Yongsan Hospitality

Tonight we had our first experience in a Korean home. Our neighbors upstairs, Sang-Bum and Ji-Sook, invited us for dinner. It was a pleasant experience and one we hope to do again sometime soon. If I didn't fully understand it before, I think I do now - Koreans are the most honest and sincere people I've come across.

The layout of their villa is the same as ours, so I was curious to see how they used the (lack of) space, considering they have two young girls. The first thing I noticed was that the first bedroom, which we use as Cate's room, was set up as an office. The second thing I noticed was actually the third as well. The table we would sit at for dinner (on the floor) was in the second bedroom - and there was no bed. When we asked about the sleeping arrangements, Ji-Sook explained they all sleep in the same room on the floor. I slept on the floor for one night while Carmen's parents were visiting and whined the entire time. They do it every night. By choice.

I realized that we were about to eat dinner on their bed. Imagine inviting people you barely know to your house and serving them dinner in your bedroom.

The reason I mentioned honesty in describing this encounter is because of the way Ji-Sook introduced her daughters. After telling us their names, Da-Ei and Da-Eun, which in English mean 'Full of Grace' and 'Full of Love', she said she is a Christian and tried to explain in English what the names mean to her and her husband. I told her we understand and that she didn't need to explain, but I found it admirable that she'd attempt to share such a personal thing to two strangers in a language she barely speaks.

This seems to be a characteristic Koreans share. There's no small talk in the Korean language. If you speak to somebody it's for a reason. It's honest and sincere, whether it's good or bad, offensive or flattering.

The meal was fantastic. Mountains of bulgogi, gimbap, kimchi and . . . spaghetti. Just in case I suppose. They sent us home with a few plates full of leftovers and half a watermelon "for breakfast". It's more like a week of lunch and dinner. With enough to feed the neighborhood cats. If you're wondering how we communicated so well with them, Sang-Bum runs an English academy, meaning he and Ji-Sook speak fairly decent English.

In other news, I watched Transformers again last night. In a taxi on the way home from Seongseo. That's right, it's still in theatres but Daegu cab drivers are currently showing it on their eight inch flat-screens.

And a special note to my mother who today, after 26 years, is finally shutting down the most reputable, loving daycare centre in Canada. Good on ya Chris.



I developed a roll of film from our 35mm, which I've been using very sparingly since we've been here. Here are a few photos I'd forgotten about. The first is of Cate at exactly fifteen months.


Call Child Protective Services!

Yes, that's me with Cate on my lap in a moving vehicle. Are we terrible parents? I hope not. We're just trying to fit in. This is the norm here in Korea. Taxis are a cheap and very popular way to get around for everyone, especially moms with two or three (or four) kids. So what can you do? I'd like to see someone explain a carseat to a taxi driver.

Concerned parent: "Oh, just hold on. I've just got to install this safety chair into your backseat. It'll just be about five minutes."
Driver: "Vrooom."

It's not just with cabs mind you. It's normal to see parents driving with their two or three year old standing between the two front seats. Apparently there's no law against it. Well, there might be, but traffic laws aren't enforced generally. And drivers know to be extra careful when there's a baby in the car.

It took us a while to get used to the idea and we tried to do it as little as possible at first, but that's just the way it's done. It's no different from North America twenty years ago. I used to sit on my mom's lap all the way to Fairmont Hot Springs from Lethbridge. Then I turned 16 (okay, that part isn't normal, but the no seatbelt thing was, and that's my point).


Bolton Wanderers v Deportivo Guadalajara

Daegu World Cup Stadium
Peace Cup 2007
Bolton 2 - 0 D. Guadalajara


Excuse the whining

This might be an important post. This may be the only time I really complain about being a foreigner here. I've always read that the four-month mark is about where people usually begin to have a change in emotions toward the culture around them and that, mixed with homesickness, leads to negative feelings about anything and everything one might experience in everyday life.

Not surprisingly my feelings came to a boiling point at Home Plus. I made a solo grocery trip tonight knowing the place would be a zoo, but I thought, I'll just put my iPod on and keep to myself. Not possible. It started as soon as I got in the taxi. There are two ways to get to Home Plus - one takes about five minutes longer because there are more traffic lights. All drivers know this and, after four and a half months, so do I. So, instead of taking the exit under the bridge, the driver decided he'd go straight. I wasn't having it. "Awrun-cho (right)", I said. I may be a foreigner but I'm not stupid, and I'm not paying extra to sit at traffic lights.

So I get to the store and have a look around in the home section before heading upstairs to the groceries. The place was a bloody madhouse - at 10 p.m. Which leads me to my next gripe. I understand that the pace of life is different here, and people live on a different sort of schedule, but no matter where you live, I'm pretty sure babies need to sleep. It doesn't matter if it's midnight, parents will be dragging (literally) their babies and toddlers out to the store, movie, market or wherever. It's no surprise then that 90% of babies you see during the day are passed out in slings on their mothers' backs.

