Friday, December 17, 2010

Get a US phone number for unlimited sending and receiving texts - US Only

Disclaimer: This process is fraught with communication breakdown, getting multiple services on multiple services working together and is in no way fool proof or 100% reliable. 
I have somehow come up with a way to to combine directions I stumbled upon on and a mobile device such as iPod Touch, iPhone or Android to obtain a US phone number and send, receive and make calls for free. This is a bit of a complicated process, combining a proxy, SipGate, Google Voice, the Google Voice app on iPhone and Android and Fring. While I am an Android user and advocate, this post will focus on the iPod Touch and iPhone due to their prevalence among the expat community here in Korea and abroad.
Following the directions linked above to Lifehacker will enable you to obtain a US number from SipGate just for calls to send and receive calls from your computer for free. There is one issue with getting an account with SipGate: they require you to have a US number to for verification purposes only. They will send you a confirmation code essentially to make sure that bots are not signing up for the service. An easy walk around was having them send the confirmation code to my dad's phone and he simply IM'd me the code.
Note: The following no longer seems to be the case.Unfortunately, SipGate is not available outside of the US; in order to get to their site, first download, install and launch HotSpot Shield. Once this is launched and connected, all web traffic generated by your computer will appear as if it were coming from within the US and not South Korea (or any other country for that matter). Once connected, you can sign up for the service. In order to save time, I will not review the steps already posted in the Lifehacker article but please feel free to contact me through the comment board below with any questions as the steps have altered slightly since Lifehacker published the original post.
I will start this guide assuming you have already obtained your US phone number from SipGate and have set up a Google Voice account.

  1. Texting: once you have obtained the number assigned to you by Google Voice, you can now text anyone in the States and they can text you back. There is no charge sending texts to them and they are charged the cost of a domestic text. In other words, if they have an unlimited texting plan, they will be able to text you under that plan.
  2. Phone Calls: you will be able to make calls for free as long as you have the SipGate client open on your computer. Folks in the States will be able to call you at your Google Voice number and it will be forwarded to the SipGate client on your computer. 
So this is great, right? What could possibly make this better? How about this functionality on your mobile device? If you have a mobile device, simply download the Google Voice app for iPod/iPhone and you can take the texting functionality with you wherever you have an internet connection. But what about the voice?

So essentially, at this point, Google Voice will handle all outgoing calls, outgoing texts and incoming texts. What about incoming calls?

Enter Fring. Fring essentially replaces the need for the SipGate client on your computer and moves it over to your mobile device. Essentially Fring has nothing to do with the texting features of this project nor making calls. Fring simply lets you receive calls made to your Google Voice number for free on a mobile device. 
To set up Fring:
  1. Download Fring here
  2. Once the application is launched, choose a Fring user ID and password. These credentials are only for logging into Fring. 
  3. Once logged in, go to the settings menu and select Add-ons. After being presented with the accounts you can link to Fring, select "Sip". 
  4. To link Fring to SipGate, Go to your SipGate Account page and click on the SIP credentials link. There you will find the information you need to enter into Fring. Enter in the unique SIP-ID and SIP-Password and for the proxy into Fring. Click login. 

You should now be able to receive calls on your mobile device if someone in the States calls your Google Voice Number. 

This is scattered and is a very complicated project to replace Skype, which serves the same functions much more simply but at a price. I hope this will put you on the right track and will help you get in better touch with friends and loved ones back in the Sates.

*Note: this process may in fact work for Canadian users as Google Voice is available in Canada but I have no contacts in Canada and cannot verify that it works.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Hanukkah in Korea

Hanukkah had never meant much to me when I was younger. I thought it was the pretext to Christmas and that the candles were meant as a decorative way to bring in the holiday season. Every year, dad would say the prayer in Hebrew, my brother and I would both be holding the shamas, lighting the candles. My mom would be standing with us at the table. Hanukkah to me was always identified as dad's holiday, and Christmas as mom's. Judaism is very matriarchal in nature, but there was something special about the three men of the family lighting the candles together, uttering ancient words of which I had no understanding.
As time progressed, I understood the story and meaning of Hanukkah a little more; or maybe I should say that I developed my own meaning. Hanukkah is not a major holiday (though it is practiced as such in the States). But the simple act of lighting candles in the dark is a silent testament to existence, to being. It is the speck in the universe declaring that it exists, however illuminating. While some with a pessimistic existential bent may celebrate the banality of such a statement, I celebrate the gravity of it. Nothing has changed in the last few thousand years. We may now have smart phones, email, hectic schedules and everything and everyone vying for our time, but this is no different than it ever was. More often than not, people forget to reflect. As an aside, one of the most meaningful moments of recognizing the Sabbath is to look at one's hands, think about what they have accomplished and what they will accomplish. I believe this is symbolic of the illumination, the declaration of survival, of community, of self-motivated purpose.
Hanukkah never meant that much to me. Until I began to celebrate it alone.
Hanukkah, or any holiday for that matter, never makes a whole lot of sense when celebrating it alone. In college, I had a couple Jewish friends and we would celebrate. But I think we celebrated the commonality of being Jewish (and the fact that we had beer in our possession) more than the spirit of Hanukkah. Or maybe that is the spirit of Hanukkah. I'm not too certain, but it felt right at the time.
After college, I spent my first Hanukkah truly away from home in the Philippines. My first Hanukkah there, I made a menorah out of tin foil and catholic prayer candles (procured by my host mom) and I celebrated with my two younger host sisters whom had never heard of the holiday nor Judaism. They seemed to enjoy the same aspects I did when I was younger, candles are pretty in a dark room after all. I was glad to share the holiday with people but there was still something missing. Later I realized it was intent. I hadn't intended a purpose for the ceremony, just going through the motions.
I decided I would ask my grandma for a real menorah, one of my own and the centerpiece around which I pictured myself building community.
My dad came to visit by the eighth night of Hanukkah during my service in the Philippines.

