Living in Wonju South Korea, These Many Long Years

Living in Wonju South Korea, These Many Long Years: Version 2.0!

Friday, December 30, 2011

Man Den level 1!

Things have been pretty hectic at the waeg house, what with visits, slidding, shopping, playing with Christmas toys, and the general chores that need to be taken care of. Despite all of this bustle, putting together a man den is one task that cannot be overlooked.

I found some plastic folding tables and an old dart board, and I can hook the laptop up for movies and tunes.

It only comfortably seats about three, but given a couple more days it should resemble something more man cave like.

Time for some Stella.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Boxing Day!

Today was Boxing Day. It was full on after a late start, but with two yongins in tow, not bad at all.

1:00 pm - Grocery store $200

3:00 pm - home, puzzles, games, shovel out where the plow has passed, clean out fireplace and start fire. Lighter fluid is the bomb. Drink first beer.

6:00 pm - cook dinner, mom and dad's famous spaghetti sauce with fresh ravioli and spaghettini. Clean. Don't forget laundry. Check fire drink beer.

7:30 pm - check fire. Dump ashes behind shed, piss on ashes, bury in snow. Drink beer. Bring in more wood. Drink beer and smoke.

8:30 pm - Everyone watching Shrek. Hide in basement, smoke, post on stoopid blog, start into one of the bottles of soju brought for a moment like this. It's just that much cheaper! Reorganize suitcases, relax.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Ho Ho!

Merry Christmas to one and all. The Christmas mayhem at the waeg house will rev up around noon. Should be a good time.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

So many kinds of wrong

If you think your job sucks of the day

So Many Kinds of Wrong

Merry Christmas everyone!

The Cottage!

Today was all about Big Box shopping after sleeping until two.

As usual, I was generally amazed over the 150% parking spaces and the crazed variety.

After a roast beef dinner, we started on a huge puzzle. We're staying in a refurbished farmhouse on a massive river about 45 miles from a city of three million.

Time for some Stella. It was on sale for $25 a case.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Keep on Truckin'!

Today the girls and I are on a plane.  It's the first time we've been back in over two years. 

The economic viability of going back is sketchy at best.  This will set us back a bit, but a good down home Christmas will be good for the girls, and most necessary for me especially after the last month.

I set up my google account to import all message from work.  There are already 8 pressing items that need to be dealt with.  I'll be happily ignoring them until after Christmas.

Posting with be spotty the next few days, but you should still come and read all the back posts.  At last count there are over 900 for you to choose from. I'd recommend you start with your favorite label.  There will probably be no 'So Many Kinds of Wrong' this week. 

Merry Ho Ho everyone.  Hopefully good times will be had by all.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Last Minute!

Many a waeg has complained about an integral part of working in Korea: how to manage doing most nearly everything at the last minute.

What most waegs don't get is that it's not about making the most efficient use of time and resources, but tapping into one of the true strengths of the Korean people: spontaneity. 

In the past, I myself have said that this passion for spontaneity is at the same time one of Korea's greatest strengths and greatest weaknesses.  Of course, this was when I was still wet behind the ears and didn't know any better, but thankfully I drank the coolaid and have seen the light. 

A common misguided representation of the process views this passion to move and get things done RIGHT NOW as having not only led Korea to become one of the richest countries in the world, but has also resulted in uneven development and a rise in reactionary movements.  This view is generally propagated by guys like the one above however, and should simply be ignored.

I'm a big fan of last minute, having learned the art of procrastination early on in my youth, and I think being spontaneous is truly an underrated activity.  But I realized quickly after coming to Korea that I had nothing on most of my Korean coworkers, and this has been a valuable lesson to me.

In the same vein, it would serve most waegs well to learn how to go along with these popular gusts of feeling, and allow yourselves to be caught up in the frenzy of the moment.  Pointing out flaws and inefficiencies or how foresight and long term planning would be a more suitable course to follow will do nothing but engender bad feelings all around, and is best avoided as a possible course of action. 

Just make sure you aren't the person on the bottom who gets buried in the shit tsunami if a department store or a bridge collapses, and of course, don't be in the department store or on the bridge. 

