Summer in Korea

07. 12. 2011
Day 0: Time Travel
Korean Air is amazing. We rode coach so I wasn’t expecting much but there were individual tvs for passengers and drinks every half hour, so I got to catch up on my Hollywood flops. Seriously I watched every new release (Limitless, Red Riding Hood, Sucker Punch, Rango, No Strings Attached and Battle for LA) after not being able to sleep (how could I forget to bring a neck pillow???) Besides the lingering smell of farts and feet, oh and Mom gasping like she’s discovered a bomb on the plane, (5 times…) the flight wasn’t so bad. The flight attendants were the best, also I’m pretty sure they model part time. That’s what’s great and terrible about Korea, looks matter. I’ll explain when we get to Korean marketing and the billboards here that would see law suits in the US…

It took us 13 hours to travel 13 hours into the future (Eastern time), crazy! Since all of my 2 readers are in Illinois, I’ll go buy Central time from now on. So, I’m 12 hours into your tomorrow. I haven’t experienced the jet-lag everyone warned me about. I just stayed up as long as I could the first day after landing and that seemed to catch me up. We went to two dinners right away, once with my Mom’s friends then with our family (at my 4AM and 6AM!), which was hard to be excited for but I pulled off enough basic Korean to delay certain embarrassment for now :)

You know when you’re being a little neurotic and your boyfriend/girlfriend complains and tells you to quit, “no one will even notice” ? Koreans will notice. Every one of my aunts and uncles pointed out my chipped fingernail polish…my cousin Dahi promptly offered to treat me to a manicure tomorrow :) I’m just gonna show up haggard wherever I go now and collect free makeovers haha.

I’ve noticed what seems like a paradox in the culture. There are instances where Koreans don’t give one thought to keeping up appearances, then in other situations, ignoring the fact will get you into trouble. For example, it is completely acceptable for Korean to impale you with their umbrella accidentally and not give a quick “sorry” or “excuse me” (and no Korean would expect one), whereas Americans would offer one up automatically. Yet it’s customary for Koreans to turn away while taking sips of their drinks, as a courtesy to others. Then they’ll belch or slurp while they’re talking to you and call you out for being sloppy by leaving your chopsticks poking out of your rice bowl (instead of placing them neatly beside it). It seems inconsistent at first but I think I’m starting to see the functionality…knowing Koreans seriously value respect for elders, I think there is simply protocol for how you behave and address elders, how you’re effecting their time…no wait, that doesn’t explain the belching…I’ll get back to you. There are just somethings that have always been cool with Koreans that just aren’t in America, I guess}

Culture Shocks of the Day:
*July-August is the rain season in Korea and it is either sufficatingly hot and humid or rain rain rain everyday. Looking forward to it…
*High-rise apartments. Everywhere. Only 20% of Korea is flat enough to build on and there are 14 Million people in Seoul alone. South Korea is the size of Illinois. Imagine it. I don’t have pictures yet.
*The bathrooms are literally bath rooms where everything is tile or plastic and the floor/sink/shelves all slighty slope to the center of the room to drain all the water you’re going to splash about, without a shower curtain.
*They use TP instead of paper towels.
*Drinking is apart of meal time. All Koreans, including my saint of a grandma, can seriously drink. Without being alcoholics, don’t confuse, it’s just how they do after work.
*Koreans expect to stay up really late, even the responsible ones.
*Bidets, every Korean home has one.

Also I am driving my aunt crazy by not showering before bedtime. In this humidity? I’ll just sweat on my floor-bed for nothing and have to shower again in the morning…

07. 13. 2011
Day 1: 
Gyeongbok Palace & Dongdaemun Market

Cheonggyecheon Stream

I can’t use metal chopsticks, they are ridiculously harder than using wooden ones. ugh, the looks I get.

