Sunday, January 10, 2010

Kelsey Does Korea (and the biggest snow storm in history)

Hello! Hope everyone who still reads this thing is doing well :)

So I'm just hanging out at home on this lovely Monday because...I don't have to work. For a month. Yep. No working for me for one whole month. My life is too easy, I know you're jealous.

Kelsey arrived last Sunday. I took a bus out to the airport to meet her and then we came back to my apartment. She was a bit jet lagged after such a long flight, so she pretty much crashed right away. Monday morning I helped her get to the subway and figure out where to go. I, unfortunately, had to work the entire time she was here, but we made the most of it. I was teaching "winter camp" for some students, but I only needed to be at school from 1-4 everyday.

Monday...oh Monday. Seoul received the most snow it has had in...forever I think. Apparently it was the most snow on record in over 100 years or something. I wasn't impressed but over a foot, maybe a foot and a half of snow fell on this snow-handicapped city. The subway broke. Schools shut down. People fell. Cars crashed. Everyone completely lost their shit and had no idea how to handle the snow. Of course, I hadn't expected it either, but growing up in Wisconsin I was more than equipped to handle it. Wish I could say the same for the other 25 million people in the Seoul metro area, but no. It really didn't seem like that much snow to me, but I suppose I've seen more. Korea on the other hand was in shock. I met up with Kelsey on Monday after school and showed her Cheonggye Plaza and stream and then we went out for a nice Korean meal :) Luckily all of the Christmas decorations are still up in Seoul so even though it was freezing, she still got to see how beautiful it was lit up.

Cheonggye Plaza



Tuesday I went into Seoul with Kelsey in the morning and we visited the Seodamun prison. It was a prison built by the Japanese when they occupied Korea. Korean nationalists were imprisoned there and tortured. It was an incredibly sad place, made even sadder by the fact that with the exception of a few soldiers taking a tour, Kelsey and I were the only ones there and the place felt really desolate. I'd like to go back when the weather is nicer to see what its like. After the prison I went back to Yangju to work, and then met up with Kelsey at the movie theatre in Uijeongbu. We saw the movie Nine (good movie!) and then called it a night.

Wednesday we went to the Korean War Memorial and Museum. Surprisingly I hadn't visited here yet, so it was exciting to go. The museum was really well set up and incorporated some of Korea's older history as well as the more current Korean War. I couldn't stay here long though, because I had to rush out to go to work :(

UN Flags outside the war memorial (and Seoul Tower)


Sitting on an Air Force plane

Dog tags of soldiers who died during the Korean war (under the UN emblem)

Even at this point, 2 days after the massive snowfall, Korea still hadn't figured out how to deal with the snow, which had now frozen in the subzero temperatures. The subway was taking forever, traffic was still bad, and only a select few of the sidewalks had been shoveled. Alright, Korea. Figure it out.

Wednesday night I met up with Kelsey in Insadong. We found an adorable little teashop and then made dinner out of the yummy street vendors that I love so much. This particular one we came across immediately took a liking to me. Even with his limited English, he had somehow learned the phrase "I have a crush on you". LOL. I was like "who taught you that?". He had some trouble pronouncing Kelsey's name (Keshi?). Definitely had a good laugh with that one.

We wandered our way down to Gwanghwamun Square and then home.


Thursday Kelsey went to the DMZ with the USO tour (same one that I took with my friends a few months ago). I met up with her Thursday night at the Han River and we took a little boat tour of the Han at night. We ended up on a "live music" tour which was really just some guy singing karaoke with his guitar. Hm. Kelsey and I entertained ourselves by sharing a box of soju for the duration of the "tour".
The Han River

Friday morning we awoke bright and early to go to N Seoul Tower. We climbed up Namsan hill and then went up into the tower. I hadn't been there before, so it was really nice to see it finally. Like many things here...I find it best explained in pictures.






One of the walls outside the tower is entirely covered with locks that people have put up. They all have little messages on them proclaiming their love and are locked onto the railing. The messages are primarily in Korean, but languages from all over the world can be found here. Definitely one of the coolest parts of the tower. The windows in the observation area are really cool as well. There are labels on the walls telling you which direction you are facing, and then major cities with the distance in km of how far away that city is. The closest one to home is of course Chicago. Ya'll are 10,525 km away from me!


