A turtle travels only when it sticks its neck out ~Korean Proverb



Warning: Satire abounds.

So I went to the “De”militarized Zone with some Ewha students and faculty. It was a trip arranged by the International office, which left at around 10 am in the morning from the back gate. We were herded onto a bus complete with a tour guide who gave us information for a good portion of the trip to the DMZ (which is located about an hour and a half north of Seoul). It’s actually very close…but the heavy city traffic is responsible for the extended transit time. Also, we had to go through a checkpoint or two to get near the border. At one point we had to have our passports checked by a soldier who came onto the bus. For those who are unaware, the DMZ is a band of ground, about 4-6 km wide, and stretching the entire peninsula, which South Koreans and North Koreans are generally supposed to leave alone, save for large south Korean chaebols who build factories there…via government corruption played off as friendly economic cooperation between north and south. First we stopped off at a checkpoint for tourists about 1 km from the DMZ band. There was food, memorials, postcards, and temples…everything a historic site needs to be legitimate. After precisely 30 minutes…our tour guide was an itinerary martinet…we departed and headed to one of the secret tunnels that South Korean soldiers found a number of years ago, after the division of the country, which was intended to be used for an armed surprise assault. The tunnel was about 70 meters underground and was capable of transporting up to something like 20,000 soldiers in one hour. Of course, through the tour, there was obvious South Korean propaganda and biasing. This is not to say that I think North Korea was right in any instance, but to say that it looks bad if you constantly preface the two words “North Koreans” with several undesirable adjectives. It was like kindergarten, where you call one kid a “poopy head” or “stupid face”…except with less childish words…and more broken English. The tunnel was actually really cool though. It was amazing to see all the digging the North Koreans had done. I even took a rock from the tunnel as a souvenir, but managed to lose it…probably accidentally dropping it on South Korean soil…how symbolic. After exiting the tunnel we went into a museum, saw a cheesy movie, and looked at some exhibits. I personally found it very interesting because I had read about many of the confrontations in several history books before I arrived in Korea…and I got to see some artifacts from several accounts. After the tunnel/museum stop we went to an observatory on top of a mountain in the DMZ. Basically, you went there to look at North Korea through binoculars or a big viewing room. The funny part was…outside, on the observation deck, you could walk up to the rail and look through binoculars but if you wanted to take a picture you had to do so behind a yellow line; a yellow line that was set back about 20 feet such that you couldn’t shoot pictures over the rail or get a view of anything interesting except the tops of people’s heads as they used the binoculars. I made Nico, who subsequently lost all his pictures, take a picture of the yellow line…as it was the most interested attraction on the observation deck. After the mountain observation center we went to a railroad station that was being built in the DMZ for future use between Pyongyang and Seoul. I am not sure when it will be completed…but what is important is that Hyundai is making trillions of won constructing and maintaining the facility. On a side note, I got my passport stamped there with some sort of DMZ symbol thing. It looks pretty cool. After the railway station we went back to the tourist place for lunch. I ate blood sausage, liver, whole shrimp, and spicy red food. After my normal lunch we went to some village located near the DMZ in South Korea. I don’t know what it had to do with the DMZ at all, but it is a famous art village and I got to see some modern art and meet some famous artists. It was cool, and then we left. I slept on the ride home on the bus. Afterwards, Nico and I took out some IEI faculty to a bar and then returned home. It was a good day, and I slept very well that night.

And sorry about the lack of cool pictures…we kind of weren’t allowed to take pictures in many places…because you know…it was illegal and they had guns.

A Bridge for Hyundai trucks to carry supplies into the DMZ with. Also for soldiers. And tour buses.

A very good picture, actually. Thanks to Jess for the pictures, and a "Damn you Nico for
messing up your memory card" goes out to Nico.

Japan and Korea, working together since...2005.

White picket fence.

The DMZ is famous for two things: Being some of the most dangerous and contested
land on earth, and rice. Natural good rice. The barbed wire helps digestion.


Rock Concert and a Wedding

Probably the most exciting and memorable weekend in Korea: the Rock Concert/Wedding weekend. That’s right, I was in a rock band, and I got married. Don’t tell my girlfriend! On Friday, the club we are in at Ewha, Release, rented out a live music hall in Sinchon. All five bands from release played there. Our band (Lauri singer/rhythm guitar, Nico drums, Kyungmi bass, me lead guitar) played third between two fantastic bands. I could just talk about the performance right now, but that would be neglecting description of the most stressful week I’ve ever had in my life. For about a week prior to the concert we were stressing over what songs to play, if we were good enough, and more importantly…who would play bass for us. Thankfully, Sohee (the awesome club president) found us Kyungmi, our bass player. We were relieved to solve the most pressing matter, however we still had not picked out songs. We practiced almost everyday that week. Generally, we practiced in the Release club room, but one night a guard came into the room and started to drop some K-bombs on us…which we could not understand because Kyungmi was not with us yet. Apparently, men were not allowed in the Student Union building after 10:00. I use ‘were’ because that is no longer a rule strictly enforced at Ewha anymore. Thank you Ewha male exchange students for making groundbreaking changes…namely, Lauri, Nico, and me…and of course with help from Sohee and the international office. So…Wednesday night we finally picked the songs we would play. They were: Weezer ~ Island in the Sun, Del Shannon ~ Runaway, Queen ~ Crazy Little Thing Called Love, and Muse version ~ Can’t Take my Eyes off of You. Also, we practiced to play Everly Brothers ~ All I have to do is Dream…which we played as an encore song. Wednesday night we rented out a recording studio to practice in, and on Thursday night we had our final rehearsal with the entire club at a different recording studio in Hongdae. After Thursday night, Nico and Lauri were at odds with each other and things were looking pretty bad. Nobody was happy with how we sounded and we were all upset with our rehearsal. Thankfully, by Friday, we had resolved the issue and decided to just have fun.