This was my second Hanukkah away from home but as fortune would have it, home came to me. And to think this is what "broke in" the menorah from my Grandma. This would be the foundation of the community, passing on the baton or, shamas, if you will. We led the prayer together, accompanied by my host mom standing in the background. It felt similar to those days of my childhood, mom joining in silent support of the ceremony of the men.
Emek, IDF Officer
After I got home form Peace Corps, I had the opportunity to go on birthright to Israel for two marvelous weeks. I had learned and experienced a lot there. I think the most important lesson came from the Israeli Defense Force (IDF). An IDF officer told my group that the purpose of the IDF is not to defend Israel but the nation of Judaism, including us in the US. Indeed, the IDF is responsible for rescuing persecuted Jews in Africa, Yemen and Argentina. If an officer in the IDF can dedicate his life and career (as he was serving beyond the term of conscription) to the support and sustenance of a community he had never met, never will meet but is persistant in inspiring his decision, I could invite that same community around my menorah.
By the time I got back from Israel, I knew, more or less, that I was going to Korea.
After I arrived, my dad sent me a box and inside were the menorah from my grandma, proper candles and a dreidel. These were novelties and I keep my menorah proudly on display in my apartment. It looks nicer now that it has wax all the way down it's base.
Hanukkah this year was very personal, in that I was the only person celebrating in my small Korean town. With a menorah used by both my father and I and lessons learned from Emek, the officer in the IDF, I was not truly alone.
Holidays never make much sense when celebrated alone. But my Hanukkah is now about community, not people around the menorah. My Hanukkah is about the speck declaring its existence in the face of an ambivalent universe, surrounding myself with those I love, those I care about, those I have never met and those I never will meet, Jews and gentiles alike.
My Hanukkah required a little improvisation for food.
Seeing as there is no gefilte fish in Yecheon, or most likely in Korea, I substituted with Swedish Fish, sent by my dad. As for the latkes? A can of Pringles sufficed, though I do miss Bubby's latkes with applesauce.
My menorah from my Grandma, a dreidel from my dad and a kipa I bought in the old city of Korea

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

It's Getting Cold

It is currently 29 degrees as I type this...
I woke up this morning, jumped in the shower, made coffee, caught up on Twitter and left the house in a hurry, just like any other morning. But this morning was different. This is what I first saw as I walked through my door:

Snow-capped veggie mounds
I stood in disbelief, jogging my memory trying to remember what this white stuff was. It's been about three years since I have experienced a winter, bouncing around the world (and between hemispheres), working with the Peace Corps in the Philippines and moving to Phoenix after my Peace Corps service. But winter seems to be making up for lost time and is creeping here in Yecheon with a vengeance. I somehow must have spited the winter gods and, as the Spanish proverb goes, revenge is a dish best served cold.
I keep telling myself that I'll get used to the season, having lived in Minnesota for 8 years but my "snow legs" just aren't what they used to be. But the living situation here in Korea is a little different than the islands and pockets of warmth one finds throughout Minneapolis and Saint Cloud.
Let's start with my apartment, heated by hot water pipes running through the floor. Convection floor heating is common throughout the living quarters in Korea. It is awesome and I have noticed vast improvements with my hot-air-related sinus issues. There is a small digital control center with which I dial in the desired temperature and the apartment is gradually heated and my feet stay nice and toasty.
Leaving the apartment is a completely different ball game. Indoor spaces, most of all public spaces, are generally not heated save an electric space heater. People huddle over the heaters, vying for any available space around it at bus stations, train stations and some restaurants.
The teachers' office at my school is heated by two massive electric heaters and the office stays quite warm. Leaving the office is a completely different story, however. The hallways remain quite cold and, more often than not, the windows in the hallways remain open for some inexplicable reason. Students wear full winter garb around school and in the classroom, doing their best to stay warm throughout the school day. In the language lab, we have a large heater such as the one in the teachers' office pictured to the right, that students encircle as if in a rugby huddle before class begins. But there is no place where heat has been more necessary that in the bathroom. The school bathroom is in a separated building with a sliding door and windows which have for the most part remained open, which I suppose is a mixed blessing. With icicle fairies dancing in my head and my bladder filling with the morning coffee, I was waging costs/benefits of racing out to the bathroom. But to my surprise, there was a space heater next to my favorite urinal and the windows had been shut! I just hope this situation stays consistant until I once again can sport shorts and flip flops.
And for your smug pleasure (if you happen to be in warmer climes), a photo taken this morning of a bush and statue just outside of the teachers office in which I am currently sitting.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Transfer Money Abroad from a Nong Hyup Korean Bank Account

A lot of foreigners are concerned about transferring money from their Korean bank accounts to their accounts back in their home country. There are also a lot of rumors about certain banks being unable to transfer money, etc.
Upon arriving in-country, the EPIK orientation program opened accounts with Nong Hyup (logo above) for us with our passport numbers instead of our alien registration card (ARC) numbers as they had not yet been issued at orientation. Nong Hyup is not the best bank in the country, per se, as there are other banks with better English websites and cheaper transfer rates, but it is the most ubiquitous bank in South Korea.
To address two rumors:

