Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Invisible dogs in NYC

I just found these photos of a prank pulled in Brooklyn recently where about 2,000 people took invisible dogs out for a walk around the neighborhood. I found the photos on a friend of a friend's facebook, but I was able to find this one website about the event. The photos are priceless, I wish I could have seen it in person!

Invisible Dogs Invade Cobble Hill- Gothamist

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Map of people in need in Manila

While searching more information about the Manila flooding, I came across this map where folks are pinpointing exact addresses of places that need help. It's a little frightening actually, many of them say things like family trapped on second floor with no food and fresh water. Staying away from Manila right now as a tourist is sounding like a wise idea. I just need to be thankful our trip there wasn't last weekend instead of next weekend.

Traveling to Manila?

For Chuseok, two friends and I had planned on going to Manila for a few days. We really wanted to go to Tokyo, but as tickets were going to be almost 600,000 won for a 2 hour flight, we finally gave up that dream and decided to go Manila instead. We bought our tickets for about 450,000 won and were trying to get ourselves psyched up about Manila when.... the flood struck this week. We have been getting all sorts of reports. From some people, it's supposed to be fine, no problem. Then I heard stories of houses being swept away and family members of my mom's coworker's family having to climb up to the roof of a two story home to escape the flood waters. At this point I don't know what to think. All I know is that the forecast says rain everyday for the whole long weekend. I've already spent rainy vacations in Taiwan and Vietnam. I'm not sure if I'm willing to do it again if I can avoid it, especially because in this case, it might be a bit more than just rain. Is anyone in Manila? What should I do? I'm leaning towards canceling the trip and eating the 25% cancellation fee....

Playing a waiting game...

Nowadays I wake up every morning and check the won/dollar exchange rate and I am faced with the daunting question. To transfer money home or not? The exchange rate is at least 20 cents higher than it was 6 months ago, and in the past week it's jumped several cents (which is quite a bit when you're transferring large amounts of money). I know right now the exchange rate is excellent, and if I were smart, I'd transfer lots of money now. But now I keep gambling that it will go higher. I remember doing this months ago and loosing money by waiting. I need to learn from my mistakes of the past and get this good exchange rate while it's here. But... what if it's even better next week. I could be out a few hundred dollars by rushing... Oh dilemmas, dilemmas...

Maybe I'll just wait one more day....

Today's exchange rate:
0.843 dollars/ 1,000 won
1.00 dollar/ 1,186 won

My first wedding experience in Korea

A week or two ago my boyfriend received a text message from a friend he hadn’t spoken to in 3 years. The text message was an invitation to a wedding to be held on September 26th. This was just the first distinct difference I found between Korean and American weddings…. No “set the date” letters sent a year in advance, no RSVP, none of that. Just a text message a week in advance.

Well, of course we went to the wedding. Mostly just so that I could see a Korean wedding, since I haven’t been to one yet, not because it was particularly important or exciting. We arrived at the wedding, which was held at one of the nicer hotels in Seoul, and we were ushered into flower lined a greeting hall (think of those flowers they always have when a new store opens). Here were the groom and his family greeting everyone as they came in. The grooms mother looked at my boyfriend and said… “Oh… what’s your name again?” “Ahhh! Sanghyun, of course, how could I forget..” or something to that effect, though I’m not really convinced that she really recognized him…

After congratulating the groom and the groom’s family we went over to the gift giving counter where we took an envelope, put our money in (50,000 won for the two of us), and gave it to a man in charge of keeping track of who gave what. It seems as though Koreans keep very good track of these things so they know how much to give when it’s time to reciprocate. The more you give, the more you’re likely to get back some day when it’s your time to marry…

Then we went upstairs to see the bride quickly. We weren’t acquainted with her, so it was more so that I could see what she looked like and check out her dress. She was dressed in an ornate white wedding dress, like something you’d see in America. She was sitting, just looking pretty, in a sedan chair and greeting people as they came to visit. It seemed strange to me to be greeting the family before the wedding, and actually going to visit the bride before the ceremony.

Then we made our way to a seat. Since you don’t need to make formal reservations, it seems there were plenty of tables with no reserved seating (except for the wedding party of course) just in case extra folks decided to show up. Since in Korea, the ceremony and meal are held in the same room (sometimes at the same time) we sat at tables, not in rows of seats.