I can’t help but think of The Wizard of Oz

Culture Shocks of the Day:
*Underground shopping malls in the subway!
*Designated NONsmoking areas of shops and restaurants
*People recharge their metro cards diligently rather than buying one each trip
*Subway stations have a fixed wall to keep passengers from doing things like this
*Not many conveniences for the disabled (wheel chair accessibility etc.) you have to walk at least one story to get on an elevator
*”Free Size” (00) is the standard clothing size for women and often the only size in the store

07. 14. 2011
Day 2:
 Seoul Bus Tour to Nomsan Tower and the 63 Building

I don’t care how dorky it is, I love taking bus tours. How else can you learn as much about a city in a short amount of time? Italian models don’t zip you around on a vespa, giving personal tours in real life. We did the double-decker tourist thing in NYC and Boston so we kept up with the tradition in Seoul. It was pouring all day so we couldn’t ride up top, or see much :/ We passed Itaewon on the way, which is fashion capital of Korea. All of Seoul’s designs are said to originate there. But it’s better known internationally as the neighborhood of American brand/style of shops and restaurants. Kind of a haven to foreigners, mostly Russian and American.

+Hansu’s friend hooked us up and we got to see the view for free! And ride the cable car.

Culture Shocks of the Day:
*You can haggle anything, anywhere (see the check from dinner)
*There are very few chains but tons of Mom & Pop’s. I did see a Papa Johns.
*People know how to dress here. Men are just as fashionable as the women. Sure there are man bags but they are Gucci man bags.
*There are pay phones everywhere (why did we get rid of them in the US?)
*The rainy season of Korea has birthed some cool inventions, like the dripping-wet-umbrella-bag-holder-thingy!

07. 15. 2011
Day 4: 멕주 집(maekju jeeb)
“Beer Room”

Our day started off promisingly slow. I love day-long excursions but the last three days made me appreciate my floorbed a little more and I was looking forward to catching up on all this blogging. Giving my brain a break from 5 days of constant translating sounded nice too. I headed to the cafe down the street and bought a cup of coffee worth of wifi (wireless doesn’t just float all around here like it does back in the States) and decided to tag along with my mom to her elementary school reunion later that night. Yeah, elementary school reunion, I thought it was weird too but then I remembered not everyone even went to high school back in the day so it makes since. If I hadn’t seen some of you since the 6th grade, I know I’d want to catch up and compare photos of our snot-nosed kids.

We drank a whole lot. Cass and Hite are beers comparable to Bud/Miller Light back home which there was plenty of. We also had Korea’s alcohol staple, soju and makoli. We stayed late and got lost on the subway from 11 to 1, then caught a bus, then caught a cab and got home around 2. I have officially ridden all forms of Korean transit :)

Everything is soggy :s my shoes, clothes, hair, skin. I feel like I can’t stay dry or clean in this weather. Most Korean homes don’t bother with air conditioning so my spoiled ass is dragging, I have to admit. I have gotten used to the bathrooms, it drove me crazy at first, how the floor is always wet. Getting dressed after a shower is such pain, if you didn’t splash water on your clothes (due to the no shower curtain thing) your pantlegs will still soak up the puddles from the floor. But I’m going to solve this with a new shopping conquest: a silk robe to walk back to my room in.

Culture Shocks of the Day:
*No one takes the stairs!
*Passing gas and PDA are not allowed on the subway x)
*I accidentally ate some animal’s brain. I thought it was like a small intestine which was bad enough. Mm, black market soup…
*Pervs are pervs in any language. I don’t know what the man on the bus said to my mom and me but I know what he was saying…

07. 16. 2011
Day 5: Osan AFB

I’m in OSAN! Osan has its own airport and is one of the bigger bases I’ve been on (Gunsan AFB, Ellsworth AFB, Grant Forks AFB, Scott AFB, Hickam AFB, Hawaii Marine Corps Base, Army Schofield, Pearl Harbor, Fort Campbell, Quantico Marine Corps Base, Fort Meade). I’m a little homesick but even the military standard brown buildings feel like home.

Just when I was getting used to the sweltering heat and monsoon scale rain, eating the grisel of exotic animals and showering from a hose, my mom takes me to visit some friends here and it’s like crossing over back into the states. I’m going to take advantage of the central air and actual do my hair tomorrow. There are all these Amer-Asian kids running around, reminds me of my Air Force brat days…

My mom took off and visited some friends for the rest of the night leaving me and poor Hansu to hang with the kids (16, 14 and 9) but they spoke English and got my jokes so I can’t complain. Hansu would probably say his night was a lot different…I walked to the library for wifi and even ate at the Taco Smell in the food court at the BX and saw Fast Five (for $4.50) at the theater. Afterwards we stayed up switching between Modern Warefare2 and Black Ops the rest of the night. Seriously, I’m in America.

