Monthly Archives: October 2011
I actually had the whole weekend off for a change, so I decided it was time to cut my hair. I’d had it colored light blond for ages. The first bleaching was a massive disaster, as most Koreans have no idea how to color non-Asian hair. I looked like a sunflower. My husband laughed for ten straight minutes.
About two months later, my friend got her hands on an American high- and low-light kit, and she corrected a lot of the problem. She didn’t really go far enough down the roots, though, so I ended up needing a touch-up within two weeks.
I’m not one who cuts her hair on a regular basis, as a general rule. I’ve had long hair since high school, and usually it doesn’t have enough style to require a ton of upkeep. I’ve liked the idea of short hair for ages, but I’ve been scared it would make me look mannish. My grandmother made me have hideous short hair as a child, and everyone thought I was a boy. It was so traumatic that for years, I vowed I wouldn’t have short hair again.
Well, I took the plunge. I cut off two pounds of hair today. Or rather, Y Soo-Jin cut off two pounds of hair for me. And she is A-mazing.
Anyone who has lived in Korea knows that getting a haircut can be a daunting task. The first issue is the language barrier. It’s always best to take pictures and show them exactly what you want, because otherwise you have no idea if they understand until they start snipping. The second thing is that if you have highlights and need routine touch-ups, you’re basically $h!t outta luck. There are not many Korean salons that have a lot of know-how when it comes to hair textures and color that stray from black and stick-straight. And that’s not the fault of Koreans – their salons cater to them, naturally. You can’t really expect them to know exactly how to treat blond, red, or crazy-curly hair. Still, it’s frustrating.
I’d read some reviews about places in Seoul, but Seoul is almost six hours away for me. I hardly want to go all the way up there just to have highlights. I’d practically resigned myself to going back darker until I met a lovely Welsh lass named Ruth. Ruth had amazing highlights and told me that she got them in -gasp!- Korea. She pointed me towards Busan and told me about a salon called Soo Casa.
Soo Casa is owned and operated by Y Soo-Jin, and she has lived in Canada for six years. She has styled for Canadian TV programs and has worked with various celebs. Her salon caters to foreigners, and trust me, she knows exactly what she’s doing. She does highlights, updos, occasion makeup, nails, and they have a stand-up tanning bed. There is one other stylist who works for her, Sooki (Sook-hee), but I haven’t seen her work.
If you are planning on making a weekend excursion, you MUST call in advance and make an appointment. I made the mistake of clambering aboard the bus and expecting to get in on a Saturday. Wrong. So wrong. Her salon is well-known among Busan foreigners, and when I arrived on Saturday, there was a guy getting his hair cut who was from up past Daegu. Folks travel for Soo’s stylin’s.
I was so disappointed when I arrived that Soo offered to come in today – a Sunday! – and do my hair. She did not charge extra, and it was amazing. She is a lovely conversationalist, she offered coffee and wine, and she took plenty of time to make sure that she did a good job. If you’re looking for an in-and-out cut, look elsewhere. Soo is in it to win it. She took about two hours on my highlights. Since I got so much cut, she did a preliminary cut, took care of the highlights, and then finished the cut. It took the better part of the afternoon, and now I understand why it’s so tough to get in on Saturday – she can only help so many clients in a day.
My highlights look excellent and natural – just like I asked. She gave me a great cut, and I don’t think I look like a man! My husband really likes it, and I feel like I’ve gotten a really excellent haircut. I’ve finally remedied Foreigner Frustration #15 – No Good Hair Salons for Color! Soo is the best. If you’re in the southern part of SoKo, she’s it. Period.
The only thing that some may find off-putting is the price. Women’s cuts are 30,000W, and highlights are 130,000w. It’s steep, I know, but if you’ve had a bad run-in with bleach at another salon, like me, you’ll probably consider it to be ultimately worth the price, even if it’s a one-time affair.
Soo Casa is super-easy to find. I recommend taking the subway, because it’s the easiest route. Get on the Green Line (Line 2) and ride all the way out to Jangsan Station (장산역). Go out Exit #1. You will see a coffee shop called The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf as soon as you come out of the subway. Go into this building, walk past the escalators and up the incline. She’s in a corner space across from the GS Mart. You can’t miss it. Her hours are 9am-9pm, Monday through Saturday. The salon phone is: 055-703-8555. If you get lost, they should be able to give you directions.
The last thing I would like to state, for the record, is that I have finally dispelled the belief in my own head that fat girls shouldn’t have short hair. I love my short hair. I actually think it makes me look more feminine, and it accentuates the better points of my features. Do not fear the shears, fellow fat chicks! Do it! Take the plunge! And even if you hate it, hey, it’ll go back!
At some point, I will locate a “before” picture and show you all how awful the sunflower blond was! I couldn’t be happier with this cut!
Warning: this comic is explicit. Stop here if you’re offended by cuss-language.
So I was reading on my favorite comics, Married to the Sea. Truthfully, it’s hit-or-miss, but sometimes, they print a comic and I just think, Oh my God! I think that ALL THE TIME! This particular comic, however, made me say, Oh my God! That makes me want to tell a funny story about Alex Carter!
Alex is a guy from German Department with whom I have been friends for some years. Alex is a rather unforgettable guy. He’s the sort of guy who wears T-shirts that say “In God We Trust. Everyone else gets searched.” He’s the sort of guy who headbutts people when he gets too drunk. Frankly, he’s usually hilarious, and he’s certainly one-of-a-kind. He was the guy who started the wave of Mizzou German Department people coming to South Korea.
Like most Chang-Bangers (people who live in Changwon), Alex frequented the bars. One night, Alex was hitting on a Korean girl. His pick-up line?
