A Canadian writer teaches English and finds out what it's like to be a foreigner.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

"Do you want some die?"

This is a phrase the upper elementary kids at the school toss around casually.

In the cutesy-toned broken English it almost sounds more menacing than an actual threat; it's sort of a Children of the Corn kinda vibe.

On the topic of threatening, I offer you this demonstrative video from Samsung, showing the utility of their new robot sentry machine guns, which will be deployed on the Korean border in 2007.

I know all the text is in Korean, but I urge you to watch at least until 1:19, for this is when the "Pirates of the Caribbean" overture kicks in.

This particular theme music is a pretty common thing to hear in Korea. The first "Pirates" movie is played constantly on OCN, and the theme is similarly hijacked for use in Star League televised gaming matches. It is this little idiosyncrasy that I find more disturbing than Samsung's apparent need to chuck millions of R&D money to develop a robot capable of providing lethal and suppressing fire. What we have here is a real life rendition of a staple of the Star Craft base— unmanned turrets. I surmise its only a matter of time before unwitting pro-gamers are charged with directing real-time military assaults in the guise of just another mission against the Zerg menace.

The mind boggles to think that this much effort goes into even more paranoid and relentless means of slaughtering one another.

Bravo you Corporate Oligarchy! For oblivion we set our sails...

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Enough with the kvetching, I'm saying!

It was the decisive play in an end-of-the-day-game of Scrabble. The three kids were adding up their scores against mine, but I was still leading 112 to 109. They could have beat me with an 'and,' but Judy came through with a hilarious tour-de-force to take the victory by a landslide.

She held aloft a 10 point 'Z' which had gone unused for the entire game. Her intent was to slap it down on a triple word score next to an O and its mate which was in the palm of her other hand. A cool 32 point 'zoo' for the win right?

But remember how Korean kids can't say the letter Z? It always comes out like a J...

Here's how Judy's victory cry sounded to Western ears:

"We have the 'Jew' so we win!!"

Oy vey...

Monday, November 27, 2006

Brother, can you spare a climb?

In a long list of misjudged first impressions, the most unassuming always becomes clear months after the fact.

On my first day working at the school, I was swarmed by a small pack of feral five-year-olds who hugged at my legs and scrambled to climb me like I was a mountain, and I was just there.

It was very sweet.

While I stood encircled, the kids were shouting "obba! obba!" With the 'b' and 'p' sounds interchangeable, to my ears it sounded like they were saying "uppa!" which I assumed any little kid might yell if they wanted to be picked up.

Such was not the case, and they seemed confused and slightly nervous when I grabbed one under the arms and hoisted her up to eye level. "Maybe I was being too forward?" I thought at the time.

I only found out this weekend— talking to Shane who had a similar miscommunication, but a better understanding of Korean honorifics— that obba is the personal pronoun used by younger children to address someone of my age. It literally means "older brother."

Just one of those funny lost in translation moments...

Saturday, November 25, 2006

I have seen the future. There are vibrating coasters, and corn in your everything.

After a work week of small town livin' and healthy food, it's a nice boon to enjoy the simplest of pleasures the big city has to offer— movie theaters and hamburgers.

Headed into Samseong today to see "The Departed" with Shane, which was a sweet movie, if just for the Bostonian wise-cracking and Happy Jack.

At the COEX food court we ate at a place called "Home Burger." Due to the sheer size of the food court seating area, and to avoid a long queue of people waiting for their meals, the staff give you a small black disc ringed in UFO lights. You find a place, sit down, and when your food is ready, the disc vibrates and lights up. Wireless technology has outpaced the common yell yet again.

Korean hamburgers are much better than Korean pizza, especially with interesting toppings like sliced pineapple. Shane and I shared an immature giggle when the Home Burger cashier pointed to the condiment island at our backs and said: "sauces are on your behind." (I am season the arse?)

