Monthly Archives: December 2011

The Irish Wolfhound Pub & Restaurant in Busan

Graeme and I went to Busan for Christmas.  I needed a haircut, and we decided we might as well stay over, have dinner, etc.  Well, that took some doing.  The haircut was no problem, but our old favorite hotel, the Castle Beach, has been renovated and is now operating under a new name.  It also costs over twice as much as it used to, so he found us another, much cheaper motel down the street.  By the time I figured out where he was, the waiting times at the nice restaurants were topping over an hour.  Since neither of us had eaten since noon and it was pushing 9pm, we figured it might be time to try somewhere less exclusive.

I’d noticed the Irish Wolfhound Pub before, and I suggested that we might try there, though I was mildly reluctant to eat at a pub on Christmas.  As it turns out, the decision wasn’t entirely the wrong one.  There was no line to get in, and the service was honestly excellent.

They have quite a good selection of the usual Irish-English pub fare, including fish & chips, bangers and mash, burgers and sandwiches, full English breakfasts, chips, and more.  They also have Guinness on tap (rare in Korea), as well as apple cider and McNally’s beer.  The food prices are quite reasonable – between 8,000W and 13,000W for a meal (about $7-$12).  The beer prices, however, are much steeper.

A pint of Guinness or Black & Tan costs 8,500W.  The mixed drinks are similarly priced, and special shots (Red-Headed Slut, B-52, etc.) are 5,000 per shot.  These are in no way unreasonable prices, and it’s nice to be able to get a taste of “real” beer.  That said, even a pint of Cass from the tap is 3,500, which is 500 more than it is back home in Changwon.  I would attribute that to the fact that the Wolfhound is in a heavy traffic, touristy area, so it’s reasonable to expect somewhat higher prices.

The food was good.  It was not great, just good.  I had the bacon ranch burger and chips, and if I’m being totally honest, I’d say the pub fare available in Changwon is superior, though I didn’t try an English specialty like the bangers or the shepherd’s pie.  It is possible that those are quite excellent.  It was nice to have a pint of Guinness off the tap, which I have not had a chance to get my hands on in several years.  Last I remember, O’Brien’s was still serving Guinness from a can, which just isn’t right to me.  Guinness has to come off of the tap.

The atmosphere at the Wolfhound is excellent.  It’s quite laid-back, and as I said, the service was superb.  The servers speak great English – best I’ve heard for awhile, actually – and they are attentive.  There are darts and a slot machine type game available, but otherwise, it is a very typical, cozy pub atmosphere.  It is currently very cold in Haeundae due to the wind coming from the beach, and the draught in the pub is noticeable, if you’re anywhere near the windows.  I would imagine, however, that it’s very pleasant in the spring and summer months, which is probably when they do most of their business, anyway.  Although I’ve not visited in the summer, I think it would be lively and fun with the windows open and a nice ocean breeze blowing in.

Anyway, if you’re in Busan near Haeundae Beach and are craving a pint of Guinness, stop in the at the Wolfhound.  Coming from the subway, just head up the main road, and it’s on the right side, quite close to the beach road.  It’s just to the side, on the second floor.  You really can’t miss it, if you’re looking for it.   I would definitely recommend for a night of low-key fun!

The Irish Wolfhound website


Merry Christmas from Marge!

This Christmas song pretty much covers it for me.  I hope all of you have a very Merry Christmas, indeed!

Whiskey Marge

I knew a guy in university that everyone called “Whiskey Justin.”  Whiskey Justin was an interesting guy for a lot of reasons, none of which I will go into here.  He got the name because he used to carry a bottle of whiskey around at parties.  I would also carry around jugs of liquor at college parties, but I didn’t stick with just one for quite a long time.  I sort of made the rounds with them (i.e. had terrible, bad nights with them) until I ended up at whiskey.  It’s been a bit like landing in jail on Monopoly, only I’ve never gotten out.  Suffice it say that towards the end of my university career, I was recognized in certain areas as “whiskey Marge” because I always had a bottle of either Evan Williams, Jack Daniels, or my personal favorite, George Dickel, under my arm.

I still love whiskey today, but I hate shelling out the cash for it in Korea.  Getting decent whiskey over here will cost you.  It’s not that I’m opposed to paying money for decent whiskey, because I’m not, but I try to limit my drinking more these days.  My dad died of liver cancer/probably alcoholism, and given my college track record, I’m probably lucky I’m not on the way to a similar fate.  God knows I gave it my most valiant effort.

Back when I was still living in Columbia, before I got married, I kept a six-pack of Warsteiner or Franziskaner beer in the fridge and a fifth of whiskey on the top at all times.  I had reserve “classy whiskey” in the cupboard for special occasions.  It was not unusual for me to come home on Friday night and get completely rat-arsed out on my balcony while chatting on the phone to the flavor-of-the-week or one of my girlfriends.

There are times – like tonight, frankly – that I really miss sitting out on my balcony, smoking cigarettes, and swishing whiskey around in a fancy-looking tumbler glass.  Or slugging a German beer.  We don’t really keep any booze in the house here.  My husband doesn’t come from a drinking family, but when I think about it, the past two years have been the first time in my life that I’ve not had liquor in the house.  I suppose, given the family history, this might not be a bad thing.