Practicing in the Release Room

Kyung Mi, our lovely bass player.

On the way to the final rehearsal by taxi.

Ticket to the concert

I don’t think I have ever been so nervous in my life as I was the night before the concert. The only thing that kept me going the whole time was the fact that I would never have the same opportunity again. No other person I know, maybe no other person in my entire state has ever traveled abroad, started an international rock band, and played a gig in front of hundreds of Korean high school and college students (primarily women). When I grow up and have a family and kids, I can say that I went to another country where I didn’t speak the language, and did all these things…and I don’t think any level of stress is worth denying me that chance. It is not that I’m blessed…It is that I had the balls to do it. The same goes with coming to Korea. It didn’t fall into my lap, and I’m not more privileged than anyone else. I just grabbed it, and I will carry this attitude with me until the day I die.

Teaser Picture for future update: I'm pretty sure
this is a picture of me cooking and eating dog.

Enough preaching…so about the concert. We went to Queen Live Hall around 2:00 and started our rehearsal sound check. Afterwards, we had what was pessimistically named “The Last Supper” at a nearby Kimbap place. Then we returned to an already filling up music hall. I took some pictures with friends and then went backstage to prepare. After the first two bands played…both of which were very good…we went on stage. When we went on stage, there was a giant screen pulled down in front of us, so nobody knew. Sohee, the president of the club had made short photo slide shows of each band and its members. We were very touched by the slideshow…and I will try to put it online for everyone to see. As it played, we could hear many friends and Korean girls screaming. It was mind boggling. The second the screen started to move I lost all nervousness. I have never had so much fun in my life….and even though Lauri broke a string halfway into the first song, everything went well. We played and people sang along….at one point I even got the crowd clapping. I will never forget that concert, and I will never forget my friends who made it possible.

Backstage during the concert...Sohee being cool, as usual.

One of the bands before us...I really like this band a lot because
all of the members are my friends

And the curtain raises...

Our beautiful Finnish singer, Lauri Mikael Uusi-Hakala

Some guy playing a mediocre lead guitar

After the concert was the traditional Release party. This is off the record, but I am going to explain why Release is the coolest club ever. The Release club, full of the coolest Ewha girls who like rock and heavy metal music, uses its club fees and dues in three main ways: to pay for concerts, to pay for bars, and to pay for membership training trips (the next post) where you hang out all night camping in the woods. Basically, the night after the concert was one crazy party. Before I came to Korea, everyone used to tell me that Koreans can drink so much alcohol…this is not necessarily true. Koreans do drink a lot of soju and beer…but that doesn’t mean they have anything near what we would consider a respectable tolerance. Long story short…by the end of the concert night I was carrying three guitars and a bag full of wires and pedals while the girls were struggling to carry themselves. Most of us got home around 5:00 or 6:00.

Exhibit A: Korean response to liquor...man crippled down before God
asking forgiveness for drinking one beer.

Three hours later “the next morning.” I woke up at 10:00 to get ready to go to Insadong for my traditional wedding. My wonderful buddy Sora had taken care of all of the arrangements and all I had to do was show up, put on clothes, and learned how to get married. I met my future wife in the subway. She was an exchange student from China. She was studying at Yonsei language school at the time. I still do not know her name (I forgot) and still do not know if she speaks English at all…so basically I knew nothing and still don’t know anything about her...a very traditional arranged marriage. When I arrived I was immediately taken into a tent to receive some makeup…I’m not really sure what it was, but it was not very visible either. After that I went into the second tent to get dressed. I was the groom, so I had the most elaborate Hanbok, besides my wife. We then learned all the proper movements and bows during the ceremony, and how to hold ourselves with the Hanbok on. There were several times, during practice, when I almost tripped on my clothing and ate concrete.

Waiting oustide the tent with the ultracool Soomin

After getting ready with the super fantastic Sora

Then the public display began. Yes, my wedding was in the middle of a town square in Insadong with maybe…100 onlookers. The reason they have these mock weddings every so often there is because Insadong is a famous place for tourists to go because it is a very traditional town. It sells traditional goods and is near Gyeongbokgung so one can always find many foreigners there. After the public wedding, I then got to ride on a horse through the entire town and be the main spectacle in a large parade. I was the only one allowed to ride on a horse because I was the husband, and of course this got me thousands of stares. More often, however, people smiled or waved. It was also fun to shoot peace signs to high school girls on the side of the road and make them giggle. It was like money in the bank. One peace sign = one shy giggle. Definitely one of the coolest cultural events I have ever had the chance to take part in. Thanks go out to Sora, my friends who came to watch, and also my wife…where she is. Also, thanks to the town of Insadong for covering the bill J and not charging me! After the wedding, my friends and I went out for some very good Korean food. We got a 산낙지 (sannakchi) dish. Basically, they bring a stew to a boil, and dump in a couple live octopi. It was really good. Also, it was fun to watch them cook the octopi while the still moved around.

Something about a wooden duck and me bowing

My wife and I bowing to each other at the 'alter'

Symbolic of my wife and I at a young age

I mount the horse...incorrectly of course.

You know its for real because there is an umbrella over my head

Squid, tortured, boiled, cut up, and eaten...all while alive...just how I like it.