Butthole Surfers!

As I was working on a product, the first song below came drifting back to mind from the ether. It had been a while since I'd had a good listen to the Butthole Surfers, so I had no choice but to go through and listen to some of my faves:

Too many that I'd like to post. Brilliant.

Monday, December 19, 2011

KJI Dead!

So Kim Jong Il is dead.

If you didn't know it at this point, you are either a luddite living in a cave somewhere or your internet is dead.

Good riddance.

Hopefully no insanity ensues.

Tree Spirit!

The more intrepid waeg who dares to venture deep into the countryside will be familiar with how many a village will have a massively huge tree either in the center of the village or very close by.  A few questions to the older inhabitants garners responses on how it is the home of the village spirit.  It is common to see grandparents sitting around the tree in summer, eating, gossiping, making decisions vital to the village.   

In a country where it is uncommon to see huge trees in the mountains, these rare monsters really stand out.  Most of the flora and fauna having been devastated during the last civil war, that these huge trees remain is a testament of their importance to village life.

While you can see massive trees in more urban areas as well, they don't serve the same purpose or have the same importance as they do in the countryside, as evidenced by the lengths one village took to preserve their tree (no. 64).

I remember it was either the second or third time I went to pick up my Alien Registration Card in Chuncheon went I came across David Mason's The Spirit of the Mountains in the office bookshelf.  It was an excellent read, and as I've always had an interest in folklore, it provided some excellent insight into some of the things I'd seen.  I now have a copy of most of his books, and recommend them to any waeg really interested in Korean folklore and animism.

Time for coffee.


Today after church June took the youngest to see Arthur Christmas.

The eldest had seen it on a school field trip last week.  I woulda been beside myself if our school had taken us to a movie in elementary, but I digress.  It was all about museums, libraries, and sports in my day.

The eldest and I went shopping.  We saw a coworker who pretended to not see us.  That is his thing though, so I mostly let him be.

For dinner I fried up some chicken and potato.  It was delicious.  After doing the dishes, I read stoopid shit on the interwebz.

For some reason the song below came back into my head.  I uploaded this crap video before, and it lasted about 2 months before I was forced to watch the youtube tutorial video about not posting other people's music.  The video is garbage and took me about 30 minutes to throw together.  I like the song, what can I say?

Tired.  I leave on Thursday for a little over two weeks.  Hopefully it will be enough down time.  June is somewhat despondent, as her plans for shaping her business are already starting to fall apart.  I haven't mentioned it yet, but it's a kindergarten.  After expenses she's been bringing in about 50-60 manners a month, without anything going on the repayment of the loans save what I've been able to squeeze from my end.  She wants another 100 manners for a second batch of advertising, and more for hiring a native speaker.  That last isn't going to happen. 

Hope she can bring it together; I wouldn't want to quit my job to help get it sorted. 

Saturday, December 17, 2011

I've never met one I didn't like

It was at about a quarter to two when I took a break from compiling design sheets and touched the side of my neck.  I immediately bolted up as I traced the outline of a huge nasty bump on the left side.  I ran my hand up to behind my ear and found another hard little nugget under the lobe.  Immediate freak out.

Some quick googling brought up inflammed lymph nodes.  Words like Cancer and Infection were only mildly tempered with normal and not serious.  I shut everything down in record time and blew out of there without a word to anyone; I had to see a doctor NOW.

My tooth had been feeling weird for days, and thought it a related infection.  After sitting in the dentist's office for about 30 minutes, gotten x-rays and examined, the dentist said there was nothing wrong with my teeth, it could be an inflamed saliva duct.  You need to see a different doctor.  He was Fast.  I wasn't charged, even for the x-rays. Very nice.

Across the hall is my ENT doc.  When he sees me he touches the side of my neck and woooooes: that doesn't look good.  A few tests, temperature, exam . . . are you still working at that plastics company?


You need a break.  This is stress related.  Take a rest.  I'll give you a doctor's recommendation that you need to take a month off.

That ain't gonna happen, but thanks anyway.  Can I get something to bring the swelling down.

A raised eyebrow.  Of course.  But you really should take it easy for a few days.  The nurse will give you a shot.

