Escape from Seoul

Edit: So, I wrote most of this a week ago. And then I procrastinated. And procrastinated. And procrastinated. So, this is a week old but most of it still applies. Well, the majority of it still applies, except perhaps the weather. It’s gotten a little cooler; the temperature is now sitting at 30 degrees.

It’s a Monday night. Monday nights are probably the second most depressing time of the week, barring Sunday nights. Monday nights, you’ve already had to deal with Monday work, and you’re looking at the rest of the week like, “Man, this week is going to be another long one, isn’t it?”

Thankfully, today seemed to go by faster than I thought it would. After having a weeklong vacation, I was dreading returning to work this morning. “Is it over already?” I asked myself on the subway this morning, squashed between two sweaty businessmen. But then walking into the school, and seeing the kids, brightened my mood instantly. “Teacher was where?” they asked, running over and hugging my legs. I really wanted to hate today, but it’s pretty damn hard when you work with kids. Well, when they’re sweet, anyways. They made the transition back to work easy.

It’s currently 35 degrees here in Seoul. No, I’m not making that number up. I wish I was. This entire week has been anywhere between 30 and 40 degrees. 40. Degrees. That is pretty much enough to melt your face off. Think of walking into an oven, and that’s what it’s like all the time. Everyone hides in cafes, restaurants, malls, or underground. If you don’t have AC, you may as well not go home at night; it would be smarter to sleep in a Love Motel or jimjabang. You walk outside, and sweat through your t-shirt and shorts in a matter of minutes. We’re a city of sweaty, annoyed people who cling desperately to our iced coffees and move from café to café. Ice cream has become a little reprieve from the heat, but if you don’t devour it instantly, it melts down your hands in a sticky mess. Even the Koreans complain that this is abnormal for their country.  The food prices on vegetables have gone up here quickly as crops die out. Korea is supposed to have rainy summers and other than a few thunderstorms, this summer has been very, very dry. Global warming at its finest, I suppose. It really makes me feel like as humans, we’re literally cooking ourselves to death in a huge fucking microwave. There’s nothing like 40 degree weather to get my head out of the sand, and finally realize, “Holy fuck. This world may not exist in 100 years.” Depressing, but once you’re living in this kind of heat for days on end, it’s hard to keep pretending that something isn’t terribly wrong with our Earth.

Anyways, depressing portion of the post over.

I had an amazing vacation, and saw some lovely places. As I said in my last post, Em and I put off going to Jeju Island, and instead headed to the beach town of Sokcho and the mountains of Seoraksan on the East. Both of us were feeling like we needed to get the hell out of the city, and I’m really happy we finally did. In my opinion, nothing is more refreshing than hiking in the mountains. In fact, the more hiking I do, the more I’ve started to love it. And even just being able to escape the stress of city life was something I desperately feel I needed to keep from going insane. I like the city – love it, sometimes. But without being able to escape the people…it slowly drains you. I swear that once I’m back in Canada, I will never complain about anything being busy, EVER. Live in a city with over  11 million people in it, (5x the population of Toronto), and it really changes your perspective on what constitutes “crowded.” Honestly.

So, we ran away from Seoul. Well, bused away from Seoul. Both of us carrying two huge bags, we stole away on what I’ve decided to call a “VIP bus.” It was basically like riding first-class on an airline (well, what I assume that would be like, anyways…). We paid about $17 to catch a ride to the coast, and it had leather seats, a television playing the Olympics, and tons of leg room. Emily and I lucked out and ended up being at the back of the bus, and our seats were above all the other seats so we could look out the windows much easier.

The landscape outside of Seoul is surrounded by farms, and then also lush green mountains speckled with Pine trees. Korea is a very mountainous country, and even the city of Seoul has many hills popping up in the middle of it. Because of this, most of the trip to Sokcho was spent going through long tunnels. Admittedly, I fell asleep on the way there, and woke up just as we got into the city of Sokcho. As soon as we got into the city, there were noticeable differences. Everything was smaller (not surprising, really), the streets were quiet, and there was just a laid-back feel in the air.

When we got off, we went and decided to walk to the other side of the city – in the direction of the beach, and the bus stop taking us to our hotel. Our hotel wasn’t in Sokcho, but instead it was up in the mountains in a little cluster of hotels near Seoraksan. We walked along the ocean, the water quiet and looking like a glass plate. The sun was hot on our backs, but we persevered with our backpacks and bags. We crossed a bridge, and had a beautiful look at Seoraksan mountains and the entire town. We walked until we got to the beach.

It was busier than we had expected, but amazing nonetheless. Street vendors selling all types of ridiculous deep-fried foods lined the main entrance to the beach, and coloured umbrellas spotted the  beach itself. The water was a nice blue, and the sand a straw-yellow. We walked into the water, and the water was surprisingly warm. I’m so used to the blistering cold of the ocean in Victoria and Vancovuer, that it caught me off guard just how warm the ocean really could be. We relaxed there for a little while, and then left to E-mart to pick up sunscreen and wine.

One thing that was definitely different about Sokcho was the staring. Emily and I both noticed that we got a lot more stares from the locals – along with many more “Hello’s!” from young Korean teens. When I first got to Korea, I felt the staring everywhere I went. It threw me off guard. Now that I’ve lived here 6 months (6 MONTHS), I often forget that people are staring. Sometimes I’ll look up and someone is staring at me and I’m like, “Oh yeah, I look different.” Despite the staring, many more people were willing to talk to us and help us out. We had a nice guy help us catch our bus, a few more adjossi’s up on Seoraksan mountains talked to us for a good 15 minutes about where we were from, etc, etc. One woman asked me if I liked K-pop, and when I said “Yeah! I like Big Bang!” she asked me who my favourite singer was. I replied “Top!” (because that’s the only one I know, and I only know him because he has blue hair), and she gave a hearty laugh. Things like that would never happen in Seoul. People also wore normal clothes. Women weren’t made up in high-heeled stilettos, with 10 pounds of make-up caked on, and wearing the latest designer shit. They wore t-shirts, sneakers, and shorts. Easy. There were also far more ‘normal weight’ people in Sokcho – not obese or even fat, but not ridiculously pin thin girls like in Seoul.

Going to Sokcho made me realize just how out of touch I’ve been with Korea…and all because I live in Seoul. It’s like if I went to New York, and judged the rest of America on it. Seoul is a metropolis. It is cosmopolitan. That’s why I often feel trapped in such a vapid society – like any massive city, the rich and the fake rich flourish here. This is not an indication of the entire country, and I’m thankful I traveled outside of Seoul so that I could finally see a different perspective. It was really refreshing.

So, anyways, after the beach and E-mart, we finally found our bus up to our hotel. We got off the bus, and headed in the direction of our hotel. We walked for about two minutes, and then before us stood our “Youth Hostel.” Now, don’t get me wrong – we had rented a cheap room and we weren’t expecting much. But, our hotel looked legitimately like a haunted house or insane asylum. The windows were all closed, the grey exterior was dirty, there was a creepy maroon coloured roof. The inside was dark, and it looked like no one was there. To the left of our hostel was another hostel that had shut down, and had vines climbing up the sides and broken windows.

It was scary.

But, just like every victim in every horror movie ever, we thought it would be a good idea to investigate. And instead of meeting a serial killer wearing someone else’s face, what greeted us was a nice lounge with nice leather couches, and the hotel owner….who looked like a Buddhist monk, and who spoke English well. After paying, we went up to our room and found it to be small, but clean and nice. Nothing special, but nothing terrible. It was kind of cool, actually. Our Haunted House Hostel. Looks can be deceiving.

We went out for dinner, and devoured a traditional Korean pizza and Bimbibap. Traditional Korean pizzas are made of egg, flour, chives, octopus or squid tentacles and pieces of seafood, and tons of other vegetables. They’re cooked with oil on a skillet (at least, I think so), and they pretty much just taste amazing. They sound gross, but they’re pretty damn delicious. So we ate that, and then went and cracked open our bottle of wine and sat outside and chatted. Some Korean family had opened the back door of the hostel on the fourth floor and was BBQing in the back of the hotel until late that night, so we went back there also and enjoyed the warm summer night and the almost full moon.

The next day, I woke up early (as per always), and went to use the bathroom.

I walked in, half-asleep, and looked at the sink. Probably the biggest spider I have EVER seen up close, stood there in our sink. A MINI FUCKING TARANTULA. He was just standing there like, “Whatcha gunna do now? Huh, huh, huh?” I gave a little scream, and jumped back, and ran into the other room and was like, “Emily, Emily, OMG OMG EMILY OMG THERES A SPIDER! OMG I DON’T EVEN EMILY OMG WHAT DO WE DO?!” And Emily mumbled something, and then turned over and went back to sleep.

I didn’t know what to do about the situation, so I did as I always do when there’s a problem… I ran away. I put on my shoes, and in the early morning hours, I went and explored our little cluster of hotels. It wasn’t too hot (still like 27 degrees, but bearable) , and I made my way quite far down the street. I ended up finding a creek, and so I sat down with a few other early-rising Koreans, and soaked my feet in the clean water. As I sat there, I pondered life and death and God and love and hate and why wars and child slavery exists but mostly…I just thought about how I would kill that fucking spider when I returned home.

When I got back, I crossed my fingers that he would be gone. Well, kind of. The thing about spiders is that they’re more terrifying if you can’t see them. It’s almost better if they’re visible. At least then you know they’re not on you…

When I flicked on the lights, he was still there. He hadn’t moved. My weapon of choice was water (because he was in the sink), and so after mustering all of my courage, I flicked on the tap and tried to drown him. He spun around and around, and I left him in the water there for…a long time. When I was finally satisfied he was dead, I turned off the tap and all the water drained. His body was too fat (!) to go down the drain, and I was too afraid to touch him, so like a good friend, I left his carcass in the sink for Emily to deal with.

Emily finally woke up, and decided to go for a shower before we went to the beach. Like a –truly- good friend, she decided to dispose of the body. Suddenly from the other room, I heard “Cass! Cass! Cass!” and I thought, “This is it. He has a spider family. They’re everywhere. In the walls. In the floor. HE HAS A NEST AND THEY WANT REVENGE. THEY ARE COMING.” And so I ran over, and the goddamn spider was SWIMMING IN THE TOILET. Seriously, swimming. He had been pretending to be dead, and was actually an aquatic spider. Just paddling around like it was his backyard pool. Em had picked him up with a piece of tissue, and dropped him in there, and he was still alive.

We flushed him, but sitting on that toilet for the rest of our vacation was all kinds of terrifying.

We decided to have a day to just relax at the beach before our hiking adventures. We took the bus back down to the beach early, and claimed our little spot on the beach. We spent the rest of the day roasting ourselves. Every few hours we would re-apply sunscreen, but the weather was something like 35 degrees, and it ended up being useless. We both ended up looking like lobsters, and my back and shoulders are still peeling today. Pretty sure that I can blame my future skin cancer on that beach trip. We spent a lot of time in the water, just swimming around. We ended up meeting some other foreign guys, and so we spent a few hours talking to them about Korea. One of them had been here for 5 years, and he shared some of his experiences. Every so often, a motorboat playing loud 80’s music would zoom by dragging a water-skiier behind it.

For lunch, we splurged on some fried foods from vendors. Emily had wanted to try the deep-fried shrimp, and we’d also learned there were (get this!) deep-fried-french-fry-corn-dogs that we could buy. Also, deep-fried sweet potato.

The corndog was amazing, and the potatoes were predictably OK. The shrimp was basically just a complete shrimp…with eyes, shells, and…uteruses. I took one bite of mine, and orange eggs gushed out. I put it down and said, “I think my shrimp is pregnant.” Emily, in the middle of biting hers said, “Yeah, mine too.” Needless to say, we didn’t eat the rest of them. For supper we had Squid Sundae. Squid Sundae (pronounced soon-day) is the cut up body of squid packed full of noodles, vegetables, and rice (I think?), wrapped in egg and deep-fried. It’s delicious, but I felt kind of guilty about eating them because the chefs literally go outside to the tank full of squid and pick one, and kill it right before you eat it. It doesn’t sound horrible, but squid are actually really cute and I kind of love to watch them swim around. They have human eyes…

After boiling ourselves, we went to the bus stop to get back up to our hotel. We saw a guy we had seen in the lobby of our hotel, and he looked lost. We went over, introduced ourselves, and asked him if he wanted to join us for wine and cheese at the hotel. He told us he was trying to go to a huge Waterpark, but if it didn’t work out he would come and find us. We parted ways, and jumped on the next bus.

Emily had said she missed live music, and wanted to listen to more of it here in Korea. Clearly The Secret works, because when we got off the bus, there was a concert being set up in our parking lot. We went and grabbed some beers and watched some traditional Korean drummers, a traditional singer, a random Korean band, and then finally…a Mexican Korean band. The guy from the bus stop came and joined us, and we danced and had a great time. The Mexican Korean band was by far the most fun and impressive, and they played loads of different instruments.

After it was all over, we went and sat on the steps in the front of the hotel and talked. The guy (N, from here on out), was from New Zealand and he was teaching in Japan. He taught us a lot about how the JET program works in Japan, and the differences between Japan and Korea. We were also joined by some girls we’d talked to in the lobby, and they were from Slovenia and were here on a college exchange. They had just finished their studying, and were now free to travel the rest of the country before heading home. To say I was jealous was a bit of an understatement. So we all stayed up late, drinking and eating bread and chips and sharing stories, before finally going back up to bed. N would be leaving to Seoul the next day, so we said our goodbyes.

We woke up the next day later than we’d intended for our hike. The weather was cloudy (thank God!), because we were both varying shades of red and probably wouldn’t have survived if it’d been sunny and hot. We packed our things up, and headed out. We took a bus for about 15 minutes, but it was so busy that we ended up getting off early and walking the rest of the way.

Seoraksan is a HUGE National Park. I’m not exaggerating when I say it is mindblowingly huge. There are tons of different trails – anything from easy to expert. You can hike throughout the mountains (there’s more than one), and sleep overnight if you want. Or you can just hang out around the massive Buddha, eat at the restaurants all day, and generally just meander around. Emily and I are both…pretty decent hikers. We’re not experts, but we’re also both in pretty good shape. We decided to start with the hike to one of a million waterfalls. It was considered ‘easy’ and it was about a 2 hour round trip. We set off, and made a note to try to stay as far away from the swarms of Koreans. Even on the mountain, there was a crowd.

The course was surprisingly hard, and most of it was made of uphill bridges and stairs that crossed over a beautiful small river. The water up there was crystal, crystal clear; blues and greens around the edge, and so clean you could see the rocks at the bottom of the pools. It was unlike any water I’ve ever seen. More than once I wanted to just jump into the big pools. Though it was cloudy, it was still around 28 degrees, and I ended up sweating through all of my clothes. The water was almost taunting; it just wasn’t fair that we couldn’t swim in it.

After we got to the top, we decided to go back and grab some food. There were restaurants on the course that had offered us samples (of Grape Juice mixed with Soju …’Korean style’), and we went back and got some expensive Bimbibamp. It was weird to see cabins of restaurants in the middle of nowhere, and we both wondered how they managed to get the food and supplies up the mountain every day. And where did the employees live? Did they hike up the mountain every shift or did they live in the restaurants? We never did find out.

So, we maoed down our food as fast as humanely possible, and then headed out to see the huge Buddha before going on our second course. The Buddhist temple in Seoraksan Park is incredible, with old wooden buildings with flaking paint, beautiful and creepy statues depicting scary ‘Gods’, and stone carvings of flowers and dragons. It also has a really legitimate feel to it, as Buddhist monks walk around on the property with their grey robes and bald heads. The main attraction is the huge Buddha, and just like the temple across from Coex, there are slabs of marble at his feet where you can pray and burn incense. To get to the Buddha, you have to cross over a river on a stone bridge. It was really beautiful, and something I’m happy I’ve experienced. It was really quite amazing.

