Monday, December 13, 2010

Every Little Earthquake

It's the purple rice again. This is never positive.

The Daewol cafeteria has this sick predictability: if, on any given day, I am presented with a meal I do like, the next day will be met with a meal I inevitably hate.

Today was that second day.

By some unfair twist of fate, however, today's potentially-mushrooms-and-onion soup was not my greatest food catastrophe of the week. No, no friends. That dubious honor is held by the seriously misguided menu of Gangnam's Tree Pub.

We came in, unsuspecting. Beers and soju are ordered. All is pleasant.

And then the ovens of blasphemy opened, and the chef deemed it necessary to slather our nachos with sweet chili sauce. And whipped cream.

We all sat, staring at this thing for a minute, mistakenly believing that we could transform this offensive dollop into sour cream by sheer force of will. Unsuccessful.

We tread lightly, crunching slowly. Some last longer than others. I quickly resign. This concoction has no business being called nachos, and is an affront to processed-cheese lovers everywhere. I am deeply saddened.

In Korea, the sad drink. Well, really everyone drinks. But I think it's safe to say that these inferior nachos were primarily to blame for our questionable decision-making that evening.

Throughout this appalling bastardization of Mexican culture, we are being gawked at. Three Korean fellows at a table behind us. What we later learn is that there is actually a friend number four, who happens to be passed out under their table.

In a classic display of "committing too early", we agree to join these gents at a larger table on the other side of the bar. They all speak varying degrees of shitty English, and appear to be in a generous mood. Someone orders a fruit platter.

Chung Su, the drunk compatriot, appears to be quite literally passed out. He curls up in the fetal position next to Natalia, and isn't heard from for the next four hours.

We bore quickly. We want to dance. Someone pays for all this booze we have ordered, and we're off.

Harlem. Usual. String of below-average military fellows, all wearing affliction T-shirts and various horrifying jewelry pieces. Skinny, excitable young Korean guys that hand us silver, shimmery business cards. Too much filtered-in artificial smoke. Vaguely recall at one point purchasing $10 worth of bottled water. Chat with Omaha bartender. Yawn. Been here, done this.

It's 4:30 AM. We're done with this place. Eating in some tiny late-night Korean joint. Spicy ramyeon that kills my lower intestine for the next 48 hours. Mono-syllabic answers muttered to some way-too-awake Korean fellow that has accompanied our group. Laughing ourselves hysterical at this pathetic, Amero-trash scenario. We have an hour until the subway starts moving. No jimchilbang in sight.

Coffeeshop across the street. We are clearly not the only people with this idea. Crash into a booth to count out the minutes until we can fall asleep standing up on the 2 Line back to Gangnam Terminal. None of us order anything. Nobody seems to care.

I've never been so happy to be on a bus in my life. I remember the first 120 seconds of that ride, the rest is lost to the most powerfully deep sleep of my life. That bus could have dropped down a rabbit hole straight into hell without me noticing.

It's probably around 8 o'clock in the morning. The streets are dead, as is the air. It's freezing, I'm in leggings, and my apartment is ten minutes away. The Paris Baguette is thoughtlessly not yet open, and I mentally resign myself to a day of hot dogs and leftover Christmas cookies.

I fall into my ugly pink bed and am dead to the world for 12 hours.

Blame the nachos.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Go Ahead, You're Only Half Mad

"Dark clouds are hanging all around.
I try to pick myself back up, but I keep falling down.
Sometimes I can't even get out of my bed,
Thinking about the night before and stupid shit that I said.
It's at the point that I'm focused on hibernation:
Less interactions with people, less complications.
Alcohol and altercations, Tylenol and conversations-
I'll be falling off the face of the Earth if I don't change.

Can I rediscover my mind? Are we wasting each other's time?
I don't cry, I don't look up at the sky and ask why.
But sometimes I feel like I'm patiently waiting to die.
Go through the motions, try to put the pen to paper with love.
But I'm still holding back, afraid of what I'm capable of."

Today is a weird day.

This weekend was fun. Seoul always has this way. Predictably chaotic.

I know I haven't really been blogging for awhile. I think that I've been pretty in my head lately, and suffering some writer's block.

Last night, that block exploded. I was up until two in the morning, scribbling and typing and pacing around my miniscule apartment. For whatever reason, I've been thinking about Israel a lot lately, and that was what came out. I miss the Middle East.

I think that Korea is finally getting normal, and that has something to do with why all this noise in my head is suddenly getting louder. Maybe it's just that I'm so used to being freaked out in Decemeber that some residual internal finals clock is being triggered out of habit.

This week the kids have exams, and I'm free to be mentally adrift all day. I've started to think about the big picture. I spend hours over cheap beer trying to locate a next move. I'm becoming aware that sometimes traveling is just another word for running.

I live in South Korea now. I have a job and friends and a life.

But I can't shake the feeling that I'm needed elsewhere.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Take Off Your Pants and Jacket

How is it 9:00 in the morning already?

I leave my sleep pod. And as I pad soundlessly down the hall past the rows of gently snoring Korean women in my vaguely Communist pajamas, I am struck, once again, with the realization:

my life is weird.

In the last 48 hours I have...

- had Thai food for the second time ever. Gai Yang, very tasty.
- watched a drunk old Korean man get dragged down the street by Helios security.
- bailed out of an unsuccessful "date" with a Balinese waiter.
- hung out in a Korean bathhouse adorned with stone penis fountains.
- was served tequila shots in a bar from a very friendly middle-aged prostitute.
- kept watch for a young American girl peeing in the subway.
- bought a very professional leather messenger bag and a grey t-shirt that says "DRESS ME UP".
- had a delicious kiwi smoothie at Quiznos.

Really gotta go back to that Thai place again soon.


<3 from Korea. Jenn.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Red Nail Polish Made Me Do It: A Hongdae Halloween (Part I)

I am in the middle of purchasing two bottles of Hoegaarden between the legs of a Korean cowboy and English sexy zombie.

When did this become my life?

Date: October 31st, 2010
Time: 2:30 AM
Place: Hongdae, Seoul, South Korea
The Players: Jenny, Gustie, Angie, Natalia, Veanessa.
Guest Stars: black-cloaked Korean friend, guy dressed like chicken, mob of dancing ajummas.

It's Halloween.

I am dressed like kimchi. Rather convincingly, I thought, for a costume assembled in less than 36 hours.

It's just one of those nights.

The thing about nights that are supposed to be awesome is that sometimes they aren't. I think this Halloween was sort of like that. The plan was that we were all going to meet up in Hongdae and go to this club Soundholic that was having a major Halloween party. Lots of Wisco people were planning to be in attendance, so we figure it will be cool. This isn't exactly what goes down.

To start at the very beginning...

We thought we were so clever. Purchasing our bus tickets to Seoul ahead of time. How very, very fore-thoughtful of us.

Pff. Veanessa very nearly missed the bus. I'd like to credit both mine and Gustie's broken Korean pleading with the bus driver to wait as well as Veanessa's dramatic sprint out onto the platform as the bus was pulling away with us all making it onto the 3 o'clock Dongbu. (The latter event plays in slow motion in my mind.)

Mkay. So. We made it. Get to Hongdae, and we're trying to find our hostel. Gustie has booked us a room at a place called The Yellow Submarine (couldn't make this up...) and the website claims it is a five-minute walk from the subway. What it neglected to tell us was that we'd have to wind down no less than three semi-creepy alleyways to get to it. After a few confused phone calls to the receptionist, we find ourselves on the blue-painted driveway of The Yellow Submarine. We walk in, and we are aghast. Then we crack up.

Sitting at the kitchen table at the hostel are two girls from our class of Wisconsin GEPIK teachers. And then, as I turn my head to check out one of the rooms, I see that three more guys from our Wisconsin group are also staying here. All booked independently of one another. We couldn't stay away if we wanted to.

Stage: set.

Part II to follow. Because one comes after two. You get it.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Jenny and Gustie's Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very Bad Day

I love Justin Bieber.

Or so the sign says.

Well, actually, it says something more along the lines of: Jah-seu-teen Bee-bah, but whatever. I swiped it anyway. I think it is a nice addition to my happy collection of desk chotchkies. At the moment, this assortment happens to include a red Badgers cup, no less than five different versions of Bingo, six thousand scribbled-upon worksheets and the ever-present emergency can of cheesy cheese Pringles. I have decided that upon my triumphant return to the States, there will be at least one piece of luggage solely devoted to the transport of these heavensnacks.

