Sunday, November 14, 2010


There have been a bunch of things going on recently that I'd like to discuss, but none of them deserve a full blog entry, so here goes.

The G20

This week is the Group of Twenty Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors (G20) met in Seoul.  Korea has been gearing up for this summit for ages, with lots of publicity and various campaigns.  Starting as far back as September and October there would be fairly large groups of people standing outside of major subway exits (like Jamsil, where I work) wearing sashes emblazoned with the G20 logo.  They often were also holding large signs or handing out pamphlets (or, my favorite, little tissue packets).  I didn't know what they were doing, in fact I thought they might be protesting the G20, but my friend Changhye informs me that they were actually holding up signs saying things like "Don't spit on the ground!"  "Hold the door open for the person behind you!"  "Cover your mouth when you cough!" etc.  It was entirely a campaign to polish the residents of Seoul!  How crazy is that?!

Public awareness/polishing campaign.
(Stolen from Changhye's Facebook)

As Changhye noted, the Korean government recently made a lot of cuts to what they spend on social welfare can't help but wonder how much all this cost!
(Stolen from Changhye's Facebook)

I was a little nervous because when the G20 was in Toronto in June it got TRASHED.  Totally ripped apart by protesters.  However, the Korean government is pretty hardcore, and as my dad says, terrified of things getting out of control. They have set up a 2km buffer around COEX where they are doing body searches and background checks, and the routes of subways and buses have been disrupted.  They have also headed off a few potential protesters by simply not allowing them access into the country.  In fact, some of the people the Korean government has black listed are not even protesters, but women like Jean Enriquez from the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women- Asia Pacific (CATW-AP).  For more information on that, you can check out this article.  I get that Korea wants to present a bright, shiny face to the rest of the world, but that seems to be taking it a little too far.  

How has the G20 being here changed my life? Barely at all, haha.  There has been a HUGELY increased police presence, however, especially in large transfer stations like Jamsil, Jongno 3-ga, etc.  I can't walk through my station on the way to school in the morning without running into regular Korean police, Korean para-military police, and G20 volunteers wearing sashes every five feet.  And though the police officers they usually station in the subways look to be roughly twelve years old, now they are putting real police down there.  The police have done a ton of (totally bizarre) training exercises to prepare themselves for anything protesters might throw at them.   Here are a few of my favorite photos from the recent coverage of Korean police training exercises.

Protesters planning to lay shirtless with a watermelon on your stomach, a blindfolded, sword-wielding, hanbok-wearing police officer is coming for you.  You've been warned.
(Source: Denver Post)

For, you know, when you need to fly through the air and punch apart an offensive protest sign.
(Source: Adam Dodson)

I find this hilarious.  In what situation, exactly, do they foresee the need to explode beer bottles by hand?
(Source: Adam Dodson)

They also split the police in half and had some (those who drew the short straw, apparently) act as protesters.  The others hosed them down with high powered water cannons (Whale Wars?).  Keep in mind its about 40 degrees Fahrenheit in Korea right now...that would SUCK.  As Carl said, I love the hats, wigs and single sign.  Makes it so much more realistic.  Haha.

Yesterday was the first day of the actual conference, which is being held only four stops from my school at COEX.  I was really thankful that I don't take a bus because traffic was all sorts of screwed up between the summit and some ridiculous thunderstorms we were having.  It was also a hideous air quality day (level: HAZARDOUS) so in general it was a great way to welcome the G20, haha.  Way to go, Seoul.  

I am pretty sure Obama was stalking me yesterday, because he was at the summit at COEX (four stops from my school) and then at Yongsan Army Base (four stops from where I had my DHC meeting last night) later.  Yongsan was CRAWLING with MPs, in addition to all the regular Korean police.  

I was a little surprised (and a little impressed) to see a lone high school student standing in the Jongno 3-ga station last night protesting.  He stood there by the purple line trains, in front of a group of about six police officers, holding a sign that said NO FTA (with -ucking, -rade and -greement after each letter in smaller font).  The rest of the sign was in Korean so I didn't know what it said, but it was pretty ballsy.  I knew he was a high school student because he was still in his school uniform. I did think it was a pretty random place to protest though...maybe he was just waiting for a train and happened to have the sign?  Haha.