Living in Korea I've come to somewhat resent corn. Not because it's any less delicious as a food, but because it always pops up here in places it doesn't belong: on pizza, spaghetti, in ambiguous coleslaw. It takes on the uncharacteristic role of a clingy roommate who you need to brush off in order to enjoy your favorite things. Corn deserves a "keep it on the cob" awareness campaign perhaps...

Friday, November 24, 2006

Arse-capades

Sometimes, the Nova Scotian in me just can't be suppressed.

Last night I made a grievous admission in class which just gave the doung-joke camp more lewd fuel.

The most inexplicable of speaks always come out of nowhere, and play out like the wall of a glass house greeting a flock of migrating birds. As we were practicing some random reading passage, Joseph stood up in his seat with random gusto and announced:

"Teacher! I am hold the arse!"

He then set straight into a botched headstand which laid him out in a few seconds flat.

I was 100% baffled.

"What???"

I squinted in complete confusion.

"Joseph, did you just say 'hold the arse'?"

"YES! ARSE!"

I was at a loss. What in pluperfect hell was this kid talking about? Thanks goodness there was a solar system vocabulary chart on the wall so he was able to point out his true intention.

"Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!" I said, everything suddenly so obvious, "Earth!"

'I am hold the Earth...' Oh right, headstand holding the Earth, ha-ha, whatever. At least now I understood. My newfound grasp of the situation lulled me into a false sense of candid speech.

"I thought you said 'arse' Joseph, back home that's another word for your backside."

Oh no.

What had I done.

"Arse!? ARSE! ARSE!" The chorus echoed through the classroom.

Jin-hyuck, was unusually reserved about the new vulgarity. He was busy scratching something down in his book.

"Teacher!" he said at last, "He told the arse."

He then pointed to a chola-man rendition of a mildly perverted Atlas holding a disembodied buttocks. It looked like this:


I can only hope this is as short lived as the "pee house" debacle.

As they say, you can take the boy out of the Maritimes...

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Worst. Date. Ever.

I feel irresponsible for not drawing this to your attention earlier. This is a photo from my very first weekend visiting Seoul with Shane and Edison, way back in September. I had completely forgotten about it until recently.

We were trolling the sidewalks of the shopping district Gangnam, and stopped in Korea's most prominent coffee chain The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf for my first real cup of java since my extra-large fell victim to the "no liquids" airport policy the (early) morning of my departure.

In the Coffee Bean my comrades and I were privileged to witness what was without a doubt the worst date in the history of mutual attraction— which is perhaps the longest and most sordid of histories.

Edison took the voyeuristic shot while Shane and I fake posed a few feet away from the couple's table. On the bright side, we only had to worry about one of them noticing.

Here it is, clandestinely yours:


When I first showed this photo to a friend, she remarked that it was funny that the woman came equipped with not one, but two means of distraction, and here she is employing both at the same time.

I drafted several scenarios for how this situation came about:
  1. The woman has the personality of a styrofoam cup, and the dude forgot that he wasn't just drinking three coffees by himself, and dozed off.
  2. He works an all night back shift to support his girlfriend's 6-green-tea-lattes-a-day habit.
  3. She slipped sedatives in his coffee because this is the only time she can enjoy her contraband feminist literature without the shadow of Confucian chauvinism looming over her.
  4. He's really just that clueless.
In any case, this moment was way too priceless to ignore.

What's Korean for: "I think we should see other people"?

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

When the Methodists come a knockin'

Today at noon I was still lounging around the apartment in my robe, when I heard the unexpected jingle of the hallway intercom. I could only imagine it was my boss so I opened up only to scandalize two elderly ladies with stacks of church literature in their hands.

I finally stood face to face with they who've been stuffing my door handle with evangelical pamphlets since the day I arrived.

After I explained to the bewildered and obviously embarrassed ladies that I didn't speak Korean, they persisted in handing me a pamphlet, pointing out the only part they needed me to understand.