After hanging out at the temple (where some random Korean lady asked us to take a photo with her son, because we were ‘foreigners’), we trekked out. We didn’t know how far we wanted to go on the second course, but we planned to get to another huge waterfall. We hiked and hiked, stopping only to have a snack beside another crystal pool and feed a few chipmunks some peanuts. The course was even steeper than before, and it crossed high above the river many times. Yet again we wondered how they had made the bridges that hung precariously over the deep ravine. How many people had died creating this crazy trail? I guess we’ll never know.

We hiked for about 3 hours, and the further we hiked, the fewer people we met until it seemed to only be us on the trail. We hiked over trees, up large boulders, and across long bridges. After climbing a huge set of stairs, we found a map. To get to the waterfall, we still had another 1.5 hours to go. We looked at our watches, and decided that it would be dark before we got back and we would have had another 3 hours in front of us. We contemplated going because we had made it ¾ of the way there, but in the end, practicality stopped us. If it was dangerous in the daylight, hiking on the trail at night would be really stupid. We didn’t really feel like dying on some mountain because of our own stupidity.

It took us a lot less time to hike back, simply because it was downhill. Even so, after getting to the bottom, our feet ached. All in all, I estimate we hiked about 9 miles, give or take. Not too bad. We went and sat down and put our tired feet in the river under the stone bridge and relaxed after our long hike, before heading home.

When we got back, we showered, slapped on some aloe vera, and went out to eat. We were boycotting one of the restaurants that was abusing two of their dogs, so we headed over to the other one. I don’t remember what we ate (I was really tired!), but afterwards we went and watched another concert. One of the old ladies in a seat in front of us won a dried squid, and turned around and gave it to Emily. It was really sweet and nice, and kind of hilarious. Afterwards, we met up with the Slovenian girls, grabbed some wine, and ate and drank in the lounge. One of the maids offered to cook the squid, and she brought us grapes and yellow melon to eat with it. Honestly, that kind of stuff never would have happened in Canada. I mean, you can’t even drink wine in the lobby in Canada – never mind have the staff bring you free food for you to eat with your wine! Amazing! Sometimes Korea is really just amazing.

Needless to say, we went to bed early.

The next morning we left early for home. We jumped on a bus and said goodbye to the little town of Sokcho and hello to Seoul, where it was a balmy 40 degrees. I walked off the bus and pretty much just died right there. Heat unlike anything I have ever experienced. We basically scrambled for the subway, headed underground to live like rats. Thank God they decided to pump the subway full of air conditioning, otherwise I honestly wouldn’t have left my house for the next week. Unbearable heat that was so hot there were health warnings, and warnings of power outages.

The rest of the weekend was pretty much the usual kinds of things. Em and I went and watched Batman, which I enjoyed, and then went out clubbing at Papa Gorillas. Sunday night, I went and hung out with Jess…and we went and grabbed supper and got our nails done. I’m not a huge nailpolish fan, but it was fun and easy and relaxing before school started on Monday. We watched a Korean drama in the nail place, and the other Korean women explained the plotline to me.

Anyways, below are some photographs of the hike, the beach, and the trip. I also threw in some pictures of the amusement park, Lotte World…where I went with some friends of mine. Lotte World is the amusement park in that huge mall (Jamsil), and it was just an awesome, awesome day. The lines were terrible and it was like 32 degrees with 60% humidity, but the rides were really fun. One of the rides, a mountain-like ride, was probably one of the best rides I’ve ever been on. I had a blast, ate some great food, and enjoyed the day. So, there you go.

OH, my facts!

1. At some Daiso’s (Dollar stores), there are signs saying they won’t sell make-up to elementary school students. When I asked why, my friend couldn’t explain it other than to say that make-up is banned in most schools.

2. Korean dramas are really popular in Japan, and this is apparently because Japanese women want to live vicariously through the ‘outspoken’ Korean women in the dramas. Japanese woman are generally quite meek, whereas many Korean women will rip you a new one if you piss them off.

3. In the E-mart in Sokcho, there were lockers where you could put your small dogs when you went shopping.

4. On the beach in Sokcho, the life guards would get so bored that they would take turns pretending to drown so the other lifeguards could go and ‘save’ them.

5. Yogurt Soju cocktails exist. I don’t dare try them because I think that’s probably the easiest way to get me to vomit, but they’re supposed to be pretty good for you.

6. Eminem is playing in Seoul this weekend.

7.  Korea came in 5th place for number of medals in the Olympics, outranking countries such as Japan, France, Italy, Brazil, and Spain. North Korea won 4 gold medals. Korea will be getting the 2018 Winter Olympics, and it will take place in Pyeongchang.

8. It was really, really hard to watch any of the Olympic events because of the time difference. Em and I only managed to catch one men’s soccer game at a bar, one soccer game on the bus, and I kind of half watched one at 4:30am when out at the bar (and by half watched, I mean I didn’t watch it at all, just kind of noted that it was playing in the back of mind. Hey, stop looking at me with your judgey eyes!

) South Korea beat Japan in men’s soccer for a third place medal, and Koreans were damn happy because they hate pretty much everything about Japan. (Generalization, but just barely).

9. Many of my students are right-handed. In fact, out of all the students I teach, only one student has been left-handed. I asked my Korean friend why there weren’t any left-handed students, and apparently they still try to switch them over to right handed. Go figure.

10. There is a new popular song here in Korea, called “Gangnam Style.” All my kids have started singing it in class, and when out at the clubs in Hongdae, they’ve switched it to say “Hongdae Style.” Apparently it’s getting popular in America? It’s pretty damn catchy. Check out the crazy music video by clicking the link below…

Gangnam Style

Alright, friends and family. I should update this more. I know I should. I’m going to desperately try to keep this thing up-to-date. I’m starting a writing contest over Labor Day Long weekend, where I’ll be writing a novel in 3 days…so, forgive me if I’m a little tired of writing after that. Hopefully I’ll get up to something before that so that I can post beforehand. The pictures are mostly off of my phone, and also Emily was nice enough to take a ton of photos. I –still- need to fix my camera.

I love you all, I miss you all, and I hope you’re all having the time’s of your lives. Take care, all you crazy people, and I’ll try to do the same!

Cass

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Meet My Kids

Sitting, once again, in my coffee shop. I’m drinking peppermint tea, although I couldn’t tell you why. Peppermint tea reminds me of Christmas, and it’s currently 30 degrees in Seoul. The funny thing about the weather here, is that the staggering heat never seems to come directly from the sun. It sneaks under the clouds through exhaust pipes and neon lights, and stays trapped there indefinitely. There are things I like about that, and things I hate about it. As I’ve talked about before, the heat here knocks you down; you walk out your door in the morning, and you breathe in steam. But, at night, it becomes pleasant. I never worry about bringing a jacket with me, even when I’m out at 2am in shorts and a tank top. Some Koreans sleep outside, simply because they can. A few times I’ve been tempted to sleep out on my balcony because there are beautiful stars out there and…well, why not? The only deterrent has been the mosquitoes. The assholes exist here in large numbers, and their love bites drive me a bit insane. My body isn’t immune to these mosquitoes like the ones back home, and their bites are big and ugly and itchy. My legs look like I have the chicken pox.

Though I’ve had quite the hiatus, I haven’t stopped writing. No, not at all. In fact, I’ve just been writing in a different direction. Still working on the little novel and it’s just getting fun, so it’s been hard to tear myself away from it. That, and I’m still pretty busy with life. Blahblahblah. I’m not really making excuses (or am I?), but I am trying to explain. Don’t worry. This blog will still be around until I leave Korea. Promise.

I don’t know if anyone else has ever noticed how things always tend to break at the same time. It’s like all the technology you own knows when one of their friends goes missing or gets destroyed, and is like, “Fuck it! I can’t live without Bob the camera. If he’s not here with me, I’m getting the hell out of this place! Someone steal me!” Anyways, that’s how it always goes with my stuff. If my computer breaks, then my TV will break within a few days. Or if my Ipod gets stolen, then there’s a 99% chance that my stereo will blow a speaker. It’s just the way it is.

So, to make a long story short, one of the kids knocked my camera off a table in a church on Thursday, and broke it. And then the next day I got drunk, and lost my Ipod at the bar.

Yeah. That.

So, there will not be any photos of…well, anything, this update. I’m looking to get my camera fixed ASAP, so don’t despair. I know, I know, you’re completely devastated. So is the kid that broke it. (Well, he would be…if he were still alive.)

Anyways, the good thing about all my technology committing suicide is that there’s this great thing called “Capitalism,” and that means I can just go out and buy new things to replace my old things! Isn’t that great?!  So, that’s exactly what I did. I finally, after 23 years of life, bought a Smartphone.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I was never anti-Smartphone. That’s not the reason I didn’t buy one. I didn’t buy one because I am an addict. I get addicted to things far too easily, and I know myself, and I know that Smartphones are easier to get addicted to than crack cocaine or meth. And it drives me insane when I’m having a conversation with someone, and they just sit there and type away.

And you’re like, “HEY MY FACE ITS HERE NOT IN THE SCREEN STOP GOOGLING SOUTH PARK QUOTES AND TALK TO ME.”

(What, your friends don’t google South Park quotes? Whatever, dude. My friends do. Or something.)

Mom and Dad, I know you’re saying to yourselves, “But Cass, you did that on your old shitty phone with texting.” And that’s true. But when I came to Korea, I was FREE from that because I just had a really old flip-phone and I didn’t know anyone. And I started to notice more things that I wouldn’t have caught before. I appreciated being with my friends because I wasn’t worried about who was trying to contact me, what was being tweeted, etc, etc.

(Speaking of, there are two women sitting to my right. They’re both on their smartphones, and ignoring each other. It’s really awkward to watch.)

So, I didn’t want to be that person. And I’ve decided I –won’t- be. I’ve given myself some rules, so that I actually experience life outside of my own little white box.

Rule #1: No Smartphone when having a conversation with someone face-to-face. It’s beyond rude, and I can’t count how many times I’ve just rolled my eyes when someone takes out their phone in the middle of the conversation. Ugh.

Rule #2: No Smartphone while walking. You look like a tool, and here in Seoul, there’s too many people to potentially run into. Same goes for when walking on and off the Subway cars.

Rule #3: No Smartphone when going for a walk out in “nature,” or when doing touristy things. Especially when doing touristy things. What’s the damn point then?

Rule #4: Don’t talk about the rules of Smartphones. (You saw that coming, didn’t you? Sorry. Terrible joke.)

So far, however, my Galaxy has really impressed me, and some apps are downright life changing. Like the budgeting app, I picked up. Yeah…

Anyways, I was thinking about what I could write about because A) I’ve been doing fun things, but things that would be boring to read about (clubbing, eating good food, watching movies, etc), B) We just finished Parent’s Day so I haven’t had much time to do the whole touristy thing and C)I have no pictures.

But, I realized that I haven’t introduced you guys to my kids. I mean, not formally. You’ve seen photos of them and stuff. But you don’t know anything about them. And…I mean, most of my life in Korea revolves around them. I spend 8 hours a day with these kids, doing crafts and science and math and English English English English, and to you they’re just part of a job. Which is weird for me to think about, because they’re so damn important to me. Also, I want to write this down so that I can remember them in a small way. Call me sentimental, but writing is the best way I can immortalize people.

So, I’ll let you meet my kids, as I know them.

Hm, where should I start?

The Girls:

Candy

Candy

Candy: Her name pretty much says it all. She is one of the sweetest, kindest little girls I teach. She always aims to please, and basically lives for me to give her stickers. She always says to me, “Teacher, what is this?” if she doesn’t understand something I’m saying. Like all the other girls, she wears bows in hair and adorable dresses every day. She isn’t confident in herself, and will often copy the other girls – especially Esther. She finds school hard, and subjects like math don’t come easily to her. Her intentions are always pure, and she is not manipulative…which I appreciate. She loves Jake, and she loves to help him. I’ve seen her put his food on her spoon and feed it to him before. I imagine she’ll grow up to be a great mother. She’s a caring, genuine soul.

Esther

Esther

Esther: Esther is queen of the classroom. By Korean standards, she is a pretty girl…and she knows it. She’s smart, in the way that all popular girls are smart; she knows how to get what she wants, without having to put too much effort into getting it. This isn’t to say she’s not smart academically – she is, but she doesn’t apply herself. The boys in the other class draw pictures of her in their notebooks. She’s outspoken, and doesn’t take shit from anyone…including me. One of the other teacher’s told me, “Break Esther, and you’ll win over the whole classroom.” She reminds me of Rachel McAdams in Mean Girls. She’s spoiled, and intelligent. Candy follows her around like her personal sidekick. I imagine she’ll get whatever she wants…especially in Korea. It wouldn’t shock me to find out she married the CEO of Samsung.

Sarah

Sarah

Sarah: Sarah looks like a little bookworm. She has huge glasses that take up her whole face, wonderful round cheeks, and a mischievous smile. She’s a tiny little thing…much smaller than any of the other kids. Sarah absorbs English at an incredible rate….but even more importantly, she loves it. Sarah is always talking to me, and usually…about me? “What’s the weather like?” “It’s Cass Teacher!”, “How are you feeling?” “I’m Cass Teacher today!” She’s the one that will come and jump on my lap when I’m sitting down, snuggle up. She hates Eric, and they fight constantly. More than once, I’ve seen her go up and tell him off and walk away with her fingers in her ears with him left in tears. She draws the cutest pictures in the class, and she’s a good artist. I imagine she’ll travel, and end up in America or Australia or Canada…probably she’ll be a business woman or a liaison between said country and Korea. Maybe she’ll be an interpreter.

Ella

Ella

Ella: Ella is… (to steal Emily’s term for rowdy kids)…a punkass. She’s the tomboy girl, and the tallest girl in class. Often, she’ll spend more time with the boys in class, and she’ll fight just like they will – punching and kicking. If one student isn’t going to listen to me, it’s her. She loves to do crazy dances, sing out of tune, and run around the classroom like Phoebe from Friends. With that said, sometimes I appreciate her lack of discipline. I like to think of her as a future Korean rebel – not willing to put up with the status quo of Korean culture. When she leaves her hair down, it’s a tangle of curls, and she’s extremely messy and dirty. She leaves food everywhere. With all of that said, she’s not manipulative. She’s a very upfront girl, and you definitely know if she’s pissed off. If something isn’t going her way, she’ll cry. She’s intelligent, and excellent at reading. She comes to visit me in the teacher’s room often, and will always bring my basket back to the teacher’s room after I’m finished teacher. She loves to cling to my legs, and not let me go. I imagine Ella will be an impossible teenager, but will grow up to be a businesswoman. I doubt she’ll ever begin taking shit from men (or anyone, for that matter).

The Boys

William

William

William: William is great at everything, and he knows it. His English is the best in the class, he’s adorable, and he’s intelligent. His mother dotes on him regularly, and as Jess said, “She’s his biggest fan.” He’s also the loudest kid, and his voice is high pitched enough to give you headaches. If a kid is going to get picked to go up for a presentation/present/etc, 99% he’ll be chosen. He’s charismatic, and unafraid. He’ll also tell off the other students in English. “Don’t speak Korean! This is English class!” He is very demanding of attention, and will do almost anything to get it. I joke that when he becomes a mega K-Pop star, I’m going to tell everyone I know that “I taught him English!” He’s just the type that would be good at something like that. Either that, or President. It could swing either way.

Eric

Eric

Eric: Eric is weird, but intelligent in a “good at school” kind of way. He’s wimpy; if any other student does –anything- he doesn’t like, he’ll either whine to me about it or shut down completely and not talk to them. He wants to impress me all the time, and will jump up from his seat and jump around me like an adorable puppy dog begging to be pet. He’s great at math, and already knows his time tables. He likes to do strange dances sometimes, just for the hell of it, in the middle of class. During Parent’s Day, he glared at all the parents and refused to talk. I don’t know why, exactly, but that’s just how Eric is. I figure he’ll be either an accountant or a computer science graduate.

