Tuesday, September 28, 2010

South Korean Girls Win World Cup

The South Korean U-17 Womens soccer team has won its first international tournament. The girls from the ROK beat Japan in the final 3-3 (5-4 PKs). Check out the story here.

If anyone cared about girls in South Korea, I'd probably have to be defending the USA over this one. Good thing they're still second-class citizens here. (Joking ... sort of.)

Kim Jong-il's Son Gains Notoriety and Rank

Kim Jong Un, the son of North Korea leader Kim Jong-il, received his expected promotion this week as he was named a 4-star general in the North Korean military as well as a member of the Central Committee of the party.

While that news was expected for about a month, it's news about the life of this rising communist star that people seem to know little about.

Here are the details that are coming out:
- He's 27 or 28 years old.
- He studied at an elite school in Bern, Switzerland.
- He's the youngest of three brothers.
- He has characteristics of his father.

Other than that, very little is known. There are apparently only two or three pics of this guy even circulating the news agencies.

Here are details on his Central Committee promotion and his military general promotion.

One of the big questions is how the handover of power will affect the North. It seems to me that it won't be a significant change as far as that goes. A bigger question is how long will daddy hold on with his son in an intern-type role. And then, the hope of most of the world is that regardless of how the government continues, will this guy have the balls to step out of the cult of personality of his father and grandfather and do something to actually help the people of his country.

I would think studying abroad would be a major step toward taking over and laying down his own new rules. He must be well-aware of the joke that his country has become. Of course, his father is aware, too, but has spent the majority of his life inside the walls of the fortress. Being raised in the outside world has to change one's perspective on life.

For a refresher course on the North and how it got to its present state, check out this story from CNN.com.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Chuseok and Jeju Island - Yeah, I Went There

It's been an exciting couple of weeks for Jeong Mi and myself. We both have had a lot of new experiences and it's been a ton of fun spending so much time together.

Back at the end of August was, of course, our trip to the USA for my sister's wedding.

Adding another chapter to our travel log, we headed to Jeju Island last week to spend our Chuseok vacation. Chuseok, as understanding Koreans will tell you, is akin to the American Thanksgiving. If the Korean is a jerk, however, they'll tell you your phone dictionary and less uptight Korean buddies are wrong.

Chuseok is a day of thanks, for sure. It's not about turkey and stuffing, unfortunately, but it is about giving thanks for family. The timing of Chuseok is a harvest-timing type of thing from the past when Korea was mostly farms. So, 1997. But really, it was a time for the family to come together to get the fall's harvest.

It has transformed itself now into a time for family to get together and give thanks for the family members who came before them. It's one of the two biggest holidays here in South Korea.

I was fortunate enough to be invited by Jeong Mi to join her family on the morning of Chuseok and check out the traditions. I arrived at 8 a.m. and her dad's brother's family was already there. Everyone was preparing the traditional food and dishes, and had the screen with all the symbols of longevity on it.

After it was all prepared, Jeong Mi's dad and brother took a few turns bowing, wow her uncle's family just bowed their heads and prayed. I just took pictures and took it all in. I've been a part of thanksgiving ceremonies in Korea before, as I have been to a few bamboo dance academy openings. But this was my first Chuseok that I got to experience.

I'm very thankful for Jeong Mi and her family, and I think it was appropriate for me to share that day with them.

Jeong Mi's mother's family came later in the morning, so I got to spend some time with them as well. I think I'm making a good impression. After all, they keep inviting back.

After the meal, Jeong Mi's brother took us to Gimpo Airport, where we met with Popper and Jeong before their flight. We boarded an hour or so later and made our way to the southern sea below South Korea.

Jeong and Popper rented a car, and went to check in when they arrived on the island. When we came an hour later, we had to wait a bit for them to come back to pick us up. The island is about 25 kilometers from the side the airport is on to the side our hotel and pension were on.

We got back to our pension and checked in, and we immediately started having fun. Jeong Mi and I checked two suitcases full of meat, side dishes and alcohol. Also, her dad generously gave us a bottle of whiskey. We paid the owners of the pension 20,000 won and he heated up the grill for us. We hung on the porch, basically overlooking the ocean, took in the cool breeze and grilled up some meat.

The yard of the pension was beautiful. Typical grass in Korea is scratchy and hard. This grass was soft and beautiful like a plush carpet. Just awesome.