The nurse knows her job well.  I don't feel a thing except for the few slaps administered to my bottom.  Spank me woman!  She laughs and swats me again.  Of all the older experienced nurses I've known, I've never met one I didn't like.  Dealing with blood, feces, weird diseases changes a person after a few years, makes 'em a bit hard and cynical with a dose of gallows humor.

Outside I hit the stairs three at a time.  The pharmacist downstairs always goes through the same spiel, and I always ask the same questions.  No, you don't have to take that one, it's just to ease your stomach.  No, you shouldn't drink.  Today she goes slightly off script, giving me a mischievous grin: well, you can drink a little.  The look I send back says we both know that already.

Home.  I could have made it back to the office, but I'm beat, exhausted, in need of down time.  The house will be empty for a good two hours.  I pop the first dose, down about a half liter of water, and crawl into bed.  After a very satisfying wank, I drift off into the ether.  My dreams are bleak and indigo.  I sleep until 3, waking to an empty bed.  I dress and walk outside.  The night is cold, cold, the silence rent only by wind and a distant car horn.  I walk in ever widening circles, waiting for something to come.  It doesn't.  But then, it rarely does.  I look at all the stars in the sky, and imagine futures that will be and could have been.

So many kinds of Wrong

Saturday early Christmas edition.

So many kinds of wrong

that last is almost so bad it's good

Thursday, December 15, 2011

What Really Matters!

Ice cream!  That stuff is amazing! The person who invented it deserves a medal.  Chocolate, caramel, vanilla, strawberry . . . the flavor doesn’t really matter.  It’s the sheer awesomeness of having that first cold bite fill your mouth on a hot summer’s day.  This is what really matters: small, seemingly insignificant moments, when you can truly appreciate just how fantastic it is to be alive.  Playing with my kids going crazy during an insane jam session, sharing a great meal with June or friends, making a snowman and snow angels . . . all we need to do is recognize and enjoy those moments.

I need to remind myself sometimes that getting caught up in all the BS detracts from being thankful for what you have.  Usually not letting other people's neuroses infect me isn't that difficult, but the last week has been a real trial.   Now I'm done letting that kind of thing get in my way.

At least until next time.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011


Tonight was a company dinner. I went in and due to seating placement found myself sticking my nose far up the CEO's ass, but that was par for the course.  The true test came when I left, and Mr. Jeon decided he was going to come with me.

Last week Mr. Jeon had a complete meltdown at a division dinner.  He's being passed over for a massive promotion he feels is due to him for the years and sucking ass in, and has in fact been demoted; the CEO has decided to bring in one of his old buddies from SNU to fill the spot Jeon truly coveted, and the next best spot is being given to one of Jeon's enemies.

You don't need to be a super genius to figure all the recent hires and interns have been SNU; we've seen a massive drop in Yonsei and Korea U applicants, as the word has gone out.

Mr. Jeon has worked hard to kiss all the ass he needs to, and I get why he's pissed at being passed over. What he doesn't get is that he's pissed all over his underlings for the last four years, as he doesn't trust anyone to do their job.  His thinking is all it takes is that fucker that you think is competent to carry his weight to upset the whole procession, so best micromanage and take care of it.  Of course, this has led to a poisonous environment where dealing with him is a trial, with many people doing their best to get transferred out.

After listening to him go on about all the people he hates for a good two hours last week, I'd had enough: look, maybe the CEO is testing you.  Maybe he isn't.  All I know is that your hate is infectious, and won't further your cause.  We're all going to leave here with baaaad attitudes.

He turned to me and snarled: son of a bitch.

Now, there are various schools of thought as to whether or not he was referring to me specifically as a son of a bitch.  What is unanimous was my meltdown.

You know, Jeon, saying that to me rubs.  My folks wanted to get married, but since my white Anglo-Saxon grandfather didn't want his lily white daughter to have anything to do with my Catholic father scum, they said fuck you and got pregnant.  They had to be married this way and I came along.  Growing up in a town where this all meant something has made me sensitive to being called a son of a bitch, or a bastard for that matter. Why don't you go play hide and go fuck yourself?

