Sunday, November 27, 2005

The adventures of Chicken man

For anyone who has ever been to Korea, there is one indisputable fact: Korean stop lights take forever to change from red to green.  This is by no means an exaggeration – since in reality one might spend an average of 3 to 5 minutes standing at a street corner waiting for the light to change....which, this blogger thinks is a long time.
This observable fact isn’t without benefit. One may easily use it as a quite believable excuse for being late (“those damn stop lights....took for ever, sorry mate”).
As usual, I try to make the most of all experiences – so most days, I use this free time to take a good look around my neighborhood and catch a glimpse into the lives of those around me – who are so accustomed to waiting at stop lights for what-seems-like-hours that they don’t even blink or make the occasional sigh (“damn these lights are really long”).  However, sometimes the strangest of things happen while you are waiting for a light to change.

At one particular set of lights near my apartment, I often find the most interesting of characters. There is one old man, who my coworkers and I endearingly refer to as “the Chicken man’. For three, sometimes four, nights a week he is a fixture beside this particular street light. He has a big blue pickup truck that has a rotisserie attached to the back and a very large sign proclaiming roasted chickens for sale at a bargain price of 6000won (however, the smell of roasting chickens is usually enough to catch anyone’s attention- especially a hungry foreigner).

He is usually found chatting with other neighborhood men, who often gather to watch the chickens spin around the little rotisserie, dripping their fat into the street below. The Chicken man always makes an effort to say Hi to us as we pass by...usually with some Korean jokes or comments, since all the men around him break into laughter and enthusiastic nods. We politely smile and laugh back at him....ahhh the crazy Chicken man.....always good for a laugh. In addition to chicken, the Chicken man also sells roasted chestnuts and usually tries to give me a chestnut or two as I am waiting for the light to change...ahhh what a friendly Chicken man.

As many Korean men do, the Chicken man likes his soju. He (and his friends) will sit on the street corner and polish off a few green bottles on any given evening. I am by no means judging – since I have many ‘a good memories of drinking on Korean street corners – but this fact helps my story. One particular soju-driven Friday evening, my coworker Amanda was heading out to meet a friend of hers. In order to reach the taxi stand near our apartments, she had to cross the street by the chicken stand. As usual, the light was red when Amanda arrived, so she settled in for the long wait, when suddenly she was tapped on the shoulder. There stood the Chicken man with a paper cup of soju in his outstretched hand. I guess he figured she could have a shot while she waited.
With his Korean friends laughing near the truck, the Chicken man simply says ‘one shot!’ ....which translates pretty easily. Amanda, being the good sport that she is, takes the shot of soju and hands the paper cup back to the Chicken man.
Since the light is still red, and I am sure the Chicken man figured he had enough time, he hands Amanda another paper cup filled with roasted chestnuts. He then takes a chestnut and begins to peel it with his blackened hands. Amanda watched in horror as he tried to feed her the dirty, peeled chestnut. be polite she apparently took it.  Yes, the light was STILL red. Amanda was beginning to consider running across the street and taking her chances with the line of fast moving cars in front of her.
Finally, after a few more dirty chestnuts, the light changed and Amanda retreated to the safety of a waiting taxi.
When she told me the story we shared a good laugh and pondered the kindness of strangers – perhaps the Chicken man over-stepped the social norms – but after a few bottles of soju I am sure feeding foreigners chestnuts and soju on the street corner seemed like a good idea.  He definitely made for a good story.

As for my weekend, I was out Friday night with some friends and spent yesterday in bed with yet another self-induced headache. My director bought me a new TV which was delivered yesterday – sort of a thank you gift for working hard the last few weeks. There is a 6th teacher coming to work at my school and he arrives tonight sometime....he is getting my old TV. The next week I will be busy training the new teacher and marking final exams for my junior classes. Never a dull moment. Hope all is good with everyone back home.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Grasshopper anyone?

