Friday, June 24, 2011

It's time for some complaining

I got some complainin’ to do. I’m sure you're shocked.

On people (and my recent trip)

I just did a trip with a big group of people, ranging between 9 and 11 individuals. Beforehand, I didn’t know our group would be so large. I hate traveling with large groups. Nine people move about with the efficiency of an oil tanker. Worse, it turned out the reason for the trip was that it was some girl’s birthday. Kill me. This is why I travel alone. Know what happens when traveling with a group of 9? You end up spending a whole lot of time waiting around in dingy hotel lobbies and on commercial street corners instead of, say, the bar or the beach. Somebody will think that it’s a good idea to get a temporary tattoo, so the whole group will spend an hour on a street while this goes on.

Here’s one anecdote that sums up much of the weekend. After the temp tat fiasco, most of the group wanted to go get coffee at Starbucks or somewhere. Nevermind the ridiculousness of buying coffee rather than beer at 3 pm on a beach Saturday. I was done waiting, I wanted to go to the beach, and one other person went with me. 45 minutes later, we finally got a call from the group. Did they call to see where we were on the beach so they could meet us? Of course not, that would involve sense. No, instead, they set up shop a 15 minute walk from where we were, then called us and told us to join them. Who fucking does that?

Another story. At dinner that night (on Saturday night, right next to the beach, on vacation), at least half the group ordered Coke with dinner. Coke! These weren’t religious people or 9 year olds, these were adults having dinner on a Saturday night. Coke!


On the weather:
The rainy season has once again begun. It’s gonna rain every day for a month now, most likely. Korea has strange pride in it’s “four distinct seasons,” but it actually has six:

November-April - Winter. Don’t kid yourself, there’s no “fall” or “spring” involved here. Late October-December is kind of a proto-winter, when it is cold and life sucks. January-March is like the goddamn tundra. Late March-Early May is still pretty cold, far colder than it seems like it should be given the time of year.

May - Cold Spring. It’s warmer, there’s more flowers, but it’s often too cold for scantily clad girls, thus it fails. This is also “yellow dust” season, when yellow dust blows in from China. The yellow dust itself doesn’t bother me, in fact if nobody told me it was there I wouldn’t notice it. However, every minute of every day, some hypochondriac Korean or young foreigner will complain about it within earshot of me. And yes, I realize the irony of complaining about listening to people complain while writing a list of grievances.

Early June - Warm Spring. It’s awesome, but really short. I’m glad I made it to the beach twice this warm spring.

Late June-Early August - Rain. Rains every day. Sucks.

August-Early September - Summer. Brutally hot every day. Should I go to the beach? Of course not, as there will be 80 million Koreans, all of them doing two activities:
1) not tanning, as everyone will be under umbrellas, and every Korean girl will be fully clothed.
2) not swimming, as the whole swimming area will be mobbed with yellow inner tubes.

Late September-Early October - Fall. Also awesome, it’s sunny and 72 degrees every day. Of course, sometime before Halloween, the temperature will drop below freezing and another 6 months of winter will ensue. Students will write papers about how winter is their favorite season because they can “make a snow man and ride a ski.” All of the students live in apartments, so they never make snowmen, and only the richest kids ski more than one weekend a year.

I have no idea why people have endured this weather for 5,000 years. No wonder so many Koreans have moved to Cebu and California.

On the bastardization of the word “burger”:

This isn’t necessarily directed at Korea. I’ve run into this situation in other countries too. The most recent circumstance just happens to be here.

At a bar and grille last weekend, I ordered a “bacon ranch burger.” I was a bit hungover, so I didn’t read the description under the title. In my mind, why would I? It was a burger. It would have bacon and ranch on it. What the hell else did I need to know? Well, it turned out to be a chicken sandwich. Hey, I love chicken sandwiches,and in general I eat far more chicken patties (usually grilled) than beef, but in my particular state of mind, I was fully expecting cow.

Listen, menu makers of the non-American world - burger means moo. It doesn’t mean any kind of random meat on a bun. A bun does not a burger make. By this logic, anything from a sloppy joe to a Filet-O-Fish is a burger. America may not be perfect, not by a long shot, but when it comes to the term “burger,” we know what the fuck we’re talking about.

