Thursday, April 29, 2010

Yesterday in photos

It's been a very busy few days with little time to write or upload pictures. The weather has finally gotten warmer and sunnier. On Wednesday, Suki and I hung out indoor shopping areas because the weather again was cold and rainy. We had a couple of great meals of doughy dumplings for lunch and seafood barbecue for dinner. The seafood barbecue was more of cooking clams on a half shell with seasoning and toppings.

When the weather finally turned really nice on Thursday, we went into Seoul to some very nice areas, including Insadong, the river and Hongdae. Insadong is a touristy area, but still is pretty and has a great traditional park next to it. The river is a newly created pathway. And Hongdae is a fashionable area near a university.

I have been having a great time and am so happy that the weather has improved. I can't believe that I have only one-and-a-half days left. I am waiting in my room right now to figure out some final details for a dinner tonight. I will soon head out to a traditional Korean Buddhist temple in Seoul called Jogyesa. Then I am meeting a former Canadian co-worker and a bunch of my Korean friends for a galbi dinner tonight.

There is so much else I'd like to share with you about my experiences I have been having this week, but I want to be enjoying my short time remaining in Korea. I will write more later. For now, here are some photos:

Making doughnuts in Insadong:

Park in Insadong:

Suki and her new best friend in Hongdae:

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Another great day, another early morning

I just can't seem to get on Korea time as I wake up early every morning. I had the best day of my trip so far yesterday and it went very late-to about 1:30 a.m. However, despite riding the subway around Seoul, shopping and hitting up some bars and restaurants late at night, I manged only to sleep until 5 a.m.

Yesterday will definitely be a day that stands out in my memory. I met with my former student Suki who has been living in Australia for three years but just arrived home for a visit this week. Then she will be moving to Paris to be with her French husband who she met Down Under. We had such a wonderful day catching up and shopping. We had two great meals and a snack together. (I'd post pictures, but I am unable to at the moment.)

At night we met Bruce for a seafood barbecue and beer. I was so extremely happy to see them both as they are some of the best friends I have ever met.

Today will be more shopping indoors in the morning and then hopefully sight seeing around Seoul in the afternoon and evening with Suki. We will again meet Bruce near his work for dinner. Unfortunately it has rained all day for the first three days of my trip. The rain has really hindered what I have been able to do. It's especially difficult because not only has it been rainy and at times very windy, it has also been only about upper 40s or 50 during the day. I did not pack enough warm clothes for this trip and will probably have to pick up a few more today. The sun is supposed to make a showing starting today. I really hope it does so I can see more of this country before I leave and can take more pictures to show you all back home.

There are so many great and silly things to take pictures of. Last night, Suki and I went to dinner at the "Miller" bar. The whole decor was Miller beer and Milwaukee's best. They did have Miller on tap, which was rather impressive for a country that has only three or four poor-quality beers. The bar was also across the street from a restaurant called the Sea Bank and it had the colors and similar logo to Citi Bank.

I realize now that it was foolish to feel so nervous about my visit to Korea because I have been having a wonderful time and feel like I am really getting immersed in the culture again. I fear that I am going to be bored when I return to Waukesha. At least it will be summer when there is so much to do and see, but even that pales in comparison to the constant throng of people to watch, the thousands of businesses crammed into a small area and huge subway system connecting a massive city of many neighborhoods. I can certainly hope that next time my separation from South Korea will not be as long as 3.5 years.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Culture learning curve

I know that no matter how hard I would try I would never completely fit in in Korea. I think there are many values that I share with the Korean people, but the way their society works is so different from what I am used in the U.S.A. It's hard for me to explain in a short blog entry. A good place to witness those differences is on the subway. I went into Seoul for the first time on this trip today. I took the subway to meet a friend and then to go to a movie. To get a good sampling of Korean society, riding the subway is an excellent way to do that. It can also be a very frustrating experience as people push to get to the train or are completely oblivious to you, your umbrella or bags. The train is often full of young lovebirds who are constantly preening each other. Tonight on my short ride, I saw them fixing each other's clothes, playing with each other's hair and staring at each other's reflection. Sometimes, like tonight, it takes a lot of patience to ride the subway.

However, when you get to know Koreans they are very wonderful friends. Some of the best that I have ever had. They make me feel so special because they are always happy to see me, are caring, generous and kind.

