Saturday, August 11, 2007
That's right, Starcraft isn't just for nerds over here! It's actually a legitimate activity. The permeation of this game is visible everywhere. From the two game channels on TV to posters advertising upcoming matches, one can not deny that Korea is all about the games.
In Korea, men are required to serve two years in the military. Starcraft has become the pass time of choice for these military men. So much so that there are military Starcraft teams, much like organizational team sports. The military has generally not approved of this Starcraft culture, but the tides on that are changing. As of July, the Navy has announced its very own pro-Starcraft team. The Army is expected to follow suit in the near future. Usually men choose to serve their term before going to college so Starcraft has been introduced and well received by college students. Some even attempt to go pro.
When I heard that being a professional Starcraft gamer was a real career path, I was surprised. I'm so used to that job being a dream, but here, it is a reality...if you're good enough (so get practicing)! The best place to practice is a PC ban. This is a room filled with very nice computers and even better monitors of course. Each PC ban has different rates, but you can expect to spend about $0.80 per hour. Students frequent this place everyday after school and spend hours there, usually sustaining through the early morning hours. I've only gone once and I didn't stay long. I thought they might kick me out if I just checked my email and took care of a paper or two. :)
The most popular gamer is Lim Yo-Hwan. He's 27 years old and currently serving his military term. He's regarded as a celebrity here. His fan club consists of over 600,000 people. He even requires body guards due to the massive amount of fans he attracts!
If any of this sounds good to you, Korea is the place to be. With PC bans as common as Mc Donald's, Pro-gamers as celebrities, Pro Starcraft teams and televised game play, Korea really is a gamer's paradise.
Thursday, August 2, 2007
While I've been in Korea, I've tried many new foods. The most exotic being the new types of sea food. Some interesting foods in this category include sea cucumber, snail, dried and seasoned anchovies, and a type of processed fish that look like noodles. There are plenty of unique dishes here for the person who is prone to accepting challenges.
I should mention that I am a huge fan of sweets which are very difficult to find here. None of the desserts are as sweet as I'm used to. The imitation snickers aren't very sweet nor are the cakes. Most of the dishes are spicy. I am not very good at eating spicy food, but I am getting used to it (very slowly). In restaurants, many side dishes are served free of extra charge. Kimchi, white rice, small omelete-like dish, anchovies and spiced vegetables are the most common. Not only are they free, but they include free refills! Water is also included with the meal and is on a self serve basis.
When going to a restaurant, one simply walks in and sits down at a table. To order, you must gain the attention of the server; usually buy calling him/her. The service is generally very fast and the price of food is cheap. A meal will cost only about $3-5 US dollars. When you finish eating, you just walk up to the server and give him/her the money. It's a very simple system. Most restaurants operate this way. This is because most restaurants are very small. There are many that are run by one family, so the capacity is small, but the service and the food are great.
The other style of restaurant which is quite popular is more traditional. Here you must take your shoes off at the door and you are given seat mats to sit on the floor. Usually in this type of establishment, the meat is served on a large plate raw. In the center of the table is a small grill. It is up to the guests to cook the meat as they please for the entire table. With the meat, white rice, soup, lettuce leaves, garlic and onion are served along with a sauce. After the meat is cooked and cut, you wrap it up with your choice of sides in a lettuce leaf. This is one of my favorite meals.
Some of the most popular dishes among tourists and my friends and I include: bulgogi (steamed beef), kimbab (rice rolls) and bibimbab (mixed rice).
Yesterday, a group of us went to Seoul to see the Nanta performance. It is known to be one of the best tourist shows in the Seoul area, so we were very excited to see it. The name "Nanta" means "crazy beat" in Korean. The show is a type of musical, filled with audience involvement, fun rhythms and light humor. The show is designed to take place in a kitchen, so the musical instruments involved include: brooms, knives, spoons, bowls and even food itself!
The music in the kitchen wasn't all just for show. The actors actually made a soup during a song and two members of the audience were invited to try it. It was reported to have been delicious. During another segment, two more audience members were invited to race in making dumplings.