"English service-u!"

"Haven't you wrenched enough poor souls from the calming balance of Confucius?" my head thought.

"Kamsa hamnida," my mouth said.

After they left I used the pamphlet to catch my finger nail clippings.

***

Later in the day, at school, we were going over some advanced vocabulary words. The topic was types of school. After explaining the difference between public and private school, we came upon the more complicated "parochial school."

Thankfully, the pervasiveness of Western movies proved to be a beacon of knowledge in this case. Judy pointed to the illustration of a nun in her habit and said:

"Teacher! Parochial school like in the Sound of Music? You know? Maria?"

I wish all my work could be done by singing, dancing nuns.

Joey suddenly had an epiphany.

"Teacher! Parochial school learn 'sky man'?"

"Sky man?" I said confused.

Joey scrunched up his brow and pointed aloft.

"SKY man!"

Then he shot off a Korean word to Judy, who replied, "AHHHHHHH! Teacher, it is like person who made the earth."

But of coarse!

"AHHHHH!" I responded in kind, "the english word is 'God.'"

"Teacher, his son name is what?" Judy asked.

"Jesus," I said, glad that Joseph (see "Jejus is delicious!") was not present.

Joey laughed at the funny sounding name. I think he preferred "sky man" (didn't he feature as an early Mega Man villain?).

I laughed too.

This kid was one soul the Methodists were going to have to pass on.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

I have finally achieved maximum osmolality!

So in my mind, waking up "early" (9:00 a.m. when you don't have to work until 1:30... c'mon!) to go climb a mountain and use the convenient woodland gym equipment seems pretty ambitious. As it turns out, being out on the trails at 9 means the only people left around are the old folks. I guess I shouldn't be surprised, all the business types are up and at the sportsplex by 5.

Anyway, as this lazy Canadian was huffing up the mountain, I came to a realization about Korean colour. After only a few days in an urban area of Korea, you come to realize that all the cars are either white, black or silver. There is the occasional navy blue pickup truck, but that's about it for variety. Maybe a red car would betray your Communist sympathies. Anyway, any apparent repressed urge for colour is more than made up for in track suits and umbrellas. The russet tones of fallen leaves and bark are splashed with pockets of older ladies in pink, red, yellow and bright blue jumpsuits. It's as if for a few hours every day, the calm of the mountain trails looks like the aftermath of a paint-ball fight. It's hard not to notice.

Sometimes, the old men at the mountain summit will let loose a bellow, deep from the guts, out upon the morning reaches of Hasangdong. I wasn't prepared at all for this today, and thought the guy had gotten tangled in the dubious razor wire, put down on the edge of the path to "prevent" people from attempting what must be a mystifyingly provocative climb down a relatively sheer wooded cliff.

Afterwards, what better way to quench your thirst after an energizing run, than a nice cold can of "Pocari Sweat."

Your imaginations must be having a field day with that one.

Entertaining the image of a overweight Pokémonesque creature forced to dance on the spot in a large vat while its handlers whip at its legs and butt with rice flails— then the sweet nectar which spills from its pores is canned and sold to rejuvenate the masses?

Not that one?

That's cool...

In any case, the unappealingly named beverage is just an electrolyte replenishing drink which totes its "fine osmolality" on the can. That's a claim I'm willing to lend my 75¢ to. The taste is like orange Gatorade.

Fortified with ions, I begin my day.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Gorging at the slop trough of crazy

My word of the day was not one that will ever be featured at Webster's online, or dictionary.com. In fact, it charts new linguistic waters in regards to labeling the human anatomy.

The word of the day, ladies and gents, is "pee house."

Paul used this word today to obsessively refer to his genitals, and the genitals of all those around. For a short time, the school and its inhabitants became a veritable pee housing project. How the young lunatic came upon this term is beyond me. He's sadly also discovered "bung" and "buttock" (only one, mind) to add to his repertoire of off point bawdy remarks.

