Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Episode 26: In Which DFM Has To Say "So Much For Being On Vacation"

On Sunday afternoon, while I was out with Yoo and Yi,  Lee Young San phoned me up and told me that he needed my help.  His boss had told him that he needed to find an English teacher for one of his schools fast.  Young San told me that it would only be for three days, and that all I needed to do was "play with kids."  Young San obviously doesn't know how DFM teaches.

The next day I got up and met Young San's boss, Mr. Kim, at the scheduled time and location.  Mr. Kim is a bit of a rarity in Korea, and his business is likewise unique.  Mr. Kim runs an education business.  He invents products to teach children English in unique and interesting ways, and he then uses these products in the numerous school he runs.  He started his venture teaching drama to children, but quickly expanded into the English market.  His philosophy is to teach children English using activities they enjoy.  Additionally, he believes that if the body is moving, the brain will work better.  Every activity for learning English involves songs/music, physical activity, or art and it is the process of moving while studying English that is more important than the product.  As far as I can tell there is next to no book learning at this school.

Monday is the physical education day.  Every class came to the gym dressed in red sweatsuits.  Physical Education for private schools is run by private companies who create programs, much like the hagwons create programs, and then market those programs to hagwons who contract out teachers from that company to teach said program.  The physical education teacher for this school is Kim Woojin.

Here Woojin attempts to get the 6 year-olds to stand in four straight lines.  Good luck with that one Woojin.  The boy in the middle of the front row is Louis (you know you're in trouble when the new teacher remembers your name on the first day).  Louis started over in the far right row behind the boy in the sweatshirt with no logo.  However, as soon as Louis saw me pull out my camera he made a bee-line for center stage.

Woojin had the students put their hands out in front of them to make sure there was enough space between each student for the upcoming exercises, but these boys had different plans.  Look closely at the second boy from the front.  That's right, Louis again.  I suspect he started this pile-up too.

Eventually Woojin performed a miracle and got all of the students to stand in their own place.  Tai chi exercises were performed to music, and then there were some stretches.

Stretching up to the ceiling was no problem, but as you can see from this picture some of the boys had trouble with the concept of "keep your legs straight and touch your toes" (check out the kid in the front row).

Louis got to demonstrate his splits for the class, and after that he was more than willing to show them off any time I brought out my camera.

Every class went through a target game involving tennis balls and a Velcro target that hung over the back of a chair.  The target was an invention of the Phys Ed company, and was quite ingenious I thought.  This game was a real hit with the older children, but the four year-olds were more interested in singing to the music that was playing.

After about five PE classes in a row, Woojin and I finally got a twenty minute break to eat some lunch.  The cooks in the cafeteria make us a wonderful meal every day, and today's meal had all sorts of pickled vegetables and some minnows that still had their eyes.  Yummy.

After class I would go and teach the "special art" class to the six year-olds (the four and five year-olds had gone home).  The teacher would generally give the instructions, but I was called upon to give the English names and test the children's mastery of the shapes and colours.  I also introduced myself and listened while each child stood up and introduced him/herself in return.  After the first child said his name I responded with "nice to meet you."  Since that was one of the first phrases I learned in Korean, I figured it would be one of the first phrases taught in English.  I was not wrong.  As soon as I said "nice to meet you," the teacher's face lit up and the boy responded "nice to meet you too."  "Thank-you" I responded.  So, from then on, after each child said his/her name I had to respond "nice to meet you" and then listen to "nice to meet you too."

Today's assignment was "A Famous Building In Korea."  The picture was of Dongdaemun and was constructed of circles, rectangles and triangles.  The children would rip or cut out pieces of colored paper and glue them in the appropriate places (or anywhere even close was considered alright too).

While the children were cutting and gluing I would walk around and ask each one randomly what a certain colour or shape was called in English.  The vice-principal happened to walk in at this moment and thought it was great.  At the end of school she said to me "David come to kindergarten every day!"  I guess I'm now The Korean Kindergarten Cop.

On the walk back home I came across a section of sidewalk that had images from various movie posters out of some sort of metallic sidewalk tile(s).  There was everything from classic black and white films to Hollywood blockbusters, Korean films and even some French films.

