Thursday, October 28, 2010

It's the LAW!!!

I went to see a movie tonight with the rabbit, and had a bit of an unpleasant experience. So, at the relatively high risk of sounding like a jackass who dwells on the boring and petty, I thought I'd write about it.

We went to Cinecube - a pretty cool little theatre in Gwanghwamun, in the basement of the big building with the giant statue of the hammering man out front. It's cool, save for the fact that you (inexplicably) can't eat or drink in the theatre. For reals - no popcorn even sold at the place, which for me is kind of a bad omen. I did end-up sneaking some water inside, but thankfully I had better luck than this guy.

The rabbit had purchased tickets online for Last Chance Harvey, which was opening in Korea tonight - and had opened back in January back home, just in time for Oscar consideration, but got more Golden Globe love. You can't go completely wrong with Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson as leads.

It's the early show (5:20) and at around 5:16 I get a text from the rabbit saying she's going to be late - maybe 10 minutes, maybe more - a hard day for her that forms a story I shan't relate here. She said for me to go into the theatre without her and that she'd join me later. However, the idea of starting a 90 minute movie 15 minutes in seemed a bit unfair. Why not just exchange the tickets for a later show?

As the movie hadn't yet started, I approached the ticket window and asked if the girl behind the counter spoke English, which she did - almost at the level of a native speaker. I explained the situation and asked if it would be possible to exchange the tickets for the later show.

"I'm sorry, but it's less than 20 minutes before the start of the movie, so I can only refund 50%."

"But, is the movie sold-out?"

"No, but it's the rule."

"But there are only about 20 people in the theatre..."

"But it's the rule."

"But, you're rule is in place to stop people from holding seats they can't use and preventing other customers from buying tickets. If customers got turned-away because of this ticket I wanted to refund, then your rule would make sense to this case. I don't want a refund, I just want to go to the later show."

"It's the LAW!"

"It's the law?"


"My girlfriend is running late."

"That's her business."

It was at the "It's her business" part that I got a little bit angry (but it must be said that I never raised my voice or did anything like this.) The conversation went on, because I wouldn't let it go, and she wasn't budging. In the end, it would have cost only the equivalent of one ticket (7,000 won) to abide by her "rule", but the principle of the thing just wouldn't let me back-down.

When the rabbit did finally arrive, about 20 minutes later, she approached the ticket woman and, in Korean, the same "rule" was related. The rabbit, however, had her way, and we got the ticket's exchanged for the later show. I asked what was said, and the rabbit told me this:

"I asked her for her kindness, in my situation."

How could the bitter box office woman say no to that? Apparently, she actually said nothing and exchanged the tickets without a smile or a word. I guess this is the dreaded "losing face" that the Culture Shock: Korea book talks about. After the rabbit notified me that our tickets were exchanged, I went over the the window and thanked her, saying again that my girlfriend had had a hard day and we really appreciated her doing this for us. She said nothing and just stared at me blankly.

So here's the thing... I too spent years in customer service, and I know how shabby it can be to bend to the customer's request - especially when you, yourself, might have had an equally shabby day, or worse. But, when met with logic and a simple request for an exception to the "rule", why not just be nice? Both showings of the film were less than 20% sold, so it would have mattered not. In the end, it didn't matter at all as she simply wrote (in pen) the new time on our original tickets. Her business got our money, and we got to see the movie we paid for.

The other thing is that I'm one of those guys who hates when people make a scene in public - complain about their food in a restaurant, bitch at the flight personnel at an airport gate, etc. - but in this case, it was stubborn me and a stubborn girl in an empty lobby with scant few people milling-about and nobody else in line. Perhaps I was a bit childish in this instance to not just suck it up and pay the money, but I don't want to throw-away my hand completely. Even when children ask "why?", the worst possible parenting response is "Because I said so."

Saturday, October 23, 2010

My Saturday Class So Far

It’s been far too long now since I’ve been teaching my Saturday Critical Reading and Writing class to start at the beginning, but I'm going to try (later). I could honestly make a blog entry about every one of the lessons I’ve done with this group of students, but I never find the time.