We hit the road Thursday morning to take in all our adventures. We went horseback riding first thing on Thursday morning. It was a lot of fun. Jeong Mi and I had really nice horses and the trainer walked far ahead to allow them to gallop and catch up. That was nice. They even got to break into a lite run around the final stretch of the track.

After that, we headed to Seongsanilchulbong. It's a now-dormant volcano. The four of us hiked up the side of it and took and ton of really great pictures. The inside of what used to be the volcano was beautiful. It was a bowel covered in trees and grass. It was also high up and allowed for awesome views of the ocean.

Next, we were headed to a hot-air balloon ride, which, unfortunately, we never got to because of "windy" weather. What we found along the way was a go-kart track. While I thought it was a little pricey, the lady ended up giving us a discount and we got a couple of two-person karts.

Good for me and Jeong Mi is that our kart was really fast. Unfortunately, every time we came around the track, the employees told us to slow down. Yeah, that makes sense. I mean, it's only a go-kart track. Why would we want to go fast?

After that, we headed to the trick art museum. It was really fun. There were bunch of pictures that were painted in a way that allowed you to interact with them. It gave great opportunity for some really awesome photos. We took a ton in there and it was really fun.

After that, we got some of the famous Jeju black pork. Now, we unfortunately went to a restaurant with terrible service. But if you ever go to Jeju and everyone is telling you you have to try this meat. I can tell you that it's not worth the trip. It's between 12,000 and 15,000 won per portion and tastes NO different from what we always eat around here. Want to know what it tastes like? Have you eaten galbi or samgyeopsal in Incheon? Well, you know already.

Next, we went to a small waterfall to get a few pics. It was dark at that point, but the waterfall was lit up and it was really peaceful.

The next day, we headed to a small park where you can get a really good view of the lava rocks formed from whenever the volcano blasted. We didn't stay there too long, because we had to get to The World Automobile Museum.

The car selection there was pretty spectacular. Popper and I were discussing how it seemed likely that the cars probably all belonged to one super-rich collector and he wanted to share them with the world. There were a lot of fancy cars like a classic Cadillac, a Benz, a Rolls-Royce and a Bentley, among others.

There was also row of crappy Korean cars from the early 90s. They don't even come close to the sweet styles Kia and Hyundai are making now.

Next up for us was the sex museum. Now, I know what you're thinking. "Sex museum? Awesome!" Yeah, me too. But it's not so awesome. There were some entertaining things in there for sure. But it was moslty a lot of info and stuff about world cultures. It was like being in a building with a bunch of pamphlets from health class.

At least there was the sex toy room. That was hilarious.

Then came the moment I was really looking forward to: The giant hamburger. Of course, I shouldn't have built it up in my head. It didn't quite live up the expectations. It was big and it did taste good. But I forgot that I was in Korea with all the nature and fresh air down there. The hamburger wasn't beef. It was pork. It was still tasty and I'm happy I ate it.

When the burger time finished, it was over to mystery road, where we had to avoid the bugaboo!!!! Mystery road is a place where your car is going downhill, but the scenery makes it appear that you're going uphill. The girls didn't explain it to us at first, so we were confused when his girlfriend stopped her car and stuck it in neutral in the middle of the road.

After the first time, we realized what was going on. So we did it a second time, and screamed like our car was flying off a cliff. It was hilarious. We then had a little snack at one of the roadside restaurants and chatted with the ladies there. They were really nice and we had a ton of fun.

We then headed up the top of the peak. It was too dark to see anything at that point, but the ride down was awesome. We saw a ton of deer running along and across the road on the way down. It was like being back in Western Pennsylvania.

After checking the deer, Popper and his girl dropped us off at the airport, and we caught our flight home. I crashed at Jeong Mi's parent's place that night, and rode the train with her to work on Saturday. I went home and crashed for a few hours and then got back into normal life.

Overall, Jeju was an awesome trip. We got a really great deal on our flight and the pension we stayed in was really cool and comfortable. Everyone down there was really nice, as well. The four of us got to see a lot, but there's still more to do, if we ever want to go back.

If you get the chance, take a trip down there, even for a weekend. You'll be happy you did.

Until then, check out my pictures. I'll be updating them as more come in. We have three cameras worth of photos to sort through.

