Lotte World is the Copyright Infrigement-filled Korean Disneyland

Welcome to Lotte World!Ever since I first got to Korea I wanted to visit Lotte World, one of the theme parks around Seoul.  I had heard it was essentially a complete ripoff of Disneyland, castle and everything.  The only problem was that for nearly eleven months, nobody would go with me and the last thing I wanted to be was that person walking around alone in an amusement park that parents tell their children to stay away from.  Finally, as the end of my year in Korea is in sight, I convinced people to go with me and I got to experience the copyright infringement-filled wonder that is Lotte World.

Lotte World is split up in two different parks; Magic Island, which is the outdoor park, and Adventure, which is the indoor park.  We decided to do Magic Island first since it was about 70 degrees and sunny, the first time we had seen that combination since October.  Magic Island is where many of the bigger rides are, such as the Atlantis (a roller coaster) and the Gyro Drop (Lotte World’s version of Tower of Terror without the haunted hotel theme).  In the middle of Magic Island is a castle that bears a very striking resemblance to a certain other castle in Orlando.

AdventureAfter finishing up everything we wanted to do on Magic Island, we headed inside to Adventure.  The indoor park was giant.  It stretched out over four floors and even included and ice skating rink in the middle.  The rides weren’t as big or thrilling once we got inside but they were fun in a tacky and cheesy way.  My personal favorite part of Adventure was just how blatantly obvious the copying of Disney was, even more so than on Magic Island.  Nearly every ride had a “cousin” in Disneyland that was easily identified.  For example, the Adventures of Sinbad was essentially the Korean Pirates of the Caribbean and Pharaoh’s Fury was Lotte World’s Indiana Jones.  Just as people at Disney parks walk around wearing mouse ears, people at Lotte World wear various animal ears as they manage their way from ride to ride.  I opted for tiger ears.

While Lotte World probably won’t win the world record for the greatest roller coasters or the scariest rides, it did have a certain charm that made it a very enjoyable Sunday activity.  If Disneyland is the happiest place on Earth, Lotte World is at least the happiest place in Korea.

Lotte World

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Pulling a Moses and Parting the Korean Seas

Parting of the SeasOne of Korea’s many odd festivities is the Parting of the Seas Festival that takes place every spring on Jindo Island.  Once a year the tides go down so low that the seas “part” and Jindo Island connects with another island.  While crossing the tidal flats probably wasn’t as dramatic as parting the Red Sea a la Moses, my trip to Jindo was entertaining nonetheless and gave me a chance to see a part of Korea I know I wouldn’t have seen otherwise.

Sea life! When we got to the Parting of the Seas Festival the sea was still a few hours from parting and we had just finished a grueling 6-hour bus ride on the world’s least comfortable bus in existence.  To stretch our legs and revel in the joy that comes with having room to move again, we set out and explored all the booths and had a few drinks by the beach.  From the beach we could see countless Koreans filling bags with seaweed.  As someone who detests the taste of seaweed, these giant bags looked about as appetizing as the mud that was slowly emerging as the tide lowered.

Stripper Rain BootsWhen it was about time for the tide to reach its lowest point, we headed to the spot the path to the other island would soon emerge from.  Before we could cross we had to put on thigh-high, neon orange rain boots as part of the crossing involved trudging through seaweed marshes.  Once we had our new, ever-so-sexy footwear on, we pushed our way through the crowd and raced across to the other island before the tide came back in.  As we got further out the ground became rockier and tide pools revealed starfish and octopuses that were bottom dwellers about a half hour prior to me seeing them.

In addition to seeing various forms of aquatic life slithering about the rocks and shells, I was also able to witness even more seaweed harvesters lining up the path from island to island.  Many of them had sailed to a spot they knew the water would be completely receded from and waited for their boats to eventually be lowered to dry land where they could maximize their seaweed scavenging without having to push past the thousands of other festival goers.  In the spirit of the festival, I took a piece of seaweed from the water but lost it somewhere in the crowd.  Somehow, I think I might find a way to live.

The tide was only out for about an hour and a half so we were only at the festival for a few hours.  Once we crossed back to Jindo Island, we had to get back on the Medieval torture device known as my bus back to Seoul.  Despite the short duration of the actual Parting of the Seas, the festival was well worth the long bus ride.  After all, any experience that involves a festival with a biblical name pun as a title is a-okay in my book.

