Comes in Threes

Now that I’ve been in South Korea for a few months, I’ve started to compare my time here with my time in New York. Undoubtedly, there are some MAJOR differences between the USA and South Korea.

Three things I miss:

Fitted sheets!

Korean beds don’t come with fitted sheets. As far as I can tell, you can’t buy fitted sheets at a store around here, either. I don’t know why that is. I slip and slide each night as I try to get comfy in my bed. I never realized what a difference a fitted sheet makes!

Cars without tinted windows!

I have seen exactly one car in Korea that didn’t have tinted windows. I like the idea of tinted windows because of the privacy aspect. (No one can see you jammin’ out to the radio if they can’t look inside your car!) When you’re a pedestrian trying to cross the street without dying, however…then tinted windows are problematic. I can’t make eye contact with drivers! How am I supposed to know when they’re gonna coast through the intersection to turn right? When should I stop walking? Do you go first? Do I go first?? HELP.

CEREAL.

I miss cereal. I don’t really have a breakfast food here. I haven’t gotten used to the idea of eating a lunchtime food (rice, noodles, meat, etc.) for breakfast. I’ve met Koreans that do actually eat cereal in the morning, but I don’t know where they buy it because cereal here is EXPENSIVE. It’s like New York all over again! Why is cereal taking up half of my grocery budget??

Three things I don’t miss:

My NYC landlord!

I had a developing mildew problem on one of my apartment walls. I told my Korean landlord about it. Two days later, he came into my apartment and fixed it that very day. The wall is clean and I’m no longer breathing in spores a la The Last of Us.

Ya know what my NYC landlord did when I had a electrical wiring problem? He texted me to say that he’d, “come take a look soon.” Then he waited about 2,087 hours before showing up…just to tell me that he couldn’t repair it because it was my fault. Literal quotation from him: “The light keeps burning out because you don’t turn on the fan when you cook.” My response: “A wiring problem doesn’t have anything to do with the humidity. Anyway, the fan’s broken too. I told you about that three weeks ago.”

Driving a car!

I’m a NYC girl in several ways, including the fact that I hate driving. I prefer public transportation. Unlike NYC, the public transportation in Korea is top-notch, clean, and affordable. I walk or take the bus/subway everywhere now. It’s an utter delight.

WORKING IN THE MORNING.

My work schedule begins around 1 pm and ends close to 10 pm. That means that I don’t have to be awake at god-awful 6 am. I get up a little before 9 am and still have time to relax and get some stuff done before work. I relish my morning time now…because it’s MY morning time.

Thanks for reading,

Emme

Sushi Night (Part Two)

For round two, we left the sushi place and ended up at a different seafood spot about four blocks away. We walked past a huge, blue tank that was full of shrimp before taking our seats.

Those shrimp were delicious.

In Korea, food and alcohol are tightly linked. This means that a planned night of drinking has the additional requirement of eating until you practically explode. No joke — after I woke up the next day, I didn’t eat anything until 4 pm in the afternoon because I was still so full from the night before!

I blame rounds two and three for my unexpected fast. Round two was the shrimp, followed by the shrimp heads, plus all of the standard Korean appetizers (kimchi, eggs, various vegetables, etc.)

For round three, we headed to another restaurant, where we had (you guessed it) more beer and more food. My coworkers bought a ton of candy that we shared for dessert, too.

I did struggle with the beondegi, however. …It’s silkworm pupae. They eat silkworm pupae.

Beondegi is often served as a street snack here — I’ve seen the vendors all over the place. I know it’s popular, and I’ll try anything once.

A friend of mine really likes beondegi because he says it tastes like the smell of old books. (Which I guess is a good thing?) Personally, I think it tastes like the smell of old carpet. It even has the consistency of carpet.

(But don’t let my feedback stop you from trying it if you find yourself in Korea! A lot of people like it.)

Even though I wasn’t into the silkworm larvae, there was still plenty of other good things for me to eat. Which I did.

Happy eating, and thanks for reading,

Emme

Sushi Night

My coworkers and I went out for sushi the other night. Some time has passed since then, but I’m still daydreaming about what I ate that evening.

I hadn’t gotten sushi in Korea yet, so I had no idea what to expect. In hindsight, I should’ve avoided eating earlier that day in preparation for what was to come. We ate a LOT of fish!

