Friday, May 6, 2011
I fairly recently became friends with a really fun Montanan couple named Amanda and Tom who live up north near Diana. It was Tom's birthday on Friday and I was scheduled to meet Tom, Amanda, Shannon, Jamie, and Diana for dinner and gambling at Walker Hill, a fancy pants W Hotel located in Gwangnaru. I had to put the kibosh on dinner plans, however, due to the fact that my view and select window for Harvard housing began at 6:05am EST, or 7:05pm Korean time. (I needed to be online to battle hordes of other incoming students who were also gunning for three-bedroom, pet-friendly apartments. In the end, Obi and I each ended up getting an apartment and we are giving mine up because hers seems like a better arrangement.)
After completing the housing quest, I tried getting in contact with everyone to see where I should meet them. No one was picking up their phones for over an hour, and I was sooooooooo close to changing into my PJs and hopping into bed, but eventually they called back and I hopped into a cab to be whisked off to the Paradise Casino. Bizarrely, only foreigners are allowed to gamble in Korea, so they will often check your alien registration card or passport at the door (especially if you are Asian). It is a pretty freaking sweet deal...free drinks (including the world beer cart) and food for people playing games. Since I'm not much of a gambler, I decided I would just stick to playing one 10,000won bill in the slot machines. Um...yeah...ended up winning a total of 230,000won. Pretty freaking sweet! I was quite psyched that I had decided to go out.
You aren't allowed to take pictures inside where the gambling happens, but this is the entrance.
Saturday, May 7, 2011
Festival weekend 2010 kicked off to a good start with a trip out to Yeouido for the Hi Seoul Festival. Apparently these festivals are held once or twice a year, but I've never been to one. The theme of this spring's festival was non-verbal performance, and they had performers come from all over the world to do things that fell under that theme. There were a few big tents set up, as well as outdoor stages right along the river. The day was really warm and smoggy, so thankfully the performances we chose were in the tents. We started by getting tickets, which were free, to two hour-long shows. The first was a performance by Puppet City, a Korean puppetry company. While the show really should have been just a half hour (one hour is a LOT of puppets) I still thought it was really cool. They did some neat stuff with traditional puppets, as well as interesting things with glow in the dark and black light affected puppets. For the second hour we watched Flying to the Sky, a performance by Dong Choon Circus, who claim to be the only circus in Korea. They were quite impressive, even though their stage was itty bitty and I was constantly concerned that they'd go flying off the end.
Nothing starts the day off right like a delicious corndog.
Kites on the Han!
Circus performers on the poles.
Literally jumping (and flipping) through hoops.
Around 4:00pm we left Yeouido and headed up to Insadong where the Lotus Lantern Parade was taking place. Last year we got there kind of late and didn't have seats, so this year we wanted to scout out some good spots. Thankfully Frank, Julia, Carin, Stephanie and I reserved a big chunk of 12 seats right in front of McDonalds and camped out for a while. As we picnicked on Mickey D's it became clear that the warm lovely day was quickly becoming overcast, windy and quite cold. Thankfully it didn't rain and I had a blanket that we could use to keep warm. Eventually everyone arrived: Diana, Amanda, Tom, Chrissy, David, and Melissa all took their seats and the parade finally started. As per usual, it was absolutely lovely. We had fantastic seats right on the road, so that was great. It was also great that everyone thought my blanket was hilarious and wanted to wave and say hello to us. By the end of the evening my arm was really tired and my cheeks hurt from smiling. A true testament to our popularity was the fact that at the end of the evening we had collected SEVEN lanterns from people who liked us when they passed and handed them to us. We're classy.
Pretty sunset as we waited for the parade.
Women in hanboks.
I love haechi.
Elephant lantern (with fully articulated moving trunk!).
Korean turtle ship lantern.
Lady in a lantern.
Awesome dragon head lantern.
Buddha riding on a haechi lantern. Obviously.
Dragons of the sea lantern.
Underwater tree lantern?
