Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Land of the Flying Time

Well, look at what we have here: spring! Although, you all know how I feel about spring. (Or do you?) It's so manic-depressive. I'm cold, no I'm warm, no I'm windy, let's have sunshine, let's have rain, hahaha fooled you! it's snowing again!, are you warm yet? Wanna go on a picnic? Too bad - it's 35 degrees (fahrenheit). And so on like that. To all of my fellow Phoenicians who bemoan Arizona's lack of four seasons, don't. Three of the seasons are great, but that fourth one is just a little tease. I hate spring.

Anyway, now that it's warmer, and we've established that by that I mean not-freezing-every-single-day-although-I'm-still-wearing-a-jacket-but-we-can-actually-go-hiking-even-though-we-still-turn-the-heat-on-at-night-sometimes, a thought has occurred to me: Time is flying!

Brian and I have now been in Korea for almost three months! Three months ago today we were sipping wine around the Grand Rapids Christmas Eve table pointing to Andong on the atlas and contemplating 2011. And now, 2011 is nearly one-fourth contemplated.

Some highlights:
  • Brian touched Asian soil for the first time. I figured out what it's like to come back to Asian soil.
  • I have also figured out what it's like to live in Korea without starving. Which is to say, with my allergy to seaweed I decided to eat a bit of meat this time around instead of being the hungry vegetarian martyr. I'm shockingly more content than I was in 2005-06! Go figure!
  • We went to Japan! Oh, beloved Japan. So sad about the devastation there. Hiroshima is one of my top ten cities in the world since our Lunar New Year vacation there. Lovely Japan.
  • I'm newly digging Anderson Cooper. Watching CNN International is so much better than flipping by CNN in the states. I have started checking in with my buddy Anderson somewhat regularly, as he is on at the perfect sitting-around-checking-Facebook-eating-a-late-breakfast time here.
  • I have not been reading nearly enough books in 2011. What's up with that?
  • I'm surprisingly content kicking it in the small city of Andong, although we do go away pretty much every Saturday. Mostly we've been going to Daegu, where we had our little weekly Korean class. 안녕하세요! 이름이 린다 예요. 미국사람 이에요!
  • We also went to Yeongdeok and the southeast Korean coast one weekend, to attend the Yeongdeok Snow Crab Festival. Yes, it was awesome. We stayed the night at an oncheon hot spring bath/guesthouse.
  • Spent a day or two in Pusan, one of my other favorite cities.
  • I had my first Korean ski trip at the High1 resort in Gangwon Province, not too far north of Andong. It was certainly cold, but I loved our Overlook-like hotel and had a great time with our awesome boss and his wife.
  • There has also been plenty of noraebang action. A Korean stint without noraebang action would be totally unacceptable.
  • The only real dismaying news at all is that there WAS a Dunkin' Donuts in Andong, up until a few months before we arrived, but it was gutted and turned into some dumb clothing shop. I've had to settle for getting my DD fix when we are in Daegu or other big cities. There are plenty of coffee shops in Andong, just no DD. Brian and I are weekend regulars at Rosebud, in downtown Andong.
  • Other things we have enjoyed in downtown Andong include but are not limited to the street food vendors (we have our favorites), the downtown market, Andong jimdak (spicy chicken stew) in the downtown market, and the hangover soup place.
And so it goes, and so it goes.

When are you coming to visit?

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Beware the Ides of March, indeed

The Ides of March - a recurring theme on this blog. (What can I say? I'm an English major dork, remember?) This year seems to the most beware-worthy in recent memory for me, what with the whole potential catastrophic nuclear meltdown disaster happening one island away, in Japan. It's so very sad, for all involved. Today's news seems to have become more grim throughout my work day, with official Japanese government announcements about the harmful radiation and whatnot. It's kind of a mystery what we would even do if there is more radiation spewed from a future explosion AND the prevailing winds do shift to bring it to Korea. I mean, we'd see it on the news and tap into the expat teachers network and hope our boss is helpful and see what everyone else is doing, I suppose. It's really weird to contemplate experiencing such a massive scale disaster - even one that is still theoretical - in another language, especially a language in which I am about Level 1.5 out of 10. We'll see. I speak even less Japanese, so good thing I'm not there.

