So We All Look the Same to You?

Greetings!

“YOU ARE HANDSOME” my middle-aged cab driver announces in English once she drops me off at my apartment and I am a good 20 feet from her cab. I awkwardly turn around and half-shout a thank you in Korean. Despite the extreme awkwardness of this specific encounter, this is in no way a strange experience. 

They think all white people are beautiful or handsome and they will let you know. Strangers will tell you this as they pass you on the street. Students will tell you this in class (mind you, sometimes students will think they are being clever with their flattery and overcompliment you when they want to play a game.). You will hear it in restaurants, the store, the market, anywhere. If you are white, they think you are stunning. 

That being said, it is clear that these compliments have nothing to do with one’s unique features. Many Koreans think that all white people look the same. During the week that Josh and I were both in the classroom, we had multiple students tell us that we have the same face. Mind you, we look nothing alike, aside from our whiteness and possibly general face shape. 

So, at times, it can feel very flattering to be foreign in Korea (despite the awareness that many of the compliments are quite empty); however, in a future post, I will talk about how Korea is not the place to be if you have body image issues. Believe me, they make sure to balance out all of the “you are handsome” comments.

So, until next time, I miss you all.

eastmeetsweston

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Birthdays and Booze

Greetings,

Today is my partner’s birthday. Most of you probably know him, since we have been dating 3.5yearsish roundabouts.  I had to give a shout out because I miss him like crazy every day. Its a little depressing that I can’t spend it with him, but that’s all part of the deal. Skype will have to suffice. 

Onto a less melancholy topic: BOOZE!

So, when I interviewed for this position many months ago, there were some strange questions that were almost a little tag at the end of the interview.  I was asked if I smoke to which I said no, and then I was asked if I drink to which I fumblingly answered something along the lines of “um, yeah, sorta, only sometimes though…I mean sometimes its nice to have a glass of wine at the end of the night…haha…” These questions completely caught me off guard and the fact that they were asked in a job interview really stuck with me and put ideas into my head as to some of Korea’s views on substance.

My preconceived notions were insanely off base.

I have never seen more people smoke in my life. There are more smokers here than in any part of America that I have ever experienced.  It may be partially due to the fact that America has been very diligent on keeping the population aware of the health risks of smoking. It is also equally possible that the pervasiveness of smoking culture in Korea exists because cigarettes are crazy cheap. Like I was shocked when I saw them at a convenience store. No brand is over $3.00 and most are around $2.50, and I am not just talking about Korean brands, this includes Camel, Marlboro, Virginia Slims, and the like.

Regarding alcohol, when I take the five minute walk from my school to my bus stop every night, I see grown men (not just irresponsible young people) sitting outside of convenience stores just getting plastered.  I don’t mean sitting on the curb, by the way, in Korea a lot of convenience stores have little patios so that you can enjoy the drinks or food that you buy inside. Anyway, serious adults just going all out on a weekday night and this is common. These people aren’t like crazy alcoholics that don’t have jobs. They are professionals who are respected within their circles. Intoxication, even public intoxication even on weekdays, is just totally acceptable here.

Coming straight from university, I am used to seeing some crazy substance usage, but seeing it on a scale like this was definitely unexpected, especially given my initial questioning by my potential employer last spring.

Here is a K-pop song for you all to enjoy: Heartbeat by 2 PM

Smilin’ and Noddin’

Greetings!

The weekend is coming to an end here in Korea, and I have officially been in Korea for more than two weeks now! I am really starting to get the hang of things here. I have been teaching for a week, I have some really fun friends, and I’m really settling in and getting comfortable. Some foreign teachers have told me to be careful because before too long, I will really fall in love with Korea and will be signing on for a second year. That sounds crazy to me, but I know MANY foreign teachers that are on their second lap and are still having a blast.
Thursday night after work I went out with my Korean co-teachers for one of their birthdays. We went out and had some beer and a ton of delicious Korean food. I was amazed at how much food there was; the kicker is that most of it is vegetable-y or something of the sorts, which is how they all stay so damn skinny.

As great at it was to spend time with my coworkers, most of my night was spent smiling and nodding since most of the conversations happening at my table were in Korean. Luckily, my co-teachers being English teachers and all, tried to fill me in every once in a while, which was a kind gesture. One of the funniest relationships of the evening was definitely between our school’s secretary (who speaks no English) and myself (who knows about 2 dozen words in Korean at this point). We keep making an effort to connect but it just keeps ending up really awkward.

After eating and drinking we decided to peace out, and I thought we were heading home for the night. I was apparently quite mistaken as I saw my director make a beeline for another building down the street. We were headed to a Noraebong.

What is a noraebong, you may be wondering. Well it is just one of many “rooms” that seem to pervade Korean culture. Noraebong specifically is a singing room. You pay for an hour, get two microphones, your own private room, and access to thousands of songs. These places are incredibly popular, and I was excited that my first experience with them was with Koreans. This allowed me to see how they do noraebongs and gave me a hilarious introduction to a good many K-pop songs as sung by my co-teachers.

Thanks for everyone who reads this blog! I have been trying to blog consistently, but, for some reason, felt incredibly unmotivated this weekend. On that note, I had better get ready for work and whatnot.

Eastmeetsweston

Ps, if you are in the mood for a sassy party song that I am currently obsessed with, enjoy this Rita Ora video, How We Do (its not K-pop, but I promise I will start throwing some of that at you soon).

 

No Homo

Greetings!

There are going to be a lot of posts this year about gender, sexuality and the whatnot this year. a) because I’m me, and I love talking about that stuff, duh, and b) the ideas here are super interesting…

Pretty soon after my arrival, I noticed two men or two women holding hands as they walked down the street. Keep in mind, they are generally homophobic here, so this threw me for a huge loop.

