From the moment I set foot on Korean soil there was one thing that I was absolutely dying to try and I finally crossed this experience off my bucket list. That's right ladies and gentlemen; I have at long last visited a jimjilbang!!
........................................................*crickets in the distance* ...................................................................
A bath house y'all. I visited a bath house.
I think the Doctors response runs the gamut of everyone's reaction. For anyone who was not aware of this about me; I have a particular obsession with bath time. I rate hotels and campgrounds according to their bathing facilities. A quality bathtub must be able to cover boobs, knees and toes all at once. A good book + a steaming bath full of bubbles = hours of bliss. My friends and family have to put up with pictures like this from me.
I really love bath time. So when my friend asked me if I wanted to go to a jimjilbang with her it took all of my self control not to pack my rubber ducky right then and there. She wanted to go after church which was grand with me. Jesus and bath time. I can't think of a more perfect Sunday. Needless to say I loved every moment of it.
So this is the view from outside of the one Lisa and I went to. There are a couple of things you can take away from this picture. First, this is a 24 hour attraction. For 10,000 won (about $10) you can walk in and never leave. Not a bad life for a hobo that's for sure. Second you see the girl in the white hoodie? Her pink bucket? This is a BYOBW type of place. (bring your own body wash for those of you who didn't get it:) Before climbing in a tub you had better soap up and rinse off. No nasty goats allowed. Inside there was an area where you could buy toiletries but still...It's better to be prepared. Third: Do you see the distinct lack of windows? (The ones you see are for ventilation purposes) Voyeurism is frowned upon in most civilized countries. Which brings me to a very important disclaimer for anyone wanting to try this. If you're not comfortable going completely starkers in front of an audience............This is not the experience for you.
We walked in and stashed our shoes in the designated lockers. Turned the corner and were right in the middle of the common area for women. We picked a locker for our clothes; stripped down and joined the crowd headed for the showers. To the right of the glass double doors was a line of standing showers. To the left was a line of sitting showers. The center of the room was dedicated to the baths. They were freaking huge. A couple were easily the size of back yard pools. Each pool was a different temperature. Some had whirl jets for your feet and back. There was an ice bath and one that could parboil you. In one corner was a couple different saunas. In the other corner was a station were you could get a massage or be scrubbed raw. (Whichever was your preference so long as you didn't care that the women doing it were as naked as you) In between it all was about a hundred women and children chillin and going about their business. Pretty freaking nifty.
Naturally I tried every single tub and temperature. My personal favorite was the pool with the whirl jets for your back. That one had stone (tile) benches with armrests that you could lounge in. There was a button you could push that would start and stop the jets anytime you wanted. I also really enjoyed the super hot one. I definitely sat in that one until I was lobster red. (Which took all of five minutes.) Once I was satisfied exploring the tubs; Lisa and I toweled off and dressed in the prison orange shirt and shorts combo the spa assigned to us and went upstairs.
The second level of the jimjilbang was dedicated to the Dry saunas. (I don't actually know what they're called other than sweat rooms.) This area was coed. Basically the second floor was where families reconvened after taking a bath. Everyone was chilling on floor mats and pillows. Dads were sprawled out taking the dad nap. Moms brought their books or knitting and what not. Children played with the toys they brought or ran in between mats and in and out of saunas. Basically it looked like a typical beach scene without the sand and water. There was a third level dedicated to people spending the night but we didn't go up there.
Where I was sitting when I took this picture my back was against the wall with all of the saunas. The saunas themselves were a unique experience. Honestly any time I watched a Korean drama that had a jimjilbang episode I thought the prop and set people manufactured some uber cool but not really true fabrication of a jimjilbang. I didn't think there would literally be a room lined with geodes and other shiny rocks. Boy was I wrong.
I'm a sucker for rocks. Specifically warm rocks and shiny rocks so this was my favorite room hands down. If I had brought an actual paperback book with me that joker would have covered my face and it would have been lights out for me. There were a few other rooms as well and each one was a different temperature and theme.
There was one more sauna. I didn't take a picture of it because I was afraid the heat would fry my cell phone. Do you know those goofy hats that one band wore? These ones?
This sauna was shaped exactly like that. It was HOT. Holy crow Lisa and I sat inside for one minute. (ONLY ONE) and came out looking like this.
Massively sweaty and bright lobster red. There were a few crazy women (I didn't see any men in there. They were probably smarter than us.) who had blankets and towels wrapped around their heads taking naps. I think if you have to have a timer strapped to your wrist to remind you to get out before you die of heat stroke.......You should find a better place to snooze. ( and anyone who wants to chime in with how healthy it is to sweat your fat off......... I don't believe you.)
If all of that wasn't enough this place also provided snacks, beverages and dinner options. Being the foreigners we are, Lisa and I opted for fried chicken but I saw plenty of other families sitting cross legged on the floor with bowls of soup and rice. Lots of choices and dirt cheap to boot.
After one final dip in the baths we went home feeling boneless and relaxed. I have conflicted feelings about where I live now. I would kill to have a jimjilbang in walking distance of my house but I also know that I would probably be bankrupt because I would go literally every day. I know some of you are probably thinking "Wasn't it weird to be naked in front of so many people?"
Ehhhhhh.......No. I'm pretty confident about my body so it took me less than a minute to go with the flow. But you know what? Even if you're self conscious about yourself there's no reason to be because people of every shape, size, and age were there. When everyone is roaming around in the nude you're nothing special. Basically it's only weird if you make it weird. Also God knew what he was doing when Adam and Eve enjoyed life in the Garden sans undies. I usually try to get away with wearing as little as possible so having the chance to enjoy my natural state as God originally intended was simply a pleasure for me. Maybe I should just join a nudist colony.....
What do you think of my latest escapade? Have any questions about anything I said? Hit me up in the comments. Did I make you laugh or gape or horror? Do you feel slightly educated? Spread the joy and share my blog!
Let's be honest. Any plane trip longer than three hours is almost guaranteed to be miserable. Tiny spaces, crummy food, obnoxious people you want to drop kick out the emergency exit......There's a lot of things conspiring against you. I've read a lot of blogs over the years that promise that by following their advice your tiny economy seat can be just as comfortable as business class. I'm saying it now: That is a lie straight from the darkest depths of Hell. If you're on a long flight, it's going to be uncomfortable. There's no avoiding that; However that doesn't mean you need to suffer unduly. I've been on a few nasty long flights in the past couple of years. (I'm getting ready for another one. 24 hours in the air broken up by a 21 hour layover. Yay.) So I've accumulated a little bit of wisdom that I've decided to share with you, my dear reader :)
BEFORE YOU BOARD
There are a few things you should do before showing up at the airport.
Honestly you should spend the week leading up to your departure drinking as much water as is healthy and safe to do so. Dehydration at high altitudes is ugly. The environment on a plane doesn't help either. Planes have low humidity levels so it doesn't take very long to dry out. Drinking water will help keep your skin from feeling gross and the inside of your nose from drying out. (for a little while at least) It will also help prevent headaches. The stewardess on the planes pass out cups of water but I find it helps to bring a bottle with you so you're not at their mercy.
2) CHARGE ALL DEVICES
Nothing is more soul crushing or panic inducing than having your phone at 3% with no charging station in sight. Many airports have charging stations for your devices but understandably these are high in demand. I like to keep my Ipad fully charged and loaded with movies and books so that I don't spend as much time on my phone. I've also discovered the wonder that is a portable battery. If you get a chance to charge your devices on the go do so but don't tempt fate by depending on a charging dock at the airport or on the plane. (Disclaimer: please be considerate of your fellow flyers, don't be that one guy charging all of his devices at the same time leaving no space for other desperate souls)
3) ORGANIZE YOUR STUFF
You know what's not a good idea? Shoving your passport in the bottom of your bag. Ideally you want your carry on bag to be grab and go ready. Passport and cash cards need to be easily accessible (Just be aware that what is accessible to you is also accessible to shady people) If you don't plan on checking your luggage and opt instead for carry on that's fine. Just be aware that whatever you stow overhead is not going to be easy to get to once you've sat down. So keep a small bag separate from your luggage that has your snacks, coloring books and water bottle. Nobody likes having your junk or sweaty armpits in their face as you lean awkwardly over them to fish out the earbuds you hid in your socks.