That night Lee phoned me and said that I needed to meet Mr. Kim after work the next day.  I have a suspicion that I am going to be asked to keep working after this week.  We'll have to see what happens.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Episode 25: In Which DFM Uses His Pogs Skills To Impress The Locals And A Life-Long Search For Astroboy Is Finally Realized

Today I went to meet Yoo Sung Bok, a young man who introduced himself to me after he heard Perry talk about me at the speech last Tuesday.  Sung Bok wanted to meet in Gangnam, the business area of Seoul, and home to many beautiful glass skyscrapers.

Sung Bok (in the black coat), brought along his friend, Yi Woo Jin, who Sung Bok said really wanted to meet me.  Woo Jin had spent some time studying English in England and was able to fill in the gaps between my broken Korean and Sung Bok's broken English, so I was happy to have him along.  He was also a really nice guy in his own right.

After we had some ttoekbokki and some gogimandu, we headed over to Insadong-gil, because there were still some sights I wanted to see.

Number one on my list of places to visit was Toto's collection of old things.  I was mainly looking for some Astroboy memorabilia and I hit the jackpot.

Astroboy was my favourite cartoon growing up as a child, and I've always missed it since it went off the air.  Here at Toto I found all sorts of Astroboy items including various Astroboy figures and an Astroboy punching bag.  In Korea, Astroboy is called Atom.  I hummed the Atomboy theme song for the rest of the day; a life-long search for Astroboy finally complete.

While Sung Bok and I wandered around Toto, Woo Jin found a neat promotional event going on where visitors could get free hot chocolate and play some traditional Korean games.  There was an ancient version of hacky-sack and also an ancient version of pogs, in which players used folded up pieces of newspaper or something like newspaper to flip over the playing piece.  Having consumed copious amounts of Kool-Aid during the early '90s so that I could win the official Pogs playing board, I was easily able to flip the ancient square pog.  The first two games were for the common folk, but the aristocracy played the version of darts you see above.  Players stand behind the line and try to toss the arrows into the hollowed out tree stump.  This game is not only hard, but really addicting too.

This is the Bosin-Gak bell.  Back in the Joseon dynasty (1468), when it was created, the bell inside this pagoda was struck 33 times at dawn- for the 33 heavens in Buddhism - and 28 times at sunset - for the 28 stars that determine human destiny.  Now though, it is only struck at New Years.  Visitors were once able to walk up the stairs and view the bell up close, but the same arsonist who burnt down Namdaemun also tried to burn down this pagoda, and since then the site has been closed up.

By this time Woo Jin had to go home, but I Sung Bok and I hung around because I said I wanted to see the lights of Cheonggye Stream.  I'm not certain why, but a couple dozen amateur photographers had shown up with their tripods and DSLRs with foot-long zoom lenses to photograph this small fall.  It was neat, but I don't see how a second or third picture would be any different than the first, since nothing would have moved except the water.

After this picture Sung Bok and I headed home too.  Another good day for DFM in Korea.

Episode 24: In Which DFM Comes Face To Face With A Man Eating Beast And Fish Learn How To Drive Cars

Wow, it's been a few days since I've posted. My Internet went down again and so I was unable to update you on my adventures. Time to make up for it, because today was the day I've been planning for all month - the day of the big shark dive!

I got up at 6:00 AM to catch an early morning KTX train to Busan. The KTX train travels at speeds up to 305 km/h. When it was first built it cut the time of the trip to Busan from Seoul down to 1 hour 50 minutes (from about 5 hours). But, since its creation more and more stops have been added and the the trip now takes roughly 3 hours.

The train is a lot like flying in an airplane, but a bit less comfortable and only half as fast. However, it sure beats taking a bus and it costs about the same price as a taxi to an International airport from the center of a big city.

My neighbour for the trip to Busan was Joseph. Joseph is a bit of an anomaly in that he managed to pick up a perfect North American accent for his pefectly fluent English, without ever having lived outside of Korea. Joseph was on a business trip this morning for his company which franchises English schools. Joseph was nice enough to give me a strip of his pastry, since I did not think to bring anything for the trip, and he also spent most of the trip explaining to me the history of Korea from the invasion of the Mongols to the beginning of the Korean War. Don't think he was boring me though, I was fascinated and kept begging him for more information.