Soon after that, the ceremony began. Two women in han-bok walked up first and lit candles. Then the groom made his way to the front. Finally the bride walked down the aisle, western style, with her father. The bride and groom bowed to each other, some words were said, and then the man conducting the service gave a speech. This man happened to be a professor of the groom, but I guess he wasn’t a very charismatic one, because a few minutes into the speech you could hear whispers among the bored listeners. His speech probably went on for about 15 minutes or so. Finally at the end, there was no kiss, but they bowed to each other, and went to bow to both sets of parents. The woman bowed to her waist, but the man got down on his knees to bow to each set of parents.

After the ceremony, the food started to come out. During this time, family and friends of the bride and groom were called up for group photos. The food was served quite quickly, actually. I’m not sure if I’ve ever eaten a 5-course meal so fast. First came smoked salmon, which was good, but there was some sort of sweet whipped cream on the side that completely turned my stomach. Then came a tasty cream tomato soup. Then a pretty decent salad. Then came the main course of steak, which was ok, but didn’t really compete with anything I’ve ever gotten at a real steak house. Then came the cake. This was the strange part. I’m fairly certain that at home, people buy a wedding cake and then serve it to guests. I’m right, right? Because there was a dramatic cake-cutting event (but no shoving cake into each other’s mouths unfortunately), but as the cake on the stage was being cut, we were being served another cake that was clearly no wedding cake. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t bad cake, but it just wasn’t the cake that they were simultaneously cutting on stage. That cake was left there untouched after the dramatic cake-cutting thing. I’m almost wondering if it wasn’t even real cake….

After that, it was time to go. After the meal finished, everyone got out of their seats and headed out the door. No dancing, no shenanigans, no mingling and socializing, none of the things that make people want to go to weddings. Just as I had been told, Korean weddings are probably one of the world’s most unexciting events.

Somewhere along the way, there was some singing too. I can’t really recall where along the line this took place though…

After the ceremony, there is a traditional Korean ceremony held behind closed doors for only the bride, groom and the parents. During this time, the couple then changes into han-bok and does all the things that they need to do according to Korean custom, not Western custom.

Moving and My New Apartment

One Saturday morning about three weeks ago I got a knock at the front door. I told my boyfriend to ignore it like I usually do… they’re usually church people or someone trying to sell something… but he answered the door and to our surprise it was someone from the 부동산 (real estate agency). She said that some people wanted to look at the apartment, but my boyfriend told her that she must be mistaken, that we weren’t aware of anything like that and she went away and I hoped that she must have just knocked on the wrong door. My boyfriend left and not much later four people showed up at my door demanding to come in. My room was filthy, I hadn’t cleaned in weeks and I was so angry about the invasion that I refused to speak Korean to them… “What? What? This is my house! Dirty, dirty, you can’t come in! What do you want?” Finally they got a translator on the phone and she told me that they needed to come in to see the house, and it didn’t matter if it was dirty. They walked through the house, examining everything, and even had the nerve to ask me if my bed was really mine, or if it came with the apartment. In my anger I still refused to speak Korean… “What? Bed? My bed!” even though I could understand them quite well and could have answered them easily in Korean. This home invasion made me angrier than I’d felt in a long time.

I called my boss as soon as they closed the door behind them and demanded to know what was going on. My boss didn’t know, but she called me back 10 minutes later to tell me that because of a change of landlords and maybe change of rental price? Or were they selling the apartment? I never did quite figure that one out, they were making me move and already had a new apartment picked out for me in the same building. Hm. Lovely, a warning might have been nice.

The following Monday I asked when I was going to be moving. I was told, uh, next week or the following week… sometime. So helpful. Finally last Tuesday I asked again if they knew when I would be moving.” Oh, yes, Friday morning you and I will move it together” was the answer from one of the managers at work. Because clearly 2 days is plenty of notice. But worse than that was the fact that I have Korean class on Friday mornings and I didn’t really feel like skipping it because my hagwon just fancied to make me move on that particular day. Unfortunately the only other solution that we could come up with was that I would move my things Thursday night and the manager would move all the furniture on Friday morning while I was at class. Then as I was leaving on Thursday evening, the manager leisurely mentioned to me, “… make sure you move everything except the bed, I will move the bed tomorrow morning”. So basically I had to move everything myself.

I worked ‘til 2 am and moved basically everything myself (and when I say myself, I mean my boyfriend, myself and my boyfriend’s poor friend who stopped by to drop off an early Chuseok gift to us who got conned into carrying up a TV and a night stand). I slept in the old apartment since my bed was still there, then woke up and moved all the things we had missed the night before and wound up being half an hour to Korean class and forgetting my book and homework.

