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.

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A day in the life…

14 10 2010

Friday

7:30AM

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

8:00AM

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.

9:30AM

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.”

12:00PM

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!

12:50PM

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…

8:45PM

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’.

10:00PM

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.

11:45PM

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.

5:45AM

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.





Officially settled in.

3 05 2010

I regret not having been able to write for so long; so much has happened the past few days and I fear this post will be way to long and still neglect too many details, but I’ll give it a shot!  It feels soo good to finally have my space/freedom back with my new apartment, and my connection with the world/sanity back with my computer’s long-lost friend, the internet.  The feeling of lacking a place in the world with no ties to anything familiar can make you go a little crazy!  Aside from and probably also slightly bolstered by that, it has been an amazing weekend.

As difficult as it is to sleep during the day while sunlight fills your room and floods your closed eyes, it is equally so to get to sleep in Korea before this becomes your fate.  Quick, “quick” rundown of the weekend:  Friday evening, met an old friend and a new friend down by the beach to start the night; one club led to another led to the Norae-bang.  Now, I am just as surprised as you are at how quickly a small room with a booth, table, and karaoke machine could turn into one of my favorite places on this whole-wide planet, but by the time we finally dragged ourselves out of there it was broad daylight, and the subways were conveniently running to take us back home for bed.  After a short nap, I awoke on Saturday in time to go meet some friends at a hippy/worldly music festival/benefit by Kyungsung University.  We sat in the grass for hours watching cultural performances from all over the world.  There is something about sitting in the grass on one of the first warm days of Spring to help you forget that there ever was a Winter.  I love that feeling…  When the sun set and the festival came to an end, our group came to the strong consensus that dong-dong-ju was in order.  We found a little place nearby and ordered the sweet, milky Korean alcohol that is poured from a tea kettle and drank from small golden bowls.  After dong-dong-ju and dinner, it was time to head down to the beach for a concert.  I had no idea what to expect from the band, but it honestly couldn’t have been much better.  This Korean band played a cover of nearly the entire Rancid album, “And Out Come the Wolves”, which is one of my oldest favorite albums.  And, of course, all the Westerners in the bar rushed up to the stage for sweaty, dance party madness.  Sooooo awesome!  Naturally, singing along to Korean Rancid got us ready for more norae-bang, so off we went!  After a short session of norae, a mere few hours remained before sunrise.  I was excited to get home to squeeze in some, any sleep in it’s natural state of darkness, but the invite to the jimjil-bang was far too intriguing to pass up.  Now THIS is by far the most bizarre experience I have had in Korea yet.  So the jimjil-bang can be found at given hotels throughout the city and is basically a spa or bathhouse, but an overnight spa or bathhouse.  Visualize: You enter a nice hotel and go up to the 4th or 6th floor if you are a female/male respectively, and are given PJ’s and a towel.  You are then free to use the hot tubs, saunas, showers, vanities, etc. in this huge, elaborate facility as you please.  And of course, this must all be done in the comfort of your bare feet, birthday suit, and false confidence.  When you are finished cleaning up, relaxing, and are ready for sleep, you will head upstairs to the 5th floor to the biggest sleepover party you have and will ever see.  There is literally a sea of Korean men, women, and children in matching PJ’s lying all over the floor, sound asleep.  Most bizarre thing I have ever seen!  After a miserably failed attempt to join them in slumber and having lost my 2 friends to the men’s sauna, I left to go watch the sunrise on the beach across the street.

Needless to say, I was exhausted by Sunday.  Mentally and physically.  But it was rejuvenating, in a way.  I met a lot of wonderful people from all over the world and walks of life, and I’m ready for more!