This past weekend was probably the most gluttonous (real word! first I accidentally typed glutinous...like the rice donuts they make here...but that is incorrect) weekend I've had since I moved to Korea. Possibly ever, lol. All I did all weekend was drink, eat, and relax. It was glorious.
Friday night Dana and I had discussed going to the Totally Awesome 80s Prom in Itaewon, but after waffling back and forth for a while, we decided against it. An interactive show is significantly less fun if you can't interact with the members because you have no common language. And I hate being the center of attention, so its probably best that we didn't go. We decided we'll just go in NYC at some point instead! Since I didn't have to be anywhere I indulged in some Pizza School and laid around my apartment watching Lost. It was great.
Monday morning I woke up for the wine train feeling sick AGAIN. My throat hurt, I was congested, and generally just not a happy camper. And since I was planning on indulging in quite a bit of wine, I thought it best not to take any Tylenol Cold and Sinus (thanks Mom!). My plan was to hit Dunkin Donuts really quick and pick up some food on the way to Seoul Station to catch the train. I had told Erich (and everyone else coming from our area) that I would be on the 8:06am train out of our station. On the way out of the building I realized that I had forgotten my T-money card in my room. I raced back upstairs and ran into Melissa in the hallway who said she had also planned to go to DD. She waited for me while I grabbed my card and we headed over to Dunkin Donuts. One thing I CANNOT GET OVER in Korea is the bakery situation. There are bakeries and Dunkin Donuts all over the place, but none of them open early. They open at 8:00am or 9:00am but don't have anything baked! You walk in and you're surrounded by empty shelves. I swear I'm just waiting for a tumbleweed to roll by. When we arrived just before 8:00am (store hours posted say they open at 7:00am) all of the lights were off, but the door was unlocked so we went in. There were two girls working, but I could tell they weren't fully awake or ready to work yet. I grabbed a muffin and ordered my black tea latte (new addiction). Rather than having one girl make my super easy latte and the other helping Melissa, they both stood by the register as Melissa got her stuff and ordered her coffee. Then Melissa tried to pay with a "Happy Points Card" (you earn points when you buy stuff using it and then you can redeem those points to buy other things...like a cup of coffee). Things got a little sticky here and there was some trouble communicating, but we think that the problem was that there were not enough points on the card for what she ordered. She gave them cash, they gave her change, and THEN they started making our drinks. At this point, it had taken waaay longer than expected and we had missed our train. Unfortunate, especially since that train would have put us there just a few minutes early and the second train would be cutting it close. Since we live after the split of the purple line the trains are spaced far between. It was nearly 16 minutes before the next train came and by then we were just late.
The train ride was pretty uneventful except for fielding multiple phone calls from everyone going. At one point I was on the phone with Erich, Dana was texting me, and Melissa was talking to Shannon and Chrissy on the phone. We rolled into Seoul Station minutes before the train left and thankfully Shannon had picked up our tickets so everyone was ready to go. There were six of us total: Me, Dana, Erich, Melissa (who lives in my building), Shannon (one of Erich and Melissa's friends who lives in our district), and Chrissy (one of Erich/Shannon/Melissa's friends who lives up in Nowon). There was one other group of foreigners, a family, but that was it.
When making the reservations you had the option of a super fancy wine car, or a semi-fancy ginseng car. While I was literally in the process of confirming my seats, they sold out on the wine car, so I had to get the ginseng car. I have to say...I am happy that is how it turned out. Our car was a lot more chill and we still got all the wine that everyone else got. Situation: AWESOME. When I made the reservations I got to actually pick out the seats we would be sitting in. I picked a table of four and a little two person table behind it so that we wouldn't have to sit with any strangers. Turns out that the drawing made it look like it would be much easier to communicate between the regular sized table and the mini-table than it actually was. Thankfully our car wasn't full so they let us switch seats to a table across the row from our full table. Shannon and I had a table all to ourselves and it was super nice. Two times the room! Two times the wine glasses! Two times the fancy!
The first thing you do on the wine train is listen to a guy describe all the wines in great detail...also in Korean. Dana was able to translate some for us, but the names were pretty straight forward and easy to keep track of: Nouveau, Dry, Sweet, and Korean Sweet. We got to sample all four and they pretty much lived up to their names. Nouveau was pretty perfect, Dry was really dry, Sweet was sweet, and Korean sweet was DAMN sweet. I stuck with the Nouveau the rest of the day. After picking our wine we got right down to drinking. Melissa soon fell asleep in the corner and slept for a long while, during which the rest of us talked, shared stories, laughed, and got pleasantly buzzed. They also provided us with trays of cheese, fruits, rolls, etc that were quite nice. On the car there were an assortment of men in shiny, shiny outfits (they use super shiny suit fabric here, so all these guys had shiny dark gray pants, shiny maroon shirts, and shiny ties!). There was also a man I referred to as our "cruise director" who was obviously in charge of keeping us entertained.