Enjoy all my pics here!!!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Things Happening Up North

North Korea's officials and ruling party are holding a massive meeting on Sept. 28 to possibly appoint new leaders within the world's only hereditary, communist government.

On BBC World News today, they reported that the last meeting of this magnitude was in 1980, when current leader Kim Jong-il was given his senior position.

This is a photo of the man who is thought to be Kim Jong Un, Kim Jong-il's youngest son.

With Kim's health in question, the thoughts are that the party is ready to elect one of Kim's sons, Kim Jong Un, to the top post. Not much is known about KJI's youngest son, but he is thought to be in his mid- to late twenties. KJI has other sons, but BBC reported that one of the older sons will not be promoted because KJI thinks he is too feminine. Classic North Korea.

There are major questions around the meeting, such as if a transfer of power will take place, and how it will affect the party and its power. My questions is that, even though the chances are slim, what if this guy isn't like his father at all, and is tired of his country being the joke of the world. Could even bigger changes be coming???

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Starcraft Is Dumb

I mean, seriously. The game is like 100 years old, but Koreans still play it like it came out yesterday. Popper and I were talking about whether they would start playing Starcraft 2, and he had a good point. They will start playing when it's also 10 years old and no one plays anymore. That way, they can feel like the best.

Anyway, check out this article talking about how ridiculous the Starcraft culture is in Korea.

Monday, September 13, 2010

StarCraft is Practically Korea's National Sport ...

And America mocks you for it.

Check out this great video by Cody at cracked.com. He's doing a tutorial on a StarCraft-type game and getting destroyed by his Korean competiton. Good stuff.

Another Reunion Planned

North Korea's Red Cross is proposing another meeting of separated families between North and South Koreans.

These stories are incredibly heartwarming. Yes, it's terrible that there are people stuck across the border in the first place, but to see a family member you haven't seen since the 1950s and aren't even sure if they're alive has got to be one of the most wonderful feelings in the world.

Some really nice video always surfaces after these events happen, so I'll post that as soon as it comes out.

Here's one of the meetings from last year:

'Yoon Ki-Dal, 88, of South Korea thought such a moment would never come. After leaving his son and daughters when they were babies during the Korean War, he was able to hold the hands of his North Korean children last September. 
"Father, we thought you were dead," his daughter, who was in her 60s, told him, her face trembling.'
Again, it's just brutal that two bigger governments (The USA and USSR) could have agreed to separate an entire country and separate millions of people.

But at least there is enough cooperation for a few hundred families to meet every year. If that doesn't inspire hope, I don't know what could.

South Korean Clubs Dominate

South Korea's K-League had placed all four of its' entered clubs into the quarterfinals of the Asian Champions League. It's the first country in the history of the competition to do so.

Suwon Bluewings and Seongnam Ilwha will play each other in the quarterfinals, thereby eliminating one of South Korea's teams' chances. Jeonbuk Motors and Pohang Steelers are Korea's other two teams in the quarterfinals.

This could be a big year for the Korean clubs, who are looking to bring a 9th AFC title to the peninsula.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Melissa's Wedding and The Whole Trip

Well, I've taken plenty of time to recuperate and I've also been pounded with a heavy work schedule since one of our teachers is on vacation. But it's time to document my time back in America.

Overall, it was really great to go home and hang out. It was a super-short time, and we really had to rush around, but seeing my family and friends, giving Jeong Mi the tour, meeting her sister and having a little break were all very nice. The one major problem was the traveling itself, which is still haunting me as I type.

I'll break this up into three parts. So let's start with the first leg of our trip.

Heading back to America

The trip started off a bit ominously, but I knew it would be stressful, so I just tried to go with it. Jeong Mi's dad was going to pick me up at 1:30 p.m. on that Wednesday and we'd go to the airport, say goodbye and be on our way.

Well, as is the case in Korea, a plan is never actually set. Jeong Mi called me at 11 a.m. that day asking me to meet them at her house, instead of him coming to get me. Well, that would've been nice to know the night before, but I got all my stuff together, took a cab to the subway, and lugged my gear to her place.

I had a tiny breakfast with her family and we all hopped in the car and got on our way.

We got to the airport in plenty of time, checked in smoothly and headed to our plane. All was going well. I was even feeling saucy enough to upgrade our seats to get some extra leg room. Yep. All looked good.

