You are currently browsing the monthly archive for July 2009.

As each month nears its end, I grow reflective. I arrived in Seoul on September 30, so on the last day of every month, I know I’m that much closer to finishing my contract. I used to think I’d be in Korea forever. Now here we are, ten months in. With two to go, my mind is racing. I’ll be home in just over three months, but don’t know what the next step is. Family and friends have been of little help, and that’s to be expected. Channeling Legends of the Hidden Temple, the choice is mine and mine alone.

But instead of spending time thinking about my way-too-blank-slate future, how about something of greater importance? Let’s try that.

Tonight marks the end of Tisha b’Av, the ninth of Av, one of the most somber days on the Jewish calendar. It was on this day that the first and second temples in Jerusalem were destroyed. To be honest, I’ve only observed the holiday a few times in my life. And by a few times, I mean once. For many years, the holiday only took on significance because it reminded me of the year I did observe it. It was 2002, and I was in California with USY on Wheels. As night fell, 50 of us, all high schoolers (save for our five staff members, who were college students), gathered in our hotel meeting lounge, sat on the floor and read from Lamentations. Of all the places we traveled and things we saw that summer, that night in L.A. has always stuck out as one of the more memorable nights. The seven-week trip helped to define my faith and figure out how religion would play a part in my life.

The other most defining point–at least in terms of religion–came a few years later. My sophomore year at Maryland was spent as an Avi Chai fellow. The fellowship program brought together students from four Washington-area universities for a year of learning. I made some of my closest friends through Avi Chai–people who, years later and thousands of miles apart, I still talk to regularly.

The highlight of the fellowship was a three-week trip to Israel over winter break. We traveled around the country and dipped into its social fabric to gain a more thorough understanding of the people living there. While we were in Jerusalem, my friend Kevin told me his best friend, Michael, would be meeting up with us. Michael and Kevin had grown up together in Pennsylvania. Before I’d even met Kevin, I was friends with Michael’s twin sister, who studied at Maryland. When he graduated from high school, Michael moved to Israel and eventually joined the army. He was still doing his service when he joined our trip for a few days, hanging out at our hotel and coming with us as we visited some of Jerusalem’s most important sites. It was cool to get the perspective of someone who was so similar to us, but had chosen a very different life path.

Of course, the world conspired against me, and two of my most positive memories had to come together in an absolutely horrible way.

On Tisha b’Av 2006 — eight months after I met Michael — his friends, family and fellow soldiers buried him in Mt. Herzl. He was 22 years old. Michael was killed in southern Lebanon on August 1st, having returned to the Middle East after cutting short a visit home because of the start of the war between the Israelis and Hezbollah.

I was out with friends at the county fair when I received the phone call about Michael. Though I didn’t know him very well, the call shook me to the core. I remember being quiet and feeling nauseous the rest of the night. For the very first time, the years of Middle East violence took on a human face for me.

In the three years since Michael’s death, much has been done to inform the world about his life. The film A Hero in Heaven has been shown at universities, youth conventions and synagogues across the world. The Michael Levin Memorial Fund has been created to provide support to lone soldiers (immigrants with no immediate family in Israel). Michael’s story has inspired people to pack up their lives and make aliyah, move to Israel. I don’t know that I could ever do that, but I have an enormous respect for those who have made the leap.

In his Nativ yearbook, Michael wrote, “You can’t fulfill your dreams unless you dare to risk it all.” In the weeks following his death, the line was everywhere–Facebook, away messages, USY pages. It’s important to keep those words in mind. How many of us can say we’ve lived like Michael Levin, risking everything to achieve what we want? If we all take his words to heart, maybe we’ll be that much closer to fulfilling our dreams.

As Tisha b’Av comes to a close tonight, I’ll keep Michael’s words in mind. Michael made the ultimate sacrifice — joining the IDF can be considered “risking it all”…deciding between a job and being a nomad, not so much. We take risks every day, big and small. I don’t know what comes next, but maybe that’s OK. I’ve still got two months to figure this out.