Cheers to Nouveau!
Cheers to Dry!
Cheers to Sweet!
Cheers to Korean Sweet!
Food with our wine.
A pair of glasses make the scenery look so much prettier.
After drinking for a while the cruise started up some party games for everyone to participate in. First he gave his number to everyone on the car (as he said it in Korean we all shouted out the English number, showing off our mad skillz, haha) and the first person to call him when he said go won a bottle of wine. None of us won, but one of the ajummas on our half of the car won, so that was sweet. Then we played some games based upon the awesomely popular Kai Bai Bo (Korean for paper, rock, scissors). First we just had to beat him (all playing at the same time...playing rock/paper/scissors as a group game still confuses me), then we had to match him in order to win. Then he had us pair up and gave each of us four stickers- two bright yellow smiley faces and two bright orange sad faces. We played our friends (I played Shannon) and if we won we got to put a sad face sticker on their face and a happy face sticker on our own. Obviously, if we lost, we were stuck (sticker pun intended) with the sad face. It was pretty hilarious and we all looked absurd with our faces covered in stickers. There was a clapping game next, which was harder than it sounded. Finally we played some games with balloons, mainly trying to see who could keep it in the air the longest. First we did it independently, then with partners, then as a whole group holding hands. It was a lot of fun and toooootally random.
Erich and Dana with their stickers.
Shannon and I striking a pose.
Shannon and I clapping like our lives depend on it.
Clockwise: Chrissy, Melissa, Erich and Dana playing games.
Awesome group shot.
Once their games were done we had about a half an hour left before we got to Yongdong so we played the electronic game my mom recently sent me, called A to Z. Basically there are category cards in the back and when it is your turn you try to think of as many things that fit into that category as you can during the allotted time. In a perfect world (that I have yet to experience), you would think of something for every letter that fit into that category. As you think of something, you push the letter button and the light goes off. The next round you get a new category and only have to do the letters you still have lit up. It is CHALLENGING, especially since some of the categories are super specific, and a ton of fun. We actually finished the game just as we pulled into the station.
Once in Yongdong we were herded off to the train and onto a bus for a ride that took us roughly 20 minutes into the countryside, dropping us off at Chateau Mani. We walked off the bus and right into the buffet room, where we ate SO MUCH FOOD. It was a delicious buffet, full of tasty treats. Really good. After lunch it was time to head off on a tour of the grounds. This part was...frankly...boring. It was all in Korean and we didn't understand any of it, so we spent a lot of time goofing around and probably talking too loud. We started in the wine cellar, then toured the fermentation area and bottling plant. We even got to walk through a private wine cellar that (famous? rich? influential?) people can store their wine in. Unfortunately I didn't recognize any of them. Then came the fun parts! We were led into a large room with a stage where we had to pick up flip flops and a little towel. We rolled up our pants, put on the (tiny!) flip flops, and headed to an outdoor terrace area where they had wine foot soaks. You sat around these like hot tub sized pools with about 8 Koreans and soaked your feet in this MILLION DEGREE pool of wine. It was so hot. I think my feet actually began to cook. All of my skin that was under water turned bright red, which I have determined was mostly due to the heat and only a little due to the wine. Shannon, Melissa, Chrissy and I were all at one pool and Erich and Dana were at another. We had a fun group of ajummas and ajosshis who taught us how to make these ridiculous little hats out of our towels. We looked like Princess Leia wannabes!
So much good food!
Wine barrels in a cellar.
One might say we had...BARRELS OF FUN!
(Photo stolen from Dana's Facebook page)
Optical illusions gone wrong.
"It is time to get drink.
So as not to be the martyred slaves of time.
Get drunk without stopping!
On wine, on poetry, or on virtue, as you wish."
We found a carton of wine bottles.
Erich surveying his (pretend) personal wine collection.
Wine foot baths.
A new friend making the first hat.
Chrissy and Melissa, totally stylin'.
Our new Korean foot bath buds!
After we were done boiling our feet in wine, we headed inside to "listen" to some woman speak for a while and then make these bath balls that you could theoretically put in your tub if Korean bathrooms had such a thing. I've just been breaking off little pieces of mine and using it as soap! The people at our table for the craft time were not so friendly, so we tried to find another table, but they didn't want us there because there weren't enough supplies. No one wanted to waegooks! Tear. Eventually we just went back to our table and I forced this young couple to let me do it on my own.