“Hey, baby, do you ever huff gas?”
Korean girl: What?
Alex: Yeah, man! You get a rag and soak it in gasoline! It gets you f**ked up!
Korean girl: -runs away-
You probably think that I’m making this up, but it really happened. Alex gets a few slugs of whiskey in him, and he says things that are almost incomprehensible to the average person. Nobody says things like, “Hey baby, do you ever huff gas?” Except Alex. Alex says things like that. This comic made me think of Alex. This one’s for you, Chewy.
If you hate talking about diets or dieting or food or anything like that, you might as well stop here. If you also hate it when people plug things that are endorsed by B-list celebs, you should also probably give this a miss. If, however, you are always up for chit-chat about diets and such, stick around. Have I got one for you.
I came home about 10 minutes and jumped on the scales. I weigh myself at least three times a week, now that I have a scale. I know, I know – you aren’t supposed to weigh more than once a week, but whenever there’s a scale around, I get weighed. Unless I know that I’ve been gaining weight and am scared to look. Then I avoid the thing like it’s the plague. Right now, though, I’m on a diet, and the scale is more often friend than foe.
I have been Somersizing since early summer. I had gained a lot of weight the past year, and I had been packing it on during my hiatus from Korea, as well. I wasn’t eating well, hadn’t been eating well, and it was starting to really show.
I’ve never been a svelte person and, although I harbor visions of myself dancing around like a prima ballerina in a size 4, I’m also realistic about the possibility of that ever happening. Frankly, the smallest I’ve ever been in my adult life is a 10, and I was thrilled to be that small at the time. I also had to practically starve myself to get there.
In any case, I’d ballooned out to my heaviest-ever size over the past winter and spring. I was overeating like it was going out of style, and honestly, I didn’t feel good. I had zero energy, and even running up stairs or walking up the steep hill to our apartment complex left me winded and drained. I wasn’t happy about it, but my weight was in this upward spiral, and I didn’t know what to do to control it.
When I was in high school, I was very overweight, too. I went on a doctor-supervised fast program called HMR. I lost about 130 pounds and went from a size 24 to a size 10. I ran a 10K every day, lifted weights, and was basically the fittest person you ever saw. I went to college and slowly, I started to do what my dietitians called “the creep.” I went back on the Margaret version of HMR (drinking nothing but Slim-Fast for months), and I lost it all again. But then I went to Germany, and I gained 50 lbs. in beer, delicious European bread, and Nutella.
Since then, I’ve been struggling to maintain a somewhat reasonable weight with varying degrees of success. I’ve done the liquid diet once more since then, but I couldn’t stay on it long enough to lose everything I wanted. Besides that, I was tired of all the weight piling back on the minute I started eating again. I lost a lot of weight when I first came to Korea, but I attribute that mostly to being afraid to go out in search of Western food rather than eating a steady, healthy diet of Korean food.
In any case, I had essentially come to the breaking point. I knew that I had to do something or I was going to start seeing negative repercussions in my health, and I don’t want to check out any sooner than I have to. I decided that, since I couldn’t do Slim-Fast, I had to find something else that was doable for me. I shopped around a lot of diets, but it seems like a lot of them require certain things or foods that either aren’t available in Korea or just weren’t appealing anyway.
Then I stumbled on an article about Suzanne Somers. Actually, the article was completely unrelated to dieting; it was about how to home-cure mild radiation exposure. (This was right after the disaster in Japan and everyone in Asia was freaking out about radiation poisoning.) Anyway, I noticed that not only did she have an interesting blog about alternative medicine, she’s apparently some sort of diet guru. Frankly, the only time I remembered hearing about her was on Sex and the City 2 when Samantha reads her book and starts taking copious amounts of vitamins.
I browsed through the rules of the diet and thought that it sounded pretty simple, so I ended up buying the book on my Kindle (miracle device). It was probably the best $12 or so that I ever spent. I read the book cover-to-cover in one night, wrote down the rules, and decided that I would make a Monday start out of it. And I never looked back.
As of today, I have lost somewhere between 80 and 90 pounds. I don’t know what my original weight was, but I know what I weighed when I came to Korea, and I know that I’d gained about 25-30 pounds on top of that, so I’m approaching the big 1-0-0 already. I don’t look it, I know, but that’s because I’d let myself go for so long.
But I’ve been blathering about myself for too long. Let me tell you about this miracle diet. Here are the rules:
1. No “funky foods,” as Suzanne calls them. That includes white flour, all sugar, potatoes, bananas, sweet potatoes, milk with fat in it, beer, wine, alcohol avocados, corn, carrots, all squashes, white rice, and caffeine, among others.
2. Eat protein/fat (meat and cheese, basically) with vegetables.
3. Eat carbohydrates with vegetables.
4. Eat fruit by itself at least 30 minutes before a meal or two hours after a meal.
5. Eat at least three meals a day. Do NOT skip meals.
6. Wait three hours between meals if you’re switching from protein to carbs.
7. Do NOT eat protein or fat with carbs.
That’s it. There is no point- or calorie-counting. You don’t have to follow a special exercise regimen. You don’t have to eat a particular food to the point of being nauseous. You can even cheat.
Yep. Cheat. I cheat. I drink beer or whiskey sometimes. I had a few bites of bread and more than a few bites of cake for Graeme’s birthday. I’ve still lost four pounds this week. As far as the cheating goes, I’ve added an eighth rule that my uncle Chris taught me and his first weight loss guru taught him: you’ve gotta be good 80% of the time. I’ve upped that to 95% because honestly, I’ll be bad once too often at 80%.
