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Out and Proud in Korea

Out and Proud in Korea

Growing up in a very conservative Christian, very controlling home meant often hearing how revolting my parents (my mother specifically) found homosexuality. Any signs of homosexuality—whether it was from people or bumper stickers—always brought a disgusted sound and remark from my mom. I went to a small, private Christian university and didn’t realize I was gay until age 22. Because of this, I planned on being celibate for the rest of my life. I came out to my mom, my siblings, and a few close friends soon after, but kept it to a few, unless it came up in conversation with people I trusted.

It wasn’t until I came to Korea, ironically enough, that I really started living out. After a few years here, I left Christianity and started dating. I hadn’t dated anyone before, I hadn’t been kissed before, and I most certainly had never had sex before. For the first few months, I felt out of place. I can’t tell you how many guys saw me as a freak for being 25 and a virgin. It was maddening because I just wanted to find someone and no one was giving me a chance. Not to mention that I live in a country that is obsessed with image and a long-haired, hairy, fat guy was just not what anyone in or around my city was looking for (plus the whole virginity thing). I have received messages during my time here asking me to shave my body hair for a hook-up (That’s way too much work!) or telling me that I would look better without a beard and with short hair (gurl, bye).

No

It wasn’t until I went to Singapore for a short vacation that I met this amazing guy who was not only super fine but also didn’t look at me like I was a freak for never having been kissed before. We spent every day of my vacation together. The third day I was there, he took me to my first gay bar. It was amazing being there and being able to kiss and talk in a safe place. I remember a lot of things about that night and of being with him for that week. He was my first—in every sense of the word. We were sort of together for a year and he even came to visit me in Korea. Those two weeks that I spent with him were two of the best weeks I have ever had. He had his flaws and our whatever-it-was had its flaws, but he taught me that I am someone who others can be attracted to.

It was another year before I got into the gay scene in Seoul. I went to a few events where I met some amazing people and started hanging out more often in the city than I ever had before. Every queer event that I attended brought me new friends. I had only spent a little time up there because I live an hour south in Cheonan, which is close enough to visit, but far enough away that it can be annoying.

A photo posted by Nick Holmes (@nickthehottie) on

Arriving at my first Korean pride festival in 2015 was pretty intense. When we (some friends and I up from Cheonan) got to the event, the borders were surrounded by anti-LGBT “Christian” groups protesting. They were dancing, singing, shouting condemnation, crying, praying, and holding numerous signs telling us how wrong homosexuality is. Once I entered the area, though, it all melted away. There was so much love. My favorite part of the whole day was marching in the parade. It was one of the most empowering and inspiring things I’ve ever been a part of. Just days before pride, SCOTUS ruled that same-sex marriage was legal all across the US. It was so great to see how far sexual minorities have come in both Korea and the United States.

This year’s pride event was also amazing. The protesters seemed to be less in number and volume. There were still a few points around the outside where they were holding signs of hatred in Korean while spewing words of “love” in English. I spent the day with some friends drinking, walking around to some of the booths, getting free stuff, dancing, and getting rained on. I thought the rain would deter people from coming, but the square in front of city hall was packed by the time they started directing people out onto the streets for the parade. We marched around downtown Seoul (same as last year). People were holding signs, dancing, drinking, and being merry. The crowds watching the procession had varying responses. Many were joining in the celebration, some were crying/wailing/praying, others were calling down damnation, and the rest just watched in confusion.

Pride 2016

It wasn’t until last year that I realized how important pride events are. Queer rights in Korea are basically non-existent. This country has such a long way to go to get where they need to be when it comes to human rights—but I have seen some changes. It’s been wonderful watching those of the younger generations embrace their queer friends. A really good friend of mine, who is getting married to another dear friend and moving to the US, came out to all of his friends and they were all accepting of who he is and who he loves. Another friend and I just threw him a bachelor party with all of his best friends and we all had a blast together.

As a gay foreigner in this country, I have it so much easier than my gay Korean friends. I’m out to everyone I spend my time around here—Korean or foreign. I have a great support system among the friends I’ve made here and have even been able to come out to a few coworkers over the years.

In order for Korea to move forward, more Koreans need to lead that charge. I understand the hesitation to come out, though. Queer Koreans with enough courage and strength to come out to their friends and family face ridicule, exclusion, and being forced out of their homes. I feel like this is a Catch 22 (is that the right phrase?) because things won’t start changing until there are more visible queer people here, but, for Koreans, coming out can have such dire consequences.

Flag of South Korean LGBT (source: Wikipedia)

I’m not sure where I see the queer community in Korea in the future. You know that feeling when you’ve been complacent and unsure for a long time, but you just know that something is going to happen soon—for better or worse? That’s where I feel like Korea is right now in regards to queer rights. I am hoping that something wonderful will happen, but that is up to those within the community itself: those who are out of the closet and those who have yet to leave it. Both this year’s pride festival and last year’s had the highest numbers of attendees than in years past. But, there has also been a lot of pushback. May those who are fighting continue to do so, regardless of how people respond.

Thanks Nick for sharing your story. I am super honored to have you be the first person ever to guest post on my blog and so grateful to have you as a friend.