On Sunday weddings:

I have to go to a wedding this Sunday. Sunday? Sunday! Who fucking has a wedding on a Sunday? It wouldn’t be so bad, if not for the fact that....
It’s at 12:30 p.m.!

I’ve been to two Korean weddings before. I would have gone to more, but after my first, I started a policy of only going to Korean weddings that I absolutely had to go to.

The standard Korean wedding is held in a factory called a wedding hall. The service takes 30 minutes or so, which is cool, but then the reception takes about 15. A bad buffet is served, everyone pays a bunch of money, and everyone is gone within an hour of when the wedding starts. This means the whole shebang will likely be over by 1:30, which is before I even get up on a typical Sunday.

Between the wedding and a charity fundraiser I’m going to on Friday, this weekend will force me into spending a large sum of money that a) I don’t have, and b) won’t benefit me in any way. Sometimes, I really think I should cancel my Facebook account and move into a flop house with the following furnishings:

-A TV

-An NES

-Whiskey

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Haeundae

It seems I already wrote a similar post to this years ago, but after 8 million posts, I can't really remember everything I do. Anyway, this was going to be a photoblog, but then I realized that the widely unread 2009 post already was one, and I was going to use some of the same pics. If you want to see my old pics, click the link. If you want to see how horrible Haeundae can be in August, Google it.

In this space and in real life, I’ve been known to complain about Korea a time or two. No, no, don’t disagree, it’s a fact. As much as I complain, I should also give Korea props when they get something right.

In the fair city of Busan, they got Haeundae beach right. Sure, it’s not the best beach in the world (Boracay, for my money.) In a lot of categories, it’s not even the best beach in Korea. Jeongdongjin has far better water. Sangju beach on the south coast has better sand. Seogwipo has better diving. Gangneung is better for camping. Hanagae beach in Muuido, Incheon is much more convenient to Seoul. Even nearby Gwangalli in Busan is clearly more scenic. However, for sheer fun factor, nothing touches Haeundae.

Haeundae has killer restaurants. There’s Thai, Turkish, Mexican, Italian, burger joints, and of course a ton of Korean, especially of the raw fish variety. In fact, for international dining options, Haeundae probably beats every given neighborhood in Korea outside of Itaewon and Hongdae (and maybe, just maybe, my hood).

Haeundae has no shortage of bars. This is a huge change over the last few years. Sure, Haeundae has always had a lot of places to get a drink, but only recently has it exploded in western-style bars that have an actual bar and stools rather than Korean hofs that just have tables. As recently as 2008, there were two legit bars in the greater Haeundae area. Now, there are more than anybody could ever visit over the course of a weekend.

Haeundae has some of Korea’s finest hotels, and also some of its worst. The main point - there are so many hotels that something is bound to be available in any price range, from $20 a night to $2,000.

Haeundae has a lot of places to get a drink, beyond bars. There are several convenience stores, several of which don’t require crossing a busy street to reach. Fortunately, with all this beer at easy reach, there are also tons of public restrooms available too, most of which are surprisingly clean.

Haeundae has a lot of cool tourist attractions. There are woodsy areas, water sports, a casino, and Korea’s best aquarium.

Haeundae is relatively easy to get to. There are a million bullet trains a day linking Seoul and Busan, and Haeundae itself is on the Busan subway line. There is also a real train station, making it easy to get to major regional cities like Ulsan, Pohang, and Daegu.

Haeundae even has a good name. Hey-oon-day. It sounds nice. It sounds much more like a place one would want to linger than, say, Sokcho or Boryeong or, god help us, Jeongdongjin. It sounds, well, beachy, and it rolls off the tongue like Boracay or Copacabana.

I just finished my 8th trip to Busan, so I’ve now been there more times than I’ve been to Vegas. I’ve hit up Haeundae at some point on each trip. Vegas ebbs and flows. Every time I’ve been to Haeundae, it’s been more interesting, facility-wise, than it was before. I presume I’ll go again before I’m done here. Well done, Korea, well done.

That said, I really need to write a complainy post, and right now. The Dark side, coming soon.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Da club - no.

