Monthly Archives: January 2012

Reliving My Childhood One Bad Flick at a Time

I am getting ready to start the new winter semester at my Saturday gig, and one of the books that I’m teaching for my upper-level students is the classic Charlotte’s Web.  My third grade teacher read us this book, but I was acquainted with Charlotte and Wilbur long before that, though it wasn’t through the print medium.  Charlotte’s Web turned my mind to movies that I loved as a child.  Between that and my middle school student’s brand-new neon green, purple, and hot pink puffer jacket (this is a boy, by the way), I’ve been feeling like I’m on a speed bullet back to 1987.  I’m not going to deny that I’m enjoying the ride just a little bit.

I loved a lot of really cute/bad/memorable movies back in the 80s and early 90s.  I could be wrong, but I’m sincerely hoping that this list will invoke some cherished memories and fist-pump-for-joy moments for you readers, too.

Charlotte’s Web (1973 animation)

IMDB only gives this movie 6.8 stars, but don’t let the crummy rating fool you.  This movie brought a whole lot of joy to me as a child.  How could Debbie Reynolds voicing Charlotte not make for a good time?  Remember the fantastic songs?  I still know all of the words to this entire soundtrack.  My grandma will still bring up this movie, and it still makes her laugh when, at the age of 27, I can sing “Zuckerman’s Famous Pig.”

Honestly, if you’re out to see a movie version of the beloved children’s book, this is the version to see, not that crappy live-action version that came out not that long ago.  Debbie Reynolds, y’all.  A singing rat.  Agnes Moorehead (a.k.a. Endora from Bewitched) as The Goose.  It honestly doesn’t get any better than that.

Rainbow Brite and the Star Stealer (1985)

This was pretty much my favorite movie of the 80s.  I wanted to be Rainbow Brite.  I would routinely pretend that I had a horse named Starlite or Skydancer.  I tried to make star sprinkles out of water, sparkly talcum powder, and food coloring one day.  (Mom wasn’t thrilled about that mess.)  I used my grandma’s rainbow-colored luggage belts to make Rainbow’s awesome rainbows.  I had a Starlite doll.  Rainbow was the bomb.

This story is basically the most ridiculous thing ever.  I have to admit that even though I had an overactive imagination, I always wondered how Rainbow was able to fare so well in space with no oxygen.  Or how Starlite was able to get to other planets when I knew that we needed a rocket just to make it to the moon.  But I didn’t let that phase me too much.  If, as a child, you’re willing to believe in belts that spontaneously generate rainbows and women who have magic diamonds – Liz Taylor? – you should be willing to suspend other laws of physics in your quest to create an imaginary world.

In any case, a spoiled princess is trying to steal this diamond planet called Spectra.  She’s covering it with a big net so that she can cart it home with her spaceship, and the net is blocking out the light of the universe.  Of course Rainbow is going to save the day, along with her new friend (crush) Krys and a robot horse named Onyx.  Like I said, it’s basically ridiculous.  Oh, and I didn’t catch this until I was in my 20s – don’t think less of me for re-watching childhood favorites – but the end title theme totally includes the line, “… full of joy and bitchin’ color.”  This movie was made in Japan, so I’m guessing something must’ve gotten lost in translation… Or Hallmark’s creative department finally had their fill of rainbows and sprites.

He-Man and She-Ra: The Secret of the Sword

She-Ra was another serious love for me as a child.  I had the She-Ra action figure, two Swift Winds (Christmas mix-up), Catra, Glimmer, and Queen Angella.  I painted my face with magenta sparkly nail polish because, for some insane reason, I believed that that would make me more like She-Ra.  Funnily, my dad was having visitation with me that day, but my parents were talking, and I was playing in my room, so that’s what I did to busy myself.  Mom was not impressed with my early artistic stylings.  I think my dad just thought I was strange/funny/annoying.  There is definitely a picture somewhere of me wearing a red sweatshirt and teal sweatpants, standing next to my dad with my face painted with nail polish.  Needless to say, my mom took away my nail polish after that little incident.

Whatever the case, this is the story of how She-Ra came to be.  I like She-Ra now because She-Ra wasn’t always a good guy; she had to figure some things out for herself.  That’s noble, right?  Also, is it totally strange that, as a kid, I wanted He-Man and She-Ra to hook up, but then I kept thinking, “Ew, they’re brother and sister. … That’s not right.”  Confusing crossover, man.

All Dogs Go to Heaven

Burt Reynolds as a gambling, smoking, killing, damned-to-hell dog.  I’m on still board.  Actually, this movie scared the pants off of me for years.  The scene where Charlie has the dream about going to Hell, and there’s a big fire-bat and a sinking bone ship and lava pits…?  Seriously, that is terrifying for little kids.  Looking back on it, I feel like this movie was propaganda of some kind, but I still love it.  Charlie ends up making the right choice (of course), and everything turns out okay, but it definitely has its seedy parts.  Gotta love a dog who gambles, though.

The Lost Boys

This was my first “horror” flick.  I’m not sure if the vampires or the 80s rock and roll hair is more frightening.  Either way, I first saw this movie when I was about nine years old, and while I scared me to pieces, I loved it anyway.  There was something dangerous and sexy about it, and let’s face it, the soundtrack is still awesome.  Does anyone else remember when the Coreys were the hot thing?

This will always be my first and best vampire movie, although I dearly love Coppola’s take on Dracula.  Tom Cruise ruined Interview with the Vampire, and Twilight?  Well, Twilight could never hope to even be half as cool as Jason Patric’s earring in The Lost Boys.  As a side note, if you listen closely in other vampire movies, you’ll catch little lines that can only be homages to The Lost Boys.  For example, when Blade fights Deacon Frost in the first Blade movie, Deacon says, “My turn,” a ripped line from Kiefer Sutherland, complete with a  nearly-identical tight screenshot.  God, this movie is so good.  If you haven’t seen it, punch yourself in the face.  Hard.  Then go see it.  The opening sequence alone, with young, hot Kiefer stomping his boots along the carousel, gets me every time.

Ghostbusters (The Movie and the cartoons)

Every kid I know ever loved this movie – and was more than likely scared to death of it.  I was terrified of the Ghostbusters movie, but I watched it anyway, because it was pretty much the coolest thing ever for kids in the 80s.  My friends’ brothers all had ghost traps and ecto-packs for at-home ghost-busting.  It was one of my favorite imaginary games to play.  I never got tired of it.

I also dearly loved the cartoons and in fact still have some of them on tapes that my mother made back in, I believe ’87 or ’88.  My favorite episode was always “The New Jersey Parallelogram,” followed closely by “Knock, Knock,” where the subway miners find a doomsday door, drill it open, and unleash havoc onto the New York subway system.  I find it a lot funnier now that I’m older.  And still mildly terrifying.

The Last Unicorn

I always loved this movie because I thought this was how “real” unicorns should look.  As I’ve rewatched it over the years, though, I realized that Amalfia, the unicorn, was a serious bitch.  She never says anything nice to that poor Schmendrick.

This movie is really lovely, though – great animation and great voice actors.  You can’t go wrong with Mia Farrow and Angela Lansbury!  The woman who voice Molly Grue was also a voice worker in My Little Pony.  Don’t even ask me why I know that.

I was always scared of the part where the red bull attacks.  The fangs and the slobbering mouth… Ugh.  Terrified me as a child.  And I continued to watch the movie.  The ending always gets me the most though, because there is no real happy ending.  That harkens me back to my days in the German department, when my German professors would tell me that Germans think, “Es gibt kein Happy-End.”  God love the Germans, they’re right.

My Little Pony: The Movie

Hell yes.  I watched this one on repeat, too.  Fizzy, the blue unicorn with various colors of hair and a ridiculously bubbly personality, was always my favorite, which is odd, because I’m just about the furthest thing from bubbly and friendly.

The storyline for this movie is so nuts: witches create some “Smooze” to destroy Ponyland, nearly succeed, but Megan and the ponies save the day by finding the magical “Flutter ponies” and pushing the Smooze back into the witches’ volcano.  The lead witch is voiced by Rhea Perlman, so I guess that makes it cooler, right?  Also, apparently Danny Devito had a speaking part in this movie, but I’ve never figured out exactly which part he does…

In any event, just in case you missed it, I was strongly in favor of any movie that feature unicorns or pegasus ponies – preferably a combination of the two.  And rainbows.  God, whatever happened to the 80s?  Weren’t those times great?  When little girls believed in rainbows and unicorns and magic swords?  Now it’s all sponges with pants and stupid things like that.  It’s like someone tripped shrooms, made a cartoon, and called it great.  They don’t know from great!

Hook

I can’t believe I forgot this movie the first time around – Hook!  I can’t believe anyone didn’t like this movie.  Actually, I can’t stand the original story of Peter Pan, but this movie rocks!  Bangarang!  I spent my entire leadership summer at camp watching this and Office Space.  Something about not growing up and camp go together like fish and water.  Besides that, my counselor’s last name was Bangs, so we were perpetually yelling, “Bangarang!”  Call it cheesy and corny if you must, but I loved it.