For the record though, I did not make this Bieberlicious sign. One of my students did. I just stole it. One of my many minor acts of thievery in this country. The "Most People Put Their Butts In The Bin" sign is now hanging on my refrigerator.

Anyway. This post is not about my mounting kleptomania.

It's about this past Saturday. Or, as it shall further be known:


The Day Where Literally Everything Went Wrong. Seriously.

Here's what happened.

So, it's pretty difficult to manage a day where everything goes wrong. To that end, I will lay out this disclaimer: one thing went right on Saturday.

We found pesto.

That was the lone success of the day. I have to say though, that we have not yet sampled this pesto, and should it turn out to be completely disgusting, I would not bat an eye.

Saturday, or TDWLEWW.S., was supposed to be a day in which we met up with friend Jake in Itaewon for lunch, went to Gangnam for a rocking KPOP concert and danced the night away at a hot club in the downtown. And exactly none of these things were accomplished.

Roadblock #1: We miss our bus.
Well, to be more accurate, we never had our bus. We were shooting for the 11:00AM into Express, but instead had to take tickets on the 12:00PM. Only mildly fazed, these things happen.

Roadblock #2: Dunkin Donuts is out of my donuts.
At this point, I should have known. No plain glazed raised... this day is just going to be off. But stupidly, we brushed off this clear sign from heaven and crossed the street to Mister Donut.

Roadblock #3: Mister Donut is out of my donuts.

... I ate some thing called a "rice ring". I am confident it is still wedged in the bottom of my stomach. This day will be a disaster.

Roadblock #4: Traffic.
The bus is late. We get into Seoul around 1:30PM. Jake is leaving. We are never gonna make it in time. No Itaewon for us. What this means in layman's terms is: no Taco Bell for us. Enter: sadness.

Okay. Regroup. We decide that the best way to salvage our afternoon would be to check out the purported Western grocery selection at Lotte World in Jamsil. It's only a few metro stops from our final destination and we're suddenly flush with time. We. Need. Pesto.

The hunt is on.

Roadblock #5: We get off at the wrong subway stop.
Why or how did this happen? Not totally sure. Can probably be chalked up to us not being able to count, but we had to be aided by an elderly Korean man in the station. Who then went on to mock our pronunciation of "Lotte". After about five minutes of discussion on this single topic, I still couldn't give you a correct answer.

Roadblock #6: We are starving, and there is no food.
We are now wandering about Lotte World, which is unpleasant. It looks like one of those attempting-to-be-fancy-but-really-just-has-a-lot-of-washed-out-pastel-colors-and-ugly-fountains-everywhere malls from the U.S. in the 1970s. This food court is nasty. We want out. We want sandwiches. This will not happen.

Roadblock #7: We cannot escape Pizza Hut.
Okay. My first night in Icheon, when I pulled up all jet-lagged and exhausted in a foreign country, I have to say: I was so thoroughly thankful to have a Pizza Hut in my city. I love Pizza Hut. I really do. But I don't love it every day. And Gustie and I had just eaten there the night prior. And I'm lactose intolerant. So this is shaping up to be unpleasant.

Roadblock #8: Our hands are tied.
Because we're foreigners, our waitresses assume we are stupid and trade in our full-size, full-menu menus for the English ones. Bah. Our pizzas come out twenty minutes apart, and Gustie is about to eat the table. An order of chicken fingers is accidentally sent to our booth. Thinking it is free service-ee for the wait, Gustie tears open a sauce packet, only to have the plate whisked away moments later. We start crying we are laughing so hard. Hunger delirium has set.

Roadblock #9: Korea does not make sense.
Gustie has advice that the pesto can be found in the "department store". I am skeptical. Department stores sell clothes, not condiments. I am wrong. We find pesto. It is roughly $12 USD. We do not care.

Roadblock #10: We do not really know how to find this concert.
Okay. Olympic Stadium. Should be evident. But there are signs in Jamsil leading to a Sports Complex. Is this different from the "Sports Complex" metro stop? We don't know. Risk it. Hop back on the subway.

Roadblock #11: There are no lockers. Anywhere.
I have a full backpack. I do not want to bring this thing into the concert. Most subway stops have locker banks for just this circumstance. The Sports Complex stop however, despite being the biggest, most open subway stop I've ever been to, does not have lockers. Curses.

Roadblock #12: Jenny does a faceplant.
Mhmm. Right in the middle of the subway station. Because, for some inane reason, there is a stage right in the middle of the subway station. This thing is only raised like six inches, but I am busy scoping the joint for the invisible lockers, and did not make this particular observation. It's too late. I go flying. Spectacularly so. And my backpack, which is now weighed down with tomato sauce and pesto continues it's trajectory over my shoulders, banging my head down to the ground. Delightful.

Roadblock #13: We need a hotel.
What's making this difficult is that the Olympic complex is sort of squatting right in-between two downtown areas. There is no hotel in walking distance that we can see. Okay, we shall find a taxi. No big deal.

Roadblock #14: We can't get a taxi.
We were turned down by a cabbie because he was not willing to make a U-turn.

I am about to kill someone.

Roadblock #15: Our eventual driver has no idea where we are going.

Roadblock #16: This is because our hotel address is wildly inaccurate.

Roadblock #17: Our hotel is out of Western style rooms.
What this means is that we will be sleeping on mats on the floor. Luckily by the time we actually got back to the hotel, we were way past caring about this.

Roadblock #18: We are running dangerously late.
It says on our tickets that the concert "may stop admitting" people after 5:30 PM.
It is 5:15 PM, and we are on the other side of the river. It is rush hour traffic. We are screwed.

Roadblock #19: We are in the nosebleed section and it's freezing.
After a breakneck sprint from the cab, we have arrived. We made it. Tickets are exchanged, beer is bought, and we find our seats. Which are in the second tier of an Olympic stadium. It is not close. We learn that our friends have snuck into the VIP area. Mood: sullen.

Roadblock #20: They are playing all ballads.
Seriously?? We came for some tunes. We are uninterested in your soulful murmuring in Korean. This is now boring.

We are out of here. The cheap beer buzz is wearing off, and we have dancing to do. Goodbye KPOP.

New plan. We're going out in Gangnam. Hoping to resurrect the broken shards of what was supposed to be an awesome day, we will recreate the splendor of our last trip to Gangnam. A trip to The Tacos has us feeling pretty good, and we are ready to rock out. Club time it is!

Roadblock #21: The club is a morgue.
There is nobody here. This is a train wreck.

The rest of the night was spent alternating between bars and clubs, drinking too much beer and rubbing elbows with way too many Koreans. I am sure that several fire code restrictions were violated in Noise Basement that evening.

The whole day was a complete disaster.

I suppose karmically, we had it coming. Korea has been pretty great so far; maybe we needed to have a dud.

I just hope the next bad day doesn't involve any more ballads and bruises.

<3 aggravation from Korea. Jenny.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Things We Do

I was just passed a note from one of my colleagues that was written by a student.

Here are the contents:

"T<3 Jennifer
Hello, Jennifer.
My name is Young Ah.
Firstly, I like you.
Because, you are my English teacher. And you like Korea.
?? I can speak English but little?? I'm sorry!!
I can't speak English very well. I'm sorry---
But I love you Jennifer --- <3

Thank You for my Teacher (Jennifer)

From. Jennifer's student (Young Ah) 2010.10.20"


My fingers are tapping on this black keyboard.

My desk smells like the grape gum that's rolling over my tongue.

This note is what's in front of my eyes.

This song is what's in my ears:

And this is what's on my mind:

I am happy.

<3 from Korea. Jenny.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

When You Say Wisconsin...

It still blows my mind. Let's break this weekend down, by the numbers:

Cities traveled: 3
Semi-sober conversations with non-Americans: 7?
Rounds of Cass: infinity
Songs sung at Korean kareoke: 19
Hours in mass transit: 5
Love hotels slept in: 1
Shots taken by Wisconsinites following the OSU game: 23

It's amazing I ever make it back to Icheon in one piece.
Sifting through the pics and texts now... back with details soon.

<3 from Korea. 제니파

Monday, October 11, 2010

What Happens In Hongdae...

