Sunday, March 30, 2008

Korean Wedding

At pretty much every wedding, the hall is filled with people with varying degrees of interest in the proceedings. For the bride, her parents, and sometimes the groom, it’s the most important day of their lives. For others, like close friends, enemies, rivals, and relatives of the couple, it still stands as a pretty substantial day. Of course, every wedding also includes a select few that aren’t remotely involved or interested, and may go so far as to crack jokes non-stop throughout the ceremony , treating it as a live-action Mystery Science Theater experience. I was proud to be firmly in the latter camp on Saturday afternoon.

What the hell was I doing at a wedding in Korea, you may be asking yourself? A female Korean co-worker of mine that I’m not all that close with was getting married, so several of the other teachers were going. More importantly, I was there to see what a Korean wedding is all about, for the benefit of you, the reader. I expected to see ridiculous Korean hilarity, and I was not disappointed.

First off, this isn't the wedding I was attending. This is some random wedding party, 15 minutes before Ji Eun's (the co-worker) was to start. Korean weddings don't occur at churches or outdoors or anywhere mildly unique. From what I understand, they all take place in wedding halls, almost a Vegas-style wedding factory, though less classy. There aren't any bridesmaids or groomsmen, and the bride and groom rent the dress and tux straight from the hall.



Anyway, on to the proceedings. Our group took a picture with the bride before the wedding. Clearly no superstition here about the bride being out and about before the ceremony. That, and she’s burning valuable dress rental time, so why not do the pictures while the previous wedding party is still present in the hall?



We entered the hall to take out seats. The hall had a large, though poor video projection screen of the alter, and a small orchestra sat in the front off to the side, though I don’t think they actually played anything, all the music seemed to be piped in. Shortly befere the groom entered, two hot chicks dressed like stewardesses stood opposite one another halfway down the aisle. The were both carrying swords. By the way, if I get married, there will absolutely be weapon-brandishing stewardesses involved.
The stewardesses raised their swords in the air, and the lights dimmed as extremely cheesy light effects darted around the walls, and the brief introduction of a techno song played. Ladies and gentlemen, YOUR 1996 New York Islanders! Never mind, it’s just the groom. The stewardesses formed the swords into a bridge, and the groom walked under it, alone, and stood at the alter alone, with the priest or whatever the hell he was standing behind the sizable alter. Then the bride did the same thing. They stood together, and then, I shit you not, a smoke machine under the alter started up for a few seconds, but I didn't get the picture in time.


After what felt like hours due to the poor PA system, the fact that everything was in Korean, and the fact that the hall was probably about 147 degrees and I was in a suit, the bride and groom moved over to an area to the side with cake and champagne. They poured the champagne and huzzah! Another smoke machine! They also cut the cake, but did not feed it too each other. In fact, I never saw that cake again, it wasn't at the reception. After taking two champagne glasses, they returned to the alter and did a "love shot," drinking through locked arms. Then, they bowed to the "priest" and to the crowd, and it was over! No kiss, which is unusual, even in a Korean wedding.



More loud piped in music was played, and the bride and groom walked up the aisle as the stewardesses shot confetti at them out of trumpets. That is not a sentence I ever imagined writing. There were some pictures to deal with before moving on to the reception. Sadly, I was in the best one, thus couldn't take it. In the picture with the co-workers was when the photographer finally had the couple kiss. This was almost indescribable. The level of passion was somewhere between kissing an aunt and kissing a dog. Next,the bride threw the bouquet, but to a pre-arranged recipient standing alone about a foot behind her.


We adjourned to the "reception." I'd heard Korean wedding receptions were bad, though I was still surprised at how bad it really was. The reception was a buffet upstairs from the ceremony hall, and quite crowded since other wedding parties were there too.
The room had all the charm of a Korean department store's food court. There was no toast, no dancing, no music, no bridal table, no entertainment of any form. Just buffet food that people ate as fast as possible at tables with the people they came to the wedding with, no mingling of any kind. The bride and groom walked around the tables, now dressed formal but no longer in their rented wedding attire. By 4 p.m., two thirds of the guests had left. The ceremony had begun at 3 p.m. My group were late stragglers, we stayed until the bitter end, 5 p.m. I threw down two beers, but really didn't even feel like drinking them. None of my other co-workers had any. No reason to really, since there were no bridesmaids to hit on, no dancing, no reason to even be there, really.


