Culture Shock Photo Series Part 3

South Korea 1987

On the way to the landfill?

On the way to the landfill?

Next time you get to thinking your job stinks...
Matadorless bull fighting (terrible quality photo; dude's head and the sun got in my way). More often than not, one of the bulls would get "aroused" and try to mount the other. "That's not milk"!
More about this festival later... 돌아와요. 부산 항에...

Cutlure Shock Photo Series Cont'd

Countryside of South Korea 1987

Some more slides scanned to digital. I wish I had something witty and insightful to say about each of these, but alas...

One of my favorite scenes:
Thanks old dude for posing for this.

Culture Shock Photo Series

Pusan, South Korea 1987

Buddha's Birthday:
Countryside grave scenes:

I have no idea. Anyone?

The Market

June 1987 Pusan, South Korea

!Warning: Pictures of dead animals (errr food) below. Sensitive eyes beware!

I was fascinated by the 시장 from the first time I set foot in one. The energy, the activity, the variety... I loved wandering the 5-Day Market in 구포 (that was the first place I saw dogs sliced lengthwise from nose to anus and lined up for sale like sides of beef. It was also the first place I saw a cat with its skin off--it, too, for sale for its meat.).

I could spend hours in the early mornings at 자갈치 just taking in the variety and mystery of the sea creatures (once, in 1997, I stood watching in amazement as a hard-working man deftly peeled the skin off eel after eel and then sliced them up into perfect cross-section circles. An 아줌마 working nearby noticed that both the eel slicer and myself were lacking in the dome hair department. She cracked a joke about how he should teach me to use the knife and we could start an International Baldness Co-operative, and I swear the earth shook from the ripple-effect of granny cackle that passed through that place.).

It strikes me that travelers (or foreigners in a foreign land) take pictures of things for different reasons. Maybe they see something they really want to remember, or something they really want to make fun of, or something that is just plain shocking. The reason would most often be a reflection of the photographer's current level or stage of culture shock (Honeymoon, Negotiation, Adjustment). I know I have photos from all those stages.

This random shot of a market scene could very easily have come from today in Seoul at NamDaeMun market, with grannies squatted behind perfect-looking veggies. But it came from 1987.
Here are a few shots of food from 1987.

I like meat. And food.

Weekends with Han, Part 2

Pusan, South Korea

May 25, 1987
To Kwangan yesterday and Miss Jeong is rad and she has rad friends. We went to the army base and it was OK. Fairly crowded. Today to class and Miss Chang called and we went and played with 2 of her friends. It was OK.

May 28
Time cruises. Mr. Shin has been hassling me about his book. It bothers me. Miss Jeong's raddest friend* came to the 학원. She was interviewed by me and she makes me quiver**, she is so rad and beautiful. She will be in my class***. I am out of money and pretty pissed off. It all came to a head at once. The free-talking class was at my throat and then the travel queen got into it. They are somewhat dissatisfied. So I taught them "ask me if I care."

May 29
Today was the last day of class for this month only to resume on Monday. No more free-talking. Today to Yangsan****. Well not so much to be excited about the weekend. Tomorrow I have to go to KBS and do that stupid program again. We will probably do it weekly. It bothers me because we do it for free and second because it's on Saturday.

May 30
A haircut, a 목욕, to KBS. Saw Jee-young. She is rad but I don't think she cares too much for me. Wandered about aimlessly asking myself what am I doing here. I was very out of it, still am.

May 31
Sunday. Went to Kwangan Beach and it was OK. Missed the NBA. Looks like the Lakers and the Celtics in the finals. Talked with Miss Jeong and her rad friend*. I think they should be my friends. To Hialeah. Tomorrow to Nam Po Dong.

June 3
Monday to Nam Po Dong. Today I went to Hialeah and bought $100 worth of eel skin. It was fine. Miss Kim* is very very wondrous and great.

June 5
Yesterday after class I had a chance to chat with Carrie* for a while. She is fabulous and great. I lent her my Tin Tin tape. She is charming. Tomorrow I had decided to go to Seoul but now I don't know. I could stay and party but I don't know. I don't know. Today to KBS and back. Pay day. Take home was 606,000 because I had already taken an advance of 130,000. Next month I will crank.

June 6
Saturday. I didn't go to Seoul. It was really hot and my face got much sun. Miss Kim* is rad and sexy but I couldn't tell her. Weekends really suck. Why did I come? I know I shouldn't think that but I do on the weekends.

Footnotes added Feb 15, 2009

*Miss Jeong's raddest friend, Miss Kim, and Carrie are all the same person.

**An obvious reference to the Tin Tin song on the tape I later lent to her. I had previously made a copy for Miss Jeong because she was really into music. She, in turn, gave me a copy of Scritti Politti, which I had not heard before but quite enjoyed. "I got a perfect way to make the girls go crazy."

