Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Episode 19: In Which DFM Gets A Fever (That Might Be A Tumour), And Makes Another Surprise Visit

Last Thursday I developed a sore throat, and what with all my singing on Friday and talking with Kyu-rhang on Saturday I did not do it any favours. My immune system is exceptionally strong and I was able to heal up by Monday morning, but in the process of healing my throat it (my immune system) must have forgotten about the rest of my body, and before lunch on Monday I noticed I was suffering from a light fever.

My fever persisted through Tuesday night (perhaps I should not have gone climbing on Monday or Tuesday, and the hard climbing both nights probably didn't help either). That said, I still managed to get over 8 hours of sleep both nights, and even though my body had been sore all over, by Wednesday morning (today) I was starting to feel a fair bit better.

After work on Tuesday, I had asked my boss some key questions about his company's educational philosophy in the hopes of being able to modify my teaching style to better succeed in helping the children improve their English speaking ability (pretty much everyone's goal in Korea, for better or worse). One of my goals following the highly informative session was to increase the amount of time I spent communicating in English with each child individually. I should have started this earlier, because the results at school today were fantastic.

Until today (Wednesday) I had thought that with the exception of my one Australian gyopo (Korean who has lived abroad for an extended period of time) student, none of my children could speak in complete sentences. However, one six-year-old boy (Korean age, subtract one year for Canadian age), whom I already knew was exceptionally bright, absolutely blew me away. I had sat down with him and wished him a happy Chuseok. This is the unedited answer I received: "Chuseok is Korean Thanksgiving. It is a National Holiday." I have taught kindergarten kids in Canada and did not even hear speaking that well from some of them.

Another impossibly cute girl, was so advanced I took my personal minute with her to teach the difference between "who is it?" and "whose is it?" Considering the majority of her classmates still answer "I'm seven years old" when I ask them how they're doing, I consider this a major milestone.


By the afternoon I was feeling nearly recovered and decided to continue with my earlier plan to visit Summit Sports Climbing Centre again.

While I normally climb at Ace Climbing Centre because of the camaraderie and the uncommon (for Korea) focus on hard bouldering, I feel somewhat loyal to Summit because the owner gave me a present on my first visit back in March. During my last stay I believe I went to Summit at least four different times. Unfortunately, I have so far been far busy working every day to make it over to see Mr. Chang and my friends at Summit this trip, but last night I brought home my climbing shoes and shorts from my Ace locker in preparation for my big return today.

Just like my surprise return to Ace, I did not tell anyone at Summit that I was returning to Korea (I also did not want anyone to feel slighted if I did not show up for a few weeks or more, like it has been). When I showed up and knocked on Mr. Chang's office door - and he looked up - he nearly fell off his chair in surprise. It was the reaction I was hoping for, so the return can be considered a success. I did not get to see the reactions of any of my other Summit friends though because no one else I knew was there.

Although it seems that none of the routes have changed, many of the climbers have. Summit gym is located near a number of large universities and so the climbing population is constantly changing as the students change or their schedules become busier. Additionally, when I was here in April I was the only foreigner, but now there is an American (whom I have actually met already when he dropped in at Ace last week), an Australian, and another Canadian. I'm not sure if Yu-seok (sounds unfortunately like "You Suck") or Hyundai (his real name) are still there, but Mr. Chang told me "Bin" (whom I had met and helped climb across the "advanced" wall for the first time on one of my visits) had left on a one-year student exchange to America. Jenny wasn't there today, but Mr. Chang told me she still climbs there. Later, Mr. Chang actually phoned her up and handed me the phone without telling her it was me. When I told her who I was, she said, "really?" Followed by Korea's favourite English expression, "oh my God!"

That's it for today, but tomorrow I have my second meeting with the English club, and this long weekend is Chuseok (my schedule is already full), so there should be lots to read about in the near future.

(Note: If you read the whole post trying to find out about my tumour, it doesn't actually exist. It's actually just a reference to "Lowell" from The Kindergarten Cop.)

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Episode 18: In Which DFM Tap Dances On Korean Television, And Almost Gets Hit By A Car While Walking On The Sidewalk (Again!)

Last week I mentioned I was planning on meeting Hyeun A this weekend, but she was too busy, so I changed plans and asked out Kyu-rhang - a friend I met at Summit Climbing Centre during my last visit.

We decided to meet at Hongik University. In the past I've always heard this area referred to as Hongdae, but never knew why. It has only been recently that I've made the obvious connection that Hongik University's Korean name is "Hong-dae-ip-gu."

When I went to the designated meeting spot I found that every Korean in the area seemed to have chosen this point for meeting a friend as well. Since I couldn't actually remember exactly what Kyu-rhang looked like, I decided to walk around and try to look as "foreign" as possible. My planned worked, as it did not take but a few seconds before Kyu-rhang tapped my shoulder.

Kyu-rhang asked me where I wanted to eat. I had been thinking about this on my way over, and I figured that Hongik University (an area noted for its many foreigners, dance clubs and University students) would not likely have a plethora of traditional Korean restaurants. I noticed a Quizno's down one side street and thought it would be neat to compare how a Koreanized toasted submarine sandwich with the Canadian version.

To keep my experiment as scientific as possible I ordered the same size of Mesquite Chicken toasted sub I usually order in Canada. I'm happy to say that the ingredients looked more or less the same, and despite my worst fears there was no coleslaw in the sandwich (unlike my burrito with Hyeun-A). That said, the chicken was not as thick or seasoned as the chicken used in Canada, and the bun was made with a different kind of bread and was a little dry.

After lunch, Kyu-rhang and I went for a walk. During my last stay I noticed that my friend Woojin would sometimes wear a shirt that featured a Lego man on the front. I figured it was something he had picked up when he studied English in England. However, since then I have seen many other Koreans wearing similar shirts. When I researched the brand BANC, I found out it was actually a Korean clothing brand. On this walk I told Kyu-rhang about how I really wanted to save up my money and buy a bunch of the shirts with different designs, but that I could never find a BANC clothing store. She had just finished telling me that she had never heard of this brand (ironically most of my Korean friends have never heard about this brand), when we walked right past a BANC clothing store. I couldn't see any of the prices on the clothes through the window, but the staff person looked snobbish and disinterested, so I can only imagine that the shirts are overpriced. I'm not concerned about that though, as I've already started a secret stash of money consisting of any budget surplus I can produce each week, and before I go back to Canada I'm going to buy out the store.

We continued to walk around Hongdae some more, until we came across an old man and two women tap dancing. I mentioned to Kyu-rhang that I liked tap dancing and that one day I wanted to try it. At that moment, a man with a video camera who seemed directly involved with the show asked me if I wanted to come up on stage and try to tap dance with the man. Being a good sport, I said I'd give it a try.

The instructor showed me a few basic steps, and after a couple of minutes of dancing while I was video taped, the instructor said I was a good dancer and the cameraman/director interviewed me. He told me that the instructor was 70 years old, and wanted to know what I felt about a 70 year old man tap dancing. I told him what I had told Kyu-rhang: that in Canada people who are 70 do not do many active things, and that seeing this man dancing gave me hope that when I am 70 I can enjoy my life like him too. The director seemed pleased with my response, but I think he was just more happy to have captured "foreigner dancing with Korean grandpa" on tape than anything. Kyu-rhang later told me that the dancing was part of a special television show for Chuseok (a Korean national holiday in which families get together to honour deceased relatives).

