Tag Archives: booze

Mind Over Manners

Cultural Lesson #2837: Learning What’s Polite in Another Country

In Korea, it’s polite to bow when you meet someone for the first time. Also when you see your principal walk by, when you see your vice principal walk by, when you see someone you know in the hallway, when you complete a monetary transaction anywhere, when someone enters or leaves the room even if it’s for the fiftymillionth time. It’s polite to bow all the of the time in Korea, and it’s a cultural practice I am happy to accept and participate in. The same goes for other very strange feeling habits, like always extending my money to a cashier with both hands and accepting change with both hands. Or pouring drinks for people with both hands. No problem.

But even after seven months living here, there are a handful of common Korean behaviors that I just can’t get behind. Some of them I’m simply not wired to perform and others are so unspeakably gross that even in the name of cultural diplomacy I am flat out unwilling tolerate. Continue reading

Here, Use My Eyes

“An unexpected and unknown visitor allows you to see a familiar place as if for the very first time. I’m thinking of the meter-reader rooting through your kitchen at 8 a.m., the Jehovah’s Witness suddenly standing in the living room. ‘Here’, they seem to say, ‘use my eyes. The focus is much keener. ‘” – David Sedaris, Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim

For the second time this week, there was a loud, insistent pounding on my door, followed by the always-a-pleasure “Have You Ever Seen A Lassie?” doorbellphone. This sudden barrage of loud and obnoxious sounds always scares the piss out of me, if for no other reason than proximity. I am usually seated on my bed, which is about six paces from the front door, and even though it is only about six paces from the door, I somehow NEVER hear the knocker coming and end up jumping out of my skin when the attack begins. Continue reading

Relapse: Oops, I Went Home

So I went to America. Saw some things. Ate some things. Drank some things. Made a few observations that I will now share, along with a few awesome pictures for your visual stimulation. I’m quite generous you know. 

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1.) Americans overall are not the most attractive people on the planet.

I recall thinking the reverse when I first arrived in Korea, that Koreans are all super beautiful (hello, their cheekbones are only 18 stories high). But back then I didn’t consider what that meant for Americans. To be fair, this particular observation was first made hanging out at LAX and as everyone knows, airports are full of seedy and unfortunate looking characters, but I also thought LA was supposed to be teeming with beautiful people. If this is where are the pretties go, America should remove itself from the international beauty contest immediately because it’s sort of embarrassing. We as a people do not age well (see #5 for why) and we’re mostly quite flabby (also see #5 for why). Ew.

2.) Americans are also pretty frumpy.

Again, I remember arriving in Korea and being mortified by how well dressed and put together every Korean and his mom looked. I already consider myself rather fashion-challenged at home, but Korea made me look like a homeless person, complete with hole-ridden garments and scuzzy footwear. I made sure to blend in at home again though, happily donning my sweats all the way to my final destination and then some (shut up, it’s bad enough to spend 31 straight hours in a bra, screw jeans). But I wasn’t the only one. Lots of velour track suits (apparently I flew all the way back to the 90’s?), lots of thongs sticking out of places no one wants to see, lots of really big t-shirts with stupid things written on them. I mean, I felt right at home, but it was hard not to notice why there are so many American television shows devoted to improving our appearance.

3.) Bathrooms CAN be clean. Even public ones.

I encountered one disgusting bathroom in California. Wasn’t at the gas station or the airport, but at a diner in San Francisco. I was pretty drunk and it was like 3 in the morning, so the circumstances didn’t call for me to freak out. But in another time and place, I would’ve refused to eat at this particular establishment. That said, I seem to enter bathrooms like that all over Korea and can’t do anything about it but vomit in my mouth and ask God why he is punishing me this way. All the American bathrooms I met were clean and didn’t smell like pee and were well stocked with both toilet paper and paper towels. Why is that so much to ask, Korea?

4.) Californians (Americans?) are really friendly.

I think I’ve been deprived of ‘stranger’ conversation: Chitchat with the person at the checkout counter, witty exchanges with someone else standing in a long, stupid line, that sort of thing. I didn’t know I missed it until it kept happening in America and I would get in the car with a warmish, satisfied feeling about the awesomeness of humankind. Koreans may be this nice too, I just don’t know because when I talk to them I sound like a drugged up toddler and they stare at me with a mixture of fear and pity. I was sort of expecting to find the opposite of my fellow countrymen, especially in and around LA. I thought I would be snooted back to Korea very quickly because after living here for five months, I’m awkward in Korea and America now (half bows to cashiers are not acceptable). But it was not so and I made friends with many a bar patron, hairdresser and checkout guy. It was fun.

5.) AMERICAN BEER IS AS GOOD AS I’VE BEEN REMEMBERING.

Yeah. Not gonna spare anyone’s jealous feelings here. American beer is fucking amazing and tasty and buzz-inducing. Everything a beer should be. Happily, I went to California where Sierra Nevada Pale Ale (the best non-IPA beer there is) is on tap at like every establishment. I also went to the Sierra Nevada Brewery where I had sixteen “tastes” (giant shot glasses) of different beer. And boy were they delicious tastes man. If I could’ve smuggled beer back here, I would’ve totally ditched my shopping spree loot and the cases of Dayquil I managed to get past customs. Beer. BEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEER.

