Thursday, October 30, 2014

Mid Terms

So that weekend was just as boring as I expected it to be. I spent both Saturday and Sunday in a study cafe, desperately attempting not to fail my classes. Remember when I talked about how Korea has this obsession with themed cafes? Well, this is what I'm talking about. A study cafe is a cafe where you buy ridiculously expensive drinks and then you get to study. No joke. Depending on the study cafe, sometimes there is an hour limit you can be there. Also, the accommodations change depending on the cafe; the first one I went to had a talking floor and a non-talking floor and a smoking floor. In the non-talking floor, where I was, there were at least four different types of sitting areas so you can be the most comfortable while you study. There was normal tables, individual desks set into the wall so you won't get distracted, couch like seats down below the floor and then a little raised area where you had to talk off your shoes and sit on the ground. It was very interesting, overall. That cafe was in Gangnam though and had been recommended to me for being very diverse. On Sunday, I went to one closer to my university and the drinks were cheaper, there wasn't a time limit, but it was smaller. The second study cafe only had one floor and there were much fewer seats, if you didn't buy extra for a study room. Either way, I studied my butt off. Oh, and I was the only foreigner both days.

Mayville Cafe. This one was in Gangnam and I really enjoyed the various places to sit. 

Pobu Cafe. This one is super close to my university and I think I'll stick with this one because it was much cheaper. 

After all that studying, you'd think I would ace the exams but no, no, no. I had a tough time with three of my exams because the teachers told us what to study and then they put other stuff on the tests. Not cool. I actually don't know my scores yet because they have until midnight tomorrow to upload them. So here's hoping~ Honestly, most people were pretty stressed but it's not like there was anything we could do about it so I don't worry about things like that. Why invite stress into your life? But when Friday came, a couple of the Americans decided to celebrate by going to a noraebang (karaoke room) and I was really looking forward to it. We drank a bit (the drinking age here is 19, and the 19 is in Korean age) and then went to karaoke and drank some more. I didn't get drunk but everyone else did so I tried to get everyone home in time for curfew but three of them really wanted tteokbeokki so I just let them go. They're adults, they can take care of themselves. Honestly, noraebang wasn't that fun because a couple people hogged the book and kept playing songs only they knew. Whatever. Saturday, my roommate was supposed to go to Everland with a big group but she got too drunk the night before and accidentally slept it. I almost cried. I had looked forward to that Saturday for weeks because I could just have a me day and write if I wanted to (it's my hobby) but then she was in the room and it messed with my concentration. Oh, and I didn't go to Everland because it was a Halloween special and we have Valleyscare like twenty minutes from my house. 

Sunday, I was supposed to go hiking with a group of four but then one of them got sick and the other two had gone to Everland the day before so they said they were too tired to go hiking for three hours. So I went by myself. It was such a beautiful day, I couldn't give up the opportunity. It was absolutely amazing. I went to Bugaksan, which is actually a military zone because of it's proximity to the Blue House. Because it's a military zone, you have to register to be allowed in and in the fall, registration ends at 15:00. So I gave myself two hours and fifteen minutes to get there and still almost didn't make it. Why? Because the tourist information lady gave me incorrect directions and I ended up on the wrong mountain! Instead of Bugaksan, I hiked the mountain next to it, in Samcheong Park, for an hour and a half before I finally made it to Bugaksan at 14:57. The registration people almost didn't let me because I didn't have a Korean phone number but I think I looked pretty pathetic (I was drenched in sweat and desperate to get in) so they let it pass. The soldiers laughed at me as I skipped up the stairs but I didn't care; I made it. Again, because it is a military zone, there are soldiers in look-outs along the Seoul Fortress Wall and then there are even more soldiers to make sure you don't take any pictures facing the direction of the Blue House. It's super funny though because the soldiers that watch for cameras don't wear uniforms. They all wear the same sweatpants, Columbia orange and purple jacket, purple hat, and goggles. It's kind of hilarious. Because they're all dressed the same and look similar with their goggles covering half of their face, I actually thought the first three soldiers were the same guy. 'I must look suspicious or something' I thought to myself while I tried to figure out how he always got ahead of me. I felt so stupid when I finally figured it out that I burst out laughing. Now, most people take between two and threes hours to hike Bugaksan (and it is NOT an easy hike) but I did it in an hour exactly. This is because I was so excited from finally making it that I pretty much jogged up the mountain, which turned out to be a terrible idea from my sweat. I looked so terrible but I was smiling the whole time. By the end, my knees were actually shaking when I stopped moving because the stairs going down (and the whole way down is stairs) were steep and uneven so I literally had to jump from stair to stair and then stop myself from falling forward. And there was no railing. Honestly, it was just awesome, even though I looked nasty and I couldn't take many pictures. There's so much history in the location; from the 1.21 Incident Pine Tree, to the North Gate that goes back to Joseon times, to the Seoul Fortress Wall. It was amazing to take it all in and I can't wait for my next hiking adventure. 

