Alex and Chickpea Do Korea

Korean kids are crazy for gonggi

You like that alliteration? I thought so. I want to weigh in on the school-wide — and, from what I can tell, Korea-wide obsession with gonggi (which also means “air”).

It’s like the Korean version of Jacks, and it goes something like this: Hold all five gonggitdol (colorful, round, plastic playing pieces) in your hand. Toss gonggi on the table/floor/friend’s back/any level playing surface in sight. Strategically choose one gonggi; pick it up. Toss chosen gonggi in the air while scooping up one gonggi; catch the tossed gonggi. On the next turn, scoop up two gonggi, then three, etc.

Of course, there are finer points of the game, as well as different “versions” (which I think just refer to the skill level or style of the player). These include babo (stupid) gonggi (“Boy, you really suck.” This is the category of gonggi player I fall into); genius gonggi (“Damn, you are really good, and spend too much time playing gonggi instead of studying”); and ddalki (strawberry) gonggi (I have no idea what that could possibly mean, but the student who demonstrated did a particular sweeping motion when scooping up the gonggi).

After seeing the rabid gonggi consumption between classes, I decided to integrate them into one of my lessons. After each “level” completed in gonggi, the students had to answer a question about the lesson. This was particularly effective since many of the kids who rarely participate are in the “genius gonggi” category (like I said, too much gonggi, too little study). In this case, their gonggi skills became their downfall, and my victory, muahahahaha! Yes, that’s my evil seonsaengnim (teacher) laugh.

Incidentally, my biffle Kalynn introduced me to gonggi a couple of years ago back in the States, but I had no clue that it was a Korean game until I moved here. The more you know … (cue Reading Rainbow theme song).

Here’s a brief how-to on gonggi:

Alex and Chickpea Do Korea

My on-court experience with Orions basketball: or, free stuff in exchange for public humiliation!

Readers of this blog (and anyone who’s been around me for more than 15 minutes in the past few weeks) know that I’m an increasingly huge fan of Daegu’s pro nun-gu (basketball) club, the Orions.

So far, I’ve settled for admiring the game (and the players) from afar. But last night, things got a little personal. My friend/Korean teacher/co-teacher HyunJeong and I arrived for the 7 o’clock game half an hour early and settled into our seats.

The Orions announcer was doing his usual comedy schtick down on the court when I heard him ask about waygookins (foreigners). As I tried to look inconspicuous, HyunJeong began waving wildly and, unfortunately, caught the emcee’s eye. In an effort to avoid public humiliation, I ducked down in my seat but, realizing there was no escape, I sheepishly lifted my head and decided to play along.

At first, I thought he just wanted me to stand up and show my Orions spirit. Okay, I can do that, I thought. But when he motioned for me to come down to the court, I realized I had made a mistake. Please don’t make me play an on-court game, I thought. I will die of sheer embarrassment. I cannot dribble a basketball, make a lay-up or run without falling over. Thank god all I had to do was stand on the court with the cheerleaders while the players were announced at the opening of the game. (Thought I felt pretty shabby standing next to all those pretty ladies in my oversized Orions t-shirt and jeans).

While the pain may seem minimal, I promise you I was cursing HyunJeong under my breath every moment I was on that court, and wishing nothing more than to be back in my spectator’s seat. But maybe (and that’s a strong maybe) it was worth it: I got a free basketball, a free trip to a upscale jjimjilbang and a free night’s stay at a fancy hotel, all for a few seconds worth of clapping. But the best Christmas Eve-Eve gift of all was getting to see Lee Dong-Jun in all his tall, muscly glory.

Actually, he looks kinda scrubby up close, and seems a little asshole-ish and indifferent to the fans. Just another reason I’d rather keep watching from my seat high in the stands.