Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Adventure Korea Experience

Well I had the opportunity this last weekend to partake in my first bus tour from a passengers perspective. Let me start by saying, Moose/West Trek tours are hands down top notch as far as itinerary, commentary, and guides go. Adventure Korea...(or OK Tours-way-gook edition) babysit all the expats in Seoul.....not so pro!

We booked a trip to Seoraksan National Park to see the fall colours and summit the mountain. The drive is comparable to Barrie to Hamilton or Vancouver to Pemberton, except for the crazy Korean traffic, this turns any 200km drive into a 6 hour event.
Our guide was a bit of a hammer and couldn't coordinate the 90 people on the tour. It was a bit of a let down from the get go as the guide kept saying we probably wouldn't be able to summit the mountain due to weather and safety issues. There were few shouts from the back of the bus...

"I thought this was called...ADVENTURE....Korea, not Safety Korea!! "

The bus tour experience from a passengers point of view is strange indeed. I think I was more upset about being left in the dark about things than anything... I took for granted how informative and knowledgeable we programmed our Rockies guides to be back home...I found the lack of info almost absurd when days later at work my boss started giving me full tour commentary on Seoraksan National Park and all of the geology and history details...it was the first info I had heard on the park since researching it myself. (We also drove past the Sea of Japan (or the East Sea as only Koreans call it...they frickin HATE Japan) and didn't stop... I am pretty sure people who have been landlocked for months on end would like to enjoy a short sea stop...I'd be stopping there for sure.

I think the worst part of the trip....was the Guide and his sabotage of the summit...we got 3/4 of the way up after taking our time (we thought no one would be able to go due to slippery conditions) taking photos and goofing around. At the temple, the guide left a random tourist to stop any further people heading up the hill....When she told me not to proceed, I asked her, "Where's the guide??"...she replied "Well he's gone to the top.....". As I gave her the " Who the F&!K are you!?!?! Get the F*!K out of my way!" look I made a charge for the summit.... It was an incredible walk/climb/scramble and I got to the base of these crazy metal steps.

This is where I found our "guide", chatting up the ladies. He told me I could not go any further and so I decided (for some reason I still don't freakin' understand!) to listen. It was gorgeous up there... 10 people of our group made the summit and I got 95% of the way. I only rant because there is NO reason why all of the group could not have made it up.....except for this asshole and his lack of experience.

Andrea was almost shoved off a sketchy staircase by an old restaurant owner loading his gear down the mountain...he literally almost pushed her into a ravine...Not cool! Pushing and shoving is an old 3rd world remnant stuck in the habits of the elderly...The old grandma's are the worst on the subway, sidewalk, bus, stairs, restaurants, crosswalks, catwalks, escalators, turnstiles, elevators, taxi stands, street vendors, shopping malls....they are tough old ladies...
rude as @*%&!!!

Check out this gem from a Korean wedding:

My favorite part is the elbow the granny throws the bride followed by her dragging her train into the seats...
So...The scenery was fantastic and the company was good....most of the group were as baffled as us... and it made for a few laughs over more than a few beers...

Day 2 involved hiking in the Oaesek River Valley, It was really wet but amazing!

In other news.....

I have been playing in the Korean Ball Hockey League and my team is currently in second place ...I have yet to score (on 4 shots only in 2 games)... I am gasping less and less everyday and soon will have a 3 or 4 goal breakout game.(I freakin better!)..This last Sunday got a little rough as the boys started to get sloppy with their sticks... A few suck attacks out there made for many stoppages and arguments ending in shoving matches...personally, I like to play with all the tension...it makes everyone play harder!

The ear is at about 90%...Its taken a long time but I am almost there. For a while, I thought the trees around the hospital grounds were getting better treatment then me!

The weather dipped to -5C here and it makes for brisk walks to work....We are getting near the end of the first semester and closing in on a massive student shuffle. It should be interesting to see how this all unfolds as there are no new teachers to pick up the split classes. We may all be working 4 blocks in a row with no breaks! (and that's the point where you may see us pull up on your doorstep after a "midnight runner" BTW....)

Monday, October 27, 2008

Lets Talk About Ear Infections

Well a crappy weekend fighting off the flu blended seamlessly into an epic battle with the Korean medical system to overpower a strong ear infection with weak ass Korean drugs.