I do want to say a few things tonight though – maybe in a general sense. When I’m somewhat tired and potentially distracted (as I am now by the cavernous expanse of this particular Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf and its high ceiling that sends sounds bouncing all over the place) I like to make lists. Forgive me.

1) I’m Lucky to Have this Class

As I mentioned in a previous post, this opportunity came about because I know good people. My friend, Ed, who has been teaching at a public high school here has been doing well for himself of late. Part of this is due to his extreme positive nature with everything he does. He’s got a great teaching situation at his high school with a supportive and friendly group of co-teachers that he can actually count among his true friends in Korea.

Through various circumstances, Ed has been recruited to run workshops for new teachers, and to present demo lessons and supervise other training seminars for educational districts across the city. Ed has a teaching degree from back home, and he throws his skill and positivity into everything he does – even while he’s going through some extremely challenging times outside of school, his professionalism always wins out.

Ed was first approached by school board coordinators to teach this new class on Saturdays. He decided against it as he already had enough on his plate, so – he put my name forward. Had he not done this, there’s no way I would have this job right now. I may have mentioned this before, but I think it bears repeating that I wasn’t even interviewed for this position. Ed, and his head co-teacher, Jisun, spoke very highly of me as a possible alternative teacher when Ed had to turn the position down.

Apparently, Ed’s word was all that was required – it was even enough to over-rule the fact that I was not a high school teacher; though our teaching placements seem to be chosen at random when we are first assigned our schools, a lot of stock is somehow put into our level of school once we are there and as a result, it would be unheard-of for a lowly middle school teacher such as myself to be allowed anywhere near a high school class. Thankfully, Ed and Jisun’s votes of confidence were enough to convince them that I was indeed worthy of consideration. So – thanks, guys ☺

2) This Class is Lucky to Have Me

There – I said it. I don’t normally toot my own horn, but here I think it’s justified to say that I am working harder than a lot of other foreign English teachers might had they found themselves in this position. When I look across the board – at training sessions, workshops and such – I imagine myself in the upper 20% of foreign public school teachers here in terms of the quality of what I actually do in the classroom. I’m not a walking bucket of confidence in a lot of areas of my life, but I feel relatively safe reporting that sifting through the Good-Time-Charlies who seasonally call Korea home and call themselves “teachers” long enough to collect a paycheck, drown themselves in weekly doses of Cass and soju, and develop a sense of bitterness about their surroundings, I’m actually a pretty dedicated educator who maintains a pretty high standard for myself, my lessons, and my students.

In some situations here, however – high standards are not necessarily a healthy thing. Former supervisors have repeatedly warned me to “stop working so hard” – and fair enough. I do tend to obsess with certain teaching tasks, and usually end-up creating more work for myself – far much more than is required for my job.

With this Saturday class, however, I find that the extra work is actually paying-off. I justify this partially based on the expectations of the parents and district supervisors who created the course, advertised it as something equivalent to a Harvard acceptance guarantee – and then forgot to provide it with a complete curriculum. Hey – it gives me an outlet to aim high and hopefully drag my students upward from their sleepy Saturday stupors. If anything, I'm going to mark the living hell out of their essays, and they are going to be more effective writers when I'm done with them.

3) I’m Lucky to Have this Class (Part II)

Really, I’m not sure where I would be, mentally, if I weren’t looking forward to teaching for two hours every Saturday. That is the level of bookishness I have apparently attained. It would be more than suffocating at this point to bitch about the lack of general stimulation I receive from my regular teaching duties (I have engaging teaching days at my middle school almost as often as I win a bout of “Rock, Paper, Scissors”), but because this is my reality – or rather, the reality of the role we play here in the public system, it is worth bringing-up, just so that I can mention my Saturday class in contrast.

Perhaps part of what makes Saturdays stimulating for me is the fact that I teach each lesson only once (as opposed to 15 times each week at my middle school). I get geared-up for it. After the first week’s lack of sleep the night before class, I now go to sleep on Fridays looking forward to the lesson and the potential of discussion around engaging topics with my students. I had previously enjoyed certain lessons with some of my academy classes back in Suwon, but that was a completely different level. So far in my short teaching life, this Saturday class has been the first time I’ve felt like a “Teacher” – working with a group of students of the level I hope to teach for my career, once that actually gets going.

