Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Second Week: Adventures and some Misadventures

So last Wednesday, I had my first tutoring session with Sunny. I was actually 15 minutes late because I confused the lines that I needed to transfer to and ending up going the wrong way. When you look up “Seoul subway map” in English, the maps are a bit outdated and the city has added or extended some lines since then, so be wary. Anyway, I thought one of them had been extended but it ended up being a different line so I had to turn back. I had previously reached out to a teacher friend of mine, Lanai, to ask her for materials. She sent me the entire Oxford Grammar Practice Book and a bajillion evaluation tests. I had Sunny take the evaluation test I liked best but she got bored after three pages. I made her finish six pages total and then I told her to finish the rest as homework. Sunny likes to talk a lot and I don’t discourage it too much because talking in English is also practice. We then did a lesson on prepositions, which her former tutor said she needed help with, but she did just fine with all of the position prepositions (like under, over, between, etc). The next lesson is on in/on/at, which she had mixed up a couple times so I think that will be good for her. Our session went overtime because of all the talking but I went home feeling pretty good about the whole thing and excited for our next session.

After that, I spent a couple days with just myself because my plans fell through. Most of my friends have real, adult jobs, so they’re much busier than I am. I wanted to check out Costco one day but Joohee told me that, in Korea, you can’t even get into the store without a membership card, unlike America where you can go in but you can’t buy anything. I was pissed so I won’t be getting a membership unless I get a job, which has looked pretty bleak this past week. I did my laundry too but I still feel like Korea really needs to jump on the dryer-wagon. I promise, life would be so much easier if we could just dry our clothes instead of having to hang them out to dry. My clothes always come out stiffer too, when they’re finally dry. I also ran into some intense exhaustion. I thought it was jet lag but my parents don’t think it could occur that late. My mom was actually worried that I might have an infection or something but I think it may just be the heat. Either way, I slept for 12 straight hours one day and I’ve been having trouble getting myself out of bed.

Sunday, I was supposed to meet Soojung for lunch at a place called Dialogue in the Dark. It’s an exhibit about experiencing life in a different way and I was really excited about it. So, of course, I slept through my alarm and wake up at 11:30 when I was supposed to meet Soojung at 11:15 and our reservations were for noon. We tried to switch our reservation, which really isn’t that difficult of a request, but the company refused to cancel or move our reservations, even though we called half an hour before the scheduled time. Not impressed.

So, Soojung and I just decided that I would come to her (an hour subway ride) and we would figure it out together. When I finally get there, Soojung is nowhere to be found. I looked for her for a while before deciding that she probably got pissed and went home. But, I figured I owned it to her to wait because she waited longer for me. So I just sat down by our designated meeting place and waited, thinking that our friendship was probably over. After 45 minutes, Soojung actually showed up! I was surprised. She said she thought it would take me longer to get there so she’d gone shopping. I paid her the 60,000 won for our two tickets since I’m the one that screwed up (what a waste of goddamn money) and we went to a café for lunch. She and I talked for a couple hours, mostly her complaining about her job, which she should really, really quit. Soojung is expected to work every other weekend and, during the weekdays, not only does she stay late, but sometimes they call her back in after she’s home. On top of all that, her boss is a jerk to her (made Soojung cry on her birthday) and her boss’s boss hits on her. Nope with a side of extra nope.

After eating, we walked to Samcheong-dong, which I’ve heard is a pretty street. It’s the street that runs alongside Gyeongbokgung and it has a lot of cafes and small art galleries. I actually really liked the area but I learned that day that Soojung isn’t into art at all so she didn’t want to go into the galleries. Without the galleries, the street isn’t all that interesting. There were some graffiti and murals around though, which I really appreciate. Overall, the street isn’t anything mind-blowing but, if you happen to have time someday and like art, it’s worth checking out.

I started out the day Monday with my friends Joohee and Jinseong, who I both met at UND. We went to an Escape the Room that I was looking forward to. I really like Escape the Room; I’ve done four in America and I wanted to see how Korea was different. The biggest different was that the ones I’ve been to in Minnesota and North Dakota have multiple different rooms and escape doors that you have to open. Perhaps because space is so expensive (and rare) in Seoul, this was literally just one rooms with like twelve different locks that you had to open to get the lockpad combo to get out. That was another difference; in America, they really stress that the door isn’t actually locked and you can get out if you’re feeling panicked or if you have to go to the bathroom. I’m pretty sure the room we were in was actually locked. Lastly, the room we went to didn’t have a video cam watching us so instead of simply asking for a hint and having them type one on the screen, we had to use this telecom/phone thing to ask the attendant a specific question about a specific thing we were having trouble with. However, Jinseong said that might just be because the one we went to was cheap (16,000 won as compared to the usual 30,000 won).