My head snaps back up. I accidentally nodded off again. It's 7:42 AM, and I'm in a strange place once again. No ugly lamp this time, but as I watch the morning sun racing up outside the window, I am similarly disoriented. I rub my eyes. Doesn't help.

And then the silver-haired Korean man asleep next to me finally rouses.

We sort of appraise each other, embarrassed. Clearly this isn't where either of us thought we would end up this morning. I don't know your name, sir, but I do apologize for falling asleep on your shoulder. In any case, please let's not mention this again. I think we're both content to let this be a one-night thing.

Then the train screeches to a halt, and I quickly scamper off into the Gangnam Terminal.



I saw probably the most accurate reflection of my disheveled state in the eyes of Christine, an incredibly sweet English-speaking Korean news reporter on my bus back to Icheon. We had met a mere 12 hours earlier, on the bus into Seoul, back when my hair and outfit were still presentable.

Now, however, I am crashed into a red leather seat on the Dongbu Express, curled in a ball, wishing for death or breakfast, and Christine comes trotting down the aisle.

This. Is. Mortifying.

"Jennifer... did you get to sleep?"


"Ohh... I am sorry."

Later, she comes up to hand me a pear.

"This will help you."


This is what Hongdae does to people. I'm from the burbs. We don't party like this in 이천.

Started out as almost an afterthought. Angie and Gustie had never been yet, so sure, Friday. Let's go. Hit a club, have some beers. Little did we know.

First order of business: food. And by food, we mean chicken. We stopped at a restaurant literally called "Food Place". I love this country.

At dinner, we became acquainted with Angie's new friends: Natalia, of the Canadian persuasion, and Sam, a young English gentleman. Then the five of us dove into two platters of chicken and an enormous pitcher of beer.

** Author's Note: PALAU IS A COUNTRY, B*TCHES! I Wiki'd it. (Re: Having emerged from United Nations trusteeship (administered by the United States) in 1994, it is one of the world's youngest and smallest sovereign states.) Maybe you had to be there. In any case, all parties in attendance owe me a drink. **


It's club time.

I think we thought that finding a dance club would be a little more self-evident than it actually was. We wandered for a bit, and then ran into a group of Korean guys out celebrating a birthday. (Korea Fun Fact #8769: It is always somebody's birthday. If you have no excuse to go out and party, you're just not trying hard enough.) So, we're off. They ask if we prefer an electronic or a hip-hop club, but I don't really want to drop X in some Korean club bathroom, so hip-hop it is.

Begin the descent.

Into Cocoon, one of the biggest dance clubs I've ever seen in person. This place is wild. It's just this massive stimulus overload. There are people dancing in rows they are packed so tight. There are these neon green beams of light flashing everywhere. There are like five truly gigantic screens on one end of the club, playing music videos. There is a twenty-foot wide DJ booth with three emcees. There are poles and stairs and different levels and it is hot and booming. And we are right on top of all of it.

I don't really know what else to say about Cocoon, other than that it was absurd and almost too big. We were there for awhile... probably an hour or so, but after that we were so dehydrated and tired that we had to wade back over to the bar just for water. Decided that a smaller club was in order.

And what is right down the block?

Papa Gorilla.

To protect what's left of the dignity of everyone involved, I won't go into all of the gory details of Papa Gorilla Round 2. Suffice it to say, all five of us had a very interesting evening, and it took about two hours of debriefing Saturday afternoon to get the whole story on what happened Friday night.

Here's what I will tell you:

Someone ended up on the 7:30 AM bus back to Icheon.

Someone ended up passed out in the club's stairwell.

Someone made out with a Venezuelan.

Someone didn't leave Papa Gorilla until 6:30 AM.

Someone didn't watch The Bounty Hunters at the DVD 방. And changed clothes in a 24-hour KFC outside the subway terminal.

If you want the real story, you'll probably have to inquire later. Which will give us enough time to come up with something convincing.

<3 from Korea. Jenny.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Is This What You Thought It Would Be Like?

Do you ever get that feeling that you're just exactly where you need to be? Right place, right time, all that? Like your life is just lining up in exactly the way it's supposed to?

Yeah, me neither.

So, life. Here's what's on the docket for this weekend:

- accompany Angie and Gustie on their first Hongdae experience.
(If you are of the faithful variety, any shout-outs for our safety and navigational skills would be lovely.)

- possibly hang out with Miss Yun and her brother at some sort of Korean military facility?

- race back to Icheon for the cheap amazing beef restaurant with the Yeoju/Icheon crew.

- omelettes.

So, obviously none of this has actually happened yet- I'll let you know how it pans out. In the meantime...

I just want to say to my friends at home that may or may not read this-

I think about you all the time. I feel like Korea is the right place for me at the moment, but I miss you hard. I wish I could transport you all here with me and laugh maniacally while force-feeding you kimchi and soju, but you all have lives too and would not fit in my tiny pink apartment.

Kristen & Ben- you guys are in a photo on my desk in this hideously gaudy gold frame I found at the dollar store and my kids ask about you constantly. I'm going to try to print out more pics here, but if anyone has some to send me, I would love it.

Anywho. Sappy. Just wanted you to know I'm thinking of you and even though my life is sort of flipped upside down right now, my compass always points to the midwest.

<3 from Korea. Jenny.

Monday, October 4, 2010

This Water Tastes Like Melons

Oh, this is beautiful. Only took thirty-nine days and some vaguely pathetic pleading with a cranky but probably overpaid middle-aged T World rep, but I'm back in the world of telecommunications. It's red, it's shiny, there are some still-mysterious functions on it, but I HAVE A CELL PHONE.

010-4927-3009. Save that.

Korea Cell Phone Fun Fact #1: Texts cost 20 won. To put this in perspective for the folks in the states, 1,000 won= roughly 1 US dollar. Go Korea.

Just tested out a little bit of the Korean I practiced last night to great success. As long as someone wants to have the exact same conversation as "Sangmin" and "Jaemin" in this Teach Yourself Korean book I will have that sh*t on lock.

A few useful expressions covered in the "Cheers!" Unit of this text:

"Soju hana chuseyo."
- Please give me one soju.
(I lied. This will never be useful. I'm not sure I've ever ordered one at a time.)

"Kurigo anju-do chuseyo. Mwo issoyo?"
- And please give me bar snacks. What snacks do you have?

- Cheers!

I would type it out in Korean, but I'm not feeling that motivated at the moment. My procrastination level hasn't quite peaked yet.

What we were talking about again?

GEPIK Orientation? Sure.

So, this year the new GEPIK teachers' three-day orientation was held in Osan. Seemingly simple enough; Osan isn't super far from Icheon. Never been there though, so there is some trepidation. My cohorts for the trip- Gustie, Veanessa and Ben- tentatively agree that going up to the Seoul Express Bus Terminal would at least put us semi-close to the subway line we needed, so we got some tickets for the 8 o'clock. (Which we nearly missed while chatting on the platform.)

This was a stupid idea.

Gustie's co-teacher had given her some directions to Yatup, but being a little squirrely about going to a new terminal, we figured we couldn't go wrong with Gangnam. Well. Turns out...

So, we got to the Express Bus Terminal at 9:00 AM. We were supposed to meet the bus for people from Icheon, Yongin and Yeoju at the Jukjeon station. This was at least twenty subway stops away, with transfers. No way in hell we're doing it in 30 minutes.

Begin: Plan B.

There was (in the infinite wisdom of the GEPIK coordinators) a latecomers bus. It was set to leave from the Osan station at 10:45 AM. Basically, Osan was a similar number of metro stops, but along a different line. We figure surely we can get there by 10:45. So, executive decision. We're headed to Osan.

Plan B actually looked as though it would work. For about half an hour. It's right around 10:30, and we're optimistic about our chances. Three more stops. We can make it.

Then the train stops.

Everyone gets out.

We're oblivious to this for a few minutes before a Korean man tells us that this is the last stop. Say what?

We are very confused. The subway map clearly shows a continuance of this line to Osan. We're only two stops away, on a platform in the middle of nowhere. We are cursing Korea for this ridiculousness.

Just as we're contemplating trying to catch a cab (that probably would have had to materialize out of pure willpower) a train pulls up on the other side of the platform. Heading to Osan. This is insane. As it turns out, the line we were on has this weird one-stop offshoot from the platform we were on. Therefore, we had to switch from the LEFT side of the platform to the RIGHT side of the platform, to get to a different train going basically the same direction. Srsly.

