Category Archives: Korea

Weekend Update-BBQ, Igidae, Eobang festival, Beomeosa

April 26, 27, 28

Here is “quick” recap of my last weekend-sort of a typical weekend as of late:

Friday night: took my new co-worker out to some Korean BBQ- accidently ordered the wrong thing but it was ok because I go to try something new: Sam-gib-sol is like really thick bacon-pretty fatty but still good. Also got to watch my new fellow co-worker try soju for the first time- they should invent a word for how a person’s face looks after their first soju shot: somewhere between eating a lemon, wanting to curse, and yet-at the same time- thinking “meh, not bad”

Saturday: went on a “hike” with all of my co-workers. This meant: me, Lacey from Texas, Desiree (new) from Michigan, Josh (only boy in the office) from New York and the 12 Korean women we work with. The ‘hike’ was really more of a stroll along some city streets and a little bit along some ocean bluffs. BUT we did encounter my biggest food gamble so far here- the director of our school bought some sea cucumber from a guy who was selling freshly ‘picked’ morsels out of a little bunker made from rocks right there on the cliff over the ocean. In Korea, women do all of the diving and they are referred to as ‘women divers’ (appropriate, no?) and this particular bunker had been set up by a gang of women divers back in the Korean war so it was pretty historic and what not. To keep the sea cucumbers fresh until someone orders, they keep the little guys alive and squirming in a little plastic dish filled with sea water out on display for all the hikers to see. When someone orders, they get out a knife, balance a cutting board over a bucket and they cut off the butt first and throw it away. Then they pull out all the sloppy, stringy orange insides- but get this- they DON’T throw this stuff away- it goes into the dish. Then they chop up the cucumber all nice and even pieces. Oh and they chop up something pink that looks like a real life pokemon character without a face and of course they include its inside orange bits too. A whole plate of this squishy mess only costs 3,000 won (a little less than 3 dollars) and it even comes with hot sauce. Now, the taste of this thing wasn’t that bad it just tasted like ocean. But the texture. You expect it to be real squishy like but it’s not. It’s actually really hard and it takes effort to chew. Like how I imagine eating a big hunk of cartilage would be like. Lacey spit hers out, I muscled through mine, Desiree looked like she was going to faint and Josh loved it and went back for seconds- ‘just the sauce tastes good’ he says.

Sea cucumber OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

After that we went out to eat at a family dinning joint- more barbecue- but this time it was ABSOLUTELY delicious- Dwaeji bulgogi (pork fire meat) and kimchi and chilled noodles. I was so full I tried to take a nap (we were already sitting on the ground anyways) but I restrained. THEN they say we are going to get dessert and they took us to get Pat Bing Soo which is shaved ice with red beans (like, who wants to eat some really cold beans when they’re extremely full?) but it was actually delicious and I can’t wait till I’m dying in the heat of summer to eat it again. After, I had to go home and nap but then I rallied and met up with some friends at Gwangalli Beach because there was this random fish festival going on. We watched a fake Psy do his new single dance, watched an awesome parade full of traditional dancers, music and clothes (and it went on for nearly an hour) and then we watched the traditional ‘fish catching competition’ where they put some UGLY looking fish in an oversized baby pool and let kids pay 5 dollars to get all in there with a plastic bag and try and catch one. Most entertaining was that they had a guy on a mic doing commentary for the event- as if it were a game show.

Sunday: not getting a good enough hike on Saturday I decided to drag the new girl along with me to a hike I’ve been meaning to do now that it’s Spring. We started at Beomeosa temple and luckily met a very cute little old Korean man who spoke English and worked as a volunteer for the temple so he showed us all around and taught us a few things about Buddha and such. Then we hiked up to Geumjeong fortress which is just a big wall encircling the top of the mountain with four gates pointing North, South, East, West. We hiked up to the South gate and then followed the East wall- up and down, up and down- until the South gate. I’m pretty happy with all the hiking I’ve been doing here and not to toot my own horn or anything but I consider myself in pretty good hiking shape (#atthetopanni) but even I was really tired by the South gate. At this point, Desiree (my fellow hiker) had only been in Busan for 2 weeks so she looked like she was about to die or strangle me first and throw my flailing carcass over the cliff. Either way- we wanted down. We found a nice little outdoor café and got some much needed Makkoli and pajeon and when we were feeling better we started looking for the cable car that Lonely Planet described and guess what- “cable car anniyo”- it doesn’t exist anymore. So we had to make the trek down the whole Mountain- into town- down until we found a subway station- I was like a whiny little five year old going “I wanna go home..” But in retrospect it was quite a lovely hike and I would recommend it to any and all and to be honest I’ll probably be back out there in two weeks or so.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Jungang Hike 3/9/2013

