Moving to another country can easily present culture shock in even the worldliest individual. For a gringo, like me, who has never lived outside his home city, like me, culture shock is a pretty mild term. Homesickness and a longing for normalcy can compound one’s woes rather quickly.
To aid in my transition, I tried to bring things that would remind me of home. In my room-called-an-apartment, you’ll find my ‘MERICA, ‘ANADA, and giant Block M flags all hanging from the living room walls. I’ve brought a few books, my baseball glove, plenty of U of M shirts (Ann Arbor is a Whore), my Twins jersey, and a few pictures.
Despite my best efforts to transplant my own little piece of Minneapolis in Seoul, not everything can be brought with me. However, some substitutions can be made with varying degrees of success. Here the missing hometown favorites that I have identified so far, and how I plan to fill the gaps:
The Original: The Minnesota Twins
The Replacement: The LG Twins
I can keep tabs on the Twinkies online, read blogs, analyze highlights and box scores, but nothing compares to seeing game unfold live. Granted, I’ve just purchased an MLB.tv account and can stream games in amazing quality. I’ve watched one game live and another a couple hours afterward. It’s a surprisingly effective replacement for watching a game on television. Ultimately, however, nothing short of flying home will allow me to watch a game in person.
Instead, I turn to the next best thing, the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO). Baseball is a huge sport in Korea, probably second only to soccer. There are three teams in Seoul alone, the closest to me being the LG Twins. There are other KBO teams with corporately sponsored MLB franchise names, such as the Lotte Giants and the Kia Tigers.
I have already had a chance to attend one LG game versus the Samsung Lions. Highlights included having no idea who anyone was, the just-less-than stellar play, huge masses of color coordinated fans screaming and chanting in an extremely organized fashion, mascots and cheerleaders in skimpy outfits leading the chants, beer, and fried chicken. I plan to attend more games in the future, hopefully while sitting with fans of my own team (don’t let strangers buy your tickets).
The Original: Gatorade
The Replacement: Pocari Sweat
Okay, the truth is I don’t really miss Gatorade. Honestly, I didn’t drink all that much of it, and it’s readily available here. However, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that there is a sports drink—nay—”ion supply drink” called Pocari Sweat.
Imagine if there was a Gatorade Neutral, a Gatorade that was sweet with just the tiniest hint of citrus but otherwise flavorless. That’s Pocari Sweat. It’s great straight up or with a shot of “Lazy Lime” (the plastic squirt bottles of lime juice). My hands down favorite preparation, however, is when mixed with a shot or two of soju, a concoction I refer to as “Soju Sweat.”
P.S. Its name has the word sweat in it for fuck’s sake. Awesome.
The Original: MN State Fair
The Replacement: University neighborhood street foods
The MN State Fair is called “The Great Minnesota Get Together” for a reason, a bunch of fatties get around and each delicious food on a stick. That’s it. No other reasons.
I can’t magically be transported to fatty land to get my annual fix of corn dogs, pronto pups, shaved Hawaiian ice, elephant ears, cheese curds, Sweet Martha’s cookies, roasted corn, gyros, blackberry malts, foot-long hotdogs, french fries, chocolate covered bacon, deep-fried twinkies, spam bites, beer on a stick, lefsa, or my infinitely refillable cup of milk. I can, on the other hand, walk down the bustling streets surrounding the numerous universities in Seoul to partake in some less than traditional fare.
One treat I’ve spotted currently holds my top pick for best State Fair replacement. I have no idea what it’s called, but it is essentially a corn dog that was rolled in french fries before being fried. I imagine the batter probably is closer to tempura than poncho dog, but it looks my-tee fine nonetheless. Other foods include bacon wrapped dogs, various grilled or fired skewers of seafood, and glutinous rice balls in some weird red sauce (Andrew Zimmern compared these to Spaghettios on his Seoul episode of Bizarre Foods).
Expect a Follow-up post including greater information on the plethora of food cart sustenance.
The Original: Gopher sports
The Replacement: BigTenNetwork.com and GopherSports.com
While watching the Twins play live will be hard due to time difference, watching Gopher games (mostly football, basketball, with some hockey thrown in for good measure) should be easier due to the proclivity of weekend games. Football games will all be on Saturdays in the Midwest (except for that first one. Thursday games are bogus). This means I won’t be at work. The one problem is that games may be at 4:00 am on a Sunday, which is not exactly convenient but better than a work-night at any rate. The same goes for hockey games, which are almost always on Friday and Saturday nights. Basketball will be a little trickier, but there are a lot of weekend games.
Big Ten Network offers live and archived games for $3 an event, I can watch live and on-demand streams of Big Ten games. This may be only available in the states, which I may or may not be able to work around. If not, I can also purchase the Big Ten Ticket “School Pass,” which would allow me to watch all Gopher football or basketball games for $35. I can also buy the $25 plus PPV fees package if I plan on watch fewer games, or $45 “Conference Pass” if I want unlimited access to other teams too. [Edit: In the week since I started writing this post, the Big Ten Network site has removed its live streams page. No word, as of yet, when—or if—it will return. I may be stuck with less-than-legal methods until further notice.]
