Vietnamgonna Ride The Whole Way

Ginger and Ieave November 21st for our bike trip down the coast and started training last weekend.

Last Saturday was our first long ride since summer. When we started towards Gangnam for a burrito lunch there was a light Portland-esque misty rain. After riding a couple hours we turned off the river path into the city, just as rain started falling hard.

We passed a Hyundai Department store advertising its luxury goods and could tell that we were in a chic neighborhood. Soaking wet by now we stopped for coffee to warm up. The cafe was super cute and the ladies working there were quite nice about us sitting on their chairs, muddy and wet.

We learned we had made it to Apujeong, which is the most posh part of Seoul, with its own “Rodeo Drive.” It also borders Gangnam so happily we were close.

We got to the burritos after riding down streets with fancy cars and fancily dressed people shopping at European looking shops and eating European restaurants. Upon arriving Ginger said “My feet are frozen” and I responded “My ass is frozen”.

I went to the bathroom and literally ice had formed on the back of my legs, a lot of ice. After eating it looked like the rain was over but it began down pouring so hard we couldn’t see five feet in front of us so we parked the bikes and too a bus the last twenty minutes.

M We then rode every day of the week except Thursday, and Saturday headed out early for another long ride. This time our goal was to go to the War Museum on the outskirts of Itaewon. It was a beautiful, sunny fall day.

The Museum covered the history of war in Korea, even back to 300 CE when 3 Korean kingdoms were fighting for domination, through multiple Japanese invasions, skirmishes with China and later the US.

South Korea is also celebrating 60 years of the Republic of Korea, which figured largely into the Museum. It was interesting, albeit a sad exhibit. It was cool to ride to a destination where we learned something new.

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It’s really hitting me how fast this year went. In the past month our neighborhood has changed dramatically with all the foreigners changing. For the first seven or eight months most of the same people were here, but since late summer it seems every weekend has had a goodbye dinner-a couple- and ours is next.

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Han

WOW! It’s been awhile- I have been busy and had intermittent internet service, which I hope has now been resolved with a fixed Ethernet cable.

So I have been to a few interesting events since I last wrote, starting with a Traditional Arts Festival. I went with Yosefina, which was very cool, since she could explain some of the meanings to me. We saw music, dance, plays and tightrope. Yosefina told me the first artist we stopped to see is a Korean national treasure. The older gentleman was performing a comedy about love.It ended with a performance of the most well-known Korean folk song, Ariyang:

We then stopped at the dance stage, where two woman dressed as cranes were performing a modern-traditional fusion. It was slowly, deliberately and beautifully performed and followed by a “Wish Dance”.

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The Wish Dance is about expressing the burden of Han, which can wear you down and make you sick. I will do my best to explain Han in my imperfect way. Korea is called “Hanguk”, the language is “Hangul” and the people are “Hangukin”. Han is integral to Korean culture. Han is subtle expressed, deep emotion-sometimes it is said that foreigners have no Han, because they are very forward or open with their feelings. In English a common greeting is “How are you?”, which is not the case in Korea. Korean friends would more likely read the more subtle signals without asking for explanations.

Yosefina also said Han related to Korea having been invaded and occupied, throughout its 5,000 year History. Most recently, under Japanese occupation Korean people had to learn Japanese and take Japanese names. These invasions caused repressions of will, of true expression. Han is in one sense these repressed, strong, emotions. Yosefina wanted to emphasis that Han, while it can be unhealthy in its extremes, is also  a valued part of the Korean character.

In the Wish Dance, the dancer is expresses her unfulfilled wishes, and the village experiences the catharsis as well. The dance was moving, as was the accompanying music. The dancer’s long sleeves were moved gracefully, assisted by a set of drumsticks held in her hands. She approached the drum towards the end of the dance to play for a dramatic finish.

The next dance would have been only been played at court during the Joseon Era, but is now shared with everyone.

We finished up watching tightrope walkers-first a Korean performer followed by a Russian couple that was invited to perform with some other international folk music, dance and performance groups. All in all it was a great day.

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Crappy pants…or English is funny

So I went to a cool, traditional performing arts festival last weekend- but am going to wait to write about it until my internet at home is up and running again. And I’m feeling a bit crappy pants about it- as the guy never showed up this week…

Anyways- Last weekend I hung out with Yosefina- I don’t remember what we were talking about at the time, but she said “cranky pants” and I said I liked the sound of it as I’m used to “crabby pants” in the Midwest.

She related to me about having a similiar conversation in the States- but when she told me, she said one friend said “cranky pants” and the other “crappy pants”.

When she said “crappy pants” I cracked up, couldn’t help it, it just sounded so funny. I explained that crappy pants sounds like someone pooped in their pants…and the slang is really “crabby pants”. P and B are very close phonetically so it’s an easy mistake to make.

Then Yosefina asked something like ‘Don’t people say “I feel crappy today” ‘

Yes they do…we also say:

“I feel crabby”

“I feel cranky”

But “crabby” is a more polite word for “shitty”. So even though we say “I feel- cranky or crabby or crappy”- we don’t say “crappy pants”.

This led to a conversation about the slang/swear word “Shit”.

I wrote down some of the different ways people use it nowadays for educational purposes-

Firstly “Shit” is an impolite way to talk about pooping, which in itself is not usually considered polite conversation.

