Alex and Chickpea Do Korea

Love and Basketball: Hello, Daegu Orions

Before I extrapolate on the wonders of basketball in Korea, let me take a moment to celebrate the fact that it’s Friday; that I saw my first Korean snow yesterday; that my ondol heating system is on full-blast; that my open class is over (observations suck);  that I’m drinking a beer (even if it is Hite); that I’m snacking on string cheese, courtesy of Daegu’s Costco; and that I’ve got Creedence Clearwater Revival’s greatest hits as a soundtrack. The neighbors are in for an impromptu norae bang treat when “Bad Mooon Rising” starts.

Yes, life in Korea is good. Especially since I’ve discovered the Orions, Daegu’s very own, very crappy, basketball club. No one can ever call me a fairweather fan, though. I’ve already got a branded t-shirt, noise makers, and even a cell phone charm (so sue me) repping my new hometown b-ballers. But big ballers they are not.

I officially became a fan at my first-ever professional basketball game last Sunday, when we played the Incheon Elephants. Since then, I’ve learned a few interesting facts about Korea’s most under-appreciated sport. First off, to call this a pro club is technically accurate, but is misleading for fans of American ball. Daegu Gymnasium can host a whopping crowd of just over 5,000 — and it’s rarely half-full. I’ve seen high school games with more crowd enthusiasm. Also, there are a few club rules that are unfamiliar for US fans: teams can have only two foreign players (usually, two of their starters) and one Korean-American player. This is to prevent clubs from importing their entire team from abroad.

There are nine teams in  Korea’s pro league. Currently, Daegu is ranked eighth. Le sigh. Despite losing both games I’ve seen, the Orions are entertaining nonetheless. Their stars are Glen McGowan (who was injured in the first quarter of Tuesday’s game against Jeonju); Otis George (Crowd chants: Oh-ti-suh!); and my personal favorite…Number 40…it’s Lee…Dong…Juuuuuuuun! Yes, Lee Dong-Jun is a lanky, long-haired Korean-American (given name: Daniel Sandrin) who dominates in the paint and behind the 3-point line. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that he’s also modeled in Nike fashion shows.

So I’ve got the fan gear. I’ve got a favorite player. I’ve got plans to see many more games. What I don’t got is a winning team. The Orions were up by more than 20 points — yes, 20 — and still managed to lose to the Elephants last Sunday. I had hopes for Tuesday’s game against lower-ranked Jeonju’s KCC Egis. Alas, despite a rousing back-and-forth lead, we fell just five points short of a W.

You can’t blame the cheerleaders for the loss, though. Those gals were shakin’, poppin’, lockin’ and costume-changing as if the win and their adorable little lives depended on it. I also have warm-and-fuzzies for these ladies because, although I haven’t won any (yet), they give out free gear — from signed balls and jerseys to pizza and Pocari Sweat — throughout the game. Another +1 for Korean ball: the mascots breakdance. Take that, stateside b-ball fans.

Worth mentioning is that, with tickets at 9,000 won a pop (about $8), supporting the home team is extremely affordable. Nosh outside the stadium before the game at one of many street food stands (I always recommend a sugar-dipped, double-battered corn dog) or bring your own snacks into the stadium. Yep, I was spoiled by my hometown Tampa Bay Rays open policy on bringing your own food to the game, but the happy tradition continues, halfway across the world. Except that my now my game time snacks include dried squid.

Alex and Chickpea Do Korea

Welcome to Korea: Another Sunday, another tub of fish eating your foot’s dead skin

Yes, that’s right. We’ve really been enjoying the bounty of seafood that Korea has to offer, from live octopus to giant clams, fish and squid in various states of dessication and more. So, Alex and I decided to give a little back: We went to Doctor Fish.

These are tiny fish — a little bigger than a minnow, maybe? — that eat the dead skin off your feet. It was originally used to treat eczema and other skin problems, but now it’s mostly used as a spa treatment. I’ve been wanting to try this this I came to Korea (If I’m being honest, since I saw it on the Tyra Show a couple years ago. Full disclosure).