We even got to use the Asiana lounge, which had a salad bar and drinks -- including beer. Totally worth the upgrade price.

Well, we got on the plane to find our first disappointment: The plane had no individual screens on the backs of seats. Now, we were close enough to the big screen at the front, but when you get used to having a personal screen and a ton of options, it sucks to suddenly not have one on a 10-hour flight.

Another problem on our United airplane was that even though we were on a trip leaving South Korea, there was only one Korean-speaking flight attendant. Only one! This was a plane with 200 Koreans and there was one Korean speaker. The attendant we had working our row subscribed to the theory of speaking louder if someone doesn't understand English. So when she came around and asked Jeong Mi how she wanted her coffee, and Jeong Mi didn't respond, she just practically yelled it. It came off as very rude.

After being in a country that caters to English-speakers, it was a little reverse culture shock to see how little an American company (flying out of South Korea) cared about speaking Korean.

Well, to add onto our already subpar experience, our flight arrived late in San Francisco. Then, we went through immigration. She had to wait a longer time in her line, because American immigration employees insist on interviewing people who don't speak any English. So I waited in order to translate for Jeong Mi, and had four different people try to make me leave the area.

The final person told me to leave and I got a bit testy and said, "I'm going to do you a favor and translate." The guy said, "Does she speak some kind of strange language we wouldn't know?" I said, "I don't know, buddy. Do you speak Korean?" And what a surprise, after that, they stopped bugging me.

Even after spending 20 minutes at the immigration area, we still had to wait for almost 25 minutes for our luggage to finally roll around. At that point, we had missed our next flight. We were supposed to fly to Denver next, and then to Pittsburgh. We got re-booked on a direct flight to Pittsburgh that would get us in one hour later than before. How stupid is that? Why didn't they just book us on that flight in the first place?

Either way, we got on that plane (with excellent flight attendants) and got to Pittsburgh, where mom and dad picked us up, and took us through Sheetz for a snack. It was awesome.

Franklin, Pittsburgh and Erie

We got up the next day, and I took her through our quaint little downtown area, where we got some coffee and checked out some of the shops and the park. It was really nice, and she loved our town. A 6,000-person American town is obviously different from EVERYWHERE in South Korea.

After that, we headed down to Pittsburgh so I could show her where I spent the last 6 years of my life before coming to Korea.

We checked out Piper's Pub in the South Side for lunch, rode the incline and then headed to Lawrenceville where we hit the Blue Moon and Belvedere's for 80s Night. It was awesome. The bartenders and DJs remembered. It was strange to see how little had changed. It's like time stood still while I was gone.

She and I both loved every minute of it.

The best part was seeing Joe, Amanda, Matt and Joe's wife. It was so great to see my best friends again. We went right back to our old routine, and it just felt so good.

The next day, we woke up, grabbed our stuff, and headed up to Erie, where the wedding was taking place. We stayed at the Sheraton Bayfront Hotel. It was in a really nice location on the lake.

After we arrived, we headed to the church for the rehearsal/rehearsal dinner. The food was great, and Jeong Mi started meeting everyone. She was pretty tired, so she took a bit of a nap, but we had a nice dinner.

After that, it was back to the hotel where we got in the hot tub for a bit before winding down. Her sister, Limmy, came at about 3 a.m., so she went to meet with her for a bit.

We were both awake by about 7 a.m., so we went for breakfast with dad. We also headed over to the beach to check it out. She was pretty impressed by a lake that was so big it actually has waves.

Then, she went to hang with her sister while I was headed to the church at the terribly early hour of 10 a.m. for pictures. Our groomsmen pics took about 15 minutes, followed by roughly 3 hours of just standing around bored out of our minds. Totally unnecessary.

The wedding went by just fine, everyone was happy and whatnot. And then, it was onto the good part of the night.

Jeong Mi had already started meeting everyone, but it was at the reception where she really had to be on her toes. Of course, right after dinner, the travel had caught up with her again, and she had to take a little nap. She missed the Chicken Dance, but was back soon for more dancing and fun.

We even did a salsa dance in front of everyone. She was a bit nervous and wasn't wearing great dancing shoes. We also didn't have a salsa song. But it was a Latin tune, and we pulled out some moves and had a lot off fun. Everyone really enjoyed it.