That said, I sort of miss getting a buzz on after a long day at work.  Today wasn’t particularly long; I just showed Christmas Vacation and How the Grinch Stole Christmas to my snot gobblers.  That said, I’m putting my book report-writing project on hold until next week, and I don’t have to get up early tomorrow.  I feel the desire to go get some cheap Korean beer or some stank-nasty soju from the ajumma mart and get my drank on.  I haven’t gotten buzzed and watched a movie for yonks.  There’s nothing like watching a really crappy movie and playing drinking games to it.  Or to Degrassi.  Playing drinking games with Degrassi or similarly terrible young adult programming is great fun.  Here’s a hint for Degrassi drinking games: Take two drinks every time someone makes a decision that no human alive would ever make, such as pretending to be gay in order to avoid going on a date with someone.  You think I’m kidding, but that appeared on a DNG plot.

Maybe it’s Christmas cheer that’s driving me to make what is likely a poor decision.  I know that if I drink tonight, I’ll be dried out and tired tomorrow.  Maybe the dormant party girl in me is just waking up in time to wreak some soju-flavored havoc on the holidays.  I really wish that I had a fifth of George Dickel and some ice cubes, but you can expect the moon around these parts.  Sometimes you have to settle for what you can get.

In any case, I think I’m going to wrap up this post, go grab some cider and soju, make a quick dinner – don’t drink on an empty stomach, folks – put on The Hangover II, and get quietly buzzed on this chilly winter night.  Good plan!

Changwon Promotional Video

For anyone interested, a guy I know posted a promotional video about Changwon on Facebook.  I have no idea where he got it, but makes Changwon look like the newly inaugurated center for complete awesomeness.  It talks about the companies, the parks, the history, etc.  Changwon is, in fact, Korea’s only planned city, and it does have lots of parks and green spaces, as well as heavy industry and technology companies.  It’s like Detroit before Motown got shut down, except without the urban blight and racial tension.

Anyway, if you’re interested in taking a peek at where I live, check out the video.  It sounds like they’ve got some major plans for “Chang-Ma-Jin” in the next few years.  (Chang-Ma-Jin is what some people call the new metropolis of Changwon-Masan-Jinhae, by the way.)  Changwon is a good place to live, I have to admit.  It has good shopping and transportation, and it’s within easy access of Busan, but it still feels small enough so as not to be overwhelming.  I guess it’s the best of both worlds.  It’s definitely a rich city, as well – second only to Seoul.  There are a lot of CEOs and company presidents walking around here.  My Saturday student’s father owns a big factory around here somewhere.  His mother is a professor of something or another, and they’re sending him to Johns Hopkins University summer camp so he can get a head start being a doctor.  He’s nine years old.

Without further ado: Changwon.  You will be amazed by the number of times you hear that name in this video.  CHANGWON: World Awesomeness Cultural Center.  Changwon.

Kim Jeong-Il Banished to the Land of Wind and Ghosts

I sort of ganked that last bit from an old Simpsons episode where Homer finds a picture that looks just like him.  He’s slightly disheartened when he finds out that his likeness is the result of a melding together of a fish and a lightbulb.  Whatever the case, Kim Jeong-Il is dead.

Ugliest. Man. EVER.

I found out this morning when I logged into Facebook before getting ready for work.  I’m not really surprised.  Everyone in Korea has been saying he’s going to kick the bucket any day.  He’s been in somewhat ill health ever since I’ve been here, and nobody has seen or heard much from him, although to be fair, he was never Captain Social.  From the moment he took his father’s place as the Dear Leader of North Korea, he never made that many public appearances, and relatively little is known about him, except that he had a penchant for Hennessey cognac, Elizabeth Taylor, and various other Western pinup girls.  He may or may not have been diabetic, but we do know that he likely had heart trouble for many years.

In any event, he was the iron-fisted ruler of a country that is really the last bastion of Cold War-era Communist isolationism.  North Korea is a strange bird, so remarkably different from the South.  Although most Americans frankly don’t know that much about Korea, it’s not a bad place to be.  They are an exporting economy that produces cars, engines, ships, TVs, and various hand-held technologies, like cell phones and tablets.  The people are proudly middle-class, and there is a certain economic freedom here that America hasn’t boasted in at least two decades.

In stark contrast to their booming, thriving neighbors to the south, North Korea has almost nothing in the way of industry.  They likely don’t even produce enough food to feed their own people.  Frankly, I’ve always found it rather silly that people in the West are so frightened of North Korea when they don’t even have enough gas to run their tanks.  The likelihood of them being able to launch a successful attack on South Korea is negligible.  South Korea is well-armed, well-trained, and well-fed.  There are tales that have leaked out of North Korea going so far as to involve cannibalism because the people have been so hungry.  Hardly a place I’d want to call home, but not exactly a place I fear, either.

The question that lingers in my mind is: How much longer will North Korea even be around?  How much longer before Korea is one again?  And, of course, there are the bigger questions: 1. Who will foot the bill for reunification, and; 2. Who will have control over reunification?  Will the two governments be allowed to dictate their own policies, or will China and the USA do their utmost to exert their influence over the peninsula?  I feel like we already know the answer to that one.

Most South Koreans seem to be alternately hopeful for and terrified of reunification.  This is primarily because of the cost and the damage it will do to their economy.  They believe – probably quite rightly – that the North Koreans will come flooding into the South and decimate the economy.  Koreans rather like their position of middle class affluence, and they aren’t all that willing to give it up for their luckless neighbors.

Kim Jeong-Il's third son, Kim Jeong-Eun or, as I like to call him, "Pig Boy."