I severely underestimated how long it took to get from Busan Station to Haeundae beach by subway. Quite soon I realized there were far more stops than I anticipated, and that I was not going to make it in time, so I jumped off and tried to catch a cab. I got in the first cab that stopped for me and tried to do up my seat belt There was only a strap with a hook, but no catch though, so I just imagined a seat belt.

The cab driver did not speak English, but he was so happy with my infinitesimally small amount of Korean and that I was Canadian that he phoned up (and woke up) his daughter, who had studied in Canada, to talk to me in English. This has happened to me quite often since I've come to Korea and it is always awkward for both parties.

The taxi driver then realized that I was speaking Seoulese (people in Busan speak a different dialect of Korean than do those people in Seoul) and decided to "correct" my Korean with some impromptu lessons, but I couldn't understand a word he was saying. He got me to Busan Aquarium though, and that's all that mattered.

The Aquarium is located right on Haeundae beach, which is a beautiful beach in a beautiful area of Busan, which is itself quite a beautiful city.

When I was dropped off I was five minutes late. I couldn't see any signs for the diving, and when I went to the front desk to ask where the shark diving was I was told that there was no shark diving. Undaunted, I went over to the Information Office and was told that I should go under ground. I went underground and someone pointed me up a set of stairs, but these stairs just led back out onto the beach. Eventually, after twenty minutes of searching, I finally found someone who could direct me to the course, which was in fact at Busan Aquarium.

After filling out the requisite paper work and watching some training videos the other four divers and myself got on our wetsuits and goggles and went over to the training pool.

On the way over we saw a separate pool of about eight Lemon Sharks swimming around. Lemon Sharks are about 9 feet long and are aggressive hunters and they had been separated because they were eating the other animals in the aquarium. These animals cost tens of thousands of dollars each, and the Lemon Sharks had caused an entire species of stingray to "disappear" from the aquarium as well as having torn the fins of and scarred the bodies of a number of the Sand Tiger Sharks. The aquarium had put a number of giant tuna fish in to attract the teeth of the Lemon Sharks instead, but Lemon Sharks are smarter than that and did not touch the tuna. We were actually one of the last two groups to ever see the Lemon Sharks, since they were being shipped to Thailand on Monday (this happened on Saturday).

This is my diving team. Michael, the instructor, is on the left, and then there are Takayla and Jake from North and South Dakota (not sure whom is from where), Justin from Baltimore, and Maggie from Pittsburgh. All four of the Americans are English teachers near/in Busan and probably had a much easier time getting to the aquarium than I did.

Justin teaches at a school for the children of rich parents. Many of his students are the children of doctors or lawyers and are rather spoiled. One of his students is the daughter of a Korean professional baseball player. His classroom is wired by CCTV and the housewife mothers spend all day scrutinizing his teaching in the viewing room. As stressful as that sounds he seems to have adjusted admirably and was very excited about the dive. I was happy to hear from him later that two of his students were visitors to the aquarium that day and had waved to him through the glass.

We took pictures of the dive with Michael's underwater camera, but since they aren't up on the website yet I'll just show some of the best pictures of past dives with a few extras I found on the Internet of some of the other animals we saw.

The Sand Tiger Shark, which I shot afterwards through the glass from the outside looking in. The Aussies, whom regular readers of this blog know are XXXX rated, only refer to this as a Grey Nurse Shark.

Lest you thought I was lying about being in the aquarium with sharks.

This is a picture of a Green Turtle, over some coral reef in Hawaii. The Green Turtle was my favourite animal in the aquarium. Apparently it is rather aggressive and thinks that every diver in the pool is going to bring him food. Michael put him in a holding pen behind us while we were training, and when I was not being instructed I would turn around every chance I could get to look at the turtle who was always staring me right in the eyes and/or snapping its mouth at my face. Being close enough to have my fingers (or nose) bitten by such a majestic creature was really exciting; it made my hair stand on end and my heart race.

