Saturday, February 27, 2010

Japan's "Charisma Man" Comic

This video talks about a comic book that illustrates the Western man in Japan. The video narrator talks about how the comic portrays the Westerner as a geek back home on his "planet" in Canada but in Japan they are superstars. I don't know if this comic is genuine satire that portrays the Western man as a wholesome person or shows them in the stereotypical "yellow fever" way. Certainly something a few blogs out here could analyze.

Sounds familiar? YES!

Friday, February 26, 2010

Walkin' Around the Neighborhood

Today was a no work day and so instead of keeping myself inside I went for a little walk. I took my camera with me to see what I could find.

There were the familiar sights.
I enjoyed this image of the old woman's shoes near her umbrella. As well as 'gumball' machines selling trinkets.
The following is an image of a popular kim bop (Korean sushi) restaurant that I like to frequent. It's the one with the big red sign and white words.

Basically these are the everyday sights that are seen when I walk around my area.  The next one, where the yellow cart is, shows what I call the "Yogurt Lady". You can find them on many street corners in neighborhoods, where an older woman wearing a yellow jacket stands next to her yellow cart selling liquid-drinkable yogurt. I have always enjoyed this little aspect of Korean culture.
Street-cart food ~
The usual drying towels in front of a barber shop.

Then there is the reoccurring theme of the towering apartment complexes that seem to fascinate me. I couldn't help this time but venture into one of the complexes and take some pictures.

Next, what would you know? I ventured into one of the buildings and made my up to the top floor.

There I was on the 16th floor getting my pan-optic look out onto the complex.  Actually I have had this idea for quite some time now, because when drawing these apartments as a subject I seem to have trouble with my perspective. 
What keeps me intrigued is how every window is the same. In the West, especially in America, people typically live in houses. Some are lucky enough to live in large houses, while others in small ones. Either way it is typical for Americans to decorate the outside of their homes to distinguish themselves from their neighbors. In Korea, since there are so many people in a small area, it is truly impossible for everyone to be living in houses in a row. Instead they live in these types of buildings. 

From what I gather apartment living in Korea is a serious matter. Neighbors know each other and keep tabs on which hagwon so-and-so's kid is going to. It is an organized and clean society of living. Recycling and trash sorting is taken seriously and diligently. Also I find the landscaping around these complexes to be of interest, as well. Usually in the center or nearby are little parks with equipment for children and adults. 

When I was walking around noise pollution was reduced and it seemed like a serene place to live. Yet, as a westerner from America, I can't help but feel so small amongst these giant buildings. It is my aspiration to somehow create works of art that speak to my thoughts on these living complexes.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Add me to the list: Vote

10 Magazine is running a poll asking for you to vote on your favorite English blog. So if you truly find my blog as your favorite amongst the other choices, pencil me in under "other".

Just copy and past this:

Into the "other" section at the end of the poll.

**Note if I am mentioned 3 times in the "other" section I will be put up for regular voting. So if I do end up in the list than please just click my blog name. Thanks so much and best of luck to my other buddies out there.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

A Yuna Story

As I write this Kim Yuna (the Korean figure skater) is swarming the Korean internet with her fame.

For me I had a touch of this excitement from Korean folks at lunch today. I went out for lunch in the neighborhood near my school at a small Korean restaurant (Kim Bop NaRa). There above the diners was a TV broadcasting live the ice skating competition at the Olympics.

As customers came in I heard them all talk with excitement that Kim Yuna was coming up. Just before she took to the ice, her Japanese competitor Misuda did her performance and got a great score.

In the shop was a Mom with her kids, the shop keepers and a few Ahjusshis (older men). All of them were glued to this small TV that was hoisted up near the ceiling.

Kim Yuna took to the ice and everyone was silent. Even the shopkeeper stopped wrapping kim bop to take a look.

As Yuna made her spins and came back down on to the ice with grace and elegance everyone cheered and gave that Ahjusshi sound of approval.

At the end they all clapped with pride.

The whole thing reminded me of the summer Olympics that happened not too long ago. It is that Korean sense of nationality that is so strong and tight. This really was a special moment for me here in Korea.

Thanks Kim Yuna

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

How to Make?

I bought this package of Organic Korean Pancake Mix at Emart. I bet I could fiddle through my knowledge of Korean and sort out the directions, but I thought I give you guys a shot at it. It looks pretty simple and I have the extra ingredients like the green onions already.