And I’m not using that term loosely. Now that summer camp has started, our days off are random and not guaranteed to be consecutive. This week, I’ve got Tuesday and Wednesday off, which is nice, since a friend is coming into Seoul before leaving Korea on Tuesday and Tisha b’Av starts on Wednesday night. Last week, I had Wednesday and Saturday off. I did very little on Wednesday, but I blame that on Donny’s “Tuesday Night Wing Night” and a few Long Island iced teas. Come Saturday, I was determined to be productive.

I’ve blogged elsewhere about World Press Photo, and my love of it exceeds most things, mac and cheese included. I’ve been checking the site for months, waiting for the list of exhibitions to be updated. Imagine my shock and excitement when I saw it would be in Seoul this summer!

The exhibition officially opened at the Seoul Arts Center near Gangnam on Saturday, and I went later in the day when the hall wasn’t so crowded. A regular adult ticket was ₩8,000, about six bucks.

This year’s exhibition had on display photos featuring the economic collapse, the cyclone in Myanmar and urban poverty, in addition to lighter images of entertainers, animals and Olympic athletes. I encourage you all to check out the exhibition calendar to see if WPP will be in a city near you in the next few months.

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I had a few hours to kill afterwards, so I settled down in the museum's cafe and knocked back a chai latte and finished Colin Martin's "Welcome to Hell: One Man's Fight for Life Inside the Bangkok Hilton"

I had a few hours to kill afterwards, so I settled down in the museum's cafe and knocked back a chai latte and finished Colin Martin's Welcome to Hell: One Man's Fight for Life Inside the Bangkok Hilton

Of course, the best day off ever would not–could not–be complete without some delicious food. I met up with some coworkers in Seoul’s food mecca, Apgujeong, for a trip to Butterfinger Pancakes. I’ve been hearing about Butterfinger ever since winter camp, when Joyce and Hannah would rave about the (slightly overpriced) breakfast-for-dinner meals. With Hannah back for summer camp, we finally had motivation to schlep out to Apgujeong (a good hour away from Suyu, using public transportation).

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There were eleven of us in total, and we probably filled a third of the seats in the tiny room. Thankfully, the smart guys at Butterfinger let us order while we waited for tables to open.

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It’s been a good ten months since I’ve eaten at a diner. While my omelette, two pancakes and hashbrowns satisfied my intense craving, my wallet took the heat. As expected, western food in Korea is much pricier than say, American food in the States, or Korean food in Seoul. My meal came to about ₩16,000, which still isn’t bad when you compare that to prices back home. In defense of the prices, however, it should be said that you really get what you pay for. My meal was enough for dinner and then lunch the next day. I imagine that poor Lisa is still eating her way through her salad:

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So, bottom line: Would I recommend Butterfinger Pancakes? Absolutely. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been here a week, a month or even a year–there is nothing quite like homestyle diner food. Now, if only they sold Butterfinger candy bars…

 

The Butterfinger Original Omelette--omelette with various veggies and American cheese, plus two pancakes (with maple syrup and honey butter) and a side of well-seasoned hashbrowns

The Butterfinger Original Omelette--omelette with various veggies and American cheese, plus two pancakes (with maple syrup and honey butter) and a side of well-seasoned hashbrowns

 

Butterfinger Pancakes calls itself "my kind of place." They couldn't be more right.

Butterfinger Pancakes calls itself "my kind of place." They couldn't be more right.

Donny, our recruiter, is one of the few office workers who hangs out with the foreign teachers outside of school. A basic evening out with Donny will include dinner at a traditional Korean restaurant and a ton of soju. That’s what we anticipated several weeks ago when Donny wanted to go out for food and drinks after work one day. Our first stop was a galbi (barbeque) restaurant in Suyu that serves delicious beef. (After nine months here, I’ve decided that you don’t need any culinary skills to open a restaurant here–the customers end up doing all the cooking!) Wish I’d taken a picture of our table before we devoured virtually everything on it (meat, salads, soup, kimchi), but here you can see the damage we inflicted:

 

Carnage.

