16 April 2007

My Korean Boyfriend!

I know, right??!?!
I would like y'all to meet my new Korean boyfriend. I don't know his age, his goals, or even his name, but I am planning on loving him for the rest of my life. We met on campus when his mother was taking him on a tour of the BEAUTIFUL cherry blossoms. I have to first respond to those asking silly questions with, "No, I am afraid I can not bring him back to the USA." Believe me, if I could, I would!

Spring has most definitely joined us here at Soon Chun Hyang University... and along with it it has brought CHILDREN! They come in their matching school outfits and walk among the falling blossoms. Most of us girls gush and "awwww" over them as they pass by lined up like baby quail behind their teacher. Our school hosts a Cherry Blossom Festival of sorts and many people come from neighboring towns to take pictures and picnic beneath the incredible canopy of blossoms. In response to the "crowds," fair style food booths line the sidewalk and make ice cream, cotton candy and other more traditional Korean street food readily available. It has been a very tempting distraction during "Study Week"!

Recently the "International Brigade," comprised of Joyce (China), Mi Jeong (Korea),Will (Mexico), and myself (USA), (I just came up with that name, but it's awesome and we're keeping it!) went down to take some pictures and sample the cuisine.
Mmmmmm Silkworms!!! (Don't do it! They are gross!!!!)
Joyce and I... trying to be brave.
Joyce hunted down the perfect snack to get the taste of silkworm out of your mouth... COTTON CANDY!
Will, myself and Joyce.

My traditional Korean pose. I know, I am so hot right now!
Mi Jeong in the modern Korean pose. (Please note the cell phone in her hand.) I love her!!! She is going to Los Angeles in May for a week. Does anyone want to give her a tour of the Getty or Hollywood? :)

Okay that is all for now. I have a midterm in a little over an hour and then I am headed to Gyeongju. Yeah! Another grand adventure awaits!

15 April 2007

My Initial Impressions of Korea

*This is a cut and paste of a paper for my internship class. Please feel free to skip it or to read it. I won't be offended.*

It is difficult for me to believe that my time in Korea is nearly half over. At times, I can’t even remember my life at home. Then, in the next moment, I feel as if it was just last week that my exhausted eyes were trying to stay open to soak in each of the neon signs on the bus ride from the airport. I remember being surprised by the number of driving ranges that we passed and by all the bright red glowing crosses. I had heard there were a lot of churches in Korea, but I hadn’t expected Vegas-style signage. I tried to come as prepared as I could be with regards to Korea and it’s customs, but not to be limited by bringing too many expectations… that was an impossible task. I have been shocked and awed many times.

I have found the Korean people to be very friendly in general. Whenever I am lost, there always seems to be someone around who is willing to not only tell me where to go, BUT to take me there. When we were in Seoul, we met a few wonderful friends who offered to walk us to our destination rather than leaving us on our own with our limited Korean. My suitemates have been exceptionally kind and generous. Each of them is always ready to chat or ask about my day and our room parties are filled with giggling and fun. I was invited to stay at one of their houses and loved experiencing a Korean home stay. I even got to make my own kimbap!

Adapting to the food was probably the easiest “challenge” so far. I love kimchi, kimbap, and bibimbap. I love aloe juice and cereal snacks. I don’t love silk worms… but I think that isn’t quite a universally loved Korean snack. A few things about eating that have been difficult to get used to are sharing water glasses (mostly at bars) and listening to Koreans eat very loudly. There is a lot of lip smacking around our living room when we order in. I come from a large family, so I love that we eat mostly family-style. I like sitting on the floor while we eat, but I don’t love when I stand up and my legs have fallen asleep.

One thing that I have not gotten used to is the use of soju as a social lubricant. Don’t get me wrong; I love soju. I love drinking soju with my suitemates and with other internationals. I love playing drinking games and laughing with everyone. The part that is difficult for me is how often it is used as the only bonding tool. Many of my Korean suitemates come home drunk from their mandatory major “meetings” at least once a week. Some of them drink with their professors. In the United States, that would be looked down upon without question. I obviously don’t expect the whole of Korea to change their system, but it will take a bit longer for me to adapt my thinking.

A deeply imbedded characteristic of the Korean culture is a very strong sense of community. As a Korean you are a part of your family. You are a part of your university. You are a part of your major. Then finally you are yourself. This is a big change from the individualistic thinking of the United States. In the US, you fight for yourself. You go after your dreams. We don’t really do a lot for the greater good of the nation. Here most of my Korean friends see themselves as a part of a whole. They study hard because it is important to their parents, or even to the future of Korea. I would love to speak Korean better, so that I could have a real conversation about issues of the heart with some of my friends. I want to know how they really feel about their position in the community. I often wonder if they are compliant members of the “team” out of obligation or out of a real desire to benefit the whole.