Here are the pictures:

I really just need to know how much oil or water to add to how much mix. I can cook the rest from there. I don't plan on making this till tomorrow, for its chicken and potatoes tonight. 

I Like Korea: Reason 1

I know I write a lot about my tribulations at the workplace and so I worry that my blog casts off a negative impression about life in Korea. Therefore, I want to present posts called "I Like Korea" to counteract the negative experiences I have here. I feel there are many occurrences that I forget to mention that would help other people see that Korea is a fun and enriching place.

I would just cover this in one post with a list of the reasons why I like Korea, but I felt it would be more significant to examine each one with singular posts.

Random Acts of Kindness:
Many might feel that Korean folks, out in public, are cold people who keep to themselves. Sure when you walk into a building the person in front of you typically doesn't hold the door for you. But it's their way, right?

What I am talking about here is the random gestures of kindness that I receive from complete strangers out in public.
  1. "You're beautiful!":  I don't mean to brag here, but there are times when random individuals near me look me in the eyes and say "You're beautiful" or "Oh, so beautiful!". I take it on the account that I have blue eyes and curly hair and this strikes them as different. Last week, when I was exiting the subway station making my way up the escalator such event occured. An older gentleman got on before me and I could tell he was looking my way. Eventually he leaned over and asked me where I was from, and then finished the conversation with the beautiful line. Although a little awkward it did boost my morale and make me feel better about my self-appearance. (I have gained some weight this lovely winter). 
  2. Old Ladies Giving me Candy: I can recall on numerous occasions sitting next to old ladies who handed me some candy. One time it was traditional type candy that is handmade. In these situations I can't help but not eat what is given to me, even if the candy happens to be ginseng. At first I didn't really understand this kind gesture, and found it unnecessary.  But after all it really warmed my heart and helped feel a part of Korean culture.
  3. Service: Perhaps in any country if you smile and are polite you can get a little something extra when ordering food. There are times when I am ordering food somewhere and try my best to do it in Korean, and end up getting an extra leg of chicken or something on top of my order. Korean folks like to call this "service", when you get something extra at a meal. It goes without saying that it isn't just something exchanged between Koreans and foreigners. This kindness I feel is a good token of Korea and shows them as fairly generous. 
I think that is a good list of the random acts of kindness that I experience here. I am sure there are more memories of sweet gestures from Korean folks but those written above are the major ones.

All right, well I hope you are enjoying your Tuesday. ~

Monday, February 22, 2010


A quick update here before I go off to dinner with my school. Today I woke up very tired and stressed out from a bad night's sleep.

At school I sat around until we were called in to the teacher's meeting. They introduced the new teachers at the school.

It was kind of strange but they weren't telling us right out about are new coteachers. The secret was that they were seating near me and I had to figure out who they were. What a surreal feeling! I was so anxious to know the truth and this felt like they were toying with me.

In the end though it all worked out. The coteacher I didn't mix well with is moving on to be a first grade home room teacher, and the "Ms. Y" teacher is moving on too. Our new coteachers are familiar ones from the 6th grade department. One is a young man and the other a young woman. They seem excited and interested in teaching English and having fun. What a relief!

Although there is a catch. The man teacher will be off this semester going back to college. So we are going to have a random coteacher show up next week. Who knows who it will be!!

Heck, I guess it doesn't matter since I can count on the coteacher I didn't get along with leaving the English department.

We all sat down and had a talk about how to teach the classes. My now old coteacher gave the usual speech and stern talking. But asked us what our ideas were. I gave some clear and useful suggestions. Anyways, I am going to make my lesson plans very detailed so that when we review them it is clear what I want and what can be changed around.

As for my schedule that has changed too. I was teaching 2nd graders and now won't be at all. Just 4th and 6th graders but also teaching the school teachers.

This means a lighter schedule but also that I won't be getting overtime. I kind of painted myself into this since I complained at the beginning about teaching 2nd graders. But I didn't figure it would mean a cutback in hours. Ah well!! Guess I could take up tutoring. ;)

Well time to go! I feel I can rest better now knowing things have changed and in a direction I was hoping for.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Rat in a Hanbok

Tomorrow I go back to work and find out whether or not I will have new coteachers. I am nervous and content all at the same time. How is that even possible? Just trying to stay optimistic and tell myself no matter what comes make the best of it.

New motto for myself: "You can't win, but you don't have to be a loser."

