31 March 2008

Kittyho & Eemobu in Korea

Since arriving in Seoul, I've spent more time and money on my appearance than I've ever spent back in the homeland. Alright, that's a bit of an exaggeration, but it's pretty true. People in Seoul, particularly young women, are extremely conscious of their appearance. Perhaps this is true of women in big cities around the world, but I haven't really experienced such a high degree of image consciousness before.

When living in Seoul, even if your a lazy schlub like myself, you can't help but start to concern yourself with appearance. (Especially when your students say stuff like, "You're pretty, but you have zits." Dang. That comment hurt even more than the big zit on my face.)

Case in point: My sister and uncle were only here for less than a week, but we still dedicated time to get our hair done, get facials, and get some moles removed.

It's so tempting to alter your appearance or undergo some cosmetic procedure while you're in Korea because a) It's generally less expensive. b) You can get excellent service for moderate prices. c) Everyone else does it. Beauty is an essential expenditure. It's neither frivolous nor vain to indulge yourself.

Of course, we had to take my sister & uncle to see Mr. Taek Kim at Lee Chul Hair Kerker in Apgu.

(We were trying to look dour as they do on all those makeover shows.)





(Everyone went short for a fresh new spring look. I am envying their cute cuts, but I've decided to keep my hair long because I'm trying to grow it out for a perm in the summer.)

We also took the family to our neighborhood Skin Clinic (dermatologist + facial spa). Cyndi, Kittyho, and Eemo-bu all had a mole or two removed. Mole removal is fairly inexpensive and quick. Depending on the size and roots of your mole, removal ranges from approx. $10-30 a mole. The mole is then extracted with a laser of some sort. The only catch is that you must walk around with a small bandage on your face for 3-4 days.

I have a few moles on my face, but I decided instead to focus on the zits that my students so kindly pointed out. I elected to go for the "scaling" which involves a light chemical peel and an invasive pimple extraction procedure. The doctor also injects the really gnarly pimples with some mysterious serum.

The procedure did not miraculously eliminate all my blemishes as I had hoped, but it did reduce the size and redness of the pimples.

Even Piggy got in on the makeover action:



19 March 2008

Note to my Lil' Sis

I am excited that you're coming to visit, but before you do, and knowing you as well as I do, I wanted to give you a heads up on some of the cultural differences that you might find strange and perhaps disconcerting.

1) You will want to wear high heels.
If you are a young woman in Seoul between the age of 20-35 (American age) you must wear high heels. It is not yet an official mandate, but I'm sure that they're working on it. Back home, I often wore slippers or my Converse sneakers because I accept the fact that I'm short. In Korea, on the other hand, I've managed to beat my feet into submission and now wear heels regularly. I know. Say what? Here's the deal. Firstly, it's currently too cold to wear slippers. Secondly, if I wear sneakers people will continue to mistake me for a high school student. In addition to over-sized t-shirts, clunky eyeglasses, and unflattering hair cuts, Converse sneakers seem to be de rigueur for all teens in Seoul. Side note: the contrast between teen girls and young Korean women is quite stark. It's as if immediately after graduation, young tomboyish Korean girls with bad skin and bad hair, magically transform into well groomed swans. They perm their hair. They start pampering their face with "essence" and "BB Cream." They fix their "deviated septums." And, last, but certainly not least, they slip on a pair of heels. The transformations are impressive, yet disturbing.

2) A lady should always carry a little tissue in her purse.
It's always a good idea to carry around a little tissue (unscented) in your purse. Many public restrooms do not contain toilet paper in the stalls. Sometimes there will be a central dispenser near the sinks. In any case, you should always ensure that you have tissue before proceeding with your biznass. Also, most restrooms offer bar soap (if they offer any soap at all). I prefer liquid soap, but I figure bar soap is better than no soap at all.