Pros: a/c, English speakers, seeing black people, forks (or at lease wooden chopsticks), things I’m used to…
Cons: hearing Americans stationed here say some less than enlightened things about Korea(ns).

I get why there are American bases in Korea…but I’ve been thinking, why are we stationed all over the world? Wouldn’t we hate it if like, Germany or Italy, any one other country, was set up somewhere on our turf?

Culture Shocks of the Day:

07. 18. 2011
Day 7: Nongdemun Market

David met up with us to shop around the infamously huge Nondaemun market! That’s 2 days in a row I got to speak English!

I didn’t get my hopes up for cheap shopping while in Korea. My mom had told me, with inflation, the Korean won had basically the same value as the US dollar ($1.06 to be exact) but everything is still a lot cheaper here, without losing quality. Actually Koreans seem to have a higher standard for material in general. The clothes are all sooo soft and luxurious, even cotton t-shirts.

Culture Shocks of the Day:
*There aren’t public restrooms in individual shops (besides restaurants and shopping centers) but there are public restrooms available every few rows of buildings.
*Public restrooms don’t really bother to keep toilet paper in stock so people know to carry tissues/collect napkins from the restaurants/cafes they go to.
*The mosquitos are vicious here. Their bites feel and look so much worse! I never see them, but I’m constantly discovering new bites. There are merchants on every subway (illegally) selling mosquito repellant bracelets, it is such a common problem.
*People reuse their paper shopping bags for anything they might need to carry. Not that it’s groundbreaking, you just don’t really see that in America.
*People will pack into the bus or subway like it’s the last helicopter out of Vietnam.
*Women use parasols and hand fans (which are of course elaborate and beautiful)
*People will set up shop with just buckets of fish they caught that day or produce from there garden where ever. Little weird, seeing popcorn bowls of fish on the sidewalk and vegetables for sale in the subway station but if Americans could do so without those silly permits, I bet we’d be outta this recession a lot quicker.

I think the reason why Koreans seem a little too pushy/shovey is because out in the streets or public transportation or wherever, there are just so many people, everyone accepts that it just doesn’t matter. You COULD be polite and not be in someone’s bubble and wait 20 minutes for the next train or you could just do for you and they can just deal, while you just deal with the dude that’s also in your bubble. You all get to where your going faster. This is not to say Koreans aren’t polite. There are just different times and places they show it. Especially with senior citizens. You will always see young people getting out of their seats to let an elder sit there.

Culture Shock of the Day
People are really interested in your blood type. And they will ask, “What’s your blood type?” any time you do something characteristic of the one they suspect you to be. For instance, I’m Type A. Which is defined by basically the same traits as the American, “Type A Personality” Go-getter, detail oriented, good grades, etc…and since I’m always double checking on whether I heard something wrong/right or how to execute Korean gestures, people smirk and as ask if I’m indeed Type A. But for the record, was a B student and terribly disorganized in the States.

07. 20. 2011
Incheon Night Life 

After sweating it out on the first day of the official end of the rainy season in Nongdaemun, Hansu and Dahee took David and me to experience Korea at night.

We met Dahee a few minutes before she got out of work at Lotte World. She had told me she was a server at the mall, so I imagined, food service/restaurant but actually she’s like a host-of-all-trades in an exclusive VIP lounge in a high end women’s department. We couldn’t even find the door it’s so secret! I suppose it’s for serious well-to-do shoppers to relax in between dropping a few thou here and there.

We headed to Hwachon, another maekju jeeb for some chicken and beer and played different US/Korean drinking games. David dubbed the game we play in the video below, the “Cap Flick” game -pretty self explanatory, you take turns passing a soju cap that’s aluminum seal has been wound, and whoever flicks the band off, dishes out a shot to the person across from them. I’m 4 for 4 :)

Hansu is so competitive so he came up with a penalty, loser had to eat a piece of “cheese chicken fire” which I of course was too proud to oppose and seriously suffered for in later games. Which brought about a theme of US vs. Korea the rest of the night

We headed out to play “pocket ball” (pool) and of course Hansu haggled with the owner to bring the price down since his American friends were visiting haha, too funny. US ended up losing both games, EVEN with our amazingly impossible miracle shots…we did not make our country proud. But the owner DID say we could come back for a free game. I think it was because of my dimples.

