Friday, December 17, 2010

Christmas Time Is Here

Part I consists of songs that, among many others, have been circulating endlessly through my classroom, my home, and my iShuffle. Please cue them up as you gaze mindlessly at the following pictures (Parts II-V) of Christmas 'round these parts. Part VI is a distorted version of that classic holiday poem "Twas the Night Before Christmas," a version that was twisted to fit teachers and students at my school. See if you can figure out which stanzas belong to which teachers based on content area; each teacher read a specific section. Part VII is where Mark and I are going tomorrow.

Part I:

O Come, O Come Emmanuel - Kendall Payne
Jingle Bells - Austrian Death Machine
Christmas Time Is Here - A Charlie Brown Christmas!
Carol of the Bells - from "Home Alone"
White Christmas - The Drifters
Twelve Days of Christmas - Straight No Chaser
Winter Song - Sara Bareilles & Ingrid Michaelson
Jingle Bell Rock - Thousand Foot Krutch
Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence - Ryuichi Sakamoto Trio
O, Holy Night - Chloe Agnew

Part II: School

Part III: Classroom

Part IV: Apartment

Part V: Winter Banquet

Part VI: 'Twas the Night Before Christmas: CCS Version

'Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the school,
Not a student was present, not even Sunkyu*.
The students were gone for three long weeks of break,
No homework to do, not one test to take.

The teachers were nestled all snug in their rooms,
While visions of lesson plans in their heads loomed,
The Sullivans toiling so hard with their work,
And ol’ Mr. Nola; all work he did shirk.

Misters Blais and young Haggar, a book in each hand,
Mr. K. making formulas, so long and so grand.
The Dycks occupied both the office and lounge,
Much to do, so for work, they didn't have to scrounge.

When out on the roof there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from my desk to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.

The moon shining white on that snow that I love
Gave the luster of mid-day to objects above.
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a Korean sleigh, and some Hanguk reindeer!

With a tall, skinny driver, so lively and quick,
I thought for a moment, "This must be Saint Nick!"
But as the dude's face was revealed by the moon,
Twas not Santa Claus, but it twas Andrew Yoon**.

He'd come on a sleigh so high and aloof,
But he wasn't alone way up there on the roof.
Old Saint Andrew called to the others he'd brought,
I thought they'd be elves, but they surely were not.

"Now, seniors! Now, juniors! Now, freshmen and sophs,
On eighth grade! On seventh, and on more sloth!
It's Christmas! Behold, all the gifts that we've got!
It is time to deliver these presents we bought."

And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the stairs
The stomping of hundreds of feet in nice pairs.
Like Santa who slides down the chimney with ease,
The students neared each room in two's and in three's.

A rustle of paper, a patter of feet,
Under my room's door slipped a white homework sheet!
I heard not a "ho ho!" but an evil "ha ha!"
Once glance at the page, I yelled "이거 뭐야?!”

An assignment of reading that I had to do!
And not just some reading, a letter essay, too!
I give the assignments; oh, how could this be?
The students were now giving homework to me?

The homework I got was so truly absurd:
To memorize two hundred ten vocab words!?
And then for each word, make a poster or three
Displaying my grasp of vocabulary.

The task that I got was ten chem lab reports.
No more and no less; not one report short.
I had to wear gloves and some goggles and do
A chemist's worst nightmare, and all the way through!

Quadratic equations were what I was assigned.
So many to do, I thought I’d go blind.
Twelve minutes it took, just to do the first one.
I called home and said, “I’ll be home late, hun.”

The projects I got were for timelines and stuff;
Presentations and then, as if that weren't enough,
A historic chapter on my native land,
Made as if part of my textbook's name brand.

Some PC's with viruses I had to fix,
And forgotten passwords thrown into the mix.
Some cheetohs and soda? I sure wasn’t thrilled
As I cleaned up the lab in which they’d been spilled.

I got assigned eight hundred college essays,
And I had to do them in only three days!
To meet that darn early acceptance deadline,
They had to be written with grammar so fine.

Under the door to my office that night,
Some items were pushed that gave me such a fright:
Three hundred slips: yellow, one hundred slips: red***.
No kids' names on those; they bore my name instead.

The tables had turned, on that dark Christmas Eve.
O'erwhelmed with depression, the teachers all grieved.
When all of the “gifts” had been distributed,
Old Andrew gave his elves a nod of the head.

He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, 'ere he drove out of sight,
“Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!”

