Category: 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.

 

May 2012

By , May 20, 2012 7:57 pm

I headed out around 8:30 one morning this week south of town for a nice bike ride. It had been raining almost every other day and I decided to take advantage of a little nice weather.  This beach is the same one I went to a couple weeks before on a Sunday, although that day I took the motorcycle. I’ve been down to this place maybe 5 times in the last month in preparation for the Ulsan Inferno – an annual motorcycle rally held in June. I’m helping to plan the route this year and won’t be competing.  Having taken 1st place in 2010 and 2nd place in 2011 I thought this year I’d rest and let others have some glory. It turns out that planning is quite a bit more difficult. The last two years, we allowed bicycles to compete and the point structure should have given them an equal shot at winning. It didn’t so I volunteered to help set the course and points.  That means riding a bike myself to test the route and degree of difficulty. Previous Inferno rallys only considered distance and this year I’m making elevation and altitude a factor that gives bikes more points for having to work harder.   So this bike ride I took was part for fun and part to test the route – I went about 53km (31miles) round trip – only took me about 3 hours to do it and we stopped at several places to see the sights.

The above shot is JinHa beach. It’s going to be our starting point in the rally – we’ll truck bicyles down to start and the real rally is on the way home. Our riders, therefore will do a little more than half what I did, so I felt pretty good about doing round trip in a lot less time than they’ll get to do one way plus some off-the-bike activities.   This beach is also one of the places where the world wind surfing association comes every year for their yearly competitions.  Two weeks ago we watch the pros out on the waves. This has always been something I’ve wanted to try but being a land-lubber from the prairie in the USA that just wasn’t possible.  A few shots here from the competition – I don’t don’t know these people are or where they’re from but watching pros do their sport – they always make it look so easy – made me want to try.  I might have to get back out here on a weekend when I’m not planning a rally and get some lessons.

It was really windy the day I took these pictures – the sand from the beach was blowing everywhere. But the surfers were screaming across the waves.  I simply have to try this.

Last week the in-laws were in town. I haven’t seen most of them for a while – seems like everytime MyeongHee wanted to go I was in the midst of planning something or working something else (still working on two websites, one newspaper, and one major annual event) so she’d go alone to her mother’s house.  This past weekend they all came to our house.  Not much news – whatever English any of them ever learned seemed to have dropped off. ( I practice Korean more than they have a chance to practice English but I still don’t have enough to carry a conversation.)   The youngest member of the clan, GaEun, is almost 3 years old and very cute.  She was the center of attention. The fun part of watching her grow is that her parents aren’t limiting her to traditional gender roles – which is strange given this very sexist society. Anyway, she likes cars and they indulge her. She’s not into dolls and they don’t force her. Some sociologist should have a field day documenting how this turns out.

GaEun and Grandma play with cars on the living room floor

 

playing with cars

And if it wasn’t cars it was smartphones.  Nearly everyone has a smartphone here (except grandma) and little GaEun knows there the games are on everyone’s phones. I keep a few kids games on my mine for the students I teach English to and she loved those. Here she is below playing on MyeongHee’s phone in her peejays.  She loved playing Triominoes, the game I developed earlier this spring.

Smartphones are everywhere in Korea and GaEun know how to find all the games

And of course I have to have dogs in the pictures. Not sure how we got away with not having Sparky in the shot – she gets jealous when anyone does something she does, but I got a picture of my sweet wife and my best dog.

MyeongHee and SaTang

Thanksgiving

By , September 14, 2011 8:30 pm

This past weekend was Thanksgiving in Korea. Another weekend on the coast in Pohang with the in-laws. Things are somewhat better these days in the little fishing village, and in some ways, they’re not. MyeongHee’s younger brother brought an old sofa to the house so now there’s a place to sit that’s not on the floor. It’s a scruffy old thing and they’ve put it on the enclosed patio so it’s a little cool or hot there, depending on the weather. Still, it’s nice to have a cushioned placed to sit my butt. There’s also intermittent wi-fi in the village, which means I can get some decent traffic on either the handphone or laptop. It’s intermittent, but last year it was non-exististent, so it’s gotten better.   Just in case, I brought my laptop (the one I bought in America this spring) with me loaded with a couple of movies to watch. I also planned to do some web design work on it, but since all there was was a sofa, the ergonomics was just too rough and I gave up trying to do any work. Best to leave that stuff for a desk back home. The movies were fine, though, and it’s nice to watch something in my own language. Usually the TV is on anything but an English language show during the holidays.

This year  the neighbors were a little noisy. Apparently they have a problem with wild hogs coming into their crops and tearing things up. So they fired sound cannons every few minutes, night and day. Not as loud as a rifle shot but louder than a pistol shot. All day.  And all night.  It was tough sleeping through that.

Usually the family lays around watching TV, sleeping or maybe playing video games. MyeongHee’s brothers like to go fishing and they’re gone most afternoons. This time they decided they wanted to play “Chok Bal” which is a Korean game that’s a cross between volleyball and soccer. You have to handle the ball like soccer – feet, knees, chest or head – no hands but instead of goals you have to get it over a center net like volleyball. I’ve seen it played often enough but never played it before until this weekend. It was actually a lot of fun. I played with MH’s older brother while her son and nephew and her younger brother played opposite. I sucked, but not too bad for my first game. My foot techniques were rough but I have solid head-in skills.

This is me getting a point on head-in across the net on ChangHyun.
This is me totally flubbing a kick a losing a point

While us boys played manly sports, MyeongHee had fun with GaEun. She’s a little over two and talking constantly. She picks up whatever anyone says – whether it’s someone in the family speaking Korean or me speaking English. I had her saying quite a few things that they were amazed at – little ones just suck up the new words, so it’s not so magical.

GaEun gets girl lessons in applying a little gloss to MyeongHee
GaEun tries hard to get her fingers right. It’s an unwritten rule that all Koreans must give the peace sign when their picture is taken.

And of course it wouldn’t be a Korean thanksgiving without visiting the grave of MyeongHee’s father. Koreans, like most Asians, are big on ancestor worship and hold ceremonies on the anniversary of their death and on major holidays. We do one at the house and another at the grave about an hour away in the military cemetery.