Hahaha, sculpture pose!
After craft time we had a few minutes to walk through the gift shop (I retrospectively regret not purchasing the mint chocolate tea that they sold there...it smelled really good) before boarding the bus. We were on the bus for about 45 minutes, exactly enough time to take a refreshing nap. We ended up at a ginseng museum, where we made these little ginseng sachets (which smelled up my purse and later my apartment, so I threw it out). Thankfully there were directions with pictures on them! Then we walked around the museum for a bit (pretty much nothing was in English), generally just getting creeped out by ginseng. Seriously...it looks like people. There was also a SUPER disturbing video of a folktale about ginseng. Basically there was a boy and his dad got sick with "epidemic" and the boy was told that only going and getting some "wild ginsengs" would cure his father. So he set off and when he fell asleep a god came and told him he had to cross seven mountains and go to this village. When he got there he would find twelve bodies and he needed to cut the leg off the twelfth body and feed it to his father. (Disturbing, right?) So he goes and cuts the leg off and then he is chased by this monster, who is screaming that he wants his leg back. The boy gets home, boils the leg and feeds his father the soup he made out of it. The father gets better and the next day the boy finds a big ginseng outside his house missing a leg, and a leg of ginseng in the pot he boiled. I...don't know what the moral of this story is, other than ginseng is creepy as all get out.
Ginseng is the stuff of nightmares. Tell me that top one doesn't look like a creepy dancer and the bottom doesn't look like two people wrestling.
Arts and crafts time!
When we were done at the museum we were given some time to walk around a ginseng village. I am not entirely sure where we were, but this village definitely revolves around ginseng. Walking down the street you had to weave through piles of it on the ground, pass huge jars of it on display, and smell it being cooked in ten different ways. One that we had to take advantage of was fried ginseng. I mean, come on, anything that is fried can't be THAT bad...right? It was okay...basically tasted like a fried root. I guess they must not get a lot of tourists in this ginseng town, because the locals still played the "point and laugh at the foreigners" game. People who don't look like me?! HILARIOUS!!! We also walked through a market and holy crap, it was like we were part of some sort of parade. Immediately all eyes were on us and there was a lot of talking about us. Do not love.
It was neither amazing nor horrific.
(Photo stolen from Dana's Facebook page)
Group photo with the creepy animated ginseng.
We got back on the bus and were force-fed some ginseng candies (not delicious) and I figured we were heading towards the train station since our schedule said we were supposed to leave fairly soon. Instead we get farther and farther into the countryside, until we end up on this windy little road that the buses have to back into. We all file off the bus and are led towards a cave in the side of a hill. At this point, I am 73% sure that we are being led to our deaths. But it turns out that we were really just being shown a really random, super moldy, dusty old wine cellar. We sent Dana out to ask why we weren't on the train and found out that they had called ahead and the train was delayed so we had come to the death caves to kill some time. Soon we were back on the bus and heading towards civilization: namely the Yongdong Train Station. We had a to wait a little while for our train, so we got to talking with the other waegooks. It was a man and his wife visiting her son who teaches at a hagwon in Seoul. There was also another girl with them, who we assume was the guy's girlfriend. While talking the man suddenly blanches a little and says "uh oh, looks like there is a problem." Turns out someone had thrown up behind us, which, sadly was not nearly as damaging for me as it should have been. I was just like "eh, someone else threw up?" I have become desensitized to Koreans vomiting!
Dusty, moldy wine cellar.
Sunset on the ride home.
The train ride home was a lot of fun. We played Kings for a long time, basically going through the whole deck of cards twice. By the ride home we had the wine caddy really well trained and he would come immediately when any of us got near the bottom of our glass. After a while the live musician came into our car and played WAY too loud. I can no longer use "Never have I ever experienced temporary hearing loss due to a very loud Korean singer on a wine train." Sad. We got back to Seoul Station around 9:40pm and I was pretty sure there was an Outback Steakhouse there that I desperately wanted to eat at (I was in the mood for steak like it was my job). Sadly, we could not find an Outback, but Shannon, Melissa, Chrissy and I did end up getting dinner (and a mind-blowingly expensive pitcher of beer) at Bennigan's. The Monte Cristo sandwich is God's gift to drunk people. The end.
I subwayed home and arrived around midnight. It was a WONDERFUL day.
