Monday, December 7, 2009
Fellow blog patriots,
Sorry I haven’t written in awhile. I have been very busy here in Korea. I’ve picked up several hobbies: rock climbing(very big sport in Korea), learning to play the ukulele' yoga' Taekwondo(Soon I’ll be able to break wooden boards with my hands and fists),and trip preparing(I’m taking a much needed four day vacation to Japan for skiing in February).
Along with these very dangerous hobbies, I have also been assimilating to the Korean lifestyle:
1.Kimchi Maniac. If I don’t have kimchi at least once a day, I immediately contract a cold.
2.Workaholic. Vacations are a thought of the past. The longest vacation I will have all year will be four days, that’s including the weekend.
3.Pushy Spitter. I enjoy spitting on the street and pushing random strangers, as long as they are younger than me.
4.OCD. I have grown accustomed to peeling every fruit and vegetable I eat. Koreans overload their fruits/vegetables with pesticides.
5.Bower. Occasionally I bow to people, but I’ve recently been having some neck issues, so that Korean custom is on hold.
6.Naked enthusiast. I have taken a liking to Korean public baths.
Korean public baths vary tremendously. I actually went to the largest public bath in Asia (although I’m sure Japan also has claim to the largest public bath). The largest bath in Asia compared to the other public baths I’ve gone to is more closely aligned to a spa, thus it is named The Spa.
The Spa had dozens of hot saunas that were for both sexes. Mind you, we all had to wear loose fitting cotton clothes that looked similar to Taekwondo drab, except that they were an off-set maroon color. The Spa was equipped with a TV room(you could watch your favorite TV shows while overlooking the skyline of the second largest city in Korea, Busan), a smoking room, high-end massages and a workout facility.
And, of course, The Spa had the baths. Bathes are a place where women and men separate into their various sexes, get naked, rub each other raw and glee with delight. This is really where the story begins…
Now, being detail oriented and not wanting your imagination to run to wild: "The Bath," or should I say, baths, are wonderful and composed of a series of rooms with hot and cold tubs. The tubs have multiple water temperatures and switching from the extremely hot ones to the icy cold help with health problems and prevent future ailments. The pangs of going from hot to cold so drastically reminded me of jumping into the snow after soaking in a warm hot tub: the feeling is exhilarating, frightening and nippy.
If you have already forgotten this detail, I will remind you again: Everyone is naked and everyone shares the same large baths. It is imperative that you shower before you get in. On my trip to The Spa, an old woman actually grabbed my arm and began rubbing it to ensure I showered properly; the more she rubbed, the more she realized that my arm was a little oily from my massage earlier that day. A sneer crossed her face as she called me Russian.
Oh, I didn’t mention my massage earlier that day? Well, let me indulge.
First, Koreans are insane about their skin. They spend tons of money on cosmetic treatments for their skin and judge people’s beauty by the glow of the skin and the white porcelain perfection of it. Women and men exfoliate once a week with very rough cloths; they’ve done this routine since childhood and thus the cloth no longer hurts their skin. When you go to a public bath and get a massage you are being scrubbed with this catlike-tongue cloth.
In a public bath there are three ways you can receive a massage/skin scrub:
1.Scrub yourself: Public baths have small "stations of beauty" for this type of activity. I like to call them this because the stations are not beautiful, nor are the women at these stations. The stations consist of a mirror, a small white stool (again everyone is naked and women switch without sanitizing the seat),and a woman scrubbing herself to oblivion.
2.Ask a friend: Many women do this and if I actually had friends here I might do the same. I could just imagine myself requesting, “Natalie, scrub hard in-between the cracks,” or, “Vita, really put some grease in my scrub this time. Last time you went half-ass on my feet." Sadly, I don’t really have friends here that would do such a thing.
3.Buy a friend: I find this scenario to be the most glamorous of them all. Imagine a woman in lingerie taking you(remember you are naked)to a room full of other naked women. The room is reminiscent of a high school gym’s physical therapy room with a ton of rickety old massage benches and the smell of musk. They sanitize your personal massage table by throwing hot water on it.
