Category: Holidays

The Last Week

By , February 5, 2013 10:36 am

It’s Tuesday and I’ve got one final week in Korea.  I’ve got just a few classes to finish up this week, hand off books to new teachers and turn in attendance reports. Later this week on Friday evening, I’ve got a going-away party.  Should be fun – just a night at one of my favorite foreigner bars here in town, but quite a few people should be there.  Following that, we’ll drive to Pohang on Saturday to stay with MyeongHee’s family for Lunar New Year.  Last time to spend the weekend on the floor, and I’m sure her family will give me a bit of the third degree about why/where/when/etc regarding going back to the USA.

Still waiting to hear about a job or two. I had five interviews with a company in San Franciso, CA and Austin, TX. I think they liked me but I don’t know how much competition I had.  I hadn’t heard from them since last week, but the recruiter said the hiring manager was out of town. I had another interview yesterday with an Austin,TX company but that was very preliminary.  I’d really love to have a job waiting when I come back to the US, but that’s looking slimmer and slimmer.

One last note, there’s a lot of things I’ll miss about Korea.  Here’s a good one: I went to a small clinic late last week. I thought I had a bladder infection. So the Dr. did his consultation, I gave them a urine sample and went on my way. They called back two days later and I went back in to discuss the results – all is fine, and probably just irritated things from riding the bike so much. No bladder infection, no STD and no prostate problems.  So, two visits, one lab test. Total out of pocket cost: $16.72.  That’s kind of where America needs to get to.  It shouldn’t cost an arm and a leg for basic care. I suspect that little trip would have cost a few hundred dollars, or more likely, cost me regularly a few hundred dollars in insurance had I gone to a clinic in the USA.

 

Thanksgiving 2012

By , October 3, 2012 12:16 am

Another weekend spent in Pohang at the mother-in-law’s house. Although it’s still uncomfortable, things have gotten better.  She did get a small sofa a while back so I can sit and read a book in comfort. Most of the family uses it as a coat hanger, so I have to unbury it before I can use it.  Still no beds and not real chairs so meals are short and sweet – hurry up, pound it down and get up off the floor.

However, the peacefulness of the place is a real draw. I’ve realized that the city, with all the noise, terrible drivers and crowds everywhere is one of the real drags on life here.  I can’t seem to ride a bike anywhere in the city without constant fear of either cars or pedestrians.  Fruit and vegetable trucks are always blaring loudspeakers, hawking their wares and there isn’t a store anywhere that isn’t crowded to the gills and has plentiful parking.

But at mother-in-law’s place, none of that exists. It’s just a quiet little fishing village on the coast. Maybe only 50 or 100 people when it’s not a holiday. No trucks with loudspeakers, no crowds, no parking problems. And riding a bike was completely stress free.

I brought my bike in the car for the holiday and I took a long ride on Sunday.  From mother-in-law’s place to the very tip of the Pohang peninsula is close to 70km.  Not sure because the battery in my phone went out on the way back. But for the entire way, I had sometimes ample shoulder sometimes none, but cars were cool and no one tried to kill me.  I came back relaxed and stressfree.

Beautiful ride, by the way, with the ocean on one side, the mountains on the other and lots of hills and peaceful villages along the way.

A few other pictures from this weekend, also.  Our neice, GaEun, is a little over 3 years old. These days, she’s very talkative. I teach her English when I can and she spits it right back out. She liked hanging with me and MyeongHee, who she calls “gomo” which is Korean for father’s sister. She sometimes calls me gomobu (husband of the father’s sister) or sometimes just Martin. The family knows I’m not into titles like they do and they’ve started using names for each other as well. Almost 7 years, but I’m actually learning names of these people.

 

June

By , June 7, 2012 11:12 am

Things are still really busy here working on two websites, one newspaper and a major annual event planning.  The newspaper articles are done and into the editor. My second website, a freelance design and programming gig is nearly launched and and our annual event, is 9 days away and very close to being ready to go.  I am amazed how much I can get done while working my teaching jobs as well. One day, someone or some company will benefit from all that insomnia and get a boat load of work out me. But in the meantime, I’m doing most of this for either small money or none at all.

I’m still applying for techno-jobs as they come up. Last week I applied for one in Las Vegas, NV that was a web design and programming job.  I got further than most of the applications I had sent and the recruiter and I talked  extensively on the phone and on email. She had me take a programming test that the company desired applicants take. It was much more difficult than I thought, but I completed it (in about 12 hours) and sent it back in only to get silence from the company once she submitted my resume to them.  No worries, as there is still plenty of time left on my lease here before moving back to the USA to find a job. I’ll find one once I’m there if not before. I suspect that a lot of companies will want to interview before hiring and so taking a chance on a high priced plane flight from South Korea to the USA for an interview might just be a budget buster and far easier once I’m in the states permanently.