The rules sound complex at first, but they’re not. Once you get used to eating carbs by themselves, it’s not a big deal. I just got it through my head early on that eating too many carbs was going to slow my weight loss, and it does. The more fat, protein, vegetables, and fruit I scarf down, the faster I lose weight. The minute I eat too much no-fat yogurt or cereal, it slows down.
The theory behind it is anything that triggers an insulin response (sugar, starch, carbs) has the potential to cause you to gain weight, especially if it’s eaten with fat. The books explain it quite succinctly, so I’m not going to go into excruciating detail here, but I will absolutely cosign on the claim that eliminating sugars and processed food will help you to lose weight. By gar, it put me on the right path.
Within one week of starting this diet, my energy returned, and I felt like a new woman. I have struggled and fought with myself over my weight my whole life, and I’m not fighting anymore. I’m losing a steady 2-3 pounds a week – sometimes more, sometimes less. I am NOT hungry, and I have never felt deprived. I don’t count calories and have no desire to.
I have, however, started cooking a lot more. Most processed foods go out the window when you start Somersizing because EVERYTHING seems to have starch and sugar in it, if it comes in a package. I’ve started learning a lot more about the things we put in our mouths, and it’s really frightening what’s considered healthy in America today. It’s no wonder everyone’s so obese, given the amount of high fructose corn syrup and sugar we ingest.
I plan to stay on this system forever. I am currently what’s called Level 1, the weight loss phase, but someday I will move on the Level 2 and be able to enjoy more sugar and starch in moderation. But honestly, I’m not hurting. Kate Moss is right about one thing: nothing tastes as good as thin(ner) feels.
If anyone out there is having problems dropping the pounds, I highly recommend Suzanne’s regimen. Actually, I’ve read a couple of her books now, and I really love a lot of what she has to say on health and wellness. My outlook on my health has changed tremendously, and I no longer feel like being on a diet – I hate to even call it that, because I don’t feel deprived – is some torture sentence designed to keep me away from something that I love. This is definitely a great way to go if, like me, you are a “bulk eater.”
I highly suggest checking out Suzanne’s books, even if you aren’t looking to lose any weight. Get them at the library, if you aren’t in the market to buy. She has some interesting ideas on a lot of aspects of health and wellness. If any of the rest of you decide to give it a go, let me know how you’re doing and what you think!
1. You no longer think that wearing socks with sandals is strange at all, but are even somewhat pleased by it.
2. You find that you know the words – English and Korean – in K-Pop songs. You need to go home if you know the dances from start to finish.
3. Your students no longer make fun of you because they are fully aware that you know what they’re saying – and you will get the bamboo stick if they continue with that foolishness.
4. The old people in the park have stopped pointing, staring, and whispering.
5. Instead of saying “yeah” once like a sane individual, you say, “Yi, yi, yi,” ad nauseum.
6. You find yourself craving kimbab, yoobu chobab, and various other tasty Korean dishes. You might even choose them over Western food.
7. You are better at Gongi than your students. And you know songs that go along with it, to see if you can play Gongi and keep time to it. “산토끼토끼야,어디를가늘야!” (Ridiculous children’s song that has more to it, but basically means, “Mountain rabbit, mountain rabbit, where are you going?”)
8. Upon returning home, you find it rather rude when nobody bows to you and thanks you profusely for frequenting their business.
9. You have starting walking with your head constantly down to make sure that you don’t step in pools of ajosshi spit or ramen vomit.
10. Lane-splitting or switching lanes without indicating no longer seems like a ticketable offense.
11. You find that you’ve developed a taste for kimchi. (Haven’t succumbed to this one yet.)
12. The idea of raw meat on the table at a restaurant is no longer viewed as a potential health hazard, but rather a normal and even welcome occurrence.
13. You expect that coffee comes in ready-measured packets and all drinks come in impossibly tiny cups that wouldn’t even satisfy an American child.
14. You have stopped asking kids what they do on Korean holidays like Chuseok and Seollal, because you know what the answer will be: “Teacher, I go Grandma house, get seompyeon, get money, play with cousin.” Without exception. Every student.
15. You get a little bit excited when your kids give you some of their shrimp-flavored chips (새우깡), “jellies,” or weird corn-cake thing.
16. You can use chopsticks to eat tiny noodles, cut meat, pick up single grains of rice, and catch flies.
17. You think that cutting meat with scissors instead of knives is the way to go.
18. You’re no longer offended when your kids tell you that you’ve lost/gained weight, have dark circles under your eyes, or look nice/bad today.
19. You, too, have come to believe that if your food isn’t actively attempting to get away from you, it’s just not fresh enough. (See: Korean fish markets)
20. You wouldn’t think of buying fruits and most vegetables from the grocery store when you can get them 50 cents cheaper from the guy in the fruit truck.
21. You will haggle over $2 for a market stall T-shirt that was already $10 less than what you’d pay in the U.S.
22. You feel uneasy about leaving your shoes on in the house.
23. You have no compunctions about elbowing an 85-year-old out of the way if it means getting on the bus first.
24. You then feel guilty if you don’t give up that hard-earned seat to said grandmother. And she will give you the evil eye or possibly just nudge you out of the chair if you don’t give it up to her.
25. More often than not, the local cabbies know where you live/work/shop.
One of my best friends, Holly, is coming to town tomorrow. Without going into the excruciating details of our plans, that basically means that copious amounts of alcohol will be consumed and some kind of foolery will ensue. I’ll probably come to on Sunday morning smelling like whiskey and bad decisions and unable to breathe because I’ve smoked too many cigarettes. (In my defense, I now only smoke when I drink. I have completely quit at all other times, which I feel is pretty good, considering I was on almost a pack a day there for a while.)
