NEW BLOG!

I decided to change my blog. Mostly, because I realized I would be leaving Seoul soon and would start traveling through Asia. I wanted my blog to be word wide inclusive haha. Second reason for the move is I was not updating the blog enough. Now, I limit myself to 100 words and plan on updating way more often. Check out the freshly pressed post here: http://1world100words.tumblr.com/

Thanks to my friends, family, and any one else who followed this blog 🙂 See you on tumblr 🙂

Lost in a sea of KPOP

AIA Real Life Now Festival

This weekend I went to the AIA Real Life Now music festival. Although I have been in Korea for about six months this was my first real taste of K-pop. Going to a K-pop performance was on my bucket list for Korea before arriving in Seoul even though I only knew “Gangnam Style” by PSY. So, Friday night I shamelessly jumped on the bandwagon and had an awesome time. I danced to lyrics I didn’t understand and nearly became deaf in my left ear because the young woman next to me had a supersonic screech. Overall, it was a rousing success.

Day One: YG Family

Big Bang

The palpable energy carried through the crowd like a wave and after each artist came on stage the human mass I was a part of would surge towards the stage, forcing me to push forward. Over the deep bass a constant stream of screaming overlapped the artist’s songs. Beside me my friends educated me on who was on stage and the name of the songs. Most of them time I couldn’t hear what they were saying though.

Sometimes I would try and sing along to the songs which were mostly in Hangul (Korean), but sprinkled with English. I sounded like a tone deaf toddler who couldn’t really pronounce anything. I reminded myself of my kindergartners when they sang “Let it go” from Frozen, loudly mumbling in a half way melodic way until the chorus came which they sort of know. Utterly shameless.

When PSY came on stage I felt my confidence rise a little. I looked around proudly because I knew a little bit more about him than the other performers. I even understood some of what he was saying. Alas, translating from Korean to English in my head has a time lapse and I embarrassed myself. Previously, he had split the crowd between left, right, and straight ahead and would ask us to cheer and be obnoxious in that order. I understood these directions and felt a little more included in the concert. However, the next thing he did was split the crowd up by ‘ladies’ and ‘gentleman’. Before I could fully comprehend his instructions I was caught up in the hysteria and screamed as loud as I could when he called out for the men in the crowd. The low booming male voice contrasted greatly against my high pitch scream. As I yelled I realized my mistake. I quickly closed my mouth, but not before a group of young women next to me giggled. I laughed with them and said ‘I don’t know’ in Korean. They laughed again and then we all shrilly screamed when PSY asked the women in the crowd to cheer!

Everyone who performed was fantastic baby (you see what I did there K-pop fans?) I left the concert energized and with a new found love for K-pop. Sometimes jumping on the bandwagon can be a fun and educational ride.

Day Two: Lady Gaga

Lady Gaga

I didn’t feel like such a noob for the second day’s performance because I could accurately sing along with songs and understood what was going on. I could laugh when the artist made jokes rather than mimicking other people’s reactions. For example, I laughed when Lady Gaga commented that “I heard the Pope was here in Korea, what a coincidence!” I laughed and was reminded what my priorities are; celebrating life and art! Lady Gaga gave an amazing performance and I feel so fortunate to have seen her and all the wonderful K-pop stars!

Lady Gaga

English in Korea

The strange arrangement of lines and curves make up all the written languages in the world. When you can comprehend a written language the world around you changes. However, if the shapes are meaningless to you all the writing on buildings, the graffiti on brick walls, advertisements, instructions, warnings, and all the writing sprawled across the city is just part of the environment. The sign doesn’t hold any meaning for you, but you know it does for many others.
This is why when I walk down an alley or through a subway transit station my eyes immediately fixate on English. Among all the chaos I am able to latch onto the written language that I know and understand. However, just because my radar catches onto written English doesn’t mean i’ll know what is trying to be communicated. Sometimes in Korea the translated English is perfect while others times it is reads like a bad poem; as if someone has a wonderful lexicon yet can’t quite correlate meaning with their lovely words.
Every country in the world is probably splattered with awkward translations in all kids of languages. I find them to be funny or oddly insightful….whether that was the intent. Here are some pictures of written English I have found in Korea. As a disclaimer….I tried to includ the good, the bad, and the wonderful.

