Hey everyone,

I know, it’s been ages since I posted anything on here. Life gets busy and I get distracted and forgetful, but mostly I’ve been toying on and off with the WordPress site and user interface and I’ve gotten frustrated with it. It’s true I haven’t written anything in a while on any site and I’ve also been having computer problems, but now I think I’m done with WordPress. It’s not a bad site, but it requires more knowledge of html and other computer-techy stuff that I don’t know about and don’t have time (or a desire) to learn at the moment. So, with that said, if you still want to keep up with me, you can follow me here: http://caseyinkorea.tumblr.com/

It’s a blogging site called “Tumblr” and I’ve had it about as long as I’ve had my WordPress account. It’s not as professional as WordPress (and we all know I’m no professional hehe), but it’s a heck of a lot easier to use. I’ve updated it with all my Korea adventures as well as with more casual/fun stuff that’s not strictly related to me being in Korea (like cute memes and gifs. But don’t worry, it’s not completely smothered in cats making funny faces or anything. Mostly it’s still about Korea). I can also update it with pictures and written posts much easier through my phone since my computer is pretty sketchy these days. So if you can enjoy the funny/cute memes/gifs that I like to repost along with my Korea stuff, then please read! Everything that I posted on WordPress is on Tumblr too, and more! I’ll keep the WordPress account up for a bit longer, but probably won’t post anything more. Hope to see you on Tumblr!

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The following quote comes from an article that a friend of mine posted. It’s quite poignant and articulates very well a certain side of Korean culture. I just wanted to share because I’ve thought many of these things before, but have never been able to express it quite this eloquently.

“The broader lesson from Gangnam Style is that it is many miles from the manicured, sanitised view of Korea that the apparatchiks have sought to project. PSY looks more like a ssireum wrestler than a pop star. He sings from the toilet, goes to the sauna with gangsters and pokes fun (albeit very gently) at some of his country’s social pressures. There’s an earthiness and boisterousness here that state tourism and branding officials have always tried to shun. They need to learn to engage with it.

A visit to a Korean palace provides a perfect example of where the state is going wrong. Official guidebooks are turgidly unreadable. You may be on the spot where Empress Myeongseong was murdered by the Japanese or Crown Prince Sado was sealed into a rice chest but the visitors’ pamphlet will only tell you what you can see with your own eyes: that the courtyard is 20m wide and the colonnade is red. The state scripts are risk averse, seeking seek to avoid upsetting anyone and shirk references to the country’s more colourful but darker recesses. Problematically though, that’s just what interests people. After all, visitors to London are steeped in the lore of Sherlock Holmes, Jack the Ripper and beheadings at the Tower.

By contrast, guidebooks present Korean culture as a serene bubble from the Chosun dynasty (1392-1910). Wild days out are to be had at ginseng festivals and celadon exhibitions. PSY has burst that bubble. Korean culture is fun, but it’s also often gritty, edgy and berserk.

Obviously, connecting with the murkier part of Korea’s national story touches recent wounds. But in terms of a brand, that is what sets Korea apart. The branding council wants to focus on the Korean script and cooking. But Ethiopia and Bulgaria have equally interesting alphabets and food. What makes Korea special and helps explain its transformation into an international heavyweight is its tale of fratricidal war in the 1950s and its battle for democracy in the 1980s. The epic saga of how it went from having per capita income less than half of Ghana’s until the 1960s to being the world’s seventh-biggest exporter is an inspiring but brutal narrative.

It’s futile asking Seoul’s bureaucrats to retreat from trying to forge a national brand but they must ditch their cosmetic, picture-postcard portrayals of “The Land of Morning Calm”. As PSY has shown, Koreans win hearts when that serenity is shattered. Korea’s mandarins would rather you didn’t really encounter their hard-drinking, rumbustious country and its troubled past. But it is Korea’s ribald and unromanticised reality that will ultimately boost the brand.”