Jake

Jake

Jake: Jake is damn cute, and despite having William in the class, the girls tend to gravitate to him more. Many of my pictures are of him, because he’s got a smile that light up his eyes. He doesn’t try at school, doesn’t care to learn writing or speech, and would rather be drawing or doing anything else. His best friend is Mason, and the two of them seem to live in their own little world. With that said, Jake is good at building things. I once saw him build a gun out of interconnecting blocks. He’s curious and playful, and will often joke about funny things. He’s smart, but not school smart. His English level is quite low, but he’s improved drastically since I started 5 months ago. For some reason, he’s given me a pink plush dog…that he calls, “Sonny.” It’s apparently my son? (I think that makes me a bitch!) I imagine Jake will end up doing something with his hands – probably be a carpenter or…if he studies hard enough, an engineer.

Sonny

Sonny

Mason

Mason

Mason: When I first met Mason, I was pretty much just like, “FML.” He’s the kid that you all grew up with – the one that eats glue in the corner of the class, and no one quite knows what’s up with him, and the teacher has no idea what to do. In the last 5 months though, he’s become one of my favourite students. He’s got major learning disabilities of some kind, but despite that, he’s been picking up more English. He loves Jake more than anyone in the world, and you can just see the loyalty the pair have got to each other. He is the least manipulative of all the kids, and he’s just very simple in an amazing way. If he’s upset, he’s upset. If he’s sad, he’s sad. When he hurts another kid, he’ll always say, “I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry!” and he means it. There is no spite in him. He loves to draw Transformers, and he’ll often try to tell me stories through his pictures. Sometimes he gets a very blank look in his eyes, like he’s tuned out and somewhere else. It doesn’t matter how many times you’ll call out his name, he won’t respond. In situations like that, you have to touch him or look him in the eyes to ‘wake’ him up. He’s got a brilliant imagination, though, and I’m sure he’s off in distant planets…chasing down aliens. Out of all my kids, I worry the most about Mason’s future. Korea is a harsh country, and academia is important. It’s a dog-eat-dog country, and I wonder if there is space for kids like Mason. I can only hope that his mother wakes up and begins to get him the help he deserves. I know that if he was given the chance, he could be a painter, musician, or graphic designer. He thinks differently, but in the end, maybe that’s what we need more of? Maybe that’s what Korea needs more of?

So, those are my kids. Well, a small portion of my kids, anyways. I always teach 11 (!) 4-5 year olds, plus 3 more 5-6 year olds. And…older kids, during the afternoon hours. And sometimes younger kids also (think like…2-3 year olds…that still don’t know their colours even though I’ve ‘taught’ them for 5 months…).

Depending on the weather and if I can find a place to stay, I may go to Mudfest this weekend…or I may go to an amusement park. It’s all kind of up-in-the-air, as per usual. What I –do- know for certain, is that I’m going to be going to be going to a National Park with a huge mountain (Seoraksan), and the fishing resort town of Sokcho for summer vacation. I decided to put off going to Jeju because here in Korea…they came up with the ingenious idea to give the entire country the same two weeks off for summer vacation. This means that hotels cost 50% more, as does airplane tickets, and everything is ridiculously crowded. I’ll probably go to Jeju a little bit later in the year on a long weekend. I’ve got a plan to go to Daegu and Busan with a friend of mine for a long weekend in September, so I won’t be missing out on the Southern part of Korea.

OK, friends.  Thanks for sticking around. As I begin doing more fun things again (FINALLY!), you’ll be seeing more blog posts. And…once I get my camera fixed, also. Heh.

OK, my Korean facts:

  1. One of my kid’s church has an entire swimming pool in it.
  2. Most dogs you see in Korea are puppies. This is because owning pets is a new fad…or at least, dogs. Apparently, it was popular about 10 years ago to own pet pigs instead.
  3. All of the kids have 9 dots on their left arm, in 3 lines. This is from their inoculations they get when they’re young.
  4. Many Korean doctors will just give you a shot (without telling you what it is), if you’re sick. Generally, it’s on your ass.
  5. During weddings, you’re expected to give the bride and groom money instead of presents.
  6. Korean weddings are very impersonal. Often, you just invite everyone you know (and people you don’t know). This makes for some HUGE weddings, of 300-500 people. 300 people is about an average wedding.
  7. Koreans generally won’t talk to you if you’re alone; however, both Emily and I have noticed if we’re together, Koreans will be more open to chat with us.
  8. The price of going to a waterpark went up 100% during the “High season” (from $5 to $52 dollars)
  9. 98% of all cars are the same three colours: black, white, and grey.
  10. It’s cheap to send  packages back to Canada, but expensive for Canadians to send packages to Korea.

Alright, folks. I LOVE YOU. I miss you. Hope you’re all having an awesome time wherever you are, and I’m sorry if this was a boring entry. It will get better. Just give me a week.

Bye, guys!

All The Small Things.

So, I’m sitting in ‘my’ café, sipping on an iced Americano and blasting some electro music through neon pink headphones. I’m listening to my music at a need-a-hearing-aid-in-the-next-few-years level because the song “I Believe I Can Fly” is playing. Now, don’t get me wrong, I like this song. I mean, I like positivity and I also like flying. If I could pick a superpower, flying would be on the top of my list (along with reading people’s minds and turning into any animal. Yes, I read Animorphs as a child.) And hell, I even like SpaceJam. Michael Jordan was an amazing actor in that animated film, and I’m surprised he didn’t get an Oscar.

However, Korea LOVES LOVES LOVES this song. Between “I Believe I Can Fly” and “Party Rockers,” I’m sure that’s about 50% of English music in the country. I’ve had students sing me this song in class and ask, “Teacher, do you know?” I don’t have the heart to tell them that yes, I know it, because it’s been around for 10+ years. I just nod my head. Yes, teacher knows. I’m not surprised when I hear it in every department store/coffee shop/grocery store anymore.

Anyways, my life has consisted of stressful days at school, but fun weekends. Someone requested I tell everyone about the issues I’m having at school, but I honestly don’t have the heart to rant and rave. I tried. I sat at my computer screen after a particularly horrific day, and wrote and wrote and wrote. And then I deleted it. What I will say is that I’ve only got another week and a bit of being stressed out, and then its “clear sailing” (hopefully), until Christmas. Right now, I’m just waiting for our Parent’s Day to end so that I can start ‘teaching’ again. The end of this month will be such a relief. I can’t wait.

To counter the extreme stress (EXTREME STRESS!!1!!), I’ve started working out. I’m doing the P90X workout, which basically just kicks my ass every night. You can Youtube it if you don’t know what the hell it is – there’s loads of videos about it up there. It’s something to keep me from thinking about school, and I plan on finishing the entire 90 days. I expect to be able to pick up cars and elephants after. Yeah. Elephants. I’m still going out for supper with my good friend Jess, but otherwise, weeknights are kept pretty casual.  I honestly don’t have the heart to go exploring after my days at school. Maybe next month.

But, I refuse to give up my weekends! The past few weeks I’ve done a few cool things over the weekends. A few Sundays ago, Em/S and I met in Itaewon and grabbed a few beers. I’ve grown to appreciate Itaewon and the diversity that surrounds that area. In Canada, we don’t realize how blessed we are to have a multicultural country. I’m serious. Despite all the gang related stuff, racism, blahblahblah, it’s nice to have a mixture of different people from all around the world. Em/S found a really cute restaurant, and we all bought sandwiches (!) and drank American IPA beers. After walking around a bit, we ended up finding a little hookah bar, and we decided to try it out. It was dark and smoky (of course), but it played good House music and it had funny drink names like, “Get fucked in the ass,” and “Vagina pulverizer.” Yes, I’m serious.

On June 7th, I decided to go for a night walk out to Boramae Park. Boramae is the huge park that’s about 15 minutes from my house, and it has a massive track around it that’s made of that eraser stuff. I thought to myself, “Oh, it’s Thursday. It’s late. No one will be there. It’s a nice night. I should go and walk around.” That’s the kiss of death in Korea. Generally, if I think something won’t be busy, it will be teeming with people. This was no exception. Hundreds of people were there, walking around at 10:30. I’m not exaggerating. To get onto the track, I had to literally merge my body in as though I was on a body freeway. It was both annoying and mindblowing. Hundreds of people walking in a big circle, with massive skyscrapers lit up in the background. Only in Korea.

On June 9th, I FINALLY made the trip out to the zoo. It was a hot day, but in the end, I had a fabulous time. Seoul Grand Park is actually really fun and huge, and they’ve got some cute little animals at the zoo. I touched a baby deer, which I thought was kind of funny, considering the closest I’ve ever been to a deer was in Korea and not in Canada. When I was taking the photo of the totem poles (below), an old adjumma came up to me and told me to stand with them so I could have a picture with me in it. When I walked back to get the camera, she said, “So beautiful!” and it made my entire day. Sure, there are racist people here, but then there are these amazing people who have been so kind to me as well. It’s always a toss up which one you’ll come in contact with.

Oh yeah, and I also saw a dolphin show! So, there was that too. Not a half bad day, if I may say so.

That night, I met up with Em/S and S’s friends at a French Music Concert on top of a mountain. Right near my work, there’s what we call the “French Quarters,” filled with the cutest coffee shops. The architecture in this part of town is different, and the entire place has a wonderful ‘feel’ to it. I can’t exactly explain what gives it this romantic air, but there’s something about it that I can’t get enough of. I always forget about it until I go there, and then I’m like, “WHY DON’T I COME HERE MORE?!” Anyways, there are a whole bunch of French diplomats that live there and every year one of these French schools puts on a huge French concert. And I mean, HUGE. (Check out the pictures)

I met up with the group, and we all chatted. There were families all around, playing with glow-in-the-dark toys, eating, sitting on mats, and generally doing concerts ‘Korean-style.’ Many Koreans had tents, because Koreans love to do what I call “Urban Camping.” Many times if you go to a park or the river…or wherever, Koreans will have brought tents, mini BBQs, plates and plates of delicious food packed in massive tupperwear containers, sunscreen, all of their children’s outdoor toys, extra clothes, swimsuits, dogs, and their entire extended family and neighbours. They also stay all day. Going to the park is not something you take lightly in Korea. If you are going to the park, you’re going to stay all day, dammit!

Anyways, the singers I listened to were extremely good, and it was hilarious that I was listening to French singers in Korea. Yet again, the first French concert I went to was in Korea instead of Canada. July 9th felt kind of like backwards day. Anyways, us crazy waygooks danced to the French music and were stared at by a large group of Koreans, sitting on chairs. In fact, everyone was sitting on chairs. NO ONE was dancing except us. Apparently during outdoor concerts in Korea, you’re not supposed to dance? Not entirely sure why that is (conform or die, perhaps?), but we definitely solidified our waygooken status by being the only ones dancing. Oh well. I didn’t mind.

Last Saturday night, I went to an English/Korean meetup. This is where I met my good friend Suri 3 months ago, and she was the one that I met up with to go to this one. This one was in Hongdae, at a cool little bar that’s not really a bar. I mean, it is. But it’s not. You see, one entire wall is filled with different bottles of beer in huge fridges.  So, you go and grab your own beers, and then walk to the cashier…and he charges you and uses a bottle opener to open your beer.

CAN YOU IMAGINE THIS IN CANADA?

No, you can’t. Why? Because we all know people would bring their own bottle openers and steal beer. And I mean, this place was packed. Packed. There is no one there to make sure you pay. They don’t have security. They didn’t even have cameras. Korea is ridiculously honest, and I mean that in the best way possible. It just doesn’t seem to occur to people to steal things. It doesn’t even cross their minds, or if it does, no one ever seems to act on these impulses. I love that I never have to worry about someone taking something out of my bag on the subway, or even locking my door to the my apartment (I always do, but if I forgot, it would be fine). In fact, Suri left her Iphone (pronounced I-PONE in Korea) at this bar that night, and had to go back to get it and it was still there. Korea at its finest.

Anyways, most of the people there were Koreans looking to meet up with foreigners to chat in English. I talked to an English linguistics major that talked to me about being drafted into the army, and the International Affairs Co-ordinator of The International Ping-Pong Federation. We called Denny to come and meet, and she was in Hongdae so she came and hung out. We got free passes to go to a club, and then met up with Em/S to go clubbing. We got in line early at the club, and then had to fight with the bouncers about Em wearing sandals. Apparently in Korea, you can’t wear flip-flops to the club for ‘safety’ reasons. This is pretty much illogical, considering the girls wearing 6 inch stilettos could easily break their ankles. Hell, at Papa Gorilla, I saw multiple girls fall off a high table in high heels. If you want safety, perhaps making it OK to dance on said table should be banned. Thankfully, because we’re waygooks (and there were five of us), we were allowed in. We danced in there for a while before deciding the drink prices were outrageous (which we should have known because cover was $20), and instead headed out to get some kebabs from a Turkish kebab seller.

On Sunday, Jess and I went out to walk along Han River to enjoy the lights and the atmosphere. Han River is nice during the day, but GORGEOUS at night. We saw a beautiful sunset, and then when the sun went down, all of the hotels, apartments, and buildings glowed around us. We weren’t the only one enjoying the sights. There were also a whole bunch of families, bikers, and lovers all walking along the path, staring out at the beautiful sights with us. It was a very easy night, and we’ve both decided we’re going to go there whenever we get stressed out. I wish, wish, WISH my camera was better at night. The pictures don’t really do the sight justice, unfortunately. In the end, we walked around, ate some dried squid and chocoballs, and just relaxed away our Sunday. Like I said, it was an easy day filled with nothing of much importance.

A few days ago, we went on a field trip with the kiddies to the Seoul Driving Safety Center for Kids. As someone somewhere once said, “I’m pretty sure that saying Korean’s are bad at driving isn’t even a generalization, it’s a fact.” It’s really, really bad here how fast people drive and how little they pay attention to other motorists, pedestrians, and the rules of the road. In fact, they taught the children to wait a few seconds before going across a cross walk on a red light because people ALWAYS drive through reds. At least once a day I’ll see someone blow through a red like it’s no one’s business. Once I almost got hit by a dump truck (!) when I was walking on a crosswalk under a red light at the END of the countdown. So, because the driving is so atrocious here, they set up a center to teach little kids how to survive living in a place where no one follows the rules of the road.

Some of the rules included:

–          Look both ways when getting off a bus, because a motorcycle on the sidewalk might hit you when you get off.

–          Hold on very tightly to the rails in the bus because it stops and starts so suddenly you might fall down.

–          Put your hands above your head when walking on a crosswalk.

–          Look over your shoulder when moving left or right on the sidewalk or a road. (As a pedestrian, you –need- to shoulder check. This has saved me from getting hit SO MANY TIMES.)

–          Never J-walk.

–          Never walk on a diagonal across the road.

–          Never stand behind a parked car.

–          Don’t run across a cross walk.

After teaching kids all the different ways they could get mowed down, we went for a picnic and the kids got to run around. I took a few photos that I’ll post, but even though it was sweltering outside, the kids seemed to enjoy themselves and I did, too. It was so much nicer than going to the zoo and seeing no animals. Watching the kids be kids was just great, and I think they had a great time exploring and looking around.

Anyways, that’s about all that’s happened in my little life this far. I’ve got a few fun things coming up in July that will be more interesting to read about, but for now…I’m keeping it on the downlow until after Parent’s Day. Once that’s over and done with, things will probably pick up a bit again. I hope.

Well friends, sorry for this lackadaisical, kind-of-everywhere post. It’s not as cohesive as I’d want it to be, but that’s like life, right? Just made up of a bunch of little events you kind of string together and hope seem to make some sort of sense. Alright, here’s my 10 facts, and then below…photographs!

