Sunday, September 21, 2014

Cafes, Concerts, and Chocolate (Or Not)

 A lot of foreigners who come to Korea have at least heard of EatYourKimchi, which is a business and YouTube channel run by two Canadians who live in Seoul. Their segments include Wonderful Treasure Find (strange products of Korea), TL:DR (discussions on different topics), Food Program For Awesome People (pretty self explanatory), and Wonderful Adventure Now Korea (exploratory field trips to sites in Korea) as well as many others. While they weren't detrimental to my personal desire to go to Korea, a lot of their tips were helpful and they seem like cool people so a couple friends of mine and I decided to go to their recently opened cafe in collaboration with Talk To Me in Korean, the You Are Here cafe. Simon and Martina weren't actually there, which was rather disappointing, but the atmosphere was very fun. Most of the customers were foreigners, some even studying, but there was also a decent amount of Koreans present. I was a bit frustrated with their pricey drinks. They must know that most of their audience is college students but I paid 7,000 won for a small Oreo milk shake. It was delicious, no doubt, but 7,000 was a bit much.

A mural outside.

While we were inside, I spotted a girl sitting by herself and decided to be my nosy self and walked over to make friends. She was from Brazil and we hit it off pretty quickly. After we left the cafe, we decided to just walk around Hongdae a bit, which is where the cafe is located. As we were casually shopping, we happened to pass a lady selling Bobbki. Now, this is ridiculously exciting because I was literally just reading about how difficult these were to find nowadays. Bobbki, which is just made up of burnt starch, used to be incredibly popular but they've been dying out as old-fashioned lately. There was no lady there, just the Bobbki and a box to leave your 1,000 won for one cookie in. I thought that was incredibly trusting. I bought one with a ducky on it and went home that night happy. The taste was very similar to that of a burnt s'more, which I like, so that was a pleasant surprise. 
Bobbki! (Oh, by the way, I do write and read Korean but it's a huge hassle to switch my keyboard every time I want to write a Korean word, so I've just been romanizing it.)

The Chuseok holiday ended that Wednesday and Thursday we had to go back to school. The two days quickly passed, though, and then it was the weekend. That Saturday, I went to the Brave Concert, which had Jay Park, MBLAQ, Nu'Est, Halo, Crispy Crunch, Dynamic Duo, Orange Caramel, Teen Top, 4Minute, AOA, Topp Dogg, San E, Girls' Day, BTS, IU, MC the Max, Baechigi, Dick Punks, Geeks, DJ Chunja, DJ Hanmin, and the Brave Concert people. It was possibly one of the best nights of my life because I absolutely adore Jay Park, MBLAQ, and BTS, and I'm a casual fan of most of the rest of them. Getting to the concert venue, Yonsei University, was a fiasco however. First, one of our friends was 45 minutes late, then we got off at the wrong Shinchon station (why are there two in the first place?!), and lastly, we were almost killed by the subway doors. It was pretty funny, both then and now. After the subway doors, the three of us just stood there hugging each other for about two minutes while all the Koreans laughed at our silliness. As for the concert, a lot of the people were surprise guests (including Jay Park and MBLAQ) so every time someone's music started that we didn't know, we screamed like banshees. Oh, and Mir and Thunder of MBLAQ waved at me and Jay Park was less than ten feet from me, But whatever. No big deal.
None of the pictures of the artists on stage turned out well but I really like this picture of the audience during a slow song by MC the Max. 

Sunday was a pretty chill day but we did go get bingsu at night. Bingsu is a Korean desert that has cream or ice cream on bottom, then a ton of shaved ice, then whatever topping your order had, which you then mix together with condensed milk. It's absolutely delicious. Expensive, but delicious. The most popular/common bingsu is pat bingsu, which means red bean bingsu. Korea loves their red bean. I finally broke down yesterday and went to buy some super expensive Korean chocolate to fulfill my craving but when I opened the package, it was literally bars of red bean jelly. It ruined my whole life. So be careful because the package didn't even say red bean on it!
Berry yogurt bingsu. Ridiculously delicious. No regrets. 

The next week had the Konkuk Fall Festival on Wednesday and Thursday. Honestly, most of it was eating and drinking but there were some really fun parts. I had my face painted, eat cotton candy, a waffle, and a chicken shish kebab, and watched a ton of performances. I saw a historical reenactment fight mixed with modern movie references, an amateur rock band competition, a concert by Wamma Family (the Konkuk hip hop dance group), and stages by Park Myung Soo, Nine Muses, and NS Yoon Ji. Of all of those, Wamma Family was my absolute favorite because each number was different and all the dance crews were very impressive. It made me miss dancing. 
My Totoro face paint. Try not to be too jealous.
A green tea waffle with apple honey and whipped cream inside. 