And by the way, if you really want to know why you are being passed over, why not ask yourself why many of the women in the division are not here right now?  It's because you act like a pissant little king who thinks everyone is here to genuflect at you until the cows come home.  Let me ask you this:  what is going on in your head that you'd even consider asking me if I was smuggling drugs in your suitcase last May?  You can't fucking listen to people, you don't give clear direction as to what needs to be done, and you think everyone is out to get you.  You also think your foreign staff is here for you to jerk off on to when the Korean staff won't lick that soft spot under your ball sack.  Fuck you.

Let's just say the evening ended after that.   Mr. Jeon has been avoiding me and the public areas for a week, and I thought for sure I'd be fired, as there is a clear clause in my contract which states that getting into a fight while drunk with coworkers is cause for immediate termination.  Nothing has yet to come down the pipe.

What did come down tonight after dinner was he came up: Mr. Waeg!  I want to apologize for the many things I said.  I'm hoping you have forgotten!

Forgotten what?

Ah, you are my friend!  Let's go to the next stop!

I'm sorry, I must go home.  Tomorrow is too busy and already I have some issue with being productive.  Good night.

I will come with you!

As my cab will pass by his place, I don't disagree.  In the cab, we talk about how I understand his situation, but as I'd never have the opportunities to rise in this country as he has, he should consider who he decides to rant to.  My payment for this was that when we get close to his place he says:

I can give you some money for the cab.

He holds out 2 chonners.  The fare is already six.

Take your two chonners and stick em up your tight ass you mother fucking cheapskate fuck.  You want to 'apologize' so I can pay for your cab ride or maybe even more drinks I see.  I asked you for a reference letter and you expected me to buy you dinner and drinks.  I want anything done with you and I'm supposed to give you a gift or take you out.  Do your fucking job, step up and learn what it means to be boss.

Instead, I said Goodnight Mr. Jeon.  See you tomorrow.  I don't take his money.

The only upside to all this is that the new head of the division seems way cooler.  Let's hope.  In the meantime, I get to refine my skills in sycophancy.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Mother-in-Law Update!

I wish she were staying here
We didn't end up visiting the Mother-in-Law this weekend.

She's been in hospital for a couple of weeks now and recently had surgery on her knees.  At first I understood that the surgery involved internal organs, but thankfully it did not.

She's in a lot of pain and would rather not see the grandkids until she is out of the hospital.  That won't be for another couple of weeks apparently.  We need to convince her to maybe make an exception as I'm off home with the girls in less than that.

She's a tough old bird with a kind, gentle heart, good to those around her except her husband.  While she has very little education, she works hard to provide a safe, healthy environment for those around her.

In the end, some friends came over Saturday night, and Sunday we went skating.  That was a blast.

Where's my coffee??

Delicious Grapes!

Click Picture to Learn More!
Everyday I go to the grocery store I'm reminded how Korean farmers have thankfully gotten wise to diversifying crops; the other day I got my hands on some delicious locally produced fat red grapes.

I remember back in the day seeing little variety in locally grown produce; even broccoli was a rare sight. Now every grandmother is growing broccoli in their own little patch, and you can often get two small heads for a chonner and a half at the local markets, or right from the producers themselves as they are set up on the main downtown street in the Wonj.

These grapes were not the more common kind of grape found in Korea, as seen in the picture. I find the cost / benefit on those to be generally poor: too much work and not always that fantastic. While sometimes you can get a good batch, pinching off the skin and sucking out the juice is a waste of time. As a protip to the neophyte waeg, just eat the seeds, you could use the roughage anyway.

The reason I think this could be that I'm simply a lazy ass waeg who would rather just eat the whole thing in a quick, convenient, efficient manner.

Or it could be that red or green grapes are just that much more awesome.

In any event, good to see these available at a rather decent price at my local supermarket.

Time for coffee.

Friday, December 9, 2011

So Many Kinds of Wrong

It's snowing.  That doesn't mean we can miss another edition of

So Many Kinds of Wrong

Consurgo from Colorbleed Studios on Vimeo.

School Portrait (2011) from Michael Berliner on Vimeo.