4) Not a bad idea to remind any still-interested readers what this class is:
a Critical Reading and Writing class for 20 grade 3 high school students who are looking to improve both disciplines in English as they prepare to apply to universities – for many of them, overseas.

As mentioned before, with all of the pomp and circumstance surrounding the opening ceremony of this class (along with a public speaking class which another much more qualified teacher has been taking care of), I was led to believe that this class was going to be more like teaching university students than working with high school kids. Not really – unless you consider the reality that growing-up in the Korean education system means that students are conditioned to be lectured to, as opposed to being actively engaged in their classes in a multi-directional sense. For the most part, these students seem to be very cool teens who want to say and do more than their timidity is allowing them to.

Through 6 lessons so far, I’ve come to the realization that my main goal, aside from focusing on writing and critiquing instruction, I really just have to crack them and drag them out of this passive mode. I can tell daily that they want to talk. I can see them forming words behind their lips and just not letting them out.

The students are with us for 4 hours on a Saturday. The schedule looks a bit like this:

Period 1 (Korean co-teacher A) – Article analysis and discussion
Period 2 (Myself and Korean co-teacher A) – Article analysis and activity
Period 3 (Myself and Korean co-teacher B) – Writing instruction and discussion
Period 4 (Korean co-teacher B) – Writing focus and supervised writing time or group project work

As you can see by the schedule, I seem to be kind of the meat and potatoes of day. I pretty-much lead my assigned periods and this is for the following reasons:

a) There is no curriculum save for the one I provide for my assigned time, so naturally I want to be the one who chooses material for my teaching hours.
b) My co-teachers and I all work zany hours at different schools across the city, and as a result have almost no time to meet and plan curriculum outside of class hours. Even at school on Saturdays, we are never – all three of us – there at the same time.

Anyway, I have a lot to say about this class, but to avoid another extremely long-winded entry, I will instead do my darndest to write a SHORT entry every couple of days about every lesson we’ve had so far. Why bother back-tracking? Because it’s an exercise to remember what went well, and what went wrong. Plus, some of what we’ve done in class and students’ reactions to it, I think, are worthwhile reflecting on.

Read it – unless you’re too cool for school.

The Brilliant Comrade

Looks like it's time for more fireworks in the coming months.

"We are an adaptable species and this adaptability has enabled us to survive. However, adaptability can also constitute a threat; we may become habituated to certain dangers and fail to recognize them until it's too late. Nuclear armaments are the most conspicuous example; as you read this you are in effect wearing a military uniform and sitting in a very exposed trench. You exist at the whim of people whose power does not derive from your own consent and who regard you as expendable, disposable. You merely failed to notice the moment at which you were conscripted. A "normal" life consists of living as if this most salient of facts was not a fact at all."

- Christopher Hitchens, from Letters to a Young Contrarian, 2001

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Mayor Nenshi

Well, Calgary's got a new mayor. I suppose I could say lots about this, but I'm tired, so just a few observations...

1) I'm excited for my hometown. Like Nenshi, I was born and raised in Calgary, and I remember how much of a rarity that was becoming into my high school and university days. It's good to have a Calgary-born dude in office.

2) I've been following the later stages of the campaign as much as I can from here in Korea and it's been exciting. I feel badly for Barb Higgins being treated as she was in the last few days, but those became missed opportunities for her to really respond with poise.

3) I'm relieved that Nenshi got in. With early poll results coming in, and Nenshi way back in 3rd, I had my doubts. I was getting all worked-up and ready to start name-calling good ol' Calgary for being unable to shake its red-neck past. Of course, that's not anything approaching fair, as a vote for others does not equate to a red-neck victory or even red-neck intention. Still, it says a lot about a conservative hot-bed of a city that would elect a flamboyant Muslim mayor today. Interesting.

4) It's been fun watching facebook turn purple with young people supporting Mr. Nenshi. He certainly ran the best campaign - and no, it wasn't just a popularity contest. Had it been, Barb Higgins would have won in a land-slide. Honestly though, if you have ever seen one of his town-hall meetings on youtube or checked out his policies as they were rolled-out, you would know that he was the most capable and certainly the most inspired candidate. Dude knows what he's talking about.