The humor involved was very similar to that of "Blue Man Group". Because the audience is usually very international, the actors do not have many speaking parts. This can make some very funny situations. For another portion of the show, an actor attempted to lead the audience in a three part clapping rhythm. This was quite difficult without having the luxury to use language. It also revealed which section of the audience was really paying attention.
Overall, it was a very good show and I would recommend others to view it if given the opportunity. I had a great time as did the others in our group. Nanta has a website if you wanted to check it out: http://nanta.i-pmc.co.kr/index.asp
Wednesday, July 18, 2007
The many festivals held in the summer are some of best “to do’s” of
The festival runs for 10 straight days and is filled with fun and muddy activities. Some of the main attractions include: mud pool, mud wrestling, obstacle course, slide, and fake jail...all covered in mud of course!
To prepare for this type of event, one usually sports at least a swim suit and at most, some gym clothes. The first stop is a group of tables near the entrance. There you will find a bunch of bowls with mud and a paint brush and if you don't start painting the mud on yourself, someone else will likely demonstrate on themselves to show you what to do. This is also a great time to throw mud at your friends! There are plenty of little restaurants and convenience stores to purchase extra clothes, food, beverage, or soap! There are tons of vendors offering top of the line mud-skin care products. I'm told that mud is good for the skin as sun protection and that your skin will feel much softer the second day. So far, I can say that it's not bad.
After one has had their fill of mud activities, the beach usually seems inviting (especially to wash off that mud in the ocean). If salt water isn't enough to make you feel clean and refreshed, there is a separate men's and women's sauna complete with showers, and three different types of baths; hot water, cold water and mud. There are some non-mud involving attractions as well such as music and entertainment main stage and a traditional Korean style drum routine. Here’s the website to learn more about this festival: https://webmail.uwec.edu/owa/redir.aspx?URL=http%3a%2f%2fwww.mudfestival.or.kr%2flang%2fen%2findex.jspudfestival.or.kr/lang/en/index.jsp
Monday, July 9, 2007
Jeju is known for “three things” and “three non-things”. It is said that Jeju has many rocks, women and wind. Jeju was formed by volcanic eruptions, so when the farmers till the land, all they get are rocks.
These lava rocks are sticky in a way. They can be stacked to form small fire or water barriers or in a formation. It is interesting to note that they will stick together through the rain and wind. Many of the houses and city walls are made of these rocks. They are also used for the graves. At a funeral, the guests bring one or two rocks for the family. The family then stacks a wall around the grave in a rectangle shape to protect it. A tall wall symbolizes an important person because many people came to the funeral.
The rocks there also are used to create many statues. The Island is filled with these types of statues with both hands on the belly. If the left hand is on top, the statue signifies a warrior and offers protection. If the right hand is on top, it signifies a scholar and brings light to the area.
The idea that there are many women on Jeju Island is a misconception due to the role of women on this Island versus the mainland. Jeju is relatively poor compared to the mainland, so women in families need to also work. This gives the women more economic freedom and more say at home. It is less that there are more women and more that they have more visibility. This situation gave rise to the famous women divers. Here is where women first dove to collect sea foods. Today women still dive though the age of women divers had increased to span 40-70+years.
The generalization that there is a lot of wind on the Island is easy to explain. It simply is very windy most of the year.
That’s a lot to be famous for, but also there are the “three non-things” which include: no thieves, no beggars, and no gates. These all come from the fact that Jeju Island creates a very small community feeling. There are only two cities on the Island, and the people are very familiar with each other. The thought of stealing likely never crosses their minds because they know their neighbor so well, and the rest of the community does too. So everyone would know. This is the reason for not having gates. Until recently, houses and shops on the Island were constructed without doors as well. Beggars don’t exist because everyone takes care of each other on the Island.
The people of Jeju Island enjoy beautiful scenery and are very close knit. I would recommend checking out this area, even just online.