I'm picking out a thermos for you

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Retired: the Korean Tank Top Alarm

There are many signs that mark the transitions between seasons. For Winter, it's the first snow. For Spring, the first flowers. And Summer? Tank tops.

In St. Louis, some have even heard the "Tank top alarm," which heralds the arrival of summer with, yes, an alarm when the first tank top of summer appears.

But there will be no Korean tank top alarm! Because the height of women's fashion here is the Bolero, which is basically a small sweater for your shoulders. (I'm not sure if they're named after Ravel.)

Truthfully, to say that Bolero's represent the height of women's fashion is incorrect. Actually, they're a gesture towards Korean modesty: it's apparently too risqué for a woman to show her bare shoulders.

Hence, even though women wear tank tops, you won't see them, no matter how hot and humid it gets, thanks to the Bolero. Similar to the Bolero, you also find that most women's t-shirts here have tiny sleeves that cover their shoulders. Kind of an interesting insight into what different cultures consider immodest.

And for those of you who are wondering how I got such a great Bolero photo... yes, I did take a picture of some random woman on the street without her knowledge. Kind of creepy, huh? Taking pictures of people you don't know for your blog? It seems that some of that world-renowned Caltech creepiness is rubbing off on me!!!

In other news:
Tourist swims with Biondi (kind of)
In the past, I've made a point to swim in the pools that hosted the Olympics whenever I visit a host city. So far, I've hit Munich ('72), Los Angeles ('84), Barcelona ('92), and Atlanta ('96). Yes, kind of dorky, I know. Anyway, being in Seoul presented the perfect opportunity:
So last Sunday, I went for a swim with Matt Biondi. OK - Biondi wasn't actually there, but it was the same pool where he won five golds, one silver, and one bronze medal in 1988. The pool itself is getting a little shabby (I learned later that it's set to be renovated next year), but it's clear that it was state-of-the-art in '88.

But, of course, you can't go swimming in a foreign country without something weird happening (i.e. in France one time, I wasn't allowed to wear my own swimsuit - I had to rent a suit. Everyone rents their swimsuits at the stupid French pool in Lyon.) So, when I walked onto the deck, I immediately realized what rule I was ignorant of here in Seoul: everyone was wearing swim caps. Everyone. And I didn't have one.

While doing some casual stretching, I could tell the lifeguards were all watching me, probably thinking to themselves, 1) what's the white guy doing here?, and 2) he's a threat to public health witout a swim cap! Finally, one of the lifeguards wandered over to ask, Where's your cap? I explained that I didn't have one, but that I'd be happy to buy or rent one.

But instead, he offered to lend me his cap. Wow - how kind. People were not this friendly to the ignorant foreigner in France.

So I put in a 3,000 BE (tell Beef-man that I'm getting ready for the test set!) and it was great fun. At least people here know how to circle swim, unlike everyone at say, Caltech. Next stop on my Olympic pool tour: Sydney.

Science City
It's unbelievable how fast my time here has passed, and I'm quickly coming up on the end. To celebrate one of my last weekends in Korea, I'm taking a trip to the Science City, Taejon (it's where they've built most of the national labs, not unlike NIH in Bethesda). More importantly, it's also where my friends Eric and James live, and judging from the fact that they don't update their blogs anymore, they must be having a good time down there.

I'm quite looking forward to taking the bullet train (~200 mph) down there, and if I'm not too busy at work next week (my last), I'll provide an update on the hijinx that are sure to ensue.

English Words on a T-shirt Update
  • Spotted on a middle-aged woman who was asleep in the subway: "My other t-shirt is on your girlfriend." Oh, snap!
  • Seen near campus on a typically black-haired Asian girl: "Naturally Blonde."
And if anyone is still reading, I'm glad to see that my home state has regained a measure of sanity.



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