Thursday, March 20, 2014

Thirteen Things I've Learned From Going To The Gym In Korea

These are some of the things I've learned from going to a paid fitness club in Korea:

1) Gyms are friggin' expensive here. But if you're expecting Sports Club LA/Equinox, you will be sorely disappointed.

2) Everyone is so incredibly important that they need to carry their phones around with them while they workout. If a phone call comes in while running on the treadmill, it is imperative to immediately take the call outside, but leave the treadmill operating.

3) Hanging upside down is oddly considered exercise.

4) So is this strange machine with a "belt" that vibrates, but I deliberately chose a gym that didn't have one of those things, in order to reduce the ajumma quotient.

5) Korean men never, ever wash their hands after going to the bathroom. Ever. #1 or #2, doesn't matter. There's soap in the bathroom, but it never has to be replaced because I'm the only one who ever uses it. Remember that, ladies, next time you're holding hands with a Korean guy.

6) Given the obscenely disgusting hygiene fact from above, you might find it surprising that they actually brush their teeth quite a lot. Sometimes immediately after taking a dump and then not washing their hands. I'm not judging. Okay, I am. It's disgusting.

7) Shoe tying is a lost art in the Republic of Korea. Equally rare as hand washing, it seems that no adult Korean person knows how to tie their shoes, at least among men. All shoes exist in a sort of permatie, and are worn like slippers. As a corollary, everyone is very adept with a shoehorn.

8) Back to the gym: female trainers do a much better job training people than male trainers. Especially when it comes to training girls. Male trainers make girls do completely useless exercises.

9) Despite plentiful cultural mores around touching the opposite sex, many of the "exercises" that male trainers in #7 give their female clients are thinly veiled excuses to touch them.

10) I am the only person in my gym, other than the one trainer who's a bodybuilder, who seems to know what the power rack is for, and how to use the safety pins. I did see one other member using the pins once, but they were about mid-abdomen height and used as a sort of trampoline (he had placed mats over them to improve the bounce).

11) When counting reps in Korean, you can shorten some of the two syllable numbers to one (하나, 둘, 셋, 넷, 닷(-엇), 엿(-엇), 일곱, 여덜, 아홉, 열).

12) And back to the locker room: hair dryers seem to only be used for balls. Yep, I said it.

And finally:

13) In general, people are super nice and polite, and way more chill than American gyms. Never seen a meathead fight. Yet.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Running Sucks (But It's Not Supposed To)

Today I jogged a 10k. It was kinda a bummer, because I was looking forward to racing, but apparently I overstressed my body the last few weeks, and ended up coming down with a cold. Since it's not worth getting really sick just to race (while already sick), I decided to go to the race and just chill. It's kinda crazy to think that a year ago, there would have been no way I'd be able to just go out and run a 10k without really thinking too much about it, let alone jog one in under an hour (with a cold). Sometimes it's nice to put the ego aside and just enjoy the weather and companionship of running alongside a whole bunch of strangers. Plus, I got to collect a new bridge!

Yet while I was running, it struck me that a lot of the people seemed to be having an absolutely miserable time. The 10k merged with the full marathon after about 1km, and it was as if we merged with a mob of zombies. People looked like they were dying on their feet. Many people were not even really "running" anymore, but were doing something more akin to shuffling. Some people groaned (I laughed to myself, thinking of the opening to Shaun of the Dead). One very intense-looking girl passed me, grunting loudly ala Monica Seles with each and every step - there were still at least five miles to go, so not sure how well that one worked out for her. Other people looked like they just wanted to give up on the side of the road and die.

Anyway, obviously it was a race, which is when people push their bodies to the limit, but I often see this too at the gym on the treadmills, and while jogging outside - so many people look like they're in serious physical pain and mental anguish when they're running! That used to be me, too - since I had no aerobic base, every time I'd run, it was a fight against stitches, burning lungs, etc. Honestly, it really sucked! And as a result, I gave up running every time I started.

This time around, I've discovered that running can be pretty fun, enjoyable, and pain-free. I totally look forward to long, slow runs now. Partially because my aerobic capacity has improved to the point where I actually can run slowly without stressing my body too much, but also because it's meditative. I get to leave my phone at home, no distractions, no music, nothing, just me and whatever landscape I happen to be passing through. I've even gotten into the habit of "collecting" the cities that I visit by going on runs while traveling (which incidentally is also a great way to combat jetlag). I had a fantastic run up the Thames to Big Ben back in December, a dangerously long tropical run in Taipei a couple months ago where I was led astray by a betelnut-chewing old man, and a jaunt around the Imperial Palace with 1,000 of my closest friends in Tokyo. Running turned into something that I enjoyed doing completely apart from any focus on the results, or "in exchange" for doing something unhealthy (you know a lot of you do that), and as a result, now I spend more time basking in these low-key runs. And having spent enough time doing that, I can also enjoy my occasional harder runs with speed work thrown in, because it's fun to go fast after spending so much time going slow, but more importantly because it doesn't feel like I'm killing my body (except for this week with the cold, where I clearly overdid something).