Because Food is Good

I travel because I want to expand my sensory experiences, meet people I share the globe with, and learn new things every day. That is why I dedicated this post to the amazing food in Korea. I still have only ate a fraction of the culinary spectacular here, but I am already ecstatic with all the amazing food I have tried. Korean food excels at spicy food, marinated meats, fermented….anything…., and seafood. My tummy could not be more joyous.

Beside the self indulgence that traveling and eating can sometimes become, I believe that food  and travel also create humanitarian bonds that can not be easily broken. When you eat food with another person it is an act that starts to build community, trust, and friendship. This is not a new idea, but I like to think about all the fond memories I have made over meals with friends. In Korea especially, I think that this food bond becomes stronger because in most cases you cook your meal together in front of everyone. You pour your own drinks for each other, share the meal (people don’t really order individual meals here), and cook the meal together. This communal experience is wonderful and is partly why I have spent most of my paychecks on food with others.

The following are some of my favorite meals I have had in Korea (mostly Seoul and Busan) and I hope your mouth salivates from the scrumptious images.

A girl and her bike

My bike arrived Saturday and after some assembly I was ready to speed around Korea’s bike paths. I never expected to be in such a large city and be able to bike safely around town. Of course, I have not and will not be sacrificing myself to the streets, ever. However, on Sunday I headed onto Seoul Trail which runs along the Han River!

The sun was out so the bike path was clogged with people by the time I returned home, but before that I cruised alongside the river. This was an entirety new perspective of Seoul and I actually saw grass and sand! Rather than concrete and bricks.

From my apartment I curved around until I was at Gimpo Airport. This was much farther than I had planned, but I could not stop moving forward. I wanted to know what was beyond every corner because I kept finding awesome new views.

The first place I stopped was when I reach the Han River. At this viewpoint there were at least fifty bikers all in superb biker gear. Putting my leggings and running shoes to shame. There was a water fountain where I gulped water like a guppy before heading further….and further from home 🙂

My second rest break was fairly soon after because I had jetted off from home without water…or food…oops. I was too excited. I also learned to be very wary of water fountains. At one of the many water fountains along the way I bent my head down for a refreshing drink of water and instead a jet of high pressure water shot up my nose and onto my face. Cautiously I tried again, barely turning the nozzle and a more manageable stream of water quenched my thirst.

20140421-111709.jpg

My next stop was my favorite, and it was probably because I found food. Around the next curved I passed under a bridge and found a smorgasbord of bikers hiding in the shade. I braked and maneuvered my way through the crowd. The closer I went to the river the more people I saw, there were even people fishing! (Which is surprising because a couple kilometers back I saw many dead fish floating in the water)

At the waters edge was a ferry dock, a small sandy beach, grass (like the first green grass I’ve seen images, so it’s a big deal), and a 7-11 hidden along the path! I felt pure joy as I ran in and bought myself a picnic. I then sat on a rock and enjoy the watery oasis.

The fishers would occasionally whip back their tall poles and throw the line far into the river. A large plunk would occur and they would then wait. Perhaps they were catching zombie fish since I hadn’t seen any truly alive ones yet….

After a decent break and devouring of my good I hooked my leg over my bike frame and peddled off. After another ten minutes or so I came across a small ecological reserve. There was a small wetland and when I entered I eventually found silence. Something that Seoul seriously lacks. There were even a few orange and white butterflies that fluttered around me as I walked along with my bike.

Since I am lazy I took another break. Sitting on a bench I took pictures and just enjoyed the calm atmosphere. Then, a little girl came up to me with a card and two decorated eggs. I had forgotten Sunday was Easter! Her mother said hello to me and some other things in Korean. I’m fairly sure she asked me if I believed in God…but I figured that out more from context than my Korean knowledge. I’ll be honest I am still fairly surprised how many Christians there are here. Before coming people and even the internet told me Korea had mostly Confucius and Buddhist beliefs. Maybe it’s a combination? I don’t really know.

Anyways I went on my way until I reached Gimpo airport. That was when I relieved I was exhausted and probably shouldn’t have biked this far. So, thighs burning I turned around and biked home the way I came. Overall it was a beautiful day and I can not wait for many more biking adventures.

20140421-111924.jpg

The Little Things

20140327-214829.jpgHere are a few small things that have stood out to me during my day to day activities in Seoul. They are fairly simple and perhaps uninteresting to some, but sometimes the smallest differences seem significant for whatever reason.