Gopher Sports also has streaming services, of which I am less aware. These would mostly come in handy for hockey, as the Big Ten does not include the sport (WCHA, baby). Presumptive research has led me to believe that Gophersports’ streaming media is highly dependent on the right’s holder of each game. For example, the @ Middle Tennessee game was aired on ESPNU. As far as I can tell, ESPNU doesn’t offer any streams online (the game may have been on ESPN3, but access appears limited to the United States). All Gophersports offered was an audio stream. Lame. We’ll see what the future brings.
The Original: GOOD BEER
The Replacement: Hite, Max, and Cass
I was extremely lucky that my tenure at a liquor store and my coming of age towards alcohol coincided with MN’s most recent craft brewing surge. MN has an amazing supply of quality local brews (ask anyone who’s had a Coffee Bender) and an amazing community of craft advocates to bring good domestic and international rarities into the state (ask anyone who’s been to The Four Firkins). One is hard pressed to drink a macro lager when there are so many thought and taste bud provoking brews available. Even if you just want a “simpler” drink, the status quo macro lager in MN is Premo. How the fuck could anyone complain about that scenario? They couldn’t, to put it simply.
Knowing this, then, what does a Minnesotan do when supplanted in a country majorly lost on the subtleties of craft brewing? Well, the options in South Korean are only a few, and their quality appears to be inversely related to their quantity (a common theme in the liquor industry). In every corner market, you can find bottles and cans on Hite, Max, Cass, and a few other domestic ROKean beers. They are awful, but cheap, and readily available.
For 1000 won (about 88 cents) I can buy a single can of crappy beer from the Buy the Way on the ground floor of my school’s building and drink it on the way home. If I’m slightly more adventurous, I can buy makali, Korean’s sickly sweet rice wine, or soju, Korean’s half-proof vodka for the same trip. Soju is apparently often drunk on Sunday hikes up the neighborhood mountain, as it is said to help one reach the summit. There is also a host of drinking protocols that I intend to detail in future posts.
While Cass, Max, and Hite are omnipresent in Seoul, there are rumors of better, craftier beers hiding in the shadows. I’ve heard stories of scattered microbreweries and brewpubs, homebrew parties on sailboats, and a mythical figure—reminiscent of the wonderful Wizard of Oz—known as Mr. Goodbeer, who will let you rent his brewing equipment for making personal batches a ½ bbl or so at a time. I have yet to encounter any of these mouth-watering oddities in my short time here. If they exist, be rest assured that I will find them. Again, my findings will most likely be the subject of a future post.
The Original: My Quiver of Bikes
The Replacement: Something Way Overpriced
A quiver, for those unaware, is a term someone coined for one’s collection of bikes. Much like a quiver of arrows, from which an archer choosing his weapon, a serious biker has a quiver of bikes with which to ride in a variety of environments. At home, I had three bikes of varying quality and repair: a mountain bike, an ss/fixie, and a dedicated polo rig (which never actually saw polo action before I left the states). I had a bike for cruising around on the summer concrete, a bike for the trails or the snowfalls of winter, and a polo bike… for polo.
In the ROK, bikes are fairly common (probably not on a per capita basis), but not at all cheap. My understanding is that the number domestically produced bikes must equal or exceed that of imported bikes. Few bikes are actually made in Korea and, as a result, bikes cost pretty penny here. Since I’m not made of won, I plan on only buying one bike, one versatile bike.
Since I am planning on doing some trail riding, I’ve counted out a fixie or road bike. Folding bikes, cruisers, and other mini bikes are all out the question because they all look like they’d fall apart in a strong breeze. The ideal bike would be a cyclocross, something I could run skinnies on for street rides and fatties for weekend trips up and down the mountain. Cyclocross rides are all but none existent here, and the few that are cost thousands of dollars. So, I’ve settled on a decent 26” hard tail mountain ride. I had thoughts of getting a soft tail, a bike with a suspended rear wheel for tackling the roughest mountains, but they are outside both my skill and price range.
Scavenging Craigslist and few other Seoul bike resources has yielded few results for a cheap used mountain bike. Instead, I accepted that I may have to buy a new bike. My current plan is to buy a mid-range amateur quality mountain bike (better than Wal-Mart quality, but nowhere near the professional cyclist level) and sell it before I leave the country. For the moment, I’ve narrowed my search to a few models of Scott and Trek hard tails in the 500,000 to 700,000 won price range. I imagine that a year of hard riding could still see a return of 300,000 to 600,000 won when I sell the bike, assuming I maintain the ride. As if you haven’t heard it already, future posts will follow my bike buying exploits.
The Original: Spam
The Replacement: 스팸(Seupaem)
Spam is also made in Korea. Single tear.