Sunday, May 8, 2010
Day two of festival weekend! We started around 12:30pm up in Insadong for the Lotus Lantern Festival. Diana, Carin, Julia and I started by walking around the festival and checking out all the booths. We also went to sign up to make lotus lanterns, and were told that we were supposed to have reserved spots online and there were none left. Say what? I was on that website like it was my job and I never saw anything about reservations. Thankfully we talked them into starting a waiting list (took some explanation) and wandered off to make some paper flowers and lotus candles, as well as taking some photos of the stunning Jogyesa Temple. By the time we were finished it was time to make the lanterns, so we headed back up to the front and were pleased (but not surprised) that a crapton of foreigners hadn't shown up so there was plenty of room for us. To hours later we had finished, haha. I will say that my lantern making technique definitely improved over the last year...I can tell very clearly which lotus lantern was made my first year and which one was made my second. That's skill, people. I'm practically a professional.
Girls getting ready to perform at the festival.
With our hand crafted lotus flowers.
Love the lanterns.
Carin and I with what is apparently a very important and historic tree.
Julia working on her lotus candle.
As we were just starting.
Hard at work (much later in the process).
Posing with our hard work!
After we finished, it was time for the Seoul Friendship Festival. We had briefly popped into this festival during the scavenger hunt, but we REALLY wanted to try the international food court, which was...AMAZING. Oh man. If I had known it was that good (and that close to the Cheonggyecheon) I would have been there the day before as well! Over 60 countries set up booths with traditional food, drinks, and other goodies. We camped out on our blanket in front of Indonesia and sent people out on deliciousness recon missions. I chowed down on super tasty food from Indonesia, India, Brazil, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Lebanon, and Pakistan. So good!
Tents of deliciousness.
After dining, Carin, Julia, Chrissy and I headed out in hopes of finding a Board Game Cafe. We found one...but we really weren't interested in any of their offerings, so we decided to go off and see a movie instead. Right down the street was Seoul Theater, which turned out to be REALLY COOL! It is like an old movie theater with marquees, glowy lights, and old school theater configuration. We decided to see Source Code because Frank had raved about it. It was good...but probably would have been better if Frank hadn't raised our expectations, haha. Then it was back home.
Monday, May 9, 2011
After sleeping in I woke up to a rainy, humid, generally gross day. Thankfully I had a fun adventure planned with Shannon that cheered me up. Around 1:00pm we headed off to Anguk Station to visit the headquarters of Girl Scouts Korea. Some of you probably already know that I was a super active Girl Scout in the states from kindergarten right through twelfth grade. I earned my silver and gold awards, went on my first international trip with my troop, and generally just did lots of awesome stuff with the organization. A big part of that was the fact that my mom was a super fantastic troop leader. She now volunteers on the higher levels of scouting (service unit and council), and she collects historic uniforms and accessories. Our job was to get a Girl Scout uniform and Scout uniform. Each school apparently chooses which organization they are affiliating with. All the kids at my school (girls and boys) are just Scouts, which falls under the umbrella of Boy Scouts. Carin, however, has girls at her school that are part of Girl Scouts, which falls under the umbrella of WAGGGS (World Association of Girl Guiding and Girl Scouts). Anyway, we needed a uniform from each.
We started in Anguk at the GSK office, which was SUPER easy to find. Walk out exit 1 and it is directly on your left. We hopped in the elevator and went up to the shop, which was staffed by two sweet women (who spoke very little English but really didn't need to). We bought a bunch of stuff there and asked if they had better directions to the Scout headquarters because we needed to go there next. Thankfully they were able to direct us to a MUCH closer shop, cutting at least 40 minutes off of our trip. We walked over to Gwanghwamun and after a little confusion about where exactly it was located, we finally found the Korea Scout Association shop, where I proceeded to buy up a storm. It was a VERY successful trip and I was glad my fellow scout (Shannon) decided to come along! After we were done I subwayed home to vegetate and cool off out of the horrid humidity.
Fun window display.
Entrance to the headquarters.
The ever-so-difficult-to-find Scout store.
