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Monthly Archives: October 2009

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On Thursday night, I left my iPhone in a cab. I was pretty upset about it, but I figured it was gone for good. It slipped out of my pocket while I was in the cab. I started to panic, thinking of selling off my stuff to get an iPod touch, so that I have the internet with me, as I have been accustomed to for the past 2 years, since I got my first iPod touch.

Thursday and Friday nights were restless for me. I wondered who had my phone, and whether they could find it in their hearts to return it. Hell, how would they even return it anyway? The whole phone is in English, aside from some of my Korean friend’s names.

Lucky for me, the cab driver had a conscience. He called up my friend who lives about 5 hours away from Seoul. She arranged to meet with him this morning. She called me up and said she was in Seoul, and that she would like to see me, that she had something important to tell me. I always get nervous when people say that. It’s usually bad news.

We met at Express Bus Terminal, and sat down for some coffee. I asked her what it was she had to tell me. She pulls out my iPhone. It’s really the last thing I ever expected. She lives so far away. She came all the way to Seoul, spent the night, and met with me today to get it back to me.

If that’s not the nicest thing you’ve heard all day, I’d like to hear what was.

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Well, fall is finally here. Fall is my favourite season. Some people get what’s called SAD (seasonal affective disorder), which is an acute depression when summer leaves, and fall/winter comes in. I have reverse seasonal affective disorder. I get depressed when spring comes. When fall is in the air, I’m ecstatic.

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I’ve really had a lot of time to sit back and reflect. I have only about 4 months left here, which will fly by. I am feeling a lot of nervousness about leaving Korea. I feel like I did most of my growing up here. Actually, I know I did. I had to pay my first utility bills, do my own laundry, and be accountable to nobody but myself. I’ve felt the highest of highs here, as well as complete rock bottom. I know that I will return to Canada a different person. But who will that person be? Yeah that’s lame and poetic-sounding, in a super-lame way, but it’s the truth. I worry about what my family will think of the new person who walks off the plane around March 13, 2010.

I know I will come back to Korea. I plan on coming back here with my brother and his wife. I am 90% sure that I will be back in Seoul, but I’m also considering Pusan. I hear from a lot of expats there that it’s not a good place if you like to drink, but I don’t drink, so does that mean that it would be great for me?

Yeah, I'm super good looking...

Yeah, I'm super good looking...

One thing I have learned (wow if I had 오백원 for every time I said that) is that you have to be humble. I’ve seen idiots come and go here, who came here thinking they knew it all, and that Korea (and the world) owed them something. The only thing Korea, or anywhere else owes you is the experience of living on your own, taking care of yourself. It’s not that I haven’t had a lot of help from my parents and family, but the stuff I see here is ridiculous.

I learned to be passive, and less of a hothead. I learned to just chill and see what happens… well, only with certain things, of course. I learned to tolerate other people, no matter how annoying they are. I learned to sleep through people hacking up phlegm in my alley, having to use chopsticks for everything (really can’t remember the last time I used a fork), and having cross-cultural relationships, which can often lead to a lot of understanding.

One thing I will never learn though, is to stop missing my family. That’s a part of me that will never leave. Not a day goes by that I don’t think of them. I worry about my grandmother, I worry about my mother’s worrying, I worry about my dad driving around a tin can truck all day, I worry about my little brother doing nosedives in small, single-engine airplanes in northern Ontario, I worry about my other brother’s stress with school, and the stress of putting together a wedding. I worry if I will still matter to my little cousins who I’ve been apart from for so long. I worry if my friends will still be there for me. A lot has changed with me and with them, and I wonder how that will be once I’m back.

Alright, this is getting long and kind of deep. Not really what I had in mind. Here’s a nature photograph I caught today during my break. Real, live Korean old men, in their natural habitat.

Yeah, I'm a thrill seeker, but crikey, education's the most important thing. - Steve Irwin

Yeah, I'm a thrill seeker, but crikey, education's the most important thing. - Steve Irwin

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Yesterday my school and I went to Paju to make some tofu and pick some sweet potatoes. It took about an hour to get there. Paju is located in Gyeonggi-do, very close to the North Korean border. When we got to Paju, the streets were heavily fortified with traffic control devices that make drivers weave in and out between them. My guess is that this is to prevent any North Korean defectors from making a quick escape to the South. There were guards with huge machine guns strapped to their backs. We had to present our foreigner registration cards, and everyone had to have positive ID on them to cross into Paju. I always get nervous in situations like this, although I haven’t broke any laws in Korea since I arrived here, except maybe J-walking. I always expect them to drag me out of the car and arrest me.

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The kids got to grind up soybeans using these oldschool grinding stones. Frothy cud-looking stuff came from the sides of the stones, which I guess is the base of tofu. Then they add water and put it in a big bowl, and add in some kind of water, which causes the bean to separate from the watery stuff. After a few minutes, the soft tofu settles to the bottom of the bowl. They then take the sludge and put it in a box lined with cheesecloth, which they then press.

