Friday, March 31, 2006

I Hits Ya Cause I Loves Ya, Baby

Well, it seems that the tumultuous and raging relationship of Yoo-Bin and Joe will be drawing to a close. Boon-Oh (Yoo-Bin's mother and Joe's sitter) has told us that she cannot care for Joe any longer, because she finds caring for two little toddlers very difficult, especially considering the fact that Yoo-Bin has become extremely protective of her mother, and deeply resents Joe for taking away her attention. So... we have (with Boon-Oh's help) found another sitter for Joe, an older woman with two children in high school. This woman also helps out part-time at a daycare, so she will be able to take Joe with her to play with other kids.

Poor Joe. He was coming home every day with new scratches and bite marks, all the while proclaiming his love for Yoo-Bin wishing her a sweet good night as we tucked him into bed.

He is learning Korean, though. The other day, he was unwillingly eating his lunch. Finally, his exasperated parents said, "OK, Joe, only two more bites," to which he responded, "Anee, anee" (roughly translated: "nnnnoooooo").

On the Road

Drivers of Korea, you know little of the terror you so greatly inspire in the mild hearts of Canadian expats....

Our very first night in Korea, less than an hour after our arrival in fact, we found ourselves careening down a crowded multi-lane freeway at 130km/hr, in a minivan whose dashboard was alight with multiple electronic gadgets, including a GPS, and a device to hold a cell phone while the driver could talk, and numerous other blinking, beeping contraptions designed to make life easier, but instead succeeding in increasing distraction.

I've mentioned before the competitive, passionate nature of the Koreans. Nowhere is this more dangerously obvious than on their busy roads. BEWARE, if you have the audacity to cut someone off, you will most likely get an earful of profanity at the next red light (that is if you choose to stop, considering that traffic laws are open to a great deal of interpretation). Either that, or they will do their best to get the better of you by doing everything in their power to get back in front of you again, even if it means putting their lives and the lives of countless others in jeopardy, simply to get the "upper hand".

Last week, I took a bus to Costco. Buses are very near the top of the food chain on Korean roads (the top place is held by the blaring tow trucks that converge on the scenes of motor accidents within seconds in order to clear the roads of wrecked automobiles, so quickly that I imagine they cause enough car wrecks on the way to their destined accident that it creates a steady and successful business; they even hold a higher place in the hierarchy of the roads than do ambulances, fire trucks or police cars. A short time ago, I saw one of these trucks, sirens blaring, heading full speed in completely the wrong direction up an exit ramp onto a busy freeway). In any case, the bus drivers are paid by the number of circuits they run in a day, so stopping for passengers seems to be a damn nuisance - you're barely in the doors before they slam shut. More often than not, you'll find yourself thrown halfway down the aisle as the driver hits the gas, propelling you firmly into the lap of a poor unsuspecting grandmother or businessman, who are usually sound asleep... another peculiar trait of many Koreans seems to be their ability to knock out almost anywhere, even while standing on subway line #2, the busiest in all of Asia.

So here I was, on the way home from Costco (with my precious Raisin Bran and cheddar cheese...oh, how thrilled I was to make those fine purchases...such commodities...) when the bus, like buses so often do here, inevitably cut across several lanes of traffic to a fanfare of blaring horns and rising blood pressures. One of these cutoffs (cutoffees?...mmm...toffees...), unsatisfied with simply making his displeasure known through curses and honking, decided instead that he would cut off the bus (a brave manoeuvre for a mere mortal in a mid-sized sedan). The competition was fierce. Car pulled up next to Bus, where Car's driver gesticulated and screamed madly for a few moments before making his daring move. Pulling in front of Bus, which was not easy because Bus was not about to be cut off by something as lowly as Car, Car immediately slowed to a crawl on this busy freeway. After a few tense moments, Bus leaned on his horn with no sign of letting up. After maybe five or ten seconds of steady horn blaring, Car finally relented and began to move again. A few short moments later, Bus had to stop for one of those irritating passengers. Car, noticing this, came to an immediate halt in front of Bus. After the passenger had boarded, Bus prepared for blastoff, but, much to his chagrin, that damn sedan was still blocking the road. Again, he leaned on the horn. Car waited, waited, waited....finally, using some logic I am not familiar with, Car apparently decided Bus had been punished long enough, and took off with a screech of tires, boldly and unflinchingly cutting off another 5 lanes of traffic in the process.