A lot of people are talking about how this has made them suddenly "rethink" their pro-nuclear energy stance. I find that interesting for two reasons.

1. OK, so our process of getting/harvesting/using nuclear energy is not guaranteed to be totally safe. I think that is fair to say. Even with the many precautions, wholly unforeseen events can happen in terrible combinations. The thing is, though, NONE of our processes of getting the vast amount of energy our "lifestyles" require are totally safe. Think back on two of 2010's most gripping news stories: the BP Oil Spill and the rescue of the Chilean miners. There you go: two ways of getting energy that are not guaranteed to be totally safe. There are always risks. We ask a lot of our planet, and we can't pretend that there aren't costs.

2. It's so - reactionary! For the last decade, roughly since September 11, I have been struck time and time again by how reactionary the U.S. tends to be. (Think instituting a shoe removal policy in airports after the shoe-bomber incident, etc.) I'm not saying people shouldn't react to things. I mean, sure, you can close the barn door to prevent any more horses from leaving, if there are any left. But I'm continually struck by how many incidents bring out the reactionary hysteria, clamor or outrage, and how few times I observe forward-thinking, thoughtful, progressive philosophy or discussion. I'm sure some people blame it on the news cycle, MTV-generation attention spans, or what have you. I don't know what the root cause is, but it's really widespread.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Nuclear Reactions

I did not spend this past weekend worrying about explosions at nuclear power plant reactors in Japan. I spent the weekend on the southeast coast of Korea (which, for you geographically impaired types, is closer to Japan than the rest of Korea). We relaxed at the Bugyeong hot spring and adjoining pension/guesthouse, strolled through the seaside towns and villages, and attended the Yeongdeok Snow Crab Festival. We ate crabs on Saturday and Sunday. I must confess they were delicious...I'm so sorry, crabs...

I was not wired for most of this journey. We did check in with the news on our guesthouse TV late Saturday night and heard a bit about the nuclear plant explosion situation, but I didn't do most of my thinking about it until Monday and Tuesday, back in Andong and back to work. Along with many people in the world, I continue to read and watch and check in with news, hoping for the safety of all people, whether they are currently close to the Daiichi Nuclear Power Station or far, far away or - like me - living on a nearby peninsula where prevailing winds could possibly bring a cloud of radioactive gas in a worst case "total meltdown" scenario. I hope the experts and workers are able to continue the cooling process. I hope the workers dealing with the situation also remain safe.

Among other thoughts, I find it interesting and slightly bizarre that back in December, when I was preparing to come to Korea this time, everyone's biggest fear was a paranoid, breathless "Oh-my-gosh-what-if-the-axis-of-North-Korean-evil-launches-a-nuclear-missile-at-you?" and now instead of that happening (which, duh!) we have moved into an actual nuclear scenario involving Japan and nuclear energy.

Let's continue to hope and work for safety and the best possible outcome, everyone! And go easy on the rhetoric.

Monday, March 07, 2011

You CAN Go To Jungangno Again

As has been reported, I am once again in Korea, birthplace of this blog back in October of 2005. It has been interesting to see what is different this time around and what is the same.

For starters, obviously, I am in a different city. Brian and I have set up shop in Andong, a small city known for its late summer/early fall traditional mask and dance festival. Sometimes Andong is called "the capital of the Korean spirit" although it's mostly posters in tourist offices and on bus terminals and whatnot that call it that. I mean it's not as if anyone said, "Welcome to the capital of the Korean spirit" when we got here. It's a nice little slogan, though. (What's YOUR city's slogan? Huh??) Andong has about 180,000-190,000 people, a hip, up-and-coming area called Ok-Dong (where we are staying), two multi-screen movie theaters, folk villages and museums, lots of Confucian heritage, a gazillion restaurants and coffee shops, a river along which one can run, an E-Mart (this means a lot to many expats in Korea), bars and hofs and noraebangs galore, etc. In other words, there's stuff to do and a lot of it is like other cities in Korea.

