Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Episode 27: The Rest Of The Week

This week has been one of the busiest yet for me. I'm so tired I couldn't even come up with a clever title for this week. (I invite readers to suggest clever titles in the comments section.) That said, since I'm almost a week behind on my blogs I've decided to include the remaining three days of the week in this one post.

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Typically the Ace Climbing Competitions are held on the third Thursday of every month. However, for some reason this month's climbing competition was moved to this Wednesday.

When I used to attend Ace climbing competitions back in March and April, there were a significantly larger number of people there. Both last month and this month though I've noticed that the number of people attending the competitions seems to be getting less and less. Perhaps this is the "climbing season" and everyone is off in the mountains, and in winter the numbers will pick up again? Either way I'll keep coming even if I'm the only one.

Readers may remember that during the last competition I won fairly easily in the Intermediate category. This month I was "volunteered" for the the top Expert category by Choi. I wasn't that concerned however, since I was thinking of going in the category anyways.

My biggest worry about entering the Expert category this month though, was that the Expert problems from the last competition were impossibly difficult for me, and even after a month of practice I could not finish more than even two moves on any of the five problems. Choi must have realised this, because this time around the difficulty of the Expert category problems was much easier, and more or less right where it should have been considering the calibre of climbers in the category this time. Long story short, I had a very good competition and managed to tie for first place in the Expert category (I later lost on a tie-break for having one more total attempt than the eventual winner).

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On an unrelated, but personally exciting story that I will include here, I met Jenny from Summit at Ace gym on Monday. I had no idea she would be at Ace, and in fact I was planning to go to Summit this Friday to see her there. When I first saw her though, I said to myself "wow, that woman looks a lot like Jenny," but was thrown off by what appeared to be a three-inch growth spurt she experienced over the last six months (she's older than me though, which is why it's so surprising). I tried to go over and get a closer look, but at that time she was climbing on a wall and I could not get a good look at her face. I decided to put it out of my mind and went back to climbing, however later we crossed paths again and she seemed more surprised than me to be meeting up again in this gym. Apparently her business had relocated to the area, and I may get to see a lot more of her in the near future. (Don't go reading anything into that statement though, I know how you readers think!)

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After class on Thursday, Elise and I went for our regular, weekly trip for coffee. On our way to the coffee shoppe, Elise mentioned that she knew of a store where I could get my favourite Korean snack, waffles. At first I wasn't that impressed because I can get a waffle in almost any subway station. However, Elise insisted this place was special.

I don't know what the store was called, but in the picture you can see a large number of signs plastered to the window. The two large, full window yellow sheets on the left side of the store front is the nearly 100 choice menu. Keep in mind, this store only sells waffles.

I'm not sure if this is unique, or if other places in the world offer the same kind of deliciousness, but when you ask for a "wapple" in Korea you are not eating an Eggo on a plate with a knife and fork drenched in maple syrup. Rather, in South Korea the round waffles are quickly reheated in an iron, slathered on one side with a sweet apple syrup and then with whipped cream on the other. The waffle is then folded in half, wrapped in a small piece of paper and handed to the anxious, hungry customer to be devoured (click here to see this process in action). All of this is wonderful, and it takes place for less than a dollar.

Back to the story though. As I mentioned, this store in particular sells nearly 100 variation of these folded waffles including green tea ice cream and coffee flavours. Furthermore, there is a sign on the window that says "do not talk to us." You can't ask any questions, nor can you give any compliments. You are merely permitted to call your order into the microphone. You are handed a token with the number of your order on it and then you wait for you number to show up on the sign. Even when your number does come up you aren't allowed to say "thank you." The employee inside opens up a small window, holds out a basket and you put your money in the basket. Of course, when I first heard about this it sounded ridiculous, but when I saw it in person it was really quite funny. I will definitely be coming back here in the future to sample some of the other choices.

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This morning I woke up completely exhausted (that's not new though), but when I looked in the mirror my eyes were completely blood shot (that was). My eyes looked like an Interstate road map there were so many red lines; it was actually a little scary. While I have been working less than your average Korean, it seems the stresses of big-big city living (about 14 million people in the greater metropolitan area) and trying to teach over 120 students a day who don't actually speak the same language you do have started to take their toll. That said, I've managed to make it two months working around walking virus factories without getting seriously sick, so I think I am still doing alright.