I meant to write about this months ago. Way back in my winter of unemployment, I finally made it to a Korean night club. Night-uh, they call them. This particular night club was in the Suyu area of Seoul, in Gangbuk-gu, and is one of the largest in north Seoul. One would think that after the thousands (literally) of days I’ve spent in Seoul, I would have been to one sooner. Like the sauna, eating dog, going to Everland, and having a shrieking Korean girl chucking her high heel at me during a break-up, it was one of those quintessentially Korean experiences that I had participate in. For the record, I’m on the fence about the sauna, I definitely want to go to Everland, I’m a no-go on dog soup, and, while I’m lukewarm at best on the notion of getting hit in the head with a stiletto, it would be nice to have a girl in my life who cares enough to whip a shoe at me.

Korean night clubs are not like those you know. Hell, they aren’t like those I know, and I live in Korea and go to clubs here all the time. Going in, I knew the basic rules. Everyone sits at a table and orders massive amounts of expensive drinks. There are beer sets and whiskey sets, the latter considerably more pricy. Whiskey sets come with a plate of fruit or some sort of light snack. At the club, guys decorate their tables with as much money worth of booze as they can afford. Similarly to clubs the world over, girls don’t pay for drinks. Once dudes have decorated their table, the waiter (and there are roughly 437 waiters in these clubs. Always waiters, never waitresses) brings girls to the guys’ tables. This is known locally as “booking.” The girls aren’t whores, at least not on paper, but just regular girls out for a night out. Of course, the girls that come in are fully aware of how things work, and know that they can be snatched up from their table by a waiter and taken to a dudes’ table at any time. I use the plural because Korean nightclubs are not navigable solo. Only groups of males or females go.

I happened to be with a mixed group. By mixed, I mean really mixed. It was me, my buddy Martin, his Burmese-Italian girlfriend Kiki, a blonde girl from Wisconsin named Nicki, a middle-aged Pakistani dude named Khan, and his 17 year old son. Nobody was Korean, but a few people I was with spoke Korean fluently. As these clubs are prohibitively expensive for English teacher scum such as myself, a primary reason we were there was because Khan was paying. Because we had girls and minors and non-Koreans at our table, the waiters were in no hurry to “book” us, so I never bothered with it.

So what was wrong with this club? Pretty much everything. The dance floor was a disaster. At its best moments, there was still plenty of space between everyone on the floor. In fact, if everyone on the floor started indiscriminately waving around light sabres, we would have never heard the awesome sound of a light sabre collision. The DJ was a brain-dead fuck. His playlist seemed to consist of seven songs at the most, and he would periodically yell into his microphone for no apparent reason while pausing the song. Sometimes, a group of professional dancers would take to the stage. This group consisted of three dudes. Y’know, because everybody wants to watch a group of dudes dance. As a doughy white guy with the dance moves you would expect from a doughy white guy, the last thing I need is some fit gay dudes in tank tops dancing in unison.

The dance floor situation got even worse. See, the dance floor at this club isn’t even always active. Most of the time, it isn’t. As there is no proper walk-up bar in the club, it’s in the club’s financial interests that people spend most of their time at their tables ordering drinks. The dance floor would occasionally become about as crowded as it got, and then there would be a nearly imperceptible change in the music’s volume and EVERYBODY would leave the floor. Everyone would sit in their seats for half an hour or so, then there would be another imperceptible music change and people would slowly begin to file onto the floor. After 20 minutes, the floor would reach its relative peak and things would begin to look mildly interesting, then the change would happen again and the floor would clear faster than if someone had shit their pants.

At the finest moment of the night, the music had changed and the tide of people swiftly rushed out. We decided we weren’t putting up with that. Martin, Kiki, Nicki, and I stayed on the floor even though everyone left. We kept dancing, at least if you can call what I do “dancing.” Two minutes later, the tide came back in, everyone returned to the floor. Victory! Marty and I simultaneously cheered “white people!” to each other, then attempted to high five and missed miserably. Hey, if whitey is good at one thing, its looking uncool and missing high fives.

After that lone victory, I’d like to say the night turned around, but it didn’t. The music kept changing. People kept leaving the floor. My mood turned more and more foul, though my glass of whiskey grew no less bottomless. Eventually, when the DJ would yell into the mic for no reason, I would shout curses back at him.