After my dancing, we went for some more walking. However, it wasn't long before some crazy driver in a van tried to drive up and park on the sidewalk, almost trapping us between a building and the side of the van in the process. This is the second time I've seen a car driving on the sidewalk, and I figured that it was a sign that it was time to leave.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Episode 17: In Which DFM Gets Invited To A Party With Lots Of Cute Girls, And Later Gets Punched In The Stomach

Friday morning was a tough one. I had to struggle to get out of my bed, and when Namhee phoned me from Canada (it was Thursday night there), I discovered my voice was missing (refer to Episode 16).

I had big plans for my lessons today, and had showed up to school a half-hour early to prepare and set all of my equipment and materials up. However, no one told me that the last Friday of every month is when the school holds a giant birthday party in my classroom for all the children who have had birthdays in the past month.

With my classroom occupied (the only classroom with a large enough space and computer and projector I use for my classes), I had to quickly come up with three separate half-hour lessons with no art equipment, and no space. (Before I continue I should mention this is a different school than the one about which I usually write.)

Considering the circumstances I feel my classes were a great success. However, by the end of the day my throat felt like I had swallowed sandpaper. The children were quite concerned, and when one of them asked if I had a "really sore throat" in Korean. When I responded, "yes, a really sore throat" back (in Korean), the class when crazy ("DFM Teacher can speak Korean!"). They seem to forget that just two days earlier I sang the entire Tomi the Baby Squirrel song in Korean. Oh well, I never get tired of their surprise and joy over my effort to learn Korean.

In the past week I have been getting more and more confident in my ability to hold the attention of the children, and today I tried to teach the children the song John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt. I attempted to teach this song to the children the first week, but I quickly lost their attention and the class descended into chaos.

Now though, I am respected enough as a teacher, and am liked enough as a person, that the children (somewhat reluctantly perhaps) repeated the nonsensical lyrics for me enough times to develop a minor appreciation of the song. Later, in my art class I actually heard one of the girls (incredibly smart) from an earlier class actually attempting to sing the song. It was a proud moment.

Another memorable moment was when one of the girls invited me to her birthday party on the weekend. I told her that if she got her parents to invite me I would come, but that if I couldn't make it she should save me a cupcake (the girl lived for a year and a half in Australia, so her English language abilities are much better than those of the other students). This is the same girl who, on the first day, told me that my class was boring, that I "was no genious at drawing," and that she would "never listen to me."

Speaking of birthdays, one of the five-year-old boys (Canadian age), who was one of the children having a birthday party in my classroom, wanted to show me his presents. When he told me in Korean that today was his birthday, the same girl who tried to sing John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt got mad at him, and told him he had to speak English or else I couldn't understand (I actually knew what birthday was in Korean though). It was funny, but some of the girls get pretty protective of me, and I have to stop them from screaming at the other students if they talk during my class, or if the boys use my stomach for taekwondo practice.

Every teacher has one student for whom it seems like all of his or her lessons are planned. In my one-hour afternoon "special art class," that student is a boy named Seon-gyu. Seon-gyu always wears his taekwondo uniform to class (I assume he has lessons after school), and he rushes through every assignment in twenty minutes, gets bored, and then gets into fights with a younger boy who is also in taekwondo. It took me a couple weeks, but I eventually figured out that when Seon-gyu is happy and occupied, life is easier for everyone (especially me). This usually involves finding an activity that has multiple pictures to colour/draw, something to cut and/or fold, and a lot of taping and/or gluing.

On Monday I had found a paper-doll template for Jack and Jill dolls. I used them today, and it was a big success. The cutting and gluing were easy enough that most of the students could do them on their own, and Seon-gyu's doll stood up on its own (as it was supposed to do), and so he was happy. Even better, it took Seon-gyu the whole class to finish his assignment so no one got hit.

Episode 16: In Which DFM Becomes An Englishee Teacher, And Misses Tim Horton's

Hyenii, the English teacher who invited me to her church two weeks ago, also attends an English speaking club. The club members (about a dozen) meet once a week to learn new English slang phrases and practice reading English articles, in addition to having open group discussions. Hyenii had asked me to attend last Thursday, but I was already busy with the climbing competition, so I told her I would come this week.

Before attending the meeting, Hyenii, myself, and two of Hyenii's friends from the club went to a nearby restaurant for supper. Compared to the mounds of sundae (and a free soft drink) I received in Sillim for $6, the $7.50 for a relatively small plate of breaded fish and pork at this restaurant was pretty expensive. Furthermore, I can honestly say it is the first non-delicious meal I've had since coming back here and the service was nothing to write home about.

The club meets in a cafe I was told was "specially designed for hosting meetings." Essentially it is a cafe in which there are conference rooms that can be rented. They also make a cup of warm chocolate for about one-quarter of the price of an equally bad hot chocolate at Starbucks (to get a good hot chocolate you have to go to Tim Horton's).

The club is led by Tom - who directs the discussions and whom I assume finds the articles. This week's articles were on corporeal punishment (coaches on players and senior players on junior players) in Korean professional sports, and Korean actor Kim Myung-min, who recently lost 44 pounds in preparation and filming of his role as a Lou Gehrig's patient for the film "You Are My Sunshine" (he eventually ended up at 114 lbs, at 5'9"). The role was remarkable considering people with disabilities are normally looked down upon in Korea. Kim was so dedicated to the role, he had to be told to stop losing weight by his director, who was worried Kim might die if he continued losing weight.

The club was overjoyed to have a native speaker at their meeting, but the meeting was a great experience for me as well. For obvious reasons, I do not get to speak English freely while I am teaching kindergarten kids, many of whom have barely mastered "hello" and "good-bye," and when I am climbing I try to speak in Korean as much as possible. Consequently, I had not realized how much I missed being able to engage in deep discussions about controversial topics.

I guess I missed talking a little too much though, for at the end of the night I noticed my throat was feeling rather sore. I was worried that I had talked too much and had hogged all the time, but every one assured me that listening to a native speaker was an important learning opportunity they do not usually get. The club members also enjoyed my "kind hearted explanations" of English slang so much that they invited me to be an official member of their club. I accepted, since I really enjoy teaching, and it is a great networking opportunity for myself as well.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Episode 15: In Which DFM Meets A Movie Star, And Goes To A Place Where Everyone Knows His Name

In Canada I go to church every Sunday, but in Korea I find it a little intimidating to find a new church when I'm not even sure what is being said. However, last week and this week I have been fortunate enough to be invited to different churches by some new friends I have met.

Last week I was invited to Sarang Church in Gangnam by the English teacher at one of my schools. Even though Gangnam is more than an hour away from my home I felt that a month without going to church might be hard to justify to even the most liberal of Christians (which Korean Christians are not).

During my last visit I went to the largest church in the world. While Sarang Church is not as big as the Yeouido Full Gospel Assembly, it still has a large enough following to host five services. It also has a large "foreigner" population and holds three English(ee) services in a separate church down the street.

