"" FutureLint (I have nothing to wear!): March 2010

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Korea, day four!

**Disclaimer** I am in Seoul, South Korea. I am going to update with MY experiences and MY opinions on MY trip. I am in no way an expert on S. Korea or their culture so please take this as what it is: MY personal travel diary of what I experienced.

On Wednesday I went to the War Memorial of Korea.

It's a museum dedicated to the history of the army and all the problems and invasions with North Korea. It was fascinating! The first floor is about ancient fighting tools, boats, and castles.

The second floor is about the Korean war that occured from 1950 to 1953. They have all these stops along the way that explain what happened in English, Japanese, Korean, or Chinese. I was watching a little video portion when this little old man started lingering by me. When the video was over, he told me that he is a retired Korean Air Force general and that he gives tours at the museum in Korean and Japanese. He was supposed to give a tour to a group of Korean army recruits, but they canceled. He explained that he is learning to give the tour in English and wants to try it, if I will listen. I said sure and he took me to the next room and explained what was occurring in the war at that time. He was SO INTERESTING AND ADORABLE! He did such a good job explaining everything and took me around the museum for the next two and a half hours. The third floor is about the United Nations and their contributions to the Korean war. It was interesting to see all the different uniforms and how many places helped out South Korea. The fourth floor was about the displaced refugees from the war.

My tour guide, Tae-Ill Moon, told me that he was two years old when his family was displaced from their village by the war. His mother carried him all the way to the very south of the country to a refugee camp set up by the United Nations. He was four by the time they made it to the camp, and they immediately set up schools in tents and by the river. He saw an American soldier one day and impressed him because he knew one word of English, "Hello." The soldier gave him a piece of chocolate and it was the first time he ever had a piece of candy. Then he ran all over the camp all day saying "hello" to all the soldiers, until he got a second chocolate, which he gave to his seven year old sister, because she had never tasted candy either. I thought it was such a sweet story! Then he got a call on his cell phone, that his army group would be there in 20 minutes for their tour so we quick finished up the tour. He told me about his Air Force plane crashing in the 1970s, and the other four pilots on board died. He was the only survivor of the crash and only broke his leg. He said that changed him for the rest of his life, because "my life is a bonus." He felt he had to try hard at everything to make his dead friends proud. He gave me his business card and told me he thought I was very smart for knowing about the Korean war, even though I don't live there. He gave me a hug and told me I was beautiful and walked off to about 50 young soldiers in uniform. He said something to them in Korean as I was walking down the stairs and then all 50 soldiers yelled, "Hi Christine" down the stairs to me as he laughed. I turned bright red and waved and headed out of the museum. I wasn't planning on spending so long in the museum, but I had such a special time! It was awesome!

I got back to Megan's around 4:15 and she got back a half hour later. We stopped in a few stores because I am accumulating different Korean chopsticks to keep as souvenirs and give as gifts (Korean chopsticks are regarded as the hardest to use. They are very thin, flat, metal, and slippery but I think I've got the hang of them now and can impress everyone!) We took the subway up to Hongik and met Megan's friend Daniel, who is from Colorado and teaches English at a different school. We went and ate Buldak, which is a spicy chicken dish. You get a big bowl of mushrooms, onions, cabbage, bok choy, etc all covered in hot spices and cook it on the table, like this:

then when it is ready, the server comes out with spicy chicken and puts that on top and cuts it up with scissors and stirs it all and then you eat it! It was delicious and hot!
Then we went out to a hookah bar and had a drink and talked. Then we headed back home on the subway which was crazy crowded, the doors barely close:
We also saw a woman selling puppies on the subway platform:
Megan said this happens a lot, though most of the time, they are selling baby bunnies! Weird (and wrong?) Today I am off to see the Andy Warhol exhibit and perhaps do some shopping in a big market again. Tonight, we are going out to eat with a bunch of teachers!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Korea, day three!