Pulling a Moses

My Trip to a Park Centered Around a Very Specific Male Reproductive Organ

Penis ParkEver since I got to Korea I have thought of it as America in 20 years technology-wise but America in the 1950s when it comes to social structure.  Gender and family roles are much more visible in Korea, even in the ultra-modern Seoul, than I have ever noticed in the US.  With this in mind, I was shocked when I discovered that in a town a few hours outside of Seoul was a park dedicated to the penis.  Feeling that this was entirely too random of an experience to pass up, I headed to Samcheok with a few friends and went to Haesindang, the penis park of Korea.

The story behind Haesindang is almost as amusing as the park itself.  I’ve run across a few variations of the tale online, but I’m going to give my favorite version of why Haesindang exists.  Long ago, there was a couple engaged to be married who were madly in love.  The man was a fisherman who went out to sea a lot.  The woman loved to eat what he brought home and on the morning of their wedding, the man went to the beach to quickly fish up something to surprise his bride.  Unfortunately there was a storm and freak tidal wave took him out sea, killing him.  Filled with grief, the woman threw herself into the sea as she no longer had anything to live for.

Penis Park BeachIt turns out that not even death could contain her grief.  Apparently losing the love of her life was only part of her devastation.  As this was many years ago, engaging in certain physical aspects of love outside of marriage was a major no-no and she was also more than a little bit disappointed about not having been able to see exactly how her fisherman sailed his ship to shore, metaphorically speaking.  Because of the anger at her situation, the woman haunted the town after her death, blocking the fisherman from catching anything and, as a result, impoverishing the village.

HaesindangOne day a man passing by the beach the ghost woman killed herself at realized he needed to answer nature’s call.  Facing the ocean, the man relieved himself, catching the eye of the ghost woman.  After finally seeing what was going on below the opposite sex’s belt, the woman was able to rest in peace and fish returned to the village, letting it prosper once more.  To stop this from ever happening again, the fishermen built giant phallic statues on the coast.  Why Hollywood has yet to be turn this into a major motion picture is beyond me.

Regardless of whether any of this is based of fact or if it is entirely fictional, the park turned out to be an amusing getaway.  The coastal location was gorgeous and it was pretty close to a few caves we ended up walking through as well.  While it probably won’t be competing with Disneyland to become the next great family vacation spot, Haesindang was well worth the $2.00 admission fee.  Take that, Magic Kingdom.

A Very Korean St. Patrick’s Day

Korean Irish Fest

St. Patrick’s Day is really focused on all things Ireland, so what is there to do on March 17 in Seoul (essentially the complete opposite of Ireland)?  The answer is simply to celebrate anyway.

I went to the Irish Fest in Sindorim, which was every bit as green as an Irish Fest back home might be.  People were dancing, a Korean U2 cover band played, and  there was even Irish bread available for a 2,000 won donation to help build a memorial for the Irish victims of the Korean War (because apparently they exist… well, existed).  Though the crowd was primarily foreigners there was still a significant amount of Koreans out celebrating a holiday I never thought would have made it to this part of the world.  After the Irish Fest, we all went to Itaewon, the major foreigner section of Seoul.  A lot of the bars seemed to be having specials of some sort so we spent the majority night barhopping.  I ended up going to one bar that was supposed to have Irish bands playing all night who ended up being a lot of the same performers I saw earlier at the Irish Fest but, after a few pints of Guinness, I wasn’t really bothered that much.

So even though my St. Patrick’s Day was more kimchi-oriented than would have ever thought possible, the day ended up being a lot of fun.  But just to give everyone out there reading this an idea of what exactly a Korean St. Patrick’s Day is like, I present to you the Korean U2 cover band:

End of the School Year

After the kindergarten graduation ceremony, the students at ECC still had about a week of classes before the end of the school year.  Knowing that many of my students would be changing after the week, I came to class prepared by bringing my camera and going all kinds of picture crazy.  Sadly (especially in the case of Mercury class), I don’t teach many of these kids anymore as we got our new classes on Friday.  Some of my new students do seem to have pretty strong personalities so here’s to hoping the last third of my year in Seoul is just as interesting as the first nine months.  And now, without further ado, I present to you:  my classes.

Dennis!Dennis finished his last kindergarten assignment ever!

Dennis and Dylan!We’re done with kindergarten!

Stella!Yum!

LilyMy eraser fell off the table!  The world is ending!

Daniel and Danny!Coloring time!

Prime Class!Obligatory peace sign time!

Sunny!Sunny (and more peace signs)!

Kevin!Working… kind of.

