Monday, December 29, 2008

Travel journal: Gyeongju

My "handler," Yuna.

A few weeks ago I ran into the Englishman, Scott. He was asking me how I was settling in, and also, if I was excited for the upcoming Gyeongju trip. Of course, no one tells me anything over here so he had to inform me as to when and where this was all going down. "It's a trip us public school foreign teachers go on to connect with the "culture" I suppose," Scott quipped nonchalantly. Scott knew I was going because he saw my name on a list floating around the office. I knew I couldn't be both on an enlightenment trip and in the classroom at the same time so I was happy.

Scott in all of his fancy-panted English glory

When I pressed Yuna for more details in reference to the trip, I received spoken ambiguity that would have even made Slick Willie proud. "It's so you can understand Korea and Korean's," she said as if keeping me in the dark for yet another day was the gold medal at the Olympics.

Scott had this idea that they would take us in the woods, blindfold us, beat us on the backs with sticks and then bring us back into town. The theory is if we were beaten within centimeters of our lives, we'd be less apt to bitch about various shortcomings in reference to our jobs and living situations. For whatever reason, I took Scott's vision one giant leap further. All I could imagine was an afternoon filled with yelling and shouting at us white folk in their native Korean tongue. Just when we thought it couldn't get any more, they'd round us up, shackle us and go to work on us in a fashion that screams one-part incest and two-parts sodomy.

"You've got a purdy mouth"

Though Scott knew the when and the where, he was fuzzy on the details. Essentially, Gyeongju and the surrounding areas harbor temples and tombs and other various Korean landmarks deemed important to Korean culture. It's considered to be out in the sticks. Those sticks are located about 2.5 hours by bus from Masan. What did this mean to us? A day on a bus driving around.

There is a time and a place for aggressive speed driving. If you have a car tailored for such terrain, then okay. If you are trying to qualify for Le Mans. This is also acceptable. However, driving a tour bus with 75 passengers as if you were paid by the KPH through rural Korea on a narrow winding road is just plain dangerous. Needless to say, I was fighting nausea for the remainder of the day.

Why is this significant you ask? Because it's my given English name sucking hind tit to my newly minted Korean "slave name." Can't you just hear my yelling "Garrett!" as I'm being beaten on the back with bamboo?

Check out my travel photo's labeled Korea, December for more photos.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The "tide you over" post

Worry not blog readers. I've got several posts in the proverbial cyber-chamber but am waiting on photos from various sources to complete them.

I don't know if it's my inner child or complete lack of maturity that makes me laugh when I see these things, but sometimes a picture is able to paint a picture that my words simply can not. It would be a damn shame if other parts of the world weren't exposed to this "laugh when old people fall" type humor.

On the way out from fishing with Monk and his son last month, I spotted this gem. I snapped a picture with his camera to catch this glimpse of genius because, after the warm reception I received from the "Balzac Coffee" incident in Germany, I promised myself that if I was ever in doubt if something was funny, that it probably was and therefore needed to be documented.

You're welcome.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Meet the parents

Where's the swill?

Once a year the teachers at Sam-jin middle school in rural Masan meet up with parent's of the students that they educate. As such, it was important that I attend this free dinner/alcohol buffet in order for the school to show off their new, shiny foreigner. I believe the staff hit me with the "do you have appointment" line at about 10 a.m that morning. As per usual, I was free.

On the way over to the restaurant, I asked Jin-sun if I should slip into something a little more presentable. It's not like I was going to slip into a smoking jacket and slacks but I was willing to up the ante from the 3 dollar salvation army find Mallard had picked up for me in Montana some 3 years previous. She echoed what we all know, "Garrett, you look good." This is good enough for me on any continent on the planet.

As it seems with most Korean gatherings I have been at, it takes a while for people to let their jet black hair down. Boys on one side, girls on the other, no one making extended eye contact and speech, that if I could understand it, seems to be no more substantive then a " how about the weather?" or "how about those Lotte Giants?" That's where the waitresses carrying the green bottles come in.

Warmer, closer, better ...

That's much better.

All systems launch!

(From left to right): Teacher, hilarious principal, Garrett

The principal stood and spoke to the staff and students parents. After a few minutes of speech that included a "1 shot (Korean equivalent to "raise your glass)" I heard "Garrett" mentioned. I was then motioned to stand up, which I obliged reluctantly because a) what the hell do I say and b) sitting on the ground for better than an hour is murder on the wheels and hips. Standing up quickly only makes you wish you were dead. When it came to my speech I opted for the tried and true, if not terse, "Hello. Thank you for dinner." As for the wheels, the throbbing went away in about 15 seconds.

