Sunday, January 31, 2010

Scapegoating and being a good tenant

Here's the question:
I think I'm a good tenant. I separate my trash and recycling and don't make much noise, but my landlord constantly gives me bad looks. Is this normal? What can I do to make the remainder of my stay in Korea (8 months) better?
This is actually a more complex question than it seems. We're dealing with more than a rude landlord here. This touches on perceptions, responsibility and scapegoating as well as plenty of other issues.

I remember when I first got to Seoul, nobody had told me about the special trash-bags I had to buy, so I threw my trash out in a normal looking black trash-bag. That bag sat and sat until one day I returned from work to find the bag of trash in front of my apartment door with a note resting on top of the now opened bag of garbage. I brought the note into school and from that I learned about the special bags. Innocent enough and I never made the mistake again.

You would think that that would have been the end of my trash-related troubles, but it was in fact just beginning and one that I have dealt with many times since. Apparently, some of the Korean tenants knew about my trash-bag incident and decided to take advantage of it. So for the next few months, I was essentially framed by them. They would dump trash out improperly and make a big mess of the recycling and when confronted by the landlord, they would simply point their finger at me. And this scapegoating still continues today. I have a dog and when I walk him, I ALWAYS bag his shit. Sometimes I even bring water along with me to clean the piss. Yet, my landlord and neighbors always assume that the poop they see on the street is from my dog. 

I shared those stories with you because the bad looks you're getting from your landlord could be because someone is blaming you for something that you didn't do. The only thing you can do is make your trash-dumping process obvious and visible and continue being a good tenant. You could also mention this to your boss. They can't change much, but it gives you the chance to defend yourself.  If the landlord sees you doing everything correctly, eventually that image is going to stick rather than the image they have in their head of the lazy, dirty or confused foreigner. 

Koreans love scapegoating, so get used to it.

The tricky part of this whole thing is how are we, the foreigners, suppose to control or change this perception? It doesn't seem fair that we should constantly have to walk on eggshells so as not to give foreigners a bad image, but at the same time we should be responsible members of the society. The cards are stacked against us on this one and there's nothing that we can really do about it. Sure, we could volunteer or lead public awareness campaigns and even if we succeed in transforming the perception of foreigners in Korea, the scapegoating will continue. We're an easy target. 

The best way to combat it is to be a decent person in public. We stick out and will attract unwanted attention; sometimes that's good and other times it's not. All I do, as a manager, is tell my new teachers not to get too aggressive when drunk. That prevents a lot of problems.

That, or your landlord is just a cunt.

Wolfhound Superbowl Party

If you want to watch the Super Bowl live, Seoul Eats confirmed that Wolfhound will be showing it live. Full menu and bloody mary specials. Kick-off is at 8:25am.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Where to get the best food-free drink in Gangnam

Here's the question:

I'm a drinker. I admit it. I like all the boozing that Koreans do, but frankly I'm sick of buying food when I want a damn beer. I live in Gangnam though and can't seem to find many places that allow me to get a few rounds. I read that you lived in Gangnam, so any ideas?
I do live in Gangnam and I also enjoy the sauce every now and then. It's odd to think that a drinker surrounded by heavy drinkers would have any problems, but I feel your pain. I personally hate hof food and would rather drink at a Family Mart than be forced into buying that slop.

Family Mart is a great warm weather spot, but it might not be the atmosphere you're going for. There are a lot of places in Gangnam to drink, some expensive and some, well, they're all pretty pricey. Rather than naming all the places to drink, I'll give you my personal favorites.

Woodstock II

Everybody knows about the 3rd floor Woodstock near Pagoda Tower, but not as many know about it's cousin, Woodstock II. It's located on the other side of the main road. It's a basement place, but it's got beer, cocktails, shots, darts, great music and much more room than the other Woodstock. The best part? They don't play any music from the 90's and beyond. In fact, the barely get into the 80's. It's all 50's-70's classic rock/pop. They've got it all and a reasonable drink menu.