The ceremony is as much about pleasing the spirits or ghosts of the deceased as it is about showing respect. MH’s older brother always lights a cigarette at the grave and let’s burn for the old man’s ghost. I have yet to see his take a drag on it.  They also lay out food on the grave and put a spoon and chopsticks in it so the spirit can take a few bites. Ain’t seen that happen either. But I play along because to do otherwise would offend them and its harmless. I do my bows, eat a bit of the food, and drink some of the rice wine but only because it makes them happy.

Older brother lights a smoke for the old man’s ghost
The oldest son is tasked with carrying on the traditions and running the ceremony. He lays a nice table.

Just before we left Ulsan to go to Pohang I ran into a little trouble with the security guard at the apartments. Everyday I take the two dogs out for a walk and let them pee or poo. I always carry baggies and always clean up after them, but two of the three guards never hesitate to bitch about the dog poop left on the ground. I have no idea which poop or where as I clean up, but that doesn’t stop them from bitching. On Saturday one dog was taking a crap and I had the bag in hand waiting while she finished.  One guard came up and started bitching about me cleaning up and I’d had enough. I snapped and yelled and told him to fuck off and shut the hell up (all in Korean, of course) and that I always clean up.  By then Sparky was finished and she went over near him to see what he was making so much noise about. Then he kicked her. That’s when I lost it and I kicked the shit out of him in the gut.

In Korea there’s no such thing as self defense. Nor is there just cause for smacking the crap out of someone. Whoever is hurt more goes to the hospital and the other party pays, regardless of why or who started it. Stupid ass way of doing things, but there are a lot of stupid ass things here. And some good, too. I wouldn’t stay if there weren’t.  So anyway, the guard starts making a bunch of shit up about how I punched him and blah blah. He called MyeongHee to bitch at her because he knows I’ll ignore him. He threatened to go to the hospital but I don’t think he did. I apologized but he wouldn’t accept it. SO far, it’s been 4 days and nothing, so I suppose he’s dropped it.

While in Pohang with the family,, they were all very supportive.  Both brothers said not to worry, which means should anything happen, they’d back me up – either physically or financially. That was reassuring and I felt better.   One of the things that really does bug me about this place is the older men. They have a hammer lock on society and are given respect by anyone younger whether they deserve it by western standards or not. Quite often they like to throw their weight around and bitch at people and most acquiesce and bow and move along. I don’t and it’s a continual pain in the ass with these idiots. And if its not the security guards, its the old man walking along the bike path in the park while the walking path is open. I’m in the wrong for riding where he is, despite the painted signs advising otherwise. And if it isn’t him, it’s the asshole in the big car who thinks he should have the right of way despite the lights or laws in the road. Most younger people and nearly all women are kind and pleasant. But the older men in this land give me a major case of the red ass.

 

That’s Entertainment

By , August 29, 2011 11:59 am

Well, sort of. At least that’s what Koreans like. But coming from the land of a billion singing rooms where people go to sing and drink every night, this is no great surprise.

This is MyeongHee’s son, DongHyun, performing with a group from his health club in an “original indoor jacky spinning performance.”  That literally what it says in Korean behind the performers. I have no idea what jacky spinning is, but I’m guessing that loud music and exercise is part of it. It was so loud, in fact, that the audio simply crushed the microphone in my camera. Just about all you hear is the bass and I edited it heavily with my movie tools to make it a bit less like torture to listen to. To be fair, it sounded much better live than on camera. The performance, done in the middle of a large shopping plaza, drew quite a crowd. The people watching was almost as much fun as the performance.

Jacky Spinning!

DongHyun is the one with the ball cap and Angry Birds shirt

Dance, dance machine!

DongHyun has been home all summer and has been hitting the health club twice a day. Part of that was practicing for this performance and partly because next year he’ll do his two years in the military and needs to transform himself from stick boy to something a little more rugged.  He’s put on a little muscle in two months, although I have few pictures of the before era to prove it.

The entire performance was almost an hour of dance-cum-cycling. Interesting, danceable and even enjoyable. But nothing I’d go out of my way to see again. More likely, an extended advertisement for the health club. DongHyun had fun doing it and practicing with the other members, most of which were older women. After the performance, MyeongHee and I went to a birthday party with some friends while DongHyun went out to party with his dance troupe. I hope the older women jumped his bones.

Anyway, it’s almost September and now he’s off to university again. MyeongHee are once again empty-nesters for a while.

Hope everyone else is doing well.

Marty

It Began as a Trickle

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By , August 8, 2011 4:45 pm

And while it’s not quite a torrent or a flood, it’s become a stream.

A small stream, but a stream nonetheless. Every day there are more and more.

What am I talking about?  My smart phone application, of course, and the revenue stream it is now producing. It’s only been one week, but we’ve already made several sales in several countries including the US, Australia and South Korea.  I added an upgrade late last week so the application can be run in English or in Korean, so teachers here, both English and Korean, might find the product useful.

The really cool thing about the internet is that there are no borders. And no brick-and-mortar stores to increase overhead. I can create in my living room and sell in any country (almost) in the world.  With my business partner moving to Egypt in a few short weeks, I’m hoping he can get things translated to Arabic and open a whole new market for us.  Find me a friend who can translate French, German or Spanish and there are millions more teachers available to purchase.

So, keep ’em coming folks. Keep buying that app!  Make Marty and Fin rich boys. Or least bring us enough money to buy a new suit. We’re not greedy. At a whopping $3.99US for the application, it’s pretty cheap. But throw enough teachers at it – say a million, worldwide – and we’re buying a yacht!

And if that doesn’t pan out, well, it was good experience to design and write the application. That should be worth something to a tech company back home when I decide to leave this place.

Ta ta for now.

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.

 

Inferno

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By , June 24, 2011 5:59 pm

No, I’m not on fire. The inferno is the annual motorcycle photo scavenger hunt we do in June.  We had the Inferno last weekend and it was a gas!  Only 22 people this year, smaller than past years, but still just as fun. The idea is to go to as many predetermined points on the map as you can and take a picture of your team there before before time runs out. There are far too many to visit all of them, so planning, navigation and creative pictures count.