They then push you down onto the bench like a rag doll and the scrubbing begins. Korean women love being scrubbed by these lingerie women or as I like to call them prima scrubbers. But, I had a little different experience at ‘The Spa’…
After being thrown on this unsanitized plastic bench they began rubbing me with soapy water and by rubbing, I mean they actually threw the soapy water on me. And then they scrubbed. It hurt. In fact, I’ve never felt so much hurt before.
The prima scrubber who was scrubbing me that day was a little ornery. She kept screaming, “You are dirty” to me in Korean and laughing with her fellow prima scrubber at my lack of scrubbing knowledge.
In between the scrubbing of my skin, my faux friend thought it would be nice to help me lose some weight. Some Koreans lose weight by hitting the fat on their body. So while this woman was screaming, “You’re dirty,” she was also slapping my butt, because it’s huge here. All of the anger she had ever felt in her life went straight into my butt. After I thought she was done due to the exhaustion of her voice, she began on my thighs with the persistence of Gandhi and the strength of her great, great, great ,great grandfather Attila the Hun. She colored my thighs crimson. This wasn’t entirely bad because at least I was on my stomach and no one could see me cry, but this sensational slapping didn’t last long.
Eventually, the woman threw me over to my back and began punching my stomach harder than Ali. At this point I started screaming “Ow, Ow, Ow!!!” Instead of stopping she merely mocked me and screamed back “Ow, Ow, Ow” and punched harder.
What a true friend.
After this humiliating and disturbing exfoliation was over, my faux friend changed her personality completely. She threw a bucket of water on me and then began to rub oil all over my body, massaging all the pain away and whipping my tears with an avocado mask. She was as tender as a mother giving a bath to her newborn.
To say the least, I went back, and I do so twice a month. Yes, you may call me masochistic (minus the entire sexual aspect of that word), but the extremes of rag doll and baby are just as thrilling as hot and cold water, confusion and understanding, and life in America and life in Korea.
Thursday, October 15, 2009
It has come to my attention that Korean children do not have a bed time. I see these small innocent creatures wandering the streets late at night and by late, I mean around 11:30 p.m.
I decided to do a little investigating.
I asked my class of second graders when they went to school and like most American children they said they go to school at 8:00 a.m. and like most American school children they get up at 7:00 a.m. to brush their teeth, comb their hair, and play on their new cell phones.
I found this to be rather curious, so I asked what time they and their parents went to bed. They informed me that they went to bed at around 12:00 a.m. and their parents usually went to bed at 3:00 a.m. They did not insinuate that there was in fact a bed time or that they wished to stay up later. Midnight is merely a time for them to go to sleep.
I was astounded!!! A child receiving only 7 hours of sleep with a full load of course work the next day, most my students (second graders) are in regular school for about eight hours; they have about two hours of after school activities ranging from Taekwondo to Piano, and then they have more school activities such as English, Spanish or Math class.
I guess Koreans just don't need that beauty sleep that we in the states do.
Now onto my next topic ghosts:
The other day I was really stressed at my class and I put my hair over my face like Cousin It. The children began to scream, "Ghost! Ghost!"
When I think of a ghosts, I think of a small fluffy character like Casper, but Koreans think of a cryptic Samara from The Ring.
Thus, if I ever want to scare my students into doing their homework and staying up until 3:00 a.m. because they are afraid the ghost will visit them at night, I simply put my hair over my face and tell them, "I'll get you if you aren't good to teacher."
Sunday, September 27, 2009
One of my co-teachers invited me to go on a tour of Tong Yeong. She informed me that the tour would be in Korean, but she would help translate the Korean for me. I was a little hesitant at first. I pictured myself on a tour bus full of trigger happy people taking pictures of everything from shoes, to horses butts (this actually happened to my mother in Banff, Canada - Asians kept taking pictures of her and her horses butt... But that's another story all together.)