It's the best place in Gangnam and my personal favorite. Why? They have cheap shots and cheap beer. I'm talking two-dollar tequila shots. They also have a bunch of imports and cocktails. Unlike Woodstock, the crowd is 90% Korean. It's small, crowded, has a big screen for music videos and is a lot of fun. Go there with a smaller group though because it's sometimes hard to get a table.
Anyone care to add their favorite?

Friday, January 22, 2010

Musings Over Makgeolli

After months of difficulties with several podcast hosting sites, I've decided to scrap them all together and just host them myself. From here on out all of my podcasts will be on "Musings Over Makgeolli". I have scheduled myself to where I make one every day and like I used to, I have a weekend co-host who gets bombed with me on the show.

Head on over if you're curious.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Why doesn't Dennis Kang have a national holiday named after him?

Here's the question:
As you probably know, there are very few weekday holidays this year and it made me wonder why Korea doesn't have more holidays that celebrate famous Koreans. I wrote this to Ask a Korean a couple weeks ago, but haven't heard anything from him, so it's yours.

Ha! Get in line on that one. The Korean is slammed with questions that are much more nuanced than the ones I get. I asked him a question over a year ago and haven't heard anything back aside from the initial response (which you should have gotten) that went something like this:

"The Korean is intrigued by your question and wants to answer it on the blog."
He was more eloquent though and also told me it would be awhile. I had asked about why some Koreans refuse to believe sources or facts unless they see it reported by a Korean or in Korean. I'm alright with the wait since I know the answer will be great.

So since The Korean is busy, I'll take a stab at it for you. 2010 is a pretty bad year for "red days". Many of them fall on weekends and destroy tons of golden travel opportunities. My wife and I were planning on popping down to Vietnam for the upcoming Lunar New Year break, but the pathetic three-day weekend wrecked that one. We'll have to settle for Japan or Taiwan which doesn't really excite me. 

On the surface and especially if you simply listen to the official names of each holiday, it would seem that none of the national Korean holidays celebrate famous, influential or historical Koreans. While some might argue that Buddha or Jesus were in fact part of the minjok, the reality just isn't so. 

A quick peek at Wikipedia's page on Public Holidays in South Korea will give you all the info you need on which days are special and why. In my opinion, some of them are in fact celebrating individuals accomplishments, but in a very collective, 우리나라 sort of way that one would expect in Korea.

There are, however, two days that I am a little surprised aren't named after the person responsible for the day itself. National Foundation Day celebrates the myth of Dangun who was the founder of the first Korean empire, Gojoseon. While no one actually thinks he fell from the sky or was the son of a bear-woman, people flock to Gangwha-do to see the site of his celestial landing. In fact, that's where the banner picture for this blog was taken (and no, that's not me).  Hangul Day celebrates the day that King Sejong made life much easier for Koreans by creating the Korean alphabet. The guy has statues all over the country, numerous schools named after him and now the Southern government is unilaterally naming a possibly unified Korea's capitol after him. I guess he has enough already, but the day should have come first.

There are a few others who could be more widely credited, like the men who led the charge on March 1st, 1919 or the dude who came up with Children's Day. Hell, The Korea Times even has a special section for Ahn Jung-geun, yet he doesn't get anything. How about Seosan who successfully repelled the Japanese in the late 1500's? He was pretty tough.

Ultimately, there were many influential people who could have been remembered with a national holiday, but it boils down to the fact that Korea is fiercely collective and the ideal of country over self is still very evident, even in modern Korea. Perhaps when Korea is unified or when South Korea has more time to critically reflect on its own past, there will be some more additions, but for now this is what we've got. 

All we can do is time vacation well, plan ahead and enjoy the limited amount of holidays we've got this year. And until Korea wises-up, listens to its people and gives them some substitute holidays (like the rest of the world), we've gotta cope and make the most of the weekends.

In my opinion, Dennis Kang should get his own national holiday. He sure does win lose pander compete a lot.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Collegiate and "Professional" American Football in Korea: Teams, Rivalries and Fans

Here's the question:
You wrote about the KAFA league earlier, but what about college football? Any rivals or fans?
The KAFA is an association that's actually bigger than I thought. It's comprised of the TKAFA (Taegu Kyoungpook American Football Association)SAFA (Seoul American Football League), BAFA (Busan American Football League), KNFL (Korean National Football League). From what I can tell though, the only thing that really matters is the Adult Teams (사회인팀) which consists of six teams and the College Teams (대학팀) which consists of 34 teams.

