Sunday, June 27, 2010

Mom and Dad On Their Way Home

I got up at my normal time today, and my parents woke up a little earlier than normal during this vacation.

We did some last minute clean-up and headed out front to wait for Jeong Mi and her dad. Jeong Mi didn't have time to come to the airport, so she said goodbye to my parents, and we got in her dad's car and headed to the airport.

I was a little tired, so my translating wasn't as good as I wanted, but I conveyed both messages of thanks and farewell between the parents.

Jeong Mi and her family -- especially her dad -- were so generous to my parents the whole time they were here.

We dropped mom and dad off at their gate, gave them a hug and smooch and sent them on their way. The last update from mom is that they boarded the plane fine. They're probably in Tokyo right now, awaiting their flight back to Houston, and then to Cleveland, before heading back to Franklin, just north of Pittsburgh.

It was a really great trip, and there are so many things to remember. I'll do a follow-up to this later on today or tomorrow. I can tell you one thing, though. Right after school today, I'm taking nap.

I love you mom and dad! Thanks so much for making the trip!!! See you on the other side in August!

Dinner With My Co-Teachers

On Sunday, I was almost at the wall. A week of traveling and translating and no nap had really caught up to me.

When I got up around 1 p.m., I cleaned up and took my parents to a Chinese place near us. They wanted to get the Jajangmyeon noodles one more time. I also got us some sweet and sour pork to go with it.

After that, we rested until dinner time.

At 7 p.m., we met my principal in front of BYC, and he took us to a bulgogi restaurant in Old Songdo, where we were joined by two of the head teachers, Geoff and Ridia. The restaurant was really good, and it was nice to spend time with the co-workers. Ridia was a big help as she took 75 percent of the translating responsitlies.

We took some pictures with the teachers, and Ridia even brought me a cake. It was very nice.

On the way home, the principal told me I could go with my parents to the airport. He's a good guy, and I'm happy to be at this school.

Mom's blog.

Mom's pictures.

My Birthday Extravaganza

Saturday was my birthday and we had a great time.

In the afternoon, we went to InHa University, where I spent a ton of time last year with my speaking group. We just walked around and had lunch. It was a nice day, though, so it was fun to be outside.

We walked over to Home Plus and my parents were once again impressed by the size of a Korean supermarket. To be fair, this Home Plus is massive and dwarves most other things in the area.

While we were there, we ran into Vicky's parents. It was really cool. We didn't plan it or anything. It just happend. So it was nice to introduce them briefly and say hello. I haven't seen them in a long time.

Around 7 p.m., we met Jeong Mi's family at Gyeongbokgung restaurant in old Songdo. It was really nice. They treated us to a lot of traditional Korean food. It was all very good. The waiters even brought out the cake that Jeong Mi made for me and sang a birthday song. I spent the entire time translating.

This whole trip, really, I spent as a translator. It's nice practice, but it can be demanding. It was all worth it though, as we had a really nice time getting to know each other. Our parents got along really well, so it was super fun.

After that, we rushed to Bamboo Academy for the open dance. When we arrived, Fafa rushed me out onto the dance floor and announced to everyone that it was my birthday. Because of that, I got to do the birthday dance line. I stood in the middle of the floor, and a line of girls danced with me. Jeong Mi started the line off. I was actually pretty nervous, but it was a lot of fun.

Then, they all brought out a cake for me, and sang me a birthday song.

They ended dance about 30 minutes early so they could go catch the Korea game. We headed back to Yeonsu-dong to watch it with some friends. We then took a small break and watched the sadness that was the US loss to Ghana.

Technically, that game was on June 27, here. So everything good that happened, happened on my birthday. It was a really great day.

Here's mom's blog.

Here are mom's pictures.

Checking Out Bupyeong Station

On Friday, we took a trip to Bupyeong Station. I know for those of us who have been here awhile, it's not too special, but it's a treat for first-time visitors.