  1. Currently, there’s a large taxi strike going on because taxi prices are so ridiculously low. Taxi drivers sometimes work 12-15 hours a day, and bring home about $1,128 a month.
  2. One of Korea’s biggest pop bands “Girl’s Generation” was on David Letterman in January.
  3. An extremely popular snack food here are jelly fish sticks. It’s like a sausage, made from fish and cheese.
  4. For some reason, even Koreans that speak fluent English always say, “Blooding” instead of “Bleeding.” This, of course, isn’t a fact…but I’ve never heard a Korean say, “bleeding.”
  5. On Canada’s website, one of the main warnings about Korea isn’t about North Korea…but about how many fatalities occur because of bad driving.
  6. For the first time ever in Korea’s history, Korea is having to enlist multicultural young men into their armies for their 2 year duty. These young men are from families where one parent married a Korean and had children, and stayed in the country.
  7. Sa Rang Hae (사랑해) means, I love you.
  8. My students’ new favourite show is called “Running Man,” which is kind of like an urban Survivor mixed with a comedy.
  9. All of the baseball teams are named after companies here. So, instead of the Yankees, it’s Team LG or Team Kia. There are 8 teams in the Korean Baseball League.
  10. Phones have antenna’s on the top, so you can watch television on the subway on your phone.

Alright, photo timmmmme!

P.s – Hey, Canadians! Would you do something about our crazy government already? I dunno, like protest or have a general strike or something. This is getting out of hand. I would prefer to come back to a free country and not a dictatorship. Thank you!

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Holy Korea, Batman!

First things first: I would like to point out that I’m blogging this from my new favourite haunt. It’s a two story café with velvet chairs, a bookshelf, and a view of the main street running through Sillim. There are always three servers working: two boys, and a girl with a boy haircut that’s always reading a book at work. For $3.50, they give you unlimited coffee and bread with jam and butter. For the past few days, I’ve been writing here…and feeling very J K Rowling. I think this may be one of my new habits, and probably my favourite one so far. Coffee, bread, and writing…what could be better?

I’ve just gotten off a subway car that smelled like shots of Soju and sweat. The weather here today was 30 degrees, and this means that all the ajossi’s in Korea must promptly get hammered to chase the heat away. They all glow; a sea of red faces and bad breath, heading home (or more likely, to the 711 to pick up more booze). Just when I had started to make a tentative peace treaty with the subway, the summer has struck and left me hating it once again. Oh, woe is me.

So, I have a few excuses for not writing in this blog as often as I promised. I’m not really sure if you care, but hear me out anyways.

My first excuse is that work has been extremely stressful lately. I’ll spare you the details; I know if I started bitching about it, I would just go on and on and on…probably forever. And no one really cares about work stresses except the other people you work with and that’s only because they want to be able to bitch as well. So, with that said, work has taken quite a bit out of me and by the time I get home, the last thing I want to do is sit in front of a screen.

Secondly, I’ve been writing more in my private blog, along with a story I’ve finally started writing (that has been in my head for a LONG time). So, when the mood does hit me to type something, I’ve been sending all my creativity in that direction. Trust me, my muses are fickle, so I need to harness my motivation before I lose it.

So, there you go. Those are my excuses. Take ‘em or leave ‘em.

Because I’m so far behind, I’ve decided to divide this blog entry into two parts. First will be the DJ festival, and second will be my 24th birthday. It will also be long. So, go grab a coffee (or beer), sit back, relax, and prepare yourself. Or, you can…you know, give up here. Whatever works.

Anyways, go go gadget blog post.

Part 1: Le Seoul DJ Festival.

When my friend invited me to go the the DJ Festival, I basically told her there was no way in hell I would miss it. I love electronic music, I love crazy neon lights, I love people, I love alcohol, and I love dancing. All of these things in one place? I wouldn’t miss it for the world.

I went with one of my Korean friends (and her other friend) that I met at that meet up a few months ago. She was living in TO for awhile, and so we sometimes get together for coffee and reminisce about Canada. Actually, nearly all of my Korean friends have lived in Canada at some point…either Vancouver, Ottawa, or Toronto. Canada makes for a good conversation starter.

Anyways, we left around 1pm from my house, to jump on a chartered bus to take us to the festival. It was about an hour away from Seoul, but with the insane amount of traffic going, it ended up taking us a good 2 hours. The bus ride was pleasant, sunny, and nice. The town we ended up going to was this little place in the middle of nowhere. We were basically in the middle of, what looked to me to be the desert, but every so often we would come across a field of rice. Very strange. The festival itself was in a little valley in this middle of nowhere town, and tents sprouted up out of the nothingness and the sound echoed up the hill from below.

After getting there, we put our stuff in a big plastic bag and walked through the entrance. The first thing that I noticed was just how many ‘foreigners’ were there. I would say there was a good 3:1 ratio of Koreans to foreigners, and honestly, since St. Patty’s I haven’t come across that many waygooks in one place. Another thing I noticed was that I was the only foreigner that was there with Koreans. All of the other foreigners were hanging out in big English groups.

The next thing was just how freakin’ massive the place was. Tents everywhere, 4 massive stadiums, and a Red Bull VIP area. And alcohol everywhere. No, scratch that – cheap alcohol everywhere. Because cash wasn’t accepted, I had put $100 on my subway card, which I had found out the day before could be used to pay for taxis, food at convenience stores, and other popular place (!). After leaving the festival the next day, I still had $50 left on it. Cheap, cheap, cheap alcohol and food.

So, during the day, we danced a bit, drank a lot (buckets of tequila mixes, jello vodka shots, Cass beer, Soju cocktails…yeah), and generally enjoyed the laid back atmosphere. There weren’t that many crazy dance parties during the day, so we kind of meandered around and drank and looked at the different tents. We’d brought water guns, so when we were hot we just doused ourselves in water. We met up with more of my friend’s friends, and so there ended up being a pretty big group of us.

But night…now that’s when the fun predictably began. As more and more people started showing up, the atmosphere began to get more rowdy. Everyone was smoking cigarettes, drinking copious amounts of booze, and dancing. At each stage a different DJ was playing, so no matter where you walked, you could always feel the bass in the ground. They had flying lit balloons that looked like bright moons, the night was warm, and good looking men walked around shirtless. Women, too, wore the least amount of clothes they could get away with…even Korean women. Suddenly the stifling fashion sense that I feel permeates this place, had disappeared. It made me realize that many of the things that drive me insane about Korea, are the same things that drive the ‘young’ generation of Koreans insane about Korea. It is not so much a cultural gap (although, I’m sure there is a gap there also), but an age gap. It is the older generations of Korea that grate on my nerves, and the norms that they have placed on their youth to conform conform conform.

Anyways, tangent done.

Korean women wore *gasp* tank tops. And bright colours. And I saw goths. And I saw ravers. And hippies. And it was refreshing. I felt like I’d stepped out of the 1950’s and back into 2012. Finally.

I watched Daedelus (awesome), House Rulez (who did an awesome remix of Fantastic Baby!), Shut Da Mouth, and the main act on Saturday, ATB. I was also: Asked to take a picture with a random Korean for no reason, a Korean guy grabbed my water bottle out of my hand – drank out of it – then handed it back to me with a wink and a “Kamsanida!”, I was asked to promote a coconut drink and took a picture that may or may not be in an advertisement somewhere, I had a conversation with a drunk Korean girl who was usually terrified of speaking Korean but was so wasted she had no problem chatting with me, I was kissed on the cheek by some random Korean guy that just ran up to me, stood directly underneath fireworks, danced with shufflers, chatted with foreigners who had snuck into the festival, and went crazy when a remix of Nirvana was played (“It smells like teen spirit,” if you were curious). It was a just a crazy night overall, and one I won’t forget for a long, long time.

I crashed at 3am, after dancing for 6 hours straight. By this time, the temperature had dropped, and I was frozen. I’d been wearing a neon tank top and shorts. My friends had brought small sweaters and a blanket, and I cuddled up under that, next to one of the DJ tents. All around were Koreans, huddled together on the ground, surrounded by garbage. The strong were partying on – staggering around, eating Tteokbokki, gyrating to the still-pounding bass.

At 4am, my Korean friends came back, and we decided to catch the 5am bus home. We were all exhausted. I felt like a zombie, and I’m sure I looked like one. The Korean lady at the coffee shop we stopped at on the way to the bus stop told my friend, “Your foreign friend looks exhausted.” I’ve never been so cold or tired, in my entire life. That bus felt like a godsend. I practically fell asleep as soon as I was sitting in the seat, and I cannot honestly remember anything about the ride home (and no Mom, I wasn’t drunk at this point). We got back to my house at 6:30am, and we all slept in until 2pm.

The next day was lazy and laidback. We listened to music, ate cheese Tteokkboki ramyen and kimbap for lunch in the sunshine, went to Hongdae for coffee (where I happened to meet Daedelus on the street!), and ended it with Korean BBQ. Enjoyable and relaxing after having spent all our energy the night before.

So far in my short life, it was one of the best musical experiences I’ve ever had. I used to think that lyrics were the most important part of a song, but I think this has officially changed my mind. I didn’t understand the Korean songs, and the Koreans probably didn’t understand all that much of the English songs, but we all enjoyed it equally. Thousands of us listening to the same thing and getting the same joy from it. Incredible. And the music itself was just…crazy. Crazy good DJs (ATB blew my mind!) that knew how to work the crowd, awesome lights, and great people. Just an awesome, awesome, AWESOME experience x 100.

 

(Are you tired yet? Go and get yourself another coffee. Or a glass of wine. Relax, friend. Go watch an episode of your favourite TV show and come back to this post later. I know, I know it’s long. Sorry about that. I’ll try to update more frequently so you don’t have to marathon read. Are you ready? Have you had a nap? OK, let’s keep going.)

 

 

Part 2: Happy Birthday to me. (Turning 24 in Korea).

So, I’m 24 now in Korean age. Or 23 in “International Age”. And it feels weird. I honestly feel like I haven’t aged since I turned 19. Clearly, I’m going to be one of those people that’s 45 and still claiming I’m 20 (and probably dating someone who is 20…but that’s another topic for another day). Anyways, this year my birthday definitely snuck up on me. It was  one week until my birthday and all of a sudden I was like, “Woah. Wait? Wut? I’m…aging. Again. NooOOoooOOO!”

Anyways, I hadn’t really figured out what to do for the damn thing until two days before the day. And my birthday fell on a Saturday, so the options were unlimited really.

I finally settled on going to a good ‘ol Noribang with friends, and then afterwards, a Jimjabang with Em/S. But first, on the Friday, I was treated to a delicious Korean chocolate cake at school and a little card…and then after class, Jess and I went and scouted out what restaurant to go to for my bday and the Noribang. It’s really handy having Korean friends because they can do things like make reservations and get a good price on Noribangs. Yeah.

Anyways, we settled on a Galbi place (Galbi = the best kind of spicy BBQ chicken in the world), and a Noribang that was owned by an adorable old Ajossi. Noribangs are those private karaoke rooms that you can find in Canada but really aren’t all that popular. In Korea, they’re huge. Living in Sillim, there’s probably roughly about 2 on every block or so. In Gangnam (where we decided to go), we chose one called “Star Noribang,” that had terrible décor but a huge screen and lots of room.

Em and S came over early on Saturday, and gave me some awesome presents…including, a princess crown! Jess from school had asked me what girls do on their birthdays in Canada, and I had told her we wore princess crowns and went out drinking. “Like, little kid crowns? Really?” I hadn’t thought I’d manage to get a crown in Korea, but Em/S came through for me and found one. Along with that they gave me a mini-Jenga set (!), incense that Buddhist monks burn in their temples to help meditate (and incense from America that they always burn in their house and that smells incredible!), stickers, and shot glasses along with a mickey of JD and Brie. It was so nice of them, and it really helped make the day feel much more birthday-ish.

After sharing the JD and food on the deck, we headed to the Galbi place. We met everyone else at Gangnam station, Exit 11 (if you’re in Seoul, you know that Exits 10 and 11 are the popular exits to meet at, and at all hours there will be people standing there waiting for their girlfriend/boyfriend, friend, crush, enemy, to show up. Also, a good place to foreigner watch.) Then we all headed over to the restaurant, where we were put in a corner with another group of expats who looked like Engineers. I deemed this corner, the “Foreigner corner.” We drank Cass, chatted, ate some amazing food (that worked out to be $6 each!), then went to Noribang.

Noribangs are awesome. They bring you booze and little snacks. You get to sing as loud and proud as you want, and your friends are obligated to tell you you did a “good job” even when you suck. They had a whole bunch of new English tunes that we could sing to, and also had some oldies but goodies. I sang “Don’t Stop Believin’”, Em sang some Alanis Morisette, S got Radiohead, Suri Jess and I sang “Fantastic Baby!” and “Sorry Sorry!”, and Amye and Stacy sang “I’ve got the Moves Like Jagger.” It was just pretty great. And…the ajoshi gave us an extra HOUR of free service. An entire hour free. Crazy.

After, everyone kind of split up. Em/S and I decided to go Jimjabang over in Sillim, right near my place. Remember, girls and boys, Jimjabangs are those super hot spa like things with those scrubber people. And well… Em was nice enough to get me a scrub down for my birthday!

Ladies, unless you’ve had a 60 year old woman wearing only her panties scrub your entire (and I mean ENTIRE) body down with a brillo-pad cloth, you have no right to complain about going to a measly gynaecologist. I mean, the scrubbing feels both amazing and gross. She took a good layer of skin off of me, and all over my body were these little clumps of dirt and dead skin. And afterwards, you feel like you were just born. BABY SOFT SKIN. But, this feeling comes with a price. Let’s just say, it takes me quite a bit to feel uncomfortable, but I definitely felt kind of strange during the entire actual process. To tell me to change positions, she’d slap my naked butt.  And sometimes you’re kind of contorted so that she can get access to all the portions of your body she couldn’t reach before. And nothing (read:nothing) is left unscrubbed. NOTHING.

It was… interesting.

With that said, it did amazing things for my skin, so no doubt I’ll be going once a month. Awkward or not, the results were great. And once I go a few more times, I’m sure I’ll be even more used to the process and it will start to feel normal. If Korea has taught me anything it’s that the weird soon because the ordinary.

Afterwards, we met up with Sean in the co-ed section, and talked to some military guy Sean had met in the male part of the Jimjabang…who was an interpreter for the US government. It was kind of cool chatting to him about his experiences and the whole North Korea – South Korea fiasco. Unfortunately, he was heading back to Hawaii so we can’t meet up with him again…but oh well! It was a nice quick meeting, anyways, and I learned a few things.

After all of this, I headed home at 4am and crashed. A very successful birthday, if I may say so. I woke up Sunday with a big grin on my face.

Late on Sunday, Jess and I went back to the place I had originally had my hair done. We were going to get ‘free service’… what we thought would be a haircut. Instead, they re-straightened my hair, put in more treatments, and then cut my hair. I was there for 3 hours. After they started doing all of the treatments, I thought, “Oh, I’ll have to pay for this…whatever!” but…no, I walked out of there without spending a dime. Jess said that she’s never seen anyone have that much free service. According to her, it would have cost me another $300! And I got it for free. He refused to take my money, even after I insisted. We both walked out of there completely shell-shocked. I felt like I’d hit the lottery, or something. The cherry on the top was that he was gorgeous. So, I was happy to have spent 3 hours having my hair done by a gorgeous Korean man for free. Not a bad way to end an already awesome weekend.

Anyways, so that’s what I’ve been up to these days. Are your eyes bleeding? Did you even make it through this post? Did you get lost somewhere along the way…?

Alright, I’m definitely thinking of finding something “blog worthy” to get up to this weekend. Maybe I’ll try to find a new little place in Seoul to explore, or hit up a museum. OR MAYBE GO TO THE GODDAMN ZOO. Something. Possibly throw a hike in there. I don’t know.  But something will happen this next weekend…it always does.

Alright, friends. My fignertips are bleeding, so this is where I leave you. Thank you for tuning into this long blog post…AND I have photos. They weren’t deleted, so you can check them out below.