Both Friday and Saturday I just hung out with my friends here and we ate out, shopped, and played card games. Saturday, though, Sonnet and I tried to go out on eat and ended up wondering around for an hour and a half. It's amazing the things you'll find when you have no place to go.
The Norunsan Market. No one knew this was here and yet it was less than a fifteen minute walk from campus. 
 A store that makes homemade Hanbok, tailored for each customer. If I had the money, I so would have bought one.

Our first market purchase completely in Korean! Now, of course we've bought things before but the vendors always try to use their limited English. This one didn't so we can finally say we spoke entirely in Korean. Yay for songpyeon~ I wanted to buy some delicious bread too but we decided to actually eat supper first. 

Today is Sunday and I just got back from a dog cafe. Korea has this interesting cafe culture where many of their cafes are themed and both cat and dog cafes exist where you can play with the animals. Admission is usually free but you have to buy an over priced drink. Totally worth it. The one we went to was only 10 minutes from campus and there were about 20 dogs there the whole time. Now, these cafes often double as doggy day care, so there was some changing of pets. I really enjoyed it though and I can totally see myself going back in the future. 

View of the cafe.
This little guy just climbed up unto our table and fell asleep on top of it. 
The one behind me was my baby the whole night :)
There was a special section for the little dogs only because some Koreans have a fear of big dogs. 

Random Thoughts

I've actually been sick the past three days and it totally sucks. I have a cold here and it's still 80 degrees outside. How is this even possible? 

I haven't actually decided yet if I'm going to stay for a semester or a year yet and I only have until October 8th to decide. I can't believe I've been here for four weeks already but now I have about two weeks left to choose. On one hand, Korea is amazing but on the other, study abroad is super expensive and I do get pretty homesick. I don't know what to do but by my next blog, I should make a decision. 

The college books are much cheaper. Like super cheap. I'm used to spending about five hundred a semester on books and I haven't even hit a hundred dollars yet. It's amazing. 

Monday, September 8, 2014

Couple Weeks In

Holy crap I've done a ton since I last blogged. I'm not even sure what all I want to talk about. Let's just follow the pictures because hopefully they'll help me remember.


Let's see... the last time I blogged was Wednesday so we'll pick up on Thursday. Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday were our last days before school started. Mostly, we explored the area around our campus. We found the busiest street alleys and tried street food. Nothing too exciting happened that weekend, excluding Friday. We mostly just tried to familiarize ourselves with the area and wandered around. It was a ton of fun simply stumbling into restaurants. We don't usually know what we're ordering, we just pick and then see if it works out.
Alleyway businesses
Fruit market! Korea is lacking in a couple food groups in their diet; I'm mostly missing meat and fruit. Meat is easier to find, although in little quantities, than fruit so we were really excited to find these vendors. The ladies were super nice and taught us the Korean word for all the fruits they sold. I got six nectarines for 3,000 won, which is much cheaper than at the stores where they sell three apples for 12,000 won and six kiwis for 19,000 won. 
We also tried Korean fast food that weekend, at Lotteria. It was actually pretty similar to American fast food. The fries tasted pretty much the same. The only differences I noticed, was that the ketchup was more tomato-y and the spicy chicken burger was much hotter than in Minnesota. Oh, and there was a shrimp burger on the menu. Like, a patty made of shrimp. It was actually really good. 
Friday night, some of us went to Hongdae to club. We got free Mageolli, Korean rice wine, and danced a ton. It was actually super fun but, due to our curfew, we had to leave at 11:30. The curfew is one of the worst things about living in the dorms. We have to be back by 1 AM or we get penalty points. Each student is only allowed 10 penalty points per semester. Of course, you can apply for a night out but then you can't return to the dorms until 5 AM. It also took us forever to catch a taxi, which we needed because the subway stops around 11:30. Overall, really fun night. 


On Monday, our classes started, which was a big mess. Some of our classes were only taught in Korean, despite their listing as English, some were only for seniors, and some had pre-requisites that weren't listed. It was all incredibly frustrating. I ended up with Theories of Teaching English as a Foreign Language, Teaching English Reading & Writing, Korean Language, Understanding of Global Cultures, British Novel, and Japanese Politics (which was actually listed as Main Diplomatic Figures in History but they changed it with no notification). I'm thinking about dropping one of the last two, though, because I don't really need or want either of them; they were just the only classes left. The Korean students are incredibly nice, though, and are always trying to help out. 
The Konkuk Language Institute. This is where I will learn Korean. I haven't had class so far because we had a placement test on Wednesday. They asked you if you could read Korean and if you said yes then you were supposed to take the test. When I got the packet however, it was entire passages in Korean and then you had to answer the Korean  comprehension questions about the Korean passages in Korean. It went from zero to sixty in ten seconds and I ended up just turning the test back in. 
We also joined a couple clubs from the Club Fair. The English Speaking Club meets every Wednesday and Thursday and is made up of about 50% foreigners and 50% Koreans that want to practice their English. We went both nights and it was actually a ton of fun and we met a lot of new people. After the club meeting, the whole club goes out to eat. I'm definitely going to stay in that one because the people were super nice. 