Hugs and hugs,

Peter

Nick (the author) and Peter (Mustafa Jones)
Nick (the author) and Peter (Mustafa Jones)
The B in Apartment 403

The B in Apartment 403

I loved my last apartment in DC. There were some drawbacks, like my neighbors. They either talked too loud or paced back and forth nonstop or liked jumping up and down on their mattress (a.k.a. having sex). I also didn’t like being on the first floor because people walking by could see into my apartment, but it was a huge one-bedroom in a great location.

I knew to expect that the size of accommodations would most likely be much quainter in Seoul. Most schools include housing in their contracts for foreign teachers, so that means they have the power to decide where you get to stay. And, most likely, they’re going to find the cheapest possible place. When I showed up at my school one December evening after flying halfway around the world with basically no sleep, the principal took me to my apartment, which is one building away from the actual school. After taking the elevator to the fourth floor, he punched in the door code (no keys here) while I mentally repeated “Please be big. Please be big.” I can get by in a lot of living situations, but I need to have space to move around. At my DC apartment, I could alternate laying in my bed, lounging on the couch, or sitting at my dining room table. I appreciate being able to feel like I’m different places without leaving my home or having to put on pants.

from Etsy

But, when the door swung open and I stepped into my apartment for the first time, I had to quickly face the fact that this place was tiny and I would just have to suck it up while I’m here. No one explained how the heat or hot water worked, and the apartment was as barebones as possible. No plates, no utensils, not even a pair of wooden chopsticks. So my first few days in Seoul were spent trying to figure out where to buy things for my apartment with no understanding of the Korean language. I survived on plastic plates and forks for a decent amount of time until Big Sis Melanie could hook me up with some metal utensils.

In the six months I’ve lived in this building, I still do not know a lot of things. I’ve never met my neighbors and I just learned that I have a gas bill and that I’m supposed to pay it every month. However, I do know that I live in apartment 403. Four is an unlucky number in Korea (and other East Asian countries) because the same character for “four” in Chinese is very similar to the character for “death”. A lot of places don’t even have fourth floors or they put “F” instead of “4” on elevator buttons.

from “25 Ways to be Lucky and Unlucky the Korea Way”

And I live on the fourth floor. So, I was cursed from the start.

Let’s start with the bed. Korean beds don’t typically come with sheets; they just use multiple quilts. But, I wanted sheets because they are easier to clean regularly. No sheets fit this bed though! I think it must be a twin XL or something. I had my mom bring some old twin sheets when she visited. They too small! And I can feel every crease in that mattress. No thank you. Miss you, queen size pillowtop.

The bed from hell. No sheets fit it correctly.
The bed from hell. No sheets fit it correctly.

My contract says that my apartment will be furnished with a “table and chairs”. This is what I got. A TV tray table. It also came with a shitty office chair that I hated, so I replaced it with this dining room chair that I found on the street. Major improvement.

The bed and this chair are the only places to sit in this apartment. No couch. 🙁 That also means anyone who spends the night has to sleep on the floor. So far, that’s been Nick and me when my sister spent the night.

My desk/dining room table/couch
My desk/dining room table/couch. Cute wall though.

If you turn around, you’re in my kitchen/laundry room. It comes complete with a “stove” on top of the washing machine and a fridge that can’t figure out whether it’s a minifridge or a regular-sized fridge.

My kitchen/laundry room complete with baby fridge

There was a TV in my apartment, but I couldn’t figure out how to make it work and I watch TV on my computer anyway, so I put it in “storage”.

Such a great use of space
Such a great use of space

My bathroom’s decently sized, but the downfall of that is that I don’t have a closed-off shower area. I just have a showerhead on the wall. I’m fine with that. I’ve used them before, especially when I lived in Turkey. But, it just sucks having one with a big bathroom because everything gets wet when I shower.

Where isn't the shower?
Where isn’t the shower?

So, my apartment’s pretty small. I can’t do yoga on the floor space without bumping into some piece of furniture. But, it’s been home enough and it’s free. I’ve further supplemented my meager furnishings with a cow print table, a nightstand, and some artwork, all of which I found on the street.

How much do you think this would get at Sotheby's?
How much do you think this would get at Sotheby’s?

So me disliking my apartment makes it extra fun to visit my sister’s apartment. The U.S. military apparently values its employees more than my private English academy does. Melanie has three bedrooms. My apartment IS the bedroom…and the kitchen and living room, etc. You can actually walk around the place and there is fast internet. Much better than my ethernet connection.

I can’t believe it’s already been six months since I moved into my place. But, not for much longer. Next month, I will no longer be the B—- in Apartment 403.

via GIPHY

Mamma Mia in Korea

Mamma Mia in Korea

Carol Ann is a workaholic and not one to stray far from her daily routine. After 21 years in the U.S. Air Force, my mom now works at the Pentagon as a certified bad bitch.

However, my parents and little sister live about 80 miles away from my mom’s work meaning she commutes over 150 miles each day round trip. Between waking up at 3:30 a.m., sitting in a vanpool for 2-4 hours a day depending on traffic, working, and falling asleep in the recliner during Jeopardy, my mom has a pretty tight schedule. Because of this, I didn’t have high hopes that she would make it to Korea despite her initial promise of visiting my older sister and me.

I’ve had a handful of international adventures from high school until now and my mom has made a decent effort to try and visit me, at least during the important times. She came to my high school graduation in Costa Rica and my college graduation in Oklahoma.