We didn’t make it out in time, although we got more than half the locks opened. I think it’s because we went with only three people; I get every time I go with 5 or 6 people but 3 seems difficult. I’m also slightly bitter because they asked for hints that I didn’t think we needed and I actually had figured out what we had to do for the last clue but they both thought that was ridiculous and laughed so I gave up. I’m actually not bitter; it makes me feel better than I was on the right track when they weren’t. Afterwards, we went to an Indian restaurant nearby that they wanted to go to. I prefer Thai curry to Indian curry, personally, but we didn’t have too many options since Joohee is a pescetarian. The food was pretty good actually. I really liked the naan with the curry and the lassi was super nummy and sweet. The curry only came with three shrimp though and it was still 10,000 won. I liked it but I might not go back.

After lunch, Joohee had to leave to meet another friend. She’s moving back to Wonju so she’s saying goodbye to everyone. Jinseong volunteered to talk me to the police station to get my fingerprints taken. You only need an FBI background check for the E-2 (teaching) visa, I think, but I decided to get that process started just in case because it can take a long time. I’ll probably pay for expedited service though, just to have that ready. To get into the building, Jinseong had to give them his identification card (it’s like the American social security card but they actually carry it around) in exchange for a guest pass. Once we got in though, the policeman who took my fingerprints spoke English. The process took longer than I thought but now I have two forms with my fingerprints on them so I’m happy and prepared.

For dinner, I met up with my friend Byul. I heard about this neighborhood in Seoul that houses like 50% of the entire French population residing in Korea. It’s famous for French restaurants, bakeries, and cafes. It sounded unique and interesting so Byul and I decided to go. This was the first time I’d seen her since I got back to Seoul so it was super fun to see her and catch up. We walked to Seorae Village and began our search for food. I was actually a little underwhelmed. I think I was expecting to see like European architecture and everything but it was just another neighborhood in Seoul with some French flags and French restaurants. We finally found a place that Byul had looked up online that was somewhat famous. The atmosphere was very romantic, darkly lit with candles and large wine glasses. Byul and I were both staring – she gets off work late so it was like 8:30 – so we ordered a ravioli pasta that would come out quickly and a French pork dish with cheese, eggplant, and asparagus that the owner recommended. The ravioli came out quickly as promised but it was literally six tiny raviolis. I lifted up the greens on top to get a good look at it and Byul said “Where is it?” For 20,000 won, we both expected more food. The ravioli was alright, a touch spicy, but then the pork dish came out. Again, there were only four pieces of meat. For 30,000 won, mind you. But it was delicious! Oh my goodness. The meat, cheese, and the eggplant just melted in your mouth. The asparagus on its own was good but I ate it with the meat and that was even better because it added a new texture. So, so good.

After dinner, we decided to go to a dessert café. We also ran into a market really quick so Byul could show me where nurungji was, because I mentioned that I wanted to try it during dinner. By the time we were looking for dessert, many of the cafes and bakeries had closed but we found one near the end of the street. We ordered a hard chocolate ball thing with whipped cream and a berry cake. Holy crap, they were good. The chocolate ball was almost too rich at first, like you needed coffee or milk with it, but there was Nutella in the center that really balanced the whole thing out. The berry cake was even better though. I can’t even describe it. It was sweet without being too sugary, the fruit was delicious, and the texture was just perfect. I would definitely recommend. Byul and I caught up and she told me she got back with her old boyfriend, whom I hate and think isn’t good enough for her. But whatever, he’ll either screw up again and underappreciate her or he’ll be a better boyfriend and they’ll be happy. Byul was also really interested in getting me more students, possibly college students so they’d be near me, to tutor but I don’t want to get too involved in case I get hired somewhere. Byul is really touchy and we walked back to the station with our arms around each other the whole time but I don’t really mind because none of my other Korean friends are touchy.

Tuesday was a weird day. I skyped my parents in the morning. It’s always good to talk to family. After lunch, I headed out to have my second tutoring session with Sunny. This time, I had her gone over her incorrect answers on the evaluation test and try to pick the right answer. After knowing her first answers were wrong, she picked the correct one on all of them, which is a good sign for her English and maybe a bad sign for her test-taking skills. We also worked on spelling and expanding her vocabulary. I wanted to do another preposition lesson too but I maybe let her talk too much. Too soon, our time was up and I left for home. There’s a convenience store by Sunny’s apartment that has some foreign products because it’s by an American base so I went to check it out. They did have some products that will be useful to me, like Cream of Mushroom soup, but most of their foreign products were super expensive. I’m talking 14,000 won for a 20 ounce canister of Tang that would maybe be like $4 in America.