  • Contrary to what the folks working at the Nong Hyup branch in Yecheon told me, there is an English website
  • Contrary to what most of the folks in the EPIK program would have you believe, including the people who work for EPIK, it is  possible to transfer money to a bank in one's home country from a Nong Hyop account.
I was very enthusiastic to find that not only was it possible, but it also only cost $30 to transfer online, as opposed to the $60 I paid in fees to both Nong Hyup and Wells Fargo when transferring in-person.
Assuming you already have access to Nong Hyup online to check your balance (you must visit a bank branch in order to obtain this access), here is a set of instructions on navigating the process. Big thanks to Jacky for helping through this process myself.
  1. Go to in Internet Explorer 6 or 7 on a Windows machine.
  2. Click on "Global banking" at the top right of the page, click English
    • If you have checked your balance before, you should have already installed any necessary security software
  3. Click "Log-in" at the upper left hand of the page. Find your digital certificate and enter in your password as if you were checking your balance.
  4. Click the "NH Bank" logo at the very top left of the page. You will remain logged in.
  5. Again, click "Global banking" and select English.
  6. Locate the box towards the bottom labeled "Foreign Exchange"and click the link "Information of Overseas Remittance"
  7. On the left hand side, in the navigation menu, select "Overseas Remittance Request"
  8. Remittance Type: 1: Small Remittance
    • Small remittance is anything less than $1,000. Anything transfer over $1,000 is reported to the U.S. government. To diminished snags and hassles, I recommend keeping transfers under $1,000 and doing multiple transfers over time.
  9. Maintenance Branch
    • Here, click "Search" next to the field. A new window will pop up. Enter in the town of your closest NH branch in Hangul. If you don't have a Hangul keyboard, use this. For example, I enter in "예천".
  10. Foreign Currency: select USD
  11. Amount: enter in 999.99 (or whatever amount you wish to transfer)
  12. Account Pin: NH Pin
  13. Foreign Currency Account Number : Leave the drop down and Amount field blank
  14. Beneficiary Name: Your Name
  15. Bene Account: American Account Number
  16. Bene Address: the billing address registered at your bank in the States
  17. Bene Phone: leave blank
  18. Bene Email: optional
  19. Option: Make sure the "Bank information direct input" radio button is selected
  20. Bene Country: Select USA from the drop down
  21. Bank Name and Branch: Enter in the bank name and local branch nearest your billing address
    • example:
      • Wells Fargo
      • 2200 W DIVISION ST.
      • SAINT CLOUD, MN 56301
  22. Bank Code or other info: Enter in your American bank's routing number.
  23. Under the Customer Information area, enter in your contact information while in Korea.
  24. Leave the "Additional Information" field blank.
  25. At the bottom, click confirm
You will be asked to enter in numbers corresponding to the card you received when signing up for online banking that has a bunch of random numbers on it. If you are alerted that you have not selected an NACF option, select the "gift card" radio button. I have no idea what this does but it worked for me.
I have done two transfers and both have shown up in my American account within 24 hours of processing the transfer online.

*Please note all denominations are in USD and regard transferring to an American bank account.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Thanksgiving Weekend

Thanksgiving this year has been illuminating and fulfilling. Aside from the real point of Thanksgiving, which I'll address in time, the holiday provided opportunity to spend some quality time with some of my dearest friends here whom I rarely get to see. But first I need to retie my shoe laces as they are tight and uncomfortableish.
Ahhhh, much better.
American Thanksgiving is obviously not a holiday here in South Korea and I had to be at school from 8:30 to 4:30 as usual. After school I was able to meet up with Christine and Dave for a celebratory dinner on the day of. Christine and Dave are two among the twelve (or so?) foreign teachers that inhabit humble Yecheon. Ask anyone in Yecheon to name all of the foreigners in town and I guarantee they will be hard pressed to do so. Anywho, Christine is from Texas and Dave from Durban, South Africa. The three of us would have loved to dig into some turkey, mashed potatoes, chicken fried steak (Colin and Dad), corn and pumpkin pie (which I will get to later) but Yecheon's bounty does not include such a marvelous bird and starches. Instead, we went to one of our local favorites, Tang Tang, for some fried chicken and beer. A bird is a bird is a bird when you're living at the mercy of being abroad. It could have been worse, it could have been fish and kimbap, or Korean style maki.
Friday night, moments after school let out (or maybe even moments before that though I'd never admit to it), I took a bus to Daegu wherein I met up with Jacky (whom my readers have met before), Tarrick and Ashley. Tarrick and Ashley were members of me and Jack's orientation group. Daegu was less a celebration of Thanksgiving (though Tarrick and Ashley are both from the States) as much as a layover to head to Hadong early Saturday morning. But all the same, we met up for some drinks at WaBar, a foreign style bar which carries San Miguel, that delectable Filipino pilsen of which I have created and most likely destroyed many memories, happy and sad. After WaBar, we relocated to Organ, a really cool bar in downtown Daegu, but not without a quick pitstop at the greatest invention since the hotdog: pizza in a cup. Bask in its near perfection and be hypnotized by its radiance of melted cheese, peperoni, olives, bell peppers , tomato sauce on a toasted bread thinger in a dixie cup. Never mind the fact that I have 60 Mbps internet, have never lost a bar of reception on my phone, even in the subway, have combo microwaves/convection ovens or can pay for bus and taxi fares by waving my wallet at them. There is no clearer indication of development...neigh enlightenment, than that of a miniaturized pizza in a dixie cup after a couple beers with friends.
And now I'm done gushing. So Tarrick suggested we head to Organ Bar.
"Do they have a decent beer selection?"I ask.
"Yeah, it's ok. They have Asahi," replied Tarrick.
"Well, I did say decent, but never mind that. What do they offer?" I asked.
"They have a great playlist," he said, and began walking with purpose toward the bar, dixie cup of pizza goodness in-hand.
At first glance around the basement-bar, the playlist would be good. Posters of Lou Reed and Pink Floyd (pictured), Sonic Youth, Nick Drake and numerous other icons of music history. Alright, so the company was good, how about the music itself? After sitting down with the gang, we enjoyed listening to the Pixies, Radiohead, Sonic Youth, and many more. They mostly played those oldies but goodies I haven't heard since sitting in the hallways of my high school, plugged into a Sony Walkman. The bar's atmosphere was awesome and the beer selection wasn't half-bad either. They offered Heineken (which I would leave rather than take), Beck's, Beck's Dark (which I took rather than left), San Miguel, Tiger and some others from Germany and Belgium. How I would have loved to do a "world tour" but at about $6.50 a bottle, it would have been a little pricey. After much merry-making, we retreated to the 24-hour McDonalds nearby before calling it a night (I have always known McDonald's as my own personal "M"bassy no matter where I travel).
The next morning, I met back up with Jacky and she and I headed to Hadong to have a traditional American dinner with a dear friend of mine from orientation. I suppose I haven;t mentioned Melinda yet on my blog, but she is one of my closest friends in this turkey-forsaken country.
The funny part about our meeting was that we knew of each other far before we actually met. During orientation, a return Peace Corps volunteer (RPCV) from Albania who is now teaching in Korea did a presentation on adjusting to our new culture (almost play by play out of the PST handbook) and, at her mention of being an RPCV, my hoot was met with another somewhere in the crowd of 500 or so people from seven different countries. After wondering who that other person was, I serendipitously ran into while enduring small talk with her outside a convenience store.
"So YOU'RE the other one!"
Melinda served in Mongolia with her now boy friend Jason. They both now live in Hadong. That was some sloppy exposition, but thanks for baring with me.
So Jacky and I went to Hadong (a total of five and one half hours from my site) to see Melinda and Jason. They had somehow procured a turkey breast, Jimmy Dean sausage for stuffing and pumpkin pie fixings and graciously (though foolishly) invited my hungry self to celebrate Thanksgiving with them.
It was awesome meeting Jason for the first time and catching up with Melinda, whom I have seen only once since orientation. After some time passed, we were accompanied by some of the other foreigners in Hadong. We had a bit of a U.N. style gathering with  someone from Canada, from Ireland, from England, Thailand and those of us representing the United States. Good for Jason and Melinda as they remain pursuant of Peace Corps's second goal, "Helping promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served."

