A turtle travels only when it sticks its neck out ~Korean Proverb



Things one may see in Korea and not the US.

  1. Women holding hands everywhere
  2. Men who look uncompromisingly gay (possibly the majority)
  3. Cars that park or drive on sidewalks
  4. Hard liquor in 7-eleven
  5. Girls constantly taking pictures of themselves with their cell phones
  6. Under-priced everything, except pizza, antiperspirant, and peanut butter.
  7. No trash cans, anywhere.
  8. Women climbing mountains in high heels.
  9. Refrigerators specifically for kimchi.
  10. Affordable medical care.

Differences between Korean Americans and Native Koreans. (Warning, broad generalizations and jokes)

  1. Korean American women dye their hair. Girls here tend towards black hair.
  2. Korean American men dress like thugs, native Korean men dress like flamboyant homosexuals.
  3. American Koreans rarely talk to you, and if they do, they are usually only talking Korean around you. Native Koreans like to talk Korean and English (if they know it) with you.
  4. Korean American women shave their legs. Native Korean women often do not.
  5. Korean Americans are Christian, native Koreans are Buddhist or Catholic.
  6. Native Korean women tolerate latent and blatant sexism that Korean American women generally would not.
  7. Most mentioned individual by Korean Americans: Jesus Christ.
  8. Most mentioned individual by Native Koreans: Current pop star
  9. Most college aged Native Korean women live with their parents and have strict curfews.
  10. Native Korean men treat women like dirt, as compared to Korean American men who treat women like larger stones or rocks.

Things I dislike

  1. Lack of trash cans
  2. A male image of beauty that makes Oscar Wilde look like a monk.
  3. Girls constantly giggling or saying “Chincha?!” all the time
  4. How the tap water is poisonous
  5. The lack of paved roads around Ewha.
  6. The mountain that my dorm is located on.
  7. The smell of feces that permeates the streets in Sincheon.
  8. The lack of unhealthy food.
  9. The omniscience of Kimchi.
  10. Mustard, mayonnaise, pickled seaweed, and those yellow radish banchan.

Things I have planned for the remainder of my stay

  1. Trip to Japan.
  2. Trip to Pusan. (going Oct 21 – 23)
  3. Trip to DMZ. (going Oct 29)
  4. Trip to Thailand
  5. Watch Nanta.
  6. Go out on the Han River on a pleasure boat.
  7. Go to Itaewon.
  8. Go to Namdaemun market (going tonight)
  9. Purchase a lot of crap in Insadong.
  10. Find some method to make Δbank account positive.


Everyday Life

My normal day

So what is my normal day like? Well, if one were to try to envision my average day based on prior entries they would probably conjure up an arousing tale of enterprise and adventure. This however, is far from the truth. My normal day starts off at 7:30 AM, when I wake up to go to my FOUR hour long Korean class. Class lasts from 8:30 and goes until 12:30. It is a nine credit monster-course that covers reading, writing, speaking, and listening. While I have learned a great deal in this course I have also found that because I spend so much time in a classroom speaking Korean, I no longer want to practice my Korean after leaving class. How ironic.

In the beginning of the year I also ventured to take three additional courses. They were Political Economy of East Asia, Introduction to Society and Literature, and Introduction to Women’s Studies in East Asia. After discovering the sheer about of work and energy my Korean class required I decided to drop Political Economy of East Asia. My remaining two classes were ICU classes, meaning they are internet cyber university classes. I was not very keen on this in the beginning of the year because I felt as though I really wanted to be in a classroom with native Korean students. However, I then found this to be a very simplistic view….considering that I don’t really talk with them during class and that I am surrounded by Korean students and citizens for 80% of my day anyway. What eventually ended up happening was that my Society and Literature course had readings that I was unable to obtain. They were ‘located’ in the library or some other ‘ambiguous’ book stores. The last thing I need to do is to spend just as much time pursuing the resources as I do studying them. Thus, I decided to drop that course as well. I am very content, and occupied, with my two courses right now. Of course I would like to take more credits, however I do not think this is something I can seriously do if I want to learn the Korean language as best I can.