A few weeks ago I posted a message on Busan’s thread on Couchsurfing (couchsurfing is this awesome site where you can meet travelers and work out places to stay while traveling: https://www.couchsurfing.org/). I posted a message looking for a local hiking group or just local people interested in hiking. Most of the replies I received were from creepy 30+ year old men living in Southeast Asia, all pretty much saying the same thing, “I don’t like hiking really but I like your face, do you like soju? ::winky face, winky face::”

But there were a few positive replies including an invite to a fb hiking group called Busan Daytrippers (https://www.facebook.com/groups/busandaytrippers/) which goes hiking just about every weekend. I also got replies from a few local ex-pats who are interested in outdoorsy things and a few local Koreans, one of which invited me to go sailing-but that’s a different story.

My first hike with Daytrippers was from the neighborhood Jung Ang Dong to Gong Dashin Dong. I’m still not entirely sure the exact route we took- but we were located near or on Eomgwangsan mountain. We met at Jungang subway station exit 5 and got bus 186 up the hill. There was a big group of us- maybe 30+ (but let’s be honest, I’m terrible with estimating, so who knows) and the regular members said they thought it was probably the biggest group they’ve ever had. Imagine how we must have looked: 30 ish foreigners, decked out in hiking apparel, waiting at a bus stop, then- loading onto the bus and packing ourselves in like sardines as the bus climbed THE steepest hill in Busan. It was one of those moments where you want to look around at the views but you’re afraid that if you lean too far to look out the window the whole bus is going to tip and go tumbling down the cliff. Near the top of a particularly steep ascent we got out somewhere near Jungang Park and crossed the street to the trailhead.

The hike immediately started straight up- no mercy switchbacks or anything- and it lasted that way for a good mile or so. I was loving it because I was in that sort of mood where I needed to exhaust myself and even though I was just meeting all these people for the first time I really didn’t care to hear about where they worked or how long they had been in Korea, because I just wanted to hike. (#heretohike..)

Jungang Hike

The hike followed the ridge: up and down and up and down, around a crescent shape- first to the Northwest, then Southwest- passing through several ‘fitness parks’ and ‘rest areas’ where tons of Koreans were picnicking or getting their fitness on- and watching our big troop of foreigners march by as if we belonged to a club. Oh wait, we do.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Jungang Hike

With every ascent and descent we lost a few more people from the group and so by the end of the trail there were less than a third of us left together. In the spirit of- well everybody has a smart phone, right?- we left them behind to find their own way home and we continued on in our smaller group. We walked down through tiny alley streets somewhere near Seodaesin neighborhood and walked through a park with a botanical garden and a tiny lake. By this point I had gotten over my need to beat everyone to the top (#firsttothetopanni…just saying) so I started talking and getting to know my fellow hikers. They’re all English teachers (of course) but some were brand newbies and some have been here for years and years.

We ended up at a soccer stadium where we got some street food and watched a free game of semi-professional soccer: The Busan Transportation Corporation Football Club vs. The Ulsan Hyundai Mipo Dolphins. A fb group had been created to support team Busan and there ended up being so many foreigners there that a TV crew was sent out to capture the miraculous and rare occurrence of enthusiastic foreigners interested in something Korean. Not the best soccer I’ve ever seen but good fun nonetheless. Afterwards I was able to walk down the street and get on the subway at Dongdaesin. How convenient!

Jungang Hike

The Bleary-Eyed Leading the Blind

2-3 March 2013

In Korea, March marks the beginning of the new school year. For me, this meant a new schedule, new students, and even new co-teachers. This also meant having to say goodbye to two girls that I work with, Anni from South Africa and Elaine from Ireland. By this point they are probably happily back and settled in their home country, but in the office we can still feel their absence and we miss them dearly.

During her last week at work, Elaine informed me that in all her time in Korea she had not yet been to Me World- the amusement park of Busan. So, as part of her last weekend celebrations, we decided to go there and check it out.

Of course, there was a lot going on- Elaine was moving out, the new kid-Josh from New York- was moving in, Lacey was switching apartments, and just about every teacher/friend we knew was moving into a new apartment as well.

