I could say about this wonderful experience...but there has been one big downside for me.

Korea sends a major portion of their exports to the United States and as a result of the US financial crisis the won/dollar conversion rate has tanked. Since I started watching it last January it has dropped by about 30% against the dollar. It is still very cheap to live here and there is very little inflation to erode my standard of living (which can't be said of other ESL hotspots where I read that you may go from comfortable to desperate in the course of a one year contract) but I have financial responsibilities and waiting till the currency rebounds (which it almost certainly will eventually) is not an option for me. If you are in the same situation, bear that in mind when looking at your contract: if you need US currency look at the current exchange rate when contemplating a budget. Of course, there is not way to predict what will happen in six months, but is is worthwhile to see what you are working with if you have an immediate need for dollars.

Here is a link to the English language website of the Korean National Health Insurance Corporation (turn down your volume before clicking or you will get blasted with a special video message that's set to stun).

Crunch King

Up until quite recently I thought the only crunch I was going to experience in Korea was the one that sits atop the gloriously chocolately “Crunch King,” (pictured) a Cornetto type ice-cream that tastes even better than it sounds.

However, things changed dramatically last month when I discovered I was thirty pounds down on my monthly cash transfer to my home account.

Since then the Won has been on a (mostly) downward spiral. My first remittance of 1 million won bought me a cool £500 sterling back in August but that same amount now is worth little more than £400. In fact, the currency is so volatile that if I check the exchange rate online before I leave for the bank I’m likely to get a different rate entirely once I get there.

The situation has gotten to the point where I’ve stopped sending back money entirely. Instead, I’ve decided either to keep the money in my Korean account in the hope that things won’t get much worse, or blow all my pay check on a Crunch Kings and electronics. A tough choice and if I know myself (which I think I do) the latter will prevail.

Still, at least Korea has President Lee Myung Bak to steer it through these troubled times, a man whose sole contribution to the global recession debate has been something along the lines of “we must not lose sight of free market economics.”

In this uncertain climate it looks like Sarah and I may have to put our planned trip of “five or sixth months or so” at the end of our contract on ice, having most definitely counted all our chickens before they hatched.

"Here & Now" opening performance, Danwon Arts Center, Ansan

Yesterday, I was invited to do the opening performance for the Korea Contemporary Art 1000 Artists Exhibition, held in the Danwon Arts Center in Ansan City, just south of Seoul.
This performance was called "Here & Now " and was a symbolic tea ceremony to celebrate the passion and creativity of the 1000 artists who joined together for this exhibition.

The artist rolls a circular black table symbolizing "now" until it intersects with a square black box symbolizing "here".

At the meeting point of "here and now", the artist inscribes these words in Korean and English and then begins to set up the table to perform a ritual tea ceremony.

A square black silk cloth is laid under the round table, and a square gold teatray,and jars of various spices are laid out.

The artist creates a multicultural and fragrant blend of tea and five different spices that are labelled (in Korean and English) as "courage", "passion", "persistence", "self-belief" and "audacity".

These spices represent some of the qualities that artists need to continue to create uplifting and inspiring art in a world that is all too often focused on destructive and materialistic endeavours.

The teapot is marked with an infinity sign, symbolizing the infinite power of human creativity and the infinite power of the "now" moment.

Thus the tea is called "infinitea", and the audience members are all invited to drink the tea to share in the special energy of the creative "now" moment.
You can see a video below:

Korean Egg Quiche, HALLOWEEN SPECIAL (계란찜) (vegetarian)

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Korean Egg Quiche, HALLOWEEN SPECIAL (계란찜) (vegetarian)


6 eggs
2 green onions
3 chili peppers (different colors)
2 & 1/2 cups of water
6 tea spoons of salt


*You will need a steamer and a large bowl which is heat resistant.

1. Boil water in a pot.
2. Chop green onions and chili peppers.
3. Mix 6 eggs thoroughly in a large bowl.
4. Add 2 & 1/2 cups of water.
(you can put less water if you like it more dense. Just remember to reduce salt too.)
5. Season with salt.
6. place a steamer in the pot with boiling water.
7. Steam the bowl for 8 minutes.
8. Sprinkle chopped green onions and chili peppers.
9. Steam for another 10 minutes.
10. Remove from heat and do not leave the lid closed.
(If you leave the lid on, eggs will be overcooked and turn green)

* Feel free to add other ingredient depending on your preference.
(etc. shirimp, ham, onions - just make sure it's something that can be cooked in short time.)


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