Monday, March 27, 2006

Ever so briefly...

I'm just feeling obliged to quickly commemorate my three-year anniversary of quitting smoking! That's right, March 27! What do you know.

I went to the Ariana Brau bar/live music venue with a co-worker and another English teaching friend tonight, and as I watched both of them smoke I decidedly did not smoke.

I happen to have a sore throat anyway, being a bit sickly this week, but will elaborate on that later.

April is upon us! Hey, when's Easter?

Friday, March 24, 2006

What's so amazing about enlightenment?

I had the most interesting conversation yet in Korea when I bought my cell phone. Which, by the way, was weeks ago; I can't believe how long it has been that I've meant to write about it. I am so used to life with my "hand phone," as they call them. I can't believe how long I didn't have one here. Now I am eminently reachable!

I'd put it off because of the prohibitive cost of a new mobile phone; most foreigners buy a used one from a departing expat and do pre-paid because you have to pay a big deposit to get on a monthly plan. I ended up buying a used phone from this guy in Busan, which is about an hour and a half and $8 away by bus. I'd been wanting to make another trip there anyway, so one Sunday I took a little afternoon trip and did some sightseeing before and after meeting up with the phone guy. We rendezvoused at the Pusan National University subway stop; PNU is surrounded by a very cool hipster-restaurant-shopping area, so before I met him I wandered.

Pusan is a nice city, and this was the north area getting into the hills, such a great setting. I checked out the big PNU gate and wandered around the campus. What an awesome sensation that was! There's just something about a college campus--even in a foreign country. I love the feel of them. It got me excited about getting back to school again, of course. Soon...

I found this guy's ad for the phone on one of the on-line Korea discussion forums; he's Korean, about 30, very cool, speaks great English and works with foreigners fixing their computers. He was really laid back and friendly. We went to the SK Telecom office together so I could register for my prepaid plan. That was quite kind of him. So after all that, and talking for a bit, and me sending my inaugural text message to the U.S. and receiving a reply (hurrah! I'm texting again!), cell phone dude and I were going to part ways at the subway station.

He asked about my plans for the rest of the afternoon, which consisted of visiting the must-see Buddhist temple Beomeosa. "I'm so curious," he said. "Why do so many foreigners like to go to Buddhist temples?" It was kind of hard to come up with a succint answer. Plus I can really only speak for myself. But we got to talking more and he found out I hadn't had lunch and invited me to join him at his favorite restaurant there in the PNU area. Of course I launched into my litany of issues about vegetarian, no fish either, but on top of that I can't have seaweed...I politely declined mostly because I'm so high maintenance for Koreans when I go out to eat, not because he was creepy or anything. He was really chill and nice. He then surprised me by saying no, come on, we'll procure the vegetarian food; after a bit of arm-twisting I agreed to join him.

We had a delicious stew that they cook at your table in a huge bowl over an open flame. When he asked our server to bring all the ingredients except the meat, she resisted and told him it wouldn't be any good that way, but he persevered. He was surprised and delighted at how tasty it was without the meat. He was like, "I'm going to tell all my friends!"

As I may have mentioned a thousand times here before, the Korean concept of "vegetarian" is generally "yes, we have seafood." He said he'd never really known there were vegetarians until he watched Friends, because of Phoebe's "no food with a face." He asked me lots of questions about why and when I became a vegetarian, and if it makes me feel healthier (yes). I even sort of explained the story of my decision to finally take the plunge at age 16, there in the PETA tent at Lollapalooza, and this guy's English was good enough to understand. He has learned so much English, by the way, largely from watching television shows like Friends and Sex and the City, so he asked me to recommend some other TV shows on DVD for him. That was hard. I'm so not a television viewer. He wanted "shows like Friends" so I suggested Seinfeld and Mad About You; I also think The Simpsons would be good for practicing English. I put in a plug for Lost too, figuring he should have the best new drama.

Anyway, as we were discussing animal advocacy and so on he said most people in Korea never really think about those issues, but the subject of hunting was very interesting to him. There's like zero wildlife in Korea, I swear. He was so curious about hunting. What do people hunt? He asked me. Well, deer, for starters. "Really?" he said. "And then what do they do with it?" I told him they eat it, and maybe hang the head on their wall. He'd seen that before, maybe in some movies. Then I thought -- what else do people hunt? I tried "moose." No idea. I found the word in my Korean-English dictionary, and he said, "Oh, right, that's a really big deer." That was funny. Then birds, of course: ducks, quail. Rabbits. Foxes in England. Um...bears maybe? It was kind of hard to try to think of what people hunt. It's a mystifying world to me too, but nothing like it was to him.

