Wednesday, November 25, 2009

November in Seoul

November 12th:
As I had hoped, after sleeping in, I went to Dongdaemun Market with Rachel and Ryan. It is this huge indoor and outdoor market that has everything you would want to find. Unfortunately, I didn’t really have any money to buy anything, but it was fun to browse. People would approach you trying to sell you things, and I really wanted to buy a winter coat, but I didn’t have the cash. I told the lady I would be back come payday, but she didn’t seem very happy about this response. The stay was short, as I had Korean class at 4:30. The class keeps changing, with various students entering and leaving. This can be frustrating, as we tend to repeat things that we learned in prior lessons. However, it gives me a chance to actually have mini-conversations in Korean with other students and meet interesting people. It is moving way to slowly however.

November 13th,
Friday the 13th. Not my favorite day, but never quite as scary as the movies fortunately. After classes, I met up with Byeong Hun and Andie and we went to the lantern festival near City Hall. Andie posted the pictures; there were lanterns representing every country. It was really cool. I thought that they were going to be just standard lanterns, but they were these gigantic representations of various things. Afterward, we met up with Phil and Sam, and said goodbye to Andie and headed to Appujeong. We wanted a quick dinner, but ended up sitting at a restaurant for about 2 hours, eating fried seafood and chatting with some random Korean guys who gave us some of their birthday cake. Afterward, BH and I met Nick and Evan at Monkey Beach and danced for a LONG time. Maybe four hours.

November 14th,
Saturday! Shopping with Sonali in Myeongdong turned out to be really boring. She warned me, I should have listened. However, she gave me a great lesson on Indian culture, so for that I am thankful. BH, Allan and I made a nice little dinner afterward, and then went to Itaewon for a game of poker. This was really boring for BH, so he left to find his friends and I ended up losing my 10,000 Won, but it was fun to hang out with the guys. Not as easy to beat them as it is my friends from home :-P
At around 10, we met up with Rachel Nusbaum for her birthday party. BH invited five of his friends, who may have been bored with us English speakers! However, after an hour and a couple of drinks, many attempts were made at cross-cultural communication and maybe some new connections have been made.

November 15th,
Because we had spent the weekend doing non-Korean things, Andie and I decided we should do something cultural. Around noon, we met up at Seolleung to see the tomb of King Seongjong of the Joseon dynasty. Although the day was cold, the sky was clear and the walk around the park was a nice change from the bustle of the city. The tombs were these huge mounds with interesting stone statues scattered about. I was snapping pictures quite furiously until Byeong Hun told me that culturally this was inappropriate as these were burial grounds. Luckily, I snapped some nice pictures before I realized that I was a bad person for doing so.

November 16th-19th,
Weekdays are weekdays. Work, Korean language lessons, and food at home. A lot of lazy behavior, including watching my favorite US TV programs. Boring but satisfying. My newest obsession? Glee. What an amazing show. I also finally added some 300 pictures to Facebook for everyone’s perusal.

November 20th,
Mark F had invited me Byeong Hun and his friend So-Jin to Suwon for a concert on Friday and I met my friends Katy and Jen there, who live and work in this city about 30 miles south of Seoul. It started to snow: large, wet, and beautiful. When we all met up, we headed to this random bar in a random building to be greeted by applause; they were very excited to have foreigners at their concert. Apparently it was a bunch of Samsung employees, and they ended up giving us free Budweisers because we were Americans. By the end of the night, they had invited Mark and I to the stage, where we danced and sang and had many pictures taken.

November 21st,
After crashing at Jen’s place, Byeong Hun, his friend So-Jin, Rachel Nusbaum and I met at City Hall in Seoul and had a nice fancy lunch. At Pizza Hut. Koreans love to take crappy restaurants in the US and make them seem awesome. Outback Steakhouse is apparently one of the best, and they think it is a legitimate Australian restaurant.
After the meal, we walked to Insa-dong to meet up with Arianna for some tea. This seriously was the best tea I have ever had in my life. Ginger tea on a cold day. Perfect. Plus, we decided on Christmas plans: a weekend at a ski resort in Eastern Korea. Another walk through the lantern festival and then we returned to Kangnam. Katy and Jen met up with us at my place and we went to get some burgers, coffee, and soju. The Rainbow House had an ethnic music night, and we listened to this fantastic, eclectic Asian music while smoking hookah.