Korean Kindergarten Graduation Is More Elaborate Than My High School Graduation

Since the Korean academic calendar goes from March to March, the students at ECC are all about to move up a grade.  Most students seem excited because in Korea age is a big deal; the older you are, the more respect you get.  Nowhere is this mindset more apparent than with the kindergarten kids.  They are about to go to elementary school and based off their discussions I discovered the process of getting into a good elementary school in Seoul is a lot like getting into a good college back home.  First they apply, then they take tests, then they get accepted, waitlisted, or rejected.  Apparently there are a lot of politics that goes into the admissions process, including bribes and grandfathering in less deserving students based on family ties with older siblings.  When the students all found out which school they would be attending, they either shared their good news with the class or sulked and looked for sympathy because they didn’t get accepted to the school their parents wanted them to go.

The Ants and the GrasshopperThis intense time in the life of a Korean kindergartener came right as their graduation ceremony approached.  I didn’t have a kindergarten graduation.  I didn’t have an elementary school or middle school graduation either.  My first graduation came when I was 18 and finishing high school.  To say that my high school graduation and this kindergarten graduation were similar would be like saying North and South Korea are similar just because they both have the word Korea in their names.  This kindergarten graduation was more like a variety show put together for the parents who wanted one last photo op before their babies were no longer babies.  Each of the five classes performed a play and sang songs.  Mercury, the class I teach, acted out “The Ant and the Grasshopper,” that story about hardworking ants and a playful grasshopper that is supposed to teach kids to work hard so they don’t die of starvation come winter.

After the play, Mercury class did a rendition of Billy Joel’s “Uptown Girl.”  Why?  Your guess is probably as good as mine.  The kids had been singing that song in class while they were doing their workbooks for the past month or so but I didn’t know it was for graduation.  I just thought they learned random American songs from commercials or something else playing on TV.  They knew all the words and even had choreography.  I’m beginning to think Mercury might have a few students become new members of NSYNC and the Spice Girls.

Graduated

My Relationship With Korea (As Told by Dunkin’ Donuts)

Black Coffee!Let me start this story out by stating that Koreans tend to drink Americanos rather than plain, brewed coffee.  Dunkin’ Donuts is one of the few places in all of Seoul that sells my regular, brewed black coffee; no unwanted frivolities added.

The walk between my apartment and work takes about fifteen minutes and a couple times a week I like to stop in at the Dunkin’ Donuts on the way.  The first thing anyone sees when they enter the store is an old man behind the cash register next to the coffee machines.  This man works the counter every weekday at approximately 11:00 AM, right when I walk by the store.  He doesn’t look friendly.  In fact, he looks downright angry.  When people say not to judge a book by its cover, they are not talking about this man as he actually is just as unpleasant as his appearance suggests which is why I call him Coffee Nazi in my head.

When I first ordered coffee from him almost eight months ago I used my (very) broken Korean and asked for a black coffee to go.  He replied with “No.”  Nothing else.  I stood there for a few seconds not realizing if he got confused with “no” and “okay” but when I saw he wasn’t moving I got the hint and went on my way.  A few days later I tried my luck again and I got another no.  This process continued for a couple of weeks.  Finally, just as I was losing hope, I went back inside and asked for my coffee, as I had done countless times before.  For some reason, the old man decided I met the requirements that day and deserved coffee, but as he gave it to me he said in a very deep, raspy voice “I… don’t… like… America.”  I was just as speechless as I was when he denied me coffee the first time.

After this encounter I still wasn’t guaranteed coffee.  It was a 50/50 shot at best.  Over time, though, I started getting coffee more than I was being refused service and the Coffee Nazi frequently asked me questions.  They were oftentimes insulting questions, but at least he was making conversation.  He asked me about my favorite Korean foods and when I told him what they were he said I was wrong.  He asked me if I was married and when I said no he said good.  He even went so far as to tell me he does not like black coffee as he was giving me my order one time.

Nothing is official, but all this seems to have changed.  Today I went in for coffee at 11:00  for the first time since my school’s winter camp finished.  During winter camp I went in at 9:00 AM and a pleasant part-time barista/part-time piano teacher gave me coffee and practiced her English with me as she was preparing it.  As I found out today, absence really does make the heart grow stronger.  When the Coffee Nazi saw me he gave me the customary quazi-bow most workers in stores do as customers come in.  This alone was enough to nearly knock me to the floor.  When I went to order my coffee I decided to splurge and got a donut.  Not just any donut, but the bigger king-sized donut.  Coffee Nazi rang up my order and only charged me for the smaller, regular donut.  Not only that, he gave a half-smile as I walked away.