Word to the wise: If you check your luggage keep a spare pair of undies in your carry-on. Along with a toothbrush. Checking luggage is taking a leap of faith that your suitcase will make it to its' final destination. You won't know until you get there because you never see it again once it gets sucked up the conveyor belt. Sometimes S*** happens. I spent the night in Japan last year because my layover flight was delayed, and let me tell you........Life feels better with clean underwear.
4) DRESS PRACTICALLY
I have a confession to make......I deeply admire those people who show up at the airport in their fluffy pajamas and slides. They've ascended to the final plane of not giving any cares. These people know that things like belts and shoelaces are obstacles. I watch in envy as they serenely float through the security line. As opposed to those fashionistas who show up dressed to the nines and then spend five minutes and seven bins later stripping out of their finery only to shuffle awkwardly off to the side for a pat down. Don't be that person.
The best things to wear for long flights are loose, comfy clothes. Try to avoid jeans or other stiff materials. That shirt with the annoying tag? don't wear it. Compression socks are a good investment because they stimulate blood flow which helps prevent DVT (Deep Vein Thrombosis) Try to find a pair of shoes that can be quickly slipped off and on. I find that wearing tight shoes is extremely uncomfortable after a few hours.
THE BARE NECESSITIES
(you see what I did there)
Space is a premium if you're flying economy so in terms of your carry-on, less is more. Ideally your IN bag (immediate needs) should be able to be stowed under the seat in front of you with room to spare for your feet. The following is what I consider to be the basics of an IN bag.
1) Water bottle
I cannot stress the water bottle enough. Bring an empty one with you and fill it at the airport. Trust me, your nasty dry throat will thank you for it.
These are a marvelous invention. A good pair of headphones will not only double as noise canceling ear plugs, they are also the universal signal for "I don't want to talk." Some airlines will hand out complimentary earbuds but these are usually trash that make your ears sore. So bring your preferred headset.
Most flights have a wide variety of movies and games for your pleasure but if you're nearsighted like me it's better to have your preferred method of entertainment within easy eye access. Books, movies, or coloring pages, whatever is your preference; keep it close to you in your IN bag.
The rest of this list are things that aren't really necessary but come highly recommended if your looking for the least amount of misery as possible.
This almost made it on my essential list so its at the top of this list. I'm really bad about this actually. I have a difficult time eating properly while flying so I'll pack snacks then not want them, or I'll forgo snacks and bitterly regret my decision later. Learn from my mistake: pack the snacks. It's better to have some options than no options. Also the reason airplane food tastes so weird has to do with the high altitude affecting your sense of smell and taste buds, making them duller. Airlines counter this by serving foods with strong flavors and smells........... (I want to punch whoever thought onions and bell peppers were a good idea on a plane.)
Being trapped in a tin can hurtling through the sky can be unpleasant. Being trapped with nausea and a raging headache is worse. A couple of alka seltzers and Tylenol go a long way towards improving your overall condition. Painkillers can also help ease the soreness that comes from sitting too long. (note: Please be responsible with taking medication. Mixing and matching is generally frowned upon)
3) Neck pillow
It was going to show up at some right? Some people name and love them. Others could care less. you decide.
4) Eye mask
The perfect instrument for blocking out the outside world. Paired with ear buds and a do not disturb sign the plane could go down and you'd never even notice.
5) wet wipes
I'm a major advocate of wiping down every surface with antibacterial wet wipes to prevent the spread of the plague. People are nasty. Enough said.
Do you hate feeling like your face is stretched too tight across your skull? Yea me too. Which is why moisturizer has a special place in my IN bag.
7) Scarf/ Jacket/ Blankie
Anything that you can cover yourself up with basically. I don't know about you but for me having that extra layer between me and the people around me is comforting. Also sometimes it's cold.
8) Sleep aid
I include this with a stipulation. If you snore, don't take these. Please, I'm begging you. Obnoxious snorers inspire murderous thoughts. If you are in the aisle seat, don't take these. Please, I'M BEGGING YOU. When you are dead to the world the people on the inside are trapped. We don't want to crawl over your unconscious body. That's just weird. If you are seated in the exit row, don't take these. The rest of the airplane is depending on you in case of an emergency; please don't sleep through a crisis.
9) toiletries and undies
See above statement about toothbrushes and undies.
EXTRA RANDOM TIPS
1) If you like to sleep on long flights, choose a window seat. If you prefer to move around, sit in the aisle. Try to avoid the middle seat like the plague. As far as I can tell there are no benefits to sitting in the middle.
2) Bring at least $50.00 in cash with you. You never know when it might come in handy, especially in international airports.
3) Let your bank know ahead of time that you are traveling. If they don't put a virtual sticky note on your account; chances are when you swipe your card at a Starbucks in Shanghai your bank account is going to think some Nigerian prince has hacked your account and freeze it. That's not good.
4) Exit rows usually have more legroom. (But they cost a little bit extra)
5) If you have a long layover. (Long enough to shower and take a nap.) consider getting a lounge pass or even checking into a hotel. Lounges are nice because there are less people which equals more security (And more wifi). They generally serve decent food buffet style and offer amenities such as showers.
6) If your neighbor seems like a cool person...... Go ahead and talk to them. I'm not a huge people person but even I admit that conversation passes the time. Everyone in an airport has one thing in common; you're all going somewhere. Boom. Icebreaker.
7) If you usually wear contacts, consider switching to glasses for the flight. I've found that contacts dry out easier on long flights which leads to itchy eyeballs. Nobody likes itchy eyeballs.
8) CONTROL YOUR KIDS!!!
Now for you moms that are traveling with a breastfed newborn; Bless your soul. You are a champion among all humans. Tired, fussy toddlers that haven't slept in a horizontal position for more than an hour? I get it, you're doing your best mom and dad. Traveling is hard and a child's tolerance for discomfort is low. I UNDERSTAND. I'm right there with you kid.
HOWEVER!!! You parents that think airplane snacks are sweet and sour gummy worms with a large coke from Mcdonalds, You parents who allow their children to climb over other adults, you parents who ignore your screaming children, you parents who encourage your child to yell to their friend 6 rows behind them................. You are raising monsters and I personally hate your guts.
Did I leave anything out? Do you have any advice that you would like to add? Leave your comments in the comment section :)
First....... I would like to extend my sincerest and most heartfelt apologies to my cousin, Alexza Wagner. She requested a post about food nearly 2 months ago (Probably longer actually) and I have failed her. My main issue with doing a post about food is simply this: I'm usually too busy stuffing my face to remember to take pictures. when I do take pictures they're not pretty and it's usually half eaten. (But that means it has my seal of approval and is guaranteed deliciousness. ) So without further ado *Majestic hand sweep to opening curtain*
Before I go into detail about my particular favorites I think its important to take a look at the overall impact food has on the culture of Korea. Every country is foodcentric in some way and Korea is no exception.
Lets start with etiquette. One of the first things I've noticed is that finger food is not really a thing here. This might make me look like a barbarian but you have no idea how dismayed I was when I sat down at my school with a BBQ chicken drumstick on my plate and my coworkers had theirs suspended between chopsticks. I've been complimented on my usage of chopsticks but I definitely failed that day. I've also seen Korean people eat pizza and burgers with a fork and knife. apple slices and other fruit are usually speared by chopsticks. That was one of the first things I had to adjust to. Another was a lack of napkins. I can only assume Korean people are daintier eaters because in the more traditional restaurants I have to hunt for them. A lot of times though the wait staff will bring moist towelettes. Speaking of restaurants If you walk into a traditional one be prepared to take your shoes off and sit on the floor. Space is a premium as well so make sure to keep your elbows tucked in.
Meals in Korea are very communal. (I also learned that passing dishes around is a western manner.) Here it's expected for people to reach across your plate for something on the far side. If you need your drink refilled you better hope your neighbor is paying attention because it's considered rude to pour your own glass. While everyone will have their own small bowl of rice everything else is a free for all. Most meals in restaurants come with a million side dishes and you just pick and choose which ones you want. But you don't scoop out a portion and pile it on your plate. Instead you reach into the dish with your chopsticks and grab a bite sized portion. (sometimes a small plate will be given to you if there is bony fish but not always.) Stabbing food with chopsticks is considered rude as is leaving them upright in your rice bowl. (Looks like incense for dead people) Leave your rice bowl on the table. (Old people will tell you that you eat like a dog/Japanese if you pick it up.) Eating utensils are generally placed on the table when not in use. (Another moment I became acutely aware of the lack of napkins.)
