Uncertainty can be happiness

"Security is a false god," or running around the world as an FSO

Archive for April, 2008


Posted by quirksalight on April 27, 2008

This past Friday, several friends and I went to see a modern dance performance at Songjo Theater in Seoul. Going home, we took the DongIncheon Rapid transit subway line on our way back to Incheon as it cuts our transit time by 20-30 minutes. On the subway, which was pretty packed, the four of us were talking about the evening and our respective experiences in school when a middle-aged Korean man, dressed in a suit, yelled at us, “Shut up!” in English. We all turned to look at the man, who was looking very angry. As we were laughing prior to this outburst, we thought we were too loud. So we quieted down, and spoke softer to each other. But he started yelling again, telling us to shut up, and in Korean, started telling us loudly that if we are coming to Korea then we should speak in Korean.
I turned to him, saying in Korean, “I’m sorry, but my friends only speak in English, so to converse, we have to speak in English.” He then starting yelling that we shouldn’t talk in the subway and we were too loud. I replied that we were talking just as other people in the subway car were talking. When he refused to actually do anything but yell at us, I just told him that I’m sorry he felt that way, and ended the conversation.

Turning back to my friends, we started talking quietly once again, when the guy reaches over several people and punches me in the head! The entire subway car (who had been watching this exchange) gasped at this. It’s considered wrong to hit random people in most societies, but it’s definitely taboo for a guy to hit a girl in Korea.
We were completely stunned at this turn of events, and my cry of pain when he hit me broadcast that he hurt me to everyone in the car. For a couple moments, I was at a loss at what to do, as I’ve never been assaulted by a complete stranger, and totally didn’t expect it in Korea. (I guess I know better now) But after, I just thought to myself, “screw it, I’ve already been hit. I’m going to continue my conversation with my friends,” and we started up our conversation once again. The assaulter didn’t say anything for 5-10 minutes, and we thought it may have blown over. But then he started yelling at us to shut up and not speak English again.

In a new turn of events, it was became quite apparent that he had pissed off the entire subway car. When the assaulter began ranting again, another Korean man spoke to him (in Korean), “Hey, why don’t you keep it down? We’re all starting to get bothered by your yelling.”
This just turned the assaulter’s attention to the second man, to whom he yelled, “why are you telling me to be quiet?! I’m not the one speaking in English. They should shut up!”
The second man, who spoke up for us, said “I don’t understand what you are yelling in English because I don’t understand it. I care that you are bothering the other passengers and are shaming us (Koreans). Why don’t you step off the train, so you don’t bother us?”

This just continued to escalate as the subway move on, with the two men exchanging more and more comments with increasing heat and vigor. We had planned to just continue on to Bupyeong Station, to not get forced off the train because of this guy, but it was getting apparent that we were a catalyst to a burgeoning conflict. So the four of us decided to step off the subway one stop before Bupyeong.

When we got off, two people, a male and female, got off and stopped by to talk to us. They wanted to apologize for the behavior of the assaulter, because they were embarrassed that a Korean would and can act in such boorish manner. The woman looked stricken when I told her my head was ok, and that the pain had gone away by this time, as she hadn’t realized that he had actually struck me. The guy, Tony, wanted to make sure that we were alright and wanted to reassure us that the assaulter was the exception, not the rule.

Being the focus of random violence is so disturbing, as the question of WTF??? reverberated in my head, and I admit being in a funk for the rest of Friday night. But what really helped was the random people who stood up for us, and the people who came to talk/apologize to us after. I’ll definitely put this behind me, but I am still warier now then I had been a couple days ago.


Posted in ancedotes, Asian-Americans, Bizarre, english, Korea, Korean, pain, People, Politics, Social commentary, stereotypes, teaching english, travel | Tagged: , , , , , , | 7 Comments »

It’s been an odd clothing week…

Posted by quirksalight on April 23, 2008

1. Double-sided tape is your friend.
On Monday, a girl in my first period said to me after class, “Teacher, shirt!” while pointing to my button down. She followed it up with, “Can see,” indicating that my buttondown gapes and can show my bra. (sigh) At least I was wearing a nice one. Needless to say, I really needed to fix this. There were 4 more classes of middle school kids to teach. No pins in sight, so I grabbed the roll of double-sided tape and adhered the two edges together. Presto! Nothing out of place. 🙂 I think I’ll do this again…. it’s a useful fashion trick.

2. My students and fellow teachers think I’ve lost weight. (maybe, not sure) Today, I heard this several times.

3. My favorite pair of dress shoes are getting consigned to the dumpster… they have worn out and gave me three blisters on Monday. Ugh.

4. It’s only Wednesday. I need to do laundry.

Posted in amusing, ancedotes, Buheung MS, Bupyeong, Humor, kids, Korea | Tagged: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

First weekend away

Posted by quirksalight on April 22, 2008

I’ve been in Korea for two months now and last weekend was the first time I left the Incheon/Seoul area since I arrived. Which is understandable, as there is so much to do here as it is. But, I want to see the rest of the country too.