Unfortunately, this is not the last of our problems. We miss the latecomers bus by about five minutes, so we are forced to take a cab. Our pre-orientation packets claim this trip will take about twenty minutes. Okay.

We scurry over to the taxi stand, pile ourselves and our stuffed backpacks/suitcases in, and hand the address over to the driver.

Blank, blank eyes, my friends.

This man has no idea where we're trying to go. We attempt to explain in our broken Korean. Osan? KSA? The address is written in English. We don't know. Other taxi-takers are waiting and annoyed. This is useless.

We go through about three different drivers before one finally claims to understand where we're trying to go. And even then, only with the strict guidance of the blessed GPS on his dash.

We finally pull up to the conference center. Frazzled, but miraculously not late for the opening ceremony. We have thirty minutes to get our room keys and dump our crap off. We gratefully exit the taxi.

And it's weird.

There are Americans everywhere. You don't really realize how unaccustomed you've become to hearing regular-pace English until you finally hear it again. It sounds insane, but it's sort of unnerving at first. These people can understand you. You will not have to play charades or gesticulate wildly to indicate that you are an American and happy to be in Korea. Yeah, it's weird.

But that was just the beginning.

Still to come: meeting and mocking people from lesser Midwestern states, learning samul nori and playing ping-pong with no paddles.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Playing Euchre In Korea

My mind is muddy. I have twenty-two names scribbled on the back of a bus ticket that I told myself I would try to find in cyberspace this morning, but typing "funny Australian guy" in the search bar is not helping.

I also just had to look up the proper spelling of "Australian". Ugh.

Things I've Done In The Last 72 Hours:
- got lost and missed both the regular and the latecomers buses on the way to Osan for GEPIK orientation
- took my first trip to Yeoju; ate dak galbi
- drank outside of a convenience store, multiple hours
- slept in a Winnie the Pooh blanket on the floor
- did a King Kong impression, onstage, in front of at least 300 people
- played traditional Korean samul nori
- got walked in on in the bathroom by a Canadian
- had my first normal-tasting Korean French fries at a bar at 3 AM
- celebrated Marc's birthday at midnight with a cake made out of chocolate Korean Little Debbies and a cigarette 'candle'

Once I review the pictures from this weekend, I'll be back with more details.

<3 from Korea. Jenny.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

We've Gotta Stop Meeting Like This

It is 9:37 AM.

This is strange.

Well, actually, any time I sleep past 8 o'clock these days is strange. I am lying on my left side, watching the red digital numbers blink for seven minutes. There is a truly ugly lamp in my field of vision, as well as a half-eaten bag of potato chips and a small mountain of clothes that smell like cigarettes.

As I roll over, I remember how sore I am. And when I spot the fully-dressed, fully-comatose forms of Kris and Gustie I remember where I am. And then I realize I'm also in all of my clothes from the night before. Ugh.

The shower pressure sucks. I'm not confident I even got the first layer of sweat and smoke off of my shoulders. The mirror is completely fogged up, which is fine, because I'm sure I look like hell anyway.

This is going to be a long day.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Chuseok is ending, and we're in denial. A night of rowdiness is in order, and Gangnam is where it's going to happen. It just happens to be the birthday of our new friend Kris, and we are more than happy to celebrate.

Gustie and I got the last two tickets on the 2 o'clock bus out of Icheon. That was the good news. The bad news was that the seats on the last row of the bus are horrible. There are armrests in inexplicable places, it is impossible to get comfortable, the afternoon sun is just a little too bright and the road construction is not helping the migraine that is slowly building behind my right eye socket.

But we get there.

Met up with Angie after some tribulation, hopped into a cab, and fifteen minutes later pulled up to the Tiffany Tourist Hotel. The front desk guy spoke pretty decent English, but probably not enough to make up to the fact that the lobby smelled like mildew and our room key weighed about a pound.

Sixth floor, room 601, looks like something out of a tawdry mid-century French sex novel, but at least there's two beds and one's a queen. Change of clothes, re-applied eyeliner and we're out of there. It's nothing much, but at least our sober selves thought ahead this time.

We meet up with the rest of the merry travelers off of Exit 5 at Gangnam Station and then set out to find some Turkish restaurant that was rumored to be in the area. Either this was a lie or our navigational skills leave something to be desired, because none of us had any Turkish food that evening.

But, then... shining, like a beacon in the night... a Mexican restaurant. Literally called "the Tacos". Yes, please. And twice.

(And yes, we ordered both the lemon and the lime margarita pitchers.)

After tearing into some chicken quesadillas and getting to know one another a little better, we began our little pub crawl. What's difficult about this is that we just ate, but Korea (being Korea) is sort of strange. There are a lot of bars here that will kind of force you to buy "anju" (or bar snacks) with your drinks, as kind of a profit-insurance, not-really-a-cover-charge-but-kind-of-is situation. So we actually had to go to a few different bars before finding some that weren't going to force us to squeeze a layer of Korean anju on top of the Mexican food-babies we were already carrying.

The first bar was pretty cool- very dark, long tables, gigantic big-screen TVs showing some Korean women's basketball. (They were playing Brazil.) I couldn't really say for sure all of the beverages consumed at Stop #1, but I do recall a ladies' round of neon-green appletinis that were incredibly sweet. Some beer, some Long Island Ice Tea, some other stuff... right before we left, the guys bought Kris a drink with a very dirty name. I shan't repeat it here, but it was lit on fire and that was exciting.

And then it was onward and upward. Problem was, 'upward' led us to a very strange bar. The place had plum-colored, crushed velvet-lined booths, with sparkling threads of beads that hung around every table, slightly obscuring the view of the (probably) dirty things that would transpire in (on?) them. We all sat, giggling uncomfortably, for about five minutes before we bolted.
We don't need any of that.

Finally. Another normal bar. And normalcy means the most gigantic, ridiculous pitchers of Miller I've ever seen. As well as at least two bottles of soju. I vaguely remember the sign on this place saying it was a "classy soju bar", but we were downing cheap beers like champs and the booths were held together with duct tape, so there you have it. My end of the table played a few rousing rounds of "Never Have I Ever". I won't name names, but someone's been arrested, and someone's had sex in an elevator. Scandalous.

By this point, we are definitely in the soju happy place, and we wanna dance. Gangnam was very accomodating. We troll over to this underground club called "Harlem" (all of the truly interesting stuff happens underground these days) and descend the black staircase into the middle of a club that looks like what I assume an acid trip feels like.

Let me try to set this up: when you enter the club, there is this gigantic, circular bar, that is fully lighted and changes color every two seconds. To the right is the dance area, with different areas of raised platforms. With poles. There's a live DJ somewhere, but I only saw him once, because this place has smoke billowing, and strobe lights flashing and more Korean club kids than you can shake a glowstick at.

We. Were. Psyched.

As per usual, the details all get sort of hazy after one has entered the Korean dance club. It's like a portal into the Twilight Zone. I remember meeting a lot of guys that were American military... some from Georgia, some from Texas, Louisiana, probably some other places. The bartender was from Omaha. I think.

At one point, an American guy named Fred introduced me to a nice, young Korean fellow named Leo. We danced for approximately four or five hours. In that time, I think I comprehended about four of his attempted English sentences, but he was a sweetheart.

As the night wore on, I was exhausted, bathed in sweat, and feeling every step of the mountain hike that Gustie and I had taken the day before. Thank God I was wearing boots, and not the prevalent four-inch stilettos. Sometime around 5 AM, half of the group left in pursuit of food, and Kris, Angie, Gustie and I held out for about another half an hour before it was time to call it a night.

Begin what was probably one of the funniest cab rides of my life that I remember none of.

And then one of the worst hangovers of my year which I remember all of.

Oh, Korea.

We've gotta stop meeting like this.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Cold Chicken, Professional Soccer and Korean Erectile Dysfunction Commercials: Chuseok Holiday 2010 (SATURDAY)


So, the original idea was to get lunch in Suwon. That was literally all that was set in stone. Lunch with Juanita and crew at Outback Steakhouse, and meeting up with Brent and Angie at 4:00. That was it. But I didn't make it back to my apartment until 8:00 PM.... Monday night.

