COEX, Catfish, Casino, and Cuisine (T.G.I.Fridays)

So, last weekend, Katrina, Spenser, and I went to COEX, mainly for the aquarium. It was something to do inside! It has been awfully cold lately and Seoul, as is the case with most cities, is an outdoor city, unless of course you want to go shopping. There are few things to do indoors and this was one of them. If you are looking for something to do inside COEX is definitely the place to go.

A thorough summary of the COEX Aquarium - It was similar to every other aquarium I have ever been to with the addition of some rabbits, squirrels, scorpions, bats, and the main feature, a two-headed turtle.

After the Aquarium we walked around for a while, checking out the stores. It was a good 10-15 minute walk from the subway station to the aquarium and along the way we passed several restaurants - T.G.I.Fridays, Bennigans, Sbarro's Pizza, Burger King, and a few steak houses. I guess COEX is the place to go for tourists so they make sure they have something to eat.

I have been craving a burger, a good burger since I have been in Korea. I have tried McDonald's, Burger King, Kraze Burger, and a few other places, without much luck. Needless to say, they suffice in a burger craving. So, we headed to T.G.I.Fridays in the hopes of finding a good burger. Mission Accomplished! It cost roughly $12, a bit high for a burger, but was well worth it. It was a nice, thick, juicy burger with bacon and cheese on top. For those of you who know me, I was even able to get some extra mayonnaise - an added bonus. After dinner we were all stuffed. The food was a bit pricey for Korean standards but all of us had more than enough to eat.

We headed back to the mall area in search of UNIQLO, my favorite clothing store. A few times we saw signs for Seven Luck Casino and both Spenser and I said something about going in to check it out. Well, we saw another sign and headed in. From my understanding, gambling is illegal for Koreans so it was a foreign only casino. In about 20 minutes both Spenser and I lost 40,000 won each (about $35). I'm not headed back any time soon to try and win my money back.

We found UNIQLO and Spenser and I both picked out something we would have bought had we not lost the money so we didn't feel too bad. We came back and Spenser told us about his Korean mom. The night before he had gone to a restaurant close to our apartment, had a little bit to drink, and got to talking with the owner and her children. So, we headed back again Saturday night after COEX. We had a great time, to say the least.

(They had a Wii Station set up to promote the system in COEX so Spenser played for a bit)

(COEX Aquarium - entrance. If you go, walk down a bit farther, there are lockers to put your jacket in. Also, there are fish in both the pillars and the area above.)

(Katrina and I as soon as you enter)

(Tiger Fish - maybe?)

(There was a neat area with, I guess you could call it Art Deco with Fish Tanks. It was interesting. Spenser is buying a coke from a machine with fish in it.)

(House that's leaking and phone booth is the background)

(What's that in the washer?? It's fish!)

(Lamp post with fish)


(The famous two-headed turtle!! Does it have two brains?)

(This is where things started to get fun. We went into the kid section, kind of cool, had some sweet frogs and snails. Katrina went to take a picture and this little kid just walked up and looked at her. Then, the grandma came over to grab the kid - you can see her arm.)

(After Katrina is done this grandmother just hands Katrina her camera and yells at the little boy to get in the suit for a picture. Katrina couldn't figure it out so she handed it to Spenser. Spenser took about 5 minutes trying to figure it out but eventually got a picture. This is Spenser on the left, grandmother on the right, and the same kid in Katrina's picture in the suit.)

(Some colorful fish)

(A school of fish swimming in a circle)

(Giant turtle)

(Jellyfish area. It lit up with different colors which was fun!)

(One of the sweetest fish I've ever seen. I like its natural defense.)

(Me and my burger! WOOP WOOP! You can see the thickness, cheese - makes me want to go back!)

(Restaurant Spenser's Korean Mom owns. I believe this is her brother-in-law with Spenser's hat on, having a good time.)

(Spenser and his mom. Not sure who the other lady in the background is)


"Fire! Fire!"

No hot water, which wasn't a big deal. Lately, it has been hit or miss in the morning trying to get hot water. Or, I'll have to wait 20 minutes turning it on and off until I finally get something. However, that wasn't the exciting part of the morning.