Here’s the link to the whole article: http://www.ft.com/cms/s/2/853adf8e-21bd-11e2-9cb4-00144feabdc0.html#axzz2AuAgOdOf

Soooo I’m catching up on photos and whatnot from back in August, and I found these pics of a wonderful day in Yeouido Hangang Park with my new coworkers (at least they were new when I went on this outing with them). We went out to see a rock concert right on the river. It was a typically dreary, cloudy August afternoon, but the music was…interesting, belly dancers came out to perform (one of whom was pregnant and dancing with her belly exposed…props! she has more guts than I would), and Aquaman showed up. This guy had this apparatus that allowed him to hover above the water and move around and stuff. It was crazy.

In any case, I got to spend some time bonding with coworkers, meet some other new friends, and visit Hangang Park, one of my favorite places in Seoul. By the end of the afternoon the clouds started clearing up, creating wonderful patterns in the sky and casting a really interesting light over the whole park and river. Never had a bad day at the park 🙂

Like many English schools around here, today we celebrated Halloween. It was chaotic, it was busy, it was exhausting, but it was also adorable and fun. Here are a few pics from our day filled with princesses, superheroes, fashion shows, haunted houses, and of course, candy!! More updates and pics to come soon 🙂

Gangnam Transformation

A Facebook friend shared this link and I found it fascinating since I now live in Gangnam-gu and it’s incredible how fast and drastically this area changed. For those unfamiliar with Seoul (though I imagine many have been introduced to it through PSY’s “Gangnam Style”), Gangnam is the ritziest, richest, and most fashionable area in Seoul. I compare it to the Upper East Side of Manhattan or Beverly Hills. There is even a street named “로데오”(pronounced “Rodeo”).

The article shows a series of pictures of the Gangnam area starting from 1950 up until present day. Korea went from being an impoverished, war-torn nation to an industrialized, modern economic power in about 50 years, which is nothing short of amazing. However, while Gangnam is turning out to be a really cool place to live and South Korea’s progress over the past half century is astounding, these pictures are bittersweet to me since almost no remnants of the “old Gangnam” remain, and I feel I might never understand or get to know that old Korea, though the more rural and agricultural areas certainly retain a bit of that old fashioned feeling. Either way, Seoul is lost to the modern world for better or worse (mostly for better I think, except so much of this area’s history is lost).

This picture was on the wall of a bar I went to about a week ago. It says “Oh, I’m a hotdogs. But no, I’m hotdogs.” It was too funny not to take a picture of it.

I feel like I’ve been on a blogging hiatus for so long and been so busy the past few months that I have too many stories to tell, feelings to divulge, and pictures to edit and post that I don’t even know where to begin, so I’ll just begin here by saying that I’m back. After an insanely busy June (end of contract), a month and a half of traveling and weddings and family business, and a few weeks of re-settling, I’m finally back in the ROK. And it feels great.

The first time I arrived here I was lost and awestruck by everything (as I’m sure most Korea virgins are). I remember being picked up in a taxi (from where I gawked out the window most of the ride) and driven to the door of my motel where my principal met me. I remember walking along bustling streets with a stomach begging for food and wanting to be adventurous, but settling for the pre-packaged crap at 7-eleven because I felt dizzy and clueless looking at the tons of small Korean restaurants lining the streets flashing neon hangeul signs. I remember nearly breaking my ass on the love motel mattress by plopping down on it without realizing that in Korea, mattresses are about as soft as cardboard. I remember making the awkward “Hi, I’m the new teacher, Please please please be my friend” phone call to teachers at my school who befriended me without question (and turned out to be some of the greatest people ever). I remember observing and teaching for the first time and feeling like I had gotten in over my head. Then my whole year went by, I had the time of my life, my contract ended, I found a new job a month and a half out, and I went on vacation.

