I was invited by the swing dance group I've been taking lessons with for the last month.
It has been described to me as a weekend of drinking, dancing, drinking games, then I, suppose, drunken dancing...
The following weekend I'll be celebrating my birthday. The weekend after that I'll be going on a retreat. Then right after that I may be going to China for a week or so.
My question: Will anyone get arrested? It seems that every failure in South Korea results in someone getting arrested, executed or being forced to resign.
* * *
Ordering at McDonald's
I'm what is known as an aggressive shopper. I always want a discount. Yes, everyone wants a discount, but I mean that once I see an item on sale, I will never buy it again until it is on sale again. Anything another customer is offered, I want it too. In America I could always understand and find deals.
But in Korea? I'm not always aware of what's going on or what's available. Some friends took me to McDonalds the other day. If you buy a set meal then you also get a free Coke glass. I noticed that another woman had been handed the item as I waited my turn. Of course, when I ordered, the woman was so flustered that she couldn't understand that I wanted the number three set (Big Bulgogi Burger) + extra value menu. My friends with me helped me out. The woman then handed me the Coke glass as my reward.
But it was a tad frustrating that I couldn't even order something at a McDonald's! I've eaten at McDonald's so many times during my life that I should be considered a stockholder. Walking around looking for something to eat earlier today I suddenly stopped at McDonald's. I've been eating so much Korean food that suddenly McDonald's was a change of pace. Of course, the woman couldn't understand my feeble attempt at ordering in Korean. So she called over The English Speaker working there who had probably convinced a supervisor that he could speak English. He couldn't understand either, he probably thought my attempt at Korean was an English dialect.
He first rang up two different orders of the number three set. Then, as I kept trying to explain, he then rang up three orders of the number three meal. I'm a patient guy so I just kept smiling. Otherwise, I would have aborted the mission.
Finally, a light bulb went off in his head. He finally understood that I wanted the number three set meal + extra value. Meaning, four different meals.
I kept trying to tell him in Korean and English that I just wanted one of them. Finally, he got it right, at which point the woman returned. Then, after getting my food, she didn't hand me a Coke glass.
I pointed at it, not bothering even trying to say it in Korean. She handed it to me.
Of course, I wasn't completely happy. In America, when I order Fries at McDonald's, I will ask to get them fresh out of the grease. McDonald's Fries have a short shelf life and aren't very good when they are cold. I don't even really want them warm. I want them hot, hot, hot! In some cases in America they would tell me that I would have to wait until they cooked them, meaning I would have to wait 2 or 3 minutes. I was always fine with having to wait a few minutes. But after all of the trouble with just getting with the food I happily ate my warm Extra Value Menu Fries earlier today.
* * *
About wanting the same service...
Because my computer blew up when I tried a transformer I have been computerless. That means that I have been using the computer at work and at PC rooms.
1) If anyone in Seoul tells you, "I couldn't email you," trust me, the person is lying. PC rooms are everywhere. It typically costs about $.70 to $1.00 an hour.
2) I've noticed at some places that they will immediately serve Iced Coffee to customers. And, I've noticed, that at some places they will serve Iced Coffee to Korean customers but not always to me. Of course, I let them know immediately that I have been slighted. It usually just takes one reminder; the next time I come in they will get my Iced Coffee right after I am seated.
3) There is an occasional report about a Korean man named Kim or Lee who dies while playing video games for 50 consecutive hours. I have previously expressed my doubts about this story. But now that I am here I may be able to give an on-the-scene report if one of the folks here keels over while playing.
4) I'm at a PC room now. Most of the customers are men playing video games together or against one another on networks. But there are often female customers playing the same games. There were two chicks who were playfully shouting at each other while they were playing. During the day there are plenty of kids who come in to play games. Yes, there are also some people drinking and smoking, but the kids just play games.
5) I left my Playstation in America. I wanted to avoid spending my free time in South Korea playing Madden. It wasn't easy parting with my PS2. I have avoided going to the EA Games Website so I won't be tempted. Of course, being surrounded by people playing video games for hours is like trying to quit smoking while joining a support group for chain smokers. But I have resisted the temptation so far and even rejected my coworkers who have tried to get me hooked into video games again (by hooking PS2 into the large projector screen).
* It would make perfect sense. The Koreans around me have on T-shirts and caps written in English, I'd have the same in Korean. I wish I could write the Korean myself to make sure the grammar would confuse Koreans, like the T-shirts below.
* I have seen a couple of Koreans wearing caps written in Korean. The best I could decipher is that the caps were related to organizations they were probably members of. And, in the small sample, they have all been older Korean men.
* The Wondergirls have really taken off in America. Are there any Wondergirl T-shirts available in Seoul? I've seen T-shirts with Madonna or Marilyn Monroe on them, but not the Wondergirls or other Korean stars.
* I'm limited in my Korean language ability but it seems that Koreans don't name their institutions after Koreans. Is there a Park Chung-hee Military Training Institute? Of course it is understandable that Koreans would name their English language institutes after non-Korean things. I have also seen some creative names.
I guess I could steal some ideas from here.
She mentioned, that after hearing Americans complain, she had gotten uncomfortable asking people their ages. She said she had stopped asking other Koreans she met. I tried to explain that Americans will discuss each other about their ages, but in context. Just my presence isn't enough context.
I guess some may consider that Koreans altering their behavior to be a good thing. It is a big world, we have a lot to learn from each other. Societies evolve, outsiders sometimes have great ideas and inventions.
But...I'm still in the learning stage about Korea. So at this point I'm hesitant to draw conclusions about the things I see, hear and do or to welcome the role of the lecturing visitor.
I've noticed that Koreans who speak English well seem to be on guard to protect Korea's image. I suppose they have met Korea-bashers so they don't want to share details to give them evidence of Korea's flaws. There are plenty of world-savers always ready to lecture other people about how they should live. As Thomas Sowell has said, "The sins of others are always fascinating to human beings."
I like learning about Koreans as they are, not as the way they want to package themselves to Americans and other world-savers. I don't go so far as the Prime Directive of Star Trek of non-interference.
"No identification of self or mission. No interference with the social development of said planet. No references to space or the fact that there are other worlds or civilizations."
--Star Trek's Prime Directive
But at this point, I'm more interested in Korea as it is. Perhaps a few years from now I will change and have recommendations about whether or not Korean women should have cosmetic surgery. I guess before judging that one first must understand.
* * *
"People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices."
According to today's Korea Times:
"Lotte Chilsung, the biggest beverage maker in the country, was fined 21.7 billion won and the prosecution indicted its CEO. The Free Trade Commission (FTC) said Sunday that five beverage companies ― Lotte Chilsung, Haitai Beverage, Woongjin Food, Coca Cola Korea and Donga Otsuka ― colluded to hike prices four times between February 2008 to February this year."Perhaps they should not be allowed to collude, I don't know. But government punishment of private companies is often done even as the government colludes with interest groups to inflate prices, at a cost much higher than what is being done in the private sector.