The station really is impressive -- especially the underground shopping area that runs basically underneath the entire district. It's not for the claustrophobic, to be sure.

The plan was to go to a good Indian restaurant that I know well, but I changed my mind when I was reminded of the Kabab House in the station's food court. Every time I walk by there, the owner gives a knowing smile and nod, as if to say, "You don't want that terrible Korean food. You want awesomeness."

And I did want it. So we got some chicken and lamb kebabs and some curry. It was really good and the price is great.

Knowing our time was running out, we made the necessary trip to a noraebang. We just went to one in Yeonsu-dong. The lady gave us a 5,000 won discount when I told her my parents were on vacation. She even hooked us up with about 20 minutes of service. As always, the singing room was a blast.

After that, it was home to bed, knowing a big weekend awaited.

Check out mom's blog here.

Check out mom's pics here.

Bupyeong Station pics are here.

Incheon Landing Memorial

The week continued to fly after Wednesday. No wonder I haven't had much time to post. Between working and giving my parents the grand tour, I haven't had time for much of anything -- including sleep.

Mom and dad took a little trip on their own on Wednesday. The two of them headed out to Shinsegae in Guworldong while I was working. They met Jeong Mi at work and had a cup of coffee with her. Thanks to Jeong Mi and my dad using their dictionaries, it sounds like everything went okay.

On Thursday, we decided to stay close to home. But we still saw something impressive. We went to the Incheon Landing War Memorial over in old Songdo. I knew it was over there, but in my entire time last year in Okryeondong, I never got a chance to visit.

It was nice to check it out with my parents. It's impressively big and built right into the mountain side. It has a great view out over the harbor.

Checking it out then was appropriate since June 25 would be the anniversary of the start of the Korean War.

Check out mom's blog here.

Check out mom's pictures here.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

BIg US Win Shared In South Korea

Our American contingent unleashed itself upon the unsuspecting staff at Garten Bier in Yeonsu-dong, and we had a fantastic time watching the game and making some new friends as the US beat Algeria 1-0 in a nail-biter of a game.

My parents and I joined Looks (Freedom Chops), Barathon, Bryan, Alex, Schwaby, Timbo Slice and Gunslinger Geoff in taking over a local hof for the game. There are enough British people in Yeonsu-dong that we assumed they would hang at the local western bars and want to see the England game that was playing at the same time.

Instead of getting into any discussion and possibly getting upset, we decided to use our American spirit to become separatists and find a new place to call our own.

We dressed in our US gear, including my Gadsden flag, Barry's George Washington helmet and Josh's chops, and celebrated a great game. We will go back there to watch again. I'm sold on that being my new haunt.

I Saw SK Win!!!

One of the rarest things for my life in South Korea is actually seeing the SK Wyverns win a game in person. This team won two out of the last three K-League championships, and went all the way to game 7 of the finals last year before losing out.

They're first in the league this year by a mile (or a kilometer, here), yet I still have only seen them win maybe 3 times in my nearly 20 visits to the stadium.

But they delivered big for my parents on Tuesday as they beat the LG Twins 11-4. We even got to see a grand slam, which I've never seen in person before. It was an incredible game. Once again, the rain held off for us. We had a few drinks and had a great time.

Mom and Dad enjoyed the atmosphere and energy of the Korean crowd. That's certainly something you're hard-pressed to find back home.

Last night, because of the wonderful US soccer game, we rested right after work and then I took Mom and Dad to Bamboo Dance Academy so they could meet everyone. We could only stay from about 8 to 9:30 p.m., because of our plans to meet everyone for the game. It was awesome to take my parents to the place where I have been spending countless hours of my life this year.

Plus, as everyone who knows me is familiar with my feelings about most Koreans, it's good my parents have been able to meet some of the good ones, including Ridia, my other co-workers and my good friends at the dance academy.

So our fun time continues with the Incheon Korean War Memorial tonight, Muido beach on Saturday afternoon, dinner with Jeong Mi's family on Saturday night, followed by celebrations for my birth.

