Monday, November 22, 2010

I'm 24, but still 25 in Korea.

Matt's Dinner Evening

I will start this most interesting blog update with Tuesday. Tuesday was the first of many dinner evenings with the foreign teacher staff at Avalon. Matt decided to initiate a sort of potluck dinner to be alternately hosted by a different teacher. The host is responsible for the majority of the cooking, but the rest of us are to bring sides or drinks. I am looking forward to this tradition every Tuesday. It's my turn in two weeks; I'm not entirely sure what I'll be cooking, but I'm still excited.

( Matt being class as hell with his glass of wine )

( Ciaran demonstrating exactly how we serve ourselves pasta )

( A toast to friends )

( Ciaran with Matt's amazing photo collage )

( Matt & Calvin )

Osan Air Base Breakfast

Thursday was a day we were all looking forward to. Jen goes to church down by the air base in Osan every Sunday, and over the many months, she has made a number of US Airforce friends. With these connections of her's, we were able to get onto the air base to eat breakfast. It is something that we've been talking about for quite some time. A delicious hearty American-style breakfast is hard to come by in Korea, so we decided to plan it to semi-cooinside with my birthday. Maybe, I was just looking at it that way, and it was pure coincidence. Either way, my though process looked at this event as a big "Happy Birthday, Spenser!"

We departed our apartments at about eight am. Surprise, surprise, I wasn't up. I slept terribly the night before, and when they knocked on my door at five till, I jumped up and threw on clothes and was out the door in five minutes. I wasn't about to miss out on pancakes. No sir. We took a cab out to Hwaseo station, which I am becoming more and more fond of every day. Then, the air base was only about a half hour by subway. The air base was strangely American. I imagine that it was a small taste of what reverse-culture shock must feel like. We all freaked out when we saw signs in Miles Per Hour and gas being sold in Gallons Per Dollar. When we arrived at the dinner, Checker Tails, a dinner accurately named to match it's decor, I ordered myself the Osan Special (pancakes, eggs, bacon, and coffee). It was marvelous. Marvelous enough that JC at two full meals, actually.

( The excitement on the subway platform )

( Osan Air Base )

( Checker Tails )

( Justin, loving life )

( Dollar bills!!!! So strange! )

( three-quarters of the Fantastic Four; the fourth is behind the camera )

Birthday Evening

The night started out slow, just like any other night out in Korea does. I got off work, after being treated to a birthday cake from Avalon. As it is in Korean tradition, I had to magically cut a small cake into like 20 some odd pieces and hand it out. Luckily, I had JC as my personal delivery service. I cut, he made sure cake was received by the necessary personnel. When I finally finished up, I rushed out to Hwaseo station (as afore mentioned, I am starting to love this station) to pick up Chelsea, who was about to experience Suwon for the first time.

We began the evening by going out for galbi (korean barbeque) at a place nearby work. All of the foreign teachers were in attendance, with the addition of Miri, one of our Korean teachers. She is my desk neighbor at work, so it was nice to have her out with us. She did frown upon Calvin's terrible meat cooking skills, though. He burned three pieces of meat, and she looked absolutely horrified. It was pretty funny, actually. They even insisted that I stand up and give a toast, which I obviously agreed to.

After a few drinks at the galbi place, we headed home to change, which turned into a bit of a pregame drinking activity. We killed off Ciaran's bottle of Jack, cracked open Justin's Patron, and drank a bottle of sake. We finally made our move to Ingye-dong, which was obviously decide in the most Korean fashion ever, rock paper scissors (kai, bai, bo!). Of course, we had to make one more pit stop on the way out to a new location. We stopped to see our neighbors who own a small establishment about a block from our apartment, on the way to the taxi stand. We played this ridiculous Japanese drinking game that JC loves and I suck at. After all was said and done, we drank a few bottles of soju, and continued on to Ingye-dong.