This past weekend, I was in Gyeongsnagbuk-do, the middle eastern province of Korea. Several of us were getting together at Yeongju, a small city on the northern edge of the province. And when I mean small, I mean that it’s the size of Reykjavik, Iceland, which is small enough to walk across in 30 minutes.

But the biggest thing was the attitude towards foreigners. I guess I’m used to Incheon and Seoul, where seeing a foreigner isn’t TOO unusual. But during the entire weekend, it was a total spectacle when we were walking around. Several English speakers, and all but one blatantly non-Korean. In one of the smaller towns, kids would literally stop biking to stare while saying, “way-gook, way-gook,” which means “foreigner, foreigner”. Weird…

We hit a lot of spots on Saturday, which was our main activity day, as we all arrived late on Friday, and had to leave on Sunday. So, first was Danyang, to see the Gosu cave. Completely different experience than in the US… here, you have to touch the sides of the cave, as the walkway is completely wrapped around it. I am a pretty short person, and I was bending over and twisting my body to get around the passages. Totally felt bad for my friend, who’s 6’4. Poor guy was almost crawling in some places. 😛 It was also a vertical and horizontal walkway…we went up several hundred meters (yes, that many stairs) in a live cave, which means the ambient humidity was at 96%.
At the cave, there were vendors (of course) and several of them were selling amethyst jewelry so cheap! It turns out that they (and other semi-precious stones) are mined in this province. Hence, cheap. Look – pretty earrings and a little charm for my phone!

We stayed in Danyang for lunch – it was catfish stew, Korean style. The hostess took one look at us and had this “OMG” smile, and looked so relieved when I replied back to her in Korean. The food was delicious, as it came straight out of the fish tank outside. :p And no, we did not pick out the fish, though it was an option. Danyang was beautiful – the waterfront was gorgeous under the afternoon sun. I can’t wait to be back here after the rains arrive.
Next, we went to Punggi. This is a small town, and not used to tourists. Hence, we got a lot of stares and comments in Korean. The reason to visit here is the hot spring nearby and the ginseng market. The ginseng market was HUGE. I have never seen so many stores and stalls with ginseng, which is one of the main commodities from this region. We bought some tea and ginseng candy and headed off to the spa via taxi.

The taxi driver, Mr Jang, was a rather brusque man, but got us to the spa. When we got out, I decided to take his card just in case we needed it. Definitely a good idea. Because we walked in, and realized that it wasn’t really a spa, but one of the Korean baths that was built over a hot spring. Not what I expected or wanted. The guys left the decision to stay or go to me, and I decided that it was best to leave, as I also didn’t want to get all clean and then re-dress in my sweaty clothes. So I called Mr. Jang and asked him to take us to the Heuibang trailhead at the base of Mt. Sobaek.

I think he may have thought we were a little nuts heading to the trail this late in the day, but we were only planning to go up to the Heuibang waterfall, which is about 2 km up the trail, and we should make it up there in little over an hour. This was a tough hike. The trail was full of large granite rocks, and it wasn’t walking up as much as scrambling over rocks. At least for me. Others with longer legs did not have as much difficulty as I. :p
But it was worth it. Achy body and all – it was a beautiful waterfall, and the scenery up and down was excellent.
The way down was faster, but also in some ways, more difficult do to rocks. I am going to invest in a good hiking pole if I am going to continue to do this. (which I am) We get to the trailhead, only to find out we missed the bus by 10 mins. The next one would get there in about 75 minutes. ARGH! So out comes the card to call Mr. Jang for the third taxi ride today. There was another woman waiting there for the same bus, so I offered her a ride with us, which she gladly accepted, as she wasn’t looking forward to waiting either.
And that was our Saturday. 🙂
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pictures here

Posted in adventure, amusing, ancedotes, Food, hiking, Humor, Korea, Korean, Nature, outdoors, travel, traveling | Tagged: , , , , , | 2 Comments »

I am truely a non-Korean.

Posted by quirksalight on April 18, 2008

At least in the eyes of my bank, and the immigration office.

I had a very annoying run-in with the Korean banking system this week. Two big issues, actually. The first was my debit card all of a sudden stopped working. I found this out the hard way; had no cash, and couldn’t take any out. Nearly flipped out this morning. This issue took the bank almost an hour to resolve as they had problems with my ID card, as it stated that I was a foreigner. (Hmm, she looks like us, but she isn’t one of us…Argh!!) 5 different people, dozens of phone calls, two documents later, my debit card was restored and I was able to withdrawal money.
The second issue was with the internet banking system. First of all, the damn thing locked and wouldn’t let me log on (again, issues with my ID number). Second, was the remittance policy.
There are separate rules for foreigners and Korean citizens when it comes to transferring money to an overseas account. Korean citizen can do it by themselves via internet banking; foreigners can’t. And yes, the internet banking (with my bank, at least) is in English, so it’s not a language issue. Yes, I can go to the bank, take the ticket and stand in line for the foreign transfer guy, but banks are open from 9:30-4:30, M-F. It’s not easy to get to a bank when you are teaching, 8:30-4:30pm, with very few breaks, when you have to get permission to leave the school, even as a teacher. (Seriously – I have to ask the head teacher or the principal if I can run out to do an errand like this)
It is one of many minor things that make it difficult as a non-Korean citizen to truly enjoy living here. Seriously, who would need to be able to transfer money to another country more than someone who is from another country? The internet remittance system is made to be easy to use, it’s accessible to the general populace as long as you are a citizen.
I am not advocating that the country should grant non-citizens the same benefits as citizens; that’s a bit too much. But for a nation that actively recruits thousands if not tens of thousands of foreigner teachers every year to teach their children English, with a government which wants to boost English speaking in their country, a government promoting greater foreign investment in Korea, you would think that efforts would be made to ease the day-to-day hurdles for a foreigner living in Korea. Like remittance policies.
On the upside, I got back to school after this horrid session at the bank, and the kids cheered me up. Sometime, the simple act of being happy is infectious. And having dozens of kids just ultra-cheerful at seeing you and wanting to say hi…. well, it does make me smile. =)