6.) America is America the Beautiful.

Coming from the midwest, I have, most of my life, failed to understand how beautiful America is. In the midwest it’s farm after flat, stinky brown farm and the scenery can get a little dull. Then I lost my California virginity and spent two weeks repeating, “It’s just like on tv!” and meaning in the best way possible. I was lucky enough to see a good deal of northern and southern Cali on this trip and some of it was just so beautiful I don’t even understand how it’s possible. Driving up and down the coast you go from one spectacular setting to the next. Not only is there wonderful variety, but each landscape itself is magnificent. I’m jealous of every lucky bastard that calls California home.

Jesus Christ Am I Bored

School ended right around Christmastime. Immediately upon being released from the responsibility of my job, I fled for two weeks of vacation. “Peace out, fools!” I cried as I left my fellow English speakers in the dust. Since my return, these friends and acquaintances have trickled out of the city on their own vacations, leaving little ol’ me behind. Until today, I had Erin’s Fun Time English Camp to distract me from being alone. But that’s over now. My orders are not to return to school until February 7.

It’s  January 21.

I’ve been home for two hours and I’m already losing it. Hard. I’m talking Jack-Nicholson-in-The-Shining losing it. (“Wendy…Darling…Light of my life…”)

Pictured: my entire house

Every drawer open, the wardrobe agape. I’ve been in and out of the empty refrigerator a few times looking for nothing in particular. I’ve thrown a pile of dirty clothes back and forth between my bed and my chair, and every surface is smeared with my possessions as I’ve desperately hunted for something to do.  (Cleaning the mess I’ve made is a not a viable option.)

It’s so bad that I can’t even think of anything to write about for my blog. Nary a haiku or clever little anecdote rattling around in this brain today. So much the worse for you, Reader. So let’s take a vote on what I should be doing, seated at my desk as I am now. Behold my first foray into Paint since I was 10 years old. Yowzer. Okay, here are the choices.

  • A. Write! Be productive! Do not cruise the internet!
  • B. Drink that bottle of fine scotch whisky
  • C. Find a use for that fist toy I bought at Home Plus
  • D. Drink, then write, then drink, then hit things with the fist toy

Cast your votes in the comments section! Seriously. Help a bitch out.

Graphic Content

Anyeong Haseyo! Guess who’s back from Europe? Look what I did:

And nourished shall be thy body,dessicated by the scorching inferno of temperance

that, AND I wrote like 400 more words on my novel (coming in 2035 – a labor of agonizing love and chock full o’ genius), AND kept constantly reminding my old bosom buddy Hayes that living in Korea is way harder than living in France and that he should move that bottle of wine closer to the couch so I don’t have to get up because I’m on vacation and I’ve been living in Korea. Oh, and did he think he could drive me to the store for more wine? Because I started drinking wine at 11 am and might run out before dinner.  Whatever Hayes. Shut up. I usually live in Korea. For like four months now I usually live in Korea. My life is hard and burdened and totally cool. So totally cooler than your stupid life. In Europe. Which I also secretly want.

Pretty much any complaint/observation Hayes made about his new life situation elicited the same knee-jerk response from me: It is harder to live in Korea than France, therefore your discomfort is invalid and I’m better than you.

I can’t decide if this illustrates my natural fondness of pissing contests or some reaction that occurs when you encounter another American abroad. But I think there is a kind of currency to where one lives, when one chooses to live abroad. I have made a graph to illustrate my point. (Erins = Units of Cool. Look it up.)

See it in all it’s professional glory (and larger!) here.

So, supposing you’re an English-speaking American like myself, living in the States starts you out at 0. Then, as you get further away from other English-speaking Americans, and further from what one might consider a “safe” place with few repulsive diseases or the threat of frostbite/trench foot, the more Erins you acquire. So like, the most socially impressive place you can live is, short of the moon, on a remote volcanic island, unpopulated save for plague-harboring rodents which you are forced to hunt and eat.

Of course this is partially in jest, but there’s something to studying the question Why Do We Go Where We Go? And why do I think Cappadocia > Minnesota? Or Korea > France?  Look deeper into your black, withered hearts, Readers, and tell me that there isn’t a sliver of you that doesn’t travel for bragging rights. That doesn’t look forward to that first conversation whenever you might make it back home to say to some stranger, “Oh, I’ve just been spending the last year abroad. In Asia. What have you done lately?”

Hey Look at Me! I’m Kinda Korean!

No, this isn’t another vaguely racist blog post. This is about adaptation, y’all.