After a night of restless sleep (mere seconds of contemplation), I accepted the invitation realizing that I didn't have any friend nor plans on a Saturday.
My negative perspective of the Asian tourist was completely flip-flopped once I got to the tour station. The tour bus was for a total of nine people and the bus was more of a large van similar to the old aerostar mini van my mom and half the country use to sport in the early 90s. For the record, the aerostar has been off the market for about 10 years now.
To say the least, the trip ended up being a cultural lesson in how Koreans interact with each other and common enemies they share...
On the first leg of the voyage, we were taken to an island called Hasan. One of the famed historical sites in Korea for its beauty, its history and its influence on poets.
My pictures of the island will not do it justice. I felt a presence on the island and a magical beauty that I've only felt two other places in my life: Grenada, Spain and Athens, Greece.
Historically in the Song Dynasty, the Koreans were able to defeat the Japanese in this harbor. A famous General named General Lee created a turtle ship, which gave the Koreans the advantage of having a hard shell top on their vessels.
Koreans boast that during the battles, 7,000 Japanese soldiers were killed and only 19 Koreans were killed. The likelihood of this is very grim, but I would never challenge a Korean on their history.
During the telling of the tale, my tour guide became very passionate and any time the death of a Japanese person was mentioned or the shame of the Japanese defeat was mentioned the Koreans would laugh. Koreans have a national pride and anger towards Japanese people, which stems from a long history of Japan's extortion of the Korean people. This negative feeling is slowly beginning to fade with the younger culture, but older Koreans hold true to their distaste for the Japanese.
If you really want to offend a Korean, you will call them Japanese.
Also to note, Koreans laugh a lot. They laugh when they can't think of anything to say or during uncomfortable moments. For a long time I thought they were laughing at me, but during the trip I was informed that it is part of the Korean culture to laugh when you feel many different emotions. My friend told me that because Korean's take school and their work so seriously (An average Korean child is going to school for about 12 to 14 hours/day, including Saturdays), they like to laugh at the innocence of life.
Video clip of the tour guide, a very passionate man indeed.
Furthermore, I found that Koreans are not the type to take pictures of everything, this is mainly a Japanese tourist trait. Koreans like to take pictures of themselves or each other rather than scenery. I was the most obnoxious picture taker in the bunch and was often left behind. My co-teacher Priscilla, always asked me to take plenty of pictures of her and she found it rather weird that we took pictures together. Most young Koreans will seldom take group photo shoots, but choose to take solo/glamor shots of each other.
During the tour I noticed a lot of older groups together. I asked my friend if this is common and she informed me that every three months groups of friends will get together and go on trips, they call these groups "gays" this is obviously how it is pronounced. Groups of friends of all ages will go on little 'gay' adventures together.
Another interesting thing I would like to note here is that Korean men have purses... And I'm not talking about the European style man bag, they have full-blown purses... I've pictured a man with a Korean male purse below. It might be hard to tell from the picture, but the purse has a feminine shape and a glistening alligator skin texture.
More about the pictures below:
To the far left is a gate way into a Korean Shrine. Korean shrines always have three doors. You enter in the east and exit in the west, if you don't it is considered bad luck....
Second picture to the left is a dragon drinking fountain Koreans drink from the same cups; it is not a faucet style drinking fountain like we are use to. However, if I tried to drink from these cups or any foreigner for that matter, Koreans probably wouldn't drink out of the cup I (we) used. A lot of Koreans think that foreigners have swine flu. If I touch something at the local supermarket, a worker will usually sanitize the area after I leave...
Shrines Drinking Fountain Man Purse Ferry Boat
Back to the story:
On our way back to Tong Yeong, an old woman pushed my friend and then a different older woman wouldn't move while I tried to take pictures. I asked me friend about this and she explained Agimas to me. Agima is a name that you give to old ladies, but you would never tell an old lady she is an Agima, it literally translates into old lady, but it has many other hidden meanings.