I came back a few weeks ago. I caught the airport shuttle bus to the Galleria Department Store and played bejeweled and chatted on KakaoTalk for most of the ride. I found a gimbap chungook and ordered budaejiggae when I got hungry. I went from Sinsa to Bundang to meet up with friends my first night back. Teaching felt like starting up and old hobby again.  Of course there are a few things I have to get used to, like the system at my new school and meeting the other teachers (who have all been in Korea a lot longer than me) and finding the nearest HomePlus. But aside from that, what I mean to say is that coming back felt like coming home. Even being in a new location since last year, I haven’t felt so lost or lonely. It’s like been like putting on a new pair of jeans that are just about broken in. It’s just comfortable, and hopefully will keep becoming more so. Maybe there is a honeymoon phase for those of us who return for our second year as well as for the first year, so maybe my attitude will change. But as of now, I’m just feeling good being back 🙂

So now that I’ve unloaded my initial feelings upon returning to Korea and now that I’m all settled in my cute little apartment, I’m ready to blog and post again. I hope over the next few weeks (let’s be honest here, more like a month) to recount my trip to Boseong before my contract ended, my escapades around Denmark, my mom’s wedding, and the shenanigans since my return. Deep sigh. Better get started!

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This is Kronborg Castle in Helsingør, Denmark. English speakers (and readers) may know it better as Elsinore, the setting for Shakespeare’s Hamlet. I toured this castle today with some family friends in wonderful Denmark summer weather. There is a maritime museum, church, royal rooms, and catacombs. In the creepy, dark, damp catacombs was a maze of hallways and pitch black rooms, a triangular prison cell where prisoners were smashed to death in the corner, and the statue of Holger Dansker, a huge man sleeping upright with a sword in his lap who will wake up when Denmark is in need and protect the homeland (or so the legend goes). In any case, he looks like a badass.

There are also canons pointed across the narrow gap of water between Denmark and Sweden, which used to be used to enforce tax collection from those passing through – basically, pay the king or we’ll blow up your ship. Of course, tons of kitschy touristy stuff related to Hamlet litter the castle as well. There is a lot of debate among scholars whether or not Shakespeare himself ever even went to Denmark or Elsinore. In spite of how cheesy most of the Hamlet stuff is, it’s fun to imagine the play taking place here.

All in all it was a great day with old friends and old Danish history and finally some good weather!!

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Here is one view of the crystal clear water and rocky shores of Marselisborg Havn in Aarhus, Denmark. I leave Aarhus tomorrow, and have decided that if I do apply to grad school in Denmark, this city and the school here are definitely on my list.

I’ve been in Okinawa for about four days now and the most noticeable thing about this place is the heat. Good god it is soooo hot. And humid. I have walked around to see some beaches, the aquarium, a castle and some islands, and as soon as I step out of the car I start sweating and it doesn’t stop until about 15 minutes after I’ve been in air conditioning.

In spite of this, the island is quite beautiful and covered in dense jungles and turquoise beaches, and I’m definitely enjoying myself.

The towns and cities are…not so pretty. With the exception of the resorts, the local towns that I’ve driven by remind me of some dilapidated areas of tropical/touristy Mexico. However, I’m staying with family on a US air base and am pretty removed from much of the local culture. This is nice because I get to have some wonderful American food and snacks (taco bell, burger king, white cheddar cheezits) that were not available to me the past year in Korea (or just weren’t the same in Korea). On the other hand, it’s quite different than the traveling I’ve done of late, which involved basically assimilating into the local culture and sleeping, eating, and drinking like them (try sleeping on the living room floor of guy who owns a pension because all the other rooms in a tiny beach town were sold out). I might not be able to get as much of an authentic grasp of Okinawan life this way, but at the same time I’m so grateful to have family that will take me in and show me around (it’s also a hell of a lot more comfortable haha). it’s been great so far and I look forward to the next few days before heading to Denmark.

Ive been typing this on my iPhone and my fingers are tired, so here are a few pics of Toguchi Beach, where we hung out for a few hours before needing to return to air conditioned sanctuary. The pics are from my iPhone as I have no laptop with me to upload my regular camera’s pics. Those will be shared upon my return to Korea. Enjoy and I will keep updating via iPhone as best I can 🙂

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