So, while waiting for everyone to get their lives sorted I offered to show Josh around the neighborhood. We walked to our local outdoor market and got hotteok, walked along the Oncheoncheon stream by our flat, and then he said, “Let’s go to Homeplus!!” Sigh. What a newbie. J

We decided to grab lunch in the fluorescent-lit, cafeteria style elegance that is the Homeplus food court. For a newcomer to Korea it is quite the comfortable atmosphere because they have all of their menu items out on display (wax replicas) with the price and a reference number. So all you have to do is go up to the cashier, tell them the number (or show them the number on a piece of paper), pay, and then watch a screen to see when your number is ready. Josh and I decided to share a Bibimbap type item (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bibimbap) which is a very traditional Korean dish that is essentially just rice with a whole heap of stuff mixed in. As we sit down Josh mentions, “by the way, just so you know, I used to be really allergic to seafood when I was younger, but I’m pretty sure I’ve grown out of it now…but we’ll see…but, just so you know…”.

Great.

This kid has been in the country for less than 3 days and now he is telling me that there’s a chance that I (-still a newbie myself!!) might have to figure out how to get him to a hospital within the next hour. Then the conversation went something like this:

Me: “Do you have an epi-pen or something?”

Josh: “No, but I can just take some Benadryl or something if my tongue starts to swell.”

Me: “Do you have Benadryl?”

Josh: “No?”

Okay then…

Our food comes and parts of it are more of a food gamble than usual- at one point I thought I saw something still squirming, but realized it was just a weird reflection from the fluorescent lights on an especially shiny squid bit.

After a few bites in I ask Josh if he likes it and if…uh…he is still breathing properly.

“Oh no, don’t worry,” he says, “if I was still allergic I would already be dead by now”

And so sums up my first impression of Josh.

 

Finally I get a message from the girls that they are finished with their errands and they are ready to ride some roller coasters. Josh and I catch a bus towards the beach and I attempt to point out various landmarks and such to assist him in gaining a better sense of direction. I look over to see Josh tightly gripping one of the swinging handles as he gets pushed around by the crowd of people falling onto him with every jerk and sway of the bus stopping and going and turning. His eyes are moving about so quickly, trying to soak it all in, they are practically spinning and they look as if they are about to fall out of his head. I feel bad because I realize that if he wasn’t here I would still be the “new teacher”- the one looking like a lost Bambi about to cry on the crowded public transport- and instead I’m putting on the acting role of my life pretending like I know what I’m doing.

We pass a traditional market that I’ve never been to so I suggest we get out and look around. Josh asks me if I know where I’m going and I have to admit that- no, I don’t- BUT I have a good sense of direction AND a smart phone- so we are set.

We wander through the alleyways a bit- it’s a Saturday morning, the sun is shining and there are hundreds of stalls selling all kinds of weird stuff from fruits and vegetables, to seafood (live and dead), spices, pastries, and even Hello Kitty knick-knacks. After some meandering we decide to head toward the beach again. Josh asks again if I know where I’m going and again I say, “well, not exactly, but we should head this way…oh look there’s the bridge!” So, rather than fuss with the bus, we decide to walk. After a few blocks, the wind starts to pick up and Josh admits that he’s hungry again. Seems like the bridge is farther away than it looked. So we pop into a café real quick to get him a bun to nibble on and we continue walking.

All of a sudden Josh gets upset: “What is this?!”

I ask him what’s wrong.

“There’s beans in this bun! Why?! Why does there have to be beans in it?! Why does there have to be something in everything?! Why couldn’t it just be a plain bun?!”

“you don’t like beans?” I ask

“NO! I don’t like beans! I just wanted a plain bun! Is that so hard to get around here?!”

He tried to power through and eat it, but couldn’t stand the beans and admitted defeat.

 

He stopped walking. We stood there, on some random, chilly side street, somewhere between Suyeong and Gwangan- Josh was holding the bun as if it were a dead animal, looking as if he was about to cry. “This is it,” he said, “this is my culture shock.”

 

I just about died laughing after that.

Because, if I went through culture shock here, I didn’t even notice it. And now, I was getting to witness someone else’s culture shock experience up close and horrible as if we were in some kind of cheaply produced, yet artfully quirky, Indy film.

Sigh, the poor guy.

I took his bun and made him run into the next convenience store we found to buy a rice triangle to eat and-guess what?!-it was filled with some kind of meat! So now I’m actually crying I’m laughing so hard.