There are a bunch of  teams in the leagues (Korea Times has a little write-up that should clarify how the whole collegiate league works), but from the looks of it, they don't all play. Of those that do, the best two college team  meet each other in their championship game, the Tiger Bowl. The winner from that game will go on to play the "adult" team winner of the Kwangeto Bowl in the Kimchi Bowl (Korean Super Bowl). Judging by this video, however, the Kimchi Bowl (played in Namjangju) gets very little attention. This year, the Pusan National University Eagles beat the ADT Caps 34-13. Get excited Busanians!!! 

As far as rivalries go, I imagine they tend to follow the academic trends which means all SKY schools hate each other and the rest of them just try to beat the better school. So why no fans or real interest? Most Korean men join the military after two years of college. That gap certainly hinders genuine dedication to the game from both fans and athletes. The Korean system isn't great for college sports at this point in time. Additionally, it reminds me of what the Korea said,  

"...although Korea often has amazing displays of fan support for their athletes, it is fair to say that Koreans are bigger fans of their country rather than being fans of a particular sport."

Simply put, college ball simply isn't nationalist enough.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

And the "Musings" podcast returns

I've finally gotten the podcast up and running again. I'll throw new ones up there under the banner as much as possible. The one up there now is about the IRS and American taxes in relation to wages earned in Korea or you could click on the sidebar or here for past podcasts.

The Bau House

Here are the questions:

I noticed you used Bau House to board your own dog, can you give me any info on the place  and the location as this is the only problem we have now, finding somewhere safe and clean for our dog when on vacation etc..  Do they accommodate larger breeds?

My husband and I are living down in Mokpo with our dog, a 50 lb lab mix, and we know that at some point we will need to put her in a kennel whilst we take home leave. I am interested to see that you did this with your dog whilst you were in the US, presumably for a long time (i.e. more than 2 weeks). Overall, would you say your dog had a good experience at Bau House - clean facilities, concerned, alert, caring staff, etc? Our dog is like our child, so we want the best care for her if we are away - would you recommend Bau House?
As you may or may not know, while in the United States for the entire month of December, my wife and I opted not to take our 10-month old lab-mix back with us. Being the amazing dog owners that we are, finding a great place to board our dog was the most important detail that had to be ironed-out. We checked around and looked for sitters on numerous sites (including Animal Rescue Korea), but honestly, all the  takers were greedy assholes. I'm talking like over 800,000 won for a month.

Finally, a friend told us about The Bau House (바우하우스) and we couldn't have been more lucky. It's technically called a 'dog cafe' (poorly chosen considering the consumption of dog meat in Korea), but I'd refer to it as a cafe with dogs. NPR has the a good write-up/interview on it that covers the basics.  There's also a bunch of reviews on Google if you're curious.

First of all, Bau House is located in Hongdae between Hapjeong (합정) and Sangsu stations (상수역). Naver didn't have a good map, so I made my own. It's not good either.

                                                            South Korea Seoul Mapo-gu Seogyo-dong 405-13 (서울특별시 마포구 서교동 405-13‎)

The environment is good and the overall vibe is really fun. It's a great place to drop your dog off if you're going to dinner in the area or on vacation. There are about twenty or so "Bau House" dogs and the rest are "hotel dogs". The dogs are amazingly friendly and social for such a busy place. Your dog should be the same.

If you're bringing your dog for the day, the cost depends on the size. The price for a small dog (and they eyeball your dog to determine how it's classified) is 12,000 per day; 15,000 for a mid-sized dog and 20,000 for a big dog, but that's not set in stone until they quote the price.
If you are planning a weekend trip, you'll need to call them (they don't speak English well) and arrange a time to drop him off. If you're going away for a week or longer, they're going to want to do an interview-of-sort where they ask you to leave the dog behind for an hour or so to see how he/she interacts with the other dogs. If you'll be leaving your dog for over a month, you get a 20% discount. Not bad.