 One of the few areas I could take pictures in,

 Here's my pass! "I Made It" was pretty much my theme song for the day.

Here's part of the Seoul Fortress Wall!

After Sunday, my first week of classes after mid-terms started, although I did actually have my last mid-term yesterday. Today's Thursday and the day before Halloween and I can't wait for the weekend. I'm moving out of the dorms this weekend into a goshiwon. My roommate and I have been having a lot of problems lately and I just don't want to deal with it anymore. So I'm out. Of course, this means I can't live in the dorms next semester and I lose a lot of money but I'm alright with that. Packing didn't actually take that long and I'm ready. My goshiwon is pretty cheap because I lost so much money from moving mid-semester but I can deal with it for two months. Next semester I'll get a more expensive one that will be bigger. :) 

Random Thoughts

I got TVXQ tickets! I'm so excited it's ridiculous. I still haven't won any Inkigayo tickets but I'm going to so many concerts, it should make up for it. TVXQ is one of my two favorite Korean groups so I'm pretty much dancing with happiness every time I think about it. 

The international house also hasn't told us when our field trip will be or where to but I really hope it's to the DMZ. I'm going to the DMZ no matter what but it would be nice if someone else organized it since it might have to be an overnight trip. 

Korean McDonald's taste almost exactly the same as American McDonald's. It's great. I've been missing food from home lately (not that I eat McDonald's that much at home anyway) and McDonald's is the cheapest option out there. Keep in mind that I can't cook in the dorms and the ingredients would be incredibly expensive here anyway. The biggest difference I noticed wasn't in the way the food tasted but in the service. In Korea, you can't get your own refills, ketchup, or napkins: you have to ask for everything, which is kind of annoying. But hey, McDonald's delivers here so that's something. 

Friday, October 17, 2014

Busan Vacance~

So the Seoul International Fireworks Festival was absolutely amazing. Soojung and I got there about three and a half hours early (only) and we still got really good seats in front of the fireworks stations out on the river. There were a ton of people there and it was just insane but I loved every minute of it. I waited in line for the ladies room for over an hour, that's how many people there were there, to give you a hint. I almost missed the start of the fireworks because while I was in line, literally all of the empty spaces between the blankets on the ground had been filled up by other people. We were all squished in there pretty tight. I made it back to Soojung in time though and then we watched the most amazing fireworks for over two hours. There were four teams there; Japan, China, Italy, and Korea. I expected China to dominate since they invented fireworks after all but it was Italy and Korea that truly impressed. Japan and China were good, for sure, but the ones following them showed them up. The Italian team was very impressive with their coordination of their music (which was mostly classic American rock and K-pop) and their fireworks while the Korean team won on their sheer scale. Just two minutes of the Italian Fireworks Team.

The day after that, I went to a free JYJ concert. I repeat. Free. JYJ. Concert. It was amazing. We waited for over six hours and I could still barely see the boys but I'm so glad I went. This concert was their last before they all three enlist (as Yoochun revealed) and Junsu started crying. I was trying not to cry too. I bought their new album and I have been listening to it constantly for over a month to prepare for this concert. It's super great; I would really recommend giving the entire album a listen. The concert organizers had predicted that 33,000 people would show up and over 50,000 people came so it quickly got crazy. JYJ fans are nuts. And I say that with love in my heart. But anywhoo, I saw JYJ live. Just saying.

 My JYJ wristband. :) They sold out of official merchandise before I could get to the stand so this is all I have left. 