The English sermon was delivered by a guest pastor from California. Himself a Korean emigrant, he was apparently Jim Carey's Korean dialect coach for the movie Yes Man, and even had a small, one-line part in the film as a professor, but Jim Carey stole his one line.

While most Korean sermons deal almost exclusively with little more than the basic Christian principles (trust God, don't worry, be happy, etc.), this guest pastor made a concerted effort to deliver a message that was well researched and actually practical to the lives of the Christians in attendance. It was also chalk full of funny jokes, but experience has taught me Christians generally lack a sense of humour, and this congregation definitely supported that theory.

This week I had the privilege of attending the church of my friend Namhee. Namhee is a Korean I met in Canada while he was studying English. He is still in Canada, but wanted me to visit his family in Korea at his church.

I was picked up at the subway station by two of his friends. They drove me to the church and introduced me to the pastor, who already knew my name (apparently I had been expected). During the service, Namhee's two friends tried to translate for me as best as possible. I also knew enough Korean to figure out on my own that the pastor, at least at one point, was trying to suggest that Christians are supposed to be happy, but many Korean people are not happy but instead continuously walk around looking and feeling tired (probably because they don't sleep more than three hours a night).

One of the highlights of the experience was being able to sing along to the songs. During my past visit I went to April's church and was not able to follow along even to the slower hymns - my reading speed was just too slow. Today though, I was able to just barely scrape by, and could usually pick up enough of the words to sound like I knew what I was doing by the third time through the chorus (the words are on a large video screen at the back of the stage).

After service, I finally met Namhee's sister and her husband. Namhee's brother-in-law had studied English in my home town a few years ago, and it was he who had recommended the place to Namhee (I'm not sure why). Both Namhee's sister and brother-in-law were very nice, and after church they took me out to try some jjimdak.

(Namhee's sister is the one on the left.)

Jjimdak literally means "steamed chicken." The dish includes large chunks of steamed chicken mixed together with various steamed vegetables and red gochu pepper. Namhee's brother-in-law warned me that the red gochu peppers were exceptionally spicy, but after having burned off my taste buds with the green gochu peppers at Thursday's climbing competition these red peppers failed to even make my tongue tingle.

Next Sunday I will go back to the Sarang church to experience what a regular sermon is like (with the usual pastor preaching), and also to buy a Korean/English dual language Bible with which to follow along in the sermons and study Korean. However, I really enjoy the friendly atmosphere at Namhee's church and will probably go there most Sundays - it's closer, and saves me from having to ride the dreaded No. 2 Line that is always packed.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Episode 14: In Which DFM Kills 3 Birds With 1 Stone, and Eats Pig's Blood And Liver Loaf

Since my weekdays are invariably spent going to work meetings or climbing, that leaves only the weekends to try and catch up seeing all of my friends who keep asking me to have lunch with them.

Last week I went to Gwanghwamun with my Korean friend from Canada, Charles. This week I had promised Charles I would meet him again, but I also needed to meet Sung-bok and Woojin (not the Phys Ed teacher) for the first time since coming back, too. So I hatched a grand scheme to try and have all four of us meet in the same place for lunch. However, getting four people together at the same time, in the same place, in a city as big as Seoul is no easy task. We finally did find an agreeable time and location, but ironically I was late for the meeting, as I had forgotten where we had decided to meet and at what time.

Sillim-dong is an administrative district of Gwanak-gu, which is home to Gwanak Mountain (where I went hiking with Perry back in March). In Sillim-dong, there is a special neighbourhood called Sundae Town, which is famous for its many sundae restaurants. Now, before you get the wrong impression and think we went for ice cream, I think an explanations of sundae is in order.

Sundae (pronounced "soon-dae") is an ancient Korean dish made by stuffing pig intestines with cellophane noodles (made from sweet potato), barley, and pig's blood. At our meal there was also some liver cut to look like a small meat loaf, and I was told there were even some "sausages" made from pig's stomach too. All of these ingredients were fried together at our table (what else would you expect in Korea?) with some sauces, spices, and various vegetables. Ample ssam - lettuce leaves for wrapping the meat, as in eating ssamgyeupsal - were provided, along with some ssamjang (spicy red paste in which to dip the already spicy meat).

As usual, the waitress was worried the food would be too spicy for me, but compared to gochu pepper or maeuntang (the soup with the fish head), it did not even register. At the end of the meal I had made a pig ("hero") of myself by finishing off the whole pan.

The experience was also beneficial in that it allowed me to repay Charles, Seong-bok (I've been calling him Sung-bok, but that's not exactly correct), and Woojin for having paid for the last meals we had together either together or separately (I've owed Seong-bok and Woojin a debt since April). In Korean culture, bills are rarely split, and friends will take turns buying meals for each other under the assumption that things will work out evenly in the end. Granted, it's not a fool proof system, but when in Korea...

After the meal I had to head over to Home Plus at the World Cup Stadium again and pick up some more necessary supplies. (If you remember my visit here in the first adventure I mentioned that since Koreans don't watch enough soccer to make the multi-million dollar stadium profitable, someone gained permission to put a two-floor mega-market inside under the bleachers.)

On this day, the Stadium happened to be host to the Asian Song Festival. At first I thought the hundreds of people exiting the station were for a soccer match, but there were no ticket booths set up, and the 10:1 ratio of high school and middle school girls to men seemed to suggest otherwise. I felt it might be something worth seeing, since it definitely seemed large, but soon remembered that I hate modern music and while some Korean pop songs are catchy, it couldn't possibly be worth giving up an entire evening to watch.

I was, however, intrigued by the mobile phone game convention set up in front of the stadium. Hundreds of Koreans were standing in long lines to have a chance to play a game on a TV screen using their "hand pones" (cell phone). Playing games on a four square-inch screen with tiny control buttons seems pointless. I am also fascinated by some Korean hand phones' ability to pick up TV channels, but not when the people watching them are walking slowly in front of me, blocking the hallway to head to my next subway train.

Lee (my roommate) and his wife, however, made the mistake of actually going to the Festival. When they came home, Lee complained about how far away the seats were (on the other side of the football stadium from the stage), and his wife complained that nobody was dancing. Lee later explained that twenty to thirty years ago people used to dance, but then the police could not control the crowd and someone died, so now no one dances. Essentially then, just another in a long list of Korean over-reactions to non-threatening situations (refer to the escalator story from one of my earlier posts, and don't even get me started on Electric Fan Death).

Friday, September 18, 2009

Episode 13: In Which DFM Watches Paint Dry, And A Korean Tries To Make Him Go Bald

During my last trip I wrote about the songs that the children sang in their classrooms every morning. The last song in the video from the above link is called "Tomi the Baby Squirrel." It is my favourite song that the children then sang and now still sing, and I recently found the lyrics and learned the words.

Today at school I broke out my rendition of the song and it was a big hit. In one class Tae kwon do Boy (the boy punching in the picture halfway down the linked page), nearly lost his mind. There was then frantic discussion between the children in the class, and I heard "Korean person" mentioned a few times, so I'm not sure what to take away from that. Later, in the same class that sang the song in the video everyone was so impressed that the teacher played the song on the piano and we all sang it together. It was a proud moment.

