The Korea Top Ten Lists (originally posted 28 August 06)

Friday, March 14, 2008

[Note: Looking back through these old blogs that I posted on MySpace during my first sojourn in SK has really brought back memories. Some are good; some are at least amusing. Since I'm planning to delete my MySpace account soon, I wanted to preserve them here.]

I've compiled the following lists of things that I expect to miss and things I believe I will happily leave behind. I've excluded things that are completely obvious or things that are lacking (i.e. variety of food).

Top 10 things I will miss about Korea (kind-of, sort-of in order):
10. the occasional thrill of getting to use my limited vocabulary and phrases
9. coffee vending machines everywhere -- 30 cents for a small cup
8. a free apartment
7. cheap knitting needles and other domestically-made goods
6. cheap and readily available buses and taxis, which eliminate the need for a car -- also, the extra money saved on car insurance, gasoline, and maintenance
5. the amusement of reading ridiculous English sayings everywhere (t-shirts, menus, walls, etc.)
4. meeting and working with people from different countries and backgrounds -- we're all some kind of crazy!
3. living 5 minutes from the beach and 20 minutes from the mountains
2. noraebang (private singing rooms)
1. kids who crack me up on a daily basis and really want to learn English

Top 10 things I will NOT miss about Korea:
10. air-drying all the laundry, including towels (ugh...crunchy)
9. my feet being the only "average-sized" thing about me
8. smelly kids who shower once a week (the minority) and/or don't want to learn anything
7. crowds and people getting into my "bubble" far too often
6. soju- and kimchi-tinged body odor (not mine, because I don't imbibe -- other people's)
5. humidity
4. mosquito bites
3. not-quite-right food: whipped cream on a baked potato, maraschino cherries on nachos, etc....
2. the sewer and fish smells that pop up randomly on the street
1. being stared at constantly and often talked about as if I am not there or cannot understand (which I sometimes can)

And the rains came down... (originally posted 14 July 06)

Saturday morning, eight a.m. Matthew and I were peacefully slumbering, when....
The loudest thunder clap either of us has ever heard shook us from our sleep. The rain came down in sheets. A car alarm went off, but the owner obviously had no desire to go outside to turn it off. The thunder continues to pound. The rain continues to fall. Everyone should experience the rainy season in Asia. Incredible!

Shopping fun (originally posted 20 June 06)

24 oz of Heinz Tomato Ketchup: W2,850
500 g. penne pasta: W1,480
Questionable Korean-made hotdogs: W1,500

Listening to "Shut the Fuck Up" by Limp Bizkit being played throughout D-Mart while purchasing the above, and probably being the only person in the store who found it the least bit amusing: PRICELESS

Sometimes I love Korea.

The politics of dancing (originally posted 26 May 06)

When Korean people do something, they do it ALL THE WAY. This applies to working, drinking, eating, protesting, and -- the latest development -- politicking. Local elections across the country will be held on May 31st. (I'm glad I won't be around for any national elections.)

It started out somewhat slowly, about a month ago. Huge posters began appearing on buildings all over town: headshots of men in suits between five and ten feet high. I noticed similar-looking men wandering around at bus stops, grocery stores, even on the city bus, talking to people and shaking hands. (I haven't seen any baby kissing, though.) Then last weekend, the real fun began. When I went to E-Mart, there were groups of young people clad in matching brightly colored t-shirts, dancing and cheering on the sidewalk in front of the store. Across the street there were trucks with huge banners (again the headshots), playing very loud music. One of my friends said the same scene occured in front of her apartment building. She could barely get in.

Within the past weeks, these campaign trucks have been everywhere. They just park on the sidewalk and start blasting music. Because it's warm and we keep the window open, we can hear speeches, cheering and music coming from near the beach, beginning fairly early in the morning. Luckily, the madness should end on Wednesday, and we have the day off.

The public schools are closed, so many of the foreign teachers convinced the hagwon owners to close as well. It's only fair, considering that all the hagwons in town were open on Teacher's Day, even though the public schools were closed. (Apparently, we're not real teachers. I did get some sweet gifts from kids, though.)

Before I forget (originally posted 28 January 06)

Everyday things that I'm starting to take for granted:

Water faucets are inconsistent. Some turn on when you pull the handle up (mostly bathroom); others require you to push the handle down (mostly kitchen). This can cause some confusion when you forget which is which. Also, hot water is on the left, most of the time. Not always.

Whole milk is standard. Nonfat and low fat yogurt are pretty rare, too. The plain (slightly sweetened) yogurt here is amazing. Dairy products actually taste like dairy, instead of mass-produced blah nothingness.

White bread is standard. I've seen what I think is a light rye bread and I've seen cinnamon raisin bread, but nothing in the family of wheat bread.

Garbage service works on a pay-as-you-go system. I buy special green bags at E-Mart for W350 (about 35 cents) and can then throw away as much garbage as will fit in the bag. Food garbage goes in a smaller yellow bag, which can be purchased at the 25-Hour Mart by my apartment. (I could buy the bags at other places, too.) Recycling is free. Unfortunately, no one in my apartment building seems to understand the concept of sorting. They just put all their recycleables in one bag and toss it into one of the three recycling containers.

Clothes dryers are virtually nonexistent. I suppose some rich people may have them somewhere, but there aren't any dryer hookups. So instead, everyone line (or rack) dries their clothes. It's common to see laundry on a line behind (or even in front of) a small family-owned business.

Toliet paper is scented. Probably because most Koreans don't flush the paper. Supposedly their pipes can't handle the toliet paper. I flush. (Don't tell anyone!)