"Is it legal?" he asked. So I explained about hunting licenses, and hunting season, and everyone taking off school and work for the first day of deer season in Utah and ridiculous things like that. Then, and I knew this would freak him out, I told him there are such things as fishing licenses, too.

It was seriously one of the most interesting conversations I've had in Korea. We also talked more about Buddhism because I told him it's hard for us to understand why Buddhist monks can be vegetarian and never harm any living being for their meals but that concept doesn't gel with the general Korean public. He said that's a really good point! Right on, one down, 47,599,999 more Koreans to go. He was still curious about people's interest in visiting Buddhist temples, and I told him I just think it's fascinating to learn the history and see the magnificent settings and feel the peace there.

He was totally hinting that he wanted to come with me to Beomeosa, so I finally invited him along. He was pretty impressed by Lonely Planet's accurate information about where to get the bus to the temple and so forth. I told him any English teachers worth their salt have a copy of Lonely Planet in tow. He'd been to Beomeosa before, but I think it was really interesting for him to see it with a Westerner, and it was interesting for me to see it with him. After we came down from the mountain we walked together to the bus station, where he caught the subway and I headed back to Daegu, now among the ranks of those who can keep my phone conversations to a minimum on the bus for the comfort of my fellow passengers.

My radio here is set to the American Forces Network station. I usually catch a few minutes of news and weather and a pop song or two in the mornings before work; on the weekend mornings I might listen longer. I find it really hilarious that there are shifts in the format on different days. Saturday nights there is crappy hard rock. I envision lots of soldiers sitting around their barracks drinking beer and telling macho stories. On Sundays, though, it becomes Christian and country. Isn't that hysterical? So, just because it's on when I'm usually waking up, I often catch part of a Christian talk show on Sunday mornings.

I don't even know the guy's name. He's pretty cheesy. It's some show that airs in the U.S., but having never listened to Christian radio back home I have no idea. It's not like a Bible-thumping preaching fest; he's kind of folksy and Garrison Keillor-like, and he often has a guest interview. He tells mildly interesting stories sometimes. Often he irritates me; one day, for example, when he was ranting about Hurricane Katrina he said that only Christian organizations were doing anything to respond in the relief effort. He said "those factions" who criticized the government's response should have got down there themselves. Whatever, buddy, Michael Moore and friends, among others, were on the scene tout de suite!

Anyway, the other Sunday as he was giving his testimony of Christ he was driving home his point that Jesus went through suffering and being belittled for our personal benefit. He quoted from the Bible about Jesus' foes spitting in his face. "Think about it," radio man said. "They spit in his face. Has anyone ever actually SPIT in your FACE? Jesus didn't spit back! That was for you."

Prior to coming to Korea the answer would have been no, but now I could honestly say, "Actually, they have spit in my face!" Yes, I talked back to my radio. Oh, how the spit flies all the time here.

"It's a hell of a life, but it's somebody's life, up and down the street all day.
But I wish that you could see me when I'm flying in my dreams,
the way I laugh there way up high,
the way I look when I fly,
the way I laugh,
the way I fly.
Chief got out of the army, Jesus went to live with the poor,
I'm still marching up and down that street,
I don't know what I'm doing that for,
I don't know what I'm doing that for,
I don't know what I'm doing that for."
--- Patty Griffin, 'Chief'

Wednesday, March 22, 2006


I know. I haven't posted in forever, haven't posted about War and Peace, haven't been in touch, ack!

But I just thought I would see if anyone has heard about China's new chopstick tax! Save the trees! Fantastic.

Life is ... life. SOOOO much going on. Really, I'll post soon. Somewhere, somehow.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Be wary indeed

I taught my kids about "Beware the Ides of March." Even my preschool. Especially my preschool in fact. Let me tell you that there have been few moments as satisfying in my silly little teaching career as having a dozen five- and six-year-olds shouting, "Beware the Ides of March!" We made a whole list of things to beware of. Beware of lions, beware of tigers (and I did then say 'and bears, oh my!' but didn't want to push too much on them in one day), beware of dinosaurs, beware of ghosts, beware of snakes...and then I made them practice the phrase "Beware the ides..." I told them if they say "beware the ides of March" to someone they will be seen as VERY good English speakers. That motivates some of them. They like to be called "good students. "

I talked about it with my older 'special classes' as well. With them, I got into the actual details of Julius Caesar. They know who Shakespeare is and all; most of them know Romeo & Juliet and Hamlet, a few King Lear. So I explained to them about the Ides. "But teacher why did his friend kill him?" Indeed! I talked about "Et tu Brute?" too 'cause even though it's Latin, it's part of the whole deal.