While moving, I made a list of problems in the apartment that I wanted fixed.
1. Put a screen on the window.
2. Put my curtains back up on the window.
3. Fix a broken cabinet door.
4. Fix the shower because the hot water would randomly shut off in the middle of the shower.
5. Put some sort of sealant around the window because the window and the frame don’t quite line up and you can see a bit of the sky where the window and the frame don’t quite meet.
6. Put a plug in the bathroom sink.
7. Clean kitchen drain so it drains quickly.
8. Fix the window handle because it was very jiggly (how do you spell that?).

I didn’t really expect to get all these problems fixed right away, but to my amazement, when I came home on Friday night I found that all but one of these problems had been fixed! The only problem I still have is that little gap in the window that might get a bit chilly come wintertime… Though I’m not sure how they can fix the problem…

Anyway, now in the new apartment I’m quite happy. I’ve finally got everything in it’s new place. The apartment has new wallpaper and clean floors. The best part is the lack of junk in the apartment. My apartment had been lived in by at least four or five teachers before me, and everyone left behind something. I had a house cleaning a few months ago and had gotten rid of quite a few things, but there was still a lot left over. I invited all my friends to come and take things like clothes, cosmetics and bedding. I managed to get rid of a lot of things I didn’t want to bring to the new place. A lot of stuff got tossed, but fortunate they were things that no one can use, like old, well-used candles and useless things like that.

Finally Monday morning I got everything completely put away, and the house feels so clean. I don’t know when it will ever be this clean again, so I took some photos to post here. I can’t complain about my apartment actually. Though it’s a little on the small side, it’s one of the nicer hagwon provided apartments that I’ve seen in this city. I’ve really lucked out. Some of my friends have nicer looking apartments, but it seems like when you live there it turns out there are some hidden problems like bugs or mold… things you can’t see when you’re just visiting.

Here are some pics of the new place. It's basically the same as the old one, just everything is reverse. Don't get too jealous of my bathroom guys...

Monday, September 28, 2009

Pardon my absence...

To my loyal readers... Sorry I haven't had any posts lately. Last week I had to move so I was too busy packing and whatnot to bother writing any posts. Now in the new apartment I have no Internet service, which makes it rather hard to post anything. Here are my plans for posts for when I get my Internet hooked up tomorrow morning (11:00 am, so prob still won't get online until Wednesday...)

Moving/ photos of the new apartment (since I never posted pics of the old one though I always meant to...)
going to a wedding
visiting my boyfriend's grandfather's grave site and visiting my boyfriend's grandmother...
applying to SMOE
Searching for apartments and cholse and wolse

This is what my life has been like for the past two weeks...

Saturday, September 19, 2009

How to make the best of your time in Korea...

I was inspired to write this entry because of a post written by Chris in South Korea. He received an e-mail from someone thinking of going to South Korea and wondering if Korea is as bad as it sounds. I've met lots of people who aren't having the time of their life here and I want to give some suggestions on how to make the most of your time in Korea. If you're feeling a little down, or if you're looking to come to Korea and do it right, please read this!

1. Learn the language! Even if you never become conversational, being able to read a menu will make you feel 10 times more comfortable when you enter a restaurant. Just learning simple phrases like "Do you have .... ?" and "Please give me......" can make eating and shopping so much more relaxing. The alphabet is incredibly easy to learn, I learned it on one boring afternoon in my Sophomore year of college and never forgot it. Take one afternoon and learn it and you'll never regret it. Some of the most depressed people I know here never bother to even learn something as simple as an alphabet.

2. Learn the culture and history! A few trips to some Korean museums, the DMZ, and watching some movies and dramas will really help you understand why Koreans act the way they do. When you think about the fact that Korea was a war torn country only a few decades ago you can understand why ajummas can be so pushy and why they still eat dog meat. Korea has modernized very rapidly and their old traditions have not faded. Even if you don't agree with their customs, just learn to respect them as much as you can.

3. Choose your friends wisely. If you feel that all you do with your friends is gripe about the country and your job, then find some other friends to be positive with. The more you listen to negative thoughts, the more negative your experience is going to be. If the only thing your friends want to do is drink, find some friends that will go to museums and Korean class with you when you're not in the drinking spirit.

4. Make some friends with Koreans! And not a Korean who is just using you to practice English... A real genuine Korean friend might give you a totally different perspective on Korean life. This one can be a bit challenging, since your average Korean is too shy to really try to get to know you. I may also be a bit biased in saying that dating a Korean is a good idea, but it's working out well for me, and a few other folks I know too.