The U.N. over for Thanksgiving
After more merry-making, the bird finally made its glorious debut and time, for jut a moment, stood still.
Yes, it is bacon generously draped over that most glorious of breasts (you know what I mean)
I must say, upon the carving of the bird, I was moved. That smell is sacred. The knife making it's way through the crispy skin was a cattle call and we all lined up for some Thanksgiving goodness.
Fill 'er up!
Pinch Me
We patiently stood in line for the goods Melinda and Jason lugged back to Hadong from Seoul including corn, fresh mashed potatoes, bread rolls, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie (which Melinda fashioned  by hand, including grinding cloves by mortar and pestle).

After all the food porn and documentation of my trip to Hadong, I actually wanted to pause for a moment and share what I am thankful for, other than the food and opportunity to be living in Korea. In light of the current border tension between South Korea and North Korea, I am forever grateful that I come from a country that

  1. Has known peace within its borders for far longer than most places
  2. Is powerful enough to aid South Korea both monetarily and with 30,000+ American service men and women stationed in this country
  3. And finally, has the wherewithal and benevolence to guarantee me and my friends a safe and expedient evacuation if necessity dictates such an action necessary.

Beyond the intangible, I am thankful to have befriended people here in South Korea who make me feel like a part of something bigger than myself. They are my family and I care for them as deeply. I am surrounded by people who care about me, are my friends and are my family when we're all missing home a little.
This Thanksgiving was more than the bird and offered much-needed reflection and warranted much gratitude.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Anniversary of my COS, Philippines

I was talking to a close friend of mine online with whom I served in the Peace Corps, Philippines. It dawned on me mid conversation that it was one year ago today that I signed my close of service (COS) papers. This year has been full of surprises and, because I couldn't say it better myself, "what a long, strange trip it's been."
After I signed my COS papers in Manila, I stayed in the Philippines an extra two months to finish up some of the projects I was working on and manage some proper good byes with the friends and family of mine there.

In-N-Out with Chad
After the two months, I landed in the US and moved in with my aunt, uncle, cousin and dad in Phoenix amidst the economic crises. I picked up a night shift job at Barnes and Noble at Happy Valley and spent my time there working the cafe, book floor, playing Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 with my cousin and/or lighting the midnight oils. Unfortunately, things didn't work out and we lost the house to foreclosure. While my cousin left for greener pastures in San Diego and my aunt and uncle moved to beautiful Prescott, dad and I squatted in the house for an additional two months or so. During this phase, I had begun my application to head to South Korea as well as to Israel for birthright.
My worldly Posessions
Astoundingly, I was accepted into the birthright program and managed to get two weeks off work to head to the Holy Land. The remarkable thing about this maneuver is that my flight left 24 hours before the program in South Korea began interviewing. After a few emails, I finagled an interview for the English Program in Korea (EPIK) program six hours before my plane left for Tel Aviv.
Israel was fun and I made some great friends on that trip.
A few weeks after I came home, I was inundated with EPIK paperwork and getting my things together to move to Minnesota. In June, I moved in with my moms, into the room I had when I was in high school. I finally found a job working at a gas station, slinging pizzas for hungry travelers. The first month or so was great, hanging out with my brother, whom I had not seen since I left for the Peace Corps. He and I have changed so much and it was a pleasure discovering those differences. He and I are still best friends. One of the unfortunate things about my new job was that I worked night shift and never got to see my mom who started work early in the morning.
My Job in St. Joe, MN
After wrestling with the Korean embassy in Chicago, I finally got my papers in order to fly to Korea and begin work as an English teacher in August. So here I am. It's been a weird year, in retrospect and it has been the people who have occupied my time that has made it a blast.
Me and Colin having a "moment"