Agimas are everywhere in Korea. They apparently are the worst in Seoul. Agimans are little old ladies that have no respect/manners for anyone but their grandchildren. They are very rude and will push you around. Most the time Koreans let them do this and thus I do too, but it is very annoying.
My friend informed me that Korean women believe themselves to be princess, thus when these Korean princess are at the Agimans age (50 +), they have become full blown spoiled queens. Now, this is not to say that all older women are rude. We had a very nice woman on our trip that gave me candy when I got scared of heights while traveling up the gondola; I'll talk about this later in the piece. But, Agimans are very common and if you ever travel to Korea, you will stumble upon these very rude Korean women. And they are rude to everyone; everyone except their grandchildren.
After we went to the beautiful island of Hasan we stopped by a history museum, where again the resentment of Japan was in full force with the below picture. It is of a dragon eating Japan. Can you see it?
In the museum, my Korean friend and I touched the artifacts. I must say, I don't know if this was really allowed, but they didn't say anything to me and so I just had to jump at the opportunity; I'm very opportunistic here.
Rar, Japan, Rar
After the historic museum we headed to the only modern art museum in Tong Yoeong - Ottchill Art Museum. The art was beautiful. It was very interesting too because one of the artists did a piece on Native Americans. I found this fascinating for two reasons, the first being that all my little students want me to call them Indian boy and second because at the art museum I went to in Busan I also saw the Native American theme. I asked my Korean friend and she said that Native Americans were very posh in Korea currently. Yes, very interesting.
Below is a couple of pictures from the gallery. The artist infused tiles with abalone shells.
After we went to the art museum, our last stop was the gondola ride to the tallest mountain in Tong Yeong. This particular gondola is also the longest in Korea. It was a beautiful ride up and when I got a little nervous because of the height a nice lady gave me some ginseng candy to cool my nerves. It did actually help.
Priscilla and I climbed to the top only to discover some older Koreans playing king of the mountain. Again, my hand went trigger happy and I took a lot of pictures, I've given you a select few. If you wish to see more, I'll have a very elaborate and boring slide show when I get back. I'm sure if you are invited to my house during the Christmas season my father will insist that you look at the slide show, while he explains in detail every picture, even though he in fact was not in Korea with me. It will only be apparent to the intoxicated guest (Rob Kincaid) that my father actually wasn't there when he continues to mispronounce Korean words like Kimchi as both my mother I correct him. While all this is happening, my brother will slink off the Lowther's house to smoke weed and play halo. Oh, I miss you family and friends.
Monday, September 14, 2009
I know more of you have wanted to post to my wall, specifically my mother. It is a difficult task to unmask the computer conundrum, but I think if you just set up a google account or AIM, you will be able to post your thoughts.
For example once you post a comment you'll notice an area that says, Comment Section, which has lists of profiles i.e. AIM, google, live journal, word press etc. Click on the 'comment as' section and simply sign into your AIM or google account. This should work, it worked for me.
Let me know if you have any problems or don't know what a google account is... Google accounts usually include your gmail or other googling device. If you don't have gmail or a googling device, just google, google accounts and sign up for the various google devices that make your life easier.
Thursday, September 10, 2009
To me, my parents were simply mom and dad, but to the students in my class they were teachers: a weird sub-breed of humans that could not be defined as 'people'.
"Which room is yours Zibby?" they would question me with snotty noses and dewy eyes, "Do you stay in your mom's classroom? Do you share a room?."
But now as a teacher, I'm beginning to understand the strange relationship between student and teacher.
The same could be said for when I see my students outside of class. I might be promenading on the local beach front and run into Daniel holding his mother's hand. This awkward encounter is frightening. What do you say to a student outside of class and especially when this student barely speaks English?
I question my rather odd relationship with students on a daily basis, but mainly I question the people who have chosen teaching as a profession. People who have dedicated their lives to the classroom and plan on waking up for decades to the sound of a class room bell in the distance.