Besides tragic encounters with my ex-boyfriend Jack Daniels and his wingman Marlboro Lights, I’m sure I’ll have a few more encounters of the night – some of them pleasant and some of them less so.
Different bars attract different types of people. When back in the US, I tend to lean towards dirty old man bars, hipster bars that serve Stag and PBR for $1, and Irish pubs. Basically, I like any place where I can sit down, get a tall glass of whiskey or decent beer, and not feel pressured to dance.
The bar options for foreigners are somewhat limited in the burg of Changwon, however. Basically, in the Jungang-Dong foreigner strip, you’ve got International Pub (I.P.), For Foreigner Bar (FF), Garage, Westin Avenue, Kevin’s Bar, Next Bar, and O’Brien’s. All of them host different crowds at different hours of the night. Generally speaking, everyone starts out at I.P. and works their way down the street, hitting FF next and then OB’s. The others are smaller bars and good for low-key evenings. Still, each bar has a distinct atmosphere and its own brand of regulars.
The People You Meet at I.P.
I.P. is Korean-owned. Soon-Young is a fabulous ajumma who always greets you with a grin and a hug. She grabbed my breasts one day when I was wearing a tank top and proclaimed with complete conviction, “You will always have men.” She then invited her barmaids to test my chest. I guess I passed, because she’ll usually give me a free whiskey somewhere along the evening.
I.P. is engineer’s heaven. Changwon is home to a lot of foreign engineers coming in to do work for LG, Samsung, Doosan Heavy Industry, Hyundai, Kia, Sungdong shipyard, and any of the other massive companies that make home here. I don’t know why they all seem to hang out there, but they do. As a result, I.P. is known for being home to a slightly “older” crowd.
The Middle-Aged Engineer
He’s working at one of the companies. He’s been here off and on for years. He’s a borderline alcoholic, and he has a wife back home who might visit once in a while for a few weeks before she gets tired of Korea and heads home again. In the meantime, this chap will spend most of his nights out getting drunk off his arse with his engineer buddies and making passes at girls who are massively too young for him. He likely hooks up with Korean prostitutes as often as possible.
Older ESL Teachers
I.P. is where you go when O’Brien’s has lost it’s magic sparkle. You hate watching fresh-faced 22-year-olds so young that the ink on their diplomas is still drying. They get laid more than you, and they aren’t completely jaded about everything around them yet. They bounce back from hangovers before you, and you can’t ever hope to remember their names anymore, since they are in and out of the country before you’re even really sure that they’ve set up shop here. Frankly, you’d rather talk to the sleazy engineers because, hey, at least they have real jobs.
Younger Teachers Starting the Night
You’re out to have the best night of your life for the second time this week, and it’s not even Saturday yet. You know that nobody except some engineers having dinner will be at O’Brien’s yet, but you want to start talking to some people and sow the seeds for later conquests. You buy some cheap lemon drop shots in between getting hit on by the ancient engineers and make an attempt to remember the names of the people you met last night who just arrived.
Neeta is currently on a six-month hiatus from teaching, and I honestly can’t fathom going into I.P. and not seeing her there. I met Neeta in that bar, and she has been a fixture there for as long as I’ve been here, which is far too f**king long. Neeta drinks wine, wears beautiful jewelry, and calls everyone “Darling.” Neeta is effortlessly awesome and loved by all.
The Poker Players
You won’t actually meet the poker players, because they will be far too busy playing poker in the front of the bar. They don’t interact much with other people because they’re too busy trying to rob one another of a week’s salary. Unless you’re a card shark, best to just avoid that table.
Old, Alcoholic Korean Guys Who Either Just Love I.P. or Still Dream of Banging a Great White Waegook
I.P. is home to several Korean regulars. Most of them are nice guys. One of them is a doctor. One of them is a school principal. It’s not unheard of for them to vomit on the bar or attempt to pat your buttocks. They also buy drinks for you if you’re nice to them, so I guess that’s a bonus.
Guys Looking to Pick Up a Filipino Hooker
Honestly, I think these are just about the only kinds of people who go to Garage Bar, which is on the first floor of the same building that I.P. is in. I only went in once, and that was enough.
Westin Avenue/Kevin’s Bar
Like most Germans, they tend to keep themselves to themselves until they’ve seen you around a bit. Still, if you buy them a shot and you can speak some German, they’re usually good for some entertaining conversation. Most of them are somewhat older, but that shouldn’t make you think that they can’t hold their drink. They’re Germans. You will lose.
Korean Women Who Date Engineers
They’re like the vultures of the foreigner bars. They’re always looking to swoop in and collect the discarded and/or lonely men. They usually speak enough English to hold a decent conversation, and they generally look good for their age. Still, my good feeling is that if you came between one of them and her meal ticket, she’d be vicious as a stepped-on rattlesnake. Beware.
For Foreigner Bar
Maybe I haven’t been there enough since it opened, but it seems like there’s never anyone at FF Bar unless there’s a special event on. They do a have a big screen for game nights, such as when the football or rugby is on, but by and large, it doesn’t seem to have taken off. It’s the newest of the large bars in Changwon, and it seems to be struggling to take business away from Soon-Young and Austin. Still, you will get some people who go there to escape the noise of the other large bars.
O’Brien’s could almost be a write-up by itself. O’Brien’s is the “biggest” bar in Changwon, and everyone knows where it is. Austin Buckley is the owner, and everyone knows him, too. They serve the strongest drinks, and the party doesn’t even begin to get started until around 1:30a.m. It’s supposed to be an Irish pub, and it probably replicates the feeling of a bar at home about as closely as any place in Changwon.