Last year, my team won First Place and got a second helmet. This year, I rode with rookies and we took 2nd place and got 75 bucks – way better prize!

Wish I had all the pictures, but the video will have to suffice. My good friend Dee was on the planning committee and she took everyone’s photos and video and turned it into a slick video. Check it out here.

I do have some photos to share. The first is the panorama shot taken at the starting point. Jason has a nice camera and does and automatic, motorized pan so a long line of us can all be in the same shot.

If you look closely, I’m in the photo on both ends. Jason started taking the photo on the left of the line (I’m wearing white shorts) and after he panned his camera past me I ran to the right side and got in for that part, too, on the far right. Who says you can’t be in two places at once? Click the photo to see the details.

This photo is my bike and Andy’s bike. Andy is my teammate and had never driven a car, bike, scooter or motorcycle anywhere in the world and decided to learn in Korea. Our scooters must’ve been separated at birth as the plates are one number transposed. What are the odds.  Ryan’s girlfriend, Rocy, shows a nice smile for the camera.

two bikes, almost one license

Anyway, it was a great day. Looking forward to more rides before the summer rainy season hits.

 

Love to all,

Marty

Over the Cliff

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By , June 8, 2011 7:44 pm

Yes, I went literally over the cliff.

Monday, June 6th was Memorial Day here in Korea. So I and a few friends went on a rock-scissors-paper motorcycle tour. Every so often, we would stop at an intersection and play rock-scissors-paper and the winning hand took the direction. It was a great way to see the countryside and we did indeed see some beautiful sights.

a badly stiched panorama of far northern Ulsan, Korea

We took turn after turn, sometimes ending up in small communities, sometimes farm roads and at least once, a gravel road up the side of a mountain. We emerged onto the mountain top overlooking a valley in far northern Ulsan. But before getting there, we hit that gravel road.

And that’s where I went over the cliff

I was going slow, but I hit a soft patch of gravel and my scooter spun to the right. The road was only a single lane and I still had too much momentum to stop before it went right off the edge of the road and down the mountain.

 

me, down the mountain about 5 meters, with my scooter

Luckily, the scooter caught on a stump or might have tumbled a long way down into the trees. Had that happened, I likely would have simply left the bike there to rot. But instead, the five of us scrambled down the very loose gravel and hefted the bike back on the road. Lots of sweat, dirt, gasoline and oil stains later and we’re back on the road where 100 meters later we found the panoramic view.  Should anyone be worried for my health, I was fine. Only a couple of minor scratches. Same for the bike.

 

Friends (from left) Rocy, Dee, Fin and Ryan

From there, we continued down the road to a historical marker of a long dead Korean hero. Been there, done that. But just up the road from that was a temple run by a German national. Most temples are all the same. But this one was so unique, and the monk and his wife so inviting we stayed and chatted for a long while. If you’re interested, I wrote a longish piece about the temple on my other site, Ulsanonline.com.

We ended up travelling on for another 150km (110miles) into the mountains, coastline, valleys and then back into the city to meet another friend who was buying his first motorcycle. We finally had lunch/dinner around 5pm on the coast followed by coffee on the beach.

Overall, the ride was totally pointless and without aim. But damn, it was fun.  Even the part about going over the cliff.

 

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.

 

Some family time

By , April 21, 2011 8:27 am

The vacation was great. Nearly six weeks of just hanging out with family and friends. That much time off makes it hard to go back to work, but I have.  Within just a day of beginning a job search I found a nice little gig. Princeton Review got a big contract to offer English courses at the enormous Hyundai Motors factory here in town.  There are numerous small classes with mid-level managers and executives either during lunch time or around dinner time. Since the factory operates 24 hours a day, some of the workers are 2nd shift. Anyway, I snagged a few courses and will make almost the same amount of money for about 1/3 the number of hours I worked as a full-time teacher at a private school.  I also picked up a couple of hours of teaching at another private school near home. So far, I’m scheduled for a whopping 13 hours a week.  Not all

Almost as good as Greek Theater Masks, one girl is happy, one is sad. Common occurence

contiguous, of course, but I can fill the time between courses easily enough.  Throw in a few hours each week of driving back and forth to all these classes and a boy could get really worn out doing 15 hours. 🙂

 

I’ve thrown a number of my vacation pictures up on facebook, but it’s always good to have some spread around. I thought I’d post a few here as well.

Spending a good portion of my time as Jessie’s so I could with the grand-babies was wonderful. Nothing like a little drama to liven things up. Ah, kids.

I took far too many pictures to include them all. So I’ve taken a few of the family shots and posted them below. Click on a photo to see the large size.

 

Thankfully, we did not have to endure another Sears Photo session and try and fit everyone in the entire extended family onto the canvas.

To see more pictures, check out the big-ass family photo album I posted on my facebook page. Gotta be a facebook user and gotta be a friend, though 🙂

 

Sharing Video

By , April 17, 2011 12:14 pm

The first video I want to share from my vacation in America. These are my granddaughters, Jillian and Jenna.

I was babysitting the two and gave them a snack. It was only a short while, but it didn’t take long for trouble to brew. I gave them “Goldfish” graham crackers in non-spill cups.  Then we turned on the DVR for a few minutes of their favorite TV show by far, The Wiggles. While I tried to get the girls to dance, Jillian eats a few of her goldfish and gives the majority to the dog.

Sure, that’s sharing. That’s nice. But when she runs out of goldfish and mean, old Papa Marty won’t give her any more – that’s the real sharing.

ICE

By , March 5, 2011 5:13 pm

ICE – In Case of Emergency

I’m usually pretty lax about this kind of stuff. Perhaps because I’ve led a charmed life and have had damn few real emergencies so far that I think I won’t ever need to have this. I don’t want to be morbid, but shit happens. I love my wife dearly and would hate to think she would be in limbo not knowing.

I’ll be America for several weeks and just in case something should happen, I’d like for someone to inform my wife back in Korea. Oh, sure I could have written emails, but this way all my bases are covered as so many people I know read this.