*A student who took four AP exams last year and received a 5 on all of them. I am pumped to have him in my AP class...
**CCS student body president.
***A student is given a yellow slip for a minor infraction and a red slip for a major offense. Three yellow slips are equivalent to one red slip; a red slip necessitates a detention.

Part VII:

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Seoul Scavenger Hunt

My parents are coming to visit Seoul between December 28 and January 8. Since I doubt I can single-handedly keep them entertained, I have decided to give them a list of items to watch for during their time in this fair city.

South Korea Scavenger Hunt: to be done while moseying around Seoul. Award yourself the appropriate number of points each time you see or experience one of the following:

1. A pile of vomit: +1 point (+3 points if you can identify what food the vomit originally was)

2. Getting elbowed somewhere intimate: +1 point

3. Someone who looks like he/she was or is going hiking: +1 point

4. Something written in English that is awkward or is grammatically incorrect: +1 point

5. Locating 번데기 by scent: +1 point (+3 points for purchasing and eating 번데기)

6. A person sleeping on the subway: +1 point (+1 point for every additional seat he/she takes up in his/her slumber)

7. A fruit truck that drives by with its speakers absolutely blaring: +1 point

8. Getting passed on the sidewalk by a moped: +1 point

9. A couple having a photo shoot with their phones in a coffee shop: +1 point (+3 points if you can in one of the photos)

10. A woman running in high heels: +1 point (+3 points if she biffs it)

11. A person in a hanbok: +1 point

12. A person fixing his/her hair while using his/her cell phone as a mirror: +1 point

13. A picture of raw meat: +1 point

14. A person handing out paper flyers: +1 point (-2 points if the flyer has a nearly naked woman on it)(+3 points if you get handed a flyer)

15. A person who you can guarantee had plastic surgery done: +1 point (+3 points if you can guarantee that you can do a better job performing plastic surgery than his/her surgeon did)

16. A white guy with a Korean girlfriend: +1 point (+3 points for a Korean guy with a white girl)

17. A person who appears to be talking to him/herself but is actually using some sort of phone: +1 point

18. A person selling something in the subway: +1 point

19. A taxi driver who yells/curses out the window at other drivers: +1 point (+2 points if you are in the cab with the hollering driver)(-2 if you are in the cab with the driver who is getting yelled at)

20. A couple wearing matching shirts: +1 point (+1 additional point for every other matching clothing item/accessory they are sporting)

21. A high school student smoking: -1 point (-3 points for a middle school student; -10 points for an elementary school student)

22. A person sneaking under the subway turnstiles/sneaking into the subway without paying: +1 point

23. A beggar in the subway: +1 point (+3 points for a beggar with no legs*)

24. A dog soup (보신탕) restaurant: +1 point (+3 points if you go in and try some)(+100 if you get a picture with the dog while it's still alive)

25. A clothing article that has profanity in English on it: +1 point

26. An Ivy League college sweatshirt: +1 point

27. A young Korean child says "hello" to you: +1 point (-3 points if a parent is nearby, pushing the child toward you)

28. An umbrella being used for something other than its usual function of preventing rain from abusing its owner: +1 point

29. Face band-aids: +1 point for each

30. A person wearing a New York Yankees baseball cap: -1 point (+3 points for a person wearing a Minnesota Twins baseball cap)

If anyone else is interested in playing before, while, or after my mom and dad are in Korea, do it. Let me know what you score is over the course of twelve days of natural living, and maybe there will be prizes at some point in the near future.

*I definitely realize that this one is mildly to extremely offensive. However, in my defense, please the following anecdote, compliments of Megan "Don't Shoot Until You See the Whites of Their Eyes" Schwartz: back in the day, Megan used to live in Gangbyeon, or some such place. Every day she would see the same man - a man who appeared to have no legs - begging for money in the station. One day Megan had to get up super early for something, and as she arrived at the station to take the train to her destination, she saw the aforementioned beggar walking around, setting up his performance for the day. Needless to say, she was appalled: the dude had been faking it.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Gauntlet of Solitude: Taipei 2010

Ignoring the fact that South Koreans could not care less about Puritans or Native Americans, my school celebrated Thanksgiving ten days or so ago. So I went to Taipei to celebrate the pilgrims' first meal in the New World.