5. Find a job that suits you well. Pre-school sounds like a piece of cake, but when you're in a classroom alone with ten 5-year olds, you may realize quickly that it's not the job for you. It's not all arts and crafts and games as one might expect... Some people have the right personality for it, and others just don't. Try to figure this out before you sign a year of your life away to a school to do it full time. Same goes for any other age. If you aren't at least somewhat confident that you can do it moderately well, try to find another job. Same goes with hours, There's lots of different types of schedules, if you're a morning person, maybe a 9-5 is good for you. If you enjoy your sleep there are plenty of 1-8 or 3-10 shifts to be had. think of the kind of lifestyle you want to have when you decide what kind of hours you're going to do.

6. Do you research about your school. Especially hagwons. Korea gets most of it's bad rep from "bad" hagwons. Yes, there are some really awful schools out there. Then there are a lot of mediocre ones and there are a select few that are really great. Try to find reviews of your school. Try to talk to as many past teachers as possible. Don't just talk to the one you're replacing. They may be trying to get out early but need a replacement fast. Try to get honest answers from them. A little research can tell you a lot about a school. Also, take bad reviews with a grain of salt. If the teacher is complaining that they couldn't get time off to travel, keep in mind that it's a buisness and they can't just give people time off whenever they feel like it. Things to keep your eye out for are schools that fire teachers before the end of thier contract, schools that don't pay for health insurace or pension, and schools that have forced overtime or don't pay for overtime. Minor problems occur daily between teachers and administration, but they aren't nececarily indicators of a bad school.

7. Remember, it's just a job. Even if your job sucks, keep in mind... there are bad jobs at home. No bad day here could make me feel as bad as the time I worked at Gillette Stadium and they put me on parking lot duty in the furthest parking lot, alone with just a walkie talkie, with no one but some sketchy drunk guys trying to convince me to "party" in their van with them. I don't have to be at work at 6:00 am like I had to when I worked at Borders Book Store, and I don't have to fold shirts for 8 hours like I did at Filene's. Work is work, you do it for the money, but when you're not working, you need to make the best of your time.

8. Travel! Travel in Korea. Travel outside of Korea. You may never get this opportunity again to be in Asia, so make the best of it. I don't have to tell this to most people, but there are those folks that are so worried about money, or just plain homebodies that they never see anything outside of Korea or even Seoul. You might have to sacrifice a little, but when you look back 20 years from now, you won't regret that trip to Thailand that cost you a few more Won than you wanted to spend. Of course, travel responsibly. Search for the cheapest ticket and research your hotels well. We stayed in a luxury hotel in Bali for about $30 a night per person. We could have spent double that and stayed at the holiday inn or the Ramada down the road, but we had a fantastic time, enjoyed a beautiful pool, a 2 minute walk to the beach, friendly staff and free airport pickup. And if we had been on a lower budget, we could have stayed at a decent hotel for only $10 a night. You can travel in Asia for really cheap. There's no excuse not to do it.

9. Eat the food! Korean food is delicious! There are non-spicy options for those of you who can't handle that much spice in your life. I found for myself that the more I ate it, the less spicy it feels. Now if my food isn't spicy I feel as though it's missing something. Not only is Korean food delicious, but it's amazingly cheap! You can eat a huge meal and spend less than $5.00. If you want something a little more extravagant, you'll probably still pay less then $10.00. For prices like that it's really not much cheaper to eat at home. Also, learning to cook Korean food at home is easy and actually will save you money. Shopping in markets is also highly recommended. At E-Mart you might pay 1,000 won for 2 or 3 bell peppers. At the market, we found a huge bag of bell peppers of only 1,000 won. You're money goes so much further in the markets because the market doesn't need to pay someone to stand at the end of every aisle and give out samples. In the market, they are all average Koreans just trying to scrape by. Support these people instead of megastores like E-Mart! Oh, and when you're feeling a little homesick for some other kinds of food, that's when you can make your way to Itaewon, or other areas where you can get some great foreign food. Try to go to the places where real live foreigners own the restaurant. The food is generally so much better then when Koreans try and fail to recreate non-Korean food.

10. Try to think of Korea as home. I know it's hard, but this is your home for at least a year. If you can make the most of it, you might even want to stay longer. Find yourself a niche. If you love dance, then find a good dance studio. If you love clubbing, then make your way around Hongdae. If you love languages, then sign up for some Korean classes. Find yourself a spot in society doing whatever makes you happiest. You may have a little more cash then you would at home, so spend it wisely doing things that make you happy. For me it's my Korean class. For others it's something else. Be a part of your community. Also, join the on-line community. The K-blogosphere is huge and many of us feel as though we almost know each other just from reading and commenting on each other's blogs, and e-mailing each other when we need advice. A blog or a flickr account is a great way to keep track of your adventures and allow people from home to keep tabs on you.