5) It's also been fun watching people fall over themselves with the fact that they know the guy (not such a a rarity as he is a Calgary guy). I used to know of Naheed Nenshi - but that was sometime ago. I can report from my Elementary School days however that Naheed Nenshi was, as a student of a "Gifted and Talented Education" program through Calgary Public Schools, clearly somebody destined for bigger and better things. I'm pretty sure that I got into that program on a paperwork error, while Naheed Nenshi - Mr. Debate Club, Student Council President, Model UN spokesman, etc., etc., etc., went on to rule the Student Union at U of C, then to Harvard, then to the actual UN, and so on. I barely knew him at all as he was a few grades ahead of me, but for those in the know (being those in Oakley Centre circa 1985/'86), his name became synonymous with academic achievement. To those of us who even knew him only then, "Mayor Nenshi" is not a surprise.

6) Which brings me to my last observation before my pillow observes my head at close range: It's staggering to see how many people are uncomfortable voting for a person who they might deem as being "too smart" or "too educated". Blue collar Calgary seems to have a distinct fear of egg heads. Personally speaking, for a city, province, or country, I'm thinking that we need the smartest cat for the job. If that's true, there are few who best Naheed Nenshi in that regard. Of course, you could say similar things about Mr. Obama south of the border. I'm still in his corner, if only because I still at times feel the hope (the word is still there) through (and of) which he speaks. Here's hoping that Nenshi doesn't get railroaded from "across the aisle" as Obama has been so far. Let the man do his work, folks.

7) Calgary is still not immune to the things other Canadians make fun of us for: in this case, being reactionary right-wing and anti-whatever-seems-"foreign". Perusing the message boards on the Calgary Sun website after the results were in, I found more than a few racist, anti-muslim, and homophobic remarks directed at the new mayor. These folks should really just move south and join the Tea Party, who it appears are always on the lookout for new ignorance in their ranks. Hold tight, Mayor Nenshi - because you're going to face some undue and unfair criticism that makes what Higgins got from Mike McCourt on Breakfast Television look like a ringing endorsement. Let's hope Calgary can rise above this and condemn to public shame those of their own who feel the need to publicly mutter what amounts to hate speech. What we will look back on as relics as a less-developed age...

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Drawing Show

Seoul is full of theatres. Sadly, with the language barrier, a great deal of them are effectively off-limits to those of us who don't speak the language.

To combat this, and to give some of their live shows more international potential and make them more tourist-friendly in the homeland, more than a few recent shows have focused more on language-free rhythm, dance and visual arts.

I haven't seen many, though I did see Nanta twice (once with Ma and Pa when they visited). It's high energy and the drumming is very cool, though I could do without most of the kitsch that fills-in the gaps in a very broad attempt to get laughs.

I get it though. As a guy who once spent part of a summer being a part of the cast of this show, I understand both the audience want and the performer need to "involve". However, when the cross-over seems a bit forced, and it doesn't go off as planned, few things are more uncomfortable and embarrassing by proxy. When the tired old "divide the audience to cheer" bit was rolled-out, a clear whiff of desperation was floating in the air.

And that's how things went a bit too often at Hero - a Drawing Show on Thursday night when I went with the rabbit, a friend from school, and her son. Hero is a live show where the performers work together or alone to create works of visual "drawn" art through various mediums - everything from basic charcoal, to (what seemed like) wax and chalk-dust, to strategically-placed and rotated rubik's cubes, to water and dye, and light pens on a glow-in-the-dark canvas.

I'll say this about the show - there is undeniable skill in the artists on stage and the creations are often inspired and unique. Too bad though that the poster gives-away some of the show's best surprises. Part of the fun of this kind of performance art is the big reveal at the end. When a good portion of the show's work is known prior to the show, the surprises unfortunately come-off as rote, which I suppose they are. But, in that realization as an audience member, the fun of the creation is somewhat diminished and things seem a tad underwhelming in the end.

It's too bad, as again it's clear that there is a unique talent on display, an interesting and challenging set, and a cool show, that is unfortunately covered-up in a bit too much hoo-ha that the audience I saw it with would have preferred to have done without. I know that dancing and clowning is a big part of many live performances in the variety show genre, but in this case the art itself would have been more than entertaining enough to have sufficed on its own.

