Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics

When I was in high school I remember my sister promising to take me to the Summer Olympics in Rio, knowing full well that she couldn’t afford it, neither of us spoke a lick of Portuguese or Spanish, we didn’t even have passports. But she talked this up to be a trip of a lifetime. When I ended up watching the Rio 2016 Summer Olympics years later in my apartment in good ole Connecticut, I realized (not for the first time, certainly) I could never take my sister seriously. From that disappointment came the desire to witness the Olympics in person.

This year I didn’t have to travel very far to see them. Pyeongchang is only an hour and a half from Seoul where I’ve been studying for the past 6 months. I wasn’t planning to go because the Olympics are expensive, but a dear friend quickly reminded me that this was a once in a life time opportunity: when would I be this close to the Olympics again? When she put it that way I couldn’t afford not to go.

We reserved KTX tickets and bought tickets to the only event that worked for her schedule: alpine cross country skiing. A sport which I didn’t know existed until we bought the tickets. The other option was curling and to be honest I could never psych myself up enough to get excited about curling (No shade, curlers. It’s a sport!)

On the day of, I left my house early and arrived 30 minutes before our train was scheduled to leave at 11. By 10:40 I received a text saying she said she was on her way.

10:54 “Two stops left!”

At this point I told her I would meet her on the tracks.

10:59 “Almost there!!”

I was pleading with the train attendants to just wait two more minutes.

At 11 the doors closed and the train began pulling away from the station.

At 11:01 my friend, red faced and with scraped knee, arrived just in time to watch the end of the train disappear into the foggy ether.

I’ll skip the events that happened next but just know that the next 20 minutes were a mix of sadness, disappointment, and frustration. Eventually we made our way back to the ticket booth and got standing tickets for the next train. It hurt to stand when we’d reserved seats on the first train, but hey, at least we were on our way.

Upon arriving at the snow topped mountain I realized that I was severely under-equipped to handle the weather conditions under which people usually ski. I thought all the foreigners from Nordic countries were glancing at me because I was a little out of place as a short black American girl at an alpine skiing event , but it might’ve been because they were laughing at my pitiful winter gear. Ya’ll, these people were covered head to toe in ski gear like they were the ones participating. Some folks also brought some huge bells and some other terrifying instruments which they used to accompany their thundering chants and applause.

Then there’s us, two Americans who know nothing about the sport, standing in -16 C degree weather in ankle socks and sneakers. Watching lanky athletes scoot like praying mantises through the snow was entertaining for about an hour, but by the halfway mark all that excitement (and water I guzzled on the train) entailed a trip to the restroom. In which the toilet wouldn’t flush. And there was no running water at the sink. Nor any soap.

Maybe the West is hypersanitised. After coming to Korea I’m used to not having liquid soap or sometimes no soap at all in the bathrooms, or no hot water. But no soap or water AT ALL? That’s just….I can’t even…What?

Someone explain this to me. I’m very confused. How could you not have soap or water or even hand sanitize in the restroom? At…the Olympics? The little sick masks are not going to protect you from fecal spread diseases, shade but no shade.

After my trip to the bathroom we were cold, hungry and had dirty hands, so we decided to remedy at least one of our plights and go to the concession session stand. Halfway through the line they announced that that’d run out of food.

And by the time we got our piping hot watery beverages the event has ended.

We spent the next 45 minutes to an hour standing in the cold waiting to squeeze onto a shuttle back to the train station. (And we got through relatively quickly, comparatively speaking.)

I’ve never been to any Olympic event before this one, so it’s hard to say whether Pyongchang was unprepared for the onslaught of spectators coming to see the games or if these kinds of things just naturally happen at massive events like the Olympics, but either way it was not the most pleasant experience. The most fun was buying souvenirs.

So, my advice if you really want to enjoy the Olympics?
1. Dress like an Olympian
2. Bring your own food, drinks, and hand sanitizer
3. Come repping your country, with organized chants
4. When all else fails, buy souvenirs and take touristy photos so people can at least think you had a good time.

See how happy we look?? (I’m numb up to my knees by this point.)