Korea is too cool. Everything comes with free drinks. Like when we were playing pool, they served us iced coffee. I think that’s just standard, you pay for a service and they make sure you’re taken care of.

We finished the night by going to a norae bang “song room” (karaoke in a private disco ball room with friends). There are so many norae bangs in Korea, I don’t even know what to compare it to in the states. Maybe the number of cafes and gas stations combined? Dahee says it’s because Koreans go to sing to relieve stress (with their strict education system, I can imagine). I guess that’s better than what we do…eat.

I was surprised with how many American songs they had and by how loud Hansu can sing, hahaha. Dahee talked me into singing the only three Korean songs I know…so much fun getting our Korean on.

With the little Korean I speak, and the little English Hansu and Dahee speak, we’ve gotten to know each other better that I ever thought we could. I didn’t think I’d be able to get deep with my cousins, maybe just a few “I like this/I don’t like this/my mom is crazy” talk but we’ve been able to manage a little philosophy-grade conversation. I’m so happy to finally know my Korean family!

I get to spend more time with Hansu when we leave Seoul for Daegu today, but I am so going to miss Dahee. Even though we have smallest word bank to communicate with in the group, there have been countless times when I’ll explain something for Hansu to tell Dahee, he’ll interpret and we’ll look at each other like, “Nah I don’t think he got that right” and laugh. Then we’ll use three words and know exactly what they other is saying. Probably the whole women’s intuition thing x)


Wonder Girls – Nobody

Highlight of the Night:
David and I struggling to eat chicken wings, the way Koreans do. With two forks.
*Hansu telling me, “Now…all Korean girls…the same. I wish I find girl like you” And Dahee, who doesn’t really understand any English, coming to a realization and shouting, “No! You’re cousins!!!” HAHAHA I laughed so hard I cried.

07. 21. 2011
Traditional Harvest Festival Celebration

07. 22. 2011

This city is beautiful…I’m glad to be out of Seoul and so surprised how different the two huge cities are.

Daegu is Korea’s third largest city after Seoul and Pusan. It lies in a valley surrounded mountains, so that means it is HOT here. Still, I prefer it to Seoul. It’s much quieter and the scenery doesn’t get any better. Seoul is massive and everything seems to be stacked on top of everything else: shops, markets, restaurants, businesses, etc. And lots of facilities are outdated and probably wouldn’t be up to code in The States. I’m no snob but I can think of a handful of things that might not meet American standards.

Daegu seems to instill zoning of some sort because it all just seems to look and feel less chaotic. High-rise apartments aren’t scattered everywhere overshadowing bungalows and small free standing shops. And with the parks and rivers, no wonder it’s the venue for the IAAF World Championship this year : )

I haven’t gotten to see much yet but I’ll get back to posting when I get back from this church retreat that my mom is dragging me to.


07. 27. 2011
Day 17: Good Old Fashioned Fun

When I wasn’t being fitted for white nikes, I did manage to have some fun getting to know some people, exploring the mountains and making some friends in the process.

Sobaeksan has amazing scenery. There is a village around the base of the mountain and tourism and camping winding up to the resort hotel. I can’t say much about the facilities of place, it was nothing like I expected when I heard “resort” but this clip from the British tv show Skins is a good parallel.

I spent the majority of my time hiking, swimming in numbingly cold pools in the river and discovering waterfall after waterfall.

My last day there, I walked all the way to the bottom of the mountain and looked around the small shops. The walk was humid but I got to take some of the best pictures of my trip so far. And it was nice being by myself again and not have to worry about anything but the mosquitos. Which were so bad on the trek back up that I went ahead and hitchhiked back from about halfway. They were in a swarm! And my gut said it’d be alright. And it was. Jeanie 1, Psychopaths 0.

As the unofficial translater of the church misspoke on my behalf “I didn’t understand the sermons so I just went outside and played.”

