Pages of Euphoria
Min Suk Chon: Korean Folk Village
Where do I begin....maybe with the announcement made at work that those teachers not obligated to go to Seoul for teacher training, would be invited for a day long retreat. As these words passed through Shawns' (the administrator) lips everyone let out a single groan in unison. The collective sound made me think of a cow giving birth. "Not our weekeeeennnndddd!!!!!!!!!!." I on the other hand was completely pumped and celebrating on the inside because I could smell what was on the horizon, like a shark detecting a drop of blood in a 1,000 gallons of water. The above description is based loosely on factual events, the rest is just creative story telling. I took one creative writing class in college and since have developed an identity crisis and I think I'm Jules Vern or something.
So this day long journey was scheduled to commence at 11:30am on Saturday, 5/21. Unfortunately some members of our expedition were just a smidgen late...like an hour or so. I am a generally laid back dude and most people who know me would say that it takes a lot to piss me off. I once had someone accidentally pour a drink on my laptop and in effect completely destroy it, and all I could do was laugh. But if its one thing that gets me chapped, besides genocide at least, is a lack of punctuality. Anyways, I quickly forgot about those shortcomings
and was set into abdominal racking laughter at the words that were coming out of my school directors (Mr. Moon) mouth. I was asking him questions about the Korean language and all of a sudden he blurts out "Josep you know there are so many turkish in Korea?" I am sitting there riding shotgun in his pimp mobile, wheels and gears turning in my brain trying to make sense of what he just said. To save time I will simply just explain his joke....he was attempting to make the statement that many turkeys (gobble gobble) want to immigrate to Korea from the United States because of Thanksgiving and the like. He then followed up that comedic grand slam with saying that many dogs are getting impatient in Korea because their American visas are taking too long.
I am leaving out about 50% of the dialogue which was me trying to decipher what the hell he was saying...but in the end the entire process was made even funnier because of his choppy description. It was hilarious in part because the joke itself was pretty rich, but also because people of any nationality speaking a foreign language just sound like they have fetal alcohol syndrome. Koreans speak their language with a furious delivery (especially after fire water) and there have been many times where I have thought people have been berating each other but its just how they talk. When you apply that habit to speaking English, add in a thick accent, and subtract a few object pronouns, and you are left with side splitting humor. All in all, Mr. Moon is a funny little Korean man. It goes both ways though...my students loose control of their bladders when I attempt to speak to them in Korean. When I tell them cho-yung-ee-yay
(be quiet) they laugh in my face for the same reasons.
Back on track, we arrived after about 40 minutes or so of transport and immediately found where food was being served as we were all starving. After everyone picked what they wanted, we were then told to go to the specific station where that food was being prepared as it was prepared hundreds of years ago. I
selected a pretty tasty beef soup that an ajuma
served me out of an enormous cauldron. After collecting our meals we reconvened at a large table to start devouring our food. So who can tell what I am leaving out of this meal? Can anyone guess? What does Joseph and Korean culture go hand and hand with? Korean ALCOHOL!! Dong Dong Jue of course, or rice wine. (Again mom, I am sorry, think of it as me partaking in the culture). To my defense the overconsumption of dong dong jue by Guacari, Lil Joe, and myself was all on the prodding of our responsible wine slobbering director. After finishing their meals, the females of the pack left to responsibly observe some of the scheduled events that were taking place through out the village which was actually pretty
large. Us men on the other hand stayed and proceeded to get intoxicated off bottle after bottle of DDJ at roughly 2:00pm in the afternoon on a sunny Saturday. It was so much fun....just sitting there sharing stories and truly enjoying one another's companies. It was beautiful.....at one point our fun and antics reached a certain height to attract other foreigners and Koreans as well to join in the mayhem.
We finally left to go enjoy some of the village. I will offer a condensed version of what followed (I wish I could add music here...it would make a perfect montage):
Launching Guacari on his ass off of this ancient see-saw invention that Koreans used to play on back in the day, getting swallowed by a sea of Korean cub scouts and having a panic attack, jumping rope double dutch with Lil Joe (this guy I share the same name with who was given Lil because I got Big Joe), observing truly amazing spectacles of horsemanship by these Korean carnival workers, getting harassed by Mr. Moon to kiss random Korean girls for no reason at all, and jumping on these ancient forms of a modern day swings. One other thing....what truly authentic Korean Folk village isn't complete without it's own theme park that would rival Michael Jackson's neverland ranch. It was just about as creepy as neverland ranch at least. It was simply the icing on the cake....so bizarre
but so much fun. I would compare the level of fun that was had with being 7 years old again and discovering GI Joes or laser tag for the first time. The rides included a rollercoaster, carousel, bumper cars, and this obscene thing that simply went in a circle while dropping and rising in height which almost caused me to toss my cookies. Of course I rode everyone with my esteemed director and drinking partner Mr. Moon. I am ending my lengthy transmission here and honestly love the fact that I am really embarrassed by the stories that I have just told.