My itchy eardrum turned to a fiery ball of tear inducing pain which warranted a trip to Dr. Kim on Thursday morn, so I sat on the edge of the bed waiting for the sun to come up and the Ibu's to kick in...A sleepless and near frantic shadow of myself winced through a barrage of hearing tests and scopes BEFORE any pain medication was administered.... The heartless and ignorant doctor gave me Tylenol ER 650mg...about a 1/4 of a pill stronger than an on the shelf Extra Strength Tylenol at home... "1 pill to be taken every 8 hours"

I said Pardon? (I really used MANY expletives in my head...)

I fell asleep for 45 minutes sometime around 10am on Friday morning. I was up most of the night standing in the hot shower as it seemed to remove the TNT exploding in the left side of my skull.

I spent the rest of the time playing with the Internet and fotoflexor to express myself via facebook.... here's what I ended up with:

John will go GODZILLA on this town looking for T3's or codeine...watch the F__K out!!

Ahhh the things you do on 72 minutes of sleep. I had a dream I was swimming in a murky lake around 10am and I had just come up from the bottom and needed to equalize my ears.....POP...I woke up screaming and freaking out...my eardrum had burst! I don't know if I actually tried to equalize my head with the ol' "Squeeze the nostrils and blow" technique or if I just dreamt it all....regardless...there was now red and yellow fluid running in a stream, out my ear, down my face.

Andrea again has been a true champion of champions, queen of all queens, most deserving of an awards show based solely on her awesomeness, followed by a mountain dedication with centaurs playing lutes....(or maybe just a ring or something)...She went out to lunch with an old friend who happened to have a small stash of codeine infused relief. Just 6 beautiful pills...the dosage was still much less than a single T3 however, and would only last in my over sized body with its over sized liver for maybe 2 hours. Yet, they provided me enough relief to get me through...till they ran out!

Sunday, Day 4 of a 5 day antibiotic cycle and there was no shortage of puss flowing from my ear..I went to emerg and demanded stronger painkillers and suggested my dosage of antibiotic was too weak....I was not surprised to find my suggestions totally ignored. (I later found out via Brenda that the appropriate antibiotic dosage is DOUBLE what they were giving me....idiots.

I went back to the Doctor on Tues and Wednesday..2 doctors, 2 opinions, 2 medications.... NO STRONGER PAINKILLERS!!! Seems like extra strength Tylenol is all people get here, from post surgery to ovarian cysts, 650mg Tylenol is the miracle Asian painkiller.

The 2nd doctor told me he would like to cut into my eardrum and relieve the pressure by inserting a tube to drain the excess fluid/puss buildup....pretty normal for severe infections. However, he told me it would be difficult due to my abnormally skinny ear canals..... wow, all this time and I never knew about this problem. He would normally spray some local anesthetic on the drum and start chopping but he had to soak a tissue and jam it in there to be sure he got the local all up in there. Well lets just say when the suction touched my ear I felt it...he knew this...AND THEN PROCEEDED TO CUT ME IN THE HEAD WITH A MICRO KNIFE!!! MY heart almost exploded out of my chest with pain...needless to say, he could not get the tube in place.

So, now I am on 2 painkillers, 2 sets of drops, 2 antibiotics, and am supposed to check in to the hospital to run an IV drip antibiotic to kill it all!!

I am having a ball!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Why not try an Octopus?

This week was a little more run of the mill; gym-eat-work-movie-sleep-repeat type affair. We are destroying the new release section of our local DVD store and soon I will have to force Andrea to watch horror movies and sci-fi which seem to be in excess here. There are only so many love-gone-bad-romance-satire-baby-marriage movies in Korea and Ang has picked most of them out.

27 Dresses was the latest form of gag inducing tripe I have had to endure....what a pile of horseshit..... What's with the formulaic "I can't say how I feel so bad shit spirals out of control till I snap show and everything falls into place like a fucking Disney movie"crap?!?!?!... These flicks are all the same, how bout some new ideas........Horror/Thriller movies are a tough sell for Andrea because they give her that "shaken hamster in a cage" feeling that lasts for two or three days. (She will scream bloody murder if I cough or fart unexpectedly in the dark..... she needs some serious desensitizing!)