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Some Exotic Foods I Have Ingested Whilst In South Korea

Stuffing my face as usual

As many of you know by now, I never shy away from eating the rare or exotic, especially when if it involves the flesh and organs of sentient beings. While I had ample opportunity to eat every conceivable part of a pig, among other animals, while in the Philippines with the Peace Corps, a whole new smorgasbord of gastronomic adventures has awaited my ingestion here in South Korea.
While the level of exoticism here in Korea cannot match the grotesqueness of balut (Filipino style hard boiled duck fetus) and the like, I have faced formidable foods here all the same. Unfortunately I do not have pictures of every exotic dish I have devoured. Below are some pictures and otherwise written accounts of those foods that would typically make the Westerner's stomach churn.
As a disclaimer, I am obliged to say that Korean food, by and large, is very sophisticated and flavorful and often times does not include what Westerners would consider exotic. Also, keep in mind that Koreans have been perfecting their craft in the kitchen for thousands of years and have their traditional dishes down to a science. In fact, as Korea develops economically, so has the Korean palet for the inclusion of Western flavors and ingredients. Knowing me as well as most of you do, I have sought out these delicacies and as I have learned, they taste better with chop sticks.

First on the list is eel. During the Yecheon county festival, my coteacher took me out for grilled eel. While this may not seem that exotic, the food presented was slippery, spicy, chewy tubes of what would essentially be sea snakes. It was delicious, but the texture was a little difficult to get over at first. Funny how these things become easier to eat as the quantity of beer with which you ingest them increases.

There have also been some old standbys that I have not eaten since living int he Philippines (like aunt Jan and Uncle Russ would keep anything like this in their house!) such as BBQ'd pig intestines and chicken gizzards. Pig intestines can taste horrific if not cleaned properly, as one can imagine, but the expertise of one local restauranteur has proved to me that clean swine guts can taste marvelous over an open flame. Chicken gizzards are also great anju, or beer food, as it is served salty and provides a very satisfying crunch.

Speaking of crunch, I was privy to a deep fried grasshopper, courtesy of a friend who brought this to me from her village's grasshopper festival. It was crunchy with no innards (not necessarily a bad thing) and a little spicy. This would be great theatre food. Nothing like sitting down to a good movie with a big bowl of buttered, fried grasshoppers between you and a date!

Crawling along, and staying in the realm of the insects, I was able to sample bundaegi, or sauteed silk worm in a spicy broth. These definitely had innards, almost creamy in nature, and not necessarily my cup of tea.

One of the most exotic things I have ever tried anywhere was live squid. Basically, they take a live squid, cut off the tentacles and serve it in front of you on a plate. The tentacles weren't slithering on the plate as they are want to do, but the suction with which they grappled onto my cheeks and tongue was almost painful since I hadn't chewed fast enough. I didn't know they were "live" and found out the hard way. What a surprise!

Next, I suppose, is sundae, or pig intestines stuffed with rice noodles and cooked in pig's blood (for color). Here my friend Dan and I eat the the sundae, accompanied by slices of pig's tongue to round off the exotic factor. I was assured by Dan, who said he ate the stuff as a child, that it was good. I put my full trust in him and wound up enjoying the meal very much.

And finally, for the cous de gras, whale. I tried whale. I know this could potentially upset some people, but the whale was already dead, cut up and on display. I don't condone fishing for whales but I do condone eating foods that people from different cultures have been eating for thousands of years. I had no part in the whale's death. So now that my hands are clean (so to speak), I shall continue the saga. So Mr. Do and I were at the Yecheon festival (mentioned above) and they had whale on display. It is eaten cold and dipped in a seasoned soy sauce. Honest to God, it tasted like gelatinous Hawaiian punch. I think that's enough said.

And, inevitably, one of my favorite songs growing up. Sing along if you know the words:
Great big globs of greasy, grimy gopher guts
Hairy little piggies feat, mutilated monkey meat
And all to top it off with marmaladed vulture vomit

A Very Korean Birthday

Please visit my Picasa page for all the pictures that accompany this post.
I'm sitting here, listening to Bruce Springsteen's "Born to Run," wondering if I might be too old to identify with the desperation and, well, piss and vinegar that I found so appealing about the album as a whole throughout the last few years. But no, I'm still feeling it, rocking out at my desk in the teachers' room at school.
I am 25 years old, a quarter century and I honestly didn't ever picture myself making it this far. I guess it didn't occur to me. Whatever the feelings may be at present, I am glad I am kicking and living in Korea.
I imagined my birthday here to be a low key event with little fanfare. I am lucky to have the quality friends here that I do, both in my town and throughout Korea but celebrating on a Sunday night isn't necessarily convenient. It didn't really occur to me that this mentality left my birthday completely off the radar of my coteacher, Mr. Do. He was surprised to find out last four days before my birthday and as soon as he found out, I could see the cogs turning in his head.
Sunday, about noon, Mr. Do and I, accompanied by one of my best friends in-country, Jacky, went to Mungkyeong Sayjay, about 40 minutes from my hometown. Sayjay is one of my favorite places in Korea, a wonderful place to hike. It is the ancient road connecting my province to Seoul millions of years ago. Anyway, everything in Korea seems that old. The road snakes up a wooded mountain and is marked with three defensive gates (sayjay means three gates). Autumn is my favorite season and I loved walking among the colors of the mountainside. To the top and back is about 2.5 miles. The following are some pics from the glorious autumn walk.

The first gate and the start of our walk

Loves me some changing leaves

This is where buddha reached enlightenment. Just kidding.

Me, Jacky and Mr. Do at the third gate, top of the mountain

Me being super contemplative. Guess I needed one of those "I look wiser because I travel" shots. Pretense is my forte.