Random Times: 2nd 48 (part II)
Last weekend was honestly insane....so much stuff crammed into 3 days. So the first 24 consisted of Friday night to Saturday night: bball, indian camp frat party, kareoke room , sleep, wedding aka intestinal bombardment, and then sleep. I will now attempt to paint a vivid picture with words of what occurred in my Korean life from Sunday to Monday.
Saturday: went to Seoul with a mob of peeps from ECC (name of my school). ECC is short for English Children Center, however I refer to it as Evil Corrupt Children, or Every Child on Crack, and many other derogatory anacronyms (sarcasm, yet it helps to relieve stress). I welcome anybodies suggestions for new ones. The goal of our trip to Seoul was to conquer the highest mountain peak in the city, and scream the name of a past or current romantic interest off of the top (not really). The hike was a hike, same as it would have been in Seattle. Natural Beauty, wonderful foliage (I appreciate greenery so much now that I live in the city) vertical climbing, rivers, etc.
However there were some differences at the top that absolutely screamed KOREA!!! Apparently at the top of every mountain there is a Buddhist temple. I have come to that well founded conclusion after two hikes, but it just seems like the norm. The temples on this hike were a little more impressive. The first one we came to honestly had every inch of feasible surface area consumed by buddha statues. There were more buddhas in this room then there are hair follicles on an average monkey. I attempted finding my inner chi, but was too distracted by the architecture and design. The temples are still leaving me
wanting a little more, maybe the next one will have monks doing keg stands or dancing in a conga line. After a little more climbing we reached the top and much to my delight, there were vendors selling beer. It felt pretty good drinkin a brew at the top of this mountain, soakin up some rays amidst a sea of Koreans. Only in Korea. The hike was about 5 miles round trip and I have no idea how much elevation we gained, but it was a workout for sure. It took us about 4 hours up and down, plus 1
hour of taking in the view and beer at the top. After meals and travel, the trip lasted almost 12 hours. Seriously long, seriously exhausting, completely worth it.
Monday (May 15th) was teachers day in Korea and we were mercifully given the day off. Praise to all that is holy. I celebrated this holiday with a similar but larger team of both foreigners and Korean teachers (who can speak English) by going to one of the major amusement parks of Korea called Lotte World (lowttay). Despite long lines, the place was pretty fun. For whatever
reason, I didn't think twice about putting the control and outcome of my very being into the hands of Korean "thrill ride" engineering. I went on some seriously scary rides....not skydiving scary, not alligator wrestling scary, but pretty nuts. One of the rides ended an employees life just recently (he was drunk and not wearing a harness). On one of these rides called the "gyro swing," I thought my friend Tamara had swallowed her tongue or something. I am sitting there screaming like a 5 year old girl and she's next to me absolutely silent and not responding to my questions. She was cool, only just
having a mild heart attack. Another 12 hour endeavor under the belt. One more crazy ass outing full of packed subways, g-forces, and drinking alcohol in the middle of the day at family oriented amusement parks. I'll let the pics say the rest.
Random Times: 1st 24 hours (part I)
So I have nothing profound like the powers of kimchi to expound upon, so I am just going to tell some stories. This weekend was a total blur of social events, ground transportation, and mental endurance. It was all boat loads of fun, it just came with a price of serious exhaustion. But hey, am I 23 or 43? Yeah, thats what I thought, so I am going to stop cryin. An instant and constant
source of stimulation began immediately after work on Friday night. After exiting my school I got right into a car to go play basketball at 8:30pm with a squad of foreigners and my main man John, the Korean Barbarian. We absolutely ran our Korean challengers ragged (they had the skill levels of 10 year olds). Although not very much of a challenge, it was good exercise and did wonders for our confidence. After about an hour or so, I decided I really wanted to go back for the fun that was going to be had at Indian Camp (local bar where we all meet).
The meeting at Indian Camp was one of the merrier meetings that I can remember. Everybody was just feeding off of everyone else, perfect group cohesion. A wild night at Indian Camp automatically leads to a wilder night at a Noray Bong, and for brief yet potent details on that, see the previous blog entry. My Friday night ended late in a short but powerfully romantic embrace that made me forget that I was away from home.