Korean lessons started on Saturday and I think they will be 10 weeks of good fodder for my blog! My group is about 15 strong and they mostly hail from "near" Toronto, Canada. That seems to be the catch phrase for anyone from Ontario as when in Korea,who the hell cares where Lindsay is?!?!.....Koreans are renowned for their bluntness when speaking English to expats. My teacher told the girl next to me after pronouncing a few vowels, " I thought Darren was the worst in the class... now I think different!". I have been practicing my letters for a few weeks now and she asked me if I think I should go a level up. I said it was up to her, so she asked me a "test" question in Korean and I stared at her blankly... she she said " I know for certain you should be in my class...don't go anywhere".

We spent the rest of the weekend exploring the markets/shopping. At one point a giant Korean pelican swooped in and we couldn't resist:

We hit the subway around 11 on Sunday morning.... these two were sleeping off their Saturday night across from us. (They had probably been on the train from its opening and gone for the tour of shame...) Totally out cold. The seat next to chachi on the right was constantly being filled by unsuspecting commuters who thought they had scored a prime seat. They would realize all to quickly their mistake as a soju reeking body would slump into their lap or go for a tumble when the train hit its brakes. One by one they would leave totally pissed and another unaware victim would fill the void....we could barely contain ourselves.

As for the night of the San Nak Ji (live octopus)... OH MY GOD!!

This is a Styrofoam bucket filled with thirty or so living octopus..... Our boss pulled us out of the office to initiate us into traditional Korean octopus sacrifice. Approximately 3-10 people die per year eating octopus this way. Koreans blame it on Soju....

  1. Grab an octopus

  2. Stab that octopus through the head with chopsticks

  3. Wrap the body and legs around the chopstick (oh yes! the octopus is VERY much alive and moving ....it is also looking at you)

  4. Dip it in weird sauce (spicy red something)

  5. Put it into your mouth and chew with reckless abandon*! (*Translation: kill it in your mouth before the live animal grabs hold of your larynx (in defense) and chokes you to death!)

  6. Success!

This tasty morsel was destined for the Irish girls mouth...I was next... she got half way and freaked out! She puked up a living creature onto her hand and it was still squirming! I managed to get down a 10cm tentacle... I wretched for about 45 minutes after... It was probably the tentacle tickling me from the inside.... mmmmmnnnnn yummy!

Monday, October 13, 2008

A Weekend to Forget

I got off the phone with the fam today and was reeling from the imagined thanksgiving smells wafting around the room.. I could feel the warm glow of an 8 hour oven tan I usually get from staring through the window checking on the bird. I think today was my first bout with any real homesickness. Thanksgiving is a big deal for me as it has been the one staple tradition where my merry band of west coast migrant brothers and sisters get together to feast. I miss you all.

As my mind is elsewhere, here is some fodder I have noticed/love/hate about being over seas:

  • Koreans walk on the left and pass on the right...or is it walk on the right and pass on the left...ah frig...its actually a free for all where I constantly have to zig or zag or stop and shoulder check

  • Scooter men will be the death of me- sidewalks/crosswalks/allies...they are EVERYWHERE. I hear the sound of electric scooters coming up on me in my sleep!
  • No it is not OK that you and your 4 family members are all on the same scooter (get that baby a helmet)
  • Small dried sardines are not good breakfast food...EVER!

  • Thumping dance music on the street does not make me want to come into your store and buy stuff...

  • Hey Korean dude sitting with his pals! I can hear you saying "Wae-gook" (foreigner) ...I know you are talking about me...jackass

  • My dish soap smells like a gin and tonic
  • Small dogs in shoulder bags are pets...large dogs in alleys are dinner
  • When drinking..."one shot" does not mean ONE shot...
  • Bars sell the hard stuff by the bottle...our work party tally for Friday night was 2x26ers Absolut...1x 26er of whiskey...about 7-teen bottles of soju....5 jugs of beer...then I blacked out
  • Koreans are fluent in English when drunk....but won't speak it at all at work in an English school
Anyway, We woke up Saturday afternoon wondering how we made it home. I vaguely remember spending some "quality time" curled up on the tile floor of my bathroom..... but it could have been a dream. The girl who's birthday it was spent 36 hours in bed and woke up @ noon on Sunday.