What is their reasoning?
I have had many thoughts to their reasoning: Maybe all teachers are underground glue sniffers. People who simply have to stay close to a school building because they're addiction would be costly without a school supply and a handy stash at all times...
Now most teachers won't admit to this addiction, instead they'll feed you lines like:
Teaching is an art.
It is exciting to see students learn.
I guess I was just born with it.
Summer Vacation FOREVER.
These students are like little soldiers: ambitious and potentially potent.
Much like Obama is trying to train the students of America to think democrat i.e. do well in school. I must train my students to think and feel only for me.
I am their chief commander, I hold their happiness, future, and integrity at my finger tips.
I shall teach my students to feed off propaganda and strive for violence.
From Obama's speech on, I've been slowly incubating my students to become my small South Korean Army or shall I say the Republic of Korean Army.I currently have my students listening to Stalin tapes circa 1950. They are already marching and praising me for giving them more homework.
Instead of passing out stickers and candy like the other teachers, I pass out slaps and threats. Slaps because they need to know pain and threats so they don't weasel home to their parents and 'tattle'.I can sense that some students are born with the taste for violence. The students that continually hit their neighbor and show no respect for other people's items. They are mainly students of top Korean mobsters, but a few are the sons of doctors that can't take the pressure, and daughters of lawyers that are sick of arguing through words. These are all my little "henchlings". The students that with a little poke have become excitedly and happily, my army.
Take for instance the picture above. See the smiling girl in the middle, we call her Attila the Worst or Sweet Sally for short.Sweet Sally is a direct decedent of Attila the Hun(As most Koreans are of Mongolian descendant) and is pro at whipping and manipulating children to believe in my cause.
She slinks like a snake through the halls listening to hear any rebel uprisings from the students. If a student is caught in distress or is about to turn, Sweet Sally quickly snitches on the lost soul and I take care of the damage. I steal their pencil cases and call them Japanese (Koreans hate to be called Japanese..)Now, you must be asking yourself, "What exactly are you going to do when you leave in a year?
Who will fight against these small students?Where will the wars of Zibby be passed?"
Well that I cannot tell you now. I currently don't have any enemies in Korea and the only girl I can't stand in the states Mean Girl -I call her this because she is so mean- is the only potential target on my list.I'm hoping she doesn't wear shin guards around because my students are rather small and are more fierce below the waste. The details of my attacks are vague, but I'm sure inspiration will come once I watch "Braveheart" again and the students have mock wars. I'm thinking we will do an adaptation of WWII.
But for now, I guest this is just merely a warning.A warning for students and parents to beware of the quintessential teacher. A teacher who brainwashes your kids to achieve goals and complete college.
Because these teachers may, oh they just may, be training your loved ones for bigger things, like creating their own army of one.
Monday, September 7, 2009
And no, this hasn't happened do me. But yes, the little demons do it to their teachers too.
To say the least, I'm beginning to walk with my hands on my butt.
Saturday, September 5, 2009
Honestly, who needs friends when you have a series of metal bars to swing on?
Now when I first began the monkey bars, I wasn't that great. Being short for my age I had the disadvantage of not easily doing twosies (this is when you skip two monkey bars instead of one). I also had hyperhidrosis (this is when your hands sweat profusely) and often times I would slip off the bars just doing onesies.
This hindrance didn't bother me too much for I was one to overcome playground games and I had made a "friend." I called her the Girl with No Legs, or No Legs for short.
I called her this for the obvious reason: She had no legs. Her missing legs amazed me because growing up in Sandpoint, ID you rarely saw a person with a deformity. The town had been blessed with extremely attractive people. Well, at least the cuties that ran in my circle. Of course, you had the average inbred kid from the mountains, but I always chose not to look at these mutations and would leave the cafeteria table anytime one of these beasts would sit next to me. These pitiful and vain actions were getting me into some trouble in Sunday School and in my eyes No Legs was the perfect candidate to earn me some brownie points with God.