I watched this movie when it came out, too, and I remember thinking the skateboarding and the lost boys were great.  Always with the lost boys…

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Trends I Hate/Fail to Understand

I love fashion.  Most days, I don’t really dress to the nines, as it were, primarily because I have nowhere to go and don’t care about wearing a suit to teach.  I have a tendency to get board marker and red pen all over me as the day wears on.  I’d feel pretty torn up if I was wearing a pair of 7 for All Mankind jeans and the marker cap came off in my pocket (again).  In spite of all that, I try to follow fashion.  I used to have a stack of Vogue magazines in my old apartment that was a mile high.  Sometimes I bought In Style, too, although Vogue was my fashion Bible.

I don’t read American Vogue over here in Korea, although you can pretty much bet that I’ll start again when I get home.  Even though I love fashion, there are a few trends that have eluded my understanding.  I went to Shinsegae today, the biggest department store in the world, and I got a nice preview of the spring collections.  Coral is going to be huge this year, in case you were wondering.  Also turquoise, yellow, royal purple, and pink, I predict.  Still, I was underwhelmed by some of what I saw.

I feel as though fashion has been extremely hit-or-miss for the past several years.  There have been some trends that have been fun and interesting, while others… Well, I could do without them.  Without further ado, here is a run-down of trends, past and present, that have completely gone over my head.

1. Tranny shoes (a.k.a. platform stilettos)

Platform stilettos are everywhere now.  I saw them called “tranny shoes” on The Rachel Zoe Project, and I’ve been calling them that ever since.  They really do remind me of drag queens in dresses that look like they came off a clothes rack in a Vegas casino or off of a shop in Atlantic City.  I don’t really “get” platform stilettos, and I think they’ve been majorly overused and abused for the past few years.

I still prefer a stiletto that sits right on the floor. I distrust shoes that I can tip off of.

It’s not that I think that they’re entirely incapable of ever appearing stylish and cool, because they can be cool.  But they have to be done right.  If they aren’t done properly, you’ll look like a Kardashian after a visit to the plastic surgeon and The Cheesecake Factory.  Personally, I think they look best with a pair of skinny jeans that cover the tops of them.  Paired with a sensible shirt and a nice blazer and a rockin’ bag, they look pretty decent.  Pair them with a tulip dress, and I feel like they have the effect of calling attention to all the wrong areas, especially if you aren’t stick skinny.

Besides that, they’re insanely uncomfortable, at least for me.  I can handle stilettos, but I have to break them in, and I can’t walk for miles in them.  I love my heels, though, and I will wear them long past the point of being in mild discomfort.  I bought a pair of silver BCBG platform stilettos right when they came out, and while they are adorable, they are the most God-awful uncomfortable shoes I’ve ever owned.

Bottom line: I’ll be glad when this trend takes its leave, and I can go back to regular old strappy sandals and pumps whose soles sit nicely on the floor.

2. Jumpsuits

 Jumpsuits look good on no one.  I don’t care if you’re a size 2 or a size 20 – you will look fatter in a jumpsuit.  Even the models in the catalogs look ridiculous.  Folks think that cinching your waist in with a belt will help, but let me tell you, it takes more than the cinching of a belt to hold in the gut of someone who weighs more than 200 pounds.  Unless you’re just rail-thin – think size 4 and under – you simply must give this trend a miss.  Who wants to schlub around looking like a garbage collector or a motorcycle mechanic, anyway?

3. Peasant blouses

This is another trend that I feel looks good on almost no one.  Even skinny girls have the potential to look pregnant in a big peasant blouse.  Besides that, it makes you look like a gypsy, and gypsies are no laughing matter.

4. Draped tops

You know the tops I’m talking about: they push your boobs up and then drape over your torso in an A-line.  Again, they make pretty much everyone look pregnant.  Not a winning look for the larger lady in your life.  I remember seeing pictures of my family members wearing these back in the 70s and saying to myself, What the hell were they thinking?  Were they all pregnant?  I was horrified to discover that none of them were pregnant.  I don’t care what anyone says about pregnant women being beautiful and glowing.  That’s a load of crap.  Pregnancy makes you look like a bloated toad.  Why would you want to wear a shirt that artificially creates the appearance of weight gain?  Stoooopid.  

5. Nude-colored ball gowns

I’ve been seeing a lot of this on the red carpet this season.  Some people can pull off neutral colors, but I maintain that most everyone looks good in a nice jewel tone.   Girls with light or red hair typically don’t look good in washed-out colors, but there they are, prancing down the red carpets like ice queens.  Do these Hollyweirdos not have stylists anymore?

6. Ombre hair

Kate Beckinsale sporting ombre hair. And a neutral gown. Double fail.

For those who don’t know what this is, ombre hair is generally somewhat dark about halfway down, and then colored a lighter shade the rest of the way.  This look is generally accomplished by highlights and/or hair extensions.  Kate Beckinsale wore this look to the premier of the new Underworld movie.  Frankly, I think it’s ridiculous-looking.  I have seen plenty of people too lazy to color over a growing-out dye job.  Those people usually come from trailer parks.  When did imitating the trailer park trash become a popular activity for those who frequent the red carpets?  Ugh.

7. Hair extensions

I feel like this trend really got its kick-start back around 2004 when Paris Hilton first started getting popular.  Maybe they were big before that, but it was around that time that I started noticing it, anyway.  At first, I thought they looked great.  What’s not to love?  Your hair can go from short to waist-length overnight and back again.  But after some time, I realized: they look freaking trashy!  If they aren’t properly maintained (case in point: Britney Spears), they look horrible.  And actually, it looks pretty cheap to have insanely long hair, especially once you get past a certain age.  Think Real Housewives of Anywhere, USA.

8. Distressed jeans

They look great.  That’s not the part with which I take issue.  My main problem is that it is beyond ridiculous to pay for someone else to put holes in your jeans for you.  I make enough holes in my britches without other people getting in on the action.  I’ve fallen down and ripped my jeans, ripped them on fences (don’t ask), gained too much weight and split a seam, had pockets get old and worn out… The list goes on and on.  It just seems dumb to pay $110 for a pair of jeans that will only fall apart that much faster.  Give me a hardened indigo wash any day of the week.  They last longer, even if they do turn your legs blue for a few washes.

9. Popped collars

Popped collars were big when I was in university.  I feel like they hit their big moment when I was in Germany, but it survived well after that.  Do frat boys still pop their collars?  They probably do.  Popping your collar is like having “DOUCHEBAG” tattooed onto your forehead in block letters.  It looks stupid and obnoxious, especially when paired with a brand-name baseball cap.  Stupid, stupid, stupid.  I hate it just as much when girls do it.  When girls do it, though, it says something to me more like, “I’m a bobo preppie who shops at J. Crew at still wears ribbon belts.”  Bobos, by the way, are bohemian bourgeoisie – people who drive a Prius, wear far too much North Face gear, and pretend to love socialism and Democrats but would never give up their wasteful lifestyle.  (See: asinine hypocrite)

10. Maxi dresses

Don't kid yourself. This is what you look like in a maxi dress.

There is only one time that maxi dresses are appropriate, and that’s relaxing on the beach.  They all look like beach cover-ups.  And that’s fine.  Wear them to the beach, by all means.  Don’t wear them to a dinner party and expect anyone with any taste to think that you look good.  Because you won’t.  The thing that frustrates me the most is that maxi dresses seem to be one of the three dress style choices for girls who wear a size 14 or up.  Maxi dresses seem to be the go-to rag for fat chicks, and I can’t stand them.  I think they just make you look like you’re wearing a tent.  You might as well just call it what it is: a slightly modernized muumuu.

11. Harem pants

I first saw harem pants over here in Korea.  My old coworker, Emily, wore them constantly.  Emily is Korean and weighs probably 105 pounds, maximum.  She was all bones and legs.  Gorgeous, of course, but even she didn’t look good in harem pants.  Hers were gray, and that made everything even worse.

Harem pants are not slimming.  They make you look like you just dropped a load in your pants, they shorten your legs, and they frankly look ridiculous.  They are unflattering to even the tiniest of frames.  Unless you’re dressing up as Jeannie from I Dream of Jeannie for Halloween, give these horror show pants a miss.  You won’t regret it.

12. Butt pants 

I call them butt pants.  We’ve all seen them: sweatpants with writing across the arse that are obviously meant to call attention to that very area.  They might as well be emblazoned with “Up for it!”  I especially hate to see this trend on really young little girls.  Isn’t it just asking for perverts to skeeve on your daughter?  Gross and wrong.  And sorry college girls, but it just looks cheap.  Especially when the butt pants in question are those demi-sweatpants paired with Uggs.  So wrong.

13. Any kind of low-rise pant

I’m glad that the low-rise pant trend is mostly over.  When I was in middle school, pants hanging down below guys’ butts was the the thing, then it was low-rise flares for girls.  Both of them showed a lot of unnecessary butt-crack.

14. Skinny jeans on guys

No. Just no.

Unless you’re an underfed, coked-up hipster… Actually, no, this look is a loser for them, too.  Skinny jeans on guys are just not flattering.  They’re not.  They aren’t flattering on some women, either, but for most girls, worn with the right top and a nice pair of shoes, they can look very cool.  But not for guys.  No, not even for gay guys.  They’re like long-length nut-huggers on guys, and that is not a winning look.

15. Shiny suits

Shiny suits are popular in Korea, especially for young, twenty-something guys.  They’re often paired with pastel, rhinestone-studded neckties.  They look crazy and cheap.  I don’t just hate them, but I don’t understand them, and after you’ve reached 30, they’re no longer acceptable work attire, unless you work at Vogue or something.