Friday morning, when I walked out of my subway exit at Jamsil, I was surprised to see riot police lining the sides of the exit with huge shields.  I looked across Olympic-ro at Lotte World and there were a crap ton of police milling around, as well as ELEVEN full Korean police buses parked on the street.  I had a brief moment when I hoped that the foreign finance ministers were being treated to a day at the world's largest indoor amusement park open 365 days per year, but that passed quickly.  I got to school at my usual time, 8:10am.  We don't have to be here until 8:40am, but I like to get things done in the morning and get myself prepared for the day.  I was the first one in my office, which is normal, but I thought it was unusual that there were ZERO students here, nor had any other teachers in the school shown up yet.  Suspicious.  When it got to 8:35 and school was still silent, I decided to call my co-teachers.  Ga Young didn't pick up, but Yeon Ah did.  Here is what transpired:

Me: Hi, I was just wondering why no one is at school.
Yeon Ah: (pause) Are you at school now?
Me: ...Yes.
YA: Oh, I'm sorry.  Today is (unintelligible) so government agencies go in one hour late.
Me: Uh...ok.  Well...I guess I'll see you later then.
YA: Yes, at 9:40.

AAAAAAGH.  That is an hour I would have LOVED to sleep in.  Arianna informs me that it is Songpa-gu wide (basically the whole part of our district that I work in) in order to help alleviate traffic concerns for the summit.  Obnoxious.  I mean, I suppose its not as bad as that holiday last year that they forgot to tell me about.  That frigid day I pulled myself out of bed, schlepped to school, and found all of the doors padlocked. Aigh.

Verdict: I won't be sad when the G20 is over.



Yup, we skipped autumn.  It is already in the 40s most days, and I can see my breath as I walk to work.  Once again I am thrown into the whirlwind of Korean heating/not heating patterns that throws my body all out of whack.  I wake up in my comfy apartment, get ready for work, and then head off.  Three minute walk to the subway: frigid.  Forty minute ride: sweltering.  Ten minute walk to school: frigid.  Hallways at school: frigid.  Classroom: sweltering. Cafeteria: frigid. Office: usually decent, sometimes cold (like when my co-teachers open the windows to "get fresh air").  Walk to subway: frigid.  Ride home: sweltering.  Repeat, ad nauseum. You have to be constantly prepared with never-ending layers, which quite frankly are annoying to carry around!

We have also had some crazy thunderstorms lately, which I do not remember from last year at all.  Loud, bright, at random times...they are kind of a nuisance.  To borrow a word from Winnie the Pooh, it has been quite blustery this week with lots of extremely puffy clouds and high winds.   The trees in town are exceptionally pretty, though, which apparently has something to do with how fast the temperature changes.

LOVE the red maples and yellow ginkos.  
(HATE the ginko berries that rot on the ground and smell like dying.)

Pretty trees lining our school grounds.  Note crazy clouds as well.

Ginkos are everywhere...I really wish they didn't smell so bad.

Verdict: I am sad there weren't more days of hoodie/sweater only weather.


Murder Mystery Dinner

The first Saturday in November I was invited to my first Murder Mystery Dinner by my friend Dave.  I had never been to one before and I wasn't entirely sure what to expect.  It was so much fun!  Ahead of time we each received invitations with the background story and a description of our assigned character.  

Story Line: This mystery is set in the wine region of Napa Valley, California.  Five yeras ago, Barry Underwood, owner of the prestigious Underwood Wine Estates, mysteriously disappeared during the valley's annual wine festival.  A massive search at the time failed to turn up any clues and the case has been in the FBI's unsolved files since then.  Now, five years later, it is once again the annual wine festival in Napa Valley.  Last night, family and friends gathered at the stately Underwood mansion to celebrate.  At midnight, a minor earthquake shook the mansion, causing an old wooden floor in the wine cellar to buckle. Barry's well preserved body was discovered under the cedar planks.  It is a clear case of murder. 

I was Bonnie Lass, a Scottish tourist who has attended the wine festival while vacationing in California.  A mystery writer and best-selling novelist, she knows a thing or two about hidden bodies and old wine cellars.  For my costume I did the entire country of Scotland a disservice, haha.  I bought a tartan shawl in a subway station and used that as a skirt, as well as a knit tam with a fuzzy fur ball on top.  Eh, best I could do.

Here were the other players:

Otto Von Schnapps (Erich)
A German wine merchant.  Boisterous and fun-loving, Otto attends wine festivals around the globe, buying the best vintages for distribution in Europe.  It is said OTto's preference for red or white can be influenced by green.

Hedy Shablee (Shannon)
The owner of a neighboring vineyard and a fierce competitor of the Underwoods.  Barry's disappearance has uncorked a new vintage of troubles for unhappy Hedy.

