Korean Christmas

Dear Canada,

I want to tell Korea Christmas. Merry Christmas Canadian!

My name is Mike. Christmas morning, first we eat kimchi. Korean people always eat kimchi before church where we pray for gifts from Santa. In date 25 after go to church we play with friends. If there are snows we play with snow. If not we run and hide. Our Christmas is very cold. Too cold that our hands are freezing and there is smooth and white snow sometimes.

In Korea we make Christmas tree, give gift and have a party and yum food. We eat steak, in VIP’s for example I eat salad, meat, spaghetti, bread with jam, pizza, Italian bread…food like that we eat for Christmas! Oh, and also steak too. So I like Christmas because I get to eat yummy foods all day! Hope Canada too…

We usually make a Christmas tree from December to January. Everyone descorate it with happy mind. When I was young, a foreigner put on a makeup like Santa Clause and gives me a present. (Terrible it’s always a doll L). We eat lot of yummy food. I think, this is the best thing of Christmas.

It is very great in Korean Christmas.

Canada! Please give me a reply answer in wrighting with Christmas gift! And Merry Christmas!

Ten year old Mike’s Christmas Letter to Canada.

My first Christmas away from home. I thought it would be really easy to live outside of Canada as I am living in a predominantly Buddhist nation. I thought I would be able to adequately avoid reminders of the festive season. I mean, I wasn’t living in the North Pole (surely would not bump into Santa), was far as can be from the Little Town of Bethlehem and far enough from North America to avoid being reminded of the daily rituals of the festive season. Unbeknownst to me Korea loves Christmas. I have learned that Koreans love gift giving (which goes hand in hand with their love of shopping). They enjoy the gifts more than the actual rituals that are steeped in the season. Which makes sense. Christianity is a farley new faith here and any rituals are mirror images of Western Christmas tradition. I was rather shocked to walk through the streets full of red and green lights and glowing wreathes covered in silver ornaments. Department stores feature windows covered in Christmas trees, life size Nutcrackers and carols harmoniously drift from one retail outlet to the next.

In an attempt to embrace the Korean Christmas spirit I spent the weekend before the holiday shopping. I made my first visit to Apkujong which is located within the cities wealthiest neighborhood, Gangnam-gu. Apkujong is often described as Korea’s Beverly Hills. The streets are full of high end Korean Boutiques, Starbucks, French Patisseries and a giant ten story shopping mall called The Galleria. The mall sparkles on the main street as it is covered in reflective metal panels which overlap each other like tulip petals.

The shoppers of Apkujong are called Apku’s. Much like Tokyo’s Harajuku girls and boys. Apku shoppers are dressed to the nine’s in Coco, Giorgio and Hugo. The main side street off the promenade features a huge sign which reads “Rodeo Drive Apkujong.” The Koreans have stolen Beverly Hills most famed shopping street and made it their own. I immediately felt a wave of lovely fall over me as I walked up Rodeo Drive and peaked my head into many upscale restaurants and cafes. Expensive is an understatement. In my Lonely Planet it says Apkujing is “a perfect place to people watch and stare gaze.” If I knew any Korean celebrities I’m sure I would have hounded them for an autograph. While dodging Ferrari’s, Mazeratti’s and BMW’s I found the time to sit at an outdoor coffee shop. I listened to the Korean-ized Christmas music lulling through the crisp air as I took as many pictures of stylishly dressed shoppers as I could. Apku girls and boys always shop in pairs. It is customary when shopping to hold hands or link arms with your fellow shopper. Pairs of girls, pairs of boys. Linked together in Versace and Jimmy Choo. Searching for the ultimate Christmas gifts.

I spent a great deal of time in a toasty warm tea shop that would make any true tea lover grow weak in the knees. The store’s walls are covered in glass bottles featuring over 300 varieties of high quality loose leaf teas from around the world. I was given a few samples and stared amongst the plethora of tiny rolled leaves which had a fantastical and variable aroma. The company is called Lupicia and they hale from Japan. Everything was perfect, for a moment. I stopped and experienced one of those holiday “spread the love,” feelings.