Check out pics from the ballgame as well as my parents' first solo trip to Lotte Mart here.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Wolmido, Chinatown, MacArthur and Pictures Posted

Thanks to Mom and Dad for getting the pictures posted so quickly!!! There are two sets available for viewing on Mom's web album.

The first set has pictures from their departing the USA to arrival in Korea. It also includes shots from the visit to my school on Friday and the Seoul City Tour on Saturday.

There are a ton of great pics, so check them all out here!

The second set of pics is all about our trip to Wolmido, Chinatown and Freedom Park. Once again, Jeong Mi's father was generous enough to give us a ride around and join us for the fun.

First, we went to Wolmido, a major port of Incheon, one of the landing spots when the US came to rescue South Korea as well as a boardwalk and carnival. At Wolmido, we took a two-hour boat ride that included entertainment in the form of dancing and bands. Also, feeding seagulls is always a good time.

After Wolmido, we took the quick trip over to Chinatown. I have been to Freedom Park before, which touches Chinatown, but I never made my way down into that neighborhood.

Chinatown is in this location for a good reason: It's incredibly close to the ferry where Chine immigrants come to Korea. We are at a Chinese restaurant (no way!), where we had some sweet and sour pork, chicken and of course, noodles with black soybean sauce. It was a little bit pricey, but Jeong Mi said a special occasion calls for a special meal.

And she is right about that. If her mom had been there, it would've been complete, but we'll save that for Saturday. The restaurant was very nice, and we had our own, private room to enjoy the meal and conversation.

Following dinner, we made our way up to the park to check out the statue of MacArthur, who still stares out over the port, like he's watching for any more dirty North Korean rats wandering to shore. It was my second time at the park, but my first time seeing it at night. The cool weather and lack of a huge crowd made it really nice to see.

By the end of the day, I was exhausted. Being a translator is exactly as difficult as I thought it would be. Translating the conversation isn't tough, but my brain was on overload as we made our way home. One whole day of working double languages takes its toll on a guy.

The whole day was really great, and it was so nice of Jeong Mi's father to not only join us, but also give us a lift everywhere. I know my parents are grateful, as well.

Mom made sure to take a ton of pics. You can check them all out here! 

Also, check out the pictures here for our Father's Day of Fun, which includes our dinner, my parents' day and some shots of us dominating Koreans in basketball.

Tonight we hit an SK Wyverns baseball game. Let's hope my curse on the home team takes a night off.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Remembering 1966

Here's a great story from on the North Korea team that beat Italy and made it to the semifinals of the World Cup in 1966.

From the story:

'What they really need is some of that spirit of '66, when they took Portugal by storm with relentless attacking and scored three goals inside 25 minutes. They lost the game but won hearts - in Liverpool, where the match was played, in Middlesbrough, where the team was based and throughout England. The North Koreans have a strong sense of their own history and coach Kim says he remembers the game well. "We were leading 3-0 but we lost. My players and I are going to do our best to make up for that."'

It's going to be tough for the North Koreans, but if they play against Portugal the way they played against Brazil, winning is a big possibility.

Dad And Mom In The ROK!!!

What a weekend! Dad and Mom got here on Thursday evening, and it's been a whirlwind ever since.

After school on Thursday, Jeong Mi and her dad picked me up at the school and we went to the airport to meet my parents. Jeong Mi and I waited by the gate and were thrilled to see them walk out looking good, even if they were exhausted.

We took some pictures, made some introductions and headed back to Yeonsu-dong.

In Yeonsu-dong, we got dinner at a galbi place. I figured the best first meal for my parents might as well be the best marinated, grilled pork that this country has to offer. They loved the uniqueness of Korea's side-dish culture that filled the table to capacity.