So, here’s the number.   ICE Call my wife at 82-010-2550-5941. The 82 is the country code. Calling overseas, depending on the network used, the area code – 010 – is either with or without the leading zero. If 010 doesn’t work, try 10.   When you reach MyeongHee, speak slowly and clearly. Leave off the euphemisms (i.e. he didn’t kick the bucket – he died. You get the idea.)   Korea is 15 hours ahead from American Central Standard Time, so be kind. If you call at noon in Dallas, it’s 3am in Korea. She’ll be a little fuzzy-headed. Wait until 6pm Dallas time and catch her at 9am and explaining things will be far easier.

And after several weeks of enjoying my family and friends, when I’m safely back in this land, when I again hold her in my arms, I’ll chuckle about it and erase this posting.

But just …ICE

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.

Me and My Shadow

By , December 7, 2010 9:37 am

Me and My Shadow

Another weekend in PoHang with MyeongHee’s family. This time, instead of making Kimchi, we celebrated the mother-in-law’s birthday. the old girl is 73. She’s doing much better than she was about a year or so ago when she was diagnosed with TB. She’s old, but still hanging on and very active. I guess you have to be in the country side in Korea as there aren’t many conveniences and a majority of her food is grown or caught or fetched by her and her neighbors.

Most of the weekend, GaEun was my shadow. If I went outside, she wanted to go with me. If I stayed indoors and watched TV, she did, too, although she wandered back and forth from the room I was in to the other rooms. Most of them were amazed that in a short time with me she was speaking a few English words, but we all know babies on the cusp of language acquisition pick up new words very quickly. ‘Hi’ and ‘bye’ are almost automatic for her, but I also taught her ‘duck’ and ‘goose’ as one of the neighbors has a pen of both nearby and mother-in-law has a duck statue in the living room.

all bundled up against the cold

It was pretty cold early in the morning, but by 11am or so it had gotten quite warm. She’s still all bundled up in sweatpants and jacket and heavy sweater.  She loved following me around, sometimes playing in the dirt or sand.

While GaEun and I wandered the fishing village, the women-folk prepared for the birthday breakfast. MyeongHee bought a cake in town but everything else was home grown. Mother-in-law in dressed in traditional Korean old woman garb of garish patterns and colors called “azumma style.”  Nothing special about her dressing this way for her birthday as she always dresses this way. As do nearly all the other old women. I’ve often wondered at what point they go from young, modern and stylish like my lovely wife MyeongHee to short permed no-hassle hair and the crazy patterned clothes. Is there a switch that gets turned on at some point? Can it be turned off, or merely delayed?

birthday cake, seaweed soup and raw fish - breakfast of champions.

Koreans make little or no distinction between meals and may have the same thing for breakfast lunch and dinner. We had the birthday cake at breakfast, but we also had what most people would consider dinner and what some would not even consider food.

Clockwise from left: kimchi, bell flower root, mountain weeds, the  traditional birthday dish in Korea of seaweed soup, rice and raw fish covered in onions, hot peppers and garlic.   Mmm mmm good. That’ll get you started in the morning for sure! Oh, and cake.

Kimchi R Us

By , November 29, 2010 10:33 pm

Satang checks out the massive bucket of red pepper paste

This weekend we drove up to Pohang to the mother-in-law’s place. It’s kimchi season and she’s getting on a bit in years. She needed a little help in preparing this year’s batch of the ubiquitous Korean sidedish. I had heard many tales of other families preparing a hundred, even two hundred or three hundred heads of cabbage for the coming year so I was relieved that a mere 45 heads was sufficient for the family. That’s 45 heads for MyeongHee and her boy DongHyun, MH’s older brother, his wife and two kids and MH’s younger brother, his wife and their baby and for Mother-in-law. That will last them most of the year.

When we arrived, the big bin of red paste was already waiting, along with a smaller bin of green onions, red pepper and garlic and fish juices.  Yum. Satang and Sparky had to sniff and check things out.  Just in case you were wondering, the red paste is crushed red pepper, garlic, shrimp and some fish all mashed together.  As soon as we arrived, we ate lunch and then the women got to work.

Myeong, left, sister-in-law and mother-in-law

The rubber gloves keep their hands from getting a rash from the spicy pepper paste while they rub it on each leaf of the head of cabbage. The cabbage is drenched in salt water first to make it wilt and softer. Then the ladies rub paste over each head. Sister-in-law (I can’t remember her name. They never use names – only titles) waited until MyeongHee and her mother did the initial red paste and then she’d rub on the green onion and pepper paste and then wrap each head around itself and store it in a bucket or bin.

red pepper paste - gochu garu - is rubbed lovingly only each leaf

While the women rubbed red pepper paste to their heart’s content, I decided to explore the neighborhood some. Most everyone had some bean mash – or mehju – hanging on their front porch. The beans are worked into a mash and then dried strung up on the porch. Later, they’ll ferment the bean mash into daenjeon, a flavorful paste that makes a wonderful stew, typically served with grilled meat. The only picture of me in this article is in the reflection in the window, below.

Bean mash - mehju

I also checked out the fishing village around mother-in-law’s place. Although I’ve been there many times, I’m still amazed. It’s very un-modern and if you hide the occasional Evinrude outboard motor on some boats you might think you’d stepped into a 19th century village.

Old ramshackle buildings perch on a small cliff above the fishing boats

Some people call it resourceful. Others might call it jerry-rigged

A lack of zoning and building codes in Korea means that whatever makes something keep from falling down is ok. This shack has a series of rocks holding up one corner and logs holding up the other. While it’s not beautiful, it’s resourceful and certainly cheap. Always having to do things according to code can be expensive, but is probably far safer than this.

The women are stacking up the kimchi

After walking around for a bit, I came back to check on the ladies. They were making headway and had a few bins filled but quite a bit more remained yet to be pasted and wrapped.

MyeongHee shows off a head of cabbage - bechu - that she has transformed into kimchi

This was actually MyeongHee’s first time to make Kimchi. Although she’s seen it done numerous times, she’s never actually put on the gloves and smeared paste. She had fun. I was happy to watch and take pictures – there really wasn’t room after all, for a fourth body in that production line.

