Gapyeong and more
Trip Start Apr 01, 2007
17Trip End Ongoing
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Dr. Lee Dinner
During a rather uneventful Saturday a couple weeks back, I received a call to do Saturday school. Having nothing else to do, I agreed to come in
The best part about being a Saturday school teacher was the reward. To show his appreciation for the staff Dr. Lee, the owner of the school, took us all out to dinner. Considering he is one of Korea's richest men (a billionaire, though I'm not sure if in won or dollars...the exchange rate is 1000 won to a dollar), he footed the entire bill. We went to a Korean barbeque, where the food is prepared in a personal grill at each individual table, different from the Japanese steakhouse tradition of hibachi. In addition to delicious meat, we were also treated to countless bottles of beer and soju. It is tradition that all guests must pour a shot of soju for the host to recognize his generosity and show respect for his high standing (Confucian culture spin-off). Since there were at least 20 people there, Dr. Lee was no more sober than anyone else during the revelry
Soccer Stars in Gapyeong
Last weekend I had a fabulous weekend in this rural town where my friend form college, Nat, lives. Located on the eastern border of the province I live (Gyeonngi-do), it is a 2.5 hour bus ride or 4 hour subway, train extravangza. Unfortunately, Nat forgot to tell me about the bus on the way out, so I spent lots of time standing in crowded subways (always packed like sardines in the Seoul area) and sitting on the floor in a train (they sell way more tickets than there are seats = not comfortable!). When I finally met Nat, he greeted me with a smile and a question: you ready to go to the bar? Despite a heavy backpack and a desire to relax, I naturally said yes. We met two of his friends and the rest of the night was spent playing drinking games, laughing and going to bed relatively early (around 1ish).
The sleep served us well for we needed all of it the next day.
Four teams battled it out on the sunny, summer-like afternoon. For the first time since I was in Vegas, I was hot and had to apply some sunscreen. Nat's team from Gapyeong, an older team from Seoul, a quasi-celebrity team and a women's collegiate team rounded out the rag-tag lineup. Because the "celebrities" included the former Korean National coach, an Olympic boxer and ping-pong player, the festival could charge a nominal fee and attract spectators
After playing three 30-minute games for two different teams, Nat and I were sore and tired. We were also particularly frustrated that we didn't get to play the girls team, who were both skilled and attractive. As a reward for our hard work, we went to a Korean sauna, my first such experience. For a nominal price, you start by showering (all done completely naked) then meandering from pool to pool, all heated at different temperatures ranging from freezing to scalding. We continued the relaxation at Nat's place, watching "Lady Vengeance," a famous Korean movie, the second movie in the "Old Boy" series. If you want to check out a good Korean movie, I recommend it. Supposedly, Tarantino drew a lot of inspiration from the triology for "Kill Bill." Although I may be biased against the title, I think the "Old Boy" movies (I've only seen the one though) are better and more interesting. The day ended at a bar, big surprise.
Korean is hard!
As you all know, Korean has an entirely different alphabet than the comfortable Romanized system we are used to. Eventhough Hangeul appears overwhelming and confusing upon first glance, it is one of the most orderly, sensible and easy languages to learn to read in. All vowels are vertical or horizontal while consonants are variations of a box shape. Invented in the 1400's, it was designed to be learned by the clever in a few hours and for the dull in a couple weeks. Apparently, I'm somewhere in between; it took me about 3-5 days to learn all of the sounds associated with the characters. Although I can read at about a kindergarten pace, I still hae almost absolutely no idea what I am reading, minus my limited vocabulary and scattered cognates.
On top of a new lettering system, Korean has multiple forms, informal, polite and very polite. You must use different words and conjucations based on who you are and who you are talking to. In order to avoid offending elders it is best to learn the polite form, but when amongst colleagues, which is most often the case, you will get laughed at and told to use the less polite form
Despite the challenge, I am getting better. I am being tutored by a Korean teacher (Helen) at my school. We are reading Aladdin in Korean and speaking Korean as often as possible. However, teaching at an English-only school it is hard to get the practice necessary to master anything, let alone even speak Korean. So, wish me luck as I try to communicate in this challenging, subtle language.
Hey everyone! I just gave you a pretty big update. How about returning the favor with some news on your end? I would love e-mail, facebook, myspace or snail mail messages. Love you all and look forward to hearing from you.