Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Soul to Seoul

Our long holiday weekend has come and gone. A few months ago we saw this past weekend as an opportunity to go to Beijing and see the Great Wall of China but ended up deciding that we just couldn't afford to do so. So, we had the much less glamourous idea to instead take the KTX (bullet train) up to Seoul for the weekend. It's a very short 2 1/2 hour trip through mostly the countryside. I didn't know Korea was so mountainous! Some views through my window looked strikingly like home. However, with the mountains come the tunnels and nothing makes my ears hurt worse than hurling through tunnels on a train. Airplanes don't bother my ears one bit but trains and tunnels...forget it.

All last week I spent planning and booking things and printing maps and looking up places to eat. Some of the very few things I knew about Seoul previously was only that it's bigger than Busan, it has a Forever 21 and that I've had to stopover there twice on two separate flying occasions. Not much to go on. I did know before going up that my main goal for the weekend was to "get out of Korea" for a few days. Yes, Seoul is in Korea, but I figured there was enough American stuff there to keep me really happy for 72 hours.

Once we pulled into Seoul Station and exited about lunchtime I really felt I was someplace much larger than Busan. It was crowded. Busan has 3.6 million people and, truly, most days I don't feel as if I'm an extremely populated place. Seoul, on the other hand, has over 10 million people and I felt it the second I got off the train platform. It made me realize how small Busan really is comparatively. Busan is the second largest city but it doesn't feel like it, not at all. There is so much MORE in Seoul than in Busan, it's unreal.

Throughout the weekend there were times I felt like I was in any large city in the US. The diversity of people! Most of my life, apart from vacations, has been spent in very un-diverse places. The last four years of my life have been rural Canada, rural WV, rurual Japan, back to rural WV and now Busan which really doesn't have as many foreigners as I had anticipated coming here. And where the foreigners do congregate, 99% are from America, Canada, Europe or know, white...we all look the same. Wandering around NYC, for example, is just a big melting pot of people from all over the world and it was the same in Seoul. It was a group of Indian women in their saris, a family from Africa in their traditional clothes, Latino, Nepalese...I even saw one woman in her full burka. These are things that I don't get in Busan, things I like to see on an every day basis...a variety of people. The kids don't point and stare there like they do here, either, because they are so used to the diversity. Maybe this is just the small town girl in me coming out being happily amazed at the different people in the world...but onward!  

The first thing I see when we leave the station is Bennigans. A Bennigans! Open and ready for business. Aren't they all closed in the US? I would've loved a Monte Cristo while visiting but, alas, maybe next trip. I had a mission for lunch and that mission was Taco Bell, so Bennigans will have to wait. After we descended down into the metro elbow to elbow with everyone else we got our tickets and eventually found the right platform. Subways are subways and they essentially all work the same so it wasn't something that was overwhelming. What was overwhelming was the sheer size of that one station. Enormous. Our first destination was Myeong-dong station and the area we were staying in which has the same name. I chose this area because Myeong-dong is where the shopping is. Forever 21, H&M, Zara,'s fantastic. Also, it's very centrally located within the city. Luckily, Seoul Station is only two stops from Myeong-dong and I say lucky because the metro map looks like this:

 The last thing I would have wanted to do would be to navigate a strange subway and do three transfers to get to our hotel (again, lucky). It pretty much looks like someone took a bunch of spaghetti noodles, threw it on the ground and declared, "Ah! The subway map of Seoul!" (but this is nothing compared to Tokyo, google it, if you're so inclined)

Once we located our hotel and checked into our impossibly small room it was off to Taco Bell. It's located in the "foreigner district" of Itaewon, again, only a few stops from Myeong-dong and just right around the corner from the station exit. I get to the door and Heaven's Gates opened and inside waiting for me is my favorite fat kid food ever. I get a table outside and Al shortly brings out the tray laden with my disgustingly delicious lunch. After stuffing myself with tacos and nachos it was back to Myeong-dong to do some damage to my Korean bank account and watch those wons deplete.

Al likes shopping just as much as I, or any girl, really (<3) and he was just as eager to get in the stores. We first went to Forever 21, but upon seeing that it was three floors of awesomeness and that I would probably be spending a substantial amount of time in there, we went to the not-very-big-considering-it's-three-floors men's section first. It was to no avail. He found nothing in Forever so instead of walking around with me for hours we both went to H&M and that's where he hit the jackpot. I'm not going to make him wander around with me for the rest of the afternoon when I'm going to be ignoring him anyway so he went back to the hotel to sit on the patio and drink beer while I stayed in the shopping area to head back to Forever and finish at H&M. Three hours and 250,000 won later I'm jubilant and already feeling like I've left Korea for a while.