Fast forward about 7 hours, and I am roused out of a deep slumber in my "Joe cave" as I know my mom would call it, by a phone call. A Korean friend and fellow co-worker named Jane is giving me quick directions to get ready and look decent to attend an authentic Korean wedding.
What an amazing opportunity. Only minutes after arriving at this large wedding facility, (which apparently accommodates multiple weddings at once) me and my partner in crime Alicia were abruptly shoved behind the bride and groom who we never actually met, for a barrage of photos which I am sad to report that I never received a copy of. Those pics are guaranteed gems though for sure.
We unfortunately missed the actual procession. I had a feeling the word "missed" could easily be replaced with "not allowed." Although it was discouraging not being able to see and be apart of the procession, it was probably for the best as I was really in no capacity to sit in a crowded and rigid atmosphere after my night of running amuck. We were instead ushered right into the reception area where the most gargantuan buffet I have ever laid eyes upon was waiting for us. The very sight of this feast could cause Kristy Alley to relapse into her previous cookie monster binging state. (my attempt at being funny) As this buffet was enormous, with well over 30 different chaffing dishes, it came strait out of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Raw and intact squid cut into sections, raw octopus, heaping plates of grasshoppers....and those were some of the few things that I could actually recognize. They did have ice cream though, yum yum or mashita in Korean.
Of course I had to sample everything, myself being the dashing and adventurous type. As my man Ron Burgundy improperly quoted, "when in Rome." There was definitely more than one time where I felt a pretty strong urge to empty the contents of my mouth into a napkin. I am sure everyone wanted to hear that, but life in Korea can be graphic. After stomaching as much food as I could at this Sizzler from planet Gorlak, we left to wait on the bride and groom to change out of their western style wedding attire and into their traditional Korean dress. I would liken their outfits to full suits of medieval armor, only in red and blue
ornately embroidered silk. They looked pretty substantial. What followed was a very interesting, curious and beautiful exchange of rituals that mainly included the groom pouring multiple cups of tea from a golden kettle for the bride. They were surrounded by their families in this tiny room and were the complete center of attention. Observing this go down prompted an intense feeling of wonderment and amazement. Although Korea is only like the third or fourth legitimately foreign country that I have experienced, I am already completely taken aback at the insane diversity of human culture. Lets just say that this white boy that has known a pretty homogeneous way of American life in north Seattle, is easily entertained at the moment.
So I think I am seriously becoming a Korean. At least incorporating some of the hallmarks of their culture into my life in a major way. I coming to love kimchi (which always reminds me of Kim, or Robin, lady marmalade,
or whichever given name she chooses for herself this week....I luv ya Kim). Its taste kinda appeals to me, I mean its cabbage that has been buried underground in a pot for weeks, how appetizing does that sound? What I have come to love about it is the intangible aura that surrounds it...an aura that exudes "Super Food." Kimchi reportedly gives one who eats it the power to defy age, and effects your immune system in the same way that anabolic steriods effects ones muscles. I think I also read somewhere it gives you the ability to leap over buildings too. It is supposed to be one of the healthiest foods in the world, and since I'm pretty big into self preservation, I eat alot of it.
Spicyness. Before I set foot on this peninsula, I had the spiciness tolerance of a new born baby. It was seriously pathetic, bordering on embarrassment. Over the last 6 weeks I have really come to enjoy some of Koreas spicy foods. Now I can officially say "I am allll that is MAAANNNN" spoken in gruff baritone voice. If only I could fix common household items like a toaster, or work on car engines, then that line would be truly applicable.
Noray Bongs, or kareoke rooms. Noray bongs are easily in the top 5 of greatest things ever. I put them way ahead of penicillin, the printing press, and the wheel. I love noray bongs with an intense, fiery passion. I fear that the feeling is not mutual, as noray bongs probably hate me. Forgive that ridiculous personification of a kareoke room. But I seriously kick the sh*t out of them, and end up kicking my own ass in the process. I am pretty used to waking up the morning after with sore muscles, stiff joints, and
giant hematomas. The second I enter one, a transformation takes place and this nut case comes out, bipolar style. For whatever reason I just immediately get this ravenous appetite for mayhem, chaos, and destruction. Its like theres a 190 lb five year old seriously bouncing off the walls in this small, populated room.