There are probably a bunch more things that I’m not thinking of, but these are my personal least favorite trends.  I’ve probably been watching too much Sex and the City and Ugly Betty, but I can’t help it: I love fashion.

Tooting My Own Horn

Most of you probably know that I write this blog, as well as another blog that focuses on libertarian politics, Austrian economics, and the ideals of freedom.  I go back and forth between writing more for this one or more for that one.  Lately, this blog has been winning because I’ve been working on a project for my weekend boss, and it’s been very time-consuming.  I haven’t wanted to sit and spend hours writing a thought-provoking, coherent blog about economics or something of that nature.  Last night, though, I decided that I’d sit down and write something meaningful.

I got inspired by all the website blackouts that have been taking place because of SOPA.  I think it’s wonderful that there are so many individuals and businesses that are supporting the death of this bill, which would do none of the things that it purports to do.  It’s just another piece of government idiocy waiting to be passed by a negligent, traitorous Congress and President.  In any case, I wrote an article about SOPA and intellectual property law.

Frankly, I don’t have an overwhelming number of readers, much like I don’t have an overwhelming number of readers for this blog. Sometimes, it feels like I’m talking to myself or occasionally one or two friends, but I enjoy writing, and it gives me an outlet for my frustrations.  Besides that, if I’m writing, I feel like I’m doing something positive, and I think that if I can change the mind of even one person, it will have been worth it.  I don’t claim to be the world’s greatest writer or anything like that, but I like to think that some of my articles are at least mildly enlightening and provide some useful information.

Still, it can be disheartening when you don’t get as many hits as you’d like.  Everyone who starts a blog dreams of becoming the next Internet sensation, and it doesn’t happen for very many.  Most people, like me, are just writing for themselves or their friends and family.  I know that.  But secretly, I’ve always hoped that someone might eventually notice my blog and drive up the traffic a little bit.

Well, I’m going in the right direction.  I wrote the article with the help of some articles written by anti-intellectual property writer Stephan Kinsella, who is a regular contributor to the Mises Institute, a place that I wholeheartedly love and respect as a foundation that preserves and highlights great libertarian and Austrian school thinkers.  I guess I must have written in the right tags, because it got reposted to the Center for the Study of Innovative Freedom, which is headed by Kinsella and dedicated to eliminating intellectual property.

I know, I know – it was probably one of his minions who found it and reposted it to the website.  But it says “by Stephan Kinsella” underneath the posting, and dammit, that’s good enough for me!  I actually got noticed by someone whose opinion I respect, who has no idea who I am!  I know, I’m probably feeling way too good about this, but it makes my day to know that a person whose work I enjoy very much thought that my work was good enough to reprint.  That’s an amazing feeling, because I haven’t written anything that anyone insinuated was worth reprinting in a long, long time.  It gives me hope that I haven’t lost my touch, sitting over here in Asia with nobody who wants to hit around ideas with me.  Well, I have my husband, but we get one each other’s nerves if we talk politics too much.  Bottom line: I feel really great about the fact that I got noticed, and I hope that I can continue producing material that is interesting and thoughtful enough to garner the attention and respect of those whom I likewise hold in high esteem.  I guess I better get these blasted book reports done and get to work on something intellectually stimulating!

The Lady Libertarian on IP and SOPA

Making it to the French Titty Bar Before Last Call

This is possibly the funniest thing I’ve seen all week, FDR: American Badass.  No part of me thinks FDR was a good president, and this is about as historically accurate a film as I’d ever care to see about him.  Anything with werewolves, French titty bars, and machine gun wheelchairs is automatically seven stars, in my world.  Dear Hollywood, please make this movie real.

Summer in Korea

Yes, I know it’s January and therefore slightly early to be talking about summer break.  However, I am aching, yearning, wishing daily for warmer weather, and the near-constant praying for a whisper of warmth on the wind has prompted me to think about summers past in Korea.  I have had some fun times here in the summer, and in my humble opinion, summer is where it’s at in Korea.  Maybe I’m biased.

I’m from the Midwest originally, and before coming to the Land of the Morning Fruit Truck Man with a Bullhorn, I had only seen the ocean four or five times in my life: once in California, twice outside of D.C., and a few times flying over it on the way to Europe.  Oh sure, we have swimming holes, public pools, and float trips down Missouri rivers, but it’s not the same as the ocean.  Having honest-to-God beaches and ocean was a complete and utter thrill for me when I arrived here.  I think I spent more time at the beach than I did at home over the weekends that first summer I was here.

I’ve been mulling it over for a few hours, and I’ve compiled a short list of fun, beachy-keen things to do in Korea when the hot summer sun is beating down.

1. Haeundae/Gwangali/Songjeong Beach – Busan

Busan is probably best known among the foreigner community for Haeundae.  Haeundae is a large neighborhood in the southeast part of Busan, and it faces out towards Japan.  In the winter, Haeundae is a frigid, wind-swept hell, but in the summer, it is well-known as beach combers’ paradise.  If you ever wanted to see 10,000 umbrellas on a beach in a single day, Haeundae would be the place to accomplish that.

This gives you some idea of how crowded Haeundae can be in the summer months.

Haeundae is far and away the most popular of the three beaches, and I’ve heard tell that it gets about a million visits in the relatively short period between July and August.  (Koreans only really go to the beach during those two months, for some reason that I don’t fully understand.)  You can rent an umbrella for the day and claim your spot on the sand.  There are changing rooms and restrooms on the beach, along with people selling beer, ice cream, beach toys, and fireworks.  Apparently, there is also a Sand Festival in June, so that might be worth checking out.  Right on the beach, there is also the Busan Aquarium which is far from the most impressive I’ve ever seen, but it does have a killer tunnel that goes under the shark/sea turtle/stingray tank.  You can also sign up to go diving with the sharks there, where you will get to feed the nurse sharks and view them up close in their unnatural habitat.

Playing in the sea... of umbrellas. And no, this wasn't taken in 2004 - I believe it was 2008.

I’ve never been able to figure out why Koreans are so keen on going to Haeundae, as most of them stay as covered as a beekeeper.  They’re all deathly afraid of getting too tan, so it’s not unusual to see people wearing long sleeves on a 90 degree afternoon.  Also, it seems like a fair amount of children – and possibly adults – don’t know how to swim, so they don’t do much more than get their legs wet.  I find it relatively rare to see them making honest attempts at swimming.

Gwangali is quite near Haeundae, and while it is also crowded, it is somewhat less popular than Haeundae.  I find that the bars are better in Gwangali, with the exception of the Irish Wolfhound.  Gwangali is great at night, when bars like the ubiquitous Thursday Party have patrons spilling out onto the beach.  There is a lovely view of the Gwangali Bridge, which is always lit up at night.  I have had some excellent – and interesting! – nights at Thursday Party on Gwangali Beach.  There is also a Wa Bar and a string of higher-end restaurants and hotels along that area.

Songjeong is the least popular of the three, and it lacks the beauty of Haeundae and Gwangali.  However, it does have one thing up on both of them: The Blowfish Bar.  If you like hipster bars with a surfer feel, Blowfish is it.  I had a fantastic night there, complete with Shisha and a hookah, as well as excellent music and very passable quesadillas.  We met some fun people there, although some of them were a bit “too cool for school.”  Overall, the bar has a great vibe, and it was well worth the visit to the beach to go there.

If you’re looking for accommodation in Haeundae, you will need to go early during the high season.  There are hotels all around the beach area, and they vary in price from somewhat reasonable to pricey.  During the high season, prices can go up 100% or more.  Our favorite hotel that no longer exists, the Castle Beach was about $65 a night during the low season, but it could be about $140 during July and August.  Also, the prices will go up as the day goes on and the hotels fill up.  You will definitely pay more if you arrive late Saturday evening, assuming that you can get a room at all.

Another good place to hit up during the evening is Starface, which is on the hills above Haeundae.  Starface has a bottomless cup for (I think) 30,000 won on Saturday nights.  It goes from 8pm-1am, and they sometimes have live music, as well.  Honestly, it’s a good deal, and there’s a great view of Haeundae.  To get there, ask a taxi driver to take you to the International School (bu-san guk-jae hak-yo), and then continue straight.  It’s on your left.  Can’t miss it.

So if you enjoy sunbathing and some fun in the surf, Busan is a good bet.  It does get incredibly crowded during high season, so arrive early, get your spot and your hotel, and be sure to bring plenty of sunscreen, beer, and friends!

2. Boryeong Mud Festival

I have never met anyone who didn’t enjoy the Mud Festival.  I was in Korea for almost three years before I went to Boryeong for the first time.  It isn’t something that I would need to do again, but some people return year after year and have a bangin’ good time.  Boryeong is a town on the west cost of Korea, and Boryeong is well-known for it’s lovely beach and excellent, rejuvenating mud.

Basically, the Mud Festival is exactly what it sounds like: a festival of mud.  There are mud pools, mud slides, colored mud face painting, and a beach to wash off in when you’re sick of looking like a filthy pig.  There are concerts, bars, and ondol (Korean on-the-floor-style sleeping accommodations) hostels for people to rent.  Most people buy lots of beer and spend most of the time fairly to completely wasted.  It is a Mecca for foreigners, although there are Koreans who come and partake, too – mostly younger people.