Alcohol is a huge part of Korean dining and this is the part where I consistently fail to be polite. It's usually considered rude to not accept alcohol (Especially if it's offered by someone older than you) because people see drinking together as a chance to get to know you and also shows that you're an honest person with nothing to hide. I've heard various opinions about the proper thing to when offered alcohol when you don't drink. some people say take it and drink slowly so they won't refill your cup, others advise you to claim you're on a diet or other health related reason. Personally I just say no thank you and leave it at that. I don't see the need to provide a reason for what is a personal choice. Now on to the main event!!
MY ALL TIME FAVORITE KOREAN FOODS!!
(In order of what I happen to think of first)
1) Hotteok . the best way to describe these would be a brown sugar cinnamon stuffed pancake. Sometimes the filling will have chop nuts or ginseng. All variations are delicious. This is my favorite festival food. It's a popular winter snack. I've seen legitimate snack stalls selling them as well as random squatters with a cardboard box and a hot plate.
I have no idea why this particular one was purple but it was delicious none the less.
This was a happy discovery for me. These are candied sweet potatoes. One day I went to work and my co-teacher told me that my class was canceled because we were making Matang instead. Best class ever. It's made by deep frying sweet potatoes and coating them when a syrup made from sugar and oligo syrup. Toss with sesame seeds and donezo!! A delicious snack for all ages.
3) All the rice cakes. ALL OF THEM.
Tteok has an infinite amount of uses. tteok can be found in soup, as a sweet snack, mixed in with spicy chicken, grilled by itself; the list goes on and on. Tteok by itself is rather plain (No suprise since it's basically smushed rice.) and comes in various stages of chewy from non- Newtonian fluid consistency (Keep away from small babies and elderly with dentures) to fruitcake (I can build a house out of it) It's kind of amazing.
Tteok is also the go to gift snack. Job promotion? tteok with nuts. New baby? Tteok cake. souvenir from vacation? The regions special variation of Tteok. Naturally each variation has it's own name and they're classified by whether it's a snack dessert or entree but I can't remember (Spell) all of the names. Just trust me when I say that there are 101 uses for Tteok.
Jangjorim is my favorite side dish here hands down. I wish it was served as a main entree. I've actually hunted down a recipe for this so I can make it myself at home. Jangjorim is braised beef and quail eggs in a soy sauce broth. It's savory/salty and best of all........Not spicy. I've never had quail eggs before moving to Korea but I love them. (Taste is the same as chicken eggs they're simply bite sized which is awesome.)
5) Kalbi and Bulgogi (Korean BBQ)
Kalbi is short ribs and bulgogi is either marinated beef or pork. both are delicious. I don't splurge for these very often but when I do I usually leave the restaurant stuffed to the gills. I love the whole experience that comes with Korean BBQ. Sitting down at a grilling table armed with tongs and scissors (Scissors are used to cut meat) is the best dining experience.
Kimbap is like the sandwich of Korea. It comes in a million varieties so there is something for everyone. Kim is seaweed and bap is rice. Put together and you get rice with seaweed. Pretty self explanatory. Kimbap is rice rolled around various fillings and wrapped in seaweed. The insides of Kimbap can be anything; egg, tuna, kimchi, cheese, crab, bulgogi, veggies, etc and is usually a combination of three or more. Kimbap is sold as a snack in convenience stores and there are also food stalls and restaurants that specialize in it. I personally think that Kimbap is super easy to make so I make it at home sometimes but not everyone agrees with me on this.
So there you have it. My list of favorite Korean foods. If you haven't noticed already I don't really like spicy foods so I can't help but feel like I left out a crucial aspect of Korean foods (Seriously they use red pepper paste like salt here.) And there are a few things that I have a love/ hate relationship with. (Like bimbibap. I should like it......But I don't) so next time I do a food post I'll focus on those things. (maybe if I'm brave I'll do a reaction post. )
What do you think? Did any of these surprise you? Is there something on this list that you wish you could try? Feel free to leave questions and comments :)
As far as I can tell the significance of birthdays in a persons life comes in cycles. When you're little birthdays are a chance for rules to be suspended in the name of fun and presents galore from friends and family. As you become a teenager getting older becomes a big deal because you hit important milestones such as being able to drive and vote and stay out past the city wide curfew. Once you go beyond 21 it starts to go down hill because yea you can legally drink but now you're expected to take on adult responsibilities like taxes and insurance and bills; all while struggling not to be perpetually broke. (and realizing that college was not nearly as helpful as propaganda led you to believe.) Thirty looms like a death knell for young adults because it marks the descent into middle aged. People don't really start looking forward to birthdays again until about fifty years old. Even then its the people around them that's super excited because they now have an excuse to buy tombstone cakes or litter the lawn with plastic flamingos and cheesy lines. (What the flock?! Look who's fifty!!) One hundred is a special birthday simply because at that point you can confidently claim to have outlived most of your enemies. (Even if it's out of sheer spite)
Some of you are probably wondering "why are you blabbering about birthdays when yours was months ago?" The answer to such a valid question is simple. Recently I have celebrated the auspicious milestone of one year for three separate children......... And not one of them had a smash cake. This is another one of those things that I have never questioned about the American lifestyle. Ask any American what a smash cake cake is and I am confident that they will say 1st birthday party. I never realized that this tradition was confined to the United States. I have asked my British, South African and Korean friends about smash cakes and every single one of them have given me blank looks.
"How can you celebrate a 1st birthday without a smash cake?!" My readers cry as they clutch sticky children to their chests. Have no fear my distressed audience. It can be done. For in this land where everything is traditional, birthdays have their own procedures.
Before I expound upon the ways of celebrating year one of life I should first relate the details of what happens leading up to the actual birth of a child. Surprise! Baby showers are a western concept. I felt an enormous amount of pity for new parents when I was told that family and friends do not gather together and shower expecting parents with diapers and onesies. Doesn't happen. Instead the new parents buy gifts for EVERYONE else. It's a good day in the office when someone is expecting because food is the go to baby announcer. Last year a man in my main school handed me this massive rice cake. Everyone got one. I'm honestly afraid of asking how much new parents spend on announcing to the world they are expecting.
I thought rice cakes would be the end of it but it keeps going. (prompting this blog post) This year the rice cake teacher gave me another gift. A monogrammed dish towel celebrating his daughters first birthday. A MOnoGrammED DiSh ToWEL! For everybody! In Different colors! My mind was blown. No smash cakes and presents were given to the guests; not the baby of the hour. I'm not gonna lie, for me this was an "Aha.......I'm not in America anymore" moment. I'm sitting over here in my corner stewing in guilt for not having at least a gift card and the rest of the office is like "Oh sweet a birthday! I needed a new dish towel."
A few other things of note besides the lack of smash cakes. When a baby is born day one equals year one. The 9 months germination is counted as one year. On New Years everyone is a year older regardless of when your actual birthday is. so by Korea's standard I am 27 years old. On January 1st I will be 28 years old. Doesn't matter that my birthday is in August. That's one of the reasons people here will ask you what year you were born in. It's not considered rude to ask a persons age here; it's merely establishing where you are in the hierarchy.
Birthday cakes are just all over a western tradition. While it's possible to buy birthday cakes here and it's becoming more common to have a cake...............A party's not a birthday party until the seaweed soup has arrived. I asked my co-teacher about this (I love springing random questions on him, he always looks so bewildered.) and he said the reason is women eat a lot of seaweed soup because its chock full of nutrients needed for a healthy pregnancy. So seaweed soup on your birthday is actually a reminder and a wish to be healthy for the year. (fun side note: It's bad luck to eat seaweed soup on exam day because it's so slippery all the information will slid out of your brain.)
My co-teacher told me one other thing of interest about how first birthdays are celebrated in Korea. On a child's first birthday their parents will line up a series of items in front of them. I did a little digging and this practice is called Doljabi. It's purpose is to predict the future of the child. The item or toy that they choose is supposed to reflect what the kid will most likely care about in the future. Many parents like to place several different objects that represent promising careers in front of their child to choose; like a gavel or a toy stethoscope.
