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Sleeping June 29, 2009

Posted by jorkat in Seoul.
8 comments

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This picture has nothing to do with Korea.

However, it’s still one of my favourite pictures which I’ve been looking for an excuse to post on this blog since its creation. Fortunately, it couldn’t be more perfect or more relevant to the content of this post.

The picture was taken about two years ago shortly after we moved into our new condo in Montreal. Katie almost always went to bed before I did and greeted me upon arrival sound asleep with her body contorted in various awkward positions. This one was too good to ignore so I snapped a picture with my blackberry and its made me laugh ever since.

Another byproduct of her earlier bedtime was that she was often well into her sleep cycle and had a tendency to talk in her sleep. She usually wouldn’t say more than a word of two but sometimes it would be something amusing which I would try to remember to make fun of her for the next morning. Sometimes her banter could be traced back to some current event or issue at hand, but usually it was just rambling or random words.

Well these sleep patterns haven’t changed much at all. I go to bed even later than before as I don’t have to get up until 8:45am and she’s almost always in bed asleep before I arrive. But for some reason, she’s taken this whole sleep talking thing to unprecedented levels.

Random words have been replaced with full blown sentences. Mumbling while tossing and turning have become body actions incorporated into her statements. It’s amazing. Sometimes I actually think she’s talking to me until I respond and the room remains completely silent. Other times I would almost be asleep myself when she would utter something amusing and I would do my best to remember what she said the next day, but would often forget. Now, no matter how tired I am or what time it is, I laugh out loud and get up out of bed to write it down. Some of these are too good to forget.

I’m trying to limit my blog posts to 1200 words so I’ll provide you all with only three of my favourites.

1)  “Why do you keep writing it?!” – This was said in a fairly angry tone which sort of scared me. I wasn’t writing in bed so I knew she wasn’t talking to me.

2) “Put your toys away, NOW!” – This was said in an even angrier tone. I didn’t have any toys in bed with me that night, so I knew she wasn’t yelling talking to me.

3) “Very good everyone, your speeches were amazing.” – This one was the best because she said it as she rolled over and managed to clap her hands a few times. It was classic. It was also nice to here her praise her kids in her sleep as opposed to getting mad at them.

The great part of this whole thing is that if I ever want to know about something that’s bothering her and I don’t feel like asking her about it, all I have to do is pull an all-nighter, pull up a chair and wait for the show to begin. It’s also become clear that she’s such a good teacher because she’s basically doing it 24/7. If she isn’t in class during the day with her children, she’s at home praising me for not spilling on my shirt while eating, or disciplining me for leaving the toilet seat up. Then once she goes to sleep, she’s back in her sub-conscious classroom prepping for tomorrow’s lesson. She’s a true professional.

Speaking of sleeping, a few of the teachers who preceded us at our school shared a little game with us which was a big hit with their kids. The game is called Sleepy Lion and it’s one of the greatest gifts ever given to me. The premise of the game is simple. The children have to lie on the carpet in dead silence and not move for as long as possible. If you’re caught moving you have to go back to the table and sit in your chair in complete silence. Next to hockey and golf, it’s the greatest game known to mankind.

 Now, if I had my way, I would probably play Sleepy Lion a couple hours a day, but this is one of those games that isn’t exactly encouraged by the administration, so you have to pick your spots. I try to avoid playing it unless I have 5 minutes to kill at the end of class, or I’m hung-over on Friday and want to join in on the game myself.

The best part of the game is that the kids absolutely love it. You could inject them with caffeine and get them to run laps around the classroom, but as soon as you say Sleepy Lion they can lapse into a coma on command. Two girls in my class are on a whole other level compared to the other students. Jessica and Sally are the Federer and Nadal of Sleepy Lion. I would put them up against any other kids in the school and it wouldn’t even be close. Jessica is one of the most hyper and energetic children in my class. She laughs at everything, and I mean everything, but the second that she hits the carpet she goes to a special place. No matter what I do to make her laugh or flinch, she just stares back blankly at me as if I’m not even there. It’s incredible.