All of the sushi was prepared right in front of us. It took a bit of time for the first course to arrive, but that was no bother because there were plenty of side dishes to deal with first! Udon noodle soup, miso soup, a salad, smaller seafood dishes (with huge helpings of ginger), steamed eggs…and, of course, tea, soju, and water to wash it all down.

By the time we had made it through all of that food (plus the actual three rounds of sushi) I was extremely stuffed. It felt like Thanksgiving had come early.

That’s when my coworker said, “round two!!” The rest of the group took up the chant as she led us out of the restaurant: “round two, round two, round two!”

Already? After all of that food? Now this I had to see.

Grinning, I stood up and followed them outside.

 

Thanks for reading,

Emme

 

 

 

Suwon: The Traditional Stuff

Like numerous areas in South Korea, Suwon is chock-full of historical sites.

IMG_1452

Suwon

For example, there’s Paldalmun Gate: the southern gate of Hwaseong Fortress. It’s unique because it’s the only gate that is detached from the other three gates. It sits in the middle of a busy intersection, surrounded by various shops and restaurants. It’s simultaneously jarring and hilarious to sit there and watch the cars whizz around this ancient structure.

From Paldalmun, it’s a short walk up the hill to Hwaseong Fortress Wall. There’s a gate for each of the cardinal directions: Janganmun (north), Paldalmun (south), Changnyongmun (east), and Hwaseomun (west). Dave and I approached the wall from the eastern side.

Of course, now that I’m sitting here at home, I’m able to say that it was a “short walk.” But that walk was all uphill. Wear good shoes!!

When you reach the top and decide to head north, you’ll see an area devoted to a couple of Korean monuments. If you take a peek over the wall near there, you’ll find a handy convenience shop (and bathrooms). A lovely lady named Kim works there. Stop by and say hello! (And thanks again for the grapes, Kim. They were delicious.)

IMG_1460

Taking a break by this intriguing monument

We actually didn’t make it to the fortress itself because Kim offered to take us to Hawseong Haenggung Palace instead. After a short stroll through the trees (steadily heading down the slope again), we were there!

IMG_1465

Hawseong Haenggung Palace’s main gate

The palace is a maze of interconnected buildings and courtyards. It was a hot, sunny day, but there was plenty of shade to be found here.

Near the entrance, you can also pick up a piece of paper that makes the perfect souvenir. It has ten boxes that match the ten rubber stamping stations located around the palace. It also has a map to help you find them (…speaking from experience, don’t be too proud to use the map!)

IMG_1472

While you’re looking for more stamps, be sure to take in all of the historical displays, too. There are so many of them to see! The mannequins are pretty lifelike at a first glance, and it’s fascinating to see what the palace rooms looked like back then.

Thanks for a wonderful couple of days, Suwon. I’ll be back soon!

And thanks for reading,

Emme

의사

Yesterday I went to the ear doctor with a friend of mine (we had identical ear aches — how crazy is that?) Get a load of this:

We showed up at our appointed time (noon) and we were sitting with the doctor less than five minutes later. We didn’t even need to sit down in the waiting room — we just walked straight from the reception desk into the doc’s office.

It took the doctor about five minutes to examine both of us. She handed us our prescription forms and then all we had to do was go pay the bill at the front desk.

My bill was the equivalent of four US dollars. I have insurance through my workplace, so either it works wonders or the bill just wasn’t very high to begin with.

Then we headed downstairs to the pharmacy, which was conveniently located in the same building. We handed her our forms and had our pills two minutes later.

And then we went next door to the Baskin & Robbins and got ice cream…because why not? We had a lot of money and time to spare.

Fellow Americans, can you even imagine this scenario taking place in our country? A healthcare visit that costs four bucks and takes a grand total of 15 minutes from start to finish?

I certainly can’t.

(And the pills are working, by the way. My ear already feels better.)

Thanks, Korea.

And thanks for reading,

Emme

Suwon: World Cup Stadium

Suwon’s about two hours away from Cheonan by bus, making it a great weekend destination.

After Dave and I hopped off the bus, we strolled north for about twenty minutes. Then the stadium came into view.

This was only my second time at a soccer game and I loved it. Lots of chanting and yelling…and beer. Plus, we got to sit wherever we wanted, so naturally the front row was the way to go.

