Well I'm finally starting to feel better; I've been a bit out of it for the last few days, I dunno if it was the uncharacteristic up-til-4am SparkleFest 5000 or just the effects of my first winter in six years, but there it is. Since we're planning on doing Thanksgiving with some of the wife's work buds on Saturday, tomorrow the plan is to take it easy and just drag the spawnling over to the National Museum Children's Center.
Thursday, November 27, 2008
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
So a few days ago I was inspired by this dude on Youtube who posted videos of himself doing generic life-in-Seoul-stuff like shopping in Emart and riding the subway. The idea was to give his family and friends back home an idea of what his day to day life is like over here.
So in that vein, here's an action-packed piece of the daily routine for Emily and I; the morning schoolbus dropoff. Warning: The following video clip contains saccharine-sweet levels of toddler shenanigans and extensive use of an embarrassing Daddy voice only used with my daughter; viewer discretion is advised.
Sunday, November 23, 2008
I've been reading the blogs of our fellow expats for several months now, so when one of them decided to throw a get-together, I decided to join them. I am very glad that I did.
What I found was a group of intelligent, genuine, thoughtful, just awesome people, and we rambled on for ten hours. I looked up and it was 4:00am. I haven't had a night like that since college, that kind of night where you just click with a group of people and utterly lose track of time. It was magical.
Chubbo Chubbington (the third) says it with much more grace and style than I could ever manage, but last night reminded me of how good it is to feel comfortable and warm with a group of good friends, to while the clock away into the wee hours and just enjoy company and conversation. I've been doing without that for so long that I'd forgotten how wonderful it really is.
Home isn't about a building or a location, it's about the people in your life. I've got my family, and now I have close friends. I'd like to think that the Night of Awesome is the start of something special, perhaps a new home for all of us to build together. I hope so.
Friday, November 21, 2008
As anyone 'round these parts knows, winter jumped into the picture last week. One day I was walking around outside in a sweater and the next day it was all BAM winter. So anyway, last night it was finally time to turn on the ondol; the underfloor heating system most homes use here.
So anyway we set the thermostat thinger and waited.
"Still not feeling it, it's still about as cold as a witch's ti.. wait a second."
"Is that a warm spot? Heeeyyy, that feels kinda nice."
"Holy shit the rug is warm!"
*flop onto the floor*
"Why don't we have this in the US?"
I think it's safe to say, we're converts.
Thursday, November 20, 2008
So what's it like bringing a toddler to Korea? It's not that bad, honestly. We definitely had some concerns coming here, but Korea is really awesome for rugrats. Koreans love 'em, and Emily usually enjoys the attention.
The schools are excellent, at least the preschools. Back in Vegas, Emily was beginning to act out a bit at her preschool; they had a good program, but it was play-based and she was getting bored. We had started looking for an academic program for her, but unfortunately, in the States, there really isn't much in this vein for kids under 3. In education-obsessed Korea, however, that is not a problem.
When we first got here we had planned to put her up in the Army's on-post childcare center, but their program was simple daycare again, so we ruled it out. We then started to explore some of the local options. Language-wise it's not so bad as you'd think: most Koreans are so keen to get their kids speaking English early on that many pre-schools are taught entirely in that language. After checking out several options, we picked a place called Appletree in Seocho-gu. Emily loves it; she's eager to get on the bus in the morning, and when she gets home she is full of stories about what she learned that day. They bus her, feed her, and her teacher calls us every day to give us updates on her progress. My wife specializes in child development, and she thinks it's one of the best programs she has ever seen. My daughter isn't even three yet and she already has half of the alphabet.
All of this costs about $550/month, which is just ridiculously cheap compared to similar programs stateside. Plus she's getting exposed to another culture, and will probably be teaching us Korean if we spend more than a few years here. We both want our daughter to grow up as a world citizen, and I can't imagine a better way to start.
As for grade school, well, I wouldn't want to put Emily into the Korean system; they are bit overzealous in that department. Fortunately we've got access to the US public schools at Yongsan Garrison for that, and the program here is much better than the public schools back in the US.
There is one downside, however.. some days the kid comes home with some serious kimchi-breath.
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
So I'm riding the subway this morning and this older gentleman strikes up a conversation with me in English. Things go politely and well until, as we pull up to our mutual stop, he asks me to guess his age.