In other news at the school, the 6-year-olds were having a Mini-Olympics as part of a school wide "sports unit" on which each of the classes are working. There are three six-year-old classes at the school and they were somehow split into two teams before I arrived. One team was Team Kim Yu-na (World Champion and record-holding 17-year-old Korean figure skating phenom, who now lives and trains in Canada), and the other was Team Pak Tae-won (gold and silver medal winner at the 2008 Olympics, and the first Korean swimmer to ever win an Olympic medal in swimming).

(Both teams awaiting the start of "throw as many balls as you can as fast as you can and hope some of them land in the bucket so you can score" event.)

(Team Kim Yu-na dominating the tug-of-war event).

The "events" were well organized by the Korean teachers, with additional bonus games and prizes, and all the children had fun adapting Korean baseball player cheers to their respective team names (it helps that every name in Korea consists of three syllables, so they are completely interchangeable). Later in the day, while some of the girls were waiting for their ballet class to start, I took out one of the drums because the girls wanted to do the cheers again.

During the events, the teachers would play Korean songs that the children enjoy. One song that is impossibly popular with the children is the hilarious Norazo song, "Superman." Woojin uses this song for the children's warm-up during Phys Ed class on Mondays, and I had always wondered what its name was until one of the teachers told me today. I have since added it to my list of Korean songs I will memorize in an attempt to impress the children, not to mention I like the song.

After school some of the children stay until 6:00 or later because their parents have opted for baby sitting. I always feel bad for the Korean teachers who have to stay until 7:30 PM every day, are forced to babysit on Saturdays too, and still make at least $600 less a month than I do. I also think it's funny that foreign teachers who get paid more, do less, and finish at 3:00 PM can't figure out why some of the Korean teachers are not more happy to see them (especially since the Korean teacher always has to stay and assist the foreign teacher as well).

After school today, some of the girls cornered me after school and made me sit down on a tiny chair about six inches off the ground. They proceeded to tie a cape around my neck and give me a "hair cut." After my ears had been lowered I had my hair combed, albeit rather aggressively it seemed for a “beauty salon.” The Korean English teacher joked that if I wasn't careful I'd lose my hair. In Korea it seems that everyone is always afraid that I will lose my hair, either from acid rain, or stress, or hair cuts. I should just shave it all off as a joke one day.

. . . . .

While normally I would go to climbing after work, today was the day of the monthly Ace climbing competition so I decided to go home first and rest. I was actually a little surprised when Ji-hyeun had told me earlier this week that the competition was today, because it seems like just two weeks ago that I had come in to surprise her with my return and she told me that I had just missed the competition and would have to wait four more weeks for this one. Time really is flying by now.

On my way home to rest though, I had perhaps the biggest case of culture shock I've experienced in my three total months in Korea. A road works crew was repainting the lines on the road leading from the subway station to my home. However, there were just four men, and the road was not closed. I watched them for a few minutes, and the efficiency with which they worked was nothing short of amazing.

At the time I was watching them they were working on repainting the yellow and white lines crossing the entire width of a five foot wide (front to back) and twenty foot long (curb to curb) speed bump. One man would put a wedge down at the front of the bump. A second man moved the painting machine into position by placing its front wheels against the wedge. A third man would then place a wedge at the back of the hump. The fourth man stood behind the first man and encouraged the other men to hurry, while looking over their shoulders to make sure there were no cars coming.

The machine they were using seemed to shoot flames from underneath it to dry the paint almost instantly as soon as it was applied. I saw some other pedestrians test a freshly painted stripe with their shoes, and not a single drop of paint was disturbed. When lines on the road are repainted in Alberta, you can see yellow or white tire tracks turning left through the intersection after they've driven through the crosswalk that took a group of unionized workers three days to repaint.

I rested at home for one hour before leaving again to head for the competition. When I returned to the same site, the workers were gone, and all three speed bumps on the road had been completely repainted in yellow and white alternating stripes across their entire length.

. . . . .

Earlier in the day, Ji-hyeun had sent me an sms message (text message) telling me not to forget about the competition because she had something to give me. A number of days (if not weeks) prior I had told Ji-hyeun that I needed to buy some Korean books for children so that I could practice my Korean. When I arrived at the gym today everyone had a silly grin on their face, and Ji-hyeun presented me with two classic David Shannon children's books translated into Korean: David Goes To Kindergarten, and No, David! I was pretty impressed with the thought she put into the gift, since a) I teach kindergarten and b) David is pretty close to DFM.

The competition this month was pretty small, with only about fifteen people attending. I ended up winning my division, but since there was only one other competitor in the division it was hard to feel overly proud. After the climbing we all went up to the “Sky Lounge” (just the roof of the building in which Ace is located) and a massive barbecue was prepared.

We were cooking on the old fashioned charcoal barbecues (forgive me Hank Hill), but unlike when my family used to use one of these, the Koreans did not try to light the charcoal bricks with matches or other such primitive lighting tools. I suspect Koreans would die if they had to wait that long for anything, so they use a propane torch to speed up the process exponentially.

Nothing special to report about the eating, just the usual great time I always have eating with Ace climbers. However, this time I attempted to eat an entire hot green gochu pepper. You may remember that I mentioned in a previous post that these were by far the spiciest things to eat in Korea. My last attempt was hiking with Perry way back in March. It didn't go so well as I started hiccuping aggressively and I thought my mouth was burning so badly I thought it was on fire.

This time I thought I had adapted a little better to the spicy cuisine here, and felt it might be time to give the demon pepper another try. I still hiccuped like mad, and my eyes were watering so badly I couldn't see, but I managed to endure three bites over the course of the night. I'd say the pepper was four bites long, so next time that gives me something to aim for.

Episode 12: In Which DFM Suspects Big Brother Is Watching Him, And Takes Is Taken Away From A Subway Station In A Stranger's Car

On my way to work today I got the rare chance to witness some good old-fashioned racism first hand. I was sitting on the subway and two seats over was a black man. An older Korean woman came and sat down between us because there were no other seats. Later, when three seats opened up across from us, she got up and walked over. Had she sat in the middle seat I would have thought, "she just wants a more comfortable seat" and would have thought nothing of it. However, she chooses to wedge herself between a pole and another Korean woman who was wider than either the black man or myself.

When I finally got to work, I was met by an unexpected guest. I never did learn his name, but he was there when I showed up and proceeded to follow me around for the majority of the morning.

During my last stay here, I heard of a teacher for the same company who had the cops come and inspect his class and arrest him for teaching English (our visas do not cover English teaching). What he was doing, and I am doing is not illegal. I am teaching art, not English, and so legally I am safe. However, this other teacher was also legally safe, and he was arrested by the police who hoped to get a bribe payout by his boss. Our boss instead hired a lawyer, at considerable expense, and beat the charges. Regardless, the situation was fairly stressful for everyone.