All that, and I haven't even begun to tackle the taxis or manage the motorbikes. We'll save those stories for another day.


Tuesday, March 14, 2006

White Day

Korean children, like children all over the world, love candy and chocolate and other treats they cram into their faces with little regard for the state of their teeth. Yet, they love it so much that a national day to celebrate the wonder of chocolate (Valentine's Day, where "traditionally," the woman gives chocolate to the man) is not enough. Oh, no... a short month down the road, and we found ourselves yesterday on March 14, "White Day," another national day to celebrate the giving and endless consumption of candy (where, "traditionally", the man gives candy to the woman).

I knew before class even started that it would be a looonnnnng day. Sitting quietly at my desk, prepping for class and minding my own business, I heard the elevator doors open and the unmistakeable sound of chaos - a barrage of kindergarten-grade 3 elephants pouring into the school, high on sugar. They streamed into the staff room before anyone knew what was happening, and essentially, I found myself in a hold-up for candy. Recalling a word that a former foreign teacher had taught, I employed it here, and perhaps saved my life. "Opsayo!" I cried desperately, amidst the shouted demands, "opsayo, opsayo!!" (meaning "I don't have any" or something to that effect). The word had the desired result. The kids left me alone, although I think my popularity dropped a bit. Taking a deep breath, I steeled myself for the first class.

I used the craziness yesterday as an opportunity to teach the kids the expression "off the wall." It was a suitable moment.

Well, the worst is over, and I have another 8 months before the next national day to commemorate Peppero (seriously, I couldn't make this up if I tried). I'm thinking of starting a movement to have these days made into national holidays. At least then we'd get the day off.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Signs of the Apocalypse

So here it is March 2006, and as far as I can tell the world is still here, but for how long? Pretty much every one out there who has ever stood in line at a grocery store checkout has heard of Nostradamus and his occasionally close predictions either about a "bat child" or the "end of time" ( in my perfect world you would here an echo every time you said "the end of time"). But it's occured to me that in this time of great uncertainty and unrest that only Hanna gets the most fortuitous of opportunities to hear my thoughts regarding the signs of the apocalypse (and perhaps more importantly, my predictions on when the next "bat child" will appear)! So in an effort to remedy this most unjust of situations I have decided to publish my thoughts on the future.

Now anyone out there can take the easy road and focus on the obvious signs of the end of time such as, oh, say the increase in weather catastrophies such as floods, mudslides, typhoons, tsunamis, hurricanes and whatever else nature throws at us (who knows the geologists may be right and it may just be the end of the most recent ice age). Then there are those wonderful ironies that I don't know nearly enough about, like the name of the new president in Iraq -"Talibani". I'm sure I'm not the first to think that this cannot be true, and has to be some really obvious punchline to a joke we've all heard too often.

Rather I've chosen to focus on one of those signs that is right in front of us. Like the friend with that lazy eye that we stop acknowledging, I've decided to look at the most obvious to me. Some time ago I said to Hanna that I figured that in the near future we would hear of a court case involving a complaint over the inadequate size of toilet seats for those of the (how do I say this politically correctly? (maybe more importantly, why do I care about being politically correct when speaking of an ever growing faction of Western society that is "morbidly obese"?)) "larger persuasion". My remark was to the effect that if I ever heard of any such legal case, than how could I not see this as some sort of sign that we had slipped so far in our priorities as a people as to signify that the end of time, or at the very least a thoroughly ridiculous time to live in, had to be near.

I fully acknowledged that for any such legal action to occur, the plaintiffs would have to be able to provide some sort of alternative to the common toilet seat.
Well lo and behold it has come to our attention that such toilet seats are available and marketed as "size friendly". Seriously, check it out for yourselves at and ask yourselves how long before someone with a strong enough union, or a hungry enough lawyer to back them, demands that their toilets in the workplace be "upgraded". My guess is it comes from the public sector.....
Offended?......good, we all should be.

Oh yeah.... the next bat child will be found in a small village in Venezuela in .....let's say... June.