None of these aspects, by the way, are remotely unique to Ji-eun. She didn't go out to host a shit wedding, she went out to host a wedding that, from what I hear, is exactly the same as every other wedding here. Still, it was unquestionably the lamest wedding I've ever been to. My buddy Jon is having one here in Korea in a few months, and I expect better. I certainly don't want to get home from a wedding at 5:30 in the afternoon, sober as a clergyman. If I'm putting on the suit, I at least expect to be entertained until it's late enough to go to the bar.






Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Singapore

Various random notes on my recent (though not that recent, I started this a while ago) Singapore trip...

Singapore Air is fucking awesome. My new favorite airline, with a bullet. Arrested Development, the Office, Ali G, Corner Gas, Scrubs, other cool shit like that, all on demand. Plus, Mario 1. My flight to Singapore was 6 hours long, I was on less than 4 hours sleep, and I lucked out with a row to myself, yet I didn’t nap at all, because there was simply too much TV to watch. I’d honestly consider flying Singapore Air to some random city for no good reason and returning the same day, just because the entertainment is that good.

I checked into my hostel (yeah, sucks to stay in hostel when you’re damn near 30, but hotels in Singapore are really expensive, and there’s no dirt-cheap hotels in the center of town like in Hong Kong) and tried to nap, but it was too fucking hot, as the hostel only runs the AC at night. Hippies. I woke up at around the time of the hostel’s neighborhood (Little India) walking tour, but it wasn’t being run do to lack of interest. The woman at the desk did tell me that I could go into the common room to find Rachel, and that this Rachel wanted to go to the restaurant that the walking tour had planned. The Rachel turned out to be quite cute. The notion of me, on no sleep and completely sober, walking up to this attractive girl I didn’t know and asking her to dinner was beyond preposterous. The woman at the desk may have well suggested that I charm a snake or somehow transform into a seal, as these would be more likely scenarios.

I ended up eating alone at an Indian restaurant. This was something quite different for me. By Indian restaurant, I mean straight up Indian restaurant. Up until this point, my experience with Indian restaurants had been India Palace in Lawrence, and high-end Indian restaurants in New York, Chicago, and London. This was definitely my first time in an Indian restaurant where I was the only person there who was not Indian. I ordered a chicken tandori (seemed accessible enough) and was served a strange looking plate where I recognized a total of two of the 9 or so things on it - 1) chicken, and 2) rice. I am sure I ate it completely wrong, utensil-wise, but after asking the waiter for tips on how i should go about eating this assortment, it turned out to be awesome.

I moved on to the ultimate in Singapore tourist douchebaggery - going to the Raffles hotel for a Singapore Sling. In my Asian travels, I’ve discovered that I rather like heading to the most expensive hotel in town and having a drink that costs more than my shabby nightly accommodation. I’ve done it in Hong Kong, Manila, Jeju and now Singapore. I thought about doing it in Daejeon a couple weeks ago, but the $35 a night Rodeo Motel where I stayed may well have been the finest hotel in town, so that wouldn’t be too exciting. Anyway, in Singapore, it turned out not to be very fun, since every out of towner seems to go to the Raffles for a Sling, so the place was chock full of riff-raff like me. A bar full of Marla Singer-type (though, sadly, not Helena Bonham Carter-type) fakers made me feel like the fraud that I was.

The next day, I hit Singapore pretty hard. I was all over town, and found, amongst other things, extreme rarities in Asia, including an Orange Julius stand and a Borders. I live in a country where most bookstores English sections range from Grisham to Clancy. A three-floor all-English Borders was almost beyond my comprehension, I think I almost fainted. Don’t worry, I wasn’t just looking for American shit, I also ate some killer Chinese food and went to the surprisingly awesome Singapore Art Museum. But oh, the Borders...

At night, I went to Singapore’s famed Night Safari on a trip from the Hostel, with some fellow hostelers. After people got split up, as people in a large group tend to do, I ended up with a tall Aussie dude, an old chick, and Rachel, The Rachel from the previous night. I was immediately interested in talking to her, and of course went into tank mode as only I can. We started by seeing the animal show, and others were speculating what might be in the show. I quipped that maybe it would be a tiger fighting a monkey with a knife. That one, well, didn’t land. Later, we passed the leopard enclosure, and I noticed that the non-scientific name of the animal was simply “leopard.” Here, my winning joke was, “why isn’t it, say, a northern reticulated leopard or a Sri Lankan leopard rather than just plain leopard?” There may have been a polite guffaw to this one, from the old chick. And that, right there kids, is why somebody as devastatingly handsome as myself has such a large degree of knowledge in the field of internet porn.