Sunday was a Brunch Bunch day, so our plan was to go to Toque Diner in Itaewon at 12:30pm. Dana, Laura and I met there and discovered that they are, in fact, closed on Sundays (contrary to what my online research indicated). Disheartened, we walked down the street into Itaewon and decided to got to Gecko's Garden (note, not Gecko's Terrace). Settled on a street just one block off the main street in Seoul, Gecko's Garden looks like a little European restaurant. It has a beautiful terrace area surrounded by trees and plants, and on Sundays they offer a buffet for 19,000won. It was SO GOOD. They had amazing crusty bread with garlic butter, tons of salad choices, risotto, grilled (!) steak, made to order pasta, spring rolls, waffles, pancakes, french toast, you name it. It was just a really relaxing and beautiful location. We stayed for about three hours, haha.
Patio seating at Gecko's Garden. We ate upstairs in the covered terrace.
Dana, Laura and I at brunch.
(Photo stolen from Dana's Facebook page)
After brunch I decided to take advantage of the gorgeous day so I headed down to Yeoido to meet Julia. She hobbled up a little while after I got there and we walked down to watch the ridiculous jet skiers on the Han River. Then we decided to grab a seat and we relaxed on some steps leading down to the water while talking and people watching. There were some incredibly cute children and dogs out walking around. Laura arrived a while later and we spent some more time relaxing as the sun set before heading towards the 63 Building in search of dinner. We went to a samgyeopsal/bulgogi restaurant that Julia and Laura had been to before where I enjoyed some delicious bulgogi. Sorry, something about the description of samgyeopsal (possibly the the phrase "fatty slices of pork belly meat") does not make me especially hungry. After dinner we discussed the possibility of going to see Iron Man 2, but time got away from us and we decided we should probably just go home and call it a night.
Show off jet skiers on the Han. Guy closest to us was pretty hot, not gonna lie.
Boat, complete with foliage, out on the river.
Monday I grudgingly woke up and headed in to work, where four minutes before class began I was informed I didn't have to teach because it was field day. Ok by me! Field day here is not nearly as exciting (or fun, in my opinion) as field day at home. It is literally track and field events only- lots of relay races, laps around a oval drawn on the dirt, vaulting, etc. Kind of strange. I took some pictures and enjoyed a day of desk warming by preparing some upcoming lessons. Monday night was our Dasi Hamkke Meeting (moved from Wednesday since it was a national holiday) which was entertaining, as per usual. It is going to be so strange when Hannah and Julia leave this summer...arguing about words just won't feel the same!
Field day without a field.
But plenty of track!
Tuesday I had off as a school holiday since Wednesday was Children's Day. I slept in a bit and headed over to Asan Medical Center because, SURPRISE, I'm sick again. Honestly, I think that in the nearly nine months I have been here, I've only been well for about two and a half months. And that includes the two weeks I was out of the country in SE Asia. Let me break it down for you.
May 30: I've been sick for days, and by this Tuesday I am so sick I take a day off work and go to the hospital. I get put on 2 weeks of Omnicef (antibiotic) and Sudafed, which I take.
April 13: Finish my antibiotics, feel better.
April 16: Start feeling sick again.
April 19: Decide to self medicate with left over Augmentin (antibiotic) that I had from a December sinus infection (took the wrong dosage). Take the correct dosage three times a day for ten days.
April 28: Finish my antibiotics, feel better.
May 1: Start feeling sick again.
May 4: Go to the doctor again. Get put on two weeks of Omnicef and Sudafed.
It is a never ending cycle where long stretches of feeling crappy are interrupted by short stretches of feeling okay. Not good! When I walk into the International Clinic, literally all the nurses know me by name. Dr. Choi is great, and when I went Tuesday I sat down and I was like "I mean this in the nicest possible way...I am really sick of seeing you." We discussed how absurd it is that I am sick so often and decided that I should probably have some Korean allergy testing done. When I got allergy testing done in the states they did a food panel and a environmental panel. All together there were probably about 30-40 pricks on my arm. The problem is that (obviously) the environmental allergens in the Mid-Atlantic of the United States are very different from the environmental allergens that I am reacting to in Korea. So the best plan of action is to just get a Korean panel done. That means 72 needle pricks on my back tomorrow morning at 9:00am. Woo? To be honest the last allergy test was such a let down (only dust?! really?!) that I don't have high hopes for this one, haha. I am just hoping they can say "This. This is what you are allergic to." I am also hoping it is not something like MSG or seaweed which are basically unavoidable here. Should be an adventure! After the allergy tests I am meeting with an allergist so they can hopefully give me some answers, or some suggestions about what might make Korea a little more livable for me. Seoul needs to be more like College Park...a livable community! Someone was just telling me that they had a friend who had to move home because her asthma was so bad in Seoul. My mom has said a few times that she's concerned that my sinuses/lungs will be permanently damaged from me living here...hope that's not true!