After dinner, we went over to Touchdown to finish watching the South Korea-Argentina game. Is part of me happy that South Korea didn't win? Yes, a big part. But don't tell Jeong Mi or anyong else. Haha. I promised Jeong Mi I would cheer for South Korea with her.

On Friday, we had parents open class at the school. That's good timing. My parents came along, too. They sat in on my classes, met the principal and took a tour of the school. The principal kindly gave them a couple of presents, and wanted to take a ton of pictures with them. That was pretty cool.

Friday evening, we ate at a typical Korean place so they could try the common fare. We got some pork cutlet, ramyeon, tuna kimbap and dumplings. My parents aren't big on spicy food, so even stuff that's pretty weak isn't enjoyable for them. Of course, as we all know, the only flavor in South Korea is red pepper. So it's tough finding stuff that's good for them. They like the taste of the food, just not the heat.

They turned in kind of early Friday night, as I went to Touchdown with the boys to watch the US get a jam job in a 2-2 tie with Slovakia. At least the US only needs to win their third game to go through.

Saturday was awesome. Jeong Mi looked up tours for us and came upon the Seoul City Tour. It's a bus tour that costs just 10,000 won and takes you around the entire city to see all the big sites.

We stopped at a Deoksugung Palace, Namdaemun, Itaewon (unfortunately), the Korea War Memorial and Insadong. We also drove by all the other big sites, including the N Tower on Namsan. It was a long day, but my parents got to see everything I wanted to show them. It was great to spend the day with them and Jeong Mi.

On Sunday, we rested a bit. It was Father's Day, of course, so we celebrated that by having a nice meal at Outback Steakhouse. That sounds like a joke, but if you want some good food in Korea, Outback is a solid place to go.

On Sunday night, we went to the park where I played some basketball with Josh, Schwaby and Geoff. My parents watched and took some pics. If you're curious -- Yes, we are still undefeated against Korean competition.

After playing basketball, we took a little stroll and went to Garten Bier. My buddies and I do not go there enough. It's one of the few Korean-style bars that is actually enjoyable. I'm more than willing to get a little food there to hang out. The beer prices are good, and the tables have refrigerated cup holders to keep your beer nice and frosty.

So I'm a bit tired as I sit here on this Monday morning. But there's no time to rest. Tonight, Jeong Mi and her dad will take us to Freedom Park (to see MacArthur), Chinatown and Wolmido, so we can check out the boardwalk.

A busy week lay ahead which includes a baseball game, dance class, Bupyeong, Guworldong and my birthday on Saturday. It's going to be fun.

Mom and dad started there own blog, so look here to get their take on everything. I'll post some pics as soon as I get them from mom's camera.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

North Korea Hangs With 5-Time Champs

North Korea's soccer team kept the score close when they faced off with Brazil on Tuesday. The North Koreans lost 2-1.

Now, Brazil had the game wrapped up when the North Koreans scored in the final minutes of the game, but that's still an impressive result.

Maybe the North won't be pushovers.

Monday, June 14, 2010

2010 Korea Salsa Competition Video

Here is the video of the Incheon Bamboo Dance Academy's Shango Team at the 2010 Korea Salsa Competition in Seoul. The competition was on June 5, 2010, and we came away with the award for "Most Popular" performance.

It was an incredible night. Enjoy the show!

Check out the video here!!!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Sperts the Crab

I took over custody of Dan's crayfish. He wants to have many fish, but Sperts kept eating them. I named her Sperts because Koreans can't pronounce it.

Here are some pics.

All Is Well At The World Cup

South Korea played a bunch of orange cones from Greece and easily won 2-0. We watched the game with some Korean and Western friends in the Bennigans in Guworldong. It was a good time, except for the fact that watching any sporting event with Koreans is super annoying.

We then rested at my place during the Argentina game. At 3 a.m. our time, we made our way to Touchdown, one of the local Western bars, for the US-England clash.

The bar was pretty much split between Americans and Brits, except some of the doucher Americans were sitting with and cheering for England. Worthless turncoats. Only in South Korea.