Dinner was great as usual. Soju had worked its magic on everyone in attendance and the scattered English was being slung about the place like fecal matter at a hog farm. A mother of a student took an exceptional liking to me complimenting me on everything from my eyes, face, hair and body and made sure that I was coming to her house for dinner in the near future. While this was going on I was laughingly thinking, "Mrs.Lee, is their a Mr.Lee? (ala Forrest Gump)" Just kidding. I escaped unscathed by the whole encounter.

Afterward we went predictably to the norebang where I hammered out a couple cheesy rock staples. In a moment of weakness, I tried to widen my norebang breadth and sing "Crazy" by Patsy Cline. Unless you're Patsy Cline, don't ever try to sing "Crazy" by Patsy Cline. I'm sure the kareoke gods had a good laugh at me that night.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Team "white guy"

From what I have gathered, there are three camps of people when it comes to meeting their ESL brethren in casual street encounters. There is the wave-the-guy-down-from-the-other-side-of-the-street guy, the casual-head-nod guy, and lastly, the don't-fucking-talk-to-me guy. I can roll with the punches and play all three. It's more the other guys toes I'm concerned about stepping on anyway. It's an instantaneous read that must be made. Chose right and it's smooth sailing. Choose incorrectly and you've floated into an awkward situation without a paddle. Much is made of how to act in these situations. Back home you wouldn't wave to every swingin' dick that crossed your path, so how does being in a foreign country change things? Sometimes you stop and talk to someone and realize that, yes you share the same native tongue, and yes, you both play for "team white guy" as I like to call it but are processing these two merits enough to build friendship on? It's the age old ex-pat question. One of these days I'm going to muster the marbles to cleave one of these uncomfortable stalemates with the "Big Gulps eh? Welp, see ya later!" line.

Last week after picking up some groceries from Lotte Mart, and after throwing two casual-head-nods to fellow ex-pats minutes previous (think when Edward Norton's character in fight club is sitting at the restaurant table and the waiter comes up all bruised and bandaged and gives him a slight head nod and a brief look. It's that exact same subtle acknowledgment), I encountered a fellow in the street by the name of Bobby. Bobby was a wave-the-guy-down kind of gent.

Bobby is from London and has been in South Korea for a couple weeks longer than me. He lives upstairs as a matter of fact, and aside from be wickedly funny, he is quite the entertaining story teller.

Bobby: "What have you in the bag mate?"
Me: "Oh, some stuff to make pesto. "
Bobby: "Is that right? You know what I like about you American's?"
Me: "Besides our world police mentality?"
Bobby: "Yeah, well everyone loves that. What I really like about you Americans is that you are always making something or doing something?"
Me: "(laughs) Really? I was under the assumption that the world thought of America as the place where ambition goes to die."
Bobby: "Oh, you have no idea. It's the damn English I tell you. We are so apathetic. We talk about doing and experiencing all these great things. I call it "two week Salsa." You've got this great idea that you are going to learn something. You know, learn something new like Salsa dancing so you pay some pounds and decide to take Salsa lessons. Two lessons in you quit and then it's back to doing nothing again. It's a vicious cycle really. But you Americans, you are always doing something. Even if it's building model airplanes or finding new and clever way to, I don't know, make better honey. You don't make honey do you?"
Me: "Nah, I don't make honey but if you interested I'm making some beer next weekend if you want to learn."
Bobby: "That's what I'm bloody talking about right there mate!"

Bobby was looking pretty rough and it was already early afternoon, and when I asked about the series of events that lead to his current condition, he regaled with a story about his crazy Saturday night in Busan. Him and his best mate cruised into Busan, and whilst completely pissed, his buddy decided he wanted to visit a whore house. While his buddy was inside the place of ill repute, Bobby waited outside like any good friend would do and saved his moral argument for another time. The police, while scanning the area, decided that he fit the description for a convenience store robbery that happened in the vicinity and stuffed him into the back of the police car. The So.Ko.Po took him to the scene of the crime, where it was then determined by the shop owner that he WASN'T the perpetrator. He was eventually let go and then he reunited a few hours later with his friend freshly minted friend. Anyways, he didn't get back to Masan until 8 a.m Sunday morning. Like I said, Bobby was looking pretty haggard.

"I'm sorry mate. I've been blathering rudely on about my past evening. What are you up to?" Bobby said to me. "Me? Um ... I'm looking for pine nuts to make pesto," I sheepishly replied.