Did any of this surprise you as much as it did me? what do you think about seaweed soup? Should American parents try Doljabi? Tell me what you think in the comments :)
This is not going to be in the same vein as my previous posts. As a general rule of thumb I try to avoid politics and interject humor into all of my stories. That is not the case today. A line has been crossed and I am not going to gloss over the details. I was angry. I was disgusted; and I was afraid.
It's been the running joke among my expat friends that if something weird is going to happen it's going to happen to me. It's true, I'm the queen of strange and awkward encounters. When it comes to hordes of tourists feeding me like a petting zoo animal and dudes dressed in drag I try to handle these situations with grace because it could be an amusing story later. I thought today would be no exception.
I had a very typical day. I worked; I walked to the bus stop. The old couple who run the ticket counter very sweet. I bought my ticket and went out to wait for the bus. As I walked out the door an older man sitting nearby said HELLO in a very loud voice and in English. This is a daily occurrence for me so I said hi and kept walking. I sit down in the waiting area for the bus across the way from two other older ladies. I'm texting my friends. I was asking for their opinion on a certain haircut I was considering.
I hear some yelling so I look up. The same old man was still waving at me from the other side of the parking lot. I realize at this point he's drunk but its still not an unusual situation. He see's me looking so he comes over to talk to me. This is slightly stranger than the usual drunken encounters but still not outside the realm of probability. After all this has happened before. At this point I'm watching him but not encouraging him. I just want him to go away. I'm annoyed but still slightly amused.
He comes closer and is standing over me. I can smell the soju. I'm no longer amused but highly irritated. He was telling me to call him Oppa (It means big brother but it's also used by women who are flirting.) I told him no. He told me I was beautiful. I said thank you. (It's polite here to say thank you when someone says you're pretty.) A conversation I have had before at least half a dozen times. He ducks down, wraps an arm around my shoulder and leans in for a kiss.
Now I'm alarmed. This had never happened before. I pushed him away and went to sit next to the other two ladies. They didn't even blink. The one lady patted the bench next to her as an invitation for me but that was it. This was still their normal. I was so confused. I look around for the bus. The man was still following me. He continued to loom over me. Still wanted me to call him Oppa but now he was asking me to go to Muju with him. I told him no way. The lady next to me told him him to go away and some other things I didn't understand. He said he was sorry and offered to shake her hand.
He grabbed her the wrist and hauled her to her feet. She was yelling that it hurt and swatted him on the chest. He just grinned and asked if it hurt before letting go. I was angry. I could feel my nails in my palms. He asks the other lady if she wants a handshake. She shakes her head no. He comes back to me. He wants to shake my hand. I looked him dead in the eye and said no way. (Sadly my language skills go from no way straight to F*** off. I didn't want to escalate to that.) We have a staring contest. He asks a question. I say no. We stare some more. I was scared.
No? He echoes. I tell him to get lost in English and make shooing motions. He looks shocked. The lady next to me jumps to her feet and shoves him in the chest. He starts stomping his feet and yelling. I see the bus coming down the road. A couple of other men near the ticket building across the parking lot yell something. (As they remain seated on their bench.) The bus pulls up. We jump on, leaving the man behind. The two ladies appear to continue on with their previous conversation. I'm shaking in my seat. I texted my friends.
From buying my bus ticket to getting on the bus took less than 10 minutes. In fact it took 6 minutes. That's the amount of time between messages to my friends. Some of you reading this are probably thinking well that wasn't so bad. It could have been so much worse. You're right it have been. For some people it was. 6 minutes. That was all it took to go from faintly amused to honestly scared.
I wholeheartedly agree with who ever first said time flies when you're having fun. This year has simply blown past. Facebook memories has been kind enough to remind me of the excitement I was feeling this time last year. (I reeaaallllly wanted out) It's been a surreal experience but I wouldn't have traded it for anything. That being said I have an announcement. (It shouldn't surprise anyone)
I am staying. I have signed on for another year.
But WHY?!?! I hear some of you mentally wailing. Don't you miss home? Don't you love us anymore?!?
Of course I do. I love my family and friends. I'll be the first to admit that it was a little strange to celebrate my birthday and Christmas away from home. There are at least four different babies who I'm missing out on snuggling. But that's the life I chose. I consider these small inconveniences in the greater scheme of things. I have plans. It's all written down with monthly goals and benchmarks to reach. So I'm not leaving just yet.
While I'm sure some of you are very proud of my declarations of preplanning (which may or may not lead to the domination of my own empire) The majority of you don't care and are more curious about what I've actually done (especially since I've gone dark these past two months. Sorry.)
For starters I've decided that New Years resolutions are a waste of time. I told myself that I would post something new at least once a month but I've clearly dropped the ball on that. I ran into the problem that all writers are confronted with. What do I write about? My readers are so curious about the exotic life I'm living I don't want to disappoint them....... Here's the reality: Life in a foreign country is incredibly mundane. I wake up. I go to work. I come home. I contemplate if exercising is really prolonging my life or just increasing my suffering. I struggle with the age old question of whether or not I want to cook something nutritious and delicious or give in to the dark temptation of fried chicken. Shower. Sleep. Repeat. That's the pattern of my life. So even though life is remarkably similar everywhere you go, I will do my best to impart unto you, my dear reader; the knowledge I have gained through a years worth of (mostly) keen observation.
1) Eventually the glitter falls off of every new thing.
Two things happen when you move to a foreign country. First, you feel like a tourist so everything is exciting and cool. Second, Everyone assumes you're a tourist and treats you accordingly. You know exactly what I mean. Locals can spot a tourist from miles away. They can tell by your vacant and slightly bewildered expression. That subtly changes the longer you stay in one place. After the first few months the people at the bus stop no longer point at things and make you repeat after them. Instead they come up behind you and ask if this is the bus going to such and such. As a noob you gratefully repeated the word for bus stop and apple for the first six weeks. Now that you've been there for a year you're slightly exasperated with the ajumma asking about the buses because a) it's written plainly on the sign on the front of the bus and b) you only understood every other word and only have a vague idea of how to reply.
When you've become a familiar face people automatically assume that you're familiar with the language as well. Or they swing the other way and think that because you can't reply you're stupid and don't understand anything so they'll say whatever they like. (I'm looking at you sandwich shop lady. Your smile doesn't fool me.) I'll admit that this has been a source of frustration for me. I am now realizing how incredibly stupid of me it was when I blithely answered "Oh I'll pick up the language as I go along." I've been stymied by the simplest questions. But at least now I can tell the people at the store "No, I don't need a bag." It's the small victories that matter.
So as time passes the novelty wears off for both you and the locals. This isn't a bad thing though. I think of it as visiting a friends house. when that friend is new and you're still trying to pretend to be a respectable adult, you clean your house before they arrive. As time goes on though you care less and less if your friend sees the dirty dishes or your laundry hanging up. It's the same for moving to a new country. Which leads me to my next revelation.
2) Skeletons are in every countries closet.
Korea is an extraordinary country. I'm not downplaying that in the slightest. But everyone has their faults. For Korea it's simply that they have a very dim view of the rest of the world. As an American I should be the last person to say that. We're arrogant, I get it. We hang our flag on the front lawn and riot for human rights. Korea is not as vocal but I would be willing to bet that their patriotism far exceeds America any day of the week. There is a lot of national pride packed onto this peninsula. However some of that pride rears its head in ugly ways. It took me a while to notice but there is an undercurrent in the nationalist mentality. The idea that Korea is superior and must be kept pure.
Something I learned while doing research before volunteering for orphanages is after the Korean war Korea gained the unwanted reputation that their largest export was babies. Many children of that time were put up for option because they were the product of a relationship between American soldiers and Korean women. Mixed children were not acceptable. In recent years Korea has all but stopped international adoptions. The reason? Korean children should be raised in Korea. This sounds sentimental but the reality is adoption is still severely stigmatized here. Many children are aging out of the system instead of being taken into new homes. Boys especially have a difficult time being adopted because people do not want someone who is not related by blood to inherit the family name. This is just one of a few flags I've seen that implies that not all people are created equal. (especially the Chinese. Wow the hate is high for China)
Now that I've exposed some of the grimier bits let us move on to my third revelation
3) Koreans are Boss at political activism
It might be the result of a long history of repression and repeated conquering s but Korea does not mess around with politics. These people have peaceful protest down to a science. I feel like every time I have gone to Seoul there has been some sort of protest. It not just political leaders either. My friend teaches English in one of the big cooperate Hyundai offices which is currently under fire for not comping one of its employees. One of the protests outside was so severe that security refused to let people leave the building.
