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Melly Chlistmas and Happy Horidays

January 8, 2012

December proved an interesting month in Korea.  With Christmas spirit low, and no idea how Koreans take on the holiday, I had an interesting month ahead of me.  Most Koreans are classified as Atheist, with smaller populations being Buddhist and Christian.  Although Christmas is still celebrated, it is very different than most Western celebrations.  Koreans tend to think of Christmas as a ‘couples holiday’ with family taking an extreme backburner and Chritmas traditions accepted due to the recent Western influence.  With this in mind, I decided to introduce Western Christmas to my students as much as I could, and in turn, raise my own Christmas spirits as well.  What this turned into being was an interesting and sometimes hilarious interpretation of Christmas in the classroom.

Below are some videos from this month.  In my normal classes, I taught the students Christmas carols.   The students adopted a completely unique version of the songs twisting the ‘l’s and ‘r’s and creating new words that never existed in the English language.  The first one is a third grade class doing ‘jingle bells’ and the second is one student individually belting out ‘Santa Claus is coming to town’ while the rest of the class reads along.

Towards the end of the month I started English camp in which I was given 20 1st-2nd grade students to entertain and teach for a few hours each day.  Each day was a different theme and we made crafts, sang, danced and played games.  Yet most of the day consisted of these students forgetting I was the English teacher and just blabbling to me in Korean (which sounded like confessions of their whole life existence).  Not understanding a word they said, I am hoping they at least understood a word I said to them.  This may remain a mystery.  Below are some picture of the different crafts and activities I prepared for the camp.

(1st grade students in Korea decorate cookies….and then take a picture of it with their cell phones of course!)




The Dear Leader is Dead

December 20, 2011



Regretfully, its been a while since I’ve posted anything.  ‘Life’ and busyness has seemed to get in the way recently, and even teetering on the brink of exhaustion, tonight I wanted to make a post on this significant event.

On Saturday, Kim Jong-il was pronounced dead while taking a train journey through China.  Initial reports claimed he died from ‘physical and mental exhaustion’ while current reports claim a heart attack.   I first saw the news from other native-English teachers in Korea via facebook.  After reading a few news articles, I then turned to my co-teacher and brought it up.  To my surprise, she had no idea and neither did anyone else in the office.  After a few “Reallys?!” and “Oh how funny, the foreigner knew before us” conversations, business carried on as usual for the rest of the day.  After talking to some friends, it seemed to be a mixed bag of feelings on the event.  While some people, Korean and non-Korean, are worried about what this means for the future, others don’t seem to care too much.

Either way, this marks a pretty interesting time to be in Korea.  I will be interested to see how things pan out and how the successor, his son Kim Jong-un, will handle things.   In my opinion, I expect Kim Jong-un to flex his muscles on the world stage  (whether that be weapons testing or propaganda) for a period of time.  After that, I’m not sure which direction North Korea will go in.  Either even more secretive and aggressive, or more open and cooperative.  Though some people talk of reunification, or exaggerate over war, I see both a bit far-fetched and a long ways away.  Only time shall tell.

Below is a video released from North Korean state sponsored media on the mourning over Kim Jong-il’s death.   It is a pretty incredible video, and even though its hard to tell if those tears are real or fake, the whole thing is immensely bizarre to watch.


Promise to keep updates, and a more constant flow of posts.

Happy holidays to everyone back home!!

Naked Relaxation: Korean Style

November 24, 2011

Certain hidden treasures of Korea are still yet to be experienced even after 8 months here.  One of which was the infamous “jjimjilbang”.  My best friend came to visit in the first week of November, and I figured it would be a great thing for us both to experience.

The Jjimjilbang

A jjimjilbang is a 24 hour Korean spa.  It is unique to the Korean culture and we don’t have much to compare it to in the U.S.A.  At most of these places you pay a flat fee, around $10, and then get a comfortable uniform to wear.  Once changed, you can take advantage of the amentities each individual jjimjilbang has to offer, or just spend the night.  To some it is a better and cheaper option to a hotel.   The jjimjilbang is a community place, so there are no individual rooms to sleep or bathe.   At the larger jjimjilbangs people can eat, get a massage or facial, swim in the pool, watch movies, rest or experience the saunas and jacuzzis.   Did I forget to mention that some of these activities are done…naked?  Yes, the most notorious aspect of the jjimjilbang is the gender separated naked area.  Clothes are not allowed in this area, and Koreans come here to sit in the many different jacuzzis, saunas and pools.  Older women exfoliate and scrub themselves down in the shower area and younger Korean women can be seen chatting away and enjoying the different pools.  Younger Korean women will also scrub each other’s backs as a sign of close friendship.   Others can pay for a full body scrub to be done by one of the employees dressed in underwear.  To most Westerners, this concept is extremely weird.  I kind of thought so myself.