On Wednesday I left my home at 5:40 p.m., bought some extension cords to supplement the newly-hung Christmas lights in my classroom, glutted myself at my school's Thanksgiving meal, and took the subway to Incheon, where the airport that feeds Seoul is located. I stayed with a nice couple from Oklahoma/Korea so that I could get up in the morning and casually mosey on over to Incheon International Airport for my 8:05 a.m. flight instead of frantically scramble from where I lived in the middle of Seoul. I had to fly to Fukuoka, Japan, first, and then on to the fair island of Taiwan. Cathay Pacific Flight 511 landed in Taipei around noon, at which point I got off it and took a bus to Taipei Main Station. Fortunately, upon arriving, I discovered rain pouring down, but my upbringing in the Midwest had prepared me for such adversity. I grabbed an umbrella from the one of the eight hundred million 7-11 convenience stores that littered the Taiwanese landscape and struck out to see what was there was to see.

To be honest, this trip did not have my full attention in the weeks leading up to it. Life at CCS was busy as usual, and, though I secured places to stay each evening in Taipei, my plans for and knowledge of Taiwan was embarrassingly lacking. The island is not a recognized sovereign nation; it has a long, intense history with China. China controlled Taiwan up until 1895, at which point Japan invaded and occupied the Ihla Formosa, much as they did to Korea during the same time period. However, while the Koreans resent Japan for raping, killing, and torturing during their occupation, from all I gathered the Japanese presence in Taiwan was technologically beneficial, and there were few to no hard feelings. In 1945 Japan lost World War II and had to give Taiwan back to China. A Chinese Nationalist party, the Kuoumintang, took over and seemed to do a violent and unimpressive job of ruling; their time in charge included the White Terror, the Kaohsiung Incident, the 2-28 Incident, and a period of martial law, the last of which ended in 1987, and now Taiwan has elected leaders but not complete independence from China. I think.

To be even more honest, I have this deep-seeded fear that someone who actually knows about Taiwanese history will read this and scoff.

Wait. No one in their right mind reads this blog. I should be good.

Anyway. My planning was mostly limited to what was in the Lonely Planet guide and what was on the blog post that Ray did on his own Taiwan journey. But, since I was alone, I felt very little pressure to have a set schedule going in. So! Disregarding the elements, I left Taipei Main Station and struck out for Chiang Shek Memorial Hall on foot.

Chiang Shek was this dictator who was in command in the mid-twentieth century; he was a member of the aforementioned Nationalist party and did quite a bit to loosen Taiwan from Chinese communist rule, but apparently he himself was somewhat controversial because there talk of all the statues of him at his own memorial being removed. Fortunately, no one had gotten around to doing that by the time I arrived, so I walked around and checked the place out. The buildings at the memorial were pretty large, so, being easily pleased by such qualities, I enjoyed perusing around the memorial grounds.

But not enough to stay forever. No. The rain abated, and I wandered past the Taiwanese president's home to 2-28 Peace Memorial Park, which is in commemoration of a major massacre that occurred in 1947. The government had banned cigarettes in Taiwan that year, and some cops busted some old lady for having black market cigs on February 27. A crowd formed, the police fired, people died. The next day (February 28) in Taipei, riots broke out like crazy and, over the course of a few weeks, around 30,000 people were laid to permanent rest.

However. The park commemorating this sad and bloody event was quite peaceful, hence the name. It was one of the many vegetated locations in Taipei. Good balance of green they've got over there, really. Way to go, guys.

I wandered around for a while after that, down by the river and through the campus of National Taiwan University. At 7 I met my host for the next two days, Judy from the Block (not to be confused with Judy the Spectacular, who lives in Beijing), at Taipower Building Station, exit 3. We went to the Shida night market and dined on the finest street food that one could hope to find in such a city: bags of deep fried chicken and vegetables and other unidentifiable objects, little buckets of meat products, egg 'n' oyster omelets, green onion pastries, sweet soupy desert, and pearl milk tea. Many folks I ran into recommended an excursion to any of the night markets in the city, so I concluded that the night market is the thing to do as far as early evening activity there. After the tea we took a bus to her home and I crashed hard on her floor. So much walking. I wish I had brought a step counter.

The next day, Friday, was not rainy and not cloudy, as Thursday had been, so I decided it was now or never and went to Taipei 101 bright and early that morning. Taipei 101 used to be the tallest building in the world; now it is second behind the Burj Khalifa (translation: "Don't shoot until you can see the whites of their eyes") in Dubai. This monstrosity was why I wanted to come to Taipei.