Tonight my director treated us to a buffet dinner to thank us for our help and compassion during this last week.
Along with my regular coworkers, the Korean staff from our 'Seed School' (pre-kindergarten) came along too. The restaurant was really beautiful and had a huge array of Korean and Japanese dishes. There was everything from raw fish, Shabu-shabu (a Japanese style of cooking meat/seafood and veggies in hot water), to bulgogi and juk (rice porridge).
In addition to the buffet, there were about 4 guys serving us at our table - each preparing different varieties of raw fish and sesame leaves for us to eat.
As usual I tried to keep an open mind and have a taste of everything.
I should regress a little and tell you that there was free draft beer at a self serve station not too far from our maybe my inhibitions were a little lowered.
My coworker Amanda...who might I add, is a big laugh when she isn't drinking, comes back to the table and says “well, I found the grasshoppers...who wants one?"
So I and another coworker thought it sounded like a good dare - maybe it is the result of watching too many re-runs of fear factor, but I figured I would try it.
After unsuccessfully trying to convince a fourth coworker (who is a vegetarian....grasshoppers are almost vegetables right?) the three of us got ready to take a bite of our first insect.
As the Koreans looked on and giggled...(after all, these are the people who grow up eating silk worm larvae) we quickly ate the little 'hoppers and washed them down with a mouthful of beer.
It wasn't as bad as I thought. Crunchy and dry...they were fried perhaps, although I am not sure. Really tasteless, but not without texture.
It was an experience to remember - not necessarily repeat...although I did forget my camera and wish now that I had a picture of us...would have been good for a laugh in the future.
So for now, you can see my googled image of a fried grasshopper. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.


Monday, November 21, 2005

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas.

So the countdown is on!
Less then 40 days until Christmas and I have finally picked up my airline ticket for my trip to Vietnam.
The plan is to meet up with my mate Mickey in Ho Chi Minh and then fly to Nha Trang on Christmas day!
If all goes well we will be relaxing on a beach like this just after noon time on the 25th.

ooohhh I can't wait!

(Internet photo).

Friday, November 18, 2005

Sad news

I am sure that there will be many events that will trigger emotions from the last few months and bring up my own feelings of grief that I have only begun to deal with.
This morning when I arrived into work I found out that my director's father had passed away suddenly last night.
Tonight my coworkers and I attended the wake for her father.
It is amazing how emotions like grief span cultures and no one escapes its grip.
When we arrived at the hospital Helen greeted us in her black Hanbok (Korean traditional dress). Most wakes in Korea take place in a special area of the hospital.
We were introduced to her family and friends, and then ushered into a room where her father's photo and casket were. Each of us was given a white chrysanthemum to place on his casket.
After a brief bow we were then ushered into an area where all the relatives and friends gather to eat and mourn.
Helen and her husband, Joseph, are holding up very well. There son was there, but unfortunately, their daughter is studying in America and won't be able to return for the funeral on Sunday.
Both I and my coworker, Whitney, have lost a parent in the last year, and a third coworker's father had a heart attack last week. It was a very difficult evening for all of us, yet Helen took the time to speak to us.
She is very close with her family, but told me that she has been very busy this last week and hadn't found time to visit with her father over the last few days. She told me that she had wanted her father to visit her new house, but hasn't had time for him to come over. I understand her guilt.
I tried to hold it together, but had difficulty when looking at her eyes - they were so sad and empty. I can truly see in her eyes how much her father meant to her.
Her mother has taken the news very badly and had to be taken to the hospital last night. In addition to the loss of her father she is very worried about her mother.
I know that our presence meant a lot to her and her family. I can only remember how difficult those first few days are.
This weekend I plan to spend a lot of time reflecting on this event and simply remembering.
The following is from an email that my sister sent me when my father was ill.
You may have read it before, but I urge you to read it again. They truly are words to live by.

Moments in Life

There are moments in life when you miss someone so much that you just
want to pick them from your dreams and hug them for real!

When the door of happiness closes, another opens; but often times we
look so long at the
closed door that we don't see the one,
which has been opened for us.