And then. Josh is looking for a trash can to throw away his garbage. And I have to be the one to tell him that they just don’t have trash cans here. They just don’t.

But at least I did know where we were going and we ended up at the beach just as the girls arrived so it was actually perfect timing. We all spent the rest of the day at Me World- riding the world’s lamest roller coaster, eating ‘candy floss’, getting stared at by everyone, laughing, and having a jolly good time.

 

That night- I dragged Lacey and Josh with me to PNU (Pusan National University- a neighborhood to the north of Busan)- to a bar called Soul Trane because I had heard that there was live stand-up there on the first Saturday of the month. Turns out the comedy night is the first Friday of the month so we had missed it. BUT we were told there was a live band so we stuck around. And good thing we did because it was AWESOME. It was a ska/reggae/cover band called, ‘Ska Wakers’, that did mostly Marley covers and a few of their own. The lead singer had dreds and big nerd glasses and I wanted to ask him to marry me but never got the courage. After they played we stuck around because the DJ was great- playing a bunch of old alternative songs that we all knew the words to. Josh left to go to KSU (the other University area) with a Korean girl- pretty gutsy considering it was his 4th day in the country and he had no phone (and the worst sense of direction ever). So we said bye and sincerely hoped that we would see him again. Lacey and I met this guy named Coby- from Seattle- who used to teach in Crockett. It really is such a small world. He tagged along with us to KSU and put his foldable bike into the taxi trunk! Then we ‘celebrated’ Elaine’s last night in Eva’s- and finally decided to go home once we saw that the sun was coming up…

“SayHey – Bok – MaNi – BahDooSayYo”

9-11 February 2013

Although Korea recognizes the Solar New Year calendar, the Lunar New Year -Seollal- is their more important and celebrated holiday. Traditionally on this holiday, families travel back to their hometowns to visit distant relatives and children wear traditional clothing- hanboks- to show respect to their ancestors. They play traditional games and eat Tteokguk (Duckguk)-rice cake soup. Also, according to the Korean aging system (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Korean_age_reckoning)-everyone turns one year older- as soon as they finish their soup, that is.

At school we celebrated the holiday by dressing up in hanboks (yes, there are embarrassing photos floating around on the interwebs) and playing traditional games. The game that I played with the kids was called Biseokchigi which involved knocking down a little wooden block by dropping another wooden block on top after carrying the block for a distance of about two meters in a creative way such as on top of your foot, head or between your knees or armpit.  Sounds riveting, doesn’t it? We also played with little things that were like hacky sacks but covered with tinsel and the kids got to see why AnniTeacher is a teacher and not a soccer player.

After school I went out to dinner with my fellow teachers-Lacey, from Texas and Jihee, a Korean teacher from Busan. Jiheeb took us to one of her favorite Korean barbecue places, conveniently located next door to one of her favorite drinking places. We ordered Bulgogi which translates to “fire meat” and refers to the thinly sliced beef sirloin that they serve to the table raw. Each table is outfitted with its own charcoal barbecue grill and it is up to the diners to grill their own meat, garlic, peppers, and whatever other side dishes they choose to throw on. In total, the meal consists of grilled meat, fresh vegetables, grilled vegetables, and pickled vegetables and of course a little soju and hite on the side. It was like having a perfect summer picnic except we were in a small, smoky room surrounded by tipsy Korean men in the middle of winter.

Jiheeb also taught me how to say “Happy New Year” or “receive many New Year blessings”- a phrase which kids say to their parents or older relatives as they bow their heads and extend their hands hoping for a little pocket money. After several hundred times of repeating it I was starting to think I sounded pretty good and was going around saying “SayHey – Bok – MaNi – BahDooSayYo” to just about anyone I could find- and I ended up with 600 won! (with about 500 from Jihee…)

And although the Friday festivities were fun, for me, Seollal was an exceptionally glorious holiday for one beautiful reason: no school on Monday! Long weekend!!

The girls and I took advantage of our extra day off to go exploring outside of Busan. We decided to take a train to Daegu- the fourth largest city in Korea, about one hour Northeast of Busan. We had big sightseeing plans laid out but by the time we actually arrived we were so tired from a long week at work that we decided to take it easy by walking around and perusing the many shops and then meeting up with some friends at a foreigner restaurant. Unfortunately for us, all of the fellow English teachers that normally reside in Daegu were all in Busan for the long weekend so the town was comparatively quiet to how it (apparently) normally is. But we made the best of it and got some quality girl time bonding and many inside jokes out of the weekend.