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Ewha Level 4 Wrap-Up

As I said before, Level 4 is much more balanced and effective than Ewha’s Level 3. The workload is much more manageable, so students can not only commit vocabulary and grammar stuctures to memory, but also have the time during class to practice them. The new segments such as class discussions and presentations allow students to practice putting their own thoughts and opinions formally into words. I felt that some topics for class discussions were realistic and interesting (how marriage traditions have changed around the world and why, birth rates, Korea’s competitive school and work culture, etc) but others I found a bit awkward or childish. For example, one discussion session was about the pros and cons of events like festivals and conventions, and we had to create a festival as an exercise. This resulted in a bunch of 20 and 30-year-olds pitching ideas like Fruit Day in which people should give apples to each other to confirm their friendship, or Cleaning Day (I’m sure you can guess what that one’s about), or Nap Day…Okay, not gonna lie, that one was a good idea.  It’s cute and everything but I couldn’t help but ask myself, Why are these topics even in here? Are they supposed to be a break from heavier topics? Are they supposed to build camaraderie or something? Who knows.

One other thing that bothered me, not just about Level 4, but about Ewha over all, is that there’s no listening or writing review for the midterm or exam. There’s also no listening or dictation homework like there was at Sogang. At Ewha, you only get grammar/vocab and reading comprehension review packets. And this might explain why there’s usually such a big gap between listening scores and vocab/grammar scores (not just for me, but for most people I talk to.) I know listening is a skill that you just have to cultivate over time by exposing yourself to the Korean around you and in the media, but I still think it’s worth it to have a listening review to give students an idea of the possible topics and to help students adjust to the pacing of the listening portion of the exam. Because passing Ewha’s test is at least in part about how well you can take a test. The more accustomed to the format you are, the better you’ll do. Also, listening comprehension homework would actually help students steadily improve their listening. So if this was made part of the program, that’d be amazing.

Other than those two things, I don’t really have anything else to say about the program. The teachers in Level 4 were great, pacing was nice, tests were fair. It was a pretty good 10 weeks. The end of Level 4 at Ewha means it’s been six months since I came to Korea for my post-grad Light Fellowship. It also means I have one more quarter left in my studies. It’s a little hard to believe, really. It feels like my mom was just whining about how long 6 months was and now we’re already talking about what I’m gonna eat when I go home next week for break. Now that I’m almost done with the Fellowship, I guess it’s time for me to start thinking about what I’m gonna do next…

I Ain’t Your Personal Janet Jackson

If you remember, I wrote about a gig that I had to do for my first apartment’s property manager back in early September. I swore then that I would never do such a thing again, but somehow, here I am. This time, however, I did go searching for this gig all on my own, went through a brief auditioning process and everything, so I brought this upon myself.

Good grief, it already sounds like something tragically stressful or embarrassing happened. I swear it wasn’t that bad.

I decided to do it because I have this lingering shyness in front of people, cameras that I’d like to overcome eventually. I’ve been waiting for years for anxiety over these kinds of situations to just disappear. I know for sure it’s not going anywhere as long as I don’t push my own boundaries. And I might as well get paid for pushing my own boundaries, right? Right. I’m not going to mention what company the video was for, only that it was a product review video. From the listing, it didn’t sound like it was scripted. It sounded like you just had to talk about the product on camera in a unique way that showcased your personality. I’m critical in nature and have at least some experience with reviewing things (if you’ve read anything on this blog, you already know that) so I figured I’d give it a shot.

Once they told me that I’d gotten the job (and that I looked like Janet Jackson…?) I found out that I would actually be working with several other girls on the shoot and the company wanted to do a Buzzfeed style video. We were even gonna have stylists…! (which they should’ve hired for that first shoot I did, since they gave me so much grief about wardrobe….but I digress.) At the first meeting, I briefly met the people I would be working with, and the stylists asked for our clothing and underwear sizes. And then, one of the stylists had the nerve to ask me what my foundation color was, ya’ll. For those of you who don’t know, Korea has a standard numbering system for their foundations and there are usually only three colors: pale, paler, and palest. Sometimes you see one or two shades darker than those three but even the darkest shades I’ve seen in Korea are on the boundary of light-medium at BEST. So after I finished cracking up at her question, I just told her which NARS foundation I use (since they do sell NARS in my color here) and let her write down the shade description.

