Monday, February 28, 2011

Mirror Mirror On The Wall

Or above the pay phone. On the bathroom stall door. Pasted onto the bus stop plexiglass. Above the bus's exit doors. Dangling against five other ornaments on your mobile phone. Along a random brick wall. Attached to your students' hands at all times. Tilted perfectly towards you at your work desk. Mirrors in every classroom and every office. In Daiso, 999 Won, and grocery stores. 
Mirrors, mirrors! Everywhere you go!!
As natural as beauty is in the ROK, there's a lot of reflection gazing amongst the people, especially the younger generation. With all these mirrors hanging about, Koreans could possibly be looked upon as a vain society. Is it simply self obsession, or is staring into the mirror part of an errorless social expectation? It's possible that perfection goes beyond afternoon sparkling teeth or coloring inside the lines. Perfection may be focusing in on each strand of hair, balancing the limits on the curl of a smile, or shallowing out the depth of a frown. Perfection might also be improving perfect beauty, and hiding away any possible flaws. Smooth the blemishes, white-out the errors, and shine in the mirrors.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Shiny Teeth And All

I've mentioned before that Koreans are OCD about cleanliness. Everything germ free and sparkling clean! (Except my school's toilet facilities. WOW!) Hand sanitizer is found at coffee shop condiment bars, in school hallways, near train station exits, and in grocery stores. Those with a cold or other minor illnesses, or those who simply don't want to inhale pollution on their way to work, walk around nonchalantly with face masks. It took me a few weeks to realize they weren't hospital escapees or some crazy Ebola virus carriers. Specific colored latex gloves are used in every room for cleaning purposes, pink for dish washing. Ajummas (old Korean ladies) run around sweeping the sidewalks with their short handled brooms. Why are all broom handles backbreakingly short? Yet another Korean mystery. ^^
And then there is the obsessive teeth brushing. Public restrooms are filled with ladies brushing away in front of the mirror. After lunch, my school's hallways smell like sweet minty toothpaste and the restrooms have coffee mugs packed with students' toothbrushes and perfectly squeezed from bottom up (fluoride-less) toothpaste tubes. 
Brushing my teeth incessantly is a little much, being that I do want some layer of enamel in the future. But I do enjoy living in a clean country. If only they found a way to filter that yearly "Yellow Dust" blowing from China's insane air pollution. That same dust storm that blew into my lungs and partied for a month last spring. 

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Aza! Fighting!

Koreans of all ages love games. Teens will spend their entire summer break inside a smoky, dim PC Bang (internet cafe) playing computer games (Sudden Attack or Maple Story to name a few). You'll hear groups of children and adults screaming "Kai Bai Bo!" at every corner you turn! You will pass by ajusshi (old Korean men) in alleys yelling and pounding soju while on their knees throwing wooden sticks onto a large dotted paper in a traditional game of Yut-Nori. And the sidewalks are filled with fun games. There are batting and golfing cages and shooting ranges in every neighborhood. Get your stress out on a punching machine or show off your sexy strong leg by kicking soccer balls attached to levers that accompanies a loud game scoring. Or simply take your mind off of life with a completely impossible, money-sucking claw crane machine. This time, you think, this time I'll get that super cute smiling radish plush or that massive metal trophy-looking object. And your friends will be standing near cheering you on, screaming Aza!! Fighting!!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Cheeky Cautions, Serious Signs, & Questionable Art

맛있게 드세요! Beyond Food Enjoyment

After hearing 'masissge deuseyo' every day for ten months, I still can't pronounce this phrase that simply means to enjoy your meal. Yet, no words in any language across the globe can describe the exhilaration my entire body goes through while eating Korean food. It is beyond mere enjoyment.
Not long after eating, my palate, as if awoken from a coma, forgets the abundance of incredible flavors recently ingested. So the first lift of the flat metal chopsticks to my hesitantly open mouth is like popping my Korean food cherry for the first time with every meal. Again and again
As I can go on forever about the subject of food, I'll touch on some things I find interesting.

