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Sunday, September 26, 2010

Happy Chusok

Chusok is a Korea holiday equivalent to our Thanksgiving. Only it's three days instead of one. This year it happened to fall during the middle of the week. So I had to work Monday but had the rest of the week of! I've been planning and looking forward to going bunjee jumping for Chusok for a while. So I thought I'd venture to Seoul to see my friend Gina again (even though the last trip was pretty awful - nothing went as planned).

This trip was (almost) completely the opposite! I was a little worried at first. Gina doesn't have a cell phone right now. My internet wasn't working before I left. Luckily I told her when my bus was leaving and she told me her new apartment number. My stomach was in knots the whole ride up there (what would I do if I couldn't find her place...? Wander around in Ilsan?) 

My arrival was flawless (for the most part). Didn't even go the wrong direction on the subway! The only downer was the awful rain and the traffic. It was bumper to bumper basically the entire way to Seoul. America has no idea what holiday traffic is... And there were flash floods on the interstate going into the city. I got DRENCHED even with an umbrella. But, I made it safely.

Wednesday Gina got up at a decent hour to go shopping. I got my shop on like it was going out of style. Found some Winter clothes (I obviously don't have the typical Asian physique so that can pose a problem when looking for any type of apparel) and some shoes. Bought some books and some face stuff! Great shopping all around. Then we decided to go to Namsan tower (a needle point structure). You can take a cable car up to it (it's on a mountain).

We didn't know exactly how to get there but life is an adventure, right? Some Ajumma (Korean for older lady) told us which subway line to take. We get to the stop and a Korean couple is looking at the area map with us. They point at the same place we need to go. Same Same! (A new, commonly used phrase in my life.) So we decide to follow them. After all, they're Korean, we're not. They head up through these neighborhoods. I kind of questioned their route but they must be going the right way, right... Oh my gosh. Those people took us over a river, through the woods, up some hills, around corners and still, we were not  even close to the cable car place. They finally shoo us away and we come to the conclusion that maybe they are hiking, not going to the same place we are... Ugh. We found another Korean couple that got lost with us and together we all found the cable cars... Got some great views/pictures of the skyline just before my camera went dead. Then for dinner we ate delicious American food in Itaewon (the foreigner district of Seoul).

Next day (Thursday) we got up early-ish again and went to Costco (always a highlight of Ilsan trips!) where I bought REAL cheese, lunch meat, salsa, Heinz ketchup and American mascara! Lunch was Taco Bell! It's pretty sad when Taco Bell counts as Mexican food... Then we set off for the Seoul Zoo. It was decent for a zoo (although I don't think any zoo will ever be better than my beloved St. Louis Zoo...) and it was really fun to see all the Korean families and little kids everywhere. Success. Dinner was delicious Thai food (again in Itaewon) then met up with a couple friends.

Friday was bunjee day!! Gina had to work and everyone (in Pohang and Ilsan) flaked so it was just me and Nick. 9:00 am departure turned into, "Let's wake up at 9," turned into sleeping until 11, leaving around noon. Even if there was a big crowd and we had to wait, we really didn't have anything else to do... It took a two hour subway ride and ten minute taxi to get to the park. It didn't look crowded... Hmmm... No one was jumping. Or getting ready to jump. Hmmmm... The lake underneath was really low. Hmmm... You guessed it. They were closed. Now I did my research. The website specifically said open all days including holidays, rain or shine. I even tried to call at one point but got no answer. The site didn't mention that if the lake was too full or they were cleaning it (neither Nick nor I understand Korean but we tried our best to make up what we thought the Korean guy sleeping at the ticket counter said), no one could jump. It was a sad afternoon, two hour subway ride back and wasted day... That called for some soju...

After a short nap, we (I went out with Gina's friends because she had to work until 10 p.m.) ate some delicious Korean dinner, went to noraebang, and ended the night at a club. It was so much fun and I met some great people... Don't tell anyone but I secretly REALLY want to move there when my contract in Pohang is over! Shhhhh!