The day before the shoot we got messages showing pictures of the outfits that were chosen for us. I thought everyone else’s stuff was pretty cute. One girl was in a graphic tee, another was in this see through top and a corset (so jealous) and the last girl was in this wrap blouse type of thing. Everyone’s underwear kind of went together. And then I got to the clothes for me. Girl. When I tell you. I couldn’t even see it well because they put this blaring yellow jacket over the “shirt,” a strip of floral fabric that I could only assume was a shirt. And the underwear….a teal thong and a silver triangle bikini top that offered no support, none. It looked like it wouldn’t even hold a golf ball. When I saw this terrible underwear coordination I immediately contacted the company to tell them that A) the thong wouldn’t work because I’d just started my period the day before (Thank God) and B) there was absolutely no way that “bra” top was gonna cover enough for this video to be PG. or Even PG-13. Basically if I wore it, this would be nothing short of softcore porn and that’s not the video I signed up for. And do you know what they said?

“Since we’re paying the stylist to do this and she took your measurements, I think we should try what she has picked for you.”

To which I replied: “You’re either a pervert or a dumbass.” “I’m not in anyway doubting her credibility as a stylist, but I do know what types of garments are best for my body since it has been mine for the past 22 years. I’m simply letting you know ahead of time that the clothes picked may not fit as the stylist envisioned, so I will bring my own clothes and undergarments just in case.”

I mean, they can’t argue with that.

So, the day of the shoot, I packed my bag of foundation, concealer, yellow-toned translucent powder, and my own undergarments and headed out. When I tried on the clothes, as expected, you could see my liver in the super crop top they gave me, despite the yellow acid wash jacket. When I stepped out of the fitting room everyone’s eyes bugged out; several people averted their faces; one guy hurled himself across the room and nearly cracked his skull open on the wall. Basically the Apocalypse was starting and it could have easily been prevented if someone has just listened to a single word I’d said.

The next event in this “make Carmen look like a clown” triathalon was make-up. So I sat down in my 90s get-up and gave the antsy make-up artist my bottle of foundation (to which she looked eternally grateful). My foundation came out fine, despite the fact the she didn’t use primer (WHY? I WOULD’VE BROUGHT IT IF SHE DIDN’T HAVE ANY) but it was the eye makeup that gave me pause. My eyeshadow was this weird cool toned gold that made my eyelids look more ashy than golden. There was no eyeliner. And she’d curled my eyelashes but left off the mascara. I took one look at myself in the mirror and asked, gently, for eyeliner and mascara. She seemed surprised, “Oh, you want eyeliner…?” A long pause and then she nodded fervently, “Okay,” she said, going back to work on my face. By the time she’d finished and I caught a glimpse of the tiniest wings of eyeliner I’d ever seen and mascara only on the tips of my lashes (I guess it’s a hygiene thing) I suddenly felt so much better about my own modest makeup skills that I’d learned from YouTube tutorials. (Thanks Auntie Jackie!)

Before I left the chair, the man I’d been in conversation with about my wardrobe came over and put his hand on my shoulder. “Look,” he said, “The most important thing in this shoot is that you guys have a good time and give us your best energy when you’re talking about the products. If in any way the clothes make you uncomfortable, we can easily get you something else. We want you to be comfortable in what you’re wearing….”

“Oh, I’m fine,” I said, “It’s not really that bad since I’ll be sitting at a table. If there’s something else to wear, fine, but if not….”

Somehow, somewhere, they found something else for me to wear.

The thing is….it was a Snoop-dog t-shirt.  Did I mention they also had me in the clunky gold earrings that had “Love” written in cursive? And I also had my poetic justice braids at the time?

Yeah…

Other than the fact that I looked like a caricature of a black teenager in the 90s, the shoot went pretty smoothly. During the portion where we were asked to wear the undergarments chosen for us, I ended up wearing a sports bra and black underwear that covered up everything. Somehow me in a sports bra and underwear was less scary than me in a floral crop top and jeans. Draw your own conclusions.

I’m sure this whole thing sounds sketchy. A group of girls shooting a video in the basement of a building in some underwear (mostly thongs!) doesn’t sound too innocent. But I swear to you, no virtue was compromised, and everything was totally legit. I was on my way home by 6pm in my normal clothes and a clean makeup-free face. I don’t know if I’m any less camera-shy because of the experience, but either way it wasn’t the worst way to make a little pocket change.

