Monday, May 30, 2011

Jamming Into the Summer

When the nice weather comes, we finally get to break out of our cabin fever ... and it feels good.

On Thursday, after our study group, Woo Min and his girlfriend took us to the Incheon University Festival in New Songdo City. Woo Min graduated from there last semester, and wanted to show us where he went to school. There were a ton of college kids and professors out at various tents, just drinking and eating.

It was wacky because it is something that probably couldn't happen in America. There could probably never be a festival on campus where alcohol is so openly prominent because the drinking age is 21. Whereas it's 20, Korean age (real life 19). So even most of the youngest students can drink legally. The second thing is it's really frowned upon to have students and professors mix socially like that. Maybe it was okay because it was nearing the end of the semester or something.

Either way, we had a lot of fun. I had to leave around 1 a.m. because I had to get up early for work. The rest of them left about an hour later, but finished off their night at Woo Min's bar and our favorite spot, Radio.

Onson's parents have been here all week, and we had lamb skewers with them Friday after work. They're very nice people. It was cool because it's only the second set of my friend's parents who have come over. Barry's mom was here a few months ago, but I didn't really get to meet her or anything. It was very nice to meet Onson's parents, however.

On Saturday, I took a big, unexpected step in my relationship with Jeong Mi's parents. It was the first time I'd hung out with them without Jeong Mi around. Jeong Mi's mom called me twice around 10:30 a.m. to invite me to watch a wedding and try the food at our wedding place. I tried to tell her I didn't need to see or try the food. I was pretty nervous about not having Jeong Mi there.

But I gave in and met them around 11:30 a.m. We actually saw a big, Canadian guy get married to a Korean chick. It looked to me like -- due to his size -- he was really struggling with the things like bowing, being carried in, wearing the clothes and, at one point, giving his girl a piggyback ride. But he managed to get through the day.

I am happy I got to see the ceremony. I also got a script with English so I could send it to my family. The food at the buffet was decent. It was buffet food, but it'll be all-you-can-eat and will be satisfying.

I also had a nice time with her parents. It's always fun to get to know someone without that safety net there. I needed that challenge, and I think it all went well. We mostly talked about wedding stuff, and plans for my family when they get here. But I now have a newfound confidence when speaking with them.

Last but not least, Woo Min has become a really good friend. I, personally, am thankful for him simply being a great guy. He owns our favorite bar, and we go there frequently, but he's more than just a bar owner. We've played sports with him, gone to events with him and gotten dinner together. He even made VIP cards for Popper, Pel, Onson and I. Because he's such a good guy, I've asked him to join my crew of carrying guys at the wedding. So he, Pel, Popper and Barry will all carry me in on a throne. It's a great crew to have do it and I'm excited.

So I finally threw together some of the Radio pics we've taken, and will continue adding to the list. That includes the new high score board drawn by yours truly, which includes Pel's and my high score for two separate games.

As always, it's picture time.

Wedding pics here

Incheon University Festival pics here

Radio pics here

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Nice Weather = Busy Weekends

Saturday was a whirlwind of a day for Jeong Mi and me. We started out going to Bupyeong to do a fitting for my suit. The measurements were pretty good, but he'll make a few adjustments before throwing it all together for me. Getting a tailored suit is awesome. I feel like Jeong Mi and her family are spoiling me. But it's great knowing they think of me as family as well.

We then headed to Osan to visit some of her family. A lot of her family is from Osan, which is an hour or so south of Incheon. We went to deliver some wedding invitations and do some family introductions.

I met her grandma, her great uncle and her great aunt. I also met some of her aunts and uncles who I had met previously. Her grandma is in a very frail condition, and didn't say too much. One of her great uncles is pretty sick with cancer, so he wasn't in good shape either.

Some of her family members own a little shop and live above it. And her one great aunt lives in a traditional-style Korean home. Osan is a lot of countryside. It would be a relaxing place to live, but it might get a bit boring after awhile.

It was nice to see the previously-met family members again. I first met them over Chuseok last year, and they are very friendly. All in all, I met or re-met about 15 people on Saturday. It makes for a tiring day, but it was a lot of fun.

When we got home Saturday night, Pel, Popper and Onson were playing screen golf. I've only played screen golf one time, and I'm just about as bad at it as I am at real golf. But I joined them as we had a few drinks and hung out, playing some golf. Bryan took advantage of his new camera to get some fun pics of all of us.

On Saturday morning in America, my sister graduated from Seminary. Thanks to the 'net, I got to watch the ceremony. It was Saturday night at 11 p.m. for me. The ceremony lasted until about 1 a.m. here. I could see my parents sitting in the crowd, and even got some pics as Melissa received her diploma. I gave them a call right after to congratulate and let them know I watched.