This is a diver from another group, but I had a very similar experience myself. After lowering down into the giant tank (a round tank of roughly 30 yards diameter and 8 meters depth) I knelt down to wait for the other divers. While I was waiting I was welcomed by a curious Grouper fish. This species of fish has been caught in the wild and found to have an entire human inside of its stomach. Today it thought it would swim over and come within about two feet of my face. I was so excited I forgot to breathe and thought something was wrong with my respirator. How can a fish be big enough to eat a human, you ask?

This is how.

Obviously I didn't take this picture myself, but this is an exact reenactment of my first minutes diving in the aquarium, except I was on the other side of the glass.

After diving I was starving, so Maggie and I went over to an American pizza restaurant to indulge in some "Western food." Back in Canada I used to love pizza, but after eating so much fantastic Korean food with its exceptional spices and exotic flavours I found pizza quite bland. Maggie said that she used to love bacon but found it disgusting when she went home after her first year of teaching in Korea. I'm going to go back home in a month and not be able to eat anything but rice.

After pizza we went back to the aquarium and our shark diving experience counted as admission to the aquarium as well, so it was "free."

These piranhas look like they've already finished their last meal.

Catfish are called "maggie" in Korean, so Maggie insisted on taking some pictures.

This Jackass Penguin (that's its real name) spent all day diving down into the water to look at the guests. It was quite a hit with the children.

One of the highlights was when I got to hold this real live sea urchin in my hands at the petting tank. Maggie said that it was rare to find an urchin that still had all of its quills. I guess they tend to get broken off by all the people handling them.

"Do you know what that sound is, Highness? Those are the Shrieking Eels! If you don't believe me, just wait. They always grow louder when they're about to feed on human flesh!"

What do you get for the fish who has everything? How about a car. Hyundai shows what the inside of James Bond's Lotus should have looked like after he drove out of the lake in The Spy Who Loved Me.

Best day of the trip so far by a long shot. If you're in Korea make sure you head to Busan for the shark diving experience. You can find more information here.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Episode 23: In Which DFM Becomes The "Big Tiger" And Receives "Very Many Thankfullness"

Today I tried to set off early and make it to Lee's office so that he could help me do some on-line shopping, Korean style.  I knew it was supposed to be a straight walk from Itaewon to Hannam, but that didn't stop me from making an incorrect turn and getting lost on a bridge over the Han River (I'm still not sure how since there were no turns to make).  Eventually I combined some basic orienteering skills with some more good luck and found my way accidentally back onto the street I had been last night when I had the meal and sang karaoke with Lee, Hyeun A and Arie (and after only an hour of walking around too).  I tried to phone Lee, but it was 1:00 PM and apparently he was still sleeping so I went back home.

I decided to not make the trip a total waste and picked up a pack of tteok I had read about for less than $2.00 on my way back.  These are balls of pressed rice that are then covered with sesame seeds or some sort of desweetened sugar.  Whatever they are, they taste pretty good and really fill you up.  I'd say it's pretty hard to find a denser food than tteok.

I sat down on the edge of a flower bed to eat my tteok, but a homeless woman came and told me I shouldn't sit on the edge of the flower bed or else the hospital to which it belongs will think I'm a drunk and call the police.  Or at least I think that's what she was trying to tell me, I couldn't understand a thing she was saying but it didn't sound like "I hope you have a good time," and she was making a lot of "drinky-drinky" motions too.

The afternoon was still young at this point so I moved on to Plan B.

Seoul was a co-host of the 2002 World Cup of Soccer along with Japan.  Seoul was one of the main sites and now has a brand new football stadium that probably cost millions of dollars.  The problem is, apart from the World Cup, no one in Seoul really cares about soccer.  None of the football teams in Korea are very good, and the only team anyone really follows is Manchester United since the captain of the Korean National Soccer team, Pak Ji-Sung, plays for that team.  

To recoup some of the costs of this giant waste some enterprising Korean turned the stadium into a giant Wal-Mart type shopping mall underneath, with anything you could imagine from bikes to electronics to clothes to food and so much more.  There's a food court and a giant movie theatre and a wedding/banquet hall too.  There's also a World Cup Museum, which is what I came for.