So, yeah. Just hanging out in Korea, bein' ware...

Saturday, March 11, 2006

My adoring fans (ha)

OK, so you know how I always try to explain to you that we (foreigners) get stared at ALL the time here? I'm aware that you might think I'm exaggerating or whatever, but I had another unsettling staring incident yesterday in the SK Telecom office. Not that exciting, so I'll skip the incident for now, but here's the point:

I was talking to my writing group peeps here, and they shared with me their brilliant conclusion that living as an expat teacher foreigner in Korea is akin to being maybe a B-list celebrity back home.

So true! You're stared at ALL the time, but you can usually walk down the street and attend to your business without getting absolutely mobbed, but you aren't exactly left alone, and many of the times you walk down the street you are approached/spoken to/conversed with/expected to converse back/occasionally touched, and some people are brave enough to walk up and talk to you, and others sort of whisper and push and egg on their friends to approach you, and often the people who talk to you seem so proud of themselves for having done it, but also there's this sense of entitlement that of course you should stop what you are doing and talk to them, and you are known in a lot of places that you go, and you draw attention when you have coffee or go to a movie, although sometimes you can do those things in peace -- it just depends. Strangers take your picture, and you often feel an instant connection with other foreigners because you understand what they're going through, but at the same time people here assume that all the foreigners automatically are friends: "Oh, do you know Mike? He's a teacher." And it can be really frustrating, but sometimes it's rather flattering, and you just kind of get used to it but then at other times it really bugs you. It's very strange, because you're like, "I'm just here to do my job, which I did want to do, and you do want me to do, but somehow it puts us in this weird relationship." And the staring, holy crap, the constant staring...!

Well, perhaps a B-list celebrity can speak up and tell us if we're right.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Somebody oooo-pen up a window!

I thought something died somewhere in our apartment. Maybe a mouse in a pipe or some such thing. I thought that because starting when I came home late last night and then again after work tonight I returned to a funk smell. Kind of like putrid garbage. But I think maybe my roommate just had kimchi. Man, I liked it better when she hated Korean food.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

'And it is so simple,' she mused...

Even if you don't normally read my War and Peace blog, today you should because I just posted an update to it and it was decidedly less about Mr. T.'s book than about my thoughts at the moment. So, that's my update for this week. I have nothing to add here. Go there now.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Oscars Eve

Sunday night. The Oscars are tomorrow morning. Or, tonight, depending how you look at it. Although tomorrow, today's "tonight" will be last night here while it's still tonight there, but for now, it's tonight here, so the Oscars that are on today there are on tomorrow here.

And boy am I excited!

I love the Oscars even more than I love time zones! Being in Korea has seriously cramped my style as far as seeing all the nominated flicks goes, but I will just state right now that my main opinion based on what I have seen is: down with Brokeback Mountain! I hope its predicted sweep is upset by Munich, Munich, and more Munich!!!

That's right, I said it. I saw Brokeback on Wednesday (conveniently a national holiday here, Independence Movement Day, and we had the day off), on the big screen and everything, and I even got to watch the credits -- take that, Korea! -- and my main reaction was: "OK." My other reaction was, "What gives?! It is set in Wyoming, but they filmed it in Canada? What?! It not only takes place (mostly) in Wyoming, but Wyoming is central to the story! Wyoming is practically a character in the story! The Annie Proulx short story it was based on is from her book Close Range: Wyoming Stories. I have that book. (It's back in the U.S.) I love Wyoming things (more than time zones, slightly less than the Oscars). That's my home, man. Casper (my birthplace) is even mentioned in the movie! Wyoming is where it's at. And they filmed it in Alberta?! Come on."

Even the Canadians I work with, when we were discussing Oscar noms, said, "Hey, that was filmed in Canada. " SO wrong. You are so, so wrong, Ang Lee. I don't care if costs less to film in Canada, you cheap swine. Maybe I'll make a movie about the American Revolution and film the Boston Common scenes in Central Park. Ang Lee gets on my last nerve anyway, ever since the Crouching Tiger, Interminably Long & Boring Dragon year. That year Gladiator won far too many awards and the only one it really should have won was score, and stupid Tiger/Dragon won for best score. Gag! I bet it happens again, this year. I bet Brokeback wins best score even though its score was like, three notes. Only this year, it's even worse because Ang Lee's going to win, too, this time, as is his overrated film. Blah! I WANT MUNICH!