The next day (Saturday) I packed my stuff up for the journey back home to Pohang. Got home around 11 p.m. Met a friend for some drinks and called in a relatively early night. Today (Sunday) is just a relaxing day at a coffee shop (don't feel like looking at my mess of an apartment and mounds of dirty clothes to be washed) blogging, book and letters to family.

How many days until Christmas vacation?!?!?

 The Seoul skyline.
 Skyline from the top of the mountain.

 Cute giraffe headband. Small children were also wearing these accessories.
 Yay bungee jumping!!
Sad waygooks :(

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Only in Korea #1

I've decided that some blog posts will be devoted to Korea/Koreans in all their glory. I'm in a different country - there's a different culture. I know this. But sometimes the cultural differences just AMAZE me... For example:

When we (me and my bosses) leave the bank, we quickly discover that my director's car is blocked in by a different car. Because this Korean "parking lot" consisted of a rectangular grid painted on cement. No space to get out.

Now Koreans put their phone numbers in the front of their cars just in case a situation like this one. So my director could have called the owner of the vehicle blocking him in, then the owner would come out and move the vehicle. No.

He checks to see if the driver door is unlocked.
It is.
He gets in the car to see if the keys are in it.
They are.

He starts the car (that isn't his...), backs it up, then tells my supervisor (who does NOT have her driver's license) to get in his car and move it out - so he can put the car back in the same spot.

Remember, she doesn't have her driver's license. She is going to driving school but she drives forward. In a truck... So after about five minutes of waiting for her to reverse, he just parks the car that isn't his in a new spot and we drive away in the car that is his.

And this is completely normal. Only in Korea.

Also, look forward to the "Only in Korea" facebook photo album.

Pre-Chusok life

It's been a while since my last post... The past few weeks I've mostly been just looking forward to vacation. I did have "adventures" trying to set up online banking so I could transfer money home.

There was a lot lost in translation when I had originally gone to set up my bank account. And in America it doesn't take much to set up online banking. Social security number, bank account number, pin, etc... Not in Korea. Let me take a quite break and say Koreans are the most inefficient people EVER. They have zero organizational skills...(that means zero multi-tasking skills as well...)

I think I had it set up on my own without having to go to the bank. But still couldn't do what I needed to do. So I called the bank's English line from Skype. Naturally, a Korean answered. I tried to explain what I needed. She needed my Alien Registration Number. Fine. She asks a question I didn't really understand. I said yes (that's always my answer to questions I don't understand). Then I hear music and Korean jabber... I hung up. Because I obviously don't know Korean. I mean that's why I called the English line... So the next day I insist to my employer that I need to go to the bank branch with a Korean.

The lady taps at her computer for a while. Needed my registration card, passport, bank books. Fine. She gives me a new card thing and said I'm ready for online banking. (Not true...) I spent the rest of the day (an hour lunch break and five 10 minute breaks) trying to give the damn online system what it wanted. FINALLY I was able to send money home...

And I have a wonderful "Only in Korea" story...

Last Letter

Last Monday was the last day for my favorite student. Sad day. She had a chocolate bar and a letter for me and said I have to wait until after class to read it. And I would like to share it with my friends... Written verbatim.

[FRONT]: Dear Heather,
                 From Mary

You Are My Sun Shine ~


[Snow White sticker]  <---- It's you!


My last letter


[INSIDE, PAGE 1]

See you Some times!

Dear, my teacher Heather.
Teacher. today will be my last day. I enjoyed in your class. [Heart] When you came first day sometimes I hate you but not anymore. ^-^ Don't forget me! and I miss you so much ~<3 I have one secret that is why always I was bad. When Lily came to Level 4, I think you always good to Lily. I was bad and always angry, but not anymore ^-^ People's lifes are sad, bad, happy and good, like that

(My stickers give to Lily)

[PAGE 2]

I enjoy, happy, sad in your class. People is birth and die. That is look like start to finsh. Today is last in kid's college. Always we have end like me. So I was fun, enjoyed your class, and I can't easy decision. Don't forget and miss me!
I'm So Sorry But I Love You! 
I plentifully Sorry.      
See you some time.
and...
Thank you for teaching me!
I'm crying~ ^=^ 

Monday, September 6, 2010

Shopping Blunders

I'll start out by saying I'm an indecisive shopper even in the States. I dwell and get chooey about which product to pick. Which flavor/color? Which brand? Which is cheaper? Which is the better value? Oh I forgot I needed [insert item located on the other side of the store]...