The Museum was kind of sparse, but there were some neat artifacts like shoes and jerseys worn by actual players, and this ball used in the 1960s.

Inside the museum I met Jari, from Finland.  Jari is visiting Korea with his girlfriend from Taiwan, but she won't be here for another week still so in the mean time he's getting acquainted with the city.  We walked around sharing stories of our respective journeys, and eventually figured out that you could actually go on the World Cup field itself and get your picture taken.  That's Jari in the picture.  (I also figured out the hard way that if you try and walk up to the top of the stadium by yourself you get yelled at by the security guards).

The picture would have been better if I had gotten to the field earlier and had some better light, but it took me an hour to actually find my way inside.  The outside was entirely enclosed in a big metal gate, and even though there were many booths with the English word "Information" written on the side around the building, the employees inside never spoke any English so it was impossible to get any help from them.

Some other interesting facts about the Stadium include the five parks that were built around it and the fact that it is built on a giant mound of garbage.  Apparently the land the World Cup Stadium is built on was an old landfill, and I found that it still smells like it if you go down by one of the streams running through the parks.  From the Stadium I headed over to Summit Climbing Center to keep my promise of a return to Jenny and "the gang."

Hyun-Dai wasn't there, but Jenny was, and so were Yu-Suk and a new friend, Sun-Young (Yu-Suk and Sun-Young are in the picture).  Sun-Young is actually an English teacher here in Seoul, which I thought was notable since usually only white people get those jobs (unless she teaches the grammar parts).  I expressed to Sun-Young that I thought it was unfair that when Koreans come to Canada they get English names along with their Korean names, but over here I still only have one.  She gave me a Korean name, Dae-Ho, which means "Big Tiger."  Mr. Chang thought it was fitting.

I gave a gift to Mr. Chang to thank him for the book he gave me on my first visit.  Mr. Chang made me sign the gift and then said "very many thankfullness" to me before placing it on his gift stand in the entrance to the climbing area.  In this picture is a cat from Japan, some sort of trophy from Switzerland, some carved figures from Thailand (or maybe Taiwan, I can't remember) and my totem pole from Canada.  Later, Mr. Chang said that he some times takes members of the gym out to the mountains to climb and he invited me along.  

On an unrelated note, I mentioned to Mr. Chang that I was going to Busan the next day to dive with sharks.  I found out that Mr. Chang is also a certified scuba diving instructor and that one of the instructors at the Busan Aquarium was a student of his.

I also mentioned that I wanted to try a marathon while I was here, and Mr. Chang and Jenny found a mountain half-marathon on the 25 of April for me.  The race is very special because the course runs through a part of the mountain park that is normally closed to hikers/tourists/Koreans in general.  Since I can do a marathon anywhere, and the one I was going to do isn't anything major (not to mention I'm definitely not in shape for a marathon yet), I think I might try this race instead.  Mountain races are my favourite kind, and it would be a perfect cap on the wonderful hiking experience I've had here so far and am sure to have between now and the race.

While I was climbing at Summit, Tae Young (from Hexa gym) phoned me up and said he was in Itaewon for the day and wanted to know if I would like to get something to eat.  I hustled home as fast as I could after I finished and we went to Don Valley Korean Barbecue House.

I had some sort of very hot and spicy beef soup that has a name Tae Young told to me and I forgot.  Tae Young also told me that many Koreans eat the hot, spicy soup to combat the blazing heat of the summer.  He agreed with me that this custom did not make any sense.  Tae Young had bibimbap, which is a famous Korean dish and tastes quite good too.  I should have taken a picture of the meal, but I was too busy stuffing my face and so I had to settle for this make-up shot on the way out.  Note:  The hangul in the sign is pronounced "Doan Balley," I think.