I had this picture taken because it represents exactly the kinds of autumn days my mom and I love to share

So that was our walk. At the top of the mountain, we partook in san che jan, which is like a friend pancake type thing made with mountain vegetables. Instead of flour, they used oak powder. One of the peculiar things about this jan specifically is that none of the ingredients came from a garden. All of the ingredients were procured from the forrest. We washed down the jan with herbal makuli, a kind of rice wine derived from sticky rice, ginseng and other herbs.
After our adventure up and down Mungkyeong Sayjay, we went back to the outskirts Yecheon (my hometown) for some bulgogi and a sauna. Bulgogi is almost exclusively for special occasions and Mr. Do treated me and Jaclyna to its wonders, of which I have never indulged before. Bulgogi is thin slices of beef, BBQ'd at the table, with many delicious side dishes. At the same venu, after the meal, we dawned what looked like prison uniforms and crawled into a sauna. But that doesn't even begin to describe the significance of the sauna at all!
The main business of the establishment is actually making charcoal out of oak trees. The owners have built large soil "caverns"in which they char the oak. After the oak is charred and the room has cooled enough, the employees throw rugs into the cavern and people are welcomed to sit in the cavern and sweat. It was awesome on so many levels, but one significant level is that the cavern smelled like Bull's Eye BBQ sauce. The sauna was like nothing I have ever experienced as it was a dry sauna. It felt like Phoenix, riding around in the P.O.S. Ford my dad bought that didn't have any airconditioning in June. However, I must add that this was a pleasant experience, especially the aroma!
Soil Caverns

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Requiem for a Dream

I was standing in the shower today, thinking about where I am now and where I have been. It seems like my life has accelerated beyond my imagination, facing nearly two months in Korea already. But man, thinking about Peace Corps was a trip before my morning coffee and the tug of my dull Mach 3. It seems so long ago, almost like it never happened. Somewhere there are memories, sweat drenched, beer soaked, soar throat memories. Sorting memories of the classroom in San Juan, of the ball park in Dumaguete, of Bo's Coffee in Tacloban, sitting in a nipa hut with friends in Sogod missing home, eating BBQ'd bananas with my coteachers, even the chicken adobo I choked down while in the throes of typhoid. Like images in no particular order and pangs of feelings imprinted somewhere that could never be recorded though still persist. Those days in the Philippines were the best days of my life.
I came to Korea, in part, looking for a fix. I can't say I found it here, though I am having a qualitatively positive experience. I could never consider it a mistake to come to Korea, but I'm afraid the feelings and general well-being of being in the PI are gone and encapsulated in a humid, pressurized kernel, a red pill swallowed long ago.
Amping ka injong tanan Batch 267. Gimingaw kaajo nako ninjo adlawan.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Preaching to the Choir - Digital Natives and the Future of the Internet

I'm sitting, staring at a blinking cursor, wondering where to even begin...
I just finished the book I Live in the Future and Here is How It Works by Nick Bilton. He is the Bits blogger for the New York Times and just recently published the book. In the book, he outlines shifting business models from atoms to bits, like the Times being delivered as an electronic periodical on the Kindle or Nook instead of as printed paper. Aside from the fascinating analysis of the future of digital products and business models, he makes an interesting distinction between "digital immigrants" and "digital natives".
This terminology should be pretty self-explanatory but just in case, a digital immigrant is, in his words, anyone over the age of 25, a native being under the age of 25. Digital natives may also be called Millennials, but the fact of the matter is that they were born into an age wherein the Internet is a given, much like running water and gravity.
I consider myself a digital immigrant, though one who has spent over half his life thinking with a digital mentality. For me, reading I live in the Future on my new Kindle, an ereader, felt natural though it's only the second book I have ever read in that paperless format. I understand the model of the Amazon Kindle store, how to navigate the device and I quickly developed a relationship with the thin plastic gadget akin to that of a book. The differentiation I would like to make, however, is that it was not a process. I simply adjusted to, as opposed to having to relearn, how  to interact with my Kindle as one interacts with a book. In other words there were no analogues, no symbolism. Reading on an ereader was as natural an experience as picking up and holding a book.
Digital immigrants must often create analogues in order to grasp the digital concept and translate the concept in order to understand and process the new experience. For example, reading on the Kindle is like reading a book rather than thinking that reading on the Kindle is reading a book. Analogues are helpful but problematic in that the new digital world is not a series of if this then thats. It's like learning a new language wherein a word in a target language does not have a direct translation to English and the word loses its meaning once loosely translated.
The digital natives command this new language with dexterity and authority; interestingly for me, as a digital immigrant on the cusp, I am teaching digital natives.

The digital generation divide was apparent in the Philippines, teaching my students who quickly learned HTML, computer hardware maintenance and other computer projects, but it wasn't until today, when I taught my Korean students about the history if the Internet, that the divide slapped me in the face.
During my lecture, I touched on when the Internet came into being, why it came into being, a few landmark technologies, such as email, IP and DNS and the possible future of the Internet. After the lecture, I posed the question to my students, "if the U.S. invented the Internet, invested heavily in its infrastructure and 70% of the Internet is in English in large part as a result of American content contribution, who does the Internet belong to?" My students gave me a blank look, which I misinterpreted as their misunderstanding. As I tried to rephrase the question, one student piped in, "everyone" -- exactly the answer I was looking for. As I stood there, I watched students all nod in agreement. Their blank look wasn't that of misunderstanding but that of complete understanding, as if I stood there saying "the sky is blue." Well obviously.
The students knew conceptually what an IP address was, had never heard of DNS and didn't care that Ray Tomlinson invented email, but it didn't matter. Every one of my students has an email address, can navigate the Internet competently and with agility and, as I have come to understand, without needing to know such trivial details. They were born into the Internet and made it theirs as much as I have made it mine. It's as if we as immigrants are given our 40 acres and a mule once we establish a connection to the Internet and we have had to learn the techniques of cultivating our share. Like I said, we immigrants need analogies to understand some of these concepts. The natives on the other hand have been playing in the digital dirt since the beginning, as though there never was a duplicitous approach to the real self and the digital self.