For example, wouldn't it be crazy to read a headline like this:
President Obama calls for steps to consume more hamburgers
Actually, I wouldn't be surprised to read such a headline.
But here's an actual headline from the Korea Herald, "[South Korean president] Lee calls for steps to consume more rice." According to the article: "There is an excess of at least 160,000 tons of rice every year. The government spends some 600 billion won in storing extra crops in order to support rice prices and thereby protect farmers."
I hate it when reporters talk like government officials. I believe that "storing" crops means keeping them out of the market. In some countries, they will even BURN some crops. That way, there's more of a demand for the available supply, meaning prices will be higher.
Flashback to 2001: "Korean farmers on Saturday denounced recommendations forwarded by a government advisory panel to lower the government's purchasing price for rice next year."
And what about those prices? According to the same article: "Korea's rice, due in part by the subsidies provided by the government is about nine times as expensive as rice produced in countries like Thailand, and even if a 400 percent tariff rate was slapped on imports, local rice would be hard pressed to compete with imports."
Just to be clear: some Korean companies collude to jack up prices by 10 percent, with the result being that one company gets fined almost $20 million and the CEO gets prosecuted. The Korean government colludes with farmers to force Koreans to pay several times the world price for rice and the government spends almost $500 million on storing crops to inflate prices and the result is that the Korean government encourages Koreans to eat more rice?
Of course, there is room to condemn both the Korean companies and the government.
* * *
I'd still prefer T-shirt, shorts and sandals
According to the Korea Times:
The Cool Biz Campaign encouraging office workers to wear short sleeves and leave their ties at home during the summer has proved to be effective in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.The National Institute of Environmental Research (NIER) made the conclusion after measuring temperature changes and perspiration rates.I think I'll celebrate by running my air conditioner for the next 24 hours.
The campaign was launched to reduce the energy used for air-conditioning during summer by wearing comfortable clothes. The campaign first began in Japan in 2005 and Korea adopted it in the summer of 2006. Office workers are advised not to wear jackets or ties during the summer months, which is supposed to reduce their temperatures by one or two degrees Celsius.
What I really like is the way the test was carried out:
The experiment was conducted on four males and a mannequin. The Cool Biz group wore short-sleeve dress shirts, without neckties, while the control group wore long-sleeve shirts and ties.The average skin temperature of the Cool Biz group was 0.47 degrees Celsius lower in 27 degrees Celsius conditions, which is the recommended summer room temperature, and 0.8 degrees Celsius lower in a 25 degrees Celsius environment, which is the average temperature at offices.* * *
Yesterday we learned our first complicated swing moves at my swing class. For the first time I struggled. Because I've been the only non-Korean in the class there is plenty of attention on me when I can't catch on quickly.
And, of course, the Koreans in the class seemed to assume that all Americans can dance swing. After all, they all do in the movies.
Plus, I'm such a cool and smooth looking fellow, it would seem natural that I could already dance swing.
There was finally some attention on someone else yesterday. An Australian who has been in the country for almost 4 years joined the class. He stumbled along. Of course, there was what I call The Moment.
This goes back to America when other black people show up in a professional or business context. Do you embrace them immediately? Or keep your distance? I've heard some black people complain about other black people ignoring them in the office because they want to be special. But then, I've heard other black people complain about black people trying to buddy up to them in a professional context, thus making it seem they were conspiring or closer than they really were.
My rule is: just do what I want to do. You can't please everyone and not everyone will always agree. So I encouraged the guy, introduced him to a Korean woman in the class who had lived in Australia for a while, tried to help him learn the basic steps and moves.
Last week, I saw a rare sighting: a black woman. I started to say hello, but she looked at me, then looked away. I'm thinking, in my Ebonics voice: "Sistah, we 9,000 miles away from home, I know you see me!" But I let the moment pass as she walked on by...
To give her the benefit of the doubt, she was dressed rather nicely, probably on the way to the office, perhaps in a hurry, while I was in a t-shirt, shorts, and sandals. In America she may have also kept on walking...
I have also said that Kim Dae-jung is one of the few politicians that I actually trust. I don't say this just because he may be dying. In addition to the many other wonderful things he has done over the decades, that he spared the lives of a politician who had once sentenced him to death on trumped-up charges was an example of a politician not abusing his power once in office.
I truly expected to wake up this morning to read that Kim Dae-jung had expired.
1) He has been very sick for about a month now.
2) He's 85 years old. That's not a good combo.
3) Today is Liberation Day in South Korea. More than 1 million people are being pardoned. If anyone symbolizes getting thrown in jail for stupid reasons, it is DJ.
Of course, DJ might not care for the irony of dying on Liberation Day, and might prefer to die a few years from now, regardless of the irony.
* According to a reporter friend of a friend, there is now a death watch for DJ. Reporters are camped out at the hospital waiting to see if he will really die this time. He has had many close calls over the years so there is always hope he'll make it.
* As is customary, the newspapers probably have their "DJ is dead" obituaries written and ready to post/print.
* As I've mentioned, harmony seems to be very important in Korean society. On the other hand, when there isn't harmony then there is vengeance. DJ was the exception. He could have allowed his former adversaries to be executed, but lobbied against it. On the other hand, Korea's occasional purification and anti-overconsumption campaigns are a good chance for those in power to silence, punish and/or jail opponents. It also helps to have everything against the law for such occasions.
* The Korea Times headline doesn't quite get it right. Chun Doo-hwan Comforts DJ at Bedside. But according to the story,
``I am sure that Kim will eventually regain his* I've heard people blame reporters and writers for headlines but the reality is that they rarely write their own headlines. In many cases, the reporters are already home in bed (or drinking the night away) by the time the headlines get written.
health," Chun said as he comforted Lee, who has
been receiving numerous well-wishers since her
husband's hospitalization a month ago. He was
unable to meet Kim, who is now in an intensive
care unit. [Italics mine]
I've been victimized by this as a writer and reporter, wondering what in the hell the headline writer was thinking. But then, I've also written headlines at 2 in the morning, and wondered why in the hell the writer didn't get to the main point faster or buried details in the article.
* The former Korean politicians are kissing and making up now. I guess that means they have been told that DJ will really die this time. Of course, it is easy to be friendly when you are all out of power.
* * *
Cosmetic Surgery in South Korea
Korea Times columnist Jon Huer writes at length about cosmetic surgery in South Korea. It is typical Huer. Long-winded. Points that don't add up to a conclusion or course of action. A couple of mean-spirited comments tossed in.
He has some folks who absolutely despise his writing. I'm thankful that he is writing for the Korea Times rather than working for the government to force his views on anyone.
I'm not surprised to learn that Huer is a sociologist. My definition:
A sociologist: A busybody with no power.
They have a lot to say about society. Mostly, it is stuff that can be safely ignored.
Huer takes on Korean women. He asks, "Why is plastic surgery so popular in Korea?"