Freaking out

07. 30. 2011
Day 18: 찜질방 Chim-jil-bang (Public Baths)

Korea is turning into a “do outrageous stuff” trip. Or maybe Koreans just live an outrageous lifestyle. Either way I still have to bungee jump and eat live octopus after this public bath thing. Yeah a bunch of people get naked and scrub down in the same dirty water. Though I wasn’t expecting people to eat where they sat, the facilities were impressive. The woman’s bath had a nail salon, a masseuse and an entertainment room. I was just in the common room though, watching the news about the landslides and flooding in Seoul.

After seeing a man scoop water out of his home with only a dust pan, I was reminded again of how different our countries are. I think most American would have been able to Shop-Vac that problem anytime they wanted to. It’s a luxury I didn’t even consider. Not that Shop-Vacs make America better than Korea, but that most of us just have them in our garages.

We had only come for the incredibly hot room. It’s not a sauna. It’s the wooden oven of death and it’s ceiling was 6 storys of unbreathable hot air. It hurt to open my eyes or even inhale and getting out was torture because the air singes your skin. But I am hella detoxed. Plus we got to eat 팥빙수 pot-bing-su afterwards and I rediscovered my favorite childhood drink -식혜sikhye!

07. 31. 2011
Downtown Daegu

The clothes and trinkets here were more my taste than the ones I passed up in Seoul.

Base jumping by wire
I couldn’t fight past my fear and make this look cool

Culture Shocks of the Day
 *I’ve seen so many dopplegangers of people I know from home -Asian Nathan Reed, Asian MR Reed, Asian Justin White, Asian Dessie Sandifer and an Asian Ginny Weasley from Harry Potter
*Fridges all have this little compartment that you open from a tiny door that keeps your favorite drinks and snacks handy!
*No job is too minimal for a decked out uniform. Everyone looks like a butler or a 60s flight attendant. Even at the gas station and Mickey D’s
*Lensless fashion frames are all the rage…why not just have fake lenses?

07. 21. 2011
Day 19: The Buddha

The Sukkuram was built over 1,000 years ago! It’s architecture is full of optical illusions (like the halo’s lotus leaves carved into the dome -they only look the same size, when really they are bigger on the top semicircle to correct for the curvature of the roof). Then there’s the glinting of the jewel on his forehead that casts a glimmer all over the grotto during the winter solstice sunrise.

I wasn’t supposed to, a few Koreans even frowned at me, but I took pictures of the actual statue (without damaging flash photography!) on the grounds that my totally English literate Korean aunt took a picture (WITH damaging flash photography) of the original Stars & Stripes when she visited the Marine Corps Museum in Quantico, so I thought I’d make things even.

Men/boy’s often hold hands in Korea. They seem to be just as chummy as women are. One story from the retreat kinda raises an eyebrow though. I’ll change their names here but, so Don (American) was taking a shower when Harold (Korean) knocked and stuck his head in the bathroom door,

Harold: Hey what are you doing?
Don: Showering…
Harold: Did you finished?
Don: No, what do you want?
Harold: Can I join you?
Don: What? No can you let me finish?
Harold: Ggujo. (F*ck off).

Don couldn’t believe he was told to eff off, “I was like…No! YOU ggujo!”
We all pondered the societal function of showering together and had only heard that it was how men bonded. Don went on about how the shower head wasn’t even attached to the wall so it’d have to be pretty intimate and they’d have to take turns holding the hose. We left it at, Harold was just weird.

The next day while Jenny and I were waiting on Don going to the restroom, another Korean, Sidney was with us and asked, “What’s taking him so long?” I laughed and said, “I don’t know…oh! you should ask to join him” Thinking we could prank Don, when Jenny shushed me and started cracking up. Apparently Sidney had JUST asked Don to do just that, that very morning.

08. 01. 2011
Day 21: Gunsan

You can pretty much get anywhere in Korea in four hours or less. Mom and I caught an early bus to Gunsan and got here at noon. I’m spelling it with a G and not the traditional K because it’s ㄱ (/g/) not ㅋ (/k/) in Korean :p

We’re only here for a night but it’s already been worth it. My parents and I moved here in 1989 after a year in Daegu and stayed til I was three. I have my very first memories from here. Getting lost in the Rainbow Apartments, telling a playground bully’s mother what my mom thought of her kid, and losing my baby doll in Eunpa Lake.