And of course, my interesting facts:

  1. Abortion is illegal in Korea, but prostitution is legal. It’s also possible to get abortions at hospitals and clinics (about 340,000 Korean women get them a year), but it costs roughly anywhere from $800 – $2,000. It’s rumoured that abortions are the main revenue for many doctors; however, if they get caught three times, they can be heavily fined.
  2. The gay pride parade here in Korea was on my birthday! June 2! And the main lesbian bar here is called “The Pink Hole.” (I lol’ed)
  3. There is currently a huge uproar in the foreign community about a video called “They Shocking Reality about Foreigners,” that depicts male foreigners as (paraphrased) “HIV-ridden playboys trying to get with as many Korean women as possible.” You can check it out here. —-> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nsNHYYrvMrk&feature=related
  4. There are islands called “The Dokdo Islands” that Koreans swear is theirs, even though on maps they’re Japanese. If you ask a Korean student (which I have), what the Dokdo Islands are, they will respond, “They Korea island NOT JAPAN ISLAND.”  Apparently, these islands are uninhabited, no one in the world knows they exist, and they’re basically useless.
  5. You can buy BBQ pig’s feet in the freezer section of FamilyMart or 711. Also, cold cheeseburgers.
  6. Because so many Koreans get married, most weddings are around 30 minutes and consist mostly of picture taking. Receptions are also very short, and sometimes during the day.
  7. “Patbingsu” is a popular dessert here, that’s made of shaved ice, ice cream, and red bean paste. It is pretty freakin’ delicious and nice a refreshing in the summer.
  8. The Japanese love K-pop…almost more than Koreans.
  9. South Koreans call Koreans Hanguk-in, while North Koreans call it Chosŏnin.
  10. Not really a fact, but here’s the video for the Seoul DJ Festival. Just so you can get a glimpse of the atmosphere… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LBm0isXDRCw
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Holy Korea, Batman!

First things first: I would like to point out that I’m blogging this from my new favourite haunt. It’s a two story café with velvet chairs, a bookshelf, and a view of the main street running through Sillim. There are always three servers working: two boys, and a girl with a boy haircut that’s always reading a book at work. For $3.50, they give you unlimited coffee and bread with jam and butter. For the past few days, I’ve been writing here…and feeling very J K Rowling. I think this may be one of my new habits, and probably my favourite one so far. Coffee, bread, and writing…what could be better?

I’ve just gotten off a subway car that smelled like shots of Soju and sweat. The weather here today was 30 degrees, and this means that all the ajossi’s in Korea must promptly get hammered to chase the heat away. They all glow; a sea of red faces and bad breath, heading home (or more likely, to the 711 to pick up more booze). Just when I had started to make a tentative peace treaty with the subway, the summer has struck and left me hating it once again. Oh, woe is me.

So, I have a few excuses for not writing in this blog as often as I promised. I’m not really sure if you care, but hear me out anyways.

My first excuse is that work has been extremely stressful lately. I’ll spare you the details; I know if I started bitching about it, I would just go on and on and on…probably forever. And no one really cares about work stresses except the other people you work with and that’s only because they want to be able to bitch as well. So, with that said, work has taken quite a bit out of me and by the time I get home, the last thing I want to do is sit in front of a screen.

Secondly, I’ve been writing more in my private blog, along with a story I’ve finally started writing (that has been in my head for a LONG time). So, when the mood does hit me to type something, I’ve been sending all my creativity in that direction. Trust me, my muses are fickle, so I need to harness my motivation before I lose it.

So, there you go. Those are my excuses. Take ‘em or leave ‘em.

Because I’m so far behind, I’ve decided to divide this blog entry into two parts. First will be the DJ festival, and second will be my 24th birthday. It will also be long. So, go grab a coffee (or beer), sit back, relax, and prepare yourself. Or, you can…you know, give up here. Whatever works.

Anyways, go go gadget blog post.

 

Part 1: Le Seoul DJ Festival.

When my friend invited me to go the the DJ Festival, I basically told her there was no way in hell I would miss it. I love electronic music, I love crazy neon lights, I love people, I love alcohol, and I love dancing. All of these things in one place? I wouldn’t miss it for the world.

I went with one of my Korean friends (and her other friend) that I met at that meet up a few months ago. She was living in TO for awhile, and so we sometimes get together for coffee and reminisce about Canada. Actually, nearly all of my Korean friends have lived in Canada at some point…either Vancouver, Ottawa, or Toronto. Canada makes for a good conversation starter.

Anyways, we left around 1pm from my house, to jump on a chartered bus to take us to the festival. It was about an hour away from Seoul, but with the insane amount of traffic going, it ended up taking us a good 2 hours. The bus ride was pleasant, sunny, and nice. The town we ended up going to was this little place in the middle of nowhere. We were basically in the middle of, what looked to me to be the desert, but every so often we would come across a field of rice. Very strange. The festival itself was in a little valley in this middle of nowhere town, and tents sprouted up out of the nothingness and the sound echoed up the hill from below.

After getting there, we put our stuff in a big plastic bag and walked through the entrance. The first thing that I noticed was just how many ‘foreigners’ were there. I would say there was a good 3:1 ratio of Koreans to foreigners, and honestly, since St. Patty’s I haven’t come across that many waygooks in one place. Another thing I noticed was that I was the only foreigner that was there with Koreans. All of the other foreigners were hanging out in big English groups.

The next thing was just how freakin’ massive the place was. Tents everywhere, 4 massive stadiums, and a Red Bull VIP area. And alcohol everywhere. No, scratch that – cheap alcohol everywhere. Because cash wasn’t accepted, I had put $100 on my subway card, which I had found out the day before could be used to pay for taxis, food at convenience stores, and other popular place (!). After leaving the festival the next day, I still had $50 left on it. Cheap, cheap, cheap alcohol and food.

So, during the day, we danced a bit, drank a lot (buckets of tequila mixes, jello vodka shots, Cass beer, Soju cocktails…yeah), and generally enjoyed the laid back atmosphere. There weren’t that many crazy dance parties during the day, so we kind of meandered around and drank and looked at the different tents. We’d brought water guns, so when we were hot we just doused ourselves in water. We met up with more of my friend’s friends, and so there ended up being a pretty big group of us.

But night…now that’s when the fun predictably began. As more and more people started showing up, the atmosphere began to get more rowdy. Everyone was smoking cigarettes, drinking copious amounts of booze, and dancing. At each stage a different DJ was playing, so no matter where you walked, you could always feel the bass in the ground. They had flying lit balloons that looked like bright moons, the night was warm, and good looking men walked around shirtless. Women, too, wore the least amount of clothes they could get away with…even Korean women. Suddenly the stifling fashion sense that I feel permeates this place, had disappeared. It made me realize that many of the things that drive me insane about Korea, are the same things that drive the ‘young’ generation of Koreans insane about Korea. It is not so much a cultural gap (although, I’m sure there is a gap there also), but an age gap. It is the older generations of Korea that grate on my nerves, and the norms that they have placed on their youth to conform conform conform.

Anyways, tangent done.

 Korean women wore *gasp* tank tops. And bright colours. And I saw goths. And I saw ravers. And hippies. And it was refreshing. I felt like I’d stepped out of the 1950’s and back into 2012. Finally.

I watched Daedelus (awesome), House Rulez (who did an awesome remix of Fantastic Baby!), Shut Da Mouth, and the main act on Saturday, ATB. I was also: Asked to take a picture with a random Korean for no reason, a Korean guy grabbed my water bottle out of my hand – drank out of it – then handed it back to me with a wink and a “Kamsanida!”, I was asked to promote a coconut drink and took a picture that may or may not be in an advertisement somewhere, I had a conversation with a drunk Korean girl who was usually terrified of speaking Korean but was so wasted she had no problem chatting with me, I was kissed on the cheek by some random Korean guy that just ran up to me, stood directly underneath fireworks, danced with shufflers, chatted with foreigners who had snuck into the festival, and went crazy when a remix of Nirvana was played (“It smells like teen spirit,” if you were curious). It was a just a crazy night overall, and one I won’t forget for a long, long time.

I crashed at 3pm, after dancing for 6 hours straight. By this time, the temperature had dropped, and I was frozen. I’d been wearing a neon tank top and shorts. My friends had brought small sweaters and a blanket, and I cuddled up under that, next to one of the DJ tents. All around were Koreans, huddled together on the ground, surrounded by garbage. The strong were partying on – staggering around, eating Tteokbokki, gyrating to the still-pounding bass.

At 4pm, my Korean friends came back, and we decided to catch the 5am bus home. We were all exhausted. I felt like a zombie, and I’m sure I looked like one. The Korean lady at the coffee shop we stopped at on the way to the bus stop told my friend, “Your foreign friend looks exhausted.” I’ve never been so cold or tired, in my entire life. That bus felt like a godsend. I practically fell asleep as soon as I was sitting in the seat, and I cannot honestly remember anything about the ride home (and no Mom, I wasn’t drunk at this point). We got back to my house at 6:30am, and we all slept in until 2pm.

The next day was lazy and laidback. We listened to music, ate cheese Tteokkboki ramyen and kimbap for lunch in the sunshine, went to Hongdae for coffee (where I happened to meet Daedelus on the street!), and ended it with Korean BBQ. Enjoyable and relaxing after having spent all our energy the night before.

So far in my short life, it was one of the best musical experiences I’ve ever had. I used to think that lyrics were the most important part of a song, but I think this has officially changed my mind. I didn’t understand the Korean songs, and the Koreans probably didn’t understand all that much of the English songs, but we all enjoyed it equally. Thousands of us listening to the same thing and getting the same joy from it. Incredible. And the music itself was just…crazy. Crazy good DJs (ATB blew my mind!) that knew how to work the crowd, awesome lights, and great people. Just an awesome, awesome, AWESOME experience x 100.

 

(Are you tired yet? Go and get yourself another coffee. Or a glass of wine. Relax, friend. Go watch an episode of your favourite TV show and come back to this post later. I know, I know it’s long. Sorry about that. I’ll try to update more frequently so you don’t have to marathon read. Are you ready? Have you had a nap? OK, let’s keep going.)

 

 

Part 2: Happy Birthday to me. (Turning 24 in Korea).

So, I’m 24 now in Korean age. Or 23 in “International Age”. And it feels weird. I honestly feel like I haven’t aged since I turned 19. Clearly, I’m going to be one of those people that’s 45 and still claiming I’m 20 (and probably dating someone who is 20…but that’s another topic for another day). Anyways, this year my birthday definitely snuck up on me. It was  one week until my birthday and all of a sudden I was like, “Woah. Wait? Wut? I’m…aging. Again. NooOOoooOOO!”

Anyways, I hadn’t really figured out what to do for the damn thing until two days before the day. And my birthday fell on a Saturday, so the options were unlimited really.

I finally settled on going to a good ‘ol Noribang with friends, and then afterwards, a Jimjabang with Em/S. But first, on the Friday, I was treated to a delicious Korean chocolate cake at school and a little card…and then after class, Jess and I went and scouted out what restaurant to go to for my bday and the Noribang. It’s really handy having Korean friends because they can do things like make reservations and get a good price on Noribangs. Yeah.

Anyways, we settled on a Galbi place (Galbi = the best kind of spicy BBQ chicken in the world), and a Noribang that was owned by an adorable old Ajossi. Noribangs are those private karaoke rooms that you can find in Canada but really aren’t all that popular. In Korea, they’re huge. Living in Sillim, there’s probably roughly about 2 on every block or so. In Gangnam (where we decided to go), we chose one called “Star Noribang,” that had terrible décor but a huge screen and lots of room.

Em and S came over early on Saturday, and gave me some awesome presents…including, a princess crown! Jess from school had asked me what girls do on their birthdays in Canada, and I had told her we wore princess crowns and went out drinking. “Like, little kid crowns? Really?” I hadn’t thought I’d manage to get a crown in Korea, but Em/S came through for me and found one. Along with that they gave me a mini-Jenga set (!), incense that Buddhist monks burn in their temples to help meditate (and incense from America that they always burn in their house and that smells incredible!), stickers, and shot glasses along with a mickey of JD and Brie. It was so nice of them, and it really helped make the day feel much more birthday-ish.

After sharing the JD and food on the deck, we headed to the Galbi place. We met everyone else at Gangnam station, Exit 11 (if you’re in Seoul, you know that Exits 10 and 11 are the popular exits to meet at, and at all hours there will be people standing there waiting for their girlfriend/boyfriend, friend, crush, enemy, to show up. Also, a good place to foreigner watch.) Then we all headed over to the restaurant, where we were put in a corner with another group of expats who looked like Engineers. I deemed this corner, the “Foreigner corner.” We drank Cass, chatted, ate some amazing food (that worked out to be $6 each!), then went to Noribang.

Noribangs are awesome. They bring you booze and little snacks. You get to sing as loud and proud as you want, and your friends are obligated to tell you you did a “good job” even when you suck. They had a whole bunch of new English tunes that we could sing to, and also had some oldies but goodies. I sang “Don’t Stop Believin’”, Em sang some Alanis Morisette, S got Radiohead, Suri Jess and I sang “Fantastic Baby!” and “Sorry Sorry!”, and Amye and Stacy sang “I’ve got the Moves Like Jagger.” It was just pretty great. And…the ajoshi gave us an extra HOUR of free service. An entire hour free. Crazy.

After, everyone kind of split up. Em/S and I decided to go Jimjabang over in Sillim, right near my place. Remember, girls and boys, Jimjabangs are those super hot spa like things with those scrubber people. And well… Em was nice enough to get me a scrub down for my birthday!

Ladies, unless you’ve had a 60 year old woman wearing only her panties scrub your entire (and I mean ENTIRE) body down with a brillo-pad cloth, you have no right to complain about going to a measly gynaecologist. I mean, the scrubbing feels both amazing and gross. She took a good layer of skin off of me, and all over my body were these little clumps of dirt and dead skin. And afterwards, you feel like you were just born. BABY SOFT SKIN. But, this feeling comes with a price. Let’s just say, it takes me quite a bit to feel uncomfortable, but I definitely felt kind of strange during the entire actual process. To tell me to change positions, she’d slap my naked butt.  And sometimes you’re kind of contorted so that she can get access to all the portions of your body she couldn’t reach before. And nothing (read:nothing) is left unscrubbed. NOTHING.

It was… interesting.

With that said, it did amazing things for my skin, so no doubt I’ll be going once a month. Awkward or not, the results were great. And once I go a few more times, I’m sure I’ll be even more used to the process and it will start to feel normal. If Korea has taught me anything it’s that the weird soon because the ordinary.

Afterwards, we met up with Sean in the co-ed section, and talked to some military guy Sean had met in the male part of the Jimjabang…who was an interpreter for the US government. It was kind of cool chatting to him about his experiences and the whole North Korea – South Korea fiasco. Unfortunately, he was heading back to Hawaii so we can’t meet up with him again…but oh well! It was a nice quick meeting, anyways, and I learned a few things.

After all of this, I headed home at 4am and crashed. A very successful birthday, if I may say so. I woke up Sunday with a big grin on my face.

Late on Sunday, Jess and I went back to the place I had originally had my hair done. We were going to get ‘free service’… what we thought would be a haircut. Instead, they re-straightened my hair, put in more treatments, and then cut my hair. I was there for 3 hours. After they started doing all of the treatments, I thought, “Oh, I’ll have to pay for this…whatever!” but…no, I walked out of there without spending a dime. Jess said that she’s never seen anyone have that much free service. According to her, it would have cost me another $300! And I got it for free. He refused to take my money, even after I insisted. We both walked out of there completely shell-shocked. I felt like I’d hit the lottery, or something. The cherry on the top was that he was gorgeous. So, I was happy to have spent 3 hours having my hair done by a gorgeous Korean man for free. Not a bad way to end an already awesome weekend.

 

Anyways, so that’s what I’ve been up to these days. Are your eyes bleeding? Did you even make it through this post? Did you get lost somewhere along the way…?

Alright, I’m definitely thinking of finding something “blog worthy” to get up to this weekend. Maybe I’ll try to find a new little place in Seoul to explore, or hit up a museum. OR MAYBE GO TO THE GODDAMN ZOO. Something. Possibly throw a hike in there. I don’t know.  But something will happen this next weekend…it always does.

Alright, friends. My fignertips are bleeding, so this is where I leave you. Thank you for tuning into this long blog post…AND I have photos. They weren’t deleted, so you can check them out below.