Huer answers: "One, a population made up of people with plain faces; two, enough money to go around for this fixing enterprise; three, Korea's famed one-for-all and all-for-one herd mentality."[italics mine]
Well, that's how he answered it online. In the newspaper version, he answered differently, "One, a population made up of people with ugly faces; two, enough money to go around for this fixing enterprise; three, Korea's famed one-for-all and all-for-one herd mentality." [italics mine]
So is it that Koreans have ugly or plain faces, according to Jon Huer (pictured on the left). Just as writers don't write their own headlines they also lack control over what appears in the newspaper. I've also been a victim of editing errors. I've seen other writers who have had editors change major points in an article after the reporter had already left the office, gone home, or logged off for the night.
Either way, after reading Huer's writing, I still wonder, "What of it?" Should Koreans stop having cosmetic surgery? So what if Korea is the "Mecca of Cosmetic Surgery?" Are they asking Huer to foot the bill? Huer writes a lot but doesn't tell us why his question is important.
We only go around once in this life. If a chick wants bigger boobs or a dude wants different eyelids, what is the problem?
Jon Huer apparently has written 51 extended pieces for the Korea Times so he probably doesn't really care. He is just doing what a sociologist does.: Writing a bunch of stuff that can safely be ignored as long as he doesn't have power.
* * *
I've just been invited to my first MT. Those are the initials for the Konglish phrase "Membership Training." A group of Koreans will...well, I'm not exactly sure what happens. I think it is more accurate to call it a retreat, based on what I have heard. Membership Training always sounded a bit socialist to me but it seems to be a chance for folks to bond.
Will be able to give this update in about three weeks.
* * *
My feets wuz tired
Thursday night I went to an English discussion group. The Koreans there were absolutely overjoyed that I had joined. Things only got better later when I went out singing with them. Apparently they want to require that I attend every week and sing at least half of the songs.
Last night I practiced swing dancing with many of my swing classmates. We danced from 8 p.m. until almost midnight. Although people often tell me that I look young, I didn't feel that way last night. As old black folk say: "My feets wuz tired." Instead of sandals or tennis shoes I was wearing dress shoes so it may have been a one-time occurrence.
After dancing about 25 of us went out to eat and drink. Our dance instructor announced, in his form of English, that we were going to be out all night. Of course, about three hours later, he was peacefully sleeping on a chair as the rest of us danced and sang.
When we were eating they were curious about just how much I could drink. It took coming to South Korea for me to realize that not being much of a beer drinker doesn't mean I can't drink. I like flavored drinks most of all but prefer hard vodka drinks to beer.
About half of that group made it to the singing room. Unlike other groups I've been with these folks were into singing! In some cases they would sing just half of a song before cutting the music to get to the next song. They were up dancing and singing most of the time we were there. When I did Harry Connick Jr's version of It Had to Be You then several folks were dancing swing.
* * *
Me Love Me Some Free
I stopped at the Herbalife shop. The ladies there now apparently are looking forward to my visits. They were so disappointed I didn't stop by the day before.
This time, the owner fed me fruit, gave me some pills, free tea, a free shake. I'm trying to figure out how I can get the stuff I actually paid for without making them feel they must give me so much free stuff.
Yes, if you know me, I know you are having trouble believing that I'm feeling guilty about accepting free stuff.
Good news: The Korean government says that if your sham marriage prospers that you won't be punished.
Bad news: The Korean government still thinks it should use its authority and resources to ferret out sham marriages.
According to the Seoul Eastern District Court, a 53-year-old Korean man, identified as Park, "married" a Chinese woman in 2004 in exchange for 4 million won. The purpose of the action was for the woman to secure work in South Korea.Well, if it wasn't difficult for her to work in South Korea then she would not have had to shack up with the guy to begin with!
There is one way I could get on the court against any NBA player, whether current or retired. I would just need to be able to change one or two rules.
Rule number 1: I could never be called for a foul.
Rule number 2: The opposing players all must wear high heels.
If the game is still competitive then I would require the opposing players to wear boxing gloves.
In other words, this shit ain't perfect
The Korea Times has a hit piece on TBS eFM, the all-English radio station based in Seoul. To prove their case they talk with two people--a native Korean and a Canadian. Based on such a sample I could prove that no one ever listens to Rush Limbaugh.
* The easiest story for a reporter to write is that something is "overrated" or has fallen short of expectations.
* Has the Korea Times reached expectations?
* I did notice that the Korean national interviewed in the story said he keeps up with the news by reading several publications, including the Korea Times (but not the Korea Herald).
* The reporter commits a cardinal sin of reporting: relying on just one or two sources for extended commentary.
Slow Lane to Free Trade
I mentioned that I had lunch with my buddy Kim Chung-ho a few weeks ago. Today he has an opinion piece in today's Korea Times. In case you can't read the piece, rest assured that he is very much in favor of more free trade.
SHUT UP AND ACT!!!
I really don't know why people pay attention to what celebrities, actors, and athletes have to say. One thing I hate is when I go to a concert and a musician decides to start talking about politics. If they put their thoughts to some good sounding music, fine. But I don't care what you think.
The latest Please Shut Up and sing/act/play request comes via a Korean actress named Kim Min-seon. She just got sued for her comments last year about U.S. beef.
As the Korea Herald reminds us:
In last May Kim, amid nationwide protests over the government's decision to* I do wonder about the intelligence of people who would have stopped buying U.S. meat because of what an actress said.
import U.S. beef, wrote on her mini-homepage that she would "rather eat
potassium cyanide" than see the imports of U.S. beef with bones tainted with mad
cow disease in Korea.
* I do hope the company successfully sues the skirt off her...
* I suppose she convinced Koreans to buy Australian beef?
* This is nothing against the Korean actress. My favorite singer is Prince. I really don't care what he thinks about politics or American beef.
Still, I have had a few Koreans tell me that a particular place is "easy" to find. At one meeting with a group of folks, when I called to say I was lost the organizer said the place was easy to find. She called me about 20 minutes later, guessing that I was still trying to find the place. I was actually a few subway stops away from home. She was a bit surprised, letting me know they were waiting for me. I told her that it would be easy for them to find me.
A colleague of mine mentioned that a supermarket nearby was easy to find. He later gave me directions that sounded something like, "Sure, just go down the street about 100 meters. Turn left. Go down the stairs. Take the elevator to the top floor. After you get on the roof, run to the edge and jump to the next building. Climb down the side of the building. Walk backwards for 4 minutes. Run down the alley marked 'run or die.' Then, dig a tunnel until you reach a wall with the sign, "Easy to find Supermarket." Exit through the manhole. If you run into a barricade, no problem, just don't stop running, as long as it between 5 to 7 p.m. If you see a sign reading 'Welcome to North Korea' then you have gone too far and should dig a hole in the opposite direction. Then, look on your left. And you'll be there! Easy! I go there once a week! Tell them I sent you."
* * *
I love the Herbalife ladies
After a busy weekend I planned on coming home early and relaxing. It looked it might actually happen after many previous false alarms. I cooled down by visiting the Herbalife Diet shop near my home. I absolutely love the ladies (a lovely Korean mother-daughter team) who are running it.