I seem to have really good luck getting away with taking pictures in areas where that sorta thing is prohibited. First the 1300 year old Sokkuram and now a USAF base. I did it for Dad :) but took the one video down, you know, just incase they blame N. Korea using it, on me. Mom was stopped at the gate and had to empty out her memory card.

Don’t ever take your home for granted. When you have to leave it, it makes you excited for things like toast.

I hear the “Eunpa Song” has changed from an ajuma song to a more romantic one.

We drove along an incredibly long bridge from Gunsan to Puhan and stopped to take some pictures of the lock system they have for passing ships…and to have a red bean popsicle before heading to Eunpa Lake. We didn’t stay for the lighted water show at night but we did catch one of the fountains sync to the tune of some powerful Korean ballads. I did snap a picture as we passed the bridge again on the way home from dinner though.

Not an impressive shot but you can hear it pretty well. Every 10 minutes.

08. 06. 2011
Day 23: The Homestretch

I’m back in Incheon with my suitcase fulla goodies for friends back home. It’s been great getting to see more than just the surface of Korean culture and staying with family across the country to show me the real Korea. Besides that week at the retreat, I got to do so much and learn enough about the country to be able to say I know it now, not depend on teachers and books, and have my own opinion and memories of the place.

The use of Konglish and loan words here is not to be more American like people tend to think. It has a historical background, the US’s influence on Korea plays a huge part in Korean history. The best I can do is compare the concept to our “cafe” “fiancee” “resume” “avenue” “deja vu” “souvenir” and so on, that we borrow from the French. Only we don’t have any of our own words in existence for those things, like Korean does for “bus” though they use “버스” (buh-su). Had France or any other country had as big of an influence on us, we could have seen a similar integration. I don’t think any American would let a foreigner get away with saying, we just want to be like the French ;)

Culture Shocks, The Honorable Mentions:

Mail boxes

*If you don’t have a mole on your neck, you are a ghost.

*The mail is just all out in the open.

*The towels are no bigger than hand towels. It takes 3 of em to dry off!

*Mom is zero help. She speaks more English here than I do. When I asked her to translate something to my grandmother, she just said it in really loud English.

*I saw a girl who just had an extreme makeover (eye lids, nose, cheeks, chin) out shopping in Dongdemun. I could tell because she was still bleeding through her bandages. Yowch. Stay home! Heal!

*I guess I have an old Korean man’s sense of humor. Only really old white-haired men laugh at what I laugh at. Something funny will happen on say the subway, and only me and the ajusshis will chuckle.

*I can’t keep up with all the gesture protocol for how to show respect.

*I will never get used to getting stared at. I don’t know if people are crazy, don’t mean to or are just plain rude but now I know how Nathan Reed felt as a 6 foot white giant in China. Except Reedy Boy is used to being stared at like freak.

*I’m glad to get to know another demographic of Korean besides the rich kids I went to school with…driving their Mercedes to class, psh.

*Men and woman carry paper fans as a daily tool. Women often use parasols.

Subway restroom

*You can’t pour your own drink. We play that as a drinking game in the States, here it’s customary. I have never had to wait on anyone either. People looked out and my glasses never went empty.
*You really couldn’t ask for better hospitality.
*Bar soap and nothing else but it.
*Koreans love MLB caps. “But only the ones with pretty logos.” I knew that about the FOBs at U of I in the Detroit caps but it really is the trend here. Though they have no idea who the logos belong to or even if the team is any good. Its function is strictly looks. Lots of NY and STL. No Cubs. Just saying.
*There seems to be another paradox in Korean society. Function and aesthetics. Koreans will squat instead of bend because it’s faster, even though it looks awkward, but then they’ll wear long sleeves and pants in mid July because damn it, that’ss the outfit they wanted to wear today.
*The use of full service gas station everywhere.

How could this possibly help?

*These weird rear-view mirrors on the back of every car’s rear windshield.
*I can’t help but count the average humming “uh” or “mm” sound people make to let speakers know they’re listening to them.
*Edible toothpicks that are like made out pasta or something. Mom swears I’m eating plastic.
*People double park all the do long day. So a lot of cars have people’s phone numbers on them.

11 digits

Things to do before I go:
-Try this Magic Straight Perm. everyone’s raving about
-Last of my gift shopping at Nongdemun market
-Go to the DMZ with my uncle!

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