Having a sirloin at Outback was an almost-religious experience. I am a carnivore. And even though Korea indulges my meat-eating ways (sort of), I was jonesing.

It. Tasted. So. Good. Om nom nom.

At lunch, we met some of Juanita's buddies, one of whom told us about some things to do in Suwon, including a soccer game at the Suwon World Cup Stadium that was free for foreigners that night. Free for foreigners?? Cheers, Korea.

After lunch, we popped into the third floor bookstore, which (wonder of wonders) had an English section! We were like kids in a candy store. Except way nerdier. I picked up a few paperbacks: A Thousand Splendid Suns and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. (Sidebar: wandering around Icheon today, I saw a Korean version of A Thousand Splendid Suns.) I think that the Madison GEPIK kids may be starting a rotating English books library.

Shortly thereafter, we located Brent and Angie, and wandered into a small second-floor cafe to muse about our jobs and Korean oddities. Even though the GEPIK program is somewhat standardized, everyone's experience varies so much. After hearing about some of the things that other kids have gone through (horrifying apartments, temp housing, sickness, being dragged to Jehovah's Witness meetings by host families) I am quite pleased with my situation here in Icheon.

We decided that we were all about seeing some Korean soccer (I've been wondering what all the fuss was about) so we set our sights on finding the Suwon World Cup Stadium. This is difficult when one does not speak Korean. But right outside of the Suwon subway station there is this thing called a "taxi stop". It's such a stupidly simple idea, but I don't recall ever seeing one in the U.S. It's literally just a section of a road where taxis line up and so everyone knows where to go to catch a cab. The thing is here, there are at least two different types of taxis. There are the regular ones, which are usually silver or white, and then there are "deluxe" taxis. The only really obvious difference is that deluxe taxis are painted black, and also have completely black tinted windows. I assume this is for privacy while rich Korean businessmen snort coke off the thighs of very expensive prostitutes, but I guess we'll never know.

So, we all piled in our non-deluxe, mere-mortals cab, and speed off in what we are praying is the general direction of the World Cup Stadium. Luckily, our cab driver is savvy, although she is watching Korean game shows on her GPS, which is slightly unnerving when there are four lanes of traffic all going 80 km/hr. We screech to a halt, pile out, and are standing right in front of one of the most enormous soccer stadiums I've ever seen. This thing is monstrous. And so freaking awesome. We are like six-year-olds.

Well, maybe alcoholic six-year-olds. Why Korea Is Awesome #39: You can bring booze pretty much anywhere. We kind of scope out the place, take some obligatory pictures (especially in front of the free-standing bathroom SHAPED LIKE A SOCCER BALL. Really. I couldn't make this up.) and then head across the street for some snackage. The hometown team is the Suwon Bluewings, and there are people in jerseys all over the place, particularly in the convenience store that we popped into. Couple of tallboys of Cass, some water and potato chips, and it was game on.

Now, we had heard in passing at lunch that this game was free, but this had never really been confirmed by anyone, and we had no idea how to obtain tickets. We kind of wandered up into the complex and were looking at ridiculously over-priced Bluewings jerseys when this adorable Korean staffwoman comes up behind us, beckoning for us to join her. (Racial profiling for the win.) And then she just hands us all free tickets, no questions asked. Sweet.

This stadium is b.a.l.l.e.r. I probably couldn't do this description justice without pictures, but suffice it to say, it is enormous and super-cool. We were in row 7, and the field is super green and the fans are psyched and some are waving Che Guavera flags (that one we haven't figured out yet) but it is just... cool. The team lost, 2-0, but it was really surreal to be at this professional soccer game, in Korea, knowing that the Badgers were playing ASU in the morning, cold chicken and warm beer, Korean kids chanting cheers we couldn't understand.

Today, I was looking at this file I have on my computer of just interesting pictures I find in my cyber travels, and there is this one of some graffiti. I don't know where it is, or who wrote it, but it just says this:

"You are alive."

And that's what it felt like.

You are watching Korean soccer. You are drinking beer with your new friends.
You are content.

And you are alive.

Later, other stuff happened... like we got kicked out of a taxie by an irrate cabbie, traversed the Seoul metro and I slept in a ball on Angie's apartment floor. But more on that later.

<3 from Korea. Jenny.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Cold Chicken, Professional Soccer and Korean Erectile Dysfunction Commercials: Chuseok Holiday 2010 (FRIDAY)

I am sitting in a suite at the Hotel D'Or in Itaewon. Keanu Reeves is angry about something on the American channel, there are five KFC boxes on the floor and I can't find my pants.

And this is how I got here.


Koreans, God bless them, have many national holidays. Chuseok, also known as Korean Thanksgiving, happens to be occurring right now. Well, technically it's Tuesday through Thursday, but if you're lucky, your school will let you off for Monday and Friday as well. Gustie and I are lucky. And lucky girls sleep until 10 AM in their swanky hotel suites with jacuzzi tubs. Sadly, Angie, our partner in small crimes, had to depart early this morning. But that's getting ahead of the story.


For me, Chuseok began at 4:30 PM on Friday. With mysteriously delivered rice cakes in saran wrap. Really. Things just appear on my desk all the time. But I departed the school, rice cakes in hand, on the way to the bus terminal. The goal for the night was Chinese food and general debauchery with some members of the Icheon foreigner crew.

Met up with Felicia, Sean and Gustie at the station, hopped on the 8, and stopped right by the restaurant a very sweaty twenty minutes later. (City buses tend to be PACKED right after school, and Friday was no exception. Definitely rubbed more than a few elbows with the locals.) After a brief conversation with some very drunk guys outside the ATM, we headed up for some Chinese cuisine. (Because can you really have enough Asia? Ever?)

After dinner, we walked down a whole two flights of stairs to land right in front of a bar. (I love this city.) And there, we made an awesome discovery. Korea Fun Fact #486: a lot of the tables in bars or restaurants have these little call buttons on the side, enabling you to summon your waitress whenever you want. These shall be known henceforth as "booze buttons".

Many pitchers later, we had made it through just about every flavor of "soju margaritas" the place offered, and an idea was born. Felicia had bought West some post-its, ostensibly for remembering important, job-related things. We decided, however, that they should be re-appropriated for scribbling down the hilarities of the evening. (With a compilation version to be produced at the end of the year.) A sampling of the "things to remember":

- drink soju (with check-mark added)
- learn to talk English-ee
- perform sacrilege on the metro transit
- don't get beat up by adjummas

A most excellent evening.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Apple-Flavored Soju and the Goddamned Flat Chopsticks

I've just been handed a bottle of canola oil for no discernable reason. I am gnoshing on gigantic purple grapes and fresh tomatoes. My vice principal, two desks away, is wearing a pink glitter tie.

Just another day in the office.

So... it's been an interesting 48 hours. On Tuesday morning, Mrs. Kim informed me that I was being sent away for a day to go get "mentored". Whatever. No school. Wednesday morning, I slept in until SEVEN THIRTY A.M. And it was glorious. It's really about the small pleasures here.

My particular mentoring experience was set up with the native speaker at Seolbong Middle School, which is about a fifteen minute trot from my apartment. It was a part of town I hadn't really been in before, and I discovered about three fried chicken restaurants I had no idea existed. (Korea Fun Fact: People really dig fried chicken here. Well, chicken is all of it's forms actually. I have absolutely no problem with this, but it does make me laugh.)

Anyway. I got to Seolbong Middle, which is signifcantly larger than Daewol. I kind of wandered around looking for the admin office, and eventually got steered in the right direction. Right as I got back into the hall, I spotted my mentor for the day, Adrian. Now, I don't know if I just have this really U.S.-centric view of English speakers, but I was surprised to discover that Adrian was South African. As it turns out, about half of the English teachers here in Icheon are South African. Cool.

Basically my day consisted of Seolbong students alternately staring at me or ignoring me, and sitting on Adrian's couch in the back of the English room. I think the idea was that I was supposed to observe his teaching style and ask him questions that my co-teachers just wouldn't understand... for seven hours. But Adrian is a nice guy, and answered all of my "OhmahgodIjustdon'tunderstandthisfreakingcountry"-type queries.

Then we looked at comics.

Adrian introduced me to this website: It's basically these comics for/by foreigners about the perpetual weirdness and contradiction that is Korea. Illicits cries of "That's SO true!" every five minutes. Take a gander.