But whatever the case, Kim Jeong-Il has gone to parts unknown, leaving behind a son, Kim Jeong-Eun, who frankly looks like a hapless sort of guy.  He’s apparently quite young, so it will be interesting to note any power scrambles coming out of the North.  I’ll certainly be interested to see what the next few months and years bring for the situation here in on the Korean peninsula.

Dear Santa 2011

Dear Santa,

I know, I’m getting my letter off a little bit late this year, but I’ve been busy.  I don’t really have much that I want for Christmas, at least not materially.  I guess I have some “wishes” that I would like to see come true, more or less.  I know, you aren’t really in the business of granting wishes.  Some people might tell me I should really write this letter to a genie, but if you’ve ever read a real story about the djinn, you’ll know that they really weren’t very nice guys.  I have way more faith in you, Santa.  I’ll have some chocolate chip cookies waiting for you on Christmas Eve!

1. Ron Paul wins the GOP nomination

This should surprise no one who read my last post.  Ron Paul is greatest hope for libertarians out there right now.  In the words of Jon Stewart, most people seem to have thought of him as “crazy Uncle Ron,” but the man knows whereof he speaks.  And he’s not Mittens or Newt.  Double-plus-good.

Ob-Ron-Kenobi. I loves the Ron Paul.

2. Make the Kartrashians go away, please.

I love reading smutty gossip, but I hate these trash-clowns.  They look like they have tarantulas on their eyes, and they can’t dress for anything.  They’re like a worse version of Paris Hilton was back in 2003-2006 or so.  The problem with the Kardassians is that they just keep coming – there are three big ones now, and there are two more baby Jenners ready to try and take their place in the next four years.  It’s like a litter of fame whores, and they’re reproducing.  I would be willing to suspend my belief in a person’s right to own their own body in favor of neutering this clan of delinquents.

3. Make Lindsay Lohan sparkly and new again.

She’s a crackhead and an entitled beast, but I sort of loved Lindsay Lohan before she went completely off the rails.  She was so lovely with her red hair, green eyes, and mountains of freckles.  And to everyone who says that she can’t act – she seemed like a nice, cute girl in “Mean Girls,” and that is clearly the opposite of reality, so she must have something going for her somewhere under the layers of Dina-inspired delusion and drug abuse.  I know that Ron Paul has a better chance of getting elected than Linnocent (as Celebitchy calls her) does of cleaning up her hot mess of a self, but I’d like to see her back to work, even though I do love watching her freaks and foibles.

Lock your liquor cabinets, hide your Botox provider's phone number - here comes La Lohan! Remember kids: drugs are bad. See above for the proof.

4. Will someone please repeal the NDAA?!

The National Defense Authorization Act is seriously making me consider moving to England.  I refuse to live under a military dictatorship where the flavor-of-the-month president can have me arrested for being a supposed terrorist – not even a terrorist who has been convicted in court!  Did you know that the Department of Homeland lists the following as terrorist “warning signs”: wearing a watching, paying cash, using binoculars, and owning a gun.  Um, wearing a watch?  For serious?  I have worn a watch every day since I was 12 years old.  I am somewhat fond of binoculars, I love the feeling of cash in my hands, and I like target shooting.  Apparently, that makes me terrorist material.  Who knew?

Seriously, though, this thing needs to get killed like, yesterday, and now Obama is talking about going back on his word and letting it pass.  Asshole.  I hate that guy.  I hate him at least as much as I hated Bush.

5. Make Koreans stop spitting everywhere

I’m over it.  It’s auditorily (is that a word?) and visually offensive to the highest degree, and I hate the idea of carrying people’s spit around on the bottom of my shoes.  It repulses me.  Please make it stop.

6. Bring back Queenadreena

My favorite band, fronted by British beauty and all-around artistic weirdo Katie-Jane Garside, disbanded like, a year or two ago.  Except that it never really officially disbanded.  They just sort of stopped getting together.  That makes me really sad, because I absolutely love Queenadreena, and KJG gets me up and moving for just about anything.  She can go from sounding like a 12-year-old Lolita to a screaming riot grrl in two seconds flat.  I love her.  I always figure that she’s either completely out-of-it on drugs or so lost in her own artistic world that she just comes off that way.  Either way, I wish Queenadreena would come back.

Here is what is arguably their most popular video, “Pretty Like Drugs,” as well as a video of KJG singing “Matchstick Girl”:

7. Open a Shoe Store for Western Girls with Big Feet Somewhere in Changwon

I could seriously use a new pair of dress shoes, and I have to order them from America.  Korea has bazillions of awesome shoes for girls, but the biggest size they offer is a US 8, and I’m a 9-10, depending on the style and brand.  I miss shoe-shopping.  It makes me feel happy inside.  I never thought of my feet as being overly large until I came to Korea, where I have feet the size of a Yeti in comparison to the local girls.  I honestly think their average shoe size is a US 5-7 or so.  And eight would be rather large.

8. Go back and erase every season of “Weeds” after season 3, and undo the last “Sex and the City” movie

Weeds is one of my favorite TV shows, but I have to keep watching the first three seasons over and over again.  I made it all the way to season 5, but it got so wildly unbelievable for me, I had to quit watching it.  I can never figure out what the writers were thinking after season 4, and season 4 was nothing great.  I almost wish they’d just ended the whole series at season 3 and let me believe that Nancy went on to get a job as a paralegal in another suburb after an interesting couple of years as a drug dealer.

