Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Seoul Survivors Survive and Win Championship

This last weekend was that final rugby tournament of the year and was held down in Busan.  It was a semi-single elimination 10's tournament.  For those unfamiliar with rugby, this meant we would have 10 players on the field for each team, instead of the usual 15, and play 10 minute halves, instead of the usual 40.  This tournament presented a number of challenges from the start.  First, because Busan is a 5 hour drive we had to leave Seoul on the team bus around 6:30am, meaning most of us were exhausted.  Also, it being December 10th, it was freezing cold outside, which is never fun to play rugby in.  Lastly, playing multiple games and only having one substitute was a huge burden because nobody could afford to be injured.  You could say the cards were stacked against us and things didn't get any better once the tournament started.

There were 5 teams who showed up at this tournament, which meant two unfortunate teams had to play a pig-tail match in order to decide who would go into the semi-finals.  Of course Busan, who was running this tournament and is our biggest rival, schedules us to play in this game.  We faced off against Ulsan, who proved to be no problem as we pummeled them 31-0.  However, this was still energy spent that the other 3 teams in the semifinals didn't have to spend and keep in mind we only took one substitute with us.

Luckily however, there was some confusion between that game and the next game which led to a long break before we played our semifinal game against Jeonnam.  This would prove to be a match for the ages.  A couple unlucky breaks saw us fall behind 14-0 by halftime.  However, we were able to rally ourselves and score 14 points in the second half to tie it.  Because this was a knockout tournament, no games could end on a tie, however, things were about to get dramatic.  One of the players from Jeonnam claimed there was a rule that if at the end of a tied game, if one team has a player currently in the sin-bin (penalty box) then that team loses the game.  So, at the end of the game, even though the score was tied, we walked off the field the losers because one of our players had gotten a yellow card just before the end of the game (this was bogus too because in the first half one of the other team's players had committed an egregious penalty and gotten just a warning, but we do the same thing and get a card).  This was a bitter pill to swallow, but it suddenly got a lot sweeter when one of the tournament organizers ran out saying that nowhere in the world does someone lose a game because of a card.  So we would play two 5 minute overtime halves and if still tied it would go to golden try.

We scored quickly in the first half, but Jeonnam tied it up at the end of the first half.  The second half was a hard fought one and nobody had scored by the time it came to the final play of the half.  This is when I received a breakaway pass and scored the game winning try.  Well, technically it was a penalty try because as I crossed the goal line and was headed to touch the ball down, I was tackled high around my neck causing me to knock the ball on.  Being an obviously illegal tackle, the ref awarded me the penalty try and we won the game.  Quite exciting and quite exhausting.

Next we just had to wait to see who we would play in the finals, which to no surprise turned out to be Busan.  Apparently, one team was supposed to play Busan to give every team at least two games, but since that team had already lost and the game didn't matter the team forfeited.  Why this is important is because now going into the championship Busan had played one game while we had played essentially 2.5 games.  Add the fact that Busan practically had a whole second team worth of subs compared to our one sub and the odds were definitely stacked against us.  If things couldn't get worse, the ref chosen to referee the game had never refereed before and seriously had to be taught the rules as we played the game.  This undoubtedly led to some very poor officiating.

I can honestly say that while walking out onto the pitch I had never NOT wanted to play a rugby game more in my life.  It was freezing cold, most of the team was beat up and playing at less than 80%, and thinking realistically, our chances didn't seem good.  However, this was the last game of the season so there was nothing to hold back for.

Early in the game we scored a try and I really believe that this was necessary for us to win.  Had Busan scored first, I don't think the team could have recovered our morale.  However, Busan did answer our score with two of their own and, due to their made conversions and our missed conversion, the score was 14-5 early in the second half.  We scored with less than 10 minutes left to make the score 14-12, and then in the dwindling minutes we had a break through run coming off a set piece that led to the game deciding try.  Seoul Survivors won both the KERA Cup (basically Korea's rugby championship) and this Knockout Tournament Shield.  We really collected the hardware this year.

Oh, one more special note.  A huge thank you to my good friend from Singapore, Ga Hye, who came out to cheer us on and even bought our team drinks.  You're the best.

The 2 teams after the Championship (notice how many more there are in red than black and yellow)

Celebrating on the bus back to Seoul

My friend Ga-Hye

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Berry Berry Stinky

Autumn in Korea is marked by a beautiful display of multicolored trees and leaves, weather getting a bit cooler, and the sidewalks becoming covered with these berries from hell.  They are called ginkgo fruits or 은행 in Korean.