I come to Korea and instantly, even if I plan to be in and out, the excursion takes forever... Because obviously, I can't read the labels. Now some products will have a little English on them but for other things, you just have to guess.

So here are some "shopping blunders" I've made in the two months I've been here:

1.     Laundry detergent and fabric softener. Not the same. And most of those packages do NOT have English on them. So for the first...three weeks or so I washed my clothes with fabric softener. And even worse, it took me two weeks to discover the mistake. I just thought Korean laundry detergent was really liquid and smelled really good...

2.     Produce... You know how in America if produce is nice and packaged, there is a set price for it. So you can just take it up to the checkout and they can scan it, etc etc...? Well in Korea they do have pre-packaged produce. But is the price on the package? Nope. Found this out the hard way when I was checking out. Several customers behind me of course. And the lady yells some Korean to another lady who dashes off towards the produce section. With my unmarked produce.

You have to weigh the package on this fancy scale and push a bunch of fancy Korean buttons and it prints you a nice label to put on your fruit. Easy enough. For Koreans... Last time I bought fruit there was a nice worker who "manned" the scale. Not tonight. After standing in front of it like a clueless waygook for a few minutes I decided to try myself. Put my fruit on. Punched in some numbers. Then some other buttons. Then the machine made a loud noise at me. Clearly not the right combination... So I waited a few more minutes before someone finally helped me. (She pushed two buttons)

3.     It's usually better to pay a little extra for the English on the label. I found out the hard way with salt. For $1 less, I could get the salt in the bag and just refill my old bottle. Easy enough. Until I realized what I got is NOT salt... For a few weeks I just didn't use salt because I was pretty sure I bought MSG. Remember, I can't read Korean. The only characters I recognized on the back was "MSG" and "Warning"...

I did find out tonight, though that it actually wasn't MSG. It's meat tenderizer.

126,000 wan later, I have groceries for the next two months. Yes, Koreans, I am white and I only go grocery shopping every two months. And ride the bus with my heavy backpack and full hands. Don't judge.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Birthday, Elvis and 157 planets

My 22nd birthday came and went. It was really good. It was on a Thursday night and I did have to work the next day....BUT still went out with a bunch of girl friends and had way too much fun. Next day: not fun. You can fill in the details...

I got really homesick at the end of the night. I've spent minor holidays away from home and major holidays away from home (but with family with me) but I've never spent my birthday completely away from family and my close friends. Hopefully the holidays coming up will be a little easier.

I've been in Korea for two months already! It seems like I just got here yesterday! I finally feel like a real teacher and I can see how my students are improving! I also got a new class this week. It is a beginner class. So I teach kindergarten in the morning and elementary in the afternoon. Most of my elementary classes are the older kids. Well now I have beginners - who don't know much English at all. It will be fun to see how they progress.

And one of the boys' English name is ELVIS. I was really excited to meet Elvis and he definitely lives up to his name! If you haven't see the "asian boy popstar" video you should check it out. This isn't Elvis but my Elvis stands up, shakes his hips and caresses himself in a similar way - every time he gets an answer correct. This class is going to be fun...

Oh and here's a link to the video. You only need to watch like 15 seconds to get a good impression...
Future Asian popstar/Elvis

And my "Korean kids say the darnest things" for this week:

A bonus question for a science test was "How many planets are there?" I wasn't sure how easy or hard this would be so I asked the kids at the beginning of class. One boy knew. He raised his hand confidently. And said, "Teacher, one hundred fifty-seven?" Hmmmm... (by the way that was the "Have you seen the pizza menu?" kid!)

Leave comments. Tell me what you think. Tell me you miss me! lol