She never made it to Israel, Turkey, or Armenia though. I was the most bummed about her not coming to Turkey since she had lived there before. But I had to accept that my mom is a busy lady and uses her vacation days to take my little sister to the orthodontist and catch up on her crochet projects.

As soon as I knew my work schedule here in Korea, I told my mom. Every weekend when I’d call her, she would promise to look for a ticket soon. After about a month of this and still no ticket, I had pretty much decided that she wasn’t coming. I was disappointed because I thought it would be fun for her, my sister, and me to have an international adventure.

One day I woke up and found two surprising emails: one was from a Huffington Post editor about a story I had pitched (published here) and the other was my mom’s itinerary for her trip to Korea. Exciting! But, we only had about three weeks until her arrival.

My sister and I worked together to plan our time with Carol Ann and made sure to eat at places that fit my mom’s restrictive diet of highly processed foods and no vegetables.

First, we both met my mom at the airport.

Carol Ann loves a deal so visiting Korea is see one child, get to see another one for free.

A post shared by Peter Jones (@pitajones) on

Then she stayed with my sister for a few days because I had to work. Melanie kept me updated on how things were going.

Then we traded off and my mom came up to Seoul to spend time with me.

We checked a lot of things off of my Seoul bucket list, one of which was buying and mastering a selfie stick. My mom is not the biggest fan of walking but always complied with my plans. She constantly had me check the pedometer on my phone to see how far we’d gone. Our busiest day was about 25,000 steps and close to 11 miles.

Carol Ann in Korea
Resting her feet

The highlight of the trip for me was the DMZ tour we went on. My sister had organized it through the base. I didn’t like having to wake up early but I would recommend it to anyone living in or just visiting Korea. We went to observation points where we could glimpse North Korea from across the border. We also were able to walk more than 1,000 meters down an underground tunnel dug by the North Koreans.

My favorite part was going to the Dorasan train station. It is the last station in South Korea and many Koreans hope that the line will be extended to North Korea when the Korean peninsula as a whole is reunited. I love train travel, and it’s so interesting to think that one day in the future it could be possible to travel all the way from mainland Europe to South Korea by land.

I also liked going to the Joint Security Area (JSA), a very recognizable spot in the DMZ. Conan O’Brien even stopped there on his recent tour of South Korea. We were able to technically cross the border into North Korea inside the conference room used for past negotiations. Here’s a picture of Melanie and my mom in NK.

But the other tourists in our group were complete dumbos who just stood in the way. So, by the time I was ready for my pic, we were told that time was up and we had to leave.

#clusterfuck
#clusterfuck

The next day was Mother’s Day and we celebrated by…

And just like that, our trip was over. I had to go back to Seoul to work and my mom had to catch her flight back to the U.S. It was a great trip and I’m so happy that the three of us now have many more fun memories together.

But I miss my mom.

Hating Gay Dating: Korea Edition

Hating Gay Dating: Korea Edition

Dating sucks. It sucks everywhere. Having a more active love life is something that I see as a to-do item that I just keep putting aside. Many moons have passed and I still haven’t gotten around to making any progress in the dating department. I’m pretty independent at this point, so it’s cool for now. But, I constantly romanticize that I’ll eventually find the right person and everything will just fall into place with my love life.

I’ve used dating websites and apps for a while now. I much prefer meeting people organically in real life situations like parties or through mutual friends. But, when I came to Korea, I didn’t have any friends. So, I decided to try online dating once again. My sister had recommended Tinder as a way to meet friends and that’s what I did at first. My first Tinder meeting turned out to be one of the best things I could have done. I met my great friend Nick through it. On top of Tinder, I downloaded Jack’d (pronounced “Jack Dee” here) because I heard it’s the most popular gay app in Korea. It’s basically Grindr. I’ve also kept my OKCupid profile current even though not many people use it here.

I was pretty insistent on my profiles that I only was looking for friends and dates, not hookups. I thought I could meet other expats living in Korea or even Koreans who could help show me around and teach me about life in Korea. After many hours of meticulous research, I would like to share with you the things I have learned about gay dating in Korea so far. (Please cite me in all academic papers.)

1. Profile pics can be…unusual.

He allegedly has a “little big dick”. Is it little or is it big? I’ll never know.

2. Some guys are very secretive.

Being openly gay is not accepted here pretty much at all. There’s no anti-discrimination laws preventing you from being fired if you’re gay (is this the United States?), which forces many guys to avoid showing their faces on apps.

So you see a lot of profile pictures like this:

#blairwitchproject

Some guys get more creative:

This guy seems looks like the perfect match for me. And he’s only looking for friends just like me!

3. Like anywhere, chatting can be difficult.

And the language barrier adds more to that. This guy starting a conversation with me just by unlocking pictures of his dick.

4. Guys can be super impatient.

I couldn’t forget the first time I got called an asshole here. Because I didn’t respond to this guy in seven minutes, he sent me (in my opinion) a very passive aggressive message, which I was not in the mood for. And of course, like Azaelia Banks, I’m never going to shy away from calling a bitch out on social media.

5. Guys can be super intense.

I replied “What the fuck?” to this guy and then he blocked me.

And here’s one of the scariest guys I’ve met through dating apps here in Korea. “Patrick” and I first matched on Tinder. Our conversation was pretty tame to start off. Things seemed promising.