The sidewalks become so covered in them that stepping on them is inevitable.  Now this sounds bad because the berries would get all over your shoes, but this is the least of your concerns about stepping on them.  Once these berries are burst, they release a horrendous stench.  Now imagine a sidewalk so littered with these things that every step is bound to require stepping on one, and then compound that with the number of people who walk on the sidewalk in that given day, and how many berries that then means are stepped on, and you might get a picture of how potent this stench is.  It is a little funny watching high maintenance Korean girls look like they are playing a game of hopscotch trying to avoid stepping on them, yet still failing miserably.  I'll be glad when these things are gone. 

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Picture in the Newspaper

Last week I found my picture in the main Korean-English newspaper, The Korea Times.  The rugby team I have recently started playing for put together a charity event for a local orphanage.  During the month of November we all participated in the world renowned Movember festivities.  For those unfamiliar, the rules of Movember are simple: one cannot shave for the entire month.  Actually, to be more accurate, one should rock a mustache for the whole month, but considering my line of work and that I look like a predator with a mustache, I choose to keep the whole beard until the last day when I shaved it down to a mustache.

To turn this into a charity event, the whole team grew out their mustaches and auctioned off the privilege to shave them off.  I honestly didn't think anyone would pay for this but I was surprised and we actually raised quite a bit of money.  We also sold raffle tickets for prizes donated by local businesses and accepted other donations.  It was a fun event and it was pretty cool to see my picture in the paper, even if I did look like I belonged on a '70s cop series or like a person who by law has to notify their neighbors of their criminal past.  So thankful to have that off my face.

For the whole article go here

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Art Exhibit Near My School

So my new school apparently has an art museum right across the street from it.  I did not know this until a friend asked me if I would like to check out an art exhibit with them.  I am not really into art so much, and I don't usually like museums unless it is of something particularly interesting to me.  However, still being relatively new to life in Seoul, one of the things I have tried to force myself to do is to never turn down an opportunity to do something new, so I accepted the invitation.

The exhibit was of a British architect, named Thomas Heatherwick, who has built many notable structures, such as the London Olympic Flame, the new design for the London city buses, and many futuristic buildings around the world.  It was pretty interesting looking at all the creative designs he had created, but the best part of the exhibit was at the end when you got a chance to sit in his unique version of a rocking chair.  Instead of rocking back in forth, you could spin around like a top.  Here is me enjoying the chair.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

빼빼로 Day

What is celebrated in many parts of the world as the end of World War I and honoring the veterans who gave their life in that war, has a totally different meaning in Korea.  November 11th is known in Korea as 빼빼로 (Pepero) Day.  빼빼로 is a stick shaped candy that is basically a cookie dipped in different flavors of chocolate.  This is really just a genius bit of marketing as the whole country eats this one brand of candy on this day.  What is the reason for November 11th being 빼빼로 day?  Well, November 11th (11/11) looks like 빼빼로 sticks.  It is silly, but it works.  The whole country goes crazy for this candy on this day.  I can't imagine how much money they make


Sunday, November 6, 2016

Political Problems in South Korea

With days before the 2016 United States Presidential election, most of my attention on politics has been focused on the bottom-less well of corruption that is the two candidates.  However, in the last week there is another story of political corruption that has also grabbed my attention here in South Korea.

I'll be honest and admit I really do not follow Korean politics outside of its relationship with North Korea.  Prior to this incident, I could not even tell you South Korea's president's name.  I knew it was a woman and that her last name was Park, but that was it.  However, this story was so big that I had to read up on it and find out why so many people were so upset.  If you want the full story I suggest you go here to read it, but basically the president has been brain-washed and manipulated by some crazy lady who was her "spiritual advisory".  It started with this lady's father when he claimed that he could communicate with Park's assassinated mother.  It is some real Rasputin level of manipulation here! Anyways, President Park had been sending this crazy lady lots of important documents to get advice on speeches and policies despite this lady having no political experience or title at all.  Park is a puppet and did whatever this lady says for reasons nobody seems to understand.  I mean just imagine that North and South Korean relations and policies were being influenced by a lunatic and you can imagine the South Korean's anger.

This anger is building as just this last weekend hundreds of thousands of Koreans gathered at City Hall to demand that Park Geun-Hye step down as president.  Instead, she is firing almost everybody in her administration including the Prime Minister.  This is delusion beyond words to think that firing people who had nothing to do with the scandal is an appropriate response to the citizens' anger at her ineptitude and clearly unstable mental state.

