Tuesday, February 23, 2010



Taking advantage of a three-day weekend a few weeks ago, seven Daegu boys and I headed up to Yong Pyong, one of the biggest ski resorts in Korea. We were a rowdy gang and it made for some memorable experiences.

To kick things off, Handsome James and another Brit by the name of Jon went out hard the night before we left. Even with an 11:00AM bus departure (cake in comparison to the 5:00AM departure we made to hit HighOne), they were late. The five of us that made it on time were sitting on the bus at 10:59 thinking they were screwed. We got them on the phone and they were still on their way in a cab. They said they had arrived at the station and we tried to create a diversion, and Tim ran off the bus to meet them, but then they said they actually hadn't arrived, the cabbie had just faked them out.

"No way they'll make it."

After getting yelled at by the driver for holding things up for nothing, the bus pulled out of the lot and began pulling around the station building. We were still on the phone with them.

"Wait, we're really here, we're really here!"
"We're pulling out now, run to the Lotteria! The bus is heading right towards it..."

At that moment, we could see them in the street. James bravely approached the front of the bus and got it to stop. The driver VERY reluctantly let them on and proceeded to yell and unload a series of crazy emphatic gestures. There was (we think) much profanity. We felt bad, but couldn't help but laugh, because we had no idea what he was saying, and in these situations, they're aware of this fact, but still chew us out anyway.

Having made his point, the driver went to a compartment behind his seat and pulled out two plastic mats. We looked around and saw there wasn't a single empty seat - their two seats had been taken by other passengers waiting in standby. So the driver unrolled the mats, handed them to James and Jon and gestured to the floor.

"Oh no, oh yes! James and Jon are about to enjoy the four-and-a-half hour bus ride on the floor of this bus - hilarious."

Still smelling of soju and just breathing hangover, they luckily found this about as funny as we did.

On to the actual skiing...

Yong Pyong was a much bigger mountain and since it was the Korean/Chinese New Year (they also observe the lunar calendar) nobody was there. No lines means lots and lots of runs. We also had the fortune of a huge snowstorm just before we arrived. It was incredible. We got off the bus right next to this tree. It's so Asian, and so snowy, I was so excited.
The landscape outside the lodge.

At the resort, sleeping arrangements hadn't quite been sorted out. The guys that had the original idea reserved beds in a hostel, but once more of us expressed interest, the place was booked. James, Jon, Tim and I managed to work out a plan to stay in a condo of a friend of a friend from Seoul. What we weren't prepared for was that it was the Korean idea of "condo" with a small bedroom and one "living" area connected with a kitchen and we were to share space with a cheeky 13 other people.
James and Tim take it in on our way up to the first run of the weekend.
Stefan, Brady, Kelso and James in a Korean winter wonderland.
We hit up night skiing twice, and the lift rides alone would have been worth the lift ticket. With fresh snow on the trees and beautifully lit stretches of mountain around the lift line, it was like floating through Narnia or something. The pictures hardly do justice.
Me and the Britboys were the last to make it back to the condo later that night and made no friends as we waded and chuckled through the dark room dense with slumbering bodies. I found real estate underneath a glass coffee table, no blanket, no pillow, no problem.

Day Two

In contrast to HighOne, we managed to keep the group intact. Everybody was pretty close in level and pacing so it was easier. All in all, the runs were leisurely and I could feel my boarding ability improving. I only took two "bad" falls all weekend.
The fresh snow a little more clearly seen the next day...
The summit of the highest run.
Love these guys.
Strapped in and ready to rock...
Spying Tim, Brady, Stefan and James in front of another really Asian-looking snow covered tree.

On the way back, we thought it would more fun and about the same price for us to rent a car to get back down to Daegu. Tim, through amazing trials and travails recently got his Korean driver's license. All the test consisted of was him doing one standing squat. This basically concedes that if you're fit to use a "standard" (squat) toilet in the Republic of Korea, you're fit for the roads. God help us all...