While I attempted to teach him about pronouns with be, Paul absent-mindedly doodled a crude house over the answer blanks and filled it with stick men corpses and mugs.

"What is that Paul?" I asked hesitantly.

"Teacher! It is the pee house!"

"Oh..." I replied distastefully. "What's all that inside?"

"There are many cups of pee, and died people."

He pointed to a particular stick man who had four beards (one on each side of his head) and a grin on his face.

"Look, he die happy."

"Why is he so happy?"

"Because he love pee!"

Cackle, cackle, cackle. I couldn't bare to ask why the pee house was the site of such a gruesome slaying. At least now I understand that the fixation with bodily functions is not restricted to doung— it just lends itself more easily as a disturbing mascot.

Later, in the same class, Paul paused and pointed to his cheeks.

"Teacher, what is this?"

"Those are your cheeks Paul."

"Chicks!?" he squealed, and immediately burst into the most deranged impression of a baby chicken I've ever had the privilege of witnessing.

He sprung off his chair and clung to my pant leg.

"Cheep! Cheep! You are my mother. I hate you mother! I will kill you with my brain!"

At this point I couldn't keep the phony stern teacher front up any longer. Laughing is the worst thing I can do to curb this craziness— but whatever— the kid keeps things interesting.

"Paul, they don't have a word to describe the kind of crazy you are," I said to him.

"Yes!" he retorted, and flexed his 8-year-old arms like an American governor, "POWER CRAZY!"

The silence that followed was the sound of complete and utter agreement.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Dinner at the Bashful Pig; where the folks are as pickled as the kimchi

My favorite restaurant in the area is a small BBQ place close to the school. Not quite close enough to spit on, but I imagine I could hit it with a blow-gun from the corner of the street. I've become something of a regular at the place, whose actual name I can't read, but I mentally refer to it as "The Bashful Pig" since a cartoon graphic of a flush-faced swine shares the large yellow sign out front.

I always order the same thing. In fact I don't even have to order any more. The smiling ajummas start my meal before I have a chance to get to my seat. As I understand it, ajumma is one of the many personal pronouns Koreans use to refer to people of different ages and social standing. It means essentially "middle-aged woman," but usually also one who is a restaurant or business owner. I see it as more or less the equivalent of "matron" or "marm."

I like the Bashful Pig for a variety of reasons. First, they have the wonderful Korean floor-heating system which keeps your feet toasty as you sit on a cushion at one of the low tables. Second, they trust me enough to let me come back the next and pay my bill, since I didn't have enough cash one night at the cost of the meal was too little to take my bank card. That brings me to the third and best thing– I can stuff myself to capacity for 5000 won, or about $5. I always order galbi-tang, which is a rare non-spicy soup made from beef-ribs, onions and rice noodles. As is customary, all main courses at a Korean restaurant come with at least 3 side dishes of different kinds if kimchi and other vegetables. Also, you get a small metal dish of rice. This may not seem all that substantial, but bear in mind that if you empty a dish in this place, they will come over and fill it back up. In that respect, most places like this are "all you can eat." It feels a bit wasteful for me.

When I first arrived here I was very conscientious about finishing all the food that was put in front of me. After all, people are starving in the North only a short distance away, and it wasn't that long ago that South Koreans were eating dog for lack of meat. In fact, a still popular dish called budae jjigae ("army or army-base stew") was devised after the Korean War, and incorporated hot-dogs, canned ham and vegetable scraps from American military bases into a traditional spicy stew. Nowadays, it is inevitable you will jettison various half-full dishes as you leave a restaurant— it can't be helped.

The first time I had made real progress on cleaning the plates of my spread at the Bashful Pig, I was feeling good about what was in my mind, "finishing" a meal. But my hopes were dashed when the smiling ajumma swooped down, replenished my radish kimchi and gave me another bowl of rice, all before I could manage the breath for a feeble "anio."

