Tagged: Culture Shock

in Life

Dentists in South Korea

According to Wikipedia, a dental cavity “is a disease wherein bacterial processes damage hard tooth structure”.  Just call it what it is, a pain in the ass, and I was stuck with one — and the one place besides jail I really wanted to avoid visiting in Korea was the Dentist. In retrospect, four cups a day of vending-machine caffeine was probably a bad idea. So rather than continue chewing with just the right side of my mouth, I walked into the silent office above a PC lounge with no waiting room. “Korean speak”? the receptionist asked as she handed me some paperwork. Here we go again. Whatever the form was, it was in Korean, so I just wrote my name on the first line. She got the hint, and fetched the doctor, who thankfully spoke English.

“I have a cavity. Please help”.

“Do you have public insurance?” he asked.

“Probably not, but I have money”.

“Follow me,” he waved.

Not two minutes later, I was in the dreadful chair while the doctor charged up a needle of Novocain, and the nurse decided what drill bit to use. Seems like it should have been the other way around. The light went on as the chair leaned back, and it was all over in 15 minutes. Then came the fun part, paying. “Ee ship man wan,” the receptionist said. With both hands, I held out a pile of cash. Please don’t screw me over… Please don’t screw me over… The doctor waved with his hands and shook his head with displeasure.

“You are an English Teacher?”

“Yep, at <insert school name here>”.

“My son is <insert Korean name here>, he goes to that school”.

“Really? That is one of my students. What a small world”.

“Just give me 10,000 Won,” he said smiling.

No appointments, no paperwork, no waiting room, and quality service at an 80% discount. What sort of operation are these dentists running over here?

Relieved that the dentist did not give me (or my wallet) a root canal, we went out with a Korean friend to a “traditional restaurant”.

Cookin’ Nanta Korea: Weygookins Beware!

The critically acclaimed South Korean musical, Nanta, is now playing in Jeju City on Jeju Island (also playing in Seoul, Gangnam Area). It’s the story of three cooks who have to prepare food for a last minute wedding with the help of their manager’s incompetent nephew. The performance is almost totally non-verbal, and involves acrobatics, slapstick humor, as well as, improvisational music using everyday kitchen materials. To my surprise, there was some required audience participation.

Curtains drew, and the actors began prancing their way around a steamy, stainless steel cauldron — tossing Oregano and Parmesan cheese like confetti. They began to argue over how the soup tasted. Thumbs up? Or thumbs down? No one could decide, so two of the five actors jumped off of the stage and into the audience. Quickly concealing the bottle of half empty Chivas Regal, I began to slouch. Please don’t choose the foreigner. Please don’t choose the foreigner. But it was no use… She looked right at me and commanded, “You. Yes, you! The man!” They pushed me up onto the stage, draped a blue tarp looking thing over my shoulders, and slapped a ridiculous hat onto my head. The lights were so bright, I could scarcely see the crowd. Thank God. Next to me was a much younger Korean girl, probably in her early teens, looking even more perplexed than I was. We were then instructed to eat the soup (which was delicious) while the actors danced around the kitchen trying to kill a fly. Naturally, the fly landed on the ear of my ridiculous looking hat. They killed it. They asked how the soup was. “Good!” we screamed. Then out of nowhere, the bowls were ripped from our hands, rice flung high into the air, and apparently, I got married.

in Life

Drinking in Korea

Drinking is a sport in Korea. Read about the rules on Tripwolf.

Damyang Bamboo Forest Park and Other Sights

Fifty minutes on a bus from the U-Square Terminal in Gwangju will bring you to the epicenter of Korean bamboo, Damyang. We finally went there a few weeks ago after months of, “Hey, we should go do this.” The main bamboo park, located just across the river and only a block or two away from Damyang’s landmark Metasequoia Avenue, was much smaller than expected. Like every other formalized attraction in Korea, it was way overcrowded with families, many of whom were utterly fascinated by the sight of non-Koreans in public. I lost count of how many times someone pointed out that I was a weygookin (foreigner) or meegook saram (american person). Can you imagine saying Asian every time you saw one walk by on the street? Really fucking rude, I think… but since Korean society is so homogeneous, they don’t see it that way. Eleven months deep and I’m still not sure what they find so particularly interesting about us to gawk over. I am quite sure that there are other bamboo forests in the area which are much larger, less crowded, and allow visitors to roam freely. From here, we walked along the river to Metasequoia Avenue. Also very crowded, but we saw a little boy erratically operating his Power Wheel go and crash into one of the massive trees.