We are about an hour and ten minutes north of Daegu, my 2005-06 stomping grounds. In fact, we go to Daegu almost every Saturday right now. And that brings me to the title of this blog entry. Naturally, when we first got back to Daegu, I had an immediate sense of, "Wow, how fun! I'm in Daegu again!" which was even stronger than my "Wow, how fun! I'm at Incheon airport again!" that happened when we first landed. But overall, I would say it felt incredibly NOT-weird to be there. Jungangno, as you may recall from 2005-06, is the central shopping/restaurants/nightlife/neon district of Daegu. We walk around there pretty much weekly. Many things are the same (like my beloved commune's lonely hearts club watering hole!) and many things are different. I see restaurants I recognize and restaurants I don't recognize. My favorite restaurant, Outback Steakhouse, where you recall I treated myself to cheese fries once a week because as a vegetarian allergic to seaweed I was starving in Korea, has moved across the street. The movie theater that was next to it in that old building is also closed, and there is a newer, bigger movie theater down the block. Little changes like that.

I also feel like there are SO many foreigners wandering around Daegu's Junangno, which compared to Andong is true, but probably isn't actually more than were wandering around there in 2006. One thing that's different: all the Andong teachers and apparently a lot of Daegu teachers are all hopped up about this Canadian owned bar/restaurant called The Holy Grill, which was not here back in my day. The first couple weeks we were here, Andong English teachers were actually talking about regularly hanging out at The Holy Grill when in Daegu, but giving me blank looks about the Commune! The sacrilege! I was like, "What the h is the Holy Grill?" They all said, "I know it's been around a few must have been here when you were here..." but, no. Turns out it started in 2007. Believe me, I would have known if in 2005-06 there was a place around the corner from Commune's with quesadillas and potato skins and other Western-food appetizers to be had!

So anyway, Jungangno is the same, but it is also different. And that's pretty much how life should be, I suppose.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Annoying Group of People #4: The Whiners Suing Groupon

I hate customers' sense of entitlement. Sometimes people just really frost my gizzard, and whiny, too-entitled customers are high on the list. I read today that there is a class action suit against Groupon because Groupon deals have expiration dates. SO some numbskulls have brought a class action against Groupon in Illinois, where gift certificates are not allowed to expire. There are a few other states like this too - I personally greatly enjoyed my time as a Borders floor manager in California and Massachusetts (as we all know), and in those stores we occasionally had whiny, entitled customers who came in with some gift card they'd had sitting around for ten years demanding we take it. Here's the thing: the smug ones who got all uppity with me, declaring, "I know you have to take this gift card! It's illegal for it to expire!" were sort of sad when I would magically override the expiration date in the register with my mysterious managerial powers because GUESS WHAT you dumb-ass customer? We KNOW the law, too! And we have workarounds! Wow, our nationwide company operating in multiple states actually knows how to operate in those states! Can you, my dumb-ass customer, also function in multiple states, or do you have trouble even leaving your house in the morning and/or finding your own state on a map?

But back to Groupon. I read today that the cl-jack-ass-action lawsuit says Groupon is not actually a coupon (which can expire) but a gift certificate (which can't expire) because customers purchase the deal. What a bunch of losers. I have personally bought deals from Groupon-like deal suppliers (and I subscribe to Groupon, too, but I just happen to be out of the country right now) and I can personally tell you it is not that hard to read the expiration date. Some loser is pissed because he never got around to playing Whirleyball at an amazingly good price. OH WELL. I think he had six months to use it, but he wanted the minimum requirement under Illinois law for a gift certificate, which is five years. Too bad, buddy, I think people who commit such acts of idiotic self-entitlement should be sent off to Libya to help protect demonstrators from murderous government forces and then maybe they'll think twice about what is really "unconscionable" (and yes, they used that word in the lawsuit. Unconscionably short expiration dates.)

First kill all the lawyers? How about first kill all the clients who bring such jackass complaints to lawyers in the first place?