As I mentioned earlier, I had planned to go to Summit Climbing Centre after work today to see Mr. Chang and everyone else. However, the night before, my room mate Lee told me that Aeri, Hyeun-a's manager whom I met in March, was getting married today and that she had invited me. The incredibly short notice and disappointment about not being able to climb aside, I figured it was a rare opportunity for a foreigner to experience a Korean wedding, and so I agreed to come along.

Obviously I can't speak for the rural areas in Korea, but weddings in Seoul weddings seem to happen as quickly and efficiently as just about everything else. This wedding hall could only be rented for a maximum of two hours, so to save time the bride was on display in her wedding dress for individual pictures with guests before the wedding. There were no bridesmaids or groomsmen at the wedding, nor was there even a best man or maid of honour. (Correction: there were none that I could see taking part in the ceremony, they may still have existed.) The groom walked down the aisle first, followed almost immediately by the bride and her father. The wedding process itself lasted only 18 minutes (I timed it), and even that probably could have been trimmed down a bit more - I heard the old man in charge of the proceedings say "happy" more than once, so he may want to work on that in the future. After the whole ring thing and the official pronouncement, the immediate family took a group photo with the bride and groom, followed by a group photo with friends in which I took part.

Now some notes on everything else. The groom looked particularly handsome in his tuxedo, but the bride chose to wear the standard Victorian style white wedding gown that almost every woman seems to wear to their wedding. For the record I hate these dresses and consider wearing one to a wedding as a justifiable grounds for the groom walking out before he even gets marriage. They're ridiculously expensive, and show a lack of judgement that could severely put the family and its children at risk in the future. Not only that, they look hideous. The trail was so long on this one, that the bride needed a personal assistant to pick the tail up and carry it around and then replace it for every photo if she moved even a step. Do I feel bad for making fun of the bride? Sure, she is my friend, but I just really hate wedding gowns (and weddings). To be honest though, I was a little surprised that she wore the dress, since I figured this would be one of those weddings in which the direct participants all wore hanboks (remember those colourful outfits the kids wore for Chuseok?), but that must be a family choice and not necessarily a cultural norm.

After the wedding there was a massive catered banquet. This was the real reason I think I was invited along in the first place (by Lee, not by Aeri). While I was told not to take part in the tradition, every guest is expected to pay money to the bride/groom as their gift, usually in the form of $50 to $100. If you don't pay you don't get a ticket to the buffet. The rationale is that on your own wedding day you will be repaid by your guests and so everything will work out. Lee is not necessarily happy about this custom, and told me the night before "don't eat a big lunch tomorrow because I need you to eat lots of food at the wedding so I can get my money's worth." I did my best and went back to the buffet table three times (not including desert). Lee later thanked me for my "sacrifice."

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On Saturday (today for most of you reading this blog in Canada) I was supposed to take part in a blind date. However, the young woman in question apparently got sick and had to back out. I wasn't that worried though as I really just wanted to spend all day watching The Young Turks radio show on YouTube (which I did).

Koreans seem to be afraid of interacting in a friendly manner with strangers (I really have heard Koreans say they're afraid of it), so one of the few acceptable way for them to meet members of the opposite sex to marry is to be set up on a blind date by a mutual friend. These blind dates are actually called "meetings" by the Koreans. I only mention that because it leads to a funny story.

For my work I have to attend bi-monthly "tutorial" sessions in which I am given the materials to more effectively teach my lessons for the next two weeks. (Actually, during the time frame for the context of this story I was attending them every week.) The meetings are rather long, and until this week they took place in a completely different city called Bucheon. Consequently I could never climb on a day in which I had a tutorial. When asked why I couldn't climb by the members of Ace I used to tell them that I had a "meeting." For a few weeks until the misunderstanding was cleared up, all of the members of Ace thought I must be the most popular playboy in Seoul.


  1. We share a mutual hate for all things wedding...I see you survived though, unharmed but clearly stuffed.

  2. "Episode 27: The Korean Cop-Out, or 'How I learned to stop worrying and love this blog'"