So I climbed it. There weren't scads of other tourists crowding the eighty-ninth floor observatory, which was nice. The day was clear and crisp. I took a lot of pictures. The tower had a poorly-publicized outdoor observatory as well, which was awesome even though the views from it were less picturesque. And part of it was closed due to insane wind speeds. Meow.

I descended and swung through San Yat-Sen Memorial Hall on my way to...San Yat-Sen Memorial Hall Station. This guy was also a head honcho in the Kuomintang and integral to the independence movement in Taiwan; I was told this by a hesitant English-speaking intern. She said she'd show me around; I declined but regret doing so because she was the only person I talked to in the entire fourteen-hour block that composed my exploration that day. Oh, well.

I then took a long subway trip out to Xinbeitou for a fruitless search for some hiking trails. This blew about two hours of my time there, so I shall not waste any more time here writing about it, except for saying that it was frustrating. I headed back toward the metropolitan area to check out Longshan Temple, conveniently located near...Longshan Temple Station.

Though various people recommended that I go view this religious structure, I arrived unsure of whether it was okay or not to view/photograph someone's place of worship. I was made more uncertain by the fact that at least a hundred people there were reciting and chanting; this did not cease the entire thirty minutes I was there. I stood in the back and watched. Then I saw a tour group of Koreans bumble in, so I followed them through the rest of the temple. Then I took my pictures and left, and didn't think much more into it, because my attention was arrested elsewhere.

There were signs for another temple nearby, and I, being alone and unorganized, had no pressing agenda. So I headed for Boa-an Temple. Before/As I reached it, a parade appeared to begin. This entourage seemed to maybe be of the religious persuasion but also had a political overture to it. I perhaps wouldn't have picked up on the latter element, but there were elections for city officials and government positions being held the next day, Saturday, in Taipei – this was not hard to pick up on, there were banners and advertisements everywhere – and, thus, the parade had a strange mix of religious costumes, ancient deities, and trucks full of candidate supporters. I was told later that the parade and the accompanying festivities were done so that the elections would be blessed and go smoothly. Maybe we should try our hand at this in America.

Anyway, I stopped and watched for maybe an hour. All I could think of was this phrase that Tyler Tuenge used as the title of the Facebook album in which he posted his pictures from Spain: madness overseas. Mostly because I had no explanation about what I was viewing at the time, but also because every five minutes or so, garbage cans full of firecrackers would go off. It was mayhem.

When I'd seen enough, I alleviated my exhaustion by traveling to the National Central Library and sitting down for a couple hours before returning to Judy from the Block's house. I was on vacation. Thanksgiving vacation. I do what I want, see.

On Saturday Judy from the Block and I parted ways around 10:30. Still feeling the bitter sting of failure from the afternoon before, I was determined to find somewhere woodsy to hike. The only way to reach what I deemed a suitable destination, Yangmingshin National Park, was by bus, a thought that initially terrified me. Navigating a foreign city by subway is easy. Everything is structured; there's maps of where the train runs, and most of the time, all the stops are in English. Very little can go wrong. Taipei's subway, I might add, was especially ballin': the MRT, as it is called by locals and foreigners alike, had screens that indicated when trains would be arriving and what part of town each train went to, human traffic lanes on the floors that directed the flow of people, and clean cars that, though smaller than those in Seoul, never seemed to get overly crowded.

But! Take a bus in one of these foreign lands? Good golly, Miss Molly. Directions are rarely in English, the maps are useless unless you are familiar with the city, and the stops are confusing. In Tokyo the only bus we got on was a tour bus. In China Mark and I failed to even find the right bus, much less use it to our advantage. And here, now? Well. I was going to Yangmingshin National Park. Yangmingshin National Park. It was time to man up.

My Lonely Planet book told me to take bus 230 from Shilin Station until the terminal stop. And I did it. And I didn't get lost. It was alarmingly easy.

And then! I trekked up Cising Peak, pictured above, 1,120 meters of bloods, guts, and glory. Before beginning, I hid my bag of Peppero, blanket, and scarf in a bush, because I didn't want to carry it. Now. I could lie and say that I had to battle wild boars and scale sheer cliff faces and hang glide from precipice to precipice, but, to be honest, this too was an easy journey. The path was laid out – almost like a sidewalk – the entire way up. I did sweat a bunch, but only because I went unnecessarily fast. It was warm and fun at the bottom, but a cloud cover blanketed the peak, so I couldn't see jack. It was mysterious and eerie, though.