Summer is the rainy (monsoon) season here in Korea, and to some extent, the level of fun to be had at Boryeong depends largely on the weather.  If there is an absolute pour-down, the Mud Festival will close up shop.  From combined knowledge of my own and my friends’ experiences, I’d say it’s relatively hit-or-miss in terms of weather, so you need to be aware of that.  The year I went, it was rainy, but it cleared off enough to keep the mud pools open.  Although it did sprinkle off and on for the duration of the trip, it wasn’t really a big deal.

To secure accommodations for the trip, you must go through one of the travel agencies that services Mud Festival.  Buses will run from different cities, and you must reserve both spots on the bus and a room for your group.  Most often, Facebook pages will be set up providing information about it, and you can sign up from there.  You must deposit money before the trip, and this will be accomplished by wiring money from your bank account to the account of the travel agency.  It sounds complicated, but wiring money between accounts in Korea is simple and easy – even an ignorant foreigner can do it!

Last year, there was a bus that left from Changwon, I do believe.  However, the year I went, we all had to meet up in Busan and get the bus from there.  A word of advice about the buses: going is no big deal.  Everyone climbs onto their assigned bus and away you go.  Coming back is a different story.  Sometimes, people get assigned to different buses and want to go home with another group of friends, so they switch buses.  Switching isn’t allowed, and usually one bus will be more crowded than another.  If you don’t want to lose your seat to some straggler from another bus, get to the buses home early and avoid this problem.  It happens every year, so it’s something to aware of.

In any case, Boryeong was a good time for me, and I would consider doing it again, if I had a fun group to go with me.  Even if you think you won’t enjoy it, you should try it before you go home.  You won’t regret it!

3. Jeju-do

Jeju is the Thailand of Korea.  It’s nothing like Thailand, but it is Korea’s very own subtropical “paradise.”  My boss summed it up thusly: “Why go to Thailand when I can go to Jeju-do?  I don’t like foreign foods, and they have the same style hotels in Jeju.  Also, it’s cheaper.  So I go there.”  Every Korean goes to Jeju.  It’s the number one honeymoon spot for Koreans.

I have not yet been to Jeju, although I hear it’s quite lovely in the summer months.  There are several big beaches to enjoy, although the water is not warm like Southeast Asia; it is always a little bit cold up here.  There are some major hotels, such as the Lotte Hotel, T.H.E. Hotel, the Ramada, and others, most of which have large outdoor pools, casinos, hair salons, restaurants, and all the other things you would expect from major hotels.  There are smaller, cheaper hotels as well.

Although Jeju will not provide you the sort of exotic delights that places like Vietnam and the Philippines will do, it is nice, and there are things to do there.  You can visit Hallasan, the tallest mountain in Korea.  Hallasan is home to a rather strange occurrence: there is a place on the mountain where you can put your car in neutral, and it will actually roll up the mountain.  I assume it has something to do with the iron or magma under the mountain, as Hallasan was a volcano.

There are also lots of museums and parks in Jeju, such as the Teddy Bear Museum, the Sex and Health Museum (pandering to honeymooners?), Loveland Park (heh), Mini Mini Land, the Eros Museum, a folk village museum, and the Haenyeo museum.  The Haenyeo would probably be the most interesting to outsiders, as it chronicles Jeju’s fabled female divers.  These intrepid gals dive down into the ocean unassisted by oxygen tanks or boats to retrieve abalone, clams, and seaweed from the sea floor.

Jeju was perhaps the once place in Korea where women were accorded special value.  Because the female fishers were so valued, it was considered better in Jeju when a girl was born than a boy, in direct contrast to the rest of Korea.  In the past, the Haenyeo women led the anti-Japanese campaign, as well as campaigns to preserve marine life and ecology.  There are not many Haenyeo women left today, so if you get a chance to meet them or eat at one of their co-op restaurants, I hear you won’t regret it!

There are also lava tubes, caves, trails, and pony rides to amuse you on Jeju.  If you want, you can take a ferry to Udo Island, a small island off the eastern coast of Jeju.  It seems to have an Irish/Scottish/British Isles feel to it, and there are some pensions and B&Bs on the island.

Summer is definitely the time to see Jeju, although people go year-round.  I would recommend booking your flight (don’t take the ferry) in advance and making sure you can get a hotel for a reasonable price.  Check out Agoda.  I have used them, and they always have good prices, if you book far enough in advance.  And no, I don’t get paid to plug for them – I just like them!

4. Caribbean Bay/Everland

My husband and I were planning on doing Everland/Caribbean Bay last summer, but we never did get around to it.  Everland is often referred to as “the Disney World of Korea.”  I think Disney World is probably better, but everyone I know who has been there as enjoyed themselves.  Everland is a huge theme park full of the usual roller coasters, games, theater, restaurants, kiddie rides, and thrills.  They have various “festivals” depending on the season, but summer is obviously the major time to go.  All of my students make the annual pilgrimage to the Suwon/Seoul area to hit up Everland and Caribbean Bay.

Caribbean Bay has gotten a lot of good reviews from foreigners.  There are three slides that are over 100 feet long, a wave pool, boogie boarding, a mile-long lazy river that goes in and outside, and various saunas if it gets too chilly in the evening.  Expect long wait times – up to an hour or more – during the high season.  You can purchase wrist bands and put money on them, and you will use that money to buy food, drinks, etc.  Bringing your own refreshments in is not permitted, so you have to purchase the wristbands.  If you don’t use your money, you can get a refund at the end of the day.  There are restaurants of various prices, so there should be something for everyone, Korean or Western.  You can also rent lifejackets, if you have a weak swimmer or small child with you.  Most parents recommend that children be at least seven years old so that they can fully enjoy the park, although there are kiddie pools for the little ones, too.  Day passes are $65, but admission is $55 after 15:00.

Everland is home to the T-Express, the roller coaster with the steepest wooden roller coaster drop in the world – 77 degrees vertical!  The other major roller coaster is the Rolling X-Train, which is an inverted coaster featuring two loops and two corkscrews.  Another major attraction is the Double Rock Spin.  There are plenty of rides for everyone, including younger children.  There is also a zoo, where you can see a “liger” – half lion, half tiger.  Overall, Everland is divided into five different areas and contains over 50 different attractions, so it shouldn’t be hard to find something that you will enjoy!

Tickets are about 20,000-30,000 won per person.  You can get to Everland/Caribbean Bay from Seoul Nambu Bus Terminal or Dong Seoul Bus Terminal.  The ride out there takes about an hour and ten minutes or so.

5. Jisan Valley Rock Festival & Pentaport Rock Festival

These annual rock festivals have long been a favorite among my friends here in Korea.  I was going to go to Jisan two years ago, but extenuating circumstances prevented this from happening.

Jisan is a fairly standard music festival with lots of concerts, outdoor camping, and good, drunken fun.  Past acts have included the Chemical Brothers, Fall Out Boy, Jimmy Eat World, Basement Jaxx, Third Eye Blind, Incubus, and a host of others.  It split from Pentaport back in 2009, I think. Pentaport has some major acts, too, which have included Korn, Simple Plan, Stereophonics, LCD Soundsystem, Neon Trees, The Gossip, and Muse.

Last year, Jisan’s three-day admission was 220,000 won, or you could purchase a day pass for 110,000.  Although I don’t know about Pentaport, I would assume that the prices are similar.

Food and beverages are cheap, unlike at American rock festivals, where the prices can get pretty out-of-hand.  Like the rest of Korea, food and drinks can be gotten for cheap, so you don’t have to worry about overspending on crappy concert fare.  Weather can be a bit of an issue, unless you enjoy camping out in wet, muddy fields with lots of other concert goers.  Pray for good weather, because my friends went one year when it rained, and it sounded more akin to Boryeong Mud Festival than a rock concert.

6. One of the minor islands: Namhae, Geoje, etc. 

Most Koreans are always on about Jeju, but for my money, I say that you can have a fabulous time closer to home at Geoje, Namhae, or one of the other small islands off of the southern coast.  From Gyeongsangnam-do mainland or Busan, both are easily accessible by bus or ferry.

A small, quiet beach in Geoje-do.

Geoju was hands-down my favorite of the two, although I had a good weekend in Namhae, too.  Geoje is an incredibly beautiful island, and there are plenty of nice, unspoiled beaches there.  Namhae was pretty too, although there were some jellyfish to contend with in those waters, which was not so fun.  If the hustle and bustle of Busan’s beaches are not your speed, consider taking a weekend journey to one of these smaller islands.  There are usually small hotels and pensions available or, if you’re like me, you can just bring your tent and camp on the beach.

If you value a little bit of peace and quiet with your beach experience, consider checking out an island.  The ferry rides can be fun, too, and you will get more of a cultural experience there than you will in Busan, although you will almost certainly not be able to find a convenient foreigner bar.  … You might, however, see a man in a Spiderman costume on a four-wheeler.  … Don’t ask.

 

The Economics of Living Life

I read an article a few months back on The Mises Institute, which is one of my favorite websites.   It has lots of articles and information about Austrian economics and libertarian thought, two topics which are near and dear to my shriveled old heart.  I came across one – I believe it was by Wendy McElroy – about living a less frivolous lifestyle.  Rather than approach it from the usual pie-in-the-sky moral terms, it approached the topic from an economic position, which shines a somewhat glaring light on the things we do to maintain a certain standard of living.