Anyway, for 25,000 won, it still beats doing the same old - whatever that is for you. Just go with a good attitude and be ready for a little extra cheese. Check out for more information.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

New Bandage

I still haven't figured out how to get the photos form my wee cell-phone onto my computer, so for now - here is a shot of my first bloodied bandage from yesterday, and then a shot of the stitched nail with a small bit of gauze and some fresh iodine - for your viewing pleasure. I was in mid-sentence with my co-teacher when Dr. Demento wrapped the new gauze tightly around my nail. I didn't finish my sentence.

Hardly slept last night actually, as my toe had its own pulse. I could close my eyes and imagine a lazy torturer twanging on a miniature diving board formed out of a clarinet reed jammed half-way under my toe nail: "bwang, bwong, bwang..."

Sharon - I'm going to take your advice on the pain-killers. You're the best online nurse ever.

Money shot hopefully coming tomorrow 'cause I know you can't wait.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

My Effing Toe Nail

My day started-off pretty good. Today was not a teaching day at our school, but rather a day for all students to head-off to various parks in Seoul to have a drawing contest. For most students, this meant giving the least amount of effort possible - doing a super fast sketch as required, then heading-off to enjoy the park. For the elite few students who took the exercise seriously, it meant 3-4 hours of water colour paintings of their park surroundings. For all students though, it was a chance to get away from school for a day, not wear a uniform, and enjoy the outside before the cold weather gets here.

For me, it meant a one hour commute down the stream by my house to our meeting place at Seoul Forest - an Olympic-Park-sized outdoor space with fountains, gardens, sculptures, sporting facilities, and of all things - a deer compound.

The deer had a decent amount of space, but they were still behind a fence. The wire fence had spaces in it large enough for the deer to stick their heads almost all the way through, and they were quite friendly. I took the opportunity to give one particular deer a good massage - for about 5 minutes, with two hands, I really let him have it. Starting at the base of his neck by the shoulders and working my way up, bracing his forehead and letting my fingers and thumbs do the talking where his neck muscles join at the base of his skull. Dude loved it. I walked away to offer my services to another deer, but deer #1 came-by and stuck his neck in the way, then bent his head down to me to indicate that he wanted more. Awesome. I could really do worse than starting most mornings with a 2 hours bike ride to Seoul Forest to massage deer.

Anyway - the real story...

As students were gathering around at the end of their assigned time, they were playing in a nearby fountain - the kind that shoots-up from the ground and you can walk-over and try to dodge the spray. I got close, and soon surrounded by a group of 10 boy students who picked-me up and led me to the fountain. I stopped fighting and let them carry me, when I noticed that I had my phone and ipod in my pocket. I tried to hand it off to a student, but nobody bothered taking it, so into the fountain they went with me.

This kind of pissed me off. I picked them up out of the water and tried to make my way back out of the fountain, when one male student tried again to force me in. I was wearing sandals (now wet) and was easily sliding back. I asked them to stop, but they thought it was all still fun and games. Somewhere in the ensuing struggle, as other students joined in again to get me back into the fountain area, someone's shoe shot forward and hit my open big toe on my left foot - lifting the nail back and almost completely off. The sides of the nail were completely out and it was hanging up at a 90 degree angle - much like the tongue of a sneaker pulled-up with the laces removed... and a great deal of blood pooling into my sandal.

At this point, I asked them to stop again. When they saw my foot, I had what seemed like 300 students surround me to apologize. Hurt like a summumabitch.

Anyway, wasn't sure if I should just try and pull the rest of it out, or if I should go to a hospital to get it looked at. I wasn't sure how a nail completely yanked-out would grow-back, and the teachers encouraged me to go have it looked at, so Choi Yong (PE teacher) took me to a nearby clinic.

In my first year of teaching in Korea, I closed a door on my middle finger nail - instantly turning it black and giving it its own painful pulse until the next morning when I "had it looked at" at a nearby clinic. The doctor took a paper clip out of his desk drawer, bent it to create a sharp point, held it with pliers over a Bunsen burner, then drove it in through my nail to release a mini fountain of blood before squeezing the shit out of my finger and causing me to go through the roof. It's a sensitive area - that under-the-nail business.