 

One Tuesday or Wednesday, he asked me if I wanted to go ice skating that weekend. I had tentative plans with my sister and he lives pretty far away, so I didn’t respond immediately. I also didn’t want to explain why I couldn’t commit to his plan because I wasn’t sure if I even wanted to go all the way across the city to meet this guy. I didn’t really know much about him. Then I started getting passive aggressive messages (this seems to be a theme here) like “I guess we won’t hang out this weekend.” “I guess we won’t ever meet…” Stuff like that. I told him he was acting very dramatic. He sent a series of utterly crazy messages that I wish I could have screenshot before he unmatched with me. He did however find me on OKCupid and wrote this rant about some (maybe imaginary) Americans who told him that I wouldn’t be a good friend blablabla.

Please notice what tabs I had open.

So, bye Patrick. I will not be your Spongebob.

I met someone a few weeks ago who showed me Patrick’s picture on his phone and warned me about him, which confirmed my suspicions. Apparently, Patrick was making fake profiles using this guy’s pictures. That’s some Catfish shit and I’m not into it.

So, no love life to speak of here in Korea. Carry on posting your couples pics on Facebook and sending me  your wedding invitations.

Hong Kong Horror Story

Hong Kong Horror Story

I bought a ticket to Hong Kong to visit my friend from DC. She sent me the dates when she would be back home visiting her family. Because Korea works its employees like dogs, my vacation is predetermined and limited, meaning that I had to fit my trip into one weekend. Factoring in the the three-hour flight each way and the time it takes to get to the airport, I would be in Hong Kong for only about a day and a half. But now that my trip is done, I would love to forget a good portion of the short but messy time I spent there.

When I first arrived on Saturday morning, I headed straight to cable car station to go to the Tian Tan Buddha on Lantau Island. There, I met up with Jamie (a new friend) who runs the blog Teaching Travel. You might have seen my post there.

It was nice to meet him in person after corresponding online for weeks. The weather that day was a bit cloudy but good. The Buddha and monastery were cool. Here are some pics:

Beautiful
Cute
Guy cheesing in the background of my pic

 

After that, I went to my Airbnb, which I found out was in the middle-aged prostitute neighborhood. Super! I dropped my stuff off and headed to Victoria Peak to see HK’s skyline at night. It was foggy but whatever.


Although my DC friend had originally told me that she would arrive on Saturday like me, she then told me she would actually get in Sunday morning but we could hang out that day. So, I was expecting to spend most of my second day with her. Instead, on the way back to my Airbnb, I found out that my friend had given me the wrong dates completely, hadn’t realized it until I was already in Hong Kong and she wasn’t, and that we wouldn’t see each other at all. Why does shit like this always happen to me? Like, who buys a ticket to fly to another country to see their friend and their friend isn’t even there? How messed up is that?

That night, I ate shitty Chinese food and drank a big bottle of beer by myself and accepted the fact that this trip was a dud.

The next morning, I decided to make the most of things and hit up some markets and parks before my flight that night. I didn’t want to lug my bag around all day so I left it in a locker at a subway station.

I wasn’t feeling great on the subway. I’d had a sore throat (probably something I’d picked up from the gross kids I teach) and would have loved to sit down but all the seats were taken. I was seconds away from the station where I needed to change lines. I was planning to just take a seat at the station and see if I felt better. But, I didn’t make it that far.

All of a sudden, I woke up on the subway floor. I had apparently passed out and a couple of people were helping me off. This American lady was super nice. She went out of the station to get me something to drink and some hard candies for my throat. She told me she was on the way to church, so props to her for being a good Christian. A Filipina lady also gave me some crackers from her bag. Hallelujah even though I did not feel like eating them at all.

I must have sat there for at least 45 minutes before I worked up the energy and courage to try to stand up. I wandered out of the station, took a taxi to get my bag from the locker, and then took a taxi to the hospital because this didn’t feel like something I could just walk off.

There, I only had to pay 990 Hong Kong dollars (about $130) to be seen, much cheaper than it would have cost in the U.S. with no insurance. I was immediately given a surgical mask (a staple of Asian culture) because I had a fever. The doctor ordered a chest x-ray and blood tests for me, which came back normal. So, I was ultimately diagnosed with pharyngitis (yum) and given antibiotics as well as a few other OTC medicines.

I waited at the hospital pharmacy for maybe half an hour to see if I felt any better. I didn’t, but I finally made it to another taxi, which I took to the airport. My flight wasn’t until 1 a.m., and I got to airport around 5 p.m. All I wanted to do was lay down immediately and get home as fast as possible. I was so weak I couldn’t even stand in the check-in line. I had to sit down for more than hour before I finally asked for a wheelchair to the gate. First, the airline let me sit behind the counter with all the old people waiting for their wheelchairs. And then I was finally taken to the gate where I sprawled out over three seats until we boarded.

Not cute

On the plane, I had a whole row to myself because the ladies checking me in felt sorry or were grossed out by me. So, I laid across the row and alternated between freezing and burning up. Towards the end of the flight, I had to pee really bad and I was actually worried about wetting my pants if I didn’t go before we landed. I felt so weak, but I forced myself up and stumbled to the bathroom. Once inside, I pretty much passed out while I sat on the toilet. I had to rush to get back to my seat though because we were basically landing. I woozily used the seat backs to guide myself back to my seat and embarrassingly ran my fingers through several people’s hair.