Don't go for looks; they can deceive.
Don't go for wealth; even that fades away.
Go for someone who makes you smile,
because it takes only a smile to
make a dark day seem bright.
Find the one that makes your heart smile.

Dream what you want to dream;
go where you want to go;
be what you want to be,
because you have only one life
and one chance to do all the things
you want to do.

May you have enough happiness to make you sweet, enough trials to make
you strong,
enough sorrow to keep you human and
enough hope to make you happy.

The happiest of people don't necessarily
have the best of everything;
they just make the most of
everything that comes along their way.

The brightest future will always
be based on a forgotten past;
you can't go forward in life until
you let go of your past failures and heartaches.

When you were born, you were crying
and everyone around you was smiling.
Live your life so at the end,
you're the one who is smiling and everyone
around you is crying.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

It was perhaps another weekend for the good 'ol memory books.
On Saturday Whitney, Amanda and I went to Bukjeong to watch a foreigner’s game of rugby. Although I have a cold, it had been a while since I had seen a rugby game and also been around so many foreigners, so I decided to trek along.
There was a team that flew in from Beijing to play our team...the Seoul Survivors.
It was a prefect fall day and the beer was flowing during and after the game.
Amanda knew of a girl who plays on the women's team, so we got invited to join them and the boys for an after party in Seoul.
Needless to say everyone had a good time. ...somewhat reminiscent of my Ulsan days.
After a few bars and too many drinks I decided to make the taxi ride back to Yongin. The girls opted to stay in Seoul so I went home solo, only later to realize that I lost my wallet. UGH!
I am not sure how much cash was lost, but the good news is that only my bank card and credit cards were in there too - easily replaced.
However, my poor taxi driver was not so thrilled that I only had 10,000 won to cover a 30,000 fare...sorry Mr. Taxi driver (again).

This week should be pretty busy at work - more Christmas play crap....I have written a play for my class to perform and we have been practicing every day! and we have a big meeting with potential parents where I have to do a little speech....just hope my voice comes back by Thursday...this cold really sucks!

gotta run to class, but enjoy the pics below.


The Seoul Survivors Some of the Rugby chicks

Amanda and me

The view from the bus to Seoul, and Whitney

Monday, November 07, 2005

Happy Suwon

This weekend was pretty fun. I went out Friday night with some friends. We started at a small house party and ended up at a WA bar until well after 5am.
It was a fun night and it felt good to have a few too many and meet lots of new people.
Saturday I spent the day recovering in my apartment with all the necessities: liters and liters of water, snacks and a few movies.

Yesterday I went to Suwon with my friend (and coworker) Whitney.
It's about half an hour by bus from where I live in Yongin city and is home to Hwaseong Fortress. The history behind this 'walled city' is not actually that old (for Korean standards) and in 1997 was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Basically, the fortress was constructed by King Jeongjo (1776-1800) in honor of his deceased father, Sado Seja.
As the story goes, Sado had been designated the crown prince but fell into some trouble with the law and became a victim of a court conspiracy. He was found guilty and unjustly condemned to be sealed to a rice chest and left to die.
In an attempt to appease his late father's soul, King Jeongko built this 5.7 km fortress which still stands today.
It's pretty impressive and the views are great along most of the wall.
Suwon city itself spreads both inside and outside the wall - sort of an interesting mix between new and old Korea.
We basically took the afternoon and walked along the wall enjoying the fall colors. The city of Suwon is also a nice change from the 'humdrum of Yongin and the bustle of Seoul.
It's small enough to not be too loud, yet is large enough to have a great couple of markets which offer a ton of shopping.

Today at work I got some good news. I was given the head teacher position at my school.
Basically a little bit more responsibility and a little bit more money (hooray for the money!).
I am looking forward to the challenge and the possibility to have a little bit more say in how things are done.

Anyways, enjoy the photos.


One of the few statues along the fortess wall.

I think this was actually a bird feeder - but it made for a great photo.

The wall

Here are some more photos from Suwon.