Carnage.

After dinner, instead of going for drinks, we decided to hit up our local hangout, Baskin Robbins. Suyu’s got two of them, right across the street from each other. Here’s how you know you go to Baskin Robbins too often: the girl behind the counter asks you in broken English if you live in Suyu. Why yes, yes I do. And thanks for knowing exactly what size ice cream I’m going to get, saves me the trouble of specifying “single regular” (going rate: 2,500 won) every time I go in.

Anyway, back to the story. Baskin Robbins advertises this beautiful ice cream fondue. We’ve been talking about for months–literally, months. We finally took the plunge and ordered it-12,000 won for 20 balls of ice cream, warm chocolate and a platter of fruit and bite-sized cakes.

DSC02587Ten minutes later:

 

Finishee, except for the tomatoes. Come on, who serves fondue with tomatoes as a dipper?!

Finishee, except for the tomatoes. Come on, who serves fondue with tomatoes as a dipper?!

After the fondue (two split between six of us), I thought we were about ready to call it quits. But no, no we were not. Oliver took it upon himself to order an entire quart of ice cream for us to eat.

 

Donny, just prior to dig-in

Donny eyeing the ice cream

Not long after that was taken, we devoured the entire thing. Then, something unexpected happened:

"Does anyone want Pizza Hut? My treat..."-Donny

"Does anyone want Pizza Hut? My treat..."-Donny

And off we went to Pizza Hut. At that point, we were down to five people, as Sarah had wisely dropped out, but Donny still felt it necessary to order two large pizzas and three Cokes.

DSC02602We somehow managed to eat most of the pizza, but four piece remained. Who would finish them? We were all stuffed to the brim:

DSC02598But then…out of nowhere…

 

Andrew showed up and saved the day!

Andrew showed up and saved the day!

A week later, Donny wanted to go out for dinner again. There was this place, he told us, where the burgers were juicy and delicious and not absurdly priced. Off we went to Smokey’s Saloon in Apgujeong, which I mentioned in my Independence Day post. I got that heart attack on a bun, the “Kiss Me Later,” and somehow managed to finish it all.

DSC02625After burgers, Donny wanted wings, so we walked down to Hooters to satisfy his craving. Hooters in Korea is perhaps the most misnamed restaurant in the world. The uniforms are the same tank top and booty shorts, but the girls who work at the restaurant do not have the same proportions as Western girls.

 

Even when she bends over, there is no cleavage. Sad story.

Even when she bends over, there is no cleavage. Sad story.

I’ve never been to a Hooters in the States, but I’m guessing you won’t find the waitresses perform a dance routine in front of patrons.

Immediately after: “I want to be one”-Mimsie

We finally got our wings, and I must admit, I was pretty disappointed. I’m a stickler when it comes to eating chicken wings. I won’t eat them in front of anyone I’m not closely related to, which means that up until this point, only my mother, father and sister had seen me eat them. Why? Because eating wings is perhaps the most unattractive thing a person could possibly do, and I refuse to let anyone, except for those who are obligated to love me, see me in such a state. I broke with that theory at Hooters and was surprised to find that the world did not end. Though, it should be said, I eventually tried eating a wing with a fork and knife. Oliver hasn’t let me live that one down yet.

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After the wings and beer, you’d think we’d be done, right? No. Off to Coldstone Creamery to indulge Bex, who still calls it “Stone Cold.”

 

Remnants...I forgot to take out my camera before we dug in

Remnants...I forgot to take out my camera before we dug in

 

Oliver summing up how we all felt

Oliver summing up how we all felt

Donny still wasn’t ready to go home, so we headed to noraebang (literally: “song room”), where we sang such classics as TLC’s “No Scrubs” and Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and Donny serenaded us with Tom Jones’ “Sex Bomb.” Took a video of us breaking out the Beastie Boys (speaking of which, this blog is wishing Adam Yauch a speedy recovery), but there is no way in hell it’s going on here. Noraebang is definitely one of those things more fun to experience for yourself than to see a video of.