So the concert was Sunday and then came the school week. Fortunately, we had Thursday off for Hangul Day and we decided to skip Friday to go on a trip. Which leads me to the title of today's post: Busan Vacance! That's right, Soojung, Ting Ting, Reyhan, and I went to Busan! Busan is the second largest city in Korea and it's a port city so it's known for it's beaches and seafood. If you don't understand the reference I'm making, there's a Korean song called Busan Vacance that pretty much talks about the scenic areas of Busan. The music video is pretty lame but the song was super popular and I love it. I'm including the link here. Busan Vacance by Skull & Haha

We had a planning day on Tuesday and then we left campus for Busan Thursday morning at 5:00 AM via a taxi and then the KTX. The KTX is pretty nice and before we knew it, we were in Busan at 9:30. We went straight to Jagalchi, the largest seafood market in Korea, and ate lunch there after wandering around. I've never seen so much seafood in my lunch but the image that stuck with me the most is that of the live eels that had been skinned before they were killed. They were squirming around and in pretty obvious pain. I'm not sure how that's not animal cruelty but it was disgustingly fascinating. After lunch, we went to the Trick Eye Museum. After about an hour or so of taking awesome pictures, we looked around one of the displays for the Busan International Film Festival and ate hotteok. Hotteok is available in Seoul as well but it's famous in Busan, plus the Busan version has nuts. Hotteok is delicious. I may or may not have gotten it three different times in so many days. Then we went to go check into our guesthouse, the Cube Guesthouse, which had an amazing location and was super cheap. That whole process took a while and then we headed over to Dadaepo Beach. Dadaepo Beach itself isn't famous (but it should be because it's stunning) but it is famous for it's fountain; the Daedaepo Sunset Fountain of Dreams, which is the largest flat fountain in the world. This fountain show, complete with music and lights is gorgeous. It went for twenty minutes and I could honestly see myself going there every other night if I lived in the area. After the show, we ate at Lotteria to save money and headed home.
Jagalchi Market sign.

 Soojung and I as angels. 


Dadaepo Beach at sunset. Just three minutes of the Dadaepo Sunset Fountain of Dreams. 

On the second day, we spent most of the day in the cliffs. We started the day at the Haedongyonggung Temple, which is a Buddhist temple located in the cliffs. It was just gorgeous and I loved the architecture. I'm not religious myself, but I think Buddhism is a really interesting religion. We also ate lunch there after exploring the temple and drinking water for the mountain. There was an area to make a wish to Buddha and if you could throw the coin in Buddha's bowl from the bridge, then it was granted. I actually hit the bowl but didn't make it in so every time something little went our way after that, we said it was Buddha helping out where he could. There were many sculptures and statures and also the twelve zodiac animals had majestic statues. After the temple, we went to Taejongdae, which is another cliff area known for it's lighthouse, dinosaur discovery site, and the fact that Japan can sometimes be seen from there. Taejongdae was just gorgeous and we went down the cliffs to the area where dinosaur fossils were discovered too. I have never gone up and down so many stairs in my life. At the bottom, though, the wind was ridiculously strong and we had to hold each others' hand to keep from blowing over. Literally. I was afraid one of us would blow over and then trip on the rocks. After we went along the 4.3 kilometer path at Taejongdae, we headed over to Nampodong to eat and shop a little before going to a tower nearby that lets you look out over Busan. It was super beautiful but we were happy to get back that night and just sleep. 

The temple.

A pure gold Buddha.

 Taejongdae Lighthouse.

Me down by the sea near the dinosaur site. It reminded me of the Bad Hills, with how careful you had to place your feet, but I'd done that before so it was a lot of fun for me. 