November 22nd,
Nothing says breakfast better than kimchi. Seriously, fermented cabbage tastes FANTASTIC in omelets. I’m obsessed. After some badminton (Byeong Hun and I against Rachel Frank and So-Jin) Rachel infected me with another obsession: Go-Stop. It is the Korean version of poker, except with flowers and animals and ribbons. Look it up if you are interested. I play it online at school now all the time, and we might introduce it to the poker club.

November 23rd-25th,
Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday. Nothing exciting. My lessons this week have to do with Thanksgiving, which is making me homesick. Tomorrow though, Thanksgiving Day here in Korea, Andie, Sam and I will meet up with our recruiter for some live octopus. Sounds like a Happy Thanksgiving to me!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Halloween and an Amazing Play

Although Koreans obviously don’t celebrate the same holidays as we do, all the foreigners here transformed parts of Seoul into Halloween enclaves on the 30th and 31st. On the first night of Halloween, Friday the 30th, I met up with a bunch of people in Hongdae, which is one of the University areas of Seoul. I put together a cheap and easy costume, dressed as G-Dragon from his Heartbreaker music video; it is always fun to dress as a Korean! Although I got a few stares on the subway for my face paint, Rachel was gawked at for her full mask. When we got to Hongdae, however, we met up with a bunch of our friends and it actually felt like Halloween. Some clubs in Hongdae even had Halloween themes! We went to this bar in the shape of an igloo, which was an experience. You literally had to step over rivulets to get to different clusters of people. Nick was dressed up as Where’s Waldo, which was awesome, and we eventually headed off to a different bar with some of the other guys. A couple of one dollar bad tequila shots later, and I decided I had to head home. Those tequilas did a number for my stomach, however, and I ended up eating 4 hamburgers from a sandwich stall. Oh, Korea.
I woke up at around 11 the next morning to a knock on my door. Groggily, I made my way over to the door in my underwear and was greeted with a large package! I greedily opened it to find sheets, a French press, Halloween candy, and coffee from my mom. She also sent three towels. They looked so gigantic! In Korea, they use these tiny little towels, which you have to wash all the time because they smell horribly after one use. These giant towels, however, are a godsend. Of course, the package also had my student loan bills. Typical mother behavior. The rest of the morning was spent recuperating and then cleaning my apartment. Although my place is just a studio, because of its location it is perfect for hosting parties. I had decided to have a little Halloween pre-game at my place, but according to Facebook only five people were for sure coming. This was fine by me, so by 7 pm, I had bought some snacks and decorated my room with spiderwebs and scary pictures my students had drawn. Apparently, many of the maybes became yeses, as the size of the party reached some 25 people. Byeong Hun and his friend Yeon Hee came, so we all had some practice signing ASL. We turned Byeong Hun into a veritable vampire and Yeon Hee wore Rachel’s mask backwards to give herself the illusion of a bird. It worked out pretty well.