Moving to a different country, speaking a new (and Asian) language, diving head first into a new profession, all of these things are designed to challenge one’s identity. The whole point of moving myself to the other side of the world was to encourage personal development. It’s a pretty solid equation

Discomfort = Adaptation = Growth = Bad Ass Human Person

I expected life to be inconvenient: communicating in general, becoming familiar with the public transportation, getting a hold of American things like food or beauty products, none of these challenges came as a surprise. It’s the kind of stuff you take for granted when you are nestled in America, the ease with which you function on a daily basis.

But then there were a few unexpected twists and problems that I did not think I’d be facing, and it’s kind of goofed up my plan.

“Hey dude this beer tastes horrible.”

I didn’t realize that it would be impossible to drink a decent beer. I don’t know if anyone believes us when we keep saying this, but the beer here is shit. It’s just plain awful shit. I often find myself wondering if I would enjoy a Keystone or a Coors Lite more than Korean beer. Worse, I find myself believing the answer is yes.

The dearth of tasty alcohol has left me with a bit of an identity crisis. I’ve gone weeks at a time, WEEKS people, without having a beer. There’s a large bottle of soju that has been sitting on top of my refrigerator untouched since the beginning of September. And the only night I usually drink now is Fridays. THE ONLY NIGHT.

Sometimes I’ll turn to Erin and say, “Remember when we used to get off work at 5:00 on any old weeknight and head straight to <insert random bar> and drink a few <insert tasty beers>? When we used to drink for pleasure?” And then our eyes gloss over as we step back in time and watch our former selves enjoying spontaneous Happy Hour at Delilah’s or T’s.

Then we snap to, soberly look each other up and down, and shudder at what different people we are, what different, less alcohol-bloated people we are.

“Hey, it’s COLD in here.”

If you are reading this blog and plan to come to Korea to teach English, bring long underwear. I will say it again, if you are coming to Korea to teach in a school, bring long underwear. One more time, just in case, if you will be teaching in Korea in the winter BRING LONG UNDERWEAR.

November rolled around and it got cold, as it’s apt to do in the Northern Hemisphere. Then it got colder, and then a little colder. And as it kept getting colder, the Koreans began wearing their puffy coats in school and started opening the windows like it was spring. The foreigners, in turn, started wondering why all the windows are open and why isn’t the heat on. Not one of the answers I have received about the lack of heat and the compulsion to “be one with the outdoors” is satisfying. So I’m forced to spend most of the day with my winter coat on, still freezing my bum off from the icy breeze that’s come in one of those open windows.

And the other day, a Korean had the AUDACITY to insinuate that I was foolish for “not knowing” it would be cold here.

“Didn’t you know it would be cold here?” As in, didn’t you know Korea has a winter season that gets cold?

Um, excuse me, bitch please. “Yes. I did know that Korea has WINTER. Thank you. I just didn’t know that Korea lets winter INSIDE”. I did not know that you choose to leave all the fucking windows open all day and that everyone has to dress like a bloody eskimo to come teach in what is essentially a walk in freezer.

Forced to adapt, I have become a person who appreciates heated America in a completely new way. But I have also become a angry popsicle person. This one might just be a wash as far as personal growth goes.

“Hey, but, how do I cook?”

I knew the kitchen would be small. That there’d probably be no oven. That I’d be working with only a pair of burners to get my ‘cook’ on. But I was still pretty optimistic about being able to spend time in the kitchen doing my very favorite thing in the world, the thing that makes me feel like me.

However, my hopes were quickly extinguished when I realized that I have limited access to American cooking ingredients (remember cheese?), that I can’t read or identify Korean food, and that while I can function with two burners, one square foot of ‘counter’ space is actually really sucky.

I gave up on the cooking pretty quickly. I started eating more and more for lunch at school and pretty much stopped eating any kind of real meal for dinner. I might have a snack, some fruit (I know!) or a piece of toast. And so the only thing gourmet I do anymore is make spam and egg sandwiches on the weekends. Don’t get me wrong, they are kick ass, and I’ve perfected the frying of an egg, but as a culinary enthusiast I don’t have much to show for my four months here. I feel sort of like I’ve failed myself.

Which is why last night’s Kimchi Fried Rice was a major accomplishment. I know, it’s just fried rice, like the easiest thing on the planet to make. But this is the first time that I’ve really used Korean ingredients to make anything resembling a Korean dish, and it’s only because I was forced to. A coteacher gave me a giant tub of kimchi and I needed to figure out something to do with it besides just eat it plain.

TaDa

And so I fried a little spam and fried a little egg and put some kimchi and kimchi juice and rice in a pan, and voila! Now I’m more me than I’ve been in a long time, but I’m also kind of Korean!

Swiss Miss, Day 1: Food Orgy

So I know this pertains to nothing, really, except how damn happy I am at this very moment. Friends, all my dreams are coming true already and I’ve been in Geneva about 12 hours.

Feast your eyes (wah waaah) on the grocery haul:

From left to right: Beer, wine, eggs, croissants, bread, baguette, bread, scotch, champagne, milk (meh), cereal (meh), espresso, cheese A atop cheese B, sausage A, sausage B, Sausage C, (obscured) salted ham, (obscured) bacon filets

It’s on like Donkey Kong.