After a long week of rearranging classes and getting paperwork filled out, the weekend finally came and it was pure awesome. Today's actually Monday but I'm including it in this section because this week is Chuseok. Chuseok is Korean Thanksgiving and, because of it, we get Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of this week off. I'ts great but mot of the businesses are also closed for Chuseok. We stocked up on ramen and rice to make it through. 
Friday night, Soojung (a Korean friend), two Chinese foreign exchange students, and I all went to a free concert in the Seoul Children's Park. First off, the park is absolutely beautiful. It has a colorful water fountain show, a stadium, and a petting zoo.Secondly, the concert was absolutely amazing. I just can't even describe how cool it was. There were two dance crews, a vocal duo, Seventeen, Topp Dogg, and Nu'Est. The dance crews combined special effects and dancing to make an incredible combination. Seventeen was a group I'd heard of before but never paid attention to but after their covers of Mirotic and Sorry, Sorry, I can say they have a new fan. Topp Dogg was also pretty good and what I expected. Nu'Est closed the night and I just died. They were so good. I learned that JR wears red boxers and Minhyun waved at me. But after the concert, Ren stuck his head out of their van as they were leaving to look me in the eye and say "I love you" in English because I was the only obviously foreign person there. I almost died it was so great.  
Sometimes we hang out with EXO. Whatever, no big deal. 
Nu'Est on stage.
And after the concert, when we went out to eat, the restaurant owner asked if he could take our picture and have us sign it. Then, he put it up on the wall. That was the first, and probably the last, time I have been asked for my autograph. It was awesome. 
 Saturday was actually pretty tame. We went to Itaewon (the foreigners area) but it was pretty empty. We did get Turkish ice cream, which came with an awesome show. We then went to Hongdae afterwards and watched a couple buskers. Buskers are always so interesting. I could just camp out at the park in Hongdae and watch them perform all day. 
Sunday was absolutely amazing. Soojung, Stephanie (American exchange), and I went to Caribbean Bay, which is the world's largest indoor-outdoor water park in the world. We went on a bunch of rides and swam a ton. The prices for food weren't ridiculous like they are at parks in America so we had peanut butter fried squid for snack. My first culture shock moment happened in the locker rooms when we were done. All the women just walked around naked. Not just in the showers (which are completely public), everywhere in the locker room area. I saw more female body parts yesterday than I had before in my entire life. Not that that's a bad thing but it was for sure different. Oh, and a lot of Koreans wore clothes over their swimsuits in the park; not that it mattered, since Caribbean Bay requires you to wear a life jacket. Super awesome day, all in all, even though the ride there and back took about two and a half hours. 
 Today we went to Gyeongbok Palace for the first day of Chuseok. Because it was Chuseok, there were a ton of activities going on and admission was free. I wasn't sure I wanted to go because I was so tired from the water park but I'm glad I did. The palace itself isn't all that interesting but it's one of those places you should go while you're in Seoul. It's about the history. That palace was built in the 14th century. Just thinking about all the people who've passed through there can give you chills. We also made poop-shaped soap (I don't know why that is considered Korean), watched a children's puppet show, and tried on Hanbok. Hanbok is traditional Korean dress and it was one of the things on my to-do list that I wasn't sure I'd get to. Normally, Hanbok is incredibly expensive but it was free to try on because it was Chuseok. Yay!


 Random Thoughts:

 Korea is super duper hot. Maybe it's because I'm used to Minnesota having just one week that's super hot and humid but this is ridiculous. Korea isn't hotter or more humid than Minnesota gets, but it stays there longer. My hair has been up every single day.

Everyone always says that Korean don't show public displays of affection. That's a total and complete lie. Koreans may not kiss as much in public but couples are literally constantly touching each other. And if they aren't touching each other, they're probably wearing couple items so you still know they're together. I have seen the most unique positions in Seoul; like, how are they even walking? And why must you always touch each other?! It's actually a little ridiculous.

The spiders here are ginormous. Enough said. They scare the crap out of me.

I was told before I got here that my study abroad experience would be an emotional roller coaster. I thought I would have good days and bad days. While that can be true, I've also experienced days where my emotions have drastically changed moment to moment. It's rather exhausting actually. Sometimes I'm fine, sometimes I think Korea is the coolest place ever, and sometimes I just want to go home.