Now when I go, they give me two bowls of rice at the get-go, so I try and pace myself, and never let my dishes get perilously close to empty until the end when I'm obviously ready to go. It's sort of like an odd game one has to play against hospitality.

I'm also surprised at the degree to which people get drunk at restaurants. As I was eating my dinner last night, two men across the the room were obviously quite well into their cups. I counted at least 8 empty 375 ml soju bottles sharing table space with their elbows and frantic gesturing. That's like two buddies downing 5 pints of Russian Prince after work at an uptight family diner or something. Sheesh. I'm hoping there were more of them before I got there.

So if you ever find yourself in the small potato streets of Hasangdong in Siheung City, look for that cheeky yellow pig who's cheerfully embarrassed that he's schilling for a restaurant that cooked his friends and family.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Mental Metamucil

Okay. I took care to write this down to make sure the full magnitude was captured, just to show how stretched the corners of Paul's hyper-real birth certificate would be.

So, after an especially free-form Friday night class, I asked Paul if he remembered his fantastic name that he spouted off before. He said that he did, but it was not in fact his real name. His real name eclipses the two small paragraphs I've already written:

Paulie (a nickname I gave him, after a bumbling computer game wise-guy) Polar Bear Bedison Saidison Medicine Petison Pantyson Jetison David Beckham David Birdsall Worthington D.C. Whitehouse Taster's Choice Black Coffee Beautiful Joe Powerman Columbus Edison Dungworld Earth Butt Runny Nose Appley Junior Senior.

I'd love to know what kind of evil grandmother could make that sound scary while whispering in your slumbering ear.

Friday, November 17, 2006

You can check out any time you like...

The man with the swept Don Johnson mullet, is smoking and gesticulating wildly. He and his business companion are enjoying Ceylon tea by the can, and and a hot pot of spicy bacon. Later in the washroom, he has no trouble continuing to smoke, since a small ashtray is riveted to the wall between the urinals. He grins and blows smoke into the air above the two of us.

I beat a hasty retreat.

Back in the bar proper, I lament to find that the singer doesn't know "Tiny Dancer," but he's happy to oblige me "Hey Jude."

The patrons of "Bros." sway along with the refrain of "Naaa-na-na-nana-na," and the sad looking domestic couple to the left continue to fill the awkward silence between them with the faint clink of a soju bottle.

It's my boss' anniversary as he sits and drinks with myself and two other teachers, but hey, he sent his wife a text message earlier in the day.

No sweat.

Just another Friday night. Just another request for "Hotel California."

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

The curious case of the delicious Jesus

From the vault of inexplicable speaks: "Out of the mouths of foreign babes." Vol. 1

It was a night just like any other in the vinyl recesses of the academy. The cold outside bit at your fingers like a curious weasel, and the cries of the kids shot through the room like a Brillo pad down a banshee's back. I was fighting to make it to the end of the clock, where peace and warm soup replaced the special kind of racket only repressed children can make.

I felt the manic vibe in my guts, and knew these 4 didn't have an ounce of quiet, book learning in their spring-coiled bodies. Joseph, a sloppy dough-faced 10-year-old was the first blasphemer. He was wearing his gloves inside (remember the weasel bit?) but had lost one of them, so he had a bit of a Michael Jackson thing going. The image didn't do much to curb the absurdity of the things to come.

Every.

Second.

Was.

D
r
a
g
g
e
d

Out.

Like limbs on a torture rack.

In the coarse of the reading, I don't remember which word I said that remotely resembled "Jesus," but Joseph sprung right on it.

"Jejus!?" he yelped.

"No Joseph," I laughed, "not Jesus."

I always forget myself in these situations. The kids say something strange and amusing, and I can't help but laugh. But getting a rise out of the teacher is like carte blanche for the blurting out the most weird-shit non sequiturs you can imagine.

"I am Jejus!" Paul cried out, not to be outdone by a kid with the attention span and relative charm of a pudding cup.