Then in my some of my older classes, I have noticed similar behavior. One day when we were having a discussion, two of my boy students held hands for like twenty minutes. At the same time, one male student was playing with another boy student’s hair for about the same length of time. It was never mentioned or acknowledged, but it just kept happening.

As I have started witnessing these instances on different occasions, I have come to think that most of their homophobic attitudes come from the fact that so many of their day to day actions are totally homo. A foreigner friend that I went out with last night put it best when he said “Koreans say that nobody in Korea is gay. That’s because everybody is gay.” Clearly this is a vast simplification of things, but to a certain extent its totally legit. These kinds of actions aren’t specific to only kids and teens, I have seen adults commit such PDAs.

Well, my break is nearly over, so I had better get back to teaching my little Koreans!

eastmeetsweston

 

Thankful to be Carless

Greetings!

Today I am going to talk a little bit about driving in Korea, because driving culture is very different than what I have experienced in America.

I first noticed this disparity in attitudes as soon as I got to Korea. I had to take a four-hour bus from the Incheon/Seoul airport to Ulsan, and I was exhausted, so I was going to take this opportunity to claim two seats for myself so that I could try to sprawl out a bit and take a nap. Well, I successfully fall asleep to be abruptly awoken 20 minutes later by the loud, long honking of the horn by our bus driver. This clearly sent me into alarm, thinking that we were just cut off or in some way in danger of getting in a wreck. After surveying the area, I realize that nothing seems to be amiss… I shrug it off and go back to sleep. Much to my horror this continued for the entire bus ride at the very least every ten minutes. I was clearly convinced that my bus driver was a crazy asshole.

A few days later, I noticed that this was a similar pattern and began to understand what I was seeing. Honking your horn is not an aggressive move in Korea. It is not a form of “yelling” at another driver. It is merely a form of communication to help traffic go more smoothly. This actually makes a lot of sense. You can’t talk to the cars around you so why not use your horn to try to bridge that communication gap, instead of utilizing it to blow off steam when somebody makes a dick move on the road.

Another divergence from my learned rules of the road is that oftentimes stoplights serve more as a suggestion than a strict rule. I will admit that I have been one to speed up when the light turns yellow to beat the red; but here I have been on multiple buses that I have mortifyingly watched straight up blow a red light. I looked around the bus, shocked that a bus driver would do that, and not one other person was fazed.

I have mostly gotten used to the horn culture (although it still makes me jump, its hard to override 22 years of socialization), but I am still super scared every time a bus just cruises through a clearly red light.

Lastly, I have had a few people ask me for my address. If you would like to send me a letter or a package, I would be more delighted. I will hang up any letter than I am sent on my “happy wall” where I have hung a couple of notes and drawings and am hoping to add to soon. J Here is the address of my school which is where I have my mail sent. I would love to hear from you all!

Weston Bonczek

Sang Ah Top Foreign Language School

2nd Floor, Sang Ah Top. Dong-bu-dong Dong-gu

Ulsan, South Korea 682-800

 

Until next time, I miss you all!

 

eastmeetsweston 

Pierced Gangster

Wahhh! Greetings,

It has been a couple days so I am going to hit my weekend as well as my first day of teaching.

Firstly, on Saturday night, I decided to make a ballsy move and just go out and make me some friends. So, I went on the Internet (because Ulsan actually has some decent resources for foreigners), and I looked around for where they recommended a good place to go would be to meet other foreigners, and pinpointed where I wanted to go, primarily because it had a very specific map on how to get there. I get on the bus and take the 45 minute ride to get to “new downtown” and realize that they weren’t kidding when they said downtown. This area was huge scary crazy big. I just stood there for a few minutes before I gathered the confidence to follow my map and make it to the bar. So I get there and spend about 15 minutes awkwardly standing in the corner acting like I am super into the view out the window before I gather the courage to approach someone; eventually, I find someone who looks awesome and approachable and it was all awesome from there! I ended up making a ton of friends, because apparently the foreigner community is pretty close in Ulsan so eventually people would just come up to me and be like “are you new?” and totally embrace me and my new Korean life.

I also found out around 11:30 that the buses stop running from 12-6 (which is totally stupid, right?), so my options were a) leave that exact moment when I was just getting to know some nice people, b) take a cab when I was ready to leave, or c) play it like a baller and rock out until the buses start back up again. I clearly chose c. That’s right; Weston, the old man who has trouble making it past 1:30, rolled back into my apartment at 9:00 Sunday morning. Granted, I wanted to die on the bus ride back to my apartment, as it was sunny and I kept nodding into sleep and smelled like bar, but it was totally worth it and fantastic. So, that was a long way of saying, I have friends.

To teaching! Today I had my first day of solo teaching, and it was awesome! It is going to take a while to understand how much I should plan for each day. That is just an acquired skill though. Once I get to know all of my classes, I will know how much we can take on in a day. I had a super fun time with the little kids, despite their limited vocabulary. The tricky ones were the couple of low-level older classes where getting any English out of them was like pulling teeth, but that’s where the challenge lies.

From my older kids, who speak enough English to carry on a conversation of sorts, I was given a list of k-pop groups to check out so that I can be cool. They also told me that my earring made me look like I am in a gang, which I thoroughly enjoyed. It started with them being like “piercing!” and then making some violent, menacing gestures. That is clearly me: gangsta like none other #sorryboutit.

Well, I didn’t bring an umbrella today and ended up having to walk to and from my bus stops on my way home in the rain, so I need to get out of these wet clothes, so I will talk to you all later!

Miss you all.

eastmeetsweston