Here’s one for all the “Obama Care” haters in the US.  I went to the dentist last week. I’d been having some tooth pain and thought I’d better check it out.  Every time I ate something hard it hurt like hell.  I picked a dentist from a crowd of several near our apartment and went in, knowing my Korean skills might make this tough. Anyway, the dentist and I muddled through the consultation well enough.  But the big news was that I had no insurance. Yes, I’m a gambler. I’m a healthy guy and don’t get sick much. It’s a gamble that I’ll less in health care than I would by paying for insurance. Also, by working a myriad of part time jobs I have no full time job that offers health insurance.  The dentist and the nurses all “tsk-tsked” me for not having insurance and I thought I was in for a big chunk of cash out of my wallet.  So, they went through their routine, took x-rays, cleaned my teeth and checked out a cracked tooth, part of the source of my pain. I also had developed a gum infection from the crack that added to some general pain in the jaw.  They didn’t fix the cracked tooth, as that’s a bigger deal. But I did get some meds, an injection and a serious cleaning. So, all told, anyone want to take a guess on how much uninsured dental maintenance costs? About $43.  That includes the x-ray, cleaning, meds and consultation on what to do about the crack.  You can barely walk in the door for that much in the USA.  How do they do it? Each time a patient visits a doctor, dentist or hospital the patient pays some and the government pays some.  If you have insurance, the bill is reduced as the insurance kicks in some, too.  How can they afford to pay for all that healthcare? They don’t spend more money on military and defense than the entire rest of the world combined, which is what the USA does.  So, here’s the editorial part?  Does the USA really need to spend so damn much money on the military?  Are we safer for having spent nearly a trillion $ in Iraq? Did going to Afgahnistan and spending another trillion $ make you sleep better at night? Is that country even close to being any better off than when we got there or when the Russians left? (or even when they came?).   Do we really have to have 50,000 tropps in Germany?  60 years after the war?  And another 75,000 troops in Japan and Korea?  Really? Shave a few percentage points off that enormous military budget and spend it on your own people.  Ok, editorial done.

Yesterday, June 6th, was a holiday in Korea. It was memorial day and commemorates the day North Korea stormed into South Korea in 1950 and kicked their butts nearly all the way down to Busan.   I was off work and several friends and I went rock climbing, still a favorite past time.   I thought I’d drop a few pictures here.

Me and my pups, Sparky and SaTang. Both got close shaves for summer. In the back, Nick prepares to go up

 

TaShane, a Canadian, always loves the dogs

Kelly, a South African, gives Sparky some lovin

From left: Matt, Joe (Americans) and TaShane, while EonYong, Joe's Korean gf comes down

Joe takes a hard route while his girlfriend EonYong, relaxes and watches

That’s about all the news from this end of the world.  Hope everyone is well back home.

 

Christmas

By , December 28, 2011 10:35 pm

Another Christmas in Korea – certainly not the worst Christmas I’ve ever had.  I really wanted to come home but a lack of vacation, high airline prices and it jsut wasn’t gonna happen.  I made the best of it and MyeongHee and I went to Dee’s house for a Christmas pot-luck feast.

I’ve probably babbled on in the past about some of the benefits of living overseas. Forgive me if you’ve heard this before, but one of the cool things about being here is all the other teacher’s I’ve met from other parts of the globe.  Native English speakers are in high demand in Korea and they come from the USA, Canada, England, Scotland, Ireland, Australia, South Africa, New Zealand and probably a few other places I can’t remember. Anyway, this Christmas since it was a pot-luck dinner I got some grub that is traditional Christmas fare in other lands.  Nick is from England and made yorkshire pudding. I’d heard the name before, and I would have thought of it as like any other pudding we eat in America. Not so. It’s really a biscuit – a light and fluffy biscuit – that is then ladled over with gravy until it’s “sogified.”  That was awesome.  Arielle, another Brit, made Christmas figgy pudding. No figs, but various dried fruit. It was almost like a fruit cake, but wetter, more alcoholic and way richer. Especially after it was drenched in brandy and lit on fire.  Kimberly brought Scottish stuffing. It was good, but I like Mom’s stuffing better.   Dee made lots of roast chicken, gravy and potatoes and I brought bbq sausage for a little Texas flare.  Everyone brought a bottle of wine and we spent the day eating (all day, literally) and drinking.

It wasn’t a fabulous Christmas being away from home, but it was made a whole lot better with the good friends I have here. Despite being 10,000 miles from our various homes, we  made a family holiday a lot of fun for us.

Once home, I tried to call everyone, but apparently so did everyone else. I use Skype, a computer based program that let’s you call for just pennies a minute over computer networks.  I tried several times Sunday night and early Monday (late Sunday morning back home) and I couldn’t get through. Luckily, Jessica figured things out and called me on her mom’s home phone (no calling card – must’ve been expensive) so I got to talk to my girls.

So now that the big holiday is passed, I learned that I do get some vacation after all. I’m taking vacation on January 20th, which is just before Lunar New Year, another big Korean holiday. I’ll add those holidays into my vacation and get a whopping two weeks to come home.  I’ll arrive home on Saturday the 21st of January and won’t have to go back until Sunday morning on the 5th.   Not as good as last year’s six weeks home, but two weeks paid is a good deal.  Flights are much cheaper then, too.

Not much else to report, so I’ll sign off.

See you in Dallas in January!

Late breaking news!

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By , December 23, 2011 7:56 pm

I just got approval to take a nice vacation around the time of Lunar New Year.  That’s a big holiday here in Korea. Normally it’s 3 days, but it falls on a Monday, so we’ll only get that Monday and Tuesday off. I got the OK to take the Friday before off, the remainder of the holiday week and the entire following week off. That from January 21st and returning to work on February 7th.  That’s a nice 17 days off from work.  That enough for a trip back home…

Now, to get a flight…details on that later.

 

In the meantime,  It’s Friday, December 23rd.  Almost Christmas.  Here’s to hoping everyone has a wonderful Christmas and a very special new year.