Not wanting to experience the same unpleasantness myself, I felt a bit uneasy by presence of this strange guest who seemed far too official, and seemed to be asking a lot of questions about me teaching the children English. Later, though, I found out that he was from the head office for the Korean English teacher at the school and must have just been trying to ascertain the progress of the children. He cannot have been too impressed though, since the children seemed as wary of this new "friend" of mine as I was, and would answer "are you a foreigner?" to him (in Korean of course) every time he asked them a simple English question. (Note: he was Korean.)

In other interesting happenings, the six-year-olds (Canadian five-year-olds) were making banana and apple smoothies. To cut up the apples and bananas, each pair of students had a plastic knife (bigger than a butter knife you'd use at a picnic though, and thicker too). One of the boys came up to me and decided to show me his knife fighting skills. When I told him he could not chop my arm with his banana slime-covered knife, he turned the knife on himself and showed me his seppuku skills (look it up). Although he was just joking, I'm sure glad Mr. Official had stepped out of the room at that moment. Yes, I understand Korea has the highest suicide rate in the world, but usually Korean men wait until they're a bit older and have kids and a family of their own and are passed over for a promotion before they kill themselves. Furthermore, it is considered impolite in Korea for a younger person to try and rise above his age-defined place in this rigid social hierarchy by committing suicide before his elders do. (Sorry to all the Korean readers out there for my tasteless joke.)

After work I went to teach a private lesson in some outlying area of Seoul. I had no idea who I was meeting, but my friend (whose job it is to find teachers) needed a favour this week and asked me to go because he needed a teacher on short notice (that's how I got my current job too).

The lesson took place between 5:45 and 6:45 PM. I thought I would be teaching one or two children, but when I was taken to the apartment there were six children in a living room. I suspect that the woman had told all her friends about the coming tutor, and they decided to get in on the good fortune by sending their kids over.

I already figured an hour would be a long time for the kids, who could not have been more than nine. Today though, I found out first hand that children that age have a maximum attention span for learning English of one-half hour. The children started out eager to learn, but the last fifteen minutes of the lesson were hell, as I had children jumping on the couch and pretty much doing everything but studying. Normally I would not have cared, since they had covered all the necessary material (actually, they were far beyond the material being covered and were probably quite bored). However, I was being paid for an hour, so I got my whip out and cracked down hard. Eventually (I'm not sure how) I managed to get everyone back on task and we hobbled towards the finish. It was fairly stressful, and I was worried I had failed, but when the mother came back in to the room she seemed to think that I was the world's greatest tutor.

She begged me to come back and teach the children, and even offered me $60/hr. I suspect the reason she has so much trouble finding tutors is that no one wants to teach those kids for a full hour.

I felt bad for her actually. She was clearly trying very hard to learn English herself, and even though it would appear to most Canadians that she was pushing her children too hard, Korea is a country where, for better or worse, the government has told its citizens they need to learn English. In many cases, companies will hire or promote an employee based solely on his or her level of proficiency in English, regardless of that candidate's job-related skills, or whether or not the position in question actually requires English language proficiency. This woman was only trying to provide her children (and those of her friends) with a chance to find a successful job. Sadly, though, I really did not want to add another full day of travelling to my already exhausting schedule - not to mention lose another day of climbing - so I told her I was too busy with an ever changing work schedule (not entirely untrue).

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Episode 11: In Which A Building And A Freeway Disappear, And The Average Temperature of Downtown Seoul Drops 3.6 Degrees

Woah, what a busy first two full weeks! I even originally typed in three weeks, because it sure has felt that long. Seeing as how this would be my first weekend being able to stay home, I decided to try and get some rest and catch up on life - I have been a week behind in just about everything it seems.

Since returning to Korea I have only seen one friend, Hyeun A on the first Saturday, but even she is upset that I haven't talked to her since then. Well, it'll be at least a week more for her because this weekend I decided to see Charles.

Charles is a Korean whom I met in Canada when he was studying English at the college in which my rock climbing gym is located. He had been asking to see me since I came here and I decided that this weekend was probably the best time to take him up on his offer of lunch.

I had originally hoped to have a relatively quick lunch and then perhaps see someone else for supper, but even though everyone in Seoul seems to always be in a hurry it also seems genuinely impossible to get anywhere fast. Actually, let me rephrase that: It is genuinely impossible to get anywhere fast from where I live.

I used to think that I was a bit inconvenienced living in Itaewon because it had no transfer stations to any of the other major lines. I always had to go two or three stops this way or that way first before I could transfer. Now though, I would give my right pinky toe to live there again and not have the ridiculous 1 hour commuting distance from where I live to anywhere fun. That said, I still enjoy my new neighbourhood, especially the crazy non-existent traffic rules that see people walking down the middle of the road, an uncontrolled major four-way intersection, and cars parking two wide on the narrow streets. But I digress...

When I met Charles it was a beautiful, sunny day out. Before we could eat lunch we had to first find some British office of something or other, because Charles wanted to apply to take a British English fluency test. Within about five minutes of our arrival, a massive thunderstorm broke out and monsoon-like rains battered the windows and the street below. I couldn't understand how such a large storm could come literally out of nowhere, but within another fifteen minutes it was gone again and the weather was sunny and warm. All I can say about that is, "really strange." (Sorry, I've been living around too many people for whom English is a second language, and "strange" is used to describe everything.)

After Charles finished his application we went to find a restaurant "famous for delicious, traditional Korean food." However, even Koreans like Charles can underestimate how quickly things change in Korea. It had only been a year since his departure, but never-the-less the building in which the restaurant was located had been torn down, and the restaurant gone. Undaunted, and with Charles determined to give me some good Korean food, we went to a nearby restaurant for some nakji bokum.

Despite being told by many Koreans it was "not octupus but like octopus," nakji is in fact octupus. Nakji bokum involves mixing fried octupus legs together with vegetables and spicy red pepper sauce (although that's not saying much, since Koreans love spicy food so much I've even seen them put pepper sauce on pineapple).

The restaurant at which we were eating this nakji bokum had earlier been featured in a prominent Korean television drama. According to Charles, a woman in the show was suffering from stomach cancer. Whether she wanted to thumb her nose at the disease by eating spicy food again before she died, or she had beaten the disease and was trying to celebrate I don't know, but either way she came to this restaurant to eat some spicy food. In fact the table at which we were eating had a framed picture from the show, featuring the two actors eating some supposedly spicy food not far from where Charles and I were then sitting.

Whenever I go out eating though, Koreans never seem to believe me when I tell them I can eat anything. The waitress at this restaurant even made a point of asking Charles if I could "handle" it. They needn't have worried, as I nearly finished off the whole giant bowl save for three pieces of octopus leg (my stomach was so painfully full I just couldn't stuff them down). The meal was nowhere near the spiciest or hottest thing I've eaten in Korea. Hot green gochu pepper dipped inssamjang sauce take first place in that category, followed closely by maeuntang (long time readers may recognize that name as the spicy fish soup with gochujang - gochu pepper paste - and kochukaru chili pepper I ate in Gyeongju that had the fish head in it).

After the nakji bokum I took Charles to the nearby Coldstone Creamery I had noticed on the way over. Charles told me that he usually ate ice cream at Bakin Robbins, but I assured him that this place was better (Coldstone Creamery is the ice cream place I took Hyeun A too back in April, my last week living in Itaewon). After buying him the Coldstone Creamery signature Cheesecake Fantasy ice cream bowl, he was forced to agree as well.