**Disclaimer** I am in Seoul, South Korea. I am going to update with MY experiences and MY opinions on MY trip. I am in no way an expert on S. Korea or their culture so please take this as what it is: MY personal travel diary of what I experienced.  

On Tuesday I was on my own again! I am officially a pro at the buses and subways! I headed down to Bukchon to see the Changdeokgung Palace. It is one of the biggest old palaces and is in a neighborhood where the traditional Korean houses, or Hanoks, have been preserved. I got to the palace around noon and saw that the next English speaking tour was at 1:30pm, so I headed up the hill to see the Hanoks. I wandered around up there taking pictures. Wander, wander.

I realized it was already 1:15 and the tour was starting soon so I started wandering my way down. Suddenly I was lost! I started walking in the direction I thought was going back toward the palace but soon realized I was over by the Blue House, which is where the president lives! There were a ton of soldiers and policemen guarding the grounds. I knew I was going to miss the 1:30 tour at the palace so I figured I may as well take my time walking around by the Blue House. One of the guards helped me get headed back in the right direction to the Palace and I made it back in time for the only other English tour, which was at 3:30. The Changdeokgung Palace is huge and only 30% of the original grounds are still in existance. The tour was really interesting and the only bad thing was that the Forbidden Garden hasn't started to bloom yet. It was still neat!

The tour was an hour and a half long, so it was 5pm by the time it was done and I got back to Megan's after three subways and a bus around 6pm. I was starving after my long day so we headed off to get some Shabu-shabu (which is technically Japanese but is still very popular here). Yet again, cooking food on the table! Yay! They brought out some broth and a bunch of vegetables, mushrooms, and paper thin slices of beef. You cook all the vegetables and mushrooms in the broth (and cut them up with scissors - they don't use many knives here, everything is cut with scissors!) When the soup is ready, you throw in a few slices of beef. The beef cooks in only a few seconds because it is so thin. Then you pull it out with your chopsticks and dip it in peanut, lemon, or chili sauce. It is delicious!

The broth absorbs the flavor of the beef and so you eat the soup too. When you are all done with the vegetables and beef, a woman brings out noodles and puts them in what's left of the broth. Then you eat it in a very dainty, lady-like manner:

Then we walked around the city for a little bit.

We bought some strawberries for breakfast and headed back to Megan's apartment. We also finished off a half bottle of soju because I am starting to like it!
Plus, I figured it would help me sleep (I am sleeping on a mat on the floor, which is traditional in Korea anyway, although most people sleep in Western style beds now. It's nice because in Korea, all the heat comes through the floor, so at least it is nice and warm down there!)

Today it is raining, so I will be doing some stuff indoors. I'm going to the war museum and perhaps also the Andy Warhol exhibit. It is already 9am, so I must go take another strange shower!

Monday, March 29, 2010

Korea, day two!

**Disclaimer** I am in Seoul, South Korea. I am going to update with MY experiences and MY opinions on MY trip. I am in no way an expert on S. Korea or their culture so please take this as what it is: MY personal travel diary of what I experienced. 

Day two, my friend Megan had to go teach English from 8:30am to 4:30pm, so I was on my own! I got up and took a shower, which is it's own experience! In Korea, the bathrooms are sunk down a few inches from the rest of the house. Why? Because the whole bathroom is the shower:

The water comes from the sink, and you pull the lever to make it come out of the shower head, and the water just shoots onto the floor of the bathroom. So you shower in the whole room! One corner of the bathroom doesn't get wet so there is a hook for your towel, and you wear special shower shoes in there. There is a big drain in the floor so everything just washes down. Megan says it is convenient because she never has to clean the bathroom, it is self-cleaning! Just make sure you put the toilet seat down, as Megan warned me she has knocked her shampoo in it once or twice if she forgets and leaves it open!