 

 

Jay Park All of Me Concert 2018

Ever since coming to Korea I might have had the tiniest obsession with Jay Park. I thought he was cute in Ryan Higa’s Bromance video, forgot about him for a bit (sorry love!) and then rediscovered him (a grown and sexy version) in July of last year right before I returned to Korea. And turns out he would be holding his first solo concert (in a long time!) in Seoul while I was there. What a coincidence…! (Or fate?! haha)

I hesitated before buying the tickets. Not that my love for Jay Park was weak, but I couldn’t find anyone to go with. None of my friends were fans enough to pay $100 to see him in concert and the people who were willing to pay that amount didn’t have the time. Eventually I just threw all caution to the wind and decided to go it alone.

I arrived at the concert a little later than anticipated, so I was standing towards the back, resigned to the less than stellar view of the stage when I spotted…ANOTHER BLACK GIRL. After quick introductions we plotted ways to get to the front. As soon as the lights went off and the music started, she grabbed my hand and bolted towards the stage. We pushed people out the way, stepped on some poor girls and elbowed a few guys but at the end of it all, we were about three or four rows from the stage! Close enough to see Jay Park’s nose ring. Close enough that my eyebrows almost burned off when some torches lit up on stage. Bae Park was lookin so fresh; outfits on point!

It was Day 2 of his concert was his hip-hop set, so it was a lot of stuff from his Worldwide album which I didn’t know too well because I prefer his R&B songs, but uh, upon hearing him in person, I realized that Jay has flow. A mean flow. I….was speechless. During the second half of the concert he did more of his R&B hits like Me Like Yuh, Choa, Beautiful girls. Oh right, Woogie performed Let’s Get It. So whole concert was lit. Totally worth every penny.

At the end of it all of course me and my new found friend had to find a way to get back stage, in a true groupie fashion. We failed miserably. But not for lack of trying! Actually upon scouting out the exits and chatting up a few security guards, we found an open door…

What happened next was shocking.

We decided not to go in.

As much as I would love to sneak backstage, let’s get real, that can’t be a good way to meet a celebrity. He’s tired from performing, and is probably unwinding with the band and backup dancers. If we randomly showed up backstage he would know that we snuck in and I just feel like going backstage uninvited doesn’t make the best first impression. I’m trying to get on his good side, not ruin my chances with my future husband. So we went to Itaewon for some Mexican food.

Though I didn’t get to meet him, I was 100% satisfied seeing him upclose in concert. Seeing a singer you’ve got a tiny crush on in person lifts anyone’s spirits, and I was on cloud Nine for about a week after that.

Tips for Surviving Winter in Korea

If you’re like me and you hate padded jackets, you’re gonna stand out like a sore thumb (or, I guess, a slim thumb) because you don’t look like a giant marshmallow compared to the rest of Korea. The good news is, you can still be warm and sleek without padding! Here’s how I stayed warm inside and outside the house during Korea’s winter. A lot of these seem like common sense if you’ve lived in a region that has actual winter, but I’m gonna spell it out for those who’ve never gone through the horrors of winter.

  1. Layers of Heat-tech (or other thermal clothing). Sleep in heat-tech. never take your clothes off. Become one with the heat-tech.
  2. Hot packs
  3. Drinking warm beverages in the morning and at night. (Hot tea, hot toddy…whatever floats your boat)
  4. Fuzzy socks
  5. Lined boots. As of December, Koreans have gone full winter garb everywhere else except their feet. I still see destroyed jeans that cut off right above the ankle, ankle socks and thin flimsy sneakers. And then their still hopping around from foot to foot claiming that it’s cold. Wear some thick socks and warm shoes. Your feet will thank you by not turning purple and falling off.
  6. Gloves
  7. Face masks. they’re not just good for preventing the spread of germs. They’ll protect your face from the biting wind.
  8. A humidifier
  9. Carmex
  10. Face spray
  11. Hand lotion. Trust me, Korea is DRY. I’ve never been so ashy as I’ve been in Seoul during the winter months.
  12. If your home’s water doesn’t get too warm (like mine) here’s what you can do to take a semi-decent shower. Stop up your sink and pour in some boiling water. Use that to later up, then if the water from the shower head decides to get hot, use it to rinse off. You could also shower during the daytime.
  13. Heating pads for the bed.
  14. Switch out your skin care routine.