Papa Vito (Dave)
Brought over from Italy sixty years ago by Barry's grandfather to develop Underwood Wine Estates, Papa Vito has devoted his life to the vineyards.  Now he just wants to retire and drink a little vino in the afternoon...salute!

Bud Wizer (Jamie)
The FBI agent assigned to investigate Barry's murder.  Bus is a beer-drinking man with no appetite for wine.  He's determined to put a cap on this unsolved mystery.

Marilyn Merlot (Chrissy)
Marilyn was crowned Wine Princess at the festival five years ago, and then went on to become a Hollywood movie star.  She's returned to Napa Valley for the Wine Festival and to gloat over her success.

Ralph Rottingrape (David)
Barry's first cousin and heir-apparent to the Underwood Wine Estates.  Long considered the black sheep of the family, Ralph took over as manager after Barry's disappearance and has been running things his way ever since.

Tiny  Bubbles (Fe)
Barry's finacee at the time of his death.  Perky and pretty, Tiny has an effervescent personality and a razor-sharp mind.  She is now married to the new winery owner, Ralph.  

I won't give anything else away, but know that there were some intense the one shown below, haha.

Fear Hedy Shablee.

We also took some awesome group pictures, thanks to self timer.

Choose your weapons!  Various steak knives, a wine bottle, corkscrew, min-nerf gun and...a potato peeler.  Haha.

We are pretty badass.

Verdict: Awesome time had by all, only slightly soured by the horrific cab ride home that made me severely carsick even though I sat up front.


Korean Class

Frankly, it is kind of kicking my ass!  Korean 101 was relatively easy, lots of new vocab, but at a leisurely pace and not too overwhelming.  Right off the bat Korean 102 came at you at a much faster pace, full of complex grammar rules and confusing exceptions to said rules.  It definitely didn't help that I missed the first two classes thanks to the flu.  Thankfully Shannon met up with Lee-Rae and I last Sunday to do a review for the week, including going over the new stuff we learned.  After meeting with her for two hours on Sunday, and then studying for three hours at school on Monday, I felt like things were pretty under control.  Then I went to class Monday night and got so confused and overwhelmed that I cried a little.  Obnoxious.  Thankfully after spending three more hours studying at school on Wednesday I think I have the hang of it.  Tomorrow I have a day off so I'll get in some review time before class.  Overall, our class has dropped from twelve members to only six.  Lee-Rae decided that she wasn't happy, so she has opted out, leaving Erika the sole member of our class who is taking it in their first year.  She's crazy.  Shannon keeps telling me she can't believe I'm so confused by the grammar rules and indignant about them not making sense when I am an English speaker and we are the founding fathers of stupid language rules with a million exceptions.  I keep telling her that I'm glad I'm a native speaker because I don't think I would have the patience to learn English.  No exaggeration.  It would drive me nuts.

Verdict: I will stick it out for 103 in December to finish the first level...but I can't make guarantees past that.  I will probably have forgotten everything by the time March rolls around and I am able to be in class consistently again.


Seoul Lantern Festival

Each year lantern craftsmen in Korea get multiple chances to show off how awesome they are.  The Lotus Lantern Festival in May blew me away, so I was excited for this festival.  I found out about it too late last year and missed it, so I wanted to make sure I saw it.  Basically artists create more beautiful, detailed, gigantic hanji lanterns and set them up along Cheonggyecheon, a man-made stream downtown.  It was very pretty.  Thankfully the stream is only a few blocks away from my Korean class, so after class on Friday I headed over and met up with Diana, Lee-Rae and Michael (and Sarah, ever so briefly) to check out the lanterns.  Erich, Stephanie, Eric and Josephine were brave enough to wait in the forever long lines that allowed you to walk along the lower part of the stream, but the rest of us stayed up top where it was a little less crowded.  One of the highlights for me was the huge, real hot air balloon that they had tethered at one end of the festival. I thought it was fake and they were just lighting it for show until I realized that it would start to sag and dip lower towards the water until they fired it up, then it would buoy again.  Very cool.

Functioning hot air balloon.

Korean cartoon characters.

Tiger family. (Zetas REPRESENT!)

More Korean cartoons.

Traditional turtle ship.

Korean child playing.

Looking down Cheonggyecheon.

Playing some sort of traditional game.  I could identify most, but not this one.

Yeah, no idea what they are doing here either...but it looks like an average day in the hallway where fifth grade boys are messing around.



These are associated with some Korean folktale.

So is the rabbit riding the turtle.

Clang! Clang! Clang!


What?!  Not ready for Christmas decorations yet, thank you very much.