Later on, after I’d given up any attempt at humor (which pretty much means any attempt at conversation), Rachel asked the three of us if we had ever been to a specific temple on the outskirts of Bangkok. That’s the other funny thing about Singapore. It’s amazingly accessible, you can fly there from anywhere, the public transit is easy, the food and the weather are always agreeable, it’s clean, and everyone speaks English. It seems like the perfect place to start an Asian trip, soft-landing wise. Yet, nobody starts out in Singapore. Every single western person I talked to had already been to several other Asian countries. Rachel automatically assumed that the tall Aussie, the old chick, and I had already been to Bangkok, and it turned out that all three of us had. I’d venture to guess that 89% or so of all westerners that come to Asia for the first time land in Tokyo, Seoul, Bangkok, or Beijing. Maybe more.

I had one other mildly interesting Singapore adventure, but I’ve gone on long enough today. I know I need to work on shortening these here blogs.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Bracket bust (and Daejeon trip)

I’ve been writing some form of my bracket takes, via mass email then blog, for a long time now. Every year since 2003, in fact. Prior to that, I lived in Lawrence, so I basically talked to or saw everyone I talked hoops with every single day anyway, so there wasn’t much need for the inter-tubes. This year, it looks like the trend will end. I got nothin. I’ve been away too long, and I can’t even pretend to know what’s
going on in college hoops anymore. I’ll still submit a bracket, of course, but I don’t even know which teams in the Midwest region I should be scared of this year. I’ve seen a total of one game on TV since 2006 - KU-Southern Illinois online last year. I think CBS is running the first 3 rounds online again, so I’ll watch any KU games I can, dependent of course on insane time difference matters and work schedules.

Anyway, since I can’t talk hoops brackets, it’s still March, which is still bracket season. So, I’ll chat about one of my personal brackets - the road trip bracket. Proof, for those of you that needed more, that I’m completely nuts.

I started the road trip bracket in the spring of 1999, while bored in a media sales class. I’d made a list of all my road trips (and plane, boat, and train trips) going back as long as I could remember, which turned out to be the summer of 1984. It turned out that, as of March 1998, I’d been on exactly 64 road trips. The coincidence was not lost on me. I immediately regionalized the trips (pretty obvious there, south, east, west, midwest) and seeded them based on their distance from the point of origin (which was almost always Lawrence) and then faced them off, head to head. Which trip was better, my 1990 trip to San Diego, or my 1996 visit to Washington and Oregon while determining colleges? Finally, there was a reason to decide, as only one could advance to the next round. Anyway, the bracket turned out to be pretty fun, plus it killed like 3 days worth of media sales classes that I may have otherwise been forced to pay attention to. Come March of 2000, I had a couple massive west coast road trips a Euro adventure under my belt, so I couldn’t resist doing another one. Plus, I had a media ethics class that desperately needed some distractions. I’ve done one every year since. Also, for the sake of keeping things fresh, every road trip since the previous March automatically makes the field of 64.

My most recent and most random trip, and the one where I filled out most of the field for this years bracket, was to Daejeon, a city of 1.5 million people in central South (definitely not south central) Korea. I chose Daejeon because a) my whipped, pansy, vaginistic (new word here, meaning one who holds the properties and characteristics of a vagina, no existing word in the English language seemed to fit) buddy Don pussied out of a long-planned trip to Busan, b)Daejeon is pretty close and really easy to get to via bullet train, and c) Daejeon was the host city of Expo ’93, and there was certain to be some awesome white elephant buildings.

I love white elephants, and nobody does them quite like Korea. For example, when Korea co-hosted the World Cup in 2002, they built 10 brand new stadiums for the event. 10, despite the fact that they were only hosting half the games. The U.S., for example, built zero new stadiums for our World Cup, and only hosted games in 8 cities across an enormous continental land mass. Korea is the size of Indiana. 10 brand new stadiums, most holding over 40,000 people. Now, those that are still in use are only used for K-league soccer, which nobody in Korea cares about. So, 4,000 fans in a venue for 60,000. On top of that, Seoul already had an Olympic stadium that was only 14 years old, which you’d think could have been renovated for the World Cup. Instead, it sits on the south side of the river on prime real estate, taking up space, and even more useless than it was since there’s a newer, more state of the art useless stadium across town.



Anyway, Daejeon Expo park kicked ass. It was like an abandoned EPCOT Center. The place is littered with various science pavilions, some that are for some reason still open, most mothballed. It was clearly the focus of the nation in 1993, but now it’s like a scientific county fair, still standing despite the facts that the carnies moved on to the next town a long time ago.


Nothing says "future white elephant" like Technopia


Hey Alexander, Deer Forest called, and they want their figurines back.