I journeyed down. I listened to some guy singing super loudly. I ran into a girl wearing a Twins shirt. And I discovered that the bag I'd hidden had been ravaged by wild dogs. The Peppero was everywhere. I never found the scarf (which I'd originally snaked from the CCS lost and found). The blanket I retrieved, after calling down curses on a thousand generations of the stray mutts, who still sat nearby, watching. Leering. Mocking.

I left. I went to meet Amanda the Cat Keeper, a couch surfer whose profile picture on that very site is...a cat. I felt bad that about the Peppero, because those were for her. But. She simply laughed and showed me a million cool, lesser-known places around town: quaint old bookstores, antiquitous streets from ancient times, Danshui at night, and delicious, intriguing places to eat. I consumed this rice cake that had been soaked in pig's blood and covered in peanut powder, an admission that will likely prolong the absence of dates in my life. Meh.

When the clock struck midnight, I laid my head to rest on a couch at her home. So good to have people who are willing to host complete strangers. So good to have people who are willing to show utterly clueless travelers around!

Speaking of which, the next day, Sunday, my last day away, Amanda left me in the care of her niece, who is studying literature at National Taiwan University. I was impressed to hear this, as I struggled with some of the same authors (Dickens, Woolf, Brontë) and poets (Wordsworth, Coleridge, Blake) that she is combating now. But she fights her battles in her second language. Insane, I tell ya. Watch out, America.

Anyway, we met up with her sister and went to the Lin Family Mansion and Garden. The place was basically the residence of this rich, powerful family in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. I wouldn't have minded living there. The aforementioned niece had taken a course on the garden and knew all kinds of sweet tidbits about the structure and architecture. Local tour guide! It was fun.

After the garden, we ate lunch, and then they put me on a bus for the airport. Then I flew back to Incheon. I was greeted by a snowstorm, which I was not prepared for, especially after my scarf had been stolen by rabid Taiwanese dogs. But I made it home without incident and began teaching ten hours later.

All told, the trip was a good one. There were things I was told that I missed, like the National Palace Museum, the nightlife, Da'an Park, the eastern and southern parts of the island, and Taroko Gorge. Holy cow, Taroko Gorge. Someday. But I was pleased with what I did get to see and with whom I got to meet. I had a lot of time to think about a couple of other issues, namely a) whether it's better to travel alone or with someone b) the pros and cons of couch surfing* c) how a trip to a foreign country is best spent. Since I have waxed uneloquent for far too long already, Lord knows I will not explore these ideas here and now. Again: someday.

So. Thanks for a sweet time, Taipei! Keep your stick on the ice, and maybe we'll meet again later.

* or

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Bits and Pieces: September, October, and November Edition


The following is reminiscent of the stories I think I tell quite frequently. You may recognize similarities between this post and my reports on the day if you've had the misfortune to have hung out with me before. By that I mean that most of them are funny in context, to me, and I feel obligated to try to share them, but I know that most of them probably aren't actually humorous to anyone except me.

*I was walking around, minding my own business, when a cab drove by and a student of mine yelled from the backseat, "Hey, ba-by!"

*For an assignment in creative writing, students had to spend twenty minutes simulating either blindness or deafness. One kid chose to blindfold himself and walk around outside for a while. He stepped in vomit.

*The question of the day once was "Statistically speaking, what space are you most likely to land on during the game of Monopoly?" The students' guesses were "Tennessee!" "Texas!" Missouri!" "Singapore!"

*At the top of an assignment, there was a spot for each student's name and age. One kid wrote his name and then in the space for age, he wrote: "16...sorry."

*We were in a restaurant and some intoxicated Korean dude who was sitting at the table next to me made me take a shot of soju with him and hand-fed me multiple Korean side dishes before his boss showed up at the joint and yelled at him. It appeared that he was on the clock and was at that point running late.

*I gave some ratty preposition assignment. One of the tasks was to write a brief story using 20 of the 60 prepositions that were on the preposition sheet I'd given out also. Four of the students - I know you can't wait to hear how this grammar story turns out - made good on my offer of extra credit in exchange for using all 60 prepositions. Count it.

*During a grammar lesson, a student offered this example sentence: "The cat was ripped to pieces by the entire class." As I wrote this on the board, several other kids, mostly girls, reacted in a disgusted and offended manner, but through all the commotion I heard one young lass remark brightly, "I'll grab a leg!"

*I was a judge at a speech and debate tournament one weekend. The parliamentary debate contestants were fervently preparing during their designated prep time when the phone in the classroom rang. I answered and told the caller to take a long walk off a short pier, and then I unplugged the phone. However, I completely and utterly forgot to plug the cord back into the wall.