In closing, America, no need to panic due to the upcoming election.  If Korea has survived this long under this level of corruption, how much damage could Trump or Hilary do?

Photo credits:

Photo credits:

Photo credits:

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Halloween 2016

Halloween has always been a favorite time of the year for me. As a toddler it meant my mom dressing me up in clever self-made costumes and collecting as much candy that would fit in a pillow case.  After giving my parents their required choice of candy as payment for walking us door to door, me and my brothers would gorge ourselves sick.

As I got older, I took on more of the responsibility for the costume ideas and creation that I had learned from my mother.  Now the fun in Halloween to me is coming up with a unique costume idea and finding clever ways to create that costume well.  Anybody can buy a store bought costume, there is no creativity in that, so don't expect me to be impressed with that "super cool" super hero costume you bought.  But if you have a unique idea combined with creative craftsmanship with your costume, well then cheers to you!

In the past I have self-created Jolly Green Giant, Wolverine, Captain America, Jay-G (a popular emoticon character in Korea), Hulk, Charlie Brown, and Popeye costumes.  This year I chose another beloved character for my costume; Cookie Monster. Pulling off making a costume from scratch is a little more challenging as a foreigner in Korea, due to the fact that I don't really know where to go to find the materials I need.  But through having my Korean friends help me locate different items and pure luck I was able to make the costume.

I got affirmation that I had pulled it off well through the many people who came up to me and asked, "Where did you buy your costume?"

This is styrofoam balls with eyes painted on them, stuck to a blue hoodie using velcro tape

This a black surgeon mask with a Cookie Monster mouth painted on 

End result with a prop cookie made from modeling dough

 Some costumes from my past:
Jay-G (Korean emoticon)
Captain America
Charlie Brown
The Jolly Green Giant

Which one is your favorite? Comment below.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Involuntary Eavesdropping

Living in a country in which English is rarely spoken in public definitely has it's challenges.  However, I have always told people that is one reason I love living in Korea, because it is a challenge and forces me to learn a new culture and language if I want life to get any easier.  On the other hand, the language barrier has some advantages too.  I often get neglected by pesky promoters trying to hand me a flier that inevitably gets thrown away, I have made friends with strangers simply by asking them for help or using them as a translator in a certain situation, but most of all it is extremely easy to zone out and relax in public as I can easily block out all the conversations around me due to not knowing what they are saying (unless I intently focus on the conversation, then I can usually get a general idea about what people are talking about).  This is nice because there are times, such as on my bus ride home after a rough day at work, where I just want to zone out and not have to hear the blabbering of the other commuters around me.

But, occasionally my linguistic ignorance is ruined when I find myself on the same bus or train car with other English speakers.  Because it is a rarity to hear conversations in English, I find myself subconsciously listening to these conversations, despite the fact that they are almost always intolerably superficial and boring.  For example, just the other day I listened for almost 15 minutes to an American about what her favorite fruit is, which was strawberries except when in a smoothie she likes blueberries, and attempting, but failing, to explain what the air quotations (" ") with your fingers means.  Listening to these superficial and sometimes ignorant conversations of my fellow compatriots annoys me, but it is something that I cannot turn off. 


Sunday, October 23, 2016

Rugby: I'm Back!

I want to start the post with a direct message specifically to my mother.  Yes Mom, I do have health insurance.

Yesterday I played in my first rugby game in over two years, with the last time being with my club team in Singapore.  This is with my new team the Seoul Survivors, making it the third team I have played for in three different countries.  Boy had I missed playing this sport!  It was a great day of rugby against a few Korean rugby teams, and to top it all of my team won the tournament.  I had forgotten how much fun this game is, and definitely forgotten how sore it makes you the following day.  I am writing this at work and incredibly sore.

Monday, October 17, 2016

International Food Festival

One of the great advantages to now living in Seoul as opposed to Incheon is the numerous festivals and events that are being held in Seoul almost every weekend.  It is not that attending these festivals was impossible living in Incheon, it is just that it was not nearly as convenient and it was extremely difficult to learn about these events living outside of Seoul as well.  This past weekend was an International Food Festival held in the unofficial "international district" of Seoul; Itaewon.  This is an event that I had wanted to attend for the last two years, but only learned about after the event had passed.  Friends of mine would say, "Oh, I went to this fun International Food Festival this weekend," and I would be disappointed for another year.  This year that was not the case, as I ride a bus through Itaewon everyday on my way to work, I saw the advertisements and made sure I was going to attend.