After the meal Tae Young came back to my shoe box of a room and helped me find out the schedule of the train to Busan the next morning.  I could not get the schedule before, because the English version of the site has not been working properly since as long as I've been trying to find out the schedule (over a year), so Tae Young went on the Korean site and in about 5 hours from now I'll be up and on my way to Busan.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Episode 22: In Which DFM Gets On The Wrong Bus And Tries To Sing Karaoke In Korean

Today the plan was to go to O2 World Climbing Gym.  O2 World Climbing Gym is the biggest climbing gym in Seoul, and probably all of Korea.  Without a doubt it has the biggest indoor ice climbing gym in Korea, if not Asia.

You can see from the side of the building that it's kind of hard to miss, except for that it's nowhere near anything else in Seoul and this makes it hard to find.

I had directions but for some reason I decided not to review them before I left.  Instead I combined information from three different sources and got all of it wrong.  Long story short I got on the wrong bus, rode it all the way around, switched buses and then got on the right bus but going to wrong direction, then finally realized I was going the wrong direction and finally got on the right bus.  All together the subway trip plus bus rides took over two hours.  It was an absolute nightmare.  Not to mention my bus driver the first time was a maniac and actually hit another bus that was picking up passengers.

Speaking of maniacs... scooter couriers.  I've talked about them before but the other day I saw a female scooter courier.  She must have been out of her mind though, because was driving on the road, in her proper lane, going the speed limit.  She'll never last.

To make matters worse this day, the gym was quite a bit of a disappointment.  It's definitely the tallest indoor gym in Seoul that I've seen so far, but it still pales in comparison to the average Canadian climbing gym.  Furthermore, there were very few people climbing today.   I also tried to look at the ice climbing wall, but the observatory deck was closed today.

I had limited time after the transportation debacle, but luckily there was this steep overhung bouldering wall that enabled me to tire myself out in about an hour-and-a-half.  There were only two other climbers there, and they spoke no English, but they would point out hard routes for me and then cheer wildly if I could do them.

Afterwards I was invited out by Hyeun A for dinner.  I was under the impression that we were meeting in Itaewon, but apparently that was too far away, so I was supposed to go there.  I took the subway, which took half an hour, but later found out I was a fifteen minute walk away (I went the long way round on the subway, with two transfers).

Lee Young San and Hyeun A's supervisor, Aeri (don't ask because I couldn't figure it out either, in the white coat), came along too.  We had some spicy beef dish and a spicy tuna/kimchi soup.  As usual I couldn't stop stuffing myself full.

After dinner (Aeri was the boss, so in keeping with Korean tradition she had to pay, woo hoo!) we all went out for karaoke.  Lee did not understand how I knew what karaoke was until I told him that in Canada we imported it over from Japan.

Lee also gave me many more tips for getting along in Korea.  His number one tip was "never pay for a Korean girl, because then she'll always expect you to pay.  Always go dutch."  I asked how this fit into Korean culture.  Lee explained that in the past men were considered more powerful than women, but modern women don't want to get hit by men anymore, so they have to pay.  Makes sense to me.

Tomorrow I plan to check out the World Cup Stadium and visit Mr. Chang back at Summit Climbing Center.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Episode 21: In Which DFM Gets Some More Gifts And Eats Some More Free Food (A Good Day)

Today the plan was to climb with Perry at Ace and then go to his house afterwards to meet his wife and have dinner.

I stopped by the school I always walk by on the way, to see if my little friends were there, but instead there was a big Middle School soccer game going on.  The black team had players who were much smaller, but they were very quick and played well as a team.  From what I could see they were winning.

I did meet a couple of other young boys who came up and talked to me.  "Hello.  Where are you from? ... I am from Korea."  That's a pretty standard set of phrases around a hagwon in Korea.  These boys were much less... wild than my other friends, but from what I could glean the boy on the right side of the picture likes basketball while his friend on the left is the big soccer fan of the duo.

I tried to take it easy at climbing today since I planned on climbing the next two days as well.  Instead of my normal hard bouldering I just worked on some of the longer endurance routes.  Someone brought in some delicious home made bread again, and here you can see Choi helping himself (he had to get some before I came in and ate the rest).  Ji-Hyeun is in the background giving the "Victory" sign.  Everyone in Korea thinks that Korea won the war by driving out the Japanese, while everyone in Japan thinks that they won the war by conquering the Koreans in the first place, so... V signs all around!  