And of course, my interesting facts:

  1. Abortion is illegal in Korea, but prostitution is legal. It’s also possible to get abortions at hospitals and clinics (about 340,000 Korean women get them a year), but it costs roughly anywhere from $800 – $2,000. It’s rumoured that abortions are the main revenue for many doctors; however, if they get caught three times, they can be heavily fined.
  2. The gay pride parade here in Korea was on my birthday! June 2! And the main lesbian bar here is called “The Pink Hole.” (I lol’ed)
  3. There is currently a huge uproar in the foreign community about a video called “They Shocking Reality about Foreigners,” that depicts male foreigners as (paraphrased) “HIV-ridden playboys trying to get with as many Korean women as possible.” You can check it out here. —-> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nsNHYYrvMrk&feature=related
  4. There are islands called “The Dokdo Islands” that Koreans swear is theirs, even though on maps they’re Japanese. If you ask a Korean student (which I have), what the Dokdo Islands are, they will respond, “They Korea island NOT JAPAN ISLAND.”  Apparently, these islands are uninhabited, no one in the world knows they exist, and they’re basically useless.
  5. You can buy BBQ pig’s feet in the freezer section of FamilyMart or 711. Also, cold cheeseburgers.
  6. Because so many Koreans get married, most weddings are around 30 minutes and consist mostly of picture taking. Receptions are also very short, and sometimes during the day.
  7. “Pat Bing Sue” is a popular dessert here, that’s made of ice, ice cream, and red bean paste. It is pretty freakin’ delicious and nice a refreshing in the summer.
  8. The Japanese love K-pop…almost more than Koreans.
  9. South Koreans call Koreans Hanguk-in, while North Koreans call it Chosŏnin.
  10. Not really a fact, but here’s the video for the Seoul DJ Festival. Just so you can get a glimpse of the atmosphere… àhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LBm0isXDRCw
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Butt naked antics, bitching in Korea’s Denny’s, and other weird happenings in Seoul.

Hello, friends, family, and enemies!

<insert apology about taking too long to update this blog because I’m busy>

OK, with that out of the way, I’ll give you the rundown about what is happening in K-land. Because, well, that’s why you’re here, right? To hear about the country, and more importantly, to make sure I’m still alive and kicking.

My social life has picked up considerably since I first got here. This is a lonely country if you don’t have friends (more than many other countries, I think), and now that I’ve finally got my feet on the ground, it’s nice to be able to go for supper, coffee, or explore with friends. Jess has become my “supper buddy,” so after work we usually grab a bite to eat. It’s the small things, like sharing supper, that make me like Korea so much more. It becomes easier to face the daily struggles (and there are still many!), when you’ve got a few people in your corner. For example, last week, Jess helped me set up my cell phone. We just popped in after work, she translated, and I signed some papers. Magic! Not quite sure what I would do, or how I would have survived, without those who have helped me out in this country. Honestly.

Anyways, yeah. Friends.

Friday night was spent with (another) J. He took me out to Gangnam, where we ended up at some underground hip-hop bar that played old Nelly songs, and gave us popcorn to eat with our (many) shots. Gangnam was electric, and we waded through lakes of girls with plastic surgery. Gangnam is such a plastic surgery hotspot that many Korean Expat blogs refer to any Korean girl with a nose job as having a “Gangnam nose.” Once you become aware of this, you begin to see these very small noses everywhere. As I’ve mentioned previously, plastic surgery is a pretty huge deal here. J joked that Korean woman should have to give their spouses their “before” pictures, before having children. It’s true, though. Many elderly Koreans and children look nothing like their parents; there is a large discrepancy in facial features from generation to generation. It’s very sad, and makes for armies of beautiful women that look exactly the same. The weird thing about it though, is that their ‘beauty’ makes them less beautiful because they’re just common plastic surgery drones. In fact, some of the most beautiful women I’ve seen in Korea, have had tattoos, cool earrings, and awesome haircuts. Maybe I’m just still stuck with my Western “individuality” mentality. Who knows?

Somehow J has managed to find a place that is like the DENNYS OF KOREA. It’s even open 24hours a day. I. Swear. To. God. I don’t know how he knew about this place, but he did. So, he took me there, and I ate some amazing pancakes (banana nut), and then proceeded to tell the foreign guy sitting at the table next to us that he was a prick. In my defence, he was being an asshole to his Korean date because he knew she couldn’t understand what he was saying, and I felt entitled to voice my opinion on the matter. And he agreed with me. Go figure. It really added to the whole Denny’s ambiance, because let’s face it, it isn’t Denny’s unless there’s an asshole at the table beside you, amiright?

The next day, I went to Coex to (finally) see The Avengers. I went…ALONE. To the movies. ALONE. And it wasn’t bad, but it was kind of funny because I’m sure some of that movie got lost in translation. During many of the funny scenes, I was the only one in the entire theatre laughing.  And it was packed. Nevertheless, now I know what all my students are talking about. This entire week has been dedicated to talking about the superheroes in class, and blahblahblah. Many of my students pronounce Thor, “Tore,” but I’m fighting this with all my energy. I’m like, “NO ITS THOR. THOR. REPEAT. THU-OR.  THU THU THU THU-OR. REPEAT. REPEAT. OK, good.” Clearly, I’m a really great teacher that teaches relevant information to my students. Yeah…

Later that Saturday, I met up with Em and S and we headed to Lotte Department Store (which will now be referred to as “The Macy’s of Korea.”). Em had a gift certificate given to her on Teacher’s Day, so she wanted to spend it. The thing is…Lotte Department store is a huge rip-off store, full of expensive crap. It’s brand name central, and because Korea loves its brand names, it’s made them stupidly expensive. So, we basically kind of just walked around and gaped at the prices and rolled our eyes. 6 stories, and the only thing I bought was a pack of Green Tea candies for 3,000 won. Em ended up spending her certificate on groceries a few days later.

Afterwards, we walked back to Em/S’s place to drink wine, and eat bread and cheese. One of the things I miss about home, is bread. Bread is goddamn good. And it’s not like they don’t have bread here, it just goes off VERY quickly, it’s all white, and kind of sugary. Also, sandwiches just aren’t popular. I’ve only eaten bread a few times since I’ve been here, and it was nice to sink my teeth into something familiar. So, we drank wine, played mini-jenga, listened to old K-pop songs/dubstep songs, and then decided to go to a Jimjabang.

Jimjabangs are probably one of the coolest places ever. They’re like…24 hour naked spas, where you can use computers, eat at a restaurant, sleep, swim, get a massage, watch movies/television shows, read comics, and (in some Jimjabangs), sing karaoke, all in the same place. They usually cost about 8,000 won…and you can stay there for 12 hours or so. Families go there, as  well as friends, and people too broke to catch a taxi home after the subway shuts down.

Em and I were both Jimjabang newbies, while S was kind of like a pro. Unfortunately (fortunately?), the naked portion of the Jimjabang, is sex segregated. I mean, it makes sense. It does. It was just Em and I had no idea what we were doing. So, we were the awkward foreigners fully clothed, walking around the naked part of the Jimjabang, eyes like saucers and having no clue what was expected of us. In the end, a Korean woman from Ottawa (!), showed us around the place and explained how everything worked. This was, of course, after I WALKED INTO THE MALE ONLY PORTION OF THE JIMJABANG ACCIDENTALLY. If you haven’t already figured this out, this kind of shit happens to me on a regular basis. And by that I mean, I’m an awkward person, and awkward or weird things happen to me. They just do. How was I supposed to know the hallway led to the MALE ONLY ENTRANCE?

I’m sure those Korean men went home to tell their wives about the creepy perverted waygooken woman, who sneaks onto poor, unsuspecting Korean men in public bathhouses to oggle their nether regions.

Anyways…

Jimjabangs are cool and weird. There is a section in the bathhouse, where you can get professionally scrubbed down by old women only wearing huge panties. This is out of place, because everyone else is bucknaked, and there they are…wearing granny panties. They take these harsh, brillo-pad like cloths, and then proceed to scrub off all their customers’ dead skin until they’re raw. That is their job. Skin scrubbers.  If you pay them to, they’ll also stand on your back.

In the naked portion, there were saunas, as well as lots of different hot tubs. Em and I chose the perfume one, and the green tea one…mostly because they weren’t ridiculously hot. Each hot tub has the temperature posted. The highest we saw was 47 degrees Celsius. Only old people were in that tub, and I think that’s just because their nerves can’t feel that they’re literally boiling to death. There’s no other reason anyone should sit in that hot of a hot tub. Honestly.

After we were finished being naked with lots of other naked women, we put on these ugly pajamas, and then headed down to the co-ed portion of the Jimjabang. This consists of a huge room, filled with families sitting/sleeping on mats, and then a whole bunch of separate rooms connected to the main room. These connecting rooms are different little cave-like rooms, that are actually saunas. We sat in one that had hot rocks all over the floor, and another that was supposed to have ‘salt’ in it. S and I went into one that was called the SUPER SUPER HOT ROOM. It had red warnings on the door, and S translated them to say, “Do not fall asleep. You can be burned.” (In all honesty, it probably said, “Sleep, do not fall into. skin fire will occur.”) We stayed in there for about a minute, before admitting defeat. It was so hot, you could hardly breathe. The heat was simply stifling. I felt like Sylvia Plath with her head in the oven.

There was also a cold room, that was 0 degrees. It was like being home.

So, we drank beer, ate supper at the in-jimjabang restaurant, and ‘worked out’ at the gym…before we headed home. It was just a really cool experience, and one I will do again in the near future. It was definitely one of those cultural things that you want to steal and take back to wherever you came from. A very relaxing, enjoyable night. I could easily see myself sleeping overnight at one.

Sunday was more of the same, with first a trip to Boramae Park, where I went and laid down in the sun and read, and then I went to Hongdae to meet a friend. We ate hamburgers, and then tracked down the Hello Kitty Café, and I bought a frozen yogurt, and she bought a Hello Kitty waffle. The café is kind of like stepping into Barbie-land, and it’s both really cool and kind of fucked up. As C said, “The walls are Pepto-bismal pink!” Weird world.

Anyways, that’s about all that happened last weekend. Again, there aren’t too many pictures because it would have made me even more foreign and screwed up if I brought a camera to the Jimjabang. This weekend is going to be crazy, crazy busy. It’s Buddha’s birthday on Monday, so we have a long weekend! It’s also the Seoul DJ festival  on Saturday, and I have that free hair appointment happening Sunday night…along with plans for tonight, Friday, and Monday. I told you, once you come to Seoul, sleep comes second to life. Go, go, go.

I hope everyone back in Canada is having a good time, and I hope the weather is holding up. It’s pretty hot here…. 27 or 28 degrees, and at least 15-20 degrees at night. As of right now the humidity isn’t too bad, but give it a month and I’m sure that will change…

Alright, chat to you a little bit later next week; hopefully with a pretty fun entry! Later!

Ten facts about Korea:

1. If you see two barbershop wheels poles spinning outside of an establishment, inside is a “strip bar,” “massage parlour” or “brothel.”

2. Things I have seen in washroom stalls: 1)A “Help” button 2)A button that sings so people can’t hear what you’re doing 3) An ashtray 4)A mini-toilet beside the big toilet for little kids 5) A mini-urinal for little boys.

3. Cops don’t enforce traffic laws, which is why there is such a high rate of fatalities and bad drivers.

4. It’s popular to sit outside of a GS-25 or 7-11 on a warm night and drink beer. In fact, these places have fold out chairs and tables that make them look like a restaurant, and they’re generally packed full.

5. In Lotte Department store, you can buy a package of regular fruit for $70. ‘Special’ apples there cost around $12. These fruit aren’t much better than regular fruit, but because some people don’t know what to do with all their money, they spend it on ridiculous items like that. It’s marketed to the dumb rich.

6. Kimchi has made my nails stronger. Or something in Korea has. I don’t know if this is a subjective fact, but it’s true. I have some damn strong nails from eating something here.

7. I watched a Starcraft tournament on the television. Apparently there’s a videogame channel, that just plays uninterrupted video game tournaments on repeat.

8. With that said, some Koreans managed to beat Diablo III before the US servers were opened. It took them… 6hours? This was in newspapers and on the news, and celebrated as showing the greatness of Korea.

9. On the weekends, you can buy little trinkets, gum, and various other items from salespeople that spend all day walking up and down subway cars. This only happens on the weekends, because during the week, it’s too busy.

10. Pretty much all of my students have commented on Iron Man’s facial hair. They hate it. According to them, it makes him look, “ugly.” Again, may just be subjective…however, I’ve now noticed that there are very few men sporting any type of facial hair. I think Koreans just aren’t big fans of the mutton chops.

Here, have some photos.

Edit: Well, nevermind. Apparently when I uploaded my photos at school for my kid’s photos, it deleted them off my memory card. Go figure. Luckily, there weren’t all that many on there, other than the Hello Kitty Cafe. Worry not, next time I’m in Hongdae I’ll snap a few more! Sorry, everyone. Trust me, there will be far more this weekend.

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“Teacher, here is present for you!”

Hello, hello, hello!

As per always, I’m sorry that it has taken me so long to write this blog entry! Ah! Yet another long, somewhat eventful week here in K-land has kept me on my toes, and I’m kind of scrambling to keep up on the writing front. School has been pretty busy, and then after school, I’ve been spending my time with a friend of mine and co-teacher from school. With all of that said, maybe I’m just becoming more lazy. Every week I get more and more used to Korea, and so the things that I found fascinating have become ordinary. This is both good and bad; good in that I’m becoming to feel more comfortable, bad in that it’s harder to blog when you can’t recognize the strangeness around you. You become a part of it.

This week was eventful at school, simply for the reason that it was “Teacher’s Day.” Honestly, I have no idea why we don’t have Teacher’s Day in Canada, because it’s one of those things that should be celebrated worldwide. One of the great things about teaching in a Confucian culture is just how appreciated you are. Don’t get me wrong – Korean parents can be crazy. It’s not unheard of for them to spoil their children or be far too strict or be overly demanding on the teachers. But, then, like all things Korean, there is the polar opposite: parents bring presents to the school for no reason. Sometimes, every single day of the week, a new parent will bring food for us to eat. Donuts, ice cream, rice cakes, chocolates, coffees. We don’t ask for these things, they just bring them. And it’s not only for their children’s teachers, it’s also for the entire class and all the teachers in the school.

So, I suppose because the kids have their own Children’s Day, they thought that it would be only fair to have a Teacher’s Day. Most kids bring their homeroom teachers a present to show their appreciation for their hard efforts. I’d heard of this, but I never expected how many presents I would get, or how nice they would be! Lipsticks, lotions, a beautiful scarf, a necklace, soaps, an umbrella, chocolates, cookies, flowers, and earrings. One of the other teachers got a $100 gift certificate to Lotte World! They definitely take their gift giving seriously here.

So, that was a nice break in the middle of the week. If Children’s Day was Christmas, then this was like New Years for us – minus getting overly plastered on champagne and forgetting where you are…

Last weekend was weird and cool. Weird in that, instead of meeting up with my friend from out of town, I went on a date I wasn’t expecting, and cool in that I got my hair straightened at a really freakin’ cool hair salon where I had 3 Koreans working on my hair at all times.

So, which should I start with first? Weird? Sure.

I was supposed to meet a friend of mine in Hongdae. That was the plan. I had two numbers in my phone, both with the same name. I figured this was because I was stupid, and had copied one because I don’t really know how to use my Korean phone very well. So, after chatting on FB, I ended up messaging my friend and saying, “Hey! Dinner at Hongdae tonight?” and she replied, “Yeah, I know a restaurant we can go to!” And I thought nothing of it. When I got to Hongdae, the guy that I had went on a date with 3 weeks before and who I never planned to see again, was there. Clearly, I had been having too many Soju bombs, and had put his number under her name.

Go figure. Weird things happen to me.

Rather than be totally inconsiderate, I went with him to dinner…and had a good time! We ate some great curry at a Japanese curry chain restaurant (recently imported to good ‘ol Korea), and then afterwards went to this Jamaican hookah bar. For the record, this bar was probably one of the coolest places in all of Hongdae. In the center of the room was a GIANT NEON COLOURED MUSHROOM. There were pillows all over the ground to sit on and lean against, it played very chill music, and you had to take your shoes off at the door because it was all carpeted. There were also quite a few foreigners there, considering it was a hole in the wall place. They ALSO served “Hemp” beer…but for the exorbitant price of $10 a bottle. Needless to say, we stuck with Cass.