*At the same tournament one of my students got first place! He performed an excerpt from Mary Roach's "Stiff." Count it.

*While the students were quietly working on some assignment one day, I watched a male student from one side of the room make these ridiculous faces at a female student on the other side of the room. The faces he made were by no means romantic ones; they were just the weird ones that kids make. The girl returned the faces, making hers even more grotesque. A really quiet girl who was sitting in a row between them looked at the boy and then at the girl, and then silently made a heart with her hands, even though no one in particular was watching. Except me.

*The senior students had to make a video on the process of passing a bill in American legislature. For government class, not for mine, rest assured. The video concludes with a scene in which the president (a tiger puppet) signs the passed bill, and then, as he turns to go, remarks, "Now I'll go harass some interns."

The prompt for the essay was: if you could switch lives with anyone in the world, who would you switch with and why? One dude finished his essay with, "I would trade my life with my dog, who is having a great time right next to me when I have to write an essay."

*Different sample sentences taken uncensored from different students' papers and assignments:

1. My complexion is the meaning of beauty.

2. Mr. Nola's avarice for meatloaf will make him do anything.

3. My avarice for football cleats is unstoppable.

4. He sent me a parcel of people's fingers and I exhibited them in my room.

5. His face always shines because of the natural oil the human body makes.

6. Miss. Catherine has an American hamburger lover’s body.

7. Lower parts of [Mr. Haggar's] body is covered with his picnic table cloth.

8. I feel sorry for Jenny because I thought Jenny was a boy.

9. Deleting her [a girl who cheated on him] will make her Facebook wall look a bit sadder since she will now have 3419 friends compared to 3420.

*Earlier in my life, when I heard the words "foreign country," I sort of assumed wild vegetation and crazy tropical foliage would be everywhere, like in a rain forest or something. South Korea actually has few environmental differences with the Midwest in most respects, especially in that of plant life. But, finally, an exception has reared its ugly head:

*This was a verbal quote, not something in a paper, and it was spoken in relation to Mark's AP Chemistry class: "We might be slow, but at least we never burn anything." Well, maybe ya should.

*Multiple students want to perform "Big Boy," a short essay written by David Sedaris, as an individual speech event. Can I get some feedback here? Are we okay to go ahead with this?

Monday, November 29, 2010

Debbie Downer

As many to all of you readers (Mom and Dad) are undoubtedly aware, North Korean artillery shelled a South Korean island called Yeonpyeong in the Yellow Sea last week. That same afternoon, a friend of mine – three weeks new to Seoul; she teaches five-year-olds at some hagwon in Apgujeong - was informed that North Korea was bombing South Korea. Exciting! No one explained the details to her or to her kids, who started freaking out. Whoever was in charge at her school just let that information simmer for about an hour before clarification was administered.

That's what we're dealing over here, folks.

During each of the three time periods that I have spent in Korea, there has been action on North Korea's part that has understandably ruffled feathers in Seoul. In the spring of 2009 it was missile launching. I remember listening to various conversations between Stefan and Jay and Scott in the computer room at Poly School; most of it was simply scoffing, since the missiles fell pathetically into the ocean. North Korea had said they'd attack anyone who shot their missiles down, but no one had to. Last year a South Korean submarine, the Cheonan, was sunk out in the Yellow Sea, and forty-six people went down permanently. Was N.K. responsible for this? Signs points to yes. A lot of people were angry about that, including some of my students. Who wouldn't be? And then there was, of course, the bombing this month. The aftermath (watch the video; the article itself isn't important...yet) is still unfolding.

So. I am definitely not indifferent about what is going to happen. Though potentially deadly, there is something exciting about all this. North Korea's actions seem absurd to my politically-uninformed mind. More aggression decreases chances of reunification, a merge that would only help North Korea. I would also assume that if any large-scale war does start, North Korea might do a lot of damage but they will cease to exist as a nation due to the pummeling that various powerhouse nations would/could/should impose on them. What they need up there is a good old-fashioned revolution, where someone shoots Kim Jong-il and/or his son in a crowded theater or while they are riding in a parade, or something exciting like that.

Until that happens, though, I am basically just interested to see what happens. Hopefully nothing does. My head teacher pointed out that if something does go down – like, atomic projectiles striking Seoul – our school and the surrounding community will be vaporized, because we are situated within a stone's throw of a major U.S. Army base, the likely target of any North Korean explosives headed in this direction. Somehow this is comforting to me; we won't have to suffer through any injuries or pain. Not very exciting, for me, but at least it would be over quick.