Well, the place erupted when the US tied it at 1 apiece. The US severely outplayed England, and was probably a bit unfortunate only to get the tie. Things are looking good in the group, though. Slovenia and Algeria are clearly terrible.

Check out some pics here!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

NK Promotion

There are two stories this week about Kim Jong-il promoting his sister's husband from a super-powerful position to a super-duper powerful position.

Check them out here and here.

While the promotion isn't unexpected, the timing is. Analysts think Kim is consolidating his power to make for a smoother transition when he hands over the reigns to his regime.

While this means almost nothing for the time being, it probably is simply a show by the North to suggest to the world that their army-first policy is not going anywhere.

And as always, safety continues south of the border.

The People's Rooney

This is a stunning story about the North Korean soccer team. We already know what is supposed to be the main point of this story: North Korea is totally unpredictable.

But here are a few things I didn't know:
1. Their best-known striker is nicknamed "The People's Rooney."
2. Rewards are high but punishments are worse. From the story:

'With that honor comes pressure. Moon Ki-nam, a former national-level North Korea coach who defected to South Korea in 2004, said players are handsomely rewarded with coveted apartments if they win internationally but are punished, some sent to coal mines, if they lose.
Even some of the feted players from the 1966 team were said to have been sent to one of North Korea’s infamous labor camps for squandering a promising 3-0 lead to lose to a Eusebio-led Portugal in the quarterfinals.'

Check out the story here. I now officially hope the North Koreans get third in the World Cup. Behind the eventual winners USA and second-place Germany.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Bamboo Shango Team Wins!!!

It was an incredible weekend and I already gave away the best part in the title. Saturday was the 2010 Seoul Latin Dance Festival and Competition.

My dance team, Shango Team of the Bamboo Dance Academy in Incheon, went to compete against 11 other teams. While we didn't win a top 3 prize, we walked away with a trophy for the "Most Popular" performance. It was my first competition after 6 months of salsa dance and I was part of a winning team!

We've been practicing for about 2 months, with people rotating in and out of our team due to injury and other commitments. We've been meeting Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday every week.

We met at our studio around 11 a.m. Saturday where the girls started preparing their makeup. We got to the concert hall in Seoul around 2 p.m., and started to prepare.

Each team got about 7 minutes for a rehearsal. That's not a lot of time, so we mostly worked on our spacing and a quick run-through. We all felt pretty good. Most of the teams had pretty technically advanced routines, but only one really caught my eye. The team's guys all died their hair blonde and spiked it up in a faux-hawk. They won first place overall.

We were the last team to go, so we had to wait for all the other teams. But when it was our time, we didn't disappoint. We really nailed our timing as a team, and the choreography of our routine sucked the crowd in. There was a certain part where the crowd started to rumble, then just exploded into cheers at various sections of the dance. When it was all over, they were on their feet going crazy. It was a really incredible feeling.

Then, during the parade, while all the teams stood on stage, we heard our team's name called for an award. So we got to walk out in front of everyone and take a bow. Noticing a foreigner, the host immediately came to talk to me and ask me where I was from. The crowd went nuts again. It was such a cool thing to do.

We went back and celebrated our incredible experience afterward.

Unfortunately, I'll miss the next available show that's taking place in August. I'll be back in America with Jeong Mi for my sister's wedding. That means I have to wait until February to compete again. Hopefully I'll get to perform between now and then though. It's such a rush to be up there with your partner and team and hear the crowd yelling and cheering. I'm so fortunate to have become a part of this team and met such wonderful people, and I hope it continues for a long time.

I'll post the video as soon as I can, but for now, check out all the great pictures!

Thursday, June 3, 2010

North Korea Gets Jammed

North Korea tried tinkering with their roster a bit to bring an extra striker, but will be penalized as far as the player's position goes.

Confident with only two goalkeepers, the North Koreans registered one of their strikers in the third goalkeeper spot. FIFA caught on and said that now the striker will only be able to play as a goalkeeper.