Everyone was rather impressed when Perry told them I had eaten hungeo the other night, and as a reward (or just because he's ChoiChoi gave me a special ShamWow type towel with a picture of him climbing on it (I had expressed interest in the picture earlier).  There was also a climber who had to have been in his fifties at the youngest, but still had a six pack.  I love Korea.  I love this gym.

Perry's wife made us a lovely meal consisting of food sent from Perry's parents who are farmers.  There was some rice, four different kinds of kimchi, two different kinds of pork (they tell me it was pork, but it flaked off the bone and tasted like lamb if you ask me), and some tofu.  "Sadly," there were no fish heads, but none-the-less it was delicious.  For desert we had strawberries and pear slices.  I made a real pig of myself and ate at least 75% of the fruit tray.  (Did I mention that I love fruit?)  Of special note was that for the first time I had some wine that wasn't made from rice.  Perry's 15-year-old daughter is living and studying in China, and she sent back a bottle of the best Chinese wine - made from grapes!

I mentioned in my last post that Perry was multi-talented and well traveled.  I found out today that he's been to China, Thailand, Nepal, Cambodia, England, and France, and those are just the countries I can remember.  He says that one day he hopes his youngest daughter can go to high school in Canada.

After our meal, Perry took me for a stroll down a traditional Korean marketplace near his home.  Perry told me that this is a place foreigners never visit.  One of his friends worked at an Oriental health store.  His name is Kil Min Soo, and here he is holding up one of his favourite products - top of the line Korean Ginseng.  Mr. Kil heard from Perry that I had eaten a lot at his house and thought I might need some help with my digestion.  He prepared for me a special Korean tea called ssanghwacha (cha is tea in Korean) that was made from pine cones and actually tasted quite good.  I'm not sure if it is working, but I sure don't feel like I just ate half of Perry's home anymore.  In fact I think I need to eat again.  My Korean film maker friend from last night is going to have to make a film about a foreigner who ate all the food in Korea.  They can call it The Host 3 (apparently there is already a sequel to this Korean blockbuster about a foreign made monster that rises out of the Han river and starts eating Koreans).

On the subway ride home, some man came over and sat by me and started telling me that he had written over 1000 books, and that in Canada he has his own Medical College at a Canadian University, and that he developed a bus for traveling on ice, because ice is a big problem in Canada.  I couldn't understand half of what he was saying, but I think he needed a shave and a change of clothes.

Tomorrow Perry will let me know if his wife will let me stay.  He said I made a good impression (I even brought a gift!) but that his wife was very worried about her poor English skills.  That's the thing about Koreans, and especially Korean women:  They are forever appologizing for their English, even if it's perfect.  Keeping the ol' fingers crossed... and not just because I jammed them in a tiny crack whilst climbing.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Episode 20: In Which DFM Becomes Pudding And Eats Fish Heads

On Saturday, Perry had invited me to a "funny speech" today.  After finalizing the meeting time/place I set out for the speech.

The Ubiquitous Media Street of Gang-nam was our rendezvous.  I'm not sure what that means, but there were these giant pillars all over the place with touch screen maps just like at COEX Mall.

There were also a lot of big buildings... and I do mean BIG.  I had trouble trying to find the one that was most beautiful; I mean "ruined the skyline" the most.

Unbeknownst to me, Perry had decided to take me out for dinner.  We had delicious Korean shrimp with some vegetables and rice.  There was also some raddish kimchi (Korean radishes are about ten times larger than North American radishes I'd estimate).  Perry looks a little dazed because I snapped the picture before he was ready.

When we got to the building where the speech was being held I noticed this tree out front.  This is the first budding tree I've seen since I've been here, and it came on a day when it snowed (some sprinkles compared to what Southern Alberta just got).  It's the perfect metaphor to describe how hard it is to peg down the Korean people as they are always changing and doing that which is least expected.

I also met Kim Ji Yeon, a movie director, and we had a nice chat.  Apparently she's off to New Zealand in May to study English and probably promote her movies.  When I told her that I was from Canada she told me that she liked Cirque du Soleil (at least she didn't equate Canada with Celine Dion).