Anyway, back to my toe...

The doctor looked and said something about "stitching". I went into a room where a nurse was preparing a bunch of sterilized instruments. Doctor came in, and with 3 nurses now watching, drove a needle into my toe 7 times to freeze it, then cut and pulled-out the side pieces of my nail that had come out of the side pockets of my toe, bent the smaller nail back into place, and then, using a small metal hook and some wire, stitched my nail back into place. It's hard to describe without photos (of all the days to not bring my camera), but he essentially sewed through the center of my nail in four places - through the nail, into the sensitive flesh underneath, and then out again before tying it off.

I'm pretty sure that I can now tolerate any amount of pain. I squeezed my fingers nails into my palms, sweated, and grabbed my hair. Let's just say that the freezing (which hurt like a giant bitch of a hurt - who doesn't loved having needles jammed into the points of your toe?) didn't really take enough effect. So, with four joyous stitches through my effing nail and into the exposed toe bits underneath, I was about ready to pass-out.

I have to get the dressing changed daily for the next two weeks, but I'll tell you what I'm really not looking forward to - getting the stitches out. That is going to hurt like a big pile of hurty things, and I'd really rather not think about it. It's really starting to throb as I get ready for sleep on night #1. It's like having the sound of finger nails across a blackboard - hard to ignore the pain of a such a sensitive area when I keep picturing my nail bent-back and have the pain to accompany the memory.

I know people have been through a lot worse, but damn. Despite the lack of real camera, I took a photo with my shabby phone camera, so expect an upload tomorrow. Gotta spread the imagined pain around a bit.

Monday, October 11, 2010

The Davey Brompton Challenge

I know this is going to sound all annoying and elitist, but I truly think you haven’t experience the best Seoul has to offer (recreationally at least) until you’ve made full use of its river and stream pathways – ideally on a bike, and ideally on a Brompton (but that is being too elitist). Of course, some might argue that the best recreation available in Seoul results in waking-up in Itaewon in a pool of your own vomit while some drunk and stumbling off-duty G.I. treats your section of sidewalk like a latrine. To each, his own.

For me though, outside of the T-Express, there are few surefire ways to put a sustained smile on my face while moving through the Korean landscape for any distance. I took a train to Busan once – that was nice, and I have enjoyed hydroplaning in late-night cabs back to Suwon from time to time, but getting on my bike, which will hereafter be referred to as “Money Well-Spent”, and trekking across the city for 2 hours to a destination to meet good people and have good times makes me really love this city. I am quite confident that anyone who joined me on one of those jaunts across bridges, through side-streets, through bustling busy districts, and along streams would want to move here. When family comes to visit next time, I’m going to cross my fingers for a Brompton rental place.

This weekend, I did a 35km trip from my place way up at Banghak Station, down through the thick of the city to Yeuido to teach my Saturday morning critical reading and writing class from 10 – 12:30. Met the rabbit for reading and nap time down at Han River Park, and stayed to meet friend for the fireworks of the Fall Hi Seoul Festival.

As a side note in case you’ve never been to see the fireworks for this festival: unless you’re right beside Wonhyo Bridge where the launching barge is, you might be underwhelmed with the display if you’re an Everland veteran, such as myself. Still, the show did look like it would have been grand up-close, and the atmosphere was great on the island. My friends and I were charmed senseless by a wee tot who offered us peanuts and then wanted to hug me goodbye at the end of the night. I nearly melted when she offered me her hand, I put the back of it to my cheek, and she covered her mouth in extreme shyness. Getting off of the island afterward though was a complete S#it show. On average, nearly 1 million people make their way to Yeuido Island for the evening festival festivities, so trying to get all of those people back home is quite the job.

Perhaps – just too many people to make it all worthwhile. Despite the porta-potties brought in for the evening, there was a 20 minute line-up for the men's restroom. I shudder to think how long it was for the ladies. With fireworks starting at 8:00, the closest station shuts-down at around 6:00PM due to the simple volume of people trying to walk-by. It was something like the water festival in Phnom Penh – minus the families of 6 or 7 on one scooter, and the clowns looking to steal my wallet. Just masses of humanity, buying ramen, drinking beer, and kicking themselves for doing so when it meant they’d be stuck in line on the wrong side of the washroom when the fireworks began. I remember being invited to this thing in my first year living in Suwon. There’s no way we would have made it back on time.