Also, we were well-fed that day, thanks to the food trucks that were parked right outside of the stadium. Behold the Korean version of fish & chips! (So delicious.)

IMG_1407

Thanks for a great weekend, Suwon. I’ll be back soon.

And thanks for reading,

Emme

The Blue Lagoon

Ted and I went to the Blue Lagoon while we were in Iceland. I can’t believe that I forgot to mention that experience — might as well fix that right now, right?

To get there, we used our little rental car. The drive took about an hour, but neither of us minded. That just meant another hour of staring out the window and marveling at everything we could see.

There’s something really beautiful about Iceland’s stark landscapes. Looking back at these pictures, I’m reminded that Iceland lacks trees, for the most part. Normally I’d hate that…because I love trees (have I mentioned that lately?). Yet, I’ve gotta admit, it’s cool how far you can see when there aren’t any trees in the way.

Conversely, Blue Lagoon has a sly design that hides most of what it offers. Some of the water can be seen from the road, but the main attraction is hidden by piles of black volcanic rock. More rocks keep you from seeing anything from the parking lot.

IMG_0459

The path leading to the main entrance

After following the main path for a short while, though, you can look to your left and catch a glimpse of what’s to come.

I did not take any pictures inside of the Blue Lagoon (as I have yet to splurge for something that could protect my phone/camera from water damage), so here’s that glimpse:

IMG_0460

Pretty cool, huh? Here’s the reason why the water is that milky blue color (and so delightfully warm).

After checking in, throwing my stuff into a private locker, and changing into my swimsuit, I headed outside. The transition from the chilly Icelandic air to the geothermal waters was a heavenly thing to experience.

Once you’re in the water, you’re all set for comfort. There’s a bar outside that serves people directly in the lagoon. Another stall offers free mud masks. We ended up staying for several hours, just relaxing in the warm water.

IN SUMMARY: if you have the opportunity, go check out the Blue Lagoon. It’s worth it.

IMG_0461

Thanks for reading,

Emme

 

 

FINAL NOTES:

Again, I’d highly recommend going to see the Blue Lagoon. It’s not overrated.

We went in May and it wasn’t crowded. (To put it another way: many people were there, but I didn’t bump elbows with anybody. There was plenty of room to move around.)

We drove there, but if you’re not gonna rent a car while you’re in Iceland, there’s also an airport shuttle that can take you there before/after your flight.

Don’t forget to book in advance! It’s required. (Get a booking that includes a free towel.)

 

 

 

 

 

The Independence Hall of Korea

Cheonan is home to a Korean history museum called the Independence Hall of Korea. It’s the largest exhibition facility in South Korea, with seven exhibition halls. Several impressive monuments are scattered about the outdoor areas, too.

During Chuseok, some friends and I spent an entire day there. We took a bus to get there, so our journey began near the parking lot. It didn’t take long for us to see where we needed to go first; the Monument to the Nation is pretty hard to miss.

Next up was the Grand Hall of the Nation, located at the end of the main pathway.

Being American, I felt some major Lincoln Memorial vibes as I entered the space. A wise friend of mine also pointed out that this statue shared some characteristics with the one we saw in New Orleans earlier this year (called the Monument to the Immigrants):

These comparisons aside, the Grand Hall of the Nation is an impressive building in its own right. And undoubtedly Korean.

The seven exhibition halls are located just behind the Grand Hall of the Nation. Their focus is on the independence movements during the Japanese Colonial period.

…Needless to say, it was all impressive. And informative. As all good museums tend to be.

IMG_1579

A large display in one of the exhibitions

After walking through the exhibitions for (literally) hours, we finished up the day by heading back outside to check out the Patriots Memorial and the Reunification Monument. Both areas involved walking up SO MANY STAIRS, but the climb turned out to be completely worth the endeavor.

It was a great day. If you ever find yourself in South Korea, I highly recommend visiting this place.

Thanks for reading,

Emme

 

Cheonan World Dance Festival

So the Cheonan World Dance Festival was pretty lit.

IMG_1284

The main stage

Cheonan hosts this dance festival every year, which includes a week’s worth of street parades and dance performances. The international folk dance competition takes place at Three-Way Intersection Park on the last day of the festival.

I work at a hagwon and my work hours are strange, so I missed the events during the work week. But I spent my whole Sunday (Sept. 17th) at the park.