This part of the evening is still a blur to me, but the pictures help to present some clarity. From what I remember, we met two guys name Jade and Jason, hit baseballs at the batting cages, picked up crabs, and played that drinking game again. My friends say that I passed out at the HOF around 4 in the morning, but when I came to, JC, Chelsea & I made our way to the fortress to watch the sun rise.. Justin didn't make it, because he had to carry Calvin home; he was having trouble walking. Needless to say, Calvin didn't make it either. We got out to the fortress and did some exploring, and also got yelled at for sitting on the wall. We had a little mokguli (i think), and ended up leaving before the sun had risen, because it was really damn cold. Good birthday. I definitely won't forget it.

( Ukelele + America = Korean Birthday? )

( This was the sake that I took from a love motel in Hiroshima )

( yep, let the games begin )

( JC, Justin, Jade, Jason, and myself )
^I just realized that I'm the only one without a "J" name^

( Fishing for crabs )

( GOT ONE! )

( JC & Justin in the batting cages )

( Chelsea & I in front of Janganmun )

(JC & I at the Hwaseong lookout )

As you might expect, I got a little bit of a late start on Saturday, but I wasn't about to let that stop me from having a superb weekend. I met up with Chelsea in Yongsan to see The Social Network, which was good; not as good as I was hoping, but still good. I had just heard that critics were saying it was the best movie of the year, and possibly the decade. I hardly doubt that this is the case, though. I would still recommend it to anyone looking for a good flick. While in Yongsan, we saw a movie, browsed the electronics mart, questioned people about PSPs in the sketch underground video game mart, ate Japanese food, and had coffee. It was a successful Saturday.

Coffeest, Seoul Forest & Myeong-dong

Sadly, I awoke on Saturday to watch the Hawkeyes play Ohio State and lose. This actually lost me 5,000, which I am bummed about. After the game I realized that it was around 9am, and it would be silly to go back to bed. I searched the internet for great coffee shops in Seoul and went on a solo mission. The first one ended up being closed. Not closed, as in not open, but closed as in there was nothing there anymore. This was a disappointment, so I jumped on a subway and went out to Gwanghwamun where another one was supposed to be. After getting myself nice and lost, I eventually found it. It was a pleasant place to spend a few hours. It was kind of in the middle of nowhere, and called Coffeest. One of the employees spoke great English, and helped me pick out the perfect coffee, and because the house blend refills were free, I hung around for quite awhile.

I eventually got ahold of Justin, and we arranged a meetup at Seoul Forest, which is more or less a big park. It wasn't that impressive at night, but I would be interested in visiting again during the day. Even though the park wasn't that great, the Han River WAS! It was my first visit to the river, and I couldn't refrain from taking tons of pictures. It was gorgeous at night.

The last stop of the night was a quick swing into Myeong-dong, because Justin really wanted a North Face fleece, which they ended up having none of. I purchased a great beige colored American Apparel hoodie, and we ate pizza. That was about everything I did in the past week. Some interesting, some not, but still, I feel like every single day is even better than the last in Korea.

( A nice little Italian restaurant across from Coffeest )

( Coffeest 1 of 3 )

( Coffeest 2 of 3 )

( Coffeest 3 of 3 )

( A gate next to Gwanghwamun-yeok 1 of 2)

( A gate next to Gwanghwamun-yeok 2 of 2 )

( The Han River 1 of 2 )

( The Han River 2 of 2 )

( A tunnel by Seoul Forest )

(Justin in Myeong-dong )

( Another shot of Myeong-dong )

Myeong-dong: Exits 5 & 6 Myeong-dong station, line 4, you're right there, in the middle of everything when you exit.

Seoul Forest: Exit 8 Ttukseom station, line 2, follow the signs!

Coffeest: Exit 7 Gwanghwamun Station, Line 5. When you exit, do a 180 out of the exit, and take a right at the intersection that is right there. Walk for about 300 meters and turn right at the intersection after the Salvation Army Center and walk 400 meters to Sunkok Museum. It's on the left.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Why can't it always be the weekend?