JH today felt under the weather and so stayed home. I made use of my time by walking to the further away grocery store, learning how to knit and making a drawing.

The drawing just happens to be a rat in a hanbok. This idea came to me when I was tired today and took a nap on my bed. Then I went online and found flickr images of rats and images of women wearing hanboks (Korean traditional dress) and combined the two. Who knows maybe this is the start of some kind of illustration series.

**Note: My intention was not to criticize Koreans or Rats. I had pet rats in high school and liked them a lot. There is also the Year of the Rat. My intention is not to devalue Korean culture. It was just an artistic aspiration to start creating animal characters who are Korean. I even thought up of making a Foreigner Rat. I hope this clears any misconceptions, but you are of course allowed to have your own feelings on this drawing.

My goal was to make the rat face look feminine but also not "Ahjumma" (mid-aged) like. Also tried hard to make sure the eyes looked soft instead of evil-ish. Just kind of a test drawing, from here I can figure out the changes I would like to make.

Ah yes, the weather is starting to warm up finally. Something positive to spin on the new semester coming up. Let's all hope it will be a great and calm semester!

Jazz Night at Mosaic Cafe

Okay I realized that my last post, although sentimental, was really kind of depressing. So I want to lighten things up a bit with this post.

Last night I went to a jazz performance at the Mosaic Cafe in Jeongja, Bundang.
The band's name was "Soul Espresso."  

Inside the cafe things were lively with the jazz band playing. Couches were set up facing the band making things feel casual. I would also like to mention the place was smoke free. The type of jazz they played was modern and contemporary, which wasn't too bad. I am more of a classic and Latin jazz person myself. Having lived in San Francisco, where jazz has a major presence, I couldn't help but feel a sense of nostalgia for going to a jazz concert. 

Altogether there were seven members to this band, consisting of a guitar player, drummer, bass guitar player, keyboardist, saxophonist, percussionist (chimes, bongos...), and a singer.
The leader of the group seemed to be the saxophonist. It was fun to watch them play and do their solos now and then. They chose some familiar songs like Fly Me To The Moon, but there were a few originals in the set as well.
Overall I had a good time, and although JH was sleepy I think he enjoyed himself as well. They have a dancing lesson theme going on next month, but JH said he doesn't want to do it. I threatened him that if he doesn't come I will go by myself and dance with some really hot guy. haha!

Looking Back

Who knows why, but I had a dream last night that prompted me to go on the internet this morning and thoroughly remind myself of 9/11.

You know that day back then when it seemed the world was ending. I am sure we all have our stories of where we were and what we were doing. I was in California, at the time, waking up around 11am to have my Dad enter my room and tell me to turn on my TV. After seeing the first tower on fire I looked out my window and wondered if the world was still there. Needless to say I spent the rest of that day in a loss about what was happening. I couldn't help but feel so much sadness for those innocent people.

Nine years have passed, I graduated college and have since been living in South Korea, far from my American soil. You would think it never happened. But it did, of course, and I believe the world was never the same after those attacks.

Today I looked again at the photos of the burning and falling towers. I read stories of those who survived. I made it a point to ignore all those conspiracy theories. All in all, I am left beside myself after remembering everything that happened back then. I still get that eery and cold feeling about it all.

Of course I hope nothing like that happens again anywhere in the world, and I hope people don't forget about it.

What an interesting way to wake up? huh?

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Movie Reviews

This month I watched a few movies that I feel are noteworthy and mentionable. I like to watch American TV dramas, too. Generally I just try to keep up with popular culture from my country. However, I have been disappointed with the last season of Lost. I wish they would just end it in one big episode and be done with it, instead they are dragging the viewer along. But I bet for some that is what Lost has been like for the past 3 years now, anyways.

Thankfully there were two movies I watched recently that were inspiring.

Cold Souls:
First let's look at the Sophie Barthes film Cold Souls, starring Paul Giamatti.
This is one of those "Independent" films that are slow and meticulous. When I first saw the trailer for this movie I became interested and so waited till it was available on iTunes. There were a few parts that were off base, but altogether it was a fun contemplative film.

Paul stars as a character who finds himself having too many dark thoughts. After reading an article in the New Yorker he becomes interested in a company that will extract your soul, thus leaving you soulless. Intertwined in this science / fantasy is a love story with a Russian woman who is a "mule" for other people's souls.