Rodeo also has a huge Baskin Robbins boutique. Korean’s love 31 Flavors. On the street two female models dressed in a rather ridiculous blue and pink Christmas hats gave out samples of their Green Tea Candy Cane Christmas holiday flavor. I spent a great deal of time in an Urban Outfitters style shop called A Twosome Place. The four floor shop is covered in ultra modern home accessories, chandeliers, kitchen supplies, clothing, shoes and candles a plenty. I whisked myself into a Diesel boutique and was mortified to realize that the jeans I purchased at home were twice the price here. Who would ever spend $500 dollars on these jeans I do not know. I was most fascinated by the many Haute Couture Second Hand shops. Boutiques full of “previously enjoyed’ purses, shoes, jackets and belts from Channel, Louis Vuitton and Prada. I have never seen so many classic, gorgeous antique fashions in my life.

I spent the latter part of my day walking through the ten floors of The Galleria Mall. This shopping center puts Holt Renfrew in Toronto, Sax Fifth Avenue in New York City and Pretemps in Paris to shame. The bottom floor is full of bustling high end restaurants and grocery stores. Fruit gift baskets valued at over $200 dollars. Slurping noodles, dumping dim sum, chewing on BBQ pork. On the main floor I spent a great deal of time circling around the many makeup and perfume counters ogling at perfectly put together men and woman. On the other floors I found myself in a dream. Sugar daddy in toe, purchasing my way through this store. I would surely purchase Gucci loafers, Dolce and Gabbana cashmere v-necks, Vivienne Westwood man bag and Burberry trench. On the top floor I suddenly came out of this daze and made my very own purchase. In the home care section I fell in love with Tomas and Tomas’s Food Art cutting boards. These two artists use vegetables and fruits to create pictures of cultural icons such as Marilyn Monroe (hair made of sliced Vidalia onions) and Elvis (hair made of eggplants). I left the Galleria with my modest purchase and headed for the subway headed for Insadong.

I strolled the streets covered in Christmas lights which were packed by locals and tourists alike purchasing antique Korean paintbrushes, masks and tea sets. I thoroughly enjoyed several of the art galleries in the area. One featured a huge inflatable cat floating in the central gallery. The Insadong Gallery had a fabulous show on featuring a Korean artist who recently studied at NYU. He creates incredibly realistic larger than life animal sculptures from used tire treads. I stared into the glass eye of a huge rhinoceros, wild boar and gawked at a Great White Shark which appeared to be swimming mid air. While staring at these hunks of tire which magically had been forged into life forms I was approached by a short Japanese man with bleached hair and baggy Sean Jean jeans. He poked me in the side and said, “me take picture of you?” I laughed and said sure. I posed by a Cheetah constructed of tire rubber and vamped up the gallery for all to see. He nodded at me in thanks and I pranced out of the gallery back into the street. A few moments later I noticed Mr. Photographer hiding behind a vendor’s mask display to take more pictures of me. Wierd. I thought it best to test if he were actually following me like a crazed paparazzi so I walked down a little alley lined with golden Buddha’s for sale. Sure enough I found him moments later sitting on a bench directly across the street snapping more pictures of me. I walked directly towards him. He shuddered and pretended to be fixing his camera as soon as he noticed that I was walking directly to him. I asked him, “please stop stalking me!” He responded, “you have crazy, amazing, style!” I laughed and said, “ok, ya, thanks, um, ok, Merry Christmas.”

After dinner in Insadong my friends and I headed to Itaewon’s Queen Lounge where we sat on leather couches and sipped on Singapore Slings and Long Island Iced Teas. Korean’s danced on pedestal’s located in the center of the dance floor and I stared at the projected image of 80’s Whitney Houston music videos. One of my friends then suggested we head to Spy Bar. I had no clue what to expect and I am always up for something new.