Three-Way Intersection Park is HUGE. Tons of people were there, yet the festival never felt overly crowded. I spent the whole day walking around with a friend of mine and we both kept stumbling upon new things to see.

The modern and traditional performances bumped elbows at this park. A man dressed as a beggar (a traditional show in Korea) was using audience participation to make everyone laugh. Just a short walk away, a hip hop group was urging a huge crowd of people to JUMP JUMP JUMP.

Eventually, after hours of exploring, we made our way back to the main stage. There was a Korean high school dance competition during the day, followed by the international dance competition later in the evening. Every group was spectacular in their own right.

The awards ceremony was incredible, too. Brazil and Russia both won the grand prize. Russia essentially smiled, bowed politely…and left almost immediately. Brazil started cheering, singing, and jumping around…and were the last group to leave the stage.

Classic.

IMG_1312

For the awards ceremony, each country was allowed to have ten dancers up on stage

After the fireworks show, anyone was allowed to come up and walk around on the stage, talk to the dancers, etc.

IMG_1360

Hello, it’s me

All in all, a great night.

IMG_1363

Brazilian dancers posing for photos. Look at that Korean child’s expression (middle).

Thanks for reading,

Emme

Cheonan: Things I’ve Noticed

I’ve lately been thinking back to how I was at the start of this process, when I was still in the USA. I’d spend hours googling things about Korea, looking at everything from transportation routes to what type of chopsticks they use. I read blog posts from expats about jimjilbangs and where to get your hair cut. I put a coat in my suitcase, took it out, put it in, took it out again. I wondered far too long about what pair of shoes to bring and if I should throw a jar of peanut butter in my bag or not.

A bit extreme, but hey, I’m a planner. I like to prepare myself for things.

So, for all you fellow planners out there, here’s a blog post about Korean things I’ve noticed…in no particular order:

 

You don’t eat rice with chopsticks. Use a spoon.

“Juseyo” is “please give me.” (Jew-say-yo) As in, “coffee/kopi juseyo.”

Coffee culture is HUGE here. You can’t walk more than two steps without seeing a coffee shop. And convenience shops have these amazing to-go coffees for only 1,000 won.

Couple/group culture is also a big thing here, which makes it tricky to go out to eat by yourself. (I’ve heard that Japan has single-person food stalls at restaurants…that’s not a thing in Korea.) Food portions are big because they’re meant to be shared.

IMG_1010

A popular coffee spot here — note the name!

Another note on couple culture: Korean couples will actually coordinate their outfits. This morning I walked past two Koreans who were both wearing white tops, jeans, and red Converse. They were lookin’ pretty fly.

Lots of businesses are stacked on top of each other, so don’t forget to look up once in a while. (It makes sense, considering that it’s a small country that just keeps expanding and building and growing…) And look down, too! There are many underground bars, usually located down a flight of nondescript stairs…

So far there’s only been one day with noticeable smog. The air was noticeably thicker; everything just looked dingy and grey. I still didn’t wear a breathing mask (although I do own one) and felt fine.

T-Money cards (for the subway and buses) can be refilled at most convenience stores. Also, swipe your card on the scanner as you leave the bus, otherwise you’ll get charged more money because the system doesn’t know where you got off the bus.

Koreans use metal chopsticks at restaurants. They’ve slipped out of my grip an embarrassing number of times already.

Ladies, I haven’t seen many bare shoulders or cleavage here. Koreans don’t mind showin’ some leg, though — there are a lot of women walking around in short skirts.

Bathrooms are an adventure in Korea. Before you leave home, make sure you’ve got toilet paper, soap, and a small towel (or wet wipes) in your bag. It’s rare for a bathroom to have all three of those things, or even just one of those things!

Koreans do not use dryers, so fabric softener is the way to go. That way when you hang up your clothes to dry, they don’t end up all crunchy and gross.

Ladies, you were right: it’s hard to find pads/tampons. I’ve only seen some SUPER tiny, frilly pads so far. I’m so glad I heeded everyone’s advice and brought my own!

I’ve also only seen deodorant in one store and it was — you guessed it — very tiny and expensive. Same goes for sunscreen.

Cereal is pricey and a bit difficult to find. I have found peanut butter here, but I haven’t tried it yet so I can’t remark on its quality.

Thanks for reading,

Emme