In order to fill some of the gaps in my schedule I have started a study group that I meet with once or twice a week to discuss topics from my Women’s Studies class. More importantly, I have made two very good friends from there as well, so my concerns over internet courses have proven to be unfounded. Additionally, some international students and I have also formed a school rock band and practice twice a week. Our singer is from Finland, our drummer from the Netherlands, and the bassist is American. I really enjoy playing with them, and feel that I will improve my lead guitar skills greatly in order to play at their level. Finally, I am advertising for mathematics and English conversation tutoring soon. I also meet with a language exchange partner once a week who helps me with my spoken and grammatical Korean. Finally, I am attempting to start my own tutoring services in mathematics and English conversation. I expect to start tutoring within a week or two.

In addition to all of the school activities listed above, I still have to deal with navigating everyday life. When people ask me what it is like to live in Korea the best answer I can give is “Energy consuming.” Doing absolutely anything requires a great deal of energy and focus. Whether it is buying food or finding a bathroom at a women’s university. There have been several occasions when taxi cab drivers try to rip me off by charging me extra and not expecting me to realize….or I have been given the wrong directions by some local people [And let me tell you how bad it sucks to get lost in a traditional village where many signs are in Chinese characters]. Despite all of that I still love to travel around the city, and also the country. I am planning to visit Pusan and the DMZ soon, and am starting to consider visiting either Tokyo or Bangkok. One day soon I will have to sit down and really start to plan…but for now, I just have my homework to worry about…which brings me back to my original reason for posting:

…so after class I generally go to eat in the cafeteria with some international and Ewha students. I usually get Dolsotbap, which is rice served in a scalding hot bowl, topped with vegetables and meat or fish eggs and of course spicy red sauce. After eating, if I don’t have any club or school activities to go to, I head to the international student’s lounge on the seventh floor of the IEI (international education institute) building. This is generally where I nap on a couch or do some class readings. Afterwards, we usually go out for dinner in the city. I think it is safe to say that I have to eat out for dinner about 95% of the time. I believe there are two driving forces behind this: 1) I love to go out and try new places and new foods (plus it’s cheap) and 2) I HATE climbing up the hill to my dorm to eat in the cafeteria. After eating I generally return to the dorm and do my homework…which takes quite some time…and then to bed, thus completing a normal day.

Sitting in Korean Class. From left to right: Rick (Oregon), Matti (Finland), Lauri (Finland), Ceci (Hong Kong).

Dolsotbap, my favorite dish at the cafeteria costs W2400. This is about $2.30 USD. So good.

Hanging out in the international lounge. Christina snapping some photos and Nico talking on Skype.

Going out for dinner in Sincheon.

And here are some random pictures from around campus:

Student Union Building...empty because this was taken before school started.

Student Union Building, as usual.

One of the Adminstrative Buildings on campus.

Centennial Library. One of the largest in Korea. Fives stories high and comparable to Alexander Library at Rutgers.


Big Update, Part 2

Bukhansan hiking and Yonsei/Koryo Partying: The weekend after the Gyeongbokgung and Namsan visits was probably the most engaging since I’ve been here. On Friday night we began to celebrate my friend Jessica’s birthday by going to some bar and turning it into a dance club. We like to think that we are taking in as much culture as we’re putting out…so we always get Koreans to dance in bars and we always get the DJ to play classic American music. From there we split up. I went to a club called M2 with Soomin and Haeyun (two awesome buddies) and then went home around 4…everyone else stayed at the bar until around 5 or 6 in the morning. Now, the only reason I point out the times is because we had to wake up at 8:00 am for our International Student Hiking Trip at Bukhansan. Needless to say, we all looked like crap on the bus ride over. A side note: our bus had a Karaoke machine built into it…proving that my genius idea for in-car karaoke was not a first.

Yes, there's Karaoke microphones attached to the bus, and a huge LCD in the front.