The final lesson? Though it was very kind for Khan to treat us, the Night-uh is best avoided, even if someone else is buying.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

A Day at the Beach: Gangneung (and Jeongdongjin)



Wow. I worked for hours on that apartment post, and it went over like a lead balloon. According to Blogger’s stats, it wasn’t even my most viewed post last week. Strange, since the most recent post is always the most viewed of the week. Nope, it seems my most popular post ever, my photoblog from last year’s Korean summer vacation beat out the new stuff. Hey, I get it, it’s summer travel season. People don’t want to read about/look at pictures of/think about shitty midwestern apartments. This week, let’s look at what you clearly want to see - exotic Korean travel destinations. Fortunately, I split for the coast last weekend, so I have fresh pics.

I went to Gangneung, on Korea’s east coast in Gangwon province. As it was a three day weekend, it wasn’t an easy trip. It took hours to even catch a bus (sure, I could have reserved, but that would require a fundamental change in my persona) and then hours more to get to Gangneung due to merciless traffic.

It was nearly midnight by the time I got to Gangneung. Every hotel near the bus station was sold out, so I walked to the center of town. I got a seedy hotel in a charmless area between the train station and the city center. Whatever. Outside of sleeping and showering, I spent about 45 seconds in my room. I considered taking a taxi to the beach to look for a hotel there, but the last time I got a beachfront hotel in Gangwon province over a three day weekend, it cost me hundreds of dollars for a dumpy room.


My shitty hotel on my shitty street. I was in the 크라운 motel. Given the Korean R/L thing, that can read either "Crown Motel" or "Clown Motel." Given the facilities, I presume they mean option b. I don't have fancy tastes, but the TV remote required AA batteries, and it contained AAA batteries. Come on.

The next morning, I made use of my easy train station access and caught the train to Jeongdongjin, a 15 minute ride. Jeongdongjin features a captured North Korean sub, an old US Battleship, and various sights made local famous by a Korean soap opera. I had no interest in any of these attractions. Jeongdongjin had long been on my list for one reason - its freakish Sun Cruise Resort, the boat-shaped building shown in the title picture.



The first thing that shocked me was the water. This was Korea? I’ve been to a lot of Korean beaches in my day, representing all three coasts. None had water like Jeongdongjin. It looked like goddamn Boracay. Unfortunately, when I waded into the water, it felt more like Lake Michigan.





I walked up the steep, steep hill to the boat hotel. There was a $5 entry to check out the grounds and the observation deck. I didn’t come all this way to not enter the boat, so I paid, but I still thought it was a cheap move on the hotelier’s part. For five bucks, I can get into both Seoul’s grandest palace and Korea’s best museum. The roof deck did offer impressive views. but I was hoping it would also provide a place for me to sit down and buy a beer. It did not. The boat had a “sky lounge” restaurant, but it was indoors. It was 86 degrees and sunny with a slight ocean breeze. No way was I going to spend any time indoors this afternoon.





Here we can see the pool at the hotel, empty of course. Why? Just because it’s a hot and summer June day doesn’t make it “summer” in the Korean mind, and one only swims in the summer. Summer here is July 12th to August 23rd or so, regardless of the weather.





I walked back to the beach area at Jeongdongjin station to hang out, read, and throw back a Hite D or two. As you can see in these pictures, the train station’s beach access is pretty awesome. If riding in the train’s first car, one could go from train door to station platform to sand in about 8 seconds. .



This may be the best train station I’ve ever seen. Sadly, it lies over six hours from Seoul via rail, and the only trains that call here are the old, slow, uncomfortable Mugunghwa trains.




Looking south from the beach in front of the train station.



Looking north from the same place.




The platform for northbound trains.




Later on, I headed back to Gangneung. After grabbing a bite, I headed out to the local Gyeongpo Beach. This beach seemed pretty sweet too, but it had a glaring problem come night time - it’s a Korean beach.