You see, Munich is, quite simply, the superior film. And it would be rather nice if Mr. Spielberg picked up another Oscar for Directing, as well. Now, I do feel bad that I haven't seen Good Night and Good Luck, especially because I really want to see it! but also because I can't really say who should win for the Best Picture and Best Director categories. Maybe GNaGL deserves it; it surely might. But Munich was fantastic! And Crash--please. Although at least if Crash won it would be an interesting upset. But I'd rather have Munich be the upset!

Now about that Original's actually the category where Munich has a chance, because it's John Williams. Problem is, he wrote two scores this year, so he might split his vote. Even if he doesn't, his other one might win, Memoirs of a Geisha, because of the Yo-Yo Ma factor. But if his vote splits, that leads us to--you guessed it--Brokeback Mountain. Ugh.

The supporting actor categories are superhard to call this year. I roll my eyes at the thought of Jake Gyllenhaal, both because of the quality of the performance and the old nominate-one-of-the-lead-actors-for-supporting-so-s/he-can-win trick, but he has a chance. I'd rather see Heath Ledger win for Lead Actor if any Brokebactor is going to win, but he won't; my money's on Philip Seymour Hoffman from Capote, with Joaquin Phoenix as Johnny Cash in Walk the Line having an outside chance. Anyway, back to supporting actor: will it actually be George Clooney from Syriana, which would be cool, or will it be Paul Giamatti from Cinderella Man? I saw it; he was quite good. And thank God it was him nominated from that, not Russell Crowe (see Gladiator rant, above) nor Renee Zellweger (see nominate-one-of-the-lead-actors-for-supporting rant, above) nor Ron Howard and/or his little friend Akiva Goldsman (see my can't-let-go bitterness in just about every conversation I've ever had about the ridiculous A Beautiful Mind 2001 lovefest).

And speaking of the annoying Ron Howard-Akiva Goldsman-Russell Crowe trifecta, and yes, I'm coming out of the parentheses for this, I saw a preview for The Da Vinci Code here in Korea the other week, when I saw Firewall and I was slightly less disgusted by it than the one I saw last August back in the U.S., but I'm still over The Da Vinci Code. Or maybe I was never under it. I was the first person on my block to read it, and I watched its rise to fame, and I can't seem to muster up any shock and outrage about it. Didn't my girlfriends and I in the BYU dorms used to philosophize about such possibilities and religious theories? So not a big deal. So not.

All right, back to the present. I have to predict, so here goes:
Brokeback Mountain will get best director and picture, much to my dismay.
Philip Seymour Hoffman and Reese Witherspoon will get best actor & actress.
Supporting--yikes--this is hard--maybe Paul G. but I guess Jake Gyllenhaal and Rachel Weisz? Oh, I so want it to be Amy Adams from Junebug for best supporting actress, though. I really do. If Matt Dillon wins for Crash I'm turning it off. Except I won't have turned it on yet...I should be receiving that info via text message from a kind friend while I'm teaching preschool!
I think Brokeback will take Adapted Screenplay even though I want Munich to, and I think Crash will take Original Screenplay even though Good Night, and Good Luck probably should.
I think Memoirs of a Geisha will win some of the "pretty" awards: costume design, art direction, but King Kong should take both sound awards plus visual effects. The Chronicles of Narnia totally should NOT, but I think it might take the make-up award away from Star Wars Revenge of the Sith.
The one place Good Night might emerge victorious over Brokeback is Cinematography, but I'm not even sure about that one anymore, because I'm starting to feel resigned to a Brokeback sweep. Whatever, nice sweeping beautiful glorious shots of ALBERTA's grandeur.
And with any luck, Munich will win Film Editing. (Although I fear Crash...) 'Cause Brokeback Mountain's not nominated in that category! HA! I tend to like how that category turns out, like when my good friend Black Hawk Down triumphed over A Beautiful Mind or when Traffic snatched it away from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon *and* Gladiator, although I was livid when Chicago beat The Hours. Whatever, Chicago.
As for the others: let's hope Munich for score but I fear Geisha, song "In the Deep" from Crash, foreign Paradise Now, animated Wallace & Gromit, documentary March of the Penguins, shorts animated The Moon and the Son, live action Our Time is Up or Six Shooter, documentary I'm still rooting for my man Norman Corwin, but God Sleeps in Rwanda might get it.

And now, I must go to sleep so I can wake up, teach preschool, and then race home to watch the ceremony! And hope it doesn't go too long and run into my afternoon classes. It feels like Christmas Eve, when I was so excited to go to sleep so Santa Claus would hurry up and come!