But it got me thinking, what is the future of the Internet, populated by natives. What will the Internet look like when everyone gets their 40 acres and a mule in a world where the zero-sum game is irrelevant? How will the presence of English shift or change as more and more people contribute to this thing? I started thinking about numbers; in 2009, 4.6 billion people, world-wide, had a cell phone. That's about two thirds the global population. In ten years, as smart phones come down in price and global buying power increases, what is stopping every one of the 4.6 billion or more digital natives from connecting to the Internet with pocket-sized computers, carving out their own plot, in their own language, on their own terms?
The Internet is going to look very different in the next ten years, bandwidth and media aside. And who is to say who can and who cannot connect and contribute? The Internet belongs to everyone, duh!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

New Pictures Up on Picasa

I also have some new pictures up on Picasa, check 'em out.

My Apartment

Due to overwhelming demand for a glimpse into my apartment and living conditions, here is a post on the apartment in which I live. But first, a disclaimer: my living situation is not typical and I have been very fortunate; I live in the building owned by my coteacher. It is a large two-story house wherein he lives on the second floor and there are three apartments, including my own, on the bottom. Most foreign teachers live in studio apartments, meaning that the bedroom, kitchen and living room are one room, the only separate room being the bathroom. That said, we are guaranteed certain elements such as a fridge, washing machine, microwave, a gas or electric range and bed, to name a few. See below for more details, after the pics.

My kitchen
My dining area
My den/living room
My bedroom
My bedroom
My deck and chair
Moving into a place of your own, for the generation who grew up on video games, feels a whole heck of a lot like playing The Sims, without the rosebud cheat code (much to my chagrin). I have spent the better part of my last paycheck amassing and coordinating things. A friend of mine on Twitter, who served with the Peace Corps in Cameroon once said that Peace Corps makes one more materialistic. I'm indeed discovering the legitimacy of this observation with a paycheck and a place of my own.

Monday, September 27, 2010

My New Haircut

As many of you know, I have been rocking a buzz cut since I graduated college and in that tradition, it was time to get my hairs cut as the last such incident happened before Brian and Kari's wedding. Anyhow, I was far from shaggy, but having just been paid, it was time for the buzz.
I have never had a problem getting a buzz cut no matter where I have travelled. The "barber shop social script," as I like to refer to it, is a well worn path, especially when all one needs to do is point to the clippers and raise two fingers in reference to the length at which I want my hair cut.
I explained this plan to my coteacher, to which he responded its impossibility. But why? Because everything in Korea is different of course! After his brief explanation, he took out a post-it and wrote instructions for style and length that I would give to the barber upon arrival. The barber spoke little to no English and, after delivering the post-it, the inevitable charades began confirming the instructions.
The barber pulled out the 90mm, battery-operated clippers from a drawer and began buzzing my head in patches. My hair was looking something awful; by the time the battery-powered clippers gave up the ghost (I think it was having culture shock with hair thicker than what it has been used to), I had a luxurious reverse mullet.
"Oh my God!," I thought, "I'm going to have to find some hair clippers quick style before school tomorrow."

I wish I knew I was in the hands of an artist, but up to this point, how could I have known? He pulled out a comb and scissors and, Edward Scissorhands style, his tools of the trade started flying around my noggin and all I felt was the breath of his hands maneuvering in perfect orbit. It reminded me of that scene in the live-action Ninja Turtles movie where the foot clan is training and they throw a smoke bomb to the floor, having to grab all the bells from a mannequin without making a sound before the smoke dissipates. After the cut, we went over to a sink, I lowered my head over a bucket in the sink and he began vigorously applying and massaging mentholated shampoo and conditioner into my scalp and hair. Needless to say, this felt amazing!

Now I was thinking by this point that I have been spoiled by Filipino haircuts. Filipinos clean up edges of a buzz cut with a straight razor; not only does this feel amazing but it looks pretty darn sharp as well. And the moment of truth...
At first he put a pillow behind my head, flipped a lever and the back of my chair flew backwards. He dipped a towel in a rice cooker heating water and put it across my face. As the towel warmed my skin, I heard the clinking of wood on ceramic. Could it be true? Is he really...?
Yes! He pealed the towel from my face and began applying a rich lather around my face and forehead (to get the edges of the hairline) with a soft brush. He sat and began the shave with straight razor, the second time I have ever had such a treatment. After he shaved my face to the point where it felt like a beach ball covered in KY, he began shaving my ears and between my eyebrows. I swear he shaved every invisible hair on my head. But that's not all. After fixing up a few spots, he took very small scissors and began trimming my nose hairs! This was a first!
By the end of the process, during which not a word was spoken, I had the dumbest smile on my face, high on endorphins and ready to shell out the equivalent of $50 for this most exhilarating of treatments. As is common here in a goods and service exchange between a foreigner and a Korean, I handed him my cell phone to dial out the total of the bill as my Korean numbers skills aren't what they should be. And the total? Seven dollars.
I walked all the way home with the biggest, dumbest smile on my face.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Free Internet Phone Calls to the US and Canadian Cell Phones and Landlines

Hey all,
I was poking around some settings and have discovered a free way for people here in Korea (or in any country for that matter) to call US and Canadian landlines and cell phones for free until the end of the year.
What you need:

