Dog Café

1 03 2011

I found something new!  Well, experienced something new anyway.  I read about these “dog cafés” in an ESL text book with one of my classes a few months back.  Sounded brilliant!  I tried with all I had to make my middle school boys care about people drinking coffee with other people’s dogs in English – a futile attempt that could make an unanesthetized leg amputation feel like afternoon tea.  Though it did get me excited about the prospect of one day coming across one.

I had a terrible dream last night that I was out to dinner with some people who decided to order dog meat soup.

I was out with some girlfriends today and immediately noticed the yapping of dogs from behind a window as we walked by on the sidewalk.  Any other day I probably would have just sauntered by without paying notice, but the dogs in cages inside brought the recollection of my dream flooding back.  The ground level looked like an average pet store showing off the youngest, cutest animals to passer-bys, but through the 2nd floor window we could see people in booths drinking tea covered in small, domesticated creatures.

So how it works is this.  You walk inside and are immediately hammered with the intense smell of pet store.  I’m sure you know what I am talking about.  Walk upstairs and through the puppy gate and are greeted by a swarm of dogs massive and chihuahua, young, old, healthy and coned.  You pay a flat fee of about $8 (a bit pricey, if you ask me), order your beverage and hang out in a booth with a pet of your choice or in the lobby area playing with squeaky toys.  People drop off their dogs here in the mornings before work so they are not lonely throughout the day, and people who don’t want the full time commitment of pets of their own can benefit from the busy schedules of those who did.  Everyone wins!  There would surely be some health code violations, but I think this could really take off in the states!  …Maybe..  There are also many other things about Korea that I think could (or should) do well in America, but after thinking a bit more about it retract my supposition.

At the Jjimjilbang (bathhouse)

Example #1:  Public bathhouses.  They are fantastic!  Huge, beautiful male/female separate facilities with pools, steam rooms, massages, showers and saunas.  After freshening up, rendezvous with your friends/family of the opposite sex in communal areas to watch private TV’s, relax in even more saunas, bathe your feet in beautiful pools, order drinks and snacks, and other odd amenities.  Though this would not fly in America because we are not comfortable with nudity.  One of the most trying mental situations for any young American has to have been the mandatory showers after gym class.

Example #2:  Call buzzers on every table at restaurants to call over your server when you need him.  That is the only time the server will come over to the table.  Bypass all the phony greetings, small talk, and premature “How does everything taste?” (5 seconds after the meal came so you don’t really know what you need yet, then have to wait God-knows-how-long for them to reappear once you finally decide what you do need from them.)  Don’t even get me started on the joys of not having to tip anyone!

Example #3: Norae-bangs!!  Private karaoke rooms, open 24 hours, bring all you can eat/drink.  Need I say more?  There is absolutely NO reason these should remain an “Asian thing”.  Stop being so selfish, Asia.

I think many Americans would think the Dog Café thing is “dirty”.  Or someone would get nipped, prompting a lawsuit to shut down the whole game.  For whatever reason it hasn’t made its way west yet, I can still enjoy them in Asia for a few more months.  Or not.  $8 is a lot of money to leave a café smelling like someone else’s dog, and I really wish at this moment I had a lint brush.


Pensive Poultry

25 11 2010

Technically Thanksgiving Day.  I feel as if I should be a bit more nostalgic or homesick maybe, but to be completely honest it’s not phasing me in the least.  These emotions could possibly be pacified by the knowledge that I will be celebrating with some friends this weekend to simulate the whole experience I would be having back home, or maybe the whole thing just doesn’t seem real at this point considering the lack of indication by my current surroundings that such a holiday ever existed in the first place – maybe all the warm memories are a construction of my vivid imagination…

With this admittance out in black and white, I am not sure whether to credit my seemingly heartless detachment as an example of strength and independence, or take it as a sign of some sort of borderline anti-social personality disorder.  Or, just maybe, in some between-the-lines reality things like Thanksgiving Day are never really meant to be missed.  The whole fiasco seems so easily to become more a grudging chore to everyone involved than something that is really appreciated.

I’ve always enjoyed the times with family and friends more when they’re not built up so much.  When I’m there enjoying their company because we choose to be, rather than because once upon a time some ‘Indians’ were killed, before helping some Pilgrims pick corn, before Captain America decided I get 2 days off work to pay for a ridiculously inflated airline ticket so I can wait in ridiculously long lines and listen to people complain about ridiculous things like security scanners seeing the shape of their body under their clothing.