For the vast majority of people, running is not supposed to suck. Unless you're actually training for elite events, running should be a reasonably enjoyable activity. There's something to be said for just running all out until your body has given all it has, and I've totally been there too, but if all your workouts are like that, then all you're doing is teaching your body that running equals pain, and unless you're a masochist, your body will eventually win (and running will lose).

So, chill. =) Slow down, get some sun, breathe in some fresh air, and marvel at the fact that you can traverse across the landscape of our world like no other animal on earth.

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

English Translation of Today's Chosun Ilbo Kim Yuna Article

Translation is hard! But I just spent a little bit of time making a rough translation of today's Chosun Ilbo's article about Yuna's homecoming party/fan meeting, because I realized that the official English translation left out some good stuff.

Note: I am 100% sure that I mistranslated some stuff, because I did this really quickly, had to look a lot of words up, and certain nuances just don't translate that well from Korean to English. But it's reasonably close. Enjoy!

~~~~~

“I've Been Tired Of Skating For Awhile … But I Don’t Have Any Regrets”

2014.03.05 03:07

(Kim Yuna’s first fan meeting after returning home to Korea)

  - “Hometown decision” was absurd, but happy that everything is over
  - Spine injury, but won’t affect everyday life
  - Ready now to qualify for the IOC Athlete’s Commission

“A gold medal in our hearts!”, “Like a key to my life’s existence.”

On the 4th of March in Seoul’s Yeongdeungpo-gu Times Square, at the “E1 Homecoming Party for Kim Yuna”, as soon as her fan’s affectionate and endearing messages of support and encouragement came up on the big screen, “Figure Skating Queen” Kim Yuna’s (24) eyes welled up. The video was filled with witty messages like, “Kim Yuna is the only girl who can make me cry”, and “Guys beware! Aside from me, they’re all wolves”. When the three minute video ended, Yuna’s eyes were moist. “Each and every moment was touching,” she said, “and I’m truly thankful.”


170 fans were chosen by lottery to attend the day’s event. But hundreds of fans who did not receive invitations in the nearly 10-to-1 lottery surrounded the site and made the excitement that much more electric. It was the first formal fan activity for Kim Yuna since the close of the Sochi Winter Olympics, and younger Olympic teammates Kim Haejin (17, Gwacheon) and Park Soyoun (17, Sinmok) were also present.

Jun Hyunmoo, the host of the event, interviewed Yuna, asking her a series of questions in order to relieve some of her fans' curiosity. Asked if she had any regrets about figure skating, she said, “I think that I’ve done enough (in my career), so I don’t have any regrets.”

Asked if it was tiresome to look at her skates now, she laughed, “I've been kinda sick and tired of skating for awhile.”

With the close of the Sochi Winter Olympics, Kim Yuna ended her figure skating career of 17 years and 7 months. The worry among her fans that the rigorous training necessary to maintain her place at the top of the sport had broken down her body also came up. However, Yuna said, “I found out that my spine is tilted about 10 degrees to the left, but it’s not that severe and won’t affect my everyday life.”

Regarding the “surprising hometown decision” that gave the gold medal to Adelina Sotnikova (18, Russia), Yuna was calm and poised. “While I was dumbfounded, the fact that it’s all over puts me on cloud nine,” she said, adding, “I wasn’t really overly focused on the result.” About the scoring incident, Kim Haejin said, “When Sotnikova’s high score came out, I was wondering what score they were going to give to Yuna, and I was angry when the score that came out was too low.” Park Soyoun also said she is “still incredibly upset” (about the result).

Kim Yuna shared that her most memorable competitions were the Vancouver Olympics, Sochi, and the 2013 World Championships, explaining that “in all three of those competitions, I performed cleanly.”

She said that for the time being, she’d like to rest. “When you’re an athlete, each and every day is tense and stressful, so I’m happy that I can just relax and enjoy things,” she said. However, she said that there is still an ice show at the beginning of May that she is preparing for. Although she avoided answering the question of where she sees herself in ten years, she said that since she participated in the Sochi Olympics, she’s now qualified to join the IOC Athlete’s Council, and hinted that she might take on that challenge.

Afterwards, she gave to her fans autographed CDs with her performances. Said Yuna, “I’m so thankful for the steadfast support I’ve received from everyone up till now”, and “because of you (the fans), I was able to get to where I am.” As the fans cried out three times, “Yuna, we love you!”, Yuna raised her hands above her head in the shape of a heart, and the event drew to a close.