There is a large church that has a dedicated group outside it every week protesting it's misuse of government funding. These people are prepared too. They sit out there with their folding chairs and stools and industrial strength signs. They have a neat stack of signs to pass out to other people who decide to join them. and they're tidy. No streets left overflowing with trash after these guys go home. They do candlelight vigils, beat drums, sing songs and chant. They exercise their right to assemble and free speech tenaciously.
Campaigns are simply hilarious. I fully support each candidate having their own theme song and pep squad dancing on the side walk for two months straight. That doesn't include the people who stand out in the streets and bow to every passing car and pedestrian. Also each group is color coded so you know exactly who is waving at you. The most aggressive these campaigns became was when the cheer squads would have a dance off competition. It's truly the best. Can you imagine what the United States would have been like if Clinton and Trump had their own dance routines?
The feminist movement is starting to build up steam here as well. Thousands of women have marched in Seoul recently protesting a form of pornography that centers on spy cameras. Cameras are installed in public restrooms and changing areas and the videos are uploaded. The majority of the women featured in these videos are unaware of this violation of privacy and this type of voyeurism is rampant. Continuing in the spirit of defying the norm of remaining silent Korea has just this past week commemorated August 14th as the first memorial day remembering comfort women. (Women who were kidnapped by the Japanese military during the occupation of Korea and forced to work as prostitutes.) Comfort women are a sensitive topic for both Korea and Japan (As well as other Asian countries affected by Japanese occupation) but Korean citizens are adamant about making their voices heard.
To sum things up........
I've lived here for a year and I feel like I've only just scratched the surface. I look forward to the day when I'm able to carry on a conversation in Korean with someone other than elementary students. (Bless them though kids are such forgiving linguistic partners. They have no problems repeating the same thing five times.) so that I can gain an even greater insight to the inner workings of the land of morning calm. Here's to another year :D
Wow. Just wow. Let me go on record now and say that this trip was the vacation my soul didn't know it needed until I was there. I had no idea how much I would love Hong Kong. It's honestly surprising.
Now anyone who knows me even a little bit is aware of the fact that I am an obsessive planner. Before I do anything I research it to death; come up with the most efficient plan of action, and try to execute it as flawlessly as possible. This trip was no exception. If anything this tendency was exacerbated because I was traveling with a friend. (I don't think she knew it but I had a list of emergency numbers that included the U.S and South African embassies and I had found both on google maps. Just in case.) All of this research forced me to confront an unpleasant reality.......I had no clue. I am ashamed to admit how ignorant I was about this vibrant city. (If you can even call it a city; it was more like its own little country.) For some strange reason when I used to think of Hong Kong, Jackie Chan was the first thing to come to mind. which is pretty pathetic since he's not even from there. (But Bruce Lee is ;) ) Now though, I will have vivid memories of clear blue waters, friendly smiling people, and mullets. (They're alive and well in Hong Kong)
I have to start off by confessing a few things. We didn't do a lot of the typical touristy things so if your reading this expecting to see something about the big Buddha, Victoria peak and cable cars prepare to be disappointed; cuz we didn't do any of that. Also we were there for four days............and did not eat a single piece of Dim Sum. (hangs head in shame) BUT as long as I live I will never forget the moment when Lisa asked "What's Dim Sum?" I have never seen a persons head snap around so fast or an expression filled with such disbelief and judgment. Some where in Peng Chau a local has lost faith in white people forever because they showed up in a country not knowing what the national dish is. The memory of that look will keep me warm on cold nights for a long time to come. (Even as I'm writing this I'm snickering from the memory.)
Now on to what we DID do. For starters we flew into Hong Kong ridiculously early. As in I landed at two in the morning. Naturally we stayed in the airport. My paranoia does not allow me to sleep out in the open so we checked into one of the airport lounges. A good idea all around for the most part. They had nice hot showers, comfy chairs and a decent breakfast line. The only downside was not even the lounges fault. There was one dude there who has no idea how close he came to death by strangulation because his snores echoed. Our check in time for the flat we had rented wasn't until two in the afternoon so we had plenty of time to kill. Our first stop? Hong Kong Heritage Museum.
This place was beautiful. Inside they had displays about all aspects of Hong Kong culture and history. I loved the replicas of the theater river boats and the theater that they eventually built on land. They had so many different displays of art and history. It absolutely broke my heart that we were not allowed to take ANY pictures; However if I told you that we came solely to appreciate Hong Kong's historical heritage I would be a liar. Our primary reason for visiting the museum was this guy.
Bruce Lee had an entire floor dedicated to his life and career. I was blown away. I didn't really know anything about him before coming. For example did you know that he was an inch shorter than me? I had this image of him being this larger than life legend so it was shocking to see that he was actually petite. He was also a total marshmallow. The museum had letters he had written to his wife on display and they were the sweetest things. I was also impressed by his dedication to honing his skills. Not only did he have some serious gym equipment and an exercise regime (Beautiful handwriting btw) his personal library extended across many different fighting styles and philosophies. He had books on psychology, women's self defense, kendo, fencing, kick boxing, jujuistu the list goes on and on. It was amazing. Now I have to look up his movies and actually watch them.
After the museum we made our way to where we were staying. At this point we were both pretty fried from lack of sleep and dragging our luggage around so this was a welcome relief. The only reason I'm bothering to mention this part of our vacation is because this is our first encounter with the ferries.
I like ferries. Traveling by ferries is cool. It's hard to feel rushed or anxious when you're on a gently rocking boat. Further more as you can see from this picture Hong Kong is an easy place to travel around for English speakers. All of the signs have Chinese and English on them. You can imagine how much of a welcome relief this was to us. (I'm not certain my brain can take trying to learn another written language.)
Where we were staying required us to take the ferry everywhere and I don't regret this in the least. Island living is the only way to live as far as I'm concerned. Our flat was on the island of Peng Chau.
Peng Chau is an incredibly quaint place. I would even call it charming. One thing Lisa and noticed about this island was that there are no cars. Everyone either walked or rode a bike.
You don't realize how noisy motorized vehicles are until you're in a place without them. Honestly the only "car" we saw was a fire truck and a couple of ATV's.
We didn't spend a significant amount of time on Peng Chau but even so I couldn't help but be taken in by the pace of life here. It is incredibly mellow and I loved it. I told Lisa that I couldn't remember the last time I simply strolled down a sidewalk with a Popsicle.
We woke up on Sunday with the best intentions to go exploring. (Well tried to anyways. I woke up with a nasty headache that morning. Nothing a nap and some serious painkillers couldn't cure.) We started the day by heading to Cheng Chau island. I had seen advertisements for a bun festival and I was beyond excited to eat buns and watch people dance around with dragon masks. Sadly we failed to realize that the festival had been put on hold for Sunday. No buns. No dragon masks. that didn't stop us from having a good time though. Cheng Chau has a lot of narrow alleys filled with shops so we spent a significant amount of time wandering aimlessly through them.
One thing I had discovered while researching Hong Kong was the fact that they have no open container laws. I light of this I fully expected to encounter drunk people out the wazoo. Happily I was mistaken. However it did mean that the free samples there are absurd. There was a man walking around with a cooler offering full bottles of beer for free as advertisement for the bar he worked for.
Have I mentioned the weather yet? It was HOT. and HUMID. It would be 9:00 in the morning and I could be standing under a tree and sweat would be pooling. (Ladies you know what I mean.) It was like I had never left Florida. I think we spent about half the trip looking for ways to beat the heat. Hence our stop in this awesome place.
I think Lisa and I spent about two hours inside this place painting our little wooden letters. The lady who owned it was super sweet and had no problems helping us and salvaging our projects when it was starting to look ugly. All in all it wasn't how we had planned to spend our afternoon in Cheng Chau but I wouldn't trade it for anything.