Anyway, stayed with the rabbit in Dongsan and then decided to head back home on my bike – East along the south side of the Han River, across Banpo Bridge, and north along Jungnagcheon to my place – another 35 km.

When the weather’s right, there’s nothing finer than spending a morning on my bike. I rode past a marathon heading North, stopped to enjoy some new sights, and did the old Davey Brompton challenge: never let another bike past me if it’s going the same way. I’m really not at all into regular exercise, fewer things bore me more, but I’ll push myself on a bike because it feels as though there’s both immediate and delayed reward. I get a kick out of gliding past groups of riders all decked-out in their matching racing gear on their racing bikes when my wheels are less than half the diameter of theirs. Well, okay – the Davey Brompton Challenge isn’t always flawlessly met – if some cat is pushing his 26-speed cruiser to the limit, my little 6-speed Money-Well-Spent won’t stand a chance – but I’ll get to him eventually. It’s all about the chase through relentless Mario Kart training. Victory will be mine.

I wish the weather could stay this way all year. I’d find excuses to go far. Next step – get the rabbit a Brompton, because it would be grand to have her join me and see her city in a new way. I would also encourage you to join me one day – try the Davey Bromptom Challenge on a trip through Seoul. You won’t regret it.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Girls and Soccer: Addendum

I really wish that I had my camera today after school.

It appears as though the female students of my school have been spurred-on by the Korean U-17 Women's FIFA Championship and want to start playing, themselves.

Today, one of the Phys-Ed teachers led a girls-only after-school soccer club and the atmosphere was honestly electric. It would be a conservative estimate to say that half of the student populace lined the schoolyard and cheered-on the girls. Students who had after-school classes hung-out of their classroom windows and cheered on goals.

They were mostly beginners, but there were a few who seemed quite confident, skilled, strong, and ready to prove themselves in front of their classmates. It was something to watch - honestly, for the boys on the sideline, it was like they were discovering something.

I wish I had brought my camera to show you fine folk what I saw. Anyway, here's a cheers to this change in thought and behaviour and I hope they all keep it up.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Idiot Tax

I know that the primary readers of this blog are my parents, so I've been waiting to talk about this one for a while as to not invite clicking of the tongue behind the teeth, shaking of the heads, or general thoughts of "if only I had been there to warn him to check his pockets..."

So... I washed my passport.

When I got back to Korea after my trip to Canada this past August, I had my passport alone in my shorts' side pocket. Said sweaty shorts went directly into the washing machine.

About a week later, on my way to Korean class, I put my hand in my pocket to feel something kind of damp, kind of folded, and rather thick. This couldn't be a wad of cash. I pulled out my passport and unfolded it to find that is was not doing so well. It was a crowded train and therefore hard to avoid anyone else seeing it. One guy in particular could barely hide a chuckle when he saw the recognition on my face.

Anyway, I write about it today because I think it's worth other Seoul expats knowing the process one goes through upon discovery of a clean and moist passport. I'll even write the following words below to aid in a google search from a poor soul who might some day suffer the same fate:

"damaged passport Seoul"


"I washed left my effing passport in my effing shorts and threw them in the effing laundry."

Here's what I did...

1) Phoned the Canadian Embassy in Seoul to ask their advice. Do this to save yourself some hassle, and have a pen and paper ready.

2) Visited the Passport Canada homepage to download the instructions and the application form for a new passport.

3) Completed the application form (This may be a pain in the ass as it requires you to know previous addresses in Korea, as well as previous employment in Korea along with employment contact information.

4) Got new passport photos taken. I went to Itaewon just because I was in the area and figured that there would be a few places specializing in international passport photos there. I went to a place called Kukjeon Studio out of exit 4. They, like back home, charge roughly $20 for 4 passport photos. Just tell them you're Canadian and they'll know the correct size. Your application instructions will give you the proper dimensions you need, so have it on-hand just in-case.