After an hour and a half at noraebang, we headed home, but not before posing with the random statues outside of the building:

DSC02641Our second night of binge eating complete, we swore not to let Donny rope us into any more food parties. Oh, and I’ve scheduled this post to go up as I head out to Itaewon to meet up with Donny and company for 30-cent wings at Rocky Mountain Tavern. I swear that’s all we’re going to eat. Well, maybe some schwarma…

More appropriately, I left my dignity in Seoul before I even came to Boryeong. Actually, to be blunt, my dignity is probably still in Kingston, or worse, College Park. Regardless, there was no shred of dignity left in me by the time I returned from Mudfest last night.

What is Mudfest, you ask? It’s a gigantic festival held in the area around Daecheon Beach in Boryeong, about a three-hour drive from Seoul. TIME had a nice little article about it a few years ago. I first heard about it soon after arriving in Korea, from coworkers who attended the festival in 2008. Ten months later, there was no doubt in my mind–I was going to Mudfest. Having secured the weekend off, five of us booked seats with Adventure Korea. This was my second time on an AdKor trip (the first being a DMZ tour), and I was slightly more impressed this time around, mostly because of the free beer they gave us in an effort to make up for getting to Boryeong a few hours after the time we should have arrived.

As soon as the buses had parked and all 230 of us disembarked, we were told we were going to do a military training course and were given camouflage pants and long-sleeved shirts to change into. I left my camera on the bus for this part of the trip, but luckily Mimsie had hers on hand to catch some of the absurdness that was to follow.

James, Jeanette, myself and Mimsie--before being covered in mud

James, Jeanette, myself and Mimsie--before being covered in mud

Once everyone had changed, the group shifted down to the mud pits, where we were divided into two teams and forced to compete against each other. The first event was, of course, mud wrestling. Jeanette took me down as soon as the whistle was blown, and before I knew it, I was slathered in wet dirt. The second event was rugby, which was completely successful, given that most of the people on the trip were American and Canadian and knew how to play the sport (can you sense the sarcasm?). The third event was a 5k run, which was totally how I intended to spend my mini-vacation (again, sarcasm). Mims and I settled down on the rocks with some friends and enjoyed watching everyone else tough it out in the mud. The warm-up was led by a surprisingly muscular, fit Korean man who didn’t really speak any English and left us all dying with laughter.

Also stolen from Mimsie. This pretty much sums up my Saturday afternoon.

While we waited for the runners to finish, someone had the brilliant idea to make a mud slip-and-slide. Game for anything, I slid face-first through the mud, gashing up my elbows in the process. Helllllllo, battle wounds! When everyone got back from their death march/5k run, we headed to Daecheon to get settled and enjoy the actual festival.

Boryeong is an adorable beach town on the Yellow Sea. It reminded me of the Jersey shore, though any place with a boardwalk and ocean reminds me of the shore. After arriving at our guest house and cleaning up a bit, nobody could be asked to go back out in the mud. We opted for some soju at a local hof, followed by dinner at a Korean restaurant on the boardwalk. After dinner, we checked out a big hip-hop concert going on nearby, but puddles of mud, gross humidity and the occasional drizzle eventually coaxed us inside a small club, where we met up with friends from Seoul and met some fellow ‘festers.

The next morning we woke up to a clear, blue sky and warm weather–amazing for monsoon season, no? We headed out to the festivities around 10, but not before stopping for breakfast at…no joke…

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After a breakfast of cheeseburgers, fries and Coke, we dropped off our bags at the “Lockers for Foreigners” and headed to the beach, which was swamped with Koreans. Koreans in Korea!? What? I really was surprised, but mostly because it seemed that the Mudfest events, at least the weekend ones, were marketed to foreigners living in Korea. I saw photos from when a few of my Korean coworkers went down to the beach during the week, and the place was empty. But come Saturday morning, Koreans and foreigners (and a significant number of American GIs) alike pack the beaches and “Mud Experience Land.”