We got the train back to Busan on Sunday and made it home with plenty of daylight to burn so I went for a quick little hike up my favorite tombstone hill. The hike gets easier every time I go and this time was especially nice because hardly anyone was on the trail. However, as I neared the top I could hear some kind of yelling. I had heard similar yelling before and assumed it was monks from the temple nearby, but this sounded different. When I reached the peak I found a very ancient looking little woman, perched on the edge, overlooking the city. She looked like she was concentrating very hard but then all of a sudden she stood up tall, arched her back, brought her hands to her mouth and shouted out a big, “YA HO!” Then she turned 45 degrees to her left and did it again, “YA HO!!!!” and finally, turning 45 degrees more she bellowed, “YA HO!!” so loud that it echoed in the quiet air around us. I was embarrassed because I realized I had intruded on some sort of ritual and instead of waiting my turn quietly below the peak I had just stood there and stared at her “like I was a simpleton” (as my Irish friend Elaine would say). She finally noticed me and, whether she was finished or not she slowly left the peak and began hiking down. I felt bad for interfering with whatever it was that she was doing, but I couldn’t help it- I was so caught up with the power of such a big voice coming from such a tiny creature and the reverberating sound it made on that quiet mountain top and the fact that she was likely celebrating the arrival of the new year- the year that I would spend in Korea- the year of the snake, my Chinese zodiac symbol- supposedly, my lucky year. I realized the sun was beginning to set and so, alone on the mountain, I decided to embrace the sentiment of the moment and shouted out my biggest “YAHOOO!” before looking around self-consciously and hiking quickly back down the trail.

새해 복 많이 받으세요!

“I do not own a fork”

Is the statement I made out-loud to myself today as I was standing next to my kitchenette, still wearing my work clothes, still speaking like an English teacher: slowly, deliberately, “I do not own a fork.”

I have lived in Korea for almost a month and only today am I realizing that I do not own a fork. Actually, I don’t have a knife either. I assessed my inventory: one set of chopsticks, one spoon, a pair of scissors and, oh look, a spatula in the bottom of a drawer. The oddest thing is, I haven’t needed a fork or a knife. I’m pretty awesome at using chopsticks (or at least as good as the five years olds that I dine with at lunch) and I’ve adapted the Korean way of using scissors to cut everything– including slicing up the Costco pizza the school ordered for us yesterday.

Pondering my lack of cutlery inspired me to think about some other cultural adjustments. Like, my shower or, my lack of shower. It definitely didn’t take me a month to notice this one-in fact- it was the one thing I paid attention to when my landlord showed me my flat on my first night. On first look into the bathroom, it appears as though there is only a toilet and a sink-but wait!- attached to the sink is a hose with a showerhead: turn the faucet to the right and you can brush your teeth, turn it to the left and you can take a shower! Unfortunately, this shift is taking some getting used to-especially when I forget to switch the faucet back and I am just about to head out the door, all dressed up for work, and I stop to brush my teeth right before I go and- lovely- an extra shower before heading out into the literally freezing weather.

One more- in the Korean language there is no word for after someone sneezes. There is no version of “bless you” or “health” (like “gesundheit”, “salud” or my favorite, “prosit”) they just say nothing. They don’t even acknowledge that someone has sneezed. I guess it is a bit silly to go about in our modern world, blessing everyone who has a slight irritant in their nasal cavity, but still. Call me old-school but, I appreciate the acknowledgement. And, not being much of a religious person, I prefer to say ‘gesundheit’ which-especially when said during the middle of a lecture- has the added benefit of confusing the heck out of some already very confused little kids.

Tombstone Hill

Quite tired from staying out too late again, but here is another attempt to recap some events and get this thing caught up to present time.

January 19-20

Second weekend here was pretty similar to the first- on Saturday we went out to Eva’s and then the Blue Monkey- but this time I actually knew people’s names (and some of them remembered mine) and we still stayed out until the wee hours of the morning.