And then Sunday, I got my hair straightened. Honestly, this is more for practical reasons than aesthetic reasons (that’s what I like to tell myself, anyways), because the weather is going to get pretty freakin’ hot here in the near future. I find my curls to be like little mittens all over my head, and it was just getting to the point where it was too much. Plus, straight hair is easier to take care of. So, my good friend J offered to take me to her hair stylist in Gangnam.

Getting your hair done in Korea is a social thing; it’s kind of like going to a coffee shop or bar. In fact, the salon I went to, they have a coffee bar in it…where they make you an endless supply of  coffee (iced or hot), green tea, little tea biscuits, etc. The center of the room also has 10 mirrors, and tons of Korean hair stylists everywhere. In Korea, you have your main hair stylist, and then the underlings. The underlings do the grunt work like wash your hair, put in product, set up the machines, and straighten. The main stylist does all the cutting and the really cool stuff. My friend was personally friends with my hair stylist, so he took special care to make my experience a pleasant one, and I had “the best underlings” working on my head the entire time. Though I was there for 5 hours (!), it didn’t feel like it because it was just fun. The Koreans were at first terrified about my hair, but were efficient (I never expect any different here), and they got the job done. All in all, a great success I think.

My older kids the next day were like: “Who is you?! You Cass teacher first, now who is?” My younger kids just looked a little dumbfounded.

Anyways, this was a short entry, and I don’t have too, too many photos. This weekend I’ll find something more blog worthy to write about, and then report back early in the week. The weather is supposed to be nice, so I’ll definitely be outside somewhere. Maybe I’ll find a mountain to hike!

Alright, take care everyone! I’ll be back soon!

This week’s interesting facts about Korea:

  1. They tend to put these little silicone packs in the packages of all different types of food to keep them fresh; however, if you accidentally eat these, they can make you very sick.
  2. Some children are given Growth Hormone shots to grow taller. Boys, especially, are sometimes taken out of school to be given these shots. These shots usually cost thousands of dollars.
  3. You can buy roast chickens like the ones in Safeway or Superstore here from street vendors. How they’re eaten is you are given plastic gloves, and you rip the thing to shreds with your hands and then pick pieces of meat off.
  4. The suicide rate for students goes through the roof right before and after the Korean version of the SATs.
  5. During New Year’s, it is customary for Koreans to hide their shoes. This is because ghosts are thought to come down and try on everyone’s shoes and bring bad luck into the household.
  6. It’s hard to find beach towels here – they all tend to be really small!
  7. All cell phones start with 010, and you can only pick the last 4 digits of the number.
  8. There are no stop signs in Korea.
  9. Not a fact but a story. When I was in Hongdae, I saw a Korean BBQ on fire. Firefighters had come and were putting a small fire out. There was smoke in the air, it had been evacuated, etc. Later that night, I walked by it again and….people were eating in it like nothing had happened.
  10. Korea has their own version of Facebook called Cyworld, and apparently 90% of Koreans under 20 years old are registered. Seriously.

OK guys, that’s it! Sorry for the long wait! I’m still alive and kicking, just busy with work and friends. I’ll be updating early next week on what I’ve been up to this weekend. Promise, promise, promise.

Take care, and chat soon!

It’s Christmas in Korea!

Haseo!

Where to begin…where to begin…

Life has certainly been interesting this week. Looking back on it, I actually accomplished more than I felt I did. I think that Seoul has started to seep in through my pores;  the busy lifestyle just kind of becomes a part of who you are.  You are always just…doing something. Probably because there’s just always something to do. Running, always running.

Not that I don’t like that. In fact, I prefer it. It’s just interesting how you can go from living in a place like Victoria or Abbotsford where the pace is sleepy and relaxing, to the cracked out, infinite movement of Seoul. It’s hard to comprehend and even harder to describe.

Anyways, Korea loves its holidays and I can’t blame it for this. Hell, I promote it! The work ethic here is so ridiculous and daily demands so suffocating that Koreans need one extra day a month to rest and relax. This month, there were two holidays…and one happened to be last Saturday. This holiday is called “Children’s Day!” and it’s basically like Christmas for Korean kids. They get presents, Sport’s Day at school, and the best part, they get to  spend an entire day with their parents! Yet again, it’s hard to explain to people who haven’t lived here just how messed up the relationship between child and parent CAN BE here (don’t get me wrong, not every family is like this, but the vast majority are) …but some kids rarely see their parents at all from a very young age. Fathers may be at work all day and then are obligated to go out drinking with the boss all night; some mothers also work long hours. Mothers that are at home often don’t see their children anyways because children go to school, then study at various hagwons until late at night, and when they get home they often have to finish their public schoolwork and hagwon homework. Sound like Hell? Welcome to the norm in Korea.

So, Children’s Day is a HUGE FREAKIN’ DEAL here. We had a magician come to school on Thursday for the kindie kids…and they had a blast. The magician had them in hysterics, and some of the tricks were freakin’ amazing…while others were “a bit” morbid. Like the one where he took a live rabbit and pretended to crush it through a roller, and when he pulled a fake demon rabbit out of a hat, and when he had the “IT” clown chase him around…but hey, nightmares are fun, right?!

Friday was basically a write-off in that we just fed the kids lots of sugar and snacks and played games. I went and bought like 6 bags of different kinds of chips and chocolates, and the kids demolished them. It was a bit crazy, and I vow to never let my future kids eat sugar. EVER. Instead of sugar, I’m just going to feed them sedatives. I think that should get the job done.

Friday night, I went out with my friend, J after work. She’s a Korean teacher at our school, and she took me to good ‘ol Gangnam (which sounds more like Kang-num) to go shopping and to treat me to curry. I bought some clothes at pretty expensive places (Mixxo and Zara?!), but justified it by simply closing my eyes and pretending the price didn’t exist. Then we ate delicious curry, that was real curry and not the ‘fake’ Korean curry that is everywhere. Honestly there is no way to describe Korean curry because it’s so strange; I’ll challenge you to try to find it at your local Korean mart wherever you are. If you do try it and can think of a great description, post it in the comments. Any description I can think of doesn’t seem to fit. It’s not even that it’s bad, it’s just different…

Anyways, afterwards, we went and I got my tarot cards read, because I was feeling very tarot card-ish. Also, the booths are everywhere in Gangnam, and I’m naïve and like to believe in mystical things like that. Whatever. I asked the cards about LOVE, because what else do you ask a tarot card about? The weather? If North Korea is going to nuke us? No, you ask it when you’re going to fall madly in love with a man who looks like Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and talks like Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and is pretty much just Joseph Gordon-Levitt. It’s the tarot card rule.

The reading was pretty positive, but I think it probably has the same chance of being right as if I shook one of those Magic 8 Balls. Oh well. A little hope never hurt anyone, I guess.

Saturday morning, I left the house with one goal. GET TO THE ZOO ALREADY. And then I got on the subway and looked around and thought, “Wow! There’s lots of kids on here. Wait…why are there lots of kids on here? What’s going o-it’s Children’s Day, isn’t it? DAMNIT.” Clearly, going to the zoo was out of the question; I didn’t want to murder the entire family of Koreans  that I know would rudely push in front of me to get a picture of little Kim Sung Yin at the dolphin exhibit. No, thanks. Maybe another day. (On a related note, don’t get between me and the dolphins. Just don’t.)

So, I did what I always do, and I kind of just picked a stop that sounded cool. And I ended up at Dongdaemun History and Cultural Park. I didn’t know it, but in the near future, this will be “The Place” for designers and architects to show off their latest models. Currently, it’s mostly under construction, but I did get to walk around the “open to the public” portion of it, and it was very cool. It was even better because the place was DEAD. No one around, so I got to enjoy it all in relative, blissful silence. Oh, the small things…

Then, I just walked for a bit, and found a HUGE open market. Korean marketplaces are horrible, but incredibly interesting places to see. I felt like I’d taken a step back in time. Old women with huge gloves, chopping off fish heads. Flies eating rotting meat that you can actually buy. Squid with metal rods pushed through their brains. Buckets of guts and chicken feet and pig snouts. More varieties of mushrooms than you can count. Motorcycles riding down narrow walkways. Ceramic and plastic pots stacked in long, tall rows. 7 different kinds of grains – all without names or prices. And then, being watched with skeptical glances everywhere I went. It was cool, and I enjoyed it. Sometimes it pays to just wander around.

After yet MORE walking, I decided to hop on the subway, and head over to the World Cup Stadium. I wasn’t intending to go inside. Honestly, I just wanted to look around the outside and see what it looked like. But as soon as I got off the subway, I realized something was going on. As I went up the escalator, I could almost feel the energy coming off the place. When I got to the top, before me was this huge stadium with red and white tents surrounding it, and a huge open area where Children’s Day activities had taken place. Chants flowed out the top of the stadium and made the ground shake. I mingled around the outside of the enormous building with a few families and trash all about, enviously glancing up at the big stadium, and then decided, “What the hell? I may as well go and see how much it costs. I’ll save it for my next paycheck.”

It cost 12,000 won. $12.

So I bought a ticket. And then walked  around like an idiot, trying to find out where my section was. The thing is, apparently there aren’t assigned seats. You just kind of pick where you want to sit, and if you hate it, you can move to wherever else you want. And it’s fine to stand in the aisles. And it’s fine to bring a blanket and picnic in the aisles around the edges of the stadium. And it’s fine to bring food with you from home.

So, I sat in a section in the sun, and watched a great game of soccer. Granted, I’m not the hugest soccer fan in the world, but just being there with all those people – it was fun. Korea is a very nationalistic country, and sports are always a microcosm (yes, I did just use that word. It only cost me $30,000. Thanks university!) of a nation. This was no difference. The chants were just as loud, strong, and passionate as inside.  There was an entire section for flag waving. The stands were filled to the brim – most people wearing red. They had red paper hats to keep the sun off of people’s faces. Even though I went alone, I didn’t feel alone. I felt like I was a part of something.

With that said, the Korean guy and his son that were sitting beside me seemed surprised I would actually cheer for their team…and during the one goal Seoul scored, they high-fived me as though I was one of their own. Pretty awesome.

Sunday, I decided to spend yet another day walking around in the sun. Are you starting to notice a pattern?

I headed out to Gyeonbbokgung, which is on the other side of the Han River. It’s not too long of subway ride, and it’s an amazing Korean palace that stands in the middle of the city. I mean, the place is tourist trap, but you can understand why. The palace was built in the 14th century, and it just feels old. Everything about it feels worn out. Don’t get me wrong, the place has been restored because the Japanese went in there and demolished the place (have I mentioned that Koreans severely dislike the Japanese? No? They do.), but nevertheless, if you use your imagination and ignore the millions of other tourists, you feel as though you’ve been transported back in time. Little alleyways between stone walls, huge towering structures surrounded by dust or ponds or grass, the colourful architecture I’ve become accustomed to. I just walked around the palace for a few hours, enjoying the sunshine and watching  the world pass by. I made the conscious decision –not- to go into the museum because I know it would have been crowded. I’m going to save that for a little later, when I’m feeling bored and unamused with Seoul. For now, a little taste was all that was needed.

I then went out to Jong-no, which is probably one of my favourite places in all of Seoul. It reminds me very much of San Jose or San Francisco. It is this amazing little jewel, with tons and tons of independent stores and cafes. It’s built on a hill, so you look up at all the cafes and the people sitting around. The pace is laid-back and easy, and though there are crowds, they are healthy and not stifling. It is a beach town, far from the beach. If I were to live anywhere in Seoul, it would be there. With the sun beating down, and wearing shorts and having just walked around a goddamn palace…I was in a very happy place. I saw a Kraze burger (you thought it would be pronounced Crazy, right? WRONG. Cra-ze burguh) restaurant, and realized I haven’t eaten any beef but the bulgogi served at school and a few dishes here and there. So, I sat down and listened to John Legend, and read a Korean magazine, and ate a delicious burger and replenished my iron stores. It was a very ordinary day, but one that I will think of fondly. Everything was just easy. Afterwards I went and bought a Green Tea ice cream cone, and then walked down to Insa-dong and just hung out with the crowds. It was more of the same, just with more foreigners. Took a few pictures, and then went home to my Korean dramas.

So, this weekend worked. In many ways, everything I planned to do kind of went a bit sideways…but that’s the way I like it. Having a set destination, and set guidelines, kinds of takes the fun out of everything. If you have no rules, then there’s nothing to tell you you can’t do something. And, of course, it’s the small things. Appreciating the sunshine and the scenery. Cheap entertainment.

Anyways, blahblahblah. I’m getting sentimental. I took too many photos. Like, a stupid amount of photos. Sorry. My camera has been surgically implanted to my hand lately it seems like. Oh well.

I’ll update soon, but perhaps with a topic in mind…probably about my job, or Korean culture, or something. Not necessarily the same outline as all the previous posts. We’ll see.

Alright, I hope everyone is doing peachy. Keep it real, yo.

Interesting facts:

  1. When Seoul’s team scored a goal, Pokemon came onto the Jumbotron with “GOAL!” under a dancing Pikachu. I swear to God. I don’t know if they did it for Children’s Day, but it was awesome nonetheless.
  2. They have GS25’s (basically like 7-11) in World Cup Stadium…so you can buy food there. If you want to go for cooked stuff, instead of popcorn they have lots of Tteokbokki and hot dogs on a stick.
  3. Korean girls like to hit each other. All of my Korean girl friends like to hit me gently when I say something funny.  At first this kind of startled me, but I’ve slowly gotten used to it.
  4.  The word “sheba” means “fucking.”
  5. Apparently, the newspapers and television stations are very nationalistic and political. Think kind of like Fox News. Everything is distorted to this extreme level. (Granted, I guess you could say the same thing about our media outlets…)
  6. The “North Face” jackets are extremely popular and “fashionable” here. I thought that there were an extreme number of hikers living in Korea, which makes sense because there’s lot of mountains. I found out that instead it’s a recent fashion “fad” that Koreans are following. People dress up like hikers (and they NEED the $300 North Face jacket), to go to the supermarket. It’s called the “urban hiker look.” Oh, Korea…
  7. “Aegyo” is the word given to the Korean phenomenon where Korean girls act like whiny, immature, incapable  “cutesy” human beings around men. It also refers to the “baby” look many women go for here. Huge bows, little trinkets, pinkpinkpink, little girl outfits. It drives me a bit crazy when I see girls on the subway acting Aegyo. Apparently men will ask on the first date if a girl is “Aegyo.” Some men love it, some men hate it.
  8. You eat seaweed soup on your birthday.
  9. Many Koreans can’t tell the difference between white people. Many guys here have been likened to famous movie stars they look nothing like. Also, Koreans have been known to ask white girls who are walking together if they’re sisters.
  10. Generally (but not always), Koreans live with their parents until they get married. This means that there are many 30-year-old Korean men and women living with mom and dad.

Alright guys, have a fantastic week and I’ll try to do the same!

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Congratulations, you just climbed a mountain.

Anyong Haseo!

So, it is officially summer here. Or, as the Koreans’ like to call it, “Spring.” Spring apparently means 27 degrees, a blazing sun, and 60% humidity on April 30. This does not bode well for me. There’s a good chance I will die this summer. If I stop updating my blog, just write me off. (The good thing is that you won’t have to worry about paying to cremate me.) By monsoon season, I’ll probably be happy to have the rain to cool me down. Possibly.