If there’s a big event, like English vs. USA for soccer (football), this is where the bulk of the crowd will be hanging out, as there is a giant screen for game viewings. There is a Sunday evening “Celebrity Chef” some weekends, and holiday parties and fundraisers happen here. It’s the heart of the foreigner community.
It’s also where pretty much all of the young teachers and more virile engineers go to pick someone up. O’Brien’s is a constant sausagefest, so if you don’t want to get hit on, it’s best avoided. Everyone in that bar is on one of two missions: get drunk or get laid, and expect that they’re on a mission to do both.
This is my name for Austin’s friends. There’s a group of about five or six of them. They mostly have Korean girlfriends and have been around forever. Most of them are invested in a business around Changwon. I have no idea if any of them are still teaching or if they’re officially on business visas. Suffice it to say that they’ve been here for what seems like forever, and I doubt any of them are thinking about ever going home. They’re stuck.
Earlier in the evening, the older guys come in and get a pub-style dinner. The younger ones come in and place themselves around the bar as the night wears on. They will hit on you. Most of them have lame lines and will stare freely at your breasts. However, you can occasionally turn this to your advantage.
I was at the bar with my ladies one evening, and we were just having a couple of drinks before calling it a night when an engineer who resembled Bigfoot and was as drunk as Drew Barrymore at her Sweet Sixteen birthday party stumbled up to us. He literally made his way down the row of us, hitting on us and spitting in our faces as he talked. He had a tab at the bar and told us to put whatever we liked on it. As it turned out, he’d already run up a tab worth several hundred dollars after buying drinks for everyone in the room. We were well-acquainted with one of the bar girls there back in those days, and we told her to give us a full bottle of Jäger (very expensive here in Korea) and put it on his tab. Which she did. So we made off with a free bottle of expensive hooch.
Bottom line is that if you don’t mind letting a skeevy old man with an expense account bigger than your yearly salary hit on you for about 30-60 minutes, you might just walk away with a bad-ass freebie without having to give up anything other than an hour or so of your life.
The Young Teachers
This makes up about 85-95% of the crowd at O’Brien’s at any given time. They’re young, they’re good-looking, and they are almost constantly drunk. They are all having sex with each other, and the drama is swirling and incessant. The atmosphere among the young teachers is roughly equivalent to Mean Girls but if Lindsay Lohan was already a drunken whore and looking like Joan Rivers. It’s like being back in high school, except that there is way more booze and sex. That said, they’re also having tons of fun, when they aren’t fussing about smack talked while drunk and who’s sleeping with whom tonight.
This group usually includes sub-categories of hipsters, hot girls, hot guys, universally popular folks, and an inevitable outcast or two. They will mostly mix with each other and, if it proves out that they’re probably going to stick around for another year, will eventually graduate to being Cool Mid-Termers who get laid considerably less and don’t go out quite as often.
Keith is the resident Drunken Scotsman. I think he might have gone again, but Keith is a relative Changwon legend. He comes in, gets wasted, buys whomever is next to him copious amounts of shots, and starts singing “Sweet Caroline” and starts humping the bar when he gets a few too many in him. He also calls everyone “cunt,” “wanker,” and “big man.” Keith’s best avoided if you have any intentions of staying sober or if you dislike being compared to genitalia.
Korean Girls Looking for a Foreign Boyfriend
Some of them are human, but by and large, these harpies are best avoided. Some of them are friendly enough, but most of them either come in with girlfriends and either spend the night looking aloof and untouchable or trying to hit on as many guys as possible. The aloof ones pose little in the way of problems, but the aggressive ones are to be watched. It’s not above them to pick fights for no reason.
When my husband and I were first dating, one tried flirting with him. She came up to me and said that even though my face was prettier than hers, my body was awful because I’m so fat. Holly’s had one try to start something while she was playing pool. She wasn’t even hitting on anyone, and this drunk Korean girl apparently felt like she was a threat and tried to start shoving her.
You can call me sexist or racist or whatever for saying this, but a good percentage of Korean girls are crazy. I think it’s the misogynistic society that drives them to it, but I’m at the point where I no longer care about the excuse. I can’t stand hyper-aggressive visa chasers.
The Cool Mid-Termers
These people have been Korea longer than the young newbies, but likely for less time than the Old Timers. Most of them are reasonably cool, and they tend to stick together somewhat. They can hold their drink, but they don’t hook up and engage in foolery quite like the young guns do.
You’d think I covered this with the young, first-year teachers, but there are always a few exemplary “players.” They will hook up with anyone once, and they mostly have no qualms about telling everyone about it. Best to have these folks pointed out to you ASAP when you arrive so that you can make some attempt to avoid them and the drama that seems to accompany them around as they make the thrice weekly circuit.
The Bad Crazy Person
At any given time, there is usually at least one “bad” crazy person in Changwon. This is the person who will corner you outside of the bar, break down into tears, and confess that their parents forced them to smoke crystal meth and/or they have been abducted by aliens…twice. Yes, this has happened to me. You are amazed that this person even managed to get hired, let alone get to the airplane and endure the plane ride over here without committing some random act of insanity. Usually, they’re all over the place for about a month or two and then just disappear into the ether of lost foreigners.
The Good Crazy Person
This is the person who has an odd personality, laughs really loud, and says amazingly awkward things, but still manages to be endearing in spite of the weirdness. You’d lump them in the category with the bad crazies except that they never seem to go completely off the rails. They just teeter happily along, making people feel slightly uncomfortable and making remarks that make you say, “What the…?” They often make excellent drinking buddies but somewhat dubious close friends.