They sent me a text message reminding me to stop by. Which I did about an hour later after work. One thing about Korean business people I've encountered: Once you are deemed a loyal customer then you can expect them to give you many freebies. So much so that I find myself rejecting the offers. Of course this happens at some places even after you first visit. But once you are in then you are really in.
Anyone who knows me knows just how much I love free stuff. To paraphrase Terrell Owens: Me love me some free. I literally walk down the street looking for change someone may have dropped. I'm not so rich that I'll pass up coins on the street. Today at the Herbalife shop it was free tea, a free protein shake, free other stuff that I finally just had to start rejecting. I'm sure they will end up giving me more free stuff than I have purchased.
Another thing about a lot of Korean business people: They will keep their stores open until the customers leave. The diet shop officially closes at 10 p.m. But they mentioned they were open until 1 a.m. on Saturday.
Drinking or singing
Still thinking about relaxing at home...instead, I accepted an invitation from my coworkers to join them to get something to eat. Of course, getting something to eat means we will spend several hours together eating, drinking, and perhaps even singing. We did all of those things until 2:30 a.m. I think we made four stops along the way. Singing was stop number four, and we only continued when we all promised to stay for only 30 minutes.
As is the custom, we paid for an hour after we got there and the folks running the place gave us about 45 minutes of bonus time.
* * *
Exchange with a friend
Casey: Incredible! I went out early one morning and saw people going TO a singing place at 7 a.m.
Friend: What kind of people go to sing at 7 a.m.?
Casey: The kind of people I need to meet!
In addition to the Herbalife shop I also got a great workout yesterday because my washing machine stopped working. I repeatedly walked from the kitchen to the washing machine with a small pot and large bottle full of water that I had refilled. I lost count how many times I did that. But it seems that I have created a path.
The buttons on the washing machine are all in Korean. Even after figuring out what the different buttons mean I couldn't get it working. There may be a serious problem requiring technical support. I'll be having my Broken Washing Machine Workout for at least another day.
* * *
Tired of being treated like a kid because there are kids around...
As has been documented here I have consumed many adult beverages in the last month. Not once have I been asked for ID. I can't remember the last time I bought beer at a grocery store, restaurant or bar in America without being asked to prove that I'm of legal age. Some people take it as a compliment when they are asked to prove they are at least 21. It irritates the hell out of me that I must always get permission to buy beer.
The problem isn't just busybody government. It also suggests there is something wrong about Americans. Even though Koreans don't get carded there doesn't seem to be an issue about Korean youngsters buying beer. Either they do it without needing permission or people don't make a big deal out of it. Korean youngsters spend so much of their formative years studying so it may be that they don't have time to drink beer before they get to college or start working.
A lot of things are explained to me as: That's Korean culture.
Sounds too familiar to a t-shirt that was popular many moons ago: "It's a black thing, you wouldn't understand."
As I mentioned yesterday, harmony is very important among the Koreans I have hung out with. The entire group will usually move in one direction. That's great when you need to fight a war. But not so great when your idea of fun differs from the group that particular night.
Even if several members of the group want to join you then it is better to remain silent so the others won't feel bad. After the dance lesson many of us went for dinner. Then we went back to dance swing. Some of us had planned to go out singing but the Koreans who wanted to sing separately got overruled by those who want to drink. In America, in situations when I was with a group and we were deciding where to eat there were times I would tell the others that I would meet up with them in an hour or so. I hate standing around talking about what to eat.
I'd prefer to just pick something and eat then join up with the others later.
2) Singing or drinking
The majority of the swing group wanted to go drinking, not singing. As I mentioned yesterday, drinking is one of the stops during the night with the people I have hung out with so far, not a priority. I was in the mood for singing so I skipped out.
One of my favorite quotes about majority rule is from P.J. O'Rourke in his book Parliament of Whores:
Majority rule is a precious, sacred thing worth dying for. But -- like other precious, sacred things, such as the home and the family -- it's not only worth dying for; it can make you wish you were dead. Imagine if all of life were determined by majority rule. Every meal would be a pizza. Every pair of pants, even those in a Brooks Brothers suit, would be stonewashed denim. Celebrity diet and exercise books would be the only thing on the shelves at the library. And -- since women are a majority of the population -- we'd all be married to Mel Gibson.
How do I know Korean culture when I see it?
A few days ago someone commenting on one of my posts mentioned that Korean women occasionally grab each other's breasts. I have heard about this but didn't think much of it.
1) I'm never invited to join in such pajama parties.
2) What happens occasionally among people doesn't suggest to me that it is culture.
If I see something happen seventeen times in a row, then, yes, I feel confident concluding that it is culture. On the other hand, a Korean friend of mine who read something online about American boys having circle jerk parties asked me if that was American culture.
It may just be the people I hung out with but I never heard of circle jerking until I was in college. And even then, thankfully, no one was inviting me to join in. That some people may engage in an activity isn't enough for me to conclude it is culture.
Live KoreanOver the weekend I probably had the most successful language exchange I have ever had. The reason? Everyone participating was at a low level. The two Koreans both struggled to speak in English and only did so after I prodded them. Then, after they finally did so, they felt comfortable to push me to speak in Korean. Clearly they were enjoying the show. A third person who also speaks Chinese joined us later on so we were able to also misunderstand each other in that language.
A lot of language exchanges fall apart because...
1) When one speaker is at a higher level than the other then they will speak in that person's language.
2) Some or a lot of language exchanges end up in relationships.
3) People meet 1:1. Meeting in a group of 3 or 4 keeps the topic on language.
I actually know some Koreans now who either don't speak English or struggle mightily with it. That means that I am now getting email messages that are completely in Korean. They will mix in some English but I never know which language the text messages will be in.
One problem reminds me of an incident from a few years ago. A buddy of mine was going through a tough time. I hadn't heard from him for a few days. Then, he sent me an email with a long poem by Kipling. I told him years later that people asking for help or advice should not send a riddle or puzzle. I had to read the damn poem several times before I had an idea of what he meant.
What happens with my Korean friends. We have a mix of English and Korean. Then, at the key moment, such as deciding if and when we should meet, they switch completely to Korean, with completely new sentence patterns and vocabulary.
* * *
I ate at McDonald's for the first time since I've been back in Seoul. I had the Bulgogi Burger. It was quite good.
I'm bookmarking this so I'll get back to these things later.
My latest diet plan/washing machine problem
Getting asked for ID in Korea, America
struggling with Korean culture at times
singing or drinking in Korea
line dancing in Korea
language exchange over the weekend
I've heard Karaoke described as being the national pastime in some Asian countries. Based on what I've seen in Korea I would say that isn't quite accurate. Singing is just part of the fun to be had during a night of revelry. I have met a lot of Koreans in the last month but I have yet to meet anyone who went out to sing with singing being the main activity. Some Koreans actually need some drinks in them before they are ready to sing.