After my doctor's appointment and a stop at the pharmacy I headed home where I vegetated for a little while before it was time to meet up with people for the baseball game. Go figure that the baseball and basketball stadiums are both on this side of the city, when soccer (the one sport I really love) is on the other side of Seoul (like an hour and fifteen minutes away). I met up with a crew including Frank, Melissa, Shannon, Jamie (Shannon's husband), Julia, Gabe (Julia's friend who is visiting from the states), Dana, Erich, and some of Erich's other friends (other Julia, Justin, and....blanking on the last girl's name). Baseball games here are roughly...387% more fun than games in the states. There is tons of synchronized cheering, you get these blow up noise makers, you're surrounded by Koreans businessmen eating gimbap and cheering with fried chicken wings, its glorious. Each player has their own chant/song that goes with their name, and it is tons of fun to join in (even though you don't know what they are saying). It was a quality good time, and our seats were totally rockin'. 100% worth the <$6 it costs per person. After the game a bunch of us headed down to Sincheon where we got a table at a bar and played some games while enjoying some beer and chicken. What more could you ask for? Erich, other Julia and I shared a taxi home (subways are just a headache, even if they were still running) and I got home and crashed before midnight.
Jamsil Stadium, all lit up. Both of the teams (LG Twins and Doosan Bears) are Seoul teams, so they share this stadium as their home stadium. It was interesting to see them play each other.
LG Twins fans were stoked!
Erich, Dana and I with our noise makers.
Me, Julia and Gabe enjoying the game.
Forget hot dogs...gimbap is Korean baseball game food!
I had made plans to meet up with Julia, Gabe, and Laura to explore one of the west sea islands off of Incheon called Ganghwado. They have some cool stuff including dolmens, temples, and beaches, so it sounded like a good time. However when I woke up to get ready it became quickly apparent that I wasn't going anywhere. I felt like crap. I called Julia and my mom and crawled back into bed where I slept for another four hours. Then I got up, went to get some food, and spent the rest of the afternoon/evening alternating between watching Lost (just about to finish Season 4 for those of you who are interested) or a movie (Clash of the Titans, specifically) and cleaning/doing laundry. Then, of course, last night I had a killer time falling asleep so I woke up today kind of cranky. Aigh. Can't win.
This morning I came to school and asked if classes were back to normal. I was assured that, yes, they were. I was moments away from going downstairs to make copies when Yeon Ah called me (from downstairs) and said first period would be starting 20-30 minutes late. Why, pray tell, would they not just cancel the 40 minute period when 30 of the minutes are taken up? I am not sure. But hey...it's Korea. So I settle back into my chair only to be roused by Yeon Ah about 5 minutes later as she says there was a change of plans and now we must go teach. You cannot get more last minute than this country, I swear it. So I go down and teach first period, and then she tells me now second period is cancelled so the kids can all watch a video assembly on the dangers of internet addiction. So I had second period off. Geesch, I can't keep up.
This afternoon has been pretty chill. I had to go down to the office with Yeon Ah and (awkwardly) try to explain why I couldn't come to school tomorrow. The secretary actually had the audacity to ask if me being sick so often was "a psycho problem, like homesickness." Um...don't even know how to respond to that. I know my mouth literally fell open before I pulled it together to be like "Uh, no. I am pretty sure its environmental. That's why I'm on antibiotics all the time." Ugh.
I am trying to get all my crap in order so that I'm ready for Carl and Monica. My apartment is...so messy. But I am cleaning it, slowly but surely. I cannot believe that one week from today Carl will be here! And one week from tomorrow we'll be picking up Monica! AAAAHHHH! So syced. Tomorrow I hope to do a little more cleaning after my allergy tests, and Saturday Ayzia, Erich, Laura and I are going on a Caves and Ferry Riding trip through Adventure Korea. I love this description: "It will be a pretty relaxing trip, which doesn't involve too much walking or hard work, so it is ideal for those of you who are either too old or lazy to walk up mountains." LOL. Sign me up! Sunday is all about putting the finishing touches on my apartment so I don't have to do anything (other than KEEP it clean) during the week. The next couple weeks are going to be packed with fun stuff while Carl and Monica are here, so I am also going to try and get some rest and get better so I am ready to go.
All in all, I have a lot to look forward to!