That's pretty dumb, as far as rules go. For instance, if a team does bring three goalies, they'll only have two dressed for the game anyway. If both those goalies get hurt, then a field player steps into te goalkeeping position.

As far as I'm concerned, a team should be able to take as many players they want at any position they want. If they end up losing two goalies and not having a third, that's their problem to deal with. Too much meddling by FIFA here.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Lee Myung-bak's Party In Serious Trouble

I blogged earlier today that South Korean President Lee Myung-bak's sudden change in tenor of dealing with North Korea was a sign of his political weakness and the downfall of his career in office.

I was proven right today when some of the major election results were declared with Lee's Grand National Party winning only 6 of of the 16 key mayoral and gubernatorial races. Their main competition, the Democratic Party, took 7.

Lee's party is the more traditionally conservative one, while the Democratic Party is more liberal. What that means in Korea, however, is way beyond me.

What I do know is that Koreans unexpectedly did NOT vote conservative right after the sinking of the Cheonan in March. That is strange. One analyst said that while conservative feelings were stirred up, the conservative voters simply failed to turn out.

It's interesting that a country with so much nationalistic pride would be so lethargic on a voting day right after a North Korean attack. Of course, maybe that shows just how uninterested in the North most South Koreans are. Go figure.

Korea is Number 1 ... At Killing Themselves

It seems these stories are never out of the papers for too long. And this time, I can't think of a notable celebrity who killed themselves to prompt it.

According to the National Police Agency, Koreans were killing themselves at a rate of 40 per day in 2009.

From the story:

'By age group, those aged 60 and above comprised 4,614 or 32 percent of the total suicides ― indicating that more senior citizens are at risk ― followed by people in their 40s at 2,770 or 19 percent.

Though people in their 20s made up only 12 percent at 1,749, this represented a jump of 29 percent from 2008, and 35 percent over the last three years.

Around 28 percent of suicides took their own lives due to psychological problems, followed by 22 percent because of physical illness. Economic, domestic and love issues were next in the top five reasons.

"Statistics show suicides are rising sharply nationwide, though it's hard to pinpoint a single reason for the increase. Society as a whole should make greater efforts to stop people killing themselves," a police officer said.'

The story came out and said South Korea is ranked number one among members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Usually, stories in Korean newspapers peg the country at 2 or 3 with a Scandinavian country up at the top. But this time, Korea takes the top spot.

Election Finished!

And thank goodness for that. I couldn't take much more of those speakers blaring.

An article in The Korea Times on voting sheds an interesting light on what Koreans are thinking. It seems that most Koreans are about as motivated as Americans to get out and vote. They're also just as confused.

Let's face it: Most politicians don't know what they're doing and it's their job. Should we expect more out of the general public?

The good news is we got a day off from school on Wednesday because of the elections. I took advantage of that and hit the SK Wyverns game on Tuesday night with Josh, Colton and Geoff. And of course, since I attended, they lost.

 Three of the six Franklin High School dudes currently in South Korea.

Seoul Has A Change Of Heart

It seems that officials in Seoul are starting to re-think the harsh tone they've been taking with North Korea. There's even a call for reunification midst one of the most tense periods between the two countries in a decade.

From The Korea Times article:

'"When we say national security, words such as confrontation or face-off tend to come to our minds. I think now is the time for us to chart a security strategy that can usher the nation into reunification," he said.

Lee put priority on reunification, not confrontation, at a time when tensions are mounting on the peninsula.'

That's interesting for sure and there are at least two issues at play here. One is that not one of the allies involved supports a war. And any counter-attack would most likely provoke one. The second is that Lee Myung-bak is at an incredibly low point in his political career.

He initially came into office with the "tough on the North" outlook. But after an attack, when I would imagine he could cement that issue, he turns the other way. Let's just say his time in the office is winding down, and a re-election is impossible.