If you're curious, Hertz said no. We took a bus.

Monday, February 22, 2010

A Casual Trip to the Korean ER

So as I dug into my instant beef curry noodle dinner tonight, I began to feel an itch around my underarms. Having finally tracked down deodorant yesterday, I thought that maybe the Old Spice I paid $15 for was some sort of black market knockoff loaded with skin irritants.

By the time I finished eating, the itching had intensified and I also felt an itch around my hips. I went into my bathroom for a closer look and I saw that I had crazy rashes under my arms and around my pelvis, with hives in other random places. I went online suspecting an allergic reaction of some sort, and as I read symptoms for anaphylactic reactions, I felt lightheaded and I began to have tingling sensations.

Everything I read online advised that I seek immediate medical attention. For a moment, I tried having an attitude not unlike my dad's. When my mother's appendix burst, he prescribed some aspirin. When her water broke with my sister, I'm pretty sure he suggested they wait until the next day to deal with it.

I could feel my condition getting worse. When I realized I was having a little trouble breathing, I called Mr. Lee, and he drove me to the emergency room.

What followed involved a lot of gestures, pointing, and stripping. Ultimately, my self-diagnosis proved true. One moment, I was talking to the doctor:

"yes, you have allergic reaction, it is not too serious, but we should take precautions...this will be painful"

and the next moment a nurse appeared and I heard "sey-gay," which means three. She promptly gestured for me to drop my pants and offer my cheeks up.

Me: "Awwwww, in the butt? Really?"
Nurse: "Nay (yes)"

Having just been told "painful" and translated "3," all I could say was "aw, shit."

So as I hunched over the bedside, in went the first, and it hurt, and the nurse tried to be quick about the second, but I was taken by surprise and I tensed up. She motioned for me to rub the cotton ball from injection one and I was half doing that and half trying to keep my pants half up. She said "second, two" and kept telling me to relax (relax-ah!), but I was like "come on, give me a moment to recover here." She started laughing at my mumbled curse words, so I started laughing too.

All of this was going on in a crowded ER and we were only separated by a sheet. I can only imagine what the other ailing Koreans made of it.

She then made me lie down on the bed for one in the arm. Once that was over with, I was feeling quite woozy (those of you that know me well may be aware of my troubles with needles and such) and the nurse had another cotton ball in place. For the record, this is exactly what I heard:

Nurse: "don't love"
Me: "love what?"
Nurse: "don't love"
Me: "love?"
Nurse: "don't love!"
Me (thinking): you just stuck three terrible needles in me, I love neither you nor the needles
Me: "no love!"
Nurse: "love, love, love!" (gesturing in a rubbing motion)
Me: "OH, RUB!"

Once made clear, I took her advice. I can't speak towards other Asian languages, but I understand why Koreans have problems with "r" and "l." The character in Korean "ㄹ" is basically both. Try saying an "r" and "l" sound simultaneously and that's what you've got. The confusion over "v" and "b" is similar.

It took about an hour for the drugs to kick in, and then the hives were gone, and Mr. Lee laughed his ass off at the exchange between the nurse and I. No more instant beef curry for this guy...

Saturday, February 20, 2010



Before coming to Korea, I'd been on a snowboard a total of three days in my life. The first time was on a Duxbury Middle School ski trip in the 7th grade. The next time was not until my second semester at UMass. That was 2006, so I'm thinking four years later, how hard could it be?

For sure, I'm not alone in my limited experience. Handsome "you know what really boils my piss?" James has only picked up skiing in the last month or so. Another friend, Tim, learned to snowboard two months ago. Both have only hit the mountain a couple times and they aren't unusual cases amongst our other friends.

My first trip was to HighOne Resort. It was a package deal - bus both ways, 2-day rentals, 2-day lift pass, and one night hotel accommodation for 180,000won (~$170).