One of my students snapped this picture of me on Friday, the 23rd. Last day of classes before the big non-holiday. Since Christmas is on Sunday, there is no holiday. They’ll have classes again on Monday as well. We had parties in all my classes today. The kids all had snacks and drinks and made Christmas cards for their parents.  Hard to believe I got paid for coloring pictures writing a few sample greetings on the board – for a whopping four hours. Then I had to come home and take a nap. It’s a tough life.

Slow Times

By , December 12, 2011 10:56 am

Not much going on here….which is why I haven’t written lately.  It’s work-home-sleep-repeat for days on end.  These days, I’m not even working very much. I bring home a full salary – as much as any other teacher working full time, but I work only 19 hours a week.  Lots of time to read books, do some programming, write an article or two for my Ulsan website and generally slack off. I’d work more, but it’s difficult to find part time teaching gigs to fill the gaps in my existing schedule. Mostly, it’s 1pm-5pm with a couple of early morning business classes and a couple of evening private lessons.

We haven’t done much else as I’m trying to put back some money for my eventual return to the states. Previous years, we were able to save some decent coin. But this year has been harder. DongHyun started university in the spring and so we’re paying for that, while I’m still paying for Teri’s student loans and some back taxes I owed.  But we’re not making as much these days, either. MyeongHee’s hair shop hasn’t been near as busy – a new high rise apartment opened up next to her shop in 2009 and this year a new hair salon opened on the retail floor of the apartment building. She’s still making a profit, but we lived off her cash-only business and we socked my salary in to the back. I’m having to take my salary and pay a bit more for living and less in the bank these days.   She’d like to move her shop to a better location, but that takes both money and time. And with the plan to head back to the US in 2013 with her following in 2014 moving her shop just wouldn’t make sense. So, we live within our means and save what we can and plan for brighter days later.

In the meanwhile, I’ve lost a lot of weight. I’m close to 210lbs – down from nearly 240 earlier this year. The size 40 jeans I was wearing don’t fit and even the smallest size I own – size 36 – are a little big. Not sure why I’m losing weight as I haven’t been riding the bicycle since summer.   Still not a skinny boy, but I look a lot less fat than I did in the spring when I was in the U.S.

On Saturday, we had a total lunar eclipse here in Asia. In America it was not visible but we had clear skies and a great view as the Earth’s shadow passed over the moon and left it a very reddish tint.  It was directly overhead, so we had to watch from outside in the cold. We drank schnapps  and ate sweet potatoes  to keep us warm. I took a lot of pictures, but my camera just isn’t good enough to take really breathtaking shots. I did get this one that came out pretty decent, just towards the last 20-25% of the eclipse before it went all red. After that, my camera wouldn’t focus on the dim, red moon.

No plans for Christmas other than to stay warm. Both Christmas and New Years fall on a Sunday, which means that we won’t get any extra days off here.  But I hope everyone back home has a grand time over the holidays.

Valley Picnic

By , July 24, 2011 9:53 pm

Summer is 2/3rds over and we haven’t been out much. Of course, it hasn’t been much of a summer so far. We’ve only had the air-conditioning on one weekend this summer. Today wasn’t much different. It was actually cloudy and overcast with occassional very light sprinkles. We decided we’d brace the weather and head out to our favorite river picnic area in the mountains.

This is near Seoknamsa, a temple for nuns way up in the mountains. We’ve had a decent amount of rain this summer so the river was still flowing well.

MyeongHee and I pose on a couple of rocks with ancient Hanja writing. She can read a bit but wasn’t sure what they said

Both the dogs followed me around the stream, mostly on the rocks. SaTang really doesn’t like water so she’d go way around to cross over a 2 foot jump. Sparky is a little more brave, and although she doesn’t like the water much either she was having fun jumping from rock to rock and didn’t care to go around.

The water was actually pretty cold. Not Rocky-mountain snow-melt cold, but cold enough that neither of us wanted to get more than our feet wet. Consequently, when the dogs did get wet, they shivered and shook and MyeongHee wanted to dry them off.

Sparky gets a toweling off while SaTang watches all the other people in the river

All three of my girls pose for a picture

 

While we were there, we spent some time wandering around the hills and letting the dogs run in the forest. With a little steam worked off, we sat down for a Korean picnic: grilled pork with garlic and red bean paste wrapped in lettuce leaves.  Yum.  Washed it down with a few beers and then settled back to relax against the rocks. MyeongHee had heard about “Angry Birds” a mobile phone game that has become very popular and she spent an hour or so wearing out the battery in my phone.

It was a pretty lazy day, actually, which is just what the Dr. ordered.  July has been really busy with 11 hour days for me. I just picked up another class for August, so that will be almost as busy – the first week is vacation at one of my three jobs, so I’ll only have a split day starting at 10 and finishing at 8:30pm with the entire afternoon off.

 

Fast Times

By , June 6, 2011 10:44 am

This weekend was both a holiday weekend and birthday weekend. Two friends, Andy and Ryan had birthdays on Saturday so a large group of us decided to take a short trip to GyeongJu and play in the go-karts.

GyeongJu is only about 40km north of here, but not everyone has personal transportation. We decided to take the train, which was outrageously cheap at only $2.50 per person. And being on the southern coast, when it’s time to go back home the roads are always clogged with traffic doing the same. The train was a nice change of pace.