Then, my night got even better as Lynn and I sand 'Dream Lover' on karaoke. It was my special day and everyone knew it. Haha.

We wrapped up the night by hanging out in Paul and Pauline's room with some of mom's side of the family, and then hanging in Limmy's room for a bit. It was a really nice way to close down the night.

Sunday in Erie and Franklin

I woke up the next day with a pretty big problem. My eye was swollen shut and I was in serious pain. I always have some issues with sensitive eyes because of the airplane and hotel air. It's really dry, and it makes wearing contacts a bit tough sometimes.

Well, we had dinner with the family in the morning to say goodbye to everyone, then headed to a clinic, where I got the wonderful news that I cut my eye. Most likely, it was when I was taking my contacts out. My eye was probably really sensitive at the time, and I probably didn't go easy enough.

Well, we headed over to the beach for one last quick visit, then back to Franklin.

At home, we did a Bruckart family tradition and had a campfire in the backyard complete with hot dogs, beans, mac 'n cheese and , yes, DILL pickles. It was all so good and it was nice to show Jeong Mi how nice life was back home.

We were fast asleep soon after that, and up early to head to Pittsburgh for our return flights. And that's where the stress really happened.

Heading Back To Korea

Here's a little tip for any of you traveling to South Korea. Don't go through China. Our tickets took us to Beijing to transfer, and it was a nightmare. First, in Pittsburgh, they weren't confident about letting me get on the plane, because they were convinced I'd need a visa just to transfer in Beijing. After about 30 minutes of phone calls and searching, they found out that people staying less than 24 hours and not leaving the airport don't need a visa.

But I already knew the day would be nuts.

Our flight to to Newark went fine, and the transfer in Newark was a piece of cake. It was in Beijing where things were a mess.

First, we got sent to about 10 different places, some of them twice, just trying to get through to pick up our bags and check back in. While all the employees spoke English well, none of them knew the process we needed to go through. So it was back and forth between various lines and counters, getting information and misinformation along the way.

As our time was getting exceedingly close to missing our flight, we finally got through, only to find out that we had to ride the tram to a different building, get our bags, re-check in and then come back to the building we were currently in.

While, we were stressed and it was insane, but after running around everywhere, we made it to our plane as it was boarding.

And here's the sweetest part: We flew Asiana from Beijing to Incheon. So we were coddled the whole way back. And that is a great way to end a trip.

Back to Work and Normal Life

And that was pretty much that. I went back to work the next day and one more before hitting the weekend. And last week, Geoff left for a little time off because his contract is finished, and he's re-signing. He's taking  little trip at home. Unfortunately, that means we're getting pounded at work.

But fortunately, we only have one more week and a Monday before Chuseok, the Korean harvest and family holiday. So we'll get four work days off, and the following weekend. Jeong Mi and I are planning to hit Jejudo with Popper and his girlfriend. After that, I'll have hit pretty much every major thing in South Korea. So I'll be ready to start checking other countries.

It's going to be a busy week or so, but it's nice to get back to the familiar routine.

The only real problem is my eye is still bothering me. I've gone to the doctor a few times, and have at least one more trip next week. Also, I can't wear my contacts for a month, which is terrible. I'll have to wear my glasses in Jejudo. That's not cool. But oh well.

So, except for the glasses, it's back to normal. Enjoy all the pictures. I posted a few different sets in the previous blog posts. So check them out and see our time in America. Enjoy!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

More Wedding Pictures

Here are more wedding pictures, which obviously include my time at home.

Here are mom's pics.

Here are my aunt's pics.

As always, enjoy!

Monday, September 6, 2010

Wedding Pics and Tiny Update (Anger)

Here are the pics from my sister's wedding. Notice how happy I am during most of the images. I will not be that happy again for a long time.

While I was at home, I scratched my eye. I think it was because of the dry air in the airplane and the hotel, and not enough downtime in between the trip over and trip back. Because my eye was irritated, I must've scratched it when removing my contacts.

I'll give a description of the trip later, but as for now, I can't even open my left eye because it is throbbing with pain. The doctor told me that I can't wear my contacts for at least a month, and gave me a bunch of pills and drops. So the next month of my life is going to be pretty terrible.

Check out the wedding/travel pics here.