Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Six Short Stories

One more Korea blog before I go back roughly a year in time to talk about some of my past adventures that haven't yet been mentioned here. My posts have been pretty long lately, so I'll try (likely unsuccessfully) to keep this one shorter. Rather than sharing one big story, I'll just share a few short stories about things that have happened to me in the two or so weeks I've been on Jeju.

Story One: I was at E-Mart (one of Korea's own versions of Wal-Mart) the other day. There are enough foreigners in town that the sight of a “waygook” (foreigner) is not particularly exciting to most Koreans, but to some children, a tall, bearded white guy is still an amazing sight. As I was riding the moving walkway up from the basement to the ground floor, there was a mother and her three children, aged something like 1, 3, and 5, in front of me. The two youngest children were seated in her shopping cart. The oldest, a little boy, was standing next to his mother. He hadn't seen me get on the moving walkway initially, and when he turned around, he was obviously startled by my … existence? After overcoming his initial shock that such a tall, bearded white person could possibly exist, he smiled and said, “Hi!” I smiled and responded, “Hello!” He tugged on his mother's pants leg, and they briefly spoke in Korean. The boy then turned back to me, smiled again, and said, “Opa Gangnam style.” I replied, “Opa Gangnam style,” did a brief horse-dance, and then, upon reaching the end of the moving walkway, we each carried on with our lives.

Story Two: There's a stereotype about “bad Asian drivers.” One of the first times I was in a car with a Korean driver, s/he drove the wrong way down a clearly marked one-way street (I could tell it was a one-way, and I don't speak Korean, and therefore can't read signs) for several minutes, ignoring the oncoming traffic's horns and flashing headlights, only to turn onto another one-way street, again going the wrong way.

During another ride, my driver decided to do a U-turn in the middle of a 6-lane (3 lanes each way) road. See the fantastic diagram below, which showcases the awe-inspiring Microsoft Paint and Adobe Photoshop skills I command. While it would be illegal to attempt this with no oncoming traffic, it would at least be possible to complete such a maneuver. However, there was a car parked in the furthest of the lanes opposite us at the exact location we'd otherwise have been able to complete the U-turn. The driver must have been aware of this at the onset of the attempted U-turn, but paid it no attention. So within a few seconds, we found ourselves parked perpendicular to the now-oncoming traffic. Rather than putting the car in reverse and doing an admittedly-awkward 3-point turn, we waited for the parked car, whose driver was at a walk-up ATM on the side of the road, to complete his transaction, get back in his car, and drive away. It was weird. This drive was completed by back-to-back failed parallel parking jobs. As awkward as all of this was, I must admit I never felt unsafe, because the speed of traffic on city streets is quite low, and the patience of drivers is quite high.

I kick so many asses at computer graphics programs.

Story Three: One evening, as I was walking through a park en route to my bus stop (I don't yet have a motorcycle, damn it), I found myself walking behind a mother and her middle-school aged son. The mother had apparently just bought her son some type of toy, and he was tearing through the packaging as I walked behind them. After breaching the outer layer of packaging, they both slowed down so the boy could further examine the inner packaging. He then casually threw the outer box on the ground. The mother said nothing and they carried on their merry way. Then, upon getting through the inner packaging, he threw it on the ground. It wasn't like there weren't other people in the park, either. They just didn't care. The mother said nothing and they continued on their merry way. It reminded me of the scene in Anchorman where the Channel 4 News Team walks through a park in San Diego and casually throws their corn-dog remnants and other trash on the ground. You stay classy, Korea.

Story Four: I suck at cooking. How is it even possible to fuck up steamed vegetables? Well, frankly, the answer is obvious. You boil off all the water and end up with smoked vegetables. Don't do this, unless you are a fan of smoked vegetables with a metallic taste.

Story Five: General disorganization of the Korean workplace continues. When I was here in 2010 – 2011, I had a good number of “WTF?! This is happening in my workplace?!” moments. All such incidents were simply the result of poor planning, such as being told on a Thursday that there would be some kind of mandatory workshop on Saturday. Annoying, but you learn to roll with the punches. As I've since been told, “T.I.K.” - This Is Korea. I have had a couple such moments already on this tour of duty. Example one: being told at 8:50 that I would be teaching a 9:00 class.

Example two: I was taken to an “International Festival” for children on Jeju. I was obligated to attend because of my employment through EPIK (English Program In Korea – the federal government's English-education department), but no one knew what was going on. I was dropped off at the festival, and basically told to figure it out. There were a hundred stands, each manned by people I didn't know (I'd been in Korea for one week at the time of this festival). I eventually found a festival tent labeled “North America Corner” or something similar, and found that the other workers at this tent were North American EPIK teachers. So I talked to them for the next couple hours and did nothing. Pretty much a waste of time, but I guess that's part of the deal.

Story Six: Katie, my amazing friend and fellow ESL-teacher with whom I spent 3 months traveling in Nepal, and who lives in Geoje (a 45-minute flight and a one-hour bus ride from Jeju), came to visit me last weekend! It was awesome! Our travels in Nepal were cut short so unexpectedly that the last time we saw each other, almost a full year ago, we each thought we'd be seeing each other the next day. You can read about it in my “Tidbits and Tragedy” article from December 7, 2011. Anyway, it was awesome to see such a great friend on such short order after my arrival here. Made me feel like I was back home.

That's all. Go Broncos! The end.

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