I've asked a few about it. They say they will sing if there is still time, but they really wanted to eat, drink and talk. Singing comes after eating and drinking. Sometimes, it gets skipped.
* * *
Getting around Wh-questions
Many Americans complain about Koreans asking them the same questions. When Koreans start in with their Wh-questions I take a shortcut: I like to sing, dance and drink. It obviously confuses them when I offer information so I try to be patient.
I usually wait patiently but yesterday I tried different strategy. Even before I was asked I said, "I'm Casey, I'm an American, I've been here for a month, before I came here I was in Washington D.C., but I'm originally from Texas."
Let's get physical
As I mentioned a few days ago, the Koreans I've met and hung out with are typically very physical when we're out eating, drinking and singing.
Last night I met up with some Koreans who work at a company in my area. One of them said "hello." When Koreans make an effort to greet me then I do my best to respond in kind. We started talking. They said they were going to drink or sing. They had already been eating and drinking so apparently this was stop number two or three of their night out.
It took about 20 minutes for them to decide which place to go. One thing I've read is that harmony is very important for Koreans. One part of the group wanted to continue drinking. Another part wanted to sing. So they split up into two groups when talks broke down.
After they learned that I could understand some Korean they seemed to warm up to me. That meant rubbing up against me, wrapping their arms around me, feeling my waist and muscles as we talked on the street about where to go. No kidding. As I've said, once the Koreans I've hung out with feel comfortable then things get very physical very quickly.
I'm not ready to draw conclusions about the things I've seen and been doing but I'm guessing this is connected to the Konglish word "skinship." It isn't necessarily a sexual thing. Once Koreans feel comfortable then there is absolutely concern about personal space. This goes beyond people bumping into each other on the street and not apologizing. In that case, you are ignoring people who are not in your world. Skinship is about the close feeling between people who are in your world.
My Korean listening ability is still low-level so I couldn't follow the conversation completely. But from what I could understand they were worried about what I would think about their plans for the night.
1) From what I've heard before and definitely learned later in the night, Koreans tend to see Americans as being hypersensitive, even prudish, when it comes to having fun. Apparently the group I was out with last night had been out with Americans and the Americans were more into making moral statements than in going along with the fun.
2) They didn't want to show me the bad side of Korea but they also wanted to have fun.
We went to one place but they didn't like the price quoted at the singing room. We then went to another place. After a couple of minutes they told me that some girls who worked at the singing room would be joining us. They seemed to be trying to put it as delicately as possible so they would not offend my sensitive Americans ears. It seemed that they had been debating whether or not I would not want them to invite girls in.
They were already engaged in horseplay before the girls joined us. Rubbing each other, bumping and grinding, sitting on each others' laps...seven Korean men wearing ties, dress shirts, formal pants. They were completely uninhibited with each other. When the girls came in then they got even worse. One guy started with sexually suggestive dance moves...
They were very concerned about me...every person who started to smoke would come directly to me to ask if it was okay with me if they smoked. I said I didn't smoke but I didn't mind if they did. I talked to one guy, he said that Koreans believe that Americans hate smoking, that Americans aren't allowed to smoke when they go out and that the Americans they have met start coughing at the sight of a cigarette. As one person said to me...America is a free country but sometimes it seems they aren't free to have fun.
They were clowning around and fondling the girls at every possible moment. The women would gently resist but they knew they couldn't resist too much. At one moment one of the guys told one of the uncooperative girls to leave. One of the other guys whispered in my ear that his friend was just joking but wanted to remind the ladies that they wanted to have fun.
At one point three of the girls were huddled around me. They told me I was such a gentleman. My guess at what they were trying to say: Thanks for not rubbing our breasts.
The women were there to feed the snacks to the guys, to fill their glasses, to sing with them, to pamper them, to get them to spend money. I did notice that the women would dump their own beer into garbage cans beneath the tables, apparently to get more beer bottles emptied faster. After feeding the snacks to the guys they were also in a hurry to order more to keep the tab meter running.
The bumping, grinding, dancing, and singing lasted until about 2 in the morning. I have no idea who paid, as is customary nobody asked me to chip in. They asked me several times during the night if I could teach them English two or three times a week. I suspect that most mornings they will be late for class, if they show up at all.
Speaking of getting physical
I saw two near fights last night.
1) I don't know if the woman had a towel or sweater...but whatever it was, she used it to snap, pop and crack the guy she was with in the head three times. The first time she caught him by surprise. The second time he tried to duck but still got hit in the head. The third time he tried to duck but got hit square in the face.
He was then screaming back at her. I watched as he then put her in a headlock. I continued watching as he did this for a few seconds. She managed to break free and walked ahead without him for a few seconds. He was clearly grumbling and cursing, but he swallowed his pride and caught up to her. He seemed to apologize. She was still ignoring him but finally allowed him to walk with her without having to duck...
2) I walked up as two guys were staring each other down. A woman with one of the guys convinced him to go into a beer place with her. They continued to stare at each but that was it.
Then, as I continued walking up the street, I witnessed some Korean women (yes, in high heels, miniskirts) attempting to chop up some plastic bricks. No matter how poorly they did the guy running the business would reward them with some type of a toy.
Just a short distance away there were some older Korean women, I would guess in their 50s, doing their best to kick a soccer ball in an arcade game.
This now puts into perspective an incident from a few weeks ago. I was out with some newly made friends. A Korean female suddenly wanted to show me that she knew taekwondo. I thought she was joking but took it seriously when she struck a fighting pose. She had already had many drinks so it wasn't difficult to block her first kick. She then saw that I knew what I was doing so she kicked harder the second time. That time, I blocked her kick with more force and responded with a move that would have knocked the lipstick off her face if I had followed through. I drew some cheers from the folks watching.
* * *
I may not even bothering mentioning this many more times. When I was out with the Korean company workers last night they asked me about my age a little after I told them my name. I told them I would tell them my age after I had a drink.
One of the Korean guys asked me about 15 or 20 times. He told me that he could not relax until he knew my age. Finally, after we sat down at the singing place he immediately poured me a drink and began demanding my age.
As I mentioned before, Koreans need to know other peoples' ages so they can know how to address them. He then began calling me "big brother" in Korean.
Because I always add a decade or two to my age I can get away with a lot of stuff.
For example, it is still customary when Koreans eat together for everyone to wait until the oldest person has taken a bite or sip. Then, everyone else can eat. I like to eat food when it is still sizzling or smokin' and I like my beer when it is still cold so I hate having to wait for others. So, because I tell them I'm 54 or whatever age I feel like being at that moment I usually get to get or drink when I'm ready.
There is another reason I started telling people that I'm 54. I heard Chris Rock say that the average black man dies at the age of 57. So I tell people I may have only three more years to live so I want to do as much as possible in the time I have remaining...
* * *
Solving geopolitical bullshit
A Korean friend who knows that I used to be a political commentator in America asked me why I'm not writing about things like Bill Clinton's visit to North Korea, Obama, Sotomayor, etc.