Of course, I was not the only kid in search of brownie points with the Big Man upstairs. No Legs had two groupies that followed her around everywhere. I had no need to befriend these groupies for two reasons:
One: I was disgusted at their kindness.
Two: I had much better looking friends outside the monkey bar scene.
But No Legs I did befriend in some way. I think she knew my name and she (like I) chose the monkey bars as our only 'true companion'. We had a special kinship for climbing and skipping and performing monkey like behaviors. The only difference between her and I that I could decipher (other than the legs) was she was no amateur on the monkey bars.
To this day I have not met a monkey barrer like No Legs. She could do everything! Twosies, threesies and someone claimed they saw her do a foursies, which was unheard of on playground land. Her arm muscles were rippling for a third grader and instead of spending her life chained to a wheelchair, No Legs walked on her hands. The action was much like a gorilla. No Legs would clinch her hands into a fist and swing from right to left. Her movement wasn't slow. She paced herself at a steady jog, which enabled her to get to her destinations(cafeteria, classroom, home and monkey bars) quite quickly. She found her way of walking to be both invigorating and it helped strengthen her upper body for monkey barring.
Most people haven't spent a lot of time around the monkey bars and don't really understand the practice that goes into the sport. The monkey bars are split into two disciplines: skipping and playing chicken. No legs was a professional at both. When the playground duty wasn't looking the monkey bar gang would play the more dangerous of the disciplines, chicken.
No Legs always went last to fight against the champion minion. And believe me, no minion ever won against No Legs. I don't know how No Legs did it, but she could wrap her stumps around your hips so tight it felt like she was giving them the sleeper hold.
And don't think the other monkey barrers were going half-assed--no Sandpoint, ID kid puts his second leg forward.
As my friends continued to overlook my absences, I continued to become a better and better monkey barrer. I was starting to do twosies and occasionally threesies. Even No Legs was somewhat encouraging. She would give me a callused high-five and a low grunt.
About a month after I had left my friends, my friend,Sarah, came up to me and started to encourage me to come back to the pretty gang. Having short term memory issues, I couldn't remember why I had become so angered by my friends in the first place. I began to miss playing soccer and spying on the older kids kissing in the dugouts. I came to realize it was time for me to leave the monkey bars.
Once I left, No Legs didn't really have anything to do with me. Her life was about being a "great," and friendships weren't that important to her. I didn't really care to stay in contact,either, and it didn't surprise me when No Legs left the school without me noticing.
During my elementary school career, I got in many fights with my friends and chose other playground equipment to take their place, but I'll never forget the monkey bars.
Occasionally when I see a playground set, I think of No Legs and wonder if she still isn't using a wheelchair to walk. I can almost imagine her walking the streets of New York with her callused fists clenched and her angry grunts reverberating down Fifth Ave.
However, I have a feeling she succumbed to the wheelchair.
I have a feeling that society told No Legs long ago that it was unacceptable to walk on her hands.
But I guess I can still hope and wish that No Legs hasn't left her childish ambition behind her. I hope, like me, she is chasing her dream to see the world through different eyes and not the ones society tells her to look through.
Hell, maybe I'll see her passing through the streets of Korea, stumps and all.
I wanted to be the next Walter Cronkite of travel blogs, giving you the facts and earning your trust.
Sadly, I'm just too funny and I think my personnel adaptations of my experience are better than old journalism rhetoric.
However, in memory of the late and great Walter Cronkite, I will dedicate a few of my blogs to descriptive journalism. To those weary travelers venturing or about to embark on an adventure through Asia.
And for those of you who are not big readers and judging by the literacy in America, I would say there are a lot of you. I will have several blog posts entitled "News flash" these will be quick blurbs about the funny little cultural differences I've stumbled upon in Asia.
Sit back, relax and enjoy the Asian Collective.