Seoul Tower observation deck



I've been there!


And now I've been here too!

Kelsey went to Suwon to check out the fortress Friday afternoon while I was at work. We met up in Hongdae where she gave me an incredibly thoughtful gift of handmade ceramic mugs as a thank you for hosting her. Thanks again Kelsey :)

So the latest K-Pop song is actually one that some of you in the states might know. Its by the Wondergirls and its called "Nobody". There's a Korean version too, but this is the version that's popular in the states. So many Koreans here are so proud that this group has had some success in the US. They actually were on So You Think You Can Dance a few months ago I think. Enjoy!

I'm leaving for Thailand on Saturday. We're going out to a hotel near the airport on Friday night so we can avoid being up super early in the morning Saturday. So I probably won't update until after I get back from Thailand which will be January 31st.

Super excited for this year. Looking back...this time last year, I had absolutely no idea that I would be living in Seoul. A year from now? Who knows where I will be. Exciting!

Check #3 on this article.

서울 (Seoul) 2010...its going to be a great year :)

"I am the one generation with the future in the palm of my hands. And I overcome the revolution for the people with a vision now listen to me. Generation 'I', coming alive. So open your eyes, and show the world what you see. Let it out, let it go. Live today for tomorrow." -- Richey Lam, "Generation I"

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Holidaze

Hello! Sorry its been so long since I've written. The holidays are busy even in Korea!

So I finished up classes the week of Christmas by teaching a short rhyming lesson and then letting the kids watch The Grinch. Eventually - I got sick of teaching anything, and also really annoyed after the 7th time watching the Grinch steal Christmas from poor little Cindy Lou Who, so I found "Shrek the Halls" with Korean subtitles and let the kids watch that, and then Charlie Brown Christmas afterwards. Hey...finals are over and it was Christmas. Even teachers need a break.

Christmas Eve I went with Rebecca to our friend John's house for a small get-together. I brought a lovely Christmas train cake (complements of Paris Baguette).



We mostly just sat around talking, drinking, and eating. So nice! Christmas morning I skyped with the fam and opened my gifts. I was feeling pretty sad about not having a white Christmas, and what do you know...a Christmas miracle happened! Christmas night I went out to meet up with Sara, Anna, and Mark - and it started snowing! The Koreans seemed miserable but we were loving it up and had a great time walking around Hongdae (Seoul) and looking at the Christmas lights and snow. We ate some Korean BBQ for dinner (of course) and then met up with some friends.

Me and Sara at xmas dinner

Prices at the bars were raised because Christmas is sort of a couples holiday in Korea. When I went to the bank on Christmas Eve to pay a bill...the bank was decked out in pink hearts. Really? So all the couples go out to nice dinners and then out to the bars. While we waited for our friends, we stopped in a 7-11 and grabbed a few drinks (I know...we're classy, but everyone else was doing it too). While we were standing there, we noticed a hilarious garbage can....


Cans, bottles, and of course...pets.

Welcome to my life. We spent the night celebrating xmas with all of our friends.

The day after Christmas was to be our big "Ho Ho Ho Christmas Bar Crawl". I went out for some Mexican food with Rebecca, John, and Q, and then met up with everyone for some good holiday cheer. After a few bars, we decided to go to a noraebang...its become so popular for us to go to because we just sneak in our own food and drinks, and it ends up being cheaper than eating/drinking at a bar.

Anna and me

Rebecca, me, and Anna in the noraebang. Lovin the tambourine.

John and Rebecca starring in Noraebang: The Interpretive Dance

The floor was heated in typical Korean fashion, which explains the interpretive dance action on the floor. It was freeeeeezing out on Christmas. Sunday, Rebecca and I went to the movie theater in Uijeongbu to see Sherlock Holmes. It was pretty good, actually - but its becoming more and more apparent how the comedy is completely lost in the translation. There were a few US soldiers sitting behind us and during the funny parts it was literally only me, Rebecca, and them laughing. Hmmph.