***No surprise there. I would conduct an interview with prospective students to determine their level and assign them to a class. Not a big shock that I put the hot girl in my own class.

****Sam Chully Ho Bicycle company had a site in Yangsan. I drove up and taught English to a group of executives. These guys and this outside job will come up again later. If this were a movie soundtrack, some ominous and dramatic music would be playing...

Weekends with Han

(Don't read too much into this post title; obviously I am not going to attempt to capture in 7oo words or less the depth of meaning one could infer from such a label. But it can be taken literally and figuratively.)

May 15, 1987 Pusan, South Korea
The Subway opened to Joongang Dong. I didn't ride it. Tomorrow is Saturday. I will have to go to the mountain*.

May 16
To the mountain with Mr. Shin and Miss Han. It was cold and boring but we ate very much. After that I drove us to Nae Won Sa and then I went downtown with Miss Han. We walked around and met Mr. Kim and his girlfriend. They are cool. I sent Miss Han off and walked around and bought Talk Talk - Colour of Spring**. Wow I am a shambles. It is a lot different than what I thought it would be here.

May 19
After class, Mr Kim the Tiger*** took me to Kwang-An beach. We ate 15,000 worth of Bulkogi. It was fun. Today class and after I went to BNU. Traditional wedding was boring but I got some good sun. Except for Intermediate and Free Talking class, I love it. We'll see.

May 20
Mom and Dad called last night. They think they are worried. Time flies. Class and not much else. Kim Ae-jeong**** is rad. Tomorrow to KBS and we will do an English program. FOR FREE. Thanks Mr. Shin. I forgot Dad's B-day.

May 21
Class and nothing new. We went to KBS and recorded for broadcast of English. We did it for free. Back to class and tear gas***** poured in and we hated it. After class a little fish and some Udong. I would rather make more money. Nothing much to write.

The biggest difference between a blog and a journal (aside from the whole words in ether vs ink and paper thing) is the fact that one writes a blog hoping at least somebody reads it, and one writes a journal thinking nobody but oneself reads it. Unless you turn famous and die and your biographer gets his/her hands on it, that is. But that's certainly not the case here. There's quite some problems with writing something thinking no one else will ever read it. First, it's not very readable. Second, and most significant, 22 years later the writer (me, in this case) cannot even remember much about the events he recorded.

Footnotes added Feb 14, 2009:

*I have no idea what mountain to which this journal entry refers. It sounds like I had to ride the donkey to the oracle to receive higher learning or something. I don't remember. But I am sure that I was the only person not dressed in full-on mountain climbing gear just for a casual stroll up a hill.

**Yes I still have the tape. Of course I own the CD too now. "Baby, life's what you make it." Great album indeed.

***I have no recollection of this dude. It's too bad too because his nickname makes him sound really cool. And a bit scary.

****I have no recollection of this "rad" chick. A single teardrop.

*****With the close proximity of the Institute to BNU, it was quite common in the summer of 1987 to be overcome with tear gas and Anti-American sentiment.


Feb 13, 2009

Props to these guys for their super creative movie title.


May 1987 Pusan, South Korea

I grew up in a small high-desert town of about 14,000 people. From the back window of our house I could see the night lights at the closest ski resort. My parents, on the other hand, grew up in Los Angeles very near the ocean. They both spent a lot of time at the beach and in the salty water. Me, not so much.

One day in class, I mentioned to my students that I wanted to get out of Pusan and see some scenery. One student offered to take a group of us to his hometown of 충무 in Kyoung Sang South Province. I jumped at the chance. A handful of us piled in a bus one weekend and headed to the seaside/countryside.

I don't remember much about the trip or the students who went along, but these 20-year old slides scanned to digital still capture the beauty of that day:


May 1987, Pusan South Korea

I was walking along minding my own business in the Sajik area of Pusan near the baseball stadium. I came around a corner and there was a huge, colorful, painted advertisement. The graphic picture told what was going on behind the gates, even though I did not know the Korean words on the sign (투견대회).

Like a geeker at a car accident, I stepped through the gate into an open space between other buildings. It was like a 3-story office building had been razed to create the perfect, semi-secluded venue for the day's entertainment. The fights were already in progress and the mostly male onlookers were rapt. I approached the cage with my camera at the ready, but a Korean gentleman in a blue suit came up, gently took me by the arm and escorted me up onto the stage where the other apparent VIPs were seated. The rest of the fans (the common folk?) were gathered below.

A young lady timidly walked over and, using both hands, handed me a cold Bacchus D. (My first intro to "Energy Drinks", I am pretty sure it has nicotine in it along with a host of other stimulants. Since then I believe Dong-A Chemicals has graduated to Bacchus F--not sure what happened to Bacchus E. Probably no point in questioning their claim it is one of the first energy drinks ever created...)

If the fighting didn't get your blood going, this drink sure would do the trick.