Moving on. It's not an over-generalization to say that people do not look where they're walking. And the rule of thumb is that if you bump into someone inadvertently there's no need to acknowledge the incident or apologize - because it was an accident. This makes for a mess in the aisles and basically means anyone can push their cart in any direction without looking or leave their cart in any given spot without considering anyone else's space. So as I was heading down the toiletry aisle, a group of ladies were deciding on some skin products. They parked their cart neatly across the aisle and stood on either side as they debated which products they were going wash their annoying faces with. They saw me waiting but continued their important discussion. My patience was short and I was tired, not that I need to excuse my reaction, but I began repeatedly (lightly) banging my cart into theirs, hoping they might get the idea. Hmmm, nope, not yet. So I used my cart to push their cart back. One of them, clearly annoyed, finally let me pass.

On to the tofu section. There's a ton of tofu to choose from and a huge range of prices so I wanted to browse before I decided. But of course there are three employees giving me three separate spiels about three different kinds of tofu, all at the same time. I cannot tell you how much I was not in the mood for that. I saw a pack I wanted to get and I said "Olma (how much)?". "Eechon palbek aw-seep won (2,850)." I nodded, acknowledging I understood the price and took the tofu. Instead of just letting me walk away, the lady held up the price tag and pointed at it, as if I still didn't understand her (and that me walking away with the tofu didn't mean I was going to buy it), causing a few people behind me to laugh at the idiot foreigner who doesn't understand the language. Wow, this is exactly what I want to be doing right now - standing in a grocery store getting laughed at.

On top of all this, we recently received a pleasant little virus on our computer that essentially destroyed the hard drive, causing me to reformat the thing, meaning we lost most of our software and nearly lost our photos. Can I suggest to everyone to never use MSN Messenger and choose something like Skype or Google Talk instead?

I'm blaming my negativity on the rain, being tired (humidity makes it hard to sleep) and missing a few things from home, namely my friends these days. Although I wouldn't say I'm homesick. I'm sure these feelings will pass soon and I can get back to appreciating the people and the things around me, but right now I'm just not having any of it. I'd rather just stay in our villa, play on the floor with Cate and listen to music.


Tasty treat

Not much happening so just a few small notes.

We purchased an external hard drive, so we've finally been able to update our music and movie library. Speaking of movies, it's the annual blockbuster season and I was able to check out Transformers. A let down to say the least, but a trip to a Korean cinema is always worth the price of admission. Where else would you see six-year olds at a 10 p.m. movie alone? Or dried squid and kimchi in a theatre?

It's rain season in Korea, which means one day it's pouring and the next it's scorching hot. I can never tell if my shirt is soaked with water or sweat. Does it really matter?

This country is hosting it's annual Peace Cup, a friendly tournament of high-profile soccer teams from around the world. Daegu will play host to one game, featuring the mighty Bolton Wanderers v Deportivo Guadalajara. It'll be my first chance to check out the local World Cup stadium, built for the 2002 tournament. Looking forward to it.

I mentioned a while back that I thought we'd eaten some sort of animal tongue. Turns out it was rectal muscle. Mmmmm . . . say it with me now - 'rectal muscle'.

"So, what would you like for lunch today?"
"Um, I think I'll have rice. Kimchi, of course. Oh, and maybe a sphincter or two."

One more thing - watch this clip.



Efficiency. Apparently that's what the Korean medical system is all about. I woke up Saturday morning knowing I had to go to the hospital and somehow set up an appointment for physical therapy, but all I had was a brief note from the doctor - in Korean. That's the only communication I could offer anyone once I got there, and I had a feeling no-one would speak English. I didn't know if the hospital I was going to even offered the type of treatment I was prescribed so I was quite unsure about the whole thing.

But I was motivated by sheer pain and discomfort. Every time I moved a sharp pain would shoot through my neck and into my head, and I felt like I was going to vomit. So I headed to the infirmary. Of course I started off on the wrong foot and walked in through Emergency, but they read my note and quickly led me to the main reception area. They took my residency card and did the paperwork for me, and after a couple of minutes a nurse gestured for me to follow her. She led me to an office labeled 'Neurosurgery'. Neurosurgery? Are guys sure you read that note right? I'm pretty sure I just have a few kinks in my back. Operating on my brain probably isn't necessary. I eyed all the escape routes and thought about making a break for it, but being in the physical condition of a 90 year-old wasn't doing me any favours. I walked in and there was a doctor waiting for me. After realizing I couldn't carry a medical-related conversation in Korean, he switched to English and explained he wanted to do intense physical therapy on me - maybe five or six times over the next couple of weeks and would then re-evaluate me. He sent me out with the nurse and she took me back to reception where I paid about $8 for the appointment and the therapy.

Then it was downstairs to the physio ward where I was immediately shown to a private room, hooked up to a machine and given electrotherapy for 30 minutes followed by a ten minute massage. That was it. Game over. No brain surgery. They told me to come back pointed at the calender and showed me when they're open and when I could come back. Feeling much better, I headed outside, jumped crawled in a taxi and headed home. I haven't been able to go back yet but I've been feeling much better - the medication is working.