Around 8:45 I heard someone knock on the door. That is usually the time I head to the gym with Erik and Spenser. However, this was Tuesday so I didn't get up, but after waking up a bit more I started to smell smoke. A little later I heard a knock again and figured I better get up to see what was happening. By the time I got to the door, I heard keys jiggling in the lock. Needless to say, I had no idea what was happening.

A Korean guy, I'm guessing the landlord, opened the door and said, "Fire! Fire!" and then closed the door. No, due to my limited ability to speak Korean I can't ask if this is a minor kitchen fire or a building fire and I need to get up and leave the building immediately. So, I got up to check it out and opened the door a little. I looked out and there were about 4 firefighters dressed in full gear, oxygen tanks, face masks down. They were pounding on the door across from mine and the person wasn't opening the door. All of them saw me in my room but nobody seemed to be in a rush and it didn't seem like I was in any imminent danger.

Nevertheless, I came back in and I threw on my pajama pants and coats, tossed my lap top into my backpack, grabbed my guitar and camera and headed to Spenser's. I passed a few of the firefighters on the way out as well as a fire truck, ambulance, and a few of the tenants I recognized. Spent about an hour over at Spenser's came back and everybody was gone.


Beomgym, Songtan, and Chagall

This weekend was not very eventful but I did do a lot. On Friday night I headed out to Beomgye to hang out the Spenser and Chelsea. Katrina decided to meet me here and then head over for a change of pace. It was a fun night. We had a few drinks and then went to a dance club - not really my scene but everybody else really wanted to go. I met a guy at the bar who told me about ice hockey and where to see a game.

Saturday was relaxing and cold. We went to Songtan, close to the Air Force Base in Osan. There were a lot of restaurants I saw while I was there and wanted to get some good food. Also, there were a bunch of shops. However, my plans were foiled due to the extremely (and when I saw extremely, I mean extremely) cold weather. So, we went into a few shops to warm up and found a nice little coffee shop. Then, we walked around before we realized it was just too cold and caught a taxi back to the station and went home.

On Sunday Katrina and I went to see the Chagall exhibit. I'm not a big art guy but it was quite intriguing to say the least. I did enjoy the art but it was very crowded. Nevertheless, we had a great time before heading back to Itaewon. I saw a post about another foreign food market (http://koreabridge.net/post/review-high-street-market-itaewon-chrisinsouthkorea) and while we were in Seoul, I wanted to see what they had. It's called 'High Street Market.' It was alright and we picked up a few things (vegetarian chili, regular chili, lemon juice, instant oatmeal, lunch meat, yes, lunch meat in Korea, corned beef to be exact, and the most delicious focaccia bread!). Katrina got some falafel, her favorite, on the way out of town and I got some Taco Bell. The sour cream was amazing, in fact, I think it made the meal. We came home, relaxed, and finally were able to make some delicious hummus. Do not, whatever you do, use yogurt as a substitute for tahini. Instead, get some sesame seeds, fry them a bit, and throw them in with some oil. By far, our best batch yet! That was the weekend.

(Coffee shop in Songtan - notice the pink cup, for Katrina, and the blue for me)

(Sign as you walk up to the Art Museum)

(Seoul Museum of Art sign)

(Katrina in front of the Chagall poster hanging in the lobby)

(Entrance to the museum)


Namsan Tower

This weekend was a bit of a relaxing weekend. I had a late night Friday night into Saturday morning so on Saturday, I just hung out around my place and watched a few movies. Nothing too exciting. Katrina and I had planned on going to Namsan Tower on Saturday but because of the weather, it was snowing, and my state, we decided to hold off until Sunday, which was a great idea.

We headed into Seoul around 10:30 am on Sunday morning. At the bus stop we ended up meeting Spenser, just by coincidence. On the bus ride to Sadang he ended up talking to a girl who was in high school. I guess she wanted to practice her English. However, as we got close to Sadang, the girl's mother called her over and that was the end of the conversation. It was difficult to tell whether or not her mother was upset.