Sunday night saw us on the big bus night tour. This was a nice change of pace for us because it meant we could get a decent view of Kowloon without having to walk all over it. Next time I go though I'm definitely getting a closer look at the different markets. The tour guide voice thing on the bus mentioned the night market, jade market, flower market, ecetera, ecetera. At the end of the tour we were supposed to see this incredible light show (symphony of lights) that showcases the Hong Kong skyline. Being raised in Florida has given me unrealistic expectations of light shows cuz I didn't see anything worth mentioning on a travel blog. (of course it's highly possible that we simply missed it.)
Monday. This was the day I had been waiting for. Literally my main reason for going to Hong Kong. The most magical place on earth. Disney Land.
I would like to go on record and say that price wise we are being ripped off in the United States. Compared to the Florida park Hong Kong was dirt cheap. Truly the most magical thing.
Hong Kong Disney has many things that are similar to Magic Kingdom in Florida but there were enough different things that it felt nostalgic without crossing into deja vu. Toy Story land was new and cool. Lisa absolutely loved it. Toy Story is her all time favorite so this was like Christmas and a candy store all rolled into one for her five year old self.
Another major difference is the lack of Haunted Mansion. (Which is my favorite ride.) Ancestor worship is prominent in Chinese culture so ghosts are a big no no. The solution? Mystic Manor.
Hands down this was my favorite ride in the park. This was such a clever way to incorporate the suspense and mystery while still respecting Chinese culture. I won't spoil the story line for anybody wanting to go but definitely make it a point to stop by and ride it.
One thing that made this Disney trip special for me was watching Lisa. She had never seen anything like Disney before so everything was shiny and impressive. Her reaction to it's a small world sticks out to me the most. The singing, dancing dolls absolutely blew her away. The jungle cruise safari did not impress her in the most hilarious way. (She turned to me and said "anyone else from South Africa would be like what the heck is this??") Watching her flip her lid when Woody came down the parade line was priceless. I can't really express just how much fun we had that day.
Sadly all good things must come to an end. Lisa left for the airport directly from Disney, leaving me to find my own way back. This was the most ridiculous adventure throughout the entire trip. I thought it would be a simple process of retracing my steps. I should have known better. I have a particularly irritating curse. If I have to depend on a bus to get me home my life becomes infinitely more complicated. That day was no exception.
It should have been a straightforward process of getting off exactly where I got on that morning and getting on the boat back to Peng Chau. Of course it didn't happen like that. I have no idea where I was dropped off but it was no where near a pier. No biggie. I'll just follow the signs. Through the construction sight. At ten o'clock at night. No problem. (and it really wasn't. Weird.) I make it to the brightly lit, clean pier. It was the wrong one. But that's ok because this Scottsman and his daughter are more than happy to tell me that the pier I need is only a ten minute run over the hill and through the woods (I'm not making this up.) But the last ferry is departing in six minutes. Don't worry though these boats never depart on time. You can do it! RUN! Guess who watched the last boat sail away on time as she was a minute away up the side walk. (Mind you I'm sprinting around in the dark after a full day at Disney lugging souvenirs behind me.) This girl, right here.
During the night bus tour it was proudly declared that Hong Kong was one of the safest cities in the world. I believe it with every fiber of my being. Had I been anywhere else in China that night I probably would have been kidnapped, and my parents would forever be wondering about what happened to their fool daughter who went gallivanting across the globe. Rest assured though I was not in any danger that night. Which was good because I was literally this close to calling the number scribbled at the bottom of the ferry times to have some dudes cousin who owns a junker come pick me up. (As in I had borrowed a strangers phone and was dialing the numbers.) Luckily another kind citizen pulled up the ferry schedules on their phone and told me that I could still catch a ferry to Central pier and from their grab a boat to Peng Chau. I just had to go back to the first pier I was at. Go figure. I made it though. It was about one in the morning by the time I finally made it back but I didn't have to spend the night at the pier so kudos for that.
Tuesday was the bittersweet day of departure. Flat cleaned up. Souvenirs packed. one ferry, two trains, two infernal buses, one plane and a taxi ride later I was home. I loved every minute of it and would happily go again.
Alright so this weekend I was able to indulge in a beloved hobby of mine. if you're thinking underwater basket weaving......You are way off base. I had a long weekend so I decided to go shopping in Seoul. Specifically I spent most of my money in Gangnam. If that name sounds familiar to you let me refresh your memory.
This guy increased America's Korean vocabulary by two words. Gangnam is a section of Seoul. (Like how New York City is divided into Brooklyn, Manhattan, etc.... same idea) Gangnam is notorious for being hideously expensive so I wanted to test a particular skill set of mine. Thrifting.
I have many fond memories of long hours trawling through hole in the wall shops looking for something cute and unique for a fraction of the price. I was trained by the best and consider myself to be a veteran thrift shopper. So when I was informed of Gangnams' reputation I took that as a personal challenge. One google search later I was armed with a list of potential stores and was ready to start my adventure.
Before I go in depth in my experience of fleecing Gangnam let me give you a few pointers to enhance your own thrifting experience. (many people I've spoken to seem bewildered by my abilities, it's not that hard.)
1. The nose knows. The first thing to do when you walk into a store is take a breath. Thrift stores often have a unique aroma but don't panic. There are two things I look for when I'm judging the smell of a store. If it smells like moth balls and old lady perfume don't worry; that's something that is easily over come with fabric softener or even just plain old laundry detergent. If it smells like cigarette smoke and cat pee....Leave. No amount of washing can salvage those garments. I don't care if there is a brand new, tags still on Louie Vuitton bag in the window. Don't do it.
2. Show up early. A lot of stores have weird schedules and most close early on the weekends. So to maximize your shopping time, look up the opening and closing times of the stores you're interested in and plan to hit the early closing ones first. Another good point is when you arrive early you have a better chance of finding the good stuff since it hasn't been picked over yet.
3. Carry cash. In my experience a lot of these stores are family owned or are a part of a larger charity and are manged by retirees. The technology for card readers hasn't bled over into all the stores and if it has it's slow as all get out. Carrying cash also gives you the benefit of sticking to your budget and haggling leverage. People are more likely to give you a discount if they see you armed with a fistful of ones. (if only so they don't have to count as much.)
4. Employ the two handed browsing technique. this is something you have to practice to perfect but I've found it to be the most effective way to go through the racks quickly. When looking at clothing, send your non dominant hand ahead of your eyes. Stick your fingers between the hangers and if you feel something you like, pull it out for your other hand to grab. then you can decide you like the way it looks. This method eliminates the need to check every single hanger. My philosophy is that you should never wear something if you don't like the feel of it.
Now, without further ado: My Mapo Gangnam style. In the past when I've gone thrift shopping I had the luxury of my own vehicle. That was not the case this time so I had to make some allowances. Basically I had to exhibit some impulse control because everything I bought had to fit in my book bag and I had to be willing to drag it around Seoul with me. with this in mind I armed myself with 90,000 won (roughly $84.00) and took to the subway.
My first store was one stop away from Gangnam station in Yangchae. Called the Beautiful store it was one in a chain. Beautiful store is similar to Goodwill in the United States. They accept gently used clothing and provide job opportunities and support for needy individuals. This store opened at 10:30 am. I arrived a few minutes before it opened and found people already standing at the door. I stuck out like a sore thumb with this crowd (not because I'm American, come on people) because I was a) young b) not at work. Let me tell you something I've noticed about old folk around the globe. They're all the same. I was taught to respect my elders and I try my dead level best to treat them in a loving and revering manner..............................................................................................................................................................................................................................................But the moment I take a walking stick to the ribs it's all over. Don't let them fool you. They might look frail and sweet but those conniving grandmas will absolutely cut you off in line at the counter. So don't feel bad about shoving past them when they refuse to choose one side of the aisle or the other. I digress. This store had a lot of different things and I bought the most at this one. It was organized by article and color so if you're looking for something specific quickly this would be the place to go. Besides clothes they also had household items like flatware and other dust collecting chotzkies. I walked out of there with three blouses and a book (second Harry Potter in Korean if you're curious.) grand total spent=14,500 won. ($13.50)
My next two stops was actually the same store just two different locations. Vin Prime. These two stores are located inside Yanchae station and Gangnam station. (website gives you directions. It's in Korean but it's not difficult to figure out if you can read. http://www.vinprime.com/main_frame.htm ) Vin prime is different because it's a vintage store that specializes in imports form Japan and Europe. As a result some of the articles smelled like formaldehyde but it wasn't too terrible. If you like frothy, lacy or colorful prints this is the store for you. Things were a little more pricey but the quality and name brands make the extra few dollars worth it. I saw some lovely Burberry coats and blazers. I bought four more blouses at these two stores and my total came out to be 40,500 won.($40.00)
The final store that I went to was not in Gangnam but in Mapo which is a little north of Gangnam. This store is the highlight of my trip. For starters, the store I was initially hunting for no longer exists. I was looking for this eccentric vintage store and in it's place I found a quaint accessory boutique. Secondly I walked past this place three times because I was having doubts about google maps and it didn't have what I consider to be the usual storefront. At first I thought I was invading someones house. Good thing societal etiquette didn't stop me from wandering further in.