Do they accommodate larger breeds?

Yes. They have some huge breeds there. As long as your dog is friendly with their dogs and people (their customers), you'll have no problems.

Overall, would you say your dog had a good experience at Bau House - clean facilities, concerned, alert, caring staff, etc?

My dog had a great experience there.  We could contact the staff at any time and they would happily give us an update. On top of that, they even took semi-professional pictures of him and posted them online for us.

One might imagine that a place with so many dogs would be full of piss and shit. Nope. They have tons of staff on hand cleaning pee and poop around the clock. There are two cages, but your dog will not have to stay in them unless he/she has issues eating, drinking or sleeping. My dog was roaming wild the whole time and getting tons of attention and treats from patrons and staff.

Would you recommend Bau House?

In a second. It's easily better than all your other options and my wife and I were so pleased that we're planning on bringing him back for an evening romp or a short weekend so he can socialize with people and, of course, his furry friends. 

Everyone should check this place out. 

Monday, January 18, 2010

Big Dogs and Little Cities

Here's the shortened question:

My boyfriend and I wish to relocate to Korea next summer for a year, probably in August but I will be visiting in May. However, we have that large dog obstacle - only for us, we have two. Our dogs are Kooley and Nahla. One is a purebred Siberian Husky (a rescue) and the other is a Husky/Yellow Lab mix. They weigh 50-60 lbs each.

 I am writing you for advice, any creative ideas you might have, etc. about bringing these guys with me to Korea. To be honest, at this point I am almost to the point of desperation because after reading a lot of stuff online it is totally discouraging. Your podcast about big dogs and bringing them to Korea is literally one of the only things that has given me hope.

What I was thinking about was working with a realtor to find us a place that allowed 2 larger dogs. Honestly, this is my only last idea on what to do . . . Another thought I had was to maybe find an expat that was leaving Korea that already had two larger dogs and a place we could take over . . .
Big dog questions never seem to end. The general idea that most expats give is that Korea is an awful place for big dogs because 1) some Koreans react poorly to any dog that doesn't look like it should be punted and 2) the fact that nearly all Koreans have dogs that I will at some point punt. That's partly true and normally I would just refer you to my other posts and podcast on big dogs in Korea, but it occurred to me that many of the problems facing expats with big dogs could be avoided if the expats themselves were a little more flexible.

I'm not suggesting that the questioner is being inflexible. In fact, it's just the opposite which is why I'll suggest moving to a small, rural city or bridged island. In the city, you're going to face extreme reactions to your dog. Just last night, my wife and I were walking my 10 month-old lab mix (who is about 30lbs tops) and the reactions certainly ran the gamut. Some were happy to see him, others stopped and walked the other direction and one even commented that "That dog looks like trouble." I'm used to it though and totally settled in Gangnam. I have no choice, but potential teachers do have a choice.

From my experience, older men and most older women seem to be a little more accustomed to big dogs. We could chalk that up to history or hometowns, but it's safe to assume the older the people, the better the reaction. Moving to a smaller town or island will not only give your dog more space, it will ensure you that all the obnoxious early twenty-somethings-in-their-UGG-boots-pathetically-trying-to-look-cute-by-acting-terrified-of-an-obviously-safe-and-domesticated-dog will certainly be lower in numbers. After all, they have to study in Seoul.

If you're coming with your boyfriend, make sure that your place is big enough for both of you. There are plenty of "couples positions" posted on Dave's and other sites, so you should be able to find a gig that offers a decently sized apartment.

My advice is to find some rural gigs (they can pay quite well), ignore the negative expat buzz and keep looking. I think if you involve a realtor, you're going to end up being charged for something you shouldn't be. There isn't a pet deposit in most apartments. You've just gotta pay if your dogs destroy it. Your potential school will be the one that makes the final call on your dogs. Be upfront with them and if they accept, then you're gold. If not, move onto to the next listing.