Crosswalks

After a week in Seoul I thought I had mastered crossing the street. I honed my hearing so I could detect incoming scooters that seem to purposefully hurtle towards pedestrians. I always identify where every bus and taxi is before I cross because sometimes they like to zoom towards the red light. However, one thing that has agitated me is waiting for the crosswalk sign to change. This vice of mine developed over many years of having access to a silver button that told the traffic lights I wanted to cross immediately. I had not seen a crossing button in Seoul so I waited impatiently to cross the streets until seven days in, I spotted a small button on a pole near the curb. In my joy I rammed my finger into the button. Promptly, a voice began speaking to me in Korea. I assumed it was telling me that the light would soon change. I smiled, but then one of my fellow teachers I was walking with informed me that I had just called the police. They would be on their way to our location promptly. I panicked and ran across the street as soon as the light changed. My fellow teacher laughed as I tried to get as far away as possible. Sorry Seoul police force. From now on, I won’t press any more mystery buttons.

 

Hiking

This last weekend I hiked Mt. Buhkansan. Two subway lines and a bus ride from my apartment. It was a beautiful peak and a fairly quick ascent. However, what amazed me most about the hike was everyone’s hiking gear. I wore leggings and a hoodie, a simple outfit for a small excursion. Once I stepped off the bus and saw all the other hikers I realize what a slob I must have looked like. Everyone was in pristine, brightly colored hiking gear. Every hiker but us had a hiking stick, a backpack, shoes, rain jacket, and fancy pants of some sort that looked like they had just purchased at a store and came straight to the mountain. Apparently, there is a dress code for hiking.

Perhaps the reason why is because before the entrance to the park there is a small retail village. Every building sold the same product: hiking gear. There were a few restaurants, but the majority of shops for hiking. They had North Face, Merrell, and every other brand name you affiliate with outdoor adventures. I suppose this encourages being outdoors, but it is pretty funny to be the only ones without the proper attire.

 

Alcohol & Food

There is no open container law in Korea, but the only people who fully utilize this seem to be foreigners. Many convenient stores have small tables outside of their shop and people will sit down for a beer at their local 7-11. Also, the liquor of choice in Korea is Soju which as many people say, ‘is cheaper than water’.  So, most people when they go out to eat order this alongside their meal.

If you eat with anyone the meal is assumed to be shared. This is fantastic because the food in Korea is delicious. Of course, being a vegetarian would have been fairly hard here because I would have had to decline almost every invite to dinner with friends. There is a ridiculous amount of meat here. Korean BBQ is a lot of fun and a great example of a shared meal because bowls of raw meat and a various assortments of sides are delivered to the table. Then, it is up to you to cook your own meal! The food cooks in front of you on a grill and once people are hungry they can pick what they want to stuff their faces with. It is not only Korean BBQ that is shared or that the customer has to cook their own food, but it is a good example. So, if you head to Korea don’t assume that your meal is specifically, share! Meals are already a base of friendship and community so sharing only makes these bonds stronger.

Bathrooms

 The first few weeks I felt like every time I walked into a bathroom I was treated to a surprise. For example, the bathroom in my love motel and my apartment is located next to the bathroom sink which is next to the shower which is next to my medicine cabinet. I actually quite like how compact the bathroom is because it is more like a closet and takes up less space. Besides, every time I take a shower I clean my bathroom!

So, I became accustomed to this bathroom design, but then the subway threw me for a loop. I walked into the ladies room and everything appeared normal. However, when I opened my stall door I saw no porcelain toilet, only a small silver troft in the ground. This is new I thought. Not all subway bathrooms are like this so it is only a surprise about half the time.

Then, one day I was walked around and needed to access a bathroom. I was near City Hall and wanted to know what the inside looked like so I walked in. Their bathroom was much more advanced than the subway’s one. There was a remote control next to the seat. I still have no idea what it was for but I looked it and there were three images: water splashing someone’s bum, a water spout and a water droplet. There were other buttons too, but I was too scared to press any of them after the crosswalk incident. So, this high tech toilet is still a mystery too me, I am mostly glad I didn’t get sucked in or drenched in water.

 

Air

Seoul is beautiful and there is so much to see that even in a year I can do something new every weekend. Yet, I couldn’t help but notice the constant haze and the dry feeling in my throat. I assumed it was just Seoul’s pollution, but it turns out it was ‘The Dust’.

So, there is a place called the Gobi desert which has a lot of sand. Sometimes it gets windy and the little sand particles are picked up and drift towards China. As the particles make their way they collect anything in the air, like viruses and pollution. After these little particles have collected all these wonderful things they drop of their load in Korea! Their pilgrimage make up what is called The Dust in Korea and many people wear face mask when it the air is viscous with the little buggers.