Trying it out ourselves

So Shanel and I decided to get the full Korean experience and go.  We picked Dragon Hill Spa, the famous 7 story jjimjilbang.  Upon arrival we paid the entry, were given an electronic wristband for any future charges and then were provided with the uniform.  We went upstairs to the ‘women only’ locker room/ floor  to put on our uniform.  We wandered around a little while, exploring the area, and taking advantage of the fact we had clothes on.  Both of us feeling very strange about entering the nude area.  We didn’t see any other foreigners and we watched a few Koreans strip down in the locker area and then walk naked through the dressing area, past a little shop and down some stairs into the nude floor.  It seemed like such a big area to trek across before entering the nude area, it was a bit intimidating.  So after we couldn’t put it off any longer, we stripped down to everything except our wristbands, and in single file (heads down)  darted for the sauna door.  Down the stairs we entered the large area full of different pools, jacuzzis, showers and saunas.  After a shower to make sure we were clean enough, we starting exploring the hot tubs.  It didnt take long to feel comfortable in the area.  Even being the only foreigners, we weren’t stared at particualry much.  We probably did more of the staring ourselves.

A naked scrub

After soaking, we decided we were ready to be scrubbed.  Anxious to complete our last (uncomfortable) goal before leaving, we walked to the massage/scrub area.   An older Korean lady in her uniform (matching bra and underwear) asked what we wanted and told us to wait.  Shanel was summoned to a table first and I watched as she had a Korean lady get a scrub brush and scrub away dead skin.  Then it was my turn.  While lying on my back, naked on a table/bed, I couldn’t help but laugh a few times.  For about 15 minutes they scrubbed and scrubbed and I could see my skin peeling off.  They didnt miss a spot.  They literally (uh huh, really) scrub every part of your body.   At one point we were asked to lay on our sides in which they lifted up one leg and scrubbed our inner thighs.  After the body part was finished they poured huge tubs of water on us, washed our hair and lightly scrubbed our faces.

For about $40 total I paid for one of the strangest experiences I’ve ever had. Anywhere.  Good thing my first time experiencing this was with a best friend.

Below are some of the only pictures we were able to capture…

Autumn in the Land of Morning Calm

November 2, 2011

Arriving to Korea during an extended winter, experiencing a short spring and then suffering through a monsoon summer, autumn has been the only relief so far.   The most rain comes in the form of leaves falling from the trees, and the chilly breezes are welcome in stuffy classrooms.   Having never truly experienced an autumn with changing leaves, the colors seem so bright everywhere.  I jump on crunchy leaves like a child.  I look for leaf piles to roll into in an effort to make up for lost time.

During my recent roaming around Seoul I’ve snapped some pictures of the scenery.   If the leaves stay like this for longer, there may be more to come.

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Pictures above taken around Changdeokgung Palace and parts of Seoraksan National Park.

Spice Up Your Drinking Life: Korean Drinking Games

October 8, 2011

If Koreans know how to do one thing well, it is drinking.  I’d say over technology, innovation and national cuisine, the zest to drink triumphs them all!  This may sound surprising to some, but the ‘work hard, play hard’ mentality takes on a whole new meaning here.  While out with co-workers and bosses it is completely acceptable, even encouraged, to get flat-out wasted with them.   A hike to the top of a mountain would not be complete without a drink (or 5) of rice wine at the top.   A table at a Korean BBQ restaurant would also not be complete without at least 4 bottles of soju.

Korean middle-aged men seem to do most of the drinking, and spotting one passed out on the sidewalk (or anywhere else for that matter: subway stations, outdoor gyms, stairs)  is a common site.

(Thanks Ashley for snapping this gem on the way home one night).

I would say that the reason Koreans drinks so much is to come out of their conservative shells and relax from all the pressures of every day life.  But going to have drinks with people is of large importance in Korean culture to enhance personal relationships.

The fact that it the national alcohol, soju, is so cheap doesn’t help either.

Soju in taste is comparable to a watered down vodka.  (And the more frequently you drink it, the worse it seems to be).  Originally made from rice, soju now is distilled from cheaper starches (and cheaper processes), and produces a 20% alcohol.  Each 300ml bottle costs around $1 US at a convenient store.

The loudest you’ll ever hear a Korean is in the midst of a drinking game.  The games are usually played while gathered around a table in a bar or other drinking establishments.   A pitcher of Cass or Hite, a few bottles of soju and the ability to drink until odd hours of the night are required.  Below I’ve compiled some of my favorite Korean games.  So for those of you tired of the usual King’s Cup or Asshole… experiment with one of these.

1. Titanic– A personal favorite, this game has the ability to keep you on the edge of your seat, completely single out the loser, and make them drink way more than they’d like.

Take a full glass of beer and place an empty shot glass in it so it floats.  Pass around a bottle of soju (could be modified to use Japanese sake at home) and gently pour a small amount into the shot glass.  Keep passing the bottle until someone sinks the shot glass into the beer.  The person who has sunk the shot glass, must chug the entire glass.