Once in GyeongJu we started walking from the train station to the go-kart track. Bad advice, as it was several kilometers away. We walked maybe a mile or so without seeing any taxis or buses that could take us. Luckily two friends who decided to ride their motorcycles to GyeongJu met us along the way and ferried us, two-by-two, to the track.

Once at the track, I had to put the hard sell on MyeongHee to actually ride the karts. She was receptive when we talked at home, but at the track she wanted to just watch. No problem – I sold her on the idea and she rode.

As you’re reading you may be thinking that go-karts are fun, but come on – how passe’. How old fashioned. Even the times we’d gone to Malibu Grand Prix in Dallas to play they are fun, but pretty tame. I assure you, however, that this was not the case in Korea. These things were fast. Moreover, the track employees, used to dealing with the timid Koreans, were not sure how to handle us foreigners. That whole notion of not wanting someone to “lose face” played right into our hands, er steering wheels. Koreans don’t like to fuss at someone unless it’s a personal affront, so merely breaking rules it is a rarity to  have them call someone out and publicly embarrass them for blatant rule breaking. It was the Wild West, baby. Bumping, slamming, pushing were all, if not legal, tolerated. We had a blast!

I took several pictures of our friends – there were 15 of us total – but quite a few of my honey.  You can see the whole lot of them on my facebook photo album. My good friend Fin Madden took several more and are on his album. His photos show several mash-ups and crashes into the tire walls that MyeongHee didn’t capture.  Just a few of the shots are below. Click the pic for a closeup.

 

MyeongHee gets ready to race
Full-throttle, MyeongHee leans into the turns
My turn. One day, she will have to get serious about zooming the camera lense
On the way home, the countryside is filled with newly planted rice paddies that reflect the surrounding mountains. Well worth a click for a larger view.

 

Facebook scrunches pictures down too much and this one is a classic mashup. Click the pic for detailed view. I passed Dee Madden on a tight turn and she could not negotiate the turn in the space I left her. She slammed into the tire wall on the far left. I am on the far right speeding away and laughing

After we came back to Ulsan, we had dinner at a restaurant with a large open-air patio. The weather was perfect: warm but on the shady east side of the building with a slight breeze.  Sometimes I’m still amazed at how cheap things can be here: a full meal of grilled pork, soup, rice, numerous side dishes and several bottles of beer cost only about $11 per person. The equivalent meal in Dallas would be 3-4x that amount.

Sometimes frustrating, sometimes exciting, sometimes I’m homesick and sometimes I’m surrounded by good friends. But Korea is rarely dull.

 

One month to go…maybe

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By , February 2, 2011 9:37 am

My contract is up next month at the private school I now work at and I’ve already got a ticket home. But it’s still a maybe in my mind. Although I had applied for a couple of university positions, nothing had come of my applications until mid January. That’s when friends of mine, who already worked at these colleges, submitted my application again with their personal recommendations. Of course, it’s always been that way – it’s better to network than simply throw resumes to the wind.

Anyway, two colleges here in town, one a nursing college and the other a national technical university, decided they’d better get busy and hire a native English speaker for their spring semester which starts in March. I interviewed at the nursing college last week and then at the teach uni this week. Both times I knew my competition – other friends here in town. That makes it nice because if I don’t get the job I’ll still have a friend there for next year when they need another teacher. The nursing college has already decided and they didn’t choose me. No worries, the winning applicant was Alan, a guy who used to live in Watertown, SD and partied at The Prop, the old watering hole by the lake near Lizzie’s former home.  I’m happy for him. On the plus side, he has a private school of his own he’ll have to hire a teacher for. Maybe I can be his boy there when I come back.

The tech university is a much bigger school and they’re hiring a couple of teachers. They wanted writing instructors, and with the novel I’ve written and continuing writing on my other website, Ulsanonline.com, I figured I’ve got a good chance. My competition is Dee, another good friend who has written for the same website and for the local newspaper we both wrote for a few years back. Dee is also a rock climbing partner and we’ve spent many a Saturday together clinging to rock faces. She’s got a leg up on me on this job as she’s midway through her Masters degree in journalism. She’s also younger and prettier, which is something the Koreans tend to value more in their native English speakers than they do quality or ability, of which she has plenty of also. Regardless, this would be a nice job if I get it, but I’m not holding my breath. If I get, I’ll stay through May and come home. If not, I’ll come home in March.  I hope to know definitively within the next week or two.  I have to admit, though, that even though I’d like the job, I’m more than ready for a break and am homesick. Part of me wants to be passed over  for the job so I can simply go home for a while. The other part of says that rejection still hurts and I want the job, more so than the nursing college job I was already rejected for.

This week, February 2nd through the 4th, is Lunar New Year. It’s one of the two biggest of Korean holidays and the country nearly shuts down while people travel in packs to their hometowns to celebrate. We’ll be going to Pohang and I’ll be sitting on the floor again for a couple of days.  Next week, beginning on the 7th, people will be back and work and thinking hard about who they’re going to hire. I should probably know something that week.

Until then, ta ta for now… and Happy New Year

And so far, a busy New Year

By , January 4, 2011 10:54 pm

Since just after Christmas we’ve had a house full of people. ChangHyun, MyeongHee’s nephew has been here since the 26th. He’s 11 or 12 and a pretty good kid. He doesn’t cause any trouble, just mostly watches TV and plays on the Wii or on one of the computers. Last year when he came we sent him to the English school for an hour a day. This year, however, I’m doing all the teaching here at home. So, I go teach at Samsung three mornings a week, teach at the school 5 days a week and now I teach him 7 days a week. I’m running out of days.