I was snatching everybody.

Once we landed, I was again wheeled through the terminal and then immediately got in a taxi home. I didn’t go into work that day even though sick leave does not exist in my contract.

So, a lot of my trip to Hong Kong sucked really hard. My friend who I went to visit gave me the wrong dates and wasn’t there AND I passed out on the subway and spent the rest of the day continuing to make a fool of myself around the city, airport, and on the flight home because I felt horribly ill.

But, because I’m an optimist (LOL), I know this situation could have turned out much worse. Here’s how:

  • I could have had something more serious than a bacterial infection and had to stay in the hospital longer.
  • I could have missed my flight.
  • I could have had to pay a lot more money at the hospital.
  • I could have shit/peed my pants or thrown up on someone on accident.

But in the end, I was alone and sick in a foreign country. It sucked and I’m mad at the world, but what’s new.

Not Quite

Not Quite

I kind of expected Engrish to be widespread before I came to Korea. I understand that English is not everyone’s first language, and I don’t expect everyone to speak it perfectly. But, I do think that the internet has helped the world become more connected, so you can find practically any service online. A translator, a proofreader, someone? Nope, despite having tens of thousands of native English speaking teachers (like me) and U.S. military personnel (like my sister) living in the country, there are still plenty of professionally printed and circulated signs, websites, and products that have bad English on them. (Could you ask one of us for help?) But, even more often than that, I find things that are either funny when translated into English, funny to me for other reasons, or just inappropriate for their target audience.

Here’s a list of things that I’ve seen firsthand:

Yum, I’m on the cheese sand diet.

 

Someone had to say this is a bad name for a store.

 

This is such a little mistake, but it drives me nuts.

 

We won’t reach it, but we’ll rich it.

 

This is a pack of wet wipes. Like, what?
This is a pack of wet wipes. Like, what?

 

Not grammatically incorrect, just non-sensical
Not grammatically incorrect, just non-sensical. Why is this a store name?

 

Again not wrong, but I just don't understand. I'm sure my mom would want to take me here.
Again not wrong, but I don’t understand. I’m sure my mom would want to take me here.

 

This was given to me as my lesson plan. So glad my job is helping me shape young minds.
This was given to me as my lesson plan. So glad my job is helping me shape young minds.

 

I thought of a different kind of O-Ring first.

 

This is just a funny(?) piece of art that I saw.

 

Rehoboth's the beach all the DC gays go to. Can't escape their influence.
Rehoboth’s the beach all the DC gays go to. But, there’s no beach in Seoul and gays are definitely not as welcome here as in DC.

 

Bonus:

I went to get my hair cut for the first time since I moved here. I scoured forums for the places foreigners have had the most luck. I didn’t think my hair was that different from Korean hair but apparently I was wrong. I could have gone to a local barber, but I figured that was too risky. Also, places with two barber poles signify brothels, and I really didn’t want any “extra services”. So, I found a chain of salons that some foreigners recommended. I even brought pictures of the style I wanted so that English wasn’t a requirement.

Nothing dramatic, but less ghetto
Nothing dramatic, but less ghetto

 

Here’s what I got:

Girl, no.
Girl, no.

The higher the hair, the closer to God I guess. It wasn’t the best cut of my life, but I got an awesome shampoo and head massage, so it was worth it.

The Exercist

The Exercist

Of all the things that I anticipated missing from America, I didn’t think that being fit would be one of them. Since I was plopped in my apartment in Seoul two months ago with no help from my school on adjusting to basic life (like advice on where to go to the grocery store, what’s the closest subway station, how I can make my bathroom stop smelling like cigarette smoke and vienna sausages), I had gotten super out of shape. And I felt bloated and constipated all the time. Looking back now, it was silly of me to think that my work would help me find a gym. Nope. Despite putting out lots of feelers and asking questions, I got nothing. It was super cold outside though, and I figured that I could get by doing the 7 Minute Workout app and some yoga videos in my apartment every once in a while.

I eventually realized that this wasn’t going to cut it. I noticed a significant change in my body composition and I didn’t like it. So, a gym membership was a must if I was going to avoid gaining a Buddha belly. There are forums for expats that I scoured looking for some foreigner-friendly gym that would hopefully be nearby. I found multiple Crossfit gyms that were only a short bus or subway ride away. But, I was shocked by the cost of a monthly membership at these places. The prices were comparable to those of “boxes” in DC, one of the most expensive cities in the U.S. The class times didn’t really line up with my schedule either. I know in theory I could wake up early and go to Crossfit before I go to work at 1 p.m., but I know this is unlikely to happen in reality.

Two months worth of walking the streets of my neighborhood helped me realize that there were two second floor gyms super close to both my apartment and my work. One morning, I finally decided to scope these places out by myself. I was nervous because I expected no one at either place to speak English and I know nothing about discussing gym memberships in Korean. The first gym was closed, I think permanently. The second place was cheap (about $20 a month with a four-month membership) but it was really cramped and dusty. And it looked like they didn’t even have one complete weight set.