On Sunday, I found  Namu Story, (for Korea peeps: it’s across from the UniQlo in downtown Daegu) and convinced Alex to go with me. Just as interesting as the experience itself is where the Doctor Fish are: in a a big cafe. Yes, a tank of fish sunk into a raised platform at one end of a large, posh, second-story cafe. So while people are drinking their coffee and eating their pastries, Alex and I (okay, mostly me) were giggling in a corner while tickly little fish ate dead skin off our feet. I thought it would take a while to get used to, but in a matter of minutes I was able to stop laughing and enjoy. It’s like a little massage!

The best part is this: there’s a $3 entrance fee to get into the cafe, but it’s all-you-can-eat croissants and coffee, and the Doctor Fish treatment is less than $2. It was a great way to spend a relaxing Sunday afternoon.

UPDATE (3/8/11): Namu Story, the coffeeshop where we first experienced Dr. Fish, is no longer offering the service. Check back here for updates on other nearby Dr. Fish proprietors.

Alex and Chickpea Do Korea

Welcome to Korea: My first day as a middle school teacher

…..well, sorta. Today I experienced a common trend of teaching English in Korea, the infamous….dun dun dun….desk warming!

I was under the impression that I would come in for a little while in the morning, take a tour of my new digs at Gu-Am Middle School, meet the principal and peace out. But, they like to get their allotted time out of you, even if you’re just sitting around doing nothing, so I had a full day of just that.

I did use my time to plan my first few lessons, though. I was on a roll, until they changed the section of the book that they told me to teach and I had to re-do them all. Basically, it took me the whole day to write four lesson plans. I gotta get faster at that!

I was really early for school today, because I left the house super early. I was sure I’d get lost. Actually, I had no problems finding it — a minor miracle. It’s about a 15 minute walk from my apartment. I was taking in the cool morning air, enjoying the new scenery (mountains, whoa!), and thinking about how much better this is than driving everywhere. Of course,  I nearly forgot that sometimes there will be rain, snow and other inconvenient acts of nature. It will be an adventure!

There’s not a whole lot to report for the “big” first day. The school is nice; I have my own desk in the teacher’s room, where most of the teacher’s just smile sweetly and nod when I say hello. I’ve been trying out my Korean greetings, to mixed reactions. Some people seem surprised and pleased that I can even form words in Korean; others seem to grimace at what I’m sure is my miserable pronunciation.

None of the teachers at my school speak much English (ironically, not even the English teachers) so I am still unclear as to how my classes will be run. First they told me that I wouldn’t have a co-teacher (which is actually illegal, a co-teacher is required to be in class with me at all times). I wouldn’t complain though; I think in a lot of ways running a class would be much easier alone. Then they told me I would have a co-teacher, but I’m not really sure who teaches which grades, which part of the lesson I’m responsible for, how much time I’m allotted in each lesson — you know, minor details. In short, I’ve got bupkis. I planned my first few lessons from start to finish so that I’ll be ready for whatever they throw at me.

One of the English teachers is so sweet and cute (although she did make fun of me for my poor use of chopsticks). She offered to help me with my Korean, so I hope that I won’t be so useless at this language for long.

I am still getting the hang of wearing “inside shoes,” “outside shoes” and “shower shoes.” All the teachers look really funny because even though they’re dressed up for work, they’re all wearing these funny indoor slippers (like the Adidas slip-ons that were popular a decade or more ago) and crazy patterned socks with their trousers and dress shirts or dresses.

I ate lunch with the teachers today, which I was nervous about because …

Alex and Chickpea Do Korea

Welcome to Korea: Life at EPIK’s Jeonju University orientation

Anyeong haseo!

It’s 10 p.m. Tuesday night in Jeonju, South Korea, so my peeps in Florida probably just started Tuesday morning (I think it is 9 a.m. Florida time, but honestly I’m still a little foggy on the time change thing. Am I living in the future?!).

I just finished meeting with my group — tomorrow we have to present/demonstrate a lesson plan in front of a few staffers and our entire class (about 60 people). I hate presentations so I’m nervous, but I think our lesson plan is pretty good. It’s on “ordering in a fast food restaurant,” which I think will go over well in a room full of expats who have been eating rice and kimchi for a week.

This week has been really crazy. Every day we have six full hours of lectures, followed by an hour of Korean Language class. Sunday we went on a field trip, so even though our brain got a break we were totally exhausted. We skipped dinner and Alex fell asleep at 6 p.m. and slept for nearly 13 hours!