When I got into the lecture theater I was given quite a shock - the speech was actually being given by Perry.  Perry is a motivational speaker and about thirty people had come after work to listen to him give them a professional pick-me-up.  The topic of his lecture was about facing your fears and moving forward to face your goals.  Little did I know at the time, but Perry had brought me here not to listen to his speech, but to be part of his speech.

At the beginning of the lecture Perry asked me to introduce myself to the people and I broke out every bit of proper Korean I knew in an attempt to impress... or at least not embarrass myself.  It must have worked, because I got a big ovation which made me turn about five shades of red.  After that I couldn't tell what was going on, because it was all in Korean, but I could tell when he was talking about me because every so often the entire room would turn around and stare at me in amazement.

After the lecture my neighbour, Bae Soo Hyun, filled me in on what had happened.  She said that Perry had said that I was a brave man because I had come to Korea by myself without knowing any Korean, but every day I tried to make Korean friends and learn a bit of Korean.  He then went on to say that he had a similar experience in China when every day he tried to meet friends and learn Chinese.  

I told Bae Soo Hyun that I apologized if I had messed up any of the Korean phrases/words, but apparently I had in fact inspired everyone.  She said that they all saw how much I had improved (on the faith of Perry's testimony) and that now they believed that anything was possible if they just tried (the main point of the speech).  As Peggy Hill would say:  "The proof is in the pudding, and I am that pudding."

Actually, to say Perry went to China is a bit of an understatement.  Part of the presentation was a short documentary about Perry and a blind man (Perry was the guide) as they ran a 250 km ultra-marathon together across the Sahara Dessert.  

There was also a video of Perry leading a team and dragging a pile of sleds up a snow-covered mountain in Nepal to visit the grave of a dead friend, and Perry gave us a small magic show and played the Toong So (a traditional Korean instrument) to further demonstrate to the audience that anything was indeed possible if you practiced enough.

The building where the lecture was being held was very fancy.  It gave away free soda pop, including the very delicious Fanta Pineapple, and the Men's Room was actually a Better Men's Room.  I was proud to deposit my Fanta Pineapple induced urine in its Better Urinals.

After the speech Perry got a phone call from a friend who invited us out for yet another meal.  Perry told me that it was a very special meal and that many foreigners could not handle the taste of it.

The meal consisted of taking a piece of kimchi, placing some samgyeupsal on it, then adding some hungeo (raw stingray meat), minari (a sort of pickled parsley stem), and finally fish head.  This whole pile was to be eaten in one mouthful of course, and must come after (never before) a bit of makgeolli (rice milk wine).  Individually only the kimchi and samgyeupsal tasted good, but together it was actually alright.  The fish heads were really really powerful and cleared the sinuses quite nicely, and they also contained large, rubbery bones which I was told I should chew and eat as well.

I not only ate one serving, but had another as well.  This endeared me to my host who gave me a big hug and called me a good friend.  After this I was no longer allowed to drink my makgeolli to the side, which meant my elders considered me a peer and I was now privy to a completely different set of rules regarding respectful conduct/language.

Perry said that if I could eat that meal a few more times I would be famous in Korea (not even all of the Koreans at the table could stomach it), but apparently it was enough for the owner of the restaurant since he came out and said my meal ($25) was on the house.  Unfortunately, in all the excitement I forgot to take a picture ("rookie mistake DFM, pull yourself together!").

By this time it was nearing 11 O'Clock, and so Perry and I needed to head back to the subway station.  I guess we had taken a little too long to show up after the lecture, because our host had downed four bottles of makgeolli before we came and now he had to hold onto my arm for support as we left.  "Good friend," he said to me as we left.

My host was fairing much better than some of the men I saw in the subway station.  One man was standing up looking at a sign and then just fell over, and another man in a business suit had just passed right out and was taking a nap on the ground, right in the middle of the platform.  Koreans work hard, and they play hard!

Before we parted ways, Perry made sure to remind me to come to his place tomorrow where I would meet his wife and then afterwards his family could decide if I am allowed to stay with them.  No pressure though.