On our last full day in Busan, we mostly stuck to the Haeundae area. There was actually some drama because one of the girls was upset with our planning although she was there when we planned, so she left a day earlier. The last day was the best though, in my opinion, so she missed out. There were things I loved about the first and second day but the third one was the best as a whole. First, we went to the Busan Aquarium, which is just an aquarium to be honest but it's the biggest one in Korea so it's still a big deal. Afterwards, we walked along Haeundae, which is the most famous beach in all of Korea. When it's summer, you can't even see the sand from above because there are so many umbrellas. Right next to Haeundae is Dongbaekseom, which is called an island but is actually a peninsula. From Dongbaekseom, you have a perfect view of Haeundae. Dongbaekseom also has small cliffs, walking paths, a temple, many statues, and the APEC building. It was super pretty and I would want to exercise there every day if I lived in Busan. The APEC building was interesting in a political way, plus the building itself is unique. After Dongbaekseom, we went to Spa Land, which is a spa/sauna in Busan that's pretty famous. It's amazing. I can't even stress how much fun it is. There were over twenty different themed sauna rooms, outdoor foot baths, massage areas, naked baths for each gender individually, both indoor and outdoor, and so much more. We had a bunch of fun playing games to escape the hotter sauna rooms and just relaxing. It's Korean tradition to eat eggs and bingsoo in saunas so we did that too but it was super delicious, despite its less than pretty appearance. I had to leave my phone in my locker, which I super regret, but my friend made a video so hopefully she'll send me that soon. After four perfect hours of greatness, we went to check out the main building for the Busan International Film Festival. It was a building, not going to lie. But hey, famous people had been there. We then headed back to Haeundae for supper and to walk in the ocean. Meat is cheaper in Busan and I had the best meal I've had since I came to Korea in a little place where we got three different kinds of meat and a billion side dishes for only $7 each. I can't even think about it without my mouth watering. When we could walk again, we wandered along the full stretch of Haeundae. The others wouldn't go in but I rolled up my pants and walked in the ocean. Waves are a problem. I don't get how anyone can swim in the ocean. Reluctantly, we went home the latest that night and tried to get some sleep for our trip home. 
A cut off view of Haeundae from Dongbaekseom. 

Sunday morning, we took the slow train (Mugunghwa) home and watched the countryside go by for about five and a half hours. I've never seen so many rice fields in my life but it was lovely. As a whole, Busan reminded me a lot of Duluth, with its cliffs and beaches. I adore Duluth so I had a lot of fun in Busan and I honestly wouldn't mind going back at all. Like now. I want to go back now.

Next week is mid-terms so it's been pretty busy since I got back. Today's Friday but I had an extra make up session for Korean class today and this weekend won't be much fun either since I'll be studying so much. Mid terms are more serious here because they use a different grading system. Grades here are competitive. You can get a 94% and still not get an A because if 40% of your classmates did better than you, you get a B. Personally, I think that's ridiculous but there's nothing I can do about it but study harder and hope I'm in that top 40%. We'll see how this goes. My scholarship is GPA-dependent so I can't do poorly. 

Random Thoughts

I made my decision. I am officially staying for another semester. It was a really difficult decision and I spoke with all of my friends and loved ones, and made two pros and cons charts before I decided. It pretty much came down to money, which is what made my decision for me. I'm going to be in debt anyway, why not be in even more debt? I freaked out about it for a bit after I sent my adviser the email but I'm happy about it now. This decision aligns more with my future goals. However, now I have to try and find housing for next semester because I refuse to stay in the dorms again. No. Just no. I've been looking into staying at a 고시원 (study room that's super small and pretty cheap) or a 하숙집 (pretty much the same but with food included) but all of the sites are in Korean so I'm having a little bit of trouble. I think I'm going to have to ask a Korean friend for help but my friends all don't want me to do it because the rooms are so small. Oh well. At least it would be my own and I could do what I want. 

Oh, I also got my alien registration card on Wednesday. I road the subway for about two and a half hours in total and was in the Seoul Immigration Office for less than two minutes. No joke. I walked in, they didn't even look at my passport, they took my fingerprints, and gave me my card. That was it. And guess what! It expires next year before I leave so I get to do it all over again next semester. That's what I get from deciding so late. On the plus side though, I can go to the DMZ and variety shows now! I've already signed up for Inkigayo so hopefully I'll win tickets. 

Friday, October 3, 2014

Picturesque Scenes and Poop Bread

Remember the WAPOP concert I went to a couple weeks back with the dance crews, Nu'Est, and Seventeen? Well, that was held in the Seoul Children's Park, which is actually only a couple minutes from campus. It has it's own personal subway station but it's faster to just walk from Konkuk. Now, this park is not just a park; it's freaking huge and has not only an amusement park in it but also a zoo, a botanical garden, a creative museum, acupuncture paths, and a rainbow water fountain show. I'm super disappointed that I couldn't get pictures of the fountain for you guys. I was just really amazed the first time I saw it and then it shut down the next day for the change in season, despite the fact that it was still 80 degrees out. I went back to the park to explore some more and was just amazed at how far the darn thing went. 