So, the teaching stuff was all well and good, and I did take some of Adrian's advice about discipline style, but the real value of the day came after class was over. Adrian and I left the school at about 4:30 PM and briefly met up with one of his friends, Dawn, (another South African teacher here) who invited me to dinner with a group of Icheon English teachers. Hello spontaneity.

Obviously, I have very little resembling a social life, and I'd been wondering where all the Icheon expats were hiding, so I was in. Turns out they'd been about two blocks away the whole time; the restaurant we ended up at was about one street over from my apartment.

And then I met about half of the foreigners in Icheon.

Talk about a diverse group. Just a sampling from the party: a bubbly, vivacious South African woman, a newbie from Philly, two seminarians, a West Coaster, an East Coaster, a Minnesotan and me.

So about midway through the meal, I realize that I am in Icheon, South Korea, discussing the Ground Zero mosque project with two seminary students, one Korean/Canadian, one Kenyan, eating Korean fried pork and downing countless liters of Cass beer. Living in Korea is like a constant exercise in surrealism.

After dinner, a few of us went out for further alcohol, at a second-floor bar named "Cheers". Seven shot glasses and pitchers of neon-green apple soju appear, and it's sweeter than sweet. We're talking about bridges and Costco and the DMZ and mac and cheese and it's great.

We're all having dinner again tonight, with the happy addition of Gustie.

It's all just... interesting.

I sort of realized it this afternoon- this is exactly what I wanted. I wanted to make something new for myself; I wanted to have something throw me off balance. I'm like a weeble wanting to be wobbled. And Korea's doing it. But right now... it's really good. Even when it's aggravating and awkward and infuriating.

It's really really good.

<3 from Korea. Jenny.

Monday, September 13, 2010

900 Korean Schoolchildren Are All Yelling Your Name

Hey all,

So I guess this is going to be a frequent posting week, mostly since it's Tuesday. On Tuesdays I have one class, and it's already done, so I'm killing time in the library. It occurred to me that I haven't really talked much about my actual school, which is a large chunk of my daily existence here in Korea, so I thought I'd give you all a sneak peek into the goings- on of Daewol Middle.

I suppose I'll start with the 'scenic backdrop': Daewol is basically this country area outside of Icheon City Proper. (According to the tiny tourist map, it looks to be generally southeast of Icheon itself, where my apartment is.) Every day I get picked up by Miss Ha, the adorable, super-nice Special Ed teacher here. At Daewol, the English translation they have on the door is the "Love Class". So, Miss Ha picks me and two other teachers up in her tiny red Matiz, and we embark on the 25-30 minute ride out to Daewol. It takes like 10-15 minutes just to get out of the city and pass the major highways, and there are a lot of small mountains and little villages in the area. The actual road that gets to my school, (I think it's called Ch'oji-ri, don't quote me), passes Konkuk University and also goes by the Daewol Elementary. I've met the guy that works as the Native speaker there, Mark, who is from Vancouver and gives me advice on the futility of certain Korean beauracratic systems. He's been here six years, so he's sort of like my Icheon "Yoda". Very wise.

Once you actually pull up to the school, there is this gigantic, pristine soccer field right in front. Our kids are very good at soccer, and some are just generally uninterested in anything else. I don't think they usually play games here, but sometimes I watch them practice after school. The road that the teachers drive up rounds the right side of the school and there is a back parking lot that leads right into the back entrance. (The front one is a little more grandiose, but nobody really uses it.) Right when we get in the door, there is a big wall of little wood cubbies, because you don't wear your street shoes in the school. (It's kind of funny- there are all these rows and rows of Korean names, and mine just says "JENNIFER".) In school here, all the kids wear these rubber sandals that look a lot like those Adidas black and white striped jellyish sandals that kids in the U.S. used to wear. The teachers sometimes get sort of fancier ones, but I just wear the ones the kids do. They're comfier. Korea really embraces the socks and sandals combo.

So, Daewol is in the public school system, but the kids all wear uniforms. The basic get-up is a light-blue checkered shirt with an embroidered nametag (the nametags are different colors depending on their grade level) and navy blue pants or navy plaid skirts. Some of the kids seem to do anything to not wear their uniform shirts, and I can't say that I really blame them. They all look pretty cute though. A lot of them have these gigantic, black plastic Harry Potter-esque glasses that I have fallen in love with. Actually, in my afternoon conversation classes (which are pretty small) there are these three boys that all sit right in a row with these glasses, and it's adorable.

The school itself is a big rectangle. The 3rd grade (8th grade in the U.S.) has classrooms downstairs, which is also where the Love Class, music room, science lab, admin office and cafeteria are, and the 1st and 2nd grades are upstairs, with the library, nurse's office, and "broadcasting room". Still no further details about the broadcasting room. It's a mystery.

The way that most schools operate is that the teachers all have desks in large room, with low partitions so that you can see everybody. Some schools have specific "English rooms" where all of the signs and stuff are in English, but we don't have one at Daewol. And the really big difference from U.S. schools is that here, it is the teachers that move around to different classes, not the students. Every class has one room that they stay in for the majority of the day, and the teachers just haul their laptops and materials around everywhere. May have to invest in a messenger bag sometime soon. Although my school laptop is still being fixed, so I guess it's not an immediate thing.

Even though the school is generally pretty modest, every classroom has these giant flat-screen TVs that the teachers can hook their laptops up to for powerpoint presentations and showing movies, etc. I use these a lot. We also have a lot of whiteboards, but they aren't white. They're greenboards. So you use these sort of paint-markers. The kids all have desks like in the U.S., and little cubbies at the back of the room for their books. The shoes are all kept in these shelves outside of the classroom. (Sidebar: A student just looked over my shoulder to see what I was typing, and started shaking her head in disbelief at all of the English and how fast I was typing. Haha. They keep trying to ask me questions in Korean, which is sort of failing.)

Ah... what else... the classes are pretty standard, 45 minutes long. The bells are a little different here; they are sort of this weird melodic Korean music. Interestingly, the kids have a bell at the end of class, 10-15 minutes in-between classes, and then there is another bell. The teachers don't leave to go to the classroom until AFTER the second bell. Seems kind of strange to me... like all of our set-up time takes place right at the beginning of class.

안녕하세요 (One of my students just typed this for me. It says "annyang haseyo" which is "hello" in Korean.) :) She just asked me if my friends would read this, and I said yes. We're in-between classes at the moment, which is why there are kids running around.

The students are kind of funny here. The range is amazing, because some of them clearly haven't hit pubery yet, and are super-short. But there was a kid in my last class that was taller than me with a very deep voice that the other kids get a kick out of. A lot of the kids are really energetic, but some of them are too cool for school, and really don't want to learn English at all. It's definitely a delicate balance trying to get an entire class to stay with you for a whole lesson. I guess it's only the second week and we're still working out the kinks. Even though they get squirrely in class sometimes, in the hallways they are all really nice to me, and a lot of them will yell out "HI JENNIFER!" when we're in the halls. I guess we have to expand the vocabulary to include more chit-chat, but for now it's fine. If I ask them how they're doing, a lot will just say "Good!" and run away giggling. There are a lot of giggling children in my life these days.

Well, I guess that's about it for this installment of "Really Long Descriptions of Jenny's Work Environment", but maybe sometime I'll tell you about the cafeteria, which is often a lot more humorous.

<3 from Korea. Jenny.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Hongdae (Hongdaze?) Part II

Okay, where was I? Friday night downpour in Hongdae...
(Oh, and I'm safely back in Icheon now, for all of you keeping score at home.)



For all of you Madison folk, it's sort of like a gigantic, multi-street State Street. But with much more bars and cars, bright lights, beautiful young club kids, and monsoon weather.

Okay, it's not really like Madison at all. But it is interesting. And loud. And it's a good thing I bought an umbrella on a whim at the bus terminal, because it is POURING. But there are still thousands of intrepid partiers in the streets, determined to have their good time. Through wind or rain or dark of night. (And actually, in this case, all three.)

The first stop was food. (Waiting for lost Jennys for over two hours makes for hungry Rachels.) So we ended up at a "Mr. Kebab's" of all places. As I'm sure most of you know, I was in Israel just a few months ago, so having some shwerma in the middle of Seoul was kind of surreal. And tasty.