I played with the baby and we ate persimmons

MyeongHee’s brother was busy cleaning his fishing gear and his wife was busy making kimchi, so I busied myself with their baby, GaEun. She’s just 18 months old, walking and starting to talk. And very cute. She was my shadow. If I went out, she wanted to go, too. If I watched TV, she came and sat in my lap. Mother-in-law gave us a bowl of soft persimmons and I helped GaEun with some. There are two types of persimmons – a harder, apple consistency type and and a softer, gooey variety. Both taste about the same and are subtley sweet.

who could resist that face?

After a few bites, she was convinced they were yummy and decided she could do it herself.

So, after a few walks around the neighborhood, playing with the dogs, playing with the baby, I decided to check on the women-folk again and see how they were making out with the kimchi.

nearly done, buckets and bins are stuffed for a years worth of veggie

After about 3 hours of smearing and spreading and wrapping, the ladies were finished. With all the large bins full, they had veggies to last for quite a while. Although it seems like a throw-back to earlier times, this dish is still on every table at every meal. And while it’s not my favorite dish, I do like it – when it hasn’t yet gotten too fermented and sour. MyeongHee and her family likes it very sour and stinky. I prefer mine a little fresher. And it really is healthy for you. The red pepper and garlic bring out the vitamin C and other goodies. It also makes sense for getting one’s veggies throughout the winter when otherwise fresh would be hard to come by – in the old days of horse carts before trucks and global shipping was possible. Should the day come (and it will, sooner than many of you think) when oil is too expensive to ship veggies around the world, the Koreans are set and will not go veggie-less. Everything in these photos was grown locally.

Our take of the booty. A trunkful of kimchi

So now we have a boatload of pickled, peppered cabbage. The big blue bucket sits on our back patio. It’s consistently pretty cold here these days, so it should be just fine – just warm enough to make it sour and stinky the way they like it.

After everyone packed up and we were ready to drive home we said our goodbyes. GaEun was a little upset I was leaving and wouldn’t let me go. She wanted me to hold her and wouldn’t even go back to her mother. I was flattered. Most of the family and the neighbors watching were surprised – shocked even. Most babies GaEun’s age are afraid of foreigners like me. Of course, after spending an afternoon with “gomobu” (Korean for father’s sister’s husband) how could she not love me? I look forward to spending some time with my granddaughters and have them form the same opinion.

Culture Night

By , November 24, 2010 8:55 am

Sure, I could probably use some culture. Who couldn’t?

This year, some of my friends have begun having a “Wine Club” party. Not every month, but nearly so. Everyone brings a bottle of wine and pays a little cash and we eat some great food and get tanked. Sometimes there’s entertainment.

A strong quartet from the Ulsan Symphony Orchestra serenades us while we quaff wine

The Wine Club is always in a different venue, too. We have had it before in pubs, restaurants and even in a micro-brewery. This month, it was in a coffee shop. The owner, the president of an engineering company, likes classical music so he arranged to have a string quartet play for us. That was a welcome change from the usual which was either internet-streamed music from a computer or a lone guitar player. This was far better. The food wasn’t so good this time. I’m not sure Koreans have figured out the foreigner style of hors d’ oeuvres for an event like this. We were offered saltine crackers with single-slice wrapped American cheese, most of which had been sitting there long enough for the cheese to begin to curl up on the edge from dryness. Of course, if one didn’t like the dried curled cheese already on the cracker, one could select from a tray of cheese with each slice still wrapped in its hermetically sealed package.  Pretty cheesy.

A panorama shot, from a friend’s cool iPod touch that creates these quite easily:

The owner also had several guests come to the Wine Club, none of whom were real wine drinkers, but merely wanted to support the owner and his coffee shop and maybe meet a few foreigners. We don’t have a membership and everyone is welcome, so that’s all fine. But they didn’t bring their own bottles of wine and they drank all of ours. Not fine.

I met several of the owner’s friends. I was surprised at the number of people who had sent their children overseas to study. The owner’s two children, 11 and 17 years old, are both in Germany studying music. Another had his daughter, 13, in America studying. I’m not sure I could do that to a young child. Coming to another country as an adult is difficult sometimes, but I’m a big boy and can deal with things. But for a teenager or a pre-teen. That’s rough.

I suppose it’s my turn to host Wine Club next time. I’ve been to most of them and the other regulars have all taken their turn at hosting. We’ll see what I have the gumption for.

Anyway, just thought I’d share. Hope everyone has a safe and wonderful Thanksgiving.

Fabulous Fall Weekend Weather

By , November 7, 2010 10:27 pm

This weekend the weather was outstanding. We took advantage and visited the arboretum, which prior to this weekend we didn’t even know existed. A friend of mine, Aaron, put together a small get-together at the place and we just followed the map. Turns out the Arboretum is a finely hidden gem tucked into the hills around just off the coast.  The people running it are very friendly and were quite happy to let people touch, pet and even hold the animals.

I turned into a snake handler

The Arboretum is more than just trees and plants, although those are there in abundance. The have a small zoo with a bird area you can walk through (and get pooped on) a reptile area and a small section of rodents such as hamsters, guinea pigs and mice which serve as lunch for the reptiles. In the above picture, I held a medium size Burmese Python.  I’m not a big snake fan, but this one was kind of pretty and the caretaker just handed him over to me.  MyeongHee wouldn’t have anything to do with the snakes – or with me once I’d handled it. She’s got a phobia of snakes. She ran around the corner and I had to get Aaron to takes pictures of me with my camera.

This snake was really calm

Aaron tries on the python while the much much bigger one still sits in the pen behind him. Although its hard to see in this picture, the one behind is as big around as my calf.

Myeonghee was happy with the bird they let her hold. But even that didn’t last long. She held this little thing for a minute and then passed it off to the kid just behind her.

We brought both dogs and initially put them on leashes. They don’t get out to much free and open space much – other than the park across the street – so they were pulling hard to explore. We let them off and let them run around and they loved it. They’re both crashed on the sofa now from so much running today.

Me and my pups. Satang is on the left and Sparky is on the right

MyeongHee held the dogs, too, but they would not hold still and all the pictures are of her not smiling but scowling at the dogs

I cannot resist a waterfall. The fish in this small pond were Jaws size koi.