Adorable creatures representing Yeosu, home of the 2012 World Expo.  Let's not talk about how pissed I am that the World Expo is coming to Korea the year after I leave.  I'm bitter.

Lanterns all alight.

World monuments.

 So pretty!

Really, I never knew what a sucker for lanterns I was until I moved to Asia.

Stunning and intricate pagoda.

Love the detail and colors.

Verdict: Lovely, even though it was cold.  


General Life Fun Facts

1. I got a haircut.  I now I have bangs.  Pictures will be forthcoming.

2. I have been watching a lot of Dexter lately and I am almost caught up.  It is quite good.

3. Today I finished the seventh and final book in Stephen King's Dark Tower Series.  Most of you probably know that I am an extremely fast reader, and I read frequently so I go through books and series pretty quickly.  Well this series is LONG (roughly 1,295,000 words) and I've been reading it since this summer.  It was quite good even though I was not 100% in love with the ending.  Oh well.  Can't expect to love every ending!

4. This weekend, my friend Josephine and I spent a lot of time working on some potential book covers for our center's anti sex-trafficking book.  I am very excited.  We had a photo shoot with Dana and then Josephine has been working her PhotoShop magic.  I am pumped to share the potential covers with the girls and other staff at DHC and see what they think.  If you want to weigh in, let me know!

5. I found out last week that my school is kind of screwing me on vacation this year.  I get all the days I am supposed to, coming out to 3.5 weeks off, but no two weeks are connected.  That blows, and seriously throws a wrench in travel plans.  As it stands, I am done with school on December 24, and have off from December 25-January 2.  Then I work three weeks of half-day winter camp from January 3-January 21.  Then I have one week off from January 22-January 30.  Then I have to go back for TWO FREAKING DAYS, during which I won't teach, from January 31-February 1.  Wednesday through Friday we have off for Lunar New Year, so I'm off February 2-February 6.  I go back to work (to only questionably teach) from February 7-February 17.  Finally I have eleven connected days of break from February 18-February 28 before the new school year starts on February 29.  I have decided that during that time I will go to Malaysia (Kuala Lumpur) and Indonesia (Bali) to do some sight-seeing, cultural exchange, and (perhaps most importantly) relaxation on a beach.  A few people have expressed interest in joining me and I think Laura is almost definitely in, so that is exciting.  I just know I'm not hanging out in frigid Korea alone for 3.5 weeks this winter!

6. The last few weeks have been extremely hard for families near and dear to my own.  The 10-month-old daughter of one of my brother's best friends had to be hospitalized after she stopped breathing, and subsequently had cranial surgery.  It has been very hard for Chris and Marleah to have their baby in the hospital, and thankfully she's doing much better and is home now.  Also, a dear friend from my sorority's father was in a bad car accident, fell into a coma and passed away this week.  Very sad, and she's been in my thoughts a lot.  Moral of the story, if you have some extra time to send love, prayers, or good thoughts to the Domergue and Schoenberg families, it would be much appreciated.


  1. I don't know what it was about this entry, but it totally made me Korea sick. Painfully so. I can't wait to get back.

    I've still never finished The Dark Tower. I got halfway through book seven and just stopped. I hear the ending is a bit 'meh', but now he's announced that he's going to write more. Yay!

    I've always wanted to do a murder mystery dinner too. They look like so much fun.

    And on a question note: How do you find living in Seoul? It looks like that's where I'll probably end up next year, but I'm a bit daunted by the size of it after living in relatively small Gwangju last time.

  2. I think the autumn/early winter period in Korea is absolutely the most beautiful, and I'm sure in the future this is about the time when I'll be missing Korea the most.

    Yeah, Dark Tower...meh. However I think its a tiny bit of a cop out to write more, I mean clearly that was meant to be the end (even if it didn't feel like it). In the afterword King even talks about how he didn't love the ending, but it was the RIGHT ending.

    The Murder Mystery Dinner was great. Dave bought a prepackaged set that came with invitations, scripts, and a CD with openings for each "act." It takes the pressure off the host and ensures a good time.

    As for Seoul, I love living here. Granted, I have never lived anywhere else in Korea, but I figure it is like living in most major cities in the world- you find your nook of the city and make it feel like a small town. I live out in Gangdong-gu all the way in the east, so there aren't big skyscrapers around or anything. People on the street recognize me and vice feels like a small town within the big one. I love the things Seoul offers- frequent cultural events, classes in just about any medium (writing, drawing, painting, foreign languages), any kind of food you could imagine, and easy access to the rest of the peninsula. Overall I really love it and I'm super pleased that I ended up here.