As I’ve said in previous posts, I watched SATC2, and I will still watch it on an evening by myself, if I have nothing better to do, but I still can’t figure out why.  When the series ended, I loved the characters.  They felt so comfortable and familiar – like friends or something.  The second movie destroyed all that for me.  They took the best parts of the characters and made them despicable to me.  It tarnished my whole memory of the series, when I sit back and think about it.  When I’m watching the series and then think about that movie, I actually can’t reconcile the two to myself.  It’s almost like the movies are from an alternate universe.

9. Make me a great skater

It looks so much less cool when I try to do this. Specifically, it looks like a fat chick falling on her butt on hockey skates. Sad.

I love ice skating.  Seriously.  It brings me great pleasure in spite of the fact that I’m not great at it.  I love hockey and figure skating, and I’m thrilled that there are people who can perform such amazing feats on two little blades.  I would settle for being able to stop without falling over or skating backwards without using the “figure eight” method.  I would really love to be able to skate better.  I’m seriously considering spending more time at the Changwon skating rink in the mornings.

10. Get me over this weight loss plateau

I’ve been on the Somersize diet for about 6 months now, and I’ve lost 100 pounds or so.  That said, the weight loss has plateaued over the last month or so.  It does that.  Every once in awhile, I don’t lose weight for about 2-3 weeks.  Then I’ll suddenly drop 5 kilos overnight.  I’m waiting for those next five, and I’m getting tired of looking at my watch and tapping my toes.  Suzanne warns about not giving up when you hit plateaus, but it’s hard not to reach for a cookie.  I really wish I could just alter this “wish” to “make me a size 4 forever.”  I am so incredibly envious of people who have never had weight trouble, because they have no idea how lucky they are.  I would be so thrilled with myself if I could be skinny for the rest of my days.

I guess that’s about all I’ve got this year, Santa.  I hope it’s not too much for you to get me at least one of those things.  Frankly, I think there’s a better chance of getting Ron Paul in office than there is for me to get shoes in my size in Korea; it’s just not happening.  But I’d appreciate it if you’d give it the old college try.

Evil-Hearted You

I haven’t been posting much lately.  I have a project to do for my second job (by choice), and it takes up most of my time in the evenings.  Between that and Christmas, I just haven’t had as much time to post lately.  This post is probably more appropriate for my political blog, but it felt kind of personal, so I decided to put it here instead.  (Disclaimer: if you don’t like politics, stop here.  It’s not worth reading, if you don’t.)

My husband and I got into a debate about politics yesterday, and he came right out and said that I have a black soul (I’ve owned that for years) and that I’m pretty heartless on a lot of things.  Everyone who knows me even a little knows that I’m a fairly hardcore libertarian.  A lot of people think libertarians are heartless, cruel, unfeeling ogres that value money over people.  First of all, that’s not true.  Second, I’m sort of offended that anyone would think that I’m completely heartless – especially my husband.

I’m not heartless.  I have a fairly low tolerance for crap, but that doesn’t mean that I’m heartless.  I’m not even actually sure which libertarian policy has led him to think that I’m heartless, though I suspect it has something to do with socialized medicine.  Of course, libertarians are against government control of just about everything, and medicine would certainly fall under that banner.  Frankly, government control of the US medical industry has done nothing for patients and doctors.  It has only served to drive up prices and make medicine more unobtainable for more people.  That isn’t to say that the policies weren’t made under good intentions, but you know what they say about good intentions: the road to hell is paved with ’em.

That’s my main problem with most political beliefs – the justifying reason for them is that we’re “trying to help people.”  The problem is that most things that are done in the name of providing help don’t.  They end up lowering everybody’s standard of living.  Take raising the minimum wage.  The group is most adversely affects is the group that it purportedly tries to help: young, black males from low-income backgrounds.  It also hurts the businesses that would logically give them employment.  And I’m not just talking about big businesses like Wal-Mart and the lot – I’m talking about local businesses and small shops, too – those that are still able to survive.

But the main problem I have with governments paying for foreign aid, health care, etc., is the fact that taxes amount to legalized plunder.  Nobody likes paying taxes.  Even most liberals I know hate paying taxes, and they’re usually in favor of raising them.  The fact is, the government takes our money through taxes by threat of force.  What happens if we don’t pay?  Well, the IRS either comes to our house and we pay or we go to prison.  It’s that simple.  The government forces people by threat.  If someone on the street holds a gun to your head and asks for all your money, you’re probably going to give it to him/her – not because you’re so damn nice, but because you have a gun to your head.  Whether or not the gun is there, the effect is the same: the government is taking your money by using threats against you and your belongings.

Some people may not mind paying into a healthcare system.  Some people may not mind foreign aid.  What about the people that do?  Should they be forced to pay just because others want it?  This is where people usually talk about the good of society, as though society is a real entity that exists, like an individual.

Murray Rothbard, in his excellent libertarian treatise For a New Liberty, has a wonderful way of explaining this faulty logic.  Say there are ten people in a small community who band together to rob three others of their property of rights.  It would be very difficult to call this by anything other than what it is: robbery.  When they get to court, those ten people defend themselves by calling themselves “society” and arguing that it was in “its” – society’s – best interest to take the money from those other people.  Trust me, that sort of argument wouldn’t hold water in court.  Somehow, though, this same argument manages to hold water in the court of public opinion.  Now, you can make all sorts of arguments about helping people that don’t have as much, but rationally, the situation is not different, regardless of its scale.  Incidentally, the concept of a “nation” can be described similarly, particularly when it comes to war.  Rothbard, in any event, sums up the whole thing rather well: Society is everyone but yourself.