I walked out of the second gym feeling super defeated and sad (I was missing those exercise endorphins). I just wanted to work out. Was this my only option? I vowed to wander the streets everyday until I found a promising gym. A few minutes into my walk of self pity, I saw a sign that looked promising right next to an Outback Steakhouse. I followed it into the building basement where a very nice Korean guy helped me. He didn’t speak much English, but he grabbed two random people from the gym to explain the membership process to me. I came back the next day and bought a four-month membership for about $40 a month.

As part of my membership, I apparently got two free personal training sessions. I was told it was just an orientation, so I was confused when I showed up after work and got a full body composition scan complete with a polite lecture about how I should gain more muscle. “Nick”, my personal trainer according to his name tag, was super cute and did speak great English. However, I think I would have preferred an ugly person telling me to work out more.

Nick was really nice about helping me my first few times at the gym. Although I had done weight training in high school (believe it or not), he walked me through the free weight exercises and gave me pointers on how to improve. He knew a lot of body terminology although he did say “niffle” (for nipple) and “scaffula” (for scapula). Typical Korean-English mistakes, but that made him that much more endearing. He even helped me bench press one time after I had used up my two PT sessions, but I think that was more embarrassing than anything.

It’s now been about a week and a half since I’ve joined the gym. I’ve been a handful of times and things are going really well so far. Here are some things that I learned about Korean gym etiquette, which is different than my experience in the American fitness world:

  1. Koreans lack the same personal bubble that I am used to back home, and the gym is just one example of this. Nick was very up in my business while helping me. When I was bench pressing and he was spotting me, his thighs were basically squeezing my temples. And I’m 1000% ok with that. You know, cultural immersion and all. 
  2. A lot of gyms in Korea provide clothes for you wear when you work out. It might be gross to some people to wear public property clothing, but it saves me from having to do more laundry or bring more stuff to the gym. They do smell really strongly of bleach though.

    Here's what the clothes at my gym look like.
    Here’s what the clothes at my gym look like.
  3. ^^Do you see that guy walking behind me?^^ Do you see what’s on his feet? Ok, that brings me to my third point: Korean people sometimes work out in flip flops. Around those heavy weights? No thank you.

    This guy went a step further and took his flip flops off. #barefootcontessa
    This guy went a step further and took his flip flops off. #barefootcontessa
  4. Everyone gets 100% nake nake in the locker rooms. And they don’t just get undressed and hide behind a towel right away. Their towels are the size of washcloths, so that’s not really an option. But, Koreans overall just seem to be way more comfortable being naked. They stand in front of the mirror and blow dry their hair for like 10 minutes naked, and no one cares. I love that. (I also love the way their blowdryers make my hair look). Sure, I’ve learned a lot about Korean anatomy (which I will cover in a later post about my first experience at a Korean bathhouse), but I also just feel confident that no one is looking at my body. And if they are, it’s because they’ve never seen a dick as pink as mine. 

So, I love how my quest to find a gym finally worked out. I love the body confidence of Korean guys. It doesn’t hurt that my gym’s close to a university so a lot of the guys are young and attractive. Many of them are also in good shape too. Thanks mandatory Korean military service!

Here are some more pics of JFIT Korea:

It’s no VIDA, but I think that’s probably a blessing.

Tinderella

Tinderella

My sister (see last post) has been a huge help to me since I arrived in Seoul. On top of providing me with basic provisions (like peanut butter) that are either too expensive or non-existent in the Korean market, she has also given me a ton of advice on day-to-day life here. One idea that she suggested was for me to use Tinder to look for friends.

I had been on and off Tinder while I was living in the U.S. Despite having matched with hundreds of people, I had had zero success in meeting up with anyone IRL. I only really used the app when I was on the toilet and had run out of Candy Crush lives. So I did use it quite often. But, like my love-hate experience with Grindr, I would usually download it while drunk and thirsty and then delete it a few days later after having no luck.

But, a new city and country could prove to be more fruitful. And my #1 priority was friends. A boo would be nice, but I’m very aware that I’m not the luckiest when it comes to relationships. So, I downloaded Tinder once again.

I tried to make it pretty clear that all I wanted was friends.

pretty clear right?

 

But there were still some people who could not understand friendship.

Joseph’s first questions are: 1. where are you from? 2. top or bottom?

 

So, I wasn’t having tons of luck at first. I was matching with lots of guys, both Koreans and other foreigners, which was a huge confidence boost. It led to a few conversations with people promising to show me around Seoul sometime. But, there still seemed to be a sexual undertone that our meetup was ultimately going to end with me putting out.

One Saturday I was on my way to work and running through the next batch of potential matches to see if there were any possible friends. And then I came across Nick.

Are you fucking kidding me? How could I not want to be friends with this guy? If your profile makes me laugh and not because it’s so sad, I’m a fan.

After we starting chatting, I found out that Nick lives in Cheonan, a city about 30 minutes past my sister on the subway line. He was in Seoul for the weekend visiting friends and invited me to hang out that night so that I could avoid my sad weekend past time of sitting alone at coffee shops in my neighborhood.

IMG_0127

It felt great to be invited out by a potential new friend, but it was also scary because I had never met up with anyone from Tinder! What if we couldn’t find anything to talk about? I was nervous and very non-committal in my messages leading up to the burlesque show we were going to so that if I chickened out last minute, I could always block him on Tinder and never have to think about it again.