Now it spiraled into one-upmanship.

"Jejus is DELICIOUS!" Joseph howled and threw his one gloved hand into the air.

Apparently the Christian absurdism was not to the taste of Jin-Hyuck, a new student to the advanced evening class, and the only one without an English name. He opted for the Messiah of secular fantasy, clutched at an imaginary staff and quietly stated: "I am Gandalf."

I avoid trying to pin down the origins of all the inexplicable speaks I encounter in the Korean classroom. They're best left for the vault.

I think it's time I bring the "Fright Cock Mint" chewing gum game to school as a disciplinary tool.

Until next time, I'm going to listen to Tom Waits' Chocolate Jesus, and mediate on how many carbs might be in an edible Saviour.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Kims of all persuations

Back home on the Shore, you can't spin around with a stick without hitting a Hiltz, Wentzel or Zwicker.

Really, I've tried— it's like moths and a porch-light.

Here in Korea, it's Kim.

Today I came to a funny realization. Pretty much every aspect of my life in Korea is dictated by a Kim. My boss is Kim, my doctor is Kim, my baker is Kim, the dictator up North is Kim, and the Uri party National Assembly Chair who tells me in the paper I have nothing to worry about is also Kim.

So to sum in verbs: I'm paid, fed, healed, threatened and subsequently reassured by a Kim in one shape or form.

Just a random thought.

Those looking for an update on "Evil Grandmother Watch 2007" I have the following to offer: Paul's evil grandmother has again surfaced in evil world, and has corrupted his angel grandfather, who coincidentally was friends with Louis Braille, as he appeared in a recent Social Studies text book. The "Taster's Choice" wonderboy was then killed in his most terrible dream by the evil grandmother, and laid down among the black, wilted flowers of evil world.

I'd say this kid watches too much TV, but I don't know where he'd find the time.

Monday, November 13, 2006

You mean you don't have seven evil zombie grandmothers?

So Paul has a running joke which he thinks is hilarious, but I beg to differ. When I least suspect it, he shouts out during class: "Teacher! Will you marry me!?"

I'm hoping it gets old soon.

Today after repeated offenses, I told him: "Paul, there is no way I will ever marry you, ever."

"Teacher, I will come to your wedding, okay?"

"Okay."

"You promise?? Invite me!"

Pleading hands.

"Okay I will invite you."

Pinky swear.

"Teacher, I will see you and your wife kiss! Very nice!"

Thumbs up.

"..."

"Teacher? Who will you marry?"

"I don't know, I haven't met her..."

"You marry my mother?"

"No Paul..."

"My grandmother?"

"No."

"Great-grandmother?"

"No."

"EVIL GRANDMOTHER!?"

"You have an evil grandmother?"

"Yes! I have seven."

"You have seven evil grandmothers?"

"Yeees! Jombie! (read: zombie)"

"You have seven evil zombie grandmothers?"

"Yeees! Seriousssss!"

Raise eyebrow.

"In my dream! Last night, my terrible dream."

"About your evil zombie grandmothers?"

"Yeees! In my dream I was very little baby, and evil grandmother come, and she hold out hand, and she say 'Come my son!' and I say 'No! I don't like you evil grandmother!'"

The yarn just got more elaborate from there, involving both evil and angel grandparents battling in "evil world" where there were many ghosts and zombies and draculas, but they were all girls who shouted "Will you marry me?" in creepy voices, while infant dream-rendered Paul cried, encircled by seven evil zombie grandmothers.

"I hope I don't think my dream again. Oh! My head break!"

It all sounded quite disturbing, until the mention of the "evil doung," which I really should be surprised about.

"My grandmother like doung— but I like doung— but I don't like my evil grandmother!"

I think this is the closest thing this particular 8-year-old has ever had to a serious ethical crisis.