Anyway, so that’s my Daejeon trip. It was also highlighted by the fact that I went to a club with a $10 cover and then free beer but terrible music, so it was a bit of a conundrum to stick it out there for the 11 or so beers I had. All in all, that lands Daejeon as a 16 seed in the East, with absolutely no chance for advancement to the next round. As for basketball, I pick Kansas to go all the way, beating UNC and UCLA in the Final 4. Revenge is sweet. Rock Chalk.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Cowboys and Bullets

Ahhh, Vegas. Where else can you drink while standing on a moving walkway - and fit in?

It was a good trip. And, sticking to the high-fidelity that this blog is, here are the top five moments of the trip.

1. Aces over Kings. While the girls were seeing Love, I was playing in a cash game at the Mirage, one of the most famous poker rooms in Vegas. There were a few pros floating around the tables, luckily no one famous sitting next to me. I had been card dead the first hour, literally getting 7-2 (the worst starting hand in poker) 4 times. It was only fair that I would pick up pocket rockets in my big blind, after the small blind raises it to 12. I re-raise to 25, he calls. The flop comes 5-8-J rainbow. He checks to me. I bet 35. He moves all in for 110 more, and I call instantly. He flips over pocket kings for the second best hand, the aces hold up, and I double up.






2. Ghost Bar. You may know this bar from the real world, which I have to admit is where I first learned about it, but it kicks ass. Check out the picture to the left. The Ghost Bar is on the 55th floor of the Palms Casino. The view and the drinks were stella. Nothing like toasting over the bright lights.





3. Binions / Old Vegas. What a great place, complete with light shows on the ceiling. Not to mention the home to the first world series of poker. The famous cowboy is also here, and the gift shop he lives on is a good time. I was too hung over to enjoy all the light shows (or not fucked up enough to enjoy it, however you want to look at it).

4. Blackjack at The Golden Nugget. I was sitting at a table with one other dude, and we were getting our ass kicked by one dealer, but then the shift changed. The second dealer immediately gave both of us a BJ…errr…a 21 (this is Vegas after all) and after that first hand she was called away to another table. The third dealer (in three hands) crushed us. She had 16 – and hit an 5. 12 and hit a 9. Just sick. But I had one questionable situation, so I asked my new buddy for advice. I had split 7’s with a 6 showing. The first card was a three. Me: Hey, should I double down here? Him: Hell yes, man. It’s called gambling.” We ended up pushing on the hand, and even though I lost at the table in the long run, it's good to know we’re not alone in this fight.




5. The Bellagio Lunch Buffet. Worth every penny. We were there over 2 hours. The food might have been better than Bobby Flay’s place that we hit on the first night at Caesars, though Bobby does make a killer margarita. This is a must hit on every trip from here on out.


Wednesday, March 5, 2008

The poker, the scraper, the gouger

After a solid imperial decade-long break, I have returned to the dentist. Actually, I went to the dentist three months ago or so, because my teeth were rotting out and the pain finally became too much to stand. I basically had three states of being - asleep, plastered, or in agonizing pain. Since I’m a teacher, not a pyramid scam participant or a camaraman or a fireworks salesman or a delivery driver (or any other of my many illustrious occupations), a perpetual state of drunkenness at work simply wouldn’t do, thus the agonizing pain portion lasted far too long, upwards of six hours a day. So I went to the dentist, and he discovered two massive cavities (my first!) on the right side of my mouth. One (by far the more painful of the two) was in a wisdom tooth, which was pretty much on the verge of splitting in half. Right away he shot me up with novocain and popped that puppy out. Strange stuff, novocain, and my first experience with that as well. Here I have a tooth so sensitive that it can’t handle lukewarm coffee, and I’m awake and perfectly aware how much my tooth should be hurting, yet it doesn’t as he twists and prods at it with hooks and claws and whatever else. I just had to pay him 9 bucks (gotta love universal health care) and promise not to eat, drink, or smoke for two hours.

I asked about the other tooth, which I knew had severe problems as well, as it was so jagged on the side that I could almost cut my tongue with it. It’s not a wisdom tooth, so yanking it wasn’t an option. He told me I needed a root canal (fuck!) and that we should get started right away, but while treatment is dirt cheap, a wisdom tooth requires a crown that costs $300. That’s for the cheapest crown, and I may want to splurge for at least the second-cheapest crown. I’ve got class, after all. The other tooth, jagged condition that it may be in, didn’t particularly hurt, and paying for a crown at that time would have severely damaged my Philippines budget. Needless to say, when faced with the choice between almost preventative (remember, little to no pain in that tooth) dental care or money to splurge on beachside rum, you know which way that’s going.