When I finally got up there, it only took a few spills to get the feel down, and before long we were tearing.
I attribute most of it to long summer days spent skimboarding Duxbury beach. Little did I know back then the service it would do me on the mountains of Korea. I certainly never really thought that Korea would be the place that I'd hone my snowboarding skills, but the opportunities are there and I'm thrilled.
Hitting the mountain has definitely gave me a deeper appreciation for the beauty of the Korean landscape and outdoors. Given the bitter cold, it's hard to get out there, but I think once the weather breaks, there will be loads of fun stuff to do.
Tim and I take it all in.
Joanne and I prepped for our first run of day two.

Some of the get-ups Koreans wear out there are remarkable. If there's one thing these people do, it's accessorize. They may be disgracing the sport by falling all over the place but they look damn good doin' it. There were times when I felt like we were in the midst of a winter sports fashion show. It's winter 2010, and neon colors are IN.
Dude in the purple dread ha blue ice-demon suit smokes a cigarette (not pictured).
Another big thing is the couples matching. Couples would have the same outfit from head to toe. A ridiculous show of affection and a little nauseating.
The resort employees were awesome! They had these adorable suits and would wave with two hands, head rocking back forth and bouncing: "heyloooo nice-ah to meet-ah youuu." In the west, this would be considered humiliating. Here, it's embraced, and it brightened my day.
Regular Koreans also got into the costumed spirit:
Flying squirrel, tiger, and cow have mountainside a conference.

It's hard to convey in text, but Korean language doesn't really allow for words to end in a consonant. Instead they add an "ee" or "ah" to the end. I regularly hear my school (COOLish) referred to as COOLisheee. At the end of lessons, students say finisheee. More common is the "ah." It makes for some funny Korean accent impressions to just "ah" to everything. Case in point:

Skype me and I'll gladly act this out for you. My parents seemed to get a kick out of it.

Don't underestimate Korean ingenuity. Featured here: the log cabin ski-lift-drop trash receptacle.
Tim, handsome as ever, during out last run of the weekend with cool sky lighting effects in the background. Without all that much soreness, we ended up finishing strong.


Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Superbowl XLIV

Out and about the Saturday night before the Superbowl, I ran into a guy I met a few weeks ago named Yuri. Yuri's a hulking Russian that I may or may not have told resembles a villian out of a Bond film...
...but contrary to my cheap impression, he is a very kind dude and a member of the U.S. forces stationed here in Daegu. We eventually got ourselves some "breakfast" after the bar.

I had originally planned to watch the big game at the Holy Grill, a renowned expat restaurant/sportsbar downtown. It's owned by a cheerful lumberjack of a Canadian, he's got a remote DVR setup back home called a slingbox and will gladly tape and play any sports event you could want. I watched #6 West Virginia play #21 Pitt in basketball a few weeks ago as there are a couple WVU alums here teaching. Watching new ESPN commercials never seemed like such a thrill.

Well, Yuri tried to talk me out of going to Holy Grill during breakfast, insisting instead that I watch at Camp Walker, the largest of three bases here. With promises of lots of food, beer, and enthusiasm (not to mention as American as a great American holiday could be) I agreed.

One big catch was the time he told me to meet him. I know I keep mentioning it, but I'm 14 hours ahead of EST. A 6:30PM kickoff time means 8:30AM here. Yuri seemed wary about finding room to sit, so he told me to meet him at 6:00AM. Ouch.

It's SUPERBOWL MONDAY MORNING IN KOREA. It's most certainly not the same...

The process of getting me into a high-security military base was anything but straightforward. I had to show a passport and surrender my Korean foreigner ID while Yuri had to sign me in with his ID and produce a digital fingerprint, which wouldn't be so hard, but the machine broke. Nice-ah!

Once in, I tried to use an ATM, but my Korean debit card wasn't working. Luckily, they have a huge BANK OF AMERICA, so I took out some greenbacks.
Long time, no see Mr. Jackson.

