Sunday, February 1, 2009

Korean Randomness of the Week -- Part One in a New Series!

Although there are a lot of neighbourhoods in Seoul that attract foreigners, the most well-known is probably Itaewon. It's a bit skeevy at the best of times. If Itaewon was a beach, it would be the scummy beach where all the weird fishes wash up, the ones the fishermen look at in bewilderment before tossing them back to the sea and praying their boats won't be cursed.

When I went today, though, the skeev factor was pumped up by at least 10. Maybe because it's the first time in a while that I've gone by myself. Despite the sketchiness of Itaewon, I usually do look forward to going there when I'm with friends. No matter how anybody might feel about it, it's a useful place. There's a foreign food market that sells granola, Western spices, and beans (all hard to get in Korea), an excellent English bookstore, plus-sized clothing shops, and a terribly named restaurant called Foreign Restaurant that has a fantastic Indian buffet (with halvah for dessert!). There's also my favourite Thai restaurant in all the world, where they give you a private dining room on your birthday. Not to mention art stores and antique shops. It can be a fun place.

That was not the case today. It started before I even got to Itaewon. I was on my way to a play in Hyehwa and thought I'd nip in to pick up some pre-made pizza crusts for homemade pizza. As soon as I got on the orange line of the Seoul Metro, I noticed that this foreign guy sitting further down the subway car was staring at me in the perviest way. Every few seconds I would look back at him to see if he was still staring...and yep, he always was. When the train stopped I wanted to get out of there as quickly as I could, and the guy followed me through the station to the concourse that switches to the brown line. When we got to the escalator I took the stairs instead. I flew down them and by a miracle of good timing, there was a train already at the platform. I managed to squeeze in just as the doors were closing. The guy ended up being stuck on the platform. My relief was palpable.

So I was already a bit unsettled by the time I actually got to Itaewon. I went to the market, and no pizza crusts, but they had Indian flatbreads that would do just as well. I bought them and strode back down the street back to the subway line, when this OTHER pervy guy, even pervier than the last, stepped into my path. With a smile that would grease rubber, he looked at me and said, "Good afternoon, ma'am."

I just shoved past him and kept walking. Fortunately Itaewon is always crowded so it was easy to lose him. I was really happy to get back on the subway and out of there. I think from now on, if I'm by myself, it would be better to go to the foreign food market in Hannam, which is on the same street as a bunch of churches and has a highly reduced sketch factor.


On another, unrelated note, it would seem that my New Year's Resolution to write in this blog weekly has fizzled. I have decided that, to motivate myself to write more often, I should start a new feature. It will be entitled "Korean Randomness of the Week." This will be a good way for me to show you all of the things that I love about Korea, as well as give you a sense of just how random this place is. Doing this feature will require me to act partly as a journalist and partly as a cultural anthropologist. Every week I will locate an example of the absolute randomness that is Korean culture. Then I will attempt to explain things about it that, by all logic, defy explanation.

My first contribution comes from my students. As an assignment for their Communication Arts class, I had my ninth and tenth graders write and perform their own commercials. In the class blogs I have them keep, many of my students provided links to their own favourite commercials. Since I don't have cable in Korea, I haven't seen most of them, so I checked them all out.

The first commercial is an ad for SK Telecom's broadband service. I did not include because it deserves the "Randomness Award of the Week," but because it deserves the "AWESOMENESS Award of the Week." It is just a really cool commercial. I can't embed it, but you can watch it by clicking here.

The second commercial, however, is in a class by itself. It is a cell phone commercial that is currently very popular in Korea right now. It features none other than K-Pop sensation Big Bang!

Her skirt is, by far, the greatest thing ever!

This commercial makes me proud to own a Cyon cell phone. I was also proud of myself for understanding the first few song lyrics. They go like this:

"Give me an ice cream, please! Give me two ice creams, please!"

I'm glad that my efforts to learn Korean have allowed me to pick up these subtle nuances.

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