Tuesday, July 10, 2012

28 Hours in the World's Largest City

After last weekend's trip, I came home to a near empty house; both Aunt Kim and Uncle Joe were gone.  After some initial confusion, I found out from host sister that the grandma had died and that their aunt would be staying at the house until the parents returned from the funeral.  The next couple days were pretty crazy with about a million family members coming through the house.  At one point, I exited my room to find three middle-aged women in black robes running through the house.  I am not quite sure who they were, but they made a great dinner.  By Tuesday, things had calmed down at the house, but school was a different story.
Spiderman Movie Night

On Monday, we beginners made the much anticipated language pledge, agreeing not to speak English on campus, at group activities, or at home.  Even though this has led to many awkward moments such as telling the music teacher that the meaning of life is to rave or realizing that we left someone at the Seoul bus station, my Korean skills have been increasing exponentially.  Last night, I actually held a conversation with my host family in Korean - albeit broken Korean - for nearly three hours.  With help from plenty of pictures and hand motions, we were able to have a normal conversation which was really cool!  Apparently Aunt Kim has been worrying that I don't eat enough and that my host brother eats too much bread instead of rice.

Dinner at the Professor's Apartment
Indian Tea and Wine Bar
Thursday was an insane day.  In addition to the normal 8:30 - 3:30 class, we had a culture activity with our teacher.  After class, we headed to her apartment to make some traditional Korean food (the good homemade kind, not the Anchovy Hotel style sadness) and watched TV dramas.  I had made plans to see Spiderman with the host fam that night, and I thought that I was to meet at the apartment at 8:00.  Turns out, the movie started at 8:00, so when I pulled up to the apartment in a taxi at 7:45, the host fam was already in the van in the parking lot and waving frantically and yelling as I jumped into the van, just shutting the door as Aunt Kim hit the gas.  They are serious about their movie times.  It was a fun outing, except for the fact that I had to stay up way too late studying for a test the next day.  Luckily on Friday, our teacher gave us a 30-minute nap time during second period after everyone literally fell asleep on our desks during break.  After a long, stressful week of Korean, I was really excited for the weekend.  Friday evening, I went with some friends to a hole-in-the-wall traditional Indian tea and wine bar.  We walked down a side street, turned a corner, went into a small door in the middle of the block, down a flight of poorly lit stairs with camels on the walls, and ended up in an ancient world, but cleaner.  We couldn't wear shoes and were seated on a raised platform booth lined with pillows around a center coffee-style table.  It was a really neat place and reminded me of movies about the Old Testament, minus the sparsely clothed harem.

Fortunately Took the Wrong Subway Exit
On Saturday morning, some friends and I met at the bus station for a weekend trip to Seoul!  We were definitely those foreigners who held up the line, and people were not happy.  Ah well...  I got on a bus in the middle of Korea and got off in America.  Seoul is incredibly similar to the US; it felt like walking around New York with different demographics.  Most people even spoke English!  Come to find out, Koreans actually come to my city (Jeonju) for a dose of their own culture.  Anyway, we arrived in time for lunch in the 10-story mall attached to the bus stop.  Afterward, Chris and I spent the afternoon getting lost on the subway, discovering free attractions like taekwondo performances and hanbok tents, and taking a super cheesy bus tour.  We met up with Nick, Mike, and Myra at the hostel in Hongdae and got ready for an awesome night out.  We started with a dinner of friend chicken and perused a street fair complete with live music and clowns on stilts.  We then made our way to the American neighborhood of Itaewon which is famous for its nightlife.

Myra isn't too sure about Chris's score keeping.
We cruised Itaewon for a bit, popping in and out of the various lounges, restaurants, and cafes.  We stopped in a sports bar for a while where we taught Myra how to play darts.  Itaewon was full of old people, though. It was kind of like wandering around with your parents, so we took a taxi back to Hongdae, which is situated in the middle of three universities.  We thought there would certainly be a hot spot there.  We arrived in about ten minutes and went down the first street we saw.  Apparently we were good guessers, because the place was jumpin' and everyone was around our age.  #winning  Side note: Korean girls really like American guys who can speak a bit of Korean.  Knowing simple phrases in Korean such as "Do you know this song?  It's American.  I'll teach you," can go a long way.

Never So Excited for a Big Mac
The next morning, I broke from the group to again test my survival skills.  I decided to set out by myself in search for some good souvenir shopping places.  A guide book gave me the name of a couple places that sounded promising, so I started off there.  Other than momentarily losing myself down a back street with a bunch of fan vendors, I got around pretty well and found a few neat things to buy.  Plus, I rekindled my relationship with McDonald's, and it was glorious.  That afternoon, I met back with the group at the bus station and headed to Jeonju.  After comparing stories about what everyone did, I realized that 28 hours is not enough time to even scratch the surface of Seoul.  With ten million people, every street and alley has a different story to tell and a new sight to see.  There is nowhere quite like Seoul.

Crazy Korean Discoveries:

1. Stairs are not a standard height, even within one flight.  Don't be fooled - the top stair may be 50% taller than the rest just to trip you up.
2. Taxi drivers are their own kind of crazy.  They will throw their automatic cars into neutral while driving.  This is not limited to stop lights or stop signs, either.  If they are going down a hill and are just feelin' it, that car is going into neutral.

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