Thursday, October 8, 2009

Happy Chuseok: Jimjilbangs, Palaces, and Incheon

I’m at a weird fork right now. I just got a note saying more funding is now available and they would like to offer me the Fulbright award. Fantastic. The problem is it was for the 2009-2010 academic year, which means if I would accept the award, I would have to leave now. I have asked to defer the award and I hope that this is a possibility. If not, I will have a hard decision to make. Especially because life here is SO good.
Tuesday, the 29th, I had my demonstration class. It was a lot of stress practicing for the class, because my co-teacher, who normally does not speak too much during my classes, had to speak in front of the class and use English just as much as me. So we rehearsed and rehearsed. The lesson was about idioms, which was not my cup of tea, and it was, I must admit, kind of dull. However, it went off really well in the classroom, the students were great, and our supervisors thought we did an awesome job. I was jokingly offered a job at another school. Sometimes I think they are biased just because I have blond hair.
After the lesson, my colleagues and superiors brought I Wol-Su, my co-teacher, out for dinner. It was a delicious meal, with huge slabs of fatty pork grilled in front of us and served with tons of side dishes. Wol-Su got a little tipsy because they wouldn’t stop giving us soju and she ended up crying because of all the built up stress from the demonstration class. I feel like this would have spoiled the fun in the US, but we just ended up all going to the noraebang (karaoke) and sang for a couple of hours. I got a 100 on a Korean pop song somehow and had to slap 10,000 won on the screen. A couple of the Koreans also got a perfect score, and at the end there was 50,000 won on the TV. They decided to use it to buy yogurt for everyone on Thursday. This is a weird country.
After school and badminton practice on Wednesday, I met up with my Korean friend, who prefers to be called Jerry, and we got coffee and then he helped me pick out a desktop. It is now hooked up to my TV, which makes my room sweet. Did I mention that for some reason I have a flat screen TV? It took a while to figure out the sound, but now I have speakers and can watch The Office to my hearts’ desire.
Since my lesson was about holidays, I was really excited on Thursday for the start of Chuseok. Since traffic is incredibly horrible during Chuseok in Korea, I decided to stay in Seoul. That did not damper my vacation however. I decided that I was going to leave on Thursday and not return to my house in Kangnam until Sunday. I was halfway joking, but somehow it did turn out this way. On Thursday night, Nick, Ais, Katy, Jerry and I met up. We went to a Moroccan restaurant, delicious, and then, like good Moroccans, smoked water pipe. Afterward, we went to Itaewon and danced for a while. Around two, we were starting to get really tired. We didn’t want to go home, however, so Nick, Katy, Jerry and I went to a sauna, or jimjilbang, and had the time of our lives. It was amazing. This jimjilbang was five stories. The first story had pools, and after checking in your clothes, you would bathe naked in these pools of various temperatures. Afterward, you shower, head upstairs and face tons of choices. On the second floor, there were places to sleep and a play place for children. Third floor there were more beds, and massage chairs. Also, these hot sauna rooms and an ice room. It was like an igloo! The fourth floor had a gym and finally the fifth floor had these cubicle type sleeping boxes. They had a yo (sleeping mat) inside of each cubicle, and although you didn’t get a pillow, it was still decently comfortable. Did I mention that this experience only cost six bucks, and you can sleep over? Any traveling I do within the country will involve sleeping at these amazing saunas.
Friday morning we woke up relatively early and headed off for an American style breakfast. I ordered the “Lumberjack Special”, and for the first time in around ten years I actually heartily enjoyed my bacon. Korea is changing me. Afterward, we had our first truly historical experience with our visit of Gyeonbokgung Palace. Since Jerry was there, he gave us a fantastic tour. The weather was amazing, and some of the buildings in the complex combined with the weather created a picture so idealistic that it gave me shivers. Like any palace, there were different buildings for different functions. The family hierarchy was fascinating, with a strong emphasis on the mother of the king as well as his first son. Throughout the complex there would be wide ramps that were needed for the women in the court. Since they wore apparently gigantic dresses, they needed these ramps so they could move around otherwise they would fall on stairs (since they couldn’t see them!). There was also a room that was specifically for the King and Queen to make love, as well as a room for the King’s other wives. Koreans do NOT talk about sex explicitly, so these rooms had an implication of sex that Jerry would note by making finger quotes. It was hilarious. Afterward, we caught a glimpse of the Blue House, which is where the Korean president lives.