After dinner (and drying out some) the bar search commenced. Honestly, the whole thing is a little daunting. How do you choose where you want to go when there are literally hundreds of bars of every style and persuasion in your immediate vicinity? Do you want to dance? Do you want to quietly sip soju? Do you want to meet foreigners? Or Koreans? Or just drink anonymously? So many options.

Luckily, this choice was quickly taken care of, as Rachel's buddies were already staked out at a table in an underground club- 'Papa Gorilla'. (Throughout the night, as things got much blurrier, this was also referred to as "Mama Monkey" and sometimes just "that primate bar...?") We were downstairs just long enough to stash our bags in (very convenient) lockers before heading off to another venue- 'Gold Bar'. Gold Bar was pretty standard in terms of the Korean nightlife I've witnessed so far. Reallly dark bar, with roving, flashing brightly colored strobe lights. Loud music. Model-beatiful bartenders. And shot glasses.

Our particular band of merry travelers that night happened to include a birthday boy. (Names have been ommitted to protect the drunk, although I'm sure they'd all admit it to you.) And birthdays mean Jose Cuervo. Served with nacos, chicken, bowls of peaches, and other semi-identifiable snacks. The other semi-identifiable element of the night was definitely nationalities. If I had to hazard a guess, I'd say that there were about six or seven countries represented in our group alone. (For those interested: American, Canadian, Welsh, British, South African, Korean, Saudi and a few others I couldn't really confirm.) Everyone is eating and drinking and having a fine time, but nobody seems to be getting particularly drunk. Because that's the thing about partying in Hongdae... it sneaks up on you, and then hits like a ton of bricks. And that ton of bricks hit right as we left Gold Bar to go back to Papa Gorilla.

The first stop at Papa Gorilla had been pretty tame. There were maybe twenty people in the whole bar. Now, it was PACKED. Remember, this place is underground, so all of the heat and sweat and music don't really have anyplace to go. It has this heavy, hot atmosphere, pretty sparse except for long, thin tables that people are now dancing on top of. Okay.

So, drinks at Papa Gorilla are really cheap, and a fair amount of them come in buckets. Not dissimilar to the popular fishbowl, but a lot less sophisticated. (As though fishbowls were sophisticated.) No, these- these are just plastic buckets. Like ice cream pails. And they are fantastic.

Buckets at Papa Gorilla make you do crazy things. Like dance on tables, or with people you just met (whose names you may or may not have known at the time, and that are definitely erased from your memory now), or singing along to Ke$ha in public. I fell asleep in the cab on the ride home, but then again it was 4 AM.

But's that's Papa Gorilla.
And that's Hongdae.

And it's awesome.

<3 from Korea. Jenny

[Author's Note: To any and all concerned parties (especially grandmothers) that may be reading this- I was very safe and with friends the entire time. I promise.) :)

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Hongdae (Hongdaze?) Part I

So, I'm sitting here, in Rachel's loft in Bucheon, trying to think up some adjectives to even begin to describe Seoul. It all seems to go by in a blur, and basically the things that surface in your memory are bright lights, smoky bars, glinting bottles of imported liquor, mirrors everywhere, tiny gorgeous Korean women in four-inch heels and rain.

Welcome to Hongdae.

So, as far as I understand it, Hongdae is sort of the University area of Seoul, and lends itself to a young, arty, bar-filled atmosphere. I had decided to be adventurous, and now armed with a functional ATM card, I was ready to take a trip up to the big city. Rachel graciously agreed to put me up for the weekend, and so I told her I'd meet her at the #1 exit off of the subway next to Gangnam Bus Terminal.

And that's where the trouble started.

I think I was conscious of my cell-phone dependency prior to coming here, but two weeks in Korea without a phone, combined with spotty internet access, has been awful. If you want to meet up with someone, you have to shoot them an e-mail with a time and place, hope they see it by then, hope they can figure out where it is, and hope that they are even free to meet up. There is quite a lot to go wrong in that equation, and Gustie and I missed each other about four times in Icheon. And that's Icheon. Icheon is miniscule in comparison to Seoul. So I really didn't understand what I was getting myself into.

[To backtrack, there are two buses that go from my city, Icheon, to Seoul. One is a bus that goes to the Dong-Seoul Terminal (which is East Seoul, crossing the Han River) and one is the "express bus" (nothing is express on Friday night) which goes to the Gangnam terminal- more on the Western side of Seoul, and closer to Rachel's surburb, Bucheon. So I'm on the route to the Gangnam. Okay, resume.]

The bus I'm on left the Icheon Terminal at about 6:30 PM, and they claim that the trip is about an hour to an hour and a half. This is a filthy lie. Maybe on a Tuesday at two in the morning. But on Friday afternoon, when most normal people actually want to come into the city, it's a nightmare. So, poor Rachel has the impression that I could be there as early as 8:00 PM, which is a fallacy. Including the time I got lost in the labyrinth that is Gangnam Station, we found each other a little closer to 10 or 11 PM. By this time I am aggravated, sweaty and starving, so my weekend vacay to the city has not had a good opening number.

And then the rain starts.

Rain in Korea is different than regular rain. You just can't get away from it. Umbrellas are a permanent accessory. It is monsoon season, and if you are caught without an umbrella, you are screwed. And soaked. Pretty much instantaneously.

So, that's what happened first. Haggard, frustrated, cell-phone-less country girl is catapulted into the hot, humid rainy hi-speed merry-go-round that is Seoul. Hilarity and tequila ensues. But more on that later. Rachel and I are about to head back to the bus station and grab some lunch.

To be continued...

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The DMV From Hell (or Jenny Visits the Suwon Immigration Office. And Then Eats Korean McDonalds.)

What do you get when you take thousands of foreigners, bring them to South Korea, and withhold cell phones and bank accounts without domestic identification?

Really long lines at the Immigration Offices.

* * * *

So, I'm sitting at my desk on Monday, minding my own business, and then Mrs. Kim saunters up. It's always something, and this day was no exception. "JINIPAH! You need to go to Suwon. To get your Alien Card! Tomorrow! No school!"


Now, I understand that they want us teachers to, you know, not have criminal records and HIV, and I have no problem with this conceptually. But then she drops the real bomb: that I will be going on this little adventure.... alone. Because the other teachers have things to do, and on Tuesdays I'm pretty expendable, so this voyage will be solo.

Now. I know where Suwon is, geographically. Sort of. It's pretty much directly west of Icheon. But I have only used the Icheon Bus Terminal a grand total of one time, and that was on the way in two weeks ago. When I was jet-lagged and half-asleep. So I am not very confident in my skills here. Basically, my mission is this:

Take a bus you've never used, to a city you've never been to, to an office you've never seen, fill out forms you don't understand, wait for two hours, and then come home. By yourself. Love, Mrs. Kim.

I was feeling pessimistic.

As it turned out though, getting on the bus was not the difficult part. Basically, you just walk up to the window, say the city you're trying to get to, pray you're pronouncing it right, and then fork over some cash. They give you a ticket, and then you wander through the platform trying to decipher the different signs, although they have switched it up just to spite you, and these signs, you discover, are written VERTICALLY. So, this takes about fifteen minutes, until some merciful soul comes over and spins you in the right direction. Suwon is station #8, if you were wondering.

The bus ride was about an hour long, and goes through some smaller areas on the way, like Yongin and others I can't remember. It's very mountainous, and the views are amazing. We went through a lot of long tunnels. Getting to Suwon is not quite as picturesque. It is a much bigger city than mine (Icheon is about 200,000 and Suwon is about a million) so the roads are enormous- lots of four-lane highways. Mrs. Kim has instructed me to get off at "Yeongtongdong" which turns out to basically be a bus stop on the side of the highway.

This presents issue #2: how does one hail a cab when they are all going 80 km/hour?

At first I wasn't even seeing any cabs, so I started walking down the street a ways, but then one finally popped up. I stuck my hand out, and honest to God, this taxi crossed three lanes of traffic and missed a metro bus by about a foot to brake right in front of me. Okay. Taxi: obtained. My Korean is only modestly less terrible than it was last week, but still does not include any casual taxi chitchat, so it was a quiet ride to the Immigration Office. It hasn't been made clear to me whether or not you're supposed to tip cab drivers here, so I didn't. There may or may not be two Suwon cabbies with a very poor impression of Americans now; I hope they do not take this out on any foreigners that may be reading this. My bad. (Have just consulted my co-teacher, Mr. Hyun, on this point: the answer is no, you don't tip them. Interesting.)