MyeongHee is a sheep, according to the Asian zodiac. They had statues of all 12. I am a rat and can do without having my picture next to my rat. But the red maples make a nice background

Inside the greenhouse, the tropical plants formed a canopy over us

Aarons son Jamon had lots of fun holding Sparkys leash. Not sure who was leading who really

We only stayed at the arboretum for a couple of hours. Although it was really pretty, it was relatively small – perhaps a mere 10 acres. We left the group and took the dogs to Ulsan Grand Park and let them run a bit more. We had a ball in the car so we went into the overly crowded park. Satang chased the ball while Spark chased SaTang and both dogs drew a crowd of onlookers.  SaTang seems to sense the roar of the crowd and puts on a good show of running and jumping.

Only one of eight paws are on the ground in this high speed action and that one of Sparkys is just barely touching

We played at the park until sunset and then it got cool. We think there aren’t too many more weekends of this caliber before winter sets in here. It’s never terribly cold, but it is more consistently cold than Texas.  We enjoyed the day outdoors and we might have to look back on this one for a nice bit of weather until spring comes next year.

This week I start a new part time job. I scored a corporate gig at Samsung Fine Chemicals out near the petrochemical section of town. A group of 15-20 engineers  wants to improve their English as well as learn the western ways of rapport building since they do quite a bit of travel to other places.  It’s only one hour a day and only three times per week but its about $70 per hour. That should add a decent bit of beer money to my budget. I teach from 11:30am to 12:30pm, which gives me just enough time to scurry back to the west end of town, take the dogs out for a quick pee and poop and then off to school for another seven hours of teaching munchkins.

This weekend, by the way, marks four months from the end of my contract at the school. Unless I get a job at the university, which Aaron says he’ll try and help with, I’ll be back in Texas in four months. I need to get out my countdown script and polish it off and put it in the sidebar of this website.

Anyway, that’s all for now. Cheers and hope everyone is well.

A Busy Two Weeks

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By , October 24, 2010 11:17 am

I’ve been remiss in writing here lately. Not because I don’t like or want to, but simply because I haven’t had time.

Two of Circe’s friends came to Korea to visit. Not me, specifically, but they made a side trip. Brandon and MJ, neither of whom I had met before, came to Korea to visit Brandon’s sister in Busan. Since that’s just down the coast from Ulsan they made a side trip up and spent the morning with me. I showed them my little Shangrai La and a little about the city. We ended up taking a short hike in the mountains for a quick visit at Paraiso Waterfalls, one of the 12 scenic areas of Ulsan.

Brandon and MJ at Paraiso Waterfall in the Yeongnam Alps near Ulsan

They were really nice people, which isn’t surprising being Circe’s friends. We had a nice time and they brought me some pinto beans and flavored creamer for my coffee – two things that just don’t exist here in Korea. I gave them a set of suction cups (medieval things, really, designed to suck the “bad blood” from a small area) to take back to Circe for her massage business.

Last week I was busy hosting a teaching course. Through my Ulsanonline.com business I advertised the course, registered attendees and secured a room. The course instructors merely had to show up and teach and I got about 10% of the fees.  That was a lot of leg work in running around getting things setup.

During that time, a pair of Italian journalists contacted me. They planned to come to Ulsan to do a story on shipbuilding and were looking for places to stay. Again, because of Ulsanonline, they contacted me and asked for help. There aren’t many English language websites (or anything else) in this city so a quick google for anything in Ulsan and chances are you’ll hit my site. Anyway, I pointed them in the direction of a hotel to stay in and helped them get access to Hyundai Shipyards. I didn’t know anyone at the shipyards, but I tried.

Things turned out pretty damn good, actually. I contacted YoungSook you was the director at my school. She has excellent English and I thought she could help translate Korean into English for them. She came out with MyeongHee and I when we met with teh jourmalists, Maria and Marco, and she called some of her friends to see if they knew anyone at the shipyards. After a few phone calls she a fairly high level manager – the husband of a friend of a friend – and he gave Maria and Marco an interview. That was interesting as YoungSook translated his Korean into English for Maria who translated English into Italian for Marco who then asked questions  back down the same chain.

Youngsook(l) translates English for Marco and Maria from the Korean of Mr Kim(r)

After an hour or so of sitting at a park near the shipyards and talking, we got a private tour of the shipyards from the manager. We were all blown away by the sheer size of the place. We were told no pictures, which really frustrated the journalists, but because this guy was not just some guy by apparently #3 or 4 in the place he allowed us a few shots.

The Guest House at the Shipyards

The guest house is where dignitaries stay when they visit the shipyards. They selling ships for a few hundred million dollars each and its not uncommon for some high level people to visit and see what they’re state funds are going for. Lesser accommodations for the ship crews who take possession of the ships are not quite so fancy. This nice house was right on the cliffs overlooking the ocean at the edge of the shipyard.

On the other side of teh guest house, looking back toward the shipyards, I was allowed to take a picture of the crane.

A massive crane that move sections of the ships are they are put together

These beasts hold up to 1,290 tons of ship as they move huge sections together for assembly. When they move, its not the monotonous beep-beep-beep of a tractor or backhoe, but the music of a carousel and they play a catchy melody as they slowly move on the rails over the assembly line.  They allowed Maria to take a couple of discreet pictures of the place for their book and magazine, but they were very cautious. Apparently, industrial espionage is rampant – they tell me that an engineering feat of shaving even a tiny fraction of 1% efficiency in a ship design can save millions of dollars in fuel cost.

Honestly, the sheer magnitude of the place was overwhelming. A place large enough to turn out about 70+ ships a year – that’s more than one ocean-going monster vessel per week. But each one must “dry” the paint, waterproofing, welding, etc for a period of two years before delivery.  We drove in the manager’s car around the area for nearly 40 minutes with our jaws dropped most of the time.

I stole a few pictures from their website just to give you a hint of the place’s enormity.