video of inside north korea

kim il sung statue

As the time steadily rises down on my stay here in Korea, I find less and less worth writing about here on the blog. Strange, because there has been a lot going on lately. I’ve been interested in North Korea given the recent headlines, and I watched a bizarre 60 minute movie yesterday called Welcome to North Korea. Peter Tetteroo and Raymond Feddema document their Orwellian like journey through the D.P.R.K. during the mid 2000’s. One particularly striking scene is a long shot of a North Korean official busily directly traffic in Pyongyang. The camera zooms out, and we see that there is no traffic in need of being directed. For anyone at all interested in the current situation with North Korea, the American Media is doing a brilliant job of fanning the flames. Things are fine. No worries. I am worried about things back home though. How much more will the Earth bleed before the ocean dies?


in Life

another korean wedding

We attended our second Korean wedding this past weekend for one of our co-teachers. Lookin’ pretty good, right? The bride wasn’t too bad either… All jesting aside, it was pretty much exactly like the last Korean wedding we went to back in January– or was it December? Another cabbage leaf in the kimchi pot at this point. Being that the weddings were not in a church or temple, a friend back home asked if there was any religious significance to the ceremony. Although there does not appear to be any spiritual influence, it’s hard knowing what the old man behind the alter is rambling on for twenty minutes about unless you speak 한국. After the ceremony, the groom got down in the aisle and started doing push ups with his new bride sitting on his back. The crowd loved it. “It’s to show he is strong and ready for the night,” one of my Korean friends explained. A rather embarrassing moment occurred a few minutes later when friends of the bride gathered together for a group photo. I was all the way at the end of the crowd, and very eager to get this over with in order to peruse the spectacular buffet downstairs. The photographer snapped a few pictures, made a squirrely motion and said some shit which I interpreted as ‘finished’.  So I stepped out of line rather fast. Everyone suddenly started clapping, and before I could react, a Korean woman out of nowhere put the iron grip to my arm and literally dragged me over to the bride. I had broke formation at the worst possible moment. They needed a picture of someone catching the bouquet, and it was going to be me. Fuck.

March misery

Sorry for the lack of posts lately, but it has been a long month. Sickness, scheduling conflicts, shitty weather, students that just don’t know when to shut the eff up…. it all added up to one miserable March. It was probably the hardest month for us since coming here in September. A lot of times with these new students, I feel more like a baby sitter than a Teacher. During story reading the other day, one little boy flapped his arms and blurted “bathroom”.

“Whoooooa Jack!” I said, lurching backwards. “Looks like it’s a little late for that there buddy”. Thankfully, his mother sent him to school with an extra pair of trousers.

Days later, in an Elementary School class, this one little girl (or rather, vampire with no cape) would not stop repeating after me. Normally, this is EXACTLY what you want from a student. Read. Repeat. Now do it again. That’s basically how every lesson goes. It’s brain-numbing at times. Had she at least been aware of what she was criticizing, and not just mocking Teacher, perhaps she’d of been sparred. Given the theme of things lately though, that was not the case. I told her I was going to get the Korean teacher after warning her several times to kindly stop. She laughed.

“Jason Teacher angry?” one portly little fellow asked with a smile.

Taking a deep breathe, I calmly swung the composite wood door open, and left the room. Already the students could be heard gasping from outside the classroom. Jason Teacher is fucking serious… And this time, this one and hopefully only time, will watch a student get what she deserves.

It was silent when the Korean Headmaster entered the room, a far cry from the zoo only 7 minutes before. “Which one?” she asked with extreme seriousness, whipping stick vigorously clenched in her right palm.

I looked the student straight in the eyes and watched her lower lip slowly start to curl. She was fucked, and she knew it.

“That one,” I said, pointing my index finger as I looked away.

Without hesitation, the Korean Headmaster slapped the ten year old girl in front of the class before dragging her by the ears into the hallway for some verbal abuse. Ten minutes later she returned, in tears and shaking profusely.

“She WILL NOT do that again,” said the Korean Headmaster (and she hasn’t). The teachers in neighboring classrooms later told me that the yelling from the hallway was scaring even their students. I could go on, but its all too trivial at this point. March also marked the beginning of the Asian yellow dust season. Every year during the Spring months, toxic yellow dust clouds from China blanket the Korean peninsula. Despite it all, I remain hopeful that April won’t be such a train wreck.

in Life

hide your nuts!

Found this beauty at the base of Mudeung Mountain in Gwangju. Yes, it’s true, the sign says to beware of squirrels. Of all the dangers to warn people about when hiking, someone chose squirrels.

Japanese Maple or Marijuana?

Today, we saw for the first time bandannas selected by one of the Korean teachers for the kinder students to wear during their song and dance, “Summer Nights”.

japanese red maple leaf

“Don’t you think these look a lot like marijuana leaves?” I asked one of the Koreans.

“What!? Really!? No it’s maple leaf.”

Given the violent history between Korea and Japan (the Japanese forcibly occupied Korea for 35 years), a Japanese maple seems an almost equally odd choice of design. One of many things I’ll never understand about this culture. What do you think?

Japanese Maple Leaf

A Japanese Maple Leaf