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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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.

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….

 

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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.

 

Meet My (New!) Host Family

As I mentioned before, I moved in with a Korean host family at the end of November. The family consists of a girl in her early 30s, who speaks English quite well, and her mother, who hardly speaks any English at all. I found them through http://www.homestay.com, but this particular homestay is also registered as an official tourism business, so you can find their own Facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/seoulhomestay/?timeline_context_item_type=intro_card_work&timeline_context_item_source=1171437175&pnref=lhc

They’ve hosted many students from around the world– if the number of refrigerator magnets from foreign countries is any indication– and from the reviews online, it sounds like everyone has had a lovely stay here.

I can pretty much say the same thing. At least, so far. The apartment is located on the fourth floor of a building in a residential area of Hongdae. You can get to Hongdae station in about 15 minutes by bus. And lucky for me, there’s a bus stop ~3 minutes away where I can catch a direct bus to the back gate of Ewha (where the language center is). The apartment itself has a spacious living room, kitchen, and three bedrooms. I’m renting the largest room in the house with an en suite bathroom.  It’s well-lit and very clean. It’s got a double bed and a wall of south-facing windows. Plants that I can’t kill since I’m not the one taking care of them. The only thing is….it’s cold ya’ll. It’s just my luck that I met the Koreans that don’t like to turn on that heavenly ondol (floor heating). I thought that en suite bathroom was gonna be the bomb diggity until I realized that there’s a window in the bathroom that DOESN’T CLOSE because there’s a hose for the AC sticking out of it. So, any steam that might build up from the shower just floats straight out the window. Oh wait, except there’s no steam because the WATER DOESN’T GET HOT. It gets slightly warmer than room temperature for a few minutes and then plummets back to freezing. If this was summer, I’d just say it’s a blessing in disguise, but…

mulan cold

But what keeps me the warm from my head to my toes is heat-tech, the thought of Jay Park my loving host family ❤ I took a liking to them from day one. My host sister studied abroad in Finland and Japan and has traveled far and wide. She’s open-minded and is always willing to engage in conversations about cultural differences. One of our first conversations in Korean was about Korean welfare, the gap between rich and poor in Korea and the demanding work culture. (Don’t think I can actually talk intelligently about these things in Korean because I can’t, but because she speaks English, I could stop her every once in a while to ask about a word I didn’t know.) Because she’s working at Lotte everyday, though, I end up spending most of my time at home with her mother, who is wonderful. She doesn’t speak any English, which really isn’t a problem for me, but it sounds like previous guests didn’t spent much time talking with the mother because of her lack of English ability. It’s their loss; she’s hilarious and very loving (in that always telling you to eat more and get a boyfriend already kind of way, haha.) Her Korean is very fast, so sometimes it’s hard to catch everything she says but that just means at the end of my three month stay, my listening will be ON POINT.

That was my main motivation for wanting to live with a host family in the first place– to get better at Korean. Classes are great and all, but I was very irritated by how little time we spend putting a what we learned in level 3 into practice. I was also irritated by the hunt for a decent language exchange partner. With a host family, I can get all the practice I want with native Koreans without leaving the house. They’re open to speaking with me about whatever topics we covered in class and offered to even help me with homework. Plus, I get to watch Korean TV and eat home-cooked Korean food every day for breakfast and dinner. It’s Korean style breakfast though, so don’t get too excited. That basically means whatever you have for dinner. It’s not breakfast food. It’s just food. It took my stomach a while to adjust to it, but I am eating twice the amount of vegetables per day, so, can I really complain? Just look at it:

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(It’s beautiful, but real talk, I want some pancakes and eggs. Send some STAT.)

This also means I don’t have to bother with going to the supermarket, washing dishes, or cleaning, so I actually have time to myself now. This is a pretty sweet deal, if you ask me. (Well, except for the shower thing.) I know choosing to live with a host family isn’t the most popular option among Light Fellows and other students who come to Korea; the most popular options largely seem to be goshiwons or single apartments, but for me living with a host family Korea has enabled me to get the most out of my time abroad. I might have to give up a little freedom and freeze halfway to death, but it’ll be worth it.