I took the train home and went to Emart to buy a new pillow because the one I bought at the Daiso is like half as thick as it was when I bought it and it’s only been a week. I got some bananas too because I ran out of clementines.  I walked home from Emart and stopped at the Dos Mas to get a burrito for dinner and the print shop to print out the forms for my fingerprints too. Altogether, I made it home around 6:30 or 7 and was pretty happy with my productive day.

I fire up my laptop and notice on Kakao PC that I have lots of calls from Byul and a message from Jihye telling me to call Byul. I was thinking, “What’s going on? Byul and I didn’t have any plans today that I could have been late to.” And then there’s a knock at my door. I figure it’s a neighbor coming to tell me my music’s too loud so I go answer the door with trepidation. The person at the door isn’t a neighbor but in fact, the goshiwon’s owner who tells me that Byul reported me missing to the police. Let me repeat that. Byul reported me missing to the police. What the hell.

The owner asks me if I know this phone number so I go to get my phone, which has been on silent all day because I was tutoring. I have 80 missed calls. Mostly have Byul but some from the police too after she reported me missing. So I have to talk to the goshiwon owner and the police and Byul and all of my friends that she called to let them know I was totally safe and not missing before I could eat my cooling burrito. I’m touched that she was concerned but I’m honestly kind of pissed and a bit cautious about Byul now. Apparently, this all started because I didn’t answer my Kakao. I texted her when I got home Monday night. She responded much later but I didn’t reply because I was sleeping. The next morning and afternoon I was busy so I didn’t even check my Kakao and apparently, she started panicking around noon. She then called all of my friends she knew asking if they’d contacted me and called every goshiwon around Konkuk until she found mine. Around 3, she reported me missing to the police. They even tracked my phone and everything. It was all resolved when I got home and told everyone I was okay but Byul had the gall to be angry at me! We’ve known each other for three years! I sometimes take days, days, to answer my Kakao and she absolutely loses it when I don’t respond for twelve hours. So I don’t really know what was going on in her psyche and why she was so freaked out but I’m curious and a bit scared to see how our next meeting will go. She thinks I’m at fault because I didn’t answer the phone and I think what she did is totally crazy. So we’ll see how it goes. Eventually, I’ll probably laugh about this.

Today, I went to dance class at the Seoul Cultural Center in Myeongdong. I had emailed them, basically asking for an exception to the new ARC rule, and they responded by telling me that I couldn’t do the other activities but the dance classes on Wednesdays were temporarily open to everyone. Yay! So I went today and learned how to dance to “Why Don’t You Know” by Chungha. Yoojung is my favorite from the first season of Produce 101 but Chungha was my second favorite, plus I love her debut solo song, so I was excited. I had a really good time, actually. I forgot how much I love to dance so I can’t wait to hear what song is for next week. I tried to practice the choreography in my goshiwon but there’s not enough room to move so we’ll see if I remember the choreography.

That’s it for today; I got home after class around 6:30 and ate dinner. I’ve been researching visas and writing this since. Oh! I also signed up for some groups on so I can make some international friends too (all mine from study abroad are in their home countries L). Overall, I’m pretty happy. The job market hasn’t looked too good this past week but hopefully, with time, a position will pop up that’s perfect for me. Tomorrow, I’m meeting with one of my past mentees from UND to try a bakery in Hongdae that I’ve heard really good things about. I was also supposed to have a session with Sunny but she wants to reschedule so I don’t know if I’ll see her this week. I’m excited for the Japanese bakery~

Random Thoughts

Even though it’s like 90 degrees outside, a lot, and I mean a lot, of Koreans still wear pants. Even if they’re not going to work, students and people during their free-time and everybody wears long pants. I really can’t understand it but Joohee said to me once that she thought she was too old for shorts. She’s like 24 by the way. So I wonder if it’s a cultural thing of finding pants more adult-ish? I’ve seen Korean adults wear shorts on variety shows but shows do not reflect reality so I just don’t know. It could be that people in Seoul care a lot about fashion and pants look more fashionable? Whatever the reason, I probably won’t be wearing pants until September because it’s just too damn hot here. I tolerate heat much less than Koreans and sweat much more.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

I'm back!

I came back to Korea exactly one week ago, on the 11th. I really regret that I didn’t blog my second semester studying abroad so I decided to write through my experiences this time. This blog is going to be a little bit like my diary so it’ll probably be updated totally randomly.