Megan and I had taken the bus and the subway together on Sunday, so I felt okay about taking them, but I was still really scared! The subways stops are written in English, but they are very long complicated words and I don't speak a word of Korean! So I set out with my subway map:

And my emergency piece of paper, Megan's address written in Korean in case I got impossibly lost and needed to take a taxi home:
I got to the right bus stop, took it two stops, found the subway entrance for the green line, labeled entrance 2 and was on my way!
I transferred to the blue line going in the right direction, found the right stop, and found exit 5, and headed to the Namdaemun Market! The market is HUGE! Just blocks and blocks of every kind of vendor you could imagine! Most of them are outdoors but there are MANY huge indoor ones that are four floors of the same shops! Jewelry! Scarves! Tights! Toys! Fish! Fake designer purses! Fake designer underwear! Seriously, Louis Vuitton and Chanel (or Chawel!) make EVERYTHING here (allegedly)... socks, underwear (men's and women's), shoes, pajamas, dog clothes and leashes, etc. You name it, they have a logo knockoff of it...and anything else under the sun!
In that last picture, notice the little old ladies on the right side of the picture... they are what's known as "ajummas" which is a bit of a derogatory term if you use it for someone who is younger (30s or 40s). They are known to be short, stocky, tough old ladies who throw elbows in the stores and subways. They are stereotypically known to be shameless hagglers and wear big sun visors. They are EVERYWHERE and they are so cute! I love the ajummas! The longer I am here, the more I hear people talking about them. It's such a funny little thing!

After a few hours of walking around and buying a shirt, jade rose ring, and scarf:

I randomly ran into the subway entrance I needed to get back to Megan's and hopped on! I found my way back to her house and it was already 4pm and Megan was home by 5pm!  We stopped at the convenience store below her house and bought a beer (Cass is one of only a few Korean beers, and it tastes like any American light beer. Those boxes of Kraft mac & cheese, I brought for Megan. She said they are the one thing she can't find here that she sometimes craves from America.)
We drank out of her McDonald's Batman mugs (the apartment Megan lives in is provided by the school where she teaches. Teachers have lived in her apartment for the last 5 years. When one teacher leaves and the next one moves in, they typically leave anything that could be of use to the next teacher. So when Megan arrived, there were already dishes, a toaster, an ironing board, hangers, etc in addition to the bed, TV, refrigerator and desk that were provided by the school.

We headed off at 7pm to meet Minam, a friend of Megan's who is from Korea. She took us out for potato soup, which is yet another thing with 14 side dishes that you cook yourself. We sat on the floor and had a huge bowl full of potatoes, pork still on the bone, rice noodles, mushrooms, and vegetables. I have some pictures but they are on Megan's camera so I will upload them later. It was awesome and I got to try two new kinds of kimchi. Minam then took us around to some of the more traditional markets where the Korean's shop and that are very old and don't sell all the modern things like the market I went to this morning. We also walked around by the University and saw all the future lawyers of Korea! Minam was super cute and interesting to talk to and get her perspective on things, plus she speaks English very well because she studied abroad for a year. Alright, I am off to go see the BIG palace today and do a walking tour of some of the old traditional Korean neighborhoods. More subways on my own, so wish me luck!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Korea, day one!

**Disclaimer** I am in Seoul, South Korea. I am going to update with MY experiences and MY opinions on MY trip. I am in no way an expert on S. Korea or their culture so please take this as what it is: MY personal travel diary of what I experienced.

Hey dudes! I'm writing to you from the future! 14 hours ahead of the central time zone! The flight to Japan was LONG and mind-numbing (or leg-numbing to be more correct!)  I did sleep about 6 hours on the plane, ate 3 meals, and watched The Fantastic Mr. Fox, Whip It, Where The Wild Things Are (actually I slept through most of that one), and Star Trek. Then I had a two hour layover in Tokyo, which was fine. I walked around the airport to get my blood moving again and saw many cute little Japanese things in the shops and got to use one of their crazy fancy toilets:
I was pretty confused about how to use it and hoped it didn't unexpectedly spray me with the bidet... I also like the music button - you push it and it makes loud music because you are a lady and a lady would never fart, so no one will hear if you do! Ha!