Unfortunately, as is the case with burning the candle at both ends, I caught a little cold again. I used to never get sick in America. Then it became a once-a-year type of thing. But since coming to Korea, it happens a few times a year. I'm not blaming Korea, because I'm sure aging plays a big part in it. But sometimes stress can help knock me down a few pegs, as well.

Our new semester starts at Hambak on Monday. We're going to reduce our first grade classes to only 10 students, which is nice. We also may change around some other things in the future, but we have to get through this semester first.

Onson's parents are here this week, so he has a little time off from work to hang with them. Hopefully we'll all get to meet them and see about from where the mysterious 과묵 (silent) comes.

Jeong Mi and I are nailing everything down for our wedding. Getting the cards out is sort of the last of it. I think I have to head out to get fitted one more time for my hanbok, but things are all coming together. Nothing will be slowing down as the wedding gets close. Thankfully, I get a week off for the wedding to spend time with my family when they arrive.

As always feel free to check out all my pictures.

Wedding planning

Rec Room ROK

Osan trip

Melissa's graduation

Monday, May 23, 2011

Plastic Surgery Capital of Asia

CNN has been doing a lot of stories lately on Seoul. Most are pretty forgettable, even if you've never stepped foot in South Korea. For example, one reporter went to various places in the city using her bank card. She used it on the bus, taxi, subway and at restaurants. Let's face it, that's not too far off from many places in the world.

But one story stands out today. It's something that interests me because so many people do it, while so many others think it's stupid. That thing is plastic surgery.

Korea is one of the leading plastic surgery nations. One of the doctors CNN interviewed says his clinic is called the "plastic surgery capital of Asia." The main focus of the story is about the double-eyelid surgery, which is extremely popular here.

The girl they profile is a 12-year-old (so probably really 11 by international standards). She thinks her eyes are ugly, and is excited for the surgery. But her mom says she didn't asked for it. No, no. Mom is MAKING her do it.

A week or so ago there was outrage in America over a mother supposedly giving her young daughter Botox injections. People were livid. Yet, here, it's perfectly acceptable to have an elementary school child get surgery to change her appearance.

Most of the time, in my experience, the surgery makes hardly any difference. It's only noticeable if you have a before and after picture next to each other. Even the, the changes are so subtle they can be hard to spot.

The doctor in the story says:

'"They always tell me they don't like their faces," says Dr Kim, explaining what his patients request prior to surgery. "They want to have some westernized, nice faces. They want to have big eyes like westernized people, high profile, nicer noses."'

An interesting counterpoint is what an Asian American magazine editor gave:

'"They're making a statement about their own race, about where they come from, who they are," says Wong. "They're not doing it on purpose. They're not saying that they think they're inferior looking. They're not saying they're ugly, but that's the message that they're giving nonetheless."'

The story goes on to say that there's even a surgery now that is performed on toddlers to snip a muscle under the tongue, with the belief that it will help them speak English more clearly. Because, you know, everyone who speaks English had their tongue muscles snipped.

I know very few Koreans -- guys and girls -- who haven't had some form of plastic surgery, though it's certainly more rare with my male friends.

Either way, it's an interesting read on a cultural difference. Check out the story here.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Nation Finally Taking Notice???

I haven't written about suicides in Korea in a long time. It's not that interesting to me and, frankly, it's a sad topic about which I don't want to write.

But a slew of recent suicides at Kaist, one of Korea's most prestigious universities, is making me wonder if the country will finally take notice and do something instead of just continuing to take the top spot in OECD rankings for suicides year after year.

Check out this article in the New York Times about what's happening. The article paints a pretty accurate picture of student life here, from my experiences anyway.

As much as Korea has changed over the last 25 years -- and will continue to change -- I doubt they'll ever snap out of this. Suicide is almost encouraged when someone is humiliated or, more appropriately, humiliates themself in some way.

I don't want to write about this anymore. It's a bummer. So read the article and let me know what you think.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Thank Goodness For A Break

It's been awhile since we got some time off, and Geoff and I were lucky to get a long weekend thanks to Children's Day and our school's anniversary last week. Our friends weren't all so fortunate to get the Friday as well, but we did all get the Thursday. We ended up turning a few rest days into a great weekend.

On Thursday, Will, Onson, Bryan and I played soccer with Woo Min, Jun and their friend, Bo. We went to a local park with some indoor-style soccer courts. We didn't beat the high school kids we were playing, but there're a host of rules and cheap tactics the Koreans use at this court of which we couldn't take advantage.