So I graduated last month, on May 13th with a degree in English, a minor in German, and a certificate in Writing and Editing. I decided after much, much thought to just fly to Seoul after graduation to visit all my friends from university (and maybe look for a job while I’m here).

The first thing I had to look for was housing. Through Craiglist, I found a guesthouse (King Kong Motel) where, if I worked there 12-15 hours a week, I could stay for free. That sounded wonderful because I won’t have a source of income for a while. I contacted the owner and, after many vague responses, I thought we had it all figured out. Well, I get to Seoul on the 11th (I have severe motion sickness too so I had thrown up twice on the planes and I hadn’t eaten in 48 hours), a friend picks me up from the airport, and we take the airport bus to Myeongdong. We get to the guesthouse where the manager tells me that the employee accommodations are a dormitory and are 15 minutes away. It had been my understanding that I would have my own room and it would be at the guesthouse. We go to check out the place and, are you ready for this? It was one room with six girls in it and three bunkbeds. There were no windows, no air conditioning, and no furniture other than the bunkbeds. One of the girls happily told me that she had been living out of her suitcase for two months because the other girls had taken all the places to hang things (like the window blinds).

I walked right back out. I told the girls that I needed some air and my friend, Soojung, and I would go get some lunch, despite it being 3 o’clock.

We didn’t really need lunch but I needed a place with Wifi so I could figure my next step out. After brainstorming for a while, I decided to just go to a motel for the night because I was utterly exhausted and I would send out an SOS to all my other friends there. Soojung looked up a motel but she didn’t want to take a taxi so we walked for 45 minutes with my 50lb suitcases to the motel. It was 5 when we got there but check-in wasn’t until 7. Okay, I thought, this is okay, Soojung and I can get dinner. And then Soojung left me. She said something about having to get home and got in a taxi.

So I was alone in Myeongdong without a working phone and all my luggage. I saw a foreigner sitting outside a convenience store at a picnic table and decided to copy him. I just went and sat at a table and read for two hours until I could check into my motel. Eventually, I made it to the motel and everything was fine for the rest of the night. I was very happy with my decision. The motel (Only For You 온리포유 ) was nice and clean and was only 35,000 won a night. I sent out my SOS and one of my friends, Joohee, responded. We decided that I would stay at her house until I could figure housing out and I would leave the next day. Plan made, I could calm down and go to bed.

The next morning, the motel owner was an absolute wonderful person and, not only helped me get a taxi, but carried both my bags from the motel to the main street and made sure the taxi driver was going in the right direction so he wouldn’t rip me off as a foreigner (a common experience in Korea). I’m seriously forever grateful.

My friend Joohee lives in Jungnang-gu, which is on the east side of Seoul, so the drive there from Myeongdong took a good 45 minutes or so and, in that time, I learned how truly limited my Korean is. The taxi driver and I would talk for a couple minutes and then fall silent while we both tried to figure out what words we could use that I would understand. It was so frustrating; I wanted to say “Wow, the traffic’s really bad” but I don’t know the word for traffic so all I could say was “Wow, there are a lot of cars.” Eventually, we made it to Joohee’s, where she has proven to be a complete angel sent down from heaven to make sure I’m not homeless or wandering around Seoul.

We put my stuff in her small basement apartment before going to go get lunch at a Kal guk-su place, one of her favorites. It was the first full meal I had eaten in over three days and it was absolutely amazing. The flavor was actually a bit bland but it was perfect for my upset stomach and the owner was a major sweetheart. She told me my eyes were beautiful and compliments make me like you.
Afterwards, we hung out and talked for a couple hours before I went to meet another friend, Jihye, at Konkuk station. Jihye is one of my absolute best Korean friends, along with Soojung, Joohee, and Byul, but she was going back to America, where her parents live, for two months in the summer. Jihye left today actually so we had decided to hang out as much as possible before she left. So you’ll be reading a lot about her this post.

Jihye and I went to a meat buffet near Konkuk that was alright; she likes it a lot because it has duck but I think the meat was a bit much for me. I’d say we caught up but we text almost every day so we just talked like normal. After the buffet, we went to the Mouse Rabbit café that I talked about in my last post (why did I stop??) on this blog. Since I went last time, they have renovated the basement so that it’s this retro area. There are Micky Mouse posters, disco balls, and a lot of little nooks and crannies for people to hide in. All the seating was on the floor so it’s not the best for elderly people or children but for college students, it’s not bad. With the renovations, I really recommend the Mouse Rabbit café as a trendy café, especially if you’re a SuJu fan.

