Monday, June 25, 2012

Jeonju Nightlife

Koreans really enjoy their weekends and definitely know how to have a good time.  And after a week of  long and difficult classes, I was ready to let loose for a bit.  Fortunately, everyone else had the same idea.

Friday is cultural exploration day; so after class ended at 3:30, we went with our class to whatever event our teacher has planned.  Our class theme is traditional Korean culture, so we took at taxi over to Hanok Village which I would describe as the ancient Asian version of Bridge Street with lots of shops and restaurants.  There are also a few mini-museums and areas to make crafts and such.  We went to a fan-making workshop and came out with some really cool souvenirs.  Afterward, we went to a restaurant and had some of the best Asian dumplings I've ever had.  Our TA, Yeom Shin Young Sanseng Neme kept having to save me from on-coming traffic and ended up guiding me around by my backpack strap calling me "Baby Jacob Jacob."  The name was later expanded to "Preppy Baby Jacob Jacob" due to my clothing and changed later again to "Baby JJ" for ease of use.  I was dragged through many clothing stores that evening...

Afterward, Yuri, one of my friends from CLS, invited us to a church event at a Catholic church in the area.  Seeing as it was Friday night, I was a little hesitant to go to church over exploring what the city had to offer, but the teacher, TA, Chris, and I decided to go anyway.  I'm not sure "church event" is the right word to describe the scene.  I think "Korean Oktoberfest" is a much more accurate description.  Needless to say, there was some awesome food and music and some crazy people to watch.  We left around 10:30, and about a dozen of us decided to go to a nore-bang (literally song room).  Norebangs are basically karaoke bars, but each group is given a separate room with a TV and stereo system.  The rooms have flashing lights and obnoxiously loud speakers and just about every song (Korean and American) you can think of.  Despite all the options, something inside me said "Sweet Home Alabama," and it had to be done.  With my teacher dancing along with all of us as I sang that song, I find it really hard to concentrate on anything in class now...

I wanted to test out my language skills, so I decided to head out 45 minutes before my midnight curfew to see about finding my way home by myself.  Bad idea.  I walked out of the building onto a back alley and realized that there were no taxis in sight.  So there I was, on a back alley in the middle of Korea with no language skill and really no idea where I was in relation to the apartment.  It was adventure time!  I wandered around for a few minutes looking for a big road (and hence a taxi) and finally found the road about 5 blocks away.  I hailed a cab, got in, and told him the name of my apartment complex.  Unfortunately, my accent is really bad, so he didn't understand.  I thought for a moment and realized that I had forgotten to send a postcard earlier that day which had my address written in Korean on it.  Perfect - he knew exactly where that was.  But, he didn't want to take me there and started rattling off Korean and made me get out of the car.  I was really confused at this point but just decided to keep walking.  After a couple minutes of mulling over the situation, I looked around and saw the church we had been to earlier!  It was a sign from heaven.  I realized that the taxi had been going the opposite direction of my apartment, and I should get a cab from the other side of the street.  So, I crossed the street, hailed a cab, showed him my postcard, and got home for $3.90 and 20 minutes early.  Weekend night one - success!

I spent most of Saturday studying for my test on Monday.  That evening, I had made plans to meet up with a few people from CLS and some new Korean friends for dinner and a night of karaoke.  We went to a restaurant near the university and had squid and kimchi night.  There was squid pancake, squid kimchi pancake, squid stew, kimchi stew, and on and on.  Not my favorite dinner ever....  Afterward, our Korean friends took us to a norebang.  Walking around, I thought, "hmmm this looks familiar."  Lo and behold, we ended up on the same streets I had been wandering around the night before!  It was an awesome night of singing and dancing.  I learned some Korean songs, and we taught them some classic 80s rock.  Afterward, they showed us where the taxis pick up people in that area.  Turns out, it was about a block away from the building.  That knowledge could have saved me a lot of confusion the night before...

When I woke up the next morning, there were two random people sitting in the living room, and I really still have no idea who they were.  We had a really nice breakfast with them though, and they seemed nice.  I couldn't understand what they were saying, and I haven't learned the phrase "Who are you and why are you sleeping in the room next to me?" yet, so I really can't be sure about what was going on.  After breakfast, Uncle Joe and Aunt Kim (really hope Americanizing the names doesn't offend) took the youngest brother, Aunt Kim's sister, and me to a festival at the university.  None of the group speaks English, so I was on my phone's dictionary constantly looking for translations or communicating with hand signs.  Therefore, I didn't discover until later that day that it was in fact the Lotus Festival.  I also learned that evening when talking to host sister that the finger wrap I got there was a semi-permanent stain meant to ward off ghosts and that the stain won't come off "until the first snow" which was pinpointed to November 30 or December 1st.  I have since had the following conversation with two completely unrelated Koreans:

Me: "So I got this finger stain at Lotus Festival.  When will it come off?"
Korean: "At the first snow." (no hesitation)
Me: "The first snow?  Like when is that?"
Korean: "Hmmm.. [pause to think]  I would say November 30.  Or maybe December 1."

Mind = blown.  They really know their meteorology.  Host sister also told me that the first snow would bring my first love.  So watch out November 30th!  (or possibly December 1st...)

We got in the car, and I realized that we were not heading toward the apartment.  Due to my confused looks, Uncle Joe said, "world's largest sea wall.  33 km.  We go now."  I love this family - they are so spontaneous!!  After an hour or so (it is actually 70 km away; the seawall itself is 33 km), we ended up at Saemangeum Seawall on the west coast of Korea.  It was like a scene from a movie with foggy water on either side, ships coming into harbor, and green mountains protruding from the water in the distance.  At the end of the seawall was a fishing village somewhere around Buan.  It was low tide, and people were digging for clams in the exposed seabed to carry back to the village to sell and ship away.  We stopped at a roadside seafood joint to eat clam stew (incredibly similar to clam chowder), with clams fresh from a mile away.  It was unreal to be in a place where so few non-Koreans ever venture and was somewhere I would have never gone without a guide like the host family.  On the way back, Uncle Joe got really tired, so we ended up pulling over to the side of the road where I thought we were going to change drivers, but we ended up leaving Uncle Joe on the side of the road and drove off.  I honestly have no idea what happened to him; all I know is that I didn't see him for five hours.  

Crazy Korean Discoveries:
1. Students going out with teachers on Friday nights is completely normal.  They aren't there to judge you; they are there to party.  And yes, they will reference your karaoke abilities during class on Monday.
2. I know I've said it before, but Korean rest areas are just in a class of their own.  The last one I went to had a huge monument of DC proportion, a hiking trail, a restaurant, and a convenience store.   
3. Many public restrooms have a bring your own toilet paper policy.  It's that horrible moment when you realize this that... nevermind...

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