It's called Pomelo and while it wasn't what I was looking for, I'm glad I found it. The owner sells a beautiful array of jewelry. Rings necklaces, earrings you name it. The atmosphere of the place was charming as well. It was a stroke of luck that I found it though because at the end of the month they will be moving to a different location. I've followed the store on Instagram at Pomelo_seoul so if you want to get a closer look at her wares take a gander there. I'll definitely be looking forward to visiting the new location. Two pairs of silver earrings cost 28,000 won. ($27.00) I wouldn't place this under the thrift store category but it was worth the trip and I consider it money well spent.
Four stores, seven blouses, two pairs of earrings and one book later equals====83,000 won. ($78.00) Not a bad day at all.
On Facebook the other day I realized that it has been exactly one year since I was accepted by EPIK. (Not one year actually living in Korea, but just having the job.) This reminded me of the all the hours I spent trawling through the internet reading other peoples blogs; doing my best to prepare myself for life in another country. On the whole I believe that I was adequately prepared and confident in my knowledge. However there will never be enough blogs in the world to fully relate all the quirks of a country. So I decided that it was my turn to compile a list of things that I didn't expect when I came here. This list is not in any particular order or rank it's just literally my stream of consciousness as I was thinking about it. So without further ado:
I know that this has appeared in many other blogs but reading about it can never truly prepare you for that spine crawling wave of revulsion that goes through you when you hear that lougie hacking throat clearing hock that brings horrifying flashbacks of tobacco spit cups and sunflower seeds. I absolutely hate it. I consider myself to be a tough girl who adapts well to her surroundings but I cannot get past the spitting. Unfortunately it's freaking EVERYWHERE. (Mostly I've noticed it's the older generation but young people are not exempt.) My first week here I was looking for the bus stop so walked inside a convenience store to ask. This little old lady was lounging in the resting area. When she got up to walk past me she spat (10/10 for size and consistency) directly on the floor inside the store.
I'll be the first to admit that I have some personal hang ups about people spitting (if you haven't noticed already) So if you're reading this thinking about moving to Korea don't worry this isn't a deal breaker. Just be prepared.
I'll admit this was one of those "huh... how bout that" moments for me when I felt exactly like the ignorant American tourist. Universal truths that I had taken to for granted were now being questioned. Lemonade is not the same everywhere. In fact the United States appears to stand alone on it's definition of lemonade. In Korea (and everywhere apparently) Lemonade is a carbonated beverage. The best way I've found to describe it is to think of Hawaiian punch with fizziness. It tastes exactly like that. Also "ade" is just a description of this particular type of drink. Lemonade, grapefruitade, citronade, strawberryade, are variations I've come across in cafes. All brightly colored barrel drinks flavor with bubbles.
3) How forward people are
This is kind of a strange one. If you're waiting for constructive criticism from your coworker about how to be better at your job; you're gonna be waiting a long time. That's information that you have to actively seek out and you have to do it when no one else is in the office because no one want's to be seen bullying the waygook. On the other hand they will waste absolutely no time informing you of your appearance. I have deep set eyes so dark circles look 10x worse on me. If I miss even an iota of sleep I can tell because my coworkers will hand me a cup of tea and tell me to sit down because "you look so tired." Winters are rough on me since I basically spend 6 months impersonating the Michelin man. Warmer weather finally appears and as soon as I transitioned to my spring wardrobe my co teacher told me that I looked so much healthier :) This isn't just limited to acquaintances or women either. People on the street have stopped me to a) tell me I'm beautiful or b) ask about my health. (My favorite encounter so far was the lady monk who patted my face as she walked past and told me I was pretty.)
Also, while living in the United States I have had people, whistle, catcall, stalk me through aisles, and hang out of car windows; but I have never been stopped on the street and asked out for coffee or drinks; Which has happened to me here. (and while I appreciate the civility in which I have been approached I'm still not going to follow because that's murder waiting to happen)
4) Everything has a mascot. EVERYTHING.
Maybe people in America would have a better opinion of the police if they had a cute little mascot representing them. I don't know if it helps or hurts, but Korea's police force is associated with these adorable little figure heads.
It's not just them though. As far as I can tell every major and not so major city, organization, and event has some sort of character in charge of public relations. They are masters of marketing and product placement. You see these little guys?
They're currently adorning Coca Cola cans. There are statues all around that you can take pictures with. What are they? Kakao is a messaging app that also has maps, taxis, and bus apps affiliated with it. (extremely useful btw. If you're living in Korea and you don't have it you must live under a rock.) Mascots' here have an almost religious like following. Again this is something that I thought I understood but I didn't grasp the full reality until I arrived.
5) How foodcentric everyone is
In an eating contest a Korean child would wipe the floor with me every time. Their eating capacity is truly astounding. I'm a major advocate of having three square meals a day but I can guarantee that my idea of meals is not the same as theirs. My two pieces of toast with Nutella would not be considered breakfast. It's not a meal until the rice, soup and kimchi has arrived.
Eating in Korea is a very social activity. It is my goal to one day bring a friend to my favorite honey chicken place so the lady who owns it will stop judging me for only taking one toothpick. If I walk into a fast food place they automatically assume its to go because only losers eat by themselves in public. Since coming here I've attended three different staff dinners. These dinners only reinforce my theory that all Koreans have two stomachs. Dinner and dessert. Without fail at these dinners we stop at a restaurant first, then a coffee shop to digest and eat cake. It's just so much food.
Another major difference which I think stands out the most is eating on the go. It almost never happens here. I have not seen a single drive thru. (they must exist somewhere though) It's considered rude to walk down the street and eat. It's a very common sight here to see kids on their bikes crowded around a convenience store eating their snacks before moving on. Basically eating equals relaxing.
How many of you remember the last time you walked into a restaurant and the host asked you smoking or non? It's been about twenty years right? You can imagine my shock the first time I went to a cafe that had a designated smoking room. Not area, room. Smoking indoors (albeit in designated areas) in public areas is allowed. Smoking, especially for men is a common past time. There doesn't appear to be any etiquette as to where it's appropriate to smoke either. People will stand on the side walks, outside of doorways, entrances to alleys; where ever they happen to be. This stood out to me because I'm used to seeing people who smoke stand apart from others, hiding behind buildings and what not. I have noticed that it's not as popular for women to smoke and those who do generally try to hide.
Taxi drivers worldwide are notorious for crazy driving so this didn't surprise me too terribly. (I don't wear a seat belt in taxis' though because that is not the accident I wan to survive.) No what causes me to send a prayer to the Lord anytime I'm near a motorized vehicle is the lack of regard for traffic lights. Red is just a suggestion. I've been on too many buses that blaze on through red lights. The first time I saw a cop directing traffic I was confused. the light was working so why were they standing in the intersection? I get it now. If there is not someone to literally force people to stop, they won't. (I have also seen no evidence of traffic cameras so that could contribute to this delinquency as well.)
Another thing that simultaneously entertains and frustrates me is crosswalks. If you miss that light be prepared to stand there for 5 minutes. Unless you're willing to jaywalk. Which is illegal (like everywhere else) and; so I'm told, highly frowned upon. I live out in the country so jaywalking isn't a big deal but it's a different story in the bigger cities.
8) It's ok to sleep at work, just be there.