For some reason, the next morning (Sunday) I felt awesome and I decided to hike up the hill that I could see from my house. I still don’t know the name of this hill- but I have unofficially titled it “Tombstone Hill” because at the bottom of it are the Yeonsanong Ancient Tombs- which I only figured out using google maps and a poorly translated sign nearby. What’s really awesome about this hill is that it’s just across the street from me and it’s a short, steep jaunt up to the 256 meter peak. The beginning starts off mellow, next to a playground, with randomly placed tombstones popping up along the path. Then it gets steep. I recently found out that there are about 5 ways to get to the top but I think the best, fastest and steepest way is by using a set of winding stairs. I took this way the first time and I could feel my late night catching up to me real quick- my legs were so tired and the air was so cold it hurt my lungs. But, I was not alone in my endeavor. Oh no. Sunday afternoon is a popular time to go for a hike and there were lots of families out- walking in a line with me up to the top.  Somehow, I kept up a fast clip and was able to break away from the people and hike alone to the peak.  Unfortunately, I chose the cloudiest day to hike so the views were nil (but I have since been back and got some good pics- check out http://www.flickr.com/photos/awkwardanne/)

Heading down, I decided to go down the other side of the hill and get myself lost a little bit so I could wind around and see more of the city. As I descended, I stumble into several little “fitness parks”- cleared out areas where there are all kinds of exercise machines including different weight lifting machines, elliptical type things, and occasionally a hula hoop and a jump rope. What’s more- there were lots of people seriously working out! I felt so awkward because I felt like I was disturbing their gym session- and yet here we all were randomly on this “mountain” together- getting our fitness on, on a Sunday afternoon! It’s sad to think that these kind of parks could never exist back in the states- they would surely get vandalized and graffitied within a week. I guess this serves as a positive example to living in a communal minded society like Korea (as opposed to America’s die hard individualism) in that- because people make decisions based on what’s good for society rather than their individual needs, they can trust each other to share things- such as public hula hoops- in a city of 4 million people.

Finally made it to the base of the hill and- after several dead ends and u-turns- made it to a busier street so I could figure out how to get back. I realized I was right next to the school where I work! Lucky me! So I knew exactly how to get home and I took my time, zigzagging through the streets and alleys and made it home in time to get another Hotteok before the sun went down.

Street Food

Week 2

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. 

Week 1

The weekend- Jan 11 and 12

My first week teaching was all kinds of confusing. I had no time to appreciate the fact that I was living in Busan until my second Friday when I finally go to “go out”. I went to dinner with two of the female foreign teachers I work with, Karen and Elaine (both from Ireland). We went to Gwangalli beach-where the famous bridge is and supposedly where lots of foreigners hang out (although we were the only ones I saw). Then we went to a New Zealand themed bar called “Beached” and I felt like such a d-bag when I started talking about kiwi culture :/ haha. We met up with another girl we work with, Anni from South Africa, and we paid 2 dollars to light some Roman candle fire works on the beach. We decided to get a hot chocolate before heading home and while we were in the café we saw the MOST attractive male foreigner (attractive by any standards, let alone Busan) and of course, we all literally stopped talking and stared at him, jaws ajar. He definitely noticed, and left. Whoops. Later we were talking about something random and suddenly Anni, whose back was towards the door, stopped talking. Karen, who was seated next to Anni, says “whats wrong? Is your boy back?” Elaine and I were facing the door and notice, “um, yea, actually he is”-everyone does a blatant 180 turn and stares AGAIN and he notices AGAIN. Omygoodness I haven’t laughed that hard in ages!

The next night (Saturday) we really “went out” to KSU. KSU is the university area and it is where ALL the foreigners go on Saturday nights (well, at least all the ones I have met so far). We went to a place called Eva’s and I was introduced to 20+ already intoxicated foreigners: Irish, Canadian, American, British, South African, Australian….and I met Eva herself (nice lady). One major culture shock about Korea is that the bars don’t close at 2 am like back home. In fact, I don’t think they close at all. So kids end up staying out so late that they can go get a McMuffin and then take the morning bus back home. At 5 am we left our coats at Eva’s and ran across the alleyway to dance at the Blue Monkey. While Eva’s has the brick wall, homely, pub like feeling, the Blue Monkey is more like a poorly lit, Psy-inspired techno rave club whose smoke machine is broken and stuck on full blast. And whereas Eva’s is only full of foreign English teachers, in the Blue Monkey it’s mostly Korean or non-English speaking foreign boys who (very politely, actually) keep trying to dance with you when you’re like “Can’t you see I’m doing the running man? This is a solo thing, DUDE”. Basically, awkward hilarity at its best. Finally, I was so tired, we decided to get a cab back. Made it home just as the sun was coming up.