Quick Post-Midterm Update

I was worried a bit about midterms because the tests tend to be much harder than review packets or anything you do in class, but I think I’m getting better and better at figuring out how these tests work and how to better prepare.

This time, however, the reading portion had a new type of question that threw me for a loop at first. You’re given the headline and first couple of sentences from a newspaper article, and you have to pick the answer that correctly summarizes what the article might be about. What’s important here is not knowing the exact word in the newspaper articles but knowing the compounds of the vocabulary words. You put two and two together and boom, you can decipher newspaper speak, which lands you correct answers across the board and a perfect score on the reading section.

Writing went better than expected; listening was about average; speaking could’ve been smoother but I didn’t walk out of the test slouched in shame. All in all, this round of  midterms went way better than last semester.

Now I just need to do the same thing on the final exams….

Okrumong 옥루몽 and Sobok 소복

According to this article on Trazy, Okrumong is one of the best places for traditional bingsu in Seoul. But this page is a bit outdated, as the Sangsu location as listed on the website no longer exists (according to Kakao Maps.) But don’t worry, this traditional cafe has several locations around Seoul including Dongdaemun (DDP), Sinchon (by Ewha, to be more specific), and Gangnam. Today I had the pleasure of visiting the DDP location with some friends. Does it live up to the hype?

The location in Dongdaemun Design Plaza is a small, unassuming open cafe with a dark interior and minimalist decor. This simple minimalist taste extends to the bingsu as well.

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The green tea bingsu is as traditional and simple as it gets; it’s a modest-sized pale green bingsu with two layers of red beans and two rice cakes on the top. At first I thought the pale green shade was an indication of lack of artificial food coloring, but upon tasting it, I realized it was due to the lack of green tea powder. The flavor is too faint to be bitter or sweet. The red beans do most of the heavy lifting when it comes to adding sweetness and texture to this powdery soft dessert. It’s not upsetting, but certainly not fabulous either. If you’re trying to wow someone with Korea’s bingsu, Okrumong may not be the best place. The only thing this place has going for it is the brass bowl the bingsu comes in. But even this isn’t all that special. Places like별다방 미스리 also serve their signature bingsu in brass vessels and Meet Fresh has been known to serve their bingsu in the actual fruit. If you want good green tea patbingsu, Homilpat has a fabulous one; if you’re looking for a stronger green tea flavor head over to O’sculloc.

Still hunting for a delicious dessert to satisfy our lingering sweet tooth, we decided to check out the newest branch of Sobok that recently opened a few feet down from Okrumong. We ordered a variety of desserts (for…science) but let me give you the skinny on their signature bingsu.

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This bingsu from Sobok is made from a combination of milk rice and brown rice giving this fluffy white cloud of bingsu an deep, roasted, down-to-earth quality that keeps it from being one dimensional. Dig into it’s fine layers and you’ll find treasure trove of goodies hidden away in the middle: pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, dried persimmon, sweet pumpkin, and something that I thought was a very light colored honey at first but could also be brown rice syrup(??) These add-ins were came right on time. The milk ice itself can get dull after the initial intrigue wears off, so the nuts and fruit did liven up the party and their flavors tango well against the backdrop of the milk ice. I wish there had been more throughout the bingsu or served on the side, like they have done with their signature ice cream to give it a little extra something. Despite not being the most exciting bingsu on the block, I have to give it good marks for ingenuity and for it’s simply natural aesthetic. But if nuts or grains or subtly flavored ice creams don’t jive with you, you’d best steer clear, ya dig?

Out of the two, my friends and I were definitely more keen on Sobok. The marketing was fabulous, the interior was like a small corner of a modern art museum. It’s a fitting cafe for DDP.

 

 

 

Christmas in Korea

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“How was your Christmas, Carmen?” You might ask. Well lovely people, let’s just put it this way: I was already pretty bummed that I only got Christmas day off from school and couldn’t go home for Christmas. Then on Christmas Eve, I came down with a nasty bug that knocked me out until December 27th, when I dragged aching, feverish body to school to study more Korean. No presents, no Christmas cards, no Christmas cookies, no Christmas cartoons. Just a whole bunch of stores playing only Michael Bublé. I love me some Michael Bublé, but have you ever heard Luther Vandross’ Christmas album? That’s my (Mistletoe) Jam!