This is a far cry from the toilets I've seen so far in Seoul... most of the ladies bathrooms have squat toilets:
Ok, that is all the toilet related posts, I hope!

I landed in Seoul around 10:30pm on Saturday night. My friend Megan (who teaches English to 7-9th graders here) picked me up and we took an hour bus ride into the city. We stopped and had a beer by her house at one of the bars she frequents called "Led Zeppelin" where they have about a million old records and play old rock and roll. The owner was so excited to see us, and all the patrons were curious about my red hair and my nose ring (a girl in South Korea would never get a tattoo or facial piercing so I got a lot of looks for my nose ring all over the city. People look at me and pinch their nose and the older people, although they don't speak my language and I don't speak theirs, are not shy about letting me know they see it and disapprove. The younger people are just interested and fascinated by it. It's something I never really thought about before I got here!)  We headed home and went to bed around 1am. Peace!
Sunday we got up around 11am and took a bus to the other side of town to get some lunch.  Here is me eating my first piece of kimchi (the Korean's most famous food - a cabbage dish - made with garlic, salt, vinegar, chili peppers, and other spices, then left to ferment before being served. It is served as a side dish at every meal and when taking photos, Koreans say "kimchi" like we say "cheese")
We also got a "hot pot" which is a big bowl of soup that they set on a burner. The food then cooks on the table and you serve it yourself into bowls once it is cooked how you like it. It had slices of beef, tons of different kinds of mushrooms, long rice noodles, short and VERY thick rice noodles called duk, vegetables, and an egg in an onion flower:
It was delicious! Seriously, amazing! We walked around for a while, and got stopped a lot! Children like to talk to Americans to practice their English so they will come up and start asking questions. Their parents beam on so proudly as the children try to talk to us in the English they have learned in school. It's really cute! One girl interviewed us and took a picture with us for her homework assignment. Megan even gave her cell phone number to some girls who were looking to take private English lessons.  We saw a palace and stopped to watch the changing of the guard (or something equivalent)
We paid 1,000 won (about $1US - which is easy to remember and figure out the conversion rates!) to go wander around the palace yards. The buildings are from the late 1300s, but some of them have been repainted and some have not.

These tombstone-looking markers signified different classes of people, so the rich people could get closer to the front and the very poor had to stay in the back. Interesting!

We then went to the seafood market to look (and smell!) all the weird fish, lobsters, crabs, sea cucumbers, scallops, rays, squid, and octopi... and a million other things from the ocean that I had never seen before!

We had dinner at a Korean barbeque. They put a grill on your table with an exhaust fan. You cook the meat yourself then cut it up using scissors. You put it in a piece of lettuce like a wrap and throw in garlic, onions, sauces, etc. Every meal here seems to come with about 14 plates of sides!

It was AWESOME! Again! So far the food here has been great and I'm going to try every piece of Kimchi I come across! We also drank a bottle of soju (you can see it on the left in the first picture) which is rice liquor that tastes like something in-between saki and vodka. It's traditional to drink it with BBQ and only costs 1,500 won ($1.50) There is a whole etiquette involved in drinking it and I'm glad it was just me and Megan since I do not know all the rules and customs!

Ok, well that was day one! I am going to go take a very strange shower and then head off to a huge market. Megan has to work today so I am going to take a bus then two subways (on my own - yipes!) to get there! I have a little notebook of notes for myself on how to get there and Megan's address written in Korean if I totally fail and have to take a cab back here! Plus I have a cheat sheet of a bunch of Korean words spelled phonetically so I can say Hello (AnYaSeO) and Thank You (ComSamNeeDa) and other little tidbits! Hope all is well in your part of the world! The boy has assured me a.) My house has not burned down yet and b.) he judges me for having such big closets. Bye kids!!!!!


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