Our first stop Sunday morning was the Mud Prison, where James and I stood behind bars as strangers flung mud at us. With the exception of the mud wading pool, this was probably the fastest, easiest way to get mudified.

 

Another photo stolen from Mimsie...the mud prison in all its glory

Another photo stolen from Mimsie...the mud prison in all its glory

 

After the prison, it was a short walk to the colored-mud stand, where Koreans painted us with whatever color mud we desired (assuming, of course, that our desired color was red, blue, white or green).

 

Jeanette getting painted

Jeanette getting painted.

 

We looked so fantastic that random strangers wanted to take pictures with us. Fancy that!

We looked so fantastic that random strangers wanted to take pictures with us. Fancy that!

 

Speaking of taking pictures, I now know what it’s like to be a celebrity. There were dozens of event photographers, snapping away at foreigners all day long. It didn’t matter what we were doing–sipping water, waiting in a line, anxiously looking for the restroom–the ‘razzi were everywhere. As annoying as they could be (for example, telling my new Korean friend to move away from me until he got his shot), it was pretty cool to constantly have cameras focusing on me as I made the most ridiculous faces and exaggerated poses. I think I’d get sick of the cameras fairly quickly if they followed me around all the time, though. There are only so many outlandish gestures one can make before getting bored of the whole camera thing.

The highlight of the day had to be the mud slide ride. (If only they served mudslides yesterday. What would have been more fitting, I ask?) Bex and I waited in line for nearly an hour, only to tumble down a mud-covered slide for about 20 seconds. Though the line was long and the sun brutal, those 20 seconds were completely worth it. We were in an essential free-fall until we hit the bottom wall, knocking us back into reality, and gravity. While in line we met two Korean girls who had both lived for some time in the UK. One was a student in university there, and the other was a performing arts major now working as an English drama teacher in Seoul. We found a vendor on the beach to take what is definitely my favorite photo of the day:

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After rinsing off down at the beach and then again in makeshift showers, we boarded the bus back to Seoul. I don’t think I’ve ever needed a shower more than I did last night. Even now, a full day after getting back, I don’t feel completely clean, but I’m hoping a few more showers will change that. For now, I’ve got a few nasty mosquito bites on my feet and neck, awesome battle wounds on my elbows and a few sore joints, the last physical remnants of an amazing weekend.

 

The beach

 

Some Korean version of Capture the Flag...in mud, obvs

Some Korean version of Capture the Flag...in mud, obvs

Also stolen from Mims...the top portion of the mud slide

Also stolen from Mims...the top portion of the mud slide

 

Jeanette, James and I...completely filthy, yet happy

Jeanette, James and I...completely filthy, yet happy

 

Korea wouldn't be Korea without something completely random. In this case, an elephant ride located on the main road, a good 20-minute walk from the festival area.

Korea wouldn't be Korea without something completely random. In this case, an elephant ride located on the main road, a good 20-minute walk from the festival area.

Again, another belated post. My sincere apologizes to you all, really.  A couple weeks ago, Americans celebrated Independence Day. I happen to love this holiday. Why, you ask? First of all, I like that “independence” is a very long word that is easy to spell (all “e”s, no “a”s). Secondly, I think it’s awesome that John Adams and Thomas Jefferson died on the same day of the same year, and that the in question day happened to be America’s 50th birthday. (In the hours before his death, Adams supposedly uttered, “Thomas Jefferson survives.”)

These days, Americans celebrate the Fourth in various ways. One of my most memorable Independence Days was in 2002 in Omaha, Neb., where we watched the “largest fireworks show west of the Mississippi” at a minor league baseball game, and followed that up the next day with a barbeque in Council Bluffs, Iowa. Doesn’t get more down-home American than Iowa, I’ll tell ya that much. It goes without saying that July 4th is best celebrated with friends, food and fireworks.