Interestingly, this faulty logic is also applied in crimes today.  Let’s say, for example, that Mr. Kim murders Mr. Lee or several Mr. Lees.  It will then be said that, “It’s society’s fault.”  While it sounds nice and thoughtful and all that, what it really means is that everyone is at fault – including the victim – except for Mr. Kim, the man who actually committed the crime.  Ultimately, as was observed by Frank Chodorov, there is no society without the individual; in the absence of individuals, the whole will disappear.

Human rights are not separate from property rights.  There is a great example about a person yelling “Fire!” in a crowded theater.  The argument is that he has taken the right to free speech too far, but this is false.  What he’s really doing is robbing others of their property.  If the person in question is the property owner, he is taking money from his patrons and giving them less than what they paid for.  If it is another patron, he robbing his fellow patrons and the theater owner.  If it’s some bum off the street, well, he’s robbing everyone.  Free speech is neither here nor there, in that case.

Some people argue that everyone has the right to good health care.  What they really ought to say is that it would be nice if everyone had good health care.  However, what people now want to do is force everyone to take care of everyone else.  No matter how you slice the cake, it comes down to, ultimately, taking money from people who may not want to give it.  My husband makes the argument that you’ll be thankful for it when the times comes to use it, but what if my final preference would still be for affordable health care that I can control?  That is my final preference, and I don’t care for the government being in control of my health care.  I am in favor of a system of voluntary exchanges based on market values.

We are not seeing exchanges based on true market value in the United States at this time.  Unfortunately, the US government’s practice of playing favorites has a tendency to drive up prices across the board.  Even more unfortunate is that programs like Obamacare are really just patches to fix a broken system that has been thrown together over the last 100 years or so.  In other words, it’s a temporary fix, and a poor one, at that.

Does this sound heartless?  It probably does, but it is rational.  And whether or not anyone wants to believe it, the market can provide a better standard of living than the government ever could.  I am willing to accept the fact that with life, there comes a certain amount of risk.  I have enough risk in my own life; I am generally unwilling to pay for the failed risks of others.  And yes, this applies to the idiots in the banks as much as it applies to the guy next door.

Alas, maybe I should think about being “nicer,” but at the end of the day, the result, rather than the intention, is what is important.  The intentions may be good, but if the final result is a bad one, we should not keep moving forward with the same program simply because the people who dreamed it up want the best thing for the people.  This is not good policy, and it’s not a good way to run a business or government.

I guess I’m just going to have to stiffen up my upper lip and take it on the chin, because most people don’t agree with my line of thinking, and I’m aware of that.  I fully expect at least one or two of my readers will take after me on this one.  That’s fine.  It’s healthy to disagree.  I suppose I just resent being thought of as heartless, because I’m not; I just don’t happen to think that the best outcome for the most people comes from the government.  But feel free to call me a black-souled, heartless person, because you wouldn’t be the first this weekend, and you probably won’t be the last over my lifetime.  … I wonder if that libertarian island is still being built and if they still have condos for sale?

Crazy Foods of Korea

Graeme and I were just sitting around, talking about things that the Chinese discovered, such as the cultivation of silkworms.  I then laughingly said that, while the Chinese used the silkworms to provide clothing, the Koreans just got right to it and ate them.  This might be the point where you think I’m joking, but it’s true: Koreans eat silkworm pupas.  Of course, this isn’t the only strange and exotic food that can be found in the “Land of the Morning Calm.”  While I have not sampled, nor will sample all of these culinary delicacies, I can assure you that they do exist, and can often be found just down the street from my house.

Beondaegi (번대기)

Beondaegi are the aforementioned silkworm pupas.  Yes, some Koreans do eat bugs.  It’s true and can’t be denied.  That said, most young people I’ve met don’t care for them at all.  A few of my students like them, but these are also the kids who will eat anything.  They’re hungry, they’re growing, and they don’t care what goes in their mouth, as long as it doesn’t come back out again.

Beondaegi will typically be found with other “street foods.”  When I say street food, I don’t mean that they can be collected in the street, taken home, and chucked in a frying pan.  No, Korea has lots of street stalls where one might procure anything from silkworm cocoons to fruit to donuts.  Whatever you want, it can be had for a rock-bottom price.  … I suppose to be fair, one couldn’t really get away with charging a whole lot for bug cocoons.

Num, num, num! Boiled cocoons in cocoon sauce! Tastes as good as it sounds!

The thing about beondaegi is that you smell them long before you ever see them.  They have a very distinctive odor that is hard to misidentify, once you’ve had your first sniff.  They’re usually boiled in rather large pots and then spooned out into cups or onto plates or something.  Very few foreigners I know have been brave enough to try them, but the vote has been unanimous: beondaegi must have been something the Koreans ate to survive the Japanese occupation and the Korean war.

Raw octopus tentacles (산낙지)

Koreans can be quite partial to live baby octopus tentacles.  The octopus is scooped out of the tank, its legs are cut off, and then it is immediately served with other side dishes.  It tends to be served at sashimi and other raw fish restaurants.

I will confess that I have tried this, and… It wasn’t bad.  Actually, all things considered, it’s pretty good.  It took me by surprise one day when my former boss took us all out to lunch at a Japanese restaurant, and this little delicacy was shoved in front of my nose.  My friend, Trey, took one look and turned positively green.  He proclaimed immediately that he wouldn’t touch anything that was still moving.  And they are still moving.