Federer, Nadal, and Djokovic?

Federer, Nadal, and Djokovic?

 Here’s some video of my class in action (maybe “action” isn’t the right word). As you’ll see, the boys (Bob Jack & Nathan) never fare as well. The third girl in my class, Adela sometimes contends with Jessica and Sally, but it almost always comes down to Federer vs Nadal. I guess Adela would be considered Djokovic or Murray and if you don’t know what I’m talking about – shame on you. As you can see, I’ve given this a great deal of thought and may even start a ranking system similar to the ATP so that I can seed them for future competition. Enjoy.

 

Now if only I could train my wife to be as quiet as my class while she’s sleeping.

Dr. Fish June 22, 2009

Posted by jorkat in Seoul.
4 comments

Have you ever been in line at the coffee shop and looked down at your feet in disgust because of how dirty they were?

If yes, then how disappointed were you when you realized that there wasn’t any kind of podiatric services offered at that coffee shop?

Have you ever been late for a pedicure and/or foot massage and couldn’t stop for coffee on the way?

What if I told you that there was a place in Seoul where you could order a cafe latte, and then have all the dirt and dead skin removed from your feet for a nominal charge?

Interested?

Now, how would you react if I told you that the method of removing this dirt/dead skin involved dipping your feet into a shallow tank of water with hundreds of small fish? And that these fish would make your feet cleaner and smoother then they have ever been by eating the dead skin right off your feet. Still interested?

This isn’t a joke. It’s called Dr. Fish and it has easily cracked the top 5 for most bizarre, yet oddly satisfying things we’ve encountered here thus far.

We had heard about it from a variety of sources but didn’t have the courage to go until our friends Meghan and Daryl (the couple that was staying with us a couple weeks ago) decided to visit one last time before heading back to Canada.  They insisted that we join them. Needless to say, we weren’t disappointed and will definitely be going back.

When you first walk into the place, you wouldn’t even know that it was anything but a coffee shop. In fact, most of the young patrons were there only for the coffee and to socialize with friends. After ordering a slightly overpriced latte by Korean standards (approx. $5), we paid the additional 2,000 KRW (approx. $2) for Dr. Fish’s services. I still don’t know where the name comes from, or if an actual Dr. Fish exists, but we were informed by one of our Korean colleagues that the fish aren’t actually Doctors. Thanks.

After enjoying our respective beverages for a few minutes we were summoned to a slightly elevated area overlooking the entire coffee shop, right next to the large main window outside. This is where the nerves kick in a little once you take your first peak inside the tanks. The fish are smaller than we expected, but there were lots of them. And they looked hungry.

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If you’re feet are overly sensitive and easily tickled, then this activity probably isn’t for you. Once you get over the initial sensation and get past that fact that hundreds of small fish are gnawing at your legs, it can actually become somewhat relaxing. I couldn’t even look down at first and just kept telling myself that I was being tickled, after a few minutes I was fine and started taking more pictures and recording some video. Enjoy.

I was on the phone with my Uncle this morning and he asked me if I’d come across any million dollar ideas that I could bring back to Canada. Dr. Fish didn’t immediately come to mind but now that I think about it, maybe I should put together a business plan and get in touch with Tim Horton’s/Second Cup/Starbucks, if only just to see their reaction once they read my proposal. They’ll probably throw me out of their office, but my feet were cleaner and smoother than they ever have or ever will be again. That is until we head back again after accumulating enough dirt and dead skin to feed the medical professionals at Dr. Fish.

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Mart Drinking June 14, 2009

Posted by jorkat in Seoul.
7 comments

One of the great things about living in Montreal is the convenience of being able to buy beer at the local depanneur (or convenience store for those of you outside of La Belle Province). Korea offers this same luxury and takes it a step further by offering quality wines and even hard liquor. These establishments are commonly referred to as “Marts” which I suspect is derived from the name of one of the more common chains “Family Mart”.