Acupuncture path, You're supposed to just walk on the rocks with only socks and it'll improve your circulation or something. I just think they're pretty.

Amusement park. It's more aimed towards children but it's still rather large.

Elephants! Now, the zoo was a full-on zoo but it was really depressing to me because the conditions for the animals were terrible. No zoo is good for animals but these ones had tiny little rooms to live in, The lions maybe had 1,000 square feet, which is just no big enough.

Botanic gardens! I actually wasn't super impressed with this one because I'm used to the one at Komo but it was still rather lovely.

Little path outside the botanic gardens. Now, this would have been super pretty if it weren't for the smell of manure coming from the ponies right behind it. 

Most tourists are told that Insa-dong is the place to go for traditional wares. A Korean friend of mine and I went together and, while it was interesting, I think this place is a tourist trap now. There were some traditional things but a lot of it was the same generic crap over and over again. I don't regret going because the traditional Korean restaurants were very interesting to see, but the area as a whole is not as traditional as I was lead to believe. There are other areas of Seoul, like a lot of the markets, that are much more traditional than this.
Open air mall. It was super cool because there weren't stairs, you just kept walking up in a progressive circle.

Ddong bbang, literally poop bread. I was fooled yet again though. Anything you think is chocolate is probably red bean in Korea.

Traditional masks and such. This store was the most traditional looking out of all of them, along with the calligraphy stores. 

There was a pathway lined with these cute little circles that couples wrote their messages to each other on. My friend and I were having fun guessing who was still with each other.

Sonnet and Serena also had their birthdays last week so we went to the Han River and bought them cake to celebrate. The Han River is super beautiful at night, especially with the city lights, but it's also lovely during the day if you bike along the multiple bike paths,
 Han River with the bridge.

Sonnet and Serena's birthday cake from Baskin Robins. Those things are everywhere here!

I also went to my first Korean Noraebang (karaoke) with my friend Yosung. She and I each had an hour before our next appointments so we ran to a noraebang. Our room was super awesome and had laser lights along with a disco ball. We didn't get any service (free things, which are super common in Korean and especially noraebangs) but the photo booth was super cheap. Oh, and you couldn't wear shoes in there, you had to put slippers on.
 The photo booths here are so epic; you get to edit your pictures and add stamps and words and frames.

I also joined a new club, the Korean Culture Club. It's super fun because each week we get a mission, like visit this monument or eat this food, that we have to fulfill in teams and take a proof picture. I'm still in ECC though so I'm making a lot of new friends and trying a bunch of new things. In KCC this week, we just ate together then played traditional Korean games together. In ECC, we played the mafia game, which is super fun when you understand the rules. I won on my first game :) 

 After ECC, a group of us went out to eat and then we got lemon ice cream beer afterwards. Yep, you read that right; lemon ice cream beer. It was weird but surprisingly good. 

Yesterday, I went to Cheonggyecheon, which is a man-made stream that runs for a couple kilometers through Seoul. It's absolutely beautiful and filled with people constantly. It's a very popular dating place but there were a lot of families and friends there as well. It seems like the perfect place to sit down and have a picnic. We also went to the Kwangjang Market nearby which is both huge and very traditional. This was the first time since I've been in Korea that I said "How can they eat that?" It was an interesting experience and the Hanbok section was absolutely stunning. 
 This is near the start of the stream, which flows out of fountains. There was some charity event going on so the stream was covered by "floating" umbrellas.

Further down the stream is more nature; less concrete and more plants.

There are multiple places to cross the stream via rocks along the way. These areas are popular for picture taking and kids. I don't think it had any particular meaning, it's just fun.

Today's Saturday and I'm going to the Seoul International Fireworks Festival later so I'm super excited about that. 

Random Thoughts

So there are two programs here right? The exchange program then the ISA program where their school doesn't have the exchange system up. I'm in the exchange but the ISA program is so much better. They pay more but they have organized trips to Busan, Jeju, and the DMZ, their program took care of the paperwork, and not only do they have internships here but they also have a volunteer English teaching program. I'm so jealous, it's ridiculous.