Moving Day

What should’ve been a simple move from Sinchon to my host family’s apartment in Hongdae turned out to be quite the ordeal.  I did have more luggage than I did when I originally came to Korea. To accommodate the books, thick winter sweaters, and skin care products I’d accumulated since arriving in August, I had to put some stuff into a box separate from my rolling luggage. I’d also bought a comforter, so I had to take that in its own container…and not to mention a small totebag of snacks from my apartment that I didn’t have the heart to throw away. But even with 6 things to tote to Hongdae, I didn’t forsee moving day to be this much of a challenge, especially because my Singaporean roommate was kind-hearted enough to lend a hand.

The problem started with the property manager (surprise, surprise). I was scheduled to check-out of my apartment by 12pm. At that time, the manager was supposed to come by, inspect the apartment, and, if there was no damage done, give my security deposit back. That would give me a little less than an hour to hail a cab and get to my host family’s apartment by the agreed upon move-in time, 1:00pm. Well, by 12:15 the apartment manager had not arrived to inspect the apartment. So I send a very nice text to the manager asking why no one had showed up. They essentially kept giving me the runaround, saying it would only be 5 or 6 minutes more, but no one arrived until about 12:40.

Now, I woke up early and was all packed up and ready to go by 11:30, but ya’ll can’t even show up on time? Disgraceful.

Anyway, after I went through the check-out process, together, by flatmate and I (okay, mostly me) managed to get 2 rolling luggages, a carry-on, a comforter, a box of books, and a totebag of snacks on the curb in front of our apartment. We were going to the closest main road to hail a taxi and lure it into the side road in front of our building when a beautiful shiny golden taxi cruised right in front of our apartment building. I thought it was a sign from above because I’d never been able to get a taxi so easily on the weekend and I’d never seen an empty one cruising down these tiny side streets. We stopped it and asked the driver if he could pop the trunk to we could load the stuff into the back. And once he saw how much there was, he gave us a lot of lip about “not being a moving service,” but let us shove everything into the trunk and backseat anyway. Halfway to my host family’s house, I realized I couldn’t fine my wallet, got out of the taxi, jogged back to the apartment to check for it. A fruitless endeavor—it wasn’t there. The taxi then circled back to pick my up and my roommate was holding my wallet out the window to show me that she’d found it. Great! But of course, the meter had been running the whole time I was looking for my wallet so already the cost for the taxi was higher than I’d calculated it to be. But at least I had my wallet to pay him with right?

The rest of the ride was pretty uneventful. The taxi driver didn’t try to cheat us and drive around in circles (He was probably secretly happy I’d had to go back and look for my wallet, the vindictive little toad.) But he didn’t take me to my host family’s apartment. He stopped us somewhere in the general neighborhood, kicked us out of the cab, and pointed in some vague direction, saying the house was “somewhere over there.” Well, fine and dandy, but when you have at LEAST 100 pounds of luggage to move “somewhere over there” just ain’t gonna cut it, sir. And then he had the nerve to ask me for a tip? Gurl….

Anyway, so two foreign girls were standing in the middle of the road with a bunch of luggage wondering exactly where the hell the apartment building was. I’d only been to the area once, so some things looked vaguely familiar to me, but I wasn’t exactly in a position to pinpoint the apartment’s exact location. So while we tried using my flatmate’s phone to find it on google maps, it started to rain. Because of course. That was only the next most logical turn in this grueling tale.

Oh and I hope you do remember how my Singaporean flatmate feels about the rain…?

Right.

So, while she took cover in the entrance of a building, I look a third of my luggage and set out to find the apartment in the maze of tiny twisting streets. After about 15 minutes, I did manage to find it, lug my luggage and the (now soaking) box of books all the way up to where my host family lived on the fourth floor. (Yep….4th floor.) Though I was about an hour and some late, my host mom welcomed me with open arms, helped me relocate my flatmate, and get the rest of my stuff to the building. Yes, it was a long arduous struggle getting all my crap up the stairs, but not a single jar of Cantu hair product was left behind.

My flatmate, despite being a delicate little snowflake, despite the rain, really toughed it out for me. And, after all the moving and unpacking was over, I had a nice new room with a bed twice as big as the old one, my own bathroom, and a nice host family to cook dinner for me practice Korean with.

 

Making Kimchi

So, I have finals next week (time flies!) and while I have been faithfully previewing and reviewing the material every day, listening to the textbook CD, and using supplemental materials to get a good grasp on grammar usage on top of THAT, I’m still a little concerned about how this final exam will turn out. I think I’m at the point where I have a good grasp on things taught in class but as far as using the new Korean things I’ve learned in everyday life, I’m pretty shaky. And from my experience with the midterm, I think getting a good grasp on everyday language usage is the thing that will give you an edge on the exams.

