Thursday, September 26, 2013

Chuseok: To Everland & Seoul!

Last week I had my first Chuseok experience. Chuseok is this big Korean holiday, kind of like the American Thanksgiving. Everyone gets together with their relatives in their hometowns, eats more than is humanly possible, and hangs out. This year Chuseok gave us a 5 day holiday, so woohoo! In honor of this, my friend Eric and I took off to Seoul for a few days to inspect things and to check out Everland. Everland is like Korean Disneyland (sort of) and they were having a special event Chuseok price for foreigners, so we were all over it!

We took the train to Seoul on Wednesday, which was so absurdly long, and then stayed in a hostel called Seoul Base Camp. It was actually kind of like a camp, with no real walls (more like thick canvas curtains), but it had everything one needs and everyone was lovely and helpful so no complaints here.

Thursday morning we set off for Everland. Allow me to elaborate on the hectic process of getting there. There is a subway line that goes straight there, but it does take a bit of time. Not as much time as you'll spend trying to take the bus tho! We got to Gangnam Station (shameless photo below...) around 10:15, and the bus arrived.

Oh but buses here... basically, the bus is going 70 mph, it stops somewhere on the bus stop and everyone clamors to get onto it. No order, no line, just bodies on the bus until it is full (and I don't mean legal safety full, I mean, there is no more floor space anywhere, including the exit steps). We missed 2 more buses due to this crowded mess, but eventually caught one around 10:45. While waiting at the stop we got chummy with some Eastern Europeans, with whom we shared the floor space (including one dude who was sitting on the exit steps).

The whole trip took about 2 hours, and once we got to Everland, I immediately proceeded to buy some cat ears because I couldn't help myself. Just like any amusement park, everything was overpriced. We wandered, went on a few rides, ate some peanut butter roasted squid (which was just absurdly delicious, let me say) and had an all around good time.

Friday we spent wandering around Seoul, checking out Seoul tower (which is on a giant hill by the way, which was torturous for me to climb, also by the way. I don't hike), scoping Itaewon and generally doing quite a bit of walking. Good times all around tho, and I can say that I have been to Seoul.

Real talk: Most of the time I was in Seoul, I forgot that I was in Seoul. Going anywhere in Korea, it seems, is just kind of like this huge bombardment of flashing lights and neon, so there's nothing particularly unique about streets in Seoul versus streets in Busan. I mean, I didn't spend that much time in Seoul, but I would be down for Busan in a heartbeat. It's basically got everything Seoul has, but with a beach! You can't go wrong.

Now it's almost the weekend, and the next 2 weeks are bringing more holidays so bring on the fun!

At the top of N Seoul Tower

Delicious squid


Walking towards the tower

Gangnam Style dance...I had to...

Not in Seoul, but a "wild" shrimp burger + snow crab nuggets from Lotteria

At Busan Station!

On the roof of the hostel

Eric and nice girl from Slovakia

Pretty Czech guy who got stuck on the exit steps

Everland! Yes!

Holiday tree!

My magnificent cat ears. 

Waiting for the T Express will put you up to this.

Korean BBQ, Gangnam Style

On Namsan mountain!

Panorama of one small (small, small...) part of the city

View of N Seoul Tower from Itaewon

and beer and soju and ramen 

I was drunk, but this guy was soooo trashed

Bye bye Seoul!

Until next time!


Friday, September 13, 2013

Peculiar Peculiarities

Greetings readers!

Well, I've been here officially 2.5 weeks and I'm loving it. I'm learning Korean and things are going really well at work! I didn't know that Korean (elementary school) English teachers aren't required to know English haha. So that's been an experience. English learning here is a foreign language, not a second one, so most of the class is taught in Korean. Hey, it is what it is! 

I teach 5th and 6th grades. The 5th graders are amazing and great, so dedicated and cute. The 6th graders are....a nightmare, as they talk (not quietly) in class during the lessons and are just generally nonchalant about everything, but I pin it on us not having a lot of room for creativity with the curriculum, as they all are basically working towards standardized tests all the time. Lame! 

I'm taking Korean classes, and I'm picking it up pretty quickly. I've got a decent handle on the alphabet, which is of the utmost importance. I mean, charades will get you a long way, but it's so much nicer being able to communicate. I can practice reading everywhere I go though, which is great! Yet I feel super silly doing that, as I feel just like I'm little again haha I haven't had to deal with being illiterate since first grade!! 

Other interesting things about Korean life
  • You can't flush toilet paper, you have to throw it away. 
  • McDonald's delivers on a scooter. 
  • Good luck finding cheese. 
  • People will stare at you. All the time.
  • People will also compliment you on the most random things. I've been told that I have a small face, that I'm "very active", that I'm "diligent." Korean compliments, gotta love em. 
  • The trash system is no joke. There are few (and I mean like 3) public trash cans. And at home, you have to separate recycle from non-recycle and food waste, and then go to the sorting facility in the basement and sort it out yourself. It's cool but also bahh!
  • Driving here is insane. Scooters drive on the sidewalk, sometimes cars park on the sidewalk, sometimes they park on street corners at an intersection, like it doesn't make any sense haha. But that's Korea for you!
This is definitely not a parking spot.

Driving in Korea, not for the faint of heart!

I have my little "foreign family" which is great, it's so wonderful to have a group of people to share the ups and downs with. And, no offense to my co-teachers, it's great to be able to speak in English without having to think about it. I'm petitioning to get an after school drama club started, as a good way for the kids to get to know me better and for them to have a space to come out of their shells a bit (99.9% of my students, and perhaps Koreans in general, are almost absurdly shy). Plus it's got music, dancing, costumes, woooo! Could be great!

Chuseok holiday is upon us, so I'm off to Seoul tomorrow night. Let's see what else Korea is cookin up for me.

Until next time!