(the shell sculpture at the entrance to Cheonggyecheon)

This weekend, like most, was pretty amazing. First, I'll take us back a few days before the weekend. I took a mid week trip into Yongsan to buy a new camera. I purchased the Canon Kiss x3 (the Japanese 500D). Boy-oh-boy does it take better pictures than my old Sony Cybershot. This gave me a nice little bit of mid week excitement. Some of the pictures I'll be posting in this update are with the new camera, and some are with the old.

On friday, after a nice long week of work, I went out for a couple beers with the Avalon folks. I then submitted to an early night in, because I needed to be awake and out the door by 6am. Although, one beer did turn into two, and two into three. Either way, I came home and went to bed, then managed to wake up at 6:15, instead of 5:45. I'm AWESOME! This led to a frantic search for clothes, and an exhilarating sprint to the bus stop. I'm actually quite surprised that I managed to make it out to the Express Bus Terminal on time. The bus for Discover Korea was pretty clear that they wait for nobody. I was quite worried about being five minutes late and missing out on 62,000 won. I was able to make it there at 7:25 for a 7:30 departure. Amarisse had an equally stressful morning in transit, but we both showed up on time and caught the bus out to Bul Jeong-dong for an exciting day of ziplining.

We arrived at the zipline course around 9:45 or so and found ourselves in the first of five zipline groups. This was the largest zipline course in all of Korea. It was a great way to spend an early saturday. There were a total of nine lines ranging from 100 - 360 meters. We found ourselves in a really fun group of other foreigners. I sadly didn't take many photos, but I am going to post a couple that I stole from Amarisse's flickr account. I really do enjoy the few times a month I get to spend with her. We get along in a way that not many others do.

(Amarisse and I getting pumped up for the occasion)

(Amarisse is just showing us how cool zipline gear can be)

(Team Awesome)

(Our zipline guides)

(just a peak at what the zipline course was like)

On the bus ride home, I was given the option of getting of the bus in Suji, which is right next to Yeong-tong. I figured, "This is a great idea!" because that isn't too far from Jangan, where my home is located in Suwon. I got off the bus, and then proceeded to get on a bus that I assumed was destined for Suwon Station, where I could take a different bus. Turns out, I was on the bus going to wrong direction. I rode for about twenty minutes, when it jumped on the freeway. I started realizing that something was a bit off. The bus driver must have noticed me trying to interpret to route map, and called me up to talk to him. I just said, "Suwon-yeok?" I flat out laughed at me. Apparently this was a really dumb mistake. I had one of those moments where everybody on the bus was shaking their heads, thinking, "dumb foreigner." I was kind of great. He instructed me to get off, cross the street, and get on a bus going to opposite direction. About an hour and a half later, I finally arrived at home.

At this point, Justin and I headed into Namdaemun to attempt to repeat JC and I's, previous shenanigans. This proved to be very difficult. I think the JC has this magical ability to make mundane events really fun. Justin and I just had no luck. We did decide to purchase a couple bottles of mokguli each. This made things a little more fun. We wandered for a bit, then went over to Myeong-dong, only to realize that everything closes around 10pm. Bummer. We decided that this going to be the night that we were finally going to have our Suwon bar crawl. The point of this bar crawl was to explore our lesser known areas of our beautiful city. We called up Matt and Calvin and arranged a meet up.

(City Hall getting ready for Christmas)

(a nicely lit street)

(Justin with a cool light post)



(More Mokguli)

Matt, Justin & I departed into the depths of our neighborhood, only to realize that 75% of the bars nearby have a very specific business tactic that we weren't looking to take advantage of. They all charge anywhere from 100,000 - 200,000 won to sing nore bang (노래방/karaoke) with sexy ladies. The price is high, because they expect you to pay for the company of Korean women. We finally found a nice little second floor Hof that we stopped into for a quick beer. This ended up being the first and only stop on our bar crawl, because Justin received a call from a girl his interested in (Miji). This led to a quick decision to leave Jangan and take a taxi out to Ingye-dong. On the way to the taxi area, we found a claw machine to angered Justin to no end, and also met up with Calvin.