These marts offer an impressive array of imported alcohol at reasonable prices (bottle of Heineken costs 2,800 KRW which equates to approx $2.50 CAD). They also have a full selection of domestic beer and liquor which are even cheaper. You can purchase a 1.5L bottle of any of the local brands (OB, Hite & Cass) for 2,000 KRW, which is less than $2.00 CAD.  If beer isn’t your thing and you’re looking to take it up a notch, you can take your chances with the Korean’s beverage of choice, Soju. They drink this stuff with almost everything and at all times of the day (ie. at breakfast after a long night of drinking and no sleep). I wasn’t a huge fan at first, but lets just say that it’s an acquired taste. It’s about 20% booze and costs around 3,000 KRW. It’s also great for drinking games and waking up the next morning with no recollection of the previous night.

So yeah, the booze is cheap and it’s easily accessible. We thought we had it good when we were living in Montreal and had a depanneur on the corner of our street, but here in Seoul we can fall out of our front door and spit on the small convenience store located less than 10 feet from the entrance to our building. The irony of this convenient location is that we rarely purchase alcohol from there as we rarely drink at home. With the outdoor temperature having been comfortable since early April, we’ve become avid “Mart Drinkers”.

Most of the larger marts set-up tables and chairs outside for their patrons to enjoy their selections without having to walk all the way home to sit down. Despite being allowed to drink anywhere in public, it’s not that common and is usually only exercised by foreigners who can’t fathom how this is legal and think it’s too good to be true. There’s nothing quite like dropping less than 2 bucks for a beer and immediately cracking it open as you stroll outside on a beautiful Saturday afternoon. Or a Tuesday. Wednesday and Monday’s are good too. So are Friday’s. However, as I mentioned, this is rarely practiced by Korean’s as they prefer to consume their alcohol in a more formal or relaxed environment, such as a restaurant, a bar, or sitting on plastic chairs outside a mart.

Aside from the obvious financial benefits and convenience of the mart, it also offers the prospect of something unusual occuring as you sit and watch the world pass you by. This is the ultimate people watching activity, especially if you live in such a concentrated area as we do where there’s a steady flow a foot traffic, and not many cars. Some nights are tamer than others, but when you’re a foreigner in this place, you tend to attract more attention and can often find yourself involved in entertaining or awkward conversations.

A few weeks ago, Katie and I decided to go and have a beer outside the mart near our place, which is called the Mini-Stop. It was a quiet Saturday evening and we had no big plans in mind, just wanted to take it easy and do some people watching. Shortly after sitting down at our table, the two guys sitting at the table next to us started to stare and eventually mustered up the courage to start speaking with us. They asked our ages (a common practice here to see who is the oldest and therefore the most respected), they asked about our relationship status and were impressed when we told them we’re married (another positive status symbol) and told us we were a handsome couple. We exchanged the rest of the usual pleasantries and found out that these guys are actually in a rock band. One is the manager and the other one who looks like the Korean version of Slash from Guns and Roses, is obviously the guitarist. We chat for a few more minutes before they excuse themselves to head to their next gig and invite us to come by if we feel so inclined.

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As their walking away, our friend and colleague Naomi passes them and overhears them saying how much fun foreigners can be. She then sees us and comes to sit down with her dinner in hand. Naomi is a Puerto Rican buddhist who was born and raised in New York City. She has been living in Korea for the past three years and has studied hard to learn the language and culture. She’s extremely entertaining and a valuable resource when trying to eavesdrop on a Korean conversation or simply read a sign that we can’t understand. She also isn’t shy about trying new and exotic foods. On this evening she had with her a very popular Korean delicassy – cow intestines. Even though I already had a few beers in me and was feeling a bit adventurous, I wasn’t going near that shit (no pun intended). Katie on the other hand…well, here’s the picture.