Basically, the article makes the case for a frugal lifestyle.  From a practical standpoint, this has a lot of benefits: less credit card debt, less clutter in the house, and less pressure to keep up with the Joneses.  It also takes into account the rationale behind the decision to live with less: time is literally money. 

Think about it.  Why does anybody work?  To pay bills, buy a house, have food, clothes, and other necessities.  But when does the object or service in question cross the border from the Land of Necessity to the Land of Stupid $h!t That You Don’t Need?  Well, according to Austrian economic rationale – actually, I’m not even convinced that you need to believe in Austrian economics to get the general gist of this logic – you must judge your necessities by the time it takes to earn them.

For example, how much is it worth to you to own a pair of shoes?  How many minutes, hours, days, months, or years must you work to earn what you want?  If all you want is a new pair of cross trainers, in my case, I would only have to work for a few hours.  However, if I decided that I wanted a pair of Louboutins or Manolos instead, well, the number of hours I would have work suddenly increases dramatically.  I can buy a pair of new trainers within a day.  A pair of $1200 Louboutins?  It’s going to be more like half a month.  And once I’ve bought them, there are still things that I must do without for the month in order to have them, such as a new jacket, an expensive dinner out, or a day trip to Busan, among other things.  By the end of the month, I may even find that I’m pinching pennies to buy more practical things, like groceries.

So the final question is: is it worth it to buy that frivolous item that you don’t need?  Nobody needs a pair of Louboutin shoes, and nobody needs an 84″ plasma or flatscreen TV or whatever it is that people who like big TVs have now.  How much is it worth to you to keep the money and save it or spend it elsewhere versus buying the big-ticket item?  And are you really going to be happier or derive more pleasure from the shoes or the TV than you would from having a bigger house or paying down the mortgage faster?  Is the TV worth more than eating well?  Of course, the answers to those questions depend entirely upon the person answering them.  In my case, a huge TV would almost certainly never be worth the money saved, since I don’t watch TV much and don’t enjoy it overmuch when I do.

The question for your dear writer is a somewhat different twist on the same essential question: how much time am I willing to work to maintain a certain standard of living.  As it stands right now, I work just about every hour God sends.  I work between seven and eight hours a day at my regular job, depending on what time of the month or year it is.  I work for about six hours on Saturday for a “bonus job” that pays reasonably well.  I also spend anywhere from two to five hours on Friday night preparing for those classes, depending on what material we’re covering and what activities we’re doing.  I have a Tuesday night private lesson for one hour, and lately I’ve been doing book reports for my weekend boss.  I spend anywhere from two to four or five hours a night working on those. 

The end result?  I’m flush with cash.  My husband and I live pretty much by our own leave, as far as spending goes.  We don’t have to worry about making ends meet, to be sure.  The problem?  I almost never have time at night to hang out with my husband.  We never go anywhere because I work every weekend, and I’m usually too tired to do anything by the time I get home on Saturday night, after a full day of teaching and three hours of round-trip bus-riding. 

The question I’ve been asking myself lately is more along the lines of: how much is it worth to me to have all the money I want, but limited time to enjoy the fruits of my own labor?  Alas, it seems that it’s hard to have it both ways.  If you don’t have as much money, you aren’t able to buy and enjoy as many things.  Conversely, if you have enough money, it’s less likely that you’ll have the time to enjoy it, since you spend most of the time working to earn that money.  So which is more important – the time or the money? 

I still don’t know the answer to my own question.  I know that I’m in dire need of a break.  I feel like I never slow down, and I’m getting to the point whereby it’s hard to do so.  I feel lazy if I’m not working 24/7.  But I also know that I’m not enjoying my life as much as I should be.  I don’t spend a lot of time with my husband.  When he wants to have a “date night,” I often am too tired or don’t have time.  I keep telling myself that the money we’re saving for a house and our increased purchasing power allows us to do things that most couples our age simply can’t, but that doesn’t make it less tiring or annoying when you don’t have time to enjoy yourself.

I know it sounds like I’m complaining.  I really have no right to complain, since there are so many people out there who don’t have jobs who would love to be in my position.  Please don’t misconstrue my remarks to mean that I’m not grateful, because nothing could be further from the truth.  I’m grateful that someone out there thinks I’m valuable enough to pay – and pay me far more than my services are really worth, in my mind.  However, I also know that I’m tired and could use a break from the constant grind of working all the time. 

I need to make a decision for myself about how much I’m willing to take on in the long term, and also about how much money really means to me.  Do I want to be one of those workaholics who doesn’t see her family very often, with the tradeoff being that I provide for them better than most?  Would I rather be present for all the events and have more time to do fun things, albeit less frequently because of the decreased cash flow?  I know myself well enough to know that money and position are important to me.  I also know myself well enough to know that I reach burnout stage after a while and am usually forced to slow down, however temporarily.  I guess the real question is: how do I strike a happy balance between having enough and enjoying it or having more and enjoying it less?  Alas, it is a question that plagues most modern families. 

Ulimately, I know that I don’t need designer shoes.  I know that I would be happier and more comfortable, in the long run, getting a pair of colorful Pumas and calling it a day.  Sometimes I hate myself for nursing, as Kathleen Winsor so aptly put it in Forever Amber, “that imp of ambition.”  It’s hard to say no when you feel like you’re getting ahead, and it’s hard to say no when people wave the green in front of your face.  But for today, I think it’s safe to say that I’d prefer to be at home cuddling with my husband than sitting in the office, contemplating my next class and the difficulty of mundane economic decisions as they apply to ordinary life.  In fact, if pressed to decide today between work or play, I would have yawned, pulled the covers over my head, and burrowed back into my warm, snuggly bed.

The Winter of My Discontent

When I was a child I loved winter.  Snow days, sledding, and my personal favorite, ice hockey, were all part of the winter line-up.  I couldn’t wait to get out my heavy coat and snow boots.  Sledding days at the YMCA hill were the greatest.  Then, somewhere along the way, everything changed, and suddenly winter wasn’t quite the slip-slide joyride that I remember.

I think it most likely began when I was in high school.  I’ve always been on the portly side, but in high school, I put my foot down on my fatness and went on a doctor-supervised liquid fast.  Needless to say, the weight just fell off of me.  I lost about 135 pounds in 10 months.  Sure, I looked awesome, comparatively speaking, but there is one thing that people don’t think about when they lose weight that they really should: blubber is the best insulator ever.  Marine mammals got it right.  I went from being perpetually hot to completely and utterly unable to warm up.

My thoughts exactly.

My weight has fluctuated a lot since that infamous liquid diet, but I’ve never quite been as warm as I was back in the day.  Even though I’ve surpassed my former “top weight” – and dropped it again, might I add – I’ve always been a bit colder than before.  I’ve been losing weight again via the Somersize diet, and once again, I’m starting to feel endlessly chilled.  The only time I’m warm is when I’m in bed underneath layers of covers, one of which should ideally be an electric blanket.  My husband thinks I’m crazy, but honestly, winter is like a cold hell for me.

The other crummy thing about winter is the big “January letdown,” as I call it.  Christmas and New Year’s are over, there’s probably four feet of snow on the ground or six inches of ice on the roads, and there’s nothing to look forward to until the thaw.  Some people will argue in favor of Valentine’s Day or St. Pat’s, but the warmth of love and the sweet glow of whiskey shots don’t hold a candle to the ambient heat of our dear sun.  Basically, I wish I could hibernate from January to sometime around my birthday in April.

I go through a phase every winter, usually in February, where I drag out the old Kate Bosworth movie Blue Crush.  If you haven’t seen it, it’s hardly cinematic gold, but Kate Bosworth has a banging bikini bod, and she and her buddies surf and party around Hawaii’s fabled North Shore.  It’s the ultimate summer flick.  It just makes you feel like putting on some Jimmy Buffett and buying a ticket to a warmer climate.  In my case, I usually get online and start perusing the winter vacation resort wear and bathing suits that would look terrible on.  Frankly, most resort wear was intended for girls who can wear single-digit sizes (I can only dream).  I look like Divine in a John Waters film if I try to squeeze on stuff like that.

This is what I look like in skimpy beach wear - Divine.

But the point is that it feels nice to dream, and if I focus really hard on the surf scenes in Blue Crush while perusing the latest Victoria’s Secret swimsuit look book, I can almost feel myself basking in the sun’s warmth while enjoying a body that less closely resembles my own.

A friend of mine is taking off the to Philippines for two or three weeks, and I’m insanely jealous.  This is the ideal time of year to head to Southeast Asia, since it’s the dry season.  All I can fantasize about is the honeymoon that got canceled at the last minute.  I’m still mildly bitter that we didn’t get to go to Thailand when we had it scheduled last year.

So what can I do to bring myself out of the mid-winter slump?  Well, aside from ordering bathing suits – which I will then hate myself for doing once they’ve arrived and I see the appalling figure I cut in even the most modest of suits – I’m not really sure.  I guess we could try and book another honeymoon, but I’ve had such terrible luck with vacations in the past two years that I’m relatively convinced that the plane would explode at the gate or one of us would be raped by a clown or something equally horrible and fun-sucking.

I keep asking myself if we couldn’t just move to Florida.  Sure, Graeme is heat-intolerant, there are gators at the back door, and there are hurricanes a-plenty, but isn’t that better than breaking your butt on the ice every year and having a heart attack from shoveling the mountains of snow between the back door and the garage?  … Something tells me that Graeme won’t be sold on my arguments in favor of palm trees.