How can I end this on a high note? Lee Myung-Bak, the president of South Korea, said that further attacks from the northland will solicit a "firm response." People continue to starve and die in North Korea. The South Korean defense minister has resigned. Our administration e-mailed all the teachers at my school an emergency evacuation plan from the U.S. Embassy. Taiwan is angry at Korea for a disqualification in the Asia Games. The list goes on and on.

But! This is 2010! I live in a very civilized, powerful, rational (except for certain fashion trends) nation right now, and I came from one that is just as much so. And both they and certain others are working to resolve this situation. We're all adults here, even Kim Jong-il and the heir apparent. Without a doubt, some solution can be conjured up by the powers that be. So with that in mind – and/or also the thought of how lovely heaven will be – I will still sleep contently and peacefully tonight, basking in the glow of my new Christmas lights and dreaming of reading nothing exciting on in the morning...nothing exciting at all.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Bag 'Em and Tag 'Em, Pt. 7

The following account details experiences that, though due in no part at all to my own efforts, I believe to be possible only in the country I am currently in.

(1) Suwon Fortress

In Asia, there is a woman. She is neat. Her name is Dawna. She lives in a city of just over a million. That city is called Suwon. The woman, Dawna, has a big heart. And many friends. There was a time when she wanted all the friends to come visit her, to come visit Suwon. But, alas, they would not. However, in addition to having a big heart, and many friends, Dawna had resilience. After one attempt at hospitality was denied, she made another. Suwon 2.0. And this one, this second invitation for the friends to come hang out, it worked. It worked to a T.

On the weekend of November 6 and 7, several inhabitants of Seoul invaded Suwon and hung out with Dawna. The inhabitants included Ashley, Sharpie, Holly, and myself. For those of you keeping score at home, yes, I was the only guy. The congregation began Friday night, when we made a smorgasbord of culinary delight and then reduced a noraebang to rubble and ashes. It continued on to Saturday, when we left the confines of Dawna's abode and traveled, head over heels, to the Suwon Fortress.

Originally, there were those in Korea who thought that the capital of the land should be moved south from Seoul to Suwon, where it was safer. With this move in mind, 700,000 man-hours were spent constructing a fort around the city as it lay there in the sun. Eventually, whatever threat incited this decision passed, and the city of Suwon expanded to a larger area than could be kept within the walls. The structure stands, but now, instead of having a city within it, it is surrounded by the city which it once sought to house.

And we walked around it. For hours and hours. We took a lot of pictures. Dawna let me have complete control of her camera (as Mark did in China...perhaps a terrifying trend is starting here).

Undoubtedly the battlements look lovely the whole year round, but I was delighted to view the structure in the dreary fall weather. The grass everywhere was the color of the folder icons in Windows XP. The leaves were every color a Western person misses from fall in his or her hometown. And the gray, overcast sky kept the mood from being light in the least. Why would the mood in a fortress be light? War happens here.

We also spotted a Minnesota Twins hat for sale, which was unprecedented in my experience in this country. The day was a success.

(2) Seoul Forest

Concrete. Glass. Brick. Mortar. Stone. The crushed bones of slaves. All these things and more make up many modern cities across the globe. Jobs and money are there; consequently, the population in each metropolitan area rises and rises. The air becomes thick with human pollution. The streets become congested with traffic. The populace has less and less room to live, move, or breathe.

Every so often, though, a triumph against all this industrialization occurs. One such victory is Seoul Forest. Located in the eastern half of the city, this arboreal haven is riddled with not only trees but also pounds, grass, brush, animal life*, swamps, paths, and a slough of other natural elements, items that one wouldn't expect to find in the middle of one of the biggest metropolises in the world.

Man could not completely leave his creative capacities out of this project; thus, included in all the green were these horses, racing toward the park-enterer; these books, reminding attendees that the concept of reading is basically ubiquitous; and this giant playground man, who has children scampering about within him.

I went there two times this fall, each time hoping that the trees would be just the color I wanted them to be. Neither time was as successful as I was hoping it would be in that regard, but both visits had rewards of their own. It is a neat place with lots to see. Both times I wandered around aimlessly, trying not to look too much like a tourist (although this has not stopped me before) and attempting to meander through all the different areas. Both times there were oodles of Koreans everywhere, whether old or young. And both times I was glad I went.