From my VIP seat I watched and snapped off a few slides. A huge dog and a trainer would enter from each side of the cage. The dogs were frothing and chomping to attack. An offical blew his whistle, the trainers released the dogs, and the dogs flew through the air at each other in full attack mode:

They snarled and tried to lock their jaws on the other's neck until one turned tail and ran. An official or trainer would step in and end the bout.

After watching a few rounds, I went down ringside and got a close-up of the action. These dogs don't like each other. It's difficult to tell from this snap, but much of the dark stains on the white bars is dog blood.
I gave a courtesy bow to my host and strolled out of the gate into the bright sun. I had never seen anything like it before (nor ever again since). Over the years I have had many a Korean deny the existence of such brutality.

Nevertheless, I was there, and I did see it. And I was not expecting that.


Where I work today (February 2009) we have a creative printing studio that is free for all employees. One can upload and print images, make calendars with photos of one's own choosing, and generally burn through paper and mass amounts of printer ink and toner without ever cracking a wallet. There are some limits (like you can only print out 5 custom calendars per month, 5 24" x 36" posters per month, 25 greeting cards per month, etc...), but it definitely is a perk worth taking advantage of.

Most of the pictures I took in Korea over 20 years ago were developed into slides. I think I thought slides would weather the test of time better than photos. The net result today is that I have tons of slides that nobody will ever see. (Secretly I do have a slide projector in my garage and I could put on a mean show, but I never have been the type to load every single photo from a digital camera up into Flickr or Facebook just because I took the picture. I only load ones I like and that I think turned out well. Show some discernment people please!)

At the creative printing studio there is a scanner with an adapter for scanning slides. One can scan 12 or 16 slides at one time. I am just learning how to use it. The quality--as you'll see below--is not always great, but it allows me to share a few nuggets from days gone by. Here is the first in a series of such slides scanned to digital.

May 1987. Rice:

I grew up with a huge cornfield right across the street from my house. Down the hill behind was Mint, Sugar Beets, Potatoes, Onions. We had a strong FFA group at my high school. I certainly was no stranger to agriculture, but I had never seen rice farmed before arriving in Korea. I guess that is the main reason I took the following pictures of rice.

Driving from Pusan to the burbs to teach English at a corporate gig:

Let's take a break here and finish up tomorrow:
This looks like as good a place as any to dry the rice:
One time in Maui in 2005-ish, we took our 2-year old son to a Korean restaurant. We ordered full meals for ourselves, but only steamed rice for him. Oddly, the 아줌마 was very surprised by that. I was surprised that she was surprised. Sometimes I just can't help myself and I told her it was perfectly natural because the boy's father was a Korean farmer from 경상남도 in a previous life. She gave a look somewhere between shock, confusion, belief, and offended Christian sensibility. But all she could muster was:


I'll let you, the reader, provide your own translation of that...

Clearly Not a Honeymoon

May 20, 1987

It has taken only a month for me to fall into Shin's routine. Twice a week after our last night class we head to his favorite watering hole. This place--the name I can't recall--has several counters that each serve a different specialty. Generally we go to the same spot, order up some spicy grilled Octopus, and choke it down with Soju. Every time I lobby for some meat, but rarely does it cross my lips.

In the background, Karaoke is in full effect (this isn't Karaoke in the 노래방 sense; this is Karaoke with the whole basement level as your audience. I don't think they had even invented the private song room (NRB) concept back then.). Shin typically waits until his face is flushed red with Soju courage before pulling a number to go up and sing Sinatra's My Way. Again.

On top of the fact that I feel like an advertisement or a party gimmick trotted out to garner attention, my discomfort is compounded by the company we usually have on these outings. We are rolling with a Miss Han and a Miss Choi. The Miss Choi is a student from Shin's last class who goes almost everywhere with him as long as his wife isn't going. She has a troubled complexion and is heavy enough so that if she were a foreigner, Koreans would always ask her why she is so fat. She is a nice person and smart, but I remember thinking if one were to need something beyond what the wife can provide (not making a moral judgment here), one should choose a partner that would make getting caught worth it. Miss Choi doesn't hit that mark.

The Miss Han is a PNU college gal; taller than most and much slimmer than Miss Choi. She is usually dressed in blue jeans with heels. Her English is weak, and I get the feeling she is just there to keep me from being the third wheel. We are both enablers of the Shin+Choi trysts it seems. Miss Han and I sit silently most of the time not even looking at each other. Ahhh, 건배.

When we're done eating, drinking, and singing, we put Miss Han in a taxi. We three pile in the Pony and head home. They two usually drop me off and that's as far as I care to know about where they go or what they do.

Shin, at 5'4" and 130 lbs. (being genereous...) occasionally needs to pass out in the back seat with his head on Miss Choi's lap. Opposite of cute. Miss Choi has no driver's license. I don't have an international license, but sometimes I have to do the honors.

I'm clearly not even a "Cosmopolitan."