Do you have any other advice to make the best of your time here? Your experience is only as positive as your attitude. If you come in with a negative attitude, then you will have a negative experience. If you let annoying bosses and co-workers to get in your way of enjoying life outside of work, then you're going to have a miserable time. While I don't love every aspect of Korea, I'm much happier here than at home. How did you overcome bad experiences to have a good time in Korea?

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Learning hanja...

Since arriving in Korea, I started passively learning some hanja, or Chinese characters used in everyday Korean life. Knowing hanja is in no way necessary to learn basic Korean, but if you know some characters, or even of their existence, even if you don't know what they are, it makes the Korean language make more sense. This is because so many words come from Chinese roots. The pronunciation is often related to the Chinese word. Some of these characters I only know the Chinese word for, I realized now as I am writing this post. But, it doesn't matter, since characters carry meaning, not sound, you can still understand without being able to pronounce it.

I realized a few months ago that I knew quite a few hanja (like almost 10) and I had done that with very little effort on my part. So, then I decided that I would work a little bit harder to learn a few more common ones. My life plan involves learning many languages, Chinese and Japanese being among the top of the list, so I might as well start learning early how to read them, it might help me in the long run.

Here are some of the basic ones I learned without much effort, between just being in Seoul, and going to Taiwan, Hong Kong and Beijing:

ri : sun; day- (il) day, sun
門- gate, door
mei : beautiful- (mi, mei in chinese) beautiful, also the character for America... long explaination for that one, deserves another post.
yue : moon; month- (wol) month, moon
zhong : centre; middle- (jung) medium size, center, middle
bei : north- (Buk, bei in chinese) north
西- (seo) east
ren : person- (saram, in) person
jing : capital- (gyeong) capital
yi : 1; One- (il) one
er : 2; two- (ee) two
san : 3; Three- (sam) three
shi : 10; Ten- (ship) ten
口- (ip) mouth
- (yo) woman
大- (dae) big, great
小 - small
水 - (su) water
心 - heart

Then when I started to put more effort in, I learned a few more:
山 - (san) mountain
入- enter
王- (wang) king
火- fire

Then you can start combining characters like 火 (fire) 山 (mountain) to make 火山 (volcano), or you can start reading the names of cities, like bei : northjing : capital -Beijing, sunri : sun; day and moon yue : moon; month blend together to make 明(myeong- bright) as in myeongdong. I highly recommend learning some hanja while you're here. If you enjoy languaves, it will really help your understanding of the Korean language.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

A new way to check for swine flu...

Last week I wrote a post complaining about the swine flu checks at the community center where my free Korean classes are held. Last week when I arrived, I got a dirty thermometer stuck in my ear. I watched him put the same thermometer in about 10 other people's ears before they cleaned it. This week they found a new method of checking temperatures. They can point a light at your head and get a temperature reading that way. Much more sanitary, I'm much happier.

New Glasses!

Today after a trip to the boyfriend's grandmother's house (always an interesting experience) we stopped on the way home to get me some new glasses. I generally wear my contacts, but I think I bought my glasses in high school or college, anyway, its so long ago I don't remember. I've been talking about getting new glasses here in Korea forever, since it's SO cheap, so I'm glad I finally got around to it.

When I say cheap, I mean cheap. If you want something really basic, you can get a pair for as low as 25,000 won, including the exam (it's not a doctor, but they know what they are doing) frame and lenses. I opted for more expensive ones, since I'd like them to last as long as possible. The expensive ones were 100,000 won for the frames, and 25,000 won for the lenses. A grand total of 125,000 won for the whole thing (about $102.00 USD, including the prescription check. They were even wise enough to let me walk around with the coke bottle tester glasses to check the new prescription to make sure I didn't feel dizzy. I hate when I get glasses and don't want to wear them because I feel sick because the prescription is too strong. In the end, I kept with my old prescription because the new one did make me feel a bit woozy even though I could see better.

After I picked out the frame, they whipped it up for me in just 10 minutes. Maybe less actually. So far I'm quite happy with the new frames. They're pink again, just like I swore I wouldn't do, but pink looks so much better on my face than any other color... maybe I'll get a cheap pair of 25,000 won glasses to wear when I'm wearing clothes that don't go well with pink... it's so cheap it can't hurt.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

당구장- Billiard Hall

Billiards, or pool if you will, is a rather popular game in Korea. I didn't realize this for the longest time. I always wondered what those places with red and blue circles on the signs were, but pool, for some reason never occurred to me.