At around 10:15, we taxied to Itaewon to go to The Loft, because ladies drink free. The night was really fun, with a lot of dancing and chatting and looking at the crazy costumes. I love Halloween.
The next morning, Sam, Sonali, Rachel, Paul, Andie, Byeong Hun and I went to brunch at Big Rock in Kangnam. There was an all you can eat buffet for around 10 dollars, which was awesome. After stuffing our faces, we went to Kyobo books to buy some Korean language books to help in our endeavors to learn this language. Everyone was still exhausted from the night before, however, and they all left around 4. I went for a nice walk to Appujeong and window shopped for puppies. I don’t know if I like dogs, but I kind of really want to buy a puppy here. They are incredibly adorable, and I am allowed to have pets in this apartment.
Monday the 2nd I started my week of listening tests. This made school extra boring. Monday night I met up with Byeong Hun and his friends in Jongno 3 Ga, which is another of the downtown areas near Insadong (a street famous for its shopping and art). We went to this fantastic 식당 (restaurant) and I was given another opportunity to practice my ASL. Some Japanese friends were there, and I was once again amazed at how they could communicate through ISL even though they did not have a common linguistic background. It was, of course, difficult and tiring for me to follow, but I did catch a few things and enjoyed signing with all of Byeong Hun’s friends.
On Tuesday, all the second graders and many of the first graders were sent home because of H1N1. This meant that I only had one class on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. My co-teacher, Seon Suk Kim, thought I was depressed, but I just kept telling her I was bored. They also cancelled my morning and afternoon classes, which meant that I had a half an hour of extra sleep the entire week. This was nice, but I would rather be teaching than sitting around all day. Badminton practice wasn’t as fun either, because many of the teachers were heading home immediately after school because of H1N1. Much of my week was just spent walking, because the weather has been perfect. Nice autumn weather: not too cold with a nice gentle wind. The smell here is amazing, with all the trees changing color. I love autumn.
Andie, Sonali, Sam, Rachel and I had decided to meet up on Wednesday to go to BH’s restaurant to try his fusion food. It was fantastic. Eunhoe Choi and Yeon Hee came as well. In between mouths of delicious chicken and pizza, we learned new signs, new Korean words, and new things about one another.
After another lame badminton practice on Friday, I walked home to Kangnam and then ate a quick dinner. Mark, Rachel and I went to Jongno 3 Ga again to meet up with Byeong Hun at a bar called Barcode. However, it was very Korean and very not fun. Luckily, Byeong Hun knew the area pretty well and brought us to a fun little underground bar/restaurant where we drank soju, beer, and learned a lot about one another.
Saturday morning I slept in, and then got on a train to Incheon. Incheon is the fourth largest city in Korea and is only an hour from downtown Seoul. Byeong Hun was in a show at a Deaf play festival and he invited me to come. I took some wrong transfers, unfortunately, and was running really late. I got there just in time to see the start of BH’s show. With three of his friends, he was telling a story about the life of a deaf person in a speaking world. It was ridiculously funny. The first scene was BH using the bathroom and a speaking person knocking on the door. Oblivious, BH continues to use the toilet until the other person barged into the room. Another scene saw BH and his friends fly to America, where they were served by a bimbo-looking waitress who, obviously, did not know any sign. However, they were able to order successfully and the audience roared with laughter. It was seriously one of the best shows I have ever seen, and I understood it even though they were signing a language I did not understand. There body movements and facial expressions were awesome. Out of the 12 teams performing, BH’s team ended up getting 1st prize.
 For the rest of the evening, BH and I walked around Incheon and ate this crazy ham soup. It had everything in it. Apparently, the legend is that some GIs gave this soup to some Koreans during the war, and the Koreans continuously added ingredients until it actually tasted delicious.
At around 9 pm, we got back on a train and headed back to Seoul and, for the third time this week, Jongno. We ran into BH’s friend Seong Cheol on the subway and I ended up clumsily explaining the differences between the 50 states in sign language. In Seoul, we met up with another Deaf Korean and his boyfriend, and went to a gay bar in Jongno. There are all these narrow allies with old cackling ladies and men in business suits in Jongno; it was quite terrifying, but luckily I was with a group of Koreans. At the bar, I realized that I really needed to work on my Korean, because while I could easily communicate with BH, I could not so easily communicate with his Korean speaking friend. It was a nice night out regardless, and we all headed home around 10 pm.
Noon the next morning we continued our new Sunday brunch tradition at a nice place in Kangnam. I ordered pancakes and eggs and was not disappointed. The bill was a little hefty, however, and we had to wait in a line for an hour so I hope next time we chose a less popular place. Rachel, Mark, BH, Seong Cheol and I all played badminton after breakfast and then went for a walk. This city is excellent to walk around in. Even though it is not as appealing as, say, Boston, it is so big that you always see new things.
My classes for this week have been pretty boring. Because of the H1N1 epidemic, many students are taking their speaking tests this week, which has thrown off the schedule. My lesson is about making sandwiches, which is fun for me and the students, but it also makes me hungry all day. Today, however, is Pepero day, so I was given little candy sticks from my students. Since November 11th is four ‘1’s, Pepero decided to make it into a holiday based on their candy. It is like Valentines’ day, but worst because there is NO hiding its commercialism. However, I did get this cute little stuffed puppy from one student, which made my day. Tomorrow I don’t have school because the high school students have a huge standardized test. Maybe I’ll head to Dongdaemun for once and actually see the crazy market. Have a good day!