So this festival was really fun, and I made sure to make the most of it.  Up and down this very popular street were tents and each tent represented a different country from around the world.  At these tents you could purchase food that represented that country.  There must have been around 20 different countries represented.  Some of them were commonly eaten cuisines such as Thai, Indian, and Mexican, but others were more exotic such as Moroccan, Uzbekistani, and Iranian.  They even had a Singapore tent and I was really excited to hopefully try some of the foods I so dearly miss from my previous home country.  However, I was disappointed upon approaching the stall to see they only sold ginger chicken, which is not uniquely Singaporean nor is it really a popular dish.  I was hoping for some beef hor fun, or some char siew wanton noodles, or even some chicken rice, but no such luck.  The American tent was a real treat though!  Buttermilk chicken biscuits.  I got to teach my Korean friends a little bit about my culture and share stories of my grandmother, MaMa, cooking fresh buttermilk biscuits almost every morning when we visited her.  I boasted that I had never had a biscuit that could compare to those, but upon eating this biscuit I have to say it was very reminiscent of MaMa's.  These small and rare reminders of America, my childhood, and my family are special when living abroad.  You learn to treasure them.

The festival included other things besides just food.  There was a parade, which my brand new rugby team I had just joined literally earlier that day was in the parade and I had the chance to participate in it, but not having any of the team gear and already having made plans I was reduced to just watching the parade.  There was also music throughout the festival.  They had one stage set up for different DJs to show off their DJing skills.  Electronic music is not really my scene and I really don't understand the "skill" involved in DJing enough to appreciate it, so I didn't spend much time there.  There was another stage showing cultural performances from different countries, which, from the few I saw, seemed interesting, but honestly I spent most of my time bouncing from food tent to food tent trying as much food as possible.  I definitely ate enough to make up for the last two years when I missed the festival.

Taste of home
Iranian Lamb Sandwich

Moroccan Sandwich
It was crowded...

Bulgarian Meatball and Cuban Coconut Shake

The disappointment....

Busy street

You can't really see, but in the back is apparently a really famous chef in Korea.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

The Nice Ajumma

The word ajumma (아줌마) is a respectful term for an older woman (usually anyone above the age of 40 or 50).  However, to me, it carries a negative connotation; almost like a discriminatory slur.  The reason is for this is that almost every experience I have had with them has been unpleasant.  From the looks of disapproval on the subway, to them stepping on my feet and pushing me out of the way everywhere they walk, I have grown to hate them and I am not alone.  Ask almost any foreigner and they will agree that the typical ajumma is rude and does not like foreigners in Korea.  They are like the Korean version of Trump supporters.

I speculate the reason for this has a lot to do with the culture here.  Respect, as it is in all Asian cultures, is extremely important in Korea.  They even have a different language (존댓말) that is used for speaking to someone older than you, as opposed to speaking to a friend or someone younger than you (반말).  The effect of this culture is that the older generations in Korea have begun to expect this treatment, feel entitled to it, and in the case of the typical ajumma, use it as an excuse to do whatever and behave however they want.

Now this brings me to my story.  This weekend I was riding the subway to go to my first practice with a rugby team I have joined in Seoul, when an African lady asked me if I could move over one seat to make room for this ajumma she was with (I think she was the ajumma's helper as the ajumma was quite old).  This was a simple request, so I moved.  Now, my expectation was that this action would go unappreciated because, for one, it did not require much of me because there was an empty seat on the other side of me, and secondly, because of my prejudice towards ajummas.  However, she gave me a smile and thanked me in Korean, to which I replied "you're welcome (괜젆아요)" in Korean.  Although that was already almost unprecedented compared to my usual experiences with ajummas, it did not end there.  She continued to talk to me, all in Korean of course, for the remainder of our ride together.  Her helper, who did not speak Korean, became suspicious and a harshly asked me, "what is she saying to you?" To which I replied, "she is just asking me where I live in Korea, where I am from, and complimenting me on my Korean".  To this the helper just sat back in her seat and didn't say a word.  The ajumma then asked me if I had eaten breakfast and I told that I had not, but that I had my breakfast in my bag.  She then, right as I was about to get off the train, offered me a candy, which I happily accepted, thanked her, alighted the train, and continued on my way with a smile on my face that she had placed there.

Now I do not consider myself a racist or a sexist, in fact I am passionately intolerant of people who are, but this experience made me realize that in Korea I had become an ageist, specifically towards older women in Korea.  The first step in eliminating prejudice is to acknowledge it, and I am hoping this experience helps shatter these prejudices in myself and to realize that not all ajummas are rude.