3) Don't rush the flush.
In what is ostensibly an effort to conserve water resources, public restrooms all have signs that ask patrons to throw used toilet paper in the trash can rather than flushing it down the toilet. I try my hardest to comply with this courtesy rule because I don't want to be the ignorant foreigner who's clogging up the pipes, but... it's really hard! I'm accustomed to flushing the toilet paper down the toilet. Also, the trash cans are overflowing with *blech* used tissues. If I add my tissue, the whole mess will just topple to the floor. Generally, when I encounter an overstuffed trash bin, I'll try to push the trash down and reduce the overflow, BUT I'm not about to do that with a bin of used tissues... in a woman's bathroom...The restroom attendants probably prefer open bins to cans with a lid because they're easier to empty, but honestly, I'd rather take the extra step of opening a lid over sweeping used tissues off the ground.

4) One more thing...
Okay, I know that this is starting to turn into a rant about public restrooms, but here's one more obnoxious observation about El baño. Women are always surreptitiously smoking in (poorly ventilated) bathroom stalls, because it is apparently unseemly for a young woman to smoke in public. Frankly, if you need to hide the fact that you smoke, perhaps you shouldn't be smoking in the first place...

5) Don't let the door hit you on the way in.
Perhaps wistfulness clouds my memory, but I seem to remember that back home, people would usually hold the door open for the person immediately behind them. I'm not talking about gallant gestures. I'm talking about holding the door just long enough so that it doesn't smack the next person in the face. In Korea, I find that this gesture is not so customary. Whether you're young or old, male or female, people go through doors without concern for whoever may or may not be behind them. I've lost track of the number of times that a swinging glass door has nearly plowed me over. I'm trying to resist the system by holding doors open for people, but most people just look at me strangely or ignore me as if I were a part of the door fixture.

6) Public trash cans are rare.
I'm not sure why, but it's hard to find a public trash can in Seoul. Consequently, due to the lack of trash cans, people just throw their trash on the street, creating mini piles of rubbish. At first, I thought the lack of trash cans was to save on garbage disposal labor, but all of these piles of rubbish on the street disappear overnight, so someone is cleaning up the trash anyways. Wouldn't a trash can make it easier?

7) Look all ways before you cross.
Our parents taught us to look both ways before we cross a street. In Korea, you need to look both ways before and while crossing the street. From what I've observed traffic signals seem to be optional. Never assume that a red light means "stop." I've seen enough cars running red lights that I now always cross the street as if I were in a game of Frogger. Unless you want to die at the wheels of a Hyundai, be cautious when crossing a busy intersection.

8) People will shove. Do not shove back.
This one may be hard for you to get used to, but shoving is a natural part of life in a big Asian city. People here have places to be and people to see. It's their prerogative to run down or push past anyone or thing that may be in their way. All the shoving wouldn't be so bad if someone gave an apologetic nod, but I've quickly learned that things are different in this pond. You just gotta keep swimming.

I know that my comments may sound judgmental. This was not my intention at all. I don't mean to disparage the Motherland. In fact, I think it's a remarkable country, and you're sure to have a fabulous time.

I was just thinking back to my first time in the Motherland, and these were the cultural differences that first struck me.

See ya in a few.

- Annalog

10 March 2008

Korean Pancakes & an Unexpected Serenade

A few weeks ago, we decided to take a break from our usual shopping/eating routine, and checked out the "Jazz in the City" concert series at the KT Art Hall in Kwanghwamun. Tickets are a deal at only 1000 won. The KT Art Hall seems like a cool place to visit. In addition to musical performances and art, KT features moving making facilities (backdrops, cameras, lights,computers, etc.) that are free to use. If I ever decide to upgrade from my guerrilla snap and shoot style of production, perhaps I'll check out the KT Art Hall equipment.

After the concert, we stopped by a nearby bindae-ddeok restaurant. Bindae-ddeok is another food item that arose out of harder times, when grains were just way too expensive. It's a Korean pancake made out of mung bean powder, and often mixed with savory meats or seafood. We stopped at a restaurant that claims to be the 원조 or the "original" bindae-ddeok restaurant.

Now, this is the part where I get all Seinfieldian and have to ask, "What's the deal with the use of the word 'original'?" First of all, how can one possibly claim to be "THE Original." How do we know that some cave woman didn't mix together some crushed mung bean, chopped woolly mammoth, and water, and fry it up in her little prehistoric skillet? In my opinion, the title of "original" may only be claimed by the first person or persons to publicize their achievement. So for all you future inventors and visionaries out there, I suggest that once you've created something worthy of merit, at the very least post a notice on your facebook profile or your myspace blog. That way, twenty years from now, when everyone's claiming to have been the "original" creator of the deep fried chocolate cheeseburger craze, you can always refer to your good old blog.