1) I haven't given a flip about political issues for a few years now. Working in D.C. for a few years cured me of any trust I had in politics or politicians.
2) Rational ignorance: No matter how much I learn about those issues I doubt that Obama would really care about my opinion.
3) I'm tired of the same arguments I've heard (from new people) for two decades.
4) The way so many people argue (questioning motives, making personal attacks) is tiresome.
5) Americans already know everything about everything so they don't need to hear anything from me.
6) There are already enough world-savers. They are so busy doing so that they probably didn't even know I had taken a break from doing so.
7) I'm sure I'll learn more about busybodies here in Korea.
8) Trying to help humanity is more likely to get you shot than praised (although, in death, you may be respected).
* * *
Southeast D.C. in Seoul
I took two Korean female friends dancing in Itaewon (basically, an area where a lot of American soldiers go to party, it was once the main area for American tourist to visit).
They were both very curious about it but had never gone.
I took them to a black club. Seriously, it felt like I had been transported to southeast D.C., except that the women bumping and grinding were Korean. The brothers there were wearing do-rags, other ghetto type clothing and styles.
Of course, because I was with two sexy Korean women I had a number of guys who suddenly wanted to be my best friend.
I drank a large amount of Cherry Soju, probably the most I have ever had at one time. We then went to what seemed to be an Asian-American club. We met one really friendly Korean guy who shared a lot of (clearly expensive) Vodka he has purchased. But when he got up from his seat a Canadian guy plopped down. The Canadian started bitching about the club, complaining that the women wouldn't talk to him. He then shook up his bottle of beer and started spraying it into the air and onto himself, pretending to jerk off.
He then tried to get friendly with me but I told him he was bothering us. So after a minute he finally got up and left. Unfortunately, the Korean-American friend who has lived in America for a number of years was bothered by the cigarette smoke so we went back to the black club where the ventilation was better.
* * *
Smoke in his eyes
As I mentioned, the Korean guys I was out with last night kept apologizing for wanting to smoke. A week or two ago when I was out with some Koreans, a Korean woman started puffing away on a cigarette. She then handed it to me when her cousin (or brother, it wasn't clear) returned to the table. She then whispered in Korean to me that he doesn't know she smokes. Well, I think that's what she said, she may have been telling me she was on fire, I still can't get the gist of some things even when I know the keywords.
They were all pleasantly surprised that I smoke (I don't). I then asked the Korean woman who had handed me the cigarette if she wanted to try. She pretended that she wasn't the least bit interested. But after I asked a few times she put on a great performance showing interest.
Her cousin who apparently didn't want her to smoke seemed to think it was funny that an American would ask his cousin to smoke. After all, Americans don't smoke and don't like it when others do so. He then encouraged her to smoke my cigarette. It was her cigarette after that...
* * *
Swing & Sing!
Tomorrow night I will take my weekly swing dance lesson. After that a couple of us will go singing. The same thing will happen Friday night.
He certainly had the money to do so at that time. If he knew then what he knows now then he would have spent $10 million to run his dogfighting ring in Manila.
Today I did something that probably not even Michael Vick ever did: I ate dog meat. I never expected that I would do so. It is a bit scandalous because Koreans don't just kill the dogs and eat them. Rather, they will beat them to death while they are still alive. That allegedly is to get the adrenaline flowing which allegedly makes the meat more tender which allegedly improves a man's stamina.
I had told a friend that I wanted to give it a try. But as we sat down to eat I said: "I want to try this but don't give me any details until after we are finished eating."
It just looked like regular meat on the plate. It is like the first time I ate alligator. It had been dead and cooked. There was nothing threatening about it. If I had seen the thing getting hacked to pieces and then brought to my plate a few minutes later then I might hesitate. But just looking at some meat on the plate? Nothing scary about that. So I ate, forgetting for a while that I was eating what had once been a dog.
* * *
Where are you from?
Many Americans in Korea will complain about Koreans asking them: "Where are you from?" "How long have you been in Korea?" "What's your job?"
I've been asked those questions many times but they have never bothered me. I sometimes get creative in my answers.
This afternoon I took a trip outside of Seoul. A young Korean man was standing very close to me as I was texting a friend. We were the only ones standing (I rarely, if ever, sit on the subway). He was so close it seemed that he was trying to read what I was typing. Then, he started hitting me with the questions.
I warmed up to him immediately, treating him like he was a long-lost friend. It isn't that easy to approach a stranger and strike up a conversation. In America most people are on their guard against such people. The rule generally is that anyone willing to start up a conversation with a complete stranger is someone to be avoided.
But in Korea, instead of the stranger trying to rob you after getting your guard down, the person is just trying to practice speaking English.
I could see that just about everybody on the train was watching us. I mentioned it to a friend, he thinks the others felt bad that (1) they aren't fluent enough to hold a conversation with a native English speaker (2) I probably looked so friendly that they wished they had the courage to strike up a conversation with me.
I was wondering...If Koreans aren't supposed to ask you where you are from or other chitchat questions, then what in the hell are they supposed to ask foreigners about?
Should they ignore foreigners? I've previously written about Americans in Korea who complain about being ignored. Some complain about getting too much attention. Some complain about the Wh-questions they get.
Anyway, the young Korean man and I got along until he started asking me about religion. At that point I cut him off. I'm not interested in the topic. A good way to end a conversation with me is to talk about religion and to try to continue after I keep yawning and let you know the topic bores me.
Of course, he asked me how old I am...
* * *
Walking home, a young lady asked me if I can speak Korean. I answered in Korean that I could understand some. She then said if I came into the store that they could give me a free diet shake and some type of herbal tea.
I told her I could be back in about 10 minutes. The young lady was both thrilled at trying to do business in English but also kept saying she was nervous trying to speak in English. She did her best to convince me that I should become a member with them. They would even give me a free blender if I needed one.
A free blender? That usually is a deal-maker with me.
Then, after I signed up and was getting to leave, they wanted to know: "How old are you?" I told them to guess. Of course, they were all off. Then, for the next 10 minutes they talked about how young I look, how lucky I am, they wanted to know my secret.
Suddenly, I was in an English/Korean conversation with 7 Korean ladies (mother and daughter store owners, a trendy fashion designer and a mother/daughter team there who were already members, and two other Korean ladies who seemed to be friends or were already members). They were all nervous about speaking in English. On the other hand, I wasn't the least bit nervous about stumbling around in Korean but lack the vocabulary to stay in a conversation for long.
I mentioned to them that I love to sing but none of them took me up on the offer, at least, not immediately.
One thing I like about Asia is bowing when greeting people. There is nothing about the bow itself that I particularly like. Rather, I like it that I'm not expected to shake hands with people.
1) Many men don't wash their hands. I would guess that in America that about half of men walk out of bathrooms without stopping to wash their hands. Some might turn on the water and get their hands a bit wet before walking out but they won't go so far as to use soap. In Korea, I think the percentage is more like 90 percent. I stopped shaking hands with people quite a while ago. I'd prefer to just wave or, when a hand is extended for a handshake, just give a fist-bump. I started that a few years ago. I was excited when Obama did his fist-bump with his wife, I was really hoping the fist-bump would catch on.
