The amount of paperwork it takes to work in Korea is mind numbing. I thought I was in the clear but then my manager told me that I still needed to get my Alien Registration Card in order to do anything such as: get a bank account, get a phone, take language courses, etc. She tells me that I will need to leave work early at 4:30, take a bus, then the subway, then walk to the old immigration office to pick up some documents, then take those documents down the street to the new immigration office and file the right forms before the office closes at 6. Even better- she explains how to get to these offices using a combination of hand drawn maps, subway maps, and printed out google images (when you see this building, turn left) AND she tells me all of this in short blurbs between classes- sitting at a table amongst the kiddos so they are crawling all over the place and yelling while she is giving me directions of how to now get lost in downtown Busan. As I left I could see the worry in her face but I felt utter calm knowing that if I get lost that means I probably don’t have to come to work the next day.
Surprisingly, I did not get lost- the subway system is actually very easy to understand. There were a few language barrier problems (at the old immigration office I told the guard “I am going upstairs now” while he tried to tell me I was in the wrong place bc he thought I needed the new office)-and I had to run for several blocks in order to make it on time- but I made it. I was so proud of myself! Afterwards I took my time figuring out how to get home and I happened upon a street lined with little food carts. As I walked by I tried to casually see what they were eating and one vendor lady called me out and beckoned for me to buy some. So I pointed at the first thing I saw, she pointed at the price and then, there I was- nestled under an orange tarp with 5 little Korean business men, eating some kind of seafood-hotdog on a stick. It was so good and so filling! And it only cost about 75 cents US.
Since then, I have been more courageous to try other street food varieties. On that Friday, I was riding the bus home after work and I spontaneously got off early so I could walk and look around a bit. I happened upon a side alley where there were a group of people huddled around one little street cart. I decided to try the Hotteok (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hotteok) a sweet, fried pancake that South Koreans eat in the winter. Words cannot describe how delicious it was. And only 500 Won (that’s less than 50 cents US). And the little lady that makes them gave me the nicest smile! I went back to her cart again the next week and tried Ddeokbokki (Do-bo-ki) (http://koreabridge.net/post/korea%E2%80%99s-favorite-snack-teymarieastudillo) which is like a rice cake in a hot dog shape covered in spicy spicy red chili sauce. I ate it quickly and then had to run around the corner to get some water!
Just up the alley from this kind woman’s cart is a whole market (I think it is called Yeondong market) where people are selling all kinds of food- fresh seafood, meat, vegetables, side dishes, pastries, soups, etc. So far I’ve bought some soup from one lady (one was liver= regrets, the other=seaweed, not bad) and rice cakes and side dishes from others. I had previously been buying all my food from Homeplus- a giant department store across the street from my flat- but it was so expensive! I am going to try and shop at this market, but I definitely need to brush up on my Korean and stop looking so repulsed when a little old woman reaches her hand into a bucket of live, swimming fish, pulls one out as it writhes around, chops its head off, guts it right there on the table and throws all the squiggly bits into a giant bucket in the alley. She’s going to throw all that away right? Or am I gonna end up buying that as soup next week? Shudder.