The next day was Tuesday (trying to remind myself here) and I pretty much spent the entire day with Jihye. We had lunch at Jihye’s hasukjib, or boarding house, because there was an available room there and I was thinking about staying there. At Jihye’s boarding house, the ajumma cooks one meal a day, six days a week, so I went to check out her cooking. She had made bossam, which is boiled pork with kimchi, and side dishes. The food was pretty good, I liked the area, and the place was clean so I was looking at staying there very positively. Aftewards, Jihye and I decided to go to noraebang, or karaoke, which is like my favorite thing in the whole world. Jihye is a big TVXQ fan so we also sing a lot of their songs but we also sang a variety of K-pop songs (especially Big Bang) and pop songs over a 150 minute period. I like noraebang. That is all.

It’s finals week in Korea so then Jihye had to go to class but we were meeting again in two hours so I didn’t want to go home. Jungnang is about an hour from Sinchon so it would have been useless. Instead, I listed about, looking at all the tourists and the stores for a bit. Then I went to Shinhan Bank to figure out why my card hadn’t worked when Joohee took me to an ATM. I was told that because I hadn’t used my card in over a year (it used to be two years but they’ve made regulations stricter), I had to close the account. However, I couldn’t get a new checking card because I didn’t have my Alien Registration card yet. So I said “Okay, let’s close the account.” And then the nice banking man who spoke English spent 20 minutes doing paperwork. I was like “this is a lot of paperwork for an account with 5,000 won in it” but I didn’t interrupt him. When he was finished, he wanted me to sign something and when I asked, he said it was for a new account. That was what he had been doing all that time; making me an account that I can only use to put money into but I can’t get a credit card. But I felt bad that he had put all that work into it and so we transferred by 5,000 won from my old account to my new one. So I guess I have an account ready for when I get my Alien Registration card.

After the bank, I took the train to the transfer station that Jihye and I agreed to meet at and mostly wasted time listening to music while I waited for her. Eventually, she showed up earlier than I expected and we went off. Jihye has been tutoring two girls for the past two years and while she’s in America, I’m going to be their substitute tutor. Jihye and the girls, Sunny and Hyeri, were going out that night for dinner and to pick up some English books. It was decided that I would join to meet the girls in a casual setting. So we went to pick up Sunny from her apartment near Seobinggo station. I was surprised with what a nice apartment it was and decided that the families must be quite well-off. Sunny basically speaks fluent English and really only needs help with writing and grammar, which is perfect because I worked at a writing center for two years.

We took the bus to Gangnam – I absolutely hate Korean buses – and met with Hyeri there. We went to a nice Italian place in Gangnam that Jihye had been to before. It was good but I’ve been to very similar places with better pizza. We got two cream pastas, a Cajun risotto, and a margarita pizza. Both pastas were very good but the risotto and the pizza were both meh. Despite my worry over the age gap, Sunny and I got along fine, talking about K-pop and books. Hyeri is a very quiet child who isn’t confident in her English so I don’t really know if she liked me or not.

We then went to a bookstore called Kyobo to pick up some English novels for them to read and practice. After getting their books, Hyeri’s dad picked them up for the night. Jihye and I then went to 85th Street Café, which was very close by. The renovations since two years ago have made it much more open and I really liked the feel. My strawberry yogurt smoothie was as good as they have always been, which pleasantly surprised me. After talking for hours, Jihye and I went home.

The next day, Wednesday, was the only day last week that Jihye and I didn’t hang out. She had finals and tutoring to do in addition to preparing to leave for America. I planned to spend the day with Joohee but I didn’t account for the fact that she also had lots of studying to do for finals. We made a lunch of octopus mixed rice with the groceries we had bought previously then I settled in to do some research on places to stay. I wanted to look at goshiwons although I was leaning towards Jihye’s boarding house, just in case. Joohee eventually went to a study café and I finished my research then watched TV. For dinner, we went to a dakgalbi, or chicken ribs, place because dakgalbi is pretty much the only kind of chicken I like. It was really good but not as good as the place near the back gate of Konkuk. Joohee says it’s a lower cut of meat there but I don’t care; it’s delicious. Before going back to studying, Joohee and I went to a cat café. She loves cats and it was on our way home. I’m more of a dog person so the cats pretty much ignored me. The owner actually asked me if I owned dogs and when I said yes, she said the cats could sense it. No shame. The café also had board games so Joohee and I played a game called The Da Vinci code. She totally kicked my ass like seven rounds in a row. After being thoroughly beaten, I went home to surf the web while she went back out to study. So basically, I just lazed around Wednesday. Oh, Joohee and I also got my phone working with a new SIM card and a pre-paid plan, which was really difficult without an Alien Registration card, so that was good.