Charles wondered how I could eat the ice cream after I complained about my stomach hurting just fifteen minutes later. I explained to him that much like a dog always leaves a little bit of urine left to mark his next tree, I always leave a little bit of my stomach for desert. On second thought, perhaps a cow's stomach would have been a more tasteful analogy...

After lunch we went for a walk down Cheonggycheon. Charles told me that the roughly 6 km man made stream was the work of a former Seoul mayor, the late Lee Myung-bak, and helped him to later become the President of Korea. [Note: Lee Myung-bak is not dead, he is still the President of Korea. I had confused him with Roh Moo-hyun. My appologies.] The site was home to a real river some fifty years ago, until Korea built a freeway over it, and then a second elevated freeway over that.

The $281 Million US removal of the freeways was not completed without opposition, but (according to Wikipedia) it resulted in the decrease of automobile traffic to the downtown area by 2.3%, and an increase in bus and subway ridership to the downtown area by 1.4% and 4.3% (or 430 000 people) respectively. Furthermore the water and trees decrease the average the temperature of the surrounding area by 3.6 degrees centigrade compared to other parts of Seoul. I was also happy to hear from Charles that most Seoulites now consider the project to be a success, as I can say from my own experience that it is a rare pleasant environment in an otherwise grey coffin of soullessness. While the walk was lovely, I eventually had to get head back home. My walk, though, was not the only good thing to come to an end this day.

There is a fruit stand on my way home that I frequent once or twice a week to do all of my fruit shopping. The owner is a nice man in his late forties who is always happy to let me practice my Korean on him, and usually gives me some sort of deal for being a nice young foreigner. Tonight when I stopped in to get my weekly fruit haul I noticed that my beloved nectarines were missing. Apparently each season has its own fruit, and the season for nectarines has come to an end. There is some consolation though, as Lee told me Winter's fruit is the famous and delicious Jeju-do tangerine (mandarine orange). I was fortunate enough to catch the tail end of this season during my last visit here.

(Charles, standing in front of the statue of Admiral Yi Sun-shin in downtown Seoul. For thse of you who have a 50 Won coin handy, you can see Yi Sun-shin on there too. [Note: No you can't. Yi Sun-shin is on the 100 Won coin, not the 50.] This famous admiral is noted for defeating the Japanese navy during the Japanese invasions of Korea from 1592-1598. He is also remembered for designing the Geobukseon, or "turtle boat," that ruled the Sea between Japan and Korea during the Joseon Dynasty. Behind the statue is the President's home, The Blue House, and Seoul's tallest mountain range, Bukhansan, on which I spent considerable time hiking and getting lost as well as running a half-marathon back in April. One block in front of where Charles is standing is Cheongyecheon. Charles explained that this placement was part of the East Asian Feng Shui sytem of creating harmony in one's environment.)

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Episode 10: In Which DFM Channels Sigourney Weaver, And Builds A National Treasure Using Child Labour

Friday was an exhausting day. Actually, the day wasn't exhausting, but I sure was exhausted during it.

On my trip to school I was so tired I missed my transfer station twice. It wasn't that I was sleeping either - I had looked at the platform sign and said to myself "okay, one more stop," but somehow it just failed to register that one more stop meant that I should get off at the next platform. Fifteen minutes later I did the same thing again, this time when I should have gotten off at my final destination. It was highly fortunate I had left fifteen minutes early that morning, because my two errors added twenty minutes of travel time to my morning commute.

When I showed up to school I was prepared for two scenarios: one in which I had to teach six thirty minute classes of my own material with no curriculum or help (like I had the week before), and one in which I would be told that I should teach the originally planned unit for that day which now made no sense at all since on Wednesday I found out the children were not doing that unit (it's too long of a story to fit nicely in this post, but not long enough for its own post, so I've left it out). When I showed up ten minutes before class (the train fiasco), I was told to use plan B (apparently the school had talked to my boss who then told them they had to teach this unit today).

Well, wouldn't you know, not everyone got the message. Although I was able to finish the lesson easily enough with the five-year-olds, since I had all the materials with me, the two six-year-old classes had none of the materials they were supposed to prepare for me, and so I had to make up a thirty minute "art lesson" on the spot... with no art supplies.

The seven-year-olds had the supplies somewhere, but the first teacher must not have known they would be needed either since they were not ready when I came. I tried to explain to the teacher what I needed, but she couldn't understand. We then tried to use a girl who had moved from Australia and could speak English to translate, but I'm not so certain she's confident with her Korean, because when I asked her to tell the teacher what I needed she looked sick and said "I don't want to."

Eventually, I was able to get across what I needed, and while the teacher went on a search for the materials, I tried to entertain a rowdy class with some songs and games. The songs were well received, though perhaps a little too well received - a few boys decided that it was necessary to start kicking other students. One boy hauled off and Tae Kwon Do kicked another girl for, as far as I could tell, was "no reason." Other boys were pushing each other and soon students started falling over and into other students. I stopped the music and even though the students have limited English, the Ripley Death Stare from Alien is apparently International Language for "you'd better stop if you know what's good for you."

When I did get the class settled, and the materials finally arrived, I set the children loose on trying to make Namdaemun gate with straws and glue. Not having access to a giant piece of paper, or straws, or glue myself, I could not do the assignment at home before I came to school. Consequently, my instructions were not overly clear, but somehow the students managed to pull together and make the famous gate (National Treasure #1). For the next class though, I started with some more clear instructions and the results were downright astonishing (especially since I've since done this assignment at another school with less spectacular results).

While my first class got themselves into fights over who had which colour of straws, or how many, my second class quickly divided into tables and seemed to be racing to try and finish first. I'm almost certain it was the result of good discipline from the teacher (or the absence of a few rowdy boys from the other class), but this class has always been a pleasure to teach. It could have also been that I told them I would take a picture of them if they finished.

Below are the final results. Keep in mind these are what we in Canada would call six-year-olds, and they made these creations with no help from myself or their Korean teacher.

(Starting with the roofs.)

(Getting an outline.)

(Almost finished.)

(Keep in mind the picture of the gate is upside down in this view, so it looks worse than it was.)

(Best pose ever. Thank you boy in orange.)

(Second place gate, but by far my favourite picture. This group had seven kids as you can see, but they worked together almost flawlessly and were the first group to finish.)

(Hands down the first place winner. This group's straw gate was almost better than the original version I drew on the white board at the beginning of class. I'm pretty sure that boy at the back walked through this picture on purpose though.)

To compare the pictures with the original, click here.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Episode 9: Climbing Trip, Part 3

This episode really has nothing to do with the climbing. Instead it is something of a "director's cut" DVD, in which I write about all the bits of information I couldn't find room or time for in the other episodes.

First, I think the thing that impressed me most about climbing in Korea was the trust Koreans have in other climbers not to steal their stuff. On quite a few routes we found a full set of quick draws (the metal clips that your rope goes through) already left on the bolts in the rock. At an average of about $15 per draw, this meant that each route had over $100 of quick draws left on it, supposedly to be retrieved later.