Monday after Christmas I went to school in the morning to meet up with all of the teachers for our ski trip! We loaded our bags and goodies onto the bus and were on our way! The bus ride was about 2 hours. We went back to the Sajo Ski Resort that we had gone to for our field trip a few months back. The resort was in Chungju. We only had time to ski in the afternoon, but it was still so fun! Skiing is sort of expensive in Korea, and as a result it was many of the teachers' first time skiing. Its been awhile since I had skied myself so I was a little bit worried, but it was sort of like riding a bike. I knew I was in good shape when I got on the ski lift with 2 teachers, and Sera (who was a first timer) fell immediately upon her departure from the ski lift. Yeesh. I tried to teach her what little I know about skiing, but she can't really speak English, and my Korean is even worse...so I demonstrated as best as I could, but she ended up walking down the bunny hill anyway. Surprisingly, I did really well, taking only one really bad fall (which was more funny than anything...seeing my face plant into the snow). During one of my runs, however, the binding on my ski broke and I had to walk down the hill to get new skis :( After that though, all was well. I'm not much of skier, but compared to the teachers who spent most of the time on their asses, I looked pretty good. There were, however, a lot of young children on the slopes that day, and they were showing me up big time. I got lots of looks from the kids since I think its safe to say I was the only white person in the place, and a few of the brave ones even stopped to say "hello" to me and practice their basic English skills. So cute.

Sang Jin in her ski gear...her hat says Jamaica.

Where I skied!

Sang Jin, me and Mr. Ahn at dinner...Jin was loving the soju

We went back to our hotel rooms and got ready for dinner. Dinner was at a restaurant near the resort. After all that skiing I was hungry. And for dinner was...pheasant. Yep. I was a little hesitant because...what!? But I went with it (I mean, let's face it - I've eaten much much worse in my time here). It wasn't so bad. Dinner was accompanied by an excessive amount of alcohol. And of course we ended up in a noraebang. Of course, nobody knew any English songs, and those of you who know me well know that I can't sing a note on key for the life of me, so I sort of just danced and clapped along. I will admit though, that I'm learning more of the Korean songs...I've got K-Pop down!! Also, as boring as it may seem to be in a noraebang without anyone singing songs you really know...it has helped soooo much with my reading. I'm still pretty slow at reading Korean, but I notice that I'm getting faster and I really think its because of all that noraebanging with the teachers. My neighbor, Sang Eun, offered to sing a song with me and the one she knew was...Livin' La Vida Loca. Well...that's not embarrassing to sing or anything. But we sang it loud and proud and it was fun. I don't even think they know what "la vida loca" means. Seems common sense to most of us, but they literally don't know any Spanish so I had to explain it. So funny.


Sang Eun and Sera at dinner

The next day we went to breakfast. They don't really have "breakfast" food here. They basically eat the same thing they would eat for lunch or dinner. So kimchi, rice, and soup for breakfast it was. Gah. I really just wanted some scrambled eggs and pancakes but no. From breakfast we went to a temple in the mountains which was really pretty. I can't remember the name of it because...well they're all sort of the same to me now. But here's a few pics.






After the temple it was time to leave so we hopped on the bus and headed home. We stopped for lunch about halfway home and arrived back at the school around 5. I went home from there. I spent Wednesday just cleaning my apartment and running a few errands (yep...no school for me!). My friends had to work Wednesday and half of the day on Thursday, but my school gave me the days off which was so nice.

And then...NEW YEARS EVE!!! New Years was absolutely amazing here, I don't think I can even begin to describe it but I will try.

A group of us met up in Insadong in Seoul. It was absolutely freezing out, maybe hovering around 10 degrees F. So cold. We started off at Starbucks and then went to a small hole in the wall Korean place for dinner. We were able to bring in our own drinks, which was nice because it saved us a lot of money. We sat in the restaurant for awhile just drinking and eating. Our next stop was a noraebang where we did the same thing...snuck in food and drinks and were able to sing our hearts out. Total spent on our New Year's pregame...around 15,000won per person. So cheap!


Sara, me, Anna in the noraebang on NYE

Sara, Rebecca, me, and Anna

Me and John outside Jongno Tower

About 10:30 we left the noraebang and headed out to the streets of Seoul. We were in the area by Jongno tower, which on New Year's Eve is pretty much the NYC Times Square of Seoul. The street is blocked off and people pack in around the Jongno Tower and the Bosingak Bell Tower (which is rung at midnight). You know how everyone in the US pretty much watches the ball drop in Times Square on New Years Eve? Well everyone in Korea watches the Bosingak bell ring in Seoul...and WE WERE THERE!! We bought some illegal fireworks and then crammed in with everyone else. I can't even begin to explain what it was like being in the center of the chaos. People were literally packed into the street and there were so many police and people that it was impossible to move. We were pretty much just moving with the crowd, unable to choose where we were going.