Korea Scout Association cub scout (elementary) uniform.
Girl Scouts Korea elementary uniform.
Badges and pins. All are from KSA except for the three on the right which are from GSK.
Tuesday, May 10, 2011
We had Monday and Tuesday off for Buddha's Birthday celebrations. Buddha's Birthday is noted on the lunar calendar, so its date changes each year (last year it was May 21, for example). Whatever, I like days off! Around 11:30am Carin, Stephanie, Julia and I met up at Seodaemun Prison History Museum, near Dongminnum Station on Line 3. Built in the 1907, the most famous use of this prison was by the Japanese during their occupation of Korea. Many political prisoners were jailed here, as well as many people who just pissed off the Japanese occupiers in some way without really being radicals. About half of the prison has been torn down, but the rest is still standing and you can walk around in it. Not only was it beautiful and a powerful reminder of a dark time in Korean history, but it was also extremely well organized, impeccably translated, and generally just very interesting. I was super pleased with how easily accessible it is for foreigners. Not only were the placards translated, but it was obvious that special attention was paid to word choice, especially strong words like oppressive, tyrannical, and tumultuous, which were used both correctly and effectively. In general, it reminded me a lot of the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum that my mom and I visited in West Virginia a few years ago. Sufficiently creepy.
Main entrance to the prison on a rainy overcast day.
Hall of remembrance. It reminded me a lot of the Holocaust Museum's memorial.
I love the bold color and graphic on this wall.
Prison cells. That guard is a mannequin.
Put away for her crimes.
Carin and I are probably most likely to be imprisoned for speaking out against Japan, haha.
This guy scared the crap out of me as I walked by.
Exactly where Stephanie, Carin, and Julia belong.
The prison buildings were built from bricks made at other prisons.
Giant Korean flags now adorn the prison buildings.
Beautiful misty mountain in the background.
One last group shot at the prison before heading out.
After we were done at the prison we headed down to Sports Complex where we met up with Jamie, Shannon, Chrissy, Josephine, and Christina to see Cirque du Soleil's Varekai. I've always wanted to see a Cirque performance, and since they are TOTALLY not my mom's cup of tea, I was glad I got to go with friends. Even just the tent was amazing! The performers were, of course, impressive with a fair dollop of freakish. There was one performer who was called the "limping angel" who performed on arm crutches. A little Googling indicates that his name is Dergin Tokmak and he lost the use of his legs to polio when he was very young. He was incredible, an extremely beautiful and powerful dancer, and I was absolutely thrilled that Koreans got to see a strong, positive example of someone with disabilities. Very cool! After the show we made our way over Jamsil and I finally got to eat at Mad for Garlic. It was delicious, but (somewhat surprisingly) not overwhelmingly garlicky. Unexpected.
Wednesday, May 11 - Friday, May 13, 2011
Life was pretty normal. Went to school as per usual. Wednesday a kid puked in class...at least he hit the girl next to him and not me. I went a little germ crazy and forced my co-teacher to let me wipe down the table with hand sanitizer rather than just the water/toilet paper process she felt comfortable with. Aigh.
Wednesday night I hosted Trivia Night at Bunch and we had about 20 people come out. Mrs. Lim offered us the option of having a buffet for 10,000won a person and it was SO GOOD. I could have eaten her chicken and japchae until I exploded. Absolutely fantastic. Trivia was great. I was somewhat surprised at which questions people knew the answers to. What is the only animal (other than humans) known to carry leprosy? Armadillos. If you are allergic to tree nuts, it is highly likely that you're also allergic to coconuts and what other fruit? Mangoes. 13-year-old Anne Frank made the last entry in her now famous diary on August 1st of what year? 1941. Etcetera. "Team Winning" ended up...winning, and they were pretty psyched about it. Overall I think everyone had fun and most likely learned something.
One of the bunch ladies with our killer buffet.
Team Winning, the winning team.
Trivia people! Ignore Shannon and Andrew's faces, haha.