Included in that sense of community is a very clear set of rules regarding hierarchy. All of my suitemates are required to answer phone calls from “their seniors” and an invitation from a senior in your major is more like a mandate. The Major Training (MT) trips seem to be a chance for bonding and “hazing.” I went to EZ’s with my suitemates and we witnessed the initiations of many freshmen into their majors. Everyone seemed to be having a great time, but mandatory soju consumption will do that to you.

I witnessed a great example of this hierarchy in action at a play on campus. I attended with my friend Mi Jeong, a senior in the English Literature department. As we walked in the door, we were greeted by dozens of bowing underclassmen. It was only my second weekend here and I was taken aback, to be honest. I didn’t understand what was being said or what was happening. I felt like royalty! In reality it wasn’t for me at all, everyone was bowing to Mi Jeong and the other seniors who had entered out, of respect. In the US, we unfortunately sometimes don’t even greet a professor if they enter a room. I would like to bring home some of this sense of respect.

Overall, I have loved my time in Korea. There are surprises around every corner. Many of the biggest surprises have actually been about me, and not Korea at all. I am looking forward to seeing more of the country and learning about the history of the people I get to interact with each and everyday. My goals for the next half of my time here include conquering the Korean language. I would love to be able to really communicate with my new friends in their heart language. I feel like I have only just begun falling in love with my temporary homeland.

Dancing Soju Bottles

I might be getting out of control with the video posts.... but well, I just can't help it! Today is a YouTube day. Below is a video that we took in the nearby town of Cheonon. You can obviously hear me laughing in the background. I could not contain myself. It was unnerving and wonderful! So here is a taste of real Korean culture! (For those of you who don't know, Soju (소주) is a mostly rice based alcohol that EVERYONE drinks in Korea.) At the end of this week, after midterms I will be going to a Rice Festival in Gyeongju to taste different rice wines and rice cakes. :) I am excited. Perhaps I will run into my favorite dancing friends again!

Sisterhood of Friends

I miss my dear friend Paige Aufhammer more and more every single day. But with the wonder of the Internet I can have her sing to me whenever I want.... so I am going to share this gift with you.

This is Paige performing at the Derby in Hollywood. "Easy On Me" is my favorite song for a million reasons, but the most important is that it speaks of her precious ability to empathize and to put into words the state of my own feeble heart. This has nothing to do with Korea, except what I am learning about myself here. I am learning that I have been gifted with some incredible friends, a real system of community at home, and that I miss them very much. So please enjoy my dear Paige... maybe even check out her myspace page while you're at it.

13 April 2007

Easter Sunday in Korea

I attended a church service last Sunday with my friends, Sung Gun and Charlie. Sung Gun is in the center of the picture wearing the baseball cap. He actually gained a new nickname by the end of our time together. If you run into him, please greet him by his English name "Handsome." Charlie, on the right, is proudly sporting his newly permed hair. Yep you read that right! Perms are all the rage here in Korea... and you will most commonly find them on MEN! It is a riot. My first weekend here, I witnessed a man getting a perm at a salon in Seoul. I thought it was a rarity... I was WRONG! Anywho... I am off topic yet again. (Big surprise!)

So the boys and I went to 아산서렁의교회, which is only a five minute walk from campus. The entire service was in Korean, but I had a general idea of what was happening and tried to look attentive during the sermon. Charlie was a darling translated what he could in his broken English. He has an English-Korean Bible with a Hymnal in the back in both languages. It was nice to be able to at least sing along in my native tongue.

The service was pretty traditional, with the pastor and choir wearing robes and the music ranging from hymns and hymns to more hymns. I was expecting an "Easter Service" like in the States, but here it isn't a very large holiday. The boys said that most people don't even spend it with their family. I was, however, given the gift of a hard boiled egg as I left! There were also some silk lilies on the stage. It was nothing like the Easter Sunday Mass at Notre Dame, but to be honest it was a LOT more fun! (I think I understand more Korean than I did Latin!)

Afterwards, we all ate lunch together on the bottom floor of the building. I enjoyed chatting with the parents as their children chased each other around the room. Oh speaking of children, I almost forgot there was a kids' choir! They were pretty precious. All the normal characters were there; the one who doesn't sing but stares straight ahead, the one who knows ALL the words and sings in his yelling voice, and there was a special star performer, a perfectly poised seven-year old girl dressed in head-to-toe purple. I loved that part the most... I am sure not a one of you is surprised to hear that kids were my favorite part of the day.