Sadly, the fourth of July is just another day on the calendar here in Korea, but heaven forbid that stop rambunctious Americans from doing it up Yankee-style. First stop, friends. Oliver, Mimsie and I headed to Apgujeong, an area of the city near the Han River, to meet up with our Tory friend Rachel and a Korean guy she met that afternoon. Second stop, food. We headed to Smokey’s Saloon, a burger joint with locations all around the city. I’ve never seen a burger quite like the one I ordered. Called the “Kiss Me Later,” it was a juicy patty layered with cheese, garlic chips, special sauce and seven fried onion rings on top. The burger was literally as big as a newborn baby.

 

Hello, thisiswhyyourefat.com

Hello, thisiswhyyourefat.com

 

Recreating the late 1770s...the Brit attacking the damn Yankee. Though technically, Mississippi Mimsie is hardly a Yankee...

Recreating the late 1770s...the Brit attacking the damn Yankee. Though technically, Mississippi Mimsie is hardly a Yankee...

We left Smokey’s with no leftovers and several food babies and went in search of our number three, some riverside fireworks. Considering the large expat community in Seoul, we thought it would be easy to find some Americans shooting off fireworks by the water. Makes sense, right? Well, no dice on the expat explosives, but we found a great alternative–the 7-11 in the park was selling sparklers and magic balls for only a couple of bucks. Excited by the prices and the idea of setting stuff on fire, we quickly threw down 15,000 won and headed to the water.

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We hung out by the water a bit longer before heading back to Suyu. It was interesting to spend the holiday outside of America, my first time doing so. The world gives America a ton of crap, and while some of it is deserved, I’ve never been more proud or grateful to be an American than I have since moving to Seoul. Small things that I took for granted my entire life, such as freedom of speech and freedom to buy Kraft mac and cheese, do not exist everywhere in the world. A few months ago, I showed my Korean friend Chloe the Sarah Silverman video “The Great Schlep”  and she was floored that it was legal for Silverman to insult John McCain in a public forum. A quick Google search informed me that Koreans, notably bloggers, have been arrested in the past for insulting the government and political candidates.

Not like you’re expecting to read another blog entry from me anytime soon, but just a heads up that I won’t have another one up for at least a couple days. I’m heading out early tomorrow morning for a weekend of sun, fun and mud at Boryeong’s annual Mudfest celebration and won’t be back until Sunday night.

Oh, and a fun read about America (no, not Vanity Fair’s Palin piece…though that was awesome) here. You just can’t hate on a country that gave the world toilet paper.

 

My blurry, over-lit city <3

My blurry, over-lit city ❤

I admit it–I am a blogging failure. I’ve been lacking in that department as of late, but it’s not my fault, I swear! Work has been crazy, and the not-yet-unbearably-hot weather means that I’m spending as much time as possible outside. We’re just entering monsoon season, which, until I experienced the first of the rainy weather last week, sounded absolutely ridiculous. We’ll have several days of sun and beautiful weather followed by a day or two of constant, heavy downpour. Close umbrella, dry off, open umbrella, close it a few hours later. Repeat that for the next month.

Weather aside, things have been pretty busy over the past few weeks. The swimming pool opened Wednesday and we managed to fit in one four-hour swimming class before the rain came the next day. I’ve also switched my schedule from 9-5 to 1:30-8:30. As nice as it is to be able to sleep in, there is nothing worse than having to go back to work after dinner. The only positive side to this is that evening shift guarantees most weekends off, so a few friends and I are off to Mudfest, held south of Seoul in Boryeong, next weekend. Pictures will most definitely be posted.

Other things to happen recently…

My family’s cat, Princess (don’t judge me, I was 7 years old when we named her), was put to sleep this week after a sudden illness. The loss of a pet is so weird. It’s like losing a family member who never spoke to you but would occasionally bite you, jump on you or curl up with you. This is the first pet loss since the summer before I started sixth grade, and it wasn’t any easier this time around. If anything, it has brought up feelings I thought I had already dealt with after losing my grandfather, great-aunt and mentor in a two-month span earlier in my contract. Cue quote from Shaq, passed along a few days ago by @KG1590: “I got to admit it’s getting better, a little better all the time.”