Still, I can dream.  I can dream of a Spanish colonial-style house, a dream vacation to Thailand, and a tight, hard body that was miraculously bestowed upon me with no work or effort whatsoever on  my part.  I should probably also be thankful that, while it is cold here, it rarely snows, and it certainly isn’t nearly as cold as the brutal Midwest.  Actually, it isn’t even as cold here as it was last year.  Last winter, the pond was frozen solid for over a month.  It is still, however, too cold for comfort.

So I think once I’ve finished my mountains of book reports that I’m currently avoiding, I’m going rent Blue Crush, find the latest swimsuit fashion magazines, crank the heat up in the house, pull out my beach skirt and tank tops, make a crappy margarita, and pretend that I’m having a cheeseburger in paradise.  It’s times like this that I’m thankful that, at the age of 27, I still have an extremely overactive imagination!

Tips for Surviving in Korea

It just occurred to me today that in April, I will have officially been in Korea for two full years, and that means that I’m now pushing for a grand total of over three years service as a foreign teacher.  I’m not going to lie: the first year was rough.  Although I’d lived abroad before, I’d never gone somewhere as wildly different as Asia.  And Asia is wildly different, although that almost seems like a strange thought now.  I’ve realized that, over the course of the last two years, Korea has become a second home to me.  My culture shock is officially no more.

That said, much like most foreigners in Korea, I’ve had to learn a lot of things the hard way.  Although the Hermit Kingdom has opened its doors to international trade, culture, and travelers, there is a lot here that remains relatively unchanged.  Korean values are conservative, and although things are becoming more modern, the simple fact remains that the Far East will never be the West.

I know at least one of my regular readers is planning on becoming an expat over here fairly soon, and if any passersby happen to glean some useful information from this blog, so much the better.  I’m including in this blog some general tips about what to expect in Korea, how to prepare for arrival and life here, and what to do in case of fire (let it burn!).

1. Koreans are very proud of their country and culture.  If they ask your opinion about Korea, be polite.  Even if your real opinion is mild to incredibly negative, it would behoove you to conceal that thought, particularly if your boss is the one asking you.  If you insult the mother country, you could be dealing with an emotional rift for some time… Or forever.

2. Always say hello when you arrive in the work place.  Say hello to your students, and especially say hello to your co-teachers and boss.  It sounds like a silly thing, but this will have a surprisingly positive impact on your personal relationships with your co-workers.  And that brings me to my next point..

3. Personal relationships are the be-all end-all of everything here in Korea.  Business relationships are based in large part on your ability to get along and respect everyone at work.  This often means that you have to overlook things that you consider to be annoying.  You should always accept if your boss invites you out to dinner or lunch.  Koreans tend to be heavy drinkers at social events, but if you aren’t, it is acceptable to politely decline.  Just make sure that you keep it polite.  You should also be willing to try the food, even if it doesn’t look like it would be something that you would normally eat – like squirming octopus tentacles.  An adventurous spirit will be to your benefit here.

4. Accept the fact that most hagwons – public school, too, from what I hear – are not run according to the same standard of professionalism as in the West.  Koreans are notorious for not planning ahead, springing things on you at the last minute, and then hitting the big, red PANIC button.  I haven’t gotten over this one to this day, but eventually, you will learn that there’s no real reason to panic, since everyone pretty much does a half-assed job in these cases anyway.  Just act like you know what you’re doing, don’t get too upset about it, and get it done.  The less said, the better.

5. Dress professionally.  Appearance is even more important in Korea than it is in America, if you can believe that.  Korean women will almost invariably wear some makeup every day.  All will dress nicely – shirt, shoes, skirt, cute shirt, etc.  Showing up in slouchy jeans that expose your boxers or tank tops that bare your assets won’t fly.  You don’t have to look like you’re ready to meet the president, but being nicely groomed and neatly dressed goes a long way.

6. Accept the fact that sometimes, you are just a glorified babysitter.  You will have students who are legitimately interested in learning.  You will also have students that make your life hell.  Sometimes they’re in the same class.  Sometimes it takes most of your time and energy just to corral the crappy kids.  Time and experience will help to curb some of these problems, as will having a boss who supports you by giving the kids some discipline.  I’ve been very lucky this time around with my boss, but every hagwon is different.

7. Contracts are not considered as binding in Korea as they are in the West.  While your boss will probably expect you to uphold all details of the bargain on your end, they might be somewhat lax on their end.  Don’t be a doormat.  Make sure that you get paid on time, that your apartment is safe and comfortable, and that you are being provided pension and health insurance.  If you have to do open classes for the parents on weekends or things like that, I wouldn’t expect to get paid overtime.  Some hagwons will, but the majority won’t.  If you end up in a big academy, you will likely find yourself doing more work outside of class than your counterparts in public school and smaller hagwons.  Consider visiting forums like Dave’s ESL Cafe for some ideas about salary and work environments.  Don’t take any negativity on there too personally or too hard.  There is always negativity in the foreigner community.

8. If you’re going into a private academy, you might request an email exchange with the person you’re replacing.  More often than not, they will give you the real skinny on the job.  All bosses will make the job sound like heaven.  Other foreigners are far more likely to tell you the truth.  If you feel uncomfortable about taking a job offer, go with your gut.

9. If you are chub or chubette like me, be prepared to have the Koreans throw some shade at you.  “Teacher, you are pig!”  “Why are you so fat?”  Yes, it seems rude.  It isn’t – not to Koreans, anyway.  They are just interested in you and concerned about you.  Koreans, by and large, are not overweight.  There are more chubs here than there used to be, but most Koreans make it a point to eat healthy and stay thin.  If they offer you healthy food and try to get you to exercise, they are just worried about your health.  Don’t be offended by it, because even if you are, it won’t change their culture or their behavior towards you.

10. In the same vein, if you are overweight, you will most likely not be able to find much in the way of clothing here.  Men can find larger sizes in markets like Nampo in Busan or in Itaewon in Seoul.  Women?  Sorry, my ample-waisted sisters, but you’re $h!t out of luck.  The biggest size I have EVER seen in Korea is about a 12.  One of my best friends is 5’10” and wears a size six.  She is a L-XL in Korea.  Pack smart, and get familiar with stores that ship larger sizes internationally.  I will probably do a post about that one of these days.  If you have big feet, again, you’re out of luck.  Anything above a 12 men’s will be impossible to find here.  My husband usually has to special order his shoes.  Girls, anything above an 8 will be mostly impossible to find.  I found some small nines in a market, and they’re a bit too small for me.  Again, get friendly with stores that ship internationally.

11. Be prepared to be stared at sometimes.  Not all the time, but sometimes.  I live in area where everyone knows me.  The middle-aged adults don’t pay me any mind, and neither do the kids.  The old folks like to stop and take a look sometimes, but they’re just interested.  Sometimes it gets annoying.  It’s a bit like being a movie star – you get unwanted attention.  Mostly they are just curious.  It’s very rarely malicious.  On the rare occasion that it is, keep your cool and just walk away.  That brings me to #12…

12. Don’t get into any serious confrontations, especially with Koreans.  The honest truth of the matter is that if you get arrested, the blame will rest on you, regardless of whether or not the fault lies with you.  You will lose your job and be deported, in all likelihood.  Just don’t start stuff.  This shouldn’t be a problem, since Koreans don’t really like confrontation anyway.

13. You might see fights between lovers or families in public from time-to-time.  I have seen a man punch and kick his girlfriend in the head in public and nobody did anything.  This was very disturbing to me at the time, but it’s a fairly normal reaction in Korea.  If you aren’t family or friend, you don’t exist.  As much as I hate to say this, if you get into a fight with a Korean guy who is hitting someone else, you are putting yourself in jeopardy.  See #12 for the reason why.  Normally, I would encourage intervention in this situation, but unfortunately, you cannot change Korean culture, and you will not be helping the victim, in all likelihood.  Just stay out of it.  Unless someone is in mortal danger, stay out of it.  Your interference will not be rewarded here.

14. Under no circumstances should you become involved with drugs of any kind in Korea.  I have known one person who did, and the results were not to her benefit.  Don’t think that you can have friends send you pot brownies from home.  You will be caught and jailed.  You will do time.  Korea doesn’t tolerate drug abuse.  If you have to self-medicate, get to know alcohol a little better.  It is the drug of choice in Korea, hands-down.

15. Don’t drink the water.  See my last post for the reason why.  Buy bottled water.  If you disobey this rule, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

16. Be careful around taxis, buses, and roadways.  Koreans drive like they’re insane.  The number of high-speed road accidents here is higher than anywhere else in the first world.

17. Learn the alphabet and some useful phrases.  The alphabet is simple and phonetic, and it can be learned in one afternoon.  Although Korean is hardly an easy language to master, anyone can learn some key expressions.  Koreans will be impressed and grateful that you have put out even a little bit of effort to learn their language, as many foreigners just can’t be bothered.  A little effort goes a long way here.  You will win even more points if you know a little bit about Korean culture and history.  Get a Korean history book and read some on the plane ride over.  You will be glad that you did.

18. Be prepared for the worst.  Sometimes things just don’t work out.  Sometimes people can’t overcome the culture shock.  Sometimes they land a terrible boss and job.  Unfortunately, job complications happen, and you should come to Korea with enough money in your back pocket to help out with any unforeseen problems.  If you have to get out of your job, avoid doing the midnight run.  Explain to your boss that you don’t want to continue and that you want to end the contract.  Typically, you must give 1-2 months notice.  Sometimes bosses will not extend this same courtesy to you, but in the interest of possible future employment, try and abide by the rules of your contract.