Water quality and sand quality varies, of course, but in a lot of ways every Korean beach is the same, at least outside of Busan. On the good side - it’s kosher to drink on them, and they all sell fireworks. On the bad side - Koreans generally neglect them 11 months a year and abuse them during the 5 week “summer.” Every Korean beach has two kinds of places to get food - $50 a head raw fish places, or 7-11. There is no middle option. There are never any proper bars. One can drink at the expensive sushi joints, or else buy a beer at 7-11 and drink it in the sand. There are never lounge chairs available, even for pay. People swim in their clothes and are terrified of the sun, so sadly, there are never Korean girls in bikinis. As a rule, I’m not really the “shirtless” type, but at the beach I feel like an idiot wearing a shirt. At Korean beaches, I’d look like an asshole for taking my shirt off. Or more of one, at least.

Nevertheless, sitting in the sand at night, shooting some bottle rockets, throwing back a couple cans of Hite D, and watching other people run around and have fun, it redeems the place a bit. A Korean beach is still a beach, and a beach always rules.



I'm a big fan of needlessly complicated translations.




I left the beach and went back to downtown Gangneung (BTW, getting to and from Gyeongpo Beach was kinda tricky. Gangneung feels like it may only have 11 taxis or so. I’m probably spoiled by Seoul in this regard). The Danoje festival was going on. I love a good carnival, and this one had a fairly massive tent city complete with shooting games and kebab huts.




The Danoje festival from the pedestrian bridge over the local river.





The next day, I planned on hitting Gyeongpo beach to see it by day, but I had visions of brutal traffic jams dancing in my head. Like an LA Dodgers fan, I hit the road.

Protip: Like a successful Dodger fan, I avoided traffic. If one is traveling from Gangwon to Seoul, the best option is to take a bus to Chuncheon rather than Seoul, and then catch the new Chuncheon subway line into town. As an added plus, the Chuncheon subway to Seoul ends right next to Costco.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Apt Tourney: The Throwdown (and pics!)

Here we go! For background infomation and part 1, look here.

C1


1. Dorm


4. Casine (no pic, so here's my only original shot of Florence)

As I’ve often stated, my 6 weeks in Florence was unquestionably the best time of my life. My last week in town, I actually slept two hours a night... and liked it. I didn’t travel on weekends, other than school mandated trips. I had no desire to leave town, even when leaving town meant going to Venice. So, why doesn’t Casine win this? Simple. I spent most of my time elsewhere. Casine was a(n occasional) bed and a coffee maker. I broke the laundry machine 3 days in, so I didn’t even do laundry there. My dorm life, first time on my own ever, was way more interesting, at least regarding the actual dwelling.



2. Seal
no pic, so here's a shot of me at the ET lobby, where I was interning at the time


3. DuMonde
no pic of DuMonde, this is L'Arambar, down the block, my home away from home in Paris

Tough battle. Close. Temporally too. From the time that I moved into Seal until the time that I moved out of DuMonde, only five months passed. Paris. Ocean and Main. L’Arambar. Mother’s. Being 21 and being 21. I think Seal gets a slight nod on apartment-related reasons - I had it to myself, and it was in the middle of everything. Plus, if I squinted, I could see the ocean.


1. Dorm vs 2. Seal

Dorm life was a lot of fun, but it doesn’t really have a chance here, does it? While I would happily pay, say $9,467 to magically return to day one at the dorms and live it again, it was a cramped college dorm that was nowhere near the ocean or any decent burrito places.


C2


1. 3005, Lawence
check out that awesome early '90s entertainment center. This is my only pic of my basement room that didn't prominently involve people.


4. Florida
wow, a house!

Hmm. My entire childhood and adolescence verses a fairly shitty five month period in my early 20s. 3005 wins this running away.


2. Michigan Street
highlights are shown in the picture - our dog Bella and our book shelf, which we used to trick people into thinking we read legitimate books.


3. Ridge.
couldn't find a pic without people

Another easy round. Nobody involved in the Ridge Court experiment, not even Jerry Springer, has anything good to say about it. Michigan Street, on the other hand, embodies an era that most of my friends still talk about nostalgically. When I moved into the Michigan Street apartment, I had four distinct circles of friends in Lawrence. When I left, I had one, and I didn’t drop anybody along the way.