Sitting on the floor
You don't have to do it. In fact, most restaurants have an option. Rather than those oh-so-long-ago "smoking" and "non-smoking' sections we had back home, you have the option of floor or chair seating. Oh, and the entire restaurant acting as a smoking section is typical. The good thing about floor seating is getting to sit on a cushion that rests on a heated floor. The annoying thing about the traditional floor seating is leg cramping. And if you have a bony butt, that too can become uncomfortable.

Sharing is Caring
I grew up with a family that eats off each other's plates. It seemed like a bad, disturbing habit, especially when out on a hot date, until Korea. Double dipping? Yeah! Try triple or quadruple dipping! Koreans stick their long spoons and chopsticks into everything on the table. But it's okay, because when you dip your utensils into the boiling soup or over the hot grill, all the germs go away!   Asa!
The main dish usually isn't set in front of you, but in the middle of the table. And surrounding the huge platter or grill is an assortment of small side dishes (banchan, 반찬) that range from soups, to eggs, to kimchi, to raw crab, to tofu, to noodles, to spicy vegetables, to...the list can go on for the length of a novel...everything raw, fried, dried, fermented, seasoned, steamed, boiled, or grilled is loaded on the table. Half the time I don't know what I'm eating, and the other half  I'd rather not know. I just close my eyes and plop it all into my mouth! Unless it has eyeballs...that's where I draw the line.


Barbeque At The Table
In Texas, as in the rest of the States, we BBQ outside on a big grill on the patio or the lawn, with a cold beer in one hand and a huge fork in the other to poke and turn the meat. Again, Korea is different. The grill is built inside the table.  The server brings a plate of delicious RAW food. From then on, you are the chef. You cut and flip and tend to that meat, set either over a gas or a charcoal grill. Of course, beer is still involved. And you drink and eat until your face looks red as the pepper paste (고추장) from the grill's hovering heat and the alcohol dancing about inside your body.

In America, I think of delivery as pizza, Chinese, and...that's about all. But here, you can get pretty much have anything delivered, from corner store beer and chips to restaurant-served food. And the brilliant process will blow you away as it did to me! First, you call. Or in my case you go to the actual restaurant and point at either pictures or words on a fully Korean menu while everybody, including the cooks and patrons, stare in a WTF-is-she-doing-here-I-am-so-confused kind of way. The already awkward situation has risen its intensity bar to the maximum. You pay, point to your building, scribble your apartment number down, and go home to wait for your meal. The food itself does not come in a box, or styrofoam, or bag, or foil, it doesn't even come in a biodegradable take-out container. For all those green peace, environmentalist, recycling freaks out there (such as myself), this is the blow your mind away point. It comes in real live restaurant dishware, silverware and all! Alas, when you're finished eating just place it all back into the big plastic container and set it by your front door. No tipping needed either!

Street Food
You can get it anywhere and at all hours of the night. It's best after a night of drinking and it's just as delicious while exploring during the day. There's a huge and interesting variety, from a Korean version of corn dogs with crinkle fries attached, to topokki (rice cake with red sauce), to silkworms (beondegi, one thing I refuse to get near), to red bean filled fish patterned pastries, to the insanely delicious Korean style maple syrup filled pancake (hoddeok) to the questionable but very popular odeng (processed fish on a stick and soaking in broth). You can even get an instant cup of noodle soup in a vending machine!

Korean food is delicious and cheap and fresh. And it's located everywhere. I don't know how I managed to live life feeling complete without a mouthful of samgyeopsal (BBQ pork) or soon dubu jiggae (soft tofu soup) for so long in my life. I just don't know how I did it... But now that I have a daily dose of Korean food, it's going to be hard to let go. Anybody know of a Kimchi Anonymous back in Austin, please send me a link.  ^^
Masissge deuseyo!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Searching For the Woolly Bully (노래방)