Tap water is not considered fit for drinking, despite the fact that it's pretty clean and has fluoride added. I think this is because of the ondol floor heating system, in which hot water is circulated through pipes beneath the floor. As a heating system, it rocks. However, sometimes the water comes out a little rusty because it's been running around under the floor. Every restaurant and business has either bottled water or a filtration system.

Restaurant delivery is free and tipping doesn't exist. Men (always men) on small motorcycles deliver the food, usually on real dishes, and return to pick up the dishes (if necessary) after a certain amount of time.

Children can stare at, point at, and talk about foreigners and it's not considered rude. It's not unusual for a child to audibly gasp when I come around a corner. Children have also stared at me while I was eating in a restaurant on more than one occasion.

Selling appliances, among other things, requires very loud, usually English, music and dancing girls in mini-skirts and vinyl leg-warmer-type apparel, which is supposed to look like go-go boots. I'm sure there's more, but that's all I can think of right now.

Butchered, I tell you! (originally posted 25 January 06)

Sunday, I finally decided to get a haircut. My last one had been sometime in October. Matthew and I went in together, this being his third haircut in Korea. In anticipation of a hot, muggy summer, unlike anything I've experienced before, I have been planning to grow my hair longer. I'd like to have it at least long enough to pull up off my neck.

I missed the first warning sign. While my hair was being shampooed, the stylist presented MATTHEW with a photo book...asking HIM to pick my new hairstyle. Knowing better, he refused and told the stylist she needed to ask me. Unfortunately, I didn't know about this until after my hair was already gone.

Next, I was shown the book. I kept pointing at longer styles and indicating that I only wanted a trim. imagine my surprise when she just started hacking off my hair. Yes, I am exagerrating, but it's much shorter than I wanted. She also thinned it with the razor-scissor dealy-bobber, which is actually pretty good -- that's the cut I had before -- but it means it will take that much longer to grow out again. It's not a tragic event, but I'm still a little upset. I'm really apprehensive about getting another haircut. Maybe I can just wait until I'm home in December!

I think I'll also have to wait until December to buy any pants. In the same shop where I saw the anti-Bushy sign, there was a table of really cute pajama separates: drawstring pants and camisole tops. I was looking for a size on the pants, when a very helpful salesgirl tried to help. She pointed to the sign listing the price. I explained I was looking for a size, and she told me they were "one-size-fits-all." I held up a pair and saw there was NO WAY IN HELL those were going to fit me. She commented, "Face is small." I wanted to reply, "But ASS is big." However, I stifled this comment and explained, with the help of some hand gestures, that Korean women are very narrow-hipped, while I am simply not. Maybe I could buy two pairs and sew them together. I'm the short-haired, big-arsed white girl. Peace out!

Whities, whities everywhere (originally posted 18 January 06)

Saturday, we had to go to Wonju for a conference for all the new foreign teachers in our province. (It was supposed to be about 2 hours away, but the bus ride ended up being 4 hours.) So there alone, we saw more white people than we've seen pretty much the whole time we've been here.

From there, we caught a bus to east Seoul and rode the subway to COEX Mall, a huge shopping center downtown. (One of the biggest bookstores, with a good selection of English language books, is located there.) So this whole time, there are whities EVERYWHERE! It's a bit of shock after not seeing any for so long. Seriously, we sometimes go a week without seeing another foreigner in Sokcho. (I did my best not to stare at the freaks.)

At a "lifestyle shop" in TechnoMart (another large mall by the bus station) -- basically like Anthropologie, but more reasonably priced -- we saw a strange sign in the middle of a table of floor cushions. It was an anti-Bush sign. I'm kicking myself for not taking a picture. There seems to be a lot of anti-Bush sentiment here...or, perhaps I should say, anti-Bushy, since that's what most people here call him. I don't think it's necessarily disrespectful, as the tendency is to end all words in a vowel...but it's funny shit to me! It makes me think of a Michael Moore line, "The Bushies are coming! The Bushies are coming!"

An-young Haseyo (originally posted 05 December 05)

Finally, I am surfacing to write another entry. South Korea is fantabulous, and obviously has been keeping me quite busy. It's a bit strange having a job again after almost 5 months of basically unemployed bliss. But I really love my job (most of the time). It's a completely different experience than teaching English literature and writing in the States, but I think I like it more. Don't get me wrong, I LOVE teaching poetry, novels, all that stuff, but it gets really LAME when 90% of your students don't give a crap. Here, my students (with a few exceptions) WANT to learn English. They're attentive, polite, and enthusiastic...of course, some of them are so shy that their enthusiasm comes out as a whisper.

The food here is great (for the most part) and I feel safer here than I did on the streets of the 'Couv.' I haven't been to Seoul yet, but from what I've heard, it's almost as safe in the city of 10 million as it is here with only 90,000. The people we've met have all been very helpful and understanding and our bosses have gone above and beyond our expectations at almost every turn. Matthew and I know enough Korean to get by: Hello, Please, Thank you, I'm sorry, Excuse me, How much is it?, etc. and pointing/pantomiming has gotten us through the rest.

The only thing that's given me any kind of anxiety is shopping for groceries. We have five different kinds of cookies in our cupboard right now. Why? Because cookies are safe. There are usually pictures on the front and you really can't stray too much from the American concept of a cookie. Other fairly safe items are juice, bread products, fruit, vegetables, and yogurt. Meat starts getting scary, as does any kind of canned goods. We've managed to find spaghetti and marinara-type sauce and we purchased some pre-seasoned beef that we cooked up and ate with rice. Other than that, it's been frozen foods that require frying (little dumplings stuffed with some meat and veggies), breaded shrimp, etc), noodle bowls, etc. Actually we eat out a lot because it's so inexpensive. We've found a few restaurants with English menus...oh, we even found a good Italian restaurant for my b'day dinner.
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