  1. A free Gmail account
  2. Hotspot Shield (Mac or PC), a free web proxy
First, you need to download and install Hotspot Shield.
  1. Install and launch Hotspot Shield. Once installed, click the red badge and click "connect".
  2. After clicking "connect", a browser tab will open up and show that it is trying to connect. Basically what it is doing is dialing into a server in California. That server will then access whatever web services you choose so it looks like all your web traffic is being generated in California, not, for example, in Korea. 
  3. If you successfully connect, the red badge from before will turn green. You can now close the tab or window with the connection information.
  4. Next, log into your gmail account. You must make sure that English (US) is your selected language. To check, click on the Settings link on the top right of the Gmail web page. Next, find "Language:" and select English (US) from the drop down menu. Next, scroll to the bottom and click "Save Changes".
  5. Go back to your inbox and make sure chat is enabled. In the chat window, there should now be a phone icon. Click the phone icon. You may need to install a small piece of software. Follow the instructions if it needs to be installed.
  6. When the phone icon is clicked, a dial pad will be displayed. Simply dial the number you wish to call and it will place the call from your computer free of charge to any number in the US or Canada. Keep in mind, Hotspot Shield must be active and connected for this to work.
If you have any questions, let me know. I'm happy to help.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

I'm alive and well

Well folks, it's been a while, hasn't it? Sorry I have been M.I.A. since I arrived in this beautiful country. I offer no excuses other than things keep popping up, whether they be social calls, ironing (ugh!), emergency Pringles runs to the 7-11, etc.

at my desk in the office
I am teaching at Dae Chang high school in Yecheon. I work with four co-teachers, one of which is my main co-teacher, Mr. Do Gi Choel. I teach about 4-5 classes a day on average and am at school from 9 to 5 or 6 depending on if I have an after-school class or not. Korean high schools are three years long and I work with first and second years exclusively as the third years spend all year preparing for exams. The students' English abilities are not stellar but they are very hard workers and they love bantering with me. I have been told that I look like Eminem, Justin Timberlake and David Beckham. I'm fairly certain it's because I am white and I have short hair, but I'll take them all as compliments.
I digress. I have had the opportunity to hand-select students for an intensive English Conversation class every Wednesday and Friday. Mr. Do, my head co-teacher had students interview for positions in the class and I got to pick the best 10. With the 20 students, I am developing a penpal relationship with my former students at San Juan National High School, my school when I was in Peace Corps Philippines. Sir Erwin (my co-teacher in the Philippines) and I are in the process of pairing students.

Otherwise, my home life is great. I have a swank, one-bedroom apartment, complete with airconditioning, a full kitchen, washing machine, TV, 50Mbps internet and iTV (TV that comes in through the internet as opposed to cable). I have also acquired a Play Station 3 from another foreign teacher here in Yecheon, borrowing it until she returns home. The best part about this acquisition? I can now stream movies and TV shows from my laptop to the TV. It is the ultimate entertainment setup.

catfish soup
I live directly below my co-teacher, Mr. Do. This is a great situation for many reasons, but primarily, I get invited to a couple family dinners a week, masterfully prepared by his wife. Aside from the dinner invites, I have been invited out to eat with them. We had a delicious soup consisting of two whole, fresh catfish from our local river swimming in a red hell-broth that brought forth sweat, snot and tears of joy. One of the marvelous things about eating out in Korea is that so much of the food is prepared at your table. It's fun watching the food cook while sitting, snacking on pickled side dishes, chatting and being enchanted by the smell of simmering soups, BBQing meats and the ambience of meals cooked there previously.

Hopefully sometime this week I will post pics of my apartment, of Yecheon and embellish my posts with more detail about daily life here in this town of 50,000 people.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Traveling in Style

I finally met up with Shaun 250* at the airport and after a last meal of McDonald's and coffee, we went to the gate to see fi we could sit next to each other. After, getting our seats reassigned, we sat and chatted for the remainder of the hour and one half until departure. We began boarding and there was a slight problem with our boarding passes and we were again instructed to speak to the gate attendant (or “Gatekeeper” as I like to call them). We were informed by the woman at the desk that we had been upgraded to business class at no additional charge and to proceed to the plane.
Say what!?
While this was a welcome surprise, Shaun 250 and I paid merely a student's price for our tickets, at least $500 under what business class costs otherwise. We were escorted to amazing robotic seats which has controls for every angle of the seat, including a motorized, adjustable lumbar support (thank God!). Now this has turn into a 13 hour flight I don't want to end.
Not only can I stick my legs straight out, but there is a “sleep” button on the seat that essentially turns the seat into a very comfy bed. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
Upon being escorted to our seats, attendants began services immediately with water, orange juice and champaign, all while referring to us by our last name, “would you like more orange juice, Mr. Stanhill?” “Um, yes please!” After take-off, they began service with warmed nuts and wine, followed by an appetizer plate of seared tuna on a bed of edamame and seaweed, cream of asparagus soup, cheeses and grilled, chilled bell peppers. After we whet our, a fresh, green salar with nuts, craisins, spinach, romain lettuce and balsamic vinaigrette lasted us unti the main dish of spicy Korean beef was delivered with a choice of three breads, rice, spicy bean paste and pickled root crop of a yellow constitution. Beyond the eccentricities of the main course, we were offered three kinds of deserts. I opted for the cheese plate with accompanying glass of port, naturally. The service has been a sustained quality found at restaurants like Ocean Club Grill in Scottsdale and Morton's of Chicago, the flight attendants personal, courteous and attentive. Shaun and I still can't figure why we were upgraded but it's a fabulous way to travel into the unknown, in style and comfort.

*According to the order in which we joined the EPIK Fall group on Facebook, members accrued nicknames in intervals of 50. I, for examples, was the 200th member to join and am therefor called Sean 200 on the forum. Time will only tell if this name will stick. When in the Philippines, there was another volunteer named Sean and I went by Sean Two, he being Sean One.