Sunday we went to a fall festival at the World Cup Stadium Skypark... it was mellow and a peaceful change to the thumping in my brain all day Saturday...the whole park was covered in 6 foot tall grass and really different. We found a barefoot path for reflexology/foot massage and took a stroll..our faces tell all.

Our new friends took us there..Sung-he Works at Avalon and her husband Henry is an English teacher too... they are really cool

Sunday, October 5, 2008

So much to say...so little time!

With the change of the month came a welcome change in temperature...from 34 and humid to a frosty 28 degrees, Koreans have donned their toque's and scarves for protection against the new found breeze that blows down the street. I am still in shorts and sandals as to me it's still balmy summer weather. (That trickle running down my back into my boxers is a dead giveaway!!)

After a week of waiting we have received our Alien registration cards allowing us to acquire the "essential" living staples most people enjoy. Andrea immediately acquired a cellphone and activated it....she has been going through some serious cell withdrawal (worthy of an intervention) lately and now can text and call and fiddle to her hearts content. I am still waiting for the perfect phone to come along, and as I currently have no friends, I have no need for the ol' electronic leash. Bank accounts and Internet were next on the list.

Walking into a bank in Seoul is a bit of a chore as you have options to go to a non-english speaking busy bank with crazy wait times OR a busier non-english bank where a deposit is a full day event. We walked into out local KEB bank (busy but not crazy) and immediately began to wonder why North Americans put up with standing in bank ques.... this bank, as all do here has a "take a number" approach and a room full of comfortable chairs to lounge/stay clam in while you wait for the end of time (or #198). I am usually ready to choke a teller after a 40min standing wait back in Van, but I was allowed to read and relax until it was my turn to be the illiterate wae-gook (foreigner) who hopes he is opening a savings account and not investing in kimchi exports to Bangkok....(I opened the wrong account by the way and have to go back for an hour of account reorganization day sometime soon..... good times!)

The Internet guy came early on Thursday morning and had us up and running in like 25 minutes, he had to climb outside of our three story window to run some cables...because of the no shoes indoors tradition, he carried his shoes through our living room and jumped out the window, squatted on the sill and struggled to get his shoes on....3 friggin floors up!! WTF?!?! wear your shoes buddy! seriously!

It was a stat holiday on Friday (Foundation Day: formation of the Joesun Dynasty circa 13-something) so we hit our local galbi (Korean BBQ) place for end of the week dinner and drinks!. On the way home we rushed across the 8 lane nightmare that is our main drag...the hand was flashing and 2 cabs were revving their engines ready to burn out and kill us both! Andrea got a little nervous and went for a sprint to safety, unfortunately for her..... she neglected to pick up her feet at the center line and caught her toe on the reflective line marker....(it sits about 1cm off the ground).... she swan dove across lane 5, bounced at lane 6, and was up jogging again at 7 and 8 (this all went down in a second and a half)... the water works started curbside as dumbfounded Koreans wanted to reach out and console the golden haired stranger weeping on the side of the road. She is OK but a bit black and blue (and pink in the face....sorry Ang, I had to write this!).

Friday was the Seoul International Drum Festival... an awesome 3 day drumming event with a full, hands-on drum marketplace...pure heaven... I got to sit down on a kit and suck for about 50 onlookers!! For my efforts I was presented with an apple juice box.

The night brought on the huge stage show with artists from around the globe. My personal favorite was Choi Sori a solo artiste, I will sum him up by reading his bio in the English program guide (and I quote):

.... he plays sound that express Oriental vision of the universe through his unique stick work with diverse Eastern and Western percussive instruments. He is unrivaled percussionist in Korea, being criticized that his performance gives sensation of climax to audiences and touch even the soul by his primitive and masculine beating.

We left after he was done with us, as did most of the crowd as I believe we all had to find bathrooms and clean up......

We went hiking on Sunday to a shamanistic mountain temple and Seoul's ancient city border wall...It was nice to climb up high and get some perspective to our new home...Seoul is HUGE!! We are having a riot!

