8/29/12

Last night we were all so tired we accidentally skipped dinner and went to sleep at 7-8 pm. Sidney said she didn’t know what to do for dinner, so she tried poking Mom awake and Mom just told her to go to the Mini Mart outside. Unfortunately Sidney didn’t feel like braving the typhoon for a meal.

So far Korea, has not been agreeing with my health either. I’ve been having stomachaches everyday. I also tire easily, and my appetite is sparse. I keep waking up at around midnight, staying up for a few hours, passing out again, and then waking up at around 6 am. I know I’ve always had crazy sleep schedules, but my circadian rhythm has never allowed me a few hours of activity before pushing me back to sleep.

Today was my first experience on the Seoul metro. I think we just embarrassed ourselves because we had no idea what we were doing. Mom almost sat in the elderly/handicapped/pregnant women/other unfortunate people section twice.

It was also the day for taking the Korean language test. I got pretty owned since I don’t really know a lot of the grammar rules. I can’t spell either. The directions said to stop at page 14, but it turns out that they meant for us to complete the whole thing. I tried to explain to one of the graders, but she just laughed and said, “I have no idea what you’re saying. Just do your best to finish”. My best was just three more sentences.

The person who escorted me out was able to understand that the directions said to stop though. I suppose the gestures I made helped.

After the written part came the interview. That was quite a bit easier. The teacher who interviewed couldn’t really come to a conclusion on what level to place me though she said I did a lot better than she expected given my circumstances. She said that while I could possibly do the second level, I lacked a lot of the grammatical foundations that the first level taught. Then again the first level is full of people who barely know the alphabet. But the teacher feared I might potentially fail the second level. I told her I would trust whatever decision she made and would work hard regardless.

I guess Mom just doesn’t get enough shopping done so we headed to Namdaemun immediately after. Right outside of Ewha is a bus stop. If you take the 7017 and wait six stops you’ll get to Namdaemun. It was kind of like the mall in terms of aggressive salespeople except worse. Worse cause they more desperate. At one point I blanked out and started staring into space until a man rushed out of his store and asked if I wanted anything. I accidentally blanked out towards his merchandise (jumbo packs of kim). In the end it just seemed like a tourist trap with all the suspicious K-pop merchandise. It was also kind of heartbreaking walking down an alley of eateries as ahjimas screamed at you to eat whatever they had to offer. One even said that if it tasted bad I didn’t have to pay. I know I’ve been fortunate enough not to know poverty at that level, but the experience sort of took it to a new level.

Myungdong again. By some random stroke of fortune we found a Cat Cafe. I miss you Oliver. At first it seemed like the best idea ever, but then we saw that they made drinks in a pretty unsanitary way. The top was off and all that cat hair was floating around. Plus, why did they spray our hands with sanitation? The cats didn’t like the smell. They have better immune systems than people do anyway. And I spotted another androgynous person. This person had longish short hair and was super skinny. So I figured female. Wrong. My gosh, I was so out of it that at one point while roaming Namdaemun or Myungdong, all the noise just stopped. It just looked like one big blur, and all the colorful lights were melting together.

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8/28/12

Korean McDonald’s


Today Mom wanted to go to Lotte World. Even though the storm was raging around the country, she only dropped the idea after a concierge looked freaked out at the idea and begged us not to go. The clothes of the valets outside were flapping pretty violently. On the news, houses are flooding, trees are crashing, and cars are going flying.

So we went shopping. Underneath the hotel is a shopping mall with mostly similar inventory. Though most of the clothes are really cheap, you can’t really try them on. In the rare instances where you can, the mirrors are engineered to flatter you. It’s a bit of a gamble. Most Korean clothes usually don’t suit me, but an even bigger issue is that they often don’t fit me. My shoe size here is around 245-250 cm, and those were the largest sizes available.

People and statues


Shopping

One really smart thing that accessory stores do is hand you a nice plastic basket you’re tempted to fill. In protest I bought nothing.

I’ve mentioned before that shopkeepers don’t handle rejection well. Sidney and I got pretty scared to enter stores after a while. Actually I’ve found that most give up if you start speaking English. I thought more people understood English since it’s mandatory to learn it here and all, but I guess not. Good. It should force me to pick up the language faster. On that matter, Sid and my mom tell me it’s really my voice that’s the problem. It tends to shoot up unnaturally whenever I speak Korean.

I also thought people would be able to sniff out the fact that I was an American as easy as anything. Surprisingly not. It’s pretty simple to tell who’s a fob in America, so I thought it would be the same here. I know I look Korean and everything, but I’ve had friends who were fluent in Korean wearing Korean-bought clothes and they were still easily recognized as foreigners. Maybe it’s because I naturally look unhappy. No one in Korea looks happy.