This last deserves an awful category all of its own:

Thursday, December 8, 2011

All Quiet on the North Eastern Front!

Work is quiet today.  A large gang went off for some MT thing, while the rest of us schmoes are busy finishing up end of year projects. 

This is the calm before the storm, or what is probably more accurate, the eye. 

Things have been heating up since the last round of promotions; two senior positions were delayed for six months.  This has caused some of those who believe a position is due to them to completely lose their shit.  Tuesday night was ugly, a dinner held by the head of our division.  I won't go into the details right now, suffice to say his kibun is far from good, and no attempts to help him correct his kibun worked, as he didn't want it corrected.  But I digress.

Last night I got an email from a major client in Singapore; they've agreed to go full on for one of our proposals from last October, while they are still noncommittal on the second. 

Getting the first was the most important and I'm feeling pretty damn good about it, but of course a tour de force with a full go on everything would be most awesome.

I had started to get worried since here it is the second week of December.  That email means a massive load taken off my back in a sense, since the head honchos were beginning to question why we hadn't heard anything yet.  This will mean a ton more work in the next few weeks, but that is why they pay me.

Time for coffee.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011



Tuesday, December 6, 2011


Understanding the intricacies of Korean social custom is a must for any waeg if they want to take their job seriously in the ROK.  If you really want to get a lot done, stepping on too many toes is not the way to do it since you end up at best being ignored, at worst meeting straight out resistance and maneuvering aimed at bringing you down.

Waegs do have a bit of an advantage in some ways, since learning even a few of the subtleties of fitting Korean social behavior can get you far indeed.  One of the most important and obvious lessons any wet behind the ears waeg will know is of course how to act based on age and position, but I digress.

One of the most important things to consider is flattery.  Flattery is a cheap and seemingly inoffensive gesture,  and noticing even small details about coworkers or superiors and commenting positively is a standard practice in many countries.  But giving in and accepting flattery can be a much bigger problem in the Korean context than elsewhere.

If you respond positively to flattery, the flatterer gains some currency or leverage to act in a way that is beyond their position or age.  Some expert flatterers will get some superiors wrapped so tight around their finger that they'll begin to slack off, speak to equals or other superiors of lesser rank in an unfitting manner, or worse start pretending to speak on their behalf.  This can cause a shit tsunami in the normal pecking order, resulting in inefficiency when dealing with other departments, whose members may feel slighted by someone identified as close to you.   While brown nosers can cause issues anywhere, the damage they can do in the Korean context is amplified, where maintaining healthy, respectful relationships is paramount.

The general F5Waeg rule of thumb?  Flattery should be used and accepted judiciously.  You should not flatter too much, and if someone is excessively flattering you, nip it in the bud by ignoring it.  While you do want things to be copacetic in your work environment, maintaining the necessary distinction between civility and friendship is crucial.  In normal circumstances, it is possible to develop true, meaningful friendships with coworkers, but caution should definitely be exercised when acting in authority.

Besides, do you really think you look like Brad Pitt or some random actor / rockstar?  

Enough babbling about common sense stuff.

Time for coffee.


Word came in that my Mother-in-Law has taken a turn for the worse. 

She hasn't been staying with us for a few weeks now.  It was too much for her to be around young rambunctious girls all the time, so she went to stay with her sister.

Facts are still a bit scant at the moment, but what I've gotten so far is she'll require surgery.  It's expected to cost quite a bit, and we've been asked to pony up some.

This has put me in a bit of a spot.  What with paying off the loan on June's business and having just bought air tickets to head back home for Christmas, the gravy is already a little thin.  I've already canceled the rental car and eliminated other planned expenses.  Not sure where I'm going to get our full share of it, but I definitely don't want to be the only one to not contribute.  Just when money is tight, then comes Jesa, as Koreans say.

I hope she fully recovers.  She's a gem of a woman and has really helped us out over the years.  We'll be heading up to see her this weekend. 

Sunday, December 4, 2011


June cooked pig.  It was delicious.  We also had soft tofu soup left over from breakfast, rice, steamed broccoli and cabbage, chillies.   The last chilli I ate was fine until the last bite when it completely lit my mouth on fire.