It took a few minutes, but we both finally plucked up the courage and bit the bullet, so to speak.  … They fight you, though.  Literally.  Those little suction cups are hard to disengage from, well, everything.  They stick to the plate, the chopsticks and, as a final f**k you to the person who is eating them, to your mouth.  I quickly learned that it’s best to bite them – hard – before they get a chance to do that.  It’s an art.

They're hard to pull off the plate, but it's worth the effort.

In any case, if you ever have the chance to eat raw octopus, I highly recommend it.  I prefer it to cooked octopus, actually.  It’s not bad, and when it’s all over, you can tell all your friends via a blog that you once ate a still-squirming octopus.

Poshintang (보신탕)

This is probably one of the best-known weird Korean foods: dog soup.  Also known as “power soup,” it was once believed to “invigorate” older men who weren’t performing quite up-to-snuff.

Korea has caught a lot of flak for this one.  Technically, I think poshintang is illegal to have in restaurants now, but that doesn’t stop Korea.  I found a poshintang place not too far from where we live now, nestled in a back alley near the university, and there were one or two in our old neighborhood in Changwon.

Again, not too many young people I know now are interested in eating dog soup.  A few students have tried it; some even say it’s not that bad.  But on the whole, it seems like poshintang is being looked upon more and more as an outdated practice suited to another time.  Still, as long as there are a few customers, I’m sure the practice will continue.

Spicy Chicken Feet (닭발)

No secret here – it is what it is!  There is most definitely a chicken feet restaurant in my ‘hood, right down by the bus stop.  This one seems to be a little bit more popular than poshintang.  The little place here in Wolyeong has been quite busy most times I’ve been by there.

So Margaret, you ask, how does one go about eating a chicken foot?  Glad you asked.  They’re fried up before eating, but the bones are still inside, of course.  Basically, you just pick it up, shove it in your mouth, suck the meat off the bone, and then spit the bones out onto your plate or somewhere on the table.  Like a Korean.  That’s all there is to it.

The lesson here? Don't waste any part of the animal!

I have never eaten a chicken foot, but I would be willing to give it a go before I head home.  I’ve seen far worse things to eat in Asia (see beondaegi!), so I’m could be enticed to give this one a fair hearing… er, tasting.

Chicken arse (닭똥집)

Yes, you read that correctly: chicken a$$.  The Korean literally translates to “chicken poop house.”  Poop house means, uh, well, you get it, right?  I’ve never had it, but my friend Dave the brave taste-tester tried it, and I seem to remember him saying it wasn’t all that bad.  That said, Dave will eat things I wouldn’t, so take that for what you will.

There is a place in the Changwon Sangnam Market where you can get this fine Asian cuisine.  In fact, the restaurant had a lovely picture of a chicken with its rear turned out towards the viewer, and an X of duct tape over his poop house.

Dding ddong! Time for ddinner!

I know, it sounds horrifying to Westerners, but Koreans are incredibly into and upfront about taking a crap.  I have no idea why this is, but they seem to find “d-d-o-n-g” amusing and entertaining.  I have a pair of yellow and brown socks with a pile of poop on it giving you the finger.  They say “dding ddong!”  Yes, most of my kids know that that’s a doorbell noise in English.  Don’t ask why.  Whatever the case, Koreans don’t seem to fear the poop house.  This is not one that I will be trying.

Sea Penis (개불)

The Koreans pretty much call it “sea penis,” too, so I’m totally in the clear with this name.  This thing does look like a wiener, and no, I’ve never had one, although they certainly aren’t that hard to find.  Most fish markets and seafood restaurants with a large selection will have them.  I didn’t even know what they really were until I checked out Wikipedia, and apparently they’re some sort of marine spoon worm.  Whatever that nastiness is.

Koreans prefer to eat them raw, as do the Chinese and the Japanese, so it’s not specifically a Korean dish.  I would be willing to give the penis of the sea a try, although frankly, I’d prefer to have it cooked first!  I think I’d feel like a bit of a Lorraina Bobbitt if it wasn’t.

Yup. It's a sea penis all right.

All I Want for Christmas is a Pink Slip

I just stumbled across an article that was posted in the Changwon expat forum on Facebook.  According to some sources, Seoul public schools have decided to reduce the headcount of foreign ESL teachers (also known as native teachers) in 2014.  Apparently, Korean students and parents prefer Korean teachers who have native fluency over foreign ESL teachers.  There are several things about this article I’d like to address, and no, not all of them are belligerent reflex answers.

First of all, if the Korean government is anywhere near as strapped for cash as the US government, I can understand why they’d want to “trim the fat,” so to speak.  Native teachers soak up a massive amount of money, between salaries paid, reimbursement for airfare, apartments, and national health insurance and pension contributions.  So yes, from a purely financial standpoint, it is very possible that they are making the right choice, not knowing anything about the Seoul money situation off-hand.

The next thing to take into consideration is the effectiveness of foreign teachers.  I know that I’m not the only teacher in Korea who has ever questioned whether or not she is doing any good at all.  There are times when I feel great about my job, and there are days when I completely despair of these kids ever developing anything beyond an elementary understanding of English.  There are several reasons why native English teachers are not always effective.