So, last week was very stressful and looooong at work. I won’t get into it, but the highlight of my work week was going out with a Korean friend of mine for coffee after school on Thursday. I hopped onto the Subway and met her in Hongdae (party district/coffee district/restaurant area/generally the “hip” place to go in Seoul), and we went to an adorable coffee shop called “Peony.” This café is famous in Hongdae for its amazing cakes, and on the weekends it has lines out the door with people waiting to get in. Anyways, we sat down and I ordered a strawberry vanilla slice of cake and a green tea latte, and she ordered chocolate banana cake and green tea; we shared the cakes. The thing that’s refreshing about cake in Korea, is that it’s not overly sweet. You don’t feel like you’re going to go into a diabetic coma after eating a slice. It’s refreshing to have an actual taste over SIX CUPS OF SUGAR WITH SUGAR FROSTING AND SUGARY WHIPPED CREAM ON TOP. Every cake in Korea is elaborately created, and it has a milder taste which I actually really like.

Anyways, so we chatted there for a long time. And that was the highlight of my otherwise miserable work week.

BUT, the weekend more than made up for the week. So, on Thursday I realized that my Friday night plans had fallen through. And, rather than do nothing all weekend, I decided to see what shenanigans I could get up to. Through the magic of the internet, I found out a hiking group was going to Wolchulsan National Park in the Jeollanam-do province (Southern tip of the country). It cost 30,000 won ($30), and you jumped on a midnight bus Friday night, drove 5 hours South, and then hiked up a mountain at 5am Saturday morning.

And I thought, “Well, why the hell not? At the very least it will be a good workout.”

Sometimes my impulsive nature leads me to do really ridiculous, stupid things. This was one of those things. Reading the words: “This is a 6 hour hike” didn’t really register in my brain, or if it did, it was a fleeting thought like, “Oh, six hours…whatever.” No, six hours is a LONG TIME. I don’t even walk 6 hours on normal terrain, never mind up a mountain. And yet, I didn’t even think twice about going. I mean, it paid off but…where is the logic? Sometimes I have to wonder…

So, after work on Friday, I ran to E-mart to pick up a backpack (because I didn’t own one), and some snacks for the hike…and then ate supper quickly and jumped on the subway. At 12am I got on a coach bus and tried (key word), to sleep. I think I got about 2 hours of sleep…maybe? It was a less then pleasant ride, and when we arrived at our final destination, I blearily fell off the bus and walked around like a zombie.

We started the hike in the dark, but it got lighter and lighter the higher up we got. And…we got high*. This was, by far, one of the most challenging hikes I’ve ever done. And I mean, that’s not saying much. I’m not an avid hiker; I don’t have any hiking gear, I couldn’t tell you the names of the mountains I have hiked, and I haven’t yet had to cut off my arm after falling into a ravine. But I mean this hike was challenging. The closest picture I can give you is hiking The Grouse Grind…for about 5 hours. I’m not exaggerating. I held onto ropes and CLIMBED UP ROCKS like Indiana Jones. I looked down a cliff and was like, “Wow, if I fall down here, I’ll probably die.” (Sorry, Mom.) I walked up more flights of 90 degree angle stairs than I could count. I honestly pushed my body physically in a way I have NEVER done before.

But, I loved it. I really enjoyed myself. Some people are built to play soccer, or dance, or swim. I’m physically built to hike. I have a natural affinity for it, and it comes easily to me. In fact, I’m sure my sole purpose in life is to hike every mountain in the world. It was why I was given my thunder thighs – to conquer all mountains, everywhere. Right…

And I like hiking because I find it therapeutic. It’s like meditation in that you’re just focused on one thing. When you’re hiking, you’re not concerned about daily life. I don’t think about anything when I’m hiking, other than how to get up this ledge, or where to put my feet, or what to hold on to. The endorphins are always going because you can always fall down and mortally wound yourself. It’s like a vacation for my brain. It goes back into “primal mode” and all my problems are forgotten. I’m basically like a cavewoman wearing Lu Lu Lemon. I find this really calming because I tend to psycho-analyze everything, always. I think most people do. If I were a shrink, I would prescribe hiking mountains to my patients instead of Xanax. Seriously. Try being depressed or anxious after you’ve hiked a mountain. It’s impossible.

We had breakfast together as a large group (the Koreans in the group brought extra food for everyone! I love Koreans!) and then the “fast” group headed up the mountain. I’m proud to say that I was fourth to reach the peak. Considering I was with a seasoned group of hikers, I was pretty damn impressed with my ability to keep up AND far exceed my own expectations. And the VIEW! God, you could see everything. It was probably one of the best views I have ever seen. I felt like I was in an airplane. I will post pictures, but as a warning…they don’t do the view justice.
And from the peak, we then decided to hike to the Buddhist temple. This tacked on an extra 6 kilometers, but after the first hour and a bit, it was mostly downhill. We walked along the ridge of the mountain, so we had the most wonderful views of rural Korea. As we got lower, we followed a stream to the HUGE Buddhist temple called Dogapas. The temple reminded me of the temples in Japan, in that it was so elaborate and colourful and massive. I also saw the first Buddhist monk of my life…taking a picture for a bunch of ajummas. If I hadn’t been so exhausted, I would have probably looked around more but as I had hiked for 7 hours at this point, walking around even more was out of the question. The biggest shocker to me was just how colourful and fun the temples were. Explosions of colour, dragons, statues of men that looked they should be on Tekken 4… it was so much more interesting than our regular, boring churches. We got on the bus at 2:15, and left the park and I slept all the way home.

On Sunday, I decided to take it easy and head to Seoul National Library in Seocho. I was –so- excited because I didn’t want to have to buy a bunch of books when I had such a huge library so close to me, with “Western Literature”. After searching around for a bit, I managed to find it. It was indeed huge, but after searching around it…I realized there were very few actual books. In fact, out of a 5 story building, they seemed to have fewer books than the Vancouver library (and basically no Western Literature except really abstract feminist books). Also, I would use the elevator and go up a few stories, and end up in a dark hallway lined with mirrors and no one around. It was very Matrixy, and I left after only an hour. Korea, I don’t understand you.

Luckily a friend of mine texted to see if I wanted to get coffee, so I headed off to Hongdae again to meet up with her. Because it was so hot, we settled with buying a 32” ice cream, lemonade made from REAL LEMONS (you watch them squeeze them right in front of you), and a cocktail “to-go”. I love how you can drink on the street here! The vendor we got the cocktails from was called “Vinyl” and they put the alcohol in a Ziploc bag with a straw with ice, and you can carry it around with you. At the end of the night, we checked out some street stands and watched some AMAZING street music, which you can watch here. Notice how there’s very little accent when she sings Adele? Cool, huh? Hongdae is pretty much one of my favourite places in Seoul, and I’m sure many a summer night will be spent there in the future.

This week, I’ve got a few plans. Supper on Thursday and supper/shopping Friday night with friends. I’m considering heading to the zoo this weekend, but depending on the heat factor, I may go find a museum to bunk down in. Regardless, I promise to do something “blog post worthy” this weekend. Promise.
Anyways, here are my interesting facts for today:

1. Coke is made with real sugar, and they don’t have Diet Coke…only Coke Zero.

2. Japanese women apparently love Korean men because they’re more chivalrous than Japanese men. Korean women love foreign men.

3. You have to be careful about what kind of foundation you buy, because many of them have skin bleaching agents in them.

4. It’s socially inappropriate for women to show their shoulders or back. It doesn’t matter how short your shorts are, though. Hell, you don’t even have to wear shorts.

5. “Flower boys” are considered very attractive here, and by Western standards they’re very, very feminine looking men. So feminine, you kind of wonder if they’re men or women.

6. (Somewhat obvious if you live here but…) The driver’s test is ridiculously easy to pass, and students often don’t even study before they try to get their license.

7. Corporal punishment in public schools was only outlawed two years ago.

8. In a documentary, “Soju” was cited as one of the main reasons Korea was able to progress as quickly as it has in the last 40 years. Because men (and now women) work for such long hours, Soju helps Koreans de-stress and continue to work in such a “dog-eat-dog” environment. This is also why bosses push alcohol consumption on their workers at mandatory business drinking sessions.

9. It’s very popular for mothers to perm their son’s hair when they’re 3 years old.

10. Seoul has been the capital of “Korea” for almost 600 years.

Alright, have some photographsssss.

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*not high on drugs because that is hardcore illegal here and you can wind up in a Korean prison for even UTTERING the word mara- juana. Truth.**

**Truth = slight exaggeration. But only slight.

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Cherry Blossoms, Swastikas, and a Famous Soup.

Hello, hello, hello friends!

Let me, once again, apologize for my lack of updates. School has been hectic with trying to finish Evaluations for all of my classes (think report cards, except you can’t give the kids bad marks. Welcome to the “Hagwon Code of Conduct”), and my spare time has been taken up with various other little adventures. I’m trying to teach myself meditation and I’m starting to exercise more, while also starting to cook ‘real meals’ at home, so a great deal of all of my free time has been spent doing those types of activities….and watching Korean dramas. Yes, I am being sucked into the black hole that is K-dramas. Don’t judge.

Last week, I never really got to explain much of what I did, other than the clubbing experience. I feel like I’m behind by about two weeks, so let’s take a trip back into the past and I’ll try to rehash what’s been happening in my little life.

Two weekends ago, I went back to Itaewon to pick up some Christmas lights to string around my room…and I also stopped off at Gangnam. Gangnam is full of tons of people, sky rises, and nice stores. It’s also home to lots of foreigners, so if you’re looking for company, that’s where you go. Anyways, I just kind of walked around in the BEAUTIFUL sunshine, and then walked down to COEX. It was about an hour walk or so, and as I had never been in this area of town, it was nice to just wander. I find one of the best ways to battle ‘culture shock’ is to explore, as it gives you an idea of where you are so you don’t feel so intimidated by the city. I’ve had a lot of people ask, “Well, aren’t you scared you’ll get lost? What will you do if you can’t find your way back?” The great thing about Seoul is that if you stick to main streets, and have some idea of where you want to get to, there will be signs directing you towards the nearest subway station. I’m also sure that if I got truly lost, I could just ask a young Korean and they would be able to help me out.

Anyways, so I walked to COEX. And across from COEX is a hill with Buddhist temples everywhere. I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity to go look at them (especially considering I’m trying to get into meditation. Trying – key word) and I am so, so happy that I did. This cluster of temples is called “Bongeunsa Temple,” and it was such a beautiful place, with such a calming atmosphere. I’m convinced that Koreans meditate and hike so much because it gets you away from the millions of people everywhere. I definitely feel like these places are coping mechanisms to prevent Koreans from killing one another on the subway.

Bongeunsa Temple was created in 794, and has since been refurbished (obviously), and is used as an examination site for Buddhist monks. There is a massive Buddha that you can pray to, along with incense burned in an open temple, statues, carvings, pictures, massive bells, ancient temples, cherry blossom trees, laterns, and fountains that you could drink holy water out of. Swastikas are painted on to some of the temples and various statues. Before Hitler bastardized the symbol, it was used as a Chinese symbol to mean “man” or “all eternity.” Now, they are often used to show where Buddhist temples are  located on maps, or in this case, on the temples to show that they are Buddhist.

I thoroughly enjoyed myself, and could definitely ‘feel’ the spirituality in the air. Despite this place being in the center of Seoul, it felt secluded, and I left feeling totally refreshed. I know I will return to this little slice of history, and I was really happy I ended up stumbling on to it.

Last weekend, I went to Seoul’s annual Cherry Blossom Festival with some friends! It was a beautiful, hot spring day…but apparently, the Cherry Blossom’s thought otherwise and hardly bloomed. Nevermind that though, thousands of people turned up anyways to see the festivities, which included historical dancing, singing, and enjoying the flowers that had been set up for people to take pictures with. It was fun to walk around, take in all the sights, and just chat with friends. I was also interviewed by a local television station, and was asked to tell them about how I was enjoying my first month living here. So I guess somewhere out there, some Korean family watched me gush about how lovely the festival was and how much I loved Seoul. Ha.

Afterwards, we walked to a nearby park, drank Makkeolli on the grass, and played hacky sack. An outdoor K-pop concert was going on nearby, so they lit off fireworks right beside us in the middle of the day. That was probably the closest I’ve ever been to fireworks (standing literally right beneath them), and it was pretty cool. Definitely another nice relaxing day spent in the sun.

This week I’ve taken it pretty easy, to be honest. Em/S and I went shopping in Myeondong’s Forever 21 on Tuesday, and then went and ate Myeongdong’s  Kalguksu (beef noodle soup) at the famous restaurant Myeongdong Gyoj. According to Sean, this restaurant has been around since the 60’s and this is one of the only places you can get this soup. Each noodle is individually cut with a knife, and they have delicious wontons thrown into the mix. It was yummy, cheap, and filling, and the service was (as always) impeccable. I ended up getting home around 11, exhausted but content.

I went to the zoo with my kids on Thursday, and somehow managed to leave without seeing one animal. No, I’m not exaggerating. OK, I am. My kids got to see a frog. That was it. I’ll spare you from my rant, but let’s just say that our school was more concerned with taking pictures of the kids standing beside flowers and fake animals, than letting the kids actually SEE animals. On another note, many Koreans seemed to be amused that I had two kiddy backpacks slung over my shoulders while holding the hands of two Korean children. I was definitely a sight, and I got quite a few more stares than usual. The kids did too, actually! Especially when they would respond to my instructions in English. They’re getting better and better at conversing in English, and I’ve only been here 2 months… I can’t even imagine how much they’ll progress in a year. Little sponges children are.

Friday, Em and S were nice enough to show me their little Korean treehouse hideout near their place. It’s a little mountaintop escape, with a view of the entire city. We went up there at night with a bottle of wine, and enjoyed the view. I think it’s one of the nicest places in Seoul, and it was just mindblowing to see the lights and the silhouette of the mountains. I could go on and on, but words really aren’t enough. It makes you realize this city has a pulse, a movement. As far as you can see, lights turn on and off, flicker rapidly, move, change colour. And once again, the best part about it is that you’re removed from it. You’re just a spectator, taking in the silence and breathing in the mountain air. I can’t wait to go back. It’s really beautiful, and no one goes up there. Blissful solitude.

Anyways, I’ve gone on and on. Tomorrow, I’ll be going to a Jinjabong (Korean bathhouse) to de-stress/get a massage/hottub; don’t expect any pictures. This isn’t THAT kind of blog. Yet.

Alright, here’s my interesting Korean facts:

  1. Koreans have what is called “service.” Service is basically when you are given something free for shopping at a place or eating at a restaurant. My local 7-11 knows me now and if I go and buy anything there, they always throw in “service.” It’s great!
  2. If you want to buy fruits and vegetables at the grocery store, you should buy what’s in season. I bought about 15 kiwis for $5 today…while 5 apples were $10. Yeah.
  3. If you go to bookstores, Koreans will be sitting on the floor, reading. I guess this is like how people read books in chairs in Chapters, but Koreans will literally study with their backpacks from books they haven’t bought yet….for hours.
  4. The admission to the zoo is free. Completely free.
  5. One of my kids brought a sharp, box cutter knife to school. He took it out, and when I asked him why he had it, he told me Korean kids use them to “cut paper” in public school.
  6. Koreans use metal chopsticks, and you’re supposed to eat rice with a spoon. If you eat rice with chopsticks, you’re thought of as Japanese. (Which is a bad, bad thing. Koreans were under Japanese rule for a long time, and still resent it.)
  7. Koreans believe there is something happening called the “Korean Wave.” It refers to Korean’s believing that Korean technology (Samsung and LG) and K-pop bands are becoming popular in America. I’m not quite certain if this is really true or not. Hard to say.
  8. A Korean businessman and his wife created Forever 21.
  9. Koreans sleep on the subway…standing up. (I’m starting to be able to do this as well after a long day at work.)
  10. Koreans (more specifically, religious Koreans) didn’t want Lady Gaga to come to Seoul because they believe she has “Gay HIV.” I wish I were joking.
  11. There is no “f” sound in Korean, and so they substitute “p” for “f”. This is why coffee is called “coppee.”

P.s – If you want to take a look at the Myeongdong soup, this blog has pictures of its deliciousness. YUM!  http://www.pikeletandpie.com/2011/05/myeongdong-gyoja/

Alright folks, have a great week. I will try to update on a more regular basis. I PROMISE!

Love, love, love.

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