It's been a while since my last post and a lot has happened. I'm in month three of living in Seoul and I think the honeymoon period has finally worn off. I'll talk about a few highlights that have happened over the past month.
On Halloween weekend, together with Kevin, we went to a city about 45 minutes south of Seoul called Daejeon. This town is known as the silicon valley of Korea but that's not why we went there for the weekend. Ultimate frisbee is pretty big with the foreign community here, I wanted to try it out, and this weekend Daejeon was hosting a tournament for English speakers. Ultimate is a game that is similar to soccer and football, but played with a frisbee. Kev and I left our neighborhood around 5:30am, took a cab to the KTX train terminal, where we met a few other guys that were going as well. KTX is Korea's high speed rail service that was very comfortable and quick. These trains go up to 350 km/h! We got to the fields, which were on the bank of a river, around 9am and prepared for a day of frisbee. About 50 to 60 people showed up and we played the entire day. I got a chance to meet a lot of new people from all over the world, with people from the states, Canada, UK, New Zealand, Australia, etc.
Around 11:00am, two Korean businessmen showed up with a bunch of goodies for all of us. These included cases of vitamin water (which are small bottles that people drink for sole purpose of having more vitamins and staying healthy), snacks, drinks, etc. We took a break at noon to each some lunch but were all asked to listen to the what the two men had to say. They provided the drinks and food, so it was the least we could do. The two men in the shiny suits turned out to be representatives from a local pharmaceautical company looking to advertise a new miracle drug their company manufactures. Everything they said went through a interperter (one of the Korean Americans playing ultimate with us) and a few things may have been lost in translation, but what happened I have never seen or experienced before.
They began by asking us if we had ever heard of their company, a name which now I do not remember. The guy translating told us to just say yes, which we obediently did, much to the joy of the Korean men. They proceeded to tell us they were here today because they would like to share this new pill that will revolutionize the world. Before telling us what it does, they asked us what the number one cause of death in the United States is today. It was decided heart disease is the most common problem (I'm pretty sure that's right...), and we were told that with this new drug, heart disease will become a thing of the past. The representatives with the wonder drug asked us if we knew that smoking and drinking also is bad for one's health. A couple of the guys smoking cigarettes responded that this is just liberal propaganda engineered by Obama and the like (the irony didn't quite transfer to the Korean men as expected).
Anyways, they revealed that this drug will help lower cholesterol, decrease the chance of liver failure, help quell stomach problems, improve skin, etc. When someone asked if it cures Aids, they said it has not been proven that it does but that it might. At this point, everyone is chuckling to themselves and making jokes about this pill. The reps finally asked if any of us would like to try the drug, since they brought samples with them. A few brave souls decided to give the thing a shot and popped a few pills. One of the guys said his stomach wasn't doing too well but the drug was supposed to make him feel normal in about a half hour. Here's a pic of the man presenting the pill.
It was at this point that one of the representatives pulled out a block of styrofoam form his suitcase and announced that he would like to show us first hand what the drug does to clogged arteries in our body. He punctured the liquid gelcap pill and poured one out onto the inch thick styrofoam. Within five seconds, the liquid created a hole an inch and half in diameter. Everyone was stunned. This is what this thing does!? One of the guys, a brit, that took two pills (you're supposed to take one) was not pleased and let everyone know what his thoughts were, using British style curse words and word 'bloody' quite a bit. Part of the reason for this is because the reps said one of the side effects of this drug is Viagra like (this was revealed after people popped the pills). The reps then showed us a half full water bottle, threw in a few chunks of styrofoam, and then one of the wonder pills. After shaking the bottle up, the styrofoam was gone within half a minute. The name of this drug, btw, is Pine Needle Plus and has yet to be released on the market. We were told it should be approved by the Korean equivalent FDA next year sometime. And in case you're wondering, the guys that took the pills turned out fine in the end.