A few days after ChangHyun came, my mother-in-law came and she’s been here since. She’s no trouble, either. She spends her days cooking and cleaning our home, although not so much cleaning as she’s done in previous visits. Whether that’s because she’s getting old or she knows we’re moving soon and doesn’t want to spend time on someone else’s place I’m not sure.  This time I can actually put my coffee cup down for a few minutes without her picking it up and washing it. Last time I had to almost carry it around with me for fear she’d wash it before I was even done drinking.

This past weekend, we had both MyeongHee’s brothers here at the house. Her younger brother came Saturday with his wife and baby. Her older brother and his wife (ChangHyun’s parents) came on Sunday along with their daughter. Our place just isn’t that big, but Koreans don’t worry too much about not having beds – they’re used to sleeping on the floor. We just spread out the thick blankets and piled up people like cord wood.

We’re still planning on moving soon. Hopefully we’ll be out by the end of the month. We put our money down and now just waiting for the current occupants to move so we can clean and then move in.  I’m getting excited not to be on the edge of town and be more central. We’re far enough on the edge now that any open space (what little there is) is all farm land. Next door is a house sized open lot that the owner grows his veggies and even a chicken. Late in December the chicken got past the skimpy fence and walked into our school. I was out walking the dogs just before work and when they saw the chicken in the entrance that really raised a ruckus. The dogs got all worked up and chicken wasn’t taking any shit from anyone. Freaked a couple of the younger 1st grade students out. I ended up picking up the chicken and throwing it back  over the fence. I doubt I’ll have chickens to contend with in our new apartment.

A few pictures

This is GaEun, wearing her cousin DongHyun’s glasses (no prescription – he just likes the style) and playing with MyeongHee’s cell phone. She can figure out, even at the tender age of 18 month, how to make a video phone call, find the games and generally dork around with most any phone. I downloaded a finger painting application for my smartphone and let her play with that. She’s pretty cute and a lot of fun to watch. Her dad has got a routine where he tells her to stand at attention and then salute. I tried to catch that on video, but once the camera come out its all smiles and ‘cheese’ with no more salutes. Pretty dang cute.

She likes me. She’ll sit on my lap so she can play with my computer. I’m sporting my winter beard again, too. She’s not too fond of that.

Here’s a little medieval medicine I was having done. I pulled a muscle in my shoulder and I’ve found that the quickest way to get it fixed is to go to the acupuncturist in town. For a mere $5 I can get a whole workup of needles, electro-needles that make the muscles tense and relax, hot pad, water-jet massage table and this, the drawing of blood. The idea is to use a suction cup to suck out the bad blood (after having first pricked the skin) from around a painful area.  Not sure how much this contributes to the fix, but the rest of it I actually enjoy, especially the water-jet massage. 

A picture of my honey with the Santa hat on.

Anywho, hope everyone else is doing fine. I’m looking forward to coming  home this year for a bit. Still planning on March, but I’ve also applied for a couple of university jobs that might mean a short delay if I get lucky enough to land one.  12 hours per week of teaching plus 2 months vacation  vs the 35 hours a week and 10 days of vacation I get now would make a short delay in getting home worth it. We’ll see.

A Merry, if quiet, Christmas

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By , December 26, 2010 8:27 pm

Not a single gift was exchanged. And we were happy about it. We’re not poor or cheap, just didn’t feel the need to buy presents for ourselves this year. Instead, we’re saving our cash for the planned move and the things we’ll need there. As a foreign native-English teacher, I am afforded a furnished apartment. But as just a family, which we will be in the new place, it’s just an apartment. I’ll need a desk, a washing machine, and various other pieces of furniture that is part of the apartment we live in now.

It’s been cold this weekend over Christmas. The weather men predicted snow, but they are frequently- and were again – wrong. Just cold. We stayed inside and watched movies and read books.

This week, MyeongHee’s nephew is going to stay with us. He’s 11 and a good kid. I’ll taking him riding on bicycles this week and wear his little butt out. I’ll probably also tutor him in English. His family doesn’t send him to an English school these days so he’ll get the free version since I’m off work.  I’ll probably challenge him by telling him that his cousin, GaEun learns English quickly so he should too. So what that she’s in the language acquisition phase of babyhood – he’ll get his motivation somehow.

Non-Halloween

By , November 1, 2010 12:03 pm

Although I prepared a costume I never even wore it except to pose for this picture.

Another suicide bomber

MyeongHee and I had gone out with some friends on Friday night to celebrate a birthday. We ate, drank and danced until the wee hours. On Saturday, I went to another friend’s wedding the park while MyeongHee worked at the hairshop. By the time I picked her up at 8pm, she wasn’t feeling well and my plans for another night of eating, drinking and dancing throughout the many Halloween parties was put on ice. We ended up just going home and relaxing on the sofa watching a movie.

We’re old and boring. But we like it.

Thanksgiving – Sort Of

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By , September 21, 2010 4:58 pm

This week is Chuseok in Korea. In other parts of Asia, its the mid-Autumn harvest festival. Either way, the story is the same: families leave their homes and head out, en masse, for family gatherings. Usually this takes places at the parents’ or grandparents’ home.  We’ll be doing that ourselves shortly, but MyeongHee is getting those last minte hair perms, cuts and styles done and making a few bucks in the process. We’ll hit the road this evening after the last customer goes home.