I blame it (partially) on the music. The music (partially) makes me do it. Its like when I hear it, I am forced to physically interpret, appreciate, and perform. What follows is usually something like me attempting karate kicks or toe touches, upon landing slipping on liquid that I spilt, and totally wiping out. I mean crashin, and burnin. In a heap of flames. I think my ill conceived actions come from a long history of chimplike behavior at fraternity parties that was regularly reinforced. Big up to my D-Chi bros that tore and are still tearing the club up. However, I have decided to make a serious attempt at maybe toning it down just a smidge. Just enough to ensure that I don't put my foot through a tv screen, get arrested, or most importantly, ruin other peoples times. Noray bongs are just so wonderful and such a huge part of Korean culture because there is no way around bonding with the people that are with you. Its the most efficient way to wash away the strain of a long week. Lets also not forget that for one hour you seriously feel like the most awesomely bad rock star that ever lived.
Group Dynamics: Psych Majors Rock
A family of foreign teachers boarded a rented bus like vehicle at roughly 8:45 am on Friday morning. Destination Chunchon, South Korea. The family consisted firstly of Mikka and John, our Korean ambassadors. The population of foreigners included Sara and Dan (Brits), Marsella Shon and Armen (Canucks), Hillary (Irish), and Keith, Alicia and myself representing the red, white and blue. Chunchon is about a couple hours drive (depending on traffic) directly east of Seoul, and is apparently the equivalent of a major spring break destination for college students looking to blow off a little steam. I unfortunately did not see any Koreans gone or going wild. As always though, I was able to provide ample entertainment for myself.
So what we thought was going to be a 2-3 hour road trip to this city of dreams turned into a 6 hour endeavor aboard a chariot of pain. Koreans travel on the weekends in a pattern not unlike the tides of the Pacific Ocean: they leave all at once, and return all at once, in one massive rush. We got caught in the middle of this Korean rip tide, a tiny group of foreigners packed in this midget bus. Funny to remember how much it felt like we were the exhibit at a zoo, as the Korean drivers and passengers all around us would just stare at us, some unfriendly stares too, I might add. Getting back on track, the main goal of the trip was getting to Chunchon, eat some famous dakgalbi (sp?, spicy chicken), and then go on a hike to a Buddhist temple in one of the
small mountains there. As that goal was more than accomplished, in my thoughts, the focus of the trip really evolved into group social dynamics and being absolutely immersed into one another's lives without personal space or boundaries for the duration of 36 hours. I found myslef thinking on more than one occasion what the hell am I doing here and who are these people I am with. The person I have known the longest is Alicia, who I met within my first 120 minutes in SK. Considering that, I have known her for a mere five weeks; so its safe to say that for a few of us, it was a trip full of strangers and barely knowns.
At the same time as I was having these WTF thoughts, I was also experiencing waves of excitement and euphoria, as I could not have been more proud of where I was, what I was doing, and who I was with. Its pretty amazing to think about how 6 weeks ago I was working in a banquet hall wearing a tuxedo in Seattle with a college degree. Fast forward 6 weeks and I am in Korea on a bus full of people whose only bond is our native English language, and together we are going on a hike to a Buddhist temple. Its also strange yet beautiful how these experiences give you friends that you would not have in any way shape or form back at home in your usual routine. It is perhaps one of the more overlooked and priceless gifts of this journey, the relationships that are forged.
The hike was short and wonderful. I did my mind, heart and soul wonders to be in a temperate forest exploding with green color. I can only handle urban city sprawl and enormous apartment buildings with numbers instead of names for so long. After a brief hike, we came to the temple which was beautiful but dare I say a little anti-climactic, (there were priests on cell phones). I know that I will be able to find more spiritually touching and awe inspiring centers of Buddhist worship.
As daylight was burning quickly, we high tailed it to an E-mart, which is basically a Target, Bestbuy, and QFC rolled into one fantastic ball of Korean capitalism. We purchased provisions fit for a kingly feast and enough alcohol to feel comfortably numb and wash away the strain of lengthy, close quartered travel. We all spent the night conversing on fun topics like whose celebrity looks demand the most admiration, cooking meat in the dark, challenging each other to soju pounding contests, chasing giant bullfrogs, and then retiring to sleep in communal rooms on the floor. I am leaving out some key details like how stairs ended up taking a few of us out because of the rain (myself included), and a noray bong full of carnage and flying projectile
tambourines. Because of my little run in with these oil slick stairs, I developed the (hopefully shortlived) nickname "shirtless shoeless Joe," which was given for concretely obvious items of clothing I was missing. Are you proud yet Mom? You could just feel the greatness of the night the morning after where we were all still in this haze, telling stories and laughing our asses off at absolutely anything and everything. More specifically laughing at anything Korean John "the manchild" did. The kid is comic gold. In my 23 years I have never seen a group of people come to know one another so closely over such a fiercely short span of time. I am happy to know these people and call them my friends.