That night for dinner we had some very delicious Indian food (looooove curry) and called it an early night. The next day we had reserved for cheap outdoor market shopping. There were two good ones I had read about beforehand: Dongdaemun and Namdaemun. We went first to Namdaemun and though I feel like we probably saw only 5% of the entire thing, we weren't that impressed and it was starting to sprinkle. We decided to just grab a few little things from the street vendors to eat really quick (I didn't want to eat anything Korean whatsoever, but I was starving) so we got a kimbap (Korean-style sushi (without sushi) rolls) and a sort of patty thing with meat, noodles and vegetables in it that I can't remember the name. Also we ran across this menu from one of the vendors:

Stir fried pork intestines, chicken feet and pork with "lumpybones" (whatever that is). Yum. Nearly ruined my appetite. We decided to go back to Itaewon to find a real place to eat and went to a regular old pub/grill place with nothing unfamiliar on the menu (yay!). I got one of those taco-chili-mexican-tortilla soups...definitely can't find that in Busan. We decided to go to the other market, Dongdaemun, and had a very hard time finding where it was or even what it was because I read it wasn't a traditional street market. Once we finally located the place (miles of semi-derelict buildings with stalls inside) everything was closed. Lame. I was looking forward to rooting through the junk. For dinner we had ON THE BORDER. I'm talking the Mexican chain from the US. When people would ask Al what we planned on doing in Seoul he said he'd just tell them "we're going to eat Mexican food" and that's plenty alright with me, it's my favorite. I walked inside and I could be sitting in any Mexican place in any state and feel the same. Enchiladas....ahhhh!!!

Monday was leaving day and so we wanted Subway for lunch. Just so you know, it doesn't matter where you are in the world, all subways smell the same. Turkey can't be found in a grocery store over here so my turkey consumption since leaving the US is now up to two times. (first at Quiznos here in Busan - $$$$$) We had time to kill after eating so we decided to just wander around Itawon and happened to stumble upon two of the best streets I've ever found in Asia. One was a street with a ton of "foreign food" markets. O. M. G. I would DIE for one of these places here. Not only did they get progressively bigger the farther along the street we went but I bought more and more things along the way. I felt like I was wondering around Krogers or something. Cheetos, Colgate, Stovetop stuffing, Glade candles, oatmeal, cornmeal, tampons, cake mixes, ranch dressing, tomato soup, refried beans...tons upon tons of stuff that I've never seen in Busan and a lot of it came home with me. The other street was an international restaurant street. German, Ethiopian, Italian, Mexican, Turkish, was all represented. I sincerely wish I would've known about that place before going, we probably would've spent most of our meals there!

With my bags full of American grocery items we headed back to get our luggage and get to the train station to catch the 3:00 KTX. And after all that, I'm sitting in my Busan apartment thanking God that I don't live in Seoul. We would spend SO much money if we lived there. Eating and shopping, eating and shopping. No, I'm definitely glad we live here even if I don't have most of the conveniences of home or the variety of people like I would there.

(happy to be eating Indian food)

Monday, May 7, 2012

Workin' for the Weekend

So, I do apologize for not writing in a month. There really hasn't been a whole lot going on! The truth is, yes, I'm living abroad and while it might sound spectacular on the outside, on the inside I'm just trying to get through the week to Saturday just like the rest of you. After a few weeks of being here the novelty wears off (especially being the second time around doing this) and I'm just another person doing the same thing day in and day out, watching the clock tick past my 5 1/2 hour days until Friday at 6:35 when I get to say goodbye to those kids for two glorious days. See, my life is just like yours, I'm just in another country doing it!