2. Baskin Robbins 31- A popular chain in Korea, and a popular game for many Koreans.  All you need to do it count.

Most Koreans start out this game by singing “Baaskin Rooobbinnns Thirrty Onne!” and doing some hand motion but that’s the least important part.  Everyone gets in a circle and each person can say between one and three numbers.  For example, the first person may say “1,2” then the next can say “3,4,5” and the next “6”.  You continue on until you reach 30, and the person that must say “31” is the loser and must drink.    (Koreans like to end this one with a ridiculous song at the end as well)

3.  Napkin, Beer, Cigarette–  Another favorite because it can take some strategy.

Place a napkin over an empty beer glass.  Wet the rim of the glass so the napkin sticks to it.  Place a 100 won coin (or quarter) in the middle of the napkin.  Then pass around a lit cigarette and each person burns one hole into the napkin around the coin.  It will take many holes until the coin actually falls into the glass.  The person who is at fault for the dropping coin, must chug a glass of beer (or take a shot).

4. Shock Game- Easy game, better after the drinking has been going on for a while already.

This game also starts out with a crazy Korean song.  Basically, the first person will yell “AHHHHH Shock”and point to someone in the circle.  Then the people to the left and the right of the person that was shocked must raise and shake their hands (basically do jazz hands).  Then the person that was pointed to follows and says “AHHHH Shock” and points at someone else.  The people that have to drink are the ones not paying attention/daydreaming when they are part of the shocking.

5. Cup Tapping- Good game for a group of people sitting around with a beer.

The first person taps their beer mug on the table once. This passes it to the person on the right, who can then either tap once, which passes it on to the next person on the right, or twice, which reverses the direction and it goes back to the first player. The game can be enhanced to include 3 taps which means to skip one person in the same direction. The person, or persons, who mess up have to drink.

6. 3,6,9- Another very popular numbers game in Korea.

The object of this game is to go around the circle while each person counts one number.  The exception is at every number that includes a 3, 6 or 9 the person must clap instead.  If the number includes two of those numbers, like the number 39, you must clap twice.  When someone messes up they must drink and you start from the beginning.  You try to say the numbers fast so that the people who have to clap will forget and say the number instead.

Fun facts:

  • Koreans chant “One shot, one shot” when chugging a drink, or challenging someone to drink, as in to say ‘all in one shot’.
  • Korean for cheers is “Kun-bae”



So ‘cheers’, ‘건배’, and ‘salud’ to all my friends and family around the world.  I hope that if you are bored with the usual drinking games, you might bring in some Korean flair.  🙂

‘Theme Parks’: Korean Style

September 21, 2011

Korea is a strange place.  And when I thought it couldn’t feel stranger, I found myself roaming through a park dedicated to nothing other than…penis.  Yes, Korea has an entire park dedicated to the male genitalia.  Phallic statues big and small cover the park grounds known as “Haesindang Park” on Korea’s east coast.

Legend has it that a young virgin girl was swept into the sea and drowned.  After the event, the local fishermen started having problems catching any fish.  Of course, they assumed it was from the death of the virgin girl.  They decided the only logical solution was to build a park full of penis statues.   After the completion of Haesingdang Park, it is said that the soul of the young virgin found peace, and the sea resumed providing fish to the village.

We visited the park during a road trip that took us all the way down the east coast of the country.  No trip passing the town of Samcheok would have been complete without a visit to this park.

Here are a few pictures of the park taken on a very wet day on Korea’s east coast.

Bizarre Foods Malaysia: Durian Fruit

August 29, 2011

It dwells in the hawker stalls of Southeast Asian urban jungles.  You can smell it before you approach.  It has spines coming out of its skin.  Many refer to its existence as offensive. 

To some, this thing is a monster.  To others, it’s just a durian fruit.   Having heard such extreme things about this tropical Southeast Asian fruit (and the fact that it is actually banned in some hotels and taxi cabs), I had to find out for myself.  Was it really as bad as so many people say?  Or is it just an acquired taste that can possibly be appreciated?

While riding our motorbike down winding jungle roads of Penang Island, Britt and I decided it was an appropriate time to stop off at a durian stand and try the forbidden fruit.  

Below is a video of the tasting.

A little underwhelming, huh?  Well, for such a bad reputation I expected a little more of a reaction myself.  Are we just weird and didn’t mind it?  Was it semi-out of season and not as pungent?  These things I cannot answer.

In our opinion it really wasn’t too bad.  You may have heard me give a slight ‘gag’ in the middle of the video, but that comes from the fact that a fruit was being related to cheese.   In my opinion, only cheese should taste like cheese….and that IS kinda gross.  Besides that, Southeast Asian folk,….eat your durian where ever you like!  Wave your durian high and don’t be constricted by the discrimination your fruit faces! 

 Be proud of your indigenous tree cheese.