I'm picking out a thermos for you

Saturday, July 29, 2006

The MT

No, not that MT!

In Korea, an MT is "membership training," rather than your former swim coach.

As my time here approaches its end, my professor insisted that it was time for the lab to have an MT. At first, I thought this was a lab-specific term for some arcane hazing ritual that I would have to endure; however, I learned from a Korean friend that the "MT" is actually a common Korean tradition, whereby a group of Koreans goes on a retreat outside of the city to drink too much, sing at a noraebang, and then sleep off their collective hangover.

And, in a nutshell, that's exactly what happened on this "MT." Originally, we were going somewhere outside of Seoul to stay in a traditional Korean village on Friday night and then do some hiking on Saturday morning... but, thanks to the infernal rain, we ended up staying in the city, actually at a youth hostel near the Seoul tower. Which was quite an experience, since all the guys, professor and postdocs included, shared one big "youth" room - essentially 12 bunkbeds and one bathroom. One of my labmates said it reminded him of his time the Army. Sweet!

But before we crashed at the youth hostel, we went to the movies. In the afternoon, there were slim pickings - it basically came down to either Garfield or a Korean movie (without subtitles) 괴물 ("The Host"). And there was no frickin' way I was going to see Garfield... so I went to see 괴물, even though I figured I wouldn't figure out what was going on.

Before we went, my labmates told me the movie was about a monster. Lots of action, they promised. Sounds good, I thought! Well, let me give you the plot run-down:

  1. An evil American orders a Korean lab technician to pour hundreds of gallons of formaldehyde in the Han River, despite the technicians protests that formaldehyde is very toxic.
  2. Said formaldehyde generates a gigantic water monster. One random day, the monster decides he's had enough of eating fish and emerges from the river to start eating people. Yeah.
  3. After eating his fill, the monster kidnaps a young, innocent Korean girl and takes her back to his lair.
  4. Concerned that the monster might be spreading some kind of toxic virus, the American Army arrives to quarantine everyone exposed to the monster, including the distraught family of the kidnapped girl. Of course, there's no such virus - but for some unexplained reason, the Americans are overly paranoid and refuse to acknowledge the virus' non-existence despite the overwhelming evidence.
  5. Thankfully, the little girl's family knows that she is alive back in the monster's lair because she calls them on her cell phone. (No Korean movie would be complete without using cell phones to advance the plot...) Despite their pleas, the little girl's father, aunt, and grandfather are kept under quarantine and not allowed to attempt the rescue of their baby.
  6. Father, aunt, and grandfather stage a daring escape from quarantine by threatening American soldiers with a vial of "contaminated" blood.
  7. The little girl's family eventually rescues the girl from the monster's lair, only to have to monster follow them back onto shore, where a huge battle ensues. The Koreans eventually defeat the monster by using Molotov cocktails made from soju bottles and some expert archery skills (the aunt happens to be an international archery star)
  8. Unfortunately, immediately after killing the monster and saving the little girl, the evil Americans drop a bomb filled with toxic gas named "Agent Yellow," which is supposed to kill the virus. Of course, Agent Yellow kills the valiant, plucky little girl who had just been rescued.
  9. Thankfully, a young boy who had also been kidnapped by the monster survives the Agent Yellow attack, so the family adopts the little boy and lives happily ever after.
So, the moral of the story is that horrible tragedies befall the Korean people because of the negligence and malevolence of the Americans. America is evil! I was half worried that I might become the victim of an anti-American hate crime after the movie, but somehow I escaped unharmed. But, hey, at least the action was good!

After the movie, we went to a traditional BBQ restaurant for bulgogi and galbi spare ribs - mmm... My first indication that it was going to be a rough night for my labmates was when my professor broke out the bottles of Scotch. And after the Scotch, he ordered beer. Which was followed by Korean ginseng wine. Which led to bottles of soju...

Before coming here, we were repeatedly told about how Koreans love drinking (some even refer to it as the Korean national pastime), but this was the first time I've actually seen my labmates really drink. It revealed a whole new side of them - of course, the people who are normally quiet and businesslike got the drunkest, including the new postdoc and one of the undergrads. It's also tradition that the professor takes one shot of alcohol with everyone... individually! So he was wandering around the dining room, pouring shots for each person and then doing one himself... (OK, he was only drinking 1/4-size shots, but still, with a group as large as this one, he still had to drink a lot of alcohol)

After dinner, we went to the obligatory Noraebang for some singing (I threw down some Blur, Pearl Jam, and Radiohead) and everyone continued drinking - and one by one, they started dropping. After a group of people had basically passed out in the noraebang, our professor finally told us that the "MT" had been successful and that everyone was welcome to continue, but that people were finally allowed to go home. Which I'm sure came as welcome news to those who were already passed out!

But the remaining survivors then moved on to another bar in Myeongdong, where we drank my new favorite liquor, Star (별). We ate some more, and were having a great time until the new postdoc in the lab decided it would be a good idea for him to drink shots of Star with everyone at the table. Six or seven shots later, he passed out, officially ending the night, and we all returned to the hostel to sleep it off.

Thankfully, I had paced myself pretty well all night, so I was able to walk under my own control back to the hostel...

And then Saturday morning, since we couldn't go hiking, we went to a famous restaurant in downtown for hae jang kook, or the soup that "washes your stomach." Yum - apparently, this soup is good for hangovers. My stomach, however, appreciated that fact that my labmates ordered me the hae jang kook without intestines...

All in all, a successful MT! A Korean tradition, if there ever was one...

And just so you know, little kids in Korea really do have cell phones. Here's a picture of a kid taking a picture with his phone:


  • And I thought my lab was a bunch of drunkards! Nice work. Glad to see you could drink a bunch of koreans under the table.

    Although, that film is too eerily close to being a documentary! The sky is falling! The sky is falling! Beware the evil americans.

    By Blogger FBOD, at 3:18 PM  

  • by the way, based on this Korea is a scary place


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  • I know geography is not your strong point, but that was North Korea. People in the South are much more civilized.

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  • you sang Blur? what song? Song 2 is my favorite karaoke tune ever!

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