The first is the fact that Korea doesn’t require teachers to be certified.  Now, I’m not generally someone who believes that certifications are always the best meter by which to judge someone.  I’ve met lots of people who are amazing teachers and have no qualifications at all.  I’ve also met and been taught by qualified professionals who frankly suck at their job.  The unfortunate truth is that just because someone speaks English natively does not imply that they know anything about the grammar structure or are going to be good or even fair teachers.  Let’s face it: functional knowledge of the subject at hand is always helpful.  I have met at least one teacher who didn’t even know the difference between a noun or a verb until she came to Korea.  Am I the only one who is moderately distressed that someone could have finished at a four-year university and not know what nouns and verbs are?

The financial truth of this situation, however, is that Korea is not willing to pay certified US, UK, Irish, Aussie, NZ, and South African teachers what they want.  True, teachers don’t make amazing salaries, but they would expect an equivalent compensation, in terms of purchasing power, and that can fluctuate according to the exchange rates.  Also, it has to be taken into account that native teachers essentially uproot their lives and move to a completely foreign country.  This, too, would have to be factored into the cost of hiring a qualified professional.  Honestly, I don’t think the government or hagwons in Korea are prepared to take that step.

Another issue to take into account when speaking of effectiveness comes back around to the system already in place here in Korea.  I can’t speak for public school because I’ve never taught there, but believe me, I know the score in the hagwon setting.  Directors and teachers are completely beholden to the wishes of students and parents.  That’s fine – parents and kids should be getting what they want, in terms of education.  That said, Korean parents are often lacking in common sense when it comes to school.  They are far more concerned with the scores their child receives, rather than what the student actually learns.  That is not universally true, but in quite a few instances, Korean parents put more faith in the number on a test than their child’s ability to read, write, or speak with any level of competency.  I was initially quite surprised by that fact.

Of course, the hagwons pander to this sort of behavior.  My boss does it when he’s teaching the middle school students before exam time (i.e. right now).  They have a set number of chapters that they’ve studied over the semester, and he will literally make them memorize all the text of the entire chapter.  He then teaches them not the grammar and how to actually work through and understand the material, but how to take the test.  Essentially, the students memorize how to take the test.  It provides little reflection, if any, on their English abilities.  Nonetheless, my boss is always incredibly stressed come test day, and he insists that the students stop by right after school and give him their test papers so that he can check them.  The reputation of our academy depends on those kids doing well on tests.

Korean teachers tend to be far more cowed by parents than do foreigners.  Most foreign teachers, at one point or another, stand up and tell the truth – often to their detriment.  I gave your daughter a B- because that’s exactly the grade she earned, and I won’t change it.  Your son can’t speak English; he spends most of his time in class speaking Korean to his friends.  In that sense, I can understand why some students may prefer the Korean teachers.

What makes me laugh about this article is the assumption that there are more than five or ten Korean teachers who are even close to native speakers floating around in Seoul or anywhere else in Korea.  Those poor sods are going to be seriously overworked, come 2014!  I have had some good Korean co-teachers, but I say with total honesty that, unless they have spent significant time in an English speaking country – we’re talking three to four years – their English probably sucks.  It is incredibly difficult for Koreans to learn English well and vice versa.  And frankly, I have met a lot of Korean teachers that do more harm than good.  My boss is an excellent grammarian, but he still makes mistakes, and his pronunciation is terrible.  Like most Koreans, he can’t see a consonant ending without adding “-uh” to the end of it.  If they think that there are enough Korean teachers who speak even passable English, they’re wrong.  That’s not to say that all native teachers are great grammar teachers, but by the sheer fact of knowing our own language, we can often provide insight that the Korean teachers miss.  That’s normal.

Some posters to this particular article in question have made the point that native teachers come to Korea and behave terribly, as though it’s spring break 365 days a year.  Some foreign teachers have denied this, but I would admit that there is some truth to this statement, though not for all teachers.  The party scene is big for foreign teachers in Korea, and I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t out three nights a week when I first arrived here.  I was.  I admit it.  I admit that I’ve gone to work terribly hung over and reeling from the night before.  I also went into work at the bank still hung over, so this was not something new and different for me, at that particular point in my life.  I was a hard partier.  If I was single, I likely still would be.  I like to be a scenester.

Unfortunately, the image of the hard-partying, drunk, out-of-control, disrespectful waeguk doesn’t always sit well with Koreans.  It’s not hard to imagine why they might hold foreigners in a low esteem, given this fact.  That said, not all foreigners go out all the time, and most that I know are competent, fun teachers who want their kids to like them and learn from them.  I hope I can include myself in that number.  It’s very important to me that my students learn and feel they can look up to me, at least a little bit.

In any case, I suspect this whole thing has come about because parents and students feel that the kids will get higher government test scores if the Korean teachers teach them.  That is likely true.  It is also quite possible that they will do better on tests like the TOEFL and the TOEIC… But it’s not because they have great English.  I’ve taught students sample TOEFL tests, and they scored well.  They also couldn’t speak in fluent sentences, write a decent paragraph, or read without making serious pronunciation errors – to the point that non-teachers might not be able to understand them.

I think the probable outcome of this whole thing will be that test scores go up and actual ability goes down, assuming that’s even possible.  I tend to think that if the students aren’t learning, given the wide variety of English-learning options available in Korea, it has more to do with the culture and the system than with the teachers.  There are good teachers here.  I know a bunch of them.  But I also know that there are barriers that often prevent teachers from doing the best possible job that they can for their students, and that has a lot to do with Korea’s unwillingness to learn and teach effectively.  Sometimes their goals are mutually exclusive.