Aerial view of the Hyundai shipyards. The guest house is the brown hill in the center

So anyway, that was quite an adventure, made more exciting by the fact that I got to be in the middle of it someone else’s journaling. Maria and Marco spent another week or so here and YongSook helped again with translations. Since my role of putting them in touch with both a translator and shipyard contacts complete I didn’t get to go but apparently they got even better pictures in their 2nd and 3rd shipyard visit. Maria sent me a few links of their other work, most of which is about the shipping industry including an icebreaker trip and drilling platform. Their next journey is to Pakistan where they’ll document the ship graveyard – where ships are dismantled for scrap. Check out their work here:

http://www.letteraventidue.com/libri/016_grandeatl.html
http://periodici.repubblica.it/d/index.jsp?num=692&page=76
http://periodici.repubblica.it/d/index.jsp?num=632&page=46

Meanwhile, I’m back at home and making a pot of beans. Later, I’ll spice them up and ladle them over a plate of chips and grate some cheese over them for a bad-ass plate of nachos. Not getting this stuff very often makes it a special treat.

Losing Face

By , September 8, 2010 1:01 pm

What it means to be Asian is beyond the ken of many westerners. I admit I understand little of it. As an American, a culture known for it’s frankness and logic, Losing Face is, to me, nothing more than an opportunity for discussion, understanding and perhaps an apology, if warranted.

Allow me to describe a situation of Losing Face as it occurred in my school this week.  My school’s owner, Mr Gong, hired a new teacher last week. His sister, Young Sook,  the manager/director had me interview her for her English ability.  The interview was a rather public one and simply a discussion of where she’d gotten her degree, how long she’d been teaching, etc., but an interview at which she abjectly failed. Where questions were answered with when answers, or met with blank stares altogether. Neither Young-Sook nor I had much faith in her English ability, especially after she revealed it wasn’t her first choice for a foreign language – it was behind Japanese which was her degree.

This woman, who I’ll call A, was the friend of another teacher (I’ll call her G) who has been at our school since before I came back in early 2007.  G has been here four years and her recommendation of A mattered more to Mr Gong, then either his sister’s or my opinion of her worthiness as an English teacher.  No matter, he’s the owner and can do as he pleases.  G has brought A in and said she was a good teacher and could speak English well.  One out of two ain’t bad, so in she came and began teaching last week.

Three days of teaching and rearranging the existing teachers schedules to accommodate both the new teacher and the new students arriving with the fall term and a minor issue arises. A mother called to say her son was having trouble coping with English and how would we deal with it. Her son was in one of the classes shuffled around and G was no longer his teacher; A would be his teacher (I am, by the way, teacher to all students and spread my time among 21 different classes each week). So, during our lunch period, a mere 10 minutes in which all of us teachers usually discuss issues, students, etc,  Young-Sook asked A how she would handle this boy’s problem.  She asked the question in English – not merely for my benefit, for she’s always believed that lunch time discussions should include all teachers, but also that teachers should be able to have a conversation (i.e be fluent) in the language they teach.  A was unable to respond. She leaned over to G, asked (in Korean) her what was asked of her and the muttered, in English, “I don’t know.”

I felt badly for A as she clearly was not able to communicate in English. I looked at my shoes and my noodles while she struggled to discretely get guidance and Korean from G answer in English.

That evening, a typhoon blew through the peninsula and it rained quite a bit. The next day, it was very windy and when I went to the school I was alone. I thought perhaps that some trees might have been knocked down and getting to the school might have caused the other teachers to be late.  I began my classes and one hour later was met by Young-Sook who was very distressed.   G had not shown up. She hadn’t called. She merely sent a text message to Mr Gong’s wife, the school secretary that she could no longer work at the school.  Because of her recommendation of A and A’s very public failings she had lost face. She quit.

Having talked quite a bit to Young-sook, it was nothing that would have reflected on G’s teaching ability – she’s a great teacher and the kids love her. But the way she only sent a text message and didn’t call that was too much for her – G could never come back.  A classic lack of showing respect, another Asian tenet of behavior that must rigidly be followed.

So, now, we have no G and we have A, who is clearly not a G.

In my world, a phone call to G would have fixed everything. Her shame would not, in my view, have trumped her ability to teach. We would have worked it out. Here, that’s just not so. She can’t overcome her shame to face her employer and the employer can’t overcome the lack of protocol.

What are those marks?

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By , June 26, 2010 6:31 pm

A clean half a dozen of them, ghostly pale yellow parallel marks on the ugly green sofa in our apartment.  The first, when it arrived, was a mystery. The 2nd more so. The 3rd became a damn full-fledged investigation with no one owning up to it.  By the time the 4th and subsequent ones showed up I had begun to suspect a problem.

It’s a cultural thing. Specifically a Korean thing.

Despite the fact the MyeongHee’s son is 18 and in his senior year of high school, MyeongHee gets up early every morning to fix his breakfast, prepare his clothes and style his hair. If she’s late, he’ll open our door and rattle it ’til she wakes. Then he’ll sit on the sofa watching TV while she prepares his breakfast.

After he eats and gets his school uniform on she style his hair. He sits on the floor while she blows his hair dry and using the straight iron.  All this extreme mothering for a boy about to be in college and/or the army is strange to me. But that’s another story for another time.

The pale yellow marks are burns from when she puts down the iron to brush or spray his hair. Asian hair is thick and can be unruly so she’s gotta get both hands in there.  I fussed at her for burning the sofa. The apartment is free and is part of the contract for teaching here. A good chunk of the furniture is not ours, and is furnished by the school including the ugly green sofa. When one day we depart, we’ll have to make amends for this poor old thing and its burns.

MyeongHee is a wonderful wife and mother.  She never once bitched, talked-back or gave me grief about the fussing I did over the old ugly green sofa. It’s not that expensive and we’ll have little trouble repairing or replacing it. And I never considered how she was managing the daily styling sessions – that happens early in the morning while I’m still in the sack. But the pale yellow marks increased no more. The six already there stand as silent sentinels to a bygone era. I was happy.

This week I learned how she was managing to style with just two hands a brush, comb, blow drier and a hot straightening iron.

Baby’s First Birthday

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By , June 15, 2010 12:45 pm

This past Sunday we went to Busan to celebrate our niece’s 1st birthday. That’s a big occasion in  Korea and dates back to an era when infant mortality was relatively high. It used to be the 100 day marker, but times have improved greatly in the past few decades.

This birthday was for GaEun, MyeongHee’s younger brother’s baby.  He’s nearly 40 and he and wife tried for years to have one of their own. They gave up and adopted her last year.  She’s a sweet baby.