(Matt & Justin at the Hof)

(the claw machine)

(Justin & I having a good time in the taxi)

(Calvin in the Taxi)

When we arrived in Ingye-dong, we realized that Miji (미지) and her friends were at this super happening club. The club also frowned upon foreigners. We needed Koreans with us in order to enter. This didn't really happen, because Miji's friends were inside, and we weren't. While waiting outside to let Miji try to work something out, we met to girls, and ended up just hanging with them the rest of the night. We bought some soju at a Family Mart and went to the batting cages. What else would we do in Ingye-dong, right? One of the girls, Jin (진) was pretty cool, but I'm fairly certain that she has a boyfriend. That was another bummer for the evening, but it didn't really put a damper on anything. After the batting cages, we ended up at some strange bar; I think that it may have been a hookah bar, but I'm not sure. The six of us hung around there for quite awhile, and eventually Justin passed out and our new friends departed, so we decided it was time to head home as well. That put an end to ONLY Saturday.

(just hanging around)

(Matt, Justin & I honestly don't remember her name)

(Jin & myself)

(Calvin drinking at the batting cages)

(not quite sure what we are doing; maybe telling him not to drink)

(just hanging with a cowboy)

(Justin making a terrible decision: two bottles of soju)

(Justin decided to take a nap)

(Matt was loving life)

The next day started a little bit later than I was expecting as well. I was supposed to meet JC at Sadang Station to do some Christmas shopping at 11. I accidentally woke up around noon. WHOOPS! It turned out to be just fine. He was accompanied by Atayeh, a girl that we met when we were hiking Seoraksan. I eventually met them in Itaewan around 1:30. We had lunch, and purchased some gifts, then proceeded to move onto Insa-dong, to try out some authentic Korean goods for gifts. It turned out to be quite successful. We were all pretty much having one of those "I love my life!" days. I'm telling you, JC does something magic to the most routine things.

(JC in Insa-dong)

(a temple cooking shop)

(street-side pottery shop)

(Gwanghwamun from the outdoor fourth floor of a Starbucks)

We totally saw these eight dudes that were flinging little kids into the air using a blanket. We went ahead and waited in line for our turns.

(little kid)

(me: showing off some thigh)

(JC going for a ride)

So, the whole reason for being in the Gwanghwamun area was to goto the Lantern Festival again. JC and Atayeh hadn't been, yet. I jumped at the chance to go again. One, it is really awesome. Two, I had a much more awesome camera in my possession. Some of these photos will look just like last time, but hopefully they look a little better. By the way, there were about ten times more people there than the previous time.





(me and LANTERNS)

(more lanterns)

(yep, that turtle boat shoots fire)


(JC & Atayeh posing like the hanbok couple in the background)

(myself, by a hope message tree)


(the only pose I could think of in front of these)

(Go America!)

(my favorite lantern)


After the lantern festival, we went for a quick bite to eat, which turned into a feast followed by 7 bottles of mokguli. We enjoyed some wonderful conversation and a music sharing session. We each listened to our current "special" songs and discussed what we thought about them. The ladies that were working at the restaurant were loving us too. They got a huge kick out of our broken Korean. We would should "Chogiyo!" and the would respond "Ne." always followed by a hearty laugh. Such a good night!

(JC and Atayeh giving me a preview of the soft crabs we were about to eat)

(see the pinchers?)

(the spread)

(mokguli.... seems like a trend, eh?)

(JC making tough decisions)

(the wonderful restaurant lady)

(just so you can see what we were dealing with, here)

After it was all said and done, we headed home, still loving life.


Cheonggyecheon: Exit 3 Gwanghwamun Station, line 5. Walk straight ahead and cross a big intersection. About a half block down, you'll see a large blue and red shell statue. Turn left, and you are at the beginning of Cheonggye Stream.

Insa-dong: Exit 6 Anguk Station, Line 3. Walk straight out of the exit until you hit a street of shops on your left (maybe 1 minute). Turn left there, and you are right in the middle of a nice stroll of shops and street vendors.