It all seems like a bit of a racket to me.  Then again, I never really have been the conventional type…

This year I will be glad for the opportunity to Skype with my family who is slightly less spread out than usual, and then spend the rest of my evening streaming documentaries at home while the ondol floor heating aids the makkoli in warming my belly.

I wouldn’t feel right ending this post without noting the fact that I have an incredible amount to be thankful for this year and every year.  I love you all.

Pepero Day

11 11 2010

Today is Pepero Day.  Each November 11th, Korea becomes a maniacal frenzy of the purchase and trade of chocolate covered biscuit sticks   – Pepero – which are manufactured, heavily marketed and distributed by one of the largest conglomerates in both Korea and Japan: the Lotte Corporation.

Why is November 11th Pepero Day in Korea, you ask?  Well, because when you hold up two Pepero sticks they resemble the number “11”, and what better way to celebrate 11/11 than clearing out every mini-mart, supermarket, and Costco of these delicious treats.  Not only are simple boxes of Pepero available, there is a wide variety of cellophane-wrapped, glittered and bowtied gift baskets lining shelves for that extra special someone in your life.

Lotte – well done.  I thought Valentine’s Day and Christmas had consumer exploitative marketing tactics in the bag, but I realize now there is always room for more, beckoning us into even further absurdity.

When I was informed of this strange ‘holiday’ yesterday by excited students, I promised myself that I would absolutely NOT partake in this ridiculous affair; I will boycott any and all purchase of Lotte snack products for the entire day!

And in vain.  I left work today with 13 boxes of Pepero with “I love you Teacher” scribbled on the boxes.  Awwwww…. I LOVE Pepero Day!!

A day in the life…

14 10 2010



First alarm goes off.  Hit snooze.  Second alarm goes off.  Hit snooze.  Third alarm goes off.  Hit snooze.


Roll up out of bed to put on water for coffee and check the interwebs for news from the other side of the planet.  Find that not much has happened since 8 hours prior during the last check.  Get on Skype for a chat with Mom, then put down (at least) one full french press of black coffee.  Kill another hour mindlessly meandering social networks and travel articles on the laptop.


Leave the apartment to catch the bus downtown for weekly language exchange.  Arrive at the Western chain coffee shop just in time to wait an hour resulting from his ‘faulty’ alarm clock on a newly purchased smart phone.  Twiddle my thumbs in secret gratitude for the delay as I can now enjoy the beautiful fall weather, $6 Americano, and my iPod instead of struggling with a Korean lesson.  Him – “How can I make it up to you??”  Me – “Hmmm… I guess you can just owe me lunch.”


Head to the restaurant for lunch of beef rib and rice noodle soup.  Kick my shoes off, step up to the eating floor and sit on a pillow at the shin-high table.  Try to avoid sticking out more than I already do being the only white person in the restaurant by graceful use of the eating utensils, with no such luck.  Eating wet, tough ribs off the bone with flat, metal chopsticks is no easy task!


Stop at the corner mart on the way into work to purchase good-behavior-bribe candy for the otherwise hellish kindergartners, and bananas to try to share with my Korean co-workers, though knowing they will most undoubtedly be refused.  No matter how much observation I commit to the curious habits of this sharing-oriented culture, I always manage to make the wrong choice.  Knowing I will more than likely leave work today having regretfully eaten 4 bananas out of guilt of letting them go bad overnight, it’s better to offer and be potentially refused, than not offer at all.. right?

1:40PM – 8:20PM

At work.  Chase a few kindergartners around the desks to physically drag them out of class by the arms and position them arms-up, facing the wall near the teachers’ room.  (Still getting used to the necessity of physical discipline here..)  Next class am told I have “good fashion today” by one of my 3rd grade girls, and soon after, that I have “strange fingernails”.  Next class I must, once again, try to contain my immaturity and inner desire to screw around and talk about video games, hierarchy of cuss words, and words I do and do not know in Korean and keep these three 5th grade boys on track.  Me – “DOES she have black hair?”  Boys – “Yes, she do.”  Grrrrrrrr…


Head out to the little hilltop park near my apartment for a workout.  While using the rope/pulley arm workout thingy, can see the only other patron of this outdoor makeshift gym, an older Korean man, out of the corner of my eye trying to get my attention.  Here we go..  I hesitently pull out my earphones to a barrage of Korean.  Me – “Uhhh.. Hangu mal, choko..” (I don’t know what the hell you’re saying to me!!!)  Didn’t solve the problem.  Me – “Uhhh… Migook?”  (America?)  Him – “Ahhhh USA!!”  Me (in my head) – “Success!!”  After exchanging broken English/Korean life stories I am given an extensive tutorial on how to use the rope/pulley arm workout thingies ‘correctly’.