Friday night I headed up to Hagye to celebrate Amanda's half birthday. Since her real birthday is in November and she knew many of us wouldn't be around for it (I'm going home now, Diana is going home in August, Chrissy is moving to Abu Dhabi to teach in August) she wanted to sneak in a celebration. Hey, I'm up for any excuse to barbecue on a rooftop and consume all sorts of delicious fruits and cakes. After eating we (Amanda, Tom, Chrissy, Dave, Shannon, Jamie, Diana and I) went down into their apartment and played all kinds of fun games, so the evening was just a win overall. As we were preparing to catch a taxi and head home, we passed through a park right outside Amanda and Tom's apartment. In a gazebo in the middle of the park, there was a group of Korean guys jamming on a guitar. Drawn over by their music, we ended up standing around and talking/singing with them for a while. They all went to middle and high school together and are now in universities around Seoul majoring in business, poetry, music, painting, computer science, and a range of other stuff. It was very cool. Jam session in the park is not a very Korean concept, so it was exciting and out of the ordinary. They actually said "we saw your group and said 'we should play louder so they come over!'" Obviously it worked. Nothing like a little Oasis, Lady Gaga, Nirvana and Jason Mraz to end the evening!
Classy birthday lady pretending to lick the grill.
So much delicious in one photo! Rice Krispy treats, banana cake, fruit with a positively heavenly cream cheese and sugar dip that we proceeded to put on EVERYTHING..
Burn baby burn.
Pretty sunset over the mountains.
So jealous of their roof!
Halfy Birthday, Amanda!
Me, Shannon, Jamie, Obi (Sarah's boyfriend who is visiting), Diana, Tom
Dave, Chrissy, Amanda, Sarah
One of the many delicious desserts.
The crew who sang for us in the park!
We also found this AWESOME inversion machine on the way out. Shannon's face is PRICELESS.
Chrissy the troll doll, lol.
Saturday, May 14, 2011
Saturday morning I got up early to meet Carin and head over to Seoul Station to get tickets down to Suwon. I'd been planning a trip back down to Hwaseong Fortress since Jo Anna, Laura and I visited in the FREEEEEZING cold back in January 2010. Since time was pretty much up I scheduled it for Saturday and a ton of people decided they wanted to join. Ten of us (me, Carin, Julia, Jin, Amanda, Tom, Diana, Caitlin, Diana C., and Stephanie) headed down on the 11:10am train. Let me just say, I've been to Suwon three times since I moved here. The first time we took the train. It was okay, but it took about an hour and a half with two transfers, and we had to stand the whole time. The second time we tried to take a direct bus and ended up needing 3 buses and a taxi to get there. That took FOUR HOURS and was horrendous. This time we took the train from Seoul Station and it was BLISS. Thirty minute, smooth, comfortable ride for 2,600won (just over $2). Can't ask for more!
When we arrived most of us stayed to grab lunch at Kraze Burger while Julia and Jin headed directly to the fortress. Following the directions of the Tourism Bureau we took a bus that didn't, in fact, take us where we needed to be, so we spent about forty-five minutes walking around, asking directions, and following vague brown historical site signs. We finally made it to Hwaseong Haenggung. Last time I went it was winter and a weekday, so the lively performances and participatory events provided on a summer weekend were a nice change of pace. I looked around at the arts and crafts sections but couldn't see anything worth packing, so instead we walked over and watched Carin and Amanda try on historical princess costumes, which was super fun. After they were done Carin and I chilled for a bit while Amanda made some pottery.
Follow the signs!
Can't keep Carin away from the Koreans.
These two were SO SERIOUS.
Princess Amanda and Princess Carin.
Looking lovely in yellow.
Ravishing in red.
Fun arm patch.