It might not sound like much, but the little 50 cent discount and the semi-smile is akin to anyone else in the world spontaneously giving me a car.  As sad as it sounds, this completely-out-of-left-field gesture of kindness made me much happier than a simple coffee and donut ever should have.  Although Coffee Nazi is pretty atypical when it comes to the majority of the Korean people I’ve encountered this gradual warming has been a good representative of my time in Korea.  A big initial shock, followed by some resentment, which in turn faded as time went by until it nearly disappeared completely.  Now let’s just hope this ceasefire in the new Korean War remains in effect for the duration of my contract.

My Japanese Chinese New Year Vacation

Lunar New Year, more commonly known as Chinese New Year in America, hit Seoul a few weeks after the start of 2012 and the entire country of Korea went on vacation.  While most people use this opportunity to visit family in their home towns, I took advantage of the long break to head off to Japan.  At this point, it had been nearly a month into my school’s intensive winter camp and a break from everything work related was drastically needed before I would have eventually gone crazy and thrown a child out the window.

TokyoI went to Japan with a couple of my co-workers and we decided to split the trip up and do two different cities: Tokyo and Kyoto.  Tokyo, as 99% of the world probably knows, is the largest city in the world and seemingly oozes out neon while Kyoto, as fewer people may be aware of, is the ancient imperial capital that has great examples of classic Japanese architecture around every corner.

The first stop was Tokyo.  Compared to Tokyo, any city in the world looks like a small town out in western Kansas.  The buildings are giant and stretch out farther than the eye can see in every direction.  We stayed in the Shinjuku area, a dense, neon-coated part of the city.  In Shinjuku we walked around the canyons of skyscrapers to a park and took in the sights before heading up to the top of the Municipal Government Building.  From the top of the Municipal Government Building we got our first view of just how massive the city is.  There wasn’t a spot as far as the eye could see that remained undeveloped until Mount Fuji way out in the distance.  Shinjuku is also home to Kabukicho, Tokyo’s red light district.  In addition to gawking at the blatantly obvious hookers and naughty nurse billboards the size of buildings we also managed to squeeze in dinner and a karaoke session in our own private karaoke room overlooking the Tokyo skyline.

View from ShinjukuIn Tokyo, there are what feels like millions of 20-somethings wandering around the city dressed like the lovechild of Hello Kitty and Ozzy Osbourne and this group seems to have their headquarters centered in the Harajuku district.  Harajuku is more low-rise and pedestrian-oriented neighborhood than the rest of Tokyo.  In addition to admiring the outrageous fashion, there are also plenty of restaurants and shops for everyone to stay occupied.  After exploring Harajuku we went to Shibuya, Tokyo’s equivalent to Times Square.  Shibuya is probably best known for the intersection in which a football stadium’s worth of people cross the streets every two minutes.  After crossing the street multiple times and getting swept away in the sea of people, we went to a pachinko parlor.  Pachinko is the Japanese version of gambling.  Gambling for money is illegal in Japan so people instead gamble for little metal balls, which are in turn exchanged for cash.  Oh the crazy Japanese and their loopholes.  Pachinko parlors are all over the city and the actual game of pachinko is like an odd, flashy mixture of a slot machine and pinball.  When we finished gambling away our life savings we walked back around Shibuya and admired the neon-center of the city at night.

ShibuyaOn our last day in Tokyo we headed to the river to take a boat cruise to get a view of the skyscrapers from the river.  Our boat took us from Asakusa in the north down to the Tokyo Tower in the south.  The Tokyo Tower is a bright orange full-size reconstruction of the Eiffel Tower.  We went up right before sunset to see the city in the daytime and then gradually turn into the lights Tokyo is known for at night.  Despite some rain, the view was unlike anything I had ever seen before.  After descending the tower we left for Tokyo Station where we got on an overnight bus to Kyoto.  The seats on the bus turned into beds and not once in my life have I ever slept so well on a moving vehicle.

