Sunday, February 28, 2010

김연아 fever

while the olympics are coming to a close (ahh! what are we going to do with all of our free time now??), amidst the excitement of canada's gold medal glory, is the contagious pride for korea's shining star: figure skater kim yu-na.

her publicity is inescapable around here. she's promoting every product on TV and my students have turned her name into a sentence/question/exclamation in itself - "teacher! kim yu-na!?" the hype about her gold medal win even seeped into our teacher's meetings' news twice (both times being presumptive announcements, as she hadn't yet won ... but, whatever. might as well assume. and pre-celebrate). the time difference required us to be at work during her skating times, so the korean teachers could be found huddled around a cell phone, watching her performance on DMB (digital media broadcasting, or TV on your hand phone for those only familiar with conventional media formats).

i've given in to the queen yu-na love, and was thrilled to see her olympic record performance earn her a gold. i never hesitate to inform all my students that she lives and trains in toronto. thus, she's korean-canadian, just like me! ha.

all athlete/prodigy/gold-medal-olympian gushing aside, i do enjoy that her coach, brian orser, got to make an appearance in one of her many korean celebrity endorsements. this commercial for samsung hauzen zero air conditioner sort of makes him look simultaneously british and overweight, but one of my korean co-workers still raved about how "handsome!" he is. hmm.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

a day at the spa

this saturday, i had my first experience at a korean jjimjilbang.

a jjimjilbang (or 찜질방) is more or less a public bathhouse, and they are extremely popular among koreans. this is the place to relax and unwind, and most are open 24 hours and thus also provide a place to sleep on the cheap (usually ₩6,000-₩10,000; roughly $5-$9CDN). housed inside are not only jacuzzis and showers and saunas and steam rooms of varying size and specifications, but often also a gym, cafes, TVs, restaurants, arcades and more.

there are several moderately-sized jjimjilbangs in our neighbourhood that my foreign friends and co-workers have frequented several times, but i had yet to indulge. i have to admit, while curious about the whole experience, i was feeling nervous and modest about the nudity bit of it. you see, there's no such thing as swimsuit-wearing going on at the jjimjilbang. the spa areas are gender segregated and clothes-free. meaning, i quickly had to get over any intimidation about lounging around in the buff if i was going to partake.

so, i decided to get over it! on saturday, breda, maddie and i headed into seoul to check out yongsan dragon hill spa, one of the largest jjimjilbangs in south korea. although a bit pricier than others, with a
₩12,000 entrance fee on weekends, it houses 6 floors of upscale pampering.

and it ended up being a very interesting and relaxing experience. we showered and sampled several hot tubs of varying temperatures.
my favourite tub was probably the outdoor (yes, outdoor!) jacuzzi. the indoor showers and saunas share space with short individual sinks with stools for shampooing and personal scrubbing. the bulk of the patrons occupied these sinks, and were busy soaping and hosing themselves down. after having enough of the hot baths, we changed into our pajamas - provided shorts + tshirt uniform - and enjoyed some massaging chairs (significantly more budget friendly than the rubs and scrubs provided by nearly-nude spa employees). among the many saunas and sweating rooms we sampled, one was literally called a "kiln" which is quite fitting considering it had a waist-high entrance and a sloped roof highly resembling an over-sized oven.

in the co-ed section of the jjimjilbang, there are cafes and snack bars to satisfy your appetite (where hard boiled eggs seem to be the food of choice). there is also a large common room for floor sprawling, where we caught part of a live magic show. the place was packed, and i'd estimate there was an audience of at least 200 pajama-lounging koreans for the somewhat unexpected but enjoyable performance.

after almost 3 hours of relaxation, we felt we'd gotten the most out of our experience. and while the admission fee lets you rest and recharge for up to 12 hours, i'm pretty sure i would have shriveled into a prune after that long.

the jjimjilbang was an interesting and relaxing cultural experience. it was worth the money, and definitely worth the nudity!

Monday, February 15, 2010

olympics and tigers and meeko ... oh my.

happy seollal (설날), or lunar new year + valentine's day + gold medal win for canada.

whew, so many things to celebrate on this glorious february long weekend. most importantly, at least in these parts, was the beginning of the korean calendar. goodbye year of the ox, hello year of the tiger. schools and businesses were closed for the better part of the weekend, as many koreans head out of town to visit family over the holiday. the new year coincided with valentine's on february 14th, and accordingly the day before and after a holiday are usually designated as days off as well, so a 3-day weekend it was. even the bank was closed this weekend, to the extent that my ATM card wouldn't function and i ended up being cash-less. yikes.

while ma
rk and i didn't dress up in hanbok and/or pay respects to family shrines like the better part of the country, we were cat-sitting for our friend sarah for three days. 6-month-old meeko was our houseguest, and all of our plants ended up having to be locked in the spare room. still a kitten, we quickly realized that meeko thoroughly enjoys eating and biting things, like houseplants and arms and hands and elbows. he also likes tearing maniacally through the apartment and launching himself into small and/or high spaces. i accidentally closed him in the refrigerator without noticing, but it was only for 30 seconds, max. sorry sarah. his bursts of energy were evenly weighed with sleeping and cuddling-time. cute overload.

in between cat-sitting, we had a mini-party for the olympic opening ceremonies, which aired saturday morning at 11am here. i'm fully in the midst of total olympic fever and even made sure to rock my canada mittens and wave to the athletes on tv. GO CANADA! also, on the subject of patriotism and vancouver 2010 spirit, make sure to check out these olympic designs, courtesy of mark's good friend james tuer.

now, don't get me wrong, while i wear my canadian pride on my sleeve, i must admit: the opening ceremonies were a bit of a bore. i keep flip-flopping in labeling it a "snooze-fest" because i feel like a little bit of my nationalism dies with that tagging ... but. too long. too boring. mechanical defect on fourth arm in torch lighting (which meant catriona le may doan just had to stand there awkwardly instead of participating in such a momentous occasion). also, way to make it look like all canadians are either fiddle-playing ashley macisaacs or first nations members. and bryan adams? really? k.d. lang ... oh man. needless to say, i was really not as impressed as i could have been.

regardless, olympic fever prevails. and while our temporary tiger, meeko, has since returned to his own home (ooh, perfect cheesy segue-conclusion!), i wish a happy year of the tiger to everyone.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

what with it being superbowl sunday ...

why not combine a little k-pop with football fandom? here i present girls' generation's (or, 소녀시대) latest catchy pop hit, oh!:

this is likely the closest i will get to celebrating the superbowl (ie, not very close at all). it doesn't help that being 14 hours ahead of hometime makes for a monday-morning-8am-broadcast. and while there was an invite to go into seoul during rush hour tomorrow for bloody marys, american breakfast, and football watching, i'll have to decline. who's playing, anyway?

on the other hand, this sports fan passivity should take a different turn when it comes to the winter olympics next week, just so you know. i can't say i'll be joining mark in his 5am viewing plans for the gold cup game, but i will do my best to be a proud canadian in another time zone.