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Apprently, it tastes just like sausage, but I won’t be confirming or refuting this claim anytime soon.

After watching my wife eat cow intestines, we sat back and listened to Naomi entertain us with her vast array of stories and experiences. One beer led to another and soon I decided to free up some space on the table by arranging our beer cans in a less space consuming arrangement.

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What initially started out as us going for a beer at the Mini-Stop on a quiet Saturday night, turned into a quest to build the tallest beer can tower in Mart Drinking history. I can’t remember what the final tally was, but I’m pretty sure it was broken just a few weeks later when we must have set the record for most foreigners mart drinking in one location. Our friends, Meghan and Daryl (who were the couple teaching at our school and living at our place before we arrived) were back for a week in Seoul after traveling for three months.   They made arrangements with many of the friends they had made throughout their stay here, and instrusted them to meet them at the Mini-Stop where we had already assembled the better part of our current teaching staff. The result, 23+ foreigners crammed into an area designed for 2 tables and 6-8 chairs, all enjoying cheap beer, good company and endless stares from the hundreds of Koreans passing by. It was a night I won’t soon forget, mostly because I took this video to mark the occasion. 

It’s Official. June 13, 2009

Posted by jorkat in Seoul.
4 comments

The results are in.

After two tumultuous weeks of campaigning, speaking with constituents, hearing opinions and suggestions from across the globe - we finally had a winner.

Or so I thought.

Once the voting was completed I approached Bob to discuss his name change to ensure that he was comfortable with the selection prior to informing his parents. He immediately warmed to the new name, but was also quite smitten with another alternative. Sean.

I was both devastated and intrigued. Even though Sean was never even a candidate, I immediately had a connection with the name as it is the same first name as my good friend Sean who along with his lovely wife Erin (whom we regularly refer to as the Mulloskey’s on this blog) inspired us to go on this adventure in the first place. They spent close to two years in Seoul and were the first ones who informed us of the possibility of naming children, so this would be a fitting tribute.

It had all come down to this. Sean vs Jack.

MullinJack_Bauer

My biggest concern was that if we went with “Sean”, how would this affect the legitimacy of this blog? We had just completed an impressive campaign and received an astounding 44 votes, with 18 of them in favour of Jack. Not to mention the fact that I spent the better part of an hour trying to figure out how to insert the stupid voting buttons into the post. I wasn’t about to have this all go to waste because some kid decided to suggest his own new name. Who does he think he is?

After taking a few minutes to compose myself and giving the children something else to colour, I turned my attention back to Bob and the issue in question.

Jordan: So what do you want your new name to be?

Bob: Jack…Sean…Sean…Jack.

Jordan: You can only pick one name. Which one do you like better?

Bob: Sean…Jack.

At this point I wrote both names on the board and asked him which one he preferred?

Bob: May I please go to the bathroom?

Jordan: Fine.

Even the rest of the class was torn. I asked the four remaining students which name they preferred for Bob. The results?

Jack – 2

Sean – 2

At this point, I had no where else to turn. I wrote the parents a letter informing them that I had selected two names and that I was leaving it up to them to decide. I didn’t get that much sleep that night but when I arrived back in class in the morning I was pleasantly surprised to see that Bob’s name was no longer on the board. It had been replaced with his new name.

Jack.

It’s been almost two weeks since we instituted the new name and it hasn’t been easy. I must have still called him Bob at least 10 times in those first couple of days and was often corrected by the other students. This past week I was much more comfortable but did have a few instances where I referred to him as “B0..Jack” or “Bjack” which the other children think is hysterical.

The most important thing is that he has really taken to the name and immediately corrects anyone who refers to him by his old name. I think I’ll always remember him as “Bob” but Jack is growing on me pretty quickly. In honour of this historic occasion, I’ve included below a video from my archive of some footage of Bob back in the day (about 2 months ago). Stay tuned for the end of the video when he lands a perfect cartwheel through a minefield of debris on the carpet. He’s the best.

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