Jerry also taught us about the zodiac. Apparently, Koreans used to tell time using the Chinese Zodiac. I think my sign, the rabbit, is used for the time between six and eight am. Apparently, if it is six in the morning you can say, oh it is rabbit time. After pictures with out zodiac symbols and a quick museum trip, we headed out of the complex and headed home. All of a sudden, we were in City Hall and there was a huge fountain. Nick and I couldn’t help but jump in. All the Koreans were laughing at the two of us, probably thinking that these foreigners, wae-guks, were crazy. Although I wouldn’t say I regretted my decision, we had to walk around for a couple of hours afterward to dry off. By then, it was getting late, so I went back to Ais’ house and we ended up spending the evening watching episodes of Law & Order and ordered a pizza. It was Domino’s.
Saturday we woke up late and decided to go to Incheon, which is the fourth largest city in Korea and the location of the main airport. It was just the two of us, which made it really exciting. Incheon has the only Chinatown in Korea, so we started out looking at all the goods and then wondered to Wolmi island or Wolmido.
We were just wandering around and happened on this carnival. It was so weird. It was like we stumbled onto Korean Coney Island. We grabbed some fried shrimp, bought a corndog, and I threw some darts and won two stuffed penguins, one for Ais and one for me. We also went on to one of those carnival rides that are kind of like an elevator except your feet dangle and they shoot you up really fast and shoot you down. It was probably one of the scariest things ever. Not necessarily the ride itself, but the fact that they didn’t check to see if we were buckled in. Not cool. Luckily, Ais and I had pulled the bars over our heads and we screamed our faces off. The ride didn’t just go once, however, but went through the entire sequence four times. Afterward, we headed back to mainland Incheon and saw another Korean drum festival. A guy gave us some traditional songpyeon, Korean rice cake, and a potato pancake and then made us pound at the rice cake’s dough. We also walked around this re-creation of a traditional Korean village. There were houses, farms, and streams and it looked like Hobbiton. There was also this game where you would jump on a seesaw with a partner and try to bounce as high as possible using your partner’s weight. The first time Ais and I tried I was so confused and could not figure out the timing. We spent about ten minutes watching the Koreans, and then they pushed us back on the ‘seesaw’. This time our timing was perfect, and we were getting WAY more air than the Koreans. Within seconds, a crowd surrounded us.
By this point, we were ready to see the actual city. We got into the city, bought a cup of coffee, and chatted about theater. Inspiration hit us out of nowhere and we decided to do Rocky Horror Picture Show in Seoul. Thrilled, we jumped back on the train to Seoul, downloaded the movie on iTunes, and watched it while taking notes. The script has been hammered out and we are currently casting, so if you are interested, let me know!
Sunday was a slow day. After the fullness of Friday and Saturday, it was a relief. I came home in the afternoon and watched Mean Girls with the others in my apartment. On Monday, which we also had off for Chuseok, Rachel and I went grocery shopping and, since she was a costuming major in college, we continued to discuss Rocky Horror. I’m pretty sure we can actually pull this off. It is going to be incredible. I made some chili that evening and afterward Jerry came over. He did some more work on my computer and now it is pretty much set. Sonali, Mark, Rachel and I spent the evening working on Korean words, and then it was back to the workweek on Monday.
So far, I have had a slow week. Tuesday and Wednesday were my only days to teach, and my lesson was a little sub-par. Tuesday night I went to Seorae Mal, the French area, and got a delicious seafood dish and a nice glass of wine at an Italian restaurant. Last night, Nick convinced me to go to a casino and I agreed, but only brought 30 bucks. Somehow I won 70 on roulette. It was my first time, so it was definitely beginner’s luck which means I shouldn’t go back.
The student’s have mid-terms this week which means I do not have to teach today or tomorrow. It also means I get to leave school around noon. I might go to Pusan this weekend if I can find a cheap bus. And, unlike last weekend, I will make sure I bring my camera.

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