Thursday night we were out with our friend who is a instructor at Weidae University, her boyfriend, and two of her students, one Japanese girl and one Chinese guy. After a few rounds at the local HOF, the Chinese guy insisted we play pool next. We headed over to the local 당구장 (당구 danggu- billiards, 장-chang- place). We played an hour of eight ball, and I think it was about 4,000 won (about USD 3.30). Eight ball doesn't seem to be very popular here, though. The most popular game is straight rail billiards. In other words, a game where you hit the cue ball to hit the other two balls on the table. No pockets, and a much more subtle game. Nothing that slow and calculated could ever amuse me though.....

Cured, no thanks to three different doctors..

As I wrote about last week I've been having some medical problems for the past month and a half. I was being treated for a bad UTI, but my white blood cell count was still reading high even after the bacteria stopped showing up in the results. So, obviously they gave me even stronger antibiotics. The antibiotics seemed to do little to knock down the white blood cell count and I went to a urologist at a big hospital to get treated. By that time I had finished my antibiotics, and strangely, as soon as I stopped the antibiotics I started to feel better, surprise surprise. When I went to the doctor, he suggested I take another urine sample, X-ray and an ultrasound.

While I was waiting to get my results, I did a little research online and saw some people who had the exact same symptoms as me. Various problems were suggested, such as kidney stones, upper kidney infection or bladder cancer. But the explanation that made the most sense to me was that in some people, antibiotics have been known to cause kidney inflammation, therefore causing discomfort in urination and high white blood cell counts. The only cure? Stop taking the antibiotics.

On Thursday, I went back to see the doctor. The X-ray and ultrasound came up clean, but the urine still had some white blood cells, he was about to recommend ANOTHER course of antibiotics, when I suggested the genius idea of checking one more time, since I've felt much better since getting off the antibiotics, and a week later I was feeling almost back to 100% health. Well, the urine test actually only took less than an hour to get the results, and he was surprised to see that the white blood cells went away without antibiotics. Even after that point, he still told me I could go on some antibiotics for a few days if I wanted to clear the last of the "infection" out. If I get better off antibiotics, and get worse on antibiotics, WHY WOULD I TAKE MORE ANTIBIOTICS??? I respectfully told him that I was happy without the antibiotics, and he seemed to agree with my decision. He wished me well, and I went on my way, thinking to myself that I was cured... no thanks to the doctors. So, the moral of the story is, it doesn't matter what country you're in. You need to do what makes your body feel the best and don't always take the doctors word for everything.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Random Family Mart Conversations

I love being able to talk to random folks on the street sometimes. It can be so entertaining.
Last night two friends and I sat outside my local family mart. I made my guacamole, and I have a big block of cheese that I got at costco a while ago that I still haven't finished and my boyfriend made some Korean pancakes so we were out there munching away when a older Korean woman walked over and started curiously checking out our food.

"What's that you're eating?" she said in Korean, pointing to the guacamole. I guess the bright green color is a bit unusual to someone who's never seen an avocado before...
"Guacamole" I respond. "Do you know avocado?" She gave me a curious look as she continued to investigate.
"Would you like to try?" I ask her. Without hesitation she reached into our bag of chips and took some guacamole for herself. But, before she would put it into her mouth, she tried to lick the guacamole to figure out what it was.
"How is it?" I asked.
"I couldn't taste it" She responded. She put the whole chip in her mouth. She gave no comment on the taste. She then proceeded to sit down at our table and start asking the typical questions the Koreans always ask.
"You're Americans, right?" Well, at least she didn't say Russian. That seems to be only men that assume that.
"Well, I'm American, my friend is Canadian".
"Oh, Canada and America are close, right?"
"Yes, yes, they are close." Is there some other meaning of 가깜다 that I don't know, or does she really not know that Canada and America are right next to each other?
"You're married, right?" She asks me.
"No, not married."
"But you're so pretty! Americans have such white skin."
"Uh.. thanks.."
"Why are you in Korea? Do you live here in this apartment?"
"No, just next door."
"Oh, I live down the street, by the gopchang (roast cow intestines) restaurant."
"Ah, I see"

Finally, after a few more of the typical questions about where I work and how long I've been here (and of course the typical "wow, you can speak Korean so well!".. which they also say when you can say "kamsahamnida"...) the woman got bored of sitting with us and took the chair, and some more of our chips and sat about 10 feet away. Korea would be so much more boring without these random conversations. This is why I need to focus harder on my Korean studies so I can have real conversations about things more complex than the average how long have you been here, what do you do type things....