2) Don't take it personally if I choose not to shake hands with you. After all, even if you wash your hands you may be shaking hands with plenty of other people who don't.
More on bathrooms
Just to be clear, many of the bathrooms in Seoul are perfectly clean. For example, the bathrooms at my office. American chain restaurants. Many upscale Korean places.
There are plenty of places where the bathrooms are spotless. Okay, got the point? This is not about every bathroom in Korea.
3) Apparently they only bought one container of soap at most places and haven't refilled it. It appears that some bathrooms haven't ever been cleaned. If you'll show me your dirty side when you KNOW there's a good chance I'll see it then I fear what you may be doing back in the kitchen...
4) The Korean government is constantly trying to figure out how to get more people to Korea. The new head of the tourism office wants non-Koreans here to be Goodwill Ambassadors. A national movement to clean up the bathrooms would make life more pleasant for those people already here. Of course, like most people, the focus is on getting new people...
I want to be clear that I'm not kidding here:
5) Female janitors and cleaning ladies will enter the men's bathroom without knocking. A man can be standing at a urinal and the cleaning ladies will enter and clean up as men go about their business.
6) Very often the men's and women's bathrooms are side by side in the same bathroom. In some cases, a woman could be sitting right next to you or could enter as a man is standing at the urinal.
When in Rome...
I'm definitely fitting in.
I jay walked in front of a police officer today.
If I fit in any better then I'll be groping women on subways, fighting with drunken friends and politicians, and paying for coaches to have sex.
Do you understand the words coming out of my mouth?
As I mentioned the other day I prefer not to eat spicy food. I can eat it and often do, it is tough to avoid in Korea. But in most cases, given a choice between food that is spicy and food that is not, I'll opt for the food that is not spicy.
I've noticed, if I'm understanding correctly, that my Korean colleagues will say in Korean that I hate to eat spicy food. I try to correct them but not too much. After all, I could eat up eating a pile of hot sauces with a couple of pieces of meat mixed in.
I'm willing to give them a pass. But I've also noticed that my AMERICAN colleagues say the same thing. They happen to love eating spicy food. I correct them but they say the same thing: Casey doesn't like spicy food.
Either you love spicy food or you don't seems to be the categories.
Swing! Swing! Swing my baby!
In addition to the weekly swing lessons that I started on Sunday we also have a weekly dance party. It was on Tuesday of this week but will be on Fridays starting next week.
Last night it was Three Ds.
I tried to get them to go singing. They finally agreed that we'll go out Friday of next week. A couple of them said they really enjoy singing. I quietly said that I also enjoy it, but in my mind I was speaking with the kind of confidence Mike Tyson had back in his prime--I can whip any man (or woman) at anytime.
Of course, I'm struggling to keep up with the conversation in Korean. Last night's gathering was no different. The ones who can speak some English are trying to help me by explaining when I can't catch up to the conversation in Korean. One woman who was there last night can speak Chinese so she was able to explain some things to me when her English was lacking.
I read in today's Korea Times that the office of tourism in Korea is inviting foreign residents to be Tourism Ambassadors.
I guess this is a good chance to add being an ambassador not just to a school but to an entire country to my resume.
According to the article there are 1.2 million foreign residents in South Korea.
* * *
Korean Government's War on Private Education
Here's an amazing story in today's Korea Herald about the government's ongoing war against private education in South Korea.
Can you imagine any level of government in the U.S. having to pass laws to prevent people from studying after 10 p.m.? One thing we do have in America is Midnight Basketball, than you Bill Clinton, in some urban areas.
I do wonder just how late Koreans would pay for education if the government didn't crackdown on such education services.
* * *
Private institutes and profiling
A person of "Indian decent" [sic] in a Henry Louis Gates state of mind asks: "Am I being rejected strictly because of my race?" The person is trying to get a job in South Korea teaching English.
By the way, I'm not trying to make fun of the writer's spelling, it may have just been an editing mistake.
The ask the expat answers in today's Korea Herald:1) "Korean society is slowly working toward racial tolerance, but still appears to be some time away."
2) "Well, it's all about enrollment, money, stereotypes, fear and mothers. Perception is king and while the average mother doesn't have anything against non-Caucasians, she is more comfortable with what she knows and likely prefers her child to be taught by a white teacher."
Then, the expat writes:
An example is a private school in Dobong-gu, Seoul that two weeks ago put up an
ad on a popular job site for foreign teachers. The ad read, "American or
Canadian, if possible American, black is okay, but not 100 percent black." The
school was forced to remove the explicit rejection of "100 percent blacks" in an
updated job advertisement recently.
The expat then gives some advice: 1) Apply directly to schools rather than using recruiters 2)
Play the game but recognize the cost of using recruiters. 3) Don't assume the worst, because it isn't just race but being different that gets one eliminated from resume pool.
A couple of random thoughts:
* It is easy to beat up on Korean mothers for wanting white teachers. But then, I've been out with people at restaurants who don't feel like they are eating "authentic" Chinese food if the cook isn't Chinese. I suspect that my best friend, a black man who is a trained chef, can probably outcook most Chinese people when it comes to Chinese food. Not sure what should be done about people's personal preferences.
* I've actually had a manager at an institute ask me if I knew any white American teachers she could hire. I said that I couldn't recommend anyone for a position I'm unqualified to fill. She answered that I'm too expensive and overqualified, that she would love to have me teach at her institute. She said she didn't have anything against black people or any people in general but that as manager of her institute she had to respond to the wishes of her customers. Her adult students and the parents of children complain when they hire Africans, Brits, Europeans.
* I'm not the darkest brother in the world so I often have people asking me what my race is. Asians, the police and black people are pretty consistent in labeling me as black. Latinos often disagree. A little while ago when I was the lead instructor of an intensive three-day English language seminar the Korean recruiter who set up the whole thing explained to the teachers and students that "Casey's black, but he's not really black. When you see him, you won't even recognize that he's black." A Korean-American who was going to be working with me on the project later told me she couldn't wait to meet me to see what a non-black black man looked like...
* I've got Koreans grabbing my butt and trying to kiss me on the head...so I guess that race relations are improving. Yet another way I am being an international ambassador!
* A few weeks ago when I was hanging with a colleague a Korean man approached us in the subway. He said that I look like a famous actor.
My colleague (a white guy who is one of the blackest white men I've ever met) offered up Samuel L. Jackson. The Korean man disagreed, suggesting Michael Jackson. He even wanted to take a photo with me. A few days ago someone suggested that I look like Barack Obama. Another suggested Michael Jordan. I've even been compared to Mike Tyson. It seems that I look like whichever black person is in the news at that moment.