After a full day of Ultimate, everyone headed for the motels, or "love" motels as they are called here, due to their romantic aura and themes. Apparently, regular motels do not exist in Korea, they are all called "love" motels. After changing and showering, Kevin, Vinnie (a guy from Montreal I've befriended), and I headed to the dinner party/halloween party. People dressed up a lot more than I expected (I wore a pig snout and a face mask, otherwise known as swine flu). The coolest costume went to two Korean American girls that set up a bars representing a jail in the restaurant, that were 'saved' by a guy dressed up as Bill Clinton waltzing in and breaking them out of 'North Korea'.
Being on the topic of Halloween, the foreign staff at work also dressed up for Halloween, which our students absolutely loved. We had Jon as a cowboy, Kevin struck by lightning (although his students called him Grandpa), Ian as an elf, Liz as a detective/sherlock holmes, and three cats. Halloween isn't as big in Korea as it is in the states, but some people do dress their kids up. All of the apartments have security doors, so I don't think there was any trick or treating.
Moving on to a different topic, work for the past three weekdays has been a joke. The reason being, the school has been kid free. No kids! They've been ordered to stay at home because of recent swine flu outbreak in a few of the classes, so hopefully the spread of the virus will slow down. All of the teachers still have to show up for work, but there is only so much lesson planning to do. Some hagwons have shut down for a week or more, without pay for the teachers but fortunately for us, we will still be paid.
On November 11th, it was Pepero day in Korea. This is a holiday that is similar to Valentine's day, but seems like a clever way for companies looking to sell more Pepero's, which are pretty much Pocky sticks that come from Japan. The sweets are simply cookie sticks dipped in chocolate. People give Peperos to friends, loved ones, and teachers! I got a note and some peperos from one of my students. The note reads "Hello ~ teacher. I am sally. You are very friendly. and nice. I think you are good teacher. have a nice day!" A lot of the teachers received similar notes and Peperos from their students. Needless to say, I feel that Pepero day should be implemented in the states.
Another interesting anecdote happened about a week ago or so. Kevin and I decided to branch out a bit and find a new place to eat at after work. We walked a few streets over from ours and walked down a random bright lit, crowded, scooter screaming, pedestrian unfriendly, sign infested street, which is like every other street in Seoul . I saw a place with a picture of bbq chicken strips and a barbecue grill outside. We let the owner know that we would like an order of bbq chicken and pointed to the large picture with what looked like bbq chicken strips. He asked, in broken English, if we would like boneless or bone chicken. Boneless. No bone. Bone 'aniyo' (no in Korean). How could this possibly go wrong? How could one possibly go wrong with boneless chicken you may be thinking to yourself? Well, the plate that the owner set in front of us took a while to figure out. We couldn't believe what was in front of us. After half a minute of pocking and touching the food with our chopsticks, we realized that we had about 50 or so chicken feet. I'm talking about skinny chicken talons. The three claws and the foot that a chicken uses to walk around with. No meat. All bone, cartilage, and skin, smothered in barbecue sauce. BTW, the owner is hovering above us the whole time, waiting for us to take our first bite. We had no choice and had a talon each, which to put it simply, was unpleasant. The sauce, although tasting similar to what buffalo wings are coated with in America, were tear producing. But the main challenge was chewing through the cartilage and skin, plus, there was absolutely no meat. After about 10 minutes of awkward pocking and moving around of the stuff in front of us, we politely paid and fled. Unfortunately for us, our stomachs were not happy with these foreign chicken feet and both of us got to know bathrooms very well that night. I'm all about trying new food, but dakbal, which is what these things are called in Korea, will not be on my to do list anytime soon.
Fall has been fantastic weather wise, but the past week has brought chilly air to the area, apparently from the God forbidden freeze-land called Siberia. Winters are very cold here, but the good thing is that buildings are heated through the floor. Instead of electrically heated air being pushed into a building, floors are heated by water pipes that lie underneath. Hot water circulates through the pipes, heating the floor, thus heating the apartment.
I'll finish the post with a picture from the COEX Aquarium, which is in COEX mall, supposedly the largest in all of Asia. "Creepy but Okay, Thanks Earthworms!"