Sunday, December 19, 2004

Friday, December 17, 2004

Culture shock

There are so many things to get used to here. I've been home just over a week and this place (Ontario, Canada) sure has changed. Of course, I mean that I have changed a lot and my old stomping grounds have changed a little.

I'm not just talking about hearing English in the background all the time although I am now a constant eavesdropper. With my weak Korean language skills, it was easy to tone out what others were saying around me. Even yesterday, I twitched and almost looked around at hearing English being spoken.

Korea has its share of SUVs. Even students can afford Korandos. But here in Canada, I am seeing giant SUVs and trucks. Then the vehicle parks and a giant person climbs out; not much taller than young Korean adults but much bigger. Muskoka, where I grew up, and Midland, where my mother lives now, are rural places where 4 wheel-drive is a useful accessory but I also see so many in Toronto and it's suburbs.

The tip system for waiters and the behavior it encourages is a mixed blessing. Korean restaurant staff might or might not be especially friendly (usually they are friendly) but they are also unobtrusive. At a recent visit to Boston Pizza (2 years ago, there were none but now they sprout up like Walmarts) I was asked five times how I was enjoying my meal...this with the pizza in my mouth at the time. They wandered off while I was trying to mumble around the food. They didn't really wait for an answer so I guess it's in their manuals: "periodically ask customers about the food. It shows we care."
Every restaurant we went to, the wait staff told us their names. Should I have shaken hands with them? Asked them about their families?

There are a lot of big stores in Canada. Huge boxes with parking lots that could hold a few soccer games at once. I know this is not a new phenomenon, but it still caught my eye. The E-mart chain in Korea is very western in feel still suffers from the high price in real estate. Bracebridge's Independent Grocer had aisles big enough to drive a car down them. It had a deli bigger than Yangyang's biggest meat shop, a bakery the size of all four Yangyang bakeries and a grocery area as big as the three grocery stores in Yangyang. I'm not saying this is good or bad; it is simply overwhelming to this briefly repatriated Canadian.

Bus schedules suck, the fairs are outrageous and they are as crowded or more crowded than Korean buses. A one hour ride from Toronto to Barrie (one hour, 100 km), cost as much as a trip from Seoul to Yangyang (3.5 hours, 270 km). and was so full, some customers were turned away. The bus has seats four across as opposed to the Korean long distance buses with seats three across. Anyway, I could complain more but I understand why this difference exists; everything is further apart in Canada because of the giant big-box parking lots.

Finally, it seems that many of friends have less hair than I remember from two years ago. Memory sure is a funny thing.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

In Canada for the Holidays

I am now in Midland, Ontario at my mother's house for the Christmas holiday. It's my first time back in two and a half years.

There is already about 15cm snow on the ground and overnight the bay has frozen over. The sky is grey but it's still a beautiful place, quieter than anyplace I've been in in years.

This morning I got up at 5:30- earlier in fact, but I left my bed around 5:30 due to jetlag. When there was enough light, I walked down a trail through the woods. It had been packed-down by some snowmobiler eager to start the season. The trail started through a thicket of sumac trees, leafless but still holding their shocking-red, hairy berries. It was a good way to start the day but -4 degrees fells much colder than I remembered.

More later but no photos until I get back home.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

OT: I loved King-of-the-hill

Not the TV show, although I liked it, too.

I am slowly refining the subject matter of this blog. I am trying to cover such topics as Gangwondo, Yangyang, myself and maybe, eventually, my Korean language studies. I find it a struggle motivation-wise, to read up on and discuss Korean politics so this foray in the field is a little off-topic.

When I was a child, I loved to play King-of-the-hill on snowbanks around my home or school. If you fell, you just slid down the snow. We also played keep-away and other roughhousing games. I know I am not the first to say this about politics and Korean politics in particular but it does remind me of my childhood.

The picture below is from the joongang daily.

king-of-the-chair Posted by Hello

The caption makes it even better: Lawmakers of the governing Uri Party yesterday lifting Grand National Party assemblyman Choi Yeon-hee, the chairman of the Legislation and Judiciary Committee, from his seat. Whoever occupies the chairman's seat has the right to preside over the committee, which is deciding the fate of the National Security Law. [YONHAP]

...Whoever occupies the chairman's seat, has the right to preside over the committee...

Okay, I'm back. My boss was in her chair so I can't be boss today. I need to go back up and see if I can give myself a raise the next time she leaves to use the bathroom or some such. What if a tourist or reporter jumped into the seat? What if a foreigner managed to sit there (I'm back to talking about the chairmans' seat, not my boss' seat)?

Sunday, December 05, 2004

Driving in Canada- how embarrassing

I'm tired of trying to fix this post. Here are two posts together. The first 10 or so lines are about posting problems and the rest of the article is about driving. I hope it's not too confusing.

This is not breaking news by any measure. I tried to post it last week but half the post disappeared. Something weird is happening with my link to a Canadian website.

Here is what it should be, sans links:

Below is an article from msn-sympatico.
MONTREAL (CP) - Canadian drivers who ignore red lights havegiven their country a reputation south of the border, where theU.S. State Department is warning Americans to drive through our green lights with caution.
This just after I complained about Korean drivers. Sorry guys.

Below you can see the link and quote are missing The links were to a sympatico news item and a previous post of mine. You have to do your own search, I guess.

Okay, here's the driving article:

Below is an article from complained about Korean drivers. Sorry guys.

Still, at Seoul's annual Townhall meeting similar complaints were made and a somewhat strange response given:

"Professional drivers [bus drivers] are the worst violators," said
Michael Breen, a resident of Korea for more than twenty years.
(I think this is the 'Breen' that wrote a great book on contemporary Korean culture; understanding and sympathetic but unafraid to describe problems. Find it here.)
"I have seen six to seven cars go through red lights without stopping,"
fumed another foreigner.
"This is more an issue of traffic culture than of systems," Choi Young,
director-general of industry for Seoul said. "We will talk to the police
and see if we can address the issue."

I feel I might understand 'traffic culture' but 'systems' in this context confuses me. The culture of driving here is the same as the culture of working: hard and fast, don't delay. Does system refer to the rule of law?

Returning to my original point; the problem in Montreal, Canada appears to be part of the system:
Local transportation advocates said Montreal may have attracted
U.S. attention because of lax traffic laws that penalize red-light
runners with little more than a ticket even if a pedestrian is struck and killed.

I think this may be worse than the 'cultural' explanation.

There's no patriot like an ex-pat patriot: come on Montreal, get it together so I can brag more about Canada.

Update on defectors entering Canada's embassy

I have Arirang TV news on in the background and just heard that some of the defectors that climbed over the Canadian Embassy's wall in Beijing have made it to South Korea. I don't have much news to impart but it is exciting news. I wish I had been paying more attention.

Now I just hope that they are real defectors and not spies.