19. Bring extra deodorant.  Koreans don’t really use it, and you’ll be glad you brought it when summer rolls around and you can’t find any.

20.  Saving face is a very important part of Korean culture.  Koreans will bullshit you like the day is long, rather than admit that they were wrong or don’t know the answer.  Sometimes this will also surface as co-workers avoiding responsibility when something goes wrong.  You may end up with fingers pointing at you, since you are the foreigner.  Be honest, but don’t shame anyone.  It will cause deeper rifts, and then you lose face for causing someone else to lose face… It’s a mess.  And it’s very counter to the Western way of dealing with problems.  However, that is the culture here, and the sooner you learn to be somewhat indirect about issues like this, the better off you’ll be.

21. Be prepared to be asked personal questions, such as your marital status, how old you are, and whether or not your are religious.  Again, Koreans are not trying to be rude.  Korea is a Confucian country, and as such, issues such as marriage and age are extremely important.  They are major determiners for where you are on the social scale, in relation to the person in question.  I have noticed, for example, that I earn much more respect, now that I’m married.  This is because great importance is placed on being married in Korean culture, particularly for women.  This may seem strange and annoying for foreigners, but it’s the norm here in Korea.  Don’t be offended if these are some of the first questions Koreans want to know about you.

22. Don’t lose your temper, even in frustrating situations.  Losing your temper generally won’t get your very far in Korea.  You lose face, and you make everyone else feel uncomfortable.  Koreans will go to great lengths to seem non-confrontational.

23. Koreans tend to laugh in situations that Westerners will consider wholly inappropriate.  Ninety-nine times out of 100, they are laughing because they are uncomfortable, not because they are making fun of you.  This is bewildering to me even to this day, but you shouldn’t get too upset about it.  I have been laughed at when there were serious problems, such as with a flight being canceled or delayed.  This infuriates most foreigners, but it is not intended to do that.  They are just conveying the fact that they are uncomfortable.  Interestingly, I’ve also noticed that Korean students and teachers will laugh when a student cries.  I had a student cry one day because of a severe toothache, and everyone – including the director – mocked him and made fun of him.  When I pressed them to explain this behavior, they just laughed and said, “It’s just Korean culture.  Doctors laugh, too.”  And they do.

24. Don’t worry about finding Western food.  While Korean food is very different, most grocery stores now carry a fairly wide selection of Western food items, including pasta sauce, peanut butter, wine, cheese, cereal, bread, pizza, and various other items.  Oh, you’ll still see octopodes struggling to escape their tanks and piles of kimchi, but Korea is not out of touch with the rest of the world.  They have Dunkin’ Donuts, Pizza Hut, Cold Stone, Baskin-Robbins, McDonald’s, Burger King, KFC, and a host of other places that should satisfy most cravings for Western food.  Alas, Mexican food is probably the one thing that you will always have difficulty locating, unless you live right near Itaewon and can go to the Mexican place there.  Forget that place Mexico here in Masan – it sucks.

25. Don’t be too shocked if you see a director whack a student with a stick of bamboo.  Corporeal punishment is still the norm here, to some degree.  While you will almost certainly not have the authority to punish students in this manner, your boss might.  Don’t be surprised if you do see it.

26. Korean summers are quite hot and humid.  Likewise, Korean winters, outside of the south in Gyeongsangnam-do and near Busan, tend to be cold and snowy.  Pack accordingly.

27. Contrary to what you may have heard, you DO have to file taxes while you’re in Korea.  Unless you’re earning more than about $92K, you won’t have to pay anything to the US government, but you do have to file taxes as a US citizen.  Because of the tough times at home, the IRS has been cracking down more and more on people, so be aware of this.  You will want to file your taxes while you’re here.

28. Find the foreigner community, wherever you are.  You will need support.  If you need to vent, vent.  Trust me, there are tons of others out there who have been in the exact same boat as you.  We’ve all been frustrated, excited, angry, homesick, drunk, and confused.  There are plenty of decent folks in the foreigner community who can help you get through it.

29. Remember, you are essentially an invited guest in Korea.  Do your best to be respectful and represent your home country, foreign teachers, and yourself as best you can.

30. Enjoy yourself and make sure to document your journey.  That year contract will go a lot faster than you think.

The Worst New Year’s Ever or: How I Got Gastroenteritis from Tap Water

New Year’s has always been one of my favorite holidays.  I don’t mean to brag (I do, actually), but back in university, my annual New Year’s party was kind of a big deal.  There was always lots of champagne and booze, of course, but I also made a red velvet cake, and everyone else would contribute some kind of snack food.  We would start early and “pre-game,” then head out to a club or something to ring in the New Year.  Suffice it to say, most of the time, we had way too much fun.  It was great.

Alas, university is behind us now, and although I still enjoy a good time, most of my friends are spread out to literally every corner of the Earth.  Times when we can all get together are few and far between nowadays.  Besides that, I never have any vacation time.  It’s hard to even make time to plan something like a party, since I work six days a week for most of the year.

This year, my hagwon vacation coincided with New Year’s, so I decided to go and see my friend Holly, who lives about four hours away in Mokpo.  Holly spent the bulk of last year in Thailand and then traveling around Southeast Asia where, of course, she got giardiasis.  For those not in the know, giardiasis is a parasite that you get from dirty water and/or food.  It’s relatively common in Southeast Asia, as are many other parasites.  In fact, parasites are so common that a lot of locals (in Thailand, at least) take a course of anti-parasitic meds every six months, just to make sure the plumbing is cleaned out.  Not exactly a savory notion, but it definitely beats the alternative, which is living with them.

Because she and her boyfriend were backpacking around Indonesia, Holly wasn’t able to get treatment for about six weeks, and it ended up doing a number on her, which is understandable.  She was still sickly when she come back to Korea. … And then she just didn’t get better.  She came to visit in Changwon, and she was still having serious digestive issues.  After she went back, the issues continued…and continued.  We video chat on Skype once in awhile, and I could see how tired and sunken she was looking.  She’s always been skinny, but she was way down from her normal weight and wasn’t looking all that healthy.  She was still complaining of the same symptoms when I got on the bus to Mokpo last week.

I arrived in Mokpo and realized immediately that I’d landed in the Kansas of Korea.  There is nothing in the province of Jeollanamdo except for farms and lots of ocean area.  And old people.  Lots of old people, at least on the bus.  Changwon is a new city, planned, and definitely bustling with commerce and industry.  In fact, it’s the second richest city in Korea, after Seoul.  Mokpo?  Well, it was a bit of a comedown.

Holly met me at the bus station and we walked the few short blocks back to her apartment.  Mokpo is one of those places where you need a bike.  There are many places that are just far enough away that you wouldn’t want to walk, but almost nowhere is far enough to prevent you from feeling lazy for taking a taxi.  In any case, we dropped my stuff and then went grocery shopping and made dinner.  She showed me the local bar, and we had a good time the next day, too, even though we were really just going through her day-to-day routine.  It’s always nice being reunited with an old friend.

I got back on the bus to Changwon on New Year’s Eve with the intention of either going to a friend’s party or going out on the town, but alas, ’twas not to be that night.  I started feeling strange on the bus, and by the time I got home, my stomach was cramping and making me uncomfortable.  By the end of the night, I concluded that I had a touch of something.  By midnight, when the vomiting started, I figured I probably had food poisoning, since I haven’t had the vomit flu since third grade.  (I guess I’m lucky, but I honestly seem to be immune to it.)  I sent Holly a text message, kidding her that she’d passed her ridiculous intestinal problems on to me and that she was contagious.  I then shut off my phone and crawled into bed, praying for sleep.

When I got onto Facebook the next day, I was greeted by a wall post from Holly.  Stephanie and Samson, two other friends of ours, had arrived for a visit right after I’d gone.  Stephanie and Holly’s boyfriend, Gabe, had come down with the same exact symptoms as me.  Holly first decided that we’d all been food poisoned… Until she thought about it.  Stephanie is vegan, and Gabe doesn’t eat much meat.  I eat almost nothing but meat, courtesy of the Somers diet.  When she walked through it, we had nothing in common except garlic and water.  Samson didn’t get sick but ate the same foods as all of them… But he was drinking beer.  He never touched a drop of water all night.

The Mokpo water, apparently, has some insane bacteria that causes “acute gastroenteritis,” which was my diagnosis at the doctor, and that’s what Holly’s doctor had been saying to her for months.  Apparently, Holly’s water has been slowly poisoning her for the last four months.  Heck, it felled three of us almost overnight!  No wonder she hasn’t gotten better!

You’d think I would’ve learned about drinking Korean water after the incident last year with the cat being poisoned by our water here in Masan.  We don’t mess with the Brita filter anymore because there seems to be at least one heavy metal in Masan water.  We just buy bottled and that’s it.  I assumed  quite wrongly that a Brita filter would suffice in Mokpo, since there’s no industry and it’s out in the country.  Country water is always cleaner, right?  Wrong.  So wrong.