I finally decided to bite the bullet and give it a try even though the temperature was well below freezing that night. The subway ride there took longer than expected and I kept thinking how I would be 100% okay with him not waiting for me because I was late. I would just do an about face and head back home where I would watch Netflix over some camomile tea like the 45-year-old woman that I am.

Despite arriving about 15 minutes late, Nick did wait for me. He was easily recognizable with his long hair, backpack, and cell phone plugged into the wall. To my relief, we got along really well from the beginning. Nick’s a very social person and I feel like he could make conversation with pretty much any human or animal. On our walk to the bar, we found out that we both went to college in Oklahoma. What a coincidence! At the bar, I met some of his friends as we waited for the burlesque show to start. It was my first time out in Seoul (sadly), so I decided not to hold back when it came to drinking.

The burlesque show was a cool new experience for me. Nothing enticed me obviously, but I appreciated it. After that, we went to Homo Hill, Seoul’s aptly named gay-borhood. It sounds like a bunch of bigoted frat guys came up with that name but whatever. I’ll just call it The Hill. We first went to a party at a “gay-friendly” bar where there were a lot of welcoming lesbians but not many gay boys. I don’t remember much of it because I was holding that cup like alcohol all night.

courtesy of www.heezyyang.com
courtesy of www.heezyyang.com

I don’t know who three of those girls are.

We danced and whipped our hair for a while before Nick took me to my first full-on gay bar in Seoul. It was obviously also on The Hill. Only a few seconds after walking in, a Korean guy stopped me and showed me that we had matched (no joke) on Tinder. He then introduced me to his very drunk Irish friend who was apparently nervous as this was his first time at a gay bar. Because I was liquored up, I ever so benevolently tried to help him overcome his fears and dance with some Korean guys he was interested in. Of course, this being the gay world, some signals got mixed and I ended up spending the night with the Irish guy in a hotel room that he paid for (#sugardaddy). It turns out that this might have been his first time at a gay bar but he was no stranger to the world of gay hookups.

But back to Nick!

Nick has been an ideal Tinder friend match. On top of taking me out in Seoul for my first time and introducing me to new people, he laughs at my jokes, which is the most important quality I look for in friends. He’s stayed with me for a couple nights while visiting Seoul and I even went down to Cheonan for a visit. Thanks for everything, Pussy Monster. Looking forward to many more fun times together.

<3 Chodie

yaaaaaaassssssss kween
yaaaaaaassssssss kween

tl;dr: gay shit

Seoul Sistah

Seoul Sistah

As I said before, one of the main reasons I chose to find an English teaching job in South Korea was because my sister would be stationed here for a year. When I finally accepted that I would have to teach English if I wanted to get out of Washington and the U.S., I explored opportunities everywhere. I could go back to Latin America because I already know a good amount of Spanish. I could explore a new place and go to another country in Asia like China or Thailand. But, I kept coming back to Korea because it seemed small enough to explore but with lots of things to do/see…and my sister was here.

My sister and I are only 13 months apart in age (she’s older) and about 2 inches apart in height (I’m taller). Growing up, we were constantly moving around because both of our parents were in the Air Force. When I was about 5, my parents officially divorced although they had been stationed at separate bases for a while. For the next five or so years, my sister and I were each other’s closest and sometimes only friend. It was hard to move so much and constantly have to start over at new schools. But, we were in it together whether we liked it or not.

My mom remarried when I was 10. Soon after that, she had my little half-sister Alexia. I consider Lexi my full sister even though we only share our mom because I’ve watched her grow up. Can’t believe she’s 16 now.

We know our positions

But, there’s still an age difference of 11 years between us. Melanie, my older sister, and I were always known as the “big kids” in our family and we stayed close even as our family expanded. Together, we somehow made it through the scary times of puberty. We both had acne but Melanie also had glasses and braces. I wasn’t any better. I accidentally shaved off part of my eyebrow and had armpit hair by the sixth grade. Not cute.

Melanie and I left home at about the same time. She went to college after graduating high school, and I moved to Costa Rica for what would have been my senior year. I think we were both so excited by our new adventures that we weren’t really sad about being apart. We wanted to show that we were independent and could take care of ourselves. But, we haven’t been close (geographically) since.

I was super excited to have the opportunity to be near my sister once again. She moved here at the end of last November, and I came right before New Year’s. We’ve met up a few times already: both in Seoul and when I went to visit her. It takes about two hours to get from my place to hers on the subway:

I'm purple. She's red.
I’m purple. She’s red.

Since I’ve arrived here in Korea, the main difference between my sister and me isn’t the length of time that we’ve spent here but rather our jobs, experiences, and the locations that we live/work in.

Me My sister
I was picked up at the airport and driven two hours to my neighborhood. She landed on base so she didn’t have to go anywhere.
My apartment was already picked out for me. She got to stay at a hotel on the base for a week and shop around for her apartment.
My apartment’s a studio and I don’t pay for it. Her apartment has three bedrooms and she doesn’t pay for it.
A small thing of peanut butter costs $6 in my grocery store. She can buy pretty much everything you can get in the U.S. for cheap
Legs and subways all the time She has a car.
The principal of my school (an English school) needs someone to translate in order to talk to me. Her whole area is pretty much half Americans. All the signs are in Korean and English and people speak almost perfect English in all the shops.
 There’s a 7-Eleven across the street from me. There are three Turkish kebab places within walking distance of her.