This past weekend, however, the city put on a “Hangawi”  (harvest moon) festival for the foreigners here in Ulsan. They set aside a part of Ulsan Grand Park and had demonstrations of pottery making, tea ceremonies, straw craft, and had traditional music and dancing.

For the Foreigners, but we were still the minority in attendance

This was on Sunday, a day I usually reserve to spend with my sweet wife, But since she was busy doing perms for pre-Chuseok customers I thought I’d come down to the park and see what the fuss was all about. I have to toot my own horn here a little: City Hall has taken notice of our website, UlsanOnline.com and have begun to regularly ask us to post news and information for them. Being the only English website in town that isn’t someone’s personal blog, we’ve become somewhat famous. I know most of the organizers at the festival and volunteer organizations.  I spent most of the afternoon shaking hands with those I knew, which was considerable.  Still, being a festival “for foreigners” I was surprised that the speakers spoke most everything in Korean.  Only Jazzie, the woman on the left of the stage spoke English but that was few and far between.

I love the short description of the tea and candy

Among the booths, I sampled the candy, the rice cakes and tea and watched the women make straw thingys (I really don’t know what they made).  Other demonstrations were the traditional games such as the see-saw. I watched my friend Bill (in the blue t-shirt) take a turn on the see-saw. It looked like more work than play, so I was content to watch and take pictures.

Bill, right, takes a turnon the see-saw

Where ever I went in the park, I was swarmed by children who wanted to pet my dog. I took only SaTang – MyeongHee had taken Sparky to the hairship – and she dutifully let teh kids pet her without licking them or jumping on them. Koreans in general seem to have gotten less freaked about dogs than they used to be. We used to have kids run away and shriek when we walked in the park but these days its more dog-friendly.

SaTang takes a few kids on

AnAjumma shows the kids how to make straw things

The following  are some of the better still shots I took of the various drummers and dancers.  At least one of the women is the samewomen I took photos of two years ago in a Gyeongju festival. I suppose she must be a pro in one of the local dance troupes. I’ll leave that as an exercise to the reader to find the photo and woman from 2008.  Click on the shots to get a full size view of these people in their brightly colored costumes.

And, since I didn’t carry my video camera and just my Olympus digital, I had to suffice any lice action with just the smart phone. Not a bad little phone, but no real features such as zooming.  Still, I hope it gives you a small impression of what the dances were like in person.

And with that, I’m off for the real Chuseok holiday at my mother mother-in-law’s house. Another fun-filled few days sitting, eating and sleeping on the floor. I can’t wait.

Mudfest

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By , July 30, 2010 6:12 pm

Nothing like playing in the mud. I haven’t done that since I was knee high to a grasshopper.  Or something like that…

Anyway, there’s an annual festival on the west coast of Korea – the Mud Festival!   The city is just a small thing tucked into a bay that has some serious mud flats. They decided a few years back to capitalize on their geology by making the festival around the mud – some of which is used in making makeup and skins creams.

A group of my friends here all decided to make it a group trip so 22 of us crowded into a small bus for a five hours trip to the west coast. We left at 6:45am and spent the ride drinking and telling off-color jokes.  It rained the whole way there and was still raining when we got to the beach. Not that rain was going to matter – we were planning on playing in the mud, so what’s a little rain? By the time we got settled in our resort, unpacked and headed out to the beach the rain was just a slight drizzle but the air was warm.

Although there were quite a few Koreans there, this is probably a 70% foreigner attended affair. Lots of young people – teachers, engineers and more than few military.  The event had lots of activities including colored mud body painting, mud slides, mud mosh-pits, mud slinging areas and mud slathering areas. We liked the slathering area as it was more of a love-fest, rubbing gooey sticky mud all over each other. It turned into a mud slinging area when the army boys got there and got rowdy.

I had my camera in a ziplock baggie to keep out the rain and the mud – it worked pretty well, but it was cumbersome and a couple of the pictures didn’t turn out well.   I thought about posting them here, but it’s just too easy to post to facebook. I hope this link to my facebook album works for those of you who don’t facebook.

My facebook MudFest photos

Our resort was really nice. It was about a 30 minute walk from the beach but that was fine – everything near the beach is a 24 hour party and those of us who aren’t into that were happy while the others could make a short trip to party ’til they puked. They did and they puked. A lot.  The resort was less than a  year old and still had that new building smell.  We had a hot tub that got some serious use, too.  Although my pictures of the hot tub are fuzzy (probably a good thing) there was a significant amount of nudity.

Across the parking lot, there was a pool for the whole place. Lots of little kids and families. When we got in to play on Sunday morning, the Koreans all moved to one end and left of us to our end. We did a couple of experiments and slowly eased our group off the center and into “their” side, each time crowding them further and further into the shallow end. Whether it was fear or loathing, we weren’t sure. But the Koreans in general could be herded into a rather small area by subtly expanding our little circle. Fun stuff – someone should write a paper on non-verbal communication about it someday.

We headed back around noon on Sunday and by then the rain had finished and Sunday was bright and sunny and humid. Just in time for a hot bus ride home.