We split ways with Spenser in Myeongdong and decided to walk up to the tower. We went the wrong direction to start but eventually, Katrina got us pointed in the right direction. After a lot of stairs and maybe a 20 minute hike we made it to the top. It's not the tallest tower in the world. In fact, I don't even think it is in the top 5, but there was a great view. We got some lunch before we went up the tower and had a wonderful view. Then, we checked out the 'love locks' all around the tower. Finally, we went up the tower itself. The sweetest part was the view from the bathroom.

Finally, we headed in to Itaewon to get some good cheese at a reasonable price at the foreign food market. I also got some mac 'n' cheese, re-fried beans, and pesto. Before heading to the foreign food market, we got to eat at one of our favorite restaurants. Katrina got the falafel, one of the few places we've been able to find falafel in Korea, and I got the hummus and chicken kebabs. It was a great meal and a nice way to finish off the day. Another weekend in Korea over. I'd like to go see the 'Blue House' soon, the Korean equivalent to the White House, the DMZ, and for a hike. Also, we have vacation coming up at the beginning of next month so I'm not sure what I'll be doing then. Take care and I hope you enjoy the pictures.

(Namsan Tower as we got closer)

(This was right below the tower)

(Locks of Love - Couples put them up and it is a promise that they will never separate. There were so many they had to create a new section and move some of the locks.)

(Place we ate lunch, with an alright view...)

(Another area with more Locks of Love)

(A Couples bench - kind of forces you to sit close to each other)

(This is as close as I could find to Pennsylvania. In all of the windows they had cities, countries, and states that were in that direction. So, I thought of all of you back home and was looking in your direction, although it is 11,061.86 km away.)

(This is specific hello to the Aochi family - hope you guys are all doing great! Miss you and can't wait to see you soon!)

(Nice view from the tower with the shadow)

(A view of the city with part of my face)

(Sink in the bathroom. One of the best views I had while taking a leak. They have it set up so you can look out the window while you go.)

(Tiles (up close) - not sure what they mean)

(More of the tiles, each with an individual message)

(Shopping in Myeongdong, look at the people)

(I just thought this was hiliarious. As you can tell, it is a sign for Burger King. The actually translation is roughly: ba-ga king or beo-geo king)


Hot Water

I got back to my apartment last weekend only to find out that my hot water heater was not working properly. This was Monday morning and I really wanted to take a shower. However, with ice cold water and it being the middle of winter, I didn't need one that bad. So, I trudged into work, a bit smelly and disheveled. I told the head instructor, Anna, that my hot water was not working. She in turn told our school handyman, Eric, that the water wasn't working.

One of the most frustrating parts about working in a Hagwon is the lack of communication. After I told Anna, I am pretty much kept out of the loop. For some reason, on Monday, there were not able to make it to my apartment. Tuesday I went in and said something to her again. I didn't know if anyone had even made it to my apartment, if it was broke and was going to take a week to fix, if there was a simple solution and they just needed a day to get the part... I had no idea and nobody told me.

Anna got a bit upset but I just told her, it's the middle of winter and I have no hot water and no floor heat. As a foreigner, you are at the mercy of your co-teachers, managers, owner, and school handyman; unless of course you can speak Korean very well. It is not like I could have called someone up and said, "Hey, my water heater is broke. When can you get here?"

Nevertheless, Tuesday passes and I was excited to go home and take a hot shower. I get home, push the button. Same light starts flashing - still broke. Oh yeah, to make matters worse, my toilet also stopped flushing Monday morning (I'll leave that to your imagination). I was wondering if I had some serious pipe damage, a frozen pipe, what was happening? So, Wednesday I woke up and got a gift from the Toilet Fairy - my toilet flushed. That was a huge plus after two days of not flushing. I checked the tank the night before no water and when I woke up, I had the plan to fill the tank with my shower head. Didn't have to. So, I checked the hot water - no luck.