We arrived at Spy and passed by a line of Koreans. Since we were white, and spoke English we were able to jump the queue and avoid paying cover. I soon realized that this underground bar is run by the Russian Mob. I kid you not. Half of the woman sitting along the bar top and dancing with foreigners were high class Eastern European hookers. I stood under green lasers and zoned out. I slowly rotated 360 degrees and stared at the dance floor that moved around me like some sort of living organism. I felt as though I was in an Independent Russian Mob film. I found myself as an extra standing in the venerable “disco pimp scene.” I went to the washroom and soon stopped in my tracks when I realized that giant Russian men were administering a fee to enter the bathrooms. I walked back to my friends and told them I think we should leave. A few lovely ladies approached me and asked me if I would buy them a drink. I told them I would write them a poem. They did not seem particularly interested in my prose. We quickly left in what now seems like a hilarious hour of my life. Note to self, avoid Spy Bar and Russian mob at all costs.

On Christmas Eve I had to work, obviously. We were reading about Ophelia’s suicide in Hamlet. On this night before Christmas, I found myself asking my students, “Do you think that giving up your life can ever be a solution to a problem? Why or why not?” After each child stood up and explained why or why not he or she would kill themselves for any given cause I couldn’t help but laugh at their ridiculous logic. “I would kill myself like Ophelia if a boy cheat on me as long as I don’t drown because I am good swimmer,” said one girl. “I never kill myself for any reason as life is good and full of kimchi and ice cream,” answered another. As the class summarized and paraphrased the days reading I coaxed them with such helpful words as; cadaver, suicide, death and corpse. Spreading Christmas cheer you know!

In the last twenty minutes of class I was perplexed once again by the English vocabulary. Young Hoon a little boy who seems to be always brimming with questions came up to my desk. He whispered, “teacha what does thaw mean?” I told him, “well thaw is a verb that explains the process of something frozen melting and becoming warmer.” I followed this definition by a simple example, “we thaw frozen chicken breasts so we can cook them.” He then scrunched up his face and barked, “teacha then what does dethaw mean?” I then scrunched up my face, stuttered and said, “well de is a prefix we use to explain that whatever we are talking about is the opposite of the root word. So to construct is to build something and to deconstruct is to take it apart.” He then responded, “so to thaw is to melt from frozen, and to dethaw is to take a warm chicken breast and freeze it again?” I stood there feeling entirely dumb for a few seconds and then responded, “the English language is very silly Young Hoon, it is best to not use words like this as they are too confusing for even Teacher so I suggest you use the word melt and freeze from here on in.” If anyone has any clue why the terms thaw and dethaw exist please send a letter by post, to one inquisitive, Young Hoon.

After work on Christmas Eve I rushed home to eat a quick dinner and headed to bed. The following day would be painful. In an attempt to make our holiday lives “easier” the administration of our school decided to move our working hours on Christmas day to the morning. So we finished work at 10pm on Christmas Eve and had to be up and ready to work by 9am the following morning. My alarm blared at this ungodly hour the following day and I threw my cloths on and ran to school. First thing, I purchased a double espresso caramel mochacchino in an attempt to stay awake. I walked down the school hallway and noticed all of my co workers looked like zombies. I spent the morning teaching about Caesar Augustus founder of the mighty Roman Empire. When discussing artful patronage I used The Italian Renaissance as an example in order to go on a rather whimsical tangent. All of the teachers huddled into the manager’s office at the break to devour our Christmas snacks which consisted of gooey Domino’s pizza and Godiva chocolates. We usually order from a local pizzeria called Pizza E’tang. Tonight we were going all out and enjoying the incredibly expensive Domino’s which sells thirty dollars a pizza pie!

After work I returned to my room to meditate and think of all of the things I am thankful for. I am thankful for my health. The opportunities that life has presented me over the last few years. My friends and family. This interesting and sometimes confusing culture which I find myself living. I spent the most time thinking about life’s passions. Oddly enough I have spent a great deal of time here thinking, obsessing even, over my return to Toronto. Whenever that may be.