It was an amazing trip though. We went to a Jeonju Hanok Village, where there are Korean traditional houses, a rice wine museum, an Eastern medicine museum, a Hanji center where they make traditional Korean paper, and a fan-making shop. We got to decorate our own fans!

Then we had the meal that JeonJu is famous for : bibimbap. It’s rice with all sort of veggies and spices mixed in, and a fried egg on top. You mix it all together, and it is delicious! Koreans eat family style. I have never seen anything like it: all the food is in the middle of the table and everyone just digs right in. It’s a little weird for us, but very fun, too.

I’ve been trying all sorts of new food and I like almost all of it so far. Maybe the most odd was strips of dried fish dipped in a sweet, sticky brown sauce. It really didn’t taste like fish until you chew it for a while, but it was good.

After our lunch we saw Samul Nori (Four Drum) dance, which is pretty neat — and at the end of it, they invite everyone in the crowd to dance with them, so all the teachers joined them in the middle of the town square. This little old lady (they’re called “ajummas”) was trying to teach me how to dance; it was really cute.

Afterward, we went to Keumsan Buddhist temple, which was a sight to behold. The walk up is through a mountain, complete with a peaceful and very cold) stream. There were families camping all around and even in the stream at the shallow parts, and everyone is cooking barbecue on tiny grills and playing card games. It was a happy moment. Lots of people approached us to practice their English, and some people in our group were even invited for drinks and barbecue! The temple itself was beautiful and peaceful, set back in the middle of the mountains.

Since then it’s been anything but peaceful: nothing but lessons and prepping for our presentations tomorrow. After that, we’re meeting our Metropolitan Office of Education supervisors (I guess the equivalent of a superintendent) to sign our contracts. And then we find out what grade we’re teaching and what school we’re in! I can’t wait. After that, it’s the farewell dinner and the next morning, off to Daegu.

We don’t really know how things go from there — or even when our first day of school is — but we’ll be meeting our co-teachers. They’re basically our lifeline in Korea. They help us get our Alien Registration Cards, get cell phones, set up Internet and show us around the city. Then, we see our apartments, so it’ll be a big day. I am really hoping we have the weekend off before we have to start teaching, but we may have to go in on Friday. I’m getting nervous! You can’t cram an Education degree into 10 days, but our lectures have been really useful and I feel a lot better prepared for teaching.

Still not so prepared for speaking Korean, though. I only know four phrases: “Hello, my name is Franki. Nice to meet you. I’m from the United States.”

Ha!

 

Pack dozens of teachers into dorms, lecture at them for 10 days straight while feeding them quasi-Korean food and then smoosh them against a wall and some desks and tell them to pose while saying "Kimchi!" and this is the photo that you'll get.

 

Alex and Chickpea Do Korea

Welcome to Korea, Day 3: It’s official, I like kimchi

Tons has been happening here, and you know how bad I am at keeping things brief, but I’ll try.

The flights went about as smoothly as they could’ve. When we checked our luggage, both Alex and I were each 12 pounds over the weight limit (that translates to $164 EACH extra luggage charge on Singapore Airlines). Fortunately for us, our check-in lady must be related to Mother Theresa because she helped us rearrange our stuff into our other suitcases, allowed each bag to be about six pounds over the weight limit so we wouldn’t be charged, and even came around from the counter and helped us zip up the last bag (after Alex and I had been making a scene for about 10 minutes in the middle of the airport while he tried to zip it while I was sitting on it.)

The flights weren’t too bad, even the loooong one from San Francisco to Seoul. We got all kinds of cool free stuff (socks! toothbrushes and toothpaste! a Givenchy travel bag!); each seat had personal TVs with about a zillion movies and TV shows to choose from (along with a Learning Korean game that I didn’t learn much from); and even the food was good. (Seriously, they came around about once an hour with snacks and drinks — free beer! — in addition to a few full-sized meals.)

After we landed in Korea, it took three freaking hours for our shuttle to arrive to take us to our orientation site, which was a three-hour drive away. We didn’t get into Jeonju University until about midnight, Korea time, so we had been traveling for a solid day and a half, working on about six hours sleep in the past 48 hours. (We spent the final hours before we left trying to cram in as much crap as possible into our luggage, which explains the weight overage. We added it up and it turns out that, between the two of us, Alex and I brought a little over 300 pounds of luggage. Blergh.)