One is that any time they got the ball in their defensive zone, they simply went to the corner with it, and we HAD TO BACK OFF. Even in our defensive zone, they expected us to give them room when they went to the corner. It was stressful. They also cherry-picked like crazy. I realize there's no offsides, but there's a sense of courtesy and fair play that they didn't care about. Speaking of fair play, one time, their goalie left the box with the ball. When the ball squirted back into the box, a defender ran back and picked it up with his hands, like he was now the goalie. They also played it back to their goalie constantly and the keeper would just pick it right up. I'm not saying we're super good, but I am saying that we play fair.

On Thursday evening, we went out to Guworldong. It used to be one of our favorite squares in which to hang, but we've largely lost interest because there was really a lack of things to do when you can't sit at a table outside in the summer. But there's a new-ish bar there that has super-cheap drinks, as well as some new chicken places and a host of other new batting cages and games and whatnot. We took it all in and had a fun time.

On Saturday, Popper, Kim, Pel and I went to the baseball game to watch Incheon lose to Kia. There were so many people that we had to sit way up in the upper decks. We also got in using some sneaky method through a scalper. We basically followed him in as he showed the gate people already-torn stubs. Very strange. But we got in for 5,000 won each.

On Sunday, we headed to Wolmido to take advantage of one of the few days during the weekend with no rain. It got a little chilly at night, but we had a lot of fun. I took some pictures, but the stupid Microsoft pictures manager decided it didn't want to rename my photos, and simply deleted them. The good news is, we will be making our way back there frequently during the summer. It's so nice to hang out on the boardwalk and listen to the live music and watch the people walk by.

It's going to be a good summer.

See the Wyverns pics here!

Check out Guworldong shots here!

Hanbok Shopping

Apparently there's an underground-ish market for everything here. That certainly includes traditional Korean clothing. I met Jeong Mi and her family in Bupyeong. About 10 minutes walking distance from the station is a whole mess of tight alleys with hanboks and other Korean clothing and goods.

If you've been in Korea for awhile, it's exactly what you'd expect. There are bunch of older ladies sitting around, basically doing nothing until someone comes in. Then they all talk furiously at once. And keep this in mind: No matter how many times they ask for your opinion, they don't really care. I told them what I liked, and they would just tell me what they thought was more beautiful.

I told Jeong Mi's mom to just pick one that she liked for me. She appreciated that. Let's face it, my idea of a cool hanbok is probably the exact opposite of what she would like. So she can choose one that she likes. I'm sure it'll be fine.

To top off this evening, we then went to a tailor and he measured me for a brand new suit. Once again, they're very generous, and I probably don't deserve it. I have trouble accepting gifts -- especially large/expensive gifts. So while I am truly appreciative, I feel a little uncomfortable with it all. I have to work on just showing my gratitude without showing my worry for them buying something for me.

I really am thankful for how they've been and will continue to be for me. I bought dinner tonight. So that's something!

Anyway, as the wedding preparation continues, you can check out the photos here!

Hambak Promo Video

Someone in the school put together promotional videos for all the after-school programs. Ours turned out pretty well.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

25 Manners

Here's a little column on 25 manners kids should know by the time they reach age 9. Certainly when I was growing, my parents stressed all of these to me (Except for the one about the phone. I rarely introduced myself first unless it was for a professional call.).

Here's the article!

Now, we can't expect kids to remember or adhere to these all the time. But if they are at least putting forth the effort, it's a relief. I also realize there are some cultural differences at play between Korea and America.

But even with that in mind, take a look around at many Koreans you either know or just pass by while walking. It's beating a dead horse to bring these things up again, but it's also a fun way to vent.

Check out the list. Any other manners you think Koreans -- especially students -- should learn?

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Rocket Boy

Barry performs his speech, "Rocket Boy," at the Area 30 Toastmaster International speech competition in Seoul on April 29, 2011. Barry won the event and will represent Seoul in Busan at nationals.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Barry Smith - The Toastmaster

Geoff and I went to Seoul on 4/29/11 to watch Barry Smith compete in his regional Toastmaster speech competition. And, as we expected, Barry walked away victories after besting the sex other speakers.

We almost didn't get in. The event was held in a small room, and it filled up fast. Fortunately, they found a couple seats for Geoff and me, and we got to see Barry win the crown.

For winning the Area 30 Toastmaster International speech competition, Barry will go on to represent Seoul in Busan at the end of May.

I'll post the video in my next update. Congrats Barry!!!

Check out the pics here!

Losing Streak is Over

Thankfully, my Wyverns losing streak halted at two games. A bunch of us went to the game on Sunday to watch a 3-1 victory over the Doosan bears. Pictures have been added to the album.

Wyverns pics are here!