I was able to meet with several former students today, including some from my "housewives" class. We went out for a really nice lunch and had a good conversation about USA, Korea, our lives and so forth. When the group of six started to speak Korea, I just leaned back and listened. It's fun to listen to Koreans talk because they will throw in a random English word. Some of the random English words today in a stream of Korean were credit card, music video and scientific.

Unfortunately, it is really hard to capture Koreans for what they are, but I did take some pictures of office workers playing basketball terribly today in their shiny gray suits (Korean men appear to love very shiny gray suits).

I am also trying to get back in the habit of using my few Korean words to communicate thanks and hello. The harder thing to remember is to hand things to people in the polite, proper Korean way, which is with one hand on the other arm's upper portion. The same goes for handshaking and pouring beverages.

I have not been able to take as many pictures as I would like to so far because of the horrible weather. It rained rather heavily for most of yesterday.Today, it was sunny in the late morning for about an hour and was rainy, cold and really windy the rest of the day. As I was looking for an office tower in the financial district where my friend works, my umbrella flipped inside out four times! Not exactly photo-taking weather.

Starting Thursday, the weather is supposed to get warmer and sunnier. I can't wait because I am anxious to take more photos and not to have my options limited so much by the weather.

(Silly thing. I am keeping track of how many white people I see. So far I have seen three of us in two days.)

Monday, April 26, 2010

Rain, rain go away

The good news is I've gotten my lights to work.
The bad news is I am trapped inside because of the rain and waiting to hear if my dinner plans are going to fall through. If they do fall through, I have a back up plan of going to see Kick Ass at the theatre. I tried to call out on my motel phone, but failed to be able to call cell phones. I would like to know what I am doing tonight so I can get moving. I am prepared to brave the rain to go buy an umbrella and to get some dinner. I didn't fly all the way to Korea to be trapped in my hotel room.

I really realized today how much our society runs on phones. I am fairly easy to reach by e-mail, but it seems that all of my Korean friends want me to call them even though I said I would not have access to a phone while I am here. (sigh)

The first half of my day went really well. I was able to revisit some of the places I used to go to a lot when I lived here. Not that much has changed, but some stores have switched locations or gone out of business. I went to my former school and it looked good. I even ate my favorite Korean dish for lunch: cham chi kimbap (tuna kimbap, made of rice, egg, spam, mayo, runa, sesame seeds, pickled radish and all rolled and wrapped in dried seaweed).

I came back to my room this afternoon to take a nap, but was unsuccessful. It's been nice just relaxing. Flying and then navigating around a place that is so different from your normal routine takes a lot of energy. I was suprised by how much it felt right to be here in Bucheon again, but also how hard it was to communicate.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

The journey

First, I'll start off by saying that I arrived safely.

The journey was rather relaxing for me after working a long and hectic week. I managed to sleep about 8-9 hours during the 10-11 hour flight from Detroit to Tokyo. It was easy to sleep on the plane with the movement, the sound of the engines and nothing really to do but read. My journey consisted of flying from Milwaukee to Detroit (3.5-hour layover) then to Tokyo (about a 3-hour layover) and then to Incheon (Seoul).
The flight was beautiful at times. I had a window seat and was able to see some of the scenery below because I think we flew lower than normal due to turbulence.
It was amazing to fly over Alaska. We passed over snow-covered mountains that did not look like they could support life. I really felt like I was part of a Discovery Earth episode.

As we flew over the Pacific Ocean toward Japan I was hoping that we would be able to see some whales, but alas, that did not happen. I did see many little boats chugging away (fishing boats?).
It was also interesting to compare airports. Detroit's is nice and bright and easy to navigate. But Tokyo's, as you'd imagine, was the coolest. On the walls there were banners that were replicas of ancient screens. There was even a white square sofa lounge area. It's hard to describe except to say it reminded me of something from a posh New York City club. The smoker's room was the coolest I ever saw - it looked like the trendiest of nightclubs. The tourist gift shops are really nice and they had several sushi restaurants.