 

If you don't think this is cute, you don't have a soul.

If you don't think this is cute, you don't have a soul.

 

 

The Great Turnover of Summer 2009 is nearing its end. More than half a dozen teachers finished their contracts last month (and earlier this month) and have departed Seoul. It’s always tough to see friends go, because even though our paths may cross in the future, it won’t ever be in this context again. Friends Nick and Diana (I’m hoping that increased blog hits from this post will encourage them to update more often) left yesterday, heading to Kenya for a month before making their way back to Oregon, and willed me their toaster. Have already used said toaster to burn garlic bread (toast), warm some cheese for a tuna melt and bake banana bread. What’s that? Bake banana bread? Oh yes, you heard me right. Despite being notoriously awful in the kitchen (and leaving my former roommate Natalia to constantly bake us treats), I managed to find a simple recipe, throw in my own secret ingredient (cinnamon) and whip up two wonderful loaves of bread. I.Am.Awesome. (Ten bucks says one of my parents will comment on this post with the story about how I once destroyed a kosher-for-Passover cake, which, despite being from a box, was still entirely possible to screw up. I still stand by the argument I had at 14: Manichewitz did not properly label “Cake Mix” and “Frosting Mix.”)

We’ve had Russian students here for the past few weeks. The first group was nothing short of unruly. There were about 50 of them, most from wealthy families who could afford to send their kids to an English village in a foreign country for a couple weeks. These kids came here with a strong sense of entitlement, and SEV only reinforced that. Last Friday, Jeanette and I were the only teachers scheduled to “teach” Sports Night. Throughout the hour and a half-long class, the kids were constantly leaving the auditorium to buy hot chocolate or coffee, or to use the telephones to phone home from the Telephone classroom. We took turns making rounds in the building to corral the kids and bring them back to the auditorium. I was floored by how rude most of those kids were to us. One student, who other teachers tell me had been great all week, demanded to “speak to a manager” when Jeanette and I refused to dim the lights and blast music for the kids to have a dance party instead of playing basketball and soccer.

The frustrations left by those kids were almost immediately forgotten this week. The new class of Russian students is only comprised of 15 kids, and they’re very well-behaved. I’ve only taught them a couple times, but they made Bank an enjoyable class to teach, and that’s difficult to do.

The other kids we had this week came from two private schools in Seoul. Most of my classes were with seven teams from one of the schools, about 100 kids. The kids were so much fun to work with and got into everything we did. During Song/Karaoke, which is notoriously hard to get kids to participate in, Jeanette and I danced around the auditorium to Westlife and New Kids on the Block as all of the kids sang out in unison. Kids from one of the teams even threw their arms around each other and swayed to “My Love.” I was actually sad to see these kids go (which I rarely am) because I’m afraid that next week will be a letdown after the string of highs we’ve had over the past few days.

Things I promise to blog about in the next few days:

Independence Day in Korea (Yeah, July 4th. So I’m a week late. Sue me.)

The massive food binges that Donny, our recruiter, has taken us on.

That’s really it. I’ve got the Foodathon still unfinished in Drafts, but I’m hoping to whip that out in a timely fashion. On that note, it’s 1 a.m. and I’ve got my sixth day of work in the morning. Tomorrow is unusually busy and all of the teachers are scheduled to work mandatory overtime. Pro: extra money. Con: C’mon, who wants to work on a Saturday?

Imagine being fresh out of university and living with your parents. Sort of crappy, but free rent, right? Now, imagine being 25 and living with your parents. Instead of being treated like the young adult you are, you’re spoken to as though you’re 10 years old. Now take that even further. You’re approaching 30. You’re single and living with your parents. It doesn’t matter if you’re a hall monitor at a school or a businessman bringing home the bacon. You’re freaking living with your parents. In America, this is nearly unheard of, but in Korea, it’s the norm. Young Korean adults venturing into the dating world lack the privacy that we’ve taken for granted ever since we graduated from high school.