That’s the shit! or That shit is off the hook = That’s cool or That thing is awesome

I have a lot of shit= I have a lot of stuff

I am in deep shit= I am in trouble

Shit! = Shoot! (but really…shoot is just a substitute for shit and wouldn’t mean anything without the swear word)

That stuff is shit= that stuff is low quality

Talking shit= talking trash-sayong negative things about someone else

Shoot the shit = have a conversation

So that’s to say “Shit is complicated”, which is to say the word itself is complicated. Of course “Shit is complicated” also means “Life/ Things are Complicated”.

The conversation made me think about shit (meaning stuff) like language and how I took all those meanings of the word for granted- it’s a very contexual word. To quote the Wikipedia:

“Shit is one of the most- if not the most- functionally diverse words in the english language, and is also one of the most frequently used nouns.”

Lights Out

A friend pointed me to this satellite photo of the Korean peninsula at night-as you can see the North is dark.

The news is still speculating over what would happen if Kim Jong Il is gone-but it has been drowned out by the American financial crisis-the AIG bailout being front page news last week. It was also reported today that South Korea might cut off aid to the North if it continues work on restoring its nuclear reactor.

Question and Answer

Well I got an email from my cousin Adam awhile back and he asked some good questions so I thought I’d share them and my response-which is obviously my opinion and I’m sure there are others out there:

Are the Koreans welcoming of you as an American?

I wonder how the Koreans perceive the American military presence.

How do they feel about N Korea and the idea of reunification?

Are S Koreans aware of the human atrocities in the north?

As an American and as a foreigner I get a mixed response-I feel like I either get special, positive treatment or rudeness, like mean stares or people changing their spot on the bus to get away from me. Also people love to take pictures of you or shout “hello!” I can’t imagine running up to an immigrant in the U.S. and asking to have a photo with them but that happens a lot here. Koreans have not been exposed to a lot of foreigners.

I would say that South Korea really appreciates America for its help in WWII and fighting Japan (their arch-enemy and occupiers), and sees the U.S. as helping them gain independence from the Japanese. There is also a lot of love for for U.S. role in the Korean War.

What Koreans do not appreciate is soldiers behavior now. A few years back the military was accused of poisoning the local water supply with some army chemicals. I’m not saying that’s true, but their is a movie out called “Host” that uses the premise. In the movie a monster grows in the Han River because the American Army dumped a bunch of formaldehyde down the drain.

Also many bars have “No Military” on their doors because soldiers are known for letting their drunken behavior get out of hand. I get the impression many Koreans think crime is mainly caused by foreigners-not only the U.S. military but the SE Asian, Arabic and African immigrants as well.

I have heard they are moving the US bases in Seoul to somewhere further away.

South Koreans are aware of the atrocities of the North but people don’t really take action on it—there were Mad Cow protests for months but no protests over N. Korean refugee issues for example. There have been serveral stories since I arrived about North Korean refugees hiding in China and Thailand-being found and sent back to North Korea

Just this past week a S. Korean tourist in the North was killed by a North Korean soldier because she went off the trail. South Koreans were only allowed limited access during the last Presidential term, as it was seen as a way to foster a relationshipo between the countries (and I’m sure many hope reconciliation). Tours in the North are very limited and you will not get to see what daily life is like or interact with locals.

The S. Korean woman shot was touring “Diamond Mountain” (Kumgang) called one of the most beautiful in all of Korea. The S.Korean President has suspended all mountain tours until the North agrees to an investigation.

And yes, not that I can speak for all Koreans but many say there is only one Korea and believe the country will be reconciled eventually. At a soccer match one month ago between S and N Korea, at the end a group held up a giant flag with an image of one Korea, in blue–a color representing peace.

#25

Street names are not used here- instead areas are named, buildings are numbered and people navigate using landmarks. I live in building #25 but the building next door is #13. I was told the buildings are numbered not in geographical but chronicological order- so they receive a number when they’re built…13 was built, then 14 and so on.

The other morning I went to the 24 hour ‘mini stop’ for some toilet paper, baught a small bottle of grape juice and got a surprise when I slurped up a whole grape. Looking inside I saw the juice was full of green grapes; some of you may know that I can be picky about food textures and I drank it but plan on avoiding that bottle in the future.

Then on my way home I wandered into building #25- identical to mine in everyway except the design pattern on the door. I had wrongly assumed my number would be unique to the area and when I finally found my place- I realized it was just around the corner from the other #25.

The teacher that I’m replacing has been walking with me to school and he takes the scenic route through the town’s market. I want to take pictures of everything and promise to get a camera as soon as possible.

It’s row upon row of glassy eyed fish, steaming food stalls hawking fried sticks of mystery meat, bowls of persimmones, piles of paperthin, dark green seaweed, racks of clothes, and innumerable neon flashing signs lining the narrow streets- fit for pedestrians and motor bikes, with the occasional car squeezing through.

HI All

So it has been a little under a week here and I’m feeling really positive about my situation. Tuesday I was already at school, shadowing the teacher I’m going to replace and getting to know the system. 

The company, Reading Town, has very well-organized curriculum-  and I will start teaching this Monday- I’m a bit nervous, but the kids really know the drill- there is a set way to do class so it should be pretty easy for me to step in and take over. Also, the kids know they are not supposed to use korean in class and the Reading Town system eliminates the need to do so.

I have also heard from other teachers that our boss is very fair and takes care of things- if you need help. Unfortunately, some teachers at other schools in the neighborhood have broken their contracts because of shady hogwan behavior. Hogwan basically means private school; there has been an explosion of english hogwans in the past 5 years and for now, it’s a trend that continues to grow.  My biggest concern was finding a good school and those worries have been out to rest.

More Later…