Arrival

A little back track-

 I’m feeling weird that I haven’t yet shared my story of when I first arrived here and now it’s already been 3 weeks (what?!). So before any more time slips away, here it is:

Arriving

The flight from San Francisco to Seoul was 13 hours long but it really wasn’t too bad. As soon as we left SF (bout 12pm, Tuesday Jan 1st) the crew said, “Ok, time to switch to Seoul time!” (5am, Wednesday Jan 2nd) “Go to sleep, and when you wake up, we’ll serve you breakfast!”   

Unfortunately, I made the decision to sit next to the window which meant that every time I had to get up (a lot) I had to politely ask the mother (sitting in the aisle) and her 5yr old son (middle) to move- instead the mom would get up and let me awkwardly straddle her son to shimmy my way out. I still haven’t figured out which way is better: to face the kid as I tower over him in my awkward, “only-foreigner-on-this-plane” kinda way or to just put my butt in his face. Either way- the mom did not look too happy. But later, when the food came, I was glad to be sitting next to the kid because I got to watch how his mom prepared his food (basically rice, veggies and different spices) so that I didn’t have to look like a total gnar and read the instructions (yes, it came with instructions) to figure out how to eat mine.

Once in Seoul, I had to switch airports. I was pretty nervous about this because I only had one hour between flights and um..I don’t speak Korean! But the ladies at the info desk spoke enough English to tell me where to get an airport shuttle- which I did- and would have been all good except I got off the shuttle just a wee bit early so I had to take another shuttle which was more like a city bus and the driver ended up idling the bus in the middle of the street to help me drag my giant suitcase aboard. I kept saying “Please be careful, it’s very heavy, don’t hurt yourself” and I’m sure he thought I was worried about the bag and not him : / oh well

Somehow I got to the domestic airport early enough that they decided to put me on an earlier flight- which was fine- except that then I arrived an hour early in Busan and wait-who is supposed to meet me again? My recruiter had said “someone from the school will be there to meet you”. Unfortunately all I know about my school is that it is in Busan, it is part of the “Kids Club” franchise and I think the director’s name is Kelli. But I am not worried at ALL that they will have trouble spotting me- not only am I the only foreigner but I am the only one standing there with nowhere to go. Taxi drivers kept coming up to me and asking me questions like “Where you want go?” and I would meekly reply, “Kids club? Are you from Kids club?” and they would grow tired of the language barrier and leave. Finally, after waiting an hour (till when my flight was SUPOSSED to arrive) I saw a very worried little man questioning the lady at the info desk and holding a sign with my name on it. He spoke NO English but he seemed very nice so I followed him out to his taxi van and we drive into the city.

By this time it’s about 10:30pm, the sky is dark and all the hundreds of thousands of buildings are lit up. It was so pretty! On my left the streets were full of bright yellow and red lights and flashing billboards everywhere and on my right the hills were covered with apartment complexes- so one hill would be all blue lights and the next- all purple! Then someone calls the driver and he hands me the phone- a lady with a thick accent starts talking to me “hello I’m —, how are you —-words—something—..” Somehow, I decipher that “the driver” is going to take me to my apartment and “the landlord” is going to let me in and that I should be at the school to start work at 9:30am the next morning. “Awesome.”

Then the driver seems confused-he keeps making u-turns and fiddling with his GPS (at the same time btw) and then he stops in front of a run-down looking used-appliance store. Oh great. We’re lost. He parks and gets out-motioning me to stay. And now he’s going to ask someone in this ghetto used refrigerator shop where we are. Great. Then he comes back and starts unloading my bags. Oh! Even better- we are not lost in the ghetto- this is where I live! The landlord comes out to say hello- again, absolutely no English but very sweet anyways (lots of head bowing) and he helps me drag my stuff down a very steep, skinny little alleyway to the building.

We drag my bags into the room and I am so tired I could pass out. But then the landlord starts giving me a tour of the tiny as apartment and showing me how to work EVERY single appliance. Ok thanks! Now get out so I can sleep please! Finally he leaves and even though the room is LITERALLY freezing- I put on every warm thing I brought and am asleep in seconds.  

The next day- my first day of school- was such a blur. I watched my manager teach “my classes” for most of the day and then, towards the end, she said “your turn!” and she “let me” teach one of the classes. Afterward, she tried to provide some constructive criticism on my teaching- and I tried not to laugh- thinking, “Lady, I am proud of myself for making it through the first day without falling asleep or accidently drooling on myself-by my American standards today was a huge success!”