That explains why Koreans are in such a hurry to settle down and get married. Obviously, the above hellish hypothetical doesn’t apply to everyone; I’ve got several Korean friends who have moved out of their homes and now have small apartments of their own. But for most Koreans, home is where the heart is, at least until you give your heart to someone, get hitched and move the hell out of your parents’ home.

Last weekend, my coworker Winnie got married and invited us all to the celebration. Korean wedding customs are much different from western ones–beginning with the invites. Winnie made an announcement at a staff meeting a couple of weeks before her wedding day, just letting everyone know about it and telling us that we were more than welcome to come. A couple days later, she e-mailed us all the invite, no RSVP required.

On the day of the wedding, four teachers, myself included, trekked to the wedding hall on the other side of town. Oh, that’s right. Koreans don’t get married in churches, but in wedding halls, of which there are several hundred in Seoul. (There’s one a few minutes away from SEV that looks like a castle.) On the inside, wedding halls basically look like convention centers (though I guess that’s what they are, technically). It’s not at all rare for several weddings to be held at the same time at the same wedding hall. In fact, Donny, our recruiter, told us that his wife was at the same wedding hall we were at earlier in the day for another wedding.

The ceremony was really nice, and Winnie looked absolutely stunning, but I couldn’t get over how different it was from a typical western wedding. The emphasis on this wedding seemed to be on making things look picture-perfect. There were a few people constantly on stage with the couple, adjusting Winnie’s dress and veil or dabbing the bridegroom’s forehead with a handkerchief.

 

Please note the woman fixing Winnie's dress for the zillionth time

Please note the woman fixing Winnie's dress for the zillionth time

The ceremony wasn’t led by anyone; at least, not anyone else on stage. There was a voice over the sound system, but since I don’t speak Korean, I couldn’t tell you what it was saying. There was one part that closely resembled the exchanging of rings. I’m assuming that’s what it was, but there were too many people in the way for me to be sure. Note the Cinderella music in the background.

After that, there was some sweet first-dance action.

DSC02672

 

The dance was followed by a traditional bow, first to Winnie’s parents, then to her husband’s folks.

 

 

 

 

After the bowing, Winnie’s new husband serenaded her with a popular Korean tune. Despite the fact that I don’t know any of the words, this song is one of my all-time favorite Korean songs, evidenced by my exclamation just before the 10-second mark:

After the ceremony, the couple walked back down the aisle and was covered in confetti and sparkly stuff.

 

Wish I'd gotten a sharper picture. Silly pink camera!

Wish I'd gotten a sharper picture. Silly pink camera!

When all was finished, the guests dropped off their gifts (usually money in a plain, white envelope…Koreans don’t mess with gift registries), signed the guestbook and headed into another hall to chow down. Toward the end of the meal, Winnie and her husband came in, both dressed in traditional hanbok, to greet their guests.

DSC02771Most of my pictures from the meal were taken by Donny’s 3-year-old son Scotty, who bogarted my camera and went to town. Those pictures are all up on Facebook, but here’s a shot of me with the junior photographer:

 

I only look crazy because he was squirming around and I couldn't stop laughing

I only look crazy because he was squirming around and I couldn't stop laughing

We left the reception with stomachs full of food and cameras full of fun shots, but with one question unanswered: Do Koreans go on honeymoons? We got our answer that week, when Winnie didn’t show up for work at all. Now, a bit later, she’s back in action, but minus a ring on her finger. Yet another cultural difference, just one of many I’ve learned about this year. The wedding was an awesome way to spend an afternoon, and I’m glad I got to witness such an important day in Winnie’s life. A few coworkers are engaged, but the next wedding isn’t going to happen until November, after I’ve left Korea and will be briefly living at home with my family, just like my Korean friends.