The event calls for transitional Korean clothes, a “hanbok” which both the mother and GaEun wore. They matched, actually.

Part of the ceremony is for the baby to pick one of several items on a tray. Tradition says that when the baby grows up her choice will determine her career, wealth, health, etc.  I haven’t been her long enough to see if  that holds true, but its a cute tradition to watch.  GaEun grabbed with both hands and picked up a golf ball and a toy stethoscope, meaning she’ll be a doctor and will play golf – which sounds like a reasonable match.

During the ceremony, DuHong, the father, got a little choked up on his speech. Just a short sentence or two about the joys of being a parent, and given their history of trying for over 12 years nearly the whole room full of folks leaked a little around the eyes.

The other tradition about 1st birthday’s is the food. They’re nearly always held at a buffet restaurant and the amount of food is staggering.  All good stuff. The one thing I passed on was the ultra fresh octopus – those little guys were still wriggling on the platter. I saw a couple of people take a few wrigglers and pile them on their plate to be eaten still squirming.

Take a gander at the video:

Scooter Inferno Shots

By , June 10, 2010 11:53 am

Just a smattering of photos from last week’s Scooter Inferno.

Me and my partner, Sam, with our Grand Prize winnings - a couple of helmets and goggles

The Bonus shot - Dancing Girls. Almost every store grand opening or big sale event has a pair out front

At Tohamsan Garden restaurant deep in the mountains between Ulsan and GyeongJu

At the monument to Canada nuclear engineers near the Wolsong Nuclear Power Plant. I think the radiation made me get a little crazy

The Sea Penis. I swear they look just like dicks in their tubs. Pick one up and it will pee

From left, Sam, Nikki, me, Scott, Dee and Wolfie. Two teams working together until the last 15 minutes

Lots more pictures, but some aren’t fit for publication. And here, also is a the video created for the awards banquet.  Check it out.

Anyway, that’s all for now.

Minor Reunions

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By , April 25, 2010 2:17 pm

Yesterday I went rock climbing with my usual friends and a few new ones. There’s always people coming and going here.  One of the new ones is Vanessa – a native of North Texas, former resident of Dallas and an alumni of my alma mater, University of North Texas. Als0 being a climber, she was a somewhat frequent climber at Stoneworks climbing gym at I-35 and Beltline in Carollton.  What are the odds.  Half way around the world but from the same place. She’ll probably climb with us again.

Another reunion of sorts was with my dogs. They got to play with one of the litter. We called her “GaMyeon” or “Mask”, but her new name is “Corker.”  Good friend and frequent climbing partner Dee is the new mommy to Corker. The pups and their mom, SaTang, played on the mountain while we climbed.

Dee holds her pup Corker while Sparky and Satang pose.

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.

Nothing is Permanent

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By , February 27, 2010 3:18 am

Nothing is Permanent. And change is fast if it’s not slow.

Nothing is Permanent“, by Brave Combo from the album “No no no cha cha.

That’s a phrase that rings true no matter where (or when) you are. Personally, I like change. Usually. When I can control the changes, I like it better than when change happens to me.

Living here in Korea, change is a constant. Anyone who comes here as I have to teach English comes on a one-year contract. Many people stay longer. Some bail out earlier. Back home in America people come and go as well, but it’s not so fraught with the finality that permeates the leaving here. In America, people change jobs and even change cities but it’s far less common than here. Moreover, since teachers here come from multiple points around the globe, the likelihood of meeting again outside of Korea is reduced to almost nil for all but the best of friendships. When they go, they’re gone.

I’ve gotten used to seeing people go. I can count on one hand the number of English-speaking friends I have here that I met way back in 2004.  Although those that have already moved on are still virtually around thanks to tools like facebook and email its not the same as being in the same room, having live conversations, sharing a meal or a drink. One can argue the virtues of webcams all night, but it’s just not the same. Period.

Of course, just as some friends leave, others come to fill their shoes. I’ve made a lot of new friends over the years.

Last night I went to dinner with two friends who I have only known for a year. Although they spent two years here, the first was in the northern part of the country and I only met them last spring. I first met Robert and Lisa when Robert read and commented on a rock climbing article I’d posted on UlsanOnline.com.  We hooked up for some climbing and became great friends. They left this morning to go back to the USA for a short visit and then they are off to Cambodia for an internship in working with the poor, underprivileged and abused.

Lisa and Robert

We went to dinner at Kebapistan, one of the few western restaurants in Ulsan. This one specializes in Turkish food and is Robert and Lisa’s favorite. I like it as well. Nothing like a little Mediterranean food to ward off the Kimchi blues. They also have hookahs – large water pipes with flavored tobacco. I’m not a big fan of hookahs, but when passed the hose I’ll usually indulge although I’d never order one for myself.

I met several new friends at the dinner. That’s not uncommon either. Foreigners here tend to congregate together and networking is a given. If you know one, you’ll soon meet their friends, either in-person or on the ubiquitous book of faces.  Some of these new friends are just into their first year here. On my right, Daniel, is about to finish his 1st year and will come back. Since I just met him last night, I hope to catch up with him again. Two friends go out, another comes in. Change is permanent.

On my left is William, another good friend who I met after he arrived last year. Robert and I and taught him to rock climb. He’s finished his year contract and has already signed a new contract for another year.  William and his girlfriend, Youngran (next to Lisa) and MyeongHee and I are already planning on visiting Robert and Lisa in Cambodia this year.  MyeongHee and I had already talked about going to Cambodia on vacation this year to see Angkor Wat and now we have even more reason to go with Robert and Lisa paving the way. Another adventure awaits.

Puppies and Kids – Just like Kimchi and Rice

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By , February 24, 2010 12:12 pm

You can’t keep kids away from them.  I brought the puppies to the park before I went to work to give them some exercise. Within minutes we were swamped with kids. We used to attract a few kids when it was just me and SaTang, but with her and six puppies we always get a crowd.

From the left is my school owner’s daughter, Nae-Young, the director’s son, Min Joon, Na-Young’s twin sister, Tae-Young, a student at the school who I only know as Tom, and three kids who I don’t know but wouldn’t leave the pups alone.  Everybody had a puppy and everyone was happy.

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