07 April 2007

Seoul... a few weeks too late.

Okay so I know that this is a LONG overdue post. I apologize. Life here seems to run at a completely different pace. I have class, exchanges, and meetings every day of the week and then I just NEED to get outside when I can to clear my head of Korean language. :)

I have been to Seoul (twice), Cheonan, and Onyang since I last wrote. I will have to skip over some of the details right now and fill you all in later. :) BUT I have been having a great time. We went clubbing in Seoul twice and I got to shake my "groove thang." It was sooo much fun. I love dancing in groups because eventually it becomes like wedding dancing and you don't care what the people around you think and you just dance like crazy people. Those of you who have been at weddings with me, know exactly what I mean. I love the Chicken Dance!

So today's post is just going to cover my first trip to Seoul with a few pictures and commentary.

My First Trip to Seoul in fast forward. A group of us headed to Seoul our first weekend here. We had a guide for the bus ride and hunting down a hotel (Thank you Deon!) [My suitemate from Singapore] and then we were on our own. We split into a shopping and sightseeing group. You can guess which one I was in.... I AM a travel geek. Alissa and I spent the first day visiting Folk Villages and authentic "Korean Houses." That night we just walked the city soaking all of it in. We thought we would sit down and have a beer after our day of walking.... Please note the third picture posted in this blog. We were shocked to find that 1000cc is nowhere near a pint of beer! Had I only paid closer attention in Chemistry when we talked about the metric system. OOPS! Then we walked some more and decided we should climb a mountain! There is this awesome tower in Seoul called the Nam Sam Tower and normally you can catch a tram up to the top BUT it was late so we hiked up. It took quite awhile and we were both sweaty and tired by the time we reached the top but it was worth every drop of sweat. The view was breathtaking! AND we met two "forever friends" along the way. We weren't sure which trail to take around mid-mountain and had received broken directions from quite a few Koreans (all telling us multiple ways to get there in opposite directions) when we met our friends. They said "together, go together?" and Alissa and I said "YES PLEASE!!!" We headed up the hill and tried to talk about life and Korea... We struggled, but it was lovely!!!

The next morning we took the shoppers on a cultural tour of Seoul and then walked around in the pouring rain. We loved it! The last two pictures are at a large palace in Seoul. I am not going to type the names of things that you probably won't remember and I will probably spell wrong. ;) BUT it is beautiful and we really enjoyed it. The last picture is of the cutest girls!!! They were hiding in a fort of umbrellas. I walked up the hill to take a picture of them and then the reporters who were there covering a cultural show followed me up the hill and took pictures of me taking pictures of the umbrella protected girls. It was hysterical and my first introduction to the fame I have found here in South Korea. There are more stories to come, but let it just be noted that I have been on television here and people are starting to ask for my autograph... Well at least I HAVE been on TV. :)

I have to head out now for our mandatory field trip. We are going to be bussed and ferried to an island, where we will have "team building" activities... Like drinking and a "babeque" (we think that means barbeque). So it should be an interesting weekend to say the least. I hope that we can find something lovely to do! Maybe a hike to the top of a mountain. :)

Picture #1 - KimChi Pots at Korea House in Seoul. I LOVE Kim Chi and basically ALL Korean food. I get excited to see kimchi pots, because I KNOW what they make and I love to eat it. :)

Picture #2 - Alissa and the Blues Brothers in the shopping district. Alissa is my buddy here. She is from Northern California and a child of hippies. You can see how we would be friends. :)

Picture #3 - Me and the two beers we ordered.... Please note the tears in my eyes. I am crying at the thought of finishing them. We REALLY need to learn the metric system in the USA. 1000cc is a LOT of beer. I could NOT finish mine. I was laughing so hard... We made a little bit of a scene. OKAY to be honest, we ALWAYS make a little bit of a scene. We both have these lovely LOUD laughs and find EVERYTHING hysterical. People fight to hang out with us because we are so fun. One girl, Mi Jeong, says we have a virus... And that she hopes it is highly contagious.

Picture #4 - My "forever friend" and I at the Anime museum just down the hill from Nam Sam Tower. We climbed to the tower late at night. This dear friend and another guy helped us when we were lost and tired of climbing. :)

Picture #5 - Me and my palace... So beautiful!!! (and the palace was nice too)

Picture #6 (picture numbers are out of order.... look for the umbrella. :) I will learn to fix them soon.)- Alissa, Shawnna and two girls who were hiding from us in a fort of umbrellas. See the note above. They were adorable... Giggling children = my favorite things!!!

Okay I really do have to go!!! I love you all very much!!!