Even if one's claims of being the "original ____________" is valid, in terms of the consumer, this really has little value. I think we're all guilty of confusing the word "original" with the word "best." Just because someone was the first to do something, this doesn't guarantee that they were or are the best. The Wright brothers may have been the original inventors of the airplane, but if given a choice between their rickety prototype and a 747, what would you choose?

In Korea, we're always seeing food stands that claim to be the "original" amongst dozens of other vendors who sell the same exact product. I respect the originator of a food trend, but frankly, I imagine that the following captions would be more eye-catching: AWARD WINNING (I mean, you don't have to specify which award), LOWEST PRICES (10 cents cheaper will do), or DANIEL HENNEY EATS HERE.

I'm not certain if the restaurant we went to was the original of originals, but it certainly looked over fifty years old. Their bindaeddeok was tasty, but also very greasy. The experience was particularly memorable thanks to the impromptu serenade by some random ajusshi. He literally just walked into the restaurant and started playing his guitar. His serenade reminded me of the troubadour on Gilmore Girls, except our guy was a little greasier, and probably more drunk.

03 March 2008

CD Freebie

I recently bought Leona Lewis' album Spirit, and received a nice little freebie, a mini cd featuring songs from Chris Brown, Alicia Keys, and Mario. I don't recall ever getting any freebies back home. Perhaps freebies are the solution to stopping illegal downloading.

Yeah, you're right. It's not.

Unfortunately, I can't play the mini CD because I have a MacBook. I guess the mini CD is Sony BMG's way of telling me that I need to buy a Sony VAIO.

The album also came with a Korean translation of all the lyrics.

I'm enjoying Lewis' album, lots of catchy RnB songs with a pop flare. I'd give it a B+.

01 March 2008

Teacher Annalog: V is for Victory

It's admittedly a small victory, but I'm going to shamelessly revel in it nevertheless.

To my astonishment, my fourth grade demons have started to refer to me as "Miss Annalog." I only asked them to call me "Annalog." The "Miss" part is a pleasant surprise. They've referred to me as "Miss Annalog" for the past two classes, so I no longer think it's a fluke occurrence.

Some of you must be wondering, how did you tame those wild beasts? My answer is probably contrary to everything you'd probably learn as a professionally trained teacher, but here are a few of my tips:

1. When students call you a "devil" or tell you, in so many words, that they despise your existence, simply respond, "I'm rubber and you're glue. Whatever you say bounces off of me and sticks to you."

2. Then, reinforce their low opinion of you through self-deprecating humor.
Or, do a reverse attack, and indulge in self-flattery and ask things like, "Besides me, of course, who do you admire most in the world?" I like to mix up both tactics in an effort to confuse them and leave them thinking, "Does she want us to hate her or love her?"

3. Reward students with candy. I believe that in the biz, they call this "bribery."

4. If you are dealing with primarily male elementary students, try to drop the following words as much as possible: butt, blood, bombs, fart, Nintendo DS, and monsters. If you are dealing with female students, I imagine that you should use these terms: pink, princess, puppies, cell phones, and Hanna Montana.

5. Encourage every little action worthy of merit.
You did all of your homework? Excellent? You did MOST of your homework? Nice job! You only did the easy parts of your homework? Good effort! You threw you cup in the GARBAGE CAN? That's so thoughtful of you! You didn't try to disparage my reputation as a teacher? You're a champ! You don't wish me to die -- TODAY? You are just too precious!

Allow students to take an extra long break.
Okay, that one's really not to win the boys over. That's really more for your sanity.

7. If all else fails, threaten to call their mom.

I think that about covers it.
I hope my advice will help teachers across the globe.
I should note that I am not responsible for any ill consequences that may arise from practice of these tips. Your misuse of the aforementioned strategies simply means that you are inept and obviously not as skilled as Teacher Annalog. :)