This weeks agenda..... gym passes, korean classes, and the International Asian Food Expo....bring on the scorpions on a stick...I'm hungry!!

Saturday, September 27, 2008


We had a Saturday lunch meeting with the boss today....more Korean BBQ and a side salad with octopi heads (cut in half) in weird sauce. Floor sit restaurants are quite the challenge for someone who has the flexibility of a 65 year old grandmother. I can get through 90 minutes of hot yoga without stroking out, but after only 7 minutes of sitting on a floor with my legs crossed (needless torture) I am ready to cry.

Afterwards Andrea and I headed down to Yongsan or Technomart as most people know it.... There is a giant ipark mall with floor upon floor of gadgets, cameras, computers, gps, and on and on and on.... I need to do some serious research as to what camera I want to buy as the salesmen's ability to help me is limited to "yess-e" and "ssal-e" and "ok ok". I am on my own. I went up another 2 floors and still could not see the other end of the camera section. It's going to be a bit of a mission.

I found a guitar store on the fifth floor and stayed there for a while playing bass...the sales guy and i fell into an impromptu Police jam, "Every Breath you Take"....hilarious!!. Out of the things i miss most in Canada...jamming tops the list! They had quite the selection of cute guitars fit for cartoony K-pop artists....they did however have a few Dean guitars (AND a 5 string Dean Bass)...pretty badass. Prices for new guitars are similar to home (The Dean was about 598). There is a used instrument market open on Saaturdays and I will be equiping myself with a small home set up pretty soon (before I kill myself!).

We hit a royal Temple yesterday and went on the hunt for the used music market...the temple was great! No luck with the market....next weekend

As life in Asia soaks in, I have discovered my role as a teacher/tourist/illiterate whiteperson requires that I have more carying capacity on a day to day basis.... my pockets and Andreas purse wont due for cameras, phrasebooks, water, etc.... So... I have had to follow the lead of the local Korean men here and go in search of a "stylish-man-bag" for day to day use. I hesitate to use the word "man-purse" or "murse" as there are a few key differences in what I am looking for versus what the local is after. (1) A murse tends to be stamped or patterned leather and have "flair", which consists of brass or goldish buckles or clasps (2) A man-purse is usually a brand name like Coach or GAP or Tommy Hilfiger and the branding is super important to climbing the ladder that is high end korean fashion. (3) A murse strap hangs off the same shoulder and is carried much like a ladies purse or handbag. Since their is no "gay" in Korea...their is no pressure to find a "manly" bag. I lucked out and found a courier style sports bag with a long over the chest strap, it comes equiped with hourly testosterone injections and tons of storage for all that manly stuff I need (knives, nun-chucks, ninja stars, porn, beer-hat, etc).

While we were running out the door today, Andrea handed me a DVD and told me, "Put this in you're PURSE and lets get outa here"...... I am still waiting for my balls to drop.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Rainy Saturday

Laying low for the weekend..... It is coming down in buckets and I prefer to keep my eyeballs intact....100 000 Umbrellas and a tall guy with a big head don't mix....I thought walking down any Vancouver street on a rainy day was bad... I have been stabbed in and around the head/ face/neck and chest area 4 times in the last hour!! There is blatant disregard for personal space on a normal day, this is all out WAR!! In a nation where golf is an obsession, (golf) umbrellas take up all of the sidewalk and most of the street!! Please send a hockey helmet with a full face shield.

We are waiting for our Alien Registration cards to become official foreigners on this planet. Until then, no phone, no Internet, no bank account. We will be getting paid cash for our first pay day and the 10000 won note is the largest around. (How big a stack is $5000 in 10 dollar bills???)

I am sitting in the middle of a grand opening of a new local PC Bong (Internet cafe)... this particular one is called "EOS Greek Mythology" Here is their motto written all over the walls:

"The symbol expressing goddess who opens the morning simplified to be easily recognized by whoever and designed in order to give you a VIOLENT feeling by using the colour scheme."


The reading of random phrases on buildings and T-shirts has developed (for me) into more of an obsession than past time. Yesterday, a student of mine had on a t shirt that said:

GUMBALL MACHINE : Filled with Gumballs in the Shape of Balls

I told her I liked her shirt....she said "I don't know what it says".