I really like Paul Giamatti's acting especially in the film Sideways and feel he did a good job at this one. Therefore I truly recommend you to watch this movie, for now check out the trailer:

 Next up we go to a movie that was very moving and serious. This film has been nominated for several Academy Awards and it does not disappoint. It tackles so many issues and delivers breathtaking performances that you may just end up shedding a tear or two during the film. 

Precious is the story of a teenage overweight girl who lives an abused life. The story takes us through as she finds her self-confidence and deals with the horrible truths of her life. It also portrays Precious' mother in a light of pity and condemnation. 

What I loved best about this film is that it challenges the viewer to accept Precious' hardships and reality.  

The following is the trailer:

If you have seen the movie or want to know more then I suggest taking a look at the following video of Jon Stewart interviewing the Director Lee Daniels. I love it when the director makes the point about Hollywood films misjudging the American audience.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

North Korean Elites Learning English

Article in the BBC tells us about North Korean elites taking English classes.

In a sign that it may one day open up to the Western world, North Korea has gradually shifted a lot of its language training away from Chinese and Russian and towards English.
Interesting to note was the introduction which described the University classroom as cold and that the students were wearing their outdoor coats. This sounded very familiar to me as all through winter in public schools kids rarely take off their winter coats. But I can imagine the North not having the heat on due to more critical issues than just saving money.

A really touching part came from one student who said:

"It helps us a lot learning English. I so much want my country to be one of those leading in the economy."
"We're already a leading nation in politics and other stuff. Well, it's no offence but I want to learn English so that the other people get to learn [about] Korea."
She smiled and said "Look at our faces - are we depressed, are we unhappy, are we hungry? No."

One hopes this kind of attitude takes shape out there and helps form peaceful ties between nations.


Today is Wednesday and I have no work till Monday. It seems, however, I can't keep my mind off of work. When we go back it will be announced who will be our coteachers and what our schedule will be.

I am so nervous.

Yesterday's story:
I went to Hongdae to get art supplies, which meant a bus and subway ride. The funny thing was that while I was in Seoul JH ended up in my neighborhood. So I finished my shopping and quickly tried to get home to meet him. I took the subway to Gangnam where I would transfer to a bus. There I looked for the right bus stop to go home. I knew I was in the right place but the signs on the bus stop didn't have my bus number. I panicked and left the bus stop walking up the street to see if any of the following bus stops had my number. None of them had it. I instantly became infuriated, which was quite silly of me. I think if I wasn't in a hurry to get back home then I would have just waited it out at the beginning. I called JH and told him I was lost. By then I was already walking well past Gangnam station.

In that moment I couldn't help but feel exhausted and angry about everything lately. All the crap I was dealing with at work and the screw ups I had created recently, combined with being lost in Gangnam made my mind go nuts.

Combine this with not knowing what is going to happen Monday. There I was walking up Gangnam towards Yangjae station (a long walk) with all these thoughts on my mind.

I got to Yangjae station and JH told me to meet him a few stops down, where he picked me up. I am so lucky to have someone who is patient and understanding.

Today I awoke from bad dreams and my body aching from all the walking and stressing out yesterday.

I'm still nervous about Monday. I keep trying to tell myself to not care so much. Then I think what will I do if we have the same coteacher (the one who I don't get along with). I tell myself I will have to be careful and considerate of her. There seems to be so much to think about. We will also be getting an additional teacher, since the 3rd and 4th graders are going to start learning English twice a week. I am not worried about this person since it will be a Gyopo and as my coteacher says "Someone like you".

Really I just feel frustrated with myself. Why do I fight back so much? Why do I argue? Why can't I just go along with things and care about something else? When will I achieve that level of nonchalance? I worry this means I will never fit in here in Korea and that all this time has been a waste. I am down on myself and want to feel optimistic.

The real picture is that this job is a blessing and I should just let all the stuff I feel I have to fight for go.

All I end up telling myself is that, "It can only get better." And I hope it does!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Recent Art

As you probably well know by now I have been trying to get in the swing of creating art. One reason is to further advance my skills in watercolor painting and two is to create a body of works that could be representative.

Here for you are a few of the paintings I have produced and some of the themes I am experimenting with.
I am going to show my paintings in the order in which I have been creating them.

This piece is an image of the subway wall combined with "water drops".

I am kind of stuck on this painting and don't know whether to continue or stop. It sits in that category of painting where I am too afraid to take risks and so paint in a very cautious manner.