Thursday I can’t really remember what I did for lunch. I think I just had cereal, which was a granola that was way sweeter than granola in America so be warned. I met Joohee at Konkuk around 2 to look at the goshiwons I had found the previous day. I decided to look at goshiwons around Konkuk because it’s home base and an area I’m familiar with. We looked at five different goshiwons with a vast variety of cleanliness, pricing, and options. The one I stayed at two years ago didn’t have air conditioning to help me get through this hot Korean summer so I vetoed it. The other four had air conditioning but two were in out-of-the-way locations. So I narrowed it down to two; one big room with an outside window and a cleaner room with a shower.

After our long quest around Konkuk with sweat and sunburn, I left to meet Jihye at 4. We went to Jaejoong’s JHolic café, which has moved to a location near Bongeunsa Station. I actually like this new location better. The space feels more open and it’s on the first floor so random people can wander in, even if they know nothing about Jaejoong. The drinks are okay and the atmosphere’s good. Plus, I guess sometimes Jaejoong visits, although it’s much less often than Yunho visits 85th Street. Once again, she and I talked for hours about a variety of things from DBSK to professors to politics.

We left to go get dinner because I was starving and wandered into the COEX mall to see what the food court had. There was a little Japanese place that we decided to go to because I was craving don katsu and Jihye wanted something fried. I got the don katsu with kimchi and cheese on top because I wanted to be adventurous. I do not recommend it. The cheese didn’t really go with the kimchi which didn’t really go with the don katsu sauce so it was just a mess of disappointment. Afterwards, we did a little shopping for souvenirs for her family and found out that the COEX mall now has a library in it that they installed like a week ago. It’s actually really cool looking, although some of the books don’t look like they can be reached.

We then went to Gangnam again because Jihye has an ice cream cocktail place there that she likes. So, of course, as in all things in my life, it was closed for renovations. We didn’t really know what to do then so we went to a drug store to get some stuff for Jihye’s mom and I ended up buying cute little Kakao band aids because they’re freaking adorable. I think I might get some for all my high school friends when I go back. Next, we went to Gong Cha because you can never fail with Gong Cha. Our last activity of the night was to go to Lush, which is one of my favorite stores and, more importantly, was blasting Big Bang music. Two of the sales people were standing out front dancing and rapping like crazy to the music and I knew they were my people. Jihye bought a bath bomb and I was tempted by the face masks but daunted by the price. We stayed for four different Big Bang songs and rocked out with the people. It was everything I wanted it to be.

Later that night, Jihye texted me that she found out the room I would get at the boarding house had no air conditioning. I just could not catch a break. So it had to be a goshiwon, at least temporarily.

Friday, I met Jihye for lunch at a sandwich place by Ehwa University that she really likes called Lord Sandwich. I’ve been there before but it’s pretty good. Somehow, I managed to order the same thing I ordered two years ago, which I didn’t realize until I took my first bite. I got the Salami and Jihye got the Salmon, which was superior to my sandwich. Next time, I really am going to try something new. That morning, I also realized that I hadn’t taken any pictures yet, perhaps because Korea wasn’t new to me so I didn’t feel like I had to document everything. So I took a picture with Jihye outside the sandwich place, for the photo album I might make one day.

Jihye and I outside Lord Sandwich

Random Unit Black (Boys 24) Poster

After lunch, I went home to Joohee’s apartment, which was empty because she had gone home for the weekend because she thought that would “be more comfortable for me” (angel). Jihye actually had a party that night that she invited me to but I decided not to go because the way she described that group sounded like a hell of a lot of drama. Even as she was inviting me, Jihye was like “but you might not like them.” Nah, I’ll stay out of that.

Kim Jonghyun

Sweaty selfie with bae

Before I went home, I actually went to Hapjeong Station to get a picture of the Kim Jonghyun (of Produce 101 and also JR of Nu’Est) poster there. I have loved Jonghyun since he debuted in 2012 and I am super proud of how well he did in Produce 101. I had hoped to see the bus painted in his honor there too but alas, it must have been on rounds. So I went home and bought provisions for dinner. I caught up on my emails and Twitter. I also watched parts of the live broadcast of the finale of Produce 101 Season 2 that night. Spoiler. My boy did not make it even though he had ranked #1 previously. Even though he was the most deserving person there. Even though he was within the Top 11 without live voting. Jonghyun didn’t make it when he should have and I actually cried for like 30 minutes off and on. I’ve only cried about anything in K-pop like three times but never this intensely. My friend compared it to the feeling when Trump became president, that moment when the wrong people win and you feel like you can’t trust anyone any more. After watching the failure of the public and Mnet to recognize true talent and goodness, I tried to calm myself down enough to sleep but didn’t end up falling asleep until about 5 am.