Fashion wise it seems as though cutesy things are most popular. So is short hair and plastic frame glasses. Come to think of it, practically everything is cuter here. Even the graffiti. Unfortunately the same standards of appearances seem to apply to both men and women resulting in some odd androgynous people. I spent around ten minutes staring at a McDonald’s worker trying to figure out the gender. I think she’s female.

I also saw a girl I thought was a mannequin. She just looked unnaturally pretty and she wasn’t moving much until she walked away.

Oh, and I almost forgot to mention that I had my first experience with the squatting toilets. You don’t even flush the toilet paper. You just toss it in a bin in the stall. It reminded me of my time in Jamaica haha.

The Baskin-Robbins here also has some unusual flavors. Some flavors that stood out include Green tea (mine), Banana Monster (Sid’s), and Apple Mint (No one’s. Sounds kinda gross). There was also Vanilla Sky which was sky blue with white. And a Very Berry Strawberry.

I got a haircut today. My hair’s on the short side again. I opened a bank account too, but I still need to register as alien. I also can’t get a phone without my great-uncle. I forget why.

A lot of the commercials I’ve been seeing include a lot of white people. And The Little Prince seems to be popular here too.

I still want to Japanese movies. Like Summer Wars or Confessions. Maybe I can find them dubbed in Korean to make up for it.

First Day

8/27/12

The shopping center of the hotel

Once my Sunday school teacher Josh told our class a trick guys could use while dating girls. It was to take a girl to as many places as possible so that she’d feel as though spent more time with the guy. I think I get the idea behind it now cause after all the places I’ve visited today, I feel as though I’ve been in Korea for one week instead of just one day.

I checked into Ewha today. My roommate hasn’t arrived yet, but I hear she’s from China. I didn’t get into the International dorm, but I think things worked out for the better. I get my own bathroom, the rent is cheaper, and I’ve heard the building is way quieter. I was so out of it today that when we were trying to find a cafeteria, we accidentally walked into the kitchen. And I didn’t notice a thing.

My desk

View from my window

My great-uncle said in private that if I wanted to, he’d take me to the house my mother used to live in and to the schools she went to. I’d heard she lived in the country, so I guess that was wrong. She actually grew up in Seoul.

After that we went to Gyungbokgung. There was some sort of ceremonial march going on. I wonder if they do that everyday. It does look a little odd when you juxtapose the scene next to the city. There was also a pond surrounding what I think was their equivalent of a ballroom. I also don’t remember when this palace was made. Chosun dynasty? My great-uncle tried to explain some things in English like how that dynasty lasted 500 years…if I heard him correctly. I swiped an info booklet in Korean and English to compare the two. There was also a folk museum if you ventured further. I don’t understand why there so many kids there since I believe schools started already. Skippers? After sipping tangerine slushies, we wandered around the place. I really love things that fall in the uncanny valley, so I found the life sized dolls with some audio recording quite enjoyable. (Though I’ll admit that heavy cosmetic surgery is still perturbing to me. I’m surprised that I got kind of freaked out at a cardboard cutout my mom thought was attractive. It’s just not normal. O__O)

Gyungbokgung

Our ticket

What pretty dragons














Then we went to Namsan. You could also take a cable car up to the top of the mountain and view the city at 360 degrees. We could see our hotel (either near or in Gangnam) and the Han river from there. It sort of reminded me of the Empire State building in New York. (Hey Melonpop, the elevator guy looked a lot like rice) I didn’t realize it was a couple’s spot either. Some were getting pretty bold in the cable car. There was also a place where couples could get personalized engraved rings.

View from the cable car

Gazebo on the mountain

Where watchmen would set signal fires during wartime

And then we went to Myungdong. Mom was trying to find the chicken place she used to frequent when she was in college here, and somehow we found it. It was really good- not too oily, and the meat was practically falling off the bone.

Myungdong

The chicken place’s name literally translates to “Nutrition Center”. Sounds like a pharmacy to me

I don’t know how mom has so much energy. Thankfully she decided not to take us shopping. I passed out at around 7 pm when we got back to the hotel and when I came to at around midnight, I found that she’d gone off with an old friend.

Pros:
-My great-uncle (whose existence I never knew of prior to my trip) has been very kind to us by taking us everywhere and by being our tour guide. His English isn’t so good though much to his chagrin. Once when we were alone, he gave me an entire speech English…and I didn’t understand a word that came out of his mouth. He looked so disappointed at my confusion =(
-It’s really pretty here. I know clouds are pretty everywhere, but for some reason they seem especially appealing in Korea. The backdrop of the mountains are really nice too. I didn’t think I’d see them in the city. I don’t get out much, so I’ve never seen such beautiful scenery before. It seems kind of unreal.
-Food is really cheap! Lunch cost about 2,000-2,800 won ($2-2.80 give or take). At least I probably won’t have to worry about starving. The portions are pretty large too, and I’ve been having trouble finishing. It could just be a side effect of the plane.
-More respect is given to the elderly. I suppose I’m old fashioned in this area.