Things changed from Tuesday to Wednesday and when I got to work, Anna actually asked me if it had been fixed. I told her no. I also took a shower Wednesday morning, only it was at Spenser's place. No way was I taking a cold shower. Now, I have no idea what happened Monday. Anna (she is a great person and we do get along great) told me on Tuesday Eric did not have access to a car and therefore couldn't make it to my apartment. For those of you who don't know, it's a 10 minute walking. A little frustrating that my school handyman wouldn't walk 20 minutes, round trip, to try and get me some hot water, in the middle of winter.

Now I am thinking, what if there is a major problem, and it is going to take three more days to fix it. It would be Monday, at the earliest, until I get floor heat and hot water. Lucky me... I saw Eric Wednesday night as I was headed to dinner and asked him, "Hot water?" He said, "Yes. Yes. Ok," and gave me the thumbs up. Again, with my limited Korean and his English I had no idea if this meant "Yes, I'll look at it" or "Yes, it's fixed."

I went home Wednesday night and I had hot water.


Will there be a War between South Korea and North Korea?

Simply put, in my opinion, no. There is too much for each side to lose and neither ally (China nor the United States) wants to see war break out on the Korean peninsula.

If you remember, a few weeks ago, North Korea let in some U.N. inspectors to monitor their nuclear enrichment capabilities. Reports came back, depending on the source, that North Korea either does have the ability to produce nuclear weapons or will some time in the near future. The United State's biggest concern is the spread of nuclear materials from one rogue nation to another. Mission accomplished.

Not even a week after allowing the U.N. inspectors to view their nuclear programs, North Korea shelled Yeongpyeong Island killing four South Koreans - 2 military personnel and 2 civilians. This was not over territorial waters or any other claim the DPRK might have made. The major intent of the attack was to show South Korea how, at any time, North Korea could affect their economy. Nobody wants to invest in a country that might go to war where your entire investment could disappear with the dropping of a single bomb. Mission accomplished.

So, now, North Korea has the United States and South Korea right where they want them. Kim Jung-Il, although he uses unconventional methods, at least in the contemporary world, is not a stupid man. He is very cold and calculated but usually gets what he wants. He also knows that if there is an all out war his regime will be over and his son will not take power. A dictator is willing to sacrifice a lot of things when it comes to other people, but he will never knowingly forfeit his power. Kim Jung-Il knows if there is a war, he will lose. Therefore, North Korea, at least its leader, doesn't really want a war, despite his actions.

South Korea does not want a war because they have too much to lose financially. South Korea is a growing economy and technologically advanced. If there is another Korean War they will spend years rebuilding and giving up everything they have worked so hard to achieve since the last Korean War.

Although I would like to say these two countries are important in deciding if there is another Korean War, sadly, in global politics, we all know that the major decisions will eventually come down to the United States and China. This is where things begin to get a bit tricky.

If there is a war, both of these countries will support their allies. China does not want to be encircled by the United States or a pro U.S. government. With the United States currently in Afghanistan and the Cold War over and relationships improving with Russia every day, China would not want to see the U.S. on its Southern border. Also, the U.S. continues to have strong ties with Japan and could launch attacks from there if a current war were to break out. If there is a war, China will continue to support the DPRK and maintain the buffer zone that currently exists between itself and a pro U.S. government.

Nevertheless, China is a growing economic power and in that sense, a threat to the United States. However, this is one war that is too close to call, at least now. I do not think China is willing to give up its global position (in an economic sense) on the hope that it might win a war against the U.S. China has also been very calculated, especially with its reforms. They will not rush to war if they know they will lose. Therefore, at least in my opinion, China does not want there to be a war.

As for the United States, we are too spread out currently. We have troops in Afghanistan and a few left in Iraq. This is not the time to start another war on another front. The United States does not want there to be a war.

North Korea wants money. It is a poor country and has not other bargaining chip than its nuclear weapons - either to sell them to other countries or use it on their neighbors to the South. Once Kim Jung-Il gets his money, he'll be happy and the crisis will be averted. Also, North Korea may be sick of relying solely on China which is why they want to bring the U.S. and South Korea back to the negotiation table.

*I am no expert on the subject nor do I have any credibility in writing this article. These ideas are just my personal beliefs that I have picked up while reading about events the past few weeks. Therefore, feel free to criticize any or all of my ideas.