If your evil zombie grandmother likes doung, can she really be all that bad? Perhaps you've just misjudged her, since despite the fact that she's a zombie from "evil world," she obviously has fine taste in appreciating bodily functions.

What to do...

Tomorrow I've been promised I'll hear more about the troupe of evil grandmothers, which alternates between seven and one, and whether they visit Paul again in his "most terrible dream."

This kid has quite an imagination. He said something today which reminded me of myself as a child. At a suspiciously young age I would tell family, family acquaintances, and really any adult who would listen to me, that my full name was Samuel David Birdsall Worthington Pottery Limited Pee and Poop Brotix. I'm still not sure where the "brotix" portion came from, but today Paul proudly informed me that his name was really Paul Medicine Edison Bedison Polar Bear David Beckham Birdsall Taster's Choice.

I think my childhood self has been one-upped.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

This post is not for sick man or cowardiness

Today I took a day trip into Seoul to see a movie with Shane. Good wholesome fun right?

Anio.

As we're killing time before the show, wandering around the massive COEX mall, Shane pops out of his pocket one of the best gifts I have ever received. My first, and very own Engrish artifact (not counting the "Crunky" chocolate bar wrapper). Often times Korean salespeople like to give an additional product to good customers who buy lots— like the cuttlefish bread I got from the bakery. They call it a "service." Today I got some redundant instant coffee tubes, gratis, when I bought a coffee press and real Columbian grinds at the Hyundai Department Store. Nice gesture, but sort of like a cavity check after a kiss. Anyway, weeks ago after making a few purchases for Halloween at a novelty shop, the storekeeper rewarded Shane with the service of all services. Two of them in fact. He gave one to me. I hope no one slipped on the puddle of tears of laughter I must have left on the COEX floor:


So in and of itself, the wording is hilarious, but it leaves you to wonder. Where, and dear God why, do "cock" and "fright" feature in this equation? And where lies the game of this fake chewing gum pack?

The answer is most sadistic. Such that the makers felt it necessary to include a special moral warning on the inside. I'll share that in a moment. First, the game.

You offer a dimwitted friend a stick of gum. They think it's generous, and not suspicious that you offer them the last and only stick in the pack. Paying no heed to the ominous claims on the wrapper they reach for the minty goodness...

SNAP!

"Cock fright!"


"Ohhhhh! 'Cock' as in roach! And 'fright' because instead of enjoying delicious gum I was instead attacked by a stinky and malformed rubber insect. And game because... remind me again how this is a game, asshole."

It's your standard joke store fare, along with itching powder and a coffee mug that looks like a boob or something. But the cock mint frosting on this particular, and now unsettlingly erotic, cake is the warning on the inside:
"Warning! Don't joke to sick man or cowardiness."
Just in case the Chinese manufactures found themselves at the epicenter of a heart-attack and pant-soiling epidemic by the weak and fearful, they made sure their hands were clean. I'm afraid the same probably can't be said for the cowards who can't handle a little honest "cock fright." Society is better off without them anyway.

I can only hope Wrigley's is blissfully unaware of this ticking time bomb of spring-coiled terror.

Indeed, the cock ticks on...

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Love in the time of chola man

There are some days when I feel like the mute shepherd of a flock of three-legged sheep, and I'm charged with not only teaching them to speak, but to dance at the same time. Even if I can get one to shut up for long enough to look at me, I can't speak the words they need to understand (read: baaaaaa, baaaaaa), so I'm forced to gesture wildly in the direction of what passes for a lesson.

Then there are days when a student shows up at my desk with something this:


I saw her stay after class to finish it while the other kids were leaving. I was touched.

No doung in sight...

Ed. "Chola man" is the Korean name for "stick-man."

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Spaghetti Eastern

The H has flickered out— gone to meet the same fate as the T. Now the neon sign in the night sky reads: "el Bellagio."

I guess I'm now living in the Little Italy of Siheung City.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

A fine alternative to crumbs

Today in the bakery I noticed a loaf of bread which was clearly labeled: "Intact Toast."