Cons:
-People don’t drive so nicely here. But maybe it’s like that in all major cities.
-It’s mad humid here. I feel disgusting.
-The shopkeepers er…don’t take it very well when you windowshop and buy nothing. What a pity since it was something I liked doing when I wandered around in America.
-Of course this can’t be helped, but it’s already kind of sad that I can’t speak Korean well enough. I think I’m starting to understand how foreigners must feel coming to America.
-The paving on the roads here is pretty rocky. Ewha is that plus very hilly. I have no idea why so many girls are wearing heels.
-A storm is coming (Mr. Wayne). Supposedly the worst one in 50 years. The metro has shut down and one person has already died. My heart goes out to the poor weathermen soaking in the rain.

Note to self: Register as an alien, get a phone, and open a bank account. I would’ve done the last two today, but I’d left my passport in the hotel.

King Sejong’s statue. Responsible for starting the Korean alphabet.

Leaving

I almost broke my arm before leaving my house while chasing a sticker. Thank God I didn’t. Before leaving, my grandmother packed us 54 ml worth of honey. It sadly got confiscated.

A poster my cute 7th grade girls made =3 Thank you for the baked goods too!!!

The flight actually wasn’t so bad for the first ten hours, but I think I started slipping in the last few. I even charted what generally happens to me when I pull all-nighters.

Working in my diary

Airplane food

All-nighter symptoms for Michelle

We also stopped by Japan to change planes.

An origami of Santa’s workshop

Don’t worry Esther, I didn’t =P

It turns out I actually have more relatives in Korea than I knew of. Upon our arrival, we were supposed to look for one of my grandmother’s little brothers at the airport. I was told he’d be wearing a Yahoo! cap, and that he’d be bald. Neither was true, so I forget how we found each other. He does look like the spitting image of one of my uncles (Wesamchun) though. I also heard he had a granddaughter name Sohyun, but Sidney said he had no idea who we we were talking about when she asked him. Maybe this is a different great-uncle.

The hotel we’re staying at is probably nicest place I’ve ever stayed at. I even took my first bath (not shower) in probably a decade.

The pretty bathroom

Some random k-pop singer is on TV. I can’t tell who it is. Oh, it’s BoA.

I’m so bad wi…

I’m so bad with beginnings.

Hello readers, this blog was created as a way for loved ones and stalkers to follow me on my journey around Korea for a year. I hope this will be an acceptable substitute for everyone who likes to read my art journal whenever we interact. Where I’ll be studying is at Ewha Womans University in Seoul. I think the school realizes by now that their name is grammatically incorrect, but I forget why they’re not doing anything about. I suppose it would be cumbersome to change the logo on all their paraphernalia.

I’m looking forward to being immersed in a different culture. Though I’m Korean-American, I’ve never been to my homeland nor do I speak the language well. I’m also hoping that being away from home will help me clear my mind from several things as well as giving me a better global perspective. I’m also hoping to see a bit more of nature than I normally do in suburbia. Some of my dreams in life include seeing really starry skies, flower gardens, and mountains (I kid you not). For the latter, my grandmother says that she’ll take me to her family’s grave. I’m actually quite excited for that.

I am rather nervous about the language barrier. My main reason for going abroad is because I feel so empty of culture. And I need to study the language. I guess I stress now and then since the culture will probably washed out by the next generation. It’s a bit of an uphill battle, and one that I’m not entirely sure is worth the effort at some moments. I’m also unsure as to how well I’ll be received as an American. I know people have been joking about me turning into a fob, but I’m starting to wonder exactly how much of myself I’ll manage to retain.  I’m scared that maybe I’ll bend to all the collective pressures and have a near disorderly obsession with my appearance. I don’t wear makeup, I don’t like high heels, and I’m certain that I don’t want a double eyelid surgery. But I suppose at the end of the day we’re a product of our society.  I wonder how I’ll be molded in my time abroad.

I’m very sad to leave my dogs behind. I hope they don’t forget me. I’m sad to leave my church too. I’ll miss the people who’ve become like family to me, and I’ll miss being able to easily get prayer. I’ll miss teaching, helping out at events, and having people hold me accountable for my mischief. Even if I don’t act like it sometimes, you all are very dear to me. And thank you for the wonderful surprises you’ve given me prior to my departure =)

I hope you’ll find my adventures at the very least entertaining.