You've got plenty of time.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Super Bowl and American Football

Here's the question:

Do you know of any sports bars in Korea that play football games OR if any will play the Super Bowl? I know American football isn't as popular as soccer so this is a long shot - The former question is the more pressing one but I'd love to know the answer to the second as well for next season. 
This is typically one that all Americans are concerned about. Canadians go through the same thing with hockey, but no one really cares about hockey anyways, so it doesn't matter. Last May I briefly discussed this issue, but I'll just go over a few things from that post.

Watching sports in Korea is easy if you like Manchester United, Hines Ward, Asian baseball, MMA, figure skating, short track, one swimming event, or archery. Since, however, many expats are not interested in most of those, finding a dependable place is tricky. It's odd, too. For a country that has a TV in every fucking place imaginable, you'd think that a wide array of sports would be shown. Well, that's not yet the case...unless you're this guy. He makes sure his games are shown.

                                                                                                                    First Korean-American Football Player

So let's talk American football. The most dependable option is to take care of it yourself. You can buy a subscription on Yahoo Sports! or you can go the myp2p route. As far as college ball goes, your Uni should offer a service where you can subscribe for the entire season. GI Korea threw in the idea that climate change is a myth you can befriend some hired guns or sneak into get invited onto an American military base and watch AFN.

If you want to be more social than rubbing sitting in front of your computer, then you've got a few options. RMT is always a good, dependable option. Sometimes they're live and sometimes they're not, so if you can handle being around obnoxious smashed normal Canadians, then I'd check out their viewing schedule. You can also try Geckos, Hooters and Big Rock. They try their best with the games. Big Rock looks like it's picked up a lot of the Gangnam-based -American-sports-viewing slack recently.

The only trick to watching North American sports in Korea is the time change. Unless you record it somehow, you pretty much have stay up super late and avoid the Internet until it's time for the game. That gets tricky. You might be harmlessly logging on to Facebook, when BAM!, your old middle-school friend made a ever-so-slight comment about how bad your quarterback did. First of all, fuck him for being such a douchey armchair quarterback, but you should know the risk when you get on site like that. I'd recommend Cracked if you're looking for a time killer.

Now, there is another way to battle the fall season blues: go watch the Korean American Football Association (KAFA). These guys have no fucking clue and they play like it's prepubescent flag football on the old practice field, but it does put you in the mood to listen to a little Hank Williams Jr.. The weather's cool and the beer is, well, Korean, but it's there and you'll drink it either way. Aside from the sissy hitting and lack of defense, the best part is that each team allows a couple foreign players, so if you're bulky, hot-headed and never got to be a part of the jock clique in high school, then this is your time to push around some lanky Korean dudes and build your self-confidence. Sure, the non-Korean fans might shit all over you when if you lose, but I'm sure it'd be fun.

So don't worry. You can find American football being shown somewhere, but I should tell you that no matter how much you try, you're going to miss games and you're going to be somewhat out of the football loop while you're here. I tried my best and still go on and on to my wife about how much I love the game and how great fall is because of it, but there's no way to be a die-hard fan when no else seems to care.

Just remember, anonymous questioner: I care.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Snow Days and Snowmen in Korea

Here's the question:

I understand that Korea does not have snow days, but do Korean kids even play in the snow or do their parents make them study?
You're right that Korea, like many northern US states and Canada, is not really into snow days. Being from Tennessee myself, I enjoyed countless snow days (and cold weather days) and still get a bit nostalgic when I see the flakes coming down, but since Korea does not have a public school busing system, there is no need to call school. If you can't make it in, then you have a personal snow day. Franchised hagwons that use buses typically will have a snow day every now and then. If you're teaching adults, well, then you're open no matter what.

The second part of the question is more curious though. Of course Korean kids play in the snow and of course their parents allow it. While I'm sure that some parents might force their kids to study or play inside, the vast majority of the kids are outside playing.
If you're based in Seoul or any other city center, then you might not be able to witness that much playtime, just like you wouldn't in Chicago, New York or Boston, but they're out there.

Sledding, whether it be on hills or iced streets (my personal preference), is pretty tricky since every city is packed with people and cars. In Seoul, I saw a sledding ramp in one of the Han River parks that was packed. Some of the amusement parks have ramps as well.