By the way, I snapped this photo earlier today: You can get a nice suntan here, at a place about a block from my apartment in Seoul.
linked by Booker Rising
Originally posted: August 3, 2009
It isn't just groping on the subways
I've been in Korea for a full month. In that time I would guess that I have had my butt grabbed three or four times (by men), a (drunk) female friend put her hand in my back pocket, had my head fondled at least three times, and had a (drunk stranger-turned-friend) beg that I allow him to kiss me on the top of my bald head when we were out singing.
And I'm not even referring to the nurse who gave me a shot the other day...
I think the head-kisser said he was 27 or 28. His English wasn't that great and I couldn't comprehend when he was trying to explain in Korean that he wanted to kiss me on my head. I'm sure that such language isn't in any of the Korean language study books.
I read in today's Korea Times that groping on the subways has increased.
It has also increased wherever I happen to be in Korea. Sometimes I am amazed at the skinship level of Koreans once you get to know them. As is often pointed out, Koreans will bump into one another without anyone ever apologizing. It isn't just in subways and on the street. Koreans I've encountered are very physical people when they are out drinking and having fun.
When I mentioned to some friends that I was going to Korea for a while they warned that I might finally find people who like to sing even more than I do. And, some warned that I would probably get tired of singing in Korea after a short time.
After almost a month...I am still the last man standing whenever I go out to sing.
Whereas the singing rooms are my first destination, it seems that going singing is the third or fourth stop during the night for the Koreans I have gone out with.
Stop 1: eat (and drink)
Stop 2: drink
Stop 3: drink some more (optional step)
Stop 4: Sing
Stop 5: Eat and drink more
Stop 6: Drink more
Today's Korea Times has a piece: 'Korean Karaoke Is Addictive'
In my case, I have always enjoyed singing despite lacking a good singing voice. I have gotten better by avoiding songs that require real talent.
* * *
Stranger: A friend you haven't met yet
I go out singing with three different groups of people:
After dancing swing Saturday night to warm up for my first official lesson, I met some strangers who were out having fun. I was watching as a young lady in high heels and a mini-skirt was kicking a soccer ball outside a video arcade. She was really into it, demanding that her friends give it a try. A minute later, two people in her group approached me to ask where I was from. The young lady in heels was then demanding that I also kick the soccer ball. I was wearing sandals which I had used as an excuse a few days before when I was out with co-workers. But what excuse could work with a woman who was kicking the damn ball in high heels?
I ended spending the next six hours eating, drinking, and singing with those five folks. They said there were going to go drinking next, but I was able to maneuver them to sing before that.
I have a good memory when it comes to numbers so I was plugging in my songs while they were still looking through the book. I sang in Korean and English, absolutely amazing them. One of them finally asked if I might have a Korean ancestor.
After singing we did go to drink. Then it was back to the arcade. Among other games, they wanted to play basketball against me. It was almost a scene out of the movie Soul Man as they battled over which team would get me.
Unlike the character in Soul Man, I'm actually good at hoops. I whipped them all (I've taken all of my opponents more seriously ever since a female friend from Taiwan beat me). But then, I hadn't drunk as much as they had so you should always put your money on me when I'm playing against drunk Koreans.
* * *
Black Don't Crack
I've heard many Americans complain about Koreans asking them the basic Wh-questions. Where are you from? How long have you been in Korea? Some will even apologize right after asking.
I take it in stride. In America, I would answer, "I'm alive!" Now that I'm understanding Korea and Koreans a little better I can see just how important it is for Koreans to know exactly how old everyone is.
Once Koreans have determined who is older than they know which form of speech to use, if they should use formal or informal language. The last couple of days I've been out with strangers...it seemed that they could not relax until I admitted my age. One young lady even said she felt frustrated not knowing my age.
Last night I attended the first of eight swing dance lessons. The other participants spent a few minutes revealing their ages, discussing who did and did not look their ages. Then, after that, they all began to focus on me.
I tell people that I look really young for a man of 54. I tell people I'm older so I can speak with the informal patterns to most people I meet.
* * *
Speaking of my head...
A couple of years ago I was a questioner at a panel about education in D.C. I went after one of the speakers. He later wrote about it, saying, "It was not the most hostile audience I have ever faced, even though you could almost see the heat rising from the bald head of Cato's Casey Lartigue as he railed at me during Q & A (even Brennan asked Lartigue if there was a question anywhere in his comments)."
Of course, those who enjoyed my comments discussed the way I took it to Bracey and wouldn't let him worm his way out of it.
My head has been discussed at policy events and was even part of an intro from a moderator a few years ago.
As much attention as my head got in America at public policy discussions that doesn't begin to compare to the attention it has received in Korea.
The women in the office are always commenting on it. Some days it looks more beautiful than other days. Apparently the shape is nice. They believe that they can identify my character and personality from looking at it. I've had people ask if they can touch my head. And, as I mentioned above, a Korean man demanded that I allow him to kiss it.
* * *
Class of '23
As I also mentioned above I joined a swing class. I sometimes make things difficult on myself. A swing class...in Korean?
Thankfully, the instructor uses a lot of English commands. I can usually follow some of the Korean because he is also giving commands.
Mostly, I follow body language. But I still must pay attention. At one point, in trying to make a joke, he was saying not to do a certain move. Just paying attention to the body language I did the move he was saying not to do.
As we did the "partna change-e," every woman was gracious. Most of them were also beginners.
After dancing we then went out to drink and eat. I was hoping to also sing but it was already kind of late. As dynamic and active as Seoul is, the subway system shuts down at midnight.
So on most night the options are:
a) wrap up before midnight
b) take a taxi home after midnight
c) stay out until 5:30 a.m. when the subway resumes.
It seems that many nights that people opt to wait for the 5:30 restart.
I'll have to get them to sing a different day, perhaps tomorrow night when we will have dinner for more bonding.
One of my fellow dancers told me that I'm a member of the class of 23. I think it means that we are starting the dance class during the 23rd month that the dance center has been open. Whereas Americans are a member of a class when we finish something, Koreans seem to count from the date they start.
An American college graduate who finish his studies in 2008 would say he was a member of the class of 2008. On the other hand, a Korean person who refers to the class of 2008 would mean that he started that year.
So I'm a member of the 23 "dong gi" 동기.
* * *
Korean phrase of the day
다행이에요. Which means "good luck" or "good fortune." Someone mentioned that to me as we discussed the class and I how I ended up in it.
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A few days ago I ate 멍게. I'm not exactly sure what type of fish it is. I was out with some colleagues. I'm not really into raw fish. I love my food to go from the grill straight to my mouth. Even when I'm at McDonald's I will wait for them to cook the French Fries right then.
When it comes to meat I like a little time to elapse between the time the animal was alive and the time it gets to my plate.
On the other hand, there are many places in Korea where you can pick your future food out of the tank and have it on your plate within two minutes (which is how long it takes them to cut up the live food, get it on the plate, and to you). In some cases, some like to eat live eel or squid that is live when it gets to your table and is sliced up alive right in front of you.
linked by Booker Rising,