Posted in annoyance, Buheung MS, Bupyeong, english, finance, Incheon, Korea, Politics, Social commentary, teaching, teaching english, travel | Tagged: , , , , | 3 Comments »

When your food fights back..

Posted by quirksalight on April 13, 2008

I had a very interesting gastronomical outing this weekend at Wolmido. Six of us were wandering, looking at the cherry blossoms that day and had decided to check out Wolmido’s sushi. (One of my friends recommended getting sushi here)
Well, we got one of the set seafood menus at this seafood place on the waterfront. This was one of our many dishes:

The food fights back

I called it twitchy before I called it lunch. 🙂

Posted in amusing, Bizarre, Humor, Korea, travel | Tagged: , , , , | 3 Comments »

Korean bandaids rock and other pharmacy thingys

Posted by quirksalight on April 11, 2008

I went to the pharmacy today to get some naproxen sodium (you might know it as Aleve, painkillers) and also asked if I could get something to help my lower back, as it’s been aching off and on for the past week. The pharmacist could speak some English, so the words I didn’t understand in Korean or know how to say in Korean were bypassed rather successfully. She gave me the two meds and then told me how many per day I was supposed to take.
1500mg of naproxen sodium a day!!! That’s twice the maximum daily dose of Aleve in the US. Same thing with the methocarbamol (generic name; the brand name version is Robaxin) she gave me for my back. That’s right. A drug, a muscle relaxant to be specific, which requires a prescription in the US, is an OTC drug here, and costs less than a co-pay. Again, the daily dose was twice the recommended dose back in the states. I was totally shocked and told the pharmacist so. She kind of chuckled and shrugged. Another example of how things are done differently here.
Oh, and the bandaids? I got waterproof bandaids and they are amazing! Water-tight through multiple washing of the hands, flexible, totally not in your way, and doesn’t peel at the edges. And you can remove them quite easily! Excellent…

Posted in ancedotes, Bizarre, Incheon, Korea, Korean, shopping, sick | Tagged: , , , | 3 Comments »


Posted by quirksalight on April 8, 2008

I hate being ill. And today was the first time I’ve really been sick in Korea. I called my co-teacher sounding extremely stuffed up and croaked into the phone that I was rather ill and would not make it to school today.
Luckily, today is my easiest day and tomorrow is a federal holiday, so there is no school. Now, I just have to get better, though what i really wish I could do is open up my sinuses and scrape out all the smut that must be in there… blargh!!!

But my co-teachers are very considerate. They called twice to check in on me, and about an hour ago, stopped by to look in on me and to give me some rice porridge, which is eaten when you’re ill. (Seriously, my mom did the exact same thing) Now, I’m eating porridge, and smiling at the nice people in the world.

Posted in Food, Korea, Nice, People, sick | Tagged: , , , | 2 Comments »


Posted by quirksalight on April 3, 2008

I teach an afterschool “English club” every day, where kids can come to improve their speaking abilities in a more casual, non-graded, setting. Three days out of the week, I have the advances speakers from each grade (1-3 years, or 7th – 9th grades in the US) and the remaining two days, I have a mixed class of 2nd and 3rd years with average English speaking ability.
These sessions aren’t free. I saw the schedule, and the parent pay a fee for every afterschool class the kids attend. And yes, I get paid overtime for these classes. But they are fun to teach, as it’s a freeform class, where I can introduce slang, and games to get them moving and talking.

However, an odd thing occurred yesterday, in the 2nd year class. We sit in a circle, using a stuffed animal to indicate who talks. I was observing the kids making sentences with the word “wicked” (yes, to all you Bostonites!) when one of the boys starts sniffing his friend’s sneaker, and another is blatantly scratching himself in the circle.
Amazed, I ask them both what are they doing. Boy 1 looked embarrassed and puts the sneaker down, while Boy 2 turns beet red and turns around so he doesn’t have to look at the rest of the class. And yes, they are in middle school, and everyone was laughing, including the boys, for a good couple of minutes. The boy who was sniffing the sneaker? He told the class that “The sneaker smells wicked bad”. 🙂

Posted in Buheung MS, Bupyeong, Incheon, Korea, slang, teaching, teaching english | Tagged: , , , , | 4 Comments »