The Person Who Got into the Soju Earlier in the Night
This is probably the person that you think is on drugs until you remember that there are no drugs in Korea. Soju makes people do maddeningly stupid things, like Jäger bombs by the half-dozen and Four Horsemen shots off of someone’s chest or crotch. They know that they’re doing it, but they no longer have any sense of dignity, time, or money. They will probably also throw up on the bar later in the evening. I have been this person. It happens to everyone who goes to O’Brien’s, sooner or later.
The Going-Away Guy/Gal
It’s their last night. There are tons of friends and hangers-on here to see them off. Austin buys them a last free shot. Someone announces that they’re going away, and everyone says goodbye, even if they don’t know the person. Usually this same person will pass out on the sidewalk outside of O’Brien’s with B.Boyz dancing on top of him/her. I used to have a videotape of this happening. One of my friends missed her flight home because she had too much fun on her last night.
It is a miracle if you witness a Shut-In at the bar. These people are like Old Timers but without the desire to be at the bar every night. They are almost invariably married and most likely have children. The younger folks think that they’re anti-social, but what they fail to realize is that it only appears that they’re anti-social because they no longer have a need to go out looking for sex every week. Most of them are social with each other and no one else, particularly. I fall squarely into this category these days.
Yes, Saturday night should make for an interesting evening. I barely know anyone under the age of 30 in Changwon anymore. Still, it’s always mildly entertaining/appalling to watch Holly get hit on 10 times in an hour. Beyond that, my greatest entertainment usually lies with either making fun of people to their faces – I’m not a nice person sometimes, I know – or pretending to be German. It works fine until someone says, “Hey Marge, why are you talking like a Kraut?” If I discover any new species of Changwon pub crawlers, I’ll make sure to include them in an update. Wish me luck as I wade back into the cesspool of foolishness that is the Changwon bar scene!
I completely forgot to include one of my favorite Changwon watering holes – The Family Mart Beer Garden.
There is a Family Mart convenience store across from OB’s. Foreigners can be found hanging out there almost any time of day on weekends. They are likely pre-gaming, escaping the high prices of the bars, or finishing up the night as the sun rises. It’s the happening place to be in the summer months. It’s preferred by engineers – especially Steve Rathburn and his crew – in the earlier hours, but as the night wears on the crowd, the crowd gets younger, louder, and drunker. If you want to have a good night on the cheap, hit up the Family Mart. It’s surprisingly not disappointing.
Most people have things that annoy them, but I tend to think that I have more than the average person. Oh, I’m probably not as generally annoyed by everything as I once was – age seems to be mellowing me somewhat – but there are a lot of things that still bug me to no end, and I was reminded of a few of them sitting in a taxi on the way to the hospital this morning. (Don’t worry, there’s nothing wrong with me. I had a wart removed earlier this week and had to go back and get it dressed. Yeah, yeah, I know – 27 years old and I’m still that kid.)
1. “Baby on Board” signs in car windows
I have never understood why people feel compelled to put these damn things in their car windows. Is it to make reckless drivers be more careful around them? Is it to guilt people who are flooring it on the way to work into driving more slowly?
Frankly, it just pisses me off. I don’t like being guilted, and I don’t really care if someone has a car full of screaming brats or not. Telling people you have a child in the car is NOT going to make them drive more carefully, trust me. People who are already good drivers are watching out anyway, and it’s not because of someone else and their speed bullet of snotgobblers. No, it’s probably because they’re watching out for the sorority girl who is texting and driving and the jerk behind them in a Hummer who is mowing down small woodland creatures on his way to the office and switching lanes without indicating because he knows everyone else will scurry out of the way to avoid death by military vehicle.
Also, I resent the implication that one life is more valuable than another just because it hasn’t been here as long. I may not be a spring chicken in the first bloom of her youth anymore, but I’m a contributing member of society! I pay taxes! Please don’t imply that your kid should be more important to me than I am to myself. This is probably making me sound like a huge a$$hole, but you know, I am a bit of a jerk, and at least I admit it.
2. People who drive Hummers
I hate Hummers, and it’s not because they’re atrocious gas-guzzlers or because I can’t afford one. That’s not it. There is just something inherently offensive to me about the idea that a soccer mom or college student needs what used to be a military service vehicle in which to tool around town. Nobody in civilian life needs a damn Hummer.
Maybe it’s because I can’t see around them, and that was true even when I was driving a Jeep. My Jeep looked like a 1991 Geo Metro compared to the H2 behemoths that had the gall to pull out into the lane so that I couldn’t see around them. If you’re going to drive something that, by definition, is obnoxious, do try and at least be courteous of the other drivers who already think that you are trying to make up for something somewhere else.
3. Koreans wearing the exact same outfit to go hiking
You probably think that I’m exaggerating that they all wear the exact same thing, but aside from slight color variations, they do. Man, woman, child – it doesn’t matter. They all wear black trekking pants, hiking boots, a colored T-shirt from ProSpecs or the North Face, a windbreaker, and a bucket hat. The look is usually completed by a walking stick of some sort. I suppose it’s because Korea is so homogeneous to begin with, but you’d think they’d want a little variety once in a while.
4. Students who talk into my ear two at a time
Do all children do this, or is it just Korean children? I often have two students each take an ear and just start talking away at the same time. I’m half-deaf due to years of Walkmans, Discmans, and iPods being permanently attached to my body in some way for the express purpose of avoiding hearing other people’s mouth diarrhea. Honestly, I prefer it that way, because I can tell people that I can’t hear when really it’s a combination of that and selective hearing.