Christmas is fairly new for Korea; it’s in the stores but not in people’s hearts. So during December in Korea, there’s no spirit of Christmas, good tidings and cheer, spirit of giving. It’s considered a date holiday, as opposed to a family holiday like it is in the States. (Conversely the [lunar] New Year is the family holiday in Korea, whereas the New Year is definitely a more romantic holiday in the U.S. Funny how that works, huh?)  I’m speaking from a very childish place here; despite how commercial it is, Christmas is still a special time of the year for me. The air rippling with anticipation during the days leading up to the big event. Shopping for people’s gifts. Preparing the holiday menu with my mom. The food. Ugh the food. But most importantly, the break from school. Do you know how weird it is to only get Christmas Day off when you’ve had winter break all your life? Very weird. I don’t know how real adults do it.

This is no critique on Korea’s Christmas. It’s not a traditional holiday here so I don’t expect it to be anything like American Christmas at all. They’re free to celebrate it however they want. Or not celebrate it at all. It’s just very odd and a little sad to be not only away from home, but out of the country during the biggest family-oriented holiday of the year. This is the only point in my trip so far where I have truly felt homesick.

Korean Host Moms: Love ’em or Hate ’em

Doing this homestay comes with some obvious advantages, but we must not forget the disadvantages to living with a host family including but not limited to: curfews, lack of freedom and privacy, not being able to walk around in your underwear, etc. But by far the worst one is: the NAGGING.

It started with small things around the house. As you remember, I have my own (cold, desolate) bathroom. And when I use that bathroom I do something called turning on the light so I can, you know, see. Sometimes I’m washing my face or grooming myself in the mirror but have to step out for a second to grab a Qtip or eyeliner from my room. In the space of that second, I swear, my host mom always comes in and asks me if I’ve turned off the bathroom light. To which I always reply, “I’m using it…” And she scoffs and says, “Well, make sure you turn it off when you’re done.”

Similarly, if we’re having breakfast or dinner, she will stop in the middle of the meal, go to my room and check that stupid bathroom light. Heaven forbid it be on. Then I essentially have to watch her huff and puff and throw a tantrum in a way that makes me question who the real adult is here. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve paid electricity bills before and when I lived by myself I was also very careful about turning off lights I wasn’t using, so I get it. But it’s just the BATHROOM LIGHT she bothers me about. Not my room light. Not the living room light. Not the kitchen light. JUST the bathroom. What, is 90% of the energy consumption in this house due to this singular bathroom light? Will the bathroom light attract witches and evil spirits if left on for more than 5 minutes? Is it actually a Batman signal? It’s not like the bathroom is heated. It’s not like there’s consistent hot water either. So can it at least be well lit? I’d like to see when I’m taking that cold shower; I like to see when I fail at drawing my eyeliner evenly, thank you very much.

She also has the tendency to hover. Much like salespeople at stores in Korea, my host mom is always peering over my shoulder to watch what I’m doing in common areas of the house and over-explaining simple household chores. For example, when I turned on the water in the kitchen to wash my coffee mug she made an aggressive bee line from the living room, took the dish rag out of my hand and slammed the dial from warm to cold.

“Don’t use hot water! Use cold!” She said. “And,” she added, putting the dishrag back in its place, “You don’t need this. It’s just a cup, so use your hands.”

I blinked at her, not believing what I’d just heard. The water I understand, I suppose. But I can’t even use a dishrag to wash dishes? Huh?

When she was finished instructing me on how to properly wash dishes, she rinsed the mug, shook it twice, and placed it on the dish rack to dry.

Later that night I decided to watch her do the dishes. And you know what she was doing ya’ll? Literally putting the dirty dishes under the cold water for a few seconds and swiping them once with the dish rag. ONE TIME. And then she used her hands to go quickly over the smaller bowls and silverware. She washed with a whole sink full of dishes in about 3 minutes, but I swear not a single one had been cleaned.

Sometimes after she’s gone to bed, I sneak into the kitchen and wash all of my silverware and coffee cups in hot soapy water. Sleep comes easy on those nights.