So.  To my fellow waygooks in Korea:  DON’T DRINK THE STUFF THAT COMES OUT OF THE FAUCET!  I know, it’s a freaking pain to haul water home from the supermarket.  You know what’s also a pain?  Gastroenteritis, dying cats, and kidney stones.  I have two friends who have developed kidney stones, and we all figured that it may be due to the disgusting water here in Korea.  People who are prone to them seem to get them more often around here.

The moral of this story is that you shouldn’t drink tap water in most countries.  Western Europe won’t kill you, but it will give you bad gas.  Paris is okay except in the first arrondissement.  I’d still buy bottled.  England is okay, except around London.  If you have a sensitive stomach, intestines, or kidneys, don’t risk it.  Just don’t.  Learn from my mistake.  Buy bottled water.  It is so much easier to just buy the bottled water than it is to have to suffer through cramps, vomiting, diarrhea, and a doctor’s visit where the doctor laughs at you for drinking the water.  Like an idiot.

In fact, I’m going to compile a small “do/don’t” list here for would-be travelers in Korea.  I hope this saves someone some headache that I could have avoided, were I not so bent on thinking that I’m invincible.  (What am I, a sixteen-year-old?)

1. Don’t drink the water.  See above for reasons why.

2. Be careful about eating street meat.  Yes, it’s delicious, but the standards of cleanliness for food handling in Korea are basically non-existent.  It can be a shock for Westerners, who are used to the threat of the local health department closing a place down for being dirty.  That doesn’t happen here.

Trust your judgment.  If the restaurant looks dirty, find another one.  There are tons of restaurants in Korea.  If you’re worried about getting poisoned by sketchy street meat, don’t eat it.  My husband has gotten food poisoning from street meat.

3. In the same vein as street meat, be careful around the raw fish restaurants.  I’ve known several people who have gotten food poisoning from eating at the Japanese-style raw fish joints.  It’s yummy, but make sure that you choose an upscale, clean place to eat.  And even then, be aware: raw fish is what it is – kinda dirty.

4. Leave your bathroom door open a little when you shower.  Most Korean bathrooms are equipped with an inadequate fan, at best.  Most Korean apartments have at least mild problems with mold.  Unless you enjoy washing the walls with bleach, you might want to leave the bathroom door – and the windows, if it’s summer – ajar.

5. Carry some hand sanitizer if you live in a big city that has a subway, like Seoul or Busan.  I carried it in Paris when I rode the metro every day, and I felt disgusting after holding those metro rails with my hands.  Trust me, you’ll be glad you do this.

6. Invest in a good broom or hand vacuum when you arrive.  Korea is filthy, honestly.  Apartments here get dirty at a record rate of speed, and this is with people taking their shoes off at the door.  It’s gross.

7. If you can actually find the seatbelt in the backseat of a cab, USE IT.  (They seem to be removed from many cabs, believe it or not.) The cabbies here are, by and large, freakin’ crazy.  They drive like maniacs.  They weave, they dart, they don’t signal, and they cut people off.  Korea has the highest rate of high-speed motor crashes out of all developed nations.  Buckle your seat belt.

8. Don’t stand too near the front on the bus.  There’s no line to indicate that you could fly through the windshield, and bus drivers here?  Also crazy.  They know they’re the biggest guys on the road, and they will muscle their way into spaces that no bus should ever go.  They also drive insanely fast.  Hang on tight, if you have to stand, and don’t say I didn’t warn you!

9. Be careful on the sidewalks.  Korea uses lots of this slick, granite-type rock on sidewalks, and it is slicker than snot when it’s wet.  I’ve fallen God knows how many times.  And it’s everywhere.  So if it’s raining or even mildly moist and you see some of that granite sidewalk stuff, step lightly.  My husband sprained his back sliding on that stuff.

10. Wash your fruits and vegetables well.  In fact, you should really soak most of them for at least 10-15 minutes – my boss recommends 30 – before eating.  They use a lot of pesticides and stuff here.  Also, I found a pinecone in my lettuce once.

This is just a starter guide, but I really can’t stress the water thing enough.  I’ve now had two terrible experiences that were a direct result of drinking the water in Korea, so please, learn from my mistakes and don’t take a chance with your health, your friend or loved one’s health, or your pet’s health.  It’s just not worth it.  It’s not.  Better safe than sorry, fellow travelers!

 

Ice Queen

There was a post up today on People online about Nancy Kerrigan.  Remember her?  She got hit in the knee with a crowbar by Tonya Harding’s boyfriend right before the Olympics?  Man.  Those were the days: when figure skating was as dramatic as an original Beverly Hills, 90210 episode.

I love skating.  I love anything that has to do with skating.  I especially love ice hockey and figure skating.  I played roller hockey when I was a kid because my grandparents didn’t want to drive me to Springfield for skating lessons and hockey league.  I was no Mario Lemieux.  In fact, by all accounts, I was more akin to a child-like Brett Hull on ice: couldn’t skate for crap and looked like a butterball.  But I loved it.  I loved every minute of it.  Hockey was and still is my great love in sports, but figure skating takes a damn close second.  Sometimes I have dreams that I’m in a hockey rink, and in the dream, I can always skate like I wanted to: fast as a cheetah and agile, too.  It almost feels real.

I have a deep respect for skaters.  I think hockey players have to be fitter than most other athletes.  You have to be in excellent shape to routinely endure that kind of physical punishment and still be able to play the game.  Figure skating?  Well, that requires massive discipline, grace and, let’s face it, a thick skin.  I have no doubt that the world of figure skating is full of divas and people who play head games in attempts to derail the opposing skaters.

But I love it.  I love it all.

Nancy Kerrigan has made me think about skaters and the ones I felt were truly great.  I watched the last winter Olympics in Vancouver, and for the first time, I was disappointed in the figure skating event.  I think it has something to do with the new judging system, but I also feel like it has something to do with the skaters: things just aren’t as thrilling as they used to be.  I remember skaters having more personality and pizzazz.  You really had to have a magic spark to make it big in figure skating.  I just loved to watch the mile-high jumps and the dancing and the fancy footwork.  Most of you probably aren’t quite the figure skating fanatics that I once was, but do you know what I mean?  I just don’t feel like the skaters today are as exciting as those of my youth.

Take for example Scott Hamilton.  Hamilton was and still is my favorite professional skater.  Scott Hamilton has talent.  Scott Hamilton is funny.   Scott Hamilton knows how to make fun of what can be a bit of a ridiculous sport for men.  Besides that, he has real showmanship.  He made you excited about his routines.  Whenever you watched him, you knew you were going to see an awesome, interesting performance that would include excellent jumps, fancy footwork, and probably a backflip.  For a fat kid with zero athletic ability, that was where it was at.

Here is a video of Hamilton’s performance from the 1990 Stars on Ice show, “Fabulous Feet.”  Whatever “it” is that some performers and athletes have, this guy definitely has “it” in spades!

 

Kurt Browning was another favorite of mine from the world of men’s figure skating.  Browning was also a huge talent, and I found myself rooting for him and Hamilton.  Browning was the first guy to successfully pull of a quad jump in competition.  He makes it look so damn easy.  The video I’ve got for you here is from the 1988 (!) Men’s World Figure Skating Championships in Budapest, and the beginning of the program features the quad jump.  Believe it or not, he finished 6th after this performance.  Skip to 2:30 in the video to start the program.

 

Brian Boitano was a skater I just liked.  I guess now he’s famous for being on a South Park episode or something, but I remember when he was an amazing figure skater.  I don’t remember Calgary 1988, but I remember a lot of the other programs from the 90s, and they were great, too.  I think his Calgary program was excellent – great music, too!

Kristi Yamaguchi was the female figure skating standard for me growing up.  I was a little bit too young for the likes of Dorothy Hamill, so Yamaguchi was my generation’s answer to her.  She was awesome, and let’s face it, those bangs and pink outfit in this video?  Hot.  So early 90’s.  Yamaguchi was strong and graceful, although I remember in her later career that she would tend to choke at crucial moments, which was always disappointing.  She doesn’t choke in this performance.

 

Oksana Baiul was another favorite of mine.  She beat Nancy Kerrigan at the 1994 Lillehammer games.  I remember watching the opening ceremonies for those games and thought they were amazing.  I could be wrong, but I feel like Oksana went on to have drinking problems and such.  I’m including her 1994 Lillehammer performance here.  Nancy Kerrigan was the better technical skater, but Baiul had more verve, and I think that counts for a lot.  People like a real showman, and she brought it here, in spite of a few technical errors.  If you watch to the recap, there’s a crowd shot of Ekaterina Gordeeva and her husband, Sergei Grinkov.  He dropped dead a few years later of heart failure during a routine practice.  They were quite a pair.

 

I guess this whole long post on the general awesomeness of figure skating wouldn’t be complete without Kim Yeona.  I live in Korea, and this girl is the idol of a nation, and perhaps quite rightly so.  I do not think of Yeona as the showman that Hamilton was, but of all the female skaters I’ve ever watched, she is technically and artistically the greatest.  I can actually forgive her the fact that I don’t connect to her personality, because her skating is on a whole other level.  She’s truly an incredible athlete.  Here is her program from the 2009 World Figure Skating Championships.

 

I hope you folks enjoyed my little foray into the world of figure skating.  It’s one of those things that I’ve so badly wished I could have gotten into when I was a child, but alas, it was not to be for me.  I will have to content myself with watching YouTube videos and forcing any sons and daughters that come along into hockey and figure skating lessons.