It was a much needed getaway from Ulsan. This week, I started a short, two week course at Ulsan University. They have a group of students who are going to spend a semester in Canada so they’re prepping them for living in an English-speaking city with a 4-hour/day intensive speakign and writing class. I’m working 4 hours in the morning and then  another 7.5 in the afternoon/evening at my normal school. For two weeks, I’ll feel like I’m back in the real world again working long hours and having to wake up with an alarm clock. It’s been a few years since I used one – other than vacation buses or planes.   I’d actually like to turn this short time gig into a full time job – and I might have a good shot at it. The head of the English department at Ulsan Univ, a Korean man, studied in the US – at the University of North Texas – same as me. We traded some stories of bars and restaurants in Denton that we’d both been to.  He’s a nice guy and I’m hoping our shared past might help me get into the University. We’ll see.

Visiting Korea

By , April 11, 2010 1:58 pm

I’ve been here for over 3 years this stint – since January 2007. I spent another year year here in 2004/05. In all that time, I’ve had only two visitors from America – Kim and Mark.  I had hopes of some of my family members coming to visit so I could show off my little private Shangra-La.  But I’ve given up on that. That’s ok. Going overseas is not for everyone.  Perhaps I can instead bring a little Korea to you, the reader.

Today, MyeongHee and I went to Busan to go to Costco for some American food like cheese, cheerios and sour cream (I could use a few packets of Ranch Dip sent by the way.)  We went with two of her hair shop friends who stocked up on things themselves. All along the way, all three of them would Ooo, Ahh and Ypuda (Korean for pretty) as we drove through the mountains and passed cherry trees, pear orchards or wild red-buds in bloom. It was kind of funny – a musical accompaniment to the iPod I had playing on the stereo.

On our way back, we stopped at a galbi restaurant. That’s a typical Korean tradition – when friends go out together as the 3 girls did, dinner is on the agenda. I love galbi. Knowing nothing of  Korean cuisine back in 2004, it was the first meal I had as the school director took us all out to welcome me and say farewell to the teacher I was replacing. I fell in love with Korean food that night.  Today as we ate, I thought of just how different galbi is from the western diet I still crave (and spent large amount of money on today to sustain my habit of .)  It’s not just the ingredients themselves that are different, but the manner in which it is cooked and eaten.

Traditional Korean galbi is marinated, fatty pork strips grilled right at the table. A few of my close friends in Dallas as well as my two daughters have had it from a restaurant in K-town in Dallas. Only slightly different due to availability of the same types of lettuce and garlic, the Chosun Korean BBQ on Royal Lane just east of Harry Hines in Dallas is pretty close.  The beauty of galbi is the interactivity of the meal. One doesn’t simply consume a plate of meat, veggies and rice, but must actively participate in its creation. As the strips of pork are cooked, they are cut with a kitchen shears into bite-size pieces. Once cooked, a piece of meat is placed on a single leaf of lettuce (anything but iceberg will do.)  Most Koreans put a slice of raw garlic on it next, but some, like me, like their garlic singed a little on the grill. Then a red paste mixture of beans and red pepper is added to it. Depending on the side dishes served, and Koreans usually have numerous to choose from, one can add those to the lettuce as well. I like the marinated onions. Once you have all the meat, garlic, paste and veggies you want in your lettuce, wrap it all up and stuff it – it should be a large wad – into your mouth.   This shit rocks!  It’s a little spendy in Dallas, but here in Korea we can feast for cheap – four of us left full-bellied for less than $40, including beer.

So, for those of you who perhaps one day will come to visit me here, you’ll get your own royal treatment and be shown all the intricacies and niceties of Korean dining. We’ll feast on all that is well and good in Korean kitchens. For those of you who will likely never come visit (I’m not naming names), go eat some galbi and toast me while you eat. In Dallas, Chosun BBQ is best.  Chicago has it’s own K-town and there are likely numerous spots there to try it. South Dakota?  Not likely but there may be something.

The New Wheels

By , March 17, 2010 2:56 am

Although I still ride my bicycle nearly everyday the weather is nice, I wanted something else for those times when I want to just get there. Tonight is a good example. It’s St. Patrick’s Day and a number of the expats here will drink a green beer or two. Previously, I would either have to wait for MyeongHee to come home first so I can take the car, or I’d have to take a taxi.

Scooters are very popular here and no one looks silly riding one. In the US, we made fun of people on little scooters, or “mopeds” as we called them. But then, we also made fun of the middle-aged men riding Harleys who tried oh-so-hard to look like mean bikers boys in leather chaps and vests only to get up on Monday morning and wear the suit and tie to work.

And a close up for those wondering if that fuzz on my face is dirt. I keep telling my students it’s blond hair in my beard, but they don’t buy it any more than my daughters did years ago.

Back in a chair

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By , February 15, 2010 11:18 am

This weekend was the worst. I can’t remember being more uncomfortable on the floor. I’ve never liked it. Nearly 50 years in chairs and this boy has gotten used to the things. That stuff doesn’t go away being in Korea for a couple of years. The last day we were in Pohang I refused to sit other than to eat. I almost refused that, but I was hungry. I stood, walked, or sat on the garden wall and when that didn’t work, I sat in the car and listened to music. I just can’t handle sitting on hard floors all day and then sleeping on them at night. I’m a pussy for cushions, I admit. But it’s too late to do anything about it now.