Korean kids just don’t get this. I have told them to speak to me one at a time. It’s rude to just ambush people in a herd like that. They have no comprehension that I can’t answer five questions at once or even hear two conversations at once. I’m not a good multi-tasker. Maybe I’m just not good with kids…
4. The Korean Grunt
I’m not so much annoyed by the Korean Grunt as I am baffled and amazed by its ability to convey any number of meanings. It sounds like a caveman attempting speech for the first time and failing miserably. The Koreans write it as 응, which translates as “eung,” which is approximately how it sounds. From my personal experience, I’ve discovered that it can mean the following things:
A. “I understand.”
B. “I have no friggin’ clue what you just said.”
C. “Whatever. I don’t give a $h!t.
D. “Ho, please.”
E. “Shut the kcuf up! No way!”
F. “Ah. Now I understand, after fifteen different attempts on your part to explain something simple to me.”
Margaret Cho probably summed it up best in this video. “It’s like ‘word’ in Korean.” Also, it may seem like she’s being facetious, but honestly, this really how Korean people look and sound when they use this word. It’s kind of hilarious.
5. Leaving the door wide open and/or unlocked
My grandmother drilled into me from a very young age that the world is full of thieves, rapists, and werewolves, and if you leave the door unlocked, one or all of them could come inside and steal away everything you love in five seconds or less. I think my uncles will vouch for this. My grandparents are so anal about door-locking that if you take the trash out to the garage for pick-up, you will be locked out before you get back up to the house, which is about 15 feet away.
Leaving the door open when we were having a cookout or something was also not an option. Grandpa politely (ha) informed me that leaving the door open costs him money on air conditioning or heating and also lets the bugs, squirrels, and werewolves in, and you knew he wasn’t playing when he told you that he was going to be pissed off if there was one bug in the house or the air conditioning bill was five cents higher next month. Grandpa was never one to joke around about money or mosquitoes.
As a direct result of being warned daily all through my youth about the dangers of unlocked doors and increased air conditioning bills, I am now exactly like my grandparents. My husband sometimes (usually) forgets to lock the door when he comes in, and it makes me crazy. I can’t stop thinking about that door until it’s locked. I also make it a point to spend most of the summer yelling at my students for leaving the academy door open.
“Don’t leave that door open! We’re not trying to air condition the whole building!”
Honestly, even my boss doesn’t care that much. I don’t know why I bother except that it drives me nuts that these kids haven’t been taught that air conditioning takes up electricity and electricity costs money. I know I sound like a 75-year-old man with purse strings tighter than Ebeneezer Scrooge, but you know what? I don’t care.
6. Koreans who can’t use a sidewalk properly
That’s all of them, by the way. Most Koreans walk like they’ve got their heads down and are texting someone while listening to an iPod, but by and large, they have their heads up and are looking where they’re going. It’s incredible. Almost every person I encounter on the sidewalk seems to have this irresistible urge to cross over to my side of the sidewalk and force me to move over to what was their side. They all do it, and God knows why.
You think that I’m exaggerating, but I’m not. I almost always use the right side of the sidewalk because hey, Americans and Koreans both drive on the right side of the road, so it makes sense. No. I will literally have women on my far left side who will cross over so that they are heading directly towards me. They seem to expect me to move, but I’ve stopped stepping out of the way. I just stick my elbows out and if they hit my “bumpers,” that’s their problem. I refuse to move just because someone else seems to want to play sidewalk chicken.
I wish someone would give me an answer as to why Koreans do this, because of all the baffling, disgusting habits they have (spit-sucking, spitting, lip smacking, etc.) this one bugs me the most. I will concede that most Americans are not smart walkers, either, especially on college campuses. Seeing a group of people taking up an entire sidewalk is not uncommon, and I got to the point whereby I would walk right through the middle of them. It’s rude to take up entire sidewalks.
The Germans taught me how to walk properly. If two people are heading in the same direction, there doesn’t need to be a lot of unnecessary jumping around and trying to avoid the other person. Just hold your pattern until you’re very close, and then move subtly to the right. You will just avoid touching the other person, and there needn’t be some awkward sidewalk dance. It’s brilliant. Those Germans. So efficient. Unfortunately, having learned how to walk properly, I am now almost constantly in a state of nervous agitation on any other sidewalk in the world.
I could probably think of a lot more baffling and obnoxious things, but I think I’m going to save it for another post and head back to bed. My last annoying thing of the day is having to get up at 8am to go to the doctor and get a wound dressed when I don’t have to work until 3pm. Oh well. One thing I won’t complain about is my awesome doctor and her low, low prices!
I hate Glee. Glee is ridiculous. However, I kind of love Sue’s take on Halloween. I, too, feel that children should know fear. This made me giggle a little bit.
My husband and I don’t travel all that much. Part of it is because we’re constantly on what hip-hop singers would call “the paper chase” – we try to save the money we earn. Also, frankly, there’s not all that much new and exciting to do in Korea. A lot of the tourist sites are in or around Seoul, we don’t have a car, and we both hate the bus. Of course, I also work longer hours on Saturday than I do during the week, with the result being that I generally don’t feel like climbing aboard a smelly, crowded bus after making science projects and wrangling 3rd graders all day long.
This weekend has been different. Tomorrow is the last Korean holiday until Seollal (Lunar New Year). My boss decided, since we actually get along well and don’t despise spending time together, that we should do something on the weekend. I agreed, and we decided to go see the Yonggung Temple in Busan. According to my boss, there are other, better temples in Korea, but this one is close and sits on a cliff overlooking the East Sea (or Sea of Japan, if you live outside of Korea). Mike (my boss’s English name) says that this particular temple looks more like a Chinese temple than a Korean temple, but I’m partial to most all temple-type structures, so I’m not one to split hairs on details like that.
