Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Seoul Much To Do: Chapter 1 - The Secret Garden

Seoul, South Korea is big. Really big. Half of the country's population big. So I'm breaking up my experiences in to several chapters. One big description would take hours of writing and dozens of pictures. And who ever reads this wouldn't appreciate it either. So here is the first of many.

The Secret Garden is only a secret if you don't read any guidebooks, look at any maps, or ask some one in Seoul what there is to do on a perfectly good afternoon. The Secret Garden can be found behind the Changdeokgung palace complex. Built in 1405, the garden was a place where the king could roam around in general freedom, ponder the day, read a book, and think about the best ways to kill Japanese soldiers. Apparently the king should have spent more time in the garden since the palace was virtually burned to the ground several times by Japanese invaders, rebuilt several times, and then burnt to the ground again by those Japanese arsonists. Only 30% of the palace remains today.

So the lady friend and I headed to the palace one afternoon during our time in Seoul. We roamed the palace grounds for a while until we "found" the Secret Garden. It turns out only tour groups and those who joined tour groups were granted entry on to the sacred grounds. After paying a small fee, the next group to be given this privilege was a Japanese tour group and we found our ticket in. (It was only appropriate to venture in to the garden the same way it was done in the 1600's, with a large group of Japanese people.) After pretending to be interested in what ever the tour guide was talking about we began making our own commentary and snapping pictures here and there. "I'm going to say that this pagoda was used for royal foot rubs." "Yes, we better take a picture." "That Asian baby is a pretty cute baby." "Yes, we better take a picture."

So here are some of the best pictures from the glorious Changdeokgung Palace and the Secret Garden. An ideal place to spend an afternoon roaming around and exploring.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Korean Baseball

Beautiful Gwangju Stadium
Baseball.  Ah the great American pastime.  The essential summer event.  A warm evening spent at the ballpark with your best friends or your best gal.  Hot dogs, the crack of the bat, grass, and "Take Me Out to the Ballgame".  Relaxing.....wait relaxing?  Why is a sporting event relaxing?  Oh that's right, because most of the time baseball is boring!  If it wasn't for all those other perks, there is absolutely no reason people would go to a baseball game to only watch baseball.  (Sorry stat nerds.)  Except for the occasional extra base hit, stolen base, diving catch, and strikeout, nothing happens!  Noticed I left beer out of the perks.  Unless you just gained an inheritance or you're suffering from severe withdrawal symptoms, there's no way you're paying for more than one beer at the baseball game.  This is not a sports blog so I'm not going to mention the multiple reasons the sport of baseball sucks in today's America, but there are many.  (Yeah, I'm giving you the stink eye New York Yankees.)

Sorry, I'm not trying to hate on baseball, I'm just trying to point out there's room for improvement.  I really enjoy going to Kansas City Royals games a few times each year even though they are the most consistent team at being terrible.  Professional baseball is just turning in to a forgettable sport behind most others, especially the NFL and NBA.  However, the Korean baseball experience is much different.

Giant KIA Tiger
South Korea has taken America's favorite pastime and turned it in to a baseball game combined with a college football game, and then combined that with a house party.  We were here for only the last month of the regular season but managed to make it out to three games.  We had such a good time at the first one we had to go back for some more before it was too late.  Last year Gwangju's team, the KIA Tigers, were a powerhouse and won the national championship.  This year they were third or fourth from the bottom of the league.  As a result the stadium was maybe half full each time but it was still a rockin' good time.  I can only imagine what last year must have been like. 

1.)  BYOB - The first thing that makes the Korean Baseball experience so great is the "Bring Your Own Booze" policy.  That concept is unimaginable in America.  Maybe even illegal? So bring your own cooler of beer and soju, or buy some booze at one of several stalls outside the stadium that also sell buckets of fried chicken.

2.)  Thunder Sticks - Don't forget your thunder sticks.  You'll be using these with each at bat, between innings, and to hit your friends or your dad.