More recently,  she’s started to nag me about my social life (or lack thereof). No matter what time I come home, whether it be right after class at 1:30 or dinner time at 6pm, I’m assaulted with a barrage of questions such as: “Oh, you’re home early. Why? You’re not meeting your friends? Why don’t you have any friends? Don’t you miss your classmates?” At first I thought, “Oh haha, that’s cute, she’s concerned about my social life,” but once it started happening everyday, I got more annoyed. Especially because the questions are always accompanied by, “Well, the German student we had was SO popular. She went out to concerts and musicals with her friends ALL THE TIME. And our guest from Japan started dating a guy within a week of being here. They went out ALL THE TIME.”

I’m just like….

 

raw

Is this some high school-ish popularity contest now? I don’t give a flying fish about what other students did. I’m just trying to live my best life. I meet with my friends for lunch or coffee and then go home and do homework. To me, this is the classic school-life balance. I’m not going to stay out every night with friends until 11pm or later because A) I’ve never been the type to do that, and B) I came here to study. To tell you the truth, no matter what I do with my time, it’s really none of her business as long as I’m respecting house rules… so what’s her deal?

And then a thought occurred to me. What if she’s trying to get me out of the house for dinner because she’s sick and tired of preparing food every day? Well….too bad lady, I signed up (and paid!) for dinner AND breakfast, so two meals a day shall I eat.

Chances are, her nagging is annoying me because it reminds me of a roommate that I had back in my freshman year of college (those were such dark days…) so I’m probably blowing this out of proportion. I think it might just be a part of Korean culture to make commentary and be, for lack of a better word, nosy. When I had my last host family, they also asked me why wasn’t I dating, who my friends were, their age, if they were single or not, what their parents do, what we ate and where, etc. So my current host mom’s behavior certainly isn’t that strange. (Still a bit annoying, nonetheless…) It’s just another part of the culture I have to work on embracing *twitch twitch*

But that sub-par dish washing? Oh, how it hurts my soul.

 

The Great Bingsu Review [Fall 2017]

If you’re new to the Carmen Sutra, you may not know that I love bingsu, which (according to Wikipedia) is a “popular Korean shaved ice dessert with sweet toppings that may include chopped fruit, condensed milk, fruit syrup, and red beans.” According to me, bingsu is a bowl of heavenly goodness. Even since coming to Korea for the first time in 2015, it has been my goal to try as many varieties of bingsu as possible. Two years ago I reviewed around 20 or 25 of them (Check the “bingsu review” folder in the sidebar) and now, I’m happy to announce that the bingsu reviews are coming back! I haven’t been eating as much bingsu this time around, but here are the ones I have enjoyed since coming to Korea in late August.

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Let’s kick it off with this Melon (cream) cheese Bingsu from the Sulbing in Myeongdong. 2 years ago, this bingsu came out right as I was leaving Korea, and I was super sad that I couldn’t try it. It’s only fitting that it should be the first one I review this time.

As you can see, it comes in a melon, ya’ll. They carved out a melon and filled it with that standard but nonetheless lovely Sulbing milk ice, hid a few small rich delicious pieces of cheesecake deep within (No seriously, I had to dig for them…and it might just be sweet cream cheese, not cheese cake, but anyway…) and topped the whole mountain of snow with juicy, refreshing melon. This particular melon wasn’t very sweet, so I had to cut the melon into chunks and eat it with the cheesecake pieces and condensed milk to really experience the full flavor of this bingsu. And since the melon chunks were so huge, this bingsu hardly had any mixability. So I have to dock points for that. But overall, I think this whole melon bingsu concept has a lot of merit. It’s aesthetically appealing and the perfect pick-me-up for those humid summer days in Korea.