Upon arriving we grabbed some food (kimbap rolls or hoagies) and started up the mountain in one huge group. There were many areas that were extremely dangerous…and I get the feeling in America would have been off limits. I do not exaggerate when I say I could have died very easily several times. It wasn’t so much a hike as a climb…now that I think about it in hindsight. It was worth it though…the view was absolutely spectacular. From my understanding, the city of Seoul is nestled between the Han River and Four outer mountains. Bukan-san (mountain) is the northern limit of Seoul. While we did not get to the highest peak (there are three) we did get to the second highest which was probably about 650 meters up. After reaching this peak there was some confusion as to where to head next…so what ended up happening was that we lost 8 international students and the Dean of the International Education Institute on the hill. They continued towards the top while the rest of our group took pictures and relaxed at a mountain spring rest stop….and as you all know, the first thing you do when given a seemingly endless supply of real, pure, mountain spring water is get into a water fight. We had a lot of fun on the mountain, except for one or two minor injuries. It was so beautiful though. My pictures cannot do justice to the view we had. From several points I could see nearly all of the major city of Seoul. One note, for my own future reference: Walking down a hill is much more difficult than walking up…take this into consideration before zealously scaling any future mountains.

Our group walking up the mountain.

A picture I took from halfway up the mountain.

First view of the city of Seoul.

Second view of the city of Seoul.

At least the mountains in the background look good.

All of my friends are a great deal more photogenic than I...exhibit A.

Of course, my eyes are closed... -_-

An outcropping some friends and I went out on for the view...the IEI staff quickly dropped a K-bomb because it was to dangerous. Note: Dropping a K-bomb is whining about something excessively until you get it your way.

Let the water fight begin.

Mari's (pink shirt) face is aboslutely priceless.

Nico offering me a 'drink' of water.

Yep. Good old-fashioned cultural misinterpretations.

After making our way down the mountain, we took the bus back to Ewha and promptly went to eat. The combination of bokkum bap (fried rice) with having not slept more than 3 hours in the past two days resulted in my sleeping during most of the day Saturday. Later that night we had planned to go out and eat, party, and go to the banks of the Han River and relax to celebrate Jessica’s birthday, however we began and ended the evening in Sincheon. What we had failed to realize was that this weekend was the big Yonsei/Koryo Rivalry period. During the weekend assorted sports teams from both schools had played each other. Following the sport, the party culminated in a 10+ block party that engulfed most of Sincheon. There were thousands of students everywhere. The students wearing blue are Yonsei students or fans, and those wearing red are for Koryo. We first stopped at a big free concert being held in the heart of Sincheon and watched a couple of acts…then we decided to move along. Along the way to whatever destination we had decided upon we encountered long lines of blue and red students cheering and screaming their school chants. Also, they would go into convenience stores and beg the owner for beer and soju. This apparently, is one of the biggest parts of the tradition. Outside many of the shops there were tables thrown together with huge punch bowls of soju and makolli (traditional Korean rice wine). There were also restaurants setting up free food for the students. We decided to cheer not only for both schools, but also for Ewha. Never in my life have I been so revered and respected as I was that night. When I started chanting for Yonsei a sea of blue would rush over to me and either pick me up or slap high fives. Likewise it was the same with Kodae (Yodae and Kodae are abbreviated names). When we tried to start Ewha chants, at first we got some weird looks…but after showing the crowds our ID cards they went crazy and we had hundreds of red and blue students circling around us and cheering for Edae. In addition to learning many school chants, I also had a good chance to take a look at the average Korean college student…and let me tell you, they are a hell of a lot nicer and more respectful than most of the garbage I’ve seen in the states. Even the ones that are hopelessly drunk apologize for knocking into you, or pick up your ID card for you when you drop it. By the end of the night, I was convinced that Korean colleges could show American colleges more than a thing or two about having an awesome time.

Some famous woman singing on stage.

Yonsei people milling about...in huge lines.

Kodae corner.

Which one doesn't belong? Hint...he's a blonde finnish guy.

High Fives were the trademark of the party.

Big Update, Part 1

In an attempt to excuse myself for negligence I offer the following excuse: I have been doing so much recently that by the time I finish doing said ambiguous things I do not have time to post on my blog…and then, when I wake up the next day I have so many more experiences which I should be posting that the sheer amount of required postage is overwhelming and sometimes I shy away from the duty. I guess that last part sort of nullifies my excuse…but nonetheless I will now attempt to summarize my last two (or three weeks) so far by highlighting the big events and quickly summarizing everyday activities.