Now in the US, the generally polite thing to do in this situation is to lowball; older folks usually like to believe that they look younger and more youthful. Apparently that's not the case in Korea, because when I guess 55 he freaks out; he tells me that he's actually 75, and that I have made him "very upset" by guessing such a low figure. I apologized but he'd already given me his back and walked off; he was really pissed about it.
Does that tie into Confucianism? Specifically, Koreans and East Asians in general really venerate older folks, which is why, for example, Ajummas get away with so much here. Naturally, someone like that comes to believe that they have earned their status, and a low estimate of age might be seen as figuring a lower social rank than they actually merit.
Lesson learned, I suppose.
Thursday, November 13, 2008
Over the last few days I have climbed both Mt. Ansan and Namsan. Namsan is the one everyone is most familiar with, the one that has the Seoul Tower on top. It was a pretty easy climb, since they've installed a paved path and stairs all the way to the top. The views are pretty sweet even if you don't pay the ₩7000 admission.
Mt. Ansan is a much more arduous climb, but I vastly prefer it. There are no paved paths, only the occasional step carved into the rock and a rope handrail at a particularly hairy cliff. The view is better, and there are much less people up there too. Namsan has kind of a carnival atmosphere going on, with multiple restaurants, snack and gift shops, whereas Ansan offers peace & quiet, which is pretty hard to come by in this city. At certain points on the mountain, you hear no city noises at all. Weather permitting, I may take Kim and Emily up there this weekend for a picnic.
I tell you what, elderly folks do not screw around in Korea. Namsan has a cable car to the top, so it's very accessible for everyone, but Ansan has nothing of the sort. When I finally gasped my way to the top, all proud and thinking I had accomplished something, I was somewhat suprised to see several Ajummas hanging out up there and having lunch. I passed a few on the trail coming back down, too, some of these folks had to be in their 80s. If I make it that long, I hope I have half as much spunk left in me by then.
Saturday, November 8, 2008
So we bought a car today. When we moved to Seoul, we had decided not to bring a car; we could have done so for free, but Seoul has good public transportation, and we were going to be living right across the street from where she works. We sold our cars before leaving the US, and we've managed to go carless for about three months now.
I was fine with this, but as time has gone on the wife has begun to express dissatisfaction with this arrangement. For one thing, it's starting to get cold.. and she doesn't always catch the post shuttle to her school, which means a walk or a cab. It also presents a problem for groceries, although you can usually catch a cab at the commissary within a few minutes.
I think all the walking was doing us some good, but I can see her point.. and since she is the one working right now, and we're doing well financially, I finally caved. We met with a local broker today and ended up dropping about $2300 on a 1998 Hyundai Sonata III. It's a nice enough ride, and should do the job for the three miles a day we'll be putting on it. We pick it up on Monday.
Car insurance is pretty damn cheap here, which is nice. It's about $430/year for both of us, and if we could use USAA it would have been $120!
UPDATE: here's the offending vehicle; the wife has named her "Tess".
Friday, November 7, 2008
It's been a day since Obama was elected and I'm still struggling to process my emotions. I'm so used to being cynical about the direction my country has been going, so used to hating and despising our leadership, so used to hopelessness as I watched my nation lose it's soul.. I had forgotten what it was like to feel proud of my country. Words cannot express how profound this has been for me.
Check this out:
I have to tell you, this had me crying. Crying tears of joy and rage.. rage at how low my feelings had gotten, and how I hadn't even noticed. It's just been eight years of unrelenting cynicism and pessimism, and I'd just gotten so used to it. Watching my fellow Americans flooding the streets in dozens of cities, it's all come back. For God's sake, they're singing the Star Spangled Banner in the streets! When is the last time something like that happened? That's the way I used to feel when I was a kid, and my heart was filled with unconditional love for the United States. That's the way I feel again, today.
It's all come rushing back. I now remember how incredible it really is to be an American, how lucky I am to be a citizen of the greatest nation on Earth. Look at what we did. In our darkest hour, we came together and redeemed it all. To ourselves, and to the world. Nothing is impossible, which is really the way it's always been. That's why it's so incredible, so glorious, to be an American, because no matter how bad things get, we always have the ability to fix it, to make it right again. Listen to me, using "we".. a few days ago I would have dismissed such a sentiment as a corny cliche. No longer.