Somewhere after a crazy, belligerent night out at the bars and clubs, and somewhere fairly close to the point of cramming an insane amount of dak galbi (닭갈비, chicken dish) into your gullet, and somewhere just before throwing your face onto a pillow at home or on a satin circular bed at a love motel or on a curb by your bus stop that ended its last route hours ago...somewhere in that evening, there is a good hour of singing your heart and soul and lungs out to Barbie Girl...or Under the Sea..or Sweet Caroline.  
Noraebang (노래방), otherwise known as 'singing room', usually comes at that point where soju has partially blackened the memory. The good feature about the soju (a vodka-tasting distilled beverage) and noraebang combination is the chemical reaction it produces; enter the karaoke singing room and your mind instantly mutes while your voice hits the maximum volume level. In the noraebang, you don't just sing Radiohead, you ARE Thom Yorke. You don't just sing Backstreet Boys, you ARE Nick and AJ and Howie. You ARE the Bohemian and you ARE the Piano Man. In the noraebang, you are a star and nobody can tell you different. That is, except for the scoreboard at the end of the song telling you quite different. Although, either the noraebang judge behind the screen is merciful, or I really am an amazing singer, I tend to score nothing less of 90 out of 100!

 The dimly lit Holiday Inn suite-style room is set up with disco lights, a large flat screen, a karaoke machine, and two sexy, shiny microphones. The first thing I do upon entering is throw my bag filled with snacks and soju and run to the songbook before anybody could even scan the room for it. I frantically flip each page, scroll my finger down every song, and rummage through the abundant English, Chinese, and Korean sections in search of the song title which slides out my lips in such a pleasant and semi-humorous manner. Where, I pant, WHERE is Woolly Bully? 

Each time I sing those satisfyingly simple lyrics I crave to find out just what Matty told Hatty. And although I know what she saw, I still jolt into a moment of shock when I find out that it was the Woolly Bully himself!  

95 percent of the time Woolly Bully is nowhere to be found, and I sadly set the machine for a few backup songs. Although a song or two isn't in that fat book, I can still sing Self-Esteem, Wonderwall, Brown-Eyed Girl, and of course...Don't Stop Believing. 

And just as all things come to an end, so does an hour of noraebanging. The machine turns off and your mind turns back on again. And you stumble out of the room wondering what exactly happened within that hour. The only evidence  taken with you is a shattered voice that lasts 1-3 days, from personal experience. And although Woolly Bully was not to be found, I had the Woolly Bully within me all along...

<3 ReneeInSK

Thursday, January 13, 2011

The Great Phallus Adventure!

   Okay, so first off, Korea confuses yet entices me more each day. In a country where sex talk, including the usage of contraception, is an eyebrow raiser and a "dude, not cool" shake of the head, why is there an entire park dedicated to massive erect penis statues?! They even have an entrance fee to get into the park! The PENIS park, that is. After visiting this phallic place, I wouldn't be surprised if Colombia had a park with statues of Pablo Escobar and friends with rolled notes up their noses! Well, maybe not, but still. It's a curious world, this Korea land!

But I must admit, it was definitely worth the trek! I spent an entire day (six hours each way) on buses and trains to enter this park filled with giggling ajumas scuttling about in groups, families walking around snapping pictures, and of course a cluster of penises. Just as it's okay to enjoy your Sunday afternoon eating buffalo wings and watching a football game amongst large bouncing boobs with your wife and kids at your local Hooters back in the States, it's okay to hike around the Penis Park with your family on a Sunday afternoon. It's also a breathtaking view of the mountains surrounding Samcheok and the blue blue sea. My eyes were constantly moving from beauty to penis to beauty to penis back and forth until I had an eyegasm!  

The story behind the park (with my own personal story-shifting view) begins as a tragedy, when two young lovers go to an island off the east coast to find some seafood. The waves knock the virgin girl into the ocean. For years after this tragic incident the little fishing village is in a mourning state. Even the fish are sad - they refuse to eat. Until one day, a sexy man from the village, most likely hammered off of soju, unzips his pants and urinates into the water. On a side note, I'll bet he was one of THOSE people who pee in the swimming pool. This is when the story takes a turn to a happy ending, if you know what I mean! The ghost of the dead virgin takes a single look at that man (sexy or not, he is a man and she is a dead virgin ghost), and with an instant arousal, the ocean snaps out of their dramatic depression. The fish eat, the villagers are happy, and the virgin ghost can now see massive amounts of penises everyday at the small price of  a 3,000 won entrance fee!