Actually, our own group left a number of quick draws up over Saturday night, and sure enough they were still there when we returned the next day. We even left our rope bags hidden under a rock to save weight, and those are about $200 for a decent sized bundle. Back at the camp we had left all our valuables in the tent all day, unattended, and they were still there when we came back. Upon our arrival after Sunday's climbing, we found a family had patiently waited all day for our return so that they could ask us for a peek inside.

The second most impressive thing about the trip were the size of the bees. Redish, with black stripes, the Koreans call them "horse bees," and I would say they are roughly twice the size or more of a normal bumble bee. The Koreans told me that although they have the temperment of a normal bumble bee they can sting multiple times without dieing, and that the venom from one horse bee can knock a grown man out, but if three bees sting you it can bring death.

Since I am talking about large insects anyways, I should take this opportunity to mention that last week I saw a mantis for the first time in person. It was in a tree just over my head, brown in colour, and about five to six inches long. While it did not frighten me at the time, I suppose there was a miniscule (and by "a miniscule" I mean zero) chance it could have accidentally dropped out of the tree on my head and proceeded to hack and slash me to... well, pain I suppose. Now that I think about it, I should have killed every mantis in the world for this one having the gull to scare me.

On the trip back home I saw three separate police cars on the highway with their lights flashing. I've mentioned before that I don't think too highly of the Korean police officer's work ethic, so I was amazed to see flashing lights on a highway actually belonging to a moving vehicle. In fact, until this time all of the flashing red and blue lights I had seen were just police lights attached to a pole or a parked vehicle (not a police car), in an attempt to trick drivers into slowing down.

Nearer to Seoul, I also saw a woman with her driver's side window rolled all the way down, and her Chihuahua literally hanging halfway out the window, whilst standing on her lap. That one just made me shake my head.

However, none of these things tops the fact that while listening to some Korean radio on the way home, the DJ actually played "Youth Gone Wild," by Skid Row. I've often felt that in many ways some of the cultural trends in Korea mimic those of Canada in the late '70s, and early '80s. However, I never thought I'd hear late '80s hair metal on the radio, and especially not that song (note: I really like the song, I'm just not certain it belongs on "modern radio.")

To finish off I'll include a few pictures of the climbing, etc. for those of you who had expressed interest.

(This is a "Tourist Guiding Map" of the area in which we were hiking. You can see the red dot which marks where location of the map. However, unless you are a tourist who can understand Korean, you might have no idea where to go from there.)

(I didn't get any pictures of the "horse bees," because they don't like to cooperate by staying still - unless it's to hover around your legs while you try to shoo them away - but check out the size of the beetles compared to Choi's fingers to give you an idea of the size of insects one finds in Korea.)

(One of the many beautiful tiger lillies in this section of Seonunsan Provincial Park. My camera decided to focus on the background for this shot, but I feel it makes for a more interesting picture so I decided to keep it anyways. I cannot remember the exact name of this flower in Korean, but Ji-Hyeun told me it means something similar to "longing for a loved one you can never see." When the flower is in bloom the leaves are not visible, but when the bloom is over, the leaves come out while the petals disappear. The Koreans compare this situation to what Romeo and Juliet experienced, and thus the rationale.)

(Choi's DSLR takes a much better picture of this scene- as he can change the depth of focus - but these are a bunch of large rocks Choi managed to balance on their ends. I tried it, and the points are much smaller than they look in the picture; i.e., it was quite hard.)

(I can't remember her name, but the woman in front is the same woman who finished her 5.12a project this weekend. Here she watches Rina Park climbing Baek-am 3, 5.10b, while Ji-hyeun belays.)

(Mystery 5.12a woman's boyfriend and my climbing/belay partner, Han-soung, climbs Baek-am 3, 5.10b.)

(This is Korean language student, originally from Los Angeles now studying in Jeju-do, attempting to climb the "harder than it's graded" route, JCC 3, 5.11b. Ji-hyeun and Rina both said I could climb this route because I have good footwork, but considering this woman flashed Baek-am 5, 5.11a (finished the route on her first time), and it took me 6 tries, I'm not so certain I believe them. Then again, they also said I could send a 5.11a before this trip and I didn't believe them then, either.)

(Choi making easy work of Baek-am 5, 5.11a.)

(Ji-hyeun, looking a lot like Choi, also making Baek-am 5 look easy.)

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Episode 8: Climbing Trip, Part 2

Saturday morning we embarked on the one-hour hike to reach the climbing crag. It was hot and muggy out, and the terrain was steep. Along the way we passed pumpkin plants, tiger lillies, a green tea field where a famous romantic Korean TV scene was filmed, and a 1000-year-old temple. There were also fantastically beautiful streams, and this view (below), which in person was worth the trip just to see (even if I had not gone climbing).

When we got to the mountain I was in awe of all the giant jugs (large, easy to grip holds) I saw. I used to wonder why companies would make artificial humongous holds that were easy to hold onto, when every route I had seen climbing outdoors (to be fair, not that many) seemed to contain holds you could barely see. On this mountain though, there seemed to be holes so big I could crawl inside of them! (Later I did climb into one of them and Ji-hyeun said the rock "ate me.")

The group set up on a large rock and we walked down the crag a short ways to set up at the "easy route." I figured that this was the easiest route on the wall and we would be doing it as a warm-up for the 5.10b everyone figured I could climb this trip. I also figured it would be graded a 5.9 (within my capabilities for a warm up).

The route was called "Baek-am 3" (pronounced Beckam, as in David Beckham), which translates literally to White Rock (route) 3. My previous attempts at outdoor rock climbing had been less than brilliant (climbing a good two full number grades - 8 letter grades - below my highest gym grade). This was my sixth try at sport climbing outdoors though, so I was finally starting to become more comfortable and figured I could at least climb a 5.10b (my previous best outdoor climb being a 5.10a).

I flashed my "warm up" route and when I came down everyone said, "wow, you're footwork is very good" (it ought to be after more than five years instructing in a climbing gym). "You can flash 5.10b!" I said, "thank you... where is the 5.10b?" I was quite surprised when everyone pointed at the route I had just climbed. It hadn't actually seemed that difficult, which I attribute to the fact that I thought it was only a 5.9 and was therefore more confident.

With my new revelation that confidence makes climbing easier, I moved to the next hardest route at the crag, the 5.11a classic, Baek-am 5. The first day I worked the route three times on top rope, and once on lead (harder, with longer falls). Each time I tried though, I fell on the last move. I knew I could easily do the last two moves, because I had completed them every time after resting, but I just could not muster the endurance to complete the route in one clean run and I was starting to lose confidence.

On Sunday I was still tired from my all out effort on Saturday. I only attempted the route twice, and both of those were on lead. On my first attempt I finally made the last move, but could not muster the energy to make the final match - which is by far the crux of the route. The desperation attempt to make the final hold produced a big fall, but I was expecting this. I was not, however, expecting my foot to slip under the rope as this happened. On the subsequent fall, the rope stretched violently across the back of my calf and I received a gigantic rope burn that scorched the top few layers of skin right off my leg. Choi cleaned the wound out with rubbing alcohol, which stung quite badly and caused my to cringe and twitch every time the torture juice touched me. My belay partner thought this was quite funny, and he laughed every time I jumped or twitched.

