Still, I have had a few Koreans tell me that a particular place is "easy" to find. At one meeting with a group of folks, when I called to say I was lost the organizer said the place was easy to find. She called me about 20 minutes later, guessing that I was still trying to find the place. I was actually a few subway stops away from home. She was a bit surprised, letting me know they were waiting for me. I told her that it would be easy for them to find me.
A colleague of mine mentioned that a supermarket nearby was easy to find. He later gave me directions that sounded something like, "Sure, just go down the street about 100 meters. Turn left. Go down the stairs. Take the elevator to the top floor. After you get on the roof, run to the edge and jump to the next building. Climb down the side of the building. Walk backwards for 4 minutes. Run down the alley marked 'run or die.' Then, dig a tunnel until you reach a wall with the sign, "Easy to find Supermarket." Exit through the manhole. If you run into a barricade, no problem, just don't stop running, as long as it between 5 to 7 p.m. If you see a sign reading 'Welcome to North Korea' then you have gone too far and should dig a hole in the opposite direction. Then, look on your left. And you'll be there! Easy! I go there once a week! Tell them I sent you."
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I love the Herbalife ladies
After a busy weekend I planned on coming home early and relaxing. It looked it might actually happen after many previous false alarms. I cooled down by visiting the Herbalife Diet shop near my home. I absolutely love the ladies (a lovely Korean mother-daughter team) who are running it.
They sent me a text message reminding me to stop by. Which I did about an hour later after work. One thing about Korean business people I've encountered: Once you are deemed a loyal customer then you can expect them to give you many freebies. So much so that I find myself rejecting the offers. Of course this happens at some places even after you first visit. But once you are in then you are really in.
Anyone who knows me knows just how much I love free stuff. To paraphrase Terrell Owens: Me love me some free. I literally walk down the street looking for change someone may have dropped. I'm not so rich that I'll pass up coins on the street. Today at the Herbalife shop it was free tea, a free protein shake, free other stuff that I finally just had to start rejecting. I'm sure they will end up giving me more free stuff than I have purchased.
Another thing about a lot of Korean business people: They will keep their stores open until the customers leave. The diet shop officially closes at 10 p.m. But they mentioned they were open until 1 a.m. on Saturday.
Drinking or singing
Still thinking about relaxing at home...instead, I accepted an invitation from my coworkers to join them to get something to eat. Of course, getting something to eat means we will spend several hours together eating, drinking, and perhaps even singing. We did all of those things until 2:30 a.m. I think we made four stops along the way. Singing was stop number four, and we only continued when we all promised to stay for only 30 minutes.
As is the custom, we paid for an hour after we got there and the folks running the place gave us about 45 minutes of bonus time.
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Exchange with a friend
Casey: Incredible! I went out early one morning and saw people going TO a singing place at 7 a.m.
Friend: What kind of people go to sing at 7 a.m.?
Casey: The kind of people I need to meet!
In addition to the Herbalife shop I also got a great workout yesterday because my washing machine stopped working. I repeatedly walked from the kitchen to the washing machine with a small pot and large bottle full of water that I had refilled. I lost count how many times I did that. But it seems that I have created a path.
The buttons on the washing machine are all in Korean. Even after figuring out what the different buttons mean I couldn't get it working. There may be a serious problem requiring technical support. I'll be having my Broken Washing Machine Workout for at least another day.
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Tired of being treated like a kid because there are kids around...
As has been documented here I have consumed many adult beverages in the last month. Not once have I been asked for ID. I can't remember the last time I bought beer at a grocery store, restaurant or bar in America without being asked to prove that I'm of legal age. Some people take it as a compliment when they are asked to prove they are at least 21. It irritates the hell out of me that I must always get permission to buy beer.
The problem isn't just busybody government. It also suggests there is something wrong about Americans. Even though Koreans don't get carded there doesn't seem to be an issue about Korean youngsters buying beer. Either they do it without needing permission or people don't make a big deal out of it. Korean youngsters spend so much of their formative years studying so it may be that they don't have time to drink beer before they get to college or start working.
A lot of things are explained to me as: That's Korean culture.
Sounds too familiar to a t-shirt that was popular many moons ago: "It's a black thing, you wouldn't understand."
As I mentioned yesterday, harmony is very important among the Koreans I have hung out with. The entire group will usually move in one direction. That's great when you need to fight a war. But not so great when your idea of fun differs from the group that particular night.
Even if several members of the group want to join you then it is better to remain silent so the others won't feel bad. After the dance lesson many of us went for dinner. Then we went back to dance swing. Some of us had planned to go out singing but the Koreans who wanted to sing separately got overruled by those who want to drink. In America, in situations when I was with a group and we were deciding where to eat there were times I would tell the others that I would meet up with them in an hour or so. I hate standing around talking about what to eat.
I'd prefer to just pick something and eat then join up with the others later.
2) Singing or drinking
The majority of the swing group wanted to go drinking, not singing. As I mentioned yesterday, drinking is one of the stops during the night with the people I have hung out with so far, not a priority. I was in the mood for singing so I skipped out.
One of my favorite quotes about majority rule is from P.J. O'Rourke in his book Parliament of Whores:
Majority rule is a precious, sacred thing worth dying for. But -- like other precious, sacred things, such as the home and the family -- it's not only worth dying for; it can make you wish you were dead. Imagine if all of life were determined by majority rule. Every meal would be a pizza. Every pair of pants, even those in a Brooks Brothers suit, would be stonewashed denim. Celebrity diet and exercise books would be the only thing on the shelves at the library. And -- since women are a majority of the population -- we'd all be married to Mel Gibson.
How do I know Korean culture when I see it?
A few days ago someone commenting on one of my posts mentioned that Korean women occasionally grab each other's breasts. I have heard about this but didn't think much of it.
1) I'm never invited to join in such pajama parties.
2) What happens occasionally among people doesn't suggest to me that it is culture.
If I see something happen seventeen times in a row, then, yes, I feel confident concluding that it is culture. On the other hand, a Korean friend of mine who read something online about American boys having circle jerk parties asked me if that was American culture.
It may just be the people I hung out with but I never heard of circle jerking until I was in college. And even then, thankfully, no one was inviting me to join in. That some people may engage in an activity isn't enough for me to conclude it is culture.
Live KoreanOver the weekend I probably had the most successful language exchange I have ever had. The reason? Everyone participating was at a low level. The two Koreans both struggled to speak in English and only did so after I prodded them. Then, after they finally did so, they felt comfortable to push me to speak in Korean. Clearly they were enjoying the show. A third person who also speaks Chinese joined us later on so we were able to also misunderstand each other in that language.
A lot of language exchanges fall apart because...
1) When one speaker is at a higher level than the other then they will speak in that person's language.
2) Some or a lot of language exchanges end up in relationships.
3) People meet 1:1. Meeting in a group of 3 or 4 keeps the topic on language.
I actually know some Koreans now who either don't speak English or struggle mightily with it. That means that I am now getting email messages that are completely in Korean. They will mix in some English but I never know which language the text messages will be in.
One problem reminds me of an incident from a few years ago. A buddy of mine was going through a tough time. I hadn't heard from him for a few days. Then, he sent me an email with a long poem by Kipling. I told him years later that people asking for help or advice should not send a riddle or puzzle. I had to read the damn poem several times before I had an idea of what he meant.
What happens with my Korean friends. We have a mix of English and Korean. Then, at the key moment, such as deciding if and when we should meet, they switch completely to Korean, with completely new sentence patterns and vocabulary.
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I ate at McDonald's for the first time since I've been back in Seoul. I had the Bulgogi Burger. It was quite good.