Saturday, I called a friend back home in America who's planning to come to Korea soon. We talked for like two hours about all sorts of things having to do with Korea. It's nice to have someone who knows a lot of what I'm going through and someone who I can go to with questions and ideas. I'm excited for her to join me here. 

I was supposed to meet Jihye at 4 to watch the finale of Produce 101 but I texted her and told her I couldn’t possibly watch that tragedy again. So we tried to find something else to do and I was reminded of the fish treatment for your feet that we had wanted to do two years ago, but never did for various reasons. She said that sounded fun and I called to make reservations at The Foot Shop in Myeongdong at 4. I also made myself lunch and finally chose a goshiwon. I chose the cleaner one and asked Joohee to call the owner because my Korean just isn’t good enough. Thinking about Myeongdong, I remembered the Myeongdong Culture Center that I went to for dance and cooking lessons my second semester last year. I thought that was a wonderful idea and that I could go to a lot of their activities since I didn’t have school. So I looked the website up only to find out that their policies have changed and all of their activities (art, dance, cooking, hanbok, speaking classes, etc) are now only available if you have an Alien Registration card. Fuck my life. But at least, I still have the Heritage in Korea programs if the site ever updates.

Jihye + Potato Tornado
Us + Potato Tornado

I met Jihye at 4 at the Euljiro Station where we walked to The Foot Shop. The front desk lady spoke English and told us it was 15,000 won for about thirty minutes in the foot bath. We washed out feet and then put them in the bath with the fishies. It was a weird experience at first, kinda ticklish at moments, but I actually was really interested in it and would definitely go again. We ended up staying for an hour because no one else came and the lady didn’t kick us out. We were hushed by another spa goer once for being too loud though. While getting ready to leave, Jihye was really impressed with how smooth her feet felt. My feet didn’t see that much of a different but I have a lot of dead skin lol.

Selfie with fish


Nice lady took a picture for us

The Foot Shop

We left the mall area and walked around Myeongdong a bit. I forgot how very many people are there. Jihye got a snack of fried shrimp with a spicy sauce that was absolutely delicious. We also both bought freshly made juice and I bought a potato tornado stick, which I’ve seen pictures of but never tried. It was hard to eat and didn’t taste that amazing. Jihye’s shrimp were more memorable. I also bought some earrings and perfume there to give to Joohee for being so amazing.

Next, we went to Ehwa station to meet some of Jihye’s friends for dinner. When her friends arrived, one Norwegian student and two Canadian teachers, we went to Jihye’s favorite samgyeopsal place in the area. Again, I’ve been there but I forgot how good it is. The meat’s really fresh and the kimchi is some of the best I’ve ever had out. We also had some peach soju, which wasn’t as disgusting as soju usually is to me. I liked her friends; they were all loud and friendly. One of them was a little too vulgar to me (thoroughly Minnesotan) but later, Jihye told me that she’s like that in groups to get attention and she’s better in smaller gatherings.

For dessert, we went to get bingsoo at Solbing. We happened to run into some street concert and we stayed for a bit but they weren’t performing songs with words so we got bored. We got my favorite bingsoo, berry yogurt, and it was thoroughly delicious. We talked about all sorts of things, learning about each other’s lives, and then it was time for all of us to go home. This was the last time I’d see Jihye in two months so I tried to do a lengthy, teary goodbye but Jihye sucks at hugs, so I told her that and that I loved her and I’d miss her and then I walked away. It’s been weird going from seeing Jihye every day to not seeing her at all.

Sunday, I skyped my parents back home in Minnesota. We've skyped on Sundays for the past four years or so, so it felt pretty normal. It was good to see them because I've been missing home a bit. We told each other about our weeks and we talked through some things. I think they've been a bit worried about me but I'm okay.

After that, I mostly just waited for Joohee to come home because I wanted to be available to hang out if she wanted to, since it’s her house after all. I made it to the grocery store and back and the bank and back without her. That’s like five turns! I was actually really, really proud of myself when I was walking back without getting lost at all. It’s a wonderful feeling to learn a new area and feel like you can stand on your own.