Forrest Gump once said, “Now you wouldn’t believe me if I told you, but I could run like the wind blows. From that day on, if I was ever going somewhere, I was running!” Lying on my heated floor at that very moment my mind raced back to Mr. Gump. For the first time in my life I realized I was doing just this. Running like the wind blows. Thankfully not running from someone or something but simply running to and fro because life is so lovely, vast and beautiful. My mind finally raced to my favorite part of the movie where Forrest slows, stops and turns around to face his entourage of jogging fanatics and says, “I’m pretty tired…I think I’ll go home now.” I laughed out loud and thought this was indeed perfect. I realized I will probably travel until the good Lord tells me, “Andrew I think you are done.” I expect it won’t be a long drawn out premeditated process. Nothing to worry about. I imagine I will stop in my tracks in God knows what part of the world and say to myself, “I’m pretty tired…I think I’ll go home now.”

Even though you may find yourself lonely, lost, or confused about your life, rest assured seeking to live out your dreams will allow you to experience the now, the different and the unplanned. I need to see more, meet more, eat more, care more and be more. Not until these more’s subside into a pleasant feeling of, “no more,” will I grant myself the pleasure and leisure of settling down.

Most importantly I think it is crucial to emulate the person you always dreamed of being. For many people that dream never comes true. Either people foolishly fantasize about being a celebrity (which in my opinion has more negative connotations than positive) or fantastically wealthy. I am proud to say that I am living out my dream which first sparked in my mind as a small boy. I used to watch National Geographic and would stare at Jane Goodall playing with Chimpanzee’s in far away jungles and thought to myself, “I want to see that!”

And why shouldn’t I? Why shouldn’t we all? My dream has always been to touch people’s lives in a tangible way by meeting them, experiencing their song and dance, licking my plate clean at their table and wandering through their wildlife. Most people live out their lives in fear of how other people will judge them. I am pained by the concept of living ones life out to please society’s idea of what is proper or normal. I know I will be forever thankful when I finally step foot at Toronto’s Pearson Air Terminal after coming to that point in my travels where I have seen it all. If you are living your life in a way that is not entirely satisfying I beg you to get up and change. We only live once and if you wait too long your days will fall through your hands like generic grains of sand.

When this dream comes to an end, some may think I just have a collection of interesting photographs. I think I have much more than that. I have built a character, a person a morality which I am proud of. Sweating through the Amazon jungle taught me the virtue of patience. Endless conversations with strangers across Europe helped me hone my skills of tenacity, truthfulness and empathy. Much of the third world has taught me the often overlooked virtues of mercy, dignity and frugalness. I am currently working on perfecting the virtues of wholesomeness, industriousness and prudence. We spend our entire lives working on ourselves. We are an endless “piece of work,” worth working on.


I headed back to work and met up with my fellow teachers. We all walked to a restaurant named Cheers. The owner of the school and his wife showed up soon after with a large red Santa bag. We spent the next four hours drinking beer out of table top kegs and generally being merry. I do not drink whisky but the owner of the school personally handed it to me and if I didn’t drink it I would have been basically slapping him in the face in front of twenty people. We ate the “typical” Christmas feast which consisted of dehydrated squid and peanuts, chicken fingers, French fries, fruit platters, spicy sesame pork and an attempt at tacos. Our dessert was the oddest thing I have ever seen. A bowl of canned pineapple, canned peaches, raisons, cherry tomatoes and ice cubes. I suddenly missed pumpkin pie and apple crisp. Jay then opened up the large red bag and started handing out gifts. A few weeks back we all picked names out of a hat and it was now time to participate in Secret Santa excitement. I have no clue who bought for me (I have a hunch it was the owner or his wife). I was given a rather lovely wool burgundy and black striped scarf.

At 8pm we all stumbled out of Cheers and walked down the street to a Karaoke bar. It is here where we found a table full of beer, dehydrated squid and peanuts (the stuff keeps following me everywhere!) Several times I requested champagne or a Bailey’s on the rocks but people stared at me like I was a lunatic. Only beer and soju for these kids. We all spent the next several hours in the dark banging on tambourines and dressed up as pirates and school girls in crazy wigs as we sang our hearts out. Green lasers shot across the room and we all had a rather thrilling time. This Christmas was certainly not “typical,” for me. I certainly never want to work again on this holiday. I can also do without all the cheap beer and dehydrated squid. However, you may just find me belting my heart out to cheesy Ace of Base and Queen tracks in the years to come.


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