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The more pressed it is, the harder the tofu. Tofu ranges from hard and chewy to soft and soup-like. We had the soup-like kind for lunch, which is called 두부 지개, which means tofu stew. We also had old fermented-type tofu, with a strong pepper sauce. It was delicious. I love tofu. I wish Canada would embrace tofu like the asians have. It’s so easy to work with, easy to digest, and it’s very versatile. Tofu here is also really cheap, compared to Canada.

I don’t know what I’m going to do when I go back to Canada. I know I will definitely bring some seaweed with me, and maybe a bit of kimchi if I have room. I will make kimbap and maybe kimchi fried rice for my family. I wish I could have my family come to Korea, if not for the sights and culture, only for the food. I know they’d love the glass noodles, the fermented vegetables, and the huge range of rice dishes. It sure beats a slice of pizza and a pop, but there are times where I’d give all the kimchi in the world for a slice of Mossimo’s in Welland.

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It’s a beautiful Sunday that I couldn’t waste at home, no matter how sick I am. I headed to Apgujeong for some mexican food at Dos Tacos, which I reviewed in my food section.

Unhyeongung is located at Anguk station, exit 4 (안국 ). I’m on my way now. The Anguk area is known for its preservation of traditional Korean houses (한욱). I will definitely be taking pictures there.

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Unhyeongung is a smaller palace that was part of the Joseon Dynasty. It was originally built in 1864. As with most temples and palaces in Korea, it has been destroyed and rebuilt into what it used to look like. The Japanese really did a number on this place. It was rebuilt in 1996. Admission was 700 won, or about 60 cents Canadian. I don’t mind paying these small fees to see cool historical places like this, because I know that the money is put to good use taking care of the place. By contrast, Seoul’s most magnificent palace, Gyeongbokgung, is 3,000 won, or about $2.75 Canadian.

This palace used to be bigger, but part of it is now used by a university.

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There was a kind of dance performance happening when I went. It was pretty cool. I made a video of part of it.

This palace is much smaller than Gyeongbokgung (경복공) but it was pretty cool to see, and gave me something to do for the day. If you’re around Jongro-gu’s Insadong area, I definitely recommend checking it out, along with the rest of Insadong. If you’re a tourist or foreigner, I’m sure you’ll find yourself at Insadong to get some gifts and souvenirs for your friends and family.

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I’ve added a food page, as suggested by my future sister-in-law. I will periodically update that page with reviews of different foods I’ve tried. I should have started this 14 months ago. 🙂

You can access my food page at the top of my main blog page. Just look up and to the right, and there it is, along with my music recommendations, the iPhone debacle, and my flower project.

Enjoy!

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Well. It’s happened. I had my 10,000th visitor on Friday, October 9, 2009.

I have spent a few weeks trying to think of a special commemorative post for this, but honestly nothing worthy has come to mind.

I guess I’ll just make this another reflection.

I’ve been a Seoulite for 1 year and 2 months. It really doesn’t sound like a long time, but trust me, it is. This city has its own personality to me now. Different areas have a different meaning to me. Gwanghwamun brings back memories of sipping a Starbucks latte on a cold November night. Apgujeong brings back memories of the shock and horror that I felt when I first arrived here. The mountains I’ve visited… Dobongsan, Suraksan, Gwanaksan, Bukhansan, and many others… the food I’ve eaten, the (few) friends I’ve made, the girls I’ve dated (I’m not a “playboy”)…

The confusion I’ve felt, the amazement I’ve felt towards myself when I finally figured out how to read Hangul, the sadness I’ve felt from being apart from my family, the sicknesses, the heartbreak, the feeling of being almost as a parent, and definitely as a role model to my students… Yeah, I know these are sentence fragments.

For me, the teaching side of this experience has been planting the seeds of curiosity in the minds of my students. The first step towards being a ‘lifelong learner’ is curiosity. The one thing I’ve always tried to infuse in my students is the need to know the unknown. I’m not talking about the origin of the universe, or theoretical physics, but I have always tried to bring a little something extra to my lesssons, other than strictly teaching English. This is why I love my science classes so much. We can start on a lesson about skin, and end up talking about the brain and nervous system.

I digress. Yeah I know that phrase is pretty cliché. And yeah, I know the ´on the e is pretty cliche as well.

I made this blog for a few reasons. One is so that I don’t have to repeat myself a 12 times about the same stories. When people ask about my experiences, I can just refer them to my blog. Another reason is because I simply love writing. Another is my narcissistic manor, hoping that people are actually reading my blog. The major reason was to inform potential English teachers who are thinking of coming to Seoul to teach.

I’ve tried my best to be honest about my bad experiences, while also being fair to the fact that I am somewhat uncultured, other than having a lot of Asian friends from my tutoring days at my alma mater, Brock University. At the same time, I have to be fair about my opinions on Korea, since I am pretty ethnocentric, I’ve come to a conclusion about ‘bad things’ that happen to us. No matter what, there’s always good in a bad situation. There is always a lesson to be learned from the bad things that happen to us.