I was able to eat 3.5 meals on the planes. For the Detroit-Tokyo flight, my main dish consisted of chicken with vegetables and mashed potatoes, shrimp, bread, brownie and salad. Not too bad! They even gave me a whole meal on the 2.5-hour flight from Japan to Korea.
Landing in Korea and getting out of the airport was really easy. No questions at customs, my luggage was some of the first off, no line at the money exchange, etc. The problem was my plane landed 15 minutes after the buses stopped. So, I hailed a cab, which cost more than I would have liked and I think the cabbie may have taken an extra 10 off of me claiming it was more expensive after midnight. Oh well, at least I arrived safely at my hotel and didn't have to spend the night at the airport.
I didn't get to shower like I wanted to when I arrived last night because I cannot figure out how to tun on the lights, TV or computer in the room. Luckily, there was a flashlight. I've tried all of the buttons to no avail. I thought even with everything being written in Korea in the room, I would have figure it out eventually. I really have no idea what I am missing. Thankfully, I brought my laptop and found a slow wireless network to connect to. Even though it is morning now, I am not getting much light into my room because it is right against another building. Also, it may be overcast today-I can't tell.
I will get the light situation figured out tonight after I have dinner with a Korean friend, Willy.
It's a really nice, clean room with everything I could need for this week and it is only costing me about $27 per night. There is a flat screen TV, computer with Internet, eating area, water cooler (hot and cold), coffee and mugs, mini fridge, a huge bath tub and lots of personal products-toothpaste, toothbrush, hair brish, lotion, perfume, hair dryer and condoms.It is in a very compact space of course. Good for a single person, but it would be more difficult for two people. There is an entry area too where you should leave your shoes.
The truth is most of these little hotels in Korea are used by couples who have no privacy at home because they live with their parents. So the hotels are often refered to as love motels.
I did feel like I was in the movie "Lost in Translation" last night as I rolled into town. There was a huge billboard on the side of the road with Pierce Brosnan advertising a casino.
The memories of what makes Korea so quirky also came back to me as I looked out the taxi's windows. There are many churches in Seoul and at night their crosses burn bright. They are these light-up crosses that appear to be red-as if they are on fire.It's really a rather eerie sight. Then as I drove into Bucheon, I could see all of the delivery food drivers on their scooters making deliveries. The streets of Bucheon (where I am staying and used to live) are hideous. They are dirty, smelly and littered. No wonder I panicked the first night I arrived here more than 3 years ago. The city looks nicer during the day, though. And Seoul proper is much nicer looking. It's enough to make a person dizzy, though, with all of the signs. There isn't an inch of space not covered along the street level. It's hard to truly capture with a camera, but I will try this week.
Today, I am off to explore Bucheon. I hope my favorite stores are still here.I may stop by my favorite mom and pop restaurant for lunch to see if they still recognize me. And my corner grocer...I wonder if he is still there? It is all very overhwelming. I would like to take the first day slow and leisurely, but with so little time and so much I need/want to do, I better keep moving.
But since Korea is the land of "morning calm" most places do not open until about 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. so I have a bit of time this morning to make instant coffee and eat granola bars.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Preparing for departure

It's been a long time since I wrote on Kat in Name Only - 2.5 years. But, it's been an even longer time since I lived in Bucheon, South Korea. Now, after a more than three years away from the country I am preparing to return for a whirlwind of a trip.

I leave Saturday morning, April 24, and return Sunday, May 2. I'll have six full days on the ground to see about a dozen people, gorge on Korean food and see the old stomping grounds.

The process of getting ready for this trip hasn't been as smooth or as easy as I would have liked. I have been putting in long days this week at work with several projects in the hopper. Last night I packed my bags. Tonight I must run to Southridge to get new contacts (cheap) and tomorrow I must hurry home after work to pack up Calypso (my prairie dog) and take her to my parents' house in Oconomowoc for safe keeping while I am gone. Then it's off to the airport shortly after 7 a.m. Saturday.I still have a couple of other loose ends to tie up before I leave, but hopefully it will all get done in time.

Preparing for this vacation has been a bit of a trip down memory lane. I found my subway pass and located my Korean phrase book. I looked up how to get from Osan to Bucheon via subway so my American friend can visit me. And there have been many e-mails between me and some of the best people I have ever known. It's amazing that after more than three years, there are this many former Korean students and friends who still want to make time to see me when I am there. It really touches my heart to know that my visit is so important to my Korean students that they are offering to take off from work and help me with arrangements.

I am going to be keeping this blog going for the next 10 days in case you want to see and read about the food I am eating, the sights I am seeing and the people I am meeting. While in Korea, I am going to be using a computer located in my hotel room. Well, off to the second to last day of work.