We left about 10:30 this morning, and we arrived in East Busan about 2.5 hours later. Normally it doesn’t take quite that long, but the Busan Marathon was today, and the Gwangali Bridge, which is the usual way to get to Haeundae and East Busan, was blocked off. Traffic was backed up for miles. We ended up sitting under the bridge and going the back route, which added about 50 minutes onto the trip. Mike has this rather entertaining habit of doing a “Korean hiss” and then swearing quietly under his breath when he gets impatient or annoyed, and there was a lot of hissing going on today. I have to give him credit, though, because I look more like Samir from “Office Space” when confronted with gridlock.
We had lunch of seomgyeopsal, which is basically thick-sliced bacon grilled on a BBQ on the table. It’s usually eaten with kimchi, an assortment of leaves and vegetables, bean paste, garlic, acorn jelly (tried it today, it’s completely tasteless), and sometimes some other side dishes like rice and soup. The restaurant was a small one near Songjeong Beach, which one of the smaller, less popular Busan beaches. There is, however, an excellent surfer bar there called The Blowfish which serves some of the most authentic Mexican in Korea (better than Taco Senora near Haeundae Beach), as well as amazing mixed drinks that will put you on the floor. You can also get shisha tobacco and a hookah there. Graeme and I had a fantastic night at that bar late last summer. It seems to draw a hipster crowd, so if that’s your scene, hit it up. You won’t be disappointed. It’s my favorite nightspot in Busan.
In any case, after lunch, we piled back into the car and headed out to the temple, which is only 2.1 kilometers from the main drag in Songjeong. I was honestly shocked to find that there were so many people there. You would have thought that we were waiting to get onto a rollercoaster ride or something. My boss informed me that because it’s a long weekend, lots of people are getting out. Apparently, temples are the hot place to be on three-day weekends.
I was also surprised by how touristy the place was, which I suppose I really shouldn’t have been. I have this vision of Asian temples, and I think of peaceful places with zen gardens and Buddha statues and monks walking silently around the grounds. If you’re looking for that sort of experience in a temple, I suggest searching elsewhere, because peace and quiet is not what you’re going to find on a weekend at Yonggungsa. If you’re looking for a place with nice scenery and some decent photo opportunities, it will be better.
There is no gift shop, but there is a long string of private vendors that line the path up to the temple stairs. You can buy beads, candles, and other offerings, as well as trinkets and snacks. Once inside the front gate, there is a walkway with statues devoted to the 12 animals of the Chinese zodiac. It’s supposed to be good luck to pose for a picture with the statue representing your birth year (I’m a Rat), so we all got pictures with our birth animals.
Once you arrive at the steps down to the temple, there is a bit of a wait. There are 108 stairs to represent the 108 worries of humanity. At the bottom, there is a nice view of the East Sea, as well as a fountain and a bridge where literally everyone throws coins into the fountain. I suppose it’s probably for good luck or making a wish.
The temple itself isn’t all that big. There are only two smallish sections of temple that may be entered, and the architectural style seems to be reminiscent of the Gyeongbokgung palace in Seoul. There are three golden Buddha statues inside the main building, and people may go inside, light candles, and pray. There are also some interesting paintings of mythical animals, such as dragons and giant sea turtles.
If you go up a steep and uneven stairway near the two temple buildings, it takes you up to a large statue of the Buddha. It’s the highest point of the temple, and the views are excellent. I noticed that more people stopped and prayed here, including my boss. The pillar is quite tall, and there are images of different gods or representations of the Buddha (I’m not sure which, honestly), and many older people moved slowly around the column and bowed to each image. I found this part of the temple to be the most interesting, we got some good pictures, which I will post later after I upload them off of the camera.
Back at the bottom, there is also a spring under the main area where people go to drink. I went down to take a look, but I couldn’t help thinking of Shifu from Kung Fu Panda saying, “Panda, we do not wash our pits in the Pool of Sacred Tears.”
Beyond those things, there wasn’t a lot more to see at the temple. I had a good day because I enjoyed getting out and doing something different. However, I will say to those seeking an historical temple with lots to see and a feeling of serenity, Yonggungsa will not offer it. Surprisingly, the temple is only about 40 years old, and it seems to be quite popular with Koreans and tourists alike, and I would attribute that to its position on the cliffs overlooking the sea. I would imagine that the sunrises particularly are quite lovely. I guess what I’m trying to say is that my overall conclusion would lead me to believe that the temple is worth it, if you live in the area. However, I wouldn’t personally travel a great distance to see it. For those interested in historical temples, there are others that are much more suited to that purpose.
Still, I had a lovely day, and the October weather has been excellent – a vast improvement over our tragically rainy summer. Given that most Korean temples seem to be nestled on mountainsides, I would definitely recommend hitting them up in the fall, as the Korean foliage is extraordinary at this time of year, and the leaves are just beginning to turn. All in all, a great day!
How to get to Yonggungsa Temple:
Once in Busan, most foreigners will find themselves on the subway. Take Line 2 (Green Line) to Haeundae. From Haeundae, you will need to take a taxi cab to Songjeong Beach. You don’t want to get off at the beach, however. You will come to a T-intersection on Songjeong Beach road, and you’ll want to go left. There is a big sign at the intersection pointing the way towards the temple, which is only about 2 km down the road. It is well-marked, and most taxi drivers should know how to get there.
You can also take a taxi to Songjeong Beach and then jump on bus 181, but I haven’t tried this. I would recommend just taking a taxi from Haeundae, if you’re on the subway. It will probably cost about 10,000W.
From Busan Station, you can take city bus 139, 140, 0r 2003. Take the bus to Songjeong, and from there you can take bus 181 to the temple or just hail a cab.