When the pottery was finished, our motley crew (me, Carin, Diana D, Diana C, Amanda and Tom) decided to go halfway up the mountain to the trolley stop and get tickets for the train. Sadly it was all sold out until 5:10pm (it was about 3:30pm at this time) so we decided to buy tickets and hike up the rest of the mountain before we had to catch the train. Since I'd already been to the top (and who wants to climb over 300 steps to get somewhere you've already gone?) I camped out with all of our bags in a little rest area and read in the sunshine. It was a gorgeous day. Diana C and I also chatted with some Indian men who were living in Suwon on business for a few months. When everyone eventually trickled down the mountain we played a few word games to kill time and eventually went down to catch the train. Let me just say that it was much more pleasant in the warm weather, haha. When we got to the other side we watched kids doing archery for a bit and I climbed up to the fortress wall for some photos. Then we caught a bus back to the station. On the way, I was holding the overhead rail thing and the driver slammed on the brakes. I seriously messed up my left shoulder and it is still bothering me a lot, even as I type this. Sucks!
View from my perch at the rest area.
Trolley ride around the perimeter.
These kids were definitely better than us, haha.
Walking up to the wall.
Peeking out over the city.
The wall winding off into the distance.
When we got to the station we decided that we would take a later train home and use the extra time to grab dinner at Outback Steakhouse. Man, there are a LOT of military boys in Suwon! The food was delicious as always, especially the CHEESE FRIES nomnomnom. Fantastic. The train ride home was also easy and pleasant, and then we just needed to hop on the subway and come home. Diana C had left on the train before us so that she could go meet up with her friend Paul, a guy in the Navy who is stationed over here for a bit. We happened to run into them in the subway station, so we joined them for the subway ride back to our area. During our conversation Paul brought up the fact that Fast Five (the fifth Fast and the Furious movie) was playing in 4D in Korea, and since we had been discussing going to see it, it was immediately clear that WE MUST SEE IT IN 4D! After I got home I did a little sleuthing and sent out a message to people interested in attending before doing some laundry, watching TV and going to bed.
Sunday, May 15, 2010
Sunday was a lazy day. I spent the morning catching up on TV and doing a little packing/organizing. I met Carin in Gangdong at 4:30pm and we headed over to meet people at Gangbyeon for the movie. It was actually really just shown in 3-dimensions, as there were no 3D effects, but I'll let that slide. It was SO COOL TO WATCH IN 4D. I just loved watching all the seats move as the movie played. You felt every crash, hit, explosion, etc. Very cool. I'm happy I got to sneak in another 4D movie before leaving Korea. On the way home Jamie, Carin and I stopped at Fry Pan to eat some delicious chicken, and on the way home I treated myself to some mint chocolate chip ice cream. Perfection.
As previously mentioned, I cannot believe how soon I'm leaving. Or how much I have to do before then! This week I got the surprising news that SMOE found a replacement for me and he may be coming as early as this week. His name is Mark and he's coming from Ireland. The idiot at the SMOE office told him to arrive this Thursday, May 19, but never bothered to check when I was leaving. This is how a conversation went between me and my co-teacher...
Me: So where is he going to live?
CT: I don't know.
Me: Do you think you can find an apartment by Thursday?
CT: I'm not sure.
Me: Where is he going to live if you can't find an apartment?
CT: I don't know...maybe my house?
Sigh. She eventually called the head office and the guy there realized his mistake (seriously, he's been a total asshat since orientation, I have no love lost for his dumbass) so he EMAILED Mark and told him to change his flight. I won't even get into how livid I would have been if they'd tried to pull that same shit on me. The only reason I know this is because I found Mark on Facebook and we've been talking. The whole situation is ridiculous. I was really hope it works out that I get to meet him, however I just found out he's not coming until May 31 now. Exchanging information would have been so much easier in person!
Other exciting news is that my brother's fiancée (Loran) and her brother (confused yet?) are going to be coming over to visit Seoul. I am excited to play travel planner and send them to my favorite spots. It sucks, however, that they'll be coming after I leave. I do think it is funny, however, that my friends here want to take them out to dinner, so they'll most likely meet my future sister-in-law before I do!
Last night I shipped three boxes home. It was surprisingly pain-free...the hardest part was simply carrying my heavy boxes and two lotus lanterns over to the post office. Thankfully Josephine and Diana helped. More on that process later!