5) Got a guarantor to sign my application and one photo. The application instructions stipulate that a guarantor can be any dentist, lawyer, doctor, or mayor that has known you personally for at least 2 years. Being that such a reality for most expats is unlikely, another option that the passport office suggested to me is to ask a Bank's Signing Officer (the manager in most cases) to sign for you as a guarantor. Even if he (I would say "he or she", but come on - this is Korea) doesn't know you, you can ask the person who you deal with when sending money home if he or she can ask the manager to sign. Apparently, the front-line person vouching for you is enough. I watched my bank-teller lady cautiously approach the elderly man behind a high dark desk and he seemed to reluctantly sign what he needed to sign. He then chastised her for picking a man's pocket every 25th of December before reminding her to tighten her waist coast. (Technically speaking, the people at this bank have only known me since March of 2009, but I have had an active account with that particular bank at another branch since August of 2007, so they were willing to vouch for me.)

6) Made an appointment with the Canadian Embassy for this afternoon and made my way down there.

7) Got a flat front tire on my bike on the way down, so had to re-route and take the subway. Good thing I left early.

8) Had a brief and fairly pleasant encounter with the government official there who took my questions and had me fill-in some parts of the form which were unclear. She also called my guarantor right then and there to verify that the guy knew me. *(When my bank manager signed my application, I provided him with a photo of me and a brief information sheet on where I lived, how old I was, hair colour, how tall etc. They might ask this kind of information of your guarantor, so aiding a reluctant bank manager in this process by providing a little info cheat-sheet is a good idea).

9) Had to pay the cost of a new passport ($100) as well as the cost of declaring a damaged passport ($50). This, I refer to as the aforementioned "Idiot Tax". I assume that Passport Canada just wants to punish people who leave their passport in their shorts. There can't be any substantial paperwork required to deal with a damaged passport. I'm essentially getting a passport about a year and a half earlier than I would have needed to, since mine was set to expire in March of 2012. I know I'm an idiot because when my Vice Principal asked why I needed to leave school early today, she heard my story of the passport in the shorts and offered this witty retort: "That was... (struggling to find the right word) ...stupid."

10) Got a phone-call from the Embassy about 30 minutes after I left informing me that the little blue birth certificate that I have had since shortly after I came into this world (February 2nd 1976, to be exact) was "double-laminated" and therefore invalid. Strange, seeing how it was perfectly valid in March of 2007 when I had my passport made back in Canada. But my, how the times have changed. This mysterious "double-lamination", the officer informed me, has rendered my birth certificate useless as it is now categorized as "mutilated"... effing MUTILATED! I informed the officer that in laminating a certificate that was old and coming apart, "mutilation" was in fact the opposite of what I was trying to accomplish. Nevertheless... mutilation was the result. Also, I have to fax-in an application form as well as pay the Alberta Government online an additional $50 for a new birth certificate to be faxed to the Canadian Embassy in Seoul before my passport can be processed.

All-in-all, my laundered passport cost me:

a) $100 (Can) processing fee
b) $50 Idiot Tax
c) $50 new Birth Certificate
d) $20 passport photos
e) Stress and time filling-out applications and getting my shite together
f) A flat tire
* Reminder: you will also need to a make a photocopy of every passport page. Things like a multiple-entry VISA can be replaced free of charge as long as you have the copy of your passport to prove that you bought one in the first place.

I realize that I would have had to pay the $100 fee in a year and a half anyway, and I apparently needed a new birth certificate, but it's kinda like bringing your car in for a dented fender and having someone point-out that your reluctance to change the oil regularly means that you're now going to have to mortgage your home to pay for the collateral damage to the engine.

I'm also sad that I won't be able to hold onto my passport which was a record of my first bout of international travel. I'd been to the States before, but I was collecting some pretty cool records of places visited the last few years - even if they were a bit blurry from the detergent. I asked the officer at the embassy if there was anyway to just use this passport until it expired, since it was still able to be scanned. How cool would it be to throw down that gnarly looking passport at a customs officer to prove what a bad-ass all-weather adventurer I am? She told me that at best, I would get a warning and encouragement to get a new passport. At worst, I would be detained at some country's border and not allowed to enter, resulting in an early flight home and no vacation. Awesome.

Anyway. Check your shorts.