Tuesday, September 8, 2009


Avocados are a rare commodity in Korea... more so even than cheese and deodorant. For my birthday at the end of last month, my friend in the Air Force called me and said, "I'm at the commissary at Yongsan Base, what do you want?". The American army base in Yongsan (central Seoul) has a commissary (supermarket for military types only) fully stocked with the normal things you'd find in an American grocery store, at American prices (in dollars, not won, no less). At this I leaped at the opportunity, "avocados, please!". He knows me well enough that he had already picked them out before asking. I wound up getting three avocados. I had dreams of a good California roll (my version). Well, I made my California roll with one avocado (actually only half of an avocado, but the other half went bad too fast for me to make more...

With two avocados left I weighed my options... actually there's not a whole lot of recipes that involve avocados. When I was in Chile, they'd put it on a hot dog, and while that's delicious, it seemed a bit of a waste of a good avocado. So, of course I decided to make guacamole. I should have taken a photo, but I didn't think of it. But, though it was my first time to make it, I think it turned out ok. Here's what I did:

Mashed two ripe avocados into a bowl.
peel one tomato, chopped and mashed into the avocados
1/4 of an onion, finely chopped and mashed into the avocado mix
a heaping spoonful of minced garlic that I mashed a while ago and keep in my freezer
a generous helping of lime juice to keep it fresh

Then I ate it with 'Ricos' nachos... aka, the only nacho chips that I've ever seen in this country. They are a little salty for my taste, and a little expensive, but it does the trick.

I hope it's still good tomorrow, I have a lot left!

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Swine flu check...

As I entered Garwal Community Center for my free weekly Korean class, every person was checked for a fever as I entered the door. They checked temperature by using an ear style thermometer, and I sat and watched them after I entered and noticed that they only cleaned it after every 10th person or so. God I love sanitation. That's all I have to say...

Preparing to leave, and what comes after November....

This week has been spent plane ticket hunting for my trip home in November and post-SLP job hunting.

The plane ticket is becoming a rather daunting problem, much harder than I expected. My school will only cover 1,000,00o won for my plane ticket home. Since I'm flying right around Thanksgiving time (I really want to be home for Thanksgiving this year) the cheapest possible flight to Boston is around $800... today.. but rising quickly... that comes out to be just around a million won. Of course those are the crappy flights with long layovers in inconvenient places. To make it even more difficult, my friend and I wanted to meet in San Francisco for a few days before I come home. Under normal circumstances, this would be a simple long stop-over, but leaving San Francisco two days before Thanksgiving is proving quite difficult. I refuse to pay for a stopover, since I have to make a stopover anyway, there are no direct flights to Boston from Seoul. I guess I just better pick a flight today and tell my school that's what I want. It's looking like Hawaiian Air for me.... with a 4 hour layover in Honalulu.

Then there is the question of what to do once I get home. I still seem to keep leaning toward coming back to Korea.... My plan today (which I'm sure will change about 500 times between now and December) is to go home for a month, get a job with either Borders or Macy's as a seasonal worker, since I've worked at both places before, then in January, go to Ecuador as a volunteer at a forest restoration site for a month or so, then home for a week, then back to Korea for Spring semester in the public schools, if I can get in to SMOE (Seoul Public Schools). I've even found that I can fly to Ecuador for only about $400 dollars if I take a bus to New York and fly from there, otherwise it's about a $700 flight with 3-4 stopovers.

I keep dreaming of getting my own apartment... with two rooms... in Seoul... I love my apartment now, but guests are out of the question, it's very nice and modern, but not much bigger than a closet. Some school that would give me key money and rent money would be amazing... having to commute a little further wouldn't be a big deal, I usually take the bus to work now anyway because I'm lazy, or the subway from Gwanghwamun because I have Korean class three mornings a week. What difference if I'm commuting from my hagwon, or from my house? Is it sick that I'm dreaming of my potential amazing life in Seoul, and not in America? But, really, me getting an apartment on my own in Boston with the salary that I can expect is basically out of the question, unless I want to be completly broke all the time. Here I can live without constant money concerns...

Thanks for putting up with more of my musings. If anyone knows of any temporary jobs/internships/volunteer jobs in Latin America.... or China (I've had this notion lately that Chinese would be easy and useful to learn) let me know. Something that at least covers the cost of a room, even if they don't pay for board or a salary... I need to brush up on my Spanish before I lose it!

Medical Attention

Sorry for the lack of posts nowadays. Life has been a little crazy. For the past month now I've been to two separate doctors trying to get, what everyone thought was a UTI, treated. After a month of antibiotics, two different ones, one being the strongest and newest on the market, plus an antibiotic injection giving me only minimal improvement and still showing high white blood cell count in my urine samples, I was finally referred to a hospital for further examination.