1. 3005 vs 3. Michigan:

A toughie. Grade school, junior high, and high school versus senior year of college and the crazy first year after college. In the road trip bracket, one caveat that leads to win is the fact that I can’t repeat said trip again right now without the assistance of a time machine. Well, I clearly couldn’t duplicate either of these eras now. Based on a technicality (this is called Apt Tourney, not House tourney) and the fact that I don’t feel lie waxing nostalgic about 8th grade, I’m putting Michigan in the Final 4.

M20

1. Chi Studio
a mighty fine beeramid. this took upwards of two days worth of empties to make.



4. Balto
my "other" Balto home, a fireworks stand in a shipping container.

The 1 wins this one, despite the abject poverty. Both bouts in Balto were times of limbo for me. The answer to Balto both times - move to Korea, of course, like any sensible person would. My early Chicago days were gritty and malnourished, but it was an earnest effort at starting a new life. Balto was more like High School 2, in that my days revolved around playing video games and timing my whiskey and cigs around when my mom was at work or asleep.


2. Argyle



3. Hermitage
my only non-people pic of Hermitage, of my filthy desk.

I lived in both of these apartments with my brother. In fact, they were consecutive apartments. The Argyle place was unquestionably nicer. The Hermitage place had a much better location, easy parking, and a far better landlord. I suppose in the ultimate test - I would have renewed my lease at Hermitage if I had the means to do so at the time. I didn’t renew at Argyle, and wouldn’t have unless I were to be allowed to kick my landlady’s tit off the floor and punch her grown son in the neck once a week as a signing bonus. Hermitage wins on that - Bob being the best landlord ever.

1. Chi Studio vs 3. Hermitage
Again, empty fridge aside, Chi Studio rolls here. It had a slightly better location, though a far worse cable package. In my studio, hellhole that it was, I always felt like I was building toward something, even if that something was another beeramid. In Hermitage, I was mostly concerned with beating Zelda 3.


Korea

1. Starville


4. Banpo
notice the mattress leaned against the wall, which was necessary to open my front door

As mentioned, my Banpo apartment had an amazing location. One of the best possible in Seoul, and I didn’t even know it since I was such a Seoul n00b. Then again, it sucked in a lot of ways too. I had to walk uphill both ways to get to and from work. Really. There were no good cheap Korean restaurants nearby, which is pretty uncommon for Seoul. In Starville, the roads were flat, McDonald’s was closer than Burger King, and my apartment was big enough for a couch. Then again, it took an hour to get pretty much anywhere in town. The 1 seed trend holds and Starville advances.


2. Doota


3. Now

This is a pretty tough battle. Doota, as I mentioned, is right by Starville. At Doota, with my furniture, killer cable package, solid appliances, and queen bed, I had the best apartment out of anybody I knew with my level of visa. It was better than my current apartment in every metric except location. Banpo was a great location too, and it lost to Starville, and Doota would totally beat Starville if they faced off head to head. Then again, my apartment now is far superior to Banpo amenity-wise, and would destroy it if they were to square off. Out of optimism, and the fact that I may live in the best located apartment in all of Seoul (and therefore Korea) for people at my pay grade, I have to go with the upset.

Final Four

2. Seal vs 3. Michigan
Michigan Street had a lot of good times. On fall Sundays, we would watch the Chiefs, then go play football, then have movie night, and then go to Louise’s Bar for “church.” On weekends, we would go places like, um, Louise’s or the Replay. Weekend activities in Seal included Vegas, Mexico, and Disneyland. Some weekends, I would drink with my local surfer buddies. On others, I would go to Hollywood to hang out with my intern buddies. One night, I went to a taping of The Man Show, then co-hosted a party a party in a Burbank apartment complex that was 70% girls, most of whom were in LA for fashion-related reasons, and it was attended by The Sherminator from the American Pie movies. Yeah, it was awesome to play Circle of Death with my friends in Lawrence while we watched Arthur Johnson miss dunks and Nick Collison get 47 rebounds, but come on.

1. Chi Studio vs 3. Now
The other semi was tough. If I advanced Chi Studio here, I may as well kill myself.

'Chip

2. Seal vs 3. Now

Is now the best time ever now? Am I that optimistic? Is Seal beatable? Am I that nostalgic? Sorry, this is a whole other post. This battle really needs it’s own space to breath. There may not even be a resolution next week. I didn’t plan to go all Lieutenant Daniels on you, but.... to be continued.
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