In Front of Them All: The DMZ
Around 2pm on Saturday April the 30th, I set foot in communist North Korea, entering the most fortified and heavily armed barrier in the world. A barrier that dates straight back to the Cold War, which also exists on George W. Bush's axis of evil. Granted I did it in whats called the JSA, or Joint Security Area that was under heavy protection from ROK (rep. of Korea) and American Soldiers, but it still was one of the most sobering experiences I have ever known. The JSA consists of a simple house structure that literally straddles the MDL or military demarcation line. If my memory serves me correctly, the MDL is the division line in the DMZ, or demilitarized zone, the zone that serves as the border between North and South. So to reiterate, the DMZ which is an average width at most places of 4 km, is divided down the middle by the MDL. The northern half belongs to N. Korea, and the southern half belongs to S. Korea. I know I just threw a bunch of meaningless anacronyms at you, but try reading it again and maybe it will sink in. Also see through my feeble attempt to
Let me tell you though.....I felt anything but cool when my eyes got as big as saucers and my lower lip started to tremble as our USA military guide instructed us to put on the army issued bullet proof vests that he said were under our seats. This as right after we had to sign a waiver acknowledging that South Korea and the USA cannot be held responsible if we get shot. What a freakin asshole. He had me for a good 5 seconds or so with his cruel joke which was ripe with black comedy. There was no 50 cent bullet proof vest...but I think I would have loved the opportunity to wear one.
So in the JSA enclosure, by walking to the northern half of the room, I officially entered the North Korean half of the De-Militarize Zone. You could feel the tension and rigidity in the air even though people were kind of giggling and posing for pictures with the SK ROK soldiers. It was a more disturbing outside the JSA building where as a tour group we were perched on this ledge where we could just stare in awe at the ROK soldiers. One would stand in a modified taekwondo
stance with half of their bodies covered by the JSA building (to make himself less of a target) staring intently at the North Korean soldier just over yonder. Pretty surreal staring at a member of communist North Koreas military. At one point, blinds opened up in a window of the building on the North Korean side, and you could just make out someone taking pictures of us on the South side. I did not and still don't know how to interpret that. I welcome anyone's insight or comments on that issue.
I have never (and probably will never come as close again) been so face to face with corrupt global politics and a fascist dictatorship when viewing the North Korean "propaganda village." It is a virtual cardboard cutout ghost town of a city where North Korean propaganda is broadcasted for 6-12 hours a day on a massively powerful PA system. In the center of the village is an Eiffel tower like structure which waves one of the larger legitimate (not a flag that gets spread out over a football field or something) flags in the world. It apparently weighs over 600 lbs dry and needs tornado strength gusts of wind to fly. It was intentionally made larger than the South Korean flag flying a number of miles away. It is one of only two cities in the DMZ. There is one on South Korean side which actually is populated, exactly 220 people can live it at a time, and the people who do live there only have the opportunity because of a historical lineage type of attachment. Their families have apparently been on the land way before the Korean war. The members of that village have strict curfews and are guarded 24-7-365. Interesting to note they enjoy tax free incomes of roughly $80,000 American a household per year. I know I sound like a tour guide, but I have to share this information which I find fiercely interesting.
There was some other interesting things on the tour like venturing into a tunnel that the North Koreans were digging to get to Seoul and getting a North Korea stamp in my passport at a train station that had trains going to Pyongyang, the capitol of North Korea. Or how the military base Camp Bonifas is named after an American commander who was literally axed to death by a squad of North Koreans. But instead of giving a boring ass account of all that stuff, I would rather question why all of us are lucky enough to born American, or a member of any nation that is marginally just, free and prosperous. I know I am sounding like an arrogant American, but no one can deny the standard of living we enjoy. What if you were born in a country like North Korea, where the internet is outlawed and you cannot pursue that which makes you happy. Why are we so lucky? I know some people would say things like its all according to God
or its apart of a divine plan, or simply not acknowledge fortune at all and chalk it up under complete and utter
randomization and probability. For those of you who reject the latter, what
do you think the citizens of North Korea think about religion and a divine plan that has them surviving their lives where they are? Chuck Knox once said "you have to play the hand your dealt," but the people of North Korea got dealt a seven-duece unsuited from a stacked deck. I am not taking a stance on these issues but just throwing some thoughts out there to see what I can spark. All I know is that it is extremely and shockingly easy to take the opportunity of a free life in a free country for granted. Don't do it, and take full advantage of a free life whether thats by using the internet, making fun of your president, or discovering that which makes you great. Over and out.