While in Pohang with the family, I really enjoyed the cooking. Not the food so much, but the actual cooking. Last year, I introduced MyeongHee’s family to Texas-style meat grilling – letting the fat drip down into the fire so that resulting smoke flavors the meat. They liked it. They have restaurants here that do that as well, but its a rare thing to properly have the grease drip into the fire and flavor the meat with the smoke. They call it “soot bul gogi” (숱불고기) soot being the name they call charcoal, bul meaning fire and gogi is meat – “charcoal fire meat” literally. Most places cover up the coals and you cook the meat on a slotted domed surface at your table – the fat  just drips into a side trough. The meat is always marinated and then wrapped in lettuce with sliced garlic and bean paste, so it’s not like missing the smoke makes it terrible – it’s still good. The ones with a real grill screen is the best, but they’re rare as hens’ teeth.

But anyway, back to the grilled meat at home story. I was told to bring our little table-top grill to Pohang. I cautioned that those things don’t work well in freezing temperatures as the cold air prevents the fat from liquefying and dripping down into the fire. My grill doesn’t have a lid to help hold in the heat and it was well below freezing this weekend. No matter. One of MyeongHee’s brothers found a good deal on New Zealand beef and bought a few kilos to grill. They wanted grilled meat, dammit, and they were gonna get it no matter what.

I like her brothers. They’re nice guys. Especially the younger one. He’s always been very kind to me. But common sense ain’t their strong point. When I made Texas-style grilled meat last year, both boys wanted to help get the fire going, despite the fact that it was my grill, my charcoalsoot, I was the one showing them how to make it and I had years of experience in grilling and preparing grills for cooking.  They made a mess of things last year and were unable to get the fire going. It should have been easy – Korean soot comes in one of two varieties – a ring of napalm soaked charcoal-like-substance or real wood charcoal with a single napalm soaked piece included as the starter. Briquettes and lighter fluid are just not done here.  I had the later variety. After they jacked up the napalm starter chunk by burning it first without surrounding and topping  it with charcoal, I went to the store to buy some regular lighter fluid – the kind one uses in Zippo lighters – and properly got my fire going. So, despite the false start, we were able to enjoy some grilled dead animal. It was great.

This year, since I’d already told them my grill wouldn’t work in subzero temperatures and they were unable to grasp the concept of fire building I let them alone to do the cooking. What a show. I can’t remember being so entertained so cheaply ever before.

They are incapable of listening, however. Since I said cold weather kills the fat liquefaction process, they decided to be real smart and put the grill in the house. A charcoal grill. Fortunately, the kitchen had a door. I closed it while they cooked so the rest of the house wouldn’t become soot infested. But since it’s Korean style to cook from a grill at the table, the rest of the family piled in the kitchen and began eating as pieces of meat became ready. Oh, the meat was fine – the first batch, that is. The fat liquefied nicely, dripped down and smoked the meat wonderfully. And the kitchen was very nicely smoked, as well. I stayed in the livingroom while the occasional family member would come running out of the kitchen, eyes streaming tears from a face full of smoke. MyeongHee called me into eat but upon opening the kitchen door and being confronted with a wall of smoke I declined, laughing. Restaurants that have grills at the table also have extensive exhaust systems at each table; the boys hadn’t considered that small fact.

The boys conceded defeat. The grill in the kitchen, while making lovely meat, was also poisoning everyone with smoke and carbon monoxide. They moved the grill back out on to the patio (where I showed them how last year – and also where we ate since the weather was nice then.)   The kitchen cleared of smoke and everyone’s eyes lost that just-came-from-the-funeral redness. But there was still a lot of meat to be cooked and it was cold.  Sure enough, just as I predicted, the cold, windy weather kept the meat chilly and the fat nice and white. None of it dripped down into the coals and smoked the meat. Moreover, the fat would barely melt enough to seep onto the grill and the meat stuck horribly.  They ended up cooking all the meat, but it was far from grilled. Most of it was simply heated. Large gobs of fat and marbling that should have melted and smoked nicely were still clinging to the meat on the plate, now back inside the house.  No grilled flavor. So smoky taste. Just meat.

No matter. I piled on the sliced garlic, smothered it with red bean paste, wrapped it in lettuce and ate my fill. I did a damn good job of not saying “I told you so” and an even better job the rest of the day not smirking or wrinkling my nose whenever any of the family walked by smelling like a Bonanza steak house.

Oh – and I found my suit pants. They were buried on a hangar under a shirt  that doesn’t match the suit.

Back on the floor, boy!

By , February 13, 2010 8:26 am

This weekend is Lunar New Year, otherwise known as Chinese New Year in the west. We’re heading out to Pohang to MyeongHee’s mom’s house for the weekend. Another weekend on the floor. I hate it. Last time I brought my bicycle so I could at least sit on something even if it was just a small saddle crammed up my rear. No chance this time, as we got a nice layer of snow last night. No bicycling this time.

This wouldn’t be any different from any other holiday weekend on the floor except that we’ve got a house-full of pups to bring with us. Too little to stay alone, we’re bringing the whole crib with us. It should be fun since they’re at the playful stage now – in between sleeping, that is. They still sleep about 80% of the time.

I have to wear a suit when we go for holidays. I wear it for the ancestor ceremony at dawn and for the visit to MyeongHee’s father’s grave. I only wear it for 4 hours. I can’t find the pants that go with my suit this time. I only have one suit.

Last time, I was out riding the bike while MyeongHee packed up everything. I’m blaming the missing pants on her, but that won’t bring them back. She’s angry that I won’t be wearing the suit. The clothes I have aren’t sloppy, but I won’t look as sharp as usual. It’ll have to do since it’s now too late to buy anything else. Oh well.

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