Feeling under the weather? don't think you can perform at work because of illness? Drag your disease ridden body to work anyways, you can sleep in the office. If you're not dying or not headed to the hospital you need to come to work. This doesn't sound as extreme as you would think. Koreans go to the hospital for anything because it's dirt cheap. Whereas I have a mental block against going to the hospital because I refuse to sell my organs to the healthcare system. (it's an American thing) I have a difficult time explaining this to my Korean cohorts. When I had the stomach flu I didn't go to work but I didn't go to the hospital either. I didn't think I needed to. I knew what was wrong with me and how to correct the problem. Dragging my pukey self to the hospital just to have someone tell me what I already know is not appealing to me. Unfortunately that seems to be the name of the game here. So the moral of the story is this: You're not allowed to be miserable at home. If you're not miserable at the hospital be miserable at work. It's ok, they'll let you sleep it off. (one of my schools has a special nap room especially for this.) Just where a mask so everyone knows.
Viola! My list of 8 things I didn't expect. Did any of these surprise you? Are you thinking well duh you should have known about that! Feel free to tell me about it in the comments :)
****Disclaimer***** None of the images in this post are mine. I pulled them off of google. I own nothing.
Two Foreigners Found After Being Lost In Mountains!! Click Here For The Miraculous Story Of How They Survived!!
The morning started innocently enough. A shower, breakfast, Facebook; but then I received a message.
Little did we know that this simple query would cause a significant amount of distress and no small amount of discomfort for us.
For those of you who don't know hiking is the national past time for Korea's retired population. This is important to keep in mind because this played a key role in some of our more questionable decisions on this trip.
Now when we first set off on this adventure I had not planned on extremes. I was wearing sneakers, a jacket, and my purse. If this was an RPG I didn't even have a stick. My traveling buddy Oyuki was a little better off than I was with her hiking boots, pb&j and bottle of water. I believe we were both just planning to go so far and then stop for lunch as a reward for a job well done. Yea that didn't happen.
To begin with we had to actually walk to the starting point of our hike. this resulted in a roughly half hour stroll through the town to the base of the mountain. A pretty idyllic scene. Cherry blossoms blooming, children playing, couples strolling arm in arm.......................................... And a small army of Sunday hikers. This group of middle aged to elderly people put us to shame with preparation. They had matching weatherproofed pants and blazers in a rainbow of colors, duel walking sticks, back packs, walkie talkies, extra sunscreen and wide brimmed hats. In the RPG these guys are the guild that walks past with weapons and armor +999. they were in it to win it and headed in the same direction we were.
This was when we made our first poor decision. Whoever said take the road less traveled should be held accountable for all the morons who follow their advice literally. We had arrived at a crossroad. On the left was a wide paved well established road that the army was cheerfully ascending. On the left was a shady dirt path that wound around to the far side of the mountain. No prize for guessing which path we took.
At first we thought this wasn't so bad. It was a little narrow but the beginning of the path was marked with this lovely scene.
In hindsight this may have been a part of someones garden that we walked past. Moving right along we continued down this little dirt path that leads us into the mountains. At this point we're congratulating ourselves on being so clever because we found a secluded trail. hahahaha look at us go we're practically natives. (We were wrong btw. people showed up behind us later.) Along the trail we were following was a pile of stacked stones. This isn't unusual; in fact this area is known for its pillars of stones. (long story short a long time ago a hermit moved into a cave on the mountain and built a giant pillar out of rocks and it's still standing today. Tetris king) There was a smaller trail leading up and away from the main path that we were on. So we did what any sensible adventurer does. We followed it to see where it leads. Now my theory was that the end of the trail would lead to where the monks live or maybe some kind of altar. (again not unusual for this area.) There was an altar.....and there were people......They were not monks. We had stumbled straight into a shanty town; and immediately tumbled straight back out. Please don't judge us too harshly. As outsiders and foreigners to boot, waltzing into a homeless community is a bad idea. We had nothing to offer and it was an invasion of privacy. It was a sobering glimpse into that side of society though.
Returning to the original trail we began our hike in earnest. On the scale of difficulty I give it a solid 6. Not the worst I've ever experienced (i.e 3rd falls at the Wilds for those who know) but it wasn't a walk through the park either. We were either going up, or mostly up. Pretty much looked like this the whole way.
A hand rail was graciously provided where trees were not available to be your life support. We continue on like this until we reached what is a designated stopping point.(It was about 11:30 at this point.) How did we know it was a stopping point? I'm so glad you asked dear reader. We obtained this knowledge because their was a sign. Not that we could see said sign because through the army of hikers. ( a different army mind you. Not the same group we tried to avoid earlier) These people decided that this was a good place to unpack their picnics. You remember those backpacks I mentioned earlier? An invaluable tool that holds important hiking tools such as water, first aid kits and flares? That's not what these guys had. Nope. Our esteem-able hiking compatriots had lugged soju up this mountain. and beer. Coffee for those who drove. A full course Korean lunch. (I didn't see a single bloody bag of trail mix) Oyuki and I were sitting to the side with half a PB&J and carton of soy milk watching these people toast to their halfway point. I think Korea's approach to hiking is that if you become progressively buzzed as you go you won't feel the sore muscles. They might be onto something.
Now at this point neither of us really knew where we were. We weren't too worried though because we were surrounded by so many people. We couldn't possibly be lost. (lies) Our options were left or right. We went left because that was on a downward track and the sign said a fortress was that way. Sounds cool right? We wouldn't know. We never found it. Somehow; I'm still not sure how, we ended up parallel to a temple that sits on the very top of a mountain. It was around then that this picture was taken.
This was not the same picnic that we had left behind nearly hour ago. This was a different group. Same deal though. Soju, beer, a ton of snacks. The difference with this group was how excited they were to see us. They wasted no time in inviting us over to share their snacks. This was extremely kind of them but I also now know what it feels like to be an exotic animal at a petting zoo. (everyone wants to feed the Llamas.) The price for their hospitality was simple; They wanted pictures. Someone somewhere now has at least a dozen pictures of the blond waygook. You know those pictures celebrities take with their fans? I posed for a few of those with some men. It was weird. (but they fed me sooo...) They also gave us some parting gifts. We walked away from that encounter one snickers bar, two granola bars, a loaf of bread and a bottle of water richer. (+5 charisma!)
At this point we had been hiking for a few hours with no end in sight. We were desperately trying to find a way off the mountain. Cue next questionable decision. At one point we had acquired a picture of a map but realizing that we had no way of knowing where we were in relation with the map that was useless. But we did find a trail that went down the mountain which was our end goal. If you thought trail was a generous description you would be right. The only thing that told us that this might be on a map somewhere were the posts placed every half mile or so that had 119 on it. Although neither of us really wanted to admit it we were both starting to panic just a tad. Some of the things that were said during this time period.
"You know, I always wondered how people got lost in the mountains but now I'm starting to see how. They followed sketchy looking goat trails convinced that people do actually come this way."
"We're at that stage where we're laughing because we're trying not to panic hahaha"
" HaHaHa, I'm laughing because it's true but it's making me feel worse!!"
"WHERE THE #$%#^ ARE WE?!?!"
That pretty much summed up the entire situation. Despite our fears though we were in fact on an actual path. We almost made the disastrous mistake of leaving the trail when we thought it ended but we stayed the course and were soon rewarded with this most welcome sight.
CIVILIZATION!! Even better once we drew up even with the buildings I realized that I knew exactly where we were. Bonus points: We were able to catch a taxi home. We left my place at 10:00ish. We came home around 3:00. After consulting Kakao maps (which is like google maps.....We had GPS navigation and never once consulted it. We're not the brightest...) I estimated that we hiked roughly 7 kilometers. (a little over 4 miles for us Americans) 7 kilometers in 5 hours. We won't be qualifying for the Boston Marathon anytime soon but I'm still a little proud of our accomplishments. (especially since it didn't end in shin splints for me.) Thus concludes my harrowing tale of misadventure and yet another case of spontaneity yielding bizarre encounters.
Hey readers, if you enjoyed this story or if I made you laugh at any point, do me a favor and share this. Spread the joy :) I would like to see if I can get a hundred visits. Thanks, you're a pal ;)
My name is Arielle. (Not actually named after the mermaid, but a character from Thundar the Barbarian) I am an English teacher in South Korea.