Building snowmen (눈사람) is more interesting to me. For those of you who have taught children, I'm sure you already know that in Korea, the snowman doesn't consist of three parts like their Western cousins.

                                      Typically American, huh?                                                

Rather, the Korean snowmen boasts only two parts: a head and body/legs. No midsection for Korean folks. I asked my wife why they went with the duo and she said because a snowman's legs are too small to merit an additional snowball. Who knew?

Another thing that I found interesting is what is used to decorate the snowman. From what I have discerned from conversations, photos and experience, there are no carrots, pipes or buttons used on the Korean snowman. A stick is typically used for the nose and arms. A pine-cone or rock might make its way to the eyes and a pepper was, at one point at least, the acceptable adornment for the mouth. I personally prefer the Western-style snowman made in the image of Frosty, but it really doesn't matter.

I'd like to add that my opinion on snow and the excitement that I get from it stems from my region/climate. As I mentioned, I'm from southeastern US. We got snow regularly, but not heavy accumulation like they did up north. If the snow neared 2 inches or more, school was called. Sometimes they even called it preemptively. I remember there was nothing more exciting than going to bed, knowing that it was supposed to snow. The very real possibility of having a snow day usually kept me up well after the lights went off, but the sheer bliss of waking up to find the entire neighborhood blanketed in snow was one of the great pleasures of being a child.

That enthusiasm and hope for more snow still remains with me today. Sure, I get irritated by dangerous roads, perilous sidewalks and the fact that the world doesn't actually stop operating when it snows, but that southeastern child in me still is hoping for more snow. This feeling, however, is lost on people from colder/snowier climates and that's too bad because the innocent joy of snow and a snow day is as just about as good as it gets.

Has anyone seen any good snowmen or sledding sites on the peninsula?

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Back in the

My wife and I made it back to Korea late last night. We were originally going to spend a few days in Tokyo, but the US trip proved to be more tiring than we had anticipated. We picked up my dog at the Bau House today and are slowly unpacking and getting used to the time change. I intend on picking the blog and podcast back up this week. I'm hundreds of emails behind as it is though.

Rather than digging in with replies, I thought I'd write this up instead.

Being abroad for so long has certainly altered my perception of my own country and at times I've found myself treating Korea as if it were my own nation. Many of us have. Of course my wife, her family, my job and this blog have only contributed to that, but I still always tried to stay very connected to my culture and country despite my enthusiasm for this peninsula. This trip, however, made me realize that I am very much American and only a temporary guest in this nation and I like it that way. Sure, I'll continue to come back to Korea over the year with my wife and eventually with our kids, but I have invested so much time and energy into Korea that it allowed me to ignore so many of the wonderful parts of my very own culture. Maybe I'm getting older, more tired, or more married, but perspectives change as we come to treasure different things. And at this point in time, I treasure my wife and dog first and foremost. That focus has its own implications, some known and others not, but it does mean that this will be my final January in the country. My wife and I have decided to make the leap and make 2010 (however much of it we make it through) our last in Korea.

On our trip home, we drove a lot. I wanted to do it this way. Driving is the best way to experience any country and my wife hadn't been west of Oklahoma/Texas, so it worked for both of us.

As you can see, we drove everywhere. The black was the first trip which took us from Tulsa to the Grand Canyon, over to LA, up to San Fran before a dash through the blizzards in the Sierra Nevada's which lasted until Wichita. The red was a quick dip down to Dallas to vist a former teacher and the blue was a pop-in on some old family. It was an amazing trip that I'll detail on another blog, but I re-learned a few things about the USA that I thought I'd share.

  • quiet *
  • clean
  • relaxing *
  • peaceful *
  • friendly *
  • amazingly diverse *
  • established *
  • self-aware *
  • partisan
  • beautiful
  • massive *
  • down-to-earth *
  • outgoing *
  • open *
  • tolerant *
  • great for marriage *
  • great for kids *
  • great for families *
  • largely inexpensive *
  • not as fat as I expected
I am going to write a detailed post on the trip later, but for now, I'll let you guess what the * is for.