Good to know that it's not the irresponsible type which turns to dust when it comes in contact with air.

E-Z Squeeze tube toast remains graciously uninvented.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

I came for the infections, I stayed for the pills

So I'm sick again. Seems this time, according to helpful Dr. Kim, I have a small intestinal infection. Maybe from too much spicy food?

I puked at work, and was rushed across the street to the clinic for another series of proddings, pills and a shot in the arse as the ornate icing rose on top.

So I'm not the happiest of campers today. Last night was a bed to bathroom and back affair. It's hard to keep any food down, and the whole affair has me much more skeptical about eating at restaurants.

I doubt Montezuma's sphere of influence extends this far— so let's call it Emperor Wang Kon's Revenge.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Won is the loneliest number that you'll ever do

Random thought: before coming to Korea, the fattest stack of cash I ever possessed was a roll of 10¢ Canadian Tire bills I slapped down on a $5 DVD rental at Video Difference in Halifax.

Last week I needed to wire some money back home but to avoid an additional fee, I had to present the desired amount in cash. This meant I had to withdraw over a million won from my bank branch to take to the other bank to send. The highest denomination of Korean cash is a 10,000 won note.

It was a stack that sure stretched the seams of that deposit envelope, and although it only amounted to about $1300 Canadian dollars, it made me feel like a real fat-cat.

I was telling Paul about Canadian coins today. I told him about the loonie and toonie and he laughed at the funny sounding words.

"Pretty silly names huh?" I said.

"Is there a bafoonie?" he asked innocently.

Now before you give this kid credit for being witty beyond his age, at the end of the same class when I said, "Time to go. We're all done." He replied:

"All doung!? We're all doung!?"

That joke is not legal tender.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Lotte in Weimar: casinos, theme parks and a soft drink that tastes like Creamsicles

The word Chaebol, or Jaebeol (depending on how you Romanize it) refers to a massive Korean business conglomerate which operates as the sum of several large family-owned corporations.

A few of the names are familiar back home, like Samsung or Hyundai, but we know them only as bit players in the worlds of home electronics and cars. With this introduction, I was not prepared for the all-seeing, all-seen power of these brand names in Korea. They have their fingers in every pie— red-bean and cuttlefish ink alike. Home appliances, department stores, personal health insurance, heavy manufacturing, you name it. The company names are ubiquitous to life on the peninsula.

Another big player is Lotte.

Anyone who's ever wandered into a Korean corner store has seen some of the many Lotte offerings: "crunky" chocolate bars, a wide variety of snacks including Pepero— for which the company sponsors a national "Pepero Day" were children offer up the chocolate-covered cookie sticks to friends and teachers— also noteworthy is a soda called Milkis, which, although carbonated, has the exact flavour of an orange Creamsicle. Confections aside, Lotte also operates casinos, telecommunications, retail stores, pharmaceuticals, and a massive theme park in Seoul called Lotte World.

Now you're probably wondering, "Lotte doesn't sound like a very Korean name."

Indeed not.

I was surprised to find that the company is named after the lost love of the titular character in German romantic poet Goethe's "The Sorrows of Young Werther."

Say whaaaaat?

Yup. Founder Shin Kyuk-Ho was so taken with Goethe's sob story that he named his then meager chewing gum empire after the Germanized nickname for Charlotte. Coming from King's where Goethe's name is golden, and the "Sorrows" is continually crammed up the noses of FYP students like so much wet paper towel, I couldn't help but stare dumbfounded at my can of Milkis, now understanding that it contains trace amounts of Werther's heady, German tears.

"I possess so much, but my love for her absorbs it all. I possess so much, but without her I have nothing." - The Sorrows of Young Werther

Translation: all the Pepero in Lotte World won't pull the trigger for you, so spare us the agony Werther and let fly.

Das Ende.