Kinkaku-jiWe got to Kyoto at about 7:00 am.  The first thing we saw was Kinkaku-ji, a temple in the hills made from gold.  The temple itself in addition to the surrounding gardens were absolutely gorgeous.  Apart from the temple, there was nothing man-made in sight, something nearly impossible to come by in Korea.  Up next was the To-ji shrine, the tallest pagoda in Japan and it really was tall.  From To-ji we took a bus to the Fushimi Inari shrine.  The Fushimi Inari shrine is the tunnel of orange pillars that is on the cover of countless Japan guidebooks.  Like Kinkaku-ji, there was plenty of the nature around the shrine that both Tokyo and Seoul lack.  After a day of temples and shrines, we spent the evening in Gion, the geisha district of Kyoto.  Gion is a district of Kyoto with blocks and blocks of traditional architecture.  The old buildings and the geishas walking down the sidewalk fully dressed in their kimonos and face paint in a completely non-touristy way was like being a different universe when compared to the modern lights of Tokyo.  After dinner and sake we got back on another night bus to take us back to Tokyo to get on a flight bound for Seoul.

Fushimi Inari ShrineJapan was one of the strangest, coolest places I have had the privilege of visiting.  The amazing food (sushi, udon, tempua, surprise wasabi appearances, and a never-ending supply of sake), the perfect contrast of Tokyo and Kyoto (which were both outstanding on their own), and unique mix of old and new were all reasons that make me want to look into teaching in Japan sometime in the future.  The only downside is that Japan is insanely expensive, but who needs money when sake is (relatively) cheap and plentiful?

Sushi

New Year’s in China for the Non-Chinese New Year

Tiananmen SquareIn Asia, celebrating the new year on January 1 isn’t the biggest of holidays.  It’s not even the biggest of New Year’s celebrations over here.  On this side the Pacific, Lunar New Year, which usually occurs a few weeks after the other New Year, is the more widely celebrated one.  This is the holiday known as Chinese New Year in America, although in actuality this day is celebrated by many Asian countries other than China, including Korea.  Even though Koreans seem to identify more with the Lunar New Year than the one on January 1 my school still had a vacation.  My school never has days off so I decided to do something dramatic and make the most of my time off by going to Beijing, China.

Forbidden CityI went to Beijing with three of my coworkers.  We signed up for a package with an English speaking travel agent in Seoul and got our flight, meals, accommodations, and entrance fees to attractions all for a pretty good deal.  We flew into Beijing and were picked up by Charlie, our guide who looked far more like the reincarnation of Buddha than most people do.  Charlie wasted no time and immediately took us to Tiananmen Square, where we took a few photos and walked over to the Forbidden City.  The Forbidden City, former home of the Chinese emperor, was my favorite thing I saw in China.  The entire palace complex seemed like it could have been an actual city in it’s own right, it was that massive.  The regal architecture and intricate details that are found on everything surpassed any palace I saw in Europe, including Versailles.  After walking around the Forbidden City in below freezing temperatures the group headed to a tea tasting where where we tried various kinds of herbal teas.  I ended up buying some and it’s probably the best tea I have had in my entire life.  This trip taught me that if the Chinese know one thing, it’s how to make truly amazing tea.

Great Wall of ChinaThe next day we got up bright and early and headed to the Great Wall.  The wall is actually about an hour and a half outside Beijing, which means it goes through the more rugged mountains and provides a more secluded feeling than anywhere else I visited on the trip.  Climbing the Great Wall was what I looked forward to the most before I got to China and it did not disappoint.  It’s hard to appreciate how huge the wall is until you are standing on it and there is no end in sight.  After a few hours of walking up and down the hills on the wall we headed back to the city and went to the Summer Palace.  The Summer Palace is where the emperor spent the warmer months of the year.  It houses an enormous lake, a giant temple, and, like the Forbidden City, some great examples of classic Chinese architecture.  My visit to the Summer Palace, unfortunately, was in the middle of winter so the lake was iced over and snow covered the ground but I was still blow away by everything about it.

Summer PalaceThe group decided to hit up Beijing’s markets on the third day and get out haggle on.  These markets are packed full of anything you could ever want, from knock-off Gucci to electronics to tacky souvenirs.  Haggling is expected and it was pretty fun going back and forth with the shopkeepers.  I ended up buying a t-shirt with terrible grammar, a Chairman Mao shot glass, a set of chopsticks, a couple of dragon statues, and a watch with Mao waving his hand as the second hand ticks.  When everyone was finished supporting Chinese capitalism we headed over to the Yonghe Lama Temple, an active Buddhist temple right in the middle of the city.  The temple had a few different pavilions, each with their own courtyards and statues of Buddha.  People were burning incense and praying at each statue and I thought it was very interesting seeing local people doing a simple daily activity of theirs away from all the major tourist sights.