My solution? Instead of locking myself up in my room and pouring over the books this weekend, I went to make kimchi with a lovely Korean family that I will be moving in with at the end of the quarter~! (More on this later!) Hopefully this will give me some conversation practice before the exam, and it’ll be a nice opportunity experience a bit of traditional Korean culture.

I got up early (9am on a weekend…whyyyyy) and figured out the bus(es) I needed to take to get from my current apartment around Sogang to a residential area of Hongdae. When I arrived, they made me take off my sweater (because the red pepper flakes would stain) and set me up with super long kimchi-making gloves that came up to my elbow. My host mom, host sister, and her aunt were all sitting on the floor around a huge tarp covered with a mountain of spice red paste. The red paste is a mixture of garlic gloves, onions, fish sauce, salted shrimp, hot pepper flakes, green onions, and radish and carrots cut into matchsticks. To make kimchi, you use your hands to paint this paste on each leaf of napa cabbage.

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Apparently I’m a little heavy handed when it comes to painting on the paste because they kept telling me to only add a little of the paste per leaf, but every cabbage head I finished came out distinctly redder and heavier than everyone else’s….oops. But I mean, who doesn’t like a little extra flavor with their kimchi?? POW!

After finishing about 35-40 cabbage heads, we stored them all in some heavy duty containers and stored the kimchi in the kimchi fridge. You can eat it while it’s fresh–in fact, it’s tradition to have one freshly made bunch of kimchi with pork and rice–but the kimchi is left to ferment for about 3 weeks before consumption. The longer it ferments, the better it is. Can’t wait to see what it’s like after I move in in several weeks!

 

 

20 Things I’ve Learned in Korea (so far)

  1. If a middle-aged person wants to talk to you in English on the subway, just let them do it. No matter how much you want to practice your Korean, I assure you they are just as persistent (if not moreso) with wanting to practice their English…especially 아저씨 (middle-aged men)
  2. Always have a fake name/email/address/phone number to give out to said persistent English-speaking Koreans. Some will chase you until you give it to them…especially 아저씨 (middle-aged men)
  3. You can definitely make it on Korea on free wifi alone, though this means you won’t be able to join reward programs or order food delivery.
  4. How to use your roommate’s food delivery app Yogiyo (on her dual sim phone) to order food.
  5. As soon as Sept 22nd passes, Korean dress in full fall garb, complete with turtlenecks, boots, and coats even if it’s still 75 degrees (F) outside.
  6. How to convert Celsius into Fahrenheit in my head (See here: https://lifehacker.com/5917331/quickly-convert-between-fahrenheit-and-celsius-without-a-calculator)
  7. How to make lemon ginger tea from scratch. It actually does help fight off colds, by the way!
  8. Crack your eggs carefully and never directly into a pan…there might be a chick inside….
  9. How to explain there is a baby chick (complete with feathers and beak) inside an egg to the poor student working at the convenience store.
  10. How to say vegan in Korean: 비건
  11. It’s a real struggle to cut dairy out of your diet when you’re in the land of bingsoo.
  12. Korean clubs are a bit different from the ones back at home (lol listen to me talking about clubs, haha) Some of my friends and I went to Madholic in Hongdae, and everyone was standing in lines and rows nodding their heads to remixed hip-hop. Not really much dancing, but tbh there wasn’t any room to dance, so….
  13. Oh, unless you go to NB1 or NB2. Lots of space, actual dancing happens. NB1 > NB2 in my opinion because there are fewer creepers.
  14. It’s extremely easy to get a boyfriend here. Nothing special. You change them like socks.
  15. If you speak Korean to the ladies giving out samples at the grocery store, not only will they encourage you to eat more samples, they’ll also give you free paper towels. After an hour in the grocery store, I had like 5 free rolls of paper towels.
  16. I don’t need to date because I get all the love and free food I need from Korean  아줌마 (middle aged women)
  17. Apparently 나는  애교가 많다. (It’s not on purpose, I swear)
  18. Listening to Korean radio is one of the best ways to practice your listening when you can’t be around Korean people.
  19. People still submit song requests to radio stations.
  20. My Korean teacher knows “It’s Raining Men” and can sing the whole song in Korean. (하늘에서 남자가 비처럼 온다면 좋겠어요…Hallelujah!)