Begin receiving the usual Friday night texts to head out to PNU for drinks.  I crack some soju while getting ready then head out to catch the bus.  Arrive at one of the many “foreigner bars” of the area to mingle with foreign counterparts and a plethora of Korean women presumably looking to catch a line outta this place.


Usual weekend-night dilemma left in the wake of my refusal to take $20 cabs home: either finish my last drink and dip out before public transit closes, or commit to stay out till 6AM.  Again.  Ehhh, you guessed it; I’m in for the long haul!  Few drinks here, few there, time for second dinner with the group, then norae-bang!  Nothing like a private karaoke room to speed along the sunrise.


Hop on the first subway, haggard and exhausted among beautiful Koreans already crowding the surrounding seats.  Arrive home to a sunlit room and lay on my rock-hard mattress for sleep.

For lack of a better word..or any words, for that matter.

7 10 2010

I am a little worried that one of these days I will get a knock at my door to deliver notice of fine for all the banana peels I throw out my 8th story window.  The thing is, I wouldn’t know it if I were holding it in my hands anyway, so I continue to throw them out to avoid the evil little fruit fly infestation around my college dorm room style trash can.    I received an unintelligible notice about a month back, which after staring at quizzically and in slight frustration for a good while, decided to snap a camera phone picture of and send to a Korean friend.  My hope in this was to dodge bringing the mystery notice to work for translation in fear it may be in respect to my garage can window (only biodegradables, of course) or constant stream of houseguests.  Or possibly it may be regarding my failure to respond to the 1984-style announcements that blare through the speaker in my kitchen every so often, never failing to coincide in perfect inconvenience with my sleep schedule.  Either way, I would like to keep my work oblivious to any of these if at all possible.  My friend promptly responded via text message that I should consider paying my utility bills to avoid such future notices.  (Which is my boss’ responsibility, FYI, just to clear my name…)

In other news, my toilet has been broken for about a month now, and my fix for this is to lift the lid and pull up the little black plunger at the bottom when the “if it’s yellow, let it mellow” rule has worn out its welcome.  I am not quite sure how to turn on the floor heater, which might be a handy thing to know real soon considering the evenings are already becoming quite nippy.  I am also pretty sure I am misusing the trash and recycling system as well, but haven’t been scolded yet so I continue on my merry way.

Ahhh… makes me feel young again!

Sexual Soju Korea

5 10 2010

I would like to welcome myself, once again, to the 21st century.  I just uploaded my very first YouTube video!!     …Wooooooooow.  Since I don’t yet have the capability to upload videos directly onto here (because I am too cheap), I will prompt you to click the link below if you would like to see it.  As they say in Korea, it’s “nothing special”, but I found it rather hilarious at the time.  Enjoy! 

–Click Me–


Reflections (in the mirror)

15 09 2010

In my future moments of nostalgic reflection on Korea, one of the first flashes will surely be that of my co-workers’ daily huddle around the desktop computer.  I need not understand Korean to be painfully aware of what their excited chatter is a precursor to: yet another box of stuff is scheduled to arrive within the next 24 hours; I’d almost bet my life on it.  When the knock at the back door the next afternoon proves me correct, they will rush about the office ravaging frantically to locate boxcutters, scissors, keys, anything (!) to surpass this obstacle between them and whatever precious crap lies inside.  I will then watch in quiet amusement as the objects inside endure intense scrutiny from each of the girls before being condemned back into its box with disgust, or receiving the green light to be pulled over her head, tacked into her hair, swung over her shoulder, slipped onto her little feet, or smudged on her face.  “Bling Bling!”

I never did realize Korea was such an image conscious country before arriving here, but it was without a doubt the first thing I noticed when I stepped off the plane; everyone is flawless and dressed to kill no matter the occasion.  I feel at times as if I’ve infiltrated the Asian Stepford Wives’ neighborhood, yet the idea has become so popular that it has developed into an pandemic infecting each and every resident of the country, regardless of social status.  In the west, people love to spend the money they don’t have on nice cars, college degrees, hefty home loans, and interest payments.  Everyone creates their social status one way or another, and it makes sense that Koreans give precedence to personal appearance considering it’s where they get the most bang for the buck.  It isn’t a culture of dinner parties, house parties, and home study groups as is the west; here, socializing is done outside of the home so your proof (or illusion) of wealth should obviously be mobile.

I do like their style on this one… It is quite common to re-gift the crap that makes your blacklist and isn’t worth nickles and dimes to return.  They are definitely onto something..