7.5/10

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This is the Melon Strawberry (Cream) Cheese Bingsu from Sulbing. If that name sounds like a lot, it’s because this bingsu is A LOT. Like the previously posted melon (cream) cheese bingsu, this one also comes in a melon, and inside, you get the standard Sulbing shaved milk ice and bite-sized chunks of cream cheese. Halfway through this bingsu, though, there’s a layer of (previously frozen) strawberries and syrup. Strawberry isn’t the first fruit I would think to pair with this kind of melon, but it’s not terrible. Plus, the melon was sweet this time; that just makes the whole experience better. My main complaint with this bingsu is the mixability—the sheer amount of things made it a challenge to eat. It’s nearly impossible to get strawberries, melon, cream cheese and shaved milk ice all together all in one bite unless you spend some time cutting up the melon into teeny-tiny pieces. (Ain’t nobody got time for that.) Or bring a big ass spoon (Wait….that’s not a bad idea.) My suggestion would be to tackle the stuff in the middle (strawberries and cream cheese? um, yum.) and eat the melon last, or, do what I did and try to eat most of the melon first before digging into the stuff in the middle. Because I almost HAVE to eat the strawberries and melon seperately, it’s hard to say how I feel about these two fruity flavors together. Eating this is really more like having two seperate bingsu in one. I think this might just be the nature of a melon bingsu like this; it’s difficult to marry melon with any other chunky fruit when the bingsu is INSIDE the melon. It’s fine if you like your desserts a little two-faced, but for me it was a little off-putting. However, melons and strawberries do work together well in another way–they are both intensely refreshing. My friend and I went into Sulbing overheated and absolutely parched. After finishing this bingsu, we were cool, happy, and our thirst was absolutely quenched. Well, the thirst for water at least…the thirst for bingsu shall never be satisfied…!

8/10

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This is the 흑심빙수 (black heart bingsu) from Sulbing. Unfortunately this bingsu doesn’t live up to its kickass name; there’s just a whisper of black sesame powder, and the flavor was so weak that it would be impossible to guess it during a blind taste test. It just has a slight nutty flavor. Halfway through, there’s another irritatingly thin layer of sesame powder accompanied by slivered almonds. The almonds did at least give this powdery soft bingsu some texture. While this bingsu has maximum mixability, I regret to inform you that there ain’t no flavors to mix y’all. This bingsu is so one dimensional. Even the black sesame rice cakes on top couldn’t help. They’re tough and the flavor is just as weak as the sad sesame powder they’re sitting on. Don’t get me wrong, I have absolutely no problem with more traditional flavors when it comes to bingsu, but this one was a flop. If you’re gonna make sesame make it SESAME.

5/10

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This pastel confusion (캔디코튼구슬설빙, Cotton Candy Bead Bingsu) is what happens when Dippin’ Dots (mini-melts) meets bingsu. Cotton candy flavored ice cream bits form a ball pit on the top, but if you keep digging, you’ll find a glob of artificially flavored strawberry ice cream and cheesecake bits covered in strawberry glaze in the middle. While the mixability of this bingsu is nice, once it starts to melt, it becomes a pool of sickly sweet regret–the shaved ice gets completely lost in goop and cream, the flavors become less distinct, the world as we know it ends, etc. If this creamsoo, if you will, is attempting to be a fusion of creamy ice cream and bingsu, it’s not quite succeeding. It will, however, succeed at rotting your teeth out. Or, make you flashback to that time you ate too many sweets at a carnival or birthday party and ended up regurgitating everything in your little 7 year old stomach.

6/10

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This 프리미엄 생딸기설빙 (premium fresh strawberry bingsu) is like the poster child of Sulbing. It’s sweet, agreeable, and bright in color. A people pleaser that can do no wrong. If Blossom of the Powerpuff girls was a bingsu she’d be this one. It comes with strawberries in glaze around the perimeter, fresh strawberry halves, whipped cream, and a hunk of cheese(cake?!) Overall, this bingsu is pretty stellar. I’m never going to say no to strawberries and whipped cream, even if the whipped cream isn’t perfect. The strawberries in glaze are just sweet enough that you could pass on the condensed milk if you so desired. This bingsu is also fantastically mixable. The only thorn in this bingsu’s side is that block of cheesecake sticking out of it. As picturesque as it is, it’s really quite flavorless. Kind of like, if a college student to make cheesecake in the microwave with just sugar and cream cheese. Not to mention it was so frozen when we got it that we couldn’t eat it until the very end and that…wasn’t the best ending note for such a nearly perfect bingsu. But other than that, this is solid. Looking forward to trying the rest of the strawberry series!

9.5/10

 

 

Want more bingsu reviews?? Don’t want to wait until the end of the next season to read about bingsu? No worries! I created an Instagram just for bingsu (omg what has my life come to….) Insta: the_carmensutra