So, we’ve been living in very different worlds in Korea. Although I think it’s harder for me to adjust because I’m outside of my comfort zone and America-land, I’m hopeful that this immersion will give me the opportunity to master enough Korean language and culture to get around on my own. But having my big sis around has definitely been a huge help. She’s gotten me sheets, towels, silverware, and PEANUT BUTTER from on base. What a godsend!

She’s also taught me things about how to live in Korea that I assumed my school would tell me. Like that you have to buy special garbage bags and separate your trash. Now, how the hell was I supposed to figure that out on my own? I had just been throwing my Wal-Mart bags in the big pile of garbage outside my apartment. But, you apparently have to separate organic matter from general waste from the different recyclables and put each in its own appropriately colored bag.

But which one’s which?

And every part of Seoul uses different colors. Fuck me, man. Why it gotta be so hard?

In conclusion, thanks a ton Mei Mei for letting me invite myself to join you in Korea and unknowingly going on this adventure with me. I’m looking forward to traveling, drinking soju, eating tons of Korean food, and going to gay bars with you. You’re my favorite big sister.

LOL (Lots of love),

PJ

A duck and the kid from Up

A photo posted by @pitajones on

Hagwon School of Witchcraft and Wizardry

Hagwon School of Witchcraft and Wizardry

The first weeks at my job were pretty demanding. My school’s a private language academy (also called a hagwon) so kids come to class at our school outside of their regular school time. It was winter break for the kids in January, so there were winter camp classes during the daytime in addition to the evening classes that we usually have. That meant that I was at work from 12:30-10 p.m. everyday and I even had to work a couple hours on Saturdays. Gross. My Korean coworkers had it even worse. They had to work 9 a.m.-10 p.m. during the week and 9 a.m.-5 p.m. on Saturdays. They were so exhausted, they often took naps in the teachers’ office during their breaks from class.

And these poor kids. I feel bad for them because they come after their normal school hours. I thought that they would come for one hour a couple times a week. But most of them are bused here from their schools by 5 and then they study here until 10 five days a week. 10 P.M.!!! These kids are elementary and middle schoolers. They have to eat dinner here. They fall asleep in class sometimes and I let them. I also try not to always push them that hard because I don’t agree with their parents sending them to classes for so long. I think they should just be kids.

They are also supposed to only speak English with each other while they’re here. If they speak Korean, they get their name on the Korean Loser List.

A photo posted by @pitajones on


I don’t approve of the list’s name. One of the Korean teachers is so insistent on them speaking only English that he sounds exactly like this:

Apologies for the R word. Thank you if you know what movie this is from.

It’s kind of awkward though because the Korean teachers don’t speak great English. So forcing the kids to speak English all the time makes them speak crappy Korean “English”. But, some of them really try and some of them are really cool kids. Others suck.

Here are some things that the kids at my school do/have done so far:

  • They call each other “idions” instead of “idiots” and tell each other to “shut down” instead of “shut up”. I don’t know if it’s better to correct them or not.
  • They say “I’m finish” instead of “I’m finished” which drives me fucking insane. And where do they get that? The teachers! “You finish?”
  • The kids are very honest and they (mostly boys) have no problem calling me handsome. I have no problem with that either. One kid told me I looked like Adam Levine. Yeah…no. I think he just really wanted me to give him a piece of candy.
  • The kids watch a lot of movies here to practice speaking and listening. I love that because I don’t have to talk all the time or make that many lesson plans. One time they reenacted a scene from Elf and one of the kids was the manager. The manager’s black. So, of course this kid painted his face black. Whoops.

    Excuse me?
  • I gave the kids lifesavers and they think the mint flavor is so strong it hurts. Some of them spit them out. Fucking wasted my good candy.

But, I’m finally free from winter camp and ever so slowly settling into my shoebox apartment and life in Seoul. Another foreign teacher explained to me how to turn on the heat and hot water in my apartment so I’m set there. There are actually pipes that run hot water under the floors, so I never have to wear slippers.

Finally, here are a few of my observations about Korea and Koreans that I’ve learned so far:

  • It has the second highest suicide rate in the world and the highest suicide rate among OECD countries. Probably because their parents make them go to school for 13 hours a day.
  • They really hate Japan because they haven’t forgiven them yet for what they did in the past. One kid said in class that he’d rather commit suicide than move to Japan. I don’t think that’s very healthy.
  • When I started talking about gay marriage and marijuana in DC to another American teacher, he instantly told me to stop talking. I wasn’t trying to spread my agenda, but apparently both of those things are hella taboo around here.
  • Some websites are randomly blocked. I can’t logon to OKCupid at my school and I couldn’t watch a video called “Lesbians Touch Penis for the First Time” at a coffee shop. Call me a radical, but I think it’s my god given right to be able to watch lesbians touch penises for the first time.
  • Koreans brush their teeth all the time, even while sitting at their desks.
  • They also eat pizza wearing one single plastic glove. It look like this: IMG_2769
  • Plastic surgery’s a huge deal. Maybe I’ll get something nip/tucked while I’m here.

Can you believe I posted twice in one week? Man, all this free time and lack of a social life has its perks for now.