Now, before you click off my page and stop reading my blog because you think things aren't that exciting over here, sorry for misleading you, they are! And here is what has been going on lately:

The weather has broken! It's finally warm/hot every day. The weather here, apart from being frigid in the winter, drives me crazy. Back home the weather is extremely inconsistant. Even in the winter you get freak 60s or even 70s days and come March you can breathe a sigh of relief because the bad stuff is mostly over. When March hits you will always have warm days/weeks scattered around to help you cope with those cold days that are mixed in until about mid-April. Needless to say, it makes winter seem shorter in a way because of the inconsistancy. Here in Busan, the weather is sooooo gradual. Slowly warms up, slowly cools down. It seems to warm up a degree or two every day. No nutty 80 degree days in March, no freak snowstorms in April. Just a gradual warm up that makes me want to pull my hair out because it seemed like it was NEVER going to get hot. Two weeks ago it finally started steadily staying in the 20s (high 60s-low 70s) and now it's hanging around the mid 20s every day which is very pleasant. And after the winter here and the steady incline of temperatures I can feel my mood improving daily. Though I think I'll be praying for days like these come summer, I guess it's scorching hot with no relief for months.

One of the awesome things about Busan is it's right on the beach. I'm not talking oh-it's-on-the-coast-but-no-real-beaches-nearby like where we were in Japan, but real genuine beach towns with long stretches of sand and salty air and waves and seashells. There are two main ones, Haeundae and Gwangalli. Haeundae is considered the busiest beach (or one of) in the world and here's a picture to prove it:

Ah, Haeundae. I've not seen it like this yet but I guess this is what to be expected so we better enjoy it now...WHICH WE ARE. It's so nice to be able to just hop the subway for 20 minutes, walk another 5 and plop myself on the sand for the afternoon. There are restaurants and convenience stores and coffee shops lining the road behind the beach and before the weather got hot Al and I would go down and sit on one of the terraces of Starbucks or something and have a coffee and watch the waves. Relax. Now that it's warm enough to dig out the bathing suit and tan it's where we spent our entire weekend this week. Saturday (Cinco de Mayo!) we gathered some friends and went and ate Mexican (well, the closest thing you can get to it here) at a place called Fuzzy Navel right beside Gwangalli beach. After we ate and the boys had their cervesas we laid on the beach all day. Al and his friends ended up gathering more foreigners for a 7 on 7 football game on the beach at which one point there were many, many Korean onlookers cheering and shouting. We spent the evening at a friend's house and then woke up and laid on the beach all day Sunday as well. I'd say my weekends will be mostly beach filled. (Yay! Tan!)

In Korean news, I still don't like the food. I haven't learned the language and I don't intend to. I really don't care much about travelling or seeing the country either. Basically, I just don't care about Korea. It's horrible to say, but I don't. I like living here, but I'm not interested in the country itself whatsoever. Yeah, yeah, scowl if you want, but it's true. And I don't really feel bad about it and I blame it on this not being my first time doing this so I'm all meh.

I just started my third full semester at school. They only last two months for some reason. The kids get changed around a bit and my classrooms/classtimes change. It's nice to have things changed even minimally every few months, keeps me from going stir crazy. I either love my classes or hate my classes. I have about 4 classes that make things very hard. I've told you all this before but some of those kids really just need a good punch in the face. I have one class of older middle schoolers, they're probably 12-14 years old and they are the most disrespectful, rude and some just plain out mean kids I've ever dealt with in my life. I remember being like that sometimes when I was their age but never to my teachers! On the bright side, I do have some really fun classes like this one:

They get a little out of hand because they are young but they're mostly fun.

On the travelling front we have a few things lined up. We'll be going to Seoul here in a few weeks because we get a long weekend. I'm actually looking forward to "getting out of Korea" for a few days. I plan on shopping my face off at Forever 21 and eating Taco Bell for every meal. Nice change for the weekend. After that we have vacation in July/August. I have a full week off but Al only has a Wednesday, Thursday and Friday off. They told him that if he can find a replacement it's no problem if he takes off the Monday and Tuesday therefore giving us 9 days to go somewhere. If we can have all that time I'd like to go to India or Australia or someplace far. If we only have the 5 days we'll probably end up in SE Asia somewhere, maybe go back to Thailand, not sure yet. Even farther ahead in September we have another long weekend (I have 5 days, we're not sure which days Al has off yet) and I think we're heading to Beijing to see the Great Wall of China. I'm REALLY excited about that. It's really the only thing about China that holds any interest for me and it's only a 2 1/2 hour direct flight away from here so there's really no reason not to go for a few days.

I miss home like mad this time around. I think about it all the time and wish I could just hop on a plane and come visit everyone. I don't know why it's so different this round but I am rather homesick. And not always just for West Virginia to see family and friends but just America in general. I just want all things American and interstates and normal food and good drivers and the smells and all your lovely faces. Miss all of you <3 xo