This week, the lack of pain was gone. That is to say, last Friday at work, my tooth caused such a massive level of pain that I honestly thought I was going to throw up. The waves of pain radiating off of this tooth on the right side of my mouth pulsed from my left ear to my shoulder. Sometimes I couldn’t hold my head up. It was unreal. The weekend came and the dentist was closed, but I did manage to keep myself pretty liquored up, so I never ran into anything like Friday afternoon again, but I knew the time had come to return to the dentist. For my root canal. Fuck.

After failing to get an appointment Monday, I went Tuesday. The place is called, hilariously/ironically London Dentist. Fortunately, the dentist speaks pretty much flawless English, much better than other doctors I’ve had here, like my urologist. Er, I mean, chiropractor. At least the chiropractor provides happy endings.

The root canal takes a few sessions to do, but each are amazingly short. In the first, on Tuesday, I started with more novocain, and then he put a sheet over my head with a mouth hole, and got to prodding, scraping, and drilling. Holy hell is it odd to have somebody drilling while conscious. I would have much rather been gassed, but I had to be at work in an hour. So pretty much, I was paralyzed in fear throughout the ordeal, but couldn’t feel a thing. It was all over in 10 minutes, and then I went to work on more drugs than I’ve been on at work since my Kwik Shop days.

The dentist told me that the drugs last 24 hours, so I figured I shouldn’t drink at all on Tuesday night. Strangely, I think I became a bit addicted to the novocain. As it was wearing off late Tuesday night, I couldn’t concentrate on anything for more than a minute or two, I kept touching my face, I ate like 20 mini Dove bars (with the left side teeth) and smoked like 400 cigarettes, yet still had a feeling like something was missing physically, like I was on a transcontinental flight or something. I suppose as long as I can avoid the novocain pushers on every street corner in this town, I’ll be fine there.

I returned to the dentist today. This time, no drugs were needed, he said, and we started right away. There was still really no pain, but basically ten minutes of pure terror. I’m on the chair, and he’s poking and scraping and gouging, and I never know exactly what will happen next, and then I hear what sounds like a welding torch flaming up, followed by a “be very still, this will be hot.” Fortunately, he was just melting something to stick in my teeth rather than actually using a flame thrower on me, but the not knowing and terror is almost worse than anything else. I’d almost prefer the dentist starting the session by punching me in the face. Even if it doesn’t knock me out, at least it would give me something to think about.

Anyway, I go back tomorrow. Hopefully, for the last time, at least for another 10 years.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Perfection

Perfection. It can be extraordinarily elusive. One can try for it, in some aspect of life, and fail, sometimes miserably, in even the most mundane of tasks. I, for example, have never had a perfect commute, a perfect haircut (although that would really be the barber’s achievement rather than mine), or a perfect score on a Spanish vocabulary test that I didn’t cheat on. In fact, up until this point, I had achieved perfection, by my count, only twice in my life. Once, in 1993, before I was even street legal, I performed a perfect parking job. Not parallel parking, despite my record as one of the world’s finest parallel parkers, even I have never achieved this feat. And once, in the year 2000, I delivered the perfect situational pick-up line (let’s go back to your place to drink your beer.) That, for the record, was with a girl that owned a talking Stone Cold Steve Austin T-shirt. Up until now, that’s it. Perfection is hard. Just ask Belichick.

That all changed three days ago. After countless hours (okay, 85) and months of work, I have now pulled off another point of perfection to add to my legacy, and certainly my obituary. What began as a naive, wild eyed quest back in late November has now been finished. It is easily my fourth greatest achievement in Korea (the other three involved girls) and probably top 20 lifetime.

What is my new level of perfection? What have I done that you certainly have not? Why am I so much better than you could ever hope to be? Brace yourself. I got 100% on Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. It wasn’t easy. I almost gave up hundreds of times. But now I’m perfect, and you can’t take that away from me.

With that accomplishment, my part of this blog should increase a lot, as I should have a lot more free time. But then again, Mr. Kickass graciously got me God of War 2, NCAA Hoops 08, and a coupel other games for Christmas that I can’t wait to start now that I can finally eject GTA from my worn-out PS2. Plus, I downloaded 960 8-bit NES games for my emulator, so that might take some time too. At least my god-awful morning schedule is no over, I can go back to staying up until 5 a.m. every night, so I have plenty of time to play video games and to occasionally write. That means I can talk on the phone again too, so for the masses of you itching to talk to me again (Hi Mom, I know you read this blog) can now call me.
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