To add to the novelty of withdrawing US dollars from a BOA machine, the Supervenue Yuri led me to was a restaurant in the base called...brace yourself..."The Hilltop." My stories of giant cow statues outside famous American steakhouses seemed quite lost on my Russian comrade, but it didn't lessen my excitement. The Korean Hilltop didn't disappoint. I got that classic American buffet style breakfast of eggs, sausage, toast, homefries, OJ, and shitty drip coffee. Oh, how absence makes the heart grow fonder.

Many of the servicemen and women were on the older side and there were a handful of military families with kids there. Yuri introduced me to his friend Ben, a Giants fan from New York. We were probably among the youngest there.

Watching the big projector screen setup, I realized we would not be watching a regular broadcast. Instead, I saw a feed of CBS through AFN, the Armed Forces Network. Ben informed me that there would be no hyped multi-million dollar ads, rather, we would be treated to military public service announcements and other non-commerical fillers.

Offerings of thanks and praise also came from Obama, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, NFL Hall of Famers, sports commentators, and a load of players from the Saints and Colts. The messages seemed very heartfelt and I tried to spy how they were received by those around me. It often depended on the speaker, but I'd say by the end of the game, the generic thanks became something like a broken record to them.
The announcements reminded troops of important things like not to litter, get too drunk and create trouble with locals, or allow embarrassing videos or pictures of themselves (especially uniformed) to surface on the internet. They were all super low-budget, local business TV ad style. I was waiting for Ernie Bock Jr. to pop onto the screen...

By kickoff, you could hardly move in the place and overall I'd say the crowd favored Indy, patronizing the Saints fans from the start. When Manning connected for the first touchdown of the game, the Colts support really boomed. Even I could feel that the flood gates were about to open. It never happened though. As momentum shifted to the Saints, the "who dey" chants just got louder and louder through the second quarter and never stopped.

What a game. I was way into it, and discovered that rooting against the Colts was almost as motivating as rooting for the Pats. I was sucked into it all the more so by the general enthusiasm. Clapping, high fives, and jeers of all varieties came after most every play. It was a shame that it was so early, because there was so much food: pizza, chicken wings, mozzarella sticks, jalapeno poppers and more. I wanted to find these treasured football foods appetizing, but given so little sleep and such a big breakfast, Miller Light draft was about as far as I could comfortably push it.

Props to my dad for calling the pic-six. I began to believe it would really happen over the course of the game, and then lo and behold, the most satisfying Peyton-face in history:
Hallelujah! Manning's on his ass, goodnight Colts!

At halftime, there was a guy from AFN giving things away like gift cards and NFL jerseys. After the game, they still had stuff left over. They gave out raffle tickets at the beginning for a lazy boy, but after giving up on awarding leftover prizes through NFL trivia that no one seemed to be able to answer, they just started calling numbers.

There was a huge pile of jerseys at the start, maybe one or more of every team up for grabs. Winners got to take the jersey of their choice. I wanted to split early, but Yuri insisted we stay until the prizes were gone. The last two jerseys left were a Vikings jersey and a Tom Brady jersey. The next winner, already donning a Jason Taylor Dolphin's jersey, picked up the Brady one and thought for a moment about his deep hatred for the beast of the AFC East before throwing it down in disgust and taking the Vikes one.

I was surprised and perhaps a little hurt that no one wanted anything to do with the Pats jersey; I was much more surprised and not at all hurt when the next number they called was mine! Woo!

I did hesitate for a moment to ask Yuri and Ben if it was okay, seeing as though I didn't want to overstep my welcome as a civilian guest, but they urged me on. So up I went with my Pats hoodie on that Kourt got me with a big grin. I think the jersey chose me.

When I picked it up, I realized this wasn't any replica plastic-screen print job, it was the real deal sewn numbers, logos, and name. At the NFL shop the authentic "on-field" jerseys retail at $259.99. Yowza. It made for one of the brighter Mondays in recent memory.