I know that I am an adult, and fully capable of going to a hospital with English translators to accompany me on my hospital adventure, I felt a lot more comfortable going with someone I knew. For that reason, my boyfriend took me to the National Medical center at Euljiro-5-ga (right by dongdaemun stadium) because it is next to his office. Being a smaller, public hospital, there were no translators or doctors that are referred to international patients because of their language skills. That actually makes me feel better, I'd rather see a specialist that can't speak a word of English, than some doctor who isn't the best in the hospital, but is bilingual. On the other hand, this is a small, public hospital, so you have to wonder how good the care really is...

Anyway, after a rather stressful Thursday afternoon, going to the hospital just to make an appointment and being late for work and slightly ticking off my boss, Friday morning I went to the hospital for my consultation. After a rather uncomfortable waiting room experience, surrounded by Korean men at least 40-60 years older than me, I went in to see the top doctor in the urology department. He was very professional, and coincidentally, spoke English very well. He agreed with the gynecologist I had been seeing and told me that this was not a UTI. No UTI could survive a month course of antibiotics. He had some guesses as to what it might be, but sent me in for further tests to be sure. I took another urine test, three cups of urine this time (two of which had no cover, and all three were left on a counter top to be examined later... lovely) and an X-ray, presumably to check for kidney stones. Monday I have an appointment for an ultrasound and then Thursday I'll go back for a diagnosis. Monday and Thursday I'll have to miss some classes, but when my boss realized that it was not some ordinary problem, she seemed much more sympathetic to my case. Koreans are very health sensitive, I find, and going to the doctors during work hours has never been a problem for me.

I'm hoping that whatever the problem is, that it is not too serious. Though I was in a lot of pain, mostly in the lower abdominal area, still, just early last week, since Wednesday I've had almost no pain. Maybe whatever it was has run it's course. I'm off the antibiotics and I feel a lot better. If you've ever had any similar experiences, let me know, I have no idea what the problem could be...

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Revisit to Doksugung and Gwanghwamun

Last weekend, a friend and I decided to get out and get some fresh air. Being on a budget, we decided to check out Doksugung. I actually accidentally found my way to Doksugung when I first arrived in Seoul last July , but I don't mind going again. We just wandered around, no tour this time around. There is also incidentally a Botero exhibit there, and though we didn't go in to see the exhibit, we took our photos with some chubby Botero statues out front.

After a romp through Doksugung, we decided to walk down and check out the new Gwanghwamun Plaza. While I don't know if it's worth a specific trip to see the new plaza, if you're in the area, it's definitely worth stopping by to check out. Lots of water spouts for children and a fantastically designed and well groomed garden.

Today I'm heading to Yongsan Base to check out District 9 at the movie theater on base. I was there yesterday too to see Up, which was so cute! I seem to be on base a lot lately, but it's so cheap to see movies there! Not to mention Taco Bell and other "real" American restaurants.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Gangneung Unification Park

In September, 1996, a North Korean spy submarine crashed on the rocks off of the east coast of South Korea. The 26 crew members managed to escape on to land. Some killed themselves, others tried to escape to the North and the man hunt for these soldiers caused the death of 17 South Koreans. Surprisingly, the North Korean government issued a formal apology for the loss of lives during the incident that following December. Later the South Koreans placed the submarine, along with a retired US Navy battleship donated to the ROK by the US government, into a park along the east coast named Gangneung Unification Park.
Durring our trip to Yongpyong two weekends ago, we decided to spend a little time at the beach, since it's only about a 45 minute drive away. When we reached the coast, I noticed that the coast was lined with barbed wire and military posts. I guess this was all installed after the crash of the North Korean sub as precaucionary measures if it were to ever happen agian. As we drove along, we came across Gangneung Unification Park and decided to check it out.

The first thing we did was check out the battleship. Actually, at the time I didn't realize it was an American ship, I found that while I was doing research to write this post. But, it was quite interesting to walk through the inside of a battle ship. We were even able to sit where they would shoot the guns. Then had a lot of historical information about the Korean Navy and the North Korean submarine crash in 1996.

Then we went over to the North Korean sub and were totally surprised that we were allowed to to in and see. We had to put on hard hats because of the low ceilings and small door frames. It's hard to believe that 24 men were on this tiny sub when it crashed.

Here's a view from the front of the sub
Me in the North Korean Sub

You can actually see the damage that the sub suffered when it crashed on the rocks off the east coast.