Standing on a ledge over the sea of people in Seoul

Bosingak Bell Tower

Before we knew it...the countdown (in Korean) was on and it was 2010!!!! The entire street was yelling, cheering, kissing, and fireworking to ring in the new year. Pictures don't really come close to explaining what it was like being there...but it was amazing. I took a video to try to show you guys what it was like...not sure it really does justice to the awesomeness of the moment, but check it out anyway. Spending New Years in Seoul really added to my experience here - to be able to say that I got to celebrate in the heart of Seoul on the street with everyone is so amazing. I'm so excited that I was able to be there with all of my friends and ring in the new year. Even almost an hour later, the streets were still crowded with people cheering and shooting off their illegal fireworks.

video

After that we went out until around 4:30 am and just celebrated 2010 with all of our friends. Overall it was a really great night. There's a clip from Seoul on CNN which put together a video/picture montage of New Year's celebrations all over the world. I think my goal is to celebrate New Year's in a different city every year. I think that's realistic...right? Plan for next year...maybe Sydney? :) Maya get ready for me!

New Years Day I went to Icheon with John to visit where our friend Q lives.

Cute store in Icheon :)

Anna and Mark met up with us and we went to a "spa". So in Korea, something that is really common is public bath houses. This was my first one. I don't even know how to explain it really. Its totally a cultural thing here. Basically there's separate women's and men's facilities, and everyone just goes totally naked and hangs out in these hot tubs or saunas just...washing each other? haha sort of gross to most people, but totally normal to Koreans. There's also places in the spa where you can get massages, pedicures, facials, etc, but you need to pay for it separately from your general admission. This bath house also had a joined men's and women's area (bath suits/clothing required). Anna and I had some trouble finding how to exit the massive locker room/women's bathing area, and we had to ask where the joined facilities were. Naturally nobody spoke English so we had to attempt Korean. All we could really say was "여자, 남자...같이?" pronounced "yeoja, namja...kahti?" Also meaning..."women, men...together?" Not even a full sentence and definitely had the potential to be interpreted in many wrong ways, but we got our point across and they pointed us in the right direction. Once we made it out, they had one big hot tub with lot of jets (outdoor even though it was freezing) and then different types of smaller hot tubs. There was chocolate, tea, herb, mint, etc. It was super relaxing after such a crazy night before. Usually they can be sort of expensive but Q's family is VIP at this one and we got in FREE! So nice.

After the spa we went to E-Mart and bought some things for dinner...fried chicken, sushi, wine, etc. We all went back to Q's apartment and then hung out and stayed the night there. Today we layed around all day and then ate dinner at a little Italian restaurant in Icheon and then went to an adorable little cafe for coffee. For a few minutes I forgot I was in Korea and felt like I was back in Italy!

I took a bus back to Uijeongbu, which dropped me off at the Uijeongbu Bus Terminal and then cabbed it back to my place. I'm actually quite impressed with myself for the amount of Korean I've learned considering I really haven't tried that hard. I mean, I probably should be trying harder seeing as how I'm in the perfect situation to be learning a new language. But getting in a cab by myself used to terrify me because I was so concerned about not being able to communicate what was necessary, and now I don't even think twice about it.

Tomorrow I'm going out to the airport to meet Kelsey who's flying in from Chicago before she goes back to Manila in the Philippines where she works. She'll be here for a week so I get to show her around this amazing city. One major thing I have yet to do in Seoul is go up in the N Seoul Tower, and its definitely something all visitors to Seoul should do, so I'm looking forward to that. Exactly 2 weeks until I leave for Thailand! Yay!!

K Pop song of the week is called Bo Peep Bo Peep by 티아라 (T-ara). New dance party song that blares from all the clubs in Hongdae on the weekends.

Hope everyone had wonderful Christmas and a happy happy happy New Year!!

"In the world through which I travel, I am endlessly creating myself." -- Frantz Fanon