A couple years ago I guess Korea donated a lot of trees to China because they wanted them to plant them in a location that would lessen the dust. Instead, China planted them along a highway. So, that is why many people wear mask here and why sometimes my throat feels a bit strange. However, most of the foreign teachers who have been here more than a year say their immune system is like a steel wall against any kind of germs.

 

Street Aquarium or Dinner? 

Korea is a peninsula and is surrounded by water on three sides. Therefore, there is a lot of seafood and anything water related. When I walk down a street I usually see live octopus, sea cucumbers, eel, and various fish. The open top tanks are in front of the restaurants and for the people inside they are future meals. However, when you walk down the street it is more like a street aquarium. I like to stop and watch the octopus float sometimes because usually I have to pay money to go to an aquarium. Besides, I don’t mind if it makes me look like a foreigner….I am one already haha!

 

Once Upon a Time in a Love Motel

After a twelve hour flight I arrive in Seoul, South Korea. The first glimpse of my new environment is an airport drenched in smog. The golden Sun smolders behind the thick layer of pollution, as if it is about to melt. I make my way to the baggage claim and finally my driver. He holds a sign that reads Carah in English and my name in Hangul (the Korean writing system) below.

We wait another hour or so for another English Learning Bay (ELB) teacher so when we walk out of the airport; Seoul is pitch black except for the infinite rows of neon signs. For the first time I am illiterate, I am ignorant to every word that flashes by my window.

During the drive, the other teacher and I chat. When we arrive to the motel I assume we will both stay there and adventure out into this new world together. However, the driver says this is where I am staying, not her. So, I unload my bags and wave goodbye. The van drives off and I am left standing in an alley looking up at the Shine Motel, alone. I admired the fun lights that gradually change color. After my fascination of the motel lights wears away I realize how utterly lost I am. Where am I? Why did I agree to be dumped off half way around the world? Why Korea? All the questions I thought I had answered months ago bum rush my conscious and an immense feeling of fear and excitement hits me. I step into my home for the next five days.

That night after I put my bags in my room and stare at the walls for a bit I decide to venture out. It feels a lot like stepping into a black hole. I walk straight and after a block I reach the main street. I watch the cars twist around each other in a dance as the pedestrians weaving around my still figure. It strikes me how oddly quiet this place is for such a large city – 10 million large. 10 million people living in this concrete land all sharing the same air and water and food. Sometimes Seoul is an oddly unassuming place, how could there be such serene places in a metropolitan.

I walk for blocks and began to emphasize with agoraphobics, I feel like I could walk for years and never find the city limits. It is building, after restaurant, after neon sign, after building. I can’t see the sky or the horizon. I am the mouse lost in a labyrinth…who is beginning to crave food. The overwhelming sensation that this urban grid is pushing me onward is cut short by my grumbling stomach. Somehow, simple human urges like hunger make me feel a little more orientated. My existential crisis is on a decline.

After a few blocks I walk into a restaurant that features pictures beside the Korean words. I figure when in doubt point at something yummy. The lady sits me at my own table. I have to remove my shoes and sit cross legged at a very short table. A large gas stove rest in the middle of my table. When I order I point at the first picture on the list. When my food arrives I receive five side dishes and a giant crescent shaped pot of some red-spicy-noodle-meat-vegetable soup. It is delicious. Unfortunately, the lady sees me struggling with my chop sticks and brings me a fork. Slightly embarrassed, but also obliged I eat more of my meal at a better pace. I pay for my bill and make my way home – to the love motel.

I realized they put me in a love motel after a few simple observations:

1) The motel is based in an alley

2) There are tassels that hang from the garage so outsiders cannot see who walks into the motel.

3) All the lights are red or pink

4) There is an adult vending machine outside my door

5) Certain sound waves carry through all the walls….at various points in time…

The first full day in Korea I am still the only foreign teacher in the motel and I have no idea when the others will come. Finally others arrive and we spend our time between orientation, walking the streets, and agreeing that so far everything has been very last minute. Hey, it’s all part of the adventure and if you don’t know what the heck is going on, sometimes life might get boring.

Our stay in the love motel last for five days and on Saturday most of us move into our own apartments. School started last Monday and a whole new batch of craziness began. However, that is for another blog post. For now, this concludes once upon a time in a love motel.South Korea 2014 028