The next comes a series / idea that I have been working around. It comes from the influence of the tall apartment buildings that tower over the landscape here.
The farthest I have gotten is just being experimental with this idea and the paint. I have this concept of merging the Korean modern "house" (the apartment) with the typical American home. 

In the meantime I seem to feel like painting from picture references and so started something today.
 You see my hopes are to build up a portfolio or a body of work that a coffee shop would not mind putting up for display. 

I would really like to hear your critique or opinion of my work so far. I know some of the shots show the work in a dark light, but go on what your first thoughts are and let me know. 


Valentine's + Seollal

The stars lined up this weekend and both Seollal (Korean New Year) and Valentine's Day landed on at the same time. This mix of a love / couple and family holiday certainly made for an interesting mingle. It is typical for most Korean folks to get together this time of year and travel to their ancestors grave. This is why Seoul becomes like a ghost town and many stores are closed, along with the highways of Korea clogged with holiday drivers.

Fortunately, for me, JH didn't have to do anything major with his family. Saturday he just helped his Mom cook the traditional foods and then he came over to my place. So we had Valentine's day together. And today (Monday) he had to go back home to pass on his car to his mother so she can go and visit her family.

Generally, this Valentine's day was a lot better than last years with my ex, who was stubborn to just come out and see me. Keep in mind Seolnal was not at the same time last year.

This time around Valentine's was more of a relaxing chill event. Saturday I had planned to visit the 2S2 event in Seoul, but found myself reluctant to get on the bus and trek up there. I am hoping to get a local one started next month.

Anyways, for Valentine's JH and I ended up going to the new Gecko's in Yongin. Gecko's is a famous bar and restaurant in Itaewon. For some reason they opened up one very close to my area at the end of the yellow line. I figured they would be open and that it would be nice to get some western food and hang out there.
There they are on the 9th floor. To get there I believe it is easiest to get off at Bojeong station then head up the main street and keep on going till the end. You need to find the fire station because this place is across from it. We took the car so I can't really say what it is like by foot...sorry.

Once up there you get a really spectacular view of the area, which is newly developed.
Inside everything is squeaky clean and new.
We ordered are meals, for me the club chicken sandwich and for JH the chicken Caesar salad.

Those are homemade potato chips. The sandwich was all right but really way too big for hand held eating. I kind of wish I ordered something else since the use of typical "American" cheese and iceberg lettuce was a disappointment. 
JH's salad was pretty good and now that I know their servings are large I might consider next time just sharing something.

We went home and watched a downloaded pirated version of Avatar over ice cream from Baskin Robbins. I am really glad I didn't spend the money on watching Avatar. It was interesting to watch but really the story was predictable and the characters ho-hum. JH really wanted to see it and so we agreed to watch it at home in this way. 

Last week I was surprised to find out that I had the whole week off before the 22nd. So here I am at home wondering what I am going to do with my new found free time. Something tells me to head out to some galleries and work on my art. Actually, this is more of a semi-holiday since I was instructed to do research at home and bring in my report on the 22nd. She wanted me to research "American games" and stuff for the 2nd graders. I already made a report of the "American games" and thankfully I have work and research already done for the 2nd graders at work. So all I will need to do is print out some things when I get back there. 

We haven't been given our new class assignments yet so it is a little hard to prepare work. However, I do see that this time could be used to research or study. In fact I have been studying Korean more and enjoying it...well I want to talk about this in another post.

I hope everyone out there had a happy Valentine's day even if you are single.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Kyoto Bus Ride

Some of the memorable and enjoyable things I experienced during my recent trip to Japan, back in November, were the bus rides. Although I was a tourist, getting on a local city bus made me feel slightly like a local. In the afternoon school kids would crowd onto the bus, all wearing those uniforms I remember seeing in anime.

One such bus ride, in Kyoto, I sat next to the window and used my time to take pictures. I was trying to capture that bus ride feel, which is feeling like being pulled around and having the cityscape as your form of entertainment. This voyeuristic feeling is intensified when you are in a foreign country. It felt like every scene was a momentary snapshot of life happening in a foreign land. One comes to visit a country to see the landmarks and relics but sometimes we forgot to recognize the rest of what is there. The following video and images posted are snapshots from the bus. Images that I feel show how life trucks on and on in any part of the world. People doing....what people do...

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