Christmas is for couples and cakes

23 12 2011

Tomorrow is Christmas Eve.
I can’t believe it’s here already.
You hear Christmas music in coffee shops and see mini plastic trees for sale, but otherwise, Christmas isn’t a big deal in Korea.
Christmas is a couples’ holiday here, and you give each other Christmas cakes.

Steve is here. I’m so glad.

So far this week, we went to Noryangjin Fish Market, Samcheongdong, Insadong and Bukchon hanok alley, and Steve hit Bugaksan Mountain, the DMZ and Namdaemun market among other places. I love traveling with Steve, because he appreciates details and nuances and adapts to situations but also is a good planner. I worried about the cold @$$ weather and me being in class during the day, but this week’s worked out well. Steve’s gone on day trips, and we’ve gotten together at night (after I’ve done homework and Steve’s bushed) to recount the day over coffee and dinner.

This weekend, we go to Jeju for Christmas. (yay!)

steve holding the airport sign i made for him

You know, I’ve been to Korea before, and my mother’s Korean. Still, we’ve eaten food this week I’ve never eaten or heard of before.


Today was the last day of class before Christmas break. We went to Lotte World folk museum. We, all ~100 of us Level 1 students, made a Korean paper bowl and walked through the Shilla, Gokoryo and Baekjae periods of history. Our teacher says the better folk museums are the Seoul National Folk Museum at Yongsan and the museum in Gyeongju.

Lotte museum is a hair cheesy. Still..it was a field trip.

We got a chance to sit next to students in other classes. So far, I’ve met Korean language students here from:

  • America
  • Japan
  • Canada
  • Columbia
  • Indonesia
  • The Philippines
  • France
  • Italy

Here’s our motley crew:


Interesting that the 4 Americans are all from the south—Susan from NC, Jonathan who graduated from the NC School of the Arts, Chelsea from Kentucky and Jordan from NOLA. Is there something about the south that makes people want to travel or just get away?





Brilliant

18 12 2011

Seoul metro subway seats are heated.





Bank of Ass

13 12 2011

I wish I had coined that term.
BofA advertises $35 per international wire transfer. Bull.

I made two online transfers of $1,000 each to Woori Bank in Seoul last week.
Current conversion rate is $1,000USD = W1,142,299 depending.
W1,065,290 x 2 made it over.

That’s a loss of W77,000 x 2 or = $150USD–a lot of money when you’re on a $3,500 budget.
The conversion rate is ridiculous. But the fact it’s unadvertised should be illegal.

Before I left, I asked a branch rep how much it costs to withdraw money while overseas:
“$5 transaction fee + 8% of the transaction” she told me.
Guess what. Transferring your money internationally will also cost you 8%, only you won’t know that until after you’ve been charged.

Whah whah call the whambulance.
I’ll be closing my BofA accounts with haste and satisfaction when I get home.





Korean + Math

12 12 2011

The two most popular terms in class are 어려워요 (it’s difficult) and 힘들이워요 (again, it’s difficult). I don’t know the difference between “difficult 1” and “difficult 2”.
A close third is 머리아파 (my head hurts).

We’re consuming at a fire hydrant’s pace.
Today, the lesson was money. OHMYGOD. Difficult. Why are we doing math?!

In Korea your basic units are 10, 100 and 1,000 and 10,000. There are words for each of these. Beyond that, numbers are a combination of these words, til you get to like fafillion.

I.e., 40,000 is four ten thousands.
One hundred thousand is ten ten thousands.
One million is one hundred ten thousands.

Gah. Difficult.
So many words.

Naha is a huge help. Tomorrow, we’ll put post-its all over the house with Korean words.
When Steve comes this weekend, I’ll put a post-it on his forehead for “bf”.

Whether I’m retaining any Korean..eh. Jake is learning English though. Yesterday I taught him “computer” and tonight he remembered. His pronunciation of “computer” is excellent.
Two is the age to start learning language, not 37.

here's the pill

(Happy birthday, Eddie.)





Eggs and ketchup

8 12 2011

Three out of four breakfasts during the week, I have rice and kimchi.
The other two mornings, it’s eggs with cabbage and ketchup on white bread or eggs with cabbage and ketchup on a plate with rice and kimchi. Your mouth waters, yes?

Seriously, I don’t know if I’m going to stay in this family’s homestay.
I’ll make a choice tomorrow. The family is kind, but there are cheaper places…

Routine
So the routine is get up at 7:30, shower, have said gourmet breakfast and walk 10 minutes to Sogang. Four hours of Korean (no English!) and head to the cafeteria for lunch.
Here’s what ~$1.60 will get you:

chapchae, tofu, fish cake, kimchi, rice and soup

Eating in the caf is part of the adventure. Let’s see what 1,800W will buy today.

I like it. Part of the experience. I am not tired of eating kimchi, though rice at every meal may be too much. I’m breaking out like a 15-year-old schoolboy. Maybe the high glycemic index?

So, eat lunch, find a reading room, study vocabulary, go to the gym.

Today, I played racquetball in the basement of the gym next to our class building.
Everything, everything is an adventure, when you don’t know the language.

  • How to check out racquets?
  • How to turn on the lights in the racquetball room?
  • Oh, this is the men’s changing room? I thought it said faculty.

After gym, walk home, chat with Naha, terrorize two-year-old, study some more.

Homestay family
My family is a young couple, 33, with a 6-month-old and a 30-month-old. Jake, the older, runs around saying “ahn-nee, ahn-nee”—no, no. Steve informs me “no” is popular with the two-year-olds.

Naha is a stay-at-home. Junwoo, her husband, is a former musician, who sells music equipment now and manages a band for fun.

This homestay is ~$420/month and includes (yummy) breakfast and an electric blanket.

The two-year-old, Jake, is at once scared and fascinated with me. If I don’t put him on the spot and look him in the eyes, he’ll let me hug him and rub his head. Yesterday, he followed me around the apartment and wanted to stay in my room. At the same time, I can also torture the rugrat with, “Jake, come give me a kiss…hey Jake, give me a hug.” That sends him into a screaming frenzy. What a wonderful age.

I’ll post some about class this weekend and the students in class.
For now, I’ll say Sogang has a fantastic Korean program.
I’m grateful to be here.





Ansan

8 12 2011

We’re supposed to get -6C weather tomorrow. Yay.
I can’t complain. The weather’s been decent enough to run and go for a hike.

On Sunday, I ran around Yonsei University, which is up the street from my homestay. The hood I’m in is called Sinchon (not to be mistaken for Sincheon) and it’s equidistant from Ewha Women’s Uni, Yonsei and Sogang U.

My favorite part of Korea is that no matter where you are, if you go up, you’re bound to start scaling a mountain. So a short, let’s-burn-some-of-this-rice run turned into a hike up Ansan (mountain). I won’t try to describe the hiking here except to say it’s especially restorative here in Seoul, where the air sucks. Hiking is the national past time. Come visit. You’ll see how serious Koreans are about hiking, all outfitted in windbreakers and visors, walking sticks and pocket radios.

If you get tired hiking, you can stop at one of the fitness parks on the side of the mountain (as if hiking weren’t enough) and play badminton, hula hoop or work out on the fitness equipment.

I’ll start carrying a camera. In the meantime, Manouchka Elefant has Ansan images.





DPRK

6 12 2011

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is aka North Korea (?!).
I almost bought traveler’s insurance for the wrong country.

Goodbye BlueCross BlueShield. Hello AAA Patriot Medical.