Friday, February 22, 2013

The Adventures of Sam in Korea

The following story was inspired by the Skype conversation below. Happy Birthday Sam!

[ 11:06:46] Sam: i like your last two posts

[ 11:06:58] Sam: there reall intertaining

[ 11:09:51] Sam: i like it cause its gonzo esque

[ 11:09:56] Sam: right?

[ 11:10:01] Ben: you think?

[ 11:10:13] Sam: u report through your story

[ 11:10:18] Ben: maybe

[ 11:10:35] Sam: i leanred what the term meant

[ 11:10:54] Ben: great

[ 11:11:50] Sam: also i like when you report about me

[ 11:12:07] Ben: i report about you when?

[ 11:12:21] Sam: thats right , you dont!

[ 11:12:25] Ben: LOLOL

[ 11:12:38] Sam: i=people like me

[ 11:12:46] Sam: they want to hear about me

[ 11:13:00] Ben: ok. so start your own blog

[ 11:13:27] Sam: no

[ 11:13:52] Sam: you can just have side adventures of me

[ 11:14:01] Sam: u can create the story

[ 11:14:10] Sam: people like to hear about me

[ 11:14:14] Ben: ok. possibly

[ 11:14:22] Ben: i mean, it makes sense

[ 11:14:45] Sam: but when u right about me, make sure i am wearing my black and honolulu blue lions cap

[ 11:14:56] Sam: it gives me charter

[ 11:15:01] Sam: carachter

[ 11:15:10] Sam: i cant spell that word

[ 11:16:59] Sam: at least i like to hear about me

[11:17:16] Sam: and it will give your blog more of that word i cant spell

      “You don't like flying, do you?” Here Sam was, landing in Korea, and the man next to him was finally attempting to start a conversation.
     “No, no, where'd you get that idea? I'm in the Air Force actually,” said Sam, letting the man believe he was a pilot and not a burnt out desk jockey.
     “Ya wanna know the secret of successful air travel? After you get where you're going, ya take off your shoes and socks. Then ya walk around on the rug barefoot and make fists with your toes.”
     “Fists with your toes?” This is getting weird, Sam thought. He grabbed his carry-on and joined the line toward the exit.
     In the Incheon Airport, it started to settle in. He was in Korea now. Nearly everyone around him was Korean. No longer would he have to suffer the English, or England. Sam smiled, grabbed some Dunkin' Donuts, and handed the cab driver the address to the 나카토미 Guesthouse in Nonhyeon. This was the neighborhood where Sam's brother, Ben, lived.
     The cab driver made the usual small talk, asking him where he was from, his age, if he had a girlfriend. This all seemed a little personal, but company was company. “Why did you come to Korea?” the driver then asked.
     “It's a birthday surprise,” Sam said, leaving out the fact that the birthday was his own. Ben had no idea Sam was coming. It would come as a total surprise, especially since he was supposed to be at work today in England. He would spend the day in a guesthouse, then surprise him the following morning. It was a risky maneuver, but traveling Europe had made Sam confident in his abilities.
     The taxi stopped in front of the 나카토미 Guesthouse. Sam paid and headed for the door. To his surprise, a friendly German man was running the counter. The German showed him to his room and for the first time since leaving the plane he was able to relax. Sam threw off his black and Honolulu blue Detroit Lions cap, slipped off his shoes and socks and laid in bed. Then he remembered what the man on the plane had said. Fists with your toes. He started to curl his toes only to realize there was no carpet. Idiot. He fell back down on the bed and slept.
     When he awoke it was the early evening but jet-lag had erased all notion of time. Only food mattered. His stomach rumbled and Sam started out the door. The hallway was cold on his bare feet. Startled, he went back inside and put on his shoes, laughing to himself. What if he stepped on some glass? Someone might get hurt!
     On the sidewalk Sam breathed in Korea. The exhaust. The Seoul sewer system. The beef and rice. Strolling down the street he was about to turn into the first restaurant he saw when he heard someone call from behind him, “Sam! Sam!”
     He turned around to find a smooth skinned old man with a ponytail smiling up at him. “Hagwon?” he said. Sam had seen men like this before in the movies. It was always some wise Asian man that teaches the hero before they go on an adventure. How did he know my name, Sam thought. Perhaps there is more to this man than meets the eye. At the very least, a hagwon sounds like a delicious type of fish.
     He followed the old man up the staircase and into what looked like an office. Seeing it wasn't food or a martial arts dojo, Sam turned around to leave. “Sam!” the old man shouted. Sam turned around and saw that the man was offering him a seat.
     “How do you know my name?” Sam said. Before the man could answer, an old lady walked into the room. She yelled at him. It sounded like they were fighting. Back and forth it went until finally the man got up from the desk. She calmly sat down and began to speak.
     “I sorry. My husband, he is no good at English. He is trying to find special teacher. He saw you were Western and thought you would be perfect. I keep telling him to leave waygookin alone, but he is sure you are the one. I am sorry. He very strange. You can go home now. We won't bother you.”
     “What do you mean? Why am I the one? One for what? What am I doing here? Where is the hagwon fish? How did he know my name!”
     The woman paused, then turned to her husband. More shouting. They both turned to Sam. “My husband says he needs you. He says you are not a normal waygookin, you are very special. He cannot believe his luck. He wants you to start right away as our new basketball coach!”
     Basketball coach? A sudden realization dawned on Sam. He had posted a video years before showcasing his mad basketball skills. Had they seen the video? Was that how they knew his name? “Listen, if you don't either get me some fish or tell me how you know who I am, then I am out of here. Your choice.”
     “But Sam, we don't know your name,” said the old woman.
     “But you just said it! My name is Sam!”
     She started to laugh, “Oh your name is Sam!” Words were exchanged in Korean. “My husband says now you surely must stay. In Korean, ssaem is our nickname for teacher. It was meant to be. He will show you the students. Here is our contract.”
     Sam looked down at the contract. What was he doing here? He was supposed to be on base at this very moment! If he went back, who knows what type of trouble he would be in! Sam always dreamed of a career in athletics. This could be his one and only shot. He looked down. He picked up the pen, and signed. “Now, when can we eat?”