Before cooking the pig, June put some flour on it.

When I asked her about the flour, she said it was to make it more tender.

The girls said: flower?

Sure, flour.  They rushed to the stove to take a look.

Ahhh!  Flour!  I thought you said flower!

Yeah, I knew you thought flower.  That's what's called a homonym.  Flour / Flower.  Right / Write / right.  In Korean, Cha / cha / cha, or mal / mal.

I didn't make the distinction between a homophone.

Still, they got it.  As to my lecture on understanding context, we'll see how that takes hold.

This is what you get when you've been an English teacher for 12 plus years.

I'm about to clean the kitchen.

But first, some rice wine.


I made burritos for lunch.  They were delicious.

I fried up some chicken, a little bacon, onion, mushroom, a bit of garlic.  Wrapped it all up with some grated cheddar, diced tomato, lettuce, rice, sour cream.  This  = awesome. 

The sour cream was a bit weird; it doesn't like the freezer much.  I have no idea how long it has been sitting there, but sour cream isn't something found in the Wonj.  I stumbled on it when I did a massive clean of the fridge and freezer this morning.

Now June is mad since I haven't done the dishes yet.  She had to run to the bookstore and buy some study books for the eldest.  I'm going to take a nice hot bath and read.

But first some coffee.

Saturday, December 3, 2011


One common complaint in the waegosphere is how difficult it can be to find a decent western style breakfast if you live too far from Seoul.

A typical Korean breakfast can take some getting used to for many waegs, as they generally balk at eating soy bean paste soup, kimchied radish, marinated shredded beef, pork spine stew or the like first thing in the morning.  These waegs will often note that there is usually little difference between the kinds of food you'd eat for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.  This is generally true.

Not this waeg. I have come to embrace the pure awesomeness of all things Korean, including the fabulous offerings that can make a Korean breakfast!

This morning June actually made me breakfast, a rare thing indeed: it was leftover pork spine stew from a couple of days ago.  Usually I take care of myself, and most weekends I do a lot of the cooking, so I was pleasantly surprised.  She had even set it up nice, using a porcelain chopstick rest under the special silver plated chopsticks I received last year.

It was delicious.

See how much I like you? she said.

As I'd given her a vigorous seeing to early this morning, I winked and said you certainly like something over here. She blushed and giggled.

See the happy matrimonial bliss you too can enjoy if you simply eat the right foods?

Time for coffee.

Friday, December 2, 2011

So many kinds of wrong

This week's grab bag edition

So many kinds of wrong


Parent of the year award:

Mad Skillz:


Rooting around for random ideas for a presentation on branding, and how to make clever, subtle associations between disparate concepts, I came across an old Marcel Duchamp painting L.H.O.O.Q

I can use this I thought.  Then I glanced up and saw Brandon Harris, a total ringer for the reloaded Mona Lisa.

Not sure if it'll work as an example for this group, but worth a shot.

Thursday, December 1, 2011


Waegs who have been in Korea for the long term know that sometimes keeping steady and sane can be a bit of a trial.  In many cases, the long term waeg resident is socially isolated with few friends of their own group and few opportunities to connect with their own culture and language in meaningful ways.

This is not to say that these same waegs don't have fulfilling lives; you learn the language, you make friends with the locals, you adapt.  But there still are times when you start to feel things becoming a little distant, like you're out of it.  Whether this general sense of malaise is characteristic of only expats in Korea, or of expats in every country, I can't say for sure, but I'd guess it is true in many cases worldwide.  I'd also guess that the degree or frequency of discombobulation depends on how accepted into the host culture the expat is and their age when they made the move, in that younger people can adapt more easily.

Regardless, it's when they're feeling beside themselves when waegs will often do crazy shit.  When you see that long term waeg neighbor get that look in his eye, best to either take him out and get him drunk or lock the door and hide the women.

How to avoid becoming too disassociated?  Head back home every so often, make good friends with both locals and other waegs, don't get too stuck in the same routine or bubble.  Stay healthy, keep busy, be productive.

But whatever you do, don't punch the baby.