So, the Suwon Immigration Office. If I never have to go back there for the rest of my life, I'll be very happy. This brief moment of hope was immediately extinguished however; I have to return in two weeks to pick up my stuff. You can't just get the card on the spot. Argh.

Basically, a very very very long story short: it's exactly like the DMV. You grab a number, fill out a form, and wait in a room with hundreds of people waiting for the two government workers to get through everyone. When I got there, they were at #51. My number was 123. I made a lot of progress in my novel and eavesdropped on the languages I could understand. There was one hilarious, pissed-off Brit in the corner who kept stage-whispering European profanities, which was probably only for our benefit, because the workers seemed completely non-plussed by the huge and ever-increasing crowd of people.

When it was finally my turn, the man just took my forms, muttered to himself for a few minutes, and said to come back in two weeks. Gave me a receipt, and I was done.

Pretty anticlimactic, I know. Welcome to Korea's red tape.

On the plus side, the week has gotten a lot better from there. Gustie and I have managed to find Pizza Hut and a working ATM (over-joyed about this particular discovery) and there is some bar exploration planned for the future. Finding good beer would be quite a coup. But more on that later.

<3 from Korea. Jenny

Friday, September 3, 2010

This Is How Twenty Korean Teachers Get Down

Hey all,

So, yesterday was interesting. My day started out really horrible, but ended with my 40-something Korean colleague during the thriller dance in the middle of a seedy kareoke room with red booths, a disco ball and about thirty empty Cass cans.

And here's the story.

Korean food hates me. And my stomach hates it right back. Yesterday, the grudge match came to a head, and Korean food won. I was at my desk at school, basically doubled over after another insanely spicy dose of Daewol cafeteria cuisine, when my co-teacher rushes over. While I was pretty sure she came to give me Korean teaching guideline #5,000, she noticed my state of hell, and brought me up to the school's infirmary. (Incidentally, right next to the "broadcasting room". What gets broadcast from a rural middle school in Icheon? This eludes me.) So she hands me over to the new school nurse, who gives me a hot pad and a bed, and I basically lie there for an hour trying to ride out the pain, all the while students coming in and out of the nurse's office, wondering what's wrong with Jennifer-teacher. Delightful.

Eventually, the pain either digests or subsides, and I felt slightly better. I went back to my desk to half-heartedly make more slides for my Introduction powerpoint I'll be using next week. Upon my re-arrival to the office, Mrs. Kim informs me that we will be having a "teachers dinner" that evening, and we're all leaving at 4:30.

Now. I really like my teachers. But I was in no mood to eat more Korean food, and I was going to beg off. But I didn't. So, we hop in Mrs. Kim's silver car, with what is probably a $1000 GPS but AC she refuses to use even in post-typhoon humidity, and we were off.

We arrived at the restaurant, and I was surprised to see that we were actually at one of the old-style Korean meal joints, complete with a shoe rack, seat pads on the floor and tables that are about a foot high. Add some table burners and about 500 semi-identifiable side dishes, and voila! Korean dinner. The main course were these pork strips, that looked a lot like thick-cut bacon and were a bugger to try to stab with chopsticks. All of the teachers from the school piled in, and within five minutes, the place was a total buzz of Korean chatter, simmering pork and really loud fans that did absolutely nothing for the immense heat coming through the windows.

Now, I'd heard about Korean drinking traditions. I thought I'd been adequately prepared. I was mistaken. I don't know exactly how many bottles of soju our two tables went through, but I'd have to guess it was at least 10-15, not counting the beer that was also flowing. It seemed like every five minutes one of the teachers was coming over to pour you a glass. After about five shots of the stuff, I was feeling no pain, and the other teachers seemed mildly impressed that I could even keep up. (Thanks, Madison.) It was actually really funny seeing my really formal Vice Principal thoroughly buzzed, pouring drinks for everyone, letting his hair down. The meal went on forever, and we ate a ton, and I remember about 70% of it. But it was fun.

The night did not end there, however. After dinner, the P.E. teacher, whose name I don't think I know yet, insisted that we traipse over to the nori-bang (kareoke room) right across the streets. The younger female teachers were just drunk enough to agree that this was a fabulous idea, so we all rambled over.

Cue the kareoke room: gigantic, sticky tiled floor. Red leather seats. Table full of beer in the middle. Disco ball overhead. Enormous TV screen with what looks like Korean music videos from the nineties rolling in a loop. More beers, and then the madness began.

Korean teachers know how to get down. Miss Yun, the math teacher whose desk is across from mine was yowling like a rock star, the nurse was on tambourine, the P.E. teacher was dancing like he was in a 90s boy band, and the rest of the crew was bopping and drinking and singing along for every song. The science teacher, (name also unknown), was definitely the best though. He was popping and locking like it was nobody's business, and coming up to me every ten minutes insisting that I dance with him. Seeing him on Monday is definitely going to be funny.

After many, MANY Korean pop songs, and probably more beers, we finally retired to our respective rides. Luckily, Miss Ha, my driver for the evening, doesn't drink very much, so we all got home in one piece. After meandering back to my apartment, I collapsed into bed, and slept in until 8 AM. Quite the partier, this girl.

So, that was my Friday. Hope your's was just as enjoyable. And if it wasn't- just find a middle-aged Korean teacher. They're ragers. :)

Miss you all!

<3 from Korea.


Tuesday, August 31, 2010

First Week in Icheon

Annyang haseyo!

So, as most of my friends/family are probably aware by now, I am officially in South Korea. So far it has been pretty surreal. I definitely have a new appreciation for my international student friends and expats in Madison; it is SO hard being dropped in a foreign country if you don't have a good grasp of the language.

Anyway, my first few days were a mix of mundane and hectic. For the first couple of nights in town I didn't have a fan in my apartment, so that was hell. It is the tail end of monsoon season here, so in general it is hot and muggy (and usually rainy) ALL THE TIME. Today the weather has been a little nicer, but it was drizzling for a while when I was out.

My first night here had some funny moments; it's probably easier to just bullet point them than try to put them in any kind of order:

- the bus from the Incheon airport to Icheon was ridiculous. We were in Seoul's Friday rush-hour traffic, so a ride that would normally have taken 2- 2 1/2 hours took about four.

- the first place that my co-teacher, Mrs. Kim, took me upon arrival was E-Mart, which is essentially the Korean Wal-Mart. E-Mart has escalators that you can take CARTS on. It is crazy. Also, I looked crazy, after a thirteen hour flight and a four hour bus trip. We ate in the food court, and I realized that Koreans eat about 3x more per meal than Americans do. Interesting.

- the first few days in my apartment I didn't realize that my shower head, (which hangs on the wall in my bathroom opposite my mirror- no curtain or door) had a hook so I could hang it above my head. My first shower was definitely bizarre.

- when my co-teacher and I first got to my apartment (or officetel as she calls it) she couldn't remember the door code, so it took like ten minutes to get in. Fun fact: my building (called White Vill, ironically enough) has no keys. It's all code-pads, which I guess is nice. If you know the code, which we didn't. Now it's seared into my memory. And I'm actually kind of happy about never having to endure a lost-key crisis.

- Korean mattresses are FIRM. This is not an exaggeration. Even after a mattress pad and a comforter (pink, of course; thank you Mrs. Kim) it is still like sleeping on a board. Am currently looking into rectifying this.

Well, there is a lot more to say, but for the moment my fingers are tired of typing, and my time at the internet cafe is about to expire. I'll try to post more frequently; now that I have the controls in English instead of Korean that should be exponentially simpler. :D

Miss all of you in the States. Wish me luck; first day of school tomorrow!

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Part of the Blogosphere? Ugh.

Oh dear. It's finally happened.

I have created a blog.

So, based on the thoroughly narcissistic premise that you all will be clamoring for the sordid details of my life and travels, I have actually created a blogspot account. I'll try to update it with the interesting stuff, like naked spa baths and being force-fed squid.

In any case, the Korea countdown is getting down to the wire: four days until I leave for Chicago, five until I am actually on a plane.
Packing status: inconclusive.