That night we went back out to another market, the Wangfujing Snack Street.  This is the famous street where vendors sell anything that was once alive deep fried and served on a stick.  Seahorses, starfish, and scorpions were probably the most popular items available though there was also ostrich, pigeon, and more dumplings than I thought humanly possible available.  I ate a scorpion and a sparrow fetus.  The scorpion tasted a bit like popcorn and the sparrow fetus was like really chewy chicken.  While neither one triggered my gag reflex, I don’t think I will be indulging in them in the near future.

HutongOn the last day of the trip we went to a hutong, an old neighborhood in Beijing.  Hutongs are all over the city.  They are made up mostly of alleyways and densely packed low-rise houses.  We took a rickshaw ride through one of the hutongs, visited a man’s home, and got a pretty good idea as to what living in a hutong was like.  After the hutong we went to the Temple of Heaven.  Like much of what I had seen the past few days, one of the first things I noticed about the Temple of Heaven was its enormousness.  The Temple of Heaven was more like a park than a temple.  People congregated for exercise, games of cards, and just to socialize.  When I was there I saw people dancing with ribbons, playing hacky sack, and listening to singers performing little concerts.

Temple of HeavenAfter exploring the Temple of Heaven, we headed for the airport to catch our flight back to Seoul.  Even though I was only in Beijing for a few days I really enjoyed the city.  Beijing was just as good as, if not better than, cities like London or Paris at a fraction of the price.  The sights were outstanding and the food was among the best I’ve had anywhere.  Panda Express has nothing on the real China.

A Very Korean Christmas

Christmas in PyeongchangDespite the fact roughly half the population of Korea is Christian (a result of the heavy American presence in Korea since the Korean War), Christmas is in no way as big of a deal in Seoul as it is in the US.  Christmas is actually more of a Valentine’s Day-like couple’s holiday than the day of presents, family, and food that comes every December 25 in America.  I tend to enjoy Christmas.  I like the tacky decorations, lights, and just overall positive outlook on life that comes around at the end of every year.  Since Seoul seems to be missing almost everything that makes American Christmas great, I decided to do something to put me in a festive mood:  I celebrated winter by going skiing in Pyeongchang, the future host of the 2018 Winter Olympics.

The day before my ski trip, my work had its office holiday party at a restaurant down the street from the school.  Korea has a gigantic drinking culture and work parties over here have a reputation of being completely drunken affairs where managers are literally pouring shots down the throats of their employees.  This was my first office party in Korea and I found that everything I had heard was 100% true.  The entire time I’ve been at YBM ECC my manager has said maybe four sentences to me, despite the fact that I teach both her children.  At the office party I coincidentally grabbed the seat at dinner next to her and about 10 minutes into the meal she was pouring shots of soju for everyone around her.  Soon she learned that this party just so happened to fall on my birthday.  When she made this discovery she was giving me extra shots.  There’s a very strict order of respect in Korea that means it is considered rude to turn away a drink from a superior.  By the end of the night I was eating as much rice as I could, trying to coat my stomach with something to soak up the alcohol as well as keeping my mouth occupied whenever the manager looked at me, hoping this might deter her from giving me another drink.

PyeongchangThe next morning, I was up bright and early to catch a 7:30 bus and I was as hungover as I had ever been in my life.  I met a couple of friends that morning and got on the bus.  The ride from Seoul to Pyeongchang took about three hours.  After about an hour of getting all the gear rented and ready, we were on the slopes.  This was only the second time in my entire life I had been skiing and the first time was definitely not at an Olympic-worthy ski resort.  The instant I got off the gondola and attempted to slide away I knew that professional skiing was probably not going to be a future career-path of mine.  I spent more time falling than I did skiing and my hips felt like one of the titans in Ancient Greece had spent some time wreaking havoc on them.  By the end of the day I had somewhat gotten the hang of turning and slowing down and, although I did ski into a bush, I managed to not pull a Sonny Bono.

Even though Christmas in Korea is nothing like it is back home, I was pleased with the way it turned out.  I had no Christmas tree, my presents from home ended up getting to Korea a few weeks beforehand, and there was much more forced alcohol consumption in a workplace environment than I had ever imagined experiencing.  Despite these significant differences, my Christmas in Korea was not as entirely unlike the festivities I know in America.  Mariah Carey’s All I Want For Christmas is You was just as ubiquitous in Seoul as it is every December in the US, and in the end that song is really what Christmas is all about anyway.