Big Event 1:

My Chuseok: Chuseok, the Korean equivalent of Thanksgiving, is one of the biggest and most important holidays of year. Millions of Koreans travel back to their homes and have large parties with their extended families. The mass migration and evacuation of citizens from the cities to the rural areas creates two negative results for international students abroad. Number one, you cannot travel anywhere on the Korean Peninsula because all of the bus, train, and planes are booked months in advance. Thus, our plan to travel to Pusan was promptly thwarted. Second, all of the shops in Seoul close and there really isn’t much to do besides sit around in one’s dorm and sleep.
I however, had other plans... I figured all of the historical sites in Seoul must be open and hosting many ceremonies, so some international students and I decided to visit Gyeongbokgung palace on Saturday of the Chuseok weekend. The weather was horrible, but the palace was gorgeous. Interestingly the palace was nearly desolate on Friday (probably because most folks transiting to their homes). My group, which consisted of about 8 international students and 2 buddies walked around for a bit while I ran away and snapped photos of the entire palace. I get the feeling they were a bit frustrated by the end of the day because they had to keep waiting up for me to return from wherever I had gone. After the palace, we went to a traditional style Korean restaurant…traditional in the sense that you sit on the floor…and ordered sam gyeop sal and seol long tang…barbeque pork (like bacon) and boiled beef bone soup, respectively.

The front gate of Gyeongbokgung.

A small pavilion on a lake. I had to run away from the group to get this photo since this was located about 300 meters away from the main temple.

Sam gyeop sal...cooking in the background.

The next day (Sunday) I had heard from my friends Nico, Marten, and Jessica that there were going to be martial arts demonstrations at Gyeongbokgung. I decided to go back because the palace was gorgeous and also because this was one of my only chances to see the 18 styles of martial arts practiced by Joseon dynasty warriors. When we arrived (it takes about 30 minutes by subway) the martial arts were already underway. It was a brief demonstration of different armed skills. Afterwards there was a traditional drum/dance group. Saturday was also different in the sense that there were thousands of people milling about the palace. It was great because many were dressed in their traditional Hanbok attire. We walked around and I took more pictures and got some personal shots (which you can see on my picture site).

Some sort of guard changing ceremony at the entrance gate.

Two men sparring with two different weapons.

Jessica, sparring dude, and I...post performance.

An adorable little kid in his Hanbok.

Traditional Drum/Dance

On Monday I had plans to meet up with some international student organization from Seoul National University. I learned that we would be going to Namsan traditional folk village. I bravely navigated the subway system alone and arrived at Chungmuro sam (3) early. While I waited to meet the students outside of the subway stop, I saw a food stand selling silk worm grubs for school children. They had a horrific sweet smell and they looked as bad as I’m sure you’re imaging. After a good ten minutes of feeling sick to my stomach the international students arrived. Well, I had thought they were all international students. For an excellent example of cultural differences: At one point I started to talk to one of the individuals who was with us. I asked her what year she was in college, or if she was a graduate student. Apparently, she was one of the advisors of the club, in her mid thirties, and was very offended by my question. Of course, in America this would have been considered a slick complement…but here, well…let’s just say her and I did not talk much afterwards. And another thing about age here…Did you know that when Koreans are born, they are one year old? Furthermore, they get a year older at every new years…not on their birthday. So, just to show an extreme example how of this can manifest itself into something ridiculous: If you are born on December 31, you come out and are one year old…however, the next day (January 1) you then turn two. Yes folks, it’s stupid and makes no sense…and I advise you to never trust or give weight to what a Korean person says their age is. Nowadays I just ask what year somebody is born in. But anyways, Namsan was great. I got to see a fusion traditional and modern band play Korean songs. They used modern instruments as well as traditional ones…so I’m glad I got to hear them play because I’m sure I’ll never hear it again. Then I got to play several children’s games. There was one where you attempt to throw a stick into a hoop, and one where you jump on a seesaw like board and shoot somebody else in the air, and finally a Korean version of hackysack (which I must say that I owned in). Afterwards, our international group went to Insadong, which is a very traditional part of Seoul. They sell all sorts of traditional crafts and goods there. It was very nice to meet and eat with new people from all over the world and be forced to practice some of my Korean and Japanese. I really hope I can see them again.

A Korean see-saw game at Namsan village...which I must say I did a good job at. Although, I guess I have an advantage since I weight 100 kg.

So all in all, my Chuseok was pretty rocking.

The ever-popular juxtaposition picture, part 1.

The ever-popular juxtaposition picture, part 2.