Joohee came back around 4 and we hung out before going to dinner. We went to a Japanese sushi place nearby. Joohee is a pescetarian. The sushi was okay but the rice kept falling apart and I almost choked when one of the pieces of fish had a hard part in it (bone or cartilage, I don’t know). So while I didn’t hate it, I wouldn’t recommend it either. After dinner, we hung out before she went back to studying and I read the book I started that first day by the convenience store. My high school friends are doing this book exchange where the six of us brought our favorite books with some message in them and we’re all rotating the books, while writing our reactions in them, until everyone has read every book. I finished my friend Helen’s book Sunday but I won’t be able to exchange with someone until I return to America. It was a nice story though and I love my friends and our nerdy ideas.

Monday, I moved into my new goshiwon for two months. Joohee had two finals Monday so she helped me move in and then she had to go. I took a taxi from her place to my goshiwon because I still have my 50 lb bags with me. I was really excited to finally be able to unpack and, when I was finished, I was so exhausted from the past week that I fell asleep on a pile of clothes. When I woke up, I knew I had to go out to buy hangers and a pillow and get myself food for dinner. As a foreigner, I get a lot of stares in Korea. Any foreigner in Seoul can tell you that you never forget that you don’t fit in when you go out. When I’m with my friends, I don’t get as many stares for some reason, or at least, I don’t notice. When I’m out by myself, I receive a lot of stares and it’s actually really hard for me. There’s this paranoid feeling that they’re always judging you. It’s one of the things that really started to bother me my second semester but I was determined not to let it get to me this time around. I’ve actually started chanting “thick skin” to myself in my head when I feel self-conscious.

With this prepared but vulnerable mindset, I made the trek to the Daiso where the cashier, who packed everyone else’s stuff in bags, didn’t pack mine. I don’t know why. But I had to frantically try to stuff everything in the one bag he pushed at me so I wouldn’t be in everyone’s way. While I was doing that, he gave me my change but our hands didn’t quite connect before he let go so the coins fell everywhere. I was completely and utterly embarrassed. I picked up a couple of the coins after finally getting the packs of hangers in my bag before rushing away. Then the girl behind me called me back for a 100 won coin I had missed. She was being nice but I couldn’t care less in that moment and all I wanted to do was get away from that guy. So I hiked home with my stuff wondering why he had done that and why I wanted to come to Korea again. The hangers didn’t really work for my clothes either so I had dinner and went to bed a bit unhappy.

Today is Tuesday and I met up with Joohee for lunch. She had her last exam late in the morning and then we went to an early lunch at one of my favorite restaurants, a Chinese restaurant run by Chinese migrants near the Konkuk back gate. I got a spicy pork dish I’ve had before and Joohee got an egg noodle dish. Both of our dishes were amazingly good but Joohee was unimpressed with the number (2) of vegetarian options. Then we went to noraebang, which is actually why we met. We sang for two and a half hours, doing SS501, Frozen, Big Bang, Ed Sheeran, and many more. It was much more of a variety than I usually do out so I really enjoyed it, although we both hurt our throats when we did “Let It Go” as our last song. Afterwards, we went to E-mart so Joohee could look at shoes and so I could buy good quality hangers. Then, I gave Joohee my gifts and we parted ways. I took my hangers and went to the local market to buy fruit, the one food I will never live without, no matter who expensive all fruit is in Seoul. I’ve been in my goshiwon since, eating and writing this blog. I also applied for my first job since coming here so I’m feeling pretty good!

I actually regret coming to this goshiwon. I stayed at a goshiwon two years ago when I studied at Konkuk but that’s exactly why I don’t feel well. It feels like I haven’t gone anywhere. Two years later and I’m still in a tiny goshiwon by Konkuk, after having a nice apartment back in America. I’m in an area I feel familiar with but I don’t go to school anymore, I graduated, so I don’t quite feel like I fit. Hopefully, if/when I get a job, this feeling will go away as I move into my own apartment and my own space. Right now, I’m having a hard time as I try and remember why I wanted to come to Korea again and why I decided to stay here.

But, tomorrow is a new day and I’m starting tutoring with Sunny and meeting up with an old friend. I’ve held off on contacting some people until I got settled into my place but now that I’m here, I’ve started sending out messages so I look forward to seeing everyone.

Random Thoughts

I cannot believe how quickly thing change here! I’ve only been gone two years but a whole bunch of businesses have closed and a whole bunch of others have moved in. New buildings have been built and some have been torn down. I was walking the main street by Konkuk and it blew my mind how many stores I knew were gone. Thankfully, my three favorite restaurants by the back gate (the Chinese place, Dos Mas, and the dakgalbi bokkeumbap place) and my favorite dog café are still open, although some have moved.