In any event, it looks like getting a job in Korea is going to increase in difficulty over the next few years.  Between public schools possibly letting teachers go, the rough economy at home, and a sagging economy in Korea, it seems likely that only the best teachers will be re-hired.  And that will be a good thing.  I also think that it could possibly increase the hagwon business, as there are still quite a few parents who want their children to have face-time with native speakers.

So who is going to lose out on this deal?  Well, teachers, obviously.  Some are not going to be able to continue employment in Korea.  Poorer students whose parents can’t afford the high prices set by some hagwons will be the others who suffer.  My hagwon charges about $135-$140 per month for elementary school students, but some of the big academies in Changwon, like JLS, can charge upwards of $300 or more.  English kindergartens range in price from $700-$1000+ per month.  Students whose parents aren’t making the big bucks at one of the companies are going to feel the pain more for losing the native speakers.

All that said, I’m not all that upset about this.  Allowing myself a moment of perfect candor, I often doubt Korea’s true willingness to learn English.  Historically, Korea was called “the hermit kingdom,” and some of that mentality still remains.  Although I can imagine why they feel resentful at having to learn a second language, the hard truth is that, in our global society, there needs to be a lingua franca, and English seems to be the chosen one, at least at this juncture.  That could change and become Chinese for all I know, but at least for the time being, English is king.  How Korea chooses to go about learning it is, of course, Korea’s choice.  Unfortunately, if we are judging on the ability of the nation as a whole, it doesn’t seem like they’ve made the right choices thus far.

To read the original article, click here.

The Kids Aren’t All Right

Let’s get right to it: there was a stabbing at my former high school, the creatively named Jacksonville High School, today.  Seriously, you better get out your “WTF” face and trashy people protective gear, because this one is a trailer park pot of gold.  These two 16-year-old girls were pregnant.  One apparently had a knife and slashed the other across the head several times.  And because she wasn’t exactly Oren Ishi-i, she cut herself on the hand.  You know, I used to threaten to cut people… Okay, it was at the mall, and it was a sick joke played by a college student to get the teeny-boppers to move off the sale rack so that I could look at the sweaters in peace.  It worked, not surprisingly.  Apparently, some people really will cut you if you don’t get up out of their face.

I’m probably the only person who went to JHS reading this story, but I am disgusted for my community and ashamed to say that I went to that school.  I always thought of my hometown as a quiet, boring place where everyone was mostly middle class or blue collar leaning towards poor.  Bear in mind that “poor” and “trashy” are not synonymous, as some folks seem to think.  You can be poor and still have plenty of class and dignity.  Whatever happened to those two qualities?  I guess they must have gone out of fashion when the cultural norms started to look Jersey Shore, Flavor of Love, and 16 and Pregnant.  When we live in a culture that now seems to encourage and endorse bad behavior, it’s a small wonder that things like this are happening in our schools.

I realize that things aren’t what they used to be.  Most of the time, both parents – if there are two parents – are working one, two, or even three jobs just to put food on the table, and it isn’t easy to keep track of what the kids are doing anymore.  I get that.  But whatever happened to instilling values in our children?

JHS has the highest rate of teen pregnancies in the state of Illinois.  To the best of my recollection, there were maybe three or four in my class by the time we graduated.  My cousin’s class, a scant three years behind me, had to have special meetings and assemblies for the students and parents about abstinence, birth control, etc., etc.  There were seven girls who were pregnant in the freshman class when I was a senior.  I remember seeing a pregnant girl out at what was then called the “smokers’ corner” before school on my first day as a senior and being simultaneously disgusted and pissed off about it.  A few months later, I saw that same girl come to school with her mother and the new baby in tow and watched some of the teachers fawning over it.  I asked my friends at the lunch table, “Am I the only person who sees anything wrong with this scenario?”  As my grandfather would wryly observe, “No change and no improvement.”

Do I have a solution for all of this?  No.  I realize that most parents, even if there are two, have to work full-time to pay down the mortgage, make the car payments, get health insurance for the family, buy clothes and school supplies for the kids, save money for retirement and college, take trips… The list goes on.  There’s quite a burden on families anymore.  And let’s face it: statistically, children in single-parent households have a higher tendency towards crime, delinquency in school, and teenage pregnancy.  That’s not stereotyping or racial profiling, since it’s true.  Success is less common among kids from single-parent homes.  Does that mean single parents are universally bad or instilling poor values?  No.  But I don’t think that anyone would argue that it’s much harder to support a family by oneself and be there for the kids all the time.  That’s a tall order.

Since I don’t have any solutions, I suppose I’m really just writing this post to bitch.  I wish that TV didn’t glorify bad behavior.  I wish that teenagers had more common sense and that parents and schools weren’t afraid to discipline kids.  Harkening back to my old post about spanking, I’m firmly behind it; I think kids need tangible punishments.  Note that I also said I’m not in favor of beating, but I am in favor of embarrassing them and letting them know that they’ve engaged in shameful behavior.  I suppose the problem outside the house is that society does seem to reward asinine and even criminal behavior now.

At this point, I might say that I’m quite thankful for the fact that my folks provided a good example for me and taught me right from wrong.  I’m glad that I had friends whose parents did the same thing, and that we all seemed to turn out okay.  I’m sad that my school has reached a point where teen pregnancies and stabbings are becoming the norm.  There is no respect for authority, and the kids aren’t all right.  One has to wonder how much further all of this can really go.

If you want to read the article on it in the local rag, check it out here.