(When I showed the kids at school my giant scab, one of the little girls thought that my leg was hot because she heard it had been burned. She bent over near my leg and blew on it to cool it down. Bless her heart.)

After a lunch and a rest I decided to muster what little energy remained for what I decided would be my sixth and final attempt for the trip. While I felt a little tired, I had a secret weapon. On my last attempt, I had discovered a trick resting maneuver in which I wedged my forearm between my knee and the top of a small "cave" in the wall. I call it an advanced knee bar, since my lower leg was too short to do a regular knee bar.

The rest allowed me enough time to recuperate, and I was finally able to complete the final move. I felt like Chris Sharma in many ways as I hung on the rope for a minute at the top of my route: I had completed a back-to-the-wall, stand on a ledge rest like he did on Clark Mountain in the DVD King Lines (if you've seen it, you know what I'm talking about), I had overcome my anxieties and was able to relax and enjoy the route, and I had dedicated myself fully to the route. I suppose the only differences would be that Chris Sharma gets paid to climb the hardest routes in the world, and it takes him upwards of four years to finish some of them, whereas I had struggled to climb something he would have finished-off as a thirteen-year-old.

On the Saturday, one of the women had completed a 5.12 "project"she had been working on for the last 2 or 3 years, and to celebrate we ate a 3 course dinner (made on the portable stove, with camping utensils and dishes) consisting of a vegetable and beef curry, a samgyeupsal-like dish, but with eel as the meat instead of pork, and some corn with cheese melted over it. Of course there were multiple side dishes too just like at a Korean restaurant. Every time I saw one of the Koreans making a new dish, I would say "amazing!" which garnered many laughs. I tried to explain the glory of hot dogs and marshmallows to them, but they didn't seem to make the connection with how that was better than the 3 course feast. I guess they don't have The Alberta Advantage over here though, so it's not really their fault.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Episode 7: Climbing Trip, Day 1

The van from Ace climbing gym left at 9:00 PM on Friday night. There were six of us, and the Ace Climbing Club's Hyundai turbo charged diesel van had room (sort of) for 8 people, so there was a bit of room to spread out.

The climbing would be in Seonunsan Provincial Park, in Jeollabuk-do, a province on the South-West Coast of Korea. The trip took over three hours, and so by the time we arrived at the campsite it was past midnight. What followed was the fastest tent construction I've ever seen. Choi and the gang put up the behemoth tent, and attached the second room (a separate tent) in the pitch-black, in what had to be less than fifteen minutes. For my part, I brought the wrong tent poles when unneccessary and then decided it was best if I just stayed out of the way.

The Ace Climbing Club has a massive tent called The Castle, and with the extension there is room for at least ten adults to sleep in relative "comfort." Furthermore, Asian-sized people (like me) can not only stand up inside of the tent, but raise our arms above over head without touching the roof. This of course means there's almost as much room inside The Castle as a Nissan Cube.

(The Castle. People would ask me if I was with "the Ace guys," not because they had recognized the decaled van, but because they recognized the tent.)

(Our neighbours were just cheaters, and brought everything including a gas powered stove.)

I'm not sure what time it was when we finished putting up the tent, but 12:30 AM would be a good guess. I thought we would go to sleep, but out of multiple climber's bags came the various pieces to a portable camping cook set. Like everything else necessary for camping, I had forgotten to bring my chopsticks, spoon, or bowl. However, luckily I was able to piece together a makeshift dining set by borrowing the appropriate utensils from the other climbers.

Back in June I wrote an article on camping with Koreans. At the time I thought the campfire samgyeupsal meal was a unique occurrence. To my surprise (and good fortune) I found out this trip that Koreans take their food vary seriously, and are not about to let a little thing like not having a kitchen stand in their way of making ridiculously complex meals.

(preparing a feast at close to 1:00 AM)

(breakfast the next morning)

After supper I was given a packet of black onion juice (not a joke), and was told to drink it because it would give me "stamina." I had seen black onion juice being sold before in Noksapyeong station (near Itaewon), and oddly enough had not experienced an inclination to try any at the time. I cannot say my motivations had changed any since then, but I never say "no" when I am offered food in Korea. I downed the package of black oil as quickly as possible, and I wish I could say it was as disgusting as I thought it would be, and that I am the bravest man alive for finishing the package, but it was actually relatively sweet and quite easy to drink (if you don't think too much about what it is). I'm not sure if it gave me extra "stamina," but I did notice that I made a pretty easy hike of the mountain on the way to the climbing crag the next morning.

A note about the sleeping: As I had mentioned earlier, I had not brought anything necessary for camping like a sleeping bag or pillow. In my defence, there wasn't really room in my suitcase for a sleeping bag, and I don't even have a pillow at my home (because I didn't bring one to Korea either). However, Choi brought along an extra small blanket for me. Additionaly, the ground was something (much) less than even, and so it was next to impossible to sleep for more than two hours before I found myself tangled up in the tent (I was on the outside, and apparently Ji-hyeun had the same problem on the other side). Never-the-less, I had actually thought everyone was bringing their own tents and I was going to have to sleep outside under the stars (I brought a coat at least), so I was grateful for the minimal comfort I did have.

(Part 2 still to come...)

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Episode 6: The Return of Sticker Girl and Balance Boy

It has been a busy busy week, and my first full week of teaching (although it's not yet done). So far the general trend for the week has been to get up at 7:00 AM, leave at 8:00 for a 1 hour commute, go climbing for two to three hours after work, and then commute an hour back home again. I usually do not get home until 9:30 or 10:00 PM every night. After trying to stuff a small supper into my starving belly I am barely able to summon the energy to take off my clothes before crashing into bed John Kimble style. (You mean you watch other movies besides Kindergarten Cop? STAHP IT!)

However, today (Thursday) was a good day, and since I have to do my laundry before leaving on a three day rock climbing adventure tomorrow night I figured I would take the forced opportunity to update everyone on my adventures. In keeping with my goal of not boring everyone with the details of my teaching though, I'll only highlight some of the exciting moments, since teaching is after all a big part of what I do here, not to mention why I'm back again in the first place.

My first day back to my old kindergarten was a great day, and I was surprised that many of the students' faces lit up with joy when they saw me; I had expected them to forget me. By my third day there (today) though, it was as if I had never left.

The school year starts in March here, so all of the students were still the same, which meant all of the old favourites were back too. There was Fight Girl, Sticker Girl (who gave me a Sticker on my first day back), Balance Boy (Lew) and Louis. They were all the same, except Fight Girl doesn't fight as much, and Louis isn't quite as wild from what I can see, but Sticker Girl still plays practical jokes on me. Some of you might also remember the girl that used to follow me around silently and stare at me from the top of the stairs. Well now you wouldn't recognize her; she smiles all the time and talks non-stop.

Other than that, nothing much to report besides going to work and going climbing. I have been studying my Korean every day and I now know enough Korean grammar to formulate my own basic sentences (a real milestone). I'll be gone all of this weekend on a climbing trip, so there won't be any updates in the near future. However, check back some time next week to hear about what will hopefully have been a successful journey.