To be continued...

Wednesday, February 20, 2013


A couple days ago I traded coins with one of the chinese teachers. They are leaving for home in a couple weeks and we both needed a good memento I suppose. She gave me 1 Yuan and in exchange I gave her a dime and a penny. With current exchange rates, this made for a five cent profit! Now I am completely out of American money in Korea.

It wasn't until coming to Korea that I realized just how useless pennies are. I have a coin dish on my cabinet that for many months had four 10 won coins in it. They sat and sat there because it is extremely rare that anything in Korea can be bought with them. Very recently I received another 10 won coin from a friend and was secretly excited to have enough to equal 50 won. Why, now if I only get a 50 won coin then that will equal 100 won, and finally my money will become remotely useful again. Generally I save up my 100 won coins and when I get ten of them I trade them in for a roll of kimbap.

The annoyance with small change in Korea has lead me to create a new rule that I follow: only pay in cash when guaranteed to not get change smaller than 100 won coins back. This is fairly easy to follow in Korea, but it does result in me using debit on small items from time to time. Of course, this rule only works because tax is already added into the value of the purchase. I know exactly how much something will cost me before I go to the register.

In America, I always had a fondness for the penny, but my experience in Korea further cements what anybody that has studied the subject knows: pennies need to go. They cost far more money than they are worth and are a huge hassle. I have no emotional attachment to 10 won so, being almost equivalent to the penny, I can finally see the uselessness of the coin for what it is.

Monday, February 4, 2013

A Brief Post about Stoplights

This morning I rode the bus into work and it let me off across the road from the school. My coworker and I saw that no one was coming and so I walked across. She told me I shouldn't do that in front of students or Koreans. I guess I was being a bad role model. And it is true: Koreans rarely jaywalk. I should have waited for the little green man to light up. I dismissed the whole thing quickly, saying it's "a cultural thing and they will understand."

After school that night I was talking to one of my friends, a head teacher who was also there late. Somehow we went from pronunciation of the word "yield" to talking about driving. She started laughing about how Americans always wait for the stoplight to turn green before going, even when there is no one coming. I told her about the fear of cops and the subject soon changed to my experiences being pulled over and her one experience with a breathalyzer. As it does with English teachers, this lead to a discussion of how the word is a portmanteau of "breath" and "analyzer", just like "chocoholic" is from "chocolate" and "alcoholic." She told me they have portmanteaus in Korean as well and the world once again seemed a smaller and friendlier place for me.

It wasn't until I was at the corner across from my apartment that stoplights once again crossed my mind. There I was, the red hand glowing across the street, doing my routine check to see if it was safe. It was. I jogged along and suddenly everything came into focus. Once again, the opposite side of the world sometimes requires opposite thinking.

American cars respect the red light. Korean pedestrians respect the red hand. Meanwhile, Cambodia has neither.