I’ve also learned that I write my best posts when I’m either in a taxi or on the subway. I’m not sure why.

Well, now I know why. It gets me out and shows me things that I might have missed.

I was writing this post as I was on my way to sell my old hard drive to some guy, and I came out of the station to get a cab back home. I’m sick and I don’t want to spend time on the subway. ANYWAY. I came out of exit 6 of Jonggak (정각역) and there is this awesome drum and dance party going on. So, I whipped open my MacBook and made a video. I’ll post it along with this.

If I weren’t feeling like garbage, I would be out today, seeing the mountains or shooting the city. it’s a perfect day. Not cold enough for a sweater, but not cool enough that you’d be hot if you were wearing one. Not a cloud in the sky. And I’m stuck in my apartment, sick as a dog, watching House MD.

It’s days like this that will make me miss Seoul when I come back home. I’m already starting to make a mental list of things I have to do before I leave. I’m panicking because I haven’t been to the mountains lately, and before we know it, it will be winter again. I really will miss this place, and I hope I’ve done a good enough job to be able to return here again. Apparently job references are a big thing here. I plan to come back around August of next year to teach some more. My brother and his wife (!!) will accompany me. Hopefully I can talk them into coming to Seoul, since they’re considering Pusan.

I’ll end with a few more words, and I’ll try not to sound too philosophical. It’s probably only my parents and brother who will read this far anyway.

It’s been 14 months since I’ve come here, and I still can’t use my iPhone 3G. I miss and love my family. Half of my heart is in Thorold, the other half is here in Seoul. There are some things we can control, and some things we can’t. And if you’re lucky, you’ll have a family like mine, who will stand behind you no matter where you are, or what you get yourself into.

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Today I went to Gwanghwamun (광화문) to check out the Chuseok celebrations. Gwanghwamun is a really nice place, but it was decorated very thoroughly this weekend for Chuseok. Chuseok is the annual harvest celebration, sort of like thanksgiving, but not thanksgiving. To celebrate, Koreans make a traditional treat called songpyeon (송편), which is glutenous rice cake with ‘sok’ in the middle, which is usually made from ground peanuts, honey, and sesame seeds. I got to make some with my school last week.

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Cheonggyecheon (chong-GAY-chon) (청계천) is a man-made river that is about 6km long, running through the middle of Seoul. I’ve been here many, many times, but today was particularly special because the fall weather is finally here, with a nice cool breeze and bright sunshine. This drew many people to Gwanghwamun and Cheonggyecheon. There were a lot of families having picnics near the water, relaxing and talking. It made me miss my family a lot. I wish my parents could come to Seoul so that I could show them the wonders of this beautiful city.

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This statue was featured on a website about the weirdest statues from around the world. I think I have to agree with them.

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This is a statue of Yi Sun-sin, who was a commander of the army against Japanese invasion. It’s a really cool statue that ties the whole area together, with a beautiful fountain surrounding it, which kids love to play in.

Gwanghwamun has got to be one of my favourite places in Seoul. I say that about many places here, but I really mean it about this place. It’s so clean, and there is a lot to do and see there. The mountains set the background for the fountain and statue, and are quite breathtaking on a clear day like today. I wish the weather would stay like this always.

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Once upon a morning dreary, while I pondered weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one forcibly rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
`’Tis some ajoshi,’ I muttered, `tapping at my chamber door –
Only this, and nothing more.’

I was awoken by the constant banging of my landlord on my door. Every time I hear knocking on my door, I think it’s the police for some reason, although I haven’t committed any crime in Korea.

He had a suit on, and was carrying a tray with 3 plates on it. He had made up a traditional Korean breakfast for me and the other occupants on my floor. It consisted of steamed pork belly, complete with skin, 2 slices of pear, 2 slices of apple, VERY strong kimchi, sausage fried in egg, and a cold beer. With a huge smile, he passed me this monstrosity of a breakfast, wished me a happy Chuseok, and headed on to continue slamming on my surely hung over floormates’ door.

I tried to get back to sleep, but the smell of fermented cabbage kept me awake. I submitted to its aroma, and ate. The pork belly had about 3cm of fat on it, and the skin was still on. I couldn’t eat it. I trimmed the fat from the more acceptable pieces, ate the sausage, and some of the kimchi. This kimchi is definitely home made, since I’ve never tasted a stronger kimchi in my 1 year and 2 months in Korea.

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This was a really surprising gesture from my landlord, whom I was sure hated me.

The sun is out, the clouds are gone, and it’s going to be 24 degrees with a cool breeze today. I have a plan with a friend, but I’ll try to get some pictures of fall coming in. I think today will be a good day.

PS: My 10,000th visitor is fast approaching. Is there any kind of special post that you would like to see? Email me with ideas at mikejrisi@gmail.com