Baseball Cheerleaders
3.)  Cheerleaders - The KIA Tigers have four attractive women with changing wardrobes that dance on top the dugout between innings.  Then there's the male cheerleader with the megaphone leading the crowd in what seems to be a three hour array of chants.  Then there is the hilarious mascot that once gave the crowd a strip show.  He began with a provacative dance, then removed his over sized gloves, then kicked off his over sized shoes, followed by the fat tiger mascot body, and ended by tossing off the giant tiger mascot head.  This revealed a man in a black full-body suit (like green man) who proceded to break dance for like a minute.   

4.)  General Admission - For seven dollars you can sit practically anywhere in the stadium!

I'm already excited for next season.  I'm going to buy some thunder sticks and chant with the Koreans even though what I'll be saying will be nonsensical.  Are they chanting "We have your laptop" or "Halloween Easter egg"?  In don't ball! 

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

In Honor of Partial Understanding

"518 Park," I say to the taxi driver in Korean.  It's what I have to say to get back home.
"What?"  he says back in Korean.
"518 Park."
"Say what?"
"518 Park?"
"Yes!  Yes!"
"518 Park.  OK!"  he shouts as he speeds off to what I hope is the 518 Park.

The language barrier that exists for me can pose several problems.  Like when ten of us head to a bar and order pitchers of beer.  Then the server comes back with a single 12 oz bottle of OB Beer accompanied by two glasses.  "No, no, bigger!" we say as we enlarge the single bottle of beer through hand gestures that look like we are recreating an explosion.  The server eventually understands and comes back with two gallons of beer resulting in the satisfaction of all parties involved.

Partially understanding each other has become a daily occurrence between me and the majority of my encounters with the Koreans.  This has led to advancing my skills in pantomiming, gesturing, and the use of props.  Skills that will later be useful in America when there's a game of charades.  For example, I was looking for a lamp in a store that didn't require batteries, so I picked up a "batteries required" lamp and diplayed it to the clerk.  "Eh?" I expressed as I pointed to the lamp.  This got a "Yeah, whataboutit?" response.  But then I took my thumb and index finger and created an imaginary cord from the side of the lamp by looking like I was pulling out some string.  "Aaaahh?" I asked.  Then my imaginery cord eventually led to a real wall where I plugged it in through imagination.  "Huh?  Huh?" I asked.  The clerk responded with an understanding "Aaahh OK!"  Then the clerk used his pantomime skills buy creating an X with his arms as to say that this item is not in stock.  But we had fun!

The theme of partially understanding comes up a lot while traveling in a foreign land.  You're not always sure how things are done but you eventually get the hang of it.  You're not always sure what's going on around you but you generally know if it's good, fun, serious, or time to get the hell out of there.  I view it as part of the adventure.  It mixes things up and makes things just a little less ordinary.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Where Am I?

On August 18th, 2010, I landed at the international airport in Incheon, South Korea.  I had my lady friend, Caroline, by my side as we took a bus journey south to Jeonju University for a required 10 day orientation before we started working as ESL Teachers.  After 10 days of lectures, Korean cafeteria food, physical exams, horrible attempts at learning Korean, and meeting dozens of new friends, we were prepped and readied to begin our new lives as teachers.  So we departed the university and headed even further south to our new homes in Gwangju, South Korea.  No has ever heard of Gwangju, so you may be asking, "Gwangju?  Where the hell is Gwangju?"  Like my geography professor once said, "Yo, check out the map!"

So far I think Gwangju has been great.  It's South  Korea's sixth largest city with a population of 1.5 million.  So it's not overwhelmingly huge and it's definitely not a small town.  So there's plenty to do and it's easy to get around.  My apartment is situated in what they call the "new downtown."  I'm pretty much next door to the massive city hall and there's plenty of great restaurants and coffee shops in the surrounding area.  On most days there's a guy right outside my door manning an American Style Hot Dog cart.  I consider myself pretty lucky.  The apartment is pretty nice.  It's a little lacking in the furniture department but it came with a bed and heated floors that should be fun to use in the winter time.

Anyway, I want to try to post on here once a week.  If nothing interesting happens for a while, then it might take a couple weeks.  I'll share pictures and stories of my experiences for your viewing pleasure.