(3) Lantern Festival

On a crisp fall day, November 13, a large, grisly horde of foreigners joined the throng at the Cheonggyecheon to witness the 2010 Lantern Festival: Autumn Edition. Some of us in the group were aware of a Lantern Festival that was held annually in the spring, a celebration that we figured we'd never get to attend because it was over Buddha's birthday, which meant our schools had a day off from classes, which meant we were probably going to try to leave the country. So the fall rendition of this festival was a Godsend.

There is not much to tell about this evening other than who went. Bethel graduates Pete “Sleep with One Eye Open” and Kelly “Who's That Drivin'? Patrick Swayze!” Freeburg, Holly “Call Me Aaron Burr from the Way I'm Droppin' Hamiltons,” Dawna “Lee Dungarees: Can't Bust 'Em” Diamon led the pack; also included was Mr. Mark “Sarangbi” Nola, Elizabeth “Comes in 17 Different Colors” Sharpie, and two new ladies I had not met before but had preemptively judged based on the little I know about them: Laura, who was a Cubs fan (thumbs up) and Kara, a Northwestern attendee (thumbs down). And there was me (sixteen thumbs down).

We arrived at the extravaganza and expressed a variety of emotional responses to the humongous crowd; some laughed, some worried, some sighed with frustration. Wisely disregarding these reactions, Lauren, a seasoned-Lantern Festival attendee, advised us to avoid the Simon-sized line that was at the head of the Cheonggyecheon stream where the event was being held and head eastward to enter the festival through the backdoor. So we did that. And we got in relatively quickly.

All manner of lanterns were situated over the water. I took pictures with Old Faithful, my two hundred-year-old camera, and I am happy with those, but careful readers have already noticed that a true photographer, an individual who knows what he is doing with a camera and also has an acute eye for incredible pictures and also has the coolest hair in all of East Asia, was present in our group. The pictures that Pete has posted trump what I took by leaps and bounds; if you want to see actual quality, go to his blog post about the L.F. Otherwise stay here and fall victim to boredom and weariness. I know what I would do.

Anyway. There were lanterns in the form of tigers, blue-bearded dudes, turtle boats, Shanghai, sumo wrestlers, mill wheels, famous international monuments, horses and pandas, flower ladies, deer, and an enraged Asian man. There was also a large balloon. We got there in time to see it deflated.

In my limited understanding, a lantern is something one uses to cast light upon a darksituation, something one would maybe have around the house in case of a power outage. Of course, there is a different culture in Korea and in Asia in general, and so maybe there are different uses for these lanterns. They may perhaps carry greater meaning and symbolize a deep part of the Asian life and heritage. Perhaps. I was unable to glean a true understanding of said deeper meaning, though, so I walked away thinking only a) nice lanterns b) it would be really annoying to carry around that giant angry man to light your way if the electricity did go out during a storm or something.

(4) Lotte World

As previously mentioned in some other useless post on this useless blog, recently some of us spent an afternoon and an evening at Lotte World in Jamsil. Lotte is a powerful and perhaps wicked consumerism conglomerate out in the Japan/Korea area. Lotte World is a mongo amusement park that has allegedly set many world records and which allegedly gets around 8 million visitors each year, not including Pete, Kelly, Dawna, and I. There is an enormous portion of it that is indoors, quite reminiscent of Camp Snoopy in Minnesota, and there is a gigantic portion of it that is outdoors, quite reminiscent of Valley Fair in Minnesota. For those who have never been to Camp Snoopy, Valley Fair, or Minnesota, my most sincere apologies. But: there is a wild plethora of rides in each. While the target age group at Lotte World is elementary school children, we had no trouble reducing ourselves to that maturity level. Our jaws dropped in wonder at the wild fun that could be had on or in the roller coasters, themed rides, free-fall drops, terrifying 3D videos, swinging boats, and escalators there. Our biggest regret was not being able to go on a ride that was entitled Atlantis. Perhaps that time will come later on in life.

Eh. We went for my birthday. The lines were long because it was a Saturday. The trip was very spontaneously planned. We got cheaper tickets because we arrived after 4. I want to go again and feel young for another day. Call me if you want to come with.

I stole these pictures from Kelly. She was not impressed with them. I was. Deal with it.

*The only reason I took this photo was because as I walked by these creatures, I muttered to myself, "If only you knew how many of your kind have died on, in, or under a car driven by one of my friends or family..."